The Devil’s Boy

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When John was little, the one thing he loved most in the world were nuggets.

He didn’t know what it was about those little breaded chunks of meat, but once his ma has fried up a batch of those crispy treats and popped one into his mouth, he was hooked. His pop-pop had bought them as a treat on his fifth birthday, but lil’ John always wanted more.
Whether dipped in barbecue sauce, or eaten plain, John loved munching on that sweet savory meat. He could have nuggets for lunch, dinner, and when ma had to milk the cows early in the morning, he would sneak out the leftovers for breakfast. Punishment would follow if he got caught, but he didn’t care. The only thing that mattered were the nuggets.
One thing about nuggets though, there was no way to make them on the farm. So every week, Pop-pop would put the boy in the pickup, and drive down to the city to get a bag of them down at the Safe-mart. It was the only time John got alone with Pop-pop, so he tagged along without fuss. He never liked the city much, and it didn’t like him either. It was loud, crowded, and the people there liked talking too much.
In the city, John would put a hand to his face when somebody got near, he didn’t like them staring, but still he could hear them, whispering and sniggering all round. “Pay no attention to them John,” Pop-pop would say, and the adults would leave him alone. But it was the children who were the cruelest one.
Rat-face, freak-show, retard, just some of the names the children in this accursed city called him. They would point, laughing at his protruding teeth, his sagging left eye, and the constant dribble that went down the side of his mouth. John hated them, and he made up his mind early to never ever live in the city.
Inside the safe-mart, things were no better. The constant stares left him feeling awkward, and there was nowhere in the bright-lit aisles to hide. Pop-pop was friends with the supervisor in the store, and he would go round back with her for a little chat, leaving John to fend for himself in the frozen section. John resented his father for that, but it usually meant a dinner of MickeyD’s nuggets later, so he never complained.
But the safe-mart was also where he discovered kindness. Barrett, the butcher, has noticed the boy alone, and unlike the rest, he would beckon for him to come over, inviting him to watch him work. Barrett would talk, and John would listen. The man would sharpen his blades and chop up the meat, stacking them high on the counter, waiting for customers to pick out the choicest bits.
Sometimes, business in the store was slow, and he would cook up a little something for the boy. He knew John loved nuggets, but he wanted John to experiment. Cutting up meats into the same size chunks as nuggets, he would bread them and fry them up, offering John a little taste of everything. John liked him, and he liked the treats, they soon became fast friends.
Then one day, just like any other, Barrett was slicing up a side of beef. His knife slipped. In the blink of an eye, John watched as the blade severed the end of Barrett little finger, chopping through the bone just below the first segment. The dismembered digit flopped on the table and rolled onto the floor. John looked at it as the butcher stood there screaming bloody murder.
John had no recollection of crying then, he only remembered watching. He watched when the finger bounced and twitched on the floor, its white skin and pink flesh coated in the still-warm blood of Barrett. It called out to the boy, like a nugget. John walked over and picked it up.
“Gimme that son, I need to get it to a… what are you doing…John NO!”
Pop-pop heard the screams, and came charging back into the store, his hands swrestling with the buckle of his belt. He found his young son staring at the stricken butcher, blood stains on his little hands, and a red gob trickling down the side of his chin. John was gnawing on something, he turned around and gave his Pop-pop a happy look.
“The devil! The devil!” Barrett screamed, flailing his arms, trying to get help.
“Oh hell John…” Pop-pop quietly took his son into his arms, and fled away from the store.
News spread like wildfire. By the time they have reached home, TV reporters were already covering the story, calling John the devil’s boy. Soon, Pop-pop knew they would come for him. He got out his shotgun and loaded it up.
The angry mob got there before the police, arriving in cars and pickups that stretched up down the road. The man leading them was their pastor, and he demanded that the boy be handed over, so that the demon can be exorcised.
“But he’s an angel, my angel,” Ma had told them, pleading with the men while pop-pop shoved his gun up their faces.
“That’s up to the good Lord to decide Betsy. I told ya you and Eric were never meant to be, and now you shall know His wrath. Sister should never marry brother, that just ain’t right. Now bring out the boy so that we can do what’s right.”
Pop-pop fired shots into the air, stopping the men’s advance. “RUN BOY RUN!” Inside the house, John heard his father’s cry. “I’m warning ya, take another step forward and I’ll…”
“And you’ll what?” The pastor challenged, walking right up to the barrel of his gun. “In the name of the Father, I command you to bring out the cursed child and…”
A single shot silenced the crowd. Was it his trembling fingers or his anger, John would never know. Pop-pop had fired the shot that would change this community forever. Time stood still as the old man flew off the ground, landing back five feet away with a crunching thud. The crowd went berserk.
John ran. Out the backdoor he went, never turning back as gunshots filled the air. He heard screams, one of them sounded like his Ma. But still he did what he had promised them, he ran. Pass the barn and into rows of corn, he chanced a look back. Ma and Pop-pop were nowhere in sight.
“Where are you devil-boy?” A man in a black coat said, as men swarmed the shack, looking for the boy,
“He ain’t here!”
“Well, what are you waiting for then. Burn him out, burn everything!”
John watched as the men lit up the shack that he had lived in his entire life. The wooded panels caught easily, and soon the fire spread. It became a towering inferno.
“Throw the bodies in,” the man said. “Ain’t no police gonna bother with what happened here tonight,”
“But Remy, the woman’s still moving. Your Pa he…”
“My Pa is dead, they killed him! And I say throw them in!”
John tried to shout, but only a gurgled grunt came from out of his throat. “Mama…” It was one of the few words he knew. He stared at the man giving the orders, burning his face into memory. Then, he heard a rustling before him.
“Hey he’s here! The devil boy is here!”
John ran. This time, he didn’t stop. He ran when the men fired their guns at him, and he ran when they set fire all around him. John never stopped running.

