My Thriller, BOUNCE HOUSE, is finally complete! Three months, two edits, many mornings of meeting the sun, and it's here (well, the first draft, anyway). This is Chapter 1. As always...I WELCOME comments, judgements, and ughs. Now that it's November, and I'm 6,000 words in on Book 2, I'm going to post parts of the book every Friday.
Another miscalculation. Ben Snow grabbed the top cable as it whizzed past. Falling overboard seemed like a shitty way to start this visit. He should have taken the roll and pitch of the ship into account. First time on a Navy ship, and he didn’t expect it to be different than on land? I’m never going learn this.
Night enveloped the ocean beyond, and the sky stretched with a vastness only existing at sea. Five stories below him, the swish of the saltwater against the hull of the USS Cole rose as the solitary sound in the dark night. Ben’s legs settled into the rhythm of the waves and he scanned the massive deck. As anticipated, the ship was deserted at night, a crew moved through the ship elsewhere, but not topside below the main mast, where he managed to arrive.
A lone crewman stood paced the length of the deck, the tinkle of his dog tags against his buttons another melody in the quiet darkness. His loping gait and broad shoulders were instantly recognizable to Ben; he spent twenty years watching him pace the living room at home.
Ben moved toward his son, a little unsure how Gabe would handle this surprise arrival. They’d never been particularly close. Gabe didn’t pick the Navy on accident.
Gabe paced to the edge of the deck, his brow in a furrow that signified too little sleep and too many plaguing thoughts. Ah, son what’s bothering you now? Talk to me. Gabe trailed his fingertips along the uppermost cable of the railing as he turned. Ben stepped forward to catch Gabe’s attention and ask. Gabe’s head jerked up and he scrambled backward along the cabling. “Holy shit! Dad? What are you—how did you—” He raised his hand as if to defend an attack. He thinks he’s losing his mind.
“Gabe? It’s okay son. I’m here to visit—” Ben moved closer to Gabe to explain, but his feet wouldn’t move, encased in some otherworldly sludge.
“This isn’t funny.” Gabe’s mouth hung open as he hauled in deep racking breaths. As if oxygen would make this scene somehow sensible. Gabe pointed at Ben’s now transparent feet.
“Holy hell—Gabe!” Ben’s composure slipped and the entire scene flickered.
The heel of Gabe’s boot caught on a protruding vent and he stumbled, landing hard on his ass. The loud metal clanged at the impact. Gabe coughed, rubbed his eyes, and pressed hard against the vent as if he too might disappear into the deck.
Don’t be afraid. I’ll never hurt you. Ben refocused his concentration so he could say it out loud. Give Gabe some type of reassurance. He worked to slow his heartbeat. The emotions pulled at his meditative state. The paralysis moved up his thighs. A low moan slipped from Gabe as he touched his head. Was that blood on his hand?
Ben aborted the bounce and vanished.
Such a twisted, unique word. Magic is both the greatest known and the deepest unknown. Masters of magic must learn things beyond the realm of a normal man’s imagination. It is the leap from the edge of unknown into an endless chasm of knowledge.
As Ben stood on the threshold of his nightly stomping ground and surveyed the patrons, a wisp of magic swirled around him, tempting him, caressing his mind, stroking his soul. He closed his eyes and blew out a short puff, exchanging the magic for cigarette smoke.
No more magic for him.
In the back of the darkened bar, his buddy Stan waved him over. The bartender called out to Ben on his way by the bar, “Beer?” Ben nodded.
At their usual table, Ben scraped the wooden chair back and dug a handful of peanuts out of the shallow dish. He nudged the chair closer to Stan so they wouldn’t have to shout over the country music blaring from the speaker overhead.
Ben dropped to the chair. “What the hell, Stan? You leave out a few critical details?”
Stan spoke around a mouthful of peanuts, his hands busy shelling more. “What happened?”
“What happened?! Stan, I ended up on a Naval Destroyer, about fell overboard, didn’t know who the hell I was for almost five minutes, scared the shit out of Gabe, and then lost control of the whole bounce. Is that enough?”
Stan choked and bits of peanuts sprayed on the table. The bartender set a dewy glass of beer at Ben’s elbow. Ben grasped the beer like his final lifeline and craned his head to thank the bartender with a nod. The crisp froth of the beer tasted good, but did little to settle Ben’s mood.
“Don’t yell at me.” Stan said. “All you can blame me for is the suggestion. You were the one looking for the diversion, I just picked astral projection for you instead of heroin.”
Ben shook his head. “That wouldn’t have been my drug of choice.” He took another pull off the beer.
Stan continued. “You missed the point. The article suggested astral projection as an escape and I relayed the information.” Stan popped more peanuts in his mouth and a few patrons pushed past them to the booths behind their table. “Why do you suppose I haven’t had any of these issues?”
Ben shrugged. “Who knows. But I’m done, Stan.”
“You keep saying that.”
“I’m serious this time. I threw the workbooks out.”
The mists of magic evaporated.
Steam from the shower clung to Ben, it curled around him misting the corners of the mirror and cloaking the overhead light. Blue walls tinged the steam an eerie fog as it cascaded off the ledge of the counter. A bowl of potpourri tucked in the corner filled the steamy room with the scent of roses, vanilla, and dust.
Ben dabbed at the mirror with a short lacy hand towel and pressed forward. Getting old sucks.
Doing it twice came with advantages.
Ben stared at the mirror and tried to apply the makeup a little better. Squeezing foundation out of the tube, Ben squirted a jagged line along the blackened creases of his index finger. He dabbed at the edges of his eyes with the thumbs of a mechanic not a makeup artist. Who knew this was so hard to make natural?
His breath fogged the mirror and he dropped his hands to the edge of the sink. “I’m going to have to tell her.” He rolled the foundation tube in his palm. “One of these days she’s going to need to know why all her makeup is disappearing.” Along with her husband.
Staring into the mirror to check his progress, Ben examined the foam latex creases glued to the corners of his mouth and eyes. Wrinkles that should have been real for each of his sixty-two years, wrinkles that were there a month ago. If anyone in this house actually took the time to see him they’d balk at his weak attempts to cover these changes. And that was part of the problem. No one saw him. At least no one here. Not for a long time.
Being an anonymous entity in his own house didn’t change the major fact at hand: He had to stop.
How far would the clock rewind? Would a day come where he’d no longer be able to conceal the youthful effects of this obsession?
Ben twisted the lid back on the borrowed foundation, slipped it back into the black makeup bag and tossed it into the bottom drawer.
He paused with his hand on the bathroom doorknob. I have to stop.
On the other side of the door, status quo reigned. Twenty-four years of marriage, six kids, and a lifetime of missed opportunities were what drove Ben to dabble in things grandfathers shouldn’t attempt.
When his three oldest flew the nest within a week of their eighteenth birthdays only to return a few months later, Ben searched for an escape. Heroin was too expensive, coke was too frantic, and pot made everything a little too funny. The article on astral projection from Stan seemed the perfect solution.
Visiting Gabe on his Navy ship fueled this astral projection project of Ben’s. The first attempt scared them both so bad Ben almost quit that very night. He hadn’t been back to see Gabe, but curiosity dripped on him like Chinese water torture. Almost a full week passed before the temptation grew too big to resist.
Leaving him in one hell of a bind. Ben twisted the knob and as he stepped over the threshold, he pretended to creak and ache in all his old-man places. One day soon he’d be forced to explain away his disguise, for now, the cavernous space that had grown between Ben and his family served as much an accessory to his concealment as the molded latex pieces stuck to his face.
Ben moved through the aging house with a slowness that annoyed him. In a kitchen as rumpled as his wife, Ben snagged a pancake, dropped a peck on her cheek and followed the entourage of kids out the back door.
His wife, Gina’s, voice slipped between the crack of the closing door. “Don’t forget the trash.” She didn’t look up. Another day. Another chore.
Just shoot me. “Not a chance.” He said. Wondering what the hell she did all day while he worked to support all eight of them. Yeah, maybe that made him an ass, but he was a tired ass. They’d been in this together. Now they were roommates.
Outside, Ben scraped the ice off the truck windshield. If only he could sprinkle a few drops from his fountain of youth on her poor rusting blue body and cracked vinyl seats. The driver’s side door creaked and groaned, and Ben cooed, “C’mon baby, I know it’s cold.”
Sputtering and coughing, the engine fired on the third try and Ben backed into the street. As the trashcan parked on the curb came into view, he pressed the brakes. They squealed in resistance and he patted the faded dashboard.
He studied the trashcan through the frosted window. He had to stop. This was the right decision. Every issue of his astral projection subscription layered the can. He tossed his copies of Mysticism: The Journey Within and Psycho-Dynamic Synthesis: Key to Total Mind Power in with the rest for good measure.
If he finished reading all the study guides, Ben would get better. Then what would stop him from doing it all the time? Ben stretched toward the door handle, but he clenched a fist and punched the steering wheel. An arc of pain should have shot up his arm from the blow to his arthritic knuckles, but he felt nothing.
My curiosity could never be sated. Keeping this information around would be torture. First, he’d start with one bounce a week, then two, then he’d never come home, bouncing from new destination to new destination.
New body. New life.
Little bit of memory loss.
So? So what if he forgot things? Maybe if he was bouncing all the time he needed to forget the family and events he left behind.
Ben released his foot from the brake, and eased away from the tempting silver platter of a different reality disguised as a trash can in a run-down working class neighborhood. Tugging his collar close around his neck, he stared down the quiet road; the morning’s clean sheet of snow barely marred with evidence of the day. But soon, tire tracks would accumulate, turning it into a worn, dirty path.
Did symbolism lay in the silliness of a set of tire tracks? Was Ben working to project his own life onto the image? He’d certainly never been a clean sheet of snow, that’s for sure. But in the moment of amnesia at the beginning of a bounce, he was whoever he wanted to be. He could morph into the surroundings and go with the bounce, to become anything. Anyone.
Then, when the day became muddied with information or mistakes, he could bounce to a clean new experience.
Ben shifted the layers of padding concealing his youthful body. His fingers flexed toward the door handle again. At sixty-two, he couldn’t ignore how his body had failed him. If he stopped bouncing, would the toned muscles and lubed joints leave him? How long would it take to revert back to the aging old man? If the workbooks held his fountain of youth could he forsake this rewind of the clock because it held annoying consequences?
Were they annoying? The only time the amnesia bothered him was on the return. Last time took him almost four hours and a lot of fast-talking to recover his memory. Gina hadn’t been impressed.
He flexed, what good was the body of a twenty-four year old if he didn’t get to show it to anyone? The physical reward wasn’t suitable payment for the mental anguish anymore. It was time to accept the version of this life that existed today, and stop the torture of where and who he could be.
He’d been a fool to think a quick jump to an alternate reality would serve to amp this one. If anything, he made it worse with a contrast of what other realities were possible with a quick flick of his magic carpet.
He blew an icy cloud across the frigid interior of the truck. A quick glance at the house as he pulled away revealed nothing extraordinary; dull brown brick, dull yard, dull front door.
Adventure didn’t live here.
What did you think?? Would you keep reading??
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