You First

Check out my horror piece that was recently published by Flash Fiction Magazine.

I was fortunate enough to have a short horror piece published by Flash Fiction Magazine last week. I wrote “You First” in August.

I grew up in a somewhat isolated farmhouse, where (much to my family’s chagrin) the power and telephone frequently went out for long periods. I remember that the mildest thunderstorm often was enough to knock out our utilities. The power and telephone companies rarely had an explanation and certainly took their time restoring service to us. I had been reflecting on those childhood experiences before I started to write this story. The setting for “You First” is essentially my parents’ house, with some elements of my grandparents’ house (which was an even larger, older farmhouse that had a seriously creepy vibe on certain nights). The setting could easily be located in rural Pennsylvania or West Virginia

“You First” takes place on the remote Hetherington farm, where two local farmhands, James and Pat, are making a routine delivery of hay bales. Their early morning work is interrupted by bizarre sounds from the farmhouse. Concerned for the safety of the elderly Lawrence and Martha Hetherington, James and Pat investigate. The pair encounter a frazzled Martha, who shares that her family has been murdered by a devious entity that she has managed to trap in the basement. James suspects that the old woman has gone mad and murdered her loved ones, but Martha invites the two men to have a look in the basement for themselves. 

“You First” is just under 1,000 words. The first draft ran close to 1,500 words. Editing out a third of the content was tricky, but I am satisfied with the result.

Clicking the picture below will take you to “You First” (the picture, by the way, is the actual basement door from my parents’ house). Let me know what you think!

youfirst

More #twitterfiction

I have more #twitterfiction to share with the world!

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Follow me @jojascully!

With the school year starting, I haven’t had much time to post. However, I did want to share some more of my #twitterfiction. A few of the posts are tagged differently (#microprompt, #thepush, #zealouswriter, etc.) but remain examples of #twitterfiction as far as I am concerned. Generally, my posts could be categorized as science fiction, although a few may contain elements of dark comedy or horror. A few don’t fall into any single genre. 

There are plenty of additional examples posted on my Twitter – @jojascully. You can also find a few here. I try to post at least a handful each day. 

Let me know what you think! 

Rounding a curve, he noticed the other train fail to crest the final hill. The became much more terrifying.

Unexpectedly sent into the game to return a punt, he was elated until he noticed a burning wick sticking out of the laces.

He ordered the moat be filled with snapping . If he was going to face a siege, why not have some fun with it?

The new ski slope in was a success, sans the “” issue. The poor dears tended to wander in the way.

No matter how tight he made the stitches, this arm just didn’t look good. He grabbed his shovel and went to find another.

He lowered the phone just as a voice answered. She was still gurgling with life. He didn’t want help to arrive too soon.

Police cruisers shot through the cemetery gate with blue and red flashes. His career as a grave robber had been a brief one.

He stepped back slowly. The dryer had been eating socks. Now, the dog was missing and there was a collar in the lint trap.

From the ground, he could see the graveyard was alive. Birds. Rodents. Insects. All examples of life. He was no longer one.

She was upset when he built a . She was more upset when he brought back hatchlings for the kids.

An old man rushed back into the burning apartment to save his stamp collection and found himself in a sticky situation.

He never had so much cash in his wallet. Who needed two kidneys? One was fine. Now, where to first? The hospital or Macy’s?

First responders to the circus train wreck gained a new appreciation for the “death-defying” feats of the performers.

The car ride to the ocean had always been long, hot, and boring. Now that the world was drying up, this was even more true.

His release from the hospital occurred just before a zombie plague was introduced to the emergency room. Finally, a lucky break.

The Norse used animal fat in place of butter. Unfortunately, the “I Can’t Believe it’s not ” industry never took off.

Of course, no one knew he was a serial . But, brother, the folks at the lumberyard would be sorry they fired him.

! ! ! She cashed her first paycheck of the 21st century and planned to shop ’til she dropped!

