Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Okay, so I'm a few minutes into Christmas proper, but I got the idea, and wrote 95% of this on Christmas Eve. It's not an overly personal story, no deep emotions coming out or a commentary on life. I just wanted to write a happy story for the holidays. I hope that your day is full of joy and companionship. Happy holidays, merry Christmas.

A festive tale of the writer,
Nicholas Slayton

Christmas Eve

The moon should have illuminated the night sky, but the heavy gray clouds left things dark and dreary. Inside the house, the fire was burning brightly, the sound of crackling wood drowned out only by the shouts and screams of the children in the large house’s main room.
The six children ran around the room, doing their best not to trip over the presents under the Christmas tree. Jenna’s family came from money, and their Christmas decorations put both Desmond and Stephen’s families to shame. But to their advantage, it also gave Jenna a large house full of things to occupy their time during winter vacation as the twenty-fifth approached, especially since Jenna’s parents were out at some socialite gathering. They just had not counted on looking after Jenna’s little brother and his friends.
The three college students sat on the family room’s overstuffed couches and watched in a mix of shock and awe as the six kids scurried around. They seemed to jump from activity to activity, never taking a moment to breathe.
“Were we this crazy when we were kids?” Jenna asked, turning her head to look at Desmond. Her dark hair hung over half of her face, the green and red elf hat giving her usually-serious, femme fatale look a festive touch.
Her boyfriend shrugged, unsure. He ran his hand through his messy brown hair. “I’m really not sure. Maybe the cookies were a bad idea.”
“Seriously Jenna, did you spike those cookies with adrenaline or something?” Stephen asked. Desmond’s roommate wore and oversized Santa hat on his head, which hung loosely over his hair, adding to his rumpled look. The only thing about him that did not look like it had been through a tumble-dry was his razor sharp grin.
“Don’t look at me. It’s not my fault my little brother and his friends are like the Road Runner,” Jenna said.
Hearing himself mentioned, Jeff stopped in his tracks and turned toward his sister. The 10 year-old’s eyes were wide from excitement. “Hey sis, can we open some presents, please? Mom and dad won’t find out.
“Oh come on, you know the rules. No presents opened until Christmas morning, that’s tradition.”
“Oh come on, we’ve got to do something for fun. You already won’t let us go to see a movie.”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Desmond said. “It’s time to sit back by the fire and take it easy.”
“Oh well, fine. But we’ve got to do something or we’ll go insane!”
“Okay then, what would you like instead?” Jenna asked.
“Tell us a story!” Jeff said. “Like, tell us a story about Santa Claus!”
Desmond sat back in his chair, exhaling softly. He looked at Jenna then at Stephen. “That’s quite a request. Any ideas on that one?”
“I’ve got this,” Stephen said with a grin. “Okay kids, you want the story of Santa Claus? Then get ready. This is what the greeting cards didn’t want you to hear.”
The bells were ringing. The elves had been defeated. The North Pole was going to fall.
The ninjas were here.
Santa Claus hefted his samurai sword as he snuck through the toy factory. The work benches were abandoned and the toys left unfinished on their conveyor belts. Everyone had rushed to grab a weapon when the attack had started. Now things were quiet, and the factory empty. The stables had been let open, and he wasn’t sure where the reindeer were. Santa gripped the red and white handle of his sword tightly. It had already been put to use escaping his office. The four dead ninjas collapsed over his desk were proof enough to that. He had tried to escape through the ventilation system, but it was built for elves, not for him. So much for Die Hard-ing it.
He snuck through the room, staying against a wall to not expose himself. His red coat was stained with a darker shade of scarlet, but he ignored that. Despite his size and age, the old man had a few tricks left up his sleeve. One did not survive spending a year in the North Pole without being tough. And he wasn’t going to let a clan of angry ninjas ruin Christmas. Not for the children. He’d had been through worse. The time Genghis Khan had tried to ravage the North Pole. The pirate raids of the 1600s. The Nazi invasion of ’42. The Nazi zombie reinvasion of ’09.
He stopped where he was. A movement from up above. He couldn’t be sure what it was, but it was a time to take caution. He slowly regripped the katana and started to raise it when the bench he was crouching under exploded in a spray of splinters as razor sharp ninja stars embedded themselves in the wood. Santa jumped to his feet, running parallel to the bench as six black-clad ninjas dropped into the darkened factory from the ceiling from an open skylight. They landed almost silently, but the old man’s eyes were sharp, honed from years of reading the skyline and detecting different houses.
The ninjas threw another round of stars at him, but he rolled under the bench, using the work station as cover. He leapt to his feet, picking up a half-full scarlet bag from the ground. He swung it as hard as he could. It caught one of the ninjas in the face, the heavy toys inside of it sending the attacker to the ground with a loud crash and a sharp crack. It must have been the action figures production line. Santa should not have been upset with the elves for making those new toys so heavy and dense.
Santa did not stop to watch the ninja go down. He was already swinging his katana at one of the surprised attackers. It cut through his midsection, and he dropped to the ground with a thud. The other ninjas were quick to react, pulling out their ninjatos from behind their backs. In unison, the four ninjas rushed at Santa Claus.
Santa ran to meet them. He blocked one swipe, using his mass and momentum to knock the ninja back, sending him tumbling over an elf’s small stole. He then swung around, blocking another attack aimed at stabbing him in the back. He pushed the blade away, slashing downward. The ninja screamed, grabbing his left thigh as it erupted in a splash of red.
Santa saw the other two ninjas still standing move toward him to attack, but instead of charging them, he turned and ran in the opposite direction. They followed, but they were too far away to stop his plan. Santa leapt to the ground, rolling over the corpse of the first ninja. As he rolled over the toy-covered body, he reached into a pocket. As he came to his feet, the ninjas realized what was going on. Their eyes, the only parts of their body visible under their black outfits, widened to new heights as fear took them over. Santa threw the handful of ninja stars directly at them. At this distance it was impossible to miss. The shuriken caught the two ninjas in the face and the chest, and in their momentum they came tumbling to the ground around Santa, twitching as life left them.
Santa snorted at their foolishness. It was a bunch of young men holding a pointless vendetta. Men could change. A lump of coal for one ninja clan this year didn’t mean it was a mark for the rest of their lives.
He had no time to dwell on that thought as the only uninjured ninja, back on his feet after Santa’s body had tackled him, leapt into the air, screaming murder and vengeance. As Santa swung his katana into the air to block the ninjato’s strike, he whistled as loudly as he could. The ninja landed on his feet and launched into a lightning fast series of attacks. Santa’s speed was not as fast, and he struggled to parry the stabs. The ninja forced him back, into the middle of the factory’s spacious main room. Another attack from the ninja left a cut on Santa’s sleeve, sending rich and heavy red velvet flying into the air.
“What’s the matter old man?” the ninja asked. Santa could almost see the sneer under his mask. “Has the Katayanagi Clan finally got your attention? We’re important! More important than what you think! We deserve respect, not little black lumps of coal! Come on old man, say something!”
“I was just waiting for backup to arrive. On Dancer!”
“What?” the ninja asked, his stance dropping, his body language displaying confusing. Before he could readjust, a neighing filled the workshop and a large, angry reindeer came flying in through the open skylight, his antlers crashing into the ninja. Santa heard a loud cracking sound as the body was sent flying into a wall; where it fell from, limp.
“Good boy,” Santa said, patting the reindeer on the head. He stopped as he heard a pained groan.
He turned. One last ninja remained. He was gripping the large gash in his left leg, a pool of blood starting to form around the injured limb. Santa walked over slowly. The ninja looked up, eyes widened in fear. What he saw was an angry old man, dressed in red. His white beard was splattered in blood and his grandfatherly face betrayed raw wrath.
“You’ve been naughty,” Santa said as he raised his katana. In one swift movement he brought it down on the ninja.
“So…why were the ninjas trying to kill Santa?” Timothy asked.
Stephen looked up at Timothy, confused. His eyes shifted back and forth as he tried to figure out how to answer the question.
“Well, you know, they hate Christmas,” he said.
“Why? What did Santa ever do to them?” Zack asked.
“Santa gave them a lump of coal in the past. You see, they’re ninjas, they were running around killing people with ninja stars and all sorts of non-pirate weapons, so they made it onto the naughty list. And thus, the Tokyo-North Pole Feud was born.”
“I don’t believe it,” Jeff said.
“I’m Jewish, I don’t think I’m the expert on Santa-related stories,” Stephen said.
“Clearly, on the last part,” Desmond said.
“Oh, you can do better?”
“I can give it a try.”
The village was almost obscured entirely by the dreary winter fog. The few lit lanterns of the early morning guided Nicholas toward the settlement. Through the haze he could make out the church’s bell tower, rising above the snow-covered ground like a spear in the sky. With a tired smile, he shook the reins, urging the reindeer forward. The animals pulled the sleigh toward the village, its blades sliding along the icy ground.
Nicholas was disturbed by the village. It was early morning, true, but he expected the people to be up and in the church for mass, especially on today of all days. But the streets were empty and the houses silent. The plague must have affected the village more than he had expected.
He reined in the reindeer in front of the church. The lanterns seemed to be grouped together here. He got out of the sleigh and tied the animals to a post. Despite his thin clothing, the white fur lining of his red cloak kept him warm. And he was not concerned with himself; he had others to help today. Reaching into the sleigh, he pulled out his large bag. It had been filled to the top when he had departed; he was on one of his last stops. Hefting the bag, he knocked on the church doors.
