Mrs. Black’s Withering Glare

Last week I posted “Mr. Black’s Knowing Wink” as a one off #FridayFlash.  There were several comments that wondered after Dolores fate, so I was inspired to continue her story…

Mrs. Black’s Withering Glare
D. Paul Angel
1,000 Words

Dolores sat at the interrogation with her head down in silence. The Police had come in that morning to arrest her for Ableforth’s murder! She had just been starting to go through his office and all of his papers when they burst through her front door. She was all aflutter and protesting her innocence when she saw Mr. Black on the other side of the street. She’d wanted to yell and point him out, but he’d given her one of those smiles again; they just seemed to soothe her. He’d once again signaled her to be silent and she’d followed his advice from that point on.

“Well Dolores, still have nothing to say?” asked Clarance for the umpteenth time. He’d been one of Ableforth’s poker and golfing buddies, and was the county District Attorney. She stayed quiet and avoided his angry eyes. “The longer you say nothing, the worse it looks for you, I’m afraid…”

As his implication lingered, the door opened and a severe, matronly woman walked in. She was wearing an older gray, Victorian dress with an elaborate costume jewel brooch at her neck. Her hair was in a tight bun, and she had deep wrinkles around her mouth. “I am here to represent you Dolores,” she said with a wide smile that showed the origin of her wrinkles. “My husband saw your… trouble this morning and informed me.”

“I must warn you Dolores, an attorney at this stage only makes you look guilty,” Clarance said, ignoring the newcomer.

“You may call me Mrs. Black, and you will address any further questions to me.”

“Think carefully, Dolores,” Clarence continued, still ignoring Mrs. Black completely, “Do you even know this-”

He was interrupted by Mrs. Black loudly hitting the metal table in the center of the room. It was loud enough to reverberate, and Dolores was pretty sure she noticed a dent where Mrs. Black had struck it. “You will address your questions to me,” she said to Clarence.

Clarence rose from his chair and turned to face Mrs. Black for the first time. He had his hand half raised to point at her, and his mouth opened grotesquely large to yell at her, when he was hit by her withering glare. Both actions remained unfinished as he slumped back down, looking away from Mrs. Black.

“Good,” she continued, “Now you will listen to me. You have no case and you know it. Which is why you’re in here bullying a new widow in the back of the Police Station. Did you even bother reading her her rights?”

“I-”

“I didn’t think so.”

“We were-”

“That is no excuse and you know it!”

“Can I finish!?” he shouted, only half rising before sitting down again at her look.

“Yes. You can tell us your theory.”

“It’s open and shut. Dolores poisoned her husband so she could keep the inheritance to herself. She had motive, means, and opportunity.”

“Whose inheritance?”

“They had just come-”

Whose inheritance.”

“Well it was Dolores’.”

“Dolores’s, yes. So. Regardless, of whether Ableforth still lived, or not, she would receive her inheritance?”

“Well of course, but-”

“Would Ableforth have received it if she died prior to it clearing probate?”

“Well… no.”

“And, he would only be entitled to as much of it as she shared, correct?”

“Well, yes, but-”

“So Ableforth had motive to kill her, Right? So, murder weapon?”

“It was a rare poison. I can’t pronounce it, but it kills quickly with little trace.”

“Would a mortician have known of it?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Ableforth did the county’s autopsies, didn’t he?”

When Clarence didn’t answer she asked him again, forcefully, “Well didn’t he?”

“Yes, he helped us out sometimes.”

“So you knew Ableforth then? Tell me. Was he a good man?”

“We played poker every week and golfed a couple times a month…”

“And does that make him a good man?”

“I, uh…”

“Your pause is eloquence enough. I wonder if he spoke of Dolores during your times together?”

Clarence looked everywhere in the room except at Dolores or Mrs. Black. He tugged at his collar, loosening his tie. Dolores noticed the sweat stains under his arms, and was acutely aware of her own sweating; though Mrs. Black seemed wholly unaffected.

“It’s hot in here…” Clarence began before Mrs. Black cut him off, “Yes, that’s what happens when you turn off the air-conditioning. In the South. During the Summer.

“Now, what did Ableforth have to say about his wife?”

