Monday, October 6, 2014

New Blog

Not sure if anyone's still following me here, I've started a new blog over at wordpress.

So, like, update your bookmarks or something.

thewritingwombat.wordpress.com


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ten Little Chapters

The flash fiction challenge this week, which might be my last one for a while if I decide to do Camp NaNoWriMo, was to make a ten chapter story while staying under 1000 words.  Not sure how "Western" jumped into my head, but here ya go:

1
                Penelope rounded the corner a corner in the town of Gulch. Before her stood a man bathed in shadow despite the bright afternoon. Dull blue eyes were the only distinguishable trait on an emotionless face.
                She turned to run.

2
                “My poor Penelope,” Grace wailed. “What happened, doctor?”
                “This is not my area of expertise,” replied John, sounding professional to hide his horror. “It seems looks like she was strangled, but there are no marks on her throat.”
                “But what about the claw marks all over her?”
                “They didn’t break the skin.  I think they’re fingernails, not claws.”
                Grace looked at Dr. John.
                “We need to send for the sheriff.”

3
                Henry entered the town of Gulch atop a silver horse. He went straight to the saloon
                “You’ve had a murder?” he asked to the barkeep after ordering a beer.
                The barkeep pointed Henry toward the end of the bar. He approached a short gentleman in a suit and repeated the statement.
                “Thank God you’ve come, Sheriff,” exclaimed the man. “I’m the doctor who sent for you.”
                He held out his hand.
                “Call me Henry.”

4
                “Are you sure you need to look around Gulch, Sheriff Henry?” John asked as they walked through town.
“Just Henry.”
“What about the body?”
                “You should bury the body,” Henry responded. “I’d rather get the lay of the land.”
                He stopped in front of the cardroom, turned to look back up Main Street.
“Are the hotel and brothel the only two-story buildings in town?”
                “Yes, Sher-, uh, Henry.”
                “What’s that one-story in between?”
“Elks’ Lodge,” John responded.
“That brick building across from the hotel,” he pointed at the bank. “Is it flat roofed?”
                The doctor nodded.
“Triangle ain’t as good as a square,” Henry muttered, “but it’ll do. Now, find out who didn’t show up to work today.  That’ll be your killer.”

5
                “She was strangled,” Doctor John said as they entered his office, “but not by constricting the throat. And there were fingernail scratches all over her body.”
                Grace stood up from the spot where she had kept vigil for two days.
“Other ways to asphyxiate without strangulation,” Henry said, looking at the corpse. “Smoke, for instance. These scratches on her neck probably came from her own fingernails, clawing to get air.”
“Have you ever seen anything like this, Sheriff?” Grace asked.
“I have, and call me Henry.”
“Can we find who did it?”
“We’d better,” Henry moved his eyes between mother and doctor, “and soon.”
 “Doctor,” gasped a young boy, running into the room “William did not show up to the mines today.”

6
William was hungry. He needed more nourishment. When had he last eaten? What had he eaten?
He thought back.  Chicken dinner at the company restaurant, creamed corn and mashed potatoes on the side.  Was that Thursday night? What was today?
But there had been another meal.  The sweet smell of flesh, the smell of smoke, a scream.
He couldn’t remember the taste. It never touched his tongue.  He never chewed, just ingested.
But it filled him. Oh, how it filled him.
He started to salivate.

7
“This is where we make our stand,” Henry said, back outside the cardroom.
“What can I help you with?” John asked.
“Find three people you trust.”
“I trust everyone in this town,” the Doctor responded.
“Not what I meant,” the gruff man responded. “I need brave and reliable, regardless of what happens.”
John nodded understanding.
“We’re going to put them on the two second-floor balconies and the bank roof.  I’ll here to make a fourth corner. When I signal, each of them will throw a net toward him.”
“A net?” Grace broke in. “You’re not going to kill him?”
“No, ma’am. For reasons I can’t go into, he has to be captured.”
“How can you be sure he’ll come this way?” the doctor asked.
“We need some bait,” Henry responded. “What time does school get out?”

8
William staggered down the street, smelling children.  He was hungry, and he needed nourishment.
There was not a cloud in the sky, yet his vision was clouded. He looked to the left and right, barely recognized the jail to one side, saloon to the other. 
When he got to the hotel, he finally saw the four children he had smelled. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized that kids by the whorehouse didn’t make sense. But pushed thoughts aside as he lurched forward in a crippled gait. Saliva poured out of his mouth at the corners.
“Hiya!” he heard from his left and turned to see the accursed Henry standing in the doorway of the cardroom, a net leaving his hand.
It had been a trap. Kids at the whorehouse! He turned around, only to see nets floating through the sky from all directions. He cursed his hunger, cursed Henry. His head darted for any escape.
A woman came out of the Elks Lodge.
Grace? Was that her name?
She raised a revolver and shot.

