Archives for category: Short Stories

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PAT HOBBY’S CHRISTMAS WISH (Excerpt)
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It was Christmas Eve in the studio. By eleven o’clock in the morning, Santa Claus had called on most of the huge population according to each one’s deserts.

Sumptuous gifts from producers to stars, and from agents to producers arrived at offices and studio bungalows: on every stage one heard of the roguish gifts of casts to directors or directors to casts; champagne had gone out from publicity office to the press. And tips of fifties, tens and fives from producers, directors and writers fell like manna upon the white-collar class.

In this sort of transaction there were exceptions. Pat Hobby, for example, who knew the game from twenty years’ experience, had had the idea of getting rid of his secretary the day before. They were sending over a new one any minute — but she would scarcely expect a present the first day.

Waiting for her, he walked the corridor, glancing into open offices for signs of life. He stopped to chat with Joe Hopper from the scenario department.

“Not like the old days,” he mourned. “Then there was a bottle on every desk.”

“There’re a few around.”

“Not many.” Pat sighed. “And afterwards we’d run a picture — made up out of cutting-room scraps.”

“I’ve heard. All the suppressed stuff,” said Hopper.

Pat nodded, his eyes glistening.

“Oh, it was juicy. You darned near ripped your guts laughing –”

He broke off as the sight of a woman, pad in hand, entering his office down the hall recalled him to the sorry present.

“Gooddorf has me working over the holiday,” he complained bitterly.

“I wouldn’t do it.”

“I wouldn’t either except my four weeks are up next Friday, and if I bucked him he wouldn’t extend me.”

As he turned away, Hopper knew that Pat was not being extended anyhow. He had been hired to script an old-fashioned horse opera, and the boys who were “writing behind him” — that is, working over his stuff — said that all of it was old and some didn’t make sense.

“I’m Miss Kagle,” said Pat’s new secretary.

She was about thirty-six, handsome, faded, tired, efficient. She went to the typewriter, examined it, sat down and burst into sobs.

Pat started. Self-control, from below anyhow, was the rule around here. Wasn’t it bad enough to be working on Christmas Eve? Well — less bad than not working at all. He walked over and shut the door — someone might suspect him of insulting the girl.

“Cheer up,” he advised her. “This is Christmas…”

READ THE ENTIRE STORY (ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ESQUIRE, JANUARY 1940) AT PROJECT GUTENBERG HERE.

The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald are available at Amazon.com.

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“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” EDGAR ALLAN POE

“My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…”  HARUKI MURAKAMI

“With a novel, which takes perhaps years to write, the author is not the same man he was at the end of the book as he was at the beginning. It is not only that his characters have developed–he has developed with them, and this nearly always gives a sense of roughness to the work: a novel can seldom have the sense of perfection which you find in Chekhov’s story, ‘The Lady with the Dog.’” GRAHAM GREENE

“When well told, a story captured the subtle movement of change. If a novel was a map of a country, a story was the bright silver pin that marked the crossroads.” ANN PATCHETT

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THE THANKSGIVING VISITOR (Excerpt)

by Truman Capote

…spring housecleaning…always preceded the Thanksgiving assembly…We polished the parlor furniture, the piano, the black curio cabinet…the formal walnut rockers and florid Biedermeier pieces — rubbed them with lemon-scented wax until the place was shining as lemon skin and smelled like a citrus grove. Curtains were laundered and rehung, pillows punched, rugs beaten; wherever one glanced, dust motes and tiny feathers drifted in the sparkling November light sifting through the tall rooms. Poor Queenie was relegated to the kitchen, for fear she might leave a stray hair, perhaps a flea, in the more dignified areas of the house.

The most delicate task was preparing the napkins and tablecloths that would decorate the dining room. The linen had belonged to my friend’s mother, who had received it as a wedding gift; though it had been used only once or twice a year, say two hundred times in the past eighty years, nevertheless it was eighty years old, and mended patches and freckled discolorations were apparent. Probably it had not been a fine material to begin with, but Miss Sook treated it as though it had been woven by golden hands on heavenly looms. “My mother said, ‘The day may come when all we can offer is well water and cold cornbread, but at least we’ll be able to serve it on a table set with proper linen.’”

…”Chrysanthemums,” my friend commented as we moved through our garden stalking flower-show blossoms with decapitating shears, “are like lions. Kingly characters. I always expect them to spring. To turn on me with a growl and a roar.”

…I always knew just what she meant, and in this instance the whole idea of it, the notion of lugging all those growling gorgeous roaring lions into the house and caging them in tacky vases (our final decorative act on Thanksgiving Eve) made us so giggly and giddy and stupid we were soon out of breath.

…A lively day, that Thanksgiving. Lively with on-and-off showers and abrupt sky clearings accompanied by thrusts of raw sun and sudden bandit winds snatching autumn’s leftover leaves…

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INDIRECT PATH

Story by J. Robert Lennon

For many years a large table stood in the center of our dining room, blocking the most direct path from the living room to the kitchen and necessitating the development of an angled walking route that, over time, came to be visible as an area of wear in the dining-room rug. Recently we discarded the old rug and, since our children have grown and moved away and we now eat our meals in the kitchen, transferred our large table into storage. The dining room has been turned into a study, with bookshelves lining the walls and a narrow desk facing the front window.

Despite these changes, we find it nearly impossible to take the newly created direct path through the room, and continue to walk around the edge as if the table were still there. When occasionally one of us must enter the forbidden space, either to sweep the floor or to pick up a dropped item, we find that we wince in discomfort, as if anticipating a painful crash into the missing table. 

Source: Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes by J. Robert Lennon. Available at Amazon.com.

