One – I wrote 5,000 words yesterday; I am still riding the high. There is a effervescence of spirit that comes from writing. Words arrive in a pell-mell rush which my brain regurgitates onto a screen. (Hopefully in a shape that vaguely resembles what I see and hear behind my eyes.) This is the honeymoon period after the storm of words and before the tempest that is self-doubt and editing—the halcyon days of loving your creation.*
Two – Yesterday I sent my heroine on an adventure. There was a horse, of course. And plastic fruit and a tragedy for the hydrangeas—though now I am thinking petunias might be a funnier flower.
Three – I brought frenemies together and then forced them to climb deadwood to safety—only to fall like tumbling blocks—spelling out embarrassment and trouble in their awkward landing.
Four – I have yet to release the monkey—but I am cackling in anticipation.
Five – Today I rest while Officer Dettweiler removes the thorns—one prick at a time.
Six – And I haven’t decided who is getting the spring-loaded trap the heroine left for her anonymous hero. Perhaps the busybody Mrs. Bridewell is going to get her just desserts at the Fudge Festival after all?
Seven – I have no regrets, except that this pace can only be maintained for so long. Sooner or later, something is going to explode—most likely the laundry room.**
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*At least, I think this is caused by the writing. It could be the lack of sleep and caffeine talking, now that I think of it.
Sorry, I was sucked into the vacuum that is Spring Break with a hyperactive child who has an overdeveloped sense of curiosity and underdeveloped sense of self-preservation.
The brain trust is drained.
For your amusement, pictures I took with my Samsung phone at work today:
This entire post is in response to something at Writers of the Rain said about there not being an interesting picture of a stapler. I disagree! I now challenge everyone else to find or create their own interesting stapler photo.*
“I tell you, Boss, Dewey’s got to be remaindered.”
I stare at the twitchy face across the desk, assessing what my copy editor has said. Anton is overly pessimistic—it’s his nature. But in this case, I have to agree.
“Yes. He’s gone off book.”
I finger the Mont Blanc I inherited from my father—he was old school that way. He’d have nipped this little rebellion in the nib. A bead of red ink wells and drips on my fingertip.
“Any idea where he’s taking it?” I ask.
“Word is, he’s at a random safe house.” Anton steps back at my expression.
I look down. I’ve broke the reservoir. Ink bleeds down my wrist and pools on a manuscript tossed over the transom this morning. Red obscures the cover page but you can just make out the title: Betrayal by the Book. After Anton’s report, it feels eerily prophetic.
I’d known about the missing product for a while. At first, it was just a few shorts here, an anthology there, but with Dewey’s departure, taking the much-anticipated final installment of his series, a book aptly titled Everybody Dies, with him, it’s clear. Someone is trying to take us down.
“Thank you, Mr. Nym.” I dismiss him.
I pull the black, rotary dial phone nearer, tossing the massacred manuscript on the slush pile for later disposal.
My fingers move automatically, the number is so familiar.
It may not be fashionable, but I like the feel of a rotary phone. The heavy handset, the hypnotic pull of the wheel as the round, plastic windows spin like slot machines to dial a number. In days where digital piracy rules, an old-fashioned landline with a scrambler built-in provides just as much security and is impervious to digital surveillance. Plus, I have never accidentally run one through the laundry.
The voice at the end of the line brings me up.
“Mr. Quick, I have a job for you.” I explain the problem and wait. He is as good as his name.
“Mr. Dewey is contractually obligated to write a finale to the Better Off Dead series. He can’t sell to another publisher until he’s met his obligations and he can’t take his characters with him.” Quick says.
As he talks, I frown, swiping at the red ink that refuses to come off. My mind races to piece together where a coward like Dewey would get the balls to face us down. It made no sense. Finally, I give Quick his head.
“I hate to pull a Penguin, but put the screws to the bastard until his royalties bleed.”
“Madam, I’ll have an injunction to you by the end of the day.” Quick says. His voice is clipped, as if he’s already mentally dictating the reams of legal palaver he will bury Dewey with.
Speaking of burying…
I hang up the phone and push the speakerphone.
“Psue, track down your brother, Moe, for me?”
I almost miss her answering: “Yes, Ms. Dox.” Her voice is almost as soft as the silent ‘p’ in her first name.
“Thanks. When he gets here, just send him in.”
I don’t bother to wait for a reply. Odd first names aside, I have utter faith in the Nym family’s ability to follow orders. It’s one reason Paradox Publishing has kept pace with the bigger book giants. Loyalty. Or, at least it used to be.
While I wait, I open the file Anton brought and review the contract the family took out on Dewey. Scanning the tome, I chuckle at the nearly invisible amendments to the boilerplate language. Is it my fault the idiot didn’t read the fine print practically selling us his literary soul? A minimum ten books with a denouement that precludes a resurrection or continuation of the series. Dewey had been dodging Anton’s calls for weeks. I’d sent him an invitation to meet me or to expect Moe. Dewey begged for a month’s extension, citing artistic exhaustion. I gave him a week and a promise to break a finger for every day he’s late. Writer’s block is an excuse as old as time itself, but I recognize the noxious stench of treachery—Dewey reeked of it.
