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Original Work Chucklers: Book 1 - Laughter Is Contagious - Prologue

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by Jeff Brackett, Feb 11, 2015.

  1. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    Here's the prologue for the new novel. It's still a little rough. Feel free to rip it up. The better shape I have it in when I submit to the publisher, the better my chances of being picked up.




    Synopsis of events at and around McMurdo Station on August 26
    Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica

    At 2:15 PM on August 26, McMurdo Station in Antarctica detected unusual seismic activity near the Ross Ice Shelf. It was speculated that the shelf was undergoing an unusual amount of shifting, and a two-man team was sent out by helicopter (flight ANTEX 101) to investigate.

    The following is a transcribed excerpt of the conversation as recorded at McMurdo Station.

    ANTEX 101 -McMurdo, this is ANTEX 101. We're at the edge of the shelf and we can confirm that there has been considerable calving.
    McMurdo Station -Understood. Any danger to upcoming supply shipments? We've got a fuel ship coming in next week.
    ANTEX - It's possible, McMurdo. These are some of the biggest bergs I've ever seen. It's like... (undecipherable)
    McMurdo Station - ANTEX 101, please say again?
    ANTEX - I say, it's possible that Cape Bird is going to have some trouble. We're gonna take some pictures and then head back.
    McMurdo - Roger that, ANTEX. Watch your time. Sunset's at fifteen-thirty. That's just a few minutes away.
    ANTEX - Ah, yeah. It's already pretty dim. Gonna grab some pictures and head home. Keep the lights on for us.
    McMurdo - Roger that, ANTEX.
    (Three and a half minutes of silence.)
    ANTEX - McMurdo, we're seeing something pretty strange up here. It looks (undecipherable).
    McMurdo - Say again, ANTEX. You broke up there.
    ANTEX - (Undecipherable) ...terfall pouring out of the shelf. The water's falling down the side of the shelf and...
    McMurdo - Lost part of that again. Did you say there's a waterfall coming out of the ice shelf?
    ANTEX - Affirmative, McMurdo. And you're not gonna believe this, but the water is glowing.
    ANTEX - McMurdo, are you there?
    McMurdo - Roger that, we're here. Did you say the waterfall is glowing?
    ANTEX - Affirmative. It's getting dark up here, and you can definitely see the water glowing. As a matter of fact, as we get closer to the fall, you can see that there's a slick of the stuff on the surface of the ocean where it's pouring in. It's actually kind of pre-holy shit! Dave, did you see that?
    McMurdo - See what? What are you seeing, ANTEX?
    ANTEX - (undecipherable raised voice)
    McMurdo - Say again?
    ANTEX - Sorry, McMurdo. There's a pod of orcas churning the water down there. Looks like they've got a minke whale. Poor bastard.
    McMurdo - (chuckles) You had us worried for a second there.
    ANTEX - Sorry about that. It's not something you see every day.
    McMurdo - Roger that. Real circle of life shit.
    ANTEX - Ha. Yeah, that it is.
    (approximately thirty seconds of silence)
    ANTEX - We're right up next to the falls now, McMurdo. This is amazing. It's like some crazy special movie effect.
    McMurdo - Roger that, ANTEX. Get plenty of pictures. We've got a bunch of the eggheads in the control room here, and they're chomping at the bit (undecipherable) get your pictures. They're arguing over whether the seismic activity let one of the subglacial rivers break through the shelf, or if the river shifting was what caused the sudden calving of icebergs.
    ANTEX - Got yourself a real chicken or the egg argument, do you?
    McMurdo - (chuckle) Roger that, ANTEX.
    ANTEX - (frantic - undecipherable) Dave! McMurdo, Dave's lost it! He's-(undecipherable shouting, followed by a mixture of laughter and screaming)
    McMurdo - ANTEX 101, what is your situation?
    (More laughter, followed by more screaming)
    McMurdo - ANTEX 101. Please respond.
    (Sound of anti-collision alert - "Whoop, whoop, collision alert. Whoop, whoop, collision alert.")
    ANTEX - (sound of two distinct voices over the collision warnings, one sobbing, one laughing)
    McMurdo - ANTEX 101. Please resp-
    ("...ision alert. Whoop, whoop, collision alert. Whoop, whoo...")
    [Sound of impact]


    If it bleeds, it leads. It's a common saying with regards to news and entertainment. So while the headlines were filled with the latest celebrity scandals, there was little mention made of an anomalous slick flowing through the ocean. And while there was some minor excitement among some marine biologists about the reports, the news outlets were much too busy reporting which former child star had entered rehab and whose cell phone had been hacked and their nude photos released to the public.

    It's a shame really, that so few people were able to appreciate the silent beauty of that shimmering, phosphorescent ribbon that that flowed serenely upon the ocean, making a leisurely escape from its Antarctic prison. Extremophiles, freed from their fourteen million year detention beneath the icecap, shone bright with a distinctive blue bioluminescence, spreading out into the Antarctic Circumpolar current. Over the course of several weeks, the glowing ribbon dispersed, breaking into a multitude of expanding patches.

    One such slick flowed into the South Atlantic current where it eventually made landfall on the western coast of Africa. If anyone noticed that the beaches of the Congo Basin were unusually stunning, it was never mentioned anywhere. People in that part of the world were too busy worrying about what guerrilla warlord they had to pay fealty to from one week to the next. It was only when those warlords went on a bloody campaign of mindless genocide on a level previously unprecedented that the news agencies had anything to say, and luminescent beaches were not high on the reporters' lists of potential headlines.

    Meanwhile, Nature did as she always had. Fish ate plankton. Birds ate fish. The food chain continued to deliver its beautiful bounty from the lowliest of life forms, to the topmost rungs of the evolutionary ladder. Life went on as it always had.

    And the only constant in life, is change.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015
  2. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    Chapter 1

    Mystery Song Challenge

    Charlie was just about to hang up when the phone finally clicked and a voice spoke to him. "Congratulations, you're the one hundredth caller! What's your name?"

    "Charles. Charles Griffe." He smiled and gave Felicia a thumbs-up. She squealed and ran to turn up the radio. They had been trying to call in for hours and had either gotten a busy signal, or the one other time they had managed to get through, they had been the wrong caller.

    "Hello Charles, I'm Johnny Jay and it's time to see if you can guess this week's WROK mystery song challenge. Are you ready to try?"

    "I'm ready."

    "Okay, first, can I get you to turn down your radio? It causes an echo effect on the air."

    Felicia's eyes got wide as she realized what she had done. "Sorry," she mouthed to him.

    "Thank you, Charles. So have you been listening to the previous guesses?"

    "Yeah, I have."

    "That's awesome. Well for our listeners who might not have heard them, I'll go over the previous clues again. Clue number one - This week's mystery song was first released in 1961. Clue number two - The song has been a number one hit on US Billboard's Hot R and B singles, on the UK singles chart, the Irish singles chart, US Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart, and the US Billboard Hot Latin Tracks listings. Clue number three - There have been over four hundred recorded versions of the song released, including versions by Cassius Clay, John Lennon, and even The Muppets.

    "So Charles, you got all that?"

    "Yeah. Sure do." He still wasn't sure what the song was, but at least he'd had enough time to think about it and narrow it down to a handful of 1961 hits. If he got a good clue, he just might luck out and win.

    "Okay then. Are you ready for the latest clue?"

    "I sure am."

    "Excellent. Then for a mystery prize worth more than ten thousand dollars, here is clue number four. This mystery song was also recorded for a charity event in 1998 by a famous horror author, twelve years after the release of a movie bearing the same name as the song-a movie based on a story by this same author, though the story had a completely different title."

    Charlie blinked. He actually blinked at that clue, trying to follow the twists and turns of its varying layers. The song was released by some guy. The guy was a horror writer, and he had a movie that had a movie that came out with a different title? No, he had a story that came out with a different title, but the movie had the same title? What the hell?

    "Now I'm going to repeat this clue one more time..."

    Thank god!

    "...after which you'll have ten seconds to give us your answer."

    But Charlie was already scanning his list of Billboard's Top 100 hits for 1961, looking for a song title that could conceivably have been the title of a horror movie. His finger stopped almost immediately on the number three hit "Michael" by the Highwaymen. He remembered seeing a movie back in the nineties called Michael. But he immediately rejected it. It wasn't a horror movie.

    But he didn't actually say the movie was a horror movie, did he? He said it was based on a story written by a famous horror author.

    As he ran his finger on down the list, the radio DJ was just finishing up his repeat of the latest clue. "So, Charles Griffe... for the grand prize, can you name our mystery song? You have ten seconds starting now."

    "Ah..." He ran his finger frantically up and down the list. There was The Fly by Chubby Checker. That was the name of a horror movie. Maybe Runaway? Or Surrender? Those titles sounded like they could be horror.

    "Five seconds."

    And suddenly he saw it. He nearly shouted into the phone, "Stand By Me! It was Stand By Me!"

    There was silence on the line, and for a split second, Charlie thought they had been disconnected. That would be just my luck. Finally catch a break like this only to be cut off before I can collect on it.

    But the voice of the DJ dispelled those thoughts with his sad sounding voice. "Oh Charles, I'm so sorry."

    Charlie's heart dropped. Son of a bitch! I really thought I had it.

    "I'm sorry, Charles, because you're going to have to rearrange your vacation time at work. You've just won the WROK mystery song challenge!"

    "I won?" He nearly shouted. Felicia did shout. She jumped up and down, screeching loud enough that he had trouble hearing the DJ on the phone.

