Two months ago I provided the world a great pleasure by publishing what is arguably the worst horror story ever written. It is the worst because it is not very good, of course, but also because it’s not bad enough to be loved for its badness. It will never become a cult classic or shared by horror geeks and turned into a drinking game. Nobody will ever say “it’s so bad it’s good”.
Continuing Education Courses Are For Education Hobbyists
Surprisingly some of you actually liked it. Or you felt obligated to compliment my efforts regardless of the fact it was a high school English class assignment. Those who admitted to liking it were my wife and my mother so I’m guessing it had more to do with the latter than the former.
Nonetheless, for those two fans, and hopefully many more to come, I felt it was time to share another piece of my genuine, homemade fiction. This time we fast forward to 2005 for a continuing education creative writing course I took at the University of Calgary. This was my first, and ultimately aborted, attempt at becoming a “writer” for realsies. Hey, you all kept saying I should do it so I figured I’d give it a shot.
Evening courses like this are basically for education hobbyists. It may be held at a bona fide university and it may be taught by an honest to god professional writer but let there be no mistaking reality. This is not the same kind of creative writing class you’d be getting if you actually enrolled in the University for a degree in creative writing. It’s nothing more than an evening away from home for you and a tidy little profit for the university.
That being said, it was still reasonably enjoyable. My classmates and I certainly weren’t on the verge of writing anything great, let alone publishable, but we came each week and for three hours pretended we were. Much of our work was nothing more than well-intentioned fire starter despite the obvious enthusiasm towards writing that many of the students held. I was not one of them, I’m afraid. My procrastination when it comes to writing is a multi-decade phenomenon.
I did, however, successfully complete the required assignments including what you are about to read. We were tasked with writing a 500 word story the subject matter, genre, and style of which were completely of our own choosing. We had to bring multiple copies of the story to class so everyone could take it home to read and critique. For every criticism you had, you also had to state something positive. See, it’s just like high school; not cutthroat like university.
It was truly a chore to come up with sincerely positive things to say about some of the stories presented in that class. It would have been easier to just say nothing at all rather than trying to come up with enough compliments to balance the myriad criticisms. I’d like to think that was the approach most of my classmates took since my work received very little feedback aside from the requisite “it was “good” and “I liked it”.
The instructor, thankfully, was not lacking for comment and I’m happy to report that much of it was good. This was rewarding and gave my ego the slightest polish. Her evaluation was also amusing in that she seemed to think I put a hell of a lot more thought into this story than I really did. This resulted in her suggesting additional inclusion of religious imagery in my story which frankly was pure coincidence in the first place. I mention Moses and “Stairway to Heaven” in the same piece and suddenly I’m a master literary technician. Still it’s nice to know I can bullshit my way through this a bit. And maybe it means my skills have improved a bit since Grade 13.
One final comment about the story you are about to read. At the time I wrote it the intended audience was only strangers so I created names for my characters by mixing people from my past. It was easy and fit with the setting and timing of the story. Now that I’m putting it on the web the audience has grown to include many people who, while still strange, are no longer strangers. In fact, some of them would easily recognize the names I used; perhaps even themselves. I have therefore changed the names to ones that have nothing to do with me or my past or anyone I’ve ever even inadvertently bumped into on the street.
Okay, without further adieu I give you my 2005 postcard story “My Traitorous Mind”.
My Traitorous Mind
“This is the last song”, announced Mr. Zonenshine, my grade seven teacher and self-appointed school DJ. “I hope you had a groovy time. Peace!” he yelled thrusting a proud hippie peace sign into the air, sincerely trying to look and sound cool. Most of the kids, born years after Altamont had slain the summer of love, simply giggled and mimicked his words.
“Please don’t be a slow song” I whispered to myself knowing full well the last song was always a ballad. No sooner had the unmistakable first five notes of a simple scale picked on an acoustic guitar filled the school gymnasium, a shiver radiated down my neck, across my back and out to my fingertips, leaving a mat of goose-bumps in its wake. The sea of youth that filled the dance floor parted, as if commanded by Moses, leaving two gender-exclusive rows of early teens guarding opposing gym walls like human breakwaters. This was indeed a ballad, and not just any ballad. This was the holy grail of ballads, Stairway to Heaven.
I despised ballads. Ballads meant slow dancing, and slow dancing meant girls; looking at girls, talking to girls and most abhorrent, touching girls. With much effort, I had managed to avoid slow dancing the entire afternoon, but my luck was sure to run out now. After all, this was the last song, which meant any girl wanting to slow dance would be extra vigilant in capturing her chosen prey. And girls always wanted to dance to Stairway to Heaven. Besides, the cursed song gave them eight minutes to target and ensnare a victim.
With the song’s first haunting words, one girl after another started making her way across the dance floor, each with eyes fixed upon her kill. One appeared to be coming in my direction and I attempted to slip into hiding behind Kevin Marlow, a rather bulky grade-eighter, who undoubtedly in his mother’s mind was just big-boned, but from my perspective was fat and thus perfect cover. Unfortunately, in my haste my left hand accidentally brushed against his backside.
“Get away from me freak”, he grunted pushing me back into the open.
Exposed, I looked as disinterested as I could, shoved my troublemaking hands into my pockets, and tried desperately not to make eye contact with Kelly Ora, who was definitely heading towards me. I glanced up and found myself strangely fascinated by the curvy silhouette she cast against the dim lighting of the gym. Her slender thighs embraced by a black denim skirt Her loosely curled hair, long and brown, draped across her newly filled red blouse. When she finally reached me, I gazed at the muted shadings of makeup on her soft face. A faint aura of vanilla enchanted my nose and I experienced something terrifying. At that moment, that horrible, scarring moment, despite my twitching legs, my sweaty palms, and my panicked breathing, my mind, my traitorous mind, hoped she would ask me to dance.
Photo Attribution – By Flickr photographer dok1 / Don O’Brien (Flickr photo High School Dance: 1941) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons