Posts Tagged ‘Will’

A Messy Divorce (Short Story Excerpt)

January 18, 2017

1.

Happy birthday to me, James Jefferson Ruddock—“J.J.” to his friends, “Jimmy” to his family, and “James” to his soon-to-be-ex-wife—hummed to himself, setting a small cake on his kitchen table. Happy birthday to me—

Scowling, J.J. let out an awful belch.

Haaappy biiirthday, dear J.J….

Another pause, this time to let out a long, mournful sigh. J.J.’s wide chest rose and fell with the effort. His shoulders twitched. His chin drooped. He stood there, all alone. A great big bear of a man, half drunk, feeling every wretched moment of his age, trying like hell to find one thing—just one—to feel happy about. Anything at all.

Happy birthday…to meee!

“Alright,” J.J. grumbled, clapping his large, calloused hands. He reached for his half-full—or half-empty, in J.J.’s current state of mind—bottle of Wild Turkey, swallowed a good-sized knock, and belched again.

“Another year older, J.J., ol’ buddy! An all by yourself on your birthday. How fantastic is that?”

Quivering with rage, J.J. cast his eyes to the dark ceiling and ran his free hand through his thick, black, forelocks. He wore his hair long, and at the end of its swoop J.J.’s hand closed around the rear length and tossed it from his shoulders. That felt better. Not much, but less disheveled. The wayward hand then swung around and smoothed the front of his beard. He kept that long, too. Long, but well-manicured. Not bushy. J.J. couldn’t stand the sight of wild facial hair.

Huh! Call me an animal, after all I did for her!

J.J.’s left hand tightened around the bottle. His right hand curled into a white-knuckled fist. His jaw clenched. His lips twisted into a feral moue. At that moment he would’ve given anything to have his soon-to-be-ex-wife there with him, bound and gagged, just within arm’s length.

Sneering at his own pain, J.J. grunted. “Damn you, Brenda.”

Sighing, the bitter celebrant lowered his chin, took another swig of whiskey, and paused to admire his dessert. A plain, round, German chocolate cake, frosted with coconut. He’d bought it at the grocery store along with a pack of blood-red birthday candles, then arranged the candles to show his age. It had taken eight of them to form the 3, and another eight to form the 9. With the lights out, the flickering flames spelled out the exact number of years he’d been alive to the shadows and anyone else who cared to know:

39

And beside that glowing cake sat a plain business envelope, addressed to James Ruddock, with the words:

OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

stamped in red ink across its face.

J.J looked from the cake to the envelope, then back again. “Some birthday present,” he muttered, raising the bottle to his lips. The whiskey stung the tip of his tongue, creating a shaft of pleasant heat which ran from the top of his gullet to the depths of his large belly. He took in half a mouthful, but didn’t swallow. Relishing the flavor. The sting. The heat. The approaching stupor.

Damn that woman, anyway…

Standing there, swaying on his feet, J.J. stared into the candles on his birthday cake. Their hypnotic glow soothed him almost as much as the whiskey, leaving him oblivious to the surrounding shadows. Beneath his beard, a grin formed. The urge to spit that cheekful of Wild Turkey at the flames came on strong, and in his mind he pictured a majestic fireball erupting from the wanton act.

But, no; that wouldn’t do anything except ruin the moment and the cake.

Flicking his eyes back to that loathsome envelope, J.J. felt another wild urge. Why not just snatch the damned thing up and hold it over the candles until it caught fire? Why not just stand there and watch his troubles go up in smoke?

But, no; that wouldn’t do anything except delay the inevitable.

Pondering those sad facts, J.J.’s eyes began to glisten. From the whiskey, of course. Not the searing heartbreak. Not the dull pain in his uncompromising heart. Not that.

No way.

Screw it! J.J. thought, throwing his head back and gulping the whiskey into his stomach. “An screw her!” he finished aloud, slamming the bottle down beside the envelope—

Thunk!

J.J. grimaced from the knock, then leant forward, planting his rough palms on each end of the small fold-up table. The ring on his left hand glimmered in the candlelight.

Whoo-eee! Strong stuff!”

It took a moment for J.J.’s mind to clear. Eyes shut, face bunched, he shook his head, causing hair and beard to splay as if hit by a sudden gust of wind, then belched again, causing the miniature flames to dance as if hit by the same gust. “Now,” he said with all seriousness, his glassy eyes open and alert and fixed upon the blazing 39…

“What should I wish for?”

