The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction
Clay juggled the plate of jelly sandwiches and mugs of coffee. Glumness hung over Vivian like smog. Shaking the snow cone, she sat on the plump sofa, boxed in by the paneling lined with trophy heads. All those glass eyes staring down.
Stepping across the bearskin, Clay spilled coffee, Vivian wishing the bear would jump up and chomp off his nuts. Christ, how did she let him talk her into this?
“I made jelly sandwiches,” Clay said.
“Whoopee for you.” She set the snow cone down.
“We’ll get you a Boy Scout badge.” She reached for a mug and took a taste, screwing up her face. “How do you fuck up instant, Clay?” Liking the hurt-puppy in his eyes, she dashed half in the fire, the coals hissing. Reaching the bottle, she topped the mug with bourbon, putting it to her lips and suctioning her cheeks for a fill. “I know that look, Clay. Knock it off.”
“What look?” He set down the plate.
“The hairy eye,” she said. The smell of peanut butter turned her stomach; she leaned back into the cushions.
He bit a crescent into a sandwich, jelly on both sides of his mouth. “We had some swell times, Viv, you gotta admit.”
“You got …” She pointed to his jelly mouth.
“Till you went and married that drip.” He wiped a hand across his mouth, then swiped it on his pants.
“That drip dripped money.” She took the snow cone again and jiggled it, wishing the bourbon would hurry up. As soon as Leo paid the ransom, she was out of here, out of town, out of the country, out of this mess.
Clay looked at the trophy heads, animals Lou had killed.
“Sick of all you bastards.” She belted back the coffee, topping the mug with more bourbon.
“He’ll pay, Viv, and things will be different – just you and me.”
She thought of a villa somewhere in Spain or Italy.
“You’ll be pushing your toes in beach sand, you’ll see, Viv.”
She got to her feet and pushed past him. “All this prime rib staring him in the face, and the bastard settles for shin meat.”
“I’d never do that to you, Viv.”
“Not a brain in her head.” Viv ignored him, smiling. “Poor dumb thing gave him crabs for Christmas – didn’t even gift wrap ‘em.”
Clay came up behind her, squeezing tension from her shoulders. The open hearth, the snow falling out the window, Viv half in the bag. “You got to get your mind off–”
She spun and slapped his face, the sound echoing around the walls. It felt good.
He put a hand to his face. It stung. “What did you do that for?”
“You’re in my comfort zone.” She went to slap him again.
He grabbed her hand. “Damn it, Viv, I still got feel–”
Her knee shot up – bulls-eye – folding him in half, Rodney Dnagerfield eyes. Breath stuck in his chest; he came up into a Gene-Tunney beating – lefts, rights, Viv’s pure rage.
Throwing up his hands, he warded off the blows, trying to catch her wrists. “Goddamn it, Viv, you’re not mad at me.”
“Then why am I beating the shit out of you?” She twisted to break free.
Clay held fast, his ear ringing, groin throbbing, his eye getting puffy. “Stop hitting me, then.” He twisted her around, held on until she stopped struggling, feeling her sweat and pant.
“Okay, you’re right; it’s not you.” She relaxed in his grip, became soft.
“Yeah, Clay?” She half-turned. Eyes on his eyes, she shook her hand free, slipping it around the back of his neck, drawing him to her, Clay forgetting his pain. Down they went on the rug, knocking the table against the fire box. The plate of sandwiches jelly-side down, the bourbon spilling. It didn’t matter.
Clay swung the door back, cradling an armload of split wood; flakes of snow danced in behind him. He felt the burn in his thighs and arms, felt the bruises, too. “Being up here does a fella good, Viv.” Dropping the load in the wood box, he started tossing piece after piece on the fire.
“Hey, ease up with the wood,” Viv said. “You want to burn the place down, Smokey?”
“I know what I’m doing, Viv, case you haven’t noticed.”
Staring into the snow cone, she huffed, wishing she brought more bourbon.
“Getting kidnapped sure’s agreeing with you, Viv.”
“Fuck off, Clay.”
“Look, we’re nearly done. Soon as he pays – think of it – you and me and the good times.”
She drained what was left in the bottle, picked up the snow cone, giving it a shake.
Going to his backpack, he fished around inside, taking out a disposable razor. “Here.”
Her eyes stayed on the cone, the snow so beautiful in there.
“Case you want to freshen up, give the old gams the once-over.”
Her eyes lifted.
“You’re a bit of a fuzzy peach, Viv, if you don’t mind me saying. I mean, I figure you want to look your best … you know.”
Her eyes sparkled. Settling back, she held out her hand. “Thinking of me, huh, hon. Give it here.”
Clay came like an obedient dog.
“Like me better all smooth, do you?” She took the razor from his hand and puckered her lips.
Closing his eyes, he didn’t see her plant her feet, didn’t see her clutch the snow cone. Didn’t see it coming. The haymaker landed with a crack; the head butt followed with a hollow coconut thump. Clay reeled back, arms windmilling, mouth bleeding, eyes fluttering like a slot machine, out cold before he hit the floor.
The bear’s jaws came at him. He shook the fuzz from his head and focused his eyes. Pain everywhere in his body. He was flat out on the bear rug. Feeling the tug, he looked at the two Vivs pulling off his pants, tossing them on the fire. The Vivs converged into one, and picked up the razor, giving him a grin. Then the edges went black, his head went for a spin, and he was gone again.
She lifted one boot up, then the other, the snow about a foot deep. Jerking the door back and forth to clear away the snow, she squeezed into the outhouse, dropping the snow cone into her pocket. “Oh, my God.” No five-star shit house – the stench was enough to peel paint, watering her eyes. Wedging the door open with her foot, she pinched her nose and wagged in fresh air. Only Leo had been up here in years; the stench was his. The rotting bastard.
Hovering over the hole, she tried to hurry, spinning the empty toilet roll on a finger. Dropping it down the hole, she tore a section of Sears catalog, making strips wide and long enough to wipe herself.
Pants up, she plunged out the door, gasping. Stopping short. Clay stood like a pissed off Hari Krishna, head shaven, eyebrows gone, eyes blazing. Jumping back inside, she grabbed the handle as he lunged, leaving him rattling the handle, spewing, “Let go of the fu–”
She let go, and the door hit him square. Down he went, a gash bigger than the lump from the snow cone. His nose gushed like a hydrant, arms splayed like he was making snow angels. She wouldn’t make it to the cabin. Latching the door, she covered her mouth and nose, thinking of how to get out of there.
Clay shook it off, tugging on the handle, rocking the outhouse. “Open the goddamn door, Viv.”
“Fuck off, Clay,” she screamed, getting up on the seat, prying at the shingles.
“Open it, or I’m going to … to …”
“What, huff and puff and blow my shit house down?”
Clay ran to his car, stubble prickling his crotch. The bitch had shaved him bald, legs, arms, eyebrows, everything. Jerking up the trunk, he gathered a coil of rope.
Inside the cabin window, sparks flew from the overloaded fireplace. Newspaper on top of the kindling caught, racing up the print curtains to the rafters.
Clay backed up the Buick, butting the bumper against the outhouse. Tying a loop of rope around it, he yelled, “Kidnapping you’s been a real treat, Viv.”
“What are you doing, Clay?” Viv stood, turning on the seat, ripping the vent off, sticking her hand through the roof.
“Taking you back to Lou.” Clay jumped into the Buick, oblivious of the wisps of smoke escaping from the door and windows. He hammered the accelerator, and the car slid forward, the rope going tight. Rock and mud struck the undercarriage, pelting the outhouse.
Vivian was thrown down, like being inside a Maytag, horrible splashing coming from the hole. The floor tore away from under her feet, boards snapping, and she tumbled out into the snow, screaming, rolling.
Clay clutched the wheel, the tires biting down to the gravel, sliding through the snow. He pictured Leo laughing his head off, no intention of paying any ransom – more likely to pay Clay to keep her. Hitting forty, then fifty, he towed the disintegrating outhouse, hearing boards snap behind him.
Pines swished by, Clay gunning it down the straight-away, then to the fork in the road, swerving around the bend to the single-lane bridge. He heel-toed, and the Buick fishtailed on an icy patch. Scraping the bridge rail, he raked the rear quarter panel, tail light exploding. The outhouse struck the rail full on, tore loose and tumbled end over end down the embankment, breaking apart.
Clay slid the Buick to a stop in middle of the bridge and jumped out. Rushing to the rail, he stared down at the remains washing downstream. Flinging himself over the rail, he tumbled down the slope, snow filling his shoes, screaming her name. “Viv, Viv, honey, oh shit.” What had he done?
The bear rug, trophy heads, everything was on fire. She would go back to the city and hunt him down, that stupid bastard. Right now she jogged back and forth, the fire keeping her warm.
A horrible death. Clay watched it all wash downstream, picturing coyotes finding her limp body on the shore somewhere, ripping into her, leaving no trace. Getting back in the car, he looked at himself in the rearview. Pulling a Camel from his pack, he threw ideas around of how to explain the shaved head to Barbara, his wife. Flipping his Zippo, he lit up. Maybe the best thing to do was aim the Buick south and just keep going until the money he had ran out, find a job flipping burgers someplace. He drove back to the cabin to wipe the place for fingerprints, leave no trace.
The blackened bricks of the chimney stood like a headstone among the charred and smoldering frame and ash. The heat from the fire was fading in the twilight, Vivian hugging herself, trying not to shiver, hand on the snow cone in her pocket. The outhouse box was the only thing left. She tried not to think about dying in this hell-of-a-place, tried not to cry. That’s when she heard the sound. She stood still, listening. Then it came again. A car engine. The ranger must have seen the smoke.
It was the Buick. Clay stopped in front of the remains and got out. He looked stupidly where the cabin had stood. Viv reached for a jagged board next to the outhouse seat, felt its heft.
He smiled – Vivian, alive and running to him. A miracle. Opening his arms for the last time, he called her name, feeling the joy, running to her.
© Dietrich Kalteis April 2012
West Vancouver, BC
The Bigger Man
It was a hell of a flight. Fly the friendly skies, my ass. Bumpy as a back road. First the security dick with that stupid scanning device, making me open my suitcase, embarrassing the hell out of me, poking through my personal things with the tip of his pencil.