Friday, July 30, 2010

A Walk

There isn’t much here. A gravel drive that stops at a paved bridge over a small stream. We park among the trees and muscadine vines. We exit the car and head toward the bridge. In the muted light of dawn the stream below us is all shadow and swift-moving current.

We cross and follow the winding path, the stream on our left. The wooded area between the path and the stream is alive with dew-flecked spider webs, squirrels scurrying through tree branches, and the occasional lizard hurrying from view. To the right there is a large expanse of fenced in grass scattered with piles of branches and discarded wood. Far in the distance a herd of horses are running, circling the trees.

The sun is low in the sky but the summer heat has already begun to rise from the concrete trail. David stops to peer into the creek.

“Look, Abby, over here in the stream,” he says.

He points out a snake that’s cutting a disappearing shape through the water, making its way toward the opposite bank. The snake’s movements are eerie. It slithers, forming esses with it’s long, thin body. Its head pokes up above the surface. A chill runs up my spine and a verse surfaces from the stockpile of my memory.

“Then the Lord God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14 & 15)

We continue. Soon we come upon another bridge where the stream begins to widen. Below us minnows dart to and fro in the shallow water. We can just hear the dull roar of water rushing. The path makes a large curve and in the center a view of the waterfall opens before us. To the right, a path is worn through tall grass and wildflowers. We follow this path to the edge of a cliff that overlooks the stream.

Ahead of us the water falls over a rocky cliff. Sun rays stream through the trees, casting spotlights on the falling water. I take off my sunglasses and squint, allowing my eyes to adjust to the bright light of the rising sun. Already, sweat beads at my temples and falls in little rivulets down my face. The back of my shirt is wet and I feel alive.

We head back to the trail and enjoy the shade of the surrounding trees. Soon the trail opens into the sunlight. We follow a sharp turn to find a bench that’s been strategically placed for an optimum view of the falls.

We sit.

Ahead of us another bridge spans the rocky walls that hold the widening stream. Later we will learn that this stream is a part of the west fork of the Trinity. It will continue to widen until it joins another vein to grown into a true river.

David takes my hand and leads me out onto the arching bridge. He points out the nests of spawning fish. Little circles of gravel in the stream where the fish has fanned out the soil to create a place to lay her eggs.  Each circle has a small fish stationed in the center, guarding the next generation; its reason for being.  We watch the guards perform their duties and turn back.

Clearing the bridge, we can see the huge stones, hewn from some quarry and brought with much effort to form a frame for the waterfall and its stream.

As we pass the falls, we see two small goats, white coats speckled with brown and black spots. They traverse the stone wall on the opposite side of the falls. Eager to get a better view we follow the path through the grass to the head of the falls. The water is only a few inches deep.

I tread across the water, setting each step down firmly, careful not to slip on the slick rock.  David follows, widening my footsteps in the mossy water. At our approach the goats amble up into the treeline. I round the trees and catch them hiding in the speckled sunlight. One reaches its neck up to chew a leaf, like a baby rooting for his mother’s milk.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spook Hill

This week's [fiction] friday prompt:  A covert trip into an attic reveals something unexpected.

Spook Hill

They’d been driving for hours, headed up the Florida Peninsula. Tom liked the quaint back roads and took every chance to veer from the highway.

“Who knows what unexpected jewels one might find in small town America,” he told Jess, “These places are chock full of oddities. It’s no fun staying on the main path . . . I prefer the road less traveled.”

He said that last bit with all the bravado of a tenured English professor. Jess recognized the allusion to Robert Frost’s poem, but didn’t miss this chance for another ego boost. She hated that disappointed look in Tom’s eyes when she popped off a lit reference or beat him to the punch in any of the book categories on Jeopardy. As Tom steered, he rolled off a few scattered verses:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both . . .
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by . . .”

They had begun the day in North Key Largo and were headed North. They were hoping to make Crawfordville and their campsite in the Apalachicola National Forest before sundown. The trip should have been around ten hours if they stayed on the highways, but they had diverged so many times that at 8:00 pm they were only just rolling into Lake Wales, Florida.

They were cruising scenic highway 17, enjoying the miles of orange groves, when they came upon the charming town. The sign heralding their arrival had read “Welcome to Lake Wales. Stay a Spell.” As the car slowed to a crawl, Jess searched the cross streets for green street signs.

“Oh look,” she pointed left, “a historic downtown.”

Tom’s gaze followed her pointed finger and they hung a left onto Central. Tom slowed to see City Hall, an artful old building situated under a massive oak tree.

“That thing must be ancient,” Tom said.
“What? The City Hall? It’s definitely from another era.”
“Sure the building, but check out that old oak. Old and wise. It’s branches spread out over the entire building. A tree like that has roots reaching down into the earth. It has a history all its own, a memory older than this town, these people, maybe even older than memory itself.”

