Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chapter 2: Janey

The jeep flew over the mound of dirt, bouncing a bit as it came back in contact with the earth. It muscled its way through the pond and up the bank on the other side, its engine roaring loudly the whole time. The way through the jungle it had just entered was treacherous and much swerving and dodging ensued before it suddenly skidded to a stop. Towering far above the jeep was a colossal beast, a bear, raring up on its hindquarters ready to deliver a mighty shuddering swipe with its great paw that could easily send the entire jeep tumbling and careening out of control through the jungle. The jeep slowly started backing away from the huge creature. The bear roared, preparing to attack.

“Fire!” bellowed sergeant Kilroy to his team of troops, “Give it everything we’ve got, NOW!” He shouldered his rifle and began firing on the bear, trying to focus the majority of the shots on the bear’s snout and eyes. “Bubba! Use the bazooka! That’s what we have it for!”

Bubba propped the bazooka on his shoulder, kneeled down and switched it on. Sergeant was yelling something at him but he couldn’t hear above all the gunfire of the other soldiers. He shrugged, lined his eyes up with the sight and pulled the trigger. After a short pause of nothing happening he was rewarded with a hot blast of smoke in his face, making his eyes sting and tear up. The rocket seemed to fly in slow motion as it made its way toward the massive bellowing beast. It made contact right in the center of the bear’s chest, leaving a huge smoking scorch mark on the bear’s plaid overalls.

Mr. Fluffy Bottom stopped roaring and looked down at his smoking chest—

“Janey! I told you to change out of your dress before playing outside in the dirt like that! Don’t you ever listen to what I say, young lady?”

Still holding her teddy bear and a green plastic soldier in frozen combat poses, Janey looked up to see her mother standing in the back door. She was smiling at Janey with her hands propped on her hips and holding the back door open with her shoulder. A small cloud of dust was drifting from where Janey sat, back towards the house, occasionally defining the shape of a sunray before moving on. Janey jumped up and began running towards her mother; dirty knees, dusty dress and all. She’d have to figure out how to stir up a lot more dust sometime soon. The sunbeams were pretty and warranted more attention. But not right now.

As Janey approached her mother at a child’s sprint, she spread her arms open wide. Mother and daughter came together in a gentle collision as her mother bent down and scooped her off the ground at the just right instant. Janey hugged her mother with abandon, her dusty muddy melodrama motionless and forgotten in the yard.

“Little Miss Janey,” her mother said as she hugged back, “you are filthy and I’m afraid that now so am I.” She hugged her daughter for a few more seconds and with a little extra squeeze at the end she set her back down on the back stoop. “Get inside and get that dress off and put some shorts on. I left your pink shorts and your Dora shirt on your bed for you to change into.”

Janey loved her mother but she was mostly happy that her mother was home for the same reason that she had been playing in the back yard in the first place. Lee was Mommy’s boyfriend and Janey had learned that the best place to be when Mommy was at work was away from Lee. He was creepy.

On boring afternoons she used to sit on the sofa and watch cartoons or some kids show that she felt too smart for. Some days, he would come over and sit down right next to her; so stiflingly close that the cushions would sink under his weight, tipping her little body awkwardly towards him. He would tell her that she was pretty, that she looked a lot like her mother, that her features were so delicate, her eyes beautiful. After two years she’d heard pretty much his whole repertoire, delivered in a low syrupy voice. She stopped hearing what he actually said, focusing instead on how stupid she was for letting herself get caught alone with him yet again. She didn’t watch much TV these days.

She was six now and still didn’t really understand why he acted the way that he did when Mommy wasn’t home. What she did understand was that it happened less if she could stay out of sight when he was the only one around. Lee disturbed her and she had developed a special kind of loathing for him. She would joyfully assign his name to the victim of the worst casualty in her intensely brutal little toy skirmishes.

But none of that mattered right now, because Mommy was home, which meant that Lee probably wouldn’t even look at or speak to her for most of the rest of the afternoon and evening. At this realization, she took off through the house to change into her pink shorts and favorite shirt. As she passed the kitchen table, she glimpsed a tube of cinnamon rolls in the bag of groceries that still sat there.

She loved those cinnamon rolls, and the way they smelled when they were baking. Sometimes Laura and Mark would make the exact same cinnamon rolls and then the three of them would eat the whole pan of rolls, straight out of the oven. Mark and Laura were cool.

Visiting Laura and Mark was another strategy she had of avoiding Lee. That and they were just fun to be around. They weren’t like most grown-ups; they didn’t make her feel like a little kid when she was with them. She was just one of the gang. Of course, Mommy didn’t know about her regular half-mile walks to visit them, and probably wouldn’t allow it if she had known. But there were a lot of things, anymore, that Mommy didn’t know about.

She resumed racing towards her bedroom, practically outrunning her breath and not even caring. She looked just like any six-year-old would when running through the house at just over the threshold of safety; a happy little ball of clumsy frenetic energy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Tower

My apologies for not having another part of Laura's story up tonight. I will have a new part of it up Wednesday sometime. I promise. But since I didn't post more writing tonight, here is a new picture instead.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Laura's Awakening (Part 3)

She lifted her head slightly, blood-soaked tendrils of hair still clinging to the floor where they had incorporated themselves into the now gory mess of her once cozy little kitchen. She shut her eyes and listened. She could hear nothing with the ear that had been pressed onto the floor moments ago, save for the deep slow rhythm of her own heartbeat. Well, I’m alive. I guess that’s a good thing. Probably got blood in my ear, she thought, trying harder to focus on the mostly flat and empty landscape of sound around her. Through a steady ringing that seemed to come from inside the back of her head, she thought she could make out the sound of shifting boards. It sounded so far away though, maybe the front porch.

Gently, she lowered her head back down to its place on the floor and slowly opened her eyes, still listening. Everything sounded so far away, even her own thoughts. She wasn’t sure but it sounded like she had just heard the creak of the rusty old long hinge on the screen door.

The screen door slammed home, with the loud clack of wood on wood that she had come to recognize so well since she and Mark had moved in. There was always something else that had needed more attention than installing a pneumatic closer to prevented the loud “WAP!” every time someone didn’t take the time to close it softly.

Booming strides across the floor, (got no problem hearing them now) the whole floor seeming to shudder against her skull with each heavy footfall. Her heart rate doubling in a second, throbbing uncomfortably in her ear and deep inside her head. The atmosphere changed, and then there were no more thunderous footsteps. She couldn’t see him but she knew he was there, somewhere a yard or so beyond her feet, standing in the doorway gazing silently at her and Mark.

The floor shifted slightly and Mark moved behind her. No Mark! He’s right there don’t move now! She was panicking yet remained frozen, her body not giving her the option of doing anything. Fabric (denim?) brushed her left hand, her arm still laying behind her on the floor, and then pushed hard against her ramming her arm up against her body. It felt like Mark was lying next to her trying to roll over top of her. But there was that downward pull as well. Oh god, he’s dragging Mark away… she though a second before realizing that she was right. Her body slid sideways on the bloody lubricated floor; forced over by the pull of Mark’s body as he was being unceremoniously dragged away. More cloth pulled over her hand then something slick and warm seemed to slither over her arm and hand. Her mind reeled, refusing to admit that something that was supposed to be inside of Mark no longer was. Then she felt nothing again, except for the oily liquid that now completely covered her hand.

Something delicately touched her shoulder, trailing all the way down her arm, across the back of her hand and was gone. Mark’s hand, Laura thought in horror. The back of her hand burned with sensation as Laura focused on the last place on her body that he would ever touch. A heavy double thump rattled the floor yet again. A sickening, unclean sound as Mark’s head was pulled over the threshold and landed on the wood of the living room floor.

Laura was alone. She lay in a pool of her dead husband’s blood, as the sound of him being dragged away faded into the crescendo roar inside her head.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Laura's Awakening (Part 2)

Laura could see the shards of glass; some still part of the hutch door but now broken into long sweeping pieces, others lying on the floor under the table. The hutch had been part memento and part joke between her and Mark, bought because of an antique flea market they had stopped at on the way back from one of many road trips the two of them had taken years ago.

Five hours of relentless driving on I-40 across the flat boredom of northern Texas and then Oklahoma, and they had needed a break. The oppressive landscape had gradually driven away their good humor and replaced it with an agitated anxiety. Their conversation dwindled as the barrenness of the landscape around them had seeped into the SUV, a third presence that no one wanted to acknowledge or discuss.

“Ok, this sucks,” Mark injected into the stale silence, “We’re stopping at the next place where it looks like we won’t have to worry about meeting some distant relatives of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family.” Less than a minute after he’d made the comment, they had passed a dusty gas station that looked like something still standing at the site of a nuclear test range. “See what I mean?” he said, still trying to add some levity to the atmosphere inside the Ranger Rover’s cabin. He turned his head, smiling, to look at Laura, trying to see if his joke had lightened her mood at all.

Without returning his gaze Laura pointed through the windshield, trying not to smile, “Look, a flea market,” she said, “That’ll work.”

There were a few other cars in the parking lot, if you could call it that. A big dusty field was a more accurate description for the lot next to the flea market, but that could have applied to pretty much everything else they’d seen for the last 50 miles. The building was an old airplane hangar that looked like a giant cylinder made of corrugated metal sheeting, tipped on its side and buried halfway in dust and dirt.

As they walked through the maze of booths and corridors filled with random Americana junk and odd lots of decommissioned military jumpsuits, boots and the occasional dented helmet, the tension between them had begun to dissolve.

“I bet the only people who ever come here, aside from people trying to sell this junk, are people like us who are a little bit insane from driving for hours in a straight line,” Mark whispered into Laura’s ear, kissing her gently behind her ear, pausing for a second before pulling back.

Laura smiled; a small orb of heat at the base of her stomach making its way throughout her body. The electric fuzziness of it was incredible. She spun on the balls of her feet, grabbed Mark’s head with both hands and pulled him into a deep kiss. Her body pressed full against him, she could feel him growing instantly harder as he leaned into her. For a second she pushed into him more, and then slowly pulled away from him, lingering long enough to exhale her hot breath onto his still open lips. “Maybe I really like looking at antiques,” she purred with a gleam in her eyes, “How do you know I’m not looking for the perfect hutch or something?”

Mark looked lost, his eyes slightly unfocused. Laura didn’t think he’d even heard what she had just said. “I love you,” he sighed, “Even if you have no idea what a hutch is.”

They had pulled off to the side of the road a few miles from the flea market and in the summer heat somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma they had made love twice. The first time, they devoured each other in hasty vigorous animal lust, leaving their skin, hair and the better part of the back seat drenched in perspiration. They had both gotten light-headed due to the frenetic intensity of their copulation and the building heat inside the Rover. After opening the doors and letting the arid and slightly less hot air wash over their bodies and soaked hair, cooling them quickly, the second time around was less rushed, more sensual, and just as sweaty.

Driving again, with the air conditioning providing a cool blast of arctic air, the silence in the Rover was now one of contentment. Glowing, Mark and Laura were both smiling. Mark ran his hand through his hair. “Goddamn, I love air conditioning,” he said matter-of-factly.

Weeks later Laura had come home after work to find the hutch, the one now broken by some maniac whose face she still hadn’t seen, sitting in the middle of their anteroom with a sign taped to it saying, “This is what a hutch is, smarty-pants.”

I love you too.

The present swam back into focus for Laura, the emotion of losing Mark replaced by numbness and a cold determination. She wasn’t sure where her attacker was or how long she’d laid here staring at the broken glass. She’d lost track of time again. She tried to focus, listening for some creak in the old house or anything really that would help her hone in on where the man was at, if he was still in the house at all.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Laura's Awakening

Laura lay motionless; the side of her face lay pressed against the cool linoleum, coated in partially congealed blood. Some of it was probably hers but most of it had belonged to her husband, also lying silent on the floor somewhere behind her. She wondered how close he was. Could she reach him if she tried? He couldn’t be far considering the pool of blood that had surrounded her, and presumably him as well. Because her ear was flat on the floor, the slightest movement of her head put odd pressure on her eardrum creating a loud squelching sound within her head that was most annoying and unpleasant. The corner of her left eye had not been spared the slow crimson flood and what little she was able to see with it was dark pink and out of focus. Rose colored lenses indeed… She marveled at her ability to find humor in even her current situation.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d laid here, but with her unhindered eye she could see that the misshapen rectangle of light cast by the afternoon sun through the small window above the sink had moved from the corner of the table, where the stranger still sat, across the kitchen floor and was now intersecting the reddish-brown puddle directly in front of her face. The entire time she had watched the slow tracking of the light across the floor, the person who had done this to her and her beloved had sat quietly at the small breakfast table facing the other direction.

The blood around her left arm was noticeably cooler and much stickier than when it has first touched and flowed languidly around her. She hadn’t moved as the iron stink had permeated her nostrils and the hot fluid (It had seemed so hot then) had spread out around her. There was so much of it… The pool had stopped expanding. Mark was dead or very close to it. Her chest hitched with the emotion of it. The disgusting squelching sound again as her head shifted slightly. The man sitting across the kitchen turned and Laura held her breath. Had he heard the suction of her ear on the floor too?

The grief and fear were at war within Laura. She wanted to cry, wail, and rage against this monster who had so casually and effortlessly taken Mark from her. But something deep inside told her not to move. Be still, let him think you’re dead too, or at least unconscious. A heavy tear overflowed and slowly worked its way across the length of her nose, hanging there at the tip before dropping into the sea of red below it. Her eye shifted back towards the table. Thank God, she thought. He had turned away before the tear had come. The path the tear had taken was now cooler and felt slightly stiff. She watched the figure sit at the table, slumping slighting in the chair. She couldn’t afford to cry. Not a luxury that I’m allowed right now, she thought. She blinked hard, flushing one more tear down the length of her nose, its volume expended and drying before it had a chance to gather and drip away. She had to come up with a plan. Laying here in a fear induced rigor wouldn’t do her or Mark any good.

At the thought of Mark her emotion and tears came clawing and rushing back up again. NO. Not now. She focused on the dull throb at the base of her skull and on how the drying blood and matted hair on the back of her head felt against her scalp. Every little movement pulled dozens of hairs that were now part of the solidifying mess back there, threatening to pull open the gash and cause a renewed bout of blood flow. Better.

Her headache had lessened from when she first awoke, or had at least decided to find its rightful place in the queue of ‘Things really wrong with Laura’s world.’ Either way, she only noticed the occasion deep throb now. Whatever she had been hit with had been very hard and very heavy. That’s all she could remember thinking in the fraction of a second between leaning over the kitchen sink to look at the unfamiliar car in the driveway and waking up in pain and a pool of blood. She had woken up instantly but hadn’t moved; opening her eyes slowly and only the tiniest bit, already somehow aware that something was deeply wrong. She still wasn’t sure how she’d managed that little bit of guile.

I need to think of a wa—

The harsh trill of the wall phone erupted, shattering the silence that the small kitchen had been awash in. Laura winced at the sound of the phone coming to life as a swift but enormous lightning storm flooded her mind, the pain driving away all thought. Explosive white flooded her vision before fading back to a dull yellow and finally the muted color of the kitchen floor and rectangle of sunlight again. Why was it so loud? The phone rang again, barely audible to her now; her headache back with a vengeance.

The sitting man pushed the table away with one thick arm, causing it to rasp across the floor noisily and smash into the small hutch sitting there. Glass tinkled to the floor under the table. He stood up and with a single stride, stepped out of Laura’s narrow field of vision. A second later the ringing stopped.