“He said she couldn’t keep house worth a shit and she’d be lost without him.”

“Hmmm… so this woman, who according to her husband can’t even take care of housework, would be in a position to know about, and obtain a rare poison you can’t even pronounce? That, to be clear, is your theory?”

“A jury-”

“Will never hear it. The bottle of poison was found in Ableforth’s pocket, he had ordered it and personally received it. It had only his fingerprints on it. Both glasses, in fact, had Ableforth’s fingerprints on them, but Dolores’ fingerprints were only on hers. You have no case.”

This time Clarence did shoot up and thundered at Mrs. Black, “How do you know all that… unless you’re an accomplice?”

“It’s called, ‘Discovery,’ Clarence. You would know that if you’d studied it more in Law School.”

“I scored rather well in Discovery, thank you!” he shot back.

“Yes, with your Professors wife, I believe?”

Dolores was shocked not only by Mrs. Black’s haughty retort, but by how pale Clarence looked as he collapsed back in his chair. Mrs. Black nodded with satisfaction at Clarence and continued, “Well, I’d say Ableforth did himself in while trying to kill his own wife, wouldn’t you Clarence?”

Downcast and defeated, Clarence let them out while muttering disbelieving profanities under his breath. As Dolores and Mrs. Black triumphantly walked down the building’s red brick steps, Dolores found herself really wanting to learn how to smile as Mrs. Black did. Well, that and her masterful glare too.

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Mr. Black’s Knowing Wink

Mr. Black’s Knowing Wink
D. Paul Angel
750 Words

Dolores rushed into the kitchen to pull the roast out. The buzzer on the oven had stuck again, and she had lost track of time polishing the silver for dinner with Ableforth’s boss tonight. She’d asked Ableforth to fix it, but his reply was the same to all of her difficulties, “It’s not like you don’t have the time. I do enough work, at work.”

Dolores lifted the cast-aluminum lid to check the roast and potatoes. The potatoes were a little crisp, and the carrots were rubbery, but at least the roast didn’t feel dry to her poking. Ableforth hated dry roasts as a matter of course, and tonight was already important to him (“I don’t know how to get perfect out of you when you can’t even manage adequate, Dolores, but that’s what I need for tonight,” he’d commanded on his way out). As for the veggies, he’d barely touch his potatoes anyway, and he’d howl if she put even a sliver of carrot on his plate.

She was still setting the table when Ableforth bustled into the house shouting for her. She rubbed some of the last dust off a crystal goblet with her apron before rushing to the foyer. Ableforth hated it when he had to wait for her. Ableforth introduced her to Mr. Black, laughing and nudging the air next to him. “The Mortuary has my name on it, Dolores! You really think I have a Boss? That’s too rich. Mr. Black is what we call Death in the Industry. You’ll believe anything won’t you!?”

He continued on into the dining room, laughing to himself the whole way. It was better than his usual scowls, sarcasm, or drunken anger, but not by much. She almost jumped when she realized there was someone else in the foyer. He was every bit as slender as Ableforth wasn’t, and his formal, Victorian suit looked straight out of one of the Sherlock Holmes movies she watched on PBS when Ableforth had his Poker nights.

“Mr. Black?” she asked quietly. The little man didn’t respond out loud, but gave her a knowing wink as he placed his top hat and thin, black umbrella on the wooden coat rack by the door. Then he took her by the hand and pulled her into the kitchen. He held his finger to his lips to quiet her as he pointed towards Ableforth in the other room. Ableforth had poured a couple glasses of wine, but was pouring a clear liquid out of a small, dark bottle into one of them. The one he then placed on her end of the table. Mr. Black motioned her to continue making up their plates before letting himself into the dining room just as Ableforth came into the kitchen.

“It’s a great day, Dolores!’ Ableforth said, leaning on the counter as she grabbed the plates to take into the dining room. As they turned to leave, she saw Mr. Black switch the glasses of wine before primly taking the chair she had set for him. Ableforth continued without noticing Mr. Black, “The probate attorney called and your Father’s estate is finally settled. The check came this afternoon and it’s already deposited. I’m done here. Done with this town, done with this life, and done with- Well, I’m just done.

