Over this past week I grew a wild hair that I must rework The Happy Valley from the beginning. I have found that it is an arduous process and I am only a couple of chapters into it. In the meantime, here are some more photos of the cemetery. I wasn’t lying about them taking up so much space my phone.
Monthly Archives: March 2019
Well, today I emerged from my winter writer nest and went back to the old day job, which happens to be in a cemetery. I’ll try my damnedest to keep up with the writing this work season. There will, however, be photos – a lot of photos. (My phone is so full of them that it doesn’t want to work as a phone any more.)
I promised my family I’d make them a wall calendar of our August vacation in the Adirondacks. Needless to say, I am running behind schedule so the starting month for the calendar is going to be March. I am currently up to my eyeballs going through thousands of photos. These are a few of my favorites. I’m also not ruining any surprises here, for this year’s theme features candid family photos.
Diary of the Third Shift Zombie: Major Malfunction
Here are a couple more tales from the gas station saga. These are from a chapter called Major Malfunction in which everything I touch breaks in the typical literary conflict of Man Vs Machine.
Radiant unnatural red pooled on the counter in between the frozen mocha, French vanilla cappuccino, and the tropical punch slush machines. It seeped between the cracks of the cups where they were stacked up and bled beneath the display unit of single serving coffee creamers. It oozed into the open drawer where we kept the parts needed to complete the task. The syrupy tropical punch slush mix pooled on the floor at our feet. The two of us swore simultaneously as we watched in a complete state of shock as the deluge happened in slow motion. “I’ll get the paper towels and a mop.” I sighed and said as I glanced quizzically at my second shift co-worker who had so graciously stayed later to show me how to clean the machine and change the out of date bag of syrup. Something told me it wasn’t supposed to turn out that way.
I watched her work earlier, as the myriad of components were systematically washed, dried, and reassembled. The whipping chamber was emptied and rinsed out, the dispensing nozzle soaked, and the propeller cleaned. All the dust was wiped out of every crack and crevice. It was a laborious process. It looked like she did a decent job and I hoped to God I wouldn’t have to do it again by myself in the near future or if at all. Of course, a couple of customers complained that the machine was out of order for routine maintenance on the muggy summer night.
Disaster struck the second she snipped open the corner of the fresh bag and poured all of the contents down the hatch. It immediately dropped out of the bottom and stained everything in its path a bright unyielding red. She fumbled trying to hastily take everything back apart as I struggled to stop the swelling mess before it got even worse.
“I need a band-aid,” she said suddenly and stood up straight as she held her hand a loft. She had gotten herself good and how she managed to do it was anybody’s guess. She went back to administer first aid on a sliced finger. Her blood mingled in the slush mix. It was hard to tell the difference. Not there was enough to time to watch as the customers crowded around at the beginning of my shift. “Looks like you spilled something,” one of them chuckled and said as I cashed him out.
“You think?” I added and swept my hand over the blood slush spill. His face grew serious as he noted the magnitude of our mess.
“The thing just broke. Mercury must be in retrograde or some shit like that.” I said through my customer service smile and tried to have a good sense of humor about the situation. Sadly, my statement was lost on him.
“Well good luck with that,” he said and left. It was then I looked up and happened to catch a glance at my unfortunate coworker as she resumed her task with a bandaged hand. My eyes went wide as she reached for another bag of syrup. “Nooooo!” I shouted, ignoring the line of customers and practically vaulted over the counter, slipping and sliding on the recently mopped floor as I ran to her before she reached for the pair of scissors. “Don’t pour another in there!” I shouted as I moved to swat the bag out of her hand.
“What?!” she looked perplexed. “But we have-”
“Don’t do it! Don’t trust the machine! Put up an out of order sign on it for now. I’ll look at it during the night if I have enough time. Go on, get out of here. Go home,” I said. The mess was almost cleaned up, and a she had already stayed an hour or so over her time to help me. “Are you sure?” She looked as if she had a long day already.
“Yeah, go.” I took one last look at the rest of the beleaguering mess before running back to the counter to resume cashing out the customers.
It was one in the morning shortly after the beer coolers closed when the store died down and I took time out to glance at the sticky red owner’s manual for the accursed equipment. It was in the drawer during the spill. “Lube!” I shouted aloud unaware of any costumers that may have entered the store as I happened upon the answer to all of my problems. “You need to lube up the gasket!” I dug into the drawer and pulled out a spare little black rubber gasket. I grinned and held it aloft at a customer who came in and started pouring himself a cup of coffee as he could care less about the gasket. The bottle of lube, however, was nowhere to be seen. First or second shift must have misplaced it the last time the machine was cleaned.
Out of all the condiments and condiment accessories the ketchup and mustard pumps will forever be my nemesis. For something so simple there were far too many working parts for my bedraggled brain to handle on some nights. Inside are plungers, caps, springs, and tubes. Each individual piece has to be taken apart, scrubbed, and the contents squeezed out of the nozzle when the container is emptied and then refilled.
