According to the International Treaty Safeguarding Universal Clichéd Sounds (ITSUCS), the official requirement denoting the noise of a klaxon is aroogah! Placing multiple aroogahs in the same sentence indicates the diving of a WWII-era submarine.
I’m taking the blog below periscope depth to avoid collision with an incoming blog post. What happened? To use the parlance of Adam Hall in one of his thrillers, I picked up a tag. She followed me down several shadowy streets, her purpose unknown. I was struggling to think what this meant. Were they onto me? What did they want if they were? And what did they want if they weren’t?
The only thing this fugitive could do was look into matters. Look and report. She wanted me to look. Was I going to play her game? A word caught me. Hazard of being a writer. The word was look. And the tag was thrown out by Kacey Vanderkarr.
She’d been in a bit of a mood concerning her writing. (Koff Drama Queen koff.) I chipped in and told her to buck up. No good deed goes unpunished. Stephanie Diaz tagged Kacey in a game called LOOK. Kacey, in turn, tagged Missy Biozarre, yours truly, Chris Stocking, Martha Allard, and Melissa Keir.
Yes, Kacey is stalking a guy named Stocking.
She tagged me by insisting she was talking to me and that I couldn’t be mistaken. Surely she means the other RLL. You know. The Venezuelan rocket scientist of the same name. I occasionally receive payment for satellite launches.
Determined to kill off my reputation as a curmudgeon, Kacey persisted. First, she dragged me to a BLOG NOVEL. Then she tagged me, and Twitterated the fact. I just wanted to stay on the chilly throne of my own personal DEATH STAR. And I’d have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those darned pesky kids.
Here, as they say, is the skinny…if you are tagged, run a search for the word LOOK in your work in lack of progress. (Koff koff.) Work in progress, I should say. This simple rule almost wriggled me off the hook. Unfortunately, I used the word.
If the word LOOK appears in your fiction, copy that paragraph and the surrounding paragraphs to your blog. Tag other writers in your blog post, and let them know they were invited to participate in the game. That’s all, folks.
Kacey thought she was being sneaky in telling us that we don’t HAVE to participate. That this is not REQUIRED by LAW. See what she did there? Naughty scribbler. She extolled the virtues of sharing unpublished writing with the teeming masses. Or, in my case, with the 0.75 people who regularly read this blog.
Well that’s that. I’m out the door. Have to walk the dinosaur. See you.
What’s the problem? My personal carer Dr Anton Phibes is scouring the Seven Seas for me as I type. He’s there to prevent my releasing stories ahead of the game. It’s not good for me. Kacey thinks it is. She means well.
I’ve had to turn my blog into Das Boot to fire off this literary torpedo. Not Das Boot. The Nautilus. And there’s no torpedo to launch. The only weapon available is ramming speed as I approach the vessel occupied by Dr Phibes.
If only I hadn’t used the word LOOK. But the scene in that story deals with looking and not looking. She wanted him to look. Was he going to play her game? There’s a peculiar link to the BLOG NOVEL I participated in. I created a character called Jess. And I ended up writing about another Jessica in the BLOG NOVEL. Small world.
Other considerations? I couldn’t just drop a chunk of the story on you. This blog has a minimum requirement of 1,500 words. Kacey wasn’t asking much. Just share some unpublished fiction with 0.75 readers. Interrupt your regular blog posts to do so. And give the audience an excerpt that’s long enough for your blog. Ignore Dr Phibes and go for it.
Anything else? Yes. The nature of the excerpt fell under scrutiny. I hope I don’t get that Venezuelan rocket scientist into bother over the publication of this non-scientific data. Genteel readers, and Dr Phibes, look away now. Think of the horror Kacey Vanderkarr has unleashed…
Before I do that, I must tag some people. Kacey tagged five. I could cheat and tag Kacey, forcing her to blog another excerpt. That would be evil of me. Evil and wrong. There’s probably a rule against that sort of thing. So I’ll leave off those already tagged.
1. Karen Woodward. Canadian author and blogger supreme. Tagging Karen flushes her out of hiding, forcing her to reveal a work in progress. If she used the word LOOK.
2. A.M. Supinger. Insecure Writer with a Chris Hemsworth fixation. If she takes up the tagging challenge, expect her to respond with fiction opening Look at Chris Hemsworth.
3. Kellie Manasseri. Another writer who goes around calling herself Mrs Hemsworth when she thinks no one is listening. If she takes up the tagging challenge, expect her to respond with fiction opening Only Mrs Hemsworth is permitted to look at Chris Hemsworth.
4. Michelle Simkins. Originator of the 2012 BLOG NOVEL, Bloom. She created her own Jess in that story as I was creating mine elsewhere. Michelle is a keen photographer. I’d expect her to look at stuff, and to stuff the word look into her fiction.
5. Jennifer Merritt. Worryingly, Jennifer was once charged with the heinous crime of Livestock at Large. I know – any excuse to use the word heinous.
6. Anyone else who wants to throw fiction out there.
Now to our tale. This cycle of stories is bundled with blog posts in the first REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE collection. Here’s an excerpt from MIRA E. The tale is the INCIDENT BEFORE. (I note the irony of the hidden meaning in MIRA. Spanish for LOOK.)
“It is not looming. I can’t show you my scars easily. There’s a barrier to overcome. If I go topless, that’s something I’m getting past. And if you’re gay, I’m not really giving anything up on a plate. Flashing to a queer doesn’t count. So all the angles are covered.”
“Want to see my scars?”
“Tell me about the new thing. Around my neck. Mysterious gift.”
“Deviant distraction. The beachcomber hauled it out of the pebbles down by
. Passed the piece on to the witchy woman in the bauble store.” Chlarson Lake
“She’s a Methodist. That’s practically witchcraft in my house. Methodism. One step up from Stanism.”
“Worship of your dad, Stan. That’s Stanism. A lot of housewives around here wouldn’t mind bumping your mom off and consoling the guy. My mom has the hots for your dad.”
“Uh, please. Your mom…”
“Is not the most stable of people. If she’s stable, the horse bolted long ago.”
“Will your horse be okay down there?”
“Yeah. Good question. Maybe we should bring the horse up here. Where everything is safer. In the den of the axe-murderer.”
“Where’s that coming from? What’s your point?”
“You are obsessed with saving women.”
“I can’t save them. There are news articles. Pieces of a jigsaw. Sometimes, all the pieces fit and the killer is brought in. Doesn’t make the jigsaw whole.”
“Where do you bury them all?”
“In my scrapbooks. Those go back years. So unless I’m guilty of killing random women when I was five, or in negative numbers, I am not the killer you are looking for.”
“I don’t think you odd, just for lamenting the loss of those women.”
“Could you cover your breasts with your arms, then show me the scars…”
“I want to break a barrier.”
“You broke a barrier when you told me you hurt yourself. I…”
“Well you can already see my breasts through the clothing. What difference does peeling a layer make to you?”
“All the difference. I’ll be looking there and not at your scars.”
“Ah, so not gay after all.”
“I’ll look away. Hold your blouse up to your chest with one hand. Figure something out.”
“Oh. You like to leave something to the imagination.”
“Yes. I do. Don’t sell it to me cheap if it’s precious. I’ll think it cheap. And don’t offer me a moving target that stops for show.”
“You might just be a little above average in the ordinary guy department.”
“A little. I could more or less live on that crumb of discomfort.”
“Either that or you are a MAJOR leg-man.”
He didn’t look away. Instead, Zeke closed his eyes. There was a rustle, and shifting of position on the bed. Squeak of springs. Now he trusted her not to mess around and embarrass him. He was embarrassed anyway. Could you be more embarrassed? If so, what did embarrassment matter?
It didn’t matter at all.
“Okay. Here you go, sport.”
He opened his eyes. As arranged via international treaty, her breasts were covered by the blouse. Held against Jess by her right hand. She raised her left arm to show the inner surface. The scratches were short and thin. He considered the cuts the only shallow things about her. Damage markers. Precise. Uniform. Silence. Looking. More silence. Then…
“What did you use, Jess? Laser?”
“Sold my Atomic Death-Ray. Semi-blunt knife. I sterilised it.”
“The cuts look…”
“A knife is a machine for cutting.”
“Did you feel anything?”
“I mean, emotionally.”
“No. Didn’t work. I wanted to feel more human. Whatever that’s like. All I felt was stinging. Made me think of Darcy, in her rubber room.”
“She’s happy there, they say.”
“I didn’t do this to feel happy, Zeke. To feel something. But not to feel happy. I heard Darcy did it to feel good about herself. To experience happiness. That’s sick, twisted, and fucked.”
“But doing that to yourself is okay if it’s about feeling anything but happiness.”
“Yes, Kettle. Pot thinks that. Your turn. Blushing. Come on. Show me your scars.”
“There aren’t any.”
“Did you lie to me?”
“No. I didn’t lie. Jess, I hurt myself to make sensation go away. That didn’t involve cutting.”
“Oh. I thought hurting meant cutting, because it meant cutting to me. Go on.”
“I can’t get into this with you. It’s sick.”
“Fish through my pockets, will you? I’ll show you sick. My knife is there.”
“You aren’t going to cut yourself in front of me…”
“You’ll bleed everywhere, for one thing.”
“Minimal blood-loss. Guaranteed. I’ll pass it off as woman’s trouble.”
“Yes, I can see how that would be woman’s trouble. Vaginal bleeding from the armpit, and all.”
She laughed too loudly at that. He went for the knife, taking his eyes off her. Peripheral vision told him that she’d dropped the blouse. He kept his head down and examined the cutting machine. There were three blades.
“My blouse. You?”
“Pair of testicles.”
“Well it’s high-time now you’re almost sixteen.”
“The big November birthday. Could you put your blouse back on?”
“And risk being cut, with blood everywhere?”
“So what about bandages?”
“I brought stuff for that. Try the other pocket.”
“You should have cut yourself once. Ragged. At least you could explain that away somehow. Multiple scars generate multiple questions.”
“No one will know. Will they? Are you going to tell?”
“Only the newspapers. Are you wearing your blouse?”
“No. I want that barrier to go.”
“Next time. Okay?”
“Oh. There’s to be a next time? On that promise…”
“It’s a promise or I just sit here topless until your mom walks in.”
“You’d never do that.”
“Doing it now, sport. Of course, you could wrestle the clothes back on me. But you’d pretty much have to look, to do that.”
“The alternative would be closed eyes and a lot of fumbling. Next time. Maybe. Depends.”
“Close enough for a promise. Look away, then, you pervert.”
He looked, saw her in the blouse, then looked away. She might as well be topless, in that garment. This was going to be a long hour. With the cheese thing at the end of it. Extra rations for Jess. And…ah, the time.
“Are you staying for supper, Jess?”
“I like riding home in the dark. Experienced professional that I am.”
“Another contest coming up.”
“Might even lose a prize. Will you stop cutting yourself before competitions?”
“What’s the point of that?”
“If you fall off, and hurt yourself, you’ll have to be examined. The cuts might come to light.”
“Then I’ll deal with the problem when a problem arrives. What about you? Oh, no scars.”
“One of these blades is sharp.”
“Yeah. Sometimes I think about using that one. I reserve it for enemies.”
“Will you cut me, Jess?”
No hesitation. Absolutely. He rooted around in her pockets and found a wad of cotton wool and some kind of medical tape. There were sticking-plasters. He’d expected a field-kit. Something that would hold arms together.
“Just to see what cutting feels like.”
“Yeah. I said sure. Take your lumberjack shirt off. If your mom bursts in, we’ll pretend we’re getting it on.”
“In a way, we are.”
“Ooh, deep mysterious layers to you tonight. Here, I’ll unbutton the top two. Evidence for your mom. Unless you’d like to unbutton me. Be my guest…”
“No, you’re my guest.”
“That’s right. Local hospitality. The host’s blood is laid open to the sky.”
“We should sit on the floor.”
“You should lie on the floor. So you don’t flinch and lose an arm.”
He lay in line with the bed, sliding the swivel-chair under his desk. Jess stood over him as he squirmed out of the lumberjack shirt. Just a guy in jeans. She looked to her left. The bed she’d vacated. To the right, the desk. And his 1974 scrapbook. Over the desk, a shelf with more scrapbooks.
She knelt by his side, making much of the action as she took the knife from him and became a killer. Cocking her head, she strained to hear the wooden warning of shoes on the stairs. The light goldened, heading for gloom. Not yet.
“No scars, I see. Talk about that.”
“I…hurt myself. Just to make stuff go away.”
“How did that work for you?”
“Thought it did, actually. Then I had to start over.”
“Ah, no. I just hurt my bones a little more, to see if it all made sense.”
“How severe is the pain you need to throw yourself into, to dislodge the stuff from your head?”
“Turns out, pretty severe.”
“No cutting, though.”
“No. The pain I went for…wasn’t exactly cowardly.”
So he told her. Minute by minute, her eyes grew colder with disquiet. His voice held steady. Her heart pounded on her head’s door. Let me in. There’s been an accident. You’ve accidentally fallen for the wrongest guy in the town. Walk away. Crawl if you must.
“Oh. I take back the cowardliness. But that was the start, you say.”
And he told her the rest. She warned herself not to waste time fighting back tears. If she started that battle, she’d lose. Instead, she went to the numb place in her head and read some indigestible books. On a timer, she packed that routine away and found the words to soothe the poor guy.
“Zeke, that’s fucked.”
And she sighed at that. Slight shake of the head. She unfolded the wrong blade. The sharp one. Just to be sure, she tested it on her palm. A bead of blood burned red there. Jess was surprised by that. A ruby, glistening, putting up its own tent. Attracting customers to the Blood Fair.
“I just fucking cut myself.”
“Hardly bothersome, to you.”
“It is. I used the wrong blade. The really truly sharp one. I always test, just to be sure.”
“Then the test worked. Now you’re sure.”
“I’m not sure of anything, Zeke. Your story distracted me.”
“Though I note that you didn’t cry.”
“I’m not the crying kind. That’s why I cut myself, remember. To feel. I must feel the world wobbling on my shoulders before I’ll cry. What is it you are trying to escape from?”
“So you do intense things to counter the intensity?”
“I guess. When I was younger, I was the kid the older guys allowed along for the ride. Some of them went to
“Not your war, Zeke.”
“I wanted it to be. Now it’s not. So I hurt myself. Today I thought I’d…”
“Best not say.”
“Just to forget being vegetarian.”
“Hell, I forgot being vegetarian. Didn’t cost me blood.”
“Hesitating? Cut me.”
“After what you told me, about escalating things. Maybe switching to a knife isn’t a good idea. You read about a lot of these murders. Read a lot about these murders.”
“I read all about as many of the murderers that the law catches as I can. Right now, I think someone came back from
Vietnam and didn’t get the usual treatment he liked over in Saigon.”
“Huh? You mean prostitutes.”
“Yeah. I spoke to one of the guys who went to
. He said…some of the guys who come back don’t actually come back. They’re different.” Vietnam
“They are exposed to stuff they wouldn’t normally encounter here. When they return, these guys want more of the same.”
“They’ll roughhouse a whore, some. Beating a prostitute here is a way of getting back at Uncle Sam for sending guys over there.”
“That last girl who disappeared. She wasn’t…”
“As far as we know. Living two towns over. Who could say for certain…”
“This isn’t going to stop. The bleeding, I mean. My stupid cut.”
“I’ll get some paper from the bathroom.”
Jess put her knife away while Zeke dashed to the bathroom. He caught sight of himself in the mirror. Shirtless. Do something about that, idiot. He grabbed the whole roll and nipped across to his room. Jess sat on the bed, holding her hand up. Zeke grimaced.
“Here, oh menstrual one.”
“Stupid thing to do, anyway. Could we meet somewhere in the middle, sport?”
“I live a little more, and you live a little less. We settle the balance.”
“Maybe. Press this into your hand. Keep it there. You should go to the bathroom and run cold water if this doesn’t work.”
“It’s not a ruptured artery, calm down. Are you upset, Zeke?”
“I don’t know. Nixon’s resignation.”
“That annoyed me. A President, toppled by his enemies. But President Ford made things right.”
“So you feel better because a crook was pardoned.”
bothers me. And the Russians.” Vietnam
“Not the Dutch, though?”
“Why the Dutch?”
“Just choosing people at random.”
“Don’t you need a permit to make fun of me?”
“That’s the Zeke I know. Where do I apply for that permit?”
“On the other side of midnight, over the hills, far away. Just next door to here and now.”
“Could you do that with your imaginary pipe? I’m busy not bleeding to death. Ah. I’m staying to supper. How do we explain this?”
“An axe made of it? This was no paper-cut, Watson!”
“Oh. I showed you my…”
“Careful, young man.”
“The Campaign for Nuclear Armament. Here.”
“Where do you dig them up, Zeke? The pin is quite shar…argh! Fuck.”
“Make a fist.”
“No use to me.”
“You have to climb into your sweater. Without blood-trails all over yourself. Close your hand and shield the cuts.”
“Uh, yeah. Practical. Okay. We’ll agree to dress.”
He tidied himself, recreating the image his mother would remember. Jess did her best to avoid spraying the walls with blood. Zeke sat in his chair. Jess plonked herself on Zeke’s bed. She extended her left hand for inspection. Blood smears.
“You have some on your throat.”
“That’s because you, young man, are Wampyr.”
“Normally I don’t wear the cloak.”
Jess moved her left hand to wipe the blood. Using her right hand would just bloody another five digits. Her left hand brushed the five-pointed star at her throat. Things quietened, after that. The adventure was done.
“I guess that’s it for cutting ourselves tonight.”
“Or doing what you do. Don’t do that, Zeke. I’m worried you’d injure yourself.”
“Worried I’d injure myself when I hurt myself.”
“It’s the escalation each time. Looking for a new layer of physical pain to take the mental pain away.”
“And your own escalation?”
“There isn’t really escalation in my case. Repetition. Once a cut heals. You are…”
“Looking for something bigger than the thing you are looking for…”
“I want to feel. That’s a small thing. You want to shut out the world. That’s a big door you are hunting after.”
There were moments of tidying. An imaginary pipe was waved around. Laughter. Chatter. Creating a certain mood in the run-up to the cheese thing. He opened the door. Nodding, he beckoned his friend Jess. She followed downstairs, stopping halfway. He looked back at her silence. Light dawned in her eyes and fell from her tongue.