Friday, August 31, 2012

The Country Life (part 4 of 5)

Chapter Four

Ryan had never considered himself to be much of an automotive expert. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, his mechanical proficiency was primarily limited to adding gasoline when required and using the filling station squeegee on the window. However, despite his extremely limited knowledge of the mysteries of the internal combustion engine, he felt very confident in his opinion that cars do not normally wind up with four flat tires simultaneously.

After exiting the vehicle, he had confirmed that all four tires were indeed completely flat by use of the emergency flashlight he kept in the glove box. He was now standing beside the car and staring at it, a perplexed expression on his face, when he heard a noise he would never forget.

The dog had continued its steady stream of barking the entire time Ryan examined each of his tires. Suddenly, just after he finished his circuit of the vehicle, the barking rose in pitch and ferocity to a heretofore unheard level. The noise sounded increasingly frantic when, all of a sudden, it cut off completely with a high pitched yelp.

Then silence.

Ryan didn't even realize he was running until he was already on the front porch. He rushed inside, slammed the door behind him and stood leaning against it, his breath coming in shrill, ragged gasps and his heart beating frantically in his chest.

" just...fine. Quit...being...stupid!" he berated himself as he tried to get his breathing under control. He closed his eyes and began counting silently to himself. By the time he reached 85, his breathing had more or less returned to normal and his heart had begun to slow down again. He felt a little bit more like himself again, and he thus began the same process most adults go through following a fright. Denial. His job now was to convince himself that his fear was entirely irrational. He locked the front door behind him, muttering "Just to be on the safe side," and took two steps forward through his entrance hall before every light in his house suddenly went black at the same time.

This time Ryan had to count all the way to 337 before he could begin to think clearly again. Once he was calm enough for a semblance of rational thought, he started slowly making his way forward.

"Just a blown fuse. Nothing out of the ordinary." His voice sounded strange and hollow and far too loud in the darkness around him, and he quickly decided to stop talking as he continued on his path through the living room, towards the back bedroom where the fuse box was located.

The pain in his shin was truly remarkable, as was the octave his voice reached as he crashed suddenly and violently to the floor. With the hand not holding his throbbing shin, he felt blindly for the object that had caused him so much pain. It was his coffee table! The very same table he had so skillfully maneuvered around just a few short hours ago when the dog had first awakened him. He wondered how he could have possibly drifted so far off course and felt to his left to use the couch to pull himself to his feet, but instead his hand found the piano in the darkness. Completely disoriented, he reached to his right and found the couch where it never should have been.

His brain was struggling to process the information it was receiving and Ryan was trying desperately to come up with some way for the layout of the furniture to make sense, when suddenly the truth hit him hard, sending a feeling of icy dread through his stomach.

The coffee table had been moved.

It should have been on the other side of the couch and instead it was between the couch and the piano. This realization led him directly to the next conclusion, which would have knocked him to the floor if he had not already been there.

Someone must have moved the coffee table since coffee tables were not known for moving themselves.

Ryan found that all of his prior impressions of terror were purely intellectual in nature.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Country Life (part 3 of 5)

Chapter Three

Ryan just couldn't take it any more. Living in a remote area was one thing, but letting your dog flip out non stop for two straight hours was just going too far. He generally tried to take a 'live and let live' attitude about how other people choose to go about their business, but this kind of tomfoolery was just not acceptable.

"How the heck is that man sleeping through all of this?" he asked himself. He didn't know his neighbor, Mr. Jansen, very well, but decided that the two of them were about to get to know each other a whole heck of a lot better.

Ryan crossed the Study and picked up the handset of the antique desk phone, which he had purchased from a thrift store after cancelling his cell phone plan, and brought the receiver up to his ear.


No dial tone, static, or anything else. Ryan jiggled the cradle several times and made sure the phone cords were all fully connected, but still nothing came from the earpiece. "Great. This is just great. First time I need to make a phone call in a month and the stupid thing is dead. I guess I'll have to call the phone company first thing in the morning to straighten this out!"

Ryan laughed at his little joke and hung up the phone. He decided to give Mr. Jansen another half hour to do something about the racket his dog was making before taking any further action. If the dog didn't zip it by that time, he would just have to drive up the road and call on the good neighbor in person. He really didn't want to, but "Enough is enough!" he added vehemently.

"Can a dog lose his voice?" he asked the empty room. "I'm thinking the evidence on hand is pointing towards a 'No' verdict, but perhaps this specimen is an anomaly, or some kind of mutant dog. I've certainly never heard one go on and on like this before."

