Posted in Fiction, Publishing, Writing

My New Short Story was Just Published in a Literary Journal!

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I’ve been seriously writing fiction for 10 years now, and I rarely have an experience like this one.

Since I started sending out my work at the end of 2010, I’ve mostly received rejections. I’ve gotten so very used to rejection.

In the past five years I’ve written fifteen short stories, and about half of those have since been accepted to literary magazines or paperback anthologies.

But even the stories that were accepted took a long, long time. Sometimes years. This past spring I had a story of mine, “I’ll See You in the Morning,” finally accepted to a literary magazine after four years on submission and probably twenty drafts total!

And then also this year I had my short story “Character Driven,” which I wrote at the end of 2016, finally accepted for publication, which was made me so happy. I love that story.

That second piece was on submission for about two years before it was accepted. Two years doesn’t even seem like a long time to me anymore. Two years seems almost average.

So it was a total shock to me this past summer when I wrote the first draft of a new short story called “Walter,” revised it a few times, sent it out to five places… and was accepted to one of those dream magazines in mere weeks. From first draft to acceptance was ten weeks, a goddamn miracle!

The story was inspired by a real-life event that happened to me in Portland, Oregon, in March 2019. Sometimes it’s better to come up with a story from scratch rather than piece together a work of fiction based on something that actually happened to you, the writer. But in this case, everything worked out.


And the nice surprises kept on coming!

When I received the initial e-mail that said “Walter” had been accepted to Bosque, I was overjoyed. Ecstatic. I was floating on air for days.

When you get rejected as much as I do, an acceptance of any kind is a truly momentous occasion. In early August I was informed that my story would be published in November, and I figured I wouldn’t have any e-mail interaction with this person until November, maybe late October.

An initial surprise: Mere days after receiving my acceptance letter, I received a follow-up letter from Bosque’s editor informing me I had been chosen as the literary journal’s pick for Fiction Discovery of the Year!

I had to read that e-mail twice, believe me. I didn’t believe it at first. What a lovely surprise this was!

A second surprise? The editor reached out a week later about copyedits. I figured whatever changes she wanted would take me an hour, maybe two. If I was lucky, maybe just thirty minutes.

You know what the editor wanted changed? One word. She questioned one word in the entire story. I agreed with her that the word was unnecessary, so I cut it from the manuscript, and then sent the story back.

That was it. I was done. After spending an entire year with a literary agent who made me revise my book ten arduous times, to be asked to change a single word of my manuscript was definitely a lovely surprise, one I did not expect.

A third surprise? Yes, there was a third one! In mid-September I received another e-mail from the editor telling me I would be paid for my story because of being designated as the Fiction Discovery of the Year. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was a lovely gesture, and I was thrilled to receive a check in the mail a few weeks later, wow!


Were there any more surprises? Yep, the best one of all was this very week!

It’s one of the great surprises you can have as a writer — when the literary journal actually shows up in your mailbox.

It’s happened to me five or six times before in the last few years. And every single time it arrives not expected but as a total surprise because you always forget it’s coming.

I hadn’t thought of Bosque and “Walter” for a month or so. It wasn’t on my radar. I just returned home for a trip and checked my mail to find a package from Bosque, and I gasped! Here it was, hooray!

And oh my God, what a beauty this journal is. I say that every time I see my work in print (well, almost always), but after a decade of writing fiction and getting some of my work published, this is by far the most gorgeous literary journal yet. Here are some pictures below…

This was such a fantastic way to end my first decade of writing fiction. Such a perfect motivation to keep me going strong for many more decades to come.


Although I think of myself as a novel writer, not a short story writer, the success I had with “Walter” inspired me to return to the short form.

Starting in 2017 I promised myself to write at least one new short story a year, and I’ve stuck to that. I wrote a story in 2017 called “39 Pies” that has gone through twelve drafts and has been rejected at least forty times. In 2018 I wrote a long magical realism story called “Gretel” that has been getting extremely kind rejection notices, which is promising. That one’s gone through about ten drafts and I’m confident it will find a home one of these days.

Since ‘Walter’ was accepted so quickly, I decided to write a second short story in 2019, and so recently I completed my last new work of fiction of the decade, a story called “F” that’s written in the second person. I just started sending it out, and so far, only rejections. But hey, who knows what might come of this one in the new year?

Because of the success of “Walter” I have decided to aim for two new short stories a year. And to take risks every single time. I write middle grade and young adult novels, so it’s been fun to write adult fiction in my short stories. To write the kind of story I would probably never attempt at novel length.

To keep growing as an artist by thinking outside the box and coming up with something no one would ever expect of me.

So if you’re interested in writing short stories, now is a better time than ever to take a risk in more ways than one! Let my journey serve as an example of what can happen when you persevere, when you try and try no matter how much you fail, no matter how many rejections roll in year after year.

If you stick with something long enough, and if you give it your all every time, it’s absolutely true: you will get better, and you’ll eventually start to hear that lovely word yes even if you’re used to that ugly word no.

Let’s all see where our imaginations can take us in the months to come. Here’s to risk-taking and memorable short story writing in 2020 and beyond!

Posted in Fiction, Publishing, Writing

Wow, My Short Story is Being Published in a Paperback Journal!

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It usually doesn’t work out this way.

Usually I write a new short story, and I brace myself for two years or longer before it sells.

I have two stories I wrote in 2016 that still haven’t sold. Two stories that have been rejected more than fifty times each.

I have a story called ‘Character Driven’ I first wrote as a screenplay way back in 2005 before I eventually turned it into a short story in 2017 and received dozens of rejections over the course of eighteen months before it finally sold to a paperback anthology.

I’ve even had stories that took four years to sell, like my piece of creative non-fiction ‘A Window to Dreams’ which I wrote in 2012 and then sold to a literary magazine in 2016.

And like my story ‘I’ll See You in the Morning,’ one of my favorites I’ve ever written, which I wrote the first draft of in May of 2015. I revised this story more than a dozen times and I collected probably seventy to eighty rejections on it before it finally sold to an online literary magazine earlier this year.

Let’s just say I’ve had my share of difficulty with trying to sell my short stories. I don’t write too many of them — one or two a year — and so each one means a great deal to me.

Earlier this year I wrote my newest short story, ‘Walter.’

This was my first story I’d written after receiving my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Reno, in 2018, and the process of it was kind of great.

For the first time in years, I was writing a story I knew wasn’t going to be workshopped. That I was writing more for me than anybody else.

I had an encounter with a homeless man last March in Portland, Oregon, where I was attending the AWP Writers Conference, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the encounter when I was traveling home to Reno. I thought those ten seconds or so held the nugget for a new story.

Wouldn’t you know it, in mid-April of this year I sent the latest draft of my middle grade horror novel off to my literary agent, and I suddenly found myself with two to three weeks with no creative project to work on.

These periods don’t happen to me too often, actually. Usually I’m writing the first draft of one novel and then revising the fifth draft of a second novel and then maybe tinkering away on the twelfth draft of a third novel. I usually jump from one project to the next all throughout the year, with little time to dedicate to a new short story.

But suddenly I saw myself with three weeks to work on something new, and the encounter with the homeless man was still lingering in my mind.

So I wrote the story. And I wrote it really fast.

I wrote the first draft in five days. I started it on a Monday morning. I finished it on a Friday morning. I wrote 800 words a day, and the first draft was 4,000 words exactly. The original title was ‘Spare Any Change?’

The following week I changed the title to ‘Walter’ and I cut about 300 words and added about 200 new words.

The third week I cut another 300 words, got the manuscript to a place I felt really good about it, and then I let the story rest for a month.

At the end of May, I read through the story one more time, tweaked a few final things, then sent the story off to ten literary magazines.

I hoped I might hear back from a few of them throughout the summer. I heard back from half of them. All rejections. But that was okay. I’m used to rejections.

In June I sent it to two more magazines, and at the end of July I came across a literary magazine called Bosque Journal that took literary stories under 5,000 words and ONLY accepted submissions between July 1 and July 31! So I sent it off quickly. The editors at Bosque rejected a story I wrote last year, so I didn’t have high hopes.

On Tuesday afternoon, I received an e-mail.

I’ve been hard at work on other projects. I haven’t even been thinking about ‘Walter’ much lately.

I heard the ding sound from my phone telling me I had a new e-mail. I clicked on my inbox. And saw the following word.

ACCEPTANCE.

That really is a great word, isn’t it? Especially when you’re a writer. Acceptance. Not rejection. For once in my lifetime, it’s not rejection.

I figured I’d was going to be sending ‘Walter’ to literary magazines well into 2020 and beyond. And I was okay with that, honestly. It’s my philosophy that you should send out a short story 100 times before you give up, after all.

I felt it’d be a miracle for this new story to be accepted in less than a year. I didn’t think I was going to hear any good news this summer, that’s for sure.

