Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Conversations with a Quilt

Greeting Everyone,

This story was written a couple of months ago for my short story group. I didn't post the story at the time because a lot of my other stories were better for the various holidays. Now that the holidays are over, I am going ahead and sharing it with everyone. 

The piece is intended to be humorous, though I don't know how well the humor comes out in the story. I would be interested to get any feedback on it.

Hope all of you are having a great week!


"Conversations with a Quilt"
by James J Meadows III

                The clop of Carmen’s boots, echoing along the dank prison corridors, was strangely audible in the odd silence lingering over the normally busy prison.

                “Are the prisoners outside on break?” She asked the prison warden, who was accompanying her through the facility.

                “Nah, they’re just very subdued, right now,” the warden replied, his voice betraying traces of a strange, almost nervous, uncertainty. “They’ve been like that ever since your brother passed. I can’t explain it. I’ve never seen the prisoners go into such a funk following the death of a fellow inmate. Some of them are hardly recognizable as their old selves.”

                Carmen nodded wordlessly. Though never incarcerated herself, her many visits to see her brother had provided a greater familiarity with the environment of this prison than she believed any thirty-five year old law-abiding citizen should possess. The solemn silence hanging over the prisons was certainly not part of its normal ambiance.

She stared down the various corridors lining the main hall. The dingy white walls, whose stained and moldy exteriors gave the impression of not being touched by a scrub brush once in the last decade, contrasted sharply with the noxious fumes of ammonia, likely lingering from a recent and highly ineffective attempt to clean them. At least some things never changed.

                “This way, Miss,” the warden said, leading her into a small chamber, where a sloppily dressed prison guard stood inside an equally disheveled room, separated from Carmen and the warden by a set of bars atop a high counter.

                “We’re here for Mr. Varker’s items,” the warden announced to the man, guiding Carmen to the counter.

                “Yes, sir. I have them right here,” the officer replied, lifting up a small plastic container, resembling a recycling bin.

                He placed the container on the counter and began pulling out the items, handing them to Carmen.

                “Keys, wallet, clothes, and watch” he spoke aloud, listing each item as he handed them to her, almost as though he expected her to have some sort of inventory to check off inside her head.

                Carmen scooped up each item as the guard placed them on the table, sticking them in her pocket with an almost dismissive gesture. She paused at the watch, though, studying the dark golden face, inscribed with the words, “Rolex”. She gave a small humph.

                “Last of all, the blanket,” the guard said, placing what appeared to be a small hand-made quilt onto the table.

                She reached down and lifted the quilt to her eyes, allowing it to unfold as she examined it. The quilt had a strange smell, almost like body odor mingled with burnt leaves, and felt grainy, a trait she attributed to the prison sheets it was made from.

                The only truly remarkable thing about the quilt was the pattern. Across the front of the quilt, stitched using a wide variety of colors one might not normally expect to find in a prison’s craft room, was an incredibly life-like representation of her brother wrapped in a dark black cloak. His eyes stared out of the cloak at her with an almost eerie quality, every thread perfect in its place.

                “Pretty amazing isn’t it,” the warden said. “He spent nearly every free moment he could in the crafts room building it. You have to admit: he was a pretty talented artist.”

                “Yes, he was,” Carmen said, still staring at the eyes.

    After a few seconds, she lowered the quilt and began to refold it.

                “You said his body was found with the quilt in his possession?” Carmen asked.

                “Yes,” the warden said. “At the end of craft time, the guard came in to find him slumped over the finished quilt. Apparently, he suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after completing it.”

                Carmen nodded. She finished the fold, completing it in such a way that the face and eyes were upright, where she could ssee them.

                “Is that everything?” she asked, extending her hand to sign and initial a form the guard had offered to her.

                “Well, aside from some random garbage and waste products littering his cell,” the warden said. “Just garbage - stuff no one would want. The janitors cleaned it and threw it away.”

                “Sounds good,” she said. “Well, if there is nothing else, I will bid you a good day.”