A tired layman opened the door for him. The man looked as his colorful guest with mild confusion. Nicholas was not old, but his face had a serene calm on it. With his long brown beard and hair that curled at his shoulders, he looked the picture of health, something the village had not seen in quite some time.
“Hello,” Nicholas said, opening his arms and nodding in greeting. “I am Nicholas, I have come with gifts for the sick here. I take it the children have been moved into the church?”
“Ah, Nicholas!” the layman said, recognizing the priest’s robes under Nicholas’s red cloak. “We did not expect you to visit us this year. Yes, the children are here, please come in. But I warn you, the plague is strong in our village.”
“I have been to all the villages in the area this last night, if I get sick, I will get sick. I am more concerned for those already ill,” Nicholas said as he entered the church.
The lanterns had lit up the exterior, but the interior was as gray as the morning haze. Children lay strewn out on the pews, the visiting monks tending to them. A priest walked through the church, swinging a thurible back and forth, the incense smoke filling the church. At the altar a few men prayed, their wishes for an end to the plague echoing through the stone building.
Nicholas surveyed the scene before them. Turning to his guide, he set the bag down on the ground, opening it up to reveal a collection of small toys. “If you can, please take these and give one to each child here.”
Father Nicholas reached into the bag and pulled out a large bundle of toys. With a nod to his compatriot, he turned and walked toward the pews. As he reached the first group of children, he smiled. With a few words of encouragement, he began to hand out his gifts to the children. The plague had ravaged the countryside, killing many. But to his sadness it left the young in throes of agony and sickness, no cure or quick end in sight.
As Nicholas handed out his presents, word began to spread. Father Nicholas had arrived, and he had his presents with him. The children began to talk, a glimmer of happiness flickering in their voices. Those who were not too far gone in their sickness sat up, eager to catch a glimpse of the wandering priest. As he passed through the pews, the children began to talk to him, excitedly engaging in conversation with him. With a polite reply and a blessing of health, Nicholas gave them his gift and moved onto the next one.
As he halfway through the pews, one of the children grabbed his arm. The child was young, no more than eight or nine. His smile was wide and full of life, but his sunken eyes showed how the plague had affected him. “Father Nicholas.”
“Yes, my child,” Nicholas replied.
“You’ve brought your gifts. You didn’t have to.”
“I do what I can to help. I have no medicinal talent, but if I can cheer you up, I try.”
“But why?” the child asked.
Nicholas stopped. His smile lost its enthusiasm, turning mournful. He set his pile of toys down, crouching to reach eye level with the sick boy. He stroked his beard in thought, before responding.
“A long time ago, before I was a priest, a strong plague had gripped this area. It was the dead of winter, must like now, and many children had fallen ill. I had been blessed enough to avoid the sickness, but not those I knew.
“I had a brother, Cyril. He was younger than me, and he had so much life in him. When the plague came, it sucked the life out of him. He was so weak, and I was so powerless to help him. I prayed nightly for my brother to get better, but no matter what I said, he only got worse. Finally, Christmas came. I returned from mass to find him at his weakest. He looked up at me and begged me to not cry. He did not want his sadness and health to make others sad. He told me, everyone deserves to be happy. He died that night.
“Since then, I’ve done what I can to make others happy, especially children like you. You do not deserve this, and you will get better. But you should not suffer. If my humble gifts can put a smile on your face, then that makes me happy.”
The boy smiled at Nicholas. Tightly hugging his new toy, he said, “I am happy. Thank you, Father Nicholas.”
Nicholas smiled back. He picked up his toys and got to his feet. Before he turned to continue down the pews, he looked back at the boy. “Merry Christmas, my son.”
“And I guess that’s how Nicholas became Santa Claus,” Desmond said.
“Wow. You should switch from cinema to creative writing with that one, pal,” Stephen said.
“I liked it a lot,” Jenna said.
The kids had mixed reactions.
“Way too old. I mean, where’s the modern stuff?” Andy asked.
“And why couldn’t the reindeer fly?” Timothy asked.
“I’m just the storyteller, you should ask Santa tonight about that,” Desmond replied.
“It’s okay. Can we get another story?” Jeff asked. “Come on Jenna, you haven’t told one yet! Tell us a story!”
“Really Jeff?” Jenna asked. “You usually don’t like stories. I thought you had grown out of those.”
Jeff frowned under his older sister’s teasing. “Well, it’s Christmas Eve. Come on, stories about Santa are what this is all about, right?”
“I guess you’re right,” Jenna said. “Okay, let’s see. Do you want to know why Santa went to the North Pole?”
The church bells rang, signaling another hour in the already late night. The fog flowed over the river, casting the low hanging bridge in a level of obscurity. The gas lamps cast the narrow bridge hanging over the canal in a rich golden hue.
Kris Kringle adjusted his heavy red coat one more time, anxiously patting down the wide lapels. Did he look okay? He rubbed his stubble, feeling the coarse brown hair. Maybe he should grow a beard. He shoved his cold hands into his pockets, looking around for her. He wasn’t sure how he was going to say it, but he had to. He didn’t want to leave things unfinished.
He turned to look at the north end of the bridge. Sarah ran toward him, the tails of her black coat rippling in the wind behind her. She was beautiful in the wind. Her footsteps echoed over the cobblestone streets. She seemed every bit the classic movie actress, a timeless beauty.
She reached his spot on the bridge, embracing him in a tight hug. He rubbed her back, enjoying the intimate moment. After a moment, she broke the embrace, smiling as she took his hands in hers.
“Thank you for coming, Sarah,” Kris said.
“Why wouldn’t I?” she asked. “What was so important that you called me out here?
Kris let go of her hand, turning to the bridge’s railing. He gripped the stone work, looking down at the foggy river. Sighing quietly, he said, “Do you remember that conversation we were having a few weeks ago? About finding a purpose in life?”
“Of course,” Sarah replied. “What about it?”
“I think I’ve found mine. I’ve found a way that I can do some good in the world.”
“That’s amazing, Kris!” Sarah said. She walked over to him, putting a hand on his back. “What’s the matter though?”
“If I do this, I have to go away. I won’t be able to stay here with you. I have to go far away to the North. But it’s an opportunity I can’t pass up. I…it…it’s what I think I was meant to do with my life. I have to take this opportunity, Sarah.”
“Oh…” Sarah stepped back, her mind full of confusion and shock. Her happy smile faded and her arms fell limp to her side. “So…you’re just going to go then?”
Kris turned to her. Without a word he walked over to her, taking her hands in his. “Yes. But I’m not going to leave you.”
He reached into his coat pocket. “This is – this is hard for me to do.”
He dropped to one knee, pulling a small ring out from his coat. It was a band of white gold, a small ruby on top, glimmering in the gas lamps’ light. “Whatever I do, whoever I help, I’m not doing it without you. Sarah, I love you. Will you come with me? Will you marry me?”
Sarah raised her hands to her mouth. Tears started to well up in her eyes. “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Kris, I love you!”
She pulled him to his feet, and he pulled her into an embrace, kissing her passionately.
“I prefer Santa to be fat and funny,” Timothy muttered.
“I like it when he’s fighting ninjas,” Jeff said. Stephen smiled at the comment.
Jenna’s smile dropped as the kids started their commentary on her story. The slip was barely noticeable, especially since the kids were too busy arguing amongst themselves. Desmond slid an arm around her waist, giving her a quick hug. She smiled up at him, mouthing the words “thank you.”
“I think it’s time we wrap this up, maybe get everything ready for Santa,” she said.
Desmond looked around the room, lingering on the fireplace. The fire was starting to die out, the bright yellow flames turning to a low red.
“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…” he said with a grin.
“…in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there,” Jenna finished. She waved to Jeff and the others. “Come on kids, it’s time for bed.”
“Oh come on Jenna, one more story!” Andy said, looking up eagerly.
“Yeah, especially from Stephen!” Timothy said.
“Hey now, you’ve had three good ones,” Stephen said. “Besides, the quicker to bed, the quicker the morning comes, and all the presents and hot chocolate that goes with it.”
“Hot chocolate!” the kids said with excitement.
The three college students led the kids upstairs, into the sleeping bags that Jenna’s family had set up for all of their guests. After wrangling in a few pre-teens who were developing an early case of insomnia, the trio made their way downstairs to the family room. Stephen eyed his watch, and then grabbed his jacket from the couch.
“Well my favorite lovebirds, it’s getting late,” he said. “I’m going to head out, maybe try and get home before dawn comes and the screams of a million kids make it too hard to sleep.”
“You have such a way with words,” Desmond said slyly. “Serious, ninjas versus Santa? I only thought you were this much fun on Halloween.”
“I’m a man for all seasons, Des,” Stephen replied.
“You’re still coming by tomorrow afternoon to hang out though, right Mr. Welles?”
“I wouldn’t miss it. See you later guys!”
“Thanks for coming by,” Jenna said, opening the door for Stephen as the latter left.
As she shut the door, she turned to Desmond and started laughing. He joined in, pulling her into a hug. Exhausted, the two moved back into the family room, collapsing onto the couch. Desmond pulled a blanket over them. The fire had almost died out entirely; it was nothing more than a few ruby embers casting the room in a soft glow. Jenna rested her head on Desmond’s shoulder, and for a few minutes, the two just sat there, enjoying the sound of the dying fire after the chaos of the day.
“Merry Christmas to all…” Jenna whispered as she drifted off to sleep. Desmond looked down at her, smiling. He kissed her gently on the forehead.
“And to all a good night.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Better Life

