UPDATE: TIME’S UP!!! THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO ENTERED!
It’s that time. I’m pleased to announce the opening of THE SURPRISINGLY ESSENTIAL FIRST PAGE CHALLENGE!
Before I get to the guidelines, I’m also pleased to introduce the contest’s co-judge, my very good friend Holly Burns, author of the wonderful and hilarious blog Nothing But Bonfires. I conned, er, persuaded Holly to participate because: 1) she’s British (I mean, they invented the darn language), 2) she’s an extremely talented writer (did I mention her wonderful and hilarious blog that you should already be reading?), and 3) I thought it would be helpful to have a judge from outside the publishing industry, the type of person who might pick up your book in the bookstore after reading the first page — in other words, THIS IS YOUR READER.
So a massive thank you in advance to Holly for agreeing to participate.
And now for the contest guidelines:
1) All may participate. First pages may be from your work in progress or one you invented solely for the SEFPC. I’ve learned my lesson from contests past, and am limiting entries to one (1) per person.
b) Leave your first page in the comments section of this post. People who subscribe to the blog via e-mail: please click through to the site and leave your pages on the actual blog. Entries that are e-mailed to me will not be counted.
4.6) First pages are limited to 500 words. Use them wisely. Paragraphs should be single-spaced with double-spaces between paragraphs (like how this blog post is formatted). Please do not get crazy with your formatting.
+) The preliminary deadline for entries is Wednesday at 5:00 PM Pacific time although for some reason I always end up changing my mind about these deadlines, so please keep checking back. Nominees will be announced whenever Holly and I have had a chance to decide upon them, and you will have a chance to vote on the ultimate winner.
£) Spreading word about the contest on the Internet is encouraged. I am ready to judge this contest. No matter what. Even a million entries will not faze me. My voice only quivered a little when I said that.
X) And the prizes! The ultimate grand prize deluxe winner will receive the satisfaction of knowing they have a seriously awesome first page, and will have a choice of a query critique, partial critique, 10 minute phone conversation, or one of my clients’ books. Runners-up will receive a query critique or other agreed-upon prize.
And that is it! Keep checking back for updates because these guidelines may be changed on a whim. Thank you again to Holly (here’s her blog one more time) and good luck!
Who has the most surprisingly essential first page? Let’s find out.
katherine lw says
Once there was a fire that consumed everything. People flared like giant torches. In the aftermath, during the clean up, the whispers began.
‘We thought we were safe.’
‘It could have been one of our children.’
The public were insatiable. How did it start? Who were these people? How could it happen here? But the answers weren’t forthcoming. They were looking in all the wrong places. They didn’t ask me. And now, now that my skin has turned to parchment and my eyes weep thick rheum, now I’m ready to talk. I’m ready to tell the story and I’ve chosen you to tell it to. I like your face. You look like someone who listens well.
Come closer. My voice can’t carry like it used to. The smoke burnt it, along with everything else. Let me tell you a story. Float with me like the smoke from a candle as I take you back in time. Back before the fire, while things were still as normal as they’d ever be, back to a day in summer with the packed earth radiating heat. I can feel it on my skin now. The afternoon air shimmering, the harsh scream of cockatoos and the constant hum of cicadas.
Listen with me. You can hear them, can’t you? Put your hand on my arm. Feel the heat. We’re nearly there …
Hope dawdles, next to Liv. Their hair is still wet from the Glory and neither is in any hurry to get back to the group. Their fingers brush against each other as they walk, in silence, no need to speak. It’s rare for them to have this time on their own, chore-free, and they’ve spent it well in an hour of raw-voiced, shouting freedom. A trail of water snakes its way down from Hope’s matted ginger twists of hair, soaking through her T-shirt. She glances sideways at Liv’s sleek silhouette. Who would have thought they shared the same parentage, even the same womb? For, to look at them, Liv appears sprung from their father’s thigh: same brown skin; same shiny hair; same smooth movements – all joints oiled and flexible. Whereas Hope might as well have been snapped off their mother’s elbow. She grimaces at the thought and then feels guilty for thinking so poorly of Gemma, their all-elbows, fraught mother.
