Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Neighbors - Part 2

THE DARKNESS AROUND me is suffocating. I lie on my back, the soft blankets beneath me, the room around me almost dead silent. I can heard the light “whoosh” of the ceiling fan above me, and the telltale ticking of a clock that hangs in the hallway outside of my bedroom.

I do not hear my dog, and I do not hear any cars rolling down the street, but I just heard something that woke me.

The silence around me is crushing, save for the fan I hear nothing but the dull rumble of my own heard shooting blood through my veins. My eyes still cast dim reflections, spots from the back of my mind, from the nightmare that I just woke from.

I was there again. I could smell the terrible odor of burnt rubber, stale in my nostrils, the moist, sweet scent from the rain that had fallen only an hour ago, puddle around my feet, my hands, the figure in front of me. Red pooled, mingled into pink in the puddle to my left.

The window of my bedroom still glowed with the Christmas lights from across the street. I see spots of blue and white most distinctly, they stand out among the others, staring in on my blinds, sliding slyly through the slits and raking across my ceiling, just beyond the reaches of the swishing ceiling fan blades. For a long moment I sit there and stare, wondering why they were so distinct, and what I had just heard.

I listen for a long time, if nothing else, then just to get that picture out of my mind. I have to get it out.
My shoulder is shaken, I can feel a hand there, I can hear someone talking to me, but it seems like it’s from a long tunnel, so far away. There’s a mutter of conversation behind it, but farther away, quieter, spoken by a crowd that sees what I’m seeing, but doesn’t feel the same way I do. They can’t. They won’t.

I unclench my fist; I did not realize I was clutching it so tightly. My hand is on the verge of cramping I was clutching it so tightly. My fingers feel like they had just been rolled over by something quite heavy. There’s a scent in my nostrils, it’s salty—I think it’s sweat, but I’m not sure…I can only hope.

The blinking outside my window, leaking in slowly, flickering back and forth, these not like the sunset but like the cold light from my dreams. From the ones I try to hide from, the one I just left, the one that I hate.
My eyes are adjusting to the darkness, they are gradually becoming more accustomed to it, I can make out in utter vagueness the features of my bookshelf off in the corner, lined with close to two hundred books, somewhere around that. I had about as many on my Kindle, maybe more, I can’t remember.

I see the dull reflection off of my Maglite—the big one—on my nightstand. It sits like a silent guardian where it usually does, waiting for the moment it’s needed. As an LED flashlight, it certainly puts out more than enough light, though I’ve hardly ever used it.

A picture sits on my nightstand, right next to the Maglite—one I’ve looked at every night for two years, one I can’t stop looking at—one I can’t stop loving. I could probably put the picture back together from memory if I had to, but I stare at if for I don’t know how long every day anyway. I guess I’m afraid that if I don’t I might somehow forget.

I can’t forget.

I turn my gaze back at the lights, lost in the intricate dance they are performing, the popcorn ceiling curves and bends in the shifting illumination, as if it were alive, and carefully following the rhythm of the decorations.
I feel like my heart is following that same rhythm. Fast and irregular, weighted down…tired.

I see it again, but I don’t want to. I push it away. I hope it will fade into the blackness like all of the rest, I hope it will just go away. I don’t want to look. I don’t want to see.

The picture. I think of the picture.

Still that burning on the back of my eyeballs, still that stunned vision of shock, of anger, of sorrow and of pain. I see it. I feel it. I live it all again.

White line, thick and proud, stained by red, dotted by pink, splashed by a clear white, contrasted by gray, colorless to me. Everything, except for that blue and white, swimming in pink, dull and hot, a former red, but thriving death—I know what it means, but I don’t want to believe, I don’t want to see, I don’t want to understand.

Why do I still dream? Hasn’t it been long enough yet? Haven’t I dreamt enough dreams? To tell you the truth I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I try to think of somethin else. The service at church from the previous day comes to mind. They were talking about how they had seen a lot of Blake and Mikayla, a brother and sister who had been coming to the services a lot lately. They had quite a past apparently, but they seemed to have been doing very well in the Bible study groups and in regular attendance.

Blake seems like a really cool guy, he works as a mechanic, and he’s got the handshake that would make a wrestler wince. Mikayla seems to be quieter than Blake, softer spoken, I guess. She is almost always right beside him, and he seems to watch out for her a lot, I kind of wonder how long they’ve been like that. In truth I admire that, and I wonder what made them turn out that way? Was it their raising? Something they just naturally picked up? I wish I knew.

 I’m happy that they’re coming, I really am, but I don’t know them. I kind of wish I did know them better, especially since I’m up in the middle of the night thinking about them.

Blood. The white line reflects, the puddles soak my knees, my feet—the smell of the moist concrete is more than I can bear. The sight in front of me more than I wish to think about.

Make it stop.

But I can’t. I stare at the lights, the blue and the white, that glow that seems to illuminate my dreamscape, covering everything—infecting everything.

I don’t think I’m going to get to sleep for a while. It’s three in the morning, I’ve only been asleep for a few hours, and I don’t think I will see more sleep this night.

I wish the dreams would stop.

End of Part 2

Monday, December 19, 2011

Neighbors - Part 1

Well, in response to Joel's challenge to me to write a story of at least 15,000 words I have come up with a small idea and began writing it today. In the tradition of Dickens and the classic "serial novel" I have decided I will share this as it is written. Here are the first 2,000+ words.

IN THE DIM lighting of the room, I can see the colors bounce along the walls, flickering off and on again, like dancing stars in the distant sky. There are vague shadows, both the monstrous and the whimsical, silhouettes appearing again and again, then fading again into the darkness.

Off in the corner a man stands, leaning on his staff, below him a woman is kneeling, she’s staring down, her hooded head bowed slightly, eyes casting a benevolent gaze downward. Around them three more come, one is holding an animal on his shoulder, the others carry staves, they look as if they have traveled a long way.

I sit in my chair, surveying the scene, knowing that they will not move, the only movement in the room is from the dancing lights on the large tree that sits to my left.

Well, I guess large would be an overstatement, it was a good size tree, I’ll tell you that much. The lights had taken forever to string onto it, and still, deep inside I was wondering why I had taken all of the time to string lights that only I would see.

The somewhat to scale Nativity set was on a table that I never used over in the corner. Well, okay, I sometimes throw my keys onto it, but aside from that it never gets used. I wasn’t the one who had picked it out in the first place…but that’s a different story.

“Collin?” It was Connie speaking, my sister who was on the phone I was holding to my ear.

“Yeah, I’m here.” I answer.

Yes, my parents named us Collin and Connie Doyle. I guess they thought it was cute or something, truth is I never really asked them. I really wish I had when I still could, I couldn’t get an answer anymore.

“Okay, just checking, you get awful quiet sometimes.” She chuckled a little, but I knew that she didn’t really think it was funny. I think she knew what I was thinking about. “Just so you know, Amy is kind of sad you couldn’t come visit us this year—she really has a thing for you, uncle.”

I smiled. I had to. “Amy is also five years old, of course she loves visitors.”

“Especially the kind that will play with her for hours on end, including things that you know I don’t like.”

There was that. I didn’t see what was the matter with swinging her around by her arms, slinging her over my shoulder and endless piggyback rides, but Connie didn’t’ approve of such things in the house.

“Well…I guess so.” I can hear Amy in the background over the phone, she’s talking to her Dad about something, and I can hear Frank responding to her. I try to put the picture in my mind, I think Connie is sitting at the kitchen table, behind her is the kitchen, and off to the side is the living room. Connie, almost my twin, with her light brown hair pulled back into a careless ponytail, and her thumb and index finger rubbing her brow right above her crystal sea blue eyes. I like to think that she’s in her Christmas robe, the one she wears when she doesn’t care who’s around, the one with snowmen and snowflakes scattered randomly across the soft fabric. In front of her is the ceremonial evening hot chocolate, a dollop of melted whipped cream plopped on top of it, gradually sinking into the warm beverage. Her cell phone, an iPhone or a Droid—I can’t remember which one she got. She told me about it when she had purchased it.

“You doing okay, Collin?”

Ah, the question. The one I was waiting for ever since she called.

“Better than the last couple of years. Okay, I guess.” I respond. I really didn’t feel like getting into this again—I was about as over it as I was going to get, but I still didn’t see the need in dredging it up again. I know how they say that he best therapy you can get is talking to other people about what happened, and that kind of releases everything. It does help, I won’t lie—but that doesn’t mean that it still won’t hurt.

“You want to talk about it?”

I rub the back of my neck, “Nah, not right now. If I’m not mistaken, it’s well past Amy’s bed time.”

To tell you the truth I can’t always remember the exact time difference between Tennessee where I live, and Wisconsin, where she lives. All I know is that I need a good excuse. I just hope she doesn’t see it for what it is.

She sighs, and I can picture her looking at the large clock that hangs in the kitchen, one of those cat clocks that seem to be a horror movie fixture, the kind where the eyes move back and forth and the tail swings like a pendulum. Freaky thing, I know, but that’s Connie’s sense of humor. She’s probably the only person who finds stuff like that amusing.

“Yeah, but that’s fine. It’s almost Christmas, I’m not quite as strict this time of year.” He heard he take a sip of a something; what he imagined was hot chocolate.

“What? The bedtime Nazi is letting up?”

“Yes. She also sleeps a lot longer in the day when I let her exhaust herself. She still has a bedtime, don’t worry about that, but I occasionally allow her to indulge. I’ll blame it on Frank, if nothing else.”

“Sounds good to me.” I smile. Connie had loosened up since the previous years, she used to be a real “rules and regulations or die” kind of person. I had always teased her about it, but hadn’t done it in a long time. I think she was really starting to let go in a lot of areas. “But what would Dad ever say?”

“That I shouldn’t be so loose.” She chuckled again, “He would probably say: ‘rules are very important! It’s all about the rules.’ Something like that.”

I nod, he would. That he would.

“You miss them?” I ask.

A pause. “Yeah. A lot.”

“Me too.”

The Christmas lights twinkle in my tree, reminding me more of a lake at sunset, shimmering orange and blue and red and purple—such a beautiful mix. How long ago had it been I sat on a dock and watched a sunset over a lake? How long had it been since I sat there with somebody beside me, watching it in awe, captivated, and ecstatic to paint it sometime.

For a moment, I can still see her, but then the thought vanishes, like an echo falling into blackness.

“What do you think they would do?” I ask. “Would they want me to still decorate and everything, or would they tell me not to worry about it?”

Connie shifted the phone, I can hear it, “What do you mean?”

“I decorated again this year. Nothing fancy, just a tree and a Nativity scene—you know, the one that we always used to put up.”

“Yes,” she replies.

“I put it up because of them…and because of Lisa. Even though I really don’t feel like it.”

“What do you mean?”

I sigh. “It really just doesn’t feel like Christmas, you know? I see the lights on houses—speaking of which, you should see the elaborate job that the folks across the street did—and I hear the Christmas music in the store. Bing Crosby, Sinatra, Andy Williams, couple other people I could care less about—but it’s just not connecting.”

She sighs, but in understanding.

“I’m not even listening to Christmas music. I just don’t feel like it. I haven’t watched a Christmas movie all season—but I still have the tree and the lights up. Call me a Grinch, I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem to be that time of year yet. It hasn’t for a while.”

“You think it’s because of Lisa?”

I see blood on my hands, and concrete below me, a white hand with blackened fingertips lying deathly still on the dark stain that runs across the painted line. Then it’s gone.