9
The black mist dissipated out, hovering above the William’s falling body. 
As the town watched, it formed into a single ghostly figure. It turned what counted for its head toward Henry. They looked at each other for a moment that might have been a half-second or might have been a thousand years.
Then the black wraith turned and shot out of town.
Four nets landed on William’s dead body.
“Wish you hadn’t done that, ma’am,” Henry said as he walked toward his horse.
“He killed my Penelope,” Grace shouted toward him. “I couldn’t just let you capture him and let him live in a jail cell, or maybe get released. I know how you sheriffs work!”
“Never said I was the sheriff, ma’am.”
Henry got on his horse, lowered his hat, and headed west. 

10
                Clara rounded a corner in the town of Bridle, ninety miles west of Gulch. Before her stood a man bathed in shadow despite the bright afternoon.
                She screamed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Something Punk

Chuck's flash fiction challenge this week was "Something Punk" (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/03/14/flash-fiction-challenge-somethingpunk-2/)  My first thought was "Yeah, right," but after reading his description, I figure'd I'd give it a try.  And I think I might have stumbled upon something for Camp NaNoWriMo.  Who knows.


Charles in Charge



“By order of his majesty, King Charles Stuart,” the town crier yelled. “To honor the approaching millennium, an extended Yule commenceth today! For one week, all manorial obligations are suspended! Your gracious Earl hath also decreed that peat shall burn in the Town Square every night until the arrival of Anno Domini Two Thousand!”

Elly cheered with the others in the village square, thoughts focused on the coming week.  He would not step near his baron, his plow, or even his hovel for a week.  Mead and a cheeky lass were all he needed. 

“Verily,” the crier continued, rolling up the scroll he was reading, “Feast, frivol, nay… Party like ‘tis Nineteen Hundred Ninety-and-Nine!”

If only he could tinker with his new seed drill while off the manor. Sharpness wasn’t a problem. The iron was too weak. Heat was needed, he was sure, to make iron into steel.

“What burn hotter than peat?” he asked himself.

“Nice shirt,” came a whisper in his ear, barely audible amongst the crowd. “Be that cotton?”

Elly turned toward the voice, saw a short, surly man standing there.  The man had black matted hair that drooped almost to his eyes, dark eyes that bore into Elly.

“Aye, ‘tis,” responded Elly.

“Cotton be expensive,” the man responded, scratching at his own woolen clothing to emphasize the point. “And time consuming.”

“I devised a contraption,” started Elly.

“A machine?” the man responded.

“Know not that word, good man. It removes cotton seeds. I can trade excess food or peat for raw cotton, make the clothes me’self.”

“Cotton gin?” The man asked, and received a blank stare back. “Ye are a regular Eli Whitney.”

“It’s pronounced Elly,” he responded, getting the same confused stare back from the man.

“Ha’n’t seen ye ‘round.” The man changed the subject.

“Bartholemew’s my baron. ‘Tisn’t often I can make it all the way to the village.”

“Aye, Bartholomew’s almost to another Earldom. Tell me, who was your baron before Bartholomew?”

“His father, Obediah, naturally,” responded Elly, not sure what this stranger with the intense dark eyes was getting at.

“And do you remember when Jonathan became Earl?”

“’Aye. I was eight years old. ‘Twas the last time we’ve had a week off of the manor.”

“And the king?”

“Charles,” answered Elly. “Has always been Charles. At least as far as I can remember.”

He scratched his head, thinking back.

“I’m only in my twentieth year,” he continued. “My father must have had another king, though I do not remember a name.”

“I be twice yer age,” the odd man continued, eyes and head darting in multiple directions while he spoke. “Charles has always been king. Talk to anyone and-“

“Stop! Cromwellite!” Elly turned to see two knights, wearing chainmail emblazoned with the red Cross of St. George superimposed on a field of yellow below the blue-and-white checkerboard pattern of the House of Stuart, barging through a group of peasants.  Pointing in his direction, they began to run. The sound of swords scraping from scabbards scattered the crowd.

“Don’t mention your machine if ye want to avoid the Taser,” the stranger said, turning to run.

“And wood burns hotter than peat. There still be wood in England.”

Before running, he snuck something into Elly’s hand, a clear bag with a piece of paper clearly visible inside. But the bag was not made of any substance he had ever seen, feeling both filmy and slick simultaneously.  The clearness was also unquantifiable, neither opaque nor creamy, but unnaturally see-through. The top was fastened together with inter-locking ridges.

