Tag Archives: Serialized fiction

short story serialization: The Last Stop (part 3)

I’m serializing a short story I wrote five years ago called The Last Stop, which is appearing in bite-sized pieces this week. It’s probably unpublishable for a few reasons, but I put effort into the thing, so I’m posting it. You are the beta readers.

Part One

Part Two

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Last Stop

part 3

© 2009 by Eric John Baker

7

Madeline was laughing, her arm outstretched in an effort to keep her champagne from spilling. Riley stood beside her, watching, detached. Their bodies did not touch. Maddie was leaning away.

Riley hated this photo. It was her favorite, which is why she’d had it cropped and framed, despite the harsh lighting and blur of the champagne glass.

Now, lying on the living room couch and holding the photo overhead, Riley saw so clearly the resentment in his own face. Maddie being entirely her own person. Maddie so charming and flirtatious, walking two steps ahead of her husband. Maddie, gone without a trace and no closer to being found now than she was eight months ago. The resentment had come from knowing she would leave him one day, by some means or another.

People always asked how he got so lucky to land a looker like Maddie. As if were easy being married to a woman who knew she was better than him.

He replaced the picture on the end table, almost dropping it. Tired from a fruitless, foolish day wandering around the city in search of an astronomical stroke of luck, Riley closed his eyes. He obeyed a subconscious command to produce a mental image of Sophia. Her straight, black hair. Her dark, vibrant eyes, alive and intelligent yet ripe with sexuality.

“I don’t want to lose you,” he said, startling himself awake. He closed his weary eyes again. I won’t lose you, Sophia.

 

Tuesday greeted him with glares and concerned stares and silent avoidance from co-workers. Riley laughed to himself. He’d forgotten to shave again. No point now. In a few days it would be a decent beard.

Riley shoved spreadsheets around for hours, accomplishing nothing while he ignored the red light on his phone. At three in the afternoon, Patrick knocked on the door frame. “Hey, Buddy. Can we talk?”

After a speech, Riley promised the old Riley from now on. The blank who got his work done.

 

8

On Wednesday morning, he saw redhead on the bus stop. Riley jerked the wheel to the right and cut across two lanes of traffic, slipping between a box truck and a minivan and nearly clipping the left front fender of a Hyundai. Oh well. He pulled against the curb in front of the bus stop.

“Hey,” he shouted as he climbed out, leaving his engine running. “Can I talk to you?”

Face drawn with concern, the woman stepped back.

Riley ceased his advance. “I’m sorry. I just have a couple of questions. I’m not going to hurt you.” As if.

The woman held her handbag to her bosom. “I have to get my bus in a minute.”

“I know,” Riley said. “Just a question.” Now he had to think of a question. “Uh, I’m looking for a friend of mine who uses this bus stop, and I’ve seen you talking to her before. I wonder if you… might know where she is.”

Her eyes betrayed fear of what might happen if she didn’t give the answer he wanted. “Well, what’s her name? I don’t…”

Good question. “She’s the woman who reads the Wall Street Journal. Black hair, attractive face.”

The redhead nodded with relief. “Yes, I know who you mean. I mean, I don’t know her, but I’ve talked to her. I don’t know her name though.”

Riley went with it.

“Sophia. I haven’t seen her around lately and I thought maybe…”

The woman slung her handbag back onto her shoulder, seemingly calmed by the knowledge that the guy who almost caused a pile-up was after somebody else. “I really don’t know anything about her other than she seems like a real sweet girl. It’s not like we sit together.”

Riley glanced over his shoulder at his car blocking the bus stop. “Do you remember the last time you saw her? Did she seem upset to you?”

The woman gazed at the pavement for a moment then looked up, relieved to have an answer. “More like worried, actually. Her phone kept ringing and I think the caller said something that upset her.”

“Did she look scared?”

“I guess. Yeah. I remember on the bus she had this look like something bad was going to happen.” By now, the woman had grown pleased with the interrogation.

“Do you know where she gets off? What stop?”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I get off first.”

Riley ran back to his car and slid in, pulling away from the curb with a jerk as he saw, in his rearview mirror, the bus cresting the hill behind him.

He slammed his fist into the passenger backrest. “Damn it!” Somebody was hurting Sophia while he jerked off with spreadsheets! She was suffering and scared and he did nothing for over a week.

Riley banged a U-turn right before Route 4 became a bridge, almost wrecking three cars.

(to be continued)


short story serialization: The Last Stop (part 2)

411:

I’m serializing a short story I wrote five years ago called The Last Stop, which will appear in bite-sized pieces over the next week. It’s probably unpublishable for a few reasons, but I put effort into the thing, so I’m posting it. You are the beta readers.

