Funny Suspense American

You’re lost in your own thoughts, because you know how important the first few lines of a story can be, and that’s when you bump into him. You straighten and turn to apologize, and he essentially does a double take.

“You look familiar,” he says.

You repeat your apology and go back to sifting through the battery rack. It’s a small hardware and convenience store in the middle of nowhere, and the batteries, though cheap, look old, the plastic wrappers are either bent or dusty. While weighing your limited options, you realize the stranger you bumped into is still standing there, eyeballing you. With one eye.

So you look up, blank-faced. “Can I help you?”

He has a quizzical look, a lined face, and bright blue eyes, one of which is squinting at you, the other appears to be looking at the far wall. “Aye, you lick a bit farmiliar is all,” he says. “You’uns live around here?”

You hesitate to answer, but you don’t want to lie either. “I don’t see how. I just bought an old farm house down the road.”

“Oh, so yer new to the area.” It’s an observation. He sticks out a hand. “Well, welcome to Spruce Creek, stranger. Or should I say neighbor?” His manner is so disarming you can hardly allow yourself to be rude. But as you’re shaking hands, he takes a second hard look at your face and says, “Ahm shore I know you, Mister.” His arms are like steel pistons, his grip is like iron, but he doesn’t crush your hand, he just holds it firmly.

You stare openly into his one blue eye, while you wonder about the other, until he finally releases his grip and says, quite suddenly, “You’re a writer.” He snaps his fingers and smiles. “I believe ah’ve read some of yore books.”

You find this revelation mortifying. You’ve selected this area, and the old run-down farm you just purchased to avoid people. Both your publisher and your analyst suggested the solitude offered in this remote and backwoods county might nurture your waning creativity. New found friends and fans were not a part of your plans.

You shift into your public personae. “Well that’s great. It’s always nice to meet one of my fans,” you say, as you lift the pack of batteries off the shelf, and start towards the cashier, who is watching you both with what seems like mild apprehension.

Your erstwhile fan follows you and says, “Well now, I didn’t say I was a fan. I just said I recognized you.”

This brings you, and the cashier up short. You stop and gaze with cool composure at the man. You size him up. Thinning gray hair, big, battered, steel-toed work boots, blue work pants, and a striped blue shirt with a name patch sewed on. ‘Joe.’

He’s smirking at you now, like you’re a cat, and he’s a dog. You lay the batteries on the counter and say, “So you’ve read one of my books, but you didn’t care for it. I can accept that.”

“Oh no,” the man persists, “I’ve read dozens of yore books, but I don’t think you could call me a fan anymore.”

You extract your wallet as the cashier, who now avoids eye contact, rings up your purchase. While the man named Joe stands next to you, facing you, waiting for your response.

Damned if the man’s statement hasn’t piqued your curiosity. “Do you read my books because you don’t like them?”

“Mmm,” he grunts. “Don’t you wish.”

The cashier hands you your change, asks you if you’d like the receipt, which you decline. You pause, not wishing to provoke the man, who appears strong enough to separate your head from your torso with relative ease. But if you’re about to have your head handed to you, at least there’ll be witnesses, you think, as another car pulls into the parking lot.

The man is in your way, but steps aside and walks beside you as you make your way to the exit. “Well, why would you read my books if you don’t like them—if you don’t mind me askin’?”

“I do like ‘em.” He says, as he politely holds the door open for you. “It’s you I don’t like.” You almost halt in the doorway, but as you scan his face, you find very few traces of animosity, just a cheerful good humor, not to stretch the metaphor, but he looks as if the ice cream truck never comes down his street until today, and he just so happens to have money.

You walk slowly and casually to your car, and then you stop, halfway there. You don’t like the perception of being ushered from the premises. You turn to face him and say, “How could we have met, Joe? I’ve got a pretty good memory, and your name and face isn’t ringing any bells.

The man smiles and says, “We exchanged a few emails on one of your websites…”

“Oh well,” you say, exhaling a sigh of relief, “I get a million emails every year and—” you pause and realize that he doesn’t. “Was I rude to you Joe, were any of my assistants? Because…”

Joe raises his hand and its sudden movement silences you. But he just barely touches the tip of your sleeve so gently, you barely feel it. The motion has an unmistakable tenderness, and as a writer, and a human being, you remember that people are complicated, and real. And he says, “Naw, you weren’t mane, just, indifferent, and illogical. It was off-puttin.”

You’re really curious now, despite your intense desire to leave. You’re glad that you weren’t ‘mean’, but indifferent? Illogical?

You pull your car keys out of your pocket. They're comforting. You take a step backward toward your car and say, “What exactly is this all about?” You and the car keys are just standing there, dangling in front of Joe. He’s a barrel-chested guy with a sharp nose and a clean shirt, but he also seems a bit unkempt, in need of a shave.

He says, “Why should I tell you and have you insult me all over again?”

