9,103 / 50,000
I was determined to conclude chapter one today, so kept at it. I didn't even realise how far ahead of my goal until I paused and saw I was at almost 9k. And feels just about right for where I want to be at 18% of the novel. Tomorrow should be a short bit for what I have planned, but we all know how well my plans go.
Charlie gave one last look around his apartment. Even though he had only spent a few months there, like all the rest of the places he'd floated through, he found he would still miss it. He had placed down roots here, even though he was not trying to do so. Every place he went, got under his skin. Keeping connections to a mimimum still left minor traces to worm their way into his heart and mind.
He would remember the way the floor squeaked in front of the bathroom; how the shower smelled of sulfur for a minute every time he turned on the hot water, no matter how many times the landlord tried to fix it; the way the front door had to be lifted an inch to get the bolt to slide in when trying to lock it. All those things, as annoying as they may have been at the time, were part of what made this place special, unique. That troublesome charm that every place had would stick in his mind for a long time.
The collection of Lovecraft stories was tucked underneath his arm, and after hefting the suitcase in his hand, Charlie turned away from his apartment, and closed the door on another chapter of his life.
No one saw Charlie as he left. He did his best to avoid being noticed when it was time to move on. The less questions he had to answer at the time, the faster he could move. Part of Charlie wanted someone to poke their head out, any of his neighbours he never got to know over the past eight months, and delay him. Anything to keep him from going home.
Charlie wasn't known for dragging his feet, and as much as he wanted to try it, take in more of the scenery, he also wanted to get out of there. He found himself torn between his options of wanting to get on with his journey, and not wanting to go home. If only he could stop, frozen, forever.
Stopping at the front door to the apartment building, Charlie rested his head against the door, and draped his arm over his head, clutching at the paperback with his hand. The day he had been dreading had at long last arrived.
"Responsability, boy," he said, immitating his dad's gruff, bass voice. "Never shirk it, always own up."
He banged his head with just enough force to jar himself out of his reverie, but not to make more than the barest of rattling of the door. "This is for Adrienne, and heaven help her if anything goes wrong."
Taking one last, big breath and stealing himself, Charlie stood tall, and pulled the door open, moving out into the cold winter air of Western Massachusetts. A gust of wind caught the wide, flat surface of the suitcase, and tugged at his arm. It gave no more than the barest pull on his arm, and his grip remained strong. He hated travelling in the winter, but this was not the first time he'd done it.
He lived near the center of town, but the town was small. It wouldn't be long before the few, small buildings around him would gave way to trees and farmland. The main street that his apartment building, his favoured bridge, and even his place of work at the other end of town, all were along the main road, which was also the highway around these parts. To many others, it would seem like any other street, with two lanes, traffic lights, and a modicum of traffic. It didn't seem like a highway at all, as some think of them. It didn't stretch across multiple lanes on each side of a median, and go on for miles. Out in the middle of nowhere hamlets such as Gauthsburg, highways were indistinguishable from the rest of the streets.
Even though it wasn't even eight o'clock, the traffic had slowed to a trickle, as everyone had gone home for dinner, and to get out of the cold. Once the town fell away at his back, Charlie hoped it wouldn't be long before finding someone to drive him some of the ways to his destination.
The bus station was closed already, the last one out having left almost an hour ago. Charlie passed by it as he trudged through the snow once more, each step putting Gauthsburg another foot at his back.
It wasn't long until the town was nothing more than pinpricks of light over his shoulder. Charlie kept moving, knowing other roads would join with the highway, and it would grow in size to become something more familiar with the word.
The sound of tires against pavement rumbled behind him as one highway met the one he was on. As he crossed the few lanes of traffic to the new far side of the merged roads, the sound grew closer. Charlie saw the tops of the pine trees towering over him start to glow first. The light moved down the height of the trees as the approaching vehicle grew closer.
As the beams from the headlights touched Charlie's head, he turned to watch as the vehicle crested the small hill he was on. He squinted at the light shattering the night vision he had adjusted to while walking.
The driver saw the traveller along the road had turned, and flicked their lights at Charlie, changing from high beams, to low, and back again. He wished whomever it was had kept the lights on low, as bad as the light was to his adjusted eyes, it was at least bearable as a low beam. Changing them back to highs only made his head start to pound.
Charlie brought up his hand to shield his eyes with the book. The lights flickered again, and again Charlie cursed the driver under his breath. The vehicle slowed, and pulled over just ahead of where Charlie had stopped.
As it passed, Charlie got a better look at it. It was a dark colour, maybe black, but it looked more likely it was a blue, or maybe green. It had four doors, and was pretty average as far as cars went. Aside from keeping them running, Charlie didn't know much about cars, never having bothered to own one. His dad had taught him everything about engines though, and Charlie had done his fair share of mechanic jobs.
Charlie moved towards the glowing red break lights, and walked alongside the passenger side of the car. The front window rolled down, and the driver leaned towards it. It was hard for Charlie to make out details, the man's face only illuminated by his dashboard, and what light spilled back from the headlights, reflecting off the snow.
The driver's skin looked most like a sickly green shade thanks to his instrumentation. He was wearing a knit cap not unlike Charlie's, but his moustache was dark, so it was a safe bet the man was not blonde. His nose was large, and a little crooked. He had seen his fair share of fights in his time, or maybe just one bad one where the nose got broken. He spoke with a nasal tone, and his accent sounded like he was local, but no one Charlie recognised. "Where you headed, pal? It's quite a chilly night for a walk."
Charlie leaned in, resting an arm on the hood of the car. "It could be worse. This is almost pleasant by our standards. Am I right?"
He laughed, a quick snort sneaking into his mirth. "True that, too true. It got down around 30 at my place in Cold Spring. Sure lived up to the name, last week!"
Charlie smiled. Cold Spring wasn't far from Gauthsburg at all. "I'm heading north. All the way into Vermont, but any pavement you can help me put between here and there would be a great help."
"Tires are faster than feet, that's for sure. Looks like it is your lucky day," he said, and Charlie thought about just how wrong that statement was. He would take whatever help he could get though. Some luck is better than the run he'd had so far today. "I'm on my way to get in some skiing at Polar Mountain before it gets too much warmer. Thought I'd get up there tonight, got a condo up there, and be nice and rested to hit the slopes in the morning."
Even with the way things fell into place for him, Charlie couldn't believe this particular coincidence. Polar Mountain was the main ski resort in the area where he was going. In fact, it was the reason his father had lost his job a few years ago, when the ski resort became more profitable than the dwindling supplies of granite at the quarry. Last he heard, George Boxer had been working as a security guard for that very mountain resort.
"Doesn't that just beat all," said Charlie, not realising he had said it out loud.
"What was that?" asked the most fortuitous arrival in Charlie's life.
Charlie shook his head in disbelief. "Would you believe I'm actually going to Kraftsbury?" He fought hard to push the word out of his mouth with no more emotion than another person would give it, and it seemed as if he succeeded. If any malice had been attached to the word, the driver did not seem to react to it.
Instead, all he did was flash his smile again, and gestured with his arm, making a spinning move, motioning Charlie to get in. "Well then, come on in!"
Something in Charlie's gut told him to keep walking, but the guy looked harmless enough, and the car was better than the elements for who knew how much longer until another ride came. The only reason he was wary of it was just how convenient it all was.
Charlie opened the door and it creaked open with a solid, metallic noise, and echoed it when the door closed with a heavy thud. The car was old, solid. Charlie liked that, he felt safer in older cars, made with less plastic.
"My name's Markus, by the way." He offered his hand to Charlie, and Charlie gave it a firm, single shake.
"Charles, but most call me Charlie."
The car started forward again, and Markus turned the radio up, Charlie never having noticed the faint music coming out of it before. He kept the volume low, and Charlie made a face at the generic pop tracks coming out of the speakers. Markus didn't seem too keen on them either.
"It's the only station my car gets out here, would you believe it? Can't stand the stuff, but I guess it's better than nothing. But only just. Would you mind pitching in some gas money?"
Charlie reached into his pocket and handed over three tens. "More than necessary, but you're saving me a lot of time and trouble. Consider it a late Christmas present."
The money was stuffed into the ashtray of the car with some other bills, and a handful of change. "Wow, appreciated. And I'm agnostic, but I take your meaning." Markus smiled amicabily.
He continued to talk as they drove, and his droning small talk was better than the radio, Charlie found. For the most part, however, he found he was tuning out both the radio and the driver.
As the night wore on, Charlie did his part for the conversation, but found himself starting to doze off, more in a half-wakeful state than anything else
His mind was so focused on his own problems, not paying Markus any heed, that the sounds around him began to blur, and merge in his subconcious. As his mind was focused elsewhere, the sounds reaching his ears sounded less and less human, instead he heard slobbering noises, sounds of thick, wet limbs being dragged through the mud, wet sand being pounded beneath heavy weights, the noise squelching in his ears.
The strange sounds grew, until he did take notice of them, and it sounded as if they were trying to speak to him, convey words, and emotions. Until at last words did begin to form, one word in particular; Charlie heard his name through a haze of water and seaweed and stone.
At his name, he jerked up in his seat, realising he had been asleep. Instead, he heard Markus calling to him, saying his name.
"You ok, Charlie? You were a bit out of it there."
Charlie was used to waking up in strange places, he was on the move so much, but the strange voices, blending perfectly back into the real world as he was yanked from slumber disturbed him, until he got his bearings. Everything he was going through that day was wearing him down, sneaking into his less wakeful moments.
"Yeah, sorry," he said as he rubbed at his eyes, and pushed his winter hat off his head. "Just a long day, you know? Sorry for dozing off."
"No big deal, just wanted to let you know where almost there."
Charlie looked out the window, but the darkness kept him from seeing anything too familiar, besides more snow. He turned his gaze to the emerald green of the radio's lights, and saw the clock was closing in on 11 pm. The timing was about right for driving to Kraftsbury.
As he thought the name of the town, a sign came into view of the headlights, and Charlie yelled, "Stop!"
Markus slammed on the breaks, and their seatbelts cut into their shoulders as the car screeched to a halt.
There along the side of the road was at last a familiar sight. A large sign, elevated off the ground with a series of white, diagonal lattice work underneath it. The sign was painted blue, and the words "Welcome to Kraftsbury" in red, with a white border. Above the words was a circle that extended higher than the rest of the side like a wooden, painted tumor. Within the circle was a painted representation of Polar Mountain.
For what seemed like an eternity, Charlie stared at those words, recalling the last time he had seen them; over his shoulder as he walked away from the town.
He opened the car door, oblivious to the creak it made. All his attention was focused on the sign. Charlie grabbed his suitcase from between his feet as he exited the vehicle. He spoke, but the words were almost an afterthought to anything else on his mind. "I'll walk from here," he told Markus.
Markus called out, wanting to be sure, but Charlie moved as if in a trance. He didn't want to go zooming past the sign in a car, especially not with a driver he had a bad feeling about. Whether or not that feeling was unfounded or not was irrelevant to Charlie.
Instead, Charlie wanted to take his time with the moment. Not so much savoring it, something that was impossible for Charlie to do. He wanted to delay it. He wanted that first moment back into town to be on his own terms. He was the one lifting his leg, moving it, and pushing his foot down upon the ground that was part of Kraftsbury. It just wasn't right for someone else to bring him into town, this was for him, and him alone.
And his audience, as Markus watched, dumbfounded by the man taking his time walking closer to a sign in the middle of a cold, wintry night.
Charlie forced himself forward, step after step, and a reunion eight years in the making finally came to pass. Charlie moved over the imaginary line into Kraftsbury marked by the edge of the sign.
The town had its own way of greeting Charlie home. When he passed into the city limits, the headache he had been feeling all night long broke into a crescendo of pain. He had been blaming it on the radio, Markus's droning, or just the stress, but it had grown ever worse the closer he came to his old home. Now that he was at long last there, the pain became blinding.
He clenched his eyes shut, and fell to his knees. Charlie grabbed his head from the pain, until he fell over face first into the snow that had piled up on the side of the road from passing plows. Inside his head, familiar sights danced through his thoughts.
Just as Charlie had returned, so to did the visions return to his thoughts.
Welcome back to Kraftsbury, Charlie Boxer.