    "You did. Congratulations, Charles. Hang on the line and we'll get your information off the air." And Johnny Jay put him on hold without another word.

    The WROK operator was a young woman. She had taken Charlie's personal information and had then asked him which prize he wanted.

    "Sorry? Which prize? I didn't know there was anything to choose."

    "Yes sir, as the winner of the grand prize, you get your choice of a year's worth of movie tickets for two with free popcorn and soft drinks, or a ten-day cruise for two on the new luxury liner, Bahama Queen."

    "A year's worth of movie tickets?"

    "Yes sir, plus refreshments."

    "Or a cruise on a luxury liner?"

    Once again, his ears were tested to their limits as Felicia screamed behind him.

    "A cruise? Oh, pick the cruise, Charlie. We've never been on a cruise before."

    "Hang on, baby." He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. Felicia was a bit simple minded at times. Luckily, his needs from her were equally simple. And talking was not the most talented thing she used her mouth for. Still, if he wanted to use it for one, he had to tolerate the other.

    The woman on the phone was explaining the details to him. "If you choose the movie tickets, you will receive a packet of 732 individual movie passes good at any CineScan Theater that will let you and one other person see any movie and get free popcorn and soft drinks on any day of the week beginning on January first. The passes will expire on December thirty-first next year."

    Charlie was beginning to get that old feeling. His dad had always warned him about watching for the strings attached to everything. It sounded to him like WROK had some sort of deal worked out with the theater chain. Those passes probably didn't really cost the radio station anything. Cheap bastards.

    "And the cruise?"

    "That prize consists of two tickets to the Thanksgiving cruise aboard the Bahama Queen. It's the newest luxury liner in the Regal Cruise Line fleet. You would have to be able to leave on the ten-day Thanksgiving cruise on November 18, and the cruise returns to port here in Fort Lauderdale the Monday after Thanksgiving."

    "So how much are the tickets worth?" For a moment, Charlie thought he might be better off taking the movie tickets. Maybe scalp them for a bit of extra cash. Before he could explain that to her, Felicia leaned over his shoulder and bit his earlobe in that way he liked.

    The attendant on the phone droned on. Something about not being able to divulge the exact price of the prices. There was some reasoning she mentioned, but Charlie found himself having difficulty concentrating while Felicia went from his ear to lightly nipping at his neck.

    "Please pick the cruise, Charlie," she whispered huskily into his ear. "I've always wanted to go on one."

    "I don't know, baby. The movie tickets might be worth-"

    "But I just know we'll enjoy it." She reached into his lap and stroked her fingernails up and down his zipper. "I can promise you."

    Charlie took a deep breath and swallowed. He put the phone back up to his mouth. "I'll take the cruise."
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015
    Ganado, bagpiper, DarkLight and 4 others like this.
  3. madmax

    madmax Far right. Bipolar. Veteran. Don't push me.

    Well, that was pretty good. I'll keep reading.
    Motomom34 likes this.
  4. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey Site Supporter+

    Looks good so far! and brings back some memories as well. Did a hitch for the Navy (as a Raytheon sub contractor) making sure the beakers had warm places to stay;) Gotta love the Kiwis.
  5. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Moderator Moderator Site Supporter++

    Lots of really big words in the second paragraph of the prelude but once I got past them, my curiosity kicked in. I am real interesting in finding out what this glowing slick is all about. I have a feeling old Charlie is going to have an interesting cruise.

    Keep it coming @Jeff Brackett
    Jeff Brackett likes this.
  6. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    Thanks everyone. Here are the next few chapters.


    Chapter 2
    Erica 1
    "Sorry For Your Loss"

    "Again, I'm very sorry for your loss."

    Erica just nodded. What do you really say to such platitudes? It didn't seem to be the sort of thing to which one says "thank you". Besides, she didn't owe this shark in cheap pin-stripes a thing. She didn't know him from Adam and she was certain he'd never known Uncle Jimmy. And the news this one had brought hadn't exactly endeared him to her. But like sharks, lawyers had their place in the world, however low on the food chain that place may be.

    She closed the door behind him and leaned back against it. Just over one week. That was how long she had to wind up her uncle's affairs. After that, the ranch was to be sold off to pay his medical bills and back taxes.

    For what seemed like the hundredth time that day, she knuckled back the tears that threatened, knowing that if she let that first one out, the dam would break. She distracted herself for a while, straightening up the many odds and ends that marked Uncle J's life around the ranch house. The coffee pot had sat unattended so long that the half inch of sludge in the bottom of it had begun to grow something green and fuzzy on top. The laundry room smelled of soured clothes, and his cell phone lay on the coffee table, unused for days. Guess I'd better terminate the service on that. Without thinking, she pulled out her own cell and slipped the ear bud in place. Pressing the side, she waited for the beep.

    "Say a command," it instructed.

    "Call--Ross--mobile" She enunciated each command carefully, and the headset repeated it back.

    "Did you say--call--Ross--mobile?"

    She hesitated. She really wanted to talk to him again. But things weren't going well with them, and she wasn't sure that he would want to hear from her just now. "No," she finally answered. "Cancel."


    Looking out the window at the sun setting on the horizon, she felt a sudden need to get out of the house. The walls that been home for so many years felt more like a prison that night. Grabbing Uncle Jimmy's old leather jacket from the hall tree by the door, she wrapped it around her shoulders and stepped into the brisk November evening.

    Days in south Texas were usually beautiful at this time of year, but the nights could easily drop into the thirties. Tonight wasn't quite that cold, but it was still cool enough that her nose felt the drop in temperature as soon as she stepped outside.

    She let her feet take her where they would, and eventually found herself at the top of her mountain. It wasn't really hers, of course, and it certainly wasn't anywhere close to being a mountain. But it was the only raised bit of dirt on Uncle J's God-forsaken ranch, and she had claimed it as her own when she'd come to live with him.

    To a little girl who had just lost her parents, imagination was all-important. So that fifteen foot tall hill had become her mountain, and the lone Bois d'Arc tree at the top was her forest. That tree had been the source of one of her first lessons with Uncle J. He'd taken a long branch from the tree and brought it into his workshop. She'd hovered nearby as he had worked that branch, stripping the scaly bark, and sanding the bright yellow wood beneath. "This here's a special tree, young'un. See how the wood's a bright yaller?" He slammed it down on the workbench, making her jump and the tools bounce. "Hardest wood 'round these parts, too. Ain't too many of 'em down this far south."

    He had smoothed the wood to a fine polish over the next three nights, each night teaching her a little more about it. "Folks 'round these parts usually call it Osage Orange, or sometime a Horseapple tree. That's on account o' the fruit it bears in the summer. Looks sorta like a big, green orange. That's the fruit, not the color." He winked at her, and she couldn't help but smile. "But ya wouldn't want ta eat it."

    "Why not?" She hadn't even realized until years later that Uncle Jimmy had worked that tree limb to draw her into the first conversation she'd had since her parents' accident. Those two words were the first she'd spoken in more than a week.

    "'Cause it tastes like cow spit!"

    The image had made her crinkle her nose in disgust at the time. Now though, thinking back to those nights, she smiled. Reaching out to caress the bark of the old tree, she spoke to the memories in her head. "I bet there were times you came to regret getting me to talk again, didn't you, Uncle J?"

    And in her mind, she could hear his reply. Not fer one second, youngster.

    She smiled at the thought. Life with Uncle Jimmy was always like that. He was always teaching her something, whether she realized it or not. And the lessons were often multi-layered affairs. That stick was a prime example. It eventually gained a net on the end, which triggered exactly the questions she now suspected Uncle J had expected.

    He taught her the basics of lacrosse and entered her in a league at the local Y. She quickly learned that the old Bois d'Arc stick was too heavy for a lacrosse stick. It didn't move quickly enough, and her stick work was clumsy compared to many of the other girls. Eventually, through patience or pure stubbornness, she gradually gained enough proficiency to hold her own.

    But she didn't excel until she got in high school. The old homemade stick wasn't allowed on the high school team, and someone put a regulation composite stick in her hands. That was when she discovered that working with that heavy old Bois d'Arc stick had been another lesson in itself. Compared to her old stick, the composite was light as a feather. She was unstoppable on the field, and did so well that she earned a college scholarship.

    And that had been another hard lesson. Leaving home was never easy.

    By this time, the brisk evening air had become uncomfortably cool, and the crimson sky had darkened to ebony. Erica patted the old tree once more. "Guess you had one last lesson to teach me, Uncle. Didn't you?" She headed back to the house with his voice in her head.

    Home ain't really a place, Erica. Home is where your loved ones are.

    She made it into the house before the dam finally broke, and through the agonizing sobs, one thought echoed in her head. If that's true, then where is my home now?

    Uncle Jimmy didn't seem to have an answer to that one.

    * * *

    Sleep was an elusive thing. Her thoughts kept circling her loss, and when she did manage to drift off, her dreams were less than soothing.
    "I'm sorry Miss Chapman, but your uncle's medical bills constitute a sizeable debt."

    "I understand, but he always told me that the ranch was worth more than two million dollars. Isn't that enough to cover the bills?"

    The estate attorney at least had the decency to look sympathetic as he shook his head. "Well, if that were all the debt he had, then it would. Unfortunately there are also considerable tax liabilities, and to make matters worse, I'm afraid your uncle sold you into slavery to pay off some of that debt. Now, if you would be so kind as to disrobe, I would like to make sure that you are worth the price we paid for you."

