His touch is pure gold.
Jack and his fiancee Goldie are the only things actually big about the town of Gargantuan, Indiana. That is, until their wedding day, when Jack cashes in on a wish by turning everything he touches to gold, destroying the town, his marriage, and anything once recognizable about his life. Eighteen years later, a bitter young woman running away from her problems stalls out on the hidden borders of the dusty, legendary town. She wanders in looking for a hiding place but ends up finding so much more.
The Touch is being published as a serial novel on Wattpad. A new section is released every week, beginning September 2014.
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POST ONE: A MIDSUMMER DAY’S WEDDING
Once upon a time, not too long ago or far away, there was a town and a man. The town, nestled between three hills rising in the flat forests of Indiana, was called Gargantuan. The man’s name was Jack, and perhaps he was the only thing gargantuan about the town. He and his fiancée, Goldie.
This story necessitates that we take a step back in time, back to the day when Jack and Goldie got married. It was a bright June day, 1999. The world poised on the cusp of a centennial birthday and Y2K, but the sleepy town of Gargantuan was unruffled. The only buzz was the bees, the hum of the power wires and cicadas, and the wedding of a generation.
The town football hero, Jack—who was scouted by Notre Dame before tearing a rotator cuff—had proposed to the town sweetheart. He had done it, inspired by a country song, in “letters three feet high” on the broadside of his family farm’s barn. She had accepted by flaunting the ring up the single aisle on Sunday morning, up to her spot in the mayor’s pew. Thank goodness a few of the windows were open to the stifling summer day, letting a ray of sun glint off the diamond as Goldie sashayed in her floral print. The same sun also glinted off of a bead of sweat making its way down Chris David’s strong, smooth jawline before a muscle tightened and the drop fell.
Volunteers in plenty, the wedding was conceived of, planned, and executed in less than two months. The prematurely hot spring gave way to an even hotter summer. Goldie again stood at the top of the aisle. The windows were again thrown upon to a lame wind. A bead of sweat again clung to Chris David’s jaw as he stood to the right of the minister, to the right of Jack. If looks could kill, his unseen stare (for everyone stood and turned in one big shuffle and swish and bumping as Goldie entered) would have shot down Goldie in that priceless, perfect moment and our story would have ended there.
Instead, the minister married Jack and Goldie. The congregants filed out with fans and programs and lips a-flapping. The smell of exhaust and the rattle of motors filled the air just as the rice cleared and everyone drove from the church to the mayor’s house. Guests cluttered in clumps under the great, wide, plastic tent offset from the rambling house, and straggled into the field of ticks. Dress hems flicked in the white scorch of sun as girls ran and teens fled. Music lifted with the drone of parched, lovelorn frogs.
Jack sat at the top of the tent, with Goldie on his knee. A folding chair had been placed near the deejay in the space meant for dancing. Soon, Jack and Goldie would have their first dance. Soon, Jack would arch the bouquet up into the air and ladies would come crashing together in desperation to nab it. Soon, some prepubescent boy would drool as Jack slid Goldie’s garter off one long, shimmering leg and over her slender, stockinged toes while Goldie reddened deeper under her blush. But before that, the guests tinked on the side of their plastic cups until Goldie sat on Jack’s knee and gave him a look no self-respecting Sunday school teacher would dare make, as she wiggled into a kiss.
Then there was a crack like lightning striking the earth.
Goldie jumped like the Old Scratch was on her back. Her doe brown eyes went wide and Jack’s arms circled around her. It took several seconds of confusion before a murmur bubbled up from the crowd and all eyes settled on a man standing in the cleared dance floor.
He was a man in black, the man in black, but not, in fact, the Old Scratch. You could hardly see his face through the dimness his broad-brimmed hat cast across his hewn, stubbled, olive face. There might have been some bruising, too, and deep shadows under his eyes, and long, thick lashes around eyes that must have been black to the core. He was not unhandsome, and was solid right through, but he also had an unnamable quality that drew the life from the room.
“Dad?” Goldie said.
The town took a solitary breath inward, one so big and universal that all the oxygen was sucked from the dance floor and a common house fly fell dead on the spot. The mayor flinched to move forward, but his wife put out her arm to stop him.
Tammy jumped out from one side of the circle of guests, her flimsy arms flailing and her aqua stilettos not holding her back one bit. “Now don’t you dare!” she spit at the visitor. “Don’t you dare!” She edged toward him, but with her arms and hands outspread as if to shield something behind her. Perhaps Goldie and Jack. Or the deejay. Or Goldie’s regal parents. Or just Goldie. “You just turn yourself around right now and get on outa’ here!”
When the stranger didn’t move, not even to breathe, Tammy reluctantly shooed at him from five feet away. “No one wants you here.”
Goldie stood, leaving Jack behind like one-half of a statue. She walked across the floor and gently lay a manicured hand on Tammy’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Tammy.” Tammy glanced over her shoulder and let her eyes meet Goldie’s. Tammy softened her posture, and her flashing eyes became apologetic eyes, sad eyes. Goldie’s eyes were reassuring and sad. Goldie’s hand slid down Tammy’s arm, over the poufy sleeve of her bridesmaid dress, over her birdlike wrist. There, Goldie’s hand wove into Tammy’s, and the two turned to face the man.
