I have a new story up at The Confabulator Cafe. A werewolf on a broken-down cruise ship in the middle of the ocean on the night before the full moon dreads what tomorrow night may bring. You can check it out at http://www.confabulatorcafe.com/2014/02/old-devil-moon-flash-fiction/
I have a new short story up at The Confabulator Cafe. Murph didn’t mean any offense when he pissed on his best friend’s grave, but when he’s around, things go wrong. There may or may not be a vampire involved. You can read the story in its entirety at http://www.confabulatorcafe.com/2013/12/murphs-law-flash-fiction/
I have a new story available at The Confabulator Cafe. I wrote the original version of “Last Dance” for the Story-In-A-Bag contest at ConQuest 44. The idea of Story-In-A-Bag is that you have one hour to write a story based on five cards you pull out of bags for your plot, a character, a prop, a setting, and an opening line. Con attendees vote for their favorite stories. I won the Professional Horror division. Of course, I was the only entrant in that division, as far as I am aware, but hey, a win is a win. Regardless, I had fun with it. You can find the story here:
I hope you enjoy my story of a Ouja board and a high school dance gone wrong.
The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame – Oscar Wilde
September is Banned Book Month.
I have to confess that I never realized just how important it was while I was in high school. I was lucky enough to attend a school where The Scarlet Letter was assigned reading along with Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies. My English teacher lent me a copy of Catch-22 and suggested I read it for a book report. I remember reading these books and never thinking twice about it.
I wrote a paper on censorship and never caught that many of the books on the banned list could be found in my high school library. Looking back, I appreciated it. When I was studying to be a high school English teacher, I emailed my former instructor and told him exactly how much I appreciated it. It took courage for him to teach a curriculum that he knew may come under attack.
That courage is lacking many places. I don’t fault the teachers. Especially in this economy, it is a dangerous thing to stand up when the rest of your world is telling you to sit down. Teachers have been fired for daring to teach certain books. Generally, the argument is based on racial slurs, sex, or violence. Oddly enough, high school students have been exposed to all of these things, even without the masterpieces that they were denied the pleasure of reading. In spite of school districts’ best efforts, all of these things are still a part of high school life.
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953. He imagined a world that must have seemed ridiculous at the time. It was a world where firemen burned books, people spent all their time with their mind-numbing “families” and rebels committed entire books to memory. Montag was the unlikely hero, a man who suddenly realized what he had been missing.
As years have passed, I’ve become more and more frightened by Bradbury’s prophetic work.
Not long ago, the 3D television was released. Now, with the right equipment, we can be surrounded by television worlds of our choosing. Unfortunately, more and more of that television has been reduced to mind-numbing reality shows featuring dancing with D-list celebrities and people who call themselves The Situation.
In Bradbury’s world, the book burning starts with the simple tearing out of pages that each group found offensive. Recently, a university professor decided to neuter Mark Twain’s classic on racial tension in order to make it more accessible to students and less offensive to school boards.
Then, there is this quote: With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar.
We, in fact, now live in a world where the arts are axed due to budget concerns, but every school has a football team. State universities are cutting majors, while their affiliated athletic departments are thriving businesses, generating millions. Academics has become the after-thought, the athletics the main attraction.
Recently, I was told there might be a move to remove literature from high schools.
I wonder what book I should start memorizing.
Fiction may be subjective, in many ways. It may not be as test friendly as math or science, but it is just as important. Fiction allows us to look critically at a subject from a new perspective. It allows us to examine the darkest and brightest aspects of our humanity through a different lens. Fiction is about possibilities. There was a time in this society when we were driven by possibilities. We imagined where we could go next, and what it might mean to us. I shudder to think of where we will end up without that.
Animals are content to live their lives based on survival. Being human has always been more than that. Since primitive man first drew on a wall or banged a drum, we have known there is more to this world than simple existence. Math and science are survival tools. The arts give us a reason to survive.
Literature lets us see the world as it was, through the perspective of a writer who lived it, rather than a scholar who judges it from a distance. Literature lets us see how the world could be, good and bad. A world without literature is a world without stories, without heroes. A world without heroes has nothing left for which to strive.
