Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category


devilfish

The new issue of Devilfish Review is out, and it contains a story of mine called Diminishing Returns.

I wrote this a long time ago after reading Chuck Palahniuk’s essays on writing. I have a different style now but I do like some of the language in this one. Let me know what you think!

As always, if you want to know where to find my writing just click the Writing tab above.

I am proud to be the co-winner of the February Flash Fiction contest over at LitReactor. We had to write a story that was exactly 30 words about or inspired by Big Foot.

I thought it would be interesting to see the thought process that went into the story. My initial idea was to do the opposite of the usual Big Foot sighting tale. So I thought it would be interesting if Big Foot was the main character and he had sighted a human.

So I started with that idea and, since a common problem with micro-fiction stories is that they aren’t really “stories”, I really wanted to make sure it had a beginning middle and an end. I didn’t think about the 30 word constraint at first. I would just make it short and fix it from there.

My first version (41 words):

Every night I search, hoping to see it again. But it’s elusive and doesn’t show its pale pink face. So I lope back to my cave, lean my furry hide against the cold stone, and dream of something other than solitude.

I had to shorten it to get rid of 11 words, but I wanted to keep the four main points: The narrator is Big Foot, Big foot sees a human, wants to see it again but doesn’t, stays sad and lonesome.

Here is the final version (30 words):

Every night I hope it returns but I never see its pale pink face. So I lope to my lonely cave, lean my furry hide against cold stone, and dream.

In my opinion, the first version is best, but that’s the problem with artificially giving a story a limit. It’s an interesting tool to flex your writing brain, but it may not be what’s best for the story.

Thanks to LitReactor for running the contest and for the prize: a copy of The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac by Sharma Shields.

The below story was previously published in the online journal ThickJam. (Issue #279, May 2013)

Since that publication is no more, I am posting “Madame Regret” here.

Free words for your brain!

Madame Regret
P.R. O’Leary

Most people call me looking for a reason. A reason to do something. It’s always different. Some want to get a divorce. Some want to quit their job. Some want to have a baby. Some want to get an abortion. They call me, asking, pleading with me to rationalize some epic change in their lives. They don’t say this outright, but I know what they need.

Why me? Well, I’m just the one that picks up the phone. The 1-900 number they call sends them through a touchpad maze until, after they have signed away their credit card, they are redirected to me.

When my phone rings, I pick it up. “Psychic Hotline, this is Madame Elsa, how may I be of service?” Sometimes I call myself Madame Olivia, or Madame Grace. It doesn’t matter. After I say that there is always a pause. Then they speak.

“Yeah… Hi Madame Elsa” Olivia, Grace, Greenroot. “I have this problem. I want to know if I should quit my job.”

Divorce my wife.

Have this baby.

Buy a house.

This is where the psychic part comes in. They expect me to read their future. To karmically sense the outcome. I do, in a way. I have no special powers, no sixth sense or anything. I just know that they all want the same answer. “Yes.” I tell them.

Yes, you should quit that job. You should have this baby. You should get divorced. You should quit school. Yes. Yes. Yes. I rationalize things. I make things okay. They use that little three-letter word as a reason to do what they really wanted to do anyway.

Their response is always the same after that. A heavy sigh of relief. A pause. Then a grateful “Thanks so much, Madame Julie.” Madame Earthwand. Madame Tigerpaw. Madame Silvertop.

I tell them it’s no problem. I have seen the future and they are going to make the right decision. Then they hang up. One minute is all it takes. One minute at $9.95. They have just spent ten bucks to put their minds at ease.

When I first started I would wonder if I was doing the right thing. Telling them to go change their life, just like that, without knowing anything about them except the sound of their sad pleading voice. I always told myself yes. I was helping people. I was making a difference.

Then one day things started to change. I got a call. “Psychic Hotline, this is Madame Rosewood, how may I be of service to you today?”

Silence. Then a man’s voice. Crackling loud. “Madame Rosewood.” I wait. The voice comes again. Solid and angry.

“Or should I say, Madame Orchid.”

Maybe I have used Madame Orchid before, and the voice is as unfamiliar as every voice I hear over that phone.

“I divorced my wife!” The voice is screaming now.

“I divorced my wife and now my life is over! She bled me dry, that bitch! Fuck you Madame Orchid! Fuck you Madame Rose! I have nothing left! Did you see that in my future you fucking hoe bag!”

I hang up. I was just called a hoe bag. Someone just spent ten bucks to call me a fucking hoe bag.

The phone rings again. I gather myself.

“Psychic Hotline, this is Madame Opal, how may I be of service to you today?”

Another voice this time. Female. High and piercing.

“Madame goddamn motherfucking Opal my fucking ass!”

There is screaming in the background. A kid crying. A baby.

“You told me to have that fucking baby you fucking shank! Madame fucking Opal!” The screaming in the background gets louder. I try to talk back, to say that she is just overwhelmed with having a child.

“Overwhelmed! Overwhelmed! You don’t know what over-fucking-whelmed is Madame goddamn Opal! My baby is fucking retarded! Did you hear me? Fucking retarded! I am gonna have to feed him with a bottle for the rest of his life! You told me to have a fucking retarded baby you fucking sick twisted—“

I hang up.

Again, the phone rings.

This time it’s a man yelling that he just quit the best job he ever had because I told him to. He calls me a pube rat.

The next call is a young couple. Each taking turns with the phone. Cursing me for telling them to buy this house. This goddamn crackpit that they just bought. They call me an ass worm and a pus bag.

After that, I stop answering the phone.

I only pushed people toward the decision they were already going to make. They needed me to be their inspiration, and then they need me to be their fall guy. Someone to blame. It wasn’t their decision. I told them to. It was my idea.

After that, I quit my job at the Psychic Hotline.

I got a job at a Tarot Card hotline instead. When people call, I ask them what they want to know. I pretend to shuffle cards and deal out cards and read cards. I make up meanings for the Emperor card and the Lovers card and the Judgment card. After I have dealt all my imaginary cards and told all about their imaginary meanings, I always tell my client exactly what they need to hear.

You are going to regret your decision no matter what you do.

The below was an April Fool’s post.

I’ve been hard at work on a new novel. Below is the first excerpt I am publicly releasing. Please let me know what you think. It’s very important that I get feedback. It’s invaluable to my writing process.

Mother of Dust and Dreams [Excerpt]

Chapter 18: In Where the World of Green Turns To Gold Again

Her bare feet moved through the tall green grass languidly. Sensually even. The dewiness was making the soles of her feet cold, but it was a pleasant contrast to the blazing sun pounding down on her head like a hammer to an anvil. “If only the sensations in real life were as real as those I’m feeling now.” She said to no one in particular, her voice like melted butter. For she was not in real life. She was in the World of Dreams, had been ever since her head had hit the feathery silk pillow in her chambers.

Alexus knew she shouldn’t be so nonchalant about her morning walk in the dreamscape.  Xefarixis Van Abb was here somewhere. And if he found her, well, then the Commoo Orb she wore around her neck would be in danger. She needed the Orb if she was going to fuse the three chambers of the world and stop the Soul Attack that this dimension was experiencing ever since the Father of Secrets started playing games with “the prime.”

But the dew and the sun were delivering such a delightful contrast. From her feet to the top of her head, the sensations met in the middle, in her heart, and made her tingle with very un-dreamlike sensations. Sternly, she gathered herself and stopped walking, stamping her bare feet into the dewy ground. “Enough of this, Alexus! Get yourself together!” She said to herself.

Just then, out of the corner of her eye she saw something running through the field of dew-covered tall grass. A small thing, on four legs, with long floppy ears and a bushy tail covered in dew. It stopped when she turned towards it. There were often living things in the dream world, figments created by a dreaming child who is still pure of heart. A lot less common these days as they were in the past, but she still came across a Figgie from time to time.

It was good luck to pet a Figgie. If she could rub her hand across its head, it would be like she was rubbing her hand across the sleeping child who dreamed it. That bestowed powers on one in tune with the dream world. Powers she could urgently use if she was going to harness the power of her Commoo Orb. So she walked towards the dew-covered bunny-Figgie slowly, with her hand outstretched.

The bunny stopped and stared at her. Its cute furry nose twitching, throwing drops of dew left and right as it did so. She kneeled down in front of it, her knees on the dew-covered ground. Then she saw it. The eyes of the Figgie. Its pupils opening and closing like camera lenses. She grabbed the thing by the neck and shook it. This was no Figgie! She could feel the jangle of steam-powered machinery inside it. She grabbed its head with one hand and its body with another and yanked it in two.

