Table Two: Joseph Suglia

Dr Joseph Suglia demonstrates his erudition with the powerful use of a dream and run-on sentences bringing magic to Table 2 of his work”Table 41″. I almost feel guilty using quotation marks as he eschews them in the work in favour (favor- ok) of an emdash introducing dialogue. This formatting also makes his work more pleasurable and unique.

Table 41: A Novel by Joseph Suglia

And now you slowly awaken.

You are awake. But where are you?

You are not yet alive. Or rather, you are alive. But you have no idea where you are.

The day’s eye closes and then uncloses again. The morning robs the room of its deep shadows, pressing the dead night more deeply into the darkness. Drawing the curtains of your eyes shut, you can feel the light closing in around you.

Rocking your head back and forth in refusal, you are only dimly aware of where you are.

You are in a hotel. That is where you must be.

You are steeped in the swirling sheets of a rent-a-bed at the Lincoln Park Inn, 601 West Diversey Parkway.

Why are you in a hotel?

Bursting into the world of consciousness with the elegance of a rabid muskox, you no longer remember who you used to be.

The dawn undarkening…

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Cheers – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Jen’s back with her great enthusiasm for the NYC Midnight competitions. If it wasn’t for her I never would have tried it. Thanks Jen and all the best.

Jen's Pen Den

Greetings, blog followers! Yes, it’s me. And, yes, I’m still alive.

As you’ve may (or may not) have noticed, I’ve been absent from the blog world the past few months (er, maybe longer). I made a New Year’s resolution to put all of my attention and free time into finishing my novel, which I almost have! By the end of summer/early fall, I should have my manuscript and query letter ready to go for literary agents (eeks!).

This past weekend, I decided to reward my good, focused behavior by participating in my 5th NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). To be honest, I signed up for this writing contest a couple of months ago hoping my novel would be in my betas’ hands when the challenge kicked off…Wrong! My betas returned their notes a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been revising ever since. So, it was really…

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Randall’s Ramblings from May 21, 2017

I really enjoy Randall and he’s a gent who once sent my link to his followers. He always has some interesting tidbits on his life, lets you know his progress on his latest book, and shares sites of interest to fellow writers and creatives. As soon as I go back to reading fiction I plan to check out one of Randall’s action novels. All the best to Randall and other writers out in the big wide world. Besides I was crushing on that picture of a Woodpecker. As an Aussie I thought we had all the colourful birds in the world! Thanks Randall.

Writing by Randall

The middle of the past week brought excellent weather to our area, especially for this time of year. On Wednesday, the temperature topped out at 85F/29C, followed by 82F/28C. I thought we were on to a good thing.

The warm weather brought around the first hummingbird of the season. It couldn’t find its normal feeder, which was still in the garage, so I quickly cleaned the container and placed it in the tree. We also had a visit from our first Baltimore oriole–its special swing (where we can place orange slices) is ready to go.

Of course we saw all of our regulars who braved the cold Michigan winter, but the best surprise came on Thursday, with our first sighting since moving here four years ago.

KODAK Digital Still CameraOur first red-headed woodpecker!  What a beauty. We’ve had downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers and an occasional northern flicker, but this one is definitely…

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Pehlwani Potting Mix

[A weird episode paying homage to the Australian Tall Story – a true form of traditional culture down under.]

Gorgeous bright tomato red orbs floated behind my eyelids. The sun-ripened ones that yield to a knife like butter and give out juicy seed-laden flavour; I dreamed of them with a longing like homesickness. They would be bloody delicious layered on toasted buttered rye bread, a sprinkle of salt, a dash of pepper,and, in memory of my grandma, a pinch of sugar. I would devour the breakfast of my juvenile summers with passion born in boyhood, if I could only grow that premium ingredient.

With some help from my silver-haired neighbour Theo, the first sunny Saturday of spring saw us building a large L-shaped garden box made of sleepers. It reached almost to waist height on me, and we half-filled it with manure and straw.

