Writing “Home Work” From Stephen King’s “On Writing”

Exercise: Write Unplotted Narration. Basic scene setting: Girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a creep, boy stalks girl, girl gets a retraining order, boy stalks girl anyway and kills girls. In particular, girl come’s home and smells boy’s aftershave in house (and upstairs creeking) even though he’s supposed to be in jail. Then TV comes on – boy has escaped! King’s instructions: switch sexes and write new story.

By C. Austin Reams

Copyright – C. Austin Reams – All Rights Reserved. No portion of these materials or ideas may be reproduced by physical or electronic means, nor transmitted or stored electronically, without the author’s permission.

Dick sat in the leather driver’s seat of his SUV Audi, parked in a large circle drive outside the John Marshall Grade School in Muskogee, Oklahoma at 2:15 p.m. He was waiting for his daughter, Nell. She was eight years old. Her third-grade class would not let out until 2:45.
Dick’s grey eyes gazed over his steering wheel, focusing somewhere past the instruments of his dashboard. The radio was tuned to public radio. He blinked when a local female announcer, a young college intern he supposed, broke into the national newscast. He turned up the sound.
The announcer reviewed the weather: confirmed that the local temperature would continue at below freezing. There would be no relief from the ice storm had hit Southeaster Oklahoma the night before. The main highways leading out of town to the west and northwest would remain impassible due to the ice and fallen trees. The local roads in town had been salted and were passable.
The radio voice advised that the Governor had announced another new gun law; if passed by the state legislature, this one would permit teachers to carry approved automatic pistols in schools after completing the necessary training. The draft legislation was inspired by a string of mass shootings on the East and West Coasts over the holidays. The rise in Oklahoma’s murder rate was another excuse. The increased deaths had actually spiked in the impoverished districts of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, not smaller towns like Muskogee.
Murder was on Dick’s mind that day; not the idea of committing murder but the memory of an attempted murder. His ex-wife had tried to kill him.
Dick’s first wife, Jane, who was also Nell’s mother, died of pancreatic cancer when Nell was five. Dick and Jane had been together since High School. She was an American Indian, a full-blooded Cherokee, despite her western name. Dick was six-foot-four inches tall, white and didn’t know anything about his pedigree. Jane was five-foot-ten and wore her thick long black hair down to her Butt since ninth grade, when they met.
Back then, Jane had had a crush on Dick, and as it turned out, Dick secretly pined for her, but was too shy to say anything to her. Jane acted first when she had a friend as Dick if he would “go with her,” an otherwise bland phrase with deep meaning for high school studentry, meaning, Will you be my boyfriend?
Jane’s family was active with their tribe. Her mother, Cindy Tayanita, was a single mom and a member of the local tribe counsel. Jane regularly attended summer camps for Cherokee children, and participated in the annual Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma City, where Jane won the traditional dance competition wearing a blood-red dress sewn with hundreds of beads and feathers. Her headdress was adorned with Eagle feathers, approved by the U.S.

Government, that had been in the family for decades. Unlike most other women, dancing gown included with a long knife that had a stag bone handle and beaded sheath.
Dick joined the Army after high school; he married Jane after completing basic training. Jane went with Dick when was assigned to Germany for his first two-year assignment. He extended his commitment for another two years, and in the last year of which he was assigned by Muskogee by request. It was then that they first tried to get pregnant and it was the beginning of a string of miscarriages.
Dick left the Army after another year and they were still not pregnant. After many more years of trying, and spending their savings on two attempts at invetro fertilization, Jane gave birth to Nell by cesarian. The day Nell was born, they agreed Nell would be their first and last, which was truer than they knew. The day after giving birth to Nell, before being released from the hospital, the doctor informed them that the doctor observed a growth in Jane abdomen during Nell’s birth. A biopsy confirmed that it was malignant cancer, and several follow-up revealed that it has spread to Jane’s brain and heart. She died weeks after Nell’s birth.
Dick went through a period of depression and nearly lost his job as a civilian contractor at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant; but he did not turn to alcohol or drugs. Every morning he reminded himself that Nell needed him more than he needed self-pity.
Instead, Dick turned to on-line dating websites a year after Jane’s death. In the beginning, he told himself that he was just looking. But he kept returning to the sites after Nell went to sleep. He started corresponding by email with a couple of Russian women, a young woman from the Philipines, and three Chinese girls, all of them in their early twenties. His fantasies of having sex with younger women was eventually tempered by the obvious immaturity expressed in their letters. He concluded that he could not allow Nell to be raised by young woman nearly half his age.
