Fiction Snippet: You Know How I Can Tell You’re Crazy?

Written by . Posted at 9:35 am on January 26th, 2011

The following is a snippet of fiction that I wrote for a book I’m working on. Any correlation to real people, events, or other works of fiction are merely coincidental. I would highly appreciate constructive criticism in the comments.

Paul sat on a worn, pleather-upholstered bench, his full concentration devoted to the pristine white coffee cup in front of him, contrasted by the dark liquid filling it, as the bright afternoon light lengthened the shadow. It was easy to keep pace with the smudge of dark gray across the speckled surface of the table, a lone vessel on a silent sea of flame. First the tip touched this large speck of orange, then the fleck of yellow next to it, then a different shade of orange chip. It crept onward like the march of a snail.

The coffee cup, however, did not move.

Voices droned out conversations elsewhere in the room. Silverware clanked metallically against ceramic, glass on plastic, and the girl behind the register with the gauged ears and the Kanji tattoo on her left wrist called out orders to a skinny, slightly older guy in back. People were exchanging greetings, laughing warmly, shaking hands, or giving hugs. Some read books or newspapers, but they all came and went like the tide.

The coffee cup did not move.

It had not moved for almost an hour now, when Paul set it down. It sat quietly, paying no mind to anything going on around it. It didn’t care about the other coffee mugs or dishes, the coffee inside of it that was now most definitely cold, or the girl behind the counter with the trendy glasses that matched the stud in her right nostril. It did not need to be spoken to. It simply was.

Somewhere in the haze of sound and thought, a sensation of stimulation broke the trance. It was like the feeling of being watched, but different. Stronger. It was sensing minuscule amounts of heat or gravity. The closest word that could identify it was “Awareness.” Paul was Aware.

The other body was standing to his right and just behind him, and had not moved in several seconds. Firm. Static. The person spoke again.

“Sweetie, are you okay? Can I get you anything?”

Paul turned toward the neuter voice. The figure was an effeminate man of average height and slightly stocky build, with an auburn ponytail. His face was shaved clean and a single golden hoop was visible in his right ear. He radiated a sense of concerned composure. Paul smiled at him. “No, thank you. I’m just—just thinking.”

The other man lowered his head slightly, raising one eyebrow at the same time and wiping his free hand on his server’s apron. The other hand held a partially full pot of coffee. He gently lowered this onto the empty table behind Paul and bent over, speaking in hushed tones so that only Paul would hear him. “Look, I know it’s none of my business, and I’m not here to judge—trust me—but does your ‘thinking’ involve chemicals?”

Drugs. Of course. It was not the first time someone had questioned Paul about his “habits.” The truth of the matter was, outside of the occasional ibuprofen or prescription, there were none. He had never had a strong interest in using foreign substances to alter his brain. He’d always preferred to do that himself. The human mind was a fragile but powerful thing. To any outsider, though, seeing a man staring at an untouched coffee mug for almost an hour, by himself, probably looked more than a little suspicious. He made a mental note to use a book or some other object that would illicit fewer comments next time. “No, I appreciate your concern,” he replied with a slightly forced grin, “but I promise you have nothing to worry about.” He looked at the name tag. “Thank you though, Darius.”

The man stood, cocking his head to one side and narrowing his eyes slightly, a silent last inquiry. After a moment when Paul did not say any more, the man picked up his coffee pot and walked away.

Paul turned back, the cursor on the screen of his laptop blinking silently at him. He still had time to get his taxes done, but he didn’t like putting things off until the last second. He scrolled through the information he had entered so far, checking the figures mentally. They all looked right, but were they correct? Where were his W2’s and other forms for reference?

“Awesome. So that’s why you picked this spot,” Jason piped up from the other side of the table. “Things aren’t going as well as you’d like with Bethany, so you’re keeping your options open with men now, huh?”

Paul paused and looked over the screen at him, rolling his eyes. “He was just being nice. You know, the jokes get old after a while. I’m beginning to wonder if you’re more concerned that if I really was ‘batting for the other team,’ I wouldn’t be your type.”

Jason laughed, a short staccato laughed that grated on most people’s nerves. Paul had heard it for so long that he didn’t even think about it any more. “You know I’m way out of your league, bro. How’s the paper coming?”

Looking down, Paul saw the cursor sitting in the middle of the document page, which was half full of text. It was an essay on Picasso’s Guernica for an Art Appreciation class. The letters blurred slightly, shifting around the digital page like a hill of ants stirred with a stick. Why couldn’t he focus on the words? This normally was no issue. He knew the essay wasn’t quite done yet, but he couldn’t figure out where he’d left off. Why did the screen keep moving like that?

A hand touched his right shoulder. “Honey, are you going to be done soon? It’s getting late.”

Blinking against the scurrying words, Paul glanced up into Bethany’s eyes. Her long blonde hair was pulled into a loose ponytail over her shoulder. She was wearing soft pink sweat pants and a form-fitting white t-shirt with some vague text that suggested a sporting event. He threw his arm around her waist and pulled her close to him, nuzzling her stomach. He breathed her scent in deeply. It wasn’t as strong tonight as it typically was. “I’m sorry babe, I just have to get this finished up, and then I promise I’ll turn it off and come to bed.”

She playfully pushed him away. “You do that. In the mean time I’m going to go watch some girly show you wouldn’t like.”

“And that is supposed to get me to hurry?”

“Quit being a dork and just write your paper already,” she teased, laughing as she walked away.

Paul again turned back to the task at hand. His puppy Cesar looked up at him from the dark wooden table, barking and wagging his tail enthusiastically. He loved his dog, but sometimes he got annoyed when they’d already been playing for an hour and he needed to get things done. Still, it was hard to resist those eyes. Something tickled the back of Paul’s mind, as if he had memories of Cesar as a grown beagle, but that couldn’t be. Cesar was right here in front of him. As he scratched the puppy’s ears, he caught movement on the table and saw a large bullfrog hopping toward Cesar.

The puppy turned and immediately began barking at the frog, but the frog seemed unperturbed.

“Get him, Cesar!”

His little dog may be young, but he was big enough to take on this “threat.” The bullfrog’s tongue shot out of it’s mouth, catching Cesar’s back leg and immediately pulling on it. The puppy continued to bark, scrambling away from the frog as fast as it could go, but was slowly being dragged across the polished wood surface. Paul watched with a disjointed fascination. It wasn’t even a large bullfrog. What could it hope to achieve with this?

The frog croaked grotesquely, its lower jaw dropping and unhinging. The mouth opened up impossibly wide, like a snake, and within a second the puppy’s entire leg was in the frog’s mouth. Alarmed, Paul balled his hand up into a fist and lashed out, striking in a wild arc at the freakish green lump. His knuckles connected and sent the frog careening off the side of the table surface, onto the floor. The tongue was still attached to Cesar’s leg, and the puppy yelped as it was dragged off with the frog. Jumping to the side, Paul scrambled onto the floor to help his young dog before it was eaten by this carnivorous amphibian. All he found was a spilled brown liquid on a tile floor. Shards of white ceramic floated in the murky pool, and it took him a moment to recognize what the object had been.

The coffee cup, or what was left of it, did not move.

It did not move, but here it was. Broken. Shattered. It had come apart unevenly, from large chunks to slivers, splayed out in random chaos. All of them looked very sharp and dangerous, but the important thing was, they stayed.

A hand touched his shoulder again, this time his left, accompanied by a familiar voice. “Sweetie. Sweetie, get up.”

Wide-eyed and embarrassed, Paul stood and turned. Without looking, he knew people were staring at him. Darius’ face was painted with even more concern than before, but he kept his voice low. “I know what you said before about no drugs or whatever else, but whatever you’re calling it or dealing with, you’re obviously not okay.”

“I…I’m sorr—what happened?” Paul felt a tear running down his cheek. The fury and sadness had drained from him. Cesar was probably safely back at home, waiting for him like always. Frogs didn’t eat dogs, even puppies. Bethany was still at work. He’d been out of college for over a year. Why had his logic taken a back seat? He already felt he was losing his grip on reality, but these hallucinations were new.

“I was hoping you could tell me.” Darius brushed Paul’s arm in a matronly way. “You started talking to yourself, then you just flipped out and knocked the mug off the counter. I could have gotten you fresh coffee, on the house, if you would have just asked,” he added with a wink.

Paul didn’t smile at the joke. “I think I just need some fresh air.” He paused, glancing back at the broken remains of the coffee cup. “I’ve been a little stressed lately, I guess.”

Darius looked at Paul for a second, then untied his apron and tossed it to the girl behind the counter. “Janene, take over for a moment, hon. Table three was waiting on a decaf.” He took Paul by the arm gingerly and led him toward the door. “Let’s get you that fresh air and have a little talk.”

The bells hanging above the door’s frame chimed happily as the door opened. Sunlight was still bright in the sky, temporarily blinding Paul. He glanced back. He knew they had all been staring at him after his little meltdown, not that he cared right now, but now most of them had gone back to the conversations and laughter. The lanky young man from the kitchen was walking out with a broom, a dust pan, and a mop. “Sorry,” Paul called out to him loudly, and then again to anyone who could hear, “sorry.” But everyone seemed to have forgotten.

“Don’t worry about it hon, we have more mugs. I’m more worried about you.”

Paul turned to look at the other man, a complete stranger. Why was he so interested in helping? He figured it didn’t matter at the moment what Darius’ motives were, he could use the air. A listening ear might be nice as well, even if it would probably just make him look even more insane.


  1. I enjoyed it. It was hard to follow, but I suppose that it is written that way to reflect his mental location. I was ready to keep reading and it just ended.

    Is this sci-fi or just normal fiction?

  2. Thanks, that’s been the most common response. It’s sort of between, actually more of a fantasy than sci-fi since it’s not dependent on tech.

  3. Commenting as I read…
    “slightly older guy” seems out of context, possibly a general description, but I thought, “older than what/who?”

    “It was like the feeling of being watched, but different. Stronger. It was sensing minuscule amounts of heat or gravity. The closest word that could identify it was “Awareness.” Paul was Aware.”
    There are a lot of “its” and it’s just a bit confusing. I would recommend changing the second it to “he” or something like that.

    Cool story on the whole. I sorta wished there was some kind of signal for when he was switching realities, maybe he gets dizzy, but it’s your interpretation. I was very confused until the third hallucination is all. How’s the book coming?

  4. I think you do a good job with mechanics: grammar, punctuation, metaphors, imagery. I didn’t see a problem with any of that. I do have 2 suggestions though.

    1. Help the reader keep track of all of the characters. I’m not sure if Darius is a gay waiter or an FBI agent in a business suit. You introduced a lot of characters quickly, which is fine; I just want to remember them all without having to reread several times.

    2. I need a barbed hook. Reveal enough of the plot to put questions in my mind and make me feel like the answer is near. I do want to find out why he thought his mug was a dog-eating frog, but that happened a little too late for me. In fiction, you have to snag your reader in the first paragraph and reward him with partial answers and more questions throughout. I almost stopped reading at ‘A hand touched his right shoulder. “Honey, are you going to be done soon? It’s getting late.”’ because it felt monotonous. I’ll admit that, after reading to the bottom, I now want to know if Paul is dreaming, schizophrenic, or… it’s a good hook, but a little late.

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