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Fiction Contemporary Drama

The rind of a moon lies cocked in the sky, and the world looks cold and blue. He sees the ice-sickled stocks of weeds dead in the yard. Beyond them is the frosted barren and pestilential locust wood. And the trashed papers and newsprints buried in the drifts like varied birds, ill-shaped and restless in the wind. 

Jake wanders as if he means to read the old bleached news. The artless felonies and the murder in the snowy mountain streets. His tongue is swollen in his mouth, and his skull veils his brain. He can see figures moving in the woods with green and phosphorescent eyes. He thinks he might hear singing, and he stands in the dark for a long time listening, but there’s no sound. Not even a wolf howls. 

He opens a heavy wooden door to see the innkeeper’s son raising his eyebrows. 

“Thought you’d fell off the mountain and landed in the city,” he says. 

“I’m back now. Looking for your dad."

“The old man isn’t doing too well. He’s probably laid up in bed.”

“Is that so?”

“Cancer. It’s gotten the best of him. No telling how much longer we’ll be able to keep the Inn with all the medical bills and creditors breathing down our necks.”

The man’s fragrant arm descends on Jake’s shoulder. He wears a cuff-link coined like a bicycle reflector. 

“I’d like to see him,” says Jake.

“If you’re looking for work, you’ve come to the wrong place. All’s we got on staff is old man Tom and crazy train Troy. Dad’s health is failing, and mama is pretty much checked out. It’s only a matter of time.”

“Well, that’s just the thing,” says Jake. “I know I left in a hurry, but I made a promise to your dad, and I intend to keep it.”

“He’s been spending a lot of time in the bunkhouse behind the bar. I reckon the pressure and the pain is getting too much for him. If you want to see him, I’d start there.”

A few minutes later, Jake hears the dogs starting up again along the perimeter of dark trees surrounding the lodge. And later still, when he wipes the water from the glass and peers out, he can see an old man bundled up and shoveling snow along the bridge. He sees him move and become the faintest figure disturbing the globes of light one by one until a distant dark had taken him. 

“Old man Tom,” Jake says to himself. “Still alive. Still working.”

Jake goes up the frozen winter path towards the bar. An old mountaineer named Troy opens the door and recalls Jake through drink-galled eyes and stands aside for him to enter. 

“Just saw old man Tom,” says Jake. “Seems well enough. How you think he’s doing?”

“Yup, Tom’s okay. Financial problems with the lodge makes paying him a problem. But he still stays and works,” says Troy. 

Jake enters the room with its odor of stale beer and the urine-like smell of fried pork rinds between the dirty bathrooms and whatever is cooking in the back. Troy shuts the door and hobbles on his twisted leg to the wall where he’d left his broom waiting. 

“What happened to Jason?” Says Jake.

“Up and left on us. Like you did. Here one second and gone the next. Ain’t seen him in months.”

“What happened to your head?” Asks Jake.

“What happened to yours?”

Jake smirks and rubs the patch of stubbled hair over his occipital bone. Troy has a massive bandage taped across the left side of his forehead.

“I got hit with a floor buffer,” Jake says.

“I got hit by a bus,” says Troy.

“Again?”

He nods, looking at the floor and sweeping heavily at the trash.

“Doesn’t it hurt?” Says Jake.

“Some.”

“Some?”

“I got drunk first,” says Troy.

“Oh.”

“I wouldn’t have done it had I not been drunk. I got more sense than that.”

“Well, how did you manage to keep from getting killed if you were drunk? Especially in all that snow,” says Jake.

“It ain’t easy, I’ll tell you that much. The only reason that bus came and ran over my legs that other time was because I got too drunk. The thing had chains on and all. Slid right over me. You gotta’ keep your head about you.”

“How much will you get this time?” Asks Jake.

“I don’t know. They don’t want to settle. I may have to get me another lawyer.”

“What will you do with the money if you get it?”

