A Derry Halloween

Wordless Wednesday will return next week, but in honor of All Hallows Eve, I thought I’d deliver up a challenge post I’ve been stewing on. The challenge was simple: Take 13 Stephen King characters and use them in a short story. And oh yeah, write it in exactly 666 words.

This piece was a ‘challenge’ seeing as how I’m not the biggest Stephen King fan, but the guy is so prolific that it’s entirely possibly to read several of his books by accident. As I have. Now, if this reads like a slice of life, that’s because it’s meant to be that way. I mean . . his characters have ordinary days too.

HALLOWEEN . . . .

Annie Wilkes peeked out the living room curtains to find the Cunningham kid next door buffing and polishing his ’58 Plymouth Fury for the millionth time. His girlfriend was a car . . he named it Christine for chrissakes!

As she moved into the hallway to check in on her favorite writer, the doorbell came to life.

“Oh cockadoodie . . what now?!” Annie spit. She cupped her ear to Paul’s door . . quiet as a church. She was going heavy on the opiates with their time together running short now that his book was almost complete.

The doorbell chimed again.

“Fiddely-foof! I’m coming, I’m coming!”

Annie opened the door to find the White girl, all dressed in her Sunday best, on Wednesday. Margaret was doing a number on this kid, for sure.

“Morning, Carrie . . whatcha selling?” Annie smiled.

“M’aam . .girl scout cookies,”

“Aren’t you a little old to be a girl scout?” Annie asked.

“I’m collecting for my cousin Charlie, she’s not feeling well . .”

“You mean the fire starter?” Annie blurted out.

“She has a gift is all,” Said Carrie.

“Well that gift is costing me sleep.” Said Jack Torrance, as he moved onto the porch and joined the conversation.

“Morning Jack,” Annie said.

“Annie, Miss White. Uh, could ya tell your cousin to keep this gift to herself. I got government vans casing her place every night and my wife Wendy waking me up at all fucking hours . .”

“Jack, language!” Annie shouted.

“Well, yes . . ”

“What do you want Jack?” Annie asked sharply.

“I have that manuscript you promised to look over,” Jack said sheepishly, as he handed Annie a manila envelope that looked as if it had arrived at term with the words inside its belly.

“Now Mr. Man, I told you I’m hosting a big shot author! Lordy, it seems everyone on this street is a writer! There’s that Beaumont character who literally buried his alter ego . .  he should be in the loony bin for a stunt like that. That widower . . Noonan, spends his days crying about his writers block at the Gotham Cafe. And don’t get me started with Mort. I swear, you never know who you’re going to get with that odd duck! And what happened to your Colorado trip?” Annie said.

“We leave tomorrow. This is the prequel to the story I’m planning,”

“I’m not making any promises . .” Annie said, snatching the envelope from Jack’s grasp.

“Annie, you’re a doll! Good day ladies,” Jack said.

“You sweet talker.” Annie blushed. “Sorry, Carrie . . you were saying?”

“Girl scout cookies?”

“Oh yes, I’ll take some!”

“I don’t have them with me but I’ll deliver them when they come in,” Carrie explained.

“Isn’t that the way of the world? Hurry up and wait! Hahaha!” Annie bellowed. “Okay, I’ll take a box of thin mint cookies for me. A box of shortbread for Mr. Smith, who just came out of that awful coma. And oh yes . . a box of lemons for Tanya. Poor girl is skin and bones from working nights,”

“Thank you so much Ms. Wilkes!” Carrie said excitedly as she stumbled off, nearly bumping into Mr. Halleck, who was out for a morning run.

“Hey Billy! Losing weight?” Jack shouted as he strolled along.

“It’s the jogging!” Billy shouted between deep huffs. “I’m eating more than ever! Anything I want!”

“Atta boy!” Jack smiled, as he thought, Fucking lawyers . . where do they come up with this shit? He moved to the other side of the street when he saw Cujo coming, where he came upon Father Callahan stapling a missing persons poster to a utility pole.

“That the Georgie kid?” Jack asked.

“It is, went missing after the thunder storm yesterday,” Callahan replied.

The local inhabitants of Derry were descendants of a madman whose bloodthirsty compulsion to cause murder and mayhem had landed him in the annals. In Derry, every day was Halloween and every night was full of those mythical sounds that went bump and howled at a moon whose home belonged to someplace else.

Hell.

 

 

Coffee Shop

The pulp of a genius tasting peach rhymes with her lips as she spills  something evocative of Rita Hayworth . . as if a mad dash of spices on a rustic dish. And as she stitches words into the unspent void, she navigates the stolen moments and I’m thanking the blustery stars Prometheus once painted.

Our coffees swim in milk and paper as I opine on the moon landing being a hoax on account of the dearth of billboards. She argues that Shoemaker gets his mail sent there now so there must be something to it.

I listen as she fixes on something, after which comes the narration of scenes to a particular story. The scenes tumble into a heap of loose thoughts like a runaway mosaic and get ironed out like a Bronte girl talking shop with the girls over black coffee. She dredges a poem out of the tapestry without trying, and it embraces the previously industrial parts of me, turning my inner workings into hot butter. I listen as the missing goes found and the old becomes new inside the honey clench of sound.

We divine in the madness as if enjoying a siesta on Jupiter. The streets are a crush of hopelessly dotted calendars dressed in monotone, marching off to work in the hopes of finding their Broadway . . someplace other than here. The odd songs emanate from wanderers who have managed to loose the purpose of this endless carnival. They buy the time differently, in miniature panoramas of Everest whose peaks adjust the gritty concrete plains with bass. Careless with the elements as ripples of a stream, flirting with Mother Nature because they know she quotes Camus.

Sirens feed the canals with howl as the midday traffic vibrates in needy movements like manic piano keys. Guilt and dejection sprout up from the cracks in a raging blush, captured by the gilded frame of time in the angry sound that forever makes when it loses its way.

There is a distinct flavor to the accent of her classic rock melody as the conversation adjourns to sunsets in speakeasies without ever leaving our Formica booth. We spin a candied dew from borrowed scripts of long distance moons where Warhol lived and died before becoming our superhero.

Bowie’s voice cranks through a shortwave transistor radio behind the counter and he’s telling us we have five minutes to live. We just don’t know it yet. A midnight breeze works its way into the coffee shop as his lyrics nail the landing. And, as if on cue, a baby cries somewhere. To let us know the rumors are true.

All of them.

 

 

Scenes in a Target

He stands motionless, one arm lagging at his side like a piece of unspooled yarn while the other one is thumbing through a boutique novelette. He reads with the kind of urgency you’d expect from someone taking the bar, or fine tooth combing a life insurance policy for loopholes.

When he lifts his head to glare at a pain in the ass kid who isn’t getting his way, I’m staring at Charles Manson, as if the devil had a clearance sale. His eyes are onyx colored rivets of blankness that scream silently at every single thing they trespass upon. He’s wearing a faded blue LA Dodgers cap that hides the top of his shaved dome. The years have carved up his face to where it appears as granite, with ridged grooves whose spirals tell stories, unspeakably horrible ones. His lips are colorless reptilian slits. His chin is a violent heave of bone with the two ample points buttoned down by a dimple whose charm seems woefully out of place, like Charles Dickens at a death metal concert.

He buries himself inside the pages of the dandelion colored romance novel once again and it feels like a macabre illusion; as if I’m watching Mephistopheles share spongecake with a miniature poodle inside a Volkswagen Beetle.

There is the slightest tell in his body language, as if he senses my probing interest and his brain is getting high on it. It soon becomes obvious that he knows I’m onto him, the same as everybody else is onto him. He’s plenty used to being that fatal wreck everyone slows down to examine. And he doesn’t given a blessed Virgin Mary, because he never suffered a fall from grace since he was already there.

He returns the book to its shelf as if the Hope Diamond, and then he chooses another selection as he begins to hum. I get close enough to listen, and his voice is a throaty, inconvenient furnace of menthol and hard liquor. He’s stealing Donizetti’s Quanto e’ bella to his demon sound in much the same way he once stole dollhouses and running away from home.

He shakes his head as if he just read a passage that stinks of sour milk and he closes the book in a flourish. A smile curls his reptile lips as he releases a clumsy sigh.

Fuck this. 

He starts moving down the aisle and his crumpled frame is quickly getting lost inside a feast of shopping carts and chiming phones and lipstick covered lattes and crying babies. And then he’s gone like smoke, to the pursuits of a mysterious wherever.

Because the days are evil, and he’s just another guy.

 

Expiration Date: A Writing Prompt

The Mistress of Prompts is at it again. Karen Craven over at Table for One shot off an email to me and Dale from A Dalectable Life last week in which she described a scene she had been privy to whilst on the train recently. As writers, we behave very much like detectives; culling and parsing and piecing together evidence from snippets of conversation and body language. Unlike detectives, our observational skills need not get it right. All we’re concerned with is creating a story out of the scraps.

So I took three simple lines that were uttered by a woman on a train and I constructed a world around it. Apologies for going long, but as writers, we don’t always have a choice. Sometimes we take the story, and sometimes, as in this example, the story takes us.

-“Yes, I really like my box of macaroni.”
-“Give me all my expired things.”
-“I need you to get a job.”

She sits alone on the F train, a flip phone nestled between her ear and her shoulder. She wears no jewelry, not even earrings. To the discerning eyes of a stranger, you can tell this is a self-prescribed departure from baubles and bright, shiny objects. Because the rest of her appearance is moneyed suburbia: Olive green double breasted wool coat with riveted pleats and envelope collar. Black straight leg trousers with rippled cleats frame her figure in an attractive pinch. Black leather pointy toe pumps that reveal a dime sized tattoo of a star on the top of her foot.

“Yes . . yes I know Caroline. I promise not to clash with House Rules. I’m really quite proficient at towing the company line. I was married to your father for thirty eight years, remember.”

“No. No don’t worry, I’ll make sure to speak in code. We can refer to him as Goebbels, how does that sound?”

“Okay . . not even that. Promise.”

“Honey, you know full well I am thankful that you and Bobby were able to maintain an amicable relationship with your father. After all, it’s not your fault he’s a cheating, lying, manipulative cock sucker,”

The chatter on the other end of the line increases in volume and intensity, as the recipient of mother’s bitter pill voices her disapproval in boldfaced adjectives. It seems the invite is being threatened with Olivia’s rant, and she quickly retreats.

“I’m sorry . . .”

In that instant, all the fight is stolen from her face; the scowling mien had been nothing more than a defense mechanism. Her porcelain complexion turns ashen with worry. Her majestic cheekbones become fallow as sunken treasures, and her piercing sapphire eyes become distant lights as she tries to steal back the chapters.

In her previous life, Olivia Trufant had lived a Good Housekeeping existence. She had been the poster Goddess homemaker whose perk was always feisty and whose neighborhood cache was the stuff of legend. These modern day Gucci mamas who get all dolled up to go to Target have nothing on that Mrs. Trufant; The mother whose kids were polished cherubs, whose husband was tall, dark and upwardly mobile and whose perfect ass was something all the other married men wanted to hit.

“I’m sorry for dropping out of your lives . . I just . . I needed some time. After your father left, I realized I had lived my entire adult life for him. I had nothing . . .” 

“I don’t mean it that way, Caroline. But you and Bobby . . you have your families and your own lives. I had your father,”

For better or worse, Olivia received the latter when her husband Stephen came home one day and informed her he wanted a divorce after thirty eight years. She had protested initially, before realizing there was no going back. He fast tracked the process, agreeing to pay her a generous stipend as if she had been one of the employees in his company. She was too numb to fight, too lost to care.

Within six months, he was married again. It had been going on for a half decade and Olivia had known about it for most of that time. She kept silent out of fear and pride, and so once she learned of their engagement, she understood that silence was her only option. It started with Stephen, and quickly metastasized into everyone else.

“Yes, I do understand and accept it. What choice do I have? I hope Bobby changes his mind some day, but he knows I love him,” 

“Okay, let’s change the subject. As for dinner ideas, I am happy with my boxed mac and cheese. You guys don’t need to make a big production for my sake . .”

