The 300: Sharing the first chapter of my WIP

10 02 2014

300Recently, I promised that when my Facebook author page got to 300 likes, I would post the 1st chapter of my current Work In Progress.

Well, I reached that landmark today, so as promised, here is the first chapter. I hope you like it. Any comments or feedback are always appreciated

Chapter 1

I used to drive past the pristine homes, the well-manicured lawns, the white picket fences, and wonder what manner of evil really went on behind those walls, away from the prying, curious eyes of well-mannered society. Now, I wish I could go back to wondering.

My name is Mike. Mike Wise. And my personal nightmare started about five years ago. It was the summer after my grandpa died, a steamy July Saturday night with no distinguishing characteristics. I don’t remember the date anymore, but it doesn’t much matter, does it? That day might as well have been the first day of my life, because nothing has been right since.

I might not remember the date, but I will never forget what happened that night. Believe me, I’ve tried to wipe away the unbearable stain of the memories of that night, and all the craziness that has happened since, with an endless stream of alcohol and pharmaceuticals. But nothing has even made a dent.

Sorry. I’m not telling you this story to make you feel sorry for me. Only in hopes that you might understand me. And possibly understand yourself better. I know, lofty goals for a piece of literature most of you will dismiss as pulp fiction or the ramblings of the criminally insane. Let me tell you how it all started. I’ve always thought that was the best way to tell a story, don’t you?

In the last moments of my former life, I was behind the wheel of my recently-acquired prized possession, the 1969 Corvette my grandfather left me, with the windows rolled down and Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” blasting from the CD player I had just installed earlier that day. Hey, I like 80s rock music. I was a child of the ‘80s after all. Don’t judge me for my taste in music. I have much worse faults, as you will soon see.

My grandpa Joe had died of a heart attack about six months before and had left me the classic car in his will, much to my dad’s dismay. Dad always said grandpa had promised him the car, but apparently grandpa didn’t get the memo. It wasn’t the first communication problem between father and son, so it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. In death, as in life.

The two had barely spoken, as far as I knew, in the last two or three decades, so I was really unsure why my dad had continued to cling to the irrational belief that the car would somehow make its way into his possession after Grandpa’s death. I guess sometimes our long-held hopes and dreams can blind us to the cold, stark visage of logic and reality that is staring us right in the face.

The ironic thing is I’m not even into cars. My dad can tell you the specifications of every car made in the last 50 years, but I can’t tell you the difference between a carburetor and a fuel injector. My previous car was an eight-year old Toyota Camry that I maintained to manufacturer’s specifications, but otherwise didn’t pay much attention. Like I said, I’m not that into cars. But you don’t have to be a car aficionado to appreciate the aesthetic value of a 1969 Corvette Stingray. The sleek lines. The lush curves. The way people watch as you drive by. Who couldn’t appreciate those things?

Not that I really care too much about such things. I’m a pretty simple man. At least I used to be. I live alone in my ranch-style 3-bedroom home on the edge of town. I go to work every day at Mansfield Plumbing, the local factory where I have worked ever since I graduated high school 18 years ago. Unlike most guys here in my hometown of Loudonville, Ohio, my idea of fun does not include hunting, fishing and drinking beer. I’m more of an intellectual.

Yeah, I know. What’s an intellectual like myself doing living in this Podunk town working a dead-end factory job? Life’s a funny thing. Like my grandpa used to say, life is what happens while you’re busy making plans. But this is really a nice place to live.

I love spending time among nature, either with a pen and paper in hand or a camera at my eye, and the nearby Mohican River and its lush ecosystem provide plenty of opportunities for me to enjoy the wonders of God’s creation. Plus, I’m not too far from the big cities of Cleveland and Columbus and all the wonderful opportunities they provide – museums, galleries, restaurants, coffee houses. So, for me, Loudonville was a perfect place to live.

That Saturday night, I was heading home from a day of photography and hiking at Mohican State Park. I was cruising along the lonely streets in my quiet hometown, watching as the current crop of hormone-driven high school heroes posed and preened in the sports cars that their daddies bought for them. All in the hopes of luring some unsuspecting prom queen or cheerleader into their web.

I’m not a vindictive, hateful person, but there was a part of me that wished that those pompous teens could get knocked down a peg and be forced to feel what real life is like for most people. Not all of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouths. I know I shouldn’t feel that way, but I just can’t help it. You know you feel the same way. Unless you happen to be one of them.

My family wasn’t poor, but we certainly weren’t rich, either. We were definitely what you would call a middle class family. My dad managed the business office at Mansfield Plumbing, keeping the company’s books. It wasn’t the most prestigious job in town, but it definitely paid the bills and kept us living in one of the nicer neighborhoods in town. The mayor lived on one side and the chief of police on the other side. Not a bad way to grow up.

That night, as I slowly cruised past the rows of two-story Victorian houses that lined my hometown’s narrow streets, my fertile imagination was busy creating nightmarish scenarios of horrific happenings in that serene, small-town setting. It was a little game my mind liked to play – imagining what atrocities could be taking place within the confines of the ordinary-looking homes that I drove past every day. Visions of abuse and neglect danced across the movie screen of my mind. Violent, tragic scenes played out against the idyllic backdrop of life along the Mohican River in rural Ohio. I know, it is a macabre hobby, but that’s just the way my disturbed brain works. What can I say? I get bored easily.

Of course I knew that in most of those houses, there was nothing more awful going on than old Bill Lewis forgetting to lower the toilet seat, pissing off his wife, Margie. Or poor Natalie Holtman sitting home alone watching “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” while her husband Mike was out late again, supposedly playing poker with his buddies, while he actually is busy playing a much different game with his alluring secretary, Val.

Most of my neighbors are relatively honest, law-abiding citizens who go to church, pay their taxes, love their spouses and kids and do their civic duty by voting at least once every four years. But for every Bill Lewis there was a Larry Wallace. Who’s Larry Wallace? Before that night, he was just another anonymous face in the small crowd that made up my hometown.

On that July Saturday night, I was driving past Larry’s house when it happened. What happened you ask? I can explain it to you, but you probably won’t believe me. Or you’ll think I need to see a shrink. Or both. And if I was in your place, I’d probably think the same thing. But I experienced it myself, so I am sure it really happened. At least as sure as anyone can be about that kind of thing.

It started as a quiet buzz, an insidious gnawing irritation that threatened to bore its way through my skull. The melodious sound of Kelly Keagy belting out the Night Ranger classic was cut short, replaced by the unexpected crackle of static. I glanced down at the CD player, ready to fix whatever problem had short-circuited my favorite song, when my windshield went from crystal clear to a sheet of impenetrable white.

My vision impaired, I slammed on the brakes, thankful to not hear the crunch of metal on metal, which meant there was no traffic behind me on the sleepy Loudonville roadway. I jumped out of the car and saw that from the outside, my windshield still appeared normal. I could see through the windshield into the interior of the car. Thinking that maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me, I got back in the car and looked out again, but still saw nothing but white.

That was when the little buzz in my head crescendoed to a deafening roar. For a second, all I could see was pitch black, then a few flashes of light. And then my whole world went dark.

When I came to, I saw that nothing had changed.  Except, everything had changed. I glanced down at the clock on the stereo. 10:30. Almost an hour had passed while I was unconscious. I looked in my rearview mirror, half expecting to see the flashing lights of some law enforcement vehicle parked behind me. How could I have been sitting here for an hour without someone noticing and calling the police? When I glanced back up at the whitewashed windshield, I wished I could lose consciousness again. Before my eyes, I saw a nightmarish scene being played out that almost defied description.

I saw a woman, fear clearly splashed across her visage, huddled on a tiled floor with her thin arms held defensively over her face. She was wearing a t-shirt with a redbird on it – the mascot for our local high school – and a pair of black athletic shorts. She appeared to be about 35 or 40, and I thought I recognized her but couldn’t quite put a name to her. I could see a white porcelain toilet with “Mansfield Plumbing” printed on its base behind her.

I recoiled as an arm flashed into the image from the right, sweeping across my view, followed by a red flash. The arm came back into view from the left, followed by more flashes of red. Blood, I realized. The hand was holding a knife or some other sharp object, and the crimson splashes were the blood spurting from the helpless female figure, now completely prone.

The woman’s mouth opened as if for a scream, but I couldn’t hear a sound, a fact for which I was very thankful. I could only watch the continuing bloodbath, which was horrific enough. The vicious slashes continued for at least 10 more seconds, and the torrent of bright red continued to spray across the windshield of my car.

It was like I was watching a silent horror film, playing out before my eyes in brilliant technicolor. I thought I must be losing my mind. What was I seeing? Was it a hallucination? A vision? A part of my mind was telling me to look away, but I was transfixed by the images coming to life on the windshield of my car. Yes, I know how absurd that sounds.

Eventually, the arm stopped its assault and the woman lay still, a river of blood continuing to flow from the slashes across her face and neck. Then the view shifted, as if a camera was changing angles, and I could see more of the bathroom where the scene was taking place. The hands that just moments before had conducted such a ferocious attack were now reaching for a towel, trying to wipe away the damning evidence.

The view spun a little further, now facing a plain white pedestal sink, as the killer turned on the water. He grabbed a bar of soap and began working it between his hands, building up a soapy lather. He feverishly attacked the bloody remnants of his assault, trying to wash away every last trace. But no matter how hard he scrubbed, there were tell-tale streaks of red left all over his hands and forearms.

He looked up from his scrubbing, revealing his face in the mirror. I had no idea who the man was, but he didn’t look like a killer. Whatever a killer is supposed to look like. I guess I’ve always had this idea that you can tell the good people from the bad people just by looking at them. Now I realize what a naïve idea that was.

With his close-cropped dark hair and goatee, the man in the mirror looked like any one of a thousand other average Joes who populated every corner of our country. He grabbed a purple washcloth from a rack next to the sink, passed it under the running water, then dabbed at a patch of red on his cheek.

And then, just as soon as it had started, it was gone. My windshield returned to its transparent state and the bloody scene vanished back into the netherworld from where it came.

The tiny sound of an approaching vehicle caused me to look down the road behind me. Two glowing eyes stared accusingly at me through the veil of darkness. I wasn’t sure what had just happened to me, but I really didn’t want anyone to see me sitting in the middle of the road in the dark. I threw the car in gear and slammed my foot on the gas pedal, spraying up a shower of stone bullets as the Vette pulled me away from what I hoped was just a momentary lapse of reality.


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