Jess focused her eyes on the tree and wondered what tales it would tell if it were able. They followed Central to First Street, slowly making their way through the sleepy town as the dusk faded. On the corner there was an old hotel. It looked in disrepair, but there was a large sign out front touting the renovation of The Royal Walesbilt Hotel. Tom slowed to peer at the boarded up windows and the sagging veranda that wrapped itself around the crumbling building. The headlights flashed on a brown sign. “Spook Hill” the sign read and pointed straight ahead.

“Oh Tom, let’s check it out. Spook Hill how charming.”

Tom followed the signs back to scenic highway 17 and eventually to North Wales Drive, where their Toyota strained to climb a hill. The car sputtered as they crested the hill and descended the other side. Just ahead, Tom could see a white line cutting across the road at the bottom of the hill and they passed another brown sign, but It was too dark to make out the writing. Tom squinted. Coming to the bottom of the hill, the Camry let out another sputter and then went dead. The car rolled a few feet to the white line and then Tom stepped on the brakes and put the car in park.

“What on earth, Tom? You had the car tuned up before we left didn’t you?”
“Of course,” Tom said, “The old girl was running like a dream when we left home.”

Tom turned the key. Nothing happened.

“Is it the gas?”
“No. Look at the meter.”

Jess leaned over and read the gauge. The needle was steady between the F and the three quarters mark.

“Well, we’ll have to walk back to the town and see if there’s a shop or a tow truck or something.” Jess said.
“We can’t leave the car in the middle of the road like this, Jess.”

He put the car in neutral and unfastened his seatbelt. He was just about to open the door when he felt the car begin to roll. Instead of rolling forward down what little incline was left of the hill, the car began to roll backwards up the hill.

Jess looked at Tom, the green lights from the dashboard reflecting in her wide eyes. His face mirrored her shock and the pair sat silently as their car rolled slowly up the hill, coming to a stop at the crest near another ancient tree.

When Jess finally worked up some courage to speak, she realized her fingernails where digging into the seat and her whole body was tensed to the point of pain.

“Did that really happen?”

Tom didn’t answer. He peeled his hand away from the steering wheel and reached for the key again. He took another try at turning the key. It started to click this time. Tom’s face turned into a grimace and he squeezed his eyebrows together as if he could will the ignition to turn over. After several unbearable seconds, the car stammered to life. Tom shifted the gear into reverse, put his right arm across Jess’s headrest, twisted his head around to see out the back window, and smashed down the gas pedal. The car jerked and began speeding backwards down the hill.

“What are you doing, Tom? Aren’t you even going to turn around? There was a sign next to that tree. We could read it and see what that was all about.”
“I’m not getting out of this car. Are you?”

Jess shook her head and decided it would be best to let Tom concentrate on maneuvering backwards down the hill. At the bottom was an old dirt road. Tom swerved into it a little too fast and a cloud of dirt and dust kicked up around them. He barely let the car stop before shifting the car into first and laying on the gas. The wheels spun in the dirt and then the car lurched forward fishtailing onto the paved road.

Tom drove straight back into town, eyes peeled on the road in front of him. There was no slowing down for a wandering glance at an antiquated home or an interesting tree. And Jess knew better than to ask for another divergence, even when her curiosity was peaked by a brown sign reading “Historic Bok Sanctuary.” After the initial excitement passed, she began to notice that ache in her lower back that told her it was time to get off the road and into a bed.

“Want to get a room?  It looks like we won’t make the campground and I saw a sign for a hotel a few yards back.”
“You really want to stay here, Jess? Why don’t we head to the next town over.”
“Wow. You’re really spooked aren’t you?”
“And you aren’t.  I saw the look in your eye when the car started rolling uphill.”
“Oh sure it surprised me.”
“Alright, let’s get a room. Which way?”
“Take a right back into the downtown area.”

Jess led them back to First Street, where one of the few buildings still lit up was the Royal Walesbilt Hotel. It was gorgeous. A magnificent display of a time gone by. Tom pulled the car into the circular drive and stopped near the wide steps leading up to the wrap around porch.

“Walesbilt?  Why does that sound familiar? Did we see this earlier when we drove through town?”
“Surely we did. How could we miss it?” Jess answered.

Jess reached into the backseat to grab their overnight bag and the pair exited the car. As they climbed the steps to the entrance, the old wood creaked under their steps. A finely dressed old gentleman met them at the door.

“Welcome to the Walesbilt, friends. We were just about to close up shop. A room?” he said.

Tom and Jess followed him through the dark foyer and into the lobby. The room opened in the flickering light. Jess looked around and noticed the candlelight first. Every light fixture was lit with actual candles, even the crystal chandelier hanging above the ornately decorated sitting room. There were so many details to take in that she had trouble focusing on one specific thing and her eyes flitted from chair to rug to painting and so on as Tom spoke in a hushed tone with the gentleman at the front desk.

