Halloween at the Car Wash

This is a story I wrote after going through a car wash recently. This particular car wash features mannequins dressed in yellow rain slickers that greet you with frozen stares.

As I went through the wash, I thought of it as a cheap haunted house. My imagination went wild.

The story started as a 100 word Facebook post. After receiving several “likes,” I expanded it to 600+ words and read it at the Nebraska Writers Guild conference last weekend. 
Halloween cookies
Halloween at the Car Wash by Sue Bristol 2017

The crisp air invigorated me as I stepped out the door. “I love the Fall,” I said to no one. My black cat looked up at me as if I were an idiot. I nudged her out of the way and headed to my car.

I turned the key in the ignition. “Wash me” the engine seemed to growl. A shiver ran down my spine. I looked up and saw the windshield covered with dead slimy bugs and beetle juice.

I drove passed the Bates Motel and headed down Elm Street to the nearest car wash. Traffic was a nightmare! I wanted to scream.

At the intersection, I spotted the twenty-foot tall, blonde fiber-glass figure in a yellow-raincoat, beckoning me to the car wash.

I turned in and pulled up to the lane beyond the gas pumps. A guy dressed in cuffed blue jeans, a white t-shirt and black leather jacket sauntered over to the car. “What’ll it be, baby cakes?” He ran a comb through his Brylcream-saturated slicked-back pompadour.

“I just want a basic wash that will get rid of the bugs.”

He leaned into the drivers’ side window. “That’ll be seven-bucks.” He took my money, winked at me, and double-clicked his tongue.

I followed the lane to the entrance. A strange mannequin greeted me with a frozen grin and big eyes that never blinked. He was dressed in a yellow raincoat and a hat like the Gorton fisherman. It reminded me that I needed to stop and buy some frozen halibut, fava beans and a nice Chianti

I proceeded into the tunnel. As I drove onto the conveyor, the car resisted my control. Piercing green eyes flashed across the dashboard. My SUV morphed into a 1958 Plymouth Fury. Another yellow-clad mannequin waved while holding a water-less water wand as if washing the car.

The car lurched forward. Red and blue lights flashed in the tunnel as the car advanced. I was powerless. Discombobulated by the lights and the roar of the wash starting up, I shut my eyes and trembled. The name “Christine” popped into my head as the smell of a hamburger drifted from the back seat.

I startled as white ethereal foam covered my red SUV-turned Plymouth Fury. Black tentacles descended from the ceiling and swished across Christine’s windshield. Petrified, I heard a rumble. Water shot out from the tunnel walls, hitting with such force from both sides that the car shook. The eerie foam oozed from the hood of the car. The spray had won. Was I next?

The car advanced with no help from me. I sat frozen in my seat. I looked up and saw a little mannequin doing flips near the ceiling, staring like the curse of Chucky.

Strong bursts of air hit the car as it advanced toward the exit. No control over my thoughts, the light at the end of the tunnel forced me to think in clichés. Another life-size mannequin dressed in a yellow coat, white shirt and black tie, stood at the exit, waving at me and pointing to something. I wasn’t sure what, as his arm was flattened and his tie, duct-taped to the sleeve. The car slowed. At last, I had control! Christine was gone. Grateful that I’d escaped the yellow dummies, I drove the SUV onto the street, heading home.

The giant yellow beckoning statue looked down at me at the intersection. His menacing fixed gaze warned, “We’ll get you next time and your seven-bucks, too.”20161021_181420

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What’s Your Story?

Do you keep journals? Write in a diary?

What is a journal? Business people will tell you that it’s a “record that keeps accounting transactions in chronological order, i.e. as they occur. ”

Writers use journals to come up with story ideas or to make memory lists for memoir. Journals help us tap into our creativity.

Mental health professionals often suggest keeping a journal as a means to discover your inner self and identify issues you may have hidden from yourself.

Journals can be very private or shared with individuals or groups.

Journals and diaries are a way to:

  • leave your legacy for your children
  • sort out your feelings about the past
  • communicate with yourself and others
  • unleash the right side of your brain (creativity)
  • figure out day-to-day issues and time management
  • understand your life story
  • keep track of a specific event as it is happening in your life

I tend to use random spiral notebooks for my journals, but there are many more formal journals you can purchase. They may have “prompts” in case you aren’t sure what to write about.

Years ago, after the birth of my first grandchild, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a journal called “Grandma, Tell Me Your Story.” Each page had a prompt for each day of the year. There were blank pages at the end where I could write whatever came to mind. The topics were something like:

  • January 1 – How did your family celebrate the New Year?
  • January 2 – What were your favorite activities in the winter?