    She finally gave up on sleep and turned on the flat screen. Scrolling through the selection at just after two in the morning revealed just how limited the options were. There was the almost-porn of after-hours cable, infomercials, or the news channels. Not in the mood for either of the first two, she settled on a cable news channel. Uncle J had always called the channel the Communist News Network and the memory made her smile sadly. His politics and hers had always clashed.

    The news was about the same as it had been the night before, and the night before that; the holidays were coming, the economy still sucked, politicians were still crooked, the weather was still unpredictable, and now it looked like there was another pandemic scare in Uganda. After half an hour, she found her eyelids growing heavy again. She turned the tube off and curled up for round two in her battle with insomnia.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015
  7. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    Chapter 3
    "All Aboard"

    WROK radio had provided the tickets, all right. But the radio station had made sure to let him know that anything beyond the cruise itself would have to come from his own pocket. In essence, the free cruise was going to cost him hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Still, his woman had her heart set on it, and he had agreed.

    So on November eighteenth, Charlie and Felicia walked into their cabin, Charlie huffing and puffing as he lugged their bags into the room. Felicia squealed with delight for what must have been the fiftieth time since they'd boarded. "Look Charlie, a balcony!"

    She ran across the cabin and threw open the sliding glass door. "It's beautiful."

    Charlie tossed the bags onto the bed and joined her. He snorted as he looked out at the view. "Yeah, it's a great view all right. I can see a parking lot full of about a thousand cars, and a lifeboat right below us."

    "But once we get out to sea, there will be ocean and clouds as far as the eye can see. It'll be wonderful!"

    It was hard to stay upset with her when she was like this, though Charlie gave it a good try. As much as Felicia seemed enchanted by the idea of the cruise, the idea of going to sea and being cooped up on a floating tin can miles away from the closest dry land was more than a little disconcerting for him. Having never been on a ship before, he was off his game, unfamiliar with how things worked. And Charlie didn't like not being in control. He did his best to push away his feelings of unease. Maybe being at sea wouldn't be all that bad.

    He had to admit, the cabin was actually pretty nice. He'd expected one of the cheapest, crappiest little rooms on some bottom deck, tucked away from anything and everyone. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised to find that they had gotten a nice, ocean side, balcony suite on Deck Seven. It wasn't bad at all. Charlie took a deep breath and decided to make the best of things.

    Besides, it wasn't like he had too much choice in the matter. Felicia would never let him hear the end of it if he spent all his time bitching about everything. And as the saying went, if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. She could be a pain in the ass with her whining sometimes, and there were times when she acted dumber than a box of rocks. But that woman was a wild little minx in the bedroom, and Charlie could put up with a lot for someone with a rack like hers. And he knew he was man enough to handle her the way she needed to be handled, both in the bedroom and out.

    Yeah, it was going to be a good cruise. Charlie would see to it.
  8. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    Chapter 4
    "Maybe This Won't Be So Bad After All"

    August Grappin tried to ignore his mother’s incessant chatter about what a great time they were going to have. She meant well, but sometimes her forced cheeriness was just a bit much to swallow. She’d been that way since Dad had left them to run off with his secretary six months ago.

    His secretary! How cliché can you get, anyway?

    Still, the cheeriness was better than the moping stage she’d gone through at first. The first couple of months had been rough on her, and Gus hadn't known what to do. They had been rough on both of them, and they’d both gone through some adjustments. Gus had sulked for a while, torn between wanting to help his mom, and his own feelings of having been betrayed by his dad. He’d finally had an epiphany. His dad had been a grade-A asshole. But that didn't mean Gus had to be miserable. Hell, his dad was living it up with a young hottie who was less than ten years older than Gus himself was.

    So Gus had decided to do something he’d wanted to do for a while. He’d shaved one side of his head, and dyed the rest of his hair a bright purple. He’d thought his mom might freak, but she’d just looked at it for a few seconds before nodding. Then she commented that his dad would hate it. They shared a conspiratorial smile over that, and she hadn't said another word.

    That had been a turning point for her. She’d begun to come out of her shell, joking with him. Sometimes, he thought it seemed a little forced, but she was making a visible effort to start living her life again. One of her friends had suggested that she celebrate by spending some of the money she’d gotten in the settlement on something frivolous… something for herself. A cruise on the newest and fanciest luxury liner in the Regal Cruise Line fleet seemed like just the thing. But Gus didn't understand why she had to bring him along. He was sixteen years old. That was old enough to stay home and take care of things while she was out.

    She presented it as if she didn't want to go without him, but he knew she simply thought he was too young to take care of himself for the twelve days she would be gone. He’d tried to call her on it, but she had been adamant, and he knew that if she pushed any harder, it was going to cause a fight. And her emotional state still seemed fragile enough that he didn't want to rock the boat any more than necessary.

