I had an idea. It’s not an original idea, but I think the way I plan to do it and the place I plan to do it (here, on my site) may be new. The idea is this: I’m going to write two paragraphs, not more than 10-15 lines each, and post them in this space below. The first person to comment gets to write the next segment, also composed of not more than 2 paragraphs, 10-15 lines long each. The second person responding gets to write the next set of paragraphs, and so on and so forth (please rewrite your comment before hitting the comment button if it is too long, so that as many people as possible get a turn). For me, this will have the upside that I get to read and talk to my followers a lot more (but you can respond to this post even if this is your first time on my blogsite). For me and for you both, it may turn out to be funny, enlightening, enriching, and just a lot of fun. If the comments slow down, I’ll take another turn, and every time there’s a response I’ll answer with another story fragment, unless someone else gets there first. If you’re just ready to respond and someone gets in in front of you, you can read their comment, adjust yours slightly to fit the next slot, and then go. This writing a collaborative “book” has been done numerous times in literary history, the most famous ones known to me being A Book by Twelve Authors in which Henry James and others participated, and in the 20th century Naked Came the Stranger, written by several famous authors under the pen name “Penelope Ashe.”
The rules are simple: keep to the WordPress.com rules about appropriate language and material, which means a few curse words and profanities are okay, but it’s not about showing off your arcane vocabulary or shock value, and it’s not necessarily for any high literary purpose. You can parody or play it straight (no previously published texts of yours or anyone else’s, please), but please don’t send any links, videos, or photographs in your response. All it’s about is fiction for fun. Even if Arabella Heartthrob Rapture writes first, and fills up her two paragraph limit with sighs and billings and cooings, that’s no reason why Anthony “The-Tantalus-Machine” Velociraptor can’t take the lovers on a swift interplanetary ship to the farthest galaxy in his two following paragraphs.
I don’t know whether you will like this or not, and if you don’t, then we won’t do it anymore. But I think it might be a good exercise, if nothing else, something you could turn to now and again and limber up on before you begin your serious writing for the day. And don’t worry if you don’t write fiction–write it for fun, or produce some highly embroidered non-fiction that will protect your privacy, if you like. If it turns out that I get a lot of responses from this, then I may do it again, once a season at least. Just remember: two paragraph limit, not more than 10-15 lines long for each paragraph. I hope you’re ready! Here goes:
Alice, angry, told herself that it must be the fiftieth time she’d seen the man without knowing his name. He always gave her a slight nod, or a friendly smile, or a cheery wave. But today, when she was standing by the cosmetic counter at Wenkel’s, one of about six cosmetics counters the major chain store boasted, someone had come up to stand beside her, and a moment later had gently placed a warm, dry hand over hers where it rested on the counter, at the same time sliding something beneath it. She jerked her hand away in reflex, now really annoyed with the saleswoman who was taking so much time to wait on someone else. As soon as she had moved her hand and looked up, she saw the man looking into thin air in front of him, as if he really had no connection with his own hand.
“Does your husband know you come here?” he asked, still without looking at her. Husband? What husband? Trying to frame an adequately chilling response, Alice glanced up again, but the man was already walking away in the distance. She looked at his back. His top coat was a gray rain coat, which had beads of moisture all over the surface; he must’ve just come inside. She turned back and as she raised her hand to attract the saleswoman’s now unoccupied attention, her hand brushed a card, the business-style card the man had left under her hand. She squinted at it; the writing was small. The card said:
5 responses to ““Alice, angry, told herself that it must be the fiftieth time she’d seen the man without knowing his name.”–Fall 2012 Writers’ Relay”
I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe… Joseph G. Samsara
The name immediately triggered a childhood memory. Alice remembered the innocent days of sneaking into her mother’s boudoir, meticulously selecting the various perfumes that adorned the bench in front of a mirror. She eventually came across a deep burgundy bottle, with golden writing and a matching band around its top. Removing the lid, she inhaled the smell attempting to escape its genie-like confines. Alice recognised the fragrance as what her mother used whenever they went on picnics in the suburb’s neighbouring fruit groves. The intoxicating citrus tang of peach and lemons had become synonymous with such days, she and her mother walking hand-in-hand through the multitude of fruit trees, basking in the warm afternoon sunshine and taking their time to find the perfect tree to place their rug and picnic basket. She had never felt any more at peace or safe than on those excursions.
Alice drew herself out of her reverie. Her gaze returned to the direction that the top coated man had headed. Seeing that the attendant was no nearer to helping her than before, she placed the card in her handbag and started after the mysterious stranger. The perfume counter of Wenkel’s was positioned closely to the store doors that opened upon the rest of shopping centre. She moved towards the rails that ran the length of the first floor, and surveyed the locale below and in front of her. The stranger had reached the escalators, and was descending to the ground floor, where a sea of tables led out of a coffee house and extended into the main thoroughfare. She walked briskly towards the escalator, attempting to keep the man in sight as she followed his path. Upon reaching the ground floor, she surveyed the rush of people for him. She saw the centre doors open, and his form exited into the miserable winter weather.
