Category: Deleted Scenes & WIPs


For someone who doesn’t much care for Halloween—blame my brother, he instilled in me massive anxiety about being outside in the dark and fearing people in masks—I actually rather like spooky/creepy/psychologically thriller-y type stories and have always longed to write one.

A couple of years ago, I got started on what turned out to be a ghost story with a science fiction twist that sadly was set aside. Then, when I was invited to read at the SFWA Pacific Northwest Reading Series back in August, I had to find something to read that was, yanno, science fiction or fantasy related and well, this one came out of mothballs and I realized, hey! Doesn’t suck. (Quit looking at me like that, y’all. You know how I am.)

Anyhow, here are the opening scenes/chapters from that story, Haunted. (What I read at the series, for those keeping score comes directly after this segment.)

 

One

Halloween

 

“Tuck, I’ve been thinking.”

“Now, Matt, how many times do I have to remind you of the dangers of that sort of thing?”

“Dick.”  Matthew stared moodily into the depths of his punch.  Green.  Who the hell served slimy green punch?  And he didn’t even want to know what the science eggheads had done to make it bubble like that.  He’d lay money it wasn’t Sprite.  He’d also lay money it wasn’t anything he wanted burning a trail down his esophagus. 

“Dude, tell me something I don’t know.” 

With a grin that matched the one on his leering jack-o-lantern mug Tuck downed the contents, clearly unconcerned with any potential damage to his esophagus.  Probably because it was his liver that was in greater danger, Matthew thought as he watched Tuck ladle up another mugful of the green slime before subtly pouring a generous slug from his monogrammed silver flask.  Normally it lived in the inside breast pocket of his uniform blazer; tonight, though, in honor of the party, he had it stashed within the deep sleeves of his monk’s habit.  Tuck thought the juxtaposition of costume and booze was hilarious, Matthew just thought it was stupid.  How the jackass never got busted was completely beyond him—not that he cared, so long as Tuck’s inebriated bullshit schemes didn’t get him in trouble. 

Whatever.  Not like any of it would matter soon.  He meditatively ran his thumb over the ridged outline of the hissing cat glaring up at him from his mug. Slowly, his thumb rubbed the surface, the noise and chaos of the party fading into a distant hum, like hearing it from the far end of a tunnel.  The only thing that felt real was the steady glow of the cat’s eyes, a knowing expression in the yellow depths as he stroked the beast’s tail, over and over.

“Hey, now, none of that tonight, man.”  Tuck’s voice broke in, snapping him from the spell.  “It’s Halloween, it’s a Friday night and we’re off the clock for the next forty-eight.  Come on, dude.  You’re so tight, you could mine diamonds from your ass.”

“Fuck you,” Matthew replied, although without any real heat.  Tuck was Tuck and it wasn’t like he was going to change any time soon.  That was the problem.  None of this was going to change, which was why it was up to him to make the first move.

“All right, I give.  And I’m letting you know right now, I’m pissed because you’re making me do the concerned friend shtick.”  Tuck dropped into the chair beside Matthew’s, adjusting the folds of the monk’s habit.  “What the hell’s the matter with you?”

Even though for once it looked as if he had Tucker’s undivided attention and he’d been planning on telling him all along anyhow, Matthew now found himself hesitating.  Maybe it would be better to just give Tuck some BS excuse and keep his plans to himself.  It wasn’t as if Tucker honestly cared all that much.  In the nearly four years they’d both been students and roomies at Mount Storm King Academy, the only things Matthew had ever known Tucker Harris to give a rat’s ass about were chicks, booze, and baseball.  The last was the main reason they’d even bonded in the first place, since Matthew only drank the occasional beer and his taste in girls tended away from the bleached, siliconed, and older variety.  Rumor had it, Tuck had even gone horizontal with one of the professor’s wives the year before.  Rumor because Matthew really didn’t want to know for sure—that history unit on Watergate and the concept of plausible deniability had made a serious impression.  So yeah, conversations between he and Tuck tended to veer toward nothing deeper than the Seattle Mariners chances during any given season and maybe the occasional homework assignment.  But if there was anything Tuck excelled at, beyond pitching a wicked curve, it was loyalty.  That was really why they’d remained friends their entire stint at Storm King—Matthew knew Tuck would have his back and vice-versa.

“Dude, come on.  What gives?”

“I’m leaving school.”

“Of course you are.  We all are.”  Tuck’s voice took on an exaggerated drawl, like Matthew was just too stupid for the big words.  “It’s senior year and we’re youth in full flower and come May, we’ll be set free to make our mark on the world.”

“Bite me.”

Tuck sat back in his chair, chuckling.  “Dude, fucking chill.  Of course you’re leaving.  We’re all leaving, except for maybe Shaughnessey, who’s dumber than a box of rocks.  But the rest of us, man—we’re golden.  We graduate and because it’s from here, we don’t have to waste time with any college bullshit.  We get to go right out into the world and make our mark.  And with any luck, a lot of cash.”

