beyond the shadows – by Lucy Ahl

September 1989

Grant was experiencing the quiet solitude of the hiking trails off the Oregon Caves National Monument when the predatory urge hit him, rising up in his gut and making him break out in a cold sweat.   He had been a slave to this beastly appetite ever since childhood and the more he tried to ignore it the more intense and powerful it became. Since he never knew when it would hit him, his backpack was equipped with a variety of means. He was like a boy scout, always prepared.

The fog was beginning to roll in and it gave the appearance of a mystic rain forest. As he walked a little further up the trail, he could smell the pungent odor of a barbeque.  His stomach growled.  He heard faint voices echoing below the trail.  Creeping over to a large Myrtle wood tree, he pressed his body close to the trunk and peered around it.  He saw a young couple sitting across from each other at a small wooden table engaged in conversation. Unable to make out what they were talking about, he decided to bide his time in case anyone else was with them.  Wanting to catch them off guard, he waited for them to finish eating before grabbing his horn rimmed glasses out of his vest pocket and walking out of the trees, fumbling with his binoculars, acting lost.

Tripping down the embankment, the surprised couple watched as Grant got closer. Getting up from the table, the couple walked over to where Grant stopped just prior to their camp perimeter.

“Sorry to intrude. I think I’m lost.”

Licking his lips, Grant smiled showing no teeth. He pulled out his bandana wiping the sweat off his brow.

“I’ve been walking around for a while and going in circles.  I can’t find the trail.”

Grant nodded towards their hibachi. “My nose guided me here.”

The couple followed his gaze as he glanced up at the tree tops,

“Bird watching. Gets me lost every time. Think I’d learn my lesson and bring a compass.” Staring at the silent couple, he folded the bandana into a square, and pushed it back into his vest pocket with two fingers. “Can you direct me?”

“Depends. Where’re you headed?” said the man as he put his arm around the woman.

“Back to the parking lot, I suppose.”

“The trails up here can be difficult to follow. That’s been our experience anyway.  Better to show you than tell you.” The man stuck out his hand towards Grant, “Names David” Pointing towards the woman, “My wife Beth.” Grant shook both their hands.

“Let me grab my pack.”

Walking over to their tent, David bent down, opened the screen and went inside. He grabbed his backpack and decided to take his gun. Outside he could hear Grant and Beth making small talk.

“I go to Oregon State. Just out here taking pictures of birds. Nothing too exciting.”

“Me too, that’s where I met David. What’s your major?”

“Not sure yet, but leaning towards zoology or something along those lines.” Grant was good at making up stories. What’d he care? They’d both be dead within the hour.

“Hey Beth, can you come here for a minute”

“’cuse me”

As Beth went inside the tent, Grant thought it was the perfect time to dispose of them together, but in his mind, his dark passenger wanted more of challenge.  How easy it would be to just stab them right now, but what if he missed one or both of them?

Grant heard whispering so he moved closer to eavesdrop.

“Did you see his eyes? Shifty. What do you think I should do?”

“You told him you’d show him the way out. Just take him to the top and point. I’ll start packing so we can get the hell out of here.  I’m creeped out.”

“I put the gun in my pack.”

“Want me to go too?”

“No, no. If I’m not back in 30, hike out and call for help.”

“Shit, forget it, don’t go, just draw ‘em a map.”

David looked at Beth and shook his head, “If he was gonna do anything, he could do it right here, right now.  It’ll be fine, if he tries anything, I’ll just shoot ‘em”

Grant could hear every word. “Everything all right in there?” He backed away from the tent and when David and Beth emerged, he was facing the forest.

“Sorry, just discussing how long it will take to get you to the trail, Beth’s pretty anxious to get going.”

“Look, if it’s a problem, just draw me a map, I’m sure I can figure it out myself.”

“Nah, I know a short cut, shouldn’t take us long to get there. Need some water?”

David reached into the cooler and pulled out two bottles of water, throwing one to Grant.

“You ready? Let’s head up this way”

The fog had thickened and left dew on the leaves.  Every few steps, the men slipped and as the leaves were churned up, the musky scent of the dirt filled their nostrils. They passed a few gray, granite boulder outcroppings.

“Mind if I check these out?”

As Grant walked around the large rocks, he noticed an opening between two of them.  Taking out his flashlight, he peered inside.

The perfect place to hide a body or two.”  Looking over at David, he could tell by the man’s fidgeting he was anxious to get going.  He was shifting his feet from side to side, looking up towards the top of the small incline, and checking his watch.  The fog was getting thicker making the area seem gray and gloomy.

