Small Sample Size – “The One and Only Witness to This Collision” by ML Candelario

Thump and groove of saxophonic jazz music.

Click and whirr of electric lights and OPEN sign.

Jingle of automated electronic bells as the door opens and burps out the two women, above average height, both bleached blond and wearing sunglasses that make their eyes buggish. Far too much jewelry that tinkles and clinks. Handbags—not purses.

colors

As the two walk into the dying electronic flicker-light of the café, they slip the glasses up their heads, resting their insect eyes on blonde coifs in unison. Sequential movements like part of some dance you don’t know. You go back to studying your laptop.

“Melodie, I’m telling you. Simon has a gift. A gift. I took one of his pieces to Mark—Mark Ellis, from down at The Red Swan Gallery. He’s not the curator there, but he’s, well, his eye for quality is just absolutely unbelievable. I mean, you wouldn’t believe it. Anyway, I took Simon’s work over to Mark and he just absolutely went ecstatic over it. Just absolutely adored it.”

“That’s fantastic, hon. I was just telling Steffie that Lindsay’s boy was beginning to be quite the artist. I was just telling her that.”

“Mm. Mark was just ecstatic. Went on talking about the ‘curls of color’ and the way the arrangement of Simon’s ‘phalanges’ were splayed perfectly ‘for letting the light play on the surface of the work itself.’ He called it akin to some of your modernists or ‘anti-orderists.’ Like a new Pollock in the making, he said. Early stages, of course.”

“Of course.”

 

Commercial sounds of orders and transactions.

Slide of plastic card through plastic reader. The click of register’s keys.

Steam and bubbles. The chocolate sound of water poured through coffee grounds, the metallic drip.

 

“Isabelle has expressed some interest in the artistic realm, did I tell you?”

“No, hon, but it sounds absolutely grand.”

“I think our playdates are really starting to bring out the healthy development you need to see in the children. What they say about them, you know. Growing their little brains into beautiful, well-rounded people. She started talking to me about Simon’s paintings the other day.”

“You know, I haven’t even thought about it before. I’m sure Mark could arrange something….”

“What are you thinking, Linds?”

“Let’s have them do it together. Yes.”

“You mean paint?”

“Yes. All of them. The Gregor twins. The Brewers’ kids. Hell, even Steffie’s little troublemaker. Did I tell you he pushed Simon the other day?”

“No!”

“He did. And all because Simon was playing with five toys and he only had one. I mean, it was in Simon’s house. Those are his things. He’s lucky I let him keep the one, if you ask me. But Steffie was there, so.”

“Of course.”

“But so it would be absolutely incredible to get them all together—even Steffie’s—and have them create. Just create. Get their hands in the paint, spread it all around. We could do an exhibition at Mark’s gallery. I think I could make sure that could be arranged…”

 

Bellish laughter. Tinkle and clink of too much jewelry.

The soft squish-rub of leather handbags brushing up against one another.

 

You glance up from your laptop, see the two women, bug-eyes atop primped hair. Their faces are locked in aggressive smiles. Something unspoken hangs between them like a ghost. You can smell it, practically. Almost. Their smiles don’t reach their own eyes’ creases. They have produced from, presumably, their handbags identical iPhones—held at the ready, bayonets against the warm café air. You move your eyes back to your laptop. Stay out of this.

“Who knows what other latent artists we have in our group, Mel. I mean, really.”

“Of course.”

“That’s what Mark called him, did I tell you? A ‘latent artist.’”

“Of course.”

 

Slide of papery cups across glass countertop. Cordial goodbye. Polite-yet-aloof returns.

Jingle of automated electronic bells as the door closes behind them.

Click and whirr of electric lights and OPEN sign.

Thump and groove of saxophonic jazz music.

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This is a short story for the series “Small Sample Size.” If you have a short story to share, contact us! 

Small Sample Size – “Transmutation” by Lakin Easterling

She hummed a simple tune, walking down the road, with a light step to match the breeze, and a daisy in her hand. She never questioned where she was going, or how long the road would last. She only cared that she was moving. And so, in her glittering eyes she held the sun, and walked through glen and valley and river just the same, all the while singing:

Happenstance upon the hill,
happenstance underneath,
where all good things remain unseen
until the Spring, when Evergreen
shall call to every tender leaf,
“Arise, alive! Break Earth’s bastille!”

Sing tra-la-la-day,
the Winter’s heart is laid
far and deep in Autumn’s home
and Summer’s on her way
hey!
Summer’s on her way!

Upon such a stanza she let her voice hover, spying a figure in the shadow of afternoon. Drawing her mantle close, she flits from shaded patch to shaded patch, barely a glimmer in the sun. Nearing the figure, she pauses behind a tree, stifling a giggle with a golden hand.

“If you’re trying to be clever, you needn’t bother,” the figure muses softly, unfolding from the shadows, seeming to peel part of the darkness into the air. “I heard you singing three ages ago.” He bends to pick up a boot, hitting it upside down against a tree, causing a cascade of spiders, cobwebs, and dried rose petals loose from the inside. “Quite a song, Wanderlust. Even if I don’t particularly care for the fact that you put me in it. And not in a timely spot, either,” he mutters, placing the boot back on his foot, his sky blue tunic twinkling in the sun.gs2

She laughs in response, twirling away from the bark. “It’s not my fault everyone wants to stuff you away. It might help your case if you could act a bit less surly every so often.” She reaches to plant a kiss on his cheek, which he accepts, but the daisy she snuck in his shirt collar he plucks off, holding it in his hand. In a moment, or maybe an eternity, the slender white petals begin to mist over, then shimmer, having slowly become encased in ice. He places the fossil behind her ear. “Then why come so far, if I’m such company? You could have just stayed with the others.”

Wanderlust, jumping to the top of a nearby pine, bends backwards and pulls the tree with her. Hanging upside down, she looks him squarely in the face for eternity, or maybe a moment, and places crown of roses on his head. “There’s a very good reason why I came here, Withershins, and you know what it is. I’m not the one trying to be clever. You think you outsmarted us all when you slept yourself all the way out here, but you didn’t. All you did was get dusty.” To emphasize her point, she gives his chest a hard thwap!, causing a storm of dirt and misuse to float high up into the air. He sighs, thinking of how many dust bowls and desert storms he’ll get blamed for now. She drops to the ground, sending the pine tree into a frenzy of flying pine needles and a case of severe tremors. A million pine cones, or maybe it was one, end up covering the grove. Withershins turns away, stepping just above the bottom of the ocean. His hair stands up around his head, giving him the appearance of someone suspended in the air. Wanderlust floats along the surface, shimmering identically to the tiny wave-tops, leisurely soaking in the sky. A gull lands on her foot. She gives a happy sigh, flicking her foot to shake off the bird, then flips over to dive into the sea. The water rushes behind her, thundering, and they find themselves seated on a bench in a downpour, overlooking the Thames. She doesn’t say a word, but quietly begins to hum, reaching for his hand.

desert life 2He sighs, tracing a patch of orange trees and mangroves along the inside of her wrist. His finger tingles, and the blue of his tunic ripples into a deep violet red. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind the journey back,” he says, the truth forming space within his words. She smiles, her eyes dimming to match the grey landscape. “I don’t suppose you would, my dear.” Standing, she pulls Witherskins towards a green breeze and a soft dirt road. They walk along a ways, or maybe just a step, under mountains and over valleys, until they reach the midnight hour. He stops, counting constellations, reordering a few, and with a satisfied sound resumes walking just before dawn. He keeps on, turning clouds pink then magenta then orange, than the welcoming yellow that spreads over top of many coffee cups, inhaling the aroma of steam. Turning to Wanderlust, he finds her dropped by a tundra, a lotus flower cupped in her hands.

