Joined: 27 Jul 2008
By popular demand (popular demand being 2 people)
This book began as an entry in the three day novel contest and has since been expanded. I am currently seeking an agent to represent me, so editing is mostly wrapped up. I might touch it up in a few places here and there, but it's pretty much a finished MS.
If you'd like to further indulge your curiosity, feel free to check out my blog at http://lifeislikeahearse.blogspot.com
If not, read on. This is an excerpt from Life is Like a Hearse: It Drives a Lonely Road, Sometimes Swerving to Avoid Squirrels.
Chapter One: John
or, "It's All Fun and Games Until a Bunsen Burner Falls From the Sky and Kills Somebody"
1. slang: a toilet
2. a man who is a prostitute's customer. syn: whoremaster
3. a male given name
4. a penis, as in John Thomas or just plain John. He has a whale of a John Thomas.
Dawn Flaherty was, at the moment, neck-deep in a seething pool of piss, figuratively speaking. To quote her husband, she was enjoying the effects of "full-blown nuclear PMS." She was a walking time bomb, which had just gone off. She had opened the floodgates of Hell. She was nothing like a feather and everything like a bee. She was foaming at the mouth like a squirrel with rabies. She was explosively annoyed, catastrophically irked, pissed like a postal worker, unfathomably miffed, ravingly cranky, absolutely sore, unequivocally angry, in all ways possible utterly fucking mad.
She was pissed off about astroturf. That carpet-like vinyl imitation grass that they use at sports stadiums and mini-golf. Before you throw this book down, saying, "But that's bullshit. What has astroturf ever done to you?" please consider that Dawn's husband had recently converted their entire lawn into astroturf without having consulted Dawn. And this, might I add, was merely the icing on what was not at all a cake but was in fact astroturf. Speaking of which.
"Astroturf!" she had screamed, spittle flying freely, "What the fucking...fuck! It looks so god-damned ugly you could have shat all over the lawn and it still would have looked better."
At this point, I would like to inform the reader that Dawn was not the sort of woman who was prone to swearing. In fact, her mother was so strict about profanity during Dawn's childhood that Dawn had developed a nervous tick whenever she cussed, which resulted in her subconsciously wrapping her hair around her finger. This tick was overblown by her heinous anger.
"Now we won't have to mow," was her husband's argument. This defense was soon nullified when he shot-gunned some beers with his friends and took the ride-on lawn-mower for a spin across the astroturf. Dawn awoke to see her husband passed out in the seat of the lawnmower. The lawn, besides boasting its bright artificial green, looked like it had been attacked by a swarm of blind raccoons on crack.
I will now, despite your objections, take the time to tell you that Dawn was not in the least a fan of her name. Dawn, to her, had always seemed a name that was reserved for old people and foreigners. Flaherty was the name she had taken when she married. Until then, it was Dawn Brick, which was somewhat less bad. Not only did she sacrifice her surname for her marriage, she also became one of those rhyming couples. Dawn and John. The name Dawn Flaherty wouldn't suit her until her favorite pastimes were knitting and bingo. At the moment, the name made her want to fling herself off a bridge. Unfortunately, the only bridge that seemed to Dawn to be romantic enough for a suicidal plummet was currently closed for construction, causing traffic to be re-routed to a smaller bridge several blocks over.
This, of course, caused the ordinary rush hour traffic to become a hellish entangle of automobiles, all unmoving and all honking as if their progress might be improved by annoying the bejeezus out of the cars that stood in their way. All this did nothing to improve Dawn Flaherty's mood.
The astroturf mowing was pretty much the last straw, except that straw doesn't suck nearly as much as astroturf mowing. Straw can be quite useful. Astroturf mowing has absolutely no practical applications and no positive payoffs whatsoever, as you will soon see. When John Flaherty awoke in his lawnmower chair and saw his wife watching him, he knew that he'd just bought a one-way ticket to Fuckedville with a no-refund policy. She didn't have to say anything about the astroturf. She didn't even have to look angry, but she did anyway, as she couldn't help it. John simply got off the lawnmower, picked his pants up off the astroturf, and left.
It seemed to Dawn as if it all started when John's friend from work decided to buy a paintball gun. Somehow this set forth the domino rally that in effect led to John's "mid-life crisis," which is what Dawn called his downward-spiraling psychiatric unraveling. When John bought a paintball gun of his own, got a Prince Albert piercing, and traded in the station wagon for a flashy red sports car, Dawn decidedly stood aside and allowed the new John to step into the light. At first, this new, wild, rebellious John was merely an exciting way to annoy Dawn's mother. However, once the binge-drinking and lawn gnoming kicked in, John's teenage antics quickly became more problematic than exciting.
The neighbors were talking. Dawn's mother was not merely annoyed but legitimately concerned. It had reached the point where she would invite herself over, several times a day, to check up on Dawn. Perhaps her mother's visits were what annoyed Dawn so much about John's midlife crisis. If he could have carried on without alerting Mrs. Brick, Dawn would have been quite content.
Mrs. Brick, being a product of an older time, was incidentally old-fashioned in many ways, in spite of her fight to be what she considered "a modern woman." Her efforts culminated in a wardrobe stocked entirely with garishly bright outfits with rhinestones and sequins, with low-cut blouses to reveal wrinkled cleavage and age spots which she lovingly called beauty marks. She smoked so frequently that it became a part of her physical description rather than a description of her habits. Her face, wilted by wrinkles, had been lifted by cosmetologists, making her look sixty-one instead of sixty-two. Her hair, dyed black and stringy, was teased up with hairspray to appear wild and unruly. Her skin, tanned in a salon, was an artificial dark brown that bordered on dark orange. Her eyebrows had been tweezed and painted back on. A thick line of black makeup both above and below her eyes drew attention to the violet bags and veins beneath her pale green eyes. She had a voice like a crack whore and the morality of a lawyer.
"I told you not to marry the homosexual," her mother would say.
"He's not gay, mother."
"Well then where are the children?" she would demand, "Where are my little grandchildren? A heterosexual man with my beautiful daughter and no children. It's absurd."
"We've been trying to have children for years, mother."
"Not very hard, then," her mother would say, and then chortle at something. "No pun intended."
"There was no pun."
"Good," Mrs. Brick would say, "There wasn't any intended."
"Mother, John is not impotent, if that's what you mean."
"I don't mean anything at all by it."
Dawn went back into the house and closed the door. She locked it behind her and put the chain in the lock. She then went to the window, drew the curtains back, and peered at the lime-colored mayhem in her yard. The lawnmower sat idly beneath a large oak tree, the keys still in the ignition. The astroturf was chewed up, and Dawn assumed that the lawnmower was broken, with all the vinyl and nylon that was probably caught up in its blades. Beer cans lay scattered across the artificial grass. The stacks of sod which had been removed, were piled up at the foot of the driveway. There was a small sign at the edge of their lawn, which bore the logo of the company that had installed the astroturf.
Dawn closed the curtains and moved to the living room. She sat down on the sofa, in front of a blank TV screen, and began to cry. It was not just a stream of tears, like she got when she watched Oprah, but a full-blown cry-fest, with great heaving sobs, a river of tears that made her mascara run in streaks and black smudges down her face. She sniffled, and she rubbed at her eyes until they were pink and sore.
The hours passed, and she began to wonder where John had gone. If he had left to ride out the wave of anger. If he had gone out to steal more lawn gnomes and flamingos from the neighbors' yards. If he was out with his young buddies from the office, drinking beer and visiting strip clubs. If he was having a paintball fight in a stranger's backyard, or sneaking into someone's outdoor swimming pool. Or was it something new this time, a teenage game from the imagination of a grown-up? Or maybe he had left for good. Left for some other woman, or if her mother was right for some well-hung young man. Or maybe he'd just left, in general.
She turned on the television, helped herself to a bucket of ice cream from the freezer, and sat back down in her recliner with an ice cream scoop in one hand and the bucket in her lap. She spitefully picked the recliner on which her husband had perma-dibs. It was not until the ice cream pail was nearly empty and her favorite soap operas had ended, that she noticed how late it was, and still her husband had not returned.
Morning came like an orgasm; she was surprised by its occurrence and was caught at unawares. Also there was much groaning and her husband was not present. The doorbell rang, and she dropped her half-empty bucket of double-fudge. Melted cream sloshed across the hardwood floor. She scrambled to her feet, and shook herself awake.