This was an extremely cathartic piece to write, and more than a little reflective of my life. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you live your life to the fullest.

A tale of the writer,
Nicholas Slayton

A Better Life

The Sun stirred me from my slumber. At first I was in a haze, unaware of what was going on. The warmth crept over me, bringing life back to my still body. My cheek twitched, but for the moment, I stayed still. Something was just right; I did not want to let it slip away.
I laid there as the sounds of waves crashing against the shore washed over me. It was a steady rhythm of thunder, loud but soothing. I was on the beach; that was clear. The memories of the previous night seemed distant at the moment. For now, the serene peacefulness of everything had enveloped me. It might have been seconds that I laid there. It could have been hours. I did not mind, I was at ease.
After drifting into a state of calm, I opened my eyes for the first time that morning. At first the world was a blur of whites and blues, gold and green. Then things came into focus and I saw the crisp colors of the ocean, stretching vast into the horizon. Besides the crashing of the waves and the caws of the seagulls, there was a quiet in my surroundings. I could sense the isolation of the world around me.
But I was not alone. She was lying next to me, curled at my side. Her loose clothes blanketed her in bright blue and rose, a colorful angel on the white sand. Her red hair framed a sharp, beautiful face. She was still asleep, and I dared not wake her. She whimpered quietly in her sleep. I wondered what she was dreaming of. I only hoped that she was okay, and happy. The world owed her that much for what she had done for it. For me.
The memory of the past night came back to me when I saw her face. It had been a time to celebrate, not for any occasion, but simply out of a love of life. The day had been brilliant, spent with friends. It had passed without hurry or anxiety, simply stretching into the evening. The bottles of wine had emptied, the fruit eaten up. The bright sunshine of the day and the laughter had faded, replaced in the evening by the lush reds of the crackling fire. Friends made their exit, until only she and I were left, smiling through the night as we made the beach our home for the night.
The memories brought a small smile to my face. Not wanting to disturb her, I carefully slid away from her warm body, pushing myself off the ground and onto my feet. I was fully awake and aware of my surroundings. A light breeze rustled my shirt and blew my hair, bringing a cool relief to the warm sunshine. Taking one more look at her, I started to walk to the beach.
The sand fell off my bare feet with each step. I reveled in the feel. The world felt so alive around me, it was as if I had just discovered the wonders of the beach. I marveled at such things now. I used to find everything so fake. The world had been a phony varnish, masking the cruelty and deceitfulness of people. My old thoughts haunted me. They were alien, and yet so familiar. But as I reached the wet edge of the sand, moist from the tide, I knew I would not return to my past state of mind.
The water was cool to the touch, but it was invigorating. I walked into the waves, letting the water lap against my ankles. The breeze picked up, sending the tails of my loose shirt flapping in the wind. I let my arms hang at my side, closed my eyes and sighed. The sigh seemed to take away any edge or worry I had. I stopped walking and just took the moment in.
Things had been so different a year ago. My life had been a mess, and I was even worse. I had been a wreck, barely able to keep myself going from day to day. The crowded city, with its narrow alleys and cobblestone streets had trapped me, unable to find a moment of isolation. I was always surrounded by people, and they were determined to make my life a miserable existence.
The abuse had been endless. Since my childhood I had been the one others preyed on. I was the target of the taunts, the insults, and violence. I don’t remember doing anything to provoke it. I had only wanted to make friends and enjoy life. But for some reason, I was the pariah. Everything I did to try to help myself only ended in failure and a more miserable life.
They said that it was the insulters who were damaged. They said that they were the ones who were hurting, and that I was fine. How wrong they were. They didn’t know what I was going through. They didn’t find themselves on the edge of the building, looking down at the crowded streets, ready to leap. The memories of my old self scared me. I had been wrapped up in so much conflict. I was in agony, unable to escape my situation. I wanted to end it all, but I was afraid of what it would do to my family. I wanted to end my suffering; I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I was trapped in my own depression.
And then she came into my life. I was standing on the bridge, vacantly staring at the murky waters below. I was lost and aimless, as stagnant at the river below me. Then I looked up and I saw her coming across the bridge. She was a gem of color in the gray city. Her scarlet hair and emerald green eyes seemed full of life, and they entranced me. She smiled at me as she passed and I did not know what to do. Her presence, her raw lust for life, invigorated me. I ran after her, stumbling over myself to say hello. She laughed, but it wasn’t scornful. She listened to me and gave me the time of day. And that was how my life began to change.
At first we talked. A simple conversation covered hours of a day, stretching well into the night. She was happy and empathetic. I found myself in love with her. Then she did what no one else had done. She pulled me out of my depression and out of the city. She severed my mind from the past and taught me to live in the present.
My former self hurt me. I don’t try to distance myself. I don’t want to forget what I once was. Without my trials I would not be able to enjoy life as I now do. But I do not want to go back to how things once were. I’ve laid my past to rest, and I have moved on. I have her, and no matter what else comes my way, she is all that I need.
I have her, and no matter what else comes my way, she is all that I need.
I opened my eyes. The sea seemed crisper than ever, a field of blue glistening with the golden light of the Sun. The waves flowed over my feet, moving back and forth with a simple rhythm. I was in awe of the beauty around me. It was so alive and vibrant, as if it could not hold back the life it held. And I was alive in it. I was truly alive.
I began to laugh. It wasn’t from humor or anything funny. I laughed because I was happy. For the first time in my life, I was happy. All that I had been through, all the suffering I had faced, it was worth it just for this.
I looked back at the beach. She was awake, sitting up now. She wrapped herself in her loose shirt, smiling from the breeze. Her hair was a fire on the white sand. I could almost make out the shine of those green eyes. She saw me standing at the shore and waved. She called out to me with affection. I wouldn’t die for that voice, I would live for it. Her voice filled me with such joy. I loved her.
I waved back, smiling. Stepping out of the water, I started back toward our camp. I walked back to her.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Remnants

