An Escape . . . and a Confrontation

It’s unavoidable, really, and it’s a question that needs to be asked of anyone who spends a good deal of his or her time creating stories out of the ether, as it were, searching for ideas that resonate and entertain, ideas that will take readers by the hand and lead them to high, rocky promontories overlooking new and exotic lands.

promontory

 

What is storytelling?  What does it represent?  Why do we write?  Is creative storytelling, particularly speculative fiction, nothing more than an escape, an imaginative flight of fancy that takes writers and readers far away from the world they inhabit?

flightoffancy

 

On one level, perhaps.  After all, what author can deny the heady thrill of the first-draft rush, when words spill out like lava, flowing, steaming, too hot to touch?  Or the excitement of vicariously living through characters that seem so real, so vivid, we talk to them out loud as we wash the dishes or drive along a lonely stretch of country road on a blue-skied day, the windows rolled down?  Or the fascination of building a world, of crafting, brick by literary brick, the cities, towns, inhabitants, monsters, laws, and social customs of places thousands of light-years, or millennia, from our own earth? And what reader, what lover of the imaginative places, asking the questions of “What if?” and “Why not?” can deny the enjoyment of devouring words on the page (or the e-reader screen, as the case may be!), getting lost in the story, being swept away by the scope and wonder of the events?

getlostinstory

 

An escape?  A journey to a distant land, far beyond the sight line of our everyday existence?  Indeed.  Storytelling is that.

But it’s other things, too.

****************

When I was a boy, I used to love to explore the pond that lay, like a magnet attracting my attention, several hundred yards behind the high school where my older brothers and sister attended, and where I myself would one day attend.   And on a pleasant, sunny, warm early October afternoon when I was seven years old, I asked my friend Matt to come along and see if we could find any toads or carp or perhaps, if we were really lucky, some salamanders frolicking in the shallows.

salamander

 

It was a Saturday, and my brother, who played fullback for the varsity football team, was out on the field, leading his team to victory.  But I didn’t care about any of that.  The sun was shining.  I was bored.  I wanted to do something.  So I asked my parents if Matt and I could head over to the pond.  “Sure,” they said.  “But be careful.  And don’t be long.”  I assured them we wouldn’t be.  After all, what could go wrong?  The pond wasn’t far away, and it wasn’t like we planned to swim in it.  We’d just stroll along the dirt path that wound its way behind the pond and around to the other side.

pond

 

I was so familiar with the path, having explored it dozens of times before with my father, I could have navigated it blindfolded.  Matt and I walked slowly, looking this way and that, not wanting to miss anything good.  Lily pads formed green oases in the water and cattails grew luxuriously by the pond’s edge, as the dirt path circled back, behind the pond, shrouded by poplars and maples, the leaves just beginning to turn gold and crimson and burnt orange, readying themselves for the autumn color show to come.  The hum of insects filled the air, and we spied a dragonfly zigzagging its way inches above the surface of the pond.

dragonfly

 

Back here, behind the pond, there was a chain-link fence to our right.  Beyond it lay the backyards of neighborhood homes, incongruous against the wild growth that flanked the path.  Normally I paid no notice to the homes.  They were a distraction, a sign of civilization I didn’t want to acknowledge.  I preferred to believe I was exploring uncharted territory in the rain forests or jungles, cutting through thick undergrowth, on the lookout for exotic new species of flora or fauna.  The neighborhood homes had no place in these imaginary expeditions of mine.

jungles

 

But on that day, that brilliant early October day of my childhood, there was no way to ignore them.

“Hey, kids,” a voice suddenly rang out.  Matt and I turned around.  On the other side of the fence, his long brown hair stringy, unwashed, a smiling teenager stood.  “What’cha doin’?”

chainlinkfence

 

It was hard to focus on his words.  My attention was locked on the shotgun he held, cradling it with both hands.  I looked at Matt.  His eyes were wide, glued to the gun.

“So here’s the deal,” the teenager said.  For all I knew, he was a student at the high school, maybe someone my brother knew.  Maybe he shared homeroom or study hall or trigonometry with him.  Maybe they talked, hung out in the halls.

