PLEASE NOTE – This post will be sticky until the third. If you are looking for 12 Sentence Sat. or 6 Sentence Sunday, please look below this post!
I like the idea of talking about older releases, since so much seems to be forward-momentum these days. There’s always a push to get onto the next thing, get something new out, etc. So this blog hop gives me an opportunity to touch again on my first two releases. Contest rules are explained at the bottom!
Mooner combines my love of history and my love of vampires into one creepy, slightly gory concoction. It was a lot of fun to research (especially the lumberjack vocabulary!) and a lot of fun to write. I like thinking about the creepy monster in the woods, and what kind of motivation it might have. Plus, this story touches on how people can have good and bad intentions and still fall into a similar grey area.
Like many young men at the end of the 1800s Bill has signed on to work in a logging camp to earn a fast paycheck to start his life. Unfortunately his role model is Big John, the camp’s golden boy known for blowing his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and the lives of so many. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows, something that badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door or does someone have their own plans for his future?
For a moment, Bill thought he was imagining things or was having a particularly bad reaction to the rot gut. Blinking a few times refocused his tired gaze and proved there was, indeed, a moving pile of…something at a table close to the other end of the bar.
Nancy shuffled back towards the bar, casting a wary look over her shoulder. “Red, he’s back,” she breathed as she scooped up another tray and fled to the other side of the room. Upon closer inspection, the youth realized it wasn’t a pile of something, but a figure draped in a patchwork of skins then cloaked with half-torn, moldy furs. Most who passed his way quickly avoided him, though whether it was because of his odd looks or his smell, it was hard to say.
Red hissed through his teeth and ran a sweating hand through his thick mane. “Tom Haskins,” he mumbled under his breath for the benefit of those crowded round him.
“I thought he lived on the edge of town,” Jack replied as he glared down the length of the bar.
“He tried to start a dry goods store, and it didn’t go over too well. He had it in his mind he could make up his loss with fur, though he ain’t no trapper. He moved out to the woods weeks ago and comes into town every so often to hang round and get his fix. Just when I think he’s finally died out there, he comes round again.” Not once did the saloon proprietor take his eyes off the body hunched over a table. Every breath made Tom’s ragtag cloak shudder, and every moldy hair on him quivered.
“You want me to kick him out?” Jack offered, already shifting his weight across the room.
“Nah, let him warm up at least. He doesn’t do much; just pesters everyone for drink now that he can’t afford it for himself. Give him time, and he’ll be up to his tricks.”
Bill couldn’t stop looking away. The pile of sloughed animals slumped as the man’s head rose. His skin was a cold grey and stretched taught across his face and hands. His hair had all but fallen out, but what was still left of it hung in clumps of long, ragtag strands that were paler than dried straw. His thin-lipped mouth was open and he sucked in air in painful, erratic pants.
“Look at ‘im! Actin’ like a piglet pulled away from its ma’s teat!” Big John sneered. “I bet his clothes are fulla maggots!”
“It’s too cold for maggots,” Ben snorted. “His clothes are thin. Wonder how the hell he stands bein’ out in the woods in weather like this.” “We do it,” Bill muttered. The recluse’s head jerked at the sound of his voice; the young man immediately snapped his mouth shut.
“Yeah, but we’re used to it! And younger’n he ever was!” John’s voice was purposefully loud and carried the haughty tone that won him admiration from the other loggers. “He’s durn crazy, that’s why he don’t notice.” He cocked his head Tom’s way with a sneer. “All that time on your own turn you yaps, man?”
Tom’s head very slowly shifted towards them, and Bill shuddered. There were days he’d survived the logging camp and the extreme conditions by will power and prayer alone, all the while wondering in the back of his head what it would be like if he didn’t have even that. Looking at the vagrant, he knew.
Ben was cursing behind them. “I saw him not more than a month ago and he didn’t look like that. Solitary life don’t turn a man in that short a’ time! Maybe he’s got rabies or fever n’ ague.”
Tom’s eyes sat so far back in his skull, it was impossible to tell what color they were, though they harbored a steady, unsettling gleam. They roved over the huddled group, searching hungrily for an easy mark. Bill’s heart plummeted to his boots when the hollow glitter locked onto him. He was suddenly as cold as he was when a seventh-year blizzard hit. All the frustrations and hell he’d endured since joining the logging team, all his good intentions and reasons, all he was trying to move forward to, swelled and jumbled together in a brief, howling wind of thought. The two distant stars in Tom’s eyes were the only thing that pegged him as a stable man in his otherwise rotting and dozy appearance.
All around the little group, the saloon’s weekend life went on. The distant sound of swearing and dice clattering across the floor mixed with discordant harmonies and a half-hearted mouth organ. But in the area by the bar, all was muffled and still. It was like the snows had come without warning over the forest, smothering everything in their path with chilled silence. Bill shuddered, and out of the corner of his eye, noticed Red do the same.
“You want I should knock his ears down, Red?” John’s bravado was the sudden yell that knocked the snow from the treetops, for better or ill. He had the relaxed look of a man who’d been in his cup just enough to throw caution to the wind. “I’ll toss him out and give ‘im a pat on the lip he won’t forget!”
“Leave be, John,” the barkeep muttered. His hand never stopped wiping down the bar. Though his head was tilted down towards his task, his eyes were set on their target across the room.
“What…what you want me to do for a drink?” At first it didn’t register that that thing, that man, had actually spoken. His voice was high and reedy, and cracked the way the thinnest ice along the river did.
“What you want me to do for a drink?” His lips cracked when his mouth moved. A thin trail of spittle dripped off his lower lip and was quickly caught up by the tip of the derelict’s seeking tongue. The distant gleam in Tom’s eyes burned as his mouth formed the last word. Otherwise, it was hard to even say how he’d made it into the saloon; he looked more than a little dim.
This story allowed me to play in a more literary world, and explore the little quirks in personal relationships that no one wants to talk about. I love how things like an ex, an actor, or a musician you’ve never met can shadow over a marriage. I also love how the kids turned out in this story. Miranda is near and dear to my heart, and most certainly isn’t based on my hijinks as a little girl at all. It was interesting to write a protagonist that I personally didn’t like or agree with, yet I still empathized with him. Even more interesting was the secret he hides through most of the story.
All Andrew wanted was the typical American dream: a good career, a nice house, and a typical loving family. Instead he has a menial job, a small apartment, and children that remind him of creatures out of a sci-fi movie. To add insult to injury, he’s well aware that he’s not the only man that inhabits his wife’s thoughts and daily life. But how can he put up a fight when he’s reminded of the competition every time Bethany turns on the CD player? After one eventful dinner conversation when expectations, disappointments, and secrets collide, life may never be the same.
Andrew squeezed himself to his place at the head of the table and glared at the boom box that sat on the counter right beside his head. With smug satisfaction he turned the CD off. As soon as the sound died away the spark of light that inhabited Bethany went out. Her slender shoulders drooped a little more, her delicate blonde head bent slightly, and the set of her mouth became tighter, as if she had a migraine coming on. Instead of being full of youth and motherhood she looked like a tired homemaker or a condemned prisoner. Is this how she feels with me around? Is this the effect I have on my own wife? He bit the inside of his cheek and studied the vinyl tablecloth. Don’t I get tired too? Don’t I get disappointed? I’m trapped in this life, just like she is. At least I live in reality! It was petty and childish, but he felt so much better when the stereo was turned off. It was just a hunk of metal and electricity then, not a challenge.
Miranda and Gregory returned and dutifully sat in their booster seat and high chair. They smacked still-sticky hands together and bowed tousled heads in the pre-meal ritual. Andrew cringed in slight disgust. When he was a boy his father had looked so happy at the end of the day. The old man had been full of contentment and Andrew still remembered being in awe of him. When he was nine at his parents’ dining room table he hadn’t been able to wait until that position of power and benevolence would be his own someday. And now here I am.
Yet as hard as Andrew tried the corners of his mouth wouldn’t climb upwards as he glanced over at his kids. The longer things went on the harder it was to smile even for his wife. The whole scene that should have been reminiscent of Norman Rockwell left him apathetic at best, and Andrew fought the urge to check his watch. There were other places he could be – places he should be. Places where he belonged. No, you belong here. This is what you wanted and now you have it. You live with it. It isn’t your fault you were given a raw deal. At least at the office he fit in, even if he was low on the corporate ladder. My opinion’s valued there. I’m around people just like me and not… Andrew’s thoughts trailed off and he swallowed down his frustration. This is your life, he reminded himself. It’s what you wanted — well what you thought you wanted. You just have to stick with it until things get better.
His inner pep talk faded when Bethany abruptly got up from her seat. “Forgot the broccoli!” she explained and dashed to retrieve it.
“But I hate broccoli,” Andrew sighed. The kids relaxed their angelic poses and began to regard their plates with sneaky expressions.
“I know, but they really love it. It’s one of the few vegetables they’ll eat without a fight,” Beth countered, the edges of her voice worn with fatigue like old denim. Andrew grunted a reply and idly trailed his finger over the mismatched plate before he sucked off the juices.
“You’re not supposed to eat before the prayer!” Miranda shouted and jabbed an accusing finger at him. Gregory followed his sister’s lead and cast out his arm, nearly sending his baby cup flying.
“I just put my finger in the sauce!” he snapped. His voice was less the deep paternal tone he would have liked and more like a teenager’s lame excuse. Bethany re-entered and a frown tugged across her face as the putrid green-filled bowl was placed on the table. No wonder the kids loved it; it probably enhanced their natural smell.
Andrew coolly returned her stare before clearing his throat. Let’s just get this over with and then you can go get some real food. “Alright, come on, let’s pray — what are you doing!?” Right in front of him, bold as could be, Miranda very carefully leaned over and ran a delicate pink tongue over the center of her plate.
“I just ran my tongue through the sauce!” Her voice was solemn and she took a moment to wipe at her mouth with her shirt sleeve. Bethany made a slight choking laugh before reigning herself in.
“Not at the table. And use a napkin,” she reprimanded, but her lip twitched as she struggled not to look his way.
And now, the contest:
Leave a comment with an email address and which title you’d prefer on this post and you will be in the running to win your choice of those two titles in PDF format. I’ll use Random.org and draw after the third. After you leave a comment here, be sure to check out the other great authors and backlist titles in this blog hop!