Most months had holiday-specific prompts (if there was a holiday that month) as well as general topics like “Did you ever get in trouble at school? What did you do?” or “What was your favorite Halloween costume? Describe it.” One particularly poignant page in September asked “Where were you on 9/11?”

I wrote in the journal each day and by the end of the year, I returned it to my son for my granddaughter to read in the future.

Recently, I found another “Grandmother” journal that I plan to write WITH my granddaughter. It’s a “back and forth” journal where one of us writes and tJounral grandmahe other responds.

I am scheduled for a major surgical procedure next week and have been journaling about it. It will require major lifestyle changes so I am ambivalent and a little scared. Will I be able to do what is needed to stay healthy? I’d planned to grab a regular notebook to write in, but my friend said I should buy a special journal since this will be a major change in my life. She thought it would be wise to write down the process as well as my anxiety and feelings of anticipation. Why am I having the procedure? How will it improve my life? What will I be able to do afterwards that I can’t do now? What is the doctor telling me day-to-day?

I saw some journals at the card store while I was looking for Father’s Day and birthday cards. One caught my eye. It was beautifully bound and combined adult coloring designs and lined pages. But, it cost $25 so I put it down. A spiral notebook would only cost $2 or so. I told my friend, an adult coloring book fan, about it and she said I needed to go back and get the journal. “You deserve it.”

While out shopping, I was near another card store, same company. I decided to stop in rather than driving across town to the one where I originally saw the journal. Disappointed, no journals like it were to be seen. I asked the cashier as I was leaving the store and she pointed, saying, “Check out the clearance table.”

I walked over and laying on the table among scented candles, stuffed Easter bunnies, and small Mother’s Day plaques sat a lone coloring journal. Spiral and paper instead of leather bound, the coloring areas were on the outer margins of each page instead of the top. Price: $5. I couldn’t pass it up. I took it to the cashier and she rang it up at $2.50. Even better. “Clearance” proved true. Being a spiral, it’s easier to open up flat and write.

journals2

With a price like that, I couldn’t resist buying a second one listed for $8. It was more elaborate with pale green binding and sayings inside as well as coloring at the top.

I should be set for awhile.

I’ve discovered that writing in the coloring journal isn’t as tiring if I write awhile and then color awhile. Different hand muscles are in use for each activity.

journal inside

I have other journals that I will leave for my children as legacy. There is one about Family Traditions. Each major holiday has page where I wrote about typical ways we celebrated when our sons were small or still living at home. Each page has a pocket side where I store mementos such as cards, place-mats or small items.

There are so many journals out there that are fun and useful. I hope you can find one or two you like. To paraphrase the beginning definition of a journal by accountants –” A journal is a record that keeps personal and family history in chronological order, i.e. as they occur. ” Or not.

Journal mothers

 

Story Ideas and Techniques

Where do you get ideas for stories? Many of mine come from observations I’ve made and experiences I’ve had. Once in awhile something will just pop into my head. When I am on a “roll” and things are moving along,  it’s so exciting to me. I lose all track of time. Does that happen to you?

I recently wrote a short story (and I think it’s a work in progress) and ideas came so quickly, I couldn’t keep up. My fingers were flying across the keyboard. I couldn’t keep up with the thoughts in my brain.

I am grateful for my education in journalism in the 1970’s at UNL. As a student, I learned to type and think. It was much different than the leisurely handwritten thoughts that I was used to. I had to sit at the typewriter and, in rapid fire, put down my thoughts. It was daunting. But now I have difficulty putting pen to paper because my hand is slower than my brain when I write.

I have discovered that I like to write mystical stories. I’m a reader of mysteries, thrillers and spy novels so this has come as a surprise to me. My latest short story is called “Dream Catcher” and it’s about a museum curator who has the uncanny ability to sense things “other worldly.” I got the idea while looking at the dream catcher that hangs in my bedroom window.

Dream catchers started with the Native American of the Great Plains, the Lakota and Sioux. They believed the air is filled with both good and bad dreams. Dream catchers were hung in the tepees and on the babies’ cradle boards for protection.

According to legend, good dreams pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. Bad dreams are caught in the web where they die in the light of dawn.

Traditionally, the frame was made of willow hoops and animal sinew or cordage made from plants. The circular shape represented the sun and moon (and time) as each day moves across the sky.

Now, soft leather cord or synthetic materials are used. The hoop is likely wooden or plastic. They are often decorated with feathers and beads. Mine has an arrowhead in the center.IMG_3865

I have several dream catchers in various forms. I’m not sure when my “collection” started. Like many of my collections, it was inadvertent. I received some from the St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota after making a donation. I continue to receive them now and then, even if I don’t send a donation. I bought the one I have in my bedroom while vacationing in Colorado Springs. I also bought a dreIMG_3868am catcher necklace on another trip to Colorado. I’ve had one of my dream catchers so long, I don’t recall when or where it came from. It is made of leather and is very simple but beautiful with pinkish webbing. It’s one of my favorites.

http://www.dream-catchers.org/category/history/

In my story, the protagonist, Frank de Salle, is a museum curator who was born with microtia. The character is loosely based on my brilliant younger brother who is deaf. My character’s name is Frank de Salle, named for the patron saint of deaf persons, St. Francis de Salle.

Frank and his sister, Christine, a reporter, travel to the Pine Ridge reservation where they attend a powwow. Things happen as they journey onward to the Black Hills and into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower. All culminates when Frank returns home and is visited by a ghostly figure one night.

Excerpt from “The Dream Catcher”

Frank de Salle was born with a missing ear.   He could speak but he knew he didn’t articulate very well. Strangers treated him as though he was retarded. He sensed it was because of his slurred speech and very loud nasal voice. But he held advanced degrees in both anthropology and history.

 He worked at the college museum as a curator where he set up traveling exhibits,  cataloged museum pieces, and conducted research on artifacts. He worked alone and lived alone and he was fine with that.

His modest two-bedroom home sat ten blocks from campus. He had a drivers’ license but preferred to walk. Pedestrians didn’t cut in front of one another or flip each other off as they hurried down the sidewalk. A nod or smile made it a much more genial mode of getting from point A to point B. Oh, he’d drive in the winter sometimes but leave early in the morning before there was much traffic.

When he spoke, he could hear his words echo in his head and thought they sounded fine, even though strangers looked at him in an odd way. “Don’t yell so loud,” Christine would say, but then he couldn’t hear his words. His speech therapist explained that, with his hearing aid on, he could hear about as well as someone underwater in a swimming pool might hear, whatever that was.

Sometimes he’d feel a vibration before hearing a sound through his hearing aid. Doctors told him that his other senses were heightened. He overcompensated because of his deafness. An oncoming car felt like he was holding an electric razor with the sensation passing through his entire body. He liked vibrations, his connection to the world.

Want to read more? Let me know. Leave a comment below. 

IMG_3866

 

“Everything the Power does, it does in a circle.” Lakota Proverb

“A man’s life is a circle from childhood to childhood, and thus it is in everything where the power moves.” Black Elk

 

Writing Class

An opportunity presented itself to me this winter. I found out about a program at the local university called the “Senior Passport.”

I hate to admit that I celebrated my “Medicare Birthday” this year but being 65 has given me some new opportunities. I signed up to audit a class on writing short stories. It has been a wonderful experience.

Each Monday, we meet and discuss short stories and present short stories we have written since the previous class. The professor packs the classes full of information and activities. Fortunately, we are a small group so there is time to get most of it in.

Each week, one of the students presents a short story to the class. The story I chose was “Train” by Alice Munro. With the stories, we discuss the author’s background, the story plot and twists, the characters and the setting.

Then we critique short stories we have written. This is my favorite part. It is fun to read what other people have written and to offer suggestions to one another. The other students are all fairly young but they offer many good suggestions on how I can improve my stories and in turn, I offer my opinions on their stories.

Writing in a group has a way of bringing people together, of bonding with one another. Being the “old lady” of the class, when we first met, the others were more interested in looking at their i-Phones than chatting during break. But as we began to share our stories, we talked to each other more. We got to know one another through our writing.

When I presented my story about growing up in small town America in the 1950’s, many of the other students came up to me afterwards with comments. One young man asked me about Roger Maris. He lived in Fargo, SD, for awhile and told me about a museum dedicated to Roger Maris in that town. We talked about the excerpt from my story (below) and shared some laughs.

Leaving their dogs to roam the streets, they’d head to the theater four blocks away.  Once inside, they bounced on the padded flip-down seats and waited for the lights to dim. “I hope they show Bugs Bunny today.” Gloria grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bag.

“I like Woody Woodpecker best,” Bob said.  They both made the classic “Hahaha-ha-ha” laugh of the cartoon character.

