An Excerpt From the Diary of The Mockingbird:

The Rumble screwed things up for us again. He’s such an ass. I wish Mr. Hollywood would boot him from the team, but he won’t. “Everyone deserves a second chance,” he says. “We all have to learn from this and find a way to be better tomorrow,” he says. It pisses me off. How many second chances does that oaf need? Always the first on the scene, and always left out of the spotlight because that jackhole finds a way to muck things up while other superheroes fly in just in time to save the day. Really, if Mr. Hollywood doesn’t do something soon, I’m going to walk. I’m too good to keep playing for a losing team.

Goings On

Did you bring the popcorn, Mr. Grey?

Fresh off the burners, Daisy. Fire that baby up and let’s see what this so-called writer is up to.

Oh, goody. He’s writing about us.

What? No dancing hot dogs? No singing cups? Not even a placard telling us to “Enjoy the show”? What is this world coming to?

Wait a minute. That’s not about us. It’s about someone named The Rumble.

Eh? That’s a peculiar name. Oh I see, he’s a superhero.

Does this mean he doesn’t like us anymore?

Well you are a little too cheery for most; like swallowing mass quantities of cough syrup. Lucky you have me with my infinite wisdom and patience.

That was mean.

Precisely. I don’t know what you’re so upset about. If he’s writing about someone else, that means he isn’t bothering us. Just the way I like it.

But, I like it when he writes about us. It makes me feel like I have a purpose. Do something.

Oh, all right. I’ll see if I can slow him down.

Don’t make it too hard for him.

That’s just what I intend to do.

An Excerpt from the Journal of Mr. Grey:

January 25, 2016

I spent the better part of the day pinned against one of my kilns by a unicorn. Oh, the pain and anguish I suffered. Its conical instrument of destruction pricking at the flesh on my chest. The searing heat against my back; melting my skin. The acrid aroma of sulfur mixed with burning tissue. My wails of discomfort. Still, I take consolation in knowing that it makes me stronger. The power I gain from such torment is ever a tool for my survival. If it had not been for Daisy, I might still be enfolded in the predicament. On the other hand, if not for her, I might not have known the torture at all. Her abilities are growing at an exponential rate, but she has yet to realize the true power that she possesses.

She claimed to have been sleeping and was roused by my screaming. The unicorn caught sight of her and let me be. It trotted to Daisy and nuzzled her neck before galloping away. She was dumbfounded, mentioning that it looked just like the one she saw in her dream. I would postulate that it was the one she saw in her dream. It gives me further consolation knowing that the incident lends support to my theory: The notions which reside in the hearts and minds of children may indeed exist in reality whether or not we adults acknowledge the possibility.

Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)

Mr. Grey labored at the kilns nestled in the spaces of the rib cage. They were cooking at maximum heat as he attempted to create more bricks than Daisy could destroy. It was a never-ending task: Mr. Grey built; Daisy demolished. As a result, construction of the wall progressed, but slowly. The child was tireless and nothing Mr. Grey did deterred her from the mission.

As he pulled the latest batch of bricks from the ovens (one brick for each relative absent from the mother’s funeral), Daisy traipsed across the Thoracic Cavern; fragments of fossilized memories fracturing beneath her feet. She was wearing that insidious yellow dress again. The child climbed onto a stool and placed her white, woven basket atop Mr. Grey’s workbench. It was filled with vibrant, yellow flowers. She greeted him and said, “Whatcha doin?”

“Wondering if you’re going to move that rubbish so I can set these down,” he replied. “They’re hot you know.”

Daisy snatched the basket of singed flowers from the bench and sat with it in her lap. Blisters already forming on his hands, Mr. Grey lowered the tray of bricks onto the counter-top. Daisy said, “You really should wear gloves.”

“You know I can’t do that. These blisters remind me why I’m here.” He scowled at Daisy, grabbed a cloth from one of the pegs on the side of the table, and dabbed at the weeping sores on his palms. “Speaking of which, why are you here? Did you come down just to bother me?”

Daisy giggled. “Mr. Grey, why would I do that? I really like your company even if you are a mean, old grump. Besides, I have work down here, too.”

It was Mr. Grey’s turn to laugh. “Not today, lassie! I hid the hammer and chisels after I was done. You’ll not be removing any bricks in the foreseeable future.”

