John Hewitt's Blog

NaNoWriMo Day 10 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoToday’s entry is somewhat dialog heavy. That is the sort of thing that always needs polishing. Once I have the characters talking, I hate to stop to add descriptions and other things around the talking. I get too caught up in the conversation. For now though, I think it does the job it needs to do.  Also, I am not happy with my description of the lobby so please take a look at the inspiration on Pinterest.


Marshall Cooper

Day ten – 18001/50000 words

Santa Creda only had one police station, although there was a small substation by the beach. The station was part of the larger government complex. The city hall, the courthouse, the fire station and the library all stood together on the same block. Catrin dropped him off in the front. “I’ll park the car and run over to the library,” she told him. “Text me when you’re done and I’ll pick you up.”

Marshall got out of the car and walked into the station. Marshall hadn’t been in a lot of police stations. Most of what he knew about them came from television. This station looked nothing like what he expected. To begin with, it seemed very calm. There was a receptionist up front. She looked to be in her mid-forties and dressed in a simple white blouse with a teal sweater over her shoulders. The reception area was built of light wood that angled softly inward. The area was long enough to handle two or three people behind the desk, but unless this was an unusually quiet time, it did not seem necessary. The receptionist asked him his name and then checked something on her computer. “You’re here to see the Sheriff?”

Marshall nodded. “At two.”

The woman typed something else into the computer.  “He’s going to come up. It will just be a moment.”

Marshal tried to get a glimpse at the computer screen, but the design made it difficult to get a decent look at the screen. “Are you on Lync?” He asked.

The woman looked up at him. “It’s a proprietary system. It’s in all the police cars too.”

Marshall nodded. The Sheriff came walking down the hall. He nodded at the woman, who pressed a button. Marshall heard a click as the little wooden half-door unlatched. The sheriff nodded to Marshall and Marshall walked through.

“Come on back, my office is down the hall.” As they walked, Marshall concentrated very hard on not limping. The pain in his ankle wasn’t sharp. It was more of a nagging tightness that may well have come as much from the tape the doctor had applied, as from the injury itself. The got back to the Sheriff’s office and Marshall started to sit down in the chair closest to his desk when the Sheriff said, “You don’t want that one. Take the other.” Marshall started to ask but thought better of it. He sat down in the further chair, which was more to the middle of the room.

The sheriff sat down behind the desk and picked up a small set of papers stapled together. “Marshall Cooper,” the sheriff said. “Graduate of the W. P. Carey School of Business with a degree in management. It says here you were a lead programmer at Prinep Software. You did application design and database administration.”

“Did you do a background check on me?” Marshall asked.

“No,” The sheriff said, “I looked up your resume on LinkedIn. I had a feeling the other night that you hadn’t spent a lot of time tending bar. I got curious so I Googled you.”

“Googled me?”

“Background checks cost money. Google is free. Your profile hasn’t been updated in a while, but I have the feeling you and the Prinep Software Corporation parted ways.”

“That is true,” Marshall said, “Although they have left the door open for my return once I am capable.”


“I have a hard time staring at computer screens.” Marshall said, “I can go an hour or two, sometimes even three. That’s my limit. I can take medication that stops the headaches, but it doesn’t exactly turn me into a programming wizard.”

“Well,” the sheriff said, “That’s a complication.”

“Yes,” said Marshall, “It is a complication.”

The Sheriff got up and handed Marshall two sheets of paper stapled together. “You see,” he said, “I have a job opening. I was hoping you were my man.” Marshall looked at the sheet. It was an opening for a senior level database programmer. He reviewed the skill set, and it matched easily with him. In most ways, he exceeded the requirements. He had fifteen years of experience in the field, and the job only required seven.

“That sounds like a good job for someone,” he said, “If I were to go back though, which I am a long way from doing, I would be looking for a lead position.”

The Sheriff stroked his bushy beard. “There’s got to be something I can do about this. Believe it or not, this town is not a tech hotbed. We’ve been advertising for months and frankly, all we’ve gotten is a parade of losers.”

“And now me,” Marshall said. They sat there for a moment in and awkward silence, when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in Marcus.” The Sheriff called out. A burly black man came in. He was young, maybe in his late twenties, and he looked like the ideal size and shape for a cop. “Marshall, this is Terry Raphael our database guy.” Marshall got up and the two of them shook hands.

“Nice to meet you,” Terry said. “We could use some help around here. Someone who knows what he’s doing.”

The Sheriff added, “Marcus is keeping us afloat right now but he’s a little overwhelmed. He’s only been out of school a couple years, and things were kind of left in a mess. I was going to have him give talk to you about all the technical gobbledygook that I can’t really follow. I’m not quite sure how to proceed now.” He looked at Terry. “I kind of jumped the gun. Marshall has kind of taken a break from programming and he’s not so sure about getting back in the game.”

Marshall shrugged. “Well I’m here,” Marshall said, “Might as well show me what you’re up against.”

The sheriff, Terry, and Marshall left the office and got on an elevator that took them to the sixth floor. There was a bank of cubicles up there, and Terry led them to his. It was a small cubical, but very neatly kept. The Sheriff brought over a couple of chairs and the three of them sat around. “Our story begins about ten years ago,” Terry said, “When the department bought ShieldTrack. Somebody came in and did a nice sales job and promised about a hundred features the program didn’t actually have. The ShieldTrack people promptly went out of business and the department was stuck with the software, so they decided to bring in some programmers and customize it. They’ve been customizing it ever since. I’m sure it’s barely recognizable to the people who created the original. I came in two years ago. They had three other programmers at the time. The lead programmer was also the manager, Albert. He quit to move to Denver. Two weeks after Albert left, Quincy, the second most senior guy, had a heart attack and died. They found him at his desk. It was very sad.”

“We had another guy, Gilbert, but the less said about him the better. If you ever do come to work for us, I’ll tell you that story.”

Terry proceeded to show Marshall the data models and take him through the basics of the program they had built. Like most independent projects, there were a lot if inconsistencies in table names and a lot of it was very poorly documented. Terry explained a couple of problems they were having getting two different databases to interface properly, and Marshall offered some suggestions. Terry nodded, “Yeah, that would probably work,” he said.

