Excerpt from WIP Arianna – Chapter 22

I stared across the room at Great-Grandma’s painting called “Mom” for a while, the mess of colors blending and blurring.  I nodded.  “I don’t even know where to begin.  I’ve been trying so hard to rebuild my life these past several weeks, Nana, and now–now it feels like it’s crumbling apart.  It’s pathetic that a huge part of that is because of some boy.”

“We both know Marc isn’t just ‘some boy.’”  Nana smiled ruefully.

I sighed.  “You’re right, as always.  I guess I didn’t realize how much of my happiness hung on him.  That’s what’s wrong with this picture.  I shouldn’t need a boy, a man, whatever, to complete me.  I should be able to stand on my own just fine.”

“Contrary to Simon and Garfunkel, no man is an island.  Or woman.  And I suppose I ought to attribute that metaphor to its true creator, a poet named–”

“John Donne.”

Nana smiled.  “I’m impressed, Ari.”

“Well, I do write poetry and have read my fair share of it.  It speaks to me.  Anyway, you were saying…”

“Well, then you know what I mean.  No one should feel the need to walk life’s path alone.  Maybe you have lost Marc–although I hope not–but you have me and that dear friend, Kelly…who you still need to bring around.”

“I know, Nana.  You’re right, of course.”  I laughed hollowly.  “Would you believe my boss congratulated me on a job well done today?  The one thing I’m excelling at it my work.  There’s not much satisfaction in that, though, for some reason.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m glad to hear you aren’t satisfied with just your job, Ari.  When a person dies, no one wants to be remembered for being successful at their job, how much money they had, or how many degrees they held.  At least most wouldn’t.  No, I’d like to think a person would want to be remembered for how they treated others, for the lives they impacted by being a good friend.”

“Maybe that’s why this hurts so much.  Marc was a great friend, Nana, even though I didn’t know him that long.  And he put up with so much crap from me.  Anyone else would’ve left weeks ago.”

“All the more reason to get in touch with him, my dear.”

Beginning of Auditorium 6(66) – Horror Short Story

“Hill Valley Cinema – Grand Opening,” proclaimed a banner spread beneath the marquee.  Jesse Franklin pushed his black hair out of his face, stepped back, and marvelled at the newly renovated theatre.  As a boy, he had frequented the old cinema, seeing all three original Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones, and E.T.  Those had been the golden years of the only movie theatre in the county, but then the newspaper headlines claimed: “Rapist and murderer Randall Hines found dead in Appleton Cinema.”  

Jesse caught a movement to his left and turned to see Rob Garrison next to him.  

“Big day,” Rob said in that over-the-top voice of his.  His dark eyes and tan skin glowed.  He flashed one of those grins that rumor had it could coax most girls into his bed in less than twenty-four hours.

“Yeah,” Jesse breathed, his head still swimming from the night before of a smoky bar infused with shots.

Rob clapped his buddy on the shoulder.  “Well, you did it.  Your old man’d be proud.”

“I’d like to hope so,” Jesse murmured, his eyes falling to the keys in his hands.  “We saw a lot of movies here over the years.  Big, successful guy like him might not think owning a movie theatre’s that huge.”

“Nah, he’s be proud, Jesse.”

Jesse smiled in pain, memories of frequent visits to the nursing home surfacing.  Ron Franklin lay staring straight ahead, his eyes vacant.  His whole right side hung limp, his mouth drawn.  His answer to any question was “twenty-three.”

“Still can’t believe you did it, man.”

Jesse laughed.  “Audrey isn’t happy about the second mortgage we had to take out on the house, but she supports my dream…crazy movie-lover that I am.”

“Still, d’you think, you know, people will remember the rumors?”

“It’s been years, you superstitious freak.”  Jesse scoffed.  “Those were rumors, nothing else.  Besides, we were kids.  The old folks loved to say ‘a series of unfortunate events,’ like that new book series by that Lemony guy.”

“Yeah, but you can’t deny the past.  Look it up, buddy.  The articles are real.  After old man Hines up and croaked, too many people followed in his footsteps and all in auditorium six.”

“Superstitions.  Coincidence.  Call it what you want.”  Jesse shrugged.  “It’s opening day and I have a theatre to run.”

