Posts Tagged ‘Edge’

Evelyn Grimes (Novel Excerpt)

April 2, 2017

 

Prologue: Best Laid Plans

1.

January 14th, 1956.

Stark City, Oregon.

12:35 p.m.

“You guys ready?” Lenny Stern whispers through clenched teeth. His pale, thirteen-year-old face gleams with sweat; an odd mix of nerves, apprehension, and lust.

“I’m keen,” Billy Cooligan replies, giving his friend a pistol salute with his right finger. No exaggeration, either. The semi-erection in his pants proves it.

“Sure,” Johnny Pearl says, though the poor, conflicted teenager isn’t sure at all. Unlike the other two, he harbors real doubt about their foolhardy plan…yet not enough to intervene. Thus, Johnny follows their lead, playing perhaps the most villainous role of all.

“Good. Now shut up.”

Lenny edges away from the door, still peeping through the thin crack between it and the doorframe. He hears Sister Marie approaching. Her leather sandals echo on the hard tile…and the familiar sound makes him smile.

The moment of truth has arrived.

2.

Leonard Stern, William Cooligan, and Jonathan Pearl; the disgraced teenage trio huddles behind the large door, careful not to make any noise on the grate landing. The short flight of stairs before them spiral down to the humid boiler room; the place they’ve all agreed upon to perform their monstrous deeds. Down there, in the rusty bowels of Saint Peter’s Orphanage, a line will be crossed, and a crime committed which will come back to haunt them all.

“Here she comes,” Lenny warns.

Rubbing his thin hands together, Billy hisses in anticipation.

Johnny tenses. A chill races up his spine as he thinks: How did things ever get this far?

3.

Right.

How did things ever get this far…?

A fair question, indeed. And in those dreadful moments before Sister Marie reaches the door, Johnny relives the genesis of their crime. Last Monday, at lunchtime. He, Lenny, and Billy had sat together in Saint Peter’s mess hall, munching roast beef sandwiches and slurping milk, when their idle conversation about baseball shifted to something a bit more prurient:

Sister Marie, and her long, slender, legs.

Of course, the good Sister remained ever demure in her nun’s garb, but Lenny had enthralled Billy and Johnny with a fictitious tale about once looking up her dress. “No panties,” he’d assured his wide-eyed audience. “That means she’s always ready to go!”

From there, the conversation devolved into each boy’s lurid fantasy of getting Sister Marie all alone. It didn’t take long before they began to salivate like dogs in heat, and that’s when Lenny laid it out to his pals in the form of a dare:

“I betcha she’d love it if the three of us got her alone. Then we’d see just how ready she really is…”

Billy and Johnny had glanced at each other. Neither wanted to look weak in front of Lenny.

“So how about it? You dorks got the guts?”

Well. Of course, they did.

But truth be told, Johnny hadn’t wanted anything to do with it. He’d agreed because he didn’t want to be ridiculed by everyone in Saint Peter’s. And because Lenny threatened to have his other, older friends kick the shit out of him if he snitched to anyone about their plan.

Now, the timid boy stands before that stomach-turning edge, staring into the dark abyss of his own soul.

Waiting.

So. The rest of the plan had been easy. Just before noon, Lenny approached Sister Marie and asked with doe-eyed innocence if she could meet him in the east hall after lunch. “It’s real important,” he’d said, tugging on her sleeve for emphasis. “Honest.”

“Well, of course I can,” the good Sister replied with a tender smile, never suspecting his true intentions. Not for a moment suspecting the horrors awaiting her in that mirthless boiler room…

4.

“Leonard?”

Sister Marie stands just beyond the stairwell door, and Lenny hears the faint echo of her voice in the hall. “Over here,” he answers, opening the door enough to show his face. “I’ve got something to show ya…”

A moment passes.

The nun looks at the boy, frowning. The boy gazes back; nervous, hopeful. Grinning the disarming grin of a small but prodigal demon.

“Alright,” she says at last, her frown softening.

Thus, without thinking, Sister Marie walks toward her doom, reaching out, her young and beautiful face etched with concern.

5.

Everything happens fast:

Lenny snatches Sister Marie’s hand and jerks her across the threshold before she can react. Billy tackles the hapless nun’s legs, knocking her into Johnny’s waiting arms. Panicked, she shrieks before Lenny clamps his sweaty palm over her mouth. Together, they lift the wriggling, writhing, woman off her feet and carry her down the stairs.

“Don’t drop her, guys!” Lenny shouts.

“We won’t!” Billy replies.

Silent, Johnny grits his teeth, tightens his grip.

