Hello all…. So…. it’s been a while since I shared anything creative, but here we go — a glimpse into one of the three things I’m working on right now. The first, is, of course, INCARNATE, the third and final book in the JESSICA series. The second is a young-adult novel that I began during NaNoWriMo but got distracted from. Life does that. That one is tentatively called The Mirror of Miqdaam el-Jabbour, and is about an ancient sorceress trapped in a mirror discovered by two young girls in their new seaside house’s attic. Mayham and horror (of a PG-rated nature) ensue. The third is a longer story whose length will likely be about that of last year’s Thirty-Seven, and if you are noticing a trend there and wondering if this story will somehow be connected to that, well, be patient. Take my hands if we be friends and Robin will restore amends. (That’s one for another Jessica I know who happens to love Midsummer Night’s Dream).
Here is the opening scene, and so, is just a taste. I’d love your thoughts on the writing — can you see the scene? Smell the scene? Are you intrigued. Have I overplayed my hand at all? There is a dark backstory here, but also some pretty dark things coming from a world some of you may be already familiar with if you’ve read CHUK (a novel I wrote here over the course of about a year, and which is — I promise, Scott — still being edited, which is a good thing, because I was able to add a couple of lines that will cement the connection to this story (which may have caused me to chuckle with glee when I discovered the connection). I think I need I need another parenthesis here. Yes.)
Without further barking from me, here’s the opening scene of Thirty-Eight Locke’s Point Road:
“Another pint, son?”
The bartender had a face like a rat – all beady eyes and long, misshapen nose. Patchy whiskers completed the illusion, and Jack had a hard time looking the man in the face without his skin crawling, as if it wanted to escape his body and run off on its own. Instead, he opened his wallet, pretending to see if he had enough for another drink, when really, he was just avoiding the man’s unnerving visage.
“Better not,” he finally said, closing his wallet. “I’m running dry.”
“Oh, pour the kid another one on me, Chet. He’s a poor college student.” A grizzled old man with ferocious eyebrows at the end of the bar raised his glass and nodded a greeting in Jack’s direction. Jack hadn’t even realized he was wearing a University of New Hampshire sweatshirt. He’d just thrown on whatever smelled the freshest that morning, then loaded all his worldly belongings into the back of his ancient Honda Civic and drove away from what he’d already begun to think of as his old life.
“No, thank you,” Jack protested politely, “I really shouldn’t.”
“Nonsense,” the old man laughed. “I was a Wildcat myself, once. Don’t let the years fool you, boy. I was a star running back, once upon a time. Had my heart set on playing for the Pats, but I blew my knee out in my sophomore year and never ran again. Name’s Huey, but friends call me Duck, onna counta them cartoon ducks.”
“Jack,” he replied, raising his own glass in return. “And thank you.”
The man whose friends called him Duck got up from his stool and made his way down the bar toward Jack, favouring his left leg. The man’s leg injury made him walk like a duck, and Jack had to stifle a grin, wondering if that was the real reason for the silly moniker.
As Duck got closer, Jack could smell the sea. Not just the salt-brine smell that every coastal New England town had, but something older, like the long-rotten wood of an ancient ship, or drowned corpses. When the man smiled, Jack politely smiled back, despite his involuntary revulsion. Duck’s few remaining teeth were rotted to tiny splinters, or else were black and not long for the world, Jack figured.
“You play football?”
Jack shook his head, still holding his breath. Duck’s breath smelled like a combination of the sulfur smell of rotten eggs and the vinegary, fishy smell of pickled eels. The cloud of stink was enough to make Jack’s eyes water, and before he could answer the old man, he took a long swig of his beer – a watery brew that tasted like camel piss, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, Jack knew.
“Nah, not me,” Jack said, taking another swig for good measure. “I was up in Manchester.”
“Ah, an academic, then,” Duck said, and slapped Jack on the back with a leathery hand. “What are you studying? Lemme guess – you look like one of them philosophy majors, all fancy shmancy liberal arts fellas only in it for the girls. That you, Jack?”
Jack grinned despite himself. The truth was, Duck wasn’t far off. He had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, and had spent the last three years stumbling and fumbling through one failure to the next, until finally, he met a girl, and then everything went to hell from there.
“Well, Duck, like a friend of mine likes to say, I’ve spent the last couple of years mostly majoring in Dropping Out.”
Duck shrugged. “Happens to the best of us, son. Don’t let it bring you down – fancy schoolin’ ain’t for everybody. But what brings you so far away from the big city to this little fart-in-the-wind seaside town? I mean, Portsmouth proper’s where you wanna be if you’re looking for a cozy job working at the hotel, or any of the touristy places.”
