Category Archives: Excerpts & Short Stories

Short Story: Circa 1988

Note: I had some spectacular, all-singing, all-dancing post planned for today (well … I didn’t really, but I was thinking about it, I swear). I finish work, get in the car, get the news that we’re going out tonight, and unfortunately, I haven’t been sleeping well. So, because I was out late, and because I’m lazy and probably tired, I’m going to post a ‘short’ tonight from all the way back in November. Enjoy or don’t, I’m not too sure as yet … I mean, I could easily tell you what I think in retrospect, but I’m also too lazy to do that tonight.

Circa 1988

Mark Sullivan remembers 1988. He remembers the summer, the kid sitting almost silent in front of the television screen, inexplicably drawn to the glass. He remembers how the temperature was rising, how she used to sit out on the balcony of their apartment and fan herself, staring listlessly up at the sun. He remembers he face, her smile, her golden-blond hair that she got from a bottle. Mark Sullivan remembers 1988, and the story that made headlines that year.
Mark watches this kid, day in, day out, waiting for the moment he turns eighteen. Waiting for the moment the college funds, saved up year after year, life insurance, a final payout, can be blown on whatever the kid cares about most. This kid, he doesn’t know much. He doesn’t care about much. He just sits in front of the screen, staring at reruns, at movies, at cartoons, at whatever a thirteen-year-old boy is supposed to watch. The kid, he doesn’t have too many friends. He forms bonds through the glass, phased through layer after layer of an invisible something, perhaps a million miles away from whoever it is he’s watching.

He has a thousand and one things to do before the end of the day, before the end of the week or the month. Most of it, paperwork to sign, print his name and that immortal date. The month. He can’t forget because the legal documents say he can’t. He’s trapped in this moment forever by the numbers written in his own hand, some unspoken agreement between himself and his late wife, a promise. A pact. Nothing quite so clandestine. He wants to stop signing but he can’t, not until this kid is old enough to go out on his own.

Mark knows this kid’s secret, after all. This secret that the boy staring at the screen doesn’t even know, how he came to be. How it was that his mother first got the idea, planted in her head by some screen bimbo or another, some brunette who’d starred in maybe two or three more movies than she had, who said she had all the answers to keeping your career alive. On track. Making sure that you were the only one those headlines talked about, the only one that women from here to Connecticut knew about. Gossiping. Whispering. Exchanging facts, rumors, things they heard from some unnamed source, about how Callista Vaughn was due to marry a big money producer. About how Callista Vaughn’s dress was going to be a Vera Wang original, but then, whose dress wasn’t a Vera Wang in this day and age? About that producer, how he never thought he’d get so lucky in all his sorry life.

This much is just about right. Mark doesn’t know and doesn’t care how he managed to hook up with that screen legend, that sex goddess. A woman thousands of boys, now men, had grown up fantasizing about, jerking off over until she disappeared one day. Then, when they were maybe married themselves, with kids, she came back in the exact same position as they were in. They could still fantasize. That bride to be, that aging screen princess, she’s the woman they walked down the aisle with. That honey blonde, or golden blonde, or maybe platinum now, the best way to hide gray hairs, they shared their first dance with her. They spoke their vows to her. Each one of them looking for their perfect replica of Callista Vaughn, or better.

No, Mark Sullivan doesn’t know how he got so lucky, or how he got so unlucky. What it came down to was that she wouldn’t take his last name. The kid, his surname is Vaughn, so that he could get ahead in life. So that her legacy would make sure he got whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it. The kid staring at the screen wouldn’t even have to lift a finger so long as he kept her last name.
With a surname like Sullivan, though, he’d have to fight just like the rest of the kids his age. No leeching of momma’s reputation for him. Mark knows that this is the only reason she insisted, only to have the best for her son. The kid stares at the screen, still, flinching every so often at every flash of light, at every scream. The heroine gets kidnapped and he looks lost in the moment, a boy who doesn’t know what to do because he realizes that he might just be about to lose everything. He turns to Mark. Mark, sitting at the dining table with his head down, squinting at papers, trying to make out tiny inscriptions on the document which illustrate loopholes. Ways for the company to get out of it. Not many do that unless a real star is involved, or if they know they’re talking to a schmuck.

“Dad,” the kid pauses, licks his lips, his shirt too big for him, making his frame look even smaller than it did already, sunk into the plush sofa. “Why would someone do that?”

“Do what?” Mark, dad, mutters back at him, not paying attention, suddenly wishing that his son was still staring at the screen. He doesn’t quite watch as the kid twists in his seat to face him, leaning forward, squinting. He keeps looking down at the paperwork, not seeing, not bothering to read it anymore, just in search of a distraction.

“I saw it. What they cleaned up and took away. That’s all that was left of her, isn’t it?” still, Mark doesn’t listen much, but he knows now what his son is talking about. Mark, who could care less about his son’s questions, because the kid reminds him as much of her as anyone can. He’s as close as he can get without being her sister, or mother. Without being a daughter instead of a son. Some days, he doesn’t even want to look at the kid, forces him into school each day to make sure he doesn’t have to spend time with him around. This small ghost who just stares at the television screen.

“Don’t tell me they don’t teach you physics in school,” out of the corner of his eye, Mark sees the kid shake his head.

“No. They do. Only, they don’t teach us that,” the kid pauses, or Mark thinks he does, maybe for breath, maybe to think about what exactly it is that he’s saying. That he’s asking about. Some things a kid doesn’t need to know right away, not just yet. Mark knows this. Learn too young and it breaks something inside of you, something important; you stop being who you thought you were, not so much a kid anymore as a shell. Growing into the teenage years too fast hurts more than any growing pain. Than any insult. “They don’t teach us why someone would do that, either.”

This time, Mark looks up from the paper he’s stopped reading through, looking directly at this brown-haired little ghost sunk into his sofa, this kid who has everything Callista used to have but doesn’t even know it yet.

“You want to know why a person kills themselves?” he repeats this like he doesn’t already know what the answer will be. Like telling a story to a small child, pretending that everything is new, exciting, not tiresome and pointless like it all suddenly seems. A prime reason to end it all right there; that life just isn’t new and exciting anymore. He watches the kid nod his head slowly, almost looking entranced, not tempted to glance back at the screen anymore. This kid could be any six-year-old he’s tucking into bed and reading a story to, only this story doesn’t have much of a happy ending. “It’s because they don’t want to live anymore. Alive, you’re aware of everything you’re doing wrong, and if you’re the kind of person to make a lot of mistakes, sometimes, death is the only way to put an end to that.”

“You think she made a lot of mistakes?” just like every question this kid has ever asked, this one floors Mark. He doesn’t know what to say. It’s as if this kid is interrogating him. Wanting to know why he decided to answer this way instead of telling him how kind and beautiful his mother was. Exactly the kind of thing any thirteen-year-old boy wants to hear.

“I don’t think it was that,” he tries not to choke. “I think things just got real hard.”

“Was it because of me?” exactly the kind of thing no kid wants to think about. It’s like telling a kid whose parents have just divorced that they got divorced because of something bad he did. That now his entire life has been thrown into chaos, because of that one little lie he told. Because he withheld information. Because he was sneaking extra snacks at recess to sell to the other kids for small change.

“Why would you think that?” Mark just wants to get back to his paperwork. Filing, insurance policies, a payout. Mark just wants to get to the end of this so that he can forget she ever existed afterward. He wants it to end so that he can sell the apartment and move out, move on, somewhere he doesn’t have to be constantly confronted by the small ghost in his sofa, images flickering across his face in the darkness. The kid shrugs. He doesn’t have an answer to the question, but he expects answers all the time. It’s just like a kid to expect answers that an adult doesn’t really have.

“Jason always tells me about how his mom says things were going just fine for her until he was born. That she wishes she’d never had him,” whether or not that was Callista’s reason, it was hard to say.

Once they were married, this starlet wanted a kid more than anything else in the world. Mark remembers how they locked themselves up inside the apartment whenever she wasn’t busy doing magazine features about her supposed comeback. When she had the time to want for the things she didn’t have, they sometimes spent whole days and longer locked up inside their room, refusing to even eat because they were that desperate to conceive. He slips off into a world lodged somewhere between reality and an intangible past, looking back as if he’s glancing at a reflection, a mirror image that lies while simultaneously being real.

Months and months of trying this, of Callista telling every imaginable source about how they were trying so damn hard for a kid, how they were fucking like rabbits just for that one chance. She talked to daytime TV hosts about it, who had to wave their hands and whisper small, insignificant asides about how this was supposed to be a family show, and she couldn’t get away with saying the things she was saying live. About how she would have to cool it for those shows that came on after dark, after half the world was asleep, safe from profanities, from the suggestion that any actress had such a progressive sex life. She told them about the different positions they’d been trying, about the best times of the month to try. About how the fucked at just the right time during her cycle to ensure the highest chance of her getting pregnant.

