I’d planned to have another spooky story ready but sadly that’s not the case. It’s not a lack of motivation but problems with sparking something good enough to post. Where’s my muse when I need him!
Anyway this marks the day when I indulge in too much candy while awaiting little trick 0’treaters at the door. This will take place at my friends’ house since condo building living is not Halloween friendly. They just moved and have no idea how many children to expect in the new neighborhood. Considering that the area is a little woodsy, probably not that many. More candy for me!
As many of you know, I started writing in childhood, interrupted by a very long period as a legal scrivener. There’s something about the field that kills creativity. Thinking outside the box requires almost physical effort. A few years ago began reclaiming that part of me I left behind and joined writing.com. I wrote some stories, entered some contests and did pretty well. You can take a look at my portfolio here. Then I fell into the Big Sleep. Now that I’m out of hibernation, it’s back to the grindstone.
To keep myself honest, I will be posting short fiction pieces (in addition to The Man Series – don’t worry!) here on Writing Wall. The subjects will be whatever strikes me, so if you don’t like one piece, you might like another. In honor of upcoming Halloween, here is a story written three years ago. It’s a mash-up of two events: one is my great-grandfather’s apocryphal (maybe) tale that occurred in post WWI Chicago, and the other one concerns a house purportedly written about in the newspapers of the day. It would be fun to research, yes?
Enjoy Four Day Stay.
The place sat empty for years, but William Leary didn’t care. Nor did he care that the nervous, shifty-eyed landlord had left him to sweep, scrub, and drag out the grime and junk from years of neglect. His friends warned that a large apartment rented at such a ridiculous price even during these hard times spelled trouble, but that advice went ignored. William cared only that it was cheap. With a large five-room apartment, he could make a pretty penny bringing in lodgers to fill the space. Sure, he didn’t have much schooling, but he prided himself on having a good eye for deals and a level head. He paid the rumors no mind, slapped the money down on Friday, and moved in two days later.
Monday night, he walked from work, tired and foot sore. Being a porter wasn’t easy; he looked forward to getting off his feet a bit, but he had prospective lodgers to interview first. There’s probably five or six of them waiting, eager to line his pockets. The thought put a little spring in his step. He headed home.
When the lodgers didn’t beat a path to his door that night, he was surprised. He shifted in his only chair in the freshly scrubbed parlor, puffed on a cigarette, drummed his fingers, and gazed at the empty space. He had hardly a stick of furniture, and had been counting on boarders to bring their own. He heaved a sigh.
It echoed off the bare walls and floors, and fell harsh on his ear. Illuminated only by a dingy pool of light cast by the rickety lamp behind him, he pondered the situation. He had no money to waste on ads, and word of mouth trumped newspapers any time. What had kept them away? Surely it wasn’t the silly rumors?
After a while, he noticed something about the silence. Even on a hot summer night in the room closest to the street, he could hear nothing – no cars, doors, dogs – nothing. The silence felt almost oppressive in its completeness. Had he gone deaf? He coughed to make sure.
Another faint echo. Nah, just getting all fired up about nothing. He stubbed out the cigarette, rose and switched on the wireless, his prized possession.
“…Pre…dent Roo…velt …nounced…the…will…ceed… actment…” Static crackled through the speaker. William frowned. This old box could get a signal from anywhere on a drop of a dime. There had to be interference from somewhere. He continued twisting the knobs in case reception improved.
Squeee floomp . Squeee floomp.
He lifted his head. What was that?
Squeee floomp . Squeee floomp.
His head turned, following the sound. That noise – was coming from the back of the hallway! He barely knew where the light switch was, but – aha! The meager bulb barely came to life before sputtering, dying, and engulfing him again in gloom.
Squeee floomp . Squeee floomp.
He drew in a deep breath. All righty now. This was no time to get spooked by some noise. He just needed to walk down the hall, into the den and then the kitchen. Placing a guiding hand on the wall, he took one step and then another. Another jamb and glass paneled door told him that he’d found the den.
Squeee floomp . Squeee floomp
He groped again for a switch. Just as the dim bulb flickered on, the noise stopped. He strode into the middle of the empty room. Well, all the windows and bedroom doors were closed tight. He twisted the bedroom door knob for good measure. Yup, shut. So, the only thing left was the kitchen door.
He gave it a tentative push.
It creaked, and then swung back into place.
A careful check of the kitchen’s back door and closed pantry revealed the same thing. Nothing. He scowled at the kitchen door and tested it again. It swung once, twice, then nothing.
He stared. The noise must have been this door swinging – like somebody going in and out.
The fine hairs on his arms prickled. Of course that was silly; he was completely, totally alone in this damn silence. What was the matter with him? A few noises caused by a bad draft, and suddenly he was a screaming Nelly? He must be more tired than he thought. He gave himself a mental shake. Tomorrow, he’d find a lodger. That would take care of the – emptiness – of the place. And he’d get some oil for the creaky door.
He slept well that night.
Tuesday night, William strode home, optimistic that he’d put out the word about needing new lodgers. Skeezer had joked about the place being dubbed the Four Day Stay, ‘so good luck with those boarders,’ but he was a silly old coot. Still, that night found William sprawled in the same chair under the same dingy lamp, drumming his fingers. He’d done some more scrubbing around the place, added a small wooden table in the den that he’d found back in the alley, and laid a few possessions around to make the place a little homier.
He sat bold upright, mouth falling open.
Oh no, NO.
Just in case he had a bad draft problem, he’d latched all the windows and closed all the doors. That should’ve taken care of things. What in the –
Squee floomp. Squee floomp.
He jumped to his feet.
No, there had to be something else, something he’d missed. Things did not just go bump in the night. Sure of his bearings, he flicked the switch in the hall. The bulb fizzled. What in the hell? He just changed it. Could the wiring be bad?
He glanced over his shoulder, a bit hesitant to leave the dim but comforting glow from the parlor. He gazed down the long hall and swallowed hard. Okay, don’t be a chicken. Just go on in and see what in the hell’s causing that draft. There’s a logical explanation. Fingertips brushing the walls, he moved towards the den.
Squee floomp. Squee floomp.
A sharp bump into the paneled door signaled his destination. He grabbed the switch. In the seconds the bulb took to die, he stood rooted to the spot as the kitchen door swung widely open to inky blackness before quickly slamming shut.
The bulb exploded with a pop.
He jumped back, heart racing.
What? What had just happened?
He waited in the darkness for heaven knew what. Seconds elapsed, then a minute. He heard nothing but the rasp of his own breathing.
Okay, Okay. It’s okay. He reached in his pocket for the box of matches; a strike and the match sprang to life. He held it out before him like a talisman, moved to the center of the room and turned full circle.
Okay, Okay. He approached the kitchen door. Its silence seemed to mock him. A tentative shove revealed nothing amiss beyond but another broken bulb. By the fourth match, he’d collected his wits. All right. He had a faulty electrical system and a bad draft, that’s all. That’s all it could be.
It took a while to fall asleep that night.
On Wednesday, William headed home with not as much pep in his stride. More of the fellas had jokingly asked how his stay was going. He’d laughed it off but it irked that people were superstitious enough to listen to stupid rumors. Sure, there might be problems with the electrical, and some odd noises, but no logical person would pass up a great deal like his. He sighed and gripped the package containing his supper. At least he’s gotten a nice cheap cut from the butcher; he’d fry it up tonight. Nothing like the smell of home cooking to bring around any possible lookie-lous.
He sat in his chair under the dingy light, peering through the plume of cigarette smoke. Nobody had knocked on his door. He snorted and mashed the stub into the tray. What was wrong with people? This was the twentieth century, not some bygone time with spooks and ghouls. If he didn’t find any lodgers soon, he’d have to foot the rent by himself. The dream of squirreling away a little money seemed farther and farther away.
Damn. There it was again.
He jumped to his feet, but paused. Hold on. If it’s nothing but a draft messing with the door, then it would soon stop by itself, just like before. All he had to do was wait it out.
