Sunday, October 31, 2010

Azalea, Part Three

It’s eight a.m. and I’m still vomiting. Just what is escaping from my stomach, I haven’t a clue. I didn’t eat dinner last night. Actually, I didn’t do anything but impersonate a rock until about eleven after eleven, when I happened to catch a glimpse of the clock and choose that moment to regain normal human emotions. I wish I hadn’t snapped back into reality—a coma would have been much better than facing this. This raspy, venomous scorpion crawling down my throat, leaving swarming fire in its wake. The flames lick my esophagus until I think I might start screaming again, but then I realize I can’t. I used up all of my screaming when I found her—it—the…

I’ve been rotating through the same painful routine for hours: lose my mind; suddenly find it again; remember what caused me to lose it in the first place; battle disbelief; run to the nearest toilet when the protective shell of ignorance cracks under pressure and leaves my stomach undefended for the scorpion’s perusal.

I clamp my tingling hands tightly around my eyes, hiding the puffiness, the crustiness, and the scarlet bolts of lightning flashing through the whites from the prying light of morning. With my head lolling achingly against my bare shoulder, clammy with perspiration, I gently hold my abdomen and cringe at the pure frailty of its purged emptiness. I guess I didn’t have to worry about the calories in that candy yesterday. Maybe I should eat more while I’m not worried about storing fat.

I shouldn’t have thought that. It’s wrong to let your mind drift back to normalcy when your best friend was just murdered in a salon sink. Isn’t it?

It’s also wrong to be blaming your friend for something as stupid as a ruined pair of shoes (which wasn’t even anyone’s fault but the cow’s) while she’s bleeding to death…

What a horrible friend I was. Am? Was? Oh, who knows.

I’m not aware that I’m shaking until my skull begins rattling against the wall, and I can’t tell whether I’m reacting to the chilly air coming at me from the ceiling vent or the gory image frozen to the insides of my eyelids. In any case, I grope my way into the shower, dizzy and half-blind from the exertion of crawling a huge two feet across the icy tile.

On goes the water, a hissing jet stream that scalds my abnormally pale skin. My clothes are lying somewhere near the door. I feel like an infant, or maybe an embryo—helpless and confused about the world around me, with nothing to do but curl up and let warm waves rock me to serenity, if not sleep. I lie here for who knows how long, absorbing the maternal heat that reminds me that I’m still alive, even when Eloise is not.

Knock, knock.

I jump, but I’m too nauseous to do anything but settle back into my fetal position around the drain, watching the whirlpool that slowly swirls down into its open, silver pores. Warwick left for City Hall hours ago to deal with the crisis of having a murderer on the loose, so that can’t be him at the door. “We’d better catch him soon, or the whole town’ll be in a riot,” he grumbled before stumbling out into the chilly sunrise. I suppose I should be grateful that he’s taken such an interest in capturing my friend’s killer, but I’m more than a little miffed that he hasn’t said one word of condolence since arriving home last night, instead focusing on the trouble this will cause him at work: “A murder—great. First the economy, now this? What did I do to deserve all of this during my term?!”

Because of course the world revolves around you, Warwick. Eloise was just a supporting character in your life story.

Knock, knock, knock.

That’s the door again. I almost forgot someone was out there. Strangely, I’m not too concerned that somebody—specifically, a murderer—could be in my house at this very moment.

At least, until I realize that my kids are still in their bedrooms.

I jerk upright so quickly that my nose collides with the glass door. Seeing stars and checking for blood, I groan, “Who’s there?”

“Azalea? It’s me, Jezebel.”

I stifle a growl and collapse onto my back again. I almost would have preferred a bloodthirsty fugitive.

“Azalea? Are you okay in there?”

Rolling my eyes, I call hoarsely, “I’m fine. What are you doing here?”

“Azalea? I can’t hear you.”

That’s because you’re deaf, Jezebel, I sigh inwardly. I’m the one in the shower, after all, so if anyone should be having hearing problems, it’s me.

“I’m fine, Jezebel!”



There’s a pause, followed by a musical, “All-right-ee then, if you’re sure. I just stopped by ‘cause Warwick wanted me to get the kids over to the festival; give you some time to grieve. Sorry ‘bout Eloise, by the way. Get well soon.”

I spend a few exasperated seconds silently pretending that I’m bold enough to correct her use of “get well soon,” which is supposed to be used when someone is ill, not when they’re having a mental breakdown after walking in on a gruesome murder. By the time I register that she’s bringing my children into town, where there’s a murderer, she’s already too far out of earshot (not that she was doing a great job of listening earlier) to notice me shouting, “Jezebel! JEZEBEL! You are not taking my children out of this house! Are you trying to get them killed?! Jezebel!”

