Brr, definitely going to need something to warm up these bones!
Double double, plus thoughts and rambling to start off
Note from someone that wrote this:
I started the 2018 Halloween season looking over things I had written, and taking a step back to appreciate the authors that inspire what I write. I know, I’m a complicated bird to say the least. Ha-ha, har-har... anyways...
The story ‘Double double’ started off as a joke in my head, thanks to another writer-person/genuinely decent fellow that I know named Lake, like the water. We were at Tim Horton’s on Spring Garden one day, I was amused by the doughnuts being robotically glazed on a rack some fifteen feet away, and mentioned that they looked–I don’t know–unique in their presentation. He made a good joke that “oooh, you gonna write about how they looked glistening in the store light!”
So I wrote this story, with the thought of ‘doughnuts’ in the back of my head. But, I’m almost a full three paragraphs in and I should state that this story is more so inspired (almost entirely) by Stephen King’s ‘Gray Matter’, aside from doughnuts. I’ll get into why I need to mention this. It feels important to be upfront about such things. Gray Matter is a much more drawn out version of what I’ve presented, and deals more heavily with addiction/abuse/lethargy. Doughnuts are delicious and Tim Horton’s makes them in bulk for cheap... That’s just a general shout out.
The story Gray Matter, as I mentioned, deals with addiction and abuse, on a strange level. I want the Constant Reader to know that I haven’t read the actual story I’ve referenced in over ten years, but it always stuck out to me. I don’t deal in fan-fiction, in fact, I get a little weirded out by it, but sometimes, a story strikes a nerve and you just have to follow that thread. (Have you read the original source? Then you know what’s in it for you!) The story Gray Matter struck a nerve, and Tinlou was the place for it to be exposed–in a manner of speaking.
You see, Tinlou is my own little fun-town of a city. I like to imagine it as a well beaten place in Nova Scotia, and like all great costal settings, it just kind of waits along the southern shore, south of Digby and West of Halifax. (More on Tinlou later...)
As for my thoughts on Stephen King, well, I think he has dealt with addiction a lot, which is partially why I chose this story to mirror. It’s not a copy; it’s a re-tooled-re-imagined thought. Looking at horror and trying to see what it in can offer. I want Tinlou to have a mystically supernatural feel, and one of my inspirations was a great place to start, plain and simple. SK peels back what lies within, he plays with things that can hold deep roots in our psyche, and he dances with that in textual form like none-other. I don’t try to mimic it, just respect it, and I see the value in respecting addiction.
He’s on record as being coked out for a lot of the eighty’s, so I don’t doubt he was getting ideas from some sort of outside source... I guess I’m saying all this as my kind of excuse, or justification, for having stripped out some of the ‘addiction stuff’, it’s handled tastefully to a point in Gray Matter, but I tend to think Mr. King gets a little heavy handed when it comes to making vices taboo.
Any way’s, onto Tinlou, it’s always there, holed up be-it snowstorm or a spring thaw/flood.
We just don’t know what can happen or occur, it’s just sort of holding its own time and space. It’s a relic, leftover and forgotten.
(Hey, a fun side note, I’ve actually written a novel set in Tinlou! My working title is currently ‘The Battle’. It follows the tale of Dale Hawthorne and his journey to uncover the Battle of Claire and the history of Tinlou, the city where he lives and rests. I had a blast writing it, and submitted it last summer into a writing contest for Maritime fiction, my fingers have been crossed for a few months and I’m reserving the stance of optimistic-pessimism. If nothing transpires from that submission, expect a plethora of Tinlou based stories to hit the web!–maybe. I kind of like the city, and have given it a good amount of detail in stories that have yet to meet the Constant Reader.)
Right, now on with the show-
This story in particular, I don’t expect to wow, but please read carefully, for in a fetal bow, are you of sturdy brow? Beware of the teeth, they’re the deadliest chompers of all, munch and crunch they’ll grind you in their black maw. I like to have fun with words, it’s kind of the treat of saying I like to write, and sometimes I just can’t help myself. That’s kind of how I sum up wanting to expose this particular re-telling of a horror short. I can’t take full credit, I don’t really want to take full credit, and I was just having some fun.
“Okay... okay, that’s a bit better... I don’t suppose anyone has a shot of rum to spice this up?” Jeffery Adamowitz said. His voice gruff, thickly, and wet sounding.
