Sunday, January 26, 2014

End Lesstin Kerring 2 1/26/14

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Lesstin Kering leaned against the massive, frozen, trunk of an old sleeping tree. It could be an oak or an elm, or something else entirely. He wasn't much of a tree watcher.

Through his heavy winter coat, the tree didn't feel frozen, but it had to be. With snow crunching underfoot and blowing lightly on the wind, (not falling, no, it was too cold for snow to fall,) everything had frozen, even soda, none of that slushy awkward phase where he used to try and squeeze some fluid out. No. Cans frozen and burst, brown spray across the inside of the windshield, a sticky mess in the summer that never left the car.

Lesstin shivered, slapped his hands against his thighs, pleased at the sting and warmth he felt there, then tucked his gloved fingers under his armpits.

Lesstin considered a name for the tree, even if just for the duration of their short relationship, and eventually settled on Mervin. It wasn't a name he liked, just the first one that came to mind. He had an uncle named Mervin, a huge bear of a man, or had seemed so to Lesstin at age 10. The tree, and his uncle, shared the quality of being too large to reach his arms around. That was enough of a link for Lesstin.

“Well Mervin,” Lesstin said, wondering if he expected a response. He had no follow-up to those two stray words, caught, like driftwood on the bobbing sea of wind that almost seemed to speak its own white, howling, words.

“Whooooooooooo,” it whistled, a sound that had always frightened Lesstin in his youth, as those Oklahoma storms pounded the wind against his tiny room's windowpanes, the ragged, shuddering, breaths of an angry giant.

But he found it comforting right now, as if the wind, Mervin, and he, were all conspirators, working together, planning, surviving, or whatever else a tree and the wind might do with a human. He couldn't think of many games they could play, at least, not the sort he had played with his friends in the past.

“Not a worry,” Lesstin mumbled, “with enough time, we'll invent something. A game for all of us.” He coughed a dry choking crack that barely fit through his throat. He knew there would never be time for games with the wind, but he didn't want to discourage his new friends.

Mervin, when just a mere seed, had chosen to grow near a cliff face. Not too close to it, so that it wouldn't block sunlight or rain water when Mervin grew older, but close enough that now, grown to large size, the wind blew off the cliff face, slowing and walking around Mervin, and anyone who happened to hide nearby.

Which was why Lesstin had chosen to hide there. Just for a little while. While his hands and toes warmed up. He had hoped to find some fire wood, and found enough fallen branches to burn, but after a few minute of trying to tear wood away from the ground's icy claws, he abandoned the attempt. Only after did he consider that frozen wood probably wouldn't burn. Also, he didn't have a lighter. But the effort had forced some warmth into his hands and arms. He could feel the difference, and that at least, was a good sign.

Standing out of the wind was a relief too strong for the words that dashed through Lesstin's groggy mind. The cold didn't bother him, not really, not in a way that mattered. It was an old lover, tracing her soft fingers over his cheeks, down his throat, and slowly sapping his life. But the process was not painful. The wind, however, was aggressive, freezing the snow into a hard layer that caught and tore, shattering under a man's weight, but cutting like a blade as delicate nylon snow pants passed it. The wind would freeze skin just as happily, given the chance.

“But Mervin won't let that happen, will you?” Lesstin mumbled. He idly wondered if talking to a tree was a bad sign. He understood the tree was alive, it was a plant after all, but also that it was not intelligent, or even an animal. It could not respond, and, as far as Lesstin knew, had no ability to understand that he was even present. Talking to it might have been a sign of delirium. Was he going mad, out in the cold? Maybe. But, being aware of the change, that gave him some hope. He had wondered how it would happen, how the freeze would infiltrate.

He had heard, or maybe it was just rumor, commonly known, with no real moment of being told, that freezing and drowning were the two most peaceful ways to die. But to him, it seemed that both would have a fair bit of panic to them, at least a handful of seconds where the subject would understand what was going to happen, and have time to think about it.

