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Notes from the Labyrinth
Unobtainium and Dragons' Bones
International embarass yourself as an artist day 
24th-Feb-2006 10:30 pm
writing: octopus
I accept matociquala's dare.

Beware the Man Who Waits

A low, dim, smoky room with a scarred and splintering bar, six ripped, oozing turquoise stools, and eight dirty formica tables with mismatched chairs, the Black Dog wasn't much to look at, but the yellow-eyed man in the long, black coat didn't seem to mind. He sat down at the nearest of the two vacant stools and waited, resting his black leather hands palms down on the bar. His face was expressionless and as lifeless as a mask.

The bartender, a short, pudgy, wide-faced man somewhere beyond his fortieth birthday, waddled over and grunted at him.

"No, thank you," the yellow-eyed man said in a clear, precise voice. "I am waiting for something."

The bartender, who had years ago ceased to hear the strange things he was told, grunted again and waddled down to the other end of the bar.

"Who ya waitin' for?" a thick, hoarse voice inquired at the yellow-eyed man's elbow. "Mebbe I know 'em." He turned and discovered that the old man next to him had emerged from his glass to take a bleary-eyed interest in things.

"I don't know," the yellow-eyed man said politely. "I'll see soon."

The old man shrugged. "Okay. I don't think the Dog is much of a place to be meetin' a lady, no matter what kind of a bitch she may be--" He laughed, wheezing like an old and neglected set of bagpipes. Getting no encouragement from the pale mask, he shrugged again. "But that's your business, anyway." He returned to a moody contemplation of the inch of flat beer left in his glass.

The yellow-eyed man turned back around, apparently inspecting the wavering and dusty reflections of the bottles of Wild Turkey in the mirror behind the bar, and waited.

Twice more, the bartender waddled down to grunt his question, and twice more, the yellow-eyed man said in his diamond-edged voice, "No, thank you. I am waiting for something." The bartender didn't press him. The yellow-eyed man was neither loud nor violent; he was merely taking up one unneeded stool. There seemed no reason to bother him.

He continued to sit, wearing his polite mask with his hands palms down on the bar, waiting.

At nine-thirteen, two chairs scraped back. A man's voice said hoarsely, "I'll kill you! Swear to God I will!"

Into the abrupt, watchful silence that filled the Black Dog, seeping under the tables and into the half-empty glasses, a girl cried shrilly, "No, Ronnie!"

The yellow-eyed man swiveled around, along with the four other men seated at the bar. The bartender looked up, his expression avid.

Two bull-like young men were glaring at each other across one of the dirty formica tables, each brandishing a switchblade as a sixth finger. The girl who had cried out, an unnatural blonde wearing too much make-up on her china doll face and a pair of tawdry fake-diamond earrings, had already backed away from the table, her hands across her mouth. Other people were scrambling to get out of the way, leaving their drinks where they stood.

"Well, Ronnie?" the darker of the two young men sneered. "Come ahead and kill me."

Ronnie snarled, a low, wordless sound, and charged, throwing the table to one side. It landed leaning drunkenly against the wall, putting another dent in the fake-wood panelling.

The fight was over as quickly as it had begun. The darker man stepped to one side and brought his knife down in a careless, awkward sweep. Ronnie made a high, screaming noise and fell. His switchblade clattered off into the shadows beneath the nearest table like a frightened cat. Ronnie's fingers scrabbled desperately at the floor, as if he were sliding over a high cliff and clutching at pebbles and blades of grass.

"Ronnie!" the girl gasped, high and thin.

The darker young man stepped back, his eyes flicking from the handle of his knife jutting from Ronnie's black leather jacket to the circle of pale mask-like faces around him. "I didn't mean to," he whined, licking his lips nervously. "He came at me so fast there wasn't nothin' else I could do. It was in self-defense, man!" He broke suddenly for the door. Silently, they watched him slam through the door, and, silently, they listened to his pounding footsteps fade toward town.

At the bar, the yellow-eyed man had stiffened, his mask slipping just slightly around the eyes, letting a hungry gleam shine through. "There," he said, so softly that the old man next to him almost didn't believe he'd said a word.

The yellow-eyed man jerked to his feet and started toward the man grasping at the floor. "Step aside," he said authoritatively. "I know what to do."

"A doctor," someone whispered, making way, and others took it up. "A doctor, a doctor." A path was cleared for him.

Somehow, the doll-faced girl made it to his side. "You'll help him, won't you, Mister?" she pleaded in a thin, childish voice, clutching at his arm. "You'll help Ronnie?"

Gently, he detached her blood-nailed hands from his sleeve. "The only way I know how," he told her and knelt.

It seemed that his crow-colored coat flapped up around them, for no one saw (at least, no one would admit to seeing) what happened. When the yellow-eyed man stood up again, Ronnie was lying limply, the clutching hands now still.

"Ronnie!" the girl wailed, dropping to her knees. She burst out with an awkward, hiccoughing scream and began to cry in choking sobs. The yellow-eyed man, clothed in shadow, walked unconcernedly toward the door, the crowd parting before him, faces firmly pointed at the floor, but eyes nervously flicking looks at the hem of his coat.

On his way out, the yellow-eyed man, eyes flaming in the chalk-pale mask, stopped by the old man at the bar.

"That's what I was waiting for," he said, putting a five dollar bill on the bar, and left, vanishing through the door as if he had never been there at all.

The old man listened until he could no longer hear the yellow-eyed man's hollow footsteps through the girl's harsh weeping, then looked hastily back at the five dollar bill.

Lincoln stared sternly past him, telling no secrets.

I got a very nice rejection letter from Algis Budrys on this story in 1993. And, like Bear says about hers, I was proud of this story in 1993. I believed in this story. It was certainly the closest I'd come to writing something that behaved like a story instead of a macrocosmic run-on sentence.

I look at it now, and I see what I couldn't see thirteen years ago: the floridity of the language, the overabundance of descriptors and the underabundance of plot. (You can see why my fondness for Lovecraft borders on the irrational.) Also, dear sweet barking Jesus, the imagery. The strained, lame, bludgeoned to death with a hammer imagery. Clearly, I learned how to do imagery from reading The Scarlet Letter in high school English.

But when I wrote it, it was the best I could do; I labored over every one of those excessive adjectives. I wrote my damn heart out. Which is what I'm still doing, like the song says: Get behind the mule and plow.

And it is heartening, to look back and see what the state of the art was in 1993. It's like being able to watch evolution under glass. Our hominid ancestors would be embarrassing company at, say, the Inaugural Ball, but hot damn they're a clever bunch of primates.

I salute my former self for swinging for the bleachers.
25th-Feb-2006 05:03 am (UTC)
Reach, grasp, etc.

Sometimes it's good to remember we have improved before and will improve again.
25th-Feb-2006 05:46 am (UTC) - Heh...
...and you're already being haunted by the yellow-eyed thing. That's so interesting... I found a conceit like that - I'm still using it many many years later - and it doesn't feel like it's been part of me for that long.

25th-Feb-2006 05:59 am (UTC) - Re: Heh...
My characters never ever go away--my writing gets better, thank G-d, but characters I created when I was 11 are still with me. I get more characters, but the old ones are still here. Just...different, now. More realised. I'm going to see what old stuff I can find.
25th-Feb-2006 05:18 pm (UTC) - Re: Heh...
All three of our current cats have yellow eyes.

Coincidence ... or something more?

25th-Feb-2006 05:47 pm (UTC) - Re: Heh...
Yikes - you had to go and get the evil felines involved, didncha! It's a true haunting now...

(Deleted comment)
25th-Feb-2006 05:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, well, I didn't have to do it, either.
26th-Feb-2006 11:25 am (UTC)
Oh my.


*waves* I've been meaning to friend you for some time, because it seems like I frequently hitch a ride on a pointer from Bear, but what can I say? I'm lame. I don't even do it *right after* Boskone, but a whole week after Boskone. So that's me.
27th-Feb-2006 02:10 am (UTC)
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