Week 4 Assignment: Setting

I have been posting assignments from my creative writing class (to catch you up if you are lately arrived) and Week 4’s Assignment was to do a character study on a room or place. I chose a room I had seen in the mid-1970’s in Chicago. A condensed version of this is in my book Endless Shifting Sand, and this is enhanced from that to greater instill a place of setting…



Dark, quiet, still….

Staring in through the opening enables your eyes to adjust to the dim light in the interior as it slowly fades into view. The trespassing light dwindles away once it pushes through the violated window at which you wait to view the details of this mysterious room and your eyes start to coax objects out from the dark clutches of shadow. Curiosity and impetuous inspiration brought you here to this quiescent place from the summer-aired sunshine, where you were strolling in your ease. The lively breeze became subdued and died with your approach to the small structure, and now, as you peer inside to see what this room might hold, an uneasy, cool peace dominates all within and touches your spirit like a barely recalled dream. The confines of the room rectangular in shape, with sharp corners and flat walls, the ceiling double recessed with the same harsh angles, its muted and lofty gray barely visible to the caressing touch of your upturned eyes, the dark remaining crouched, steady-laired in the corners and angles, holding breath and hiding amongst itself.

Lean forward to enable a better view of the greater interior, being careful to mind your head for the rusted, horizontal, iron cross-bar in the middle of the slender window through which you seek visual adventure. The vertical bar still holding center point on the stolid horizontal cross-piece, but cut and wrenched from the sill and bent straight up to offer a narrow access to the room within, giving you the opportunity to explore what visitors who came before might have exposed and revealed. No colorful glass shards remain attached to the bars or enclosing wall frame to filter light and cut through the interior’s gray dominance.  The leaden wrought settings which once held that glass in decorative grace are also gone without remnant or scar. And now you can discern that the walls are smooth brick, utilitarian and plain in their appearance, with occasional, random stitches of browned flora appearing to cobble the bricks together, filigree upon stone, all colored to blend by the shroud of dust that holds the ambiance of the room in dead silence.

Away from the steadfast, creeper-adorned walls, in the space where it can be seen around the large box which sits in the middle of the small room, the floor is strewn with the detritus of ages past, broken pieces of unknown materials, objects dropped, scattered and left in the churn of dust. The obvious focus of the quick-handed interlopers was the sole occupying object in the room, the large solid wooden box that stately lies on the floor, its dimensions and angles congruent to the four containing walls of the room. The heavy lid, somberly utilitarian with raised and edged decorative panels, lies slid aside and slightly skewed across the box itself, revealing a narrow glimpse of the contents within. Knowing that this is what you came for, this is the goal of your curiosity, this is what you feared to contemplate in your approach to this room and here, unable to turn away from the morbid fascination, you stand witness to overt, sinful desecration.

Once brightly pristine and ornate lace, now yellow and tattered, lies draped over the edge of the opening, roughly cascades up, over and out in motionless disarray, ends trailing among the rubble on the floor. Where the material is bunched and jumbled inside the box, definition is difficult to hold recognition but there lies a single piece of short narrowly cylindrical material, smoothly curved in organic simplicity, yellowed like the cloth coverings within which the full complement of this disjointed object once peacefully resided. Further consideration of what the substances within the box might be are foregone and forgotten, for your eyes finally rise up, back to the lid, the dust along its edges printed in hands and smudges. Upon this carpentered slab, like a crown jewel on a platter, surveying the confines of its severely enclosed kingdom, the skull sits in silent reign. The ubiquitous yellow of decay tints the bone, rotted edges crumbling and uneven, expressionless and pitiful in discarded stand upon the outer side of the lid which it had faced from within for so long. The leavings of vandals and ghouls.

Tear your gaze away from this relic of human occupancy, this entombed and forgotten particle of individuality and identity, which now remains in sorry repose and debasement. Pan a last view to give testimony to the indignity of this human interaction, then turn and step back into the light and warmth of the day, taking your leave, and leaving what you have witnessed to its own solitude once more.

