While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments. In this chapter of “III” (the third short story in the book), a month has passed since Vree Erickson rescued her mother from a kidnapper rapist.
In Chapter 1 of “III”, I changed the POV (point of view) character to a self-centered mechanic, which places Vree’s thoughts, feelings and immediacy offstage temporarily. Now she appears as a minor character and is distant from us. We want to know how she’s feeling, but she isn’t talking to us … she’s no longer one of us. I did this deliberately to convey that there’s been a major change in her personality.
“III” is a possession story and poses to Vree the question: “How do I get unpossessed?” She has become a victim and will need a savior, whether that person is herself or another.
So, with no further explication of structure, operation and circumstances, get comfy and…
She said of the ancient crystal, “Be careful of being unkind.”
December 13, 2012
Something strange had happened to Myers Ridge during its earthquake. A sinkhole appeared in a family’s backyard last month. Immediately, vehicles began stalling on Ridge Road there — even on Russell Road where the two country highways intersected. Not all vehicles stalled, and sometimes a day went by when no cars or trucks stalled. But when they did, business at Morton Twitchel’s garage was good.
Now, Mort sat in his lamp lit sun porch, reading the evening edition of The Ridgewood Gazette chocked full of Christmas ads when he glanced up and saw the car go past his house, heading toward Myers Ridge. By its sleek, aerodynamic shape, Mort knew that sensors and computer chips controlled the vehicle.
He grinned. Then, “Ma,” he hollered toward the living room where the sounds of Wheel of Fortune blared from a TV; “Hey, Ma, I’m going out. Be back later.”
“What about supper?” his mother called back.
“Keep it in the crock. I’ll eat when I get back.” He slipped on his coat and gloves.
“Pick me up some Pepsi…”
“I ain’t going to town—”
“…and some sour cream and onion chips.”
Mort sagged against the storm door and shook his head, but his voice rose with his blood pressure. “I said I ain’t going to town, you stupid old cow. You never listen. Never ever. Just moo, moo, moo, all the time.” He bolted outdoors into December’s gelidity and fought to catch his breath. There, he fired up a Marlboro when the coughing jag subsided, and he felt his strength return after a deep drag from the cigarette.
His long, weak shadow followed him across the crunchy snow. The day’s timid sun had hurried to leave Ridgewood; the last minutes of daylight clutched the western sky. Somewhere, far away, that sun was high and hot and tanning pretty girls in bikinis.
Mort spat a brown hocker — cancer? — then pulled his capillary body into his big truck — a Ford 350 with a Holmes 440 wrecker boom and bed — and hurried onto Russell Road. The tow truck had no engine control unit to manage emissions. It was the only way he could rescue the damn fools from the ridge’s electrical disturbances crippling their vehicles’ fancy engines.
He spotted the dead Nissan at the intersection of Russell and Ridge highways sooner than he expected. It was a fancy car, a wannabe rich person’s car, no doubt circuited with an electronic data recorder and loaded with all sorts of the latest electrical sensors. He parked in front of the stranded vehicle, then dropped to the ground and nearly fell when his knees almost buckled. He tossed away the cigarette and spat before he approached the car.
“Everything went dead,” the familiar looking woman said to him in the waning light.
“Mrs. Evans,” Mort said when he recognized her, “where’s your Taurus?”
“Traded it for something better. At least, that’s what I thought when I drove home from the dealership.” Elizabeth Evans stood outside her car and had her hands in the pockets of her white fur coat. Her short yellowish-brown hair lifted in the cold breeze coming at her, and her bronze face hid any rosy bloom from the chill. She said, “I don’t understand it. The car’s practically brand-new, and I just had it inspected.”
