A Flash Fiction Piece
"Moontalk" is a story I wrote in 2017, which I never really did anything with. It is the last bit of literary fiction that I ever wrote, so it is a slight return to my roots to post it here.
Enjoy, and feel free to comment. :)
William F. Burk
Alice cupped her hand over her lighter to spite the breeze and light her cigarette.
Sound waves pulsed from the Masquerade, beating against the walls of the small venue, sickly begging to spill out into the atmosphere. Atlanta lights blinded the night sky——the very eyes of God——from Alice below; she peered skyward.
Black. She thought. But, almost blank.
Tree branches swished in the frigid wind, adjacent to the sidewalk. Brown spots littered the ground along their roots, dancing——writhing——under the strings of the gale, crunching under the feet of the people going in and out of the shack-like building.
She heard footsteps; a young man approached.
“You know, the concert is inside.”
Alice took her hand from her pocket to push her bright blue bangs from her face.
He was still there.
“I’m aware.” She replied.
“Well, it’s a lot warmer inside,” he said as he stood beside her.
“I know,” Alice flicked ash from her cigarette.
“What are you doing?”
She exhaled smoke mixed with moist breath, then watched as it dissipated into the air.
It’s gone—just like that.
“You here alone?” he lit his cigarette behind his hand. “You got a boyfriend?”
His hot smoke poured into the air as he exhaled, then was gone.
You too, huh?
Photo by William F. Burk
“Yeah, I do.”
“You need another one?”
Alice could see the faint light of the crescent moon plastered above the haze of the city of Atlanta. Only the moon—a giant rock—dared pierce the visage of the civilization below; only the moon dared speak among the deaf noise of the lives of monotony; only the moon would audaciously preach to man in his primal language.
I remember it. She smiled, gritting her teeth. The times--
She could remember the times before: Like Christmas as a child, the blatant lies of innocence made manifest in a fat man in red.
She sighed, then inhaled.
But why was it that way?
She looked into the abysmal above.
Such a deep dark.
“You wanna come to my place after the show?”
The beacons of an airplane pierced the black sky.
“Moving.” She puffed the last of her cigarette. “An airplane means people are moving.” She exhaled. “Going places. Like, business trips. Or going home to family. Or moving to a new place. Or going on vacation. Somewhere nicer. Warmer. Or more colorful. Etcetera. Etcetera.”
At least they’re moving.
“So, do you want to hook up...orrr?”
Alice dropped her cigarette onto the coarse concrete and silenced the embers beneath her boot. Bass thumped, the lifeblood of her heart in a dire rush to escape the confines within.
“Sometimes,” Alice sighed, only breath escaping, “sometimes, I feel——not everyone is a success, ya know?” she looked out into city beyond, the lights of offices in the distant skyscrapers—--empty offices. She looked at the tree branches. Empty. Them too? “Some are failures. Just walking—--walking failures——and,” Alice put her hands in her pockets, “what if I’m one of them?”
There was no reply.
Alice looked around.
The sounds of the concert inside still carried on; cars flew by. It was a white noise, a rampant waltz to nowhere.
Alice looked up at the crescent moon; she didn’t smile back.
What is our "Hero's Journey"?
Thoughts on Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With A Thousand Faces"
The idea of the adventure of a hero is not one unique to the realms of myth and fairy tales. I am currently reading Joseph Campbell’s masterpiece, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces,” and I must admit that the profound nature of this book is eye-opening to say the least. Before opening the book, I would like to have believed that I understood the concept of a “Hero’s Journey” and what it entailed for characters in my books as they moved like chessmen across the board of space and time that is the plot of the story. And, now halfway through the book, I would also like to believe that I understand something more about stories.
And I would also like to believe that I have encountered something much more profound.
The “Hero’s Journey” affects us all, whether in the vastness of one’s life completely, or in the smallness of going to the grocery store. And the reason for this, I believe, is because the idea of this Journey is rooted in our abilities to choose. Even when one rejects their destiny, the destruction they have wrought is their creation, and theirs alone.
