Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Teller Part Four


The hallway was dark in the way that space is empty. I could make Marion’s figure out but only barely and behind her was another set of stairs that were so narrow I might have to walk up them turned sideways. I tried to see her face but could only see the slight halo of light on her hair from the other hall. Marion pointed up. “You’re going to seventeen.”

“Seventeen?” I said.

“You have to go on your own now.” She looked at me. “Ray? You have something to give me.”

“I don’t know what it might be. The boatman and Mrs. Chandler…”

“You’d have to break the seal before I could take it, Ray.”

“Oh,” I said. “Oh!” I pulled the parchment from my coat pocket. Only a little worse for wear, I held it out to her.

“You have to do it, Ray. Please.”

Her voice had shaken just a little there. I looked at where I knew the parchment was in my hands but I couldn’t see it. I hesitated a moment, but the wax snapped easily. The hall was flooded with light. I could see the tears on Marion’s cheek as she took the parchment from me and her finger lightly brushed mine and she smiled sadly. “Goodbye, Ray. It was nice meeting you.”

She brushed past me and disappeared into the light. I heard a door close far away. I went up the stairs.

The landing at each floor showed a plaque with a number, but there wasn’t any order to them, one floor was twelve the next six the third forty-seven and so I lost count of how many flights I went up before I got to seventeen and I was seriously winded. There was only one door, and I could see light underneath it. I put my hand on the doorknob. It was hot to the touch, and the longer I held my hand there the more it hurt so I turned it, opened the door.

I didn’t expect to see both of them.

They were so young, their whole lives ahead of them. He was only half as handsome as she was beautiful, but she was the most beautiful woman in town when they met. She saw me first. “Ray! Come in!”


“Don’t dawdle, you ain’t got much time.” I hadn’t been aware of the third person in the room. I failed to hide my surprise at seeing Bea Chandler in that room.

“Old witches know things you ain’t dreamed up, yet.” She chuckled to herself and stood in the open doorway. “I’ll be waitin’ for ya down the dock.” I was left in the room with the ghosts of my grandparents.

“You look good, Ray,” Gran’ma said. “It’s been so long. How much weight did you lose?” She ushered me into their little suite and sat on the couch across from me. My grandfather stood behind her, every inch the athlete

“How was your trip, Ray?” he asked me, sipping from a delicate coffee cup. He was smoking, something I hadn’t seen him do since I was a child. It was the cigarettes that likely killed him, so I was surprised that he was on them again. “How are your parents?”

I tried to keep it together. “They’re good, I think. Sometimes it’s hard to tell for sure. I worry about them. Getting older.”

“Aren’t we all?” Gran’ma said and smiled. “I guess technically not, but I feel older anyway.”

“You look great,” I said. “Both of you.”

Gran’pa came ‘round the end of the couch and sat with his wife, put his arm across her shoulder. He wasn’t the old man I’d known for the greater part of my life, but the virile baseball player I’d only seen in pictures. He always underplayed his abilities and good looks, but plainly adored my grandmother and had continually sung her praises for as long as I’d known him. This was the man I’d imagined he’d been, but had never met.

“Well, Ray,” he said. “You’re here.”

This was my destination, after all. “I need a story. It feels a little like we’re forgetting you at the family gatherings. We didn’t forget Gran’ma because you wouldn’t let us, you always talked about her.”

“You were so sweet that way,” Gran’ma said and kissed him on the cheek.

“I figured that if I came here and found you, I could maybe take a story back with me. One that maybe you hadn’t told us, or that you hadn’t told in a long time.” I sat back in my chair, worried and feeling silly after saying all that out loud. “It’s just ---“

“What, Ray?”

“I miss you both and I don’t want anyone to forget you.”

Gran’pa waited a long time to speak. “You’ve got what you came for, Ray.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You tell this story.” Gran’pa said. “Tell it around the table after dinner and before dessert. Tell it once and wait to be asked to tell it again. If it’s a good story, you’ll get requests. If not, work on it and write it down. Tell it again after a suitable time in between. You’ll know how long. You have the gift.”

They beamed at me.

