Preface: Knowing that many of this blog's frequent visitors are now engaged in that glorious annual pilgrimage to the Muse that is called NaNoWriMo, I will attempt to provide some inspiration and solace by means of my modest attempts at fiction.
Bill sat in his usual seat on the 19B redline, across the aisle from the rear exit door, leaning against the interface between seat back and window at an approximate 45-degree angle, right knee up on the adjoining seat so as to preclude all but the most determined from sitting down next to him, providing him with a simultaneous view of his fellow patrons of mass transit while also able to study the urban landscape passing just outside the dingy, scratched window, cold to the touch of his cheek.
He carried a flimsy army-green canvas messenger bag, inside of which was a tattered composition book, miscellaneous papers and pamphlets, ancient Retina IIIc camera and pencil box containing fountain pen (loaded with Parker Quink blue/black ink), Pentel mechanical pencil (loaded with Pentel red lead) along with spare leads and erasers. Also included in the bag was a pack of American Spirits and a worn Zippo, a habit he'd resigned himself to, under the false pretense that he didn't inhale, only smoked them like cigars.
Oh, and one more thing was inside the bag, zippered up within its inner, hidden pocket: a Ruger SP101 snub-nosed .357 revolver, stainless steel finish, black rubber grips, hammerless trigger, loaded with .38 specials, the kind easily obtained at the Walmart across town (reached via a transfer to the 7A Blue line and a 45 minute wait at an uncovered bus stop sporting a broken, molded-concrete bench), in the glass-doored display cabinet at the rear of the store, in Sporting Goods. He wondered, at times, why they always placed the Sporting Goods department at the rear of the store, in whatever Walmart he'd ever been in. He figured it was some Feng-shue-ish security measure, should some ne'er-do-well break into one of the display cases and try to make off with a shotgun or rifle, in which case some minimum-wage security goon would have a better chance of stopping him before reaching the exit doors -- which were always on the left, not the right, side, as if Walmart were head-quartered in the United Kingdom instead of the good old U.S of A. One couldn't be too cautious, could one? What with all the crime of late -- at least, that's what the local T.V. news kept saying -- and him being a perpetual customer of mass-transit, the preferred transportation mode of the down-and-out and the wanna-be socialist; at least, that's what Bob the Weasel kept telling him, down at Loser's Blend, his favored coffee shop haunt as of late.
Bob the Weasel. Now there was a character. He'd met quite a few strange ones in his time, but Bob the Weasel took the cake.
Bill was headed downtown, to the University area and its harried masses of slackers, students, street people, neo-hippies and general bohemia, to Loser's Blend, to spend a few hours trying to dredge up a few more pages of the story he was struggling with, and also to soak up a bit more local culture. He figured being a wanna-be writer required having the characteristic of a sponge, able to soak up all the dregs of humanity, then squeeze them out, perhaps at a later date, through the steel nib of his fountain pen onto the smooth, lined pages of his journal.
The bus jolted, jerked and jinked, brakes hissing to a stop, doors flinging open with that hidden mechanical sound, and off would rush fellow riders, then on would shuffle more riders, who'd pay their fare, then saunter down the aisle, like drunken sailors lacking their sea legs, as the bus accelerated and merged back into the intermittent Tuesday morning traffic.
A young male figure slowly made his way down the aisle, eyeing each seated passenger with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity, dreds swaying side to side, brushing the shoulders of his worn denim jacket that sported frayed patches, some indeterminate while others were more prominently obvious. A green cannabis leaf. A red silhouette of Che. A Bart Simpson logo.
The slender figure, dark brown of skin, eyes shaded with cheap, scratched sunglasses, stopped adjacent to Bill's seat, clinging to the overhead handrail like some primate, swaying back and forth with the unpredictable motion of a standing bus rider or a drunkard, eyeing Bill warily, and the empty seat that Bill was protecting. He'd look away, hunching down to grasp a view outside the windows on the opposite side of the bus, like he'd just spotted something of immense importance, then turn and peer at Bill again, and the seat next to him.
Bill, he just looked out the window at the passing storefronts, seemingly lost in thought but actually entirely aware of his surroundings, internally on guard but not revealing his caution, a protective mechanism learned through years of hard-scrabble street survival. He'd developed this uncanny ability to maintain total situational awareness while simultaneously engaging his higher creative faculties. He thought of the history of this street, which he'd studied for hours within the volumes of old city directories at the public library, a history of businesses rising then failing, like civilizations come and gone and come again on the tide of changing urban trends, their forensics partially revealed in the faded signs still visible in the alleyways and old brick facades that he preferred to photograph, an ad hoc archeology evident only to the keen-eyed observer. Bill wondered how many of his fellow riders thought about the history of the storefronts that whizzed by outside the dingy windows, or perhaps they were only thinking about their day's chores and errands yet to be completed, or failed relationships, or perhaps nothing at all.
The dark, lanky figure, Bill noted, kept his eye on Bill and the partially empty seat next to him.