Ryan only lasted another twenty minutes before the barking finally drove him out the front door and down the sidewalk. The barking was even louder outside, and Ryan wondered again how anyone could possibly sleep through this much noise. "It's enough to wake the dead," he told the night sky. It was still so dark he couldn't see more than the vague outline of his vehicle and he had to feel his way down the car's side to find the door handle.

Ryan knew that something was wrong the second he slid into the driver's seat of the car. He could not immediately identify what it was, but he definitely felt that something was not normal. He tried adjusting his seat and checking the mirrors, but neither of those things did anything to diminish his feelings of uneasiness. He went ahead and turned the key and the engine roared to life, sounding healthy enough. Deciding that it must have been in his head, he shifted into reverse and pressed the accelerator pedal.

This was the very first moment that night when Ryan felt afraid.

It wasn't the last.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Country Life (part 2 of 5)

Chapter Two

Ryan put his red pen down on the stack of papers on his desk and looked at the grandfather clock in the corner. "Half past three and you're all ready to quit aren't you?" he asked himself with an air of mockery. "These books aren't going to edit themselves you know."

He did, in fact, know this to be a true statement. For three endless years, he himself had attempted to write a novel which he, at that time, believed would change the scope of American literature forever. In those three years of attempting to etch his name alongside Steinbeck and Hemingway, he nearly lost his grip on reality entirely. The stress and pressure associated with trying to pull together all the loose ends of his story nearly left him completely unhinged. When he finally gave up on attempting any further polishing of his prose and sent the completed manuscript to an editor, he found out just how terribly far from the great American novel he had landed. Instead of great, he was merely unpublishable.

This began the long and arduous process of attempting to resuscitate what would have been better left for dead. This attempt to breathe life into his manuscript lasted three and a half months, during which time he became more and more fascinated with the little red marks all over the pages of his would be masterpiece. Had there been fewer of them, he might have simply taken their direction and moved on with the rewriting. However, the exorbitant proliferation, the veritable sea of red swimming on every page, became more and more captivating as he made his way through the novel. Ryan began to see his writing in a whole new light. He began to clearly see the problems inherent in his writing, and even began to discern the solutions to those problems. Had his material been remotely worth saving, this newfound knowledge might have indeed been the beginning of his ascendency to literary greatness. As it was, he instead found his new calling.

Ryan had spent the last six years of his life becoming one of the most sought after editors in the business. He had edited fourteen New York Times best sellers and a great many more books that had turned a tidy profit for several major publishing houses. He had reached that wonderful point in his professional career where he could afford to be selective about what work he chose to edit. He had reached the pinnacle, and it was everything he could have hoped for it to be.

Then the headaches had begun.

They were small at first, just a nagging pain behind his eyes, and he initially thought that he might just need a new pair of glasses. He then proceeded to place the blame on the glare on his computer screen. Eventually, he came to a point where he would start feeling his head throb the second he flipped on his computer monitor in the morning and he started to wonder if he had a brain tumor or something along those lines. His doctor couldn't find anything wrong with him, and neither could any one else in the long string of specialists he went to see. His head was scanned and scrutinized from every possible angle, always with the same results. No one could find anything physically wrong with him.

The headaches continued to worsen over the subsequent months, and when they finally reached the point that he could no longer work at all, he concluded that it was time to take drastic action. He decided he had no other recourse remaining but to follow up on the one and only recommendation made by one of the specialists which he had not yet pursued.

Ryan went to see a psychiatrist.

He visited the psychiatrist once a week for three months, during which time he continued to be unable to work on his computer. In fact, he had stopped even going into his study at all, as the very sight of the monitor on the desk caused him to begin feeling the prickling sensation behind his eyes that always foreshadowed the coming of a monstrous headache.

Dr. Copeland, the aforementioned psychiatrist, eventually made a recommendation that would change Ryan's life forever. He recommended that Ryan try an experiment to see if it would help alleviate his symptoms. He suggested that Ryan leave the city for an afternoon and take a printed copy of a manuscript with him. He was to leave his cell phone and laptop at home, drive well outside the city limits to a park the doctor told him about, and take the manuscript and a red pen with him.

Ryan followed the directions exactly, and the results were truly extraordinary. It was only when it began to grow so dark he could not make out the words on the page that he looked up and realized how much time had passed while he had been sitting at a picnic table, happily editing away without the faintest trace of a headache.

The decision was one of the easiest Ryan had ever made. He took his entire savings and bought a house in the country. He allowed a realtor to do most of the work, with the explicit instructions that he was looking for a house the furthest from any city as could be found, but it had to be one that still had electricity and plumbing. He cancelled his cell phone plan, threw out his computer and television, packed his remaining possessions, and left the city with no plan to ever return.

That was all now six months in the past and, other than the occasional dog interrupted sleepless night, Ryan had found the country life immensely to his liking. He had worked steadily the entire time and seldom missed any of the conveniences he had left behind. He had not felt even the faintest symptoms of a headache since he began his new life, and he was excited to see what the world outside his windows would look like when winter came. He imagined it would be much more picturesque than the dirty slush he was used to seeing outside his apartment in winter time.

Ryan was perhaps a bit lonely, but he had made his peace with that a long time ago. At least in the country he could pretend that the reason he was lonely was because no one else was around. He found this to be far preferable to the loneliness a person could feel in a crowded city.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Country Life (part 1 of 5)

The Country Life

a short story by Andrew Shane Autry.

Chapter One

The dog next door was barking again.

Ryan sat up, seeking to free himself from a tangle of bedclothes, and stared blearily at the clock on the dresser opposite his bed. He fell back with a groan, while outside the sounds of barking ceased. It was five past two in the morning and he was now wide awake. With no real hope, he flipped his pillow to the cool side and burrowed deeper into the blankets, shutting his eyes tightly. He began counting softly to himself.

The silence lasted approximately twelve seconds before a sudden, fresh eruption of barking drove all thoughts of going back to sleep from his mind. The deep baritone bellowing cut through the silence like gunfire, rendering any chance for further slumber highly improbable.

Ryan sighed deeply, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then rolled out of bed and slipped his feet into his house shoes. He stumbled through the bedroom and took his robe from the hook on his closet door, slipping it over his pajamas as he stepped into the hallway. He didn't turn on any lights as he made his way through the living room and weaved around the piano and between the sofa and the coffee table. "Radar," he said softly to himself as he slid through the blackness, amazed at how familiar this place already was to him. It was as if he had been living here all his life.

He continued through the kitchen and into the laundry room, reaching blindly for the doorknob he knew would be there. He found it on his first try, and smiled to himself as he turned the handle. He shivered as he opened the back door and felt the crisp, cold night air blow his hair from his forehead and the last remnants of sleep from his brain.

He couldn't see a blessed thing out there. It was one of those chilly autumn nights with absolutely no moon to speak of. The sky was entirely overcast, cutting off any starlight that might have otherwise provided at least a hint of visibility. Ryan thought about his apartment back in the city and wondered again if he had made the right decision. There were no streetlights out here anywhere.

"And that's one of the reasons you moved here," he reminded himself, with a condescending tone. "You always complained about the streetlights and how you couldn't see the stars. And besides, you really need to quit talking to yourself out loud."

Talking to himself out loud was one of the many eccentricities that were gradually becoming standard operating procedure for Ryan since he had left the aforementioned city and moved to the middle of nowhere. "Cause if nowhere has a definable middle, this is at least somewhere in its neighborhood," he added wryly to the darkness, pulling his robe more tightly around him.

Ryan stared into the emptiness in the direction of his neighbor's house. Neighbor was a word that meant something very different out here in the country, especially when compared to its former association to people with whom he had shared a wall back in his city apartment. The neighbor currently in question lived about two hundred yards away, and the next closest house beyond that was over three miles further down the road. "At least I know for sure they can't hear my toilet flush anymore."

The dog was still barking, but Ryan quickly gave up any hope of being able to see what it was that had drawn its noisome ire. The beast was likely barking at a raccoon or a skunk or some other nocturnal intruder. Quite possibly it was barking its fool head off for no good reason at all whatsoever. "Dogs are like that sometimes," he added for the benefit of no one in particular.

It was amazing though, how the sound carried, considering it was coming from about two football field lengths away. The funny thing was that Ryan knew that life in the city had been exponentially louder than the sound of a single dog barking, but back then he had never been bothered by the noise. He knew that he had previously slept right through the night to a symphony of car horns, noisy neighbors, and televisions blaring at all hours. Nonetheless, the solitary dog next door had cost him many a night's sleep during the half a year since he decided to try his luck at the country life.

Ryan's eyes had now adjusted to the darkness somewhat, and he could vaguely make out a slightly different shade of charcoal which was caused by the line of trees standing about fifty feet from his back door. "Good evening woods," he said cordially, then turned around and stepped back inside.

"Stupid mutt," he grumbled as he closed the door and re-entered his kitchen. He flipped on the light and turned on his coffee maker. "Might as well get some work done since I'm up anyway."