I’m reviewing our erratic circulation numbers—trying to find a pattern—when there’s a thump at the door preceding Moe’s arrival. Moe is hard to describe—you’d have to use short adjectives that pack a punch. Words like ‘thick’ and ‘meaty’ spring to mind. It probably comes from the name his mother gave him. Heaven rest her soul, but nobody could understand why she’d picked it. Least of all Moe who lived to pound flat anyone who made the mistake of using his full moniker.
I can sympathize—having the last name Dox isn’t easy, especially for a girl. You can imagine: “Dox sucks…” I shake my head, exorcising old ghosts, and get back to the business at hand.
“Have the copy boys deliver a message to our friends at the Arbitrary Abode.” I murmur, careful not to name the corporation directly. “Make it elegant. Something Dickensian would be appropriate: A fire sale in a set of first editions, I think.”
Moe nods and he turns to leave when he stops, turns back.
“That’s sale—with an S.A.L.E.? Right?” His face contorts with the effort of thought but smooths out when I nod.
After he’s gone, I try to imagine how he would have interpreted fire sail?
Probably would have torched the marina just for good measure.
The phone rings. That isn’t unusual, but the fact that it’s coming in on the unused, second line is. I hesitate, then pick it up before a fifth shrill ring abrades my nerves.
“Hello?” I pause. Maybe it’s a wrong number? The muffled voice on the other end kills that hope dead.
“Ms. Dox, I hope you are enjoying the fruits of my labor. Again.”
“Who is this?” My voice is steady, ignoring the insinuation.
“How quickly she forgets the little people she’s trampled on along the way.” The man—for I believe it is a male voice—chides, tut-tutting for good measure.
God, how predictable. I bet he twirls a fucking mustache when he ties a women to the railroad tracks. I know I’m following a damned script—a formulaic victim-to-villain exchange—but I can’t help myself.
“What do you want?” I grind my teeth.
“Do you hear them yet?” The voice is garbled but the sneer comes through loud and clear. “Can you hear them clucking? Those’re your chickens coming home to roost. Ms. Dox.”
Great, now I get to suffer through moronic metaphors. Just kill me now. I wait in silence, because I won’t stoop to clichés. And anything I have to say to this man would likely qualify.
“I expected more of a fight from you, Ms. Dox,” he goads.
Tell me who you are, you bastard and I’ll give you a fight.
Okay, I will grant myself a little melodramatic license in private. But, I won’t give the caller the satisfaction. I won’t blink first.
It takes him a few minutes to realize I’m not following the script. So he moves from insulting taunts to veiled threats.
“Go ahead, play dumb, Doxie. You’re so good at it.” His pitch drops to a guttural snarl now. “If you won’t play, I’ll just let my work speak for itself. Let the Times bring you down. I hear there’s a best seller in the works; too bad you threw it on the slush pile.”
I’m left with a dial tone and hollowed pit in my gut. I haven’t heard that damned nickname since I worked after school as a novice copy editor in my father’s cosa nostra.
“Don Dox doesn’t raise sissies.” He used to say. And he expected his kids to fight their own battles.
It had taken knocking a few teeth loose to keep people from using the name in my presence. But I knew it still floated around behind my back. I’d had to grow a thick skin—and hard fists—to put up with it. And here it was, being thrown in my face along with the specter of past mistakes. What could he mean?
I strain for a memory, anything to place the mystery voice. Wait. What had he said about the slush pile?
I sit back, relieved. It’s a reject. It has to be. Some poor shmuck writer who thought he’d written a fucking Pulitzer. I want that to be it. But something else tugs insistently at edge of my consciousness, nagging me. Something else the guy’d said. What was it?
Then, my stomach rumbles. I laugh.
It’s just hunger gnawing at you, idiot.
I stand to go when the flash of red staining my fingers reminds me I’d first have to get some solvent to get the ink off. Reaching into the drawer for my bag, I freeze.
“Playing dumb.” That’s what he’d said.
I drop back into my chair, the leather protests and the wheels squeak, rolling back to hit the cabinets behind me. I review everything—everything that’s happened this morning—everything that’s led up to the phone call. My brain ticks the seconds past. Playing dumb. Fruits of my labor. Chicken’s coming home to roost. Cliché’s! The man had spouted a glut of clichés.
The slush pile!
I snatch up the ink-spattered manuscript—feverishly pouring through the opening pages:
“She never thought the past would catch up with her. She thought she’d covered her tracks. She thought wrong.”
I hadn’t been able to get past the first page. It was so predictable. A story of betrayal and revenge. That it hadn’t been slated for the top ten was apparent from the tired storyline…but what about the phrasing was so familiar?
I scan down the page, until I get to the last paragraph of the prologue:
“The woman ignored the pigeons cooing on the ledge outside her office. She was oblivious as she took off her shoes, climbed out of the ten-story high office window. It was only as she jumped that it occurred to her, they sounded just like chickens—chickens coming home to roost.”
