Humphrey …

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Dredging Up Memories original cover by Lisa Vasquez

A few years ago, I started a story about a guy named Hank. He was alone in the dead world and searching for his friends and family in hopes of finding some of them alive. That story turned into a novel titled, Dredging Up Memories, and it follows Hank’s story into a downward spiral of … well, I can’t really give you all that information, now can I? Doing that would spoil the book for you.

One thing I can do is tell you about one of the main characters from Dredging Up Memories. Her name is Humphrey and she is a teddy bear. I know, right? Who names a female teddy bear a boy’s name? Anyway, she became like Wilson to Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. She also became one of the most beloved characters of the Hank Walker universe. 

After completing the novel, getting it published by Stitched Smile Publications, and then writing a handful of shorter pieces involving Walker, I approached a friend of mine about interviewing the characters of Dredging Up Memories. This young man—his name is Frank—went home and wrote out twenty-seven pages worth of questions he came up with for those characters. 

What you are about to read are the first twenty-five hundred or so words of Humphrey’s interview. I know, it’s kind of mean not giving you all thirty-nine pages of it, but as I said above, I can’t give you all the information, now can I?

I hope you enjoy the following excerpt from The Hank Walker Interviews. 

HUMPHREY 

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Just hangin’ round.

There is a room in an old school in the lower state of South Carolina. The school used to be known as Century Falls High School. It is now Fort Survivor #3. Half a block away is what is left of the middle school of the same name (minus the High, adding the Middle). Directly out the front gates are the remnants of the town that used to be Century Falls. Remnants that consist of burned out cars, and buildings that are little more than husks. If one were to pay close attention he or she would see the occasional dead corpse shambling around the debris and other corpses that are truly dead. If one was listening, then he or she would hear the occasional gun shot, putting that walking corpse down, joining its brethren on the ground among that debris.

This room is on the second floor on a long hall with double doors at each end. One set of doors leads down the steps and to the outside world. For the most part, these doors stay locked from the inside. The other set of doors leads down another hall that t-bones before reaching a set of stairs on either side of that t-bone. There’s no real need to get into where those halls lead.

The room number is 209, and it used to be Mrs. Willoughby’s math class. Most kids hated having Mrs. Willoughby, due to her always angry demeanor and her penchant for giving out zeroes and detention notes. That’s not a problem here now. Mrs. Willoughby is among the permanently deceased. The room, however, has been turned into a bedroom for children who have survived the End Times. Currently there is no one staying in the room and it is as dark in here as night is these days.

A creak rings through the room and down the hall as the door opens. A switch to the left of the doorway is flipped up and the glow of lights spill across the room, forcing the dark into the corners and beneath furniture. Speaking of the furniture, the room is nice. It is painted pink and white on opposite walls. There are a row of four beds directly ahead, foot lockers at the foot of each one. End tables are to the right of the beds, each one with a lamp sitting atop it. On the opposite wall is the exact same set up: four beds, four foot lockers and four end tables with lamps on them. It is clear to anyone who enters that this is a room set up as a basic dorm for little girls who … well, who may have lost everyone except for themselves. On the wall to the right, the same wall the door is on, is a long bookcase filled with books. 

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I’m in this book! I’m going to be a superstar.

Sitting in the center of this room is a table with two chairs. This is not normal. The table is round and the chairs are simple wooden dinner table seats. There is a vase sitting on it with a single daffodil in it, its yellow star-like petals and tea cup bud brighter than the overheads that light up the room. Next to the vase are two bottles of water. They are already open, though the tops are still screwed on.

There is one other thing that is out of place in this room: a video camera. It stands between two of the beds on a tripod, its lens pointing directly at the table.

Two men walk into the room, one of them in his early forties, stubble chinned and a book bag over his shoulder. He reaches into the bag and unzips the front pocket. Jutting from it is a teddy bear in bunny pajamas. The man, known to many readers as Hank, sets the bear on one of the chairs. He doesn’t like the way the bear’s head barely comes to the bottom of the table. Hank goes to the bookcase and snags several of the hardbacks. At the table he sets the books in the seat, sits the teddy bear in it, and then scoots the chair up to the table. 

The second man is younger, but not by much. His hair is sandy brown. Wire rimmed glasses are perched on his nose; his hair is long and is pulled into a ponytail that runs down his back. He walks over to the camera and presses a button on its side. The camera comes on. Accompanying it is a faint hum that is barely noticeable if you aren’t standing right next to it. He fiddles with it a few seconds more, pressing the red record button. He looks in the digital view finder and sees the red REC blinking, nods and walks away.

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Dredging Up Memories re-issued cover by Lisa Vasquez

“Morning, Frank.”

“Good morning, Mr. Walker.”

To the teddy bear Hank says “Humphrey, this is Frank. He is going to do your interview, okay.”

Humphrey says nothing.

“Come on, Humphrey. Don’t be shy.”

Still, the teddy bear says nothing. Really, why would it? How would it? It is just a teddy bear, right?

“Humphrey, Frank is a good guy. You have to trust me. Can you do that?”

The teddy bear’s head seems to move slightly. 

“Please?”

“Okay.” 

The bear’s voice is soft, not much more than a whisper. But it is enough to startle Frank. His eyes are wide behind the lenses of his glasses. A lump has formed in his throat. If there is one thing Frank did not expect it is that the teddy bear would actually speak. He really did believe he would sit there at the table with the teddy bear, who had been Hank Walker’s traveling companion for several months at the beginning of the End Times, and field answers from Walker, himself. Not some inanimate object.

“Did … did Humphrey just speak?”

Hank laughs, rubs Humphrey on the head. “Yes, she did.”

“She? Yes, that is right. Humphrey is a she.”

“That’s right. A lot of folks wonder about that, why anyone would name  a female teddy bear Humphrey?”

“It is a fair thought. Why would someone give a stuffed toy that is clearly a female a boy’s name?”

“Why do guys give their cars girl names?” Hank responds. “Who knows?”

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Pelican Snowball anyone?

“Good point.”

“Okay, I’m going to leave you guys alone for a while. I’ll come back later and see how you are doing. Humphrey, Frank is not going to hurt you. I promise. He and I have already done this. You’re in good hands. Okay?”

Humphrey doesn’t look up, but she gives a small nod and whispers, “Okay.”

With that said, Walker turns and leaves, closing the door behind him. 

The room is quiet for several long seconds. Frank has been in similar situations, with the silence being so loud you can hear it. He doesn’t like that feeling. It is awkward and thick. He is determined to fill the silence quickly. He picks up his notepad and flips it open. He turns the pages until he finds the first page marked in his scratchy handwriting as, Humphrey’s Interview. He looks at the first question and starts to ask it, then stops. He looks at the glassy eyes of the stuffed toy in front of him. This is a moment right out of a little girl’s childhood, where the stuffed toy is her best friend and they are having tea and crumpets with their pinkies out and slurping away at the nothing in the cups. He could almost see a girl with her favorite white and pink dress on and her hair pulled back into pig tails, her voice very much like the teddy bear’s in front of him. There is a moment of pure joy as he sees the little girl is blonde and her eyes are blue and she has dimples and freckles across her nose. 

‘Is your tea good?’ the little girl asks.

‘Delicious,’ the teddy bear responds.

The little girl smiles wide, showing off her teeth, including the gap where one is missing.

Briefly Frank wonders if the Tooth Fairy visited her the night she lost that tooth. If so, how much money did he (or she) leave the little girl? A dollar? Two? Five? Maybe the Tooth Fairy was very well off and left her a ten spot or even twenty.

Frank shakes his head, smiles and then chuckles softly.

“What’s so funny?”

He is startled by this question. He’s the one who is supposed to asks the questions. The grin leaves his face and the chuckle dies off. “I … ummm … I just didn’t think you would talk to me.”

“Why is that?”

She is well-spoken for a young teddy bear who Frank imagines is around five or six.

“I just didn’t think you would, especially when Mr. Walker left.”

She seems to nod, but says nothing else.

“So, ummm … would you like to get started?”

“Okay.”

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A boy and a bear.

Frank glances down at his notes. The first question is short, but he imagines it is an okay question to ask. At least, he hopes

“Let’s start from the beginning. What was life like before Hank?”

The silence he so hates fills the room, but it’s not that same awkward thickness. It is more of an anticipatory silence, as if Frank is watching a game show on a television of the past, one where the show has gone on for weeks and weeks and now there were only two contestants left and the host is about to announce the winner. There should be some sort of dramatic music playing, and maybe there is in Frank’s mind. The host opens his mouth and says, ‘And the winner of who doesn’t get eaten by a biter today is …’ and the commercial break interrupts the tension, sending the audience into a series of groans and ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me’s’.

But the silence doesn’t last all that long. In fact, it doesn’t even last as long as a short commercial break.

“It was fun,” Humphrey says. Frank thinks he can see her pink string mouth turned up into a smile. And is that a shimmer in her eyes?

“It was fun?”

“Yes.”

“How so?”

Humphrey doesn’t say anything right away. When she does, several seconds have passed and it is not an answer, but a question: “How so?”

Though her face doesn’t change, Frank thinks it does all the same. Maybe it was a twinkle in the eye. Or maybe it was just a slight shift of the head, or the angle at which she is sitting, but something has changed and it is a physical thing he can’t figure out. What he does know is she looks confused, as any living, breathing person would be. Then the light bulb comes on and he realizes she doesn’t understand his question.

“Oh, umm … ’how so’ is another way of asking, how was it fun?”

“I see.”

“So that’s what I am asking: how was life fun before Hank?”

The creative mind is a place where thoughts conspire for either good or bad. It is also the center of imagination, and as Humphrey sits, stoically, in her seat, Frank’s mind begins imagining she iss moving, like a child would, maybe one of five or six years of age; maybe a little older. He can see her tapping her chin as if she is thinking. Her lips are twisted slightly, almost in a pucker. Then she smiles, her small pink thread lips turning up and her fuzzy fingerless hand pointing at him.

“Before Mr. Walker came I was alone in my girl’s room. They had left me when everything went bad.”

She is quiet, this time with her head dipped and her glassy black eyes staring down at the floor. One shoulder goes up in a shrug. Then she lets out a deep sigh.

“My girl’s dad died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” And Frank truly is sorry. 

“Me too. They thought he was dead and they were sad and scared and my girl—her name was Casey—she held me so close as she sat on her bed. She had taken a shower and I could smell her shampoo. She always smelled so clean after her showers. Her momma made her take one every night, and sometimes I got one too, but not in the tub. They put me in the wash machine with some clothes and I spun and swam and spun and swam, and then they put me in the dry machine and I tumble up and down until I am dry.”

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Just chillin’ by a wall, hoping for no biters to show up.

Frank smiles at this. The Humphrey in his imagination is opening up without realizing she is doing so. He remains quiet as she continues her story.

“Then they put my pajamas on and I was fresh like my girl.”

She pauses, as if thinking again. When she speaks, her voice is almost a whisper and Frank has to lean in to hear her. Though he misses the first part of what she says, he clearly gets the second part.

“… they were gone.”

Not for the first time he wonders what it would be like to have gone through the End Times, as Hank Walker calls it. Would he have lost everyone he cares about? Would he have even survived the initial outbreak, and if so, would he have lasted as long as some of the survivors in Fort Survivor #3?

In his imagination—a place he thinks he will spend a lot of time during this interview—he sees tears in Humphrey’s eyes. They are no longer glassy and black, but soft and blue, almost real eyes. His heart sinks into his stomach as he realizes Humphrey is remembering the events that took her girl, her Casey, from her and left her alone when everything went bad. She takes a deep breath, holds it for a second and then releases it. She looks up at Frank. Her smile is still there, but it is not a happy one. What he sees on her face right then is resignation.

“Her dad tried to kill them. Her mommy escaped and took my girl with her. They screamed a lot as they tried to get away from him, and then my girl screamed even more when her mommy grabbed her up and left me behind.”

“She tried to grab me, but knocked me on the floor instead. I landed on my back. She cried and screamed and then the door slammed shut. I heard the car doors and … they were gone.”

“I’m sorry,” Frank says. 

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Voices, The Interviews: Danny

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here: HERE). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 12

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMShe had not been ready for the final words Lewis said to her before looking down at his leathery hands and seeing tear drops strike the floor between his feet. He takes a deep breath and leans back in his chair. He gives a dismissive wave and shakes his head. He doesn’t have the heart to go any further.

Lisa’s mouth hangs open and she shakes her head from side to side, not knowing what to say. She wants to get up from her seat and give him a hug, but that won’t happen. 

Laughter comes from her right. Mr. Worrywart bends down beside her, his shadowy face just inches from hers. She can smell his fetid breath, feel the heat from it on her cheek and neck. “Way to go there, Lady,” he says in his smooth, sinister voice. “You’ve done went and made him cry.”

Lisa swallows hard. Though she disagrees with him, she also thinks he is right. Lewis was bound to cry at some point between his story and his interview. He doesn’t feel guilt about anything he’s done. He is lonely and had been since he found out his Michelle divorced him while he was in prison. Her questions—her final question—and his answers—his final one, specifically—was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It cracked the dam and tears were bound to flood his face as he thought about being alone for the rest of what was left of his life.

“I didn’t cause this,” she says.

Mr. Worrywort laughs again. “Sure, you didn’t.”

“I didn’t.”

“You didn’t what, Ma’am?”

Lisa turns at the sound of someone else’s voice. The man kneeling in front of her has kind eyes and dark hair, peppered with white streaks. Though his face doesn’t hold a lot of wrinkles, making him appear younger than he probably is, his eyes hold an age and wisdom in them that is unmistakeable. A half smile is on his lips, and Lisa knows instantly he can be a charmer when he wants to be.

“I … umm … I don’t know,” she says. The world around her shrinks a little. Her face grows hot. 

“You look a little upset,” the man says. He glances at Lewis, who has his hands between his knees and his eyes to the floor. “I guess I understand. The old man got a little emotional there.” 

“Yeah, he did.”

“It’s okay, Ma’am. We all have those moments where someone else’s life affects us.”

Lisa smiles, takes a deep breath, smiles and says, “Hello, Danny.”

“Hello.”

“Do you prefer Danny or Coach?”

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. All the kids called me ‘Coach,’ but no one outside of baseball ever has.”

“Then Danny it is, if that is okay with you?”

“Absolutely.” Danny stands straight, walks to his chair, picks it up by the metal back, and sets it in front of Lisa. He sits down, crosses one ankle over his knee, and places both hands on that ankle. He smiles and nods to her. “Do you have some questions for me, Ma’am?”

“I do.”

Lisa looks down at her notepad, turns the page and reads the one word at the top: COACH. She looks up at Danny and asks the first question. “Being dubbed ‘Coach’ is a respected honor where I’m from. You must have done great things with those kids.”

DSCN1640Danny shrugs in an aww-shucks manner. “I wouldn’t say I did anything great. I just listened to them, their words, their body language. Kids are fairly transparent when they are young so reading them is easy. It’s when they become teens that you really  have to pay attention to what they are saying. Being a coach isn’t about winning. It’s about teaching; it’s about showing these young people how to become young adults and then young men and women and how to respect themselves and others. Show them respect, and they are bound to respect you back.”

“Well, if we can get right to it, how old were you the first time you saw The White?”

Danny rubs his hands together as if he is cold. His brows crinkle as he thinks. “I guess I was in my early teens the first time it happened. I got really sick—bad headache, an odd dazzle in my eyes that were similar to the washed-out spots on old film reels. I was sitting in the dugout. My dad was the head coach of that team. It was the championship game. I remember that easily enough. I had a hit on three at bats and made an error in the top of the inning that got me benched for a defensive replacement. I was pissed. I couldn’t believe my own dad would take me out of the game because I made an error.”

“There was this kid on the other team—his name was Scott Hall—and he was the team’s star. He struck out to end the game. I’ll never forget the look on his face—or the half look, I saw mostly white where the left side of his face should have been. I remember the intense pain bloom behind my eyes. I remember sitting on the dugout’s concrete floor, my head in my hands and crying like a baby. My dad thought I was upset that he benched me. I was, but that wasn’t why I was crying. One look at my eyes and they knew something was wrong.

“We won the game. While everyone else went out for pizza and ice cream, Dad’s treat, I went home and went to bed. Six days later, Scott Hall came up missing. A few years passed, and some kid named Reed Baker decided to dig a hole at the ball park. He found Scott’s body.

“So, I would say that was the first time the White came on. I just didn’t know it.”

“You mentioned thinking it was a migraine. Do you get migraines often?  More specifically, have you been diagnosed with migraines by a doctor?”

“Yeah, clinically the types of migraines I get are called ocular migraines. They start in the eyes and within twenty minutes or so, if I don’t take any medicine, they become full blown explosions in by head. It sucks, and when one comes on, I can never tell if it is the White or just a normal migraine, at least until I see the white wash over someone’s body. Then I know.”

“Can we talk about Coach Davis for a minute?”

“Sure.”

“To be blunt, Coach Davis did not seem like a nice man or a good person. Tell me about why you were so driven to try to save him when you knew trying to save people had not worked in the past.”

DSCN1668“There’s always a first time for everything, right?” Danny pauses. “Peter wasn’t such a bad person. He was just a bad coach. He wanted to win more than anything else. He was a lot like the guy who coached Scott Hall. His name was Barry Windstrom. I don’t remember much about him—I never played for him—but what I do remember is he yelled a lot on the field, but off of it, he was supposedly a kind man, wouldn’t harm anyone. Turns out, he was the person who killed Scott Hall. 

“There was good in Windstrom. There was good in Peter. Most people just didn’t get to see it because they saw his on field antics, specifically on the day he died, and that is what they remember about him. 

“Besides, if I didn’t try, I would have to live with the ‘what if I would have tried to help him?’ thoughts running in my head. Guilt is a horrible thing, and I didn’t want any unnecessary guilt.”

“You were shot for your trouble. You could have been killed. How do you feel about that?”

“How do I feel? Well, it told me to stop waiting around for life to happen. I had spent the majority of my kids’ lives coaching them. My wife divorced me, and I went into a small bout of depression. When I came out the other side of it, I told myself I wouldn’t ever date again. That was a mistake. I let one thing, one person, change how I viewed an important aspect of my life. When I got out of the hospital, I went back to the ball field and sought out an old friend, a team mom, and I stopped wasting time wishing I had married her instead of the woman I chose to be the mother of my children. It gave me an appreciation for life.

“On the other end of that, a good man went to jail. I’m not happy about that.”

“I can’t help but wonder why this manifests as White when other people who report similar, um, abilities describe it differently.  Where do you think this ability to see when people are near death comes from?”

“Head trauma,” Danny says matter-of-factly. “At least for me. A couple of days before I saw Scott Hall, I had been hit by a pitch.” He touches a spot above his left ear. “Right here. I walked it off. That’s what we did back then. Right after the championship game, my parents took me to the doctor. There’s a dent in my skull where the ball hit. The doctor claimed that is where the migraine came from, and I chalk it up as the reason I still have them and why I see the White.”

“That makes sense. Does it frighten you?”

“Every time.”

“So, how do you think you will handle it going forward?”

“The same way I always have. If there is a chance I can help them, maybe alter the course of their life so they don’t die, then I’ll do what I can. It’s a burden, but I have to try, right?”

“I guess so, Coach,” Lisa says. “Thank you for your time.”

“And, Lisa, whatever is there, that voice you are hearing right now, it can’t harm you. It won’t. I think it is scared of you. I think it knows the only way to get to you is to taunt you.”

“Can you see him?” Lisa asks. 

“Oh yeah. But he can’t see you—not the real you. It only sees what you allow it to see.”

With that said, Danny stands, picks up his chair, and takes it back to where he originally sat. He sits, and Lisa turns her attention to the notepad once again.

TO BE CONTINUED …

Voices, The Interviews: Brian

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here. If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 10

She is tired. Her body sags. Her legs are weak. Lisa wants to take a nap, to go home and be done with these interviews. Yes, she knows it’s not time to be done, but some of these conversations have been intense and that tension has worn on her body, on her mind, and maybe even on her soul.

The cut on Lisa’s arm isn’t too deep. It bleeds, but not like it could have. She sees the blood that spilled down her arm and is dismayed by how bright the red is, or rather, how much of it there is.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,”

She turns her eyes to the young boy standing in front of her, his arm extended, a white kerchief in it. He is a big boy, probably quite big for his age. His eyes hold a distant stare in them, though he looks directly at her. 

“You’re bleeding.”

“Thank you,” Lisa says and takes the handkerchief. 

The boy nods, turns and lumbers back to his seat. She is amazed at how soft and gentle his voice is, especially being such a big boy. No, he’s not fat, just big and tall with sweet eyes that seem too innocent for any wrong doing, especially … Lisa shakes her head. She knows who he is, just as she has known most of the characters.

“Hello Brian.”

“Hi,” he responds. 

“Can we talk? Is that okay?”

“Sure.”

“First, let’s talk about your grandparents.”

“Okay.”

“You love your grandparents, don’t you?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“How long have you lived with them?”

Brian looks up at the ceiling. Lisa does, too, and she stares at where Dane’s family once tried to come through.

“Well, I’m ten now, and I’ve been with them since I was four. So that’s …” He holds up his fingers, then counts backwards silently, until six fingers remain. “Six years.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMThat’s a long time, Lisa thinks. “Do you like living with them?”

He nods. It’s a quick jerk of the head. “Yeah. Their place is clean.”

“Clean?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s no bugs, and they don’t smoke, so the house doesn’t stink.”

An image appears in Lisa’s mind. It’s of a boy lying in bed in the middle of the night. On the bed is a large roach. It crawls along the cover and then onto the exposed skin of the young boy. She shivers, pushes the thought away.

“Do you like going to church with grandparents?”

“Yeah.”

Simple, quick answers. As Lisa looks at him, she sees there is no need for him to think up an answer. He’s as honest as they come, and the responses he gives her are genuine.

“Do you get along with your brother and sister?”

“My sister is cool, but my little brother is a butthead.”

Lisa smiles at this. So matter of fact. Brian seems to be okay with the conversation and she doesn’t want to turn it toward something he might not like, but what’s the point of interviewing someone if you can’t ask a tough question or two?

“Brian, tell me about your daddy.”

His expression doesn’t change. The look in his eyes doesn’t waver. No gray cloud comes over him. He speaks as he has for all the other questions.

“He’s my dad.”

“Is there anything about him you wish to talk about?”

“No. He’s just my dad.”

“The pastor at your grandparents’ church said the things your daddy did were … evil. Was your daddy a bad man?”

He shrugs. “He was lazy.”

“Did your daddy do other things that were … bad?”

“I guess. The people came and said we had to leave the house and live with Grandmomma and Granddaddy. Aunt Norry said they don’t do that unless there is a problem.”

“Was there a problem?”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“Sweetie, where’s your momma?”

“She sleeps a lot. She’s always asleep.”

Lisa doesn’t know what that means, but she hopes it doesn’t mean she had passed away.

“Brian … do you think you were doing God’s work when you … when you killed your daddy?”

“I didn’t kill him. He was already dead.”

This strikes her as profound. The boy in front of her doesn’t believe his father was even alive when he took the hammer to him. He was lazy, so he was dead. Or maybe he died when Ben and his siblings were taken from him and his wife. 

“Brian, are you anything like your daddy?”

Again, no change in his expression. “No, not really. Do you think I’m like him?”

“No, I don’t think you’re like your daddy at all.”

Brian nods again.

“Thank you, Brian.”

“You’re welcome.”

To be continued …

 

Voices, The Interviews: Dane

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here. If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 8

There is a moment where Lisa says nothing, only stares down at the pad, at the page she just flipped to. At the top are the words “NUMBERS—DANE” in black print. She can see where her hand shook when considering what to ask for this part of the interview. She thinks this one could be the death of her. A touch of fear edges along the sides of heart. The title holds her eyes.

Numbers.

Lisa considers her own carefully repressed and controlled obsession with numbers; odd numbers, prime numbers, exponential sequences, other numbers she doesn’t like.  It’s a childhood quirk. Nothing more. At least that is what the doctors always said. She knows better. She knows it is not just a childhood quirk. It is so much more, even to the point of a phobia with a name: Imparnumerophobia. 

She thinks of Spencer and his fear of shadows. Some would say he is ridiculous and he needs to get over the mental hurdle in his head. But there is no getting over something that terrifies you. Though Imparnumerophobia is more of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, the truth, at least in her eyes, is simple: odd numbers might mean nothing to most, but to people like Dane, they are bad. Worse than that, they are life threatening. 

She shoves the thoughts aside, locks it away with some of the other things from her childhood best left alone. A deep breath follows, then she looks up at the only person in the room (besides herself) who might suffer from this … this … disorder. 

“Hello, Dane.”

The young lady’s body jerks as if she had been jabbed by a hot poker. Her lip trembles and she clutches her arms in a terrified self-embrace. Her lips move. Lisa’s not sure what she is doing until Dane speaks.

“Hey.”

Three letters, Lisa thinks. Odd numbers.

She considers how to ask her first question. It is the only one she believes she must ask to move forward. She considers the words and the letters in each one. 3-2-4-4-7-5. The odd numbered words equal the even numbered ones. She licks her lips.

“Are we safe from numbers today?”

Again, Dane jerks. It’s something Lisa is not expecting. If she was to look up the case study on this child, she would see a nervous twitch, or in this case an almost violent full body spasm, is unlike Dane.

A sound ripples through the room. It sounds like someone tearing a large sheet of paper. But that’s not it. Lisa knows this. She knows that somewhere in the room a hole will appear in the ceiling or maybe the floor or one of the walls. She knows this one could be dangerous and part of her is scared. Pushing aside her childhood concerns might be too hard for this one.

Dane shakes her head, her eyes wide and shimmering, as if tears are about to roll from them.

“Which numbers are … “ She pauses. She believes the answer will be ‘odd,’ but does she know for certain? “… safe?”

Dane shivers, but the nervousness is not as bad as a few seconds before. She looks up at the ceiling. Her fingers move, as does her lips.

She’s counting, Lisa thinks. Trying to determine the numbers in each word before responding.

Dane licks her lips. “Odd.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMLisa nods, then asks again for clarity. “Odd numbers are … safer?” She counts the numbers in the last word to make sure all of them are odd.

A nod from Dane. “Yes.”

Lisa wipes her lips. Odd numbers are safe. She almost laughs. Anything even could be dangerous for the two of them—for all the characters still sitting around the U in that room. But odd numbers … odd numbers bug her and speaking in solely odd numbered words feels off. 

Go ahead, the voice in her head whispers to her. She knows it is Mr. Worrywort, or one of the other demons in the room, all of whom speak to those around her as if they can control them, can make them do whatever they want. Speak in even numbered words and see what happens. It could be quite entertaining.

“No,” she blurts out without thinking.

The tearing paper grows louder. Lisa doesn’t need to search for the sound. She can see by the looks on several of the other characters in the room that it is just behind her and off to her left. She wants to look back, but finds she can’t, finds she is terrified. She knows from reading the story that the hole expands and retracts based on the number of letters in each word.

Look. The voice—the demon in her head, no doubt—holds the sinister glee of a murderer just before putting a knife in the throat of his victim. It’s a taunt she finds hard to resist. She can almost feel the knife at her throat.

Look.  

Her muscles tense up. She takes a deep breath that feels as if it wants to stop halfway into her lungs, as if it will go no further and will not come back out. 

Look! 

She grits her teeth, trying to figure out what to say, how to get the hole that has surely opened behind her to close back. 

“Not …” In her mind, she counts the letters of the next word. Nine. “… happening.”

Though the voice grows quiet, she can feel it tap tapping on her shoulder with a long-fingered hand. The sound of tearing paper has also become silent. She lets out the breath and tries to smile through the pain in her chest she knows is high anxiety.

“You … are …” she grimaces, knowing she can’t avoid all even numbered words. “… ready to … discuss?”

Dane shakes her head. She doesn’t take as long as Lisa did to respond. “Not. I can.”

All odd numbered. Dane exhales. One edge of her lips curls up a little. It’s not quite innocent, but it doesn’t hold the sinister evil Lisa believes could be behind those dark eyes and that pale face, behind the mask she no doubt wears.

Dane then adds, “You are?”

Lisa waits for her to finish the statement, then realizes she has. Dane wants to know her name. 

Double whammy, Lisa thinks, recalling the head shrink who last saw Dane. His name was even numbered. A double whammy. She thinks hard on this. The wrong combination is dangerous. She knows she will sound ridiculous, maybe even illiterate, but doesn’t particularly care. Now, her concern is with surviving … again.

“I …” she taps her chest with one finger, “… named … Lisa Lee.” She pauses. The combination is good so far. Three words with odd numbered letters to one with even. Still safe. “You calls me Lee. All right?” She wanted to say ‘okay,’ but four letters are bad. Even is bad. 

Dane nods. “Yes.”

Lisa relaxes and slips at the same time, going into her question, but catching herself immediately “Your … you! You! Uncle raped you?”

Dane nods again, gives another, “Yes.”

“Uncle was a bad man. It’s not your fault.” She lets out a long breath. Nine words, eight of them odd numbered.

“Bad man. Yes. Bad. Bad man.”

“Discuss, maybe?” She feels childish, as if she and Dane have their own language, one most people will not understand. 

“No,” Dane says sharply. The tear in the ceiling begins again. She thinks she hears a giggle from behind her. She can’t tell if it is from above or directly in her ear, but she knows someone is there, and that someone is waiting for her to make a mistake.

Lisa’s hands go out in front of her in a warding off gesture. 

“Not. Discuss. Got it.” She waits for the tearing sound again, but it doesn’t come. Though her last word was even, the previous three were odd. She’s catching on. She believes if the odd numbered words outweigh the even numbered ones she will be safe. It will be dangerous, but she doesn’t believe the demons can—or will—get her if she continues this way.

She looks down at her pad. The next question makes her nervous. There are too many even numbered words. 

You summoned your dead family to save you.  

How am I going to ask that question without getting killed?

You can’t, Mr. Worrywort hisses in the back of her brain. She feels his hand on her left shoulder, his breath on the nape of her neck, flapping several strands of her long hair. She is going to get you. They are all going to get you, and I’m going to watch them do it.

Dealing with demons scares her, but dealing with a voice in her head, or even one outside of it trying to get in, didn’t bother her so much. She dealt with him earlier, she can do it again. 

“You can … not,” she says, a smile on her face. “You can get lost.” Seven words. Six odd. One even. She’s safe. She waits a moment, listening for the tear in the fabric of the world around her. It doesn’t come. 

Though Mr. Worrywort grows silent again, she can still feel him behind her, his hands wanting so badly to caress her face, maybe touch her chin with his elongated claws, maybe twist that chin fast enough and hard enough to snap her neck. Then he would laugh and dance like he’s at a funeral in New Orleans.

“Get lost?” Dane asks. Two words. One odd. One even.

Lisa hears the tearing noise behind her. A hiss follows. Lisa knows it to be Dane’s mother.

“Not you, Dane. Not you.”

“I do not … understands.”

“There is another one who is among us.” She does some mental math. Eight words. Five odd. Three even. She waits. Listens. There is no tearing sound. “I have questions for you. One about you family …” More counting. Nine words. Seven odd. Two Even. Safe. She lets out a breath. 

Dane releases a long breath. She looks down at her feet. “Ask.”

Lisa looks up at the ceiling. “You … calls … family …” She cringes at the six-letter word because she knows she will follow it up with a two letter one. “to … aid you. Right?”

Dane nods. “Yes.”

“Why?” Yes, her mind screams. She didn’t think she would ever get the question out, but she did and now it was in Dane’s hands. She hopes—even prays—she answers the right way.

“‘Cause I needs the helps.” Dane cringes. Lisa can see it on her face, the way her shoulders shrug involuntarily; the way her eyes squeeze together; the way her lips pull apart, showing off her yellowing teeth. Her mother had been an English teacher. The grammar she displayed in that sentence would have made her mother twitch. 

“You needed aid?”

A nod, then, “Yes. You understand, right? You do, right?”

Lisa sees determination in Dane’s face, but there is something else, maybe even a little bit of malice in her eyes. She knows Dane can turn at any second if she doesn’t like the question or if she feels like Lisa—or anyone—is out to get her. She will string together a line of even numbered words and the demons will be able to crawl from the ceiling where they hide. They would take Lisa, and quite possibly, some of the other characters in the room, and the end will not be pleasant for them. 

I wonder what the demons will leave behind, what trophy Dane will take to remember me by?

“I … I understand … I get it … I …” She listens for the rip in the ceiling, for the electric hum the demons bring with them, but doesn’t hear them. What she does hear is the giggling from behind her. Mr. Worrywort is here, and he is taking delight in her struggles to ask the questions she feels needs to be asked of Dane. 

He’s getting stronger, she thinks. No, that’s the wrong word. He’s getting bolder. Why is that? Too many thoughts. Too many questions. Too many …

Lisa looks up at Dane. The young girl’s head is cocked to the side. I’m taking too long. She takes a deep breath and pushes on.

“How? How did you … summon?”

The rip comes this time. It’s not much, but it is there, and it is loud enough for Dane to look up to the ceiling and wince. 

“I …” she says, then stops. The single letter word seems to make her relax again. “ … calls thems and theys comes.”

Dane smiles the best she can. Lisa thinks it is forced, but it is better than the sad looking child in front of her. 

“The other … persons … Why? Why let them die?”

This time Dane’s smile is not forced. It holds that underlying sinisterness about it. It is what Lisa has worried about from the beginning of the interview with Dane. 

“They needs to eat.” 

The tear in the ceiling is louder this time. Four words. Two even. Two odd. They don’t cancel each other out like Lisa thinks they should have. Another giggle comes from behind her, but this one is different. It’s a cackle, and it’s feminine. Joining it is Mr. Worrywort’s laugh, deep and full of glee.

Fear grips Lisa now. I’m going crazy, she thinks. She tries to swallow, but her throat is dry, and she is thirsty. 

She would take my notepad, Lisa thinks and looks up at Dane. The smile on her face is one so knowing that Lisa’s skin prickles. I’m going to die. Right here. Right now. Unless …

“But the woman … you liked the woman! You did!”

Dane doesn’t hesitate. She has confidence. It shines in her eyes. It shows in her smile.

“She was angry.”

“Why? Why was she angry?”

The laughter dies down.

“She blamed me for what happened.”

Another rip, louder this time, follows Dane’s statement. Six words. Four even. Two odd. The demons in the ceiling are laughing, all of them, not just Dane’s mother. Mr. Worrywort is clapping and his maniacal shrieks of joy blend with the demons.

Lisa blurts out, not worrying about the words or whether they are odd or even. She no longer believes it matters, not where Dane is concerned. She is going to let them kill her. This much Lisa knows with certainty. “I’m not angry with you … at you … Not angry. Not mad. I just…  I … Please…”

Fifteen words. Ten odd. Five even.

The ripping stops, but she can still hear the demons, though their laughter is somewhat muffled now.

“Why the woman? She cared about you.”

“Did she?”

“Yes! Yes, she did.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes! Why can’t you not let someone help you?”

“Help?!”

The demons hiss in anger and what Lisa thinks is excitement. They are hungry, and they can smell her, smell all of them.
“Yes! I can help you.”

“No one can help!”

Laughter. Tearing. Hissing. They all come from behind her. Lisa can feel them peering out of a hole that is probably larger than she thinks it is. She can feel Mr. Worrywort’s hands on the back of her neck, his fingers wanting to wrap around her throat. He would show himself to her, what he really looks like, as he chokes the life from her. 

“I can! Why can’t you let someone care for you?”

Dane puts one hand up in a wait gesture. Though Lisa hears the demons and feels Mr. Worrywort behind her, she feels that, for at least a minute or a few, she is safe. 

“People only want to hurt me.”

All six words are even. They are spoken with a determined resolve to get it through Lisa’s head that no one can help her. They are spoken with intent. Her hand is still out and the demons are silent. 

Lisa licks her lips. She knows she doesn’t have much time to make an impression. If ever there is a time to do an elevator pitch, it is now. 

“I know how you feel,” she says. Oh my God, am I about to do this? “I’ve been hurt, too. Many times. By people who I loved and who I thought loved me. I could have chosen to hide away in a shell or to get bitter, and for a while, I did. I did what you are doing, but not with the demonic form of dead family members. I have scars, both outside and in. They are part of me. They are part of who I am. Would I like to go back and change things? Sometimes I think so. Sometimes, I’m like, ‘hell yeah, let’s change the outcome of this situation.’ But if I did that, I would not be who I am today. I learned from those situations, from each heartache and lie and every single bit of pain that was inflicted on me.” 

Tears are in her eyes, not from fear of dying, but from trying to get through to Dane, trying to get her to understand she doesn’t need to hurt anyone else. Sweat beads on her forehead.

“I can help you. I’m not like the shrinks. I’m not angry with you. I want to help you. You and I are alike in so many ways. Let me care for you. Can’t you do that? Can’t you just try to let someone help you?”

They stare at each other for a long time. Tears are in both their eyes. The silence is loud. The other characters sit, watching, none of them speaking or moving or possibly even breathing. 

“Yes,” Dane says.

“Yes?”

“Yes. I’ll let you help me.”

Then something odd happens that not even Lisa expected when she walked into the room that morning. Dane stands, walks over to her and puts her arms out. Lisa stands, folds her arms around the young woman and hugs her tight as Dane cries into her shoulder. When she finishes, Dane pulls away, wipes her eyes and looks up at Lisa. 

“Thank you,” Dane says.

“You’re welcome, Dane. Now, can you do me a favor?”

Dane frowns and cocks her head to one side. “What’s that?”

“Your family, can you put them back?”

Dane smiles. “Yes.”

To be continued …

Voices, The Interviews: Claire

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 4

She knows this one, at least that she is fragile in many ways. She is pretty, but not in a movie starlet way. It doesn’t matter that she won a big time award on a big time show. Nothing has changed about her. Her clothes are conservative, not showing off any skin, other than her hands, face and neck. She wears blue slacks and black flats. Her shirt is a long-sleeved pullover a shade lighter than her slacks. Her dark hair hangs down the sides of her face, covering the front of her shirt. 

Intentional, Lisa thinks.

“Hello, Claire.”

Claire doesn’t look away. Lisa finds this only slightly odd. Normally, those who have gone through what Claire has are usually withdrawn and shy, not wanting to discuss anything about the … assaults (yeah, that is pretty much what they are, right?), but the vibe Lisa gets from the teenager is one of desire. Desire to talk, to get it off her chest. 

“Hello, Ma’am.”

Manners, Lisa thinks. She wonders if Mom taught her those before … she shakes her head and focuses on Claire.

finalOscar“Thank you for speaking with me today. Are you nervous?”

“Maybe a little. I’ve never talked about … Dad … in a group this large.”

“Really? You’ve talked in a group before?”

“Well, the police and investigators and all the psychiatrists were in groups of at least two and sometimes six. The court room … I didn’t say anything in the courtroom. The attorneys told me not to.”

“I don’t think you had anything to worry about in court. The evidence came out about these terrible things he did to you.”

She nods, but doesn’t smile. Instead, she frowns, takes a deep breath and speaks evenly. “Well, maybe so, but the attorneys thought it best I didn’t take the stand at the trial.”

“Is it okay if I ask you some questions now?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“And your attorneys are okay with this?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask them. It doesn’t matter anyway. I want to talk to someone. I need to talk.”

“Okay, Claire, let’s start with this: did you even enjoy acting?”

“I wouldn’t call what I did acting. I just did what came natural, so acting, I didn’t really act.”

“I’m sorry, Claire … I mean, did you have fun when you were working on movie sets?”

“Sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“Well, the scenes where the father would do the things he did were not fun. The ending wasn’t all that satisfying. I mean, she leaves home with the boy of her dreams, but she never got to exact any measure of revenge for what her father did to her.”

She has gone from timid a couple of minutes earlier to aggressive now. Lisa hears her words, hears what she doesn’t say and she wonders if it was revenge Claire was after or resolution. 

“So, if the acting wasn’t all that enjoyable, what was it like to play the role of Josie, a little girl who was abused, after what your father did to you?”

“It was no different than the life I led. You know?”

Lisa believes maybe she does know. She feels sorry for this pretty little girl—no, young lady—in front of her. 

“I apologize Claire.”

“For what? You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“For asking about the role of Josie.”

“It’s okay. Really, it is.”

“But … well, didn’t it just make you relive it in your head?”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PM“Yes. The role made me realize how bad things were, how bad my father was.” Claire pauses. She looks away, wipes her hands on her slacks and then rubs her fingers together. “He was a very bad man.”

“Can I ask you another, more personal question?”

“Sure.”

“Claire … when did you decide to kill your daddy?”

“My dad … I’m no longer a little girl and I no longer see him as a daddy. He was my father and I associate that term as not one of endearment, but as one of being despised … and I despise him.”

Lisa nods. “Fair enough, Claire. When did you decide to kill your father?”

Claire shakes her head. “I don’t know if I ever really decided so much as I knew where he kept his gun and I knew he was the reason my mom was gone—did you know she is dead?”

“Excuse me?” This is not what she expects. 

“He killed my mom.”

“How do you know this?”

“I just do.”

“There is no just do, Claire. How do you know this?”

Claire looks at her with the sadness of a child who has lost everything she ever had. Her face is long, her brows are arches above her eyes. She shakes her head. “He said she left him for another man. She needed a different life. That is what he said.”

Lisa listens intently, her heart breaking for the young woman in front of her. She will never be the same, not because she killed her dad—no, her father—on national television, but because whatever she tells Lisa is going to be the truth, not how she sees it, how it really is.

“If Momma had left, then she would have taken her license with her. Her cellphone. Her wallet. She took none of those things.”

“How do you know?” She feels like a recording on a loop, asking the same question over and over.

“I found her stuff in a box in the cellar a few days before the awards show.”

“In the cellar?” What were you doing in the cellar, young lady? the voice in her head whispered. It doesn’t sound like her at all. It sounds like an accusation, one she thinks Claire may not be able to handle.

“Yes. I … “

Before Claire can answer, a shadow comes over her. It’s not much, but it is there. Lisa sees it and she knows Claire feels it. The young woman looks over her left shoulder, then over her right, as if someone is talking to her. 

“Claire, look at me,” Lisa says. “Look at me.”

She does, but only briefly. She shifts in her chair as if pulling away from someone. When she does, Lisa sees the shadow lean down and put its head near Claire’s ear. 

“Get away from her,” Lisa yells. She stands, but doesn’t walk toward Claire and the shadow. Part of her wants to grab the teen and pull her away. The other part wants no part of the shadow. Fear holds her for several seconds. “I said get away from her.” This time she does take a step forward. 

The shadow shimmers, then pulls away. It solidifies for fifteen or so seconds and Lisa sees it is Mr. Worrywort and he is smiling. 

“Get away from her.”

Mr. Worrywort’s smile is hideous, dangerously electric. He puts a hand on Claire’s shoulder as if claiming her for himself.

The fear in Claire’s eyes is sudden. They grow wide and her mouth pinches shut. Her chest heaves and she holds the breath.

“Tell him to leave, Claire,” Lisa says. 

Mr. Worrywort whispers in her ear. She lets the breath go and closes her eyes.

“Are you going to send me to jail?” Claire asks.

Lisa’s nose crinkles up at this. At first she doesn’t understand the question. She won’t go to jail. She knows she won’t. The legal system did  its job for once and … No. It’s him. Mr. Worrywort. He is doing this …

“Claire, no one is sending you to jail. You’ve paid your price for what you did.”

Mr. Worrywort leans down again. Claire shakes her head.

“Claire, don’t listen to him. He’s not on your side.”

“Are you?” she asks.

“Very much so, but I can’t help you if you don’t tell him to get away from you, to leave you alone.”

Help? I’m not here to help. I’m here for answers. What is …

You must help her. She looks around, searching for the voices, though knowing they are in her head or on her shoulders or just out of view like all voices tend to be. One came through stronger than the other. Help her!

It comes to her what she needs to do. Lisa walks over to Claire and puts her hand out. “If you will just trust me, he will go away.”

Claire stares at the hand as if it is a snake, as if it is about to strike her and sink its long fangs into her hand.

Lisa extends her arm further. “He can’t hurt you if you don’t let him. All he does is whisper lies into your ears.”

Claire visibly swallows, glances over her shoulder. Though Mr. Worrywort is no more than a shadow again, he is still there, his venom-like voice in Claire’s ears. Tears trickle down her face. 

“Claire, the voice in your head, the thing over your shoulder … it is your father.”

The young woman jerks as if she had stuck her tongue to a battery. Her hand goes out in front of her, gripping Lisa’s tightly. When this happens, Mr. Worrywort growls in anger. His shadow flees back to the corner as if being banished. 

Claire’s face shows relief. She shivers and then laughs. “How did you know?”

Lisa shrugs. “I didn’t.”

After a minute goes by, Lisa asks, “Are you ready to continue?”

Claire gives a nod. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Why were you in the cellar, Claire?”

