The stories you are about to encounter were written as status updates on a large social networking site. These updates were limited to 420 characters, including letters, spaces, and punctuation. The author hopes you enjoy them.
THE STORM came over the ridge, a rocket, dropped rain like bees, filled the corral with water and noise. I watched lightning hit the apple tree and thought: "Fritters!" as we packed sandbags against the flood. There was nowhere to go that wasn't wet, the squall had punched a hole in the cabin roof and the barn was knee-high in mud. We'll bury Jess later, when the river recedes, before the ground turns hard again.
THE TRAIN pulled into the station. I hesitated before stepping down to the platform, then made my way to the shoeshine stand. I sat, put my foot up on the metal rest. The old man looked up before tending to my shoe. "You new in town?" I told him that indeed I was. "OK then," he said and began cleaning my loafer. There was a local paper on the chair next to mine. The headline read: fire in hospital melts iron lung.
ZUMA PEDLEY hailed from Lubbock, came to L.A. in '02 with his guitar, some songs, and an ugly dog. He didn't think to change the world, wasn't built that way, but thought music might lessen the burden of those with hearts. He was looking for an army of smiles, but settled for a girl with corn hair and a bungalow in the hills, grew tomatoes. The dog is still ugly.
I AM EXPLORING in the Bones, formations of caves interspersed with rock basins open to the sky. I hear a sound like a turbine as I exit a cave and approach the light ahead. I'm sure it's a waterfall. What I encounter is a massive beehive, honeycomb several stories high, millions of bees. I crouch down to avoid detection and notice a shift in the tone of the hive's collective drone. I turn around and see the bear.
SHE TRUSTED grins, they were shot directly from the heart. Whereas smiles, oh, smiles could trick, be untrue, do you harm. Mendacious, twisted with bad intentions, like her father's, his mouth turned up at one corner like a beckoning finger, pulling his eye down into a squint.
WHILE I WAS AWAY you managed to rust all my tools. How is that possible? Did you dip them in the bathtub like tool fondue? I do not understand. You deny everything but cannot explain the rusted brad puller, pliers, awl, and bucksaw in our bed. "Maybe someone was playing a joke," you say, then add: "A wet hammer is still a hammer."
THE GUNNYSACK hangs from the pommel, full of sparked ore. I let Shorty sip from the stream, long neck arching in the sun. There is a ghost in the cottonwood I sit under to reread your letters. It tries to sniff the pressed flowers you sent from the garden in Boston, but the scent is gone. The petals and paper, envelope, all smell like campfire now.
MOUSE AND I lie on our stomachs on the warm and weathered planks. The little bridge spans the stream two feet below and the sun lays its hands on our backs. We drop pebbles into the creek and startle water striders, add to the trove of shining rocks and stones. Preteen bombardiers, we laugh at splashes. Twenty feet away, in another world, our parents and their friends sit on blankets, eat sandwiches and drink beer.
HE CALLED AGAIN. I accepted the charges of course, paid no attention to what he was saying, it's always the same story. I focused on the background noise — the grunts and rough laughter, the shouting. Once I heard a scream, his receiver clattered against the wall, the line went dead. I picture the wall, men leaning against it, scratching names and pictures into it, waiting for their turn. I try to imagine the smell. I can't.
From 420 Characters by Lou Beach. Copyright 2011 by Lou Beach. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.