Category Archives: Short Story

Curiosity

I like this story.  If I hadn’t written it myself, I’d teach it.  I think it’s dense.  I’d say that 90-percent of this story is drawn from life experiences, experiences that I have gathered from various places of my childhood and put together.  To avoid spoilers, I’ll list the lies, or invented truths, at the end of the story.

Curiosity

Drew flipped through the Batman comic book.  It looked like a good one.  He paused at the Charles Atlas ad.  The one where Mac works out after having sand kicked in his face, then beats up the bully.  “Oh Mac!  You are a real man after all!”  He put the Batman down and picked up a Justice League and opened it.  Leaning back against the plywood shelves, Drew got lost in the story.  When he finished he put the magazine back on the rack, pick up the Batman again and headed to the register.

As he made his way past low shelves of old books and magazines, post cards and movie posters.  Drew noticed something wasn’t quite right with the old man who ran the place.  He was sitting on his chair behind the counter next to the cash register, where he always sat, where he would yell at the kids that this wasn’t a library, that they needed to buy something or get out.  But he was sort of slumped over.  Drew wondered if he was dead.  The hair on the back of Drew’s neck began to stand up, and he got a sick feeling in his stomach.

By the time he’d made it to the register, he’d decided that he would just put the Batman on the counter and get out of there.  It was then that the man snorted.  Or harrumphed.  Drew stopped walking and peered at the old man.  A half eaten bowl of cheerios sat on the counter.  Had the man just fallen asleep?  Drew’s grandma did that sometimes.  She’d be sitting in a chair and just fall asleep.  The man seemed to be breathing.  Drew listened and could hear the old man’s rumbly breaths.  Weird.  Drew put a dollar on the counter for the comic.  As he turned to go, his eyes wandered over to the other magazine shelf.  The one next to the comics.  The one with those magazine on the top shelf.  Drew’s heart began to beat hard.  He glanced once more at the man, then walked quickly back to the magazines.

———-

Drew went straight to his room when he got home.  Mom was in the garden.  Dad at work.  He’d nearly killed himself getting home.  Having shoved the magazine under his t-shirt and then tucking it into his jeans, it was nearly impossible to ride his bike and keep the magazine in place.  One hand held both a handlebar and the Batman comic, which was becoming hopelessly wrinkled in his sweaty grip.  The other hand held the magazine in place.  He’d decided to take the back streets home.  He was afraid that his erratic steering would cause him to slam into a car or pedestrian on the main road.  He didn’t want to think about the embarrassment caused by an ambulance worker picking him up off the street and finding a dirty magazine tucked under his shirt.

He pulled the magazine out from under his shirt and shoved it under the mattress.  He tried to straighten his bed up, but now it looked too straight.  He messed it up a little.  To messy?  He sat on the edge of the bed, tried to look relaxed, and read Batman.  His stomach felt sick.

———-

It had been two summers ago.  Dad had been at some kind of meeting in Dallas.  Dad was crossing the street and someone drove right into him.  His dad’s head had hit the pavement and they’d taken him to the hospital.  Drew’s mom flew down to Dallas to be with Dad while he recovered.  Drew stayed with the neighbors for about a week.  The Bristols.  The first night he was there, Billy Bristol showed him his collection of adult magazines that he’d stolen, one at a time, from his father.  Billy, who seemed older than Drew, but wasn’t really, appeared to be really excited about the magazines, so Drew tried to act excited too.  He was interested.  He’d seen their covers at the comic place.  He’d seen hand drawn naked women that kids passed around at school.  But this was different.  As he and Billy thumbed through the magazines that night, he had time to stare, to study, to compare and contrast.  He was occasionally interrupted by Billy’s ugly comments about what he thought of this one, or what he’d do that one.  But mostly he just took his time and looked.

———-

Drew realized that he was at the end of his comic.  He tossed it onto a stack of other comics and laid back on the bed.  It seemed he could feel the magazine through the mattress.  Like a twisted version of the princess and the pea or something.  The pervert and the porno.  Adult magazine.  Girlie magazine.  Even dirty magazine.  These all sounded more acceptable somehow.  But pornography.  Just thinking the word made his throat tighten.