Hello everyone. I'd like to present my first short story, "The Remnants." This story came around over the summer, after finishing Dostoevsky's Demons for my Russian civilization class in the spring. Between that a lengthy discussion with a friend over Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises, I was inspired to write this. I'm not the biggest Hemmingway fan, but I am a big fan of Dostoevsky and Edgar Allen Poe, specifically the raw emotion and passion they put into their works. So, in a way, this is my response to Hemmingway. I finally finished it back at the end of September, and I even got it published (more on that in the next post). I hope you enjoy it.

A tale of the writer,
Nicholas Slayton

The Remnants

The fog hung low over the hillside, resisting the rays of the morning sun. Instead of fields of green, only gray could be seen. A few farmhouses could be seen through the haze and the trees, blurred monuments to the pastoral French countryside. Ravens cawed from the woods instead of the pleasant cries of songbirds. It was not a dead morning, not entirely, merely full of gloom, as if the land was mourning a lost loved one than dying itself.

It was a far cry from Paris. It was even a far cry from Nancy and the Lorraine province, only a few leagues north. Charlotte Miller surveyed the hillside, lips pursed as she tried to see beyond the haze. The town of Aubellet was said to have spectacular sunrises, but the gloom of this morning made her doubt that. She had arrived in the evening, catching only a glimpse of the ruby sunset, and had hoped to meet the morning in its full glory. So far she had only been met with disappointment.

“Still as gloomy as it was five years ago. Shame really.”

Charlotte peeled her gaze away from the gloom to look at her fiancé. Geoffrey Dryden stood behind her, sleeves rolled up and vest unbuttoned. With his crossed arms and direct stare he was the picture of English severity. Yet, even with his focused look, she could tell that the gray morning had left a mark on him. She noticed things about Geoffrey that others missed. For all of his severity, there was something broken about him. Then again, she felt the same way about herself.

“We were here for a week, Geoffrey, hardly time for a lasting impression,” Harry Brett retorted. “Besides, we are standing next to a damn river. That makes things a might foggy.”

To Harry’s left, James Fletcher nodded in agreement. Harry and James were an interesting pair. The two Americans seemed almost inseparable, at least for as long as Charlotte had known them. They had apparently met on the Army’s boat to Europe over a game of cards, and had stuck together since, despite their differences. Harry was the chatter, always ready to throw in a satirical comment or two, while James was far more dour and taciturn. They were Geoffrey’s friends, and she had known them as long as she had known him.

“Such a shame really, you boys were looking forward to this,” Elizabeth said. She clung to Harry’s arm, but her gaze was directed at James. Elizabeth Pollard was a siren; there was no other way around it. Ever since the war, Charlotte had watched her friend toy with the men around her, and the Americans were no different. Charlotte had heard some stories in Paris, but it was only on this trip that she had truly seen how Elizabeth could string men along.

“It’s nothing more than a memory of the past,” James said, looking back at Elizabeth.

“Come on,” Geoffrey said, turning away from the gray dawn and walking back to the country road. “There’s no point in staying here.”

Geoffrey walked solemnly down the road, the others trailing behind them. As the sun rose behind them, the land around them shifted from a foggy gloom to a lazy haze. On either side of the road, worn down by wagon wheels and carts, vines of grapes rose up. Aubellet was a town of vineyards, dotted by the occasionally chateau; ancient masters to the wines of the area. The sense of history in the area seeped through everything. For Charlotte, Paris was an old city filled with life; the new trends, the Brits and Americans looking to escape everything. Aubellet hung with the weight of its age on its shoulders.

They rounded a turn in the road and found themselves facing an old vineyard. The yards were withered, the grapes dead, and awash in the morning haze. Yet, farther away from the road and vines a rose garden flourished. It was filled with bright colors, standing vibrant even in the gray haze of the morning. The garden was a stark contrast to the chateau it surrounded. Standing tall on a rolling hill, the house was faded, its masonry worn and smoothed away. The spires of its roof were dilapidated and laced with cracks. Curtains hung in all the windows, and even the tiniest crack between them exposed nothing but blackness. It seemed abandoned, a twilight maw surrounded by a circle of life. When Charlotte saw it she stopped, shocked by the painful contrast of it all. Her eyes swept over the desolate manor, only to find a figure standing in the doorway.

The man was looking at the rose garden, not moving. He was too far to see in detail. Charlotte could see his clothes; he was dressed in an immaculate dark suit. She spotted a cane in one of his hands. His face was hard to make out, but his hair was pale, almost white. Without warning, the man turned, looking directly at Charlotte and the others. At that moment he came into detail. She could make out a glare on the man’s face and it sent a shiver down her spine. She stood frozen, unable to look away.

