Monday, March 4, 2013

A City of Wax - Episode 7

~Wax immediately recognized the colors from a far-too-familiar company stamp. The brass and crimson logo of Kaus-Lonhark Industries was stamped onto every tin of Wax’s favorite smogs he’d ever purchased.
   “You’ve been a great help, Jonas. Let me know if you turn anything else up.” He said, heading for the door. Jonas may not have been able to turn up a name, but perhaps a former employer would. Wax fired up his steambike and headed for Central- and the Kaus-Lonhark Industries factory.~

            It was late in the evening when Wax arrived outside the factory grounds. A stiff wet heaviness fell with the sun, and amidst the industrial smog in the sky, the clouds threatened to drizzle. The Kaus-Lonhark logo was emblazoned on the hanging placard outside the main office door. It swung lazily in the wind as Wax approached the door. “Can I help you?” A voice asked as he entered, shutting out the cold behind him.
            “Possibly” Wax replied, setting another smog between his lips and lighting it with his flinstriker. “I’m looking for information on an employee of yours.” The short man behind the desk set his pen down and folded his hands, looking up at Wax through thin wiry spectacles.
            “And what would you need that for?” He asked politely.
            “My name is Wax, I’m a private investigator. A man I believe to be a former employee of this company was killed in an accident recently and I’m investigating the circumstances of his death. I don’t have a name, but I can give you a description if it would help.” Wax lied.
            “I’m sorry, Mister Wax, but that information is private. Kaus-Lonhark Industries maintains a strict confidentiality policy over the personal information of its employees.” The little man explained.
            “I don’t think he’ll mind much, considering he’s lying on an autopsy table in the morgue at the Gardenworks. Once another man has cut you open and taken out all your innards, I can’t imagine you’d give much of a damn over privacy.” Wax mused.
            “That was a rather crude remark to make, Mister Wax. However, until the employee’s family has given us consent to do so, I’m afraid that even under current circumstances I’m not authorized to give you that information.” The man picked his pen back up and went back to his books, gesturing an end to the conversation.
            “Have a pleasant evening, then.” Wax mumbled as he left the building.

            As he closed the door behind him, Wax flipped open his smog tin. Only four of the neatly wrapped smogs remained nestled in their grooves. He strode over to his steambike and fired it up, roaring off down the street. When he was certain the noise had left earshot of the factory, he cut the engine and coasted back around. Picking his way through the streets, choosing the routes with as few gas lamps as possible, he wove his way back toward the factory, walking the bike alongside him to avoid the noise. He slipped into an alleyway two buildings down from his target and parked the bike. Wax ground the stub of his smog into the brick behind him and stood motionless against the corner of the building, watching the door of the Kaus-Lonhark factory. A cold half-hour passed in the damp before the small man emerged from the door, locking it behind him. Wax waited until he was out of sight before slipping down the street like a shadow. The windows of the building were dark when he reached the door. With the nearest gas lamp several buildings away, Wax’s figure was barely a silhouette against the frame. He knelt down, slipping a small leather pouch from inside his greatcoat. Inside were three small wires, one with a flattened surface bent at a 90 degree angle, one with a serpentine tip, and another with a small sharp tooth bent up at the end. He slipped the flat headed pick into the base of the lock and applied a solid pressure to it. Slipping the serpentine tool into the top portion of the lock, he raked the tumblers twice, set it down and reached for the pick.

The lock wasn’t particularly challenging to pick, Wax found. Most of the tumblers gave up and settled into their apportioned spaces without a fuss. Only two stubbornly refused to find their homes for a moment before, with a faint click, settling into place. Wax twisted the pressure wrench, rotated the lock, and the door swung open. The room was still warm, and a light musty scent emanated from the walls. Wax silently closed the door behind him and entered the factory.

Most of the building was dedicated to the warehouse and machinery used for creating the Kaus-Lonhark brand of vices, ranging from smogs to puffers to pipe shag and everything in between, and the offices were isolated to a small portion of the building’s space along an outer wall. Wax slipped through them, keeping low and using the faint light from the gas lamps in the distance to guide his way around the sparse furniture inside. He quickly located a room whose door was embellished with a brass plaque with “Records” etched into it and slipped inside. The light filtering in from the open door behind him wasn’t quite enough to see by, so Wax flicked open his flintstriker. The small flame provided just enough light to read by. The walls of the room were lined with file drawers, inevitably containing sales records, dossiers and other important company documents, but they weren’t what he was searching for. Spread open on a small desk near the corner of the small closet-like space, Wax found exactly what he needed; the book page contained a schedule of workers, noting absences, requested vacations, and hours worked. Knowing he’d killed the mystery man three days ago, Wax scanned the list for any employees to have missed three consecutive days. Only three names matched. He took note of the last names and quickly located a file drawer labeled “Employment Records.”