———-

In church camp last summer all the boys had been herded into the mess hall one afternoon.  Drew had thought at first that they were all in trouble.  In fact the first thing one of the counselors had said, once they all quieted down was, “Ok.  You guys aren’t in trouble.”  Then, after a collective sigh of relief from the boys, he added, “Yet.  And we,”  he indicated the other counselors, “want to make sure that you don’t get into trouble when you leave camp and go out into the world.”  What followed was 45 minutes of talk about treating girls respectfully; not staring at their attractive parts, whether it’s someone you know, someone on television, or the women in “pornographic literature;” not touching any of a girl’s skin that’s covered by clothing, when given the opportunity; and of course not touching yourself, whether alone or with friends.  Alone or with friends, thought Drew.  Who does that?  He had been seriously creeped out by the whole discussion.  He figured most of the boys felt the same, as they all pretty much sat quiet, apparently, like him, praying for this discussion to end, his neighbor, Billy Bristol, among them.

After the talk, as the boys headed back to the concrete slab to shoot some baskets and wait for the girls to finish their talk, the contents of which Drew didn’t even want to think about, the attitude of some of the boys changed a bit.

“Thank god that’s over,” said one.

“Guess that means I can’t stare at Alicia during chapel,” another joked.

“She is hot,” said another.

“Oh man.”  It was Billy.  Drew winced a bit, knowing what Billy was capable of.  “You should see the stack of dirty magazines Drew and I look at all the time!”  Some of the boys responded with uncomfortable laughter.  Drew didn’t say a word or look at anyone.

———-

Dinner was over.  Drew tried to keep his cool, keep up his end of conversations, eat all his food.  But all he could think about was the magazine upstairs, in his room, under his mattress.  His mom asked him if was feeling ok.  “Yeah.  Just tired,” he said, examining his mom’s face for any indication of suspicion.  He found none.

“Well, wash up and take it easy then,” she said.  “Maybe get to bed early tonight.” Drew watched a little T.V. with his folks after dinner, declined an offer from his dad to play a few hands of cribbage, and went upstairs for a shower, and then bed.  He laid in bed, rereading the Batman comic that he’d bought earlier that day.  He tried hard to focus on the story this time.  But his mind kept going back over the events of the day.  He was beginning to wonder if the magazine was even real.  He’d never got a good look at it in the store, or in his room when he sped it from under his shirt to under his bed.  But he was pretty sure it was still there.  God, he hoped it was still there, that it hadn’t been found, by his mother.  He settled into an uneasy sleep after deciding that he had to get the damn thing out of the house.  Tomorrow.  Somehow.  Perhaps after just a brief look.

 

———-

As far as I can remember, I have never stolen a dirty magazine. From a store.  And my dad, as far as I know, has never been run over by a bus, in Dallas or elsewhere.

Bump in the Night

I like this one.  I think it’s creepy and fun and maybe says something about fear.  I sent it to a few places, but no one was interested.

Bump in the Night

“Tim, your roll,” said Mike.  Tim picked up the dice and shot them across the board.

“Six.”  Tim moved his counter.  “One, two, three, four, five, six.  That does it.  Enough of wandering around the village; I’m moving in to the dungeon.”

“Who wants a Dr. Pepper?” Brett shouted from the kitchen.

“Pepper me!” shouted back Mike.

“Me too,” said Tim.

Brett returned from the kitchen with a 2-liter of pop and and three stadium cups, all hugged to his chest.  “What’d I miss?” he asked as he set the cups and pop on the table.

“I’m tired of messing around,” Tim said.  “I’m going in.”

“Sweet,” said Brett.

Mike smiled and took a cup and the bottle. “You are going to get eaten alive.”

Tim reached for a cup.  “Whatever.  When is Jon going to be here?”

“I thought he’d be here by now,” said Brett.  “I figured we’d start the movie about nine.”

Slasher Man IV.  This is going to be sweet!” said Mike.

Brett looked out the window.  “Gets dark early this time of year,” he said.  “I wonder where Jon is?”

 

The discussion was interrupted by a loud bang on the front door.

The boys were quiet for a few seconds after the noise, listening.  Tim glared at the door.  “What the crap was that?”

They listened a bit longer, then Brett got up and went to the door, stopped, and waited.

“Well, open the dang thing,” said Mike.  “What are you acting so scared about?  You’re freaking me out.”

Brett opened the front door and peered out into the darkness.  “Windy,” he said.  “Probably a branch or something.”  Then he looked down.  “Or a rock.”  He bent over and picked up a large gray rock.  The rock was roughly the size and shape of a human foot.  He looked at the front door and found a small scratch in the paint.  “Mom’s not going to like this.”  He looked at the scratch again and closed the door.

