Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Short Story: “The Rain, The Beast & Other Things”



Several years ago, my sister Donda owned a large white luxury sedan, which she & her husband nicknamed "The White Beast". One night she was telling me about my niece Drew's love of a certain television show (which had been mine too, growing up.) The end result was this very silly story I wrote in 2003.



The Rain, The Beast & Other Things by Doug Morris

“I’m not going to make it” she thought, and gripped the leather steering wheel harder. She felt her foot pushing on the gas pedal slightly, and she stopped herself. This was no reason to get herself into an accident. What time was it? She was afraid to look at her watch. It was so dark outside her car windows, and the road had a bad habit of twisting this way and that, as if it knew the hour was late and was testing her. Had to be close to midnight. “It’s not like I’m going to be more than an hour late...” she thought and felt her emotions rise. “This wasn’t my fault!”

Earlier that day, when Donda had asked her mom if she could leave Drew with her for a few hours, she had no intention of breaking her promise. “Are you planning on coming back tonight?” her mother had asked. “Mom, I haven’t got to go out with my friends for a long time, this is just dinner...I’ll be back by 11!” Donda exclaimed in earnest. “I know, but you said that last time.” Her mom thought for a moment, then continued. “I don’t want anyone knocking on my door after midnight. If you can’t make it back on time, just wait until morning.” “No problem, Mama! Thank you! But I’m telling ya, we’re not partying or anything, just dinner, I’ll be back in a couple hours.” Donda’s mother gave her one of those side glances that could’ve meant any one of a hundred things. “Mom!” Donda said in response. “Alright, alright…” her mother answered. “Just be careful out there.”

So she had left then, after hugging and kissing her little girl, and kissing her again, and assuring her she’d be back soon, to be a good girl to her nana, and that she loved her more than anything else in the world. That was at 5 pm.; she had left with all the right intentions. Now it was close to that damn deadline, and how did giving one friend a ride home lead to this? She wiped her hair back with her right hand and gave a frustrated sigh. To make matters worse, she had taken the shortcut to her mom’s house a hundred times; yet this time the road seemed to stretch on much further than what she was accustomed to. She was lost. Could things get any worse?

The single raindrop took her by surprise and her head snapped back, as if seeing a ghost. Large and round, it splattered with great effect on her side of the windshield and she cried out in anger. “AW GOD NO!” and furrowed her eyebrows. Everyone knew she detested driving in the rain. Couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t. She stepped on the gas more firmly, wondering if she could outrace an approaching storm. And just when Donda began to think that perhaps the raindrop was a fluke, a crack of thunder answered her doubts and a downpour followed. Her feelings of anxiety and anger suddenly evaporated as she pulled to the side of the road and shut off the engine. “No way” Donda thought, and reached for her cigarettes. “Mama and Drew know how I am about driving in the rain.”

She sat still for a few minutes, long enough to finish her smoke and let her frustrations subside. She stubbed out her cigarette and made an attempt to see beyond the watery darkness on the other side of the glass. How long would this continue? If she could just let her mom know that she was stuck, she would be--wait, her cell phone!! What was she thinking!? She fumbled open the glove compartment and felt the device’s familiar shape in the darkness. “Thank you God, thank you” she whispered and hit the ON button. The phone beeped to life, each button a glowing and reassuring number. She called her mother’s house and heard the first ring. “C’mon, pick up…” she said into it, and hunched her shoulders as booms of thunder sounded above her head, competing with the frantic drumming of rain on the metal roof. She strained to hear over the storm that now had her surrounded, and thought she heard the click of someone on the other end of the line. “HELLO, MOM!!! DREW??! I’M STRANDED ON SOME ROAD AND ITS STORMING REAL BAD! I DON’T KNOW--“ and then everything turned a brilliant white.