Photo: “Worn Rug” by Deidre Woolard

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EX-CAR (Excerpt)

Story by J. Robert Lennon

We got rid of our old car and immediately regretted our decision. It wasn’t that our new car was unsatisfactory; in fact it ran more smoothly and reliably than the old one ever had, even when it was new. But the old car had acquired a “personality” assembled from memories of our lives during the time we owned it, and we found that we missed it deeply…

A few months after selling the car, we saw it in the parking lot of a restaurant in a nearby town. Our initial reaction was to deny that it was our old car, as the restaurant was of a decidedly inferior quality and, obviously, a place our car would never go. But this car was dented in the same place as our ex-car, and two of the six letters of its chrome nameplate were broken off as they had been on ours, and so there could be no doubt.

 …we had to go into the restaurant and ask the new owner if we could buy it back. He thought it over while he chewed on a fish stick, then told us we could have it back for twice the price he bought it for.

 We gave the offer serious consideration, but ultimately decided to reject it. On the way across the parking lot I opened up the hatchback of our ex-car and stole the jack. I don’t know why I did this; it certainly wasn’t in the best interest of our ex-car; but I still have the jack and have not seen the old car again. 

Photo: Gordon Thomson, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“Ex-Car” by J. Robert Lennon is included in Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes by J. Robert LennonTIME OUT (London) called the collection “Unsettlingly brilliant.” Find the book at Amazon.com.

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BROKEN SOUL IMPROV (Excerpt)
Story by Zack Hunter 

…All of the golden symbols that had invaded my altered perception in the night flip like a switch in that instant. Void of color but shining a liquid quicksilver now. There’s my reflection in the mirror of consciousness itself that drips its gravitational pull trickling into all. This human body begins to melt. Dripping droplets of quicksilver from disfigured boots not clinging to the branch. I am every drop falling down now through the darkness. Feeling every one that splits and merges. The body has completely dissolved into the metallic silver energetic serum slipping away. Getting caught in the high winds.  Hundreds, now thousands of observation points scattered and raining down gaining speed in a crescendo of butterflies and death. In each silver drop is the fast-forward reminder that all of this has already happened…

“Broken Soul Improv,” a 1,800-word story by Zack Hunter appears in the Silver Birch Press release SILVER: An Eclectic Anthology of Poetry & Prose, available  at Amazon.com.

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WAITING HAIKU
by Jack Kerouac

Waiting for the leaves
to fall —
There goes one! 

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MOTEL CHRONICLES (Excerpt)

by Sam Shepard

They caught him with a stolen print of a cottonwood tree. He was in the parking lot cramming it into the bed of his pickup. When they asked him why, he told them he wasn’t sure why. He told them it gave him this feeling.

He told them he saw himself inside this picture lying on his back underneath the cottonwood. He said he recognized the tree from an old dream and that the dream was based on a real tree he dimly remembered from a long time ago in his childhood. He remembered lying down underneath this tree and staring up through the silver leaves.

He remembered voices from those leaves but he couldn’t remember what the voices said of who they belong to.

He told them he was hoping the picture would bring the whole thing back.

Painting: “Cottonwoods Near Abiquiu” (1950) by Georgia O’Keeffe

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THE MANUSCRIPT 

 by J. Robert Lennon

A local poet of considerable national fame completed a new collection of poems that had, due to a painful and scandalous series of personal problems, been delayed in editing and publication for some years. When the revisions were finally finished, the poet typed up a clean copy of the manuscript and got into his car to bring it to the copy shop for reproduction.

 On the way, however, the poet was pulled over for running a red light and was subsequently found to be drunk…Upon regaining sobriety, the poet realized that his poetry manuscript was still in the car and asked the police to return it to him. The police, however, maintained that the contents of the car no longer belonged to him, and refused. Their refusal resulted in a protracted legal battle, during which our beloved poet died, leaving uncertain the fate of the manuscript.

 But the poet’s publisher, eager to issue a posthumous volume, struck a bargain with the police department: if someone at the station would read the finished poems over the phone, an editor would transcribe them and issue them in book form without the manuscript changing hands…The police agreed to this scheme, the phone recitation took place and the book was issued to great acclaim, assuring the poet a place in the literary canon that he had not enjoyed in life.

 Eventually, however, the poet’s estate won its legal battle against the city, and the original manuscript was recovered. We were shocked to learn that it bore little resemblance to the published book.

It was not long before a city policeman confessed to having improvised much of the manuscript during its telephone transcription. His only explanation was that he saw room for improvement and could not resist making a few changes here and there. Almost immediately the policeman was asked to leave the force, and the acclaimed book was completely discredited. The true manuscript was published in its entirety, to tepid reviews.

The policeman has continued to write poetry. Most agree that it is excellent, but few will publish the work of someone known to be so dishonest. 

Illustration (collage drawing) by Tony Fitzpatrick. Visit Tony at his blog and see more of his amazing artwork.

Note: “The Manuscript” is included in J. Robert Lennon‘s collection Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes, available at Amazon.com.

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MOTEL CHRONICLES (Excerpt)

by Sam Shepard

…We stopped on the prairie at a place with huge white plaster dinosaurs standing around in a circle. There was no town. Just these dinosaurs with lights shining up at them from the ground.

My mother carried my around in a brown Army blanket humming a slow tune. I think it was “Peg a’ My Heart.” She hummed it very softly to herself. Like her thoughts were far away.

We weaved slowly in and out through the dinosaurs. Through their legs. Under their bellies. Circling the Brontosaurus. Staring up at the teeth of Tyrannosaurus Rex. They all had these little blue lights for eyes.

There were no people around. Just us and the dinosaurs.

PHOTO: Dinosaur Park, Rapid City, South Dakota, 1945 (April K. Hanson, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)