I left my grandparents’ suite relieved. I turned the corner to go back down the stairs and found myself back in the parlor. Hodgkins was there behind the leather chair with another glass of brandy “To calm your nerves for the journey home,” he said. He asked how I was and nodded when I replied that I was okay, then left promising to return momentarily. The parlor was silent now, so still in contrast to the ruckus upon my arrival. The brandy was excellent and I allowed myself to relax.

Hodgkins came back to tell me that the Sherilynn was at the dock. He saw me to the door and I made my way down to the river. Wilber Davidson helped me back onto the boat when I was a little unsteady and hesitated taking the step. Beatrice Chandler was there, too. She smiled at me. “I love the ride home,” she said.

“You got the gift, Ray,” Mrs. Chandler said to me once we were pushing back up the Kaw. “You’re a teller.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not half as charming as he was. We all wanted his attention; he held court like he was king of the world and we all listened to him.”

“Y’re not payin’ attention, son,” Wilber said from behind the wheel. “Listen t’Miz Chandler.”


“You tell the story so no one forgets, but you change the names, you move the Castle. You did a service tonight, and it had to be you doin’ it or it wouldn’t’ve never been done.

“You tell the story and don’t leave anything out, ‘specially not parts about your wife. You’re the teller he wasn’t, you just don’t know it yet.”

The rest of the ride was silent. I was left alone with my thoughts, turning them over and over in my mind.

It was Christmas Eve when I got home. Erika was there with a long hug, a kiss and a pot of hot coffee. The children were asleep in their beds and we sat in the kitchen. Minus some details, I told her the story and she stopped me before I ran up all those stairs.

“Did you give it to her?”

“What?” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s important, Ray. Did you give her the parchment?”

“I gave it to her, yeah, but how did you know?”

She poured coffee for both of us. “Did you see him?”

“I saw them both.”

“What was that like?”

I smiled. “Amazing. Stunning. I don’t know. I don’t have the words.”

“You’ll find them,” Erika said. “You’ll go into your office tomorrow after dinner and you’ll work until you find the words. Finish the story, though. Did you get your glasses back?”

“I don’t need ‘em anymore. Go figure.”

When it was done, we sat there for a while drinking coffee. I gasped.

“The presents! Did you get everything wrapped? Tomorrow’s Christmas and the kids ---“

“Calm down,” she said. “I covered for you. Actually Santa did. It’s all good.”

We walked into the living room and looked at the tree, sat on the couch. I put my arm around her.

“That’s strange,” Erika said.


“That box, the square one, I didn’t wrap it.”

“Really? You’re not playing with me?”

“I swear I’m not. You know I’m a terrible liar, Ray. You know it.” She made to get up and take a closer look.

“No,” I said. “Leave it for tomorrow.”

She sat back and put my arm around her shoulder, nestled close and put her hand on my chest.

“Tell me the story again, Ray. Don’t leave anything out.”

Please come back next Wednesday Click here for a new story: Disconnect!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Teller Part Three


The lights flickered and came back on, though dimmer. Maybe sitting still wasn’t my best option. There were things going on throughout the castle that I couldn’t identify; sudden sounds that didn’t make any sense: voices, even screams in a dozen languages some of which were probably not human; footsteps running, stomping, and apparently jumping; obviously large and very heavy items crashing to the floor and more glass breaking. These sounds were all around me, or rather all around the room I was in. I went to the door that Hodgkins had just exited and looked out into a large hallway. Empty in both directions and no sounds here. Indecisive, I went back to the parlor and tried the other entry. I could still hear the sounds all around the room, but not in this hall, either. Back in the chair, the room was ominous now. I didn’t know what to do.

“It’s okay, Mr. Briscoe.”

I turned around, startled, and saw a thirtyish woman who was obviously beautiful even in the far shadows of the parlor. “I’m Marion. I’ll be your guide here.” She stepped into the light at the center of the room and confirmed my impression.

“Do I know you?” I said. There was something familiar about her: half a head shorter than me with sparkling blue eyes and dark hair. There was a moment when I thought I could place her but it flew away.