“So a toast, Dolores, to a new life,” he finished, holding up his glass and inviting her to toast. She looked over to Mr. Black who gave her a sympathetic smile and encouraged her to drink. She raised her glass with a forced smile and drank deeply as Ableforth drained his glass with a loud gulp. She was watching Mr. Black stand up when she heard Ableforth’s first gasp. She turned and saw his face contort in fear and pain as he clutched at his chest. She rounded the table as he collapsed to the floor, flailing.

She panicked, not knowing what to do and unable to speak. She let herself be moved aside by Mr. Black who, having collected his hat and umbrella, stood over Ableforth. She watched dumbfounded as Mr. Black swiped his umbrella through Ableforth, instantly stilling his convulsions. Mr. Black turned to her again, looking at her with both sympathy and encouragement. He doffed his hat and formally bowed to her before squeezing her hands and smartly walking out.

She sat back down and drained the rest of her wine in a single gulp, before smiling, truly smiling, in as long as she could remember.

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Clowning Around

Clowning Around
D. Paul Angel
800 Words

This story was inspired by a conversation I had with Jon Jefferson a couple weeks ago in the comments to his great #FridayFlash story “Feed the Babies” I hope you enjoy…

~~~

“That’s a very good question son, and, I reckon, you’re old enough to know the truth. Now, this is how I heard it from my own great-great-grand-papa, when I was even younger than you. So imagine if you can…”

A cold, Spring wind washing across the open plain, bending the tall grass down to where their tips whip across the dusty soil. High above, cirrus clouds race across the sky fast enough that the stars only seem to blink as they pass. In a field, miles and miles from even the smallest town, two men walk behind the flittering lights of their lanterns. Their dusty, worn boots heavily stomp down a nearly forgotten path, startling a copperhead into slithering towards a sparse, fallow copse. The pair are wearing tattered jeans, and several layers of shirts that the wind keeps trying to blow open.

“Be a nice night if not for the wind,” Abe says, re-adjusting the shovel on his shoulder, though the dried clumps of clay on its spade makes it look more like a club.

“And if we didn’t get caught up with that Goddamn Carney Boss and his God forsaken deals we’d not be out here at all,” Burl bitterly replies before spitting a wet glop of tobacco onto the crumbling dirt. He shifts his shovel between his shoulders, its spade so clean it reflects some of the lantern light as he continues, “But, no. Nasty wind, nasty night, nasty job. Bah, but I hate the damnable man.”

“We could leave?”

“You really believe that? Or you want to believe that?”

“I-”

“That’s what I thought. Now, shut it. Just find that damned nest.” Burl spits again before crumbling a larger dirt clod with an angry stomp.They continue in silence, each looking on either side of the road, occasionally pushing aside the grass and weeds and delving through the shadows with their lanterns.

“It was by a fence post wasn’t it?” Abe asks sheepishly as Burl stops and glares at him through the dark.

“Yeah. A fence post. That’ll be easy enough. HOW MANY FENCE POSTS CAN THERE BE!?”

Abe doesn’t reply, but looks at the ground instead. After wiping his nose he turns away with a quiet sigh and starts poking around with his shovel again. They continue on for almost an hour, maybe even two, before Abe breaks their silence with a strangled curse.

“Burl. Burl! BURL!”

“I’m right next to you, Abe! What the Hell is– Goddamned it so much!”

Burl holds his lantern just above the spot where Abe is spreading the grass as they shake their heads in disbelief. There, just in front of a fence post so old it’s grayed and splintered, lays a nest of broken eggs. Broken strands of barbed wire, each a different pattern and clipped at different lengths, droop down from the post amongst the empty shells and bright, white shards in the grass.

“We’re too late,” Abe says looking up.

“You think!?” barks Burl between his cussing. “We’re days too late by how hard this goop is, God fucking dammit!”

“Where’d they go Burl?”

Burl doesn’t answer but instead sets his shovel down and begins sweeping the ground with his lantern, stopping when he finds tiny footprints that look like bolded exclamation points in a spot of dried mud. “This way,” Burl says, pointing towards the field.

They hold their lanterns up high, just making out a leg sticking in the air, a few ribbons of rotting flesh still clinging to the bare, bleached bone. Then they notice the grass moving- against the wind. They stand stupefied as dozens of lines appear to be cut in the grass heading towards them on the road. They step back as tiny figures emerge from the grass.

