As promised, below is the very rough draft of a chapter for Killer Beans I wrote during a NaNoWriMo Write-In at Lakeland Writers in November 2016. Killer Beans is the third book in the Grinding Reality series written under my pen name, AJ Tillock. The series follows Tee Rutledge, a coffee store manager who finds a bag of forbidden coffee beans that cause her to temporarily transform into other entities and as a result of the knowledge she gathers while in those bodies she becomes an unwilling superhero. In each book her temporary personas get bigger. Find the fist two books on Amazon or other sites.
I am running on a wheel. The wheel has a reliable rhythmic squeak that for some reason I find comforting. It is dark wherever I am, but there is a nightlight in the room that allows me to make out shapes and get a general feel for the space.
I think it’s a child’s room because the nightlight has a Minnie Mouse cover. I recognize Minnie’s big black ears and polka dot hair bow. I can run on my wheel but I can look around, too. The nightlight glows just enough for me to see a white dresser and a white twin bed. There are posters on the wall of cartoon characters: Ariele; Dory; Cinderella. The occupant of this room apparently loves fantasy land. I wonder vaguely if she’s been to Disney World. It isn’t that far from Seagate. Maybe three hours. I bet she has. Maybe that’s where she got the nightlight.
The comforter on the bed has some kind of cartoon theme, but I’m not sure which one. 101 Dalmations maybe. WHAT’S PURPLE? And the valance over the window matches the comforter.
There’s lump under the comforter. I assume the occupant of the room, although I can’t see anything other than a lump from this angle.
I can smell the cage I’m in. Did I mention I’m looking through wire mesh? But it’s not an impediment to me being able to see the room. The door to the room is closed but there’s an edge of light around it, which I think is probably from a hallway.
What am I doing here? Already I’m bored running on this squeaky wheel while a child sleeps nearby. Yawn. I leap off the wheel into dampish wood shavings. The smell is stronger here. Ugh. Am I walking in my own urine and excrement? Well, not mine, but that of the creature I now occupy. Which, based on my immediate surroundings, I’d be willing to bet is a hamster.
What the heck? I decide to explore. Because I know from past experience that I will at some point wake up in my own human body and it won’t matter that I just traipsed through some nasty hamster bedding. I discover a water bottle hanging upside down. I give the end of the little tube an experimental lick. There’s nothing there. Good thing I’m not thirsty. Next to it is what I assume is a food bowl based solely on the smell. It too is empty. Perhaps I am on a diet. Perhaps I am a very svelte hamster. Perhaps I’m a model and I only eat one morsel of lettuce per day. Hamsters eat lettuce, right? Of course they do.
INVESTIGATE HAMSTER ACCOMODATIONS. Glass? Plastic?
In about a minute I’ve done the circuit of my enclosure and I’m bored again. This isn’t even one of the good hamster cages with the tunnel tube connecting different levels. Great. I’m a deprived hamster. No food. No water. No entertainment except for a squeaky wheel. It’s like I’m in prison and I’m only allowed out in the exercise yard for an hour a day. And I only get one meal a day. And one drop of water. If that.
Maybe I’m on restriction. Maybe I’ve been a bad hamster and this is my punishment. How can you be a bad hamster? I mean, you’re a hamster, how bad can you be? If that’s the case what did I do to piss off the…little girl? In the bed over there? I shouldn’t assume. But this sure appears to be a young girl’s room.
Resigned I get back on my wheel. It’s better than being in the dampish litter that doesn’t smell very good. I get going and find the squeaking comforting somehow. Soothing. Except, what will I do for energy if no one remembers to fill up my food bowl? How long can I last without water. I might work up a sweat and get dehydrated and die.
Again I have to wonder what would happen to me if the creature I temporarily occupy was to expire. Get stepped on or mortally injured.
HOW IS A HAMSTER’S HEARING?
I hear a click nearby and a crack of light from the door opening nearly blinds me. I pause on my wheel and blink in the brightness as a figure is silhouetted there with the light framing him from behind. I stare at him. Something about him is vaguely familiar, but I’m not sure why. He has a cloud of curly hair. I can see the light coming through it. And he’s tall. Pretty slender.
He turns a little bit to close the door and I see his profile. He’s wearing glasses. I freeze on my wheel. I think I recognize him. His name’s Peter. He’s a regular at Java Jake’s. He comes in almost every morning with his daughter. Her name is…Sharla or Charlotte or maybe Caroline. I can’t remember because my focus is never on her. Peter is the one with the money. He’s the one who order. He’s the one who pays. That’s how the world works. The ones with the money get the lion’s share of the attention.