“Here we are, Jess.” Tom handed her the key, an actual key on a iron ring with a little metal tag that had 4A etched into it.

The gentleman guided the pair to the base of the staircase at the center of the room.

“Take a right at the fourth floor landing. You can’t miss it,” the gentleman said.

Jess handed the bag to her husband and started the climb up the carpeted stairwell. She ran her hand along the smooth banister. As she reached the first landing, she could feel that ache in her lower back screaming out for a nice, warm bed. The stairway continued to both the left and the right, circling the sitting room below. She headed to the left, Tom right behind her. They crisscrossed their way up the stairs, all the while watching the precisely-carved molding on the ceiling grow closer and closer.

At the fourth floor, she stopped to catch her breath before heading to the right. Tom was still a few steps behind her and she waited at the door to 4A while he caught up. Jess turned the key and opened the old door. It swung in with a creak. She fumbled for a light switch and then remembered the candles.

“Well, do you have a match? It’s pitch black in there.”
“Here,” Tom fished a small box out of his pocket and handed them to Jess. “Old Timer handed them to me at the desk.”

Jess lit a match and walked slowly into the room. She bumped up against a table and felt around for a candlestick. She grasped a cold metal stand just as the match was about to burn out. Jess shook out the flame and lit another. Once the candle was lit, she had a much better view of the room. It was small. Just a full size bed in an antiqued wood frame, the table, and a lovely upholstered chair in the corner. There was a small curtained window on the far wall, but no closet or restroom.

“I’m beat,” Jess said, “I’m going straight to bed.”
“Yeah, me too. Here’s the bag.” Tom dropped the overnight bag on the overstuffed duvet.

Jess and Tom silently dressed in the soft light of the candle and climbed into bed.

“Aren’t you going to blow out the candle?” Jess said.
“I thought you were.”
“C’mon Tom. The hardwood floor is cold and it’s all the way across the room.”
“Yep, Jessie, it’s all the way across this humongous room. How will you ever make it all the way over there with your cold feet and all?” Tom laughed and dug his fingers into Jess’s side. Jess squirmed and giggled.

“Okay. Fine.” Jess said.

She threw back the covers with a huff and climbed out of bed, making a point to let out a loud sigh. Tom laughed and flashed her a faux pout. Jess blew out the candle and stumbled back to the bed, knocking her knee against the side before climbing back in.

“Goodnight sweetheart,” Tom said. He snuggled up next to his wife and they were both asleep in a matter of minutes.

Jess awoke to a strange knocking sound and looked around in the dark. It took her a few seconds to remember where she was and to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. There was a small slant of moonlight streaming through the curtains. Just enough for her to find her way to the table and matches. Jess lit the candle and decided she would need to find that restroom soon.

She left Tom snoring away in the old bed. She walked slowly down the hall, moving the candle to show the numbers on each door. As she neared the end of the hall, she noticed the clunking sound was getting louder. A branch against the building, or maybe an old pipe, she thought. The last door on the right appeared to be the restroom and Jess hurried in and closed the door behind her.

As she was rinsing her hands, the clunking sound stopped and she heard a new sound. Is that music? Jess could just make out the faint sound of someone plunking away at an out of tune piano. She turned the knob on the sink until the water stopped running and picked up her candle. Going back out into the hall, she could hear that the music was coming from the door at the end of the hallway. She followed the music and raised the candle to read the words “attic” on the door.

She looked around to make sure she was the only guest up at this hour. Sure that she was alone, she slowly turned the knob. The door opened directly into a narrow, wooden stairway. Here the walls weren’t finished with the scrolling wallpaper and the steps weren’t covered in plush carpet. She started up the stairwell, running her hand along the rough wall. With each step, the music got a little louder and the stairwell brightened.

At the top of the stairs, Jess could see there were several lit candles around the crowded room. She picked her way around scarred wardrobes and broken chairs, past a rusting iron bird cage and a hatrack draped by spider webs. There in the far corner, she saw him. The man from the lobby sitting on a dusty warped bench and playing an old upright piano. It was horribly out of tune and Jess didn’t recognize the notes as anything she had ever heard before. She stopped and leaned up against an old roll top desk. When she did, it shifted and the roll top came slamming down, just missing her fingers.

Jess jumped back, knocking into the hatrack. She had to grasp through the spider webs to steady it before it tumbled. The old man stopped pecking away at the keys and looked up.

“What are you doing here?”  He asked.
“Um . . .” Jess stammered for an answer.
“You shouldn’t be here,” He said.

