Sunday, January 15, 2017
January Workshop Revision 1 - McCourt
Name: Joe McCourt
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Title: THE WITCH'S BOTTLE
Dolyn Pierce’s entire body tensed when repair work on the second water main break of the season came to a clattering halt.
“Aw c’mon!” she cried. She was seated in a graffiti-covered bus stop not ten paces from the perimeter of the job site, her trembling fingers ripping pages from the paperback she had shoplifted the night before. “It’s too early to be taking a break!”
The workmen ignored her. They seemed just as irked, if not downright confused, by the sudden shut-down.
“Dammit!” spat Dolyn, clapping her fists over her ears. She had come here specifically for the blissful din of jackhammers, hydraulics and earth-moving equipment. It was the only noise loud enough to quell the echoes that assaulted her day and night.
Without the machinery in full gear-grinding mode, her auditory nerves were pounded by more than a decade’s worth of backfiring motors, whining diesel trucks, squealing 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 cops. Not even a kid on a bicycle. The surroundings were, as far as the road crew was concerned, as quiet as a small-town library.
“Moooooove!” Dolyn pleaded.
Her ear plugs, the closest thing to jewelry that would ever accessorize her smooth, narrow face, blocked barely a fraction of the sound only she could hear.
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.
The local newspaper, if she could get her hands on one, would list the day’s construction detours. If this road crew didn’t get back up and running soon, she’d find another site and hope the power outage hadn’t blown all the city’s jackhammers.
If it had, maybe she’d take a dip in the nearest fountain or, hell, throw herself into the harbor. Submerging her ears would give her some relief. Until, that is, the police fished her out and took her for “evaluation.” Again.
I was just trying to drown it out.
She’d used that excuse a hundred times, but no one understood. Not even her old paranoid schizophrenic psychmate, who found it rather funny that Dolyn slept with two pillows over her head.
Drown it out. Drown it out. Drown it out.
Her time in the ward had been the most miserable thirty days of her life. All that wailing and screaming and nonsensical ramblings from patients who had inhabited the room before them; patients long since dead or released or moved to another facility. But their reverberating anguish had been so disturbing that Dolyn couldn’t properly explain to the doctors what was ailing her. Halfway through a sentence she’d flinch or gasp at the horrors that played in her head like a broken record.
She couldn’t give them reason to drag her back. Not on her first full day of freedom.
“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.
“Do you call every woman you see ‘Girlie’?” Dolyn shouted back, then in a poor imitation of the man, bellowed, “Watch where you’re steppin’ there, girlie. You don’t wanna fall on your sweet patootie! Hey, girlie, you got nicer curves than a stretch of country road! That girlie must be a parking ticket, ‘cause she’s got ‘FINE’ written all over her.” Dolyn switched back to her normal voice. “Does Marjorie know what a sexist pig you are? She’s your wife, right? Would it kill you to say one nice thing about her?”
This was Dolyn’s gift (if you could call it that). She heard the past. And in some cases, could predict the future.
“H-how did you know ...”
Like that. She knew he’d ask. People always asked how Dolyn got her information.
Sometimes, she came close to admitting the truth. “Because right now I’m listening to everything you said two weeks ago.”
Close ... but never fully there.
“Now get back to work, JAKE! That pipe’s not gonna fix itself!”
She wouldn’t divulge how she learned his name, how the off-color joke he had told his co-workers was met with laughter and exclamations of “Good one, Jake!”
Let the jerk stew in his own words.
And stew he did. His deeply-furrowed scowl suggested that 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 booming in her hyper-sensitive ears like a thunderclap.
Just get the equipment running. Please.
Busted water mains were not an uncommon occurrence in Baltimore, where the same pipes have channeled the city’s murky H2O since the early-1800s. Usually leaks of this magnitude happened in late winter/early spring, when the rising temperatures caused centuries-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?”
Other members of the road crew, all wearing matching fluorescent vests over their jeans and flannel shirts, ambled over to have a look.
Even Dolyn was curious. 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.
“It’s a box,” sighed 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.