Conner Avenue, the red L.E.D. sign above the driver's station announced. Bill rose from his seat, brushed by the dred-sporting figure still hanging by one arm from the rail, and steadied himself by the rear exit door. The bus, it jolted and stuttered to a stop, emitting hisses and clanks, and then Bill pushed himself through the double exit doors onto the curbside and the crowds of people milling about. The dark figure, he thought, was probably seating himself at Bill's old spot, making himself comfortable for a ride to who knows where.
Bill threaded himself through gaps in the clots of pedestrians, left arm grasping the strap of his bag, eyes panning left and right, always observant.
Footsteps behind him, whose pace stayed in phase with his own. Boots, he figured. Doc Martins, perhaps, or some cheap Chinese-made knock-offs. Bill aimed for the truncated corner of a late-19th century building, quickly negotiating the gap between glass doors and support beam, then abruptly stopping just beyond, leaning against the brick facade, out of sight of the sidewalk, listening intently for footsteps. The figure on the bus strode by, as if searching for something of importance, obviously looking for Bill but confused as to why he'd lost the scent. Deftly, Bill reached into his bag, under the flap, and extracted the camera. Wrist strap dangling, he flicked the release button on the front and opened the clamshell, set the leaf shutter to f/8 and 1/125 of a second, rotated the focus lever to the 10 foot detent, brought the camera to his face, composed the figure within the rangefinder's framelines and released the shutter with a Swiss-watch snick that even he could barely hear. He slipped the camera back into the safety of the bag as the figure stopped and turned around. Bill paused, in tension.
"What the fuck do you want?" The dreds were still oscillating from his sudden movement, pendulum-like.
Bill stood silent, left leg bent, foot against wall, wearily eyeing the figure, a pose carefully orchestrated to exude an air of casual non-concern.
The figure teetered on one foot, then steadied himself, partially on the sidewalk and partially in the curb. A woman quickly strode by between them, having crossed the street in obvious disdain of the Don't Walk sign, the signature of a veteran downtown office worker, head down to the sidewalk immediately in front of her, cell phone at her ear, oblivious to the tension she'd just penetrated.
The figure leered at her rear end rapidly vanishing in the distance, an uncomfortably long pause, long enough that Bill wondered what thoughts had transpired in his mind. Perhaps some flashback, distant memories, or maybe some darker fantasy clouding his thoughts, an uncertain interlude.
"Yea," the figure muttered, then turned and wandered across the street, oblivious to the traffic yet somehow never in immediate danger to oncoming traffic, the grace of the dispossessed who somehow always seem to stay out of harm's way, an intrinsic street intuition on display.
Bill watched the figure recede in the distance, wondering what his story was, wondering if he should have engaged the character in conversation but knowing deep down that his instincts had been right. You had to listen to that inner voice, a voice he'd learned, through years of trials, to obey vehemently. He reached for a cigarette, performing the ritual of the experienced smoker, the flick of the lighter's lid and scrape of the flint drowned out in the din of traffic, then blew smoke into the autumn breeze.
Loser's Blend was three blocks away.
Bill pushed his way through the entrance, the sudden change from brisk autumn air to the warm body-odor and kitchen aromas like an awakening from some long-forgotten dream. He stood in the short line, then ordered his coffee and proceeded to the side counter where he dumped 8 seconds worth of white sugar into the chipped cup and settled himself into a corner table, his usual seat, the table's wobbliness threatening to spill the contents of a less experienced patron. He carefully set the cup down upon a brown paper napkin, precisely aligned with the table's edge, then extracted composition book and pen case and hung the bag on the chair-back. Now seated, he stirred the coffee with a flat wooden stick, his preference over the flimsy little plastic kinds found elsewhere, one of the many coffee shop attributes he used in gauging his patronage, wondering if that made him some kind of coffee shop snob but also not really caring.
He flipped open the journal, thumbing past page after page of blue fountain pen scratchings highlighted by red pencil corrections, until he found the place where he'd left off. Like a ritual, he opened the case and extracted the fountain pen, setting it upon the crisp, white paper like a surgeon readying himself for a difficult operation, and sat back in his seat, breathing calmly, steadily, coffee cup at lip, sipping slowly, savoring the rich flavor and aroma, studying the figures seated at the tables round about him. Bob the Weasel was nowhere to be seen.
Bill emptied his mind of the day's activity and his journey across town and the strange figure on the bus who had attempted to follow him -- for what purpose he could only suppose -- and set himself to writing, one word after another pouring out from within the hidden depths like some intermittent fountain, always amazed at its forthcoming yet entirely faithful when it did come, a faithfulness he relied upon like some superstition, an inner knowing, the foundation of his self-confidence but which he never, ever, for even one moment, took for granted.
Words poured forth, pen upon paper, miraculous, of which those round about him remained oblivious in their idle chat and intent Internet surfing, until the minutes passes into hours and Bill finally extricated himself from his inner world and pushed himself through the door, out into the cooling evening air.
(Posted via AlphaSmart Neo)