Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dark Rough Draft, Needs work

I was all set to write a nice post tonight about how effective writing can stem from effective listening, but the baby is cutting teeth and the wife needed some time to work on her medical transcription. So, I took the wee one to the store and we walked around for a while so she wouldn't fuss. While we were there we picked up some stuff to make her gums feel a little better and we got Momma a treat and rented a movie. There wasn't much of a selection at the Red Box movie vending machine so we ended up with 30 Days of Night.
Since it's late and I have a gruesome movie to watch (not much plot and a lot of action/gore to make up for it - I'll let you know what I think about it in tomorrow's post.) I will leave you with a rough draft of the story I wrote just prior to writing "Intuition", the one I submitted to a national short story competition. I must warn you, it is very rough, having not seen a single revision. There are definitely things I would change. I think the beginning could be a bit more subtle, a bit less telling. But hey, that's what rough drafts are for right? Getting it out there in whatever form?

If you have sensitive tastes, you may wish to skip this post.

To the casual observer Danny was that guy, the one that no one felt comfortable being around; the one with the shifty appearance and the suspecting stare. At thirty-six his hair was starting to show the first signs of gray, but his eyes looked tired and had long lost their youthful luster. He was not blissfully unaware of the unkind words spoken under the breath of passersby. In fact, he was quite astute when it came to recognizing the accusing glances of colleagues and strangers. It was no secret that his wife had been committed six months ago. It was a private scandal. So naturally everyone knew.

Danny’s fingers twitched nervously as he unfolded the newspaper. He wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the latest drivel and slop about last night’s big game or who had scored the final point but his fingers found the section nonetheless. This finely practiced art of being fully submerged had been a survival mechanism he had picked up years ago. Old habits died hard.

“Cup of sugar, bag of rice.” He muttered to the black and white of the newsprint.

He looked up briefly enough to recognize a tall man walking toward his table in the break room.

“Danny.” The man nodded.

“Brad.”

Brad sat down next to him at the small round table. Danny ruffled the paper importantly, hoping to display a sign of great interest in the subject on the pages.

“It’s upside down.”

“Hmm?”

“Your paper,” Brad said, “it’s upside down.”

“Yes, of course.” Danny folded it unceremoniously and tossed it on the ground. “Just finished, you see.”

“Yes, I see that.” Brad chuckled. “How are you Danny?”

“Quite fine, quite fine, lovely day.”

The weather, ironically, was not fine. Thunderstorms and a heavy downpour had saturated the morning and news reports gave no indication of a let up. Danny, too, was obviously not fine. His greasy, unkempt hair and bloodshot eyes were telltale signs that he hadn’t slept for days.

“I didn’t believe it, you know, when you showed me the letter.”

Danny’s eyes narrowed.

“Damnit, Danny, these places are supposed to be safe. They keep the crazies in and the good people out, right? And just because some nut- just because a patient says she’s breaking out to finish what she started… Well how many patients say that?”

“That patient is my wife, Brad. She tried to kill me, remember? She just sent me a letter and told me she’s getting out and she’s going to do it right this time around. And now she’s out, right?” Danny stared down at the paper he had thrown on the floor.

The silence between them grew until Brad could barely breathe.

“Listen, you dropped Nina off at school?”

Danny nodded.

When the officer with the sleepy voice had called that morning to notify him of his wife’s early and unauthorized departure from the psych ward he had expressly noted that there was nothing to worry about. Everything was under control.

“He said that we should do things by the book, everything just like normal, safety in normal.”

“He?”

“Officer Johns.”

“Right, Officer Johns.” Brad said, and added, “You’re not afraid?”

“Damn straight I’m afraid. You don’t think I’m scared? Janet tried to castrate me with a chain…“ Danny looked around the otherwise vacant break room and continued slightly above a whisper, “You don’t think I’m afraid? She came after me with that saw and she, well she meant business, didn’t she? And now she’s out again and she’s promised to finish the job, but it’s not just me she wants, it’s Nina too. And here I am being normal, whatever the fuck that means!”

“Damnit,” Brad leaned in a bit closer, “fuck Officer Johns. What does he know, ‘Safety in normal’? That’s bullshit.

“I got a place on Third and Oak. It’s been empty for weeks, no tenants. You’re beat, I see it in your eyes, Dan. You need sleep.”

“Haven’t slept a wink in three days.” Danny nodded.

”Your mom still lives in Hartford? Call her up and have her take Nina away for a few days while this clears up. School… that’s the first place Janet will look! I mean, fuck, you might as well just hand her over right now.”

Danny’s eyes glared brightly for a brief moment before he resigned. “You’re probably right, I’m not thinking straight, you know.”

“You need to disappear for a while, let this just blow over.”

Danny scratched the stubble on his cheek and rested his head in the palm of his hands before clenching his hair in tight fists of frustration. “Fuck it.” He muttered.

Two hours later his mother had driven from the country and picked up Nina at school. Against Brad’s advice he had decided to walk the ten blocks from Data Firms United where they worked to the little apartment on Third and Oak. Water from the rain had crept up the legs of his pants and now reached uncomfortably past mid-calf. The wind tossed his umbrella mockingly, sending the random torrent into his eyes, the grass on the park strip was littered with night crawlers creeping their way to the sidewalk.

“Hmph. Encyclopedia Brown.” Danny whispered as he rounded the final corner to the small, run down apartment complex, vividly remembering the case of the magic worm powder from the days of his youth.

The stairs up the landing creaked and moaned with each ascending step, the rust flecked railing felt cold on his already numb hands. The key was right where Brad had said it would be, just under the heavy ceramic pot of the plastic plant outside the door. Not exactly as obvious as above the doorframe, Danny thought to himself, but not a comfortable spot when you had a crazy wife with homicidal tendencies on the lamb. He slid the key into the pocket of his slacks and shook the water off his black umbrella before closing the door behind him. He checked the lock twice before turning to observe the one bedroom apartment.

The light flickered a dull yellow before humming to life. He wiped the dust from the switch on his pants and stepped into the kitchen. It was small but there seemed to be an odd familiarity in the old cabinets and outdated sink. The kettle on the stove, the glasses in the cabinet just where he expected they would be; everything was in perfect order.

Danny filled the kettle with water and set it to boil on the electric coil of the old stove. He opened the cabinet overhead instinctively and pulled down a box of herbal tea, unwrapped a tea bag and dunked it neatly into the empty glass he had set on the counter. It was in that moment that the hair the back of his neck began to prickle as a distinct feeling of unease trickled down his spine.

“Just nerves.” He said with a dry smile as he picked up the glass and inspected the reflection behind him. Just as quickly as he had seen it, the glint of metal disappeared behind the doorway of what looked like the single bedroom of the apartment. It could have been anything, surgical scissors, sharpened knitting needles, a cruel trick of the light. But he had felt it, that uneasy presence, of that he could be certain. He quickly took inventory of the steak knives in their wooden case under the paper towel holder, all present and accounted for.

He inched slowly out into the living room and peeked cautiously into the bedroom, flicking the light switch on and off a few times, nothing. The bed was still made neatly, the window tightly shut. There might have been movement behind the wooden slats of the closet door but it was probably just the light, Danny thought to himself. Three days without sleep and anyone might start to see things, even without a crazy wife out to get them.

Sighing deeply, he turned and walked back to the couch in the living room, the glass still in his hand. He slumped down in a tired heap on the dusty cushion and closed his eyes. The skeletal fingers of sleep began to creep their way over his scalp as he almost nodded off, quickly jerking back to wakefulness and rubbing his eyes. He yawned.

The dull sound of the meat tenderizer smashing down his left pinky did nothing to snap him out of the tired haze. He stared at the bloody mess on the end table where his hand had been only moments before. He now clutched the broken bits of bone and flesh to his chest, clearly in shock. It was the instant wretch of vomit that saved him from the crushing blow to the head that followed next. The tenderizer thumped harmlessly into the cushion behind him.

“You kept me waiting, Danny.” Janet giggled. She blew flirtingly at a curl of strawberry blonde that had fallen down over her eye. She was not an unattractive woman.

As Danny stumbled backwards toward the kitchen he couldn’t help but notice how good she looked in those stolen scrubs. He wiped at the saliva string that hung from his lip with his right hand, noticing as if for the first time the glass he had intended to fill with tea. Without a second thought he threw it at Janet and flinched as bounced off her forehead and smashed on the wall behind her. A trickle of blood escaped out of her eyebrow and ran down her cheek like tears. She didn’t seem to notice.

“Did you miss me?” She asked, a dim smile of hope danced on her lips.

“You smashed my fucking pinky you whore!”

“Whore? Whore?! I’m the whore?” Janet hissed.

“That’s right.” Danny looked down at his broken pinky, it was throbbing intensely now. “While he was filling you with lies and cum, Nina and I were at home. You think it was me who was sleeping around because it’s easy for you. Grow up!”

“I never...” Janet threw the lamp but missed Danny by a long shot. “I never cheated!” She screamed.

“I’ve been here before, Janet! I know this is where you fucked! On the counter in the kitchen, the table, the couch, the bathroom, everywhere but the bed, right?”

“There too, you spineless fuck!” She raised the tenderizer above her head with both hands and ran at him, tears now mixing with the stream of blood on her cheek.

Danny made a dash for the kitchen and grabbed at the first object he saw, the knife sharpener in the wooden steak knife holder with its rounded handle and dull grated end. Spinning around to defend himself he felt the sudden weight of his wife’s body on the sharpener as the tenderizer smashed down on his shoulder, ripping the top of his ear as it whisked through the air.

The dull point of the sharpener had torn through her once perfect breast and now stuck out from her back with bits of pink lung clinging to the file-like edges. Danny groaned under the weight of her body as she sunk her teeth into the meaty flesh where the tenderizer had landed.

“Yeaargh!” He yelled as he pushed her back, feeling her teeth sink deeper into his shoulder. He thrust out the sharpener and kicked her heavily in the stomach once, twice, three times with a vengeance. Her bite finally gave way, leaving a few teeth in its wake. She slumped back off the sharpener and crumpled with a sick sucking sound as the air escaped her punctured lung. Danny stood there just staring at the pile of grief on the floor. The kettle began to scream behind him.

Slowly he inched toward her and poked her with the tip of the sharpener, his knuckles now white from his death grip. Her blank gaze stared back at him as he knelt down to check her pulse. For the first time in over a year he felt the warmth of her hand on his as her eyes focused slightly. She smiled. Danny couldn’t help but smile back, feeling pity now for his dying wife. She tried to sit up but he stopped her and rested her head in his lap, stroking his hands through her beautiful strawberry blond curls.

“I’m going to fucking kill you.” She whispered through ragged breaths.

“I know Janet, I know.” Danny sobbed as he watched his wife die in his arms.

The sound of keys at the door behind him brought Danny back to the small living room in the apartment on Third and Oak. His wife’s body still lay limp in his lap, the kettle was still screaming on the stove in the kitchen. When the door opened he stood to meet Brad’s gaze, a mixed look of disbelief and hatred showed clearly on the man’s face as he looked from Danny to Janet and back at Danny again.

“You fucking son of a bitch! You killed her!”

“It was an accident, Brad.”

“You fucking killed her, you spineless fucking prick!” Brad ran to Janet’s body and cradled her in his arms.

Brad stood, the look of disbelief now replaced with sheer hatred.

“You were never good enough.” He said as he pulled out the gun that had been tucked in the back of his waistband. “You could never love her like I did. You’re too fucking stupid, Danny.”

“How could you say that? She was my wife!” Danny backed up toward the kitchen. “You don’t think you were really pulling a fast one on me did you? I knew. I knew about the two of you. I’ve known for a year now.”

The sound of the gunshot startled him more than the impact or the falling sensation that came as he flew backwards onto the yellow kitchen linoleum.

“Then I was wrong, Danny, you aren’t stupid, just weak.” Brad kicked him in the stomach and smiled, somewhat satisfied with himself. “After I dump you in the woods I’m going to swing by Granny’s house.”

He turned off the burner set the kettle aside before turning his attention back to Janet. “You didn’t deserve this.” He whispered. “I could have given you so much mo-“

The tinny twang of the kettle reverberated through the room as it came thudding down on Brad’s head, boiling water splashing down over his face. Danny reached for the gun but thought better of it and stepped back into to kitchen, returning seconds later with the tenderizer. Brad was standing now, screaming, his hands covering his face in pain.

“I’m here Brad.” Danny said calmly.

Brad’s hands dropped to fists of rage and lunged forward at the sound of Danny’s voice. The cracking of bone and the crash of his body followed shortly after as the tenderizer swung downward.

Danny slouched back toward the kitchen, the bullet hole in his abdomen now burning like fire. He picked up the phone and fumbled in his pocket for moment before dialing the number on the business card he had managed to recover.

“Officer Johns? This is Danny.”

A muffled greeting replied back.

“Johns, you were right. Brad helped her escape. I’m in a mess, Third and Oak… right. Yes, I’ll stay here.”


Brady Frost ©2008

Post a Comment