I was going through some old files the other day when I came across one called Pleasant Street. It’s a roughly 2,000 word short story I wrote about six years ago. In fact, it was my first serious attempt at writing a short story.
Which is why I was so afraid to read it again. I think of it sort of like those photos your mom takes of you when you’re a kid and you still have that mushroom haircut. Most of us would rather forget it ever happened.
Let me start by saying this: Pleasant Street is worse than a mushroom haircut. Here’s a brief synopsis:
We begin with our protagonist, Officer Greene. He’s a young, naive, and, as we’ll soon find out, frustratingly stupid, police officer. (Note: Officer Greene is a lame, lame protagonist. And heavy-handed symbolism is going to be a running theme with this one.)
In the first scene, a senior officer explains that Greene will be “walking the beat” along the titular Pleasant Street. Of course, “walk the beat” is a term I picked up from Law & Order. I kind of doubt anyone actually uses it. Anyway, this story is sort of like a B-horror movie. Best not to think too hard about it.
Greene goes door to door to introduce himself to the neighborhood. (Do police officers actually do this? Probably not.) One of the goofier lines from this section: “Pleasant Street was nothing but pleasant.”
Officer Greene meets a guy by the name of Frank Wolf (remember that heavy-handed symbolism I was talking about?), who invites him in for a meal. And Greene, being the hard-working fellow that he is, decides, What the hell? I’ll take an extended lunch break.
Mr. Wolf feeds Greene a stew described as “absolutely delicious,” though we don’t know what’s in it yet. Greene decides it’s time to get back to work, and on the way out, Mr. Wolf says, “…you’d better get going! You know, in this day and age, if you don’t stay on top of your work, you’ll get eaten alive!”
Have you solved the mystery yet? Probably. And there are still about fifteen hundred words to go.
The following day, Greene runs into a homeless fellow by the name of Roger. Roger, whose hair sticks up in two points and makes him look like a “dirty little bunny rabbit,” tells Greene something to the effect of, hey, my friend went missing on this street. Dialogue, dialogue, and then Roger says, “Aright, man. Just watch yer back. There’s somethin’ weird cookin’ on this street.”
At this point, the story actually gains an unintentional element of humor. There are so many hints about what’s happening, yet Greene is too damn stupid to connect the dots.
For Greene’s third day of work, he decides to ask the residents of Pleasant Street if they know anything about this missing homeless dude. He goes to Mr. Wolf first, who rather unexpectedly says, “Have I seen him? Well, sure I have, Officer.”
I’ll say this for myself: I wrote my characters with consistency. Greene is a dope throughout the whole story, so even at this point, he needs an explanation.
Mr. Wolf proudly explains that he’s two-hundred years old, and that he owes his long, prosperous life to his diet. When Greene asks what that diet consists of, Wolf answers cheerily, “Why, human flesh, of course!”
So then Greene pukes all over the floor, and while he’s doing that, Mr. Wolf offers him the classic bad guy choice. Option A: eat hobos with us and live forever. Or, Option B: we kill you. Greene might be dumb, but at least he has morals. He chooses Option B, at which point Mr. Wolf smacks him upside the head and everything goes black.
In the final scene, Greene awakens in a pot of water. He hears a match light, and then smells something which reminds him of “the smell of burgers his father used to make in the summer.” And then the story ends. Yum.
I think I meant for the ending to be tragic and horrifying. However, most readers would be so frustrated with Greene by this point that they’d probably cook him themselves.
Read through some of your old work, just to remind yourself how far you’ve come. When you collect rejections and nothing seems to be working out, you might make the mistake of thinking that you’re not improving.
But you are! Do yourself a favor and read some of your old stuff once in a while. You’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. And, at the very least, you’ll get some good laughs out of it.