An review sample of my new book, “The Worm of Juruti” I appreciate any and all feedback and comments. The finished Novelette is in final edits now and should be ready for purchase on Smashwords by January 2018
…6So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 7But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 8When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”…
The Worm of Juruti
New York City, NY. 1915
The distinctive clip clop of the doctors carriage; drawn by a single horse, broke the stillness of the damp night air. The sound drew the attention of the street urchin huddled in the corner of the church stairwell; the carriage stopped close to where he lay under a cardboard box and canvas, trying to stay warm. The lad looked up to see who could be out at this time of night, afraid that it might be the constable. He automatically tensed, but no one came and eventually he tucked himself back under the pile of canvas. There was a slight mist crowding out the dim light from the gas lights. The waif knew by the pain settling into his bones, that soon it would turn into a downpour. He was always right. Tonight he was fortunate; he had the heavy canvas and he would at least stay somewhat dry. The more worrisome growl of his stomach reminded him that his biggest problem was not rain. Still he thought as he rolled back under the tarp, he was better here rather than living with his drunken whore of a mother and her never-ending stream of abusive boyfriends.
A gaunt figure of a man in a long black theater cape, black bowler hat, and tweed pants stepped from the carriage. In comparison to most men of his era, he was tall at 5’10”. Tonight, however, hunched over against the rain, hat pulled low on the brow, collar up and pulled tight around the neck, he looked undeniably short and sinister. Reaching back into the carriage, the man removed a lantern; lit it and then removed a rusty shovel. Walking quietly, trying to avoid the echoing sound his boots made on the wet cobblestone walkway, he went behind the church and entered the pauper’s cemetery located there. At a freshly completed grave, he stopped and waited, listening. Finally he stooped to examine the simple wooden cross grave marker. There were two names on it. One name weathered and barely legible on the left arm of the cross and the other fresh, painted no more than a day or two earlier on the right arm of the cross. Two names meant two bodies. This was expected. Often, in order to use all available space in the cemetery, the church would bury the bodies of paupers on top of one another. This grave was one of the many paupers’ graves this little cemetery had.
Checking cautiously to make sure no one was around; he buried the spade into the soft earth of the grave. On the third strike, he reached the simple pine wood box, two feet beneath the surface. Two more strikes broke through the flimsy lid. He removed the thin wood panels, exposing the grizzly contents. Getting down on his hands and knees, he removed a small hard leather case from his pocket, opened it and carefully withdrew an ancient scalpel. Hesitating slightly, he reached into the box. Working quickly, he made a vertical incision into the throat of the once beautiful young girl that lay in the coffin. Reaching inside the incision with his first two fingers, he probed and widened the gap in the flesh until he felt her already decaying vocal cords. A little more probing and he found what he was seeking. He brought forth a fleshy glowing body part that he quickly put into a jar that he also took from his pocket. Just before getting up, he touched his finger tips to his lips and then pressed his fingers against the cold forehead of the deceased. He said a silent prayer, asking for her forgiveness, then stood to refill the hole. Dirt sifted through the broken opening and covered the corpse. He continued to fill. With the rain, the dirt would eventually sink into the hole in the coffin, creating a depression in the grave, signaling an intrusion. By that time, he would be long gone.
1925 Broadwick’s Opera house, New York City
Sarah Keller nervously paced the floor of the backstage. Her audition for the small part in the off Broadway opera was next. She cleared her throat trying to loosen her vocal cords without stressing them. Softly, she ran the scale. “Do, ray, me, fa, so, la te, do.” Her voice cracked. “Shit, she said out loud to no one.” Nerves, she assured herself. She would get better once on stage. Tonight was the night. Tonight would be the night she would walk into that worthless diner and tell that snake – Stan, you son of a bitch, I quit. The look on his face would be precious. It was the words and the look she had rehearsed in her lonely one room flat above the pub, each and every night since arriving in this god forsaken state four years earlier. Thirty seven failed auditions later, she was beginning to see her dream as nothing more than smoke.
If she failed tonight, she had enough money left for passage back to Ohio. She had been duped into thinking that the off Broadway theaters wanted up and coming actors / singers. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Maybe it was time to quit pissing and moaning about it and admit the truth. She was not a great actress or even a decent singer. Thirty seven failed auditions were a pretty clear indicator that she was kidding herself. She was running out of money, struggling to maintain her confidence and time was not on her side.
“OK chickee, you’re next.” The stage master, a gruff looking old bastard with a Boston accent, shoved her towards the side curtain.
She stood at the edge of the curtain, nervous, too afraid to move. “Any words of encouragement,” she asked
“Yeah, break a leg, knock ’em dead, all that other happy horse shit. Should I grab my horn and blow an intro for ya?”
The skinny assistant stagehand laughed as he opened the curtain and shoved her out onto the massive oak floor stage. She stared out into the audience area and saw nothing, the harsh glare of the spotlight stopping her cold, blinding her.