How could she have be so dumb? There was no blood. It was a constructed thing. And she could tell by the array of gears just who had built it. This was a scout, sent through the dream world to find her, and it was built by none other than Xefarixis Van Abb!

“HAHAHAHA!” There was a laughing behind her. She turned, and there, floating in the sky in his pedal powered personal zeppelin, was Xefarixis Van Abb himself. The leader of the Harbinger’s Guild, and the sworn enemy of her clan was floating there, taunting her. Normally, he wouldn’t be special to behold, but behind his sunshine goggles and water armor he was a worthy adversary. And what made it worse was that he was holding a Flaming Ball in one hand, ready to throw.

“Oh Alexus, I knew you would be easy to find in this World of Dreams!”

“Well, at least I’m not as easy to spot is a man in a zeppelin!” It was a poor comeback, but it was all he had.

“It’s a shame really. I thought this would be more difficult!” And with that, he threw the Flaming Ball directly at her!

She dove out of the way and rolled through the dew-covered grass. She arose and turned, her whole body now covered with dew, and saw the Flame Ball hit the field where she had been standing. She thought there was enough dew on the grass to keep it from igniting, but no, the dew was not plentiful enough and the flames started spreading like butter on toast. She was surrounded by fire!

Xefarixis turned his air balloon vehicle and pedaled away, laughing, leaving her to burn. The flames were large now. As large as her fears. And she had no way to escape. So she dropped to her knees in the last remaining patch of dew and put her face to her hands and cried. The tears streamed down her face, mixing with the dew. She could feel the heat and taste the smoke now.

But then a tear fell on the Commoo orb around her neck and there was a flash of light and Alexus felt like she was in a waterfall and then in ice and then in space and then lying on a pool of dew and then she woke up, her head safely upon the silk pillow in her bed.

She felt dampness on her pillow and initially thought it was dew, but then realized it was her tears. She had been crying. And she realized then that she couldn’t avoid Xefarixis Van Abb any longer. He must be punished, and she was on the one that was going to punish him hard.

LooseTeeth1

Loose Teeth

Written by P.R. O’Leary, 2005.

Photography by Valeria Ballerini of Through A Cracked Lens

Yeah, I know. My parents are paying you good money, Doc. I shouldn’t waste my time here. They told me all that already. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you what happened. I owe my parents that much. It will probably take the whole hour. Fine. But could I have a glass of water, please? When I talk a lot the scabs start drying up. No, you don’t understand! Forget it Doc. I’m sorry. Thanks for the water, let me just start the story, okay?

Well, My name is Bill Dryer and I was born twelve years and two months ago. But you already know that. I guess the real story starts before school ended for the summer. During my daily walks home. I always walked home from school by myself. All my friends lived in the opposite direction. I didn’t care, though. It wasn’t a boring walk. I had something to look forward to on the way.

A comic book store. I loved comics. They were cheap enough for me to buy with my allowance and quick enough for me to read. Not like books. I hated books. I couldn’t keep my mind on the words for more than ten pages. They were boring, so I turned to comics for my literary intake.

Anyway, I need to back up a bit. School was going to end a week later. Final exams were over so the teachers let us do whatever we wanted, within reason of course. It was better for everybody that way. Me, I had brought my last three comics that I hadn’t read yet, and finished reading them in between goofing off with my friends.

My parents already told you what type of comics, right? Yeah, Weird Worlds of Horror, Shock Stories, Tales from Beyond the Grave. I hated all the super hero stuff, so I went for the horror and sci-fi. They were much better. Freaky things happened in them. Zombies, vampires, aliens, murderers.

Wow, Listen to me! I’m talking to a head doctor about this stuff. But it’s true. I know, just don’t make it out to be anything disturbing. They just had better stories and were full of creepy and weird things.

Anyway, I needed to get another comic for the next day of school. My allowance wasn’t due until Saturday, a full four days away. I only had a dollar fifty, which was exactly enough for one comic. So after school I went to buy one. The store was empty when I got there. Except for Mike, who was sitting down behind the counter reading some huge paperback book. It looked about a thousand pages. I don’t understand how he could sit through something that long.