Troy looks up from the floor. He seems surprised by the question. 

“Well,” he says, “get drunk, I reckon. At least I won’t be sweeping the floor for everyone else getting drunk, and I could help the old man with the loan. At least, maybe for a while. No telling.”

Troy pushes at the trash.

“Sun don’t shine up the same dog’s hind side every day,” he says.

“I hope not,” says Jake.

“Things have come to a sorry pass when an old man like me has to look after all these white trash mountaineers for work. Always coming and going. Nobody stays more than a couple nights through these winters. It’s no wonder we’re scratching by.”

“Hard times, indeed. But look on the bright side. The old man keeps you on the payroll,” Jake agrees.

“You don’t happen to have a little drink on you, do ya’?”

Jake had not.

Behind Troy walks in Dolly, the innkeeper’s wife, in her disheveled housecoat. She opens up her palm with a few dollars.

“Run and grab me a pack of Lucky’s, will ya?” Says Dolly.

Troy places the broom against the wall, takes the money, grabs a hat from the back of a chair, slips on a pair of rubber green galoshes, and shuffles out the door. His racked body was like something that had been disjointed and put back by drunken surgeons. His elbows poking out. His feet bent wrong. Dolly watches him with one watery eye.

“Good afternoon,” she says.

“Afternoon? It’s dark out,” says Jake.

He inspects his watch and remembers how the night seems to consume the entirety of the day up on the mountain. 

“How’s the old man?” Said Jake.

“I don’t know. Tony always laid up in bed. Go ahead and go on back.”

“I don’t want to bother him if he’s sleeping,” says Jake. 

“He ain’t asleep. Go on.”

Dolly held the curtain back for him. Jake enters a room darker yet. There was some sort of heavy material curtaining the window in the direction of the snowy river. A rich funk of nameless odors. There was a radio playing so softly that he could barely hear it. The foot rail of the bed came right to the door. Tony laid in bed like a tree. 

“Who dat?” Says Tony.

“Jake.”

“Jake? Jake. Jake!” He realizes. “Young man, come on in.”

“You’re not asleep?”

“No. I’m just resting. Come on in.”

He raises himself up just slightly in the bed, and Jake hears him catch his breath. 

“I just stopped by to check on you,” says Jake.

“Sit down. Where’s your beer, young blood?”

“I didn’t want one.”

“No, that won’t do. Hey, old woman!”

He is groping around in the dark for something and finally comes up with a bottle. He unscrews the cap and drinks, then puts it back. He wipes his mouth with the heal of his hand.

“Hey,” he calls out.

Dolly appears at the curtain. 

“Bring this man a beer. Sit down, young blood.”

Jake can see him better. Tony shifts his colossal frame and is so clearly in pain that Jake asks him what is wrong.

“Don’t say nothing to her,” says Tony.

“What happened?”

“Same old stuff. White-coat doctors poking and prodding at me. Trying to keep this place running in a lull. Hush about it.”

Dolly comes to the curtain and hands a beer bottle into the room. Jake takes it and thanks her, and she leaves without a word.

“Did they keep you in the hospital?”

“Yeah. I got out about eight o’clock this morning. Felt like I was making bond after a jail stay.”

Jake smiles.

“Well, have ya? Been staying out of trouble, I mean.”

Tony’s scarred face looks wrinkled and old.

“I’m too old for that now, and I got me enough trouble as it is. But don’t let Dolly know that, though, of course. This bull still got some buck left in him!”

Tony chuckles.

“Are you all right?” Says Jake.

“It ain’t nothing. Been a dry season with occupancy. Barely anybody be coming around these parts, it seems.”

Jake swallows his beer quietly.

“What about all them hikers, ski-heads, and snowboard stoners? I see you still got them lifts running.”

“It costs more in electricity than the few tickets we been selling. Don’t know how much more of it will last. The man don’t want us small outfits to be in business no more, ya heard me?” Says Tony. “Banks have no problem shutting something down overnight that took generations to build. They just wanna’ level it and up the price for some big-shot developer to come in and commercialize the whole town.”

