In the hope of getting some honest feedback, today’s post is the first chapter of a work-in-progress called “The Cabin in the Woods”. I’d like to know if you find it interesting, if you find it interesting enough to keep reading, and, if not, why not? Presently, this is the lead story in my upcoming short story collection, “THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and Other Tales”. Thanks in advance and happy reading. And away we go…
Excerpt from “The Cabin in the Woods” ©2013 Rick Marchetti
“So what are you going to do?” Lauren asked. Ray didn’t answer right away. Instead he looked out the window where their twins, Sean and Liam, we’re playing in the falling snow. It had been snowing lightly for three straight days but, so far, the plows had been able to stay ahead of it.
“It’s still snowing,” Ray said, trying to avoid the conversation Lauren was determined to have.
“Well?” she asked.
Ray sighed, then shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said, turning to face her.
“It’s what you need to do, honey,” she said. “You need to get away.”
Ray looked unconvinced. “I don’t know,” he repeated, then shrugged again. “Maybe it’s over. Maybe I just have to accept it.”
Lauren slumped. They had had this discussion what seemed to her to be a million times over the past year. Ray was a successful author with an enviable string of bestsellers to his credit. Writing had always come easy to him but, mysteriously, a year ago, he had suddenly been unable to do it. He had spent a solid three months keeping to his usual work schedule, but hadn’t produced much more than a grocery list.
For the next few months after that, he had lamented his writer’s block, but since then he seemed to have given up entirely and accepted the situation, although not happily or with any particular grace. Lord knows they didn’t need the money; his previous books had raked in millions. And the movie versions of the books had put him on several ‘wealthiest people’ lists. But, there were two Rays; the happy, fun-loving Ray who wrote prolifically, but still managed to find ample time to play with their boys, take the family on grand vacations, and be a thoughtful and very attentive husband, and the miserable, depressed one who was the polar opposite, none of those other things.
For her money, Lauren had had enough of the latter. In all honesty, she didn’t care about the writing itself, she just couldn’t stand what her husband of eighteen years became when he wasn’t doing it. Not for her sake, but for his. And the boys’. Once he stopped writing, Ray had turned inward and become distant to the point where he seldom spoke unless asked a direct question and, even then, the odds were fifty-fifty he wouldn’t answer. Those times he would merely shrug and go back to what seemed to be his new favorite pastime; staring out the window of their big house on Providence’s East Side, looking at the city’s skyline as if, this time, something was going to be different about it. She had tried to do everything she could think of to pull him out of his funk, but without writing he couldn’t see any reason to exist. It was what defined him, what anchored him and, without it, he felt adrift, disconnected. Lately, he had begun to drink; not enough to be a concern yet, but more than he ever had before.
Without letting him know she was doing it, Lauren had done some online research, looking for a cabin in northern New England where they could go spend a couple of weeks. Maybe the change of scenery would recharge his batteries, she hoped. The more she thought about it, though, she came to the conclusion that she and the kids would just be a distraction to him and it would be better if he went without them. She found a couple of places that seemed like possibilities, made some phone calls, and finally picked a place outside of Dexter’s Corner in western New Hampshire. The owner of the cabin, Mr. Deacon, sounded like he had been born when Lincoln was running the show and he didn’t accept credit cards, so Lauren had sent him a check for eighteen-hundred dollars to cover a month’s rent without telling Ray. She reasoned that, with the place already paid for, he would have one less excuse not to go. Still, she knew it was going to be a tough sell.
As she expected, Ray rejected her plan out of hand but, over the past several weeks, she had been wearing him down. As much as he claimed to believe his career as an author was over, she was certain he yearned to get back in the saddle. Lauren appealed to this side of him.
“Write some short stories instead of a novel, or some poetry. A newsletter for this year’s Christmas card; anything, just to get your writer muscles working again,” she had urged. He had responded with a shake of the head, but she saw something on his face that made her think she might have finally hit a nerve, so she had pushed on.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a bestseller,” she insisted. “It doesn’t even matter if you publish it. Just write anything. It’s not like we need the money, but you do need to write.” Little by little, she had been able to overcome his objections and his refusals became less adamant. Now, today, she knew it was time to finally force the issue. And she wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer.
“You might as well go, honey,” she said finally. “I already paid for a place.”
Ray looked at her, clearly taken aback. “What? What are you talking about?” he asked.
“Just what I said. You need to write. It’s like breathing to you. If you don’t do it, you’re going to die.”
He snorted laughter. “I’m not going to die,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re being just a tad melodramatic, don’t you think? And the Oscar for best actress goes to Lauren Trammel for her portrayal of the long-suffering wife in…”
“Oh, shut up,” Lauren said, then laughed. Outside, Sean had just plunked Liam in the eye with a snowball and Liam had responded by wrestling his brother to the ground. Now they were throwing punches. Ray stood up quickly.
“I have to go out and break that up,” he said.
“Sit down!” Lauren ordered. She stood up and walked to the window. She rapped on it sharply and the boys both looked up. All she did was glare at them and they separated, looking sheepish, their faces pink from the cold. She turned away from them and walked over to where her husband was sitting, stood in front of him, and took his hands.
“Look, this is for your own good. And ours.”
“What do you…” he began.
“You’re not you,” she interrupted, but gently. “I want the old Ray back.” He opened his mouth to protest and she shook her head. “And so do the boys. It’s settled.”
Ray who had sat up when he planned to argue, settled against the back of the chair. “Fine,” he said, sounding defeated. “When am I supposed to do this?”
“I booked it for a month, starting tomorrow,” Lauren said.
His mouth dropped open. “A month? Tomorrow?” Where is this place, anyway?”
“Dexter’s Corner, New Hampshire.”
“Never heard of it,” he grumbled. “Probably out in the sticks, right?”
“Yep,” she answered proudly. “Limited distractions. Exactly what you need.”
He started to protest and Lauren held up her hand, smiling. “Talk to the hand, pal, ‘cause the ears ain’t listening.” Then her smile faded. “Seriously, honey, we’re done talking about it. You’re going and that’s final.”
They stared at each other for perhaps thirty seconds, then Ray dropped his eyes. He turned and trudged up the stairs. “I guess I’ll go pack,” he said, sounding like a petulant child.
At dinner that night, Lauren told the boys what was going on. “Daddy needs to start writing again, so he’s going away for a little while.”
The kids exchanged a glance, then turned their attention back to the meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans on their plates. Ray remained silent.
“We’ll be fine, and he’s not going too far,” she went on. “Maybe we’ll go up for a weekend and visit him. Would you like that?” The boys continued to push the food around on their plates.
Lauren tried to catch Ray’s eye to urge him wordlessly to step up to the plate and say something, but he wouldn’t look at her.
“Are you guys okay with that?” she asked finally.
“Will you be happy again when you come back?” Liam –the older boy- asked suddenly. Ray looked up, shocked, and blinked back the tears that had suddenly and unexpectedly sprung up.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked, sounding angry even though he wasn’t.
“Nothing,” Liam mumbled, looking back down at his plate.
“Ray!” Lauren snapped.
“I’m sorry,” Ray said, “I’m not mad, just surprised, that’s all. What do you mean, Li?”
“Nothing,” the boy insisted.
“It’s okay, honey,” Lauren soothed. “You can tell your dad.”
The boys exchanged another glance, then Liam, without looking up, said, “You’re sad all the time. We want you to be happy again.”
Ray slumped in his chair. “I’m a little sad when I don’t write, but it’s got nothing to do with you guys at all. Or mommy. You make me happy.”
“But you’re not,” Liam said, on the verge of tears.
“When I get back, everything will be back to normal, okay? I promise.”
Both boys slid off their seats and rushed to Ray’s side, hugging him tightly. He looked over their heads at Lauren and saw tears in her eyes. He felt them sliding down his cheeks, too, and kissed the tops of his sons’ heads. “Everything’s going to be just the way it was before.”
The boys had finished their baths and been tucked into bed. Lauren was lying with her head on Ray’s shoulder and his arm was around her. They had just finished making love; one for the road, he had called it. He was just about asleep when something occurred to him.
“Hey,” he whispered.
“Mmmm?” came Lauren’s response. She, too, was close to sleep.
“When you asked me what I was going to do tonight, it really didn’t matter what I said, did it? I mean, you had already paid for the place.”
“You think too much,” Lauren murmured. Then she snuggled tighter and sighed and the conversation was over.
And finally, no February 14 post would be complete without mentioning Valentine’s Day. Done.