Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Excerpt: "Bones"

  I finished up National Novel Writing Month a day early, cranking out 51,000 words in 29 days. I use the event in my creative-writing classes, as part of our unit on short stories. The students can sign up as "Young Writers" and the rules allow them to fill the word quota with several shorts instead of the standard novella. I've had a busy fall (revising a novel, finishing up a semester of grad school, teaching, etc.) so I followed suit. I focused my NaNo time on a future collection of loosely linked shorts, with a common theme of work and the male perspective on love. Here's a bit from one of the short stories, entitled (for the moment) "Bones."

            “How many today?”
Eric checked his list. “Five.” He squinted at his handwriting again. “No, six.”
The Boss considered this, reaching between the buttons of his yellowed shirt to scratch something near his navel. “You said 127 plays total?”
Eric nodded.
“Six winners yesterday.”
The boss took a breath that made his belly expand to what seemed like an impossible size in the small aisle separating the harvest-fair crowd from The Milk Bottle Game. “Guess that's alright. Little fucks will stop coming if they lose every time.” He stuck a fat finger in Eric's face. “No more than four tomorrow. Hear me?”
“Loud and clear, Boss.”
The boss nodded and scratched his left armpit. “Go on over to the Skeleton for the rest of your shift. Vanessa has a new girl over there.”
Eric nodded. “Will do.”
“Get yourself something to eat first. You look like shit.”
Eric nodded. He felt like shit, too. Probably something he'd picked up from one of the townie girls. He hoped it wasn't syphilis. His last run in with it had been enough to make him swear off carny groupies for a couple of months. Then he met that girl with the tattoos outside Cleveland and —  He shrugged. “I'll get a hotdog on the way down.”
The boss nodded. “Do that. You're too fucking skinny.”
And you'll be dead of a heart attack in five years, limp dick, Eric thought, as he watched the big man lurch away. Eric had really let 11 kids win the Big Prize, had practically given one away to a twist  in a wheelchair, but he planned to be far from the midway when the end of the season came, and the boss holed up at his winter place to check the inventory of sawdust-and-wire-stuffed animals, toxic blowup toys, cheap T-shits, and knock-off electronics.
Eric closed the Milk Bottle Game for the night, snapping the big padlocks through the hasps and pocketing the keys. Padlocks were the only thing the Boss never scrimped on. He always bought top-of-the line.
Eric crammed his hands in his pockets and walked down the midway.  The clown-faced games still glowed garishly, and the rides still spun, but the kids were heading home. The real action, the quarter-a-turn betting games, the strip show, the freak tent, and the behind-the-scenes drug deals, were just waking up. And that's where the real money was. Eric brushed his fingers against the plastic baggie he'd stuffed deep in his left pocket. He played the game but never got greedy. He sold a little pot sometimes, exchanging it for money or sex, but stayed away from the harder stuff. In his right pocket, the solid warm-metal weight was comforting. It was his insurance in case the harder stuff found him anyway.
The sun was only setting, not gone, so the strippers were still on the little fold-out porch, cooing and posing, and flicking their feathered boas at the family men. The girls didn't sell it hard, just enough to make the men hungry as they walked by with strollers and sticky kids, their wives rolling their eyes at each sidelong glance at forbidden fruit. Boys will be boys. A few of the girls waved when they saw Eric. He threw them a nod and kept walking. Eric wasn't picky about pussy, but he wouldn't have slept with most of them on a small bet.
The girls would go back into the trailer when the sun went down, leaving Max the Pimp to sell the tickets. A lot of the men, their families safely at home, came back for the show. A whisper in Max's ear and a rolled-up $20, and he'd get one of his shopworn strippers to suck you off while your buddies stomped their feet and cheered.Once in a while a local would fall for one of the girls. He'd blow all his money trying to save her and end up working the midway, just another carny with the clap.


  1. I agree with Kelly. Congrats on NaNoWriMo. And an awesome story!!

  2. Totally awesome what you accomplished. Loved the read too!

  3. Thanks for the kudos. Hero, KB? Best I could for would be to become the wind beneath your armpits.

  4. Good stuff, Rob. Good tease, too. I'd follow Eric for the rest of the ride.