Saturday, October 01, 2005

Played Out

My first short story in it's entirety.

"No, no, no, no, noooo!" He screamed and covered his ears, alone in a dark hotel room. The shadow of his head danced on the wall behind him, strobing like a frantic heartbeat to the scene of death on the television. The high school photo of a dark haired girl lay distorted in the glossy marble of his eyes as a single tear snaked down his cheek, stopping and starting, gathering in strength and releasing in short bursts.

He reached over the foot of the bed and shut the TV off and the blackness swept over him. He sat hunched over with his head cupped in his hands for over an hour; the hum of the nearby freeway was his only company.

The phone exploded like a fire alarm but didn't startle him. He watched the orange light on the headset flicker until he could see it with his eyes closed, but made no move to answer. The calling party was persistent and waited patiently until he finally picked up.

"Ned," said the voice from the other side.

Ned didn’t reply, but his presence was betrayed by the wheeze of air squeezing through his constricted nasal passages.

"Come on Ned. Say something for Christ’s sake."

"Why don't you leave me alone Evie," he said through gritted teeth.

"Now baby, is that any way to talk to your fiancé?"

"I'm warning you Evie, do not mock me."

"I'm not mocking you Ned. I made a mistake and I want a second chance."

"Forget it!" Ned stood up and paced between the two double beds as far as the phone chord would stretch.

"C'mon baby, you know I can't live without you. Who loves you?"

"Don't make me laugh."

She paused for moment and cleared her throat. "Ned, I know you left your wife and children for me. It was overwhelming--I mean, you gave up everything for me, and I'll admit that once the roadblocks were out of the way, I lost interest. The challenge was gone."

Ned stopped pacing and his eyes narrowed to slits. He waited.

"I behaved so badly, Ned. I was so cold."

"Are you going somewhere with this?" Ned asked.

"When we were together, you did everything for me. I took from you Ned--because I could. I never stopped to appreciate what I had. I've never felt like this Ned, and I need you to come back to me. Let me prove that I mean what I say."

"You turned all my friends against me, Evie." Ned was screaming now. “I had everything before you came along, and now I am a dead man walking, friendless and alone. You ruined my life and have a lot of nerve calling me."

She didn’t answer right away. Finally Evie said, "There's a little bar on the corner of Main and Tupelo. Meet me there."

Ned didn't reply.

"I promise you Ned, if you come and meet me, the word 'No' will never touch my lips again."

Still no reply.

"I need you Ned. Please meet me."

"Ok."

"Oh, thank God! I swear baby, you won't regret this. Listen, I want to start completely over."

"I know Evie, just shut up before I change my mind."

"No, I want to meet you all over again, like we never met before, and start again like two young lovers with a world of possibilities before them."

"Jesus Evie, why do you always have to play games?”

"Please Ned, indulge me on this. Let's start fresh. See me like you saw me when we first met. Woo me. Seduce me with that beautiful smile."

Ned extended his palm in an expression of disbelief, as if she were standing in the room with him. "You want me to pretend like we've never met?"

"That's right. Won't it be fun?"

"And you want me to pick you up?"

"Uh huh, but don't think I'm going to be easy buddy. I'm not that kind of girl."

"I see."

"Will you do it then--for me?" Evie asked like flirtatious school girl.

"I'll think about it."

"That's my teddy bear. I'll be there at 10. I love you Ned."

"Sure baby."


Ned wasn't sure how long he had been on the road, or what state he was in. He couldn't stay in Hayden Lake any more. The town was small and his friends despised him for leaving his family for that "little whore." The affair started small, with occasional lunchtime trysts, but Evie demanded more and more of his time, and called him sometimes at home, hanging up whenever his wife answered. He called in sick at work and spent his time with her. He lost his job eventually, but went away daily as if he hadn't. Soon it was impossible to hide his indiscretion from his wife, who even after all the humiliation of being the last to know, still gave him a chance to reconcile, for she was a devout Christian and believed that her vows meant something, for better and for worse. But even her faith had limits. After her ultimatum was ignored, she packed their things and the children and left him alone in an empty apartment and bank account.

