Sunday, 25 March 2012
Thursday, 22 March 2012
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Monday, 19 March 2012
Sunday, 18 March 2012
Saturday, 17 March 2012
Victor’s pulse was turbocharged. He froze. The acid rose. He fought the urge to vomit. He reached for his fresh water.
“Sorry?” said the voice.
“I KNOW YOU!”
Victor turned his head to look over at Hunter.
“I’m sorry, I think you’re mistaken,” said the man, who was in the process of sitting down at the table near Hunter’s.
“Uh-uh,” said Hunter. “’Bout two years ago. Flat tyre. Just off the I-35.”
The man looked startled.
“How is your pretty wife, by the way?”
The man got up and walked towards the door. Marina crossed his path, looking apologetic. The man started running. He made for the door and ran into the car park.
Hunter laughed and shovelled eggs into his cavernous, scruffily whiskered mouth.
Perhaps that man suffered more than I did, thought Victor. Hell, I wonder what Hunter did to him? To his wife? Christ.
Outside, the man who just left was busy getting into his car. He managed to start it and drive away. Fast.
Victor tried to sit still. All the shock had drained him and his system was shot. He was thinking again of what happened on the long country lane. Just him and Hunter. Hunter intimidating him into accepting help. His own kind of help, designed to cause fear. The help that causes you to hand over two hundred and fifty dollars because you’re desperate. The smile, but not with the eyes; the grimace delivered while the hand wields a tyre iron, gripped by clenched rough digits powered by bolstered sinew. The casual conversation that makes you feel he’s the only other person in the world at that moment: your ticket to survival. The threat to walk to the truck and drive away. The reminder that theft of services is theft: seventy dollars won’t get you out of this mess you’re in. Who else is gonna help you, boy? Who can you call out here? Got any signal on that phone? The trip to the ATM. The polite “thank you” when you hand the money over. Money gone. A payment that means you’d better not have any other emergencies this month.
Hunter’s phone rang.
He was in full flow. Another friend of his – if he had any true friends.
Victor, feeling sure Hunter wouldn’t notice him, got up and walked to the counter. He handed Marina a twenty dollar bill and told her to keep the change.
The door opened. A state trooper walked in.
“Anyone own a tow truck here?”
Hunter broke off his conversation and turned around. “Yeah, me. Why?”
“Parking violation and expired tags,” said the trooper. “Get it moved and get those tags renewed or I’ll issue you with a fine for both.”
“Good morning, Mr. Somerset,” said Marina.
“Good morning to you, ma’am,” said the trooper. “And please – call me Austin.”
“OK, Austin,” said Marina.
They both smiled.
“Usual?” said Marina.
Friday, 16 March 2012
“Sorry!” said Marina. “I think I broke the glass there.”
He was breathing heavily. Panic attack? He’d never had one but had heard what they were supposed to be like.
He looked down at the glass that Marina had set down on the table just a bit too hard. There was a crack in it. Water started to leak out and trickle onto the table.
“I’ll get you another one,” she said. “Just gonna leave that there for a moment. I’ll come back with a bin to put it in.”
Marina walked off.
The bathroom door at the back of the diner started to open. Hunter started to walk out.
Victor’s heart pounded again. He looked for something to distract himself. Something to make him invisible to Hunter. He reached for a discarded copy of USA Today on the window ledge, opened it up, spread out the pages, clutching them as if to stretch them further and create a shield, and pretended to read.
He could feel Hunter walk past. Feel the breeze. The dread.
His eye caught the splintered glass again. He saw Hunter’s face in the water and glass, gaining on him.
Two sharp raps.
Victor’s backside cleared the seat.
The door opened. The rain bounced off every surface and sounded like a rolling drum solo - every tom and cymbal in action.
“Jeez, boy! You’re out in the middle o’ freakin’ nowhere, huh? Damn!”
He got into the cab and sat down. He shut the door. The drum solo was muffled again.
Victor looked over at him. He was massive – probably six-four and at least two hundred and eighty, with a lot of muscle. Dishevelled, too: off-white baseball cap full of oil stains, ripped lumberjack shirt, frayed jeans. He turned to look at the fresh-faced Victor, slim and shaky. Victor looked away. Looked ahead.
“So. You broke down, huh?”
Victor swallowed. “Yeah.”
“Damn! Well, I have a tow truck there. I can come round and pull you all the way to a garage. Or all the way home. Up to you.”
“Oh, a garage, please.”
“You sure, boy?”
Victor nodded. “Yes please, sir. Thank you.”
“OK!” said Hunter. “Now, just you wait here.”
Hunter opened the door. He got out of the cab. He shut the door behind him.
Victor exhaled. What was the best option? Stay here and wait, as told? Or run?
He then tried to rationalize it. His truck had broken down. A man had pulled up behind him, in a tow truck. He had then offered to help. That’s all.
Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling of complete fear. He looked in his rear view mirror and could see the man getting back into his truck.
As soon as he saw the man close the door, Victor tried the ignition again. And again. Both times: nothing.
A hand on his shoulder.
Victor’s knees shot up and hit the underside of the table.
“Here’s your water,” said Marina.
Victor looked up from the paper. “Hmm?”
“Your water. There you are. And I brought you another coffee.”
“Oh, thank you so much.”
“You’re looking a little better now,” she said. “Oh, that’s yesterday’s paper. Do you want today’s? I think Mr Hunter has it on his table. I could-“
“No, no, that’s fine, there’s something I want to read in this,” said Victor. “Yes, I do feel a bit better, thanks.”
“OK,” said Marina. “I’m glad to hear it. Well, enjoy the coffee. And the water.”
Marina walked away, back to the counter.
Victor inhaled deeply.
“HEY, DON’T I KNOW YOU FROM SOMEWHERE?”
Thursday, 15 March 2012
Great! Victor had thought. Someone who can help. It was a large truck. Looked like a tow truck.
In the five minutes between the spluttering and the tow truck pulling up behind him, his own truck had run to a halt. He had managed to steer it on to the side of the road, although the rear jutted out a bit. Thankfully, no cars had passed in that five minutes – but that started Victor worrying whether anyone would see him parked there and help him. He couldn’t get a signal on his phone and there seemed to be no houses in the distance. He felt isolated. But not when the truck pulled up.
The rain was so heavy that day, too. Victor recalled it now, how violent the outsized drops were as they battered the windshield, and unclear the view of the shadowy figure approaching him was as he strained to see the reflection in the waterfall flowing down the wing mirror. But there was something about the way he approached that chilled Victor. His spine seized - a physical reaction he couldn’t control, like when he was a kid and he saw his first horror film - and he had to shuffle to free himself from the pain. He shivered. As the figure approached, he tried turning the key again. This time, the starter motor didn’t make a sound.
The chair scraped and Victor jolted from his thoughts, almost jumping out of his chair. He looked around for the source of the sound. It was Hunter, getting up from his seat.
“Your breakfast is ready, sir,” said Marina.
“Gee, honey! Just put it on there. I’ll be right back,” said Hunter.
Victor watched as Hunter walked towards the restroom door at the back of the diner. As he did so, he could see the heavy rain again and feel his heart pounding, racing faster and thumping against his breastbone. He started sweating. Throat dry, he reached for his coffee and spilled it on his hand. “Aargh!”
Marina came over immediately. “Are you OK, sir?”
“Oh, yes. Pardon me, I just spilled my coffee on my hand.”
“Oh, my! Are you all right?”
“Yes, thank you, ma’am. It’s not even that hot. It just startled me, that’s all.”
Marina looked at Victor. She thought he was the palest person she had ever seen.
“Are you sure you’re OK? You look like you’ve got a fever.”
Victor chuckled. “I think I may have a cold starting,” he said. “Shame, on my day off. Oh well.”
“Do you want another coffee?”
“Oh, yes, please. And could I get a glass of water?”