“I think I got it this time,” I said to myself as I assembled all the pieces accordingly and primed the pump. Nothing came out. I grew to loathe the things, especially when there was no other recourse then to take all apart and try again. After the third time trying, everything was smeared in a sticky red mess. It got the counter and dribbled down to the floor. Ketchup oozed out of everywhere else in the damned contraption but the nozzle. Am I missing something? Is there another part that I’m forgetting? I started to fret. A thought nagged at the back of my mind and I pictured a mythical missing piece, a tiny spring perhaps or gasket lube, tucked away somewhere. Maybe it fell or was stuck in the drain. To think, littlest spring could very well be the source of all this agony. I was just about to dart back and scour the kitchen again when a customer walked in. I nodded in acknowledgement, as I stood over the ketchup pump as if I was a surgeon trying to resuscitate a dying patent. I looked down and noticed all the red splotches and smears on my hands and arms and all over my work shirt. No wonder why I got a weird look from her, I frowned as I cobbled the pieces of the pump back together poorly as opposed to having it splayed open for the entire world to see my shame. I ran to the hand-washing sink to clean myself up enough to cash her out.
After that, I made my decision to ignore the deplorable dispenser. There was so much more that had to be done in the store. For one the food cart was left out of the freezer, still leaden with all of the tube meats, taquitos, and condiments. It had been there for about an hour or so, infringing on health code violation territory, while I spent so much time fiddling with that accursed pump. I only managed to fill six of the twelve coffee pots and boy howdy that was a big no-no especially during the calm before the morning storm, which was set to descend upon us at any second. All of the counters had to be wiped down and trash bagged up and walked to the dumpster. I had a guy pay me in a pile of sticky car pennies and those had to be rolled up.
No more than a minute after the jumbo dogs were deemed heated enough to be eaten, a customer went without ketchup. “Uh, miss, the ketchup’s not working,” she said frowning as she held up her bare jumbo dog. The dispenser of doom mocked me as it sat on the counter, reduced a poorly assembled decoy. What was I missing? I wrung my brain for any answer but I could not wrap my brain around it.
“I know. I’m sorry I can’t get it to work for some reason.” I sighed and then gasped as I was struck with a brilliant thought. “Oh, there are condiment packets! Just over there on the other side. There is mustard, mayonnaise, sweet pickled relish, and we even have hot sauce!” I felt exulted in the fact that my customers would not go without their condiments and I wouldn’t have to deal with the ketchup container any more. I thought about sliding it straight into the trash hole in the counter, or perhaps drop kicking it into the parking lot; out of sight out of mind.
But still, it bothered me greatly. Once the store was again empty, I put it back together the right way and pumped once, twice, thrice, and nothing. My hands were again strained a sticky red. This, I thought, this is the meaning of madness. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results! Why couldn’t I leave it well enough alone? I felt myself becoming unhinged. Why won’t you work!? My brain screamed I pumped harder, and then I tried it slower, gently priming the piece. The ketchup only got up the tube so far and nothing but air spurted out. “Come on! Work damn you! Work!” I cried when I was alone; pounding the thing as if I was trying to bring a loved one back to life. At the same time I pictured myself picking up the full container, and smashing it upon the floor. Oh what a big bloody mess it would make- a beautiful bloody mess. I fantasized about running around with bright red hands smearing ketchup wherever I could reach. I thought about signing my name so everyone knew this masterpiece was mine. I could roll in the puddle on the floor and make ketchup angles.
The manager would surely have a coronary when she walked in. I’d be fired, hauled away in handcuffs, or even murdered. All of those options looked like a sweet release from my wretched life as a third shift cashier. “Why? Goddammit! Why?” I wailed as I balled up my fist and pounded at the thing live I’ve never pounded before. “Why don’t you work you bloody son of a bitch!” I screamed. In the midst of my fury I failed to hear the door alarm as another customer happened to walk in for coffee.
THE HAPPY VALLEY: MEAN SEASON
A continuation of the previous chapter.
THE HAPPY VALLEY: MEAN SEASON
“Why did you want to meet me here?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge looked around the small bar; the light of day did not make The Post look any better. “I bet it smells like urine on a hot day even in the dead of winter,” she remarked.
“Because,” Deeds replied, though she did not know exactly why she was back there either, not after last night. “I didn’t want to meet you at my house.” After that morning, it was the last place she wanted to be. She hoped The Twins weren’t returning any time soon. Thankfully, they had absconded with their prize. Deeds was eternally grateful it was off her hands no matter what they were planning to do with it. The Post seemed like a safe place. As a rule no questions were asked and no fucks were given, even if Deeds was just double-fisting coffee and water.
“It can’t possibly be worse than this.” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge took in her surroundings. “I wonder how many people have died in here?”
“You’re the Spiritualist. And yes, right now the answer is yes my place is way worse than this.” She changed the subject even if her next statement was going to be a sore one. “How have you been sleeping?”
“You know the answer to that already.” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge said shortly.
“Poorly,” Deeds frowned as she saw her eyes well up as the Spiritualist attempted to hide her tears.
She managed to gain her composure. “It was a different dream last night. This one was about Bracken, he was burning and I was there to help him. Only I was also awake at the same time. I found myself in the cellar staring at the coal chamber. The cat was with me, I-“she stopped at the sound of breaking glass. An altercation broke out behind her. She turned around to see someone standing behind her armed with the broken beer glass.
“What are you looking at?” he snarled at her and pointed his makeshift weapon in her direction.
“Nothing really,” she said snidely.
“What was that?” he asked, not liking her answer.
“I said nothing.”
Deeds had noticed the mood had changed drastically in the small and sparsely populated bar. It had started with the gooseflesh and she felt the hairs on her arms rise. A sudden chill filled the room. She looked up in the air and could almost see the spores. She gasped, and thought about holding her breath and if it would do any good and that was when her attention was drawn to the Spiritualist, who was about to throw down with a local drunk. So much for no fucks given, Deeds thought as she turned to Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge. “On second thought, coming here was a horrible idea. I am so very sorry. Let’s go for a walk, a long walk far away from here!” her voice rose on the last part so the people in the back could hear. Together they stomped out of the bar to greet the day. There was nothing welcoming about it. The foul mood of The Post had spilled outside exposing everything to the harsh sunlight. They squinted for a second shielding their eyes. The voices of pedestrians and passerby’s were anxious and agitated.
“Did you see that? I almost got into a fight!” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge sounded exhilarated about that notion. The spores were getting to her too. She had been spending too much time at the house, Deeds feared. A woman walked by, purposely bumping into her shoulder as she stood in the middle of the sidewalk. “Excuse me,” the lady said but there was nothing polite about the tone of voice. “I was walking here!” She chided.
Deeds stepped out the way, brushed herself off, and slow clapped for the lady. “Well, good for you! Congratulations!”
She scoffed and huffed off.
“You almost got into a fight too!”
The Spiritualist was right and Deeds wondered if she had really gotten into her head. For that was what she was picturing. She shook the notion out of her mind. “You sound way too excited.” Deeds gripped her by the forearm and lead her across the road and they started to march up the hill and away from the town proper.
“Where are we going?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge said; making sure she kept pace with Deeds who was now walking with a purpose.
“We’re going on a hike. There’s a nature preserve a couple blocks east of us. I figured it would be secluded enough because we really need to talk. It was either that or the path along the canal and that’s the last place I want to go. Not since a couple of days ago, the morning of your show.”
Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge stopped short. “That was three weeks ago.”
“What?” Deeds felt her words slice through her and she was dead in her tracks.
“I’ve been here for three weeks,” she said again, though this time she was not so sure any more about how much time had actually passed. Had it been that long? She looked over at Deeds and saw her pallor deepen into a shade of gray. Her mouth drew down in a wide frown. Deeds looked like she had a rough night and an even rougher morning. “Or, something like that, I don’t know, it feels like that much has time has passed.”
“Don’t say that.” Deeds replied her voice was as grim as the expression on her face.
“I didn’t, forget I said anything.”
“I know what you are doing. Your mind control tricks won’t work on me.”
“Excuse me?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge took on a defensive tone.
“What has gotten into you?”
Deeds sighed; it was getting harder to control the emotions that she had gotten so good at bottling up. “Sorry. I-“
“Mom! Dad!” a child shouted from the sidewalk, cutting her of in mid apology. Both Deeds and Bainbridge looked down with a start to see the girl pointing at the two of them from the edge of the front yard.
“Where did you come from?!” Deeds exclaimed and cringed, stepping away from the trajectory of her accusatory finger.
“What’s your problem, little girl?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge did the exact opposite and took a step closer to the child and towered over her.
“I’m not afraid of you!” She said snottily and looked up to meet her gaze. “I know your face, you’re on that poster.” She shouted the obvious like the little know-it-all she was. “You talk to ghosts! You are a witch!”
“What did you call me?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge threatened, “Oh I am a witch all right. I will curse you, your whole family, and your family’s family and so on! It is not nice to call people names!” She clenched her fist.
“Hey hey hey!” Deeds stepped into between them trying to break up the altercation. The child had to be six or seven at the most.
The girl looked up at Octavia Anton Deeds and screamed. “You’re the monster that lives in the old church. You eat people! MOM DAD!!!!!!!”
The lilting shrill of her voice sliced through their eardrums. Deeds was afraid they were going to rupture for she hadn’t quite gotten rid of the malingering headache. “Oh if you don’t shut up right now, I will eat you. I’m going to start with the tips of your toes and work my way up while you are still alive.” She whispered low threatening, her voice almost a growl “You will be so young and tender.” The girl clamped her mouth shut for she could see the saliva pool and the corner of her lips.
“You’re creepy,” the child added after a moment matching her dangerous tone and armed with the best comeback. She gloated about owning the last word in the argument and that her parents were coming to back her up. “HELP!”
Sure enough, there was a commotion from the front porch as her parents burst through the door hearing the cries of help of their sweet baby girl. “Shit, let’s go.” Deeds swore made a run for the nature preserve. A couple of steps behind her Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge turned around. “I’m not done with you little girl!” She shouted back at the child, raising a finger. “You are cursed! I put a curse on all of your houses!” She hollered triumphantly into the midday air and spun back around and sprinted to catch up to Deeds.
“What is happening?” Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge asked as soon as she caught her breath. She had never been much of a runner and that was a serious uphill climb they had accomplished. “I almost dropkicked a child. I cursed her whole family.” She did not know why she was whispering, for there seemed to be a moment’s peace between them in middle of the woods. They hunkered down in the ruins of a mill or a house on top of the hill. All that was left was a polished stone foundation. A quiet descended upon the two of them, which they filled with heavy panting for it appeared as though neither of them enjoyed exercise. Far off, she could still hear the tumult on the streets below. Voices were raised in anger and confrontation. People were so quick to leap down each other’s throats. Below them everything was going to hell. Tensions were wound tighter than a clock spring. She felt that speaking above a whisper would cause everything to snap back and smack her in the face.
Deeds looked nervously through the honeysuckle, she was sure there was going to be a search party and probably a lynch mob after them now. She shrugged, “she deserved it,” she also whispered. “Calling people names is not nice. I threatened to eat her alive”
Despite her normal degree of agitation, Deeds seemed pretty even keeled about the whole situation. Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge made a note of it. “Why are you so calm about all of this? Why aren’t you panicking?”
“Because, I know that there are things out there far larger than just ourselves to worry about.” Deeds divulged the secret to her seemingly calm seas. “The world has changed for the worse, and everyone knows it, but it is beyond their comprehension. It’s like a gut feeling or a bloody ulcer. Since they don’t understand it, they just ignore it. That is what we were trained to do for generations. But it is getting harder to stuff it all down and sweep everything under the rug. Everyone down there,” she paused and motioned to the skyline, “is waking up to it. They’re just reacting as it bubbles over, the only way they know how to and that is through violence.” Deeds reached a hand up to the bruise that grew on her check. She hadn’t even realized she was doing it. No wonder her head hurt so much.
“Were you in a fight?”
“How did you know?” Octavia Deeds said defensively. “Oh wait, that’s right you’re a psychic.”
Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge rolled her eyes. “Seriously. I don’t have to be a psychic to see you look like hell. What happened to you?”
“There was a break in this morning. These two goons stole Grander’s relic. They were twins or something. Hell, it knocked me for a loop when I found out there were two of them that I was fighting with. That’s when I was punched. They also shot me with awesome gun they had.”
“No wounds,” Deeds motioned over her body, “they even shot me in the face. I was completely paralyzed. Minus the uncomfortable interrogation, not feeling anything was rather enjoyable. I was way too drunk or hungover to be to be fighting, anyway.”
A cloud passed over The Spiritualist’s face, “you let them get away with it!?”
“Yes, I couldn’t move-”
“You didn’t go after them, after they unfroze you?”
“Like I said, I was still drunk.”
“What if it gets in the wrong hands? They interrogated you, about what? What did you tell them?”
“Hey, look at me Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge, they asked me questions like if I had remorse for what I’ve done. I’m pretty sure they’re one of the good guys. They didn’t kill me, even though I asked them too. They had to keep me alive. The twins said they’d destroy the statue. Somehow, I believe them. If I am wrong, I will burn that bridge when it get to it,” she added prophetically. “That’s part of the reason why I wanted to talk to you, to warn you about my encounter with them this morning. They might be good but I don’t know how good.”
“Speaking of snake ladies, how’s Grander doing, after his, um, possession?”
“Oh, Max Grander, you know I don’t see much of him as of late, he mostly keeps to his room. When I do see him, he is convivial, but I don’t have any idea what goes on in that room of his or if he is even alone. He carries on conversations with himself or that cat of his. Sometimes, it’s not even in English but a language far older than Latin that he speaks in. This one time he was chanting in his sleep, only it was all numbers. He was spouting math equations that sounded like the antithesis of sacred geometry, in his sleep. The memory made her cringe and Deeds felt for her. “I hate math,” they said together.
“During the day he pours over his paper work, he’s planning on building something but I don’t know what. I don’t want to know-”
“That was another thing I wanted to talk to you about, keep an eye on him, though I don’t think you have much to worry about. It would be nice to know what he’s building in there… You said earlier that Bracken was burning, and you were there to help him?”
“Yes,” her voice rose on an upswing as she thought about the recent development in her dreams. “Do you know what that means? It means that I can save him. I was there.”
“I don’t know. I don’t like the sound of that. Please, stay away from the basement and don’t go near the crawlspace.”
“You don’t understand, every night everybody wants everything from me. If I can save just one of them, maybe it would help put my mind at ease. I can find Bracken’s body. I know it, I did it. I was there.”
Deeds knew there was no arguing with the Spiritualist. Her heart was set. “I was also going to try one last time to convince you to leave town. Get the hell out of Knowlton’s Corner, but I see now that you are set on staying to see this through. All I ask is that you stay safe, keep your head down, and try not to dropkick any children.”
THE HAPPY VALLEY: THE TWINS
I’m taking a break from the gas station book. I don’t know when my job starts up again but I have a feeling it will be soon. In the meantime, I wanted to squeeze in as much writing as I could. Here is a chapter from my other story. It is pretty badass.
THE HAPPY VALLEY: THE TWINS
Deeds woke up and gurgled and gargled and swallowed hard. She rolled over on her back and looked up at the cracked and mottled ceiling of her room. It was then she became aware of the papers affixed to the damp skin of her face as she slept. The moisture caused the ink to run. She swore and peeled them off. She saw her scribbled scrawl had started to run, it was barely legible anymore. She wondered how much of the ink had gotten on her face, but she made no move to get up and check. She had drooled too. Deeds lay still feeling the floor rock her back to sleep like a lullaby. She barely remembered walking home, did she take the back alleys, she wondered. Or did she wander brazenly singing in the middle of the street. She glanced down at her feet and then past them at the door. She definitely did not remember leaving it wide open.
Her stomach sank and it wasn’t just the alcohol when she realized that someone else was in her room. “Hello?” She choked and groaned and wobbled to her feet. Spending the night drinking had been a bad idea and she knew it while she was doing it. She took full responsibility for her actions as she felt her brain catch up with the rest of her body. She was stiff, beyond dehydrated, painfully hungover, and more than likely still drunk. Deeds ambled to the open front door and shut herself in with the intruder. “Hello?” she repeated and started and twirled at a noise that came from behind.
“Hello!” the voice sounded cheerful as the stranger barreled to her. Deeds ducked at the last minute not wanting a repeat of what happened with Max Grander at the house on Abernathy Avenue. How the mad robed man managed to overpower her so quickly was still a mystery. There was a smack as whoever it was hit the door hard with the palms of their hands to stop them from slamming face first into it. She screamed and returned the favor as she stood up and dug her head and shoulders into the intruder’s rib cage and shoved with all her might, pressing her legs against the door for leverage. As she beat the stranger back, hands gripped the side of her face, fingers clasping fistfuls of damp hair at her temples and the stranger groaned in effort and managed to reroute Deed’s momentum. She deflected harmlessly to the left and fought to find her footing. “Take her alive,” she heard the stranger say, and to her confusion she heard the same voice answer back. “I know I’m not going to kill her. She’s all slimy. I can’t get a good grip.”
Unable to stop herself from falling Deeds tumbled and tripped over a pile of dirty clothes and blankets, she ducked and rolled to deaden the fall and stood up too quickly. She swayed on her feet and gulped for the stranger that stood before her now held a gun. Deeds never saw anything like it before; it was narrow, angular, and made of a brightly polished metal. The sharp barrel was pointed at her face as if it was meant to impale as opposed to firing god knows what at her. “What kind of gun is that?” Deeds was dumbfounded and couldn’t help but ask. She also hoped that the slur in her speech did not betray how bad off she really was. “Just don’t impale me with that thing.”
“She’s dangerous.” Deeds heard the stranger say.
“Who? Me or the gun?” She raised her hands in defeat.
“Yes,” the stranger answered.
“What?” She asked perplexed and shook her from side to side as if trying to free the cobwebs from between her ears. The motion made her head throb even more as her brain attempted to crawl out of her skull. She needed to think of a way out but the intruder had the only exit blocked. She looked over at the blue, green, gold, and black of the stained glass windows in her room. She did not want to break them but she would if she had to.
“She’s distracted. Take her out now!”
“Huh?” she asked as she heard the voice come from behind.
“Huh?” the intruder with the mysterious gun pointed to her head mimicked her confusion.
With her hands still raised she turned slowly to figure out where the other voice came from. That was when her face was met with a fist that sent Deeds sprawling back to the floor.
She had never been very good in a fight, despite her stocky stature. Octavia Deeds was ungainly; her center of gravity was off as if she had more joints in her body than she should have. She was also uncoordinated. However there were a couple of things that she was decent at when it came to a confrontation and that was taking a punch and playing dead. That was what she chose to do at the very moment as she laid perfectly still and not breathing as her assailant loomed in closer. She also wasn’t bad with a knife. With luck she found a switchblade in her tumble and tucked it away in her hand. Her cheek stung from the punch as she feigned unconsciousness. “Is she dead? No. Not dead. She better not be. I mean, she shouldn’t be. I only punched her once and not that hard. You better check and watch out. She has a knife hidden in her hand. I know she has the knife.” Deeds hoped her face did not betray her puzzlement as she heard one voice carry on a full conversation. She felt a boot make contact with her hand and the knife skittered out of her grasp. Her fingers throbbed and she bit her tongue, kept her eyes closed, and dared not make a move to retrieve it as the stranger leaned in closer to see if she was still breathing. Fortunately, Deeds could hold her breath for a long time. “I know it has been a minute. Don’t worry. I’m not worrying. It wasn’t that hard. I swear. It was if she just threw her head right into my fist. This one is an odd one. She’s also intoxicated. I can smell it on her pores. You may have to revive her.”
She felt herself being rolled onto her back, and a head draw close. It was then she brought her legs up and found the stranger’s shoulders on either side of the neck. She opened her eyes, and pain sliced through her temples and down to her neck and shoulders. Her stomach churned from the effort. “Oh Gods,” Octavia Deeds mumbled as she squeezed, “I’m going to throw up.” There was a gurgling noise of a windpipe getting crushed and she closed her eyes with the exertion and to stop the world from spinning out of control around her. Then she felt herself being lifted up off the ground and she tumbled forward as her assailant managed to get their legs back under them and fall bodily backwards, flinging the gun away in the effort.
Deeds lost her bearings, she swore, as the stranger slid from her grip. She groaned and swallowed hard against the bile that threatened to rise. “Not now,” she muttered to her guts. She saw she was closer to the window as she scrambled to her feet and her attacker did the same. To her surprise, the gun was once again pointed in her direction. Seconds before she had seen it sail across the room. There was no way it could have been recovered so soon, she thought as she raised her hands again in defeat. “What are you doing in my house,” she asked her voice was rough.
“Well, we were going to sack it, but it looks as if you already did it for us.”
She sighed and risked a glance around her surroundings; her assailant’s joke was not lost her. What could they possibly be looking for in this mess? Then it dawned on her. “Wait, what? You said we. I’ve only ever seen one of you.” She heard a noise behind her and she turned for a second. “Now,” a voice said and the one with gun fired.
A jolt shot through her and Octavia Deeds crumpled to the floor. She laid there stunned and desperately hoped that there were no profound flesh wounds, not that it mattered, for she realized she could not feel anything at all. It was as if she was still playing dead but for real this time. At least she did not feel sick and she drew little comfort from that notion. Through half closed eyes, she heard her attackers rifling through her room. She could hardly blame them for making her mess even worse. “Check the bag on the bed.” Deeds groaned internally as she realized what they wanted.
“I’m checking the bag.” Her insides cringed when she heard they had found it.
“Where did you get this?” one of the intruders approached her with the relic that Deeds struggled so hard to obtain and held it inches from her face. A string of profanity and questions wound around her mind but she could not form the words. “You’ll have to unfreeze her mouth if you want her to talk.”
“I know,” the other captor sighed, hit a button, pulled the trigger, and shot Deeds in the face. She closed her eyes tightly and then opened them and realizing with a flood of relief that she could do so. She opened and closed her mouth, cracking her jaw and clacking her teeth. She was disappointed to find that the rest of her body was still very much immobile. But her mouth was enough to get her point across. “Who are you two? What are you doing in my house and what in Gods’ name are you planning on doing with that statue? More importantly, what are you going to do with me?” All of her questions spilled out past her chapped lips.
“Are you done?” Both of them asked simultaneously. “Are there any more questions?”
“Yeah, I have some more,” Deeds couldn’t help it, “what kind of gun is that?” She asked again, “and where can I get one of those?”
“Okay fine,” she realized she was powerless. “I got it at a house on Abernathy Avenue. Somehow this crazed guy in a bathrobe and a high grade fever had it in his possession. He called himself a collector and an occultist, a bit of a nut job if you ask me.”
“We are asking you,” they answered, their voice humorless.
“What are you two planning on doing with it?” She added an extra emphasis on their number now that she knew for a fact that there were multiples of them. For all she knew there might even be a third lurking around somewhere and she hoped that wasn’t the case. “If you want it that bad, take it please. All I ask is that you destroy it. Hell, I was planning on doing it myself once I figured out how. Just take the whole bag; I’m done with that place.”
“What happened at Abernathy Avenue?”
“Something bad has opened up in the cellar. Mushrooms started growing, madness inducing spores from another world.” She did not want to go into any more details. “Look, are you finished? It is obvious you two already know what I’m talking about; otherwise you wouldn’t have broken into my house to steal that thing. You have it, it is yours, just please, please, unfreeze me and let me go. I’ll leave town and go far away. You can burn this place down and everything with it, I’m done with all of this too. All I ask is that you destroy that statue.”
“Oh we are,” they said simultaneously.
“But we’re not letting you leave,” the one with the gun added.
Octavia Deeds could not feel her heart sinking as she heard their words but she knew it did. “But why not?” she asked in earnest this time. “I swear I am not going to cause any more trouble. I’m done with that too.”
“Oh, what you are going to do is of no worry to us.”
“It is what you did do that is a cause for concern.”
To Deeds that sounded like a threat and she wondered what it was they were talking about. “Oh,” she added more to herself once she realized what it was. It did not look good. “So you’re not going to let me go.”
“How very astute,” the one with the gun added with the sharp looking barrel aimed on her face.
“It’s about what happened at the canal isn’t?”
“So you do remember?”
“How can I forget? I-I-“
“There was a lot of death that day, and we believe you were responsible for it.”
Deeds swore aloud for she knew she was screwed.
“You were spotted in the town that morning covered in blood.”
“And later that evening you were seen harassing a Spiritualist at the town hall event. After words, you followed her to the hotel bar. Witnesses say your conversation was heated. You were forcing her to do something.”
“I left empty handed.”
“That doesn’t explain the fact that Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge hasn’t been seen since. She cancelled the rest of her tour has gone missing in Knowlton’s Corner. We know you had something to do with her disappearance.”
“That doesn’t look good on your part.” The twins added together.
Deeds still tried to wrap her bedraggled head around the fact that they weren’t just twins but multiples of the exact same person. Their mannerisms and dress were out of place; clearly they weren’t from around here. And that gun, she added, that beautiful and terrifying gun… there was no way she was going to survive. Though she did hear them say as they fought that she had to be kept alive. Deeds wondered what her captors were planning to do to her. “I assure you Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge is safe,” she added in a last ditch effort to clear her name of at least that. She had hoped Ms. Bainbridge was long gone by now. “She’s a Spiritualist, I asked for help in dealing with that damned house. There is a ghost there too, or a soul that has been separated from his body. He goes by Bracken. From what I encountered with him he seems like an okay guy. I guess she agreed to help him out. She chose to stay at Abernathy Avenue. I bet you that is where she is. She is a Spiritualist, after all, a piercer of the veil and all of that.”
“That doesn’t explain the death toll.”
“I don’t suppose it does,” Deeds tried to find a way to explain what had happened to her that morning, but she couldn’t get it out. “Just kill me already and get it over with.”
“So you do admit guilt.”
“Yes, no, I – don’t know. I can’t explain it.”
“Try.” They said together.
“It was me, but it wasn’t. Something came out of the basement. The mad robed man must have summoned it or something. Next thing I knew this black water had filled my lungs, combining with what I already had in me. Together it took over my body. “
“It comes from a primeval sea deep underground; every time I fall asleep I drown in it. I know this sounds crazy but I didn’t mean to do it, I wasn’t in control. You have to believe me.”
“Oh we believe you, to a point. Clearly, you are in control of your own body, now, and poorly at that.”
The one with the gun trained on her added, “otherwise we would not have been able to incapacitate you.”
They shared a moment of certain smugness between them that Deeds loathed. But the only thing worse than her current situation was the looming hangover so she kept her mouth shut on that one. It was nice not to feel pain. “I served my purpose, it was done with me. I coughed it up on the water’s edge.”
“Where is it now, this Black Water?”