“You continue on ahead,” she says, taking a long draught from the petals. She arranges herself cross-legged, her sky blue tunic settling like a grief on her skin. He bends to place a hand on her shoulder, planting a kiss atop her head. He makes to move away, then to place a crown of roses on her head. “I won’t be long,” he whispers. He sets off, towards the meadows. She bends her head to her knees, for a moment or an eternity, then pulls a boot slowly off her foot, wiggling her toes in the snow. She arranges herself in the shadows, leaning back against a tree. She reaches up for the flowers on her head, removes it, and slowly begins to pluck the petals loose, dropping them one by one into the empty shoe.

Far off in the distance, or maybe nearby, the sound of a song floats on the breeze. Withershins waits in a grove as Wanderlust draws near, a daisy in her hand.

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This is a short story for the series “Small Sample Size.” If you have a short story to share, contact us! 

Small Sample Size – “Funny Things” by ML Candelario

Funny thing is, my daddy was right there with me when I died. He knelt next to the tub, wetting his oilstained overalls at the knees. The overalls had his name stitched in red on a white oval, but the oval itself had a few threads pulled. It hung off the fabric a bit on the left side, sort of wrinkled up from where momma would hang daddy’s overalls on the line to let the sun dry them. The oilstains were old and incorrigible. That’s what momma called ‘em. Incorrigible. Said nothing she ever tried fully got the stains out. They were worked into the fabric itself, got under and into the denim. She would tell me this idly in that way most adults talk to babies. She would tell me lots of things in the lonely morning hours after daddy’d gone to the shop to work and she’d hung the laundry out to dry. Usually she talked about her schedule, or daddy’s boss who always chewed on a nasty-smelling cigar, or what she planned on cooking for supper. More just her talking to herself while she spooned me some oatmeal. She always looked at me, though. Not like daddy, who only glanced. That was the difference. Daddy never really looked at me ‘til after I’d died. I think if it’d been her that was with me when I died I wouldn’t have died. I’m not blaming, though. It wasn’t daddy’s fault.Screen shot 2014-05-09 at 7.25.47 PM

Another funny thing is that daddy cried. The last image I saw with my own two corporeal eyes was of daddy’s wet face, his arms extended down to try to pick me up, I think, and all of this ripply from where his tears hit the water above me. He loved me, daddy did. I know he was sad to see me go. I knew it then and I know it now. There’s lots of things that get clearer when you die. Lots of things you know. I know daddy loved me. Still does. Momma too.

And I know that it was a funny death—not in the way I used to think it funny when momma would make that silly face at me with her cheeks puffed up, but rather in the way that momma used to say there was something funny with daddy’s boss. Something off, she meant. I don’t have to survey the others here to know that having your daddy there with you when you die isn’t common. I just know it.

I didn’t splash much. That I remember from back then when I was alive. The image of daddy crying—my last image—doesn’t have any splashing water in it. I didn’t strain against his arms. I just drifted off peacefully. Maybe that was God that did that. Momma used to tell me, spoon to my mouth, that I had the colic and kept her and daddy up at night something awful. And not just so’s she could breastfeed me, but because my body wouldn’t let me sleep. So it might have been God what made me so peaceful when I drifted off in the tub.

Daddy rubbed soap on me all over. Under the arms, behind the ears. All over. He rubbed some on my head to make sure I didn’t get the cradle cap, even though I didn’t have much hair at all to clean. Ain’t that funny? I cried a bit then, like I usually did. I never liked it when the soap on my head got washed off. The water in my eyes scared me a little, though it didn’t ever hurt. But daddy shushed me and leaned in over the tubwater and kissed me on the head. He was smiling and his cologne was strong against the oil-smell of old rusty cars. He told me everything was okay, that he was there with me. His breath smelled like whiskey. I didn’t know it was called whiskey then. I just knew it as the drink that daddy would sometimes get into and cause momma to tut at him like a bird. But like I said, there are lots of things that you know once you’re here on the other side.

