Today is a big day. I’ve been sitting on this short story for a long time now and I’ve decided to serialize it here for your reading enjoyment. The length of installments will vary and this first episode will be the longest. Bear with me. The story falls squarely in the horror genre. It is written for an adult audience so language and themes may be too strong depending on your personal disposition.
With that, I give you episode one of Crisp New Pages.
Darren could feel the cold sting of rain splashing his skin where his jeans had come up past his socks. Half his husky body stuck out from under the tall cedar fence separating his home from his neighbor’s. The other half was dusty and dry underneath the shed that used to be his castle. The shed that he and his best friend Kenny had commandeered after old Mrs. Kraft moved in with her son and left the property abandoned. Kenny, who was a much smaller twelve year old than Darren, had already shimmied under the fence and up through the boys’ secret entrance, aka, a loose floorboard.
“I’m stuck”, said Darren as he felt the wet grass starting to soak the thighs of his pants. His frustrated grunts sent dry soil into clouds around his face. “Come give me a pull.”
Kenny stuck his small, ferret-like head out through the secret entrance and smiled at Darren in a way that made fun with out the need for words.
“Shut up and help me.”
“I didn’t say anything. Chill. You’re so jumpy”, said Kenny as he dropped though the hole and pulled at both Darren’s arms.
He slid loose and was relieved to be free but the feeling quickly faded. His gut told him this was a terrible idea. Mr. Heinz, the new resident of the house, had gone into a rage when he caught them in the shed the last time. In Kenny’s mind however, the boys had a rightful claim to the building. He said something about squatters’ rights though Darren had no idea what that meant. He thought it might have been better to move on to a new game but they were best friends and he couldn’t let Kenny do this on his own.
Kenny was back through the hole before Darren could even sit up.
“You gotta get up here. I found something”, he said.
Once Darren had pulled himself up through the secret entrance he found Kenny sitting cross-legged on the floor with a thin black and white speckled book in his hands.
“Check out this book. I think it’s some sort of diary”, he said as Darren reluctantly sat down on a box behind him.
“Why are you reading someone’s diary”, he asked?
“Because there’s a million of them. The box is full. There’s probably some bad stuff in there we shouldn’t be reading.”
“Right, so why are we going to read it?”
“We gotta do something man, look at the rain.”
The four single panes in the shed window were being pelted with massive rain drops. The wind had picked up and it looked like the storm was going to sit over them for a while. It was the Thursday of spring break and Mr. Heinz would be at work all day. Knowing that they were going to be parked in that shed for a while, Darren settled in and started to read over Kenny’s shoulder.
* * *
Entry 43.1.1 — 09/27/2013
You know Gerald, they say smell is the sense most tied to our memories. Do you think that’s true? You definitely remember different smells for different experiences. You walk into the laundromat and the scent of the fabric softener teleports you back with Momma. The warm feel of the dryer on your face. The funny way Momma looked as the machine shook your head.
A step into the cineplex and your mind digs up dusty old memories of matinees with Momma. The swirling smells of butter, salt, musty carpet and the sweet sticky residue of soda and crushed Jujubes that made each step feel like walking on tape. Such adventure Gerald, such adventure. A trip to the butcher and it’s like you’re home with Momma preparing a roast. Watching as she carefully trimmed away the nasty parts.
Not all smells trigger happy thoughts though Gerald. No. It rained today. Walking into the office, the warm morning air seemed to promise you it would be a good day. You, of course believed what was promised and as always you were let down. Tom was there as usual. Carol was there as usual. Can’t they just get sick for one day?
Carol marched over to your desk again in another god awful pant suit. From all the bloat and puff you would swear she had a full body bee sting. What she was really allergic to was admitting what size she should be wearing. That and treating others like humans. She demanded her darn reports, again. You told her what you always tell her. You can’t finish them until you have all of the data from the previous quarter. She is such an idiot. She doesn’t even know how her own department works. She somehow can’t understand that you are not a miracle worker. There is a system.
But Gerald, you might ask, why don’t you have last quarter’s data? Isn’t it already the end of September?
