Category Archives: Stories by Tony (Blog)

Richard Hellman In Purgatory (Short Story)

Richard Hellman in purgatory
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

Why me? Richard Hellman thought as his mother Margot glared at him.  The eyes of Richard’s younger brother Monty were on him too.

“You were doing really great in October and November,” Margot said, “and then December came along and you made no money.”

Richard blanched.

Margot sighed.  “What?”

“That was because of the holidays,” he mumbled.

An annoyed looked creased Margot’s face.  “What?”

“I said that was because of the holidays!” Richard shouted.

“Calm down! We are just trying to talk to you,” Monty said.

Margot sighed, closed her eyes. “Will you please stop acting like you are being picked on?”

Richard’s ears pricked at the sour tone in Margot’s voice, felt a feeling akin to a piece of lead float into his stomach.

“I know… I know I am not being picked on,” he replied. I rue the day I decided to become a freelancer, he silently added.

Richard Hellman, former Cub Foods store associate-turned freelance writer/editor, had had a splendid two months in October and November of 2013, starting when he made $1000 the first week in October alone, when he won three gigs that had paid him $333 each.  He had wrapped up the month with a grand total of $2,100.  He topped that figure by making $2,200 in November.

Then December came, and with it, a work drought.  Now it was the last week of January, 2014, and Richard’s family had less than $100 in the bank.  To make matters worse, Richard owed a client $200 and was making threats about filing a PayPal complaint against him.

Why me? he thought again.

“What?” Margot asked; her expression still stern.

Shit, this is like when we were arguing with my fucking father, whispered an inner voice in the back of Richard’s mind.  He saw himself back at the dining room table they always gathered to argue with Paul Hellman, the abusive, neglectful husband and father that tormented his brood without pity.  They would verbally joust, joust, and joust until Margot, Richard, and Monty gave in and Paul had his way yet again.

Shit, shit, shit… I’ve become Paul, Richard thought.

“What?” Margot asked again.

“I’ve… I’m…” Richard stammered.

“Spit it out!” Margot snapped.

Richard’s nascent words tumbled back down his throat.

I don’t like feeling this way, he thought, feeling a pang of bitterness.

He felt like a caged animal surrounded by people poking him with sticks.

“You know we can’t keep going through this,” Margot finally said.  Her expression was stern, her eyes piercing through her eldest son like lasers.

“Wholesome Eats is always hiring,” Monty said.  “I could use my influence to help you get a job there.”

Wholesome Eats?! Richard thought.

“I don’t… I don’t want to work where you do, bro,” Richard replied.

Monty slapped his palm on the table. “I don’t want you to either, but we have to have steady income coming in!  My paycheck can’t cover all the bills.”

“I know, I know!” Richard shouted back.

His head swam, his stomach burned like he had eaten a lousy breakfast.  He suddenly felt like he was a soldier engulfed by chaos in the midst of a catastrophic defeat worthy of Isandlwana, Little Big Horn, Dien Bien Phu, Chosin Reservoir, or Bull Run.

Richard put his face in his hands.

Everything I have tried to build is collapsing. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Speak up for yourself!

I can’t, they have me dead to rights.

“Are you going to get a job?” Margot asked.

Richard wanted to drag himself into his room, slam the door shut, flop down on his bed, and die.   He had gotten jobs once with a willing heart back when he, Monty, and Margot were stuck in a hotel after Paul had abandoned his now homeless tortured brood and fled the state.  Richard had again flung himself into the gap by getting a job at Cub Foods when his first job as a warehouse associate for Office Max, had slashed his hours to the bone.  But then Cub had frozen his wages, and webbed him about with all kinds of rules that Richard’s independent spirit chafed against.  The result was a long list of disciplinary actions which had climaxed with Richard forced to either quit or be terminated.   The day he typed up his resignation letter haunted him still.

Fortunately, Margot had won a small lottery drawing a month before Richard sank himself. She had given Richard permission to pursue his dream of making a living as a freelancer.  But Richard had been easily discouraged by initial setbacks, including two scam attempts that had slammed into him when he’d applied for writing and editing-related gigs via Craigslist.

Why the fuck did I not get going sooner? he thought as he lowered his hands from his face.

He forced his eyes to focus on his mother. “I…”

Margot’s eyes bore into him like lasers.  He froze.

“Yes?” Margot asked.

“I—I have a job.”

“But it isn’t bringing in consistent work!” Monty shouted.

Richard’s face became a blank mask as inner turmoil exploded and engulfed his mind, pulling him away from the table and into the darkest recesses of his soul.  His inner agony sent him rebounding off feelings of angst, lack of self-worth, lack of self-esteem.  All the while he just sat there, his brown eyes void of any emotion as Monty and Margot glared at him.

