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Paul Tevis

Entries in writing (41)


Broca Be Damned

For this week’s flash fiction challenge, Chuck asked us to write about a new monster. I was lost until last night, when I remembered Ken Hite’s thesis in GURPS Horror that the reason why certain archetypal monsters are still with us — despite their cosmetic changes over the centuries — is because they embody particular fears we have. And made me start thinking about things I’m afraid of…

I step off the train into the station and he’s sitting there, mumbling to himself, his slept-in suit smelling like he’s pissed in it for the third time this week. The scrawl on his cardboard sign is illegible; I assume it says something like “Please help.” I lean down to toss some into his hat, avoiding eye contact as I always do with these types. That’s when he grabs my wrist and starts spitting syllables at me.

His words are just as unintelligible as his handwriting, but I can tell from tone and the look in his eyes that it’s something urgent that he’s trying to communicate to me. It’s too bad for him I don’t care what he’s on about. A crazy homeless guy has me by the arm, so I start shouting for the cops. One of them is on him in flash, pulling him off of me, forcing him to the ground, and all the while the lunatic is raving about something I can’t make out.

Backup arrives a moment later. She asks me if I’m alright and I say I’m fine. The guy still hasn’t calmed down; he’s still trying to tell me something. I feel kind of sorry for the guy. He must be off his meds or something. They start to drag him off, and I say, “I’m sorry, man. I just don’t understand.”

He locks eyes with me and clear as day says, “No one does anymore. You don’t know how it feels.” He gets this crazy grin on his face and says, “But you will.”

Somehow he slips out of the cop’s grip, and a second later he’s under a train. It takes them two hours to get the mess cleaned up and the line running again.


I’m telling Amanda this over dinner that night and she just nods. I mean, it’s not the most spellbinding story ever, but it’s not the kind of thing that happens every day either. She’s been working on this big project at work, so she’s probably thinking about that. I ask her if she can do the dishes tonight — I’ve got to finish the Hicks presentation for tomorrow, so I can’t do them like I normally do — and she nods. Two hours later I’m in the study, finishing my last few PowerPoint slides, when she comes in and asks me why I haven’t cleaned up the kitchen yet. I tell her I asked if she could take care of it. There’s a brief, spirited exchange that ends with her shaking her and saying, “Whatever.” The dishes are still on the table when I finally head to bed an hour or so later.


I’m in the shower the next morning when I notice the outline. It’s on my right wrist, where he grabbed me, and it itches a bit. Great. I put some Benadryl cream on it, finish getting dressed, and head out. Helen left before I got up, as she always does, though this time it was without saying goodbye.

The station has been put back in order by the time I get there, so there’s no delays in getting to the office. That’s good, because there’s an email for me from Rob telling me that some of the data for the presentation has changed. I drop that, run through it once more to practice, and grab a leisurely cup of coffee before the 10 AM meeting. Should be a piece of cake.


“What the fuck happened in there, Dan?”

It’s 11 o’clock, I’m in Rob’s corner office, and he’s screaming at me.

“You completely lost your shit. Those slides didn’t make any sense. If Ryan hadn’t been there to step in, we would have totally lost the Hicks account.” He stands there, arms folded, livid. “So I repeat: What the fuck happened?”

I tell him I’m sorry, I don’t know what he’s talking about. After a sentence or two he waves me off. “Look, I know you’ve been under a lot stress lately. Just get out of here for a while, okay? Take the rest of the day off and try to get your shit together.”

He slams the door behind me as I head for the elevator.


“Man, speak English.”

I’m down by the bay, trying to relax like Rob told me to, and this joker is messing with me. I look at the hot dog vendor and repeat my order. “I want two jumbo dogs with onions and mustard.”

He looks around for a moment. “Anyone speak whatever language this dude talks?”

I grab him by the shirt and scream in his face, “I speak English just fine, motherfucker! Stop playing dumb and give me my goddamn hotdogs.” Somebody starts shouting for the cops.


“There’s no neurological basis for it, ma’am,” the doctor says to Amanda, pointing to the output from the fMRI tests. His office is all stainless steel and leather, clean and confident. “His brain is functioning normally, and there’s no damage to any of his speech or language centers.” I sit on my hands to keep from throttling him. It’s the same thing they’ve all said for the last three months: the medical doctors, the psychologists, the neuroscientists. Sudden-onset expressive aphasia and agraphia. It means I can’t communicate, not through speaking, not through writing, not even through fucking charades. I’ve become a freak, a lab rat, a puzzle that no one can solve. No one understands me.