“It was dubbed auditorium 666,” Rob called after him as Jesse approached the building and waved his friend away.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend or something to get back to?” Jesse called, his back to Rob.

“Maybe…one or two.  See ya around, pal.  Let me know if anyone dies today.”

The heat of June beat down on Jesse’s shoulders as he fumbled with the keys to unlock the door.  The humidity was awful that first year of the new millennium in northeastern Ohio.

As he stepped inside, the phantom smell of popcorn assaulted Jesse’s nose.  He rubbed his rough chin and studied the lobby.  He beamed.

The place was unrecognizable.  Jesse had a job in the concession stand in high school, back when the old owner stopped using auditorium six.  The lobby now was mostly a new addition, with a closed-in box office.  No more complaints about freezing in the wind while waiting to buy tickets.  No more cramped lobby with lines out the door for popcorn.  

Jesse went to the room behind the concession stand and turned on the lights.  Neon signs came to life in the lobby.  He stepped into the hallway that led to auditoriums one through nine.  A whole other wing held ten through eighteen.  Only the first nine had been here back in the day.

Jesse walked down the carpeted hall toward the infamous auditorium six, unsure why except for curiosity.  He hovered near the doors, the wood shiny and unblemished.  He entered and walked to the front of the auditorium.  The seats were stadium-style now.  No sticky floors or dark, depressing colors.  Jesse chuckled to himself, shook his head, and left.  He had work to do.

After the doors closed behind him, the projector turned on and illuminated the screen, but no movie played.  The speakers hummed, whispered…  “Come to Papa, darling.”

 

Excerpt from Arianna (Unpublished WIP)

I started the first call…only for it to ring four times and go to an answering machine.  I hung up.  We didn’t ever leave messages, so that person’s number would just go through the system again and would be called by someone tomorrow.  It was all automatic.

I smiled grimly, thinking of all the times my parents’ phone would ring, and someone would just hang up on the other end.  They screened their calls and just let the answering machine take anything that was from a number they didn’t recognize.  Some of the same numbers called daily, much to Mom’s annoyance.

“Why don’t they just stop?” she’d ask.  “I’m not interested in whatever it is they’re selling.”

Now I was one of those annoying people who called…well, the computer called.  

“H-hello?”  The voice of an elderly woman cut in the middle of my wandering mind, snapping me back to reality.

“Hello, may I please speak with Mrs. Wilson?”  Amazed at how steady I kept my voice, like the proverbial well-oiled machine, I half-thought it couldn’t really be me who was speaking.

“Who?”

“Um, Mrs. Wilson.  Is she available?”  Oh, boy.  

“Oh, silly me.  This is her.  May I ask who’s calling?”

“Hello, Mrs. Wilson.  This is Arianna from Affection for the Afflicted.  Is now a good time to talk?”

“I’m afflicted with what, dear?”

“Oh, no…you’re fine, Mrs. Wilson.  I’m just calling for an organization called Affection for the Afflicted.  We help our people in Africa who have diseases like AIDS and malaria, who don’t have clean water, or enough food.”  Just my luck that I would get stuck with someone who’s hard of hearing…or she’s got dementia.

“I have clean water and plenty to eat, dear.  But thank you for calling.”

Tempted to sigh, I smiled in pain into the microphone.  What was the point of continuing this conversation?

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Wilson.  Have a nice day.”

“Oh, you as well, dear.”

I ended the call.  Funny that she heard me just fine at the end.

The next several calls remained unsuccessful.  Mostly answering machines picked up, which wasn’t surprising since a lot of people would be at work, but I had one customer who offered to give me a tarot card reading.  I figured if she was so clairvoyant, she should have expected my call in the first place and not acted all caught off-guard when she’d picked up the phone.

Excerpt from Arianna (Unpublished WIP)

Friday evening, after closing the book, I went to my familiar place at the vanity and sat.  My tattered journal was now full, so I reached for the paper bag that held a new one.  On the way home from work, I’d taken a detour to a historical part of one of the western suburbs and gone into a stationery shop.  The cute little boutique boasted handmade cards by local artists, prints from area photographers, and a few journals with various artwork on them.  I’d left with a journal whose front looked like one of my great-grandma’s paintings.  It seemed fitting.

Now, as I withdrew the journal from the bag, I held it in my hands like it was a precious treasure.  I opened the journal and brought it to my face, sniffing the unused pages.  How I loved the smell of new books!  It was like opportunity and dreams having a scent.  I set the journal down on the vanity and wrote a poem:

Pictures merely tell the rumor of a half-remembered story,

A book with pages tattered and worn, yellowed with age,

The ink faded and dull, dying to eternity.

Memories fall away like rain dropping down glass,

Fogging the view, warping the truth, and sliding to death.

All is fleeting and passing like a silent train in the night,

But there are no stops but one;

Only the moment of now is the single real thing.

All else is dusty vanity drowning in yesterday’s ashes.

A poem… I titled it “Yesterday’s Ashes” after a moment and reread it several times.  Beyond the window, rain tapped at the glass.  I redirected my focus on the journal.  I hadn’t been thinking as I’d composed the poem, but the tears stinging my eyes spoke of a deep, aching emptiness inside.  That was the past…unreachable, slowly forgotten, and unchangeable.  Time didn’t stop for anyone.  Allow enough time to unravel, and the generations that come lose the connection to their ancestors.

pablo (11)

I closed the journal and moved my hand over the smooth cover.  Then I set it aside and picked up my great-grandfather’s book.  I stood and went into the darkened living room.  Nana had gone to bed hours ago.  Only the ticking of the clock on the mantel greeted me.  Standing in front of the couch, I stared at my great-grandma’s painting.  The book rested over my chest, and my heartbeat was steady up against it…so alive.  These objects were left behind, like impressions in the sand after someone has passed through, but the waves were relentless and soon enough washed away any trace of that passerby.

The longer I stood there, the more my eyes adjusted to the little amount of light in the room.  Details of Great-Grandma’s painting popped out, like the black blob of paint near the bottom right.  Her fury could have been contained in that single splotch, but here it was, seventy-some years after she’d painted it, nothing more than a lingering relic of a woman who had known loss and pain.

And yet…yet I was connected to her.  Connected to my great-grandpa, too, as his words from long ago spoke to me from pages that had been closed for decades.  My tears were steadily flowing down my cheeks now, but I didn’t try to stop them.  Despite their heartache, they had found each other and had created something beautiful.

What was I doing with my life, really?  Was this job, these new relationships, this new haircut, all of it–was it just a mask to cover what was at the root of my problems?  Because I knew, at the core of my put-on smiles and defensive walls, that eight-year-old girl lived.  She was as dirty and used as she felt from the moment those boys changed her life.

Excerpt from Arianna (Unpublished WIP)

The service began at 9:30.  As it progressed, familiarity returned in full force.  A person might think it would be foreign, like wearing someone else’s broken-in shoes, to return after so many years.  The music, the words, the prayers–all were like slipping into a pair of my own old shoes.

The sermon nearly caught me off-guard.  The subject was on healing.  It was one of those sermons that seemed written just for me.  I listened intently, everyone around me fading away.  I could have been sitting alone in that sanctuary, my eyes on the cross.

Tears stung in my eyes.  I let them fall.  This release was long-coming.  This return long-overdue.  Nana’s warm hand took mine and squeezed gently.  She offered me a tissue from her purse, which I accepted with silent gratitude.

pablo (10)

When the service was over, Nana asked, “Would you like to go to coffee hour?  I usually stay for a few minutes to talk to some friends.”

“I don’t want to hold you up from doing what you like, Nana, but if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll wait in the car.”

“Nonsense, Ari.  Let’s just be on our way, then.”

I flashed a smile at Nana as we fell in behind the crowd exiting.  Part of me wished to escape through the back door, but part of me wanted to thank the pastor for the sermon.  People were shaking Pastor Meredith Emerson’s hand at the door to the lobby, which was the direction we were headed.  The pastor had been a grey-haired man on the verge of retirement when I was a child.  I’d only met the current pastor during my parents’ memorial service.  Nana had taken care of the planning on previous meetings with the pastor.  As we approached the pastor, my stomach knotted as guilt gnawed at my insides for shirking my duties where the memorial service had been concerned.

Nana must have noticed my reservations, for she asked in a hushed voice, “What’s the matter, Ari?”