Anyway, all the new comics were on shelves that ran the back wall, and the old ones were filed in boxes on the side. I had been through all those dozens of times, I knew that there was nothing to buy in there, unless Mike got any new ones. So I asked him. He was a nice enough guy and all, so he told me the names of the five he got since the last time I was there. He always kept track of those kinds of things for me, being I was a regular.

Well, I wanted to choose between three different comics, but was having a tough time. I finally decided to get Tales from Beyond the Grave, so I put the other two comics back where I found them. At the back of the shelf, hidden behind some other comics was one I hadn’t seen yet. So I picked it up and looked at it. It was thicker than usual, and it was called Realms of Terror. The first issue. I leafed through it. It looked great. The art was incredible, and the stories looked really weird. I saw a picture of a guy that had just ripped out his own eyes, and one of a little kid with an axe attacking this lady. I had to have it.

I was all ready to go up to Mike and buy it when I noticed the price. Two-Fifty. The thing was bigger than a normal comic, so they had to double the price. It was unfair. Still, I had to have it. So I went up to Mike to get him to keep it reserved for me till Saturday, when I would have my allowance. He wouldn’t. He was such a stickler for his rules. Three-day reserve. Max. No exceptions.

So I just stormed out of there, real fast. I ran all the way home, aiming to talk another dollar out of my father. I told him my dilemma, but keep in mind, of course, that I didn’t tell him why I wanted that comic so bad. Although he let me read them, he didn’t really approve of stuff like that.

Well, just like I suspected, he asked me why I wanted the comic and that was not something that I was gonna tell him about. Instead, I said forget it and went upstairs to see my mother. I thought maybe I would have better luck with her. I was wrong. I asked her the same thing and she gave me a ripping about how I didn’t clean my room and that if I didn’t shape up I would never get an allowance again.

Screw it, I thought. I could get the money myself. I got a snack, an apple and some cookies, and went in my room. I wanted to look through my comic collection to see if I had any that I could trade in.

I was sitting on my bed, looking through the comics and eating. All of a sudden, as I took a bite out of the apple, there was a kind of pain in my gum. Towards the back. My tooth had fallen out and I didn’t even know that it was loose! It was one of my baby teeth, the last one I thought, and it had gotten stuck in the apple when I bit it.

I picked it out and looked at it. A little rotten, but I’m a kid, so that was normal. It was also a little bloody on the bottom. I could taste a bit in my mouth. What? Yeah. I did. Kind of sweet.

So looking at that baby tooth, it dawned on me. What does a kid usually do with a tooth when a tooth falls out? That’s right Doc, he puts it under his pillow when he goes to sleep. And what does the tooth fairy exchange it with? Right again, Doc, now you see where I was going with this. A dollar bill. That dollar would give me enough to buy Realms of Terror. What luck I had!

Quickly, I ran down the hallway to show Mom. She smiled at me and made a comment about me needing to be more mature now that I had no more baby teeth.

Anyway, after I was assured that the Tooth Fairy – I knew it was Mom of course – would give me the dollar that I usually got, I ran to the phone and called Mike. He reserved it for me, no problem. Now that he knew I had enough money he would hold it for three days. I told him I would stop by on the way to school and pick it up.

That night I lay in bed thinking about what I had seen in Realms of Terror. I made up stories in my head about the pictures. You want me to tell you what they were? I don’t know, Doc. There were all sorts. I remember thinking that the little kid was attacking the lady with an ax because it was his mother who had just gotten bit by a zombie and he wanted to kill her before she turned on him. And the guy who pulled out his own eyes did so, well, because he wanted to see what it was like. Get it? Yeah, Doc, you better write that one down. It must mean something.

So while I was laying there and making up these stories, the hole where my tooth had been was beginning to fascinate me. No, it wasn’t anything like that, Doc. I was just probing it with my tongue, pushing the sore flesh around, forcing more blood out of it. Yep, that same taste. I did that for a while until I got tired and fell asleep.

The next morning, sure enough, a big fat one-dollar bill was under my pillow. I finished up everything I had to do and got to the comic shop as quick as I could. Mike had the comic ready for me. I gave him the money and ran the rest of the way to school. I had the whole day to read the comic. It was as good as I had hoped it would be. Even better. Well, that kept me occupied for a few days. It was so good I could keep reading it. Again and again. But pretty soon I needed something else to read. School had ended, and I had a lot more time on my hands.

