More Subtext

Okay, so…clearly I don’t get this subtext thing, because I blew it on the last exercise. Here’s another try.

She smoothed the apron around her waist and sat down, floating to the seat. The sound of his utensils on the dinnerware made her motion unheard, and he didn’t see her with his eyes riveted to the iPad on the table in front of him.

She looked down, laced trembling fingers through her hair, and exhaled through her nostrils, slow, deliberate.

“Everything all right?” he said, around a wad of food in his mouth.

“Mm,” she said, and the corner of her mouth pulled back slightly.

“It’s good,” he managed as he shoveled another forkful of food into his mouth. “Great.” He never set down his tablet, and his fingers danced over the screen, leaving smudges of residue behind. He scowled at it.

“Thanks,” she said, and the corners of her lips curled just a touch, then fell. Her eyes shined moist.

She listened to him, fingers drumming lightly on the plastic as he swiped and pecked.

“Do you still think I’m pretty?” she said., and tipped her chin his direction.

“‘Course,” he said. “You’re beautiful.” Drum-drum-drum, thump, tap-tap. Swipe.

She sighed and stood up, went behind him, and laced her arms around his neck, resting her cheek on top of his head. She let the smell of his shampoo and scalp drift into her nose, and felt the texture of his hair on her face.

“Do you still love me?” she said, voice barely a whisper.

“Yeah,” he said, and chewed. “‘Course. Sure you’re all right?”

She stood up, and slid the gleaming chef’s knife from the pocket of her apron.

“Yes,” she said, “I think so. I finally think so.”


Subtext is one of the most important skills a writer can add to their skill set. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get the concept. Basically, “subtext” is literally “under the text”, or what isn’t said.

To be honest, I stink at this. I think I’ve written stuff too “on the nose,” as the expression goes, which means the characters do and say exactly what they mean to do or say. This makes for a flat, uninteresting story, because the reader’s given everything. To really make the story shine, subtext is key.

There are a lot of ways to add subtext, but dialog is one obvious way. Another is by actions which are discordant with the situation. A simple example is a Southern woman saying “Bless your heart,” when she means, “I hope you die.”

So, this is an exercise in subtext for me, because I really, really need to practice. And I really, really need to write. Like, POST HASTE. I’m rotting inside for not doing it, and I can’t find the convergence of time and energy to do it, to study it, to outline, to do anything except my day job, which is stressing me to the point of high blood pressure.


So anyway…subtext practice.

She heard the floor creak, and her eyes popped open.

The dark seemed to bubble in pockets of black and deeper black, but she blinked, fully awake now, seconds after sound sleep, at the sound.

It was the familiarity of the creak that beckoned her. She strained her ears into the night, through the open bedroom door, to the hallway, listening. A long moment passed, the silence seeming to hiss in her head. Then it drifted to her. The familiar sound of his pace over the floor. She’d heard so many times, so many nights as he padded to the kitchen from bed, or to the bathroom in the night. She’d heard it every day as he got up to shower for work, or he went to turn on the TV or the coffee maker. She knew that pace, that pad across the floor they’d shared for sixteen years.

She knew the sound well, and it became clear now as that familiar, easy walk approached the bedroom where she lay curled on her side.

And her blood ran cold, her eyes widening in terror, and a scream caught in her throat, just like when they lowered his casket into the ground last year…

Pest Control, Part 3

Pest Control, Part 3

I don’t know how far down the line I am right now, so I gotta stop and check myself. I have this LED flashlight thing and it’s plenty bright, but I always get a little nervous when I turn it on, y’know? Like, I’m not sure what I’ll see. I ain’t ever had nothin’ jump out at me, or be waiting in the dark for the right moment, but it always makes me nervous.

So I turn on the light and there’s nothing there. It’s just a narrow little tunnel that goes up over my head in a dome shape, like round tunnels do, and there’s a bunch of crap-water in the bottom. I don’t look at it – not if I can help it. And there’s probably rats down here somewhere too, but they won’t be around the skeeters. Skeeters drive most things off. Since I don’t see any rats or whatever, and I don’t wanna see the bumpy brown fish, I just keep my eyes on my gear.

The light’s just so I can get my map on. It’s like one of those things you read books on, ‘cept I can use it in the dark. It’s got a map of the tunnels and if I’m careful and pay attention, I can follow ‘em pretty well with it. I get my bearings and then turn it back off, and make sure the light’s in reach. I don’t know why. I always like to have it in reach though.

Back in the day, when there weren’t as many of ‘em around, killin’ skeeters was done by people like the CDC. They’d send some goobers out with their white anti-viral suits and stuff, and they’d go muckin’ around in the shit water ‘til they find the nest. Always big fun when a news crew found out about it, too, ‘cause they’d want to go into the tunnels too. At first it was funny to see how their faces get so weird when they realize what’s up down here. But then, some chick bought it on camera when the skeeters went nuts and they don’t let ‘em down here anymore. Matter of fact, they started hiring guys like us ‘cause we can be “discreet.” You know, nobody pays attention to some schlub like me. But some hard-body bottle-blond with silicone tits and botox lips gets ripped up, well…time to shut off the TV, know what I mean?

So here I am and I’m close. If the intell’s right, I mean. Sometimes we don’t get good info on where we’re s’posed to go to find ‘em and then it’s a turd hunt. But I don’t want to take any chances, so I’m grabbing my FLIR and turn it on. It takes a couple of minutes, but when it’s warmed up it’s a big help findin’ skeeters in the tubes.