But he had also become infatuated with Asian women, particularly their dark straight hair. Maybe they reminded him of Jane; nonetheless, there were few single Asians in Southeastern Oklahoma. Dick became more determined to find a Chinese woman closer to his age; he rationalized that someone in her early thirty’s could be acceptable in McAlester and more likely to be compatible with him emotionally.
After researching more about mail-order-bride websites, Dick learned that many of the women were probably former prostitutes. There was also a high rate of divorce for men that had met foreign women on-line; many of the women were simply looking for a U.S. green card, not a stable relationship. After a two-year waiting period, the brides often filed for divorce, or simply moved to another state.
Dick found Mae’s photo on China Shangxi Beauties, a new website focusing on “mature” women with verifiable family backgrounds. According to her profile, Mae was thirty-five, lived alone with her mother, and worked at a Foxconn plant that manufactured one of the iPhones. Her pictures show her as very slender, with long, straight, black hair, and soft features. She had a degree in electrical engineering, which Dick hope inferred that she probably had not also worked in a massage parlor.
After several months of emails and on-line video chats, Dick travelled to China to meet Mae. She and her mother lived in twenty-storied apartment building, the sort of which lined the checkered streets of Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, like stacked beehives. The apartment had three rooms, including the bathroom. Mae’s mother cooked all their meals, mostly stir fry vegetables with mystery meat and fowl soup, on a hot plate, which stood on a small table next to a metal sink. There was no refrigerator. There was also a small love seat in the living area and a black-and-white television. All of Mae’s emails had been sent from the dating agency across the street from the Foxconn plant.
A chest-high wooden alter stood opposite the kitchen in front of the only window. There were no Buddhas or idols on it, only several old framed family photographs. Mae said the photos showed her mother’s parents and their parents four generations back. A small pot of what appeared to be ash stood in front of each photo; a stick of incense constantly burned in each pot, which made it difficult for Dick to sleep; not that staying at Mae’s apartment was comfortable. Mae slept with her mother on a small cot behind a curtain door in the only bed, just larger than Dick’s bedroom closet back home, while he tried to sleep on two thick blankets on the floor in the living area.
The last night of his first visit, Mae’s mother went to visit with relatives, or so Mae said with a smile. A humble old man, wearing traditional Chinese clothes, knocked on the door that evening. Mae’s mother hurriedly gathered her things and left with the man, winking to Mae as he closed the door.
“That was my grandfather,” said Mae.
“He looks more like you father. Didn’t he pass away?” said Dick, glancing at the alter photograph.
“Not really,” said Mae, as she came up behind him and softly kissed his neck.
Mae and Dick slept together that night, made love several times before midnight, and again before dawn. It was better than Dick could have imagined, or maybe he had just gone without sex too long. When Dick would get up to use the toilet, he left the door cracked and saw Mae light more incense at the family alter. She never let the insence burn out during his entire trip.
Once back home in McAlester, Dick spent most of his time thinking about sex with Mae. His late evenings and early mornings were often spent chatting with Mae on web chats. After three months of restlessness, Dick returned to China with a ring. He bought Mae a two-way ticket to California, so U.S. Immigration would believe she was merely taking a vacation rather than being a fiance; he then purchased a separate ticket for Mae to Will Rogers International Airport in Oklahoma City. That’s were Nell met Mae for the first time.
Mae hugged Dick upon her arrival, and she glared at Nell over his shoulder at Nell, who was nearly eight-years-old at the time. When Mae opened her arms for a hug, Nell slapped her.
Dick and Mae were married within three (3) months. The sex was good, at first. Mae took over the kitchen, but not to cook; rather, she set up a family alter with incense and photographs on the mahogany buffet that had been in Dick’s family since the statehood.
Days after they were married, Mae’s mother arrived at the front door of Dick’s house with nothing but the clothes on her back. It was unclear to Dick just how his now mother-in-law made it from Oklahoma City to Muskogee, much less how she got a visa and ticket for the international flight from China. It was clear that any pretense of being married, much less being a couple, had ended. Sex was over between them; Mae recoiled when Dick even touch her shoulder to say good morning. She moved out of his bed room on the second floor and into the only guestroom to share a bed with Mae’s mother, next to Nell’s room.
Nell seemed to gloat at Dick in light of Mae’s abrupt change of face. When Nell demanded to move to her maternal grandmother’s house, Dick filed to divorce Mae, realizing that he would not lose the love of his daughter, particularly for someone that turned out to be a cold stranger, possibly an enemy, living under the same roof.
