By Mike Stevens
A Charles Placard Tale
“Gloria Underwire heard a rapping at her door at 11.30 at night. Who could it be at this late hour? She rose from the warmth and security of her bed and slipped her silk robe around her naked body, so at least she’d be wearing something. Again, she heard the urgent knocking. Whoever was outside her door must be in serious trouble. She yelled out,
“Yes, I’m coming.”
More knocking sounded.
“I said I’ll be right there!” she shouted.
She swung open the door to find the oddest-looking man she had ever seen. He was dressed head to toe in nothing but black, and on his face he wore a smiling mask that concealed his actual features. Judging by the hour, and his sinister appearance, Gloria knew his real face wasn’t smiling.
“Sorry to bother you at this late hour, but I’m rather desperate to make a sale, because my son needs an operation, before it’s too late; he’ll never walk again if I can’t come up with $5000 dollars by tomorrow night. Can I interest you, madam, in a set of these fine handcrafted carving knives?” and he hoisted a case, and upon opening it, lifted out a huge bladed-knife. Gloria’s eyes got huge, and she mumbled,
“Sure, I’ll take a set, how much?”
The menacing man replied, “Oh, great! They’re only $49.95. Thank you so much, you’re a great start to what I hope is a successful selling spree, so my daughter can get her operation.”
Gloria’s blood ran cold; originally, he’d said it was his son who needed an operation. “I thought you said it was your son?”
He swore, and ripped off his mask, saying, “No more games, time for you to say “goodnight”, and raised the knife into the misty night air.
Gloria saw the face concealed beneath the mask and screamed. Bits of bloody flesh hung in strips. This was no desperate door-to-door----her eyes saw nothing after the knife-blade plunged into her heart. As her non-breathing form slid to the floor, pumping out geysers of blood, the killer let out a maniacal laugh, and disappeared into the fog-shrouded darkness.”
Charles Placard sat back with a sense of accomplishment. After trying in vain to get his book publisher, Behemoth Press, to agree to publish a serious book, which was the only kind of book that he truly wanted to write, he had cleverly found a way to write it; one that wouldn’t pay him a dime, but one that would give him extreme satisfaction. He would write his tragic novel and enter it in a contest to see who could write the best story. If, no when, he won it would prove him correct, he was a damn fine dramatic writer, not the clown his publishers seemed to think he was.
It had been 2 months since he had turned in his story, “Door-to-Door Evil”, and he’d heard nothing. Maybe Behemoth Press was right; all he was good for was a laugh or two. Maybe he held himself high on the writing scale for no good reason. He had almost given up hope, when one morning the phone rang. He disinterestedly answered,
“Hello, is Mr. Placard at home please?”
“This is Mr. Placard, who’s calling please?”
“This is Jane Mainway calling from the book competition you entered, and I’m happy to inform you’ve won first prize.”
Yes, he knew he was right! He yelled into the phone, “I did?”
“Yes, you did, and we’d like to get all our winners together so we can have you all together in a photograph. How’s next Wednesday at 3.pm work for you?”
“Ah, I’m confused. I thought you said I won?”
“You did win, in your category.”
“My category, what do you mean my category?”
“Why, the comedy category, what else?” she answered.
Charles was as down as he’d ever been. He had received his message, loud and clear; he had absolutely no talent for writing. All he could manage to do was unintentionally and accidentally regurgitate plots that others found hilarious! Himself? He failed to see anything remotely humorous about finding he sucked as a writer.
Charles drove the milk truck toward the grocery store that would be the next stop on his route. He had given up on his dream of becoming a successful writer; in fact he had given up on becoming a successful writer, or for that matter, any kind of writer at all. That’s because he hadn’t written a thing since he’d won the comedy writing category with a story he’d intended to be taken as drama. It seemed that no matter how hard he tried to write a serious story, people seemed to think he had penned a comedy; that he was intending it to be humorous. So he had packed away his dream and started applying for a more realistic job. He had landed this job delivering milk, but he’d only been doing it for a week, and he already hated it. Awaking by 3am and getting that day’s orders for dairy products loaded in the refrigerated back of the truck, driving miles in all kinds of miserable weather conditions, putting up with angry store managers because one of your pint-size chocolate milks went bad, having to smell cow dung for miles, both arriving for work, and leaving, getting reamed out by the angry dairy owner for one reason or another, and for putting up with all that, needing a microscope to see how much your paycheck was. Charles downshifted as the fully-loaded truck strained to make the step hill up which his next store was located. He downshifted again, popping the clutch ever-so-slightly, and he heard a load ‘thunk’ from the rear of the truck, stopped, and got out. Even before he reached the back door, he could see a ribbon of milk trailing in a white river back down the hill. The hell with this; he slammed his driver-side door, and headed for the bus station. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he’d change his name, pick up his pen, and start writing again. He needed a fresh start, and he’d be damned if he’d settle for another blue-collar job. No, he may suck as a writer, but he could always make people laugh, albeit unintended laughter.