Tiny hands with sharpened nails pull apart the grass letting bald, white heads with fringes of fiery, red hair poke through. Large, crimson noses dully sniff the air.  The creatures smile, showing rows of jagged, malevolent teeth beneath wide swaths of huge, red lips before running towards the transfixed pair.

Abe screams, swinging his shovel at them in panic. One, two, three he hits; killing. But more come. Swarming over him; clawing, biting; their oversize red, bulbous feet adeptly climbing his clothes to attack him from all over.

Burl runs for his shovel, forgotten at the fence post. Hearing Abe’s screams turn to a wet gurgle, he drops the lantern and tries running away down the road. He trips in the dark, hitting the ground with a jolting thump. He shakes his head and is trying to stand up when shadows, darker than the night, begin surging towards him.

“Wow, Dad. So the reason I’m scared of clowns…”

“Is because they’re demon spawn, Son, hatched that night many, many years ago.”

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Just Physics

Just Physics
D. Paul Angel
200 Words

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice…

“I got here as soon as I could, Batman, what’s wrong?”

“I’m glad you’re here Superman, there’s disaster in the kitchenette.”

“You called me back for a problem with the kitchenette?”

“Yes. I warned you not to replace the Batspresso maker with a Keurig.”

“I don’t have time for this, Batman.”

“Flash was arguing with Green Lantern about Star Trek again.”

“I have even less time. Luther’s about to attack the Infinitorium.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter? It could be catastrophic!”

“It’s too late, Superman, they’re already dead.”

“WHAT?”

“They just don’t know it.”

“Then I have to go now!

“Flash was pushing the button to make the coffee stronger when Green Lantern told him that Wesley Crusher would take Kirk in a fight.”

“Get to the point, Batman!”

“Flash pushed the button faster than the Keurig could handle. It brewed a cup of so strong that it collapsed into a black hole..”

“A BLACK HOLE? Here?

“Yes.”

“How do we stop it?”

“Stop it?”

“Yes! How do we fix it?”

“It’s a black hole, there is no fix. Even Super Heroes have to obey the Laws of Physics.”

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NaNoWriMo 2014 – And so it begins…

I am once again diving into National Novel Writing Month! My story is titled, Intersecting the AbyssHere is the synopsis from my NaNoWriMo page:

Two ships meet in the vast, empty abyss between stars.  One is huge, if not massive.  It is a “Millenial Ship,” a massive colony ship travelling from Earth to a new a star system.  It left Earth almost 800 years ago, and it still isn’t even halfway to its destination.  The second ship, while far from small, is a dot compared to the first.  It is less than a decade old, and is a Cruiser.  One of many sent in an attempt to find the Millenial Ship.

There are dark secrets on the Millenial Ship.  Dark enough on the surface, but even darker underneath.  The Cruiser, her crew and her mission seem straightforward.  But is their more to her depths as well?  Were there other cruisers sent as well, or did Comman know the Millenial ship’s trajectory all along?

And then there is the question of psykers.  Both ships have them, but only one officially knows of them.  What role, will they play?  Are they merely just another character?  Or are they really the director?

I am planning on adding an excerpt as well, but for now I am 1,589 words in!

Lucid Dreaming

Lucid Dreaming
D. Paul Angel
666 Words

I knew I was in a dream. Light just doesn’t behave like that in real life. And, how else did I end up in a hospital? Even with my eyes closed I couldn’t miss the distinctive smell. I looked around as best I could, but the light only really showed the floor. I could watch the checkerboard pattern of stark white and anti-septic green pass beneath my bare feet. The ceiling though was pitch black, and everything in between seemed to be a fog of darkness. Like Erebus’ smoking den. The edges of exam tables could sometimes be seen, as could gurney wheels, and bases for IVs; everything else was shrouded in wafting darkness.

The Corridor I was in ended at an abrupt T-intersection. I turned left and came to a pair of doors with wide, institutional windows, the kind with wire mesh embedded inside. I was just about to try the handle when I suddenly saw my dad in the window. It had been years since I’d dreamt about him, and even as I felt my feet stick in fear I began doing the Lucid Dreaming exercises Dr. Munroe had taught me. I closed my eyes and concentrated on taking over the dream and turning my father into a clown.