Lesstin, out in the cold, wondering if one or the other would happen to him (though drowning seemed difficult, even with all the snow around,) thought a nice hard, fatal blow to the back of the head might be nice. Just walk down a street, minding one's own business, and WHACK, some thug with a bat takes a person out. No suspense to that, no worry or moment of fear.

Well. No opportunity to put things in order either. If a person had to die, and rumor had it, one of those same rumors as before, no source, but solid in its own way, everyone died eventually.

But given death, oncoming, a train without enough room to stop, the slow degeneration of body and/or mind, given that, he would rather have things the way he wanted them. His things sold and given away. His goodbyes said. Tears shed and pets handed off.

And it seemed to him, that neither freezing nor drowning, nor even the oh-so-possible head-crushing, offered that chance. Unless, of course, a person had put all of his things in order, put on some winter clothing, driven out into the wilderness until his car ran out of gas, and then set out into the quiet, settling dusk of a gorgeous winter. Of course, putting things in order for unexpected head-crushing sort of defeated the purpose.

In hindsight, the mad trip into the snow, prepared or not, seemed a little...well, mad.

“More mad thank talking to a tree?” He asked himself. Hard to pin it on the cold, given this new insight. He settled against Mervin, feeling the cold creeping into his legs, the packed snow reaching icy fingers toward his bones, deep within their beds of muscle. He didn't remember sitting, or leaning back against his friend. But it felt right. Comfortable, certainly, compared to the biting wind and prying eyes of the icy wilderness.

“It could be worse,” he said, coughing a series of ragged blows that shook his body. Red spray covered the snow, the beginnings of something reminiscent of Pollock, had his perennial cough turned out to be terminal cancer and he then decided to ply his work with a rather morbid medium.

“That was you,” Mervin whispered. His voice sounded like the wind, and smelled crisp, like new linen. Lesstin shivered, not from the cold, that had long since stopped, but out of fear, one last bolt of worry.

“I guess it was,” Lesstin meant to say. The words slipped between lips half frozen shut. Mervin wrapped warm arms around Lesstin's shoulders. He mumbled incoherent thanks as velvet heat flowed into his hands and legs, shared from his friend. Strength flooded his limbs. His hands drifted into the air, invisible and free, while his legs twitched, eager for what was to come. He felt like he could have run a marathon again. He smiled, glad at the thought. Why had he ever stopped doing that? Was it before, or after the visit to the doctor? He could not remember. Nor could he keep his eyes open any longer. Letting them drop closed was the happiest thing he could remember. Sleep would come soon, the pleasant slumber of a man too long denied rest. Like a glass of water after a long run.

He smiled, then coughed again, and frowned as cold red splashed over his lips. He swallowed, wiped a snow-covered glove across his mouth, and said “Mervin, I think we should build a snowman.”

“Whooooooooooo,” the wind said.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

End Lesstin Kering X1 1/23/14

(note: see the Master Document for explanation of the End Lesstin Kering project.)
(Comments: The X1 designation means this story was scrapped. See this page for explanation. After this point is the exact document when I scrapped it.)

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[[[Bleh. Pacing. Leave some suspense, then the injury report.]]]

Lesstin's eyes flickered open to a world of cold white light. His breath had melted a small bowl in front of his face that now glimmered with icy edges that clung to his hair and eyelashes.

His left eye was frozen shut, and he had to blink it several times to clear enough ice to see out of it. A ragged shiver shook his body, announcing pain in his chest. Not a good sign. Lesstin pushed himself up on his left arm, which sank elbow deep into the soft snow, with a soft wrinkling-paper crunching sound.

But Lesstin couldn't get up, couldn't pull himself away. His mind swam, spinning through the possibilities. Tight tugging clenched his chest, and panic thrilled his mind. Was something broken in there? Even without the cold, broken ribs could be dangerous, and it was over an hour back to the campsite.

