Straight Shooter

“Come on! Move that shit-heap will ya? You’re holding up the traffic, lady!”

Greg Mason was not known for keeping his opinions to himself. He’d stopped counting the number of friends lost because he spoke his mind. His therapist explained how he needed to let his inner voice police his tongue. He must try and filter out what was necessary from the garbage swilling around his brain. Greg tried for exactly two hours until his neighbour politely asked him how his day was. Greg’s response was yet another reason why the other residents didn’t like him. Thanks for the advice, doc, how ’bout you filter this!

Not many people liked Greg, not that he cared, he didn’t like many people either. He wasn’t an angry or bitter person as his attitude made him appear, he just didn’t gel with others. Try as he might, Greg simply couldn’t keep his opinions to himself and it always gave him trouble. Which was why he was sat in rush hour traffic trying to get away from the city once and for all. Dirty, filthy rat hole, full of insincere faceless idiots, drunks and hookers on every corner. No one cares, they just do, do without question because they can’t afford an opinion. Lecherous scum buckets. He didn’t exactly hate any of those things, in fact he quite liked the hookers, not that he ever went there. Greg thought they added character to an otherwise squalid city.

The hum and rumble of engines all around his tiny Beetle was giving him a headache. The bridge had been jammed for over an hour and finally when the traffic began rolling the woman in front stalled her car. Greg honked his horn then looked down at a rust coloured cat on the passenger seat.

“Did I scare ya, Jules?” asked Greg. The cat gave him a cold stare. “Don’t blame me, sister, blame the dumb blonde in the Subaru.”

Greg never apologised. He didn’t see why he should. He tells it like it is and people either got it or they didn’t. Tough-titties to you, pal, I’m a straight talkin’ guy and I make no apologies for it. The only reason why he owned a cat was because cats don’t need apologies. Not like dogs with their sorrowful eyes and whimpers when you tell them off for shitting on the rug. Greg and Jules had an understanding, he would speak his mind and Jules would listen. No one else will, no one wants to hear the plain truth of things, stupid city folk with their smiles and have-a-nice-day bullshit. Greg didn’t like falseness either. If he was willing to be upfront he expect the same from everyone else.

Not long ago Greg had been tested for Tourettes Syndrome but the results came back negative. He could hold his tongue, just not for very long. He’d been tested for other mental disorders and one doctor even suggested Greg enjoyed being rude to people. Your bedside manner sucks, doc, sucks like a cheap hooker.

Greg regularly told Jules that he both loved and loathed his straight talking attitude, if he didn’t give his honest opinion it dragged him down like a fish with a lead weight in its mouth. It genuinely made him unhappy, and Greg hated being unhappy. On the other hand he often wished for more self-control. Just a smidgen, a tiny shred of control would be like experiencing the joy of moving through the gears instead of leaping from zero to top speed with nothing in-between.

It was never going to happen though. At 51 years of age, Greg Mason, a greying pudgy man with pale green eyes and a thick wiry moustache, was resigned to a life of few friends and no long-lasting relationships. His last girlfriend, Yvonne, said she adored his straight talking approach to life but after six months it eventually pushed the smile off her face. She berated him over every little thing, from his comments about her hair or clothes to her so-called friends, like the fat chick with parrot perch ear rings who dressed like a tart and smelled of mould. I’m just tellin’ it like it is, babe, your pal stinks like a dead dog. Why are you arguin’ when it’s the truth? Take that shit up with her if you don’t like it. And like the rest, Yvonne dropped out his life without so much as a goodbye note.

Dixie’s Diner

Greg was about to give the owner of the Subaru some more helpful advice when it lurched forward and the traffic flowed across the bridge. Greg left the city behind and ventured into the green countryside. No overflowing garbage, no drunks and no hookers, bliss. A few hours later Greg entered…he couldn’t remember the name on the sign post, a typical country town anyway, Peckerwood Falls or something like that. He pulled over and parked in front of Dixie’s Diner, a dainty polished chrome and blue restaurant with posters of pies and ice cream sundae’s in the window and a neon sign that announced: SUN UP TILL LATE!

