Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Passenger - Short Story - WIP

     The Barker family stood on the platform, drearily awaiting the train. Frank, the head of the household (a title awarded to him by the IRS, but ignored, in fact, by the rest of his brethren) was pleasantly daydreaming and jingling the change in his pocket.
     “Must you, Frank,” sighed his wife in her I despair of you voice. Her aristocratic nostrils quivered in distress as she pressed her hand to her brow. Oh! her beautiful hands, which could have made her a world renowned pianist, if only her tutor hadn't been such a callous brute. Hounding her mercilessly, criticizing her endlessly, taking no notice of her delicate sensibilities and obvious artistic temperament. She sniffed loudly and, seeing a beetle meandering across the cement in front of her, ground it viciously beneath her toe. She could have had any number of suitors (of course, they hadn't been forthcoming; but then, men found such well-bred genteel women such as herself intimidating) but she'd settled for Frank. Dull, and rather ordinary, with a large head and a larger smile, his one good grace being that he was tractable (well, two; he also had steady employment), Frank had seemed a good enough catch at the time. Over the years, however, he'd become even duller, more introverted, and sheepish to a fault. Just look at him standing there, the dolt.
     “Sorry Sheila.” He replied automatically. He pulled his shirt away from his skin; he was soaked with sweat from wrestling the pile of luggage from home to the car, from the car to the lobby, and then up the stairs of the antiquated train lobby and back down the outside stairs to the platform. A light breeze sprang up, giving him a brief respite.
     Sheila sighed. “Mama, you must wrap up. You'll catch your death. Frank, can't you be gentleman enough to see that she's comfortable?”
     He dutifully went over to the elderly woman perched on the largest suitcase. She batted his hand away.
     “I'll do it myself,” she quavered. “You're so ham-fisted, you'd likely strangle me.”
     Frank couldn't decide which was the better option; to strangle her with the scarf, or to hang himself with it.
     “Did you remember to leave instructions for taking care of Sherman?” she asked for the tenth time.
     Sherman was a parrot, the very embodiment of evil, as far as Frank was concerned. Noisy, spoiled, and vicious to a fault, it of course fell to Frank to be its caretaker. The bird would fix him with one malevolent eye, whip its head to fix him with the other, then call entreatingly “Come 'ere. Hello.” Hoping, of course, that Frank would come close enough so that he could slice another bit of flesh with that cursed beak. Lately, Frank had taken to coming close enough to the cage to taunt the bird without being fully in range. Sherman, in turn, had become so enraged on one occasion that he'd plucked out his own breast feathers and reduced his hanging rubber toy to shreds. Frank had left the parrot at a neighbor's, happily throwing a heavy towel over the cage while Sherman muttered and cursed from the darkness within.
     A fitting pet for the old lady, especially since they'd both probably live forever out of sheer spite.
     “Yes, of course I left instructions, and the vet's number, and the leather gauntlets.”
     Mama sniffed. “Ridiculous, those gloves of yours. Why, you'd think you were dealing with a wounded lion instead of a precious bit of feathered fluff.” In her mind, the gloves confirmed that her son-in-law was a hopeless coward as well as a shiftless bore. She wrapped her scarf a little tighter about her throat, and caught a glimpse of a man, idly smoking and watching them all.

To be continued...maybe. How about some criticism? Suggestions?

And, BTW, I had a story published in the local newspaper. It is not, however, available online. If it shows up, I'll link it, otherwise I'll contact the editor and ask for permission to reprint it here.


  1. Congrats on the publication! I do hope we'll get to see it. I think you should do a bit more of this story if you're having fun with it. It captured my attention and you brought it to a place where I did want to know what happened next.

  2. It is a very good story. I've sent you an email with my criticism on the writing but the story itself is brilliant Li. Keep it up!

  3. Congratulations on the publications, very pleased for you.


  4. Just tried to comment. Google wouldn't let me. Great story. Grinding beetles tells me a lot!

  5. Li..when it's ready, I'll give you CRITIQUE, never criticism! Love that "like mother like daughter". I like that Frank even has the thought and inner anger to want to strangle "mama"/the bird. My suggestion: take that further, if you hadn't already planned to. Questions: (1)The title-have we met "The Passenger" yet? (2)Which character are you enjoying the most of the three, and soon to be introduced "idly watching" man?
    Good start. Let's see where this train takes us.

  6. @Teresa - yes, I'm having fun with it although, as usual, I'm torn between taking it in about 3 different directions.

    @andymac89 - duly noted. I'll make quite a few changes as things go along, thanks for your input!

    @Yvonne - thank you for your encouragement and dropping by

    @L'Aussie - I had the same problem yesterday, and my heart sank, wondering if Blogger was going to 'go missing' again. :)

    @Stu - the Passenger in question is the Observer. I haven't quite fleshed out his role yet, which is why I stopped where I did. All of the Barkers are gloriously dysfunctional, and therefore a lot of fun. Sherman has become superfluous to this particular story - and so he will be getting his own. :)

  7. Very cool that your work is published locally. That's great exposure! What is the name of the paper?

  8. Hi Stephen - Thank you, I'm pleased. Being published online is great, but I find there's nothing quite like seeing it on paper. (Old skool). The paper is the Lancaster Sunday News; they published a few other stories over the years, but it appears that they don't stay archived very long (if at all). I've contacted the paper to see if they would give permission for me to reprint it here. Fingers crossed.

  9. Congratulations! I want to know more about this shiftless bore...he has to be saintly to put up with those two women!

  10. "Frank couldn't decide which was the better option; to strangle her with the scarf, or to hang himself with it." -- great line! And CONGRATS on the publication; hope to see it soon.

  11. The only ‘criticism’ I could make (and don’t want to because it’s really niggly), is that when I read the phrase to a fault the second time, I wondered if it was repeated too soon after the first time?

    Other than that (well, even with that), I thought it was a really beginning!

    Congratulations on your story being published; I’m so pleased for you.

  12. That's exactly the kind of slip-ups I'm looking for, Mask :) Much obliged.

    @Corinna - not sure if Frank's a saint or simply too exhausted by life in general to do any more than just put up with it. Of course, he MIGHT reach his breaking point.....

    @Milo - thanks for reading and the congrats! Glad you liked it.

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    1. Talking birds? Whaaaaat? Unless it was a parrot. Then I would understand. :)
      (Sorry about the deletion. My autocorrect slipped.)

    2. Yes it's a parrot. Based on one owned by a friend of mine.