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B.I.C.H.O.K.

One of the biggest problems that we seem to have is the failure to communicate. So many of us don’t have the slightest idea what is going through the head of someone else, yet we act on what we think without discussing it with anyone else.

A lot of those actions come with fairly dire consequences.

I know I am every bit as guilty of it as anyone else. I have a lot of trouble understanding most other people, and at times I feel very lost and alone. Some days it isn’t so bad, some weeks are more like this one.

So, if you have the chance to be with anyone, friend, family or foe, you should take a minute and talk to them.

You both deserve it.

This story is one that I wrote and submitted to a collection on Rejection. The publisher had a lot of trouble building this collection and if you are a writer who follows this sort of thing, you probably know what I am talking about.

I don’t want to sound like I am whining about being rejected. There is always a high chance that your work will not be selected and that is a risk of submitting. As the author, you take that chance. However, there were other issues and I am just glad I managed to keep from running my mouth in public. It wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.

Here is the story, in its original form. It may not have made it, but I hope you enjoy reading it. I had fun writing it.

This is a full length short story, coming in at around 4,500 words. No flash fiction today.

L. E. White

B.I.C.H.O.K.

Mark sat at the table, his lips parted, staring down at the stem of the slender glass where his fingertips rested. Tiny rainbows of distorted light were visible on his hands as the water in his glass refracted the light from the candle in the center of the table. “Why,” he asked. “Just tell me why.”

“I can’t,” Elaine said. She sat across from him with her arms crossed over her chest. She had been like that when he arrived at the restaurant, her back straight and a scowl on her delicate face. It had set off warning bells in his head, but he had tried to ignore them. He had walked up with a smile and stepped over for a kiss.

When she leaned away to avoid his lips even touching her cheek, he had realized just how bad this was going to be.

“Why not,” he asked, raising his eyes to meet hers. He wanted to see the smoldering look that had been there last weekend. Mark wanted to see the same passion and intensity that had threatened to consume him when he had held her in his arms. He wanted to see the look that had promised him a future with her that went beyond the bedspread they were laying on. Instead of the image of a crackling fire or even a single, defiant candle, he imagined broken limbs covered with snow and icicles hanging from the bottom of dirty cars. In the depths of her eyes he saw hypothermia and frost bite. Elaine’s gaze was cold, lifeless and dead.

Their eyes held for a moment before she turned away. “Because I don’t have the time to waste trying to explain things to you. This will never work. That is all that matters.”

Mark dropped his gaze back to his hands. “How can you know that after so little time?” He fought to keep the pleading out of his voice, but knew that each word dripped self-pity, leaving tiny blue puddles on the cloth. “You don’t know me. There is no way to make that decision without more …”

***

“Wow, that’s rough,” Renee said.

Dan jumped, fingers hitting the keys and leaving ‘aoifj’ at the end of the sentence. He exhaled as he rocked backward to that he looked up his wife’s nose. “It isn’t very nice to read over my shoulder. Especially when you scare the shit out of me like that.” He wondered how she managed to keep her nose so clean when he literally had to pluck and trim every other day to keep her from making comments about how he looked like a spider was crawling out of his nose to mate with his mustache.

Dan’s attention was dragged back when Renee leaned down and kissed him before moving to the other side of the small table. “Why are you writing that? I thought your story was supposed to be about wizards and stuff.”

“This is just a writing exercise,” Dan said. He looked down at his screen and frowned. “It’s practice.”

“Uh-Huh.” Renee pulled out her phone and started a new game.

Dan shook his head and reached for his coffee.

“Did you get a rejection?”

He sighed. “You are way too observant for my own good.”

“Every writer gets them. You said so yourself.”

Dan nodded and tightened his mouth into a thin frown. “Thanks for the thought but it isn’t much help right now.” He wiggled his fingers above the keys before pushing away and standing. He grabbed his cup and headed for a refill.

“You’ll find a publisher,” she said. “I have faith in you.”

He smiled at his cup as he filled it with coffee. “Thanks.”

Dan stood facing the coffee pot and closed his eyes, squeezing them tight while clenching his teeth. There were so many writers trying to make a name. He followed about six hundred of them on the internet. He cheered and jeered to help celebrate and console but he was getting discouraged.

He wanted them to celebrate for him. It felt like it should be his turn.

***

Marcus watched the tip of the arrow waver as tremors ran down his arm. Months of training came down to this. A bright red spot the size of a plate beckoned to him from the far side of the field.

Hector had already made his shot, flying wide of the mark so that his arrow stuck out of the fence behind the target like a spindly arm. Now he stood off to the right, flexing his fingers to try and relax the muscles in his hand.

“You may not fire until the order is given,” the sergeant had bellowed after Rolph had simply drawn and released his shot. Of course his aim had been true. His yellow fletched shaft had split the first shot the sergeant had placed in the bulls-eye. “If you would be members of his majesty’s corps, then you must prove your ability to do the job AND follow orders.”

Marcus could feel sweat sliding down his forehead. Muscles in his back began to strain and twitch, screaming for him to release. The waiting was maddening. Every muscle begged him to shoot, while his mind filled with doubts of his ability to hit the mark.

“I will miss this,” he whispered. “I am shaking too much to hit anything, much less that tiny spot.”

“Steady,” the sergeant said. He walked closer to Marcus, standing just behind him and dropping his voice below his usual roar. “Steady boy. You can do this.”

Marcus wondered if the sergeant had heard his words of doubt. He blinked his eyes to try and clear the stinging sweat away. It didn’t work, so he squeezed them tight and tilted his head to try and wipe his face against his shoulder.

“Fire!”

Marcus’s head snapped up and his fingers relaxed. The string leapt forward, hurling the shaft into the air before he had refocused on the target.

The arrow went wide. The sharp steel point missed both the target and the bales of straw that it was pinned to. The thin rod went between the boards of the fence and struck a rock almost fifteen feet beyond. His dark green fletching cartwheeled through the air before disappearing in the short grass.

Rolph snorted. Marcus looked to the side in time to see both of his fellow recruits drop their eyes to the ground.

“While I must admit that you are the only one to correctly fire on command. I am finding it hard to congratulate you after a shot that missed not only the mark but the backstop completely.”

Marcus felt heat rise up in his face as the sergeant’s voice fanned the flame of his shame.

“I was tasked to find a suitable candidate but I see that I will instead be forced to admit my own defeat.” The sergeant stepped between Marcus and the target, turning so that he faced all three of the potential recruits. “You are not ready to be released upon the world. You are not even ready to be called archers.”

Rolph bristled at this comment. The huff of his breath drew the eyes of the sergeant. “What makes me want to shit kittens is that I must still select one of you.”

Three sets of eyes widened.

“I need to have enough to fill the roster,” he said. “I might not be happy with your performance, but I have my orders.” The sergeant’s mustache bristled as if it had a life of its own when he spat out the name, “Rolph.”

Rolph left with his mouth twisted into a sneer. He had been a cocky bastard for as long as Marcus had been a recruit. He had been a recruit for twice as long as he should have been and the general rumor was that the sergeant was trying to teach him some discipline. As far as Marcus could tell, sending him up despite his ignoring orders meant that rumor wasn’t true.

Once Rolph was out of earshot, the sergeant turned to Marcus and Hector. “You both show promise, but you are not ready yet. You need more practice and training. Work hard and hone your skills. You …”

***

Dan frowned at his laptop before using the mouse to highlight the last two pages. He reached forward, hand hovering over the delete key before letting out a sigh of disgust and putting his hand back down on the table.

He tipped his head back, draining his coffee, before scowling at the computer again while re-reading the highlighted text. “Not good enough,” he mumbled, hitting delete.

He tried twice more to write out the scene before growling and tabbing over to his email. It had been less than an hour since he had checked it and there was nothing new, so he looked at the top of the list. He knew what it said, but couldn’t help himself as he opened it again.

Dear Mr. Schmidt

Thanks so much for submitting, and for your patience while
we evaluated your story. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that it
isn’t quite right for us. I wish you the best of luck placing it
elsewhere.

Please send us more of your stories in the future.

Best,

He read and re-read the rejection. He tried to find any shred of extra information that could be hidden in the choice of words or the grammar. There was almost never any information to explain why a story was rejected, but Dan still tried to pull out any scrap to try and improve his writing.

This wasn’t a query letter where it might have been his choice of words that turned off the editor. He had submitted the story through a submission form so there was no contact between him and the reader. His story had failed to hit the mark, just like the arrow he had been writing about.

