Saturday, December 08, 2012

Country Acres rough draft update

As promised, I will keep regularly updating my rough draft (at least once a week) until it is finished. Some have asked how I could feel comfortable publishing my novel before it's officially published. I'm not worried because this is a rough draft. Subsequent drafts will stay offline, except for possible excerpts, until after the novel is published. The finished form of this novel will look very different from the rough draft. If some poor sap feels like stealing my ideas, go ahead. I'll still come up with a unique product that can't be stolen. Besides, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, though I know copywrite lawyers would beg to differ.

Here it is, for all 8 or 9 of you faithful readers, is the continuation, post National Novel Writing Month, of my novel, with the working title Country Acres.

Crow camped amongst low stands of briar and honeysuckle, on a rise just at the edge of a flood plain on the north banks of the Kishemuka River. The plain was forested, with tall oaks, maples, hickory and Chinese elm, and there were many deadfalls and collections of driftwood. The ground was spongy, muddy, often barren of any vegetation. Only the deep-rooted could survive the frequent flooding. Most creatures that passed through, didn't have the benefit of cover. And they often left muddy tracks. So Crow was certain, upon further inspection, that the red fox he saw flitting around his camp each morning wasn't the shapeshifter fox of his dreams.


No doubt it was a mother fox, for he often saw her going to and fro with a mouse in her mouth, gathering food for her young. Crow was tempted to follow her to her den, but

didn't want to disturb her activity. She became another creature for Crow to talk to.


"How are you doing today, little lady?" Crow asked, just sitting up, wrapped in his bed roll, eyes and nose the only parts of him exposed to the elements. "What goodies do you have for the kiddies? Oh, you walk so dainty, my dear, like a lady in high heel shoes."


This dialogue was better, Crow thought. For though it was between animal and human, and, of course, was one-sided, at least he was addressing a living, breathing, track-leaving creature. What is my state of sanity, Crow thought, when I have to find an animal's tracks just to verify it is not a hallucination? And whose to say I'm not hallucinating the animal tracks as well?


Maybe it was time for a verification of sorts. Some human contact might be necessary, though these weeks in the woods, broken, of course, by forays into town for early morning dumpster diving, had been good for Crow. The fear and paranoia following in the wake of the shooting had left him. He figured whatever fall out from that traumatic event had already played itself out, and wondered if Chalmers would be around when he returned. And as long as things don't start talking back to me, he thought, I guess it's okay to talk to them.


Snow was falling as Crow broke camp. He stuffed his bedding into cinch tie garbage bags and then put those into another huge, 50-gallon size garbage sack. He then stuffed the pile into a large hollow log, hiding it from sight and further shielding it from the elements. Barring a chewy rodent invasion, this would be safe. He pissed around the trunk, hoping the testosterone in his urine would scare off damaging incisors.


The fat flakes muffled the air. Crow could only hear the crunch of his footsteps. It was about a mile and a half to town, and he had a route that went in the wastelands beyond an industrial park, along derelict railroad tracks that once fed into these factories, and behind the backyards of some newer build houses. He didn't touch pavement until he was almost downtown. He was surprised at how derelict the downtown was. Hardly any cars were parked. All the businesses were closed, except for a gas station at the edge of downtown.


Crow didn't know the time or the date, but figured it must be mid-morning. Was it Sunday? Even then, there would be more traffic. Did he miss out on some sort of apocalyptic event? Who knew? The world had passed on in its usual way without him these past weeks.


When he got to the Augusta Inn, he noticed the lot was almost empty of cars. Of the two cars there, only one looked like it was in use. The other had a flat tire and was covered with successive layers of snow. It had been there for months. Stoops threatened to have it towed, as the sign on the falling garage threatened, but then had forgotten.


When Crow tried the basement window, he found it to be locked. He looked inside and noticed the piece of cardboard had fallen. The window had locked of its own accord. The only option would be to try Mackey. Crow came back around and climbed the fire escape stairs up to the second landing, and then a metal ladder up to an even smaller landing below Mackey's window.


