Being an adult in the real world sucks sometimes. This thought creeps up on me from time to time (like a kitten) and every now and then, unprovoked, it pounces (also like a kitten) and gnaws my toenails.
I just must be terrible at time-management, because there are so many more things on my list of things to do than there are hours in the day to do them in. Every day, I add the leftovers to the next day’s list, so I have the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing less and less and less. Today, I spent six hours working on a chapter (still incomplete), cleaned the bathroom (except for scrubbing the shower), made breakfast (but not dinner) and fed the cats (they inform me I did not feed them enough). And as I collapse into my bed at the end of a long unproductive day and settle myself in for a few hours of terrible horror movie watching, I realize it’s Friday…no, it’s Saturday, and I need to upload the next chapter of my FNAFiction, Everything Is All Right, Part 3: Children of Mammon. So I have to get up and put on at least enough clothes that none of my family members wandering in or out of the bathroom or kitchen will be uncomfortably exposed to my gender credentials, so that I can come into my office and fulfill my obligations to you, my loyal readers. I’m sure you all appreciate it.
The upshot of this bitchy missive is that the next chapter is up at archiveofourown.org and also over at fanfiction.net, depending upon your personal fanfic site preference. And do I have an excerpt? I sure do!
Much later, as Ana lay in the Purple Man’s arms, drowsing toward an unhappy sleep, her hazy thoughts would return again and again to all the moments that had to align just so to put her on Wendy Rutter’s doorstep. They twinkled in her mind, like stars, forming pictures across her inner sky: If she’d never posted that ad on Craigslist. If Mike Schmidt had never seen it. If she’d never gone to meet him. If she’d gone home and dropped pills and booze until she forgot him. These were the brightest lights, but that was just the beginning. Why had she even gone to the library in the first place? What had compelled her to stop on her way out to chat up the locals? Why was there still a public pay phone outside the supermarket in the smart-phone-riddled year of 2015 and what were the odds the town directory would still be more or less intact? What was a town commissioner doing listed in the white pages like any common slob? And above all else, why, when Ana knocked on her door, did Wendy Rutter let her in?
It was a relatively nice house, for Mammon. Red brick ranch-style with flowers in the front garden, veggies in the back, and herbs growing in the windowboxes. The grass was freshly-cut. The mat before the door said Welcome. So it was pleasant enough, but it was small.
Mammon was not a wealthy town and its homes tended toward the small, but Rutter was a town commissioner. On each of their previous encounters, she had been smartly dressed and immaculately styled. Ana was not one of those women who got wet at the thought of shoes, but she had lived in SoCal long enough to know the difference between the kind that cost twenty bucks and the kind that put you in the hospital when your man found out where you spent the mortgage money. Mrs. Rutter obviously enjoyed living the life of…how did Chad put it that one time? A small-town big fish. A two-bedroom brick in a cul-de-sac of identical homes seemed inconsistent with her chosen lifestyle.
But Ana couldn’t just sit out at the curb all night staring at it, so after rehearsing a few excuses for knocking on the wrong door and startling some strange Mormon family during the dinner hour, Ana got out of her truck and walked up the drive.
She could hear a television going on the other side, and whoever was watching it could hear her boots clump across the pleasant porch because the sound muted even before Ana knocked.
Ana had, by this time, been awake nearly two days straight, with only that one short lapse in the library and another even shorter nap at Freddy’s before this whole nightmare began. She had long ago passed the point of exhaustion and had reached that dream-like stage where nothing seemed to matter as much as, or connect to, the immediate idea in her head. It was like being high in its own way, except more dangerous, since Ana always knew when she was high and even during the most dramatic trips, had always been able to keep herself more or less tethered to reality by reminding herself of that fact. She knew she was tired now, but she had failed to appreciate just how that might be affecting her until she knocked on Wendy Rutter’s door.
Then, and only then, did the cloud of exhaustion lift, allowing the piercing clarity of a single thought through, like a ray of light directly in her eyes: ‘I am making a huge mistake.’ She put a hand on her heart, feeling it pound with fingers that trembled, and looked up again as the door opened.
Even at home and plainly not expecting company, Mrs. Rutter dressed well. The room behind her was clean and tasteful. She wore no shoes; she’d had a recent pedicure. Her toenails were painted a playful, glittery shade of pink—a secret not to be shared with the likes of Ana. She still wore her wedding ring.
Mrs. Rutter spoke first, without emotion but with the faintest hint of relief. It was a voice Ana knew well, the voice of a woman who has been expecting the worst for so long, she’s almost grateful to finally receive it. “You found it.”
It made no sense to Ana and she didn’t think it was just her lack of sleep.
Before she could think of a response, Wendy lifted her chin and coolly inquired, “Is this blackmail?”
“What? No! What are you talking about?”
The other woman’s mouth thinned as she continued to stare Ana down and continued not to see whatever it was she was looking for. The animosity in her eyes did not soften, but confusion gradually eclipsed it and at last, she said, “What do you want?”
Ana stood there, trying desperately to think of some way to hammer her thoughts into words and words into questions. ‘I shouldn’t have come here,’ she thought, too late, and said, “My…aunt.”
Mrs. Rutter’s mouth made a smile while her eyes grew fangs. “What about her?”
Ana’s boots scuffed on the welcome mat, trying to back away without her. She looked at them, then up again, summoning the last of her failing nerve to say, “Who was she?”
Mrs. Rutter’s head tipped back, as if she had to study that from a better distance. She laughed once, dry as paper—missing persons posters, maybe—and stepped back. “Come in.”