Below is the first few pages of what I’m currently working on, tentatively titled Charnel House. The material is one step removed from first draft status, but should give you a feel for the style. WARNING: This contains graphic language and adult situations and is not meant for children.
Now that you’ve been warned, enjoy.
The House (I)
Perched on the plateau atop a hill named for the hickory trees dotting its slopes, the abandoned house broods over the tiny Alabama town called Belleville like a rattler guarding a clutch of eggs. From the rear windows of the second story—not that many townspeople realize this, because they no longer think about the house above them; it has faded in the town’s collective memory the way colors in an old photograph do—one can glimpse the dark waters of the Tennessee River to the south when the leaves have dropped, a tarry path slicing through the red clay fields laid bare for the winter.
When General Hood and Brigadier General Granger clashed on the opposite bank of the distant river in 1864, fighting for the city of Decatur, where two major railroad lines joined together, the house was occupied and stood in the middle of a large cleared area on the hill, so white it was hard to look at on a clear summer day. The tin roof gleamed in the afternoon light, shiny as a polished mirror. It looked like a happy place, somewhere people would gather for meals and parties and fellowship and games, despite the horrors that had taken place in it some twenty-six years earlier. Now the house is the bleached gray of weathered old bones, its roof a dull rust-red like the dried blood staining the walls inside. There has been no happiness there for many generations.
Sometimes when the sun is dropping low in the western sky, a glint of light reflecting off one of the unbroken windows will catch the eye of someone below, reminding them that the house lingers on. They will remember the stories they grew up hearing and repeating as they cowered in their beds with the covers pulled up over their heads, giddy with that special kind of fear only a child knows. As often as not, the person will look away from that glint of light quickly, perhaps offering an unconscious genuflection or whispered prayer if they are the religious sort. Many shiver, and if someone happened to witness it, they grin and look a little embarrassed, explaining that a goose just walked over my grave. They rarely think about the house itself, only of the old tales dredged up from the depths of their minds, but that night they may dream about it, black visions filled with screams and blood and almost-seen faces leering out of the darkness at them.
The lines of the house are skewed now, and its supports grown weak. Where it once stood straight and true, it has sagged and bowed. But still it stands, ageless and timeless, looming over the town like a watchful sentinel.
And sometimes, it feeds.
May 2013: Garraty
The incessant thump of the music was starting to bug the shit out of Garraty, making his head pound in unison like the beat of some alien heart. The noise set his teeth on edge. For some reason, the DJ had really cranked it up for this one, maybe in the hope that a louder song might draw some attention from the dancer’s looks. Around him, a handful of customers—all male—seemed oblivious to the driving beat, focused on the mostly naked woman on the stage before them. They leaned forward on their barstools like dogs, their arms resting on the apron, tongues practically touching the worn pine. What had seemed like a good idea a couple of hours ago—a few beers at the club ogling some boobage was a way to avoid sitting at home in the trailer, listening to the rain fall while he tried not to think about the shit sandwich he’d been served—was starting to feel like one more bad choice in a life full of them. A little extra dribble of diarrhea on the bread, so to speak.
The stage platform looked like it had been built from scrap lumber, Garraty thought. Cheap pressboard paneling formed its sides, painted with a thick layer of black epoxy to protect against spilled drinks, spilled vomit, and probably on more than one unfortunate occasion, spilled semen. The heavy coating of paint made it simple to clean. The stage itself was pine, old flooring probably recovered from some house slated for demolition, polished to a high sheen. Frosted white bulbs sprouted from the apron, one every twelve inches all the way around. They reminded him of baby teeth coming in.
Garraty picked up his beer and drained it, wobbling on his stool a bit, slopping a little down the front of his shirt. Fuck it, he thought. Not like it needs to be clean for work tomorrow. His waitress was across the room at the bar, and he raised one hand to signal her to bring him another one.
Up on the stage, the dancer—a chunky woman nearing forty—took a couple of running steps and jumped into the air, catching onto the pole mounted at the corner nearest Garraty. She spun around it, twisting herself so she could grab it with her legs, then let go and hung inverted with her arms out like Saint Peter crucified upside-down. Her breasts flopped into her face, mostly obscuring it. Garraty saw faint red incision scars running along the underside, where they joined her abdomen. From this angle, the silicone baggies were plainly visible, perfectly rounded domes under the pale skin. He wondered if they felt real.
“Christ,” he said, though no one could have heard him over the cacophony. Plucking his last single from atop a stack of three fivers sitting on the apron in front of him, he stood and held it up for the dancer. So what if she was pushing forty and a little on the heavy side? Garraty himself was pushing fifty and jobless as of this afternoon, courtesy of that rat-faced little cunt down at the General Electric plant with her masters degree from Auburn and bullshit talk about downsizing because of the economy.
Customers aren’t buying as many refrigerators as they once did, Joe, she’d said, sitting across the hand-carved cherry table table from him in the conference room with her legs crossed so her navy blue dress hitched up and showed maximum thigh. In order to stay profitable we all have to make a few sacrifices.
Garraty hadn’t pointed out that as far as he could tell, she wasn’t making any sacrifices at all. Just him, the old white guy who made a little bit too much money to keep around. Seemed like that’s who always got the shaft. You put in nineteen years with a company, playing by all their rules and showing up on the weekend whenever they asked, and when things got a little tight you hear thanks for all the memories, buddy, but it’s time for you to go. To show you there are no hard feelings, we’ll even let you keep the car you still owe us two grand on. Who loves ya?