So color me surprised when I learned that the story was accepted by the editors of Bosque Journal, a well-regarded paperback literary magazine, and will be published in its ninth issue this November! How cool, is that?

This brings me number of story acceptances on Submittable.com to 5.

5 acceptances, and 428 rejections. Yep, you read that right.

This great news about my latest story is further proof that if you want to be successful as a fiction writer, you can never give up. You have to keep going no matter what. You might go a whole year receiving rejection after rejection. You might think your fiction is worth absolutely nothing.

And then one day, you discover your fiction is worth something. That it’s actually worth more than you thought. You discover you have talent, that you have something to say. Someone out there loved your story… and you’re about to be a published author!

Amazing moments like this one is exactly why the writing journey is worth taking.

Because when you’re rejected most of the time, an acceptance is truly an out-of-body experience.

My little story I wrote mostly for me is now going to be released into the world later this year… and I couldn’t be more excited.

It’s like what I’ve said before. You won’t get rich writing short stories, but if you love writing fiction, if you want to have a long career, it’s worth doing anyway.

So do what I did. Write the next story, revise it a few times, send it out widely.

And then see what happens.

Posted in Fiction, Writing

Why You Need to Have Patience with Your Short Stories

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A Short Story Publication 4 Years in the Making

Last month I received an e-mail saying my short story “I’ll See You in the Morning” was to be published this spring in an online university magazine called Coe Review. Hooray! What great news! My story was accepted for publication!

It only took four years.

In May of 2015, months before I embarked upon my MFA in Creative Writing, I spent four weeks writing a short story, “I’ll See You in the Morning,” about an elderly man suddenly faced with a life-altering decision about his ailing wife.

I’ve never written a piece of fiction so slowly in my life. I wrote, on average, 250 words a day, seven days a week. I paid attention to the storytelling, yes, but also to language, and to dialogue, and to trying better myself as a writer.

I wanted to write an adult literary story that was serious, that had something to say, that was unlike anything I had ever written before.

After four weeks the first draft came in at about 6000 words, and when I started sending it out to magazines at the end of the summer, it came in at 5300 words. I spent the rest of 2015 sending out the story, which I believed with my whole heart was the best piece of work I’d ever written.


But then, of course, the rejections rolled in.

Twenty rejections or more in the first six months, and then I had the story workshopped in the formal MFA setting in the spring of 2016. Nobody really liked it all that much, including the professor. There wasn’t much enthusiasm for it.

My professor thought the story should go a different direction halfway through, so I totally changed the second half and spent most of 2016 submitting the story in its new version.

In May of 2017, two years since I wrote the first draft, I looked back at the first version of the story, the one I had committed to before my workshop.

I preferred the original version over the new version, actually, so I did another re-write, then sent out the story to more places in the summer of 2017.


In October 2017 I received a promising e-mail.

An editor at a major magazine really enjoyed the story and was thinking about publishing it. Alas, she was retiring soon and would not be able to make the final decision for the issue it was allotted for.

That was okay, I guess. And so I waited. And waited.

Finally, in the summer of 2018, I received word that the new editor at the magazine had taken over, and that she was eager to look at my story soon.

That was okay, too. And so I waited. And waited.

And waited some more.

This past February I finally received word from that new editor that she was passing on the story. She officially passed on it… in February of 2019… almost two years since I submitted the story to the magazine in the first place.


I definitely felt depressed after I received the latest rejection of “I’ll See You in the Morning.”

Since August of 2015, I’ve probably sent it to seventy magazines, maybe more.

So many rejections. So much silence.

I still think this is one of my better short stories, but after I received word about the latest rejection, I decided maybe it was time to retire this one for good. Just focus on my three more recent stories I’ve written in the last eighteen months.

Maybe it was time to give up completely on “I’ll See You in the Morning.”

And yet it’s almost like the universe reminded me, again, to never give up.

Because after nearly four years, my story was officially accepted for publication in March of 2019 and just this week was published online in Coe Review.

You can read the story below…


Listen — just because your story gets lots of rejections, don’t give up on it.

I know what it feels like to be rejected once for your short story, let alone ten times or twenty times.

Or fifty times.

But remember this, always — all it takes is one yes. One editor out there who responds to your story and accepts it for publication.

So don’t give up. If your latest story is rejected a lot, take it out of the drawer occasionally and revise it a couple more times. Maybe cut 500 words or 1,000 words. Add a new scene. Change the ending.

Do what you need to do, do what feels right, then send it out again.

It might take a year, or two years, or four years for it to find a home.