    Rock the boat? He looked up at the massive ocean liner as they waited in line to board. Real clever, Gus. He shook his head at the inadvertent pun. As long as the line was, the crew seemed to know what they were doing, and the boarding process was relatively quick. Gus estimated that less than half an hour passed from the time they left the taxi to the time they walked into their adjoining suite. He nodded approvingly at the cabin his mom had gotten for him. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

    The room adjoined his mother’s, but at least it was separate. She could have gotten a single room with two beds, and oh, wouldn't that have been fun? Gus shuddered at the thought. He loved his mom, but the idea of the two of them sharing a cabin was just uncool. He tossed his suitcase onto the bed and opened the room’s mini-fridge. It had a couple of bottles of water and a variety of sodas. Laying atop the refrigerator was a price card. According to it, each of those sodas would cost more than he would spend on a two-liter bottle in the grocery store.

    He raised an eyebrow at the list of alcohol list on the card. Evidently, the shelves above the mini fridge were normally stocked with booze. Equally as evident was the fact that his mom must have had the ship stewards remove it before they boarded. He sighed. It wasn't like he really drank, but if by some chance he ended up getting a girl into his cabin, the cool factor would have only worked in his favor.

    Another card lay on the nightstand. It listed all sorts of activities designed with his age group in mind. There were teen parties almost every night, each one with a different theme. And the upper decks were full of games, sports, water parks, and even a zip line that ran a hundred feet over the boardwalk nine decks below.

    He grinned. Water parks, eh? That meant girls. Girls in bikinis. He nodded. Yeah, this cruise thing looked like it just might be a lot of fun.
  9. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    Chapter 5
    "Where His Heart Had Failed Him"

    At some point the night before, Erica had won yet another battle with insomnia. Of course, she woke up the next morning so groggy that it seemed otherwise. A brisk shower in the guest bathroom helped wash the sleep from her eyes. She could have used the master shower, but in her mind, that was still Uncle Jimmy's territory, and she wasn't quite up to crossing that particular border. The reminders were still too fresh.

    So she puttered around the place doing busy work that did little more than move things from one place to another. She checked the refrigerator and managed to put together a breakfast of scramble eggs with diced tomatoes and jalapeños.

    But she quickly found herself at a loss for more busywork and realized she couldn't put it off any longer. She began to clean. She was torn as to whether or not to throw out the soured load of clothes. After all, it wasn't like Uncle Jimmy was going to need them. But in the end, she just couldn't do it. She restarted the washer and kept cleaning. The hard part was that everywhere she turned, there were more reminders of her childhood. She would walk into a room with every intention of getting in, cleaning, and getting out again. But each room she entered brought a fresh wave of nostalgia, and she was drawn into memory anew.

    There were dirty dishes in the sink where Uncle J taught her to gut fish and break down a chicken; and the dinner table where they laughed, and sometimes fought. When she retreated back to the room where she had slept the night before--her old bedroom--she suddenly realized that Uncle J had left the room just the same as she'd left it, and that realization brought another bout of tears. She began to wonder if she would ever be able to get the place ready within the week allotted.

    The buzzing of the washing machine drew her out of her funk, and she checked the load. A quick sniff told her the clothes had been soured too long for a single wash to clean them, so she poured more detergent in and started them again. She eventually had to wash them three times to get the smell out, then dried and folded them neatly. That brought a last problem. To put them away, she would have to go into his bedroom--the room where his heart had failed him. She would finally have to cross that border.

    Erica stood outside that door for what seemed like hours before finding the courage to open it. This was where it happened. She tried to focus on the task at hand, did her best to see only the dresser that was her destination. But her self-induced tunnel vision was disrupted by the broken glass beside the nightstand. Did that happen when he had his heart attack? Was it broken by the panicked neighbor who found his body--two days too late? The sight of it set off a string of imaginary scenarios in her mind from which it took considerable strength of will to break loose. Finally, she took a determined step to the dresser, placed the pile of clothes in a drawer, and closed it. There was a finality to closing that drawer that was both depressing, and comforting. It was one last thing she could do for him.

    She turned then, to clean up the broken glass. She made the bed, and straightened the knick-knacks on the dresser, and before she knew it, she had cleaned the entire room. And a strange thing happened as she performed the old, familiar tasks. She found that finally, she began to feel at home again.

    The rest of the day held less angst than the day before, and she managed to get quite a bit accomplished. To be sure, there were still plenty of reminders, but they became less torturous, and released their grip on her heart. At least somewhat.

    Over the next few days, the memories were more bittersweet than painful, and she managed to get the house and the workshop cleaned up, all the while, maintaining the cattle and garden out back. Working the little ranch felt good, if somewhat pointless. In a matter of days, she would be forced to leave, to go back to Alabama, taking only whatever keepsakes the lawyers would allow her. She had little doubt that if it weren't for the impending holiday season, they wouldn't have given her even that last week. Even at that, she suspected that it wasn't out of concern for how painful Thanksgiving might be for her, but rather for the inconvenience that they might face in working through that all important week with their families.
  10. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    Warning - Charlie has some serious issues, folks. Among them is the fact that he's a foul mouthed, mean drunk. Rocky language and adult themes ahead (no porn, though).


    Chapter 6
    "Le Trône de la Mer"

    Charlie had booked dinner reservations at the fanciest dining room on the ship. Le Trône de la Mer was a French-themed dining room on Deck Four, and was definitely one of the luxuries the station hadn't paid for. Charlie had thought long and hard about whether or not he should spring for it, but he'd wanted to expose Felicia to some of the fancier things in life. So he'd hesitantly made reservations for the gourmet dining experience. The dining room had been walled with huge aquariums, and Felicia squealed with delight every time a pretty fish had swum past.

    Looking back, Charlie would be able to point to that meal as the point at which everything had gone sideways for him.

    He ordered Felicia the most exotic sounding item on the menu, but when he was about halfway through his plate, he noticed that she had barely touched her meal. "What's the matter, baby? Something wrong with your food?"

    Eyes downcast, she looked as if she was afraid to say anything. She mumbled something so low he couldn't hear her over the background sounds of the dining room.


    "I don't like lobster."

    "You what?" He couldn't believe she was pulling this on him. Who didn't like lobster? He and Felicia had been living together for two years, and she'd never once mentioned that she didn't like lobster. He was sure of it.

    "I'm sorry, Charlie."

    "Then why didn't you say anything when I ordered?"

    "I didn't know what you were ordering. It was in French."

    And he remembered looking at the menu and simply finding the most exotic sounding dish, ordering Homard Thermidor, and being so proud he could afford to spend the dining room's ninety dollar per person entry fee that he hadn't paid attention to the description. Even now, that price was the thing that kept going through his head. "You do realize how much this dinner is costing me, don't you?"

    "I'm so sorry, Charlie." She looked up with tears in her eyes, and Charlie had struggled to rein in his temper.

    He smiled past tight lips, choking back his frustration. In his peripheral vision, he saw other diners at the table watching the exchange surreptitiously. "It's okay. Don't worry about it. So what would you like to eat?" He even managed to keep his annoyance in check when she ordered a hamburger.

    Whenever he began to get angry, his father's voice echoed in his ears. Seriously? Ninety dollars a head, and she orders a fucking hamburger?

    Yeah, Charlie had always been able to count on dear old Dad for support. Like the time he'd pegged Charlie with a fastball in the forehead to teach him to keep his glove up. Charlie had been nine at the time. Nine with a concussion.

    But Charlie pushed the voice back. Listening to Dad invariably got him into trouble. So he forced a smile and bit back his initial response. After a while he even managed to enjoy the dinner. Complimentary glasses of wine helped, and he and Felicia spent the time between courses chatting and joking with fellow passengers. Three courses later, dessert came, and Charlie knew he was almost through what had become an ordeal of dancing on eggshells. He had ordered the two of them Grand Marnier soufflés with Crème Anglaise.

    The fluffy cup of heaven smelled slightly of the orange liqueur when it arrived, and when he scooped the first warm bite into his mouth he tasted tiny flecks of orange peel on his tongue. The creamy vanilla sauce was the perfect counterpoint for the tang of the soufflé. He watched Felicia's face as she took her first tentative bite. Her smile told him all he needed to know. She had loved his order this time. Charlie smiled. Yeah, baby. Charlie's gonna get lucky tonight.

    The last few minutes of the meal went smoothly, and his mind began to drift more toward his planned activities for later that night... after they were back in their cabin. He smiled as he imagined her in the bed. She was so enthusiastic, skin so smooth, and her mouth was exquisite. She had that one trick she did with her tongue... Charlie found himself with an uncomfortable tent in his pants when Felicia interrupted his reverie.

    "Can we, Charlie? Please?"

    "Ah, I'm sorry. Can we what?"

    "Go dancing with the others." She pursed her lips in a coquettish little circle, drawing his attention once again to that mouth. "I really feel like dancing."

    He pretended to consider it for a moment, then shook his head. "Not tonight, baby. Maybe tomorrow night."

    Felicia's lips went from smile to moue. "But I really want to go tonight." She shimmied her shoulders at him and his eyes were immediately drawn to the way her ample cleavage shifted. It only reinforced his desire to get her back to their cabin. He had another kind of dancing in mind--a night of mattress mambo was in order. After all, he hadn't just dropped ninety bucks on a damned hamburger for nothing.

