White Lies and Dirty Laundry

Another cutting room floor editing casualty from The Hot Girl that I liked enough to rescue from the trash.

Roosevelt Junior High, October 20th, 1971

Deanna clung to her open locker door with her right hand, leaned her head on the shelf inside. She couldn’t go to home room. She didn’t want to talk, or smile or lead cheerleading practice or read the afternoon announcements or do anything at all. Just for a day she didn’t want to be who she was. All she wanted was to be alone, and maybe have just one real friend she could tell about Gramma Cora. Goddammit. Was that too much to ask, really?

“Morning, Jackson.” Coach Stephens raised his chin at the growth-spurt skinny eighth grade boy in his doorway. “Some geniuses clogged the shitter in the band room next door.” He tossed the blue nylon bag full of his laundry at the kid like it was a medicine ball. “I’ll get you out through the girl’s side. Grab a hall pass in case you meet a stranger on that side of the building.”

Jackson tore off several pre-signed hall passes from the pad, hefted the laundry bag on his shoulder and followed Stephens to the center of the basketball court, the invisible wall between the only non-coed homerooms at Roosevelt Junior High.

Stephens chirped his whistle. “Heads up, skirts down, legs crossed, ladies. Man on business, comin’ through.”

Jackson knew he’d turned red, shielded his head with the bag and sent his eyes to the floor for his trek through the minefield of girl’s gym homeroom. Damn. They sat on the floor cross legged, or laid on their backs with an ankle on their knee, skirts dropped to almost there. He heard them all shuffling positions, heard the giggles, the “is that Santa Claus” and “what’s with the bag” and “uh-oh, panty check” comments that followed him across the basketball court until he was out the double doors, up five steps and in the hall headed toward daylight.

He raised his eyes, and opposite where the janitor had half the hall blocked there was a locker open, but all he could see were sweat socks and girl’s saddle oxfords. Cheerleader gear. And Mr. Han, the asshole French teacher and hall pass Nazi, was coming down the hall from the other direction, on a collision course with him and the cheerleader at her open locker. Shit.

Bonjour, Mr. Han.”

“Always halfway clever, Monsieur Jackson. You and the bag say it’s Wednesday. Who do we have at their locker who should be in home room?”

Jackson stepped sideways into the narrow space between the girl and Mr. Han, swung his laundry bag around and knocked the unseen girl back inside her open locker. He was chest to chest and almost eye to eye with Han in zero personal space for all three of them. He lifted a hall pass out of his back pocket with his thumb and finger, held it under the bag and waited until he felt her grab it.

“She was with me, Mr. Han. There’s shit, uh, sewage all on the floor by the band room on our side and Coach sent her to escort me out the girl’s side. So I wouldn’t do anything stupid or talk to anybody. And, um, anyway, she needed a book, that’s why he sent her with me. And she ran ahead of me. To get her book.”

Han reached around Jackson, checked the crumpled pink paper the girl pushed past the blue bag.

“Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be, Mr. Jackson?”

“Yes sir.” Jackson stepped off in a hurry, just under the ‘don’t run in the hall’ rule, didn’t look back. Han followed him with his eyes until Jackson and the blue bag were around the corner.

“Miss Collings, are you feeling alright?”

“Yes. My grandmother’s funeral was yesterday. I just didn’t want to talk to everyone…anyone. That’s why I, um, ran to my locker. I’ll be okay. Really.”

“I understand. There’s never a good time for a funeral. Or Jackson.” He flicked the pink pass in his hand with his middle finger, handed it back. “Tell Stephens even he needs to put names on his hall passes. Why he’d send you out with that kid and the bag is beyond me.”

“Well, there is some really gross stinky poop and stuff on the floor on their side and Jackson can get in trouble. I mean pretty easy, and kind of a lot. And I did need my book.”

“It’s a good thing for you, Miss Collings, that everything you have said is true.” He pushed her locker door closed. “Home room young lady. Now.”

“Yes sir.” She glanced at the hall pass on her way, smoothed it out and put it in the history book she wouldn’t need for four hours. Jackson, the guy with the big blue bag, had spare hall passes and covered her, huh? Cool.

Toothbrush

via Daily Prompt: Toothbrush

“If you’re about to apologize, don’t,” she said. “This was my idea.”

He watched Zanie brush her hair back into the signature bushy pony tail, adjust the perfect, store bought cantaloupes in a bra with six hooks under a silky t-shirt.

She checked herself in his mirror, shook her hair. “I wish I still smoked.”

“I keep some of Dash’s cigarillos around here somewhere. And some weed from Hawaii somebody gave me.”

“I told you I have a meeting in half an hour. No weed. Find the cigarillos. And a Coke or beer or something. Where did all that polite Coach Cowboy host shit go?”

“Polite host mask comes off with my other clothes. Coke or Heineken?”

“That’s it? Coke and Hiney?”

“Carbonated French fart water. And a couple of Michelob Lights that might be a year old.”

“Make mine Hiney.”

He left that alone. He came back, tossed the box of cigarillos on the bed between them, handed off her beer and pulled a lighter out of the nightstand.

“Thanks.” She held on to his lighter hand after she blew the smoke sideways. “I was thinking while you were gone.”

He lit his own cigarillo, waited.

“Thinking I should tell you the rest of the reason for ‘this’.”

“Your call. I don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to explain.”

“I’ve spent the last four years as cover for a gay jock. So when I walked my stringer gig I could get some career shit off the ground with no man interference. I saw all the holes I could plug if had a little time, didn’t have to worry about money for a couple of months and bought a set of serious Hollywood qualifications to fix…A problem. I thought when this move to the warehouse next to Dwight’s is done I might need to let someone in. Someone I could work with. And trust. Navarro told me about your Golden Rule number two. This afternoon has to be that way.”

“What afternoon?”

“Good.” She smashed the cigarillo down in the ashtray and chugged the rest of her beer. “Do you have a clean toothbrush I can use?”

“Depends on whether I can still brush my teeth with it when you’re done.”

“Charmingly perverse.”

“It’s a gift. There’s a new one in the drawer on the right side of the sink.”

“Kind of late to be worrying about germs.” She stuck her feet in her heels that immediately made her five inches taller than he was, walked past him and into the bathroom.

“Is this where I cue ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and watch you drive down Ocean with the top down and your hair blowing around while a little bitty tear lets me down?”

“No.” She wiped her mouth on a hand towel, draped it over his shoulder. “I’m in my production van. And sad, whispery folk songs gag me. Your tear was a nice touch but I know it’s bullshit. Here is where we swear a blood oath to take ‘this’ to our graves.” She blew in her cupped hands, checked her breath. “So far you’ve gotten in my shit, told me a clown punching to old Playboys in your dad’s closet story, whined about the healthy crap all the ‘Oh my God if I gain an ounce or get a zit I’ll die’ girls eat and turned my idea of a quickie to find out who the hell you are into most of an afternoon. You’re a keeper.”

“I didn’t say anything about punching the clown.”

“I have brothers.” She shook out the ponytail again, got chest to chest with him. “You and I ate lunch, found out we have a lot in common that is mutually beneficial professionally, we’re production house neighbors, and we plan on working closely together on a number of projects. Can you repeat that on demand?” She got two inches from his eyes. “I don’t care if they pull out your fingernails. Lunch. Friends. Period. The end. You fuck anyone in this circle jerk mess of a softball team Little Miss Calimex handed you and I’ll be outside the door with a camera and crew. Professionals. Lunch. Friends. Period.”

“The end?”

“This is how good I look leaving. Remember to miss me.”

The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.3

A Brittle Sigh on the Night Air – By Jac Forsyth

Shadow, form and reform. Fold words with the unfold of 10,000 fireflies, ‘Rescue came against my will, yet you presume to judge me on the choices I make? Hauntings always did run common in the halls of your reason, Caswell.’

Time and crime. Sleeper stir, lead with the sanctified. And alchemy of insects come flick-click dripping. Four walls in a crippling.

‘Would you have me hide silent in sandstorms when I am fallen with the crown of Anjou?’ A sigh, bone brittle on the night air, ‘Come, my love, you know me better than that. Every beg, every borrow, every stolen, lays another gilding on my memory. Silent is the one thing I cannot be.’

Sleep crumble in moan and mumble. The seabirds cry. But dreamchaser know the meddling of birds. Sanctuary of dawn is just another trick of the dark.

‘Still you refuse me audience?’ Shadow falls soft along the seams, tears in the too late of this meeting, ‘Ah, my love, my love. In sword and arrow, I know more than most how shame hides refugee in the strangest of places. But the last of our choices were abandoned along with the tide. And it seems to me that the walls you have built between us would benefit from a touch of graffiti. Or perhaps something a little more, permanent?’

Insects take. Sleeper wake. Red on white cotton. Words never forgotten.

From the devil we came and to the devil we must return

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.2

Steep and Narrow – by Ash N. Finn

Evelyn watches the young nurse make her bed. Fresh covers. Five days and three hours without a change of bed linen. Bee had known to change them every day.

“We’re short-staffed at the moment, Mrs. Blanchard, sorry about that. What with nurse Beatrice, eh,” the girl swallows and clears her throat, “away at the moment, and Steve out sick as well. There, your bed is lovely and fresh now. Not that it smelled like it needed changing badly.”

“It’s Evelyn, child. Do call me Evelyn, please. It’s not about the smell. It’s the sand, it gets everywhere, the sand, and especially into the bed. The sand burns my skin, you see,” she holds out her arms for the nurse to see, “And it gives me fever, and makes me shiver, and then my visions, they, they take me to – no, I’d rather not say, you wouldn’t understand.”

Sleeping in the bed the second night had given her burns on her arms, hands, and legs, even on the soles of her feet. No blisters thanks to her quick reaction and escape into the armchair by the window in which she has slept fully clothed every night since, but her skin had turned a fiery red. It’s still red even now and hot to the touch. The soles of her feet hurt most of all, and hobbling around barefoot is all she can do. As little as possible. Her entire frame is sore from sitting in the armchair for hours on end. It will be good to lie down on the bed again.

“Mrs. Blanchard, eh, Evelyn, may I ask if you have taken your pill today? You should take it now and then go to bed, and have a good rest. Here, hold on to my arm, let’s get you over to your lovely fresh bed.”

Of course, the young woman thinks her mad. After all, isn’t this why she is in this place? Should she give up trying to make them see, trying to warn them? Yet, something tells her that the nurse is in danger. There is something familiar about the woman’s features and the unflinching openness in her doe-like eyes. Is she poor Bee’s child? Evelyn’s eyes fill with tears.

“Are you her child?”

“Oh Evelyn, please, don’t cry. What is it? Is it the memory of your last episode upsetting you so much? Try to calm yourself and go to sleep. I’ll stay with you a little longer. Hold my hand, close your eyes. You are safe here, always remember that you are safe here. Shhh.”

“The visions, they, they take me to – it’s a dark place – a steep narrow staircase – deep down – rags and bones – angry sand glowing red – so hot, too hot – scorching, torching – burning drumsticks in my head – bonfires roaring inside my blazing skull – get them out – don’t let it take them there – not their children, too – no, not the children – Bee – too late – so sorry, so sorry. Will you be able to forgive both the silence and the telling?”

“I don’t think anyone is angry with you,” the nurse places her hand on Evelyn’s forehead, “You’re running a bit of a temperature. Sleep now, you’ll feel better in the morning. Oh, and nurse Beatrice doesn’t have a daughter as far as I know.”

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.1

The Perfect Metaphor – by Phil Huston

Caswell was down on one knee, sand drifting through his fingers when the dog stuck its wet nose in his ear, pulled him out of his reverie. He put his arm around its neck for an instant before it was gone, barking birds off the Juliette Simone.

“Saw the video. Christ, man.”

“It’s just sand, Kirklin. It has no form, no stasis.” Cas picked up another handful, opened his hand and let it drift from his palm, between his fingers, watched the breeze scatter it. “The wind tosses it into the air, drops it somewhere new. Where the wind stops, the ocean takes over. Look around. The kids over there, the dog, you, me. Our footprints disappear. As far as the sand is concerned where we were never was.” He brushed his hands, straightened. “Sand retains nothing, has no intention. But it’s always in motion. Always in the moment. A perfect metaphor, a perfect vehicle for thought. Good or evil.”

“Dust in the wind. Appropriate. But a bit derivative, eh?” He put one hand on Caswell’s shoulder, waved backhanded at the ground with the other. “This was where he blew?”

“Yeah. You’d never know.” He stared out past the Juliette into the cold fog that hugged the shore. “This was rage, Kirklin. Not the sea breeze, not sand drifting like a thought through a footprint that was never there, not the predictability of the tide. Pure rage.”

“The evil thoughts and nothing footprints of a mad man?”

“Or woman. We have another body.” He shifted his gaze to the Juliette. “Letting it run through the system, but I know it’s ours. Body was wrapped in a French flag, so the terrorist boys wanted first go. Inside two hours they knew what the victim had for breakfast in 1993. All that deep background eliminated the body from any sphere of theirs, but the free research sent it straight back to Shona’s missing persons ‘psychic witness’ Evelyn. They didn’t see it, a male day nurse for a government house of nutters. Of no consequence to them, and the bloody elephant in the room for the office of secrets best kept. Too bad they don’t talk to each other.” He stared at the ground where Aqualung had been, raised his eyes to his friend. “The DNA from this ship of the damned tells the story of a hundred years of victims with familial ties. We’re going to have to clean her out. It’ll be a circus if I make it official. Can you still manage footprints in the sand?”

“I was born invisible. Like me, the ministry of secrets and lies have no doubt hacked the Doc’s camera since your visit to the Tower. I can fix that for as long as we need to get the job done.” He dropped a black cigarette butt, ground it out in the sand. “Your young associates won’t like it. Being usurped and shoved aside.”

“I’ll tell them they’d like it less if whatever happened where we’re standing happens again with them in the madness’s crosshairs.”

“I can’t find the proper words, at the moment, to express my gratitude for being deemed expendable.”

“You’re getting old. Pretend you’re looking for your glasses in the morning. You’ll find them.” He took the frisbee from Kirkland’s hand, sailed it long and low for the setter. “I’ll have a dog again. When I retire.”

“If we live that long I’ll help you look for one. You’re free to borrow mine.”

“She needs a bath.”

“Settled, then. I’ll pick her up tomorrow.”

***

Caswell watched from the bed of Kirklin’s farm truck as the X5 without light turned a wide arc and backed in next to him. “I told you two to stay away, Shona. Now bugger off.”

Kylie hopped from the passenger side of the SUV. “And you told me we were a team. I know how I want the bones bagged. You bugger off if there’s buggering off done.”

“Kylie –”

“The camera went offline and sent me an alarm notice. Dunning and the secrets keepers rarely check it. I get notices about that as well. It had to be you.” She nodded past him. “Or your friend.” She pulled the surgical mask up from under her chin and over her nose, grabbed a handful of thick trash bags from the open hatch. Shona exited the driver’s side and did the same. She caught Caswell’s eye, raised her eyebrows and shrugged.

“I’ll pick. Shona will archive, you will bag and tag. Grab the bags, Caswell, we don’t have all night.”

Kirklin hung back, grabbed the back of Caswell’s jacket. “Truth told they know what they’re doing and you’re padding your CV?”

“Something like that. Stay up here, keep them alive from this end for me. I don’t come back in an hour, call for reinforcements.”

“There’s a Viagra joke in that I’m going to leave alone.”

We’re the Viagra jokes, Kirklin.”

***

Caswell wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt tail and was ready to chalk it up to age and exertion when he noticed his two younger partners had shed their jackets and were dripping sweat as well.

“Last bag, Shown. Torso fifty-three.” Kylie wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “Hotter than bloody hell in here.” She absently leaned her hand against the Juliette’s hull and found it cool to the touch. “You would think, as hot as it is in here, that there would be some transference. Like if the sun was heating this old piece of iron.” She looked down and the sand was glowing an angry orange-red. She lifted one foot and the bottom of her trainer pulled away like it was covered in hot sidewalk chewing gum. Shona screamed, rocked back on her heels.

“Out.” Cas handed Kylie the bag, spun her around and shoved her through the hatch in one motion. “Up the stairs. Take the bag. Get out.” He turned back, grabbed Shona around the waist and threw her over his shoulder. He ripped her beach slippers off with his free hand and they burst into flames when they hit the sand. She screamed again and pounded his back when she saw the thick, hard rubber soles of Caswell’s work boots start to pool under his feet in the sand that had begun to run as liquid glass.

***

Shona sat in the open hatch of the X5, stared at the surf where Caswell, his pants rolled up to his knees, had gone to stand. “I wouldn’t have feet now, if not for him.” Shona nodded slightly toward the beach. “That’s two.”

“Two?” Kylie, barefoot like Shona, was examining what was left of her trainers.

“Life savers.”

“I looked up your archives on the Henry the Eighth’s headless wives case. He said in the press conference you saved his life and netted the killer.”

“He said that because I’d have got the sack if I fucked up again.” She rubbed the balls of her feet, glanced off at Cas in the surf. “I netted the killer, and would have wound up dead as Henry’s ninth if Cas hadn’t known I’d do something he’d warned me off. Can you imagine if we’d done this alone, like you planned?”

“Do you think he knew?”

“Who knows? We act like he didn’t and he’ll never say. Last time I fall for your girl’s world we do it better alone speech.” She grinned at Kylie. “And the last time I wear comfortable shoes on this one.”

“Can’t say I won’t make that speech again,” Kylie grinned back. “This is the last time I wear expensive comfortable shoes on this one.” She frowned at her trainers and bagged them. “Where’s Caswell’s friend?”

“Somewhere he can see and can’t be seen. He needs to surface, though. Soon. We need his truck to haul the bones and Caswell back from cooling his toes.”

“Who is he?”

“I was told Kirklin is what 007 wanted to be when he grew up. Caswell says he’s the most dangerous man any of us will ever meet. And the only reason that Kirklin’s retired and still alive is the secrets keepers don’t know where his box of secrets is.”

“That sounds so mellodramatic. Like an overacted black and white film full of off-handed bikini sexism and fake karate chops.”

“We didn’t have computer driven special effects back then.” They both jumped out of the X5 when Kirklin materialized leaning on the hatch door frame. “Tell us where the bones are going. Cas and I will be along.”

***

Kirklin and Caswell bounced down the road in the old truck in silence. Ten minutes and a mile away, Kirklin held his hand out the window and pressed a button on what looked like a keyless entry fob. His phone on the seat next to him lit up with live video from the Juliette. “We’ll be on CCTV in the parking lot at the hospital where your baby Doc’s lab is. This won’t be a secret long. I heard fifty-three from both rooms, based on skulls?”

“How did you hear that?”

“The same way I heard them plotting to do it on their own. Your singing smart ass doctor isn’t the only one with tricks up her sleeve. One pin head piezo and the entire ship is a microphone. Enough power and it’s a giant speaker. I wonder how much of your banshee was real, and how much help it had.” He tossed the fob into a door-less glove box. “What’s your real plan with the bones?”

“Pressure. They have to give us the information on the test subjects and responsible crew from the Juliette that they’re sitting on. Doc catalogs the DNA, Shona crosses it with missing and living relatives, we quietly return the bones to the families for ‘closure.’ Or it’s a hundred-year serial killing spree spawned by the Crown’s miscreant boffins playing loose with their ethics and chemistry kits.”

“That’s the best bit. When they know it’s their asses and you get to squeeze them, watch them squirm.” Kirklin slowed, navigated a narrow, wooden bridge. “So that was some or your angry sand tonight, eh?”

“The sand grains on the steps were tiny, glowing balls, Kirklin. The steel itself was the same forty degrees as outside. Everywhere underfoot it was molten glass. None of it has made sense so far.”

“Madness seldom does. Your toes okay?”

“I thought steel toed boots were a safe bet.” He snort laughed, put a bare foot on the dash. “The tops of my toes feel like a long day in the sun, and a good pair of boots are done in. I’ll live.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” Kirklin took both hands off the wheel, lit one of his black cigarettes. “Here I was all set to enjoy my retirement.”

“You’re a piss poor liar.” Cas grabbed the steering wheel with his right hand. “And a worse driver.”

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Season One Finale

Fix Your Mind in Chaos – by Jac Forsyth

A golden sadness hangs from the throats of sparrows. They sing in counterbalance to chase out the dawn, but as the sun rises the shadows just grow darker.

Do you feel the weight of me on your chest yet? I have watched as you beg for sleep on nights far darker than this. I am feline in my acquainted now, purred into your dreams as easily as rainstorms and rattlesnakes. And yes it seems that in all my honour I have still found pleasure in stealing substance from your flesh.

See, child, how you grow heavy along the skeletal. Time does not hurry so much in its undoing. Still there is a kindness that. Youth brings a terror that age will beg for. Skin and sin, you whisper out confessions from the sanctuary of your bed and I know you right down to the ground. Groan with me, cry your nightmare in salivated ribbons, crawl in plague and platitude until none can bear the stink of you. And when the sky falls in sirens, will you be found still holding onto the crippling of your reason like it could keep you afloat?

Come close, child, breathe with my synchronicity. You think you can find your way back like the winding of twine, but do you really want to see how far down this can go? We rise and fall a billion times, sand to glass, glass to sand. There is always a beginning, but search out the endings and you will find nothing, just a name torn out in bland conclusions and the fabric of familiar shapes.

There is blood on the tide again and still you hide behind the shame of your insanity. I see the tremors of it corrode at the threshold. You know where the answers are but you watch from the hillside. Madness isn’t flat any more than the earth is, but there are horizons of alignment. Find them. Fix your mind in chaos. You think you know salt, but until you welcome the tide into your lungs, all you know of it is the taste.

I have found the keys to all the doors you keep shut, and in the scouring of this bleached flesh there is finally room enough for two. When you wake, will you dare to know me again? Will you touch your fingers to the black mirror? Will you remember how you betrayed us all? Storm is wound silent in cloth and canker. Time is not linear, child, it just looks that way because the scenery is the same.

Sleep then. Sleep on while you still can. But I warn you to heed the songs of sparrows, death has found us wanting too many times for me to fold patience with your fear. Light a match and hold it to your arm, my sweet Caswell. There are some situations you have to burn your way out of.

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

The Art of Drowning – Episode 9

Like the Rain Follows Thunder – by Ash N. Finn

Evelyn wakes knowing she is being watched. The weight of her eyelids sends the flash of a memory to her stirring mind. Swallow this and you will feel better, and she had swallowed the pill like a little girl following mother’s orders to float toward the siren’s call of a simple sweet melody.

She is alone, her room as quiet as the ocean floor. The chair beside her bed still sits at an angle, but the nurse is gone. Beatrice is her name, and she doesn’t like it. Call me Bee, please, everyone does. A dull numbness creeps into Evelyn’s arm, the one that swelled up after a bee stung her. She was only seven when the furry insect injected the poison of the torturing dichotomy of fury and sorrow into her. Violence and despair. She had slapped the creature hard, trampled it to death as it lay writhing on the earth, then howled in grief at the loss of her innocence. It didn’t matter that the bee would have died anyway. They can only sting us once the bees; in a kamikaze act on behalf of their tribe they rip their guts to shreds and spill their amber blood.

A killer’s shedding of tears after extinguishing a life is like nature pouring out rain in the wake of violent thunder. She turns the chair to face the window. The watchers are out there, she knows they are. When you watch someone, be prepared to be watched in turn. Surveillance breeds counter-surveillance. She gives the windowpane a hard, blank stare. A distant thunder sends a shadow, faint at first, now darkening. Here it comes, as she knows it must, the weeping of the clouds. The sorrow after the killing, mixed with the tears of all the lost ones, is pelting her window in the guise of raindrops. “I know you,” she whispers, “I know you all. Have you come to watch me keep my silence and to witness my ever-growing sorrow?”

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts