Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Collected

A small man, with large deep-set eyes that rarely blinked, he would occasionally disappear for an hour or so, but Vicky could only guess at what he did down there. She wasn't sure she wanted to know.

"Man's got to have some place to call his own," Marty would say. "It's my workshop."

"You're so secretive," she would respond with a smile, content to let him have his eccentricities.

Her friend Arlene heard this and stuck out a pointed chin. "He locks you out?"
Vicky hated defending herself to anyone. Shrugging she said: "Everyone needs privacy. He never goes into my sewing room, and I don't go into his room."

"But you don't lock him out."

Vicky had no response to that.

"Besides," said Arlene. "Aren't you curious what he does down there?"

"Probably drinks and tinkers with stuff."

"Don't it burn at you?"

"Why should it?"

"He could be doing horrible stuff with porn. Child porn, for all you know."

"Hush," Vicky responded, raising her voice, putting an end to the conversation.

Still, the question had been put to her and curiosity allowed to ferment.
Five years. She should know.

The file shoved something up. A click sounded and the lock yielded.

Stepping through the door, feeling instantly guilty, Vicky flipped on the light switch. She stood still, mouth open, eyes tearing up, trying to comprehend what she was looking at.

Every inch of wall, as well as the ceiling, was plastered with photographs of ---her! There, Vicky standing next to her mom and dad. Vicky in the living room watching TV. Vicky outside the house, looking so proud the day they moved in. Vicky kneeling over a patch of dirt in the garden.

Wringing her hands, Vicky moved around the room, not sure how she felt. She stopped at a picture that must have been eight years old, taken before she met Marty. There she was, standing outside the dorm, a backpack slung over one shoulder. Above that, a picture taken from the ground level, looking up into her dorm room as she stood leaning against the ledge, looking dreamily out upon the campus. Another picture of her in a rest room, taken from an odd angle, with a dark spots around the edges of the photo to suggest the picture was being shot through a wall.

Before they dated he had been stalking her?

She studied another picture. A more recent photo, taken from afar as she shopped at the local supermarket. Still another picture of her at work, taken from across the street.

He was still stalking her.

Not wanting to, she reached down and pulled open a drawer in the small desk he kept there. Underwear. Some of it missing for a long time. Another drawer. A pair of earrings missing since Easter, crumpled Kleenex, one torn nylon, a half bottle of perfume.

Closing the drawer, stepping back slowly until she was out of the room, she turned out the light, locked the door, and closed it. Vicky touched her face, not sure what to make of this revelation, not sure whether it should make any difference. It felt creepy to think of him studying her, taking pictures when she was most vulnerable. She tried to imagine him watching, his finger tense on the camera trigger.

Marty would be home soon. She nodded to herself. He would go into the kitchen, maybe check the fridge for a snack, grab a beer. He'd call out, to see where she was. Where would she be? Perhaps in the tub? Low in the water, a washcloth over her eyes. Vulnerable. She could pretend to be asleep and leave the door open a crack.

Smiling, Vicky started upstairs.


lee said...

love love love it! brilliant.

SQT said...

Ooooh, this is good.

I notice that Stewart, Jon and I all seem to be going for the name Marty in our work this week. I wonder what that's all about.

I like the end to this. So much for ignorance is bliss right?

gugon said...


I enjoyed the hell out of this. But, as I guess you can tell, it's my kind of story.

Great concept - a man stalking his own wife. But what REALLY did it for me was the ending - she actually LIKES it. I did not see that coming - and it's perfect.

Man, there's just so much potential in a basement workshop, isn't there? Heck, I have my OWN basement workshop - I get a lot of ideas down there.

Thanks for sharing this.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Nice opening dialogue--sets up the premise. I didn't get Vicky's breaking into Marty's office at first (The file shoved something up); confused me on the initial reading--nicely done though ... and concise. Your ending, where Vicky's smiling, troubled me somewhat. Perhaps she has a weird thing going on in her sewing room too.

Jenika said...

Why does it have to end? I want more. What happens next?

Crunchy Carpets said...

Fascinating.....very interesting!!!

So it takes TWO to tango!

Have you ever read James P. Blaylock?

When I was reading everyone's stories...I kept being reminded of his work.

He is very atmospheric. And I think it was in 'The Last Coin' that a lot of time was spent in his 'workroom.'

He writes creepy horror/mysteries all set around the California coastline.

mist1 said...

Oh, Vicky. She makes me proud.

ShadowFalcon said...

Well nicely written really draws you in.

Susan Miller said...

Brilliant! I could hear that friend's challenge and see her face, visualize that basement plastered with the shots and feel her uneasiness. Then I wondered "can she live with that?"

And wadayano...she can!

Awesome, Stu, but I expect nothing less.

Stewart Sternberg said...

thanks everyone..and janika, it had to end because it was less than a thousand words...however for you..I would gladly create another version.

deslily said...

... and do YOU have a private room Stewart?? huh? huh? fess up!

Bird on a Wire said...

I love the premise--very eerie. Clever story. I'd keep working on it, even make it longer, drag it out, build your characters, build some tension. It'd be worthwhile because the premise really works.

Stewart Sternberg said...

deslily, there are things about me that nobody wants to know....secret room? metaphorically.

Stewart Sternberg said...

thanks bird on a writing that name...there are some assignments, such as the vampire one I did for Halloween, that I may end up reworking, fleshing out, etc..and then submitting for publication somewhere under a new face.

Charles Gramlich said...

Nice, but I agree with the folks who thought it could be extended. I still don't think it would have to be long, but another 500 or 1000 words would really let you work up the atmosphere that is just hinted at here.

Helen said...

Are you going to post what happens next? Very good writing.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Actually, I intend to rewrite this from almost scratch, with the wife noticing her husband watching her from across the street while he's at work. She questions him about it, he denies it.

She talks to a friend, the friend fills her with doubt, and the issue of the basement room is raised.

Then we go down there and make the discovery..and then she spies him approaching the house with his camera. Maybe I'll have her find some videodiscs in the room as well.

I will definitely be expanding this and submitting it somewhere in a different form. It will be another of those stories that I labor over for which there is no concrete market. sigh.

SQT said...


What do you do if you have a story and no real market? I'd like to flesh out my Mark story but I have no idea what I'd do with it after the fact.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Great I wrote in the science fiction and fantasy blog, the short story market has been dying...another plug here for going out and getting subscriptions to story magazines such as Dark Wisdom and Science Fiction and Fantasy...

However, to more directly address your question, there are some markets available. I have a story which I think is genre, but which I know no genre magazine will touch. I will try shopping it around to some small press anthologies, maybe take a trip through the online sites.

One thing I've started to do is to watch for call for submissions, watch for contests, watch for editorial content of certain markets and specifically write for sale. In short, I'm a whore. Anybody out there want me to write something? Gimme a couple bucks and its yours. I'm not proud.

Sheila said...

Wow. Really creepy! I guess no one is safe huh? even from their own husband. Interesting read!

SQT said...

At the end of the day Stewart I'm a writing whore too. I wrote for newspaper to make money. Why else would I bother? I doubt any other reporters out there would feel inclined to "tell the story" as they love to brag about if there wasn't a paycheck at the end of it.

Frankly, why would I write if I didn't want it published? I could write it for my own pleasure, but if it isn't good enough to share then I don't see the point.

Do I want to make a living off of writing? Hell yeah!

Jon said...

Really good. (Although the file thing kind of threw me for a second too.)
But the longer version she still has no clue before entering his basement. From there it's a game of "I know something you don't know." Until he enters the sewing room.

SQT said...

Yeah, this story could have an interesting cat and mouse element to it. What scenarios could she set up to excite him and how would he respond? And at what point does he find out she knows? Lots of possibilities here.

deslily said...

Frankly, why would I write if I didn't want it published? I could write it for my own pleasure, but if it isn't good enough to share then I don't see the point.

Well.. for your own enjoyment? For your own "escape time"? For ..well for "practice"? (since writing is what you want to do..)

A strange thing happened to me. I am not a writer.. yet I wrote for two years (according to fantasy guidelines of word count, I wrote a trilogy).. will it ever get published.. ummm, not unless a really dumb person wanted to pay for it lol.. do i regret it? hell no!.. would I do it again "if i could".. yeah..i would.

Anonymous said...

I loved the ending, too, and was surprised and pleased that she enjoyed the attention. I guess I could relate. A wonderfully inventive tale of obsession and entirely plausible.

SQT said...


I write stuff all the time that will never get published, but it isn't my goal.

I think if you're moved to write to express yourself that's great. My blog is an example of writing something for no money, but the payoff is in sharing it with others. I guess I need a certian motivation to do things. I don't have enough internal motivation to write without some sort of goal in mind.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This is captivating, but I wanted it to be longer. Is it actually part of a larger piece? Although it stands alone quite well as a short-short, it definitely has the elements of a novel in it.

It could become a horror story, or just the tale of a harmless obsession. One wants to know whether Marty perhaps did away with a former lover Vicky may have had, and also what he DOES in that room. Is it a shrine, or will the final display be a photo of Vicky after he cuts her throat?

Stewart Sternberg said...

thanks will become a longer piece. also, some people commented about the abruptness of the nailfile opening the door...apparently a few sentences were inadvertantly cut in the pasting.

shiela, you think this is creepy? you should hear me sing.

SourDad said...

I've had the, "It seems part of a larger story." My answer: What isn't. I like the shorts and the Kafkaesque unsuccessful arrival.

I like it Stewart. It could even be shorter; I'll be back for more.

Keith said...

I really enjoy how you incorporated an O. Henry style to a love story. Excellent short story.

Liz said...

Very nice. I agree, Marty is a great name. Here are some things I found myself wondering. First, I wondered what job the husband has that enables him to have time available to spy on his wife so extensively. I also wondered if her husband is the type that would know instinctively when someone's been in his space. She might be ok with knowing he's been spying. But he might not be ok knowing that she knows. There are so many places you can take this. Maybe that's his thing, he bides his time until the latest wife's curiousity gets the best of her...and then he kills and moves on. Hope you manage to get the final product published somewhere.

Kate S said...

Stewart, I've been reading your stories and I don't know why you said you are embarrassed to promoting yourself - these are great! You are very talented.