“They don’t tell you much when they say ‘No’, do they?”

Dan jumped and turned.  “Why do you keep sneaking up on me? You’re going to give me a heart attack.”

“I won’t give you a heart attack until you up your insurance.” She smiled a half grin and arched one eyebrow. “You don’t pay enough attention to what is going on around you.”

Dan snorted and turned back to his computer. “You’re just being sneaky and trying to scare me.”

Dan shook his head when something dropped down on top of his keyboard. He spread it out, opening his mouth to ask what this was, but stopped.

He was holding his wife’s underwear. White lace wrapped each thumb and he was smiling as he turned back around to face her. “Ya know,” he said as he stood and stepped toward her. “I think you might be right about me not paying enough attention.”

“Oh really?” She wrapped her arms around his neck and lifted up onto her toes to kiss him. When they broke, both of them were wearing wicked looking smiles.

“Really,” Dan said.

“You sure you can spare an hour from your busy schedule for your poor, lonely wife?”

“Always,” he said before kissing her again. They held each other, hands beginning to roam when the computer beeped to say that another e-mail had come in. Renee stopped and loosened her arms from around him.

“You want to see what that is?”

Dan smiled at her and shook his head. “No. It’s probably another rejection.”

“I bet it isn’t.”

“What do you bet?”

Renee looked up at him and batted her eyes. “How about if that’s another ‘No’ then I promise to say nothing but ‘Yes’ for the rest of the day?”

They checked together and Renee frowned, “I am so going to regret this.”

Dan rubbed his hands together like some kind of evil overlord. “Best rejection ever.”

***

When Josh opened his eyes, he was looking at an upside down picture of a robot from his favorite manga. There were blast marks on its armor and one of the arms was out of line because of a ripple in the picture. He blinked a few times, wondering why the robot was upside down in front of him before trying to move his head.

The robot moved away from him before it started to spin. He felt his stomach clench and then he tasted the burning vomit in the back of his throat. He fought to keep from puking by closing his eyes and taking long, deep breaths through his nose. After a few seconds, Josh opened his eyes again.

He opened and closed them a few more times as waves of nausea rolled over him like clouds over a wheat field. Each time he kept his eyes open a little longer and each time his mind focused a little more.

The robot was on his shirt. It was his favorite and he had put it on that morning before heading in to the office. Josh couldn’t remember getting to the office though. He tried to shift in the chair, but couldn’t

“Oh I see that you are awake now. Was it a good nap?”

The voice was high pitched, like someone who had just taken a deep breath off of a helium balloon. It came from behind him but Josh couldn’t turn his head far enough to see the speaker. When he felt something brush his ear he tried whipping his head around, but only made his nausea worse and he was forced to fight his breakfast back down.

“Awww, you didn’t answer me. Now where have your manners gone?”

Josh closed his eyes and took a long breath which he held for a moment. There was something musky in the air, which meant that this was probably a man wearing cologne.

***

 Dan’s fingers hovered above the keyboard. They were moving in little circles so that it looked like he was miming people riding bicycles. As he stared at the screen, he realized that he could hear breathing behind him. He didn’t know how long his wife had been there, but at least this time he wouldn’t be surprised when she said something.

He kept the finger motion up, waiting on her, but when she remained quiet, he decided to keep working.

***

“Why am I here,” Josh asked.

“You are here to be taught a lesson.” The voice giggled at the last word, sounding like a puppet on a child’s cartoon. “You are going to learn how important it is to be nice to people.”

“I’m always nice.”

Josh’s head rocked forward when he was slapped. It wasn’t hard enough to knock him back out, but it did leave his head stinging.

The voice was still squeaky; it still sounded like a make believe character, but this time it was right behind his head, screaming. “It’s your job to hurt people you lying sack of shit.”

“It is not.”

The only warning Josh got was a flash out of the corner of his eye. A small kitchen knife with an orange plastic handle flashed in the light before diving through the back of his hand. Josh gasped when the blade went in and screamed when it twisted clockwise.

“That is how I felt when you rejected me.” The voice was quieter, just a little louder than a whisper. It sounded like a child instead of a toy.

Josh was panting as he pulled against the belts. He caused the knife to wiggle and screamed again. Then a third time when the person stepped up beside him and pulled the blade out.

