The Storied Scrolls
Zack Thoutt's Reader Group & Newsletter
Issue #6 · Jun 10th, 2022
Tales of Twilight · CH 5
A short story about regret and exploring a forgotten place that holds cherished memories.
arry jammed the gear stick of his nineteen seventy-two Chevy Cheyenne into neutral and engaged the brake lever. The sky-blue pickup truck rocked back and forth as it jolted to a halt, its rusting suspension springs creaking with the motion. A pearl-inset wedding band hung from the rearview mirror on a chain, swinging back and forth.
Gusts of wind shook the forest that lay beyond Port Orford Convenience Store, which was so old and decrepit, it was liable to blow over under the strength of a particularly strong gale. Larry’s hands shook in his lap. His eyes sagged, as if his bushy, white beard was pulling his skin toward the ground.
Larry stepped out of his vehicle and noticed the smell of brake fluid hanging in the air. He’d have to work on the truck again—another weekend spent contorting his stiff body into ungodly shapes instead of driving up to his cabin and installing a new roof or hooking up the kitchen sink. Larry slammed the truck’s door shut. He wondered if he’d ever find the time and money to finish the cabin or if his dream of retiring to it someday was childish.
A young man with greasy hair and sunken eyes approached Larry and asked, “Do you have spare change?” Larry thought he recognized him as one of the McCoy boys from up north. The kid was missing teeth and his movements were jittery. He wore an orange 60-liter pack that was so dirty, it was almost brown. His body smelled of shit and rot.
“No, better look for a job,” Larry replied, avoiding eye contact. He could feel the boy’s hatred projecting onto his back as he walked by...
Message from Zack
Hello, long time no write!
It's been almost three months since I sent a newsletter or published a story. My life has been a whirlwind full of change in 2022, mostly for the better.
After over one year of living nomadically, my wife and I made the decision to move back to Colorado from Europe. Indefinite travel was incredibly enriching and I wouldn't trade the adventure we shared for anything, but it was also ripe with challenges, such as managing ever-changing Covid restrictions, working from a different timezone, constantly crossing borders with a dog, and old-fashioned homesickness. Our travels served a great purpose in our lives and we both feel forever changed, but now we're ready for the next chapter.
During our long journey home (which I plan to write about in a future Nomad Life chapter), I thought a lot about how I want writing to fit into my life going forward. I have a great job as a software engineer that I want to continue with for the foreseeable future. I enjoy writing as a hobby, but honestly, I don't think I could take the pressure of it being my career and the way I "feed my family." I have so much respect for people who can handle that lifestyle.
One consequence of this choice is that I have less time to write than a full-time writer. I think that's okay, because I've found that I don't write well for longer than ~2 hour stretches, with occasional special days where I can do 3-4 hours. However, this time limitation also means that I need to be more selective with what I work on.
After a lot of reflection, I realized that I never intended to write Nomad Life. I originally created my website as a platform to share fiction. In particular, I wanted to write novels and potentially movies. Yet, somehow I spent the majority of my writing time over the last year working on a collection of short stories.
I think this happened for two reasons. First, I was traveling a lot and people we knew wanted to keep up with what we were doing, so I thought, instead of telling each person individually over text, why not just write stories about it—maybe strangers would even find it interesting. As a bonus, it could act as my personal journal, recording our travel memories. Second, I knew conventional digital wisdom is that you need "regular content" to grow an online following, which led me to veer toward shorter form pieces.
With all that said, I'm repositioning my ship toward my initial destination, which is to complete fewer, larger bodies of work—namely, novels and movie scripts. I still plan to finish Nomad Life in the coming months and wrap that up as a complete project, and I will always write short stories, but I will focus most of my time going forward on big projects.
What that means for the newsletter is that you'll get fewer emails. I still won't send out issues with any regular cadence so that I don't become tempted to fill them with fluff—I'll only message you when there are new stories to read.
In addition to a change in writing format, I also plan to change my writing style. After sending Rip Current to my editor, I realized that death is a recurring theme in my published writing. I honestly found this surprising, because most of what I've written throughout my life has been more in the realm of comedy and fantasy. I think I ended up going down the rabbit hole of death because it's an easy way to add tension to a short story. Call it a limitation of the short story as a format, or my own lack of skill, but it was a crutch I've unwittingly used, and while my writing has obviously been "my style," it's also not been true to how I naturally write when I'm not trying to fit into a genre. I plan for my future stories to have more elements of comedy and fantasy/sci-fi, even if they do also veer into the darker questions of life.
Now on to Rip Current...
We spent April of 2021 living on the Oregon Coast, where our rental house was within walking distance of an incredible beach. Skutull and I walked or ran down the beach several times per day, and during that time, I noticed many older men who parked their old trucks in the beach parking lot before and after work. They never got out of their vehicles, and instead looked out at the ocean while having a smoke or a cup of coffee (you can read about our time in Oregon in the Nomad Life travel story). My wife's grandmother was also diagnosed with cancer during this time. The combination of these two events and the raw energy of the sea inspired me to write a poem last year, which I recently expanded into this short story.
P.S. Here are my favorite links since last time
- Movie: Her written by Spike Jonze
- Documentary: The Biggest Little Farm by John Chester
- Movie: Lady Bird written by Greta Gerwig
- Illustrated Book: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
- Book: The Body Keeps the Score written by Bessel van der Kolk
Enjoy the journey,