“Hello?” she said shielding her eyes, trying to see in to the darkness.
From out of the seats, a voice loomed. “Hello pretty one, what is your name and how long have you been singing?”
My name is Sarah Keller and I have been singing for 11 years.”
“I can hear from your accent you’re from the mid-west, oh yes, it reads that on your bio. Ohio is it? Have you had any formal training?”
“School plays and the few small stage plays I have done.” Suddenly, old anxieties surfaced. What was she doing here? That sounded so weak. Truth be known, she had little to no experience. Who was she kidding? Why put herself through this. He was only going to reject her, as the others did. This was nonsense. And then he spoke again.
“What were the names of the stage plays?”
“A City Players production of Pygmalion and Peter Pan. I played one of the Indian girls.” Cheap little Indian girl, a bit part that amounted to nothing. Why had she told him that?
“Wonderful,” the director said dryly as he made the notation ‘amateur on her bio. “Is that your real hair color? Are you naturally blond? When she responded “Yes,” he said “Beautiful, very pretty. If you’re hired, we may need to change it. Hope that isn’t a problem for you.”
“No, no problem.”
“Good, So what are you going to sing for us today?”
“The theme song from Pygmalion.” It was the only song she knew by heart, what else could she sing.
“That figures,” he said under his breath. “OK, go ahead Miss, dazzle the crap out of us,” His snarky response was not what she was looking for, but, as her mother would often say, “in for a penny, in for a pound,” She turned towards the piano player, who boringly nodded that he was ready. Turning back to the stage, and waiting to the count of five to set her nerves, she nodded and he began to play. She waited for the opening bars and as the intro reached the fifth bar, she sang:
“I’m dirty; I’m food on the ground,/ “I’m lonely, will I ever be found?” / “I’m sorry, that I’m not what I’m supposed to be,/ “Could you help me?”
“Stop, stop, stop” the director held up his hand and stood up in the row. “Look at the size of this theater girly. Can you see us out here? We can barely hear you and we’re in the fucking 5th row. Jesus Christ girl, I’m looking for a stage singer who can belt out a song and hit the back row audience between the eyes. Do you think you can you do that?”
“I can try.” Of course I can sing loud you arrogant bastard. Clean the hair from your ears and maybe you can hear me. God, let me quit now, this isn’t going to go well.
“Do better than try sweetheart, do it. Now go ahead, dazzle my pants off.” Muttering to his assistant, “where the hell do you find these people, from the bread line? God damn it Stanley, your job is on the line if this is all the talent you can muster up.”
On stage, Sarah paused to regain control of her rising anger. This was the last time. Once again she nodded towards the pianist who started over with the opening bars. She waited, took a much deeper breath and in a voice that was practically yelling, sang out,
“I’m dirty; I’m food on the ground, / “I’m lonely, will I ever be found?” / “I’m sorry, that I’m not what I’m supposed to be, could you help me?” / “Make me shiny and new. like a baby, can I talk just like you?”
She was screaming the notes and at the top of the mid C, her voice cracked, garbling the note and rendering it so far off key as to be embarrassing. It also hurt. The result was to make the notes indistinguishable from that sound a wounded crow would make if you shot it.
The director held up his hand. “Enough, thank you.” Angrily turning towards his assistant, “Damn it. Are we done for the day?” The poor man cringed under the glare of the directors eyes. “We better be.” When he got the weak yes nod, he said “Good,” and got up to leave the area.
“Is that all?” Sarah called out.
“Oh, now you speak up. Jesus Christ,” he said under his breath, “Yes my dear that was all,” turning to leave he suddenly stopped in mid stride and turned back to the stage. “You’re a pretty girl, so let me give you some advice. Do yourself a favor for Gods sake. Learn to sing, take lessons or something, learn how to sing good, but more importantly, learn how to sing loud. You’ve probably got a good voice, as long as you are singing in a bedroom. Who would know? No one can hear you. You need a lot more training. Quit wasting yours and everyone elses time. We’ll get a hold of you if we need an off stage whisperer, but I wouldn’t wait by the phone.”
She stood angrily forming a response in her head, waiting for him to say something else. When nothing else came, she opened her mouth to give her response to him but then realized – he was right. She stopped, knowing that anything she said would fall on deaf ears. Hanging her head she turned and quickly walked off stage. Now she was pissed and knew that she had blown it again. As she rounded the curtain, flinging is aside to avoid crashing into the stage prop hidden behind it, a voice called out from the darkened side stage.
“The director was very rude. I thought you were quite good. Quiet, but very good. For a smaller stage, you would be passable. Here, I am afraid, you are out of your element.”
“Oh, thanks a hell of a lot buddy. Just what I need, another critic, Sorry asshole, one was enough for the day” As he started to speak again, she held up her hand, “Skip it, I know the routine. I’ve heard it before. Thanks anyway, but do you mind? I’m going to be a bar maid forever and I am not feeling very social right now.”