J.J. lived in a doublewide trailer home, parked in a shabby trailer court. He’d lived there since dropping out of college due to a severe meniscus tear. Up to that point, from the age of six, football had been his entire life. He’d played all through elementary, middle, and high school. How he’d loved slamming his shoulder pads into the wannabe tough guys at every high school in the state. And he’d found it even more satisfying on the college level. The rush of adrenaline, the roar of the crowd, the thrill of victory after battering everything in his path; it all made him feel like a winner. A gladiator. A true beast among men.

Then, on one cold autumn night many years ago, another beast had slammed into him at a bad angle, causing him to fall the wrong way. And with all that weight toppling down…

“Son,” Dr. Tolbert said after the surgery, “you’ll be able to play again, but you won’t be as fast. And another injury to that same knee might leave you with permanent damage. Get me?”

Yeah. J.J. got him, alright. When a man’s forced to swallow all his pride in one gulp he’s always afraid he might choke. But J.J., in true bestial fashion, chewed his up real well before turning in his helmet and cleats. And there went his football scholarship, too. Still, he couldn’t complain. The construction business had been good to him over the years. He owned his trailer free and clear, owned his truck, and felt comfortable knowing that he had no debts.

Except one.

Brenda Rose Galway. He owed her a broken heart.

So. The time had come at last. What the hell should he wish for?

Still leaning over the small table, still staring into the ornate row of hot, orange-yellow tongues lapping the air, J.J. sighed, trying to focus his beer—and whiskey—addled mind. Brow furrowed, lips pursed, his cold blue eyes took on an odd gleam; catlike; reflecting a fire within, and the fire below. He looked deep into those tiny flames, past them, and into the murky haze of his dying marriage…

J.J. remembered the moment he first met Brenda Galway; walking into the Quickie-Mart near downtown to buy a six-pack and fill up his truck. She’d worked there as a cashier, and smiled as he came in. How young and sweet and innocent she’d seemed back then…

J.J remembered one night in the throes of passion when, quite to his surprise, Brenda had made a strange and unnerving request. “Bite me, lover!” she’d whispered, clutching his thick neck with both arms and burying his mouth into her shoulder. “Bite me hard!” At first, he’d been reluctant…but her insistence overcame his timidity. So he’d bitten her. Just hard enough to leave marks in her pale flesh for a day or so. And from then on that strange act became a semi-regular part of their lovemaking.

An what a sucker I was for not bitin’ her throat out when I had the chance!

Shaking his head, J.J. remembered the day when it all began to unravel. The day he’d found out what Brenda had been doing behind his back. The day he’d found those pills in her purse and confronted her in the very kitchen in which he now stood. Oh, God, that long, miserable, contentious day when he’d found out what a lying, conniving, heartless, woman he’d married all those years ago—

“Yeah, I found out, alright. Found out a lotta things. I found out what you really are. An I found out what I really am, too. Nothin’ but a big goddamn dummy.”

The bear grunted, bared his sharp shiny teeth at the birthday cake.

“Yeah, Brenda, why don’tcha come on over now? I’ll be more than happy to clamp my jaws on your…warm…throat…”
J.J. paused, letting his words drift off like the smoke trails from the candles below. A moment passed, gravid with possibility, then he grinned.

“That’s it! That’s my wish!”

Then he laughed. Long, loud, and hearty. A cruel, vengeful, satisfied sound which shook his massive frame and brought tears of a different sort to his eyes. The culmination of eight years’ rage and regret. And when the last chuckle and snort passed over his lips, J.J. Ruddock closed his wet eyes and made his thirty-ninth birthday wish:

“Hey, uh, God? It’s me, J.J. I prayed to you a lot as a boy. I prayed before every game, remember? But seein’ as how it’s my birthday an my wish ain’t too holy, an seein as how it’s Halloween an all…well, I guess I better direct this prayer to the other guy. The guy with the horns an the pitchfork, ya know…

“Please forgive me. Just this once…”

An now, here’s goes nothin’.

“So, uh, anyway. Devil, can ya hear me? I’m callin’ out to you tonight, an it ain’t the whiskey talkin’, neither! I’m aimin’ to get your evil, undivided attention. You hear? It’s your night, ain’t it? Halloween? Spooks an ghosts an witches an vampires, an who knows what all roamin’ around?

“Well, it’s my night, too, goddamnit! My birthday! An I want my wish!

“Do ya hear me, son? I WANT MY WISH!”

Coughing, shaking from the fury in his words, J.J. squeezed his eyelids as tight as he could, afraid that if he opened them even for a second the feeling would be lost and the spell would be broken.

“Alright, Devil. I’m sure ya got my point so I’ll get on with it. What I want, what I need, is to somehow get Brenda back in my clutches…so I can bite her one last time. So I can sink my teeth deep into her fleshy ass an chew it up to my heart’s content. Raw an bloody, just like that steak I ate tonight—”

Again, this bear of a man laughed. Again, he belched. And with each exhalation the flickering flames danced ever higher, as if reaching for J.J.’s breath; as if wanting to be extinguished so his wish could be fulfilled.

“So let it be written, so let it be done! Be it known that on this day, October thirty-first, All Hallows Eve, my birthday, The Year Of Our Lord, Two Thousand an Thirteen, beneath a full moon, I, James Jefferson Ruddock, do hereby wish for vicious, awful, blood-drenched vengeance upon my soon-to-be-ex-wife, Brenda Rose Galway-Ruddock!”

Another pause, but no laughter, no belch. Just silence. Solemn. Dreadful. The sound of judgment passed; of verdict given; after the gavel falls but before it strikes the pad.

“Amen,” J.J. finished. “Amen.”

And with that, this great big bear huffed, and puffed, and blew his whiskey-breath over the cake, over the shimmering 39, flexing his belly, straining his lungs, trying with all his heart to extinguish every last flame in one symbolic act.

But J.J. needn’t have worried or strained. The candles went out with ease, one by one, as if they wanted to die. As if their deaths had been ordained by some higher—or lower—force.

And…as the last candle shuddered out, a single tear fell from J.J.’s left eye.

2.

With the candles extinguished, J.J. found himself in darkness. Not total, unrelenting darkness, but shadowy, phantasmal darkness. The glow of a streetlamp bled through the kitchen window, and pale moonlight shone through the cracks in the blinds in the living room. Just enough radiance to make out shapes of things around him, yet just enough to play endless tricks on his whiskey-burdened mind.

But darkness didn’t scare J.J.

Never had, never would.

Still leaning over the table, the big bear shook his head as if he’d just been whacked on the jaw. Gotta be the booze, he decided, blinking the sudden grogginess away.

That, an gettin’ myself all worked up…

Thin tendrils of smoke wafted up from the spent candles. J.J. coughed, then straightened to his full, monstrous height. In silhouette he looked like a great, hairy ogre standing in the kitchen of an ordinary man’s house. Indeed, the top of his head almost touched the ceiling.

“Well,” J.J. grumbled, snatching his Wild Turkey from the table, “here’s to gettin’ all worked up!”

He took a slug from the bottle and grinned as sweet flames lit up his throat.

“Goddamn, that’s good! An now, nothin’ left to do but cut the—”

Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump!

J.J. jerked and jumped at the jolting sound. He wheeled around, swaying on his bare feet, and faced the living room. Whiskey sloshed in the bottle at his side. His hand tightened around the neck.

“WHAT THE—?”

Thump-thump-thump!

And then he understood. Halloween night. A tiny fist knocking at his abode. A tiny fist attached to a tiny boy or girl craving something sweet and good to eat. Trick-or-treaters! J.J. realized, grinning a more satisfied—and malicious—grin than when he’d cursed his soon-to-be-ex-wife…and began creeping toward the front door.

3.

Ugh!” Colin Ryerson sighed, knocking for the second time—

Thump-thump-thump!

—and suppressing a yawn. How had he, of all the rotten luck, gotten stuck chaperoning his younger sister and even younger cousin? Easy. Lame parents. Lame parents who insisted he come along to visit his grandparents at their ghetto trailer court, and, oh, gosh, wouldn’t it be great if he’d take the girls around while the grownups sat around yapping about nothing?

Yeah, great. I could be home right now, making out with Audrey “B.J Queen” Lang and actually enjoying life. But nooo. Mom’s gotta have a shit-fit over the girls’ costumes and go see Nanny and Poppy.

“Maybe no one’s home,” Nina Ryerson said, turning to her brother. She’d dressed up as an 80s glam-rocker; frizzy pink wig, big yellow Elton John sunglasses, a neon blue leotard, and to complete the ensemble, a plastic guitar; hot pink, hanging from her shoulder by a rainbow strap.

“Duh!” Colin answered. “That’s a good bet since the lights are off, geekazoid.”

“Well, you don’t hafta be mean about it! You’re just mad cuz you couldn’t stay home and play kissy-face with you’re bimbo girlfr—”

“Audrey ain’t my girlfriend, dork.”

“God! I swear, you think you’re sooo cool just cause you’re fourteen.”

Colin shook his head. “Aw, shut up. Let’s go.”

Gertie Torino, Colin and Nina’s seven year old cousin, frowned at them. Why did they have to fight so much? The little girl had worn a tutu and dancing shoes, her soft auburn hair in pigtails, and at that moment looked like the saddest ballerina in the world.

“Come on, guys. Stop arguing. There’s only one more house left on this row, anyways.”
Nina turned to her cousin and smiled. Both girls clutched orange plastic bags decorated with cartoonish vampire bats, and looked forward to sharing their bounty once they got back home.

“Okay, Gertie. Let’s go.”

“Great idea.” Colin stepped between them, left hand falling upon Nina’s left shoulder, right hand upon Gertie’s right shoulder. “Now move it.”

But just as they turned to leave, the front door swung inward and something leapt from the darkness onto the porch—

RAAAHHHWRRR!

Perched on the bottom step, all three children flinched, screamed, and fell backward. Going down, the girls flung their precious bags into the night and wrapped themselves around Colin. The boy hugged them close, still thinking of their safety despite his own panic, and tried to cushion the fall for all of them—

Thud!

The startled children landed in a heap. Colin felt the impact on his tailbone, both girls scraped their elbows, but nothing serious. The resultant cacophony of squeals, shrieks, and yells echoed down the dark street.

“Jesus, girls! Run!”

Nina and Gertie scrambled to their feet, both now bawling in terror. Poor little Gertie had almost wet herself from the shock. That growl hadn’t sounded human! So bestial, so sinister; something like the buzz of a chainsaw crossed with a lion’s roar. Enough to send two small girls scampering for their very lives.

Holy shit!

Eyes wide, heart hammering, Colin rolled to his knees, scuffing up his designer jeans. He saw the shape on the porch, outlined in shadow, standing very still. A man, after all. A big man. Either wearing a wig or possessing quite a mane of hair. Getting to his feet, the boy’s temper exploded:

“Hey! Just what is wrong with you, mister? You just scared the crap outta my sister and cousin!”

“An you, too, I bet,” the giant shadow replied in a deep, truculent voice. Then it began to laugh. A big, satisfied, belly-laugh; too loud; too long; the guffaw of a dumb redneck who’s had way too much whiskey.

Maddening to the indignant boy’s ears.

“Yeah, real funny, jerk! I oughtta call the cops on your retarded ass right now!”

“Jerk?” the ominous shadow repeated, snorting more laughter. “Cops? You really need to get a sense of humor, kid…”

Okay, moron.

Smirking, Colin reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone. He had two numbers on speed-dial: Audrey “B.J. Queen” Lang, and 911. “Oh, I got your sense of humor…right…here…”

But the threat—which he’d meant to enforce—never left Colin’s mouth. Because the man had just stepped forward into the light, exposing a face Colin wished he’d never seen.

Oh, shit!

“That’s right, kid. Just what I thought. Now get on home before I jerk you up by the throat an spank your narrow ass. Hear me? An tell your ol’ man he better not come a-knockin’ or else I’ll do the same to him, only ten times worse.”
Then the savage man smiled. An awful, demonic smile which Colin never forgot.

“Trick-or-treat, huh, kid? Whaddya say?”

Oh, screw this!

With an odd exhalation—not quite a groan, not quite a whimper—Colin Ryerson forgot about calling the cops and started running. What he’d just seen had frightened him to the marrow and he couldn’t get away fast enough. Away from that crazed, evil-looking man who liked to scare little kids. Whose eyes had glittered like yellow diamonds in the moonlight; like a feral cat he’d once seen in his backyard. Whose teeth had looked like razor sharp fangs; not fake vampire teeth, either. And whose hands looked more like claws, capable of cleaving him in two with one swat.

4.

Aw, hell! J.J. thought, feeling a sudden pang of regret at his cruel prank. Poor little girls lost all their hard-earned candy…

Nice move, jerk.