“That’s just the point, Tuck—”  Matthew’s grip tightened on the mug’s handle.  “I told you, I’ve been thinking.  That maybe this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  I want to sleep in my own bed and raid my mom’s fridge in the middle of the night and graduate from a regular high school.  I want to go out on a date with a girl who’s… normal and not one of these soulless automatons who’s got her whole life so mapped out, there’s no room for—”

“For what, Matt?” Tuck broke in, clearly impatient.  “Prom?  Going steady?”  His voice took on a mocking lilt.  “Sharing a malt with two straws before driving out to Lover’s Lane?  God, who are you trying to bullshit?  There’s no way you could be happy with any of that pedestrian crap after what you’ve experienced here.”

“You don’t know that.”  Matthew stood, slamming the mug down on a nearby table.  Catching a few curious glances aimed their way, he struggled to keep his voice quiet.  “You don’t know shit about what I really think.”

Tucker shrugged as he took a long drink and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his monk’s habit.  “I know you.  Better than you know yourself.  And I know you’re not going anywhere.”  He spoke with the same eerie calm that came over him on the pitcher’s mound when facing an especially tough hitter.  “You can’t.”  

“Watch me.”  Matthew turned to leave.

“Matt.”  Tuck’s voice stopped him a few steps from the gym doors.  Slowly, he turned to find Tuck standing just a few feet away, the eerie stillness still surrounding him.  “Ordinary doesn’t cut it for people like us.”

“Maybe not.”  Matthew met Tuck’s gaze head on.  “But how do I know if I don’t even try?”

 

Two

The wipers swept across the windshield, a rhythmic counterpart to the steady hum of the tires on the wet asphalt, the two combining in a chorus of “Home soon, home soon, home soon…”   He’d gotten lucky, pushing the 350Z hard enough through the Peninsula to catch the seven o’clock ferry out of Kingston.  Not much longer now and he’d be home.  Maybe even in time to help his mom hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.  Wonder if there were still as many kids around the neighborhood as when he’d been younger?  That was another one of the thousands of things he had no clue about.  He’d been so swamped in life at Mount Storm King, it was like the rest of the world had come to a standstill.  Or more accurately, didn’t matter.  The sacred mantra at Storm King.  What they were doing there mattered.  More than anything or anyone.  It’d been okay, initially—who didn’t like feeling like they were the center of the universe, right?  But more and more, something about that just didn’t sit right.

He’d planned on staying until Christmas break, but that conversation with Tuck had made it crystal there was no point.  Not after three years.  Three years spent toeing the line.  Three years spent becoming the ideal student, the one held up as a shining example, the one who not only did everything right, but did it better than anyone else.  But as his gifts strengthened, bringing him to the attention of the higher ups and generating talk of an “exceptionally promising future,” that’s when he’d started questioning that carefully mapped out future.  A future he wasn’t even sure he wanted any more.

Only real way to know for sure, he figured, was to take time to be ordinary.  He wanted it so bad, he could practically taste it. 

Home soon… home soon… home soon…

The dark curving road narrowed, the surroundings closing in on him like a snake winding around its prey.  He stretched and rolled his head on his neck, shaking off the prickling sensation crawling up his spine.  Tightening his hands on the steering wheel, he leaned on the accelerator, knowing he was going too fast, but he knew these roads.  This was home, man.  He was almost home.

Rounding a curve, his headlights swept across the landscape, briefly illuminating a grinning jack-o-lantern and above it, a small, pale face with wide eyes that almost seemed to glow in the glare from his lights.  Those glowing eyes the last thing he saw before hitting the brakes and wrenching the wheel to the side, the big tires shuddering beneath his feet as they fought for purchase on the slick road.  He felt himself slammed against the car door, his head ringing, a force like nothing he’d never felt crushing his chest and pinning him to the seat.  A high-pitched squeal, like a scream from a horror movie pierced the sudden silence as he clawed at nothingness, trying to find something to grab, to hold onto, but everything stayed just out of reach, taunting him, like the bottom dropping out of a sinker, his bat slicing past it, hitting nothing but air. Olympic NP 001

No!”  His voice felt like it was being ripped straight from his gut, floating out into the night, hanging there as lights streaked past in white-hot slow motion arcs before exploding.  Leaving behind an eerie vacuum of silence that he had to try to break because it felt wrong—

” I’m sorry, Matt.”

“Tucker?”  It was his voice, but not—muffled and thick, his tongue too big for his mouth. 

“I’m sorry…”  What was Tucker doing here?  This wasn’t his home.  It was Matthew’s home.  Tucker was more at home at Mount Storm King.  Always had been.  He fit there.  Better than Matthew ever had.  Maybe he should’ve told him that before he left.  He could tell him now though.  He just… had… to…

“Get me out, ‘kay?”  He gritted his teeth against a sharp, blinding pain as he felt his arm roughly yanked from where it’d been pinned.  He couldn’t see who was moving him, but he could feel cool metal against his palm, his fingers instinctively curling around the relief it provided from the searing heat knifing through his chest and the sharper pinprick of pain in his arm. 