Reaching the top of the cliffs, he strained his failing eyes to focus on the sea. He wished to see a spring tide one last time.

Charred survivors of the blaze were rushed to the hospital. The spread of the fire to that haven was an unwelcome development.

#twitterfiction

I’ve been alive for about 11,016 days, and for 11,006 of those days I had no idea “Twitter fiction” existed.

A good friend of mine introduced me to the idea of “flash fiction” a few weeks ago. Writing a good story with thousands of words can be a real challenge. However, writing a good story with only hundreds of words is just as strenuous. I’ve tried my hand at writing a handful of flash fiction pieces over the last few weeks and have done my best to keep each story at less than 1,000 words. The difficulty in doing so becomes readily apparent once you realize that this paragraph alone has 100 words. That’s a tenth of the entire story!

The world of flash fiction inevitably brought me to “twitterature” – #twitterfictionTwitter fiction is surprisingly complex, although this article does a relatively good job at effectively summarizing what a newcomer to the 140-character tale should know.

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Quite a few of my #twitterfiction pieces involve the railroad.

I’ve posted some Twitter fiction to my Twitter over the last week to mostly positive results. My approach has been to crunch the central event or climax of the story down into a sentence or two. The imagination of the reader goes from there to create the beginning and ending of the story. I should note that this is not the universal approach to posting fictional writing on Twitter.

 

Writing Twitter fiction can be tedious. I find often that I’m just a few characters over the limit. That requires me to trim a letter or two (and occasionally an entire word), which is often a conflicting process.

My Twitter is @jojascully, but you can also see my work by simply searching Twitter for #twitterfiction. I’ve tried to post at least one Twitter fiction piece per day since August 9th. Searching Twitter for #twitterfiction will also allow you to view the work of other users. I usually write my Twitter fiction pieces while I’m at the gym or watching baseball. I stockpile the pieces as drafts and publish a few to Twitter each day. Generally speaking, my Twitter fiction tweets are not connected and each one stands alone. I’ve yet to try my hand at a “twovel” – a Twitter novel.

You’ll find examples of some of my #twitterfiction below. Please let me know if there is one that you especially appreciate.

The dunes seemed to roll toward the sun. As he wearily stretched an arm across the white sand, a raindrop struck his palm. #twitterfiction

When sparks fell from the bride’s eyes, the priest suddenly understood the need for this secret, nighttime ceremony. #twitterfiction

He twisted and kicked as long talons ripped into his back. Discovering a giant species of eagle had been a mixed blessing. #twitterfiction

A pepper quickly rolled across the counter. When a tomato sprouted arms and seized a fork, she decided not to make a salad. #twitterfiction

The crowd shrieked as he rounded third. These were not cheers. The catcher had convulsed into an unearthly creature. #twitterfiction

The #Tyrannosaurus ominously loomed over him. This was an unfortunate time for the buttons on his #TimeMachine to stick. #twitterfiction

As long as she kept skiing, she could stay just ahead of the abominable snowman. However, no slope went on forever. #twitterfiction

He was certain that he knew how to kill a #vampire. But a vampiric #cephalopod? Three hearts. He only had one stake. #twitterfiction

As he watched a railroad car roll across the ferry’s deck, he realized the urgency in his captain’s order to abandon ship. #twitterfiction

The beast straddled the tracks ahead of the locomotive. Deciding to take his chances in the forest, he leapt from the cab. #twitterfiction

He fell in the snow beside the poacher. Each man scrambled for the rifle. The mammoth trumpeted – the beast was still alive. #twitterfiction

She could swing the oar clumsily at best. She had no idea #merfolk were flesh-eating and never considered that possibility. #twitterfiction

Crouching, he steadied his rifle. He thought he could get off at least one shot before the #yeti was on him. He was wrong. #twitterfiction

Knee-deep in freezing water, he wanted to kick himself for suggesting an Antarctic cruise. So much for winning the #lottery. #twitterfiction

Although the police weren’t far behind, he was only a mile or so from #Mexico. Of course, a mile is a long way to swim. #twitterfiction

The clock struck midnight. The governor hurriedly picked up the phone. He had forgot to wind the timepiece today. #twitterfiction

 

The Moment I knew I Loved Science Fiction

The Weekly World News changed my life. And I’m mostly serious about that claim.

