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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bone China

Another flash fiction challenge from

Check out Chuck Wendig's awesome, amazing, funny and troubling website!

Please comment, thanks.

Charles was sure he’d brought everything, but he went over his gear to make sure. The last thing he wanted was to come across as unprofessional, although he felt like a phony, deep inside. This was the last interview of many, the most important one, and he was more than just nervous. He was practically terrified. Charles wiped his sweating palms on his Dockers before hoisting the black shoulder bag from the back of his Saab, hoping that Steven Berkhard hadn’t been watching from his living room window. He had thought of all his interviewees by first and last name; it gave him distance, or at least kept them at arm’s length.
     Charles had graduated from film school over two years ago. It was hard for him to believe that time had slid past him like a lengthening shadow, each day taking him further away from his dream of being a documentary filmmaker. Two years of attempting to find investors, a government grant, a personal loan… two years working in an office supply store. He had finally been given this chance and he wasn’t going to blow it, even if it killed him. The money came from an anonymous “Angel investor” and although he was given the subject for his documentary, he’d been given complete control over the project. The only stipulation was that it be kept under-raps until his investor could view the finished product. Charles took two months leave of absence from his job and took up the challenge.
     His investor wanted a documentary on violent criminals that had served their time and had been released back into society; a kind of retrospective on where they started from and where they were now. It seemed like a good enough idea, and just edgy enough for the indie competitions. This was his chance to prove himself.
     Charles found himself in front of the massive door of the hundred-year-old bungalow, standing in deep shadow this bright summer’s day on the covered fieldstone porch, his finger pushing in the ancient door buzzer, half expecting it not to work. It didn’t. Yet the door opened. Cool air and the scent of cat excrement struck his senses.
“Come on in, young fella’.”
Charles stepped in, his eyes slowly adjusting to the gloom. All the shades were drawn tight. A small table lamp glowed anemically in the corner next to an overstuffed colonial style couch. Charles assumed the couch and all the other furniture was circa 1970’s, as if the owner had just decided all at once to stop replacing it.
“I’m Steven Berkhard. Mr. Sumner, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Yes. Charles Sumner. Steven Berkhard…” said Charles, awkwardly. Berkhard stood before him, an imposing figure, although at least seventy years old. Charles knew from his research that Steven Berkhard had been a brute of a man in his younger years, working mainly on oil rigs off the Gulf Coast. Even though much of his muscle was now flab and his stomach lapped over his belt Charles was still intimidated by his form. Charles thought a walk from his front door to his car was exercise and had always been what his father called “tender.”
“It’s a pleasure…”
Berkhard cut him off, “Yeah, yeah. Come on, sit. I don’t have all day. And I’ll take the two hundred bucks, right now.”
“Sure. Here. That was the deal,” said Charles, surprised by Berkhard’s gruff demeanor. He fumbled with his wallet and produced the cash, laying it on the dusty coffee table. A black cat startled him as it stalked out from under, hissing.
“Scat, Newt!” shouted Berkhard, tossing an old National Geographic at the feline, “Cat usually likes company. Don’t like you.”
     Charles was confused for a moment. The cat didn’t like him, or Berkhard didn’t? Silence hung between the two men like strong cigar smoke. Berkhard sat on the edge of the couch, forearms on thighs in a hunch, waiting. Charles sat in a too small wicker chair, the wicker creaking with the slightest move, less than three feet from Berkhard’s flush face. I’ll be mortified if I break through the bottom, he thought, trying to restrain his movement. The black bag sat in his lap, forgotten.
“So, you gonna’ videotape this, or what?” said Berkhard.
Charles’ face reddened as he got out his camera. He checked the settings. Looking at the image, he was disappointed in the lighting, but decided it would have to do. He was feeling uneasy, and the sooner this was over, the better.
“That the camera? That little thing?” said Berkhard loudly. He said everything loudly.
“Yes, that’s it. All very professional, I’ll assure you.”
“Better be. Shoot away.”
He began filming.
Just before he could ask his first scripted question, Berkhard began to talk.
“Yeah. So I was twenty-eight when I was convicted. Most of my immediate family was dead by the time I got out. This was my parent’s house. Willed it to me.
“They got me for killing some guy in a bar fight; don’t even remember his name. Wasn’t me that killed him, but then that’s probably what every other ex-con has told you, right? We’re all innocent. I really was. Anyway, served my time. Won’t bore you with the details…”
“That’s why I’m here, Steven, for the details.”
“I need a drink,” said Berkhard abruptly, rising from the couch, heading to what Charles thought must be the kitchen, behind him. He sat where he was. He didn’t want to have to change shots, and he doubted he could get up from the creaking wicker chair too easily.
“I’ve got a hobby now,” said Berkhard, “rummaging around in the kitchen, “I collect bone china.”
Charles felt a biting pain in his neck, he gasped for air; the tiny DV recorder hit the hardwood floor and skittered under the couch. He was being strangled.
Berkhard twisted the brown extension cord tighter as Charles’ legs shot out in front of him, turning over the coffee table. The black cat struck out at him with a screech and a hiss.
“Don’t really need my interview, but I’ll delight in watching the rest. Best investment I ever made, Charles. And the top of his skull will make a mighty fine popcorn bowl, won’t it, Newt Kitty? Another addition to my collection of bone china…”
Charles’ mind winked out into blackness. 

1 comment:

  1. I think I speak for everyone when I say 'ewww' at the popcorn bowl.
    Poor Charles. Tender and also naive, to go in alone. I wonder, if he liked him, would he have let him live?