Works in Progress

"Dolly" is one of the first stories I wrote after I joined my beloved little fiction group.  I shows (I hope) how far I've come since I started writing short stories.  It's rough and uses something in the plot I was told NEVER to use. But there it is anyway.

The story is based on a true happening that I covered as a baby reporter in Plattsburgh, but is quite all fiction stemming from my baby fiction writer's mind.

Please drop to the bottom of this page and give me your comments on this one. Here's...

By Joe Hesch

The noise woke Ellie Benson from her tryptophan-laced slumber.  It was the same middle-of-the-night tapping at her bedroom door that had roused her at least a couple of hundred times since she moved across the hall into her own room in the old farm house.
Please, go away, Dolly.
Tap-tap-tap.  Louder now.
“Ellie,” she heard the whisper, “Ellie, I had a accident.”
“Shhh, shut up, you’ll wake Daddy,” Ellie hissed, sliding into her slippers and reaching for the bedroom door.
In the dim hallway stood Ellie’s younger sister, Dolly, clutching her stomach and barely containing tears behind pained and confused eyes.  What was it this time, Ellie wondered.  Ghosts?  Monsters?  Aliens?  Wet the bed again? And again and again, she thought.
“OK, be quiet,” Ellie barely breathed in her sister’s ear.  “We don’t need Daddy to hear us, right?” 
“Ellie, I got a tummy ache and had a accident.  I’m scared.”
“You eat too much, too fast, Dolly,” Ellie whispered as she steered her sister back to her bedroom.  “Every other day is bad enough, with all the snacks and all, but on Thanksgiving …?  Too, too much.  OK, let’s see the damage tonight.”
Once in the room, even whispers would have sounded like cannon fire, as a silence came over Ellie at the sight of Dolly’s accident. 
Ellie composed herself, as much as any nineteen-year-old could.  She didn’t need to upset Dolly anymore than she was already.  She’d handled Dolly’s messy accidents before.  She’d make sure this was no different.  After all, what are moms for? Even substitute moms.
I’ll always owe her — and Mommy — this much.
Dolly – a name that was the best two-year-old Eleanor could do when she tried to pronounce her baby sister’s given name, Dorothea -- was sixteen, going on six.
Bumping into the stand next to Dolly’s bed, Ellie saw the shadows cast by her sister’s night-light rock against the room’s pink walls.  She saw the pink reflection glint through the tiny bits of silver and white she’d roused from the bottom of the snow globe on the stand.  Ellie shivered and was reminded of the whispers and shadows in the back of the State Police car that brought her home from school that night.  Ellie remembered the loneliness she felt sitting there, as outside all she could see was the white-pink-white-pink of the cruiser’s roof lights reflecting off the surrounding blizzard. On a snowy afternoon almost twelve years ago, Ellie hid behind bookcases in her first grade classroom and had missed her school bus home. When her teacher discovered Ellie sitting in the darkening classroom, just playing with the class’ pet hamsters, she immediately called to let Mrs. Jennifer Benson know Ellie had missed the bus. 
With her husband in Malone on farm business, Mrs. Benson had to quickly pack her two-year-old in the car and speed through a gathering snowstorm to fetch her animal-crazy Big Girl. Blinded in the eddy of the snow-filled slipstream as a tractor trailer sped past them on I-87, Mrs. Benson lost control of the car, and rolled it off the road.  She was thrown from the vehicle and killed.  Dolly was secured in her car-seat inside the Caprice wagon as it rolled downhill to the northbound lanes below.  Flattened, the car ended up on its roof, Dolly’s head trapped between the ceiling and her seatback. She should have died.  Instead, that night was a storm of loss.  Dolly lost a chance for a true adulthood, Ellie lost a true childhood and the Benson girls lost two parents.  One was killed in the accident and the other just died inside. 
Years later, the Ellie’s guilt – her belief that she caused the accident that had driven her family to near oblivion – almost made Ellie consider dying, herself.  But then who would take care of Dolly, especially since Grandma passed away?
“Are you all right, Honey,” Ellie asked her sister.
“Uh huh, I had a tummy ache and that thing happened again, but it was much worser than ever.  I messed on my dollies”
Ellie knew “that thing” was Dolly-Code for her period.  She played along. 
“Yeah, well sometimes these accidents are pretty scary, especially in the dark.  We’ll keep it just between us girls.  No need to let Daddy know, right?”
“Uh huh.”
“Honey, I want you to go with me to the bathroom and we’ll wash you up.  Then you go to my room while I clean up our mess, OK?  I’ll take care of your pile of dollies here. You can sleep with me tonight.  I’m glad you put on another nightgown”
“Yeah, I wanna lay down.”
Ellie and Dolly tip-toed into their bathroom, which was just upstairs from their father’s.  After helping Dolly into her bed, Ellie slipped downstairs and grabbed paper towels, a bucket and mop, and a black trash bag to throw everything away in.
“What the hell’s going on up there?  Everybody’s bumping around.  How the hell old are you supposed to be?”
“Oh, Daddy!”  Ellie jumped, felt trapped for a second, but then instantly worked her best Princess act to put her father at ease. 
“Dolly had another accident.  Girl stuff, you know?  I don’t know how you’ve done so well together while I’m at Cobleskill.”  Ellie had convinced her father that her earning a degree in Agriculture from the state college would be a benefit to the family farm.  Those were the primary things in her life.  The Family.  The Farm.
“Almost as good as having a son,” she remembered hearing her father tell Loy LaRocque, who owned the next farm down the road.  Their houses stood no more than forty yards apart.  She had grown up with the LaRocques.  Danny LaRocque had been Ellie’s classmate in Beekmantown High School and one-time boyfriend.  They broke up after he had dropped out sduring the year off she had taken between graduating high school and convincing her father that she could be a college-educated farmer.