I’ll list some more things I know now. I know that daddy didn’t really want to be there when I died. He didn’t want that. I know that he’d been fired by his boss at the auto shop—the boss with the really bad smelling cigar that he always chewed the end of. And I know that dreckly after that daddy went and took his final paycheck to the bar and got drunk on five glasses of whiskey until he couldn’t see straight. And then he’d come home and, putting together some clues that had been simmering in the back of his mind for a long time, he’d rummaged through the trash momma had set outside. And I know that when he’d found it momma happened to come outside to see what all the commotion was about—thinking it was a ‘coon got into our trash again—and he’d showed it to her without saying anything, just the fumes of whiskey coming out his mouth. I know she’d scolded daddy a bit for making so much noise when she’d just got me down for a nap, and then she’d looked at the cigar end daddy had taken out the trash and she’d started crying, saying that she’d had to or else his boss said he would fire daddy and they couldn’t afford for daddy not to have a job with the baby being a part of their lives now and there wasn’t another auto shop in the town—leastwise not one that would take daddy in with his record and his alcoholism—and so what was she supposed to do. I know daddy was there with her when she died too, out in the backyard next to where we put the trash.

Another funny thing about it all is that daddy let me finish my nap. I think it was nice of him to do it. Thoughtful. I didn’t get much sleep at night, like I told you, and so he let me nap in peace and quiet. He sat on the couch looking at a newspaper without really reading it until he heard me stir in my crib. The crib was walled with white—white sheets and white bumpers to keep me from knocking my head on the thick wood out of which daddy himself had carved and bolted the crib together. I know this because I saw it later, here on the other side, in my memories. Daddy reached in and picked me up and smeared a little streak of oil on one of the bumpers. He looked at it for a moment, averting his eyes from me like he sometimes did. But then his eyes turned to mine and he smiled and carried me to the bathroom, where he took off my diaper and onesie. The water was lukewarm. Room temperature. Just the way I used to like it. This was another thoughtful thing daddy did for me when I died. I died in perfect water having slept away all my exhaustion, content to the point of not struggling. It was the best way I could have died, I know. That’s one of the things I know now.

Some of the kids over here died in car crashes, or from any of a number of diseases and infections. I met a boy a while ago who died from something called SIDS where he just didn’t wake up one day. I thought that awful strange and sad, to just die with no warning for his momma and daddy. I got lucky. My daddy was right there with me when I died, smiling and crying through ripply water. Not many over here can say that.

I guess that’s the last of the funny things I’ve learned over here on this side of the curtain. (That’s a phrase I learned back when I was alive, from momma. ‘This side of the curtain.’ She used it when she talked about my papa who’d died before I was born.) But anyway that’s the last of the things I’ve learned so far: we don’t have any control at all, really, over how we come over here to the other side. Not one bit, mister. And there’s two sides to every story. It’s all in how we take it in. I know what it means to have daddy there when I died. I’m not stupid, mister. Not by a long shot. I’ve learned these things. Some would tell me it was bad—that it should have scarred my spirit beyond reckoning. Or his. But it’s not, really. I didn’t even cry. It was peaceful when I went. And daddy was there. How many of you can say your last image is of your daddy being there smiling at you and crying over your death? Not many, that’s how many. I was lucky.

That’s a strange way of looking at it, ain’t it?

Ain’t that funny?

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This is a short story for the series “Small Sample Size.” If you have a short story to share, contact us! 

“Small Sample Size” – Our Short Story Series

Howdy followers! 

Tonight marks the first entry of our new short story series, “Small Sample Size.” Within this series our staff of writers (and maybe a guest or two,) will write a completely original short story for the blog. The only criteria given to these gifted writers were that it had to be under 750 words and it had to have at least 2 characters. That’s it. 

You can expect this series to run for about a week and have a new story every day or two. 

We hope you enjoy it! 

Film review: MUD

If you have not seen “Mud”, go see it now.

That sentence in itself could be a solid review. It’s on Netflix. Check it out. Spoilers ahead.

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Crafting a great story is no easy feat. It takes months, years to conjur up the complete idea much less create the thing. I’ve written two full length feature screenplays and both of them took three months to get out a first draft. Editing them is a constant, and it feels as though that they will never complete. So when I stumble across a film like MUD, it reminds me that sometimes I need to stop, smell the flowers, and recognize excellence. And the excellence makes its home in mirroring the truth flawlessly.