                The warden escorted her back through the silent hall and out of the building. Carmen walked quietly to her car, climbed inside and tossed the quilt into the passenger seat next to her, the face still upright, where she could see it. After starting the car, she pulled out of the station and onto the road. For several minutes, she drove in silence before turning to the quilt with a furious glare.

                “Really?” she addressed it, speaking to it as though it were a person, her voice an odd mixture of incredulity and exasperation. “You couldn’t even complete a full three years of your prison sentence without dying? And this is what you leave behind, a stupid quilt?”

                She yanked the watch out of her pocket, brandishing it at the blanket like a lawyer accusing a witness.

                “Couldn’t even leave me your watch?” She declared. “Couldn’t put a note on it saying, ‘Here, thank you for all the things you did for me’?”

She reached a stop sign and, pausing her speech momentarily, glanced both ways to ensure everything was clear before turning back toward the quilt.

“You spent your entire life trotting around the world on random archaeological missions seeking ancient ‘arcane secrets’ and ‘lost texts of magic and power’, squandering our parent’s funding until their death. Then, after they pass away, you have the audacity to constantly beg me for pieces of their former wealth to continue your quest. All the while, you’re out there walking around with a effing Rolex on your arm!”

                She slammed the watch down into the chair. Turning back toward her driving, she barely swerved in time to avoid hitting a stalled vehicle.

                “Do I ever get any thanks from you for anything?” She continued fuming. “No! God forbid. Did you ever think about sending me a Rolex? Maybe, I’d like one too, you know!”

                She cast a sideways glance at the quilted image.

                “Oh no,” she said sarcastically. “You just send me random old scrolls for old potions. ‘This potion will bring you great wealth.’ As if! Seriously, even if I could force half that stuff down my throat, how was I supposed to make them? ‘Wings of a Dehydrated Scarab Beetle’? Oh, sure, let me just pull those out of my butt! ‘Eye balls of a still living venomous cobra’? Yeah, right, let me run down to Target and pick those up!”

                Here, she began to do an impression of a shopper visiting a checkout counter.

                “’Excuse me, ma’am, where can I find the dried testicles of blue newt cut off on a Friday?’”

                “’Certainly ma’am,’” Carmen continued, dropping her voice low to mimic a cashier. “’Just go right down aisle five on the left side. It will be between the ‘hoof-nails from the first born baby giraffe’ and the ‘pickled ears of a hornless yak’.”

                She turned back toward the blanket, once against grabbing the watch and brandishing it.

                “You couldn’t possibly send me a potion for making a Rolex, could you?” She shouted. “I bet I could find those parts!”

                Carmen threw down the watch down again, resuming her drive.

                “And then of all things, you get yourself thrown in jail,” she continued. “Now, I will admit, I wanted to butcher that son-of-a-bitch serial killer who murdered our parents as much as anyone did. And, I commend you for tracking him down and capturing him. But seriously, did you have to make a pentacle shaped altar and strategically drain all the blood from his body in imitation of an ancient Sumerian dark-arts ritual? It’s kind of hard to pull off a good ‘self-defense’ argument when you do stuff like that, you know. Though I dare say - after the things he did to his victims - if their families were sitting on that jury, they would have found you innocent. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t stupid. ‘Trying to become a lich’, indeed. It was all just another way you could waste even more of our parents money.”

                She gave a sigh.

                “Of course, I never could say no to you,” she said. “You are my baby brother after all. And I love you. At the same time, a nice ‘Thank you, here have a fancy Rolex’ wouldn’t have hurt!”

                A few moments later, she pulled into the driveway of her parent’s old house, a large luxurious manor home, whose upkeep exhausted nearly all of the considerable stipend she received annually from her deceased parent’s trust.

                Grabbing the watch, the blanket and the rest of her stuff, she marched into the house. Evening was beginning to descend and most of the staff had already left. A young butler, who would normally be off-duty at this time, opened the door for her.