The local Sherriff, Dwain Westcroft, served the papers to Mae in the kitchen, while Dick waited in the living room. Once she realized what was happening, Mae went into a rage, tore past the Sheriff and attached Dick with every bit of strength and venom that she could muster. She gave him a black eye and gouged his check, which required ten stitches at the emergency room. The Sheriff arrested Mae and released her the same day; but by the time she made it back to Dick’s house, all her things were sitting on the front sidewalk. Dick never saw Mae’s mother that day, and never found any of her things in his house.
On the advice of a co-worker, Dick went to the court house the next day and filed for a victim protective order to keep Mae out of the house. Testimony from the Sheriff that Mae had threatened to kill Dick clinched the judges’ approval of the order, although Mae had not actually made any such verbal threats. It also helped that the Judge’s granddaughter was Nell’s classmate. Dick did not sleep well the first week, but after a week he became more relaxed and Nell moved back home.
Nell brought a framed black and white photograph of her mother, Jane, that Nell’s grandmother had given her. The photo showed Jane in her traditional Cherokee dance gown with ceremonial knife. Dick’s eyes swelled when he saw it. He hugged Nell, and suggested that they place Jane’s photograph on the buffet where Mae had placed the photos and incense to her family, which were now long gone.
“We miss you, mommy,” said Nell.
Dick squeezed Nell and said “We miss you, Jane,” said Dick.
That first night that Nell had returned home, Dick woke to a noise in the hallway, a loose board that always creaked when someone stepped on it. The door to Dick’s bedroom was slightly ajar.
“Nell?” said Dick.
Dick’s room was dark, save some moonlight dancing through the drapes across the door to the hallway.
The door crashed open. Dick rolled out of bed just as the sound of gunfire filled his bedroom. He blindly rushed at the source of the bullets, a dark figure at the entrance to his room, and kicked it backwards onto the hallway floor. Nell turned on the hallway light, just as Mae was getting up from the floor with the gun.
Mae grabbed Nell and held the gun to the girl’s head. Mae smiled at Dick, tears rolling down her checks. “Say ‘good-bye’,” said Mae.
“No, no, no, don’t!” said Dick. “I’ll give you anything.”
“How about your soul,” said Mae, cocking her head to one side.
“Freeze!” said a man from the top of the stairs behind Mae.
Mae spun around, trying to keep ahold on Nell, who broke free and darted back into her room from the hallway. Mae fired several rounds toward the voice at the top of the stairs, from where gun fire was returned.
A bullet hit Nell in the leg. Dick tackled her from behind and landed several punches into her face that put her unconscious.
Sheriff Westcroft was laying on his back, struggling for breath at the top of the stairs, holding his hand over his bleeding chest. Dick took the gun from Mae’s limp hand, and went to the Sheriff to help him stop the bleeding.
The Sheriff died at the hospital that night, but not before giving a sworn statement. By chance, the Sheriff had seen Mae walking alone through town and followed her to Dick’s house. When he saw her enter a side door, he had followed.
Mae was treated at the hospital and released into the custody of the county jail.
A Pittsburg County jury convicted Mae of murder and the Judge sentenced her to death by lethal injection. Fifteen months later, Mae’s execution was scheduled for a Tuesday. The day before, an ice storm hit Pittsburg County. Dick had pre-arranged to pick up Nell thirty minutes early from school to try to avoid any media who may be there to take photographs of her.
Dick’s grip on the steering wheel tightened as her heard the public radio announcer continue with local events. Mae had been put to death at the prison early Tuesday morning. Only prison officials were present. Mae had declined any final consult with a priest. Dick wondered what had become of Mae’s mother.
The principal accompanied Nell to the front entrance of the school and waived to Dick as he patted Nell on the shoulder, indicating for her to go on to her father’s vehicle. Dick waived back as he opened the car door for Nell.
Dick arranged for Nell to stay with her mother’s grandparents that night. He anticipated that it would be hard day for him and did not want Nell to be around his depression. He just wanted to have a beer and to be alone.
After dropping Nell off, Dick stopped at a local Mexican diner for a burrito and margarita, which was not the usual for Dick. He picked up a six pack of beer at a local Pit Stop on the way home. It was already dark when he slid in his house key in the side door, leaving his SUV in the driveway.
He put the beer in the refrigerator, still in its paper sack, and starred at it for a moment, then shut the door. He leaned back against the kitchen countertop and cried with his eyes squint shut. He tried to gather himself, whipping away his tears and looked up to find the picture of Jane on the buffet.
He went to the photograph and picked it up.
“I miss you so much,” Jane. “I love you. I’m so sorry. If you can hear me, I’m sorry.”
He checked the drawer under the buffet. A small candle and book of matches were the only things left in the drawer. Dick lit the candle and placed it in front of Jane’s photo.
He leaned against the buffet, breathed in deeply and searched his mind for something meaningful to say. “Keep us safe, sweety,” he said, the only thing he could think of.
He shrugged, grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, and turned on the local nightly news in the living room, settling into his Lazy-boy recliner. The blond anchorwoman was wrapping up a story about a house fire in Muskogee that had been caused by space heaters. Dick took a deep swig from his beer and propped up his feet with the fold out foot rest.
The newswoman went on with “breaking news” from the McAlester prison. Following the execution of Mae, her body had apparently gone missing. Executed bodies are normally stowed in the prison’s own morge prior to cremation. A doctor checks the condemned prisoner for any signs of life before the body is stored, after which they are promptly cremated, but not before another inspection by a nurse. The lock to the morge was cut and Mae’s body had apparently been taken shortly after it was moved to the morge.
Dick heard a creaking sound upstairs. He muted the television and took another sip of beer, as if any casual activity confirmed that there was nothing to worry about. But his heart raced. He stopped breathing and sat still, listening. He heard another sound; it was the floorboard in the hallway upstairs. He slowly set the beer down on a side table; someone had to be upstairs for that board to make a sound. The weight of an adult was required; Nell was not yet big enough. The sound came again, and he thought of his gun, which was in his closet upstairs and of no use to him now.
As Dick quietly lowered his feet to the ground, he smelled a strong odor of incense coming from the stairs. This is impossible, he told himself. He quickly stood and went to the foyer of his house to get a view of the bottom of the stairwell, believing that his sudden loud movements would break the spell of fear his mind was playing and end his apparent illusions.
Mae was standing at the bottom of the stairs holding a kitchen knife. Her skin was white and lifeless. A sheet of thin grey smoke billowed down over her head and body, and disappated once it reached the floor. She smiled at Dick, her head cocked to one side.
“Bullshit!” said Dick, trying to deny the image standing before him.
Mae lunged at him with the knife. Dick dodged to the left, and rushed to the kitchen. He circuled back through an adjoining hallway, made it back to the bottom of the stairs and ran upwards, thinking of the gun in his closet. He heard rapid footsteps behind him. As he glanced behind, reaching the top of the stairs, he was stabbed in the gut from the front.
Dick fell to the upstairs hallway floor, Mae’s mother standing over him. She held a small pearing knife, dripping with his blood. Dick glanced to a small side table in the hallway. Several of Mae’s family photographs had been placed there, including a prominent photograph of Mae, with three sticks of incense burning brightly. A thick layer of smoke floated through the hallway.
With the knife held high, ready to land another blow, Mae’s mother knelt down over him as Mae reached the top of the stairs.
Dick held his forearm up and said, “Help me!”
Mae cocked her head to one side and smiled.
As Mae’s mother began to swing her hand, someone grabbed her arm and threw her against the wall. Jane stood over Mae’s mother, dressed in her Cherokee gown, her ceremonial knife held over her head. As Mae’s mother yelled and struggled to stand, Jane’s burying her knife deep into the crook of the mother’s neck. Mae’s mother fell back against the hallway floor where she lay motionless.
Jane looked up at Mae, who stared back, stunned. Mae held up her knife, her grey hands shaking. Jane slowly sheathed her knife and smiled at Mae, cocking her head to the side.
“No!” said Mae.
Jane quickly stepped to the hallway table, and knocked the photographs and incense to the floor. Mae hollered as the layer of smoke over her body dissipated from her head, leaving nothing behind as the pillar of smoke fell to the floor.
Dick sat up on one elbow, holding his stomach with the other arm. Jane turned to him and smiled.
“I love you,” said Dick. He started to cry.
Jane nodded and blew him a kiss with her hand, as her image slowly faded, except for one Eagle feather from her headdress, which fell slowly to the floor.
Dick was treated at the hospital and released early the next morning. The police concluded that he had killed Mae in self-defense; he did not tell the police about seeing Mae. The police assumed the other kitchen knife found at the top of the stairs had been used by Dick, and did not test it. They figured that Mae’s mother must have stolen Mae’s corpse, although the body was never found.
Dick never told Nell about these latest events. When he went to pick up Nell from her grandparent’s house, Dick gave the Eagle feather to Jane’s mother, who shed a tear and nodded to Dick with a smile.
Dick kept a candle burning in front of Jane’s photograph on the kitchen buffet from then on.

Posted May 5, 2013 by spiritadmin in Current Events, Downtown's Journal