Pursuing him, she was still not sure just what she wanted to do about him, whether to tell him off or simply to tell him to stop stalking her (or was he? Maybe the meetings were just fortuitous and he had tried to take advantage of them in what he thought was an innovative way.) Looking for innovation, was he? She grinned cruelly to herself. Alice Martina was nobody’s fool. And she had the perfect way to sort the man out and make him take responsibility for his actions. After all, what sort of guy puts his hands on you without an introduction and then half backs off by leaving a business card with Gothic style print on one side and a popular song lyric in calligraphic hand on the other side? An Agent of Calyxis. Obviously.
Putting her gentle thoughts about her mother aside, Alice dug deep into her purse and withdrew the tiny device that looked so like a lipstick, so much so in fact that she had often mistaken it for one herself. As she headed out into the sleet storm, having more or less caught up with her quarry now, she dropped back just a bit, determined not to lose this sighting of a possible Agent of Calyxis. True, she didn’t have much to go on, no recent meteor showers or comets publicized on the news, no mysterious hot air balloons out West in the U. S.., which is of course what the Americans always claimed these things were. But having grown up on one of the Aran Islands, she knew what tenacity was, even if her tenacity had led her to take herself and her mother to a far warmer clime, where they could avoid the bitter weather and love home at a distance. Readying her miniature video tool, she slipped along behind a car two away from the man who called himself Samara, wondering if he had also been tracking her where she and her mother lived, South in
This ‘Joseph G. Samsara’ was keeping a brisk pace down the central street of Cork. The weather may have been warmer here than in the temperamental Aran Islands, but the high humidity of the city ensured that mist was prevalent once winter tightened its grip. The man in the grey coat turned a corner, requiring Alice to make a brisk dash to ensure she did not lose track of him. As she turned the corner, she ran straight into his waiting arms. He cupped a hand over her mouth, and quickly pulled her into the nearby shop doors. She struggled to break free, but he managed to pull her behind some stocked shelves before the shop attendant noted this and came to investigate. She looked into his eyes as she fought, but came to see that it was not malice in his eyes, but concern. Ceasing her struggle, he loosened his grip on her. Alice was thankful he had not noted the lipstick in her grip, which she had subtly angled so that his face was being recorded.
“Alice, I’m sorry I had to do that.” He looked above the level of the store shelves, though she did not know why. “I needed to get you out of that shop. There was an Agent of Calyxis in the vicinity, and it was poised to strike. We should be safe here for a moment, if only to see if you were followed out.” The anxious pair moved to a place in their shop where they were shielded from anyone looking in its windows, but they were able to observe. To Alice’s shock, another trench-coated person walked into view, pausing to look around, as if for something they had lost. They looked into the shop, and turned the corner to walk into the shops. The figure’s scarf and bowler hat hid their facial features, but the moment they moved into the shop Alice knew it was a dreaded Agent. Their footsteps made no sound; masking the sound of their approach was made possible by their secret ability to manipulate the sound receptors in one’s brain. Trusting in Samsara’s intentions, she placed her lipstick video recorder on the shelf top. She turned to him, and saw that he
had been replaced by a short, squat woman, also in a gray overcoat, which hung way too long for her over her ankles. Only the dark green intense eyes told her that she was still in fact looking into the face of Joseph Samsara. Too many things had happened too quickly for Alice to take them all in. All the poppings in and out of shops and shop doors and behind shelves and out had left her out of breath and thoroughly disoriented. The store clerk too was clearly disconcerted by people who came and went so rapidly. Alice glanced up to see that her lipstick recording device was still positioned on the shelf just above her head, and pointed toward the front of the shop. Then she happened to notice that she herself was somehow a head shorter than she had been! She could in fact barely reach the shelf, and catching sight of herself and Samsara in what she now noticed was a hat shop mirror, she saw two little old biddies who appeared to be trying on hats and having a good natter.
At just that moment, she heard a raspy voice ask the attendant, “Where are all your customers today, my good man?” She shivered involuntarily; it was obviously the voice of the Agent of Calyxis, one of those “sepals” on the “flowers of evil” (so named by the United World Council after the book of poetry “Fleurs du mal” because you never encountered one “sepal” without several others also being in the vicinity). The counter clerk seemed also to feel the chill, and responded “Sorry, sir, I don’t know; there were a couple here a moment ago. Look in the back; are you meeting someone?” He seemed to be unable to stop talking. Though there was no sound of footsteps, a feeling of disorder and lack of balance swept through the aisle; Alice looked up to find the Agent of Calyxis regarding her and Samsara. He seemed to sneer vocally at the clerk: “No, only two old women back here; no couple.” Daring mightily, Alice grabbed her recording device and took his picture just as he was turning away; she caught his picture as he indifferently turned into a cowboy, complete with
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