“What’s in the plastic?” a knight asked, sword pointing at Elly’s chest. The other knight raced after the man who had disappeared into the crowd.

“Plastic, sir?” Elly was turning the odd new word over in his mouth when the knight ripped the clear bag from his hand. 

“A cotton shirt and a plastic bag,” the knight addressed Elly. “What have you to say?”

“I,” Elly began, then remembered the stranger’s admonition. “I traded some extra peat for the cotton, sir.”

“What does this say?” The knight held up the bag, allowing Elly to see the writing on the paper inside.

“I know not, sir. I’ve not learned my letters. King and Charles re the only two words I recognize.”

“Yes,” the knight responded, sounding both suspicious and annoyed, “I know it says ‘Who was King before Charles?’ And then it has a meeting time. I need to know what this is at the bottom.”

Elly looked more closely. Underneath the wording were some shapes and symbols. Two circles, one with lines inside, the other with a jagged edge, separated by two triangles facing opposite directions, bordered on either side by a thick line. The entire design was entwined in two leafy vines.

“Maybe a noble crest, sir?” Elly offered.

“This serf’s illiterate,” the second knight said as he returned. “No comprehension in his eyes.”

The first knight grumbled, sheathing his sword and placing the pamphlet in his large coin purse. He then struck Elly in the gut with a gauntleted fist.

“Watch yourself, peasant,” the knight said after Elly crumpled onto the ground.  “We find you anywhere near any Cromwellites again, we might not assume you are such an idiot. You wouldn’t want us investigating where you got this alleged extra peat from.”

“Come,” the second knight said. “Let us find someone who can interpret these symbols.”

As the knights departed, Elly slowly got up on his knees and dusted himself off.  The crowd appeared to be returning to normal, yet everyone avoided coming to close or even looking at him. 

So much the better, he thought.  He had to get out of the village square.  His plans for the Millennium Holiday had just changed.

His tinker’s mind already knew the significance of the symbols.

They made a map.

Monday, March 17, 2014

"The Commute" - the definitive version

No longer constrained by the 1,500 word limit, I re-vamped a couple of scenes and added back in the original beginning and ending.  Not really flash fiction, not really a short story. Meh, it's 2,200 words of fiction, I'll take it.

The Commute

                “Meow the door, please?”
                Scratch, scratch.
                Jeff looked up from his laptop toward the front of the railcar as it accelerated out of the station. The portly man to his right, the only other person in the compartment, started out of a mid-snore, sat up straight and stared straight forward.
The sliding door at the front of the car was being pushed from the opposite side, but didn’t open.  The other rider looked toward the back of the train, muttered “last car” car under his breath. He turned toward Jeff, sweat glistening on his balding head starting to seep through his rumpled business shirt. 
Grabbing his briefcase from the next seat, the fat man wiped a sleeve across his skull, and leapt toward the front of the compartment.  After pushing the black rectangle to open the door, he bowed his head toward the floor.  Muttering something apologetically, he shuffled through the door before it could close
“About time,” came a voice as the door closed. The voice had an odd quality to it, somewhat high like a child’s, but gravelly, like a child with a pack-a-day habit. Like the Munchkins that were spending their hard earned money at the Munchkin strip club when Judy Garland showed up in Oz.
Seeing nobody enter the car, Jeff shrugged and went back to playing Candy Crush.
“Hey, it’s M.M,” The oddly high voice came nearer, apparently engaged in a phone conversation. “Yeah, I might be late getting home tonight.  Could you distract Owner? Thanks.”
“Excuse me,” the voice now sounded directed at Jeff. As he slowly moved his eyes to the right, it continued, “You’re in meow seat.”
Jeff looked to his right. Standing in the aisle of the train was a cat, grey with black stripes, yellow-green eyes looking up solemnly.  It blinked at Jeff. He blinked back, looked around, saw nobody. He leaned toward the aisle to get a better glimpse.
“Your seat?” he asked to nobody in particular. “I didn’t see anybody’s things.”
“Gotta go,” the cat said into a Bluetooth earpiece, raising his paw to tap it off. “Meow you, too.”
“You’re a cat.”
Silence.
“And you’re talking.”
Jeff had never known a cat could roll its eyes, but this one just did.
“You’ve never seen Family Guy?” the cat finally asked.
Jeff nodded.
“Brian talks. He’s a dog.”
“But that’s a cartoon.”
“You’re a cartoon.”
The click of steel wheels on steel track made the only sound.
“I hate to be a burden,” Jeff continued, “but I’m already unpacked here. My laptop’s got a bad battery. I need the outlet.”
The two stared at each other. 
“Besides, you’ve been on this side of the door for a full minute. Aren’t you going to meow to go back out now?”
The cat’s pupils dilated and re-focused. Ears twitched sideways, backwards, then forward.  Pupils contracted from round and playful to vertical coal strips.  Pushing its back legs into the ground, it pounced onto the top of the empty chair next to Jeff.
It walked along the seat backs, half curling three times in an attempt to get comfortable before finally stretching out along the entire back. The chair shook as the cat licked its front leg to clean behind its ear. The tail twitched back and forth, flicking Jeff’s ear in the process. 
“I’d say I meow you don’t mind, but I actually hope this meows you to the core.”
“Look, cat, I was here first.”
“I get that. You’re new here. I make this commute every day and that seat helps me wind down from a rough day.  Got to get home before meow owner does, or else he worries I’m stuck in somebody’s garage or something. To relax, I need some grooming, a comfortable setting. That’s why I marked that seat.”
“Gross,” Jeff fidgeted, sniffing around. “You peed on this?”
“Do I look like a meowing dog?” the cat asked. “I rubbed my chin on it. It’s called pheromones. You humans think you’re so smart.”
“You can’t claim a seat the day before,” exclaimed Jeff, tired of being condescended to by a cat. “This isn’t Cheers, you aren’t Norm.”
“Meow.”
Was that acquiescence? A challenge? Jeff shook his head, trying to clear his mind, and turned back toward his laptop. He reached for the Ziploc bags containing his uneaten lunch. Maybe he was just hungry.
The cat’s paws tapped the top of his head.  He ignored it, took a bite of his sandwich. The cat tapped again.
“Knock it off, stupid cat.”
“Who meows tuna on a train?”
Two things happened simultaneously.  The train darkened as it entered a tunnel, while the paw hit Jeff for the third time. This time, however, sharp claws poked into his scalp.  He jerked, from both surprise and pain, and claws scraped across his scalp.
A furry noose constricted around his throat.
Jeff twitched and flailed. The laptop shattered to the floor while tuna salad spilled over the adjacent seat. The armrest lodged into his side, leaving Jeff gasping for breath.
“Tail,” Jeff gulped out loud. “It was just a tail.”
The train exited the tunnel. As light filtered back in, Jeff saw himself, askew and akimbo across two train seats.  His arms were flailing where the cat had been, which was now vacant.
Instead, the cat peered down from the seatback in front of him.  Sitting on its back legs, it casually licked its right paw. Pupils contracted whenever the tongue neared the protruding claw.
“Meow a sight.”
Jeff’s hand went out to steady him, but landed directly into the tuna salad.
“You ever meow Johnny Cash?”
Lick, stare, lick.
“I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die? He wrote that about meow.”
“Stupid cat,” Jeff responded. “That song is fifty years old. What are you, five?”
“Eight in cat years, times seven, is fifty-six.”
“That… That… makes no sense.” 
 “It was 1954. I was meowing from a kitten into a cat.  Let me meow you about it.”
“Shut up!” snapped Jeff. “Just shut the hell up! Bob Barker’s right, we should cut off all your balls!”
The paw dropped. The eyes lost their sparkle, the joy gone. The stone-cold glare that remained left Jeff’s heart cold.  His feline tormenter had just crossed from Auric Goldfinger to Hannibal Lecter.
“Bob. Meowing. Barker.”
Jeff tensed as the cat leapt, but relaxed when he realized it was going the opposite direction. Sitting upright, removing his hand from the fishy mayonnaise, he saw the cat as it jumped up onto the forward-most seat. After waiting a beat while the train straightened, the cat flew directly onto the black rectangular button that opened the door, then disappeared from Jeff’s sight.
He began to shake when the door closed, finally realizing the fight-or-flight mode his body had been in when it started to ebb.  He wiped his hand on the back of a seat.  As his breathing returned to normal, he grabbed the apple that had rolled out of his lunch bag into the tuna goo.  Wiping it off calmed him further.
When the pounding in his ears lessened, he heard a scratching sound through the open window. He rose on wobbly legs, but had no view of what the cat was doing on the other side of the door.  
“Just leave it, Jeff,” he muttered to himself. “It can’t hurt you from the other side. Curiosity killed the-“
Scratch, scratch.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
Jeff staggered out to the aisle. Laboring through exhausting steps in a lilting car, he finally emerged through the quicksand of the aisleway. Leaning against the door, he peered through the plexiglass window.  
The cat was wrapped around the cable connecting this car to the rest of the train.  Its back was lodged against the ball hitch, front claws imbedded in the thick plastic. Its powerful back legs kicked with the force and pace of a jackhammer.
While the cat was occupied with this futile endeavor, Jeff thought now was a good time to make a dash for the other car and safety.  He could even kick the cat onto the tracks en route. 
He pushed the rectangle in the middle of the door. Nothing happened.
He pushed again. He slapped, punched, pounded the button, but the door would not budge.  Turning his body sideways to slam his shoulder into door, he finally noticed freshly-sliced wires coming out of a control panel, underneath a bright red button printed “Override.”
Jeff staggered back. Despite telling himself that the cat could not cut through the cable,  his panic started to rise.  Then the train entered another tunnel.
Jeff dashed toward the back, but only made it two steps before crashing over an armrest.  He sprawled out onto the floor of the cabin, smashing his temple onto hard plastic on the way down.  By the time he could re-focus, the waning afternoon sunshine was back.
The cat was back in the car, perched on the armrest of the first seat, haunches arced in the classic Halloween pose.  The sound emanating from it was a low, guttural growl mixed with a hiss. 
“Look, cat, you can have your seat. Just let me the hell out of here.”
The cat continued its odd sound, now mixed with a dash of purring. Jeff backed up on the floor of the aisle, cowering into a seat alcove. His right hand brushed against the apple, which must have rolled out when he fell in the darkness. 
Flight instinct turned desperately to fight. He sat up and fired a perfect fastball at the cat. His adversary deftly jumped aside. The apple sped through the air above the recently vacated armrest and slammed into the red button beside the locked door.
Brakes squealed and the car heaved, slamming Jeff toward the front.  A myriad of sounds and sensations assaulted his mind. The smell of brake fluid and hot steel as wheels locked onto tracks.  The sound of frayed and shredded plastic snapping as ten full-speed train cars broke away from the braking final car.  The shaking of a car that couldn’t decide if it should shatter where it stood or graciously fall off the track.
One sight stayed with him: a grey alley cat with black stripes, jaundiced eyes and black-slit pupils staring down from the open window.  He closed his eyes, struggled to open them again. The cat turned its tail and leapt free from the train.  Then his world went black.
                                               