"Just a minute!" she announced, as the bell rang again. She rushed to the kitchen to fetch a roll of paper towels and scrambled back to the living room. She let a spread of sheets unravel and threw them on the ice cream mess, left the television playing, tousled her messy hair, and straightened her pants. She stepped up to the door and opened it just a crack, so that the chain lock was barely taut. She saw a young man standing there, whom she did not recognize, but whose uniform was unmistakable. He was a police officer.
"Yes?" she said.
The young man showed his identification, and she unlatched the door.
"Sorry to bother you, ma'am," said the police officer, "Are you Mrs. Dawn Flaherty?"
She could tell that he looked uncomfortable, like children when put up to a dare. She wondered if this was some sort of prank her husband was playing. She humored the officer and allowed him to come inside.
"Coffee?" she offered. She gestured to the couch.
"No thank you, ma'am," said the cop, stepping around the mess of paper towels on the floor. He sat down on the couch.
"What's this about?" she asked, "John in some sort of trouble?"
The police officer coughed. Dawn thought she'd hit a nerve there. Trust her husband to hire an actor to come scare her. Next, he'd probably announce that she was under arrest for having an illegal marijuana grow up in her basement, and she'd say "I don't have a basement." Awkward silence would ensue.
"Ma'am, I have some terrible news for you."
She stifled a laugh. The officer looked surprised.
"Your husband has been involved in a freak Bunsen burner accident."
She smiled at the originality. "A Bunsen burner, you say?"
"You know," he said, his voice shaking, "Those things in science labs that uh, you use to heat your chemicals. You, uh, you hook them up to uh, natural gas and you turn them on and a flame comes out the top."
"Oh, yeah," she said, "Those. Well, is he alright?"
"Mrs. Flaherty," said the young policeman, "I'm sorry. Your husband is dead."
"Dead," she said in a tone of mock surprise, "You don't say."
The police officer nodded. He looked so awkward, sitting in front of her, and so confused by her attitude toward the incident, that she had to wonder if he really was a cop after all.
"Who put you up to this?" she demanded, suddenly fierce.
"Who put you up to this?" she said again, "Was it John? Did he pay you to do this? What acting school are you from?"
"No school, ma'am. The badge is real."
"A Bunsen burner?" she said, "How? He break into a school and decide to do a little late night science experiment and blow himself up? No-no-no. Let me guess. He was trying to light his farts on fire?"
"No, ma'am. Actually, the Bunsen burner, it uh...well, it fell from a very tall building and landed on your husband."
"What was my husband doing there?"
"Walking by, apparently."
"And what happened? Did they take him to the hospital?"
"No, ma'am. He died right on impact."
"How did it fall?"
"The Bunsen burner. You said it fell from a tall building. How did it fall?"
"Oh. We're uh...still investigating that...but it sounds like a lab assistant threw the burner out the window in a fit of rage. We're holding the...uh...the suspect in custody."
By this point, Dawn had come to the conclusion that this young man was a real cop and was therefore most likely telling the truth about her husband. Still, she had spent the entirety of her last evening in tears and was having a lot of difficulty summoning any up right now, even to save face in front of the cute policeman.
She got up and began to compulsively wipe away at the ice cream mess on the floor, tearing sheet after sheet of paper towel from the roll and wiping it in the chocolate sludge. She got up every so often to deposit the soiled sheets into the garbage can in the kitchen and return to the mess.
"Why didn't anyone come tell me sooner?" she asked, "Who was with him at the time?"
The officer looked awkward again. It was the same facial expression he had right before he told her that her husband had died in a freak Bunsen burner accident.
"Well, he was with some of his colleagues and...uh...an entourage of Chinese prostitutes."
"Apparently, none of his coworkers knew that he was married."
"What was he doing with an entourage of Chinese prostitutes?" she asked, finding it increasingly difficult to speak without having to gasp for air. "Define entourage."
"According to his friends, they hired the...uh...prostitutes as a birthday present for Mr. Flaherty. And by entourage, I mean somewhere in the range of eight to thirteen."
"They were eight to thirteen year olds?" she choked.
"No, no. Nothing like that. They were all in their twenties. No. Sorry. I should have specified. There were eight to thirteen Chinese prostitutes in the entourage."
Then came the waterworks. Her eyes were so raw and sore from last night's soap operas, that she thought they'd be drier than the Sahara in spite of the news, but here came the tears anyway.