If you were to return in one week with a camera in order to record the scene, you would find the room to be the same somber homage to patient decay, save that the skull would be gone.

And if you were to return one more time after another week, you would find the window stoutly boarded up and the room once more inaccessible, lost to everything save itself and the passing time.

Dark. Quiet. Still.



Class 3 Assignment – Changing Voices

This assignment called for an activity to be experienced and viewed by several people, with the narration giving various viewpoints of the activity from some of those people. I chose an eighth grade graduation, in description of which I recalled parts of my own. Were you there?


Changing Voices


He’s so handsome and tall… such a fine looking young gentleman in his coat and tie… and he looks just like his father, thought his mother, as she watched him walking down the aisle.. It looks like he might be outgrowing those pants. They’re practically new!

I’m so proud of him… look at him all dressed up and handsome … how did he get to be this old? …and he looks just like his mother, thought his father as he watched him walking down the aisle. I’m glad I remembered to have him shine his shoes.

The double row of boys and girls, all dressed in coats and ties or dresses, solemnly walked down between the two halves of the standing audience.

I hope he’s as uncomfortable in his coat and tie as I am in mine, squirmed his little brother as he watched him walking down the aisle. “It would be funny if he tripped or did something dumb.

Very good… hold your heads up high… act like proper young ladies and gentlemen just like we practiced, thought Miss Kinderhof, his homeroom teacher, as she watched the class walking down the aisle. That’s it boys, behave yourselves

I love this moment… presiding over such formality … the pomp of the circumstances… the gathering of the school… the pride of the parents…thought the Principal from on the stage in front, nodding his head to the tune as he watched the procession of well-dressed eighth graders filing up the aisle toward their seats directly in front of him. I just love this music!

Okay, there’s Mom and Dad and Tommy… watch where you’re going, goofhead, don’t bump into Barb… man I can hardly wait until this is over… I’m hungry… they said they’ll serve pizza afterwards, I thought to myself as I walked slowly down the aisle between the rows of chairs, with all the parents and families watching and looking, expectant faces jostling in the crowd to get a better view of the marchers. My stomach is growling.

The processional slowly poured its way into the first two rows of seats, well-rehearsed and without any noticeable incident other than a few quietly unintelligible mutterings from some of the marchers.

The Principal stepped forward to the podium, nodding to Mrs. Gladwall at the piano, waited for a few bars as she smoothly ended the music, and then he motioned for everyone to be seated.

The gathering seemed to deflate into their seats and an expectant hush settled down from the collective susurration.

I hope he won’t talk too long, thought his parents, his little brother, Miss Kinderhof, myself and everyone else in the gym as the Principal took out what appeared to be a thick sheaf of papers from the inside of his suit jacket.

A collective mental groan silently filled the gymnasium.

Alright… showtime, thought the Principal with the hint of a smile…

“Greetings and welcome to the graduation ceremonies for the eighth-grade class of 1965,” he spoke out to the audience in front of him. He looked around, held up the papers and said, “These aren’t my notes, this is a list of you all,” gesturing with them to the first two rows.

These are my notes,” and he held up a single sheet of paper that was already on the podium, now smiling openly.

A collective mental sigh silently filled the gymnasium, with a few scattered chuckles accenting the overt relief.

The speech was pertinent, “A big step in your life,” inspiring, “You have the future in your hands,” and short, “Thank you.” The graduates filed up to the steps at stage right one row at a time, climbed up and waited as each individual name was called out. That person strode forth, received their diploma, shook hands with the Principal, continued across the stage and stepped down the far side to resume their seat.

The process was exciting for everyone involved as the graduate of their interest walked across the stage and received their diploma. Applause was held off to speed things along.

I hope these tears don’t spoil my make-up, his mother thought as she watched him step down the stairs with his diploma in hand. He’s so young to be going to high school. But look how big he is.