When I was a kid, I often found myself grocery shopping with my mother and grandmother. I was made to hold onto the cart if I didn’t behave. I remember holding onto the cart quite a few times.

There was always one part of the visit to the grocery store that scared me. I might even say that one part of the visit haunted me. I had to come face-to-face with my tormentor at the end of our shopping excursion, whenever my mother directed the cart toward the checkout register. While waiting in line, I invariably confronted this demon – the Weekly World News.

The Weekly World News scared me. I didn’t yet know the difference between reality and entertainment as far as periodicals were concerned. When the Weekly World News announced in 1993 that the world would end in 1995, I panicked. My seven-year-old mind gasped, “I only have two years to live!”

When I read on the cover of one issue about a superstorm that was brewing in the Atlantic and tracking toward the major cities of the Northeast, I was petrified. I watched The Weather Channel for an entire week. I thought maybe there was a cover-up – was The Weather Channel not allowed to talk about the superstorm? Would coverage of this meteorological nightmare spread hysteria in the streets of Baltimore and Philadelphia

When the Weekly World News told me that a meteor was charging through space toward the Earth, I was mortified. I asked my father if we might be able to deflect or block such a meteor. He said, “I don’t think so.”

For me, the worst editions featured extraterrestrials. These aliens were invariably coming to Earth to destroy mankind. When confronted with a cover story concerning aliens, I would often reflect that the previous issues didn’t seem so bad after all. So, the world will end in 1999 due to some weird solar phenomenon? Well, that doesn’t involve aliens – so bring it on! There was just something about aliens that really bothered me. The aliens usually liked Bill Clinton though, at least according to the Weekly World News.

When I was about seven-years-old, I developed this tendency to stare at the night sky anytime I was riding in a car.

“What’s that light?” I would ask my mother. I usually tried to point to the part of the sky where the mysterious light could be observed.

“A star,” my mother would flatly reply. She knew exactly where this was going.

“No, I mean that one!”

“That’s an airplane.”

These conversations would go on and on. I was certain that I was picking out unidentified flying objects. I was observing the blatant lights of alien spacecraft. I knew that I was watching the aliens just as they were watching me speed along Bitner Road in the back of my mother’s car.

One day, my grandfather was riding with us.

“What are those three lights over there?” I had spotted an especially unusual light formation that was almost definitely a large jet aircraft.

My mother didn’t have a chance to answer before my grandfather.

“That? Well, that’s probably a U.F.O.!”

My suspicions had been confirmed. My mother was likely part of the cover-up.

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A photograph of Jupiter taken in 2014 by the Hubble Space Telescope.

During the summer of 1994, Shoemaker-Levy, a comet discovered about a year earlier, plowed into Jupiter. This was a very real event, but, of course, the Weekly World News had to present a spin on the subject.

“Distress call received from Jupiter hours before impact!”

I’m sure that my first thoughts were ones of relief. Thankfully, Shoemaker-Levy was not about to hit the Earth. Thankfully, Shoemaker-Levy blasted whatever malicious aliens were living in Jupiter’s atmosphere. That was one less comet to hit Earth and one less alien species to torment me. Two birds had been killed with one stone – or collision.

Not too long after that, I started really thinking about that headline. What if Earth did receive a distress call from Jupiter just before Shoemaker-Levy started to rip through the latter’s southern hemisphere? There probably wouldn’t be enough time for the agencies of Earth to muster any help. But what if this distress call had come years before? What if Earth had received this call in the 1970s, when scientists believe Shoemaker-Levy’s collision course with Jupiter became set? Would we do anything? Could we do anything? My mind kicked these ideas around.

