and so it begins…
This week’s writing challenge from the Daily Post is called Mind the Gap. We were asked to blog about the divisive issue of whether or not watching violence in movies leads to real life violence.
My short answer is yes. In a perfect storm of circumstances, an individual could be of a state of mind that allows them to be influenced by a violent movie. It is possible for a violent movie to be a catalyst for violent action.
However, my interpretation of the question makes me feel more defensive as though it were asking if we can blame violence in movies for violence in real life; it suggests to me that removal of one would eliminate the other.
I believe that violent stimulus from sources like movies, could cause some people to react violently some of the time. I hate absolutes. Often times in the wake of a tragedy, people find comfort in absolutes. Most people want a concrete reason. This is false comfort. Horrible acts of violence have occurred throughout history, most of which took place long before the advent of electronic media. To blame just one stimulus as the cause is ignorant. I dare guess that more violence has been perpetrated due to love than all movies, video games, and songs combined. Does that mean that love causes violence? It can.
I feel if we change our thinking, if we ask a specific question for a specific set of circumstances, then we are more likely to find real truths. Quit looking for blanket, cookie-cutter answers. We must also leave room for no answer to exist. I think that life is ugly and people are dangerous. We get comfortable forgetting those facts and act shocked when we have to learn them all over again.
From a statistical standpoint, many more people watch violent movies and do not commit violent acts than do. I don’t have the data on this but I assume the gap is extremely wide, therefore; I would not attribute violence in society to violence in movies. I have no need to label things and box them in absurdity to sleep better at night.
Another Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig…and he’s offering loot!
When the last cherry blossom falls
“When the last cherry blossom falls, so will my axe.” That was the mantra Darrich had been instructed to repeat. He’d done so with a steady voice, denying his internal strife an outlet. The shaky voice of his youth had been beaten out of him long ago. Darrich believed the trees could hear the words he couldn’t yell, could see the tears he couldn’t cry. His heartbeat was banging away on the war drums in his ears, calling him to do the inevitable.
A light rain had swept across the village that morning, attacking the resolve of the cherry tree’s ornaments. The vast majority of blossoms had let go of the branches from which they’d clung so delicately. Their tender petals blanketed the courtyard like freshly fallen snow, signaling that the time for the ritual had arrived.
Darrich had looked forward to the ritual with ignorant enthusiasm. Today would mark the day he became a man – a great warrior of the Josi’ck tribe. Now with axe in hand, he wanted anything but.
The Josi’ck were feared people, unequalled in the arts of war, bloodthirsty savages on the battlefield. They brought uncompromising, nonnegotiable hatred down upon their enemies. The Josi’ck were well know for hunting the families of their fallen enemies in an attempt to stomp out the bloodlines of those who’d dared oppose them. The sight of just one Josi’ck warrior in full battlements was enough to make most men betray their allegiances and flee in terror.
During his warrior training, Darrich had slowly come to terms with the severity of the trials he’d been made to endure – too slowly if measured by the beatings he received at the hands of his father. Josi’ck men didn’t express emotion. Josi’ck boys were beaten severely whenever they lost composure. Darrick was often betrayed by his voice during the early years of training. His father would question him sternly and listen for sounds of weakness. Knowledge of the beatings that would follow his failures were often enough to cause Darrich’s voice to quiver, forcing the punishment, intensifying his dread, and making the task of hiding his fears increasingly difficult.
Darrich knew of boys who’d been beaten to death by their fathers. He’d been friends with one of them and the boy’s death had cut Darrich deeply. After that, he’d started to gain a level of control over his emotions – perhaps for no other reason than his own survival. He’d continued to receive the beatings, but their frequency had lessened as control over his emotions grew.
His mother, Carrin, had often helped him to practice control over emotions while his father was away. She questioned him frequently about events she knew would trouble him, trying to provoke a response. During these harsh questioning sessions, Darrich saw a weakness in his mother; her eyes betrayed her otherwise stoic manner. It obviously hurt her to dig at him and make him feel pain, hidden pain or otherwise. Darrich had always been thankful that women weren’t held to the same standards as men. His mother would’ve been beaten mercilessly if they were and to his knowledge, she’d never had a hand raised to her. Even without fear of beatings, she’d always shown great respect for her husband, and mostly controlled her emotions.
Darrich didn’t fear his mother, and her questioning had less impact on him as time went by. She’d often made up outrageous stories to try and find any weakness. She’d once told him that his father was going to make Darrich kill his own dog, the one she’d given him at age four. Darrich hadn’t flinched. Another layer of naiveté was stripped from Darrich that evening at dinner.
“Darrich believes you too kind to have him kill his own dog,” Carrin had said to Darrich’s father.
Darrich had felt it pulling at him then as it did now. There was no escaping a thing that had to be done. His father had halted dinner to take Darrich outside where he’d forced him to execute the animal and then endure hours of questioning.
There were no beatings that night. He’d performed the task without hesitation and answered the questions as if they’d concerned the act of breathing in and out. He’d wept for the last time that night, silently into his wool pillow.