I hope I don’t cry with the pride I feel, his father thought as he watched him step down the stairs clutching his ticket into high school. What a big step that must seem to him… I remember it felt like it for me,like the top of the world.  And, with a wry smile, Then freshman year at the bottom of the pecking order!

Nuts, he didn’t trip… so is this almost over? I’m about to cry this is so boring, his little brother thought as he watched him step off the stairs holding the thing he was given.

I could just cry with pride at these fine young ladies and gentlemen… well, most of them are anyway, Miss Kinderhof thought, as her erstwhile charges matriculated beyond her jurisdiction, but not beyond the nurturing fruits of her efforts.

…read the name, hand the diploma, shake the hand, remember to smile, …read the name, hand the diploma, shake the hand, remember to smile, …the Principal was thinking to himself in a semi-automatic state.

Man, I got it… finally! …now let’s get this over with and get some pizza, I thought impatiently, as I stepped down the few steps to sit and wait for the rest of the class to receive their alpha-numerically arranged moment in the spotlight.

And eventually, after the Becky Zybrinski finally stepped down and returned to the last open chair, the Principal spread his arms, motioned to the graduates to stand, turn and face the audience, and then declared, “I present to you the graduating class of 1965!”

The applause lasted long enough for the graduates to all troop out to the hall to wait for their families to join them.

“You looked so handsome up there,’ his mother said, thinking, My little boy is a young man now…

“Congratulations, graduate! I’m very proud of you,” declared his father, thinking, He’s still so young and has a long way to go…

“Lemme see it,” his little brother demanded of the diploma. “Fancy,” when he got it,  followed by the thought, Not much to it, but I guess it’s kind of cool…

“So good to see you,” Miss Kinderhof greeted his parents as she stepped up to them, thinking, I will miss these good people, but their other son only has a few more years before he’s in eighth grade…

Social time and feeling the moment, this is what makes it fun, thought the Principal as he glad-handed his way through the throng.

I just stood wearing a smile thinking, I’m hungry, let’s go eat pizza!

The crowd gradually flowed into the reception area where the food tables were loaded with lunch for all.

Oh, the pizza looks good… maybe just one piece, thought his mother.

Oh… pizza… that sounds pretty good, thought his father.

Oh cool… pizza! thought his little brother.

Ah well, a piece of pizza to celebrate the day, thought Miss Kinderhof.

Pizza. Good. I’m hungry, thought the Principal.

And I thought, Wow… look at those desserts!

Class 2 Assignment, Façade

The instructions, paraphrased, for the longer assignment were to write a story about someone telling a story that has more to it than is being related, a story within a story, (so there’s a story of a story with a story behind it… got that?) so that the reader can see it but the person being told the basic story cannot.

It took me several days to come up with an idea, but I did and this is the result, edited with the instructor’s suggestions.


Rhythm and Voice – Assignment 3

Façade edit


It was after Dad got home late that he asked about the first day of my summer job, taking care of our neighbor Mrs. Finstermocker’s yard. She was the sometimes crabby lady who would yell and scare kids if they hopped her fence and cut across the lawn on her corner lot. She liked her yard looking neat and trim, and the big rosebush along the side of the house was her pride and joy. She always won prizes in the County Fair for the blossoms it would produce. The neighborhood boys she hired to tend her well-manicured yard worked hard to keep it that way, and earned their money. She paid well, but expected perfection, and today was the first day that it was my job. Dad told me a few weeks earlier that I was old enough to take on that responsibility and that he’d talked with her and had arranged it, done deal, so there was no way I could back out of it.

“How did it go with Mrs. Finstermocker’s yard today?” he said as he was taking off his light jacket and I was heading up to bed.

“Did you do a good job?”

“I asked her if she was okay with it,” I said nonchalantly in response to his question, “and she said she was.”

He stopped and gave me a look, and said, “You asked her that? Why would she not be okay with it?”

Oh brother, my heart skipped a beat and I’m sure I turned red.

“Oh, I just wanted to make sure that she was okay with it… I mean, that she liked it, y’know?” hoping he did. My heart was pounding and my stomach was clenched, but I maintained eye-contact and grinned.

He continued to look at me without saying anything, kind of like he was waiting to hear more.

So I tried again, “I mean, she likes it a certain way and it was the first time I did it, so I wanted to make sure it was okay.”

“And what did she say when you asked her?”

“Uhh… oh, she said that it was okay.” I hoped that that was the end of it, but of course it wasn’t.

“You know that she takes great pride in how her house looks and that she’s lived in that house since before your grandparents lived in this house when I was your age.”

“Yessir, I remember.”

“Did she come out and look at the yard?”

“Yes, she did.”

“Did she look at the edges along the walk?”

“Yessir.” Straightforward and honest.

“At the hand-trimmed grass by the picket fence?”


“Did she look around her rose bush?” His eyebrows raised in seemingly knowing insight.

“Uhh… Yessir.” And quickly, “…and I showed her where I’d found some dandelions and dug them up so that you wouldn’t be able to see that they had been there.”

“You did, did you?”

“Yeah, she said ‘Okay’ and that I did a good job of it and that she knew I’d be careful,” inwardly wincing as that particular, ‘Okay,’ was the same one I told him about in stretching her assessment of the whole job, but he didn’t catch it.

“Careful?” Dad asked.

“I dunno, I guess she liked the way I dug the dandelions.” I didn’t really understand myself what she meant, but she’s an old lady and they can be goofy sometimes.

Then he asked, “What did she say about the rosebush?” sending chills up my spine.

“Nothing,” which was the truth, but I could feel my face burning. I felt he just somehow knew there was more to the answer than that, and I braced myself for him to delve into the specifics of the rosebush…

“Good. Well done, I’m proud of you son. Now off to bed.” …and that was it! I swear I almost passed out with relief! I thanked him, told him I’d see him in the morning, kissed Mom goodnight and came on up here.


“Wow,” my brother said, after I told him all that while we got ready for bed, “you got really lucky! And Dad didn’t think anything was wrong either?”

“Nope.” I put on an air of smug bravado.

“I can’t believe how stupid you were to miss the weed and clip a branch off her rosebush!” my brother declared.

“Yeah, I can’t either.”

“But you were pretty smart to tell her about the dandelions just as she was going to look at the rosebush.”

“I totally lucked out with that!”

“Yeah, but it was still pretty slick thinking,”

“Yeah…” I agreed, “but then like an idiot I showed her the dandelions in the yard-waste bag, forgetting she might notice the branch stuck in it under the weeds! Sheesh! But she didn’t see it, although she did look at me a little funny somehow.”

“Close call, you dope!” he reassured me.

I shook my head, “Yeah, I figured Dad would just know something was screwy. Sometimes it’s like he has some kind of ESP or and just KNOWS when I goof up. I got lucky.” I finally felt the knot in my stomach unwinding.

My brother laughed and threw his shirt at me. I caught it, wadded it up and threw it back, first faking to let him duck and back up, throw smack in the face!

Nice shot!

After the light was out and we were quiet I faintly heard Mom and Dad talking on the way to their bedroom at the end of the hall, with Dad saying, “…did a good job for her. I remember when she yelled at me when I was his age after I cut her lawn and missed…” and their door closed back to silence.

I know I was lucky to somehow have gotten away with my carelessness, and I’ll sure be more careful from now on, but… the lingering puzzle piece, that last bit to the whole story that I didn’t tell anybody, still nibbles at my mind and tempers my relief in the way things turned out. As I had stood there with the freshly cut branch in my hand, crying in fear and disappointment at my stupidity, feeling miserable in my foolish, clumsy guilt, I thought…through the freely flowing tears, …in the window above the rose bush …I thought… maybe I saw the curtain move….