“What is that?” said Mike.  “A bone?”

“It’s a rock,” said Brett.  “Somebody threw a big honkin’ rock at my house.  What the heck?”

“Probably Jon,” said Tim.  “He’s out there waiting for you, hoping you’ll come investigate so he can scare you.”  Tim took a drink of his pop then turned back to the board.  “Let’s go.  Who’s turn is it?”

“Look at this thing.”  Brett brought the rock over to the dinning room table where the boys had the game set up.  There he dumped it on the table.  It shook the pieces on the game board.

“Dude!” said Tim.

“That thing looks like a foot!” said Mike.

“You said that already,” said Tim.

“I said ‘bone’ before.  Now I say foot,” said Mike. “Foot bone.”

“Who would do that?” said Brett.

“Jon,” said Tim.

“It is windy out,” said Brett.

“The wind blew that rock?” said Mike.  “From where?”

“Let’s go.  Let’s go!”  It was Tim.  “I’ve got monsters to kill, treasure to plunder.  Whose turn is it!”

The boys gathered around the table.  Brett took the dice.  “I think it’s my go.”

While Brett took his turn, Mike picked up the rock and military pressed it over his head again and again with his right arm.  “I am He-Man!” Mike announced.

Then, Thump!  The boys stopped.  This time it was on the roof.  The boys remained frozen, quiet, listening.

“Dude!” said Brett.  The other boys shushed him.  They listened again.  This time they heard the sound of what seemed to be something scuttling across the roof.  They exchanged glances.  “Tell me that was a branch in the wind,” said Brett.

“Didn’t really sound like a branch,” said Tim.  He paused.  “Bet it was Jon.”

“A kid running across the roof would go bump, bump, bump.  That sounded like something else.”

“Yeah.  Kinda did,” said Mike.

Tim dropped the dice, walked to the front door, opened it, and stepped into the windy night.  “Jon!” he shouted into the darkness.  And the wind blew the door shut.

Mike and Brett stared at the door, not realizing that they were holding their breath.  Seconds passed.  Then suddenly the door flew open with a bang and a shriek as Tim leaped into the house, screaming and holding his throat as though he were being tortured.  The boys both jumped.  Brett slammed into the table, knocking pop and ice onto the game board.  Mike dropped the rock that he forgot he was holding and it bounced off his foot and onto the floor.  Tim finished his scream and then began to laugh.  “Scared much, ladies?” he chuckled.

“Jerk!” said Brett.

Mike rubbed his foot. “Ouch,” he said, still a little pale from the scare.

“Dude, you wrecked the game,” said Tim.

You made me,” said Brett.

“Guess I win,” said Tim as he picked up wet cards from the table and attempted to dry them on his shirt.

The other boys were silent.

Tim slid the rest of the game into it’s box, doing his best to avoid the spilled soda.

“Let’s get the movie going,” Mike finally said.

“What about Jon?” said Brett.

Tim looked out the window into the night.  “Guess he’ll be here or he won’t.  Maybe he found something else to do.” The boys moved into the living room and toward the T.V. set, leaving the foot shaped rock and the spilled soda behind.

Band Candy

I think this is a fun story.  It’s very biographical, except for the school carnival part.  When I looked into publishing it, I couldn’t find a kid’s magazine that it quite fit the submission guidelines for.  But it’s just the kind of story that we’re looking for here on The Real Matt Show.

Band Candy

It seems like there’s never enough time to get everything done; my room is never clean, chores are never done, and don’t even ask me about my homework.  I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff though.  I’ve got ideas.  Just the other day I was lying on my bed working out a sweet costume for Halloween.  The idea was a guy who had an alien popping out of his stomach, but whoever’s wearing the costume is not the guy, but is the alien all covered with slime and blood and stuff.  Beautiful.  It’s then that my mom walks by my room, sees that it’s trashed, and sees that I’m just lying on my bed.   What she can’t see is that I’m coming up with a great idea.  I stand quickly, as if I was just about to start on my room.  She’s not fooled.

“Buster, you’d better get off your butt and get this pig sty cleaned up.”  I try hard not to roll my eyes, focusing intently on her face.  Then I realize she’s waiting for a response.  “Got me?”

“Yes,”  I say, and she stomps down the stairs.

