Friday, August 29, 2008

Chapter 4 of Ruth's story

My blogger friend Ruth Hull Chatlien up in Illinois posted Chapter 1 of a story (as yet untitled, but I’m suggesting “If You Play Your Cards Right”) a few days ago and invited other bloggers to add chapters in a sort of play-it-forward fiction meme. Some have taken her up on the challenge and more than one version of the story is currently underway. It’s a definite challenge, but I decided to play.

I chose to add to this version:

Chapter 1 (by Ruth at ruthchatlienblogspot) is at the bottom of Ruth's main page.
Chapter 2 (by Sherry at afeatheradrift)
Chapter 3 (by Jeannelle at midlifebyfarmlight)

After you have read the first three chapters, read my Chapter 4 below (the narrator's voice is Ruth, and I want to say here that I've never written -- or done anything else -- as a woman before). Or you can read Chapter 4 first and work your way backwards to Chapter 1. Or you can jumble the chapters up and read them in random order, but I don’t really know why anyone would want to do that. Or you can skip them altogether and just wait for the next post to come along.

If, after reading the story so far, you are moved to write a Chapter 5, feel free. Just include a link in your blog to this post and one to Ruth's blog as well.

Are you sure Penelope Ashe started this way?


by Robert H. Brague (rhymeswithplague)

Feigning sickness, I left the zoo a couple of hours early, and anxiously headed north in my five-year-old, dark green Honda Accord. Ninety minutes later, having successfully navigated my way through the rush-that-left-early-to-beat-the-rush-hour traffic on the Interstate, I parked my trusty steed in the lot marked “SHORT-TERM PARKING” at Milwaukee’s airport and hurried into the terminal, nearly breaking a heel in the process. A quick glance at the big board overhead in the lobby told me that the next flight from L.A. would not be arriving for another hour. I breathed a little easier, found a sandwich shop, and ate someone’s idea of a nourishing meal.

As I left the restaurant and began to make my way to gate B-25 (I confess, I couldn’t help thinking, “Bingo!”), a well-dressed, grey-haired man in a dark suit, flanked by two uniformed airport security guards, exited an area marked “MEN” midway down Concourse B. We passed like ships in the night. I made a mental note that he looked dignified and downright senatorial, but at the same time, a little like a trapped animal. I couldn’t help wondering where his journey might be taking him. Mine took me further into the bowels of the airport.

Elliott’s plane, gleaming silver in the afternoon sunlight, was just pulling up to Gate B-25 as I arrived there and the telescope arms of the access ramps extended from the building, spider-like. Elliott was one of the last to leave the plane, and he was by himself. When he saw me waving, his blank face turned into a huge smile as he walked briskly toward me and took me in his arms. He kissed me like he meant it, and his hands managed to find places even my chiropractor seemed to have missed. I was thankful that the other passengers had already headed for the baggage claim area; I’m sure the warm blush I felt on my cheeks would have glowed even brighter under their gaze. “Not now,” I whispered in Elliott’s ear, “there will be plenty of time for that later.” Almost reluctantly, he took my hand in his and we walked together toward the baggage claim area.

Elliott fidgeted as we walked down the concourse into the terminal and I could tell he wanted to tell me something. Before he could form the words, however, the baggage claim area came into view and a murmur in the crowd at the carousel rose into what sounded like cries of alarm. “Oh, no,” he said, dropping my hand and running on ahead, leaving me to catch up with him on my own.

Slowly making its circumnavigation around the baggage carousel along with all the suitcases, trunks, garment bags, golf clubs, and water-skiing paraphernalia required for two hundred people to enjoy a Southern California vacation was a large metal cage surrounded by a crate of wooden slats that allowed its occupant or occupants to breathe. “Oh, my God,” someone said. My sentiments exactly, I thought.

How Elliott managed to convince the immigration authorities in Los Angeles to waive the usual period of quarantine and let him bring his surprise with him all the way to Chicago’s Northside Zoo himself is indicative of and a tribute to Elliott’s rather formidable powers of persuasion, which he had also used successfully on the officials of the airline. And what a surprise it was! Inside the crate was a sight I never expected to see: two young Komodo dragon lizards, each weighing perhaps twenty pounds, were hissing and spitting and exploring their new surroundings with their long, yellow tongues.

Since Elliott wanted to get the animals to the Zoo as quickly as possible, it was relatively easy for him to convince me to let him load the crate in the back seat of my Honda Accord. Though I agreed, I wanted no part of this expedition myself. Elliott’s tongue in my ear could be quite pleasurable on occasion, but a pair of curious Komodo dragons trying to reach me with their long, yellow tongues from a stinky cage in the back seat of my own car was not something I was ready to experience. Handing him my car keys, I told him, “Don’t worry about me; I’ll be along later.” As I turned to walk back to the terminal I didn’t care if I ever saw Elliott or his precious Komodo dragons again.

When I reached the terminal entrance, watching my only means of transportation grow smaller until it disappeared in the distance, I tried to figure out how I was going to get back home. I don’t carry credit cards, and I knew I didn’t have enough cash in my billfold to buy a plane ticket. I could afford a bus ticket, though, but not a taxicab to the station to boot. What was I going to do? Seeing a police car parked at the curb, I walked over to it and explained to one of the two officers standing next to the vehicle that I had been stranded unexpectedly. I asked if they could possibly give me a ride to the nearest Greyhound bus station.

“Well, Miss, it’s a bit unusual,” he said, “but I guess we could do that. I hate to see a damsel in distress. As a matter of fact, we were going in that general direction ourselves.” I tried to look grateful, but inside I was seething at Elliott’s total lack of consideration for me. “There’s just one thing,” the officer continued. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to ride in the back. With him. I’m sorry.” The officer opened the back door of the squad car, and I saw a well-dressed, dignified, grey-haired man wearing a dark suit, looking positively senatorial as he smiled at me and patted the seat. He seemed strangely reptilian, too, reminding me of the two passengers in the back seat of my own dark green Honda Accord, speeding at this very moment toward Chicago. I had no options left. I climbed into the back seat of the police car.

My well-dressed traveling companion pulled a deck of cards out of his coat pocket, lay them on the seat between us, and said, without introducing himself, “Would you care to join me in a game of gin rummy?” I didn’t, but he was already dealing the cards, and I’m a sucker for a good card game. I suddenly thought of my long-ago dream, and in the back of my mind I could almost hear my father’s voice -- or God’s -- saying, “You know, Ruth, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” As the officer in the driver’s seat turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the curb, I breathed a sigh of resignation and tried to forget about Elliott, at least for the moment. Eager to see my hand, I picked up the cards.

(end of chapter 4)


"JEANNELLE" said...

Wow, there, fella! You've got some "formidable powers" for writing fiction, I believe!! Good, good job! Thank you for taking up the challenge of Chapter 4, and you have provided great fodder for someone's Chapter 5!! Wow, I say, again!!!

"JEANNELLE" said...

Oh, and you sound very convincing as a woman. Is Ellie actually the author??!

rhymeswithplague said...

Wow, yourself, Jeannelle! That was a very fast response!

And, yes, I wrote it all by myself. Thank you for the compliment.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I love the surprise. You didn't take the obvious route of having it be another woman.

I loved the specific details about the car and the strangers and the dragons.

I was a little confused about why a zoo person would be hostile, rather than excited, about acquiring two such rare animals. I hope someone clears that up in a future chapter.

And I'm really intrigued about the senatorial guy. Great addition. Thanks for playing.

"JEANNELLE" said...

I had a feeling you were writing a chapter, and had been watching the comments to see if you would mention it! That's why I had to jump right over and read it!!

Did you see in Ruth's rules for the meme that a person can write more than one chapter, just not consecutive provide for "cross-pollination" of story ideas. Ruth is a treasure-trove of great ideas!

"JEANNELLE" said...

I just wrote a Chapter 5......I'm floored at how much fun this is. But, I'm not going to post it yet. Will wait and see if someone else writes a Chapter 5. I don't want to be hoggish.

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

I wrote a Chapter 5, too! Sorry, Jeannelle. I should have waited.


Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

You *did good*, Bob! Lovely springboard for following chapters. As you already know from my brief comment yesterday, I composed a Chapter 5, which is up on my site. You will be able to ascertain that I very much liked Elliott's traveling companions, and the mysterious 'senatorial' stranger. I hope you will write another chapter, soon.

rhymeswithplague said...

Thanks, Jeannelle, Ruth, and Pat, as always, for your comments. As I said in a comment on Pat's blog, I had to ignore my wife, my dog, my chores, and my personal hygiene for a while to write that chapter. I'd like to write more, but I don't know whether I'm up to it!

Anonymous said...

What a hilarious turn of events. I am with Ruth, why is she against the dragons being a zoo person? LOL. And you have totally violated about 6 police department directives, but I sure enjoyed it greatly. More please!