He cranked down the window and left Jules to decide if she wanted to go for a quick prowl around. Inside the diner he chose a booth furthest from the windows and studied the menu. A moment later he was welcomed by a beaming young waitress with brown eyes and brown hair clicked back in a chirpy ponytail. Her name badge said: Hi! My Name is: Wendy!

“Good afternoon!” she said with a merry smile. “How are you today?”

“Middle of the road, Wendy. My ass hurts like hell and my shirt’s all sweaty from sittin’ in the car all day.”

“Oh. Maybe you’d like a refreshing beverage? Our vanilla coke’s are very popular.”

“I’ll have two with an omelette, none of that fancy stuff, just a plain egg omelette.”

“That’s no problem,” said the waitress. She doodled on her pad and Greg wondered how she had difficulty remembering two vanilla cokes and an omelette. “Would you like anything else?”

“No I wouldn’t. Thanks,” Greg added.

The waitress flipped a smile on and off and waltzed away.

Greg wasn’t a grumpy person, he theorised that the city with it’s endless faults and mess had brought out his surly side. Now he was free of the rat maze he reminded himself that the country was a different place, people should be happy and pleased to see one another and should not try sell you drugs or women or both at the same time. Wendy seemed sincere enough and he hadn’t detected any falseness about her, wow, someone who actually liked being a waitress.

Dixie’s Diner wasn’t heaving with customers. It was Greg’s nature to take in the details and examine his surroundings, seeking for something less ordinary that he could use in his writing. Sat on stools at the counter were two burly truck drivers with most of their ass cleavage on display. They sipped coffee in silence. The third booth along was occupied by a young chap with slicked back hair and way too much gold jewellery for it to be real. Greg took an instant dislike to him. Piddly little tyke, no clue and no aims. Just a wondering fool, too cool for school, just me, my oily hair and old faithful in my wallet. Typical 50’s throwback, probably has a whale sized car to compensate for his tiny penis. Apart from Wendy and a skinny cook with pale skin the rest of the diner was empty.

When his order arrived he had to admit the vanilla coke was pretty fucking fantastic, a fact that took Wendy by surprise. Greg didn’t apologise as such. He shrugged and said: “City trash talk isn’t very fittin’ for a country diner is it?”

Wendy shrugged and kept her smile. “It’s pretty quiet round these parts.” She frowned and leaned forward a little. “Sorry to ask but do we know each other?”

“No. I just got here.”

“My mistake,” said Wendy. “You probably just have one of those faces.”

Before Greg could ask what sort of face that would be, his waitress had skipped away. The omelette was good, plain and tasty, no hint of salt or spice. He was impressed. In the city when he asked for a plain omelette he almost always sent it back because the cook obviously never understood that the addition of any other ingredient, other than eggs, didn’t equate to the word “plain” and therefore wasn’t what he had ordered.

A guy dressed in a suit and a phone attached to his face stepped into the diner and continued his conversation. Greg didn’t like suits and liked people in suits talking on phones even less. It reminded him of the rudeness of the city. He was glad he was out of that place. He didn’t want the city any more than the city wanted him. He was done with it, sick to death of the people and the constant noise. It grated on his nerves that a piece of it seemed to have followed him out into the sticks.

The suit didn’t stop talking, even when he sat at the counter and Wendy asked him, in a quiet voice, what he wanted to order. The suit pointed to his phone then at the coffee jug. That’s not an answer you rude prick, that’s a command coupled with total lack of manners and respect, ignorant tiny man hiding behind his big important suit shield. Greg stopped watching and returned to his omelette and thought about his new home.

The house he’d bought was located on a picturesque back road near some little town he couldn’t remember the name off, Hopesville, Hopes Crossing, Hopes something anyway. He was so bad with geography. Not that it mattered. He didn’t plan on doing much socialising with the locals.

Greg had it all worked out, without any distractions he would finally be able to finish his next novel in next to no time. His publisher had been on his back for months about how Greg seemed incapable at keeping to a deadline, but as always Greg had an answer . I’m uppin’ sticks, Roger, leavin’ this crazy good for nothin’ city and headin’ on out to green pastures. You’ll get all the novels you want, maybe then you can quit your God damn naggin’ all the while.

