Back cover blurb:
September Scene Writing Month has come and gone.
All thirty scenes & stories comprise some 22,000 words and added about 70 hours to my Writer’s Log.
Thanks to Phil Huston who, even though he said he’d refrain from commenting during the month, couldn’t help himself and improved a number of the scenes.
Thanks go out to Hetty and Mike, George and Pink, Suzanne, Duke, Dracul, Audrey, Goldie, ACFlory, Jan and others for reading and offering their words of encouragement.
Kudos should go to Hetty who also managed to slog through thirty days (or more) of trying to get as many scenes written and published. Phil too, joined in and gave us his Chandler’esque whodunit.
Hopefully, the scenes and vignettes proved entertaining, despite the obvious need for weed whacking and pruning.
Improvement comes in fits and spurts. If this year’s effort is better than last, I’ll consider myself happy (er, less fanatically focused on the pointlessness life and our futile existence in the Absurd Universe).
Here are the scenes compiled into a single document.
View the scenes in a new tab: here.
Marcelo makes soup for the homeless from the discards of markets and the generosity of fishermen. At five am, his wind-up clock rings near his head. More often than not he’ll hear pounding on the wall and, if he’s not quick to shut if off, a loud curse about his mother and a mongrel dog. He dresses easily. In this climate, loose pantalones, a button-up short-sleeve and his sandals with tire-tread soles are all he needs to be decent in public. He doesn’t bother with his hair, what little is left he covers with a beige fedora made by a local milliner. His teeth though, those he holds in high regard. His bright, soldier-straight smile is a fan of the mujeres and being a fan of the ladies gives him hope. He brushes them well before setting out.
One such lady, Margarita, who wears a different colorful scarf for every day of the week, works at Libby’s Mercado three blocks from the beach. Libby’s is his first stop this morning. But first he must wake the neighborhood. An admirer of Harry Belafonte, he favors calypso music and reggae, yesterday he sang Marley’s Three Little Birds. But today, he happened to hear a beat that hearkened back to his youth.
“Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera…”
He’d never been to Cuba, few people had. But the song was universal.
“Yo soy un hombre sincero, de don de crece la palma…”
“Buenos dias, Marcelo.” Elna the gossip, her ear to the street, rarely fails to hail Marcelo during his sunrise serenade. “I hear Libby’s got fresh mangoes in yesterday, they’ll be dumping the old ones, I’m sure.” Then quietly, “I’m sorry about your shack.”
Marcelo has learned to ignore her. He waves and nods. He never shows his teeth to Elna.
“Antes des morirme quiero, echar mis versos del alma, Guantanamera, guajira, guantanamera…”
“Hola, señor. A lil’ Cuban today, eh?” Tomas and Marcelo have been friends since the hurricane in ’93. When Tomas needs to go to the hospital—his amputated leg above the knee still weeps, the prosthetic fits so poorly—Marcelo will assist him on and off the bus and into the examination room.
Marcelo tips his hat. “Tomas, mi amigo, how’s the leg today?”
Tomas’ beard needs trimming. He strokes it like he’s milking a cow. “Not good, not bad. Say, what’s on the menu for lunch?”
“The captain of the Lucky Loser promised me a whole bonito. If he can spare it, he said.”
“Don’t count your fish before they’re in the stew, my friend.”
Marcelo continues his journey. He gets to thinking about all the false promises the captain has made. “I may need to make amends with Rafael and that bruja of his.” Rafael’s wife, Bico had tried to stab Marcelo three years ago when she’d mistaken him for her ex-husband.
Off his sunny mood, he trudges the final few blocks to Libby’s.
“What? No song for me today, mi amor?” Margarita motions Marcelo to hurry around back.
“Now that I see your beautiful face, how can I feel sad.” He offers his hand, she accepts, and he swings her close. “Para bailar la bamba…”
“Oh, stop it you old tonto.”
“I’m an old fool, an old fool for you.”
“I have bad news, Marcelo.”
“You are married. I know. But la bamba calls to us, does it not?”
“No, I mean yes, but there’s something else.” She pushes him away. “The policia, they have closed down your cocina de playa.”
“Closed my kitchen?”
“Someone says they got sick.”
“Sick from my sopa? No.” Marcelo removes his hat and rubs his wisp of hair in circles. “I am careful. You know I’m careful, don’t you, Mago?”
“Si, I’m so sorry mijo.”
“What can I do?”
“Fight. You must go to the policia and find out your accuser.”
Marcelo is no stranger to the police. The poor and homeless who come to him for meals, sometimes more than a hundred a day, are often followed by their past. Crime and poverty walk hand in hand, he knows this. He’s harbored more than his share of criminals hiding from thugs and officials, alike. They plead that they will stray no more and he believes them, for a while. He soothes their minds and fills their bellies and prays that they will find a truth they can embrace.
His own truth came to him years ago. His wife and son died in a building fire. He’d been away, working for man who would pay well for carpenters to build furniture with secret compartments. Marcelo knew the purpose of such pockets. But the money, if he could keep the job, would help his wife and child to leave the dirty city and move to where he could start his own business.
When they died, the only purpose he’d ever had died too. For years he and the policia became well acquainted. His own truth arrived on a high tide when the beach-side hovel he slept in, most often drunk, became inundated and he nearly drown. He was pulled to safety by the owner of a soup shack who made ceviche and fish stew. When the man, Luca, died from lung cancer, he took over the shack.
“I don’t know that I have fight in me anymore, Margarita.”
He tips his hat and slumps away, back the way he’d come. The sun has risen and many folks are busy in the streets and along the avenues where the taxis park and honk their horns. Down at the beach he finds his shack. It’s a propane grill with an iron burner-stand to hold a big aluminum pot. It has a tin roof, a cabinet for bowls and utensils and a plank counter. He stares at it, mystified. The whole shanty is wrapped in police tape.
There’s a crowd of people gathered. Tomas is among them. When Tomas sees him, he hobbles over. “Marcelo, it was that bitch Bico who says she was poisoned by your soup.”
“Si, that bruja with the tattoos that look like goats and skulls.”
“I don’t know what to do, Tomas.” Marcelo walks toward the water. The sea is calm with tiny white curls of froth slapping and running up the beach. He sits above the wet and holds his hat in both hands, working his fingers around the brim.
“You must fight. For years I have eaten your fine sopa. She’s a lying bitch. We all know that.”
“Maybe it is time for others to feed the hungry. Your grandson, he has helped me many times.”
“Are you giving up?”
Marcelo slips off his sandals and curls his toes. The sun is hot so he returns his hat and give it a cant. He’s reminded of the song he sang that morning.
Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera…
A sincere man am I
From the land where palm trees grow,
And I want before I die
My soul’s verses to bestow. — Jose Marti
They drive west.
Roads rhythmically serpentine.
Roads laser-straight boredom.
West at dawn, light dazzling in their rear view mirror.
West at noon, mirage like dancing snakes.
West in the evening, the atomic glow of the sun buried in the horizon.
They drive all night.
West beneath the Great Bear and the Belt, its sword slicing icy cirrus.
West across sultry wetlands, fetid swamps, and sauna deserts releasing their heat.
West between the Moon and silvered fir, creaking oak, shadowed mesquite.
They drive west until they reach the sea.
They gaze at the water and yearn for its embrace.
Before they swim they sing.
They sing of laughter and horror and triumph and misery and rebellion and exhaustion and hatred and forgiveness.
They sing between the notes, above board, below the knees but never on the nose.
They sing until their throats scratch as wire and thorns and shattered glass swirls in their song.
They sing and then they swim.
They swim until they drown in the deep green water.
They drown in the turquoise pool.
They drown in red tides and high tides and ebb tides and tide pools no deeper than a baby’s breath.
And then they rest.
In the west.
“Jenna, this one busted, too. Can you find another, I hate to say it but, more recent one?”
“These are like mirrors you know. That makes seven years bad luck.” She accepts the broken shoulder blade.
“Luck? What do you call this?” I wipe the grit from my face. “How much further, you think? Two feet? Twenty?”
I’ve been digging for hours. The landslide that has trapped us inside the crypt has upset even Jenna. I say crypt but really, the pocketed cavern, riddled with alcoves full of bones, resembled a formal crypt in function only.
“Could be a hundred feet for all we know. It was foolish coming in here.” She turns off her phone to save power. The blackness feels like ink poured into our eyes.
“I seem to recall this ad hoc spelunking adventure was your idea.”
“As suggested by your sister.”
“Yeah, well, ya got me there.”
With all this digging I worry that our air will run out or that the collapse in the ceiling will continue and bury Jenna and I alive. “I need another tool.” And I sure as hell hope the owners of these shoulder blades don’t come back to haunt me.
Jenna wanders off using her cellphone’s screen as a lantern. Mine has already gone dead.
“Hey,” Jenna’s voice comes from deeper within the cave, “come take a look at this, um, body.”
My first thought is that she’s just mixed up different terms for the dead, all we’ve seen so far are bone piles. But, Jenna wouldn’t make such a mistake. “Jeeze, that one looks kinda fresh.”
“He’s, newer, I guess you’d say.”
“Does he stink? Why doesn’t he stink? I mean, he’s all wrinkled and powdery.”
“He’s desiccated. Dried out.” Jenna is an EMT. Our whole three month-long trip feels like we’ve been bouncing from local emergency to emergency. If somebody is suffering, she’ll drop everything and help. Me, I’m useless that way. I can program your phone or fix your laptop. But I see blood and I’m gone. She starts prodding him.
“Oh, jeeze, he’s gonna fall apart, Jenna.”
She gives me a look, hands me her phone and proceeds to pilfer his clothing. She finds some silver dinar, and a few brass coins in a drawstring purse. The guy’s hair is shaved close, his beard is grey but well manicured and his stature seems like he would have been husky, when alive. His garments, in the local style, show that he’d been, if not wealthy, at least well-off. It’s his shoes that strike me as odd, slippers really, with turned up, pointed toes. Jenna starts to turn him over.
“Damn girl. What are you doin’?”
“I can’t get to his back. I think there’s something underneath him.”
“Oh, no, no, no. Leave the guy alone. He’s making me queasy.
Jenna struggles at the body and gets the guy flipped over.
“Whoa, is that a knife?” I start to reach for it.
“Don’t touch it. You remember what your sister said, right? About the origins of this cave.”
“You don’t believe that mythical claptrap do you?”
“Of course not but, this body could be booby trapped with explosives or something.”
“You just rolled the dude onto his face? Wouldn’t that set it off?”
She makes her fact-checking look. “Yeah, I guess that flies.”
I wave the phone over the knife. It’s one of those curved-blade type, a jambiya, the hilt is golden and has some fancy jewels set in the guard and pommel. “That’s a pretty nice dagger.” I’d like to take it but, Jenna’s warning makes total sense.
She yanks it free. It comes out clean.
“What happened to the IED buried in this guy’s belly?”
“Help me flip him back.”
“Hand me the knife, first.” I hold out my hand.
Jenna shakes her head. “I think I’ll hold onto it for now. It feels, I don’t know, odd.” She gives the guy a shove and over he goes, rocking a bit before he settles. He doesn’t look stiff anymore. Maybe moving him loosened him up a bit.
“Odd, right. Well, we still need to get out of here. We can’t use this guy’s shoulder blades.”
We leave Mr. Dusty and start poking into a side shaft. I scan the light back and forth, all I see are leg bones.
Jenna stands to the side marveling at the craftsmanship of the dagger. “I wish we had a shovel.”
I swing the phone again. “There’s a shovel right there. How did we miss it?”
“It’s a modern shovel, too.”
“Well, hell.” I grab it and start back toward the cave-in, handing Jenna the phone. “Maybe you could wish me a cold beer.”
“Beer? I need a bath and a gin n’ tonic, maybe three of ’em.”
We both pause waiting for what, we don’t know.
“Maybe you only get one.”
“And you made me wish for a shovel.” Jenna scoffs lightheartedly, turns the knife around and trades me for the spade. “I’ll dig for a while.” She watches me fondle the blade. “It is a nice knife,” she admits, “despite the fact that it just spent the last few decades in the back of some poor merchant.”
I take the phone, it’s getting dim. I heft the knife, it does have a strange vibration going on. “Eh, it’s probably one of those cheap stamped things you can buy in the market for a few… Did you hear that?”
Jenna is busy shoveling at the top of the pile of dirt. “Hear what? Keep the damn phone pointed at the problem.”
“There it is a again. Maybe there’s another way out.” I shine the phone back into the cave. It fails to penetrate the gloom. I pound it on my thigh. “I wish this thing had more juice.” With my next meaty strike the light brightens. “There we go.” I try pointing it again. “What the hell. Did you roll Dusty out onto the floor?”
“You saw me put him…” Jenna back peddles and falls into the pile of rock. “He’s… He’s… Moving”
“Oh, no, no, no.” I surprise myself and don’t even hesitate. “Give me the shovel.” We swap once again and I edge up to the thing that’s dragging its body across the sandy floor.
Jenna keeps the phone pointed at the spectacle. “You’re gonna smack it?”
“I don’t know. It’s just inching along.”
“Maybe the dagger was keeping it dead, or alive, or, I don’t know.”
“And you think it wants it back?”
“It’s fucking dead, James. How can it want anything?”
“That ain’t dead, honey. Undead, maybe.”
“Look. Its fingers are swelling up. So is its face.”
As we watch the corpse stops and pushes itself up on its hands and knees. It sits back, crosses its legs, crosses one arm and with the other, holds out his hand.
I’m ready to lay into the thing sitting there, but I hesitate. “I think he wants the knife back. Give him the knife back.”
“You give him the goddamn knife.” Jenna tosses it in the dirt at my feet.
Little by little, the flesh on the the merchant corpse fills out, becomes plump. His bent over posture straightens and his face puffs up and takes on a quizzical look as if waiting for an introduction.
“Yeah, hi there, sir. We believe this is yours?” With the shovel in one hand and the knife in the other, both held as innocently as I can, I shuffle forward and ease the knife, hilt first into his now fully formed hand. His fingers wrap around it without any indication of cracking or crumbling into dust.
In one smooth motion the man stands.
“Fuck me.” I back away and end up in the pile next to Jenna.
He strolls calmly forward and stands within a few feet of the rubble. He slides the dagger into a sheath at his belt, it had been hidden inside his flowing robes. He spreads his legs and once again crosses his arms. Slowly he holds up one finger and keeps it there.
“James, what does he want? A sacrifice? Pick one of us to take his place?”
“He could take us both. Look at him, he’s, he’s fit, now.”
“Then what, what do we do?”
“So, I don’t know where that shovel came from. It wasn’t there. We both know that. And the phone’s battery…”
“You mean, make another wish?”
“Like, we wish there was a way out?”
The man moves with purpose, he comes at us and stops with both hands out this time.
“Shit, now what?” Jenna and I move toward the wall.
“I don’t know. Maybe this.” I hand him the shovel and he begins to dig.