Stop!  Stop!  he finally shouted at himself as he sought to get centered within his soul.  If I keep rolling with this shit, I’m no better than Paul.

He held up a hand in a call for silence, and closed his eyes. I rebuke this bad luck from continuing, I rebuke my bad luck streak from continuing any further, he chanted in a silent mantra over and over inside his head.

An intuition sparked inside his soul, one what whispered People want to hire you, Richard Hellman.

He opened his eyes, looked over at his brother.  “Monty?”

“Yeah?”

“Check my e-mail.”

“What for?”

“Just do it, all right?”

Margot sighed.  “What are you doing?”

“Dammit!  I got an intuition telling me I just hit pay dirt thanks to some advertising I recently put out,”  Richard replied.

Margot fell silent.  Monty opened Richard’s e-mail.  “Hey, you’ve got e-mails from three people here,” he said, his mood lightening.

“Really?  Let me see,” Richard said, rising to his feet.

Three potential clients were indeed there; potential clients that had become Richard’s clientss by the end of the day. Clients that wound up paying Richard $300 each for editing/proofreading work. Richard’s earnings came to a grand total of $900—more than enough to help out with his share of the rent and bills.

“We’re sorry we doubted you,” Margot apologized to him at dinner that night.  “Yes, we are very sorry,“ Monty added.

Richard smiled.  “Many thanks for keeping the faith in me, gang,” he said, toasting them with his bottle of pop.

(Originally published on Bubblews.com as a serial short story experiment January-March, 2014.)

 

Rick Spiers to the Rescue (Short Story)

011
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

She turned and saw him. I gritted my teeth as I watched him loom over her, his eyes roving up and down her body.
You son of a bitch! You think you can do that to a woman?
I had not meant to leave Skye alone by our hotel’s outdoor pool. I had forgotten my towel, however, much to Skye’s amusement. “I distract you that much, huh?” she’d said to me with a giggle.
“Always,” I replied with a grin. “I’ll be right back.”
I was back in a jiffy, only now my girlfriend had company. Very ugly company: the pale skinned, balding, potbellied man wearing a black Speedo-type swimsuit all but had a neon sign on that said “lecherous pervert” hanging around his neck.
As I got closer, I heard him say “You better have a bikini on under there.” He then let out a laugh, followed by a disgusting belch.
“Get lost, pervert,” Skye replied, glaring up at him.
He just grinned, gave her another once over.
He took a step towards her.
Skye began to look around the pool, saw me, and smiled with relief.
“That’s right babe, you can smile,” the lecher replied, completely oblivious to my presence. “I won’t hurt…”
My shadow fell over him.
He turned to face me. I crossed my arms crossed in front of my chest, gave him a hard stare. “Can I help you?”
He looked me up and down, and laughed. “Yeah, you can help me by getting lost.”
Damn, this guy must have a death wish. Can’t he see how tall and brawny I am?
He looked at Skye. “This guy is your boyfriend? What a loser. You’d have a lot more fun in the Bahamas with a stud like me.” He looked at me again. I caught a whiff of booze on his breath.
Aha, Dutch courage is the reason for his bravado.
The lecher gave me a smarmy grin.
I scowled, took a step closer to him.
His grin began to waver, finally evaporated. “Hey, do you know I could kick your ass?” he grumbled.
“What did you say?” I asked, cupping my ear with one hand and acting like I couldn’t hear him.
He glowered at me. “You heard me. I said I could kick your ass.”
“You have a lot of nerve to leer at my girlfriend and then threaten me,” I replied. “Why don’t you leave us alone and get lost?”
He snorted. “I thought I told you to get lost?”
I chuckled. “Why don’t you have a few more drinks and then try and make me?”
Skye tittered.
The lecher’s face flushed red.
He started to raise his fists
I grabbed both his wrists, squeezing them with a death grip as I kicked him in the nuts.
He gasped for breath, but I wasn’t through with him. I let go of his wrists, got behind him, and gave him a kick in the ass.
He stumbled over to the edge of the pool and teetered on the brink for a millisecond before tumbling into the water.
I walked to the edge, stared down at him while he coughed and sputtered, struggling to keep his head above water. “What’s your name?”
“Gill…” He coughed and gagged on a mouthful of water. “Gillman.”
“Well Gill…Gillman, I think it’s time you were leaving.”
Gillman’s eyes widened. He swam over to the shallow end, slipped and staggered up the steps, and beat it.
“Rick, turn around.”
I turned. Skye’s cover up now lay discarded on her lounger. She stood before me resplendent in the
pink bikini she had chosen to adorn her petite, tanned body with on our first day poolside in the Bahamas. I smiled. “What’s this?”
She just grinned.
Aha, it looks like it’s the hero’s reward time…don’t mind if I do.
I swept her into my arms. She kissed me first. I kissed her back.
“Who taught you to fight like that?” she asked during a pause for breath.
I chuckled. “That was my first try. I’ll impress you even more next time.”

(Originally published on Bubblews.com December 10 th, 2014.)

 

Two Romantic Vignettes (Short Story)

romantic vignettes
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

 

Ally’s Dress

I looked up from my novel and yawned. It was almost ten on a Saturday night and I was at home alone.

My girl was out on a “girl’s night out” with her friends. It was no problem, though. I trusted her not to fool around on me, and she trusted me to do likewise.

I returned to my book, a Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt adventure. Ol’ Dirk was about to kill the bad guy and get the girl, which was as it should be.

The doorbell rang just as I got to the part where Dirk was about to take on the big bad guy.

I went to see who it was. I hoped it wasn’t somebody bearing bad news.

When I looked out the window, a warm, fuzzy feeling came over me.

My face lit up into a smile of pure joy as I opened the door and there stood Ally before me. All 5’8 inches of her dressed to the nines in a stunning emerald green strapless green dress.

She smiled back; her blue eyes glowing with playful joy as she tossed back her blonde curls.

I drew her inside, crushed her in my arms as our lips met again and again.

They kept meeting as I swept her off her feet and carried her upstairs.

“I forgot to say hello to you last night,” I said to her while we had some breakfast next morning.

Ally giggled. “I thought you said it pretty well, Rich.”

 

Ana’s New Bikini

I paced about near the entrance to the pool.  She will be out any second, I thought with anticipation.

She appeared behind the sliding glass door, opened it, and she stepped out as if she were a model on a poolside runway. Her tan, fit, 5’6 figure clad in the stunning white Victoria Secret bikini I had recently bought her.  She wears it well, I thought with admiration.

“Hey Tony,” Ana said.

“Hey Ana.  How does it fit?” I asked.

“Good,” she replied, giving me a warm smile. “Thanks for getting it for me.”

I tried to say “You’re welcome,” but the desire surging through my soul had muted my voice box.  All I could muster was a happy smile as I stepped forward, swept her into my arms, and gave her a long, deep, soulful kiss.

 

 

(Originally published on Bubblews.com November 17th, 2013—revised version created on April 5th 2015.)

 

Peter’s Glasses (Short Story)

Glasses
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

Of all the days to break my glasses! Peter thought.

He fumbled for the intercom button. “Miss Wembly?”

“Yes sir?”

“What time is it?”

“It is a quarter to eight, Mr. Tumby.”

“Thank you.”

Peter sat back in his chair, swore under his breath. Even if he called his wife and asked her to bring his spare set, the teleconference with the C.E.O. would be over by the time she arrived.  Nor could he ask Wembly for help in reading off the figures.  Mr. Meminger was a notorious sexist and would make Wembly’s life miserable with snide remarks.

Peter leaned forward and squinted at his computer screen.  He could just make out the spreadsheet filled with projected advertising and overhead expenses, revenues, and gross and net earnings.  He tried to zoom in closer, but he still could not clearly make out the numbers.

Peter had a lot riding on this teleconference, His past projections had seldom been wrong, but he had recently experienced bad luck with them. The past two Black Friday sales for United Mart had been far short of his projections.  He had wracked his brains extra hard on his figures projections for this year.  ‘This year we will be finally out of thered, he’d thought with a smile as he’d driven into work while listening to AC-DC’s song “Back in Black.”

Then he had tried to adjust his glasses after opening the spreadsheet, only to accidentally bust them in two.

Peter sighed, thought, Crap, I have no choice but to wing it.

“Good morning Mr. Meminger,” Peter said when the C.E.O. called at eight sharp.

“Good morning, Tumby,” Meminger replied.  “Do you have your projections for me?”

“Yes I do sir. Um, I have it, uh… right here.”

For the next ten minutes Peter struggled to read his figures, punctuating every other word with “um,” “I think,” or “uh.”

“Tumby, are you drunk?” Meminger finally asked.

“No sir.”

“Then what is it?”

Peter froze.  He remembered when he had been late for a teleconference and candidly admitted it to Meminger, who had promptly scoffed and said, “I don’t give a flying fuck what the traffic was like!” and proceeded to dress Peter down for ten minutes.  His tirade has resulted in the infamous “Tardy Managers” memo sent out to all department heads.  Peter had gotten a stream of sarcastic e-mails from his colleagues as a result, the mildest of which asked, “When you next screw up, can you leave the rest of us out of it?”

