View Full Version : Animal (Explicit language/content)

January 3rd, 2019, 10:51 PM
Hello, I'm a longtime lurker. This is some of an unfinished short story called "Animal." I'm sharing because I'm starting to feel that my writing is a bit on the clunky and cardboard-feeling side. If anyone has the time to read through and has any recommendations or advice, I'd appreciate it. Also keep in mind, this is all I've written so far, so it does end abruptly. I've yet to figure out what to do with the characters.
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Curtis Butler pulled a bottle of spirits out from underneath the passenger seat of his car and took a swig. He waited for the warmth to radiate out to his subcutaneous fat before sliding the bottle back underneath the seat. He pulled his keys from the ignition and deposited them into his back pocket. Curtis had been told that he absolutely should never be drunk in his car with the keys in the ignition, but if they were on the backseat or in his back pocket or somewhere else unreachable, he couldn’t get a DUI. This was a thing Curtis Butler often did: he often found himself sipping spirits, either to lift his own spirits or to maintain already lifted spirits. It was a prescription-free mood stabilizer of sorts; one that he preferred to administer in the solitude of his car. Curtis could see Mr. Garcia march across property lines and in the direction of his car. He lit a cigarette to cover up the smell of ethanol. Mr. Garcia rapped his finger on the passenger side window and Curtis rolled it down. The old man stuck his head in the car, leading with his left eye (more aptly described as the eye that could see) and took a cartoonish whiff.

“Drinking again?” Mr. Garcia said.

“It’s just a buzz, but I’m not going anywhere,” Curtis said while holding up his hands. “I can’t find my keys.”

“Listen,” Mr. Garcia barked, “you see that line over there?”

Mr. Garcia pointed an unsteady finger to where his and Curtis’s mom’s properties met. A thick black line separated the two lawns. What was only a mere concept earlier in the day - the concept of property lines and borders - was now real. Was now painted black.

“Let that animal of yours cross that line and shit on my lawn again, and I’ll shoot him in the head!” Mr. Garcia said.

Mr. Garcia’s partial blindness meant a partial increase in his sense of smell. Not only did he always seem to know when Curtis was drinking, he also knew when there was animal shit in his yard. Mr. Garcia’s eye was a casualty of the Vietnam War. He was injured during an accident while fleeing to Canada. You think fighting in a war is dangerous: try running away from one. He grumbled and marched back to his side of the black line and watcheded as Curtis gathered his stuff and made his way to the front door. Curtis unlaced his shoes and placed them neatly beside the welcome mat before letting himself in. The mat reminded people that they were welcome to enter, but also welcome to leave.

The house was muggy inside. The heat and moisture made Moms tired, even though the heat and moisture were mostly given off by her own body. Curtis was greeted by the sight of Moms sleeping on her favorite recliner. He called her “Moms” because she was equal in size to several moms. He considered the recliner to be her favorite because she hadn’t gotten up from it in over two months. An empty plate rested on her belly; it rose and fell with each breath she took.

In centuries past being fat was a symbol of status. It indicated that you had an overabundance of resources, and as a consequence, an overabundance of body fat. Nowadays, however, being skinny is a symbol of status. It indicates that you could be fat if you wanted to be, but you don’t want to be, and you have the luxury of throwing away your resources. You gain extra status if you go to the gym to simulate hard labor. Curtis frequently told himself that if Moms lived in another era, she would be a Goddess. She was just an anachronism.

Curtis's sister emerged from the kitchen with a full plate of food. As she walked, her loose khakis made a flapping noise. Her butt looked sunken and wretched as she bent down to trade the full plate in her hands for Moms’s empty plate. Her mustard polo indicated that she was a shelf-stocker at Freddie’s Grocery Outlet, which meant she was almost at the bottom of the grocery outlet hierarchy, just above the shopping cart retrieval staff. The shopping cart retrieval staff’s shirts were a hue resembling boiled asparagus. The ugliness of the uniforms served a purpose: it was determined by market research that mustard yellow and boiled asparagus were among some of the most undesirable colors on the color wheel, and that combining them with khaki was worse than either color on its own. It was supposed that by forcing employees to wear unsightly garb, customers would be detracted from paying attention to the low-paid staff moving around the products and would instead direct their attention to the products themselves. Employees were required to be worse than invisible. They were forced to be ugly.

“Mom, where’s the baby? Mom? Mom?”

Vanessa poked Moms on her arm, poking gently at first, but increasing in speed and force and Moms slowly opened her eyes.

“Where’s the baby?”

“Huh?” Moms said.

“The baby, where is he?”

“Well he was just here a second ago. Why don’t you check in the kitchen?”

“I just came from the kitchen! I asked you to keep an eye on him while I fixed you some dinner!”

Moms narrowed her eyes on the plate in front of her and let out a yawn, releasing an odorous cloud of gum disease and rotted gut. Moms strained to shift her weight, but only got as far as moving her dominant arm into fork-holding position. She couldn’t get off her favorite recliner, and that was no way to live, but it wasn’t because she was too fat. Not necessarily. It was because her skin had begun to grow into the chair. If Moms had lived in some past era, she would be a half-chair, half-human Goddess. She was just born in the wrong era. At least that's what Curtis told himself.

There was a sloppy, sucking sound coming from underneath a hive of electrical wires on the floor next to the TV. Curtis knelt down and worked his hand into the mess. He pulled out a small child and cupped his hands over the child’s ears to keep him from hearing what he was about to say.

“Mr. Garcia says the next time he sees Animal shitting in his yard, he’s going to shoot him in the head.”

“I don’t let him go in Mr. Garcia’s yard! How many times do I have to repeat myself to you people?”

“I don’t know, but that’s what he said. Just thought you’d want to know.”

“He’s so full of shit! Maybe he’s the one shitting in his own yard! I never let Animal out of my sight and you know it!”

Animal chewed on a small piece of plastic. Small clumps of dust and dirt clung to his sticky hands. Vanessa had chosen the name "Animal" because she wanted a name that was strong, but not too human. Something different. Something unique. Animal Butler looked at Curtis Butler with sullen eyes. Curtis knew Mr. Garcia was telling the truth. He had seen Animal shitting in Mr. Garcia's yard himself. Occasionally Vanessa would let Animal crawl around outside diaper-less, like a dog, to do his business.

Curtis followed Vanessa into the kitchen. The small plastic piece that Animal was chewing on was gone. Either he had dropped it or swallowed it, but he wasn't choking so it was no matter to anyone in the house. He began to suck on Curtis's shoulder.

"Please make sure you clean up after dinner. I have a test to study for tonight. I didn't have time to study all week and now I have to start my English midterm paper on top of it all!" Vanessa sobbed as she scraped dried food residual off of Moms's plate into the the garbage can.

Vanessa, what a gal, Curtis thought. She was slamming dishes and pans while lamenting all the things she needed to get done, as if that was going to help her get done faster. She struggled - immensely. Working. Going to school. Raising a child, which is a full-time job in and of itself! And all of this at only fifteen-years-old! A real supergirl. Curtis told her to slow down; that he would clean up before bed.

"Oh goodness," she said to Curtis, "how was your day? I can't believe how selfish I am for not asking!"

Curtis's sister, when she wasn't stressed out, was a real sweetheart. It just so happened that she was usually stressed out. It was becoming more and more her normal state of being. Slowly her sweetness was fading; was being replaced with contempt for those around her. Contempt for herself. She had enough sadness to go around, and it seemed that she switched on a sadness gene in Animal. He had the eyes of an abandoned pup in a shelter. Vanessa’s softness was transforming into hardness. Her ugly shirt hung off her tiny frame, which only seemed to shrink more and more every week. Her tight pants displayed just how skinny her legs were. It was anybody's wonder how legs so tiny could hold the weight of her body; how her tiny body could hold the weight of teenage motherhood.

Curtis told her that his day went spectacularly well. He didn't tell her that he was lying. Curtis always felt that he needed to protect his little sister from the truth, but nothing could protect her from her own biological imperatives, and nothing is truer in this world than that. Animal reached out his arms for his mother. As soon as she took him in her arms he grabbed a fistful of hair and began to suck on it. Vanessa didn't notice the hair.

James Arthur Clemons III got in Vanessa’s face so quickly, Curtis had barely noticed him enter the kitchen. He was held up a t-shirt and foamed at the mouth. It was, he shouted, supposed to be, he shouted louder, washed inside-out, he shouted even louder, to protect the graphic design. He stopped shouting for a moment to catch his breath and threw the shirt at Vanessa, but missed. It landed on Animal’s head. Curtis instinctively wanted to lunge at James Arthur Clemons III, but had learned his lesson from the last time such a fight occurred. Vanessa always took the side of her abuser. Curtis had tried, in the past, to counsel Vanessa to kick James Arthur Clemons III out. Although it was within her bounds to do so, she wasn't used to having such authority, and God knows what she would do once she realized how powerful she truly was. It could be scary. Even scarier still if she chose to do nothing with it. It seemed that she took comfort in knowing she would never be treated properly.

