In case you've forgotten, I am first and foremost a fiction writer. A fiction writer whose second novel is nearly complete.
The Ten Vanished Memories of Charles McManus is my 'fast' novel, meaning that it has taken only four years (and counting) to get to where I am now. Like I said. Fast. Absolutely screaming.
And where am I?
In the next couple of weeks (I'm planning for the end of the calendar year), the current draft will have exhausted my ability to edit/read/tolerate it any longer, which means that the thing will need to be released in its entirety out into the wilds of actual human readers.
A few of you--OK maybe one of you--might be interested in what I've been working on, so I'm going to devote some more of my blog posts to novel excerpts. If you have the inclination, please let me know what you think.
Thank you, as always, for checking in.
Despite the hauntings and the random trashing of his possessions at his studio apartment, McManus still managed to arrive at the bakery, prepare the flats of bread, muffins and pastries, and hit his delivery times. After work, he found himself staying at the bars later than he wanted because, thanks to Carmella’s ghost, his apartment wasn’t the sanctuary it had once been. So he took to wandering the streets of downtown Portland, chain-smoking cigarettes and waving off the dealers who approached. He spent hours staring at the Willamette River, the same oft-polluted waterway where he had years ago tossed his wedding band when Carmella and he had lived downriver in Eugene. He watched traffic crawl across the Hawthorne or Marquam bridges, feeling as if he existed in some parallel dimension that lay alongside the living world. He simply didn’t know what else to do, or where else to go, so he gave himself over to wandering the night.
It was on one of these nights that he passed the storefront of a psychic reader. He had wandered past the cobalt, neon sign several times before, but on this particular night, after he had gotten home from work, he had discovered his clothes strewn about the bathroom floor, piled inside the tub and even crammed into the toilet. He called Carmella’s ghost ‘a crazy fucking bitch’ and stormed out. Why him? Of all the many people she could have confessed the desired location of her burial to, why had Carmella chosen him? Entrusting him with this information was a curse, and that was probably why she had picked him. In fact, he knew that was why she had picked him. Imparting personal knowledge was Carmella’s ultimate act of aggression, because once you knew a single fact about her, she could hate you for possessing this sliver of knowledge and lash out with no restraint.
Without thinking on the matter further, McManus entered the psychic’s shop.
Candles the width of mailing tubes lit the space, and ornate cloth riddled with paisleys draped along every flat surface. In the center of the room sat a round table surrounded by chairs that had been carved with stars, moons and serpents. A heavy curtain blocked access to the back, and florescent light leeched behind the gap between floor and fabric. He guessed that was the office behind there. He cleared his throat and asked if the business was open. The florescent light switched off.
A woman threw open the curtain. She was taller than McManus, and all skinny angles and bony lines doused in a clingy silk outfit; he guessed she was in her fifties.
“I am Saskia,” she said. “Sit.”
He hoped there might be some negotiation of price so that he could politely back out, but she sat and scrutinized him. An open expression of shock crossed her bony face.
“You are haunted,” she said, her voice rising in both pitch and volume, “a spirit clings to you. Someone who shared time with you…you and she were not close but you were trapped together. Caged.”
McManus settled in and said, “My ex-wife. She’s been at me for over a week now. Haunting me, like you said.”
Saskia studied the space just above his right shoulder.
“She has no peace,” the psychic said as if Carmella were telling the other woman her mind. “She has nowhere else to go. Spirits usually cling to a place. This one has attached herself to your memories. She feeds on them.” Saskia slurped her lips into her mouth to make the accompanying sound effect.
“I need to send her a message. She wanted me to remember something. I have. Now I need to tell her what I’ve remembered so she’ll go away.”
Saskia said, “I trust that you have already told her what it is she wants to know.”
Saskia quit the table and returned with a green, glass sea ball the size of a volleyball and used to float the nets of Japanese fishing vessels an ocean away. She set the sphere atop a kickstand-like wood perch at the center of the table and slid into her seat.
“Give me your hands.”
“Is that supposed to be a crystal ball?”
Saskia glared at him and said, “I know my trade, and I know the tools of my trade. Sea-forged glass is the most powerful there is. Would you like to communicate with your ex wife now?”
McManus slid his hands to the woman’s. She clenched them and said,
“Look into the green.”
He watched the orb cloud over, not with smoke but with condensation. What had moments ago been transparent was now opaque and impenetrable. Fogged.
“I don’t see anything.”
She squeezed his hands again until they hurt, imploring him to shut up. He continued to study the sea ball.
He half-expected Carmella’s disembodied head to appear, like the crystal balls in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, but what he saw in short order was his apartment. The view was from the ceiling, gazing down on the futon. Records cascaded to the floor, his stereo tipped and fell, and his bedding zipped this way and that as if a giant, invisible, and pissed off toddler had been loosed upon his sheets and pillows.
“Goddammit,” he said.
“Tell her,” Saskia said, “tell her what she wanted to know.”
“Fine,” McManus said. “Carmella, I know where you want to be buried.”
The dervish dance of destruction ceased. Saskia gasped and then convulsed as if by seizure.
He wasn’t sure what was afflicting the woman, but McManus pressed on and said,
“I can contact your new husband. Your current husband, I mean. Let him know the specifics. Everything will be OK.”
Saskia spoke between ragged breaths, “No, no. She says that you must do it.”
“You must be the one to move her body.”
McManus tallied the reasons such a scheme would not be possible. He picked the most salient from the dozen or more that presented themselves.
“She isn’t my problem anymore. This doesn’t need to involve me.”
The image of his apartment within the sea ball receded, and the condensation cleared, giving way again to transparent, emerald-hued glass. Saskia, who was apparently free now from whatever affliction had seized her, slumped in her chair.
“You are not telling me something,” she said. “This spirit is powerful. Vengeful.”
“She visited me,” McManus pointed in the direction of the bar. “During Happy Hour. She sat down and talked to me. She looked OK, you know, for being dead.”
Saskia sat forward. “That is not good for you.”
McManus told her about how Carmella’s every appearance would result in the loss of one of his memories of her, but hauntings, hauntings were free.
Saskia pushed out her bottom lip.
“She is reckless. Stealing someone’s memories will have unintended consequences for her. And as for you, she has no qualms about putting your sanity in danger. She must truly despise you.”
McManus waited for the woman to say more or perhaps contradict the information he had received from Carmella, but Saskia didn’t.
“I thought you were going to help,” McManus said.
“I have done all I can tonight,” she said, “Fifty dollars, please.”
“Hold up. We can’t, I don’t know, exorcise her or some such shit?”
Saskia studied the empty air to his right again, and said, “She’s already decided what it is you must do for her, and she’s committed that request to a Universe that means to enforce that decision. Neither of you will know any rest until you do this thing for her. You can ignore her request at your own peril. That is all.”
He made for the door.
McManus turned; Saskia’s expression had gone again to that stoned, constipated pleading.
“A sole offering sacrifices one but saves two.”
“What was that?”
Saskia shook off whatever force had enthralled her and slid behind the curtain. McManus waited a moment longer just to be sure the psychic was done with him, then he walked home to his ruined apartment.