“ The best thing to do is get some quality potting mix and mushroom compost to add to that,” said Theo.

I was enjoying the digging, sweating and pungent smells. It would be worth it to have real tomatoes to eat and share. He continued to explain how after the potting mix and compost I should add a layer of topsoil ,and plant the tomato seedlings about sixty centimetres apart.

“ Don’t forget your cages. Are you gonna grow Super Beefsteak? “

“ Yeah, I’m gonna give them a try. Eight of those will give me plenty of tomatoes for my needs.”

“ You’ll get the maximum yield out of this small space.”

I was grateful and sent him home with a six pack of German beer, since a cash payment was refused. He smiled, and a little later I heard the sound of the football semi-final through the fence.

My trip to the nursery was expensive. I selected four ten litre bags of compost, and, thinking of my back, eight five litre bags of topsoil. Finally, the assistant showed me bags of potting mix.

“This a new type we’ve ordered from an Indian supplier. It’s meant to be good.”

The tired looking burlap bags with their faded red print were much cheaper than the last lot of potting mix I had bought to add to the garden when I planted red-flowering Grevilleas in my south-east facing front yard. I nodded yes. After I paid for a heap of bags and some Super Beefsteak seeds to be planted in pots to produce the seedlings for my garden, I knew my dream was costing me. I added eight tomato cages and we loaded up the Ute.

It was half-time when I returned, and Theo helped me stack the bags in a neat line, where I could easily open them with the edge of a shovel and transfer the material into the boxes.I emptied four bags of compost into the boxes and my aching back seemed to say call it a day.

I’ve been too long in a desk job, I thought. I trudged indoors and took a hot shower.

Late Sunday morning I finished the job , and gave it a half-hearted turn with the shovel which had lost its new gleam. I sprinkled the top soil over the top, and gave the lot  a water.

Perhaps Theo will turn it some more for me if I ask him.

I schlepped back inside and prepared two cheese toasties and scoffed them down. While washing them down with cold beer, I imagined how much better they would taste with tomato in them.

Mondayitis was exaggerated by muscular pain, and I left for work in a daze. I did remember to shut the rear security gate that sat almost flush with the concrete driveway in the back yard.

I returned from work around 4pm and decided to leave the car in the street because sweeping the concrete free from spilled soil and potting mix seemed a good use of a fine afternoon. After some water and a few stretches, my entrance into the backyard was almost enthusiastic.

A hissing sound caused me to freeze mid-stride.  Instinct raised the hair on my neck and prickles sprayed across my back. To my left was a four-foot black snake rearing up, its’ hood flared.

Cobra!

I bolted for the rear door of the house. Without looking behind me, I kicked the rear door shut, and striding to the lounge I snatched the cordless phone from the lounge side table. I dialled 1223 and asked the operator to connect me to the Hobson’s Bay Council.

What am I going to do if they don’t answer?

It was now 4.20 pm

Holding the phone to my ear I walked down the hall to the small study that overlooked the yard. Raising the blind, I stared at the black horror that dominated the white gravel space beside my garden box. I was relieved that the garage door was down, and the small garden shed was shut. The clipped lawn under the rotary hoist offered no hiding place.

I shivered.

The receptionist put me through to the environmental fauna department.

“Animal control”, a young voice said.

“ My name is Phil Dwyer, and I have a Cobra loose in my yard at 234A Sykes Avenue, Altona.”

“A Cobra, Mr Dwyer? How do you know  it’s a Cobra.”

“It’s black with a hood.”

“It’s black. Does it have any markings.”

“I didn’t stop to see if there were any markings. I walked out my backdoor and there it was, ready to strike, so I came in here and rang you.”

“Would you mind holding please Mr Dwyer? Don’t approach the snake, please stay on the line.”

Don’t approach the snake. DON’T approach the SNAKE. I mocked in my head, as annoying musack played.

I moved as close to the window pane as I could to see what was happening. The snake was gone and in its’ place was a tall, muscular, dark-skinned man in black spandex.

Where did he come from?

He walked under the rotary hoist, and each wedge of the clothesline separated and dropped to the ground. The center pole of the hoist melted into the ground, and the sections of clothesline arranged themselves into a strange fence on each side of the small lawn. A silver snake erupted from the garden bed. As it grew and shimmered before my eyes,a tall muscular pale man in grey shorts appeared. The dampness of drool soaking through my beard told me my mouth was hanging open.

Grey shorts man stepped across the fence and the two men began to wrestle. They were well matched physically, and a few minutes later sweat had soaked them and was dripping into the ground. Their heavy breathing became audible.

The voice was back on the phone. “Mr Dwyer, two animal control officers will be at your residence in about forty minutes. Don’t approach the snake, but do what you can to stop it  escaping from the yard.”

“Yes,” I croaked. The man asked for the address again and I repeated it.

“ Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“No.”

The line went dead. My hands trembled. The wrestling pair had locked arms and their heads seemed to press against each other’s shoulders. The ground was turning to mud under them, chunks of ripped up grass thrown around by their gripping feet. Black spandex man was gaining the advantage now. The panting grew loud enough to hear beyond my yard. Theo’s head appeared over the side fence, and he stared at the wrestling match. I raised my hand to wave, but he couldn’t see me from where he was.

I was grasping my hands together, leaning my forehead on the glass. My breath appeared as a mist on the glass.

Grey shorts man was now doing well, and locked his arm around black spandex man’s neck. Quicker than I could blink black spandex man had his arm locked under grey short man’s left shoulder pulling it forward, while pushing against his right shoulder. Black spandex man twisted his body, throwing grey shorts man off balance with a swiftness that made me gasp. He pinned the man’s head and shoulders against the muddy ground. The lower half of the man’s body writhed in the mud.

Black Spandex man threw back his head and laughed. The kind of laugh I’d heard as a kid when I watched Victorian melodrama on a school trip to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat.  

My heart rate slowed. I would have put my money on grey shorts man for a win, based on first impressions.

The men got up and began to wrestle again. Maybe I was in with a chance, best of three bouts?

I will never know what happened but right at that moment they became snakes again.  The pole rose out of the ground, and the rotary hoist looked as solid as the day it was installed.

There was a thump on my front door. When I opened it Theo was standing there. His hair looked like it had been gelled into a spiky do.

“ Mate, was there a wrestling match in your backyard?”

I nodded yes.

“And now there are two snakes?”

I nodded again.

“Do you have any of that beer left?”

He headed for my kitchen fridge.

The front door was still open when the animal control officers arrived.

Ha hem. I mean environmental fauna officers.

They called out, “Hobson’s Bay Council, Mr Dwyer?”

Darn.

When I opened the screen door they showed me their identity badges, and followed me through to the back yard.

When the Cobra was in the sack, one of them said, “Do you have a licence to keep a snake, Mr Dwyer?”

“Call me Phil, and no I don’t have a licence. I don’t know how this snake got here. It appeared after I started my gardening project. For that matter after I bought this potting mix from India.”  

I lifted a discarded potting mix bag to show them.

The officer eyeballed me, tapping his pen against his left fist. The other officer left the yard to put the sack and its’ occupant into the council van.

“Where did you buy the potting mix?”

I told him and he wrote the details in his notebook. When he asked, I showed him my car licence.

They left, and Theo and I had a second beer.

“You can have some of my tomatoes Phil. I decided to plant some too, but I won’t be using any of that potting mix. It’s probably to blame.”

We discussed the wrestling match a bit, but after that night we never mentioned the weirdness again. I was grateful for that but I always wondered where that silver snake went, even after we emptied out those garden boxes.

 

—The End–

 

Albert’s Phenomenal Pitch

[ Hi readers, all the best for 2017. This is my first post for the new year. It features a story I wrote for a competition. One of those competitions where you entered because you felt bad that you hadn’t submitted anything lately. I am yet to enter a competition because I really wanted to: I do it because I feel I should do something/ anything to earn from my writing.