The man rose from the piano and in the candlelight Jess could see that his fine suit was covered in dust and tattered at the seams. He slammed the cover down over the keys and a gust of wind blew across the attic dousing the candles. Jess was glad she had thought to stash the matches in the pocket of her robe. She struck one and relit her candle.

The man was gone. So was the piano and the roll top desk. In fact, all the marred furniture was gone. Jess was left standing on an unfinished wood floor in an empty attic. She hurried back to the stairwell and flew down the steps. She stepped out into the hall and closed the attic door behind her. She was in such a hurry to reach her room that she didn’t notice the debris on the floor until she tripped over a large piece of lumber. Jess caught herself on the wall, scraping her palm against the rough plywood. She was sure only moments before that this wall had been covered by a deep purple wallpaper and lined with paintings of landscapes and portraits.

Jess hurried back to her room, looking desperately for the gilded 4A on the door. She didn’t find it, but she did find the staircase they had used earlier and backtracked her way to what she thought was their room. She pushed through the door. There was no need for a key. It wasn’t closed, much less locked.

There she found Tom, snoring away on an uncovered mattress. There was no upholstered chair in the corner, no flowing curtains covering the boarded window, and no table to set the candle on.  Instead, there was only a rusty, metal-frame bed holding her sleeping husband.

“Wake up, Tom,” Jess shouted.

She found their bag on the dirty floor and began pulling on her jeans and t-shirt from yesterday’s travel. Tom shifted in the bed and stopped snoring. Jess reached over and began tugging on his arm.

“Wake up, Tom, we have to go. Now!”

Tom rolled over and saw Jess fully dressed in the middle of the night, holding the candle in one hand and their bag in the other.

“Get dressed.”

Tom rolled out of bed and looked around the room.

“What’s going on?” he said.
“I don’t know, but we’re getting out of here.”

Tom hurried into his clothes and they both left the room. They headed straight for the staircase that wrapped around the sitting room.

“It doesn’t look safe,” he said.  Tom threw his arm out in front of Jess before she could step onto the stairs.
“Do you have a better idea?”
“No. At least let me go first.”

Jess handed Tom the candle and waited for him to step out onto the deteriorating stairs. It was easy to see how old they were, even in the dim light of just the moon and their small candle.  They picked their way down past missing boards and over gaping holes. When they finally made it to the bottom, they could see that the elegant sitting room was just an empty hull scattered with the occasional rotted board and rusty nail.

The two went straight for the doorway, which they found boarded closed. Tom looked around for something to pry the boards loose. He found an old iron poker near the crumbling fireplace and went to work making an exit. Soon he had enough boards removed to allow them to climb through the opening. They stepped out into the light of the full moon and saw their car, still parked in front of the decrepit hotel.

They hurried to the car and once safe inside with doors locked they looked back up at the hotel. The windows and doors were securely boarded and that lovely porch was greyed out and sagging.  Tom started the car and began to slowly pull forward. His headlights shone on a large sign that read, “Coming Soon to Lake Wales the Newly-Restored Grand Hotel. Formerly the Royal Walesbilt. This project made possible by the Lake Wales Historic Society.”

Tom pulled out onto First Street.

“Time to leave this town behind us, Jessie.”
“Fine by me.”

Jess looked down at her shaking hands. She reached her left hand over and placed it on her husband’s knee, leaned back in her seat, and closed her eyes.


Friday, July 23, 2010

A Meeting

Today’s [fiction] Friday prompt:  pick two established characters, either from your own work or the work of others’. Now write the scene/story of their meeting.

I’ve chosen to write the meeting of two characters from the work of others’: Young Goodman Brown’s traveling companion in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” and the cat from Hell in Stephen King’s short story “The Cat from Hell,” which you can find in his collection Just After Sunset.

A Meeting

It was only half past midnight when he slipped away.  He could still here the voices of his congregation, the wails of the tortured and the squeals of ecstasy intertwined in a cacophony of praise.  He walked at a quick pace, barely using the gnarled staff in his hands.  The forest seemed to writhe around him. Branches creaked as they scraped each other in the growing wind.  The canopy of dark leaves curved above the rough path creating a tunnel of sorts that stretched and contracted as if with the breath of the man himself.

He walked for a spell listening to the foul voices on the wind, reflecting on his newest convert.  A young goodwife.  She was an exceptional addition to his collection:  A pure soul, prim and proper in the village, a wanton minx amongst the decaying fodder of the forest.

So easily had she turned from the prayer of her husband.  So lovingly had she accepted his anointing.  When he had touched his thumb to her forehead, she had leaned forward with lips parted, eager to accept him.  She had bowed her head and the sticky red substance had slowly dripped onto her heaving chest where it congealed before disappearing into her pale skin. The mass of pious converts had circled her and bathed her in the juice of cinquie-foil and wolf’s-bane mixed with the fat of a new born child and a fine oat. She was his now: goody Faith.