“I’m so fucking sorry, Matt.  But you did this to yourself.”

He really didn’t need this smug shit from Tucker right now.  Matthew knew he was driving too fast.  Too fast… and there was that small pale face with the big eyes, just like the cat on his mug… Then everything spun and lights and the rain… so hot on his face.  No… no… that was wrong, too.  It was Halloween.  The rain should be cold.  Why was it hot?

Tuck’s face was very close.  “You shouldn’t have left, Matt.”

Matthew squinted, trying to bring Tuck into focus, but he was so damned fuzzy and now he was getting smaller and smaller, disappearing into the dark, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  He laughed out loud then, imagining big, bulky Tucker dressed in some frilly blue dress and chasing a rabbit down a hole, exploding fireworks trailing behind.  He laughed again, except it sounded more like a cough and hurt like a mother, a deep burning pain that brought tears to his eyes.

“Tuck, man… it hurts.  Come on, now… get me out.”

But there was nothing there but darkness and pain and a shrill wail echoing throughout the suddenly empty space.

**

“Come on kid… hang in there… we’ve got you…”

Matthew blinked up at the looming figure, so close that he shouldn’t have felt the rain any longer, but the hot sensation continued to trickle down his face and into his eyes, washing everything in red.  Red rain.  Heh.  His mom loved that song.  She loved Peter Gabriel, shooting him evil glares when he claimed the dude was stuck in a time warp and out of touch with the real world.  Not like what he and Tucker liked.  Metallica, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails.  Those guys knew what it was about, man.

“C’mon, kid, stay with me.  Can you tell me your name?”

“Matt… Matthew.”  He reached for the light dancing in front of his eyes.  Tried to trap it.  “Want… music…”

“Okay, Matthew.  You promise to stay with me and I’ll do my best to get you some music.  Who do you like?”

“My mom likes…”  He coughed, feeling more rain spilling down his chin.  “Peter Gabriel.”

“Yeah?  How about you?”

“La-lame.” But right now, he really wouldn’t mind it.

The light kept waving back and forth, like fireflies.  There shouldn’t be fireflies.  It wasn’t summer.  And Seattle didn’t have fireflies.  He’d only seen them once before during a baseball tourney back east.  They’d hovered over the infield like live Christmas lights.

“I need a backboard and C-collar, stat!  Definite head trauma—pupils blown, pulse weak and thready… I’m not sure how much longer I can keep him!”

The fireflies were too bright.  He’d close his eyes… just for a minute…

“Come on, Matthew, stay with me.  Let me know can you hear me.”

He blinked, then immediately closed his eyes again at the blinding brightness.  Too bright, man. 

“No, no, no, Matthew… open your eyes again.  Keep them open.”

No… no… he couldn’t take it—the pounding against his skull, duking it out with other voices and intensely bright lights and it was all just too much.  Too much and he wanted out.  Wanted the kind of quiet he liked best—late at night in his room, staring out the window at the night sky.  Out of the corner of his eye, Matthew noticed a clear blue expanse, beckoning.  Yeah… now that’s what he was talking about.  Deep and soft and warm, like the one time he’d gone scuba diving in Hawaii, gliding through the depths, weightless, surrounded by a whole world, yet somehow held apart from it.  Almost as good as the night sky.  He reached out, felt himself lifted, drawn towards the endless expanse.  Looking back over his shoulder, he saw a group of people clustered around a table, frantically gesturing and yelling, even though he couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t feel anything other than sorry that they were so stressed they couldn’t even notice what was waiting for them.  What lay just beyond their reach.

All of a sudden, pain radiated out from his chest, arms and legs tingling as if he’d been hit with a live wire.  Glancing around, he noticed a cluster of stars just behind him.  For what seemed like forever, he stared at them, trying to figure out what constellation it was… it wasn’t like anything he’d ever seen before.  It was beautiful.  The most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

He stood absolutely still as it throbbed, dimming and brightening with the rhythm of a beating heart, then reached out and wrapped itself around him like a blanket, little sparks of sensation sinking into his skin, canceling out the pain and cold.  A moment later, it unwound itself and began trailing away in a determined shower of sparks, pausing only to swirl around him once more.  Curious, he followed, feeling himself growing lighter with each step.  Only once did he pause, glancing back over his shoulder, seeing more figures gathered around the table and spilling out into the hallways.  He took a step back, one hand reaching out—

“Mom.”

Pain shot through him,  a harsh breath burning through his lungs.  Panicked, he looked for the stars, trying to figure out where they’d gone, wanting them to take the pain away.  He ran, taking corners and running up endless flights of stairs, wanting the pain to stop… now—whatever it took.

The pain shrieked through him, driving him to his knees and forcing him into a tight ball.  He squeezed his eyes shut as he crossed his arms over his head, folding his arms tight over his ears.  Trying to block it all out.  If he opened his eyes, he’d be home.  Home.  Please… he just wanted to go home.

Matthew.

