Early look at Wild Animal Park, troubled elephants come to the zoo, China’s panda hunter and pandas end up in San Diego, the morality of SeaWorld’s dolphins
Various Authors 3:49 p.m., Dec. 3
This short story is a “jam” written by two authors, male and female, who took turns writing each paragraph, without consulting each other on the story parameters or direction until after the final line was written – some touchups were later done by both writers to unify the work, but it otherwise reads exactly as drafted, in the order in which the paragraphs were originally created –
If others on the Reader website would like to share-jam some fiction, let me know and I’ll post an opening paragraph!
ARE THERE HEROES IN HELL?
In all of Trent’s thirty-plus years, he’d never known until this moment just how much force and impact one word from his lips could have on another person.
Had he been more observant and less intoxicated, he would have deduced from his date’s wrinkled brow, tightly pursed lips and the flames dancing brightly in her beautiful but deadly Asian eyes that he was about to make a bold fashion statement by wearing his gin and tonic on his carefully coiffed hair.
Although they had been seeing each other on and off for nearly two years, Trent wasn’t ready to make any commitments. Devon, her upbringing filled with strong Asian family traditions, had been contemplating just that.
Offended, Devon poured Trent’s gin and tonic on his head just as casually as Trent had shattered her hopes with that one simple word.
Still, she wasn’t satisfied.
To her, Trent merely looked deflated. She wanted him to feel deflated as well, to make him so ashamed that he’d imagine himself an inferior one celled amoebic lifeform next to her. She wanted to use her words to chop his ego into shreds, to make his penis withdraw into his scrotum cavity like a frightened turtle ducking into its shell. She searched and searched for those words for what seemed like hours.
However, the best she could come up on such short notice was “F#ck off and die.”
“Look,” said Trent, trying to towel off his skull with a napkin much too small for the job, “I’m no good at marriage. If I was, I wouldn’t be divorced, would I? You know I love you, but why do you need a ring to believe me? Besides, I thought we agreed that we wanted to be free to, you know, keep our options open.”
“Keep our options open? Keep our options open?! What the f#ck do you mean, ‘keep our options open’? I thought we had an understanding after that understanding, or did you conveniently forget?”
Trent stared at her, dumbfounded. He’d never seen Devon like this and the anger burning in her eyes made him glad he hadn’t. He was about to say something but his words were abruptly cut off.
“Duck!,” someone close by shouted, loud enough to make Devon's ears pop.
Knowing that the restaurant does not serve waterfowl, she correctly assumed that the shout was a warning, not an entree announcement, and she dived to the floor as fast as gravity would allow.
Trent, possibly slowed from an ultimately lethal combination of Sombreros and surprise, merely turned around toward the source of the shout.
After the screams (of which Devon's had been the loudest), there was a long stunned moment of silence where it seemed as if the world had been caught in freeze-frame and nobody in the restaurant so much as took a breath.
Then, click, the world slid back into motion and a big guy with a crew cut and a thick Noo Yawk accent, the kind of city dweller who’s likely seen a lot of things, said to nobody in particular “Now there’s sumpthin ya don’t see every f#ckin’ day!”
Trent was sitting perfectly still as the crap dripped off his face.
Who would have expected a big black bird to fly in through the back door, through the kitchen and then the dining room only to, in its frenzied state, relieve itself on several people’s heads, plates and clothing.
Devon couldn’t control herself. Bursts of laughter erupted and her body shook in spasms. She tried to stifle the laughter but this effort only caused her to laugh even harder.
A few minutes passed before she noticed the expression on Trent’s face. Or, rather more specifically, the lack thereof. She stopped laughing right about the time that their waiter began performing mouth to mouth resusitation on her unfortunate date. It was the guy from New York again who summed up everyone’s thoughts succinctly as Trent was removed from the restaurant in a canvas stretcher with the white cotton sheet pulled up over his head .
“Heart attack from crow sh#t, huh? That obituary’s gonna look cute in the family scrapbook.”
The police only had a few questions for Devon and she found herself home before the 11 o’clock Channel five news, a show she normally watched but not tonight (she’d seen the channel five camera pointing toward the ambulance as it drove off). The previous two years with Trent had not been the best two years of her life, but neither had they been the worst.
She thought to herself “I should be sad, shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I cry?” but she felt strangely unaffected. Unemotional. Perhaps even - relieved? For all their lovey dovey talk, hadn’t their love affair always been a bit of a sham? Fake? She’d never really let her guard down and shown him the real her, the self that few others have so much as glimpsed. He was the right guy in the right place at the right time and they’d had, what, a partnership. An arrangement.
But that right time and right place had long passed, and Trent long ceased being the right man.
Instead of the news, Devon decided it was time to take a hot, steamy bath, to relax. This was a treat she often indulged in, one she enjoyed very much. She started the water and added a bath oil, her favorite, Scent Of Vanilla.
As she was lighting the candles and the incense, an idea struck her. Not an idea that would ordinarily have occurred to her, but this had not been an ordinary night. It took a little digging through her closets before she found the relic that she hadn’t so much as thought about since college, at least six or seven years - her Ouija board.
She took it into the bathroom with her and put it on the vanity while she peeled off her clothes slowly, piece by piece. Sliding into the tub, she let out a sigh. “God, this feels good,” she breathed to herself. Reaching across the room to grab the board, the cold air made her anxious to get back into the hot water.
The board fit perfectly across the porcelean as if the tub were custom tailored to hold it there. She leaned back against the tub wall and stretched her legs out straight until they touched the just-polished nozzle, placing her hands on the plastic pointer. The old ritual came to her automatically, without effort, as she mentally flashed back to all the times she’d used the board with her fellow sorority sisters (and fellow amateur coven sisters) Kate and Donna.
Of course nowadays neither of them would likely ever admit to using a Ouija board, let alone flirting with taboo and mind bending dalliances like white witchcraft, bi-sexuality, radical feminism, X-stasy and even, in poor Donna’s case at least, born-again Only-The-Chosen-Shall-Survive rapture
“I almost threw this thing away once,” she thought to herself as the pointer and her fingertips moved airily across the surface of the board, but she couldn’t quite remember when or why. Something about being very, very drunk, and wasn’t there a fist fight with, who was it...
“Donna.” That’s what the Ouija board spelled out even as she remembered wrestling Donna to the ground that long gone winter day. They’d been playing with the board, and it had spelled out something that approximated “Devon screws Jack,” leading Donna to think that Devon was sleeping with Donna’s fiance' Jack.
A drunken, violent tussle had ensued and, come to think of it, hadn’t she broken the Ouija board over Donna’s head? She’d never used one since, and certainly hadn’t bought one, so how had this board come to be among the possessions that she lugged from apartment to apartment?
After “Donna,” the next words spelled out were "screws...Trent."
Devon's brow creased slightly. Sure, both Donna - and now poor birdsh#t covered Trent - were dead, so they had that in common, but Donna's fatal accident had been more than two years ago. Had Donna and Trent even met?
Devon closed her eyes and willingly pried open a box of disjointed memories she'd long ago hidden in her mind's attic. Donna - her first best friend, the first person she'd ever mingled blood with, her first or second female lover (depending on whether that midnight "oral exam" with the camp guidance councilor counted), and the first person Devon had ever been close to who'd died.
Though the two of them had mysteriously become enemies well before that blood red night...two years ago tonight, she thought sleepily, resting her head on the edge of the tub and letting one arm sink into the warm water with the rest of her...
"Hey Devon, this is Donna. Are you there? Pick up. Okay, um, anyway it's been a really long time since we got together. So I was wondering if maybe Thursday afternoon we could meet somewhere downtown? You know, 'cause it's been a long time, like I said. Anyway, give me a call."
Devon listened and even reached for the phone but did not pick up. Getting together with Donna was something she had to think about. For some reason she hadn't bothered to pin down, things always seemed to go badly whenever the two ended up sharing air. She was still hoping her one-time best friend would get over this religious zeal like a fad diet.
Donna always found a way to tell her she'd never pass through "the glorious gates of Eternity" if she didn't devote her life to "The Solariums" - and this from a former Southern Baptist closer to God than most since Donna had once actually screwed not one but two teenage carpenters who were putting in the new Baptism pool behind the altar!
The first fluid to soak that holy porcelean had not been consecrated water, so Donna was pretty self righteous to be showing such born-again rapture, and that group she now belonged to, The Solariums, sure didn't seem all that different from Moonies and Hare Krishnas and other "religions" that most people call cults.
Still, it had been awhile - Devon (almost reluctantly) picked up the phone right before Donna clicked off. A few moments later, she found herself agreeing to meet with Donna (but on Friday, not Thursday, just cuz).
Devon hung up quickly, saying she'd just walked in with a bag of frozen groceries. Exactly the kind of casual lie she'd never have thrown at Donna back in their best friend daze.
They met at The Inn with a lunch date in mind, although they never did eat. Determined not to let Donna dominate the chat with Solariumtalk again, Devon walked in with plenty of wonderbra-enhanced self-confidence beneath her silky summer tank top.
She found it hard not to laugh when she saw in Donna's eyes the precise second when she realized that her lunch companion not only had a tattoo she'd never seen before but that the rest of the patrons were looking at the flying heart on her upper left butt cheek at the same time!