As he came upon a clearing in the path, the moon shone down to light a soft patch of grass, atop which sat a cat slowly cleaning his claws with his rough tongue.  The man let out a thunderous laugh and continued to cackle as he made his way over exposed root and the odd stone to the lone patch of grass.

“You wouldst find the one plush seat in the entirety of the forest,” he said.

He propped his staff against an oak, pulled at the thighs of his crisp black slacks, and squatted before the cat.  The cat looked up at his face with wide eyes that captured the moonlight. It’s pupils flashed back the bright reflection.  Two full moons surrounded by two green-gold rings.  The man put out his arms.  The cat bent it’s head to lick a spot of matted blood from his front claws.

“Come, old friend, I have a task for thee.”

The cat tilted it’s head.  In the strange light one could see the line that marked the center of its face, one side black and the other white.  Its expression turned to one of curiosity and it climbed into the man’s suit-clad arms.

“There now.  That’s a good pussy.”  The man ran his hand over the cat’s head and down the length of its back and the cat nuzzled into the cradle of his arm.

“Surely you haven’t missed the communion?  It was just a ways back in the clearing.  Many of Salem’s finest were in attendance.  The lady of the governor.  Old deacon Gookin on the heels of Salem’s minister. Even your old friend, goody Cloyse, with or without her broomstick.”

The cat purred and stretched its head under the man’s familiar hands.

“Never you mind.  Your task awaits and I am certain you will not miss my next gathering.  Thou run along now to goody Faith and her pious husband young goodman Brown.  She will welcome your presence with a warm bowl of cream.  A sweet purr and a brush of her skirts will gain you entrance to the happy home.  You wilst be her familiar.  If any of Salem’s devout residents have chance to give her heartache.  You well know how to handle thine situation.  Her husband, especially, wilst require a watchful eye. Yes?”

The cat dug its claws into the man’s fine coat, raised up on its four legs, and leapt to the ground.  Landing smoothly, it cast a fiery glance at its master and ambled into the darkness of the disappearing path, its tail swishing to the cadence of its dispassionate stroll.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fiction Friday: The Cavern

This week's [fiction] friday prompt is: Use a McGuffin in your story. 

If you're like me, you might be wondering what exactly a McGuffin is.   According to Wikipedia it is "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction".[1] The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. (Examples might include money, victory/glory, survival, a source of power, a potential threat, etc....or something entirely unexplained.)

The Cavern

Jakob awoke to the smell of coffee and biscuits. He stretched his arms and pressed his toes into the footboard of the bed. He sat up and waited for his vision to focus in enough to see his work clothes in a nicely folded pile on the wooden chair next to the bed. As he pulled them on, he listened for the familiar sounds of his wife, Ada, going about her morning tasks. He walked into the main room of the two room cabin just as she was pouring the boiling water over the iron skillet, washing away the remains of her cooking. Jakob admired the red hair running down her back, stopping where her hips curved out to make a smooth, round shape beneath her cotton dress. He sat at the head of the old oak table and waited for his breakfast to be served. Ada was right on cue. She quietly sat the tin of coffee and plate of biscuits smothered in cream and blackberry jam before her husband. He began to eat. Ada heard the cries of her youngest daughter. She hurried to the bedroom, bent over the cradle, and scooped her one-year-old daughter, Beatrice, into her arms. Ada shuffled back into the main room, settled into the rocking chair next to the fireplace, and began to feed the child. Jakob finished off his coffee, rose from the table, and crossed the space between the table and the fireplace. He bent over his wife and daughter and planted two small kisses on each of their foreheads. Ada smiled and Beatrice cooed, her mouth wet with milk.

“Kiss Clara goodbye for me when she wakes,” Jakob said.
“Will do, hun. Careful out there.”
“Should be home by sunset.”

Jakob closed the heavy door and walked across the steaming ground to the mine. He thought it odd that it was so hot this early in the day, but attributed it to an especially hot summer. After all, the Almanac had forecasted that June of ‘87 would be one of the hottest on record. In one hand he held his cloth mining cap and in the other swung his lunch pail. The sun had yet to rise and he heard voices in the dark as he approached the mine. Two men were having a hushed conversation at the mine entrance.

