Once upon a time is such a cliché way to start a story, but here we are. Once upon a time, you know, I was a writer. Oh, yeah, you'd better believe I was. I used to know all the right words, how to start a story, how to end it, and all the shit in the middle. Now I start my stories with "once upon a time" and "syntax" might as well be an alien planet. And don't even get me started on finishing stories. I haven't finished a story, a real one, in years.
Every writer knows the term "writer's block," knows it like an old friend. But this block, it's different. And it ain't just me, either.
I suppose it happened in the plague of '83. 2083, I mean, not the '83 with all the music and shit. There ain't no music anymore, no sir-ee. World's gone quiet it has. No music, no books, no pictures, no nothing.
Once upon a time, I was an artist.
Now, there's no art left.
A bedtime story
"Once upon a time is such a cliché way to start a story, but here we are." Head cocked to the side, he examined the tray of steel instruments on the nightstand. "Of course, all the best bedtime stories begin that way."
Picking up a scalpel, he looked down at the woman tied to the bed. "And this is the best bedtime story you'll ever hear."
"Please don't..." she whimpered.
"Hush, he said, pressing the cold steel to her lips. "Listen. It's my favorite."
"Once upon a time there was a curious little boy who loved to play pretend. His sister and her friends liked to play house and school. He didn’t mind, but he preferred to play doctor. His parents had given him a doctor’s bag with a plastic stethoscope, a tongue depressor, a cup and a plastic hammer.
“Some years later he added the scalpel himself. Well, actually, it was his father’s straight razor in the beginning.
“In the early days, he practiced his surgical skills on stray animals he happened upon…or trapped.
"When adolescence struck, he discovered girls. And the pain of unrequited love.” His fist tightened on the scalpel.
"Don’t worry, like all fairy tales, this one has a happy ending.” He paused. “Although it is true that it does not end with and everyone lived happily ever after.”
"Now, where was I?"
Once upon a time is such a cliché way to start a story but here we are. You know I suck at telling stories. Yeah, I know... Mommy sleeps so much that she can't tell you stories anymore. It's okay. I don't mind, Stormy, I promise. Mommy's just sick. The white powder just helps her go to sleep because she's too sick to go to sleep without it. Well, the best way to get rid of a runny nose is to put the medicine right in your nose--No you are not taking medicine like that from now on. It's only with Mommy's medicine.
What did you want to hear about again? Princesses, right? I don't want to talk about Mommy right now, Stormy. It's special medicine. You don't need to go to the doctor to get it. Because it's special medicine. No, it's just--Stormy, stop fucking asking me questions about Mommy. I'm telling you about the princesses, remember. I don't fucking know, okay. The princesses of Sweden. I don't give a fuck if Sweden has princesses; it's a made-up story. Shit. You know what? I'm not telling you a fucking story. Take your ass to bed. Don't start that crying shit. Go to sleep. You don't need a story to go to sleep. You're too old for bedtime stories anyway.
No life has but one tale.
Once upon a time is such a cliché way to start a story but here we are, treading our dreams in a forest of nothing with the stars as our guide and the proud princess reduced to ashes in my hands.
I mean, once upon a time had a nice ring to it when I was younger, but now the tired phrase is almost an insult to the years I have spent trying to pursue that one goal that always slips away. Perhaps my life is a tragedy, and to think it starts any other way is an affront to the choices I've been given.
But I still think there is happiness yet to be seized, to be pursued, and so I begin each tale with a bit of hope. One of these days, my adventures will give promise, I'm sure of it.
Once upon a time is such a cliche way to start a story, but here we are. I always knew I was destined to be the protagonist of someone’s story, but why did it have to be his?
Spring break 2003, we passed through Louisiana on our way to my friend’s lake house in Mississippi, it was a two-day trip. He was watching me then. We didn’t stay in Louisiana long, just stopped at Tulane to visit my friend’s boyfriend, Denny, and watch his fraternity’s intramural soccer game, the Predators vs. the Alpha Pis. They were the Predators.
He was there. How could nobody notice him standing there, on the campus of one of America’s most prestigious universities? This was also during a time when a lot of protests against the war in Iraq were happening, so the world was very cautious. I would say, maybe he blended in. But he didn’t. Everyone should have noticed he didn’t belong there. But its New Orleans, people wear leotards and walk each other on dog leashes up and down Canal Street and nobody says a thing.
He was wearing his usual attire that night. I remember it so vividly now. I too didn’t think anything of it. Just thought he was a regular spectator. Perhaps a professor stopping by before heading out for the weekend or a transient checking out the university. What professor wears camo, has a long beard, and looks like Duck Dynasty walking out of the swamps?
He did live in the swamps. Now that I think about it, he didn’t have his sunglasses on that night. It was almost 8 o’clock by the time the game was over. I remember because back then I had this thing where I had to eat before 8pm. I don’t remember his face, so I’ve never been able to give the authorities a description of him except for with his dark, black sunglasses on. His name still sends chills down my spine. Alabama Robinson. Bama.
Once upon a time is such a cliche way to start a story, but here we are. We didn't know when we started out that we would break time itself. We didn't but we also did. That's the funny thing about breaking time...past, present, future all exist simultaneously. But we survived, we adapted, and we became something other.
Once upon a time is such a cliche way to start a story but here we are. Sitting outside this nondescript building, I wanted nothing more than to turn the key in the ignition and drive away. I did what I said I would; I came here. I could omit the fact I didn’t actually go in. It would be our little secret, the building‘s and mine, that I never actually went in. If I never go in, I don’t have to start this cycle all over again with a new therapist. Someone with the best of intentions who will ultimately tire of their lack of success in turning me into a normally functioning human being. With a deep, reluctant sigh, I slid out of the car door. Here we go again.
Not the Story I Want to Tell
Once upon a time is such a cliche way to start a story, but here we are; chewing up letters and spitting them out. I'm still an amateur ink-blotter, so I can't run the machine by myself. They've only given me the crummy stories to work on, until the pen stain on my pinky is deep enough to qualify me for "Punctuation and Prowess." That's the workshop I need, only then can I start my own tale. The one that keeps me up at night with the creeps. For now, I guess I'll have to settle with telling you how I got here. You see, I never wanted to work at the talking words factory.