“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New Scene for Ch 1 of "The Music Box Routine"

It wasn’t the first time Will and I had wandered off the bike trails on foot to the edge of the nature preserve, passed the trees with faded yellow signs nailed to them warning of trespass on private property, to check out the derelict house with the collapsed roof and the washed-out barn nestled against the opposite side of a tree-strewn hummock. Both buildings were wrapped in thick vegetation, branches snarled and naked from the winter. The house took some determination to break through to, and the reward was nothing but the shambles of a neglected structure left to rot. No sign of the lives that had lighted the walls remained. After our first exploration, Will and I steered clear of it, since we figured not many women would find picking through the brush worthwhile. The barn provided much easier access.

Beyond the long, low, still impressively straight peak of the pitched roof was nothing but fallow land for a half-mile and then more trees and then the main road alive with the sounds of distant vehicles straining to keep pace with the busy modern world. Power lines that once brought electricity and phone service to the caved-in house ran along the edge of the woods back toward the unforgotten stretch of inhabited homes running as far in each direction as you cared to drive. What used to be the barn’s double doors sliding open and shut on rollers now stands as a dark gape in the dull gray stacked layers of weathered plank, like the mouth of a cave on the barren surface of the moon, but with none of that enchanted silver glow. These places give me a shocking sense of impermanence, not because they’re old and abandoned, but because you know their desuetude won’t be tolerated for long. Kids and teenagers make up stories about scary things that happen in them, and then approach them day or night with a thrill, unaware that what makes their persistence ghostly is the brevity of their future rather than their surplus of memories.

Appropriately, one of these story-addled kids has spray-painted the word “DEATH” beside the mouth of the cave, just beneath the sagging eaves. As Will, Stacy, and I approached, we were those kids too, a grown woman and two fully adult men pricking their ears and casting wary glances about for evidence of somebody who might get them in trouble with parents they hardly ever see anymore. This return to childhood is a remarkably effective tool for seduction. “What in the hell is that?” I heard Will say as I filed in the barn behind him and Stacy. She said something under her breath as they both tip-toed around some object on the wooden floor.

“Holy shit!” I said, “It’s foot track magic.”

“No,” Stacy said. “Foot track spells are hoodoo. This is a Goetia seal.”

Will and I turned simultaneously to look at her, and then each other, before turning our gaze back to the floor. For a long minute we all stood on the edge of the chalk circle staring at the design in the middle of it—three even-sided crosses, perched on the rim of a bowl shape. Concentric with the outer circle was another, and between them were several letters I had to lean over and move around to read as we all instinctively avoided stepping inside the perimeter, which was about eight feet in diameter. “R-I-S-I-T,” I said. “Is Risit an incantation or the name of a spirit or what?”

“Don’t say his name,” Stacy said. “And you start at the top, stupid—with the S. He’s a demon. See where they burned the candles? Someone did a ritual out here to invoke him.”

“Sitri?” Will said.

“I said don’t say his name. And don’t step in the circle.” She barked these interdictions at him like a frustrated parent as she moved around the design, as if checking to see if it was drawn correctly. “It was probably some idiot teenage girl trying to get some poor guy to fall in love with her,” she said, shaking her head in exasperation. “She probably found this on the damn internet and has no idea what kind of trouble she’s getting them both in.”

I had moved away from the seal onto a dais to get a better view of it in its totality. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Will come upon a bunch of boards that had been pushed up against the wall to clear space for drawing the design. After leaping over the clutter, he stood for a second and then turned excitedly to say something to me. There was a crunching sound that interrupted him and made both Stacy me turn our eyes in his direction. He stood looking down at something with both arms raised out to his sides. “Oh, fuck.”

He took three backward steps right into the middle of the circle. From her vantage, Stacy was able to see what had happened before I did. My first hint was the look of horror on her face. Trying to follow their gaze, I saw that something was wrong with Will’s leg—there was a dark streak that as I approached resolved into a gouge. He had run his shin against a large piece of glass jutting out invisibly from between two boards leaning against the wall. Stacy was at his side as quickly as I was. “Jesus! Don’t let any of your blood get in the circle!”

She pushed the two of us to the side. This should have infuriated me. But when I looked at her I was able to read a story in her expression. It actually reminded me of two experiences I’d had with Will, the first of which occurred in the days before we were experienced drinkers. We were at a club at closing time and the staff was trying to corral everyone out. A bouncer who had been gently shoving me toward the door actually followed me into the men’s room as I rushed into one of the stalls to puke. What I remember is that after retching and falling back away from the toilet, I felt the guy trying to lift me by my shirt. That’s when Will pushed through the door of the bathroom. His eyes went first to mine, allowing him to assess just how sorry a state I was in, and then to the bouncer’s. I’ll never forget his immediate flash of rage on my behalf. “Don’t fucking touch him!” It impressed even the bouncer himself, who all but leapt away from me. As Will was helping me to my feet, the bouncer, no lightweight himself, said, “Just get him out of here,” with a tremble that made me think he was on the verge of tears.

The second incident was years later. It was also after a night at a bar, but we’d been concentrating too much on picking up the two women who’d come back to Will’s apartment with us to have gotten all that drunk. Still, a wave of nausea struck me, and I crawled out of the recliner to lie down on the floor. I looked up to see Will sitting up on the couch beside his girl but with his eyes closed. Something was wrong with him too. My girl seemed to think I was playing some sort of game—ha!—and knelt beside me. When she started petting my head, it was almost too much take. I opened my eyes just a moment before Will opened his. He looked at me, knew instantly I was in distress, and shouted at the poor girl, “Quit fucking crowding him!” before closing his eyes again and leaning his head back. The girls left in a huff—to my relief. It turned out both Will and I had the flu.

Stacy, though she wasn’t angry, had a similar look of urgent concern on her face. Will was hurt, and of course it was time to dispense with all the silly nonsense about seals and spells. But she was genuinely worried for him, and she went into action without hesitation, taking off the shirt she was wearing over a tank top and squatting to inspect the maceration before wrapping it. Will, on the other hand, didn’t seem concerned so much as amused. “Damn,” he said, “it looks like—eh, a certain part of the female anatomy.”

The wound was a good four inches running up and down at a slight angle to his shin bone. And it was indeed both wide and deep enough to be suggestive of a bodily orifice. Amazingly, it wasn’t gushing blood. In fact, it seemed to take a minute before it even started bleeding. “Um, anybody know how to sew? I don’t have insurance.”

“You’re probably in the clear,” Stacy said, dabbing at the blood trickling down toward his sock. “If you’d hit anything vital, it would be bleeding a lot more. We can take care of this with some butterfly bandages and Neosporin. Trust me: I have a lot of experience with cuts. You’re going to have a hell of a scar though.”

“Cool.”

After tying her shirt around his leg, Stacy turned back toward the chalk circle. She took a few steps toward the wall, leant down to look at something, and then stood up with her eyes closed, shaking her head. “You got your blood in the circle.”

Will laughed. “Does that mean I’m going to fall in love with some idiot teenage girl?”

“Believe me, Will, it’s not fucking funny.”

Stacy started looking around the barn with a look of concentration on her face, trying to decide on a course of action. Then, decision made, she abruptly turned around and squatted by the boards piled against the wall. When she turned back toward us, she was squeezing her left hand into a fist. “What are doing?” I asked. “We kind of need to get Will out of here—like right now.”

“Just a second.” She held her fist over the spot where she’d found drops of Will’s blood scattered on the wood. And just as I suspected her own blood began to drop from her hand onto the same spot.

“Nice,” I said, the delayed annoyance arriving.

Stacy followed in her car as I drove Will’s truck to Walgreen’s. By the time we’d biked back to the parking lot, Stacy’s shirt was soaked through. But Will carried on a conversation in the truck as if nothing had happened. Back at his apartment, after he and Stacy had disappeared into the bathroom for a few minutes to clean the wound and shave the surrounding area, I watched in amazement as she tended to the wound with deft expertise, applying the butterflies perfectly, dabbing the blood with gauze, and looking up to his face at intervals with tender concern to monitor his response. As far as I could tell, he was never in any pain. He talked and joked the whole time. But maybe she saw something I missed.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I liked the previous excerpts a lot. This one didn't impress me as much. Unless you're actually planning on making the novel sci-fi or fantasy I would take it out.

Dennis said...

While the novel isn't meant to be sci-fi or fantasy, the supernatural, specifically Stacy's attitudes and beliefs regarding it, play an important role.

The previous excerpts, I realize, represent a departure from convention. I added the new scenes in response to comments by early readers of a completed draft.

I really appreciate your criticism--and I'll keep your response to the scene in mind as I continue to revise.

If you'd like a pdf of the latest version, just send contact info to jameschapel@hotmail.com.