The dancer, still hanging from the pole, tugged the white t-bar thong away from her lower abdomen so Garraty could tuck the bill in the elastic band, affording him a glimpse of her cleanly shaved pubic mound. She had a little red heart tattoo down there. Nice. They weren’t supposed to expose themselves like that, not here in Bible central. Sure, you could get a flash in the back room during a private dance (and sometimes a little more than a flash if you had enough money, he had heard), but not out here in the main area, and especially not for just a buck. Was she coming onto him?
He dropped back to the stool, one hand splayed on the apron to keep from tipping on over into the floor, and watched the dancer flip over to land on her feet in front of him. She squatted and spread her legs, trailing one finger over the thin fabric along the cleft between them, then stuck out her tongue and dragged the finger down it like she was tasting herself, watching him the whole time. Definitely coming onto him. Garraty reached for one of the fives, but before he could pick it up he remembered what had played out at the plant a couple of hours ago. He couldn’t afford to just throw money away anymore, not even for a chance at a little pussy. Not until he had another job. That five-spot would get him two more beers—hell, a whole six pack if he stopped paying for the ambiance of this place and just went home to drink—and he figured he needed that more than anything right now. Chances were better than good the stripper was only angling for money, anyway. That’s what women did. He pulled his hand back.
“Two bucks, sweetie,” the waitress said in his left ear. She reached around him and plucked the empty Budweiser bottle off the apron, then set out a fresh napkin and placed the beer she’d brought him on it. He handed her a five and she counted three singles back into his palm.
“I’ll get you on the next one,” he said, dropping the bills on the remaining fives. He watched her ass as she walked away. The black shorts really did a number with it. Tina’s ass had looked like that—no, better than that—once, before she got pregnant and shat out the twins. His progeny, heaven help us all. She still looked pretty good for her age, not that it mattered now, not since she’d asked him to leave. Kicked out of his own goddamn house, if you could believe that shit.
I want a divorce, Joe, she’d said. I’m tired of the bullshit and the fighting and the drinking.
But what Garraty heard was I’m tired of you. So he packed up his things and got the fuck out of Dodge. Don’t have to ask me twice, sister. Being on his own wasn’t half bad, even though all he could afford was a shitty trailer in a shitty park that was just begging for a tornado to come along and wipe it out. They’d be headed to court soon, and Tina was already making noise about wanting half his paycheck to take care of her and the kids. It’s only fair, Joe, she bleated, like some kind of goddamn Democrat. Well, she was welcome to half his paycheck now. Hell, she could have it all.
The waitress rounded the end of the bar and Garraty returned his attention to the stage. The dancer had moved on to some hipster douchebag standing close to the staircase the girls used to get on and off the elevated platform. Garraty had seen the guy come in earlier with a bunch of other twenty-somethings, all stubbled beards and stripey t-shirts and thick-framed glasses, their jeans so tight you could see their cocks outlined in denim. Fags in a titty bar, the guy next to him had said in a beery blast of breath, I guess I’ve seen it all. The two men had cackled like old hens on a roosting pole.
The douchebag had a Jackson clenched between his teeth now, and leaned in over the apron. The dancer had her ass toward him, swaying it from side to side. She dropped into a squat, the string in her butt crack barely covering anything, then slowly stood, undulating like a snake. The douchebag’s friends hooted and catcalled.
Garraty tipped the fresh beer back and took a long pull. The music didn’t seem so loud now. Alcohol. Nature’s earplugs.
Pressing his hands down on the lip of the apron, the young hipster lifted himself so he could get his head ever further over the stage. The dancer called something out to the group of men—to Garraty it looked like she said y’all want a show—and they erupted in cheers. She moved a little closer to the guy and planted her feet in a wide stance, then reached back and took a handful of his hair and pulled him into her ass, kisser first. She held him there for a moment, rubbing herself up and down his face like she was trying to polish it, before letting him go. The twenty had transferred—along with God knew what else, Garraty thought—and now poked out from between her cheeks like a cigarette.
His friends exploded in raucous laughter, clapping and shouting. The douchebag wasn’t grinning anymore. In fact, he looked a little green around the gills. Probably nice and sweaty up in there. Shift change was a good four hours ago. Get your money’s worth, kid?
He finished off the beer and picked up his money. Time to get going. The longer he sat here the more money he was going to spend, and by the time it was gone he wouldn’t have much more of a buzz than he had right now, especially when you subtracted the tip money. Thirteen bucks was nearly enough for a case of Pabst at the 24-hour Piggly Wiggly down on Sixth Avenue in Decatur, and it wasn’t even ten miles out of the way. Just the thing to help take his mind off his problems, if only for a night.
Garraty threaded his way across the club to the sign pointing the way down a side hall to the restrooms, walking with the practiced careful stagger of someone who had more than a passing familiarity with good buzz. The men’s room was at the end of the hall, and he kept one hand on the wall for balance. Inside the bathroom he found the douchebag bent over the stained sink, scrubbing at his face with a handful of wet towels.
“Twenty bucks don’t go as far as it used to, huh?” Garraty said, grinning.
The douchebag ignored him and squirted some soap into his hand from the dispenser on the wall. Garraty assumed the position at the urinal and concentrated on not pissing on his shoes, and not laughing at the poor schmuck back there trying to wash the smell of ass off his face.