It takes me an hour to skim the work. I turn to look out the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. There are no pigeons, not today, but I am ten stories up. The publishing house located on Second Street overlooks a busy sliver of New York real estate. Below, traffic clogs the FDR and the East River sullenly shuttles water taxis and tourist boats to and fro. My father’s empire, built by him and his father before him. My empire now. And someone wants to bring it crashing to the ground—bring me down.
I walk to the window and look out. I know someone is watching. He had to be to know I’d tossed his work on the reject pile. His manifesto of hate—of lies twisted into barbs of near-truth.
I could take the hit, but the business would be hurt by it. I won’t let that happen.
I hold up the battered manuscript—looking for all the world like I’m waving a white flag of surrender. Grabbing a Bic™ my dad left behind when he retired, I hold the book by a corner and light it on fire. He likes clichés, I hope he likes this one.
I can take the heat. Can you?
I hold it until flames scorch my fingers. The hate burns like white phosphorous. I throw the mess into the nearest metal trash can and walk to push the button on the speaker phone.
“Psue. We have a small fire that needs to be cleaned up.”
Seconds later, my assistance rushes in, waving a fire extinguisher looking for a target. When she hones in the trash can, I hold up a hand to stop her.
Friday Fictioneers is brought to you each week by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who leads our band of merry writers, in weekly photo-prompt flash fiction. You can find other 100-word stories on Rochelle’s blog, Addicted to Purple. Join us, or just enjoy the wide variety of stories. ** Please leave a comment. I welcome constructive feedback. Play nice.
In the distance, flashlights race and bob heading toward the light. They are too late in their rush to judgment. I have already passed sentence. This fire burns to cleanse the inner demons. I will incinerate them all—those hell-bound thoughts which howl and gnaw within. I take each poisonous self-infliction: WORTHLESS, HOPELESS, PATHETIC, and toss it, another log on the fire. From the dust, I will rise anew.
There is a house, hemmed by hundred-year-old forests. It sits wedged at the crack where the mountain and the trees argue about property lines; each takes a small step here or there, reclaiming what was lost. The crenellated highway cuts through and, playing referee, takes no sides. From the uppermost window you could see traffic zoom by. Only birds know this was once a palace of an impoverished people. Zigzag stairs dash haphazard footpaths—dizzying, transitory indecision leading nowhere. And flower pots wait at the end of the world for owners who are never coming home.
(This is in response to a writing challenge from the Writing Essential Group to ‘Write a set of step-by-step instructions detailing how to do something (prose or poetry). It is also a reminder that I need to shave.)
After getting dressed in a pair of shorts for the first time after winter, go outside in good lighting and determine what grade of razor you require to level the growth attained:
a. Just peachy fuzz – Single-edge ladies razor (available only in pink)
b. Low nap carpeting – Double-edge safety razor
c. Impending jungle – Norelco ‘Weed Wacker’ Shaver*
d. Sasquatch-esque – Save your blade, use a DOW-approved chemical depilatory cream. Have burn unit on speed dial.
March back into home, select hair-assault tool of choice and grab the manly shaving cream you use because, dammit, why do they charge women more for half as much product?
Strip down to a layer of clothing comfortable with doing gymnastics in a porcelain tub. Keep in mind that if you have a terrible accident, your bra and panties should match, because that’s important when the ambulance comes to pick you up.
Determine, in advance, the line you won’t cross and, using a permanent marker, draw the stopping point of the razor. If you have committed to full limb nude-ification, then clear your calendar and set your razor for stun.
Before you proceed, ask yourself this question: “Do I really want to do this? Am I willing to do this every week this summer and suffer the burning, itching annoyance as the tiny army of hairs returns?” If the answer is “No”, put down the mini scythe and walk away. Be hairy, be proud.
Turn on shower to a medium warm setting and get your extremities moist. NEVER dry shave.** Take my word for it.
Once your legs have been zoned for construction and pre-moistened for your convenience, squirt an excessive amount of shaving cream into your palm. (It is impossible to squirt just the right amount and squirting too little is annoying and leads to dry spots on the back of your ankle. (See: Step 6 above.) Slather cream up and down in thick blankets. Then you get to pretend your razor is a mountain skier in the Alps. Feel free to yodel.
Contorting yourself in painful mimicry of a blade-wielding Cirque Du Soleil performer, extend your implement as far as it will reach and commence hacking. Immediately nip a section of flesh just over your ankle bone right where the strap of your sandal will rub it as you walk. Swear in several languages and watch pink, foamy swirls circle the drain. Proceed with greater caution but, as you move ever upward, forget that you have to run the blade sideways when you hit the knee cap—for god-only-knows-what reason—and chop a successive slice across each furrow of skin. Bleed profusely. Swear even more so.
After you manage to finish one leg (meh, good enough) tackle second leg. Never, ever allow a phone call, a whiny child, or a house fire prevent you from finishing—no one likes a lopsided fashion statement. Shaving the same leg twice doesn’t count either.
Now that your razor is nice and dull from hacking through the forbidding forests, you are faced with the unenviable prospect of shaving your pits. May god have mercy on your soul.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Watch out for blowback.
**Dry shaving is on the list of acceptable torture methods used by the CIA—right alongside waterboarding and cranking up death metal music beyond ear-bleeding levels.