Donda looked down at the phone in her hand. The tiny screen displayed:

*** Searching for connection ***

How long had she been sitting here? What happened? It felt as if she had just woken from a nap, or…something. She continued staring at the tiny screen, waiting, willing for it to change. Nothing. “Damn phone…” she muttered and stuffed it into her jacket pocket. Waitaminute, when had it stopped raining?? She cocked her head and listened. Nothing. She waited a few seconds more, than rolled down her window. A gentle breeze wafted through the car, and crickets chirped softly beyond in the night air. She even saw a house ahead! Several of them! And streetlamps! She shook her head, heavy with a mixture of confusion and relief. Reaching for the keys in the ignition, she stopped herself. She had no idea where she even was. If she just could get directions, or find a phone…she glanced around again. ”Holy cow, I’m parked right in front of someone’s house!” It certainly looked nice enough, even familiar. And there were lights on inside too.

She hit the overhead light and checked her hair and face in the rearview mirror quickly, then got out of the car. A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and Donda looked this way and that, examining her surroundings more carefully. It was certainly a nice enough neighborhood, with a gently curving street and sidewalks lined with trees. It was several moments before she noticed the odd cars parked about her, and in a couple of neighboring driveways. It looked like everyone on this street drove those old gas guzzlers from…God, the sixties? But they still appeared to be in great condition, with shiny chrome bumpers and whitewall tires; one even had fins! She looked down at her beloved “beast” and felt almost out of place. For the first time she could remember, her luxury car seemed small in comparison. And yet…she couldn’t shake the feeling she’d been here before. “This is too weird!” Donda thought, and hurried up the walkway of the lit house. She just needed to get her bearings…and get home.

She raised her fist to knock but then noticed the lit doorbell, and pressed it. A gentle chime sounded within and she felt a slight pang of guilt, bothering someone at this late hour. It had to be past midnight, and….whoa! Her watch showed 8:30?? What!?  The battery must’ve died earlier that night, and she hadn’t noticed. She was about to press the doorbell again (hey, their lights were already on) when the door quietly opened. Donda began speaking immediately, on autopilot: “Hi, I’m so sorry to be bothering you this late but I was driving to my moms and I got lost could I possibly use your phone? Could you tell me what direction Waynesburg is?” She looked down then, at the person in the doorway. She was a much shorter woman, and appeared a lot older too. But her cheeks were very rosy and her auburn hair looked as if she’d just returned from the beauty parlor. She was wearing a simple black dress and a string of pearls. Who sits around like that? Donda thought. “Oh my…” the woman responded, and rubbed her hands together. “So many questions…won’t you come in?” She stepped aside to let Donda through, and waitaminute, that face! She’s met this woman before, she just knew it! “Um, thank you...” Donda responded, stopped herself and then continued. “Do I know you? Are you related to Ann Barnhart? Or a Morris?” The woman looked dazed for a moment as if she’d been put on the spot. “Omigoodness my dear, you’ve gotten to another round of questions and I haven’t…why, I haven’t yet come up with answers for the first set.” “Oh, I’m sorry!” Donda replied, and almost laughed out loud at this woman’s sweetness. I KNOW HER. “Could I just use your phone? My cell died and I need to call my mom and tell her I’m on my way.” “Oh dear…I’m so sorry for your loss” the woman answered. “Please, do come in.”

Donda stepped into the entranceway, and a wave of anxiety briefly washed over her. It was more than just the woman; this house…it seemed instantly familiar. She glanced quickly around. It was clean and very well lit. A honey-oak staircase stood directly in front of her, and the livingroom beyond looked cozy and warm, with its early-American furnishings. And yet…something seemed terribly wrong.

The woman gestured to a wooden tabletop at the foot of the stairs. “I believe this is what you were looking for? May I get you a cup of tea, or…or something stronger? A sherry?” Donda looked downwards at the wooden surface, and wasn’t surprised when she saw the type of phone. It was one of those older models with a dial in the center, when was the last time she actually dialed a phone? At the farmhouse? She glanced up at the woman. “Um, thank you for the offer, but please don’t go to any trouble… you sure have an interesting phone here. I hope I remember how to use one of these!” The woman nodded in response. “That’s quite alright dear, quite alright…I can’t remember the last time I used one of them either.”