Something I’ve always noticed is how affectionate Peter is with his daughter. Like almost to the point of being creepy. He always puts his arm around her shoulder and keeps her unnaturally close to him. Bends down and whispers to her about what she wants from the pastry case and does she want a hot chocolate or a vanilla crème.
Actually, now that’ I’ve thought about it and pictured the two of them in my head, I think her name is Sherry. She always looks a little uncomfortable with how her father behaves, the touching and the whispers. I guess I always thought she was just a little embarrassed with how affectionate he is. But maybe there’s more to it than that.
I watch as he closes the door. He’s trying to be quiet. Why? I get a sick feeling in my apparently empty stomach because I think I know why.
I watch as he crosses the carpet on silent feet. He takes his glasses off and sets them on the nightstand. I hear the slide of a zipper. I think I’m going to be sick. Is he, Oh God! He’s taking his pants off. I feel a well of nausea in the back of my throat. WHAT SOUNDS OF DISTRESS CAN HAMSTERS MAKE? CAN THEY CLIMB? WHAT CAN SHE DO?
He steps out of his pants and leaves them in a heap on the floor. I leap off my wheel. It gives a forlorn little squeak. I burrow my way through the litter. There has to be a way out of this cage and I’m going to find it. I should have looked before. Why didn’t I? I tried to remember the layout of every hamster cage I’d ever seen. I’d never personally had a hamster (OR HAS SHE?) MAYBE SHE DID HAVE A PET HAMSTER NAMED RUFFLES WHO DIES LIKE DANI’S DID.
They all, as I recall, have a little door on the side somewhere. And usually, the top of the cage comes off as well. I’LL HAVE TO GO TO A PET STORE TO LOOK AT CAGES. OR MAYBE ONLINE. It’s not unheard of that a hamster can escape its cage. I scurry around the cage searching for the door, squinting in the light from the nightlight. It doesn’t take me long to find it. I give it an experimental push. At the same time I hear the rustle of cloth. I look over my shoulder to see Peter sliding under the covers next to his daughter.
I fight down the nausea and howl in protest. In my head I’m screaming things like, “Don’t you dare!” and “Stop it!” and “Don’t touch her, you disgusting pervert!” but what comes out of my mouth is sort of an outraged squeak. Still, I think it’s better than nothing.
I hear Sherry murmur sleepily as Peter edges up close to her. I can imagine what he’s doing even though I don’t want to imagine it. Panic overtakes nausea. I stick my paw out and push on the latch of the cage. I wonder if I can lift it. Am I strong enough? It doesn’t move. I squeak in frustration.
I change positions hoping to get a better angle. Maybe I can get both my paws around the latch and push it. I now know what it feels like to be in prison. In a cell. The door locked. A stinky disgusting prison where all you can smell is yourself and the results of your own bodily functions. I wiggle the latch. With one tiny paw and with the other I try to pull back on the door. Then I push it forward. One paw outside on the latch trying to slide it back (OR UP) and the other pushing and pulling the door.
Nothing is happening. I’m so frustrated. And scared. I can’t stand what Peter is doing. What is he doing? Oh, God, I don’t want to know. I so don’t want to know. I am pretty sure whatever it’s far worse than what I’m imagining.
“Daddy. Don’t,” I hear Sherry say. Her voice is that of a pleading child because that’s exactly what she is. I can’t think how old she is. Eight? Nine? Ten? She wears a school uniform. A plaid skirt and a white blouse. She has long curly hair and big blue eyes. She’s quiet and doesn’t smile very much. Now I know why.
Please, please, please. Who am I praying to? The hamster gods? Who’s the patron saint of hamsters? St. Francis of Assissi? He’s the patron saint of all animals isn’t he? Wait. Why would animals need a patron saint? Maybe he’s the patron saint of all animal lovers. I think of Magic. His and my relationship doesn’t exactly fall into the category of lovers. And yet he did come to my rescue when I was attacked. And I think he would again. And certainly I would rescue him if he were in danger.
“Stop it,” I hear Sherry say. Peter whispers something to her. Then she says, “I don’t want to.” She’s on the edge of tears. I am so angry I want to explode. I shove the damn cage door as hard as I can with one paw and I shove the latch up as hard as I can with the other paw and the door springs open. I’m free!
I leap out onto a flat surface and scrabble through a hodgepodge of hair clips and headbands and God knows what else. Young girl stuff like Bonne Bell lip gloss and a friendship bracelet probably.