    He turned to their table mates. "I'm really sorry, guys. I think we're going to have to pass tonight. It's been a long day, and we're a bit tired. Maybe another night."

    But Felicia pouted. "Oh, come on, Charlie. I'm not tired. Let's go! Just for a little while? It'll be fun." She was still smiling at that point, not yet realizing how badly she'd overstepped. She had contradicted him in front of strangers.

    Whether or not she realized what she had done, that was the moment. After all he'd done for her... all the trouble he'd gone to so this would be a memorable experience for her... all the inconvenience he'd put up with... and she wanted to bitch about him not wanting to go dancing with a bunch of people he didn't even know? And to top it off, she was trying to embarrass him in public?

    Still, he tried one last time. "Not tonight, baby. We need to get back to the cabin."

    She pouted. "Pah-leeeaaase?"

    It was too much. She had pushed him too far and Charlie had finally had more than he could take. He slapped his open palm on the table. "Damn it, Felicia. I said no!"

    Everyone at the table stopped what they were doing and looked at him. Looked at him like he was something they needed to scrape off the bottom of their shoes. Charlie looked around. The surrounding tables had suddenly gone silent, and as his gaze fell upon them, the other patrons of the dining room found sudden fascination with their silverware or tablecloths.

    Throwing his hands in the air, Charlie snorted. "So now I'm the bad guy? Hah! If you knew how many times this stupid cow has done this to me, you wouldn't be so quick to judge."

    Felicia burst into tears and fled the room.

    "Well shit." He threw his napkin on the table and stood. There was a brief moment where his head took a moment to catch up with his sudden change in altitude, and he realized he was a little buzzed from all the wine. He steadied himself with one hand on the table. Equilibrium restored, he smiled at the others seated at his table. "Don't guess I'll be getting lucky tonight after all, will I?"

    He left the dining room, not looking behind, but feeling the eyes of the other patrons staring as he walked out.

    Fuck 'em.
    bagpiper, Tully Mars and Sapper John like this.
  11. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Moderator Moderator Site Supporter++

    Wow, happily reading along then bam! I think I am understanding the title a bit better now. I kept wondering if this really was a horror story, well @Jeff Brackett you got my attention.
    Jeff Brackett and Tully Mars like this.
  12. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey Site Supporter+

    Ok, I'm hooked. Not at all what I was expecting, but that's the point isn't it?;)
    Jeff Brackett likes this.
  13. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    It is indeed. Glad to know it worked on at least one person. [coo]
    Tully Mars likes this.
  14. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Moderator Moderator Site Supporter++

    @Jeff Brackett you left us hanging on a cliff! Great story, really enjoying it so far. What a turn it took. The survivalists, their code book etc... really interesting can't wait to read more about them. :LOL: chapter 14 I remember that thread and when that was happening. I don't think this chuckler thing is going to die out like the bath salt incident did.

    Will you be posting the whole book?
    Jeff Brackett and Tully Mars like this.
  15. mysterymet

    mysterymet Monkey+++

    You sir are truly warped, but I like it!
    Jeff Brackett and Tully Mars like this.
  16. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    There isn't going to be a lot more about them in Book 1. Just the three main characters from the group (Linton, Michelle, and Emmet). I'm planning to get back to some of the others in Book 2, though.

    That's the plan. It's only a few chapters away from being finished (I think), and I'm planning to post it all on here to get critiques from folks. The cleaner the manuscript before it goes to the publisher, the better my chances of having it accepted. They've expressed interest, and I have a decent track record with them, but I don't want to take anything for granted. [coo]

    LOL. You have no idea. This is going to be the darkest thing I have ever written, and to be perfectly honest, writing the character of Charlie bothers me a little. He is so messed up, in so many different ways, that I feel like I need to take a shower after spending a day in his head. foosed
    Motomom34 and Tully Mars like this.
  17. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey Site Supporter+


    This is a different read for me as I don't go in for horror books per se. Used to be a huge Dean Koonts fan and this reminds me of those. I feel this book is very good indeed, and I stayed up way too late last night be be sure I read all you posted;) I do like the detail you go into as well. Satisfies my techno weenie side with out reading like a manual. Keep up the good work and I'll be waiting for more!
    Motomom34 likes this.
  18. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey+ Site Supporter

    Thanks, Tully. I really appreciate that. :)
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2015
    Tully Mars likes this.
  19. DarkLight

    DarkLight I self identify as a Blackhawk Attack Helicopter! Site Supporter

    I highlighted all the times you wrote "my" when it should have been "her". Not a biggie but I caught it every time and it jarred the first couple of times.
  20. DarkLight

    DarkLight I self identify as a Blackhawk Attack Helicopter! Site Supporter

    Chucklers or people, chucklers or crazed killers?

    Also, wouldn't a city bus be diesel and if so, would the tank explode?
    Jeff Brackett likes this.
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