His legs didn't hurt. Not even a little bit. And it took far too long for colors to register that the dark splots on the snow were blood, from his head or back, he couldn't tell. But it didn't seem to be spreading, so the wound must have frozen shut, like his eye had. And that wasn't a good sign either.

He was aware that his thoughts were slow. Scrambled. He forced his mind to focus through injury, and was horrified as he realized his lower torso was pinned beneath the split tunk of a tree that had so recently held his tree stand. Frozen sap twinkled on the half of the tree that still stood, having frozen and burst in the intense cold.

He remembered someone warning him of the cold, but had little between then and now. A woman's voice warm and distant. Lovely. Dismissed.

Wind pulled itself over his body, a taunting, cruel breeze that mocked his immobility with its swirling fingers that dug into the frosted snow layer, and burned their way through his coat and overalls. He felt the cold nip at his skin, and smiled, happy for that plain sign of life.

Memory began assembling itself, like watching a movie in his mind that he almost remembered. One of those words or places that lingered on the tip of his tongue, waiting for the proper impulse to make it whole.

[He came out here to get away from his friends and family, but stayed too long, and has run out of food. He dies, because he was out here hunting when he knew it was too cold, because if he does not, he will have gone without a meal for several days in a row.]

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End Lesstin Kering Notes: Abandoned Stories and more

I'd been thinking about how to do the ELK notes, which are things I have to say about the project, aside from the pieces themselves. So, I'm going to run an (as needed) series of End Lesstin Kering Notes. I'll link those in the ELK Master document at the bottom.

This one is on abandoned or scrapped stories.

I've written five ELK pieces so far (only posted one, and part of one, but making a buffer for myself,) and I'm not surprised to say that I also have created two parts of a story that I abandoned for one reason or another.

Normally, in non ELK writing, I would find a way to either repair the flaws in these pieces, or would cut them up for use elsewhere. But for this project, I'm just going to post them at the point I decided they were terminal, for everyone to see what I think is an unworkable story. Some stories will be totally non functional, either in the way I wrote them, or because of some flaw in the story itself. (Decide for yourself why it might be unworkable.) I'll even include my in-work notes, which are usually designated in-text with a series of brackets [note] [[note]] [[[note]]] the number of which have various meanings.

And! A new rule, which will be added to the master document.
Rule) Abandoned stories do not count toward the 52 weeks of ELK writing.

However, they will all be posted, in the order I wrote them, though they will be noted with an X after the story number.
Example: End Lesstin Kering X1 as opposed to End Lesstin Kering 5)

Also worth mentioning, though I am keeping the ELK stories short, I do review and edit them. Abandoned stories are probably unedited, and much rougher than the more polished ELK main series.

Friday, January 17, 2014

End Lesstin Kering 1/17/14

(note: see the Master Document for explanation of the End Lesstin Kering project.)

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Lesstin Oswald Kering stamped the mud off his shoes. He took a deep breath, felt the autumn air blow into his lungs. It smelled like returning to school and Halloween, like treats and costumes, and smiling children knocking on doors. But Lesstin, Les, barely noticed the smell; to him, it felt like a lonely valentines day, bitter and cold and all too aware of its emptiness.

He pushed his way through the loose screen door, and set his bundle on the old wooden bench, sentinel of the entry, and one of the few things left in his house. Almost everything else had been sold or given away, but like Les, no one wanted that old bench. He didn't bother removing his coat or hat, or even his gloves, all of which were older than the bench, and too worthless to sell or donate. But, sitting on that old, trusty bench, he took his shoes off, even now. Today, he had all the time in the world, and determination was no reason to be sloppy.

Over the years, he had learned a thing or two about haste. The type of lesson that repeats itself until a person forms habits that define who and what they are. In such a way, he had discovered, that even when he thought it wouldn't matter, just a quick run in for the wallet or keys, that if he left his shoes on, he, and only he, would inevitably step in the puddle left by his haste. There were few things in life he hated as much as wet socks. He suspected there was a larger lesson there, but couldn't quite pin it down.

