When I’m occupied with thinking about current projects, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a blog post. So today, I’m cheating. Here’s the opening of my NaNo novel. (I’m currently calling it Eureka Steam, but that will likely change.)
Shelly Parks reapplied her maroon lipstick and studied her reflection in the restroom mirror. I should be the one babysitting for Paige and Ricky instead of the other way around, she thought as she pushed the door open. She almost ran into someone before her eyes adjusted to the dim light in the bar.
“Sorry.” She backed up a step and stumbled.
“Careful.” He caught her elbow and held her upright until she felt stable. His deep voice since shivers down her spine.
“Thanks.” She smiled in spite of herself and straightened her hat. Who knew a few gears could be so heavy? “I…I knew I should have stayed home. I’m no good at places like this.”
He laughed and gestured to the rest of the room with his left arm, wrapped in armor. “Who is? But that’s the fun of it.”
He let go of her elbow.
You didn’t have to do that.
“How about a dance before they do last call?”
“Don’t dance? Me neither.”
He tipped his hat to her, adjusted his monocle, and offered his unarmored arm.
She accepted and walked with him to the dance floor, hoping her skirts wouldn’t trip her up. One song ended as they got to the edge of the dance floor. After a short pause, another started. “What is this?”
Her companion laughed. “It’s steampunk music.”
“Some people think so.”
“How do you dance to it?”
He pointed to a couple nearby, moving with exaggerated stiffness. “Like them.”
She shrugged. “I can do that.”
They danced to that song and the next one before he led her off the dance floor. “I’ve got to go. Early morning tomorrow.” He glanced at a clock above the bar. “Today.” He grimaced.
“Thanks for making tonight more enjoyable.” He paused.
“Shelly,” he repeated and smiled. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“Mitch.” He saluted her and left.
The next morning, Shelly poured herself a cup of coffee and wished she hadn’t stayed out quite so late. She took a sip as her phone rang.
“Shelly, you need to come to the store,” her shop manager Meagan said. She sounded frantic. “I’ve already called the police. They’re sending someone over too. Someone broke in overnight.”
“You’re sure?” She put the coffee mug down. The ceramic clunked on the formica.
Oh, hell! Most of her inventory was in the shop. She had hoped to spend the day in her clay studio, but it didn’t look like that would happen.
“Are you coming?”
“Yeah. Give me about 10 minutes and I’ll be there.”
She hung up, hurried to the bathroom, and looked at her reflection. “Nice wash job, Shel,” she muttered. Maroon lipstick was smeared around her mouth and she had raccoon eyes from the dark eye makeup. She washed her face, put her hair in a ponytail, and dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.
In front of the shop, she turned her flashers on and put the car in park. The “Shelly’s Shack” sign on the open door framed a hole. She shook her head and walked in.
“There she is,” Meagan said.
“I’m sorry I’m late.”
“It wouldn’t be late if someone hadn’t busted in your door, now would it?” a familiar voice asked.
She felt the same tremors down her spine as she had the night before. Mitch? She rounded the corner.
“Good morning, Ms.—Shelly?” Mitch looked up from his notepad.
Funny. Last night I never noticed he was bald. “That’s me.”
“You two know each other?” Meagan asked.
“We met last night,” Shelly explained. “I’ll tell you later.” She turned her attention to the police officer. “We went to the bank last night at closing, so there wasn’t much cash for anyone to take.”
He nodded. “Whoever it was… Well…. I think it was personal.” He moved away from the display case in front of the cash register. The pottery there had been shattered. “I need you to go over your inventory and see what else was damaged or taken.”
“I will.” Shelly blinked. Who? Why?
“Okay. I just need your contact number and I’ll be done here.”
She gave him her home and cell phone numbers. She watched him write them down and leave.
Friday is Halloween. In my town, trick-or-treat night is Thursday. Why? Football games on Friday. There is concern for the traffic before and after the games and kids not exactly paying attention running to and fro.
I’m not blaming the kids. It’s hard to avoid getting excited. So I agree that it should be changed for the safety of the kids getting their treats.
Speaking of treats…
Starting tomorrow and going through Friday, I will have a “treat” for you on this blog. Each one will be up for a limited time. Keep on the lookout so you won’t get tricked when they get taken down.
In a conversation with my mother earlier, I mentioned that when I think about everything I have to do tomorrow, I feel overwhelmed.
She said I’ll get over it. And she’s right.
I’ve decided that when you take on anything new, there is always a learning curve (or a RElearning curve, as the case may be). I’m in that now. Yes, I know how to use AP style. I know the format for news stories. I’m having to relearn part of it though. This goes along with “The Wheels Are Turning” post from the other day.
Today was more…intense, I guess, than I expected. The assistant editor was back from vacation and trained me on how to do area briefs and obituaries. I worked on an article that I did the research and interview for on Friday. I learned the proper form for submitting my invoices to AR. I want to go over the article I was working on one more time before I call it done. I’m actually pretty happy with it.
Tomorrow, I need to come up with some interview questions for an entirely different subject, do the interview, type my notes, and finish a Halloween round-up article that I’ve been collecting information for.
Can I do it all tomorrow? I think so. Part of it, I have to.
I guess the point of all of this is to say that with my calendar, notebook, and revamped skill set, I’ve got this.
What are you working on that causes you to feel overwhelmed from time to time? I can pretty well guarantee you’ve got it — whatever “it” is — too.
Today I have been going through some of my short stories and poems looking to see if I have anything suitable for an anthology I’ve been asked to submit to. In the process, i cam across this short story. It’s too long for the anthology and has a little bit of language that isn’t suitable, but I like it.
It’s centered around Halloween, but it’s not spooky-scary. I’ve decided to share it with you. This is something I would ordinarily publish under my pen name, Kat O’Reilly, since it is fiction. Here it is.
“Come on, Crys,” Donna said from the ticket booth. She and Adam had already paid for their ticket.
“I hate haunted houses,” she said, joining the group under the black awning.
“It’s not that bad,” Adam added. “You’ll be fine. We’ll all be in the same group and make sure you’re in the middle.”
“Haunted houses are great,” Tonya said behind her. “I used to run one. It’s fun. You’ll like it.”
“I doubt that,” Crys grumbled, getting her money out of the front pocket of her jeans to pay the ghoul guarding the door. “Anyone who enjoys haunted houses and being scared spitless has something seriously wrong with them.”
“Welcome to Chez Morte, where your worst fears will come true,” the ghoul said as the door opened.
Tonya, Doug, Angie, and Chad joined them before entering the dim interior.
Worst fears, huh? Crys thought. What? Are they going to make me think I’m blind? Can’t happen. She pushed her glasses up on her nose and wound her way through the roped-off lanes.
Another ghoul wearing a top hat made them wait at the gate. Beyond it, Crys heard screams and laughter–both nervous and sinister. A chainsaw revved in the back.
Crys, positioned in the middle of their group along with Chad, shivered and crossed her arms. “I wish I didn’t already pay for this.”
“You may enter Chez Morte,” the top-hat ghoul said, opening the gate. “Only five at a time.”
Crys looked over her shoulder at Tonya and Doug. That left her at the end of the group.
“We’ll catch up as soon as we can,” Tonya said as the gate swung shut.
Crys followed close behind Chad and stepped on his heels. “Sorry.”
After a long, sloping passage with flickering lights, they entered the first room. Spatters that looked like blood dotted the walls. A man and a woman sprawled on the once-white sofa.
Crys smiled slightly as she neared the door leading out of the room. That’s it? she thought when the woman jumped up off the sofa, yelling and screaming.
Crys yelped and ran through the doorway, bumping into Chad.
The next room turned into a maze of cells with monsters banging on the bars. Around the next corner, a Frankenstein lay on a table. He sat up as Crys walked past. She breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t reach for her.
“Maybe this isn’t so bad,” she admitted to Chad. Donna and Adam walked ahead.
“Hold hands, everybody,” Adam called.
Crys swallowed and reached for Chad’s hand. It felt clammy.
When they were all together, Adam pushed the door in front of him open. All Crys could see was black. She shrugged.
The rest has been okay. It can’t be that bad.
When the door closed behind her, they were plunged into complete darkness. Crys’ breathing became quick and shallow.
“Oh, God,” she whispered. She clung tight to Chad’s hand. She swiped at unseen cobwebs. She bumped into things she preferred not to think about.
Immediately to her right, something screeched and cackled. She thought she could have touched it if she moved her right hand even a little bit.
“Oh, God,” she repeated. I can’t see anything! This wasn’t part of the deal. I want to get out of here.
She pressed forward, trusting Chad’s grip on her hand to lead her out.
Where are Tonya and Doug?
Ahead of her, another door opened. She let out a shaky breath when she saw the sliver of light grow.
Her relief lasted only long enough for the door to close behind her. The light began to flash. A strobe? She wished she could close her eyes. This could well give her a migraine.
A man in a gorilla mask lunged at her.
Chad let go of her hand.
Around the next corner, they walked in complete darkness again.
Crys wiped her hands on her jeans. Oh shit. She pushed her glasses up and inched forward, straining to see anything. Even at night, she had never seen it this dark.
Her breathing came quick and shallow again. “Let me out of here,” she whispered.
Something brushed against her shoulder and she yelped in surprise. She reached up and felt the plastic leg of a mannequin.
“Let me out,” she said again. She knew she was breathing too shallow. The room started to spin.
She shuffled forward and ran into the wall. Tears formed in her eyes.
She turned around. “Chad? Donna?”
No one answered.
“Oh, God. Let me out of here!”
The spinning in the room increased. She heard someone scream but thought it was another guest behind her somewhere.
She shuffled forward again. The toe of her shoe hit against something.
“Chad?” she asked, sobbing. The tears came anyway.
I can’t see. Why can’t I see? Where the hell am I? I want to get out of here.
Someone put a hand on her shoulder and guided her out of the room. The tears blurred her vision so she didn’t notice the door they went through or the behind-the-scenes activity.
She still breathed too fast.
Someone gave her a paper bag and spoke to her. She didn’t understand them. She held the bag numbly.
The cool October air brought her to her senses when they stepped outside.
She took a breath and tried to steady herself. “Thanks, Chad. I don’t know what…” She screamed when she looked up and saw it wasn’t Chad or anyone else from her group. A man with a hockey mask and Freddy Krueger claws on one hand still gripped her shoulder.
“Hey! It’s all right,” he said, pulling the mask off. “Sorry you got so worked up in there.”
“Yeah, well. I….” Crys let out a shaky laugh. “I really don’t like haunted houses. I didn’t even know we were coming to a haunted house.”
The man smiled. “I’ll wait out here with you until they come out then.”
He led the way to some folding chairs. Two monsters, minus their masks, smoked cigarettes.
“Just finishing up, boss,” the taller one said, dropping his butt on the sidewalk and crushing it with his foot.
“Good. Next group should be in place pretty soon.”
“How can you do this?” Crys asked, sitting in one of the chairs. Her knees still shook.
He shrugged and sat in the chair next to her. “Most people seem to like it.”
“Like being scared? Hell yeah. There’s nothing like it.”
She shuddered. “That’s just weird.”
He laughed then sobered. “Most people don’t hyperventilate, though. Speaking of which–” he indicated the paper bag she still held.
Crys shrugged. “I don’t need it now.”
“Humor me. I don’t need you having a heart attack and your friends suing me.”
She bent over, putting her head between her knees, and breathed in the paper bag for a few minutes. She kept stealing glances at her companion. She guessed he was about five-ten. Bits of dark blond hair poked out from under his ski cap. The Freddy claws were still on his left hand.
“What’s your name anyway?” she asked, sitting up and lowering the bag.
“Kyle.” He looked over at her. “You?”
“Short for Crystal?”
“You feeling okay now?”
“A little shaky, but better.”
“Cool.” He looked up at the sound of a chainsaw motor. “I think that might be your friends coming out now.”
Crys looked the way he pointed. She saw people running out of the building but not clearly enough to tell who they were at that distance. One stopped.
She recognized Donna’s voice.
“I thought she was behind me,” Chad said, looking around.
“Yeah, that’s them,” Crys told Kyle. She stood to rejoin her friends.
“Look, um… I know we almost scared you to death, but what would you say to getting together for a cup of coffee or something?”
“There you are!” Donna shouted as the chainsaw revved again. Tonya and Doug, along with the people they had been teamed up with, ran into the cool night. They started over to where Crys waited with Kyle.
“I promise to leave the mask and claws at home.” He smiled.
Damn, he’s cute. Surprised with herself, Crys laughed. “Okay.”
“Meet me tomorrow at Main Street Café?”
“Sure. What time?”
“I’ll be there.”
“See ya,” he said. He shook her hand and gave her shoulder a squeeze before he put the mask on and went back inside.
“What happened to you?” Donna asked, walking up to Crys.
“I got separated,” she said, starting toward the car with them.
Crys shrugged and related what she remembered, which was someone leading her out and what happened from there.
“So it was worth it then,” Tonya said.
“You got a date out of it.”
Crys started to protest but stopped herself. She couldn’t deny it. Kyle was nice. And nice-looking. “Well, yeah. You’re right on that,” she finally admitted. “But I don’t know that I’d say it was worth hyperventilating and being scared spitless.”
“Don’t you mean ‘shitless?’” Doug asked, unlocking the door to his car.
“No,” Crys said, shaking her head. “Spitless. Where your mouth is so dry you couldn’t swallow if you had to.”
Tonya laughed and opened her door after Doug unlocked it from inside. “Be sure to tell me how your date goes.”
She got in and Doug started the car. They waved and left.
“Where to next?” Donna asked as she and Adam got in the front seat of their SUV while Crys, Angie, and Chad squeezed into the back seat.
“Home!” Crys said.
“Spoil-sport,” Donna laughed. “All right. Home it is.”
* * *
Crys waited outside Main Street Café at ten-twenty-five the next morning. She looked in the window but didn’t see him there. She chewed on her bottom lip and looked up and down the street. She didn’t have to wait, did she?
Yes, I do! I said I’d be here and I will be.
She grabbed the door handle and prepared to go in when she heard a motorcycle rumbling up the street. She turned to look as the rider pulled up to a spot not too far from the door, put the kickstand down, and removed his helmet. He wore dark blue jeans, black boots, and a black leather jacket.
He got off the bike, deposited a couple coins in the meter, and looked around. He smiled when he saw Crys. “Surprised?”
She nodded. “Very. You look good.”
“Thanks. So do you.” Kyle unzipped the jacket, revealing a yellow shirt. He opened the door. “After you.”
Crys looked down at her green sweater and absently picked off a couple pills. He looked nice, like he thought about where he was going. She just wore the first thing she found this morning. She didn’t have to go to work and didn’t put much thought into what she wore. Now she wished she had.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, putting his hand on the small of her back and guiding her through the door.
Inside the café, a few patrons sat at the bistro tables. This time of morning was too late for the early-risers but too early for the lunch crowd. Crys’ shoes squeaked on the black tiled floor.
“What can I get you, folks?” the barrista asked when they approached the counter.
“A chai tea latte, regular-size,” Crys answered. She reached in her pocket for her money.
“This one’s on me,” Kyle said, making her pause. He addressed the barrista then, “I’ll have a tall mocha latte.”
“That’ll be seven-sixty-three.”
He gave the barrista the money, got his change, and led the way to a table farthest from the other customers. She went to work on their order.
“What time did you get done at Chez Morte?” Crys asked after they sat down. The table was chrome and black.
“About two o’clock.”
“And you wanted to be here this morning?”
He shrugged. “Why not?”
Crys could think of about a dozen reasons, the least of which being she wasn’t a morning person. “So…do you own Chez Morte? The guys last night called you ‘boss.’”
“Yeah.” He smiled and waited while the barrista put their drinks down on the table. “Really, I don’t have to be one of the actors, but I like it so much, I do it anyway.”
“Why?” She gingerly sipped at her hot chai.
“I was a drama geek in high school. College too.” He held up a hand as though to stop a protest. “I majored in business. When the old auditorium came up for sale, I bought it, gutted it, and opened Chez Morte.”
“What about when it’s not in season?”
“We’re always working on what’s next. Plus there’s the website and store.” He warmed his hands around his latte. “What do you do?”
Crys laughed. “You don’t really want to know.”
“Yeah, I do. You ask questions like you’re a reporter or something.”
She felt her face burn. “Is it that obvious?”
He leaned back, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.
Briefly, Crys wondered what it would be like to kiss him. You don’t even know him!
“Why didn’t you get a press pass instead of paying to get in?”
“I could do that?”
“Sure.” He took a drink of his mocha latte. “Tell you what, why don’t you come by tonight. I’ll have a pass waiting for you at the ticket window. No. Wait. Come early, that way I can give you a behind-the-scenes tour of everything.”
“You’re not afraid of being exposed in some sordid tell-all article?”
He laughed. “You don’t write that kind of article.”
“How do you know?” She tried to act offended.
“I know,” he said and winked.
Crys stuck her tongue out at him. “What time should I be there?”
“We open up to customers at seven-thirty. Any time before then will be fine.”
He nodded. “I’ll have the pass for you at the ticket window. They’ll page me when you get there. What’s your last name?”
He grinned. “I knew you didn’t write sordid exposes. I’ve seen your work.”
“Fine. But I could, you know.”
“Only if you used a different name.”
Crys shrugged. He was right, but she wouldn’t tell him that.
“Can I give you a ride back to your place?”
“You have another helmet?” She stood when he did.
* * *
“That’s pretty well how it all comes together,” Kyle said at the conclusion of the tour. “If you were to go through it now, knowing all that, I don’t think you’d be quite as scared.”
“It would still be pitch black in those two rooms. That’s what did me in.”
He frowned. “Would you still scream at me if I helped you through?”
“You can’t do that.” Crys felt an odd warmth in her stomach that he would offer.
“I’m the boss,” he said, putting the Freddy claws on. He already had the ski cap. “No one would question me about it.”
She looked at him for a long minute. “Okay.”
He pulled the hockey mask down over his face. “I’ll even make you a deal.”
“You make it through the dark rooms, I’ll buy you dinner.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I’ll buy you dinner anyway.” He laughed.
“You just want me to go out with you.”
“Can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?” he asked.
She couldn’t see his smile behind the mask but she heard the humor in his voice.
“Go to the front so you’ll be in the first group. I’ll radio that you’re coming. I’ll be waiting for you. Just don’t try to split my eardrums.”
Crys laughed. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at five-thirty for dinner.”