Summers 2A

The front door to Crasob Engineering opened, sending a cool autumn gust into the reception area. As she swiveled her chair in the direction of the door, Alana Morton expected to see a FedEx or UPS delivery person carrying in a package. Her eyes opened in surprise as she saw an out of breath Jane Summers, face white with frustration as she burst in. Nearly every employee at Crasob entered the building through the back door, which faced the parking lot.

“Jane?” Alana rose to her feet, stepped out from behind the half-wall which separated her desk from the front door. Upon seeing Alana, Jane seemed to relax a bit, yet her pasty complexion and wind-tossled brown hair continued to convey confusion.

“Gary. Is — ” the nylon back on her back slipped off her shoulder, and she caught it with the crook of her elbow — “I need to see Gary.”

Alana turned, but Gary had all but reached the reception area already. The worry on his face was amplified by his voice. “Are you all right? I’ve been calling — ”

Jane raised a hand. “Not here.” Her voice was strained. She pointed to Gary’s left. “Office.”

Alana stared back at Jane, slack-jawed. Jane was assertive, occassionally abrupt, but never this dismissive, this rude. It wasn’t like Jane to brush past her, without a word, as if Alana were a street-corner beggar. Gary stepped back, allowed Jane to stomp past him.

Alana glanced at the analog clock above the front door. “It’s 9:25. Jane’s never this late.” Gary held up both palms to her, silently mouthing it’s OK before turning towards his office.

Summers 1D

Even though the phone was on a wall no more than two feet from where she was standing, Jane Summers rushed to the sound of its ringing, as if afraid the caller would hang up before she picked up the receiver, and end the opportunity to begin a conversation that would take her attention away from the strange device she had found.

She lifted the receiver hurriedly, lifted it to her ear, sighed when she heard no dial tone. Not wanting to admit to the anxiety she felt welling inside her, she forced herself to pause a moment before saying hello.

“Jane?” She sighed again upon hearing Gary’s voice. “You leave your phone in the car again?”

Jane Summers blinked. “My phone?”

“Yeah, kinda figured you left it in your car, A-GAIN, so that’s why I called you on your land line.” She blinked again, held the phone to ear silently a long moment.

“You OK, Jane?” Gary sounded concerned. Jane shook her head. “No — I mean nothing’s wrong, I’m fine. It’s just been a — weird morning, that’s all.”

“Oh. All right. Listen, I got in early today and just wanted to know where you saved the Route 20 files.”

Jane Summers bit her lip. Nothing about this conversation was helping with her anxiety. “Listen, I — don’t remember.” Not a lie, but only as much of the truth as she felt comfortable revealing. “Can you wait until I’m in the office?”

“Sure!” She could see his round face beaming over the line. “There’s no hurry, just wanted to get a head start, is all. Just — take your time, OK? You sound like there’s something wrong.”

I’m not sure if anything’s right, she nearly said. “No — like I said, weird morning.” She looked at the device in her hand, decided not to ask Gary if he had left an odd-looking radio in her apartment lately. “See you in half an hour.”

Gary cautiously ended the conversation, leaving Jane alone in her apartment. She put the odd device down on her table, eyeing it suspiciously, then turned back to her refrigerator. She opened the door, then stopped herself. Her face suddenly writhing in confusion, she closed the door abruptly, and spoke to herself as if she were a different person.

“A car?”

UPDATE 8/22/13: Changed last sentence

Summers 1C

Jane Summers stared at the device, her eyes squinting in focus as she waited for its next sound, or message. A moment later, the words and numbers disappeared, blackness covering the face of the device. Her eyes scanned the surface, focused on the bottom, to a circular area impressed into the device, a beveled square in the middle. She put her right thumb over the circle — nothing happened. As she brought her thumb away she inadvertently pressed the circle — she felt the circle give, and gasped as the time, date, and slide to unlock message displayed again.

She pressed the circle again, feeling the same give, but the device did not change. She scanned other areas of the device — there was a small slit toward the top. She flipped the device in her hands, looked at the top edge. There was a small button on the right side, a hole on the left. She quickly examined the other sides, saw more buttons and slots. The back side (she assumed it was the back, it hadn’t shown any letters or numbers) had an image on it, an image that definitely seemed etched into the device, that displayed regardless of what button she pushed. It was roundish, with dimples at top and bottom and what looked like a dent on its right side. Above the roundish image was — a small football?

She was about to examine the writing at the bottom of the back side, when her telephone began to ring.

Summers 1B

Jane Summers immediately dismissed her first few thoughts on the music’s source — the sound she heard couldn’t have been from her television (she had just passed the blank screen, and hadn’t heard the device’s signature powering sound), her stereo (the background signal hum was missing), or from any of the neighboring apartments (the sound was clear, crisp, like it was coming from . . .)

She looked down at the kitchen table to her left. And saw it, sitting on top of a pile of magazines.

It was a small device, almost entirely black with a shiny surface. Perhaps two inches wide, about twice as tall, but shallow, no more than half an inch deep if that. A radio? Had Tori left it there last night? But it didn’t sound like a radio, and if it was why would —

There were words on the surface. Near the top. GARY CZGARSIK. From work, her boss, her — father’s friend. Was this his radio?

She picked up the device, held it up close to her face. To the right of Gary’s name was a small picture, Gary with his wife and two daughers, the family photo from Christmas. Under Gary’s name was the word mobile, in all lower-case letters. Near the bottom of this — radio? no, this, whatever it was — more lower-case words, slide to answer, with a green arrow to the left, pointing at the words.

Her face was furrowed with confusion as she stared at this, this thing with Gary’s name and photo on it that was playing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. She nearly dropped the device when it suddenly stopped playing Mozart’s serande, and the words on the device changed. The time now displayed in large numbers at the top, the date in smaller letters and numbers immediately underneath, the lower-case letters slide to unlock now appearing at the bottom, the green arrow replaced with a gray arrow. In the middle, the words Missed Call displayed, next to a green picture of what looked like a telephone receiver.

Summers 1A

Jane Summers groaned with annoyance as she turned in her bed to turn off her alarm. She had woken briefly 45 minutes earlier, considered rising but had closed her eyes and almost instantly had fallen back into a light sleep of pleasant dreamery, images of childhood friends and favorite places emerging from her subconscious. But the alarm had interrupted, banished those fond images, and as she turned the alarm off she realized she was far more tired than she would have been had she gotten out of bed earlier.

She forced her legs over the side of the bed, made her feet touch the floor. The fake wood paneling was cold — it was late September, time for Chicago apartment residents to dig out their slippers from where they had been buried in the closet that spring. Warm today, she remembered from the forecast, upper sixties, but it would take a couple of hours to reach that high. Right now it was in the upper forties. A hot shower would feel good.

Jane Summers lingered longer than usual under the warm spray from the showerhead, knowing she’d feel a chill as soon as the shower ended. Mondays were always difficult for her, and she knew there wouldn’t be anything urgent waiting for her at the office. The Route 20 drawings were nearly complete when she’d left on Friday, and they weren’t due until Thursday. Gary had done a good job managing the project — unlike most jobs at Crasob Engineering, the Route 20 Storm Sewer Improvement project was on time, and under budget.

She turned off the shower, toweled herself dry briskly, rushed to her bedroom and dressed with chill-induced alacrity. She walked into the kitchen, was about to open the refrigerator — and then suddenly stopped, as the sound of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik burst from the kitchen table.

Changing the pace

Over the past year, I’ve been revising portions from the first four chapters of my (still) unnamed novel about the Bark Bay High School fencing team. Been generally satisfied with my revisions, even though I didn’t like how “Return of Myles” ended (can’t let the fencing team be so passive in response to Myles’ tantrum — oh sure, go ahead and insult us, we don’t mind).

It’s time to move on to Chapter 5, and beyond. But, before I resume work on the novel, there’s this story idea that’s been kicking around in my mind for fifteen years that I’ve got to get out. I’ve shared this idea with several people, and they’ve all encouraged me to get the story written. Now that I’ve developed some confidence in my writing through this blog, I think it’s time to act upon their suggestion.

Those of you who’ve followed my fencing team novel, I hope you bear with me as I extend my arms, cross fingers of both hands, and push my palms forward, as I begin my next writing experiment.

Return of Myles 3R

Coach Dan scanned the faces in the room, saw the same faces he had seen before his attempt to deflect Myles’ blow. Annie still burned amber with indignant anger; Rex’s pallid face remained passive and accepting; Bernie looked down, shame and defeat evident in his posture; Butch continued to look confused, the wideness of his eyes making his face seem rounder than usual; Kassie’s eyes darted nervously from left to right, as if she were looking for somebody or something else to come threaten her and the other members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team. Only Double-J, hanging back apart from the rest of the team, seemed truly comfortable, his face beaming with bemused appreciation as he broke the silence in the large, empty cafeteria.

“This mean practice is over, Coach?”

Coach Dan turned in the direction of the large analog clock, suspended over the metal-curtained half-doors leading to the kitchen.  “Ten to five.” The fencing team officially had the cafeteria until 5, but since the janitors wouldn’t be polishing the floors for another week, they could stay a good three-quarters to a full hour longer. Coach Dan turned back to his team. “Today was — unusual, to say the least. If you’ve all had enough, I understand.”

Rex stepped forward. “But we’ve got that tournament at the Academy Saturday.”

“It’s — ” Coach Dan stopped himself from stating that Saturday was just a practice. “Go on.”

Rex walked up to one of the lines between black and white tile on the cafeteria floor. “If it’s OK, with you, Coach — ” Rex brought his right foot forward, toe just behind the line, and crouched into en garde position — “I’d like to prepare more for Saturday.”

“Yes!” Annie followed her exclamation by rushing up to Rex’ line, her head turned and left hand waving to the rest of the team, her pony-tail swishing her back. “Let’s go, guys!”

Bernie smiled meekly, joined the line next to Annie, followed by Kassie, then Butch. Coach Dan looked beyond the line, saw Double-J standing where he had been, arms folded across his chest, bemusement still animating his mustachioed face. Coach Dan raised his chin. “You want the big kids to make fun of you?” Double-J laughed, shook his head, lowered his arms and with mock enthusiasm, joined the line to Rex’ left.

“Very good.” Coach Dan got into position, facing the team a few paces in front of their line, and came down into en garde position. The short dark curls of his beard brightened as he smiled, took one step backward, and called for the team to advance.

End of “Return of Myles”


Return of Myles 3Q

The soft sound of a throat clearing interrupted. Coach Dan looked up, saw Kassie holding her hand in the air above her head. He nodded to her silently.

That’s not your fault, the slender girl said behind her straight black curtain of hair. When you fence, she continued, you’re always by yourself, alone on the strip. Maybe Myles was right to think it was all about him, because in fencing, it really is all about you.

Coach Dan raised his eyebrows quickly. “It’s easy to see it that way.” Then he smiled, the short dark curls of his beard seeming to grow as his face brightened. “But — no offense — it’s also short-sighted.”

He walked slowly among the members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team, making eye contact with each as he passed them. “Every fencer has to be a bit selfish. Accomplishing something for yourself is what gives you that drive, that energy to succeed, to get better at the sport. But this sport is too difficult for anyone to succeed on their own. High schoolers, college fencers, people in clubs — doesn’t matter what level you’re at — even people at the national, international level — everyone meets some obstacle they can’t overcome, some skill they can’t master, some opponent they just can’t beat.”

Standing in front of Double-J, Coach Dan raised his right index finger in the air. “That’s when you need help. Whether it’s someone coaching you, working with you on a drill, helping you strategize, or even just giving you moral support. Without people around to aid you when you need it — no, you’re not going to succeed.”

He now walked into the center of the cafeteria, in full view of his students. “And the only way you can get that help, is to give it. To show by your actions, that you’re not just fencing for yourself — you’re fencing for your teammates, your family, your friends. And that, that is what I forgot to teach Myles when he was here.”

Return of Myles 3P

His response generating the rippling giggles he had wanted, Coach Dan moved to a location that was as equidistant as he could be to the six members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team. He raised his voice, words echoing off the tiled floor and concrete walls of the cafeteria.

“Everyone has their own reasons for being on this team. Some of you are more competitive than others — ” he made quick eye contact with Double-J, then Rex, then Annie — “others, not so much. But I’ve never had try-outs, never cut anyone who wanted to be on the team. So long as you put in the work at practice, show you want to be here, there’s a place for you.

“Just like there was a place for Myles.” He quickly scanned the faces of the fencing team members, saw emotions ranging from disgust to shame. “I’ve never met an athlete like Myles, even when I was competing in college. He had God-given talent, a work ethic equal to none, and a consuming desire to win.”

He scanned the team’s faces again. They were getting uncomfortable. “And I failed him.” The faces turned back to him, eyes filled with questions.

Coach Dan looked down. “I saw his talent, and decided what he needed was to be pushed. That was foolish — Myles could push himself, he didn’t need me to motivate him. The only thing I did was to keep him focused entirely on himselft, on what he could do. He was so popular here at school, he thought it was all about him. And I, foolishly, did nothing to help him think differently.”

Return of Myles 3O

Coach Dan and the members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team stood silently, staring at the metal exit doors of the cafeteria, as if they expected Myles to walk back through them again. A moment later, as the distant opening sound of the glass doors leading to the school parking lot made its way to them, Rex exhaled loudly.

“I guess this means,” Bernie’s voice lilting comically, “that Myles won’t be joining us at the Academy on Saturday?” He looked around the room, his eyes wide with laughter, but was met with cold stares from everyone.

“Just wish the bastard wasn’t right.” Coach Dan turned quickly at Double-J’s comment, was met with a frowning response. “Well he is.”

Annie walked up quickly to Double-J, stared directly into his moustachioed face, her pony-tail straight back and stiff behind her head. “What’s he right about? Us being losers?” Bernie walked up behind Annie, joined her defiant stare. “Yeah, what’s up with that?”

Double-J held up both palms, his mouth twitching into a mashup of a bemused smile and disgusted grimace. “Chill out, you two. The safety part, is what I meant.” He turned to Coach Dan. “I remember when you started this team, it was all about fencing. But now it’s turned into, I don’t know,” Double-J throwing his arms up into the air, “some kind of glee club.”

Coach Dan pursed his lips, nodded sideways. “Yes, just like a glee club. Except there’s no music, no performances, and the singers stab each other with weapons.”