Thursday, January 27, 2011

week forty-two: crash (rewrite)

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in Story a Week history, I give you a "double-feature" of shorts. Not only will there be a rewrite of week thirteen's story, "Crash," but there is also a poem, which you can find here. I hope you enjoy them both!

--WA Ross

In the smell of rubber's smoke and engine's ash awoke Lillian Schuster. Breath came solemn as her lungs moved like rusted iron. Before her, beyond the shattered windshield, was the grayed Thursday afternoon sky. In her right mind, she would have right then realized that her Dodge Minivan had been seared in half and faced the clouds. In her right mind, she would have remembered the accident that had happened only minutes before. And in her right mind, she would have remembered her daughter who rode in the rear seat. But instead, Lillian remembered the groceries she set out for. What did she need? Skim milk, white eggs, wheat flour, Dawn natural- oh, God. Oh, God.

Her leg. What the hell? Why did her leg hurt so much?

Lillian looked down to her thigh and learned that deductive reasoning was completely unnecessary in determining the source of the pain. Through her leg protruded a steel rod and at its base emerged more blood than any human should live to see. She nearly faded from consciousness yet again, but pain throbbing her face snapped her to. When Lillian put her hand to her cheek, the hurt escalated to unbelievable levels. And why? Glass. All over her delicate, once-beautiful features rest splinters of the once-unified windshield. Blood and shards painted her soft, scraped hands. From her eyes burst a horrified tear.

Why was this happening? Why the hell was this happening?

Everything in life had been going do perfectly... or at least as perfectly as possible. While Lillian stayed at home to play mom, her husband, Robert, worked hard in the world of graphic design and earned them a better than decent living. Barring the occasional fight, their marriage thrived hitch-free. And their daughter, Nicole... oh, Nicole. She was the epitome of adorable, the definition of childhood innocence, and the embodiment of everything a parent could want out of a five-year-old little girl. And it was in these happier thoughts that Lillian remembered...

Oh my God.


Oh, no.

Lillian tried her very hardest to look back to where her daughter had been sitting, but a razor sharp pain struck each time. The side of her neck had been cut. Fighting both the pain in her neck and her lungs, she forced down a deep breath and turned back. She screamed in desperate hurt as she felt her skin tearing open. But despite the hell fighting to overpower this poor mother, Lillian managed to turn and see that the only thing behind her was smoldered earth and ragged steel. Her head snapped back to face the dashboard. She could only look on. She could only look on to a future she knew held no Nicole and... maybe no Robert. Because there would be no Lillian.

No. She could not operate under the assumption of death and she knew it. With resolve and courage she had learned from her CPR training, she pushed aside all thoughts of mortality and searched herself for what is important: Nicole. Using power she did not have, Lillian drew in breath and then shouted, “NICOLE!” It was a single bellow. Everything she had was expended in a single cry. There could not be another scream. If by some miracle-

“Why are you sideways, mommy?” an innocent, all too familiar voice asked. Could it be?

Lillian turned to her left to see none other than little Nicole standing beside her looking so inquisitive. As per her usual habits, Nicole's finger was in her mouth; almost giving way to overlook the splashes of blood staining her pink flowered overalls. Lillian smiled at seeing her daughter again, but her first reaction was, of course, “Sweetie, you need to get your finger out of your mouth.”

“Okay, mommy,” Nicole did as she was told. “Are we still going to the store?”

“No, sweetie, listen, I need you to go find my purse and bring it to me,” Lillian told her daughter. Her phone was in there. If she could just call 911....

“Why can't you go get it?”

“Mommy can't get up right now, Nicole, now please just go do it,” she grimaced at the shooting pain in her neck.

Oh-kay,” the young girl sighed as she happily hopskotched her way around the wreckage. How in the world she managed to keep so gleeful was beyond Lillian's understanding, but she guessed that it was because of her childish mind not quite having a grasp on the situation. At this point, Lillian needed her daughter to help her. She would have to hope that this mentality would keep up. There was no way Lillian could deal with both her own injuries and a helpless five-year-old girl. It simply could not be done.

“Here you go, mommy,” Nicole said as she held out Lillian's purse.

“Could you reach inside and grab mommy's phone for me, pumpkin?” Lillian asked of her daughter.

