Tuesday, December 4, 2007

a night on the town

here's a story i'm working on for my intro writing class.... it's not done and it's not perfect, so please let me know what you think, etc!

           The heat made him restless. Summer was Tom’s least favorite season – the sickening humidity, all the fucking sunshine, and, dear lord, the boredom. Today, not unlike other days, he had spent cooped up in his fortress bedroom in the safety of his low-lit comic book collection, sipping sweet tea and occasionally napping. He liked to sleep as much as possible during the daylight hours; he awaited sunset like a prince. Even now, under the full moon light, the heat was almost unbearable, and he was getting restless. Adjusting his Yankees cap above his eyes, Tom prepared to give it that good ole college try, one last time before going it alone. He rubbed the small rock between his hands and blew on it for extra luck. He gears up his pitcher’s arm and makes the throw.... Hell yeah! he smirked to himself with pride. The rock had reached its destination, had flown through the broken windowpane of Janet’s second story bedroom, making a satisfying smashing sound upon landing.
           Now all he had to do was wait. Tom was not fond of waiting, especially not on a night like this. The air was electric. Tom’s bones seemed to be pushing outward, onward whether or not his body was willing. He paced, turned cartwheels, and veritably jigged around Janet’s entire backyard before he finally heard the slow creak of the attic window opening. Tom jumps in anticipation as he sees first Janet’s long legs and then her hand waving greetings emerging from the silent shanty. Janet shimmied slowly and gracefully out onto the roof of her home with the practice of seventeen summers. She was no amateur. She scooted to the roof’s edge, held her breath, and launched herself into the giant oak towering over her home. The motions were as familiar to her as breathing, but to Tom, they were an eternity. As Janet climbed, he rolled across the yard, gnawing on grass, silently containing his frustration.
           Janet paused to stand on a small crow’s nest built at least ten years before her family had come into this place. She kept a series of secret treasures stored in a ziploc, hidden here in the tree. Most nights, she would take her time carefully selecting the object that felt most appropriate to the moment, the one that seemed to sing when she held it. These things could come in handy on a long night of adventures. Once, she and Tom had been cornered in a back alley by a rather vicious dog, but it ran away when Janet threw a bouncy ball far down the little street. And another time, Tom had lucked out in a gamble with a hobo, thanks to Janet’s randomly compiled deck of fifty-three playing cards. Tonight, she ran her hands over the cards, the marbles, the bells and whistles. The air, the trees, everything was electric. Janet felt this was an interference. She glanced down at Tom, writhing in a ring of mushrooms, and gave a short sigh. “Oh fuck it,” she muttered to herself, and stuffed the whole blasted thing into her backpack.
           As Janet hopped down from the oak, before her feet even touched the ground, “It’s about time!” Tom exploded, forgetting to stay quiet in his exasperation. “I was like to poison myself on these mushrooms any minute now! I can’t believe you let such horrible things grow in your yard. Haven’t you thought about all the birds you’re probably killing, with this kind of menace vegetation? I swear, it’s like garden warfare from the environment..... like bugs! No decent person lets bugs in their yard, no sirree.”
           As he spoke, Janet’s soft smile had spread across her whole face, until her eyes were squinting with glee and her bright cheeks looked fit to burst. “Haven’t you heard of faery rings? They’re for dancing... and they’re not mine to manage.” At her words Tom began to calm, his breathing turning slow and his irritation fleeting. That smile could stop an army, he thought, as he often did, and decided not to tease her about these kinds of eccentricities she was always spouting.
           “Yeah, okay, I guess I see your point. I still wouldn’t allow anything of that caliber in my yard.” Tom and Jane were both remembering the same incident -- how a couple years back, one little toadstool had crept up from beneath the carpet in Janet’s bedroom and for some reason could not be gotten rid of. A brief moment of awkwardness stretches between them, as Janet’s face grows hot with embarrassment and Tom’s lip curls slightly in disgust.
           The silence is broken by a pitiful mew.
           “Mab! How long have you been out here?” Janet begs of the small white cat, grinning again, and lifts the creature into a cradle of her arms, where Mab instantly falls into a trance of purring, practically comatose in mere seconds. Tom can’t help but chuckle as he watches Janet tickling her kitten’s soft belly, and he reaches out to scratch under her chin.
           “Where are we going tonight, Tom?” Janet knows he has no answer and Tom knows what she will ask next. He frowns, worried about any and all hindrances to this night of absolute freedom. “Well, I’m not absolutely sure yet...” Tom stuffs his hands into his pockets, fidgeting and wishing he could lie. Night was supposed to belong to him, and he chose to invite Janet along.
           “Can I bring Mab along?”
           He had not chosen to invite fuzzy dead weight.
           “Please? I have a feeling we need to be well-prepared tonight.”