            The bouncing stopped as they heard the whirl of the reels begin. A black and white circle with a grid appeared on the screen, “Please Stand By.” They clapped their hands. A countdown flashed with numbers and they chanted, “Five, four, three, two, one.” Then the newsreel announcing “News of the Day.” Black and white pictures appeared on the big screen. Large white letters announced that Queen Elizabeth christened a ship somewhere. Roger Maris hit another home run.

            “I love Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle,” she whispered to Bob.

Another student talked to me about anorexia, a topic I breach in my story.

Flipping to the next page, she found several greeting cards. “Happy 6th Birthday” in big red letters.  A chubby cheeked girl in pink drawn holding a bunny on the front of another said, “You’re Turning Six!” One caught her eyes in particular. It was from her big sister, Barbara. She recognized the exact loops, uniform and clear, marking her signature. Always perfect. Her sister was ten years older than she and the oldest, making her the boss of the family. Whatever Barbara wanted, she got. She was talented, smart and pretty. But she was also a tyrant.

Gloria thought she probably had anorexia. Back in 1957, no one knew about anorexia nervosa. Mental illness was considered a character flaw. Barbara hid her problem from adults, but the siblings knew something was amiss.  She ate a lot of celery.

Others talked to me about my story in general and commented on what they liked about it as well as some pitfalls in my writing. It was interesting to see how the story brought us together.

Writing is a powerful tool. We are reading “Fortune Smiles” a book by Adam Johnson, a Pulitzer prize winner. His short stories are very intriguing. Our professor asked if we thought writing was just for entertainment or was there a deeper purpose? Most of us agreed that writing can change minds and promote social justice. Why else would tyrannical governments burn books if the words inside didn’t offer threat?

Books like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” brought the plight of slavery to the forefront. Dozens of books including “To Kill a Mockingbird” shed light on the law and people’s prejudices. The short stories in Johnson’s book touch on topics such as cancer/death and dying, living with a disabled wife, pedophilia, and the Cold War attitude of an East German prison warden.

The class has given further proof that “The pen is mightier than the sword.” The most exhilarating feeling for me is when my writing touches a soul. I may curse the Muses and wonder why I were given this “need to write” but then, once in a while, something magical happens and people are influenced by something I’ve written.

Have you ever had that happen? Tell me about it.

 

 

The Roots of My Novel

Today I was asked, “What is your novel about?” This is always a difficult question because my story has many twists and turns.

A few years ago at a Nebraska Writers’ Guild meeting, one of our members, an author with a NY Bestseller, told us we need to identify the genre of our book. I said “fiction.”

“But what kind of fiction?” she said.

I mulled it over and finally decided it is probably an urban fantasy since there is a “spirit” (for lack of a better word) in it.

So, when I am asked what my novel is about, I say, “It’s an urban fantasy.” Most people look puzzled at my answer. So, I go on to explain how I came up with the idea.

I started writing the story when a good friend of mine committed suicide. I felt totally betrayed when he killed himself because, in college, he had been my spiritual mentor. As I struggled with my religion and life’s lessons, he was my rock. He listened and educated me. He made me think about my beliefs. He helped me solidify my convictions. His suicide made me angry and hurt. So, I started writing about my feelings, our relationship and memories of happier times. As I did so, I thought, “What happens when someone commits suicide? Do they go to Hell? If God is truly loving and merciful, would He condemn my friend to Hell?”

My friend was such a great guy and helped so many people, I found it hard to believe that he would go to Hell. So, I considered the options. He did, after all, take his life, which is not exactly a saintly act. I felt he must have some way to redeem himself. His suicide made me re-exam my beliefs again, just as I had in college.

As I was writing, I tried to put my mind inside a person committing suicide. It must be a very helpless feeling to think your life isn’t worth anything or to be in so much pain, suicide is the only option you see.

I started writing about a fictional character, Jake, sitting in his car with the motor running, a hose connected to the exhaust pipe. I read about carbon monoxide poisoning and, contrary to what a lot of people think, you don’t necessarily just “fall asleep.” It can be an excruciating process as the red blood cells lack oxygen and every body system is affected. Extreme nausea, headache, body aches, panic, gasping and shortness of breath can all occur.

In the 1930’s, the Nazis used carbon monoxide to exterminate the Jews before switching to cyanide gas which was much more efficient and effective at killing. Carbon monoxide was not the best thing to use for mass killings.