One day he promised, they will be the ones doing the running.

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Goodbyes Rewrite

NoirSix-Thirty.

The glare from the setting sun cuts through the window, bathing the clutter in the office in a warm orangey hue. Remly, lost in his thoughts, looks up from his desk. Time. He straightens his shirt in the mirror and walks out into the hallway.

Passing by the grimy sign hanging on the wall, Remly dances his fingers across the tarnished bronze, feeling the shallow grooves of the letters beneath his touch. In faded text, the legacy of this agency lays etched. James & Manson – Private Detectives.

Walking into the room beside, Remly spies Albus brooding at his desk, the bald patch on his head turned towards the door. Whether Albus notices the younger man coming in or not, Remly cannot tell. Waiting patiently, he admires the evening sky, watching it cool into a navy blue.

As the light fades, Albus stirs from his stupor, wiping the streaks off his face with rugged hands.

“Well kid, this is it.”

“Yup.”

Remly looks down at the floor, kicking at the imaginary dirt as Albus pulls his coat on, eyes transfixed on the sky.

“Never thought this day would come you know. Been here for over forty years.”

Remly smiles, “Forty-one to be exact. Twenty-eight with dad, thirteen with me.”

Albus turns and grins, wrinkling his eyes. “Forty-one years with the best damn partners a man could have wished for.”

“You can always visit,” Remly says, walking towards the desk. Albus produces a bottle and two glasses from his drawer and pours out the drink, handing one to Remly.

“Ain’t gonna be the same kid. It’ll just be me yapping and taking up your time. You gonna spruce up the place?”

“Maybe.” Remly says, looking down into his glass.

“Well, at least the old girl’s in safe hands.” Albus sighs, running a hand across his mahogany desk. “Been with me since day one you know. A present from the boys down at the station.”

“Still keep in touch?”

Albus eyes glaze. He shrugs, stretching out to make a toast. “James & Manson is all yours now Remly. Remember, if you ever need anything…”

“You’ll be the first to know.”

“Good.” Albus says, blinking back his tears. “We’re proud of you, you know that?”

Remly grins, “Too bad pride doesn’t pay the bills.” He downs the smoky-brown fire in a single gulp and grimaces. “…where you get this stuff?”

“It’s been sitting around.”

“For what, a decade?”

Albus smirks, downing his own with a satisfied smile. “Strong stuff. Bet your old man would have appreciated it though. Now that’s a man who knows his whiskey.”

“Enough to die from it.”

The moment lapses into silence.

“Well,” Albus coughs, putting on his hat. “Guess I better get going. Me and Margery have a plane to catch, and I haven’t packed.”

“Oh, where are you taking her?” Remly asks, in a friendlier tone.

“Hawaii!” Albus beams, years falling off his face. “Just me and the Mrs on the beach.”

Remly grins, “Send me a postcard then. Haven’t had a chance to see paradise myself.”

Albus breaks into a hearty laugh and shakes his head. “You ain’t gonna find paradise out there Remly. You gotta find it in here.”