Jack Benson leaned against his bedroom doorway, peering through slit eyes that pierced his puffy face.  He still wore the clothes he had on since Thanksgiving morning.  Apples harvested, hay put up, he was beginning to settle into what he called his idle time – Winter – when their few cows were the only farm work he sometimes cared about.
Ellie worried even that work might suffer while she was away at school. She had taken on so much of it, as well as mothering Dolly after Grandma died.
“You go back to bed, Daddy.  I’ll make sure we’re quiet.  I’ve got everything under control. You know me.”
“Yeah, under control.” He rubbed his face, broke wind, turned and slumped back into his bedroom.  Ellie could hear him fall across the bed.
A half-hour later, she plopped down on her bed next to Dolly and sighed.  Rolling over, Dolly looked into her sister’s face and said, “You’re cold.”
“Yeah, Dolly, help me get warm.  I had to throw everything into the trash bin outside.  Like I said, we don’t need Daddy to get all excited about things, right?”
“Uh huh.”  Dolly looked like she was about to cry again.
“It’s OK, honey.  I’ll be staying home until Monday morning.  Tell me, how long were you feeling sick?”
“Since this morning, but mostly since dinner.”
“I’m sorry, I must’ve forgot how to cook since September, huh?”
“Yeah,” Dolly almost laughed.
“Daddy’s had me so busy I never got much of a chance to talk to you.  How’s school?”
Dolly had begun being mainstreamed into the high school that fall, which was a major factor in Ellie being allowed to go to college.
“It’s OK.  It’s different from before.” 
“How’s that?”
“You know,” Dolly said, almost coquettishly.
“Oooh.  Do you mean boys?”
"Uh huh." 
“What boys?”
“Billy and Danny and Maurice,” Dolly said.
“The LaRocque brothers?  Really?
“Billy’s in my class.  Danny or Maurice drive him to school.  I see Danny when Daddy takes me bowling.”
“Oh, your bowling.  You’re still better than I’ll ever be.  My little bowling prodigy.”  This phenomenon always puzzled Ellie.  Weekly bowling nights were the only time their father saw other people.  When she was little, Ellie hoped her Dad would notice how the nice lady from the alley’s bar would often bring a beer up behind his seat before he asked for one. 
Jack would take the girls to the bowling center in town and – as always – leave Dolly in Ellie’s care.  Then one night Ellie was at a sleepover and Jack put ten-year-old Dolly on a side lane with the LaRocque brothers.  The little girl who barely talked, but never failed to watch her Daddy, picked up a ball and rolled a 102.  The fuss Jack made was a turning point in Dolly’s emotional and mental development.
“I been bowling  a lot for school,” Dolly said.  “Danny’s helping me.  Daddy lets him take me bowling.”
“Danny?”  Ellie’s face screwed up in confusion.
“Yep, he’s really nice to me.  Better’en anybody.  He said he doesn’t like you anymore.  I think sometimes he likes me.  He hugs me sometimes, really really hugs me.”
“Hugs you…”
“Uh huh.  Danny said some mean things about you and I got mad and said I was gonna tell his Daddy.  So he said he was sorry and he hugged me on the ride home from bowling.”
“Where did he … hug you, Dolly?”  Ellie tried to keep her voice level. 
“In his truck.  Don’t be mad, Ellie.  I made him say he was sorry.  He called you a bad name and said you thought you were too good for everybody since you went to college.” 
Ellie recalled when she and Danny broke up.  He said, “Bitch, think you’re too smart for some dumb farm boy, huh?”  Then he hit her.
“Did he hurt you, Dolly?  When he hugged you?”  Ellie sat up on the bed.
“Just a little.  I don’t wanna talk about it.  I wanna sleep”
“OK, Honey.  Are you going to be OK if I take care of our mess a little better?  I’m worried about raccoons, you know?”
Thirty minutes later, Ellie returned to the bed and got under the covers again with her sister.
“Brrr. You’re cold again.  Let me get you warm,” Dolly said.
“Yeah, hold me tight, Honey.  Hold me real tight.  I’m a simple farm girl, I don’t know a much better way to get warm than from you.”
He smiled as he turned over row after row of black soil walking behind his Dad's old Troy-Bilt Roto-tiller in their half-acre garden.  Daniel LaRocque had looked forward to this chore since last autumn, as opposed to the daily drudgery of the stinking, back-bending work on his family’s dairy farm. 
The snow was gone.  The earth had given up its frost and most of its residual March muckiness, all in preparation for Danny to plant a new generation of vegetables.  He could smell the new life, even through the exhaust fumes. 
Occasionally Danny and the crimson earth-chopper would churn up something unexpected, like some of last year's unharvested potatoes or some varmint’s forgotten nest.  Otherwise, it was rocks, always more rocks.
Exulting in the sun on his face, he half-closed his eyes and hummed along with his iPod, sensing the tune more than hearing it over the roar of the engine and the tiller’s jerky, body-buzzing drone.
Then the Troy-Bilt snagged something stretchy, shiny and black.  Danny turned off the engine to remove a plastic garbage bag that had spindled around its tines. The sun glinted off something white in the black of the furrow where he knelt, and Danny pondered the pale broken doll’s head peering up at him from the ground.  With his ungloved hand he grabbed the offending article to throw it from the field.  That was when he realized he had chummed up something more than the usual spring debris. 
Danny fell back and skittered away on his bottom from the waxy doll-like face he smudged. 
Scrambling to his feet, Danny ran toward the house, twice looking back over his shoulder.  He tripped on the demarcation between soft topsoil and the solid ground where he had started his project.  Danny looked back again at the black furrows, coiled like a burnt fuse leading to the smoking tiller and his discovery. 
In her Cobleskill dormitory, Ellie Benson jerked up as a chill coursed her spine and then relaxed as a peculiar warmth washed over her, stinging her face.  Her father called with the news, but she somehow knew what the call was about as soon as she heard his voice.  Heart pounding, she knew.  Ellie just knew.  And now, so did Danny.
We always reap what we sow, boy.   

