It’s what we’ve all heard–that part of the trick of writing effectively is to show the action, not tell about it. Does something happen in the story? Well, then, pull the reader into it–make sure there is, above all else, a sense of being there, of experiencing it as it happens.
It’s great advice, really it is, except when it’s not. There can be times, in your story, when the telling trumps the showing. It happens when the character and the telling are far more disturbing than the events themselves…. This scene occurs after The Darkest Moment–after mine manager David Killian kills an innocent man, Peter Quinn, in a case of mistaken identity, and then kills himself. Toby flees the company town of Kupfer for what he sees as the safety of Brennan and the Rosewood Bar, and Jenny Strand. But, news travels fast, and it’s not long before news of the killings reaches Brennan. The telling becomes the more disturbing device, and for Jenny’s friend Dori to be more disturbing than the story is truly saying something:
Toby fell heavily against the wooden door, striking it once with a trembling fist. He screwed his eyes shut, tried to control the breath that tore through his lungs. He slapped his palm against the door and felt his strength finally fail as all the adrenalin drained suddenly from his body.
The door opened abruptly and Toby fell into the room, tumbling face down onto the carpet and covering his head with his arms, sobbing and shaking. She was suddenly on the floor beside him.
“Toby!” Jenny’s voice was a shocked whisper. She crawled forward quickly, reached for, and slammed the door. Jenny reached for the key in the lock, turning it quickly and pulling it from the door. She turned back to Toby, her eyes wide. “Toby,” she said again.
He felt her hands close on his, trying to move his arms away from his head. He shook his head and Jenny watched as his body folded in upon itself on the floor. It was only then she noticed the blood.
Jenny struggled to her feet and ran to the window, pulling the curtains tightly across it, even though they were on the second floor above the bar. The dim light cast through the window was eclipsed by the fabric. Jenny’s hand trembled as she struck a match and lit the oil lamp on the dresser. The yellow light danced across the walls, the flame flickering as Jenny adjusted the wick and replaced the chimney. She extinguished the match and dropped to her hands and knees beside Toby.
“Toby,” she whispered again as she gently felt for his hands.
“Oh, God, Jenny,” he moaned through the tears, his body still trembling with terror and shock. He started, scrambling back as Jenny’s door rattled.
“Jenny!” a feminine voice tittered outside the door. “Jenny Strand!”
“I’ll get rid of her,” Jenny breathed to Toby as she scrambled to her feet and moved quickly toward the door. “I’m busy, Dorothea,” Jenny said through the door, her hand
gripping at the handle as she turned toward it.
“Liar,” Dorothea laughed through the door. “There ain’t been a boy in the bar all day. Open up. There’s been murder!”
Jenny’s eyes grew wide as her gaze snapped suddenly to Toby who lay, covered in blood that was not his, upon her carpet. “Murder?” her voice caught as she backed against the door away from Toby.
“Open the door, you silly goose. All sorts of mayhem. I have to dish,” Dorothea said impatiently.
Jenny slid, her back against the door, toward the floor. Her eyes stayed steadily on Toby as her fingers felt frantically for the key. She closed her fingers around the key and stood, turning and slipping the key into the lock, opening the door and slipping outside the room and in to Dorothea who stood close to her door.
“Let me in,” Dorothea’s voice had an edge of annoyance to it.
“My room’s a sight,” Jenny lied as she kept her hand on the doorknob behind her back. “Perhaps later.” Jenny averted her eyes. “What are you going on about? Murder..,” Jenny attempted to scoff.
“Up in Kupfer,” Dorothea whispered, her voice breathless. “Men dead, and a woman, and her children.”
Jenny felt her knees weaken, felt her breathing change as her heart beat heavily against her chest. “Do they,” she started, her eyes widening, “do they know what happened?”
“All sorts of sordid sex and betrayal,” Dorothea gushed, her voice twittering with delight. “Turns out one of the mine boys was shtupping a manager’s wife. Oh, Jenny! Her husband found out about it—she even screamed the boy’s name when her husband got on her hot and heavy. Last night, he murdered his children in their sleep.” Dorothea’s voice softened slightly, but only slightly. “Smothered the poor little dears.”
Jenny’s heart beat wildly in her chest. She tried to compose her features. “Really..,” she faltered.
“But that was after he’d killed his wife,” Dorothea’s voice dropped to an excited whisper. “Millie said she heard he’d strangled her then and there on the bed. Then he cut off her head and cut out her heart.”
Jenny’s eyes grew wider and she felt her hand move unconsciously toward her throat. “Really…,” Jenny’s voice was only breath.
Dorothea nodded briskly. “He hung her body like so much meat in the refrigeration plant. Way up on a meat hook, he did. She was hangin’ there, headless.”
Jenny felt her knees give way and she stumbled back against the door. “Dori, I–” she started.
Dorothea stepped closer, her blue eyes darkened suddenly. “And he threw her heart into one of the boiler fireboxes in the power plant,” she continued. She nodded slowly. “Burned it black as it was in life.And her head?” Dorothea’s voice dropped even lower. “He tried to dissolve it in the leaching plant, in one of the acid vats.”
Dorothea suddenly smiled. “But he was too stupid to know what wasn’t acid and what was, so he tossed it in one of the eucalyptus vats,” she laughed.
Jenny felt her lip twitch more out of horror than at Dorothea’s presumed attempt at humor.
“Can you imagine what it was to be the boy who found Mary Killian’s head bobbing in a tank of eucalyptus oil?” Dorothea smiled, her eyes shining. “We ain’t had a scandal like this in years, Jenny. I can’t wait for the boys to come down tonight and fill in all the details.”
Jenny felt her insides twist uncomfortably. She took a steadying breath. “But you said men were dead, Dori,” she whispered, wishing she had not.
Dorothea’s laugh became darker still. “That’s just it, Jenny,” she whispered. “Killian knew, so he sent word up to Tin’s boys on Upper Ridge, that he wanted Bergdahl in his
office this morning.” Dorothea’s lip twisted into a vicious smile as she shook her head. “But he’s laid up there with a broke leg, so two of Tin’s other boys came down.” Dorothea paused. “One of them’s that boy who’s sweet on you, Jenny.”
“I don’t know—“ Jenny’s voice trembled.
Dorothea glanced at the door before turning her eyes back to Jenny. “Toby Caddock,” Dorothea continued, “that boy that thinks you hung the moon. He came down with another boy named Quinn. Turns out Killian didn’t know Nils from Adam, so he knifed Quinn right there in his office. Ripped out his guts and let him fall to the carpet.” She paused. “I reckon they’ll never get all the blood out,” Dorothea continued rather philosophically.
Dorothea fell silent as she continued to stare at the door behind Jenny. Jenny felt her heart beat even more wildly against her chest. She looked away from Dorothea’s eyes. “What happened to Toby?” she asked quietly, sure Dorothea could hear how rapidly her heart was beating.
Dorothea hesitated, her eyes still on the door. “He ran off,” she whispered, her eyes shining darkest blue. She smiled at the door. “Killian blew his brains out in front of the
boy, and Toby’s run off.”
Jenny started in spite of herself as Dorothea’s eyes suddenly snapped toward her.
“They’ll find him, though, Jenny,” Dorothea said, her lip twisting. “They’re lookin’ for him, and by God, they’ll find him.”
©2010 A.K. Marshall