"It wasn't his birthday," she cried, the words barely audible, "His birthday's in October. He's a libra."
The police officer waited until she was sobbing with her head in her hands, as crying women are prone to do, before casually exiting the room without notice.
When the young policeman left, Dawn sat in her chair with her guilt. Although her husband had died in a freak accident, she felt as though she had somehow willed the Bunsen burner to fall from the sky and hit him. When her tears had stopped long enough that she noticed the policeman was gone, she knew that it had not been a joke. If it had been a joke, there would have been a punch line.
Her mind tried to wrap around the idea that her husband was not around any longer. At first, she thought about the stolen lawn gnomes in the garage. She thought about the lawn mower and remembered that the keys were still in the ignition. She thought about the mutilated astroturf and how it would now be up to her to clean it up. She thought about the entourage of prostitutes and wondered which coworkers John had been with. She thought about the research assistant who had thrown the Bunsen burner out the window and thought it was strange that there would be a laboratory on one of the top floors of a tall building.
It was not until much later that Dawn learned that the police officer had been mistaken in his report. As it turned out, the man who threw the Bunsen burner was a delivery guy. Apparently, he had mixed up a delivery and brought a box of fifty laptops to the university and the professor there had signed for them. When he arrived at the office downtown, they informed him that the Bunsen burner wasn't theirs. They had, however, ordered a case of fifty laptops.
"Fuck-nuggets!" the delivery guy had exclaimed when he threw the Bunsen burner out the window in a fit of rage.
In a dark corner of Allen's Street, the Moirae sat at a café, drinking chai tea with Parson Sinews. You may remember him as the well-dressed gentleman Mrs. Brick saw passing by the window outside the occult shop. At the moment, his mood was sour and his demeanor sullen, which was an improvement over his usual morose and brooding.
"I got a job," Lachesis announced, "I made sixty dollars."
The serpents curled up around her feet, like big kittens with scales, no legs, no arms, no exterior ears, and infinitely more venom in their fangs.
"Let us all rejoice," said Parson, tapping his white-gloved fingers on the pommel of his cane, "The balance between life and death has been compromised by some cretinous, old bitch who wouldn't know the difference between the golden shears and her own toilet droppings, but all is well, because Lachesis has made sixty dollars."
"Fine, buy your own chai next time," said Lachesis, muttering, "jealous much?" under her breath.
"Sister," said Clotho, sipping her tea with her smallest finger outstretched daintily,
"With all due respect, you no longer possess anything of which Parson could be jealous. Your thread is gone. My wheel is gone. The shears are gone. You were supposed to retrieve them. You were supposed to go in there, kill everyone in your way, and be back before we missed Wheel of Fortune."
"Fuck Wheel of Fortune," said Lachesis.
"How can you say that?" said Clotho, tears welling up in her eyes.
"See, you've hurt her feelings," said Parson.
"Not my fault she's so sensitive," said Lachesis.
"Actually, I believe it is. You were supposed to get her wheel back, weren't you?"
Lachesis added more sugar to her tea. "Fuck you, Sinews," she said, "Fuck Wheel of Fortune and fuck you."
"We always watch Wheel of Fortune," Clotho sobbed, "Fuck you for not caring, Lachesis."
"We have an edge," said Atropos, breaking the tension, "If Lachesis has a job with Mrs. Brick, she will soon have the chance to take back what is ours. Do not forget that she has the abhorred shears and we are not invulnerable to their cuts."
"We've noticed," Clotho said, giggling at Atropos's wound. Lachesis laughed. The white-robed sisters could not resist getting a jeer or a laugh at their sister's expense. Ever since she'd gone all emo with her black robes, she'd adopted an attitude of superiority over them. She'd let it go to her head that she was the most feared of the three of them, and they were insanely jealous.
"The point is," Atropos snapped, slamming the butt of her scythe on the ground, startling a dozen moths into flight. They quickly made their way into the light, a hanging kerosene lantern, and then plummeted to the ground. "We cannot simply rush in, guns blazing."
"That's a good idea," said Clotho, "We should get guns."
"I've never had a gun before," said Lachesis.
"I was being figurative," said Atropos, "Still, it couldn't hurt."
"It could hurt!" said Clotho, with uncontained excitement, "That's the whole point. Guns hurt."
"It's not really the guns that hurt, so much as the bullets. But if it's guns you want, it's guns I've got," said Parson Sinews. He drew back his overcoat and drew his own, a vintage, double-barreled pistol.
"Can't we kill the Old Bitch while she sleeps?" asked Clotho.
"That would be a good idea, sister," said Atropos, "But that sort of presents a problem of timing."
Parson nodded. "In case you hadn't noticed," he explained for the benefit of the stupider sister, "When it is dark out there, it is daylight on Allen's Street."
Lachesis nodded, but Clotho still seemed a bit slow on the uptake.
"We sleep during the daylight, don't we, sisters?" said Atropos, exaggerating the slowness of her pace to drill in the point that Clotho was stupid, "So when the Old Bitch is asleep, so are we."
"Yeah, well, you're fat," said Clotho.
"Um...is that PMS on your face?"
"Whatever. Don't be jealous."
Tue Mar 17, 2009 2:20 pm
Joined: 27 Jul 2008
and of course, one of my favorite scenes. It is out of context, so might present some questions, but I think it still functions fairly well on its own.
Mrs. Gable's night had not begun well. After being possessed by a mostly benevolent voodoo god for most of the day, she'd come to, feeling better than usual. She felt healthy and refreshed, which was unusual for a woman with more cancer than larynx. This good feeling had persisted until, midway through Tania's story, she had wanted to tell her to quit summarizing her text messages and get on with the story, and had picked up her electro-larynx, pressed it against her throat, and clicked it on. It was then that her day had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It was also then, coincidentally, that she had realized that at some point during her possession, she had switched the artificial larynx with Mrs. Brick's taser.
She immediately collapsed, her limbs outstretched, and landed flat on her back. She dropped the taser, blinked with surprise, and after a while, got to her feet. She found the real artificial voice box and used this to announce that she was going out onto the balcony for a cigarette. If the device allowed for intonation, it might have expressed that she was stressed. As it did not, Tania simply shrugged and continued her story.
Dawn, who had spent her childhood in the household of a chain smoker, could not tolerate the stench of cigarettes, and insisted that if anyone wanted to smoke in her mother's home while she was present, they would have to do so on the balcony. Begrudgingly, they respected Dawn's rule.
While Tania finished her story, Mrs. Gable put on her slippers, slid the glass door open, and pulled it closed behind her. If you thought that accidentally tasering yourself in throat was a bad way to start your evening, you have not experienced the latter half of Mrs. Gable's bad day.
She lit her cigarette, stuck it in your stoma, and inhaled lightly. Smoking through a stoma is a delicate procedure. Without a mouth to filter the smoke, you do not want to inhale to deeply. Cigarettes are bad enough for your lungs when you smoke them through your mouth.
She stood over the edge of the balcony, looking down at the cars passing below, and let the nicotine calm her nerves. She was on the verge of mental breakdown. At her age, there was only so much stress she could handle. Losing one of her best friends, becoming possessed, getting shot at, having a voodoo god crawl out her stoma, tasering herself in the throat - these were all things she could happily have gone her whole life without experiencing. She was not cut out for this. She wasn't even cut out to work the front desk at the pool. She scared all the children away, for god's sake. And with the cancer and the laryngectomy, she really didn't need the extra stress of trying to prevent an imminent apocalypse, confronting malevolent Greek goddesses, or embarking on a rescue mission to save her missing friend.
Her nerves already on end, it is easy to imagine how a pigeon suddenly landing on the railing beside her might have startled her into dropping the end of her cigarette right into the hole in her neck. She coughed, gagged, and choked. She flailed her limbs as if that might help the situation. It didn't.
The pigeon flew away, whether to go get help or to simply eat some worms, one cannot be too certain. Perhaps it was simply scared away by the sight of flailing limbs and the sound of Mrs. Gable's horrible choking noises.
Mrs. Gable took off after the pigeon, whether falling over the edge of the railing in her panic or to attempt to snuff out the internal burns in her throat, it is impossible to determine. What can be determined for certain is that A, she was infinitely less successful than the pigeon in attempting flight, and B, the sound, when she landed, was reminiscent of juicing an apple, only much louder.
"Um...is that PMS on your face?"
"Whatever. Don't be jealous."
Tue Mar 17, 2009 2:26 pm
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