Nicole hummed something or another as she reached inside and fundled around. After about thirty seconds, she pulled out Lillian's Blackberry cell phone. She reached out her hand, “Here you go, mommy.”

“Thank you, darling,” Nicole strained as she took the phone and dialed in 911.

“I want to go home.”

“Hush, sweetie-”

“911 emergency.”

“Help, my car's crashed and-”

“Can I get your name please?”

“Schuster. Lillian Schuster.”

“And where are you at?”

She told the operator the last mile marker she had seen.

“Okay, now describe the situation for me, please. Try to remain calm.”

“I was driving down the highway with my daughter and then I remember...” flashes entered her mind. Something crashed into her rear and the next she knew, she spun out of control. There was a feeling of flying through the air and then sudden impact. Lillian recounted everything, including her current situation. As she talked, she looked over to her daughter, who sat Indian-style and sang some children's show tune... but something was amiss... and then it hit her, “Oh, God, Nicky, sweetie, where's your foot?!”

Nicole's right foot was completely absent. A bloody stump was all that remained. By some miracle, the bleeding must have stopped.... Nicole looked down at her absent extremity and quietly replied, “I'm tired mommy.”

“Nicky, listen to mommy, where is your foot?”

“I left it in my shoe, mommy.”

Lillian could not help but smile at her daughter. Part of her felt sorry for her daughter not understanding what had just happened, for having such ignorance, but the greater part was relieved to know that innocence and simplicity prevailed.

“Ma'am? Ma'am are you there?”

“Yes, yes, I am,” Lillian sighed as she suddenly realized just how tired she had become. The land of nightmare and sweet slumber beckoned.

“I've dispatched an ambulance to your location, they're on their way.”

“Okay, we'll wait... I think I'll just close my eyes and-”

“No, ma'am, listen, you cannot do that.”

“Just... so...” Lillian yawned, “tired....”

“Hey, ma'am, could you tell your name again?”

“Schuster... Lillian Schuster.”

“Okay, Lillian, please listen to me. You cannot fall asleep for any reason. You need to stay with me, alright?”

“Alrigh... I'll try.”

“Do you have a favorite poem or a song? I need you to think of something and recite it for me, okay?”

Lillian's lungs solidified more and more by the second. Breath became impossible. And her eyes... they were weighed down with anvils. But she needed to talk to the operator. Whoever it was knew what they were doing. But what to recite? And then she heard her daughter singing to herself, and Lillian joined in:

“Jesus loves me, this I know.

“For the Bible tells me so

“Little to ones to Him belong

“They are weak

“But He is strong.

“Yes, Jesus loves me.

“Yes, Jesus loves me.

“Yes, Jesus loves me.

“For the Bible tells me so.

As the song faded away, as their voices died from singing to silence, Lillian forgot everything about the 911 operator listening in. Was she talking to someone? Did anyone care? Lillian did not know. She did not care. She forgot everything important. Her once iron will gave in to the constant assault of inevitability. Lillian's eyes closed. But her last thought was to her daughter. She said, “Mommy's going to take a little nap now.”

“Okay, mommy,” Nicole watched as her mother's eyes drifted into sleep. And then into death.

But Nicky would not know. She would never know that her mother had just passed on. Would she go to heaven? Or hell? Or would she wind up in oblivion? Nicole did not know. Nicole did not even think such things. These questions were beyond her years and comprehension. In her mind, she saw the disaster that had just consumed their lives, but it was all so trivial to her little brain. These were just circumstances, just occurrences. They had no matter. So she paid them no heed and instead wondered where her stuffed tiger had gone.

Nicole brought herself up and began to search. Mr. Stripes? Mr. Stripes, where are you?

And there he was.

She picked up her beloved stuff being and gave it a great, big hug. Sympathy felt good. She would never know why she needed sympathy. Nevertheless, Mr. Stripes was there to comfort her. And Mr. Stripes was there to keep her mind away from the horrors of her ever-limiting existence. She looked into its eyes and saw stillness, but in such stillness, she found tranquility... what a perfect time to lie down.