It was a wait that seemed to go on forever. Every home pregnancy test, every visit to the gynecologist, seemed to drag on forever. Whenever Callista heard the word no, she was inconsolable for maybe a week or two before they were right back on it again, picking up from where they had left off.

“You have no idea what we went through to get you,” Mark mutters this almost to himself, so the kid doesn’t really hear it and can only stare for a minute longer before turning his attention back onto the television screen. Just a new cartoon. A new episode of a show based on some comic book from the sixties.

Sure, Mark went through hell trying to give Callista a kid, but the only reason she wanted a baby so bad was to give her career an extra push. Already columnists were lining up to interview her about the recent nuptials, but Callista knew the media better than that. She wasn’t a naive twenty-something any longer, already able to tell that as soon as coverage of her wedding and everything that happened since wasn’t hot news anymore, she’d be history again.

In short, Callista wanted a baby to make sure she stayed in the spotlight.

The one test that came through positive, that day she whipped the media up into a frenzy.

Any talk show we could get on, she was on the waiting list, ready to drag him on set and scream ‘we’re pregnant’ at anyone who would listen. Any middle-aged man who grew up masturbating to her pictures in magazines could imagine Callista in stirrups, maybe the way he’d seen his own wife giving birth, screaming and sweaty, but somehow still glowing, forcing a head, shoulders, a torso, an entire human through that entrance, that exit, that had been pounded so many hundred times by that same guy, that same dick. Any lonely housewife, bored and flicking through glossy magazines would be able to hear every agonizing detail of Callista Vaughn’s sex life, her tips. That you couldn’t get pregnant if you had sex standing up was a myth. Same as if you fucked in the shower.

This kid, all he’s ever done since he tore kicking and screaming out of Callista’s vagina is stare at the same television screen. He learned to stand trying to reach that screen. He learned to crawl towards it. This kid loves TV more than he loved his own mother, because those fictional characters are just so much easier to connect with.

“Son?” the kid shudders and tears his blinking eyes away at the demand, the sound of an address he knows all too well. It’s rare he hears his own name. Now, Mark refuses to call him by it. “Your pal, Jason? His mom’s really fucked up.” He doesn’t wait to hear the kid’s response. Instead, he turns away, moves towards the kitchen. There’s beer, spirits, but what it comes down to is, Mark doesn’t want any of that. He just wants an excuse to get out of the room for a few minutes. He knows he should have taken the papers with him, pulled up one of those high stools and started writing, signing at the kitchen counter.

Mark, his hands press up against the marble counter-top, eyes rolling up at the off-pink ceiling, a mottled, strange color. The only room in the house not painted white. The only room in the house with black marble counters, with neat sets of utensils lining the far wall. Easy enough to run someone through with a butcher knife. Callista would only ever buy the best.

None of them ever cooked a meal in this room, but only one member of staff ever did it anyway, the one member of staff Callista could afford to keep on after her career started to pull down the drain. Even after she made her comeback, they still had this one maid come cook come nanny, this one woman who had nothing to do with the family except for the fact that she was being paid to be there, to do all the menial tasks Callista didn’t know how to do.

Used to be her face, Callista Vaughn’s face, lined billboards, shop windows. In theaters, all you could see was her face next to some handsome male co-star, the hero and the heroine side by side. She wanted to take on more challenging roles, she said. Wanted to show the world that she was more than just a sex symbol, that she really could act as well. One night, one slow night when they’re done trying and she’s massaging the small bump that is her stomach, a curve underneath the sheets, Callista looks at Mark and tells him,

“All I ever wanted to be was an actress,” he watches her sigh and slip down beneath the sheets. “Ever since I was small. That’s all I wanted. Is it any wonder I’m still hanging on so hard?” Mark, he doesn’t answer, just switches the light off next to the bed. One flick of a switch, and they’re both in darkness. The truth is, Mark doesn’t know what to say to that. He was raised in a family where you marry someone, you have a kid with them, because you love them. Not because you want to keep your career on track. As he closes his eyes, rolls over on one side, he hears Callista whisper through the darkness again. “It’s funny, isn’t it? Once this kid’s born, I’m quitting movies for good.”

Quitting something you’ve done for most of your life, like smoking, isn’t that easy, You’re already addicted. Mark knows this because it’s only recently that he stopped drinking.

It’s only recently that he stopped asking for that extra glass of Cristal at parties, downing vodka, whiskey, in huge, fiery gulps. It’s only recently that he stopped staggering out to the taxi or the limo, he forgets which they could afford at any given time, thankful that he didn’t have to drive home. Instead, he carries around tall glasses of bottled water with ice. Virgin martinis, or a flute of coke. He stopped because Callista asked him to, but really because he couldn’t stand the headlines. The tabloids referring to him not as a drunk himself, but as Callista Vaughn’s drunk husband. His one vice not his own. His every action scrutinized, bot not to degrade his own merits. Callista asked him to stop because he was damaging her reputation, but couldn’t divorce him because it would look even worse than having a drunk husband. Because the baby was on the way and the kid needed a father. He didn’t stop. She had to keep going. After nearly thirteen years of coming home stinking sour, booze on his breath, Mark stopped.

When you’re addicted to something, a lifestyle, a drug, drink, you can’t just turn your back on it.

You’ll always know that you left behind something that made you feel good, no matter what it cost to feel that way. Like the kid’s addicted to TV, and tearing him away from it will mean he’ll just go back and sit on the sofa again. The next day, he’ll be back there again, and you’ll tug him away, only for him to go back. This goes on for a while, until one day, you walk into the room, and he’s not sitting there anymore, but it’s hard to say where he is. He might be wandering, lost, from room to room, barefoot and wild-eyed because he doesn’t know what to do. He might be out on the street with his fucked-up friends for once. It’s hard to say what’s changed, but somehow, you know everything has changed for the better.

Mark knows this, but he’s still tempted to reach inside the fridge and open a bottle of beer, the first in months. Weeks. He doesn’t know how long because he hasn’t been counting. He doesn’t much care, either. All he knows is he really could use a beer.

“Dad?” even now, the expression is foreign, it almost hurts his ears to hear it. For a moment, it’s almost as though this kitchen, this pink-tiled hell is his heaven, a cocoon he doesn’t want to leave. It’s a room where words can’t hurt him, but he still can’t escape the truth. His guess is right; that if he has a beer it might make things better just for a while. He might be able to put these things to the back of his mind where he wants them to belong, but they never will.

When mark looks at the paperwork still sitting where it was on the table, limp, lifeless, he’s back where he was fifteen minutes ago. He’s back faced with the reality of things, not a memory, something he has to deal with, to know, not to ignore. When he looks over at the kid sunk into the chair, sunk and staring expectantly around, not at the screen this time, he’s a part of this life, this thing, a length of time that goes on and on with no sense of stopping until you reach the very end. Until you know you’re going to die.

“Dad,” the kid repeats the word, and Mark knows he’ll answer this time, because he’s sick of hearing it. “How many movies was mom in?” Mark doesn’t know what to say.

The kid’s mother was in a lot of movies in the late sixties. She so desperately wanted to be a Bond girl, but didn’t every twenty-something in those days? Every girl who knew she was attractive enough to do it. She settled for a role in a prime-time series first, something to do with special agents, spies fighting for the good of the country. It was only natural that she made her name here, formed her reputation, running around in high-heels and skin-tight cat suits, her dyed, bleached, teased hair cropped because it was hard to manage otherwise. Silky and smooth for the camera, bobbing about her neck, the sharp cut threatening to slit her throat every time she slid across the floor.

Boys growing up with this series knew what to expect from Callista, the secret agent they always wanted to fuck, but could turn on the TV at six and see some other guy about to fuck her instead. Some actor whose name they couldn’t remember, but who all the girls in class swooned over. Some dick with long hair who got to get up close with their beloved Callista.

By the seventies, Callista had just started out in movies. She was already a household name, so most directors had no trouble finding a film to cast her in, no screenwriter would turn down the chance to write a part especially for her. Some leggy, sexy blonde who was undressed for most of the time she was on screen, or wearing something that clung to her flesh. A second skin. A fourth-degree burn covering most of her body that she could slip on and off at will. In casting sessions, most of them would just say ‘you’re that hot spy from TV, right?’ and she’d just nod, give them a little smile, read her lines and fuck up every one of them but it didn’t matter because she was great to look at.

“As many as any actress makes before she decides she wants to settle down,” this was the official lie they’d agreed to tell him. Mom settled down because she wanted to. Because she fell in love with some rugged, young producer who made promises and got her pregnant instead. Behind the scenes, this official lie was the first line of some black comedy, where they both laughed bitterly in bed about how their lives had turned out. About how she’d only settled for Mark because he was there, because he had money, because he’d worked on a number of reputable projects and she knew that this could work for her. It really could work. Because she knew that this was someone she’d have to spend the rest of her life with, she found the most handsome guy she could, but one desperate enough that he’d propose to her, marry her in a heartbeat.