The Sheriff did a game job of following the conversation. He offered a little extra background about how they’d gotten to where they were. Before Marshall realized it, they had been sitting there for over an hour. The sheriff looked at his watch and said, “Well, I think we’ve taken up enough of your day. Why don’t you come back with me to my office? Terry, I’ll let you get back to work.”

Marshall and the Sheriff walked back to the elevator. While they were waiting for it to arrive the Sheriff said, “I can understand about the headaches. Just listening to the two of you made me want to take an aspirin. You seemed to be enjoying yourself though.”

Marshall nodded. “Terry seems like a good guy. He just needs some experience.”

“He done a good job,” the Sheriff said, “But that kid is here seventy hours a week. He’s burning out and I don’t have to tell you where we’ll be if we lose him.”

“I can’t put in seventy hours a week,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure if I could put in ten.”

“In front of a monitor,” The sheriff said. “You’re ok otherwise?”

“Not entirely,” Marshall said. “I get headaches no matter what. Staring at screens just closes the gaps.”

The sheriff sighed. They rode down the elevator and he started walking him towards the front of the building again. “I got to tell you. When I first started doing this job, if anybody told me a database was going to be my biggest problem, I wouldn’t have even known to tell them they were crazy, since I had no idea what a database was. That’s where I’m at though. I’m more worried about that thing going down than I am about being reelected. At least if I lost, it would be somebody else’s problem.”

Marshall shook his hand back in the lobby. “I wish I could help.”

“I think you can help,” The sheriff said, “Do you know much about ants?”

“Ants?” Marshall said, “Not particularly.”

“Well there’s this theory that an ant colony is a supererogation. In other words, while the ants themselves are individual organisms, the colony itself is an organism. They call it a superorganism. The colony has its own life.”

“I think I read about that in a magazine once.” Marshall said.

“Well after a lifetime of working to protect this town, I’ve come to think of it in much the same way. This town is a living thing, and it does what it takes to survive and prosper.”

“That’s an interesting philosophy,” Marshall said.

“Feel free to disregard it if you like,” the Sheriff said. He spread his hands out in a gesture of inclusiveness, “But I can tell you that the moment I saw you, I started to think about why this town brought you here and I have a pretty good idea that one way or another, you’re going to end up helping to keep it safe.”

“Thank you Sheriff Weatherly,” Marshall said, He wasn’t quite sure what he was thanking him for, but he could think of no better way to end the conversation.

“You can call me Dwight,” the sheriff said. “I’m going to keep thinking on this. An answer will come to me.”

Marshall walked out the door. He was getting ready to text Catrin when she pulled up to the curb. As he got into the car she said, “You sure were in there a long time,” she said, getting the car rolling. “He wasn’t trying to warn you off of me was he?”

“You never came up,” Marshall said.

Catrin drove for another minute without talking. Finally she said, “I think I feel a little insulted. What did you talk about?”

Marshall thought on it for a moment, and then said, “Did you know this town is a superorganism?”


NaNoWriMo Day 9 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoIt was a good writing day. I added about 2300 words. The hardest challenge this time was dealing with the text messages. I’m still not thrilled with that part, but I feel like I got it to about 70% of what I wanted it to be, and I can polish it up later. Thank you for continuing to read.


Marshall Cooper

Day Nine– 16091/50000 words

He limped over to the table, where his phone was still attached to the charger. He looked at the screen and saw who the caller was. His thumb hovered above the answer button for a moment, but then he went ahead and tapped the screen. He sat down at the table and aid, “Hey sis.”

“Marshmallow,” he heard his sister Anne’s voice say, “I guess you are alive after all.”

“Alive and well,” Marshall said. He smiled when he said it. It was a trick he had learned from the Internet. If you smile when you are on the phone, it makes your voice sound more upbeat.

“Why didn’t you answer my texts then?” she asked. His sister was clearly not smiling into the phone.

“Sorry,” he said, “My phone died and I had left it on vibrate, so I probably just didn’t hear them. You know how I am about phones.”

“You need to be better about that.” I worry when you don’t answer.”

Marshall clenched his hand into a fist, and then relaxed it. He repeated this several times, but he continued to smile into the phone. He thought for a second about how to divert her off of the subject, and then realized what he could do. He had to give her some hope. “Thank you for the care package,” he said, “I really appreciate it. I used one of the cards last night as a matter of fact. I had a date, so I took her to the Applebee’s.”

“You had a date?” The tension went out of his sister’s voice and for a moment she sounded like the sister he remembered from the old days. She sounded like the sister who didn’t feel like she had to watch out for him and could just have a conversation. “Who is she? What does she do? Is she nice? How did it go?”

Marshall’s smile became a little more genuine now. “Her name is Catrin,” he said, “She a caterer.” he added, mentally upgrading her from server. “She is nice, and quite pretty. I think you’d like her.” He proceeded to tell her about the date. In this version, he left out the sprained ankle, and blended in the conversations at the bar from the day before. He then went into the story of how they met, going into the whole emergency bartender story. He tried to exaggerate as little as possible, but her purposely left out any references to the headaches or the injuries. He didn’t want to feel like he had lied to her too much. It was bad enough that he was calling yesterday a date, but he figured buying a girl dinner counted as a date, even if it probably didn’t mean the same thing to her.

Eventually Marshall ran out of story. After a quiet moment, his sister said, “She sounds great. I can’t wait to meet her when we come out.”

“Come out?” Marshall said.

“Yes,” Anne said, drawing out the word. “If you had read the texts, you’d already know this. The second week of October is fall break, so we’re going to pack up the kids and come on out for the week. The kids are looking forward to a few days on the beach.”

“I’m not exactly set up for visitors,” Marshall said.

“Well of course we’re not staying with you,” Anne said. “We’ll be staying at the Hyatt Place. I’ve got points from work.” Marshall tried to think of something enthusiastic to say, but he took too long and the silence was noted. “I brought this up before you ever left Marshall. I said we’d come out after you got settled. I worry about you. You know that.”

“Just like you know I don’t like being worried about,” Marshall answered.

Anne’s voice lost its lightness. “I’ll cancel if you want,” she said.

Marshall was tempted to call her bluff, but he didn’t have the heart. “Of course not,” he said. “It will be nice to see you guys.”

“And you are coming here for Christmas. You know that right. I’ll come over there and drag you here if I have to.”

“I’m sure we’ll work something out.” He said.

“Drag you,” Anne repeated.

