And I'm back! I've been working on some assorted things since last fall. In the meantime, I've rethought the purpose of this blog a little. I'm going to use it more for off-the-cuff writing than for long-form professional stuff.
To start with, a thing I wrote for the Talking Time Writing Circle. Basically, all the participants suggest a story element, and each one writes a story based on all of those elements. So without further ado, a story about a dead mouse!
It had to be the one time he turned to talk radio. Luc hit the wrong button and didn't realize he was on AM until it was too late. It took three seconds of Sean Hannity's ranting for Luc to reach for the tuner, which distracted him enough for him to run his car too close to the curb and flatten his tire. It was my own fault, Luc thought. I'm the one who always keeps the volume high so I can blast some metal during the commute.
He dragged his car into the nearest parking lot, which belonged to a small cemetery, next to a Baptist church. Many of the tombstones still had their luster, and the rising sun gave them a pale orange glow. There were also people here, which was a great relief. One of them could call a tow truck if he needed one, and maybe help him change the flat.
Luc could only look for a second. He checked the trunk to find a rank, necrotic stench reach in and assault his nostrils. An old shoe sat next to the spare tire, an Adidas that had been peeling apart for ages. That had to be it. He took the tire iron and used it to lift the shoe out. He stench made him gag, and he dropped the iron and the shoe so he could back away. Once he was out of range, he gagged again just from the memory of it, and he was sure he would vomit. Whose shoe was it, anyway? It didn't look like any of his. He preferred work boots, for their sturdiness. Maybe it was Jerry. Luc did use the car to help him move. It was Jerry. Jerry's apartment had so much mold, Luc had begun to name it. But what could cause it to smell so horrible?
"You doin' all right, stranger?"
Luc took a deep breath and looked up. A man in sunglasses was approaching. Luc coughed. "I'm fine. Just found something in my trunk."
"Yeah, that's quite a something."
Luc followed the man's gaze downward. A dead, half-rotted mouse lay next to the shoe. Luc couldn't look for long. Even the sight of it forced the thought of that stench into the back of his head. Dammit, Jerry, this is all your fault. He tried instead to focus on something more positive. He found himself regarding the man's sunglasses. Now that he saw them close-up, he loved them. They were amazing, like something out of a retro cop show, reflecting the dawn sunlight like a clear lake, and being as sleek and seamless as any smartphone. They were, as Jerry would say, outrageously cool.
The man pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, and pinched the mouse's tail through it.
Luc gagged again. "S--sorry to bother you during your funeral."
"Funeral?" The man stood up with the mouse hanging from his fingers. "This isn't a funeral. We're just having ourselves a little party."
Luc wasn't sure he'd heard it right. "What kind of-- a party? Really?"
The man grinned. "I love seeing people's reactions. See, my friends and I are the Smith Paranormal Society. We go ghost hunting, UFO sighting, urban legend collecting. And that girl there, Mabel, today's her birthday, and we like to celebrate in a graveyard, so the dead can be part of the fun."
"Okay." Luc was puzzled to hear this from someone who looked so country-fried. "Sorry to bother you during your birthday party, then. What do we do with the mouse?"
"What else? We're in a graveyard, all of us are here. Let's have us a funeral!"
He turned and strolled back toward his friends, and Luc followed.
It was a group of about five people, which made Luc realize how unlikely it was that this was a proper funeral. There was a middle-aged lady with a lot of beads; an elderly man in a dusty old tuxedo; a teenager in a leather jacket covered with punk rock tattoos; and a thirty-something nurse who turned out to be Mabel. The man with the outrageously cool sunglasses was named Pete, and he introduced us. Luc said, "Happy birthday," as I shook Mabel's hand.
"Thank you," she said as if trying to comfort Luc, as if he were one of her patients. He wondered if she'd lost her ability to talk like anything other than a nurse. "My birthday was actually Thursday, but this was the earliest we could all get together." She scrunched up her nose with every fifth word. Not the most reassuring tic.
Pete held up the dead mouse. "Luc found this in his trunk, and I suggested we bury it."
"That sounds like a nice idea," the middle-aged lady said. "Do we have anything to bury him in?"
"Well, there's that old shoe," Luc said. "Not like I have any use for it."
Without another word, Pete rushed back to the car and picked the shoe off the ground, putting the mouse inside. He came back and laid it behind a tombstone that belonged to a Mickey Stulce. "Anyone want to say a few words?"
"What was the mouse's name?" Mabel said. Her nose twitched.
Luc was about to point out that it was just a dead mouse from my trunk, not a pet, but immediately everyone broke in with a suggestion. The beaded lady won out with "Tuffy."
So she said, "Tuffy was a mouse who liked all the simple things in life. Cheese, running around, avoiding cats. We'll never know exactly how he died, or how he ended up in this young man's trunk, but we all hope the culprit will be brought to justice. Amen."
We stood in silence for a moment.
The tuxedo man went to his truck for a shovel. Mabel said to Luc, "You know, you should come to our next ghost hunt. They're pretty exciting."
"I'll think about it," Luc said. "How was last night?"
"Nice and quiet. Couldn't have asked for anything better."
The punk kid shook his hair out of his face. "It's quiet until Mary starts talking to the tombstones."
"Someone has to keep them company," the beaded lady said. "Can you imagine spending all of eternity with no one to talk to? Their longing must be inescapable."
"At least none of them got up this time."
Luc jerked his head up. He'd had his eye on the shoe. "This time?"
Just then, the old man in the tuxedo returned. "All right, let's get this started."
"Hang on," Luc said, "you think that church is going to be okay with us digging like this?"
"I'm the pastor, so they better be."
Luc said no more, and let the tuxedoed pastor dig.
They lowered the shoe into the hole, the pastor and the beaded lady each said a prayer, and that was that.
Mabel stretched. "All right, time for bed! I got a late shift tonight, and I'll need all the rest I can get."
Pete clapped Luc on the shoulder. "Let's get to work on that tire, all right?"
So Luc and Pete worked together to change the tire while the rest of the Paranormal Society scattered.
Mary, the beaded lady, passed him an address for their Facebook page. The punk kid complimented Luc's Slayer bumper sticker. Finally, Luc had the spare on, and said goodbye to Pete.
He thought about that incident the rest of the day, how he buried a mouse named Tuffy in a Baptist graveyard with the Paranormal Society. Sometimes Mary's words rattled in his mind, about the inescapable longing of the dead. Working in the office all day, he often felt trapped in a box, desperate to get out. Maybe it was time to break out of the grove society had dug for him, and at the very least find out whose corpse got up when.
That weekend, he drove to that church, and joined the Smith Paranormal Society on their ghost hunt.