I cringe as the sound of a pricey truck (which I’m 99.9-percent sure we paid for) revving its engine and rolling down the driveway seeps through the open window.

I’m pretty sure there’s no one in the house now but me.

I turn up the water temperature until I’m practically sitting in an underwater sauna, thinking that I’m either gonna need a Xanax or a whole lot of vodka to get through these next couple of days.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Outline for 10/27

Our planning today was a bit gruesome, but we did get a clearer picture of where the story is headed. Our murderer has been named: Edmund Carlton. Edmund is an elderly gentleman who was, in essence, exiled from the town as a child after committing an unintentional murder (I think of a the lake). There will be more on this next time, but the important part is that he has a grudge on the entire town, which accounts for the seemingly unconnected murders.
On the chopping block this week is Addie's character Finn, who, as you all remember, is Ophelia's boyfriend and the pastry chef at Baker's Dozen. Here's where the icky part comes in (and the part that's going to get us all involuntarily shipped off for extensive therapy): he is baked in the oven. He's stabbed first, though, so it's not quite as awful as being cooked alive... Anyway, because both of Ophelia's boyfriends (yes, it's complicated) have been killed, suspicion falls on her.
That's all we have for now! Happy writing!
Then again, that may not be the best phrase to use for this story, but hey, we can be happy fictional serial killers.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Olivia, part one

I lay on my back staring at the grimy ceiling. It was quiet, almost too quiet. I thought back to the other hotels I had stayed in and most, if not all, of them had some variety of screaming, crying, or yelling children but I wasn't surprised if I was the only person in this motel other than the half-asleep zitty teenage boy with way to much metal on his face.

I turned over, smothering my face with the dusty pillow. It was flat and smelled like mothballs so I was pretty sure there was no way I would end up accidentally (or purposefully) asphyxiating myself.

How had I gotten to this point? I was just a carefree author writing what I wanted to write, what I was truely passionate about. Then out of no where my passionate ideas dried up and I was left with nothing except a publisher who wanted another manuscript and for me to 'get in touch with my roots.'

At first I thought he meant 'touch up my roots' which confused me because I hadn't don anything with my hair other than cut it. Soon it hit me, he was banishing me to Wildewood. The place of my childhood. The one place I had loathed to the very core of my being.

"Just get in touch with your roots, Olivia." He had said as if he weren't dealing out the most cruel and unusual punishment he could think of, "See your folks, meet new people, make new friends, get your groove back, and then bring me a new manuscript. You've got two weeks."

He shooed me out the door, ignoring my exlamations at how outrageous two weeks was and two days later I was at the Sunny Days Motel in the middle of Freaking Nowhere.

I groaned and actually seriously considered trying to suffocate myself.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Azalea, Part Two

Get ready for gore galore--the first murder has arrived on the scene...

“Ah, God, yuck,” I spit, shivering from head to toe in revulsion. I peer around to make sure nobody is watching my humiliation before I kick my poor, helpless, newly cow-patty-covered stiletto into the dusty patch of land between the salon and our local Ma & Pa store. I sniff a little, silently paying my respects to my third-favorite black heels, forever slathered in the most revolting substance known to man. Now I’ll have to get my second-favorite pair of red ones out of my Subaru. I’m not taking the risk of walking around barefoot in a town where you can’t step out of your car without planting your foot in a manure-flavored glob of custard. “Eloise lied. She lied. There is a cow on the loose.”

Scowling, grumbling to myself, flicking my legs up behind me to launch the nonexistent remnants of cow feces into the street—this is how I enter the salon. This is me, in all my glory, before my jaw hits the floor and I start screaming bloody murder.


The lights inside have been disabled, so the blue- and purple-painted box of a room is illuminated only by the harsh, gray light of the sky, which can’t seem to figure out whether or not it wants to bring rainy havoc down on Wildewood. The chairs transform into crouched imps in the darkness, waiting to pounce on anyone who dares to enter. Behind these demons, shadows drench the walls. Inky blackness encircles the wisps of smoky hair resting on the tiles; the pair of scissors lying with its jaws wide open in a murky pool of demise; the clawed paws of the tall, opal sinks. It dances itself into a vapor the higher my eyes climb, playing tricks on my vision. In focus, out of focus, in focus, out again—my pupils can’t see reality. Because surely, surely that’s not Eloise slumped against the seat, her neck cracked and bleeding over the edge of the basin so that her head sleeps upside-down on a pillow of newly red hair.