“I don’t know.” I say. I think she’s right but I don’t say. I look at the Christmas lights dancing on the wall, their shine bouncing back and forth, and I think of that dock again, the earthy smell around me, and the faint whisper of fruit, shampoo washed hair.

“You sure you don’t want to talk about it?” She asks now, with more concern in her voice. That was Connie though; she knew exactly what I was thinking. She always did.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I will say that I could use some prayer, y’know? It…uh…it still hurts a lot. Might be the tree, might be the wreath for all I know—it all brings it back. Some of it anyway.”

“I will.” She says. “We will, Frank and I.”

“How’s he doing anyway?” I ask, not just to change the subject—which believe me I want to do—but because I am interested, and I’m tired of focusing on my problems. Heaven knows I got plenty of them.
“He’s doing good, the new church is really liking him, he’s only been here a year but they have really taken to his style of preaching. I think they know that he really cares, too. He’s just started going through the Gospel of Mark.”

I knew he would do well, Frank was a good expositor, he knew how to break down the Bible into sections and feed it to the people, and he had a style that made everything interesting. I was happy for them when they took their new church, and I’m glad they are doing well. I just wish I could make it up there to see them.

“That’s good. I’m glad for you guys.” I say, and I mean it.

I look out the window that stares into the street from my living room. I see the house across the street—of course it’s hard not to—decked out with all manner of lights. They have lights going on the walls and the roof, which I can honestly say I haven’t seen anywhere except for television. Their front yard houses a herd of deer and a menagerie of snowmen inflatable decorations, all lead by a huge plastic rendition of the classic Frosty the Snowman, the bane of all Scrooges. On their roof was a Santa that could stand to lose a few, with four emaciated reindeer pulling a wooden sleigh that they had somehow mounted. How long it took to put up the grand display was beyond me, and I dare not ask what the electric bill is for it.

“Well, I gotta go. I think it’s almost bedtime for me.” I say.

I hear Connie begin to laugh into a sip of hot chocolate (or whatever it is) and quickly gulp it back down. “I guess so. Remember, if you want to talk, just gimme a call.”

“Of course.” I tell her. “Give my love to Amy and tell Frank to keep going. He needs to put more sermons on the Internet.”

“Will do. Love you, and merry Christmas, Collin.”

“Love you too, sis. Have a good week.”

We hang up and I set the phone down on my coffee table, inhabited by a cup of the good old black stuff, and a bottle of ibuprofen sits off to the side, closed up tight. Something about this time of year always gives me some off the wall headaches.

Her hair cascades around her head, like she’s floating in water, a speck of red dots her eye; those beautiful eyes stare up at me, not exactly blank, but so very unrecognizing, so very vague. It fades out.

I pick up the cup of coffee, held by a battered old mug with none other than Donald Duck staring back at me. He looks somewhat exasperated, and I try to remember where in the wide world I picked up this cup. I have no idea.

I sip from it, tasting the cold bitterness of the brew sluice down my near-parched throat. It’s not the best pot I’ve ever made, that much is for sure.

“Merry Christmas, Lisa.” I say to the tree, with the lights twinkling like the sunset. “Merry Christmas, dear.”

End of Part 1

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It Has Been Too Long...

...since either of us has posted here. So, here's a little update on us.

Michael: Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, he was unable to finish his NaNoWriMo novel. However, he is working on it, and he will finish it.

Me: The same happened to me - I failed due to my health worsening. I am, however, determined to finish it, though I have not written on it in some time. I am planning on, if possible, writing a short story (a longish short story - 15,000+ words) next week, or at least beginning on it. I think this might would put me back in The Zone, as it were. That is my hope.

My writing style has taken a dramatic change. I am now writing only in present tense (virtually), though, in the case of my NaNoWriMo book, for instance, I will finish it in past tense (though it will not stay in that form). I also have plans to make use of second-person in my future writing endeavors.

So, there's a little update from us. Merry Christmas!
God bless,
Joel ><>.

So, what about you? What are you working on currently?