Nicole let herself drop to the crash-tainted ground. She curled into a fetal position around her prized best friend and put her thumb into her mouth. Mommy said not to do that, but Nicole did not care. It felt good. It felt so very good. Closing her eyes felt good as well. As she fell away, Nicky wondered what she might dream of. But little did she know that dreams were of a time passed.

The cruel, cruel world left little Nicky Schuster behind never to see her years.

The poem, "We Sat There Thinking About the End of the World," included with this week's post can be found here.

We Sat There Thinking About the End of the World

We sat there thinking about the end of the world
Staring up at the stars
Pondering the end of all things
the end of all life
the end of all love
innocence? Already gone.
Happiness? Dead long ago.

We sat there thinking about the end of the world
Will it be apocalypse
Like the kind from the realm above?
Fire and holy death
Judgment and cleansing
Axiom? Just one.
Hope? Gone long ago.

We sat there thinking about the end of the world
Will all simply vanish
Through eons of monotony?
Existence goes on
It merely goes on
Aspire? Nowhere left to go
Beauty? Really means nothing

We sat there thinking about the end of the world
No way through is perfect.
Trapped in inevitable
death coming our way.
Forced into meaning
Choice? You really have not one.
Death? So inescapable.

Friday, January 21, 2011

week forty-one: insomnia

I am plagued with the curse of insomnia. I found this in an old notebook of mine just a little while ago and had forgotten all about. I imagine that it was written at about five in the morning during some sleepless night. It's another poem and it sums up my experience with the matter quite well. Have you ever suffered insomnia? Let me know.

-- WA Ross

Home after a long night
Finally, finally home
Nothing going right
Not at all

Getting tired of putting
up with all this
so much
too much
to handle

Feels like the
of the world
on my shoulders

And there's so much to do.

Climb in bed
mind racing
mind goes here
mind goes there



stop thinking
just rest

There's nothing left to do

Go to

That song
that one
you like it
not your favorite
it will

the questions asked
some you want to
keep forever
others... you
just want
to kill

And the
whole time
you just

But you can't
you're trapped
between here

five AM
no rest

eyes open
eyes close
eyes squint
nothing but
wakeful misery

Quiet! Silence!
I want
than sleep

The dawn creeps
No, no!
Is it too late?
Too late to rest?

Yes, because
you know
that tomorrow's
misery has

Seven AM
you give up
you give up

Can't think straight
What am I doing?
Who's in the mirror
with those bloodshot

The dark circles
can't be me
but it is
but it is

This is insomnia
This is my life
welcome to my

Friday, January 14, 2011

week forty: lennox

Sometimes inspiration is a slow beast that you have to poke, prod, slap, shove, nudge, and shout at to get going. There are times, however, when inspiration is a raging bull that you can't stop. That's what happened for this week's story. A few months back, I had this idea for a story and I started. But before I finished, I had also a written an outline for a novel using the same basic concept. As a sort of "demo," I finished up the short story and here it is. I was looking through my material just a week or so ago and I found this. I had forgotten all about it.

Anyway, this week is a proof-of-concept. It's a sneak peak to something much greater going on my head. The tentative story of Bob Lennox is one about faith and belief. In the end, I found it to be a modern telling of Noah's Ark. Without any further psycho-babble from Mr. Ross, here it is. Here is a scrap of my imagination for your review.

--WA Ross


Everybody called him a freak and they were right. Bob knew they were right. Bob was at Wal-Mart, doing his shopping. He had just gotten his paycheck and was going to spend it the same way he spent every paycheck: buying as much as possible. His cart was laden with Spam and all the non-perishable food he can find. Of course, this time he cut back just a little. He had another essential purchase to make.

As soon as he checked out, he got into his pickup truck and made his way to his local gun dealer. In Bob's state, there isn't much regulation on guns so he can buy almost whatever he wants. He goes into the store and looks at every single gun. He already has a couple of shotguns, a few handguns, and a couple of rifles but this day he wants something special. And there it is on the rack, an AR-15 assault rifle, just like they use in the military except it isn't fully-automatic. Bob wishes he could get something automatic, but the law is the law.

It's all going to be gone soon though. And Bob Lennox is going to be ready for it.