“It’s stupid, but I’m not sure now if I want to shake the pastor’s hand.”

“We can go through the other door.”

“Can we?”  Relief surged through me.

Nana nodded, politely excused us from those nearby, and we headed away from the pastor.  Once we were outside, we kept walking until we were in the car.

“You seemed fine, to even enjoy the service.  Well, I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word for it, but you seemed…moved.”

“I was.  I-I am.  Oh, how do I explain this?  Her sermon was just what I needed to hear.  It’s cliche to say it, but it spoke to me.  I even wanted to thank her, but then I realized she’s a stranger.  I was ashamed about the memorial service and not showing my face to help with the plans–”  Why did everything have to be so complicated with me?

Excerpt from Arianna (Unpublished WIP)

My body still shook with the sting of Brad’s words when I pulled into Nana’s narrow driveway.  The street was dark, with the exception of a streetlight every three houses.  Buried between Nana’s house and the neighbor’s nearly identical bungalow, I stayed in my car with the windows rolled up for some time.  The night was chilly, but that wasn’t the reason to stay locked in my car.  No, I hid away, letting my emotions run wild, like an animal kept in a cage too long.

Amidst my bitter tears, I screamed.  My fists pounded the seat on either side of me.  This way, no one needed to hear me.  

“I said you weren’t worth my tears, damn it!” I yelled, glaring at my reflection in the rearview mirror.  “You weren’t worth it!  Not worth it!”

My voice went raw as the energy zapped from me.  A few tears lingered on my splotchy cheeks.  I sniffled and wiped my nose with the end of my coat, then rubbed the material over my eyes and the rest of my face.

I stared at myself again.  “You’re just not worth it, Arianna.  You could never be someone’s someone.”

Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Five (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.

Note: This is the last installment I will be placing on my website, which equates to the first third of the story.  I will be publishing the entire story at a later date (for purchase).  I hope you’ve enjoyed this preview.

 

Cora was sitting on her bed, willing Facebook to load faster on her phone as she let the music take her away from this dungeon.  The song where a young woman wailed about her broken heart ended, another on the cusp of starting, when she heard the thud.

She stopped her iPod and removed the earbuds.  “What the hell?”

She listened, but nothing came.  Still, there was no mistaking the noise.  It sounded like something heavy had fallen.  With all the people working on the house, it was possible that someone had gotten hurt.  With a sigh, she left her room and went to the top of the stairs.  Over the balcony, she gazed down into the empty foyer.  No voices drifted upstairs.

“Mom?” she called.

A few seconds later, Marcy stepped into view.  “Did you hear it, too?” she asked.

“Yeah.  What happened?”

“I thought maybe you’d fallen off the bed.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Well, there’s no one else here except Mr. Rue.”

“The exterminator?”

“Yes.  He was supposed to be checking the attic for a dead rat.”

“The attic?”  Cora lifted her gaze from her mother and turned to the left.  “The door’s shut.”

“What’s that man up to?”  Marcy took the stairs in a hurry, agitated.

Mother and daughter stood side by side and stared down the hallway, transfixed.

“It was locked,” Cora said, swallowing thick saliva.

“I know.”  Marcy took her daughter’s hand, as if Cora were the scared child.

They walked to the door.  The knob turned for Cora, but something kept the door from opening.  Both Marcy and Cora leaned into the door with all their weight, but whatever was on the other side didn’t give.

“Come on.  Open up, you fat fu–” Marcy started to say, but then they gained just enough momentum to push the door in.

Slumped back on the steps like an overlarge sack of potatoes was Mr. Rue, his eyes frozen like all the times he’d gazed upon “Funny Lips.”  Between his legs, wetness.

Marcy screamed.  Cora slammed the door closed.

“Mom, for the love of God, calm down.  So he fell down the steps…  We’ll call the police.  It was an accident.”

“Right, right… Call the police.  And I suppose the police will be able to get rid of that smell?”

Cora sighed shakily.  “Mom, there’s no smell, but there will be if we don’t get him outta here.  C’mon.”

Cora led her mom away from the attic door, wondering why she was suddenly relegated to playing the role of parent.  Before reaching her room, she glanced back at the door on the end of the hall.

That door was locked.