Plastic Heart

This is my story that was first published by Firewords Quarterly. It’s a print magazine so they owned the rights to it for three months but that time has elapsed and I decided to put it on my blog. I hope you enjoy my tale, Plastic Heart. They edited my story before publishing it so this is the unedited, less polished version.

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The soft-spoken man in the bow tie at the factory had told us that we were destined for a coddled life. We would be cherished and worshipped by whomever chose us. Others would be envious of the attention that was placed upon us, as our kind always outshone the less desirable ones. We were headed for a privileged life of comfort and aristocracy, I remember him saying. I thought about that man in the red bow tie as my desperate fingers gripped the edge of the stainless steel pot.

I can recall the day my owner chose me. I stood regally in my eye-catching box on the middle shelf, others of my kind surrounding me, all of us ready to start our own journey. The cellophane kept me from leaping into the arms of any wholesome child that sauntered by, my plastic smile yearned for a home. Eventually, I spotted my future owner, the ponytailed girl in the yellow dress, staring at me with ardor in her young eyes. She pointed at me with a mischievous smile and a pink-tipped finger as her mother gently pulled me from my resting spot. She caressed the box as we drove to my new home, me and my owner were to be tethered together for eternity.

Those first few months together were all I had hoped for. She brushed my blonde hair with a microbrush, always delicately. She spoke to me in soft tones as if we were best friends, my manufactured flesh never an obstacle. I can fondly remember my owner putting various elegant gowns on me and a bejeweled tiara. At night, we would curl up together under the warm blankets and she would kiss me on the cheek and regale me with the tales of a child. I would listen to her until she drifted off to sleep and dreamt of mysterious things. There was a brief time when I had hope that our life together would always be like a fairy tale, that we would share the spoils of an enchanting journey as one being, chained by a mutual affection. If only my owner would’ve stayed young and innocent forever, remained pristine. But as the years peeled away her moods turned dark and her anger intensified. She stopped brushing my hair.

If a boy at school dismissed her or a teacher admonished her for something trivial, she reached for me to exercise her rage. If mommy or daddy grounded her for a week because she didn’t clean her room, those seven days became an unrelenting display of merciless and senseless violence, She never reached for her teddy bear or any other plush toy to mete out her condemnation for authority. My owner seemed to focus solely on breaking my plastic heart, severing my will. She developed a taste for sadism, a hunger she never fully quenched.

There were many nights when I tried to camouflage myself in the cream-colored shag carpet, her tossed aside lime-green flip-flops helping to obscure me. My escape was always a futile endeavor, she could root me out in a manner of seconds, like a bloodhound, when torture was heavy on her mind.

Once, she twisted my head off and then glued it on backwards, possibly sending me a message, a silent warning to watch my back. She would plunge thumbtacks into my eyes and a put a lighter to my hair. She would let her dog, Bartholomew, chew on my legs, her canine accomplice in savagery. My body slammed against the violet-colored walls on a daily basis. She would fling me with an aggressive flick of her thin wrist and I would pray for a soft landing, mid-flight, to no avail. She would use the handle of her brush to pound away at my abdomen and my resolve. I wished she could tell me why she enjoyed inflicting pain on me. What happened to the cute girl in the yellow dress from years ago? I miss that version of my owner.

She glared at me with emotionless eyes as I clung to the steel pot. All those years of abuse had reached the end game. A pan of famished canola oil was to be her final barbaric act.

My feet had already melted away and my hips were beginning to dissolve. She had placed a misshapen tiara on my head before placing me in this steel death chamber. She said I was a Barbie after all, a princess.

My plastic fingers were weakening as I glanced at my owner with my backwards head. She stood there quietly, her arms crossed in front of her, she appeared bored. Indifferent. My mind drifted to my other factory friends and sisters. I hoped they had found a loving home and a kind owner. I thought of the bow-tied man and how wrong he was about the life I would have, he never mentioned that humans could inflict such an abundance of misery and torment upon anything within their reach. They seemed to revel in others misfortune, it consumed them.

My owner smiled. I locked onto her eyes, trying to make her feel guilty or maybe a flash of regret would reveal itself in a watery eye or a hand reaching in to save me. Her smile never wavered, her body remained still. It was time to let go.

The Raconteur

My entry in the Flash! Friday competition this past weekend. Your story had to be inspired by the photo below and the other stipulation was you had to include an alien. I didn’t grab a piece of the prize this week but I’m quite pleased that some of my Twitter friends were rewarded.