Mark never bothered to tell her how he wanted more than that. He was just glad he got so lucky.

“But how many?” the kid repeats, impatience rising in his otherwise placid voice. “Like ten? A hundred? How many did she make?” the truth is, it’s impossible to say how many she made. It’s impossible to say how many movies Callista Vaughn made because about half of them flopped at the box office. Sure, she had legions of adoring male fans going to see her, visit her in what they considered to be her domain, but they were the only ones. Most of her fans were too young to get in; the ones that got caught out while using their fake IDs, not old enough to see a film rated R. This was what killed Callista’s movies nine times out of ten. The rating. The critics, for the most part, did the rest.

“A lot,” Mark’s answer cuts across the low rumble of the television set, the sounds of his own breathing, their own breathing, him and this ghost on the sofa. He looks back down at the papers. But can’t bring himself to sign anything, just him and the papers at a stalemate, refusing to do anything. Sitting silently, he stares out across the room. The curtains are still drawn across the balcony door.
For a while, that door was a crime scene. For a while after, a shrine. Now, the door is just there, but hidden, so that he doesn’t have to face reality.

He doesn’t sleep in their bed anymore. He sleeps on the plush sofa the kid is sunk into, a world all on its own, away from dark drapes. He keeps the television on, screen playing the same few scenes of softcore porn over and over. The same woman gasping, butt naked, moaning, only nobody’s really fucking her. They’re just there. This actor, paid to hump her without even getting his dick wet. Mark doesn’t care. The television is the last thing he turns off at night because the sound of a fake orgasm brings him some kind of comfort.
It’s like being in a room full of people. You don’t care about what anyone’s saying, you can’t even bear to hold a conversation with most of them, but the soft, low buzz of the conversation makes you feel safe. Makes you feel like you’re a part of something, even if you’re sitting alone in a corner. You know that nothing is wrong, nothing is really wrong in this room because the conversation is still going on, because nobody has stopped talking. Because there’s no reason for anyone to stop talking right now, not really. You wait a while before approaching anyone because you’re so at ease.

“Mom was really famous, wasn’t she?” these days, it’s all the kid can think about, all he can talk about. His mom. His absent mom. He doesn’t care that a copy of The Lost Boys was playing at the time, but he’ll never watch the film again. He doesn’t care about anything much, apart from watching the same images play over his face, ghosts playing over a ghost, neither of them really there any longer. Mark can’t make sense of the kid’s behavior most days, has got him booked in and seeing a shrink about it, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. At night, the kid won’t go to sleep without the television set still playing, only Mark can’t do anything about that or care because he knows he does the exact same thing.

“Pretty famous, yeah,” he sounds tired. He sounds tired and looks tired, but he knows it. He is. He doesn’t sleep much at night. He wants to get out of the house, to sell up and move away, but the kid’s shrink says it would be too much. All this suffering for some thirteen-year-old boy. “Way back when.”

“Before she had me,” a moment of silence hangs in the air, and Mark doesn’t want to admit to it, but he can’t tell the kid the truth, either. That she only had him to become more famous than she already was. That she only tried so hard …

“She wanted you more than she wanted to be famous,” letting a kid know he’s loved. The only way to handle a head case. The two things were always mutually exclusive – she couldn’t have one without the other. Callista always wanted her own way, though.

Way back, there was an episode of her show that was pulled from the air. You can catch it every so often on late night re-runs. Callista wanted to do something more edgy. Not content with her closest to nude scenes being her barely dressed in a silk slip, Callista, she wanted to film a topless scene. And the company, they said no. They said they had a strong following. They had a strong following of teenagers, kids just learning about sex, or kids raised in liberal America by hippies. Kids, younger than teens, whose parents didn’t care much. Kids of hippies whose parents didn’t like them watching it, not for the sex, but for the strong pro-War message.

The episode never aired, but eventually, Callista got to do her scene. Said she made a few sacrifices, but said that she was doing it, not for the ratings, but for the liberation of women everywhere. Spiel that’s still hard to believe, even eighteen years on. The show was coming to the end of its last season, though they didn’t know that yet, and Callista was intending to use the episode as a springboard. When they cut it, she was beyond words. Her perfect, pink nipples never made it onto prime time television, because the censors wouldn’t let it happen. Now, that episode, lost for almost two decades, swims around in the same time slot as the softcore films, the B-movie violence. Bad special effects. When they air episodes in blocks of two or three or four, the same length as a feature, you can see Callista Vaughn’s breasts, immortalized on television forever. The only part of her that wasn’t going to grow old.

Callista Vaughn never really got old. She got to maybe middle age, still cutting her hair and bleaching it platinum to hide her gray hairs the best she could. Still using the latest anti-aging serums, refusing cosmetic surgery but seriously considering it as, year after year, she got older.

“Do you think mom fell?” when the human body hits a hard surface at terminal velocity, the end result is an unrecognizable mess. A body is either like a water balloon with viscose fluid, not-quite solids floating around inside a fleshy exterior. Upon impact, the skin, the rubber of the balloon, gives out because of the force it hits a hard surface at. Because of how fast it’s traveling on the way down. There’s too much inside, held inside by flesh and bone maybe, too much water inside the balloon, and the sides split, everything splits. When a body hits the sidewalk at terminal velocity, you can bet you won’t be able to recognize who it was that fell from that height; you’ll see the intestines spread out along the ground, five feet long and not curled, packed tightly inside anymore. The stomach has burst, undigested food slathered in blood. You can see what used to be a ribcage sticking out, up, the way that they do in horror movies like a cage, arms, legs. Clumps of hair. She must have fallen headfirst, because you can’t really find her face, all you can see is what used to be platinum blond and gray hair, now red and matted with slow drying blood.

“Probably,” Mark doesn’t know how to talk about it anymore.

The limbs, what’s left, stick out at odd angles, not attached to anything anymore. There’s a six-foot trail of blood in a rough circle, the limbs are still pumping out the rest. Veins knotted and tied, only the bonds are broken now because the impact blew them off. If you could find Callista Vaughn’s head, if she hadn’t jumped, fallen headfirst, the eyes would be closed, and it would look like the head of a doll that’s been dragged around a few too many times, but sticky and dirtied with blood rather than dirt and fingerprints. Most people won’t know what happened until Mark sells the story to People magazine.

“But what I don’t get, is …” the kid pauses again, like he can’t figure out a way to say it. Like these word get lost in his head before he can get them out. “Mom was so pretty. But that mess on the sidewalk, it … it wasn’t her, you know?” Mark hauls himself up from his seat, step by step getting closer and closer to the sofa where the kid, the ghost sits, paler now, while he thinks about it. Mark catches a glimpse or two of what it is he’s been watching. Callista’s pale green eyes stare back at him through layer after layer of invisible glass. Callista, the way she looked once, young, golden-blonde, whole.

Leave a comment

Filed under Excerpts & Short Stories

A Tentative Excerpt from Free Fall

I’m not going to lie, I’m normally very cagey about what I post with regards to NaNoWriMo. Most of the time, whatever I do share, in terms of excerpts, can already be found on my NaNoWriMo profile, under the Novel Info. These are, of course, the only excerpts I feel somewhat confident in sharing. They are also, usually, the first part of the first chapter, or something to that effect. So, guess what I’m going to be posting here?

I have other reasons for this, though. The main reason this year is the difficulty I have in trying to find an all-ages-appropriate excerpt, because there always seems to be something with me. Anything. If I was a director, I’d be notorious for getting my films an 18 certificate or above, I’m almost sure of it, and my novels, I will admit, have this tendency to go a similar way. This year, this is especially prevalent. More so than any year before, and most of my novel thus far has been laced with … well, we’ll call them ‘literary nasties’ shall we?

So yes, indeed, this is the excerpt from my profile, possibly with more to come as the month goes on, however, this is entirely dependent on 1. my cumulative word count at any time and 2. whether or not I feel it’s appropriate. I’m also doing this, somewhat, to see if I can clear my name, perhaps? What I mean is that I don’t think that this excerpt is terrible, but alongside the rest of the novel, it needs work. I like it better than some of the things I’ve written, which says a lot, considering this was a part of what I wrote on the first day … and the general consensus seems to be that writing 17,000 words in a day cannot possibly yield results.

I’ll leave that up to you to decide, however. Critique, criticize, something else beginning with C here and feel free to rip this to shreds if you do so desire!

“Courtney smiles at the woman opposite, wearing nothing but a satin gown, one elbow resting on the counter top while she sips her coffee the way she’s always liked it: black. Her short, blond hair is a mess, poker-straight layers curling at the ends, at the edges, the bottom layer falling in soft waves. Every morning, and he knows this because he’s watched her do it, still feigning sleep, she gets up a half-hour earlier than he does to put on a thin layer of make-up, the layer she’s wearing now. Her second skin. The only face she wants him to know, a fake beauty that he can wake up to every morning.