Darrich had wanted to hate his mother after that but he couldn’t. He’d seen something in his mother’s eyes; she’d done it to protect him. She’d hardened him with her betrayal, strengthened him in a way that made beatings a rare occurrence and ensured his survival.
The Josi’ck had learned long ago that it wasn’t enough to have one’s enemies fear you for what you did in combat. They needed their enemies to also fear the youngest of untested warriors for what they had done before ever stepping onto the field of battle. They needed the world to fear the ruthless nature of what it meant to be a Josi’ck warrior and had established a code of training to ensure that every man who donned the warrior’s battlement had unquestionable resolve.
The rain began falling again. Darrich looked into the grey sky and let the drops fall across his face like tears. He wondered if anyone would be able to tell if he were, or if he would even be able to cry. He knew he wouldn’t. He had learned on his own that while he wasn’t allowed to express emotions, feeling them wasn’t really optional. He felt certain today would change that. A storm was raging within him and he feared something might disconnect, might snap.
Darrich looked at his mother’s outstretched neck on the chopping block. Her eyes betrayed the brave face she was attempting to show her son. He looked beyond her to the cherry trees in the courtyard. He watched as the final rain-soaked cherry blossom fell into the dirt.
Another week of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenges. This week is all about what is on the other side of the secret door. I thought I would try a little first person for this one. I also banged the whole thing out and let it simmer, spelling errors and all before revising. It comes in at exactly 1000 words (title excluded). I welcome all comments of value.
Chuck’s challenge can be found here.
The Secret Door
by Mark Snider
The partially finished garage was cold and quiet. I stood shivering, half asleep, looking at the strange door where none had been previously. Its location suggested it would lead to the laundry room. There was no handle or any sign of a hinge. I pushed firmly on one side of the rugged door and watched with bated breath as it began to open.
There was no awe-inspiring vista awaiting me on the other side. It was a square room, poorly lit, and badly cluttered. Files were stacked haphazardly in every available space. I stood before a mound of folders and lifted one from the heap.
There was only one word written across the front page in bold letters – Bears. I turned the page and read about a boy lying next to his mother on her bed. He was waiting for the bears to come. He’d seen them approaching his home earlier in the day. A humidifier wheezed miserably in the corner of the room. First one bear appeared at the window, then another. The boy was holding several flimsy steak knives with wooden-handles. He tried to sit up and throw them at the fury beasts now climbing into the house but he couldn’t move. Death was certain if he didn’t get up but all he could manage was to lift his head enough to watch their approach.
I dropped the papers on the floor, backing away in shock. My childhood dream had been recorded on paper with unbelievable accuracy. I could feel traces of the sore neck I’d experienced the morning following the dream. So vivid it had been to my young mind that I had actually tried lifting my head while sleeping.
I quickly fetched another file. My face grew hot as the words pulled me into yet another forgotten memory. This time, a graphic sexual fantasy I’d dreamt up about one of the girls I went to high school with. I skimmed it briefly before fetching a different file. A Tolkien style fantasy I’d contemplated writing early in my naval career. I had written the rough draft of the opening scene while deployed. That had been followed by an immediate revision, more polishing, and a final edit of the first pages of what were sure to be the greatest novel ever. It was the only work I ever did on that project. Here in my hands were several more chapters I didn’t write. A quick read of the pages had me remembering idea fragments I’d once tossed about as possible directions for my epic trilogy.
Hours passed as I relived the memories, dreams, and random thoughts from my life. Some had been nicely fleshed out into story ideas while others merely listed thoughts with just enough detail to bring forth the specific memory. There were easily over a thousand folders in the room.
I was suddenly overcome with the urge to write. Ideas swelled, threatening to split me open. I selected a random file from the heap and cleared a space to work. I selected a sharpened number two pencil from an old Campbell’s soup can on the desk, and then went about the task of letting the words flow.
The hours flew by as I worked on the files. I was immersed in forgotten details from my life. Sleep eventually found me at some point and I dreamed of multi-million dollar book deals falling from the heavens as I churned out one best seller after another.
I awoke on my laptop’s keyboard, the soft white glow of an empty Word document lighting the mosaic of my face. The memories were already disappearing. I tried to remember the hundreds of files I’d looked at in that room. If nothing else I should be able to salvage something from the ones I’d worked on.
I sat back in my chair and banged sentence fragments into my word processor. My eyes, not yet adjusted to the light and without the aid of glasses, blindly observed as my fingers feverishly attempted to recapture a portion of the details. The memories were disappearing like survivors in escape pods fleeing a doomed ship. My fingers began bleeding from the furious attempt to recover something useful from that room. Desperation gave way to despair at the thought of how much I couldn’t save and my pace slowed. I decided it was time to pause long enough to fetch my glasses and skim over my work. My mind crashed into the floor of realization when I stared at line after line of unreadable nonsense. I’d lost it all. After closing my laptop, I crawled into my bed and let sleep take me once again.