“How could you know me, Mr. Briscoe?” She was gorgeous up close and looked a little sad. She took my arm. “Come along, now. We need to get you upstairs.”

I nodded and we walked arm in arm into the interior hallway that Hodgkins had disappeared to. The sounds had stopped and the calm and quiet was even more eerie than the crashes and voices. The abundance of stillness despite my footsteps on the hardwood floors of the castle was nerve wracking.

“This is an unusual place,” I said.

Marion made no sound. We kept walking until we got to a wide, ornate staircase. She stopped and looked at me. “You can stop and go back now if you like.”

“No,” I said. “I can’t. I’ve come this far.”

She nodded and we went up.

At the top of the stair was a long hallway, doors up and down each side with a couple of small tables breaking the monotony of the cream-colored walls and the red carpet with gold accents offering a threadbare elegance. Marion stopped me going ahead of her. “Wait,” she said.

What happened next was not at all dreamlike. I heard blood-curdling screams and desperate shouts; doors opening and slamming shut in rapid succession but I couldn’t see anything happening. I felt a chill rush over my skin and through my bones with a force that would have knocked me to the floor if I hadn’t grabbed the wall to keep from falling. The wall itself seemed to ripple under my hand and I jerked it back, bumping into Marion. I smelled smoke from the ceiling: burning leaves that then seemed to be overwhelmed by an acrid, electrical odor. It worked its way into my mouth and I almost retched before I tasted a new flavor: blood. My mouth was dry but I distinctly tasted blood. Marion was staring at the far end of the hall. I tried to see what she was looking at. Finally I saw distinct forms flinging themselves across the hall, back and forth in time with the opening and closing of the doors. “My god,” I said. “Where am I? What are those?”

Marion said, “You see them, don’t you?”


“We have to avoid touching them, don’t talk to them and don’t go into any of the rooms if they offer. Do you understand? We have to go the entire length of the hall and up the stairs again.”

“What happens if we touch them?” I asked. “What’s the real danger here, Marion?”

Patient, she smiled at me. “It’s only uncomfortable if you touch them. The danger is talking to them and believing their promises or going with them. If you enter one of those rooms, you’ll be somewhere you won’t want to be.”

I nodded, still watching the riot of rushing figures, hearing the cacophony behind my eyes, feeling cold and uncertain. I looked behind me and was surprised to find that there was a solid wall behind us where a staircase had been a minute ago. I said nothing to Marion, who only inclined her head in a way that indicated we should get going. “No going back,” I said to myself more than anyone else. “Only forward.”

The gauntlet was terrifying and seemed to get longer as we walked. I dodged as many as I could but I jumped about three feet straight up the first time a spirit plunged through me, and by the time I’d reached the fourth door I was only shivering at their icy dive-bombing. The screaming and shouting became more coherent the farther we progressed and I did my best to focus on the end of the hallway. Marion was right next to me the whole way and I reached out to take her hand, but she pulled away.

“I’m sorry, Ray, you have to do this yourself,” she said. I don’t know how I heard her over the noise; she didn’t raise her voice. She looked a little sad.

“Let’s go, then,” I said. “Eyes on the prize.” I stopped when I heard my name called out behind me.

“Don’t stop,” Marion said next to me. “Don’t even look.”

I couldn’t help it, though. I had to look and I was surprised that I recognized the voice calling out to me. “Charlie?” No, it couldn’t be. “Charlie Danko?”

“Hi, Ray,” Charlie said. He looked good, rested and healthy. He died when I was in high school and his funeral had been one of the most moving experiences of my entire life. I could feel the pain of his family’s loss if I closed my eyes. I don’t know what I expected on this trip, but it wasn’t this. “It’s been a long time,” he said to me. “Come on in, won’t’cha? We’ve got the good stuff.”

“Charlie,” I said. “I can’t stop, I’m supposed to go upstairs.” I looked over my shoulder and Marion was moving on, about six steps ahead of me. “I can’t lose my guide.”