Her nails, manicured, on her free hand, they trawl through her hair, feeling for split and damaged ends, the ones she cuts off after she colors. She could almost look as though she doesn’t quite know where she is, as though the world is a new, foreign experience for her, every morning waking up to the early noise of a city just taking its first steps. Taxi cabs and cars stuck in traffic. A crash that almost happens, but doesn’t. She uses her free hand to pull her robe back onto her right shoulder, then to check her cell phone resting at the edge of the counter. She purses her lips, takes another sip of coffee, and says nothing.

She could be any other girl in the city, looking this way, only Courtney doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want her to think that there are a million others like her, even though this is a cruel truth that both of them know. It’s why she bleaches her hair lighter than the rest of them. It’s why she tries to make sure she’s the best dressed at every work function, every dinner party. Every time they go out for sushi, she goes the extra mile. And he loves her for it.

Courtney’s tie hangs loose about his neck, silver-gray, looking almost as though it’s attached to his pinstripe white shirt. Some object, some accessory, that doesn’t move. A different tie for every day of the week, a new appendage that flaps around while he looks for more coffee grounds, while he offers to cook the bacon, Monday morning’s treat that Alison insists he cut every last sliver of fat from. Most days, she leaves it there in the middle of the plate, not as an insult, but because she just can’t take the risk. Because just sniffing it piles on calories.

He runs a hand along his shaved, stinging face. He checks for stubble. He knows there’s an ingrown hair or two, but he can’t do anything about it. This is something he realizes as he checks his watch. His hair is dry, now, combed flat, not blown dry. His pants are neatly ironed with the creases perfect, meticulous, like some invisible housekeeper did it in the middle of the night, rather than him doing it, in the evening before he slides into bed. All part of the same routine. He doesn’t quite know why it is that they keep doing this same thing, over and over again, but the fact remains that they do, and he doesn’t see sense in refusing to go along with it; they have a good life. Whenever things start to seem wrong, this is what he tells himself.

Whenever things start to go wrong, this is all a part of what Courtney thinks to himself. Death and destruction in the news once again. Gunshots. Sirens. Things he knows he’ll end up dealing with in the morning, in the evening, whenever he gets that call. If he’s not due to do it, he sits behind the same desk all day and files the same paperwork, trying to remember a time when his life wasn’t made up of the same routines. As a kid, all he did was stare at the television screen. He’s still staring at it, only now, it’s a pile of papers that need to be signed, or the raw ingredients he needs to cook for when the girl, the blond, Alison, gets home from work late, or the pants he needs to iron before he goes to sleep, or his girlfriend waiting for him in bed. Do something too many times, and it all becomes a part of the same ongoing routine.

When she’s done with her coffee, Alison gets to her feet, hopping off the high stool with the gown fluttering around her thighs. Courtney, he finds it difficult to care about it anymore, but then he reminds himself who he’s looking at. Alison. It almost seems impossible for him not to love her, he’s been doing it for so long.

The two of them, Courtney and Alison, they’ve been living in the same co-op building, the same apartment, for a decade. They’ve had the same décor since 2001; the same off-white that never dates or goes out of fashion. The two of them, they’d like to live in a home that’s on the cutting edge of the latest trends, but the fact of the matter is, they have better things to spend their money on. A cabinet behind the dining table displays an array of vintage wines, spirits matured for half a century or more. They live on a diet that, over the years, has come to cost more than the rent on the place. They try to eat out more times a week than they eat in, so Courtney knows which days he’s going to be preparing a meal, and when they do eat out, it’s never takeaway or pizza. Sometimes this is all Courtney wants.

Courtney and Alison, they’re both the ailing product of a world raised by pop culture. A world that refused to look on in shock and awe, and instead either turned away or joined in, aware of how the depraved were now the center of attention. In a world where indecent exposure and lewd behavior became common practice. After Courtney turned seventeen, he stepped into this world and now he can’t get out. He can’t escape it. He grew up in a decade of unrest and dissatisfaction, where he never could see why everyone was so distracted by their finances. Where he never wanted for anything, except his parents.”

1 Comment

Filed under Excerpts & Short Stories, NaNoWriMo

Short Story: Lena


Lena: I’ll bite, this was actually a piece written for a contest on Gaia centered around Angels. The only requirement was that it feature at least one angel of some description, the rest … let’s just say liberties were taken! I have a large post coming up tomorrow, so I thought I’d break it up a little with a short story. I forgot about this for a while, quite honestly,  and it doesn’t entirely seem to be what I would usually write, or what I might have come to write, but the recent Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain got me thinking … so here we go. Rather tame by usual standards, possibly a little cursing here and there, and no religious track to speak of. Because of course, it was only a matter of time until I introduced angels to a dystopian future. Enjoy!

~*~*~

“I’ve told you all I know, Vanity. Whether or not you choose to believe me is up to you.” The brim of his hat was cocked over his eyes, but this was nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinary. A candle stuttered in the corner of the desk, momentarily diminishing the light that spread out across the photographs, but it was short-lived. Not even a gust of wind. A breath as he leaned backwards in his seat and finally looked directly at Vanity.

“You think there are others in this city like you?” A sharp woman, Vanity was always relentless in her assaults, and this time, she was no different. Her glare had made many weak criminals cower in fear before – if only because she cropped and spiked her hair in a way that gave her a somewhat vicious quality. Elias, however, didn’t much care for how she chose to style and dress herself, nor for the austere persona that she projected. She had been transparent to him from the moment they had first met, and still, she refused to admit it.

“I know for a fact there are,” He tiled his head backwards a little, now, not quite looking up at the rotten ceiling. “I don’t know if you’d say that they’re exactly like me, though.” He had no concerns with looking at the woman, carefully watching her reaction, this time, because he knew that he had only confused her further. It wasn’t entirely possible to interrogate one’s partner, after all. Especially not when, most of the time, they were working towards the same goals; he loved the irony of her calling the city around them a hell hole, and the way in which she tried not to care about anything around her. Yet, when he insulted her, she looked away to disguise her tears. When he threatened her she flinched in spite of the fact that she refused to cower.

“But they’re still like you.” She insisted, arms folded across her chest, her face thrown into sharp relief by the dim lighting. In some ways, this one small endeavor to save money was, at the very least, an attractive one.

“Not necessarily,” He relaxed a little more in his seat, his head fully thrown back now, musing at the darkness above him. Plaster and paint showered down on a regular basis, whenever somebody moved upstairs. “Your kind. Your race. Would you say that you are identical to every last one of them? Of course, your biological make-up is similar. But your thoughts, feelings … anything you have learned since birth is not inherently the same,” He had to look over at her, if only to savor the moment. The glare that preceded a sudden look of surprise, that he had finally denied her of the things she believed to be true. “So, while my brethren and I share the same being and the same abilities, we do not act upon the same impulses. I repeat, whether or not you choose to believe me is up to you. I have told you all that I can.” Elias did not wait around to watch her, this time, knowing that she would soon leave to scream in frustration and disappointment. She had been so painfully close to a lead, and now it was gone.

As he closed the door gently behind himself, Elias looked out at the rest of the city. He knew that they were out there; what he could not say was exactly where they would be, or who they were masquerading as … all aside from one.

“Lena,” He growled underneath his breath. He was not denying that the crumbling giants that had once been office buildings or skyscrapers had a certain kind of beauty that most humans found difficult to understand. He had to find her, though. The damage she had done was irreversible, a fact for which he was thankful when he truly took the time to think about it, but regardless, it was his mission – his very purpose – the hunt for her. It was no mistake that he had come here. There was nothing coincidental about the sense, a feeling rather than a thought that had given him the determination and indeed, the reason to even make his way here. He was not quite done yet, though. He knew well that it was instinct causing him to retrace the steps that he had taken so many times over; the barely running subway, one of the few small luxuries that still existed. It came as no surprise to him that fewer and fewer people chose to use it as time went by, based almost solely upon the fact that mistrust in such machinery had only grown over the past few months. Years. Elias didn’t feel the need to concern himself with it. He had already lived for hundreds.

There had been a time when he had walked the streets of Rome freely. The Vatican had welcomed him … hell, cathedrals the world over had eventually welcomed him at one point or another in time. The Original Fall had had nothing to do with him whatsoever, and for a time, he had kept his head above water, avoided sin no matter what the cost.

He boarded the carriage almost unconsciously, amidst those with the ability to travel in much the same way as he did. His verification came only from his affiliation with Vanity, whose links to the so-called police force granted him an easier pathway throughout the ruin around him. She knew as well as he did that none of his interests truly lay in helping those around him any longer; this would be his one saving grace against the very woman he was traveling to meet with.

“Hey,” He didn’t stir. Nobody in this time would recognize him, and he would have known if they shared his … heritage. “Hey, buddy,” Nothing. People pushed past him stop by stop, and yet for some inexplicable reason, this stranger had chosen to latch onto him for what seemed like the duration of the journey. “You’ve gotta help me, man. These guys–” Elias wasn’t sure of what compelled him to turn at that moment – the note of panic and desperation in the man’s voice, most likely. Recognizing a call for help, and an anguished human, was ingrained. Most of the time, he did not have a choice as to whether or not he reacted. The three of them stood out amongst the staggered passengers, if only because they caused themselves to stand out. He knew their type. While humanity had moved on, nothing about the gang mentality had really changed.

The carriage ground to a halt, the voice on the intercom a whisper, but significant enough to tell him that this was his stop. Perhaps Elias would have thought more heavily about aiding a stranger had he not already given himself the night’s mission. He saw the barrel of the gun, and did not freeze in front of it for knowledge that it would not harm him. Had the doors not been about to close, he would have put himself between the man and the bullet that pushed itself forcefully from the barrel, a pellet with intent. Instead, he watched with a strange curiosity as the blood exploded onto the glass at the exact moment that the doors slid tightly shut.

What was the point in saving them, anyway? He had not been saved. If there was anything he could have done, surely this would have worked in his favor, in the face of Lena’s temptation. Instead, The Order had forsaken him all too quickly.

He took the time to glance around only to better understand where he was. How very typical of Lena. She had always loved being followed by her ‘flock’ … courtesans and call girls, all women in the desperate recesses of their minds, at wits end and desiring more than they could ever hope to gain. Lena offered the solution to them, and while he could see from a distance what it cost them, a captured woman would ignore the brutality of what she had become. Money for pleasure, no matter how thinly it was veiled, was always the same, and yet in this day and age, it was by far the worst of the conditions he had seen.

“Looking for a good time, sugar?” There in little more than a skirt that clung tightly to her thighs and a bandeau that left nothing to the imagination, throwing herself at him because … ah, yes. His jacket was made of leather. Hard to come by and only provided by the force to give off an air of intimidation. He looked rich. Rich men looking for a good time were by far the most valuable of customers. He continued on, fixated only on the bar. Lena herself, of course, did not offer up her services in fear of what men would find upon her. She had relied on Elias because he did, after all, understand her condition.

He continued on. Patrons glared up at him, already associating his clothing with something they both hated and feared. The narrow-eyed elderly and the tattooed youths, women writhing upon the laps of paying customers with more whiskey than they had money. While these mostly kept to themselves, it was undeniable that his presence threatened their comfort, the equilibrium of a life full of deprivation, nothingness … this refuge away from a broken world was all they had left. He was not there to apprehend anyone tonight. Instead, he looked directly at the woman who appeared at the foot of the stairs, behind the bar, shrouded by a nightgown as she always was with a deceptive purity in her face, her flesh.

“Lena,” He muttered as she held out a hand, smiling. Instantly, he was protected from those who would ordinarily have launched an attack upon him, were it not for the fact that killing a supposed cop would lead them all to their deaths. “You know why I’m here.” She bowed her head in silence.

“Who told you to come for me this time, Elias?” She had thrown her gown to the floor as soon as they had entered the room, the bloody stumps attached to her shoulder blades fully visible in an instant. Elias found himself staring intently at them determined not to be tempted this time, instead focusing upon the moment in time that he had felt it, too. The pain of his wings themselves being ripped off had not been so bad. Each individual bone breaking, nerves tugged at, wrenched from his back … no, this paled in comparison to the part of him that had died that day. His virtue had been the very thing causing screams of agony, like a man thrown onto flame; a swift pain that happened over and over until his wings were reduced to nothing but the stumps mirrored on Lena’s back. The burning sensation of bile and vomit rising in his throat; one by one, each limb shattering into a thousand small shards, and yet nobody could have seen it.

“Nobody sent me, Lena.” She turned to him, a smirk on her otherwise angelic face.

“Then you’ve returned.” She threw her arms open, moving towards him at what seemed to be a stride, not quite throwing herself at him but instead jubilant at the fact that he had supposedly ‘returned’. She did not need to know about Vanity; they did not need to discuss the woman any further, because Lena did not trust her, because then she would know that he had an ulterior motive. In spite of it all, he did not want to mention Vanity because he knew that Lena was at the root of it all, regardless of how she protected herself from the outside and insisted that she was not one of the Fallen. Even as she embraced him and pressed her lips to his, he knew why her hands were tugging at his jacket, forcing the item down, over his shoulders and onto the floor; her fingertips shook as she slipped them under his shirt, gently pressing at the bloody stumps that had once been his wings.

“You know why I’m here.” He breathed as she withdrew. Another smirk, a fallen smile, her eyes scanning him for any sign of this new person, this man she barely knew. She had tried so hard to take everything from him, and yet here he was, standing tall, refusing to become a quivering wreck that would sooner fall into bed with her than remain in control of the situation. She turned away from him again, cold this time; this was the Lena he knew, not the one overwhelmed by hunger, but the one who knew both herself and her surroundings.

“You’re still trying to force your way back into The Order, then?” His lip curled and he shook his head, relieved, but worn by his attempts.

“To desire that would ensure my defeat. I’m here to ask you why, Lena.” She cocked her head to the side.

“It was as much your doing as it was mine.” She paced about the room carefully, now, never taking her eyes off him. Elias, instead, remained with his hands in his pockets, the fingers of his right hand drumming gently on the metal. Shooting her would not stop her … it would feel damn good, though. Her eyes fixated themselves upon the gun as he withdrew it and aimed, not yet pulling the trigger … not yet shooting.

“Do you really think that’s going to work, Elias? My, you have been spending too much time with the woman.” A grin on his face, this time, more manic and more cruel than one he had ever given. He was not a born bloodsucker, and he was only in this state now because she had made  him so. Caught up in the passion of those around him, he had turned to the only woman who seemed to understand him … he had not known, then. A shape shifter, a Fallen Angel masquerading as a member of The Order.

“I wasn’t going to ask about that. I was just going to ask why you’re still coveting corrupt souls. Was mine not enough for you? Was turning a member of The Order not fulfilling? Or are there … others?” Of all the things he could have considered, the final idea was by far the most chilling. If all of the men who had been found were like him, then he knew that pointing a gun at her forehead was likely the last thing he wanted to be doing. Still, he insisted. He seemed to have hit upon something, however. Her eyes flared as he finished speaking, aware, at least, that he had worked her out.

Elias wanted to pull the trigger there and then. He could get out through the open window. He could escape this part of town easily and never return; he had no time for whores, after all. He had no time for Lena’s following. Yet, he could not quite bring himself to squeeze the trigger … his hand shook violently.

“You can’t do it.” Her voice was suddenly quiet. Childlike and remorseful, her form danced in front of him. Elias’ knees buckled, but he did not quite go under.

“Are there others?” He repeated through gritted teeth. Eyes wide, she shook her head.

“If they were here, you would have known it.”

“A Fallen doesn’t know. Not if they’re of a higher rank … they wouldn’t want me to know.” Again, his knees buckled, a searing pain in his gut. Whatever she was doing, she was doing well. He almost doubled over … she continued to stare.

I knew, though. Your kind are so … arrogant. Like you, they didn’t realize it was me until it was too late.” Elias retched; that same burning as when he had lost his wings, although this time, he watched as crimson leaked from his lips onto the carpet. At long last, he was doubled over, still refusing to let go of his gun, supporting himself with just one hand as he retched, twice, three times, a fourth before finally gleaning the courage to look up at her. Vanity had no doubt guessed that he was gone by now. He considered her as his insides wretched, acknowledging that she did not need any kind of power to cause a criminal to feel this way. Vanity, of course, had always been the one snatch of reality he had been allowed, from the moment he had met her on.

He tried to squeeze the trigger, truly. He tried to force the bullet through Lena’ forehead, a single gunshot that would blow out the back of her head. Instead, his hand continued to shake feebly, and even as he did grasp the gun tightly, he slipped, the bullet instead making for her chest, knocking her backwards onto the bed. He slumped, a heap, on the carpet, not quite dead, but no longer his former self; Lena’s form swam in front of him again, light … he could have sworn he saw light. Even if not, he was a pitiful, useless thing now.

Elias heard the door open, saw a flash of navy boots as he drifted between realities. The Order would not take him, and neither would the Fallen. It didn’t matter. Vanity was cradling him … his nonexistence did not matter. A grin as his insides ceased to writhe and his blood trickled down his chin like an infant unable to suppress its saliva through a lack of self control. Embryonic, he lay there for a while while Vanity, his reality, ordered her men about the musty room.