He smiled at the other patron’s, an elderly man’s sarcastic sort of smile, wrinkled at the edges, rueful with its playfulness. Ah, ‘ditaa will give me an earful now–the Tim Horton’s owner looked at his table with disapproving tiredness, Aditaa Manjeet oh so neat, a dressed up brown and slacks to her feet–he remembered this old tease from their childhood. Gosh, how we liked to torture you! It had been rather mean, but kids were kids, and sometimes funny rhymes had a way of becoming disturbingly sick chants. I guess it was rude, hell, probably racist or xenophobic or some shit, but kids are kids. No harm no foul. And ‘ditaa, my dear, I swear what I saw tonight would trump any school-yard bullying that was ever brought onto you. Everyone get’s bullied, but life finds a way of showing horror beyond what we do to each other; Jeffery eyed the counter where the coffee shop owner was finishing giving it a good wipe with a terry-cloth. She tucked the rag into a pocket on her uniform and was ambling in his direction; at least tonight showed me so.
He hadn’t meant to attract a crowd. The entourage that helped him in did so out of the kindness of their hearts. He had been shambling along the sidewalk, trying to get back into the warm. Tinlou was under assault from a late-season snow storm. Live-at Five had already told people to stay inside as a mixture of snow and sleet was on its way.
The weather-people had seemed oh-so-giddy with the news, as if it was some sort of event that nobody had asked for on the tail end of March.
Jeffery, Thomas and Janet had been toughing it out as they usually did during a storm these days–a deck of cards and ceramic mugs of tea and coffee served by Aditaa’s dutiful staff–idle in their conversation and not paying too much mind to people popping in.
The Timmie’s was always open.
“Jeffery, I’ve called the police, I mean look at you, and the state you’re in. I told them that you left with Tommy and Jane... but I didn’t have much else to say, where are they? Did you take Oliver home?” Aditaa said.
Her almond coloured eyes graced his features with concern, darting between the two men that had brought him back into the Tim’s. They were sitting in red-and-cream painted hard swivel-chairs, looking to Jeffery like some sort of messianic bard, or just a man late-in-his years about to have a heart attack. Jeffery’s jacket was unzipped, his torso soaked from head to toe, a small puddle of water melting by his oil-skin boots, and his hat is missing Aditaa thought silently surely he had been wearing one when the four had set out, he looked washed out, strung out like a wrinkled towel fresh from the wash basin. If she didn’t know him better, and hadn’t seen him an hour ago chatting up merrily with the other two retired-widowers, Aditaa could have mistaken him for a homeless man, or a senile-wanderer that was out on a stroll of whim.
The coffee shop had been slow most of the night. Most people took heed and were remaining battened down in their respectful homes. The Westside of Tinlou was quiet and near-whiteout by four p.m., snow banks that hadn’t had the decency to melt were still two-to-three feet of hard-packed ice, mired and gritty with loose gravel and sand, by four-thirty they measured in at the five-foot mark respectively. The few people stopping in at Aditaa’s Tim’s were snow-plow drivers getting ready to make their bread and butter for the night and the rare brazing highway driver that was stopping in before trying to beat the oncoming gale.
“ ’ditaa, you probably did the only thing I could have asked... I... Thomas and Janet didn’t make it...” he said.
Jeffery arrived at the Tim Horton’s around six p.m., he and his card-companions long-ago tiring out the conversation around how a house with the company of one was sometimes too hard to fall asleep in. He had a nice suburban bungalow, one of the couple hundred that made up the west block; soft yellow siding (the wood had been replaced with vinyl some time ago), a neat brick-lined garden (currently buried under heaps of thaw-and-freeze slush), his Kia Rio (parked, he always believed the walk did him good), and a beautiful array of pine trees marking a privacy wall from the street. He had lived there all of his adult life, raised a family with Penelope, retired there, and had always planned on finishing whatever time he had left there. He had been born in Tinlou and had always intended to die in Tinlou–which as a city had grown significantly over the years, but as Janet was prone to say “there’s roots that don’t die, and ours are the ones that stuck here”, old development like his home (circa nineteen-seventies mass-residential units) was something to be admired in the city, condos and would-be skyscrapers (nothing as boastful as Toronto or New York, but they were still big enough to make you crane your neck) were popping up, filled with more people. What the people who lived in them did and how they afforded it was a mystery to Jeffery. He wasn’t sure if the big multi-units were sustainable, but he supposed people seemed to be filling them. No sense trying to question progress.
