#FridayFlash: The Crisp Man

He shifted on the soft, padded seat. It was very comfortable but he still felt … uncomfortable. He didn’t know why though.

“S-see, it’s j-j-just that m-my w-wife is the w-w-one who usually–”

“We understand, Joe.”

The tall man looked like a magazine ad. One for clothes maybe; those fine, fancy clothes from one of those shops where soft violin or piano music drips from the ceiling and walls. He wore crisp, dark, neat clothes. His tie had no flawed edges, no stray wrinkles. His hair was gray around the ears and jet black on top, and every strand, every piece, sat in its place, perfect, a plastic statue, movie star hair. The rugged lines in his face drew Joe’s eyes.

Joe swallowed hard. It was just spit but it went down like he’d swallowed a tire. He almost gagged. “Y-you … You do?”

The Crisp Man nodded. “Of course we do. We know all about you, Joe.”

Joe listened whenever the Crisp Man talked. He couldn’t help it. His smooth, rich voice was hot maple syrup on a cold winter morning. Joe felt better when he heard that voice. He wanted a voice like that.

Joe shifted again. He didn’t like the idea of someone he’d never seen before knowing all about him. He didn’t care for the thought of someone who knew all about him. It felt like someone went through his underwear drawer, or found his dad’s dirty magazines under his mattress.

“B-but I d-don’t know who y-you–”

“It’s all right, Joe. Really. We understand you can’t read the agreement.”

Joe’s blood chilled. They knew him all right. Knew that much, at least. He never told anyone, but they knew. He couldn’t go anyplace where he’d have to write his name, or his address. He couldn’t visit libraries and no one ever saw him with a newspaper in his hand. It’s a small town. People talk. Everyone probably knew. Still, an icy hand gripped his heart when the Crisp Man spoke his secret shame.

Joe shuddered and stared at the paper. The jumble of letters and words seemed alien and threatening. He glanced at the Crisp Man with narrowed eyes, and tried to muster all the fight he had into his words.

“And all I have t-to d-do is m-make my m-mark on this paper? And y-you’ll g-g-give m-me m-money?”

The Crisp Man smiled again and his perfect, TV-star teeth shined at Joe. “That’s all. And take the medicine, of course.”

“Right. The m-medicine. W-what’s it f-for again?”

“It’s for many things, Joe. It will make you everything you want to be. Strong. Smart. And it will take away your stutter.”

“All that?”

“And more.”

“J-just for t-taking the m-medicine?”

“And making a mark in your own hand on the paper, yes.”

Joe looked down again. The letters seemed to shift and crawl over the paper. He stared at the gold pen gleaming on the table, reflecting from the glossy varnish, and the paper next to it. Then he focused on his own reflection in the table. His wild hair, his ragged clothes, his scruffy beard, his hollow eyes, all stared back and urged him to pick up the pen, make the mark.

“We know you don’t have a wife, Joe. You lost her years ago in the fire.”

Joe shuddered again when a chill twisted up his spine. He wiped the sweat from his palms onto his dirty overall legs and put them back on the table. How could the Crisp Man know he was about to lie again, say his wife usually does all the reading and signing for him? But he knew. Somehow, the Crisp Man knew. He could read Joe’s mind, maybe. Like some folks read books and magazines, the Crisp Man saw into Joe’s skull and picked his thoughts out. He couldn’t hide anything from the Crisp Man.

Joe licked his lips. His heart pounded. The Crisp Man reached out and nudged the pen toward him with trimmed, clean nails which glinted under the recessed lights above. The room felt hidden to Joe, dark and mysterious beyond the circles of light from above. The warm carpet and rich table didn’t make the room cozy or friendly. Joe felt very alone, very defenseless, and very watched.

“N-nothin’ bad’ll happen to me from the m-medicine you said, right?”

“That’s right, Joe. Nothing bad.”

“And this p-paper s-says y-you gotta p-pay me t-t-to t-take the m-medicine, right?”

“That’s right. More money than you’ve ever made before. Just for making your mark on the agreement and taking the medicine.”

Joe drew a deep breath and seized the pen, found the line at the bottom of the paper and made a large, clear X on it. He dropped the pen and sat back in the embrace of the soft chair and folded his arms over his chest.

“Very good, Joe. You won’t regret this. Now I’ll have someone drive you home and your first pills will arrive later. We’ll call you and let you know when you need to come back for tests. We’ll send a car when it’s time. Do you understand, Joe?”

Joe nodded. He couldn’t speak. He felt bad, like he’d done something wrong.

“Don’t worry, Joe,” the Crisp Man soothed. “We know all about you, and we’re going to take care of you.”

He watched the Crisp Man get up from his seat and vanish through a door he couldn’t see somewhere beyond the ring of lights. Joe thought, no matter what the Crisp Man said, he might’ve made a big mistake.

A big one.

~fin~

All original content © J. Dane Tyler 2010
All rights reserved

#FridayFlash: Shy Cowboy

This is another exercise in character study; this time, I’m attempting to portray awkwardness and embarrassment, shyness and nerves. Please feel free to let me know how you like it, what works, what doesn’t, etc. Thanks for the read!

UPDATED: I’ve made some changes based on the feedback on 18 Dec 2009. I hope this is an improvement over the previous piece.

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He scrutinized his image in the rearview mirror and turned his head from side to side. His hat spat his hair out in tufts, and stubble crept over his cheeks, chapped lips and jaw. He sighed. It would have to do.

The pickup’s door screamed when he opened it. The wind knifed through threadbare denim as he seated his tired hat lower and zipped his jacket. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, sniffed, and headed for the general store’s entrance.

The wooden building seemed as brittle as the winter. His heels thumped a hollow cadence as he went up the stairs and crossed the porch. The bell over the door jangled as he stepped into the warmth. The figure behind the counter fluttered his heart and made his knees quiver.

She turned and beamed. “Hi, Jake!”

He thought he’d faint for a moment, then recomposed himself. “Hey there, Ellie. How’re you?” The moment he said it he felt phony. A blush burned his cheeks.

“I’m good!” She moved to the end of the counter. “Not used to seeing you in so much. It’s nice.”

Another burn in his cheeks. “Oh, well … you know. I keep needin’ stuff, so … um ….”

He felt stupid. He never knew how to talk to her. He’d been watching her, pining for her, for more than a year. She always made him feel special, even when the store was crowded. He couldn’t figure out what to say, how to say it, and he felt like a schoolboy with his first crush. He hoped he didn’t resort to pulling her hair.

She giggled. “Yeah, I guess we all keep needing things.” She leaned over the counter on her elbows and he panicked. He thought he might see down the collar of the T-shirt she wore, but the neck stayed closed. He didn’t realize he’d looked away until he glanced at her again.

“So, I … I … was just out an’ around, an’ thought maybe I’d stop and pick up a few … things.” He cleared his throat and ripped the hat from his head. He’d forgotten his manners and gritted his teeth in self-loathing.

“Oh, well it’s always nice to see you. I guess you know where everything is.” She winked at him and started to turn away.

“Y-yeah, yeah, but … um ….”

She perked a brow and turned back. “Need some help?” She smiled again and he froze, a rabbit in a coyote’s gaze.

He dropped his eyes and his stomach fluttered. “I-I … I wanted to … I think I wanted to ask you … Ellie ….” He swallowed but the lump wedged in his throat.

She leaned on the counter, her face curious and open. “Yes?”

He squeezed his fists to marshal his courage before he remembered his hat in his hands. He relaxed and stared at the crumpled brim and tried to find words, testosterone, and his voice. He smoothed the softened felt.

“Jake? Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Oh, yeah! Yeah, I’m … I’m good! Really!” He spoke too loud and too quick and it sounded forced to him. He inwardly cursed his clumsiness and drew a long breath. “Ellie, look … I’m shitty – sorry, I mean I’m bad – bad at this. I know you got things to do and all, but I wanted to ask you somethin’ and I ….”

She tipped her head and offered a small grin. “It’s okay, go ahead. I’m listening.”

“But … I don’t want you thinkin’ I come in here today just for stuff … I ain’t … I mean, I’m dumb an’ all, but not so I can’t remember supplies more’n a day ahead, y’know?”

She smiled and nodded. “I know that.”

He stared at his shoes. “I sorta … sorta come in to talk to you today.”

“Oh?” She kept her voice even. He couldn’t think straight enough to figure out what that meant.

“So, I was thinkin’ … maybe, if you ain’t opposed ….” Again the lump choked him. He clenched his jaw and eyes shut, then popped them open before he looked her in the eye. “I wondered if you’d–”

The bell jangled and he jumped. His hands stung with adrenaline from the start and he bit his tongue. Bill Wahler and five or six ranchers from up Wildwood way tromped into the store, slapping their arms and rubbing their hands together.

“Woo! Cold out there!” Bill called, and tipped his hat back. “Hey, Jake! How you been, cowboy?” Wahler patted Jake on the back. “Ain’t see ya in a while.”

Jake forced a smile. “Hey Bill, good to see you, sir. Ray, Davey, how you boys doin’?”

The ranchers huddled around him while Bill stepped to the counter. He pulled off his hat and swept his silver hair back. “Miss Ellie, how’s the sweetest thing in the county this fine day?”

Jake heard her laughter tinkle as she spoke with the flirty old man. He chatted another ten minutes or so with the ranchers, walked silently out of the store, climbed into his truck, and made the long, cold ride home.

 

 

All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

Hanging Tree

After some good, critical feedback over on my deviantART page, I’ve made a few changes to this. I hope you enjoy it, and that it’s a stronger piece. Thanks to Tam and Tango for their input, and to everyone else for their support. -jdt-

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I wept the first time it happened, helpless to prevent the atrocity, powerless to turn away from the horror.  I trembled, loose leaves shook and tumbled on the brisk, chill bluster of the day.  They gave me no notice, busy with their task, gloved hands clutched hats to heads as the wind tugged, kicked them loose.  They spat, swore, pointed, accused.  The horse pranced in place with nervous anticipation, and bobbed its head wide-eyed.  The pale light of pre-dawn blue-grayed the mist that drifted in from the water.  Like wraiths they clustered around a bound, blindfolded form with a rag stuffed deep in its mouth to still the cries, pleas, whimpers.

They hoisted him into the saddle, steadied the old stallion so he would not end the activity before its due climax.  I wanted to scream, to stop the madness, but could not.  A firm swat on the horse’s hindquarters sent him bolting with a snort.  A sickening bone snap and the moan of creaking wood followed.  A cold wind whipped past me then, tore at my flesh, my skin, bore into me.  I felt it, felt it enter and never leave, meld, become one with my blood, my body, my root, my core.

At least no strangled cry of agony came.  The drama ended without ceremony.  The sinister mob gathered the body as it swung, loosened the heavy, stained rope from the cadaver’s neck, and stuffed it into a canvas bag loaded with rocks.  Two of them rowed with darkened eyes on darkened water in a gray, faded boat to the center of the lake, then spilled their toil to its depths.

The others murmured on the shore at the bottom of the small hill from where I watched, then sauntered away as one.  Satisfied with their work, justified in their reasons, consciences clear, they padded away on soft moss through the tall grass whence they came.  They faded into the thick, low morning fog, and alone, I bore witness, mourned the lost soul.  I alone.

It happened again, then again, then more, with greater frequency.  Sometimes days went by, sometimes weeks, but never months.  Somber men with black soulless eyes dragged kicking, bound victims, screams smothered by a gag.  They brought them to the hill over the lake, to judge and execute without mercy, consideration or heart.  They slung their rope, noosed their accused, swatted their horse.  Time and again I felt that biting, frosted wind tear across my countenance, penetrate my fiber, merge with me.  It becomes part of me, and I shudder to my base when it happens.  They never heed me, seem to not see me.  Soul after soul, one upon another they came, joined, united.  We are one, yet there is only me.

I am haunted at night, in deepest dark, even still.  How many years?  I’ve lost count.  My bark is cracked and faded now, my wood is stiff and brittle, my limbs gnarled and bent from the calloused evil.  The voices, the faces, stretched to horrific masks and the screams they cannot release as they die gush from my pores, my grain, and I shudder, shake loose leaves and dead twigs to clatter and spill from my heights.

For decade upon decade they haunted me with their ghoulish march through the tall ragweed, spring wild flowers, crunching dead grass or deep, soft fallen snow.

Now I will torment them with images of what they’ve done, with the faces of the souls who reside in me, my being.

Now, I will avenge.

 

ALL original content copyright J. Dane Tyler, 2008
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Connection

She looked at me from across the crowds, and our eyes locked. A connection was made between us in that instant, and the moment seemed to last forever.

She walked stiff-backed and unpolished through the train station, head held high, wrapped in an unpatterned blue kerchief that concealed most of her dirty-blond locks. They slicked down her back, silk and gossamer on the dark fabric, light shimmering, playing and chasing away as she moved under the fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling. Her hands sat gentle and idle in her lap as she strode. Her cheeks had been pinched almost to bruising and the purple-tinged pink of them stood sharp on her creamy, pale flesh. No make-up adorned her face, a tired face. A young woman, too young to be so tired. I can see the lines that will form on her face, beginning their ascent to the surface of her perfect, smooth skin. Lines around her mouth, between her eyebrows, next to her nostrils, under her eyes.  Fatigue lines, of hard living and struggle, threatening to rise to the fore, age and wear not yet finding their way to the present, made known in a life not quite. Not quite happy, not quite content, not quite easy, not quite blessed. She wears the worry of the future on her visage and only some see it. She’s plain and simple and humble, only black and dark blue clothing, squeaking, heavy black work shoes, well-worn, hands callused and heart too, from too much hard labor and no end of it in sight.

Continue reading

What Happened? (Opening)

I’m standing here because I don’t know what happened last night.

It’s something we do every Friday night. We all get together, we pile into someone’s car with as much alcohol as we can drink, we draw straws for the designated driver with whoever did it the last time counted out so they don’t get stuck twice in a row, and we go find someplace deserted, quiet and dark to drink, joke, be friends and if we’re lucky — and there’s a girl or two involved — get laid.

Click here if the suspense is killing you

Event at Twilight (Writing Exercise)

Continuing on with the writing exercises, here is another attempt to use no adverbs or adjectives.  The style of this one is very, very different than the other two, but maintains that maxim of not using modifying words EXCEPT nouns or verbs.

If you feel like trying something like this, give it a shot!  You can post here in my comments, or on your own blog and let me know about your post!  I’d love to see your work.  :)

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Buzzing, whining, annoying. Swatting, missing, distracted. Stinging, pinching, shouting, frustration and anger. Slapping, chasing, lost in the dark.

Swirling, dizzying … staggering … hand on forehead … confusion … .

Falling … panting … gasping … vision blurring … .

Numb … cold, shivering … darkness … fading, fading … .

Nothingness.

 

 

ALL Original Content Copyright 2008 J. Dane Tyler
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Thing (Writing Exercise)

Another attempt at the 125-words-or-fewer, no-adjectives-or-adverbs exercise.  This one cruises in at about 122 words (close!), but it has a twist.  See if you can find the tricky item in this piece!  And of course, all are welcome to play along!

The “prompt” for this one was: Two kids find something strange.  Decribe the scene with 125 words or fewer and no adjectives or adverbs allowed.  I found this one easier.

I might do a few more of these as time goes on.  At least I’m writing again!!  :D

God bless, all!
-JDT-

PS – Updated the text, but didn’t change the twist/caveat Benjamin Rogers caught below. -jdt-

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“Where’d it come from?” Paulie stood, eyes riveted to it, ragweed locks rustling on the breeze. He squinted at me in the brightness.

“How should I know?” I said. I stared at it, just like Paulie.

“You … you think it’s … can we touch it?”

“I ain’t gonna touch it. Are you?”

“Heck no! You crazy?”

My jeans crumpled behind my knees when I bent with hands poised to move if it … did something. Anything.

“Is it … what is it?”

“Paulie, I don’t know, man.” He was getting on my nerves. “How can I know, dude??”

“I’m just askin’,” he muttered, but he didn’t care. We stared at it, and he rested his hands on his knees.

 

All original content Copyright J. Dane Tyler, 2008
ALL RIGHTS reserved

Sharkey, Chapter 5

If you like this piece, you can find the rest of it here.  Enjoy!

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I don’t know how long I held onto Maris before I pulled away. She’s so beautiful, and I can’t stare right at her for too long. It’s like staring at the sun. I’m sure I’ll go blind if I do, and I always drop my eyes after just a few seconds.

Maris’ hands stayed on me, though. They traced down my shoulders and arms as I stepped back. It gave me this tingling, shivery sort of feeling that raised goosebumps all over. I hoped she didn’t notice.

“I-I’m … I’m sorry,” I muttered, sniffling and trying not to see if everyone in the place stared at me. “It’s been a … well, I’m sort of … I think I …”

“Johnny,” she said, and her voice soothed my angst to silence, “it’s okay. It’s all right to hurt.”

My mom had to click here to keep reading

Sharkey, Chapter 4

If you like this piece, you can find the rest of it here.  Enjoy!

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“Hi, Johnny.”

I felt more than heard the voice. Oh, I know it well. That voice haunts many a dream, many a lonely seaward night, many a land bound tossing and turning and sweating in my tangled, empty bunk at the house.

Oh yeah. That voice cuts through everything and gets down to my core, right into my soul. My head vanishes into a foggy haze the instant that melodic set of pipes tickles my eardrums. I feel my eyes glaze over. I feel my body start floating.

Click here to keep reading

Sharkey, Chapter 3

If you like this piece, you can find the rest of it here.  Enjoy!

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When I came back downstairs, Mom was still there, in the living room. She walked around the mantle, giving the photos there a soft smile. Me and her at a beach picnic back when I was about eight or so; Dad and me on the boardwalk during a Fourth of July festival of some sort. That kinda stuff. Just my pictures, ones that I took with me when I moved out of their house, and I could see her remember each event, each frozen moment, captive for eternity in that split second, as it replayed in real time in her mind’s eye.

She turned when she found out she had to click here to read on