Charlotte, are you okay?” The words snapped her out of her stupor. Geoffrey stood there, looking at her with concern while the others waited a farther up the road.

“I’m fine. Let’s go,” she said. She took one last look at the chateau before following the others. The man was gone.


The rest of the day passed without any conflict. The men continued their exploration of the countryside, memories of the war coming back with each locale. Charlotte was surprised by the seriousness of their efforts. James’ somberness no longer seemed aimless. Even Harry had avoided leaving a droll comment with every step.

Each man seemed different once they stopped to reminisce. For those moments, they seemed to channel the beings they were ten years ago. They took on a certain formality, a way of carrying themselves that was foreign to Charlotte and Elizabeth. Geoffrey had never ignored his title, but as Charlotte watched him framed in the fading light of the dusk, he seemed all the more noble in his bearing.

The trip had been Geoffrey’s idea, a way to get away from the city for a bit, and travel the countryside; three weeks away from Paris, heading east towards Lorraine before turning south to Marseille. The trip had started out fine, but once come across the locations the men remembered from the war, every so often things turned melancholy. It made Charlotte long for the bars and haunts of Paris. This sour turn did not please her. The men seemed to be almost different people. This Lord Dryden was not the Geoffrey she had chosen to marry. Thankfully it only lasted into the twilight of the evening. As they lay to rest for the night, Geoffrey was himself again, and a measure of comfort returned to Charlotte.

The following morning was free of the burden of the past. Their hotel was situated in the center of Aubellet, at the north end of the town square. Just opposite of the hotel, leading into a long street, was an open air market, already filled with cries of vendors hawking their goods and wares. The church bells of an old gothic cathedral chimed, ringing in the late morning as the penitent left the pews.

The travelers found themselves seated outside a café in the square. It was not yet noon and already three bottles lay empty on the table. The late breakfast was a casual affair, with a sampling of the local wines. Geoffrey and Charlotte leaned back in their wicker chairs, taking in the scenery. Harry was rambling away, all while Elizabeth listened intently. The louder American was her favorite today. For his part, James drank his wine quietly, looking at an old stone statue of Louis XIII in the center of the square. It had been erected years ago to commemorate a victory during the Thirty Years War, and it still stood, imposing and regal, a symbol of the history of the area.

Geoffrey sighed, setting his drink down. “It’s so strange, being back. Everything seems so vivid now, but we were here for so little time.”

“Do we have to talk about the war, dear?” Charlotte asked.

“Why not?” Geoffrey asked. “Isn’t that why we’re here, to see these old places again?”

“I thought we were here to see the countryside and get out of Paris for a bit. You know, to see something foreign.”

“We’re all expatriates dear, every part of France is a foreign to us as the next.”

“Not if we’ve spent the last few years living out of every bar and café in the city.”

“Time well spent,” Harry said, leaning towards the couple.

“Harry, you’re tight,” Elizabeth said playfully, giving the American a slap on the arm.

“Well love, I could be a lot worse,” he replied, feigning offence.

“He’s fine,” James said quietly from his chair, a small smile gracing his face. He had been silent for almost the entire day; at least since Elizabeth had chosen Harry as her companion for the day.

“I just want to have some fun, that’s all,” Charlotte whispered.

Geoffrey leaned towards her, trying to keep his words from reaching the others. “Charlotte, you know I just want to make you happy. I promise that we will do something soon. This has just been a…difficult few days for me. I’m sorry.”

He left a quick kiss on her cheek. Charlotte smiled in return, slipping her arm behind his waist and resting her head on his shoulder.

“Hang on,” Harry said. “Did it just get quiet here?”

The café had turned silent. Beyond their table, people leaned over their drinks, looking down the street with discomfort. They seemed overcome with apprehension, as if a sudden fear had grasped the people of Aubellet. Charlotte followed their gaze to the end of the market, and she saw what scared them. It was the man from the chateau.

He stood near a vendor, a bundle under his right arm. In his left hand he held his dark wooden cane. Charlotte realized he walked with a limp, his left leg faltering with each step. He walked away from the vendor, walking down the street, towards the café. He was dressed with immaculate care. His shirt was spotless, and he wore a dark cravat at his neck. Over it all was a long, gray coat. Even with the limp, the man walked with the air and look of a distant lord. The man held a somber grimace on his face, but once again Charlotte noticed something was odd about his eyes. His hair was shock white, paler than his face.

Charlotte watched the man walk past the café. As he passed, she saw into his eyes. She saw them only for the briefest moment, but at that moment she was able to see what had been odd about them. Despite his well-kept appearance, his eyes seemed like hollow circles in the center of his face. They were sunken and gray, almost dead. They stared out at the world passively, as if nothing caught the man’s attention. The two gray spheres were truly lifeless.

The blankness of his eyes was unnerving. Even before the man’s eyes swept past her, Charlotte impulsively turned away. There was something about the emptiness in his gaze that frightened her. She had always been fascinated with eyes. They were the true window into a person. No matter how someone acted, their true state could always be divined from the eyes. This limping man, with his dapper appearance and lordly bearing, was a dead man. He moved with a grave somberness, as if nothing was truly important. She leaned closer to Geoffrey, who wrapped an arm around her. She was afraid to turn around, afraid of whatever might happen if she stared into his eyes again.

After the man passed, a wave of whispers passed through the market. The travellers were confused by the incident. Aubellet was not some sort of Frankish Elysium, but it was as if the limping man had walked across the entire village’s grave. Charlotte thought back to the hike through the vineyards surrounding the town, and the dark chateau where she had first seen the man.

The time passed, and the man passed from their minds. Harry and Elizabeth eventually called for more wine. The travelers left a pile of francs on the table and left the café. They passed through the town square before ending up at the winery in the other side of the market. The store was a stone construction, cool on the inside with long wooden counters. Only one window let light in, the store was mostly dark. A few meats and cheese hung on the shelves behind the counters, while the rest of the storage space was reserved for the wine itself. Bottles lined the wall, and a door at the rear of the store led to a vast cellar of wine.

Gilles LaPadite sat behind his counter, a small glass of wine held idly in his hands. A solid man, the sommelier had a noticeable paunch around his midsection. His moustache was as gray as his hair. He was a gruff man, but honest and friendly. He also spoke English, something that made him quite popular to the travellers ever since they had arrived in Aubellet. When he saw them, he gave a nod of appreciation, turning towards his shelves for a pair of dark red wines.

As the bottles were opened and poured, the mood quickly returned to the laissez-faire attitude of the morning. LaPadite joined in on their conversation, engaging Geoffrey and James on a discussion of the fishing and hunting sites around Aubellet. The men grew excited and soon drew Harry into their plans. Charlotte took the opportunity to get the sommelier’s attention.

“Monsieur LaPadite,” Charlotte said, turning toward Gilles, “I was wondering if you could help me. There is a man in this town that seems strange. I have seen him twice since we arrived in this town, but everyone seems to stay away from him. He walks with a limp and has white hair, yet does not seem to be old. He is rather…striking.”

“Do you hear that Geoff?” Harry called from the other end of the bar counter. “Your fiancé has taken an interest in one of the locals.”

Geoffrey snorted, scoffing at the idea. “Please, don’t let your imagination run wild. Yes Monsieur LaPadite, indulge Charlotte’s curiosity.”

The sommelier rested an elbow on the counter, stroking his bushy whiskers. “Ah, d’Avout, now there is a harsh man. Hmm, this is a hard tale to tell. You gentlemen, I assume you fought in the war, yes?”

