Smashing Pumpkins – Opening Scene

(Being hard at work on getting my book finished I haven’t written a short story this week.  I feel moderately bad, but under the circumstances sacrifices must be made.  My life will be different next week.  Until then help yourself to bit of my main character.)

 

“This will go so much smoother if you will all just get in a line.”  Tammy’s voice rose higher with each word, a useless attempt to verbally control the throng of adults groping over her desk like zombies in search of a meal.  

Samson tried not to chuckle as he thumbed through the stack of papers marked for him.  Tammy’s desk was placed fully across the main path to Principal Brandt’s office, the door being in a direct line with her chair.  Anyone needing to speak with the Principal had to deal with Tammy first.  Like it or not though, the only order in force this morning was that of alpha versus everything that wasn’t alpha, excluding the scavengers drifting around the outer edges looking for their shot, and secretaries who lacked enough self-assurance to enforce order in an excited situation.

As if to prove his point, a narrow, pale arm covered in a three quarter length black knit and surrounded by four wide, silver bangles, snaked its way between himself and the other third grade teacher, Mrs. Chang, and snatched one of the thinner stacks off the top of Tammy’s faux wooden desk.  From the edge of his vision, he could see the platinum blond head of Alison Kanger, one of two seventh grade math teachers, retreat to the south wall with her prize.  Ghost white skin and large, round eyes with irises the color of drying earth clay, Alison was a startling apparition in the fluorescent illumination of the school’s main office.  More than once in his first three weeks here it had amused him to think she would be a heart stopping shock on a dark, county road in the dead of night.  High beams or low wouldn’t make a difference.  If Alison Kanger jumped in front of his car he would scream like a school girl and jerk the wheel.  

Using her middle finger to push her glasses further up the bridge of her nose, Tammy scowled at the group, her round, flushed cheeks bulging outward like a chipmunk.

“Is anyone even listening to me?”  

Noting the way the small muscles around her eyes were tightening Samson looked directly at her and smiled, showing just the bottoms of his upper teeth.  Tammy’s pupils expanded instantly and she smiled back, her teeth fully exposed.  Quickly he looked back down at the papers in his hands. 

“Not really,” Alison stated, head bowed over her papers.  The fluffy, overly large bump she teased into the front of her hair translated into the pillar of a crown in the shadow she cast on the pastel yellow wall behind her.  Her angle in the light coupled with her head down posture gave her shadow a grotesque hump on its back.

“Animals, all of you.”  Straining to cross her arms over her chest Tammy huffed deeply and used her feet to push off from her desk, propelling her office chair backwards, away from them all.  A slight turn at the end gave everyone a side view of the long, brown tresses she refused to trim, the split ends appearing gray and unhealthy as they floated through the air a mere two inches from the floor.

Seeing all his pages were in order Samson went through them a second time, not really looking now as he watched Alison from the corner of his eyes.  The way she was licking her finger before turning every third page was maddening, like listening to someone scrape their nails over an old, slate chalkboard.  The small gap between her top and bottom teeth, clearly the result of a mild overbite, was filled with the tip of her tongue waiting for its next opportunity to wet the middle finger of her right hand.  Near the bottom of the stack she froze for a second, her eyes widening and a calculated smile spread over her entire face.  It vanished so quickly that had he not been watching he would have missed it completely.

Straightening up he began to make his way out of the office.  At six feet on the nose, he was taller than most of them and used that difference to his advantage. Careful to not step on Mrs. Chang’s foot, he dropped one shoulder and slid between her and Mr. McDonald, the Middle School Phys Ed teacher.  McDonald grunted as Samson’s pristine blue button down brushed his arm.

“Mmpf.  Football players.”

A guilty smile flashed across his face.  He had never been a football player or into any sports at all.  His muscular build was from the hours spent at home doing floor exercises while studying his suspects on the plasma.  He never went to a gym.  

“Goodbye Samson!”  Tammy’s voice sing songed over the heads of the teachers.