I’m numb, numb to everything, even my own voice, which is shrieking so piercingly that half of the town must have gathered around me by now. But my mind has fallen too deeply into a hornet’s nest of inconsequential thoughts, the only lifeline I have too keep from fainting. I have to keep thinking. Keep my head clear. Do I really want red hair? My eyes are gray. Does red go well with gray? It goes well with green. Eloise’s eyes are green. Were. Were green. Just like her hair was blonde, but now it’s red. But…wait. If Eloise had just arrived—was just getting her hair washed—she wouldn’t have gotten her hair dyed yet. But it’s red. It’s red! I can see it, glowing like a fire truck against the white of the sink, except for a thick inch of liquid around the bottom, which is slowly rising as it seeps in bucketfuls from her neck.

And then what is probably obvious to the crowd behind me clicks in my brain.

“It’s blood,” I say to no one in particular. “Her hair is dyed with blood.”

I don’t know who catches me when my legs lock up and I collapse away from the horror filling my eyes, but I make a mental note to send him a thank-you card when I wake up. I don’t want to end up as dead as Eloise, bleeding and mutilated at a trivial, second-rate salon in an obscure little town the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ophelia, Part One

Please excuse grammar errors, I am half asleep when I write most of the time. (:

One of the first things I remember was my mother leaving us. I couldn’t have been more than five. One moment she was tucking me in and the next, she was gone. My dad spent a lot of time at the local bar over the next few years. When he wasn’t there or at the station, he was at church trying to buddy up with God. I hadn’t seen my mother since she left, over twelve years ago. She wrote me a couple times a year, hoping that would be enough contact for me. It wasn’t, it never would be. I needed her, she was my mother. She was supposed to be my shoulder to cry on, the one to support me when puberty hit me like a train. But she wasn’t. She didn’t have any need for me, unlike my necessity for her. She had gotten remarried and had supplied me with two perfect looking half siblings who took my place in her heart.

So it was just my dad and I, it had been this way for nearly thirteen years. He’d never gotten over my mom, he had had a few girlfriends here and there but none lasted long. As for me, he was ultra protective of me. He didn’t want to lose me like he’d lost mom. He had nothing to worry about, as much as I desired to, I wasn’t going anywhere. The hellhole of Wildewood was my home, whether I liked it or not.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Norman, Part 2

Everyone REALLY needs to post their scenes!


I scowled in the darkness of the long hallway. I had been walking up and down, pushing my wide dust-broom, a job I usually enjoy, but for some reason, I couldn’t relax into the motion of it. Something wasn’t right. The night was too dark. I could feel it outside, pressing in on the walls. I kept turning and looking over my shoulder. What was it? I had come to work at the usual time, stayed hidden away in the far end of the building until everyone had left, and then set to work for real. But I couldn’t concentrate. My thoughts kept skittering around, like the leaves blowing outside. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was just the leaves. Wind makes animals restless. Why should I be any different?

But it seemed like more than that. Even though the walls were thick, it seemed like I could hear something moaning outside. Had I forgotten to take my meds? No. I always remember. They’re there in the pill-case in the bathroom, and I take them every day when I get up, right before I brush my teeth. I haven’t forgotten them in years. But the moans. Something was crying out there.

I stowed the broom in the closet and got out the cleaning cart. Time to clean the rooms. I pushed the cart to the end of the hall, to Mrs. Calloway’s first grade classroom. I took a deep breath to brace myself before opening the door, but before I could open it, I heard a thud against the outside door. I turned and peered through the window to the playground. The playground was lit by a large storm light, but I could see nothing there. Just the pavement stretching away from the door. In the light I could clearly see the swings, swaying in the wind, and the tetherball bumping up against its pole. The jungle gym was a humped shape crouching in the murky darkness farther out. And the even darker rise of the trees beyond that.

Was that a motion in the darkness, beyond the jungle gym? I couldn’t tell. I was probably seeing things. If it kept up, I should go talk to Dr. Schrahm about changing my meds. I shouldn’t be seeing things. Or hearing things, for that matter, though I’ve pretty much got that taken care of.

Except that maybe there really was something there. Walking to work today, I could tell that something was different in town. There was an unusual buzz. People were huddled together, talking furiously. When I walked past, they had glanced at me. Usually their looks just slide away, and today they had started to, but then they’d stopped, and really looked, their brows furrowed. They had frowned. I just looked away. I had nothing to say to them, and they, nothing to me. I had nothing to do with anyone else in town, not since Maggie died. What right did they have to look at me that way, as if they suspected me of something, as if Maggie had been my fault, and not theirs? Though they had all showed up at her funeral, their faces tear-streaked and puffy, it hadn’t been their loss. She had been nothing to them. I was the one who was still grieving.