Daisy’s eyes welled with tears, “But Mr. Grey, you know you’re not allowed to interfere with MY WORK!”

Mr. Grey reveled in her dismay. He loved her tantrums. It was the one part of his job that he truly enjoyed. “My dear, I’m not interfering. I just thought you might like a little game of Hide-And-Seek.”

“I don’t want to play hide-AND-SEEK!” Daisy’s voice crescendoed above its normal shriek. She accentuated the point by throwing her basket at him.

Mr. Grey dodged as he had a hundred times before. She would spend hours looking for the necessary tools, but in the end, he knew she would find them. As she said, he couldn’t directly interfere with her work, although that never stopped him from trying. He had never seen Daisy so angry, though. “My, my, what has you worked up so?”

“I get to take one out that I’ve been wanting for a very long time.” Daisy’s tears evaporated and she smiled. A trap and, like a fool, he marched right into it. He cursed under his breath at the realization.

“Which one might that be?” He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow.

Daisy launched herself from the stool and said, “Come with me. I’ll show you.”

Mr. Grey offered his arm. She might be on the opposing side, but that was no excuse to be discourteous.

“No, thank you,” she said. “I don’t want soot on my dress.”

They strode across the cavern toward the wall. Daisy stopped to retrieve the basket of flowers and nestled the handle in the crook of her elbow. Mr. Grey said, “I don’t understand why you obsess so over those frivolous trifles.”

Daisy raised the arm with the basket, placed the opposite hand on her hip, and batted her eyelashes at him. “Why, Mr. Grey, because they remind me why I’m here, of course.”

The pair stood before the wall. It loomed half the height of the Myocardial Recess and spanned the entire width of the alcove. There were holes in it where Daisy had chipped out bricks. A steady, pulsating rhythm hummed behind the wall. thrum-Thrum; thrum-Thrum. The job was to choke the cavity so there could be no entrance or exit from it, but the child made things ever so difficult. “I get that one,” she said and pointed to the brick in the center of the wall.

“No. Unacceptable.” Mr. Grey grabbed Daisy’s shoulder and shook his finger in front of her nose. “You listen to me, now. I won’t allow it. I- I worked too hard. Besides, the father is dead. How could they have possibly reconciled?”

“Oh, but it’s already been decided.”

“Liar! This is another of your childish pranks.”

“If you don’t believe me, The Observatory is that way.” Daisy motioned toward the darkness that rose above them. “Have a look for yourself.”

Mr. Grey shuddered. “You know I don’t go there. The walk, yes the walk, is so long and I’m afraid I’m not as young as I once was.”

“There’s always the Circulatory Expressway.”

“That’s just what I need. Another run-in with The Macrophages. Those vigilantes and their leukocycles will be the death of me. Everything would be so easy for you then.”

Daisy winked at him. “So you’re just gonna give this one to me?”

The old man stroked his beard and looked from Daisy to the darkness above. He threw his hands up in defeat. “I guess I’ll take the staircase. I’ll still be back before you find those chisels.”

The Esophageal Staircase was a massive, spiraling structure that climbed from the Thoracic Cavern to the Bocal Landing. Once Mr. Grey reached the Landing, it would be necessary to traverse the Cervical Bridge to the Cranial Gateway. If he made it through the gateway, which was never a certainty thanks to the Principal Reinforcers of Ideas in Defense of the Ego (or PRIDE as they liked to be called), his path to the Orbital Observatory would be problem-free. If he was denied access, Mr. Grey knew he’d have to take his chances in the Carotid Canal. He hadn’t been through the canal in years and didn’t relish the thought of the possible snares The Macrophages and PRIDE might have set for him.

A herd of GLUTTONS passed Mr. Grey on their way to the Gastric Abyss. He welcomed them; knowing they must be new recruits. GLUTTONS rarely traveled that far north unless they were on a recruiting mission and the recruiters used the Expressway. They disguised themselves as glucose molecules so as not to attract the attention of The Macrophages. Mr. Grey thought the GLUTTONS repulsive, but he appreciated the positive effect they had on his work. The wall would have been complete years ago if it hadn’t been for Daisy and her collusion with the Agents of PRIDE.

As Mr. Grey stepped onto the Cervical Bridge, a voice rang out. “Halt! Who goes there?”

