Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Do You See What I Did Here?

So in last week's WriteOn Joliet, members shared original pieces that related to the theme "haunted." My co-leader had written a short murder/suicide story without ever describing the murder or the suicide. It was a fantastic example of showing and not telling, as well as subtling inferring. I love writing like that.

Here's an excerpt from Before the Blood. It appears to be a simple adult spelling bee at a Thanksgiving church potluck. Yes, I know you won't be able to follow all the characters as most of them will be new to you.

But among the action, something else happens. I keep the "something" lowkey because the action is being observed by a nine-year-old girl, who wouldn't necessarily grasp it on an adult level, but it's one of those cool things that kids absorb and help for the grown-ups they become.

Oh, and by the way, the prize is a brand-new copy of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

"Ladies, gentlemen, children, and the rest of you!" Mr. Munson held up McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book as he fairly skipped to the front. "We shall now begin our annual spell-off. Contestants, step forward, if you please."

            The misters Dalton, Fisher, and Hasset, along with Mayor Pike (accompanied by jeers from Mr. Bass) and Harvey Griffith, paraded to the front of the room.

            Mr. Stuart Drake, hands clenched at his sides, grave and unsmiling, looked as mouse-like as he appeared: gray hair, gray eyes, gray pinstriped suit, and a pensive, slightly quivering, gray mustache.

            Even with straightened shoulders and the thick brown coat he was growing to hide his baby face, Mr. James Fisher appeared as young as Harvey Griffith and almost as out of step with the men, as he was not quite average in height and still carried his childhood fat. Like Mr. Drake, Mr. Fisher, who strongly believed in soberly executing God's will in all matters, also didn't smile, but his eyes were merry, and this quality saved Mr. Fisher from becoming as dour as the shopkeeper.

            Mr. Dick Hasset, The Munsonville Times' founder and editor, had a style all his own. He wasn't debonair like Mayor Pike, formal like Reverend, or extemporaneous like other village men, not with a waxed handlebar mustache and expanding collection of loud bowties to decorate his high starched collars. Today's tie was bright red with large white spots, which seemed to proclaim, "This man publishes the truth, but he doesn't take life seriously."

            Mayor Pike, in a tailored dark suit of brushed wool and standing taller than the rest, watched Janet with eyes of deep love and slowly stroked his satyr beard as he gazed about the room, happily waiting for the fun to begin.

            Harvey Griffith, scarcely twenty, fidgeted with the uncertainty of his newfound place among Munsonville's elite. Compounding Harvey's discomfiture was Harvey's old clothes and his rebellious thick hair, dutifully manicured before worship services and now sprouting a meadow of upright hair. Nevertheless, Harvey's uninhibited smile showed he was clearly excited about being included in this year's competition.

            "It's only fitting," Mr. Munson said as he returned to the speller to Janet, "that our own schoolteacher does the pronouncing! Am I right?"

            His response was a hum of agreement, and a few fist thumps of agreement, and one, "Yeah!" from Mr. Griffith.

            Mr. Bass rang out, "Break a leg, Bosie! Ha!" and returned to his applejack.

            "Why doesn't Mayor Pike punch 'im in the noze?" Susan whispered as she slipped in the chair Mrs. Parks' had forsaken.

            "Because Mayor Pike doesn't believe in violets."

            Susan turned to her in puzzled surprise. Bryony shrugged and whispered back, "I heard Father tell Aunt Bertha."

            "Ders violets in de woods. Ain't he seen 'em?"

            "Father didn't say."

            "I'd still punch 'im in the noze."

            "Me, too."

            Smiling at Mayor Pike, Mrs. Pike opened the speller.

            "Gentlemen, you know the rules. Ten second pause, one chance to spell correctly. Rounds will continue until one person wins the dictionary. Any questions?"

            Mayor Pike raised his hand. "Lady Headmistress, will you start off easy, to warm us up?"

            "Oh, for Christ's sake, Bosie!"

            Mrs. Pike smiled and called out the first words: futile, yield, mercantile, bromine, and jugular. The men instinctively thrust out their chests at each correct word, as the words increased in difficulty with each succeeding round.

            Mr. Drake went down first, after spelling egregious as eggregious, and his expression turned from deadpan to sullen. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he strode through the aisles, jerking his first head at Addison, who immediately grabbed his coat and darted after his father, and then to Mrs. Drake, who already had Norton stuffed inside his little jacket and the baby wrapped in blankets.

            Mr. Fisher loudly spelled egregious and then fecund after that. The rounds continued.

            Mayor Pike fell next, spelling mementos as momenteos, which caused a murmur to spread around the room, and Mrs. Pike to blink, stare at him in stunned disbelief, and then  turn to Mr. Munson, who was leaning forward and frowning.

            But Mayor Pike was cheerfully offhand about his mistake, and with an, "Oh, well, shouldn't have drank that last applejack," headed to the barrel for another, with Mr. Munson's gaze suspiciously following him.

            Mr. Hasset corrected Mayor Pike's mistake and then misspelled harangue by adding an extra "r." This time, it was Mrs. Hasset, carrying a bowl of cobbler back to her place, who stared, obviously mistrusting what her ears just heard.

            "Janet?" Mrs. Hasset asked.

            But Mrs. Pike put a finger to her lips and nodded to Harvey Griffith. He correctly spelled harangue and then verdigris. Only Harvey and Mr. Fisher were left standing. Mayor Pike was happily quaffing his applejack while a skeptical Mr. Munson studied him. Mr. Hasset had joined them, cheeks bright red and grinning like the time Norton had sneaked one of the store's cookies without either Mr. or Mrs. Drake catching him.

            "Comorant," Mrs. Pike said.

            Harvey  slowly called out each letter and then Mr. Fisher did the same with cog noscible.

            Mrs. Fisher jostled Heather up and down the aisles. The baby wasn't fussing, but it gave Mrs. Fisher the chance to beam triumphantly at Mr. Fisher.

            "Talk 'bout puttin' the cart afore the horse," Mr. Parks said in a low voice to Mrs. Parks.

            "I agree, Orville. It's premature for Maybelle to be gloating. James can still lose."

            Harvey spelled rheumatism, and Mr. Fisher spelled sphinx.

            "To Harvey?" Mr. Parks tried not laugh, and apple jack ran out of his nose.

            Harvey spelled mosque, and Mr. Fisher spelled isochronous.

            "Harvey is quite the intelligent young man. And, even if he wasn't, James Fisher isn't invincible, Orville."

            Harvey spelled gondolier, and Mr. Fisher spelled garrulous.
            "Best tell Maybelle that, sweetie." Mr. Bass said.

            Mrs. Bass smirked at her husband. "Some men are true heroes, Teddy."

            "James ain't one of them. He just thinks he is."

            Harvey spelled peremptory, and Mr. Fisher spelled redundant as redundent.

            Maybelle cried, "NO!" and burst into tears. A startled Heather, rudely awakened from twilight sleep by her mother's wails, joined her.

            Harvey spelled it correctly, and everyone clapped, except Maybelle who was sobbing over the applause, even with Mrs. Pike trying to comfort her.

            Dictionary in hand, Mr. Munson dashed up to Harvey, raised the boy's right hand in triumph, and shouted, "I present to you Harvey Griffith, Munsonville's spelling champ of 1884!"

            Harvey stood open-mouthed, pink-cheeked, and bewildered.

            Mr. Munson heartily shook his hand. "Son, treasure this prize-winning dictionary always, for between its pages are the words that literally slew your opponents."

            He tossed back his head and roared at his joke, while Harvey could only blurt out, "Thankee, sir. I will, sir."

No comments: