Thursday, March 28, 2013

Words on a Page - Short Story Improv #2

While not technically an improvised piece, the story that follows is a sequel to my first and, thus far, only improv piece, Stories Over Tea.  It isn't necessary to read that story in order to follow this one, but the two are meant to go together so I would recommend reading that one first if you haven't already done so.

~ Jacob Miller sat in his living room, staring at the notebook in his lap, its pages no less blank than they had been when he asked his mother for it some three weeks ago.  Their emptiness seemed to mock him, laughing at his failure at getting so much as a word on a page... well, that wasn't entirely true, he'd written his name at the top, though he felt a little silly about it now.  That sort of thing was for school projects.

This, however, was going to be a story... if he could ever come up with anything.

"Son, if you stare any harder at that notebook, it might just burst into flame," said a voice.

Jacob looked up at his dad.  Sitting at the dining room table, he had been going over some reports from work but was now watching his son curiously.

"So what is it you're working on there?" he asked.

"Well," said Jacob, "it's supposed to be a story about Dr. Lowe and his adventures during World War Two, but so far I haven't been able to think of anything."

His father nodded and looked down at his papers again.

"I see," he said, "I take it the doctor told you his version of the story then?"

Jacob nodded.

"He did, but it was boring. I mean, there was one part where a lady kicked him in the shins, but nothing else happened!  So he said I should write my own story and I've been trying but I can't even figure out how to start."

His dad simply nodded and put down his papers.  Getting up, he walked over to the couch and sat down next to his son.

"Ok, how about we work on it together, then?" he asked, "we can play around with some ideas and then choose the ones we like and then I'll write it down for you."

Jacob thought about this for a moment.  On the one hand, he could refuse and just keep trying to write something on his own.  On the other, some help would be nice... and his name was already on the paper, so it would still be his story, right?

"Sure, I guess that would be alright," he said, shrugging.  He didn't want to appear too enthusiastic about the idea.  Getting too excited about something always made his dad suspicious (and rightfully so, as he was usually trying to get something).

"Great," his dad said, picking up the notebook, "now, what is this story going to be about?"

"About Dr. Lowe and Rick and their adventures," said Jacob, "it needs big explosions and sneaking around behind the bad guys' backs and stuff like that... and big explosions."

He nodded emphatically on this point.  There had to be big explosions, or it just wasn't worth it.

"A war story then," his dad said, "I figured as much.  I think the first thing we should do is come up with an opening line.   How does 'Once upon a time' sound?"

Jacob gave his father a steely look.

"Dad, stories that start that way are fairy tales.  Fairy tales are for babies and girls."

"Says the boy who used to watch Sleeping Beauty and Snow White over and over again and who would check every closet everywhere we went to see if Narnia was hiding in it."

"I liked the animals!  And I was nine!"

His father peered at him over his glasses, something he did whenever he thought Jacob was being just a little bit silly.

"That second part would be a better excuse if you weren't nine only three months ago," he said, "and it's only been four months since we got thrown out of the Smithsonian because you raided a bloom closet.  You can use that as an excuse in another... three years, when you're a teenager and are expected to say that sort of thing.  Still, that's fine, no aliens or  dragons.  How about wizards?"

Jacob shook his head.

"No, there shouldn't be any magic or fairies or sparkly stuff.  It's a war, dad."

"Alright, I'm just checking.  So our protagonists are Dr. Lowe and Rick?"


"If someone's the protagonist, it means they're the main character of the story."

"Yes then."

"Alright.  So, where will we have them start out from?"

...and so the conversation went.  Mr. Miller mostly sat and took down notes, laughing quietly as Jacob leapt about, acting out scenes and occasionally standing in what he thought was a heroic pose.  It was some two hours before they finally finished, by which point both of them were acting out the scenes together.  This finally ended when Jacob's older sister pulled rank on them, asking Mrs. Miller to make them stop

Still, they had gotten enough material together to write a story by then so, after dinner, they sat down again and wrote the story below...