Here's an 1,100-word short-short I wrote that is a COMPLETE change of pace for me. Believe me, I have no idea where this came from, because the only genre fiction I read (when I can read fiction at all) are American Westerns.

Well, the first draft went together in 90 minutes and was immediately sent to the group. Last night they told me they really liked (insert Sally Fields’ voice here). I’ll let you judge for yourselves with the attached. please let me know which story you're commenting on.  Thanks.

By Joseph Hesch

“Wow, that’s an awfully big dog for a little girl like you to walk. What kind of dog is it? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before,” Maryann Boyle said, as she stopped her afternoon walk for the light at the corner of Main and Cuyler. Her question was addressed to a little girl who didn’t seem more than five. She looked up at Maryann with striking almond eyes and embarrassingly smiled a mouthful of teeth of disparate lengths and spacings.
Then the little girl at the curb hugged the neck of the big black dog she was walking, hiding her face in the dog’s oversize velvet ear. Maryann heard, “She’s a Labradog’s Retriever. Her name’s Mollydoodle and she’s just right.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you live around here? What’s your name?”
The little girl looked back up into Maryann’s face and just blinked her huge brown eyes. The massive canine turned and headed back in the direction from which they came. The little girl sped along behind at the end of its leash, which she had looped around her wrist.
Maryann, worried that such a young child was walking the streets of the city without an adult, began to follow the mismatched pair, just to make sure they were okay.  She lagged behind them by about a half-block, careful to keep out of view, but always keeping them in sight.
After walking three blocks north and two blocks west, Maryann noticed the girl and dog began to slow their pace.
Little one’s probably exhausted, dragging behind that beast, she thought, ducking behind a maple that hid her shadow. That dog’s going to drag her wherever it wants to go.
It was about this time Maryann discovered she was not the only person following the pair.  When they turned left down Oakwood, she noticed a man coasting between the little girl and her, shadowing the pair’s pace from across the street.
“Oh dear,” Maryann said. She hoped the man’s path paralleling the little girl and dog was merely coincidental.  But when the girl and dog slowed, he slowed. It seemed to Maryann he was being too careful to stay out of the little one’s peripheral vision. When they stopped, he stopped, keeping behind a tree or making believe he was tying his shoe beneath hood-level of a car parked across the street.
Maryann’s heart beat a little faster now as she wondered what she could do if this situation escalated to something she didn’t wish to envision. The papers and newscasts were full of pedophiles and predators and snatchings of children much older than this little thing. Remembering how placid the dog seemed when she talked to the girl, Maryann doubted it would do much of anything to someone if the man tried to walk away with the child.
At the corner of Oakwood and Burlington, she saw the man cross the street right to a position directly behind the girl and dog and directly in front of her. She could feel her heart pounding in her temples now, adrenalin coursing through her as her eyes widened in flight or fight confusion.
She reached in her jacket pocket for her cell phone, just as the man caught up to the little girl and her dog at the corner of Oakwood and Rutland. Houses on all four corners of the intersection in this tony neighborhood were surrounded by head-high shrubs. Traffic was little more than a passing FedEx truck and a Saab pulling from the driveway behind her and heading back down Oakwood.
She sped up her pace and punched 9-1-1 on the cell. The man bent low and was talking to the girl now, showing little sign of malicious intent. Yet Maryann was sure she was about to witness a crime and was determined not to let it happen.
“Metro Police,” she heard after two rings.
“Yes, I’d like to report a man following a little girl, no more than five, I’d say. He’s been following her now for six blocks. He’s talking to her on the street right now and I’m very worried something horrible’s going to happen.”