You’re stunned at this remark. “When… How did I insult you, Joe?” You step toward him extending your hand. “What’s your last name? Joe what?”

“What’s that got to do with it?” He says. “The point is, I gave you some ideas, and you practically…”

“Wait. What? What did you say?”

“I offered you some ideas, all of them, actually.”

Now you know where this is going, people offer you ideas all the time, and it… “You know what you told me?” He says, severing your train of thought. You can’t imagine what you might’ve said, but as a rule, you're polite, but firm in your interactions with fans. It’s a rare thing to be accosted by a fan, nor is it your custom to antagonize them. “You told me to write it myself,” he says, “Can you believe it? Write it myself.” Then he stares off into the distance.

He ceases to speak and it becomes awkward. You realize that this is his grievance. You told him to write his own fuckin’ stories? That’s what you tell everyone! Politely, of course. But… You’re annoyed for a moment, and then you reconsider. “It’s kind of a standard response, Joe. We give it to everyone.”

“Well it’s a stupid response, ain’t it.”

You have your hand on the car door when you say, “Why is it stupid?

“Because I’m not a writer. It takes more than just a good idea to write a story, or a book.”

You manage to get in your car and put the key in the ignition. “It isn’t meant to insult you, Joe. It’s just that I get bombarded with ideas…

“It’s not about being insulted,” he says. Sounding deeply injured.

“…and I just can’t, there isn’t enough time in the day to sift through…”

He cuts you off and says, “…all the crazy ideas you get.”

You turn the key and nothing happens. You turn it off and back on again, the solenoid clunks and the engine turns over and starts. As you’re trying to jam the shifter into first gear, Crazy Joe Neighbor leans on your door and says, “You should get that checked.”

“We’ll have to discuss this further, when I have more time. Okay?”

Joe shrugs at the offer, as if he can’t hear you, and it occurs to you as you drive off, that it’s possible that he really can’t.

You and Joe spend more time together than you could have imagined. The old farmhouse is in disrepair, and Joe’s quite the handyman. He drives an old pick-up with muddy tires, got a Blue-tick hound dog named ‘Hooli’ scrabbling around on the front seat, what jumps out and starts sniffing around at everything. One time he’s fixin’ the plumbing under the sink and he gets to his feet and says, “You getting’ any ideas?”

You say, “What?”

“Ain’t that whut you come out here for? Clean the cobwebs out yer head, get some fresh ideas?”

Exactly. That is exactly what you were doing, or trying to do. And his succinct summation was as annoying as the fact that it wasn’t working. You had no new ideas, no new material. Not even a fresh outlook on anything, much less the void where your creativity used to be.

It was probably out of frustration then, that you decided to drive up to Mush Mountain in the throes of winter. It’s a well-known stomping ground for campers and hikers and the road to the trailhead is treacherous as hell. You drive like a madman, power-sliding up frozen ‘straight-a-ways’, skidding through hairpins and arriving at the top just as the first fat snowflakes begin to fall. And who should be sitting there, at a bench in the deserted parking lot, but Joe and his hound dog Hooli.

He points at your car’s front end and says, “You picked a good time to stop, cause you’re leakin’ brake fluid like a sieve.”

“I did? I mean I am?” You say, walking around, looking at the brown stain on the ground near your tire.

“Well?” You say, looking at the sky, wrapping your arms around yourself. Big fat snowflakes bouncing off your cheeks. “I don’t think it’d be safe to drive this car down the mountain then. Do you? Joe?”

He had a way of looking like Robert DeNiro, like he was laughing, but no sound was coming out. “If we’re gonna walk down we better get a goin’.” Then he shoulders a small pack and a long rifle.

You take a few hundred steps and decide to ask him what he’s been hunting? “Hunting?” He says. “What makes you think I was hunting?”

“Well… what’s the gun for, then?”

“The gun?” He says. “The gun’s for you, and bears.”

“What d’ya mean for me, and bears?” You’ve come to a dead stop in the middle of the frozen dirt road.

“It’s to keep you at bay till the bears get finished with ya.” I think he snarled as a full moon rose over the ridgeline. His dog Hooli howled mournfully. He unslung his ancient rifle so quickly, you almost lose your footing on the icy, uneven road. A gust of wind comes along and blows your hat off, you slide over to the nearest pothole and pick it up.

“I’ll tell you what,” Joe tells you. You use one of my ideas in one of your goddamn stories, and I’ll get you down to the main road in one piece.”

This is blackmail, you think. Is he kidding? So you’re standing there in the middle of the road, it’s getting colder, and darker. In fact, you don’t even think you could make it to the main highway before dark. You might have to knock on somebody’s door. Who do you think you’re kidding? “Okay,” you say. “fine. I’ll use your stupid idea if you get me home in one piece.”

Suddenly he’s all smiles. “You won’t regret it Sam.” Then he turns completely serious and says, “Okay, here’s the idea…”

“Joe,” you say, a touch of urgency in your tone. “Shouldn’t we get started, it’s getting dark, and it ain’t gettin’ any warmer.”

He pulls up as if hurt. “You don’t want to hear my idea?” You can’t believe this. This is probably why the whole story is told in second person POV, because you’re going to get killed, you thought you were gonna get killed from the beginning, and now you’re sure, and what better way to kill a character, eh? Especially a character who thinks he’s a writer. How could you not see this coming?

“Hey.” It’s Joe. He hands you the rifle. “Hold this. Use it like a walking stick.” You take the gun, handling it gingerly at first. The barrel’s colder than a witches tit in China. Did you just say that? Or Joe? “You alright?” He says.

That’s the moment when you know you’re going to freeze to death. He grins in the teeth of a chill wind, the snow is markedly thicker and whiter, you start down the road and Joe grabs you by the lapel and pulls you back. “Not that way,” he says. “That way,” as he points to your car.

“But the brakes…”

He’s been chewin’ on a great big gob of tobacco and stops and spits out a long disgusting stream in the glittering snow bank. It looks just like brake fluid.

I suppose you recall the rest. You inched back down the mountain even though your brakes were fine. The car’s heater worked fine, too. You returned to your shabby, little farmhouse in the woods, and though you thought about killing Joe several times, you honored your agreement instead. And this is it.

May 11, 2024 02:48

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Hazel Ide
20:28 May 16, 2024

Amazing, start to finish. I kept asking myself if I was really reading a second POV story, (how! so rare!) so the comment at the end made me laugh. It couldn't have been better. The twists were great... I started off worrying for Joe, then for the MC (maybe an anne wilkes/misery scene was coming), then amused they were spending time together then *delighted* at the ending. This was really great Ken. Thanks for sharing.


Ken Cartisano
20:53 May 18, 2024

Thank you very much, Hazel. I had all the ingredients of a 'Frozen Deliverance' at the end there didn't I? (Hee-ha.) Pretty amusing/horrible. I have to hand this one to the muse, because I didn't even know I was creating twists. I was just telling a story. Love to hear that you had to laugh, though. That was me, for sure.


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Jim LaFleur
19:09 May 13, 2024

Ken, I loved your story from start to finish. Joe's character development and the plot twists really kept me captivated. Excellent job! 👏


Ken Cartisano
02:59 May 14, 2024

Thanks, but I feel like an amateur next to you, looking forward to reading more of your stories Jim.


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Trudy Jas
13:07 May 13, 2024

All you had to do is ask, Ken. :-) I really enjoyed the story. Your description of Joe is great. The story had me fearing for Sam's life. The hardware store scene is great. The slow build up, Joe's cryptic remarks, even the cashier's trepidation. You're very good with dialogue, with funny asides in between. Then you lost a bit of that tension. There was less dialogue and more (forced?) funny lines. - this is probably why the whole story is written in the second person POV. - a great line, but breaks the mood, pulls the reader away from ...


Ken Cartisano
20:01 May 13, 2024

Thank you very much, Trudy, That is excellent advice. Perhaps I should not address the reader directly, which is exactly what I did, (something about breaking the fourth wall, at that moment) thought it would be funny, Maybe I'll try removing it and seeing if the tension is worth the comedy. With the second person POV I used 'you recall' because (after thinking about it) in second person, the reader is the main character and technically, or theoretically, would already know everything that happened. Wouldn't they? Still, 'I suppose you can...


Trudy Jas
20:19 May 13, 2024

I think - and don't quote me - the editing has something to do with the way the program is/was written. One way to improve readership of your stories is to go read other stories, comment on theirs and if/when you come across one you really like - is right up your alley, blatantly beg them to read and critique. Not everyone is willing to voice their opinion. Most are more gentle than I am. :-} I get the 2nd person POV and it can be very effective in pulling the reader in - it was in yours, except for the two examples I pointed out. It's tri...


Ken Cartisano
07:31 May 16, 2024

Hi Trudy, I really appreciate your comments, your feedback and your offer to read my next story. I’ll be sure to tap you on the shoulder when I write one again, as you suggested. I think there’s a blog section that explains the site and how it works, but I’ve been too busy complaining about it to bother with investigating, and no one else seems to have read it either. I’ve been an avid reader for over sixty years, Trudy. (No, I did not know Charles Dickens personally.) I’ve only been writing for about seventeen. Reading is a joy, while wr...


Trudy Jas
13:37 May 16, 2024

:-) I think you have a story right in front of us. would love to hear more about your sign paining days, Actually it (asking) worked for me. Like you I read feedback Deidre L gave to someone, so I went to her last story and said that I had read her feedback, would she cast a critical eye on one of my stories, she did, But yes, there are us seniors and there are young-uns. The young-uns don't understand the difference between constructive and cutting feedback. or the fact that thr feedback is just thr giver's opinion. looking forward to ...


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Mary Bendickson
22:07 May 11, 2024



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