Why yes it is, Gerald. You know who doesn’t seem to be aware of that? Lazy Tom. It’s Tom’s job to get me the data so you can get the reports to Carol. Twice a week you build up the nerve to ask Tom about it. Twice a week he flashes you his gleaming, charming smile and chokes out some pitiful excuse and apology. He thinks that both work on you but they don’t. You just can’t push it any further. Momma always said to be nice and play well with others. She always said listen to those in charge. But momma, what if you can’t anymore?
Sure, Tom can be a nice enough guy. At least to those he actually talks to. He just doesn’t do a thing. Ever. He sits there in his cubicle, which is plastered with pictures of what must be dates and girlfriends, and trips and adventures. Each one smiling out at the world and screaming, aren’t I so awesome? Aren’t I so great?
Gerald, you’ll like this. The other day, you thought of the best way to describe Tom. I cant’ believe you didn’t write it down then. Picture Clark Kent, chiseled jaw, muscles wrapped under cheap suits, glasses that don’t make sense. Perfect description. He might as well be Superman in those pictures but it’s Clark Kent in the office, that is if Clark Kent never did a shred of work.
Does Carol ever get on Tom for being Lazy? No. You watch. You check, You listen. When she is at his desk it’s nothing but school girl giggles and that laugh of his. Even his laugh sounds handsome. It seems so unnatural. Everyone says so. Why does Superman flirt so much with a post gum Violet Beauregarde?
* * *
“Whose books are these”asked Kenny. His look of confusion matching his friend’s.
“I don’t know. Mr. Heinz’s first name is Phillip. I don’t know any Geralds”, said Darren. “I don’t feel right about this. Should we be reading this? I think we should go.” He felt panic start to stick in his throat.
“Of course. Are you kidding? Who ever this guy is, he sounds like a creep. I want to know what he’ll say next.”
Darren uncrossed and recrossed his legs and didn’t say anything. He was scared and wasn’t the kind who could let being in trouble run off his back like Kenny could. This wasn’t right.
Kenny could sense Darren’s hesitation but opened the book back up and kept reading anyway. He knew that sometimes Darren just needed to be pulled along. Besides, he wasn’t too worried. No one would see. They wouldn’t be caught. Hidden behind the boxes of books and strange tools, Kenny was loving the danger of being back in their castle.
* * *
On your way home tonight Gerald, the weather had turned along with your mood. The promise of a good day had of course been broken and it continued to break. The air had grown moist. The heat and the dust had mixed with a rain cloud spilling its guts a few miles away. You can always smell the rain coming. That awful smell, almost a taste. A taste of dirt in your mouth. Wet dirt. The smell that worries the little boy. He never could make it home without getting his khakis muddy. Momma hated you when you where dirty.
Smells can dig up things that you thought were buried.
Tonight though, you have a smell that brings you very happy memories. Gerald, you turned forty three today and you bought yourself a present. The same present you’ve gotten yourself every year for the last twenty years. Gerald, it’s some crisp new pages.
Never a surprise but always cherished. There is precious little in life you are able to splurge on. You don’t allow yourself many treats. Your time and money are allocated for other things. But the day you open your yearly birthday journal, that’s the best time of the year. The feel of the unbroken black fabric spine, yours to crease. The firm rounded corners, not yet crushed and bent by your occasional rough treatment. The smell Gerald. The smell. The pulpy, bleachy, inky smell of fresh, college ruled paper tucked away inside that black and white marbled cover. You can afford that joy.
Notebook smell is a happy smell. It’s a complex smell. It brings you back to your first journal. To individual memories that you recorded there. Not all happy, no, but the act. The act of recording those memories. That is happy. That is your joy. Journal 23.1.1-365, do you remember? That was a special journal. A year’s worth of entries in one place. Between one solitary pair of covers. Can you imagine? You weren’t so long winded then. Gerald, tonight you picked up that journal. You skimmed some of the entries. So young, so naive, not yet seasoned.
Splurging on a second journal at Christmas always feels wrong, almost dirty but it’s a necessity. There is so much to say. So much to chronicle. It’s always such torment though, to wait until the first notebook is full. Patience and diligence Gerald, patience and diligence. Always remember.
Gerald you blathering fool. It’s 11:30pm now and you must get back to your work. I have to work so quickly during this stage.
Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Gerald. Happy birthday to you.