Since childhood, I rarely have been able to recall dreaming. Several months had passed since my episode in the room behind the secret door and I’d not been able to retrieve even one item from the files locked within. My blank page was now a vacant billboard mocking my incompetence. On occasion I would find myself staring at the unfinished sheetrock wall in the garage. Other times I just mouth-breathed at the screen displaying the file I created that night. I let my eyes run over my electronic version of chicken scratch. I was about to delete it when my eyes came to rest on four actual words – bears will kill her. Memories of lying in bed next to my mom came rushing back. Vivid memories of talking with her about books and movies we liked were fresh again. I recalled feeling that she needed my protection. It was coming back faster now. I inhaled in the moist air of the humidifier. I could feel the rivets in the wooden handles of the steak knives. I eased up to the keyboard and slowly allowed the words to appear on the screen. I could sense the files stacked all around me. I glanced over my shoulder and there it was, the secret door. This time I’ll get it all I thought.
Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge: Ten words will give you five. This challenge let you choose five of the following ten words:
I used a random number generator to select for me: storm, cube, replay, envelope, and chisel. Those words have led to the culmination you find below.
Dave placed the bloody chisel on the counter and stared at it. The waves of adrenaline begin to subside as he fought to regain his composure. With shaky hands he retrieved an envelope from his jacket pocket and pressed it into Mike’s sweaty palm.
“Find what you were looking for?” Mike asked.
Dave didn’t respond with words. His eyes had been fixated on the chisel and now he raised his head to meet Mike’s gaze. He searched Mike’s face for any signs of judgment that would increase the feelings of guilt now building in his guts. Not seeing any, Dave diverted his eyes again to the chisel.
“Yeah, you weren’t supposed to bring that out,” Mike said as he draped a towel over the tool.
“I kinda forgot it was in my hand,” Dave replied.
“What’s done is done,” Dave snapped.
Dave now met Mike’s gaze with fierce intensity. He stared into Mike’s eyes, searching for something. He studied his pupils in the fluorescent lighting for answers. Something wasn’t right but his head wouldn’t clear up enough to process it. His heartbeat was still pounding in his ears. Mike looked away.
“Same time next week?” Mike asked, seemingly trying to dismiss this encounter.
Dave turned and left the Cube Shop without a reply. The cool night air felt good on his hot face. He lit a Newport and inhaled deeply, letting the nicotine do its work as he walked the half-block to his car. He slid into the driver’s seat of the Chevy Malibu and sat there in silence as his mind began the task of replaying the events of the night.
The holographic cubes had become a weekly ritual for Dave. It was his way to escape without having to get wasted; however, after tonight’s events, getting wasted didn’t seem like a bad idea. He always logged into his Cube Shop account by Wednesday to order his program for Friday night and this week was no exception. He arrived just before seven o’clock, anticipation already building. The escapes, as he liked to think of them, were getting more and more intense as his boldness grew.
This escape had begun as he passed through the cube’s entrance and found himself standing in a torrential downpour. He had included the storm in this escape because it just seemed to fit. The rain would quiet his approach and distract him from any second guessing. He stood on the front walk of his house, watching the way the lights from within were illuminating his well manicured lawn and the flowerbeds his wife endlessly labored over.
He walked around the side of the house and through the gate into the backyard. He’d purposely left the details of his dog out of the program so there was no risk in running into a canine distraction.
Dave recalled entering the tool shed behind the house and surveying the options for his task. The shiny surface of the Lie Neilson chisels had glimmered in the trace amounts of light that penetrated the darkness of the shed. He had grabbed the half inch one and headed to the back door. When Dave ascended the back steps, he took note of the bags of mulch he’d picked up the day before. If his wife had thought it was so damned urgent that he get them, why were they still sitting there unopened? He then opened the back door and entered the kitchen. The smell of ground beef simmering in a skillet on the stove washed over him. He could smell it again now. He shut the kitchen door quickly but quietly to block out the sound of the rain. He remembered feeling angry that he had overlooked that while the rain would dampen the sound of his movements through the house, it would not dampen its own noise in an open doorway.
Dave stood still for a second and actively forced all doubt from his mind. He walked into the living room and found his wife sitting on the couch with her back to him. His eyes were drawn to her neckline. He had planned to drive the chisel deep into that spot. He was about to move when his phone rang.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” Lisa said, turning to face him. “You’re soaking wet! Get off the rug!” she yelled.
All Dave remembered thinking at this point was why the fuck is she talking? He specifically mentioned that she was not to speak in this program.
“What are you doing with that?” she asked in a softer voice, looking at the chisel in his hand.
He lunged at her. She ran. He was on her in a flash and repeatedly drove the chisel into the middle of her back.
He stood over her lifeless body and tried to catch his breath. He was a little shocked how easy it had been to end her. His body lunged forward and he vomited on the floor next to her.
“End program,” he yelled. He was standing at the cube’s entrance again with a rush of emotions pulsing through his whole body.
Dave lit another cigarette and tried to make sense of what was bugging him. It suddenly became clear. If he ordered the program on Wednesday, and didn’t pick up the mulch until Thursday, why the hell was it in his damned program? Why did his wife speak to him when he had specifically omitted that capability?
He decided this couldn’t go the night unanswered and he exited the car. He walked toward the Cube Shop intent on demanding a replay of his program and some god damned answers. As he approached the shop door, he realized the lights were off. Did the bastards close he wondered? He stood in front of the shop with his mouth open wide as he looked up at the sign above the door.