Thursday, August 4, 2011

66375--TCE Prompt 30

Okay, so it's really, really late but here's my TCE story for last week. The prompt was....

"I knew something was very, very wrong when I found the wall of cookbooks in his kitchen.  Not a single spine had been cracked."

Week 31 will be posted tomorrow some time.


The blue house spread itself along the edge of a wide, sloping lawn that slowly turned once again into forest, and past the forest, swap. Before the seventies, the area on which the house was built was a golf course, and so the turf was bright and springy. Perfect for barefoot walking during one of Todd’s famous barbeques. Perhaps famous was too strong of a word for Todd’s cook-outs, but the fact remained that he was a fantastic cook, and people came from all up and down the countryside to eat his food, squishing themselves onto Jenjira’s smooth deck when the light died and the frogs sang, and everybody stuffed their faces with cilantro-lime buttered crawdads and red beans and rice. For years he’d dreamed, living on his rickety old sail boat Jenjira, and those dreams centered around two things; food, and a home that didn’t require a mast.
Jenjira knew it. She knew it as she knew her own name was scrawled across that old boat on which they’d both once lived, for almost eleven years, knew it as she knew rain hung in the air. Jenjira sighed,  got out of her Imapala, and swung shut the door loud enough she might wake him, if he was still in bed.  He always had liked to sleep in late.
“Todd?” she called, hitching her purse better onto her shoulder. “Todd?” The driveway gravel was still a bright white, unpolluted by grease and oil or even little spots of grass, and she could see the screen door was closed, but the main door behind it was open.  Under the small porch roof—tufts of Spanish moss hung from the eaves--she hesitated… everything she'd discovered sounded crazy, insane even. He'd have to be insane too, to believe her. But she was here, finally, after all this time. No turning back now.“Hey Todd! You awake in there?” She rapped on the wooden doorframe, hard. No answer. “It’s Jenjira. You … you home?” She opened the screen door a bit, poked her head in the opening, leaning the screen on her neck as she peered into the living room. It was very … Todd. The floor was an awful ruddy brown shag no doubt left by the previous owners—he probably never looked at something like carpeting. One the walls were a few well-placed sketches of lighthouses with sail boats in the distance, probably done by his old art teacher Mr. Rudy, and the coasters on the coffee table in the middle of the room were made to look like portholes.  She stepped into the room. Her flip flops padded into the carpet and the door slapped shut.
It was the only house-sound she heard. For a moment, Jenjira stood there, arms straight, hands splayed to her side at just walking into someone’s house, even someone like Todd who loved visitors. Perfect excuse to cook something new, he’d always said to her. Years ago. No sound.
No sound. At all.
The hairs on Jenjira’s neck began to prickle.
“Todd?” This time, her voice was quiet. She walked from the front room to the kitchen, on the other side of the divider facing the doorway. The wall to the side of the stove had been made into a bookcase, and was crammed full of glossy, bright, unused cookbooks.
She walked closer to the bookcase, ran her pointer finger down one of the book spines. It wasn’t even cracked. None of them were.  Now that she thought of it, there wasn’t any sign of anyone having ever used this kitchen, especially someone like Todd, who was tall and bulky and flipped flour and batter and grease splatter over every available surface faster than a blink. She stood quite still for a moment, listening.
No sound. Nothing at all. Even her breathing seemed to be in a vacuum. She walked through the wide, opposite kitchen doorway, to the washer and dryer. No clothing piles. From there she turned and went down the hall which led from the living room down to the bedrooms. More nautical decorations; white walls; awful carpet. No Todd. No sound. No … anything.
The master bedroom was the very last room at the end of the long hallway. Almost she’d forgotten why she’d came, forgotten what she had to tell him. Slowly, Jenjira opened the door.
Inside the room all was dark. The carpet continued, thick beneath her flip flops; the walls were a dark brown like the earth where the swamps receded; so were the thick curtains; what bed she could make out, too. Even the ceiling seemed that same earth brown. It was still inside the room, and warm. Still, warm, and silent.
Like a tomb.

The thought slithered across Jenjira’s mind and she backed out of the room, stumbling, tripping, catching herself on the door frame and she turned, stumbling again as one of her flip flops rolled under the ball of her foot into the carpet, and propelled herself, still stumbling, down the hall, into the front room, and through the screen door. She flew out, and let the screen door slap behind her.
But there was no sound.  She felt a little foolish, hop-stumble-jogging to the car with her broken flip flop, but she sure as well wasn’t going to stop. When she reached the car she flung herself into the car and slammed the heavy metal door. Here, it was normal. Here, she could hear her breath, even the pound of her heart. Nothing sinister. Nothing unnatural. She bent over. Pressed her head to the steering wheel. Stupid. She was just being stupid. The swamps in these parts always had given her the heebie jeebies.  Just being stupid. Emotional over seeing Todd again. She kept her head on the steering wheel until her breath evened out. Then, she lifted her head and straightened.
The house was gone.
No, gone would imply that it had been there at some point. She stared through the windshield. There was no plot. No driveway. Definitely no house … not even the nice turf of the old golf course lawn. Just an old impala, parked on a gently sloping hill, wavy with wildflowers, and the sweet stink of the distant swamp down in the valley seeping through the crack in the window.


The pier was empty that sunset. It had taken Jenjira a while to get calm enough to drive off the hill, mudding it all the way back to some random gravel road which eventually led to town. Outside of town, the sun-greyed docks bobbed in the wind; very few boats were around, especially considering the time of year. Probably the economy. She walked down the boardwalk to the pier—this time, barefoot.
That was odd. There was no Jenjira. If there was no house, then Todd must still live on the boat.  An hour later, she returned to the small tackle shop on the shore above the pier. The boat may not be there, but surely someone would know where Todd was keeping it nowdays.
The sign on the door was flipped to “Closed,”  but she knocked anyway, opening the door a crack as she had earlier. The bell hanging on the door clanged brightly; somehow after the silence of earlier it sounded off; wrong.
“Hello? Anyone in? I just have a quick question…Hello?”
An older man, red cheeked like most older sailing gentlemen, came up to the door, wiping his thick hands in a dark bit of flannel. He smiled hesitantly at her.
“Hi,” she said, feeling foolish,  “I know you’re closed, but I was just wondering if you knew Todd, Todd Landry? He, well, he used to keep a boat here, called the Jenjira. I’m….an old friend of his; could you tell me where I can find him?”
The man opened the door wide, smiling, gesturing with his hands as he talked. But she heard no words. His mouth moved, but there was no sound. Nothing. Nothing at all.
The smile slipped off his face as she stood there, facing him in the doorway. His brows burrowed; he appeared to be shouting now. The shop tipped; the world tipped.
Jenjira fell to the ground, it shifted beneath her. She had to find Todd, to tell him. She had to tell him … something … something she had discovered … about … herself.
What little was left, went black. Jenjira’s world fell completely away.


“I should have known something was wrong when she saw the cookbooks unused. Damn! Stupid mistake to make. I’m so sorry, doctor. I should have cracked the spines, at least.” The voice was disembodied, muffled, as if speaking through a mask. Jenjira tried to move, tried to sit up, but she couldn’t.
“Don’t be sorry to me, Nurse Hampton. Be sorry to the patient,” a stern feminine voice, also disembodied and muffled, replied. “Ahh, patient 66375, you’re awake. Glad to have you with us. No, no, no movements now. Stay very still; we’ve got some very strong muscle relaxers in you right now for safety reasons; I would not recommend trying to go against them. Take some deep breaths. That’s it. That’s it.”
Lights. Bright, bluish-white lights—like new car headlights—shined down on her. The lady doctor’s voice bobbed above her.
“Okay, 66375, let me explain the situation with you. You are in a state-of-the-art government treatment facility. You were brought here by the Coast Guard eleven years ago, lungs full of seawater. Your companion died en route, but you, you survived. You survived,she repeated, vehemently. The tube in Jenjira’s throat burned. “At the time, we were able to expel the water, but…you had gone quite mad. It took us many, many years to get the prototype ready for human use, but you were the first candidate we thought of.  For  almost the entire time you’ve been at this facility you were in a state of hypersuspended animation; we’ve been experimenting with recreating happy psychological environments for our patients as a way of rehabilitating those with near permanent neurological damage, such as the types sustained by those who’ve ingested too much salt water.” The lady doctor lowered her pale green mask to Jenjira as a sort of a bow. “But you’ve woken too soon; we are afraid there may be some…complications. Nurse Hampton?”
Another pale green mask bobbed above her.
“Yes, doctor?”
“Take patient 66375…away, please. Goodbye, patient 66375,” she said, and her green mask disappeared from view. “Be sure to mark this one down as a failure to adapt to hypersuspended animation. Oh, and we should probably get a full autopsy on this one, don’t you think, Hampton?”
The second mask nodded in agreement.

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