He reached for the cigarette box, hands shaking. Okay, too shaky to smoke. All right Leary, keep it together. It’s just a bit of noise, that’s all.
He wandered around the parlor, straightening the lamp shade, touching the table, checking the walls, looking for any distraction. Teeth on edge, he tapped his fingers along the fireplace mantle. He stopped before the old cast off clock as the hands ticked to 10:00.
He retreated to the chair and held its arms in a death grip. He closed his eyes, willing his heart to stop racing. That damn noise, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. He could wait this out. He could – block the door! Yes, he could find something to prop against it, and then tomorrow, he’d get a latch.
Satisfied with the plan, he made it to the den’s entry before realizing he had nothing to use. A strike of a match, and he spotted the solution.
Yes, the table!
The flame blew out.
He struck another match and froze.
The glow caught the kitchen door swinging open like a giant mouth before slamming closed and snuffing the light.
Heart pounding in his ears, he grabbed the table and shoved, its legs grating across the floor. It slammed against the door with a bang.
YES! That ought to do the trick.
What in the hell was that!
He struck another match. He turned, his jaw dropped. Now, the glass paneled door was closed and the back bed room door – stood wide open like a gaping maul.
He didn’t sleep that night.
On Thursday night, William hurried along, very late. Sweaty fingers clutched the parcel holding tonight’s supper. He wanted to head anyplace besides home but had no choice. Friends had sent his way locals from down South who needed quick lodgings tonight and more importantly, knew nothing about the rumors. With new boarders in the place, things should stay quiet.
He sent up a prayer: Oh please Lord, let them come.
The moment he opened the front door, he knew his pray had been answered. He could hear the voices drifting from the den and sighed with relief that they had arrived.
Hang on, what was this?
He paused on the threshold and stared.
They already moved in lock, stock, and barrel! He eyed the old settee in the parlor, and other pieces he didn’t recognize. Did his friends tell them they could do this? He’d never intended to send them away, but it would’ve been nice to a look them over before he took their money.
He walked down the hall. Well, they’d fixed the lights, hung some portraits, thrown down a nice runner in the hall. Was that really oriental? Their stuff was mighty nice, not anything they’d want to leave anywhere.
At the den’s entry, he gawked in amazement.
His table was gone. In its place, sat a large dining set surrounded by four hardy looking men, ties and high stiff collars loosened and sleeves rolled, engaged in a rowdy game of poker. They laughed and joked, their glasses of amber colored liquid tinkling and clinking as they sipped and revealed their hands. Smoke wafting from their cigars enveloped the room in a haze. William admired the two pretty young women with gold combs flashing in high-piled, dark hair, long white dresses, and high-top buttoned shoes peeking beneath the skirts. They hovered behind the men, smiling and whispering to each other.
William blinked. Well, this was – interesting and a bit disturbing. How could strangers move into a man’s home and make themselves comfortable like this? Didn’t they realize they were just boarders? He called out a greeting.
Nobody looked his way.
Were they ignoring him? What the hell was going on?
He wandered in, at a loss what to do. His damp fingers reminded him of the soggy package in his hand. He went into the kitchen and thrust the parcel into the ice box, none too gently. Were these folks raised in a barn? Sure, he needed lodgers but they took the cake. Moving in, taking over, smoking, gambling, without so much as a ‘howdy do’ or ‘here’s your money.’ He’d give them a piece of his mind, by God.
He jerked around.
What in the blazes?
He’d heard enough to recognize gunshots.
He raced towards the scream, pushed back through the swinging door and –
– Ran into utter darkness and absolute silence.
He blinked like a mole. Who turned out the lights? What happened? Where were they? He called out in confusion.
A faint echo. Not surprising but should he hear one if -?
His mind reeled. He felt at once hot and cold, his body fighting what his brain already knew. He brought out the box of matches. No, no, no. It can’t be.
“C’mon now, I know you’re here.”
Know you’re here
“Now look here, this isn’t funny.”
“Stop playing games!”
He gulped. His shaky hands moved of their own accord. A few false strikes and the match flared.
He stepped forward and bumped against something small.
Startled, he held the match closer. His table.
Swallowing hard, he willed himself to look up. The glow revealed what he knew would be there –
– An empty room.
No people. No furniture. Not even a lingering whiff of cordite.
His mind raced, filling in the details he’d been too busy to notice. The old light fixtures – where had they come from? And the wallpaper, nobody could’ve hung that in a few hours. Those people – they looked like something from his childhood with the high collars, long skirts and high-buttoned shoes. And they had that strange gauzy look like cheesecloth, if he could’ve reached out and put his hand –
– No, no, no, NOOOO!
He opened his mouth in a silent scream; his legs carried him forward, ramming against the table, bumping into door frames, into walls. He groped and stumbled for the exit – for the escape.
He didn’t stop for his clothes, his furniture, or his beloved wireless. He flung open the front door, and rushed headlong down the stairs and into the night.
We are five weeks from the start of the official holiday season in U.S. Interestingly, Pachelbel’s Canon in D comes to mind because I usually hear it played around the holidays. So who is Pachelbel and why is this piece heard at Christmas? My old pal Wiki states the following:
“Pachelbel’s Canon is the name commonly given to a canon by the German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel in his Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo (German: Kanon und Gigue für 3 Violinen mit Generalbaß) (PWC 37, T. 337, PC 358), sometimes referred to as Canon and Gigue in D or simply Canon in D. Neither the date nor the circumstances of its composition are known (suggested dates range from 1680 to 1706), and the oldest surviving manuscript copy of the piece dates from the 19th century.
Pachelbel’s Canon, like Pachelbel’s other works, although popular during his lifetime, soon went out of style, and remained in obscurity for centuries thereafter. A 1968 arrangement and recording of it by the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra became unexpectedly popular over the next decade, and in the 1970s the piece began to be recorded by many ensembles; by the early 1980s its presence as background music was deemed inescapable. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, elements of the piece, especially its chord progression, were used in a variety of pop music songs. Since the 1980s, it has also been used frequently in weddings and funeral ceremonies in the Western world.”
To paraphrase, Pachelbel was known as a composer and organist during his lifetime but today is known for his church and chamber music. In 1968, the Jean-François Paillard chamber orchestra made a recording of the piece. A classical San Francisco radio played it in 1970 which garnered many requests. In 1974, London Records, aware of the interest in the piece, reissued a 1961 album of the CorelliChristmas Concerto performed by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, which happened to contain the piece, now re-titled to Pachelbel Kanon: the Record That Made it Famous and other Baroque Favorites. The album was the highest-selling classical album of 1976.
In 2 1/2 months, I will celebrate my sixth blogiversary. Needless to say, I’ve evolved as a fan of Richard Armitage. Six years ago I enjoyed the rush of a newfound crush and seeking out his work, digging for pictures and videos, reading blogs, just being a typical fangurl.
Now, things have changed. It’s not like I’m no longer fan – don’t get me wrong – I still like him. However the euphoria has dissipated and I find myself more interested in the work than the man. A long time can go by without even a thought. Then the PR starts to crank and I look forward to seeing an upcoming project like Berlin Station or Love, Love, Love in New York City. I still participate in fandom but the reasons why I do so have changed.
But then a picture will come along and I’ll have to stop and look because – reasons. I’ve not gone blind, you know. *Cough.*
Since I’m behind in writing and many of you enjoy The Man Series, I’m reposting a story written for the Crucible premiere. It still seems appropriate.
The man stood smiling, nodding, murmuring thanks.
More hands reached out to deliver congratulatory slaps on the back.
Thank you so much.
He felt like a bobble-head as faces -both friendly and unrecognizable – swam in and out of his vision. The after party’s din rose, signaling the arrival of another cast member. A hand thrust a glass of water into his. He took a grateful sip, cooling his parched throat.
Oh thank you.
