Absence makes the
But it also makes the
Absence makes the
But it also makes the
This is the last piece of writing ever found by Alexander H. Cochran, a self-described failed novelist. His work was never published.
My folks died when I could barely call myself a man. Fresh out of college and ready to face the world I was, when that truck hit ’em on the highway back from my grandfather’s funeral. They never had a chance. There was a lot of death in the air that day, I guess.
My daddy made his money in oil when I was a young ‘un, so I never had to worry about nothing from that day forward. Looking back, I like to think that was the first mark against me, as a writer. I never had to do it, never needed it to provide my next meal, would never not be alive the next day if I didn’t sell a story. I never needed writing to survive, at least not physically. But hell, maybe that’s just me making excuses in my old age.
Not that I hadn’t always wanted to be a writer, far from it. When I was going through my adolescence I could barely believe people got paid anything to write, let alone could make a hell of a living off of it if they were any good. Words had always had a strange old draw for me, they provided a kind of haven for my imagination, somewhere that worlds could be created and personalities fleshed out that were far more interesting than anyone I’d been unfortunate enough to meet in the real world, where they teach ya that a firm handshake is more important than a good story. Bullshit.
And it wasn’t that I was no good, or that I didn’t try neither. I wrote some stuff that I was kinda proud of too, but it never saw the light of day. My words were fine for me, but I couldn’t imagine how anyone else would be interested in any of the things I had to say. A curse of being even a moderately good writer is to be forced to be a great reader, and to be a great reader is to be aware of just how damn good so many others are at this writing business.
How, then, knowing the work of Papa Hemingway and Fitzgerald, of Verne and Faulkner and Whitman, how am I supposed to let my thoughts out into the world and try and compete with them? Anything I could think of in a year any of them could do on a bad morning. Hell, Hemingway wrote drunk better than I ever have sober.
I tried that too, tried every trick in the book to try and get something, anything that I wasn’t sick of the sight of by the time I finished writing it. I drank bottles and bottles and bottles of scotch, and it never did nothing for me. It didn’t make me no Hemingway, just made me tired and sick and cranky.
I tried to travel myself interesting, but that didn’t work, the cultures jumbled and produced a mess, so that nothing I wrote seemed honest or believable. I even locked myself in a damn cabin out by the lakes with nothing but a typewriter, a box of cigars and some matches, but I ended up using the matches to burn the mediocrity that I’d written and hightailing it back to the city with nothing.
You might wonder why I’m writing this now. I’ve asked myself that question too. Well, I know the answer, I’m going to die soon, my heart’s finally given up on me it seems. I guess I wanted to write something honest before I went, ’cause I think that might have been the problem all along. I worked so hard to create worlds, and emulate my heroes, that I never put an honest word down on paper. Not once, in my 45 years of trying to write, did I ever write anything that I would want to represent me, that I would want my name attached to once I’m gone. That’s why I never sold anything. Oh, I had the offers, would have made a tidy sum too. But like I said, I was never in it for the money. I’d’ve only sold if I knew it was going to go down real well in posterity, not some market pleasing fiction that anyone can churn out if they turn their mind to it.
I wanted to be a novelist remembered as a great, but in chasing that dream, and stubbornly sticking to it, I failed to be a novelist at all, and in ten years it may be that nobody even remembers my name. In trying to change the world, I overreached, and couldn’t even change my own. But that ain’t to say I ain’t proud to have tried. Better to shoot for the stars and dance with the moon than content yourself with changing to please the masses. Never forget that.
Alexander H. Cochran
A Self-Confessed Failure
The sun glinted her final rays over the hills as she fled west. As she made her escape, her fingers clung promiscuously to the green meadows, knowing she was destined to slip away once more, as she did every evening. As the nightly abyss engulfed the landscape, the moon began to rise, bringing with it the tide that surrounded the small island every day, cutting it off from civilisation.
On the island stood a large abby, built two hundred years ago by those who once ruled here, and it was flanked by a small, enclosed town that provided sustenance for the monks there, and a few other amenities that had grown out of its proximity to the sea.
Every day without fail, the tide came in and isolated the small populace, making travel to and from the place next to impossible, with the result that the townsfolk had to resort to a rather bizarre schedule if they wanted to leave the town, often waking during the middle of the night to go out in search of the larger markets inland, before returning in the bright daylight to the relative comfort of their beds.
It was not often that the moon was obliging enough to bring the tides in at night, but it was not just the everyday folk who delighted when it did. Beyond those who rejoiced at a properly scheduled sleep, there were those with more sinister reasons for willing the alignment of moon and water.
In an ageing townhouse in the middle of the city, the killer sharpened his knife. Nowadays, we would call him a serial killer, but they didn’t have such an expansive vocabulary back then, nor as much competency solving crimes. People died horribly, and often, and even those who weren’t dead disappeared frequently, wandering off to begin life anew. The rare combination of the tide and the dark night provided him with just the opportunity for which he had been waiting, a time when his target had no hope of escape, even if they did see their end before it came.
There was no science to it, but he was always identified his victim ahead of time, knowing that ultimately the time would come when he could strike. He selected the elderly, the infirm, the drifters and those who begged for alms, for mercy to be laid upon them by this religious town. He was doing God’s work, he thought, sending those in need to a better place, ending their suffering before it became unbearable.
Finally satisfied with the cut of his blade, he pulled up the hood on his habit and melted out into the night.
Hello, long time no see, largely down to my own fault. I’m kicking off the return of the six word story challenge, with the rather appropriate RETURN.
Entries by Friday at 5pm, via the blue frog and linking back to me on your entry so I get a ping back. You can find my effort below.
He knocked, knowing she wouldn’t answer.
Long absent, the prodigal son returned.
The clock sat in the corner, mocking her, as it had done for the past six months. It always feigned as if to go all the way round, and topple over, completing the full minute. But it never quite managed it. It always fell just short, sticking as gravity became too great for its weakened mechanisms.
Never quite managed to go full circle and start again. The irony wasn’t lost on her.
She didn’t know what she was expecting to happen. That clock hadn’t ever worked, really. The only reason it was still there was that it was the first thing that they had bought together to fill the empty house, and now, it helped to fill the void that he had left behind.
She wasn’t ready to admit that he wasn’t coming back yet, and so she left it there, ticking, mocking, broken. He had sometimes been able to fix the damn thing, more by luck than judgement she was sure, but it had been one of his trademarks. Whenever the clock was broken he would leap in to fix it, so there she left it, useless, hoping it might bring him striding back through the door one last time to lend a hand.
She hadn’t even said goodbye.
He’d been a victim of circumstance more than anything. One of the coldest winters on record, going at what should have been a safe speed over a country road on his motorbike, he’d happened to hit some black ice going over a hill, and was unlucky enough to have been met by a lorry that had lost its way. By all rights he should have been killed.
Sometimes she caught herself thinking it would have been better for everyone if he had been. Anything must be better than this, not knowing if he would ever wake up, not knowing if he would ever walk again if he did, not knowing, not knowing.
So she sat there, watching, waiting, and hoping. He’d worked miracles on the clock before, perhaps this one time the clock would work a little miracle on him. If the clock had taught her one thing, it was never to give up on something that seemed beyond repair. So she kept on waiting.
A more prompt response to Laura Feasey’s Literary Lion: Time challenge this week, hope you enjoyed reading.
There was something intoxicating about it, the thrill of the open road. An empty bottle of whisky lay next the him in the car, dulling his senses so that he barely felt the wind rushing through his thinning hair. It was lucky for him that the particular escape route he had found was so remote that nobody else was on the road, or he would have been dead half an hour ago, along with whoever else had been unfortunate enough to be sharing the road with him.
The backdrop would have been breathtaking for anyone more aware of their surroundings. The road snaked through the desert in desperates search of water and the mountains behind him pierced the blue sky, an almost laughably grand feature in an otherwise desolate landscape.
The cherry-red Camaro tore through this picturesque scene, carrying its passenger towards his destination, wherever that was. He was a passenger in his own life, for his destination was as unknown to him as it had been to those he had left behind. And besides, how could anyone with almost as much alcohol in their bloodstream as water possibly claim to be in control of their own senses?
All he knew was that he had to drive. He couldn’t even remember what it was that had made him snap, the darkness had swallowed up the last 36 hours and erased them from his memory, but it had been the final straw that had smashed his boring fucking life into a million pieces. Canvas bag, whisky, car keys, nothing else, not even a phone. There was no way back now, there was blood on his hands, whether he knew it or not, and the devastation he had left in his wake would haunt him for years to come, if he ever cared to remember.
It made such a difference to him, the quiet. Here, he had only the breeze for company, the breeze and his thoughts. Silence had always been his saviour; this was where he came to contemplate life, but for once he couldn’t bring himself to do so, couldn’t bring himself to process what had just happened.
He strained his ears to listen, desperate for some sudden rustle in the branches to distract him, to take him away from the inside of his own head; even the sound of falling pine needles would have been enough. But he knew none would come. He had chosen these woods for a reason, all those years ago when he had first been looking for somewhere to clear his head, and that sacred silence he had craved was now betraying him.
He regretted coming here. He’d arrived at the spot in a haze of numbness, driving as much on instinct as anything else, but now, hours later, that was all beginning to fade. Now what he’d done was beginning to come into sharp focus, and he couldn’t bear it.
He wasn’t ready to be alone with his thoughts yet, and here he was surrounded by nothing but a dark void that sucked sound from all around it. Doubts screamed at him from every angle, mocking him in a cacophonous chorus of disapproval, accusing him of what he could not bear to believe.
He rushed back to his car and sparked the ignition, just to add some noise, any noise, to silence the voices in his head. No, not the voices, it was his own voice alone, and he knew it was right.
Distracted, he didn’t notice the flashlights emerge from behind him, the noise of footsteps coming towards the car covered by the sound of his engine. The first he knew of them was the tap on the window to get him to turn his head, just enough for his pursuers to make sure they had the right man.
The sound of the shot erupted into the air, tearing through the nocturnal idyll and finally breaking the pact of silence he had held with the woods, the pact that had protected him for so long. Darkness descended once more, and with it, the quiet he had once craved. Those woods the only witness to his fate, and they would never speak.
A response to Literary Lion. Space.
She gazed up, transfixed by the beauty of what she beheld. This was the first time she had been away from the city, and the way the light danced from above bewitched her. It was as if each star were telling her its own story in some unsolvable Morse code, twinkling an indecipherable message down at her as she gawped upwards, forgetting why they had come there in the first place.
‘Emily’, the hiss came across the moor, breaking the spell that the stars had cast upon her, reminding her of her pressing purpose. She took the shovel and broke the virgin soil, hacking away at nature’s creation and dropping her secrets inside the hole she had rapidly dug. What better place to get rid of her problems than a part of the world where the sky inspires you to never look down?
The stars had their stories all right, but she would have some of her own to tell, when the time finally came.
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