Mr. Grey spun where he stood, but saw no one. “It is I, Mr. Grey, and whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

A soldier stepped from out of the shadows. “At ease, Grey. It’s just me, Ness.”

Major Ness was the one agent of PRIDE that Mr. Grey tolerated. While Ness was a strong force for PRIDE, his quick temper and even quicker mouth often aided Mr. Grey’s interests as well. At the end of the day, Ness was the closest thing to a friend that Mr. Grey had.

Grey clapped Ness on the shoulder. “Good to see you, Stubb. What brings you this far south?”

Ness shrugged the hand away. “The General has me out on mission. He wants all travelers screened and profiled before they make the Gateway. He says it will ease the burden on the front lines. Unfortunately for me, I drew the short whisker.”

“Ah yes, well, we all know the ball can’t roll our way every time. Daisy sent me up here to verify her latest activities.”

“I’m afraid I can’t let you pass, Grey. The General expressed that under no circumstances am I to let you through. He says he’s tired of your tricks.”

“Tricks? What tricks? I have as much a right to pass as anyone. Daisy can’t begin until I give final approval.”

“Sorry, Grey. Orders are orders.”

Mr. Grey wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “What would The General say if he knew you were impeding the progress of Daisy’s mission?”

Ness placed his hand on his service revolver. “I’m warning you, Grey. I’ll enforce the General’s orders or die trying.”

Mr. Grey threw his hands in the air. “Have it your way, but when General Fidence throws you in the brig for undermining the mission, don’t complain to me about it,” he said and turned for the Bocal Landing.

“Wait.”

Mr. Grey smiled and turned to face Ness. “I thought you’d see it my way.”

“If I’m reprimanded for this, I myself will hunt you down and terminate your mission. State your name.”

“Is this really necessary?”

“It’s protocol. State your name.”

“Mr. Grey. May I go now?”

Ness replied, “State your purpose.”

Mr. Grey shook his head. “I already told you. I really don’t have time for this.”

“Protocol. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it by the book. State your purpose.”

It became clear to Mr. Grey why The General had chosen Ness for this mission. “Information gathering. Anything else?”

“I need an ETA of when you’ll be departing The Cranium.”

Mr. Grey said, “I’ll be there as long as it takes,” and started for The Gateway.

“Not so fast,” replied Ness as he placed a hand on Mr. Grey’s chest to detain him. “You know as well as I do that answer is inappropriate.”

Mr. Grey sighed. “It will take no more than a couple hours.”

Ness stood aside. “Very well. Carry on, then.”

The Cranial Gateway loomed before him. It was a giant structure made of bone held together with a web of cartilage and collagen. Mr. Grey was only halfway across the bridge when he noticed it was manned. He hoped General Fidence was present. He could hardly suffer anyone else wasting his time and he knew The General would allow him to pass with little argument. It was in the contract.

Two soldiers stood in front of the gate with their rifles crossed. Mr. Grey recognized them as the Awareness Twins. “State your name,” one of them said. He thought it was Self, but it may have been Social. He really couldn’t tell the fools apart, nor did he much care to.

Mr. Grey waved them off. “Don’t be ridiculous. You know who I am. Go get The General.”

The other one stated, “He isn’t here.”

Mr. Grey rolled his eyes. “Do you take me for an idiot, lad? Con wouldn’t leave you imbeciles here alone to guard the gate.”

“Why are you here, Grey?” A voice came from off to the side. The General looked as if he were made from stone—chiseled features, stoic demeanor. Mr. Grey wasn’t fond of The General, but The General was a stickler for rules and that often worked in his favor. There would be no more wasted time.

“There’s something Daisy asked me to check into.”

The General rubbed the back of his neck. “Ah, yes. I’ve been briefed of the situation and I don’t think you’ll like what you’ll find. Nothing pleases me more. Boys, let him through.”

The twins opened the gate, and Mr. Grey proceeded through it. Too easy. He knew Con would expedite the process, but he never made things that simple. The situation must indeed be dire for The General to be so inviting. Mr. Grey saw the sign denoting the Observatory. Almost there.

He stood before the External Window and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The boy was sitting at a table with a multitude of letters strewn before him. Mr. Grey made a conservative estimate of two hundred. The boy had one open. It read:

Dear Josh,

It looks like I won’t get to see you much from now on. I don’t blame your mom for wanting me to leave. Take care of her. She needs you most now. I have some things I need to take care of and I hope you’ll understand when you’re older. I just want you to know that my leaving isn’t because of anything you did. I just can’t be the father or role-model that you need right now. I hope in time you’ll understand. Once I set things right, I’ll be back. I love you. Please don’t forget me.