The image of Shoemaker-Levy smashing Jupiter on the front of the Weekly World News was wildly exaggerated – but I didn’t know that at the time. Surely, nothing could survive such a collision. What if Earth truly came to believe that nearby intelligent extraterrestrial life was in serious peril? That eradication of this newfound life was eminent? The opportunities to exchange knowledge would be lost forever. Should Earth at least try to intervene?

I think that in some ways, my mind never stopped pondering those questions. Once I got tired of rehashing the Shoemaker-Levy collision over and over, I started seeking out new situations and scenarios.

The Sci-Fi Channel was still fairly new in 1994, and I had been reluctant to watch any of the programs on that channel for fear that I would have nightmares or learn something that I shouldn’t know. Feeling bolder and more comfortable with the content after the Shoemaker-Levy collision, I often found myself tuning in on a regular basis.

I also started to watch science fiction movies – the ones I had been too afraid to watch before. I would go on to watch these films, both the classics and the B movies, repeatedly. I watched Alien and Aliens. I watched The Thing and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In hindsight, I feel really bad if Shoemaker-Levy destroyed any extraterrestrial civilizations on Jupiter. But, at the same time, it did get me to stop making myself carsick while trying to spot alien spaceships at night.

So, that brings me back to my earlier question: if we received a distress call from Jupiter tomorrow explaining that a massive comet was going to strike that planet in twenty years, could or would we do anything?

According to Wikipedia: Yellowknife > Uniontown

I don’t doubt Yellowknife (Northwest Territories, Canada) is a great town – but why does Wikipedia like it so much more than Uniontown?

About a year ago, I decided to create an entry on Wikipedia entitled “List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania”. Now, I know that Uniontown is no metropolis. In fact, a 2015 census estimate puts Uniontown’s population at 9,990. If that number holds true for the 2020 census, Uniontown will have an official census population below 10,000 citizens for the first time since 1900. Uniontown’s highest official census population was in 1940, when the city was home to 21,819 people.

The declining population figures do not take away from Uniontown’s impressive skyline. Wikipedia certainly has “Tallest Building” entries for cities with buildings and structures of heights similar to the tallest buildings in Uniontown. Emporis, a worldwide database of building information, remarks that Uniontown “has a remarkable skyline for a city of its size, suggesting a past of great energy and optimism”.

I figured that creating an entry on Wikipedia couldn’t hurt. I thought there was only a small chance Wikipedia wouldn’t accept the entry, especially if I made sure the article introduced some new knowledge to the online encyclopedia. So, I carefully went through the process of creating the article. I reviewed similar entries for other nearby cities. I went downtown and took some pictures of the tallest buildings in town. My entry had a short and sweet summary that offered some background on Uniontown’s industrial past. I also pointed out that Uniontown witnessed a population boom between 1880 and 1930. Uniontown’s most iconic downtown structures were built within that fifty year window.

Six buildings made the list. Each building on the list was over 100 feet tall, which I used as the baseline for qualification. I had created articles for Wikipedia before, but I felt this particular entry was my most unique and personal one. I had always been proud of my hometown’s architecture and history. “List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania” met Wikipedia’s standards for creation and soon appeared online.

I was really satisfied with my article. Wikipedia was too. At least, Wikipedia was satisfied initially.

School started not long after my article was officially created. A handful of my colleagues found my article to be somewhat whimsical but worth reading. Most were generally impressed with the list. Here was Uniontown, right alongside Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, with its own “Tallest Buildings” article on Wikipedia.

One of the Computer Science teachers even used the article as part of an online scavenger hunt for his students during the first week of classes. After a few days, some students commented that “List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania” could no longer be found online.

That’s when I got the news.

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Fayette Building 

“List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania” had been recommended for deletion. Within a few days, the powers that be on Wikipedia had voted to delete the article. I did argue for keeping the page to no avail. For every point I raised, those behind the wrecking ball had a cataloged response. “List of the Tallest Buildings in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories” exists, and I have no problem with that whatsoever – but we can’t spare a page for Uniontown? I guess there just isn’t room for the Fayette Building on Wikipedia (outside of a small picture on the main Uniontown article). J.V. Thompson and D.H. Burnham would be very disappointed.

