One of the things I like about writing songs (which I don't do so much these days) and poems (which I do) is that you often can create a piece rather quickly. Certainly, I have some which have been in the works for literally years. But I also have written songs and poems in 30 minutes. And they didn't suck! I have to say, it's really neat to put down the guitar or pen and think, Wow. Yesterday, this didn't exist. An hour ago, it didn't exist. Now it does.
Writing a novel is not an exercise in instant gratification.
So that's why they invented short stories. Case in point...
Last Saturday, Jim Lewis, owner of the best bookstore in the world, sent me an email titled "thought this might be interesting for you." It contained only a link. I followed the link to the NPR website, specifically, a page called "Three Minute Fiction."
This election season, Three-Minute Fiction is getting political. Weekends on All Things Considered has a new judge, a new challenge and a new prize for Round 9. For this contest, submit original, short fiction that can be read in about three minutes, which means no more than 600 words.
If I'm on a roll, I can knock out 600 words in less than an hour. The challenge is coming up with the idea. So I thought and thought and thought. I kept coming back to a vague idea about time travel, and it stuck. Wednesday night, while walking on the treadmill, I fleshed it out. The next day, after less than an hour, I had 700 words on the page.
For what it's worth, if you've never had to do it, cutting 100 words is murder! But I did. And the result is "Past / President / Future."
POP POP POP POP POP POP.
Six rapid retorts rose above the city sounds as President Reagan walked 30 paces from the Washington Hilton to his limousine. Press Secretary James Brady dropped to the pavement, a bullet in his brain. DC police officer Thomas Delahanty took a shot to the neck. The fourth bullet struck Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen. The fifth hit the limousine’s shatterproof glass. The sixth ricocheted off the vehicle and into the President’s chest.
One, two, four, five, six. But what about the third bullet? Apparently, it hit a nearby building. I say “apparently,” because the bullet was never found. Actually, that statement is not 100% true. The bullet was found...elsewhere. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On March 30, 1981, I watched the news stream in. Initial reports said the President escaped injury. Later, we learned he had been shot. After 105 minutes of surgery, Reagan was in recovery.
Addressing the press, chief of thoracic surgery Benjamin Aaron acknowledged that Reagan was, in fact, lucky to be alive. Had John Hinckley used a larger caliber gun, rather than a .22, the damage would have been extensive. Further, Hinckley fired “Devastator” bullets containing a small explosive charge. The slug which hit Reagan failed to detonate.
Small bullet? Explosive! I nearly tripped over the ottoman as I raced to the bookshelf, grabbing the red leather-bound journal and flipping to the page I’d read the day before.
On April 11, 1865—exactly 116 years to the day after Reagan left GWUH—President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech favoring voting rights for blacks. So offended was John Wilkes Booth that he saw assassination as the only solution.
The plot was well planned. Booth knew the play, and timed his attack to coincide with a humorous moment, so that the audience’s laughter would muffle the sound. Witnesses reported hearing no shot, so Booth’s ploy would appear to have worked.
Or was there something else...
Robert Stone, Lincoln’s personal physician, later performed a secret autopsy. What he found surprised and confused him. He wrote in his diary, a red leather-bound journal, which I happened to find behind several old texts in the George Washington University medical library:
Though nothing was to be gained by the enterprise, I nonetheless decided to extract the bullet. Employing the largest pair of forceps in my possession, I reached into the wound behind the President’s left ear.
I immediately took note of the bullet's size. A Deringer shell is large, and lead. The object I removed from President Lincoln’s brain was small, and composed of a different metal.
I examined the bullet for a moment before tossing it into the basin. I was startled by a slight “pop.” Peering in, I saw it had disintegrated into tiny metal shards, and that only because of the bowl’s depth did I escape injury.
Several days later, I casually inquired of Secretary Stanton as to whether the Army employed any type of miniature explosive ordnance. He affirmed they do not.
Stanton then commented, “It is strange you mention ordnance.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I personally examined Booth’s pistol. The bullet was lodged in the barrel. It never exited the gun. So I cannot say with certainty who, or what, killed the President.”
I told him of my findings, then said, “You and I must take this to our graves.”
How a bullet traveled 2.4 miles southeast and 42,352 days back in time, I’ll never know. But I am absolutely convinced that is what happened.
By the way...Reagan was shot at 2:27; Lincoln died at 7:22.
It has been signed, sealed, and delivered NPR.
Feel free to share your thoughts. And wish me luck.
PS: Sorry for the late hint, but if you're feeling inspired, the contest is open until 11:59 p.m., Sunday September 23.