#saturdayscenes from my upcoming Deserted Lands novel - STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS, a sequel to ALL IS SILENCE. This is the second scene and introduces Lizzie's father Mannie. Here's a link to the first scene: https://pubslush.com/excerpt/1961. Still pretty rough 1200 words.

Mannie stopped still. His hand was on the cold metal doorknob. He’d started down the path, today it lead to the basement. He felt the knob turn in his hand and the door opened into emptiness and dark. He stepped straight ahead and down the rough and narrow stairs. The single, spare, spiral fluorescent bulb quivered to life. A couple flashes and then a steady glow. Cabron. Pinche cabron. His feet continued down the steps. At the basement floor he stepped across to the metal framed shelving units. He pulled out two of the gallon jugs of distilled water and set them on the ground. Then he pulled a 1.75 liter plastic bottle of vodka out. It was the cheapest kind. He hadn’t bothered with getting anything good. It didn’t matter. All he needed was the fuzziness that took the edge off of the pain. 


He gritted his teeth, willing himself to set the bottle back on the shelf and replace the water camouflage. If he was serious about hiding it, he would have drained one of the distilled water containers and replaced it with the vodka. But nobody cared. Not even Lizzie. She didn’t know enough about him yet to care. And the old habits of vodka, most people couldn’t tell. 

But Isabel could. The sensitivity in her tongue that enabled her to make such phenomenal food could also detect the liquor on his breath. Even vodka. Her father had been a drinker and had managed to find oblivion, but not before the adult Isabel had recognized the signs of his decline through the years. 

“I have to stop this,” Mannie said aloud. He twisted the cap off the bottle and upended it into his mouth. One swallow. But, no. Then a second swallow. It burned going down. He twisted the cap back on and tightened it down before shoving it back against the wall and replacing the water jugs. He sighed heavily and headed back upstairs at a slower pace than he’d come down. If he left it downstairs, there were more decisions he had to make in order to drink it. But evidently not enough. 

At the kitchen table, he sat and dug into the tamales. Even frozen they were almost as good as Mama’s. Zach had found them in a freezer on one of his Collections. The picadillo, shredded beef, was more than his mother would have been able to afford putting into them, but the flavor was damn-near the same. 

By the time he’d finished eating, the buzz had snuck into his consciousness. He tossed the corn husks in the compost bin, washed the dishes and placed them in the drainer. The slide down into the bottle would be an easy one. Fighting it was hard. Four years without a drink. Then one when he thought Lizzie had died. In the couple months since then it had accelerated. Today, at least, he could count the days since he hadn’t had a drink. One. He’d managed to not drink anything at Lizzie’s party. In some ways that made it worse. He wouldn’t drink in public, but he’d sneak one or two at home. Get out of the house. They didn’t need him at work. His ‘expertise’ as a Park ranger was to plan on food production using The city’s park lands. It was mostly busy work and he knew it, but the idea that everyone had to do something to earn their food was something he respected. 

He pulled on his Ranger jacket over his flannel and jeans. The easy to ID Ranger hat went on his head. At least it was a persona he felt comfortable with. And people seemed to respect the slight uniform. His feet walked him to the nearest park. The one he’d taken to think of as his. Rows were marked out, ready for digging in the spring as soon as the ground unfroze. 

As he rounded the corner of the bathrooms a small, dog-like figure squared on him, protecting something. It was a coyote, probably a yearling, well-fed and protecting his dinner. Mannie clapped his hands together. “Shoo, Yote!” The coyote hesitated and then loped off sideways. They were getting less and less fearful of the two-legged predators. Mannie inspected the dinner, a cat, looking like it had a bit too much skin. He thought about picking it up and keeping it from the coyote, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Wild Kingdom had become the norm. Eat or be eaten. With so few humans around, maybe there would be some kind of balance achieved, but it would take years. He knew that the coyotes and foxes and newly wild dogs who successfully adapted would be breeding like crazy for a year or so. Very little natural selection, but soon, cougars and the larger meat-eaters would fill up on the smaller ones. The next few years would be interesting to watch. 

“Hey, Mannie!”

Mannie froze at the sound of the feminine voice—Jess, his daughter Lizzie’s best friend. He’d ‘rescued’ her, as she referred to it, from Texas and brought her here. He was in no mood to entertain.

He turned slowly to her. “Hey, Jess. How’s it going down at the dog pound?”

“It’s an Animal Shelter and Hospital not the dog pound.” She cocked her head slightly when she corrected him, then bent to look at what he’d been examining. Her face was a little green when she turned back to him. “Coyote? Or dog?”

“Coyote. Caught him in the act right out in the open.”

“It’s still steaming.” Jess turned to him. “Shouldn’t we clean it up.”

Mannie sighed. “Yeah. I s’pose.” He felt a little exposed here himself. Why couldn’t Jess find herself some young farmer boy and make him a good wife? Mannie wasn’t ready for a relationship and certainly not one with someone so young. “I’ll go find a shovel.”

“I’ll come with you. I can help.”

“Fine,” Mannie agreed, walking away, wondering how to politely let her know he wanted to be alone. He pulled out his keys, opened the tool shed door and stepped inside. The light was unneccessary, as he had everything laid out like he wanted it. He put his hand on the first two shovels and pulled them out together. He turned to hand one to Jess and nearly hit her in the face with the handle. 

“Just wanted to see what it was like in here.”

“Looks like a tool shed,” Mannie said. He reached over her shoulder and flipped the light switch. “Look all you want.”

He handed her the shovel and waited for her to take the hint and move. 

“Oh, sorry.” She stepped out of his way. “You okay, Mannie?”

Mannie brushed past her. “No. Tired. Sad. Frustrated.”

“Need some company?”

“No.” Damn it. Now he was going to get to feel guilty for being an ass. He strode to the dead cat and slid the body onto the shovel blade. He didn’t want to bury it near the veggies, so he walked on until he came to a house with a big red X spray painted on the the door. 
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