“All I’m saying is, these mail order meals that are all the rage are really no different from a box of macaroni and cheese!” 

“Yes, I really like my box of macaroni,” 

Olivia turned thirty one in October of 1986 and Stephen had surprised her with tickets to Game 6 of the World Series between her beloved New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox at the old Shea Stadium. They stuck it out when the announced attendance of 55,078 dwindled after the Sox pulled ahead in extra innings. They booed when the scoreboard operator crowned the Boston Red Sox as champions before the final out had been recorded. And they cheered like a couple of kids on the last day of school when Mookie Wilson dribbled a ball down the line and stole back a baseball season. They chased all that magical energy by going to the Palladium on East 14th and dancing the top off of a brilliant fall night that felt to her like a tale penned by Dickens.

“I can’t wait to see them either. They are getting so big . .” 

Olivia’s voice almost breaks with the idea that two years have passed since she last hugged her grandchildren. How cold a person can become when their heart loses its place, she thinks solemnly.

She trudges back into small talk with Caroline, because the familiarity warms her senses.

“I let it lapse since I’m not driving any longer.”

“Where do I go that mass transit can’t get me there, Caroline? I don’t need it, I don’t need a passport either. So as far as I’m concerned . . give me all my expired things and I’ll put them in a photo album for safe keeping . .” 

Olivia laughs at the thought, but her face wrinkles with the recognition that she’s busy throwing chairs overboard to keep it from sinking.

“Yes, we are going to get along swimmingly. I am very hip when it comes to the times. So hip in fact, that I recognize it isn’t hip to say hip. But seriously, don’t you worry, me and the kids will be fine. No talk of Goebbels and no boxed mac and cheese. I just . . I need you to get a job . . this one. I need you to get it, for you.” 

“I had the chance, yes. But I was worker bee mom getting everybody else’s shit straight . . and I know it’s not an excuse. It’s just that . . . well, Caroline . . you just never know. You think your life is going to play out a certain way, and then, well . . you just never know . . .” 

In the spring of 1986, Olivia and Stephen had moved to Armonk- an apple pie hamlet of wraparound porches, community softball games and growing young families. It would be the first of several moves they would make as Stephen climbed the corporate ladder. It had been six months since they’d put their three bedroom apartment in Long Island City on the market, with nary a prospect. The romance of their first abode had quickly given way to frustration, and before long they were cursing its existence.

That is, until a night of baseball and dancing had lasted far longer then they expected. It was five in the morning when they arrived at the seventh floor apartment. They foraged for sustenance in a kitchen once so full of life and schedules and now mostly barren, and then they grabbed a forgotten Pyrex bowl and a couple loose plastic forks and made way for the roof. They watched the early morning sky grow ruddy as it got busy chasing the moon to the other side of the world. They watched the city of Manhattan wake up right in front of them as they feasted on a couple boxes of macaroni and cheese because it was all that was left in the cupboard. And in that moment, Olivia remembered thinking that she had the world by the tail.

She wondered if it would always be that way.

Scenes in a Target

He walks a few paces ahead of her and it might as well be a million miles because you can almost hear his mind working on getaway plans. He’s got the kind of vibe that relies on muscle memory, passionless. He’s wearing a collared white shirt and faded jeans and a look on his face that wants to be anywhere but here.

She owns a pair of eyes that must’ve ruled the world inside every single night of some other time and place before now. Dusty cobalt ringlets that spin like virgin promises, with raven winged daggers anchoring the sides as if rooks in a game of chess. Those eyes have a look to them that doesn’t quit telling the truth, no matter how many lies she feeds them.

Their simple gold wedding bands remind me of sunken treasures as they trawl along the aisles in search of things they cannot buy. Their exchanges are skeletal meanderings of necessary dialogue. The only energy between them is given to silent wishes. She’s wishing she’d taken that chance with the cowboy Yankee who tended bar and played minor league ball and he’s wishing he’d kept that job in Austin, Texas. And they’re probably wondering if their best chances got lost on that highway to forever, and if they can ever get it back.

They pass an old man with a Vietnam Veteran baseball cap tucked inside his bushy red hair. He’s pushing hard on an age where every day is a blessing and every night is a curse. He talks to himself and calls her Patty, and you get the idea she’s the best idea he never got to keep. His cart is empty as he roams aimlessly through times and places that broke him and a fate that never put him back together again.

She politely moves around the old man in the baseball cap who’s talking to himself after which she mutters curse words to herself. She wonders what it must be like to have all day to do nothing with. Her life is a schedule. The kids have to be dropped off at her mother’s house . . then off to work . . a conference call . . another meeting . . pick up the kids and finish off their checklists for camp . . PTO meeting, Sometime around nine o’clock she’ll plug into some Rachmaninoff, pop a Lexapro and have her way with a bottle of Merlot. And she’ll disregard the texts from her piece of shit husband who wants to come home from purgatory after being banished for fucking the secretary. And she’ll just turn off her phone and thank whatever’s out there that she has two good reasons for waking up in the morning.

And to his eyes, she’s a perfect chance. The cougar on her phone, tapping her day to life as she waits in line. Smartly dressed . . a professional lady. An impression on her ring finger means she’s looking for revenge on some guy. Quick fix lunch packs in her cart means there are kids. Which is just fine with him. Kids were something they never got around to when she was still here. He hates that he blames her for leaving, because it wasn’t her fault; she never saw the tractor trailer that veered into her lane and took her away. And sometimes it feels to him as if that life he knew was happening five minutes ago, and sometimes it feels like it never happened at all. And the years have been cold and lonely and forever seems too long from here.

She glances back at him and smiles and it gives him something to work with. He wonders if the universe has erected a sign post at check lane seven, and before he can stop himself, he’s offering to pay for the item she mistakenly left in her cart while rushing through. And her smile tells him something and their exchange tells him more. And so what if it goes nowhere, and so what if he’s never going to find the thing he lost. He’s already lived the last chapter, so the chances are all that he has left.

He places a divider on the conveyor belt for the man in the collared shirt and blue jeans and the girl with the tired blue eyes.

The Living End

It’s poetry week here at Sorryless! Well . . the next few posts anyhoo. One post each by me and the lovely and uber talented Linds B. And as an added bonus, we’re doing a ‘Wordless Wednesday’ which will feature Linds B’s amazing photography skills. So yeah . . three rounds of poetry, if you will.  Hope you enjoy . . . 

I sit on the edge of a pier whose crest is ruddy from salt and whose pores speak in countless years worth of retreat. The sun’s pledge is not simply to give life to everything, but to rearrange the composition of those silent places so that they may speak to us in the quiet of their nothingness. Which is why a simple plank of wood can tell stories. Richly hewn splinters swirl in the sea breeze while the deep and swollen ridges burn in myriad colors.

The moon has sliced deeply into the evening sky as if a serrated disc tearing through the raging mysteries of the dark. It presents itself as low hanging fruit ripe for the picking by lovers with a million different ideas on how to possess its sublime intentions. The songs it carries inside its plump belly, they plunge and holler and sway as the sun slowly descends into the ocean.

Night is spilling itself across a dying summer day as if ink spilling slowly across a landscape portrait. Its reach is lustful and outrageous but the severity of its reign is a bold disguise that is revealed before too long.

The stars. They begin to pockmark the roaming blankness with a lustrously magical spell full of brand new mysteries. Soon, the sky goes loud with shine as the moon imparts the wit and wisdom of the ages into children of a million torch light songs. They appear as crystallized shards of an ageless mountain range forged by ancient tales. They whisper in a language constructed of the first words to the last. They regale in the majestic union of bloom to dust. And then the world collapses into this endless wait that never loses time. Ashes marry to ashes, dust to eternal sky.

A song begins to play . . its lyrics woven from the living end.

 

Magnolia Smile

The following is a prompt challenge presented to me by the uber talented Karen Craven over at Table for One.  (Click here for Karen’s challenge post.) The word for this prompt is magnolia, and there is no word count. I’m not sure if Frank from A Frank Angle will take part in this one, seeing as how it’s a single word and he seems to prefer bigger challenges. I do know that Dale from A Dalectable Life will be taking part, so stay tuned for that. 

Magnolia Smile 

Her laugh was an unrelenting sugar rush.

It shook him to his bones, it thieved away his darkest moments. It was her spirit that lit his fuse, that thrilled him to a time when the world seemed an everlasting fairy tale. He ruminated on the melody that happened every time she walked in a room.

It was in that magnolia smile where he would find his masterpiece.

His art had become the abject destination of curious trawlers and time travelers whose interest in the arts was little more than a promiscuous undertaking. The epicurean bachelors about town reeled in his artwork as if a prized marlin.  Trust fund kids dug his pieces just fine, because they’d been grandfathered into high art by boomer parents who relegated passion to their investment portfolios. The theater crowd loved his magnum sized expressions, if only for the conversations they engendered. The outer boroughs feasted on his works in a vain attempt to appear more cultured and less like dilettante impostors.

His compromised relevance was the proverbial bitter pill; to be swallowed for its financial properties but whose lasting effects were a scowling impropriety to the very soul of a true artist. His soul.

His road had been paved with suffering and loss, until one day in the middle of being strangled into obscurity, he was discovered. And it was the result of a piece he’d had little use for. A nude portrait of a woman dining at an outdoor cafe on the Champs-Elysees. His medium had been oil, his time spent meager and his feelings for the work very much acrimonious. It was a fortnight’s worth of painting and drinking and fucking his model- a bored housewife waiting for Godot out in the suburbs. It had been met with a collective shrug upon its opening. His fates were rewritten weeks later when this particular piece caught the eye of a world famous director who gobbled it up, after which he commissioned several more pieces from the artist.

His would become the overnight success story for the requisite fifteen minutes of that famed Warhol premonition. After which he retired to a secluded universe of pain pills, bourbon and the occasional interview with Charlie Rose or a big deal blogger.

He saw himself as a character out of a Horatio Alger novel. He’d lived most of his live like a modern day Van Gogh and gotten drunk on the excesses of fame before fixing on a plateau that would provide him with a comfortable afterglow. His life would become planted to this existence, as if a star in the deepest recesses of the universe; content with having shined for a moment. And then she came along and changed the rules.

They met in a book store and from there it was as if the sun spoke to them in marvelous riddles and the moon in fabulous rhyme. And to this ethereal consequence of a chance meeting, they forged a unified spirit whose ferocity was a religion; whose hopes watered the fertile soil and whose wishes grew them in abundance.

Their romance would never be defined by marriage talk; they were not political animals of all that cliched hubris and its endless paperwork. They would live together as two planets aligned inside their own orbit. With no children to call their own, with no place to call their home, they would abide by a manifest of dreamers . . and they would simply roam.

And then one day in the middle of a deep and not insignificant conversation about Kurt Vonnegut, she told him to paint her. When she suggested such a thing, he fell into the kind of deep and endless love he’d only dreamed about in his previous life. It was an exquisitely painful emotion, love. It was compelling and severe, all encompassing and completely unfair. And to all of this, he was able to tap into its mercurial qualities.

He painted like a fiend preparing for one final heist, for days on end with with little sleep and copious amounts of Prosecco. It was her favorite, and so it would become his lifeblood . . his sugar water reasoning in a world whose soul had collapsed into a Bosch like inferno.

His brushstrokes were pain staking trespasses whose flow was constantly interrupted by the most brilliant awakening of his life. Her long, flowing brunette locks ran scoundrel inside the most lurid parts of his imagination. Her dimples made him feel like a shy little schoolboy. Her cranberry lips and ivory legs were a provocative rapture that made him grateful to be a man. Her hips were borne out of a rock and roll lullaby by Bowie. Her voice was opera on a summer night. Her words, every single one of them, was full of purpose and might. It was in her being that he understood the proverbs. It was in her soul that he understood the rest.

And to this love, never ending, he would paint . . maniacally so. And this would be his final work, because it had to be. Because he had nothing left of himself to give, but this. It was his gift to her, from the here and now to the spindles of that mysterious forever. He would never pick up a paint brush again because to do so would be to give his heart to something other than the one thing that made him true.

Her magnolia smile.