Peter felt sweat beading on his forehead, thought, Oh fuck, if I tell him about my glasses, he is going to go nuclear.  He could see the memo now.

“Tumby!” Meminger shouted.

“Sir, I… I…uh…”

“Quit screwing around!” Meminger shouted.  “Speak now or get ready to start looking for a new job.”

“I broke my glasses,” Peter finally confessed. “I can’t read my report.”

“What?!  You  butterfingers… why didn’t you get another pair?” Meminger bellowed.

“Because of the meeting, sir. You always wanted us to be on time.”

“Why didn’t you ask your secretary for help?”

Peter snorted.  “I think you know why I didn’t, sir.”

Meminger sighed.  “Fair enough, but Tumby? I want you to quit trying to read your fucking spreadsheet and give me a plain and simple idea about how we can make this Black Friday a winner.”

Peter blinked.  “Well…”

An idea suddenly blossomed.

“…what if he had a sale on Thanksgiving as well as Black Friday?”

“Holy shit…” Meminger said.

Peter braced himself for another verbal depth charge attack.

“… Tumby, that is absofuckinglutely brilliant!” Meminger gushed.  “We can announce our Black Friday sales in advance, but as soon as Turkey Day nears, we will make a sudden announcement we will be open on Thanksgiving too! Our competitors will have to eat our dust.”  Meminger chuckled. “My boy, you just might have saved United Mart.  In fact, I think we should have a special sale on glasses to commemorate it.”

Peter’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious?”

He got a roar of laughter in reply.  “No Tumby,” Meminger finally said. “’I’m just kidding about that part.”

Very funny, Peter thought as he felt a wild urge to reach through the phone and strangle Meminger.

 

Dent’s Madness (Short Story)

Dent madness
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

The door opened and chaos ensued; chaos sparked by a line of friends and relatives as they streamed out into the dining room and slammed pies into the face of the bride-to-be.  Roars of laughter swept through the room as each pie found its mark.

Dent stood in the kitchen with a pie in his hand, holding it as if he were a waiter about to deliver it.

Dent’s younger brother Ned and his bride-to-be, Joyce, were getting married after a whirlwind courtship.  Both families of the bride and groom were having their rehearsal dinner, which was to be climaxed by a jolly farce involving pies that was a silly tradition passed down from generation to generation in Dent’s family.

The placement of a pie in his hand had only snapped the fragile threads keeping Dent bound to reality, plunging him into a subconscious stream that began to carry him into his past.

The laughter in the dining room subsided.  “Where is my best man?” his brother Ned cried.  “Where are you, Dent?”

Dent’s eyes glazed over.

“Dent!” his brother began to chant. A smattering of voices joined in.  Dent still did not move.

The door to the kitchen crashed open.  Elthea, Dent’s short, gray haired mom, stormed in. Her eyes were hard as coals as she looked at her eldest son.  “There you are!” she exclaimed.  “What are you still doing here?”

Dent did not respond, stared past his mother’s shoulder at something only he could see: a photo of himself which had been taken when he was fourteen.  He was sitting on the top deck of a boat out on a cruise, staring dully into the camera.

“Dent!” his mother said, striding forward.  “Get out there!”

Dent remained in his trance as the memory of the photo faded, replaced by memories of a chill breeze caressing his cheeks and a burning pain from where he had been punched in the arm.

Laughter wafted into his ears from below decks as pies were slammed into the face of a bride-to-be.

“Dent!” Elthea shouted, now standing inches from him.

A strange glow appeared in Dent’s eyes.  “Mom?   I thought you were below decks.”

Elthea’s brow furrowed.  “What?”

Dent scowled.  “Why the fuck are you in my face? Where’s dad?  Where is that motherfucker?  He punched me, mom.  Want me to roll up my sleeve and show you the bruise?  He took me back to the car and punched me, said I was acting like a ‘pussy’ about being around the family again and that he needed to ‘man me up’.  That’s why we boarded last.”

Elthea looked at him closely, her expression softening.  “Dent?”

Dent scowled at her.  “Get out of my way! Where’s dad? I’ve got something for that prick.”

He shoved Elthea aside and stormed out into the dining room.

“Finally!” a guest shouted from a table near the kitchen entrance as Dent appeared.  “What kind of best man are you?”

Dent locked his eyes on the man.  He was fat with a round face and gray hair and a beard.

‘Dad!” he roared.  “There you are, you bastard!”

The man gave Ned a hard look.  “Hey buddy, settle down.  What were you doing back there, sipping vanil…”

Dent let out a feral roar, stormed forward.

“Stop him!” Elthea shouted as she burst out the door.  Nobody moved, so transfixed were they by the sight.

“This pie is for you, motherfucker!” Dent screamed as he drew closer.  The man’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “Listen!” he shouted, but Dent ignored him.  “You think you can beat me, huh?  I’m gonna embarrass you in front of the whole family, you prick!”

Dent hurled the pie right into the fat man’s face.

“Fuck yeah!” Dent howled.  “Now I got this for you.”

He raised his fist.

The man cowered in his seat.

Ned appeared, slapped his brother hard across the face.   “Dent! Snap out of it.  Our father is dead!”  Dent looked at his brother, the mad light in his eyes suddenly replaced by a milky fog.  “What…?”

 

A Day In Tokyo (Short Story)

doolittle_raid_05_700
Public Domain Image.

 

 

1942

 

“After all, tomorrow is another day,” Saigo’s father said as they stood at a street corner, waiting for the traffic light to change.

Saigo frowned.

“Do not let go of my hand as we cross the street,” his father reminded him as the light turned green.

“Yes father,” Saigo replied, “but why are you so fond of that quote from Went With The Breeze?”

His father chuckled. “I find it suits times in life where we must wait for things.”

“Like how it is April and I still have not seen an American plane?”

His father nodded.

Saigo sighed.  He loved airplanes.  By now he had seen many of the planes that belonged to the Empire of Japan.  He yearned to place a checkmark next to the American planes displayed in his identification cards, however, especially the bombers that bore designations such as B-17, or B-24.  Saigo wanted to see just one, even if was falling from the sky in flames.

“What if no American planes ever come?”

Saigo’s father smiled.  “Then that means Suzuki and his friends have shot them all down.”

“Suzuki is lucky.  He can see American planes, and shoot them down, too.”

“Your cousin and his friends are heroes of Japan.  They will make sure no American plane ever approaches Tokyo.  Now, speaking of planes, remember that model of the Type 00 I told you I saw in the window of Yoko’s toy store?”

Saigo’s eyes brightened.  “Yes.”

“Well, that is where we are going today.  I see no reason you should get your birthday present early, eh?”

Saigo giggled, his eyes glowing with anticipation.  A Type 00!  Saigo had long wanted to get his hands on a model of the type of fighter plane Suzuki flew.

They drew closer to Yoko’s shop.  Saigo strained his eyes to get a glimpse of his present.

The sound of airplane engines made Saigo stop. “Wait!” Saigo cried.  “I want to see what plane it is.”

His father chuckled.  “All right.”

The plane drew nearer.  Saigo’s brow furrowed.  Strange, he thought, this plane sounds like it has twin engines, but I have never heard this type before.

There was a loud explosion.  Then Saigo heard what sounded like hundreds of firecrackers.  The sounds were distant at first, then drew closer, as if they were following the plane.

A businessman stopped to join Saigo and his father.  “Did the news mention any drills today?” he asked.  Saigo’s father shook his head.

Saigo’s eyes widened as the plane came into view.

It was a twin-engine, twin-tailed land plane painted olive drab green with a grey underbelly.  It was flying so low, it practically hugged the rooftops.

An anti-aircraft shell burst in front of it.

“They are using live ammunition,” the businessman noted.

“Live ammunition?” Saigo’s father replied, shouting to be heard above the din.  “Those gunners must be mad, shooting at one of our planes.”

The plane roared overheard.  Saigo got a glimpse of multicolored stars painted on the fuselage and the underside of the wings. He caught a glimpse of English words spelled out in black block lettering on the wings as well: “U.S. Army.”

Saigo’s eyes widened.

“That was a B-25!”

“What?!” his father shouted back.

“If I were you, I’d get to the shelter!” the businessman cried, racing off down the street, “Did you not see those stars?”

“Yes,” Saigo added, “that plane had stars on its wings, not suns.”

His father blanched.  Then he snatched Saigo up and began to follow the businessman towards the nearby air raid shelter.

“Father?” Saigo asked as they entered.

“Yes?”

“Will Suzuki and his friends be coming to protect Tokyo?”

His father put him down, looked his son in the eye.

“No.”

Saigo’s eyes widened.  “Why?” He had assumed Suzuki and the other pilots on his aircraft carrier were invincible, and could do anything.

His father knelt before him.  “These Americans somehow eluded Suzuki and his friends.  It is up to Japan’s other heroes to defend Tokyo today.”

 

(Story copyright © 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.)

 

 

Behind the story: “The Fate of Thomas Andrews”

Andrews and RMS Titanic
Composite image created by Tony Held from public domain photos.

 

Introduction

The human side of the Titanic disaster has become all but lost over 100 years after the tragedy. Today the only “people” readily remembered in popular memory are the one-dimensional stock characters from James Cameron’s 1997 chick/disaster flick loosely based on the story.

I believe the best way to combat popular amnesia is via a well-researched dramatic retelling of a forgotten –or otherwise misunderstood– historical event. The Titanic disaster is a poster child in the latter regard. Too many people either think it was all about a teen love story or just a Hollywood blockbuster with no basis in fact.

I chose Thomas Andrews as the subject of my recently published short story because his story called out to me from day one of my Titanic studies. I felt he deserved a far better dramatic treatment than James Cameron’s treatment of Mr. Andrews; wooden, one-dimensional cardboard cutout that not only wasted Victor Garber’s talents but also could have been just any other “good adult” in a teen drama. All you had to do was take away Andrew’s name, give Garber’s character a fictional one, and drop him into, say, a high school counselor’s office.

My goal for my own dramatic portrayal was twofold: To let the real Thomas Andrews take center stage for once, and to show Andrews the human being as well as the shipbuilder.

I took care to research Andrews as thoroughly as possible before writing my story. Shan Bullock’s biography –the only one ever written to-date– was a gold mine of information. You can really meet the man in the pages of Bullock’s A Titanic Hero. It is true it is eulogistic in tone, given it came out shortly after Andrews’ death. It offers no clue on whatever character flaws he may have had. I had no interest in those, however. The only “flaw” I wanted in my story was that here was a good, decent person destined to die too soon.

What is fact; and what is fiction?

 

Pinning down the details of his last hours was a challenge. While some saw him in the hours leading up to the sinking’s horrific finale, he flits through those individual testimonies like a ghost. I am indebted to Shan Bullock for collecting a small amount of first-hand accounts from the likes of stewardess Mary Sloan. These give us a better look at the man during his last hours, though some eyewitnesses are not named. (Bullock, 64-74, 77) Bullock’s book is also my source for Andrews throwing deck chairs overboard. (74)

Andrews is also mentioned in testimony given by stewards Samuel Etches and James Johnson as well as stewardess Annie Robinson, lamp trimmer Samuel Hemming, and White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay at both the American and British inquiries into the disaster. (“Titanic Inquiry Project.”)   I also consulted Titanic historian’s George Behe and Jim Carlisle as well; their input proved invaluable. (Thanks George! Thanks Jim!)

For a quick refresh of my memory as to the basic design of the Titanic’s First Class Smoking room, I consulted a discussion thread at Encyclopedia-Titanica.  However, as this discussion thread revealed a host of unanswered questions as to the little details of the room –color of the floor tiles and furniture to name a couple– I kept my description of it sparse. (“Encyclopedia-Titanica forums”.)

I kept the details of his reconstructed conversation with Captain Smith even sparser; primary documentation about their meeting is apparently nonexistent.   We do not even know where they conferred, hence why I depict no specific room or place.  However, as Smith was seen making his own inspection below decks in the early part of the sinking, it stands to reason he and Andrews might have conferred then.  To the best of my knowledge, there also is no first-hand account that names who was sent to fetch Andrews to make his inspection or when precisely the captain realized Andrews was needed, so the details of that part of this story are speculation on my part as well.

Finally, my depiction of Andrews thinking of the Guarantee Group and himself down in the engine spaces comes from my reading of Bullock’s biography, which claims Andrews was seen in the engine spaces (73-74), and my discussions with Jim Carlisle, who told me there is a story the Group was seen in that same place that night; this sparked in my mind the possibility that it was in there both Andrews and the eight-man group of workers along to assist him were last together.

When Andrews thinks of the Harland and Wolff workers and what he said once about them to his wife are true events as well, along with how Andrews ordered a man off a scaffold in a gale one day at the shipyard, and how Andrews would order a married man away from a dangerous task and tell them married men’s lives were precious. (Bullock, 22, 43-44, 46.)     The song he remembers Dr. O’Loughin singing comes from Bullock’s book as well, but the exact circumstance of Andrews first hearing O’Loughin sing it is an educated guess on my part, though –according to Bullock- O’Loughin did indeed come up with it while serving on the Oceanic. (Bullock, 46.)

Who was the man that asked Andrews if he was going to try for it?  Bullock’s biography claims it was a steward –though no name is given– (73)  so he is lost to the mists of time; though a Wikipedia names a steward named Stewart as the man. (“Wikipedia: Thomas Andrews.”)

As for the rest, I relied on my general knowledge of the sinking to fill in the details of where Andrews might have gone and what he may have seen and done before his death.

