Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Story - Part Four

Click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three


Eventually, he found himself in the hospital's emergency room. He often did. Standing amid the sea-green walls, orange, welded-down chairs, and the worried and weeping faces, Winnick observed a dark-skinned man blankly feed coins into a soda machine. He pressed his palm against a large, bright drink logo and watched his drink plummet into view with a rich thunk. The man retrieved the can, opened it, and then just stood there. Winnick thought his eyes looked disappointed. This isn't what I wanted from my weekend, they said. At that moment, another man approached him hurriedly and hissed something. The first man flushed and his eyes showed alarm. As the two of them rushed away, the first one let his full soda fall into a nearby trashcan.

How did they do it? Winnick thought. How did they wait here for hours on end with their brains sparking on terrible thoughts and their hands turning the pages of magazines so quickly that nothing could be read, only to eventually have the inevitable worst confirmed by an apologetic man who barely had time for them, so that finally they could get into their cars and drive home? How did one drive home from that sort of news? How did you remember to make the correct turns? It seemed to Winnick that under such circumstances, a red traffic light could be so soul-crushing as to finish the job that losing your loved one had started. And then you pull up to your home, turn off the engine, walk to your front door, go inside, and do what? Fix a drink? Go to bed? Turn on the TV? Winnick imagined the dark-skinned man with the untouched soda going home later and eating a sandwich, with tears in his eyes.

Winnick sat down in one of the orange chairs. It always amazed him how quiet it was here. This was a place where people stuck with their own, and everyone kept their heads down.


Winnick looked up. A nurse, a dry-looking woman of about forty, was staring down at him. She didn't appear to be wearing make-up and had freckles sprayed across her forehead. He'd seen her before.

"What?" he said.

"You know what. We've told you. There's cops here, and I can go get one who'll make you leave, or you can just leave by yourself."

"I'm waiting for my brother," Winnick said. "We're waiting to find out what's wrong with our mom. He should be right around here."

"No, you're not," said the nurse. "I know you're not. You just come here and sit and stare and you scare people. You scare me."

"Not this time," said Winnick. "This time's for real. There's something really wrong with my mom. I'm worried."

The nurse watched him for several seconds.

"What's her name?" she asked.

"...Jane," he said.

"Jane what?"

Winnick gaped. He always knew that one day his brain would fail him when he could least afford it. His silence stretched on.

"Fuck it," the nurse said, looking around quickly. "I don't got time for this shit. Linda, where's Officer Brady?"

Winnick stood up and walked away from her.

"Linda, get Officer Brady."

As he passed through the automatic doors, Winnick spat on the floor.

* * * * *

He sat on a bench in the dark near the emergency room parking lot. He was waiting for a nurse to leave. He hoped it would be her, but it didn't have to be, and it wasn't. The nurse who finally left after what seemed like a long time was a good deal younger, though not, Winnick found it interesting to note, especially pretty. She was blonde, yes, but also had what Winnick had referred to as a "weak chin". And her arms were as thin as straws.

It was easy to follow her home, because she walked. This was a break. He'd thought he might have to get a cab, making the cabbie a potential witness, or simply let her go, or maybe on the same bus with her. But she walked, alone, through the breezily humid night air. It felt like a Southern night. Winnick knew what that felt like, having at one time in his life walked the streets at night in that part of the country. Those weren't great days.

She lived in a townhouse, and he watched from across the street as she dug around in her purse for her house keys. As she rattled them free, Winnick considered that he simply didn't have the energy to try and talk his way into her home, or even to talk to her at all. It had been a long couple of days, and he simply wanted to get on with it, so as she slid the key into the lock of her front door, Winnick took long, light strides across the street, making as little sound as possible so that when she was pushing open her door he was springing up the front steps behind her, shoving her forward into the door, which banged and shook against the wall inside. She fell against a set of steps leading up, her nurse's cap tumbling from her head as she grunted, "What?"