”Well…ha…” Donda struggled to think of something to say when the older woman suddenly startled, as if surprised by behind. “Oh could you excuse me for a moment? I was on my way upstairs to check on the child when I heard something… Now what was it that I heard?” She put her finger to her lips and a small frown appeared. They both stood quiet for a moment. “Wasn’t it your doorbell?” Donda asked. “Remember? I asked to use your telephone?” “Oh yes!” the woman nodded and giggled almost girlishly.  Donda rolled her eyes but smiled. “So um…are you going to check on someone upstairs?” The woman’s eyes widened. “Why you’re absolutely correct…would you excuse me?”  Donda smiled politely and nodded, feeling suddenly tired. Use the phone, get out of here. The woman smiled in response and hurried past her, going up the stairs. Donda reached down and picked up the handset. Heavy. How old is this thing? She dialed the first number, and it rattled loudly, seeming to turn in slow motion. She glanced down at the tabletop where the phone sat. No…it was the top of a TV set. Zenith Colormatic Console. Whoa, this thing is old too! The carpet wasn’t impressive either, shag green? This place needs an Extreme Home Makeover and--she then noticed the framed photos, and a tiny wave of confusion washed over her. Both were black and white and in a small double frame. The first one was Elizabeth Montgomery, the other one…that guy who played the first Darrin Stevens. Bewitched. What the--?? “Omigod!” she exclaimed, then quickly looked up the stairwell. “This is crazy!” she thought. “That woman--she looks just like Aunt Clara! Omigod, this house! It’s just like the one on the show!”

Her heart raced and she set the phone down. Waitaminute, waitaminute…this woman is obviously crazy. She’s had to have heard over the years how much she resembled Aunt Clara, she liked that, and she has money, so she…she modeled her home to look like the house on Bewitched? That’s insane! Okay waitasecond…a child upstairs?  Who’s that supposed to be…Tabitha? What if she comes back down here and doesn’t want me to leave? Get out of here get out get out GET OUT!

“Please God, I have a daughter…” Donda said aloud and stepped quietly to the front door. She looked one last time behind her. This house, it’s too much! She actually wished for a moment she could see the rest of the place, then remembered who was upstairs doing God knows what. She quietly opened the door.

A woman stood there facing her, her red hair pinned up in a makeshift beehive. Her left fist was poised mid-air, as if she was just preparing to knock. In the other hand she held an empty measuring cup. Donda froze. “Hello…” the woman said in a suspicious-nasal tone. She didn’t wait for a response. “I’m the Steven’s neighbor? I wanted to borrow a cup of sugar, but I know they were out, and then I happened to notice all the lights were on, and this…funny car parked in front.” The woman glanced over her left shoulder at Donda’s car, then looked at Donda again. “So is that yours? The car?  Why are you looking at me like that? You look as if you’ve just seen a ghost!” “I know who you are…you were…Gladys Kravitz…” Donda whispered, and the woman scowled back at her. “Yes…so who are you!?” “You…you’re not real…” Donda continued, more as a spoken thought than reply. The woman’s eyes widened in shock. She turned and began running down the walkway. “Abner, Abner!” Gladys screamed. “There’s a strange woman at the Stevens who thinks I’m a ghost!” Donda never heard her. She had fainted dead away.

* * *

“Mama…Drew baby?” Donda stirred, and reached her hand upwards, feeling a damp washcloth lying on her forehead. What happened? Everything came back then, and she opened her eyes. She was lying on a floral print couch. Quite comfortable, actually. The ‘Aunt Clara’ woman was staring downwards at her. “Are you alright, my dear? You gave me quite a scare when I found you on the floor!” Donda still felt some dizziness, her confusion stronger than ever. “Are you really Aunt Clara?” she asked, and the old woman’s eyes twinkled softly. “Why yes dear, yes I am…are you a…a friend of the family?” “Uh…you could say that...” Donda answered softly but in a friendlier tone. She really is Aunt Clara. “I don’t understand what’s going on…” Donda continued. Clara patted her hand and smiled. “Not to worry my dear, not to worry…I never do either.”