He lives on a ranch just outside the city. It isn't a large plot of land, but it's enough. Bob grows vegetables on it, but his biggest project was what had everyone calling him crazy. Underneath his small home rests to this day, a fallout shelter. It's deep underground, most would estimate about five stories. Bob dug the whole thing himself. Inside are all the essentials: years worth of food, guns, electrical generators, games, a working radio and television, and even a bathroom with a separate plumbing system. It's all very impressive since Bob made it himself, even the elevator that takes you down.

Bob loaded everything onto his elevator, which sits in the hallway next to his bedroom, and goes down. The first thing he does is load the AR-15's clips and put it in the relatively large gun room. There were about forty different weapons down there. To name a few, there were several Remington 700's, Mossberg 500's, Kimber Eclipses, and a few hunting rifles. If need be, Bob knew he could supply a small army. He put away the food and then realized he would need more. There were sufficient supplies to last about two years for himself, but Bob had designed his shelter for multiple people and he wanted to save as many as possible. From what?

Nuclear fallout.

No one would believe Bob. He went to church every Sunday and every day he would talk about it. He told everyone he knew about his shelter, about his belief that a nuclear winter was coming, and how he would save as many as he could. But they wouldn't listen. None of them would hear. Nobody wanted to believe that the world as they knew it would end very soon.

But to Bob, it's too obvious. The enemies of America have been gathering nuclear weapons and whatever they can find for too long. The United States is done for; the only hope is to gather and hide. Victory isn't possible, but survival is. Bob felt sorry for everyone who ignored him. They'd all be dead or hopeless very soon. This isn't a question of if, it's a question of when. Bob knew it would happen.

His therapist had spent years trying to talk him out of it. But it was obvious that Bob didn't have a real psychological problem. He could be described as delusional, but was obviously capable of completely rational thought. Social seclusion and awkwardness were problems, but not really concerns. But just like he kept faith in God, Bob kept faith in his belief of the world's ending and worked tirelessly on his fallout shelter. It was never complete. Bob always added something new and was always stocking it. He had no goal other than to save as many people as possible.

“Bob, we need to talk,” Pastor Hughes said as he grinned the smile only a pastor can make. Bob already knew what this was about. “Look, you're scaring people. You've been at this for years, but the new people don't know what to think about all this nuclear apocalypse stuff. Now, look, I respect your beliefs, I really do.” No you don't. “But I don't want to turn new people away because just one guy believes the world is going to end. Could you maybe... I don't know, just stop with this whole apocalypse business?”

Bob looked to the floor and replied quietly, “No, pastor, I can't.”

Hughes continued his false smile, “Why not, Bob?”

“Because it's gonna happen” Bob replied firmly. “It's gonna happen and everyone needs to know. I'm gonna save as much people as I can and we're gonna survive. If you ain't gonna help me, fine, but please don't stand in my way.”

“I'm not standing in your way, Bob, I just need you to turn it down a notch. Or several.”


Bob climbed into his pickup truck and drove away. He wasn't angry; not at all. Instead, he felt pity for his pastor. They were all so closed-minded to it all. Then again, Bob understood. He had no proof whatsoever that this was going to happen; only speculation. Bob was just a janitor, not the kind of analyst who could prove anything. Bob had only one real talent and that was dedication. Once he fixated on a cause, he'd stick with it. Even as a kid, Bob was like this. During his middle-school science fair, he would lock himself up for hours working on his model of the solar system. It wound up being perfectly accurate and exactly to scale. But still, Bob only passed the class with a C. He just isn't an intelligent man.

Mopping floors and scrubbing toilets, Bob worked very hard at his job. Because of his natural dedication, the office building he cleaned was spotless; impressively so. He told some of the people at work about the coming apocalypse, but generally kept to himself. His manager had warned him that coming death was just not a workplace topic. Although Bob disagreed, his manager held all the chips. So, he quietly complied and went back to mopping.

And it was on a very simple, common night as Bob drove home in his pickup, that he saw a blinding flash and heard a deafening roar. When he looked behind him, orange glowed from the city behind him. My God, it's happened. Many men would smile because they were right, but not Bob. He knew what he had to do. He floored the accelerator on his pickup and raced home. Several more flashes followed. His city was sure to be completely decimated.

