My Writing Treadmill
(Stephen King's Writing Exercise)
Not-Much-Fun with Dick and Jane
Dick tossed his keys in the air as he approached the house. Three hours alone. This was a rare occurance and he planned to take full advantage. The fridge was stocked with his favorite beer and the Packers would kick off in less than an hour.
Jumping the last step to his white, clapboard house- an inheritance from his long dead parents- he put the key in the door and turned. What met him as he swung the door open wasn’t the normal feelings of home he usually felt here. This was where he grew up. He knew this house like his own reflection. What welcomed him this time was a nagging feeling of dread. Something wasn’t quite right.
Dick shrugged off the feeling, chalking it up to the strangeness of being alone. Whenever not at work, he was part of a duo. Nell, his daughter, was his constant companion. At four, she was bright and funny. He loved spending time with her, and had no desire to start dating, resisting the attempts of his co-workers to find him ‘the one’.
He closed the door and walked through the dim front room to the kitchen. The dark feeling pressed on him like a heavy jacket as he opened the fridge. Standing with beer in hand, he physically shook himself in an attempt to leave the nagging behind. He walked to the living room, opening the beer as he went. Dropping into his favorite chair, he sipped his drink.
‘The one’ he thought with a smirk. Oh, he’d found ‘the one’ years ago. What a mess that turned out to be.
Jane Kater had been in his writing class his senior year at Penn State. She was tall and curvy with a shock of short red hair, which she wore in spikes all over her head. Every guy in class, hell, every guy in school, noticed her. She liked being noticed. Dick had been too shy to ask her out, he simply stared at her, then looked away every time she turned his way. Jane enjoyed his attention and one day after class, asked him out. He’d said yes.
Their courtship was fast and furious. Dick began spending most nights in Jane’s sorority house, sneaking out before the RA could catch him in the mornings. His stomach flipped as he remembered the thrill of sliding down the sloping roof of Delta Sigma Chi, glancing back at Jane as she leaned out the window, waving goodbye with a wicked grin.
Dick shook his head and took a long drink from the cold bottle in his hand. Those memories were best left buried. He picked up the remote and turned on the large flat-screen that was mounted above the fireplace. Before he could turn the channel to find the game, a large red banner flashed on the screen. ‘Breaking News’ it blared, followed by the perky blond newscaster he despised. Her tone was serious as she shared the news of a breakout from the psychiatric unit of the women’s prison. These words sent shivers up Dick’s spine and every hair on his body seemed to stand on end.
“Three women escaped the prison early this morning,” the blond reported. “After overpowering a guard in the laundry where they worked, the women stole a prison vehicle and drove off the grounds.” Dick set his beer on the table next to him. He didn’t notice that the bottle teetered on the edge. He sat forward in his chair as the reporter continued. “A police chase ensued and the van was found three miles from the prison. The police found two of the prisoners, who were returned to lock-up. A third prisoner is still on the loose. Police warn that she is armed and dangerous.” Names, Dick silently pleaded. Give me names. As though she’d heard him, the blond finished her report, “The prison officials have not released the names of the prisoners.”
Dick’s elbows were on his knees and he buried his head in his hands. He didn’t need a news report to tell him who the prisoners were. And he didn’t need names. He knew. Armed and dangerous? Oh, yes. Jane would be dangerous, armed or not. She’d proven that a year ago.
After years of abuse, Dick had finally done it. He swallowed his pride and admitted that his wife was abusing him. Police snickered and his co-workers gossiped behind his back. He didn’t care. He had a daughter to think about. And, while Jane had never hurt their daughter, Dick knew it was only a matter of time. The divorce was over quickly. The judge had found the pictures of bite marks on Dick’s arms and legs, along with the black eye and swollen lip, proof enough. Custody was awarded and Dick took Nell home. The judge had also signed a protective order. Jane wasn’t to come within one hundred yards of either her husband or her daughter.
Dick snorted thinking about that order. It had held her back like a piece of paper in the wind. Turning his hand over, he looked at the scar on his forearm. It ran from his wrist to his elbow. Four hours of surgery and two steel rods had put it back together.
The day had been cool and as he hurried from his office, he wished he’d brought a coat. His car was parked on the street and Dick ran with his head down against the wind. The car bleeped as he pointed the remote and he slid inside. He started the engine and jumped when the radio blasted full volume. Slamming his hand against the controls, he tried to slow his heart rate. As he sat back up, he glanced in the rear view mirror. “Shit!” In the mirror was his wife’s face, that wicked grin mocking him. There would be no calming his heart now.
He waited for her to speak. Heaven knows there was no way his voice box would work. But, she said nothing. Jane simply held up her hand, her elaborate wedding ring was on her right hand, the stones facing him so that he could see their reflection. Dick was trying to understand what she was saying when she quickly turned her hand and slapped the side of his head.
Pain exploded as the diamonds ripped the skin next to his eye. Dick fumbled for the door handle as her hand came down again, this time against his jaw. “Jane!” he found his voice. He didn’t dare look at her though. Keeping his head down, he finally found the handle and shoved his way out of the car.