The big man had taken one step down his porch when it began. His bare right foot emerged from shadow, looking very much like a mastiff’s paw; twice as much hair as before. But J.J. didn’t notice his foot—or the extra hair which had sprouted on his forearms—because he’d begun to itch all over. A deep, burning itch, far beneath the skin. J.J. wanted to scratch, to tear, at his own flesh as a sudden dizziness came over him.

“What the…?”

J.J. groaned, staggered, and caught himself in the doorway. In his newfound agony he also didn’t notice the extra length of his fingernails.

“Christ!”

Now a fever set in to compliment the burning itch, as if J.J.’s internal temperature had shot up into the danger zone. Much hotter than he’d ever felt before. Like being roasted from the inside out.

“What…what’s happening?”

The bear took a deep breath, felt his stomach clench as if rejecting the crisp night air. He grunted, falling to his butt in the threshold of the doorway. For a moment J.J. thought—and hoped—he’d puke up whatever had caused the pain.

I’m screwed here! Royally! Gonna need an ambulance!

But screwed didn’t quite do J.J.’s situation justice. Every bone in his body ached. The muscles in his arms and legs burned. He itched from head to toe. Pain stabbed at his eyes. His teeth throbbed. His tongue felt thick and useless. Every inch of the big man suffered in some way; steeped in misery, right down to his very soul.

Oh, for Christ’s sake! What in God’s name is…?

But the thought died away, replaced by a dreadful certainty. J.J knew what had happened, and why. After all, he’d called out to the darkness—

Do you hear me, son? I WANT MY WISH!

—he’dmade that vengeful plea—

Raw an bloody, just like that steak I had tonight.

—and he’d blown out the candles, sealing his own fate.

“Oh, no! No, no, no! I’m crazy but I ain’t that cra—”

Again, J.J.’s stomach clenched, cutting off his useless appeal for mercy and making him scream.

“JESUS! Please stop this! I-I cant take no mo—”

Another spasm. Another scream. Another worthless prayer.

“Naw! This ain’t how I meant it! This ain’t even—

GRRRAAAHHH!

This time, J.J. rocked back, falling into the shadowy recesses of his home. Snarling. Whimpering. Tearing at his clothes and writhing like a rabid dog. But before he collapsed, J.J. saw the last thing he’d see with human eyes on this soon-to-be-gory evening:

The moon.

Full and bright, peering at him from the darkness like some lidless, alien eye. Silent. Stoic. Not passing judgment, yet working the malignant will of hell.


“A Messy Divorce” is part of the collection: Living The Nightmare.

Available for digital download @ https://books2read.com/u/4NR629

Available in paperback through Amazon.com @ https://www.amazon.com/dp/1986415325

Thank you for reading!

JLR

Appleton’s Abode (Novella Excerpt)

September 28, 2014

Prologue: A Storm In Oak Park

1.

My Dearest Baxter,
Ah, Bax! Ah, my boy! How art thou? Now there’s a good lad! If you are indeed reading these words, then it can only mean that the inevitable has happened and I have passed into the Great Beyond. And not a moment too soon I trust. For the way my life is going at present, I cannot conceive of myself possibly dying from anything other than old age. I have no enemies to speak of, so who would want to kill me? I do not travel much in the conventional way, so the likelihood of an accident is also rather slim. And that is why I place my bet against The Grim Reaper’s that when the bony fellow comes a-knocking, he will stamp my ticket with “NATURAL CAUSES” in bright red ink–
Ah, but was I right lad?
Was I quite right?

2.

Donald Baxter Page looked up from the letter in his hand. Clad in a gray parka and tan mittens, Baxter stood by the front window of his suburbanite home in Oak Park, Illinois. Pain engulfed him as he stared outside. Looking past the oil-mottled driveway, he saw no children in the street. No traffic. Just an empty gulf of black asphalt; gritty and lifeless. Across it, the neighborhood trees shook in February’s brittle wind. Waving at him. Perhaps expressing their condolences.
It didn’t help.
Although Baxter had known about his friend’s death for over a week, he’d never expected a posthumous letter from the man. Never in his wildest dreams. So just imagine Baxter’s initial shock upon finding that missive in his mailbox. Then imagine the high tide of emotion as he’d dashed into his house, ripped open the envelope, and rushed to the window–anxious as hell to read anything his dead friend might have to say.
And, man, what an opening paragraph! Jaunty, effusive, and colloquial; everything the man had been in life. Everything Baxter had loved about him from the moment they’d first met. It read, felt, and sounded as if the man now stood before him, striking up a conversation like the old days.
An effect both comforting and cruel.
Damned cruel.
As the wind gusted, Baxter returned to the letter. Faded black ink on elegant, unlined stationary. Words gleaming from the glare in the window. A ragged sigh escaped Baxter’s lips as his eyes searched for and found the spot where he’d left off. The grieving man cleared his throat, then pressed his lips into a thin line. A single tear fell from his right eye. You were right, he thought. You were right, Corny…
But God damn it, anyway.