Information that was new to Wikipedia presented within my entry was not even merged into the Uniontown, Pennsylvania article. Wikipedia had dismantled “List of the Tallest Buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania” brick by brick before the mortar had even fully hardened.

After a year of sorting through the rubble, I have rebuilt my list – bigger and better. Most of the statistical data on my list is taken from Emporis, which is an amazing database.

The Tallest Buildings in Uniontown

Uniontown, Pennsylvania has an impressive skyline for a small city.

The gallery below shows the buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania that stand at least 85 feet (25.9 meters) tall. The buildings are ranked by row, starting with the upper left-hand corner and moving left to right. Click an image to make it appear larger. The eight tallest buildings in Uniontown, Pennsylvania are:

 

1. Fayette County Courthouse (188 feet – completed 1892)

2.Trinity United Presbyterian Church (150 feet – completed 1896)

3. Fayette Building (146 feet – completed 1902)

4. Marshall Manor (134 feet – completed 1973)

5. Mt. Vernon Towers (122 feet – completed 1974)

6. Gallatin Apartments (101 feet – completed 1929)

7. National City Bank Building (87 feet – completed 1924)

8. White Swan Apartments (85 feet – completed 1925)

Elevator Buttons of Uniontown

Read on to see my “Elevator Button” mosaic.

The excitement of riding an elevator typically passes with childhood. I distinctly remember jostling with my sister or cousin to see which of us would get to press the elevator button. My mother or grandmother would usually reprimand one of us for pressing the button out of turn. At the time, I was never sure why pressing the button mattered so much – but pressing the button definitely did matter. Children still rush to the control panel to press the button first. I suppose elevators seem to possess an almost majestic quality to children. 

As the decades have passed, I find elevators bring more a sense of relief than adventure. I’m not so concerned about pressing the buttons nowadays, but I do still always offer to press the buttons for other passengers.

I guess that’s because I was always good at pressing the buttons – much better than my sister anyway.

Uniontown has quite a few tall buildings for a town of only 10,000 people, making elevators necessary throughout downtown. While you can’t ride every single elevator, the kid in me found out yesterday that you can still press the buttons on quite a few.

And, yes, I did get briefly stuck in one. Thankfully, I don’t have claustrophobia or agoraphobia. I did press the hell out of the “Door Open” button, though. 

Blue Collar Candy: The History of the D.L. Clark Company

There is one candy bar that is distinctly Western Pennsylvanian – when was the last time you had a Clark Bar?

Although much of my work is fiction, I have invested some considerable time into a few nonfiction projects over the years. One nonfiction topic that is of special interest to me is the history of the D.L. Clark Company, former producer of the Clark Bar and Zagnut. The D.L. Clark Company has an incredibly interesting history that would immediately appeal to anyone fascinated by 20th century Pittsburgh lore.

I grew up with the Clark Bar, although I hardly knew that particular candy bar as anything unique among the world of confections. Oddly enough, the Clark Bar was actually the one candy item at my grandparents’ house that was distinctly “off limits” to any visiting grandchildren. As a child, candy hunting at my grandparents’ house was a tradition. My grandmother stockpiled chocolate candy and proceeded to stash the treats all over the place – often in very humorous and creative ways.

Despite her efforts, we were often successful in finding the “goodies”. There was always a variety.

Kit Kat.

Mr. Goodbar.

Twix.

Clark Bar.

But we were told that last one was decidedly not for us.

“Those are for your grandfather,” my grandmother would say.

That made good sense to me. My grandfather’s name is Clark. The five-year-old me was fully satisfied thinking that my grandmother had diligently sought out candy for my grandfather that just happened to have his name in blue lettering on the wrapper.