                “Randall, what are you doing here?” Carmen asked.

                “Making sure you returned safely, my lady,” he said, with a small bow. “Now that you have, I will bid you ado. In the meantime, I have turned the fireplace on for you and there is a tea kettle boiling in the kitchen.”

                “You always take good care of me,” Carmen smiled. “You have a safe drive home.”

                The butler thanked her before heading out the door to his car. As he did so, he closed the door, locking it behind him.

                Carmen crossed the hall into the warm living room, where a bright fire crackled merrily in the hearth. She placed the wallet, keys and the watch onto a table and crossed over to the fire, still clutching her brother’s quilt in her hands.  On the mantle above the fireplace stood her brother ashes, whose arrival the previous day, along with a letter which her brother wrote just days before his death, had spurred her to finally pick up her brother’s items from the prison.

                Glancing back down at her brother’s face gazing up at her from the blanket, she gave a sad smile. As she did so, she heard Randall's car start up and head down the driveway toward the street.

                “At least someone takes care of me,” she said, still speaking to the face. “Goodness knows that you never did.”

                With these words, she tossed the blanket into the fire. Flames started to nip at the edges, causing a horrible stench of burnt cloth - and other stuff she didn’t even want to speculate upon – to fill the room. Ignoring the scent, she grabbed the vase with the ashes and hurled it angrily into the fire as well.

                “There,” she growled. “I hope you’re happy.”

                A cloud of ashes and black smoke rose from the fireplace where the cloth and ashes fell, yet she paid them no more mind than she paid to the smell. Instead, she turned and strode into the kitchen. There, she grabbed a small tea cup, which she filled with tea leaves before adding steaming water from the nearby tea pot.

                Holding the cup firmly in her hands, she strolled back into the living room and extended the tea toward the large cloud of smoke and ashes floating in front of the fireplace. But they were not a cloud of smoke any longer.

                The smoke and ashes had congealed into a solid form. And the solid form, had taken the shape of her brother, standing before her wrapped in a black cloak identical to the one he wore in the quilt.

                She wasn’t afraid of him. She and her parents had seen him do enough odd things over the years, that nothing surprised her anymore. His letter said this would happen. And, the truth was, she was still too angry at him to feel either shock or relief.

                “I made you some tea,” she said curtly.

                He studied her for a moment, his eyes scanning the glass before lifting to her face. A wry smile crossed his features.

                “If you really want the watch that badly, you can keep it,” he said, taking the cup from her.

                “I may,” she replied, haughtily. “In the meantime, I don’t suppose you are going to tell me what you did to your fellow prisoners.”

                “They’ll be alright,” he said. “I needed to trap their energy in order to make the spell work. Now that the blanket is burned, the energy is released. They’ll be back to themselves in a day or two.”

                “Humph,” Carmen said, spinning around and heading into the kitchen.

                Her brother seemed to sense she was angry, for he followed hastily behind her still gripping his cup.

                “Look, it wasn’t my fault,” he said defensively. “You don’t know how much energy it takes to work those spells. The ‘foreskin of a black goat born on a Friday’ had to be heavily charged before it could be attached to the quilt to complete the spell.”

                Carmen looked down at her hands in sudden horror.

                “Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe I touched that quilt! What all did you have in there?”

                She raced to the kitchen sink, grabbing a whole bottle of soap and turning the water on high.

                “How did you even get that past the inspectors?” she exclaimed, scrubbing her hands with all the vigor she could muster.

                “Well, I mean, there weren’t technically any rules against it,” he said. “Besides, after I received ‘the dissected liver of a fully fed vampire bat’ no one wanted to check my packages anymore.”

                “Dissected liver of a vampire bat,” she exclaimed, switching off the water and turning toward him in disbelief. “Where the heck did you get that from?”

                “,” he replied, with a sly smile.

                “Go figure,” she muttered.

                Throwing her hands in the air, she marched from the room, leaving him grinning behind her.