Clive Steps Outside

Clive Steps Outside

I’ve begun a writing project that I intend to use while taking writing classes. It’s a piece I can experiment on, something without a lot riding on it (unlike the Novel In Progress or other work). I got the idea from one of the lectures from Neil Gaiman on MasterClass. He was talking about how you could learn a lot about writing and about your own voice as a writer by mimicking others. A similar idea is is sometimes employed by beginning painters. I quickly had an idea modeled on a Gaiman favorite of mine: Neverwhere. I’ve always loved the story and his writing and love it all the more because of another lecture of his concerning this work. He said that he wrote it as a response to observing homeless people in London, and observing their relative invisibility to other, non-homeless, people. This got me thinking about the unhomed in Olympia and the way people either ignore/don’t see them, or vilify them beyond anything they are actually doing. And an idea was born: a speculative fiction story based in Downtown Olympia, borrowing some ideas from Neil’s Neverwhere as a vehicle for exploring the concepts and techniques I’m learning in his class, as well as Atwood’s Masterclass and an editing workshop run by my friend Grace Campbell.

Plus, it sounded like fun. And honestly, writing hasn’t been fun lately, it’s felt like work (yes, it has to be work sometimes, I know, but if it’s not fun work, it’s not going to go nearly as well). So this little story is born out of a desire to have fun and have a low-risk place to try things out.

I’m going to share it in progress, with changes and edits as I go. Here’s version one, the first draft. As Terry Pratchett said, The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. I share it here with minimal editing.

Clive Steps Outside

Clive stepped out the back door into the bright sunlight and confusion.  It was Monday, and he was leaving work earlier than usual. His thoughts whirled and stuttered as his mind attempted to piece together what had just happened. The sunlight startled and vexed him. Why should it be bright and sunny after what had just happened to me? He could hear someone nearby whistling a jaunty tune and his expression darkened.  Just what I need, he thought, some cheerful asshole who thinks life is awesome.

The whistling was growing closer, accompanied by the sound of windchimes and something like a breeze blowing across the openings of many beer bottles.  Clive whirled around, ready to hate whoever was making the awful racket, and stopped mid-snarl. He gawked at the improbable sight. An old man, old like his grandfather who was ancient with skin the color of dirty buckskin and a beard and hair of grey-shot white sticking out at all angles was riding a bike toward him, along the backside of the building. Behind the bike was a cart with an impossibly high stack of objects – boxes, bags, baskets, a cluster of what looked like bike parts without discernible containment.  

Clive’s eyes tracked the cart’s contents upward, farther and farther.  Far above 8 feet, maybe 15, a whole building’s story high. Three-quarters of the way up, his eyes goggled at a rainbow umbrella, fully opened, balancing by it’s handle on the objects below, with additional burdens balanced atop it.

The younger man’s heart was pounding and he felt light headed.  The feeling that he had just, abruptly, lost his marbles was not eased by the old man’s maniacal laughter and the way the cart’s contents lurched and leaned but never fell.  No way, he thought, this is nuts, I’m going nuts. This can’t be happening.

“Yes, Clive, quite out of mind, isn’t it?”

Clive’s vision narrowed to a small bright circle and his heart lurched painfully before playing freeze tag in his chest.  He gasped for breath as his vision failed completely. I can’t die of a heart attack and go insane in the same instant! I’m too young, I’m not unhealthy, WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME!  It occurred to him a moment later that he was still thinking, and still standing, and now breathing again, and hearing his heart lub-lub in his chest and now opening his eyes.

The vision of the old man and his teetering load were gone.  The sun was still brazenly insistent, but he had not died and apparently had not gone insane either.  He laughed with relief. And then he heard an answering laugh, accompanied by a sound like windchimes and a breeze blowing across a multitude of beer bottle openings.

Clive whirled around, toward the sound, eyes wide.  There was the old man, gray and white hair sticking out at all angles, riding a bike away from him, a small cart with a not improbably heap of objects piled into it. Some bike wheels, boxes and baskets. A rainbow umbrella was closed and tucked neatly into one corner.  The younger man watched until he wheeled out of sight, occasionally chortling, or guffawing.

Clive walked as if in a trance toward his car and wondered if he’d ever had a day with as many unforeseeable twists and turns as this particular Monday.


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