Love, Dad

Were all those other letters from the boy’s father, too? Mr. Grey scanned what he could of the envelopes on the table and it appeared so. All these years and he thought the father had walked out on them. Mr. Grey noticed the empty shoebox lying on the floor. The mother must have withheld the letters from the boy. This complicated matters.

When Mr. Grey returned to the Thoracic Cavern, he found Daisy asleep at the base of the wall. There was a hole in the center of the structure where the brick labeled “DAD” had been. The hammer and chisels were hidden in his coat; therefore, he could only wonder how the kid had accomplished her task in his absence. She was growing more resourceful every day.

He sat down next to her and watched her sleep. Someday she would leave him like all the children before her. None of them were his, but he raised them just the same. In the end, they despised him for the role he played in their rearing, but he took solace knowing that he did his job to its fullest. Daisy would be the same. Although he never told any of them, he loved each one in his own way. Daisy was his favorite, though. That’s why he pushed her so hard. That’s why he challenged Daisy to the extent of his own ability. She showed the most promise. He knew she couldn’t win, but he hoped the battle would be a long, drawn out affair. Unlike the others, the thought of her leaving saddened him. He thought about Josh’s father writing letters to a son that would never see them until it was too late. What must it be like to have a child taken away from you when you’re just getting to know each other? In a way, he envied the boy’s father. The man never had to deal with the questioning, the rebellion, or the rage. Daisy hadn’t reached any of those stages yet, but it was only a matter of time. Mr. Grey didn’t know if he could bear it. He reached out and ran his fingers through her soft, blonde hair. Then, he wept.

Daisy stirred, but he didn’t notice. She lay there for a few moments watching him through half-shuttered eyes. “Mr. Grey?”

Mr. Grey stole his hand back and leapt to his feet. He brushed the dust off and smoothed his coat. “My dear child, I must have dozed off. One can’t be blamed after such a long journey.”

Daisy sat up with her hands in her lap. “Why were you crying, Mr. Grey?”

“Was I?” He wiped at his face. “Oh my, yes. That. Tears of joy, my dear. Tears of joy. You see, I’ve made the most amazing discovery and can’t wait to fire up the kilns and get back to work. This next brick is going to be my masterpiece. I’m going to call it MOTHER.”

Conquering Self-Doubt: Are you better today?

Are you better today than you were yesterday? I have the honor of calling myself Assistant Coach for my son’s junior high basketball team. It is a title that I take seriously and one that I accepted reluctantly. Although I coached baseball in the past, I had never coached basketball. More importantly, I never played competitive basketball. I expressed these concerns to Coach Csanda and he said to me, “A coach is a coach. The sport isn’t important.” He gave me the encouragement I needed. He chipped away the wall of self-doubt I built around myself which allowed me to realize the opportunity that was being offered: to learn from an outstanding educator, coach, and person. Through encouragement and a positive attitude, he instills confidence in his players and motivates them to succeed. After every game, win or lose, he asks his team: Are you better today than you were yesterday? If the answer is yes, then, regardless of the outcome of the game, it is considered success. You might ask: What does this have to do with writing? The answer is simple. It’s something that every writer needs to know. It’s something Coach Csanda understands, whether consciously or intuitively. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about writing, basketball, or life. Your biggest opponent is self-doubt.

You’re not alone. We all doubt ourselves from time to time. Some more than others. It’s debilitating and will defeat you before you ever scratch out a single word. That’s not to say it’s completely bad. If utilized effectively, your overwhelming self-doubt can become a powerful tool. In order to do so, you, first, must recognize it and acknowledge it. Then, you must determine what the source of it is– so-and-so says I’m a lousy writer; I’m boring; why would anyone want to read what I write?; etc. Finally, you have to prepare a plan for success. That plan must contain three key components: Preparation, Action, and Perseverance.

