Saturday, January 7, 2017
1st 5 Pages January Workshop - McCourt
Name: Joe McCourt
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Title: THE WITCH'S BOTTLE
Not ten paces from the graffiti-covered bus stop where Dolyn Pierce was reading a paperback, repair work on the second water main break of the season came to a clattering halt.
“Aw c’mon!” Dolyn cried. Her fingers tensed, ripping pages from the book she had shoplifted the day before. “It’s too early to be taking a break!”
The workmen—a half dozen, give or take—ignored her. They seemed just as irked, if not downright confused, by the sudden shut-down.
Great, thought Dolyn. She had come here specifically for the noise. Just not this noise.
Instead of blissfully loud jackhammers, hydraulics and earth-moving equipment, her ear drums were assaulted by the backfires of countless motors, the whining chuffs of diesel trucks, the shrill squeal of city bus brakes. She winced at every shouted word, every unexpected blast of a horn, every crash of a fender bender.
And that wasn’t the worst of it.
Dolyn could hear, with perfect clarity, what the Mayor had referred to as, ‘a few bad apples disturbing a peaceful protest.’ Voices droned, “We shall overcome.” A window shattered. Someone screamed. Bottles were thrown. Bricks were thrown. Punches were thrown. More windows shattered. Fire ignited in a thwoomph. More screaming. More fighting. Then came the sirens. Then came the gunshots. It might have been a few. It might have been a thousand.
Get a grip, Dolyn.
She reminded herself that this street, Lombard, had been closed for over a month and the riots, which so divided the city, happened a year ago. Today, there were no cars. No mobs. No police. Not even a kid on a bicycle.
All was quiet ... except in her head.
Another reminder: Everything would be fine—‘hunky-dory’ as her former paranoid schizophrenic psychmate used to say—just as soon as the road crew got off their collective asses and did something to earn their union-negotiated wages.
“Moooooove!” Dolyn pleaded.
Her ear plugs, the closest thing to jewelry that would ever accessorize her smooth, narrow face, blocked only a tiny fraction of the sound. Cupping her hands over her ears was equally pointless, but she did it anyway. The same for rocking back and forth. God, what was taking so long?
Gritting her teeth, Dolyn scanned the neighboring buildings. The sun had risen a few hours ago, but the sky was cloudy enough that she thought she’d see at least one lit bulb or flickering TV screen shining through a window. There weren’t any. A power failure? Maybe, but what kind of outage affects electricity as well as combustion engines? She yanked the hood of her sweatshirt over her head and lowered her chin to her knees, simultaneously regretting her decision to venture out and wondering where to go next.
She considered flipping a coin.
“Bus ain’t coming today, girlie,” hollered a gruff voice. “And probably won’t be till the end o’ summer.” He laughed. “You got a long wait ahead o’ ya.”
Dolyn squinted up from the bus shelter’s warped, plastic bench. A paunchy man wearing a hard hat and a yellow vest was standing a few yards away, a big stupid grin forming a plank bridge between his ruddy, unshaven jowls. Behind him, utility workers trundled around a massive hole in the middle of the road.
“I packed a sandwich!” Dolyn shouted back at him. She flapped her hand as though swatting a pesky fly. “Now get back to work! That pipe’s not gonna fix itself!”
The man scowled. He looked like he wanted to tell Dolyn off, but when she raised her book like a shield in front of her face, he stomped back to the job site, every heavy, plodding footstep echoing in her ears like a thunderclap.
Busted water mains were not an uncommon occurance in Baltimore, where the same pipes have channeled the city’s murky H2O since well before the Confederacy. Usually leaks of this magnitude happened in late winter/early spring, when the rising temperatures caused century-old cast-iron to expand and rupture. Considering this was the tail-end of March, things were right on schedule.
“What’s goin’ on, Keith?” asked one of the workers. “Run outta gas?”
Keith, a lean, rat-faced malcontent who was sitting in the cab of a mini excavator, shrugged impatiently, jiggled some levers, then, with an exasperated shake of his head, grumbled, “I dunno. The piece o’ shit just up and died on me.”
He hopped down to the curb, shot a perfunctory glance at the rig’s boom, then the arm cylinder, then the mounted jackhammer. Finally, his perplexed gaze traveled into the cavernous pit. “Now what the hell do you suppose that is?” he said to no one in particular.
Other members of the road crew, all wearing matching fluorescent vests over their jeans and flannel shirts, ambled over to have a look.
“Hell if I know,” said the oldest member of the crew. He removed his hard hat and ran his gloved fingers through his graying hair, the breath issuing from him in little puffs of steam. He zipped his jacket an inch higher, as though that would make a difference against the morning chill. “Well, don’t just stand around pickin’ your seats,” he barked. “Get that goddamned thing outta there.”
Yes, thought Dolyn. Get that goddamned thing outta there so Keith can get back to his goddamned jackhammering and I can get back to my goddamned book.
Without the ratcheting squall of chisel hammering into pavement, Dolyn couldn’t concentrate.
Without one impossibly loud noise quelling echoes of life In The Big, Bad City, she might just go mad.
She reached into her backpack for a fresh pair of ear plugs, the tips of her fingers lingering on the dome of the plastic Frog Prince snow globe she always carried with her, when one of the workmen raised his hand like a schoolboy asking permission to visit the bathroom. “Say, um, Charlie, you really think we ought to move it?”
The older man—probably the crew’s foreman—glared at him. “And why wouldn’t we?”
The subordinate cleared his throat. “It kinda ... um ... looks like a ... coffin.”
His co-workers, all of them, stopped what they were doing and turned expectantly toward Charlie.
Even Dolyn couldn’t resist the lure of the word, “coffin.” She stood, craned her neck, then climbed up on the bench for a better angle. It was no good. The hole was deep and there were too many workmen blocking her view.
“This ain’t a cemetary, Jake,” sighed Charlie. “Never was. That’s just a big box somebody left behind when these pipes were first laid. I doubt there’s anything in it but worthless, rusty tools.”
“Or pirate treasure!” said one of the workers. He was a boisterous man, with a bushy mustache and a fan of red whiskers sprouting from his chin. A strip of tape across the front of his hard hat identified him as Kimball. When he spoke, he held everyone’s rapt attention, including Dolyn’s.
“Look at the markings carved on it, like some kinda hieroglyphics. That ain’t no plumber’s toolbox.”
“So, Blackbeard himself use to sail the Chesapeake Bay,” Kimball went on. “William Kidd, too.”
Another worker, this one holding a pickaxe over his shoulder, said, “I thought William Kidd was an outlaw in the Old West.”
“That’s Billy the Kid,” said Kimball, good-naturedly smacking his friend with the back of his hand. “I’m talking about William Kidd, with two Ds.”