So, Jake starts experiencing some of the symptoms while thinking about his life. Using flashbacks, I tell his story, how he used to be and how he had changed. When he dies, Jake doesn’t go to Heaven or Hell, but instead, finds himself “attached” to a woman he can’t escape. She is totally repulsive to him and he feels pain and distress at her mere appearance. As he takes his arduous journey, attached to this woman day in and day out, he comes to realize his pain decreases if he doesn’t judge her so much. If he finds her habits or appearance less repulsive, things go a little better for him. As he becomes more empathetic to her, he starts to recognize her as an old friend. When I told my adult son, a philosophy major, about my atory, he said, “Mom, that is like Jean-Paul Sartre’s premise in his play ‘No Exit.’ Hell is other people.”

Using that premise, that Hell is other people, I found things made more sense in my story.

As Jake journeys with this woman, he becomes involved in a crisis in her life. He wants to help her, but he is trapped. He watches helplessly as she tries to deal with the situation. He must find a way to communicate with her, but how?

Davinci Syndrome

Have you heard of the Davinci Syndrome? It is the collection of signs and symptoms observed in creative people who have more ideas and visions than they can implement, making it difficult to complete a project before rushing off to the next.

Signs may include:davinci

  • rewriting, especially as the book is being written
  • editing the first chapter eight times before going on to the next chapter
  • procrastination, sharping pencils instead of writing
  • forgetting what was written in chapter 3 and ending up with your character living in Chicago in 1974 instead of in Iowa in 1969 in chapter 11

Apparently, Leonardo Davinci had so many ideas, he left some incomplete. Not only that, but some historians believe Davinci was a perfectionist and never truly believed his creations were done. Can you imagine thinking that the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper still needed work?

mona lisaBesides being a painter and sculptor, Leonardo Davinci was an architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. Talk about multi-tasking!

I often feel like I suffer from the Davinci Syndrome. I am basically a short-story writer, primarily non-fiction. I am currently working on my first novel and find myself stuck as I rewrite and try to perfect my characters or plot.

IMG_1910With short-stories, it is much easier for me to write the story and move on to the next idea quickly, With a novel, I find I need a storyboard so I didn’t confuse the time or place in my story.

It is fortunate (or maybe not) that I am committed to my novel. It is near and dear to my heart. I will plod along, writing and rewriting, and maybe someday actually finishing it. I have a new group of writer-friends who are encouraging me and keeping me on track. Could they be the “therapy” I need to overcome my Davinci Syndrome?

My short story, “I Have the Coffee On” is in Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul (2000) page 169. It is the story of the North Platte Canteen during WWII.

Summertime is Class Reunion Time

This past weekend, I returned to my small hometown in the middle of Nebraska and met with former classmates and friends from high school.  We have been out of school long enough that we no longer try to impress each other with fancy cars, clothes and prestigious careers or opportunities.  We are in the “glad to see you are still alive and kicking” stage.  We have all had our ups and downs and no longer feel the need to discuss our achievements (unless you count getting out of bed in the morning) or status symbols (unless you count the number of surgeries or joint replacements).

This year I had the honor of coming up with the “awards.”  Here is what was presented at our banquet.
Marco Polo Award to the classmate who traveled the farthest to the reunion. A photo album with a map cover on it was given.

The One-Step-Ahead-of-the-Law Award for living the most places since graduation – received “Change of Address” cards

“Thank You for Your Service” Award to the classmates/spouses who served in the military – received American flags

The Home is Where the Heart Is Award to the classmate who has lived in their current home the longest – received a Home Sweet Home plaque

The “Go Forth and Multiply” Award for having the most children – received a little wooden sign that read “You can’t have too much fun!”

“Greatest Legacy Award” for having the most grandchildren – received Washable Magic Markers.

The “For Better or Worse” Award for being married the longest – received a lovely little white picture frame with doves on it.

“Foot Loose and Fancy Free” Award for being single the longest – received “The Party Is Here” banner.

The E-Award went to the person with the most electronic devices and social media signons (Facebook, Twitter, etc) – received a “Connect the Dots” game.

The “Auld Lang Syne” Award went to several people. It was for attending the most reunions. -received their very own “Hello, My Name Is…” name tag.

The “Six Million Dollar Bionic Person” Award went to the person with the most joint replacements – received a toy “reacher” and mechanical hand filled with candy.

“The Doctor Is In” Award went to the person with the most surgical procedures in a lifetime – received a doctor’s kit.

The “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends”Award went to everyone who requires any assistive devices such as glasses, hearing aids, canes, pacemakers – all but three received this award, a pair of dark glasses, but no canes.

The “Cheer, Cheer Award” went to the person who could remember all the words to the school – received a memory game.

The crowd enjoyed the awards and I enjoyed coming up with them. Fun times!