Winnick gently closed the door behind him. It was dark here, in the woman's foyer -- he hadn't given her a chance to turn on the lights. He kicked out at her, in the vicinity of her ribs, and her hands and nails scrabbled at him as he slapped his hands along the walls, trying to find a lightswitch. When he found one, hit it, and drenched them with a kind of medicinal white light that put Winnick in mind of the hospital they'd both just left, she spoke again, shrieking, "Get out!" Her face was wild, like a mental patient about to be locked up for good. Quickly, he hunched down towards where she was still sitting against the stairs, and punched her as hard as he could in the jaw. She collapsed sideways like he'd just driven a bolt into her brain. Grabbing her by her long hair, he dragged her across the hardwood floors, into the shadows of her home. He turned on every light he could find until he was able to locate her kitchen, which was where he took her next. There was an iron pot in the sink, which he filled with water. Standing over her, he turned the pot upside down over her bruised and slack face. The water landed on her with a slap, causing her eyes to flutter and roll in their sockets. Winnick filled the pot and doused her again. She gasped and sputtered, and this time kept her eyes more or less open. Winnick said, "I'm going to murder you." She said, "What?" "I'm going to murder you," he repeated, and she coughed and said, "I don't..." "Can you hear me?" he asked. "Yes, I'm, I can't..." she said. "What's your name?" he asked. "Can't...can't you just leave and go home?" she asked. "What's your name?" he asked again. "Jennifer," she said. "Are you lying to me?" he asked. "No," she said. "Please don't kill me," she said. "Who are you?" she asked. "Jennifer," he said, "I'm the man who is going to murder you," and by this time he had a large kitchen knife, like the one he'd used last night, in his right hand, and he used it to slash at her face and cut into her abdomen, from which he was eventually able to remove some of her organs, which he later placed in her bed upstairs.

She had a living room that seemed so quiet to Winnick, under the circumstances, and there was a deep leather easy chair. He sunk into it. He believed, from what he'd seen when he was upstairs, that Jennifer had a roommate, another nurse. Presumably, this nurse was working a different shift and wouldn't be home until much later. Winnick was undecided as to what he should to about that: leave, or wait for her? He sat in the chair to think about it. And then he noticed, on the squat glass table to his left, there was a card, mostly eggshell in color, with golden lettering and curls on the front. The front of the card said IN YOUR TIME OF SORROW... Winnick opened the card, and on the inside cover was a handwritten message that said:


I am so sorry for you loss. I can't even imagine what you must be feeling. Does it help to know that I think your sister is finally safe now? I think she finally feels well again.

You were such a good sister to her. And she was to you, too. Jennifer, you weren't lucky to have her, and she wasn't lucky to have you. You both deserved each other. You were so good for each other. I hope you can remember that and think about that in the sad times ahead. She loved you as much as you loved her, and she is going to watch down on you and guide you during your good times and your bad times. She's there with you now.

I love you so much. Take care of yourself and be safe.


Winnick thought that this card was very beautiful. What a sad girl Jennifer must have been, to see such tragedy at her age. But she was with her sister now, at least. That was something.



Ed Howard said...

Interesting. I could've read a lot more about this creepy guy, but that's a good ending.

Nice job on this, Bill! I'm glad you posted it.

bill r. said...

Thank you, Ed. I hope you did like the ending. I was worried it would come off as flat, or as not an actual ending, but rather a place where I chose to stop.

Ed Howard said...

Yeah, I liked it. It subverts the expectation that something big is going to happen at the end, something that changes the story or reveals something big about this guy or something like that. Instead, it gives the impression that this guy is just going to keep quietly, methodically murdering people for his own mysterious and probably inexplicable reasons. In its way, that's way creepier than any big dramatic ending.

bill r. said...

Well, that's what I hoped people would think, so I'm glad I got it across to you, at least. It's the ending that I had in mind pretty much from the moment I started writing it.

I don't think short stories need big endings. Tobias Wolff (again, NOT comparing myself to him AT ALL) once said something like, "Short stories should begin after the beginning and end before the ending." That's probably nowhere near an exact quote, but he expressed that sentiment, and it's one that I more or less agree with.

Greg said...

Bill, I agree with Ed about the feeling you get from the ending (I read this last night but then got caught up in family life and couldn't comment until now) that you also apparently intended.

Still, though, I think you could have written more than you did here. Not more as in a bigger ending, but more as in more pages. I think you might have felt as I often have when writing a short story that you shouldn't drag it out too much and so often I bring it to a close sooner than I should. This is a compliment by the way.

