CROAKED 1st draft, for demo purposes:
This is a first draft, so it’s real bad. Straight from brain to typewriter; you know how that goes. Only changes here involved some spelling. Consider yourselves lucky. No one ever sees my first drafts and lives.
This is loosely based on a prank my crazy cousins have been playing on each other for years. Maybe they shouldn’t read this.
Locusts (Chapter 1, scene 1)
The locusts are here. Elizabeth Vogt Majeski couldn’t help but giggle. Sure, the mood was somber, but she couldn’t help stifling that giggle with her hand. This was just so surreal.
Not the first time. Elizabeth, called Liz by everyone except her freshly-deceased mother, had a problem about laughing at inappropriate moments.
She congratulated herself on keeping a poker face during her mom’s funeral. But now?
She counted 19 relatives of every kind in the lawyer’s office. She knew six of them pretty well. Her sister Doreen and her husband Leon Welch. Their 16-year old daughter Lorie. Their 12-year-old son Rodney, and her own husband Stan. And herself. A couple of cousins she knew as a kid.
The rest were total strangers. All had their hands out, hoping for the jackpot. At least a chunk of Mom’s estate anyway. Not a Forbes-sized estate, but a decent one. Liz knew it was in the low seven figures; she helped manage it when Sarah Novak Vogt descended into the Zenlike world of Alzheimers. Except for her own family and her sister’s, no one bothered to show up when Mom was so sick. That alone should disqualify them, she thought, but it was Mom’s money. Let her get crazy with it.
Liz wasn’t exactly hurting. Stan’s bar did pretty well in the last five years, and he had his pension from the city. Liz ran the place when he was on the road some weekends playing bass with his Americana band all over California. She also had an online music sales business, and she wrote some fiction. The music site was moderately successful, and she hoped the writing could get out of nonprofit status eventually.
She’d already struck her gold. Stan was as honest as they got, a hard worker who lifted himself from the hardly-working class on his own. She wished she’d met him 15 years earlier.
Doreen sat to her right, intensity radiating off her. Older at 44, she struck her gold much earlier, while Liz was still with Husband #1. What a sorry bastard he turned out to be, and Husband #2 wasn’t much better. They ceased to have names, just numbers like the Halloween slasher movies. Oh well. Third time’s a charm, she thought as she gripped Husband #3’s hand. Doreen’s husband made it to law school on his parents’ dime, and became an accomplished trial attorney. Meaning mass torts, the kind that prints money on the screw-everybody-except-the-lawyers work. Doreen ran the office and acted as his part-time paralegal.
Could have a worse sibling, Liz thought. they had their differences years ago when she was trying to raise the bar on stupid. They made their peace after she married Stan, and they now lived in Fontana less than two miles apart. They got together for lunch every Sunday.
“Who are these people?” Liz mouthed.
“That’s your Uncle Frank and Aunt Nadine.”
“The ones who smelled like formaldehyde?”
“That’s them.” Doreen recited the list of names. As curator of family lore, she knew all of them by sight.
Elizabeth nodded toward Uncle Vernon, who sat by himself. The one with unbarbered gray hair and messy beard. He could make even the best suit look like it had been wadded up for years.
“Uncle Unabomber. Are you sure he’s sane?”
“He’s just … different.”
“Okay. I know different.”
The family trust was easy. Everything prewritten, and didn’t have to go through probate. Each sibling got more than a million, mostly tied up in growth investments that netted something like 12 percent.
They got joint ownership of the house, and they already agreed to sell the 80-year-old monstrosity if someone was dumb enough to buy it.
Doreen got Mom’s jewelry, which included her wedding band and two-carat engagement ring. The former was original equipment; the later a 50th anniversary gift. She also got half the furniture and all the art. Liz got the music collection, which was what she really wanted.
Pretty soon the lawyer got to the white-elephant part of the show, and Liz couldn’t stop giggling again. He sounded like a game show host. Would you like curtain number one, curtain number two, or curtain number three?
Liz groaned inwardly when she and Stan were awarded the grandfather clock. Sure it was from the 18th Century and in pristine condition, but still. The clock didn’t run any more; Liz saw to that. She disabled it 30 years ago because it struck out the hour, loudly enough to drown out a heavy-metal concert.
“I hope I don’t get that frog,” Liz mouthed to Doreen. “I mean it’s gawdawful ugly.”
“You should get it,” Doreen said. “It’ll look great in your living room.”
The frog, about two feet tall, sat crouched in Mom’s house for as long as she could remember. It gave her the creeps when she was six, and she tried to avoid it. Her sister was scared of it. She had no idea how old the thing was, but it had been around a while. Carved by a drunken stone mason, this had eyes of — not rubies, but some sort of red stones. Maybe agate or garnet, she thought. No wonder it freaked her out.
“Remember how that thing used to scare me?” Doreen whispered.
“I remember. You always thought it would come to life and eat you while you slept.”
“It still freaks me out.”
“You know, your brave sister had to throw a towel over it sometimes.”
“I remember. It was those eyes.”
“Remember when you found it in your closet and screamed?” Liz asked. “It was great.”
“You turd. Did you put it there?”
“I’ll take the Fifth.”
“Well, you can have it,” Doreen insisted. “You know you want it.”
A few more items sent out to various family members, and the lawyer looked at his list again.
“Elizabeth Vogt Majeski gets the frog statue,” the lawyer announced. Now he sounded like he was calling out Powerball numbers.
“Neat-O” Liz mouthed to her sister.
I hate that vacuum cleaner.
It stands in my closet, out of sight, and it still bothers me.
Every week or so, I’ll settle down with a book or writing project or snack or something, and that vacuum cleaner will tap tap tap at that closet door. Disturbing me. What could it want this time?
I should be responsible. I should let it out for its exercise. I really should. But the implications paralyze me. I really must make the house presentable before letting it out. All papers off the floor, all cables kicked out of the way, maybe the trash taken out. Maybe even wash all my dishes. Not a great task, that. I only have four.
But that vacuum cleaner. I hate it. It’s so persistent.
Maybe I should take it out and shoot it.
Sure. Just stand it up in my back yard, get that AK-47 I have locked away, drop in a banana clip, rock and roll. I’d sure feel better, but my neighbors would think I’m off my medication again. Can’t have that.
Maybe shove it in a gunny sack and drop it in the crick nearby? Now, that’s a thought. But who knows whether it will come back up in a couple of months, all bloated and smelly, with enough fingerprints on it to convict me? Would it help if I dusted it with lime first?
I’ll just take it to the vet. It’s old, after all. Never mind that it looks new, that it’s hardly ever been used. Just tell the vet some fantasy like it’s blind, its quality of life is gone, and can you please put it out of its misery? But I’ll feel terrible about that. Who am I to order the death of another creature?
Meanwhile, the creature in my closet keeps tapping.