Sunday, February 26, 2012

Serial Sunday, The Telling Place, Part I.

This is the first mask my husband and I bought together in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It's a reproduction, but a nice one. At one of the mask collector shops, we found a four foot tall antique diablo mask we dearly wanted to buy, but we thought $200 was a little pricey at the time. We should have gotten it; it sold within the year and we have always regretted not adding it to our collection.

People love to ask writers where we get our ideas. My husband and I spend a lot of time in bed talking before sleeping. One night he asked, "What if someone bought that giant devil mask or our other mask and it came to life and tormented naughty, misbehaving children. Hence, The Telling Place was born. The story won 2nd place and a whopping $50 in a monthly writing contest for Fantasy Gazetteer in 2008, but is sadly a dead online market now.

Author's Note: This story appears as originally submitted. Unfortunately, I don't have the actual final edited version that was published, but this way, you can see the evolution of my writing from then to now, which is something I love studying about my favorite authors. As writers, we are constantly growing and honing our craft with the help of some great editors and peer reading groups. We are all rough rocks, smoothed and perfected by the waters of time.

This short will be published in four parts, hence known as the Serial Sunday feature. I'm not sure it's going to be an ongoing theme every Sunday, but when I have a story to share, look for this new feature title.

And Enjoy!

The Telling Place
by Nora B. Peevy

“Clarice,” hissed the serpent coat rack. The snake heads addressed her with a chilly gaze. “Your next appointment is approaching.”  They flicked their slithery tongues over their scaly lips, their red eyes slit like splintered rubies.

“Be quiet or I’ll turn you four into a new pair of shoes. You’re supposed to be a coat rack, for Hecate’s sake.”

The four snake heads snickered, their dry scales rustling as they assumed the shape of four coat hooks, eyes dulling and becoming cloudy, bodies and tails entwining to form the stand.   

Ms. Sinclair peeked out the front window of her cozy reception room, absently rearranging a rumpled collection of Highlights and National Geographics on a cheery red table. If anyone had been in the room with her, they would have noticed that the shadows from the windowpane did not fall across the crook of her nose or her face at all; odd in itself, but not totally peculiar. What was more peculiar was the strange bone bird talisman around her neck blinking and shrieking an ear-piercing squawk that Ms. Sinclair’s dry, bony hand quickly stifled.

Mrs. Martin and her son, Logan, blew in on a spirited door slam typical of a wild windy summer day in Wisconsin, the kind you’re grateful for because as soon as you start to sweat from the cloying humidity, a big gust of wind messes your hair and ripples through your shirt, fooling you into thinking it’s not hotter than witches brew out there.

Mrs. Martin adjusted her pixie coif, alternately scrunching and patting her reflection in the mirror by the door. “Good afternoon, Ms. Sinclair.”

“Good afternoon.”  She nodded to Logan, noting his wariness as he placed his Red Sox cap on one of the coat hooks and ran a grimy paw through his curly mop of hair, his freckles infused with sunlight and fresh air.

Mrs. Martin loved coming to see Ms. Sinclair. She felt Logan was behaving so much better since he started coming here. Why, with just four visits he already said things like “yes mom” and “thank you” at home, and last Saturday he even cleaned his room without being asked. She really would have to remember to call and thank Trudy Jenkins for the referral. The Telling Place was a wonderful resource for parents who had almost passed the end of their rope and were only hanging on by two fingers. And it was so homey with all the knickknacks and mismatched furniture. It reminded her of Granny. 

“Logan, what are you staring at? Come have a seat dear.”

“But mom --”       

“I said come have a seat.”  Mrs. Martin patted the crazy quilt patterned couch, fingering a whimsical painted giraffe with her other hand. The wooden giraffe sneered at the unsuspecting mother while she watched her son.

Ms. Sinclair frowned at the giraffe, the tips of her fine silver brows being drawn together. They were one of her prettier features.   

“But mom,” Logan sputtered as his plump sweaty body plopped down on the couch, “I swear that one of those snake heads blinked at me.”