“I think it’s right up here, hard to tell with the fog.”  Coming to the top of the hill, both a little breathless from the climb, the well-used trail, though covered with wet leaves, was clearly visible.

“Just follow this trail, it comes out at the parking lot, take you 30 minutes or so.”

“Thanks much, man.  Appreciate the help.  I’ve read too many stories ‘bout people gettin lost in these here woods and not a trace of them to be found.  For a while there I thought I was going be one of them statistics.” Grant shook David’s hand.

“Well, good luck to ya.”

Putting two fingers up to his forehead as if saluting David, Grant clicked his tongue, “You saved my life. I owe you one. See ya around.”

David watched as Grant shuffled his feet along the leaves on the trail. Turning around to see where David was, Grant waved at him and shouted, “Bye.” When David thought Grant was at a safe distance from him, he turned to head back to camp.

Leaving the trail, Grant headed back towards the boulders, ducking behind trees as he went so he wouldn’t be seen. His dark passenger was getting antsy. The voices in his head kept shouting “hurry, hurry, hurry.”  Crouching down behind the largest of the three rocks, Grant pulled his pant leg up and pulled the 7” survivor blade out from its leather holster he had strapped to his ankle.  He waited.  He could hear his heart beating and his breathing became rapid.  The excitement building within him.  And then, there he was, David, whistling and shuffling his feet in the leaves, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.  Grant would never forget the look of surprise on his face as he jumped out at David. His eyes got as big as saucers. His mouth opened so wide, Grant thought he heard it crack.  Falling to the ground on his back, unable to reach his gun, David lay there helpless.  Straddling his chest, Grant placed the knife just under David’s left ear.

“Please don’t” was the only plea he could muster.  But all it did was fuel the beast.  Grant could hear his own blood pulsing in his ears and the voices chanting in his head, “Do it, do it” over and over again. Grant knew what he had to do in order to shut them up.  With the slightest bit of pressure, Grant guided the knife into David’s neck, slicing from left to right. Immediately, Grant could feel the warm liquid of David’s blood on his hand.  The excitement Grant felt as he watch David struggle to breath, to talk, was almost too much for him to bare.  Like a child experiencing his first Christmas, he watched in awe as David moved his mouth to speak and only sounds of gurgling could be heard.  The metallic smell of blood filled Grant’s nostrils.  Within seconds, David lost consciousness and within a minute, he was dead. A sense of euphoric relief flooded through him.  It was so intense, Grant felt lightheaded.  His penis became erect.  Reaching for his backpack, he unzipped the front pocket and took out a condom.  Unbuttoning his pants, he pulled out his member, unrolled the condom the full length of his penis, and began to jerk off.  He came within seconds.  His heart rate and breathing gradually slowed. Sliding off David’s limp body, he rested against the boulders with his eyes closed. Worried someone might walk by and see him, he carefully pulled the condom off and placed it in a plastic bag.  Dipping his finger into the blood on David’s chest, he wrote the number 89 on the bag and the letter “D”.  Carefully placing the bag on the ground, he rolled David’s body near the opening of the cave. The dead weight made it difficult to maneuver but with a little effort, he completed the task of hiding it.  The mulched leaves where David had fallen were covered with blood.  Using his hands, he rearranged the dirt and leaves so if anyone came by, they wouldn’t notice the blood, at least not right away. He wiped the knife blade clean with his bandanna and then placed the plastic bag with the used condom in his pack. He was proud of his trophy.  When he got home, he would place it with the others he had collected throughout the years. He poured the bottle of water David had given him on his hands to try and get rid of the blood stains, to no avail.

Looking at his watch, Grant couldn’t waste any more time getting back to Beth at the camp site.  Before placing David’s backpack in the cave with his body, Grant removed the gun shoving it in his waist band, and began running back towards their camp.  As he approached the camp, he paused behind a tree, wanting to be sure Beth was still there.

Seeing she was busy packing up the campsite, he ran down the hill towards her yelling her name.

“Where’s David?”

Gasping for breath, Grant tried to tell her David had had an accident.

“What?” “Where is he?”

“He fell. Not sure how … but his screams … I need your help … hurry.” Grant could tell she was in a quandary.  Remembering their conversation in the tent, he could see she was hesitant.  Grabbing her upper arm, coaxing her, “come on, he needs our help.” Beth pulled away from him, “I should call 911.”

“No time for that. Hurry, he needs you.”

Grant noticed Beth was staring at his hands. Without moving his head, he lifted his eyebrows and rolled his eyes up to see her expression. The color had drained from her face.  Her rosy cheeks were gone.  Her eyes had the look of disbelief. He could see her lips quivering.  Her hands were shaking violently.  Her breathing was shallow. Yes, he recognized that look. Fear. He could smell it too. She was paralyzed as he stared down at her. What was that pounding? Her heart or his? A smile crossed his lips.

“Come now Beth, don’t make this any harder than it has to be.  Let’s take a walk shall we?” As Grant reached for her arm, Beth bolted towards the forest screaming for David.

“Perfect” Grant thought, “She wants to play hard to get?”  Grant trotted behind Beth, not wanting to lose site of her, yet not wanting to catch her too quickly.  He enjoyed the hunt.  He was going to savor her death.  The smells of the forest and the heavy fog rolling in between the tree trunks heightened his senses. It was getting colder. “Beth, I promise I’ll make it quick, you won’t feel a thing, not like David did”. He started to laugh. “You should have seen the look on his face.  It was priceless.”

Walking faster now, he could hear Beth running further away from him.  He could see only a dark silhouette of her body through the fog.  He knew he could overtake her but he was enjoying himself. “Come out, come out, where ever you are.” His words echoing through the forest.  It was only a matter of time. She would get tired and try to hide.  Up ahead, Grant heard splashing.  “She found the creek” he thought.  As he got closer he would smell the stagnant water.  He could hear Beth swimming towards the other side of the shore. Straining his eyes, he could make out her white arms as they came up from the water.

“Shit” He knew he had no choice but to dive in. He would not let Beth get away.  The dark passenger began to rise as his anger cramped his stomach. Beth wasn’t cooperating and being on the verge of losing control would not benefit her in anyway. He refused to allow her to win.  Letting her live was not an option.  Diving into the creek, he felt the shock of the cold water rush over his body. As he came up for air, he smelled the mossy stench of the dead vegetation that rose up from the bottom as he moved his arms forward and back.  Strands of limp reeds clung to his arms. Looking across the water, he saw Beth struggling to get out of the creek, the water weighing heavy on her legs.  She disappeared into the tall, brown reeds.

Grant reached the shore line minutes behind Beth.  As he crawled out of the water, his clothes clung to his body, the cold air smacked him in the face and he began to shiver. “Got to keep moving, can’t let her get away.” Walking into the reeds, he stopped.  Moving his head from side to side, he tried to pick up any rustling sounds. The fog was heavier on this side of the creek. The crickets and frogs silenced their conversations. Listening, he took another step and stopped.  Nothing but the sound of his own heavy breathing and pounding heart.  Bending from the waist, he put his hands on his knees trying to slow down his breathing.  He could feel her watching him. She was near. It was only a matter of time before he found her and dragged her sorry ass back to the boulders to join her husband. His thoughts of her torture and eventual death, warmed his shivering body. And then he heard it. Snap. It didn’t matter if it was a tree branch or a dried up old reed, the sound drew him to Beth’s hiding place.

* * * * * * * *

Grant awoke with a start.  Brushing his hair away from his face, he felt the cool wetness on his forehead. His pajamas were soaked. Raising himself up on his elbows, he noticed all the bed covers were in a ball on the floor.  The room was cold. Looking over to his right, the other side of the bed was empty.

“Honey?”

Silence.

“She must’ve gone out for a run”

Getting out of bed, Grant stretched.  Picking up the bedcovers, several dried up brown grass reeds fell out onto the hardwood floor.

“What the …”

Noticing the red stains on his hands, he ran to the doorway of the bedroom  screaming his wife’s name …. “Beeeeetttthhh”

The End

Amazon: Literary Suicide or Genius of the Future

 

By Lucy Ahl

Like Walmart, Amazon is a global superstore.  It not only publishes books, it sells books, technology, videos, has its own literary magazine, and its own production studio. Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, a graduate of Princeton, also owns a major newspaper, The Washington Post. Amazon is turning or has turned the publishing industry upside down and they are feeling the effects.  Bowker reports that over one million (1,052,803) books were published in the U.S. in 2009, which is more than triple the number of books published four years earlier (2005) in the U.S. (April 14, 2010 Bowker Report). More than two thirds of these books are self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books, which is where most of the growth in recent years has taken place. Bezos told Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes, “Amazon is not happening to bookselling. The future is happening to bookselling.” (Packer 17).