Devon was lifting her leather skirt to display the artwork and saying "It's okay, Donna, I'm wearing shorts underneath, it's not like I'm flashing my thong at the waiter! Although, I bet if I did, he'd finally bring us our shrimp!"
Donna wore the forlorn face of someone who sees the flaming pile of dog doo on the porch on Halloween night, knows exactly what it is, and yet still wants to stomp on it immediately.
This made Devon happy and she generously decided not to comment on her friend's dour long sleeved, knee length dress. Instead, she went right for the no-bullsh#t button that only the closest friends ever know how to find and push.
"It's been, like, what, months since we just sat down together and talked sh#t. I've been through three godd#mned boyfriends and I especially wanna tell you about this German dude, uncircumcised, could make his butt cheeks dance in sync with Kid Rock!"
Devon knew that Donna's reaction to this would pretty much tell her everything she needed to know about whether the girlfriend she remembered and loved was hiding somewhere in all those folds of fabric.
"If you could just come to one of our weekend retreats and see what it's like to be bathed in the light and the love of the Solariums, it could be your eternal salvation." Plain as day, no question - Donna was more whacked than ever.
"Listen, you're the one who got tagteamed in the ass by two high school dropouts in the church right behind the altar!" Devon sneered, using those words for the first time against Donna as a weapon instead of a joke.
"And on Sunday," she slid in easily, a piece of ammunition from nowhere she'd been saving for just such a b#tchfest, and suddenly Donna was firing back at her, eyes ablaze with fury.
"You can't say that kind of thing to me, you conniving, deceitful little whore! I still think you screwed Jack when he was engaged to me! Look at the way you dress, the way you act...any day now, Satan is going to reach up through the earth and pull you down into the flames of Hell for the rest of eternity!"
This last was said over her shoulder as she rushed toward the door, memorable enough for Devon to remember word for word, even had they not turned out to be the last words she ever heard Donna speak.
And the amazing irony of those words - according to the trucker who was later driving behind Donna as she sped along route 76, the earth pretty much up and swallowed her instead of Devon.
His story was so bizarre that they tested him for drugs and booze. But he swore that a wolf darted in front of Devon's car at almost the same moment that a huge black bird, probably a raven or crow, smashed into her windshield, causing her to turn sharply and careen through the guardrails and down toward the bottom of the canyon.
Her car exploded and it almost felt to Devon like a lingering hallucination when she later read the truck driver's actual description of the inferno - "like the flames of Hell."
And what kind of black bird was that tonight anyway - another raven? Another bird, another omen - no wonder the evening had reminded her so much of Donna and their Ouiji board days.
Not for the first time, she wondered if anything would have happened differently between her and Donna if she'd have just fessed up that, yes, she did screw Jack, before, during and especially after Donna's engagement to him.
Thinking about that so-strange night always made her feel dreamy, stoned, and Devon, her eyes closed and her body immersed in the still-warm water up to her shoulders, didn't even notice that the Ouiji board pointer was shuddering and moving slightly. On its own, as both of her hands floated languidly in the water nowhere near the board.
Abruptly, Devon's eyes opened. Not by Devon's design, however, since Devon's spirit no longer dwelled behind those steely Asian orbs.
"Right on," said Donna, using Devon's mouth and voice to accomplish this.
"I can't believe the b#tch was stupid enough to fall asleep with her hands on the board! I've been subliminally trying to get her to take the damned thing out since the day I died but she's - she was - such a stubborn little bitch! I'm lucky she didn't slide under the water and drown the body before I could climb into it!"
She sat up and put her hands right to the pointer, hands flying and smiling as she read "M-y-t-u-r-n-n-e-x-t-m-y-l-o-v-e-."
"Don't worry Trent, I'll find a nice body for you too. It's the least I could do, since it was your added willpower that helped me get the Ouiji board into her hands tonight! We should have thought of having you die two years ago, when we first met!"
Standing up, she admired how sleek and shiny her new body looked in the full length bathroom mirror.
"Devon, Devon...if only you'd have come to one of the Solarium retreats, you would of seen that we're all just run of the mill witches and warlocks. Trent and I, once we learned how powerful we can be in our spirit forms, we couldn't wait to arrange the animal-assisted ritual that would cause my 'death.' We decided Trent would keep his skin awhile longer and work on you from the outside, to help get me into this tight, sweet little body! Once Trent arranged to come over with me tonight, it was just so easy. I feel stupid for not telling him sooner to hurry up and die so we could f#ck again!"
"But," she murmured, her hands wandering purposely and aggressively across the warm spot between her legs, "spirit-sex is never half as good as the stuff that makes you scream and sweat.”
“So, Trent, about that body you're in the market for, why don't I find dear little Devon's phone book. Maybe we can call a certain hunky German guy she mentioned…I hear he’s into Kid Rock..."