Short Fiction: 239 Sycamore St.

While walking through my neighborhood yesterday, I wondered what actually went on behind those manicured lawns and drawn curtains. I wondered how much I really knew my neighbors.

This is what my brain spat out:

Ian missed living in a city that didn’t keep any secrets from him, where everything was out in the open: junkies, hookers, pan handlers, rich snobs and bad cops. You knew where you stood with everyone in the city, and everyone in the city knew where they stood with you.

In the suburbs, though, everyone had a secret. Two houses up, the Doyles were overdue on three months’ of bills, but they kept paying the gardener to come and keep up appearances. Across the street, Mrs. Canton practically begged every delivery boy who came to the door to fuck her, except on Sunday when she went door to door, passing out bible tracts. Next door, Doctor and Mrs. Thompson argued quietly and intensely almost every night about their son, who they’d put into a group home for troubled youth.

Day after day, Ian smiled and waved to his neighbors, while recording all of their secrets in journals and photo albums.

When the police finally found the bodies buried in the loose dirt of his basement, his neighbors were shocked: “He was quiet,” Doctor Thompson said. “He kept to himself,” Mrs. Thompson added.

“He never left his garbage cans out. He kept a lovely lawn,” The Doyles told investigators.

When the handsome young reporter from Channel 6 came to her door, Mrs. Canton smiled carefully and said, “Would you like to come inside and talk about it over a cup of coffee?” 

I worked on it a little bit yesterday, and again this morning, mostly focusing it on the beats I wanted to put together. I'll be honest: I'm nervous to release fiction, even short fiction like this (just 239 words) to the world without even showing it to an editor, first … but the point of this isn't to be perfect, it's to be creative. So, writers who are afraid to show their work to readers: if I can do this, so can you.

NB: My neighbors are actually quite lovely … as far as I know.

48 thoughts on “Short Fiction: 239 Sycamore St.”

  1. The second paragraph really tells you all you need to know about the characters and I love the reveal of Ian’s secret. Mrs Canton’s invite gives it a great ending. Good stuff!
    And seriously, the Daily Writers group on The Node would be perfect for you. Let me know if you want an invite (and that goes for any creative geeks and nerds here).

  2. Really enjoyed this. Raw creation is great. At uni our theatre society had an annual event where we locked a small group of script writers into a room for 24 hours to create a 10 min script each. They then had a week to cast and rehearse their scripts before they were performed for 5 nights. Some excellent work came out of it.

  3. Sounds a lot like a gritty version of desperate housewives. I love this kind of stuff. It’s all very dark and talks about the deep, hidden caverns of our psyche… or perhaps I just shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine tonight.

  4. Very cool Wil, your a BRILL writer, and I still enjoy re-reading your books, so it’s nice to be treated to a short story now and then. The flow and cadence was really good and the subject matter was entertaining. Good story Wil, you inspire OTHERS to write just like you inspired ME to do MY radio show.

  5. The first paragraph of this was brilliant — and I’m not just saying that to stroke your ego, either. Actually, the whole piece snapped into perspective a lot of the ideas I’ve been trying to pull together regarding my (too-short) time living in Vancouver, to use as a setting in my novel. I sort of doubt you posted this with the intent to inspire another writer, but that’s what you’ve done, and it’s a service for which I’m very, very grateful. Cheers!

  6. Something I remembered from Neil Gaiman that I’ll paraphrase here since I have a toddler sleeping on my chest and can’t get to my writing notebook where I wrote the quote down in front as inspiration: “it’s not finished until you set it free”

  7. Great job! You’re a talented writer, Wil. I hope you continue to experiment with writing fiction, if this is any indication of what’s to come you’re off to a fantastic start.

  8. I love flash fiction. It’s my favorite thing to write and to read, and this was wonderful! Thanks! Maybe this will kick my own muse in the pants. She sure could use it lately!

  9. My favorite part was the title. Now, you have your own little world created. You can come back to it, and tell new stories, any time you want. I bet the Thompson boy would make a good first-person pro/an-tagonist. I grew up in a neighborhood like that.

  10. Any creator endeavor has critics. The worst critic is you…and that will never change. You will never be satisfied with your own creations. That sure as hell doesn’t stop you from creating.

  11. I very much enjoyed this short story it definitely had good flow and the turn around with Ian at the end was great. And I love the connections: The arguing couple saying he was so quiet the couple who paid to have their lawn kept to keep up appearance even though they were broke saying he kept a lovely lawn.. And then Mrs. Canton… well.. enough said lol. Awesome stuff. I am actually working to get back in to writing and seeing things like this help get me in the mind set. Thank you for taking the time to share this. It is very much appreciated

  12. I really like that, Wil. Scary thing, neighbors, and you show that well here.
    I will confess that I often wonder what’s happening behind the drapes as I pass by houses in my neighborhood.

  13. that was a nice solid “slice of life”. creepy, too. Reminds me of how far you have come as a blogger and writer. been reading since the days of the story about ryan and nolan at the lumber store, talking about grinding a rail. 😉

  14. Wil, I *loved* this. It was so clever, and I loved all the connections between what the neighbors believed a “perfect” neighbor was, and what they used to make the world think of them as the perfect neighbors. If I’d been drinking anything at that last paragraph, I would’ve done a spittake all over my imac (and I would’ve hated you for it, so it’s a good thing that didn’t happen xD). It’s a 200ish word story, but definitely not a “simple” story. So many layers and you have to read carefully to get what it’s trying to say. Love it love it! :) Excited to see more!

  15. Quite enjoyed that. I get the same feeling from that as I used to get from Stephen King. He would build a comfortable, cozy world, just like you did; and before you can say “HoHo The Clown”, you’re standing in a puddle of blood.

  16. LOL, I just finished NaNoWriMo this month, and learned that it doesn’t matter who you are, writing is a nail-biting, frustrating, fear-spiral of flames and gut-wrenching joy.
    This was an intriguingly twisted taste of what you could do with fiction.
    You should go for it.

  17. That’s… nicely creepy, is the best way I can put it. Reminds me a bit of the teaser for an episode of Dexter or Torchwood. I hope you’ll keep working on it, ’cause you’re off to a great start.

  18. Great prologue — you’ve pulled in the reader and now are at the fork in the story. It could go a number of directions.
    Some mentioned The Burbs, Dexter, Desparate Housewives. But I could see it being full on horror, paranormal like Supernatural, a twisted geek/fantasy storyline and how the boy “hero” on the street discovers the “villian” through his trusty 20d and D&D glowing book…uumm or not. It could go camp B-movie fun with Bruce Campbell at the lead. Or dark psychological mindfest dwelling into the shadows of reality.
    The thing is…write what flows. Just get it out. Then in a week, look back at your material and see what grabs ya the most and flesh it out more. I have to use that approach or I’ll get the “hang-ups” of constantly telling myself what readers will think it’s boring than actually trusting my creative gut. If it amuses me, why wouldn’t it amuse other readers?
    I like the story and hope you write more :)

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