In this series, I will take the Word of the Day from Dictionary.com and craft a short piece of creative writing around it. My goal is to embrace the meaning of the word in some unique way, all the while trying out different styles, rhythms and characterizations. It is as much an exercise in creativity as it is an exploration of grammar. Enjoy!
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By Alex Seise
Stare, drum, cough. The routine went on for hours and hours in the Tiffany-style lamp-lit upstairs study of the two-story colonial (the gray one with the white shutters who featured punch-outs of moons, right behind the big oak out front) located at 47 Elm Court.
Stare at the page. Drum the fingers of her right hand. Cough—or force up a cough, if the sputum wasn’t adequately strangling her lungs already—as her eyes rolled toward the latched window. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Stare. Drum. Cough. And in spite of the sensory racket, not even a word punched its way out of the old antique typewriter that loomed like a tombstone hovering just a few inches above her lap. The ribbon in the metal goblin was growing dry and crusty from sitting in disuse for the past several years. It’d been nearly a decade since Monica Kellerson worked on a novel (the free-hand updates to her will didn’t count, despite rivaling some of her earlier works in length), but she didn’t care; she had ample greenbacks on-hand from Rodney’s life insurance pay-out, and her house was in decent enough shape to contain the aged Rapunzel for years to come.
She’d long since lopped off her locks and cozied up the inside of her tower, certain that her Prince Charming was far too arthritic (if not dead himself) to gallantly whisk her away. Even if he did show up to woo her old bones, she didn’t want to leave, ever, and she certainly didn’t want to invite a stranger in. People got killed that way; she read about it in an email from Connie that called Match.com a haven for murderers looking for easy ways into old ladies’ parlors. “Widow Takers,” the email called them.
Stare. Drum. Cough.
“Girl, you afflicted.” The voice crackled over the pineapple print wallpaper that was curling at the seams. It reminded Monica of the Caribbean trip they’d taken some thirty years ago, her and Rodney, when they were still passable occupants of the young’uns-crossing-into-the-first-stages-of-middle-age category of folks. “You afflicted wid de curse o’ de widow.”
“Who is that?” Monica spun around; the voice was seemingly ethereal, a sound without a source. A single curl of the wallpaper rippled in a breeze of impossible origin. “Who are you? How did you get in my study?” A Widow Taker; she thought about gasping, but it seemed cliché and detrimental to any shot she had at surviving the encounter. Her knobbed hands, two doves now so cruelly ribbed with veins, liver spots and a dash of osteoporosis, pawed at the desk drawer, reaching for the shears, or the bronze letter opener, or even just a Bic. (If she’d have stopped for a moment to appreciate the irony of a writer protecting herself from physical harm with a ball-point pen, Monica might have chuckled. Mightier than any sword, truly. But she didn’t; there were other words preoccupying her mental page and drying ribbon of sooty tape.)
“Ya-ha! First I hadda get intuh you house before I could be gettin’ intuh you study. Der is a logical order to dees tings.” The origin seemed to float; the next time Monica heard it, it came from over by the wobbly end table near the window, the one with the African violet in the terra cotta pot she’d picked up at Marky’s over in Evesham. A single leaf jiggled. “You probably be wonderin’ what manner of forcible entry is next, eh? Ya-ha! Well, I is feelin’ kindly, so I is goin’ to spill. I got intuh you house, intuh you study and now, I’m goin’ intuh you head.”
“What?” Monica was scared, and terror rarely stifled confusion. It was like throwing kerosene on a barn fire in the misguided hope that the liquid might batter down the flames. Nope, nah-uh; ka-boom.
“Open up, dearie. Let me intuh you thoughts.”
Monica protested, but it was no good. The spirit, or voice, or whatever it was flung itself toward her with a tiny rush of wind (again, impossible in the enclosed study, she knew, but the supernatural rarely played with the same deck as mortals like herself) and smacked square into her forehead just above the bridge of her nose.
When she awoke, the sun was just a wee smidge above the horizon, and outside the study door, Percy was mewing for his supper. Alive; she was alive. Monica stood slowly, wondering if it’d all been a bad dream, a nightmare brought on by that terrible show about the young dancer girls and the beasty who berated them that she sometimes watched on the old television set down in the family room.
That was when she saw the short sentence on the otherwise blank sheet of paper that elegantly looped out the backside of the old typewriter. Four words, and nothing more.
“Girl, now you afflated.”
“Percy,” Monica whispered, knowing full well the Persian didn’t care for his owner’s words, only his gravy-soaked liver bits supper. The woman glided back into the chair, hit the return key twice (CLACK, CLACK) and sat her fingers atop the keys—the same fingers that usually drummed listlessly—and let the digits dance a furious mambo. “Percy, honey, Mommy’s going to be down in a few minutes. First, I just have to get this out.”
Clack, click, ding. Clack, click, ding. Clack, click, ding. (Meow!) Clack, click, ding. Clackety, clack, clack, click, click, clack (ME-OW!), clack, ding.