Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lesson 5 - My assignment

Assignment for Session Five: Write a series of connected scenes (no more than 2,000 words total). These may be scenes from a short story or the opening of a novel, but they should stand together as a unit, even though they are part of a larger story. Try to include a variety from the types of scenes we've studied-narrative, dialogue, action.


The day started out perfectly and went straight downhill from there. One more meeting to go. At least this meeting was a social event and she would be surrounded by friends. Damn, she thought, first one here again. I need to stop being punctual. Aw, crap! Who left the light on in the attic?

Wide stone steps rounded by thousands of feet over the last 150 years led into the beautiful old brick building. The fading sunset glowed against the windows casting mischievous shadows inside. The attic was dark again so she decided it probably wasn’t a light – just the sun reflecting off the window.

Anne shivered as she unlocked the heavy oak door. Even after 40 years attending events here, the darkened interior still gave her the creeps. She knew every inch of the upper two stories and basement but being alone made her uneasy. As she flipped on the lights, the musty old place warmed to her presence.

The center was one of the largest buildings in town. Once used exclusively for Masonic groups, due to rising costs it was now rented out to others for meetings and functions. It hadn’t lost its sense of purpose and the rich dark woods and thick brocade curtains created a sense of formality

She turned on the lights in the main floor dining hall and was pleased to see the tables already set with festive decorations for the post-meeting meal. Red plastic clothes held white dishes. Large pink, red and white Styrofoam hearts danced on a sea of curly ribbon in the middle of each table. Crepe paper ribbons and balloons adorned the walls and a sign saying “Happy VD” was taped over the podium. Ann dropped her packages on the table and put her head in her hands. She made a mental note to have the sign changed before some of the older members arrived.

Overhead a floorboard creaked. “I thought I was the only one here,” she said to the portrait of George Washington. She went to the bottom of the stairs and called, “Who’s there? Is someone up there?” There was no response but Ann was relieved to see Helen and Jean both pull into the parking lot.

******

Jean rushed to gather her packages and lock her car. “Come on, Helen. We’re late again. Anne’s going to be pissed.” She ran towards the steps flustered at their tardiness. “Helen, hurry!”

“I’m too old to hurry and we’re not that late,” said Helen. “You take things too seriously. Relax a little Besides, who cares if Anne’s pissed? When did she become the boss of us?”

“God, Helen. You’re only 62. That’s not old. Quit trying to make yourself ancient before your time,” said Jean. “Anne became the boss of us when we elected her Worthy Matron of the Chapter, remember?”

“Well, thank heavens it’s only for one year. She’s a slave driver.” Helen could sense that Jean was not in any mood for teasing, so she locked her car, ran up to Jean, grabbed her by the arm and pulled her across the parking lot, up the steps and into the building, shouting, “Hurry, hurry! Anne’s gonna kill us for being late!”

They stopped giggling when they opened the door and saw Anne standing in the hallway, arms folded across her chest, peering over her reading glasses looking stern. “All right,” she said. “Which one of you is responsible for the sign?”

Helen blushed and Jean looked innocently up at the ceiling. “Well whoever did it needs to change it before the rest of the group arrives.”

“You don’t like it?” Helen said.

Anne cracked a smile and Helen and Jean relaxed. “I love it, but something tells me a few of our members won’t appreciate your sense of humor.”

The floorboard creaked overhead again and they looked at the ceiling.

“Is someone here with you?” said Jean.

“No. I heard the same noise just before you came in, but no one answered when I called. Maybe we should go upstairs and check it out.”

“Not on your life,” said Jean. “The men’ll be here soon. They can go up there.”

“Don’t be such a sissy,” said Helen. “Let’s go see what’s going on. It’s probably just the old building making noises anyway.”

“Well, you two can go, but I’m staying here,” said Jean.

Helen and Anne started towards the wide old stairs covered with the worn burgundy runners. As Anne started up, Helen sat down on the third step and said, “Maybe we should wait.”

“Wait for what? There’s nothing up there. It’s an old building and the creaking is normal. Are you afraid?”

“Yes and you should be too.” Helen’s courage was quickly evaporating. “How can you be so calm and complacent? What if there’s an ax murderer up there?”

“What if there’s nothing up there and we wait like babies until the men come and rescue us? They’ll never let us live it down. Come on!”

“OK, but you first. I’ll be right behind you.”

*****

The hall upstairs was dark except for the streetlight shining through the oak tree into the windows. Lemon wood polish mixed with stale wool carpet to create an old, but familiar scent. Anne knew Helen wasn’t right behind her, but knowing she was just downstairs gave her enough courage to keep going.

Hand trembling, she reached for the door. As she turned the knob another creak sounded. She froze – panic stricken.

“Anne, are you okay?” Helen yelled from downstairs.

“Fine. Everything’s fine, Helen,” Anne yelled, hoping to announce to any intruders that she wasn’t alone.

She took a deep breath, turned the handle and opened the door with such force it hit the wall on the other side with a loud bang. Quickly flipping on the lights, Anne was relieved to see – no one. Nothing was there but the empty meeting room, bathed in the glow of the new ceiling lights. She sank into the chair by the door and waited for her heart to stop pounding.

“There’s no one here, Helen. You can stop hiding now,” she shouted. “Where the hell are you? You’re supposed to be right behind me.”

Helen ran up the stairs laughing. “One of us had to stay behind to call the police.”

“Right, to report the other one was dead! Some friend you are! Well now one of us is going to have to set up the chapter room all by herself.”

“Not on your life. I’m not going back into that dark old storage locker by myself.”

Anne laughed, “Come on chicken, we’ve got work to do.”

Helen flapped her arms and exaggerated her steps as she followed Anne back to the lockers. “Bwaaaaaaaak, bak, bak, bak, bak, bak bak, bak!”

****

Helen started arranging the chairs and pedestals on the labyrinth rug. No matter how many times they told the caretaker how to arrange things, he always did it wrong. “I think he does this on purpose just to irritate us,” she said.

“He probably does, but at least we don’t have to lug those heavy old chairs or that huge rug out of the hallway.” Anne walked quickly through the room turning on every light, converting the darkness to the friendly warmth she associated with the place. The hall to the storage lockers was unlocked which seemed odd, but this wasn’t the first time. Anne opened the locker door and began gathering the paraphernalia to set up the chapter room. She filled the first box, took it out to Helen and returned for more.

Several items weren’t in their proper places and irritated she searched shelves and back of the locker. The sword was partially hidden behind the file cabinet but came out easily and Anne finished gathering everything and closed the door.

Other members arrived to help and Anne directed them to various tasks in the chapter room and the dining hall downstairs. The hour before the meeting was always a beehive of activity and she enjoyed watching everyone scurry around as the old building was transformed into a warm and inviting place.

*****

Anne stood at the podium and thought how lucky she was to be there. The meeting went well and everyone was thoroughly entertained by the story of the creaking building and Helen’s imitation of a chicken. It was almost time for refreshments and the smell of Pearl’s freshly baked brownies wafted through the air tempting everyone. Anne was pleased her day was ending on a positive note.

The Conductress closed the Bible and Anne said, “I now declare Peony Chapter #333 closed.” With that she rapped the gavel on the dais and a man crashed through the ceiling, bounced off the altar and landed on the floor in front of it like a beanbag.

Everyone sat in stunned silence for a few seconds before Mary Moran started screaming and ran from the room. Several cell phones appeared until Don Waters announced he was calling 911. John McKee, an EMT, quickly ran to the man and pronounced him dead causing two women to faint. The members moved away from the body, but couldn’t take their eyes off him and speculation about his identity ran rampant through the room.

Marion Sutton – who was partially blind and somewhat deaf – kept yelling, “What’s going on? What’s going on? Somebody tell me what happened!”

Her daughter, Dena, quietly explained the situation and Marion looked very puzzled. “What’s wrong Mom?”

“Was he a member?”

“Mom…”

“Was he a member?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t recognize him.”

“Then what’s he doing in our Chapter room. Only members are supposed to be in the Chapter room? What’s he doing here?”

“Mom, the Bible is closed.”

“Well, I suppose it’s okay then.”

By this time Anne regained her composure enough to clear the room and ask everyone to wait downstairs in the dining hall until the police arrived. She knew the police would want to talk to everyone.

As he left, Worthy Patron Harry said, “I sure hope they can find Mary Moran. She’ll be half way to Tacoma by now.”

Anne noticed Helen was standing at the altar looking at the body with tears in her eyes. “Helen, what’s wrong? Do you know him?”

“It’s Jim Ferguson, that retired software guy who moved here about 8 months ago. What a waste.”

“What do you mean by that, Helen? Was he a friend of yours.”

“Not really a friend - just an acquaintance. He lived down the street from me. We used to see each other in passing quite a bit and I was hoping …..well, he was one of the few decent single men around my age left in this town. Do you know how hard it is to find decent single men around my age in this town?”

Anne put her arm around Helen’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze. “Oh, I see. That sucks!”

4 comments:

ChristineEldin said...

Are we allowed to comment?

Liked the first one. Really like your desription.

Loved the third and fifth. Had fun and energy and moved right along. Nicely written.

Fourth was okay. Good, but not as good as the third and fifth.

Didn't like the second one at all. Too slow.

Just opinions....

This is wonderful you've shared your journey with us.

Bernita said...

Really like the man bursting through the ceiling.
Think it needs a sentence of its own for dramatic effect.

The Anti-Wife said...

Chris,
You're always welcome to comment. I appreciate the feedback.

Bernita,
I agree. I have a long way to go, but this has been a good learning experience.

Mary Witzl said...

I agree with Bernita -- put the falling man into a separate paragraph and it just shouts at you:

The Conductress closed the Bible and Anne said, “I now declare Peony Chapter #333 closed.”

With that she rapped the gavel on the dais and a man crashed through the ceiling, bounced off the altar, and landed on the floor in front of it like a beanbag.

Ooh, now I want to know what he was doing up there!