Tag Archives: Tension

Doll – Part VII

The one-time lovers, long-time strangers cried together on the floor in the hallway until they were done. Time had no meaning here. They sobbed together as if they were tearing through every wall and barrier their lives had placed between them. They cried themselves clean. After the tears, they lay in silence, wrapped in each other’s arms, physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and well beyond words.

At some point, one stirred. They quietly helped each other up and lightly stepped into some semblance of an ancient routine. When Margie left long ago, Chalmers barely had the heart to change anything. She stepped into the kitchen to make some fresh coffee and felt her movements become oddly familiar. She watched her hands as she worked. If they had not looked clearly older, she would have thought herself transported back in time, a better time.

Chalmers followed her into the kitchen holding the doll to his chest as he walked as if it were stuck there. He set it gently on the table, but away from where he planned to sit. Margie placed a warm cup of coffee down in front of him, as she used to do, as if she still did it. He took a cautious sip.

“Thank you.”

The corner of Margie’s mouth turned up slightly in an effort to smile, but she looked down, cautiously stirring some milk into her cup.

“How did you get it,” he asked.

“We had a hell of a storm,” she said, slowly shaking her head. “The wind was blowing. Lights were flashing. There was a tremendous thud against my door. When I opened it to make sure everything was O.K. there it was. Originally, it was wrapped in paper and twine. Wrapped poorly, but wrapped just the same.”

Margie sipped her coffee using two hands hoping that would calm her shaking.

“I recognized it the moment I saw it, and I…” Margie’s voice trailed off.

“You were pissed.”

“Enraged,” she said, using what little energy she a left to emphasize her outrage.

“I got it to,” he said. “During this last bitch of a storm, but I didn’t have it long. The doctor’s said I blacked out from all the excitement. When I woke up in the hospital, nobody remembers anything of an old doll.”

He paused. “I didn’t do it. You know that don’t you? I would never…”

“I know,” she said with a slight frustration. “I just. I was just so mad, and hurt. The moment the rain stopped I threw that doll in the car and drove up here.”

Storm or no storm the drive from Millard, where Margie lived in a small apartment, to Cardington was at least an hour.

“Sorry you wasted the trip,” Chalmers said, smiling ever so subtly. Margie reached over and took his hand.

They sat there together drinking coffee and saying very little as old friends might do.

Thump.  Thump. Thump. Thump.

They both froze for a moment and slowly turned to look at the doll. Two dark eyes, one at half-mast, stared back.

They looked at each other.

Together they stood and slowly stepped to the front door.

Doll – Part V

Despite his distaste for hospitals, Chalmers admitted to himself that his brief stint in Cardington Memorial did him good. He felt rested and a bit more at ease than when he first got there.

According to the news, the valley flooding was the worst in recorded history. As the water ebbed away, it left a trail of destruction and fallout behind it. Roads and buildings were missing. Mudslides were creating havoc. Bridges were now dangerous until proven otherwise.

In a world that never offered him much in the way of luck or success, Chalmers found a bit a relief in knowing his house sat in one of the few areas that suffered little damage. The water got close, but other than a little wetness in the basement, he was going to be fine.

The authorities opened the road to his part of town two days after the storm ended, conveniently set to his release from the hospital. He had a clean bill of health. No heart attack, no stroke, no ghosts or goblins. When he pulled into his driveway and stepped out of the car, the only thing there to greet him was some glops of mud, quite a few downed limbs and branches and a lightly wet basement.

The doctors told him to take it easy for a few days, but he was eager to get things cleaned up and reset his notion of normal. The mill was still under deep water, so it was like an extra vacation. He always felt motivated to do more when he was on vacation.

Resisting the urge to go inside, he attacked the yard work first. It was hard and heavy work in spots and his knee gave him a constant reminder of how it hated this much activity. Once the bulk of the debris was moved and stacked, he headed inside.