Ridiculous, after all, isn’t frightening. But it didn’t quite work. My dad wasn’t the buffoon he was supposed to be. The clown makeup only accentuated his angry sneer. The rainbows over his eyes merely highlighted their cold hatred. His suspenders were writhing, desiccated coral snakes, and the flower in his hat had a human eye for its center, moistly staring at me. The belt in his hand was supposed to be gone, but it looked as real as ever, cracked and worn; with tiny speckles of dried blood.

The door opened of its own and I turned to run in a panic. I didn’t know if he was pursuing me or not, I just sprinted the other way. I thought I was passing the main corridor but it wasn’t a T-intersection any longer. Instead the corridor continued on into the darkness. Past was another set of doors, again with windows, and, despite my silent scream; again with my father behind them. I turned back to the extension of the corridor when Dr. Munroe stepped out of the shadow-webbed fog.

“Follow me,” he said in his familiarly comforting, smoker’s voice. I followed his portly form down the hall as the fog seemed to shrink away from him. I started to tell him what was going on but he just doubled his pace and held a finger to his bearded lips silencing me. I kept my peace and just trailed along as fast as I could, letting myself focus only on his bald pate while trying to avoid the nightmare surrounding me.

We quickly came to another T-intersection, but instead of slowing down, he sped up and went through the wall. I stopped just short and banged my hand on it, feeling its solidity. I turned, putting my back to it, and saw my father slowly walking towards me in the center of all three corridors, each with a similar clown outfit, though distinctly unique as well. In a second I had made up my mind and threw myself at the wall as hard as I could.

I stumbled through and found myself alone with Dr. Munroe; floating together in an infinite expanse of the purest white above and darkest black below. As I looked at Dr. Munroe he started to change. He grew and lost his clothes to an enveloping black robe that seemed to be the darkest shade of every color ,mottled into a black darker than black itself could ever be. His clipboard morphed into a tall, well honed scythe, and the skin on his face receded to an ivory skull. His round spectacles were finally absorbed into empty eye sockets that, despite being bone, conveyed utter, knowing finality. I’d woken from Life’s lucid dream.

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Re — The Look

umbridge__s_office_by_feliciacano-d4k0930(The above drawing by Felicia Cano is the best match to my imagination of Umbridge that I have come across)

I would offer that J.K. Rowling’s Dolores Umbridge, of Harry Potter fame, is the best literary villain I have ever encountered.  From her smug condescension to her self-righteous superiority, I cannot think of an antagonist who has been more, well, antagonizing.  A huge part of that is how much depth Rowling gives Umbridge.  It is brutally clear that Umbridge believes herself to not just be right, but wholly, completely, and utterly right without even the tiniest tinge of possibility of being wrong.  Rowling of course does it deftly, bringing you to share our hero’s loathing of the woman without ever actually saying, “Umbridge is a horrible person.”

She doesn’t tell us the kind of person Umbridge is, she shows us.

For me, this is where my writing tends to fall flat.  I find myself in a catch-22 because I find some of these personalities so frustrating that I can’t understand them.  And because I can’t understand them, I can’t create a character to capture it, even when it is the perfect personality for an antagonist.

Hence my exercise Friday.  Truth be told it was hard to write.  I had my favorite beta-reader look over it again, my ex-wife, and while she helped me tighten it up some, I knew I had missed the mark.  In many ways a misogynistic dudebro is both easy and difficult to capture.  Easy, because their reactions are always guided by their bigotry.  Difficult because my exploration of him was both too little and too much.  It was too much in that he came across more of a generic ass, instead of a specifically sexist one.  Too little in that I know the glimpses into his head a but a smidgeon of the darkness that pervades such individuals. (If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is dip a toe or two into the ugly, sexist morass that seethes under the monicker, “#GamerGate.”)

So I think the experiment was successful in that I conveyed who he was, and I now know I have more work to do in order that my readers can satisfactorily hate my villains.