A sixth sense stops Hope. She looks down and, there, right where she was about to step, is a bee – crawling slowly in drunken circles. She drops to her haunches to see it better, stretches out her finger and the bee turns to it and climbs on board. The sun is sinking, almost touching the horizon now. Shadows are darkening purple. Night is about to fall and here, on the mountain, where there are no streetlights, the darkness drops quickly. Like a blanket thrown over a birdcage.
For Sparta, a WIP by A. Genova
Where could Melaina hide this time? The setting sun melted the jagged line of the mountains into a fiery brown as twilight approached. It would be her last chance. The day was almost over.
An idea struck her, but she hesitated. She would have to be strong and swift to make it there before he saw her. It was a good distance. And uphill. But he would never suspect it.
Melaina grinned and sprinted towards her haven – a particularly thick cypress tree that lay at the edge of her family’s land. Faster! Hurry! She pumped her arms and stretched her legs and raced to safety over the gently sloping hill behind their house. The parched blades of grass crunched and tickled under her bare feet. Almost…there. She reached out and grabbed the rough barked trunk, scraping her palms as she flung her small body around its girth. Now hide! She turned and leaned against the tree, arms and feet tucked close, breath rasping. The rough linen of her chiton draped over her legs leaving only her toes exposed, and eyes shut tight, she waited.
A tingle crawled through her belly as she heard her name being called from far off, down the slope. “Melaina, where are you? You can’t hide from me forever!”
She squeezed her arms around herself and shrank against the trunk, struggling to quiet her gasps. Silence surrounded her now, save for her breaths and the gentle rustling of leaves and branches in the evening breeze.
Minutes passed. Surely he must be looking for her down below. She continued to wait. Still nothing. Her plan seemed to be working.
More silence. No sight or sound of him. She’d been waiting a long time. She frowned. Maybe he had forgotten about her. Maybe he’d left. It would be dark soon.
Finally, just as she thought he might have given up, the voice came again – more loudly this time and laced with heavy breathing. “I will find you!”
Melaina’s eyes flew open at those words. He was close! He had climbed the slope. Perhaps he already knew where she hid and was simply teasing her. That thought jarred her heart into a steady thumping. She began a chant in her mind. Don’t find me. Don’t find me. Don’t find me.
Then a movement on the ground caught the corner of her eye and she stifled a scream. A scorpion’s pale brown form aimed straight for her. Eight legs slowly advanced as the curved tail taunted her with its stinger.
Melaina shivered. Telling herself that scorpions in Sparta were harmless and probably more afraid of her than she of them didn’t help a bit. They were horrible—the curved tail, the legs, the almost transparent flesh—it all revolted her. Her stomach lurched and her body tensed. But then she clamped her lips together, taking every ounce of control to remain still. If she ran, he would find her. No. She would stay.
A story based on real events:
A young man started in his seat, terror written over his features. “Oh my god. What have I done?” He murmured. His gaze was transfixed on the recently awakened screen before him as characters scrolled past.
The screaming of a telephone broke the silence. He lurched across his desk and grabbed hold of it, eager for a respite from the nightmare. “Hello?”
“What have you done Nathan?” a female voice came over the speaker.
“I am so sorry for this.” Nathan’s head sagged and his eyes closed as he held the phone tight. “I am not prepared to deal with this.”
Silence followed this outburst as the voice on the other end considered his plight. “You should have considered that before.”
The man’s head rose dejectedly, “They haven’t stopped. It’s midnight, and they still continue to come.”
“I see.” The consolation in her voice was replaced with a sharp edge of rebuke. “It’s ok Nathan. Stiff upper lip, No sacrifice, no victory; in every task that must be done there is an element of…”
The line clicked dead. “AGGGHHHH! More cliché’s! I can’t take it anymore, kill me now.”
The phone rang again and he pick up, knowing he had been rude, but feeling the frustration mount as the numbers on his computer rose. “Sorry.”
The voice sighed, “No problem. We’ll conquer this thing together, ok?”
“Fine,” The call ended as his back straightened with a burst of resolve as he moved to the top of the page.
A ding rang out, signaling the microwave had completed its task. “After my snack…” Nathan grunted. “And a little liquid refreshment.”