Remly gives a weak smile as Albus taps a finger over his chest. “Sure you don’t want me to call you a cab?”

“Save it kid. Buy yourself a nice dinner tonight. God knows you’re gonna need it.”

Remly gives an appreciative smile. “Thank you Albus.”

“You too junior.”

The two men share a quiet hug.

Albus shields his eyes. With a final pat on Remly’s back, he breaks away, walking out the front door of his office for the very last time.

Glancing after the retreating back of Albus, Remly sheds a tears, forcing himself back into the real world. His partner might be gone now, but life goes on. It always does. Bills still need to be paid, and clients need to be informed. Looking around the musty old office, Remly worries about making the rent this month.

For years, James & Manson has languished, surviving on scraps thrown their way by their limited client list. Debt collectors, job agencies, and anyone else who needs the low down on the dirt, they call Albus. The work might not be flashy, but it puts food on the table.

Dragging Albus’s rolodex across the table, Remly fingers through the yellowing cards. Now that both founding members of the agency are gone, Remly needs to find out which of the regulars will be sticking around. Picking a card out at random, he makes the call.

“Wachowski! Long time no hear from ya. How’s the bailor business?”

A gruff voice on the other end answers. “Ain’t got nothing for you Manson, better luck next time.” He hangs up.

Remly picks out another card. “Milo? Remly here, James & Manson. Naww, just calling to check if…” Same answer. Stung by the rejections, Remly pulls out three more cards from the pile.

Two of them shoots him down immediately. Last one. 

“Words on the street that you’re flying solo now Remly. The boss ain’t too thrilled about that, says you lack experience.”

“Krippie, come on. We’ve been working together since I was a kid! You know my dad.”

“I like you Remly. Sorry.”

Five strikes in a row. Remly’s psyche is shot. He slams the receiver down and makes a grab for the bottle, pouring himself a double. He fumes, chugging down the whiskey and feeling the fire burn down his throat. “To you dad,” he croaks, raising his glass. “And to so-called friends.”

The warmth spreading inside of Remly makes him feel good. It helps him to relax. He pours another double and gulps it with gusto. Just one more. By the time Remly stops, half the bottle is gone.

“Sorry dear, won’t happen again,” Remly slurs, chuckling as he mimics his father. Leaving the mess on the table, he stumbles out of the office, ready to call it a night. He promises himself to call again tomorrow, though the prospect of being rejected again weighs heavily on him.

But tomorrow can worry about itself. Tonight, Remly has his mind set on steak. At least the thought of one anyways, as he looks into his wallet. Sighing at his sad state of affairs, he wonders how Albus managed to save up enough for Hawaii.

Grabbing his coat and hat from the other room, Remly shuffles out the front door, making doubly sure to lock up everything behind. Without Albus to look over his shoulders now, Remly feels the need to be extra careful. Fumbling with his keys, Remly lets out a smile. Barely an hour, and already he misses the old man.

He gives the door a swift jerk, hearing the lock falling into place. Someday, when finances allow, he will replace this damned door, and the grimy sign out front. Better yet, he might just move out, eave the ghosts behind and make a fresh start. Smiling at the thought, he makes his way down the hallways, whistling to himself a nameless tune.

The elevator shaft is a distance away, across to the other side of the building.  Why this is so, Remly never asked. But it does mean his rent is cheaper. Being far removed from nosy neighbors and prying eyes only sweetens the deal.

The fact remains though, Remly will be out on the streets if business continues to slide. He thinks about letting out one of the offices as a temporary measure, but that would mean having to share the signage space out front. After forty-one years, Remly is not ready for that. Not yet.

What James & Manson really needs is a new gig. A big fat client to move the agency out of its doldrums and into a new life. And Remly wants it now. Taking his cigarettes out from his coat pocket, he lights one up as he rounds the corner, distracted by his problems.

“Excuse me!”

Remly looks up just in time. He skips a step and turns aside, narrowly avoiding a collision. The figure appearing around the corner turns and glares at him, muttering his discontent.

“Pardon me,” Remly says, breaking away from his thoughts to offer an apology. But the elderly gentlemen in the white suit ignores him, hobbling away on his walking stick. Instinctively, Remly’s investigative senses come alive. Trimmed beard, studded ivory cane, a spot of the latest Eau de Cologne. Remly smells money.

Intrigued, he moves into the shadows along the walls, taking another drag on his cigarette. He eyes the old man hobbling from unit to unit, scrutinizing the names and signboards.

“You looking for something?”

The old man turns around, searching for the voice.

“Would be easier for you to just ask.”

Spotting Remly in the dark, the man replies in a thick English accent. “This is none of your business young man.”

Remly blinks, keeping his cool. “You’re trespassing on private property here, so I suggest you remember your manners.”

The man straightens his back and stares defiantly, “And who might you be?”

“A nobody.” Remly grins. “But at least I pay the rent. So who are you looking for.”

The man eyes Remly suspiciously, “The only reason I’m having trouble is because this blasted building doesn’t seem to have a directory. Do you know when I might find the offices of James & Manson?”

Remly perks ups. He takes one last puff from his cigarette and throws it to the floor, stubbing it out with his boot. “Depends on why you want to find them?”

“That is my private business.”

Remly walks up to the man and extends a hand. “You found him. Remly Manson at your service, what can I do for ya?”

The man steps back. “May I see some identification?”

Reaching into this coat pocket, Remly pulls out a card. “If you’re hoping for a badge…”

The old man squints at the card. “This will do Mr Manson. But I’m actually looking for a Mr Albus James.”

Remly’s enthusiasm wanes. “Albus is gone for the day, if there’s anything I’ll be more than happy to…”

“Thank you, but no,” the old man says, raising a hand to decline. “I’ll like to speak to Albus in private, it’s… well its a matter of utmost confidentiality. Is there anyway I can reach him?”

Think fast Remly. “I can assure you sir, that as a partner of James & Manson, I am just as capable in handling your request, Mr…”

“White, Sullivan White.” The man says, tipping his hat with his cane.

“Mr White.” Remly nods in acknowledgement. “Now, me and Albus have been working together for a very long time, and there’s not a thing in this world we don’t trust each other with. Don’t let this youthful mug fool ya now,” Remly says, forcing a laugh.

The man glances down at the card and back at him. “You’re the Manson?”

“Presently so,” Remly answers, tipping his own hat in response. “Now why don’t we go to the office so that we may discuss this in private.”

Mr White bites his lips. “Perhaps when Mr Albus is available…”

Remly’s heart skips a beat. He weighs the costs in his head, and goes in for broke. “You win Mr White, I’m going to send for Mr Albus right now.”

Surpised, the features on the old man’s face begins to soften. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

“But while we’re waiting, why don’t you join me for dinner and some wine. There’s a nice little restaurant just across the street.”

 

Author’s Notes: 

– This is a repost from a story intro I uploaded earlier in the week.

– Trying out a more economical form of writing. Basic stuff like:

  • Cutting out dialogue cues
  • Single-word verb approach for action
  • Less “Ands” “As” and cluttered link words. Using more periods and commas.
  • Letting things go unsaid, unexplained. Particularly in the narrative. This forces the dialogue to come to the front.
  • Playing with bigger chunks of dialogue. Only breaks in the sequence should only be actions, not narrative explanations, which I tend to do.
  • Essentially, after trimming all the fat, I cut a 3000 word intro to a 2000 word one and made it sound better.
  • I think I’ll like to explore this style of writing more, but its tedious.
  • The game of subtext – Two big chunks here. Instead of just words, I tried to put some hidden meaning and agenda and leaving it unexplained. Seems to work.

Feedback Requested: 

  • Any jarring parts? Any parts that just seem to jump?
  • Some parts might need to be slowed down. but I’ll cut down first and pad it up later with content instead of word.
Initial Write Ups

Ang Lee: A Never-Ending Dream

Many would know Ang Lee: 2013 Oscar recipient for Best Director, and his film, Life Of Pi, for scoring a total of 4 Oscars against the odds. Some might remember him for his other smash hit, Brokeback Mountain and its 3 Oscar wins, including again Best Director. But how many of us will know of Ang Lee: The Broken & Bitter 30-year old.

Image” It was nearly unheard of for a Chinese newcomer to make it in the American film industry. Beginning in 1983, I struggled through six years of agonizing, hopeless uncertainty. Much of the time, I was helping film crews with their equipment or working as editor’s assistant, among other miscellaneous duties. My most painful experience involved shopping a screenplay at more than thirty different production companies, and being met with harsh rejection each time.

That year, I turned 30. There’s an old Chinese saying: ‘At 30, one stands firm.’ Yet, I couldn’t even support myself. What could I do? Keep waiting, or give up my movie-making dream? My wife gave me invaluable support.”

Source: Irene Shih

This was actually written/translated into English after the Oscar presentation in 2006. But fast forward to 2013, and the message shines just as bright. Ang Lee did not achieve his success overnight, nor did he achieve his dreams in a single year. It took him six years of fighting against self doubt, social stigma, family objection, constant failures, and actually giving up and climbing back up again, before he became who he is today.

His life story, his journey, stands tribute and testament to the power of perseverance, dedication and belief. If you forget what your dream is, then what else is there to live for.

Throughout all this negativity, he found a bright spark – his wife. All at once, she became anchor, muse, life coach and the constant pillar of support that kept him going. And I think there is a valuable lesson for all of us here today.

For anyone out here with a dream of doing something big, something different (including myself), find that anchor. I believe it can be anything, not just a person. Some find solace in religion, in smaller successes, in learning from defeat. Whatever it is, FIND IT. And when you do, hang on to it. I do not believe anyone can succeed just by trying to be strong for himself, because he can still crumble and lay broken under the pressure. But if someone/something else is there, not under the same pressure, it can help you back to your feet, or lend you the support you need to fight those pressures.

So for all those out there trying to make a difference in their own lives or others, find your anchor, and keep fighting the good fight. The world will be a better place with your contributions.

And for those out there who know someone going through a tough time, remember the difference you can make. A simple word of encouragement, a simple smile… who knows, the person you help might be the next Ang Lee.

Check out the rest of the excerpt here – A Never Ending Dream (Credit: http://www.whatshihsaid.com / Irene Shih for translation)

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Midweek Ravings: Happy One Month Old Blog!

Fact or Fiction: The more you blog, the MORE you want to blog

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When I started blogging just a month back, the first thought that appeared in my head was whether I had enough content or writing in me to sustain posting in the long run. Back then, all I wanted was a personal journal that would allow me to express thoughts, opinions and the lessons I have learnt in a conducive setting. Blogging seemed like the most obvious choice since I wanted to post more than just words or daily entries. I wanted to play with whatever medium I wanted, and I wanted to write more than just my day to day life.

Unfortunately, the moment I clicked the “create blog” button, I panicked. Holy crap! What should my first post be! Taking a cue from a quick look around the web, the first post seemed to be usually an introductory post, so I created the About Me page. Then came the dreaded second post i.e. The post that is actually supposed to be content. I wanted this to be a writing/reading site, so I scoured my favorites and bookmarks for old reads that I have found on the web. This went well for a while, I made a few posts in my first two days… and then I ran out of things to say.

Continue reading

English: A History Lesson

English Family~Of Poverty~

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot. And then once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery…if you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor”. But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot… They “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were the lowest of the low. The next time you are washing your hands and complain because of the water temperature, think about how things used to be.

~Of Marriage~

Most people got married in June (more weddings are planned for June than any other month of the year) because they took their yearly bath in May, And they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were starting to smell, Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

~Of Baths & Babies~

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath water!”

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Ernest Hemingway: How to Write Fiction

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Saw this recent posting on the Open Culture website. It’s an article that referenced the compilation Ernest Hemingway On Writing on some of the best advice Hemingway ever gave to aspiring writers. While Hemingway never really published any material specifically targeted at educating writers, he did write several interesting things about his opinions on writing through various sources in his lifetime.

This article is not a writer’s guide per se, and don’t expect it to be. It’s about Hemingway talking about how he works and why he writes the way he writes. I enjoyed reading it very much, and if nothing else, this article gives you a brief glimpse into the minds of one of the literary greats of our time. To me, that’s more important than a random person of the internet trying to teach me how to write in a step 1 to 10 fashion. I’m not a particular fan of his work, but he does give personal anecdotes on several writing rules or habits that you might have heard of, or even perhaps, are using right now.

I particularly appreciate this one:

6: Use a pencil

If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier.

Even though I do not practice writing with a pencil, due to my god-awful handwriting (I failed an economics paper before due to illegible handwriting), I still enjoy the practice of writing and rewriting my work. Whether I’m making the story any better is not something I can comment on, but I find I can make the story flow smoother through rewriting.

Take a gander at the article if like to see his personal interpretation of the writing rules. You can find it here on the Open Culture site – Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction

P.S: Why do successful novelists all look so scholarly? Maybe it’s time to splurge for a nice pair of reading glasses to give myself that intense sophisticated look.