The three boys’ hurried footsteps echo in the dank stairwell. Once at the bottom, Lenny, Billy, and Johnny pin the terrified woman to the floor.

Intent on damning their very souls.


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Thank you for reading!

JLR

Equation (Short Story Excerpt)

May 2, 2016

 

The great machine approached the dead planet with reverence, descending to the edge of its ionosphere. There it hovered with infinite patience. Searching. Recording temperatures, atmospheric conditions, radiation levels, and orbital speed. Scanning for any and all signs of life or sentience.

Just as it had been programmed to do.

In its current state, the machine appeared to be a long, trapezoidal bar; dark, metallic, and smooth. Light from the nearest star reflected off its surface, making it look aglow with energy. It waited until the planet completed one full rotation, then collated its data:

There had been life.

Once, but no more.

Noiseless, the machine began to mutate. Slats appeared along its massive length, and from its center both ends pushed outward…growing…curling…until its ends met and fused, forming a perfect circle with no end and no beginning.

Then it descended ever further, forming a ring around the dead, ring-less planet.

Again, the machine waited; every molecule vibrating from a constant stream of information. Inside its artificial imagination, the machine soared through the planet’s sky, burrowed into the crust, and immersed itself in bodies of liquid. Learning. Knowing. Understanding. It saw how the planet formed—nothing new to its memory function—and how life first appeared; also not new, but very rare. It saw how the microscopic plant and animal life became macroscopic, forming a symbiotic relationship between them. It saw great beasts rise up in a harsh, predatory world. Then, disaster. Gigantic mineral formations slamming down. Falling temperatures, crystallizing the liquid. It saw mass extinction, then rebirth. New life began. Smaller this time; less bestial but just as savage. A dominant species emerged; warm blooded, capable of thought and learning. Hence, this species evolved. In time, they began to build. They began to create. They began to change their world.

But always, their habit of enslaving and destroying each other remained.

A strange species, the machine decided. Capable of astounding visual and written works, yet capable of atrocious violence—against both themselves and the myriad species around them. Their technology focused on communication, but failed to overcome their natural divisions. Strange deities of their own design presided over them, influencing them. Even their growing knowledge of the universe didn’t help. Belief in what the machine understood as non-corporeal, non-quantifiable, and nonsensical ideas fueled this species, and somehow couldn’t be shed. In the end, they overpopulated and polluted themselves into extinction.

The cycle of this planet they in their various languages had called: Earth.

Now, having absorbed all it could, the machine had a question to answer:

Are they worth restoration?


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Thank you for reading!

JLR

Epicenter (Short Story Excerpt)

