Story Go Round 01/14/2006, round 1, #2

The Pen, The Pad, and It Got Ugly

A sentence and a half was just enough to get you into trouble in those days. Especially with the way people were always writing over a shot of whiskey and squinting at you sidelong. Come in from the prairie, dust on their chaps, they'd pull up a stool and a pad. The air was full of the sound of nibs scratching on paper - like nails on a chalkboard in the one room schoolhouse outside of town. Fearsome Frank Wilder had been caught last week spitting in Hank Tamer's inkwell. Then Hank had retaliated by lighting Frank's pad on fire, and the marshal had to break them up.

Marla didn't know what to make of the whole thing. She had started the writing bar as a fundraiser, figuring alcohol would loosen the country oafs up so they could express themselves. But now so many came through those swinging doors - all reeling of pigs' manure and a lust for words. None of them brought their own fountain pens, of course, so she had taken to patting them down when they left - invariably with a pen stowed somewhere. She'd'a gone broke otherwise.

Of course it was really the security that cost her. A guard on every door and window, that got old. You'd think literature would liberate and elevate a person, but these people just got meaner. The Sheriff lived here now, on a cot in the back, but he wasn't as much help as Marla had hoped for - the addiction could touch even the hardest man, and leave him an empty husk.

I think I'm going to have to start cutting 'em off at just one sentence, she told herself one morning as she cleaned up the previous night's mess. The place had gotten such a reputation now that people were coming in from out of state just to watch. And of course, they never stayed out of the tussles for long. Hank would tell Frank what was "supposed to" happen next in the story, and Frank would take [ Hank's face and play Mr. Potato with it before going back to writing about farts which he ] exception, and before long, the bystanders would be yelling alternative endings and no one could concentrate and it just got worse and worse. Marla once tried to leave town and put all this madness behind her - write it off as a failure and change her name so no one could ever connect her to this place. But the story must go on!

Perhaps this was just a phase - a Fad with a Pad - they'd call it - she hoped so, but she'd be here till the end, whenever it came. So she tried her idea - changed the limit to one sentence per turn. And to her amazement, everyone got more interested in handwriting. They'd spend hours figuring out whose was whose and it bred a spirit of cooperation. Eventually they put together a full story over one page long which actually kind of made sense and had a kind of ending and everything. Celebrations were raucous and involved a lot of harmless gun fire and Frank and Hank hugged each other at the end.

After that the whole spirit of the thing was different-and people noticed. In fact, they gradually stopped coming to watch, and one day Marla realized she actually missed the chaos of old. Thankfully, her therapist got her through that phase, and she was able to retire a year later.

Amber is purple; John is pink; Alan is blue; Terry is orange