His pause at the front door was brief, but noticeable to him. Silly he thought. Anxiety is what caused his trouble not some child’s …

He brushed the thought away for imagined or not, the memory of the night of the storm materialized faster and with greater detail than he cared for.

Swinging the door wide open, he stood there peering in, half expecting something to jump out at him, but there was nothing. Everything was pretty much as it was. He tied to enter with confidence, but found himself moving slowly. And while we would not admit out loud what he was looking for, he absolutely confirmed that there was no doll lying about the entryway.

The power was back and he made himself a strong cup of coffee, perfect for a cool, calm Fall day. He had a small pump he intended to set up in the basement to get rid of the water, but there was hardly enough for that. He figured a mop, some rags and a bucket would take care of most of it.  He started in and eventually lost himself in the work.

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

The noise made him freeze immediately. His breath caught in his chest and he could feel an uncomfortable heat cover his forehead. His grip tightened on the mop handle.

Thump, thump, thump.

Taking a deep breath to keep his anxiety at bay, he released his death grip on the mop and leaned it up against the wall. He turned and headed slowly upstairs. A tiny voice deep in the back of his head reminded him that a good hard drink is the perfect antidote to fearful knocking. The thought made his mouth seem to go extra dry, extra fast.

He stepped timidly down the hallway to the front door. Deciding to take the direct approach to the situation, he decided against a peek out the window. He took in a very deep breath and swore to himself and to God in heaven that if there was a package on the stoop …

Unable to hold back another moment, he grabbed the doorknob and jerked the door open. Looking down to face his expectation, his fear, directly he saw not a package, but a pair of boots. He traced the boots up to the overcoat and then to the face of its owner. He squinted at the sign of recognition.

“Margie?”

“You sick son-of-a-bitch,” the woman said. “How dare you?”

Doll – Part IV

“Jesus Christ, CJ!”

Chalmers stirred as the sound of her voice rang down upon him. He wasn’t waking up, because he wasn’t really asleep, but he was being drawn out from wherever he was by her sour tone.

He had yet to open his eyes, but he squeezed the lids shut tighter just the same to eliminate the possibility of any light at all getting to his eyes and ultimately his aching, pudding-head brain.

“Oops,” he said, but it sounded more like, “Ooopshhh,” as he forced his words into the floor.

“Have you been there all night?” Margie said. “Again?”

The linoleum felt cool on his face, nice really. A puddle of drool had formed near his mouth. When the unexpected burp erupted from his lips, his acidic breath splashed the fluid and the smell reminded him of his reason for his current position on the floor … scotch.

If his math was right, and even the slightest thought of math made him queasy, this was the seventh time she found him sprawled out on the kitchen floor, incapacitated, incoherent and incapable of meaningful communication.

“I mean …” Margie stood over him one hand across her stomach, one hand rubbing her forehead. Chalmers dared to open his eyes just ever so slightly. She never came into focus. He never moved his head, so the odd angle at which she appeared while being all fuzzy struck him as oddly funny.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said. He vaguely remembers her saying those exact words around time number four, but that time there was crying and a little pleading. This time…

“I can’t!”

“You,” Chalmers said with great effort. He paused to erupt in another hiccough/burp that made his body jerk. “Don’t … under … stand. You … never…”

“Don’t, CJ!” Margie shouted down at him. “Don’t you dare! I miss her too, every day! Don’t you dare tell me I don’t understand. At least I faced it. I didn’t hide from it and escape up into some bottle of gin!”

“Scotch!” Chalmers sort of yelled. The need to correct her forced his head from the floor. He held it there in a weary delirium for a three count before letting it drop again into his drool.

“It’s been five years,” Margie said. “Five years she’s been gone. And you left shortly after that! I can’t do this. I want to live! I’m not going to watch you drink yourself to death. She … would hate what you’ve become.”

The soft cushion of alcohol gave way to a torrential wave of anger. He swung out at her with his arm with little chance of connecting. “Shhhhuuddup!”

He rolled over onto his back swinging out at her. “Shuddup! You don’t know! You don’t know!” Tears breached his eyes and began to trickle down his face. He began to sob. “You don’t know!” he tried one last time, but it came out as nothing she could understand.

“I know,” she said, the calm in her voice reflecting her resignation. “I know all too well. I lost everything that day. I lost her. I lost you. Everything. I can’t do this. Goodbye.”

His blinding tears prevented him from seeing her leave. His sobs prevented him from hearing her go, but when the door closed and she was gone, the weight of her absence fell upon him, crushing him almost completely.

Doll

Despite the waves of rain thrashing the window panes, the brilliant flashes of lighting and the resounding cracks of thunder, Chalmers Elk slept in his overstuffed easy chair. The winds of October howled, making sure that summer knew its time was done, that fall was here and that winter would soon follow.

At the end of his long days, the now 67 year-old Chalmers found very little that could keep him awake once he hit the chair. He still worked full-time at Hatter’s Mill, thanks to a few bad investments and an on again, off again drinking problem.  These days he was finding it hard to keep up. Even as much as a year ago he could run circles around the younger workers. It wasn’t so much his greater strength as it was their lack of motivation and odd sense of entitlement.

And of course, there was the accident. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but unless he stood or moved just right, his knee let him know it was bad enough.

He stirred a bit when a louder than normal set of commercials assaulted him from the television. He laid a lazy eye on the screen as the beautiful people reminded him there are tasty ways to increase his fiber intake and many possible solutions for erectile dysfunction. He smirked and faded back into sleep.

As the storm raged outside, an hour passed.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … a heavy pounding came at his front door pulling him abruptly from the arms of his rest. He sat up and listed again. What was that? It could have been the storm. Probably was. Nobody came out to see him on a good day, say nothing about one of the nastiest nights of the year. He started to ease back to reclaim his peace.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

The clock in the hallway chimed. It was midnight.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

Chalmers pulled himself up to the edge of his chair. Someone was at the door. It was probably kids. He guessed he was at the age now where kids found it funny to hassle the old guy who lived alone. He stood, nearly giving in to the protest from his knee, and headed to the hallway. He thought about stopping in the kitchen first for some kind of protection, but thought again. Probably just kids.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

He worked his way down the hall to the door clicking on lights as he went. He turned the porch light on last and as he did, the latest bolt of lightning hit threatening to take all the lights with it. They flickered, but held. The rain spattered window made it difficult to see if anything or anyone was outside.

He unlocked the door and pulled it fast and wide hoping to catch any one who might still be running. He winced again at the pinch in his knee.

As he suspected, no one stood at the door. They ran away. He squinted out into the rain looking for suspects and listening for laughter or footsteps or any clue as to who might pester him on such a night.

It was then he looked down, half expecting to see a smoldering paper bag filled with feces. Pathetic, he thought. But while something was left for him, it was not on fire. It was a damp package, brown packing paper sloppily, or hastily wrapped with a thick piece of frayed jute twine. He nudged it with his toe once and again. Then he looked out into the rain. Nothing. He took the package inside.

Locking the door behind him, another bolt of lightning made the lights flicker. Not one for suspense, he untied the loose knot of the twine and peeled back the paper. Inside was a dirty bundle of blue and white gingham cloth, most from the rain. The cloth was wrapped around something. Dropping the paper and twin to the floor, he slowly unwrapped the cloth.

His hands froze the moment the cloth revealed its hidden secret. They clenched tight as his breath caught and his chest began to tighten. His eyes grew wide. A wave of memory and fear churned through him.

Looking back at him from the dirty cloth was a child’s doll. Small, fragile and dirty, one eye sat half-open as the other seemed to pierce his soul. They stared at each other as he stumbled back against the door. His chest expanded, growing tighter.

“Paisley,” he whispered.

The doll stared. His breath grew shallow, but their eyes never wavered.

He slid down against to door to the floor. Sweat poured from his head. His heart pounded in his chest as if it were looking to escape.

It was Paisley’s doll. He hadn’t seen it in thirty years, and why would he? She was buried with it.

A bright burst of light filled the house. This time, the lights were no match, the house went dark. Still holding the doll tight in his grip, Chalmers Elk passed out.

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Rock God

Nigel drew a deep breath and knocked tentatively. He got all the crappy jobs.

On the other side of the door was current rock god, “Dirt.” Known only to his mother as Stanley Krabbowski, Dirt, and his band “Bulldozer,” took the music world by storm last summer with a hard-edged rock single called “Stuff It” supported by a platinum record that followed with the same name.

Dirt’s stage persona was one of an angry, anti-establishment, man-beast who was prone to spitting on, screaming at and otherwise abusing the faithful who came to see his shows. It puzzled Nigel as to what the throngs of people found so alluring about paying good money to be screamed at and pissed on, but he learned quickly that in the music business, there was no accounting for taste.

A muffled response came from behind the door, “Yeah?”

Nigel drew another deep breath, turned the knob and slowly swung the door open enough to stick his head in. “Mr. Dirt?”

“Yeah?”

Dirt was in the offices of Atomic Blast Records to discuss the terms of his next record and to sign off on some merchandising agreements. Once this little snag gets resolved, he would be out and away and doing whatever rock gods do at 2:30 in the afternoon.

“I’m Nigel Cro…,” his voiced cracked forcing him to swallow and clear his throat. “I’m Nigel Croft.”

“So?” Even in the shortest amount of space Dirt’s thick scouse accent rang clear.

“I’m from Atomic Blast Records, but I guess that’s obvious since we’re both here in the offices here at Atomic Blast, right?”

Dirt stared at Nigel, emotionless and still. He was a big man. Most of the current batch of rock-god wanna-bes, were slight, thin and pale. Even sitting on the couch, he was imposing.

“Right. Uh, I, uh, I guess it’s better to say ‘they,’ gave me the, uh, they wanted me to, uh,” Nigel said, sputtering as he searched for his mental footing.

“What’s wrong with you?” Dirt said. Beyond the slight curl of his upper lip, he remained stoic.

“Nothing,” Nigel said quickly.

“Are those the papers they want me to sign?”

“Uh, no. No, Sir they’re not. They are almost ready for you, but they want this little matter ironed out before they grab your ink.”

“What matter?” Dirt said.

“Yes,” Nigel said stepping into the room holding the papers out as he followed. “There seems to be some concern with the lyrics on your upcoming release. They, uh, them, not me, wanted to see if you could, uh, ‘take another look’ to see if you might be willing to make some adjustments.”

“Why?”

“Uh…well…they, not me, think this batch are…well…uhhh, offensive.”

“They’re love songs.”

“Wha…” Nigel caught himself before he let the full expression of his shock go. “I mean, yes. These are love songs. Of course…but, they, not me, are having a hard time, uh…seeing the love, as it were.”

Dirt sat still and silent.

“Let’s just take a look shall we?” Nigel quickly rifled through the short stack of papers. “Ah, here we go. This one. ‘Bleeding Whore.’ I guess that’s the working title. Uh, you start off really strong with the first word, ‘Woman!’ That’s really good, but then right after that where you talk about the ax and the long ride into the desert, and this bit with the rope and the animals nibbling and such…”

“What’s wrong with it?” Dirt said plainly. “It’s beautiful.”

“I agree there is some stark and vivid imagery there. I think you, ah, yes, you do mention a sunset there around the third verse. That’s nice. But then there’s this part with the entrails and then I guess Satan shows up at one point and there is something about collecting her eyes.”

“Beautiful eyes.” Dirt said, as a point of clarification.

“Right! Beautiful eyes. Nice. Still, they, not me are worried that this kind of imagery might negatively affect, well…everything.”

Silence filled the room. Nigel’s finger stayed glued to the printed phrase on the page about Satan’s collection of beautiful eyeballs. His arms stretched out so that Dirt could see the passage clearly. Never looking at the paper, Dirt fixed his gaze on Nigel.

“That’s offensive?” Dirt said.

“Yeah.” Nigel said nodding harder than he should, but unable to stop. “That’s… that’s offensive.”

Silence.

“I’ll change it.” Dirt said, his gaze never wavering, his expression never-changing.

Nigel deflated a bit with relief. “That’s…that’s just perfect. That will be great.”

“Change eyeballs to lips.” Dirt said. “That’s even more beautiful.”

Nigel deflated even further. He got all the crappy jobs.

News

Elliston Mast plopped the paper down and flopped backwards into his chair. He started reading the daily paper end to end as a deliberate practice two years ago as a way to keep his mind fresh and to have a good understanding of what was going on in the world.

He found the routine satisfying, at first. Over the last few months however, something shifted. His once passive intake of news and information started to come with a mental commentary. Spotty at first, the thoughts and reactions crept in and grew with the days. Audible grunts and ‘humphs’ followed. They prefaced longer strings of conscious responses and soon he was not only reading the paper out loud, but providing feedback on the story at the same time, often waving the pages in the air with disgust.

Today, even the ads annoyed him and he told them so while pointing and shaking his fist. The nerve of so and so mattress company to spread the fear that a mattress needs to be replaced every seven years! Why he could jump right into his twelve-year-old bed, roll around in it without so much of a hint of a squeak and then sleep solidly like a newborn baby in glorious comfort and support. He might even sleep better, to spite the mattress company! Yes, so and so mattress company, in your face!

The rage never started with the ads of course. The silly, simple context of the ads which treated human beings like morons was only the creamy topping on a ‘news’ sundae which not only set the pot to boil, but brought it up to full burn. Even the sports page garnered comments and derision.

Every day, like a soap opera, the paper added a few more sordid details to the developing stories intent on stringing the reader along  just enough to pick up tomorrow’s edition to see what happens next. Sensational murder trails, unfortunate accidents, crimes of the stupid and tragically uninformed littered the pages every day and like a waterfall, new stories of the same ilk awaited him the next day and the next day and the next.

He started reading the paper to keep his mind fresh and to have a good understanding of what was going on in the world. The paper itself often ended up balled up in a huge mass in his backyard with him standing over it, setting it ablaze with the help of some tiki torch fluid from the garage and a disposable candle-lighter.

Rage

Dart plopped himself into the driver’s seat of his car. He slammed the door with great authority and enjoyed the extra noise it made in the parking garage. He forced a calm into his hand so that the key slid into the ignition easily. His teeth clenched harder to take up the slack. The car came to life and he backed it out carefully, but his grip on the wheel was tight and unforgiving. He pulled around to and through the automatic gate and stayed relatively silent until he hit the street. At that point, he was free to unleash.

He started with a solid string of expletives, low and slow at first, but long enough to build to the point where the last few raked his vocal cords. His hands clenched the wheel tighter and as he stopped at the first traffic light, he let out a scream that both released an initial wave of frustration and a spray of saliva that dotted his windshield. Dammit! How he hated a dirty windshield.

Moving past the level of primal expression, he strung together actual words that formed hateful, yet basic rhetorical questions the car certainly would not be able to answer.

“What the hell was that?”

“What did they mean by that?”

“Who does that?”

“What kind of…”

Another primal shriek filled the enclosed space.

The radio had avoided drawing his attention that was, until the first words of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” seemed to hit him in the face. He hated Tainted Love.

“SHUT UP!”

Dart punched the dial, dropping the radio into silence. A tiny sense of reason rose from the back of his head. He hoped that he didn’t pop it so hard that he broke it. In general, his radio was his car ride companion and they logged hundreds of thousands of miles together in times far worse than this. He would miss it if he broke it and would be extra pissed to have to fix it.