Tell Me How It Used to Be (c.1986)
So I wrote this when I was 19 or 20. I forget exactly- but I was definitely in college because I wrote it for a Creative Writing class. I recall getting an ‘A’, but my professor made a note in the margin that said something like- “cheese-y”. Meh. Whatever.
Reading it as a 54 year-old, it’s clearly Twilight Zone, old-school-Sci-Fi-inspired, cliche after cliche.
I can say that without embarrassment because this is, literally, my very first short story. I mean what did I know back then? I had written reports and I kept a stupid diary sort of… and had a ton of bad poetry truth be told. But this was my first run at a real short story.
I always loved that plot twist that Asimov or Clark would throw into their short stories. And Twilight Zone was classic for that.
This is essentially an unedited copy of my original story. I had to transcribe it from a Dot Matrix print-out. Because I don’t have a 5.25 inch floppy drive on this computer, allowing me to transfer the original file from Bank Street Writer. (Who remembers THAT??”)
I see so many ways I could elevate it with some edits, and add the last scene that I’ve always thought about, but the only edits that I chose to make were grammatical. I saw a few typos. So I fixed those. I left all those misplaced ellipses… dear god. I figured why re-write history? Warts and all right?
I think it would probably be better without the heavy handed cudgel of the book-end quotes. I was really into American Pie (the song not the movie) at the time…. what can I say? I was a kid, gimme a break.
Also – if you’re asking yourself what does a Dead Elvis on the Toilet have to do with this story… well just think about it. haha
Tell Me How It Used to Be
“And the three men I admire the most,
The Father, Son, and The Holy Ghost;
They caught the last train for the coast…”
“Please Grandpa… tell me about it again.”
“Now… I told ya’… no. I shouldn’t. I can’t.”
The elder took a long sip of his Wiedemann. That was his favorite drink, although the boy never understood why. He had tasted it before and it was awful.
The Grandfather’s voice was low and hoarse, it seemed to carry in it the burden of his age. He always spoke slowly, as if thoroughly contemplating each and every thought before actually committing himself to the effort of speech.
“Well… alright.” Another sip.
“A long time ago… I don’t know how long. I guess I was about your age. There were these … uh… machines. Yes, machines… that’s what you would call them. Machines. Only these were different, not like those that moved earth or carried people.
They were delicate instruments- some were so small that you could hold them in your hand, while others were so grand that it took many men to move them.”
“And everybody loved to use them, didn’t they Grandpa?”
“No…no… not everybody. Well… most people didn’t know how to use them. Those that did though… hmmm… they could produce these… er… stimulations in certain parts of your head. I don’t know what they was or how they worked. I reckon back in those days they knew how it was done. Maybe that’s why they finally got rid of ’em.”
“You didn’t know how it was done, but you liked it anyhow. And you tried to do it too, didn’t ya Grandpa!?”
They sat in silence for a moment as the mug of beer, once again, was lifted to the lips of its owner.
“Yes, I tried it. When I was alone I tried to make them stimulations. It was never the same though. When one of them people who knew how to use them was around my head would just fill with real pleasin’ feelin’s and I would try to get them feelin’s when nobody else was around. But I could never get it just right.”
“Those machines were real old too weren’t they Grandpa? Somebody invented the first one trillions and trillions of years ago didn’t they!?”
“Yeah… at first I guess they was real uncomplicated. I mean they have been around for thousands of years probably. Those kind were so simple that even little kids could make them and they would work pretty good.
As time progressed so did the machines, around the time of The Uprisings of 1998 they had machines that were totally unlike any ever made. They had ’em that had ranges and stimulations different from all the rest. Most if them were quite pleasing. Though, sometimes, if you were around some of them for long times, you would get a headache.”
“And then they made one that could imitate all the others and they would get together with a bunch of machines and use them all at them same time.”
“That was about the time they learned the dreadful truth. It seems that the stimulations were the cause of the Terrible Disease. The machines were the problem and their destruction was the cure.
How ironic, that the major cause of death at that time was the result of pleasure.”
“The disease was called ‘Cancerous’ wasn’t it Grandpa?”
“Yes, something to that effect, I believe it was called ‘Cancer’… but I can’t be sure. That was so long ago…I don’t remember.
But I do remember the surge of adrenaline as that first Electric Guitar, that was the name of one of them machines, screamed out the introduction of a favorite song. I also remember the
one-ness I felt with… total strangers… as we waited for the… ‘concert’ to begin.”
“One of the Concerts, right Grandpa!”
“I just wish I could hear that sound one more time before I die… hmpf… I’m talkin’ like the old fool I am. I’ll never hear that again. I’d do best just to forget about it. And you better too, why, if anyone knew I was tellin’ you about it they’d skin us both.”
“Gosh… it sounds so neat. I wish I had been there to see what it was really like.”
“NO! You don’t. It’s better that you don’t know what you missed and you always remember that!”
There was an indeterminate pause. The mug was empty now.
“Tell me again how it was pronounced… you know… the name.”
“Ahh yes…. it was called….. Music.”
“And they were singing,
Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie,
Drove my Chevy to the levy,
But the levy was dry.
And them good old boys were
Drinking Whiskey and Rye singing,
This’ll be the day that I die,
This’ll be the day that I die.”
Cheese-y! Right? Oh well. I always imagined this as a Twilight Zone episode where the whole story is told while you are looking at the backs of an old man and a kid- sitting on a porch. They’re watching a sunset over the city.
The kid is wearing a hoodie.
As they talk, the old man fidgets, his hands constantly in motion. occasionally reaching over to touch an arm or leg.
We never see them from the front until the very end when the kid looks up to his Grandfather, and pulls the hoodie off his head.
“Tell me again how it was pronounced… you know … the name.”
As the camera pulls back we see that he has no ears, but rather horrible scars where both ears should have been.
And the old man sign languages “Music”.
Do do do do do do do do do