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I came up with an idea about two weeks ago that sounded pretty interesting: use Twitter to post little stories that fit within the 140-character Twitter limit. It was both gimmicky and challenging, so I decided to give it a go. Besides, my mind felt uncreative, I’m almost 40, and I needed my version of a mental sports car.

I created a new Twitter feed called Tiny Stories (@tinystories), and I posted my 7th story there today. (Actually, thanks to a Twitter outage yesterday, I just discovered that #6 did not get posted, so I have to post that one again.) Click the link to read and follow the Tiny Stories tweets.

A few of the stories so far have been difficult to write, but certainly a lot of fun. Today’s was one of the difficult ones. Here it is, all 140 characters of it:

Amid the dead they are forcing me to bury is the old tutor who made my young life hell. Now, by the pit, his still, gray face echoes heaven.

This one was a huge struggle. There was a lot to convey. Though the final story has a slight grammatical awkwardness, I think it is a good compromise.

The inspiration for this story was a feature at The Big Picture regarding the trial in Cambodia of former Khmer Rouge officials.

I have always been fascinated, in a terrified way, of how so many “revolutions” target intellectuals. I understand, theoretically, why this is done, but the logic of it beyond ideology is insane. The Killing Fields was my first significant exposure to the Cambodian tragedy. Seeing the new pictures last week reminded me of this failing of humanity. The pictures of the skulls, the man piling up the bones, and the mass graves that are now pits filled with stagnant water are deeply shocking. Aside from the usual question of motivation is one of result. What would it feel like to be one of the “intellectuals” swept up and slain for a governmental cause? What was it like in the camps, with so many people from so many different backgrounds becoming nothing more than animals waiting for slaughter? How does one live through such a time? When those with whom you’ve had differences are placed in the same horrifying circumstance as yourself, how do you see them then?

I wanted to see what I could do with those ideas in 140 characters. Yeah, I know.

I started with a sentence that I would have ended up changing very little if I hadn’t needed space, since I think it set the scene, the characters, and the situation just the way I wanted it to.

Among the dead they were forcing him to bury was his old teacher, who’d made his life hell so long ago.

My first try at the second half made the story about the true hell of the present erasing the mild hell of the past.

He had no idea what hell was back then.

I decided I liked another idea better, though, where people are all the same in these camps, whatever their pasts. Whatever strife there was once between people is erased by the horrible present. How better to do that than to counter “hell” with “heaven.” I had very little space left, so what was the most efficient yet effective way to end the story?

The gray face now reminded him of heaven.

Now the gray face reminded him of heaven.

Now the gray face was that of heaven.

Now the still face was that of heaven.

What I really needed was more space so I could try to create a stronger image of the dead man. I had to shave letters out of the first sentence.

…who’d made his life hell as a kid.

…who’d made his young life hell.

…was his old tutor…

I liked the reference to the main character’s youth, especially if I used “old” to describe his teacher, meaning both age-wise and time-wise. “Tutor” was shorter than “teacher,” and it also suggested that the main character was once upper class, and that the dead man was a step above a teacher… more “intellectual.”

…forcing him to burn…

“Burn” was no shorter than “bury,” but it sounded more brutal and violent. However, in my head, I had the image of the mass graves filled with water, and what digging up those graves must have been like when the Khmer Rouge was out of power. Graves ended up seeming more brutal to me, so I kept “bury.”

“Among” was long, but it was exactly correct. The dead man was, physically, among the dead. “Forcing” had to be used, since it, too, was exactly what I meant. I wanted to add something about soldiers or gunpoint, but I did not have space. Saying the main character was forced to do this hopefully implies soldiers and guns, or at least someone or something cruel and heartless. I did not have room to replace “dead” with “slain,” which would have  clinched the murder image.

Back to the ending, I wanted to make the realization of “heaven” more personal for the main character.

…became his heaven.

…is his heaven.

I could not get that to sound right without expounding a little bit more. I had no room, though. Instead of making it obviously personal to the main character, perhaps I just had to find the right word to give a sense of such. I found “echoed” in the thesaurus, which was a good word to describe the heaven the character sees in the dead man’s face.

Today, the still, gray face echoed heaven.

Now, the still, gray face echoed heaven

Now, by the pit, the still face echoed heaven.

Now, in the pit, the still face echoed heaven.

I had come up with the pit as a dramatic counterpoint to “heaven,” to see if I could create a more tragic image at the end. I liked “by” instead of “in,” since I pictured the main character musing this before pushing the body into the grave. I also played with putting “old” at the end to describe the face, instead of at the beginning to describe “tutor” or “teacher.”

Today, the old, still face was…

But “old” fit better where it was, helping to give a sense of past and age to the dead man.

I was always 4 or 5 characters over the limit. One way to shave off extra letters was to change the voice of the story, making “him” “me” and such. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but I gave it a try.

Among the dead they were forcing me to bury was my old tutor, who’d made my young life hell. Now, by the pit, his still, gray face echoed heaven.

Four characters over. Maybe the present tense would work better?

Among the dead they are forcing me to bury is my old tutor, who’d made my young life hell. Now, by the pit, his still face echoes heaven.

I wasn’t completely sold on the change of voice, but I liked it enough. And I now had 3 spare characters! Could I get one more word into the end? I wanted to use “still” and “gray.”

Among the dead they are forcing me to bury is my old tutor, who made my young life hell. Now, by the pit, his still, gray face echoes heaven.

One character too many.

Among the dead they force me to bury is my old tutor, who made my young life hell. Now, by the pit, his still, gray face echoes heaven.

Among the dead they forced me to bury was my old tutor, who made my young life hell. Next to the pit, his still, gray face echoed heaven.

Five and 3 spare characters, respectively. But present was better than past in this case, and “force” didn’t work as well as “are forcing.”

Among the dead they force me to bury is the old tutor who made my young life hell. Now, by the pit, his still, gray face echoes heaven.

Five spare characters, but “force” still is no good. Changing “my” to “the” saves a comma but gains a letter, so it’s a wash, yet I liked it better in the end.

With the change in voice, the grammar of the opening was sounding muddy. Many people might insert a comma with their mind, reading it as, “Among the dead, they force me to bury is….” I did not have room for it, but I tried:

Among the dead, which they are forcing me to bury, is the old tutor…

Too long, and too parenthetical. By the way, they were forcing me to do this…

Could I fix the problem by re-organizing the first part of the story? What if I got rid of a few commas, too?

My old tutor, who made my young life hell, is among the dead they are forcing me to bury. Beside the pit, his still, gray face echoes heaven.

The old tutor who made my young life hell is among the dead they are forcing me to bury. Beside the pit, his still, gray face echoes heaven.

While being forced to bury the slain, I find the old tutor who made my young life hell. Beside the pit, his still, gray face becomes my heaven.

Sure, I got “slain” in there, but the flow of these stories did not have the correct impact. Even though the original arrangement was a bit sloppy, it was best. Maybe the first person POV would allow people to forgive the sloppiness.

Now, I was only 1 character over the limit. I could not get rid of any commas. “…His still gray face…” has completely different meaning! I had to lose my beloved “among” and go with “amid.” “Amid” is not the better word in this case, because “among” sounds more physical and tangible than “amid.” But “amid” would have to suffice.

There was no more tweaking or experimenting to be done. Time to post!

Amid the dead they are forcing me to bury is the old tutor who made my young life hell. Now, by the pit, his still, gray face echoes heaven.

And that, dear friends, is the long-winded story about a very short-winded story. I’m sure the chances are slim of a person reading the story and going, “My god! The Khmer Rouge!” Or even, “My god! The Holocaust!” It might be too vague for any of that. But I hope that whatever images the story creates, the basic meaning and emotion is there. Who knows?

Please read Tiny Stories, and let me know what you think. I hope to keep this going for a while.

As I go through life, creating less and less and merely existing more and more, I stumble upon things I wrote anywhere from one to twenty years ago, and I always get this feeling that I am, somehow, merely existing more and more and creating less and less. It’s a crushing feeling. Until I remember that I have The Wren Forum, and the The Wren Forum is full of genius! (This is a form of faux flattery that gets me through the long, sunny California days.)

Exhibit A: A story I wrote on a whim in 1994, just a few months after I moved to L.A. and, by happenstance, also began working at Disney as the receptionist for BVHE IS, which was at the time situated in a warehouse in Glendale. I literally had nothing to do all day. Even when I had something to do, I still had to pretend I had something to do. As you’ll see.

