Monday, July 28, 2014

List Story No. 2

Here's another short piece of fiction I put up on Buzzfeed, a noirish thing with no resolution, but some pretty good public domain images of the Dust Bowl.  Enjoy!

6 Ways To Tell If A Girl Is Into You

Romance, Dating, Love…these are confusing waters for a guy! Here are six hints that let you know if she’s digging on you, or if she thinks you are a nerd!! 

1. Serious eye-contact!!

He left the swamps and the humidity and the mosquitoes behind him as he drove out of Houston. The Packard rattled, its chassis groaning over the asphalt, turning the phone call over and over in his mind as he went north. He knew, always knew, that the call would come, just never when, could never plan for it. In some ways it was a relief to finally have received it, to have had the world finally come crashing down around his head. Now there was no waiting, only action, only consequences.

“Parker,” the voice had said when he’d answered the phone, deeper and sadder than he’d remembered, but with the same bitter rasp, the same harsh vowels. “Now, Parker, come up. It’s time.”

“It’ll take me two days to get there,” he’d answered, the phone cold against his suddenly damp palms.

“Hurry,” she had said, voice flat, dead.

He passed the turn-offs for San Marcos and Austin, saw the exit for Dallas. He stopped south of Denton to eat supper, a tiny truckers’ diner that had 10 cent sandwiches and sold bootleg whiskey by the pint. He bought two of each, wrapped the sandwiches in a napkin, and returned to the car. He pulled off into a disused side road, access to a dead or dying ranch, and had his supper in the car.
As he drifted off, he reached under his jacket and felt the butt of the gun in its holster. Coyotes yelped in the distance.

2. Watch her smile: It’s all about those pearly whites!!

The car barely made it; the fuel gauge hovered lightly over the “E” as he rolled into Levy, OK. It was a small town, shuttered as much against wind and dust as it was against the Depression. Abandoned storefronts littered the main drag as he made his way through the center of town, most with broken windows and signs that read “CLOSED” in dusty letters yellowed with age. He hadn’t been home in a long time, but he saw past the decay and into his memories, and found Cartwright Street without any trouble.

The house was the biggest shock. It looked nothing like he had remembered it, the little picket fence gone, the yard dead and heaped with miniature dunes baffled by the dead arms of flower bushes. Frayed paint hung off the side of the house, and loose shingles rattled in the wind. He knocked on the front door, knocked on the back door, no one answered. He peered in the windows, and saw the dark interior of the house, sagging furniture in the front room, bare wooden table in the kitchen. It was empty, had been empty, for a long time. He stepped back from the window, and called her name. His voice was a lonely, croaking sound, and it shocked him to here it.

“Ain’t no one home, young feller,” answered a voice, dry and harsh as his own. It came from the neighbor’s house, itself dead or dying. Parker turned, and saw the speaker was an old man, ridiculously old and dry and wrinkled, parched and burned chestnut by the sun. The few wisps of white hair on his head trailed after the breeze, longing to follow the pale smoke of a ratty cigarette that burned in his left hand. “All gone, young feller, all gone,” he said, nodding. Parker hopped the fence and mounted the porch. As he got nearer, he saw the old man had one good eye, bright and black, and one bad eye, a milky orb that seemed to roam of its accord over the scene.

“I’m looking for someone,” Parker finally said, “a woman.” He paused, having to remember what name she went by in this town. “Mrs. Marcus.” The old man nodded again. “She lives there,” Parker pointed at the house.

“Ain’t no one lives there, son,” said the old man, knocking ash from his cigarette.

“She’s my sister,” he lied, “she asked me to come up for a visit. “Is there anywhere else she might be staying in town?”

“Ain’t no on lives here at all, son” said the old man, turning his good eye on Parker. “All left, all gone west, getting away from banks and the Wrath of God.” The old bastard’s crazy, thought Parker.

“Look buddy,” he said, leaning in over the old man in his chair. “She called me a couple days ago, told me to come on by the house.” The old man shrugged, and swiveled his head towards the house.

“Ain’t no on lives here,” he said, simply. “Levy ain’t got no one at all, no more.”

3. Is she gettin’ touchy-feely? Watch her hands, bro!!

He left the old man on his porch. For propriety’s sake, he went around the far side of the house, out of the geezer’s line of sight, and found a window facing out over what used to be a garden. He shattered the window with his gun, the brittle crash of the glass against the den’s wooden floor shockingly loud in the silence of the neighborhood. He carefully reached his arm in, undid the lock, and climbed inside.

It was mostly empty, a few pieces of ragged furniture left behind, but little else. Dust and grit crunched under foot, the probing sandstorms always finding a way inside even in the most securely locked building. The pantry was empty, the shelves bare. There was a rusty bed frame in one of the bedrooms, but nothing else. The house was abandoned, and had been for some time.

He went out the backdoor and into the dead yard. Osage orange trees, their tight branches tall and naked, bordered the far edge of the lawn. A picnic table baked in the sun, its wood chalky and dry to the touch. His foot crushed a rotted, dusty osage orange under foot. Leaning against one of the trees was a sun-bleached doll, a child’s toy, sitting up with its eyes peeled wide. It seemed to watch him as he walked over, lifting it to examine it. He tilted it backward, prone, and the eyes closed, then tilted it forward to make the eyes open again. The doll’s head was a smooth dome dotted with tiny pin-pricks where the doll’s hair had once been.

He tossed it over the trees and out of sight before making his way back to the car.