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I went to college for film (not boasting), and more specifically, for film editing (definitely not boasting).  I can tell you that when I watch films, I see every single frame of the film. Nothing can sneak by me. I see it all. And If the story doesn’t capture my audience then I begin picking apart the movie, trying to solve its problems and probe its nooks and crannies, trying to jump into the head of the filmmakers, trying to make my own editing decisions as I’m watching the film. It’s like I’m always editing. Always.

I’m editing this review as I write it. See?

There occur times, however, when a story draws me in so much, that any and every flaw that may exist gets passed over by the amazing execution of a worthy story. MUD is one of these occurances.

The story flowed seamlessly. And while I could use this space to rave about the technical achievements of the film (it’s editing, cinematography, etc.) I will abstain. Instead, the importance of the film’s success lies in its deep within its building blocks. That’s where we will reside.

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The Gospel truth: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13

Mud (McConaughey) is an outcast, an adopted son, a lover of one woman, a protector, and a father-like figure to his co-star Ellis (Sheridan).  Ellis feels alienated from his splitting family, discovers his first love and consequential heartbreak, and perhaps sees the future version of himself in Mud.

We can relate to Ellis and Mud on so many levels. Rejection, unrequited love, hope in the future, sacrificial love, the hope of reconciliation. But much of this fails for the both of them. They are drawn to one another but ultimately cannot satisfy the deeper longing that each of them has. Ellis desires to see his parents back together and have a love for himself, thus, he tries to repair the broken relationship that Mud and Juniper have.  But he fails, and through the fate of God, he endangers losing his life from an unlikely source, Mud has to choose between his own life, hope, and love, or the life of Ellis.

There are no greater stories than those of a character sacrificing their own life. It reflects the beautiful truth of what Jesus did for his people. No greater love displays itself than that of the cross and it’s in stories like MUD where we see the reflection of this great love.

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When it comes to rating films I’ve always had a hard time understanding the Letter grade or star system. I felt that films that got the same ratings were sometimes leagues apart from one another in tone. A 5/5 comedy does not equal a 5/5  heavy drama… at least in my book.

I have always used food as a helpful device to explain taste in art to the non-art inclined, and I have always thought it would be awesome to the same in reviewing movies. So that is precisely what I’m doing. Pretentious? I don’t care.

For me, Mud is a filet of seared salmon seasoned with lemon and orange spices with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus

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Watery eye moments (SPOILERS) :

1. Tye Sheridan, this little man sure can act. Those frustrated and intense watered red eyes he flashes when his girlfriend rejects his love in front of everyone. Oh my word. So many feels.

2. The way Mud swoops down to try to save Ellis.  Couldn’t help but think of Jesus doing the same for me.

3.  The climax of the film. I dare not say more. But if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.

An Interview: Cameron Strittmatter Pt. 1

Cameron Strittmatter is an actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, novelist, short story writer and has just finished Bible College.  He has written and produced several films and plays and has recently taken up writing short stories for his blog. http://seadanger.wordpress.com/

 

We had a lengthy discussion that, because I don’t want to cut much out, will be published in two parts.  The following was transcribed from a videochat and thus may or may not read like writing. It’s more so the ramblings of two very sad men.

My words are bolded and his words are not. Here we go:

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Not a painting by Cameron Strittmatter

How would you describe your artistic voice?

I would describe my artistic voice, currently, as defined by the knowledge that at the heart of death lies an empty tomb. And that that’s very exciting. So that defines everything else. Even though I’m a silly person with silly things to say, my tone and voice find their roots in horror. Even though I don’t write about horrifying things. It’s an overwhelming sense of doom is what motivates my humor.

How would you describe your short stories?

I would describe those short stories as one of two things. A. Thinly veiled fantasy writings about my feelings of women I’ve just met. B. Outpourings of my heart that don’t seem to fit into bigger projects. I usually go to write for the blog if I have thought of something while working on Battle Wizards (his newest novel), or the upcoming play that I’m working on that just doesn’t fit. It’s usually darker or heaver, or… vague. I use it to work out how I’m feeling at the time. Be it a thinly veiled mask of me being attracted to someone, or … I don’t know, one day I just wanted to write a story about a mermaid and also I’m scared of the ocean.

