The Bottom of the Sky (Uno)

London is calling! Great news from England. My trilogy, “The Bottom of the Sky”, will be published in Fiction on the Web. Editor Charlie Fish read the three-part short story at my request to critique and assess. Normally, FotW does not run stories longer than two or three thousand words, but Charlie has begun to consider lengthier pieces.

“I’ve increasingly been publishing longer pieces (to the considerable detriment of my time, but mostly totally worth it), and this would just about fit into one release.”

– Writer, Editor, Screenwriter – Charlie Fish.

“The Bottom of the Sky” began as a single short story that was published by Rhubarb Magazine in Winnipeg. (Now sadly out of publication.) “A Fisherman’s Story” ran in issue 39, back in September 2016. My thanks to Editor Bernice Friesen who was kind enough to give me my first fiction opportunity in print. Ink!

It was exciting but the full story including the things that had happened to me, or those I had witnessed, the experiences that triggered the story in the first place, remained untold. So too, the many circumstances — both causal and consequential — that I imagined continued to nag at me.

I wrote “A Fisherman’s Story” in 2014. During January of 2017, I was inspired to complete the story. I wanted to write a prequel and a sequel. The first segment, the prequel, was completed that year: “Part 1 – The Mismaloya — Acapulco, 1955”

Part 1 introduces the chief characters, Avelino and Jose, cousins who are partners in a charter fishing boat in Acapulco. The cousins are from the tiny fishing village of Mismaloya, near Puerto Vallarta. A young boy, a pinche named Carlos, signs on as a crew member aboard the Mismaloya for a sailfin day trip.

A number of changes were made to the original story and it became, “Part 2 – The Fisherman’s Story — Mismaloya, 1975”. This account tells of Jose and his wife Violeta and their daughter Josefina. The viewpoint is that of Violeta and the reader also is introduced to Matthew, a Canadian Mennonite church volunteer living in the village. There to help build a school, Matthew meets Jose and the two become oddly-matched friends, fishing with handlines in the bay most evenings.

In “Part 3 – Avelino and Carlos — Acapulco, 1976”, Avelino engineers an unexpected reunion and the story concludes near where it began, on the Pacific shore overlooking the bottom of the sky.

All told, the trilogy involved over three years of writing, on and off, the support of freelance editor James McKnight (another Londoner), and the difficult but necessary learning curve provided by numerous litmag rejections. 🙂

Thanks to Charlie Fish, who is a charming and skilled literary friend with roots in NYC, Birmingham and London.

Charlie Fish wrote an award-winning short film that starred Richard E Grant, Warren Clarke, Emilia Fox and Celia Imrie. He hung out with the guy who wrote Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek. @fishcharlie

 

Charlie is the creator, editor and hard-working jackfish-of-all-trades for Fiction on the Web, the internet’s first online literary magazine. 

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This trilogy has attracted several comments about its suitability as a screenplay. 

Cinema ain’t my jam, but I admit that I had visual—and sometimes cinematic—scene-play in mind as I wrote.

So, if you know a screenwriter looking for an intense, visceral story that can be filmed in one location with a small cast – pass along the Fiction on the Web URL! (Sorry: no bloody chainsaws, no aliens, not a rom-com.)

You can read “The Bottom of the Sky” trilogy on October 22.

Check THIS out too, on Amazon UK-CA-US:

Hint: I’ve got a story in it!

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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Tafelberg

Last week, I included Chapter 1 of my W-I-P sci-fi thriller novella, “Tafelberg”.

Here is a chunk of Chapter 2 (1,151 words):                                                                                                

 

Excerpt Two from: Tafelberg

By Mitchell Toews

Chapter 2 – The Landing

 

The thing that brought us here in the first place was the combination of bad timing and proximity. When our Dash-8 lost an engine en route from Costa Rica we landed at the nearest possible airport – Hato in Curacao. We were fortunate, we thought, as our second engine sputtered and died ominously just after landing when the plane turned to taxi back to the terminal building.

As we walked across the silent, windswept tarmac in the setting sun, Willem and Jan came roaring across the runway, each in a matching, gleaming new Mercedes G-Class SUV with miniature Curacao flags snapping urgently on the front fenders. Their horns honked incessantly, like a presidential procession, as they sped towards us.

Our pilot and co-pilot were still in the plane – trying to determine the cause for the normally reliable Dash-8’s sudden drop out of the sky. They were about a 3/4 of a mile back from us.

Willem screeched up to us, shouting incoherently at us in Dutch and then German, then pidgin Papiamentu – demanding that we get in the lorries immediately. Jan, seeing the maple leaf t-shirts some of us wore, had called to us in English and French and we understood.

When we left Costa Rica, we knew that there had been some kind of disaster on Curacao, but for the most part, we had only seen stories about a multitude of US warships and UN troops surrounding massive tent camps that had been set up to quarantine evacuees on Aruba and Bonaire. It had furthermore become an international political incident when Dutch Navy vessels were not permitted entrance to Venezuelan ports, during the crisis. The whole situation was highly secretive and we only knew that the airport was closed – but we could not go anywhere else, so we had landed despite our misgivings and several terrifying full-burner fly-bys by US Navy fighter jets.

With the sun setting, we all shouted questions at Willem as he leaped out of one of the Mercedes and began grabbing us and pushing us inside, throwing our luggage aside. “Hou je bek dicht! Kijk uit je doppen, kakkerlak! Kakkerlak!”

We argued, some of the boys running to retrieve their bags. “No, no, no! Just get in! Vee having to go, NOW! The bugs are coming soon.” he screamed. He was unshaven and his eyes were bloodshot and his lips blistered. The boys looked to me and the other coach, Eddy.

“What about the pilots?” Eddy said, to me, and to Jan and Willem, who were tossing boxes out of the vehicles, to make room.

“Where?” Willem implored. Eddy pointed back to the Dash-8. Willem looked, then stared at his watch. “No time, no time,” he shouted. “Jan! U zeg!”

His friend, Jan, stared at the mangrove trees – strangely bare and brown – that fringed the runway. “Geen tijd! No time, guys, we gotta go now or we won’t make it back up da hill! No room either. They be OK in the airplane for night – let’s go tell’em!”

With that, Willem resumed physically pushing us into the trucks, urging us to throw out any cargo that prevented us from getting in. We left everything on the runway and filled the trucks to absolute capacity. “Windows shutting! Tight!” Willem yelled, then jumped in and floored the SUV, heading for the airplane where the two pilots were now walking swiftly towards us in the dying light.

“Hoe laat, hoe laat?” he shouted into a ship-to-shore handheld walkie-talkie. Jan’s voice came back, urgently, “Zeven!”

“Accchhh, shit!” Willem growled, slamming his hand on the dash. “Seven o’clock, seven o’clock!”

Then we saw it. As we rushed forward towards the plane, we saw some debris and dust come up from the mangrove forest near the two men. We could see the pilots, looking over their shoulders at the noise of it and then saw them pick up their pace, running earnestly with their arms pumping. They had reason to be afraid, even though the bugs were slower than them; they had outflanked the men and had a good interception angle on them.

Willem made sick, guttural sounds; they may have been words, I was not sure. I heard Jan honking his horn – a single long blast as he accelerated slightly, nosing ahead of us. I glanced at the speedometer, we were doing 140 KMPH. Just when we began to be able to see the men’s faces – sheer terror – Willem slammed on the brakes. The tires shrieked and we could smell the melting rubber in the cab. As he braked and we slid across the hot pavement, the host of giant beetles engulfed the running men. The two, their white shirts standing out in contrast, disappeared as in a wave, not 150 yards in front of us. The line of insects now piled up, pulsating and churning furiously on top of the point at which the men had been swallowed by the swarm.

We stared in disbelief. Then, all of us in our SUV saw at the same instant that Jan’s vehicle had kept going and was braking hard now, all four wheels locked and the big SUV slaloming from side to side as though the runway had been lathered with foam. It punched into the front edge of the quaking pile of bugs but they appeared unconcerned; if anything, mildly repulsed by the hot engine.

We held our breath and Jan blew the horn again. Then, miraculously and as if out of a dream, the Costa Rican co-pilot, Leonardo, stood up at the edge of the ghastly spectacle, a dozen or more of the huge bugs clinging to him. He shook himself violently, almost falling, and then stumbled like a zombie towards Jan’s Mercedes. The passenger window opened and our trainer, Teresa, reached out and pulled Leonardo’s head and shoulders into the truck. As she did so, Tyrus, one of our setters – an Olynyk from Winnipeg – leaned out from the rear window and began pulling and batting the squirming roaches off of Leonardo.

As all of this happened, Jan reversed the powerful vehicle, speeding back away from the throng that now moved hesitantly forward. Seeing this, Willem gunned our vehicle and drove directly into the gap between Jan and the wave of bugs. Ours was like a car speeding along the edge of the high-water mark on Long Beach on Vancouver Island, sending a plume of water – in this case, crushed giant cockroaches – spraying out from the tires.

We cheered as one when we saw Tyrus and Teresa clear the last of the bloody roaches from the co-pilot and he was hauled inside of the automobile. Our SUV followed, charging across the eerily empty runway in the gloaming light, leaving the bugs behind us.

“Which way?” squawked the radio as Jan called Willem, who knew the roads better.

<SNIP>

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

 

Tafelberg

With Halloween approaching – I can hear the leaves crunching as it gets nearer – here is an excerpt from a 17,000-word sci-fi novella I wrote last year. (There’s more, should that be required.)

The story, “Tafelberg”, is one that I tried to write, “in the genre”. Now, to me, that sounds very writerly, but I am not exactly sure what it means. What I want to say is that it is written in the kinda breathy, urgent style of a serialized story, one with cliff-hanger chapter endings and — if it were a TV show — lots of musical stings, right before commercial breaks. I read a lot of comic books when I was a kid and I tried to channel a little of that dramatic over-the-topness.

Aaaaand, Action!:

Part 1 – Battle Weary

It was almost dawn and I shuddered with exhaustion, laying the hot, heavy torch on the sandy ground at my feet. Climbing up the nearby beacon tower, I reached the observation point. From there, I could see to the base of the cuneate rock slide below our position on the peak of Tafelberg. After attacking with mortal consequence all through the night, our enemy would stop and simply – even meekly – descend, at sunrise.

Down into that decimated landscape is where the kakkerlaks retreated.

Only the spiniest, hardiest flora remained – the omnivorous beetles had devoured everything else. Scant shade remained for their daylight retreat. By now all the plants that were left were inedible. Dry and spiked; impossible to chew even for these plate-sized eating machines that – like their plant kingdom counterparts in this arid place – wore their skeletons on the outside of their bodies. The remaining cacti – big Kadushi and Yatus, as well as smaller Pear cacti and Turk’s Cap stood defiantly on the rock strewn slope. Scraggly, leafless Acacia trees cowered dutifully, facing ever westward. They dotted the lower elevations as did partially eaten Aloe Vera plants. The largest, fleshy spears of Aloe were turning red-brown in the sun; the remnants looking like they had been attacked by a school of piranha.

If they make one more run for us this morning, we will make it, I thought.

My shoulders hurt. The rotator cuffs – ruined long ago – now seemed to enjoy the pain they inflicted; burning like embers in a dying fire. How did a Canadian club volleyball team on a winter junket to Costa Rica get involved in this supernatural, international catastrophe? 

I switched gears; thinking not of larger whys and what ifs, but concentrating rather on the immediate and the dire.

We have enough homemade napalm left and the ignition torches are fully charged. If they surge again, we’ll burn them back and then the sun will come out fully and they can go and do whatever it is they do during the day. 

I listened intently, my head to one side, but could hear no rustle. I could not hear the characteristic whisking sound – like plastic on plastic – of the roaches as they rose up, millions strong, along the side of the mountain, walking on the backs of the multitude above them. Climbing, ever climbing they came – a single-minded horde of limitless number.

“Matt!” I heard Willem shout from the next post, to the east. I climbed down, labouring a bit. I could smell the kerosene smoke on the wind as his blow torch smoldered, burning precious fuel greedily. “Dey are going down,” the thickset Dutchman said as he walked towards me. “There is a huge pile of dem on a flat spot just below Jan’s position upwind. Dey are piled up and eating something and dere’s a group – maybe thirty – iggies close to them, hissing like fury.” He stopped talking as he reached my post.

Leguaan, I thought, pronouncing it mentally in the slurring, luxurious Dutch fashion. I had learned more Dutch – curse words in particular – than I thought I ever would. Papiamentu too, and in just 15 days.

These island iguanas were tough buggers alright, no matter what you called them. The cockroaches left them alone and lately we had noticed the lizards actually killing and eating some of the giant insects. Big iguana adults – there were quite a few five-footers around now, which is something you rarely saw before the mutation – would whip their tails furiously into a swarm of bugs, killing a few. Then  a company of smaller iguanas would run in – comically bow-legged and bright-eyed – and retrieve the carcasses. There were precious few leaves left on the trees – the voracious roaches consumed those – and so the iggies were evolving; reverting to their carnivore roots. Like us, I hoped – that we few humans left on the island of Curacao, le humain, could evolve and remain on top of the food chain. I did not like our odds – they were unspeakably bad in terms of numbers – but I did like mankind’s track record. We’re good at war – even we Mennonites, if we are forced.

We are making a new language, I thought. Tafelgesprek: Dutch, English, French, Spanish, Papiamentu and German. And, before the internet died, the language of knowledge, as we frantically researched what these enormous insects were; how we might fight them; where to find our resources and how to build our weapons.

“May I tell the boys to shut down and getting some sleep before it is too hot?” Willem asked.

“Yeah. Schlope tiet (sleep time) I offered, in Plautdietsch. “They should eat and drink first, sleep until ten and then we should be able to drive down to scavenge some avgas, kerosene and water.” I replied.

It was interesting to me; Willem – a Dutch expat – could sometimes comprehend my lousy low German. My Mom would be proud. Likewise, a few Dutch phrases: Pas Op! dicht bei; g`n dach; resonated to me.

Jan, the crew chief from the next post, was coming up to us. “Is there cold beer for breakfast?” he called, his boots kicking up yellow dust as he came towards us. Another person, a slender black teenager, jogged towards us, his low-slung camo pants exposing a swath of bright green underwear.

“Hey, ti gason! (‘little boy’ in Papiamentu)” Jan called to the thin boy, “if I had SNOT green underwear, I would not show it off.”

The boy, Boosty, grinned and shook his head. “We are all out of bug sludge, but there were hardly any big ones on our side, since midnight really. Mostly just the smaller, light brown ones. I don’t think they like all the gravel over dat way – they seem to get coated with dat yellow dust and it irridates them or somethin.” He was a local boy and spoke Papiamentu, Dutch and English perfectly (almost), as well as lots of French and a little German.

“It’s true,” Willem said, his big voice bouncing off the rock wall behind me. “Dey hate da mine dust over on dat side. Dig themselves out and wriggle (he grinned – proud of the English word) and shake dey big wings and they, well they clean each utter off.”

We stared at him, blank looks on our faces. Insects that groomed one another. Every day was a new series of revelations and astounding, incomprehensible conclusions.

What’s in the mine dust that bothers them? I wondered.

~ ~ ~

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016