There is one challenge that I enjoy in the way of competition: The #shortstorychallenge2017, The NYC Midnight Madness Short Story Challenge. You are challenged, you are treated as creative under pressure, and you get feedback. I was terrified in 2015, but this year, 2017, I was excited. Where else can you hear a lot of what’s wrong with your  writing in one go, and get the chance to improve. Another bonus: you get to test the accuracy of your gut feeling about the quality of your story, and that is invaluable for a writer.  I finished my first round in the challenge on Wednesday : subject : blackmail; character : a parking attendant; genre: comedy. It was like a good stretch after a long nap to create something outside my own inclination. I’ll hear if I’ve progressed to the next round towards the end of February. Regardless of all that, I will have my feedback from reputable editors, and respected peers.

The silence is what I think can drive writers crazy so I avoid it. I have my trusty friends, my writing groups, my detractors, my “get a real job” acquaintances, and the ones that will workshop a story every couple of years to help me with a fresh perspective. I love them all; they are all provide grist to the mill. Iron sharpens iron you know. Never give up. Kudos to all the persevering writers and discerning readers out there.

I do apologise to anyone who has noticed my tendency to put punctuation outside the dialogue/quotation marks. It’s something I tend to do when in creative rather than analytical mode.

I hope you enjoy Albert’s Phenomenal Pitch (nothing to do with bowling ).]

Albert’s Phenomenal Pitch

Albert’s mother had told him the night before to be sure he wore his boots and long pants when walking in the vegetable gardens, as snakes were apt to cross it toward the river.

“Yes Albert,” intoned Mr New, his stepfather, “it is that time of year.”

His mother sighed and decided she would say more prayers to the Virgin, a habit she had learned from her Italian ancestors. Her prayers would ask for more wisdom for Mr New and herself, and less contrariness for Albert.  Albert walked down toward the river with dark soil crumbling between his bare toes, adorned with only his favourite pair of board shorts which hung loosely from his waist, and a pair of binoculars dangling from his neck. He had a stick with him, and was whacking the upright sprinkler heads as he went along, watching the black poly tubes bounce back and forth. No one had mentioned whacking sprinklers; he was doing it to amuse himself.

Albert Petrolli was thin enough to be called Beanpole by his classmates. Beanpole was appropriate since his stepfather was a market gardener who owned the rectangle of black soil in which he walked, stretching down to the brown river that curved around three sides of Lilyborough. Albert strolled down to the vegetable garden each morning. He savoured the organic odour of warm Broccoli heads, and trellised French beans. He was starting high school soon and he thought about the advantages and disadvantages of school ceasing for the Summer holidays. Albert was strong but not athletic, fond of academic excellence, and relished educating his peers even when they didn’t ask for help. His parents might have warned about snakes, but they did not say they wished he’d return to piano lessons, and writing essays, for which he’d shown a talent in his upper primary school years. They feared he would demand they pay for his education in Astrophysics, to both assert his interest in a visit to NASA, and to prove the ineffectiveness of prayers about his contrariness.

Albert stopped to watch a hawk gliding on the far side of the river. Its slow glide became a plunge toward what Albert presumed was a scampering mouse.  Watching through the binoculars that hung on a black leather strap from his long neck, Albert was enthralled by its plunge towards the ground. He flung away the stick that was in his hand, and heard a distinct hissing that made the nape of his neck prickle. A glance to his left, and he gaped at a black snake coiled with its head raised. Albert could see the white vulnerability of his legs next to the darting fangs. Saliva wet his lips, his heart raced and a screech agitated his vocal cords. Rippling light encircled Albert, the snake was flung away like a black streamer snatched by the wind, and he heard a smashing sound. Stunned, he stared toward the sound, and saw that a whole section of the nearby greenhouse was ripped away, and the transparent fiberglass was in splinters all over the truss tomatoes. It looked like a giant foot had stomped on the southern end of the greenhouse. Albert lifted his binoculars and inspected the damage. He did a 360-degree inspection of the sky; nothing on the horizon. Apart from the carolling of Magpies, there was silence. The atmosphere was still, and the sun was low over the river. It promised to be a perfect day.

