Entry for weekly writing contest #1 (part one)
This was my entry into the weekly writing contest; the theme to be used was "an unexpected hero".
I have used these characters in other stories, but I did write this story just for the contest. It took me about... hm... maybe three and a half hours to write.
This is not the exact copy that I used for the story--I have fixed a couple of things that I thought were wrong, and added back a few words that I had to delete to stay within the contest rules (had to be 3000 words or less). Also there are italics to denote a person's thoughts, which I couldn't use in my contest entry.
And as always: Though the language is basically free of all swears except for "damn" and "hell" please be advised that the subject matter of this little tale may be disturbing to some.
To make it easier to read, type ctrl-+.
Xerxes Boudreaux could hear his wife, Karlita, going to work. This morning, as on every morning except for Tuesdays and Saturdays over the past ten years, he had paused his movies at exactly eight, lumbered up the creaking basement stairs, made a lunch for Karlita to take to her job, carefully counted out her doses of psych, kidney, diabetes, heart, and God-knew-what-else medications, and then just as carefully placed the pills with his pudgy fingers into the slender plastic pillbox—and then headed back downstairs. Now it was nine-thirty and the floor overhead squealed under his wife's bulk as she made ready to leave the house. Even though his movie was at a particularly good part, he paused it and waited the obligatory few minutes for the basement door to rasp open.
"Xerxes, honey—I'm gone ta work now."
"You have yoreself a good day, baby," he replied. "They's some o' that leftover pizza in yore lunchbox."
"Thank you, Xerxes. I'll be home a little after midnight."
The basement door was left open after this exchange, and Karlita went out to make her deliberate, ponderous way to the bus stop.
Once he had heard the kitchen door click shut behind her, Xerxes un-paused his DVD and rewound a bit. For a couple of minutes he sat watching in placid blankness, scratching his enormous, pale, hairy stomach; then a large and salacious grin split his features. Fumbling at his trouser buttons, he whispered (not too loudly so as to drown out the more subtle sounds of his movie, which he loved):
"That's it, gal… you git it. You GIT it. Git it al-ll dirty now… go on, git it dirty… that's it…"
He woke, back aching a bit, still sprawled on the sagging couch. The DVD, set to loop, continued to play, but it no longer interested him and he switched it off. He had been asleep for quite some time, and saw by the color of the light that crept in around the shade on the west-facing window that it was close to sundown. He was getting hungry.
Then he realized: It was a smell that had awakened him, a foxy, sharp odor laced with cigarette fumes that easily overrode the familiar musty rankness of his basement lair.
A boy was sitting near the top of the stairs. Xerxes was not overly alarmed, as that peculiar smell had already announced Jachin Deszcheine's presence. He wasn't alarmed, though a penetrating dismay now seized him, and with a fierce laugh shook him mercilessly.
As though reading the thoughts that raced through Xerxes' mind Jachin grinned gleefully as he sat, his skinny knees sticking up in front of his chest, puffing on a Marlboro, and Xerxes shuddered faintly to see the boy's eyes aglow in the dim stairwell.
"Didn't mean ta wake ya up whilst you was a'gettin yore beauty sleep, ole boy," Jachin said, sniggering faintly. His voice had apparently just changed, and cracked about every other word. Xerxes remembered with a pang of strange emotion that last summer it had been flutelike, melodic, in spite of the streetwise rasp the boy and all his friends tried to affect.
Jachin unwound himself and stretched in one languorous, unhurried, catlike movement, and jumped lightly from the top of the stairs, landing on the balls of his booted feet with scarcely any sound, a puff of dust rising from the carpet where he landed. He had grown taller, too, since the last time Xerxes had seen him; if he wasn't over six feet now he was pretty damned close to it. Long, thin, extremely pale, with shaggy black hair almost but not quite to his shoulders, a white guinea tee clinging to his bony torso, his lanky legs encased in black Tripps with the requisite thousands of pockets and zippers. Another shudder ran through Xerxes before he could control himself. What was I thinking? he wondered, then: What the sam hill did I EVER think?
He tried to remember a prayer; Karlita was always telling him to pray and go to church, and he had heard her say her prayers before bedtime so many times during their thirty years of marriage, but like the proverbial cop, a prayer never seemed to be around when he really needed one.
"Hee, hee!" the boy giggled, smoke from his Marlboro wreathing his feral features.
Xerxes didn't have to ask why Jachin was there; he knew. His heart sank. Oh, yes: He knew. Mustering as much dignity as he could, and not taking his eyes off Jachin Deszcheine for one hot second, he began to button up, first his pants and then his shirt.
"Where's Nate, Jachin?" he finally asked, striving to keep a normal tone.
Flicking ashes casually on the carpet, the boy shrugged. "Don't know. Off with some gal, I s'pose." Then he grinned again. The tired light from the waning sun now only illuminated the floor immediately beneath the window, and Jachin's face was a sickly blur in the gathering gloom, his cigarette ember a spark of red-orange that reflected as a pinkish glow in his black, slanting eyes.
"I aint got no beer, Jach," Xerxes said, despising the plaintive note in his voice.
"You need to go down to the liquor store, then, I reckon." There was a pause during which they both stared at one another some more. Jachin, his expression suddenly bored and somewhat angry, said, "I know you got you a bottle o' somethin stashed. I'll just drink that while yore goin to the lick." His cigarette was smoked almost all the way down. Not dropping his surly gaze from Xerxes' disconsolate one, he fished in the right hip pocket of his Tripps and brought out a hard pack of Marlboros; extracting one with a spidery white finger, he chained it to the first, took a final drag off the spent cigarette, and flipped the smoldering butt up onto the concrete stairs.
With a sigh, Xerxes Boudreaux went to get the bottle of vodka that he kept under the old couch. He didn't really HAVE to hide anything down here—it had been years since Karlita had actually come into the basement. But (though he couldn't say what made him think of this right at this moment) he was ashamed of his habits—his drinking, his movies, and…
Laboriously kneeling to get the bottle out of the cobwebbed, filthy space, he glanced despairingly up at Jachin, who grinned toothily back.
Much later, and on his way to being good and drunk, Xerxes Boudreaux sat in the dining room of his home with the lights turned off, elbows propped on the heavy carved oak table that was never used, head in hands, crying. Light from the street outside streamed in through the lace curtains, making delicate patterns on the floor; warm humid air and the noise of an urban neighborhood filtered in through the screen.
I always knew, he thought, the misery of knowledge twisting in his chest and causing fresh tears to course down his flabby cheeks, I knew he would be the one. A loud, womanish sob shook him and he let his head drop onto the table.
I always knew he'd be the one that would break me...
After a few minutes, however, with that abrupt shift of purpose peculiar to drunks, he stopped weeping, and sat up straight, his face working. He took a deep breath, and then another. It aint right, he thought. I aint dead yet. That little old pissant boy thinks he's got me in a corner, don't he? His lip curled, and he felt himself smiling.
With hands that only shook a little, Xerxes Boudreaux picked up the bottle. Observing his hand as closely as though it was someone else's, he poured out a drink of vodka into the glass that sat before him, but he didn't drink right away. Setting the bottle down carefully, like it contained a sleeping baby bird, he stood.
Purpose in his stride, now, he went into the upstairs bathroom—which always made it seem to him like he was in someone else's house, it was so clean and dainty—and washed his tear-splotched face, flattened down his sparse hair. From the mirror over the sink a blown old pervert in a flimsy Hawaii shirt and stained chinos gazed woefully at him. His lip curled again, but this time in a snarl.
He went back to the table and downed the drink he'd poured. His sandals were by the front door where he'd left them after returning from his liquor store run. Sliding his feet into them, he opened the door, and stood for a moment with the warm mimosa-scented air bathing his face. Checking his pockets for keys, wallet, and phone, he shut the door behind him with a crisp, definitive click, and headed down the steps onto the sidewalk, out into the night.
(to be continued...)
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