The Journey is all around us, an omnipresent force which moves the gears of the clock of destiny to chime to the time of the hero to begin again and be born anew. But the bell tolls for all, not just Theseus, and humanity’s destiny (and the destiny of the individual) resides in their unique keenness to hear the chimes of the seemingly supernatural, all-encompassing, subconscious forces of the world and mind.
So how then is the common man akin to the man of myth?
The answer is rather simple, and the answer is this: you have the ability to choose. Think about your choices every day, for the clock is constantly ticking, awaiting to chime its beckon for one to be summoned to the destiny of their life. Or perhaps it merely chimes to the destiny of one’s day, one’s singular hour. Destiny is a fickle mistress in that, though she is a commander of paths, she lays in bed with the autonomy of Free Will.
So, watch your life. You may be surprised to find that your “Hero’s Journey” lies everywhere. No matter how large. No matter how small. Listen well, for the bells of adventure beckon merely for those who hear.
The Writer as a Strategist
Though I am largely a fan of strategy games, I am not very good at chess. I studied chess for short while, but instead of improving in my knowledge of the game, the experience gave me a rather interesting insight into the world of writing. And, as I stand now, I fully believe that the art of crafting a story is a lot like the science of playing chess.
“How, Will?” You must ask. “How is telling a story anything akin to two players moving chess pieces vindictively across the rows and files of the chessboard?”
And the answer lies within the question, for all a story is composed of is two forces, two objects of willpower, making moves across a board in hopes for a victorious goal.
Sit with me here and imagine. Have you ever been writing an arc, a chapter, or a scene and stopped to think: “Why isn’t this working? Why am I not moving towards my desired goal?” And thus the writer, whether they know it or not, sits at the board, ogling the pieces before them, pondering as to why their decisions up until this point are not working, when in a sudden in a whirlwind of epiphany, they think “Of course! If I do this, then it will work!”
Just like that, the writer is no longer merely a spinner of ideas or characters, but a strategist of the storytelling art. As the same way a grandmaster moves his pieces to his designs, the writer places their characters to create certain effects. The characters dance upon the board—upon the plot in a magnificent play to move toward the end goal.
The writer desires the checkmate, or, the end of the story.
But how do they do this with so much against them? And who, then, is their opponent?
The opponent of the writer remains one object, be it the the World, the Psyche, the Self. The writer fights against the mind, in a glorious duel to uncover the World within.
And so, for every brilliant move, there is an equal counter-force. This, is the exact way that the story is like the chess match. The writer concocts his plot by moving their pieces to the common goal of finality, just as the grandmaster moves their pieces to the common goal of checkmate.
How does this—how should this—change our mentalities as writers?
Well, it’s rather simple. If we think more about the utility of our characters, we will see more about their quality to the plot and why they are important. Likewise, if we think of the plot less a series of events and more a strategy, it gives us the ability to take away the intimidation that it sometimes presents. After all, it is merely the concoction that results from our strategic decisions along the writer’s journey—the writer’s game. And lastly, if we think of our end goal as checkmate, it implies one thing particularly.
It implies that we must be aware of the goal (the ending) and thus it gives us a goal to play our pieces in favor of.
I have been thinking about this analogy much lately, and I believe it is a strange one, yet equally refreshing. And though the World, the Psyche, and the Self strike against us, we must know that the strategy is in our hands, and, as long as we can play our way to victory, the art is eternally free.
The Light of Fantasy
Illuminating the Magic Mirror
Fantasy contains an inherent contradiction. The genre is not as it appears, but its truth makes it exceedingly relevant. Fantasy is not a pure escape. While escapism is absolutely a facet of the genre, it is misleading to suppose that fantasy fully escapes the present world. It is, instead, a mirror. Fantasy, as a rule, must reflect the world in which we live. As hypocritical as this sounds, the writer then has a mission to make the fantastic seem mundane, the surreal seem real, the unbelievable seem believable. A writer is to spin a web of illusion and capture the human mind within its grasp. To bring the myth alive, one must bring it down from Olympus—from the realm of the gods—and place it within the finite minds of fragile mortals. In essence, fantasy must reflect the human condition.
That is the only way that a man could wrap his head around it.
