Friday, June 08, 2007

A Writing Challenge

Manuel Ramos

I've tried different experiments here on La Bloga, usually to no effect. My crossword puzzle being a prime example. I got absolutely no response to that. In any event, I'm still trying to come up with something new for the folks who check out this column on Friday, a relatively low traffic day for La Bloga. Here's my latest wild hair: I give you the first page of a story, and you give me (and the readers of La Bloga) the rest. Send me your finish to the following and I just might publish it. I'm the judge, jury and executioner, so there is no mercy, but if you give me something that moves me, you're in, and you get all the fame and fortune that La Bloga can provide, plus you exercise your writing chops. This challenge goes out to my comrades here on La Bloga, too. And if you don't like this beginning, hey, change it, re-arrange it, let's see what you got. Send your stories to me at


The cold wind mercilessly whipped the old house. An occasional groan from stressed rafters carried through the high, dusty rooms. Loose windows rattled rhythmically. When the rain started to fall the roof surrendered and muddy, greasy water puddled on the floors.

I closed the blanket tighter around my shoulders and shivered by the smoky fireplace. The fire was slow and lazy and eager to die but I stoked it back to life with old newspapers and magazines. The stacks of yellowed pieces of paper had surprised me. My grandmother had always loved to read, in Spanish and English, and the fifty years that she had lived in the house were more than enough to stash, pile up, stow away, collect.

I thought I wanted to hear the music of José Alfredo Jiménez or maybe Robert Johnson but neither was an option just then so I hummed Stardust and let it go at that.

The last of the tequila from under the sink was gone and I had eaten the final cold french fry from my stop at the fast food drive-through. The drive earlier that day from Denver, south on I-25 over Raton Pass, was a fading memory. I huddled in my grandmother’s abandoned ranchito in the secluded cañon in northern New Mexico and I wasn’t sure why I was there.

I reached for a mildewed, wrinkled scrapbook to add to the fire. A photograph floated through the musty air and landed near my feet. I studied it and smiled. A thousand days and nights swirled and jostled my balance. I dredged up half-eaten tamales and potatoes dipped in vinegar to cure head colds and naive boys in nylon caps that covered ringworm. I recalled blood gushing from my brother’s elbow because he had jumped over the front porch railing, and I remembered my mother’s constant grief and tears.

A shadow moved across the photo. I looked up but I was too slow.




Anonymous said...

Question: Do we have to leave this as-is?:
"nylon caps that covered ringworn"
or did you mean: ringworm?

Manuel Ramos said...

That was a typo -- now fixed. But, as I said in my intro, you can change, re-arrange the original.

Lisa Alvarado said...

OK, nitpicking aside...This is a great start, and if none responds, you, jefe, should finish this...
Ramon Chandler ain't got nuthin' on you.

Anonymous said...

seeing as this is a chicano site, do you have to be chicano to submit?

Manuel Ramos said...

No, you could be chicana. Just kidding -- unlike the food stamp office or the motor vehicle department, I won't ask for ID and proof of nationality. I'm only asking for good writing, as judged by my subjective analysis.

Anonymous said...

Also, Anonymous, for your info, we do review, write about and occasionally disparage those of other ethnicities (Cubano, Boriqua), nationalities (Mexican, Colombian), religiosities (Protestant, Tao), and proclivities. And that's just in print.

msedano said...

Two men and a woman had entered the house and crept silently upon me. They carried bludgeons and had that hungry glint in their eye that told me I was dinner.

The bigger of the two men held back, looking from the woman to the thin, rat-faced man--or was it a boy? His slight figure swam in the oversized garments. Rat-face pointed at me with his chin. The woman smiled and advanced, holding her club in front of her, thrusting and jabbing, anticipating any move I might make to escape.

I crawled backwards on my butt, using my arms as levers to inch closer to the window. That would be my only exit if I moved swiftly enough. I hoped the boy would not cry out in alarm when he saw me crash out the window. I would circle around to his hiding place under the mesquite, after I'd led the pursuers on a wild goose chase.

"Pappa doo run run poppa doo runn run" coursed through my mind. What did this awful old song have to do ... and then I woke up fully. Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic novel The Road slid off my chest onto the floor with a gentle thud. The oldies radio station went to commercial as my bare feet hit the floor. Time to start another day.

Lisa Alvarado said...

A shadow moved across the photo. I looked up but I was too slow. I saw the butt of the pistol, someone's hand.

"Fuck me."

"You're fucked alright."

I knew that voice. I never thought we'd meet up again. I had to explain, fix this shit once and for all. I opened my mouth to speak, but it was too late. A white, bright pain, and then nothing.

I don't know how long I was out, but when I came to, I was flat on my back on the wooden floor, the blanket pooled next to me. A black lug soled boot was grinding into my chest and someone I knew was standing above me, with that pistol aimed right at my head.

"Listen, I can explain..."

"Shut up! You talk when I tell you. Say another goddamn word and I'll pull this trigger and put you in the ground."

"I know what you want."

"You do, do you? Maybe I want to unload this clip into that lying mouth of yours."

I could see a finger easing off the trigger and I knew this was my chance. "I never meant to leave, not like that. It was my only chance to find out what happened to the other two, what happened to the money. If I brought you with me we might've both gone down. I wasn't gonna do that to you. You have to believe me....I can make this right."

There a millisecond where neither of us breathes, then slowly, the pistol is slipped into a back holster, and my would-be executioner crouches over me. And then the face I've seen every night in my dreams for months is inches from mine. I know that smell, that mouth.

"Baby, she says, "Start explaining."