But if you believe in your story, keep at it. You never know when a nice surprise is just around the corner.

Posted in Fiction

Larry’s Last Day: A Short Story

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Larry’s Last Day

by Brian Rowe

Larry Trapper had tears in his eyes as he made the twelve-minute drive from his apartment on La Cienega to the large yellow building next to I-10. He opened his center console and fished his fingers past the empty gum wrappers to grab a folded napkin. He dabbed it under his swollen eyes and tossed it on the passenger seat.

When his cell phone rang, Larry let the call go to voicemail. He wasn’t in the mood to talk to anybody. If his own mother had been calling from beyond the grave to tell him the meaning of life, he still wouldn’t have answered.

Larry pulled off the freeway and parked in his reserved spot, behind the building. He glanced to his left, and as the cold April wind wafted against his tired face, he let out a loud sigh. He was more than an hour early — but there were already three cars in the parking lot.

“This is bullshit,” he said, and struck his fist against the steering wheel.

He walked to the back entrance and shoved the key into its lock. At first the door didn’t open, and for a moment, he wondered if he had already been locked outside forever. But then he jiggled on the handle and jammed the door open.

Music blasted from the ancient speakers overhead. Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning.” His least favorite song of the last five years.

“Hello?” he shouted, like he was trying to wake up a room full of senior citizens. He took his first step inside and reared his head around the corner. “Is someone in here — ”

A young man brushed past his shoulder. He was bopping his head up and down to the music as he carried a gargantuan brown box. Two VHS tapes spilled over the top and landed on the lime green carpet.

“Give me that!” Larry stomped toward the young man, the kid, the thief. “You guys weren’t supposed to be here until nine!”

He stepped on the kid’s foot and heard an exaggerated scream. Larry ignored it. He grabbed the box and pulled open the top. Horror movie tapes. Seventy, maybe eighty. Everything from the Universal monsters to the Wes Craven shockers.

He set the box down and looked toward the front of the store. Two signs were already on the windows, both boasting the same thing, what had finally been forced on him: NEW DVDS FOR SALE! NEW DVDS FOR SALE!

“No,” he whispered. “Too soon. It’s too soon.”

“Aww, is someone sad?” a voice said from behind.

Larry didn’t turn around right away. He thought if he stayed focused on the desecration of the store, the person behind him would go away, or, even better, disintegrate.

But the voice continued. “You need to get with the times, my friend. We’re already a year too late. Six more months of this and we would have — ”

“Stop talking!” Larry couldn’t take the inane rant any longer. He spun around and looked down — way down. His boss Bill was five-foot-four, but his bulky hat bumped him up another inch or two. Larry pointed at the young men carrying the boxes and said, “I want these people out of here! I want them gone!”

Bill took a step forward. Despite his diminutive size, he had the confidence of a billionaire CEO. “It’s not up to you, Larry. Face the times we’re living in.”

Larry leaned down and grabbed his boss by the collar. “You have exactly one minute or I’m throwing them out myself.”

An awkward silence ensued. Larry and Bill stared each other down as if either one glancing in a different direction would bring on a fiery apocalypse.

Finally, Bill grinned, and pulled up his black briefcase. “You know what? I was gonna do this later, but what the hell.” He opened it up. Shuffled through a mountain of pages and handed a document to Larry.

“What’s this?” Larry asked, looking over the page like it was written in Cantonese.

“I’m sorry, but I’m letting you go.” He stood up straight, and shut his briefcase with a loud click. “It’s not working out. You’ll get your last check on Friday.”

Larry crumpled up the page and glanced toward the new rack of DVDs. Forty copies, at least, of the same movie: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. He grabbed one. Studied the front and back of the case.

Then he took out the shiny DVD and threw it at Bill, like a Frisbee. It smacked his boss on the forehead and dropped to the ground.

“Forget the damn money,” Larry said. “I just want the tapes.”

“You want the — what?”

Larry pushed past Bill and grabbed the brown box. As he carried it out of the building and to his car, he thought a heart attack was imminent; the box weighed so much that big globs of sweat trickled down his cheeks and chin. He opened his trunk, shoved in the box, and quickly sped down the one-lane road, back to his apartment, the only place he could still call his home.

He turned the radio on, but the station was playing “Every Morning.” He slammed his fist against the dial and rode the rest of the way in silence.

He pulled into his parking spot and walked up four flights of stairs with the heavy box. The elevator had been broken for an entire week, and the landlord kept promising she would get it fixed. He considered pounding on her door and yelling at her, too, but he didn’t want to talk to anybody. Not today. Not for a long, long time.