“She’ll wait, Ray. Come on in and have a drink.” He opened one of the doors and I could see into the room beyond. It looked to be a hotel party like we used to have in the old days. The kind I was almost never invited to because I wasn’t really part of any clique. “It’s been a long time, Ray. Twenty-five years. Shouldn’t we catch up a little?”

I took half a step toward the door and it got quiet, a vacuum of silence. I looked back at Marion who was screaming at me in slow motion but I couldn’t hear. She was desperate, appealing to me to come back to the center of the hall. “What?” was all I could say, and I looked back at Charlie. He’d made room for me to go past him and into the party. I could feel the blood pulsing in my head, my heart. I tried to smile at Charlie. “I’m sorry, man, I can’t come in. I hope you’re okay.” I paused. “I’ve got to go upstairs. Goodbye, Charlie.”

I turned away from my friend, took a step toward the end of the hall and the dissonance came crashing in like thousands of shards of glass ripping through a silken sheet. My eardrums nearly burst and I fell to my knees but I could hear Marion again.

“Are you all right?” she said. “I almost couldn’t see you any more. I thought you were gone for good!”

“Okay now,” I think I said and got to my feet, slowly, unsteadily. I lost my balance forward and nearly fell again. Marion waited for me to get balanced. “Really, I think I’m okay.” I stood straight. Regaining some dignity I smoothed my coat and we started forward down the hall again, ignoring the chaos all around us: the noise, the smells, everything.

When we finally gained the end of the hallway, I looked back to where I’d seen my friend from high school whose killer had never been caught. Charlie was watching me, nodded and gave me a little salute. I nodded back and he didn’t see the monstrous hands that were reaching out to grab him from behind.

Everything I imagine that could have happened to him probably did, but I couldn’t worry about that. I had to find my grandfather somewhere above. I couldn’t afford to care about a long-dead friend. This was about family.

Concluded in Part 4 next Wednesday!  CLICK HERE FOR THE CONCLUSION

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can’t wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Teller Part Two


Behind my screams I was remembering how this had all started: I’d been depressed over my grandfather’s death for nearly a year and my wife was finally fed up. “You need to see someone.”


“An old witch lady who does things for people who need them,” Erika said.

“Sounds sketchy,” I frowned. “Have you been to see her?”

Erika shifted on the couch next to me and reached for her purse. “It’s not something I can talk about, Ray,” she said then scribbled something on a scrap of paper. “Here.” She handed me the piece of paper. “Just go and I’ll see you when you get back.”

I looked at the scrap and then back at my lovely, supportive wife. “Beatrice Chandler? Wait a second…” She kissed me on the cheek.

“Be safe,” Erika said and went to the laundry room. She closed the door behind her.

Obviously we survived those falls. I don’t know how Wilber maneuvered the Sherilynn over that precipice and down the seventy feet of raging water into the churning pool at the bottom, then over the shorter falls half a mile on that were less treacherous, but in between those two events I resolved to do exactly what the skipper of the ship said and belted myself to the bench and tried not to yell too much.

When we arrived in relatively calm water I unlatched the buckle at my waist and vomited all the bourbon I’d drunk along with the burger, chips and vegetables over the side. Wilber laughed. “An excellent offering to the river gods, my friend, excellent!” I stared at him in disbelief before another wave of nausea overcame me and I was making another ‘offering’ that left my throat raw and my belly empty. “Drink some water,” the skipper said, still laughing. “There are some cold bottles in the cooler under that bench. You could get me one if you’re of a mind to. We’ll both feel better.”

“How long ‘til we get there?” I asked Wilber, snapping the plastic ring on a bottle. I handed one to him.

“My children would ask me that when we took car vacations back in ancient times. I would always tell them that it takes as long as it takes and when we get there, we’ll know it.” Wilber laughed out loud again and gave the wheel a big spin. “Relax, mister. It’s going to be a while. Make yourself comfortable.”

The gentle rocking of the boat eventually lulled me to sleep. I saw colors and shapes dancing across a field of black velvet. I tried to touch them, follow them with my eyes, then ran after them and came into a brightly lit park, the one I had proposed to Erika in. She was sitting on the bench we thought of as ‘ours’, smiling at me. It was that smile that had drawn me across the crowded room the first time I’d seen it, but she was younger than I’d ever known her, so different but so obviously Erika, too. I sat next to her.

“There’s a lot you don’t know, Ray,” she said dreamily. “There’s a lot that can hurt you there. I hope you’ll forgive me. Come back, okay?”

The mother of my children and the love of my life, Erika stood up and walked away from me. There was a glow around her, white then green, and I heard a low rumbling sound like a huge bomber going overhead. I reached out but it was like trying to swim in syrup. The rumbling seemed to be coming from everywhere.

Tiny red squares bombarded me, then, followed by baby blue rectangles that whirled end over end. I was stung by the red squares, but the rectangles hurt when they slammed into me. I fell in a heap and tried to cover my head.

Wilber was shaking my shoulder. “We’re here, mister,” he said. “Time for you to go.” For a moment his eyes were red and his face was blue and I started, ripping away from his grasp. I’m sure I looked pretty crazy to him, but he let go and stood up straight.

I came back to myself and stood up, dazed. I rolled my shoulder and elbow to relieve some of the cranky aches of early middle age. Not excruciating, but far from pleasant. “Already? How long was I asleep?”

“I don’t know, as long as it took to get here.” Wilber held out his hand. “You gotta pay now.”

I was surprised. “We never discussed a price, did we?” I reached for my wallet.

“No,” he said. “Just give me what’s in your coat pocket there. Everything in it.”

I reached in my pocket and felt the earpiece and lenses. “These are prescription. I can’t see without my glasses.”

“That’s the price: something personal. Everything what’s in your pocket.” Wilber was slightly impatient and waving his hand around as he talked while keeping it open.
“Now, if you please.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. I found the two fifty cent pieces and held them out on my palm for him. Wilber smiled wide, and then reached out for them. “You really want my glasses, too? Really?”

Wilber looked up at me as if he were hungry. “Yes.”

I carefully stepped off the boat and onto the dock to get my first real look at the castle, fuzzy though it was. It looked to be limestone topped with green metal roofs and maybe four stories tall. The moon high above the tallest of the peaks cast an eerie glow through the clouds. Decidedly Midwestern, it wasn’t what I expected of a castle. The pathway was well lit and surrounded by lots of old trees and I could see a largish fountain off at the corner of the building. Wilber called to me as he cast off.

“They’re expecting you. Don’t dawdle.”

I tried to wonder how we’d get back up the river, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the castle. Focused and nervous I walked up to the porch. I heard Wilber kick the motor over and the Sherilynn seemed far away. So far everything seemed to be about going forward, so I didn’t look back. What light there was escaped through the lead crystal windows or shone from the moon. I tried to look through the glass but I couldn’t see anything but vague shapes. I gave two quick raps on the door that seemed to echo, if only in my head.

The door opened and an old man in a tuxedo was there. He looked impassive and stood silent. “I --- I’m Ray Briscoe,” I said. “I’m here to --- “

The old man stood aside and nodded his head to the interior. When I didn’t move, he nodded again so I stepped past him. He closed the door behind me and put a hand on my elbow guiding me into the parlor. Portraits of people that looked vaguely familiar lined the little hall. The d├ęcor otherwise was nondescript though vaguely reminiscent of several styles, all faded from popularity. He indicated a red leather wingback chair and when I seated myself, poured a brandy at the sideboard and handed it to me.

The old man was stiff, standing in the center of the largish parlor very naturally at home. “You are welcome in the Castle, Rayburn Thomas Briscoe.”

“How did you know my ---?” Don’t be foolish, I heard Beatrice Chandler say in my head. They’re expecting you, Wilber had said. “Thank you,” I said. “Can you --- what happens next?”

“Drink your brandy and a guide will be with you momentarily.” He bowed at the waist then and turned to leave but stopped at the door. “Right,” he said. He didn’t look back over his shoulder. “Do you have any questions?”

“Dozens. What do you do here?”

The old man turned back to face me, patient. “I am George Hodgkins, the caretaker of the Castle. It tells me what it needs and I provide.” He cocked his head to the left and stared at a corner of the ceiling. He smiled and nodded. “At once,” he said. “I must leave you now, sir. Your guide will be along in a moment.