“You spend your days passing judgment on the quality of the dreams of others.” His captor stepped behind him.

Josh was blubbering and whimpering so much that he almost missed the squeaking.

***

Dan lifted his hand and rubbed his upper lip. The story was slow in coming. He was deleting and back spacing every few key strokes as he tried to vent his anger to the computer. He had bit down on his own knuckle when he received a reply from one of the top paying magazines in the science fiction industry. The subject line had been nothing special, but the preview in his browser looked so good.

“I want to thank you for submitting your story to our publication. I enjoyed reading it and thought it was compelling.”

The words had seemed like the beginning of his biggest sale, but when he opened the mail, it had been another rejection.

Dan hadn’t told Renee about it. He had read and re-read the message; stopping once to wipe at his eyes. It had been months since he had managed to place a story. When he had worked a full time job, the time between rejections and acceptances didn’t matter. Now, he was trying to live his dream and writing was his only income.

Now, every rejection mattered.

He heard a rapid tapping noise, but it took a moment before he realized that it was coming from his hands shaking above the keyboard. He took a deep breath, forced his fingers to flatten out until they stopped their impromptu dance number, and then started typing again.

Dan typed a few words and deleted them again. He repeated this pattern a couple of times before he heard Renee’s heel click as she backed out of the room.

***

The squeaking was driving him insane. Josh’s captor said nothing, moving slowly until the cart was right in front of him.

The cart was as cliché as it could possibly be. The surface was covered with a dark towel that had all sorts of things laid out in neat rows. Josh could see needles, a hammer and many knives. There were two saws, one small and one large, plus a couple of pairs of pliers and a battery powered drill. The only item that stood out as unusual was the bowl of lemons.

“Lemons?” The masked figure turned around so that Josh could see the eyes through the slits. “I know who you are,” Josh said, tilting his head to the side. “You submitted a story to the magazine. It was torture porn where they squirted lemon juice into the victim’s eyes.”

The masked person straightened up, stood very still for a moment, and then chuckled. It might have been a real laugh or just a theatrical performance, but with the squeaky voice changer, it sounded like a cartoon mouse. Josh couldn’t help himself, he began laughing too. “You’re mad at me because I sent you a rejection?”

“Of course. Who wouldn’t be mad? You even took the time to send back criticism.”

“Most writers would kill for some feedback,” Josh said.

“Funny, that is exactly what I plan to do.”

Josh gasped, trying to move backwards as a melon baller started getting close to his eye.

***

 “Don’t you think you are taking that a little too far?”

Dan frowned as he glanced over his shoulder. Renee was standing in the doorway, arms crossed. He didn’t stop typing until the writer was about to saw the editor’s feet off at the ankle, but he did stop smiling at the computer.

“Honey, you know this is just a dry spell, right?”

Dan made a loud, disgusted sound before spinning around in his chair to look his wife in the face. He rocked the chair back and put his hands behind his head. “Considering that we are not rolling in the book and movie money I think the dry spell is pretty serious.”

“Serious enough to plot out the torture and death of an editor?” Renee shifted to the other side of the doorway.

“I bet a lot of writers have done this.”

“I bet you’re right.”

Dan furrowed his brow and frowned. “Then why are you mentioning it?”

“Because,” Renee stepped away from the door and sat on Dan’s lap. “While you need to get this stuff off your chest, you are writing about it rather than finishing another book.”

“I need to write and practice.”

“Yes, but do you think you are getting much practice writing this?”

“A writer has to practice. They have to work through a slump by sticking to the B.I.C.H.O.K method.”

Renee gave him a look that reminded him of the confused dog that looked at the record player in old commercials. “Bichok?”

“Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. You get better at writing by writing.”

“But not all practice is productive.”

Dan rocked his head backward, shifting his weight and over-balancing the chair. Renee let out a high pitched yelp as they crashed to the floor. Dan’s breath was knocked out but he still wrapped his arms around his wife to try and protect her.

“Are you all right,” they asked together.

Dan lowered his head back against the floor and groaned. Renee rolled off of him and sat up on the floor.

“See,” she said when Dan glared up at her out of one eye. “Even your chair thinks you need to get away from that story.”

Dan closed his eye.

“Honey, I have faith in you. You are going to be great. It just takes time. Remember, I believe in you.” She leaned down, kissed the tip of is nose, and then stood up.

Dan smiled at her and nodded before standing up and watching her walk out of the room. “Time to start something new,” he said.

***

“I can’t believe it,” Martin said as he looked across the plains. “It’s over.”

The old wizard sat propped against the stone that he had used for an altar. The valley below him was so quiet that he could hear the dripping of the monster’s blood from where it lay beside him.

Martin closed his eyes, allowing his mind to wander over memories from before the war. He could see Taern bathing in the stream. He could almost smell Old Aaron’s biscuits as they sat cooling beside the window.

A single tear left his eye as he thought back to the soft breathing of his son when the baby would sleep in his arms.

The crunch of boots told him that at least some of the others had survived. He grinned out of the side of his mouth, happy in the knowledge that there would be a future.

“Martin!”

“I am here, Fren,” he said, speaking softly, knowing that if he yelled, it would hurt. “I am still here.”

“By the nine gods you did it you scrawny …” Fren stopped when he came around the stone. “Martin?”

“I did it Fren. I was able to put it down.”

“But at what cost?”

Martin looked up at Fren with a lopsided grin. “I paid no cost. Now, I get to see my family again.”

The hulking man moved closer, taking careful steps to avoid walking on the pieces of Martin that were still attached. He squatted beside him and offered his flask. “I am thinking I will miss you but I am also thinking that you are happy to go.”

Martin nodded after a drink of the burning liquor. “I will miss you friend, but it is done and I want to hold my son.”

Fren rested his heavy hand on Martin’s shoulder. “May the gods grant you peace, you have earned it.”

“We won.” Martin’s words were soft, and his head lowered until his chin was resting on his motionless chest.

Fren shook his head. “No wizard,” he said as he stood back up. “You won.”

***

Renee let out a loud whooping noise that made Dan jump up from his chair. She flung herself at him and wrapped him in a rib crunching hug before stepping away. “You got an acceptance!”

“And good morning to you too.”

Her eyes seemed to sparkle as she danced in a circle around him. “Which one?”

“The one I just wrote. How did you know I got an acceptance?”

Renee smiled, dazzling him with a look that reminded him of watching the sunrise. “You are writing something positive. Every time you get a rejection, you write something more horrible. I didn’t know you finished a new story?”

“Yeah,” he said as he looked away. Dan could feel the heat rising up in his cheeks. “I tried writing something different.”

“That’s great.”

He was swept into her good mood and babbled to his wife about the company and the contract while Renee made breakfast.

She took the pan off of the heat, turned to face him and put her hands on the island, waiting for a second before drumming on the counter and saying, “That’s all great but I want you to tell me about the story.”

“It won’t be part of an anthology with other peoples work. This one will be all mine.”

“That is awesome but what was the story about?”

Dan lowered his eyes.

“What did you write?”

“I wrote a story about an editor who discovers a secret code being passed between one of his foreign slush readers and a terrorist spy. The man would submit stories with specific words and errors in them; then his accomplice would post them onto the magazine website to get the message to the rest of their group. The problem was that the editor rejected one of them and took it down.”

“Why are you acting weird? It sounds great compared to the one where you were torturing the editor.”

Dan sighed. “Because I wrote a lot of sex into it.”

“Oh.” Renee twisted her mouth to the side and then shrugged. “So?”

“Well, I’m a little worried you might be embarrassed.”

She looked at him with an expression that mixed exasperation and astonishment before breaking into a fit of giggles. “You’re worried about embarrassing me?”

Dan’s voice got smaller. “Yeah, a little.”

Renee shook her head as she walked around the island to wrap her arms around her husband. “I think I can handle it.” She pulled him down and kissed him. “Congratulations. I knew you could do it.”

Dan took a deep breath and held it for a second. “I don’t know what I would do if it wasn’t for you.”

“Don’t try to find out. I know about your fear of lemon juice.”

Dan laughed and squeezed her tight. “Deal.”

“Now then,” she said as she took his hand and headed towards his desk. “I want to read this story so I can select which scene we will act out to celebrate your contract.”

Dan smiled and let the only person whose opinion really mattered lead him back to the first e-mail in a long time that made him feel like a real author.

END

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