“Of course,” he said lightly, remembering again to smile into the phone. He resisted the urge to say, Yes, I get it. You want no illusions that I am there voluntarily.

They talked for a few more minutes, mostly about the kids, and then they said their goodbyes. As soon as he hung up Marshall closed his eyes and did his breathing exercises. He spent ten minutes just focusing on his breath. Finally, he opened his eyes. “This is my life,” he said, “I have to live it.”

Marshall unlocked his phone and pressed the messages icon. There were five texts from his sister, moving increasingly from friendly, to annoyed, to concerned. There was a text from Jonathan, a former co-worker, asking him what the account name for the backup server was. He texted back “Joshua… password pl4y464m3.”

He read the texts from Catrin about his bar cart. He hadn’t put her name in his phone yet, but it was easy to tell they were from her. He added her to his address book. That left the messages from after he took his medication”

Unknown: We should get together sometime.

Marshall: Did you ever have the feeling you forgot to do something?

Unknown: Yes. I get that feeling sometimes. What do you think you forgot?

Marshall: I’m not broke.

Unknown: I got that feeling when I met you.

Marshall: There was nothing else I could wait for.

Unknown: You could wait for me.

Marshall: Don’t turn on the light.

Unknown: Do you mean now? Are you expecting me now? Where are you?

Marshall: I could bring it out into the light.

Unknown: What are you going to bring into the light?

Marshall: I drifted off for a moment

Unknown: I understand. We’ll talk later.

Unknown (Several hours later): Is it too late?

Marshall read and reread the conversation. He tried to figure out if he was responding to the other person’s messages, or if they were just the random synapses in his subconscious firing off. He also tried to puzzle out who was responding to him. He had his suspicions. He typed out, “Who is this?” and he pressed send. After about a minute he got an error message “Not Delivered.” He checked his signal, but it was strong. He tried to send the message again and got the same result.

Marshall stared at the phone for a moment. He reread the messages again. He felt now as if he needed to do something, but he couldn’t figure out what to do. He used the search feature on his phone to try to look up the number, but nothing came up in the search. He couldn’t think of what else to do. He checked the time. It was still only nine in the morning. It was still hours before he was supposed to meet with the sheriff. On any other day he would walk down to Seaside Espress, but he knew that wasn’t a good idea. He figured if he rested it now, he might be able to walk without a limp once it was time to go to the meeting, but if he used it now and ran into trouble, Catrin would have to help him up the steps. He had an overwhelming desire to avoid that happening again. He knew his ankle couldn’t be fully better in just a few hours, but the goal was for it to be better enough. He grabbed his phone and made his way back to bed.

He spent a few minutes looking at Facebook on his phone. He hadn’t been on in several weeks. Most of his Facebook friends were people he had known in high school or college. There was a long string of people with their kids or their partners. There were inspirational quotes and some political ones memes. He tried to think of something to say. He hadn’t actually posted anything in months. His profile picture was from way back. He looked at his round fleshy face, so different from the one he stared at in the mirror this morning. The entire account seemed like it belonged to a different person. He thought about taking another picture. He was sure there would be a few dozen thumbs up, to see his new slim face. It seemed like that would ruin things though. Let the old version of him stay alive in this one place.

He wanted to write something though. He tried to come up with something profound to say, but he could find nothing. Instead he wrote. “I’m fine. Thanks.” He waited a minute more before hitting post, just in case something better came to mind. Nothing did. He felt a headache coming on. This often happened if he stared at a screen for too long. It had been in the back of his mind when he grabbed the phone. “Get your headache over with now so you’ll be operational later. He knew there were no guarantees that a headache now wouldn’t be followed by a headache later, or that he would even be rid of this one before Catrin came, but it seemed like good timing. He did his breathing exercises. He pictured his breath as blue steam. He was already lying down, so he just stayed where he was. His mask was in the freezer still, and his ice wrap had gotten warm, but he put a pillow over his eyes and did his best.

This headache was particularly nasty at first. He felt, for a while, like his head was going to crack open. He stuck to his breathing though. At some point, instead of picturing his breath, he found himself at the ocean. He was at the edge of the water, and he watched as a particularly big wave came toward him, crashing down at his feet. A sense of calm came over him and the headache lessened. He continued to watch the waves coming toward him. He could hear the water lapping at his feet. He realized he was not alone. He looked over to see Benton Noro standing next to him. She smiled a small smile and said, “There is a rip tide, but it is still worth the swim.”

“I’m not a strong swimmer he told her. She shook her head. “You don’t become a strong swimmer by staring at the waves.” She took off her clothes then, and ran into the water. He tried to follow, but his feet had sunk into the sand, and by the time he got them unstuck, she had disappeared.

Marshall heard an insistent knock at his door. He opened his eyes. “Come in” he called, “I didn’t lock it.” He sat up in the bed. Catrin came in carrying two big bags.

“I brought you some supplies,” she said. She dropped the bags on his table. I got you a couple ice wraps and some vitamin water. I got some candy bars too. I don’t know why, I just figured it might do you some good. Also, I baked you some banana muffins.”

“You baked?” Marshal asked, “Wow. That’s…” His voice trailed off. Finally he added, “Thank you.”

“It was nothing,” Catrin said. “I like to bake. It makes the house smell nice. Here, I’ll bring you one.” She walked over and handed him a muffin. He took a small bite out of it. To his surprise, it tasted good. It didn’t taste like he remembered bananas tasting. It didn’t taste like plastic though, and that was a good thing. He ate a couple more bites and Catrin brought him some vitamin water. “I hope you like fruit punch.”

“It’s fine,” he said. “The muffins are great.” The vitamin water was mostly tasteless to him, but he washed down the muffin with it anyway, and then he ate a second. He thanked her again and again she shrugged it off.

“You need to get dressed,” she said, she grabbed him some clothes out of the closet so he didn’t have to get up. He changed quickly, with a minimum of trouble.”

“My ankle is doing much better,” He said. “You don’t have to fuss.”

“We’ll see,” Catrin said. She handed him his wallet and extended a hand to help him up. He reluctantly took hold and pulled himself up. He took a tentative step and found that the pain was actually much less than even this morning. He smiled. “Let’s go see the sheriff.”

They walked out the door and out to her car. He was able to walk with only a slight limp, and felt good about that. On the car rid over, Catrin told him about her experiences with the Sheriff.