Deed’s wanted to shrug but she was still paralyzed from the neck down. “Wreaking havoc and eating worlds, floating downstream to the open ocean for all I know. Killing as it goes. Wait, if you believe me, why aren’t you letting me go? It is not like I intended to eat so much. As I said before it was beyond my control.”
“Would you do it again if given the chance?”
The question took Octavia Deeds for a loop. She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes, her facial expression betraying her words. She didn’t want to have to answer them, for they would know it was lie. Her captors stood shoulder to shoulder looking down at her immobilized form and crossed their arms. Their movements and mannerisms were in sync. The twins, no, she corrected herself for they really were duplicates of the same person, waited for an answer. “I’m pretty sure you know the answer to that,” Deeds replied. “But more than anything, that amount of whatever it was that I had in me- I was terrified the entire time.”
“Terrified that you enjoyed it? The question is-“
“-do you have remorse for what you have done?” The other one finished the question.
“What?! I told you, it wasn’t me. I was powerless.”
“Still, do you have remorse?” They said together.
She paused for a second hoping her silence did not imply culpability. Then guilt sank in through the cracks of her protestations. “Oh,” she said, it was all she could offer them as an answer.
Deeds exhaled in relief that her reply was deemed decent enough. She felt as if she passed some sort of test . She really did feel awful about that. “Look, I can barely handle what I have already. If I could purge even that from me I would. Do you think I want to be like this? I drown in this shit in my sleep. Every. Single. Time. As a result I don’t get a lot of sleep and They are always there with me.” She did not bother to elaborate as to what They she was referring to. Deeds had an idea that her interrogators knew. She didn’t want to go into the subject of the Timeless Ones anyway. “What are you two?” she decided to turn the inquisition around. “Are you twins, duplicates, two of the same one of another? Where do you even come from? More importantly, how the hell do you know so much about me?!” Then part of her answers dawned on her. “Ohhh.”
The twins waited for her to finish the thought. Their expression was impassive and betrayed nothing.
“You don’t come from around here, not this world anyway, some other one, adjacent. Just like that hole in the basement on Abernathy Avenue. I bet you two just stepped right out of it like you owned the place. Did you come from that house too?! Don’t tell me you two are you two responsible for all of this?!” Her voice pitched up a notch as she tried to squeeze out as many questions as she could. She noticed the one with the gun currently had it pointed at her mouth giving her the universal signal to shut up. “What are you planning to do to with me? I heard you talking among yourselves that you had to keep me alive. Let me just say the situation has gone beyond my control, I tried to stop it. I’ve only ever been trying to help, you have to believe me.”
“That is why we have to keep you alive.”
“Regretfully,” one added and received a look from the other one.
“That wasn’t nice.”
Deeds frowned, “yeah, that hurt.” She paused gathering her thoughts. “I see now,” she nodded, “the spores are spreading and with it more mushrooms are growing. Madness has already subsumed Knowlton’s Corner. You need my help in stopping it.”
“As we said before, that is why we have to keep you alive.”
The one with the gun pressed a button, pulled a trigger, and shot her in the face.
Deeds groaned. She realized she had somehow curled herself up on her side into a tight ball on the floor. She clenched her eyes closed for a minute and hugged her head as the earth spun under her. Then she unfurled her body. A flood of relief swept through her as she realized she had control over her limbs once more. She could almost cry because of it, until she realized that with all sensation returning, so did a profound hangover. She opened her eyes to see the twins standing over her. She chose not to make a move against them, for it looked as if there were four of them now. She prayed that wasn’t the case. She closed one eye and there were only two of them again.
“Whatever you do, do not under any circumstance come in contact with the Black Water. Do you hear me?”
“Yes,” Deeds nodded for she had no intention to.
“Do not leave town,” the other one said. She had to frown at that request. Mentally, she was packing her bags and already out the door. Setting everything on fire upon her dramatic exit was looking like a splendid idea.
“We will know. We are watching you. We will be in touch.” They finished each other’s sentences. The gun was holstered and they stepped away from her.
“Are you some sort of inter-dimensional parole officers or something?” Deeds called after them and groaned from the exertion of raising her voice. Her throat burned like hell from all of that talking.
“Something like that.” She heard them say as she as stared after them in wonder as they walked shoulder to shoulder out the door.
DARK DAYS ON THE DIXIE HIGHWAY: DIARY OF A THIRD SHIFT ZOMBIE
At the beginning of the year I decided to take the layoff from my part time employment in the cemetery to get some much needed writing done. For the past two months I slaved away at my computer (and built an awesome bed canopy that I named FORT COMFY) and pretty much stayed in my bedroom during the winter season. I was excited DARK DAYS ON THE DIXIE HIGHWAY: DIARY OF A THIRD SHIFT ZOMBIE was taking shape and really starting to look like a book. I was about ready to have a cohesive rough draft when I realized a word count of about 45,000 wasn’t much of a novel. I figured I’d need at least 30,000 more words for a proper length. Unfortunately, after writing and essentially picking at and reopening old wounds these past two months, I realized that I am running out of material. Getting together something that I can proudly publish will take a lot more work. I am still plugging away at it as well as other stories and scripts I have rattling around in my head. In the meantime, here are two previously unpublished chapters to my grim and gruesome tale.