“I was looking for the cleaner—my father never kept it in the living rooms of the house, only in the cellar. When I didn’t find it on the shelf where it normally was, I looked for it, and came across the box at the bottom of a shelf unit.”

“At the bottom of a shelf unit?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“You didn’t believe your mom had ever left home, did you? After all, what loving mother would leave their child, right?”

“Right. And I was right. She never left. What person, when leaving forever and ever and ever, wouldn’t take their cell phone, wallet and i.d.?”

”One who never left.”

Claire nods. Her lips are a thin line across her face. 

“Claire, did killing your father really make you feel better?”

She doesn’t smile, this teenager. She only looks up at Lisa and says, “Yes. Yes, it did.”

“How?  I mean, in what way? Umm… what about it made you feel the way you do?”

“I felt relief,” she says. “And like I had gotten some justice for my mom. He killed her. I killed him. If I hadn’t, he would have killed me.”

“One more question, Claire, if you don’t mind?”

“I don’t mind at all.”

“Was it the right thing to do?”

Claire and Lisa stare at each other for a minute, then two. Finally, Claire speaks, “No. The right thing to do would have been to tell someone, let the police arrest him and have him thrown in jail. But that wasn’t what felt right. Killing him felt right. It was the only thing I could have done.”

“I understand,” Lisa says, and she does. She thinks hundreds of thousands of young girls have gone through what Claire has and many of them remained scarred for their lives because of it. But Claire had faced the monster who scarred her and had vanquished it. She doesn’t feel sorry for Claire. Instead, she feels great pride and respect for her. 

“Thank you, Claire.”

“You’re welcome.”

Lisa turns in her chair, takes a deep breath and begins her next line of questions for the next character on her list.

To Be Continued …

Voices, The Interviews: Lena and Nothing

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our continuing project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

You can also read the first two sessions here:
Session 1: Spencer 

Session 2: Mr. Worrywort

One more thing: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 3

Lisa looks away from where Mr. Worrywort slinked off to when she hears a sound. A young woman, possibly in her early twenties, but maybe even in her late teens, rights Mr. Worrywort’s seat and sets it back in the U. Others watch her, but say nothing. She is pretty, a blonde with sharp cheekbones, thin lips and hauntingly beautiful blue eyes. Her hair falls to the middle of her back and when she leans over to set the chair right it looks like a yellow veil has been placed on her head. She is petite, but not brittle in appearance. In truth, Lisa finds her very pretty, strikingly so. 

“Thank you,” she says to the young woman.

“You’re welcome.” She is polite and gives a slight curtsy with her statement.

“What’s your name?”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PM“Lena.”

Ahhhh … Lisa thinks and looks around at the faces of the other characters. She had expected Nothing to be here, not Lena, but she doesn’t see anyone who might fit his description. 

“Hello Lena.”

Lena nods, “Hi.” Her cheeks turn pink and she looks down at her hands. She twists several of her fingers together, almost as if she wants to turn them into knots.

“You’re … umm … you’re Nothing’s girlfriend, right?”

The pink in her cheeks darkens to two blossoms of red. “Yes, Ma’am,” she says without looking up.

“You know, Lena, you and I have something in common.” 

 Lena looks from her hands up at Lisa. Their eyes meet and Lisa sees the clear blue of Lena’s and it almost takes her breath away. 

No wonders he loves her.

“We do?”

“Yes. We both believe in loyalty.”

Lena doesn’t respond to this.

“You are very loyal to him, aren’t you? Loyal to Mr. Nothing?”

It sounds weird in her own ears. Mr. Nothing, as if the boy this girl loves is nothing … nothing to her, nothing to anyone. Adding a prefix to his name doesn’t change the way loyalty to nothing sounds to her. A tinge of sadness touches her heart. 

Lena shrugs. She is looking at her hands again. 

“Loyalty is … loyalty is good. It’s a good thing, Lena. Don’t you think so?”

“I guess.”

Lisa take’s a deep breath, let’s it out as a loud sigh. Just ask her the other question.

“So, Lena, I was wondering, are you actually into his fetish for cutting and scarring, or do you participate in it out of loyalty?”

Lena’s bright blue eyes grow wide, her mouth drops open. She closes it, then shakes her head. “I … I …what?”

“Do you not understand the question?”

Lena nods. “I … I understand it, but it’s … it’s not a fair question.”

“It’s not?”

“No.”

“Okay, okay,” Lisa says. 

“You wouldn’t understand.”

Lisa smiles softly. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so direct. “Look, I do understand what happened. I really do. But, what is in your past that you would embrace a relationship with someone like him?”

“Someone like him?”

“Yes. Someone like him. I mean, do you even know his real name?”

“His real name?”

“You know, he has to have an actual name. Nothing? Really? Is that his real name? It can’t be.”

“I … I …” She looks around. Her hands clench together. Lena’s neck twitches. She bites her bottom lip and one of her feet bounces on the floor. 

She’s freaking out, Lisa thinks. She starts to speak, to try and calm the young woman down. “Lena, it’s okay …”

The door opens. In steps a tall young man. He is lanky and has no hair. A loop earring is in his right ear. He wears a long-sleeved gray shirt buttoned all the way to his throat, and baggy black pants. There are no shoes on his feet. There’s a puckered scar along his chin and others pocking his cheek and neck, and one directly under his right eye. He closes the door gently behind him and walks over to the U shaped group. He grabs the chair Lena had righted minutes earlier, the one Mr. Worrywort had cast aside when he abruptly stood and slinked off to the corner where he, no doubt, sits, staring and listening to the voices of the rest of the participants in this … group interview. But is that what it is? Lisa isn’t too sure. She thinks it is more like a group therapy session, with each person here dealing with their own demons, trying to escape their own pasts, escape their own presents, and maybe forget their own futures.

The young man picks up the chair and walks down a few spots. He looks at the guy sitting next to Lena. “D’you mind?” he asks and nods for the kid to move down. The boy says nothing, only moves his chair to the right. The person next to him does the same; all of them do until the gap left from the empty spot Mr. Worrywort had vacated is closed. The young man sits down, looks at Lena and takes her hand. 

“It’s okay, Baby,” he says and he sounds like he is not just in love with her, but is her protector, maybe even her savior. Or maybe it is the other way around.

“Mr. Nothing, I assume. Good of you to join us.”

Nothing looks at her, but there is contempt playing on his face, a sneer on his lips. Like Lena, his eyes are captivating. Unlike Lena’s, his are green. He looks back at the pretty girl, whispers something to her. She whispers back, then cast a mournful glance toward Lisa.

“Why?” he asks Lisa.

He catches her off guard with his sudden question. It strikes her as an accusation, as if she has done something wrong, and not him, the young man who mutilated his father with the broken neck of a beer bottle. “Why what?”

“Why did you try to hurt her?”

“I wasn’t trying to hurt her. I meant no offense. Really.”

He whispers to Lena again. She nods, but she doesn’t smile.

“You have questions?”

“Yes.”

“I do, too.”

“Okay, Mr. Nothing—“

“It’s Nothing. Just Nothing. No mister, no last name. Just Nothing.”

“Okay. Nothing it is,” Lisa responds, then adds, “I was actually hoping to get to speak with you.”

“I’m here.”

“Okay,” Lisa says and licks her lips. She wishes she had a notepad with a list of questions on them, but she hadn’t been prepared to step into the room, not like this at least. “Like I said to Lena—“

“Do you love?” Nothing asks, interrupting her. 

“Do I love?”

“Yes. Do you love?”

“I love my husband.”

“No. Do you love?”

Lisa shakes her head. “I just told you I do.”

“You said you love your husband.”

“I do. Very much so.”

Nothing laughs. “You love … a person. But do you love?”

“Yes. I love. Deeply.”

Nothing and Lena exchange glances. One side of her lips curl up. Her eyes aren’t quite dazzling, but Lisa sees something in them that could be good for her. 

“Ask your question,” Nothing says.

“Okay. As I was telling Lena, I understand why you felt the need to do what you did.”

“What did I do?”

“Excuse me? What did you do?”

“Yes.”

“You killed your father.”

“You understand what that is like?”

“I said I understand why you needed to kill him.”

“How? How could you know that?”

“I just do.”

“How?”

“I …”

“How!?”

“There’s only one way I COULD understand isn’t there!?” She clenches her teeth. She fights back the urge to stand and walk up to Nothing. She fights the urge to slap him hard across his pale, scarred face. She fights the urge to say ‘screw it, I’m done,’ and leave the interview and not look back. She can. She knows she can, but she doesn’t. Instead, her jaw relaxes and she takes a deep breath, letting it go before speaking evenly, “I apologize for the outburst, Nothing. I won’t claim my … um … history is quite the same as yours, but I do understand the impulse, the desire to fix something or right a wrong or just get good old fashion revenge on someone. I just never would have followed through with such compulsions. All I really want to know is … why? Why would you follow through with it?”

Nothing eyes her. His jaw moves from side to side. He is leaning forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees. Lisa sees him then for who he is: a scared child just looking for love and acceptance. 

“You say you understand.”

“I do.”

“Then answer me this: Do you hate?”