“So the men don’t know?”
“How could they?”
“How’s about you ‘splain it to me one more time?”
“I can’t put it any simpler. The mine’s called Elkhorn Silver Mine and that’s just what all these suckers are minin’ fer. Boss Moody tells me, and just me mind ya, that there’s a bigger treasure deep in these hills. He’s been searchin’ fer it for years and he got a bead on it last month. Suppose to be right here in Elkhorn. Under our very feet. Coulda walked right over it and wouldn’t a known it.”
“What’s the treasure, Pete?  If Boss Moody’s lookin’ it’s gotta be big, huh?”
“I tell you what, Tommy, it’s bigger ‘en anything you ever seen. And don’t you go breathin’ a word of this to none other soul. Boss tole me an’ I’m a gonna find it.”
“Find what?”
“The treasure.”
“What is it, Pete?”
“Boss wouldn’t tell me. It’s that big. He says I’ll know it when I sees it. I’m jus tellin’ you in case you run ‘cross it first. We can split the gold. Boss Moody says bring him the treasure and I’ll be the richest man in Elkhorn. Hell, I’ll be the richest man in Montana.”
“Someone’s comin’, Pete.”
“Mind ya, keep yer mouth shut an’ yer eyes open.”

Jakob had heard enough of the nonsense.  He walked toward the mine entrance.

“Mornin’ Jakob,” Pete said.

Jakob put his hat on, tipped it at the men, and climbed onto the ore bucket. He tipped his head once again and the pair began to lower Jakob down the shaft. When the bucket came to a jerking halt at the floor of the mine, Jakob struck a match and lit his candle. He looped the hook into his hat, grabbed a pick, and made his way through the darkness of the mine. Jakob was usually the first to enter the mine each morning and he enjoyed the dark quiet of the place. He followed the hewn path through the mine, returning to the vein he was working before heading home just before sunset yesterday. When he reached the spot, he stood back and inspected the wall of rock. He could see the light vein running through the dark rock and began to chip away at the wall. The only noise in the cavern was the knocking of his pick against the unyielding stone.

As Jakob worked, the grinding of the other miners’ axes began to float through the cave. He listened as the echoes bounced from tunnel to tunnel. As he continued his work, he noticed the thick knocking of his pick had changed. The sound of his pick was no longer the sound of metal on a solid rock wall. Jakob stopped pounding and put his ear to the wall. He tapped the pick against the wall. There was a distinct hollow sound. He tapped the pick again. Still hollow. Jakob pulled his head back from the wall, reared back with his right arm, and slammed the pick into the wall. A thin layer of rock gave way as the pick went clear through. Jakob pulled the pick back, sending more rock crumbling to the ground at his feet. Jakob kept at the thin wall until he was able to make a hole big enough to see through. He bent down so that his candle would shine through, and a gust of wind blew through the small hole dousing his light. Jakob stepped back from the hole and fumbled through his pockets for a match. After relighting the candle, he went back to work on opening up the wall. He worked for hours, undisturbed. When Jakob finally heard the faint sound of the lunch whistle, he took a short break to inspect his work. The hole started about knee high and extended up to Jakob’s waist. It was a little wider than his shoulders and Jakob thought that he could probably squeeze his muscular frame through it. Eager to see what was on the other side, he left his lunch pail untouched and began to climb through the opening.

Another blast of wind gusted though the opening and into Jakob’s face, snuffing his light again. He knew it would be of little use to relight the candle now, so he felt his way along the edge of the hole and stuck his head into the dark. He put his hands out in front and set them down among the debris on the cave floor. He had to work a bit to get his torso through, but once past his hips, getting his legs and boot-clad feet through was an easy task. Jakob stood up in the new chamber and fished a match from his pocket. Before lighting it, he noticed a soft, blue glow in the darkness ahead of him. He held the match and slowly began to walk toward the glow. His feet shuffled on the floor of the cavern and he heard a faint whispering. Jakob spun around. He could see no lights in the darkness behind him, not even the outline of the hole through which he had come. He was sure that he was still alone.

Jakob’s mind strayed to the conversation he had overheard as he was entering the mine that morning. The two men had spoken of a treasure. He wondered if this could be the mysterious item the pair had been whispering about. He continued across the unsteady ground toward the blue light. As he approached the source of the light, the whispering grew to a dull roar. Jakob was close enough now to see that the light was radiating from a small box set atop an ancient pedestal. Jakob’s hands shook as he reached for the box. He was mesmerized by it’s haunting glow. He could not resist the urge to lift the square stone lid, compelled by an unseen force, by his own curiosity.

Jakob placed one hand on either side of the box and began to pry the lid from its resting place. He lifted it slowly, the sound of stone scraping against stone sending a chill down his back and making the hair on his arms stand on end. A massive gust of wind came from the opened box, knocking Jakob back a few steps. He struggled to keep his balance and gripped the stone lid tightly between his hands. The soft blue grew to a bright white, first lighting up the wide cavern, then blotting out all sight with it’s harsh glow. Jakob squeezed his eyes closed, but the whiteness surrounded him. It seemed to permeate his entire body.

