Bad Seed: Chapter Three

Toby pulled off Interstate Eighty and halted the long, slow downhill slide from the Rockies on a long ribbon of concrete cutting a swath through the Midwestern corn and bean fields. While the scenery was pastoral and evocative of a simpler time in America’s short history, he was eager to plant his feet on some solid ground. The exit wasn’t littered with billboards boasting cheap coffee or the state’s oldest saloon, or a replica of an Old West town, instead he was greeted with small signs that ran the length of the flanking cornfield proclaiming Granum Seeds. He’d spent the last week exploring the National Parks of South Dakota while trying to avoid obvious tourist traps, but every truck stop along I-90 and gas station had some gimmick.

He cruised through the quiet streets and turned down the narrow residential road. GPS led his customized Toyota Tacoma to a small brick house with shuttered windows and even a white picket fence. Home. He threw his truck into reverse and parked in front of the Iowa Realty sold sign and left the driveway open so the moving van could back into the driveway in the next hour or two. He pulled a folding camp chair out of the back seat and set up on the lawn with a mug of coffee and a book about Wild Bill Hickok.

He read half a chapter of the Wild Bill biography before he was bored and restless. He dumped the bad coffee on the lawn, the caffeine wasn’t doing him any favors. Toby grabbed a can of beer from the cooler in the bed of the truck, tucked it into a koozie, and sat on the lowered tailgate. He felt no guilt about sipping a beer before most of the world had woken up. The beer in his hand felt and tasted like freedom. He sipped without the worry of tempting an alcoholic wife and without concern about what a nosy neighbor might say. 

“Can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning,” he said to himself.

 The thought of moving into this house today was baffling after living out of his truck for months. The moving van was mostly his library of books, a few bookcases, and his closet. No dishes, not a single pot or pan. Not even a bath towel. When he walked away from his marriage and career in Denver, he’d left it all behind. 

He took full responsibility for the demise of his marriage. He and Vanessa married months after his MBA program. She tended to domestic issues while he climbed the corporate ladder at MacGregor Pharmaceuticals. Vanessa was the perfect corporate wife: stunning, independent, and the life of every party, but the higher he climbed – from regional vice president to Chief Operating Officer – the more she drank. The deeper she slid into the bottle, the easier it was to throw himself into his work. 

More than the devil’s water, Vanessa was addicted to the downward spiral into rehab. She reveled in the attention she got the first three months of sobriety. As the adoration faded and the newness rubbed off, she started allowing herself a glass of wine with lunch. She couldn’t face the hard work of sobriety: taking a personal inventory, admitting her shortcomings, making amends, and living the rest of her life with nothing less than rigorous honesty.  After six months, Toby would find half-drunk bottles of lemon flavored vodka hidden in the linen closet. He stood at her side and held her hand through two rehabs. After the third inpatient stint, this time at the Hazelden Clinic in Minnesota, he dropped her off at her mother’s house, turned in his resignation, and traded in his Mercedes for a used Tacoma. He outfitted his every camping need at REI and drove west into the sunset. 

He could finally hear himself, his own voice distinct from the social constructs of husband and head of a Fortune 500 company. That small voice resembled the novels he was reading and took on the tone and timbre of Edward Abbey and Jon Krakuer and Norman Maclean. After a week hanging out with some hardcore climbers in the Bears Ears area of Utah, his voice gained strength and efficiency of language. As fall became winter, he followed the Colorado River south into Arizona. He hiked into the bottom of the Grand Canyon and his voice finally felt his own. They’d finally merged into one consciousness and his anxiousness melted away like warm butter dissolved into flapjacks.

The first time Toby heard the voice was the weekend before Vanessa returned from the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic. She’d be newly sober, fragile and all amends all the time. The prospect terrified and exhausted him. Toby stood in the Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitor Center taking a break from an impromptu road trip. He held a guide book to the national parks and scrutinized at the map of the national parks of the west. A deep, raspy voice said, You should go.

Toby spun in a circle to see if the man was talking to him, but the shop was vacant aside from an aged volunteer in a fishing vest and a bored ranger examining his nails at a corner desk. Toby shook his head, dismissed the voice with trepidation and leaned closer to peer at the cluster of parks in Utah.

Pack your shit. Let’s go. The voice was clearer and stronger this time.

Toby didn’t spin in a circle this time, but looked over his shoulder. Instead of shaking it off again, he gave the voice a moment’s consideration. He bought an armload of guidebooks and maps to appease the voice. He called in sick on Monday and spent the day pouring over the materials and became more resolved to heed the voice’s edict. 

Once the divorce was settled and he felt solidly in his own skin, he started his job search from his laptop at a truckstop outside Joshua Tree. He was looking for something outside pharmaceuticals and far from his former stomping grounds in the boardrooms of Denver. Mineral Springs seemed to check all the boxes and maybe he could continue to play around with his new photography hobby.

He had the weekend to settle into his new home before work started on Monday. The founder and CEO of Granum was looking to step away from the chief role and focus more on the development side of the business. Although Toby wouldn’t step directly into the big office on his first day, he would take the helm within the year. His soul vacation across the National Parks had been crucial for doing the work on himself that his ex-wife seemed incapable of. While his personal inventory would never be complete, he’d forgiven himself for staying too long in a broken marriage, for enabling Vanessa’s disease, and for abandoning his career in Denver.

He regarded his new house much like a fresh campsite: do the bare minimum to claim the spot, then it was time to explore. He studied his new neighborhood. The real estate listing for this house hadn’t done the neighborhood justice. Ash trees, each with a metal tag tacked into its trunk as part of the town’s fight against the Emerald Ash Borer, flanked the street and ran up the massive hill creating a canopy over the street and framed the row of houses. Most were built during the 1940s during the town’s heyday. The houses ranged from small bungalows to larger craftsman style homes. 

In his posh Cherry Creek neighborhood in Denver he hadn’t know any of his neighbor’s personally, just whatever splashy headline made the front page of the Denver Post about the Broncos tight-end that lived across the street or the triumphs of the energy company Chief Marketing Officer to the west or the messy divorce of the socialite that he shared a back fence with.

In the driveway across the street was one oddity: a rusted out Dodge Caravan with a huge vinyl sticker on the back window advertising Tupperware by Bonnie. Must be hard times in the MLM business, especially when cheap Chinese knock-offs could be delivered to your door in two days courtesy of Amazon. Jesus, he moved in across the street from crazy. A figurine of a duck sipping an umbrella drink hung from the rearview mirror. The weak attempt at whimsy confirmed that Bonnie was certifiable. Hope she isn’t single, because crazy was just his type and he wouldn’t abide any romantic entanglements at this point.

Bad Seed: Chapter One, Part 3

The acrid stench rising from the crack under the door stung her nose while Camila listened to Jonas cough. Even with the tap running, she heard his ragged wheezes.

“I got you, babe,” she called through the door.

Camila ran across the kitchen to the junk drawer beside the back door and dug for Jonas’ rescue inhaler among the myriad of screwdrivers, safety pins, and unidentified keys. She grabbed the inhaler and turned back to the bathroom, but her ankle twisted and she crashed to the floor with a hard smack as all her exposed flesh kissed the polished tile floor. She’d be covered in bruises tomorrow, but that was a battle for another day. She rolled over and kicked off her knock-off Louboutin heels. They weren’t doing her a bit of good if they weren’t pointed to the bedroom ceiling. 

She scrambled to her feet and hobbled to the bathroom door on a swelling ankle. The tap water had stopped the noise replaced by the whistle-rattle of Jonas’ breathing.

“Let me in,” she yelled and rattled the locked door handle. 

The house fell silent. No whistle. No wheeze. Only the thump of Jonas’ body hitting the floor. 

She jiggled the handle again. Nothing. She tucked her shoulder and threw herself at the door multiple times. Thought she heard cracking, but wasn’t sure if it was the door frame or the boning of the corset hitting the thin door.

“Fuck!” she screamed as pain exploded out of her shoulder and across her chest.

She stepped back one more time, measured herself, and lunged forward. She planted her foot beside the doorknob and kicked like she was at bootcamp fitness class. There was a loud crack and the door flew open. Chemical fumes billowed out of the tiny room on a cloud of steam. Her lungs filled with the noxious fumes, her mouth watered, and her nose began to gush with mucus.

Jonas lay in a heap, wedged between the toilet and wall. Blood and mucus smeared his face and glowed crimson on his crisp white shirt. Camila dropped to her knees, she couldn’t get any air that didn’t turn into razor blades in her throat and lungs. She grabbed Jonas’ ankle and gave a weak tug that only resulted in him sliding farther behind the toilet and she could no longer see his face through bleary eyes. She needed to gather her strength and catch her breath, then she’d drag him out. Camila buried her face in the small area rug to wipe off the tears and snot and let it filter the air, but as she closed her eyes she gave in to the darkness.

Bad Seed: Chapter One, Part 2

Jonas left the front door open as he sprinted past his wife into the downstairs guest bathroom. He used his elbow to close the bathroom door and keep Camila at bay while he cleaned up his goddamn mess. He’d taken two showers in the lab, but could still feel the chemicals seeping into his hands like dry skin soaks in a fresh slather of lotion. 

The shoebox-sized guest bathroom was wedged in the corner of the kitchen under the stairs to the bedrooms on the second floor. At the tiny sink, Jonas didn’t bother with the pump on the soap bottle, but used his teeth to take off the lid and dumped globs of soap directly onto his hands and chucked the glass bottle in the tiny trash can tucked beside the toilet. Hot tap water steamed up the mirror over the small pedestal sink. Jonas tried the switch for the ventilation fan, but nothing happened. 

“Fuck,” Jonas said and flipped the switch to the off position.

“You okay?” Camila asked from the other side of the thin door.

When they designed this home before moving to Mineral Springs several years ago, they opted for the tankless water heater which provided an endless supply of scalding hot water on demand. As he ran the soap and suds between his two hands he was thankful for his forethought on that one detail.

The aroma of lavender and vanilla drifted on the steam. He opened the utility closet and snatched a nail brush off a small hook Camila had stuck to the door. Jonas scrubbed from his nails to his elbows. The thick rubber gloves he wore at work to work with the volatile mix of chemicals in his latest innovation had begun to deteriorate. When he’d finished the painstaking process of varnishing the seeds by hand and pulled the gloves off to start the next step, he noticed a small hole in the heavy rubber between the thumb and forefinger and now all he could see was the iridescence that initially coated his innovation and now coated his hand.

He ripped open the small cabinet over the toilet tank and grabbed the bottle of cleaner closest to him. He spun the sprayer top off and dumped the blue liquid over his hands. The strong ammonia odor stung his eyes and burned his nasal passages like it singed his nose hairs. The steam irritated his lungs. It started as a tickle at the back of his throat and quickly grew into a desperate need to cough. He tried to ignore the panic that gripped his hammering heart. The shimmer on his hands didn’t fade, only glowed a brighter violet.

Camila rapped on the door. “Baby?”

He couldn’t touch his wife with this shit on his skin. “I’ll be out in a minute.” His desperation ratcheted up another level. He used his teeth to open another bottle of cleaner and dumped it over his hands.

Bad Seed: Chapter 1

Camila dipped two manicured fingers under each of her small breasts and lifted them higher in the corset top. In the master bath’s full-length mirror she double checked that her nipples weren’t visible above the hem of the Playboy bunny costume. She leaned forward and shimmied her shoulders and the mounds jiggled like a Victoria Secret model. The corset lifted her pert breasts to new heights. With this bit of magic, she might have to give up her seat on the itty bitty titty committee. If those nitwits on Instagram could hock waist trainers as a weight loss device, she could rock a corset. 

The playboy bunny costume was made for her by a seamstress in Des Moines. While taking the measurements and the fitting was a bit awkward, the body suit was a perfect fit and modeled on the original bunny uniform worn in the 1960s. Hugh Hefner himself would have appreciated the seamtress’ attention to detail.

Her phone chimed from her nightstand. No doubt an automated notification from one of a half dozen apps tracking her fertility and a reminder that it was baby-making day. She adjusted her bunny ear headband and turned to check the fluffy bunny tail stuck to her ass with velcro. Over the past year Camila had tried various other costumes to spice up the sex during their fertile window in hopes her enthusiasm would spread to her ova. As she looked at the full length mirror in her walk-in closet, she knew this time was different. The stockings and heels made her feel nine feet tall and invincible like a superhero. She used two fingers to caress the swell of her white breasts which quickened her breath and sent shivers down her spine.

Even after five years of marriage, their sex life hadn’t suffered. This wasn’t some desperate attempt to rekindle a flame they hadn’t tended. Dr. Benson, the very expensive fertility guy they found in Des Moines, recommended that they only make love during her fertile times rather than fucking like rabbits like they normally would.

At first, the sexual prohibition had been insufferable. They’d bickered and snapped at each other like feuding roommates. That’s when she started playing with costumes to transform their nights of lust into a special event. This change ensured that they looked forward to the nights starred on the kitchen calendar. But into the third and fourth month of the baby making scheme, they’d learned to cope. Jonas had thrown himself into his work at Granum Labs with a special project he wasn’t allowed to talk about, but occupied much of his mind at work and at home. Camila had initially focused her energy on civic duties and volunteering for different beautification committees through city council in their adopted home of Mineral Springs. For a while she tinkered around with different hobbies: knitting, quilting, even taking a few classes in painting at the local art center. Now she spent most of her days deeply engrossed in a book and leading a few book clubs in their adopted town of Mineral Springs. She even called herself a “bookstagrammer.” although she hated that made up word. 

One last look in the mirror, she double-checked her winged eyeliner and false eyelashes before heading downstairs. She wanted to meet him at the door with a cocktail in hand.

At the sideboard in the formal dining room, she poured a double shot of Grey Goose into the cocktail shaker full of ice, added a splash of dry vermouth, replaced the top and gave it a shake. Her now bountiful breasts bounced and jiggled with the motion. God, she loved this. If only her tits looked like this all the time. Maybe after the baby and breastfeeding, she’d invest in some great tits. Although she wanted to keep jiggling her tits, she didn’t want to chip the ice and water down Jonas’ martini. She popped off the top and used the strainer to pour into the chilled glass. Damn. She’d forgotten the olives in the fridge.

Her heels clicked a great rhythm as she strode into the kitchen on the tile floors. As she stood with the fridge door open debating between classic queen olives and the blue cheese stuffed ones, she heard the front door bang open. Jonas was home.

She speared three queen olives onto a toothpick and dunked them into the liquor. She put the tippy martini glass on a small beverage serving tray, lifted it one handed, and clacked across the tile floor to greet her husband in the living room.

What’s in your pocket?

I’ve carried a small Swiss Army Knife on my key chain since I could drive, over two decades. I replace it every few years when it gets dull or too banged up. I think this speaks to my pragmatism.

Ask any man what he carries everyday or what’s in his wallet and you’ll get a story about who he is: sentimental, minimalist, laborer or pack rat.

What does your character carry? How can that inform the reader about who they are? How can those items move the plot forward?

Betty is a worrier that’s been in many car accidents. Her car stocked with a sleeping bag, spare clothes, water, extra wiper fluid and jumper cables. This sets her up for survival when the alien invasion block her way home.

In the Dan Brown books, Robert Langdon wears a Mickey Mouse wristwatch. This informs his whimsical nature and potentially being a neophyte.

What do you carry everyday that informs your character?

Waterfall

As the sun moved ever west, light inched across the wall. One moment the wall was dark the next moment it was lit with dazzling spangles as the sun slanted across the horizon of the San Juan Mountains creating a premature or sunset.

The ice shimmered with brilliant shades of yellow and read and orange like the frozen waterfall was now molten gold tumbling down the mountain to pool in snow. Porter stood and stared in wonderment, while Jo snapped her handheld camera and the tripod camera’s shutter clicked every ten seconds taking a time lapse. The light was so fleeting like the sun sped closer to twilight with its foot firmly on the galactic gas pedal. The light show was over in a matter of ten minutes. The sun dipped below the mountains in a premature sunset.

Meditation

Cam stroked the icy surface. Tapped it to listen its thickness. Some taps sounded hollow where the sheet had not adhered to the cliff face or where air pockets lie under its depth. He pulled off his thick ski gloves and stroked the sheet allowing his fingers to explore its cracked and pitted surface. The sensation calmed him, pulled back the cloak of anxiety to reveal deep, centered calm.

This happened often, this meditation and zen state as a result of connection with the natural world. As a child, he would flee his high-strung nature or the strictures of his mother’s overbearing and smothering good intentions when he’d lie down in the yard and breathe in the grassy green scent. During recess he’d escape to a far corner of the school grounds and plant himself under a Blue Spruce tree and put dried pine needles in his pocket. 

The calm put his mind right. No longer wading through nervous apprehension about the semester ahead or fears from ending his most recent relationship. Elena wanted too much time, lacked her own confidence and needed constant reassurance of her place in his life. She was jealous of his alone time. Given the option, she’d fill his every quiet moment with mindless chatter about the minutiae of her inconsequential day. After six months of enthusiastic sex and endless banality, he ended the relationship days after Christmas.

Home Retreat

I get a three day weekend to write! My to-do list just doubled to avoid distractions and allow for maximum focus

Clean home and complete laundry.

Stock the fridge: tasty beverages, lots of water, healthy snacks, chocolates, and easy dinners.

Gather writing supplies: ink refills for my fountain pens, journal for notes, printed out manuscript so far, chocolates, fully charged laptop, post-it notes, highlighters and Oreos.

Rest night before.

Lots of notes and outlining on the days prior.

A plan and a schedule.

Wayne

Wayne dug through the shopping bag and with a grin that widened his whole face, he pulled out a box of oatmeal cream pies. “You’re a goddess.”

Wayne snatched a cookie from the box, unwrapped the crinkly plastic and swallowed it down in three bites. Even with cookie crumbs dotting his facial hair, he looked like an aging rockstar, a heavy metal guitar hero. His long salt and pepper goatee came to a point mid-chest over a thick waffle-weave green Henley. His saltier hair hid under a hooligan hat worn backwards. 

“I don’t get it,” Jo said and shook her head.

“Come on,” he said. “What do you miss? That one indulgence that you can’t get here.”

Slow Word Count

That pesky day job keeps getting in the way of my editorial schedule.

I typically write in the morning. Get up early, knock out my word count and move forward with my day: go to work, clean the house, take a shower, the important things. I’ve recently changed positions in my company and have to work at six am, so my writing schedule has been put on a shelf as my deadline looms.

My schedule changes in over a week, but I’ve got to figure out how to get some word count done over the coming days. I can’t imagine getting up any earlier. After work, I’m generally very tired and in debilitating pain from a newly reconstructed ankle.

Maybe this week needs to be dedicated to editing what I already have or committed to outlining. I refuse to back burner my novel.