Yesterday, we talked about the whole genre and gender thing, and how some people believe that men and women write differently enough for us to guess which gender penned a particular piece of writing.
I know, I’m all, “Bullshit” but the results so far are interesting. I asked a group of writers to write a scene based on the same criteria. They could write whatever they liked in any genre, and came up with some entertaining bits. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post for the full details, here you go.
Don’t forget to give me your guesses for yesterday’s scenes as well.
Now, today we continue the experiment, with the final batch of anonymous writing samples. In the comments, share your “guesses.” Was the passage written by a man or a woman? Doesn’t matter why you believe what you do. If it’s gut, then so be it. If you’re basing it on word choices, genre, or other elements, that’s okay. I don’t require an explanation if you don’t have one or don’t want to give one.
So, the last batch of scenes:
Scene 1: Don’t Feed the Animals (No genre)
James poked at the dead thing only to have his stick slide through it. He pulled it back and a foul smelling golden slime oozed out.
“Dude what the fuck IS it?” I asked.
He covered his nose at the stench and mumbled, “No idea, I can’t tell what kind of animal it is let alone what the fuck the goo is from. How can something so small hold so much?” We stared at the large puddle on the forest floor. The stuff was fucking weird.
We glanced around as though we might find a clue but there wasn’t even a track in the mud. Nothing to be seen, no answers to be found.
“You think we should take it to the park warden?” I asked while I picked the thing up by what I assumed was a tail.
“If you want. Damn thing gives me the fucking creeps.” He stirred the slime around and watched as it seeped itself back together again. He spit his gum into it and watched as it sunk until it disappeared.
I wrapped a bandana around my face to cut the smell. “Well at least we found it early on, I mean we can’t be more than three or four miles in. We’ll throw it in the back of the truck and head to the game office.” I picked up my walking stick and started to head back the way we’d come. James cut in front of me to take the lead, lest he step in the slime that was still dripping from the dead thing.
“Dude watch my boots! My mom will bust my ass if I come home slimy.” He said.
“You mean slimier.” I joked. James grinned and we continued on.
What we didn’t see was that behind us the pool of slime had now formed into a ball. We didn’t see it start to slowly move and begin to track us from drip to drip. We didn’t know that it would turn out that the creature I carried was only mostly dead. What we didn’t know – was definitely going to kill us.
Scene 2: Erotica/Chick Lit
Donna turns toward me. Her eyes widen and she reaches forward.
“No. It’s mine. You’ve already had your share.” I pull it toward me, closing my hand over it.
“Mmmmmph.” I push it into my mouth, my lips closing onto it.
“Don’t chew. I want it after you.”
Closing my eyes, I deep-throat it, ignoring my friend’s comment. The chocolate begins to dissolve and I start to drift away, savouring its intensity. It’s a 90% cocoa-solid bar and its bitter taste etches its way up and back into my mouth, my taste-buds rippling as the flavour reaches them. Pulling back, I drag it further out again, the chocolate’s bright aromas bursting into full presence as it slides along my tongue.
“I didn’t hog it like that. I only just licked the tip and swirled it around a bit.”
Opening my eyes, I smile at her, slack-faced and blissed.
“Mmmmmph,” I moan, fluttering my eyelids as though I was about lose control.
“Cow. I don’t think I’d want it back now, the way you’ve been trying to stir your breakfast with it.”
“It’s your loss,” I mumble, knowing she’ll struggle to understand a word of what I’m saying.
“It’s not like you’re on a diet or anything,” Donna shakes her head, her lips parting in a cruel grin. “And you’ve never had any problems getting into last season’s dresses, have you?”
The mangled tip of the bar comes out of my mouth with a soft plop.
“You’re the bitch. That’s such a low blow. And to think I call you my friend.”
“I knew I’d get you to part with it. One way or another.” Picking the bar up, she raises her eyebrows, indicating the tooth marks I’d left on its length. “It’s a good job I’m not your man, isn’t it? You must get through a lot of fuck-buddies that way, emasculating them like that. Luckily for me, my major appendages are all replaceable.”
“What can I say? I’ve never had any complaints yet!”
Scene 3: Compulsion (Noir)
I can’t stop touching it.
“Are you okay?” She asks.
She’s Autumn Vanderlay, consort to the Vacuum King of the Midwest. All lips and lashes, she pouts and bats from across my desk. In her mind, it’s all business, but her face has other ideas. Operation: Flirt.
It only makes it worse.
I keep my hands in my lap and my chair as close to the desk as possible. Even if she were to lean forward, she’d get an eye-full of nothing. Not that she’s looking. It’s the King who’s got a wandering eye.
“I’m fine,” I say. “Why don’t you start from the beginning?”
We’ve gone through the beginning already over the phone, but I want to get her talking. I can’t stand silence and the thought of coming up with a line of questioning while my hands…
I bite my lip and force myself to keep eye contact with the woman. Thinking about it will only make the need grow. Even though it’s so close, and I could probably get away with it if—
“Did you hear me?”
I blink a few times and nod. “Of course, Mrs. Vanderlay. The bastard had the gall to come home with a blob of lipstick on his jockeys.”
She sniffs. “Thinks I wouldn’t notice. I’m not a bad wife, you know. I just get so bored.”
The tone of her voice sharpens with each new transgression and it’s all I can do to keep from flipping the desk just for a distraction.
“Miss. Might as well start getting used to it. Not that I’m going to give up the name, mind you. I worked for it. It’s the missus that’ll have to go.”
I ask for recent photographs, license plate number… anything she can give me to lessen my leg work. Cases like this, they’ve already got a file started, ready to hand over in all their self-righteous anger. What Mrs. Vanderlay wants—what they all want—is the big a-ha! The illicit photographs of one Miss Skankmonkey with the Vacuum King’s hose in her mouth.
Mrs. Soon-to-be-Miss Vanderlay hefts a manila folder as thick as the King James onto the desk and begins a blow-by-blow: each entry marked with date, time, and degree of suspicion. Color-coded for ease of use. As she talks (and talks) my hand twitches, Frankensteining itself a brain and will of its own and before my mind can catch on, it’s too late.
I stroke and rub with a ferocity that’s new and terrifying. It doesn’t take long for Mrs. Vanderlay to notice. Her eyebrows raise and her mouth twists in mock-disgust.
I’m past apologies. I match her stare until she slams the folder closed.
“I’m not paying you for that last twenty minutes,” she says before sashaying on chipped red pumps out the door.
The catalyst gone, my stroking eases and I withdraw the cursed object—a bent, matted feather plucked from Mom’s down pillow some twenty years before. Sometimes, when my brain is fried and the world sits on my kidneys, I need to touch it. The good doctor calls it a compulsion, brought on by anxiety.
He’s not wrong. This job gets to me sometimes.
I really ought to start keeping the thing in a drawer.
Scene 4: Humor
The funeral home is cold and quiet. I suppose that’s on purpose – no one expects a circus clown on the day their grandmother moves on from this world. Even so, Dad and I are silent in the back room. Well…mostly.
“Is that really him?” Dad asks.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t there when they put him through the incinerator. For all I know it could be a pile of dirt from out back.”
He scowls at me, and I grin back. We had a witty repartee and simply standing in the funeral home couldn’t change that.
“Sorry Lindsey. I just…I can’t believe he’s gone. Buck. My own brother.”
We’ll pause here for a second. Yes…he is…was my Uncle Buck. Just like that 80’s movie with John Candy, except Buck was a thin, grouch of a man. Dad is upset of course, but the rest of my family is secretly relieved. Buck could grate on even the best of us.
“I know Dad. Just take your time.” I turn away and find a pamphlet. I pick it up – something about funeral insurance. Whatever that is.
“But…you know what this reminds me of…”
I turn back to my father. His face is a mix of emotions, but I can tell what’s coming. I know he can’t hold it in.
“Dad…don’t do it.”
I see him hesitate, but the urge is rising. I can tell.
Nothing I say can make a difference. My father cannot let the opportunity pass. It does not matter that we are in the inner sanctum of a funeral home, standing over his brother’s ashes. There is a pun to be had, and he will grasp it with both hands and run.
His face cracks and his lips turn up. I know and I cringe.
“I guess today I urned a Buck.”
Scene 5: The Photograph (No Genre)
“What ya got there, Marty?” Elaine asked, as if I’m some three year old who might swallow a small toy.
“None of your goddamned business.” I say in my most unfriendly voice. It used to scare people, my voice, but now I can’t get out of this damned chair, let alone put the fear of Marty in someone.
Elaine clucks her tongue; her cheeks are fire engine red as she takes the sheets off my bed. She’s a religious nut and my one pleasure in life is to make her mad and there ain’t no better way to do that then to take the lords name in vain.
“There’s going to be bingo down in the cafeteria tonight after dinner.” She offers, as she stretches the fitted sheet across the crinkly plastic covering the mattress.