But now I remembered that it was nearing the anniversary of Maggie’s death, and I always get edgy then. Why don’t I ever remember that from year to year? Of course I’m hearing things, and feeling claustrophobic. It’s all part of the process, and just something I have to get through. I push open the door to Mrs. Calloway’s room and start stacking chairs on the desks.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Outlines for 10/6/10, 10/13/10, and 10/20/10

Last Tuesday, we decided to plan two new sections rather than one, since our next meeting is Wednesday, October 27th. Here is the result of an hour's worth of gory brainstorming!

1. At the Fall Festival on Saturday night:
  • Farmer Harris's cow, Bessie, is found slaughtered in the wooden sculpture used for the bonfire after the cover goes up in flames (she has replaced a scarecrow)
  • The fireworks on the sculpture have been redirected to shoot at the crowd
  • Some people are hurt, but none are killed
  • One firework is positioned to land near the note left by the murderer, where it is found by Katherine's character. The rough sketch we planned for the letter reads, "Enjoy the fire. Stop to smell the roses. It won't last long."
2. The next day:
  • Addie's character, Ophelia, receives a note from Eli, her former friend, telling her to meet him at the barn next to where the bonfire was held, which belongs to Farmer Harris (the message is actually sent by the murderer)
  • Eli has been hanged in the barn with a bouquet of roses at his feet. Ophelia discovers his body.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Azalea, Part One

Halloween is a beautiful holiday.

It’s truly magnificent in the face of the depressing annual occurrences in mid-November, late-December, and, oh, for the love of God, early February. As long as no one dresses up as Cupid to go trick-or-treating, all is well with me. How can any other day of the year compete with getting compliments on those all-too-real cobwebs on your front porch, watching horror movie marathons on regular cable so you don’t have to max out your Netflix account, and being up to your ears in cavity-inducing candy to chomp on while you sob about your husband’s affair with a twenty-eight-year-old country bumpkin?

Heart-shaped Valentine’s Day chocolate boxes have nothing on Twix Bars and M&Ms.

The downside to all of those calories, of course, is that they generate fat faster than an English professor spots a grammar mistake—and as an Iowa University English major, I’m a pretty good judge of the editing speed of those people. Come tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll have gained a good ten pounds since this morning, and it’s only the 22nd.

Pushing my used-tissue-capped mountain of crumpled wrappers aside with an overstuffed moan, I poke the tender pouch gathered up around my bellybutton. I’m no more bloated than on the average Thanksgiving, and if I hit the gym every day for a year, I should be ready to handle next holiday season.

By “the gym,” I mean my basement. One of the top complaints on my list of reasons that living in a town with a population of four hundred is hell on Earth (yes, it’s a long list) states that there is no professional gym within a gazillion miles. You heard me. No YMCA, no pool, no weight room, no Pilates instructor. No indoor recreation of any kind, really. It’s a miracle I have a trust fund, because I’d commit suicide via deliberate artery clogging if I didn’t have my treadmill, and a mayor’s salary is nothing to brag about.

I’m debating whether to haul my butt downstairs or break open the Twizzlers when California Gurls explodes next to my ear. Sighing into the couch, I blindly snatch up my cell phone and mute the TV.

“Hello?” I greet in a deceptively perky voice.

“Azalea, sweetie-pie, you’re not gonna believe what I heard just ‘bout one minute ago,” answers a sing-song drawl that encourages the candy in my stomach in its kamikaze mission to make me vomit.

Sadly, it also belongs to the best friend I have in Wildewood.

“That’s doubtful,” I snub.

“And why is that, hon’?”

“Because,” I reply, trying my best not to grit my teeth at Eloise’s overuse of cutesy pet names, “this town is never unbelievable. We’re in the middle of nowhere, so it fits that nothing ever happens.”

She huffs in irritation. “Then guess.”


“Guess, baby doll,” she reiterates. The sound of a car door slamming echoes in the background, followed by the low rumble of an engine that needs servicing. I cringe at the thought of someone with Eloise’s brain capacity going fifty on dirt roads with a phone pressed to one side of her face.

“Okay, uh, hmm,” I stall, searching for an excuse to disconnect. “There’s a cow loose in town again.”


I tap my chin thoughtfully and discover a speck of residual chocolate under my lip, which I lap up like a vampire with blood. Both blood and chocolate are necessary for life, you know.

“Er, the Strauffers are getting a divorce.”

I earn a snort this time. “If only.”

“The liquor store finally restocked their Baileys?”

“Well, yeah, but that ain’t what I’m gettin’ at,” she admits.

