I entered two stories in a writing contest last fall through Stone Thread Publishing. I missed the cut but apparently made the semi finals. Harvey Stanbrough, the owner of Stone Thread, provided a brief critique: both stories were entertaining but lacked conflict. I hope he was right about the former and I know he was right about the latter.
Conflict has never been a part of my life and I have difficulty wrapping my head around the concept. Even as a Marine, including a year of combat, I avoided conflict. I tend to be soft-spoken and calm, which may partially explain my personal lack of conflict.
My writing style tends to be humorous and wholesome, more suitable for Reader’s Digest or Saturday Evening Post than “cutting edge” magazines. The majority of my writing is suitable for young readers. Morality and ethical behavior, missing from most current media, is often the focus of my stories.
The following story is fairly typical of my writing but also includes conflict.
If you enjoy my writing, please let me know.
Skinnin’ The Cat
Ira Williams rolled his wheelchair across the porch and down the ramp he and his son had built ten years before. A two-gallon bucket swung from the hook between what remained of his legs as he rolled along the walk to the short hedge along the front sidewalk. He set the brake, relocated the bucket to the ground, and grasped the mailbox post to lower himself to the lawn. He wiggled his butt around to get comfortable on the grass and began to weed the planter.
The house, with a recent coat of white paint and light blue trim, was one of three on the street that was still maintained. Ira had grown up in the house and had moved back to care for his mother after his father and his own wife passed away within a year of each other. He was proud of his yard and spent many hours each week weeding, pruning, raking, and fertilizing. Since he couldn’t figure out how to operate a mower while confined to the wheelchair and the yard was too small to warrant a tractor, he hired a local lad to mow once a week.
Two other houses were owned by long-time residents who took pride in their homes. The rest of the houses on the street were rented and the quality of tenants had declined over the past few years as the drug culture had moved into the area. Front yards had evolved into trash filled, dirt parking areas for mostly non-running vehicles.
Quiet, muffled voices were audible from across the waist-high hedge. He recognized both voices: One was Slick, the neighborhood pusher, and the other was Stick, his supplier. Slick was a good looking, nineteen-year-old who had his hair cut in a salon and was always sharply dressed. Stick was tall and thin with a pockmarked face that seemed to perpetually have a two-day growth of splotchy whiskers.
Ira worked along the hedge, tossing weeds in the bucket and smoothing the soil with a hand rake. He reached the end of the hedge, tossed his tools into the bucket, and began to scoot across the lawn. He had moved only a few feet when a voice above him yelled, “What the hell you doin’ spying on me!” It wasn’t a question. Ira looked up to see Stick, holding a Glock, glaring at him.
“Wasn’t spyin.’ Just pullin’ weeds.”
Slick walked through the gate and approached Ira. Stick followed almost immediately. They stood above Ira and glared down at him for a full minute. Ira looked back with his face exhibiting a neutral expression.
Stick, the older of the pair, finally spoke. “We can’t have people spying on us.” That was emphasized by a brutal kick to Ira’s spine.
Ira figured more would be coming and rolled into a fetal position with his head covered by his arms. He lost count after eleven kicks to nearly every part of his body. The majority of kicks were to his back where Stick was standing although several came from Slick to his front. Luckily, both punks were wearing athletic shoes instead of boots. Something fell into the angle of his body and down to the grass.
Stick moved to Ira’s front. “Leave us alone, man. Next time’ll be worse.” Slick aimed one last kick at Ira’s head and followed Stick out of the yard. Stick turned the wheelchair over as he walked by it.
Ira slowly unfolded his body, checking for any broken bones or serious injuries. He was sore in many places but otherwise unhurt although he had some trouble breathing. He rolled onto his back and checked his ribs. Doesn’t feel like anything’s broken. Probably just bruised. He saw a cell phone in the grass. Must be Slick’s.
“Mr. Williams, you okay?” Bobby Kemp, the boy who mowed the lawn and did a few other chores around the house, was looking over the hedge.
“I think I’ll be fine after I catch my breath. Come on and give me a hand. Bring my chair over.”
Bobby righted the chair, released the brakes, and rolled it over to Ira. He held out his forearm for Ira to grasp and helped pull the older man upright so Ira could slide into the chair. Bobby picked up the bucket and tools and carried them to the porch. Ira rolled to the sidewalk and up the ramp.
After he developed diabetes and lost a lower leg, he had to end his service in the Army three years short of what he had planned as a 30-year career. He declined the use of prosthetics since he rightly figured he would lose the other leg within a few years. A few years after the second leg was removed below the knee, both legs had to be amputated above the knees. He had been using his chair for years and had developed an upper body and arms that were the envy of many weight lifters.
“Thanks, Bob. Come on in for glass of iced tea.” Ira wheeled through the door and into the kitchen. Bobby sat at the kitchen table while Ira poured two glasses of tea and sat across from him.
“Thanks, Mr. Williams. Say, what’s this insignia here?”
“That, my friend, is jump wings, awarded to any soldier dumb enough to willingly jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”
“You were a paratrooper?”
“I was. Served with Army airborne units for 25 years.”
“What’s it like in the Army?”
“Well, son, that’ll take some time to explain. Hang on a minute.” Ira rolled into his bedroom and came back with an old towel, a revolver, and cleaning kit in his lap. He pulled a semi-automatic pistol from a pouch in his chair. He spread the towel on the table and unloaded and field stripped the pistol while he began to tell Bobby about life in the Army. By the time he finished, both weapons were cleaned and reloaded.
“My momma always told me there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
He retrieved Slick’s cell phone from the table and searched the contacts list until he found Stick’s number and hit send. When the phone was answered he disguised his voice. “Slick got busted an’ he’s rollin’ over on you.” He closed the phone and smiled.
“Why did you do that?”
“We had a saying in the Army that payback’s a bitch. Slick is about to find that out.”
Fifteen minutes later, while Ira was refilling their glasses, the sound of gunfire came through the window. “Sounds like a nine millimeter. I lost track of the rounds fired but it was at least ten. About a block away, must be in front of Slick’s place.”
They sat in silence for two more minutes. “Well, Bob, I hate to ask this of you, but I think the danger is over. Would you mind riding your bike down there and see who got killed?”
Bobby ran out of the house and jumped on his bike. He was back in less than ten minutes and was panting a little when he entered the house. “It was Slick got shot. He’s dead. Right in his driveway. That was cool, Mister Williams, what you did and the way you did it.”
“You’ll learn, Bobby, to hold your temper and your emotions so you can deal with things in a detached manner. Those people in the drug trade are brutal and they kill people. That’s what they deserve.” Ira picked up Slick’s cell phone. “Do you know who supplies Stick?”
“Word on the street is it’s Hawk.”
“That’s what I heard, too.” Ira scrolled through the display until he found Hawk and hit send. Again he disguised his voice. “Stick was busted and he’s rollin’ over on you.” He closed the phone. “I’ll toss this in the back of somebody’s truck after I wipe my prints from it. That should take care of our neighborhood problem. Ah, revenge is sweet.”
He slipped the pistol back into its hidey hole and wheeled around to return the revolver.
“Momma told me there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and Daddy taught me the ways.”