Of course, that was wonderfully convenient. I didn’t know anyone named “Goodbar” or “Twix”, so for a long time I satisfied myself with avoiding the Clark Bar and thoroughly enjoying whatever else I might find hidden away in the recesses of my grandparents’ dining room.

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The Clark Bar

I rediscovered the Clark Bar two decades later while on a field trip with a group of students in downtown Uniontown. My mind was immediately perplexed with how I had been able to forget such a clear memory from my childhood – let alone an absolute local history bonanza. That rediscovery touched off many years of research.

I was immediately engrossed by the details of the company’s history. David L. Clark was an Irish American, who had started his own confectionery in the back of his house. Those early efforts would expand into a brand that would become synonymous with Pittsburgh and introduce products that would continue to be made long after the company ceased to exist.

Initially, I turned my research into a lecture (Blue Collar Candy: The History of the D.L. Clark Company). I have been fortunate enough to share this lecture with several historical organizations throughout the Pittsburgh region over the last four years.

I shared this summary of the lecture with any hosting historical society, library, or museum for the purpose of publishing announcements:

Pittsburgh in the 19th and 20th centuries could, at times, be rough around the edges: the crackle of blast furnaces; the roar of locomotives; and the blast of steamboat whistles. Those features made up the Steel City we know and love – but that city had a sweeter side. Amidst the coal barons, railroad tycoons, and industrialists, existed one of our nation’s most successive chocolatiers and confectioners –David L. Clark. Clark, an Irish – born immigrant, established the D.L. Clark Company and helped pioneer various types of candy throughout the early 20th century. From the Clark Bar to the Zagnut and every treat in between, D.L. Clark Company products have brought smiles to the faces of Pittsburghers for over 125 years.

The Monongahela Area Historical Society was the first organization to host the lecture in 2012.

A few days after the presentation, I received a letter from Renee Exler of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, who is a member of the Monongahela Area Historical Society and Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation. What I received turned out to be a copy of a letter Renee had sent to Andy Masich, the President and CEO of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Renee was kind enough to pass a copy along to me. The letter spoke well of the presentation, pointed out my research to Mr. Masich, and stated that, “People around the world have heard of the Clark Bar, perhaps eaten one, but this great Pittsburgh history would be lost…if it wasn’t for someone like Joshua Scully.”

My goal remains to eventually write the story of the D.L. Clark Company and seek publication. This is an ongoing passion and project.

After all that I’ve accomplished with this, I can’t help but wonder – what if I didn’t have a grandfather named Clark? What if my grandmother had said, “the Oh Henry! bars aren’t for you!”?

And then there’s the Zagnut, which has really created a niche all to itself.

More Fayette County

A previous post describes the great source of inspiration that Fayette County, Pennsylvania has been to me. I’ve lived in Fayette County my entire life and can’t seriously imagine living any other place. I found some more photographs that I wanted to share. The images in my previous post and those included below really show how this area can readily lend plenty of “settings” to the mind of an author. 

Location, Location, Location

What makes you feel right at home?

Anyone seriously attempting to write fiction is going to realize that setting is very important. Needless to say, the easiest places to describe are the ones with which you are most familiar. Without a doubt, I’m most familiar with the place I grew up and still call home – Fayette County, Pennsylvania

Fayette County is rich in history and natural beauty. There are few places in Pennsylvania that can rival Fayette County’s unique architecture, scenic wonder, and historical legacy. The county’s largest communities – Uniontown (where I reside) and Connellsville – offer a distinct urban and industrial feel that really tells the story of how these two towns were fashioned from the boom and bust of the coal and coke era

I’ve never had to look far to find an appropriate setting. Southwestern Pennsylvania has such a variety of places that I feel I’ve only cracked the service with the inspiration given by this region. Fayette County is at the heart of that inspiration. From the streets of downtown Uniontown to the winding footpaths of the countryside, this place has constantly walked me through new ideas – and I love my home for that.

I have more Fayette County pictures in this post.