I ignore her. I’m focused on what I have in my hand. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got. Helen was the lucky one, dying in her tomato patch all those years ago. She was religious too, but not a fanatic like Elaine. Elaine goes to one of those Mega-take-your-last-dime-churches and then tells everyone, like it’s a big deal. Hell, I shoulda’ been a preacher, I had the voice for it. Maybe I would’ve ended up someplace better than here.
Elaine’s finished making the bed and is fluffing the pillows, which irritates me. “I don’t know why you gotta do that. It’s not like they ever lose their shape.”
“Just doing my job, Marty.”
“Well, go do it someplace else, ya hussy.”
That last bit gets her and she stares daggers at me. I stare back until she breaks eye contact. She gathers the dirty sheets and leaves.
I flip the picture over, wishing I was with Helen. I’m stuck here without the use of my legs, without so much as a shred of dignity. The shadows on the floor lengthen and pool in corners. It will be dinnertime soon.
Heavy footfalls sound in the hall and I tuck the picture in my shirt pocket.
A knock on the door-frame is all I get before my son waltzes in. “I hear you’ve been making girls cry again.” He flops down in the chair across from me. Dark circles stand out against his too pale skin.
I wave his comment away like I’m swatting at a fly. “She’s too sensitive.”
Daniel sighs, “They’re threatening to kick you out. Again.”
Figures that’s the only reason he’d come. “Let ‘em try.”
“Dad, we’ve been through this. This is the last nursing home in our area. You’ve burned through the rest.”
“Fine. I’ll be nicer.”
Daniel makes small talk, then leaves, but not before he tells me he loves me and reminds me to be nice. Dinner is salisbury steak with instant potatoes—my favorite. Later, as I’m lying in bed, I pull the picture out of my pocket. Pain lances through my chest and down my arm, but I refuse to cry out. “I’ll be seeing you soon, my love.” I whisper.
Scene 6: Dark Humor
“Not very big, is it?” Mark said.
The opportunity for a wicked retort was there, but I grudgingly passed on it. That would be distasteful. Instead, I opted for, “You know what they say about the best things…”
“Coming in small packages?”
“Something like that.”
He gently shook the tiny, gift-wrapped box and, bizarrely, sniffed at it.
“What does it smell like?”
He didn’t need to be asked a second time, and quickly set about tearing the wrapping paper off his special gift. I watched as the contents of the parcel were exposed and excitement turned to confusion, and was that just a hint of disappointment?
“It’s a fork.”
“It sure is.”
Mark was frowning now. “You got me a fork for my birthday? Not even a full set, just a single fork?”
“And it looks old.”
“Definitely not new.” This was the part I’d been looking forward to the most. Seeing Mark try to piece the puzzle together. He turned the fork over and over in his hands, looking for markings, trying to guess the significance. I should give him a clue. “Russia, 1978-1990?”
The was a spark of understanding. Then it melted away. “I don’t…”
“I know you don’t. Not yet. How about another clue?”
“Give it to me.”
“Fifty-two confirmed kills. The real figure was probably a lot higher.”
“Chikatilo? Andrei Chikatilo? The Butcher of Rostov?”
“There it is,” I felt my face redden slightly. “That’s one of his forks. Obviously, there’s no way of knowing whether he used that particular implement to eat any of his victims, but it came from his house and considering the general lack of kitchen utensils, there’s a high chance.”
“Fuck! This is the best gift EVER! Chikatilo is, like, my favourite serial killer. I like him more than Dahmers, more than Gein. Even more than Pedro Lopez! Even though I always felt kinda sorry for that guy. Despite raping and killing over 300 little girls, he never really got the credit he deserved. They did let him go, though, which is something. If he’d been born on American soil they would have neutralized his ass. Where the hell did you get it?”
“Some trading site on the Dark web,” I said. Being a cop, I had access to a lot of resources. More importantly, I knew how to use them.
“You are the best mom ever!”
“Thank you, hun.” There was no greater feeling than making your only kid happy. “I’m going to put dinner on. Pork medallions and peas. Maybe you can use your new fork.”
That’s it for the second part, folks. I’ll leave you all to ponder and debate for a few days, and I’ll post a big reveal early next week. In mid-February, I’ll share my thoughts on the results and I welcome discussion about them over at Underground Book Reviews.
PS: Everyone who takes a stab at it is eligible for the $10 Amazon card, including those of you that emailed me or commented on Facebook.
Thanks for playing along!