Part One if you missed it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 bus

The Last Stop

(part 2)

© 2009 By Eric John Baker

4

Descending the hill Friday, Riley was disappointed at the light traffic. He’d make his turn faster.

Sophia faced the road, leaning against the light pole. The redhead was there again, second day on a row, but they weren’t talking.

Riley slowed, moving his head around to get a better view. Sophia seemed upset. What the hell? He braked to a crawl, scanning her face for an answer. Was that sorrow or anger? What could someone so perfect possibly have to be—

A horn blared and Sophia glanced toward him. Riley stomped on the gas and made the left. In his rearview mirror, her reflection shook apart from the vibrations of the pavement.

He thought of her all weekend. Her black hair curling under at the jaw. Her elfin face. Her narrow shoulders and curving hips hugged by a skirt terminating an inch above the knee. Her red lipstick and dark eye make-up, maybe too dark but urban chic on her. She could get away with it, a city girl like that.

He knew her wardrobe pretty well. She had ten outfits she cycled through every two weeks. Sometimes she mixed and matched.

Monday, he would stop and talk to her.

 

5

Riley crested the hill Monday in the right lane. If he didn’t get over soon, he’d be on the bridge! No turning back then.

Halfway down he thought, “What am I going to say?”

In a panic, he shot into the left lane. He glanced toward the bus stop, seeking Sophia out from the clutter of people and colors and shapes. Where are you?

He stopped, waiting for green, now directly across from the stop. With rising anxiety, he realized she wasn’t there. He held his ground, waiting, forgetting the traffic signal, feeling helpless. Sophia was always there.

The light turned green and a horn blasted. Damn it. I need time to think! The horn sounded again, probably the same asshole from Friday, and Riley made the turn. She’d be there tomorrow. No doubt.

On Tuesday, Riley slammed his fist down on the top of the steering wheel and cursed. Little dots of spit shot across his dashboard. Goddamn it! What was her game? Where did she go?

He felt guilty all day for blowing up at her like that. Guilt turned to panic when Wednesday morning once again revealed unfamiliar faces. Panic like when Madeline went missing and the cops were buzzing around and the mystery was new and unreal.

First Maddie, now Sophia.

Riley’s boss, Patrick, poked his head into Riley’s office at least ten times. Riley knew he was there but kept his eyes down, fumbling through papers. Staying in character grew more difficult. At a quarter past five, Patrick stopped him in the hall and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“You know what,” he said. “You haven’t taken a day off in months. Why don’t you relax at home tomorrow?”

Finally, Riley thought. It’s about goddamn time he offered. “Yeah, ok.”

“Good,” Patrick said. “Just sleep in and watch some TV or something.”

Riley nodded, but he didn’t sleep in or watch TV. TV sucks! He drove downtown at four thirty in the morning, parked at the Hilltop Tavern, and walked down the slope to wait for the bus. Five miserable hours waiting on that bench, and she didn’t show. He had to go on worrying and not knowing. Goddamn her. How could she?

 

6

Next day, Riley called out sick. Patrick didn’t sound too upset. Christ, Riley’s wife was a missing person. How could Patrick be upset?

This time he stayed out of sight. Patrick and most of the people on his floor made the same left every morning. All he needed was someone blabbing, “I saw Riley on the bus stop,” and then someone else saying, “Yeah, me too.” And then, suddenly, he’s the hot topic again.

People should get lives, he thought, hiding behind a poster advertising car insurance.

The 8:15 bus appeared at the top of the hill, but no Sophia. Riley watched it draw closer, squinting to see the bus driver’s face. Was he wondering what the hell happened to Sophia too?

The brakes squeaked and the big shiny rectangle slid to a stop a few feet past the rain shelter. The doors opened. Three riders lined up and shuffled on board. The doors began to close.

“Wait,” Riley called, shooting forward. The driver, staring straight ahead, opened the door again. Riley charged up the stairs then paused, fumbling for fare. The driver became melodramatic in his silence.

Riley scraped the money together. The bus was already moving before he started down the aisle.

An idea hit him: Maybe she gets on at an earlier stop now­. A distinct possibility! She was surely on this bus already. He’d drop beside her and make some joke that she’d laugh at in spite of herself.

I’m Riley, by the way.

Hi, I’m Sophia. Nice to meet you, Riley.

The bus hit the bridge and started up the incline, sending him stumbling down the aisle. He pivoted into a seat next to a tiny guy with a long beard who didn’t look at him. Riley twisted around, scanning the passengers.

Nothing.

He turned and slumped into the seat. Maybe she was in the city somewhere. He gazed through the window, eyeing the cluster of skyscrapers drawing closer, trying to figure out where to look.

The buildings looked like big glass knives.

(to be continued)


short story serialization: The Last Stop (part 1)

The 411:

I’ve decided to serialize a short story I wrote five years ago called The Last Stop, thanks to a suggestion from a long-time colleague (dankeschön, Mike). It will appear in bite-sized pieces over the next week or so.

I have never done anything with it. It has never been beta read or edited. In fact, it has been sitting on my hard drive because it’s too long and doesn’t fit into a genre, and, honestly, I’m not sure it works. But I put the effort in to write it, so I should give it a chance to enjoy life, no?

I’ve been told one should not write stories with main characters who are unlikable or crazy. I say “fie” to that. The challenge is making you care about him anyway. Here’s bite one:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 pizza

The Last Stop

By Eric John Baker © 2009

 

1

Riley Conard reported his wife Madeline missing on the third of February. All this time later, the police still didn’t have a lead!

In the cafeteria, Riley was in line behind Darnell Tubbs and that woman from accounting when he heard Darnell say, “You gotta hand it to him. He’s pretty chill for a fella whose wife is probably under a tarp in the back of some dude’s truck. She must be a pile of bones now. What’s it, eight months?”

Riley stared at the pizza on his tray, suppressing a grin. Imagine how embarrassed they’d be to know he was right behind them.

The woman from accounting, gripping a styrofoam container marked Daily Special, bumped Darnell’s arm with the back of her hand. “The IT guys call him ‘Data’ after that Star Trek robot. Anyway, I’ll bet Maddie’s in Hawaii with her boyfriend.”

There goes another one calling her “Maddie.” Ever since the disappearance, people who met his wife once at the holiday party three years ago had been talking about her like an old friend. Perhaps it made a sexier story. Oh yeah, I knew her. I knew the chick who went missing.

“I mean, have you taken a good look at him?” the woman from accounting said. “I have no clue why Maddie married him in the first place. What a blank!”

She made a face Riley couldn’t see, and she and Darnell laughed. Darnell said, “You’re bad!”

Riley didn’t care. His blankness was performance art, making their insults a compliment. They could guess all they want about what was on his mind. It wasn’t Madeline, to tell the truth. Or the police, who he had badgered incessantly in the beginning. He had no use for their nowhere investigation.

Riley only thought about one thing. Sophia.

 

2

At the crest of the hill, Riley saw the gentle rise of the bridge and the cluster of skyscrapers beyond, across the Nevasha River, sticking up like a massive crystal formation. Branford! The Big City on the other side. He’d welcomed the sight every single weekday morning for five years. Except for when Maddie went missing in February. He was a wreck that week.

On the descent, he coasted into the left-turn lane, queuing up for the traffic light into his office complex. Riley’s heart fluttered. A warm tingle washed over him. He inched forward, looking to his right through his passenger window.

There she was.

She flipped a page in the Wall Street Journal as she waited for the bus to Branford. Somehow, it made her smile. How could it be that she found such joy in the Wall Street Journal?

The big redhead showed up and stood beside her.

Sophia kept reading, but she glanced up a few times, flashing that adorable smile, her petite, almost pointy face poking out from under jet-black bangs.

Riley eased forward two or three car lengths, and the light turned red again. Now Sophia was laughing and touching the redhead’s arm, her layered bob hairstyle swaying in concert with her graceful motions.

Then that dreaded moment arrived, as every day. The light turned and he had to make the left, leaving her. Hers was the last stop before the bus crossed the bridge into Branford. His heart ached.

 

3

That night Spinelli called.

At first, Riley didn’t like him one bit. The interrogations. The dirty looks, treating Riley like a suspect. I’m the one who called you, Riley had said in desperation. Later, when the weeks stretched on without a lead, Riley’s rational side returned, and he knew the guy had just been doing his job.

Spinelli was all right. He called at least once a month, even when there wasn’t anything to say. When the phone rang, Riley figured it would be him. Nobody else called anymore. Madeline was the one with the friends.

“Hey Joe,” Riley said.

Just want to see how you’re holding up.

He’s got nothing again. “Keeping busy with work.”

Spinelli asked the usual “if you think of anything” question then mumbled off. Like any good cop, he hated to be beaten.

Riley sunk into the couch, fished the remote from between the cushions, and flicked on the TV. Perched on a dusty shelf above it sat a wedding picture. The man was Riley, so the woman must be Maddie. Logically, it had to be her. Who else would it be?

Riley stayed one step ahead of himself. It can’t be Sophia. That doesn’t make sense.

Then why was it?

(to be continued)