So I found myself at Mike’s Comics. And this time, I didn’t have a hard time finding something to buy. The new issue of Realms of Terror had come out. But of course, I didn’t have enough money. I had two dollars, but the comic was still two-fifty. Mike wouldn’t hold it the six days till I got my allowance, and I was sure someone else was going to snatch that comic up any minute.

So I went home dejected, sat on my bed, and sulked. The hole in my mouth had healed, so I didn’t even have that to distract me. But I did get an idea. If I could lose another tooth, then I could get another dollar, and then I could buy the comic! A no-brainer! My mouth was like my own personal piggy bank. I probed around with my tongue and went to the bathroom to check the mirror. I was looking around for any more baby teeth.

No, I couldn’t find any. But the one next to the last one I lost was a little loose. Maybe it was from poking that hole with my tongue for forever. So I pushed it back and forth with my finger. It kept moving. No, no pain. Just a stinging sensation. It started in my mouth and spread. You know when you get goose bumps? Not the bad kind, but the good kind. That’s what it was like. I kept doing that for a bit. Then, when it was good and loose I grabbed onto it real tight and yanked it out.

Yeah, there was a lot of blood, so I just kind of sucked it up and drank it. Yeah, Vampiric! That’s a good word for it, Doc. Self-vampirism!

Anyway, I was just laying in bed, with the sticky tooth in one hand, drinking the blood up. A few hours later – I guess I fell asleep or something – and the bleeding had stopped. Yeah, I felt fine. I wasn’t weak or nothing. And it wasn’t too late, so my parents were still up. I told them I fell and banged my mouth on the dresser. They believed me. So after some acting and pleading, I finally got them to agree that the tooth fairy would have to come. But just because I was in so much pain and my Mom felt sorry for me. She actually wanted to take me to the doctor to make sure I hadn’t damaged anything else but my Dad said I would be all right. Boys would be boys.

So the next day I got my dollar and went straight to Mike’s. The second issue was just as good as the first one. Even better! The best story was about this creepy kid. When the mother gets pregnant again, the kid gets jealous and kills her and then pulls the baby out of her stomach and eats it! Sick, I know. But I don’t get off on stuff like that. I just find it interesting. And you thought I was weird enough, right?

So anyway, I’m reading the comic, and I’m poking at the spot where my tooth used to be. The hole is bigger and more tender than the last one. It’s bleeding more, too. I’m in heaven, just reading this comic and doing that. When the comic is over, I read it again. Then again. Great stuff, Doc. It was great. But I needed something else.

Well, something in me realized that I was getting more pleasure out of the hole in my mouth then the comic. That’s when I got the idea to do it. I don’t know exactly why. I mean, I was already happy. I didn’t need to do it.

What? I don’t know what exactly. A drive. A lightheadedness. A hunger. Not for food. Just for, well, you know. It’s hard to describe. Anyway, I go into the closet and open up my Dad’s toolbox. I go through the tools. A hammer, a wrench. A screwdriver. Flathead or phillips? I joke to myself. Then I see the pliers. I grab those and go into the bathroom.

LooseTeeth2

Yeah, I only remember parts after that. Not the whole event. I remember looking at myself in the mirror. A crazy little kid holding his big front tooth in a pair of pliers. I remember thinking that the tooth was in there rock-solid. It wasn’t falling out by itself. Then, I remember my eyes getting wide and bam! I yanked and twisted as hard as I could with both hands. The rest is a big rush. I remember seeing red and being exhilarated and faint the whole time. I remember the sound the teeth made as they fell into the sink, one after the other. Clickety Clink. I remember the splats of blood on the tiles. Big gobs like ketchup.

Oh, sorry Doc. I know it must make other people uneasy. But for me, it was perfection. A thousand times over. Just like a story in a comic.

What? You want to know if it was worth it? Well, what can I say? Here I am, sitting on a psychiatrist couch. I cost my parents thousands of dollars in dentist bills, my mouth now looks like mashed up licorice, and I sound like the elephant man.

Well, since you are asking, Doc. Yeah. I can honestly say it was definitely worth it.


Goodreads:


YouTube:


Twitter: @PROleary


RSS ReelFriction: Competitive Film Reviews


Contact

Email: PROleary1 [at] gmail.com