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Scaffold for a Nightmare

Posted on 2007.02.19 at 01:31
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Today I submitted another new short story.   Months ago I posted a blog entry titled "Nightmare Factory," which gave the details of a lurid and horrific erotic dream of mine (see sidebar for entry).  I knew from the moment I opened my eyes after the nightmare--breathless,  frightened and aroused--that I wanted to use the material as the basis for a story.  Well, months later, I've written "Animal Morphology."  But nightmares, like our waking experiences, require a context.  I think it was Hemingway who said, "You need to lie to tell the truth," which is another way of saying, we need to impose meaning if we want to tell a story.   Meaning is an imposition of the mind on reality.  When it comes to the experiences that shake us to the core, cause and effect are subjective.  Dreams have an internal logic that defies contextualization.  Normal, transcribed dialogue lacks narrative thrust.   When trying to communicate a story, a writer needs to build a scaffold to support the events and images he wants to convey, a means of connecting personal imagery and obsessions with those of the reader.    The characters that haunt our dreams are fragments of our secret selves, but in a story those mirror shards must each be defined enough to draw the reader's blood.  

I hope I have risen to the challenge, and apologies in advance for stating the obvious.  

Here's the first few pages of the story--the ground floor, as it were, of  "Animal Morphology."

When I was a child I thought like a child, and I believed in monsters.  I became a man and grew to love the monsters I once feared.  The one hiding under my bed, the one inside my closet, but most of all the ravenous beast inside my head.  I fed the wolf caged in my soul while starving the lamb, and the red, meaty morsels were regurgitated in my writing.

 I soon became notorious for my tales of the grotesque, and not a little successful financially.  I grew comfortable, complacent, exchanging yellowed cotton sheets for satin.  The purr of an air-conditioner replaced the dull rattles of my swamp cooler.  I no longer heard the incessant drip of water.  You may laugh, but I still miss those sounds.  For weeks I couldn’t sleep in the near silence.  I say ‘near’ because a night never passed when I didn’t hear glass shatter beneath my cast iron balcony, and at least one drunken chorus or the grunts of a brawl.  I lived, after all, in the Vieux Carré.

Though I wasn’t rich by any means, these small amenities were luxuries enough.  A clean, cool, well-lit room where I could write in this swamp--well, it made a Heaven out of Hell.  Especially après le déluge, which flattened half of New Orleans like the red right hand of God.  But with my newfound comfort, the heat of my vision waned.  I shambled up the hill of success, but along the way somehow lost my monsters.  My writing turned to sterile sludge, where even the sweet mud bugs wouldn’t breed.  

Five nights a week I climbed the stairs of the Royal Café, and sat at a small table on the second story balcony.  A first I brought a notebook and pens, telling myself that the change of scenery would give me inspiration, but eventually I abandoned this pretense and sat with a bottle of Bourbon for company.  Tonight there was one difference--I expected a visitor.

I had dressed casually for the meeting, wearing a black, button-down shirt and matching jeans and boots.  The evening was unusually cool, which meant that for once my shirt didn’t stick to my back.  I’d even worn my favorite black leather jacket, the one that my cat, Ghede, had tattooed with claw marks.  I hadn’t shaved in several days, and black whiskers swept across my sharp chin and throat.  But I had made one small effort at appearing presentable, combing my black hair back from my smooth, pallid brow.

A wrinkled shell shuddered on the white linen tablecloth.  It looked a bit like a walnut with blind, bulbous eyes.  From where I sat I could just make out the legs tucked beneath it.  I had found the cicada pupa clinging to an oak, its case crisp and innards soft like a deep-fried oyster.

The sun darkened like a bruised eye and sank beneath the white-enameled curtains of iron lace.  Tourists shambled up St. Peter’s and snaked onto Royal Street, strangled by ropes of beads though Mardi Gras was four months in the grave.  I heard a faint scratching sound as the cicada writhed in its husk, its wet wings and new legs straining for release.

A shadow stretched across the table, wiping the sparkle off my glass of Bourbon.  I drained the glass, set it on the table and looked up at my guest.

He was taller than I expected, at least six-foot-two.  After hearing his bird-chirp of a voice on the phone, I had pictured him as a talking canary.  But in the flesh he looked more like a half-starved crane, with a gaunt face and green eyes that seemed far too bright for his ashen complexion.  The purple glow of the dying sun basted his bald head.  There was something unsettling about his face beyond mere physiognomy, but at first I couldn’t place it.  Then I realized what it was--the man had no eyebrows. He wore an olive green suit and a narrow black tie.  His delicate hands clutched a silver box the size of a biscuit tin.

“You’re late,” I told him.  I didn’t ask about the box.  The intricate floral reliefs were those of a master silversmith, and the shiny death’s head on the side seemed to leer at me.  I looked intently at the man’s eyes to avoid staring at his forehead.  Was the man a cancer victim or a drag queen in day wear?  I glanced at his fingernails and saw they were neatly clipped. 

“My apologies, Mr. Blanchard.  I’m Mr. DuMont.  I hope I haven’t kept you from anything important.”

He looked amused, his honied words made sour with sarcasm.

I gave him a mean little smile and leaned back in my chair.  “Let’s pretend that I have a life.  That you’re doing more than prolong my sobriety.  On the phone you said you wanted to invite me to a benefit.  You didn’t say who the benefit was for.”

“Why, for you, Mr. Blanchard.  Madame d’Aveyron is a great admirer of yours.”

I frowned at his dubious praise.  “I haven’t written anything worth reading in years.”

“Madame is aware of this.”

I smirked, grabbed the bottle of Bourbon, and refilled my glass.  After I took a sip, I reached inside my jacket and withdrew a pack of Camels.  I lit one, took a drag, and blew the smoke toward the ceiling.  “So it’s a eulogy we’re talking about, a requiem for a dead dreamer.  Well, tell Madame I’m still dreaming, and new stories are screaming to be told through me.”

Mr. DuMont frowned at my glass.  “I doubt you’ll find inspiration there.”

I covered my drink with my hand.  “Hush now, you’re insulting my best friend.”  I downed the Bourbon in a single gulp and set the glass down hard on the table.  “There you, see?  A lesson learned.  Real friends swallow.”

Mr. DuMont narrowed his eyes.  “Then perhaps you will enjoy Madame’s company after all.  Like you, she’s a woman of formidable appetite.”

I huffed and shook my head.  So, my non-literary reputation had preceded me once again.  “That was a long time ago.”

“Too long, Mr. Blanchard, if I may be so bold.”


Comments:


wicked witch of the west
herkind31 at 2007-02-23 17:57 (UTC) (Link)
i like it but to me the story didn't start until the paragraph starting, "Five nights a week I climbed..." that's when i was able to get into the story; before i wasn't sure who was exactly telling the tale.

and now that you finished the story can i make a date with you? wine, cheese, ryan, and of course me, at your place some saturday night?
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