There was a regular that came in quite a few times; he’d buy a cup of noodles for a dollar and change. He opened it up in the store, poured in the water and popped it in the microwave. He scooped in a bunch of chopped onions and a few jalapeno peppers. He’d squeeze in a packet of sweet and sour sauce or a pump or two of nacho cheese and added a splash of hot sauce. Though I found it to be a cheap and ingenious meal, which he always paid for in change, Condiment Man’s Special Ramen Recipe was a drain to our supply. Particularly, the bags of diced onions I changed over constantly for he always managed to show up just after I threw the old ones out.
The manager blamed me at first for failing to fill them to their proper level. He did not pick up after himself either. I caught hell for that too. She’d yell, pitching a fit about the cleanliness of the sales floor. “Have you even been working? What have you been doing at night? There’s a nacho cheese stain on the counter and just look at all of these onions!” She exclaimed as she shoved the dispenser of fresh relish, onions, and jalapenos aside causing the condiments to splash over with a grating screech across the counter, making an even bigger mess than the one she pointed out to basically everyone else in the store. “How many times do I have to tell you to do your job! You’ve been here long enough!” She stomped and scuffed her feet and yelled as she pitched her fit, blustering and berating me. “There is a stain on the floor! What is that more nacho cheese? This is my store and I want this floor so clean I can lick it!”
“Why don’t you,” I said quietly but loud enough that she heard me.
“What did you say?” Her head perked up and she came toward me.
For a second I fancied forcing her to the floor and making her lick the cheese stain clean. “I said I’d get the mop.” I grinned at the customers who stopped what they were doing and gawked during the early rush. The store was packed at six in the morning.
After my shift she pulled me into her office and threatened me with the employee handbook and a write up. She didn’t believe me when I told her it was Condiment Man. It was as if he was some sort of convenience store Cryptid, a nocturnal scavenger for ramen add-ins. “That’s bullshit. No one uses that many condiments for anything,” she spat matter-of-factly debunking my sightings of Condiment Man. He might as well have been stealing Tupperware lids, underwear, or single socks.
Then one day Condiment Man came in on a morning that she happened to be there to witness his feeding habits. She was in a mood when she let him have it. Every visit after that I had to charge extra for all of his condiments. A special button was added on the POS machine. Condiment Man stopped showing up as much after that fateful encounter. Some nights when I was alone enough for some semblance of a lunch break, I followed his recipe, including the liberal amount of ingredients, especially the onions. Ramen is, after all, a perfect comfort food and depression meal. I did of course pick up after myself.
There was a time my freshman year of art school that some friends and I went on an Adderall fueled road trip to the North Country to rescue a friend. We were in the farthest reaches of Upstate New York, the next town over was basically Canada, when we stopped at a gas station to refuel. I squinted in the harsh florescent lighting of the store. It was a stark contrast from the pinpoints of passing headlights we saw for most of the night, and even those grew few and far between as the dark hours drew on.
The walls were a blinding white littered with convenience store propaganda. Posters and decals covered the windows as well, telling all who enter which products to buy for the best deal. One poster on the front glass doors displayed a proud managerial type. Bold lettering on the bottom read Want a career in customer service? All you need is a smiling face!
Something about my surroundings bugged me, the vibe I got, for a seemingly empty store; it was filled two the gills with consumerism, advertisements that practically vibrated and jumped off the walls, targeted to road weary travelers such as ourselves. There were two cashiers working on that desolate stretch of road. For all I knew they might have been just as jacked-up as we were. One would have to be, I surmised, being shut up in a place like this every night. A late night corporate wage slave, paid to bend over and take it from customers, people who intrinsically thought that they were better than you.
Broke and hungry, I wound my way through the isles covered with candy and chips when I stumbled upon a four foot jerky stick. “Holy crap,” I remarked open mouthed for I have never seen a package of dried and seasoned meat of that size and magnitude before, “that is an excessive amount of meat!” For a moment I wished I had the money to purchase it.
I stopped my story to look up at my fellow third shift zombie as he took a break from his security gig for a moment of human interaction. That night, I regaled to him the tale of my encounter with that fateful meat snack. “It was then I decided if I ever ended up working in a place like this,” I waved my hand at the window to the sales floor littered with convenience store propaganda for dramatic effect as we smoked outside, “I was going to fashion it into a meaty noose and hang myself with it. Sadly, I haven’t seen a Ropearoni since.”
“Sadly?” He repeated and I nodded. The irony was not lost on me. “You want to make a noose out of jerky and hang yourself with it?”
“Yes,” I clipped my cigarette to save it for later. I knew I was going to need it.
“You worry me sometimes,” he frowned.
“Yeah.” I shrugged, “look I have to go in and clean some shit. Not real shit this time, thank you Jesus. Oh, by the way, the hose beast of a manager has taken note of our meetings and if she catches me with another ‘late night visitor,’ I’m going to get fired.”
“Damn. I’m not surprised though, I’ve been here when she was here. I’ve seen the way she treats people, the way she treats you. People around here are beginning to wonder which one of you is going to crack first. Why are you still here anyway? I thought you moved.”
“I did, I’m planning on getting out of here soon, don’t worry.” I no longer had the convenience of a five minute walk to work since we moved out of the apartment complex. It grew to half an hour or a forty five minute commute depending on traffic. I had my lines out for different jobs that were much closer to home. Something was bound to bite, and I couldn’t wait to put my time at the Gashole far behind me.
“Yes, you should leave this place,” he put out his cigarette and turned to leave, “but not by making a noose out of jerky,” he amended and went back to his job.
“Many years ago,” I added grimly to myself as I looked off into the night before returning to my expansive workload, “I made a promise to myself and I intend to keep it.”