Searching by the light from the tiny flame of his flintstriker, Wax quickly located three files and spread them on the table next to the schedule record. Drent, Garrus and Esman. Each file contained a spectograph image along with a copy of the employee’s résumé, a record of grievances and conduct within the company, and a number of other files. Wax quickly thumbed through each one, but quickly ran into a roadblock in his plan. None of the images in the matching files were of the man in the Gardenworks morgue. He frowned, closing the files and placing them back into their respective locations in the drawer. He drummed his fingers quietly on the table as he mulled over the list, when suddenly he was struck by an idea. He quickly scanned the list for any employees with no schedules, indicating that they’d quit, or any marked as having put in a notification of quitting. He found only one name: Dresdin Bront. He quickly located Dresdin’s file in the cabinet and spread it on the table. The spectograph image was immediately recognizable. Wax carefully lowered his flintstriker to read the dossier. Suddenly, however, a familiar sound echoed through the building- someone had opened the front door. Wax quickly blew out the flame of his flinstriker, cramming it back into his pocket and shutting the dossier. He drew his revolver from his baldric and flattened himself against the wall, listening intently. He heard the sounds of multiple voices and footsteps coming in his direction.

“-place stinks. Don’t know why I had to come.” One voice whispered. Another shushed him and replied with a harsh tone.
“Because some “investigator” was pokin’ around here earlier asking questions about dead employees. Probably an Arbitor. You can be damn sure he ain’t just gonna leave it be ‘cause some clerk told him to shove off. They might already be here, so keep your damn voice down and expect trouble.”
“Fine. Spread out and I’ll go get the damn thing.” The first voice replied. Wax shot a glance at the dossier that lie on the table beside the roster. The open door sat between him and the file, and he couldn’t risk being seen or closing the door at this point. Footsteps were approaching quickly. Wax cursed himself for leaving the door open and slid his weapon back into the baldric. Shooting the man would attract the attention of the entire lot and he’d be trapped. He pressed himself against the wall beside the doorway and exhaled softly.

A figure about Wax’s height stepped into the doorway, carrying a phlogiston bulb light. Wax slammed a readied fist into the man’s throat, catching him off guard and choking his cry of alarm. He wrenched the man’s arm up, catching the wrist beneath his armpit and locking the elbow with his forearm, and drove his fist against the joint with a sickening pop. The man’s light clattered to the ground. Wax immediately crushed his heel against the figure’s knee, driving it to the ground. Feeling the man’s balance fail, he threw his weight to the side, hurling him to the floor and drove the tip of his boot into the stunned victim’s temple. Unconsciousness took him immediately, and Wax dragged his body out of sight of the doorway. He searched the unconscious body, locating a stuttergun with two spare magazines of ammunition, a handful of coins and half-empty tin of expensive pipe shag. He pocketed the tin, taking the gun and ammunition with him. It wouldn’t be long before the man was missed so Wax had to work fast. Unsheathing his boot knife, Wax hastily cut two long strips of thick fabric from the hem of the man’s coat. He snatched up the light and turned off the beam, carrying his collection of objects out into the office. A row of several cluttered desks filled the long room, spaced evenly apart with a single aisle between them. Wax quickly lashed the stuttergun to a ladderback desk chair and set it against the desk. As quietly as he could, he then slid the desk behind it to hold the chair in place, preventing it from falling over. The stuttergun now faced the only doorway leading into the office room. He cut the strip of fabric with his knife and tied a second around the weapon’s trigger, threading it along with him. He set the phlogiston light on top of the desk just in front of the rigged gun, facing the same direction, and grabbed a thick folder from a desk drawer, propping it in front of the beam. He then turned the bulb on, the light blocked fully by the folder. Finally, Wax hurriedly cut the drawstrings on all the windows, dropping the blinds and flooding the room with darkness.

Wax took up a position behind a nearby desk, ducking behind it just as he heard the voices from the other room pipe up. “Damn it all, what’s taking him so long? It can’t be that hard to find a single piece of paper.” The voice spoke. “Rest of the place is clear. No arbitors. What is he doing back there?”
“Rodick!” another voice yelled, “You takin’ a nap back there or what?!” When the unconscious man didn’t respond, Wax tightened his grip on the fabric thread. He listened as footsteps filled the room. His eyes had adjusted to the dark by then, and he peeked beneath the desk, counting five pairs of feet.
“Why’s it so bloody dark in here? Were these blinds shut before?” A voice asked. Wax yanked the thread. The slip knot fastened around the stuttergun’s trigger constricted like a noose, and the weapon began firing wildly, toppling the folder and sending a blinding beam of light and a hail of bullets into the faces of the men at the end of the hall. The men began returning fire at the phantom gunman with their own weapons, panicking in the chaos. Wax ducked under the desk, vaulting the next one, completely invisible to their blinded peripherals. He pulled his revolver form his baldric and fired.

