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Writing on the Edge

by Lucia Dulin Hawkins

Her footsteps echo on the wooden staircase leading to the attic. At the top of the stairs, she cautiously opens the door and slowly peers into the room. Imagined images of long ago still haunt her when she sees the lace curtains waving in the wind like visiting ghosts, and the bare light bulb, suspended from the high ceiling, slowly swinging like a hangman’s noose. Did her grandfather really die in this room? How did he die? No one would tell her.

Returning twenty years later, she hopes to create the mood she needs for her Halloween writing assignment. She wants to be back in the room of her dreams; dreams where her beloved grandfather turned into a hideous monster who controlled her and where the pretty curtains transformed into demons.

Slowly walking across the worn and dusty carpet, she nervously settles into her grandfather’s old overstuffed worn leather chair by the window. Pulling a woolen throw over her knees, she flips opens her laptop but before writing, she turns to let her eyes wander around the room, looking for something creepy from her dreams. A beginning point. Or perhaps the end of a beginning?

“Just being in this room is a great beginning,” she nervously whispers to herself.

In her technical writing career, she trained herself to keep her thoughts orderly and proper, like important papers in a well-filed cabinet. She needs this assignment to see if she can slip over the edge of her safe creative cabinet and have absurd, bizarre, and frightening thoughts where her mind can careen like a runaway train and crash into areas she never dared visit.

“It’s all about stretching yourself,” she thinks as she settles deeper into the soft chair.

She deems this a “mind writing” project. To have her mind visit places where there are no “off limits” or “stop” signs. She decides that without these boundaries her mind can write anything. Everything is fair game. And hopefully this will end her bad dreams.

She asks herself if it’s dangerous to be a mind writer. To let the mind meander like a kite dipping and darting in the wind, stalling one minute, changing directions another, picking stories from here and there and choosing characters from anywhere.

She answers her thoughts loudly, “I just don’t know! Can I really write a horror story? Can I let my mind go?”

“I’m ready!” she states loudly.

Before she begins, she hears tires crunching on the loose gravel in the narrow lane below. Quickly putting her laptop aside and tossing her wrap to the floor, she goes to the open window. In the fading daylight, she sees a battered white van coming down the alley. She assumes it’s a handyman by the ladder tied on top. As it creeps down the lane, she sees the front window rolled down.

The driver, looking ominous as he huddles close to the steering wheel, is wearing tinted glasses and an ill-fitting knitted cap. As he drives by, he cocks his head sideways and looks up in her direction. She sees he has a beard and long black hair. She quickly steps back from the window, and as he drives by she notices his back windows have been painted out.

As much as she is troubled by the incident, she is also excited. Her creative wick ignites, and her mind begins to fire. This is the character she has been looking for! Now she can develop a plot.

She settles down again and ideas for her Halloween story materialize faster than her fingers can fly. Fiction is so easy, she decides.

Driving through the crowded parking lot, it didn’t take him long to find his next victim. She was slouched in the passenger seat of the bright red Camaro. Her naked feet propped against its open door. With her eyes closed tightly and her fingers feverishly drumming to the beat of the rock music that flowed through her bulbous earphones, she was silenced from the outside world. Perfect!

He parked his van toward the rear of the Camaro, opened his cargo door and quietly walked toward her. In an instant his right hand clamped across her mouth, his left tightly gripped around her chest. As he wrenched the girl from the car and dragged her into the back of his battered van, any muffled screams she made were soon silenced by the surgical tape he tightly wound around her mouth.

The grisly details just keep coming into her mind, and she keeps writing. When she stops, she can feel her heart pounding. She makes an effort to relax and slow down her excited breathing. She questions herself.

“Where are these fantastic thoughts coming from?” She wonders if she is going over the edge with her imagination when she thinks about describing the girl’s demise. She shakes her head and then asks herself, “Did I really see someone drive by, or did I make it up in my head to create this horrible character?” She silently reprimands herself for censoring her vivid thoughts.

“I am a writer and fiction is all about imagination,” she declares.

After so much structured writing over the past few years, she finds it so easy to “mind write” this horror story. “But can the duo of vivid imagination and unfettered creativity, in a mind normally restrained, turn into a delusional dance on the edge of insanity?” she asks herself as the velvet sheen of nightfall darkens the day.

She saves her work, closes her laptop, uncurls herself from the soft leather chair and once again stands by the open window. Reaching out to close the wooden shutters, she imagines she sees a faint shadow move under the trellis and reminds herself that tomorrow she needs to trim off the overgrown ivy down there that is moving in the night breeze.

Going downstairs, she sees red and orange lights from the fireplace flicker and dance around the walls of the Great Room. Warmth encircles her as she walks into the kitchen. After pouring a hot cup of coffee and sweetening it with a dash of Kahlua, she settles in front of the fire and thinks about her Halloween story. There is so much more to write.

“It’s so exciting! Maybe in the morning,” she tells herself, sighing heavily before sinking deeper into the sofa. She closes her eyes, comforted by the crackling fire and the warm drink.

Outside, clamoring wind chimes and rustling oak leaves indicate a weather change. A strong breeze whips the upstairs shutters open. She reminds herself that tomorrow the shutter latch needs repairing.

She doesn’t hear the faint creak of the front door, see it open, or hear footsteps treading lightly across the polished oak floor toward her. He leaps upon her and she lets out a wild, hysterical scream as she tries to defend herself. With her heart pulsating like a jackhammer, she feels his fur as she flings him off. As he scrambles away to hide under the dining room table, she sits up, laughing hysterically.

“Monday, you scared me to death!” she yells across the room at her frightened Tabby cat.

She gets up and locks and bolts the front door, walks over to her laptop, opens up Microsoft Works, highlights her Halloween story, and presses “delete.” The editor definitely won’t be getting a Halloween story from her this year!

“I think I’ll stick to my technical writing in future,” she declares.

Returning to the kitchen, she pours a small coffee and a lot of Kahlua and coaxes Monday from under the table. She grabs a couple of overstuffed cushions, and they both curl up in front of the fire. She begins thinking about writing a Thanksgiving story.

Much later, lulled into a deep sleep from the warmth of fire and the comfort of a strong drink, she doesn’t hear the attic door open or hear the heavy footsteps descend the wooden staircase.

Copyright © 2013 by Lucia Dulin Hawkins

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