Friday, September 24, 2010

Wellington's Brood

Image credit: arndbergmann

Marjorie jumped when the knock on the door sounded. She crossed herself before checking through the peep hole that it was the Johnson twins. Marjorie stood in the open jamb so the boys wouldn't think she was inviting them in. Her mother would be upset if she had boys over while she was alone.

"Scared?" asked Bo, the taller of the fraternal twins. Marjorie didn't think he liked her. Always a knife twisting, a one upmanship, to his conversations.

"No." She pressed her hand against the doorframe to hide her shaking. "I'm alone and when I heard the noise, thought I should investigate. You might see a clue I miss." She caught Bo giving his brother a wink.

"A good thought," said Colin. "Where are we looking?"

"The Denner house." Marjorie pointed across the street at a house dark against the Mount Wellington's wooded flanks. "Wait here. I'll get an electric torch."

The wind caught the door and it slammed behind her. She thought she heard Bo make a crack about being afraid of the dark. She'd ignore that. She grabbed two torches from the pantry. The black handle of her mother's ten-inch chef's knife sat in the woodblock. The Damascus Steel would make her feel better, but wasn't worth another of Bo's barbs.

She handed a torch to Colin.

"Why didn't you ask the Denners to join you on this wild goose hunt?"

Marjorie pointed at the slip of paper tacked onto the front of the door. "Foreclosed. Let's look in the backyard." Tall grass rubbed against her jeans.

In the backyard, a tree's branches spread over most of the yard while beneath them, shaded by the leaves, the grasses had died out leaving dirt. The tips of roots peeked through the surface of the ground. Marjorie shone her light on the back of the house, but didn't see any broken windows or dents in the wood. Small clawed footprints crisscrossed the dirt.

"Nothing's here. Just an overactive imagination." Bo kicked a root and a cloud of dirt filled the air to reflect in the torch's beams.

Leaves rustled at the edge of the property where the nature preserve's forests began. The three of them -- quiet, an unspoken agreement -- stepped closer to the rear of the property. Colin's torch stopped on red eyes that reflected in the tall grass. Marjorie bit her lip. Red deformed tumors grew off the creature's head like the nubs of horns. Marjorie screamed.

"It's just a damned Tasmanian Devil," said Bo.

"But --" Marjorie pointed at the blood-smeared mass growing on the head.

"A communicable cancer."

Marjorie held a hand over her mouth.

Bo sneered. "Humans can't catch it. The little runts explain your noises. Colin, let's go. I've got biology homework to finish."

Back on Marjorie's porch, Colin handed Marjorie his torch and brushed his fingertips against the back of her hand. "You sure you don't want us to stay?"

Marjorie swallowed. She did want him to stay, but she knew what her mother would say when she got home. "No. No, I'll be fine."

She locked the door's bolt and closed the windows before sitting in front of the TV. She turned it off, didn't like the way the shadows flickered across the room. She turned on all the lights and then, a crash. She screamed. Dust fell from the door as the house shook. Another crash. The wood in the door jamb splintered and the door swung open. In the doorway stood Mr. Denner. A giant red boil rose like a bubble from the top of his forehead where the hair began to recede. He grabbed for her and she stumbled backwards, slipping against the floor and falling. His hand knocked a painting off the wall. She scrambled up and ran for the kitchen. Breathing hard, she pulled her mother's chef knife from the block. Mr. Denner walked forward, unafraid.

Marjorie waved the knife. Mr. Denner grabbed her shirt. She swung the knife to clip Mr. Denner's forehead. The red boil slid off the edge of the Damascus blade as Mr. Denner's blue eyes cleared. His mouth closed and the froth subsided.

"What... what happened?" Mr. Denner's voice shook.

The boil bubbled on the floor of the kitchen. In the doorway, red eyes from the Tasmanian Devil. She threw the knife at it. Careening as it bounced off the porch. She ran forward slamming the door closed, but it didn't fit tight as something bumped against the far side, trying to get in.

A response to Mary Catelli's "Stupidity in Fiction", where she remarks on the stupidity of characters even when they react in a way that real life people might. (Effectively the limitations of Homo Fictus when compared to Homo Sapiens.) Also based on a communicable brain tumor that affects Tasmanian Devils. And lastly, an entry in my writer's weights challenge. The challenge: write a scene of 1000 words or less where one or more darlings have been excised from the story. Include one of the darlings you removed in an addendum or comment on the piece. The theme for this week is: Damascus steel (feel free to simplify this to a simple knife).

Darlings cut:

  • Marjorie counting heartbeats to show her unease in the opening paragraph.
  • Glimmering of streetlights in the dark windows of the Denner house.
  • Mr. Denner's breath smelling of sun-warmed garbage can filled with roo meat.

Original image: Tasmanian Devil w/ Facial Tumour Image credit: Menna Jones


  1. A multi challenge piece, don't quite follow the darling thing, but enjoyed the flash, ending started getting all australian zombie/virus movie and with tasmanian devils too you can't go wrong. ..... Communicable cancer in Tasmanian devils? You learn a new thing every day.

  2. @Adam, glad you enjoyed. The idea with cutting the darlings is that I can end up adding distracting pieces of information and I wanted to work on winnowing some of the pieces that I think are cute, but don't add to the piece.

  3. It certainly can be tough to cut our darlings from our writing. This was a good story--creepy, dark, and full of action at the end. Good one!

  4. That is one revolting picture.

    Interesting job of pinging three influences all at once, Aidan.

  5. @Eric, thanks. Those darlings have such charm. They usually know just how to wrap me around their thumbs.

    @John, I contemplated using an alternative image that makes the Tasmanian Devil's look almost cuddly.

  6. I almost couldn't get past the photo to the writing... eek! Poor little devil. I thought it was interesting how this was an exercise in cutting your darlings, and in fictional parallel, Majorie cuts Mr. Denner's boil off.

  7. @TS, Ok, obviously the picture should have been considered a darling as well. I was being cute by having the theme be a Damascus knife when the objective was cutting your darlings.