One traditional publisher, Dennis Johnson, co-owner of Melville House out of Brooklyn and one of the few publishers willing to criticize Amazon publicly, says the mega giant has turned into the bully of the publishing world.  When Johnson’s distributor was approached by two Amazon employees, he described the dinner meeting “like dinner with the Godfather.” Refusing to budge on making a payment to Amazon for carrying their books, (in 1999, Amazon received $3,621,250 in co-op fees) Johnson contacted Publishers Weekly, who ran their story about the strong arm of Amazon.  The next day, the “buy” button on all their titles had been deleted.  Because Amazon accounted for eight percent of their sales, Melville House caved to the pressure and paid the ransom.  Though major publishing houses believe Amazon has monopolized the digital works of fiction and non-fiction genres by selling books for just a few dollars, unknown authors and readers who live hundreds of miles from any bookstores, disagree.

History of Amazon

In 1994, Amazon started off as a bookstore, an internet bookstore.  Jeff Bezo’s, a Princeton graduate, quit his job at a Manhattan hedge fund and moved to Seattle to cash in on the “exponential growth of the early commercial Internet” (Packer 2).  In Chicago in 1995 Bezos manned an Amazon booth “at the annual conclave of the publishing industry”, called BookExpo America with a sign that read “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”.  When approached by Rainy Day Books owner, Doeren, he asked “where is this bookstore?” Bezos replied “cyberspace”.   When Bezos told Doeren his business plan, by gathering data on affluent, educated shoppers then selling books close to cost in order to increase sales volume, Doeren went back and told his business partner “I just met the world’s biggest snake-oil salesman.  It’s going to be really bad for books.” (Packer 3).

By 2010, Amazon controlled ninety per cent of the market in digital books (Packer 10).  One literary agent, Andrew Wylie, was worried Amazon had no competition.  E-Book prices were being slashed to a mere dollar ninety-nine or ninety nine cents and publishers feared it would not be long before they had to slash the cover prices of all their titles. Publishers wanted control back and along came Apple.  Apple wanted a deal with each of the big six publishing houses, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, and Simon and Schuster.  All but one, Random House, took the Apple deal and though the deal was worse from Apple than Amazon. “Apple’s terms included the provision that it could match the price of any rival” (Packer Cheap Words 12).  It gave publishers control over pricing and a way to challenge Amazon’s grip on the market.  However, in April of 2012, the U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint against Apple and the big publishers on conspiracy to fix prices after Attorney Steve Berman filed a class action suit.  Because Berman was an avid reader of e-Books, he discovered a number of different publishers had increased their book prices from $9.99 to $13.99.  After some investigation, Berman decided it was exactly what the publishers were trying to do, fix prices.  “The federal complaint was a shock and an embarrassment to the publishing community” (Gessen “The War of the Words” Vanity Fair 7).  Apple and the big publishers were trying to squash a monopolist-in-the-wings, Amazon, and the government stepped in and stopped them.  It was catastrophic for the publishers who had to pay out millions in damages to rid themselves of the class action suits (Gessen “The War of the Words” Vanity Fair 7).

Despite all this drama, behind the scenes, publishers were making money, just like Bezos said they would.  Print book sales may have been down, but e-Book sales were up.  With the e-Books there were no manufacturing costs, no warehousing costs, not shipping costs, no returns, and so even at a lower price, their profit margins were higher.  For instance, the retail price of a hardcover book of $27.99 would net profit to the publisher at $5.67, a profit margin of 41%.  An eBook selling for $14.99 retail will profit the publisher $7.87, a profit margin of 75%, therefore, publishers are making more money on e-Books than hardcover books due to the low cost of publishing.

In 2014, a war between Hachette, book publisher for writers such as James Patterson, Malcom Gladwell and Douglas Preston, and Amazon began.  The business dispute grew into a high stakes one, authors got involved because it was their bread and butter.  They organized a group called Authors United and circulated a petition that gathered more than 900 signature.  It called for Amazon to put an end to the sanctioning of books” (Gessen “The War of the Words” Vanity Fair 8).  In a nutshell, the Amazon-Hachette dispute mirrored a culture war which had been playing out since the 1960s in America.