                ******************************************

A man wandered through the woods.  He wasn’t sure how he got there. He looked down and saw torn and tattered business clothes.  His arms were bruised and bloody.  And was that soot? Exhausted, he moved his hand up to his brow to wipe away sweat and winced.  Something definitely wasn’t right there.  He pulled his hand back and saw fresh blood.
He staggered through a row of trees and collapsed on the side of a road. Headlights approached through bleary eyes, and he mustered every ounce of body control he had to prop himself up on an elbow and raise his other arm.  The intended wave came across as a very bad Statue of Liberty impression. 
The car stopped, and the man crawled toward it. As the window rolled down, he used two raw, chapped hands to pull himself up and peered in to the driver.
“You look horrible, guy. Were you part of that train wreck?”
“Train?”
The man tried to think back. Had he been on a train? He licked chapped lips but could not wet them.  He hacked a smoker’s cough.
“Let me take you into town,” the driver offered. “Get you to a hospital or something.”
The man nodded futilely. As he grasped for the door handle, the man’s attention was forced onto the passenger seat. He froze.
Sitting on the passenger’s seat was a grey cat with black stripes and yellow eyes.
“I hope you’re not allergic,” the driver said, moving his hand to pet the top of the cat’s head. The cat closed its eyes and soaked up the attention and started to purr.
“I just don’t know how Mr. Mistoffelees made it all this way out of town.”
The driver moved his hand underneath the cat’s chin and started scratching.  The cat, eyes still closed, lifted its chin in the air and rubbed it against the human fingers.  The purr grew.
“They say cats can hear their owner’s car from far away.  They have a sixth sense. Is that why you came to get me, Mr. MIstoffelees? Is it? Oh, what a good boy!”
The purr became deafening to the stranger, the only sound that could penetrate the fog in his brain.
“Well, get on in, I’ll drive you to town.”
The cat turned its face in the wounded man’s direction and opened its eyes. The pupils were tight vertical slits focused on the wounded man. The cat’s tongue darted out to lick the left side of its lip, retracted, then licked the right side. Its pupils toyingly grew to full circles. The purring reached a crescendo.
“No thanks,” said Jeff.  “I’ll just walk.”




Thursday, March 13, 2014

My first attempt at a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge.  Harder than I thought to keep it under 1,500 words.  Might have to publish the original ending in another post.