Raising a hand in acknowledgment he headed into the hall toward the Elementary wing. He had twenty minutes to get himself together before the kids started pouring through the doors.

“Dream on, sister.”  

Irritated by the snarky tone, Samson paused and thought about going back to confront Alison about her assuming attitude.  It would be a great start to his day, but it would undoubtedly give Tammy the wrong idea.  She was nice and all, but she was also a toad. Every time he looked at the squat secretary with her four feet of dead hair, his mind drew a picture of a jelly-filled amphibian with giant glasses riding on a shaggy lily pad.  Naw, let Tammy deal with Alison on her own.

The school housed kindergarten through high school, each part joined to the next by a single set of heavy, metal, double doors.   Pushing his way out of the middle school, Samson let the big doors bang shut hard behind him and walked to his classroom near the end of the hall. Cardboard cutouts of pumpkins, scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns were taped to the walls above the coat racks and JOC banners were tacked over every classroom door.  Closer to the floors, cats, ghosts, spiders and colorful fall leaves had been pasted.  The overall impression was an entire hallway of Halloween.  Welcome to October.

 

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Snippet #15

Time slowed to a crawl as the bus dug into the deep snow on the curb.  Unconsciously, Shelly placed a hand over her heart and held her breath, feeling the back wheels of the great machine slide sideways and grind against the raised edge of the sidewalk.  After a few seconds, the tires caught.  Ignoring the smaller vehicles, the city bus clawed its way into the street.

Pressing her hand tighter to her chest, trying to calm her rapid heartbeat through her gray, winter coat, Shelly glanced nervously around her, trying to see if she was the only worried passenger.  Across the aisle, sitting stiffly in her seat and gripping tightly to her shopping bag, sat a small elderly lady with an old, green knit hat and wide eyes.  As if feeling Shelly’s eyes on her, the woman turned her head and met her inquiring stare.  Nervous smiles tightened their mouths for just a moment.

Snippet #12

“You need to see the parade.  It’s amazing!”  Her face lit up with excitement, her round cheeks positively bulging with a happy smile.

“Yeah, it looks like it’s a lot of fun.”  I smiled too, adding my enthusiasm to the conversation.  George and Sera smiled back from across the table, their elbows resting on the formica.

“You wouldn’t know, you’ve never seen it.”  Her face went blank, her dark eyes dropping to her plate where she began to push at her half eaten hashbrowns soaking in ketchup.

“Huh?”  My smile scratched to a halt and I stared at her, surprised.

“Oh, you’ll say you’ll say you have, but you haven’t.”  She waved a meaty hand through the air at me, dismissing anything that might come out of my mouth next.

From the edges of my shocked vision I watched George and Sera glance at each other, their faces going slack as the happy conversation was knocked out of them.  George lifted an enquiring eyebrow.  Sera made a slight shrugging motion and picked up her own fork to poke carefully at her pancakes.  In two small sentences, the impromptu breakfast had become a train wreck.

Snippet #11

Garret froze in the fake leather seat, his left hand plastering itself to the upholstery as if it were glued.  His heart smashed wildly against his ribcage, beating itself senseless while the rest of the body was immobilized in terror.

 

LOOK UP

 

The instruction flashed rapidly on the screen in front of him, the color of the letters changing from white to yellow, the orange followed by red.  A simple prompt from the mechanical marvel he had been burning to touch.  Feed a dollar into the slot and pull the handle.  Watch the reels spin.  It was just too easy to pass up.  

 

LOOK UP

 

They had walked by the open doors countless times, always cracking jokes about the poor suckers inside, going broke and getting too old to move off the chairs. Jokes!  For God’s sakes, they were just jokes!

 

LOOK UP

 

Beside him, William sat slumped in his own chair, his head lolling awkwardly toward Garret.  Where his eyes had been, two charred cavities remained, thick, yellowish fluid spilling over and down his slackened cheeks.  

