It feels like it’s been two months and five days since I’ve posted anything here on the site … but that’s probably because it has been two months and five days.
Well, I just haven’t had anything to post about.
Now I do.
I’m back working on my final draft of Goldilocks. I made this mistake of trying to go serious with it, even making the bears humans. Then I realized that that just wasn’t the way to go. I originally tried to write something a little silly and that’s what I’m sticking with.
Here’s the new opening:
OUR STORY BEGINS, as some tend to do, at the beginning. Some tales like to start in the middle, or when the author is feeling particularly clever, at the end. Not this story. Not this author. Not this time.
First off, the author in this case, which is me by the way, is feeling anything but clever. Childish, whimsical, maybe even a bit silly. But clever? Not today, thanks.
Secondly, it makes a bit of sense to start at the beginning this kind of tale. That way, you, the reader, won’t be too surprised when the big reveal is made a little later in the book. Of course, there will be some amount of surprise … that’s the hope, anyway … that’s what writers strive for in these types of fantastical yarns, but we also don’t want the reveal to come straight out of left field and take you completely out of the book by smacking you across the face with the fish of disbelief. I mean, there has to be a bit of foreshadowing doesn’t there?
So, with that in mind, we start this one off with a man. A man alone. A man in bed. A man with a cough. A man who isn’t feeling all that well. A man with a mustache.
Okay, so far, not too captivating.
I’ll try a different tack.
It was the coughing that woke him.
It was a hacking cough that he felt throughout his entire body. The cough took control over every muscle and sent pain shooting through each nerve. He’d been living with the cough for a number of years, and now he was dying with it.
After a few moments, the coughing subsided. He opened his eyes to sunlight that shone through a bank of windows behind his bed and he had to blink away the pain that the light brought as it bounced off of the snow outside.
He thought about going back to sleep, but he knew it wouldn’t last. Besides, he’d be dead soon. He could sleep all he wanted then.
He sat up and looked around the room in which he would spend his remaining days. It was a strange amalgamation of rustic hunting lodge and sterile hospital. The kind of place where doctors would spend their work hours tending to patients, and their off hours killing a few of God’s creatures.
His bed wasn’t the only one in the room, though it was the only bed currently occupied. This suited him just fine. He thought he might like to die without a lot of fuss and bother. Besides, if there were others sharing the room with him, they’d be in the same kind of shape he was in, and he didn’t quite feel like spending his last few hours on Earth listening to others wail and moan in anguish. In total, there were twelve beds in the room, six on his side, six on the opposite. That would have been a lot of whining and crying were the place full. Sometimes you just have to count your blessings.
He thought about leaving. Just climbing out of bed, pulling on his boots, and finding some decent place to die in. A saloon, for example. He always figured he’d die in a saloon. A winning hand of poker in one hand and a six shooter in the other. At least he could have one last shot of whiskey before the lights went out. That’s the one thing they won’t allow him here. That, and a little fun.
A nurse came into the room with fresh water. She looked cheerful and happy; the very embodiment of optimism and hope. He hated her for that reason alone.
“Good morning,” she sang. “How are we feeling?”
“I won’t be so bold as to speak for you, darlin’, but I feel like crap,” he said.
The nurse put the water on the little table to the right of his bed and checked his bedding. “You just tell me what you need,” she said, her face twisting into a smile that he thought made her look like a witless moron. “After all, we want to make you as comfortable as possible.”
“I could use a bottle of whiskey,” is what he wanted to say. Instead his body was wracked once again with a fit of coughing. He grabbed at a little white handkerchief that sat on his bedside table and covered his mouth with it. When the coughing subsided and he pulled the cloth away, he found it flecked with blood. More blood than usual. It was getting worse.
The nurse placed a cold hand to his forehead and made soothing noises meant to comfort and reassure him. He knew she meant well, but he hated her for it all the same, regardless of her intentions. He understood that she knew there was nothing that she, or anyone in the sanitarium, could do for him. His fate was sealed. It was only a matter of time. Yet they all continued to go through the motions, trying to make his remaining time comfortable and free of worry. And for that he would curse them with his last remaining breath.
The coughing fit had passed and so the nurse continued with her morning routine. She fluffed his pillow, made him get out of bed long enough to use the chamber pot, had him sit in a chair by the window as she changed his bedding, and forced him to listen to her prattle on and on about any little piece of information that popped into her empty head.
Soon it was time to get back into bed. As he lay back he looked down at his feet. He was going to die with his boots off. He smiled at the irony.
“The doctor will be in to see you later this afternoon. In the meantime, is there anything I can do for you?” the nurse asked as she tucked the fresh linens in around him, trapping him in the bed.
“How about a bottle of whisky?” he asked.
“You know we can’t allow that,” she replied, a look of sour disappointment crossing her face.
“Damn, this is funny,” was all he could say and sent her on her way with a whack on her behind.
There wasn’t much to do in the sanitarium, no one visited anymore, he wasn’t allowed whisky, and playing solitaire just reminded him of the old days.
All he had left, until death came to claim him, was sleep. He smiled for the second time that morning. Sometimes the irony was just too much.
He woke from the nightmare, sitting bolt upright in bed, a scream lodged in his throat. He looked around the room in panic, groping at his side for the pistols that were no longer there. He was alone.
He lay back at the pillow, the memory of the dream fading. He tried to bring it back, but it was like trying to grab smoke. There was a bear, he could remember that, a giant grizzly bear. It stood over him, clawing and biting in a frenzy. Ripping into his clothes, his flesh, his soul. That’s when he escaped into the waking world.