Final comments

James Cameron made water seem glamorous in his 1997 chick/disaster flick loosely based on the disaster. One sycophantic reviewer in People Magazine even referred to the water in the Cameron movie as a “star.”  I sought to de-glamorize water in this short story by making it look like something either ugly or something that could kill you.  By ending the story with Andrews becoming totally immersed in the North Atlantic, I also touch on one of the most nightmarish of fates: Being pulled into a deep, vast void from which there is no escape.

However, I deliberately decided not to show Thomas Andrews actual moment of death.  As the film Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid demonstrates, it is far more powerful for a sympathetic character –or characters– destined to die be last seen alive and simply imply the details of their end, as opposed to showing them, especially in this day and age when “shock violence” is all the rage in popular culture.  So when we last see Andrews, he is still alive and fighting for life.

I hope people come away from this story appreciating two things:

-That Thomas Andrews was a person of flesh and blood, not just a face in an old photo or a name on a monument.

-That the sinking of the Titanic was no loopy chick flick/disaster flick but a genuine horror the claimed the lives of many a person who died too soon like Thomas Andrews.  A man I believe not only deserves but demands our respect a hundred years after he was lost.

 

Bibliography

“A Titanic Hero”: Thomas Andrews, Shipbuilder, by Shan F. Bullock; 7C’s Press reprint, 1995.

“Encyclopedia-Titanica forums”

http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5919/84335.html?1209922777

“Titanic Inquiry Project”

http://www.titanicinquiry.org/

“Wikipedia: Thomas Andrews”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Andrews_(shipbuilder)

Note: While there really was such a man on board – see for example http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/john-stewart.html – I could locate no account by him to substantiate the Wikipedia page’s claim.

Freewrite fiction: Two bits of short story

Story bits
Photo by Tony Held.

 

Rowdy Tony

I hurled a rock towards the plate glass window of the office building, followed in quick succession by two more.

Alarms sounded, but nobody came running. First, it was before dawn a Sunday morning, and the place was closed. Second, it was surrounded by no residential buildings whatsoever. It rose like an island in a sea in this part of town.

Yeah that’s me, rowdy Tony, I thought as I left the lottery office building behind.

My fury at losing the 700 million jackpot that had been split three ways earlier that night had made me do it, and I am damn proud of it.

Tom reflects

This place sure is popular with the high school crowd, Tom thought as a gaggle of male high school jocks flocked into the pool area, headed over to the sauna kibitzing and laughing about this and that. The very sight of them made him feel so old, he sometimes felt like moving into a retirement home. The first well-preserved 33 year-old to do so, Tom joked to himself at times.

His own teenage years had roared by and had left a sense of incompletion in their wake; that he had not gotten out of them all of what he wanted. All Tom could do now was look at all the youths who hung out at the Lifetime Fitness he frequented and wonder if what might have been.

Behind the story: “A Memory at Midway”

A memory at Midway behind the scenes
Historic images from public domain; author photo by Ed Held; composite image by Tony Held.

 

What is the story behind my recently published WWII short story “A Memory at Midway“? Here it is:

Inspiration

Back in the fall of 2001, I was stuck in Rochester, Minnesota, due to events worthy of stories all their own. “Escape” reading was the norm for me down there courtesy of books from the Rochester Public Library. One of those books was John Toland’s masterful But Not In Shame: The Six Months After Pearl Harbor.  A non-fiction narrative that spanned the war in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to Midway.

The following passages in his Midway chapter caught my eye:

“[Earl] Gallaher sighted on the flaming Rising Sun at the forward edge of the flight deck. From the day he saw the Arizona lying at her berth in Pearl Harbor, smoldering and smashed, he had dreamed of making a dive-bombing attack on a Japanese carrier. There was little anti-aircraft fire and no fighter resistance as he swept low. At about 1800 feet he released his bomb, then pulled up into a steep climb and kicked his plane around so he could watch the progress of the bomb…A moment later he saw it explode in the middle of planes parked on the after part of Akagi’s [actually Kaga’s] flight deck. It was a moment of exultation. He thought, “Arizona, I remember you!” 1.

Powerful stuff; made doubly so by the fact that the USS Arizona is the historic ship closest to my heart thanks to a childhood friend ship with one of her survivors, Guy S. Flanagan Jr.

Fast-forward to 2011; with the 70th anniversaries of Pearl Harbor and Midway fast approaching, I decided to dramatically depict this incredible “little story” from WWII in the form of a short story; one whose tone and feel was best described as The Killer Angels Pacific. After two years of writing, submitting, re-writing, and re-submitting, it is finally published on the eve of Midway’s 71st anniversary.

What is fact?

