It's a lovely farce drom, but definitely caters to an elite audience. I loved 'hillbilly chic'. For some reason, it reminds me of the judge from 'My Cousin Vinny'.
cav ... good progress. The mystery ("why did he do it") is compounded by Brent's "strange pallor" in the woods and the "pensive" look at the end of the day. I think, as a reader, that I know what happened. Whether you reveal that or leave it unanswered is up to you.
Two small points: "compliment" in para 2 s/b "complement" I believe. And in the last para, squirrels are "always" elusive.
Keep working on it. You've done well.
Thanks rjb. I am going to make some adjustments for clarity and to eliminate some of those "bugs". Just one thing about the squirrels...the dog wouldn't know that about them, would he?
I plan to leave the mystery unanswered. That is one thing I am absolutely firm about.
Cav; thank you very much for your input-- I have wondered about whether this was good or a big load of indulgent crap for the last age...
As for Hillbilly Chic; these awful travel programmes try to make one and a half world living seem great, by putting 'chic' at the end of everything-- 'shabby chic,' 'samba chic,' etc;' the funny thing is that half of them can't say the word properly. I believe that, in the future, they will go to Delhi and call the sights there 'shanty chic.'
As for your story; it's gone from strength to strength. Whatever you do, do not reveal the mystery unanswered; the mystery is wonderful...; the story would work without it, but with the mystery, it works better. Some things should never be answered, like Mrs. Rochester up in the attic...
Thanks drom. I hope to be inspired to post another story soon.
I hope so, too. I find that I'm less productive in the summer months, though; do you?
I'm going through a seasonal lack of inspiration myself too.
I did not think that I would find myself saying this, but: at least it will be Autumn soon.
I don't know what it is about Summer that puts people from work. I read somewhere that nearly every book considered a Classic was either conceived and started, or written, in the period of October to March. I wonder why?
Need to revive this thread, folks.
excerpt from "Ebenezer's Ghost"
"Hard hard man. You are not afraid to die, miserable and alone?"
"With my money I will buy comfort. That is in the end all that's worth hoping for. If I die alone, so what? We reside in the grave alone. What harm an early start?"
At that the ghost howled, a horrific sound of anguish and pain, lasting ten times longer than mortal breath could sustain. Hurting throughout his skull, becoming deathly afraid, Stony broke for the door.
The underside of the cottage trembled, sending a footstool roving into his path. He tripped over it as a hole erupted in the oaken planks. He plunged into the void, falling through a darkness, the spirit floating beside him.
"It feels like the real thing," he said aloud.
He slipped along by a curtain of stars, the Earth rapidly approaching, the specter in his face.
"You surely will die, unless you take my hand and allow me to bring you down in a gentler fashion."
Stony grabbed for the hand. It eluded him. Strive as he might, the hand could not be caught.
"I am trying," said Stony, passing through a thin layer of clouds. "Why can I not take your hand?"
"It's because you don't believe in me. You don't believe in anything, do you, Stony?"
"I believe in reality, not fairy tales. If one's flesh gets burned, one avoids contact with fire in future; if become ill from eating too much, approach the offending culinary spread with moderation, henceforth; need knowledge of calculus to secure a job, learn calculus; crave sociability, become married; become old or ill, die. All of this without benefit of clergy, ghost or Lassie, except when one opts for it. I cannot believe in you as more than a dream or a dilirium and that, you old fool, is that."
Stony folded his arms, shut his eyes. Having done all there was to do and saying all that could be said, he was ready to die.
They plummeted by an airplane, then a sparrow. The sidewalk rose as the flyswatter to the fly. Pedestrians, once dots, became as ants, next doll-like, then nearly people-size.
Scrooge's ghost became energized. It gripped Stony so tightly both grimaced. Dangling him a mere inch above the concrete, the specter set him gently down.
The bluff had failed.
"You see?" Stony gloated. "I knew it was a delusional dream. I am dreaming still, else I should not see you."
"I won't go away. Count on seeing me every minute of each day until you believe in something."
Stony's lips curled derisively.
"I may see you, but I will proceed to ignore you. My mind has produced you. Meaning, I have to tolerate you until my mind has played its game. I shall not moderate my behavior to suit you. You shall be the unnecessary apendage I learn how to ignore."
And with that Stony marched up to the Children's Protective Service and marched in. He introduced himself to a Ms. Screwnie Jones.
Agnes saw Stony fall from the sky. She had looked from the window from the time the plane lifted off the runway and steadily climbed above the wispy clouds, as it settled into a bright and steady air-lane. The buildings below had grown small and the cars less distinguishable as the they went sailing over the downtown. He was a glitch on her vision, of the sort one passes off and rarely remembers. She pressed her face to the glass ; when nothing memorable presented itself she leaned back to rest.
The valiant craft toiled onward. In a few hours it would land her on a strange unfamiliar coast. There would be lodging; she would be safe. Stony's money would see to that.
Stony's money. She wondered if Edwin would still love her on learning she had taken it. The check in the brown envelope would pay for Evie's operation. The note left on top of it stopped short of revealing that Agnes would come home at the end of three weeks, part of the stipulations. She prayed that time would pass quickly. She shut her eyes as tears squeezed out like pearls.
Forgive, Edwin! Oh, Evie! Missy!
* * *
Brimblestone Heights, the place the Blooms called home, had not always been this run-down. Standing among clusters of houses and apartments now languishing in poverty, the old girl still wore its gown of bricks and bonnet of slate in a proudly tattered fashion. Evie and Missy had forgotten the well-to-do neighborhood where they had been born; they loved "the Heights" with all their hearts. As they came up the cobbled entry with Aunt Stephanie, the twins rejoiced to be within the secure confines of home.
They went upon the walk with Missy bustling, happy as a lark, and Evie with Mr. Snuggly following alongside her old tired aunt. Missy tinkled the wind chimes at Mrs. Cramden's patio, cuddled the stray cat that lately hung around and finally rushed to unlock the door as the slowpokes dawdled.
She skipped into the room, intent on finishing off a soda, when her attention was caught by the note on top of the table.
Evie plopped Mr. Snuggly on the couch as Stephanie paused near the entry, removing some mittens.
Missy shrieked then. It was a scream of agony and fear, startling Stephanie into tossing away her mittens. Evie lost some balance and sat back next to Mr. Snuggly.
It could not but be argued that Stephanie was simple. She was a middle-aged girl, with few resources. She gaped, until Missy came over and pressed the scrap of paper in her hand. She stared at it stupidly, without deciphering a word. Her eyeglasses perched precariously, accentuating the look of a simpleton.
Evie stoically waited, knowing Missy would explain.
"What does it say," Stephanie wanted to know.
"Mom is not coming home."
"Has she got an emergency, then?"
"Not coming home perhaps ever."
"Nonsence. Nonsense. Nonsence," Stephanie droned.
Evie, torn between panic and outrage, shouted, "You ought not say that>"
Missy dissolved into tears, with Evie following suit.
Stephanie refused to accept the note at its word.
"It's nonsense. The note didn't mean to say that. You will see. When Edwin gets here he will explain it. Everything will be all right."
"Then she'll come home? And everything will be just the same?" Evie said hopefully.
"We will just sit quietly until he does."
And so they waited, Evie lying against Mr. Snuggly, eyes half closed; Stephanie in Agnes's soft chair, humming and shifting her crossed legs; Missy about to open her favorite book.
A booming knock resounded like a first volley of a war.
It was up to Stephanie to laboriously haul herself out of the chair and coax her protesting bones to answer it. About midway there, a second knock rattled the door in its hinges. Too thickwitted to be fearful, she attained her goal and pulled the battered portal open.
It was a ham-fisted sergeant with a crew of jackbooted officers in brown jackets and riot helmets. Her spirit immediately lifted, for lawmen correct injustice when they come, do they not?
Her joy was squelched by the officers falling back and the opening getting filled with the overbearing presence of Ms. Screwnie Jones. Screwnie wearing riot gear herself. The voice of the rat-faced agent of Child Protection was nasal, shrill and grating,
"Stephanie Bloom, step aside, please. The girls are to be siezed, the father being in jail and the mother being a deserter. Surrender them or be in contempt of the law. Resist and feel the weight of the law."
"Siezed? Take them? No; I will care for them."
"No, Stephanie Bloom, you will not. You have no means to provide for them. From what I understand about yourself from my research, which is always thorough, you ought long ago have been confined in an institution."
Stephanie moved to bar the jack boots, but was brushed past. She held on to the arm of one and was dragged until she fell off.
Evie clung to Mr. Snuggly, who (or which, at the reader's whim) was becoming wrenched free as she writhed and scratched at the officer. At last the poor bunny fell. In the fray that followed a heavy boot trod upon the hapless Snuggly, causing one eye to get ripped from the fabric, left to dangle from a single long thread.
Missy did the most damage, kicking one ankle repeatedly and biting three hands.
Captured, the girls were popped out the door, held as in a vise, squealing and bleating. Tossed inside Screwnie's minivan and shut in, they were.
The rodent-faced agent remained a moment to reasure Stephanie, who sat in the spot where she had fallen, wheezing for breath.
"Don't fear for them, my dear. I will personally get Esther and Minnie processed right away, so that they can share Christmas love with their foster family."
"Foster family? Esther and Minnie? But - but - but -"
But, Ms. Jones turned on her heal and marched away to drive off with the children.
Still reeling, Stephanie pulled herself into Agnes's chair and rocked herself.
Edwin will know what to do. Edwin will sort it out.
Across the floor Mr. Snuggly sat with his remaining eye fixed upon the brown envelope on the table.
Looking at him, Stephanie was certain the bunny just wanted to cry but could not get the tears out.
"Don't you worry. Edwin will sort it out."
* * *
But jail is no place to be when things are in need of sorting out. Edwin Bloom, having no bond money, having already borrowed to the hilt from his friends and acquaintances, besides being shy in this instance to ask, the nature of his transgression being what it was, was held over for trial. He longed for the time he would get a court appointed attorney. At least then he would have someone fighting for him from within the system.
To Screwnie Jones, red tape was a dirty word. She set her goals and went right at them, making the paperwork keep up as best it could. Through devotion beyond the mere call of duty, she got Evie and Missy assigned to a foster home that same evening, keeping them together.
In the dusk of gathering night, Screwnie ushered the withering girls into the mansion of Nope Parliadge, a self-described kindly man, who gave "his" kids more than nourishing food and comfortable digs. He gave them moral and temporal guidance. He gave them a lifelong philosophy. No matter their age. For, even if too young to understand, the child will by rote absorb sufficient of the teaching by the time they are old enough to think independently. The child following the path has no time to investigate in the alleys and dens of corrupt thinkers and social do-gooders. The child becomes an important societal cog as a preteen, eager to remain free from every source of aid and welfare. So Parliadge taught; so he lived.
The house rested high up, like the lone survivor of King of the Hill. It gloated threateningly over the lesser houses down the slope, wearing a coat of paint like an undertaker's jacket. Most foreboding, the grounds, though neatly groomed at the street level, were a disheartening tangle the rest of the way, of thorny vines, untrimmed shrubs and trees. The unwary would be lost just seconds upon entering. Small wonder the estate inspired tales of ghosts and dead bodies. None of it had been substantiated; just the wood owls and the guilty would know for certain.
Prior to being seated to dinner, the dozen or so of his wards were assembled in the great playroom, there to be lectured to and challenged before a morsel be seen. Stood at ease like small soldiers, they were not to turn in the direction of the grand Christmas pine off to the side. No time could be allotted for the dreamy child to ponder which gift beneath the glittery boughs be marked for whom. They were in the playroom for but one purpose: to listen; to learn.
It was quite the ragtag line they made, with long gangly Walt bending next to pudgy Mikey; Mikey bumping an elbow with energetic Angie; Angie annoying Chris; Chris older and taller than the rest, stepping on Rosie's toes; Rosie falling against Tina; Tina trying with all her might to keep silent; Arnold with his green eyes fixed on the visage of Nope Parliadge; Becky holding the hand of toddler Sergio; then, red-haired, freckled, bashful Robert; lastly, Cory, the one orphan in the group.
He faced away from them, a pointing stick clutched behind his back. The wife, Jane, timidly policed the line by tapping this shoulder, setting that body straight, cupping a hand over the working set of lips. After fully ten minutes of this, he faced them and began speaking.
"Good evening, children. We have a wonderful meal for you, all set up in the dining room. Before we go in there, I have something to say.
"You all are here by circumstances not of your choosing. And, yet, the truth is, you are wards of the state and you are takers. Soaking in our good taxpayers' money and no dime of it for your own labor, not one cent contributed by blood relations. It is a truism that welfare begets helplessness and dependency." His eyes roved the captive, uncomprehending audience. "But, you will learn self reliance, I warrant it, and not take a bit more once you have matured enough to become productive. Any person that takes taxpayer money is not a free person, but a sneak, one who would perpetuate the situation were it not for concerned citizens such as myself. That is a truism and I warrant it."
As he studied the faces one at a time his attention became fixed on the soft babyish features of Mikey. Mikey was three years old. He had come into foster care straight from a hospital bed and Mikey's parents went up on charges. Pummeled by they like a punching bag, the authorities said; starved by they like a fever; half the normal size of a three year old; he grinning sheepishly, wishing only to please; he a criminal in circumstance, albeit an unwitting one and yet a criminal nonetheless. Parliadge became incensed by the grin. He waved the stick.
"You by your demeanor are admitting to being a compromised child of want, a taker with nothing to give in return."
The smile, encompassing the whole of the child's face, faltered. Although Parliadge shifted his attention and moved on, giant teardrops rolled off Mikey's cheeks and splashed on the parquet flooring. He looked with futility for a sympathetic face.
At the same moment everyone's attention became diverted by the infusion into the room of Ms. Screwnie Jones, shepherding the twins. Mikey broke ranks and ran straight into Missy's arms, hugging her, openly bawling. The startled girl immediately began comforting him.
Jane, an inconsequential person in the eyes of all, attempted to disengage them.
Screwnie, smiling through ratty teeth, hailed Parliadge with great familiarity.
"I hesitated to bring these to you, you having twelve, but I also remembered your saying, 'How many is too many?' So, here's Esther and Minnie.
"Girls, you are lucky to be given a home so warm, so nice, as this one is. And lucky you are to be given a parent figure so caring, so understanding of the unloved unwanted children, as you are and as Mr. Parliadge is, respectively speaking. It is a truism, is it not, Mr. Parliadge, that grateful is a term for what they should be expressing?"
"It is, Ma'am."
"And what do we say to this fine gentleman, and dear Mrs. Parliadge, for giving so much kindness?"
The diminutive sisters hid their faces, striving to sink into the Earth and be removed from the goodness of these benefactors. But no way it was going to happen. Missy choked on her sobs. Evie seemed carved of chalk, slightly blue at the edges.
"Be polite and greet your foster parents. Say, 'Pleased to meet you.' You must -"
And she slipped a hand beneath the chin of the blue-edged waif and tilted her face until her eyes must meet those of Nope Parliadge, behind whose smiling features lurked an insidiousness born of that hard fundamentalism that never yields, even at the tender moment.
"Easy, Ms. Jones," Parliadge cautioned, discovering the look of sickness about the creature. "You have not brought disease upon us have you?"
"Why, no. I would be devastated if you really thought I could be guilty of an action so thoughtless. I would be humiliated and embarrassed."
"But, look at her."
Evie made a strangling sound. Without further warning, she swooned.
"She hasn't took her medicine!" Missy shouted.
Thanks for reviving this thread edgar, with some fine, very vivid prose. I'd love to read it when complete.
It's almost complete but for a bit of rewriting. Headed for a book illustrated by my brother.
Edgar I love these three chapters, your characters are very vivid and alive. I really like the way you addressed the dilemma of these children by the description of their new home: "It gloated threateningly over the lesser houses down the slope, wearing a coat of paint like an undertaker's jacket."
I'm looking forward to reading more
It will soon be available on Amazon.
TM, that's a wonderfully told story, passionate and well written.
Thank you kindly. I have a little trouble with short stories because I want to elaborate too much.
I believe most people here on a2k will not take the time to read a story as long as yours, hence the dearth of comments. I rarely post my original work here anynore.
Maybe the problem is like viven said, it is easier to read shorter paragraphs, maybe that is why in books the paragraphs are shorter.
I have trouble concentrating for extended periods and for me it does help if they are broken up.
But from what I could concentrate on, I really liked it, I am not just being polite. I like those dark stories just as much as light hearted fairy tales. Sometimes more so.