It’s Lisa’s turn to laugh. She brushes a lock of dark hair from her eyes. She is not smiling when she responds. Even if she wants to, she doesn’t think she can. “Do I hate? Oh, I did. Oh, I most certainly did. And sometimes I still do.”

Nothing nods. “Me too.”

“The difference between you and I is I never let it consume me. I certainly could have, maybe even should have. But I didn’t.”

Silence fills the room. With the exception of a gleeful laugh from Mr. Worrywort in the corner, there are no sounds to be heard. 

“It’s your turn to answer my question: why did you follow through on your compulsion to kill your father?”

Ten seconds pass. Twenty more follow. A full minute of silence ensues. Nothing stands. He unbuttons his shirt and slips it off his shoulders, dropping it to the floor. He wears a white t-shirt now. He pulls this off as well. There are several audible sounds of disgust and wonder and shock from the other characters. 

Nothing doesn’t stop there. He unsnaps his belt and the button that holds his pants closed. He unzips and drops his pants. He steps out of them and stands before them as naked as the day he came into the world. Nothing lifts his hands out to his side and slowly spins around for each of them to see the multitude of scars lining his body, the puckered, discolored skin that will never be smooth again. 

When he has come full circle, he bends down, picks up his pants and slides it back on. He sits down, but doesn’t move to put either of his shirts back on. 

“This is me. This is who I am. I am hate. I am nothing. And he made me this way.” He pauses, looks at Lena. She nods. The look on her face is hopeful, like a mother’s would be if her child was afraid of something and finally facing it. “He was my hate and as long as he was alive, I could never love.”

“Why involve her?”

A smile, genuine and warm, crosses his face. “Because she is my love. Without her, I couldn’t have faced him and I would still hate, not just him, but myself, my life. Now … now … I love.”

“I can see that,” Lisa says. It’s true. She does see what most probably have never glimpsed. She also knows a truth she didn’t before. It is Lena who helped Nothing overcome his fear, overcome the monster that had stalked him his entire life with words of hate and loathing. It wasn’t his idea to kill his father. It was hers. And he had followed her lead and allowed her to scar him, not the way his father had, but with their version of  affection. “I have one more question, if that is okay?”

“What is it?” He is holding one of Lena’s hands now. His leg is next to hers, his foot touching hers. There is no doubt in Lisa’s mind that they are meant to be together, that they are destined for one another. 

“Nothing, what is your real name?”

He stares at her, as if contemplating the meaning of life. Lisa thinks he knows the meaning. It is love and not much more.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I thought I might remember after he died, but I don’t. As far back as I can remember, my father called me nothing, so nothing I became. I am Nothing. No one else. There is no other name.”

Lisa smiles at this. It is a truth, and if not, then it is the truth she will take with her when this is over. “Fair enough, Nothing. Thank you for your time. And, Lena, thank you, also. If I upset you, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

Nothing and Lena look at each other, their eyes lock and remain that way for several seconds. Finally, Lisa pulls her own gaze away and settles them on the next person she has questions for …

To be continued …

Voices, The Interviews: Mr. Worrywort

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BJ73QP9). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 2: Mr. Worrywort

Lisa takes a deep breath. She didn’t expect the defiant tone in Spencer’s voice. She didn’t expect him to sound as if he enjoyed what happened to Sarah and Bobby. She wonders, very briefly, if Spencer knows Sarah didn’t die. Oh, Bobby had and he had suffered greatly before doing so, but Sarah still lives and is currently housed in the Century Falls Mental Institute, a place surrounded by brick walls that span twenty feet from the ground. One could try to climb it, but with no foot or hand holds and the top laced with razor wire, no one is getting in or out that way without paying a painful price. 

She releases the breath and looks around the horseshoe shaped chairs. Fourteen are occupied. The one where Spencer had sat seems, to her, to have never had anyone occupying it. The cushioned yellow seat appears bland compared to the others. The brown of the metal legs are lighter than the others. Lisa shakes her head. 

It’s all in my head.

The faces of the other fourteen individuals in the room are turned in every direction except toward her. One of them … one of them looks different. She cocks her head to the side and stares at him. She doesn’t recognize him from the character sheet she had been given before arriving. 

“You,” she says. 

The man she speaks to flinches, but doesn’t look up.

“Excuse me. Who are you?”

“That is Mr. Worrywort, Ma’am.” 

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMTo her right a man whose skin is like mahogany sits forward in his seat. His elbows rest on his knees and his hands are clasped together as if he is about to pray. He looks as if he has worn life on his shoulders and the weight is pulling him down. 

“Mr. Worrywort?”

“Yes’m.”

“How do you know that, Sir?”

The old man smiles. His teeth are yellow and there is only a twinkle of hope in them. “We all has a bit of Mr. Worrywort in us, Ma’am. It’s our thinker.”

Chet! her mind screams. The sudden realization strikes her and she knows the questions she needs to ask.

“Mr. Worrywort?” she asks. 

This time the man looks at her. His features are plain, almost nonexistent. She studies him for a few seconds. She sees his eyes and nose and even his lips, but she can’t make any of them out. She knows that later when she tries to recall anything about him, she won’t remember. 

Sometimes, remembrances are not good, she thinks, then wonders if the voice in her head is her Mr. Worrywort, or in this case, a Mrs. Worrywort. She licks her lips and speaks again. 

“Are you still willing to speak with me?

He nods. 

“Thank you. I will keep this short. Okay?”

Another nod.

“You are the inner voice of Chet, right?”

This time he shrugs, then nods. “I suppose so.” His voice is monotone, flat, a voice she won’t remember. 

“Is ‘inner voice’ the correct title for you, or do you prefer something else?”

She hears him take a deep breath. When he releases it, his words come with it and there is a touch of resignation in them. “That’s what some people call us. Others say we’re this thing called a conscience.” He makes invisible quote marks in the air, using two fingers on both hands to do so. “Some people see us as a devil or an angel who resides on their shoulders. However, most people call us demons, and use us as excuses for why they do bad things or do nothing at all. Chet calls me Mr. Worrywort because I try to warn him when he is about to make a bad decision.”

“I’m getting the feeling you don’t care much for Chet.”

He smiles. This she sees. It is plain … nothing worth remembering. “I care quite a bit for him. After all, without him, I do not exist. I’m like a rudder on a boat meant to steer the vessel on its course and out of trouble. Some people’s rudders are broken. They are tired or even lazy. They’ve given up on their vessel, so they let them float in the waters, near the rocks, into storms. I … I don’t do that. I do my best to steer him clear of bad actions.”

Lisa’s lips purse for a second, maybe two. “Do you feel like Chet listens to you more or ignores you more?”

“He …” Mr. Worrywort pauses. “He used to.”

“Used to?”

“Yes, before he married that woman.” There is anger in his voice, a true emotion, though some might say it’s not a real feeling at all, but a secondary one, something easily controlled and is never truly felt. 

“You mean Kay?”

“Yes, she is who I’m talking about.”

“Interesting.”

absolutely-ideas-hercules-folding-chairs-i-have-destroyed-scribblings-in-the-dark“It’s not interesting!” he yells. The room shakes. The characters in the other chairs are all looking at him now. Some of them look fearful, while others look bored or amused. “She’s going to get us killed one day. She’s almost gotten us killed a couple of times, but the last time … the last time was the worst. ‘Let’s take a trip,’ she said. ‘It will be fun,’ she said. ‘If it snows I’m sure we can find something to do.’ She said that all flirty-like, knowing Chet wouldn’t—couldn’t!—resist her. It was snowing! I hate driving in the snow. But Chet wouldn’t listen, you see. Chet was all, ‘okay, Babe,’ and she almost got us killed.”

“I don’t see how she almost got you killed, Mr. Worrywort. Chet made a decision—it was his choice.”

“He ignored me because of her! If not for her, we wouldn’t have been in that situation.”

“I see. So, since he married Kay, he ignores you more and more. Is that what you are saying?”

His arms are crossed over his chest now. His legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. “Yes, that’s what I said. If he would have just listened to me when his friend offered to ‘hook them up’ we would never have to deal with the things she does and the danger she puts us in.”

She nods and shifts the conversation slightly away from Kay. “How do you feel when he ignores you?”

Mr. Worrywort laughs. It is much like Spencer’s and something she feels is a sign of a deteriorating conversation. His chair creaks when he sits up. There is a frown on his face that appears to have been carved into his nonexistent features. “How do you feel when someone ignores you?”

Her first thought is, I ask the questions. She doesn’t say that. Instead, she answers him. “I don’t like it.”

“You don’t like it?” Another of those angered laughs comes out. “I hate it. I loathe it. How can you ignore someone who is always right?”

“But, are you really always right?” It is out before she processes it. Again, she wonders if her inner voice came up with that one.

Mr. Worrywort says nothing right away. He appears to be thinking on it, or maybe stewing about the truth. 

“When it comes to Chet, I am always right. Always.”

“I think Chet would beg to differ with you there.”

A black cloud of anger hovers on Mr. Worrywort’s face. His breaths are loud, in/out, in/out, the sound of a freight train chugging along the tracks. 

“What do you know? What do you know about me or Chet or anything for that matter?”

Lisa smiles at this. Though she doesn’t want conflict she thought there could be some before arriving there that morning. The subjects are touchy and the characters have been through more in a span of four to twenty thousand words than the average person goes through in a week. But this guy … she knows exactly what this guy is. She has come across his type many times in her life.

“I know you are manipulative. I know you get angry when you don’t get it your way. And I know you are selfish and self serving and don’t have Chet’s best interests in mind.”

“His interest is the only thing I have in mind!”

“No, Sir. Your interests are what you have in mind. You are afraid to live. Kay is not and she has shown Chet not to be afraid to live, to laugh, to love and to care. Maybe you should take a lesson from her inner voice, or maybe your own.”

“I don’t have an inner voice! None of those like me do.”

“Maybe that’s your problem. Maybe you need one.”

“I’m done here,” Mr. Worrywort says. He stands up in a hurry. The chair pushes back, tilts on its back legs and falls over, folding in on itself. Mr. Worrywort turns, shoves the fallen chair with one foot. It scrapes across the tiled floor. He doesn’t go to the door. Instead, he hurries to one darkened corner and fades into the shadows.

Lisa stares to where he went. One thought enters her mind. I can see why he might be called a demon …

To be continued …

Plotting Kills My Creativity

I’m not a plotter.  There.  I said it.

I know there are a lot of writers out there who will say I should plot my work, that I should outline my stories or even think some of them out.  I do think a lot of my stories out, but I don’t believe in plotting.

Wait.  Wait!  Put down those torches and pitchforks.  No need to burn me at the stake.  Yeah, it’s dark outside, but lynching is not the way to go here.

Let me explain.  I’ve always thought that plotting out stories restricts the actual storytelling.  I kills the creative process.  I’m not entirely sure some of the greatest writers in the history of literature plotted out there stories.  I’m almost certain many of them didn’t sit at their wooden tables, an oil lamp on just a few inches from their parchment and plume.

‘Hmmm…maybe I should put her in this situation.  Oh, but wait.  What if I do this to her?  Ohhh, yeah, this would be awesome.  I think, maybe, if she did this, then he would do that, and they would do this…oh yeah.  Brilliant stuff.  And we can end it like this.  Amazing.’

Seriously, folks, do we really think Twain and Poe and Hemingway outlined everything they wrote?  What about Dickens?  Sure, they may have jotted down some things they didn’t want to forget, but to completely outline the story?  I don’t believe it.

I’m a fan of flying by my seat.  Not literally.  I don’t have buttwings so stop looking.  Most of my stories come from seeing something or hearing something and the immediate image or thought that comes to mind is generally what I start writing.  I like to get in the car and ride along with the characters.  Sometimes we will poke along, while other times we speed at a breakneck pace that threatens to cave the windshield in and cause us to wreck and splinter our bodies along the roadside.  For me, being in the car with those characters is where the thrill is.  I don’t know what’s going to happen, and they do.  And that’s what makes it exciting.

I won’t sit here and lie and say I don’t actually jot down notes, especially if I am somewhere that I can’t actually write.  But outlining kills the story for me.  Why is that?  Why does outlining kill the story?  Well, the answer is simple:  when I complete an outline I already know the entire story, and therefore, I no longer have the desire to write it.  I know what’s going to happen, so there is no thrill.  I can no longer go along for the ride.  I can no longer watch as the story plays out, the characters doing their thing and me writing it down like an ancient scribe.

It’s a total bummer.

For me, it is always about the story.  It’s always about the entertainment I get out of writing the stories.  It’s also about the entertainment I hope you get when reading the stories I write.  If I lose interest in the story, how do I expect you to keep interest in it?  So, you see, plotting is a bad thing for me.

I do believe in situations.  You want to put your characters in situations where they either get out of it alive or they don’t, and if they do get out of it, they either change for the better or for the worse.  Situations.  Not plot.

Stephen King said in his introduction to Salem’s Lot, that storytelling is as natural as breathing and that plotting is the literary equivalent to artificial respiration (not an exact quote, mind you), and I believe he is correct.  Storytelling should feel natural.  Not stifled.  Not rushed.  Not necessarily grammatically correct, either.  Storytelling should be as natural as having a conversation with someone you are close to.  Plotting doesn’t have that natural feel.

So, I don’t plot.  I don’t enjoy it.  I lose interest in stories when I do plot them out.  And to prove it, I can look in my notebooks and see hundreds of ideas for stories.  Many of the idea stories were written.  But then I can see twenty-five pages of plotting—from beginning to end with the guts all there in the middle—and none of those stories have ever been written.

I don’t fault those who plot.  If it works for you, then do it.  It just doesn’t work for me.  So, if you want to come along with me, take a ride with me and my characters, then just know I’m going for that ride as well.  And maybe we can all enjoy it as the stories unfold.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…

Forgotten Characters Coming Back To Life

The other day I was out in my shop rummaging around in search of some plumbers putty. Very funny… No, I was not searching for it to spackle up someone’s butt crack (the least of which is mine). The drain in the kitchen needed fixing–the seal between the basin and the drain itself had broken, therefore leaking whatever water was put in that side of the sink into the cabinet below and, ultimately, onto the kitchen floor.

During my search I came across some papers and spiral notebooks sitting on an old desk. I opened one of them up–it read FYI Stationers NOTEBOOK on the front. The paper inside was bright yellow and college ruled. It had that slightly dusty aroma–you know the type of smell that old paper gets over time. The heading, centered on that first page, read (in block letters, I might add) ROUTINE. To the right was a date: 1-12-06.

Six years ago.

That was maybe a year or so after I started taking writing seriously, when I sought to be a published author more than a polished one. The first line, as horrible as it is, reads:

It was all a routine for Gregory.

The next line pretty much said the same thing, only worded differently:

It was the same thing day in and day out.

Duh… It’s a routine for a reason, A.J.

The first page and a half of the handwritten story goes into the routine that poor Gregory suffers through, something he tried his best to never deviate from. By the third page I must have thought I was brilliant because I changed the tense of the story. Surely no one will notice that I went from present tense to past tense (and it stayed that way for the next six or so pages before changing back to present tense). Nobody pays attention to this stuff, right?

The routine began to change and Gregory noticed his world unraveling, including seeing his mom and uncle playing cards at the kitchen table one day to them humping like dogs the next. And no, I did not use the term ‘humping like dogs’ in the story–I’m not that pathetic.

At any rate, Gregory’s world continues to crumble, but I apparently stopped writing on it at some point to move onto something else.

The next entry was almost two years later and the writing was a little better, but the story only went two paragraphs in before I gave up on it. I must have lost the notepad for a while and found it when I started to write the second story.

I flipped through the book and noticed that, no, I didn’t lose it after all. I just turned it over and started writing from the reverse side. The first piece from the back was my story, The Dead Don’t Like the Sounds of Basketballs, a piece where the dead leave their graves in order to stop a man from shooting baskets on a court built right next to the grave yard they were in.

Another of these notebooks was a blue Staples pad and, like the first one, there were several stories that were started and even more ideas just jotted down in hopes of one day being written. Some of the story ideas are interesting in and of themselves. More importantly, the notes and complete outline to a novel I wrote in 2006 (Unbroken Crayons) was in there. I looked over the outline and realized that there was so much more I could do with this novel. I think a rewrite may be in order.

Still there were other notebooks that held the beginnings of other incomplete works, all dated around the 2006-2008 time period. I read through a good chunk of these intros and, quite honestly, found the writing to be atrocious at best. But the ideas… many of those were solid. And the characters–there were many great characters, all of them with incomplete lives, just hanging out in limbo, waiting to be completed… waiting for me to breathe new life into them.

All those notes made me think of another story I wrote titled Dead Characters. It appeared in SNM Horror Magazine (an online publication) a couple of years ago. In the story a writer has to finish telling the story of one of his characters or other characters from other unfinished projects were going to bust down the door and kill the nice little author guy. It was a fun story to write, but looking at all these notes and unfinished pieces I realize that there is no way to finish them all or even write out some of the ideas that I jotted down so not to forget them. I don’t even think the pressure of dead characters coming to life could help me write all the stories I have notes for.

I’ll probably revisit some of the stories, if anything so I can recall the characters and use them in other pieces. At least that way they aren’t completely forgotten ghosts wishing they had closure to lives never finished. ROUTINE will definitely get a makeover and, hopefully, get completed. The storyline has potential. Besides I want to know what happens to Gregory’s mom and uncle. Surely something has to come of them doing it on the table.

One thing I’ve noticed is different now than it was six years ago. Besides the writing is better than it was back then, if I leave a story undone for any length of time now it bugs the crap out of me. I find that I have a hard time working on other pieces until I go back to the unfinished one and do my best to complete it. Back then, if I didn’t complete a story I was okay with it. Just move on to the next one. No big deal. I don’t seem to be able to do that any longer.

I reckon that’s a good thing. Too many lives have been left in limbo—if this were Greek or Roman mythology, how sad would it be with all those lives hanging in the balance while I played with others?

All these characters… just waiting to be explored and to live and, more than likely, get killed in some tragic way. At least there stories would be complete, right?

Now, to work on Her Cure before bedtime and eventually I’ll finish it so I can head to something else. Maybe ROUTINE.

Until we meet again, my friends…