Per the instructions,(http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/03/07/flash-fiction-challenge-must-contain/) my story had to include a talking cat and a train or plane ride:

The Commute

                “Excuse me, you’re in meow seat.”
It was a somewhat high voice, but gravelly, like a child with a pack-a-day habit. Like the Munchkins that were spending their hard earned money at the Munchkin strip club when Judy Garland showed up in Oz.
Jeff looked up from Candy Crush. Standing in the aisle of the train was a cat, grey with black stripes, yellow-green eyes looking up solemnly.  It blinked at Jeff. He blinked back, looked around, saw nobody. He leaned toward the aisle to get a better glimpse.
“Your seat?” he asked to nobody in particular. “I didn’t see anybody’s things.”
“Gotta go,” the cat said into a Bluetooth in his ear, raising his paw to tap it off. “Meow you, too.”
“You’re a cat.”
Silence.
“And you’re talking.”
Jeff had never known a cat could roll its eyes, but this one just did.
“The dog talks on Family Guy,” the cat finally said.
“But that’s a cartoon.”
“You’re a cartoon.”
The click of steel wheels on steel track made the only sound.
“I hate to be a burden,” Jeff continued, “but I’m already unpacked here. My laptop’s got a bad battery. I need the outlet.”
The two stared at each other. 
“Besides, you’ve been on this side of the door for a full minute. Aren’t you going to meow to go back out now?”
The cat’s pupils dilated and re-focused. Ears twitched sideways, backwards, then forward.  Pupils contracted from round and playful to vertical coal strips.  Pushing its back legs into the ground, it pounced onto the top of the empty chair next to Jeff.
It walked along the seat backs, half curling three times in an attempt to get comfortable before finally stretching out along the entire back. The chair shook as the cat licked its front leg to clean behind its ear. The tail twitched back and forth, flicking Jeff’s ear in the process. 
“I’d say I meow you don’t mind, but I actually hope this meows you to the core.”
“Look, cat, I was here first.”
“I get that. You’re new here. I make this commute every day and that seat helps me wind down from a rough day.  Got to get home before meow owner does, or else he worries I’m stuck in somebody’s garage or something. To relax, I need some grooming, a comfortable setting. That’s why I marked that seat.”
“Gross,” Jeff fidgeted, sniffing around. “You peed on this?”
“Do I look like a meowing dog?” the cat asked. “I rubbed my chin on it. It’s called pheromones. You humans think you’re so smart.”
“You can’t claim a seat the day before,” exclaimed Jeff, tired of being condescended to by a cat. “This isn’t Cheers, you aren’t Norm.”
“Meow.”
Was that acquiescence? A challenge? Jeff shook his head, trying to clear his mind, and turned back toward his laptop. He reached for the Ziploc bags containing his uneaten lunch. Maybe he was just hungry.
The cat’s paws tapped the top of his head.  He ignored it, took a bite. The cat tapped again.
“Knock it off, stupid cat.”
“Who meows tuna on a train?”
Two things happened simultaneously.  The train darkened as it entered a tunnel, while the paw hit Jeff for the third time. This time, however, sharp claws poked into his scalp.  He jerked, from both surprise and pain, and claws scraped across his scalp.
A furry noose constricted around his throat.
Jeff twitched and flailed. The laptop shattered to the floor while tuna salad spilled over the adjacent seat. The armrest lodged into his side, leaving Jeff gasping for breath.
“Tail,” Jeff gulped out loud. “It was just a tail.”
The train exited the tunnel. As light filtered back in, Jeff saw himself, askew and akimbo across two train seats.  His arms were flailing where the cat had been, which was now vacant.
Instead, the cat peered down from the seatback in front of him.  Sitting on its back legs, it casually licked its right paw. Pupils contracted whenever the tongue neared the protruding claw.
“Meow a sight.”
Jeff’s hand went out to steady him, but landed directly into the tuna salad.
“You ever meow Johnny Cash?”
Lick, stare, lick.
“I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die? He wrote that about meow.”
“Stupid cat,” Jeff responded. “That song is fifty years old. What are you, five?”
“Eight in cat years, times seven, is fifty-six.”
“That… That… makes no sense.” 
 “It was 1954. I was meowing from a kitten into a cat.  Let me meow you about it.”
“Shut up!” snapped Jeff. “Just shut the hell up! Bob Barker’s right, we should cut off all your balls!”
The paw dropped. Eyes lost their sparkle, the joy gone. The stone-cold glare that remained left Jeff’s heart cold.  His feline tormenter had just crossed from Goldfinger to Hannibal.
“Bob. Meowing. Barker.”
Jeff tensed as the cat leapt, then relaxed when it wet the opposite direction. Sitting upright, removing his hand from the fishy mayonnaise, he saw the cat as it jumped up onto the most forward seat. After waiting a beat while the train straightened, the cat flew directly onto the black rectangular button that opened the door, then disappeared.
Jeff began to shake when the door closed, finally realizng the fight-or-flight mode his body had been in when it started to ebb.  He wiped his hand on the back of the other seat.  As his breathing returned to normal, he grabbed the apple that had rolled out of his lunch bag into the tuna goo.  Wiping it off calmed him further.
When the pounding in his ears lessened, he heard a scratching sound through the open window. He rose on wobbly legs, but had no view of what the cat was doing on the other side of the door. 
“Just leave it, Jeff,” he muttered to himself. “It can’t hurt you from the other side. Curiosity killed the-“
Scratch, scratch.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
Jeff staggered out to the aisle. Laboring through exhausting steps in a lilting car, he finally emerged through the quicksand of the aisleway. Leaning against the door, he peered through the plexiglass window.   
The cat was wrapped around the cable connecting this car to the rest of the train.  Its back was lodged against the ball hitch, front claws imbedded in the thick plastic. Its powerful back legs kicked with the force and pace of a jackhammer.
While the cat was occupied with this futile endeavor, Jeff thought now was a good time to make a dash for the other car and safety.  He could even kick the cat onto the tracks en route. 
He pushed the rectangle in the middle of the door. Nothing happened.
He pushed again. He slapped, punched, pounded the button, but the door would not budge.  Turning his body sideways to slam his shoulder into door, he finally noticed freshly-sliced wires coming out of a control panel, underneath a bright red button printed “Override.”
Jeff staggered back. He told himself that the cat could not cut through the cable, but his panic started to rise.  Then the train entered another tunnel.
Jeff dashed toward the back, but only made it two steps before crashing over an armrest.  He sprawled out onto the floor of the cabin, smashing his temple onto hard plastic on the way down.  By the time he could re-focus, the waning afternoon sunshine was back.
The cat was back in the car, perched on the armrest of the first seat, haunches arced in the classic Halloween pose.  The sound emanating from it was a low, guttural growl mixed with a hiss. 
“Look, cat, you can have your seat. Just let me the hell out of here.”
The cat continued its odd sound, now mixed with a dash of purring. Jeff backed up on the floor of the aisle, cowering into a seat alcove. His right hand brushed against the apple, which must have rolled out when he fell in the darkness. 
Flight instinct turned desperately to fight. He fired a perfect fastball at the cat, who deftly jumped aside. The apple sped through the air above the recently vacated armrest and slammed into the red button beside the locked door.
Brakes squealed and the car heaved, slamming Jeff toward the front.  A myriad of sounds and sensations assaulted his mind. The smell of brake fluid and hot steel as wheels locked onto tracks.  The sound of frayed and shredded plastic snapping as ten full-speed train cars broke away from the braking final car.  The shaking of a car that couldn’t decide if it should shatter where it stood or graciously fall off the track.
One sight stayed with him: a grey alley cat with black stripes, jaundiced eyes and black-slit pupils staring down from the open window.  He closed his eyes, struggled to open them again. The cat turned its tail and leapt free from the train.  Then his world went black.
                                               

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A sign of the times

A couple of things have happened in the past month or so that have made me realize that I'm no longer as young as I once was. I'm still a long way away from being old, but I definitely realize I'm getting older.

One of these things was a recent trip to New Orleans for a wedding. I landed a little after midnight on a Wednesday night and, after checking into my hotel, I decided to walk down Bourbon Street. Most of the people I know either weren't there yet or were asleep, so I went by myself and figured I'd get a hand grenade at Tropical Isle or maybe just a beer. This was my fourth trip to New Orleans and as I turned walked down the street, I was reminded of the other three times.

The first time, I was 25 years old and there for Mardi Gras. At that time, New Orleans and Bourbon Street were as close to Heaven on Earth as I had seen. It was fun, loud, and drunk with a great personality. The second time, I was 28 and there for New Years. While I didn't quite think it was Heaven anymore, I still thought it was one of the funnest places on Earth. I got a car and drove all around southeast Louisiana to see Cajun country and get more of a feel for the place. I continued to believe that I would return approximately once a year. The third trip was for my 30th Birthday. On that trip, I still felt the town was very fun, but by now I wanted to mainly sit on the balcony of Tropical Isle and watch the crowds down below. I ate at Emerils and Brennans and found myself spending a lot more time on Decatur Street at the Jazz Clubs.

Then there's this trip. As I walked down a relatively deserted Bourbon Street shortly after 1:00 AM on a Thursday morning, the thoughts going through my mind were something like this: This place is disgusting, it smells like urine and/or vomit, there's nothing but dumbass frat boys, and it's expensive. I figured I wouldn't spend enough money to get drunk so what would be the point of getting a drink? So I walked down to the Cats Meow, from where I could see the Tropical Isle, figured I'd drink more the next night, turned around and went back to the hotel.