The stuttergun’s ammunition bled dry as he fired his second shot, which ripped through the chest of a man near the back of the group. Having recovered slightly from the confusion, the man closest to him turned to line up a shot, but Wax was on him. Gripping the barrel of his revolver in his gloved hand, Wax smashed the butt of the iron-cased handle into the man’s jaw, punching through his teeth and sending him sprawling. He flipped the gun quickly, snatching the grip and squeezed the trigger, holding it down and sweeping his palm across the weapon’s hammer firing off three shots in rapid succession. Another man fell as a volley of bullets buried themselves in the wall behind him, sending shreds of paper and bits of splintered wood sailing through the darkness. Wax dove behind a desk and fired another shot, shattering the phlogiston bulb and drowning the room in blinding darkness again. He ducked under the desk and quickly found the corner by the entry room’s doorway, bringing up his revolver. He had three shots left. He dug into his pocket and his fingers closed around his flintstriker. The small device had been a tried and true companion, but it was time to part ways. He hurled it down the dark room and it smashed through a pane of glass. Panicked gunfire from the two remaining assailants responded to the sound, and the muzzle flashes revealed all Wax needed to know. He quickly fired two more shots and silence filled the room. Wax fumbled his way back to the records room, snatching up Dresdin Bront’s dossier and quickly exited the building. Voices and shouts from nearby told him that the firefight hadn’t gone unnoticed, so he hastily slipped back up the street. He ducked into the alleyway where he’d left his steambike, mounted it, and reached for the key.

The familiar sound of a pistol’s hammer locking behind his head made him freeze. Wax slowly lowered his hand from the key and folded his hands behind his head. “Hello, Wax.” Spoke a man’s voice from behind him.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A City of Wax - Episode 6

~Wax saw himself out of the office. He quickly made his way back down the hall and out to where his steambike waited for him. His mind swarmed furiously with new information and leads, but for now, he sped off to exchange his borrowed finery for his thick coat. It was time he made another trip to The Gardenworks, and he was going to need it.~

            The dreary damp of the Gardenworks had not improved since Wax’s last visit, and he silently muttered to himself as he dismounted his steambike. He’d arrived at a relatively nondescript stone building whose walls were alive with creeper vines and moss. Wax turned his thick collar up to the damp and retrieved his smog tin, placing one between his lips and lighting it with a flick of his flintstriker. Placing the objects back into their respective familiar pockets, Wax blew a long, steady stream of smoke into the air and walked inside.

            The inside of the morgue, while notably clearer of vegetation, was not much less dreary than the outside. The lone office was adorned with half-dissected models, preserved cadaver segments and books on anatomy, along with a cluttered desk littered with sheaves of loose paper. Wax could hear familiar bustling coming from the back of the building, and he followed the sound into the examination room. He was greeted by several corpses shrouded by white cloth lying atop examination slabs, strange instruments lining every wall and surface, and a familiar figure mumbling to himself as he moved busily about the room. Wax exhaled a cloud of smoke into the air and the man paused, giving a short sniff. “You’ll contaminate the bodies like that, you know.” He muttered. Wax chuckled.

            “I’m assuming you’re here to view your handiwork?” The man asked, turning to face Wax, peering at him through his comically large goggles. Jonas Flynt was slim, pale, and small, even for a Heartlander. Wax thought he very much resembled the skeletons hanging from metal stands in the corner of the room, save for his wild tangle of stark white hair.
            “How’d you know it was mine?” Wax asked as he stepped into the room. Jonas hobbled over to a nearby slab and tossed aside the thick white sheet, revealing the dead man’s torso but preserving his dignity. From the look of the carved chest, an autopsy had already been performed.
            “Firstly,” Jonas began, sifting through his tools on a nearby table, “you never show up here unless you’ve shot someone or knew someone who’d been shot, and secondly…” he continued, selecting a long slender metal implement and gesturing to the hole in the dead man’s chest. “Cause of death, one shot, clean through the heart, inch and a half entry wound, nearly three and a quarter inch exit wound. Result of a shot from a ball typically found in single-shot pistols or in one particular case,” he gave Wax a knowing glance, “a heavy caliber hand cannon modified to fit a six-shot revolver cylinder specifically designed to fit these rounds.” He concluded. Wax shook his head, masking a grin with his hand as he lifted his smog to his lips.
            “If it’s any consolation, he shot first.” Wax said. Jonas placed his tool back on the small table.
            “Don’t they all?” He asked.

            “So. Any idea who he is?” Wax asked. Jonas shook his head, leaning back over the corpse on the table.
            “Not even the foggiest, but I can tell you, there’s some pretty strange stuff I pulled off of and out of this guy.” He said. Wax’s silence cued him to continue speaking. “Firstly, from what I pulled out of this guy’s stomach, he was on just about everything he could be on. I found traces of Kapff, used to go days without sleeping, painkillers, Hustle Punch, and Regret-Me-Not. Now, ruling out that last one, he must have been absolutely twitching by the time he caught up to you. That’s not all, though.” Jonas hobbled over to another cluttered surface and rummaged noisily through the loose implements until he unearthed a stack of papers. He flipped through them, hobbling back to the corpse. “Your guy here had a thing for cheap snuff, and I found evidence of Nethervine Extract poisoning in his throat. That stuff will usually have you hallucinating and feeling like your head is about to split open, but not in amounts this small. The odd thing is, even a mild exposure to the gas itself would cause more damage than this. I was confused until I remembered his snuffbox.” Jonas pulled open a drawer beneath the slab the dead man lay on and produced a simple, featureless snuffbox. “The poisoning came from that. Now, I don’t know many people who go around flavoring their snuff with toxic gasses, do you?” He asked. Wax rolled the small container in his palm.
            “So he was set up.” He said.
            “It’s no wonder he didn’t hit you. All that juice in his system, coupled with the fact that after snorting a knuckle full of Nethervine Snuff, he was probably feeling the equivalent of the worst hangover of his life. He never stood a chance.”

            Wax pocketed the snuffbox carefully and ground the stub of his smog into his boot heel. He gave one last look at the unidentified corpse.
            “There was one other thing.” Jonas mentioned as Wax turned to leave. “On his clothes and under his nails, I found a powder residue. It took me a while to piece together what it was, but it turned out to be a dye pigment in powder form. Two separate colors, specifically: a dark brass and a red.” Wax immediately recognized the colors from a far-too-familiar company stamp. The brass and crimson logo of Kaus-Lonhark Industries was stamped onto every tin of Wax’s favorite smogs he’d ever purchased.
            “You’ve been a great help, Jonas. Let me know if you turn anything else up.” He said, heading for the door. Jonas may not have been able to turn up a name, but perhaps a former employer would. Wax fired up his steambike and headed for Central- and the Kaus-Lonhark Industries factory.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Etch-A-Sketch Memories - Part 2

Etch-A-Sketch Memories - Part 2

The door to Daniel’s parents’ house opened heavily with a lengthy creak, as it always did. The house was still as he entered, tugging his duffel bag behind him, each footstep ringing off the wood floors and fluttering down the hall. The lights were out, but the television had been left on as a newscaster delivered the evening’s top stories to nobody. The current story was covering some car accident on an intersection Daniel knew fairly well. Didn’t seem anyone had survived. “Hello?” he called into the house. He received no immediate response, but as he bent to set his bag down he heard the familiar creak of the bathroom door as it slowly opened at the end of the hall. Daniel leaned to the side to peer down the hallway, light flooding into the dimness as the door slowly crept out of view behind the frame. “Hello?” he called again.

            A dark shape suddenly darted out of the room and came barreling toward him. Daniel jumped and braced himself for impact, finding that he suddenly couldn’t move. The shape bounded toward him with surprising speed and halted directly at his feet. He dropped his arm and found himself staring down at a sopping wet collie. He chuckled to himself over his foolishness and knelt down to give the dog some attention. “You must have had a bath today, haven’t you?” he asked it as he scratched her neck. He figured his father had probably been bathing the dog when he got in, and likely hadn’t heard him. “Dad?” he called as he stood up and walked down the hall. The bathroom was empty, but the tub was filled with water. He turned back to face the collie who had followed him into the bathroom. When had his parents gotten a dog? Its gaze was somewhat peculiar, through one brown eye and one blue. There was a name for that condition, but he’d long since forgotten it. The collie interrupted his thoughts by shaking furiously, sending water droplets flying everywhere but doing nothing to dry her coat which still dripped all over the floor beneath her. Daniel grabbed a clean towel out of the cabinet next to him and began to dry her off. Out of curiosity he caught the gold heart tag dangling from her collar and flipped it over. “Chloe” was printed in an artful cursive. He dropped the towel to the side and looked from the collar tag to the dog. “Chloe?” he asked it. She responded with another shake and shower of water. Daniel stood up and left the bathroom. The dog must have had free reign of the house for some time… the floors everywhere were soaked. And the walls… in fact, the whole house seemed to be dripping wet. The ceiling drooped, gray and soggy as water dripped heavily from its saturated surface. It looked as if someone had taken a fire hose to the place… He turned to face the collie again, but she only gave him an accusatory stare with those odd eyes.

            Daniel was shaken awake by the loud complaints of his alarm clock. After taking a moment to get his bearings on reality, he reached over and slapped the snooze button on his clock and rolled back over. Chloe… He mulled over the name in his head. He’d heard it somewhere before. His parents had certainly never had a dog. A few cats, but never a dog… Why the hell did that name sound so familiar? His thoughts were cut short by the beep of his cell phone’s text message alert. He groaned as he rolled over to pick it up. “New Text Message From Allen” illuminated the front display. He mashed the “Open” button with his thumb. “Hey dude. Bossman told me to remind you not to come in. For like, a week. How’s the shrink thing going?”
            “’Bout the same as your last girlfriend felt about you. Shrinky.” He replied. Allen’s response was almost immediate.
            “Asshat.” Daniel couldn’t help but chuckle groggily.
            “Crazy. Can’t help it.” He replied.
            “Anything you want me to tell the Bossman?”
            “Yeah. Tell him he can go fuck himself.” Daniel pressed the Send button a little more firmly than he’d intended to.
            “That you sincerely apologize for Friday night and promise to be back on the clock with a bright happy face soon? Roger that, Chief.” Daniel read the message and muttered to himself.
            “Don’t put words in my mouth.” He sent.
            “I wouldn’t have to if you’d quit talking out of your ass.” That response was quicker.
            “Somebody’s clever.” Daniel tossed his phone back onto his night stand and dragged himself out of bed. He stumbled to the bathroom and flipped the switch. As the light illuminated the small room, a shock of cold seared his veins and his heart pounded in his chest as his eyes met his mirror. Briefly, for a hair of a second, he saw someone standing behind him. Sandy blonde hair; icy blue eyes; blue t-shirt. Drenched to the core. “Shit!” Daniel gasped as he whirled to look behind him. Nothing but empty space. He eventually shook it off.
            Dr. Thorold’s office waiting room was empty again when Daniel arrived on Tuesday. “Ah, Daniel. Good to see you again” the doctor greeted him with a smile and ushered him into the small room. “Go ahead and have a seat on the couch. We’re going to try something new today.” He said. Daniel followed instructions and settled into the long leather couch. “Still not sleeping?” asked the doctor.
            “I managed to sleep last night. It didn’t really help much, though. I had a weird dream.” Daniel explained as Dr. Thorold sat down.
            “Yes, that can occasionally be a side effect of stress, and sleep aids as well. Have you started one?” He asked. Daniel nodded.
            “I have. I don’t really remember what it was called, though.”
            “Not to worry,” said Dr. Thorold as he rolled his chair across the plastic mat on the floor to his desk, “that is an issue to discuss between you and your psychiatrist, if you have one.” He gathered up his legal pad and pen. “Now, Daniel. I want you to relax, and close your eyes.” Daniel did so, folding his hands over his chest. “I want you to clear your mind as best you can. Push away all your thoughts, all of your stressors, everything. Just imagine your mind is an empty room, and the light has just gone out.”

            Daniel found that clearing his bustling mind was much more difficult than he’d imagined it would be. The only sound that filled the room was the rhythmic, metronome ticking of the doctor’s pendulum clock. “I want you to think back. As far back as you can, Daniel, and describe to me the very first thing you can remember from your life.” An odd request, Daniel thought, but he complied. His mind flitted from image to image as he tried to recall the chronology of each.
            “Okay” he said after a moment, “I’ve got it.”
            “Good. Now describe that memory to me in as much detail as you can.” Dr. Thorold said, pressing his pen to his pad.
            “It’s from when I was very young… I may have been four, maybe five… not sure. It was my birthday party… I had a Bugs Bunny cake.” He recalled. Dr. Thorold nodded as he listened.
            “Continue.” He said.
            “We had a piñata. Not one of the lame kind with the pull-strings either, but the kind you hit with a bat. It was shaped like a monster truck, I think. Allen broke it open, but only because I weakened it. And then it started raining, and we all had to go inside…” he said. Dr. Thorold made some notes and nodded.
            “Very good. Now, Daniel. I want you to hold onto that memory as an anchor point. I’m going to ask you some questions, and I want you to search your memories and tell me everything you can. If you get confused, just go back to that memory.” He explained. Daniel nodded. “Now, tell me Daniel. Tell me about the first time you felt you truly experienced something tragic.” Daniel thought for a time over the doctor’s words. The rhythmic ticking of the pendulum clock was mesmerizing as he searched through his mind.
            “It was when I was twelve, I think. We had a cat. It was supposed to be an indoor cat, but we opened the door once because we were going out to eat and she ran out into the street. It was raining pretty hard, and there was a car coming. The driver couldn’t stop in time and he ran over her.” Daniel said.
            “And what was the cat’s name?” Dr. Thorold asked.
            “I think it was Chlo- uh…  Clover. The cat’s name was Clover.” Daniel said, furrowing his brow.
            “I see.” Dr. Thorold said, making another note. “Now, Daniel. What comes to your mind when I say the name “Chloe Mayhart?” he asked. Daniel’s answer was almost reflexive.
            “She had blue eyes. Blue eyes and sandy blonde hair.” He answered. The ticking of the pendulum clock seemed to grow louder in the ensuing silence. Dr. Thorold eventually spoke.
            “I see. And who was she, Daniel?” he asked.

            “I don’t know.” Daniel said, frowning now. “I think… I think she was a camp counselor I had once, at a summer camp. She was in charge of the canoes.” He said. “She liked canoes.”
            “Do you remember which camp that was, Daniel?” The doctor asked. Daniel shook his head. “Okay. And what happened to Chloe Mayhart, Daniel?” he continued.
            “She quit halfway through the summer.” He said. “She just didn’t come back one day, and that made me sad. Because I thought she was really pretty.” He said. Then he frowned again. “No… She didn’t quit. She had an accident. A river accident, I think. With her car… Somebody parked their car in the river… or something… That doesn’t make any sense.” Daniel shook his head. He could feel the onset of a headache creeping up on him and he was no longer enjoying this conversation. Dr. Thorold took note of his discomfort and folded his legal pad.
            “You can stop now, Daniel. Go ahead and open your eyes.” He said, placing his things on the desk behind him. Daniel opened his eyes and peered through the blue haze brought on by keeping his eyes shut too long. “The human mind is a fascinating thing, Daniel.” Dr. Thorold spoke up again, suddenly. “We’ve been studying it for so very long, and yet we still understand so little about it, or its potential.” He explained. Daniel just nodded as he sat up in the leather chair. “Tell me, Daniel. Did you ever have an Etch-a-Sketch toy as a child?” he asked.
            “Probably. I know I’ve played with them before. Mostly just drew staircases.” Daniel said.

            “And when you shake them, the drawings go away.” Dr. Thorold continued. Daniel nodded. “Sometimes, Daniel, the brain likes to think it’s an Etch-a-Sketch. Our short-term memories decide every single instant which pieces of incoming information are important to keep, and which to throw out. It’s very selective about what it commits to memory. However, sometimes it tries to erase things which are important. Things which it has committed to memory, but has decided for one reason or another that it would rather not keep.” He said. Daniel just listened in silence. “But you see, Daniel. The brain is not an Etch-a-Sketch. It can shake all it wants to try and get rid of those memories, and it can manage to lose them for a good long time, in some cases. But the truth is they never really go away.” He explained.
            “So you think there’s something I’m not remembering?” Daniel said.
            “On the contrary,” Dr. Thorold said, “I know there is. It’s only a matter of how to convince your mind that it’s there.” He said. “Daniel, if you wouldn’t mind I would like to schedule you again for this Thursday while you still don’t have work. And also, I would like to have your friend Allen sit in on our discussion then. Perhaps the presence of a third party observer will help to cue your memories.” He said. Daniel shrugged.
            “I don’t see why not. He’s still sworn to confidentiality, right?” he asked.
            “Of course” The doctor replied. “Now,” he continued, setting his clock back into motion, “let’s go back to your memory. Close your eyes again, Daniel…”

            Daniel latched and bolted his apartment door behind him as he walked in. His house was dark, and its condition had not improved. He walked into his kitchen and opened the pantry. It was fairly empty, save for a few boxes of Bisquick and a spare can of tomato paste. His refrigerator and freezer weren’t any better, and his sink was cluttered with unwashed dishes anyway. He settled on fast food. He spent the remainder of his afternoon making an attempt to clean the place up a bit, but made little progress. He found himself unmotivated and both physically and mentally exhausted, and his efforts were less than effective against the mess which seemed only to worsen the more he cleaned. When the clock hit eight he threw in the towel, downing a blue and white caplet and heading for bed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Etch-A-Sketch Memories - Part 1

I've recently decided to expand the content of this blog to contain all of my creative writing pieces, rather than just the "City of Wax" stories. Rest assured, "A City of Wax" will certainly continue to be regularly updated here, but I'll be posting more of my non-fanfic writing here as well. To kick it off, here's a lengthy bit of short fiction I wrote for a creative writing class a couple of semesters ago. Because it's long (24 pages double-spaced in a MS Word document) I'll be breaking it up into a series of episodes. For all intents and purposes, this story is still largely considered a draft and is subject to editing (and suggestions!) So, here is the first episode of "Etch-A-Sketch Memories." I hope you enjoy it!

Etch-A-Sketch Memories - Part 1

“What is your name?” The voice which had spoken was calm, mellow. It carried with it small hints of an English accent and a not-so-small hint of Act Restoring Mouth Wash with a vanilla tobacco odor swept beneath it like dust under a rug. It was an interesting flavor, like an oddball Ben and Jerry’s experiment. They’d probably call it “Imitation Spearmint and Acrid Vanilla,” or “Putrid Potpourri.” Perhaps cued by the silence, the voice asked a new question. “How are you feeling today?”
            “I’m fine today” was the reply given by the young man seated across from him. Perhaps expecting further elaboration, the man leaned slightly forward in his chair, peeking over the rims of his glasses. More silence followed. “Perhaps we should do this another time?” He asked, capping his pen as he leaned back in his chair.
            “No, today is fine. I just didn’t have much else to say” said the young man on the couch.
            “Then perhaps we can start again. What is your name?” asked the old Englishman as he rotated his chair.
            “My name is Daniel Matthews,” the young man said, “And you are Doctor Thorold. Doctor Henry Thorold. And we are in your office located at 1432 Medical Park Avenue, which is conveniently half a block away from the medical hospital.” He continued sarcastically. Dr. Thorold looked at him with an odd mixture of irritation and patience. “I’m not crazy. I know who and where I am.” Daniel said.
            “No one ever suggested you were crazy, Daniel. These are simply questions I must ask out of standard procedure. I assure you, I mean no insult to your intelligence by asking them.”
            “I’m sorry, Doctor. I just didn’t sleep well last night.” Daniel explained. It was mostly the truth. Daniel hadn’t slept well in months. He spent the better part of his nights tossing and turning, unable to sleep despite his exhausted state. He’d tried his best to soldier through, but it had become undeniably clear to him a week ago that something had to be done. He’d completely lost his temper with a customer at work: a white tablecloth place called L’edera e la Vite. The customer had been complaining about a mistake he’d made, something he didn’t even remember, and he had completely lost it. His manager had sent him home for the week to cool off.
“Are you ready for some more questions?” Dr. Thorold interrupted his train of thought. He simply nodded. “Very well then,” the doctor continued, “What can you tell me about Allen Stolt?”
            “Allen’s my best friend. I work with him. If I’m not fired, that is.” Daniel explained. Allen had been Daniel’s best friend since childhood. He’d witnessed the outburst at the restaurant and had offered to drive him home that day. It had actually been Allen’s idea that he should see a therapist about his sleep issues.
            “Very good” Dr. Thorold said, jotting something down on his notebook, which was actually just a legal pad strapped to some leather and cardboard to make it look nice. “And Allen suggested you come talk to me?” he asked.
            “He did. I believe his exact words were, “Dude, you’re kind of freaking me out with all this crazy stuff. I think you should go see someone.” Daniel explained. Dr. Thorold simply nodded.
            “Now, you mentioned something about being fired?” he asked after a moment. Daniel shrugged and shifted in his seat.
            “Yeah, I had a little incident at work with a customer.” He explained. Dr. Thorold lifted a white bushy eyebrow. “I got something wrong and they were complaining, and I got mad at them.” He finished.
            “You got mad at a customer?” Dr. Thorold asked.
            “Yes. I got mad at a customer.” Daniel repeated. Another brief moment of silence passed before Dr. Thorold spoke again.
            “Just got mad at them? That’s all?” he asked. Daniel gave a short, irritated sigh.
            “I flipped shit and yelled at the top of my lungs and called her a pompous silicone cock-puppet.” He said curtly. The doctor simply blinked, nodded once and scribbled busily on his legal pad. Another long moment of silence passed as Daniel’s eyes explored the room. The colors were all fairly dark. The desk and furniture were all of a dark wood, probably mahogany. The low-pile carpet sported a dark foresty green, and the walls were a half a dark wood paneling with the upper half papered in a kind of pale cream or beige color. Thin dark brown pin stripes with brown diamonds between them covered it. There were also several bookcases of the same mahogany, making the room feel fairly cluttered.
            “Daniel. Can you tell me who Chloe is?” Dr. Thorold asked suddenly. Daniel’s eyes snapped to him as he spoke.
            “I don’t know a Chloe.” He replied. Dr. Thorold made a note in his pad.
            “You’re sure about that? I’d like you to think for a moment.” He said. Daniel stared at the carpet as he pondered. The rhythmic ticking of the old man’s pendulum clock filled the room, warding off the deafening silence.
            “I think I had a cat named Chloe once.” Daniel said.
            “I see” said Dr. Thorold, making another note. “Well. Let’s move on to why you’re here today.” He said. “You’ve been having some trouble sleeping?”
            “For a while now, yes.” Daniel replied. “I’ve been having trouble remembering things, too. I’ll forget where things are, or miss work because I just blank on it.” He said.
            “I see. Can you think of any reason why you might be losing sleep? Some event or situation which may be causing stress or discomfort?” the doctor asked. Daniel pondered that a moment.
            “I guess there’s work… that’s always kind of stressful.” He said. Dr. Thorold nodded.
            “Can you think of anything else? I’d like you to think long and hard on it.” He said. Daniel’s gaze wandered the room as he thought back, picking over his brain for any miniscule detail which might have upset him.
            “Well there was an accident a long while back, I think.” He said.
            “An accident?” Dr. Thorold repeated like a parrot.
            “Yeah,” Daniel nodded a bit “a car accident, I think. I think someone my friends knew died in it. Probably a drunk driving thing…” He said. He actually found he remembered little of the incident.
“Tell me a little bit more about that?” the doctor suggested.
            “It was a few months ago, I think. The news only covered it for a couple days. I don’t think it was anyone I knew. Some friends I knew were pretty torn up about it, though.” Daniel shrugged. Dr. Thorold made a somewhat lengthy note before speaking again.
            “Well Daniel, I would suggest you invest in a sleep aid from your pharmacy to help with your sleep, after you check with your medical doctor first that is. I am afraid that is the end of our half hour, however. I would like to schedule you for another visit this Tuesday, if you’re available. And let’s schedule a full hour, this time, if you wouldn’t mind.” Dr. Thorold spoke as he folded his legal pad thing and placed it on the desk behind him, fishing a stack of appointment reminder cards out of his top drawer. Daniel accepted the appointment card and followed the doctor out to the receptionist’s desk. He took a piece of orange candy from the bowl by her little rack of business cards and headed out through the lobby.

            In the pharmacy section of the local grocery store, Daniel perused the aisle of over-the-counter sleep aids.  He hastily selected a box whose logo he remembered seeing on television. The window was empty with no sign of the pharmacist, so he placed the box on the counter and rested his elbows on its cool surface, placing his head between his hands. His head was killing him. The headache had arrived to torment him in transit between the doctor’s office and here. He began to wonder if maybe he should pick up a decongestant or something as well. The sound of a sudden humming noise startled him so badly he nearly fell over. His gaze whipped around wide-eyed to find its origin. It was only some woman using the store’s blood pressure machine. He sighed a bit to himself and peered around the space behind the pharmacy counter. Surely someone had to be here. He briefly pondered calling out to ask, but thought better of it and simply rested his head between his hands again. The humming noise returned as the woman reset the machine. Hmmmmmmmm… Hssss… He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to ignore it. The sound returned again a moment later. Hmmmmmmm… Hsss… He could hear the woman muttering quietly to herself. Daniel’s fingers curled and gripped handfuls of his feathered brown hair as the sound returned for a fourth time. He heard the click clicking of the plastic-covered buttons and the drumming of false nails against the machine’s display. He could feel it. He could feel the noise creeping up to hum again. If it did…
“Sir?” A voice and a sudden tap on his shoulder jolted him away from his thoughts and he jumped again. He found himself staring at a young woman, couldn’t be older than twenty-four, dressed in a white coat. Her dull green eyes were open wide in shock.
            “Sorry.” He mumbled.
            “It’s fine…” she said with a look of concern, “Can I help you?”
            “I just need to get this.” He said, sliding the pill box toward her. As she rang it up, he gave a sidelong glance at the blood pressure machine. Its previous occupant had finally left, it seemed. He shook his head and paid for the pills with the remainder of the cash in his wallet. The small white paper bag she placed them into crinkled beneath his grip as he made for the exit. He breezed past the check-out lanes and other customers, keeping his gaze low. The Enter door opened as he approached, and Daniel lifted his head slightly to see a young woman enter. Icy blue eyes and a soft, heart-shaped face framed in short sandy-blonde hair which was soaking wet. Her blue t-shirt and jeans were drenched too, and she left little puddles as she passed by him without a word. Fantastic… Daniel thought to himself, it must have started raining. The exit swung open as he approached and he raised an arm in anticipation of the rain, but his eyes were greeted by clear blue skies and a glaringly bright sunshine. Dropping his arm, he spun around to peer back through the tinted glass but saw no sign of the young woman. He glanced down at the tiles on the floor. Bone dry. Daniel shook his head and made for his car. If he was beginning to hallucinate, the sleeping pills couldn’t have come sooner.
It was close to six in the evening when he arrived back at his apartment. He twisted his key in the lock and pushed on the door, sighing as the bolt caught the frame for the umpteenth time. Rather than try to twist the key any more, he simply shouldered the door and forced it open. He tossed his keys and bag of sleep aids onto the dining table, kicking the door shut with his heel. He bolted both locks into place and forced the old chain lock into its slider out of habit. His place was a disaster. Clothing strewn about the floor, dishes and take-out boxes littering his living room carpet and every visible surface- just as he’d left it. He grabbed the paper sack off the table and, finding it stapled shut by the attached receipt, tore it open and fished out the box. He freed the little white bottle from its cardboard prison and pried off the child-proof cap. The caplets were starch white on one side and a kind of navy blue on the other. He dumped one of them into his hand and dry-swallowed it, capping the bottle and meandering into his bedroom where he collapsed into his tangle of sheets and buried his head in his pillows. A couple of hours passed before sleep finally took him.