A green family station wagon pulled up outside. Greg watched the family of four clamber out. Mum and dad stretched and eased their aching muscles whilst the two kids argued over nothing. The boy was around 13 or so, floppy blonde hair, red and white striped t-shirt and scruffy jeans. His sister looked a little older, easily mid to late teens by the sulky expression on her face and petty rebellious skull motif on her lack vest top.

With the diner virtually empty Greg assumed the family would choose a table with plenty of space. He was dismayed when they sat around the table opposite his booth. He watched them for a moment but avoided eye contact when the mother glanced in his direction. He didn’t want a conversation about his gorgeous looking omelette or questions from giggling teenagers about why he had ordered two vanilla cokes.

Greg pulled a sheet of paper from his travel bag. He gazed at the photo of his future home, a quaint wooden thing with a white picket fence and two cherry trees in the centre of a lush green lawn. It was much bigger than he needed but Greg didn’t care, he’d earned it. He’d outlived his stay at Hightop, the other residents had seen to that. It seemed that money couldn’t buy you everything after all. Greg didn’t enjoy the publicity that came with his popularity, he didn’t care much for fans or the press, he just wanted to write.

With his secluded spot in the country he could settle back and crank out the novels.

Hank & Jack.

Wendy took the family’s order and Greg tried his best to ignore their cheerful banter. As he scooped the last scraps of omelette into his mouth he sensed someone watching him. From the corner of his eye he inspected the family. The children were arguing over iPods but the mom and dad were looking at him, no, not just looking but staring, and talking quietly, maybe arguing but he was definitely the source of their debate.

For a moment Greg thought he had bits of omelette stuck in his moustache but when the mom lowered her magazine he saw the familiar face on the cover and knew at once why they were staring.

Oh no, not here, not now, thought Greg. Why can’t people just leave me alone?

“Excuse me but aren’t you Greg Mason, the writer?” asked the mom.

Greg wasn’t a rude person by nature so he smiled and nodded.

“I knew it,” said the mom. She glanced at her husband and pointed to the magazine. “I told you I knew it was him.” She turned back to Greg. “We’re huge fans! Down And Out was a-may-zing! Easily my favourite, but Ian likes Hallowed Ground better.”

“That’s great,” said Greg through a clenched smile. “I’m glad you and three million other people bought it. I spent your money well.”

The mom leaned across the aisle and offered her hand. “I’m Catrina by the way, this is my husband Ian.”

Greg looked at the distance between them then shrugged. It was impossible to shake hands and he wasn’t going to shuffle out of the booth just to please them.

“No, don’t get up, I see you’re kinda jammed in there,” said Catrina with a happy giggle.

Greg smiled and pretended not to notice the jibe about his porky midsection. Preppy little snot bag. She’s one of those young mothers, probably got knocked up right out of college, but it was planned so it’s okay, we wanted kids right away so we could enjoy being a young progressive family and keep in touch with our kids and their fashions and fab and funky trends. She wore a long skirt with big flowers on it and wispy thin shirt. No bra he noticed and wasn’t surprised, still got a touch of the hippy in her left over from her wild college days.

By contrast her husband wore dark blue jeans, a pale yellow Nike sweat top and a mid-range watch. He seemed more conservative than his wife, and less comfortable with his surroundings, like he just wanted to eat and get going before his kids did anything embarrassing.

And then the awkward silence came, the one Greg expected, the one that always happened when he failed to offer a nugget of literary gibberish to his fans. Greg didn’t care. It was never awkward for him so he just sat there and looked at them. After a moment Catrina twisted in her seat and brought her children to order.

“That’s Greg Mason over there, kids,” she told them.

They stared at Greg with uncaring expressions. They were nowhere near his demographic fan base so that was to be expected. Greg’s books were sleazy thrillers filled with low life scum bags, crooked politicians and have-a-go-hero’s, certainly not bed time reading for school kids.

Catrina laughed and rolled her eyes as if to apologise for something. “Come on gang, Greg Mason, where do we see his name every week?”

The kid with the floppy hair gaped suddenly. “No way!”

Greg winced. Oh shit. Please not that.

“Yes way!” said Catrina, the overly enthusiastic, trendy mom.

“Hank & Jack P.I?” asked the kid. “You’re that Greg Mason? Seriously mister? That’s you?”

Greg hated that show. It was the one writing mistake he’d made. Why they kept his name in the credits he would never know. Based on characters created by Greg Mason, what a pile of horse shit. The TV company just used his name to sell the series based on a books he wrote twenty five years ago.

“Yeah kid, that was me,” said Greg. “You like that show huh?”

“Are you shitting me! It’s the best cop show on TV!”

Catrina looked mortified. “Peter! Don’t use language like that!” She looked at Greg. “Sorry.”

“Don’t listen to her, Petey, tell it like it is,” said Greg. “If you like somethin’ you go right ahead and say so.”

“He’s not to use foul language,” said Catrina. Her expression softened. “We watch it every week, the kids love it. We all do actually. Big fans! It’s such a cool show, you must be very proud.”

“It’s garbage,” said Greg.

He wanted to bite his tongue but he couldn’t help himself. His publisher battled with him at every book signing when Greg spoke his mind. You need to keep your fans happy, Greg, not go spouting off a bunch of insults and opinions, that’s not what they want to hear. Hank & Jack: P.I was a show for morons, it was cheap to make and used the same regurgitated story lines week after week.

“But you…” Catrina glanced at her husband. “Isn’t that your show?”

“It was. I stopped writin’ about those imbeciles a long time ago. It might have been good once, I think, the first series was pretty top, after that it pretty much sucked monkey balls. People who watch it these days are brain-dead idiots. It’s only popular because there’s nothin’ else on at the same time slot. And the production company churn out shit sandwich after shit sandwich because it can’t stop floggin’ a dead horse when it’s winnin’.”

Greg never set out to insult anyone but sometimes he took great pleasure in dropping a steaming pile of mockery in someone’s lap. Catrina frowned like she didn’t understand if Greg was making a joke or if he was mentally unstable.

“He’s got a point mom,” said Peter. “It’s funny and all but the stories are kinda fucked up.”

“Peter!” Catrina stared at her husband. “Well? Ian, aren’t you going to say anything?”

The weary expression on her husbands face told Greg all he needed to know. Ian was a fan, he liked reading the trash Greg churned out, but he didn’t need to shout about it from the rooftops. Greg wished all fans could be like Ian.

“Mr Mason, are you working on a new book?” asked Ian, not with a huge grin on his face or hopping up and down with unbridled excitement, just simple interest.

“Yes Ian, I am,” said Greg with a smile. “The new one’s about a one-legged crack whore turned assassin for the mob. She has to blow the president’s head off or the mob will sell her daughter to a bunch of Arabs as a sex slave. There’s some political bullshit in there too but that’s just garnish. It’s all about sex, guns, drugs and gore.”

“Nice,” said Ian, avoiding Catrina’s look of horror. “Look forward to it.”

“Mummy, what’s a crack whore?”

“Never you mind, sweety,” Catrina told her daughter.

Wendy arrived with their order and Catrina gave Greg an accusing look as they tucked into their meal. Their conversation was steered toward the upcoming adventures in the big city. Greg thought Catrina looked relieved as they quickly forgot about Greg. Probably for the best, they don’t need to hear any gutter talk from the potty mouth author, best save that surprise for when they arrived fresh-faced in the dirty city, where crack whore’s were two a penny, literally.

Every so often Greg noticed Peter watching him with a surreptitious smile. Greg wasn’t sure how to take this so he slurped his vanilla cokes dry and paid the check. As an after thought, and because he liked Wendy’s happy-go-lucky nature, he dropped a fifty in the tips jar on the way out. The vanilla cokes really were top dollar.

Tell It Like It Is.

Greg didn’t say goodbye or nice to meet you to the family and left the diner. Outside he breathed in the fresh country air and hefted up the belt on his bulging trousers. From his shirt pocket he took a pack of Red Apples, slipped one between his lips and fired it up. Can’t beat a smoke after a meal, especially when the air isn’t filled with toxic exhaust fumes, gotta enjoy the little things.

Before the next leg of his trek Greg decided to stretch his legs with a stroll around the diner. When he got back to his Beetle Jules was fast asleep on the back seat, the body of a dead mouse beside her. Good for you, sister, earnin’ your keep as always. He wrenched open the door then noticed Peter stood a few feet away. On the end of the leash was a small white rat with a pink nose. Greg frowned at it and offered the frown to the kid as a question.