A voice called into his ear – the red haired bloke holding up his smartphone – “So you want to hear what the critics said?”
The man blinked. What, press reviews already? His stomach clinched at their mention. He wasn’t ready. No, he was but – no he wasn’t. From all the kudos around him, things had clearly gone well, but still. He opened his mouth to answer when another face swam into view. Who was he?
The bloke chuckled, launching into the many preliminary tweets. Ah yes, Twitter – no more waiting for morning after print reviews. Above the noise, the man head “astounding,” “masterful presence,” “great performance.” His eyes grew round. They liked him, they really liked him! He didn’t think his face muscles could smile or his head nod any harder. It was all good. He’d done it! He’d worked years to reach this night. He’d really arrived. He allowed himself a moment to savor it all.
But now that the verdict was in, he felt – past tired. He must have hobnobbed with everybody in the ball room and back stage at the theatre. Oh damn. Frowning, he rubbed his forehead. Well, everybody but his fans who’d been waiting at the stage door. He’d tried to get to them but the autograph hounds had pushed forward, blocking most of them. He’d had so little time. Damn it. He hoped they understood and forgave him.
Another hand at his shoulder.
Thank you so much.
He took a deep breath as exhaustion from the four hour play washed over him. He ached. The faces seemed to press closer, the din grow louder. He felt light headed and oddly unreal. Air. He needed some air.
He leaned against the hotel’s facade, breathing in the cool night air, the claustrophobic feeling receding. Despite the throng of press and people inside, the Strand was peaceful and almost empty. One or two cabs whizzed by. Nobody stood around except for him and the doorman who’d glanced his way a few times. The man nodded at him and looked away. He would stay out here for a few minutes then head back in before they came looking for him. Right now, he would just enjoy the solitude.
“Excuse me, sir.” The doorman appeared at his side. “Don’t mean to bother but I think those are for you.”
Long stemmed red roses lay carefully placed to the side of the steps. The man walked over and picked one up. What was this? Tied around the stem was a piece of paper stating “JustGiving: £10, much love.” He retrieved another. “JustGiving: £15, with love.” And another – “JustGiving: £5, all our love.” His confusion cleared. Of course, these were from the fans! Each rose must represent a donation to his charities. Stooping, he quickly retrieved every one. As his arms filled with flowers, the exhaustion fell away. He stood, a giant smile on his face.
A perfect bouquet.
Thank you, he whispered.
Congratulation to Richard Armitage and the cast and crew of Love, Love, Love.
Writers, it’s that time of the year again. NaNoWriMo (say that three times really fast) or National Novel Writing Month begins next month. Do you have a novel locked inside and just can’t get it out? Then NaNoWriMo is for you. For those who know nothing about it, you spend 30 straight days pounding out a novel from beginning to end. How do you write a novel in 30 days? Well, badly of course. The point is to get the idea out of you head and on the medium of your choice. Organizers set the word minimum at 50,000 although you certainly are free to go over. NaNoWriMo is not a contest in which you submit a story and win a prize although you do race to the 50,000 word finish line with yourself and/or writing buddies. What you win is the satisfaction of having produced a draft novel. It’s doable! Just pledge to yourself to type 1,667 words a day and you’re there.
October is usually prep month in which writers mull over characters, solidify plots and prepare outlines. But if you don’t have enough time and hate outlining, you can be a pantser but sitting down and writing free form through inspiration. I’ve done it both ways. Several years ago I started late and wrote a 30,000 word story starring Marion and Guy of Gisborne that was pure pantsing. Two years later I used an outline for a 51,000 word psychological thriller. With fine editing assistance, I posted the Guy story for Christmas that year on my blog. However like most first drafts, the thriller was simply dreadful and has not seen the light of day. Still, at its center is a good story. So this year I will rewrite it into something hopefully readable and worth editing.
So join me at NaNoWriMo.org and let’s start writing! If you have any questions and need more gentle *cough* persuasion, comment below.
As you may have heard, creepy killer clown sightings have gone viral and caused enough hysteria that even Stephen King, (the author of the ultimate killer clown, Pennywise), has been trying to tamp things down. My friend posted about scary clowns of the political kind so I hoped to show you some scary killer clown videos but they were all much too disturbing. Then I remembered before Pennywise in 1990, clowns were not a scary thing. I grew up with Bozo from Bozo’s Circus televised from 1961 to 1980. Watch a few moments of the 1968 episode. He wasn’t scary, was he?
And let’s not forget the most famous international clown, Ronald McDonald and his strange little nemesis the Hamburglar. Here’s a video from the 1980’s:
Ronald never appealed to me probably because I was too old to enjoy the humor by the time he debuted. But then, I wasn’t into Bozo either. Clowns just weren’t that funny to me. I devoured Pennywise, as I did all of King’s books; it never occurred to me that clowns could be scary. Apparently many people think they are.
Continuing from yesterday’s missive, I really needed a shot in the arm. A friend told said there was a writer’s conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan the first week in October and did I want to come? Well, the name intrigued me: Quit Whining, Start Writing. It was direct, blunt, and what I needed to hear. It would be my first writer’s conference. I was game.
We arrived late Friday afternoon at Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Airport, a supposedly upscale but slightly seedy hotel that was neither near the airport nor particularly well managed. We felt like Goldilocks with that being too this or this being not enough that. But the place was priced more reasonably than downtown hotels and we had a car, so things balanced out. We opted to skip the opening dinner that evening and freeze in the too cold pool and nearly pass out in the too steaming hot tub.
We arrived at the college building downtown near the river bright and early at 8:00AM. I don’t know if this is usually the case but the conference consisted of five one hour long section divided by 30 minute breaks to talk to the speakers/vendors. Each section had three sessions from which to choose. Choices ranged from copyright law to illustrating book covers to marketing. My schedule included Your Story Needs A Skeleton, Writing Mysteriously, Why Social Media Never Works Out the Way You Planned, and Writing About Place. The sessions were interesting but only so much material could be covered in an hour.
Writing Mysteriously (surprise surprise) was my favorite. Finally I would learn how to outline a mystery. Well, not exactly. I learned there is no one way to do anything. In fact, some teachers contradicted what I’d just heard in the previous session. This wasn’t a revelation – I’d read many differing books on writing – but somehow being in a room with baby writers like me who aspired to be *Authors* like the speakers seemed to make it more real for me. The possibility was real. So while I failed to come away with a mythical blueprint, I felt inspired -which is why I attended the conference – to start writing again. And here I am, back to blogging.
It’s been almost a year and a half since my last post – way too long.
When I left off in August 2015, things were Not Good ™. I languished in a cramped suburban apartment across the lane from a pile driving construction zone basically cut off from an accessible train and a close living hub when I could not overcome driving anxiety or afford an expensive $20 plus cab ride one way. Friends did what they could. The long battle with Winston, the black dog of depression left me in financial shambles. I had to weather a waiting game while my credit healed. Meanwhile I entered like an emotional Big Sleep where everything felt temporary and unimportant. Since I would restart my life when I finally found a place to land, why bother with anything while in a holding pattern? Needless to say, motivation and I were estranged. Everything took a nosedive except for knitting, a hobby I took up as a mental distraction and life line. Except for last year’s aborted attempts, I did not write. There was no there there.
I drifted along this way for 18 months.
Then four month ago, the credit gods smiled and I found a condo downtown in a leafy little village, two blocks from the train and no more than four blocks from shops, doctors, the movie theater and anything else I regularly need. The grocery is only a six block drive down side streets. As I cheered over this, a spectacular streak of bad luck brought me up short with a day in the hospital (mine), eye surgery (mine), another hospital stay (Patty the Pomeranian), another dental surgery (mine), and yet more future bills, courtesy of Patty. Really wish I knew which Fates I offended; I could knit them a conciliatory sweater for Christmas.
Anyway now it’s time to slip back into the stream of things, rejoin life and start writing again.
So, as chef Justin Wilson used to say in his best corny Cajun accent: How y’all are?