4. Does she talk about other guys when she’s with you? There’s your big hint, bro!!

The sky was a merciless blue as he eased his car back towards Main Street, coasting on neutral in places to save gas. The houses all looked abandoned and ready to fall apart at the next big storm. Things had gotten bad in Levy, he thought, much worse than he could have imagined. He was sweating through his shirt, and the gun in its holster rubbed against his side.

She must have called him from one of the stores in town, he figured, although he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t mentioned they’d moved from the house on Cartwright. He wasn’t sure how to find her, but he knew he had to, knew he had to fulfill the promise he’d made so many years ago. Had she left word for him at one of the stores, or in the post-office?

He didn’t have to spend much time searching because there wasn’t much to search. There was only one place left open, a little general store with nearly bare shelves and a gas pump out front. A fat man, blond and pale as a grub, slouched in a chair behind the counter. He roused himself as the echoes of the bell over the door died down.

“What can I do for you, sir?” he asked, rubbing pudgy hands into his eyes as he yawned.

“You got a phone here?”

“Sure thing, mister, there in the back,” he pointed at a booth towards the far end of the store. Parker walked over and checked that it worked.

“This the only phone in town?” he asked.

“Well, there’s the party line for in-town, but that one there is the only one that goes out.”

“Not a lot of folks in town?” Parker asked.

“No sir,” said the fat man, settling back in his chair, “no sir, we’re pretty near all cleared out. Thinking about heading out myself, actually. Where are you heading to?”

“Out west, like everyone else, I imagine,” answered Parker, flipping through the note pad in the booth. “Say, listen,” he said, strolling back to the front of the store and leaning on the counter. “That phone must get a lot of use, huh? Only one in town with long-distance, I mean?”

“Well,” said the fat man, scratching his round head, his blonde stubble so short he seemed nearly bald, “I reckon not. I mean, there ain’t many folks in town anymore, anyway, and them that are left ain’t got much outside of town they want to talk at, if you take my meaning.”

“A woman use this phone, in the past day or two?” he asked. “Brown hair, kinda tall, blue eyes. Name of Marcus, Mrs. Marcus.”

“A woman?” the fat man repeated the word. It seemed unfamiliar in his mouth, and his soft face receded into folds and wrinkles as he sounded it out again. “A woman? Can’t say as a woman used the phone lately. No sir, can’t say as a woman did at all.”

“Who else works here? Anyone else I can talk to?”

“Just me, Mister,” said the fat man, smiling. “Ain’t no one else left, just me.” Jesus Christ, thought Parker. Everyone in this town must’ve gone crazy with the wind.

“Look, gimme a dollar of gas, alright?” he asked. The fat man shook his head sadly.

“Ain’t got no gas, Mister,” he said. “Trucks ain’t been by at all, not since folks started leaving.”

Parker walked back out into the sun and sat on the steps of the store. He pulled the second pint of whiskey from his pocket, felt it burn as it went down his throat. He looked west, saw the sun sinking below the horizon. He’d have to sleep in his car again tonight.

The bell over the door rang, and the fat man bustled out and stood next to Parker. He shielded his button eyes, looking first west, then turning to look east. Evening was settling in.

“Gonna be a storm,” he said simply. Parker followed his gaze and looked east. In the descending dark, a line of deeper black hung over the horizon. “Gonna be a bad one, too,” said the fat man, before returning inside.

5. How quick does she return your calls? Reply to texts? There’s gold in them thar hills, bro!!

He rummaged through the trunk of his car until he found the length of hose he was looking for. With that in one hand, and a gas can in the other, he walked through the town looking for cars. The first one he’d found was empty, bone-dry, but the second one had a half-gallon or so, most of which he was able to siphon off. It wasn’t enough to get him out of town in the morning, but it would be enough to get him back to the abandoned neighborhood. He had seen cars, parked against the road and up on the curbs. Might be better pickings there.

Night fell, and the town stayed dark. No street lights, of course, but there were no lights in any of the houses, not even a candle in a window. It was utterly black, and completely silent. He sat down on the rickety front porch of the house and finished his whiskey.

Dark shapes slinked through the yard, darted through the streets, short barks and whining yips muffled under a heavy, oppressive atmosphere that sank down and engulfed the town of Levy. The coyotes would watch him if he moved, their sharp noses jutting up and towards him for a moment before leading their owners along on other business.

6. Let her pick out the music while you hang out; her decision will tell you a lot, bro!!

When it came, it came like end of the world, like the seas rising up to swallow the earth back into chaos. The coyotes knew it before he did, felt the mingling of earth and air in the approaching dust storm and fled, shadows moving through the deeper dark of the night. Parker heard it first as a moan, steady and cruel, a constant plaintive cry.

He stood up and walked to the back yard and saw it coming, a wall of darkness that rolled in off the plain, blotting out stars and the crescent of the moon as it rushed towards him. The dust storm towered over the world, and Parker felt very small.

The car was no good since the rear windows wouldn’t close anymore. The house? He ran inside, felt the house strain and creak under the wind. He had broken a window, and the sand on the floor already told him that a big storm would find ways in. He ran into the kitchen, his feet tripping over a ratty rug that bunched around his feet. He kicked it off and saw the trap door, a square with two small finger holes in it. He swung it open. The house rocked as the wind strengthened. The first hissing blasts of sand lashed the roof, caressed the sides of the house as he climbed down the ladder.

His match wrapped him in a small circle of light. The floor was dirt, hard packed and cool. He edged along, arms out as he looked for a wall. He heard the house swaying overhead, the wounded sighs of wood mingling with the background hum of the dust storm. He found the wall, cold brick dull red in the glow of the match, and walked along to the right until he found a corner. He sat down, drew his knees in close, and listed to the sound of the dust storm as it reclaimed Levy.

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