Preparation. Think of some of the things that seem second-nature: tying your shoelaces, feeding yourself with utensils, using the restroom, etc. They’re common everyday tasks that most perform with ease. Now, think about your children, nieces/ nephews, or younger siblings. Do you remember what it was like to watch them as toddlers struggling to learn these simple, mundane tasks only to give up in frustration and ask an adult for help? They had to practice and endure the constant failure until they were able to succeed. After they learned they could do it, the task became easier and easier for them to perform. Writing is like that. Basketball is like that. Everything in life is like that. In basketball, if you want to win, you have to practice. Similarly, if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Never miss an opportunity to study your craft. Educate yourself on grammar, spelling, and style. Read. If you lack the necessary resources, search for someone, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, that can give you the tools you need or show you where to find them.

Action. Action is the most difficult step when overcoming self-doubt, especially for those who fear failure. Self-doubt creates a premature sense of defeat and inaction creates a false sense of security. For those who fear failure, the idea “If I don’t try, then I can’t fail” may seem enticing. There is an inherent problem with this philosophy. Consider the converse: “If I don’t try, then I can’t succeed.” Thus, by avoiding failure, you also avoid success. In a basketball game, the prescription for success is executing the game plan (what you’ve practiced) with precision. The outcome may not always be desirable, but defeat is also a valuable tool. It teaches you what works and what doesn’t. It magnifies your deficiencies. The same is true in writing. You have to write if you want to be a writer. Push through the excuses i.e., I don’t have time, I’m not any good, I don’t know what to write about. Carve out time. Write, write, write. You don’t have to produce inspiring fiction every time you sit down. If you don’t know what to write about, pull out a short story you’ve already written and write about it. Write about something that someone else has written. Writing about writing makes us better writers. Just write.

Perseverance. What are you going to do tomorrow to be better than you were today? This is what Coach Csanda asks his players if he doesn’t think they have performed to the best of their abilities. If you’re going to succeed, you have to learn from your mistakes and move forward. He tells his players, “The past is in the past. You can’t ever get it back.” I tell you that even if you succeed as a writer, you have to learn from your mistakes and move forward. I remember when I was a child and I achieved certain successes, my parents would say, “Good for you, but just because you were the best today, doesn’t mean you’ll be the best tomorrow.” I always thought that was a bit harsh because I was too young to understand. They never allowed me to rest on my laurels and were always pushing me to be better at whatever I was doing. I resented them for it for a long time until I gained the wisdom to understand the lesson. That’s the irony of all of this. Sometimes, you don’t have the necessary tools to understand the teaching; sometimes, you have to be better just to get better. That comes with time and experience. Winston Churchill summed up both of these ideas best when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Prepare, act, and persevere. It is the only way you will achieve your goals as a writer and in life. Ask yourself what you’re going to do today to be better than you were yesterday and act. It’s easy to get discouraged, but you must have the courage to continue. In closing, I’d like to leave you with these words from Calvin Coolidge: Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Welcome

Mr. Grey, Mr. Grey.

Daisy, what is it this time?

Don’t be such a grump or I won’t show you the new invention that Auntie Lect and Aunt Ella-Jentz made just for me.

Those old hags again? Such insufferable fools. Why would I care for anything those twiddlebumps cooked up?

Because it’s going to give me the edge I need to beat you.

Oh, all right. Lead the way.

Ta-Da!

It’s just a common television set. It isn’t even a flat-panel.

Noooo, it’s Marc-vision. It shows us everything Marc is seeing at a given moment. Auntie Lect said they spliced directly into Marc’s rectum.

Heh. I think you mean his retina. Although, with all the shit on TV these days, I suppose it’s possible.

Yeah, yeah that’s it. His retina.

Well don’t keep me waiting, child. Turn it on and let’s see what he’s doing.

Oh, how cute. He’s writing a blog.

Doesn’t that boy ever learn? A new year; a new blog. What a dolt. He’s just going to give it up in a few weeks like all the rest. How can he think this time will be any different than the others?

Because he discovered us, silly. Isn’t it great? We’re going to be stars. See all the people reading about us?

I don’t WANT to be a star. I just want some peace and quiet.

What kind of attitude is that? People need to know about us.

No, people need to mind their own business.

Mr. Grey. Stop it. These people came to meet us. Just say hi. Here, I’ll show you:

Hello everyone. It’s so nice to meet you. Happy New Year and Welcome to Planet Marc.

Mr. Greeeeey.

Oh, all right. Here goes:

Hello people. I’m glad you had the chance to meet me. Now, leave me the hell alone.

Mr. Grey!