Authors United was able to obtain 900 signatures to put an end to Amazon’s sanctioning of books. However, writers who had self-published with Amazon, some who had made a good living out of doing so, came to the defense of Amazon.  They were tired of New York publishing making the decisions of what stories people were allowed to read.  They were tired of the high prices of books, and they were tired of the little profits made on each book, with the majority of profits going to the publishers.  So they fought back.  They made it known that Amazon wasn’t the evil enterprise these authors purported Amazon to be.  They explained it was the natural and inevitable transition to online book sales.  They said the same transition happened to other forms of entertainment, they blamed the publishers for “resisting technology” (Gessen “The War of the Words” Vanity Fair 8).  These same publishers could have done the same thing that Amazon did, but they didn’t, they choose to fear the future and fight to protect the status quo (Gessen “The War of the Words” Vanity Fair 8).  Their petition on Change.org obtained more than 8,000 signatures.

The dispute with Amazon and Hachette ended in November of 2014 with both parties seemingly happy with the results.  The dispute was mainly over pricing and how much royalties an author could expect on sales of e-Books.  Hachette sent a letter out to its authors informing them their royalty payments would not decrease and they were given the right to decided how much to charge for their eBooks on Kindle.  Amazon in turn would provide incentives for Hachette to have lower e-Book prices, however the details of their deal remains unclear.  According to Sarah Kahn, an industry analyst at the market researcher IBISWorld, said the agreement shows that “large publishers have some kind of impact to negotiate with Amazon” (Stenovec 1).

Amazon’s self-contained publishing world has its advantages and disadvantages to the author who decides to publish with them.  First off, the majority of book sales, 20%, are through its e-Books, on the Kindle platform or on Kindle Direct.  The books are never seen in a book store, most won’t carry Amazon titles because they believe they are being undercut by Amazon and that they are out to destroy them (Shapiro 2).  Authors are also sacrificing the traditional New York based literary world as well as some amount of recognition in the world at large (Shapiro 2).  Amazon promotes the titles on its website and the Kindle, and uses one vendor, Amazon.  This is definitely not a path to riches for the author.  In fact, some find themselves working for almost nothing.  Aaron Shepard, an author of three “how to” books on Kindle publishing says he has told his readers to deliver the message, “The party’s over”.

One of the advantages of self-publishing with Amazon would be the low production costs, through their CreateSpace program.  With Kindle Direct, authors don’t pay any upfront cost to Amazon, they take a cut of 30 percent once the book starts making money.  This leaves a 70 percent royalty payment to the author much higher than the 10-15 percent from traditional publishers.  One self-publishing author has made upward of $450,000 a year.  According to an article in Forbes, a UK-based author, Mark Dawson, who writes thrillers and crime novels, has sold 300,000 copies of his thriller series about a British assassin named John Milton netting him a six figure total.

Future Issues

Around eighty percent of newly released books originate from self-publishing or small presses and this figure has been increasing yearly (Carolan & Evain 285). In order to establish the positioning of self-publishing’s future development, one must look at current industry practices. By profiling self-published authors, Carolan and Evain, who wrote a journal article “Self-Publishing: Opportunities and Threats in a New Age of Mass Culture” (2013), broke these profiles down into three categories: the big fish in the big pond, the big fish in the small pond, and the small fish in the big pond.  The author’s example they used for “the big fish in the big pond” was John Grisham.  Prior to becoming a bestselling author of legal thrillers, Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by dozens of publishers and agents until a small New York publishing house, The Wynwood Press, decided to release an initial run of five thousand copies.  Because Grisham had been studying the market, he knew his book would not obtain the success he was looking due to the limited marketing potential of the small independent press.  He sold his law firm, purchased one thousand copies of his book and went on a three month book tour cross state.  He ultimately sold every copy.  He then set out to produce his second novel, The Firm, which attracted Hollywood into making a major film, and in turn was then adopted by a major publishing house.  Though Grisham is often mistaken as a self-published author, he remains heavily involved in the promotion of his work and yet is also engaged with traditional publishers.

“The big fish in a small pond” category corresponds to self-published authors who have managed to “establish their authority as author-entrepreneurs in niche markets” (Carolan & Evain 288).  This is the perfect example of author James Redfield and The Celestine Prophecy. Redfield sold almost one hundred thousand copies of his philosophical dissertation on new age spirituality before Warner Books picked him up.  Niche markets are successful as self-published books because “these specialty books do not appeal to large-scale publishers and it is far easier to market a book to a specific audience” (Yakawicz 2010).  He has since sold over a million copies and the book is translated in thirty-four different languages.  Another reason for his huge success was the timing of his book.  The author had a great deal of knowledge in both his subject and his readership and the small interconnected communities used word of mouth to help develop his product (Carolan & Evain 288).

“The small fish in the big pond” concept deals with the self-published books that are released through Print-On-Demand which sells about an average of seventy five copies of any given book (Carolan & Evain 288).  The competition in this market is fierce.  Most self-published authors keep a low profile so it is important for them to engage with their readers either electronically or physically.  It’s important in this day and age for the authors to let readers know why they should invest their time in getting to know them. Blogging and social media networking websites are ways for authors to build their online communities and interact with their readers.

Diversification of Publishing

With the e-Book renewing the love of reading for many people, it has also helped the book industry all the way around.  People are checking out books at the library and they are still buying hard copies via the internet.  With the diversity offered to the public, it seems the modern publishing environment has been able to co-exist and complement each other’s activities.  Gabriel Zaid explains it beautifully:

The technologies that lower the threshold for investment and the cost of the product respond to the need of a better educated population to read and express itself in an ongoing conversation in which diverse subjects and interests multiply.  By rooting themselves in this economic reality, some forms of conversation that actually favor diversity may thrive.  But those that impoverish conversation instead of enriching it will encounter difficulties inherent in the very nature of books.

Conclusion

More than two thirds of the over one million books published each year are self-published books, reprints of public domain works, or other print-on-demand books.  All of this growth has come in the name of Amazon, the global superstore.  And even though in the beginning, traditional publishers felt Amazon was monopolizing the digital works of fiction and non-fiction genres, the publisher’s profit margins increased from 41% to 75%.  With 80% of newly released books originating from self-publishing or small presses, it’s no wonder this is the way of the future.  It has opened up diversity in the market place and has allowed both the traditional publishers and the e-Book publishers to find a way to co-exist in the market.  After all, enriching people’s lives will help a society thrive in an ever changing market place.  Amazon opened the doors to the future, and the future is here to stay.

           Works Cited

Bowker Report. “Self-Publishing Movement Continues Strong Growth in U.S.” Tools and Resources. Thorpe-Bowker. A ProQuest Affiliate. 2010. Web.

Carolan, Simon. Evain, Christine. “Self-Publishing: Opportunities and Threats in a New Age of Mass Culture”. Springer Science+Business Media, New York. 12 Oct. 2013. ProQuest.

Gessen, Keith. “The War of the Words. How did Amazon End Up as Literary Enemy No. 1?” Vanity Fair. Dec. 2014. Web.

Packer, George. “Cheap Words. Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?” The New Yorker. 24 Feb. 2014. Web

Ronning, Helge. Slaatta, Tore. “Marketers, publishers, editors: Trends in International Publishing. Media, Culture & Society. Sage Publishing. Journal. 2011. ProQuest.

Shapiro, Nancy. “The Perks, Pitfalls, and Paradoxes of Amazon Publishing.” Seattle Weekly News. 4 Nov. 2014. Web

Stenovec, Timothy. “Amazon Probably Didn’t Get What It Wanted In the Hachette Deal” The Huffington Post. 14 Nov. 2014. Web.

Yakowicz, Susie. “Find Self-Publishing success with a Niche Market”. 2010. Web.

Zaid, Gabriel. “So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance. Sort of Books. 2010. Print.

Hoarding

By Lucy Ahl

As I drove up to the two story house, which seemed to loom over the single story homes on the same block, I noticed the windows were all covered with white sheets.  A red wagon was carelessly strewn across the green, tall grass on the front lawn.  It was an unusually hot day and I started to sweat as I walked up to the front door.  There was a swarm of flies buzzing in a circle around the entry way.  Ringing the bell, I noticed a gray haired man peering through the panes of glass.  He opened the door slowly. “Yes?” he asked in a whispered voice, holding the door only inches open where all I could see was his nose and one eye.

“Hi, I’m Lucy, the professional organizer.  Mr. Cano called and asked me to come by and give an estimate on decluttering his home”.  Reaching into my notebook, I flashed my card close to his nose.

“Oh, yes.  Thank you for coming.  We need to hurry though as my girlfriend will be home soon, and I don’t want her to know I have called someone”.

He opened the door slowly and a putrid odor that smelled like rotting chicken and dirty diapers hit my nose.  I had to force myself not to gag.  As I walked into the foyer, I could see the living room and dining room.  Every inch of space, from floor to ceiling, was filled with clothing, shoes, vacuums, irons, golf bags, and an assortment of dirty dishes.   There was a small area on the couch that was cleaned off and it looked as if this is where Mr. Cano sat as he watched TV.  The dining room table had clothing piled high on it and the kitchen counter was crawling with maggots and ants. Dirty dishes covered every inch of counter space.  Looking up, I saw another swarm of flies buzzing around in a circle.