They’re so eclectic but there is a definite tone that’s consistent throughout your stories. I especially like your last one. 

*laughs*  Code Red?

It is awesome

Thank you.

What attracts you to certain pieces? What intrigues you as an artist? 

Darkness intrigues me. I’m very interested in what is scary, and I mean that outside of the banal slasher sense. That’s not scary. Because even in my silly things, there’s this awful unknown something that’s overbearing and… it’s a mystery… Wait what was the question?

What intrigues you as an artist? 

Yeah, mystery. I don’t know, somebody was telling me the other day that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. You’ve heard this before?

I have.

Which, I guess, makes sense but there are these odd times in life where when you do the same thing every day, day-in day-out, and something seems to happen differently anyway, and its that little mystery of  “Why? I got up, I ate breakfast, I went to work, I came home, everything was the same why is the result not the same?” and it’s this insanity of day to day life where even though you’re trying so hard to keep static, it changes, and it’s a thing that’s totally out of your control. So for me, in my imagination, it kind of spins out as being eaten alive by your best friend and a mermaid, and returning from a trip to the moon. So yes.

Do you believe there is a difference between good and bad art?

Yes.

What separates the two? What constitutes good art and bad art? 

It’s tough because the line between craftsmanship and art is sometimes difficult to gauge.  Because I think mastery always results in good art, even if it’s not their masterwork. I think that time and blood spent on something is what will be beautiful. One of my favorite quotes is from Propaganda. Have you heard of him?

Yeah. 

Yeah, he says this amazing thing in one of his songs, I think you would appreciate: “But worth, value, and beauty is not determined by some innate quality, but by the length for which the owner would go to possess it.”  Something is only valuable by how hard someone goes to get it. So in the face of the gospel, something is made beautiful by its pursuer not in the work itself. So Yeah, there might be some little happenstance where someone magically does something and you’re like “Holy shit, you did nothing and this is beautiful.” But more often than not it takes blood spent to make it good work. I think you can find value in simple things but overall it’s the cost that’s attractive for me. That’s the difference between good art and bad art for me. Because bad art… I think there was a really clever boy who wrote an essay named “Implicit vs. Explicit.” And I think that really went a long way to define a lot of the feelings I had about bad art. When the desire to get your point across comes before making the art, I think it starts to come off the rails a bit. Would you agree?

I would agree. I would say that I hold to that sort of view.  Good art communicates, but it doesn’t communicate at the expense of its form. That was the point I was trying to get across, that the message or the communication shouldn’t come first, the form should. Because when its all said in done, like when you go to a movie, or a gallery, like you said, you’re going to see mastery of the form. Doing something wonderful that you couldn’t do or fathom, to witnesses someone else’s imagination, not to go see what someone’s political agenda is.

Right.  My favorite artwork is where form and function are inextricable from each other. It’s simple and complex.

Can you give an example of that? Because I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t think of a specific example.

Sure. Like, in a pedantic way; movies. Obvious things, like Terrence Malick, or not so obvious. As a christian you look at his movies and say “holy crap, the gospel!” And it’s laid in a way that is so intangible. So that’s cool. But a really good example would be a film like “The Prestige.” The entire movie is a magic trick. And the movie is about magic and how it doesn’t exists, but it nevertheless does exists, and at the end its almost as though christopher nolan turns to the camera and says “Ta-da!” It’s excellent. Something like that. In visual arts, there’s an abstract painter and he only uses ancient japanese techniques… I can’t think of his name, do you know who I’m talking about? He was commissioned to do a Special Edition of the ESV bible.

I know who you’re talking about, I saw the video a while back but I don’t know his name either.

He uses gold in every single one of his paintings. He just hammers it in. So in this case, the vehicle doesn’t work without the intent. All of his works might be confounding at first, but really work when you meditate on them.

 

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Part II of this Interview will be released early next week.