January 19, 2016

author-1

September 1st, 2016.
Stark City, Oregon.
7:09 a.m.
On his way to the bus stop, Martin Jericho decided to have breakfast at The Stark City Cafe. The tired old man knew he’d been under constant surveillance since the last incident—which resulted in several broken windows—but refused to live his life like a hunted animal. Besides, it had been almost two years.
Just a quick bite before I go home, damnit. In public. Like a normal person.
Of course, the P.O.P. team in the van across the street wouldn’t be too thrilled, but Martin didn’t care. They could always deduct the cost of his meal from his next isolation check.
“Miss?” Martin asked for the third time, prompting the teenage hostess to raise her finger like a disapproving schoolmarm.
“We’re full right now. It’ll be at least a ten minute wait.”
Would it be asking too much for you to look up from your phone tablet or whatever it is while we talk?
“Alright.”
“Name and number of people in your party?”
“Jericho. Party of one.”
“Jericho, okay. You can wait over by the door.”
“Thank you.”
Sighing, Martin turned and walked to the waiting area. Two wooden benches faced the restaurant, both already taken by customers. Martin smiled. No one smiled back as Martin leant against the wall. Feeling self conscious, he reached into the front pocket of his gray parka and extracted a small book of classical poetry. Soothing, comforting; just what he needed.
Good old Longfellow…
All in all, Martin had a pretty good life. Not a life he’d ever envisioned for himself, but a decent one, nonetheless. He worked for the government as a nightwatchman downtown. He had his own office in an empty building surrounded by a chain-link, barbwire-topped fence. The place didn’t need a guard, which made it ideal for Martin. He didn’t even have to patrol the floors, though he often did for the exercise. From eleven at night to seven in the morning, Monday through Friday, Martin sat in his cozy office, reading or watching T.V. The P.O.P. paid him well for this and gave him premium insurance. At first, they’d insisted on giving Martin an armed escort to and from work each night. But after eighteen disaster-free months, Martin had begged for the autonomy to ride the bus like a grown, free man. Wanting to keep Martin content, the P.O.P. acquiesced. He’d earned it, they felt, and Martin agreed.
“Jericho, party of one. Table’s ready.”
Martin looked up, smiled, and walked toward the hostess.
“Hey, wait a minute!” a young woman called. “We’ve been waiting longer than that guy!”
Finger raised, the hostess looked past Martin. “Sorry, but this guy’s by himself. You have three people in your party, and a two-seater just opened up.”
“Well, give us the table and grab another chair from somewhere! It’s not rocket science!”
The hostess gave Martin a weary look. Embarrassed, Martin looked down.
“Just hold on. I’m sure a three-seater will be ready soon.”
The angry young woman snickered. “This is bullshit!”
“You don’t like it,” the hostess replied, “go to McDonald’s.” Then, to Martin, “Come on.”
“Thank you, miss,” Martin muttered, following the hostess through a maze of tables. Behind him, the young woman cussed and argued with her friends about whether or not to leave. But Martin hadn’t meant to cause any trouble, and wished the hostess would’ve given them the table instead.
Too late now, I guess.
Before this decent yet isolated life, Martin had lived an ideal one. He’d met and married his high school sweetheart, Alma Rankin, in Eugene, then moved to Stark City after Alma got hired as a librarian for the Stark County School District. Martin also worked for the school district as a bus driver. He and Alma loved children, and had two of their own. Dennis and Dianna, who both married in their twenties and blessed them with grandchildren. They’d lived in a beautiful brick house in the Dibert District, the children and grandchildren visited often, and their golden years had indeed seemed golden. Then Alma got sick, and the luster began to fade.
“Here ya go,” the hostess said, gesturing at a table in the middle of the restaurant.
“Thank you.”
The hostess didn’t reply as she plopped a menu down and walked away. Sighing, Martin peeled off his parka, draped it over the chair, and sat facing the entrance. Waiters and waitresses bustled around him. To his left sat a married couple; she heavyset and fussing with their three children, he sullen and cowed. One of the kids had smeared grape jelly all over her face, one had begun banging a fork on the table, and the third screamed for no apparent reason. Resisting the urge to smile at the parents, Martin looked away. He knew how they felt, but they didn’t seem too agreeable at the moment. To his right sat a couple in their thirties; both slender, well dressed, and somehow detached from their surroundings. The din of rattling silverware, idle banter, and smacking lips filled the cafe.
“Good morning. What’ll it be?”
Martin looked up to see a thin young man standing beside him. Flushed. Out of sorts. Pen and notebook in hand. Picking up the menu, Martin smiled.
“Hello. How are you this morning?”
“Busy.”
Martin’s smile faded. “Oh. I see. Well, I’ll start with coffee, please.”
“And for breakfast?”
“I just sat down, sir. I’ll need a minute.”
“Right.” Rolling his eyes, the waiter left.
Guess I’ll just order the special, whatever it is.
Feeling somewhat guilty, Martin set his menu aside and moved his cup to the edge of the table. Trying to make this harried young waiter’s life a little easier, whether he appreciated it or not. Ahead of Martin sat two large bearded men wearing dirty overalls. They looked like farmhands; mean and hungry in the soft light. Martin looked down, reached into his coat pocket.
“Okay, coffee…”
Martin smiled as the waiter began to pour. “Thank you, sir. I’ll have the breakfast special.”
“Sure.” The waiter didn’t make eye contact as he walked away.
Martin frowned at the table. This was a mistake, he decided, pulling a small, framed photo from the pocket. I should’ve just went home and made my own damn breakfast. Or sent the P.O.P guys to get me something. It’s not like they’d ever say no…
Martin stood the photo against the condiment rack. In it, Alma smiled, frozen in time at age thirty-one. Her hair hung in dark blonde curls, her blue eyes sparkled with delight. Remembering, Martin’s frown became a grin. Whenever he felt stressed or anxious, Martin either read poetry or gazed at Alma. It always helped, just as his doctors had assured him.
Good old Alma. Always there for me...
Gazing at his late wife, Martin warmed his hands around the steaming cup.
The world is so cold nowadays, Alma. People are too damn busy with their gizmos to just sit and talk anymore. And they can be so rude. It’s like they’ve forgotten how to be decent to each other...


If you enjoyed this excerpt, please subscribe, like, and share.

A revised version of “Epicenter” was featured in Empty Sink Publishing, Issue #18.

Read it here: http://emptysinkpublishing.com/fiction/epicenter/


“Epicenter” was reprinted by The Rye Whiskey Review @ http://ryethewhiskeyreview.blogspot.com/2018/06/epicenter-by-jesse-lynn-rucilez.html


Thank you for reading!

JLR


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