Victor tried to bring the coffee cup to his mouth. It was shaking in his hand but he managed to get it to his lips without spilling any more. He drank the rest of the cup like he was enjoying a glass of fresh cool water after a long run. He regretted it, because it caused his heartburn to start. He could feel the acid rising, touching his throat. His heartbeat was even faster now.
He tried to think of something else but that something else wasn’t forthcoming. He was stuck fast in his cab, three weeks ago, on a remote lane, the rain teeming, desolate, the man approaching, a fractured image in liquid pixels looming in his mirror, walking behind the truck bed, walking towards the passenger door, footsteps closer, advancing –
The glass smashed.
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
“Hello? Can I help you?” he said. He had answered the call at the same volume as the ringtone. Victor Vauxhall feared for the caller’s hearing.
Marina, coffee pot in hand, walked over to Victor’s table.
“More coffee, sir?”
Victor looked up.
“Oh yeah, thanks, ma’am.”
Marina poured coffee into Victor’s cup.
“There you go, sir,” she said.
“Why, thank you.”
Marina smiled and made to walk to another table.
“’Scuse me,” said Victor.
“Do you know that guy over there?”
Victor looked over at Hunter. Marina looked with him. Hunter was busy chatting away on his phone, laughing, banging the table with his fist and rattling the cutlery. Even some of the regulars were looking.
“Sure,” said Marina. “That’s Hillman Hunter.”
Victor turned his head back to face the opposite side of his table. He thought for a moment.
“What line of work’s he in?”
“He drives a tow truck,” said Marina. “Unfortunately.”
“There anything else I can get you?”
Victor was still thinking. “Hmm?”
“Oh, sorry, no. No thanks. Coffee’s fine, thank you very much. The eggs were good, too.”
“My pleasure,” said Marina. “Why do you ask about Hillman Hunter?”
“Oh,” said Victor. “I just recognized him, that was all. Probably saw him at a gas station or something. He stands out!”
Marina laughed. She walked to the next table, clutching the handle of the coffee pot.
Gas station? thought Victor. No. I recognize him now. And I hope he doesn’t recognize me.
Hunter was still laughing and slapping the table. Victor could overhear bits of his conversation. Well, not so much overhear them; he might as well have been sitting next to him.
Victor recalled being at the side of the road a few weeks ago. He was on his way home. He had finished his last appointment and it had been particularly difficult all round: a company owner, set in his ways and with an impoverished management style; an assistant eager to curry favour with his boss and appear to visiting salespeople that he knew what he was doing; heat and humidity. Amid the stifling conditions, the assistant’s posturing and the boss’s reluctance, he had driven home the advantages of their roofing shingle and business relationship over the competitors’ product and service. One meagre order later, he was out in the car park, in the cab of his clean truck and trying to stop his trousers from sticking to the seat. He had turned the air conditioning up to MAX and pulled out of the car park. No point in hanging around. The owner might run out to cancel the order!
He had got into his truck at just the right time, because it started raining as soon as he had started the truck. He went through several miles of country roads without any problem but about ten miles later, the truck had started to splutter. At this point, the rain was heavy and sounded “like a cow pissing on a flat rock”, as he remembered his grandfather saying.
Five minutes later, with no sign of the rain stopping, the truck had pulled up behind him.
Tuesday, 13 March 2012
I haven't written a short story for a long time. Tonight, I started writing one. Here it is, in several parts.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
The country station whispered gentle songbird vocals through the small speaker behind the counter. Pleasant for the diners, but Marina Morris couldn’t take any more. Her fellow waiting staff would hum or sing along when they were wiping the tables and serving customers but she remained unmoved, concentrating so much that she would almost wipe the veneer off the table. She couldn’t wait to remove the garish gingham apron the boss had issued them with as uniform, and go to her afternoon class. Still, as mornings at Chet’s Diner went, it was all right. No customers had annoyed her and the tips had been quite generous – especially from the older couple from Tennessee visiting their grandchildren.