Donda sat up and looked around her. Could I be on one of those Candid Camera shows? Everyone knows how much Drew loves Bewitched…would anyone ever believe me? Did Doug or someone else arrange this? It can’t be real…it just can’t. She suddenly remembered meeting Gladys Kravitz at the door. How was that even possible? Clara made a clearing sound in her throat, and Donda stared at her again. “Why don’t you continue to rest, and I’ll see about making a nice pot of tea…” Clara rose and walked thru the diningroom to the kitchen. Donda shut her eyes, squeezing her eyelids tight before reopening them. “I know I’m awake” she said aloud, as if to make it official. But she continued to sit there, unsure of her next move. Her eyes traveled upward to the stairs, as she watched a little girl, no more than five years old, come down them. Tabitha. It’s her.

The little girl walked up to the couch; no shyness here. “Are you a friend of my Auntie Serena?” the girl asked, with a genuine look of sincerity on her face. Donda couldn’t believe this. “Can you really do magic?” Donda asked in turn, and reached out to touch the girl’s hand. All very real. “Yes but my mommy says it’s a no-no.” The child stuck out her lower lip. “Could you do one trick for me? Just one?” Donda knew the answer would be no, of course. Because somehow these events would have to stop, and an explanation for all of this would begin. But the child didn’t hesitate. She brought her finger up to her nose and wiggled it back and forth briefly. A soft twinkling sound played somewhere nearby, and Donda watched in amazement as a stuffed toy tiger rose from behind the sofa and floated serenely in the air towards the little girl. It landed gently in Tabitha’s hands. “Can I see that?” Donda asked and softly took the tiger without waiting for an answer. She brushed the sides and top and stroked the furry plaything on all sides again. Nothing. No wires or strings or hooks for strings.  So the trick was still on her, apparently. How long would she have to play along?

“Here we are!” Clara sang as she came thru the swinging kitchen door, carrying a tray with a teapot and cups and a plate of small cookies. “Oh dear dear dear! What are you doing downstairs, Tabitha?! You should’ve been fast asleep hours ago!” “I heard people talking” Tabitha responded in a pouty voice. “I thought Mommy & Daddy were home. I thought Uncle Larry and Aunt Eloise were here too.” Clara turned to Donda. “Her mummy and daddy are out tonight.” A look of puzzlement washed over Clara’s face. “I’m afraid I don’t recall the aunt and uncle she mentioned…let me see. There’s Uncle Arthur, and Aunt Hagatha, Aunt Enchantra…” Donda stopped her. “Uncle Larry is Larry Tate. She’s talking about Darrin’s boss and his wife.” This is too much!!

“Oh yes, quite right, quite right!” Clara responded happily, then startled. “How did you know that?!” Donda looked at the woman playing Clara, and the child who bore an uncanny resemblance to Tabitha. Should she keep playing along? Did they want her to appear exasperated, and begin stammering that she’s in the Twilight Zone, and this was just a 1960’s tv show, and she can’t be here so she must be dreaming? Would that end this? She felt irritated now more than anything. All she wanted was to figure out a way out of this…and back home.

Donda chewed on her lower lip for a moment and then spoke. “Aunt Clara… it’s a long story, but I know you guys are witches. Is there any way you can do something to get me back home?  Cast a spell or something? Can you call Endora or someone?” Clara looked alarmed. “Oh my goodness--who told you--what who--oh my goodness…” Donda almost laughed, but she was craving a healthy dose of reality, and she wasn’t finding it in this room. “Listen…” Donda said gently, and patted the top of the woman’s liver-spotted hand. “I think I’d make us both crazy if I tried to explain where I come from; but I’m telling ya, it’s not from anywhere around here. I don’t think I’m going to find my way home without some uh…extra help…” Clara looked at her sympathetically. “Where do you come from, child?  A storybook?  Did you once live in a castle, or a pumpkin or an old shoe? You look rather young for that old woman who lived in a shoe…” “No! I mean--no, Clara…” Donda responded, trying to keep her frustrations in check. “Where I come from…there’s no such thing as witches or warlocks or magic…you guys are all…just made up people.” Clara blinked her eyes several times and shrugged her eyebrows. “Oh…you’re from old Salem! There weren’t any witches there either, you know…” Donda smiled wanly at the woman’s humor, but she didn’t feel she was getting anywhere.

