The Pit – Very Short Story

Sometimes we die, we do that quite often in fact. Some people believe life and death is just a cycle, that death isn’t really the end, but I’m getting ahead of myself:

Let me introduce you to the Melburns. They are a wealthy family, not only in money but in children as well. They have seventeen of them – eight Mrs Melburn doesn’t even know about. The thing about Mr Melburn is that he isn’t a good person, not in most circles, but at least he takes care of his family. He feeds them, clothes them, and that’s about it. There’s only one he pays any attention to and that’s his eldest daughter.

She died, recently, at the tender age of twelve of mysterious reasons. She was found with a mouth full of sweets and several of them were lodged in her throat. Mr Melburn always said gluttony is a problem, I guess she disagreed. As you can see, being wealthy doesn’t protect you from death, not entirely anyway. Life cannot be bought or exchanged, but that didn’t stop Mr Melburn from trying.

He contacted the local Necromancer – every small and big town has one. Necromancy is the cure against dying, according to their words, and they have many theories on how to bring back the dead; the most common one involves an exchange. The Melburns weren’t willing to give up one of their own children so they went and looked for another. A local eleven year old boy disappeared soon after. The whole incident was hushed up later when the right amount of money appeared in the right people’s pockets. It was a freak accident how the child gut himself before walking across the country and breaking into a total stranger’s basement.

I’m not saying necromancy is complete bogus, but it’s a lost art. I find it ironic how the people who are afraid to die are the most avid practitioners these days. With the Melburn’s left with no other option they decided to buy her a fancy new home to sleep her eternal rest in. It’s common in most places to have a fancy little crypt for their loved ones; to tell the world that somebody important was buried here. You better pay attention to her. If the Melburns are lucky, their dear daughter will be happy with her new accommodation and stay quiet for all eternity.

Now, let me turn your attention to the Shillies. They are not a wealthy family. Indeed, they’re so poor that the father often doesn’t eat, like, at all. He’s the definition of a saint. He also died recently and his death was not a mystery. Mrs Shillies would like nothing more than to give him a nice home to rest in, but they cannot afford to, and most likely, Mr Shillie won’t expect one either. He’ll sleep quietly in whatever grave they end up burying him in.

But, the funny thing about dying is that it’s a lot like living. People change. If Mr Shillie had any unfulfilled hopes and dreams that we didn’t know about, he might wake up and try and fulfill them. His chances are pretty good too without those pesky responsibilities of being alive or morals that comes with it. In fact, there’s a saying that most kings never lived. But one thing’s for sure, Mr Shillies won’t be able to rest easy knowing his family will most likely die of starvation without him. The city knows this, that’s why he’s going into the pit.

The pit is not just a hole in the ground, it’s deeper than anyone knows. Some say it’s bottomless, while some scholars claim it’s exactly 3000 kms deep. Nobody is sure how they came to this conclusion, most people don’t understand what those weird scientists are saying, anyway. But it doesn’t really matter in the end, because anything that is thrown in doesn’t come up!

© Christopher Stamfors

The Joker – Very Short Story

“Yes, yes! Let’s party!” a man with clown makeup cried while dancing around a larger, bulkier, man with a shaved head and a mean expression. Jason, on any other night, would have punched anyone who dared annoy him, but he found the clown strangely captivating. Jason was proud of his ability to remember anyone he ever met and he was pretty sure he could recognize them even with makeup on, but somehow, he couldn’t put a finger who this man was; but he looked familiar.

Intrigued, he let the clown do his thing, while the small entourage of men followed closely behind. Suddenly, the clown grabbed his hands and swung him in a circle without letting go. Jason tried to stop him but the clown only swirled faster and faster until Jason lost his grip (or did the clown drop him?) and fell on his ass. His cheeks flushed red.

“Ooof, need to work on your balance there, my friend,” the clown said.

Jason bared his teeth. I’ll mess you up, he thought and accepted the clowns helping hand. The hand popped out of its socket and left a hole around the clowns sleeve. Jason fell again. The light from the streetlamps shaded the faces on the group behind them but they were no doubt trying their hardest to suppress a smile. “Weehehee,” the clown laughed.

All right, tonight I kill a clown, Jason thought as he got back on his legs.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” the clown said. “Everyone needs a good laugh every once in a while. Tell you what. I’ll buy you a drink at–,” he paused, looking around. “That bar,” he said and grabbed Jason’s arm.

If there had been a convenient alley that he could force the clown into at that moment, he would’ve, but yet again, the clown was lucky as he dragged him into the bar. People stopped and stared at the clown, however, they cowered as soon as they saw who the clown was with. The bar stools emptied for the new guests and the barkeep handed out the drinks promptly and without taking pay, which negated the clowns promise.

“Cheers,” he said, apparently willing to conveniently forget about it.

Jason ignored the clown and drank with a frown.

“You’re not still mad at me, are you? I’m the Joker, I joke!” He cried happily and fooled the man next to him with a fake flower that wet his nose.

Jason finished his drink. “Another one,” he growled.

Jason still couldn’t put his finger on who the clown was. He was far too comfortable around him, and he started to worry that he might be somebody he should know. The clown dies tonight either way, he thought to himself. “A joker, eh? Then let’s go kill somebody,” he said. “You and me. The greatest joke there is, right?” He chuckled, imagining the clown’s eyes to hide in his skull out of fear because he couldn’t get any paler than he already was.

But the clown didn’t seem uncomfortable at all, in fact, there was a glee in his face and he became misty-eyed as if from joy. “I thought you’d never ask,” the clown said and ushered Jason out from the bar and danced down the street again, singing. “Kill, kill, kill, let’s kill!”

Jason was mystified by this reaction. Even though he was THE thug of the street, the clown didn’t seem afraid of him. Perhaps he was mad. “Will you shut up!” He said. “This is not how it works.”

“I’m sorry, I’m just so excited to kill with my new best friend,” he said while walking. Then he stopped abruptly. Gasp. “Should we kill him, or maybe him? There’s so many to choose from!” He said and grabbed a random stranger and pushed him close to Jason’s face.

The stranger looked bewildered and scared as he met Jason’s eyes. “Is he good enough?!” The clown said.

“Are you crazy?” Jason said and threw the stranger to the side who was promptly picked up by his entourage.

“Hmm, you’re right. He didn’t feel right…” he said and started looking for another.

Jason had had just about enough of this clown and he pushed him close to his face. “Are you trying to get me into trouble? Who the fuck are you?!”

The clown smiled; he never stopped smiling. “Worried they’ll recognise you? You should’ve had makeup on, like me!” He smiled. “But don’t you worry, they’ll never notice you once I fix your nose!” A machete emerged from the clown’s pants and with one sweep, Jason’s didn’t have a nose anymore.

Jason staggered and touched his face that was wet and full of blood. He didn’t feel anything, though. Not yet. “In fact,” the clown said. “I should fix a few other things while I’m at it!”

Jason’s left ear came off cleanly and he didn’t feel the pain immediately that time either, but as he realised what was happening, he felt the pain and he crumbled to his knees. “Stop, please!” he cried.

“Please? Too nice a word coming out of you!”

The clown planted the blade deep into Jason’s skull and he collapsed, pathetically, onto the street. The clown looked at the entourage who remained frozen a few feet away. The man they’d caught slipped out of their grip. Somehow, the clown thought that was very funny. “Weheehee! I am the Joker. I’m the one who jokes!”

© Christopher Stamfors

The Stranded Men – Poem

She wants to keep them.

He wants them away.

The Enemy wants to capture them

And the father wants them saved.

The navy can’t do anything because the enemy is there. 

She doesn’t abide by anyone and is the lord of the land.

The father is lord over other lands and doesn’t hold any sway.

And He is lord of nothing and must watch and wait 

for things to come his way.

Autumn Night

The moon was full and the wind was wild as the tree-tops rustled.

The streetlights gave a faint glow from the dark leaves that encompassed them.

Black blotches of their shadows danced on the pavement,

Softly

Hard

until they were still – like a painting on the ground.

There’s magic during nights like these – it’s the reason why the wind blows so hard.

