Black Door, Part I: Softly Does It
In an effort to push myself beyond one-off pieces, I’ve decided to try writing a short serial, so welcome to part I of ‘Black Door’. It was supposed to be 3 parts in flash fiction, but it’s already escaped. This first part doesn’t even class as flash fiction (it’s 1237 words), and the serial is likely to be 5-7 parts.
As we’ll probably discover together, when it comes to planning fiction, I’m more of a reader than a writer: I love the surprises that come with reading, and detailed plotting tends to kill my fiction dead. Bit of a problem that, when I want to ‘go large’. So what follows is really a plotting experiment, where we all get to find out the details together (I’m laughing, but I’m crying). I have a rough structure, but nothing too restrictive.
So welcome to the writing equivalent of knife juggling…where the knives are paper and the worst dangers are presumably paper cuts, or confused readers. There’s no author, though – I’m reading along with you. St.
he last shreds of the weaving, unfurled from his body like a long sheet of cellophane pulled straight up into the sky. His right hand and arm were left upraised in rapture, his left sagging, caressing the air like a cello player’s crescendo, holding onto the old magic for one, long, lingering moment.
Colours he’s never seen before, things he’s never felt; and then dark trees rising up as a wall of whispers and cold gloom.
Time slows. Needles fall. Sounds drag up to speed. Nature turns.
The sparkle gone: the whole of creation revealed as a finger drawn through a mundane pile of mud, as he steps into a new time and place.
The magic was all he could imagine and more, and his stomach lurches to bile even thinking about the feel of it, and Softly has never lost a meal.
But time is pressing. So he shakes his head till his lips slap, cracks one shoulder then the other, and turns a sharp eye to the trees and their long, tall slots.
He orientates and trots off.
Nothing sees him coming, nothing sees him go. There is no tip-to-toe of Mr Softly, on account of his looking exactly like thin air.
Down the earthen banks, over dykes; tip-toeing through glades, with tattered leaves flapping.
After a while, a ripe, herbal odour begins to fill the greenhouse beneath the dappled canopy. It’s those little four-leaved helicopters, poking through endless mossy mounds; the sphagnum domed like foreheads of men marching in quicksand.
That smell could be sweet, Casaba melon on the turn.
Behind him, the mounds pop up beneath his footprints.
Foul water bathes his toes. Despite the lack of crumbling sewer brick, he may just be home.
Then he smells wood smoke; getting a gulp of it on the breeze.
Softly, softly, he begins to circle round, hands splayed.
Until he almost has his elbows off – there is a scuffle and one dismal, throttled bark.
He presses branches aside like vaudevillian drapes.
And now to the grandstanding murder of the day – an old man on a stoop porch. Middle of the brown woods, smells of paraffin. Gun on his knee, stoat heads on strings, wide eyed to the birds flying with hooted calls.
Chitter chatter, giving it away!
The old cuss growls something, holds up the rifle but doesn’t fire.
“That you Parley?” Old dog looking for his old dog. Sounded like “Far-ey”, way he said it: worried and hopeful, shot through with back-woods suspicion. But Softly had gotten the vicious thing with a loop of barbed wire, right next to the drop house: wolf hound, surprisingly strong, with gobbets of yellow teeth and coarse grey hair.
His hands still smell of dog; a kind of sweaty, livery, wet-blanket smell. Even got its fibrous muscle ridged up under his fingernails. Uncomfortable, that. Gloop feels like a warm glove. Licks it.
But he’s sweating all the same: gun’s pointed right at his heart, a foot away, though ‘Old Coop’ can’t see it. Forget about guns, forget about ammunition.
And then again…
Old man gotten so addled with shadows, he’s forgotten to play the gun as loaded. You look through that one, narrow, window cut through weathered log ends – grains like graters, the glass swinging with webs and leaf crumb – and you can see his cartridges sitting on a pail of broken shingles.
Old fraud ain’t so much, after all that.
Whip-crack smash. Boots off and blood.
Breeze stirring the leaves.
A tooth tick, tack, tickity, tack, glistening like a ruby.
Got me the gun, oh my. A rifle – heavy, awkward. Bolt action, oiled, smooth stock.
Need anything else?
The old man’s head? Go guddle for it under the porch?
Pfft, spent enough time crawling around in dark spaces – another reason to get on changing up.
Besides, blood on the smooth stock for evidentiating. Clutcher got a nose don’t it? Gods knows Softly can smell the old hunter on there; him and his foul-mouthed doggit.
But now, the awkward carry. Gotta get a gun up a hill, middle of the lonesome forest, and without one intention of touching it with naked, glassy flesh. Bullets bad, but momentary; barrel-iron, a long and insufferable boil with bleach in…
There is a weathered creak.
The door on the old stoop, lolls. Latch settles.
Softly, pushes inside like a bear in a supermarket. Even hums his own muzack.
Smells of socks, and cabin smoke. Gun oil and garlic.
It’s Softly who sets up that tankling of tin cups, enjoying their wide mouthed ping pang as they bounce around on the floor; and then has to restrain an impulse to pounce, but he still grins at the jerking wing-wounded motion.
Wades ankle deep through the rag rug, like an all-coloured anemone.
A subtle push, as if launching a little ship, and a picture frame flips backwards down the back of a bow-legged dresser, glass splashing and sliding to a stop on the floor. Loved that sound. Picture of man and dog slides out from under, like a Polaroid of remembrance.
Then he finds a fresh shirt by the old man’s washing pot; caught him on the shave, cut-throat razor open like a musical note. Still got a battleship of shaving foam on the water, bristling with a scrape of tiny, tree-like whiskers.
Impulsively, he runs the tip of his tongue along the blade, the metal burning like frying oil, seeking an intimate flavour of the man. Makes a face – lemon and chemicals! Curses. Spits.
Takes the shirt, then out by the door hanging with more locks than god has in creation – little uns, big uns, plain old bank-vault monsters – when all the old man had around them was shack wood.
On the stoop he wraps the gun, and decides – on second thoughts – to take a finger, Clutcher being Clutcher – yank to dislocate, and bite off at the knuckle. That’s how it goes, with a little, savoury pop.
By all accounts, Old Man and Clutcher have been at war for years. Years and years. But the old man was too cunning, and the big ole brute too lumbering and slow. And for a big thing dripping with bad attitude, Clutcher sure doesn’t like dogs and guns. A feardy horror, is what it is. Not that Softly would say that within snapping distance of its complex jaws. But either way, it’s sure going to be glad to meet its best, new friend, if it doesn’t just disembowel him where he stands.
But time, oh my, time is an issue. There’s already a faint frisson of inelasticity – like the world wants to pop back. And by the flayed gods of fiendish horror, that can’t be for hours yet, lest his plans spoil at the seams, though a full night may be wishful thinking.
He drops his watch on the old oak boards and inspects the dull face through its swaddling of Sellotape; tape that’s gone brown and greasy. Digits flicker likes flies alive in amber.
Hu. That’ll be late afternoon, then: oh-six-oh-five.
The tape creaks as he slips the watch back on his wrist as a bracelet that has entirely vanished.
Adam’s watch, curse him. But don’t curse him too soon, because he has two more weavings to bestow, or not. Better than wishes, better than anything. Softly, softly, that’s the trick. And the other trick, will be getting close enough to the Clutcher without it ripping his head off.