The Corner: Chapter One

I’ve decided to kick the dust off of here and start working on (in addition to everything else) a novel I’d started a couple of years ago and then sort of let languish. I started thinking about it again the other day and I remembered how much I really liked the idea and how I wanted to pick it back up again. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the nature of creative work on the internet and my expectations for it. The more I ponder it the more I realize that the work is the reward, nothing else. While making a living writing stuff remains my goal, for now I just want to have more things out there. I’ve had a mini-explosion of people this past weekend reading SHADOW OF THE PAST and while it made me feel great it also hit home that as it stands right now that’s all that’s out there of mine.

So let’s change that. THE ROBOZOIC AGE is still being worked on (and I’m very pleased with how it’s turning out), but since prose fiction is one man band I decided to keep working on this next novel, called THE CORNER, and publish it serially for free here. THE CORNER isn’t a supernatural or a horror story, but a small-town noir tale of crime and revenge that asks “What happens to a man when he loses everything good in his life and what lengths will he go to try find peace in his broken life?” At this point I’m thinking we’ll see new chapters every week.

So without further ado, THE CORNER

Chapter One

I will always be on the corner, watching my daughter die.

She’d been playing with a friend who lived across the street. I called over to let her know that dinner was almost ready and that I’d come out and see her across the street in a couple of minutes. She was seven and maybe a little too old for such close scrutiny, especially for a quiet street in a small town, but I always thought it was best to err on the side of caution.

I suppose if I really thought that I would’ve gone over to the other side of the street and walked her across. Instead I just stayed on our side of the street, smiling and watching.

It was the tail end of dusk, the colors in the sky were fading to black and everything on our little street was still and calm. Monica came out the Reynolds’ door, saw me and flashed her perfect, gap-toothed smile. If seeing her smile like that didn’t tickle me so much I’d have been able to remind her to look before running.

She was halfway across the street when the car slid around the corner with a roar of a high-powered engine and squeal of tires. She stopped halfway, the sudden noise freezing her in her tracks. The back-end fishtailed and hissed white smoke as it drifted in a lazy arc, and for the briefest of seconds it looked like its careening turn would make it drift right around her.

I will always be there, watching as the tires of the car find traction and snap the front end around so it’s pointed directly at her.

It’s impossible to go from a perfectly still position to a leap ten, maybe fifteen feet, ahead of you but in my most masochistic moments I imagine throwing myself at her, grabbing her hand and pulling her to safety.

Anything instead of just standing there, where everything freezes in time to be replayed in my mind over and over again.

She will always be standing there one second and twirling mid-air in the next. I like to imagine that the scream I hear is tires ripping across pavement and not child-like, terrified and in pain. She is airborne and then hits the pavement with a wet smack, like watermelons colliding at the speed of sound and signaling the end of the world.

The car is there and then it’s gone, growling victoriously and rocketing down the street, the only evidence of its passing tire marks and the smell of the burning rubber like it was some kind of magic trick. One second, you see your daughter, the next: hamburger! Ta-da! For my next trick, I’ll let you live with that for the rest of your life.

One of her shoes came off. A tiny pink shoe is spinning on the pavement and after a couple of hops it lands right in front of me. With the fading burning rubber smell and howl of the engine fading into the sunset, I just stood there, watching her and the pavement around her get blacker and wetter.

Like the flick of a switch someone turns the world back on. I felt the shake in my legs before I knew what was happening to me and then I dropped, first to my knees and then forward onto my elbows. I can’t even remember the sound that came from me. It must have been loud, because both Eric Reynolds from across the street and my wife Helen came out to see what the racket was about.

I screamed because my trembling, numbing body knew it was the end of everything and my brain didn’t want to believe it. It was already replaying every detail, trying to find flaws in the performance, looking for clues that this was an elaborate hoax and that the stifling vacuum in my chest could be filled again.

By the time my breath was gone and I’d rolled over onto my side Helen realized what had happened and began her own personal journey into this new, horrible world. She grabbed my shirt and shook me, screaming. “What did you do? What did you do?”

I didn’t have an answer, because I didn’t do anything.

When the police had arrived I‘d relearned how to communicate. I tried to tell them everything I could and that amounted to a whole lot of nothing. No, I did not know what kind of car it was. I did not know what color it was. I did not get a license plate. “How?” Helen screamed at me, wrapped in a blanket and held in place by a nervous deputy. “How could you not know? How could you not know anything?”

My baby-faced local cop, who couldn’t turn around and look at what was my daughter without turning green, made dubious faces as if I were trying to hide something. What was there to hide that wasn’t lying in the street, still and wet.

Nothing I could say would bring her back and nothing could make them understand that she had been all that mattered. My brain just made everything else go away so it could replay it for me over and over again.

It became one of those sad local news stories that’s teased during primetime for you to get worked up about while you’re watching Dancing with the Stars. “Collier County girl killed in hit and run, the details at 11.”

Four other people on our street described three different cars. A reward was put out for information but there were no takers. No remorseful super-speedway drivers claiming responsibility. There was just John Marshall, our Good Police Chief, on the TV alternately pleading for information and condemning the culprits for their actions. “They will face God’s judgment, one way or another,” he said with a perpetually furrowed and sweaty brow, his broad waist brimming with righteous indignation and country-bred incompetence.

“One way or another” was apparently code for “I have no leads and I don’t know what to do aside from invoke the imaginary sky-person. I will forget about this once the news cameras go away.” I can understand wanting to use shorthand. That’s kind of a mouthful and could be upsetting to folks in certain circles.

I thought after a couple of months it’d lessen. I didn’t expect to ever forget, but maybe the murder in my head would eventually be less technicolor. No matter what happened, there it was in my mind. I’d think I was at work or trying to sleep or getting drunk but I’d really be on the corner, watching her die. Even when Helen was yelling at me, which was the only way she could talk to me afterwards, that’s where I’d be.

I wasn’t that surprised when she wasn’t there when I came back from work one night. Or the next morning when I woke up or the next day or the day after. Eventually I sensed a trend. Sure enough, a couple of days later all her stuff was gone. Not that I minded, because with the corner replaying in my head I found I honestly couldn’t give a shit about a single thing. Life had become one of those moving airport sidewalks and I was just too lazy to get off.

Why do anything when I could just stand there and watch Monica die?

I can’t blame Helen for leaving, because in my own head I was gone. I couldn’t be pulled from my misery and be told everything happens for a reason and that it was all going to work out later. I didn’t care about things working out. Everything had already been worked out, but then some inconsiderate prick went and ran it over. Why try again when you already had everything right and you can’t ever put it back together?

In the long year after burying my daughter and Helen walking out I would sit and try to find some way to put things back differently. Sitting in the dark and embracing being on the Corner, I saw what I needed to do. Nothing could be the same, but maybe I could find a way to make things bearable. Then one night I saw how it all fit together, and I realized that I could get to a place where the Corner was a little more bearable. All I had to do was prepare give up everything I had left and figure out how many people I’d have to kill. Especially since one of them was probably me.

Chapter Two

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About The Author

Thacher Cleveland

Thacher E. Cleveland is a contributing writer & columnist for PanelsOnPages.com, co-host of the Super-Fly Comics & Games PodCast, novelist & comic creator. Originally from New Jersey and previously from Yellow Springs, Ohio, he currently lives in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@demonweasel), tumblr, his personal website and even on Google+

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10 2011

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