A huge roar soon stopped her from feeling almost happy. She recognized the rumbling and hissing only too well. And the music, just about audible even over that engine. The Eagles? Lynyrd Skynyrd? It all sounded the same to her. It was all he ever listened to. She now had country through one channel and country-influenced rock through the other.
At least he always parked around the corner now, since the boss had finally had the courage to ask him to stop blocking all the light out of the diner with his cab up against the window.
He walked in.
“Good morning, Mr Hunter.”
“Haha!” he laughed. “Call me Hillman!”
“Good morning, Hillman.”
“Good morning to you too. Damn! You look good today. Good every day. YEAH!”
He didn’t wait for her reaction but that didn’t matter because she didn’t matter to him and it was always the same: expressionless. She had long since bothered showing disdain.
Hunter chuckled and walked to the centre of the room, to his usual table.
“Usual?” she shouted over.
She scribbled his order down on the notepad: a stack of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon, with hash browns. He had never ordered anything else in the six months she’d worked there. Everyone else had told her that he’d placed the same order for years. One waiter’s older cousin had worked at Chet’s about fifteen years ago and he remembered what Hillman Hunter ate for breakfast, too. Everyone seemed to remember this guy and his dietary habits.
They also remembered his personality. Hillman Hunter was, quite simply, the worst man they’d ever met.
A tow truck driver since his early twenties, he was now in his mid-forties. In nearly a quarter of a century, he had managed to annoy, harass and take advantage of several thousand stranded drivers and innumerable other people in whatever else he did.
Hunter belched heartily and didn’t bother to excuse himself. You could always tell who the regulars were in this place, because they didn’t look around when he burped, farted or blew his nose – always loud enough to stop every conversation in the room. Even the young kids didn’t laugh after a few visits.
The passing trade always noticed, though. Today, a young man sat in the corner, sipping coffee and reading the paper. Hunter’s ill-mannered aural assault made him turn around, look at Hunter and shake his head in dismay. Hunter was oblivious.
The man turned back around. He was sure he’d seen the guy in the faded lumberjack shirt and grimy cap before, although there were plenty of large guys wearing checked shirts and baseball caps everywhere. And he certainly saw a lot of people in his job selling roofing supplies to hardware stores across the state. Friendly, dependable Victor Vauxhall, the youngest salesman at Rootes Roofing, buzzing from store to store in his sample-laden F-250. Perhaps his fellow diner was a roofer?
A phone rang. The loudest ringtone Victor had ever heard. A few other diners looked around.
It was, of course, Hillman Hunter’s phone.
Monday, 12 March 2012
Sunday, 11 March 2012
Well, Titmouse! has been going for a week. And what a week it’s been.
Before starting Titmouse!, my internet use had narrowed to a handful of sites. Now, largely as a result of my finally understanding the value of Twitter, I am becoming obsessed with surfing the web again.
This section – which I intend to make a regular feature of the blog - shows some of the things I have found useful, informative, amusing or thought-provoking during the past week.
Fear of Facebook? I keep my privacy settings high anyway, and maintain a healthy degree of work-life separation. However, I do not see why someone should be penalized for engaging in pursuits in their spare time that their employer or potential employer might not approve of – essentially, doing what people do to let off steam! Why should someone be compromised for not having their privacy settings at the highest level? This article raises interesting questions about whether an employer has any business poking their nose into employees’ extra-mural activities. Work places enough demands on people as it is.
How to cite a tweet in academic work. I remember being at university when the internet was just starting to take off and citing web addresses. I don’t think there was any standardisation back in the late ‘90s, though.
How to connect your blog to Twitter. It took me so long to figure this out. Eventually, stubbornness gave way to common sense and I tweeted for help. Within five minutes, Titmouse! was posting automatically to my Twitter account through Twitterfeed.
RETRONAUT is worth a post of its own. Probably several posts. I’m sure I’ll be writing about brilliant things I find on here quite a lot, for several years. My goodness, it’s an amazing site. If you have an addictive personality, don’t click on it! Walk away from the keyboard, now! Don’t follow my lead!