clara137Clara seemed lost in thought for a minute, then shook her head briefly and stood up, rubbing her hands. She smiled down at Donda and Tabitha. “Now let’s handle this one step at a time, shall we? First of all--Tabitha, off to bed! Now no fuss my girl…” Clara’s eyes widened when she saw the toy animal in the child’s hands. “Your white tiger! Oh my goodness!” she laughed and turned to Donda. “Oh I had the hardest time getting Tabitha to bed without her favorite stuffed animal, we looked all over the house, didn’t we dear?” Tabitha smiled and nodded. Clara continued. “I finally had to cast a spell--oh, you know about those things…” Donda looked slightly ill but nodded her head. Clara looked dazed for a moment and went on. “I didn’t have my book of spells handy, so I--“ she looked towards the ceiling and snapped her fingers twice. “I simply came up with an incantation for a lost beast and here it is! She sighed and giggled slightly. “The ol’ girl still has it…” Tabitha frowned. ”It wasn’t really lost Auntie Clara, it was behind the sofa. I forgot I left it there.” Clara peered at the toy more closely. “Well, it was there…and now it’s here! Off to bed, my dear!” Tabitha turned to go when Donda suddenly spoke. “Waitaminute! Wait, what was this spell about a lost beast??”

Clara said “Oh I remember it quite well…let me see…” she put her fingers to her lips and looked upwards. Donda bit her lower lip. “She’s not going to remember, just like when she conjured up Ben Franklin one time and he stayed here for a week…” Donda thought. “Omigod I’m going crazy here…maybe I can still--“ “I have it!” Clara exclaimed. Tabitha clapped her hands and came back to the sofa, but Clara took no notice. “Now this is how it went…” she turned towards the patio and raised her left hand in the air, as if waving to a friend in the distance. Donda felt a sudden stillness in the air and stared in the same direction.

Look to the North…

To the South, West and East;

And find for us…

One lost white beast!

Nothing happened. “Well, that was the spell…” Clara said, and shrugged her shoulders. Donda’s eyes widened. “My car…” she finally said. “Is this a joke? I mean--my car. Bobby--he’s my husband. We call my car the white beast. The white beast!” “My isn’t that a coincidence…” Clara replied. “Well…” she looked out towards the patio. “I don’t see any car out there. Was yours lost?” Donda began nodding her head quickly up and down. “Yes, it was lost! I mean I was lost! I mean--see, look--“ Donda jumped up from the sofa and went to the front window. She gathered the gauzy drape and held it back. “See?!” Tabitha and Clara walked to the window and Donda suddenly felt panic. Her one dose of reality, her proof—what if Gladys Kravitz—but there her car still sat, parked at the curb, with a white glow all it’s own beneath the old-style streetlamps. She exhaled and realized she must’ve been holding her breath. “It looks like a space ship…” Tabitha said, as Clara stood behind the child, her hands on her shoulders. “It looks like a--well, a--I mean--no, I’ve never seen anything like it…” Clara murmured.

They all stood at the window for a moment more, and Donda was about to ask herself once again if this was even all for real. It didn’t matter; she felt as if she was approaching a resolution of sorts, and if she could just play it out to the end….”So can you reverse the spell?” she asked, searching the old woman’s eyes. “You think I did--I mean, you--you” Donda wanted to shake the sputter out of her. “Clara, yes--don’t you see? A lost white beast? I was in my car and lost? Your spells are kinda wacky? Am I the only one getting all this?!” Tabitha put her hand over her mouth and giggled. Clara’s eyes stayed wide. “Oh I’d better get this fixed….reverse the spell, why of course!” She turned to face the window, and raised both hands into the air. Donda felt a stillness settle into the air once again and a faint sound of chimes tinkled around her. This is real, Donda thought. I’m actually—she jumped. “No, wait!! Don’t!”