Bob pulled the car into his drive way and opened his door. He grabbed a sign he had made years ago that simply read, “FALLOUT SHELTER: GO INSIDE AND PICK UP RED PHONE.” In his living room, was a red phone which connected directly downstairs to the shelter. Bob was absolutely thorough with his planning. When a survivor would arrive, he could call Bob and be allowed into the shelter. He hopped in the elevator and rode it down. Once he arrived, he checked everything. The food supply was ample and safe. The beds were made and ready. The entertainment rooms were set. Finally came the guns. Bob went into his massive gun safe and grabbed a handgun for himself. That was it.

He rushed to the entertainment center and turned on the TV. All of the channels were dead. The radios were silent. It's really here. The world is over.

Friday, January 7, 2011

week thirty-nine: ronnie

This week is an embodiment of the original vision for Story a Week. What I mean by that is that this story is raw, unpolished, and very much a first draft. I normally wouldn't introduce a piece like this, but I have to confess that lately I've been struggling to get material. "Ronnie" is kind of special in that I've finally got something down. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I enjoyed getting back into that creative stream. Tell me what you think in the comments section or shoot me an e-mail. I'd love to hear your fuming criticisms and sarcastic praise.

--WA Ross

I first noticed he was gone almost first thing in the morning. I went upstairs to get his laundry, it was about seven-thirty in the morning on a Saturday, and I went into his room, he was gone. Just like that. Ronnie was gone. My Ronnie was gone. All of his things were left behind except for some clothes, his keys, and his money. I would have thought he had been kidnapped or something like that, except that a note was left there on his bed that nothing more than, “Carpe diem!

A lot of things went through my mind. At first, I thought that maybe he had just gone out early or there was something was forgetting about. I picked up his hamper, which seemed abnormally light and brought it down to the laundry room. I set breakfast on the stove and then sat at the table to wait for him to come home. I just sat there reading the paper for a good two hours before I called his cell phone. That was my second warning flag. He had left it behind on the table. Ronnie had never forgotten his phone before.

It's so strange. He never gave any warning before he left. He never seemed like he was terribly unhappy and he was never in with a bad crowd. I thought for sure that I was raising him right. His grades were good, his friends seemed to like him, and I didn't mind his friends. Whenever I set a curfew, he would follow it within margin. Except for the odd mishap, Ronnie never got in trouble. I was so proud of him. I'm still proud of him.

He had just turned sixteen two weeks before. I couldn't afford to buy him a car like most of the other kids. I'm a single mom. I work two terrible jobs, but Ronnie never complained about it. He was never vain, never selfish, he never asked for too many things. And usually when he asked, I would give. Not always. I'll never be able to afford “always.” But I tried. By God, I tried.

Ronnie's father, Avery, left almost immediately after I told him I was pregnant. He skipped town and I've never heard from him again. I can't say that I want to. It takes a real piece of work to leave like that. I had a hard time with men for a while. I'll be the first to admit that I slept around and I'll be the first to admit that I was stupid. I drank too. Finally, my stupidity got the best of me and one bad contraceptive later, I'm pregnant. I could have and I should have stopped. Avery was the worst of all the men I slept with. Sometimes I wonder what happened to Avery... but that always results in me losing my mood. I used to cry over it, but then I would remember Ronnie. Such a blessing.

I eighteen, I had left home to live in Los Angeles. I wanted to be away from my family. But by twenty-two, after my hard life had gotten me with child, I hopped on a bus to go home. I didn't want to abort the child, but at that time I certainly had no intention of raising it with a crap in the world. My intention was to go home, have the baby, and dump it on my mom. But on the bus, a miracle happened....

I sat next to a pastor. At first, I thought he was just a nice man trying to get by the hours-long ride with small-talk, but it didn't take me long to realize that there was something more to him. He listened as I sobbed through my miserable life story. When I finished, I felt bad for going on so long and I asked him what he did. He didn't let us talk about him for very long. He kept himself very interested in me; in my story. He loved me, but not like Avery and all those other men said they said. It was something more real, something I had never experienced.

And suddenly I wanted to have that love. I wanted to have that love and I wanted to give that love. That's when I gave my life to Christ and everything changed.

I got home and I made the baby in my womb my top priority. My parents saw the change in my life and they were amazed. I brought them to church a few times and soon, we were your regular church-going family. Very soon after that, I had Ronnie. I gave him the best I could.

And now he's gone.

It's been four years and I haven't anything from him. Not a phone, not a letter, nothing....

I wonder what I did wrong. The most obvious thing would be that he never had a father. I skipped that step, I skipped looking for one, because I wanted to focus on raising my son. I gave up a lot for him. I gave up my stupid attempts at a music career, I gave up looking for a man... I gave up practically anything for myself for Ronnie. He knows this, he knows how hard I've worked and how it's all been for him.

I did everything for him. Maybe it was too much. Maybe I was too controlling, maybe I was too demanding, maybe I was too there for him. I mean, I could hardly stand the thought of being away from him, but I don't think I was too severe. I tried so hard to do everything that maybe I tried too hard. I don't know. I can't know. Ronnie can't tell me. He's gone. He's just left. He's gone....

I pray for him every morning. I pray for him every night. I pray that he might one day come back. I pray that if he doesn't, he's alive out there and happy with what he's doing. I think sometimes that maybe I just needed to be out of the picture for whatever it is he wanted to do. Sometimes I think that maybe I filled my purpose in his life and needed to be discarded. But I know that isn't true.

I know that ultimately Ronnie made the wrong choice in his life. I know that ultimately he made a very selfish decision to leave me and “seize the day”. A few times I've tried my very hardest to be angry with him. A few times I've tried my very hardest to forget about him and move on. There were even a few times when I've tried to believe that my Ronnie is dead. But I can't. I can't hate him or bury him. I love him. He's my son.

Today, I found that I'm still working the same two jobs and I'm still living in the same house. I find myself still, even after four years, going into Ronnie's room to get his laundry. I can't help but cook for two when I make dinner. Whether he intends it or not, Ronnie is always going to be there with me. I can never forget him and I can never stop hoping.

Am I delusional? Am I crazy? Should I give up? I don't know. I just want my son back.

Ronnie, come home.

Seven years after the sudden disappearance of her son, Amy Laughlin still was not ready to give up. When the economic recession hit, she lost one of her jobs and eventually her home. She quit her second job and moved back in with her parents. It all became too much for her. Depression sank in and took control. Against her will, Amy's parents enrolled her in a six-week psychiatric program. Hope seemed distant for her deteriorating mental state.

Seven years to the day of Ronnie's disappearance, Amy found herself sitting in front to the television at St. Michael's. There sat she clad in a pink bathrobe, frizzled hair, and heaps of medication weighing her mind. On the screen was the local news. Amy was only supposed to watch cartoons and happy things, but she had figured out how to watch whatever channel she wanted. If she kept the volume down, then the attending nurse might not notice. Amy watched because she hoped to find some word about her missing son. Maybe... just maybe...

“Miss Laughlin,” a deep voice said sternly. “You know aren't supposed to watch-”

“Quiet, Ronnie might come on,” Amy shook as she waved him off.

“Come on, let's go do something else,” the deep voice suggested. To Amy, he was just a voice. Her world was the television and nothing else. Her schizophrenia had gone almost completely out of control, but medication kept her at least partially in the real world. She would have to focus in order to accept that others existed; others besides Ronnie. And in this moment, her focus was on the television.

“Shush, go away!”

“Miss Laughlin, come on, we're going somewhere else,” the voice combined itself with a feeling on her shoulder. A very firm one.

The news report, which was almost completely useless, ended and the commercials began. “Alright, I'll come but you have to shush,” Amy told the voice as she stood from her chair. She kept her eye on the TV.

“How about we go draw a nice picture?”

“Wait!” Amy snapped and then came back to the TV. She dropped to her knees and intently watched. “That's him! That's my Ronnie! There he was! He was on TV! He was!” The commercial was for a local music festival which featured various local up-and-coming artists and washouts.

“Miss Laugh-”

“No! Wait! He'll come back!” Amy watched like a hawk. The editing was fast and exciting, but... had she really...?

“We have to go.”

“Shut up! Shut up! I see him! I see my Ronnie!” Amy burst into jovial tears as she threw her arms into the air. “We have to go! We have to see him! He's there! He's alive! He's my Ronnie! Oh, oh! Oh!” There was a young man who played something on an electric guitar. He was there for less then five seconds, but it was enough. Amy simply knew it was him.