“Harry and I were part of the American Expeditionary Forces,” James replied. “And Geoff was with the British Army. We met in Belgium.”

LaPadite nodded, now scratching his stubbly chin. “Good, then you have some idea of the horrors of the war. It is amazing how much of a dead heat that fight was. Yet, some of the fighting stretched far more west than many expected. Head east for a few miles and you might find signs of an old battle, maybe a spent shell or the trampled remains of the site of an artillery strike.

“Regardless, this town has its history. There are five chateaus in the area, did you know that? On the north end of town, next to the river, there is the Chateau de Crépuscule. A decade ago it was an active place. The Vicomte d’Avout, the owner, was heavily engaged in cultivating the land. The Chateau was a major source of wine for years. However, the Vicomte died in 1914, just before the war broke out. His sons, Gaston and Philippe inherited the land, but by the next year, they were already fighting in the trenches. What happened after that, I cannot say, except that in January of 1920, Philippe d’Avout, the man Madame here is asking about, came back to Aubellet.

“It was a tumultuous return. D’Avout had left in good health, but he came back lame with his limping leg. He claimed the title of Vicomte d’Avout, declaring Gaston, the elder sibling, dead, and dismissed the servants and workers from the grounds. Since then, only he has inhabited the Chateau. No one ever stays there, and aside from coming into town for food, d’Avout never leaves. Surprisingly the place has not fallen apart, but it is just one man looking after it. It is faded and damaged, yes, but hardly in ruins. A gardener from town goes there every three weeks to tend to the flowers, but he says he never sees the Vicomte. When d’Avout comes into town, he is taciturn and somber. As you can imagine, with his attitude and the stir of his return, it only led to rumors.”

“What kind of rumors?” James asked.

LaPadite took the bottle of wine and poured himself a glass. He slowly took a sip before answering. “Rumors, hearsay, I personally give them no heed; they are just the speculations of overly imaginative people.”

“But there are rumors, and they are usually so interesting,” Elizabeth retorted. “What do people say about d’Avout?”

“Ah, there were many when he first returned. The chaos he created at Crépuscule set the town ablaze with rumors. Some were truly wild, but a few emerged as popular. Some people say that he killed Gaston during the war to inherit the chateau and is haunted by actions. Others said that he had taken up dueling in Germany, and gained his limp from a duel over a woman that he ultimately lost. These people have tried to cast him as some exotic adventurer, their ideas based more on fables than reality. Another theory is that the war took all interest in life from him and he joined the nihilist school of thought. Whatever he did, I do not know. However, I do know that every year since his return, on or near about the fifteenth of May, he comes to my shop and buy a large collection of wine. What he takes differs yearly, except for one thing. He makes sure that I have a bottle of 1897 Malbec. Every year he asks for that, without explanation. The fifteenth is fast approaching, and I expect him here at any time.”

The sommelier stopped to finish his wine, setting the small glass back on the counter when he was finished. He swept his gaze across the travelers, before settling on Charlotte. His voice, once dismissive, took a serious tone. “Philippe d’Avout is not a man to bother. He is troubled and distant. Soon after he returned, he once assaulted a man that questioned the goings on at Crépuscule and nearly killed him. Since then, he mostly avoids us, and we mostly avoid him. I suggest that you let him leave your thoughts and enjoy your time in Aubellet.”

LaPadite shifted the conversation back to the men’s plans to explore the countryside, leaving d’Avout a topic of the past. The wine continued to flow and the mood among the patrons eased. Charlotte smiled, but her mind flashed back to the dead stare of d’Avout. She wanted to put the image far from her mind, but it continued to unsettle her.


The sun hung directly overhead. Charlotte and Elizabeth sat at an outside table, sipping chilled wine from the nearby winery. A day had passed since d’Avout had passed through town. The men were now off somewhere, fishing and reminiscing about the war. That left the women to peruse the shops of Aubellet and amuse themselves, which only led them to LaPadite’s winery and a few carefully selected bottles.

Charlotte had chosen a simple dress and a small hat for the day, while Elizabeth wore pants and a jacket, a look that had become popular with the women of Paris. Charlotte rested her chin on her hand, looking at her friend.

“How do you do it?” she asked.

“Do what, dear?” Elizabeth said.

“Harry and James, how do you do it? You have been playing the two ever since we left. You seem to choose between them each day like you would a dress.”

Elizabeth broke into a coquettish laugh. “Oh that. Charlotte, it’s easy. Unlike you, I’ve never been married.”

“Are you saying I’m an old maid?”

“I’m simply saying that you went from poor Andrew to dear Geoffrey without much of a transition. You’ve missed out on quite a life in Paris.”

“I get as tight as you.”

“I don’t mean drinks, Charlotte. We are young and free, why shouldn’t we go and enjoy life?”

“Hmm, I see what you mean. Sometimes this whole thing seems like a blur. It’s a loss of innocence, but it’s so fulfilling. I just wish Geoffrey would embrace it.”

Elizabeth leaned over her drink with a look of concern on her face. “You aren’t happy with Lord Dryden?”

“He’s just been so moody lately. I’ll be honest, I’ll be happy when we leave this town.”

“I understand Charlotte,” Elizabeth replied with a smile. It faded a look of realization dawned on her face. “Oh dear, I’m so sorry, I left my purse back at the hotel. Can you wait here while I go get it?”

“Of course.”

“Good. And don’t drink all of the wine!”

Elizabeth hurried away from the winery, back towards the town square and their hotel. For her part, Charlotte sat idly by. She poured herself a full glass from the wine bottle, hoping it would last her while her friend was gone. She stared into the dark liquid, watching it swirl around inside the glass. She lost herself in there, her mind wandering.

“What do you mean by ‘a loss of innocence’?”

Charlotte jumped in her seat. She looked up from her wine. Philippe d’Avout stood in front of her, his cane in hand and that same dead stare in his eyes. Her hands instinctively gripped the edge of the table. His voice, there was something about it that scared her. It felt hollow and empty; just like his eyes.

She tried to speak, but found that she could not figure out what to say. Finally, after a moment of stammering, she asked, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

D’Avout’s look changed. The glare abetted, but the dead face did not alter. He pulled out Elizabeth’s chair. “I am sorry; I could not but overhear what you were saying. Please, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Philippe d’Avout. May I sit down?”

Charlotte nodded. Her hands still gripped the table. There was something so unnerving about the man in front of her. What was it? Why did he frighten her?

“My name is Charlotte Miller,” she heard herself say.

“Hello Miss Miller,” d’Avout replied. “You are English, I take it?”

“Yes,” she said. “I am here with my fiancé and his friends.”

D’Avout nodded, then curtly spoke before she could say anything else. “Can you explain to me what you meant by a ‘loss of innocence?’”

Charlotte took a deep breath, trying to choose the right words. “It has to do with my fiancé. Or, you could say it has to do with the war. I was married once before. I knew him only briefly, it was arranged by my mother. I was young, and only three weeks after we married, he left for Holland. He died somewhere out there. It did not seem to affect me, he was just a person to me, not my husband.

“After that though, things just seemed to change. Once the war was over, I think we all just wondered what the point of it all is. What is the point of all of our morals and rules? That is how I ended up in Paris. We all seemed to drift there. We realized the pointlessness of it all, the naiveté we once had; my fiancé’s friends, my own. We could not live the same way our parents did. The old ways were done. It is time to just indulge and cast off that foolish innocence. We are all awake now.”

