In between the bad poetry and the funding applications, there is other writing happening - one meta, one fanfic, one (continued) original.(Well, three continued originals, and vague thoughts of a Halloween ghost story fluttering about temptingly in the back of my head, but we shall see...too many words, too little focus, obviously.) I've decided that this? Is the year that I become a writer. As a lifestyle if not in any other respect. Wish me luck as you flee from the avalanche of my unfinished scrawlings.
(Also, does anyone else's year start in September, or is it just me? I blame a lifetime of educational timetables.) Whatever. Here are some words.
Should I die in an untimely fashion, the most damning proof of my limited capacity for extraordinary behaviour is that my final thought will be not for the welfare of others, but will ultimately revolve around one single, solitary, horror: "They’re going to find my fanfic, aren’t they?"
Picture the following scene. My mother is in the bedroom, weeping as she packs up my DVD collection. However, when she reaches the back of the shelf, something puzzles her. There’s a stack of DVDs with their spines turned backwards, tucked away behind the works of Hitchcock and Campion and Forsyth and Kubrick. She blows her nose, and lifts one DVD off of the stack. Then another, and another. Gradually, her grief gives way to bemusement, until she finally has to call my father in for consultation:
"This looks terrible. Why on earth would she watch this?"
My father comes wandering through from the kitchen, where he’s been disconsolately cleaning out my cupboard full of cornflakes and Heinz tomato soup and chunks of ginger, and asking my flatmates if they want to keep the Kraft dinner and my good set of saucepans.
"What is it?"
My mother passes him the DVD. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer, series 2. And she’s got something called Firefly. It looks awful."
My father points to the top of the wardrobe, where a pair of plastic legs can be seen sticking down over the door. "She’s got Hellboy up there as well."
My mother takes the action figure down and turns it around in her hands. "Well, we like Hellboy. I think we should keep him," she says, and stuffs the Plastic Version of the Big Red One conscientiously in her purse. There’s a pause. My father looks at more of the DVDs, holding his fingers in a circle up to his eyes, and squinting in order to read the titles (he never remembers his glasses). The pause gets bigger. My parents are obviously baffled.
"She liked Doctor Who?"
Just wait until they turn on my laptop.
The waitress was blonde, but she wasn't his type. She smacked the double cheeseburger special down in front of him hard enough to make half the coleslaw fall off into his lap, and then slopped the free refill of coffee into his cup and slouched off without bothering to clean up the drips on the table.
Of course, he supposed that if he had to live in Hillsdale, he'd be pretty permanently pissed all the time too. It was a town like so many of the other towns he'd driven through: a couple of main streets with a couple of bars, one strip joint out by the train tracks and a hotel that had once been elegant, and was now the same mud-colour as everything else on the street. It was April in Northern Ontario and rain ran down the window next to his booth and pooled on the ledge. It wasn't even spring rain, it was the sort of heavy, cold drops that soak you in under five minutes and don't let up for a week, and there went any enthusiasm he'd had for this job, because who wanted to go scrabbling around in blocked up mine shafts when the weather was as crappy as this? He ate his fries and looked at the town paper printed on cheap newsprint and moved his feet around under the table to avoid the draft every time someone opened the diner door. Time went by. He ordered the last slice of a pitiful looking coconut cream pie and ate it as slowly as he could. It kept raining. Finally, there was nothing for it. Dean Winchester paid up, pulled up the collar of his jacket, and went out into the spring night to go hunt some ghosts.
"No, I'm telling you, Dad, there was nothing." He sat on the edge of the bed at ten a.m., and looked out the window of Room 4. The rain had turned to a lesser cousin of sleet, and the phone line was half Dad's voice and half static. "Nada, zip, zilch, no ghosts, no lights, no sound of anyone hammering or calling for help, nothing. Can I get my ass south of the border again now please?"
Dad said something. It sounded a lot like static.
"Whatever." he said, and hung up. And then he clomped out of the room and down the stairs and out to the Impala and the local library where, dude, the librarians weren't even sexy here, and what was up with that? He found a table away from the desk, and dropped his stack of books and the local paper onto it from a greater height than was necessary.
The heart of the canyon reeled around me, red wild faces lurching too close through the sweat in my eyes, a bad, violent drumbeat from a hundred ghettoblasters and my own heart pounding in my ears, the acrid smoke of fireworks drifting above and at knee level like some sort of mild circle of Dante's Inferno. It went on for miles, but, stumbling around the twist where the dried up river started, there was the cliff-side path that led to the front of the Jailbreak, and I headed for it like a demented and angry homing pigeon and went scrambling up, sandals slithering on the rocks. And there at the top was Eddy, his face white under his tan, his voice gabbling something about how sorry he was, and I didn't even stop before I punched him in the mouth.
You'd think that I would have remembered from the bathroom episode how much it hurts to punch something with a broken thumb. I swore and doubled over with my hand clenched between my knees, and Eddy made an awful choked yelp and doubled over too, and there we were suddenly at eye level again halfway to the ground with neither of us feeling any better.
"Shit." I said, and it came out more like a howl. "Shit, Eddy, you promised, you fucking promised, what happened?"
He was lurching forward, bleeding in goopy strings onto the ground, and he staggered against me and I grabbed him under the elbows to steady him and we stood up together.
Over by the patio, Pete looked frozen to the spot with shock. The only people more shocked than Pete were Eddy and I when the bucket of cold water that Ruben threw from the kitchen door hit us.
We were still bubbling and turning around in teeth-chattering outrage when the second bucket, courtesy of Tippy's left-over dishwater, hit.
I breathed hard, bent over, hands on my knees. Didn't want to look at Eddy, and as far as I could tell, he didn't want to look at me either. I shouldn't have been surprised that Pete was the one who got it together first. He spends his Wednesdays directing Youth Orchestra out at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow High School. It's aptly named. As far as Pete's concerned, two brawling men are small fry compared with Grade 10's remedial music group.
His hand came down on my shoulder and swiveled me round. "Joe. You're going to go out front. Eddy said that the last time he saw Louise, she was with the guys from the bike shop, so have a look for them. Eddy, you're gonna go wipe your face, and then we're going to go back down and go look through the food stalls. Tippy's by the phone in case she tries phoning, and he's trying your place regularly in case she picks up. Does she have a cell phone?"
Easier said than done. I hurled myself off from them, focused on the front door of the club through the sweaty, giggling crowd. Outside, the front of the club was quieter, small groups standing around, beer and cigarettes in hand. I recognized a particularly virulent yellow shirt and made a beeline for it and grabbed the owner's shoulder.
"Oh, hey! Uh, this is-"
I cut off the introductions. "Sorry, just, you seen Louise?"
"Yeah, couple of minutes ago, with Lisa and Derek. Think they were heading down to the Snake-Handling Pit."
This nightmare just got worse and worse. I wanted to shake Sandro about by the shoulders of his hideous shirt and scream at him, because who thinks that the Snake-Handling Pit is a good place to take a teenage girl? The Snake Handling Pit, please note, is precisely what you'd think it would be. It's a pit. Full of snakes. And the very very brave and the very very stupid (both of whom are very very drunk), think that it's an absolutely integral part of the evening to go – wait for it- into the pit with the snakes. It's supposed to be a spiritual experience. Logic like this is why I don't bother with religion.
I should clarify that. Mostly, I don't bother with it. But by the time I reached the outskirts of the snake handling crowd, I was praying. Dear God, please let me find Louise. Dear God, please let her be fine, Dear God, please don't ever fucking let Natalie find out about this, or I'll be meeting you a lot sooner than either of us expected. Okay. Okay. Breathe. Breathe. Calm down. Look for Derek, because how hard can it be to miss him in a crowd.
But from where I was, I couldn't see anything. I could hear a lot of screaming coming from somewhere ahead of me, but it sounded more like dimwitted excitement rather than anyone getting their eyes punctured by a rattlesnake, so I did the same thing I do on stage, where you tune into your own instrument, and let the rest of the sound fade into the background. I thought about the width of Derek's shoulders, the green of Louise's t shirt, the frizzed-out explosion of Lisa Gonzales' hair, and I looked for those. The crowd was a living thing, it swung me about and jostled me sideways, and spat me out at a cotton candy stall, and suddenly, there across the counter was Sister Ernestine. And when I saw her, and saw who was with her, the phrase, God works in mysterious ways has never, ever been more apt, because there was my wayward child, holding a striped cardboard box of kettle corn, and apparently manning the till in between mouthfuls while the nun expertly dunked toffee apples.
I nearly fell over with relief. Sister Ernestine said something, but I couldn't hear it through the buzzing in my ears and my wobbling knees. I thought I might puke from the rapid decompression, some sort of landlocked version of the bends.
I opened my eyes, pointed my finger over the counter at Louise.
She beamed at me. "Hi!"
I fish-faced at her for an interminable minute. I sucked in a breath, and let it out again. "Louise Granton, you are dead. You're dead! You? Are more GROUNDED THAN THE HINDENBERG!." I like to think that I was sounding cooly authoritative. Louise told me later that I looked like Yosemite Sam in a rage, dancing up and down and bright red in the face.