Jane was one step ahead of him and before he could stand, he felt a shattering pain in his knee. Falling to the ground, he screamed in agony. He glanced up at his ex-wife in time to see her wielding a bat. Dick recognized the Slugger insignia in the wood. It was the bat he kept in his car for protection. Jane’s smile widened and he turned over, taking the hit in the small of his back. His vision went bright white and he wondered what would happen to Nell if he died. Surely he was dying.
His vision cleared and he looked up. There were people standing nearby. Why in the hell weren’t they doing anything?
“Help me, please!” his voice was hoarse and he tasted blood. “911!” What was wrong with those idiots?
Pain shot through his leg again and he looked to see Jane nudging him with her white running shoe. Dick put up his hand. “Stop.” Jane smirked. Then, with a swing that could rival any AAA player’s, she whacked his arm toward left field. The pain seared his body and gratefully, Dick passed out.
Dick’s heart hammered as he stared at the screen. The report was over and some asinine commercial for erectile disfunction was on. Closing his eyes he thought about his options. He could take Nell and disappear. He had the money stashed downstairs in the basement. He just had to…
His eyes flew open. Now Dick knew why he’d had that feeling of dread. It wasn’t just a feeling, it was a smell. Vitalis hair gel. It was the kind that Jane used to keep her red hair spiked. Of course she would’ve found a way to have it, even in prison. He’d always hated the sickening fruit smell. Now, the aroma filled the room.
The stairs in the old house creaked. Slow deliberate steps. Dick didn’t need to turn around to know. He’d heard Jane go up and down those stairs for four years. The creaking almost shouted, “Honey, I’m home.”
Dick jumped from his chair, knocking over the beer bottle. It clattered against the hardwood floor, spilling frothy liquid under the table. He stood in a fighter’s stance. He might die today, but he’d go down fighting.
Jane chuckled as she stepped onto the last stair. Her right hand rested casually on the banister. Even in a dull gray prison jumpsuit, she exuded sexuality. The zipper on her suit was open to reveal her cleavage and her left hand rested on her hip.
She should be in that ED commercial. He shook his head at the ridiculousness of that train of thought. Jane took this as a signal to her. “Not happy to see me?” Her bottom lip pressed into a pout. “I’ve gone to great lengths to see you. I’d think you’d be grateful.”
Delusional. That was the only word Dick could remember from the psychiatrist’s report. That was what she was.
“Where’s my daughter?” Jane took two more steps into the room.
Dick took two steps back. His eyes scanned the room as though he was looking for something to defend himself with. “You don’t have a daughter.” Dick moved slowly, making his way toward the fireplace behind him.
“Tch, tch, tch.” She shook her head. “Let’s not play games, sweetheart.” Three steps.
Dick continued the dance and stepped back. He held his hand out. “I have a daughter. But, as far as she knows, her mother is dead.”
Jane stopped, her face turned cold. “You lied to Nell about me?”
Dick put his hands behind him, feeling the cold brick hearth. “What? Was I supposed to tell her that her mom tried to kill me and lives in the looney bin?”
Her eyes bore into him, then, suddenly, she broke into a smile. “Well, the past is gone. If you’ll just tell me where she is, I’ll leave you be.” She began to walk again, slowly making her way around his chair. It took all of Dick’s willpower not to glance at the puddle of beer that had spread on the floor. He looked her in the eye.
“I don’t believe you.”
Jane reached out a hand, but before she could touch him, her foot, clad in cheap, Croc-knock-offs, met the wet floor. “Yii!” Both feet went out and Jane landed with a thump. Dick took this moment to sprint to the front door. He yanked it open and ran through the yard. A slam told him that his ex was not far behind. “Fire, fire!” Dick knew his curious neighbors would be quick to come and observe that kind of tragedy. He ran down the middle of the street, disrupting the quiet with his screams. “911! Fire!” Glancing back, he saw Jane pursuing him. Her feet were bare and her mouth a flat line as she ran.
Several of the neighbors had begun emerging from their homes, their voyeuristic eyes scanning the street for smoke and flames. When Dick was sure he had and audience, he stopped and faced her. Jane was running so fast, she almost fell over trying to halt her momentum. Before she could react, Dick held up his hand. There, clutched in his fingers was a small, black device, harmless looking, except for the metal prongs at the end.
Jane squinted at him. “What..” She was cut off by the buzzing sound as Dick pressed the button on the side. Two tiny probes shot out of the taser and planted themselves, one on Jane's neck, the other buried in her cleavage. Her body convulsed and she propelled back and landed on the street. Mini seizures shook her as the neighbors gathered in a circle to watch the spectacle.
Dick turned and dropped the taser. Hidden in his fireplace for months, he’d known someday he’d need it. He walked back toward his house as he heard sirens approach. Checking his watch, he realized he still had 90 minutes before he’d have to pick up Nell from her party. Maybe he could still catch the kickoff.