"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of "The Collector" series, The Killing Kind, and Red Right Hand.

"A refreshingly new voice in noir." --Ed Kurtz, author of Nothing You Can Do and The Rib From Which I Remake the World.

"A glorious boilermaker of noir and East Coast gothic. The action is taut as a sprung snare and Bagley tightens the screws with every page." -- Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase and Blood Standard.




Monday, February 9, 2009

February Flash

It’s time to post my contribution to Patti Abbott’s latest flash fiction challenge. The deal was simple: write an opening paragraph and send it to Patti; she shuffled them all and dealt one paragraph to every player; we then had to finish the story begun in the paragraph we received. None of us know who wrote our opening.

This thing was a hell of a lot of fun. Check out
Patti’s blog for links to the other stories.

And here’s what I did with my assigned opening…


One More Mess
By Patrick Shawn Bagley (opening paragraph by Keith Rawson)

The bath water is near freezing by the time I get out of the tub. I barely noticed the temperature when I first lowered myself into it. I vaguely remember it being close to boiling; my skin turning bright red, my pores opening wide and yawning; dripping sweet, cutting small rivers through the grit and blood that covered me from head to toe. I recall vomiting over the side of the tub, a thin yellow acidic drool that filled my nostrils and burned my gums. I only remember that because my first step out of the tub is into a slick puddle of it.

I go down, slamming my knee against the cracked and pitted linoleum. One more pain among a dozen others, it helps jar me into full wakefulness. I grab two towels from a shelf above the old claw-footed tub: one to wipe the puke off my leg, one to dry myself. Knowing I shouldn’t, I take a look in the mirror. My lips and nipples are blue from the cold. No surprise there. But the sight of my face makes me want to turn away and puke all over again.

J.P. had gone upside my head with a stick of cedar kindling. Then, when I was kneeling on the floor and holding a hand to my bloody ear, he’d started in with the belt. “Let’s see how many men want you after this,” J.P. said. He grabbed a fistful of my hair to keep me from running off. If I tried to pry his fingers loose, it left my face exposed to the belt; if I tried to cover my face, he yanked my head back and forth while lashing my breasts, back and belly.

Now my face is cross-hatched with purple welts and stipples of dried blood. I wrap the towel around myself, walk into the bedroom. My breath hovers in the air. The woodstove downstairs must have gone out hours ago. Dropping the towel, I open my bureau drawers and try not to look at the mess on the bed. It doesn’t matter. That’s a picture I’ll never get out of my head…Tom Moody grunting away on top of me, telling me to hold still and stop my fucking crying…then his face erupting in a red shower, followed a heartbeat later by the roar of J.P.’s 20-gauge.

It takes me a few minutes to pull on clean underwear, a pair of jeans and my red sweater. God, I move like an arthritic old woman. My face feels like I got stung by a hundred wasps. My ribs ache so much that it hurts to raise my arms or take a deep breath. There’s a knot on the side of my head where J.P. smacked me with that piece of cedar. I hobble down the stairs, my knuckles white as I grip the banister.

Once at the bottom, I stand there with my eyes closed and wait for my breathing to slow. I could keep walking, go right out the front door, get in the truck and drive away. But somebody would come by looking for J.P., not tonight but probably in a day or two. They’d see the bodies and call the cops. Sooner or later, I’d get picked up. So I sit on the bottom step, right where J.P. left me after he dragged me down the stairs, and try coming up with a plan.

“Bastard got what was coming to him.”

I jump at the sound before realizing it’s my own voice. That’s it. I can’t sit here waiting to get busted. There’s blood to clean up, corpses to dump. I’ll roll my husband and Tom Moody into a couple of tarps. If I weigh them down with J.P.’s skidder chains, I can sink them in the bog down at the far end of the old pasture.

Yeah, that’ll work. It has to work. I’ll get the house cleaned and try to cover my welts and bruises with make-up. Anybody comes by the house, I’ll just tell them J.P.’s gone down to visit his mother in Solon…which everybody knows means he’s really whoring over to Millinocket. That gives me a couple days to heal up and decide where to go, maybe find some of the money J.P.’s got stashed here or out in that old falling-down barn.