Clara looked at Donda. “Not to worry my dear, I’ll simply make it lost again! Now where was I…” Donda dropped the curtain she was holding and faced Clara. “BUT I’M IN HERE AND MY CAR IS OUT THERE AND I KNOW WHAT’LL HAPPEN, YOU’LL SEND THE CAR BACK AND I’LL BE LEFT BEHIND!!” Clara finally lowered her arms. “Oh my dear, how did--oh I’m a silly--we need to go outside! Now Tabitha, you remain here…” “Tabitha frowned again but Clara took no notice, or pretended not to. “That’s a good girl….” Her smile disappeared as she turned and faced Donda. “Let’s go.”

Once outside, Donda turned back to look back at the house. Amazing. She almost felt the urge to say “Wait, if you really know what you’re doing, maybe I’ll stay awhile…” but stopped herself. If she was going crazy, or if this was nothing more than a trippy dream…all she knew was, she didn’t fit in here. The longer she stayed, the more wrong it felt. She smiled at Clara, and got in her car. Instantly she smelled the familiar leather and hints of stale smoke and perfume and gum. She almost felt at home. She saw a tiny pink Barbie shoe nestled in the crease of the passenger seat and her heart ached. Drew. I’ll never be this far from you again. There was a gentle rapping on the passenger window and she reached over and lowered the glass. “Comfy?” Clara asked with a gentle smile. Donda almost laughed. The woman was too sweet. She shook her head yes, and waited. Clara stepped back from the car and raised her arms in the air.  As Donda watched, she saw the silhouette of Gladys Kravitz in the house across the street. “She’ll have quite a story for Abner” Donda thought, and turned back towards the windshield. She saw it then, rather, she saw them.

Them. Her heart almost skipped a beat. An ice blue Chevrolet convertible was now parked in the driveway, and a slender, elegant couple was standing beside the open passenger door. From the looks on their faces, apparently they had just noticed Donda as well. The man was wearing a skinny black tux and couldn’t decide if he was angry or confused, and the woman was beautiful in a blue chiffon evening gown. Samantha and Darrin. Donda’s mouth hung agape in wonder. She looked to her right towards Clara again, and suddenly giant plumes of colored smoke appeared outside her windows, and pink sparks jumped in all directions. “It’s just like their spells on the show…” Donda thought, then everything turned white.

* * *

Donda looked down at the phone in her hand. The tiny screen was displaying the time and date, along with those little bars indicating a Sprint call area. How long had she been sitting here? What happened? She felt as if she had just awoken from a nap, and suddenly the drumbeat of rain on the car’s roof began to lessen in intensity. The rain… ”Omigod!” she exclaimed to no one but herself. She quickly rolled down the window and felt the wetness outside on her hand. The road ahead looked dark and wet…she was lost for sure. And things never looked better.

* * *

“And that’s how the story ended…” Donda said, as she bent down to kiss her daughter’s forehead goodnight. “It will be our little secret, okay Drew?” The girl nodded solemnly at her mother, and then spoke. “Mama, you know all of that was just a dream, right?” “Oh of course, baby!” Donda responded lovingly and stroked her daughter’s hair. “Mama, you know what I wish happened?” Drew asked. “No honey, what…” Donda answered. “Well, I wish Tabitha had given you her toy tiger for good luck, and you could’ve put it on the seat beside you, and when you woke up on that old road, if you saw that tiger sitting there you would’ve known you weren’t really dreaming.” “Oh honey, you’re so smart!” Donda exclaimed. “I wish I had thought of that!”

Drew blushed and continued. “Then we would know magic is real.”  Donda gently tapped Drew’s chest with her finger. “Baby, I don’t care if there’s magic out there…I got all the magic I need right here. Goodnight honey, I love you.” Donda turned off the bedside lamp and shook her head. What an angel I have… she walked into her bedroom and picked up the jacket draped across the bed. She looked once behind her, then gently slid a thick square-shaped object from its chest pocket. She opened it to reveal two black-and-white photos of Darrin and Samantha in a small double frame. The same double frame that sat atop the Stevens old-fashioned TV set…it had folded and fit very nicely into her leather coat pocket. Someday, when Drew is older… Donda looked at their images a moment longer, then hid them carefully in a shoebox in her closet. She smiled to herself and went to bed.

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The End