“So, what is it you would like me to help you with today”, I said half joking, half serious.

He explained to me his girlfriend had a hoarding problem and he was tired of his house looking and smelling like a morgue.  “She goes out on trash day and dumpster dives other people’s trash.  Late at night, she drives around to the bins where people donate clothing and such and raids them.  I haven’t been able to use my garage for the past three years, yet alone, the rest of my home.  My kids won’t even come visit me because of this mess”.

As I looked around, I could image this place without all the clutter.  The honey colored hardwood floors underneath all the clothing, had started to turn black, probably from mold.  The fireplace in the living room had fancy drywall cuts in it to make a southwestern design.  The wall space that could be seen, was painted in a mauve shade and the trim, a light tan, the color of toast.  The high ceilings, without all the cobwebs, gave the place an open, airy feel.  But it was the kitchen, massive in size that held the most promise.  Surrounded by windows, if not covered up by white sheets, could emanated the natural light, giving it an outdoor feel.  The dark cherry wood cabinets complimented the golden mottled granite on the countertops.  The enormous island in the middle of the room housed the filthy stainless steel stove.  Looking closer, I saw a trail of black ants carrying away bits of rotten food.  I honestly did not know how much more I could take, I was getting nauseous from the putrid smell.  Mr. Cano opened up the freezer.  He proceeded to remove something that once resembled a gray squirrel, squashed from a car tire.

As I walked outside into the clean, fresh air, I took a deep breath.  I could feel my lungs expanding, thirsty for clean oxygen.  As I looked up, the swarm of flies, still there, flying around and around in a circle, just like Mr. Cano’s relationship.

NEVER SAY GOODBYE

This is  part of a screenplay I wrote in one of my creative writing classes.  It started out as a short story.  The screenplay class taught me about details and how important it is to put a picture into the readers head.  I hope I was able to accomplish this.  It is not a finished piece of work however, now I will be able to spend more time on it.

Fade in:

INT.  INSIDE A MOVING VEHICLE, DODGE RAM – AFTERNOON

Somewhere in Montana in a small suburban setting, its Fall, trees turning colors as they

encompass the street

 A few white clouds in the sky

Radio is very loud a Country music song by Tim McGraw, Everywhere is playing              

TRENT is singing to the song. He brushes a tear from his cheek. Squinting, he puts on his sunglasses hanging off the visor of the car.  Making a right turn onto a tree lined street and pulls into a driveway of a large Log house.

….”Every highway just beyond the high-beams
Right beside me in all of my sweet dreams
No matter where you choose to be
In my heart I’ll always see you …”

Trent turns off the radio, grabs his briefcase, opens the door and gets out.  As he walks up the driveway, he turns slightly.  Presses the button on the key fob.  A LOUD chirp.  He puts his key in to the doorknob and walks inside.

                                INT.  FOYER OF A LOG HOUSE

TRENT (outloud)

                                                                I’m home….

Silence, no reply from any one.

Trent throws his keys on the half table in the foyer and heads to the kitchen.

                                INT.  LARGE KITCHEN AREA WITH SUBZERO REFRIGERATOR, GRANITE COUNTERTOPS, CHERRYWOOD CABINETS, PLANTS ALL AROUND.

 Opening the refrigerator, he pulls out a beer, twisting the cap off.  Putting the cap between his forefinger and thumb he aims for the trash can in the corner of the room.  PING… and misses.

Taking off his jacket and shoes, he rushes up the stairs pausing at a group of family pictures at the top of the staircase.  He picks one up.  It’s a picture of himself and his wife on their wedding day. 

TRENT (sighing)

God, I miss you so much

Trent continues to speak as if she is in the room with him.  He puts the photo down and walks into his bedroom.

                                                INT. MASTER BEDROOM WITH MASSIVE KING SIZE BED, LARGE WALKIN CLOSET LOTS OF WINDOWS AND GREEN PLANTS AND POTTED TREES

TRENT (looking up in the air)

                                                                I have to force myself to go up to the cabin, KATE. 

                                                                I can’t put it off any longer.  It’s going on two years. I

                                                                Just have to suck it up and go.  I know we talked about this

                                                                Before you left.  I didn’t keep my promise.  I mean how could I?

                                                                Baby, we did everything together.  Its been tough on me.

Walking over to his desk, Trent picks up his iPhone and pulls up the weather. He reads the screen.  Chance of possible snow; full moon.

 

 

TRENT (shouting)

                                                                Now we’re talking!  Thanks Kate, for putting in a good

                                                                Word for me with the big guy.  First time up to the cabin

                                                                In two years, and I just may get me a bobcat.

Rubbing his hands together as he walks over to the staircase, he jogs down the stairs and heads to the garage to begin packing for his trip.

FADE OUT.

FADE IN.                                             

INT. DODGE RAM TRUCK, SUITCASES IN THE BACK REAR SEATS, RIFLE IN THE BACKWINDOW, BLUE COOLER ON THE FRONT SEAT. TRENT IS DRIVING AND LISTENING TO SOFT MUSIC.

FADE OUT.

FADE IN.

MILE MARKER 22, GRAVEL DIRT ROAD, DODGE RAM SLOWS DOWN, THEN STOPS.  OVERGROWN WEEDS AND ERODED PATHWAY.  TURNING ONTO THE ERODED PATHWAY.

Trent puts his truck in 4 wheel drive mode.  Slowly he drives the truck up the pathway for a few miles until he comes to a clearing where ahead of him sits a long cabin with a wraparound porch and swing for two.                                             

TRENT (sighing)

                                                I forgot how pretty it was up here.

Trent glances over to the passenger side seat, shaking his head. 

FADE OUT.

FADE IN:   THREE YEARS BEFORE:  Late Afternoon

TRENT and KATE, a young woman with long light brown hair, wearing white capris jeans and a denim, no sleeve shirt/vest, slip on canvas shoes, white teeth, red lipstick, smiling, camera strap around her neck, driving up the same pathway.  No weeds and the road isn’t eroded.  Conversation sounds like it’s in a tin can (inaudible) and then becomes audible.

                                                                                KATE (taking in a deep breath)

                                                                I can’t believe this is really ours.  Can you?

TRENT shakes his head, SMILING.

                                                                                KATE (CON’T)

                                                                Oh, come on honey, I can’t wait to get inside!

KATE jumps out of the truck and starts running towards the cabin.  She runs up the three stairs and puts the keys in the keyhole.  She opens the door of the cabin and squeals as she looks inside.

                                                                                KATE (CON’T)

                                                                Oh, it’s just like I remembered it.  Trent hurry up. I want to unpack

                                                                And walk the property. 

TRENT struggling with the luggage up the stairs sets the suitcases in the living room just inside the door.                                                                          

TRENT (breathing heavily, taking Kate’s hand)

                                                Just leave them, we can unpack later, lets walk around

                                                Before it gets too dark.

Walking along the wrap around deck hand in hand – DUSK

                                                                                KATE (pointing to a section of the deck that overlooks the lake)

                                                                This would be the perfect spot for a hanging swing for two.  What

                                                                Do you think?

FADE OUT:

FADE IN:

PRESENT DAY –

TRENT drives up to the cabin, opens the back door of the truck and grabs the suitcases.  He opens the cabin door and immediately realizes something isn’t right. 

INT. SMALL MOUNTAIN CABIN, TASTEFULLY FURNISHED IN ANTIQUES,

TRENT (walking into the living room of the cabin, sniffing the air)

Hello?  Is someone here?  Kate? Is that you?

As TRENT looks around the silent cabin, he runs his fingers along the furniture.  He picks up a potpourri bowl and takes a long sniff.  Putting the bowl down, TRENT shakes his head, picks up the suitcases and heads into the bedroom.

FADE OUT:

FADE IN: Three years before

                                                                                KATE (emptying a bag of lavender into a bowl)

                                Oh, come on honey, I love this smell, it will make the cabin seem more welcoming.

                                Come here, take a whiff, please?  See?

Showing the back of the bag to TRENT

                                                                                KATE (Con’t)

                                It even says so on the package.  Plus, when I’m not here with you, it will remind

                                You of me.

KATE walks over to TRENT and gives him a hug then kisses him on the lips.

                                                                TRENT (kissing her back and smiling)

                                Ok, I’m convinced.  Have at it, this is your cabin too. 

FADE OUT:

 FADE IN:

PRESENT DAY:

EXT. SITTING ON THE DECK ON THE OUTDOOR SWING – SUNSET

TRENT has a glass of scotch on ice in his hand as he is looking out towards the lake and the forest which surrounds the lake on three sides.  As he is looking out over the lake, he sees out of the corner of his eyes, a woman standing at the edge of the tree line.  She’s wearing a bright yellow sun dress and her hair is flowing around her face with the breeze. 

                                                                TRENT (standing up and walking to the edge of the deck)

                                                What the hell?

TRENT raises his hand in a waving gesture but the woman figure turns and walks into the forest.