——————

The next day at school I snap the neck of my sax into place as I try to get to my seat, 3rd chair alto sax.  I catch someone’s foot and nearly go down, but I grab the back of Jill’s chair to stop my fall.  The momentum swings the sax, strapped to my neck, into a nearby music stand, knocking it into the lap of Tom, his music cascading around his feet.

“Smooth one,” he says.

I get to my seat in one piece.

“Alright, the fall carnival is coming up at the end of the month.”  It’s Mr. Hartman, our fearless leader.  He’s reading from an office memo.  “The band class is responsible for one of the booths.  If anyone has any ideas, let me know.”  He looks at us over the tops of his glasses.  No one says anything.  Hartman puts down the piece of paper.  “Okay then.”  He picks up his baton and leads the band in the school fight song and a few other pieces that we’ll probably play at the next pep assembly.

——————

After school I stop by Hartman’s office.  His door is open.  His desk is covered with sheet music, and he has the school secretary, Mrs. Scott, on speaker phone, something about inventory and budget and the spring concert.

“Mr. Hartman?”

“Alex.  What do you need?”  He pushes some of the papers aside, and a stapler hits the floor.

“I had some ideas for the carnival?”

“Mrs. Scott, can I call you right back?”  He hits a button on the phone before she has a chance to answer.  “Alex, you’re a smart kid.  I like your initiative.  I appreciate you stopping by.  To be honest, I don’t really have time to deal with the carnival right now.  Tell you what.  Why don’t you take your idea and run with it.  Let me know if you need any help.  But basically, you’re in charge.  Ok, champ?”

“Uh, ok,” I barely manage to get out.

“Great.  I gotta get this mess sorted out.”  Hartman gestures to his desk.  “Shut the door on your way out, would you.”

——————

Three weeks pass by pretty uneventfully.  I’m walking home with Mike.  Mike is in band too, third chair just like me.  He plays trumpet.  We’ve been kicking a rock along the street in front of us.  “I can’t wait for the carnival Friday,” he says.  “How’s your thing with the band coming?”

“Huh?” I lose the rock under a car.

“Didn’t you tell Hartman that you were going to handle the band’s booth at the carnival?”

“Oh crap.”  My heart starts to pound.  “I haven’t even thought about it.”

“Dude, there’s posters all over the school.  How do you not think about it?”

“Oh man.”  I start to get a little sick to my stomach.

“Dude, you’re screwed.”  Mike starts to laugh.

“I gotta get home.  I gotta get this figured out.”  I start to jog toward my house.

“Let me know if you need any help,” Mike yells after me.

I wave a thanks and head home.

——————

That Friday evening I’m in the gym early, trying to set up the band’s booth.  I’m trying to hang up a paper banner that says, “Support the Band – Name that Tune!”  I did it by hand with a half-dry magic marker, and frankly it looks like a spastic 3rd grader did it.  I don’t really have anything to hang it on.  I thought there would be an actual booth here, but there’s just a space for a booth.  The football team and the chess club on either side of me both have sort of tent things set up, so I’m trying to tape my sign to them, but my sign’s not quite big enough to reach from the football tent to the chess club tent.  Plus this stupid masking tape won’t stick to anything.  A couple of the football players are watching me and laughing.  This sucks.  When the banner falls for the millionth time, I just set the sign on the ground and sort of prop it up with the roll of tape.

It seems like it must be close to 5:00, time for the carnival to start.  I don’t wear a watch, so I’m not sure.  Finally Mike and Tom show up.  Mike has his trumpet with him, and Tom has his tuba.  Tuba’s not the best instrument for Name that Tune, but it was the best I could do on short notice.  “It’s about time.  Where’s Jill?” I ask.  Jill plays clarinet.

“She couldn’t make it,” Tom says.

“Why not?”

“Said she had things to do,” Tom says.

“Like what?”

“Go to the carnival I think.” Mike grins.

“Great.  Ok, then it’s just us three.  That’s ok.” I try to stay calm.  “Ok.  Here’s what we’re going to do.  People will put a ticket in the can, and then one of us will play a song.  If they can name the song, they get a prize.”  It’s lame, I know.  I’d spent three days trying to come up with a better idea, but nothing was coming.  It’s weird how my ideas come when I don’t really need them, but when I do really need them, nothing.

“What do you have for prizes?” Tom asks.

“Candy.” I show him a box of last year’s holiday band candy.