It was superfluous, all of it. He said, “I didn’t come for you, Goldie.” It was a mere grumble, but everyone heard it. The tent top rattled with a hot wind until one of the stakes came loose and a nylon cord whipped up like a snake which bit at Sissy’s shoulder as she stood with her arms crossed at the far edge of the crowd. She didn’t flinch as a line of blood welled across her pale skin and a drop traced her collar bone down to the edge of her own poufy sleeve.
Goldie winced. Her grip tightened on Tammy’s hand. Then Tammy yanked, pulled them backward to dissolve into the edge of the spectators.
“I came for you, boy.”
POST TWO: A WISH DEFERRED
Jack’s left arm was still circled as it had held Goldie on his lap. She was gone, had disappeared into the wall of bodies that formed a ring around the empty dance floor. Jack sat alone on a flimsy metal folding chair with G.F.M. spray-stenciled in black on the back. And just like everyone else at the wedding, he gaped transfixed at the shadowy man in front of him.
The man had just rumbled, “I came for you, boy,” and I can only imagine a sour sickening thudded down into Jack’s abdomen. His pallor certainly suggested it.
“Sir?” he asked.
“Boy,” the man repeated. Jack sat and waited for the next move. The man still stood, smirking in the dark under his brim. Around them, everyone waited in stillness. For effect, the man in black moved his gaze up one side of the circle and down the other. There was a titter, a ripple, where his sight fell, and then nothing.
The next “Boy,” made Jack flinch at its abruptness, but he quickly recovered his attention. “Boy, what do you want for your wedding gift?”
“My wedding gift?” Jack’s poised arm dropped onto his knee so that he was now a lazy Thinking Man, and a dimple played on his left cheek. That was an award-winning dimple, that one. A cookie-winning, date-winning, grade-winning, virginity-winning dimple and it flitted up onto his face and stuck there along with a glint in his sky-blue eyes. Where the man’s presence could suck the life from a room, the dimple could quicken a pulse, send a high-pitched thrum to your ears, throttle the energy in the room. The dimple appeared and the crowd unhitched, sighed down into a looser posture and even bubbled with a general, anxious giggle.
But still the wedding guests watched the man.
“You can have anything you want,” he said.
Jack’s right eyebrow crept higher onto his forehead. “Anything?”
“I can give you anything.”
Jack thought this was a game. Deathly darkness against the magical zing of his left dimple, and Jack thought this was absurd; just bizarre banter. Perhaps that was part and parcel with the charming package: an inability to take unpleasantness too seriously. So he stood up out of his seated crouch and put his hands on his hips to think.
“Gold,” he said.
“Be more specific,” said the man.
“Lots of it. Lots and lots.” Jack smiled broadly around the circle and the people responded with grins, a thumbs-up, a nod of the head. Good answer. Make this funnier. You win.
“How ‘bout this?” he continued, taking a step forward into the emptiness, then another, then another. “Everything I touch turns to gold.” Jack ended with his hand outstretched in front of the stranger, palm up. Now everyone was looking at the palm, hanging there in the space between the men, pleasant and callused.
The man looked at it, too. Then, just when the stillness hit awkward, he reached up with his own hand and placed it onto Jack’s, turning the pair of them onto its side. “Alright,” he said, and they shook on it.
A lame cheer broke from the guests, and people turned to look at their neighbors. When they looked back, the man was gone and Jack was pushing through the crowd toward Goldie. The music scratched to a start and glasses needed to be filled. Jack wrenched Goldie from her close conversation with Tammy and smothered her in his arms. His chin rested on her golden curls. He smelled her shampoo through the Aqua Net.
They had their first dance. The Mayor had his dance with Goldie and Mrs. Hobbes with her son. A mob of ladies crashed together to nab the bouquet. A prepubescent boy drooled as Jack slid Goldie’s garter off one long, shimmering leg and over her slender, stockinged toes. Goldie wouldn’t blush, but wore a distant expression on her face. More dancing. Drinking games. A bonfire lit against the mosquitos of dusk. Jack lifted Goldie up into the cab of his pickup and waved goodbye out the open driver’s side window. Cans tied with string clanked along in the dirt behind them, kicking up a thin film of dust in an orange shaft of setting sun. Behind the wispy scrim: “Just Married,” in letters nearly three feet high.
POST THREE: A DAY IN 1999
The next morning, Jack had to fight the tight windings of sheets and comforter to get out of bed. He found himself standing in the curtain-blunted morning light, in an odd assortment of clothes: one sock, boxers, a loosened tie, a white, button-down shirt done up with only half the buttons and off-kilter. And there, wound likewise in the suffocation of sheets and comforter: Goldie with her face half-lost in the faux down of a pillow, a smear of mascara and lipstick from center-face to the china-fine line of her profile.