3.

Ah, no matter. I am sure that dreadful day is far off. Presently, as I write this confounded letter, it is my 85th birthday and I feel utterly vibrant! Fit as a fiddle! Healthy as a horse! Tip-top condition! Why, I am almost certain that I could even beat you in a footrace, Bax!
At any rate, I know that my inking these thoughts down is long overdue. I should have set myself to it perhaps ten years ago, but even now I don’t feel it overly urgent. I just want to get the blasted thing done for my own peace of mind. I mean, the way I feel just now, I am certain that I shall live to see a full century pass before by aged and sparkling eyes!
But! I must now confess, my boy, that a rather morbid sensibility does accost me from time to time, causing me to wonder just how far I will make it. At 85, I would be a fool not to at least pay lip service to the fact that I might hear that fateful knock upon my door at any moment.
At exactly what age do you suppose I will expire, Bax?

4.

“A hundred-and-one,” Baxter muttered, grinning as another tear fell. “You made it, you old coot. You surely did…”
Outside, the wind settled. The trees ceased waving. Taking a deep, steadying breath, Baxter glanced up again. Gray clouds now mottled the sky like the oil stains on his driveway. A storm descending upon Oak Park. A storm for sure. A nasty one. Both within, and without.
“Yeah…” Baxter said, lowering his eyes, hearing the crinkle of elegant paper in his trembling hands. “A hundred-and-one, Professor Appleton. That’s how far you made it.”

5.

Dear me, lad! I wrote that down as if I were talking directly to you, didn’t I? As if you could somehow respond, when in all actuality that dreaded event must have already occurred. Otherwise, you would not be reading these words right now.
Sorry, Bax. Forgive a foolish octogenarian for lapsing into whimsy from time to time…
And now, dear boy, like Odysseus lurching into Ithaca, I come to my grand destination. The real point of it all!
But first, I must ask that, if you are at present standing, you must seat yourself, Bax. Please. Sit down before you read any further. Take a deep breath–perhaps a stiff belt of your favorite libation, as well–and gird yourself for what may come as quite a shock.
Trust me, lad. It is for the best that I ask you this…

6.

Tearing his gaze from the letter, Baxter sighed and turned to the mauve couch in his living room. If the old man wanted him to sit down, then he’d sit down. Simple as that. Cornelius Appleton might’ve put on theatrical airs from time to time, but when he got serious and changed his tone, all theatricality melted away. That’s when you wanted to shut your mouth, open your eyes, and listen with both ears–
Because you just never knew.
“Okay, Corny. Gimme a second to get comfortable.”
Baxter set the pages on his coffee table, then donned the reading glasses he’d been too manic to remember when he’d rushed inside. Peeling off his mittens, he used them to mop the tears from his face before tossing them down. Next went the parka, revealing a navy blue turtleneck sweater beneath. All set to sink into his couch and continue reading, Baxter paused, turning toward the kitchen.
Perhaps a stiff belt of your favorite libation…
Another sigh. The grandfather clock hadn’t even struck noon yet, but a drink did sound excellent. Even his mouth agreed, beginning to water in anticipation. He liked cognac; his wife liked Schnapps; they both liked spiced rum and Cabernet Sauvignon. Right now, the kitchen had all four. Right now, either of the four sounded good and warm on a cold and miserable day. And with Rita and the twins out running errands, Baxter had the whole house to himself.
Well…tempting, damnit. But, no. It’d be too easy to get started and keep going. Besides, if Rita came home and found him smashed–or even just smelled booze on his breath–she’d come unglued. Then the never-ending questions would begin, followed by her constant bitching and moaning and needling. But Baxter didn’t have a drinking problem. Far from it. Rita just had a habit of seizing upon anything she didn’t like and turning it into a major ordeal. And Baxter knew from experience that Rita didn’t like him drinking without her. Lord knew why, but she didn’t. He also knew that, once enraged, Rita would follow him around the house, unleashing her discontent at every turn. Nowhere would be safe; like living in a war zone.
Then he’d have to hear about it all night.
“Okay, scratch the drink for now, Corny,” Baxter muttered as he sank down, preparing for whatever news lay ahead. “But I’ll be sure to toast your memory after dinner, old friend. I promise.”

7.

Now, if all has gone to plan, buried beneath these pages you should find an exact duplicate of my Last Will & Testament. Knowing you, Bax, you will be sorely tempted to begin reading this document at once–

8.

“Bet your ass!” Baxter erupted, eyes wide, digging into the thin stack of pages. Sure enough, toward the back, he found it:
~The Last Will & Testament Of The Late Professor Cornelius Appleton~
And began reading:
“I, Cornelius Appleton, being of sound mind and body on this day, do hereby decree that the following represents, in toto, my final thoughts, wishes, and words upon this mortal coil…” in a low whisper before regaining his senses–
HOLY SHIT!
–and flipping back to the sentence he’d left behind.

9.

–but I must beg of you; please, lad, read the entirety of this letter before doing that! Just exercise a bit of your dogged determination, and I assure you, all will be revealed, Bax.
All will be revealed.
Now, prepare yourself for yet another shock:

10.

“Another shock?” Baxter said, rattling those frail pages. “Another shock?”
The incredulous man leant back, bellowed laughter.
“First, you go and die on me! Granted, you were over a century old, but still, Corny, you caught me by surprise on that one! Then you send me a letter from beyond the grave! Are you kidding me? Only you, Corny! Only you could, and only you would do something like that to a person! Then you tell me you’ve sent me a copy of your fucking will? And now I suppose you’re finally gonna tell me what this is all about, huh?
“Well, go right ahead, Pop! Lay it on me, Daddy-O!”
Teeth grit, hands clenched around the pages, Baxter snickered to keep from screaming.

11.

Simply put, Bax, I’m leaving it all to you.
Everything!

12.

“WHAT?!”
Leaping to his feet, Baxter’s jaw dropped. He looked like a game show contestant who’d won the grand prize. And in a very real sense, he had.
“Oh, no! No way, Corny!” Baxter gasped between sobs and barks of near-hysterical laughter. “This…this has gotta be a joke, right? I mean, you can’t…you can’t do this to me, Corny!”

13.

That is right, my dear boy! I’m leaving the house, the land, the library, and all of the trinkets I have amassed over this past century (of course!) all to you! Ah, but more importantly–most important of all–I am bequeathing unto you all of the magic that is “Professor Appleton’ s Whimsical Abode Of Curiosities!”
Every. Thing.
The entire legacy.
The whole ball of wax, Bax!

14.

Still clutching the letter and will, Baxter turned, right hand running through his thick brown forelocks. Now he faced the kitchen. Sweat stood out on his brow. More tears slipped from his eyes as his troubled gaze fell upon the pantry door.
Perhaps a stiff belt of your favorite libation…
Cognac. Schnapps. Spiced rum. Cabernet Sauvignon. Each of them beckoned, but one in particular sounded perfect:
Screw Rita! Baxter decided, heading straight for the unopened bottle of Bacardi Oakheart.

15.

Yes, sir! That is how I want it, and therefore, how it must be. For you, Bax, have been like a son to me all these years. In fact, you are the closest thing I have, and shall ever have, to a son. Surely, you can see that.

16.

“Sure,” Baxter said, shaking his head. “Like a son. Even though I haven’t been back to the Appleton Woods in almost twenty years…”
Choking back more tears, the unnerved man retrieved a short glass from the cupboard with his shaky right hand…and almost dropped it.
“Haven’t written you a letter in ten years…”
Baxter set Professor Appleton’s letter aside and gripped the rum with both shaky hands. Though his right hand slipped on the first attempt, the cap came loose with little effort on the second.
Thank God.
“Haven’t even called you in over five years, Corny…”

17.

’Tis of no matter to me that we haven’t stayed in close contact as of late, either. I am a grown and elderly man. You are a grown and stately man with a wife and children. It is thus only natural that we should drift further and further apart in this vast ocean we call life. As such, I will not tolerate any self-deprecating nonsense from you! You are worthy of this gift, dear boy. Most worthy!
So be sure to do me the courtesy of honoring one of my last requests, and please refrain from marveling at the pitiful generosity of my will.
Agreed?

18.

Tink!
Tink!
Two large ice cubes now sat in the short glass, waiting to be bathed in alcohol.
“Aw, hell,” Baxter said, grimacing at the letter as he tipped his bottle. “I wouldn’t even presume to question your infinite wisdom, sir.”

19.

I am sure I needn’t remind you of the boon you once did for me, Bax. But since these are my last words, I think it would be rather uncouth to pass over this final opportunity to give hearty thanks and appreciation to you, my talented friend. I think you would agree; ’tis not every day that someone writes an award winning play about your life, now is it?

20.

“Award winning?” Baxter wheezed, half choking as a healthy dose of rum warmed his throat. “Award winning, did ya say? Right, Corny. The Life and Times Of Professor Appleton didn’t impress hardly anybody except you and a few small theater companies in L.A.”
He paused, letting the alcohol soak into his gut.
“Okay…maybe a few small theater companies in L.A. and Chicago. And Portland. And Seattle. One, that I know of, in New York…”
Baxter took another sip, coughed, shook his head.
“Still…I don’t think Shakespeare’s rollin’ over in his grave, Corny. Besides, that was…Christ, twenty years ago.”

21.

And don’t kid yourself, lad; your other plays were every bit as brilliant. More so, even. ’Tis a shame that they were not recognized as such. But no matter. I have the utmost faith in not only your writing abilities, but in you as a person. I feel very strongly that one day you will write a fabulous novel that both young and old can enjoy. Then your talent will be fully recognized.

22.

“HA! A novel, huh? That’s a laugh…”
Frowning, Baxter drained the glass. His belly now felt like a furnace; his gullet, a chimney. But already the tears had stopped, and a pleasant fog had settled in. For some men, alcohol just intensifies whatever emotions may be fueling their desire to drink. For Donald Baxter Page, however, it acts as a barrier between mind and heart, dulling–even numbing–the pain.
A very good thing, indeed.
“Ah…maybe several years ago, Corny. Maybe. But now, at forty-one, with a full time job, two teenage daughters, and an ever-cranky wife? The Great American Novel? No way. Ain’t happenin’, sir. I, uh…I just don’t have the time.”
A lie. Baxter knew it; knew that Professor Appleton wouldn’t buy it, either. In fact, no one would except Rita, who’d never cared for his writing in the first place.
“Oh, well,” Baxter moaned, reaching for the bottle. “At least the old man died believing in me and my work, eh?”

23.

Now, I don’t mean to write my very own novel with these pages, Bax, but before I conclude this document, I have a few more things to discuss. Things of the utmost importance, I assure you. They pertain to the property I am bequeathing unto you, so please pay close attention. The orchard, the house itself, the library, and the stuffed animal zoo; all of them come with their own special set of instructions that absolutely must be followed, especially by he who owns them.
Understand, to shirk this responsibility would be dangerous to both you and your family, Bax. So be sure not to rush through or merely skim over these next few paragraphs. Read them only when you know you will not be disturbed. Just sit down, relax, and take your sweet time–

24.

But for Baxter, time had run out.
The familiar throb and thrum of the Page family minivan jerked his attention from the letter. Shit! he thought, looking up. They’re home already?
With haste, Baxter raised his glass in a half-assed salute to his deceased friend, tipped it back, and swallowed the rum. The furnace within roared as he turned, again setting the papers aside. He rinsed the glass with cold water, then placed it back on the shelf. Then the incriminating bottle of Bacardi returned to the pantry with a dull thunk!
“There, now! All ready for company!”
The rattle of loose pages filled the kitchen as Baxter gathered the letter and will. Catching a glimpse of Rita and the twins lifting grocery bags from the minivan, the panicked and disheveled man hurried into the front room and plopped onto the sofa. For a moment, Baxter considered rushing outside to help–
But, no. That’d just make Rita suspicious. Better to sit here and let her discover me on her own…
Face flushed and wet, nose running, Baxter knew he looked both upset and guilty–which Rita would seize upon as soon as she walked through the door–but hoped it would add to the effect when he explained. He didn’t know how she’d take it, but more than ever, he needed her sympathy; needed his wife’s loving support.
For a change.
Thus, heeding Professor Cornelius Appleton’s advice, Baxter refused to read any further. Instead, he returned to the beginning of the letter, and sat hunched over the pages with a look of intense concentration. Awaiting the moment when the door opened, Rita emerged from the cold, and the real storm began.


“Appleton’s Abode” is available in digital and paperback here:

https://jlrucilez.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/appletons-abode-official-page/

Thank you for reading!

JLR


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