“You might be in some danger here, Mr. Briscoe. Generally the guests are safe but I’m being told --- no, that can’t be right.”

He turned to me, serious, and there was weight behind his words. “Do you know someone named Emily?”

“No,” I said.

Hodgkins’s face darkened. “Be careful, Mr. Briscoe.” He left the room then and I was alone with a glass of brandy and a great deal of fear. Maybe it was too many ghost hunting TV shows or my misspent youth with Lovecraft, Crowley and the mysteries of the impenetrable Dark Beyond.

The scream came just before the sound of breaking glass. The lights went out.

Continued in Part 3 next Wednesday!  CLICK HERE FOR PART THREE

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can’t wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Teller Part One


“I’m a little lost,” I said.

Beatrice Chandler was an old lady when I first met her twenty years ago, and she was as freaky now as back then. When Mike, John and I would skip out of high school Chemistry we’d head over to the Laundromat where we met Bea. We thought she was entertaining, but she had a lot of interesting information for young men looking for strange ways to spend Friday nights in Kansas. That I’d come seeking her help as an older man didn’t surprise her. “You go to Falls City, Nebraska, and find ol’ Wilber Davidson,” she said. “He’s a cantankerous cuss, but good people. He’ll have a little shack on the river where he sells knickknacks and such and you tell him I sent you. He’ll charge a fair price to bring you downriver to the Castle.”

She lowered her voice, as if conspiring. “He’ll take you to the dock, but he won’t go up to the Castle no matter how much you offer.” Bea smiled then, and relaxed. “He’s a little superstitious, you know, but good people. Hard worker.”

“Why go there just to come back?” She dismissed my obvious question with a wave.

“Don’t be foolish, Ray; it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” She stood up and held out her hand.

I handed over the money she required for all this. In return she gave me a rolled up parchment sealed with wax in which was stamped a stylized ‘M’.

“Don’t open it unless you’re told, Ray. Bad things’ll happen if you do. No kiddin’. Don’t open it. Got all that?” Bea turned and shuffled off into her kitchen. “You want some tea now,” she called back. It wasn’t a question.

We drank the strong black tea in her sitting room and passed the time by talking about her great grandchildren and how her own children were no good. She stopped talking and I heard her hum a little to herself. She looked me dead in the eye.

“You go now, right now to Nebraska or you don’t go at all. No questions, no protests, no stops along the way.”

She looked right through me with hard, ancient eyes the color of onyx and I felt cold. I wondered how my wife had known about Bea, then why Erika thought I should come see her. I was about to say I didn’t want to go through with it when she smiled. “That’s your choice made, Ray. You’re going. Leave now or you’ll never see the castle.”

I made it to Falls City in record time under a gibbous moon and with only fumes to spare in the gas tank. I spent a chunk of the early morning tracking down Wilber’s place on the river. It was ramshackle, to be sure, but he was there with a hot cup of coffee for me and exactly as Beatrice Chandler promised. He told me to go into town, where to drink and eat. “Be ready to go at sundown.”

The bar wasn’t quite a dive --- that would have been a higher form of establishment --- but it had a dingy kind of elegance that one finds mostly in comic books and film noir. The bar top was actually a door: a flat panel of mahogany with gold hinges on the customer side and a very stylish, almost deco-styled handle on the bartender’s side. It was held off the floor by two very large oaken casks, held together with shiny black iron bands, that were big enough to hold two adults folded inside. Behind this setup was a buffet that had an array of a dozen or so top shelf liquors, a white dishtowel, and half a dozen glasses. There was no one in the place but the man behind the bar and me.

The bartender himself (I never got his name) was a large man in the way that tractor tires are large when compared to the wheels of shopping carts. His right arm was ornately tattooed and his left was scarred and pink; he never looked at me straight on but rather out of the corners of his eyes. He finally spoke when I told him that Wilber sent me.

“What’ll it be, then?” he said.