Ada Matthieson waited. The sun had set an hour ago and still her husband had not returned. She sat in her rocking chair, balancing her two daughters on her lap. Beatrice was fast asleep with her curl-covered head resting on her mother’s shoulder. Clara was close to falling asleep herself. The fiesty three-year-old was fighting it, trying desperately to hold her tired eyes open. Every few minutes Clara’s head would topple onto her mother’s shoulder and then pop back up again. Ada was avoiding putting the two down for the night. She was loathe to be left alone in the empty main room of the cabin with only her worries and a dying fire. Instead, Ada rocked her daughters and kept an eye trained on the cabin door.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fiction Friday: Jakob

This week's prompt:  In her right hand a woman holds a loaded gun, in her left, a coin that just came up ‘tails’…


The following article was published in The Age, weekly newspaper of Boulder, Montana.

Scourge of Elkhorn Ended

Elkhorn, MT.  June 17, 1889.  All of Elkhorn was present as the body of Jakob Matthiesen was carried through town square to it's resting place in an unmarked grave in Elkhorn Cemetery.  His death, on June 16th, by gunshot to the head ended his six month rampage through Southwestern Montana. 

This past January began a dark period for the booming mining town of Elkhorn. On January 15, 1889, Matthiesen rode into town after he had been missing for a year and a half. Rather than returning to his cabin to reunite with his wife and children, he instead burst through the doors of "Silver & Gold," one of the towns most infamous brothels. Witnesses reported that his rampage through the brothel was unexpected and unprovoked. As he entered the establishment, he grabbed Madam Sasha by the hair and slammed her head against the bar. He then pulled his colt from its holster and walked the bar, pointing the gun at three gentlemen waiting for their evening's entertainment. He then pulled a silver coin from his pocket. He stopped in front of the first gentleman and, holding the gun to his forehead, flipped the coin, frowned, and stepped to the second frightened man.  Matthiesen flipped the coin again, frowned, and moved on to the final man at the bar that night, Mr. Lanius Banta. Matthiesen flipped the coin a third time. He looked down at the coin and a smirked. He squeezed the trigger killing Banta. Matthiesen went from room to room that evening, murdering six patrons of "Silver & Gold" in the same fashion. He also injured three of the lovely young ladies. 

Matthiesen then dissapeared again, but his rampage did not end. There have been reports across the Elkhorn Mountains of a strange man with an untrimmed beard and a mess of dark hair down to his shoulders. The man sometimes had black eyes and other reports claim his eyes were red as blood. No matter how the descriptions changed, his actions were always the same:  A colt 45 to the head, a flip of the silver coin, and either a smirk or a frown. By June of this year, Matthiesen had been a suspected of 18 murders throughout Southwestern Montana.

On June 15, 1889, Matthiesen returned to Elkhorn, where he entered his cabin and murdered his wife, Ada Matthiesen, and two daughters, Clara age 5 and Beatrice age 3. Clara and Beatrice were found shot to death.  Ada was still alive when found, but had suffered a severe beating. She died under the care of the town physician.  Jakob Matthiesen was found on the floor next to Clara with a gunshot to the head. His wife and daughters were laid to rest at Elkhorn Cemetery on June 16th beneath a marker reading, here rests the sweetest buds of hope. "The townsfolk are relieved that this scourge on our community has finally been rubbed out," said Mayor Holter. Matthiesen left no survivors.

Firsthand account of Ada Matthiesen, wife of the infamous Jakob Matthiesen, taken on her deathbed in Elkhorn, MT.

Ada Matthiesen did not recognize the unkempt man as her husband. When she stood to protest his entry, he stormed across the cabin and pressed the barrel of his colt against her forehead. She and her two daughters, Clara five and Beatrice three, had just settled into their supper. Jakob held the gun to his wife's head and pulled a silver coin from his coat. He flipped it, looked down, and frowned.  Silently, he stepped toward his daughter Clara.  Instinctively, Ada grabbed his arm. He backhanded her, knocking her head against the wall behind them. She slid to the ground and he kicked her over and over in the head and along the length of her body. Ada tasted blood in her mouth and her vision began to blur. She did not loose consciousness, only she lacked the ability to make her body move from the cold floor. Instead, she watched as Jakob lined up his two daughters on the opposite wall.

He began with the eldest, Clara. He rested the gun against her smooth, white forehead and tendrils of blonde curls wrapped around the steel barrel.  He looked into her pale blue eyes, flipped the coin, smirked, and pulled the trigger.  At the bright flash and loud bang Beatrice begin to cry. The smell of fear mixed with gunpowder wafted across the room. Ada struggled to move. She could feel small pinpricks in her legs. She struggled against herself as she watched Jakob press the gun against Beatrice's face, wet and red with crying. He flipped the coin again. Ada twitched her toe. He peeled his long fingers back and looked down at he coin. Ada squeezed her hands into fists. Jakob turned to look at his wife. Ada was perfectly still, holding her eyes open in a glazed stare. She watched as Jakob's lips turned up into a smirk. He turned around and pulled the trigger. Beatrice's tiny, limp body joined her sister's in a heap on the hardwood floor.  

