The four of them stood studying each other. Darla stood furthest away. Simon was close by, sandwiching her between the car and the rest of his friends. The blue Chevy had three of its doors open. The weather outside was cool and there was some color in the distant clouds. Morning was approaching rapidly and Simon welcomed it. He knew the day would look much different in the lights of the day.
“What do you think of this all?” Darla asked Penelope. Penelope shrugged and took a step closer to Darla. They were of the same height and similar builds. Penelope, who was very fit and toned, did not look nearly as athletic as she stood next to Darla. Simon thought his sister must have been hitting the gym hard to have developed such muscles and tone in her body. There was much he did not recognize in his sister, and he vowed to find out what was going on with her, the town, and the rest of his family.
“It is almost morning,” Darla said. “I am glad you came. We shall have food, and then you will go after mother. I know where she is, and you and your friends should not stay here long.”
“But we just got here,” Charles said. He had been quiet during the introductions and the exchanges of pleasantries. He was more aggressive than usual, and he was thinking something that Simon could not fathom. “At least I want to stick around and see what is going on in this town. I have heard wonderful things about it from Simon ever since I have known him. And some of those wonderful things need to make it into my paper.”
“You must be Charles,” Darla said. “I did not expect Simon to bring you along.”
“I did not expect to be here,” Charles responded in a cold voice. Charles did not get angry. He would tell stories, he would grow sarcastic with those who ridiculed him, but, at least as far as Simon could remember, he had never grown angry at anyone. Even speaking to telemarketers or calling the phone company to complain about something on his bill, with none of those things did he ever grow angry. Simon had never thought of it like that, but now that he saw Charles’s response to Darla, he knew anger in his friend. And he had no idea where it was originating from. “But now that I am here, I need to know a few things.”
“Okay,” Simon said. “That is enough of that. Darla, we are a bit tired and at least I am very hungry. Let us settle down to something to eat and talk over what is going on. We will figure out next steps after we talk. Is that Diner downtown, Three Stars, still open? I would love an early morning grilled cheese and hash browns. That would really hit the spot after a long couple of days driving. We have much to discuss, but before we rest, we need to know what is going on here.”
Darla was silent for a while staring at her brother. Simon could not read her face. Her eyes were blank and unblinking. She looked very serious, more serious than he had ever seen his sister. He could not help but wonder what was going on inside her mind. What she was thinking, and how it had any relevance to where he was going with Penelope and Charles.
“Yes, Three Stars is open,” Darla said after what felt like an intense period of silence. “We will take my car. I have to take care of a few things before we go. Please wait here. I will explain more once we get to the diner.” The last part was for Charles. Charles nodded once but the stern look did not leave his face. Even at work, where it was clear that only the jerks succeeded, Charles managed to become successful with his newspaper and do so in such a way that people who worked for him still liked him. It might had to do with the nature of the business, or it might have had to do with Charles’s perchance for telling very long and complicated stories. The more he talked, the less you were likely to speak.
Simon had watched him at a negotiations once, at least his side of it. They had gone out to dinner and Charles, who would almost never interrupt a dinner with a telephone conversation, warned Simon that he was close to finalizing a deal with a large advertiser. He would probably need to interrupt their wonderful dinner to do so, and he apologized in advance. Simon did not mind as much, as he and Penelope were there and they figured they would keep each other company as Charles talked away on the final details of his deal. Simon and Penelope did not talk much during Charles’s conversation. He was enthralling as always. His stories and figures of speech, and wide range of topics made it appear as if he was having a conversation with just anyone about anything. There were very little negotiations during that call. When it ended, Charles somehow tied it all together with the price and the terms, and Simon was never sure if he even gave the other guy time to agree before thanking him profusely, and then hanging up. When he returned to the dinner conversation, he was amazed that Penelope and Simon had been listening to his very boring conversation. “The details of these deals are mind numbing,” Charles had said.
Darla went inside, quickly closing the door behind them and not providing a look at what had happened to the sleeping forms on the ground. They heard noise coming from inside the house as she opened the door, but when she closed it, everything grew quiet again.