“Really, Logan.”  Logan recognized his mom’s tone from previous fights at home -- the “don’t push it further” tone.  Her denim eyes flushed with embarrassment.  “Do you see what I have to put up with, Ms. Sinclair?  Kids and their imaginations.”  She laughed an uncomfortable laugh like a piece of china breaking in a quiet shop, as she rumpled her son’s red curls.

Still frowning, Clarice risked a quick peek at her coat rack in the corner.  A pink snake tongue flicked the air.  Clarice crossed the room, the afghan from the back of her rocking chair in her grasp.  “We’ll just cover this so it doesn’t bother you, Logan,” she smiled at him through perfect straight teeth, pinching the nose of the offending serpent between two steely fingers.  As she draped the coat rack with her blanket she said in a firm, teeth-gritting voice, “Just you behave now or I’ll be frying you up for the cat’s supper later.”  A rotund marmalade cat poked her pink nose out from behind a collection of dusty tomes on the bookshelf, grinning with glee and licking her whiskers.  With her grandmother smile perched upon her lips, Clarice turned to reassure Logan.  “All better,” she announced as she sat in her rocking chair across from them.       

Logan studied her face, thinking he heard something slippery in her voice.  He didn’t like this place, The Telling Place.  It sounded like a place you went to tattletale on someone, and Logan knew other kids didn’t like tattletales.  It went against the kid code.  And he didn’t like Ms. Sinclair either.  As his mother would say, he couldn’t put his finger on it, but he knew something wasn’t right.  Something wasn’t right at all.  He glanced again at the rack, swallowing his nervousness as he saw a slither of movement from beneath the colorful afghan.  His nervousness settled into a hot coiled pinball ready to spring in his stomach at any moment.       

“So, Mrs. Martin, how are things at home with Logan this week?”       

“They’re going better.”  She smiled at Logan.  “Why, I don’t know what you and Logan talked about, Ms. Sinclair, but Logan’s attitude has seemed to improve greatly almost overnight.  It’s like magic.”  Mrs. Martin beamed brighter than a lighthouse, gushing.      

“Anything new?”  Ms. Sinclair seemed to loom closer to Logan, a snaggle-toothed dragon eyeing its prey.

“Well …” Mrs. Martin glanced at Logan and patted his chubby hand.  “We have had one problem.”         


Logan watched the blood drenched dragon’s eyes perk up with the possibility of pain.

“Logan’s been spending a little too much time on his models and not enough time on his grades.  He got another failing grade in math this week.”

“Logan, is this true?”  Ms. Sinclair watched the boy flush a nice shade of red to match her coffee table.

“Yes.”  He hung his head, picking at a week old scab on his knee.

“Why do you think that is, Logan?”      

“I don’t know.”  He shrugged his shoulders, conscious of Ms. Sinclair’s crooked nose pointing in his direction.  He wondered if she had a husband.  Could a woman like Ms. Sinclair be married?  Could she have a family, a boy possibly like him at home?  No, he didn’t think so.  She wasn’t like his mom.  Something in Logan’s gut told him so.         

“Maybe, you’d feel more comfortable talking to Ms. Sinclair on your own, Logan?”  Without waiting to notice her son’s panicked stare, Mrs. Martin stood and adjusted her purse strap on her shoulder.  “I’ll just do some shopping and be back in half an hour.”

“Wait, mom.”  Logan’s voice sank like ice in his throat.  His heart jigged in his chest.         

“Bye, son.”  She winked at him and the red door closed with an ominous click.

Ms. Sinclair’s eyes gleamed with voracious delight.  “Now that we’re alone, Logan, we’re going to have a little chat about responsibility and doing one’s homework.  Give me your hand.”

Logan felt his stomach rising in hot acid waves as he touched Ms. Sinclair’s hand.  The last time he’d done so he’d felt the leathery coldness of a zombie’s curse and smelled something rank and rotting.  He’d also heard the sharp snap of a dried turkey wishbone and tasted musty, stale cinnamon.  This time he tried to focus on Shep’s happy smile, his pink dog tongue hanging lopsided out of his mouth.
End of Part One

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