           Tom didn’t see how this involved the pet, but he couldn’t say now to these two sets of golden eyes, imploring to him as sweet as honey. He sweeps his red sneakers across the tips of the long grass, and moves his hands to his hat. “I suppose we can manage it...” Janet suppresses a delighted holler, and throws her arms around Tom, inadvertently dropping the startled Mab unhappily into the soft grass. Janet is not sorry; this cat can land on her feet. Tom felt the static air pressing in on him, signaling finally the moment to depart. He decided the cat could present no problems, not tonight, and he let himself go to the bliss of adventure blossoming within all their bones.
           Soon enough, their bicycles were gliding along familiar streets, seeking unfamiliar twists and turns, which they hoped would lead to something unusual. Many of their nights began in this fashion, and very rarely did they end in disappointment. Janet and Tom figured that with odds like these, they had a pretty good system going. Even Mab enjoyed the occasional bicycle outing, although she generally spent them curled up asleep in Janet’s backpack. Janet reached around to unzip the smaller pocket of her bag and managed, although swerving treacherously all over the road, to pull out a bottle of red wine.
           “I brought us a present,” she declares, shoving the drink into Tom’s field of vision. He giggles, knowing that Janet’s parents never realize when these things go missing. Of course, this was still a special occasion; one had to remain cautious when appropriating the belongings of others. Tom kept a number of useful tools in his satchel, and while he may not have had a proper bottle opener, he had his own makeshift one. Janet and Tom float along serenely, Janet holding out the bottle in her left hand and Tom stabbing into the cork with his right. Eventually the cork is pushed in with a plop, and Janet can take the first swig. The bottle is passed between bicycles as the two try to lose themselves in a too-familiar town.
           “Shit, look where we are. I hate this neighborhood,” says Janet, nervously rubbing her short-cropped hair. She is thinking of years ago, finding bottle caps in her long tangled hair, a constant flurry of menacing laughter, the accusations of ‘freak’ and ‘satanist.’ By now, Mab is now fully conscious and aware of her surroundings, but only her gleaming eyes are visible inside Janet’s pack. Tom glances around and realizes they have entered what in daylight is their No Man’s Land – Joe Figeroa’s neighborhood. His house was only two blocks from here.
           They’ve been through this before, and Tom knows what to say: “Don’t worry, Janet. It’s so late, I’m sure Joey is out getting wasted in the ‘burbs. We’ll be fine just passing through.” Janet nods, picking up speed to make the experience as short as possible. Tom believes he has comforted her, failing to notice her tightening lips and darting, nervous eyes. She has not forgotten what they did to her. She kisses the bottle and passes it, gripping her handlebars tighter. The wind rides over them with the force of a train, seeming to cling to every inch of skin with the hug of humidity. The bikes hook right; the main road is now in sight.
           “See? I told you everything would be fine,” Tom declares with pride, but of course he has spoken too soon. The words have barely escaped his lips when the shadows of five bicycled figures emerge from several driveways, seeming to be aimlessly circling a manhole in the street. Tom, not wanting to admit his own defeat, continues riding towards them.
           “Tom… I don’t like this.” Janet hangs back, and the stone in her stomach becomes a boulder. Her backpack begins to softly rumble as Mab senses unease floating in waves down the little road.
           “Oh, come on! We’ll be fine,” Tom insists, waving for Janet to hurry up. Against her and her kitten’s better judgment, Janet began to inch forward carefully on her bicycle. No sooner had she caught up to Tom that the tiny gang was flying towards them; in no time, they were stuck stationary inside a tight circling of bicycles being orchestrated by none other than Joe Figeroa. Tom tried to manuever in between two moving bikes but was pushed back and thrown off his bike.
           “What do you want?!” demanded Janet, sounding far more fierce than she would have believed possible, considering how she actually felt. The cyclists were undaunted, and only continued their snickering. Joe snuck up behind Tom and snatched the wine bottle from his hands. He chugged what was left of it and threw the bottle to the ground, laughing when Tom jumped in surprise. Janet was almost beside herself; this boy had been a bully to her ever since she moved to town. Thinking she might have something useful in her bag, Janet let her bike fall and began to rummage through her belongings on the ground. The sound of clinking bells and Mab’s chirps were hysterical to the cronies.
           “Look, she’s gonna make a potion! Scaaaaarrryyy!” Joe exclaimed. Janet fought back the tears forming behind her eyes, infuriated at these menaces and at Tom’s apparent inability to act. Her poor friend stood there frozen, staring at his feet, without any notion of what to do. He felt that he had failed Janet; she had trusted him and now they were trapped. He was trying his damnedest to think of a plan, but he was no good in these situations, and his nervousness prevented him from thinking as quickly as he was accustomed to. Janet was practically tearing through her bag, cursing herself for not carrying around a set of butcher knives. “Ooooooooh, she’s gonna cast a spell on us! What ever will we doooo?” Joey cooed. Janet shook her bag in desperation and Mab slipped out, unnoticed, while Joey was busy high-fiving each of his cruel friends in turn.
           “Good one, Figeroa,” one oaf managed to mumble. Now Joe had to take it up a step to impress his friends again. Turning back to Janet, Joe picked up her backpack and turned it upside down, letting its contents spill out over the street. Bouncy balls flew everywhere, rolling into gutters and landing in trash cans. The wannabe gang stamped gleefully on Janet’s collection of seashells, congratulating each other for being so badass. They laughed at her book of pressed flowers and her rubber band ball. Janet looked on in despair for only moments before the rage took over.
           “STOP IT! LEAVE US THE FUCK ALONE!” she bellowed, her voice echoing back from the empty neighborhood. The cronies were startled, but Joe’s comeback (“Ohhh, we’re soooo scared!”) seemed to return their bravery and had them sniggering again in no time. Janet’s anger was rising steadily, her hands becoming white fists and eyes narrowing with hatred. Tom was just sure she was about to get herself hurt. He began to step toward her, his hand outreached, to tell her to calm down, they could find more violets to press, they could go back to the beach soon, when he noticed that she held the neck of the broken wine bottle in a hand behind her back. He wanted more than anything to keep her safe, but she seemed almost to be in a trance, and in fact, at this moment, Tom was not totally sure that even he was safe from Janet’s wrath. He held back, scared as hell, with no clear concept of what he should do.
           “LISTEN!” Janet demanded so suddenly that one of the terrorists actually stopped his boot midair, rather than completing the destruction of a small ceramic frog. She withdrew the broken bottle from behind her back. “If you don’t get out of here right now, you are really going to regret it. And I mean it.” She waited for their response. She knew that deep down, they were terrified of her. She just had to show them that she was no force to be reckoned with. “Go back where you belong!” Joe’s cronies were looking from this raging girl to their leader and back again, almost as if they were completely devoid of thought.
           Finally Joe cleared his throat and spoke, “This is our territory! And we won’t allow a WITCH like you to come anywhere near it!” The cronies grunted in agreement and shifted their feet to show their possession of this ground. Janet closed her eyes and unclenched her teeth; had she really thought that would work? She let out a tremendous roar and threw the bottle straight at Joey Figeroa. He had seen it coming. The bottle landed with a terrific smash on the pavement, adding shards of green glass to the wreckage of Janet’s most precious belongings. The boys displayed their genuine fear as apathy, praying that Janet couldn’t tell the difference between their truths and lies. Instead of dealing with her outburst, they turned to Tom, who was shocked and terrified, not only by this seemingly one-brained mass of teenage masculinity, but by his dear friend, who he had never seen so upset.
           “How come you hang around this weak-ass girl, Thomas? I thought you were supposed to be a real man... you’re a pitcher after all, right? Oh wait, did I say pitcher? I meant ‘pussy.’ Yeah, that’s right, you’re a pussy. Let’s see that pitch.” Joe tried to encourage Tom to throw Janet’s fallen objects as a demonstration of his throwing arm. He couldn’t do it, he couldn’t even speak. All he seemed to be able to do was shake his head and stare at his feet. As the boys prodded Tom for a show, a low sound began to rise out of the darkness. It sounded like some foreign language, but something ancient, the likes of which none of these boys had ever heard before. It took them a moment to realize the source -- it was Janet. She appeared to be in a trance, with her eyes rolled back in her head, and her arms pulsing in front of her, as if they were trying to hold within them a small ocean which insists on constantly rocking back and forth. Her words grew louder and she slowly began to step towards the group before her. Joe and his followers skeptically looked to Tom’s face for a sign of amusement, but his eyes were as wide as sanddollars, his jaw loose and stunned. At this, the cronies really began to panic, although they stayed frozen where they stood. Even Tom could not budge an inch.
           Suddenly, out of the blackness, Mab seemed to fly down from the heavens, letting out a yowl that surely woke up every cat in a three-mile radius. She landed right on Joey Figeroa’s shoulder and dug her claws in so far that when he turned to shake her off, her back legs swung wildly while the front paws kept their position. “GET IT OFF GET IT OFF!!” yelled Joe to his staff, who pulled off the hissing cat in a tangle of fur and claws, not one of them able to get away without having blood drawn. Falling all over themselves, they clambered onto their bicycles and pedalled away rapidly into the safety of their neighborhood, shouting to each other about “witchcraft,” “devil’s work,” and “Satan’s little helpers!”
           Tom opened his eyes. The bright, black sky stretched above him; the full moon almost seeemd to smile. Tom realized that he was lying on the grass in somebody’s front yard, although he could not recollect why. The last thing he remembered was a blur of primordial sounds and a flash of claws and white fur. “I must have fainted,” he muttered to himself, although he had never fainted before so he was not quite sure how this could have happened to him.
           “You did,” Janet replied simply. Tom sat up quickly, turning his head left and right trying to match her voice to her body. She smiled to herself and tapped him on the shoulder from behind. She was sitting there looking perfectly normal, like the girl Tom knew and loved.... mostly. Her smell was the same, her smile was the same, her eyes were..... well, they looked the same enough for Tom. He threw his arms around her, glad to see that she was safe.

           .....to be continued

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