Further research eventually revealed that Gallaher’s feelings about the Arizona‘s loss were not idle ones: he had reported aboard her in the early 1930s fresh out of Annapolis. That is real; all his actions during the battle are real; the fact the Enterprise dive bomber squadrons followed a Japanese ship to Admrial Chuichi Nagumo’s carrier task force is real (it was a destroyer named the Arashi, incidentally); his radioman in his SBD was even a real person, Tom Merritt. However, I did not mention his name because all I needed Merritt to be in my story was Gallaher’s radioman; naming him would have been a tad cloying. However, his exclamation to Gallaher after Kaga suffers a direct hit from Gallaher’s bomb comes right from a postwar interview with Gallaher. 2. And of course Gallaher’s closing thought comes right from Toland’s book.

I also took pains to make sure that the technical details were as right as possible. SBD pilots really did seek a “sweet spot” where G-forces did not pin themselves into their seat nor left them dangling forward in their cockpit; SBD pilots really did yank the manual release after punching the automatic; and they really did keep their cockpits open. If they did not, their bomb sights would fog up and spoil their aim.  3.

The general description of the Kaga is also accurate, derived from artwork which depicts how she looked at Midway contained in an appendix to Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully’s book about the battle. 4.

 

What is fiction?

Very little. Frankly, I despise people like Michael Bay and James Cameron who mangle historical fact in brain-dead “historical” movies claiming historical accuracy is impossible; an argument that is pure nonsense.

It is true I ran into one semi-gray area and one definitely gray area in writing “A Memory at Midway.”  The semi-one involves a confusing factual detail that I ultimately left out pending further research: apparently Gallaher’s Scouting Squadron Six got mixed-up with planes from Lt. Dick Bests’ Bombing Squadron Six due to a snafu in communications between Group Commander Wade McClusky and Best. 5. Instead, I went with how Gallaher laid out the sequence of events in his after action report, which does not mention this. 6.  Perhaps Gallaher did not see this as he made his run on Kaga?

The completely gray area I ran into during the research for this story involves the state of the flight deck on Kaga when Gallaher attacked it. For decades, most historians agreed that the Japanese flight decks were packed with aircraft awaiting takeoff against the American carriers. However, recent historians such as Parshall and Tully argue such was not the case, that only combat air patrol fighters were on the decks of the carriers Kaga, Akagi, Soryu, and Hiryu at the time three of the four carriers under Admiral  Nagumo’s command were knocked out by American dive bombers at the climax of the morning phase of the battle. 7. I hedged in this depiction by going with the theory that the Kaga hand landed all her CAP fighters and was beginning the process of spotting planes for the attack on the US Navy flattops when calamity struck.

The only “fiction” in this story is the reconstructed conversations between Gallaher and Merritt; along with a reconstructed order given by Enterprise carrier air group skipper Wade McClusky to Best and Gallaher before the attack is launched. Finally, most of Gallaher’s thoughts and feelings are reconstructed from the mentions he made of them in the interview I consulted while researching this story.

The latter are a literary technique I learned from Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and all of his son Jeff’s historical novels. They may be permanently in a gray area as to whether or not they are literally true, but I believe they are emotionally true. What is more, they also teach readers that those who were at Pearl Harbor, Midway, and other clashes of arms throughout history were human beings. People like you or me who found their lives caught up in momentous events.

 

Sources

 

1. John Toland, But Not In Shame: The Six Months After Pearl Harbor (Random House, 1961),  389-390.

2. “Earl Gallaher Interview 4 Jun 1992”, accessed on May 27th, 2013, http://ww2db.com/doc.php?q=403

3. CDR Clayton E. Fisher, USN (Ret.), “The SBD in Combat”, The Battle of Midway Roundtable, accessed May 26th, 2013, http://www.midway42.org/fisher-sbd.htm

4. Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Potomac Books, 2005), 468-469.

5. This mix-up is mentioned in Gordon W. Prange, Miracle At Midway (McGraw-Hill, 1982), 261

6. Scouting Squadron Six after-action report, June 20th, 1942, electronic copy accessed May 26th, 2013, http://www.cv6.org/ship/logs/action19420604-vs6.htm

7. See for example Shattered Sword, 229-231.

 

 

A WWII story published at last!

A memory at Midway
Images from public domain; composite image by Tony Held.

For the past two years, I have written, submitted, re-edited, and re-submitted a WWII short story that takes place at the battle of Midway featuring a historical character: a dive bomber pilot from the USS Enterprise (CV-6) named Earl Gallaher. This short story -ultimately entitled “A Memory at Midway”- depicts one of the best “little stories” of WWII. And so, without further ado, you can read “A Memory at Midway” here at The Fresh Pen.ca. It is just over 1,000 words; action-packed; and even contains a surprise-twist; and all of it is as historically accurate as I could make it.