He draws his bottle forth, unscrews the cap, and takes a drink. 

“Can you get up and around?” Says Jake.

“Yeah. I ain’t down. Just resting. I’m okay,” says Tony.

“Well… I came because I’d known you was in trouble with the bank. When my dad passed, I got quite a sum. Guess my great grandfather had some luck investing.”

“You got a good heart, young blood. Look out for your own.”

“I don’t have any own.”

“Yes, you do,” says Tony.

“You was the only ones I ever knew as my own,” says Jake. “You’re out of options. All I ask is that you give me a place to stay and a job helping run the place. I’ve lived just about my entire life without a place to call home. Figured here would be as good as any.”

Tony wipes his mouth.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve heard all this sweet talk before.”

“Have you? And what makes you think I’m just talking?”

The offer recalls a sudden frustration. 

“Lemme tell you about some people,” Tony says. “Some people ain’t worth anything rich or poor, and that’s about all you can say about ’em. But I never knew a man that had it all that didn’t forget where he come from. I know a man I took care of the whole time when he was coming up. He’s a big man now, and he don’t know me. Drives a fancy car and all. I got no use for a man that pisses backward on his friends.”

Jake sits at the foot of the bed. He takes a sip from the beer bottle and holds it in his hands. 

“You see a man, and he’s scratching to make it. He thinks that everything will be all right once he’s got it made. But you don’t never have it made. I don’t care who you are. Wake up one morning, and you’re an old man. You ain’t got nothing to say to your brother. Don’t know no more than when you started.”

Tony appears angry. 

“I see,” says Jake.

Jake nods his head in passive agreement, and without a goodbye, he gets up and leaves. He passes Troy coming back with the Lucky’s, gives him a casual nod, and makes his way out. 

The beer warms Jake’s belly. Everything seems oddly familiar around him. He sees a Norther Goshawk gliding over a house he vividly remembers as a child. An enormous shape laboring over the chimneys like farm stock flying in a dream. Apparitions of such graceful levity quartering in the naked wind. 

A soft amber light folds and swells in the direction of the cold grey snowbanks. And he sees what had been so. How the rotting dirt leans and smells with a taste almost musty. He moves and sits on the porch of what looks to be a vacant balcony. Ghost-like in its proprietary transition.

He sees a snowy owl crusted on the spores of the wooden bridge and a crashing ravine, half-frozen, that runs two ways. The whispering sound of a marbled moonlight crest. A sea of drifting flakes and the long clatter of pebbles in the foam. He sits observing things until it’s late, and he breaks the cold and once again moves.

Jake walks back in and sets a check on the counter for the innkeeper’s son to see.

“The old man took care of me when there was nothing left in my life to live for. Here’s a gift. Payment for all the days I was lost, cold, and alone. If he don’t want it, tell him to burn it. Otherwise, I be seeing you on my way back from wherever I be going.”

Jake makes his way in a world unreal. Through causeways in a darkened town. A gray light moves in the East past blackened brick walls and windows kept by steel grates, their pains opaque with icy soot. He wanders in a night mirk by the river and the cold damp of dead frosted weeds. 

He lies in his sleeping bag, half-awake when he reaches an unoccupied cabin. A stray skier passes along an unpowered line. Jake lay with his feet together and his arms at his sides like a dead king on an altar. He dreams and rocks in vivid night swells, floating like the first germ of life adrift on the earth’s snowy floor, and all creation yet to come. 

January 19, 2022 23:40

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35 comments

K. Antonio
00:37 Jan 21, 2022

Commenting as I read: - I like the first sentence. - Second sentence feels like a mouthful, maybe consider changing the adjective "ice-sickled" for something simpler. - Maybe I'm just being picky but the third sentence reads unnecessarily wordy. This expression "..buried in the drifts like varied birds" through me for a loop. - I like the atmosphere and the eeriness of the second paragraph, I actually think the second paragraph is a lot stronger and better at setting the scene than the first. - "Jake enters the room with its odor of st...

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Graham Kinross
07:59 Feb 26, 2022

Wow, you give incredibly detailed feedback.

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James Grasham
20:05 Jan 26, 2022

Really enjoyed this story Dustin, the descriptions sounded poetic as I read them in my head. I found this prompt a little difficult but you mastered it!

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Dustin Gillham
22:18 Jan 26, 2022

Thank you for reading, James. Sometimes my writing is a little heavy. It is such a blessing and an outlet. I am honored you took the time to read my work.

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M. M.
20:35 Feb 06, 2022

I loved this rich encrusted sad little story. You do well description, some small corrections but I see others have pointed some of them out. I loved how you connected nature with dying as well and the last words "all creation yet to come" I am good guessing metaphorical for the afterlife if one believes in that. happy writing.

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Dustin Gillham
20:44 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you for taking the time to read this. You hit the nail on the head. That was exactly what I was going for.

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18:17 Jan 29, 2022

I love the first two paragraphs (although I think you meant stalks in the second line?) and felt set up for one kind of story - old, magical, fantastic. The ending also feels like this. In between it feels a bit like a different story. I don't understand the relationships. I can't get a handle on the time setting or whether it is a 'real world' setting or not. It's slippery. This is effective in some spots (keeping the reader off balance is an interesting technique) but also makes it harder to connect with the characters. Sometimes the lang...

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Dustin Gillham
00:12 Jan 30, 2022

Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Charlene. This was a challenging yet fun prompt. I always try and make my settings ethereal, and I love giving the reader room to interpret and see the world with their own senses. Sometimes I stray from my brainstorming draft, and often the story takes on something entirely of itself. It's not really an intentional thing, and the last thing I like doing is toying with or tricking my readers. Whenever I am done with a story, I read it and say, do I think this is worth the time to read? It goes in...

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14:13 Jan 31, 2022

I don't leave long comments unless it's gotten in my head so... :D Thanks Dustin... "I write like a total dude"... dying. LMAO.

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Sarah Winston
12:20 Jan 28, 2022

Your descriptions captured my attention, your dialogue held it. Ethereal and yet brutally carnal, a magnificent contrast.

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Dustin Gillham
20:55 Jan 28, 2022

I'm so honored by your comment, Sarah. Thank you for reading.

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Kathy Olson
03:30 Jan 26, 2022

The cold and darkness pervades this piece, overflowing it into my bones. I actually felt chilled reading it. You have done a masterful job of creating an atmosphere that evoked a mood of despair and hopelessness in me as a reader. I knew from the beginning that there was no happy ending, no hope in this place of "dead" "barren" "pestilential" "trashed" "buried" "ill-shaped" and "restless." And that's just in your first paragraph. All hope was lost when I read my favorite line of your piece - "He sees him move and become the faintest figure ...

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13:24 Jan 24, 2022

I always enjoy reading your stories Dustin. I think I re-read that first sentence three or four times because I liked it so much. You have a knack for creating very poignant, stark, forlorn atmospheres in your works.

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Jennifer Dowdell
02:39 Jan 23, 2022

Thanks for taking the time to read my story. I found your story to be a comfort read. I appreciated how descriptive you were with each character. I could almost smell Tony's whiskey breath through your detailed story-telling. Your ability to capture your audience with the awesome scenic revelations, as well as providing us a front seat to Jake's thoughts, is just amazing. That's a true gift to have. Again, I really enjoyed this story. My only regret is not grabbing a cup of Tea first along with slipping on a pair of my fuzzy socks from W...

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Dustin Gillham
20:44 Jan 23, 2022

Thank you, Jennifer. I am truly flattered by your compliments. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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Keya Jadav
06:41 Jan 21, 2022

Great story, Dustin! I love how you have described every detail and constructed the whole story. The starting line was great, probably my fav. I think the last paragraph was a good way to wrap it all up and the dialogues being very realistic. Nice read!

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Calm Shark
05:24 Jan 20, 2022

Hey Dustin! Great to read another story of yours. It was very nice to read a story from you and you did a good job. To me, the prompts were a bit hard so I think you fitted the story greatly with the prompt. Thanks, Dustin for sharing your story.

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Dustin Gillham
07:40 Jan 20, 2022

Thank you, my friend. I had envisioned something totally different when I started writing, but I think it all came together nicely. Sometimes my style can be a bit vivid, but I'm happy with how this one turned out.

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Sarah Winston
12:14 Jan 28, 2022

Hey, Calm Shark - what did you find hard about the prompts for this one? I noticed there were fewer entrants, as well. Just curious.

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Calm Shark
15:08 Jan 28, 2022

To be honest, I think it was creating a story. I don't know. Thank you for asking the question. I did have ideas but I did not how to create a story with them.

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Sarah Winston
15:15 Jan 28, 2022

It seems the highest response was the prompt, being snowed in at a lodge. I was very tempted by that one, as it could be the setting for a murder, a mystery, a romance, or someone engaged in deep introspection. I went with extreme hobby or sport.

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Calm Shark
15:22 Jan 28, 2022

That's what I thought. But I did create a story that had to do with friends in a lodge. This recent one about the names is what kind of bothered me.

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Sarah Winston
15:30 Jan 28, 2022

Oh, right. I thought you meant the last one. This one has more entries. I wrote one and had fun with it. The prompts are just stepping off points, anyway. I admit it didn't appeal much at first, names and all that. I did try the generators and they came up with a couple of interesting names, titles. I guess we will see tonight what the next challenge offers our imaginations!

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Kevin Marlow
02:55 Jan 20, 2022

Ethereal, imaginative descriptions as always. Check use of lone instead of loan.

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Dustin Gillham
07:37 Jan 20, 2022

Thank you for reading, Kevin. I just corrected that.

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Sarah Winston
12:17 Jan 28, 2022

Hi Dustin, great read. Commenting on the story above, but since Kevin pointed out a typo thought I would. Near the end, this sentence - "past blackened brick walls and windows kept by steel grates, their pains opaque with icy soot." - I think window' pane', not 'pain'. lol

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Dustin Gillham
20:52 Jan 28, 2022

Thank you, Sarah. I'm correcting it now. I'm very happy you enjoyed reading my work.

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Graham Kinross
07:59 Feb 26, 2022

This was very poetic. One thing; "He lies in his sleeping bag, half-awake when he reaches an unoccupied cabin." That to me sounds like he's already lying in his sleeping bag on the way to the cabin. If you change when to 'after' then I think that would work better. Other than that, great writing. Epic imagery.

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Dustin Gillham
20:54 Jan 28, 2022

Dang, it won't let me correct that word after approval. I'll have to be more careful!

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Michael Danyluk
17:31 Jan 25, 2022

cool story. I think the sentences in between the dialogue could flow a bit better, it's a bit blocky. Instead of saying 'Jake had not' say 'He shook his head'. It brings the reader into the action.

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Ambassador Rose
23:05 Jan 24, 2022

Wow. You are a master of descriptive phrases. Beautiful writing. I was lost at the last paragraph though! Did he die? Or was he really sleeping? (Hopefully, I don't sound like a moron; I just lost the thread there...) Thanks!

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Hannah Barrett
19:02 Jan 24, 2022

You did a really lovely job creating a sense of place, and I really enjoyed the dialogue. Nice work!

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Lina Oz
03:19 Jan 24, 2022

You have a lovely descriptive voice, and the dialogue felt very smooth, which is a difficult effect to achieve. I really enjoyed reading this.

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Francis Hill
03:18 Jan 24, 2022

Nice one

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