I knew Jake – the cashier – lied.
They’d been at the trading post, no doubt.

The gaudy knick-knacks. A leather tassel, hanged
in a nail-style noose.
Dead giveaway – the rear view mirror, with a Sharpie choking out a plea for help.

In 1777, a French soldier called this place magnifique mais corrompu.

When fugitive Emanations break through the Seal, they wreak havoc.

Libiticus is a Scourge.
He has collaborators. Like Jake.

Unfortunately, I’m too late to help the hikers.
I can’t tell you that a Watchkeeper is a noble job.

Tonight, at closing time?

Jake won’t say so, either.

10 Comments

  1. Len Kuntz

    Trent,

    This was a doozy. I read it four times. It’s both detailed and obscure, two of my favorite things when they are combined. All of the descriptive bits were really great–A leather tassel, hanged
    in a nail-style noose.
    I’m not sure I got exactly what you were saying in full, but it doesn’t matter. Nice job.

    The one thing that stopped me was the “Sharpie” part. While I really liked that line, I paused because there’s a trading post reference beforehand, and then we go back to the year 177-something.

    Len

  2. Trent

    OK, first of all, excited to be in this workshop!

    So, here I’m in drabble mode. This is not directly based on any of the Pocket Lint
    site photos, but it’s based on a photo from a recent prompt I liked.

    I _was_ going to submit for it, but a computer crash came along, and
    sabotaged the project.

    Figured I’d make good on the photo’s vibe, finally.

    And hey, I’m a weird spec fiction kind of writer, so I intend to amplify that for
    our weekend!

    Here’s the photo:

    https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/monthly-micro-fiction-competition/

  3. Emily Bertholf

    Hey Trent. Great to have you here and be here with you. This piece is very intriguing, both luring me in and sending my mind racing off the page in search of clues. It definitely pulls me in and makes me feel like I’m taking part in solving the mystery. I love how specific and invocative your language is, and how sharp your prose turns in and out of time, alluding us on breadcrumbs of a text trail.

    That said, I’m a bit at a loss picking up the trail and unraveling those clues. I get the sense that someone is looking for hikers, and someone else, Jake is lying. Their disappearance seems to tie in with something ancient, ethereal, and haunting of the place, which I love – but the end about closing time, I’m not getting. I searched and translated the french and Libiticus but didn’t come up with much that helped.

    So huge kuddos for dining into this photo and setting a whole creepy, ancient, surreal tone. It could be my own lack of understanding of context clues, but for this piece to be whole and stay with me long after the read, I’d like the “breadcumb” clues to lead me somewhere a little more solid – whether that’s deeper into a aha moment or deeper into uncertainty is fine, but either way, I’m not yet clear on what’s the story under this story? What’s staring in the dark that I didn’t see at first but see now? I don’t know if that helps or makes sense to you, but of course, take what works for you and leave the rest. As an early draft, I think this is very intriguing start.

  4. Kathryn Kulpa

    I love the vivid, rich atmosphere. Layered images that describe a many-layered place, “beautiful but corrupt.” The juxtaposition of the sharpie/rear view mirror (modern) with the French soldier from 1777 didn’t bother me because it felt like this was a haunted trading post, where echoes of the past sometimes break through and cause harm in the present. A place where the borders are porous. At first I thought the narrator was a ghost, but it sounds like a “watchkeeper” is some other kind of being. I was reminded of the mood of Neil Gaiman’s early Sandman stories, both creepy and dreamy.

  5. Meg Tuite

    Hi Trent,
    I love how sparse the details are, but they do rock a narrative of these hitchhikers going to a place, buying the gaudy souvenirs, but maybe skip ‘the sharpie’ and just say wrote out ‘help’ in lipstick or blood…
    And yes, the watchkeeper can’t help and Jake lies so there’s no hope for the hitchhikers. Creepy and your use of white space is magnificent. LOVE THIS!

  6. Sara Comito

    Hi Trent, I dig a double meaning in “Not on My Watch.” And then there seems to be some time traveling. I wonder if that’s what going to the trading post means. I also love “When fugitive Emanations break through the Seal, they wreak havoc.” Great rhythm and it brings a sense of religious gravitas. It feels like the main character and Jake are like arch rivals chasing each other and sort of enjoying some sort of insider status. I’m intrigued!

  7. AJ Miller

    Hi Trent. I love drabbles and how you tell a story in so few words. Before I even looked at the picture I was so intrigued by this. Your opening line is superb. In just a few lines we know quite a bit about the situation. Plus questions arise. Why would Jake lie? And what exactly is he lying about. There’s mystery and suspicion. I love the mood and tone of this piece, of how it seems the watchkeeper knows Jake lies and now there’s nothing that can be done about the hikers. The help message on the mirror is so creepy. I like the ambiguity of what is going to happen at closing time. What *is* going to happen at closing time, I wonder. There are details that I don’t quite connect with, the line about the fugitive which may hinder my full understanding of the scene, but it doesn’t distract from my trying to figure it out. I do like a little bit of challenge but I wonder if I missed a key piece to the puzzle. This piece makes me want to reread until I’ve squeezed every single detail and meaning out of it that I can. Enjoyed!

  8. Aimee Parkison

    Trent,

    I’m fascinated by the complex intelligence at work in this strange wonderous mingling of details. This piece is short but also incredibly multifaceted in the way it weaves historical details into what seems like a contemporary crisis.

    The idea of the watch and the Watchkeeper seems mythic and calls up thematic potential in the role of the witness. How responsible is the Watchkeeper for all he sees and all he has seen? This such rich narrative territory.

    The narrator knows so much and has so many mysteries to convey, and yet with every sentence he gives the reader, he opens up a deeper mystery so that every new bit of information leaves us knowing less than before. This is a wonderful innovative technique, to pull the reader in deeper and deeper.

    There are so many strands that pull me into the fiction: Jake and his lie, the trading post, the history of the French soldiers, and the hikers. I wonder what happened to the hikers. The line that says it was “too late to help” seems to have a sinister implication and leaves me wanting to know even more.

    You could continue to develop this by giving a few more hints about the narrator, who he is, where he comes from, what his motivation is for telling this story.

    I wonder if you might be interested in adding to this by making it a longer piece in multiple sections, each section picking up a strand and going deeper to allow the reader to explore more of the details and events referenced, perhaps one strand per section with this being the introduction. You might end up with a long poem or even a series or mircos that tell a braided story, giving the story within the story of each of these strands, and a conclusion to link it together through the narrator’s voice.

    You could certainly send this to a journal that publishes poetry or innovative fiction. It might be understood as poetry or hybrid due to the way you’re using line breaks. You might try Ghost Parachute or Pithead Chapel.

    Overall, this is ambitious and enthralling!

    Best, Aimee

  9. David O'Connor

    Trent, love how much you do in such a short amount of words, you created a world, and shook it like a cocktail shaker, the jarring jumps in tone and time… eg, 1777, really work, brave choices that paid off, somehow the thread of logic that holds these images together is ox-strong, love it, give us more!!

  10. Gloria Garfunkel

    Trent, I love the hints that something horrible has happened, the noose and the choking Sharpie, the missing hikers. The story reads like a treasure hunt, the reader left desperately looking for clues. I even looked up what the relevance might be of France in 1777 which turns out to be the year France first recognized the United States as a nation. What that has to do with your story, who knows? It’s just another clue to a mystery I would love to know more about. Very unusual mind-bending piece. Well done.

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