Heart pounding, sweaty faced, Albert arrived back at the house. He saw Mr New halfway down the block on his way to the greenhouses. Albert got straight in the shower and was dressed for school when his mother appeared.

“I’m surprised to see you all dressed, and ready to go. Didn’t you go walking this morning?”

“No,” snapped Albert while avoiding his mother’s eyes.

His mother frowned. It wasn’t like Albert to dissemble

He’s usually painfully forthright, she thought.

“Would you like some eggs?” she said, and Albert nodded.

He finished getting ready for school without a word. This resulted in him getting his least favourite sandwiches: peanut butter. He didn’t even ask for money for the canteen.

Albert didn’t answer one question during his science lesson, which meant that no one could possibly ignore him. His one friend at school, Tony, was bemused by his silence. “Cat got your tongue?” he inquired.

Albert grunted and turned toward Mr Nagle. At recess time Mr Nagle asked him to stay behind.

“What’s wrong, Albert?”

Albert looked down and scratched the bridge of his nose. He shifted from foot to foot. Mr Nagle leaned back against his chair arms, as he gripped the edge of the desk.

Albert raised his head and looked his teacher in the face.

“Is it possible to have a random lightning strike out of a clear sky? One powerful enough to smash a building?”

” It’s possible Albert, the available statistics globally show that lightning strikes the ground in excess of 40 million times a year, and due to lightning’s ability to travel, in what you call a tunnel ahead of a storm front, lightning can strike up to 91 kilometres ahead of that storm front. Even in places where the sky is clear, you can get a bolt out of the blue.”

He gave a wry grin, and patted the desk before getting up from his chair.

I don’t think that explains the snake, or the smashing of half a building, thought Albert. The rest of the day at school passed slowly for Albert.

After struggling to converse with his parents at tea, and concentrate during the evening current affairs show, Albert excused himself and went upstairs early. His mother was murmuring near her statues and candles as he wearily climbed the stairs. After brushing his teeth and changing into a pair of blue pyjama pants, Albert stretched out on his bed, and worried about the day’s events. Falling into a restless sleep, he dreamed.

He was out in the vegetable acres but  he was  flying about five feet off the ground, and hovering over the spot he had stood in that morning. Three hawks flew over his head, and a bright purple cloud appeared from which bolts of lightning in a rainbow of colours struck the ground as the cloud raced toward him. Then three black sheep appeared. Finally, he saw Uncle Nolan in the blue suit he had worn to Grandma Petrolli’s funeral. Albert jerked awake, “Oh no!”

The last time he had seen Uncle Nolan was at the funeral when he was six years old. He had seen Unci No, as he called him then, every year until that time. The last time he saw him was memorably unique. It was unique because Albert had asked, “Unci No, can I have something special?”

Unci No had stood up, knocking over his chair, “You’ve done it now Albert. I told you never to ask me for something special. You coulda asked your mother. She’d woulda prayed to the Virgin.  You coulda asked your Aunt Amy who loves eBay Auctions and the National Geographic Online Store.  But you hadda ask me, me of all people.”

He rolled his eyes and lifted his hands to the ceiling. Slamming the front door, and sliding into the driver’s seat of his old blue Chevrolet, he drove away in a cloud of dust.

Albert had not seen his Uncle Nolan in the flesh since the funeral. The last time he had heard from him was on his tenth birthday when a small parcel had arrived. Inside was a black box with a green ribbon around it. When Albert opened it he found a stiff cream card with the word “Pitch” on it in gold letters. There was another card with it on which Uncle Nolan had written the message:  Phenomenal pitch is something special. When you are in your twelfth year you will know what I mean. Be careful with its use. I wish you all the help you can get. Love Unci No.

His mother read the card, and Albert noticed that her hand trembled, and she looked sad for a moment. Albert had asked if Uncle Nolan, as he called him now that he was no longer a baby, would be coming to visit for his birthday. Both his mother and stepfather shook their heads.His mother added, “but Aunty Amy is going to drop in.”

Albert was sad for a moment but then three boys from the history club turned up to eat cake with him, and he threw the box into the back of the wardrobe. Later that day Aunty Amy had turned up with the binoculars he still used, and Albert had forgotten to be sad. His tenth birthday had been the best so far.

Albert got out of bed, and went to his desk.  Thoughts of the dream, the last time he saw Uncle Nolan, his tenth birthday memories, and the little black box filled his head. He went to the wardrobe and under a pile of dusty National Geographic Magazines, wedged against the back wall he found the dusty black box with its wrinkled green ribbon. He opened it, and the letters spelling Pitch floated out in a green glow. Albert screamed, and the front wall of his room crumbled. Waves of sound wrapped around him, and he flew out of the top floor, up into the air and crash landed causing a hole in his mother’s Oleander bush. He wriggled his legs, but received only scratches for his trouble, he remembered that Oleander was poisonous when ingested. He began to spit to dislodge the leaves, and hope the scratches didn’t let poison in.

Mr and Mrs New stumbled onto the front verandah. Holding each other in a daze, they looked around at the fragments of house scattered all over the front yard, and lying along the edge of the road that fronted the property. As they side-stepped their way up the drive avoiding nails and jagged wedges of brick, they spotted Albert in the Oleander bush.

“Good grief,” Albert mother’s cried, “look at you spreadeagled like a stranded turtle.”

She was distressed about the fact that Albert had Oleander leaves in his mouth. “They’re poisonous, you know.”

She tut-tutted, as Mr New got the ladder, then extracted Albert in an awkward fashion from the depression he had caused in the bush. This forced Albert to climb a branch at the edge of the bush and shimmy sideways onto the ladder. At one point all their weight was resting on the top of the ladder. Mr New leapt to the ground  to stop the ladder falling sideways, onto a bed of broken bricks. They were both bruised by the landing.

Albert’s mother led her son into the cracked, dusty, but still safe kitchen and contacted the poisons information centre.  Mr New sat at the table and sighed every 30 seconds in between going in and out of the room, and looking at the pile of plaster fragments and  door splinters that littered the stairs and living room. Albert took his treatment with strange meekness, though he protested that he hadn’t actually chewed the leaves. His mother made salami sandwiches and they sat at the kitchen table, bowed with shock, staring at the plate of sandwiches in front of them.

Mr New sighed again, “So I guess I should presume that the damage to the southern end of the tomato hothouse is the result of Uncle Nolan’s something special.”

Albert nodded, and sweat appeared on his brow.

“I guess this means you’re going to have to do what you’re told from now on, and keep your mouth shut.” Mr New reached for a sandwich, “It’s amazing how a midnight feast takes the sting out of strange events.”

Albert’s mother got up to put the kettle on

“I don’t think a midnight feast is going to deal with all the problems in Albert’s future, dear.”

Albert’s mother banged the cups on the bench, and got out the hot chocolate.There was silence until the kettle whistled. They heard the distant rumble of a V8 Chevrolet engine.

“I guess we’ll need a fourth cup now,” said Mrs New “that’s Nolan if I’m not mistaken.”

“I blame the Virgin,” said Mr New, with a smirk on his face.

“I’m not sure even the Virgin’s got the whole answer to this problem,” said Albert’s mother ignoring Mr New, and reaching for the matches to light another candle.

She turned to Albert. “Mind you, your little something special could be handy if you ever got trapped in a car, or a mine.” Her eyes lit up.

Mr New looked thoughtful, “Perhaps some lucrative demolition contracts are in your future.”

“I don’t plan on any of that,” muttered Albert, resting his head on his folded arms.

The End