See, like I toldja before, this is a virus thing. And like most viruses – least, that’s what the CDC says – it causes fever. So even after the host is pretty much gone and there’s only the virus trying to spread itself, the body it’s usin’ is toasty warm and shows up nice on the FLIR.

That’s another reason the creepy-ass suckers come down here. It’s cool, but not cold, and they get out of the light. There’s something called “photosensitivity” they get as part of the virus, and their eyes are real sensitive to sunshine and whatnot. Bright lights make ‘em nuts. So one way to keep skeeters off ya is to blind ‘em with bright lights and move away. Mostly it works.


Problem is, lots of times they panic when you blaze ‘em. When the charges go off, they wake up. By then, ‘course, it’s too late, but sometimes – and not often, but every once in a while now – they wake up while you’re plantin’ the charges. The charges are little fire-bomb things that you direct at the nest. Then you gotta go under or around the nest to the other side and make sure there’s enough charges on both sides. Otherwise, they get away. Just one skeeter gettin’ away can cause a new infestation somewhere else, so you have to get ‘em all.

I ain’t never had a nest wake up on me, but my buddy Turk did. Turk – everybody knew Turk after he started exterminating, but I knew him all my life. We went to school together, got high together, got drunk together, even lost our cherries the same night on a double date. We were tight, man. And he worked for the CDC back when the shit first started, but when it started gettin’ outta hand, he went private. But he kept his CDC suit.

One day Turk was chargin’ a nest over in Dunston. Got everything all set, but when he tried to get back to the front side of the nest – you know, where he came in, so he could go out the same way he got in? – one of the skeeters woke up. Musta smelled him or something. It went nuts down there and woke up a whole bunch more of ‘em.

Turk tried runnin’ but they tore a hole in his suit, and ‘fore long he was just buried. I heard when they found ‘im there wasn’t much left. They had to burn his corpse real quick though, so he didn’t turn. The infection can spread even if you died after exposure. I guess they didn’t want to take a chance, so they cremated him same day.

I never did get to say good-bye to him.

And then that TV reporter chick. That wasn’t pretty, I heard.

I try not to think about stuff like that ‘cause it can give ya the yips, y’know? This is sorta all I have going for me right now in life, so I can’t get the yips.

Anyway, I’m startin’ to pick something up on the FLIR now. Just a brighter spot on the screen, but I’ve seen it before. I know what it is.

Showtime, I guess.

Pest Control, Part 2

Think of me as the Orkin man for bloodsuckers. We don’t call ‘em bloodsuckers, though. They ain’t that dignified, not when you see ‘em like I do. We call ‘em fleas, or skeeters. They’re like that, kinda. Like fleas or mosquitoes. Or maybe spiders. Yeah, you can think of ‘em as spiders.

I’m in a pipe now. It took a long time to get the damned grate off, ‘course. That’s why the friggin’ things do this in the first place. It’s hard to spot ‘em down here. They get dark all the time, they can hear ya comin’, and with the grates and stuff it’s hard to find ‘em. Miles of tunnel, too, so it’s easy to get lost.

‘Course, they can get lost too, and sometimes do. They die if they don’t eat a little every night, so if they get lost it’s either come up or starve. They ain’t too bright though, so mostly they die.

I can’t remember who figured out the sewers. Might’ve been an accident. You know, some poor bastard stumbled on ‘em, maybe. I don’t know, it’s been a while.

The goo in the bottom of the tube ain’t nice. I had to start puttin’ menthol crap under my nose to keep from gaggin’ over the smells. You get used to it, I guess, but I sure can’t figure how the fleas live in it all the time.

My hip waders almost always keep the stuff in the bottom of the tube off me. I don’t know what to call it. But I’m in a sewer, so you can guess what it is.

Municipalities and such hire us when they get hit. I don’t know why they always wait until they get hit, but hey, a paycheck’s a paycheck, right? I don’t ask questions. But they always wait. Nobody hires us to go in and check before somebody gets killed, or it’s a damned infestation like roaches. Then it’s an emergency. Too bad for the victims, but bonus for us. We get paid emergency rates, and that’s why I keep doin’ this shit.

It’s stinky, shitty work and someone’s gotta do it. I ain’t squeamish and like I said, I don’t mind the tunnels, so I put on my waders and mask, my gloves and slicker, and hi-ho, hi-ho, shit diving I do go.

Lucky frickin’ me, right?

Pest Control, Part 1

Everybody thinks vampires sleep in lavish mansions, wear fine silk clothes and live the life of a frickin’ beer commercial or TV show.

Lemme tell you something, that ain’t nothing like the truth.

Vampires ain’t people. That’s the first thing you gotta know. They ain’t human, so they ain’t people at all. They’re not even animals, really. Not if you think about it. They don’t have babies, and don’t really breed at all. So, not really animals. You know?

Think of vampires more like…like germs, sorta. Parasites or viruses. They take a living body and just kinda…take over. Once they have it — the body, I mean — there’s none that person left. Only the vampire. Just like when a virus kills someone, it’s the only thing left. The virus, I mean. That’s how vampires are. They kill the someone and only the vampire’s left.

If they were zombies from a George Romero movie, no one would be confused by it. The only question would be what to do about killing ‘em. You know, head shots or some voodoo ritual or whatnot.

But TV and movies and books and shit made vampires sexy and attractive and oh-so-stylish, so most folks ain’t ready for the real thing. It’s a shock to ‘em.
That’s why I’m down here. I’m an exterminator, sort of.

This is what I do.