This is not for no reason, however; it is not out of spite, nor of a sinister machination of the author. Within a fantasy story, there is a conscious and unconscious desire to confront the horrors of the world. Through fantasy, a reader (and the writer) is able to confront the despicable and the evil.
Photo by William F. Burk
This is the thing that makes fantasy ever relevant. It is not merely the escape, but the reflection of the true magic in the world. It is the reflection of the human spirit and the miraculous desire for life to continue. It is in it's very essence a reminder that good can triumph and that there is still beauty worth fighting for. The glory of fantasy is that it attunes itself with the songs of our hearts and reminds us that there is something greater and far more powerful than despair, and that this power exists in each and every one of us—that we have the strength to overcome great adversity. There is light in the most pervasive darkness, and the greatest magic exists in the smallest of voices. Whether we know it or not, our greatest power against the evils of the world is but our mortal will to live that carves its path through the horrors around us. The reader sees themselves through the spyglass of the imagined world, and perhaps they discover through the tale that, though the world is vast and treacherous, there is light, and it is bright enough to illuminate the night.
THE WRITING MIND:
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The Eternal Cafe:
At the Table of the World
This coffee shop experience is comparable to the endeavor of the writer. The journey of the writer takes place when one enters the “Eternal Cafe.”
The Eternal Cafe, however, is not a place one can reach on foot or by car. The Eternal Cafe is a state of mind. It is the mentality of the writer as he attempts to transcribe the words of the World. He enters the Cafe, and around him are people. They are but faceless phantoms, mixtures, entering and exiting the ethereal terminal. These phantoms will not speak unless the writer speaks first, but their faces appear, ever there, in his peripherals.
They all have a story to tell——but he lacks the time to tell them all.
The baristas work behind the bar, and the writer talks to them. As they converse, they tell the writer a story:
They give him a hint.
These ghosts——these spirits——are what we call “characters.”
They embody us. They embody others. They embody themes.
They are the creations of our mind, molded from the World around us.
And that is what the writer has done, for the Eternal Cafe is but the sentience of the writer; it is his vigilance——his watchful eye. He is aware and catches the spirits as they go by; he is unaware and bumps into them. Some take hold and become people he knows quite well (if not completely), and some disappear——lost between the chasms of his mind, swept away by the muses.
The Eternal Cafe has only one table. One seat: The writer’s inevitable destination.
He sits at the table.
Beside him, is the Self: his heart, mind, soul, spirit. And, sitting lazily in front of him is the World——not the World as he sees it, but rather the World as it truly is. The conversation he has with this entity (whether we call it God or the Universe or whichever) is the essence of all true writing.
It is the purest form a writer can embody.
The Eternal Cafe has a plethora of entrances, each with a myriad of signs pointing us toward its doors. The World is ever before us; the phantoms ever walk our minds. We, as writers, must learn to perceive these things. For the single table beckons us, and the World has much to say.
Thoughts from Starbucks:
On the purpose of Language, the Story, and My experience with a Beta-reader
Language has one function: Communication.
All language is designed to do this one thing.
I remember my Intro to Composition 2 class during my second semester of college. The professor began his class by writing the word “SIGN” in big, bold, letters on the board. At the age I was, I was not prepared for the simplicity in which this word would begin to imply, and it was not until much later that the lecture would “click.”
He said: “A word, is a sign.”
It is such a bare——such a plain definition of the concept, yet it is the greatest definition I have yet to encounter. It is because words are signs.
A word represents a concept: Abstract or concrete, moving or stationary, true or false.
This applies to the story, as well. A story, at its most basic——most cellular level——is a variety of words which, when placed in particular combination, convey an idea. This idea, in terms of stories, creates the illusion of the world, or a world.
The writer of fiction, then, is alike the magician; the storyteller is an illusionist and a weaver of words. The job of the storyteller is to combine these words into the right order to make the reader (or listener) care about non-existent people, in a non-existent reality, doing non-existent things.
On my way home from the coffee shop, I considered this; I considered how these things could make me a better writer, then, I thought about my beta-reader.
Having a beta-reader has been, for me, the ultimate example of the importance of using words to create the illusion mentioned above——and using words correctly. The thing is this: I never realized just how blind I was——just how little I knew about writing the story——just how blind I was because I knew the story in its entirety.