Les walked, padded feet warmed by thinning wool socks. The floorboards were cool, but not cold, under his insulated feet. The night would be chilly, with the heat turned off, but he didn't want to risk any trouble, or waste any gas, on this house, empty and useless. After all, he wasn't sure how long it would be before someone else was here, and heating the place seemed unfortunate. Sad almost, in a way that tugged at Lesstin's heart, just so, pushing a tiny salty tear into the corner of his eye.

Idly, unsure of what to do next, he ran a hand over his head, still surprised to feel it shaved nearly bald. Hair always made a bigger mess than he expected. Dust could be wiped away, water was easy to mop up, but hair snagged, caught in things, and found ways into cracks, that always shocked and surprised him. Even in the cleanest house ever, with a dozen people to work and scrub, he felt sure he could have found hair under a bed, between two floor boards, next to the toilet, or any of a dozen places.

So the hair had to go. Cleaner. Easier. He'd left his eyebrows, after a test a few weeks ago had shown people's odd reactions to a man with no hair above his eyes. People raised their unshaven brows, watched him sideways, whispered, as if he couldn't see them. He hadn't even known those people. Though, he really felt like he didn't know anybody anymore, not here, not in this town. Only distant family in different cities. None were doing better than he had been, there was no one and nowhere he could go stay on a couch for a while. But it was nice to know they were out there. They sent him letters at Christmas, Easter, solstice. The usual. At least someone would come see the house, eventually.

In any event, he wanted eyebrows when his family saw him, assuming anyone came. How odd to think he had waited from then until now, just so he would have eyebrows, for one meeting that might not happen.

Lesstin went through the list in his head, making sure everything was in order. Closets had been emptied of clothing, mostly donated, where they would be accepted. So many closets of shirts, coats, pants, shoes. Even trivial things, wallets, who needs nine wallets? And ties, enough to fill a box that barely fit in his car. Wearing a tie, every day, it would have taken months to wear them all. Of course, he only ever wore two or three. The red one, the brown one, the blue one. No one wants to see a tie with pumpkins, or skulls, or guitars.

He smiled, laughed to himself, wondering at the odd things that distracted him. Ties. Wet socks. Hair. He took a deep breath, hesitating, waiting for that tense moment where determination became action. He let the breath out, and oddly, discovered he wanted coffee. To his surprise, he even felt a little hungry. Of course, there was no food. The fridge had been donated to a old coworker who couldn't remember Lesstin's name.

But right now, coffee, rich and dark, with a dash of cream, which he'd have to go without, sounded wonderful. The coffee maker was gone too, but he scrounged a small dented kettle and a single serving pack of pre-ground beans that somehow had escaped the harrowing of the cupboards. A lonely survivor. Just like Lesstin.

The old beans made a bitter drink, the last for the old house, with it's creaking, cold boards, and windows that neither heat nor cold. Should have replaced those years ago, but now, Les was glad he hadn't. Can't waste old windows on a house that had no use. It seemed fitting, for the scene.

He had made every effort not to waste. Not to make work for someone else. Power was off, gas was off, mail had been diverted to his aunt in New York. Not that anyone sent him mail. Even the magazines for plastics from china (laced with who knows what,) had stopped coming. Personal bills had been paid, there had been enough money left for that. At least, until they came for him again. And they would.

Certainly mistakes had been made. Some remembered, some forgotten. No matter. He couldn't fix them anymore.

So he continued the list. Letters had been sent on delay to everyone who would want to know. To remember. Messages after messages, letters to family and distant friends, to relatives, old loves, and to Maria. Or, at least, the last address he had for Maria. He didn't begrudge her a life away from him, but suspected their separation had been the beginning of his madness. Well. Maybe not so mad as foolishness.

After all, his entire success in business had come after their separation. But had he been trying to escape the memory? Or just prove to her that she had lost more than he had? It didn't seem to matter. Success had proven fleeting, and disaster had a way of lingering, like that smell of holidays and feeling of...nothing. Of nothing he could define. Just, of ending. Of this, of an empty house, and a man with no ties to the world. Of apologies sent, checks mailed to charities, the last of his money given away, the last of his tears, send to people who would value them.