“Bourbon,” I told him then looked at my watch. I smiled at the bartender, put a ten on the bar. “Can you top that off with some Coke? I didn’t notice the time.”

He gave me two fifty-cent pieces in change that I put in my outer coat pocket with my glasses. I took my drink, then noticed that there were four single chairs at four tiny tables scattered across the room. I picked one and sat facing the door, waiting for sundown and Wilber Davidson to collect me. I sipped my drink. It seemed odd to me that there were no windows, or even mirrors, but I put it out of my mind.

Finishing it, I asked where I could get some lunch.

“You’re not s’posed to leave,” the barman said.

“For, what,” I said, “another six hours until the sun goes down?”

No reply from the mountain across the small room, so I stood up.

“Sit,” he said in a rumble of thunder.

I did and he went through a door that soon vented the smell of food being cooked.

When the bartender put a plate down in front of me, I looked up at him. “Eat all of it,” he said and then went back to wiping the remaining five glasses. There was a burger and a bag of chips with a torn leaf of lettuce and two very red tomato slices under a whole slice of red onion for garnish. “While it’s hot,” the bartender said. “You’ll need it for your trip tonight.”

“What do you know about the castle?” I asked him as I put the vegetables on the burger.

“Only what I hear from guys like you,” he said as the towel squeaked along the inside of the glass in his right hand. “You wanna ‘nother bourbon?”

Wilber Davidson finally arrived just as dusk was falling and pulled up a second chair.
“How much you had to drink?” he asked. He looked about a mile away and ten miles tall; still, the shadows covered his features while I held fast to the table.

“I lost count somewhere around seven.”

Wilber turned to the barman. “Wha’d’ya think? He ready?” The chair didn’t stay on its feet as I stood, thinking I was showing I could hang with these tough, corn-fed Nebraska types and I swayed a little. The room itself was spinning like a tiltawhirl that I couldn’t get off of. Wilber looked me up and down. “If you c’n walk, follow me.”

The boat was a ramshackle version of Quint’s ‘Orca’ to my untrained and boozy eye. I was assured of its solidity and abilities to carry us to my destination. “Who’s Sherilynn?” I pointed at the name on her stern.

Wilber laughed. “Someone who used to own the business.” He didn’t say another word until we were out in the current of the river.

“You’ll wanna be holding on there. Best strap yourself down.” He pointed to a bench and a seatbelt in the back of the cabin. “It’s goin’ to be a bit of a rough ride here.”

“I’ll stand,” I said. “I want to see what’s coming. I’ve never been on the river like this.” The boat lurched, and I felt the burger colluding with the bourbon in my stomach to turn on me. I think I turned green.

“Suit yourself,” Wilber said. “Fair warning: the falls’re not a nice ride.”

I was going to ask what he meant by that, but he cut me off. “What’s your business to the castle, if you don’t mind me askin’?”

“I’m looking for a story,” I said. “Actually a storyteller. My wife sent me to Beatrice Chandler and she sent me to you.”

“How’d your wife know about the castle?”

“She didn’t say she did,” I said. “She sent me to Mrs. Chandler.”

Wilber spun the wheel. “Once they been there they don’t discuss much of what they saw on the ride back.”

There was a lot I didn’t know about my wife before I met her, and usually I liked that. This, however, didn’t feel good. My stomach warned again that the liquor and food were mixing badly with the heavy sway and swell of the river.

“Tha’s why I never go up. The ones who’ve gone for a second trip are different than the first time. Hollow, almost. ‘Course it’s rare to take anyone twice, but it’s happened.”

“Why do they go back?”

“Couldn’t say,” was all I got back from Wilber. “You’d better grab onto something now. The falls’re comin’ up.”

I looked through the glass in front of Wilber and all I could see was a mass of foam and spray, but the roar of water was getting louder. “How high are the falls here, Wilber?”

“’High enough to kill us if I don’t do this just right.”

Continued in Part 2 next Wednesday!  Click here for Part Two

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Close to the Edge...

The first installment of Teller will go live at 12:15 AM Central Daylight Time. Please let me know what you think as comments are always welcome here and always will be.

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And here - we - go.