 

LOOK UP

 

Garret’s fourteen year old brain refused to make a decision.  He shouldn’t be here.  Every muscle strained in place with indecision.  Run!  But if he ran he would be leaving William behind.

 

William is dead.

 

LOOK UP

 

He shouldn’t be here.  He was just fourteen.  He should be home playing Halo or something, not here trying to get a cheap thrill from a slot machine.  He needed to get off the chair and run as fast as he could.

 

LOOK UP

 

No.  

 

William had followed the instruction.

Snippet #10

Wait, what!

“Excuse me?”

“I’m just saying,” Jen continued doggedly, “That if you ever sleep with my brother, it’s over.  We’re done.”

Inhaling deeply through her nostrils, she looked around the room for a few seconds, letting herself process this new and, very late to the party, facet of Jen’s personality.  That annoyingly correct, inner voice was screaming I told you so.  The move had been too flawless.  Even their furniture had gotten along.  Her red plaid couch had combined with that hideous, green, recliner much better than she had anticipated.  Both of them had looked at the combo with surprise.  Then they laughed until tears ran down their faces, discovering they were each prepared to verbally crap on each other’s style choices.

And now?

Setting her cup down on the so-last-decade coffee table, she stood and picked up her sandwich plate to take it to the sink.  Her parents were night owls, they would still be awake at ten thirty.  She could feel Jen’s eyes burning into her back as she left the room.

“Alyssa?  Where are you going?”

Maliciously she jangled her keys, making a bit of a production out of gathering her jacket and bag.  On impulse she turned to face the kitchen doorway, knowing Jen would be standing in it.

“Look, it’s been great and all but, really, I’m not prepared to have someone play judge and jury over my past and make me feel bad about stuff all over again.”  Her stomach lurched a little as Jen went pale, sensing her intent.  She had been so cute!  That bobbed red hair that swooped a little across her forehead was so damn attractive.

“Jesus Al, it’s not even that serious.”

“Not that serious?”  She locked onto Jen’s eyes, mentally drawing crosshairs on them.  “That particular expression is used abusively by people who don’t want to take responsibility for what they just did!”  Grabbing the doorknob, she wrenched it open and felt cool, fresh, night air pouring in.

Snippet #9

The sound of metal scraping on metal made Gloria stomp on the brake and yank her head around.  The front bumper of her red Corolla was firmly pressed against the powder blue door of the neighboring car.  Crap!  Shifting into drive she pulled forward again into the parking spot and eyed the damage to the small, two door beside her.

It looked like an older model with some rust along the bottom of the doors.  Without much straining she could see a crack running the full length of the windshield.  The scrape she had made was a freshly gleaming, silver, eye-sore in the early morning sun.

If a tree falls in the the woods and there is no one to hear it…

If a woman scrapes a car in a parking lot and there is no one to see it…

No heads bobbed along the lanes or stared at her from the seats of the surrounding vehicles.  From the looks of things, she was alone in the parking lot.  She could just leave if she wanted to.  She could back out and drive away, pretend she didn’t know a thing about it.

Judging her from the passenger seat was her two grocery bags, free range eggs and whole wheat bread in one and a few organic, produce items in the other.  The earlier debate she’d had with herself over whether she should just eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or go to the grocery store seemed a long way in the past right then.

The sound of a door opening beside her jerked her head upright.  Heart pounding, she turned to look, catching the sight in her sideview, of a man loading the trunk of the blue car.  Now or never.

Opening the door she swung her feet out and tried to stand.  Her arms flailed forward for a second as she swung like an infant against the seat belt.  Feeling idiotic, she pulled herself back inside and released the belt.  Free of all restraint, she exited the car, impulsively sliding her purse straps over her shoulder.  It was only three steps to the trunk and she was beside the man.

Then she was past him!

Calmly she walked back into the store and bought a block of butter, chatting casually with the same clerk that had rang up her previous purchases.  She even stopped to buy a lottery ticket from the vending machine.

Back in the parking lot, the spot beside her Corolla was empty.