This is part of le Grand Experiment, where I publicly perform the 12 simple writing exercises put forth by Writer's Digest. (Click link for list). This one is to grab a book and select two chapters. Take the first line from one chapter, the last line from the second chapter you chose, and write a 1000 word short story. I chose The Gunslinger, by Stephen King. And so follows what I loosely refer to as a "story" - your mileage may vary. There is adult situations and language.
eta: Oh, I read it again and I really, really wanna edit this....
They were in bed when Sheb kicked the door open and came in with the knife. Jack’s first thought: “I can’t believe I left that fucking thing unguarded.” The second: he couldn’t believe Sheb had the balls to touch it.
He vaulted from under the covers, tossing them over Annie, just in case the piano player went for her instead. She gave out a squawk of protest and started to wrestle with the blankets, calling him everything but Jack. Sheb’s entire focus was on the naked gunslinger. That was fine. That was how Jack preferred it.
Sheb lunged at him with an inarticulate cry, something between a scream and a grunt, holding the knife awkwardly in front of him. Jack waited until the last minute and spun to the side, coming back around to smash his elbow down, hard, in the middle of Sheb’s back. The piano player went down, screaming. Jack leapt nimbly over the body and brought his heel down on the hand holding the knife. It squirted out of Sheb’s fingers and scooted under the bed. Great.
“Annie! Get up!” Jack shouted.
Sheb twisted around onto his back, crying now, for his broken hand as much as for his loss of Annie, weakly striking out with the other hand. Jack grabbed Sheb’s wrist and pulled, hauling him like a sack of potatoes across the floor and out into the hall, shouting “Annie! Get up!” over his shoulder.
“I’m naked!” she yelled back.
Jack’s voice was thunder in the small room. “Get out of that bed, Annie!” Once Sheb’s body crossed the threshold, Jack jumped over it, darted back into the room and slammed the door shut.
Annie was too busy gathering up the sheet and looking sexy to be quick. She must not have heard or realized what the tearing sound from under the bed meant. He ran around the bed and lifted her, bedclothes and all, and dumped her on the floor. He was barely in time.
The spot where her round bum had been sitting started to move. Then to jig, then a green point erupted, sharp as broken glass, the impossible edge of the knife sawing at the mattress. Annie was still shouting in protest, but now she pointed at the bed and screamed.
He lifted the mattress with both hands and threw it over. The large rolltop desk kept it from falling flat. The path of the knife was obvious, a gaping tear in the bottom of the mattress. He tore at it, spreading it wider, his hands slipping on the fibrous material. The mattress was tufted and the interior strings tore at his hand when he plunged it in. His fingers brushed the frenetic wriggling blade and it redoubled its efforts. Wrestling with the heavy mattress, he twisted his hand in the small space, scraping the knuckles on the fibrous filling, the pads of his fingers seeking a hold on the handle. Now the entire blade was free, only the width of the handle kept it from falling out of the mattress. He had one last chance. He thrust his arm forward, almost pushing the knife out, but at the last moment, his fingers tightened around it. Wrenching it free, he shouted in triumph. The green knife, carved entirely from a single piece of jade, was grasped in his bleeding hand.
“What the hell is that, Jack?” Annie shouted, finally forming words with her shrieks.
He laughed, dry and bitter. He’d yet to figure out how to explain that one. The knife continued to jitter and vibrate, seeking freedom from his hand. It had been engaged in combat. It wouldn’t stop until it found blood. Carefully changing hands, he smeared what little had welled from his scrapes on the blade. It quieted. “Soon,” he promised it. It vibrated in answer. He glanced down at the blond beauty sprawled on the ground. Now her face was blotchy, there were bags under her eyes. He tucked the knife into his belt and patted it. “Payment for a debt,” he said grimly.
“Whatever. Put the mattress back,” she snapped, tottering to her feet, now wrapped in the sheet. “What’s a gunslinger doing taking a knife as payment for a debt?”
He sighed. “Not payment for a debt. It’s a reminder of a debt I have to pay.” Sorry he’d begun, he mumbled, “It’s not easy to explain.”
“Whatever. I’m up. I’m gonna go open the bar.”
“It’s Sunday,” he said.
“And they’ll need something to wash down the preacher’s bullshit with after. You know fire and brimstone clogs the throat.”
He could see she wanted him to go, uncomfortable with his strange, otherworldy magics now that the sun was up. Retrieving his britches and guns, the only thing he’d had on when she asked him to join her for a drink, and then a little more than a drink, he slipped them on and went down the hall to his own room. There was no sign of the piano player. After pulling on the cleanest shirt he had and washing his face, he went downstairs.
The Wetnap was the only house that sold spirits in Digo Town. It had been a house, but when the original owner removed all the walls in an effort to enlarge the common room, the upstairs threatened to come downstairs. To shore it up, a series of pillars had been placed haphazardly through the space. Over the years, they’d become totem poles. Some carved with shapes or love notes, some covered in graffiti. Marriages written on one pole. Divorces on another. The dead scored in black on a square white pillar. Annie said they were a good thing. They slowed down fights, in the way big rocks thrown in a feed bin will slow down a dog that eats too fast.
When he reached the last step that spilled him out into the main room, he paused. To his surprise, the man that laid down the fire and brimstone that clogged the throats of the populace was already there, drinking something from a steaming mug. Jack’s kind and brimstone didn’t mix, but there was no going back upstairs now. Jack hitched up his pants and approached the bar.
“Jack,” the preacher’s voice was low and pleasant, but his gaze focused on the wall behind the bar, just a wide plank of wood laid on sawhorses.
The Indian that tended bar for Annie brought Jack his usual: hot tea with lemon.
“Gonna storm later.”
Jack made a noncommittal sound.
“All sinners should get thee hence,” the preacher continued, rolling his cup between his hands, still not looking at Jack. “Gonna be a bad storm. Digo Town is a bad place for strangers to be stuck in a storm. People get desperate. Get ideas in their head about God and the Devil. Sin. And magic. Do things under cover of wind and rain they wouldn’t dream of doing on a clear day.”
A tremor from the knife at his belt. Warning. Danger.
The preacher shoved his now empty cup toward the other side of the bar, stood and walked out. The indian behind the bar looked at Jack from big black eyes and said nothing. With glacial slowness, he pulled a lumpy, many patched sack from behind the bar; the gunslinger’s own, as familiar to him as the back of his own hand. It looked fuller than when he’d brought it in. When Jack just stared back at him, the Indian pushed the sack toward him then gestured at the door. The face was stoic, but nothing in the Indian’s quiet face suggested threat. The tremor of the knife at his side seemed to agree. Jack placed his hand on the handle and again promised, “Soon.” An almost glasslike sound rang from the knife. Soon might be never if they didn’t get out of here. Now. He glanced over at the staircase. He’d swore he heard a light step from that direction, but there was no sign of Annie. Maybe she’d hoped he would be gone by the time she came down. He threw back the rest of his tea, tipped the cup in the Indian’s direction and stood up.
The gunslinger shouldered his tote sack and moved on with it.