Michael Woodhead

THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND

Pine Village Estates:
Where strangers, friends
and neighbours live in close proximity.
And where anything could happen...

The Devil's Playground is a contemporary episodic novel centered around the lives of strangers, friends and neighbors who inhabit a 25-townhouse complex known as Pine Village Estates in the city of Calgary. The book begins by introducing various characters and their daily lives, and then begins to delve a little deeper as each individual has personal goals to achieve, secrets to be uncovered, and destinies to be fulfilled. The area is also known colloquially as 'Divorce Alley' because of the preponderance of divorced people who live there. This is an alternate title for the novel as the current one has been used many times for other projects, but which seemed very apropos for this particular book. The action in the complete novel takes place over one month.

[I'm currently halfway through this novel]


MONDAY
01-01
Late Afternoon

Some taxi drivers, Genevieve Penfield mused as she sat in the back seat of the cab and gazed out at the city as it swept past her--some taxi drivers seemed to take an interminable amount of time to reach their destination. This one proved to be no exception. She suspected he'd taken the long way around to get to Pine Village Estates, but she'd decided not to say anything. She just wouldn't give him a tip.

After a rather long stretch of eastbound highway, the taxi swept up an off-ramp, swerved in a semicircle, and eased into traffic heading north. Fifty-Second Street, she saw by the approaching sign beneath the lights that abruptly turned amber.

The vehicle jerked to a stop.

Genevieve took a moment to look at the distant sky. It had grown progressively darker; not because night approached, but rather, bilious storm clouds loomed ever closer and blocked out the late afternoon sun. Even now, bright flashes of lightning appeared and vanished at irregular intervals as they ignited nebulous regions of the clouds.

Genevieve was glad it hadn't started to rain yet; but just then, she saw little splatters against the cab windows.

Damn, she thought. From the looks of this, I'm gonna be soaked after I get out of here.

Once the lights turned green, the taxi proceeded north for several more blocks, and then turned right onto Pinewood Drive. Another two blocks later, the cab turned left, and Genevieve saw the sign that announced Pine Village Estates.

She glanced at a row of townhouses on her left, another row opposite them on her right, and a third row visible further down the road.

''Here you are, miss,'' announced the driver in what seemed to be a long drawl of boredom. ''Divorce Alley.''

Genevieve frowned. ''I beg your pardon?''

The taxi driver chuckled. ''Sorry. Cab colloquialism, miss,'' he replied. ''On account of there being so many divorced or separated people in this neighborhood.''

''Oh. I see.'' She hadn't heard anything like that a few days earlier when she'd filled out her monthly lease at the office of the company that owned the complex. Mind you, it probably wasn't common knowledge anyways.

She paid the fare and couldn't help herself as she added a ten percent tip to it; then she got out and dashed through the rain to the main office lounge.

Once inside, she saw a middle-aged man with short white hair and a grayish beard emerge from the office door.

Wyatt Washburn nodded his greeting. ''Hi!'' he said. ''Looks like you got here just before the storm.''

Genevieve replied, ''I'm here to pick up my key.'' She wanted to get right to the point. She was in too much of a hurry to continue a conversation about the weather or other mundane things. She was going to be much wetter before she reached her townhouse and would need to change.

''Of course.'' Wyatt returned to his office and re-emerged a few moments later. ''Miss Penfield, isn't it? Number 8?''

''Yes, please.''

He handed two keys to her. ''Welcome to Pine Village Estates,'' he said, and started to rattle off the memorized script the main office had obviously given him. ''Garbage pickup is on Tuesdays, the laundry room is directly across from here next to Number 26, and we expect the rent to be paid promptly on the first of every month.''

''That won't be a problem,'' returned Genevieve. She smiled, and then asked, ''Oh, by the way, I noticed from the plans that there wasn't a Number 13 in the complex.''

Wyatt laughed. ''Whoever designed this place was a mite superstitious, I guess.'' He shrugged. ''Anything else you need to know?''

''No, I don't think so, not at the moment.''

''Oh, by the way--you can dial '9' on the house phone to reach me directly, should you need to. I just live upstairs.''

''Okay. Thanks again!''

###

The rain had indeed soaked Genevieve by the time she sprinted to Number 8, opened the door, and entered. Water trickled down her scalp and neck. She shivered involuntarily as she reached for a light switch and gingerly flipped it up.

The familiar aroma of her own furniture and furnishings in the living-room welcomed the young woman to her new home. She was glad the movers had brought them on the weekend.

She reflected for a moment on the cab driver's description of the neighborhood. She wasn't about to lend credence to it by revealing that she had been divorced. She sloughed off her coat, placed it on a hanger, hung it on the doorknob to dry, and then hurried into the bathroom.

As she divested herself of her wet clothes, she caught a glimpse of herself in the cabinet mirror--an exhausted twenty-year-old with long raven hair, dark eyes, and smooth skin. Then, as she unclipped her brassiere, she glanced at her small breasts. She touched them lightly, lifted first one, and then the other. As she'd done many times before, she wished they were bigger.

For a moment, they brought back memories of her ex-husband, Richard.

Both had been seventeen when they met. They had married too young, obviously, and in too much of a hurry. Neither was prepared for the onslaught of pressures of daily married life. Whereas Genevieve attempted to channel her frustrations through meditation, Richard's, unfortunately, came through drinking. And when he'd had too much, he said things. Hurtful things.

That was a side of him she'd never seen.

Eventually, the emotional and psychological abuse proved to be more than she could take. She packed her bags, walked out, and eventually sued for divorce.

Richard never contested it.

She slipped out of her panties, shoved the glass shower door open, and stepped in.

The cubicle floor felt cold on her feet, but within moments, hot water cascaded down her body and it comforted her. She lathered up, cleansed her body and hair, and then applied conditioner, running it through the long dark strands with her fingers.

A quarter of an hour later, her hair wrapped in a towel, she sauntered into her bedroom, and then flopped down on the softness of her bed.

She was asleep within two minutes.


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