“‘Ain’t’ ain’t a word,” I mock in my best southern accent. “And now I know what I’ll be doing tonight.”

“Not gettin’ drunk on Irish Cream, you ai—aren’t, pumpkin. You’re comin’ with me to the salon before the other gals find out ‘bout the new color Jody just shipped in. Red’s the new blond, y’know.”

I pause to consider this. The grand majority of Wildewood’s women don’t give a flying fadoodle about their hair and nails (in fact, I’m pretty sure Eloise and I keep the salon in business all by ourselves), so it’s not like my platinum hair is unoriginal here, and thus in need of re-dyeing, but it’s hardly special in my house. My son is blond. My daughters are blond. The nanny is blond.

The nanny is also sleeping with my husband.

At least, I think she is. No, no—I’m positive. It’s so obvious that you’d have to be blind, deaf, and mentally impaired not to notice it. But I don’t have proof. Yet.

The least Warwick could do is give me enough respect to have his affair outside of our home—say, with his secretary—but, no. I don’t have even that small scrap of dignity to use as a life preserver. Instead, the girl (I refuse to refer to her as a woman) takes my children to and from school, packs their lunches, cooks dinner, walks my dog, and generally lives under my roof whenever I’m away; which is often, since I’m coeditor of a magazine based in New York.

Even when I’m not out of town, she finds some reason to permeate my domestic sphere at least three times daily. The latest explanation?

Tutoring Caleb in math.

She is teaching my son how to graph a line, something I could easily explain to him if he could pause his iPod long enough to listen to me for two seconds instead of Linkin Park or Eminem.

When I told this to my husband, he set down his wineglass to chortle between hiccups, laughing, “You’re an English major, Azalea.”

“And she didn’t major in anything!”

He suddenly turned sour, his eyes reflecting a dangerous, stormy gray. “Unlike some people, Jezebel doesn’t have a trust fund. Just because she didn’t go to college doesn’t mean she’s any less intelligent than the rest of us.”

“I didn’t say she was stupid, but I think I’m more capable of—”

“You don’t know what it’s like not to have all the money in the world at your fingertips! I’d like to see you survive one hour without your dad’s cash.”

“I don’t recall you complaining about my trust fund when you bought this house, or your cars, or your golf clubs, or your watch, or—”

And that’s when he thundered out of the room, the door banging several times behind him before the momentum from his furious blow ebbed away and left me alone with my trembling glass of red wine.

I file the memory away with a frustrated clench of my fist.

“Maybe you’re right,” I answer after a long pause. Eloise emits a triumphant grunt from the back of her throat. “I’ll make appointments for both of us at four.”

Norman, the Janitor, Part I


Nights are long, but that’s okay. I don’t have anything else to do, and I sleep better in the day, when it’s light outside.

When I get here at 4:30, the only people left in the building are a few teachers, working in their rooms. I walk past their doors with my head down. I don’t look in, and they don’t ever say anything to me, and that’s the way I like it. There are usually a small group of kids still left at the after-school program. I can hear their voices, high and shrill, all through the school. I don’t go anywhere near there, not until later. Not until the heavy outer door has opened and closed for the last time, and stillness settles over the building.

It’s better then, when the whole building is mine.

“How can you stand it?” John asked me once. John works in the city, in a busy office, and gets nervous every time he comes out to visit me. Wildewood is too rural for him, and my job as night janitor is the worst job in town, according to him. But he’s not me, and I gave up long ago trying to explain to him why I like it.

He doesn’t have to come. I wouldn’t mind at all if he didn’t, but he takes his job as my brother very seriously. “You should get a different job. Surely someone in town would hire you to do something, where you wouldn’t have to be alone all night long, every night. Or you could move in with me. Cindy wouldn’t mind. There are lots of jobs in the city that would be more exciting.”

But that’s crazy. I could never live in the city, could never live with John and Cindy. I like my life here. I like my job. The being alone is the part I like the best. I don’t mind the echoing hallways, or the dark rooms. I don’t need anyone to talk to. I push my broom along the hallways, and admire the dustless gleam that appears behind the broom. I go into the rooms, one by one, with my cart. I turn on the light and put the chair up on the desks and sweep the floors. I spray the boards with board-cleaner and polish the white-board until it gleams. I always stop to admire the spotless boards. I don’t even mind cleaning the bathrooms, even though too many boys miss the toilet. I just don’t look too closely, and when I’m done, all the stools gleam too. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in that.

And when I’m alone, I know that the voices in my head are just that, voices. It’s only when I’m around other people that I can’t tell, and that worries me. So I’ll stay, and I’ll do my job, and everything will be as it always was.