Do I believe every student of every age should be able to read every book? Of course not. But, I guarantee you, our children see more offensive material in movies, music, and their real lives than you are going to find in any of the books on the banned list. We aren’t trying to protect our children, we are trying to protect ourselves from the embarrassment of having to actually talk to our children. Rather than discuss important things, we would rather pretend they didn’t exist. Our children are not stupid. They deserve better than that. A generation who grows up without controversy is a generation ill-prepared for life. Real life is never afraid to offend us.
If you have a high school kid who likes to read, I encourage you to expose him to some of the books on the banned list. Read them yourself. Discuss them. Love them. Share them. Do it, before it is too late.
Jules Verne saw a world where men walked on the moon. It happened. William Gibson imagined a world were information flowed worldwide like water. It came to pass. Ray Bradbury saw a world without books ending in war. Are you going to be able to outrun the hound?
This is a link to a list of frequently challenged books. Find one you haven’t read and take it in. Devour it. Love it.
A member of a writer’s group I’ve been attending suggested we all write a 140-character short story for Thaumatrope. For those who don’t know about it, Thaumatrope is a Twitter-based magazine of flash fiction. The character limit for Twitter is 140, thus, the guidelines. You can check them out at http://thaumatrope.greententacles.com. I wrote a stor, but they are closed to submissions.
It’s a cool idea. Create a story with a beginning, middle, and end and do it in 140 characters. I am extremely interested in the mechanics of editing out needless words and phrases. This forces you to do just that. You cannot have anything taking up space that doesn’t accomplish an objective. I’ve always liked flash fiction. This is less a flash than a spark.
I thought I would post it here, since the idea I used originated from this blog. In “Opening A Vein,” I gave some insight to how I sometimes generate story ideas. You can find the original post here: http://jackcampbelljr.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/opening-a-vein/
Without further ado, “What the Fire Consumed.” This story is based on a single phrase of the Sylvia Plath poem “On Looking Into The Eyes of a Demon Lover.” Thanks for reading. Feel free to try the 140 character story yourself. Post it in the comments, if you like. I would be interested to see your results.
What the Fire Consumed
Jack Campbell, Jr.
The plungers descended; promised painless death. A gallery of gawkers faded. Consuming shadows crept, clawing for portions. Soul-fueled pyres blazed. They lied.
I wrote this short story several years ago as an experiment with second-person viewpoint and a more lyrical prose style. I thought I would post it since it took place on Sept. 11 and the tenth anniversary is coming up. The concept was that while 9/11 was a great tragedy, individual tragedies continued to occur, just as they always do. This was published in Twenty 3 Magazine six years ago. It was the first story I ever submitted, accepted to the first place I submitted it. They spelled my name incorrectly–twice–in two different ways, and I didn’t get paid a cent. I didn’t even get a contributor copy. The magazine doesn’t even exist anymore. Still I was very proud of it. I hope you enjoy it.
Thousands Died This Morning
Jack Campbell, Jr.
Thousands died this morning.
You sit on the unforgiving asphalt, your hands stained crimson with the blood of your best friend. You watch through your Everclear haze as paramedics load his broken body onto a gurney. You’ve known him for all of your life, through skinned-knee afternoons, playground hijinks, and teenage angst-ridden romantic quests with the opposite sex. But you wouldn’t know him now. The concrete has grated his face unrecognizable, like cheese brick remnants that are about to go back into the fridge. His shirt is a loosely-connected network of cloth, shredded by the torn steel of the Ford Pinto that is now decimated road kill wadded beneath the trailer of a semi. The world moves in slow motion as your brain marinates in the liquid horror of reality. Not one moment of grief followed by merciful denial, but eternal guilt beating down like the sun on an August afternoon, blistering your soul. Frame by frame you gaze inward at the instant replay, powerless to stop the hideous carnage lurking around the curve, up the ramp of a now-blocked interstate. You see a Nike high-top lying on the ground, unloved and forgotten. You recognize it as Charlie’s. The shoe is more familiar than your friend. Somehow, the shoe makes it real.
It’s September 11th, 2001.
Thousands died just this morning. You woke up with the Everclear bottle still resting in your hands from the night before. Three hours of sleep had failed to clear your swimming head. A gulp of grain alcohol killed any bit of slumber-achieved sobriety as you stumbled to television’s glowing facade.
“Charlie,” you slurred to your sleeping friend. “Get a load of this…movie sucks…so fake. Charlie, where’s the goddamn remote?”
Charlie was lying practically on top of a passed-out girl that you recognize from your Biology class. Her make-up was a Picasso-esque smear. Images of her shirtless tango atop the kitchen table crept into your head, but soon fled from your alcohol-drenched brain, leaving you with nothing but a vague shadow of a memory, blackened by. You poured a little alcohol on Charlie’s face to wake him up. He sputtered and choked, fighting off the assault of the lukewarm liquor spreading quickly over his face.
“Damn…dude. That’s alcohol abuse. What a waste…” Charlie mumbles before retreating back to his huddled position, face buried in the girl’s back.
“Man, where’s the remote? Gotta be somethin’ better than this…”
Charlie waved off towards the wooden bar that you and he salvaged from a dumpster in back of an apartment complex. In the midst of spilt liquid and cigarette butts lying on a paper plate ashtray, you found the remote under the pile of beer cans. You shake the remote dry, and, with the press of a button, the grainy poorly produced production of burning buildings and crashing planes backed by the screams of innocents was replaced by the third showing of The Matrix you had seen this week.
Morpheus sat in front of Neo; offering the bliss of ignorance in one hand, and bitter bite of reality in the other. Which pill would you take?
Thousands died this morning. It made no difference to you. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t the truth. It was simply an illusion created by the cable company. It was simply a mirage, a distorted reflection in your drink. You finished off your bottle.
The Matrix has you.
Charlie had returned from the bathroom. You never even noticed that he got up. Your ears are deafened by your drunkenness. Your eyes are unfocused and bloodshot in protest to your drunken dehydration.
“Dude, we’re fresh out of TP,” he said, “Road trip?”
Thousands died this morning. But as you worked with Charlie in a dormitory restroom at the local college, you chuckled uncontrollably as you struggled to fight away intoxication long enough to pry the toilet paper dispenser off the heavily-vandalized stall wall.
“Hey! Stop!” the janitor cried as Charlie shoved by him in the narrow hallway, carrying a two-foot wide roll of toilet paper under his arm like a football, stopping momentarily to strike the Heisman pose before darting though the stairwell door.. You were hot on his heels, a drunken cackle erupting from your innards
In the car, success was on your tongues, and beer was on your lips in toast of your victory. You clinked your bottles together in honor of eternal friendship and big-ass rolls of toilet paper.
“Man, you are so fucking crazy,” you said. “I wish I had a camera.” You struck the Heisman pose in imitation of your friend, a true feat while driving in a cramped car.
“It was a moment of inspiration,” Charlie remarked. “I wish I’d straight-armed the janitor. Now that would have been a Kodak moment.” Charlie took a swig of his beer.
“Dude, you and your Bud Light. You’re a hundred pounds. Who are you kidding?”
“Ha, ha. One hundred pounds, my ass. Or maybe one hundred pounds YOUR ass,” Charlie said before finishing off his beer.
You laughed as Charlie meticulously peeled the label off the bottle for his wall-mounted collection, in spite of the bumpy ride. You gulped the remnants of your beer down, grimacing at the bitterness nipping at your throat, then grinning as the alcohol bloomed a warm welcome within your stomach. The comfort of that beer stayed with you right up till the moment you merged onto Highway 37, and then into the side of a Coca-Cola delivery semi.
Thousands died this morning. But you only killed one. As the death count on the east coast continues to rise, a count of one ravages you with its finality. One. Killed not in the name of jihad, but of Budweiser. One who did not die storming a cockpit to save his fellow man, but asleep in a drunken coma clutching a roll of single-ply like a child’s teddy-bear. One who was not killed by the hatred of a man he had never known, but by a friend with whom he’d spent most of his life.
The paramedics load Charlie into the ambulance en route to the hospital where the doctors and their machines will attempt to breathe machine life into his dead body. But you know that he is dead. You know it the way that the old men in town know it’s going to rain. You can feel it in your bones. You can smell Charlie’s death in the air, the copper smell of your friend’s blood. Though you are still drunk, you’ve never felt more sober in your entire life.
The paramedics turn their attention to you, but miraculously, you have been unharmed. There is not a scratch on your body. Inside, though, your mind is as mangled as the Ford Pinto that you had been driving since you were seventeen. The paramedics will take you to the hospital, tests will be run, and when they are done with you, the police will get their turn.
They will have their questions, and you will give them their answers. And then you will live. You will live as payment of debt for the life you were responsible for ending.
Thousands died today, but you will live, alone and guilty, for all of your life.