The sound of his name prompted him to cautiously open his eyes, blinking slowly as he took in his new surroundings.  It was a large, light room—or would be if the blinds were open.  Instead, the room had that hazy dim glow indicating that daytime waited on the other side of the window. 

When had daytime arrived?

And why was he standing by a baby’s crib?

As if sensing his presence, the baby opened its eyes, their eerie dark green glowing the same way the room did—like there was light and life just waiting to be welcomed in.

You.

“Yeah.”

The baby blinked solemnly.

You’re Matthew.

“Yeah.”

The baby yawned.  Will you be here when I wake up?

“I… I don’t know.”  Matthew looked around, noticed the sleeping woman in a nearby bed, an exhausted looking guy in what looked like a EMT uniform slumped in a chair, holding a teddy bear with a pink ribbon wound around its neck.  “I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.”

Please don’t leave.  I like you.

He stared down at the baby, at her chest rising and falling slowly, a tiny hand opening and closing against her cheek.  He was an only kid—he’d never been this close to a baby.  Reaching out, he ran a curious fingertip across the tiny hand, snatching it back as it disappeared into her skin, a hot flare of sensation shooting up his arm.

“Emily?”

The baby’s eyes opened.  You know my name, too.

“Yeah.”  How he knew that, though, was kind of taking a back seat to what he suspected was turning into a way bigger issue.  Carefully, he touched his finger to the blanket wrapped around Emily’s small body, the hot tingling running up his arm again as his finger appeared to dissolve into nothingness. 

“Why did you call me?”

Those eyes kept staring, intent on him and yet at the same time, focused inward in a way he knew.  Way too well.  A way that sent a current of fear through him as he repeated, “Emily, why did you call me?”

She blinked, the intent focus of her gaze never wavering.

Because I could.

 

Haunted ©2013 Barbara Caridad Ferrer

Sorting through notes and WIPs and trying to reorganize into something that makes sense, I keep coming across idea notes for potential projects. As is my habit, I jot things down as they occur, then set it aside for a later day.

Thought y’all might enjoy the peek into the mushy gray matter. These are notes for a story idea that clearly had its roots in chick lit, back before it became a dirty term. Until today, I hadn’t opened the file since 2004, so not exactly a barn burner of an idea. At least not one that set the lizard brain on fire.

Revenge of the Brat Pack (NOTES)

A woman pushing forty, who had initially imagined that her life would be like a combination of the influential John Hughes/Brat Pack films of her youth

Title each chapter after a different film or divide into sub-sections, referencing a different part of her life.  (Depends on how many films you use.)  Story catalyst is invitation to high school/college (which one?) reunion.  If college, perhaps she went to a college a lot of her high school classmates went to—she’s from Miami, which in the early eighties wasn’t as trendy and desirable as it is now, but had big dreams of getting out ala Andi in Pretty in Pink—hence the influence of those films.  Perhaps wanted to go to school in Chicago, because so many of the films she admired made it seem so clean and fun.  Or perhaps D.C. (St. Elmo’s Fire.)  Plus, it was different.  Those cities had seasons.  They lacked palm trees.  People bought warmer clothes and coats for back-to-school.  They fit the profile of every McDonald’s commercial of every ABC  Afterschool Special she ever watched.

Introduce each section with a blurb about the film saying what year it came out, who starred in it and a brief description of the movie.  And add the Siskel and Ebert review if you can find it.  Then memorable scene & quote from each film, i.e.

Memorable Scene: Ferris croons Danke Schoen and belts Twist and Shout from atop Polish Heritage Festival Float.

Memorable Quote:

“I did have a test today. That wasn’t bullshit. It’s on European Socialism. I mean, really, what’s the point? I’m not European, I don’t plan on being European, so who gives a crap if they’re socialist? They could be fascist anarchists, that still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car. Not that I condone fascism, or any ism for that matter. Isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon: ‘I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.’ A good point there. Of course he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus, I’d still have to bum rides off of people.”

Film suggestions-

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Risky Business

Sixteen Candles

Weird Science

Breakfast Club

Ferris Beuller’s Day Off

Some Kind of Wonderful

Pretty in Pink

St. Elmos Fire

She’s Having a Baby

Dirty Dancing

Revenge of the Nerds

Lost Boys

Opening scene:

“VA-GI-NA! VA-GI-NA!”

This is what my life has come to

A bus full of little girls, all under the age of eleven, chanting.

“VA-GI-NA! VA-GI-NA!”

So not what I expected.

Subtitled: what happens when Barb is operating on 2.5 hours of sleep and sees a photograph that captures her fancy. The photograph in question:

Vintage Hollywood

All credit to Arlene Wszalek (@Wzzy) who had posted a lovely full color version of this image taken during a walk around the newly reopened Hollywood Reservoir. I mentioned that it seemed the sort of  image that evoked a sense of Old Hollywood and that I’d love to see it manipulated in a sepia-tint. A while later, voilà—the Lovely Arlene had tagged me in a post whereupon she had applied a sepia filter to the photograph and isn’t it lovely?

My first thought was, “There’s a story there.” (Go on, look surprised, I dare ya.) And lo and behold… a wee drabble emerged.

This is that drabble. Please, keep in mind, 2.5 hours sleep.

With many thanks to Arlene for indulging my idle whim.

Vintage Hollywood

New Year’s Day 1957

No one remembered what it used to look like.

The fruit orchards and citrus groves bisected by wide, quiet avenues and lined with modest Craftsman bungalows and Mission-style houses

Back before Bill Mulholland built his dam, and Woodruff and Shoults had erected that damned monstrosity up on Mount Lee designed to draw people to their “superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills.” Hell, he hardly remembered himself—he hadn’t been that long out of short pants when the sign went up and not long after, the dam was built, changing the landscape forever.

Of course, it didn’t help—or hurt—depending on your point of view, that as the popularity of the talkies grew and the industry along with it, his quiet, sleepy town had also gone along for the ride—huge swathes of acreage giving way to studios and shopping centers.

He still hadn’t quite forgiven Chaplin for that.

Even so, the area had remained fairly sylvan and peaceful for quite a long time, removed as it was from the City of Angels, proper. Especially up in the hills themselves, lots of trails for a body to take a bracing walk or where a horse could still be ridden in peace. Up there, a body could get lost for days—weeks even—almost forgetting the hustle and bustle that invaded and wouldn’t be beat back. Not unlike a particularly insidious strain of poison-oak.

The one invader he hadn’t minded was the Observatory. There was something so regal and serene about it, clean and white and set at a remove from the ugliness. One could sit up there and feel just a little bit closer to the heavens and that was a fact.

There had been that scare some years back—that lunatic, Hughes, making noises about building up on Cahuenga Peak—something about how his princess deserved a castle so she could oversee her subjects.

Man was loopier than the yarn his grandmamma used to spin.

Then again, same argument could be made for City Council, since they actually voted to grant him permission to build.

Thank God, Hughes had all the restraint of a chickenhawk let loose in a henhouse. Ginger had caught wind of his indiscretions—not that he went to all that much trouble to hide them—and had the sense God gave a goat to give the narcissistic bastard the old heave-ho before she got in too far over her head.

Granted, he might not care for the sign much, but for better or worse, it was a landmark and a damned sight better than whatever that crackpot Howard would’ve seen fit to put up, no doubt overshadowing if not obliterating anything in his path. When one took into account that his next big project after Ginger cut him loose had been the Spruce Goose…

Well—everyone knew how that had turned out.

He paused for a breath and to regain his bearings. It was all changing so fast and yet, at times like this, the setting sun bathing everything in a warm gold glow, he could squint his eyes and it almost—almost—had the look of the sepia-tinted photographs so carefully preserved within the leather-bound albums that were his pride and joy.

They told a story, those albums did.

Just not the story everyone assumed.

They thought he was merely the family historian. The dotty uncle trying desperately to cling to a past about which no one cared.

Oh, but they’d care all right.

If they were smart enough to put together the clues he’d so carefully preserved on those bits of celluloid and painstakingly affixed to the heavy parchment sheets of those leather albums.

Of one thing he was certain—by the time they put it all together, that is, presuming they ever did—it would be far too late to do a damned thing about it. He’d be long gone and the biggest secret of all, gone with him.

Something about that—much like this place he loved so much—made him smile.

With that, he picked up the shovel and began to dig.

Lately, I’ve been working on the synopsis/story outline for the new YA novella. Unusual for me, at this point, is to be working with my editor at tweaking the story before I’ve even written word one on the story proper. Yet, even this early, there are things I really like about the story about which my editor is saying, “We might want to rethink this a bit.”

Which just goes to show, the darlings, they can be killed at any point in the process and as an author, you have to be prepared to deal. Unless, of course, you’re one of those speshul snowflakes who exists in a vacuum and has reached a point where people are afraid/don’t bother to edit you any longer. In which case, I feel sorry for you because everyone can stand editing.

But that’s a post for another day. Today it’s about killing darlings and while I’m not prepared to share from the new story just yet (mostly because it’s really such a little thing and not much of a darling to kill anyway), I am willing to share one of my absolute favorite darlings from Dorian. 

Oh, how I love this scene. Like BURNING, I love it. I knew when I first wrote it that it was a hell of a scene. When my first readers started telling me that good as it was, it maybe wasn’t going to work, I rebelled. It was such a good scene, dammit. How could it not work? I moved it around in the narrative—I even tried making it the opening scene—but eventually, I had to acknowledge defeat and the fact that my readers, with the distance they had from the story, were right.

Great scene. Just not working for the story as a whole. Out it goes. But I still love it and pull it out from time to time to remind myself what I’m capable of producing.

 

***

The French Quarter, New Orleans

November 2005

Gabriel clenched one end of the tourniquet between his teeth and pulled tight, rapidly opening and closing his left fist and slapping the fingers of his right hand along the crook of his elbow, pausing only to feel for the telltale rise of the vein.  Praying for it to come up faster, sooner…

There… there

He unclenched his jaw, the filled syringe he’d been holding between his teeth dropping into his palm.  Quickly, he adjusted his grip and plunged the needle into the vein, his head dropping back against the weathered brick wall of the alley as the juice burned through his bloodstream and the familiar euphoria washed over him, ebbing and flowing in time with the rowdy strains of “Iko Iko” that drifted from some nearby club.

Look at my king all dressed in red

Iko iko an nay

“I bet you five dollars he’ll kill you dead,” he sang along in his head—he thought—until he heard the cheer and answering chant of “Jockomo feena nay!” from the group weaving through the lights glowing at the far end of the alley, pointing the way toward the noise and rowdiness of Bourbon.  A little more subdued, maybe, but signs of life were evident, the parties of the Quarter staging a return.  Celebrating survival.  Shooting a big, civic finger at that fucking storm.  That mean-assed bitch had blown into town, done her damage, then left them scrabbling in her left-behind shit like the goddamned Lord of the Flies.  But she could just go fuck herself—she’d been banished and they were still here.  Still here and not going anywhere.  Not anytime soon, no sir.

Sweat trailed along his scalp and around his ear, cold and sinuous as a snake.  No… no…  He fucking hated snakes.  Blinking rapidly, he tried to dispel the image, rubbing his back against the rough bricks to get rid of the feeling of something dark slithering down his neck and along his arm, leaving a dank, clammy trail in its wake, like it’d just come sliding up from the bayou.

The syringe dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers to join the rest of the crap littering the narrow alley—this sliver between two ancient buildings just wide enough to trap the shadows.  Perfect for a quickie, whether it was with someone—or something—you wouldn’t normally be caught dead with out there, even in the hedonistic surroundings of the Quarter.  Their remains lay underfoot: the mélange of cigarette butts and crushed go-cups, used syringes and condoms that had a way of tripping up tourists stupid enough to try to use the alley as a shortcut. 

Why was he thinking of all this shit?  He was trying to forget the bad.  Forget the sting of cold water against his face—cold that was alien to New Orleans in August.  Forget fighting against the wind and rain, trying to convince folks to leave, that he’d drive them to the Dome, to the Convention Center, to anywhere that wasn’t where the storm was trying to beat her way into their house… the House of the Rising Sun, the Crescent City, the Big Easy…

So easy… It had once been so easy.  It needed to be easy again. 

He never used to trust easy.  Easy was for suckers and the lazy.  Live long enough in New Orleans, though, and a body eventually succumbed.  Easy was their way of life after all.  Even when working hard, there was a welcome, sugar-drenched easiness about everything that made it home.

A screaming trumpet line wailed through the heavy, humid air bathing him in the soothing warmth of home.  So warm, even late, late at night, with the shadows and ghosts as his only company.  Just like he liked it.

The familiar lethargy began claiming him, sweet and relaxing, from his fingertips through his muscles and all the way down to his bones, making him feel as if he was sinking right into the weathered bricks, merging with the building.  So perfect.  He could be a sentry, standing guard, watching everyone go about their business… doing the things they did, good and bad, that gave the city a richness like sweet cream, that kept folks coming back, even now.  She was like a lady past her prime, ragged round the edges but still damned fine enough to attract all the boys and knowing it.

He smiled, rubbing his palms over the rough surface beneath them, caressing life back into the old girl, letting her know he thought she was still hot.  He’d never leave her for any of those sleeker, bigger cities with their promise of shiny and new.  Hell, why would he leave?  All that sleek shininess, it was bullshit—a smokescreen hiding all the same sorts of darkness.  At least New Orleans, she was honest and true. 

Rolling his head to the side, he peered down the tunnel-like expanse of the alley, the dark length lithe and supple, his beautiful girl reaching out to embrace him.  Slowly, he began making his way toward the movement—so fucking beautiful, bodies moving together, then apart then together again, a long, graceful arm reaching out to him, imploring, beseeching—

“Please—”

He blinked again, smiled at her request, tried to move a few steps closer, stumbling as muscle and bone rebelled, wanting to stay, the weathered bricks tightening their embrace as if wanting him to sink into every pore and crack.

“Help me, please—”

It was the darkest part of the alley and he was still too far away.  Too far and getting further, as the long arm reached out once more then fell away, the once-graceful fingers grasping at thin air, desperate for purchase.  Adrenaline surged through his system, fighting through the junk holding his body hostage.

He blinked furiously trying to separate reality and the fantasy—what if it was all a fantasy?  What if it was all real? 

What the hell was real?

Please—

He groped at the small of his back for his piece with one hand—reached into his pocket with the other.  Braced his legs.  Lifted the gun in what should’ve been a practiced grip.

Sweated as it trembled.

“Police—”  He flashed his badge.  “Step away and show me your hands.  Now!”

Except there was nothing there.  Nothing more than the stink of piss and illicit sex and the distant wail of a trumpet that sounded like laughter on the night air.

 

From A Tempestuous Noise

© 2012 Barbara Caridad Ferrer

Earlier today, I read a post from my dear friend Jennifer Echols on the wisdom on never, ever, don’t-even-consider-it, throwing away any bit of writing. Go. Read. I’ll still be here. Promise.

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So. You see what good can come from never, ever, don’t-even-consider-it, throwing away any bit of your writing? I mean, you just never know. As for myself, I’ve long been a proponent of the school of There’s No Such Thing As Wasted Writing. Because again, you just never know. So in that vein, I decided to go digging into my own vaults and pull out a piece of writing I love (of which I have many) that fits nowhere in particular (much like Jenn’s) but that I absolutely love and that I can’t seem to let go. I completed this entire manuscript but as Lovely Agent kindly put it, it read like two different books—the first half vastly different from the second.

She’s… not wrong. So it lives on my hard drive, waiting for me to decide how best to revise, but in the meantime, I still think the first chapter, which I dashed off in literally a couple hours when the idea hit, still remains one of my favorite pieces of writing that I’ve ever committed to (virtual) paper. So I decided to share it.

And I hope you like it.

Chapter One of my 1960s-set story, Between Here & Gone

© 2012 Barbara Ferrer

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CROWD HAILS CASTRO AS HE REACHES U.S.  FOR AN 11-DAY VISIT

The New York Times

April 16,1959

One

April 1959

“Talia, I’m going to be sick.”

“Oh, no.  Otra vez?  How can you even have anything left?”

But Carlito was already leaning against me, the harsh, dry rattle of his heaves contrasting with the cold wet sounds of the waves slapping against the sides of the boat.  While he gagged and jackknifed into my lap, I desperately groped for the bowl we’d tried to keep handy ever since we ran out of the Coca-Colas that we’d saved for him and his delicate stomach.

I was too late.  He was losing what little remained, nothing but bile at this point, soaking through my skirt, hot and smelling acidic and faintly, ridiculously, of maduros.  Probably nothing more than a product of exhausted and overwrought imagination.  Wistful memory of the meal served at home before we left, colluding with the future.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

Everything out of the ordinary.

None of the servants any the wiser that it would be the last time they’d be cooking for us, serving us, cleaning up after us.

Or maybe they’d known.  No one could trust anyone else any longer.  I wonder how many of them at least suspected?  Might have been watching, waiting… Papi must have sensed it was close.

We should have just flown.  We should have left—long before this.  I tried telling them.  I had desperately wanted to leave.  Almost as much as I wanted to stay.  Wanted things to be the way they’d been, childish pipe dream that it was.  Wanted to curl up and die.

But Papi insisted that not only could we bring more with us on the boat, but that it would also serve us well in bringing extra money since we’d be leaving almost everything behind.  What we still possessed was tied to the country in ways that would all too easily rouse suspicion if we tried to make substantial changes.   Another reason we’d taken so long to leave.  Gathering money and items in small increments, all very cloak and dagger in a way that might have been thrilling and exciting if not for the sheer terror overlaying every step or word.

So not only was La Damisela a beautiful cruiser, meticulously maintained, but for los americanos—they would appreciate not only the beauty and craftsmanship, but also find the notoriety of what it represented entirely too delicious to resist.  All certain to add up to a nice sum.  Not that he directly said so.  At least, not to me.  Just la niña—la princessa—no need to worry my precious little head with such trivialities.

What a joke.  Everything was already different.

Yet so typical that he’d still think of me in such a way.  Attempting to keep me locked away and preserved in some airtight box.  Even after all that had already happened.  So willfully blind to the fact that I’d left innocence behind in one shattering moment weeks ago.  Although how could he be so callous?  Who knew?  Perhaps it was for his own benefit.  Protecting himself.

Mami and Abuela had always said it wasn’t that the men in our lives didn’t care or weren’t aware.  Just simply that they couldn’t handle our pain.  It overwhelmed them.  So instead they focused on pretending we were delicate flowers requiring protection.  That we were the ones who didn’t understand.  Even when they knew better.

Cause for more wisdom from Mami and Abuela—that, of all things, we were the ones who had to be strong.  For them.

I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I didn’t want to be strong.  I wanted to howl and scratch and spit and rip flesh from bones and rail at the inhumane unfairness of it all.  Perhaps I was better at this pretending than even I had imagined.  Because they—Papi, Mami, Abuela, Carlito—every one of them thought I was strong enough to cope.

Using a clean section of my skirt, I wiped Carlito’s mouth, dabbed the perspiration off his sweet face, trapped in that shimmering moment somewhere between boy and man.  Pobrecito—there was so much he’d be missing.  So much he should be experiencing that wasn’t this hell.

“Let me get you some water, hermanito.

“Don’t go.” His voice cracked.  Definitely more boy there, as his arms tightened around my waist—afraid I’d leave.

“But it’ll make you feel better.”

“It’ll make me throw up again.” Shades of a deeper tone.  A surety.  Almost against my will I smiled.  So stubborn, my little brother.  Since the cradle no one had known him as well as he knew himself—as he took every opportunity to remind us.