When he told Evie the news, she curtly and without explanation told him not to call anymore. He left hundreds of messages but she would not return his calls. He was devastated, unemployed and broke; his depression was exacerbated by the sudden dearth of antidepressants that his wife wasn't around to force down his throat, so he became dark and dour. His entire social circle consisted of mutual friends with him and his wife, so he was basically friendless, with nobody to lean on as the rent came due.

Desperate, he drove to nearby Spirit Lake and staked out a small bank and decided to rob it. He parked his car outside of town, behind some bushes where it wouldn't be spotted, and hiked through the woods while memorizing his escape route. Carrying a semi-automatic .45 Glock that his father willed to him, he stormed into the bank lobby wearing a Yoda mask and fired a shot into the wall inches above the shoulder of the dozing security guard; the old man soiled his trousers and fell to the ground as Ned unsnapped the man's holster and removed the gun into his own belt.

Ned jumped on the service counter and had the tellers empty their cash drawers. He made away with over five thousand dollars, and spent little over four minutes in doing so. He was safely under cover of the trees as the police screeched to a halt in front of the bank and stormed the lobby.

The time to leave town was long overdue, so he packed what little belongings he had into the back of his pickup. It was a Friday night when he was ready to leave; his head was swimming in a haze, on a very low swing of his manic depression. He stopped outside a nightclub where he had met first met Evie, and parked as far away from the entrance as the lot allowed. From the dark cab of his truck, his face slightly aglow from the neon nightclub sign, he saw Evie climb from the passenger seat of a Mercedes. The driver, a man with long blonde hair slicked back over his ears, in his early twenties wearing an Armani suit, walked around and opened the door for her.

"Pretty boy," Ned grumbled. Evie stood on the tips of her toes, wrapped her arms around his neck and let her purse dangle down his back. They kissed deep and long. Ned's brow was furrowed and his forehead was pressed tightly against the windshield; a cry like that of a wounded animal gurgled in his throat. The lovers parted and turned towards the night club entrance, and Ned saw the man's hand cup her behind. An ice storm raged behind Ned's eyes; his vision blurred, then the world faded to black.

Ned pulled up to the corner of Main and Tupelo and looked through the front window of the bar Evie had mentioned, and remembered seeing the place while searching for a hotel in this backwoods Midwestern town. He was fifteen minutes early so he parked across the street and waited for Evie to show.

His brain felt like a rock, and he wished not for the first time that he hadn't thrown his meds away. A woman with a short jean miniskirt, lipstick-red cowboy boots and long, dark hair that cascaded from a white cowboy hat down the length of her back danced in front of the club as the pounding beat from within pulled at her strings like a marionette. Ned stared for a moment and blinked twice. He almost didn't recognize her, but there stood Evie. It only now struck him as odd that she had found him so far away from home.

Evie looked around the street, and Ned ducked out of sight. She wouldn't recognize the car he was in. He dumped off the truck the night he left Hayden Lake, and stole the car to replace it. German engineering was known for its excellence, but he had never actually driven a Mercedes before. The sound system was impeccable, and the ride was like skiing through fresh powder. Thinking about it made him dizzy, but try as he did, he could not remember what possessed him to make the swap. His pickup truck was his pride and joy. Many Sunday afternoons turned to dusk while he washed and waxed until it shined like a crown jewel.

He cautiously peeked over the steering wheel, and found that Evie had gone inside. His hands were cold, so he rubbed them together furiously to warm them. The doorman regarded him as Ned approached with a suspicious glare.

"You look like shit," the man boomed like a bass drum.

"Yeah, well I feel like shit too. I could really use a cold one, know what I mean?"

The doorman didn't respond, but leaned towards him and stared, probing and aggressive. Ned felt self conscious and tried not to blink. "Keep your nose clean and don't cause any trouble," the man said finally, but his manner promised a savage 'or else.' He moved aside just enough so that Ned had to turn sideways to squeeze by, and as he did, he felt the doorman's breath on his face that huffed in loud gusts from his overlarge, bull-sized nostrils.

The dance floor was packed with men and women dressed in colorful cowboy regalia line dancing to an upbeat western swing. His eyes were irritated by the smoke that hung in the air like billowing fog on a windless day. There was no circulation, creating a rank fusion of sweat, smoke, shit, sawdust and stale beer, tempered with a touch of perfume--like a clammy armpit with a swipe of Chap Stick. The bar was a corral enclosed by a ring of beer glasses, pitchers and stools, where three bartenders bounced around like pin balls, taking drink orders with complete indifference and eye contact on a need-to-look basis only.

Evie sat on the other side of the bar closest to front window, so Ned found a spot kitty corner from her. When the bartender asked, "What'll it be," Ned replied, "A Bud for me, and whatever the girl is having." The bartender looked to where Ned pointed. His eyes widened for a moment, and then he shook his head.

"No way."

Over the bartender's shoulder Ned saw his reflection in a mirror between stacks of shot glasses. His face was gaunt and his eyes were sunken with dark rings. He pulled out a hundred dollar bill and placed on the bar. "Just do me this one favor and keep the change."

The bartender hesitated, then, cocking an eyebrow, took the money and went to Evie. He leaned over the bar and gestured towards Ned, then fixed her a Tequila Sunrise. She looked at Ned with a smile that wavered slightly when she saw him. When the bartender gave him his beer, he scooped it off the bar and made his way around to where she sat.

"Care for a dance cowgirl," he asked with a smile that despite his bedraggled look illuminated his face. She turned slowly with her drink in hand and took a long pull from the straw.

"I appreciate the drink cowboy," she said with some contempt, "but I'll settle for a how d'ya do, and thank you to be on your way."

Ned was stunned and could only look at her with his jaw half open.

"Perhaps I wasn't clear," she said as she made a dismissive wave with her hand, "shoo fly, shoo!"

"Evie," he implored, "you said hard to get, but I don't feel like playing any more."

"Evie? Who the hell is Evie?"

"Enough is enough Evie," Ned said with growing menace, "I am sick of your games!"

"First of all, my name is Charlotte, and there is something terribly wrong with you. Did you crawl out of the back of a garbage truck?"

Ned clenched his hands into fists and got in her face, "Why did you call me, huh?! Why didn't you just leave me the fuck alone?"

She screamed as one of the bartenders leapt over the bar and took Ned to the ground, while others, including the burly doorman, jumped on him. Ned screamed until the air was forced from his lungs, and was forced to acquiesce. When the fight was out of him, one by one the men unpeeled themselves from the pile, and then the doorman hooked him under the belt and by the hair and threw him out front on the sidewalk. Ned skid on his face, scraping his forehead and chin. He got up slowly as blood ran into his eyes.

Ned stumbled into the street and was nearly hit by a passing car, then staggered to the Mercedes and opened the passenger side door and fumbled for the catch of the glove compartment. It opened like a whisper and offered him the Glock. Ned stuffed it in his belt behind him, took off his t-shirt and tied it around his head to staunch the bleeding, then strode purposefully back to the main entrance where the doorman waited with a grin.

"Come back for more have y..." The bullet exploded through his head and shattered the glass door behind him. The bar erupted in panic and became a chorus of screams. Ned went to where he had last seen Evie, and saw her running over the dance floor towards a back exit. She had nowhere to go, as the crowd was crawling over itself to get away, and there was no escape.

"Evie," he yelled at her back, "turn around!"

Realizing her predicament, she had no choice but to face him. Her eyes were wide and swollen with tears; black streaks ran down her face like oil drips, and snot hung in stretching elastic strands from her nose. "Please," she begged, "I don't want to die."

"Just tell me why you left me, Evie." Tears fell from his eyes and his voice wavered, "I had a good life, but you came along and took it all away!"

"I-I-I'm sorry," she cried as she shook her head, "but you have me confused with someone else. Please don't kill me."

"Where’s your high and mighty attitude now, huh?!"

"P-p-please!"

"I'm doing the world a favor. It's been real Evie, and it's been fun. But it hasn't been real fun."

Ned drove for a couple miles and stole a Volkswagen van, and then traded for an old Chevy Nova after ditching the van. The days and nights blended together like they were on fast forward. He finally decided to stop for the night at a motel and get a good nights rest. The room had two double beds and a television chained to a dresser, which he turned on while he washed up in the bathroom.

He sat down on the bed and propped a few pillows behind him and started to doze off when he saw his face on the television. He fumbled for the remote and turned up the volume.

"...police suspect this man, Ned Burnham of Hayden Lake Idaho, for the murders of several young women that fit a similar physical profile. He is believed to be responsible for the brutal slaying of Eva Simpson and her boyfriend Carlton Trask outside the Strand nightclub on the outskirts of Hayden Lake. Burnham most recently has been identified by eyewitnesses from photographs as the murderer of Charlotte Redding and David Metzler of Kaycee, Wyoming. We have with us tonight Dr. Jean Piette, a psychologist who once treated Burnham for severe manic depression. Doctor, in your opinion..."

Ned switched off the television.

Before too long, in the heart of darkness, the phone began to ring.

31 comments:

amberdusk said...

Whoa... I am stunned. Very good VERY VERY good. My favorite type of story is the short story because of the wonderful amount of detail you can cram into it. Yours was very well done. It makes me want to start writting again. I am at a loss for words.... haha.

Shesawriter said...

Good writing, bud. Wow. I'm not a short story writer because I tend to lean on the verbose side. You've nailed this one. I like!

Tanya

Moni said...

A man tettering on the edge of insanity finally falls. Bravo! You had me going I totally didn't expect that Ned was a man pushed too far, I just thought that Evie was a coniving little man-eater. The story was woven together beautifully! I say, "Get thee to a publiser." Oh, and btw Happy Birthday, I hope life really begins at 40 too. ;)

Moni said...

Ha! I meant publisher. And get me "Hooked-on-Phonics." lol

Chloe said...

Happy belated birthday! And let us know if they catch Ned!

The Zombieslayer said...

Wonderful. You really could write a short story. the scary thing is, you have to wonder if you could ever be pushed to this point.

mr. schprock said...

Scott, I am looking forward to reading this. I've printed it out and tonight I'll read it. Congratulations just for writing it! Your style of writing is meant for this. I'll give you my thoughts tomorrow.

Scott said...

All - I would have replied earlier, but I saw this in the wee hours of the morning and my tapping on the keyboard wakes the kids--and more importantly, it annoys the wife!

Amber - Thank you very much for the kind words. Each "very" was like a puff of air in my balloon.

Tanya - I'm sure you would be good at any story form you tackled. Thanks for the boost.

Moni - I thought I totally gave it away with little hints. It pleases me to no end to hear that I got you! That kind of feedback really helps because I know that something I tried worked, and I wasn't sure at all if it would.

Chloe - Thanks for the well wishes. As for Ned, unless he gets international attention, a sequel is not in the works.

Zombie - Oh, believe me, I have been pushed. My safety valve is that I would never leave my wife for any reason let alone a younger woman.

Mr. Schprock - It's good to see you back. Blogging without you is like cooking without salt. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

jenbeauty said...

Very good twist, very good. I did not expect that at all. This was an excellant short story Scott you had my attention all the way.

magnetbabe said...

An amazing debut. I was fooled too. I didn't even read it til you were done because I knew I would just be irritated that I couldn't finish it. I have to know, did you name the "frist woman" Ned killed Evie on purpose, or was it a subconscious thing? Again, very good. Keep em coming!

Scott said...

Jen - Thanks. This is the longest piece I have written. After going for so long I started to lose my confidence that I still had the reader, so your comment is most welcomed.

MagnetBabe - The first woman that Ned killed was Eva Simpson. Her nickname is Evie, and up until that point she was very real. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the encouragement.

amberdusk said...

I re-read it again today and I just want to say... Bravo!
You should publish. So if this is your first short story then what is your usual style of writting.

Sadie Lou said...

Chilling.
It's odd how the whole time, you led us to believe that Ned was the victim.
I felt so sorry for Ned.
But the ending--whew--Evie didn't deserve to be murdered and then the killing spree?
I don't like Ned anymore. Wonderful twist.

Scott said...

Amber - I don't have a usual style yet, but I want to write a novel. I need to focus on writing more fiction either in short story of novel form if I want to move closer to it.

Sadie - I've done my job then. You can kind of feel sorry for Ned, but for some I think he sealed his fate by leaving his family behind. With me too. I come from multiple broken homes, but my father always took me along for the ride, so I've never met a real-life Ned before. But you can feel sorry for him for putting all his money on one roll and losing it all, and people do that every day.

NYPinTA said...

For some reason the word 'noir' popped into my head as I started to read this.
It had a good gritty feel to it.
Poor Ned.
Bad Evie.
Oh wait, not so poor Ned.
Now, Ned is a bastard.

Good stuff!

mr. schprock said...

Nice job, Scott! You had me sucked in all the way! I can't wait to read it again.

Beth said...

Nice twist, Scott. Good job!

Scott said...

NYPinTA - Noir means dark, no? That would be an accurate description of the story I think. Not too many come out of this one feeling better. Thanks for coming by.

Mr Schprock - Thanks for giving it a read over, and for the comps.

Beth - Thanks!

Miranda said...

Evie at LEAST deserved to be slugged. On a more serious note, your characters are believable and your plot is shocking. Now I won't get any sleep.

Scott said...

Miranda - No quibble there. Evie had something coming to her. One of these days Alice...

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I like it.

There is a vaguely Mementoish feel to this.

More please!

Scott said...

Thanks Toast!

Scott said...

Oh, and Toast, I just got the Mememtoish reference. That was one of the best movies I have ever seen. How clever. The part when Carry Anne rubs his amnesia in his face! Evil, genius and sweet!

Tee said...

*Applause* Yay!

That was fantastic :)

Ashynioki said...

This is definitely the best fiction you have written so far. I like the method of revealing his delusion: the television news. Great detail and metaphors, especially "a clammy armpit with a swipe of chap stick." Descriptively disgusting. I love it.
About the 'heart of darkness,' have you ever read that story? I read it in British Lit. Very good stuff. The movie Apocalypse Now was loosely based on it, but the story was better. And it was the origin of the line, "The horror!"

Scott said...

Thanks Mon, this piece is way more detailed than anything I've attempted before. I am outlining another short story that will hopefully be about regular people.

I had no idea about 'The horror!' I actually thought the heart of darkness reference was cliche, and will probably take it out when I rewrite. I sent this to Dr. D; so you can understand that I am anxious to hear what she says about it.

Jason said...

Caught me off guard! A nice start. Keep the juices flowing (in other words, do as I say, not as I do)!

Mr. T said...

ohhh... I like the dark twist this story took.. BRAVO!!

Scott said...

Jason - I'm glad I took you for a ride. I'm trying to keep the juices going, but it's harder than I thought. This story just leapt out of me and I'm waiting for another jumper.

Mr T - Thanks my man. I like the dark stuff too. Ultra Toast said it was Mementoish, which got me thinking. I loved that movie, and oh how dark it was.

Kathleen said...

I have to say that normally I'm not a fan of short stories (I like to know more about the people than most authors usually include), but you included everything that was necessary to get me involved.

And I guess I'm a bleeding heart because I felt so horribly sad for Ned. Even after he killed that doorman.

Trust me, it's not like me to be sympathetic toward a cheater, either, as I was cheated on, but he just seemed so manipulated by Evie. And then to be manic-depressive and off his meds.

It seemed to me, too, that he didn't realise he was doing all that killing until he saw the news report - and that just broke my heart. Can you imagine waking up and finding out that you're a serial killer? That has to do serious damage to an already damaged mind.

Scott said...

That was nice complement on many levels. I'm glad that you connected with Ned, even if the author wasn't as sympathetic as you are, he at least came alive enough for you to make your own judgement. Thanks for giving it a read.