“Are you in love, mademoiselle?” d’Avout asked, almost at a whisper.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Your fiancé, do you love him? Have you ever been in love?”

“I…I think I do,” Charlotte replied, her unnerve growing again.

“You are not in love.”

His voice was different. It was no longer just that somber formality. It was laced with something; anger? “If you were in love, you would feel it in your very core, there would be no doubt what it was.

“You talk about loss, but what do you know about loss? Who have you lost, your husband? You hardly knew him. Have you ever watched your family die? Did you see your brother blow up from an artillery barrage? Did you survive only because a German bullet tore through your leg, leaving you writhing on the ground in pain, only able to watch as he was engulfed in flames?”

D’Avout looked at her now, his face showing a hidden rage. His eyes were still blank, but the spiteful sneer he held on his mouth scared Charlotte. Her knuckles squeezed the table with all of their might.

“You talk about loss after the war, but what do you know? After I was injured I was cared for by a woman in Lorraine. Sophia. She tended to my leg, and she helped me accept my brother’s death. I fell in love with her. We married when the war ended.”

Charlotte could not look away from the comte’s face. His gaze seemed to see look through her. All she could do was sit and listen. Were those tears welling up in his eyes?

“We had been married only for three months when the Spanish influenza reached Lorraine. Sophia fell ill, as did her family. I remained in good health, only able to try to ease her pain. Have you ever felt that helpless? No, of course you have not. First her brother died, then her parents. Finally, it was just her. She asked me to be happy, give her a smile, and I could not. She wanted a family, and all I could do was watch her dream erode. Then she was gone, just like that. After a month of pain, she was gone, and I was alone. I still am.

“Do not talk to me about loss. I know your kind, you are all spoiled. You are nothing more than bored fools with no grasp on true tragedy. You have too much money and no idea what to do with it so you fake some wisdom and waste away in debauchery. So do not try and justify your life or lament on what has happened; you have no right to. I hate you and everyone like you.”

“Monsieur le vicomte.”

Charlotte jumped in her seat at the sudden interruption. D’Avout stopped, his scathing words cut off by LaPadite. The sommelier stood at the doorway of the winery, a case of bottles in his hands. His weary face betrayed a distrust as he looked at the seated comte. LaPadite extended the case to d’Avout. “Your order.”

D’Avout closed his eyes, masking his fury once more. He seemed frustrated at being cut off and forced to stop in his attack. He broke his glare away from Charlotte and stood up, cane in hand. He took the case from LaPadite without a word, simply handing him a handful of francs. Adjusting his cane, d’Avout limped away from the table.

LaPadite looked down at Charlotte. “Mademoiselle, are you okay?”

Charlotte nodded weakly. She wrenched her hands off of the table, surprised to find her knuckles white. She felt drained all over, almost in shock over what she had heard. D’Avout’s words had cut to her core. The hate she had seen on his face was horrific, far more terrifying than the dead stare that had fascinated her. What had she found? Even when Elizabeth returned from the hotel, Charlotte still had no idea what to think.


“Charlotte, are you ready?” Geoffrey asked from the doorway.

Charlotte looked up from her suitcase. She had packed everything up as soon as she returned to the hotel the night before. D’Avout’s words had left her in a state of panic. She had come back to her room unable to sleep. Geoffrey had tried to comfort her, but she just felt dirty, unsettled. She needed to get away, to just get as far from d’Avout and his accusations as possible.

Charlotte closed the suitcase and turned towards Geoffrey. “Yes, let’s go. When does the train get here?”

“We have half an hour. Then we’ll be on our way to Marseille,” he said, walking over to her. He wrapped his arms around her waist, but she walked away. “Charlotte, what’s the matter?”

“It’s nothing, I’m all right. I’m quite all right. Where are the others?”

Geoffrey hesitated, perturbed by her actions. After a pause, he replied, “They are meeting us at the station. Come on, let’s go.”

He grabbed her bag and followed her out the door. Geoffrey paid the bill and thanked their host. They walked out into the square, heading towards the train station on the north end of town. To Charlotte’s surprise, the usual crowd in the marketplace was gone, instead gathering around the old statue in the center of the square. She could make out a figure at the center of the circle, addressing the others, but she could not tell any details.

Geoffrey was similarly intrigued. He took her hand and led her toward the crowd. As they moved inward, pushing past a few onlookers, they could see the man at the center of the crowd. He was dirty, his hands and clothes stained by the soil. He was speaking with an animated voice, speaking out of shock and not worry. As the Englishmen approached, they were able to hear what he was saying.

“…the chateau was abandoned. It was just dust and fading paintings. He was in one of the few habitable rooms. A fire had died out in the hearth, and at least six empty wine bottles were strewn across the floor. And the ring! He had a ring on his finger. I’ve never seen it before. It was a gold wedding band.”

Geoffrey grabbed a nearby onlooker. The man turned towards him, upset at being pulled away from the story.

“That man, who is he?”

“Claude Chirac, a gardener of the area,” the Frenchman replied in a heavy accent.

“Who is he talking about?”

“The vicomte d’Avout.”

“What happened?”

“You don’t know? Chirac found the vicomte this morning. He hung himself.”

Charlotte felt her stomach knot. The words hit her hard. The noise of Chirac’s story faded around her. She felt the urge to run, just to get way. She had to leave Aubellet. She needed an escape. Charlotte tugged at Geoffrey’s sleeve.

“Let’s go,” she said.

“What?” Geoffrey asked, perplexed by her sudden plea.

“We just need to go, I can’t stay here anymore.”

Charlotte did not wait for a response. She would not stay anymore in the shadow of d’Avout’s words or the remnants of his memories. Chirac was describing the site of the corpse, but the words did not reach Charlotte’s ears. She turned and walked away.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Return to the Pen

Hello? Anyone still here? It's kind of dusty.

Okay, I want to apologize. I created this blog with the intent of regularly posting on it as a way to not only share my writing, but to motivate myself to write. Now it's been almost a month since my last post. I have no one to blame but myself on that one. So what happened? Well, a lot of things changed. My schedule became really busy, and classwork started piling up. A lot of other things changed too. Plans for the summer, relationships, and even priorities. So, now that I've dealt with all of that, I hope to get back to this blog, my writing projects, and my goal to actually be a published writer.

So what about my writing? I haven't written any new poems, but I am proud to say that I went to a poetry reading for the first time in years. I was insanely nervous, but I read "Wanderlust" and "Maybe," and to my surprise, everyone else liked it. It was very fulfilling. However, I'm ashamed to admit it, but my novel has not been touched upon in this last month. My goal for the rest of the year and the summer is to get a lot of work done on it. Like, actually complete a chapter. My admiration and bitter jealousy goes out to the writers who actually have the drive and energy to sit down and write. Sometimes I feel like a poser, claiming to be a writer, but not doing anything towards that claim. At least I have this: Study Day.

Study Day is my entry into a "blackout" film festival on campus. The idea behind the festival is that writers submit scripts, and the festival-runners blackout certain adjectives, locations, proper nouns, etc, so that the film production groups have to come up with their own ideas. It could be serious, it could be hilarious. I'll find out when the films screen on the 23rd. Study Day is my attempt at dissonant styles. Essentially, I wanted to take the tone and kinetic feel of a big budget action/adventure film and then place it in a context which made no sense: college students trying to find a book that guarantees a passing grade on the final. It's part satire, part subtle comedy, and part Bourne-style foot chase and fight scene. For those of you who do not go to USC, I apologize if any of the locations are hard to visualize. I hope you enjoy.