“So what it is?” Amanda asks.

“I have no idea,” he says. “The case is fascinating. I’d like to keep him here for another week or two to run some more tests.” The hell he will. “We need to understand what’s going on in there.”

I stand up and I grab him by the wrist. “Oh, you’ll understand it soon enough,” I said. His face goes white.

Then I crash through the thirteenth story window of his immaculate office, heading for the ground below.


Fitness: None, still recovering from the cold

Victories in the War of Art

Tonight I finished the zeroth draft of the novel.

At this point, it can be read start to finish. It has a plot, and so far as I know, all of the relevant bits of the plot are in there. There are almost certainly inconsistencies in it, as well as problems of voice, pacing, description, and tone. To find them, I’m going to have to read the whole thing — all almost-fifty-five-thousand words of it — in order for the first time. There’s a lot of work ahead of me to beat this manuscript into a first draft, into something that I’d be willing to show people. Revising fiction, especially fiction of this length, is territory largely unknown to me, so I expect it will be slow going. To quote Churchill, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Still, I’d rather wrestle with a page full of words that are not quite right than deal with one devoid of them entirely. I’ve won the first battle. I believe a brief rest is in order. Then, on with the remainder of the campaign.


Fitness: Rest day
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 333 words, 142 seven-day average, 282 average, 54900 total; 157 days written (out of 195 days)


Here’s another piece of flash fiction in response to one of Chuck’s challenges. The challenge is:

Three sentences long.

This can be in any genre. Any subject. No limitations beyond size.

Three. Sentences. Long.

Amusingly, this one is longer than last week’s one-hundred word challenge.

The banker died alone. That’s not to say that there weren’t people present when he passed on, because there were: his grandchildren who had never gotten to know him during his brief and infrequent visits on birthdays and holidays; his sons, to whom he had never been close, kept far away at boarding schools when they were young, now grown and as distant from their children as he had been from them, ready even at that moment to stick knives into each other over the scraps of inheritance he was in the process of leaving them; his wife, whom he had married for love when they were both young and poor, from whom day by day he had grown part as he immersed himself deeper and deeper into his work and she slipped further and further into the bottle, both of them reaching the point where they hardly bothered to maintain even the illusion they were still happily married, neither of them caring enough to make the paltry effort of formally ending their union, though it had ended informally enough years ago — all of them were in the room with his body when he breathed his last. But he was no more with them when he took leave of his life than he had been during it, and after he was cold and they pitched his body in the clay, he was no further from them than he had already been.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see this challenge until after the deadline. I did it anyway, because this isn’t about Chuck. It’s about me.


Fitness: Ran 5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 537 words, 343 seven-day average, 285 average, 51508 total, 1492 to go for the week; 3-day streak

Three Line Scene

More flash fiction this week, in response to another of Chuck’s challenges. This time I even got it in under the deadline.

“I love you,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” said Ivy.

We stood there on the balcony, across the great rotunda from each other, the cruel stones of the bishop’s whispering gallery reflecting her words to me. The blisters on my right hand began to itch again, beneath the rags I had wrapped them in, still raw and hot from where I had burned myself on the cooking pot two days before.

The maiden looked at me, the kitchen boy, with sadness in her eyes, the empty air between us growing wider by the moment.

“I’m not,” I said.


Fitness: Ran 5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 540 words, 407 seven-day average, 282 average, 49106 total, 1394 to go for the week; 14-day streak

Fight Scenes are Hard

So a rough sketch of the novel goes something like this: Mystery, mystery, allusion to backstory, mystery, action, mystery, character-revealing interaction, mystery, mystery, big reveal, action, mystery, action, action, action, resolution. I’m in that “action, action action” part right now, and it’s giving me trouble.

I think it’s because I’m better at dialog than description. Most those “mystery” beats I mentioned are really “protagonist goes and talks to someone about something” scenes. Those I could write all day. Dialog is just people saying things. There’s no need to paint the scene in such a way that the reader has the same picture in her mind that I do in mind. All I need to do is lay out what the characters say in as clear a terms as possible. It’s just words. Description, on the the other hand, is hard for me. Unfortunately, action sequences are nothing but description. Add in the complication that it’s a first-person narrative — which mean it’s description I have to write the character’s voice — and it’s starting to drive me a little bonkers.

I’m in the home stretch, though. I’m working on the climactic fight scene now, so once I get through this it’s going to be dialog all the way to the end.


Fitness: Ran 5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 477 words, 472 seven-day average, 277 average, 46255 total, 1745 to go for the week; 7-day streak