“Last year’s Christmas candy?  What the crap?  That stuff’s been sitting in Hartman’s office for months.”

“I know.  It’s all I could get.  Hartman said I didn’t give him enough time to get anything better.”  I pick one of the candy bars up and tear off a Christmas bow.  “If you find any with bows, take them off.”

Mike blows some spit out his spit valve while I set the ticket can on the floor at the front of our “booth.”  I hadn’t thought to bring a table or anything.

“So what music did you bring for us?” Tom asks.

“Huh?” I’m trying to get our stupid sign to stand up, sort of leaning against the chess club.

“Music.  Where’s our music?  How can we play Name that Tune without any tune?”

“Oh, it’s in the band room.  I’ll grab some when I go get my horn.  I’d better do that now.”  I give up on the sign and head toward the band room.

“Dude.”  It was Mike.  “You can’t get into the band room.”

“Why not?  Where’s Hartman?  He’ll let me in.”

“Hartman’s not here.  He plays at the mall on the weekends.”

“What!  It’s Friday.  This isn’t the weekend!  Where’s Hartman!”

“He’s gone, man.  And after what happened at last year’s carnival, there’s no way anybody’s getting into any part of the school but the gym.  This place is locked up tight.”  Last year an elaborate series of stink bombs was set during the school carnival.  As teachers opened their doors Monday morning, little glass vials fell to the floor, broke open, and stunk up the place bad.  A couple teachers got sick and school was closed for the day while they cleaned up the mess.

“This is just freaking great!”  I kick the sign I had just gotten to stand up, and get dirty looks from the chess club, and more laughs from the football players.

I notice the carnival is open now as people start to wander around the gym.  “Well, I can’t get my stupid locked-up horn!”  I try to kick the sign again and miss it.  “Or the music!”  I try again, but this time hit the ticket bucket, sending it flying across the gym floor.  I have to admit, that felt good.  “So I guess it’s up to you two.  What songs do you know?”

They both blink a couple times.  “I know the school fight song, and some of the national anthem,” Tom says.  Those will be two real hard ones for people to guess.

“I’ve been working on ‘Free Bird,'” Mike say.  “I’ve almost got it.  Oh, and ‘Taps.'”  He puts the trumpet to his lips and prepares to blow.  I put my hand on the bell of his horn and push it down away from his mouth.

From behind me: “I found this.  I think it’s yours.”  It’s a seventh grade girl.  She’s chomping her gum, and already has her cheek painted with a big pink butterfly.  She holds out our ticket can.

“Thanks,” I say.

“So what’s this booth?” she asks.

I walk across the floor to the gym doors.  I’d listened to Mike explain my lame idea to the girl, while her confused expression shifts from Mike, to the old Christmas candy, to Tom’s tuba, and back to Mike.  As I push on the gym door and walk out into the night, I hear the sad strain of “Taps” behind me.

——————

The Thursday after the carnival, everyone has finished with their math test, so Mr. Gantenbien tells us we can do whatever we want for the last few minutes of class.  I pull out my notebook and start to write down a couple ideas.  Mike, who sits in front of me, turns around.  “Whatcha doin’?”

“The band is sponsoring a dance in the spring.  Hartman wants to raise some money for uniforms or something.”

Mike looks at me blankly.  “So?”

“So I’m writing down some ideas.  Hartman wants me to help organize it.”

“The dance?”

“Yeah.”  I keep my eyes on the notebook.

“After you bailed on the carnival?”

“What bailed?  I set it up and then left you and Tom in charge of it.”  I sneak a look at Mike, hoping he will buy my version of last week’s events.

He doesn’t.  “Dude.”

“Look.  I talked to Hartman.  The band made a few bucks from the Name that Tune thing, we got rid of most of the old Christmas candy, and Hartman didn’t have to spend any time on the carnival at all.”

Mike raises an eyebrow.  “And,” I add, “your version of ‘Free Bird’ went over pretty well.”

Mike smiles.  “I knew it.”  He looks again at my notebook.  “Isn’t a spring dance, like, months away?”

“Yeah,” I say, turning my attention back to my notes, “I didn’t think it would hurt to get started on this a little early.”

Mike rolls his eyes and turns around, giving my math book a shove in the process.  It shoots off my desk.  Without thinking I grab for it, actually catch it, and drop it in my book bag.  Smooth.  “Nice try,” I whisper to Mike.