Animal was almost named James Arthur Clemons IV, but James Arthur Clemons III said no. One look at the sonogram and James Arthur Clemons III proclaimed that Animal was not the right person to continue the legacy.

January 3rd, 2019, 11:19 PM
What I would like to see is if you can explore the probability that the neighbor is indeed doing something terrible. Those are the sort of ideas that one should hold onto. It opens story possibilities, by simply saying the neighbor did it and is the clear-cut antagonist. You were probably considering that possibly. Think of the situation from his point of view, on how will he profit? It leads to questions that could help you write a longer story. Of course, if this is the 1st draft you can continue it.

Some minor things need to be fixed such as a capital letter on the word Spirits, it should be capitalized. Secondly if the man who accuses him of doing that, what will this lead to? What consequences, what is at stake if the person does not get what he wants? We know what is stopping him, but why? Hide that reason away, since a story imo is written to surprise.

Of course this is all my opinion. You are free to take the advice that you think makes sense. If it doesn't you can ignore it.(also explaining too many things can make a reader lose his or her patience because that is exposition).

The second part of the story I can't comment on because I don't know what is going on in the story. But if it is inappropriate for young people it needs to go the right place.

After this part here. It needs clarity.

Oh goodness," she said to Curtis, "how was your day? I can't believe how selfish I am for not asking!"

Good luck with your story and hopefully you get the right advice and it is in the right place. (edited this post to correct the punctuation only)

January 4th, 2019, 12:58 AM
Thank you for the input, Theglasshouse! I had a few ideas for the ending, but I haven't had the chance to write it yet, which is why it ends so suddenly. I'll definitely explore some of your suggestions. I appreciate you taking the time to read it :smile:

January 4th, 2019, 02:11 AM
Here are some consequences you can think up: emotional/ psychological, spiritual/metaphysical, physical, relational, material, societal. Those are after the stakes are established. I am glad you thought this was helpful advice. It is helpful to think of your story as always having the stakes and a dilemma. Dilemma has to do with choosing two painful choices. Imagine pinning honesty versus duty, just an example. But that is the dilemma. It helps that way to think of conflict. When you have a situation.

source:troubleshooting your novel: essential techniques for solving manuscript problems. (good book which I recommend to writers).

Olly Buckle
January 4th, 2019, 11:00 PM
One thing I try to do is tighten things up a bit, sometimes it is simply extra words, sometimes extra ideas as well, look;
Your first sentence,
"Curtis Butler pulled a bottle of spirits out from underneath the passenger seat of his car and took a swig"

My suggestion;
Curtis Butler pulled a bottle of spirits from beneath the car passenger seat and took a swig.

Only three words shorter, but in a twenty word sentence that's 15%, quite a lot if you can go right through doing it, should bring your pedestrian up to a slow trot :)

Firstly there was 'out from' becomes 'from', and is there really a difference? The 'out' is implicit in 'pulled'.
'Underneath' became 'beneath', shorter, neater, not a compound word, and it has the right meaning.
'His car', not needed, how many people's cars do you pull a bottle out from under the sear, and you will establish it again in a second, 'never be drunk in his car', if pocketing the keys didn't tell you.

Look for 'qualifying' words, usually adjectives. There is a tendency to feel they add something, or make things move along, they very rarely do, and often they are tautological.

Curtis had been told that he absolutely should never be drunk in his car . 'Never' is an absolute.
"This was a thing Curtis Butler often did: he often found himself sipping spirits."
"Curtis Butler often found himself sipping spirits"; the repeat of 'often' is a good clue that tautology is going on, don't be shy of chopping phrases like 'This was a thing', if you take it down to it's bare bones and it really doesn't feel right like that you can always put it back, or add something else, but you want to lose 'Pedestrian', so at least try the direct approach, 'he did it, often'.

It was a prescription-free mood stabilizer of sorts.
It was a prescription-free mood stabilizer.

I don't deny it is 'of sorts' a mood stabilizer, but so what? The 'of sorts' bit is not relevant to Curtis or the story, it qualifies, and weakens, scrap it.

one that he preferred to administer in the solitude of his car.
an extra 'that' can always go,
one he preferred to administer in the solitude of his car.
After that you can take your choice, is his preference important? The administration? That it is in the car? That it is 'his' car? Try starting with 'Administered in solitude', personally I would leave it at that as someone is on their way to interrupt him, so that's the relevant one.

I could go on, but I hope that demonstrates the principle I am getting at, good luck with your editing :)

January 7th, 2019, 05:14 PM
Olly Buckle, I agree that I need to tighten things up. Thank you so much for the suggestions...it helps a ton!

January 24th, 2019, 05:43 PM
This is interesting to me too.