The Adventures of Rick & Lowe - The Fuel Depot Trick

By Jacob Miller
(With help from his dad, just a little bit with the big words - Jacob)

On a warm summer's evening, Dr. Lowe and his best friend Rick were walking down a country lane in Holland when they saw a cloud of dust heading towards them.  They couldn't see who was coming, so they ducked behind a hedge in case it was the Nazis.  When the dust cloud reached them, they saw that it was a big truck, carrying a lot of big barrels.  They were metal barrels, so they thought they were gas, but the people on the truck did not look friendly so they stayed hidden.  When the truck had moved on, they got up and looked to see where it was going.

"Where do you think they are going?" asked Dr. Lowe.

Rick didn't answer because he didn't speak English, but he shrugged, since that seemed like the right thing to do.

"I think we should follow it," said Dr. Lowe, "maybe we can steal a truck and get to Switzerland."

Rick understood the part about "Switzerland" and knew it was a lot farther away than Dr. Lowe thought, but he couldn't get the doctor to listen.  So they headed off in the direction the truck had gone.

A few hours later, they were about to give up hope of ever finding the truck again when they spotted it parked in front a farmhouse alongside the road.  Crouching down so they wouldn't be seen, they crept up to it.

Sure enough, the barrels in the back were full of gas.  There was some space just between the barrels and the back of the cab, so Dr. Lowe jumped in quick before anyone saw him.  Rick followed him too, to make sure he didn't get himself hurt.  It was just in time too, because someone came out of the farmhouse just seconds later, and then the truck started up again and drove back onto the road.

About half an hour later, they stopped someplace noisy and the driver got out again.  It was then they realized they had nowhere to hide if he decided to look in the back of the truck.  It turned out alright though, because the driver didn't even look in the back before walking off somewhere.  After a minute's waiting, the doctor and Rick decided it was safe to take a look around.

All around them were mountains of barrels just like the ones they were hiding with.  There were guards too, but they were looking away from the barrels so there was no one to spot them.

Jumping out of the truck, they quickly dodged between two stacks of barrels.

"Ok, so that didn't go as planned," said Dr. Lowe.  Rick just nodded, though he probably would've wondered if there ever was a plan... if he could understand anything that the doctor was saying.  However, he had his own plan in mind.

Looking around, he spotted a box that looked out of place among the barrels.  Prying the top off, he grinned at what he found.

The box was full of grenades.

Seeing what the box contained, Dr. Lowe began to get nervous.

"Rick, no way, we can't use those.  We're surrounded by fuel, we'd get burned up for sure."

But Rick wasn't listening.  He'd followed along with the doctor's crazy ideas up to now, so he figured it was high time it was his turn to be the one with the crazy idea.

Having seen it done before, Rick pulled the pin from a grenade and tossed it into a stack of barrels and started running the other direction.  Dr. Lowe followed him - getting shot sounded like a better idea than getting blown up, though he was hoping that just maybe neither would happen.

There was an enormous boom that nearly knocked them to their feet.  They thought for sure they weren't going to make it now, but it probably saved their lives.  The guards turned towards the sound and missed them entirely as they fled the depot.

When they were sure they were clear of the explosions, they turned back.  The entire depot was one big fireball.  Every now and then, there was another kaboom as another barrel ignited.  They were just about to congratulate themselves on escaping with their lives when they both realized the same thing.

They'd let the truck get blown up!

Dr. Lowe put down the page and looked at the boy who'd handed it to him.  Jacob was fidgeting nervously, obviously hoping for a good word on his story.  The doctor gave him a sympathetic smile.

"That was very good, Jacob," he said, "a little shorter than I expected, but I very much enjoyed it nonetheless."

"Well," said Jacob, looking down at the floor, "I kind of wrote it last night."

"Oh?" the doctor asked, "then I must say it is very good indeed for having been written in such short time.  How did you come up with the idea?"

"My dad helped a bit, we came up with ideas together and then acted some of them out.  We would have had more, but Becca complained to mom and she made us stop.  She said we were embarrassing her," said Jacob, making a face at the thought of his sister.