But I not only wanted to get him water, I wanted to change my clothes.  Get out of this dress with its soaked, filthy skirt.  Never mind that in sacrificing clothes in order to leave room for other items and the fact that this wasn’t the first time that I’d held Carlito through a bout of nausea, I didn’t have much left.  At the very least, I could always borrow a pair of Carlito’s pants and a shirt.  Anything would be better than sitting around in sodden, smelly cotton, clinging to my thighs, bare, since I’d discarded my girdle the first hour out.  It was just too damp to be wearing the close-fitting torture device.  Besides, clinging to social niceties was a waste of time.

“Carlito, m’ijo, I have to change my clothes.

“Stay.” A command, coming easily from the young prince accustomed to getting his way, easy for me to ignore until his gaze fixed itself on my face, eyes enormous dark smudges in the pale oval of his face.  So deceptive, since those eyes, in the light of day, were the same pale, brilliant green as Papi’s.  The “eyes of the San Martín men” as Abuelita proclaimed time and again from her spot of honor at the foot of the French mahogany table.  But in the dark, the color was inconsequential—overwhelmed by fear.  Ignoring the wet and the stink and my own terror and fury, I gathered him close, my little brother, taller than me now, the future man of the family, forever the baby, holding him as the yacht bobbed quietly along the waves.  We were saving our last bit of gas, I knew.  For when we got close.

I closed my eyes and turned my face into the breeze drifting through the cabin’s open door, breathing deep—sea air always helped.  Even under these circumstances.

“Natalia—”

I blinked, not sure if I’d drifted or not.  But I must have, because where before there had been nothing but endless dark—

Lights.

Through the window—tiny pinpricks of light in the distance, piercing the dark, gracias a Dios.

Finally.

Lights that appeared to be standing still, only their reflections bobbing and weaving the slightest bit on the dark water.  Looking like fireflies.  Difficult, but not impossible to catch.

Beneath the smooth leather soles of my shoes, I felt the engines rumble to life, the distant lights continuing to beckon, reaching out, guiding us in.

“We’re here,” Carlito whispered, struggling to sit straighter.  “Natalia, we’re here.”

Yo se,” I whispered absently.  But where? Continue reading

What with Isaac making himself known and seven years on from Katrina- this passage from the Work-in-Progress is feeling especially poignant.

Initially, it had been the latter, by way of Mac and his weekend hobby, that had drawn Alex to Mère’s. Still relatively early in the post-Katrina recovery, he’d suggested she drop on by. Listen to him play his guitar and if she had a mind to, maybe help him lend a hand because at Mère’s, in those days, they’d needed all the help they could get.  It’d been that rarity: never once closing because of the storm, surviving on generators, charcoal grills, and a wing and a prayer. A loosely organized host of volunteers had cooked, cleaned, and procured supplies from God-only-knows where—best not ask what you really didn’t want to know—while overseeing it all had been Mama  Earlene and Lucille, her trusty twelve-gauge.

She’d offer food and drink to any who needed, take what payment could be offered and if none could, simply scribbled out an I.O.U., assuring the customer she was confident the debt would be paid. Even now, five years on, folks regularly eased in through the palm-shrouded entry, bearing their tattered half of a ticket along with payment while at least once a week an envelope would drop through the mail slot,  bearing postmarks from as nearby as Slidell or as far away as California. There was even the memorable instance  of a case of fresh-smoked salmon from Alaska that had landed on the doorstep with a simple “Thank you, Mama” scrawled on the side.

One gesture of generosity in exchange for another—one that may well have saved a life.

That was the thing—people remembered.

Even if they no longer lived here—forced out by circumstances beyond their control—they remembered their city and the people in it.

This city, it had a way of holding a body’s heart. Every time she crossed this threshold, Alex was reminded how she, herself, was living proof of that fact.

From A Tempestuous Noise

Just came to me and I scribbled it down. It might be the beginning of a new project:

“Don’t look back, somethin’ might be gainin’ on you.”
~Satchel Paige

New Orleans, Louisiana August 28, 2005

His entire life he’d heeded those words. His daddy’s mantra, borrowed from the great Satchel. “That’s as good advice as any given by a man, no matter what color his skin is.” So no, he’d never looked back. Always looked forward. Always forged ahead. But the joke was on him now. Because that thing that was gaining was coming from ahead, rushing headlong towards them with speed and fury and an unforgiving wrath that roared and howled at the injustice, but refused to let up, to divert its course. Oddly, he wasn’t frightened. No, if anything, he was hopeful. Hope. A simple word holding so much weight. There was hope it would all be swept away—the dirt and filth and lack of decency. Hope that the demons and monsters would be swallowed whole and erased—leaving nothing in their wake but perhaps the merest spun sugar dust sparkling in air washed clean and new. Evidence that once, they’d been good.

Despite appearances to the contrary, they’d been good.

Once upon a time.

It had all once been so very, very good.

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