the, Definite Article
None of it is real. Nothing here is real. Whether reality ever was, or if there ever was a definite article is not a question worth answering. I can see grass, gone to seed…
“gone to seed” seems a phrase I am familiar with. It seems a failure, a criticism, even though (I assume) it is what a grass plant wants (desires? yearns? exists?) to achieve.
…and other plants sprout from stony ground, which my memory (?) tells me is a clay, but with much humus – Is that a word? I’m imagining leaves dropped, decayed, broken apart by weather and insects and time, being churned into earth by worms – due, if apparent cause and effect are to be believed,…
…to all around me there being large trees. Some ancient. Some planted, seemingly, as a crop of some kind. These latter are coniferous, my internal voice is telling me. I wonder where all this information is coming from. Why whoever is sending it to me thinks it is so important for me to know these things. I can see it all. I can smell it. None of it is real.
Lambs with mothers reek of piss and droppings and – thank you inner voice – milk. A dog that displays knowledge of me sniffs me impatiently, as I smell it (her?) in turn. My voice tells me she (!) stinks of ‘dog’. She wanders away a short distance, as I have not done a thing I should have done. I assume that is what it is.
Cause and effect.
I hear short sharp sounds, rhythmic and repeated. My voice wants to label them as birds, and be done with it, moving on to another thing to classify. Hasty voice. Why can I not sit here all day, just listening? So many different sounds. All just ‘bird’ my voice repeats to me. Yet there are others.
A whirring fast moving one, which moves from ear to ear and back again.
Bees. Flies! Insects!!!
A low far off rumble that never stops, nor wavers in its distant origin, but changes subtly as I lie here; wherever ‘here’ is.
Buses. Lorries! Cars!!!
A persistent whisper, accompanied by hairs dancing on my arms and head.
Air. Breeze! Wind!!!
A dog – I think it is one I saw before. Just now, my voice tells me: Don’t you remember? – has come to me. Its sounds are not pleasant, like wind or birds or even far off vehicles – An odd word. Thank you, voice, for sharing it – sharper than bees, but higher in pitch than birds. It is scratching at my chest.
This harsh feeling is also unpleasant.
After a time, though, she stops – I need to remind myself that this dog and one I saw earlier are likely to be one animal. That makes sense to me. My voice seems happier that I have reached this conclusion – and sits down next to me. Sounds from her are longer now, but still uncomfortable. I wish she would stop and let me listen to birds and bees and far away vehicles. And wind. I seem to like wind. It is cooling, when I feel both hot and cold right now. Hot in my arms and legs. Cold on my back – Voice tells me that is because I am lying on wet earth – and both hot and cold in my head.
That seems wrong somehow. I do not want to think about that.
I feel warmth on one side of my face. Voice tells me that if I lie here for a long time, that warmth will burn me. What do I care, I reply. None of this is real. However, part of me would like that warming light on my back. My spine is aching, lying here unmoving. My voice tells me that this is normal; that I have a problem with my spine that won’t go away, that doctors cannot fix. I wish it was warm though, as it stops me from seeing and hearing and smelling all this non-stuff, all this ‘not real’.
This annoys me. I want to experience this ‘not inside me, but outside’ where nothing is real.
A dog is here – Yes, voice, it is probably identical if not startlingly similar to one who was here earlier – but this one is not making noises. I am cheered up by this ‘turn of events’…
‘turn of events’ seems such an odd thing for me to think. I wonder at my internal language. Something… a word? … is missing. I can feel a hole in my mind where it used to be. Like a Black Hole only being seen because of light being absent from nearby stars. Where did that word go? Was it alone when it left?
… but her wet nose is cold on my face, even while her breath is gusty warmth. An odd mix. A hot wetness runs down my cheek to meet it. This wetness is salty. I do not know if a dog’s wet nose is salty, but this new wet feeling, which started at my eyes, rolled into my mouth. That was salty. My voice tells me it should be salty, and that is perfectly normal. I am not sure that I believe this. I have a feeling that this salty wetness is not a good thing.
I think that, of all things here that are not real, this is one I would like to ignore right now. I think that is best.
A warmer wetness is spreading beneath my back as I lie here. It feels as if it is carrying my own heat away, but my spine seems less cold now, which is a blessing. In fact, warmness and that ache seem to all be mixing together. I can smell a sweetness from it, which seems familiar. My voice, finally, seems silent; not wanting to classify this one. All very strange. Yet peaceful. None of this is real. Not anymore. Not for me.
This story was written in the style of a six minute story (flash fiction – see http://sixminutestory.com for details) with minimal editing, mostly just straight out writing from start to finish. The story doesn’t contain the word ‘the’ (apart from ironically in the title) as a deliberate exercise; I am reliably informed that this was the brilliant idea of Justin Arnold (@themightierpen on Twitter). It was also a challenge thrown down to me by Jessica West (@West1Jess on Twitter) in the full gaze of Galen Sandford (@galensanford) who runs @6minutestory and helps us flash fiction writers everywhere.
5 thoughts on “the definite article – a story for Jessica West that doesn’t contain ‘the’”
Thank you, Dr. Mike Reddy. I have bookmarked this page and will refer to it often. You are now officially one of my favorite authors, among Stephen King, Ayn Rand and Terry Goodkind. I believe your level of intelligence is miles above my own, but I’ll tell you where this story led me.
I imagined an infant, unable to communicate, who uses flashes of memories to piece together what is happening around him/her. Not every nuance of the story fits in with this idea, though, so I am likely way off base here. I usually am when I try to interpret work I don’t fully understand.
This article has definitely made me think. I will read it again, and again, until tumblers fall into place and I am able to open the door and see this part of the world inside your mind with clarity.
Again, thank you for writing this, and well done!
Glad you liked it, but don’t do yourself down; I’m not nearly that bright. Write me one back, please Jessica?
I keep reading this myself, trying to work out the plot behind it too. Something’s definitely not right for our poor dog owner!
I’ll work on a story of my own later tonight after I put my kiddos to bed. Reading yours again, I think maybe the narrator is reliving his death in the afterlife. Maybe he/she was walking his/her dog in the park (which is why the dog “displays knowledge” of the narrator), and a driver lost control of a vehicle and struck the narrator. This would explain the damage to his/her spine. It seems that process of dying spread warmth throughout the narrators body, starting with the side that was already facing the sun. Perhaps the voice is the narrators personality and the warmth, finally reaching under him, lifts his soul from his body to carry him away, leaving the voice behind to die with the body so that his new soul my occupy another vessel or go wherever it is that souls go when they depart. I see so much potential here for a longer work. I am really impressed with this.
Although I am more than a little intimidated, I will offer a story of my own as soon as I can. Thanks again for doing this, Dr. Mike. This particular challenge, along with your participation, definitely helps motivate me to write.
I’ll be in touch. Write on!
I look forward to it. My own interpretation/rationalisation is rather darker than yours.
I’d like to hear it whenever you are ready to share. Last night I was having one of my “horror” moments at bed time. Sometimes I have a hard time falling asleep because random fears keep me up. I don’t think badly of anyone’s “dark stories”. I promise you I have more than a few of my own. I seem to be stuck in tragedy writing mode lately, so no judgement here.