“I first met him when my brother disappeared,” Catrin said. “He came out to the house personally and sat with us. At the time I thought he was just being a good Sheriff, but I figured out later that he was trying to make up his mind about my parents, and about whether they had anything to do with him disappearing. He was always friendly and respectful, but I remember how he seemed to walk around the house. He never seemed to sit. They never got a warrant to search, but I think that was because they didn’t need to. The sheriff had already searched the place right under my parent’s noses.”

NaNoWriMo Day 8 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoI think I made some good progress today. I added a little over 2000 words, and I think I managed add some nice exploration of Marshall’s character and the reasons he’s doing what he is doing. It wasn’t a big day for plot, but I did move a couple of things forward. I got a nice note from someone today about the story. It was great to hear that someone out there is actually reading it. Thanks Deb!

Marshall Cooper

Day Eight – 13783/50000 words

When they arrived back at his apartment, it was close to ten o’clock. Catrin insisted on helping him down the stairs, even though Marshall made it clear that he could manage. She put her arm around him as they went down, and continued to keep it there as they walked down the short hallway to his apartment. He wanted to be happy that a pretty young woman was holding on to him, but the fact that it was due to injury just made it the latest in a long series of people who felt they had to help him function. There had been physical therapists, occupational therapists, a case worker, and various friends and family who all thought he needed help. Marshall didn’t like needing help. Aside from a three year relationship in his twenties, he had lived alone his entire adult life. He hadn’t realized how much he valued his independence until it was threatened.

“Listen,” he said once they were back in his apartment. “I appreciate your help today. I barely know you and it was nice of you to take me to the doctor and all.” He felt her hand separate from his back. She took a step away from him and immediately missed it. “I just wanted to ask you not to tell anyone anything about my accident. You kind of got a glimpse into my medical history, and I kind of came here to avoid people who knew about that.”

“Oh,” Catrin said, “Yeah no problem. I get that completely. “I hate how much the people here think they know about me. Boy, that was not what I expected you to say.”

Marshall looked at her. Her cheeks seemed flushed. “What did you think I was going to say?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said and turned her back on him and headed over to the freezer. “Let me get you your ice wrap. It should be good and cold by now.”

Marshall sat down on his couch. His leg was throbbing worse than it had before they had left. For a moment, Marshall allowed himself to speculate on just how much easier his day might have gone if he had never answered the knock on his door. Then he scolded himself. That was not a good way to think. Thinking positive had never been his strong suit, but he kept trying to learn the skill. It seemed like an important one to have if he was going to make the next forty-two years better than the last forty-two.

Catrin came over with the ice pack and a glass of water. “You need to elevate that leg,” she said.

Lifting his leg up from the floor, Marshall twisted around so that his leg went up on the arm of the couch. He found himself talking before he thought to edit. “I’ve never been very good with relationships. I never dated a lot. I used to be a pretty big guy. I met one woman though, Magda. She was older than me by about fifteen years. She wasn’t particularly attractive, or even very nice, but she liked me and at that point in my life that was good enough. So, I wouldn’t say we fell in love, but I moved in with her and for a while things were OK. It wasn’t a great relationship, but at least I was in a relationship and people stopped bothering me about being alone. I think the appeal was about the same for her. She had a son, just five years younger than I was, but she had never been married. So the only real relationship she had ever had was taking are of a young man, and I guess she liked that because she started doing it for me as well. I was always kind of a border in her life. One she could have sex with.”

Catrin had sat down at the kitchen table. She’d gotten one of the beers out of the refrigerator. She had unscrewed the top and was playing with the bottle cap. “So, for three years I was in this relationship. It was never going to lead anywhere, but it was still something. Eventually though, she got bitter. She kept accusing me of things. They were minor things like going through her photo albums, or denting her car. We stopped talking almost entirely. We stopped having sex. We would barely be in the same room.”

Marshall closed his eyes. He regretted starting the story, but he was caught up in it now. “Then one day things changed. I came home from work and she was incredibly nice to me. She cooked me a nice dinner. We had sex, we snuggled. She started talking about our future together. She wanted us to take a trip to Europe. I don’t know where she thought she was going to get the money for it. Anyway, to make a long story short, the next day I started looking for a new place to live.”

“You did what?” Catrin asked.

“Do you understand why?” Marshall said. Catrin didn’t say anything.  He waited for a bit, just to see if she would come up with something, then he said. “At the time, I sure as hell didn’t know why. I just knew I had to get out of there. Now, after a few years distance, I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of things that are pretty much related. Either I was afraid of it becoming permanent and that being my life, or I finally realized that I was happier alone.”

With his eyes closed, Marshall could not see Catrin’s face, and she never said anything, so he let the rest of it come out. He felt sleepy and the words came out slowly. “She was way more upset, when I left, then I thought she would be. She took it very badly. At one point she ordered her son to find me and beat the hell out of me. He didn’t do it. He and I actually got along pretty well, and so he came and let me know. After that, there was a suicide attempt on her part. It was weird. It was apparently one of those cry-for help things. She was never in any real danger, but the weird thing was that when she did it, she didn’t call me or her son. She called her friend Sharon. I guess it makes sense. They had been friends since the third grade. I only heard about it through Sharon, who decided to call me and tell me how terrible I was. I changed my number after that.”

There was still silence. He felt himself drifting on the edge of sleep. He kept talking though. “I saw her only once after that. It was at a restaurant. I was having dinner with my sister. I should tell you about my sister sometime. Anyway, I was having dinner with sister. It was a restaurant, but one with a bar attached, kind of like tonight, and I saw Magda sitting at the bar. She was alone, and something about that made me feel sad for her. I pictured her life going on without me in one long chain of sad, lonely days. I’m not really sure if she ever saw me. If she did, she ignored me. Whatever the case, just as I was putting this heartbreaking narrative in my head, a man walked up to her. He was probably in his fifties. He had think hair, but gray. He was handsome though, in a way that I most definitely am not. He walked up to her and put his arm on her shoulder. She turned around and smiled, and then they kissed. It was just a quick peck of course. They didn’t make out in the bar or anything. But there was something so happy and relaxed about it. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see that happen. The fact that she was happy, and he seemed happy with her, made me feel like life wasn’t so bad after all. There was someone out there for her.”