I'm not saying this wasn't a wise choice, it's just an older decision. On at least my first two trips, I wouldn't have minded if I was with anyone or what time or day it was, I would've started drinking and figured the good times would ensue. Even on my last trip, I would've had a couple of drinks on general principal. This time I went back to the hotel. And, as predicted, I drank plenty the next few nights and still had a great time. However, each night was either over or pretty close to it by the time midnight hit.

As for New Orleans, I'd say the smaller number of Jazz Clubs is probably the thing I miss the most since Hurricane Katrina. Still a lot of live music, which is one of the things I've always loved about New Orleans - at breakfast, you'll get some jazz, there's zydeco everywhere, and the Bourbon Street clubs play rock at night. Unfortunately, it seems like each missing jazz club has been replaced by a new strip club. And the fact that I whine about this just makes me feel older.

More on my other "old" experience later, but I'll give the hint that it deals with John Mayer's cover of "Free Fallin'"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More thoughts from the East Coast

I know it's been a month since I was on the East Coast, but I've been meaning to write some more thoughts on my travel to New England and some of the oddities I've found.

- Tollroads (excuse me, "turnpikes") suck. In California, we use the word "Freeway" so much, it doesn't really occur to us how profound that word truly is. Granted, we are starting to have more tollroads, particularly in Southern California. However, when there is a tollroad in California, it is usually of the optional variety. For instance, if you want to drive from San Juan Capistrano to Costa Mesa, you have the option of going the "normal" way (the 5 to the 405), taking about a half hour to an hour depending on time of day, or you could take the tollroad, pay $4 or $5, and get there in 15 minutes. On the east coast, your only option besides the tollroad is to take surface streets, which go through towns and add substantial miles and time. The really annoying thing is that you have to pay multiple times. I understand that different states charge separately, but I had to pay to get on in Portland, then to get out of Maine, then once in New Hampshire and, if I hadn't gotten off the road, again in Massachusetts. And each time it's 60 cents, 45 cents, a dollar ten. Why not just make me give you pennies? That would be about as annoying.

-How can you be a sports fan on the east coast? When I was visiting, the Red Sox were in Seattle and the Indians were in Anaheim. It was nice for me because when I was making a long drive in the middle of the night, I was able to pick up a sports station from Cleveland (not quite sure how the geography worked out on the one) and listen to the game. But if I were an actual Indians fan, that would truly suck. Sure, we miss the first hour of a game when it starts at 4:00, but that's usually not as vital as missing the last two hours would be. I'm assuming Sunday Night Baseball, Monday Night Football, and playoff game in any sport have got to absolutely suck. If I were on the east coast, I think I'd petition to have the workday start at 10:00. On the flip side, I think I now know why the west coast is generally less religious than the east coast - football. Y'all can still go to church Sunday morning's and then go home and watch the pre-game show. We can't. Our pregame shows start at 9:00 AM (8:30 on ESPN). We barely have enough time to go buy a six-pack. We're usually still drinking coffee during the first quarter.

- Directions are weird. Somehow I kept messing up on east and west. I never thought it was so internalized, but in my subconscious, west means "toward the ocean." Odd since I haven't lived near the ocean in 16 years. And often times on the east coast I was nowhere near the ocean, but for some reason every time I wanted to go east, I found myself looking for the exit for west. Normally I caught myself, but one time I completely missed the turnoff when travelling from Hartford to Manchester. Again, no ocean is visible from either of those cities, yet for some reason I drove right past the "I 84 East) turnoff.

-Manchester, NH is a beautiful city. Too bad the economy sucks.

-I stopped by Daddy Bush's house in Kennebunkport, ME. At first I thought "I wonder if I can find it. It seems like a small town. Then I got a map that clearly showed where it was. As I approached it, there were signs that said "no stopping, pullout ahead." And sure enough, right across from the house, there's a little turnout and signs that say 15 minute parking and no RVs or busses. At first I was thinking "God, what a horrible, celebrity obsessed society we live in where people (like myself) pull over just to take a picture of somebody's house." Then I realized, it's not like this guy made a movie or anything. He was the leader of the free world, a job only 43 people have had in history and a job that only 4 living people have had. So it's really not that bad of a thing that people stop to see his house. I highly doubt his son's house will be so accessible to the public when his term is over.

-Northeast weather sucks. There's no reason three baseball games in late July should be delayed or cancelled due to torrential downpours. Absolutely no reason.

-Delta Airlines also sucks. I think it's their official policy to treat customers like crap. The sad thing is when a few of them try to be helpful. I bet they get beaten afterward. So to the one lady that helped me when the rest shrugged their shoulders and told me I'd be spending the night in JFK, thank you. Please go work for United or something.