3 Comments

Filed under Excerpts & Short Stories

Excerpt: Where Jackals Lie

So, the NaNoWriMo website resets tomorrow, and in ‘memory’ of last year’s event, I thought I might take the time to share an excerpt from the project I was working on at the time, ‘Where Jackals Lie.’ That, and I haven’t posted any of my writing in quite some time, the only story on here being Girl Talk … so it really is about time. Most of this project is pretty much irredeemable, entertaining enough for me to read through in my free time, but not something I’d ever look towards getting published. Unlike the rest of the book, this excerpt has been edited and polished for your enjoyment! Or … uh … well, feel free to laugh at this. If nothing else, it’s proof, to me, that I have, indeed, improved since last year. Critique at will, I just thought it was about time I shared some of this.

He had always hated the taste of his own blood. This morning, it was no different, although he was forced to consider just why he could actually taste blood, and why there was so much of it. He opened his mouth, sore lips hanging agape, the substance dried, crusted, cracking as he moved his jaw. It was not only his face that was bloodied, however. He chanced a glance towards his chest, bare, patches of the red-brown working their way down, almost to his navel.

That was not right. He had been fully clothed when he had been wandering around the streets last night, dressed all in black so as not to garner unwanted attention. His sweater may have been soaked through, he was sure it had been wet from the rain, but at least it had been on. His dampened jeans, on the other hand, did not seem to have been touched and he noticed that during the night he had worn a dark patch of collective rainwater and sweat into the white fabric of the bed. He could not focus on this, though, not while his head was pounding, aching more viciously than he had ever known it to before. He was probably bleeding all over the bed, or at least the wall that was supporting his head.

What else was supporting him? The base of his spine ached too, though was nothing when competing with his head, which had probably been cracked open at some point or another, he was relatively sure of it. It was a pain he vaguely remembered, isolated, but too overwhelming to even want to remember. Apparently, he had not been laying down for all this time, and the reason became immediately clear as he mustered the courage to turn his head gently to the side, neck stiff, threatening not to move at all if he couldn’t sustain his will. Silvery metal cuffs held him on each side, cold against his skin and tighter than he would have considered comfortable, even pleasurable. On each hand, one end of the cuff was attached to the bedstead, while the other was fastened tightly around his wrist.

Bryson groaned and tipped his head back, closing his eyes. He instantly wished that he had not done so. Whatever gash was in his head, wherever the blood was seeping out from, hit the wall painfully and he twitched, although the cuffs would not allow him to move too much. The scene in front of him was a difficult one to discern. His vision had not fully returned, and he knew that he had not felt this since the first time he had downed alcohol, mixed as many spirits as he could find until he passed out cold in the middle of the bar. His head was heavy with the pain and agitation, but he could vaguely comprehend the things that had been clear from the moment he had woken up, but that he had chosen to ignore until now; that it was morning, that the room was a minimalist type with light decor, and that he was chained to a bed.

Next to him, a mirror was situated upon a table laden with various knives in a selection of sizes, or with decorative grips, serrated edges. Weapons, not curios. Items used to kill, not merely to display. Most of the knives were small enough to be concealed, glimmered and told him that their owner truly cared for them … whoever it was knew the difference between a switchblade and a bayonet, for example. Some of these glittering implements were a little longer, much more brutal things that warned him not to make a wrong move, not to say anything out of line, because otherwise, he would pay dearly. It was these longer knives that caused him to look down, impulse leading him rather than the logic he could not find at present. Nothing but dried blood and dampened fabric.

It was what was laid out in front of him that demanded his attention. Anything that had once been in his pockets – two pistols, a switchblade, his lighter, half-finished pack of cigarettes and some spare change – was now set in front of his crossed legs, displayed as if to tell him that it was all over. Someone was on to him. An involuntary shudder ran down Bryson’s spine as he stopped to consider this prospect, distracting himself eventually with the thought of where the rest of his clothes might be. It did no good. His half-closed eyes scanned the room one last time, but it was spotless, effortlessly clean and white; the closet door was closed, vanishing into the white wall, and nothing else caught his eye. To anyone else, the sight of this endless, white room might have been maddening.

He swallowed, a metallic taste, is throat rough and mouth seemingly swollen, detached as though it was not his own. He felt as though he would never properly move his head again. Severe whiplash or the worst crick in the neck that anyone could experience … regardless, he had the strangest feeling that he had been suspended in the same position for far too long, and hoped dearly that whoever had him here would let him go soon. He grinned at the thought, more blood oozing out onto his chest.

“Not fucking likely,” he muttered, his voice hoarse, throat cracking from the liquid that had already dried in it. It was not likely, after all, that someone who had gone to the trouble to chain him up like this simply wanted to have their fun with him. He had never met someone so obscenely sadistic in his entire life, and he liked to think that he had already met a great deal of strange people, enough that he might have already met a closet sadist or two without knowing it.

“Well, aren’t you a mess,” the speaker’s voice croaked a little, like she had just woken up and was trying to get back into the routine of using it. However, he knew that there was no need to contest or doubt her. Every word suggested that she had the utmost control of the situation. He attempted to laugh, but only ended up spraying a mixture of blood and saliva on his skin. “I guess you can deal with it for a while, though.”

Slowly, he allowed his gaze to rise. She had left the door behind her open and a smoldering cigarette hung loosely between two of her fingers; he could see that the room in the background was crowded with smoke – she had not left a single window open and had, instead, let him sit here, protracting what was beginning to seem like her torment. It was not the cigarette that captured his attention, as much as he had started to crave one already. It was not even the swagger she presented herself with, a sheet of dark brown hair fluttering at her back as she crossed one leg in front of the other, stepping delicately on a smooth, cold floor.

No, if there was one thing that enticed Bryson more than anything, it was the fact that the woman approaching him was wearing little more than her underwear.

Her figure was desirable as any he had seen, not perfect by any means, but more than enough, and she did not have the flighty, absent quality that Elaina did. Everything she did, from each step she took towards him to the way in which she held herself, shoulders back, elbow bent so that her cigarette hovered somewhere near her shoulder, was a controlled action. She inhaled, took a long drag on the cigarette as she set herself down in front of him on the bed.

“I guess Eddie got a little carried away. He does that,” almost too gently, she placed a hand on his chin and jerked his head up. “It’s his hobby. He only messes people up if he wants to.” Too careful. Dangerously false. That smile was not real, it did not suit her, she was disguised in front of him. He could not muster anything to say, however, and remained silent as she smiled … sneered. He didn’t fully understand the expression.

She seemed irritated at his lack of a response and her smile faltered before she threw it away entirely in favor of an expression that so suited her. She twisted her head to the side a little, swelled her chest, licked her lips before looking back at him, directing her focus, her smile gone.

“You’re a bitch to track down.”

“I try.” He was not going to meet her with the kind of submissive response her presence commanded, not going to She narrowed her eyes, a gesture every woman he knew would perform at some stage or another, but here, it was different. A kind of malice. Threat.

“Ever since that councilor got himself killed. You remember? You’re a bitch to find, but you’re also sloppy. Some guys, they mentioned something about two-twelve, but I couldn’t quite understand them,” her hand neared him, the one clutching the cigarette between two of her fingers. “You wouldn’t know anything about it, would you?”

“What makes you think I would?” he breathed in sharply as she pressed the lit end of the cigarette into his forearm, grinding ash and ember into a burn, a perfect pink circle. It was an extended gesture, but he could not bring himself to writhe, exhaling instead, the cigarette still not gone from his arm. She paused for a moment, he watched as she glanced slowly over at the dressing table, the knives – the conclusion was working over her, a simple enough one to come to, and one he was sure she would enjoy. Who was he to deprive her of such pleasure? After a few minutes, however, watching her gazing almost listlessly away from him, he understood that the silence had gone on for too long. “Why am I here?”

First, she removed the cigarette, seeming to awaken as he asked her this. She pulled herself delicately up onto the bed, shifting his belongings that she had placed in front of him for no apparent reason, and sat back on her heels, her hands resting upon her thighs.

“Because … I can’t risk you getting away, not just yet,”

“I don’t think there’s much of a chance of that happening,” he grimaced as he tried to move his head once again, motioning towards the handcuffs holding him in place. He watched as she grinned at him, momentarily, her hands sliding along her smooth, olive thighs towards her knees and back again. She cocked her head to the side again, this time examining him, his eyes, his face, the blood crusted around his nose and lips. Large patches of it running down his chest, towards his navel. His eyes followed her hands, clear nail polish and three or four silver rings with no discernible significance; she didn’t stop once she noticed him looking, pulled her hands further up towards her hips, moving them in longer motions now, aware that he was paying attention.

“You know, you look so much better in the photo, ” he didn’t quite know if his heart stopped at that moment. He didn’t feel as though there was much need in asking the question that struck him at that moment, but he did it anyway.

“What photo?” she grinned, removed her hands from her thighs, seemingly knowing it was futile to continue anyway, and lifted herself from the bed. As he watched her stretch out her perfect legs, he noticed how his own didn’t seem to work any more; as though he had lost all feeling in them. Not surprising. They should have gone numb long before. Standing there in her underwear, she unfolded a copy of the Report that he hadn’t noticed before, and his own clean face stared back at him. An accident. The photographer had been trying to get the body, and failing that, Carruthers.

“I took that mask you were wearing off shortly after you got here. I must say, detective, you do an impressive job. Why would anyone suspect you?” he didn’t need her to tell him how perfect the idea had seemed at the time. Now, not only was he wishing he had never so much as started the job, he was starting to wish he hadn’t gone into work the day after. Hadn’t gotten in the way of the photographer. He was starting to wish that he could have avoided the whole situation; he didn’t need the smug look on her face, the way she straightened up before perching herself on the edge of the bed once again to tell him where she had him.  “So, detective. Why did you do it?” he didn’t suppose that acting like it never happened would benefit him right now. He was damned if he wasn’t going to try it, though. He gritted his teeth as he spoke.

“Do what?” she leaned in. Picked up the pack of his cigarettes that had been lying on the bed and withdrew one, before placing it between her nude, glossed lips and flicked open his lighter. She took one drag, before nearing him with it.

“Why did you kill the councilor?”

1 Comment

Filed under Excerpts & Short Stories

Girl Talk


Girl Talk: A short story based on characters from a longer writing project, taking place after the events of said project (a novel). A little grisly and disparaging in parts, not for kiddies. Any and all criticisms, critiques, and pointers are welcome, as I consider this an initial draft and more an exercise than anything else. As well as a chance to revisit some familiar faces.

~*~*~

“Hot as hell out here,” Already, she had her dark brown hair scraped back, the bikini just a little more than she was used to wearing back home. The thick smog that had obscured the city for so long was not present here, and instead the sky was suspended above, clear, cloudless … the sun burned and there was no breeze. It was the only illogical place for him to have hidden, being that he spent so little of his time outside. “You said you knew where he went, Sylvia?” The blonde nodded in the corner of the room, bare feet gently padding against the marble floor as she dried off, wrapped in nothing more than a towel. The time for leisure was over, of course; impressing the men of every nationality that gathered at the edge of the pool was unimportant, compared to what came next.

“I guess. Eddie might have mentioned something that the pretty young thing he was spending all that time with left behind. Either way, their shit was gone once he got to the apartment.” She wrung the chlorinated water out of her hair, scowling at the inherent dryness of her locks. The idea of Eddie mentioning anything at all was strange to the two of them, but it didn’t matter. Without his brute force and status, they would have never been able to gain entry.

“It’s a surprise she took off with him, y’know,” Jannah breathed smoke from her lips as she considered it. “I told you what happened to Isaac right?” Sylvia nodded her confirmation as she approached the balcony.

“Ate his gun, right?” The dark haired female grinned at the question, not even bothering to answer it. Sylvia already knew everything she needed to know, of course; she knew what Bryson had done, and why they had come all the way out here in search of a man they were supposed to have forgotten about. That was, after all, what he wanted; prior to Christmas, things had not just become troubling, they had become a damn mess, and it only really made sense for him to spend the six months that followed holed up in a run-down hotel room, stuck in architecture and interior design that had taken root four decades ago. He was probably doing tequila shots off the chest of his fling right now, but … no. He had not been quite so brazen when she had known him.

“Damn well did. The cute little copperhead he was dating watched and everything. Then, next thing you know she’s flying out here with a guy almost twenty years older than her,” Another breath of smoke as she looked out across the ocean; in spite of all the reasons they were out here, she would be sorry to leave once their business was done. Perhaps a little longer. Eddie had enough authority to deal with whatever needed to be dealt with, and she hadn’t exactly booked their return in advance anyway. She tended not to think about those kinds of things. Acting on impulse was so much more fun than that. “Well … she didn’t look much older than sixteen, anyways.” Sylvia grinned at the comment, everything a malicious girl should be. She was, of course, the type to make underhanded, jealous snipes at girls she deemed prettier or luckier than her. That didn’t really matter when she was the one holding the gun, though.

“Speaking of which … are we going to do this or what?” She had slipped off the towel before she was even inside, bare back to the outside as she searched for suitable clothing. Truth be told, she was not used to the heat. Her pale skin shimmered with sweat while Jannah’s olive tone seemed so much more suited to her surroundings; since arriving, she had not been able to find something that she was comfortable wearing, and had instead resorted, like Jannah, to wearing only the bare minimum. When she had weapons to carry, however, this was not really an option. She had seen the white halter neck dresses the local women wore, but none of the patterns had managed to catch her eye, and already her shoulders were red and sore from the sheer amount of sunlight they had caught. Jannah finished off her cigarette and tossed it off the balcony, letting down her dark brown hair as she did so.

“Damn it, not yet, Sylvia. Way too obvious. We’ll enjoy ourselves at a bar or something ’til it gets dark,” She started, pulling on a barely-there chemise and fastening a belt around her hips. “Nobody cares much after that. Most people are out at dinner or in the streets. Where we need to be going … well, we should be able to get through pretty quickly.” She swung a heavy purse over her shoulder; anyone who tried to steal it would most likely bag themselves a prize, but Jannah was not about to let that happen. Touch her, she could care less. Touch her possessions, however, and it was another matter entirely. A matter of seducing, setting up the honey trap and letting them know it was too late only after the last moment had already passed.

Jannah let the door swing shut behind herself as she padded out of the room. Smooth, cold floors, naturally designed to keep the interior of these buildings as tolerable as possible, as opposed to the insufferable heat that permeated every locale within miles; it was really a relief to tread them, just as diving into the private pool before dawn was … just as the first drag of a newly lit cigarette, or the prospect of finally finding the one she was after. Sylvia caught up to her the moment she had managed to pull on her clothes; some kind of a white halter-neck cotton dress that did not quite obscure the fact that she wore nothing underneath. Fine for the patrons, but not so fine considering the faint outline of a jet black holster could be seen on her upper right thigh … perhaps it would be too much to hope that many would be too drunk to consider it anything other than a provocative garment.

Things were almost cruelly different here Jannah considered. Partly due to the disrepute of the bars she and Sylvia frequented at home, and partly due to the fact that most remotely attractive girls had found less efficient ways to make money than she had, Jannah had come to accept her concerted beauty as something that would be second to none the world over. She disliked the golden honey torsos of most of the girls that passed by her, body jewelry and cheap, filigree tattoos, bikinis printed with neon stripes and flowers and large shades obscuring their eyes. She grew jealous of the fact that they were gaining more attention than she was, from the loud, raucous British males in their polo shirts and flip-flops, laughing with beer cans held high, here on a package holiday with no need to drive back to the hotel; it was within walking distance.

Una … una … cer-cer–” Sylvia dissolved into incoherent giggles beside her, as the bartender merely looked on, unimpressed. He was of an average height, with average looks; nothing too remarkable, and nobody who would leave a particularly vivid impression in her mind. Nonetheless, Sylvia’s girlish giggles suggested that she had been looking to gain his attention, and she most certainly had done, if only through her abysmal use of his native language.

Cerveza, Sylvia.” She muttered, not taking her eyes away from the dance floor, where the same bikini-clad girls twirled around in an alcohol-fueled mating ritual, swinging their hips and crouching suggestively, heads pressing against the crotches of total strangers. All control lost, legs wrapped around men and women alike … at least when she engaged in such things, she was the one in total control.

Una cerveza, por favor.” Her friend finally managed to mutter, before laughter took hold again, and she pressed her cheek to the wooden surface of the bar. The sun would not go down for a long time, yet. It was only seven-thirty, yet already, the bar had collapsed into a vicious orgy of troublemakers and flirts, otherwise respectable girls whoring themselves out to the latest shaggy-haired, clean-shaven idiot. Jannah swilled the bright cocktail in her hand, not bothering to take a sip, momentarily distracted as one of the same clean-shaven idiots made to take her hand, but–

“No.” Her mouth formed a perfect circle, that might have seemed suggestive, had she not just abandoned her drink and grasped Sylvia’s wrist tightly. It did not seem conceivable that the same cute little copperhead they had been discussing maybe half an hour ago was here, now, and yet she would have recognized the cropped, auburn style anywhere. No longer dressed in ill-fitting clothes, she wore a white cropped shirt that displayed her washboard stomach in its entirety, and an outdated, tie-dyed teal skirt that fell to maybe just below her knees … a transformation indeed, but this was not the thing that Jannah’s eyes were momentarily drawn to. She carried a beer in each hand … which had to mean …

She followed the girl through the writhing crowd, skirting the dance floor and narrowly avoiding the kind of horny male who could only construe something more than a mission from how tightly she was holding onto Sylvia’s arm, all the while staring intently at another, younger female. Whether or not the girl she was following was aware of their presence was unclear, but one thing she did know was that it wouldn’t matter once she set those beers down on their coasters and the male she was returning to saw exactly who she had in tow.

Jannah hung back for a moment, watching as the girl slid into the lap of a forty-something male, dark hair, unusually colored eyes … and … yes, he most certainly had gained a little weight since she had last seen him. That much was clear even through his gray wife-beater. They kissed, touched, entwined their hands, and she winced at the gestures; far too sugary for her tastes. He had been rough with her, even threatening on once occasion, and yet here he was, being gentle with a girl who looked young enough to be his daughter.

She thumbed the barrel of the gun inside her purse. Ordinarily, she would not have hesitated to pull the trigger from this distance, but this time … she licked her lips, caught up in a memory, only awakening when Sylvia nudged her shoulder, causing her to look up.

“Jannah,” He was grinning. Not the kind of grin a boyfriend used to greet a lover, however; it had more in common with a cold, arrogant smirk than a gesture of friendship. “You really were missing me … flying all the way out here. They let you out of prison for screwing the judge or something?” While many girls, she realized, would have been incensed by the suggestion, Jannah stared into his eyes, unflinching. When it came down to it, it was all about having friends in the right places, nothing more, nothing less; little did he know that she had never so much as seen the inside of a prison cell.

“You know me too well, Bryson,” She smirked, regaining her composure at once. She pressed herself to him, showing no regard for the copper-headed girl watching them, refusing to break eye contact. “So you should also know that you need to do what I say.” Still, her thumb stroked at the barrel of the gun. He raised an eyebrow as he looked down at her; when she wasn’t wearing heels that gave her an extra four or five inches of height, the difference between them was nothing if not surprising. His face instantly broke into a cold grin, the kind that would suggest that he had the upper hand … why was he doing that? It was not fair of him to do so.

“You’re fully clothed in a place where half the girls aren’t. What happened? You’ve lost your touch.” She did not even have to think about her next move, grabbing his wrist firmly, and forcing it into the depths of her purse. The smirk was wiped from his face; even as he stumbled backwards, Jannah caught a glimpse of Sylvia hitching up a part of her dress in the corner of her eye, unsure of whether or not Bryson had actually seen the gesture.

“We’re going for a walk,” She stated, suddenly feeling much, much taller than he was, in spite of herself. “You can take your teenage dream, or you can leave her here. Doesn’t matter. You and I both know there’s no need for her to get caught up in this again.”

“Even after you were so quick to involve her the last time?” Jannah paused for a moment; Sylvia’s eyes were upon her. There were some things she had never felt much of a need to inform her partner of, and this was one of them. Sure, Sylvia knew that the girl’s then-boyfriend, Isaac, had ‘eaten his gun’ as she had so eloquently put it. This was all she needed to know, however.

The music thumped in her ears as she followed him down a set of wooden stairs, growing closer and closer to the DJ’s booth the whole time. She didn’t care for it. Alcohol had little to no part in all of this, and instead, adrenaline rushed through her, fear and excitement all at once. She had done what she had set out to do, at last, but could she go through with it? Ruthlessness was one thing, but did nothing to undermine the fact that this man was better than her at some things, in some instances. No more disturbed, naturally,but he was able to kill efficiently, even if most of these murders had been, mostly, accidental. She had been the one to force his hand. This said nothing for the very first kill he had left in his wake, though …

By now, the sun was gone, and of course, both of them had been too absorbed in their own affairs to know it. Sylvia got the distinct impression that she was able to enjoy the humid, balmy evening much more than Jannah was, almost tempted to jump down barefoot into the sand, blissfully void of topless women and sun-seekers now that night had fallen. She guessed that it was maybe ten, now, far too active for them to do any real business of course, but substantial enough. They would not be making death threats out in the open, as such; plenty of people were more focused on getting to dinner, or drinking themselves into the ground, but it was still not a safe time or place to do it. Early, he was aware that Jannah had brought a gun. This was all they really needed.

“I thought you might’ve given up,” He stood with his back to them, facing out towards the tide. It wasn’t the same, vivid blue as it was during the day, lapping, navy, at the shore. The sand was cool, now. Not impossible to walk on at all. Not impossible to die on, either. “Let me be for a while. I thought you got a kick out of playing with your victims, Jannah.” He did not quite place his hands at the back of his head, as though he had been ordered to do so by an officer. He froze where he was, however, knowing that to take a step forward would mean to fall, and he did not want to do that, not quite yet.

“I think we’ve done enough playing.” Jannah muttered, hitching her purse a little higher onto her shoulder and readjusting the smock she was wearing. It was warm enough to get away without wearing it at all … she had come to accept that this would be the case for the entirety of the time she and Sylvia spent here. Without another word, she slipped a hand gently into her purse and withdrew another cigarette, as well as her lighter, placing the thin, white stick in her mouth and lighting it. At last, at the familiar smell of smoke, he turned, unable to see the hand she was hiding behind her back, but already guessing at what she was holding.

“Wouldn’t it be a waste for you to shoot me, all the way out here? Nobody to pay you for your hits, after all.” He had a point … but whoever said that she was going to shoot him in the first place? She was far too well prepared for that.

“Doesn’t matter,” Sylvia interjected quickly, all threat lost on her. Drunk, she was not her usual self; she became girlish and demure, hand twitching at the hem of her dress not to display her weapon, but instead to lift it up, over her head. “Eddie’s sorting the hit out back home.” She muttered, but fell silent when Jannah dismissively waved her hand. There was no doubt as to who controlled the operation, though Sylvia’s part had undoubtedly been played well. Jannah watched carefully as Brsyon’s lip curled; a familiar name, supposedly interwoven with a familiar situation. Tanned, he looked different in the moonlight than she remembered, heavier, not so much muscular as ever inch of his body suggesting that he had gotten lazy. Spending all his time in a hotel suite did that, she supposed. Drinking, screwing, god only knew what else … she tossed her hair back uncomfortably, regaining her composure.

“Then we couldn’t have done this shit inside?” His eyes flashed, suggestive. She knew what he was remembering; in particular, the very last night. She did not shudder, but considered that he might. She had, after all, abused him more severely than his paltry life would ever have caused him to adjust to, and yet not quite so severely as her previous lovers.

“We couldn’t,” She did not know why she was bringing the gun up to meet the right side of his chest – she was being merciful with that. The music up and down the coast was still thumping in her ears, as though it had gotten louder in the short space of time it had taken them to come here. Lights up and down the sand. They were in a secluded place that nobody needed to stumble across … well, maybe a drunkard. Easily dealt with. “I mean, the beach is so lovely at night, wouldn’t you agree?” A step closer, flicking her cigarette butt to the ground and not bothering to stamp it out. It would slowly burn out upon the concrete anyway.

“And if the cops – policía – hear a gunshot?” She had thought it through. His eyes betrayed him, because he was already well aware of this fact – she had thought it through, and ultimately, didn’t care. She had slept with the judge back home, there was nothing stopping her from doing the same here … supposing that they even caught her. Within the next twenty-four hours she and Sylvia could be on a flight long gone, back in a country they were used to even if they did not so much belong there as exist.

“Anything. A car backfire to a gang war, or something in between. I’ll do myself a favor and let out three or four more after you’re dealt with make it seem realistic. Get the hell out while we can.” She glanced over at Sylvia, who seemed entranced by the situation that was unfolding before her eyes.

“Bryson!” Jannah wasn’t sure, even in retrospect, what caused her to pull the trigger. She considered that it was almost definitely the shock of hearing that voice, when she had thought that they had not been followed. She considered that it had been a knee-jerk reaction; the last time, she had, in a moment of weakness rejected the opportunity to shoot him at point-blank range, and so now had taken the opportunity to prove to his copper-headed girlfriend that she really did have the guts – and the gun – to do it. What she did not consider was that if she could not have him, no other girl would; in spite of it all, she had at least found someone she could control and abuse in him, and he would always come back for more.

She often found it pathetic how anyone involved in a shooting of any kind would describe the exact moment of the sound of the first gunshot as happening in slow motion. She was not quite sure why it felt this way, halfway to a drug-induced craze where strobe lights caused the effect, but instead they were in the clear air, and he had stumbled, at first. She had seen the look in his eyes, some kind of plea, but also questioning. A certain kind of shock – he had never expected her to do it. Her dark hair whipped around her in a haze as she turned this way and that, looking for an exit, glancing across at Sylvia who was dumbstruck, mouth open wide, about to dash over to the ledge before she grabbed her arm, circling and running directly towards the well-lit road.

The girl had seen everything. Even as they slowed, Jannah could have sworn that she was following on … perhaps this was what had caused her to run to the middle of the road, rather than stopping dead next to the street vendors and jewelry stalls. Like Thelma and Louise … she thought to herself, the pain of the impact numbed by both adrenaline and fear.

4 Comments

Filed under Excerpts & Short Stories