What I am saying is, is that I think you could have told Winnick's story more and fleshed out his psychosis and kept the reader very much interested. Not by providing some phony baloney psycho-babble background story but by exploring his thoughts more. Why did he kill the guy at the beginning instead of always killing women? What was he thinking when he approached him? I get the feeling you might have wanted to write more but maybe didn't feel confident enough to do so. Maybe?

I'm just saying that the enigma of Winnick is strong enough to warrent more exploration.

I hate critiquing a friend's work because there is always the fear that they will think you are running it down, you know? I'm not though, I thought it was very good with a beginning and an end that worked against expectations. But I think you could have done even with the study of Winnick and who he is.

Greg said...

That should be "warrant."

bill r. said...

Greg, I think it's true that I did want to write more, but I'm not sure that the reason I didn't was due to confidence (though God knows I lack that).

I don't know exactly why I feel this way, but the truth is that I wrote a large chunk of this story before, years ago, and lost it in a computer crash. Given that the story is a simple one, it wasn't hard to remember it as a story and start again, but it did take me a looong time to actually buckle down and start over. And a lot changed -- originally, there was stuff with Winnick's mom, but it wasn't working even at the time, so I didn't try to reproduce it -- and added, and so forth. Some of the stuff that I liked that was lost the first time around I found myself simply unable to reproduce. Maybe I waited too long.

Anyway, I don't know if any of that stuff would have added what you think is missing, but the act of writing this story was a little more deliberate this time around than it was the first time, if that makes sense. I'm pretty pleased with the results, to be honest, but I sometimes think it feels a little less organic.

As for the engima of Winnick, I'm not sure how much more I wanted to explore that, but I do feel like something is missing regarding the notes he collects. Not why he collects them, or anything like that...just...something. I don't quite know what. Well, I think I half-way do, and it pertains to something I wasn't able to reproduce from my first version, but I don't think that's entirely it. It would be hard now to describe what I'm talking about.

I'm being very vague here, but anyway, I don't take any of your criticisms personally, and I appreciate the thought you're giving this. To be honest, even if I fully disagreed with what you had to say -- which I don't -- I could take the very fact that you said it as just more reason to take your compliments seriously, and not as merely the obligation of a friend.

Greg said...

I'm glad to hear that because, and I may have mentioned this in my e-mail months ago about the first two parts, I knew this guy in high school who always asked my opinion of his acting every time he had a monologue he would be rehearsing for class and the second any suggestion or critique would come out of my mouth he would explain why I was wrong and why it needed to be done that way and I wasn't getting it and so on and finally I just had to be blunt and tell him to fuck off. Seriously, I just had to give it to him and so I let him have it about how he would never improve as an actor because he would never take critique or direction in a positive way - Ever!

Amazingly, he would still ask me after that and I'd tell him no, I was done.

And I too have entire short stories lost forever that I'd love to reproduce but just can't bring myself too so I know what you mean.

bill r. said...

Honestly, I was expecting more criticism, of one kind or another. Maybe I'll see more of that now that people have read the whole thing.

I was and am also concerned that I'd get criticism that I would completely disagree with, and that, after saying so, I would come off as arrogant and unable to take criticism. We'll see how that goes!

Greg said...

I think it's hard to take criticism for most people. To bring up my movie again, and pat myself on the back, when Arbo sent forth a stream of critiques and suggestions, while all the while maintaining it was very well done, they went against most all of my original intentions and yet I thought they were great and if I ever get around to re-editing it I'll probably employ every damn one of them.

And I'm not comparing the two and saying you should incorporate every suggestion or critique you get, just that the creative process becomes more engaging and rewarding to me personally when I open my mind to outside opinion.

I remember staying up until four in the morning after a play years ago with the director and rest of the cast to see the opening night review in the paper (it's a theatre thing to do). Anyway, the paper finally came out and we got it and it was a good review but had some nitpicks for my performance (I was the lead). While the reviewer had much praise for me (memorably writing that my timing and physical skills were on par with Jackie Gleason - sorry but I had to mention that) he also said I was doing this thing wrong and that thing wrong and it took away from the performance.

Well, if you know what a cast is like reading a review after opening night you'll know that everyone immediately starting calling him a dick and saying how he wasn't getting it and so on until I stopped everyone and said, "No you know what? He's right. I'm glad I read that because I should change that for future performances." Which I did. That reviewer really helped my performance with his critiques.

