Every Winter Solstice, I do something a little different on the website.
Sometimes I have a special guest in the blog or write about cabin fever, but this time I've decided to give you a sneak peek of Ashland's Asylum, my novel in stories tentatively scheduled to released mid-2015.
Continue reading for an excerpt of the one of the more sinister tales, "Strife", from my novel in stories. It's about a farmer who needs a second source of income, and unfortunately finds it one day.
FOR THE RECORD, SARAH, MRS. DOUGLAS NEVER MENTIONED THERE’D BE NO BODIES. SHE JUST PROMISED ME THERE’D BE MONEY--PLENTY OF IT. I’M SO SORRY, SARAH. PLEASE DON’T DIE.
Sarah, you just sit there in your wooden chair, underneath that lonely light. Never mind this dusty silo. Never mind this farm. Never mind all of this nightmarish equipment from the Asylum around you. Sarah, you just sit there in the dark, as I tip-toe closer to you until our feet tap and then I crouch down.
Forget about when you ran off in the woods, although I certainly can’t. Your breath broke the stillness of the woods behind my countryside home on the outskirts of Raven’s Crook. Each footstep of yours, Sarah, echoed back to me, a rumble I felt at my feet. Forget all that, Sarah.
Under a break in the forested overhang, moonlight peered down and kissed the barrel of my shotgun. I squinted as I focused on a young brunette woman around 2,000 feet ahead of me. That was you, Sarah. Forget about that.
Drawing a deep breath, I pulled the trigger and then finally closed my eyes. Unfortunately, I could not forget all that, Sarah, but you can.
Forget all that, Sarah, and just let me close. Let me near your cold lips. Feel the heat of mine. Please, Sarah, take my breath. Breathe. Live. Damn it, Sarah. Don’t die. Mrs. Douglas never said there’d bodies, Sarah.
I. THE BUSINESS DEAL
Late one evening, I held my hands over a small fire next to a pond. Near the mile-long gravel driveway that led to my countryside Raven’s Crook home, I walked back over to a plastic patio chair and watched a bobber float still on the water. With my fishing rod now in my right hand—a cheap thing I picked up a garage sale—I gazed out at my desolate fields. I missed hearing the corn whisper some nights. When my eyes returned to the water, I noticed a ripple run from the South side.
Soon, the hum of an engine drew near and gravel dust polluted the air. I stood up and saw her for the first time.
Mrs. Douglas shined in the nightfall—she must have been a smidgen over thirty then. Of course, the wealthy could stay whatever age they wanted to. Story went this blond bombshell in a business suit married a guy name Raphael Douglas, Jr. One could have told by his name what a spoiled, cocky prick he was. His daddy ran a Lumber Mill until one Daddy Dearest lost his marbles and himself. Literally. That left the Lumber Mill and all the remaining Douglas assets to the next akin: Susan Douglas, Senior’s Wife. But she wanted nothing to with it after several other stories about deaths at the Mill broke out, whereas dumbass Junior did. Enter Gold-Digging Linda, who renamed it “Douglas Factory,” married Junior, and somehow, not only ended up with his last name, but with 60% of the assets. Bitch.
“Oh hey,” I said with the friendliest tone I could muster, “how are you?”
Mrs. Linda Douglas stepped in front of the fire and asked, “How are you this evening, Mr. Strife?
To my surprise, she brushed the loose dirt off of a stump and sat in front of the fire, business attire and all. I couldn't believe a millionaire sat next to me in the middle of nowhere Raven’s Crook.
“With all due respect” I said, “I believe I asked you first, ma’am. And it’s Bob.”
“No, it’s not.” There was something pretentious about her laugh that followed.
“Yes, it is. Robert, to be exact.”
“Mr. Strife,” she said, “I’m well. I came here on business, I’m afraid, so if I may—”
“—Would you like a beer?”
To be perfectly frank, I’m not sure why I said that. Out of nervousness? Maybe because I needed a drink. Setting my tackle aside, I started to turn for the cooler. Hesitant, my eyes kept note of Mrs. Douglas’ reactions, but she didn’t seem to refuse the offer. So I grabbed each of us a beer.
Again, she caught me off-guard by guzzling down nearly half of the can before I even popped my tab.
Mrs. Douglas, in a matter-of-fact tone, said, “I essentially want to rent the south end of your fields, including the silos and sheds, indefinitely.”
I slammed my beer down on a stone and watched it foam out of the can. Before I became too sidetracked, I asked, “So you want to pay me, why?”
“Suffice it to say, Mr. Strife, new standards have been imposed on the Hospital—”
“—Asylum?” I asked.
“The Hospital,” Mrs. Douglas continued, “and we need to quickly find a home for outdated—”
“Yes, Mr. Strife, we have certain equipment and supplies that are outdated and/or ‘outlawed’ that we must dispose of before the inspected at the end of the month. I assured, this is only temporary and we will pay you handsomely.”
Sipping on the foamy beer, I asked, “What makes you think I need the money?”
Mrs. Douglas stood up from the stump, and with a centered stare away from the fire, lobbed her empty can across my fields. In between the soft crackle of firewood cracking and popping in the pit, the initial clink from the beer can colliding with the dirt and rock echoed across my land. Without stalks to serve as walls, noise travelled for days. Yet, in my neck of the woods, still no one would’ve ever heard it.
We both spent quite a while gazing out at the nothingness of my farmland. Nightfall started to retreat as and orange glow burned across the horizon. Mist served as ash across the far north end of my lot. One rarely saw such beginnings.
“Let me be frank with you, Mr. Strife,” she said dryly, as though unimpressed by the picturesque moment, “here’s the situation we’re faced with: Nearly twenty years ago—probably the last time you made a modest income, I’d imagine—some of our equipment was outlawed. That, Mr. Strife, was okay, because long before that the practices which necessitated said equipment were too. Needless to say, we shoved the old scientific equipment in out South Wing and locked the doors for good. Until now.”
Mrs. Douglas paused and gestured for another beer. Close to finishing my first anyway, I obliged her. In the midst of the hand-off, Mrs. Douglas withdrew a long, skinny cigarette from a metal scale. The edges caught the mix of the stars and early sunrise.
She offered me one, but I waved it down. “Sorry, I don’t smoke.”
At the sound of both beer tops clicking, there was an awkward silence, occasionally broken up by guttural sounds.
Placing her beer to the side, Mrs. Douglas continued to work on her cigarette. In between puffs, she continued, “We’ve held onto the equipment, having nowhere to properly dispose of it, but now we face an investigation. We feel it’s better to keep such matters quiet and remedy this situation than cause a stir that could disrupt our processes.”
Snubbing out her cigarette before flicking it into the dwindling fire, Mrs. Douglas asked, “Why don’t you come visit the hospital tomorrow morning and see for yourself?”
End of Excerpt More to Come
Where It Began
The perfect short story collection for a busy winter.