“I used to spend summers with my uncle up in Kennebunkport. We’d spend every sunny day out on his boat, away from what he called the great unwashed – land people, I suppose. I love the sea,” Jack said, cupping both hands around his beer. “And I’m not much for tourists. Gawkers and parasites, you ask me.”
“Spoken like a true New Englander, my boy,” Duck smiled, flashing Jack another glance at his rotted teeth. “Chet! The boy’s nearly dry again, and so am I! Dammit all, man, what am I payin’ you for?”
Jack rolled his eyes. He’d met his share of drunks before, and had learned to indulge them when they were harmless, and ignore them or avoid them when they got dangerous. So, when his refill came, he nodded graciously and raised his glass in salute to the old man.
“I see you’re dubious,” Duck said with a sly wink. “I know, I know. Old Duck’s just a crazy old codger with less sense than teeth, but I’ll have you know the deed on this old tavern is signed Yours Truly, and Chet here is my bonafide em-ploy-ee. Ain’t that right, Chet?”
“Yessir, Mr. Clarke,” the rat-faced bartender replied.
“Mr. Clarke,” Duck repeated, and grinned proudly. “See, everybody loves me here, Jack.”
Jack could feel the heat of embarrassment flushing his face. Maybe he had spent too much time in the city, and picked up the judgmental attitudes of some of his elitist academic friends. His appraisal of the old man was no better than that of his classmates when they’d met him, and seen his calloused hands and second-hand clothes. They’d looked down on him as an outsider – a fishmonger in the big city on scholarship, barely able to afford books, while they drove around in BMWs and Audis they got as graduation presents from their rich parents. Jack took the bus everywhere he went for the first two years until he finally scraped enough together to buy Akiro – his little pet name for the beat-up Honda that seemed to require nearly monthly repairs and whose interior did indeed feature parts held together with duct tape and love. But at least the radio worked.
“Well, cheers to you, then, Mr. Clarke,” Jack said, raising his glass.
“Duck, son,” he laughed. “My friends call me Duck. And it looks like you need a friend, wouldn’t you say?”
Jack didn’t flinch this time when the man patted his back with honest, friendly affection.
“Duck, then,” Jack nodded.
“Now, Jack,” Duck said, motioning for another pair of drinks. “What can your new friend Duck do for you? I’d offer you a job, but Chet here’s my cousin’s boy, and she’d kill me if I gave him the boot.”
“I understand,” Jack said. “Of course. I guess I could use a place to stay for a couple of nights while I figure out what to do next.”
Duck scratched his head, squinted his eyes and stared intently at Jack.
“Son, you got the look of a man runnin’ away from something, if you don’t mind me sayin’ so. You ain’t in any trouble, now, are you?”
It had been an accident. Just an accident. No charges were laid, and it wasn’t as if he were a fugitive, but it was his fault all the same.
“No trouble, sir,” Jack said, not wanting to get into the details with the old man. “Just needed a new start.”
Duck’s face slowly transformed into a wise grin.
“Ah, I see,” he said, wagging a knowing finger in Jack’s direction. “Affairs of the heart. Say no more, my young friend. What was this heartbreaker’s name?”
“Judy,” Jack said, content to let it be just that – a tale of heartbreak. “Her name was Judy.”
Jack ran his hand through his hair and winced as his fingers caught on a fresh cut that was still healing.
“Well, we don’t need to talk about Judy, ol’ Punch,” Duck laughed. “No, we don’t have to talk about Judy at all.
“Chet, another round!”
“No,” Jack said, his head already starting to spin. “Thank you. I don’t think I should have any more.”
Duck slapped Jack on the back so hard that it made his stomach lurch.
“It’s a wise man who knows when to say when, lad. I like you, Jack. Now, as for a place to stay, you’re welcome to bunk upstairs for tonight, and then in the morning, I’ll introduce you to a friend of mine what needs a lodger. As for work, if that hunk of junk you’re driving holds together, I reckon I can get you a job delivering pizzas or something for now. It ain’t much, but it’ll pay your room and board until you find something better.”
Jack found his eyes watering up involuntarily. He’d ran from Manchester like a beaten animal – he had the cuts and bruises to match – and hadn’t expected to find anything remotely close to this kindness.
“Thank you, Duck,” Jack said. “That’s mighty kind of you.”
The man who’d once set the UoNH rushing record for a single game blushed modestly.
“Ah, shucks, kid,” he said. “It’s the least I can do for a fellow Wildcat.”
Now, you may be wondering what this all has to do with Bayou Bonhomme… well, you’ll just have to be patient.
Thanks for reading.