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Author Topic: Another Day Chapter One  (Read 2171 times)

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« on: May 04, 2017, 08:03:31 PM »

By: Kris Owens

 There was that smell again.

 This town smelled of rotten eggs most days, with the occasional smell of burning plastic thrown in just to shake things up. This collection of businesses, factories and houses -- this town was littered with walnut trees, dogwoods, oaks and an endless amount of birch, but you could not smell a single one of them for that ever-present smell of hell creeping around the corner.

 Margaret hated it here, hated this town and its people, and lately she had begun to hate her husband. She disliked being told what to do, hated being controlled, hated having her choices taken from her. This last year had seen her husband begin doing that, turning into a controlling, demanding male who was trying to take away what illusion of free choice she had built up around herself.

 Her husband had demanded she find a job, he had demanded she stopped being a housewife solely watching their two kids, and he had taken the choice away from her when he had told her where she would be going and what she would be doing.
She hated him for that.

 Sure, she hadn’t taken it without a fight. There had been many fights all the way up until today, minutes before she had left her house. She was still feeling the anger and tension from exchanging harsh words with that man who had decided he knew best for the entire family. That man who had decided that their relationship would now be a dictatorship with him as supreme ruler. This wasn’t what she had agreed to when she had married him, but she did not want to leave him.
If I left him, I would still have to leave my children with a stranger while I worked to support them.
In the end, she realized that either way, she was going to lose this fight. So now, here she was, riding in the back of a taxicab to the first day of Red Cross Certified Nurses Assistant training classes.

 Was she nervous? Yes, very; she hadn't been in school for seven years now, and when she had been in school she hadn’t exactly been on the honor roll. What little she had retained had long since been pushed to the back of her mind in the seven years after she had left, and yet, here she was about to start the first day of school all over again.

 This is damn ridiculous. The amount we've spent on this we could have used on groceries or the rent. He thinks this is going to work and he thinks I'm just going to hand over all my money to him?

 Again, she felt the tension of anger sweeping across her brow.
Looking out the window, Margaret watched as the taxi passed through a heavily run-down stretch of what should have been considered historic houses, and entered the official- and well-maintained at that- historic district.
 Her destination lie within the outer stretches of the historic district of this stink-filled town. Close enough to the four roads that made up the district to still smell the scent of baking cookies, but still far enough away to catch a whiff of Mr Boston (a brand of what was deemed ‘hobo vodka’) now and again.
She longed for her hometown back in a northern state that she had long since filled with biased memories of sunshine and pleasantries and clean air and, and, and...etc. A northern town that, in reality, looked almost exactly like this town but in her mind she could easily tell the difference.
In that northern town of trees and factories and low-income housing and that same rotten egg smell, things still seemed to shine a little more brightly, things seemed to be a little more classy. And she would have loved to go running back to that town under the self-deceptive memory except she didn't really know any of her relatives. She had never known her father and maintained a love-hate relationship with her mother. She really just didn't want to be here in this state or in this town. She was tired of smelling Satan’s asshole everyday.

 "So dey started more a'dem classes 'gin?" A burst of old alcohol and stale cigarettes hit Margaret in the face when the cab driver rolled his head toward her to speak.
 "Yeah," Bitterness, "som'n like that."
 "Gladda'see dey takin' care dat ol' school house. Ah remem'er goin' to it back in da sixties..." Each word was more stained than the last with the smell of dead ends.
 "Well, I've never been there. I'm sure it wazza blast back in the seventies," She rolled her eyes.
 "Sixties."The cabbie corrected quickly.
 "Whatever, but I really don't wanna be here to begin with so you're wasting your time telling me about it." Margaret crossed her arms and stared ahead, hoping the old guy would just shut up.
 "Hmmph." The driver turned his attention back to the road.

 The rest of the ride, all three minutes of it, was taken in silence.

 "Dat'l be seven dollars, ma'am." Another cloud of alcohol came floating to her from the front as the driver brought the car to a stop.

 Margaret reached into the small brown purse that hung across her chest. It had been long since over-burdened with counter-culture symbols and icons of her teen angst. Along with the angst, the purse also sported a couple of pentagrams and ankhs to support her on-again-off-again following of Wicca.
She had never been one for “hiding in the broom closet” much to the ire of her coven’s High Priestess. When she was getting along with the coven leader she was a Wiccan, when she and the coven leader determined that the two parties “needed to refocus their energies in a positive way before adding to the group”, Margaret regarded herself as spiritual, not religious. The Coven of Diana's Dance could wait forever for all Margaret cared.

 I don’t need a coven, I don’t need someone telling me how to do my magick. There is more respect in being an eclectic witch.

 Fishing through the purse, Margaret found a five and a pair of crumpled ones. Unceremoniously, she shoved the wadded bundle of paper toward the driver, he grunted a reply and she exited out of the back of the cab.

 It was a surprisingly warm, but still chilly, day for it being the middle of January. Winter had been weak this year. Most of the trees still held a considerable amount of greenery leading to a haphazard display of holdout leaves on gray dry branches, trying in vain to shield the sky from her. The whole display just gave the impression of a lack of maintenance.

 Margaret shifted the weight of her purse to her left side as she stepped away from the taxi. She watched the cab move away from the sidewalk and began back in the direction from whence they came. Her reflection stared back at her as the vehicle rolled onward to its new destination, giving her a last-minute glimpse of her freedom racing away from her and a last-minute critique of her appearance.

 Margaret was youthful in appearance, not looking a day over seventeen because of the baby fat that lingered on her, even though she was actually twenty-four and two kids older. She had bright green eyes that should have revealed her to be a true redhead but her natural hair color had been closer to dirty blonde, except that it was currently dyed pitch black.

 Her shoulder length hair shifted slightly as a quick breeze moved past her. It was cold but not as cold as she was used to. Winter this year had been dead on arrival.
As the taxi disappeared after making a right down a nearby street, Maggie realized she was now fully on the path her husband had pushed her toward for the last six months. In the end he had won the fight; he had exerted his control over her and she had capitulated. She feared she had failed her fellow sisters but there was that glimmer of hope that she would be able to redeem herself later. She would not stand for being that man’s plaything, even if she was married to said man.
Maggie had been officially married for two years now to the man who had fathered her two children years earlier. In the past, they had not felt the need to make their union official and in fact, their beliefs did not necessitate it either. Instead, Maggie and her husband always left the option of going their own way, should they realize they could no longer work together. The marriage came only after a friend explained to them the benefits, financially, of an official union.
 This had led to a hand binding ceremony performed, as per their faith, and a separate justice of the peace ceremony, as per the law. But it was a union of convenience that held no real meaning to either of them other than the benefits they could wring out of the government.
 They still maintained an open relationship (having gone from an open minded couple to swingers with a single “I do”), bringing in other partners on occasion to satisfy their various lusts or fetishes. Or, as Maggie found out later, it primarily involved her husband fulfilling his lusts for strange without the guilt and her just being a “side dish.”.

 Maggie and her husband had never brought another male into their arrangement, at least not for her. Instead, the majority of their threesomes involved her husband watching as she had sex with another woman. Eventually she would find that he would join in, and as such, this would be a point of silent contention for her toward him.
He had no problem with her sleeping with other women, or himself sleeping with those women while Maggie was involved but other men were not allowed to touch her, ever. He had taken a male lover himself once or twice while she watched but even then, he only let her watch. The arrangement had started out with the idea of them sharing lovers but when it came to practice, the arrangement had quickly become one-sided for the benefit of her husband.
Silently she was angered by this feeling of being used, angered by the feeling that her husband was justifying his blatant cheating while throwing her scraps to keep her amused. The openness that he so passionately spoke of when it came to their relationship, especially with other women, was not there when it came to her and other men.
 For a little more than a year, Maggie had slowly been testing her limits, pushing the bounds of what he'd allow, if nothing else than to wear him down for his perceived indiscretions. If she couldn’t have what she wanted then she would find a way to ruin it for the both of them.

 She wanted to push him and push him until he either let her take a male lover or he decided they should quit being so open sexually. The master stroke of this plot involved something that had happened six months earlier and had, in fact, set her going to these classes in motion.

 Margaret had taken a liking to a fellow witch and ended up sleeping with her, but had intentionally failed to tell her husband that she was sleeping with someone from the coven, nor did she have any intention of sharing the fellow witch with him. She wanted to see his reaction, wanted to make him angry, wanted to push him into ending their open relationship as best as she could. It was a petty thing to do and she knew it, but at the time she felt as if he, too, was trying his best to piss her off in every way possible.

 The plan had worked, at first, as the situation had made him not only incredibly angry but had caused him to start claiming she had cheated on him by not letting him at least watch but more so because she hadn’t even told him about the other woman. It had taken a month for him to calm down enough to have a rational conversation with her but even after a month he was still angry over the act.
 This lead to her husband demanding she stop just staying home with their two kids; she would now have to get a job to help support their family. He accused her of behaving like a child, of trying to make him jealous because of some childish thought that had “popped into that shallow head of yours” and caused the unjustified dissent she was now feeling toward him. This was the solution that came from his anger at what she had done; she was now training to become a nurse’s assistant so she could then find a job at either a nursing home or a hospice, and then she would pay half the bills. She hadn’t been happy about either part of that demand.
 Who was he to dictate she stop watching her children full-time? Who was he to demand she let some stranger watch her children while she played doctor? And who was he to demand that she give him a percentage of her money?

 We’ll see about that one. He may have won one fight but he will not be successful twice, especially on this one. Handing over my money on demand to him? Ha! We’ll see.

 Maggie turned away from the road and was greeted by an old, red brick building that looked just like the cab driver had implied it would.
The building had been saved fairly recently (at least, it appeared to be fairly recent) from becoming another victim of the decay that threatened to swallow what pockets of wealth still remained in this town.

 There were a set of five stone steps pressed within an embankment that neither touched the sidewalk she now stood on, nor touched the actual top of the rise. The embankment itself resembled nothing more than a giant pile of dirt, peppered with the scant offerings of dead grass. Large, withered trees lined the upper portion of the embankment that, in the summer time, probably afforded a cool place to stand from the heat of the sun, but now only mocked the idea with the few leaves that still clutched to the branches.

 The bricks of the building were a faded red that showed the building had weathered numerous decades of abuse and neglect. The windows of the place were trimmed with white paint and looked fairly new compared to what the structure itself appeared to be, almost to the point of standing out in a tacky fashion. Clearly the windows had been shattered and then boarded up sometime during its abandonment. The wooden double doors on the front that led into the place also appeared to be brand new, only helping to reinforce the idea that this building had been saved from abandonment.

 It made sense, Maggie reasoned, that this building looked as it did. The classes were being provided by the Red Cross so she figured the cheapest place they could find would have been chosen in an effort to save money. In the back of her mind she figured that the classes would probably reflect the choice of location.
He’s wasting his money and my time. We need the money we’re spending on these classes for other things. He refuses to listen to anything I say to him.
Maggie began the ascent up the stone steps, and her rubber shoes, not yet broken in, offered stiff resistance to the uneven surface she was attempting to tread. She noticed that no one else was outside waiting and as far as she knew, the class had not been cancelled. There was a minimum class size requirement before the date would even be announced and as far as she knew, the minimum had been met.

 The other students are probably inside already. Surely I can’t be that early. If anything, I thought I was about to be late.

 She reached the front door and found them to be unlocked. Pushing the door open, Maggie was greeted by the sight of polished wooden floors and a string of doors on either side of the hallway that gave the interior the look of an old high school. The place was so silent, she expected some kind of ghost or other supernatural bullsh** to come wandering through.

 There were four closed doors on the left wall that ended in a second hallway. On the right wall were six doors that ended at a window. Of the six doors, only one was open. In front of the open door lay a message handwritten on a dry erase easel that begged all newcomers to sign in first before they proceeded to the classroom.

 Considering I don’t even know where the classroom is…

 Maggie entered the room behind the sign and was greeted by a desk occupied by the ugliest woman she had ever seen. It looked as if the woman had been hit by a truck, scattered to a million pieces and then haphazardly glued back together again. One eye hung slightly below the other, wrinkles meandered all over her face and body, and her skin was a splotchy brown. The name tag on this misfortune read, ‘Michelle’ but Maggie was none too sure about this abomination’s gender.     

 “Can I help you?” Michelle had a voice of either a heavy smoker or a middle aged man, Maggie couldn’t decide which.
 “The sign out front said to come here first.” Maggie tried to find something to avert her eyes but failing in doing so, was intent to stare at the sheet of names sitting in front of Michelle.
 “Sign here.” Michelle jabbed a meaty finger toward the sheet Maggie was already staring at causing it to shift slightly from its position, “Name, printed and signed, age and address.”

 Maggie quickly skimmed the desk and found a coffee cup of pens from which she extracted one and began scribbling. As she wrote her information down, she glanced at the list of names already written. There were five names already on it, none of whom she knew and all in various colors of ink. She wondered if some had brought their own pens or if Michelle here just liked to mix things up by putting every color pen she could find in the cup. Maggie had lucked out and drawn the black ink pen and was only the second other person to have picked it.

 “Second door on the left. You still have fifteen minutes.” Michelle gruffly spoke as Maggie put the the pen back into the cup.

 Gods, I hope that never happens to me.

 As Maggie stepped back into the hallway, she was greeted by a silent stillness dispersed with muted whispers. The newly waxed floor creaked and popped with each step she took and the sounds it made seemed to be louder than it should have been. She could imagine a crowd of school kids clomping up and down these wooden floors, laughing and screaming as they hustle to their school rooms. What it would have been like to have been in this place during its heyday; she didn’t find the thought all that appealing. She had hated high school, opting to skip as much of it as possible until she found herself no longer welcome to even pretend to attend. She didn’t feel any remorse for her behavior as she would have done it all again had she been given the opportunity.

 She moved quickly to the room Michelle had pointed out earlier. Inside the room, there sat three rows of long tables lined with cheap plastic lawn chairs against the farthest wall, while a single table with three chairs sat closest to the door. A typical teacher’s desk sat in the middle of the room with three blackboards behind it. All five of the people whom had signed the sign-in sheet before her were already seated. All five were females; two sat at the far back table and looked to be approaching forty, while the other three sat at the middle table and appeared to have just reached twenty. Maggie saw that both groups were already engaged in furious whispering between each other. Not wanting to interrupt them, she sat at the opposite end from the door at the front table and extracted the training book all students were instructed to buy before coming to class, followed by a notepad and pen.

 Might as well try the first day before you start skipping it the rest of the days.

"That's terrible." "No, that is the toppest of qualities!"
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« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2017, 09:50:56 AM »

By: Kris Owens

 There was that smell again.

 This town smelled of rotten eggs most days, with the occasional smell of burning plastic thrown in just to shake things up. This collection of businesses, factories and houses -- this town was littered with walnut trees, dogwoods, oaks and an endless amount of birch, but you could not smell a single one of them for that ever-present smell of hell creeping around the corner.

There's a lot of... smells going on here in these opening lines. Repetition isn't always a bad thing, but for an opener, I usually prefer something that really grabs me. I think the overabundance of that one word would strike me as unpolished.

Margaret hated it here, hated this town and its people, and lately she had begun to hate her husband. She disliked being told what to do, hated being controlled, hated having her choices taken from her.

These qualities you've told us for Margaret could be conveyed more subtly. We're being told instead of shown. Also, you've setup this character and this town as unlikable: the town smells bad and Margaret hates everything and everyone. There's nothing wrong with despicable characters as long as they're interesting, but I would start by showing us--not telling--why/how Margaret is interesting before telling us why we shouldn't like her.

She Margaret had never been one for “hiding in the broom closet” much to the ire of her coven’s High Priestess.

I think this--the line I showed above--is where you should start the story, unless the smells of the town are integral to the plot or character. This is a catchy way to begin it: you've got character and context and immediately setup that this is a tale of witches.

I would focus on tightening the opening by showing instead of telling. For example, your description of Margaret is "telly." You can rework it into the story--spread the description out and convey it more organically. 
Margaret was youthful in appearance, not looking a day over seventeen because of the baby fat that lingered on her, even though she was actually twenty-four and two kids older.
That tells us a lot about what she looks like, but I think you could render this in a way that doesn't make it feel dropped in for the sake of explaining to the reader what she looks like, if that makes sense.
« Last Edit: May 05, 2017, 09:52:51 AM by samcantcook » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2017, 01:47:46 PM »

Thank you!

"That's terrible." "No, that is the toppest of qualities!"

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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2017, 03:15:31 PM »

First, I really like your prose.  I enjoyed reading and the style hooked me.  I would have gone on reading even if the story had only been about an unhappy marriage and not about witches. 

In fact, after I started reading, that is what I expected the story to be.  The magic elements threw me off a little.  I agree with what samcantcook said - start a little later - the backstory is interesting and I actually want to know more about the character's unhappy marriage but if you introduce the witch elements up front, the reader won't be caught off guard and you will still have time later to show the unhappy marriage.
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