“I understand. How many auditions does this make that you have failed?
“That’s a rather strong term asshole, failed? Let’s just say I have not won a role in the last ten or so attempts.”
He laughed. “Okay, sweeten it any way you want too. Simply put, you failed them. And I think it is more like over thirty, maybe closer to forty. It’s okay however, not many people make it in this business.”
“Like I said, not interested. Besides, who the hell are you? What credentials do you carry that give you the right to critic me? Or are you some back stage Johnny just wanting to get in my pants? Come out of the shadows where I can see you.”
“No,” he said still in the shadows, “It’s not your body I want. It’s your voice. I want to make you a better singer. I want to give you the opportunity to have a life of nothing but success.”
She was already in a bad mood and this clown was not making it any better. “Alright, enough,” she said, peering into the darkness again, looking for a face, “who are you?”
“My name is not important unless you agree to work with me. What is important is that I can make you a world class singer. I will even go as far as to say I can make you a very famous actor as well. Would you want that kind of success, or is singing nothing more than a hobby for you?”
“Enough,” she said. “I get the picture now. I have heard that line many times. You’re a want-a-be singing coach and for your services, I am required to give you my body, my soul and share your bed. No thank you, I’ll pass on your offer.”
“Once again, you have it all wrong. No bed, no body, no soul. I want nothing but your commitment to your own growth.”
“And once I give my commitment, once you have me locked up, you’ll want my first born and a healthy agent’s fee. I know you, she said knowingly, “your name is Rumpelstiltskin. Forget it buster, I know the story.“
“Play it your way, that is not my name, and you are wrong about what I want. The question remains the same, do you want to be famous?” Before she had a chance to speak, as if reading her mind, he said, “Believe me, I understand your hesitancy, but do you want the riches and accolades that go with being a beautiful singer? Do you want to make an impact on the lives of others, or as I asked before, is this a hobby?” That stopped her cold. No one had ever asked her that before. Was this a hobby? Did she want the riches and fame, or was she destined to be nothing more than a bit part singer and happy for it because it was easier? No, she decided, she wasn’t a bit part singer and no this was not a hobby. When she spoke again, there was a conviction in her answer.
“Yes, I want it all and no, this is not a god damn hobby, this is my life, or at least it was. After today, I’m not sure. I’ll figure it out in time and I’ll start all over again. This setback is not going to stop me.”
“Good, I’m happy to hear that. Would you like some help?”
“I suppose I could use some formal training, but I don’t have a lot of money left and you still haven’t told me How you can help me.”
“I will tell you all of it but first, say you are willing to commit to fame and that you will follow my instructions – no matter how you may question them.”
“Mister, you are nothing more than a strange voice standing in the shadows of a darkened theater on some back street of New York’s theater district. You may have nice words but frankly you have said nothing. I need a hell of a lot more information before I can commit to trusting you, starting with – who the hell are you?”
“OK, fair enough,” he said stepping out of the shadows. He wore a theater cape, spats and a wool dress suit suitable of those who were highborn. He carried a silver tipped cane and was carrying a very expensive top hat. She had seen his kind many times, dining in the fanciest of New York restaurants and taking in every theater that opened onto Broadway. She instantly knew he had wealth and from the way he stood poised and so assured of himself, she guessed him to be a banker, doctor or Wall Street financier.
“We will talk,” he said “over lunch. Then you can ask me anything you want.”
“I suppose that would be acceptable as soon as you tell me your name?”
”Du’an, just Du’an. My patients call me Dr. Du’an.” She had been right on one count. He was a doctor. Was that good or bad.”
“That is an unusual name. First name or last name?”
“Only one name. It is Serbian and it means Soul, a meaning I would not have chosen for myself, but never the less, it is only a name. Come, there is a quaint bistro right around the corner.”
When Sarah was 10 and on a visit to New York with her parents, she was introduced to her first Broadway musical. Mesmerized by the glamor, the lights and the theatrics she knew right then and there, that this is what she wanted to be when she grew up. When her father took her backstage to meet the leading actress, she was hooked. Sarah could see herself playing center stage in a Broadway Production. However, the farm district of Olathe Kansas offered very little in the way of training or even theaters. The poor dirt farmers could barely afford a radio, let along go into town for a stage play.
Sarah was luckier than most kids for her father was the town’s only dentist and the Keller’s were considered to be wealthy by town folk standards, even though much of his billings were paid in trade, poultry and the occasional handyman services. Never the less, they lived in a beautiful home, ate well and Sarah managed to go all the way through school, graduating at the top of her small 86 student class. And while she never did get to go back to New York while she was still in school, she did manage to be cast in the local school plays and the amateur theater productions that took place in town. Gifted with a natural singing voice, any time she got a chance to sing, she would. Her High School Music teacher helped her with her singing and over the years Sarah continued to dream of being famous.