Anyway, because of all this, the way people take criticism, I think your friends online are a little apprehensive to critique it, probably thinking that's not what you want.

bill r. said...

Anyway, because of all this, the way people take criticism, I think your friends online are a little apprehensive to critique it, probably thinking that's not what you want...

That's what I'm worried about. I told everyone to say what they thought, but that doesn't mean they'll be comfortable doing so. I hope if anyone has any serious reservations about the story, they'll say so. Politely, of course.

I just worry that someone will say, "You should have had him get into a shoot-out with the cops!"

Also, if anybody has any title ideas, I'm all ears. Frankly, I don't think that The Compassionate Killer! or (my brother's suggestion) Notes for a Killer! are really cutting it.

Patricia Perry said...

Like Greg and Ed, I could have kept on reading, and I was taken off guard when it ended so abruptly. Not that that's a bad thing. But I think you've got a novel's worth in that character. I'd love to see where the story goes from here.

Fox said...


Just wanted to say that I haven't read this story yet, but I want to and I will.

I know that's a silly comment, but I wanted to be supportive, and I hadn't been leaving in comments since you started posting it, and I didn't want to read other comments without having read the story, so....

bill r. said...

Pat - I wonder if it would have seemed to abrupt if you'd read it from beginning to end, like a regular story, and no serialized? Maybe it would have, I don't know, but I feel like serializing it gives readers a certain kind of expectation, at least about a story's ending.

And I don't know about a novel. I think whatever interest Winnick has as a character is due in large part to his mysteriousness. Don't you think that would start to get lost, or at least wear thin, in a much longer story?

Fox - I was wondering about you. Anyway, I hope you like it.

Ryan Kelly said...

Goy, I dropped the ball on this one. My apologies, Bill... but I wanted to actually sit down and read your story and give it my full attention.

This wasn't about movies, so I don't really know what to make of it. That, and you're not being funny, so I'm waaaay out of my element.

But you create a portrait of this character and we feel like we're there with him. You so methodically detail his actions that you almost make us an accessory to murders just by reading it. I like the lack of twists and turns, it gives the story an aura of credibility instead of just a cheap thrill.

Only real complaint would be that it's too short. If you have any other fiction you want to publish, don't hesitate to do so. And I'll promise to try to read it within less than a week next time.

bill r. said...

Ryan - First of all, thanks for taking the time to read my story, and also for your compliments.

As for this:

Only real complaint would be that it's too short...

I've heard a lot of this, and not just in the comments section here. So it must be true. Which is funny, because sometimes I felt, when I was typing this out for the blog, that people would just think it was never going to end (and maybe some did, but I haven't heard from them yet).

Another funny thing about this complaint is that most of the rest of the fiction I have is probably much TOO long to post on a blog. Like, 70 or so pages, or more, sometimes. I do have a couple of shorter things that I might look at again, but generally all my completed stuff is really novella length or longer.

Don't know yet quite how to expand on this story, but it seems pretty clear that's my big problem here. Somebody told me that the problem -- which ties in with the length -- is that there's not enough foreground action, or actual story to fully support the "look into the psyche" stuff that starts to dominate the story about halfway through. And I think that's correct.

So I have to add a story, or more story-like elements. That's quite an overhaul...

Bob Turnbull said...

Yipes, I'm really late here Bill...I've been falling out of staying on top of people's new posts. The good thing was that I was able to read your story in one fell swoop - and I think that was a good thing.

I'll join the chorus who thought it was quite excellent, but don't necessarily agree that it was too short. Don't get me wrong - you got me involved enough that I want to know where things go (and where they've been), but for the way the story was told, I found it just right - it felt that the final note he read almost reinvigorated him again or at least reminded him of why he looked for those notes in the first place.

I don't know if I fully agree with the "not enough story to support the look into the psyche". I can't help think that there's absolutely enough there if you wanted to expand it without having to get into too much A --> B --> C plot points. I can't help but think you might lose the strength of being part of Winnick (since we're privy to his thoughts) if too much action takes place.

I also can't help but think that there might be a terrific short film in the current story. Something about the camera panning across all those notes from the box as we catch glimpses of them and then wrapping up with that final note being another "keeper" kinda works for me.

Thanks for sharing it Bill.