First thing is heat. I have to start a fire in the stove, so I get up and walk into the living room. J.P. lies there on the floor in front of the couch, his belly a ragged red mess where I emptied both barrels of the 20-gauge into him. He had been whipping me so hard and fast that the belt flew out of his hand. When he let me go to pick it up, I grabbed the shotgun. He even stood there laughing while I loaded it, was still laughing when I thumbed back both hammers.

Looking at him now, all I can see is the mud on his work boots—it would never occur to J.P. to stomp his damn feet off outside. No, he’d come tromping right in and get mud all over the house, then yell at me for not keeping the place clean. I shake my head, tell myself to get busy. The woodstove door squeaks when I open it to lay in some crumpled newspaper.

“Carol…”

I jump again. Then I smile and tell myself to get a grip. The worst is over.

“Carol…”

Oh, Jesus. Still crouching in front of the stove, I pivot on my feet and look over at J.P. His eyes are open and he licks his lips. “Help,” he says.

If he’s still alive, then it’s not too late. I can get him to the hospital. They’ll fix him up. I won’t have to go to jail or on the run. I can tell the cops about Tom Moody coming here, saying he had to leave a chainsaw for J.P. to fix, but forcing his way into the house to attack me instead. They’ll believe me when I say my husband killed Tom. They’ll believe I only shot J.P. out of fear for my own life. J.P.’s a vicious son-of-a-whore. Everybody around here knows that.

They all know it.

They’ve always known it.

“Carol,” J.P. says again. The words come out wet and thick. “Call…help.” And there it is; that light in his eyes, the same light I see in them when he hits me or calls me a stupid cunt. How long will they keep him in prison for killing Tom? Eight years? Twelve? Maybe even twenty? That seems like a long time.

And yet, it doesn’t.

I pick up J.P.’s 20-guage and the box of shells I had dropped on the couch. He tries to move his head, tries to watch me. I step over to where he can see me loading the gun again.

“Carol…”

I shush him before pointing the barrel at his head. I’ve already spent fourteen years cleaning up his messes. I don’t mind one more.

15 comments:

Kieran said...

Nice.

Man, I suck.

sandra seamans said...

Wow! Just plain wow!

Keith Rawson said...

I'll parrot Sandra's comments. Wow! And what makes this story even cooler for me is that the opening paragraph is mine.(Sorry, Patti, if I'm ruining any surprises here.) Patrick, thanks for turning my opening sentences into such an awesome story

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Keith,

You gave me great material to work with. Glad you liked it. I'm going to put your name with mine in the byline.

P.

Paul Brazill said...

That is great. Patrick- it's the 1st story of yours that I've read but it won't be the last. Keith-what an intro!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Patric-Brilliant. Plain brilliant.

John McFetridge said...

That's a lot of story packed into a few words, why to go. Excellent.

Ray said...

The ultimate revenge tale - could hear those last lines.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

After reading the first paragraph I thought it was a man. Love to know who Keith had in mind. And then there seems to be one surprise after another. Great work.

Anonymous said...

If I tagged every great line [and my reaction to each of them] my comments would run longer than the story.

Seamless as a Ken Bruen - Jason Starr collaboration.

John McAuley

Keith Rawson said...

Sandra,

In the first paragraph of a story is pretty much a blank canvass for me. The person in the bathtub could've been any sex and when I was writing it more or less resembled one of those wooden art models. Luckily Patrick added some considerable flesh to it

Clair Dickson said...

Oh damn. That was intense.

Nice job.

Gerald So said...

I had the same initial reaction as Sandra Scoppettone, thinking the narrator was a man. Until the last paragraph, I wasn't sure Carol would kill J.P., just as she wasn't sure herself. Way to keep me on the hook.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

When a reader encounters a 1st-person story, he or she tends to assume that the narrator is the same gender as the author until proven otherwise. This a filter we all carry with us and are unable to shut off.

What I liked about Keith's paragraph was that it allowed me to decide whether the narrator would be male or female.

My story for the Uncage Me anthology is told from the P.O.V. of a 15 year-old girl, but the character's gender is made clear from the start.

Anyway, I had a damn good time writing this. I've finally read all of the stories and have to say there is not a bad one in the bunch.

Thanks to everyone for their comments here.

P.

Cormac Brown said...

Damn, vivid...