Study Day
Nicholas Slayton


It’s empty or nearly empty in McCarthy. A few people are out
by Trojan Grounds, but beyond that, not much.

SHAWN RUNS across McCarthy. In his hand is a bag filled with
3 books. He’s running as fast as he can, looking back over
his shoulder. There is someone chasing him. He keeps
running, jumping over a bag in his way.

He turns the corner, running onto Trousdale and running
towards a building. He throws open the doors and enters it.


The building is lit. Shawn runs into a room with stairway.
He takes off to the second floor. At the top of the stairs
he looks back at the bottom of the stairs. He hears
footsteps, and takes off running again.

He runs down a hallway, turning a corner. He stops, leaning
against the wall. He turns around, leaning around the
corner. It’s empty. He’s safe.

Shawn exhales with relief. He starts to walk down the
hallway, bag in his hand. Things are good. He reached an
intersection of hallways.

Out of nowhere ALEX tackles him from the side, knocking the
two out of frame.
Text: Earlier that day...

Alex walks out of a classroom, very stressed out. Behind him
a bunch of people file out, including MICHAEL and SHAWN.
Alex’s phone rings. He answers it.
CHRIS is talking on his cell phone. He’s in a hoodie.
Hey Alex, what’s up?
Uh, I’m screwed, Chris.
You should be happy man, classes
are done!
Yeah, but I am doomed.
What, did Sarah cheat on you again?
(takes a step back from his
phone, confused)
What? No. Fuck you man. It’s my
Philosophy of Life class. The
final’s on the first day of tests,
and we are all screwed. It’s like,
impossible to pass.
Wait. What class is that?
Philosophy of Life. Why?
I think I can help you out! My
friend Zack took that last
semester. He said that there was
this one book at Leavy that the
professor takes the entire test
Oh that’s helpful. Wouldn’t
everyone in the class check it out?
No! Nobody knows about it. Zack
only knew about it because he was
dating his TA.
What’s it called? If this works you
may be a lifesaver!
"Everything You Wanted to Know
About Life But Were Afraid to Ask."
I’m going to get it tonight. Thank
you! I owe you so much.
Eh, just send Sarah my way.
Fuck you man.
Alex hangs up the phone. Even with the subtle insult, he’s
happy. He may have a chance of passing this apocalyptic
Chris hangs up the phone, shrugging. He walks into a
bathroom. He goes over to the sink, turning on the faucet to
splash to water on his face. He turns off the faucet and
looks up in the mirror.

Michael is standing behind him, glaring.

Michael pulls a hood off Chris’s head. He’s tied to a chair
in a room. Michael and Shawn stand over him. Chris looks
around, with a nervous smile.
Umm...hey. What’s up?
Where’s the book?
What book?
You know what book I’m talking
(Trying to get up)
Look, I threw out my Cannabis
Cultivator Guide two weeks ago. I
thought I told you guys that.

Michael puts a hand on Chris’s shoulder, forcing him back
into the chair.
No no no. What my friend Mr. Wood
is trying to say is-
Wait, Mr. Wood? I though I was Mr.
(sighs in exasperation)
No man, I’m Mr. Stone. You’re Mr.
But Mr. Stone is badass. Wood is
kind of bland.
Chris looks up at the two, confused.
Look, Wood, Stone, whatever.
(To Chris)
What I’m trying to say is, where’s
the book for that Philosophy of
Life class?
I have no idea what you could be
talking about.
Hmm, okay, funny guy here. Look Mr.
Funny Man, you can tell me and my
friend Wood here-
(Shawn rolls his eyes)
-Or I can show you how painful dorm
room chairs can be when smashed
against your face. So, what’s your
Guys, it’s just a book. No need to
go all Liam Neeson on me.
Just a book?! This is a big test!
If I don’t pass this GE, I’m
screwed out of my 5 year plan!
5 year plan?
I’m an engineer, shut up.
So, what’s it going to be? Tell us,
or Liam Neeson?

Chris gulps nervously.

Alex walks up to a help desk. The librarian on duty looks
What’s up? Need some help?
Yeah, I was wondering where I could
find "Everything You Wanted to Know
About Life But Were Afraid to Ask?"
Weird, you’re the second person to
ask for that tonight.
Second guy? Was he kind of shady
looking? Wears a lot of hoodies?
No, not at all. He’s --
(He looks up suddenly and
--that guy!

Alex turns around, looking at the exit to McCarthy. Shawn is
walking out, a bag of books under his arm. Shawn stops,
looking around. He meets eyes with Alex. Alex glares. Shawn
glares. They hold their stares for a few seconds.
Then all of a sudden Shawn bolts out the door. Alex takes
off after him. The librarian looks around, confused.

Well...okay then.

Shawn runs across the Quad, looking back over his shoulder.
Alex is right behind him.

Shawn runs onto Trousdale, almost sliding along the ground
from the quick turn, dashing southward. Alex makes a similar
turn, still chasing him.
Shawn runs into the building.


Shawn runs up the stairs.
Shawn turns the corner in a hallway. He looks back. Nothing.
He sighs in relief, and walks to an intersection of
Alex tackles Shawn to the ground from the side. The two
slide a little across the ground. The bag of books falls a
little ahead of them. Alex reaches for it, but Shawn kicks
him away, hurriedly getting to his feet. Alex does the same.
The two men run at each other. They throw punches at each
other, blocking each one. After three rounds of that, Alex
punches Shawn in the face. Shawn kicks Alex in the back of
his leg, causing him to lose his balance. They stumble away
from each other.

They both charge at each other again. Shawn throws a punch at
Alex, who blocks it with his left forearm, before punching
Shawn in the face with his other arm. Shawn punches again,
Alex grabs his fist, but Shawn then pulls Alex towards him,
spinning around and slamming Alex into a wall. Alex
headbutts Shawn in the face. Shawn stumbles back, but
punches Alex in the face, knocking him to the ground.

Shawn reaches down to grab the bag, but Alex grabs him from
behind, knocking the bag to the ground. Shawn has one of the
books in his hand. Shawn pushes backwards, slamming Alex
against a wall. Alex lets go of Shawn, who spins around,
hitting Alex in the face with the book.

Alex falls to the ground, but before Shawn can do anything,
Alex kicks out, tripping Shawn and sending him to the ground
as well. The two scramble to their feet, Shawn using the
wall as support. The two stand up, and Shawn lunges at Alex
with the book, but before he can hit him, Alex kicks him
straight in the chest, sending Shawn stumbling backwards.
Alex lunges forward, punching Shawn in the face. He then
knees him in the stomach, before throwing him to the ground.
Shawn tries to get to his feet, but Alex kicks him in the
face. Shawn collapses.

Alex picks up the book from the ground, along with the bag.
He takes a step back, looking down at Shawn. He is utterly
angry, confused, and exhausted.

What the hell?

Alex leaves. Shawn is still there, unconscious.
CAPTION: The Day of the Final

Alex walks out of the room, unscathed and smiling. Chris is
there waiting.
Well, how’d the final go?

Alex grins. Michael and Shawn look over, glaring.
You’re a lifesaver with that book.
Aced it!

The two high five.

Awesome! Want to get a drink?
The two walk away.

The End.

A (horribly late) tale of the writer,