I don’t care I don’t care. I hear Sherry whimper and Peter talking to her in soothing tones. “It’s okay, sweetheart. You know Daddy would never hurt you.” Liar! He’s already hurt her.
Well, if I have anything to do with it he’ll never hurt her again. I want to kill him. How am I going to do that? I don’t know but something very bad is going to happen to him. Somehow I’ll make sure of it.
At the edge of the dresser I look down. There isn’t any easy way to get there except to jump. How far is it to the carpet? Three feet? Maybe a little more. I can do that blindfolded. I jump. Again I wish I was a flying squirrel. But I’m not. All I can do is brace myself for the crash landing. Tuck and roll. Oomph.
I’m okay. By some miracle. The hamster gods protected me. I hear noise coming from the bed. Sherry is whimpering and Peter is moaning low in his throat and murmuring to her. I can’t stand another minute of this.
I scramble to the bed. A corner of the comforter has conveniently slid to the floor. I grab on and start climbing. It’s much easier of a climb than when I was a frog. My little claws grab onto the cottong which isn’t slippery at all like Sammi’s comforter was. In what seems like seconds I am on the bed. I haven’t had time to consider what I will do when I get there, but I know as a weak opponent I have to go for the most vulnerable area of my target. I crawl toward the pillow trying not to slide back off as Peter shifts and moves and murmurs and moans. The nightlight catches the edge of his wireframe glasses and another lightbulb comes on. I crawl up to the pillow. I have just enough visibility to see his hair and a vague outline of his features. I’ll have to be fast.
He starts to move more rhythmically and I brace myself. I have an awful recollection of attacking Tyler all those months ago. I’m not doing that again. But I almost think this idea is better. One. Two. Three. Go.
I race through Peter’s hair using every tactile sense I have. I feel his skin under my paw pads, the hair of his eyebrows and lower. I brace myself on his eyelid, open my mouth as wide as I can and sink my teeth in as deeply as I can.
My effort has the desired result. Peter screams. Not like a man. Like a little girl. He rolls off the bed and lands on his butt on the floor. I hang on for everything I’m worth with my tiny paws and my little mouth and what I hope are sharp teeth no matter what size they are. That is until Peter’s arm comes up and he manages to dislodge me. I go flying across the room and land with another oomph on the carpet. But I’ve got a chunk of his eyelid in my mouth. I haven’t fallen from any great height since Peter was already on the floor so I don’t even get winded.
Peter is holding a hand to his eye and now he’s the one who’s wimpering. The door flies open and I spy a woman in a long tee shirt, her hair in sleep-induced disarray is silhouietted in the hall light before she hits the switch for the bedroom light.
I spit out the chunk of flesh I’ve taken from Peter back up closer to the dresser. “Peter—what? Sherry…” she trails off and I can almost see her putting some kind of scenario in his mind.
Peter struggles to get to his feet while holding his hand over his eye. “Something bit me,” he whines.
“Mommy.” Sherry is sobbing.
I watch OR SENSE the vibe in the room change. “What were you doing?” she says to Peter. “Oh my, God. What were you doing? What have you done? Sherry.”
“Mommy.” Sherry sound pitiful. If I could cry, I would. Great big hamster tears of sympathy.
The woman crosses to the bed and takes Sherry in her arms. “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.” Unlike when Peter was saying those exact same words to Sherry just minutes ago, from her I believe them.
“What about me?” Peter whines. “I’m bleeding.”
He is, too. HOW MUCH DOES AN EYELID BLEED?
“Get out,” she says to him. “Get out of this house.” Her voice is low and serious and full of loathing.
“I think I need stitches. I need to go to the emergency room.”
“Then call an ambulance. I mean it Peter. I want you out of this house. Now.”
“I’m going to call the cops. As soon as I can.”
“Angela, come on. I don’t know what came over me. I just—I wanted—”
“Sherry,” Angela said to her daughter who had quieted in the circle of her arms. “Can you come with mommy so we can go get my phone?”
I see Sherry’s arms tighten around Angela’s neck and she nods. Somehow, with Sherry clinging to her, Angela stands and walks past Peter without looking at him. “It’s going to be okay,” she murmurs again to Sherry.
Peter stands there for a minute after they leave, his hand still covering his eye. Finally he picks up his glasses and his pants and leaves the room.
I wish I could pat myself on the back. Because I think that even though what’s happened to her will never be okay, Sherry’s mother will never let it happen again.
#nanowrimo #shapeshifter #AJTillock