None of that mattered now.  All that mattered were the words he said next:  “I’m gonna count to seven.  Not ten or fifteen or twenty.  Seven.”  He raised the shotgun, ever so slightly.  “And when I get to seven, you two better be gone.  ‘Cause if you’re not, I’m gonna blow your heads off.”  He smiled, pointed an index finger at us, and pretend-shot us with it.  “Got it?”

For a moment, I just stood there, unreality washing over me like a poisonous waterfall.  How could this be happening?

isonwaterfall

 

“One,” the teenager with the stringy hair said, and Matt took off, not waiting for him to count to two, running down the path, in the direction of the football field, which was hidden from view behind the leaves and tangles of plants and trees.  I still stood there, stunned.  I looked at the gun, aimed now, right at my head.  Peering through the opening, into the barrel of the shotgun, all I could see was black.

shotgunbarrel

 

“Two,” he said.  That did it.  I turned around and ran; I ran so fast I was sure I’d trip and fall.  I caught up to Matt, and we ran together, all the way back to the bleachers, where my parents sat and clapped, and where things seemed normal again.

bleachers

 

I never told them, or anyone, about that day.  It was something better left forgotten.

****************

But we never really forget, do we?  Not really.

Near the end of The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant and Marc Kuslanski are held at gunpoint.  Mitchell, at one juncture, looks at the barrel of the shotgun, its “black, empty mouth” pointed directly at his head.  And yes, as I wrote that scene, I felt myself pulled back, back, to the path behind the pond, to the day when I looked into the “black, empty mouth” of the gun myself.

But that’s the way storytelling is, I think–a blend of the imaginative and the real, the fantastic and the actual.  Bits and pieces of our lives scatter through the pages of our fiction like literary calling cards, giving voice to memories and dreams and fears and hopes that, though they may occasionally flicker, never die.

flickeringflames

 

“Fantasy’s hardly an escape from reality,” author Lloyd Alexander once said.  “It’s a way of understanding it.”

As we weave the stories, even the ones from beyond the stars, in galaxies and worlds on the other side of the void, so far away we can scarcely even imagine the distance; as we get lost in the adventure and mystery and journey of the story, we can never really escape.

andromedagalaxy

 

Because as we write, and as we read, we must, inevitably, come face-to-face with the reflection in our own personal mirror.

mirrorimage

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

38 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. teagan geneviene
    Jan 17, 2015 @ 23:18:54

    Mike… every post is a true gem. Love the profound quote “Fantasy’s hardly an escape from reality,” author Lloyd Alexander once said. “It’s a way of understanding it.” Huge hugs! 🙂

    Reply

  2. razorbackwriteraus
    Jan 17, 2015 @ 23:22:03

    I write for many reasons. To share my creativity not only with readers but also co writers. It brings me joy, and a way to release the ideas that build up in my head over the working day.

    Reply

  3. jessicawrennovels
    Jan 17, 2015 @ 23:35:15

    WOW! Amazing post. And I love the pictures. So I guess that means the Eye-Dancers was based on your own childhood experiences.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 19, 2015 @ 18:16:13

      Hi Jessica! It’s true there are a lot of things from my childhood experiences in The Eye-Dancers, but it’s still 85% fiction.:) That’s the beauty of storytelling. You invent something fictional, but your own experiences crop in, too. It’s an interesting melding of the “fictional” and the “real” . . .

      Reply

  4. Ileana
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 00:10:14

    Un gand bun pentru o noapte binecuvantata! 🙂 ❤ * • ♫ ❤ ♫ ❤ ♫ • * ❤
    A good thought for a blessed night!


    Reply

  5. Karen's Nature Art
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 00:40:17

    Wow…how scary! And sad. Were you never able to explore the pond again? That part took me back to my pond exploring days-so fun to see the creatures living out their lives!

    Reply

  6. Michelle Proulx
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 02:11:06

    Very interesting! And also terrifying — I can’t imagine what it would be like to stare down a psychotic teenager with a gun. It’s so satisfying as a writer to be able to weave a little bit of yourself and your experiences into your writing.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 19, 2015 @ 18:18:27

      Very well said, Michelle! And yes, that was probably the scariest moment of my life. Of course, looking back now, I realize the gun may not even have been loaded. Then again, it may have been . . .