The doctor chuckled.

"Ah, but what are family for except to embarrass us?" he asked, "I jest, of course, but it is at least a partial truth.  Would you mind if I keep this story?  I would like to share it with my grandchildren."

Jacob nearly burst with joy at the doctor's request, stumbling over his words as he tried to figure out what to say and ended up failing to say all of them.  Finally, he managed a "yes sir!" and ran off to tell his dad that his... that THEIR story had been approved of, forgetting to say good bye in doing so.

When he'd gone, the barista got up from behind the counter and set a cup of tea down at the doctor's table.

"I heard the kid's story," she said, "it was good."

"That it was," the doctor agreed, "certainly more exciting than my own.  At least mine has the advantage of being true, though I must say it would have been rather exciting to experience a fuel depot going up.  But where on earth did he get the idea that I was such a foolhardy oaf?"

The barista grinned.

"Maybe because you are one?" she suggested, "oh, don't look at me like that, the only thing you gave him to remember your last story by was that you got kicked in the shins by some random woman you tried to flirt with."

The doctor glared at her, though she could tell he was only pretending.

"Be that as it may," he said after a long pause, "I would like to remind you that I am your boss... and your grandfather.  That should really count for double when it comes to respecting your betters."

"Well, my better has shaving cream behind his ear.  I'm surprised Gram let you out of the house looking like that."

"She didn't let me out, I snuck out, in a fashion worthy of this story," he said, waving the notebook page he held, "but anyway, I should probably put this somewhere safe.  I suspect your younger brothers will appreciate it."

"I'll put it in the cash drawer," his granddaughter said, "but I've been wondering - why are you doing this?  I mean, don't take me wrong, I think it's sweet of you, but it's been years since you so much as talked to the kids who come in here, so why now?"

The doctor shrugged.

"Children don't stay children forever, you know.  I mean, look at me, I haven't been a child in seventy years.  I could choose to be bitter about it, as many do, but that doesn't appeal to me.  I've lived a good long life, filled with stories, more than just the one about getting lost in Holland with a dog - yes, I know you figured out the secret of Rick.  So, why not share some?  Stories can have tremendous power, look at the good this one's done - a boy's imagination took off with it and he wrote his own story.  Granted, it's no novel, but it's a start, and there's no telling what he'll do next with it.  And his father got to spend a night with him, playing games.  I'd say that counts for something, wouldn't you?"

"I guess," said his granddaughter, "but what's this now about other stories?  I've never heard any of these other stories, all I ever get to hear are versions of the same one, when am I going to get to hear some of them?"

The doctor laughed.

"Well, how about this?  The sun is up, the day is warm, and I hear there's a soccer game going on at the park soon that it would be a mistake to miss.  So what do you think about closing up a little early and maybe I'll tell you one on the way?"

His granddaughter pouted.

"Only maybe?"

"Ok fine, I promise to tell you one," he said, rolling his eyes dramatically, "now go close up the shop, your brothers are on opposing teams today and I wouldn't miss the aftermath of that for the world."

Grinning, the barista headed back to the counter to close up the shop.

Her grandfather, however, simply sat back in the chair and looked around.  Once upon a time, the shop had been his home, and he'd made many a story there in his life.  That was thing about stories, the trues ones at least - before they became stories, they actually happened to people.  His stories were mostly in the past now, but there was still some room left for a few good ones, ones that he could share with others and perhaps they in turn would share those stories with their children and grandchildren as well.

Stories are meant to be shared, after all.

With that thought, he got up and headed for the door, where the next story was waiting.

And there you have it!  This one's been rewritten about... six times now, so I haven't had much time for proofreading (one of the last sets of changes was the intro, reflecting my own frustration at my lack of progress).  This marks the end of this particular story line, though I daresay I like Dr. Lowe enough that I want to write more about him (and the Miller's and the doctor's thus far unnamed granddaughter).  Time will tell so, for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment