Mayapple Manor: Day Four

The waitress came back and raised an eyebrow. “Just one to go,” Eduardo told her, and she smiled and left again.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, the awkwardness coming back and settling like fog around them. For people who’d been talking to each other for months online, they suddenly had nothing to say.

“Momentum,” Eduardo said at last, and Sharpies shot him a curious look.

“All of this,” he said. “I feel like I’m being carried along on a wave, something I can’t stop now. We talked about this for a long time, and Grey Lady came up with this plan, and then you and I had to be convinced she wasn’t pulling a prank on us…”

Sharpies nodded, with something sadder than an actual smile.

“And then two weeks ago you said you were ready, and I got bad news around then…”

From the seventh quack clinic I visited, he thought.

“…and then Grey Lady said it was the anniversary of her husband’s death, so she was ready…and it’s been a blur ever since.” He took a breath. “Part of me thinks if I slow down, if I let myself think, I might change my mind.”

Sharpies stared at the floor, the edges of her hood hanging to obscure her face. But when she spoke, no matter how quiet her voice was, Eduardo could hear her anger.

“We’re supposed to do this together,” she said. “That’s the whole point; that we support each other.” She turned and looked at him, and her face was a clash of emotions, like she wanted to burst into tears but anger and confusion and fear were plugging up the dam. “You can’t be serious about changing your mind. What am I gonna do if you back out…?”

“You and Grey Lady can still…”

She pressed a fist to her heart. “It’s after dark. She may not even be –”

A engine’s rumble and the whine of air brakes sounded from outside. Eduardo and Sharpies looked at each other then stood in unison. They pulled open the front door and there, tottering across the parking lot from a freshly-parked bus, came a little old lady with a cane, making tiny steps across the uneven asphalt.

Eduardo was out the door, Sharpies close behind. Even if this wasn’t GreyLady94, politeness demanded he help.

“Ma’am,” he said, “here, take my arm.”

The old lady peered up at the two of them, and her face broke into a warm smile. “Hello, friends,” she said. “You must be AlarMan…and what a beauty you are, SharpiesBSoda.”

Eduardo took her wrinkled, fragile hand in his. “It’s good to meet you.” Sharpies took her other hand and, between the two of them, helped her the few yards back to the Friends-N-Fuel.

6
Grey Lady insisted on paying for dinner, and Bridgit couldn’t say no. She and Alarm Man (or whatever he’d been trying to say about his screen name) argued politely over the right to pay for the meal, but in the end their benefactor won out.

Bridgit had only had a Dr. Pepper that morning, so while she felt guilty abusing Grey Lady’s generosity by ordering such a big meal, in her defense she was frickin’ starving.

The menu called it the Long Haul — pancakes, two fried eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, home fries, and glasses of both chocolate milk and orange juice. Bridgit was self-conscious, especially when comparing her meal to the relatively modest amounts of food ordered by the other two, but once her blood sugar started to rise she felt no pain.

Grey Lady had peaches and cottage cheese, with coffee, and Alarm Man went for a Belgian waffle with whipped cream and berries. He blew on his cup of hot chocolate to cool it as Grey Lady spoke.

“Everyone’s trip went well?”

Eduardo shot Bridgit a look she guessed had something to do with driving without a license and all the other blah-blah-blah. She had a hardship license, actually, even if she’d forgotten it on her dresser back in Florida.

“Fine,” she and he said together. Eduardo continued, “And how about you?”

“Oh,” Grey Lady said, waving a hand, “buses don’t do my rear end any favors, but I’m all right. And how about tomorrow? Are you both ready?”

Bridgit shot a look back at Alarm Man that she hoped he knew was about him having second thoughts.

“Yes,” he and she chorused again.

“I’m so glad to hear it,” Grey Lady said, and took a bite of fruit. “I’m looking forward to seeing my dear Frederick again, but I know I couldn’t do it without my friends there to help me through.” She smiled at them in turn, and Bridgit felt another little burst of anger at Alarm Man. How could he have ever considered letting this elderly sweetheart down?

“We’ll want to meet up after dark tomorrow,” Grey Lady continued. “After all the trick-or-treaters have gone home, of course, so we have less chance of witnesses seeing us…” She looked around to see if any waitresses were snooping close by. “…Breaking in,” she finished in a whisper.

“What will we do during the day?” Eduardo asked.

“You can always sleep in,” Grey Lady said, and Bridgit was thrilled at the idea until she remembered she’d be sleeping in her car, quite possibly here at the Friends-N-Fuel parking lot.

*****

Today’s Words: 899
Total Words: 3990

*****

Mayapple Manor: Day Three

He pulled into the parking lot of the Friends-N-Fuel as the sun was hanging low, not sure if he was the first there. They were supposed to wait up front for each other then get a table together. If the sun set, it meant anyone not there had changed their mind about the plan.

Would Eduardo be the only one to show up? He sat in his car for a few minutes, staring at the main doors of the truck stop, trying to see if anyone was hanging around in the foyer. The glass was frosted, so all he could see were vague shadows. The parking lot was half-full with mostly pickups, and at the far end of the building stood the immensely tall canopies under which semi cabs and trailers sat, fueling up and getting washed.

He got out, reveling in the pleasure of a good stretch-and-groan after a long drive, then went inside. If he didn’t have time for breakfast or lunch tomorrow, this would be his last meal. He let his thoughts skate around that truth without sticking a landing. He agreed to this plan, committed himself, and fully intended to follow it to its conclusion tomorrow night. But the brain always has trouble accepting the idea of anything happening that’s permanent — consider phantom limbs.

The entryway of Friends-N-Fuel was empty. A couple of hard wooden benches flanked the walls, ready for people to sit in case of a wait for a table. Wire stands held Penny Saver and Greensheet newsletters, as well as apartment-hunting quides.

“Hey, hon’,” said a waitress passing by. “Sit yourself anywhere. I’ll be right with you.”

Eduardo smoothed his lapel in a restless gesture. “I’m waiting for friends. Is it all right if I…” and he gestured at one of the benches.

The waitress smiled. “Wait as long as you need to. But the football game lets out about nine, and we’ll get slammed then. If your friends don’t show up by then, y’all are gonna have even more of a wait.”

He thanked her and sat, pulling out his phone for the first time since leaving the clinic in Matamoros. A bunch of work emails he deleted unread, and a text message from Carlotta, his wife, which he opened.

Hope the trip is gong well, my love. Bring Julia back some chocolate, or she’ll disown you!

And at the end, knock ’em dead! Which made him close his eyes for a moment.

He’d hidden his tremors from Carlotta, but they’d struck once when he was holding Julia in the crook of his arm as they looked out from the balcony of the mansion. His daughter had oohed and aahhed at the beautiful sunset, but then the shakes began.

“Papa?” she asked, then started to squirm. “Don’t tickle!” she giggled, working her way free of him, landing on her feet, looking up at him with an amused child’s mock indignation.

“I don’t like tickling, Papa!” she declared, the laughter in her voice making it clear how she truly felt about it. She took up a stance, ready to run, as though expecting Eduardo to reach out and try to goose her ribs again.

But he only stood there, hugging his arms to his sides, not looking at Julia, willing the tremors and the embarrassment to go away.

Julia waited a few moments longer, then skipped inside to find one of the puppies to play with.

Eduardo opened his eyes and took a deep breath to banish the memory, and the dusk of his balcony was replaced with the droning fluorescents of the truck stop. The waitress from before peeked in then left. He pocketed his phone and wondered how long until he would have to call this a loss and go back home. Back to criss-crossing Mexico to other places like the clinic in Matamoros, or the fancy hospitals the white folks used for ‘medical tourism.’ All places that claimed they could help him, cure him with stem cells or electroshock or…

How long until, in that desperate search, he started resorting to mystical bruja-type nonsense?

No. If no one showed up tonight, he’d go back a few miles to the Motel 6 he’d spotted, find a room with a nice, sturdy shower rod, and…

The door opened, its attached cowbell rattled, and a skinny blonde girl walked in, hood on her sweatshirt up, hands in her pockets as she shouldered the door. She spotted him immediately, and from the look on her face, he knew.

“Sharpies?”

She nodded and almost seemed surprised to see him. “Alarm Man?”

He got up to shake her hand, and she glomped onto him with as big a bear hug as her scrawny frame could muster. He stiffened, but realized he was being rude, and put an arm around her, too.

She stopped squeezing and stepped back, looking him over like he was some mythical creature. He didn’t know what to say. “It’s…it’s actually ‘Alar Man,” he managed to get out.

She frowned. “Isn’t that what I said? Alarm Man?”

“No, no, it’s…you know, it’s okay. Never mind.”

The smiled awkwardly at each other, quiet, as though suddenly realizing that long hours spent talking online didn’t change the fact that they were, on balance, strangers to each other.

“So how was your trip?” they asked each other at the same time, and laughed. Eduardo pointed at the bench, and they sat.

“Grey Lady hasn’t shown up yet,” he told Sharpies.

“She’ll have to know it’s us when she sees us,” Sharpies said. “I knew it was you, like, right away.”

“How so?”

“The way you write,” she said. “You write like a guy who’d wear,” and she splayed her fingers and waved her hands over his sleeve, “this.”

Eduardo chose to take that as a compliment. “So like we asked, how was your trip? You first.”

Sharpies wrinkled her nose. “Not bad. I kept thinking something was going to go wrong, y’know. Skipping school, stealing my Dad’s car, crossing state lines, not even having a driver’s license…a lot of chances for things to turn to shit…sorry, I mean, um, crap.” She laced and unlaced her fingers as she spoke, and kept ducking her head when anyone passed by the foyer.

Eduardo sat there, digesting what she’d said, trying not to let it show on his face. For a plan that had seemed so simple when Grey Lady spelled it out for them, it sounded like Sharpies had introduced a lot of ways it could all fall apart before tomorrow.

*****

Today’s Words: 1094
Total Words: 3091

*****

Mayapple Manor: Day Two

3
Miss Penelope would, tomorrow, travel nineteen blocks to die. It was a route, and an ordeal, she’d gotten used to the last few months as she prepared everything for the end of October. First, two agonizing blocks on foot, her cane and orthotics providing little in the way of relief as she shuffled along, fearful of cracks and gaps in the sidewalk that might send her tumbling towards a shattered hip, a twisted back, and the forfeiture of everything she’d worked so hard to put in motion.

The middle section of her journey to death would be the easy part: catching a city bus to the north side of Borland. A few minutes there to rest and steel herself for the final leg, consisting of another three horrendous blocks of walking.

There were easier ways to get there, but none of them put her at the back entrance to the Manor, with its overgrown rainforest of a backyard. All the better to hide her from prying eyes that might ask why a sweet, kind, church-going old lady like herself was skulking around Mayapple Manor — Borland, Texas’ most infamous, and in truth only, claim to fame.

Anyone who did catch her could certainly ask such things, but it made Miss Penelope think of a punchline she often saw on witless sitcoms: ‘…but then I’d have to kill you.’ That line always made her laugh, but not for the expected reasons. She laughed because no one — the fictional TV characters, the snobby actors who portrayed them, the writers who churned out their dialogue — understood one simple truth of existence.

There were so many things worse than being killed.

Which explained why she couldn’t use her normal means of transportation — calling up one of the friendly, smiling volunteers from First Methodist and asking them to drive her as she did so often when trips to the grocery store or bank were needed. She couldn’t bear what she’d have to do to one of those selfless people if they knew what she was doing at the Manor.

If they knew even one of so many things about her long, long life.

Ten years since she’d failed her driver’s license re-test at the age of eighty-four. Ten years of depending on the kindness of others to drive her, cook for her, clean her house, maintain her yard….

And bathe me, she thought with a humiliated grimace. Mustn’t forget the bathing.

She forgot so many things, lately. But soon it wouldn’t matter. Soon, she’d enter Mayapple Manor for the last time.

But first, she had another bus ride to make, to the outskirts of Borland and the truck stop where she planned to meet the other two she’d been talking to online all these months. And at that fluorescent-lit temple of salt and cholesterol, the final pieces of her long plan would lock into place.

After that, death.

And if all the shadows in all the corners of the world were merciful, after death…

…would come rebirth.

4
POSTS FROM THE CESSATION CELEBRATION FORUMS

SharpiesBSoda
I hate my parents, but it’s like I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to leave a mess for them to clean up. Shit, I don’t even want to leave a body behind.

AlarMan
Same here. I’ve got a wife, a daughter…I wish there was just some way to vanish without a trace. Not even leave dust behind.

SharpiesBSoda
Know where I can find a big vat of acid? lol

AlarMan
Sorry! No acid. Plenty of other chemicals at my job, but nothing that would do the trick.

69BIG69DIKK69
Kill urself fagot

SharpiesBSoda
Oh, but I’d hate to die and miss any of your pearls of wisdom, NeedleDickZero.

69BIG69DIKK69
Gota pearl necklace for u bitch. Blow me

SharpiesBSoda
Let me just get my electron microscope out of the closet. Be right with you.

69BIG69DIKK69
Probly in the closet urself Fukken dike!

AlarMan
Cut it out, 69. We’re just having a conversation. Go somewhere else; it’s a big forum.

69BIG69DIKK69
White knight fagot

MODERATOR-GREENGRASS
69BIG69DIKK69, you’re banned for forty-eight hours. Second strike. Violate the TOS again and you’ll be IP-blocked permanently. SharpiesBSoda and AlarMan, you know better than to touch the poop. Don’t engage, just call a mod. If you’re part of the problem again, I’ll have to give you both a twelve-hour timeout.

AlarMan
Yes, sorry. Thank you for helping.

SharpiesBSoda
Thanks, Mod. We’ll be good.

GreyLady94
I’m late! So sorry about that, friends. What did I miss?

SharpiesBSoda
Another one of the trolls who’ll inherit the Earth.

GreyLady94
And people have the gall to wonder why some of us want to leave this world…

AlarMan
Good to see you, GL94. Sharpies and I were just discussing how we didn’t want to leave anything behind for our loved ones to deal with. How do you disappear? And I mean, poof, without even a cloud of smoke?

GreyLady94
Hello there, AM! I haven’t really thought much about what I’m leaving behind, besides a will to be fought over. But disappearing completely? That’s a toughie.

SharpiesBSoda
Maybe that’s our homework till next time. Find a way to die but not leave a trace.

GreyLady94
I’ll see what I can come up with.

5
The verdant green of north and central Texas gave way to the more desert-like features of the west. To Eduardo, it was like a painter smearing colors over a gradual expanse of canvas, the many features of Texas gradually giving way to the utterly featureless plains of New Mexico.

He’d stop short of the border, and well short of El Paso. His goal was a truck stop and diner, Friends-N-Fuel, just outside of Borland. GreyLady94 recommended it as a good place to meet and eat. According to her, she’s stopped at it many times while traveling.

His stomach, free from nausea again, growled at him, but he didn’t worry about the quality of his upcoming meal. GL94 had been right about everything so far. She’d come up with this whole plan and, no matter how insane it had seemed at first, she’d been so convincing, and so right about all the steps needed to make it happen, that she’d earned his trust in full.

*****

Today’s Words: 1041
Total Words: 1997

*****

Mayapple Manor: Day One

MAYAPPLE MANOR
by Stephen Couch

1

Eduardo drove all the way from Matamoros to die. The irony wasn’t lost on him — to leave Mexico’s leading city when it came to Cartel mass graves, only to end his journey with his own demise.

But such was life. Such was death.

He felt proud that he only had a spell of tremors twice during the trip. The first time was at the border crossing, but he couldn’t have told you if the nerves there were literal or figurative. He gripped the steering wheel of his Lexus sedan, feeling the shakes begin with his fingers then spread down to his palms, forearms, elbows. He glanced at the cross and beads hanging from his rearview mirror and prayed the Border Patrol agent, at the moment peeking under Eduardo’s back bumper with a Maglite, wouldn’t return to the front to give Eduardo the all-clear, only to find him sweating, hanging onto the steering wheel with an almighty grip, teeth clenched, arms shaking.

God was merciful, for once, and the spasms passed before the scowling, mirror-shaded officer knocked on the roof of the car, letting Eduardo know he was free to enter the U.S.A.

Eduardo wasn’t much of a jokester, but he considered having told the officer he was entering the United States for ‘pleasure’ to be a fine jest, indeed.

The second set of tremors happened a few hours later, at a Waffle House on the outskirts of Austin. He had a rare nausea-free moment and found himself ravenous, staring down at a plate of scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, a holy trinity of bacon-ham-sausage, and a heap of greasy hash browns, onto which he emptied about half the pepper shaker. Eduardo went in to scoop up the first forkful of bliss when that familiar, hated sensation started up again: fingers, palms, forearms, and so on. Before he knew it, his shaking hand was tapping an involuntary rhythm of metal fork on ceramic plate, ting-a-ding-dingy-ding-ding, that he just could not stop.

The waitress came over, and Eduardo tried to pretend the rest of the customers weren’t turning around in their booths to stare.

“You need a refill, hon’?” she asked, understandably miffed that he’d chosen to get her attention in such a rude way. He wanted to explain, but he was occupied trying to shatter all his teeth by grinding his jaw.

It was a misunderstanding, he wanted to say. Just a stupid, ding-ding-ting-a-ting misunderstanding.

The tremors passed as quickly as they’d come on, and Eduardo managed to say that no, he was fine, the food was great, and he was sorry for any problem. The waitress seemed to weigh his odd behavior against his expensive suit and manicured nails, then shrugged and walked away with her coffee pot.

Eduardo wolfed down as much of his food as he could stomach and left enough to cover the ticket plus three times his usual tip, out of pure shame.

Back in the car and he was northbound again, heading to I-20 before turning west, out to where the oil business had rendered the earth starving and barren, out to where death, merciful death awaited.

The town’s name was Borland and, up until a few weeks ago, he’d never heard of it.

2

Bridgit drove all the way from Pensacola to die. She packed light after a moment of clarity where she found herself filling two entire suitcases with clothes and necessities.

She was driving non-stop, and would get to Borland tomorrow, October 30th. She’d only need one change of clothes, plus an emergency pair of panties, just in case…

…Well, forget about the just in case. But she’d be damned if she ever set foot outside the house without a backup pair of underwear.

Not after two weeks ago.

The rest of her little bag? She filled it with a book that wasn’t very good, but that she was maybe thirty pages from finishing. She tried not to dwell on that, and all its built-in sadness, too much.

No makeup kit and no toothbrush. That last thing made her feel like more of a disobedient child than any of the rest of it — skipping school, driving all the way to Texas, not to mention what she planned to do once she got there.

But that toothbrush…she imagined the cops catching her and dragging her back home, and Mom telling her how disappointed she was in Bridgit, but how she was especially heartbroken over how her thankless daughter hadn’t even brushed her teeth.

Maybe it wasn’t too late to stop at a Wal-Mart and get one. Some toothpaste, too.

No. She hadn’t brought any credit cards, since that could be traced, and only had enough cash for the next two days of meals. She’d sleep in her car, maybe shower at a YWCA, and that would be all of that.

A flashing signboard, normally meant to warn people of upcoming traffic problems, displayed info on an Amber Alert, and Bridgit felt her heart frost over. But no, it wasn’t for her, just some little boy out of OKC.

She wondered if they even did Amber Alerts for fifteen-year-olds, or if that was only for small children.

Bridgit had twenty-four hours before she’d be declared missing, anyway, but knew the school would have already been in touch with her parents. Skipping out on the day of a major Geography test was one thing, but her greatest, most unforgivable sin was being a JV cheerleader and vanishing on the day of a pep rally.

The school had probably sent hitmen after her for that transgression.

“Joke’s on you,” she said over the blare of her iTunes. “I’ll be dead before you can kill me.”

*****

Today’s Words: 956
Total Words: 956

*****

Notes: Hey, y’all! I am once again attempting to write an entire Halloween-themed horror novel over the course of October. This is my fifth attempt, and the score from my past tries is currently a tie, with two successes and two failures. Hope you’ll stick around to see how this one goes!

*****

Slouching Towards Halloween – Post-Mortem

Long time no see!

Well, if you followed along with this series of posts from last year, you’ve discovered that nothing else happened. I started to write about getting blocked and unproductive, but then I got blocked, became unproductive, and the whole enterprise went down in flames.

The bad news is, I met hardly any of my goals in the whole ‘Slouching Towards Halloween’ plan. However…

The good news is, I’ve got two finished novels for this coming Halloween. It’s just a matter of doing the cover art and HTML formatting, and they’ll be ready to go.

In unrelated good news, I’m attending a writing workshop in a few weeks. I’m looking forward to it quite a lot; it’s one I’ve wanted to attend for several years now, and finally got the stars aligned to permit it.

Did I learn anything from this whole process? I need to re-think how I challenge myself to get writing done. Breaking things down into smaller goals seems to be the way to go. Moving forward, I don’t know if I’ll be using this blog for much of anything except announcements of finished projects. I’ve tried the whole using-the-blog-to-spur-myself-on thing several times, and it’s never worked out.

So with that, I’m getting ready for the workshop, and figuring out what to write next.

I’ll be back at some point. See you in the funny papers!