      Reply

  7. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 02:23:27

    Wowzaa! Took me right back to my pond exploring days too. Now there are housing developments built on them. Never had an encounter with a wack-a-doodle, though. I’m so glad you ran. The story tellers world needs you.

    Reply

  8. stockdalewolfe
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 03:07:38

    Boy, quite a story!!! Really enjoyed it! Did you ever see that teenager again?

    Reply

  9. ptero9
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 05:13:51

    Hi Mike,

    Great post! My older sister had a similar experience. She and a friend were cutting across the school yard when some crazy guy in a car came speeding across the field aiming the car right at them. He kept on coming at them and veering away at the last second.

    I was home when they eventually made it home safely, but terrified. As teens, the idea that someone would intentionally do such a thing shocked us.

    One more step on the road to lost innocence.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 19, 2015 @ 18:20:46

      That is a very scary story! It doesn’t make sense, does it? What motivates people to do such things? But that question, too, is often the impetus to writing fiction . . .

      Reply

  10. jenniferkmarsh
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 09:59:41

    Gosh, I’m sorry you went through something as shocking as that when you were younger. But yes, I agree with all you have written! Writing may be purely fictional, from a distance realm conjured within our own minds, but for it to escape onto the page it must pass by our own recollections and memories and experiences, and so, inevitably, some of those come out with it. Writing is such a personal thing, a way for each of us to understand our own reality indeed.

    Reply

  11. patternsofsouldevelopment
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 11:26:52

    Your story here rang those memory bells in many of us, projecting us back to the moments of our own similar experiences, but this time with better chances to sort meaning out of them and resolve unsaid emotions. At a social level, it helps us meditate over what causes may be so harmful and disturbing to human personality as to push them to behave in such aberrant ways – and, maybe, after much story-telling, listening and pondering, come up with answers.
    We are made of atoms and cells, but above all, we are made of stories; humans have been living with and from stories as naturally and as instinctively as they would eat and breathe – telling and listening are essential needs of life.
    Keep telling stories – did you know that to normal folks, griots and bards had almost divine status, as messengers between the gods and humans, and to kings, they were closer favorites than those of the cast of warriors?

    I also liked the way you inserted relevant images to your story – I intend to do that myself, if I learn how to – still don’t know how to insert pictures at the desired places

    Reply

  12. eemoxam
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 15:50:37

    That’s terrifying! Amazing how that found its way into your book, isn’t it? Have you ever read Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury? I think you would love it.

    Reply

  13. stormy1812
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 17:40:32

    Wow…great story! I can’t imagine how scary that must have been. I figure there is always a touch of reality in any fantasy story and as was pointed out in an earlier comment, I loved that quote you included about that. More great story telling! 🙂

    Reply

  14. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 19:19:12

    Thanks for sharing the “roots” of portion of your story. It’s extremely interesting to see how our own life story infiltrates the fiction we write, always with a twist, it seems. Great stuff!

    Reply

  15. AGentleandQuietSpirit
    Jan 19, 2015 @ 23:35:10

    This was amazing. Had me held tight to the very end. I loved it. Yes, we do write our fantasy stories to understand reality. I had one particular scary moment as a child that I’m still trying to sort out how it affects my writing, plus lots of other not so scary moments. 🙂 Thanks for sharing one of yours to shine the light for the rest of us!

    Reply

  16. Russel Ray Photos
    Jan 20, 2015 @ 03:30:17

    Happy new year and best wishes to you and yours for health, happiness, peace & prosperity in 2015!

    Reply

  17. Sherri
    Jan 20, 2015 @ 14:52:26

    Love how you tie your experiences into your story telling, which, as you say, is what writing is all about. You weave your posts together so beautifully and really make me think. Mike, what a scary thing to happen though with the gun. Wow. So glad you got away from that crazy…

    Reply

  18. cindy knoke
    Jan 27, 2015 @ 01:14:58

    Really gorgeous shots! Wonderful well written story. Beautiful post~

    Reply

  19. A. Blake
    Jan 29, 2015 @ 01:33:01

    I love how you pulled me into that day with your words!

    Reply

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