Two Paragraphs

The class assignment was to write two paragraphs, one consisting of a single sentence and about 350 words long, and the other consisting of 10-15 sentences each of which is no more than seven words long. I wrote both and then reread the instructions (always good to check on those) and the two sentences were supposed to be related. Oh. So I added some more words to the single sentence paragraph and put it second, even though I wrote it first, such creations are a specialty of mine, and kind of spliced them together. I will post them here with the short sentence one first. I will also do what editing the instructor suggested. the short sentence one had none and there was minimal in the single sentence. And I might warn you (I might not… but … okay) that you need to follow the digressions within the single sentence closely in order to maintain the cohesiveness of the over-all effort.


Class 2

In Class Rhythm Assignment – Short Sentences Paragraph

It started out as a lark. We didn’t really mean anything by it. Sometime things get out of control. Creativity kind of kicks in. Thought takes action and becomes real. Then, all of a sudden, things change. Action somehow begins to initiate itself. Before you know it, there’s  problems. Too much of an easy thing. We have poor excuse except human nature.  Our natural proclivities are innocently atavistic. It’s not like we planned it. And we understand there are consequences. Reality, once set, must to be faced. That’s part of life and becoming. The final arbiter will wield judgement. That is your role and our forbearance. Do with us as you will. We will be washed of our sins. The remains of our creation also cleansed. Nothing will be spared. We yield to your knowledge and dominance. We accept and comply. And we promise, Mommy. We won’t play with our food again.


In Class Rhythm Assignment – Single Sentence Paragraph

I was on the wall, sitting in a comfortable spot where the stones made a natural cup for my butt and the lip was rounded so it didn’t rub my over-hanging legs, biding my time in the early morning warmth on my back from the late summer sun that climbed its way up above the trees over across the small open field behind, which the wall protects from the road, feeling detached and unfocused, reminiscing about a vague memory of my brother and I getting into trouble for playing with our food which somehow transitioned into a general disregard of the world around me as my attentions were drawn inward, like a bee finding a particularly fragrant blossomed flower by sort of bumbling around a flowerbed, to reflect on the impending transition I was about to embark upon, a turning point that would forever alter the direction of my life, wondering (and not for the first time) if it were some kind of ‘Devil’s pact’ and if I perhaps should not undertake the impending quest in acquiescent acceptance of directed authority beyond what I had been accustomed to, with the power to make or break me in my future endeavors, would it benefit me more to settle for the status quo in the ever-spontaneously fresh pastures of free-agency, thus maintaining familiar ways but with no further potential, or submit to the directed and contained corral of controlled training in semi-servitude to the system and its direct authorities, in vague promise of potential wealth, gain and even glory, which sounds fine but what little was there to my overt, immediate advantage, save for the loss of freedom, just as a rumbled reverberation from around the bend brought me back to the present moment, to see a vehicle roll into bright view, pull up in front of me, open its door showing a man seated and looking expectantly at me with a welcoming expression on his face, and not without a semblance of compassion and understanding, using that direct regard to wordlessly query me as to my forthcoming actions, which somehow gave decision impetus in resignation’s own free will, prompting me to lasso and pull in all the wild ponies of thought and consideration (few of those in so many words as transcribed herewith, with the actual thought processes being more like a loose generalization of this transcription) which had occupied my erstwhile time astride the wall, said to myself, “…aw, the heck with it,” hopped off the wall away from the barren, open field, sauntered over to the wide mouth of the open door, stepped up, like a typical seven year old, and onto the bus that would take me to my first day of first grade, officially ending my summer …and my innocently youthful freedoms.


Looking over the copy of the single sentence that my instructor returned to me, I realized that almost all the markings (there weren’t that many) were notations of positive feedback. Hmmm. I am quite pleased about that! The one correction she provided was to add the word ‘about’ in the reminiscing the narrator was doing. Easily done. And I will note for you, in case you are wondering, that I did go well over the 350 word limit. It’s what I do.

So these were half of the second week assignments, the other half is a story which I will post later when I am not so tired or busy working on commissioned artwork. There is a greater amount of editing I must do as well, but still I received a delightfully positive response.

I hope you enjoy these and I wish you a most pleasant evening (or day, depending on your current time frame!)