I imagine this story is somewhere in the three-ring binder I created for all my new Disney friends sometime in 1996, collecting the best of our stories and e-mails from our two-year romp through the IS department. (Damn, we ranthat place!) I called the binder tome In the Company of Geeks, and it sits like a treasure in my still-doorless, drawerless buffet.

Here’s the story and its e-mail wrappings in their original glory. I only had a desire to change one tiny thing, but I didn’t. No, it’s not the misspelling of Lamborghini. A shiny new penny to the first person who can guess what it is I would have changed.

* * * * * * * *

Author: Steve Lekowicz at HVFS3
Date: 12/13/94 11:15 AM
Priority: Normal
TO: Carol Cichon
TO: Michelle Ferrara
TO: SANDRA KELLY
TO: Steve Rowley
Subject: A Clandestine Bamboozle
——————————- Message Contents ——————————-
The reason I’m typing this is because there are some people here waiting for
Lloyd, and I have to look busy. So let me tell you a little story…

There was a woman named Horace who, though her name was atrocious, was as
beautiful as her father was ugly. Her ugly father, Grant, was a collector of
rare promotional items, like Coca-Cola dim sum organizers and Filter Fresh
T-shirts.

One day, Grant decided to take a long journey in search of The Gilded Beer
Huggy, a very rare item originally given out by MCI to its satisfied customers.
(It was rumored that there was only one Gilded Beer Huggy in existence.) So
Grant set off, leaving Horace behind to watch over the condo.

Horace found her freedom to be delightful, and day after day, she pranced about
the condo in her bare feet, humming lightly-tuned Kenny G songs to herself and
eating Snack Wells fat-free Cream Cheese Delights.

In her third week of solitude, however, she became moribund. She lacked her
previous verve and delight in life. So she set off for the Alpha-Beta to find
adventure. There, in the snack foods aisle, she saw the most handsome man ever.
He turned and saw her. He held a box of Snack Wells reduced-fat Fudge Blops.
Their eyes connected (Horace’s and the man’s, not Horace’s and the Blops’.)

After a brief affair in the bulk foods section, Horace decided to run away with
Linda (for that was the man’s name) and live forever with him in his
rent-controlled bungalow in the Sierra Madres. Just as the two were leaving the
Alpha-Beta, however, a small, pitiful cry rang out from a dark, poorly lit
aisle. Horace was beckoned by name into the dimness, where she found herself
surrounded by Hostess baked goods and Simply Fruit multi-packs. She leaned over
the dark figure calling her name… it was her father, Grant, who had become
stuck in a mass of eucalyptus honey from a broken jar he’d knocked off the shelf
in his quest for the Gilded Beer Huggy.

Horace was torn. She so wished to help her father from the mass and tend to him
in his older years, but she equally wished to run away with the handsome Linda.
Her mind tossed like a salad with Bac-Os and those quaintly-sized Pepperidge
Farm seasoned croutons.

With blind confusion, she dashed to the back of the store. There, she met an old
woman who was gently fondling a package of bratwurst, and the woman said to her,
“Young lady, heed my advice. Care for your father, for it was he who gave you
life.” Just then, the voice of an equally old woman (thumping an olive loaf to
test for ripeness) said, “Follow your heart, dearie, for it will wither if you
do not.” The two old women glared at each other, then leapt upon one another in
a vicious fight. Horace could only watch in horror as the two old ladies
battered each other to death with meat products and newspaper coupons and,
inexplicably, court summons.

As Horace left the carnage behind her, a light dawned upon her. The light was
from the Store Directory, whose fluorescent light was on the fritz. As the
Directory flashed and buzzed, one thing on the list drew her attention the most:
FEMININE NEEDS.

With that revelation, Horace left the damn Alpha-Beta, her ugly father Grant and
the inaptly-named Linda, and bought a Lambourghini, in which she rode out the
rest of her happy years.

THE END

* * * * * * * * *

Well, those people have come and gone, but at least my story is done.

–Steve

* * * * * * * *

WELCOME BACK TO 2006. I see I still use rows of asterisks to separate text ideas. And it turns out I want to change one more tiny little thing. But not here. Oh, no. Here, the story remains pure. But a shiny new nickel to anyone who guesses the second change.