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Dad was a connoisseur of the tall tale before his mind imploded. Once, he was fishing for trout on Lake Ponchatoula on a sleepy Friday morning, sipping coffee, when he glimpsed a figure hovering above the water: thin as a saw blade, fingers like white thread, and as towering as a wind turbine. He said the creature, Sebastian, simply plopped down in the aluminum boat. They talked about baseball, love and war until nightfall when he abruptly stood and drifted across the lake and vanished.

It never made any sense but that was dad.

My son crawled into bed and pleaded for one more grandpa story. Supposedly, he met the Devil himself at a truck stop in Albuquerque. He wore a Stetson and snug Wranglers instead of horns and fiery skin. They knocked back jello shots, tossed darts, and avoided any Faustian bargain. Dad said the Devil was just lonely.

“Grandpa was cool.”

“The coolest, Sebastian. Get some sleep, kiddo.”

Disquiet

The final contest I entered this past weekend was the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy. I didn’t grab a spot on the podium this week as the two chosen winners were so beautifully crafted and executed. But I had more fun writing this story than I’ve had in a long time. The story had to be based on the photo prompt below with a max word count of 360.

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An unsolicited call tipped me off to this battered ranch house with a couple of disheveled kids playing in the sickly grass. A headless and nude Barbie was clawing at the lawn, heading for asphalt and the freedom of a Goodyear tire. Outdated cars sat comatose in the driveway, their rusted tailpipes decaying like a smoker’s lungs.

I rapped tentatively, unsure of who or what could be waiting inside. A woman with cinnamon skin and hazardous eyes invited me in, asked if I wanted a cup of coffee. Before I could decline, a Louisville Slugger greeted my jaw. Darkness.

I awoke to my hands being tied to a cement pole.

“Hola, bounty hunter. Welcome to my basement.”

Heron Lopez. Similar to his namesake, he flapped his tattooed arms one day in Tucson and took flight, missing his court date for human trafficking.

“Guess you ain’t in Mexico like I was told by a former mamacita of yours. How ’bout you untie me and we’ll hash this out over a Corona with lime. A pinch of salt. Cool?”

“Silly pendejo. You’re slippery, man, I’ll give you that. No beer though, amigo, I have other plans for you.”

“Does it involve carne asada or chimichangas? Seriously, I’m famished.”

“Gringos and their jokes. Is that the fear talking? If not, it should be.”

He was right. I was petrified of this chiseled psychopath. I’ve heard the rumors about el perro rabioso, the rabid dog. This dude will gut you with as much emotion as a man brushing his teeth.

“It’s real simple. If you kill me, my associates will kill you. And that chica with the coffee too.”

He laughed a bit too loudly.

“You’re as dumb as my little niño and he’s still in diapers. You think this is my only hideout? I’ll be in the wind before you turn blue, my friend. You knocked on the wrong door today, this is no bueno for you.”

He loomed over me, his breath rancid with bloodlust, his mud-colored eyes jiggling in their sockets, a machete vibrating in his hand.

“So, I assume that’s a no on the chimichangas? That’s just cold, man.”

Unbound

My entry this week in the Luminous Creatures Press Summer of Super Short Stories contest. The photo below was the prompt and the max word count was 500. This was my first time competing there and to receive a first runner-up placement is pretty damn special. I’d like to thank the judge, Beth Deitchman, for her flattering critique of my story found below.

Strong writing and clarity of imagery mark “Unbound” by Wisp of Smoke, a story about the end of love and regret held at bay. The narrator’s almost jaunty tone belies the reality of his feelings, which are revealed in a last line that punches the reader right in the gut.

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Travis watched her gather the ceramic elephants that sat emotionless on the oak mantel. She delicately wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them in a cardboard box marked fragile. Amir, a name they borrowed from the Kite Runner, was by her side as always, panting and twitching like a fiend chasing the dragon. His wet eyes seemed to be longing for something: Reconciliation? A bowel movement? A bowl of meat? Travis could  never decipher the stories hidden in body language or eyes or a smile that was all sharp angles.

Jennifer had gained a bit of weight over the years, Travis thought as she continued to pack memories and artifacts with the speed and efficiency of an assembly line worker, her pink nylon sweats nothing more than a blur of function. He didn’t mind the crows feet, the heft in the middle, the dusting of grey around her temples. She was still pretty in a broken way, as if his condescending snark throughout the marriage had excised her youthful glow

For the first time in months, he looked at her with carnal urges. Maybe it was because she was leaving, maybe it was because her new lover had access to something that used to belong to him. He thought about tossing her some charm for old times sake but Travis chose to remain silent and sip on his beloved sweet tea as she and Amir worked in tandem at uprooting all the good things.

“Do you want to keep this?” she asked, holding a brushed-metal picture frame.

He glanced at the snapshot indifferently. Their sojourn in New Orleans: crawfish, jazz, draft beer, jungle humidity, and a ferocious argument the entire way home.

“Take it all, babe. Take everything.”

She rolled her eyes, sighed and proceeded with the evacuation.

“Hey, maybe you could place my heart in a cardboard box and write FRAGILE in gigantic red letters across the front. Just a thought.”

“Not today, Travis. I don’t need your drama or your mouth. I’ll be gone soon enough, you’ll finally be free of me.”

When all her belongings were stuffed into the Jeep Cherokee, she smacked her leg and Amir walked towards her, giving Travis a throaty yelp as he passed by. A goodbye? Contrition? A middle finger from a furry paw?

He went to the blinds and peeked at them as they drove away. No heads swiveling, no doubts lingering. Travis stood there for twenty minutes, unsure of what happens next. He told himself that he wouldn’t miss them. He told himself that they weren’t happy anyway, things had been unraveling for years.

He thought about that picture from New Orleans. A night of drunken lovemaking that made him feel energized and vibrant. Reborn. He regretted not keeping that one memory. Too late now, he thought.

He plopped down on the couch, flipped on the television, swallowed a gulp of tea and stared at the looted, beige walls. He tried desperately not to ache for them.

Isle of the Condemned

My entry in this week’s Flash! Friday contest. The photo below was the prompt and arrogance had to be incorporated within the story. 160 max word count as usual. My story received an Honorable Mention and I would like to thank the judge this week, Aria Glazki, for her kind words about my story found below.

Chris Milam, “Isle of the Condemned.” Fantastic imagery from the very first line here paints this story with paradoxes. The sun’s greeting is a “searing kiss.” The “tranquil morning” is closely followed by the “waves heaving and groaning.”  The captain’s breath is “sweet with rum,” while his actions are anything but. And the arrogance of our narrator’s attackers juxtaposes her own, in anticipating her revenge. Well crafted.

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The sun greeted me this tranquil morning with a searing kiss. The coconut trees frolicked in the breeze, producing a lazy melody that soothed. I watched the rhythm of the ocean, its waves heaving and groaning like a raging heart, as I sucked the juice from a ripe papaya. Lost in solitude, I thought of buccaneers, the vermin of the sea.

The captain pawing at me, his breath sweet with rum, his eyes slippery and dark, like two orbs of black silk. When he dragged me below deck and whistled for the crew, I tasked myself with remembering faces, contours of bone, the patterns of facial scruff, the cadence of their drunken speech.

The predators aboard La Bonita grunted with brutish delight inside my fruitful bounty of purity while the gold they worshipped remained hidden underneath the  cerulean folds of mystery that comprised the Pacific.

And not raking a blade across my throat would prove to be an arrogant miscalculation.

Crowd of Teeth

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Andrew Lipstein, editor of the literary journal Thick Jam, was kind enough to publish my story, “Crowd of Teeth,” today. It’s always an honor to have the opportunity to appear in a journal that is respected by the writing community. Plus their stories never fail make an impact on the reader.

You can read my story here: http://thickjam.com/no-409

If you’re interested in learning more about Thick Jam and what Andrew wants in a story, in case you want to submit there, here’s an interview he did with Jim Harrington: http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/2012/10/six-questions-for-andrew-lipstein.html?m=1

Empty Podium

My entry in this week’s Flash! Friday competition. The photo below and clumsiness had to be interpreted within your story. 160 word max as usual.

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The conspicuous glow from two iPhones revealed their position on the wooden bleachers in this dimly lit gymnasium in Nowhere, Wisconsin. They still believed.

Being seventeen and marginally talented, I would occasionally place in the top ten in random competitions across the Midwest. We’ve been on the circuit for a decade and my parents still believed I could make it to the Pan American games or maybe the Olympics. They had dreams of gold medals being forged from their perseverance and dedication. All I wanted was to quit traveling and make new friends, maybe fall in love, enroll in college. Be something besides a teenager wearing a snug leotard that drew lustful stares from the married men stationed throughout the hormonal gym.

I balanced myself on the beam and waved to my parents. Mouthed a silent apology. I’m not a clumsy girl but today I will fall awkwardly on the dismount, hoping I fracture my ankle. My betrayal obscured. Undetected.