Everything that isn’t supposed to be stirs to life

All at once.

The Birthmark that Mapped Her Future

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Em. 

She lived in a castle along with her six other brothers and sisters. Everyone got along with each other except with her because she was different. She was born with a birthmark, big and pale, that mapped itself from her neck down to her shoulder. “It’s the devil’s child,” they’d call her. “She’s been marked by the devil!” 

The only time they ever played with her was at Em’s expense. They would lunge at her and reel back just as fast, to see who got closest without touching her. Once, Em tried to grab them back, but when she did, they screamed and stared at her as if she was a monster. She never played with them again and avoided them altogether. Many years went by and her oldest brother was eighteen and he was sent off to another kingdom. “He’s such a good son,” her parents would say. “He’ll do great things for the country.” Em didn’t know there were other countries in the world and listened intently whenever she could. As long as she was quiet, and stayed out of their way, she could listen for as long as she liked because her parents didn’t care for her anyway.

Then there was her fifth sibling, who was married to a prince at sixteen and she was sent off to live in his castle. Em wondered if she’d be married off too someday… And so, one after the other, her siblings left the castle until she was the only one left. She thought, maybe now mum and dad will pay attention to me, sense I’m all they got? She tried getting their attention by singing and playing the piano but they would just send one of the maids and drag her away. “They are very busy,” the maid would say.

Soon, Em stopped trying to make them notice her and stayed in her room, where everyone preferred her anyway. All day she’d read or sing or play the piano. Other days she’d just sit by the window and look as the world moved on without her, dreaming of being sent away one day. The only time she ever left her room was when everyone was asleep and she had the whole castle to herself. Unfortunately, the castle was very dark at night and she would jump at every suspicious sound, or shadow. She was especially frightened near the kitchen where she heard strange moans at night. She asked her father for a lantern but he wouldn’t give it to her. “What would you need a lantern for anyway? He asked. But Em wouldn’t say, fearing he’d lock her up if he knew what she was up to. Then one night, she saw something glowing in the dark. It was a lit lantern that was resting outside the kitchen door. Pleased with her find, she snatched it and ran back to her room, never considering it might belong to somebody esle. The next morning, two servants were fired and the noise from the kitchen went away. 

Many years later (when she was twelve) after coming home from one of her nightly adventures, there was an old lady waiting in her room. Em almost dropped the lantern because she thought it was some sort of goblin that had followed her. But as the creature turned, Em could see it was a person smiling. Her name was Emma, which was funny because that’s what Em always thought her own name would be if her parents had bothered finishing it. 

As it turned out, Emma was very kind and she’d stay with Em all day long telling stories or brushing her hair. “I’m so glad you are here,” Em said. “I don’t ever have to leave my room and feel lonely again.” 

“Oh? Why wouldn’t you want to leave? The night is yours, nobody is gonna hurt you.”

Em scratched her neck. “I don’t really like the dark,” she said.

Emma put down the brush and said. “Have you ever heard about Vampires?”

Em shook her head. 

“They are tall and handsome creatures of the night and they got their eyes on you. They’ll come for you, one day, when you are ready.”

Em jittered out of her chair. “Me? Why?!”

Emma caressed Em’s neck which didn’t help to sooth her because nobody had dared touch her there before. “They’ll protect you because they know you’ll do great things. That’s why everyone is afraid of you,” she said.

Em thought about it. “Everyone? Even monsters?”

Emma smiled. “Even monsters.”

“But then… Why aren’t you afraid of me?”

The old woman quirked her mouth. “I’m too old to be scared of death.” 

When Em was left alone, she thought about what had been said. If everyone was afraid of her she could do whatever she wanted! That very same night she went without her lantern. She knew the castle by heart and at first, she was scared without it but as her eyes got used to the darkness she became more confident. She even went to the tower at the abandoned part of the castle, where the Wraith is said to wander up and down the stairs. And lo and behold, she came back without being hurt! Ever since then, the night became hers and she would sometimes frighten others that walked the dark. Sometimes she would even eves-drop on her father’s meetings which she wasn’t supposed to hear: apparently, things weren’t going well for her oldest brother in the other kingdom and rumour had it he’d been captured and locked in a prison somewhere. For some reason, this amused Em, thinking of her siblings being locked away in a dark cell with nobody to talk to and she secretly wished all her siblings shared the same fate. 

Two years went by and she was fourteen. She was looking out the window when a mysterious carriage drove up to the door. Excited, she snuck downstairs to have a listen. It was an old man in his 40s that came through the door. He had a large beard and a dreary look about him. Her father frowned as he stepped inside and didn’t seem too pleased to see him. They went into the parlour where her father always had his secret meetings. Em climbed stealthily down the stairs, relying on the dark to hide her, but then the stranger suddenly turned and stared straight at her. Her heart froze and she shot back. He couldn’t have seen her in the dark, could he? She went back to have a look but they were gone. Em was too nervous to go closer and it didn’t feel safe sneaking into her father’s meeting. She decided to go back to bed where she lay awake, wondering who the stranger was and what he wanted.

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It’s okay not knowing

How strange it is that a comfortable life can be a problem.

I don’t know about you but I remember when I just moved into my first apartment and took odd jobs as a substitute teacher I had the most fun being a writer. My life was uncertain, I didn’t know what to make of myself and somehow that translated well into my writing. 

Nowadays my life is secure and the job I have, although not the worst for a creative person, I’ve become weary of it. I want to do and see new things… I don’t think any creative person is satisfied with their condition. It’s a trap, if you let it and it becomes harder and harder to break up the monotony if you wait.  

At the same time, having a secure job gives you peace to write, but I don’t know about you, I wouldn’t mind living in poverty if it meant I could write and live.  

Sometimes things need to change and I fear I’ll live like I do now for the rest of my life if I don’t do something about it. 

A writer’s doubt

Procrastinating is a filthy word but a common one, we all do it, especially when you can’t get it right. I get scared to continue because I don’t want to face my inequities, that’s my excuse anyway, that’s what keeps me from writing.

And who can blame me? I have so many ideas to realise but I have finished none, no books anyway… Maybe I can’t? Maybe short fiction is for me and books are beyond my grasp? Perhaps scripts are better, they are easier, right? I don’t know… I’ve worked on too many stories for too long only to turn them away again and again. My instincts is all I can trust But what if my instincts are wrong? What can I put trust in then?

Perhaps I’m not listening well enough or not as often…

A creative mind is borderline insane, they say. We decided what’s true, where the border is. Maybe I’ll get it some day, but for the moment, I’ll stay glued to the screen with a warm cup of tea in my hands until I build enough courage to continue.

I just want it to be fun again

What is essential to the plot?

”A story is based on the merit on how much is removed.” I never understood this quote until I had to do it.

I recently had to remove a lot from a chapter because it was boring and irrelevant, though there were bits and pieces that I adored, and tried very hard to incorporate, it never fit in anywhere, as if it lost its place.

I don’t know if there’s any meaning to losing text like this or if it’s just a necessary step in my process to get to the good part.

Of course, some things are removed on purpose; backstories, for instance, rarely fit into the narrative but is essential nonetheless. The reader doesn’t need to know the backstory (not always) but the writer absolutely have to.

The more you decide not to include in the final product the more depth a story has and the more implicit things become which the writer can build upon.

At least, that is what I like to believe, that the many hours I spent on a segment is important even though it’s not included and somehow enriches the story instead if being relegated to the void where it came from.

Why do we make life harder than it has to be?

When you write a story you often come to a point where everything feels wrong. It physically hurts working on the it and you don’t know why. That is your cue to stop. You’ll try to fix it, of course, because you are stubborn, but why move the boulder that’s in the way when you can walk around it? 

Discard what you have written, at least parts of it, perhaps only a sentence or two that you feel stuck on, and start over and you’ll find the flow again. It’s not worth working against the grain.

We don’t know what we are doing anyway and we need to accept that.

I like to think of us as scribes recording stories from a long lost archive that’s in a language we can barely understand. We catch the general idea but we must fill in the blanks ourselves. 

Kill your darlings is the advice, I believe.