“Mum said I had to let Tigger out for a wee wee,” said Peter.

“A wee wee?”

“Yeah,” Pete replied awkwardly.

“You’re movin’ to the city?” asked Greg.

Peter nodded.

“Know what they call a wee wee in the big city?”

Peter shrugged.

“It’s called a piss, or a leak or shakin’ the banana tree.”

Peter laughed. “Are you really the guy who wrote Hank and Jack?”

Greg sighed. “Yes, kid. That’s me. I only wrote the books. The TV company just uses my name to sell it.”

“Why don’t you like it?”

Greg leaned against his Beetle and sucked on his cigarette. “You watch Sponge Bob?”

“Sure.”

“Ever wondered how many episodes they’ve made?”

Pete shrugged. “Dunno.”

“Over a hundred and fifty,” said Greg. “Want to know how many different story lines there are?”

“I guess,” replied Peter.

“Eight.” Greg saw the look of surprise on Peter’s face. “Yep. Just eight. They keep reusin’ the same formula over and over, but kids don’t notice ’cause they love it so much. Imagine you were the one who invented Sponge Bob. Do you reckon you’d still love him as much after the writers have put out a hundreds and hundreds of shows? You’d either love it or hate it. I hate Hank and Jack.”

“But why?” asked Peter with a frown. Tigger was pulling him toward a candy bar wrapper.

“Right out of college I wrote a colossal book about these amazin’ characters, I was young and wanted to make my mark on the literary world, and what better way to start than with an epic tale? It paid okay and I got a publishin’ deal out of it, so it wasn’t all that bad. But one book was all I had for Hank and Jack and I moved on to better stuff.” Greg filled his lungs and carried on. “Fifteen years later these TV execs ask if they can turn my books into a TV show. That’s cool, I thought, why not. I wrote the script for the first series, after that they brought in fresh-faced grad student dicks in suits to write the next series, and the next and the next. It sucks.”

“Yeah but…why?” asked Peter.

“Because they took my idea and turned it into bullshit,” said Greg. “Hank and Jack aren’t supposed to go surfin’ or play saxophone or have girlfriends. I created them to be loners. On the edge of the law, they take risks to catch the bad guys and get into trouble when they cross the line. The shit you see on TV is just a cartoon, kid. It’s colourful junk to keep audiences pinned to their armchairs. You’ve got Friends, The Big Bang Theory followed by Hank & Jack.”

“I like Big Bang Theory,” said Peter, as if trying to defend his Friday evening TV set up.

“Yeah, me too, kid.”

“Do you hate being a writer now?” asked Peter.

“Fuck no!” said Greg. “I mean, hell no. It’s the best job in the world. Writin’ is as close to being a magician without pullin’ rabbits out of hats and wearin’ silly costumes.”

“Magic?” Peter looked surprised.

“Yup. Writers create somethin’ out of nothin’. They tell stories that mesmerize, upset, astonish and inspire people. There’s a place called The Zone where writers go, a magical place where everythin’ fits just right, where you can say and do what you like. Everythin’ feels the way it should in The Zone.” Greg saw the expression of awe on Peter’s face. “It’s not on any map though, kid,” he added. “You have to feel your way there, it’s a kind of magic you see, and once you have the key you’ll always know where the door is.”

“Wow,” said Peter quietly, as if the strange spell that surrounded Greg would shatter if he spoke too loud. “Do you think one day you’ll write more Hank & Jack books?”

Greg thought about this for a moment. “Maybe. One day. When the TV execs are done with the show.”

This seemed to please Peter. “I wish I could read them, your Hank and Jack books.”

“Too bad, kid. They stopped printin’ them years ago. It’s a long story. The TV company reckon they bought the rights to the characters and my publishers have been bitchin’ about it ever since. You’d prob’ly find a copy or two on eBay but don’t count on it. I’m told they’re collectables now.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Sucks huh?”

“I think I’d like to be a writer some day,” said Peter. “Mum says I have a good majination. She tells me off a lot when I cuss but it’s okay to do it when I write because it’s just a character saying it not me.”

“You probably should keep your tongue behind your teeth,” said Greg. He couldn’t believe he was hearing his own hypocritical words. “To keep your mum off your back, you know. But remember, it’s good to tell it like it is, kid. Just try and keep some things to yourself, keep somethin’ back or you’ll lose a lot of pals if you tell them everythin’.”

“I won’t have any friends when we get to our new place,” said Peter. “Wish we’d never moved. But dad got a good job so he said we dint have any choice.”

“Where’d you move from?”

“Hopes Castle,” said Peter. “It’s real quiet, kinda boring.”

The coincidence wasn’t lost on Greg. He recognised the name instantly but for some reason kept it to himself. What were the odds on meeting people moving out of the country town he was moving to?

“You’ll love or hate the city, kid,” said Greg. He sucked the last of his cigarette and crushed it under foot. “I had me a grand apartment overlookin’ the park. I used to watch the sun set over the trees and skyscrapers. Was like watchin’ fire burnin’ over the horizon. Magical.”

Greg shook himself free of the good times. “Kid, you want some advice?”

“Sure.”

“Enjoy it but leave before it makes you hard,” said Greg. “First chance you get, like college, you get away from it. Your dreams can’t fly in the city, there’s too much shit in the way. You need to move about, see the world, soak up all those experiences, kid, till you’re filled to burstin’ then unleash them in a hundred books.”

“Is that what you did?”

Greg smiled. “You could say that.”

“Oh man, I gotta go,” said Peter. He looked over Greg’s shoulder. “Mum looks, er…”

“Pissed?”

“Yeah,” Peter said with a grin. He lowered his voice. “Pissed.”

“Get goin’ then, kid,” said Greg. He pushed himself off his Beetle and held out his hand. Peter shook it with awkwardness known only by teenagers. “Enjoy the world, soak it up and spew it out.”

“And tell it like it is,” said Peter over his shoulder as he walked away.

Greg pushed his bulky body into the Beetle. “Damn right, kid,” he said to himself. “Tell it like it is.”

The road was calling and Greg was keen to get to Hopes Castle, and his new home, before nightfall. He reflected on his chat with young Peter as he cruised the country roads. He’d liked the lad which was odd because Greg hardly ever liked anyone. There was something strangely familiar about Peter, like he was talking to his young naive self. That was why he liked him. When Greg had been around that age his Uncle Flynn had given him similar advice.

“Never hold back, Gregory lad. You only get one shot so make it count. Never let anyone make you feel inadequate. You be straight shooter and people will respect you for it. Don’t take no shit neither. I tell it like it is and folks take it like it is, whether they like or not.”

Greg had followed that philosophy his entire life, and whilst he was almost happy with his lot he wondered if things had turned out differently had Uncle Flynn added: “Just try and keep some things to yourself, keep something back or you’ll lose a lot of pals if you tell them everything.”

First & Only.

Peter put dibs on the bedroom before his sister could. Whilst their parents lugged bags and boxes into the elevator, bother and sister argued over who got the better bedroom. In the end Peter sat down in the centre of his room and refused to budge. With a snort of frustration his sister left him alone to ponder the differences between his old room and the new one.

He would miss the window seat in his old bedroom where he would watch Tigger playing on the emerald-green lawn, digging up old bits of bone between the roots of the cherry trees. In the Autumn they would rake the leaves into a big pile and hang spooky lanterns on the white picket fence at Halloween. His new bedroom had a great view too, he could see right across the city to the park at the golden sunset sliding between the skyscrapers, but also straight down at the hot dog vendors, pretty ladies walking up and down and cars dashing back and forth.

It was a busy place all right, scary too, totally different from the sleepy nature of Hopes Castle. His mum said change was good, and experiencing new things was how people grew, just like Greg Mason had told him, soak up all those experiences, kid, till you’re filled to burstin’ then unleash them in a hundred books.

Peter had lots of books and he knew exactly where to put them. His new bedroom had a built-in cupboard with row upon row of shelves perfect for his books. In the hall he dragged his boxes across the floor and into his room until. Everything else could wait, he wanted his library up and running first. It took him over an hour to arrange every last book just right and when he finished he stood back to admire his hard work.

Ninety nine books, for a thirteen year old that was impressive. If only he had one more to make it a hundred, that would so cool. A hundred books was a proper library. Peter didn’t like seeing his books out place and he frowned at the top row because a few stuck out over the edge. He would have to rearrange them somehow so the bigger books were lower down.

On tiptoes he slid out the Lord of the Rings books and placed them on the carpet. His Harry Potter collection was the same size but they didn’t stick out. That didn’t make much sense so he craned his head to see if a random book had got lodged at the back. Yes. There was something at the back but couldn’t quite reach it.

In the hall he grabbed a stool and carried it back to his bedroom. When he climbed up he saw the problem; a bunch of printer paper was crammed against the back of the shelf. He didn’t remember fetching out any paper when he was unpacking, in fact he’d only opened his book boxes so far.

Careful not to lose his balance, Peter reached up and teased the paper slowly over the edge. He held his breath and gave it a final nudge until it slumped forward, slid over the edge and landed on his head.

He cursed under his breath, flung the paper on the floor and rubbed his head. He was barely aware of his mum calling out, asking if he was hungry because they’d need to order take out tonight. Peter couldn’t reply because there was something very strange about the wedge of printer paper. The papers weren’t blank sheets for a printer…they had already been printed on and that didn’t make sense either. They were bound together by a flimsy length of string.

Peter stepped down from the stool and sat cross legged next to the bundle. He picked it up and carefully turned it over. A faded brown envelope slipped from under the string. There was no name or address on it and for a second he considered showing it to his parents. But it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick look inside first, would it? The glue was very old and parted the instant he touched it. A small hand written letter was folded inside and Peter carefully eased it out. It smelled old like dust and smoke.

As Peter read he felt his skin start to tingle like when Greg Mason told him about magic and The Zone.

Hey kid, ever had a wish come true? Now you do! Bet you didn’t believe in magic either did ya? Not even after I told you like it is. Ninety nine books isn’t a library but with this first and only copy of Hank & Jack you’ll have a hundred. Now all ya gotta do is throw all your experiences into a hundred more. Always tell it like it is but remember to keep something back so when you’re old and grumpy like me, another kid will have a book just like this one to complete his collection. Look me up when you hit The Zone, kid. I’ll be there to welcome ya!

Greg Mason.

This not so short story, um, 5,600 words or so, was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write a 1,500 word piece of fiction using one of 3 photos as a prompt. This one had a new twist, which I think is pretty funky, the story could have a dual vision, so two different perspectives based around one or more of the photos. Another excellent twist from Indigo!

This was a strange one to write because after about 1,000 words or so I really hated it. I liked Greg Mason but the story really sucked. I was trying to keep it all on the bridge but it wasn’t working so I deleted half of it and changed direction. I originally wanted the blonde lady with the Subaru to be the other view-point but it didn’t feel right. So I let the story introduce Greg on the bridge then moved him out into the country.

I’ve got a thing about classic American diners at the moment, I have no idea why, they just appeal to me as an excellent place to either set a story or include it in a scene. I’ve never even been to one and I doubt I’d find one in the UK, which is a shame.

This piece took about 5 hours to write over 2 evenings but I didn’t hit my stride until at least half way through. I quite like Greg, he’s a grumpy old git but there’s something likeable about him. I’m not sure if the different perspectives work all that well, I planned to write a much longer section about Peter from his point of view when he arrived at the diner with his family. But that felt a bit like over kill so I went for the connection at their new home instead. I hope the connection made sense anyway!

Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.

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26 thoughts on “Straight Shooter

    • Not too long then? It didn’t feel long when I was writing it but I was starting to wonder if there was a limit to a short story when posting on a blog. A few thousand words seems to be okay but I’m guessing 20,000 or more would be too much for people to read, well, maybe. Glad you liked it though!

      • Yes, I was a bit reluctant to start reading at first when I looked at the length, but after I started, it was smooth. I finished in no time, and would’ve been sorry to miss it. Great work!

  1. I finally got the time to sit down and read it completely through (started several times but kept getting interrupted) and it was well worth the time. Loved, loved, loved the story. I loved Greg, grumpy as he was yet funny and when he talks to the kid I liked him even more.

    This was very well done, I liked how it moved from grumpy, complaining Greg, how he starts to soften at the diner with Wendy, then the focus gently begins to switch to the family and Peter. It was a nice transitional flow between the two viewpoints, ending with that fabulous letter and manuscript for Peter.

    As far as length, it does not drag at all but for some people they may not even start, thinking it too daunting if they look at the length first rather than just jumping in (and they will miss something good). You could just break it into smaller parts to post over a day or two, or three, however many you want. It works well as far as bringing people back because this is a fucking brilliant story that, once started, there is no way you will miss the installments 🙂 So, you sort of build your readership, keep them excited for the next section, and it also gives you a little time to give it one last edit just before the next posting.

    Just a suggestion if you haven’t thought of it. WordPress makes it so simple to schedule posts I use it all the time. Now as long as you continue to write for SPP I will never stop because I just look forward to your stories!

    • Thanks Indigo! I was concerned about the length, I know sometimes when I see the tiny scroll bar on the right I wonder if it’s going to take me ages to read something. You’re right about breaking it up too, something I started doing with Arcane Insane, more to come soon by the way!

      I’m almost ashamed to admit it but I’ve never used the schedule tool. I should get to grips with it really. There’s no doubt about writing for the SPP! You keep em coming and I’ll keep writing! Not only are they are great way to get the creative juices flowing but they have helped me with my longer projects, certainly helped me visualise things better.

      I got a new ink cartridge today so I’ll be printing off my novel tomorrow and checking it for errors and such, a step closer to getting it out there, and looking for test readers to give their opinions! I have to say I’ve never been as excited about writing for a long time as I am now! And part of that surge in enthusiasm is due to the SPP!

      It’s all baby steps though really, taking it bit at a time and improving as we go, and on that subject your own writing has improved plenty, a unique style that’s very compelling! My inbox is a very exciting place these days!

        • Ah well, before I unleash my novel I’m looking for a few volunteers to read it and offer some feedback. I’m not lacking in confidence but it would be a huge boost to get some constructive criticism before I move forward with my novel. Just simple stuff really, like what flowed nicely, what didn’t, which bits stuck out as particularly memorable, what didn’t work or didn’t make sense – nothing taxing!

          I know it’s never going to possible to please everyone all the time, and everyone has a favourite genre, but some are able to read (and hopefully enjoy) a wider range of stories and give good feedback without letting their genre specific biased opinion get in the way.

          I’m printing out my 3rd draft this afternoon for a read through, often it’s easier to spot errors on paper than screen, then it’s a case of requesting a few people to read it through and hopefully offer any feedback (gratefully received of course!), then finally I’ll create the eBook for a wider audience to read.

  2. This was an excellent read! Anyone with a cat named Jules to confide in has something going for him. Under his crusty outer self, there is a soft inner side.

    Can’t wait for your book to be published. I, for one, am buyin’!

    • Thanks Words Whisper! Greg is a likeable character once you get to know him. I should have my novel ready to go in about a month or so, fingers crossed, not rushing into things as I want to make sure it’s as good as I can get it. I’ll certainly make a big announcement though when it’s ready!

  3. Magnificent! About halfway through I knew I was reading a non-American story writer. (No offense intended to anyone) What tipped me off was your incredible grasp of character and using that to drive your story as opposed to driving your character’s choices with storyline. I very, very seldom see that in writing on WordPress, and have not read anyone as adept at it as you are.
    I think you made the right choice to move Greg out of the city. I also think that you wisely picked up Peter’s story where you did and took it in the direction that you did. More, I believe, would have been overkill.
    You are an incredible writer, Dave. You are bound to have a dedicated following of readers of your material. I look forward to what you come up with next.

    • Awww you got me! I’m English! Thanks for your feedback Scribbla, it’s very much appreciated. I do enjoy stories with epic plots but I prefer to write character driven stories, it’s more fun that way and it gives me the chance to really get to grips with how that person ticks and what motivates them. Greg certainly is an odd fellow but he does have some redeeming features. Starting Peter’s story at that place seemed like the right thing to do, it fit quite well with the flow of the story.

      I’m tempted to put a few longer pieces on my blog, like other writers I have a collection of stories I’ve never done anything with, so instead of leaving them sat gathering dust in a folder on my hard drive I may as well show them off on my blog. Though I’d break them into sections because some folks can be put off by the tiny scroll bar!

      Thanks again Scribbla, I’m grateful you took the time to give me some positive feedback!

  4. Pingback: Sunday Picture Press: Double Prompt Cookie | Indigo Spider

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