The room was dark. He’d slept most of the day. The coughing took him again. Curling his body in on itself. It came so suddenly, and with such ferocity that he didn’t get a chance to snatch his handkerchief from the table. He didn’t even bother covering his mouth and instead let the blood spray the pristine white of his blankets.
The coughing subsided and he laid back, thinking that he might go back to sleep. Hoping that this time he wouldn’t wake.
“That was a bad one,” a voice said from the front of the room.
He sat up to find a man in a suit standing in the doorway, the light from the hall spilling over him.
The man’s suit was black, even the shirt. A black bowler hat sat perched at a jaunty angle atop the man’s head. There was something about the man, something … dark.
“You the new doctor?” He asked.
“No,” the man in black smiled. “I’m not a doctor.”
“What do you want?”
“I need to talk to you, John.”
John. No one has called him that in a great long time. “Then talk. I’m afraid I can’t guarantee you that I’ll survive the conversation.”
The man in black smiled again. He had a thick black mustache that hung down each side of his mouth. When the dark man smiled the mustache moved. It was like a black worm wriggling about on his lip.
“You aren’t doing too good, John,” the man in black said, coming into the room and approaching the bed. “I don’t think you are much longer for this life.”
“I got doctors to tell me the obvious. What do you want?” John asked in annoyance.
“John,” the man in black sat at the edge of the bed and looked down at him. “What if I told you that I could make you better? What if I told you that I could take the sickness away? That you could go back to gambling? That you could go back to being you?”
“How do you expect to do that?” John asked, a bitter smile on his lips. “You some kind of preacher? You gonna tell me that all I have to do is confess my sins and ask for forgiveness and then I’ll be allowed to walk through the gates of Heaven and all will be as it was?”
“No, John,” man in black laughed. “I’m no preacher. Well, not in the way you might define it.”
The man in black smiled again and John saw something in his eyes. Something that wasn’t quite … right. A touch of something unnatural. The look held no compassion. The look held nothing but contempt. Not just for John, but for everything. The bed, the room, even the world beyond. There was something about the man’s eyes that held John. Pulled him in. Captivated him. The eyes were somehow comforting and familiar. A chill raced through John.
“Who are you?” John asked, his voice nothing more than a whisper.
“I’m the one who can help you, John. The only one. I can return you to your glory. Imagine it. Imagine it, John. Imagine being back in the saloons. A winning hand, a shot of whisky, the women, the fear you inspired in people. Now imagine it without this sickness you have eating you up from the inside out. Imagine it, John.”
“It sounds nice,” John said, his voice sounding distant to his own ears as he gazed deep into the man’s eyes
“I can do that for you, John. Me. Only me.”
“How?” John asked. “How can you do that?”
“Just know that I can, John. Do you believe me? Do you believe that I can do this for you? Do you believe in ... me?”
“I do. I do believe,” John said, floating. Floating away as if on a cloud. Loosing himself in the man’s dark eyes.
“The only question, John, is how much would you be willing to pay? What would you give to go back to it? To go back to it without the sickness and do it all over again? How much would you pay?”
“Everything,” John said, John whispered, John floated. “Anything.”
“I have a some paperwork here, John. You see?” The dark man was holding a short stack of papers. Papers filled with words written in thick, black ink. Words that looked to be written in an alien or long dead language. The words were scrawled across the pages is such a way that they seemed to be alive, crawling and wriggling around the papers in desperate impatience. But John didn’t see any of this. John hadn’t moved. He refused to break his gaze. His eyes stayed connected with the eyes of the man in black.
“Yes,” John said. “Yes, I see.”
“All I need from you is your signature, John. Just that. You signature, right here on this line,” the man gestured to a line at the bottom of the paper.
“My signature?” John asked dreamily. “That’s it?”
“That’s it, John.” The man in black placed a pen in his hand. “Just sign, John. Just sign right here and everything will change.”
John signed. Not once did he look away from the dark man. John signed the paper, his hand moving as if on its own, a smile of ecstasy forming on his face.
“Good, John. Good,” the man in black said, rolling up the paperwork and standing. “Now, just go back to sleep. Sleep for the last time. And when you wake, all will be different. When you wake, you will be yourself again.”
“Myself, again,” John said, yawning and closing his eyes.
Soon John was snoring, his blankets pulled up to his chin. The man in black remained. Watching. Waiting.
John’s breathing slowed. The dark man waited.
John coughed weakly. The dark man watched.
John's heart stopped. The dark man smiled.
“Now we shall see,” the man in black said to the empty room. “Now we shall see.”
Three hours after the last breath left John’s body, as the early morning sun began to filter in through the frost covered windows, a girl entered the room and approached John’s bed.
She looked to be about six or seven and wore a plain wool dress that was a gray so dark in color that it was almost black. In general she was a very unremarkable little girl. She did however, have two odd peculiarities about her.
The first was a large five pointed star that was sewn upon the front of her dress, right smack in the center. The star was made from a fabric so white that it seemed to glow and pulse with its own inner light.
Her second peculiarity was her hair. It was a shade of brown that was much common and not at all remarkable, but what wasn’t hanging to just above her shoulders was done up in no less than seven pony tails that stuck up in random points atop her head.
The little girl looked upon John’s lifeless form with sadness as she placed a hand to his brow.
A tear rolled slowly down her check and landed upon the star on her chest.
The little girl removed her hand from John’s brow and placed it upon his still chest, resting there only for a moment, before she let it drop back to her side.
“Don’t worry, John,” she said, her voice just a whisper. “I’m not ready to give up on you just yet.”
She turned her back on John’s body and made her way back across the room to the door, moving in an effortless manner, almost floating across the wooden floor.
She stopped at the threshold and smiled, turning to look back at John once more from over her shoulder.
“It’s never too late, John. It’s never too late.”
And with that, she was gone.