“Where’s this happening, ma’am?” the dispatch operator said.
“They just crossed the corner of Oakwood and Rutland. Please hurry.”
“Are you related to the little girl, ma’am?”
“What? No, of course not.  I’ve just been following them because I was concerned that such a little one was on the street by herself. Why are you asking me all these questions? I’m just trying to help.”
Maryann, hiding behind a towering shrub that guarded the driveway of a white Colonial, looked up the street as the man glanced over his shoulder. The girl turned toward him, stopped and he leaned down to put his hand on her shoulder, his head at her level.
“Oh, God, it’s going to happen now. Please, please, send a patrol car over here now!”
“Okay, ma’am. Do you have an address where we can find them at?” the officer said.
Maryann turned to look at the number of the Colonial.
“Um, 643 Oakw…”
Then she heard the scream.
Up the street, the man thrashed on the ground, hugging the little girl to his chest. The dog, still attached to the little girl’s wrist by the leash, was shying away from the man, tugging the little girl’s arm.
“Oh, God, please hurry,” Maryann shouted into her phone.
Maryann raced up Oakwood, not sure what she would do when she reached them.
It was then she realized it wasn’t a little girl she heard screaming.  It was a man.
About ten strides from where the man and girl were on the ground, the dog finally pulled the little girl from the man’s thrashing arms. The little one’s face and neck were covered in blood. Maryann almost fainted, but kept coming to help. Somehow.
Five strides away, she slowed to a stop. The man on the ground was holding his throat, blood all over his chest and dripping between his fingers. He wasn’t screaming anymore. Maryann instead heard a faint raspy choking sound.
She looked at the little girl, who had now stopped straining at the leash in what looked crazily like she was trying to get at the man. She glared at him with an almost inhuman intent. She then turned and glared at Maryann, as well.  The dog tugged the leash again and she calmed a bit. Then the dog began cleaning the blood from the little one, licking her whole face in one slurp from her chin to her almond eyes.
The little one hugged herself again to the dog’s neck, just as she had twenty minutes before, burying her face into that elephantine ear. As the enormous dog and strange little girl turned toward Barre Street, Maryann heard a screaming siren approaching the now-quiet scene.
She also thought she heard, “He just wouldn’t listen. I tried to warn him. She bites.”


  1. Joe,
    I really enjoy reading your posts--your stories and poetry are so well-written and interesting that I am never disappointed. I thought I would check out some more of your work on your blog, and came across these. I ended up reading each through once, then reading a second time just to make sure I grasped what I thought I caught on my first read-through.

    In your intro to Dolly, you mention that you used something in the plot you were told to never use. A bit curious on that, as the story touches on so many topics, but in a way that is so subtle that some are almost hidden--guilt, blame, loss of childhood, loss of innocence, abuse of a mentally compromised person, miscarriage, and a kind of revenge for the abuser. As I mentioned, I had to read more than once to try to be clear on the subtext.The only thing I was uncomfortable with was the almost callous disregard for the disposed "remains," focusing instead on revenge, although given the age and type of life the girls had, and protective role that Ellie has taken, I can sort of understand it.

    The second story, Heel, felt like something from 'The Twilight Zone,' with an interesting "twist"-- it is not the dog that is doing the biting! Rather different from what I have read by you to-date. Agree though, who knows where this stuff comes from -- or where our imaginations will take us next!

    Sorry if I've rambled on too much. Just wanted to share my thoughts.

    I can really see how far your writing has come since that first story.

  2. Hi Joseph, I really was taken in by both stories. I like the emotion you infusee into "Dolly". I did, while reading, think that "daddy" was the bad guy who hurt Dolly, I am not sure if that was your intent or not.