Wednesday, August 17, 2011

THE MASK COLLECTOR (a serial novel) chapter one


The Mask Collector

Chapter One

Saturday May 31, 2003

Darren had only one thought as he shouldered past the man on the stairway, 300 pound guys should not wear bicycle shorts.

The 300 pound man in question had sleepy eyes and pale lips that were pursed in a continual grimace. A ragged beard covered his face, his thick greasy hair was pulled back from his forehead in a ponytail. The t-shirt he wore was too small, the pasty crescent of his belly protruded from the lower edge of the dark fabric. The logo on the t-shirt had long faded to discolored outlines that declared the man’s desire to ‘ ARTY AK D’. The legs that sprung from the bicycle shorts made Darren want to wince, they were bloated and marked with deep veins.

“Hey,” He said. “You must be my new neighbor I'm in 1668.”

Darren kept moving towards his apartment, “Yeah.”

“Did they fix your water heater?”

“Water heater?”

The 300 pound man laughed and kept walking down the stairs, “A sucker born every minute.”

And a Merry Christmas to you too Santa. Darren thought as he carried the box of clothes through the open door of apartment 1667. He set the flimsy liquor store box down with all the others. That was almost the last of it, he just had to get his TV up the two flights of stairs and he was done.

And I did it all by myself. Not bad for a guy that almost died a few months ago.

Taking a moment to rest Darren looked the place over once more. It was a little drab and cramped but it had possibilities, and it had a balcony, Darren had always wanted a balcony. He still felt a twinge of guilt over how things had ended with Marnie. When he had woken up in that hospital bed with tubes and monitors coming every which way out of him he’d realized that what the doctors were calling a congenital heart defect was really a wake up call of the highest order.

Those changes however hadn’t been very popular with his friends, mostly because they were Marnie’s friends too. Darren had expected people to take sides in the matter, he sure as Hell hadn’t expected that no one would take his. Everyone saw him as the bad guy, and they were all too busy helping Marnie move into her new place to even return his phone calls.

Nice going ‘buddies’. She’s not the one that had a heart attack at 31.

It was time to wrap the, maybe order a pizza and watch a DVD. Darren headed back down the stairs wondering bitterly how long it would be before one of his so-called friends would be balling Marnie.

Darren cringed a little at the thought and then made himself think of something else.

The 300 pound man was heading back up the stairs, he was carrying a battered parcel covered with stamps and labels. He stuck out his hand, “Hey, by the way, my name is Chad Lunt.”

“Brad?” Darren took the hand, it was soft and gelid to the touch.

“No! Chad. C-H-A-D. Of the Lunt family. It’s British,” he explained. “My parents were part of the nobility back in England but they had to move to this failed craphole of a country.”

“Uh, if you say so?”

“I mean this nation is pretty much dead isn’t it? I mean look at your President, look at these kids today.”

“You know I’d love to talk –”

“And these girls today, with their half shirts and their tattoos, they’re all dirty sluts,” He leaned forward with a conspiratorial grin, “the only good thing about this place is that we’re so close to the college campus that some of the little whores live here, you should see them in the summer walking around in their shorts and tank tops.”

“Well I –”

There was a faraway look in his eyes, “I mean you wouldn’t think of it to look at me now but back in the day I used to get laid all the time. You wouldn’t believe the amount of…”

“That’s great but I’m losing daylight here,” Darren said, “I’ve got to finish moving and then get the rented U-haul back. OK?”

“Yeah sure. We’ll talk once you’re settled in.”

Darren ran down the steps two at a time and got to the U-haul. Standing inside the truck he glanced back at the Kerwin Landings apartment complex, a collection of four three story buildings. Each building looked like a refrigerator tipped onto its side with three apartments per level. Each building had a dingy laundry room and plenty of florescent lighting in the hallways and stairwells. The clientele was mostly retirees and students, but Darren liked it because it was close to his job and far across town from his old life.

The television sat in the rear corner of the truck covered with an old blanket. It was a large model and it had been a nightmare just getting it into the truck, he didn’t relish the thought of carrying it up those stairs by himself but he was on his own now wasn’t he?

Darren smiled a little at the thought, On my own.

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