“What do you figure it going on inside there?” Penelope asked. She had been very friendly to Darla, but seemed a bit distressed.
“I am not sure,” Simon said before Charles could begin theorizing, a process that might take them well into the afternoon. The sun peaked out over the nearby houses, and the sky, which had burnt pink and red for many minutes, slowly lost its color as the sky lightened and displayed puffy white clouds hanging low across it. “Whatever it is, we will know more once we get to the diner. My sister looks much different than I remember. This whole town looks different.”
“There is a mystery here,” Charles said, still looking troubled. “And we will get to the bottom of it. But I agree. It is best to fill our bellies with breakfast before we talk.”
They waited in silence until Darla returned a few minutes later. She was still speaking into the door as she opened it, facing away from Simon, and continuing in a quieter voice until she had finished saying whatever she had been saying. She waved and closed the door behind her, pulling out her keys and double bolting both the top and bottom locks. She pushed on the door a few times before turning and jogging over to where Simon and his friends waited.
Darla had changed and now wore a loose jogging suit. She carried a very large pocket book that looked stuffed to the brim. She had placed the bag over her shoulder and even with her new muscles, the bag seemed to weigh down her shoulder, giving her an unbalanced look. She did not appear concerned by it, and walked past the group, slowing only to wave at them to follow. She walked toward a large van parked across the street and waved them in. It was gray with no window except the driver and passenger, both of which were gated.
“Is this a prison transport?” Simon joked, trying to lighten the mood. Nobody laughed, and they piled into the van. The inside of the van was no better than the outside. Brown vinyl covered the benched chairs, and the ground was empty. Even the rug or floor covering had been ripped up, leaving bare metal on the floor.
“It is awfully cozy,” Charles added to similar silence. Darla started up the engine. It rumbled loudly. It sounded strong, not old, and was reminiscent of a more powerful engine humming in the van. She pulled away from the curb smoothly and began the drive to the city. The streets were deserted, as they expected this early on a Saturday morning. The desertion was more than they expected however. It felt almost eerie, as if it was not just quiet but completed deserted, both inside and outside the house. There were no cars on the road, and no lights or movement in any of the houses.
“Is it my imagination,” Charles asked. “Or is this town completely deserted?”
“I get the same feeling,” Simon said. He stared out the gated window and was not able to see much. “What is with these gates?” Simon asked Darla.
“We are almost there,” Darla said, again sidestepping their pressing issues. Simon wanted to know what was going on. This was getting a bit ridiculous. The pressure for her to say something was becoming overwhelming. It was as if she was enjoying the suspense building. It was as if the story was going nowhere fast, and Simon had no idea how to move it forward. He knew it would not take much. That all he had to do was say something, ask the right questions, make the right decisions, and he would see what he was missing. And yet, he was reluctant to do so. Something was holding him back. He could not explain it to himself, but it was as if the future was telling him not to do it. The future itself was holding its large arms out to the side and saying, whatever you do, and you will do something, do not tell us what is going to happen next.
And as fast as he thought it, Darla pulled onto the deserted street that led to the Three Star restaurant. In the daylight, the town looked more ordinary. A few of the stores had lifted their gates and looked open for business. Even though they were open, there were few people walking around this early in the morning.
Darla parked the car and they all tumbled out of the doors. The sun was higher in the sky, and its glare blinded them for a few moments. The windows in the van had been tinted, Simon realized. It was strange to have tint on the windshield, but on the van, that is what they had.
Darla led them into the restaurant. A short bald man greeted them at the entrance. The restaurant looked as Simon remembered it. It was a dark place, with the bar a little bit passed the lobby. The bar and lobby were in a thin hallway that led to the cash register. A black-haired Greek man waited behind the cash register. The walls long the lobby were mirrored with black lines running through the mirrors. The place had an old feel. Its floors were dirty, but not with crumbs. It was through age that they had grown dirty. A small gold dish containing white mints sat next to the register. Darla pushed passed the bald man and to the man behind the register.
“Good morning, Sandy,” Darla said to the man.
Sandy did not respond. He picked up four menus and led them around the corner to the dining room. There were two rooms, one to the right and one to the left. Past the cash register was another set of tables and a counter. The two swinging kitchen doors were beyond the counter.
“Is that your brother?” Sandy asked, not looking back as he led them to a table in the larger of the two dining rooms.
“Yes,” Darla said. “I am surprised you remember him.”
“In these dark times,” Sandy said. “All we do have is memory, and long ones at that. The evening was quieter than normal. I am preparing breakfast for the four of you. I am sorry if the service is not what you remember it, Simon.” Sandy looked at Simon for the first time. He looked older than Simon remembered. He was always a jolly man. He was very business minded and would never give anything away for free, but with his strictness there was a sense of fairness that he brought to each of the tables. That fairness and sense of purpose was still there. But along with that sense, Simon also sensed that he was more serious, and the seriousness was not just aimed at providing a successful restaurant for his investors and patrons. It went beyond theat. He was brining something else to the table, and that something else made Simon nervous.
Like his sister, Sandy was gaunt. His clothing did not fit well, and seemed to hang on his smaller frame. When he held out his hands for Simon to shake, Simon saw that his arm was covered with thick veins, as a bodybuilder, especially one who took steroids or after a particularly heavy workout, looked. He looked back at his sister’s arms, and although smaller, they also looked well defined. Something was strange around Fishs Eddy. Simon had a thought: perhaps a particularly successful gym had opened up and allowed these people to join. That would explain the body types, but it would not explain much else. George, Simon remembered, did not share his mother or Sandy’s look. Although skinny, he did not look like he attended the gym. Simon could still not put the pieces together. Perhaps that was why they were having the next conversation. It was time for him to learn what was going on and what the conflict was. With this many words already spoken between them, Simon would have thought he would have figured it out already. He was wrong, of course. But he had been wrong before, he realized, and would probably be wrong again.
As Sandy left the table, Simon flipped open the menu. He noticed that Darla has not. The menu had only two sides, and neither of the sides had anything printed on them.
“Ah,” Charles said. “It seems he gave me a blank menu. Can I share yours, Penelope?” He looked over to Penelope’s menu as she opened it up. They both looked puzzled.
“It is habit that he provides the menu,” Darla said after seeing the confused look in their faces. We do a lot of things in Fishs Eddy by habit: it is nice to sometimes live in a place that we used to know. There is no need for menus. Sandy and the wait staff will bring us the food they prepare for the rest of the town. There is no need for menus or choices. We used to have those, but it has been a while. We are lucky to have this place. They do a wonderful job of preparing food for so many.”
“Why does this restaurant have to prepare all the food for town?” Simon asked. “You are going to have to start at the beginning for us,” Charles said, clearly echoing the thoughts of Penelope and Simon. “There is much we have not figured out, and it is time for us to finally understand what is going on here.”
Darla sat back in the red vinyl bench and looked at them for a while. She leaned forward, placed her elbows on the table, and started her tale. “This is going to be hard for you to believe,” she began. “But then all strange tales always have some truth in it. This time, the truth is much greater than in lots of other tales. I am sure you will take what I say and use it elsewhere, perhaps include it in earlier parts, you know, bring things together. But I will leave it to you to do that. The best I can do is provide exposition and let you weave that explanation into the stories that you will tell.” The last part was clearly aimed at Charles, who had taken out a small notepad and a pen with a drug-company’s logo on it. Charles’s turned a few pages and found a blank one. He scribbled a couple of words and looked up expectantly.
“Where to begin,” Darla said. Simon wished she would get on with it instead of clearing her throat. She seemed reluctant to speak, as if she had never told this story before, which made Simon anxious. It is sometimes difficult to tell stories when everyone knows them already. It is telling the stories to the non-locals that are difficult. Everyone else has the background, and you can neatly skip over it.
“We moved back to Fishs Eddy three years ago,” Darla said. “It was me, George, and Cindy. I had divorced my ex-husband, Tom, and we wanted a new start. My mother and younger sister had agreed to move here as well. Everyone lived down state, and we decided it was time to return to the place where we grew up, the place all of us remembered with very fond memories.”
Darla looked at Simon. She had left out that everyone in the family had enjoyed Fishs Eddy except for him. He had never fit in, he had never been good at anything, and because of it, he always felt like an outsider. He had spent many weekends running away from the town, only to be dragged back to it by his mother or the local police, who would go on voluntary hunts for him. They were always friendly about it, and he learned how to avoid most of the more obvious spots when he ran away. The police, however, were very good at what they did. Most people in the town were that way: they were very good at either what they did for a living, or a particularly fond hobby. It was where the Nobel laureates had come from: they were excellent at what they did.
His mother had been an excellent baker, and she had run the bakery for many years in Fishs Eddy before they moved after Simon’s father had died. She had always made the best breads. Her cookies, cakes, and pies were very good as well, but her breads were out of this world. She would claim to use very similar recipes for the breads as the cakes, and no matter what she did, the bread would always taste better than the cake version of almost the same ingredients. Simon’s father spent much time making fun of her for this. It was all in good nature. She was clearly a wonderful bread chef, but when she tried to reach out to other baked goods, she somehow lost her magic.
Simon’s father was also very talented in what he did. Before Simon could think of that, Darla started in again, breaking into his reverie. Penelope and Charles stared at Darla. Charles’s pen hovered over the blank pages of his Moleskin notebook, prepared to jot down her words of wisdom at a moment’s thought.
“At first,” Darla said. “Everything in the town was as we remembered it. It was as if in the past twenty years, nothing had changed. My mother saw it immediately. She expected to recognize nothing. So much had changed in the past twenty years, that she did not expect a place like this diner, or the manufacturing industry that Fishs Eddy had supported for fifty years before we even moved here, could survive. But it did survive. The economy was very strong, and the schools were amazing. The town was turning out top scientists and engineers, and professors left and right. People did not boast about their children. One of them even became governor of New York State, and it was not something to boast about. We always knew that the people or the water or something was special about the town. We never knew what it was. But that specialness had survived us when we left. We did not think much about it, but while we expected to find the town still very special, we did not expect to find it the same as it had been when we left it.”
“If what you are saying is true,” Charles said. “Then how come I have never heard of this place besides from your brother? If it generated so many amazing people, then clearly it would have been on the best places to live list, or known for how amazing it was. After Simon first told me about this place, I thought he was boasting. I even did some research, and while everything Simon said about it turned out to be true, it was less amazing when seen in print, if you know what I mean.”
“Actually,” Darla said. “I do, and it is much different from what you think it is. It is amazing seen in print, but you would not know it because once you did write it, and anyone who read it, it does not appear to be amazing, even though, statistically, it is more than amazing.”
“What do you mean?” Charles asked. “I wrote it all down, and what at first seemed amazing, turned out to be nothing too special.”
“Exactly,” Darla said. “It is one of the talents of the town. Everything about it is kept secret, but it is not secret in the normal way. The town has, and here I am going out on a limb on this explanation, the town has strange powers over itself. The people in the town share those powers, and what they want, at least what certain of those people want, becomes what happens. I am not sure if I am being clear about it. It is very hard to explain to those who do not feel it.”
Simon had heard this explanation before, but he had never felt it, as Darla had said. He had seen Fishs Eddy for what it was, but he had never known as his sisters and mother had known what it was all about. They said there was a feel about the place, that it was impossible to explain, but once you felt it, you knew. It was one of the many arguments he had with his sisters and mother. He had wanted to be special like the town, but he had never felt that way about the town. He had never knew what it was about the town that was special, even though, apparently, everyone in town felt it and had some small control over it.
“The people in the town gain something by being born here,” Darla said, continuing her strange tale. “It is not something that you can gain by moving here. Once you are born here, you have it, and nothing you do can take it away from you. At least most people have it.” The last part was clearly aimed at Simon. He looked away.
“So he does not have it,” Penelope asked, looking pointedly at Simon. “He does not have whatever this specialness about town is.”
“Well,” Darla said before Simon could respond. “It is not that he does not have it, it is more that he claims not to have it. We do not know how it manifested with Simon, but it appeared from when he was young that he was different from the way it manifests with the rest of the town. The Manifest, which is how the power is known, comes to different people in different ways.”
“And your Manifest,” Penelope asked Darla. “What is this special thing that you can do?”
“It is not special in the sense you are thinking,” Darla said. “It is organizational abilities. I know it sounds strange, but if there was ever the perfect office manager, you are looking at her. I can bring people together, motivate them, and assign tasks in the most efficient way. I can look at you,” Darla said, taking a brief pause to really look at Penelope. Penelope stared back for a few moments, but under Darla’s intense gaze, she began to wither, and eventually looked away. Darla was looking at her with the same intense look that she had used on Simon many times. Unlike when she looked at Simon, Darla looked satisfied by what she had seen. Every time she had looked Simon in this way, she had never seemed satisfied. Simon always felt that whatever she had seen had not been sufficient, that every time she had looked at him, Simon had failed some sort of test that he had not even know he was supposed to be taking, and certainly had not studied for.
“So you are the perfect organizer?” Penelope asked, clearly not believing her, and trying to take those eyes of Darla’s off of Penelope.
“It is not just organization,” Darla said. “I know what people are good for. I know, for example what you are good for.”
“Nothing?” Simon said, trying to break the seriousness of the conversation. Both Penelope and Darla glared at him, and he felt a red glow come to his cheeks.
“What am I good for?” Penelope asked.
“It depends on the situation,” Darla said. “In the situation we find ourselves in, you are good for keeping Simon sane and helping him through some very troubling childhood issues. I wish I could help more, but I never did understand how to use Simon. I apologize for how this must sound, but there are reasons that you are here, and reasons, now that I have had a chance to look at you, I mean really look at you, there are reasons why I hope you will stay with us, help us work through this issues. I am hoping that Simon and you Penelope at least give it a little thought before you go away.”
“What about me?” Charles asked.
“You?” Penelope turned her focus on Charles. Her eyes seemed to drill into his face. Her eyeballs did not move as she looked. She was studying him in such a way that almost scared Simon. What could she be seeing in him, and what was she going to tell us about him?
Word total: 4,405
Words total: 37,364
Words remaining: 12,636
If you hadn’t noticed, I missed posting yesterday. I wrote about two hundred words early in the day, and by evening, a massive headache and a scary cough descended on me. I’m not sure what brought it on, but after watching a late movie with Doolies, I went to bed without writing. It was the first day in my Nanowrimo history where I had not met the Goal—at least as far as I remember. There were a few days in the past where I fell asleep before meeting the goal, only to wake up in the middle of the night to pound out the remaining words for that day. Yesterday, I did not wake until late this morning.
When I finally dragged myself out of bed, I immediately began pecking on the keyboard. I aimed to finish yesterday’s words. I surprised myself moving past yesterday’s goal and hitting today’s by mid-afternoon. I spent much of today writing exposition for what should have happened earlier. It’s not exactly good storytelling, but at least it provides a somewhat fragile framework for what could have been a story. I will continue pushing through the last six or so days of writing. I will not have actually told a story, but I will have successfully written lots of words.
I have been formulating plans to write after finishing. It is unlikely that I will tell many more stories. I plan to write often about interesting topics, interesting to me, that is—and I’m using ‘interesting’ in the sense of writing about things I care about, not in the way of blowing off people I don’t want to hear. I’ll give it a go after finishing this year’s Marathon. (And, yes, I realize how easy it is to plan and how difficult it is to follow through with plans.)
Rereading the above has given me a headache. I have included editing as a big part of my going forward plans. The Marathon does a few things very right. What it also does is destroy any ability I have to write coherently