AN EXAMPLE OF SHORT STORY ARTISTRY
Our new fiction feature is about a church in the woods. A simple story which shows what can be done with the short story by keeping it simple. What matters most with this particular writing genre– the short story– is not how many well-wrought sentences and long paragraphs you can string together as an example of talent– but the form of a particular story. Its construction. Design. Momentum. Flow.
NOT MUCH MORE can be said about this particular tale, “The Narrow Path,” by Zach Smith, without giving away the key to its plot. Suffice it to say it’s in the tradition of classic short stories from when the short story was THE popular American art form. When the form of the story was all. When story endings were the point of the works, as exhibited by masters of the art such as O. Henry, Jack London, or Frank Stockton.
There’s a clue somewhere within the last part of the previous paragraph– about the story’s plot– if you can find it!
(Note: It’s also a Christmas story.)
The church is two stories, taller than it is wide, without a second floor. A taut wire, an inch in diameter stretches from wall to wall, ten feet above the pews, with a second shorter wire intersecting it above the altar.
The door opens for Sunday service, and the congregation files in. The church is open to everyone, but few people come, less and less every year.
(Art: “Deer in Forest” by Franz Marc; “Indian Church” by Emily Carr.)
THREE MEN were having trouble lugging their packages across the desert from afar, and came across a depressed bear. Depressed because there wasn’t much to do for a bear in the desert. A bear in a desert? Anyway, the bear was feeling purposeless and alone, and didn’t know if he could “bear it” much longer.
“Why oh why oh why oh why?” he asked, in bear talk.
The three men saw the bear lying in the sand, moaning, with his paws over his head. The three looked at one another.
“After all, it is Christmas,” one of them said, with a perplexed look in his eyes.
“Yes, it is,” one of the other three said.
“Yes!” said the third. “It truly is. It really really is.”
He took his smartphone from his robes and looked at it. Yep, there it was. December 24th. Christmas Eve. Year 0000.
“It’s decided then,” the three said simultaneously, and wondered that the three of them, each from a separate faraway land, had said the same thing.
So together in one voice they asked the despondent animal if he’d like to try “bearing” something useful– their heavy packages of gold, frankincense, and myrrh– to a destination in Bethlehem. The packages were in fact quite heavy and overburdening the camels. Encountering the bear was a fortunate occurrence. Almost miraculous. The bear gladly agreed, as the three men seemed particularly wise to him. He’d seen men before, who were not wise. Not wise at all. But these men were.
Night fell and a giant blazing star appeared in the sky, guiding them.
The little caravan continued on to Bethlehem until they found shepherds and animals congregated outside a tiny stable behind an inn. The three wise men strode in, bearing their gifts, while the bear quietly crept in behind them and took a place in the straw beside the other animals, who were first alarmed because, after all, he was a bear. But then they looked at the baby and weren’t alarmed at all.
From that day forward the bear was always forever more a happy bear.
Merry Christmas from New Pop Lit!
-Karl Wenclas and Kathleen Marie Crane
(Art: “Three Wise Men” by Leopold Kupelwieser.)