Lesstin smiled, pleased with his thoroughness. He couldn't remember the entire list, and it was sealed in an envelope now. A record of all he had done. Perhaps too thorough, just this once. But he knew what it would say. Everything in its place, just so. Right angles, straight lines, and loose ends tied.

Lesstin walked on crinkling plastic, into the living room. Walls, floors, and ceiling, all were covered with 8mil plastic sheeting, taped and sealed. The room looked ready for painting, but the lightly-stained wall boards behind the plastic said paint was not in the plan. In fact, they were a major feature of the house. Not that he'd been able to sell it. But someone might, later, and he hated to ruin them. No waste, nothing destroyed that didn't need to be.

As he came to the end of the coffee, Lesstin's mind rolled. Was this what he wanted? Truly, this was how he wanted to end it? But he could see no other way out. If he waited, other people would get drawn into his messes; people he loved would pay for his mistakes. Still, he was glad he checked. Very thorough. Only a sane man would ask, and he felt better knowing he wasn't entirely mad.

He unlatched the rifle case, casually opening the plastic box. He ran his hand down the barrel, feeling the gloss finish. His heart beat faster, sprinting after his thoughts. He sighed, fingered the cardboard box of bullets, filled with one solution, and flicked the tab open.

“I guess this is it,” he said to no one.

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End Lesstin Kering (Master)

(edit: to find additional End Lesstin Kering posts, use the ELK or end lesstin kering labels. I will make a project list every month, showing the stories written during that time, which I will list here, once it is created.)

(edit 2: List of stories)

Sounds like an odd name for a blog entry, right? So, what is End Lesstin Kering?

I'm going to write (roughly) the same short story, every week, for the next year. Or however long it takes for the basic elements of writing a short story to either fall apart, or become redundant. More on that below.

I've been playing with ideas of story permutation and story production. I want people to see what goes into making a story. I suppose, I dream that some young, beginning writer, will see the garbage I'm making at times and, maybe, feel inspired, or confident.

Over the months, I came up with some odd and interesting ideas, but nothing I felt was so gripping that I wanted to do it. End Lesstin Kering appeared in my mind during a workout. I'm not sure if good ideas are common when exercising. Might be worth investigating.

Common wisdom says there comes a point when additional tinkering offers no value. I'm all for choosing the perfect word, but eventually it doesn't help. Lists of rules often appear suggesting such things. I feel I should start by saying I agree with the general idea. I've destroyed several of my own stories by just rolling them through permutations of the same thing.

But, sometimes, tinkering tells me a lot about the character, and about the character's world that readers never learn. So, I aim to allow a reader to explore a character, more or less, as I do. See the strangeness that is an early draft, or a very late draft, see some of the transformation a character and world can go through.

So, I'm not tinkering as much as entirely recreating. I'm starting blank and writing oneward with roughly the same world.

In this case, I want to see the journey taken by Lesstin Kering as he, week after week, lives the same story, or as close to it as inspiration takes me on any given day.

Below are the rules I aim to follow for End Lesstin Kering:

1) The story may not be more than 1,500 words long
2) The story must be restarted from scratch, every time
3) No more than a week may be spent on one iteration, after which it must be added to the ELK project, regardless of its quality
4) The story should have a beginning, middle, and end, with at least a semblance of a plot arc.
5) Abandoned stories do not count toward the 52 weeks of ELK writing, but still must be posted.

Notes:
1) I may violate one rule, as long as I do not break the same rule the week before. Any story that breaks a rule will be marked as such, and note which rule was broken.
2) Clearly, I can change the rules, add more, remove some, or whatever feels necessary, as the project moves along.
3) Abandoned stories are posted with an X in their name (eg End Lesstin Kering X1) as opposed to the normal naming structure (End Lesstin Kering 5).