Jakob turned and walked across the cabin. His footsteps were heavy in the silence, sending out sharp echoes. Ada saw her chance when he began to scour the cupboards. She forced her body to move and managed to crawl to the sideboard. She reached up and slid the drawer open. She fumbled in the drawer, all the while keeping both eyes on Jakob's back. Her hand clamped down on the small pistol she had been keeping for protection since her husband had gone missing nearly two years ago. She tucked the gun under the folds of her dress and crawled back to her place against the wall. Jakob finally found what he was searching for and spun around with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. He sidestepped Ada's body and plopped down in his chair at the head of the table. He took three big swigs of whiskey and let his chin drop onto his chest.

When Jakob awoke two hours later, his hands were bound behind his back and a single lantern in the center of the table lit up the corner of the cabin. Ada stood across the table, leaning heavily on it. She took several labored steps and rounded the edge of the table. From the corner of her eye, she could just see the two dark stpots on the wall where her daughters had been standing. A shiver ran through her small frame. She came within arm's reach of the man who used to be her loving husband, but now was just a shell housing some unknown darkness. In her right hand she held the small pistol and in her left, the silver coin she had found inside Jakob's tattered coat. 

Jakob's empty eyes stared directly into her own, but still he made no sound.  Ada tossed the coin into the air and watched it drop onto the old oak table in front of Jakob.  It bounced twice and then spun. The pair watched it spin, slow to a wobble, and finally come to rest. Ada looked from the coin to Jakob's dark face. In the low light of the lantern, she watched his mouth grow into an unearthly grin.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fiction Friday: Recurring

Today's [fiction friday] challenge:  Write about a man with an impossibly bad streak of luck on his birthdays, who, as his 40th birthday approaches, is scared of what might happen.


Sam opened his eyes, trying to determine the source of the incessant beeping.  In the dimly lit room he could make out a curtain, a tall hatrack shape next to his bed, and a cluster of strange equipment, from which was emanating an unearthly green glow.  It was coming back to him.  He looked down at the faded pink blanket covering his body and could just barely see the bulge of his toes struggling against the tight coverings.   The cold hospital room was becoming familiar.  As he started to rouse, he noticed a slight pinch on his left index finger.  He raised his hand to get a look at what could be causing the sensation.  When he bent his elbow, a stinging at the center of his arm forced him to instinctively reach over with his right hand and rub.  He felt the tape stretched across the thin skin at the bend in his arm.  As he moved his fingers over the rough texture, he felt a small piece of cold metal.  He strained to raise his head.

“Ah, the IV lead,” he whispered.

Tracing his forearm, he felt his limp wrist and continued down his hand to see what was hampering the movement of his finger.  He felt the smooth plastic closed around his finger and recognized it as the blood oxygen meter.

The beeping intruded on his thoughts and marred the perfect silence of the darkened room.

Sam closed his eyes and let his mind focus on the smooth rhythm of his pulse.  In the darkness of his mind he imagined the blood pumping through his veins.  He could see the red liquid oozing through a tangle of veins and arteries, pulsing to the beat of the constant beeping.  He took in a deep breath and the scent of disinfectant overwhelmed his senses.  As he let out the breath, he noticed a skip in the rhythm of the beeping.  His eyes popped open and he struggled to see the green line of his pulse as it played across the screen next to his bed.  He watched as the flat lines between peaks stretched longer and longer.  The beeping was slowed to a sad crawl.  He tried again to calm himself with a practiced deep breath, but instead felt his lungs gasping for air.  The beeps continued to slow their pace.   The darkness of the sterile room closed in around him.  He waited for an unending moment, straining to hear the beep once again.  When the sharp tone finally rang out, it stretched on and on. An unending flat line scrolled across the screen.

Sam struggled against the darkness to open his eyes once again.  When they finally popped open, the hospital room had begun to fade and he was overwhelmed by a thick blackness.  He could no longer feel the stiff hospital mattress beneath his back.  He was weightless, falling into the blackness, consumed.

Sam heard the blare of the clock radio playing Hendrix’s version of  All Along the Watchtower.

“There must be some kind of way out of here,” Jimi’s voice called out.

He sat straight up in his bed, turned to see the green numbers on his clock, and read the date.

In the haze of the dawn, the green lights spelled out “03-12-10."

Sam didn’t need the glowing numbers to know that today was his fortieth birthday.  The recurring dream was enough to herald the fateful day.

“Well lady fate, what mayhem do you have in store for me this year?” Sam said to the empty room.  He swung his feet over the side of the bed, slipped on his tattered house shoes, and forced his stiff body to rise.