So, what do I mean?
I mean that I know what I mean. I know the story; I know what the story is supposed to say. My reader, on the other hand, does not. This, then, means that the reader only knows the story through the information I give her. There have been many times when my beta-reader has come back and said something like “So [CHARACTER] is really...” or “So [THIS] is [THAT]?”
Conversely, these times fill my pulse with anxiety as I think “Oh no! What have I done to make her think that?”
What the reader thinks about your story, whether true or false, is not their fault. They only understand what has been communicated to them; they only comprehend the ideas that the writer’s words have conveyed to them.
I have learned, through many semi-anxiety-attacks as a writer, just how crucial it is to watch my words. When I edit, I ask myself “Does that word mean ___?” and “What am I trying to convey? What am I trying to tell the reader?”
Through my experiences with the beta-reader, I am learning to be a bit more discerning with my diction.
That said, I am glad that writing is, like all arts, an incremental process. I am merely learning and have far to go. That is my contemplation for the week, and I can say is this: Next time you edit, watch your words and say, “What idea am I trying to convey?” :)
Mystery Works! An Example From Kingdom Hearts.
However, there are things in this post that one might consider
SPOILERS FOR KINGDOM HEARTS 3, but idk.
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK :)
So, I finished Kingdom Hearts 3 last night, and I thought I would talk a bit about it.
And by the Aeons, I am NOT okay!
So, I wanted to talk about a technical storytelling aspect in Kingdom Hearts that I personally find intriguing. This would be what that I also think to be one of the greatest staples of the series: The usage of mystery over actiony suspense.
The story has a way of using cryptic language and imagery to propel itself and hook his audience. Think about it: The opening of the original Kingdom Hearts begins with Sora’s unclear dialogue, saying things like “I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately...Is any of this real, or not...?” Not to mention that the first place we see in actual gameplay is the enigmatic Station of Awakening.
Throughout the entire series, from the first battle with Darkside all the way to the final clash with Xehanort in the sky above Scala ad Caelum, the story has the essence of a mysterious dream.
So, why do I find this storytelling strategy to be so captivating?
We have all had dreams; we have all seen the Oracle or Soothsayer spin their omens and fortunes. In the beginning lines to Aristotle’s work on Metaphysics: “All men, by nature, desire to have knowledge.”
It is bred into us——from the moment we are born, we have such a driving curiosity. Consider: The infant tests objects by putting them into its mouth; children wander around the back yard, taking in the sights around them; teens wish to know what love and purpose are in a world that has been made new to them; adults desire to see things they could not see with younger eyes.
And it is that—--it is that primordial attribute of the human nature that makes Kingdom Hearts an exciting story.
It is no different than the stories of Greek myth, in which the hero or heroine encounters a world in which they did not know before——a world new to them, or perhaps a world made bare, manifest, or even true.
The same is true for Sora’s journey.
In the beginning, we have Sora, who, through each installment, has his character and spirit tested with each new thing he discovers about the world. Through this, we see a world unfold before him, be it through the loyal companionship of Donald and Goofy, or Sora’s striking desire save his friends and protect the ones he loves, or even in his encounters with the members of Organization XIII.
It is the “Myth.” Even the final installment for this arc itself mirrors the heroes of ancient myth—--a hero who hears a call to adventure, then journeys forth to meet his greatest challenge yet. He is brought to the brink of death, and failure consumes him. But not for long, as he overcomes——and through that resilience, he is victorious.
The final installment of the Seekers of Darkness Arc has closed, and I personally felt that it had been done by tying as few knots as possible. But. That in itself is the beauty of the series: A story full of characters, plots, and settings that keep us guessing.
The ending was somewhat bittersweet——we see a more human Xehanort, and we see the story laid out in the metaphor of a game of chess between the duality of Darkness and Light. And, though I told myself that I would be done after Kingdom Hearts 3, I must say:
I can’t wait for the next one.
Library of the Human Experience
William F. Burk
Award-winning author of fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry. Author of "The Heart of Hearts," a debut fantasy novel. Always writing, forever and ever.