He liked this Tim’s (an inside joke in Tinlou was that you were never more than five-minutes away from a Tim Horton’s, and the truth was that most people really did have the pick of the litter.) It was usually quiet, tucked away, the drive-thru always packed, and yet the sitting area generally clear and clean. And Aditaa owned it, which made it feel safe. She was from the block, as they might have said growing up, a local touchstone that–like him–was a little worn from time but still a part of Tinlou, a part of the history.
“I... Okay, you said the police are on their way?” Jeffery asked.
His eyes shook behind their sunken sockets. His face set in grim terror. Thin tendrils of grey hair–usually tied back in a tight pony-tail–poked out from odd angles making him look cartoonish and a little mad.
“I don’t know if it will matter... because, you see there were more of us than...” He blinked. His pupils were bright with fear.
Aditaa slid the mug of coffee more firmly into his shaking hands. The digits were like sausages made of ice, cold and trembling as he tried to grip the cup.
She told him to take a moment, but begged to know what happened. The other patron’s observed this trade, silent, respectful. Like seeing a shaman try to draw out pesky inner struggle, as if it were some sort of lecherous worm that had attached itself onto Jeffery’s very soul. She didn’t coo, or baby him; she just looked at him directly, with sympathy and concern. It was quite clear that her old friend may be experiencing a momentary loss of sanity. The balance of things had gone off from his natural understanding, and whatever he had witnessed had really done a number on him.
He looked up from his steamy white mug, eyes dry and lined in reddish pink.
“Okay... Well, we were sitting over there...” Jeffery said.
...the first thing Tom said was that Gary Nelson’s boy Oliver looked just about ready to blow away in the wind. At the time Janet and I told him to hush up, ‘could just look like that because he was wearing a winter coat two sizes too big. But the boy did looked a little sickly, not starved, but like he hadn’t been sleepin’ right, Penelope and I saw our Chuck like that, turned out he was wettin’ the-
Jeffery paused for a moment to clear his throat. Aditaa knew the why of it all, the kid had come in for the third time that day; had no business walking out on his sick dad, she thought using the money to pig-out on snacks, and she had given him a bit of a hard time. She waited through his story patiently, content that Jeffery didn’t look like he was ready to have a fit. The police were on their way, it had felt like the only thing reasonable; if everything was on the up-and-up then there would be no need for their intervention.
But, he had said “they didn’t make it”, she was fifty-eight, thirty-years married and mother of five, built of sturdy stuff; but the thought lingered along the bottom of her spine, creeping up the back of her apron as though the chilling hand of death was drawing the heat from her bones. Jeffery looked terrified, lost and maybe a little crazed, but his fear appeared honest.
Aditaa had never known him to startle so. Something had rattled his bones as well.
“We didn’t want to see anything. In Oliver of course–you know how people look away from an accident on the side of the road, we didn’t want to see–but then he came in and ordered two-dozen doughnuts. ‘ditaa you told him to pay up lickety-split, and that he was going to rot his teeth out if he bought anymore this month. Now, it seemed weird then, what the heck was Gary’s boy comin’ out in the storm for some measly doughnuts? He’s twelve you know, and these days it ain’t too much to assume kids are gettin’ into stuff, stuff we didn’t know nothin’ about when I was his age. He didn’t smell like dope, but you know, Tinlou’s changing... It was coming on eleven at night for Christ’s sake, what was he doing out? Anyways, we called him over... Poor kid, he looked hypnotized watching the pastry being glazed back behind the counter, locked in place and dozing with his eyes open...
Well, I called him over, don’t know why, I’d always been on good terms with Gary. Kept the apartment in good shape for them, after, well after Oliver’s mom passed... Penelope and I always hoped the best for that family, she liked Carly a good deal. ‘would have been devastated had she been alive when... when Carly passed.
Oliver was being a good kid, respecting his neighbours and that, so he came and said hello... And I didn’t say it out loud, but Tom had been right, the kid was next to skin-and-bones... I asked how he was doing, and about his dad. The kid started to mumble something and before we knew it he had full-on water works, took us a good few minutes to calm him down. Janet was holding him when he told us...” Jeffery looked across the room to where they had been when this evening had begun. He imagined their past-selves shocked and confused. At least then, we had been warm, dry and blissfully ignorant. He thought.
“Best darn school teacher I ever knew... Always had a way of getting kids to think straight...
We got Oliver to settle and he told us his daddy was sick, he couldn’t leave the apartment. He had been getting the kid to run down to the Timmies all week to get boxes and boxes of snacks...” (Jeffery’s pallid face grimaced into a sour smile) “I tell ya, saying it out loud sounds strange, but the kid was near traumatized... He made it sound worse than just a grumpy sweet-tooth... ‘ditaa I’m not sure how there weren’t any red-flags on your end, but I suppose before tonight...
The kid said his dad had been getting worse, and that he wasn’t sure buying him all the sugary stuff was doing him any good. Remember, this was a little kid, I... I still had doubts on how honest he was actually being, maybe something worse was happening, or maybe he was trying to pull one over on us. We told him we’d help him get back home; Tom and Janet said it would be safer to go through the storm together, and in the back of my head I knew they thought strength in numbers may be important. Whatever condition Gary was in, it didn’t sound friendly.
We really thought it was just some sort of weird abuse thing... No lie. The kid had some sort of repression going on and his father needed to be made aware. Again, it all sounds weird, but you see a lot when you get this old... I’m sure each of us were thinking all sorts of strange ideas on the walk to their apartment; their place is on the edge of my subdivision, Penelope and I met the family at one of the legion’s meet-and-greets. They have a three bedroom apartment five floors up in one of the brown-brick, um ‘pubs’, nice place really. I haven’t been there in a few months, Gary kept it clean but some of the life was missing after... after Carly... He seemed to have adjusted, but they were young, I don’t think she was more than thirty-two before, you know the cancer... Sorry, it’s just; I don’t know what I saw... I can only piece it together as I go. We had no right going under the pretenses that we had, but we did, like a bunch of geriatric white-knights. (Jeffery laughed to himself and took a sip from the mug) When we got there I told Janet to hang back with the boy, they didn’t listen, and the kid practically dragged her in there when he heard his dad yelling.
He was being belligerent–Gary–it sounded like a drunk-imitation of him, cursing everything that made noise in his apartment. He was slurring out disgusting, insane, outrage. “WHERE’S THAT DAMN BOY!” or “BRING ME FOOD! I MUST EAT, NOW!” and I know I heard him desire to eat the very skin off any intruders bones. See, Oliver had told us that their cats had gone missing, we didn’t think anything of it at the time, perhaps one of the two of them had left the apartment door open accidently, and allowed for the cats to make their great escape... Yet now, Gary’s voice was entwined with raspy meowing yowl. The three of us looked at each other, not sure if we should even be there anymore, hell we never should have stepped in to begin with...
Tom opened the bedroom door, there was a stench in the apartment, I assumed it had been the lingering presence a lot of apartments seem to have... I had noticed it in the stairwell, cat litter that hadn’t been changed mixed with sour foul-smelling rot, and we all ignored it and needed to see to Gary... The apartment reeked worse than the stairwell and it all seemed to come from that room... When he turned the knob puss-like goo spilled out of the lock, and it was pulled from his hand... Janet clung to the boy, who wanted nothing more but to run in, I think we left the boxes of doughnuts in the kitchen, his dad was in agony, screaming for nourishment.”
He stopped his narration for a moment, absently aware that the group of people in front of him were either humoring him, or enthralled by his sincerity. Aditaa sitting beside him, fountain of sympathy emulated in a familiar face, the two gentlemen that had guided him back in–Brett and Cody Connors, Springhill delivery drivers and all-weather motorists, they had passed him in two beefed up 4x4 broncos–leaned against the dividing wall of the coffee shop. (Jeffery remembered the two good old boys from his time as a car-salesmen at the Tinlou Buy and Sell dealer, they would come in every Thursday to top up the jugs for the water cooler, always joking and goofing around, but professional and to the point all the same) A worker that had been on break sat with them, respectfully topping up Jeffery’s mug whenever it went below the two-thirds mark. The rest of what he had to tell was blurry and weak, he didn’t know if the memory of an old man was meant to handle such a thing.
He touched his silvery hair and looked past the group of people surrounding him. His eyes squinted for a moment, focusing out of the Tim Horton’s large windows and into the howling night. He looked at the dark streets; buildings flickered back to life as power-trucks worked hard to maintain the grid. One hand twisted and pulled at wisps that had strayed from his pony-tail–
–the power had gone out, that must have been when he lost his hat.
Jeffery looked away from the bitter storm and back to the group.
“The a-abomination was latching onto the bed like an over cooked egg... I mean, he looked like he had grown into the bed, and the floor, moss or mould was coming out in spurts on... on the creases that made up Gary’s body. The thing had been eating fine it seemed, because before the lights went out it looked like it had over taken the whole bed... I... I don’t think that Gary was really there... He had always been a lithe fellow, jumped around from jobs as some sort of sports equipment salesmen and private rugby league coach, and I swear whatever he had been when I knew him was not what I saw tonight. The puss that had leaked through the door came from it. The thing had grey veins that leached their way from the bed to the door, attached at the end was a cruel imitation for hands. The power to the building finally gave and any light in the room came from a mouldy window... It was more oozing mould, there had been a cat’s paw webbed into the thing, I remember that, hairy and clawing its way up the wall, growing out of the... Out of what we thought was Gary... None of us knew how to react.
Tom was pulled in first. He missed seeing the hand, and by the time it had gripped his ankle he was already being pulled from his feet... He got pulled in... Slow at first, like it wanted to give him a second to catch up, and then all at once it yanked him in. His screams died out... I think... I’m pretty sure it lashed out at me, couldn’t really tell what was what in the dark... I felt something wet clip my ear, I think it was trying to take my head off.”
He looked around at his audience. He sounded like a madman, he knew this, but they would see, he had made it out by the skin of his teeth.
“I think it suffocated him first... Soon, it started to, chew on him, it had teeth in its head, but they had expanded... I can’t... I didn’t stay. The moment I saw the door open, I had already checked out, I’m no hero, and... And this was beyond my reasoning. I looked at Janet, her face...”
Jeffery looked down and away from everyone watching him. His voice husky, clotted in sadness.
“Janet went with the kid, he was crying out for his dad, can’t say I would have done any different if I had been in his shoes. But the thing on the bed was no human, mark my words, and whatever had been the man was gone, consumed... I left, and here I am.” Jeffery finished.
He looked at the crowd around him, no more than five people (so it didn’t look like some sort of weird worship), a few people had come in and out during the storm, eyeing the close-nit crew next to the entrance with weary regard. The storm outside wailed against the road-side restaurant, orange lights flashed in the distance from hard at work snow-plows, thick dollops of flaky late March snow coated the windows.
The walk back had given him time to think.
He had lost his hat, vaguely aware that the creature in the bedroom had swiped it from him, and had taken to tugging at the strands of hair that had been pulled behind his ears. The cold was a minor thought to him then, and his only destination had been where this night had all started. The wind had pelted him in bitter defiance, as if it were mad with his attempts to brave what was being considered one of the worst winter storms Tinlou had seen in the last decade. He had ignored everything. Numb to thought and real direction. Jeffery had made it to the Tim Horton’s by shier luck and automatic reflex. The two fellows outside had seen him stumbling and walked him in, guiding him to the nearest seat. He probably looked weather beaten; perhaps homeless, but at least they had taken him in here.
“You called the cops?” He asked again.
Aditaa Manjeet looked at her old friend pityingly. She knew he wasn’t prone to outbursts, and regardless of his wild tales he wouldn’t lash out at any of them. The crowd in the coffee shop observed the exchange, some people deciding it was too intimate to eavesdrop on, and looked away, silently waiting out the bitter night together. She told him that she had called the police. Aditaa wasn’t sure what to believe in her friends’ story, but three adults and a child had left, and only one had returned. The authorities had to be involved, and she hoped they would be able to fair the storm to get here.
“I did Jeffery. It’s okay...” She said.
He smiled and brought his hands to his face. Aditaa waved at one of her staff to bring a pot to refill his mug. Jeffery was on the verge of sobbing or dry heaving, ready to admit defeat as it would seem.
“I saw it split in two!” He muttered. His voice came through his hands weak and croaky.
In the distance, echoing against the Westside subdivisions and alleyways, gunshots popped into the wind. Red and blue flashes of light blazed against the horizon’s whitened night. Police sirens were almost prominent at this distance. The occupants of the coffee shop looked out into the fierce late-season storm, snow banks creating a barricade from the streets surrounding them, the sound of gun-shots dull against the sky. Jeffery looked down at his coffee mug, laughing on the inside (two-sugar, two-cream, oh what a dream), it was funny to think that he had outrun anything.