Read 2 Landscape in Scarlet Online

Authors: Melanie Jackson

2 Landscape in Scarlet

Landscape in Scarlet

by

Melanie Jackson

 

Version 1.1

July
, 2012

 

Published by Brian Jackson at
KDP

 

Copyright © 2012 by Melanie Jackson

 

Discover other titles by Melanie Jackson at
www.melaniejackson.com

 

This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

It all started with the balloon man. Until the old bag of skin and bones slouched by, Juliet would have rated the
upcoming
White Oaks
Autumn Art Festival
and Wine Tasting
a fairly average event.
But this guy was creepy
and raised the psyche’s hackles
. Even without the subtle
skeleton
face
paint
,
patchy hair,
dusty frock coat
,
and collection of monstrous balloons clutched by his freakishly long fingers
, his gauntness would have been painful to look upon. With it, he was the
G
rim
R
eaper made flesh.
Morbid children would love him. The rest would have nightmares.

“It’s Halloween walking,” Juliet muttered
, wondering if he had been ill or if it was some genetic quir
k
that made him look that way
.

“His name is Michael Comstock,” Rose whispered after he passed. “He’s new in town.
I hear he used to be a teacher
or something to do with kids
.

Juliet
nodded
,
though the man did not seem to fit in with the local fauna
,
and wondered if he would stay long
.

She
was sipping a scalding hot café mocha
and pretending to care about the arrangement of her merchandise
.
There wasn’t much to care about. Practicality said to sort the shirts by size and color so people could easily find what they wanted, but for appearance
’s
sake she showed up with Rose and went through the motions
of arranging her wares
.
After all, she was
supposed to be
an artist
and the fall festival was a big deal
.
Her grand gesture toward merchandising was stuffing her hand-painted trick-or-treat bags with tissue paper and pinning them to the front of the table with clothespins. Rose had suggested hanging them up high since they looked like Chinese lanterns, but Juliet pointed out that pinning them to the table put them at children’s eye level.

Rose looked at her admiringly for having such business sense. Unfortunately, the stuffing and pinning had taken only five minutes and now she needed to not look bored.

“Your coffee smells good.
Is it
a
mocha?
I may have to get one

do the
y
use organic beans
and soy milk
? And I hope they have water-processed decaf.
The other is so bitter.

“I’m sure they do.” This close to Santa Cruz, it was an obligation
to have whatever kind
of coffee variants that people wanted
.

The
fully caffeinated, fully fatted
mocha was a rare treat
for Juliet
.
She had mostly given up on coffee and worrying about the future.
Or much of anything else.
Juliet
knew from
bitter
experience that c
affeine and nerves were not a good way of life.
It had taken patience to wean herself off the java, but finally a day arrived when she wasn’t cranky and headachy from the moment of wakening. And that was good because it had to be done.
The metabolic joke that was middle age was already doing its best to ruin her face and figure. She was damned if she would help it by cultivating worry lines
, but some morning
s
one simply had to smack the brain with coffee products and damn the consequences.

But only once in a while,
now tha
t there were some interesting me
n hanging around the periphery of her life
that
might care at least a little about how she looked
.

Not that she understood their attention. She looked in the mirror each morning and night and knew her
middle-aged
face was nice but nothing to launch a ship

let alone thousands of them. The
very
idea
that she could be Helen of Troy
brought a sudden grin which she could not see and therefor
e
did not know that it gave her an intriguing animation.
And if it wasn’t her looks then it had to be her personality. This thought almost made her laugh aloud.

“It looks like rain,” Rose said
, interrupting her rude staring
and inappropriate
chuckling
at the
retreating figure of the
skeletal Comstock
.

Rose Campion
was
still busily
decorating
her booth
.
She worked in woven textiles
and
the
fair
organizer
s
figured that her sweaters and ponchos went well with Juliet’s
sweatshirts and baseball caps

the sublime and the ridiculous
perhaps
.
Comedy and tragedy.
Fussy
Rose was
actually
trying for
an
artistic layout and was experimenting with
creative
draping
of her more exotic sweaters that looked like they had been knit
ted
by someone on drugs
. Since she was very short
and Juliet was bored
,
she
sometimes assisted by hanging weaving from the
strategically
strung wires.
Juliet didn’t say anything discouraging about the wraps and scarves
festooned with fringe
staying neat in the wind.

At
Rose’s
pessimistic
words,
Juliet leaned over and peered upward.
The
heavens
did have the weighty look that threatened rain before
nightfall
. It was
n’t
a great time for rain, however badly needed. But no other time would be better now that the straw
-
bale maze was up and the
smaller
pumpkin
s
were arranged in their patch. The festival was the last tourist event of the year. After that the town put up its feet and relaxed for the winter. And they needed these tourists
after the summer fire season
and the disaster the media
called the Hoodsville Burn had
chased so many visitors away.

The town still had air in its lungs, but it was getting stale.
The place
needed a fresh suppl
y
of
dollar-rich
oxygen.
White Oaks was the last stop on the artistic pipeline that r
an
through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Pressure was a little weak at their end and would have run out completely except for two thing
s

two men, Asher Temple and Raphael James, the most famous of the residents at Bartholomew’s Wood. Without the art colony and these two artistic giants, the town would have little purpose
for existing
and been the object of amiable contempt by its more prosperous neighbors.
As it was, t
hings had been decidedly grim for the town
folk after Santa
Claus
and the Lone Ranger had left them
in the last economic downturn,
and people remembered it. They needed their artists and they needed the fall festival and had waited for it with the steadfastness of an old dog all through the
I
ndian summer, until the trees turned and began to glow with death’s last inner light.

Red sky at morning, tourist take warning.

Unlike many of the locals, t
he
tourists
still
had money
. T
hese quasi-adults with charge cards and spoiled kids who were looking for a good
time
, grisly entertainment
for the whole family
,
were a
coveted
prize
. And what could be more fun than a fall festival with wine tasting
and ubiquitous pumpkin comestibles an
d a chance to look at record-
breaking squash
? For the lowbrow there was a
punkin chunkin

Sheriff Garret had a trebuchet he was dying to try out at this event. For the higher-minded there was an art show with

good

art. And everyone knew it was good because of the prices.

Asher
Temple
and Raphael James had paintings in the show which was being held in the old stables that doubled as the church for every
religious
denomination in town. But far and away, the most popular items to be seen on the last day
before the festival officially opened
were Esteban
Rodriguez
’s bone puppets.
Even the glassblowers

who were hard to impress

commented on them.
The marionettes made of reworked sheep bones both fascinated and repelled Juliet.
Advance sales were tremendous and he was taking orders for Christmas.

They
wanted the Halloween crowds, but they
were pushing their luck, waiting until late in October to hold the fair.
Weather in the coastal hills was unpredictable.

“I hate when we have a storm at night,” Rose said nervously. This did not mean that she was unusually upset. Rose always sounded troubled.
She was afraid of
large
animals, insects, people
,
and vitamins. The vitamins were a new thing.
It seemed likely that Rose would eventually end up living in a panic room.


Rain
tomorrow
would be wor
se though.” Who wanted to choose
pumpkins, ride ponies
,
or sip wine in a downpour?
If it
rained
during the day
then they might just as well pack up and go home
while the town went on life
support
.

Juliet’s
metal
folding chair wobbled and she tried again to find a level spot for it.
The town had weed-whacked the
old
parking lot where the fair booths were set up. The pavement had been violated all summer by thistle which grew where and when it pleased
, apparently feasting on the tar
ry gravel
and getting bigger, stronger
,
and meaner every day
in spite of being driven over and parked on every Sunday
. Repaving was the only long-term solution, but there was never enough money in the budget for that or for replacing the
burned
-
out
streetlights, only one of which still worked, coming on at sunset and staring at the cracked tarmac like a meditative Cyclops.
The
parking
lot and the
dead
light
s
said a lot about the town, but it was all things that they would rather strangers not know.

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