Welcome back to Wednesday Fiction, folks! As promised, I’m ready to continue this ongoing fiction experiment. The new series, Open Slay, is designed to be delightfully cheesy B-movie schlock (is there any other kind), so don’t go into this expecting any sort of highbrow art. The concept itself is silly enough, so I felt that trying to carry out a “serious” take would just undermine the whole endeavor. Besides, I’ve loved cheesy horror anthologies ever since I was very young, cutting my teeth on The Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits and numerous comic horror anthologies. I wanted to write one of those stories, and…well, last week when we had breakfast at Cracker Barrel I saw a completely demented looking snowman. Thus was born Open Slay…
Todd Bell stepped away from his snowman, putting his hands on his hips as he admired his precise handiwork. The snowman proved that he deserved better than spending Christmas weekend banished to a remote cabin in the Poconos. He should be sipping nice claret in a warm, dry studio, not standing shin-deep in the snow, his shoes covered in ridiculous plastic bags.
He promised that he would address the issue with Ally that very night. No matter how great a lover the girl might be, she was not worth the misery of this filth.
He sighed. Still, you must do what you can with what you’re given, he thought. He thought this to be the motto of a true artist; no, a creative force. A craftsman.
Critics had hailed Todd’s paintings as – dare he think it – genius, possessed of a dramatic flair natural for the Daniel Reich gallery. He had deliberately cultivated the shocking, bloody style, as one did not see it in many other Village artists. He felt he could have carved or thrown clay. The medium didn’t matter, his dedication to excellence mattered.
And you have certainly outdone yourself this time. He smirked. He had granted The Beast (as he had christened the snowman) a strange smile, crooked and a bit deranged, promising something far worse than holiday cheer.
I have to make sure that asshole Bailey sees this thing, Todd thought. Andrew Bailey. Voice art critic and bane of Todd’s existence, the troll of a man had appeared in several of Todd’s paintings now, first as a victim of a brutal back alley mugging and most recently as the disgustingly obese victim of a murderous wife.
This, though? This might well be the best likeness yet.. Todd had decided that The Beast’s mouth – as a central feature to Bailey’s ugly maw – would have to be its most important feature. Simple stones would never have done justice to the thing, so he had used a simple spoon to carve the teeth from the snow, ensuring that they came out pointy and jagged, in the same fashion as the snaggle-toothed critic. The eyes had been a simpler matter. He had rendered these as large, rounded things that regarded the world with a perpetual hunger. Todd’s point of pride, however, had to be The Beast’s limbs. The lack of articulation had always been his objection to the snowmen that his friends had created as a child. Today, he had kicked them in the back of the head, fashioning The Beast’s legs into thick trunks that supported its barrel body.
Snickering, Todd whipped out his iPhone to snap a picture. He may not have been able to get a signal in this godforsaken asshole of the world, but he could still ensure that the world saw his genius, Instagrammed, the moment that he got 4G reception.
Todd held his hand over the screen for shade, grinning at the picture for a moment. Any old plebe could create winter’s obese little mascot; hell, his Halo-addled teenage nephew could roll up a “classic” snowman in no time, which Todd felt spoke most truly to the form’s artistic validity.
No, one needed a true visionary to transform such a mundane object, to pare back the bland features and reveal what lurked beneath the surface. Todd suspected that not many would have the ability – or the guts – to reveal the bare teeth of winter, the ones that waited to tear at your flesh the moment you let your guard down.
And could an astute viewer draw a comparison to the Andrew Baileys of the world? Quite possibly.
All in all, Todd supposed that he had earned a feeling of smug righteousness that afternoon.
He stuffed the phone in his pocket and glanced at the rusty axe that sat on a nearby stump; he could practically feel the devilish gleam that must have showed in his eyes. Why not give an evil Beast a fitting weapon?
Too much, even for you, he thought. True. There was too much and then there was too much. He didn’t want to be lumped in with the common horror artists. Gods, no.
At last, he turned to look at his girlfriend, Ally. For a few moments there he might have lost sight of her presence. Maybe even her existence. Now that he remembered her, he pictured The Beast through her eyes, and it pleased him even more. He guessed that she would find the thing deranged and, quite possibly, dangerous.
He’d relish her disgust. “What do you think?”
He hadn’t expected the snowball that hit his face full-on, detonating a frozen bomb that sent pain climbing up his nostrils.
Blinded, he cried out, wiping at his face. As he did so, he heard Ally’s giggle. The crunch of her footsteps gave away her position as she ran for the cabin.
“How dare you?” He shouted, but he couldn’t keep the edge of laughter from his voice. His vision cleared just in time to see her disappearing into the cabin, holding the door open as she watched him. He bolted after her, gleeful revenge on his mind. Oh yes, you will pay, in delicious ways, he thought.
She waited for him to get within arm’s length before she began to close the door. She had to give him a sporting chance, he supposed. He managed to get his hand against the edge of the door seconds before it swung closed. She let out a little yelp as he pushed, forceful and yet gentle enough – or so he thought – to keep from knocking her off of her feet.
The minx had planned for his reaction; she let go at that the exact moment that he pushed. Todd made a choked sound as he staggered forward. For a moment he thought he might fall face-down on the cabin’s hard wooden floor, but Ally appeared, catching his gangly frame with her own small, plump body.
He gazed down into her blue eyes, lingering on her rosy cheeks as she grinned up at him.
“Gotcha,” she said.
He mock-frowned; he did feel some anger at her getting the better of him, but he wasn’t about to let it show. “Nasty.”
“That’s me.” She leaned forward and pecked him on the lips.
Their audience spoke at last in the form of a booming voice that projected from over Ally’s shoulder. “Oh, for God’s sake, get a room, will you?”
Todd removed his gloves and closed the door behind him. “We would, Billster, if you had more than three rooms in this damned place.”
Todd turned to look at the source of the booming voice: a rotund, dark-bearded man that might well have served as the model for the original snowman. The Windbag held court at a circular wooden table, his forehead creased in concentration over a half-filled Scrabble board. “Talk to my Grandpa about it. Oh, that’s right, you can’t, because he died.”
The slight, pale woman who sat to Bill’s left side winced. “Ouch. Harsh.” This would be Jen Carter, Bill’s Teaching Assistant, on-again, off-again lover, and general non-entity. She must have talked The Windbag into another Scrabble battle, ever the losing proposition for Bill and his massive ego. If the bland woman had one advantage, it was her skill with words.
Todd shook his head. “I’m not trying to talk shit, pal.” Todd had believed for quite some time that Bill’s aggression came from an unspoken truth that hung between the four people in the cabin: Bill had never quite gotten over losing Ally to Todd.
The Windbag waved a dismissive hand at Todd. “Never said you did, ‘buddy’.” He laid a tile on the Scrabble board. “There. Top that.”
Ally sat at the table as Jen leaned over the board, twisting her head to read the board. “Xi? That’s not a word.”
Bill chuckled. “Sure it is.”
Todd savored a moment of superiority over the rotund professor, letting it hang in the air before he spoke. “It’s a word. He learned it from me, on Words with Friends.”
Bill’s face went red. “Bullshit. I knew it before then.”
Todd smirked. “Really? Why did you only start using it after I did?”
Bill crossed his arms over his chest. “Remind me again why I let you come along.”
Because you want to get back in Ally’s pants. “Listen, I need to take a leak. Is there really no bathroom in this place?”
Bill grinned, scratching his arm. “What’s the matter? Is the man of the people scared to piss outside?”
“Don’t be an ass,” Jen said.
Bill gave her a sour look before he returned his gaze to Todd. “I’m afraid not. This place was built in the 20’s when men were men and women…well…”
Jen gave a pronounced sigh and shook her head.
Ally pulled her stocking cap off, revealing the shock of red hair that Todd loved so much. “They had outhouses then, didn’t they?” Ally said.
Bill gave a sage nod. “‘They’ did indeed, but not here. Too risky.”
Todd cocked his head. “The hell is that supposed to mean, ‘too risky’?”
Bill returned his attention to the game. “I thought you needed to piss?”
Todd had no trouble understanding why Ally had left the asshole, but no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t comprehend why she had even been with him in the first place.
The vulnerability of a student and her professor, he supposed.
“Right. I’ll be in my ‘office’,” he said, and winked at Ally.
She gave him a shy smile and then returned her attention to the board.
Todd spared a moment to study her profile. Just looking at her brought an ache to his heart. They had their troubles, but…
The urge to piss reasserted itself, overwhelming the wave of love. He sighed and left them, trudging back outside. He would just find a suitable tree, and…
Watch out for that yellow snow. He would have chuckled to himself, but all mirth died abruptly as he stopped, his head swiveling from one side to the other.
The Beast. Where is The Beast?
Todd heard the slumping sigh of snow behind his body, and a shadow fell across him. He whirled, but his reaction time could not possibly match that of his attacker. The last thing he saw was the edge of the rusty axe swinging toward his head.
Continue to Part 2!