Larry walked the ten steps into his living room, faced the sixty-inch-screen TV that took up the entire wall, and opened the box. It was April twelfth, 1999.

“Let the horror marathon begin,” he said.

Posted in Fiction

The Surprising Revelation of Velma Von Tussle: A Short Story from the POV of Hairspray’s Venomous Villain

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Thanks for having me over. It’s been a really long day. If I have to endure one more taping of those negroes singing and dancing on the Corny Collins stage, I swear, I’ll leave this stupid, filthy, liberal Baltimore and go somewhere that’s the real America. Like… Arkansas. Wait. Nevermind. I can’t imagine what that kind of humidity would do to my hair. I can’t afford to look bad, Prudy. Not at my age, let me tell you.

Oh, thanks for the drink. A double? You shouldn’t have.

It’s amazing, really. All I try to do is put on the best show I can. Every single day I create a program from the ground up that serves as endless entertainment for families all around our city. And what do I have to put up with now? A demand for integration. A plea that I give the negroes a chance. And that little bitch Tracy Turnblad who thinks she’s starting some kind of revolution. I swear — I thought Edna was a piece of work, but her daughter is even worse, a goddamned degenerate she is. But you know what? It’s only temporary. It’s all going to pass. Because the negroes of all ages, of all backgrounds, have their place, and it’s not with my show, and it’s certainly not with me.

At least, I guess… not anymore.

You can’t tell a soul. Not Amber. And not Franklin, even though he’d never believe you. That man, I swear, would take my word about anything in this world. No, this is something that can only exist between us, understand? I never even told my mother about this. This would have killed her.

Another drink? Sure thing.

So I’ve only been in love a few times in my life. One time was with this freckle-faced redhead named Carl, who I quickly dumped for Franklin after I got pregnant, but… you’ve heard that story. The first boy I loved? His name was Jason Laroche. Isn’t that the most sublime last name you’ve ever heard? We met when I was seventeen, during my senior year. One day I was walking home from school when I tried a shortcut, which took me the wrong way, of course it did, and led me into a neighborhood I was not overly familiar with. And when I saw this negro couple walking down the sidewalk, I ran, Prudy, I just bolted. I thought I might be captured, tortured. Held for ransom. I don’t know. A hundred horrible thoughts were running through my mind, and I turned a corner too fast, got my foot caught in a gutter, and I slammed my face against the concrete. Boom! Thankfully my teeth were saved — I didn’t even need a trip to the dentist — but I had bad cuts all over, I was bleeding. I didn’t know what to do. And then I felt these big hands grab me by the shoulders, and I heard this deep voice say, “Are you all right, Miss?” God, that voice. I’ll never forget it.

And I’ll never forget the way he looked, either. Jason was so beautiful, so tall and striking. He had the most genuine smile I’d ever seen on another person. He took me home and cleaned up my face — he used this impressive first aid kit, I guess his dad was a doctor — and before I left, you know what I did? I couldn’t help it, and I’m not ashamed. I didn’t even bother listening to the little voice in my head begging me to get out of there before I did something I regretted. I smashed my palms against Jason’s cheeks and I kissed him, Prudy. I kissed a negro man.

Oh, don’t give me that look. Hear me out. And yes, fine. I’ll have one more drink.

So I kissed him, and he kissed me back, and then suddenly being with Jason became a big part of my life, in between the long hours at school and dinner at home. My mom thought I was studying at the library, when I was really with Jason, taking walks, eating ice cream, listening to him play the harmonica. Jason was my whole world for a short window of time.

But then one Friday school got out early — for testing, I think, I can’t really remember — and I went over to see Jason at eleven instead of two-thirty. He was nineteen, out of school, in between jobs, and so I knew he’d be home. I didn’t even bother knocking. Instead, I came through his back door, which he always left unlocked. I tiptoed down the hall, quietly, and entered his room. This was the day I was going to tell him I loved him.

But then I saw him on the bed, naked, with another girl, a tall, curly-haired white girl. I never did find out her name. I kicked her in the chest, and slapped Jason in the face, and I sprinted out of there as fast as I could.

Sure, one more drink. But seriously. That’s the last one.

Jason eventually caught up to me. It was the first time I’d even seen him in my own neighborhood. He told me he was sorry, that he cared about me. But then he said he didn’t want to see me anymore. I asked him why — I couldn’t resist — and when I close my eyes right now, I swear I can still see the look on his face when he said this. Jason said that I’d gotten too fat. He called me fat, Prudy. There I was, a white teenager slumming it with some unemployed negro boy, and he has the gall to call me fat. Oh, I screamed in his face. Told him to go die, to go back to the hellhole he came from.

And then you know what I did next? I starved myself that summer. I ate nothing but berries and carrots and celery sticks, and that September I auditioned for the Miss Baltimore beauty pageant. Forty-nine girls. Forty-nine girls, and I won. The fat girl was no more, and Velma Von Tussle was finally born. A person who leads. A person who wins. A person who won’t let one negro, child or adult, girl or boy, near my amusement park, near my Amber, and especially near my television show. I don’t care about the color of their skin, that’s never been the problem. I care that one of their species, in that one despicable moment, made me feel like I was nothing. And so I’m going to spend the rest of my life guaranteeing their swift and thorough demise with every last piece of arsenal I’ve got.

Anyway. I should call Franklin. He’s probably wondering where I am. Or maybe he’s not, I don’t really care. The sad part of this whole story? I’ve never loved Franklin, not for one second. But I loved Jason. I loved him with all my heart.

Prudy. No, please. No more, okay? No more!

Oh — all right, if you insist. One last drink.

Posted in Fiction

Before the End Credits Roll: A Short Story

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Before the End Credits Roll

by Brian Rowe

Harold hadn’t been to the movies in more than a year. It had been one of his favorite past-times, going to the local cinema to catch the latest blockbuster, or art film, or B-grade horror film; he didn’t really care what kind of film it was as long as it entertained him. If he liked the storyline, admired the lead actors, he gave almost anything a chance.

But going to the movies wasn’t the same anymore. He didn’t mind the higher ticket prices, or the shitty hot dog that cost as much a gourmet grilled cheese at his local café. He hated the other moviegoers instead, those inconsiderate people who talked from the opening credits to the end, who kicked the back of his chair, who lit up the theater walls with the white light of their cell phones. When he went to American Sniper at the beginning of 2015 — by himself, since his wife is one of the three women in the world who hates the sight of Bradley Cooper — he was inundated with so much rudeness surrounding him that he stormed out halfway through and vowed to never come back. It’s not like he needed to go a theater to watch a movie. He had his seventy-five-inch screen TV at home, 7.1 surround system, Blu Ray player, satellite, Apple TV, Netflix, Amazon, the works. Why did he ever have to leave his comfy leather sofa again?

It wasn’t until his son Ben came home for a surprise visit that a trip back to the movies was in order. The two of them loved anything with Leonardo DiCaprio — Ben continued to rave about his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, while Harold still had a soft spot in his heart for his work in Titanic — so the two set out to see The Revenant on a cold Sunday afternoon.

Harold was nervous on the drive. Even though they were heading to the new multiplex in town that had reserved seating and expensive wine for purchase at the bar, and even though the movie had been out for five weeks and probably wouldn’t be too crowded, he was still scared the experience could be a repeat of last year’s disaster. He pulled into an empty parking space — the lot was barely half full, a good sign — and he and Ben walked through the main entrance and picked up their tickets from the automated machine for the 3 PM screening. Harold laughed after he paid forty-four dollars at the bar, for just two mugs of beer and a large bucket of popcorn, but he didn’t mind the cost; he was thrilled the line had been short and that the hallway to the theater screens was practically empty.

He and Ben sat down in their seats near the back of theater six, the movie just a few minutes from starting. There were lots of people in the middle and front, including a baby Harold couldn’t help but sneer at, but the back two rows were mostly barren, only a middle-aged couple close by, about seven seats over. The lights dimmed, and the previews began, and even though Harold rolled his eyes at the endless barrage of two-minute trailers, he was satisfied at least that this crowd was being quiet and — surprise, surprise — acting civilized.

The Revenant began, and Harold finally relaxed, leaning back in his chair and immediately falling under the spell of this film’s awesome power. The opening few minutes that unfolded on the giant, three-story screen were spectacular, and by the time the scary bear attacked DiCaprio’s character, Harold had fallen back in love with going to the movies. This was how a film was meant to be seen. This was the only way to see the director’s true vision.

Everything was exceeding Harold’s expectations, until the sound of ill-timed laughter snapped him back to reality. He peered to his right, as two teenagers bounded up the steps, stopping momentarily at a row near the middle, then continuing to the very back. He tried everything in his mental power to will them away, out of the theater, never to return, but they kept coming closer and closer, eventually sitting just two seats over. One landed on his butt a little too hard, and they both laughed, again, pushing their palms over their mouths, as if that simple action would prevent anyone near them from hearing their stupidity. The boys looked close to eighteen, hats on backward, baggy pants, underwear in full view. They took out their cell phones at the same time and started texting.

“When’s Maria coming?” the guy on the left asked his friend.

“Why are you asking me? She’s your girlfriend.”

“So? You talked to her last. Hey, tell her the movie already started, that we’re in the back row. Tell her we have seats saved for her and Jennifer — ”

“Do you mind?” Harold shouted, louder than he expected to.

The teen boys turned toward him and glared. “Can I help you?” the one on the left asked.

“You can help me by finding another place to sit,” Harold said.

Dad.” Ben tapped his hand on his father’s knee. “It’s okay, it’s fine. Can you try to just watch the movie — ”

“Ben, stay out of this!” Harold shoved his son’s hand away. He crossed his arms, his face on fire with the kind of rage he hadn’t felt since watching American Sniper. He’d been so close to having the experience he’d wanted, and these two kids had ruined it for him yet again. He leaned over his armrests and said, “You two gonna move seats or what?”

The one on the right sat forward and finally acknowledged Harold, flipping him off without a moment’s hesitation. “Shut the hell up. We have just as much right to see back here as you do, old man.”

Harold jumped out of his seat — faster than any spry kid could have leaped up, that’s for sure — and grabbed both of the teenagers by their hand-me-down t-shirts. “Listen to me, and listen to me well,” he said. “I know you two punks snuck in here. Probably from another movie, right? I’m only going to say this one last time. Move to another row.”

“And if we don’t?” the one on the right said, a condescending smile forming on his lips.

He wanted to slap them both across the face, he really did — but Harold had a better idea. He pushed past them and sped down the aisle, down the steps, out of the theater. He wasn’t going to let those cheap kids get away with talking, with texting, with sneaking into a movie that cost fourteen dollars and no less. Fourteen dollars was nothing to Harold, who was still raking in about three million a year, and didn’t think twice when his wife went on her bi-monthly cruises with her rich, Botoxed girlfriends. But just because he’d taken risks and made more money than he ever could have dreamed of, didn’t mean the slackers of the world could rob him of his fun. His experience watching DiCaprio’s newest had already been compromised, but he still had a chance to enjoy the rest of the movie.

He found the young theater manager and demanded she remove the teen boys from theater six. He told her the truth — they were being disruptive, and worst of all, they’d sneaked in from a different movie. She went into the theater and talked to the guys, and when they still refused to move, she called in a security officer who escorted the teens into the outside hallway, a roar of applause emanating from inside.

Harold gave them a victorious wave good-bye, as the security officer pushed them toward the lobby exit doors. The teens shot angry looks at him, and when they reached into their pockets, he expected them to pull out guns. Instead, they took out little pieces of paper, flung them on the hallway carpet, and stomped out of the building, no questions asked.

“Now you can return to your movie,” the manager said.

“Thank you,” Harold responded, his eyes not on her, but on the carpet.

As soon as the manager and the security officer disappeared behind him, Harold inspected the two pieces of paper. They were tickets for The Revenant, for 3 PM in theater six.

Posted in Fiction

Nellie’s Perfect Gift: A Short Story

 

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Nellie’s Perfect Gift

by Brian Rowe

The birthday party had to be spectacular. Theresa had invited fourteen of her friends, most of whom were from Mrs. Kent’s class, but a few of whom were from P.E., recess, her own neighborhood. They were a mix of ages — some ten, some eleven, two twelve-year-olds, one thirteen-year-old who looked about nine. Her mother had decked out the house with countless decorations, even going so far as to put a giant banner outside the front entrance door stretched at least forty feet horizontally. The day Theresa moved from Albequerque to Santa Cruz last year was her very own birthday, and so the only party she had was a slushee fest at the local 7–11, her brother Carl giving her a hug and a coupon for a free hot dog. This year was going to be different, Theresa had made enough friends to fill the front half of the house, everywhere from the entrance hallway to the gargantuan living room, and she was ready for a memorable birthday she would never forget.

Ashley and Amy arrived first, two blonde sisters with pigtails who each brought a lopsided box that looked to fit exactly one large skate. Mary came next, then Patricia and Sarah and Tiffany. All of her friends had made it on time, except for one — Nellie. Where was Nellie? Theresa had become good friends with her out on the basketball court at recess last month, always losing to her when they played HORSE but hoping one day that victory would be hers. Thirty minutes went by, and the large group was already ready for the chocolate and vanilla ice cream cake, which Theresa’s mom made from scratch and didn’t just order from the local Baskin Robbins, when the doorbell rang. All of the girls asked who it was, and when Theresa told them Nellie, they all gave her strange, almost petrified kind of looks. Theresa answered the door, and Nellie bounded inside, the biggest present of the night wrapped in her arms. It looked large enough to fit a golf cart. Theresa told her to set it in the family room area along with all the other presents, which were numerous, a whole lot more than last year.

Nellie hugged Theresa and then said hello to the other girls, who were all huddled together in a circle at the kitchen table, Theresa’s mother starting to slice the cake. The girls, noticeably, did not say hello back, didn’t even acknowledge Nellie. Theresa went so far as to introduce her to the group a second time, and finally about five of the girls gave Nellie a little wave, as Theresa’s mother starting set down plates of the cake one by one. Theresa got the biggest slice, of course she did, but she was one of the few who actually allowed enough time to enjoy the sinful dessert, every bite light and refreshing, the moist chocolate cake mixed in with the vanilla ice cream like a sweet lover’s dream. Most of her friends were just shoveling it in like breakfast oatmeal, two minutes to go before they catch their bus. Nellie scooted her chair up beside Theresa and brought her fork down to the plate. Theresa did a double take, noticing that Nellie had the smallest slice of everyone at the table. She asked her mother to give Nellie more, but she just shrugged and apologized for not making enough. That wasn’t like her mother. That pastry-pie-dessert queen always made more than enough.

The group moved into the family room, where the TV was on and playing the latest Oscar telecast, and Theresa started opening her presents. She received two skates from the twins, although each was a slightly different shade of black. She got the limited edition Harry Potter series from Sarah, a new wristwatch from her friend, Gwen. She loved all of her gifts, but nothing was standing out for her, nothing super personal that actually meant anything. Ten more minutes passed and she had two gifts left, one from Tiffany, one from Nellie. Tiffany’s gift was the size of an apple, so she opened that one first — a Christmas ornament hand-painted from Tiffany’s artist aunt. It was gorgeous, but still, it felt like something Tiffany would give to just anyone. Theresa moved to the other couch and tipped Nellie’s present to its side. It was a big box, and heavy enough to hold an adult German Shepherd. Nellie was the most unpredictable of all her friends, and it wouldn’t have surprised Nellie to find a pet dog in the depths of the box.

Theresa ripped off all the wrapping paper, then pulled open the top part of the box. First she pulled out a basketball jersey with Theresa’s name stitched into the back. Then she pulled out not one, not two, but three basketballs. Theresa thought that had to be it, but the box was still heavy, and she still hadn’t reached toward the depths of it. She had to tilt the box more toward her, to be able to dip her arm down far enough. Her fingers latched on to plastic, then the back of a wooden board. She started to pull the object toward her, but it was too heavy, and she asked for Nellie’s help. Both girls reached into the box and pulled with all their might, Nellie nearly tripping over the chair leg and falling on her face, and a black mini basketball backboard came tumbling out, right onto the carpet. Theresa brought her hand to her chest, amazed at the sight before her. Theresa’s name was on the backboard, too, along with Nellie’s name beside it, and underneath the phrase, FRIENDS FOREVER.

“Black,” someone said. “It’s from Nellie, so of course it would be black.”

Theresa spun around. Looked down at the semi-circle on the floor, at all her so-called friends. “Who said that?”

None of the girls locked eyes with her. They stared in twenty other different directions, but nowhere close to Theresa.

Finally, Ashley pointed at her sister. “It was Amy! Amy said it!”

Amy’s eyes opened wide, as everyone stared at her. “Ashley, what are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t lie, I just can’t!”

Nellie already had her arm out to stop Theresa from charging across the room toward loudmouthed Ashley, but Theresa pushed right past it, her face reddening with a pulsating rage, her eyes welling up with unexpected tears. “Ashley,” she said, “you say one more thing bad about Nellie, and I’ll kick you out of this house, understand?”

Ashley nodded and gripped the hand of her sister tight.

“That goes for all of you,” Theresa said, and then she walked back to Nellie, picking up the backboard and one of the new basketballs on the way. “Now who’s ready to take on me and Nellie outside?”

The girls played basketball late into the night, Amy and Ashley scoring the lowest of everyone, Tiffany and Patricia receiving a couple points more, Theresa and Nellie leading the way and showing the rest of the girls how the game is done.