Marshall stopped talking then. He tried to remember the point he was trying to make to her. Was he trying to tell her that it would never work out between the two of them, or was he trying to tell her it would? He opened his eyes and looked over, and noticed she was gone. He closed his eyes again and said to the empty room. “Someday you’ll understand.”


Chapter 4

Marshall woke up with a full-bore headache. He hated when they crept up on him in his sleep. Even worse, the ice pack was still wrapped around his foot and was room temperature. He decided to stay where he was on his couch and he started doing his breathing exercises: in for four, out for three. It felt like it took a long time to get it under control, but without his phone, but he had no direct view of a clock from the angle he was at, so he had no idea when it began or how long he kept up the breathing exercises. Time tended to get stretched out, or compressed, or otherwise mangled during a headache. He rode it out until the pain was just a trickle in the back of his head, then he got up. His ankle twinged with his first step, which strengthened his headache a little, but Marshall managed to walk across the floor and put his wrap in the freezer.

He looked at the clock and saw that it was seven in the morning. He had slept through the night. This made Marshall feel a little better. He had somehow gotten back to a normal schedule. Marshall limped his way to the bathroom. He felt like he had to pee very badly, but when he went to go, surprisingly little came out. “I’m dehydrated,” he said to his reflection in the mirror. He realized he needed a shave too, so he ran the water to get it warm and applied some shaving gel to his face. He stood staring at his reflection, covered in a green-white beard, for a long time before he grabbed the razor from its little cup and let it get wet under the hot water. He shaved slowly and deliberately. His hand wasn’t shaking, but he felt like it might start.

When he finished shaving he looked at his reflection in the mirror. His face looked thin. His face had never looked thin before. “Hello stranger,” he said. He remembered the scale from the day before. “I weigh 199 pounds,” he said to his reflection. He smiled at himself, but he didn’t quite like the look of it so he stopped. Limping back into the kitchen, he opened a cabinet and took out a jar of peanut butter. He ate a spoonful, and then made himself a glass of water from the tap to wash it down. He took turns eating spoonfuls of peanut butter and drinking water until his belly felt tight. In all, he consumed three glasses of water and half a twenty-ounce jar of peanut butter. This seemed like an improvement.

Marshall looked over at his phone. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt like there was something on there he didn’t want to deal with yet. Instead, he took his hand crank radio / flashlight out of the cabinet and carried it with him to his bed. He lay down on the bed and turned the crank a few dozen times, then turned on the radio. A somewhat tinny version of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain was playing. He stared up at his ceiling and listened to the radio. Warren Zevon followed James Taylor, which led to Steely Dan, and after that The Beatles. Marshall didn’t quite fall asleep, but he drifted along with the music, his brain never settling too hard on any particular thought. Lying perfectly still, in just the right position, nothing seemed to hurt. His headache had faded. His ankle was content to stay where it was. He wondered how long it would last. He thought about Catrin. Yesterday had been weirdly pleasant, considering it involved a trip to the doctor. He realized that he was looking forward to seeing her today, even if it did involve a trip to the Sheriff.

When his phone started to ring, he considered not getting up to get it. It was a fleeting thought though, passing though his head as he was already rolling his body to get up out of bed.


NaNoWriMo Day 7 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoI managed to get in just enough words last night to hit the Day Seven par. It was a busy day, and the going on this part was a little slow, but overall I’m happy to have stayed on track.


Marshall Cooper

Day Seven– 11711/50000 words

The doctor a big blond man, well over six feet, and he spoke with a light accent. He introduced himself as Doctor Oliversson. He took a look at the chart for a moment, examined his foot. He asked about how it happened, and Marshall explained about stepping in a pothole in the fog.

“Were you feeling dizzy or unbalanced?”

“No,” Marshall said. It wasn’t quite a lie, and Marshall did not need the line of questioning it would have led to. “It was just dark and foggy, and I didn’t see the pothole.”

“Doctor Oliversson looked at his chart. “You’ve broken that leg before?”

“Yes.” Marshall said, “The leg, three ribs, and a hairline fracture on my skull. All on the left side.”

That set off a line of questions Marshall did not enjoy answering. In the end the doctor decided to have x-rays taken, just in case. It took about a half hour before they got through that, and back to the office, where the Doctor Oliversson evaluated the x-ray and declared that the injury was indeed, “just a sprain.” You need RICE, he said, rest, ice, compression and elevation, He wrapped the ankle and gave him a sheet that explained how to care for the ankle. Essentially, he had to stay off of it as much as possible for about three days or until he could walk without pain. The sheet also listed some flexibility exercises he should do after the pain had passed. Up front, they processed his insurance and he gave them his copay.

After they got out of the urgent care, Marshall thanked Catrin for taking him, even though the doctor hadn’t told him anything he didn’t know. He looked in his wallet and then across the street to the mall. “I’ve got a gift card to there, there, and there.” He pointed to a Chili’s, a Red Robin, and an Applebee’s. She chose the Applebee’s. Marshall started to walk over but Catrin made him get in the car and drove them over.

It was about eight o’clock now, and the Applebee’s was mostly full, but they managed to get a seat at one of the high-rounds in the bar area. Catrin wanted to wait for a booth so he could elevate his foot, but Marshall said he would be fine. In truth, his foot was starting to throb a little, but Marshall had dealt with worse. The two of them ordered. Catrin got a grilled chicken Caesar salad and Marshall got a chicken quesadilla. Catrin started to ask questions about the injuries but Marshall waved them off. “Not today,” he said, “some other time.”

They sat in awkward silence for a minute. Searching for something to get the conversation going in a new direction, Marshall asked, “What was it like growing up here?”

Catrin seemed to think about it for a moment. “When I was six,” she said, “My parents upgraded houses and we moved close to the beach. My older brother Reece and I would spend just about every minute we could swimming and building sandcastles and playing basically just running around. My brother was three years older than I was, but he never treated me like I was a pest or anything. I liked the ocean a lot. Then one day my brother disappeared. He was just gone. Most people think he drowned, but they never found a body. My parents never believed that really. They thought someone stole him. They put his face on posters and the whole city rallied around us for a while. That changed at some point though. People started to get suspicious. There were never any outright accusations, but this doubt seemed to linger around us. My family has kind of lived under that ever since. There’s a ton of sympathy, but a little doubt. My parents, of course, were devastated. I didn’t really understand at the time. Kids would…”

The food came then and Catrin stopped talking. The waiter who brought the food was an overly cheery guy who seemed to know Catrin and even called her by name. This seemed to make Catrin uncomfortable. Both Catrin and Marshall sampled their food. Marshall ate his with little interest as he waited for Catrin to continue. When she did, it was to answer the original question. “So,” for what it was like to grow up here, “It was pretty strange. My parents were overprotective and clingy. My friends kind of drifted off. People spent a lot of time asking me if I was ok.”

“I went through something similar,” Marshall said.  “After the accident, all of my relationships changed. How I was doing was a constant question, and one I didn’t want to answer because nobody really wants to hear the truth about all that. That’s a big reason I came here.”

“Most of my friends,” Catrin said, “Are people who came here after. To them I am just another person rather than someone attached to this terrible thing.” Rainman is like that. He came to town two years ago. He says that the world is full of itinerant harpists, roaming from town to town.

Marshall laughed. “He’s a good guy,” she said. “The people I knew in high school and all are kind of fake friends, like Reggie over there.” Catrin pointed at the server who had brought her food. “He acts like I know me, because everyone here kind of knows me. We’ve never had a real conversation though and we probably never will. There are a lot of people here like that. They mean well, but they think they know me when they don’t.”

Marshal nodded. He had managed to take three bites of the chicken quesadilla, but had given up after that. “Why don’t you leave then?”

“That would be really hard on my parents,” Catrin said. “It’s been a fifteen years, and they never talk about it anymore, but I’m pretty sure they think about it every day. They want me to go to work for the agency and take it over one day. It’s struggling though. More and more people are going online. I can’t even really picture there being an agency after they retire. It’s just such an old concept. I mean, where do you get your insurance?”

“I don’t have a car anymore, so I don’t really get car insurance. My health insurance this whole complicated deal because of the accident.” He thought for a moment. I did have accident and injury insurance when I was employed though. I’m glad I had that.”

Marshall noticed Sheriff Weatherly and Shelby Weatherly walk into the restaurant. There was a bit of a line at this point, but the hostess quickly led them past the front. As they walked past, the sheriff nodded at them and Marshal nodded back. They took a couple more steps and then the Sheriff stopped and went back to them. “Marshall,” he said, “I’d appreciate it if you came by my office tomorrow. Nothing major, just a small matter I’d like to talk to you about. Let’s say about two.”

Marshall looked at him a moment and started to answer when Catrin jumped in. “I can drive you,” Catrin said. She looked at the Sheriff. “We were just at the urgent care,” she said, “Marshall sprained his ankle and he doesn’t have a car, but I’ll drive him.”

“OK,” he said, giving her a direct stare. “I appreciate that Catrin.”

“No problem Sheriff.” Throughout the conversation, Shelby Weatherly had kept her eyes fixed on Catrin.

As Shelby and the Sheriff walked away, Marshall said, “I wonder what that was all about?”

Catrin said, “I’ve known the Sheriff for a long time. If he was looking to arrest you, he wouldn’t invite you to his office.”

“I’m not too worried. I haven’t committed any crimes I know of. He probably just wants a bartender.”

“In that case, you should really learn how to bar tend.”

Marshall laughed. “At some point I suppose I should.”

After they finished dinner, they drove around a bit. Catrin gave her ratings of various restaurants. “Big Jake’s Grill has the best hamburgers in town, and they have really good fries. They’re the crinkle cut kind. Seaside Bistro has the blandest Italian food I’ve ever tasted. La Donna’s is way better, especially if you like fettuccine Alfred. The Secret Garden is good if you’re into health food. Pardo’s has good pizza, and they’re cheaper than New York Pies, which probably had better pizza. ”

Marshall paid a moderate amount of attention. He liked getting the tour, but restaurants didn’t matter to him. He had left most of the quesadilla on his plate; although he knew how much good some food would do him.

NaNoWriMo Day 6 – Marshall Cooper

The sugar skull I pained tonight for Dia de los Muertos. i call him Ned.

The sugar skull I painted tonight for Dia de los Muertos. I call him Ned.

My word count as a little low today, mainly because tonight my wife and I went on a painting date to a place called Creative Juice here in Tucson. The photo tonight is from my contribution. Considering that is the first time I’ve attempted to paint a picture since about the third grade, I think it came out OK. I did manage to get in over a thousand words before we left for our date night though, which still keeps my word count above the baseline for success. Tomorrow night we are going to a wedding, so fingers crossed that I make progress during the day.


Marshall Cooper

Day Six– 10253/50000 words

“Just a second,” he called out. Marshall had to move the couch from in front of the door. This took a moment as he positioned it back where it was supposed to be, on the wall oppose his bed.  He opened the door to find Catrin standing there. “Hey Marshall,” she said, “Did you want your booze?”

Marshall looked at her for a moment, and then he saw that she had his liquor cart behind her. “You left it in the van last night. Rainman had to help a friend move a piano, so he asked me to get it to you. It was a bitch getting it down those stairs.” Marshall kept looking at her and she fidgeted uncomfortably. “I texted you,” she said, “and then I tried to call, but no answer.”

“The battery on my phone died,” he said finally. “Go ahead and come in.:” He added, “I’ll get the cart.” Catrin walked in past him and he went out and rolled in the liquor cart, moving it into an empty corner.

“You should put the beers in the fridge,” she said, sitting down on the sofa. “If you leave them out too long they’ll get skunky.”

“I guess I should,” Marshall said. He grabbed the few remaining bottles and put them in the fridge.

“Your apartment is very sparse,” Catrin said.

“It’s less sparse now,” Marshall said, looking at the liquor tray and feeling like it said something about his apartment that he didn’t like.

“I didn’t sleep over,” Catrin said, “If that is what you were wondering. I came by this afternoon to hang out. We do that sometimes. Rainman is a nice guy but he’s too old for me.”

Marshall laughed. “I must seem like a fossil then. I’ve got ten years on him at least.”

Catrin laughed uncomfortably. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. After a moment she added, “I don’t even know why I said that. I just didn’t want you to think I slept with him.” Marshall finished putting away the liquor. He really wasn’t sure what to say.

“Rainman is a nice guy,” Marshall said. I haven’t known him for very long, but he seems kind, which means more in this world than most things. “Marshall headed for the couch to sit down.”

“You’re limping.” Catrin observed.

“It’s nothing,” Marshall said, “I twisted it on the way home last night. I’m sure it’s just a sprain.”

“I can take you to urgent care,” Catrin said. “My car is out front.”

“It’s nothing,” Marshall said. “I probably just need to wrap it.”

“Do you have a wrap?” Catrin asked.

“I have an ice wrap,” he said, “but I think I forgot to put it back in the freezer last night.”

Catrin got up off the couch. “Come on,” she said, “I’m taking you to the urgent care. No more excuses.”

Marshall didn’t remember giving any actual excuses, but he said, “Ok, fine. Just let me grab my wallet.”

“And put on some pants,” Catrin added.

Marshall realized then that he was still in his underwear. “OK,” Marshall said, “That was embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Catrin said, “Nothing slipped out.”

“Good to know,” Marshall said. He put on some pants, waiving off Catrin’s offer of help. The two of them headed out of the apartment. Catrin drove a silver Infiniti sedan. Marshall assumed it was her parent’s car.  He could picture a moderately successful insurance agent driving around in an Infiniti. It was comfortable on the inside. Back when Marshall still had a car, he had been partial to Nissan’s cars, so the Infiniti had a familiar, if somewhat nicer feel to it. Catrin seemed like a careful driver, which was a relief given her age. Marshall still got nervous riding in cars.

The urgent care was near the mall, just a couple of miles away from the apartment building. Marshall went inside while Catrin ran next door to the Starbucks to get them some coffee. He filled out the paperwork. There were a lot of questions to answer, and he had to explain more than one medical situation on the form. This reminded him that he would probably need to find a regular doctor here in town. He wasn’t looking forward to that. It would require more questions, and explanations, and he would have to field ideas about how he should proceed. Marshall was tired of other people’s ideas.

There were a couple of people ahead of him, so he sat down in one of the chairs to wait. He went to grab his phone, but realized that he had left it on the charger back at the apartment. He wondered, once again, who had texted him the night before. Catrin showed up and handed him his coffee. “You said iced, so I got you that, but apparently they have a cold-brewed coffee now. I wasn’t sure.”

“This is fine,” he said, taking a sip. “I need to wake up. This should help.” After about five minutes, they called him back. Catrin followed him into the little examining room. Marshall thought about telling her no, but he decided he didn’t mind having her there. Marshall took off the shoe and sock on his left foot and rolled up the pant leg. A nurse came in and took his vitals. She had him stand on a scale and marked his eight at 199. Marshall realized that he had officially dropped out of the 200s. He tried to remember the last time he had weighed less than two hundred punts, and realized that it was probably in high school. He had always been a chubby kid, and it had just gotten worse as an adult. Sitting in front of a computer all day was one bad habit, and eating junk food was another. Back in Chandler, the delivery men at Barro’s Pizza had known him by name.

NaNoWriMo Day 5 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoThis was another day where I spent several minutes staring at the screen, waiting for the first sentence to come. Once it did though, everything seemed to come together. I’m pretty satisfied with how tonight went. If I weren’t trying to keep up a word count, I might have spent more time polishing the dialog, but I can leave that for editing.

The word count was good today. I added 2126. I’m hoping to pass the 10,000 total word mark tomorrow. It will be tough though. Tomorrow is a much busier day. Good luck to everyone who is working on a novel this month!

Just a reminder. This is most definitely a draft. I’ve done some minimal cleanup to make it less excruciating to read, but for the most part it is unedited.

Marshall Cooper

Day Five – 9259/50000 words

Marshall had walked by The Gaslamp a few times, but had never gone inside. In his twenties, Marshall had often gone to bars with his friends, but that had slowed down in his thirties, as his friends from high school and college either moved away, or got married and had kids. After the accident he had simply stopped drinking entirely. His doctor had advised it, and it was no real sacrifice to him.

The inside of The Gaslamp was nice inside. True to Rainman’s description, there was a brass rail around the bar. In fact, there were many brass fixtures. The bar was about half full. Marshall noticed a few older patrons, but overall it seemed like a normal enough crowd. The place was well-lit, and had a wide selection of beers on tap. Rainman ordered an IPA, and Catrin ordered a stout. Marshall got soda. The coveted Back booth was free, so they sat down. The topic quickly turned to tips and Marshall pulled out small roll of bills. A quick count put Marshall’s total at $210, which included the hundred Shelby had tipped at the end. That topped Catrin, who had only gotten $120, but Shelby hadn’t seen fit to add to her tips. “She doesn’t like me,” Catrin said, “She told me I don’t smile enough. She never tells the guys to smile.”

Rainman just had the hundred. “No tips for the harpist,” Rainman said. Marshall counted out a hundred and five, and handed to him.

“Not necessary”, Rainman said, but Marshall insisted.

“You got me the gig. You should get a share of the reward.” Rainman didn’t put up too much of a fight. He thanked him and put the money in his pocket.  There was a jukebox in the corner, the kind that can find and play just about any song off of the Internet. Rainman walked over and fed a few dollars into the machine. After a minute, Black Coffee in Bed started playing. Above the bar was a line of TVs showing baseball and football games. A couple of the older men at the bar were watching the baseball game. Marshall tried to remember if the playoffs had started yet, but he wasn’t sure. He didn’t know what team they would be routing for around here anyway.

Catrin asked how long he had been in town and told her he had been here about a month. “I grew up here,” she said, “My mother and father own a State Farm agency. I’m still at home while I finish college.”

“They have a college here?” Marshall asked.

“God no. I mean, there’s a community college branch, but that’s mainly for retirees and such who get bores. I do all my classes. It goes faster that way actually. I’ve never done less than 18 credits a semester. If I didn’t have a double major I’d already be done.”

“What are your majors?”

“Business administration and Public Planning.”

Marshall nodded. “I have a business degree,” he said, “But then I went back and got a programming certificate because that was where the work was.”

“Is that what you normally do?”

“Yes,” he said, “Mostly database work. There are always openings if you know SQL. I could probably get a job here if I looked.”

“But you’re not looking.”

“I needed a change,” He told her, not wanting to rehash his woes again. “I had some money saved up, so I came here.”

Catrin made a bit of a face, but then shrugged. “I’ve probably been here too long.” she said.

“Why didn’t you go away to college then?” Marshall asked.

“Reasons,” she said, but didn’t elaborate.

Rainman came back to the table and they spent the next few minutes debating his music choices. Rainman seemed to have an affinity for new wave, preferably from the UK. Besides Squeeze, he had put in Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Jam, and Madness. Catrin preferred more modern indie rock bands like My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses. Marshall tried to make an argument for mid-nineties bands like Green Day and the Offspring. It was a friendly debate, and lasted through two beers each for Catrin and Rainman. Marshall let them talk him into having a beer after he finished his soda. Catrin convinced him to have a stout. He liked the bitterness. For some reason, bitter still tasted correct to him, while most other flavors never came out right. Still, he took only a few sips. He had put his brain through enough for the day.

When Marshall noticed it was midnight, he got up to go. Both Rainman and Catrin seemed disappointed, which made Marshall feel good, but Marshall knew his limits. His body and mind did not respond well to being pushed outside of their comfort zones for too long. As they were leaving, Catrin asked for his number in case any gigs came up needing a bartender. He gave it to her and watched her dial it into her phone, then he headed out the door.

It was cool and damp when he got outside The Gaslamp. The Gaslamp was along Seaside Avenue, about a block further from his house and Seaside Espress. The fog has settled in, though it wasn’t so thick that he couldn’t see. There were a number of cars on the street, cruising slowly. Marshall assumed they were teenagers, still waiting out the time before they were old enough to go to bars. Marshall crossed at the first light he could and headed up a couple of streets to get away from the traffic. He was happy to get away from the traffic. With the fog, the residential streets took on a slightly sinister look. At one point, his own footsteps startled him. He could feel a headache coming on. He knew he was still well away from his apartment, and started to worry that he would get confused. He pushed on though. At first, there were a lot of lights on at the houses he passed, but then he reached a stretch where the lights were either out, or the houses were obscured by fences and plants. He started to feel a little blind. He took out his iPhone and turned on the flashlight function, which set the camera flash to stay on.

His mind began to lay with him. He became convinced that he was going to stumble upon a dead body, or somebody was going to attack him. When he got to the next cross street, he put out a hand and held on to the stop sign, then he started to his breathing, One, two, three, four, in and then one, two three out. He tried to picture the blue steam moving in and out of his lungs, but instead he just saw the fog. He felt his lungs filling up with the damp fog. That made it take longer. It was a good five or ten minutes before the panic subsided and he could move on. He looked up at the sign and tried to read it. He had to back up, and accidentally stepped in a pothole, twisting his ankle. He took a couple steps to confirm that it wasn’t broken. It hurt, but not so severe that he couldn’t walk. Reading the sign, he figured out that he was only a one street south and one street east of his apartment complex. That made him feel better. He crossed the street and started walking again. His headache was now full force, but he didn’t see any choice but to push on. After a few steps, the pain in his head seemed took up all the space that the pain in his ankle had been occupying, and in a way he felt better.

It took was seemed like another hour to get the remaining block to his apartment, but as he got to the door he looked at his phone and saw that it was just 12:30. The entire walk had taken less than a half hour. Marshall forced himself to go through his routine, getting the ice wrap and mask out of the freezer, even though he was already cold, and undressing before he got into bed. The throbbing lasted a long time, and his breathing exercises did little to lessen it. For the next three hours, he tried and failed to get his headache under control. It wouldn’t stop though. At about four in the morning, with some regret, he made himself get out of bed. He went to his medicine cabinet and got out two pills from a prescription bottle. He had to take the pills with food, so he went to the kitchen and got out a bag of mixed nuts. He ate a handful and washed them, and the pills, down with tap water.

He knew now he had about twenty minutes before they kicked in. Once they did, he would most likely sleep for at least fourteen hours, so he went to the bathroom, and then he ate another handful of nuts and drank a half a glass of water. He went to the door and latched it, and then he moved his couch in front of it, just to make sure he didn’t wander off. As he headed back to bed, he checked his phone and noticed that he had gotten a text message. He opened it up. The text was from a number he didn’t recognize. It simply said, “We should get together sometime.” Marshall stared at it. He started to write a reply, but then the pills kicked in. He didn’t remember hitting send.


Chapter Three

It was almost seven in the evening when Marshall woke up. It was a slow, dull awakening. He was still tired, and he knew he could go back to sleep with almost no effort. It was a tempting thing to do too. He knew that if he took another pill, he wouldn’t need two this time, and he could sleep another ten hours and then it would be five in the morning. He would be somewhat on schedule then. That was the problem with the pills though. When you took one, you wanted another. You could easily sleep away a week or two. He fought the urge though. Instead he got up and headed to the shower. He took a long, hot shower. Now that he was free of the headache, he was aware of the pain in his ankle again. It wasn’t a sharp pain, it was more like his ankle had rusted and each movement had a silent screech of metal on metal. The heat of the shower seemed to help the ankle a bit, but it did little for his energy levels.

He thought about coffee. Unfortunately, he didn’t have his own coffee maker. He always got coffee at the Seaside Espresso. Right now though, the thought of walking that far on his ankle while he was still half asleep seemed a little too ambitious for him. Everything seemed ambitious. He noticed that his couch was still blocking the door. He considered moving it, but he couldn’t quite convince himself that he was fully back in his right mind yet. “I might still do something stupid,” he said. That was when he remembered the text message from last night.

Marshall picked up his phone, but it was dead. He realized that he had forgotten to charge it the night before. It had been on all day, and then he had used it as a flashlight for the walk home. He plugged the phone in and then he went into the kitchen and checked the freezer. He had bought a few cheap TV dinners a couple weeks back, and sure enough, he found a Michelina’s stroganoff, “Made with Real Sour Cream.” He didn’t feel in the least bit hungry, but he knew it was important to eat something, especially if he planned to take another pill, which was something he was still not willing to rule out.

He sat at his little table, eating the pasta. It didn’t taste like much of anything to him, but he enjoyed the textures of it in his mouth. As he ate, he stared at the phone, wondering how long he should wait before trying to turn it back on. Something was nagging at him. He was pretty sure he had had an entire conversation, but did he really have it, or was it something he dreamed in his sleep. He made up his mind to check it as soon as he finished his food. Before that could happen though, he heard a knock at his door.

Poetry Prompts