Crow was in luck, for Mackey opened the window even before Crow had the chance to knock.


"I heard you coming," Mackey said. "And figured it was you. It couldn't be Santa Claus, I thought. I'm one of the naughty ones."


"Here, let me get these boots off," Crow said. "I don't want to track all over your place."


Crow stamped the snow off his boots, took one off and stood precariously on one foot as he handed one boot to Mackey.


"Get your ass in here before you fall off," Mackey said.


Once inside and settled on Mackey's couch, Crow asked Mackey where everybody was.


"Well, you know, everybody goes home for Christmas," Mackey said.


"It's Christmas day?" Crow asked.


"Well, yeah," Mackey said, incredulous. "You don't know what day it is?"


"Let's just say I've been out of touch," Crow said. "I've been hanging out in the woods for weeks now."


"I could smell," Mackey said.


"Do I stink?"


"You could use a shower, but you just smell like a campfire and like dirt. It's not a bad smell, but, damn, man, you're dirty. Why don't we get you cleaned up?"


"That'd be nice. I need to get to the basement anyhow. I think I've got a change of clothes down there too. You got a spare towel?"


"Sorry, but I don't. Mackey pointed to his lone threadbare beach towel hanging on a nail near the north window."


"No bother. I'll make do. Well, Merry Christmas to you. I'm glad you're around. Haven't talked to anybody in a while."


"Well, I'm glad to see you, too, old timer. Its been pretty quiet around here with everybody gone. You gonna stick around awhile."


"I'm time wealthy, good sir. One of the richest men you'll meet in that regard. The day is mine to see fit to do what I want."


"Good. Take your time in the shower. Scrub good. I may not have a towel, but there's plenty of soap and shampoo already in there."


 While Crow got cleaned, Mackey went downstairs and worked the combination lock on the refrigerator he shared with two other housemates. He placed the lock on top of the fridge, figuring it could stay unlocked for awhile with most everyone gone for the holiday weekend. He didn't have much. Some frozen peas, a loaf of bread, a half a pan of leftover meatloaf from earlier in the week, and hot dogs. But on the shelves he had a few cans of beans. He had it in mind to make a Christmas dinner. What he had would be paltry compared to a traditional sumptious array, but neither would the men go hungry.


Although Mackey's plans hadn't changed -- he was going to drink beer and watch football games and a horror movie -- he was glad for the company. As he stood over the stove, stirring hot dogs into a small pot of beans, someone knocked on the back door. Mackey could see it was The Colonel, with whom he had an easygoing, if antagonistic relationship.


"What the hell do you want?" Mackey yelled.


"If you don't let me in, I won't tell you," said The Colonel, stamping snow off his shoes on the back porch.


"Well, shit, I don't know," Mackey said. "If you don't invite the vampire in, he can't harm you." He walked over to the door.


"Ho fucking Ho," said The Colonel, stomping into the kitchen. "Hey, now, look. Is there anyone else hanging around today?"


"Fuck if I know. Crow's upstairs getting a shower. I know Chalmers and them are gone over to Misty's folks. Haven't seen anybody else, though."


"Well, let me check and see."




In lieu of a direct answer, The Colonel stomped past Mackey, through the dining room and into the front landing. He yelled, loud enough to make Mackey recoil, "IS ANYBODY HOME?! HOOO! IS ANYBODY AROUND?" He let out his infamous war whoop, "WHOOT WHOOT WHOOT - pause - WHOOT WHOOT WHOOT!!"


"What the fuck?" Mackey said.


"Hold a minute. I think I hear somebody."


A robed person, obviously awakened by their groggy shuffle, appeared at the top of the landing.


"Fire drill?" he asked. It was Xian Jiao, a Chinese exchange student, studying graduate level physics at ISNU. He was also an intern at a particle accelerator laboratory in the nearby suburbs.


"No, Chin Chin, it's just me, The Colonel. Hey! Look! We're having a big ol' pot luck dinner across the way. Come on over. You don't have to bring nothing if'n you don't want to."


"Pot latch?" asked Xian.


"Pot luck," corrected The Colonel. "Food, man. Mon gee Mon gee!" The Colonel put his hand to his mouth and made munching sounds.


Xian nodded his head in understanding.


"Country Acres. Across the way. Come on over."


"Thank you. Thank you." said Xian and turned back around to go to his room.


"So that's what all this fucking racket is about." Mackey asked. "I forgot about the infamous Country Acres Christmas extravaganza. You making your world class chili again?"


"Shit's already bubbling away." The Colonel said. He produced his trusty bowl, made out of gas stove pipe parts, and took a hit. "Tote?" he asked, passing it to Mackey.


"Don't you mean 'toke?'" asked Mackey.


"Toke. Tote. What's the difference? Do you want a hit or not?" The Colonel waved the bowl at Mackey.


Mackey waved his hands around his mouth as The Colonel exhaled. "Fuck no. I don't touch that shit. Messes with your mind."


"That's the point." The Colonel took another hit. He exhaled as he exited through the back door, the smoke wreathing around him, pausing briefly, and then rushed out the door ahead of him with the escaping heat. The spectral effect was not lost on Mackey, who thought briefly of his own ghost.

Upstairs, Crow was luxuriating in the warmth and steam of his hot shower. It had been weeks. And the time spent outdoors, in the cold, had made his skin dry and itchy. His legs itched from the warmth of the water. His extremities, which he'd not even noticed were numbed, tingled back into sensation. Even the pad of his buttocks revived itself with feeling and warmth. The body retreats into itself in the cold, along with the mind, Crow thought. Afterwards, for lack of a towel, Crow stood there. He looked up, noticed a hole in the ceiling, looked around and noticed the mildewed tile, a spreading, blackening bloom like pubis around the tub's faucet, the peeling wallpaper. Every space on the lip of the tub had a near empty bottle of shampoo or liquid soap. Patience and gravity rewarded the soap seeker with enough drops to get a healthy lather.


The sanitary conditions of this shared bathroom were far worse than Crow's other accomodations, the locker room showers at the ISNU campus swimming pool. On weekends, the pool was open to the public. Staff there knew Crow used the showers, but he often came early enough to avoid detection. With the school on holiday break, though, the showers would not be open. While the Augusta Inn shower wasn't as clean, Crow enjoyed its privacy and that he need not be in a hurry.


Crow was hesitant to put on his clothes, for he could smell the wood smoke and body odor in them. He had some spare clothes downstairs, though. He put on just a pair of pants and a shirt, and carried his pile downstairs. Mackey was in the kitchen as he passed through.


"The basement's already unlocked," Mackey said.


"Thanks, buddy. Is there soap for laundry down there too?" Crow asked.


"Same thing as the bathroom. Whatever you find down there, you can use."


Crow hoped he had a spare change of clothes. Otherwise, he'd have to wear dirty clothes while he washed and do two loads to get all his layers cleaned. As he suspected, wrapped up in grocery bags, Crow found a pair of sweat pants, underwear, socks and a t-shirt. The shirt had a cartoon drawing of a kid dressed up in hip hop garb: baggy pants, oversize shirt, and large backwards cap. He stood with his arms folded. Written on the front of the shirt in a scrawled graffiti: "Here is irresistible!"


Crow smelled the clothes. They had been infused ever so slightly with the damp mustiness of the basement, but otherwise smelled fresh. After changing, Crow conjured enough detergent to get a cupful for a load. Back upstairs, he saw Mackey putting together his share of the feast. In addition to the beans and franks, Mackey had another pot with stuffing and peas, and the leftover meatloaf broken up into hunks.


"I wish I had something to add, but all my food is out at the forest preserve," Crow said.


"Don't worry," Mackey said. "There will be plenty to go around. There's a party going on across the way. The Colonel's already been by to let us know."


"So, that's the racket I heard in the shower." Crow said.


"You know how it is around here," Mackey said. "If there's any kind of noise and bother, The Colonel's gotta have something to do with it."


By the time Crow's laundry was washed, Mackey had finished heating up the food. Crow went back upstairs and got his boots on, and both men walked across the driveway and down the steps to the basement landing of Country Acres.


"Set your shit up over on the counter," said The Colonel as he handed out beers to four men sitting on two couches. Football was on a 19-inch television set placed on a folding card table.


"Do y'all know Mackey and Crow?" The Colonel asked.


Crow recognized the crew cut young guy on one end of the couch as Mike Verbic. He was a sullen Croatian. He had a tattoo of an eight ball on his forehead and pierced nostrils, eyebrows, and tongue. He'd lived in Country Acres a couple years, but Crow was surprised to see him because he knew Verbic had family in town. Mike seemed engrossed in the game. He nodded his head and looked their way, but then turned his attentions back to the game.


Andy Vilinovich sat next to Verbic. He stood and shook Crow and Mackey's hands.


"It is good to see you'se guys," Andy said. "Long time, no see, Crow. What brings you out of the woodwork?"


"The smell of The Colonel's chili, of course," Crow said.


On the other couch was Hosmi Abbudah. "How you guys doing?" he asked. "Hey, Mackey. You got a smoke?"


Mackey reached to his chest pocket and shook one out of his pack. He started to put the pack back, but then shook out two more.


"Here. Take these, but don't ask again, okay?" Mackey said.


"Thanks, man."


Mackey knew that Hosmi almost never had his own smokes and made the rounds of smokers until he'd worn out every last ounce of generosity. Then, he would roll smokes out of The Colonel's pipe tobacco, of which there seemed to be a never-ending supply. This wasn't far from the truth. The Colonel liked to buy his sundries in large quantities. The top shelf of his closet had at least 10 cans of tobacco, taking up space with stacks of sardine cans and potato sticks. Hosmi had seen this once, but also knew how far The Colonel's graciousness about generosity extended. Once he saw the signs of indignation, he'd back off and not even ask. Still, he'd often he'd had to endure the verbal lashings of The Colonel, but it was a small price to pay, for The Colonel always seemed to have tobacco, weed, and beer in abundant supply. 


Next to Hosmi sat Mimbe Odunka, another foreign exchange student from Uganda, who came to ISNU on a Fullbright scholarship and was studying urban planning.


"How do you do?" Mimbe nodded at the men. He spoke in a French accent.


"Hey, where's the chink?" The Colonel asked.


"I think you woke up Xian earlier. He probably went back to sleep." Mackey said.


"Oh well. His fucking loss." The Colonel said.


"Maybe he went out to find a stray cat to contribute to the pot luck," Mike said, eliciting groans from the other men.


There was room on the couches for Mackey and Crow to sit, but rather than take up the middle cushion and sit elbow to elbow with the other men, they elected to grab chairs from along the wall nearby. The basement area was large and open, with fluorescent lights casting a bright glow in the kitchen area. The TV area was more dimly lit. A large, plaster cast base lamp with yellowed shade, teetered precariously on the card table next to the television.


The windows dripped with condensation and the concrete walls had a sheeny glow. The room was almost hot, especially when one stood up, but an insistent draft came down the stairs at either end of the room.


Conversation revolved around the game as Andy tried to explain the rules of American football to Mimbe. He was explaining what the line of scrimmage was after one of the teams was called for an offsides penalty. When play resumed, Andy pointed to a gray line.


"See, the line of scrimmage. It's gray. That's where they line up the ball."


"I see. I see." Mimbe nodded his head.


The Colonel, who had gone upstairs for a moment, stomped back downstair and stood next to Mike. He placed a joint to his lips, took a couple long puffs and passed it to Mike.


"I know you don't touch this stuff, Mackey," said The Colonel. "But I know you won't turn down this." He tossed a beer at Mackey, who, surprised by the toss, had the beer slip between his fingers and fall into his lap. "One for you too, Crow," who was ready when the beer was tossed to him.


Of course, Hosmi took a bunch of extra hits, and by the time the joint got to Mimbe, the cherry was almost an inch long.


Mimbe, who had not smoked marijuana before coming to the United States, had been turned on to its pleasures by The Colonel, and now partook every time it was offered, though his hits were smaller and the clumsy way he handled the joint made The Colonel nervous.


"Here, let me fix this," The Colonel said. "Gotta stop that run."


The Colonel licked two fingers and wiped some of his slobber onto the joint. The others, knowing what he was doing, were non-plussed. These men were macho, hard-scrabble, and one man kissing another could lead to a fistfight. But sharing spit on a passed fatty joint didn't seem to bother them.


After the joint reached a certain point of resiny unmanageability, someone produced a bowl and put the roach into it.

"Sit on that, or smoke it as you will." said The Colonel. "I've got at least three more jays pre-rolled and ready to go."


"Well, c'mon man. Bust it out. Let's party," said Hosmi.


"Easy, easy. Pace yourself Palestinian," The Colonel said. "We'll have a nappy tryptophan THC post-meal joint soon enough."


"Is the food ready?" Andy asked.


The Colonel walked over to the kitchen. He lifted the lid off his big pot of chili.


"Chili's ready, and most of what you guys brought came ready, right?"


With no further fanfare, no gathering before a table, and certainly no prayer, the men got up and came over to the kitchen area to get their food. In addition to The Colonel's chili and Mackey's contribution, Verbic had made corn bread, Mimbe a corn and couscous mixture, and Andy chips and salsa. Hosmi's contribution a pile of caramel candies wrapped in wax paper. Everyone drank beer except Mimbe, who was Muslim.


A rare, brief silence fell over the men as they concentrated on their victuals. Suddenly, over the sounds of scraping silverware and the football game, could be heard a scream, and then yelling, though no words could be made out.


"What the hell is that?" asked Mackey.


The Colonel and Hosmi gave each other a knowing glance.


"That's our resident freak," said The Colonel. "He lives in the infamous red room."


"What the fuck is his problem, anyhow?" asked Mike "Is he pissed because he wasn't invited to the Christmas party. Get his ass down here, then."


"Who said he wasn't invited?" asked The Colonel. "I knocked on his door and told him what was going on, but he never responded. He never does. Dude's a nut job. Lives in his own fantasy world. Just sits around up there all day, fighting with himself."


"I've heard him many times," said Mimbe, "but I've never seen him. Does anyone know his name?"


"C'mon Colonel. You know everybody. What's this dude's story?" asked Hosmi.


"I met him once. He was boiling up some perfume or some such or other. He was stinking up the joint and threatened me with a knife when I confronted him. So, uh, no. I never got his name. Asshole McNutjob. How's that? Put that on his mail slot."


"That'd be a good way to get his name," Crow said. "Check his mailbox for any incoming mail."


"Isn't there some federal law against mail tampering or something?" Mike said.


"No. Jesus. It's not like Crow's asking you to open it. That'd be something else," The Colonel said. "I look in his mail slot every time I check my mail. Believe me. I'd like to know his name too. But he doesn't get anything beyond the general mailer. Either he doesn't get any mail, or he has post office box somewhere."


"Or he picks up his mail before you do," said Mackey.


"No, smart ass. I practically meet the mail man every day," The Colonel said.


"What about asking the landlord?" Mimbe asked.


"There's an idea. She's gotta know. Unless he's got an alias." The Colonel said.


Muffled yelling continued and the men stopped what they were doing to listen. Hosmi even muted the television to get a better listen.


"I can't make out what he's saying," Andy said. "Imagine. The poor soul. All alone on Christmas. Doesn't he have any family to be with on Christmas day?"


"Nah. He's like the rest of us," Mike said.


"Well, at least we have each other," Crow said.


"That's so fucking touching," said The Colonel. "I think I'm going to cry."







Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Nice work, Greg. I was able to feel emotion, something I don't get in way too many stories I read these days.

DR. LARRY Mitchell said...

I really liked this.