Jack had a mild headache and darned if he wasn’t more thirsty than he had ever been in his life. There wasn’t time to stand about in the dim noticing that Goldie hadn’t even flinched at his clock radio alarm, or wondering if he could wake her by climbing back into the bed and pressing himself against her. He had to get a drink.
He padded down the windowless hallway of his—their—modest ranch and squinted into the kitchen, where the blinds had been left up. He slipped in his sock on the linoleum, but made it to the scarred table, where a bottle of Pepsi had been abandoned with a few swigs in the bottom. Jack screwed off the lid and took a cursory glance inside to scan for cigarette butts before chugging the flat, warm pop. It wasn’t enough.
He flung open the door to the fridge and scanned the sad contents of his bachelor diet. He would send Goldie to the grocery store. Right now, he went for a box of Mountain Dew and groped inside. Was it empty? Really? No, there, in the back of the cold, flimsy space, his fingers hit on a full can. He pulled it out and popped the tab. He sauntered across the room to the sink while chugging the Dew, his head thrown back and his neck rolling with the swallows. Gulp, gulp, gulp, so that a little trickle escaped from the corner of his mouth and back toward his ear.
When it was gone, Jack crushed the can in his right hand and set his left hand on the side edge of the sink. He narrowed his gaze out through the heightening brush at the neighbor’s nearly identical kitchen window. There was no bleary-eyed, ruggedly handsome young man looking back at him with a line of yellow spittle along his cheek. There was no one in the other kitchen. Jack lifted his arm up and wiped the liquid off in the crook of his elbow before remembering the shirt was a rental. He cursed. Then he looked down into the sink and saw a cup in the washed out haze of brightness.
He turned on the tap, filled the cup with water. Then he lifted it to his mouth and, this time more measured, took a long swig. Then he took a break, looked back outside. Another swig. Then he looked at the cup, which he was holding in front of his mouth.
What was wrong with his hands? Why were they sort of yellow?
“Jaundice” was the word he thought of, although from what recess of memory he couldn’t say. “Like a baby,” he thought. Or, that was it, like their old neighbor who smelled incessantly of sweet pipe tobacco and whose liver killed him. Jack didn’t drink any more or worse than anyone else he knew. He wasn’t an old man. It must be the light.
So he reached up and yanked at the cord on the blinds, brought them shivering down with a smash. Then he took the cup with him through the bedroom and into the bathroom and even into the shower, where he drank cup after cup of steamy water while he washed up for the work day.
They had handed him a job. It wasn’t a full ride to Notre Dame, but Jack hadn’t had much use for the education, anyways. Hobbes IGA sat on the corner of Main and Second, and as the only son and oldest child, he was the heir apparent. For the year since high school graduation, he had been manager. He didn’t mind keeping that up until his responsibilities had shifted his father into semi-retirement. They would be co-owners by then, because golden ringleted grandkids didn’t pay for themselves. Hobbes & Son IGA.
The truth—way down deep where Jack couldn’t even put a finger on it—was that Jack didn’t know exactly what Dad would do with the store and with his legacy. Dad wasn’t the yapping sort. And Mom didn’t know any better than anyone else. The most shining conversation Jack and Dad had ever had consisted of “Great game, son. I’m real proud of you,” and a grunt. Or perhaps it was the one that had started, “You haven’t gone and gotten that Goldie pregnant, have you?” That was nice and awkward.
Nearly as awkward as him hiring Chris David as the summer stock boy. Go on back to your books, college boy. Leave town cuz you don’t have anything left here to try and take from me. I win.
Jack looked down at Goldie, who hadn’t moved yet. He leaned over and kissed her before leaving the room and locking up the house behind him, before starting up the truck and rumbling the three blocks to the store. It could have been walked, but the pickup was a sort of extension of Jack’s identity, a sort of herald to precede him. He maneuvered down an alley and parked around back. Then he lifted a couple bags of garbage into the dumpster before unlocking the deadbolt on the steel door and letting himself in.
Immediately behind him, Sarah walked in.
“Didn’t hear you coming,” Jack said.
“Didn’t drive,” Sarah replied, kissing Jack on the cheek and giving him her world-famous, wide smile. Why would a girl that pretty keep her hair that short and wear such baggy clothes?
“Jenny coming in?”
“Not yet. Can’t believe you’re here. Aren’t you supposed to have some sort of honeymoon?”
Jack turned his face to the clipboard he was already leaning against his stomach and moved a pencil along the figures. “We’ll do something special, some time.”
“Trying to make sure Jen and I stay elbowed out of the store?”
He looked up at her. “You don’t want the store.”
“I’ll give your pea brain a break since you’re a newlywed and its likely too chock full of sex leave space for anything else. But we’re not done.”
“Till I give you a noogie.”
“That always solved everything.” To which Jack responded by dropping the pencil and using his free hand to loop Sarah’s head into his elbow. Deftly maneuvering the clipboard with his fingers, he used his knuckles to rub at the crown of Sarah’s head. Sarah pushed at him, but laughed.
“Let me go, you nerd!” Then, in the second before he released her, she grabbed onto his fist with both of her hands. “What’s wrong with your hand, Jack?”
He looked down at it, too. “I dunno.”
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