“It’s not the car,” Mort said, and then said no more about it. He had learned his lesson three weeks ago when he blabbed his theory to a stranded traveler from New Cambridge: “It’s this here hill — seems to knock out everything electrical — electronic ignitions, digital dashboard displays, all that ultra-fancy stuff. Not sure how it happens, but it’s been good for my business.” The guy turned out to be a reporter. He interviewed others familiar with the ridge’s mysterious nuisance and wrote a news article, which brought some scientists from the university to snoop around. Afterwards, the county wanted to close the roads to outside traffic. But Ridge and Russell highways were essential shortcuts to Alice Lake, even in the winter. So far, his towing business was in the black for the first time in five years.
He jerked a thumb at his tow truck. “I’ll getcha back to my garage. Then I can getcha up and running in no time. Meanwhile, you can ride with me.”
Elizabeth tapped on her window. The passenger door opened and a teenage girl got out. Mort did not know the girl, but he knew she was not Elizabeth’s daughter Amy. This girl was tall and blonde and probably looked great in a bikini.
“I can walk home from here,” she said to Elizabeth. “It’s not very far.”
“In all this snow? Your mother and father would never forgive me. Besides, you’re my responsibility until you’re home safe and sound.”
“But what if your car won’t start?”
“Then I’ll walk you home myself.”
Their conversation stalled, so Mort helped them into the truck’s cab, the teenager first, then Elizabeth. Once they were settled, he closed the door and spun, as much as his rickety ankles and knees would allow, and went to work getting the Nissan fastened to his hitch. Then, on the way to his garage, he turned on the radio to avoid conversation. The radio played a silly Christmas song about a grandmother being run over by a reindeer. Mort chuckled. Elizabeth and the girl smiled. Both were silent until Elizabeth promised the girl she would get her home as soon as the car was fixed.
Inside his spacious garage behind his mother’s lesser house, Mort set his truck’s fan and heat at high so Elizabeth Evans and her scrumptious companion could comfortably wait inside the cab. Then he went to work lowering the car and pretending to inspect the Nissan’s engine. He knew the car would start now — they were far enough away from Myers Ridge. And besides, the electrical disturbance at the ridge never fried any circuits. But if he were to get any money out of Elizabeth, he had to put on a good show.
“Mr. Twitchel,” she called out from the rolled-down window a few minutes later, “do you have any hot coffee?”
“This won’t take long.” He had forgotten to start the Mr. Coffee in his office. His beverage of choice was the Budweiser in the garage fridge and anything on tap at the tavern a mile south.
“Won’t take long at all,” he said.
He went to his workbench and returned with some wrenches. Then he clacked them against each other from time to time under the hood while he pretended to fix the engine. He even sprawled his backside on a dolly and rolled beneath the car.
“Mr. Twitchel,” Elizabeth called out again, “do you enjoy being a mechanic?”
Mort stopped clacking his wrenches and looked surprised. It was an honest question that few people ever asked him.
He shrugged at her sincerity.
“Most of the time,” he said above the noise of the truck’s fan, “except—”
His forehead scrunched suddenly. If she wanted to be sincere, then he would oblige for the moment.
“Except when our lousy government passes stupid rules like emissions laws. You know, there was a time when a mechanic could legally build a car engine without it being run by computer chips. My truck’s engine is how a free man intended an engine to be, not how our greedy Gestapo government wants it to be.”
“Yes,” the teenager said, “man shall not be rewarded for behavior unkind.”
Her cryptic remark caused Mort to pause. Then he shrugged and smiled at the sound of her lilting voice. When she said no more, he tried to put much of her out of mind as he returned to happily clacking his tools beneath the car.
Minutes later, Elizabeth called out, “Mr. Twitchel, my watch must have stopped. Do you have the correct time?” She sounded restless, perhaps becoming impatient with his act. An unhappy customer could sour the deal. It was time to wrap things up.
“There’s a clock on the wall above my workbench.” He got up, wiped his hands on a rag from his jeans’ back pocket, then got into the car and turned the ignition. The Nissan’s engine purred to life.
A large canvas tote bag beckoned him to look inside it. He was not after money (should there be any), just something small like a fancy pen to give his mother for Christmas so he would not have to spend any money on her. He pulled out a small white box, the kind with jewelry inside. He shook it. Whatever was inside was well packaged.
He hurried the box into his coat pocket, climbed from the car, closed the hood, and went to the truck, smiling kindly at Elizabeth and the girl as he opened the door and helped them out. Then he climbed into the truck’s cab and turned off the heater.
“How much do I owe you for your prompt and valuable assistance, Mr. Twitchel?” Elizabeth asked as she retrieved a wallet from her coat pocket and opened it. Her wedding and engagement rings flashed and sparkled under the fluorescent shop light. Mort paused to admire their value and hoped something of equal value was inside the box.
“My flat rate is fifty bucks up front for the tow, plus five for each mile,” he said. “That’s fifty-five, minus the time spent working on your engine. For that, I charge twenty bucks an hour, which I know sounds expensive, but a guy’s gotta make a living, you know.”
Elizabeth nodded. “I’ll pay you for the entire hour, although a cup of hot coffee would have been nice.” She handed him a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill. “You’ve been very professional,” she said. “Keep the change.”
Mort grinned. “Thank you, ma’am.” Out of habit, he held the bill up to the light. “Glad to be of service.”
He wrote up a greasy receipt at his workbench while Elizabeth and the girl got into the car. He hoped neither one would notice the missing box as he handed the receipt to Elizabeth through the open window of her car.
She took the receipt, put it in her wallet, and said to the girl, “I hope I get you home okay.”
“I think you will this time,” the girl said.
Mort pulled a business card from his pocket and told Elizabeth to call right away if the car quit on her again. She took the card and wished him a Merry Christmas.
“And make sure you spend some of that money on your mother,” the girl said from the passenger seat.
“My mother? I … I don’t—”
Mort was going to lie, tell her he did not have a mother. But the sudden stern look she gave him caused him to close his mouth.
She narrowed her eyes at him.
Before she did, Mort thought he saw a flash of green light pass across her eyes.
“You have a pleasant night, Mr. Twitchel,” she said before Elizabeth backed out and drove toward Myers Ridge.
When her taillights were out of sight, Mort opened the box. He whistled when he saw the yellow gold bracelet trimmed with diamonds. He stepped outside, looked toward Myers Ridge, and grinned wide. It was going to be a very merry Christmas indeed. Ron Koehler at the pawnshop in New Cambridge always paid top dollar for jewelry with no engravings. And the diamonds were not too big that ole Ron would have any trouble selling it, either.
Mort grinned so wide that the sharp, frigid air hurt his teeth.
He held the bracelet to the sky. The diamonds glistened like the stars there — those billion sparkling lights ablaze against the night’s velvet canvas above.
He squeezed shut his eyes, then looked again at the starry sky.
When had the cloud cover gone away?
The wide expanse made him dizzy. He stumbled and sat hard on the snow; his gaze, however, remained riveted on the sky. There, the stars grew suddenly larger, their light brightening as a billion planets and suns came at him at a terrible speed.
He tried to open his mouth and call out to his mother — to scream for her to rescue him as the night sky dropped on him.
New snowflakes fell where his body lay on the driveway’s old snow, his wide eyes staring lifelessly at the cover of snow clouds drifting across the sky.
Vree Erickson, the pretty girl that he had lusted for, appeared in a green shimmer next to him. There, she pried the bracelet and box from his icy hands, put the adornment back in its box, then bent and took the hundred dollars from his pocket and placed it in a plastic grocery bag she carried. Inside were a two-liter bottle of Pepsi and a bag of potato chips. She placed the grocery bag on the snow, next to Mort’s body.
“For your mother,” she said, “so she won’t think too unkindly of you.”
As she stepped away, she stumbled. The frightened girl inside was trying to surface.
“Too much to do,” she told the girl. “So many more unkind to go.”
She twirled a hand and her footprints vanished. One more twirl and her body vanished in a flare of green light eaten by the night’s rapacious darkness.