The little snack took a little longer than planned and resulted in a parched throat. Nathan reached for his bottle of bourbon, “Just one to help me think.” He downed the contents in a single gulp with a sigh of satisfaction. Nathan again sat in front of his monitor and felt the panic seize his gut.
The phone pealed, “Well Nathan, I sent over an email with possible candidates. Let me know what you think.”
“Thank you Holly. You are a good friend.” Nathan ended the call and stared at his phone. His attention turned to the first line on the page.
“Their is a tendency to be afraid of you’re shadow.”
Nathan’s mouth dropped. “Forgive them; they know not what they do.” He murmured.
Six months had passed since the incident in Scrimshaw, and even with a Federal investigation looking into the murder of two cameramen and the rape of one weatherwoman, all people could talk about was the fucking cat.
I had been working as a request coordinator for a little more than eight weeks in INAS News Sales, and I got — on average — a hundred calls a day about Stormy the Weather Cat. Most were just requests for more pictures, but some bordered on the idiotic.
“INAS — your news, your way, right now. This is Jason speaking. How can I help you today?”
“Hey John, this is Mindy Sandpiper from KRTX in L.A.. We were wondering if you had b-roll of the Stormy van?”
“You mean the van that he was found in? I’ll have to …”
“No, the van he’s been touring the country in. Our fashion correspondent wants to use it for a piece on how to decorate the family car to accommodate your pet.”
“Well, if you look on your Newslinx, you’ll see that we have an hour of raw footage about Stormy’s nationwide goodwill tour.”
“Yeah, we got that. But listen, Jerry, we really needed something that showed the van not being so…. white.”
“But it’s a white van with red mark on the roof showing where the cat got in.”
“You see honey, we really needed it to be a red van because that’s how Chloe describes it in her package. We noticed the error, but we already aired the tease for the package, and it airs in about five minutes, soooo, what can you do about that?”
“Well, considering that the van was already painted white and red there’s really nothing I can do.”
“Listen, buddy. I tried being nice. This isn’t some redneck coastal backwater like where you are. This is L.A.! I demand to speak to your supervisor now… what? No, he says he can’t get b-roll of the red and white van…FUCK, now you’ve made Chloe cry and she’s on in two minutes. I hope you’re happy!”
“Very. Is there any other way I can help?”
“Yes. I would like to speak to your supervisor now!”
“Happily. Please hold.”
The Notebooks WIP
May 22nd, 2003
Ronald is dead and it’s a relief to know that I won’t have to put up with him anymore. I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead; he was a good enough man, a hard worker and the children loved him.
Dave staggered and looked around for something to site on. He reread the opening line, it was definitely Mom’s handwriting and she was glad that Dad had died. No this couldn’t be right. He sat on the edge of the bed his mouth hanging open, brain whirling, trying to understand. After all Mom and Dad had been happy enough-hadn’t they?
Had he missed something? Jen had never said anything about them not getting along, but then she wouldn’t, at least not to him. According to her he wasn’t in touch with his feminine side. He still wasn’t sure what that meant, but apparently it wasn’t good.
With the notebook still in his hand he walked back over to the bureau and scanned the pile of remaining notebooks. Dave didn’t know if he wanted to read more or even if he should for that matter. His mother had a thing about privacy and he didn’t want to snoop. Well, he did, but what if Mom found out, eh. On the other hand she must have known that if something happened to her they would be found. Well something had happened to her; she’d gone to join Dad. Until a moment ago this had been a comforting thought. Oh hell.
His eyes were drawn back to the page.
Who am I kidding; I’m glad the old bastard is dead. Pillar of the community my ass. He was a fake, a big fake. It was all hushed up and how nobody found out about his affair with Madge Grimshaw is nothing short of a miracle. There was a lot of whispering, but we played the happy couple and laughed it all off as malicious gossip. Ha ha.
No he couldn’t be reading this. This was wrong. His Dad would never have done that, NEVER.
Dave closed the book, locked it back in the drawer and slipped the key into his shirt pocket. This was not what he’d expected to find in there. He’d figured it was where she’d kept her important papers, insurance, wills, marriage certificate, that sort of thing. Came to think of if where did she keep them?
He picked up the phone, then put it back in the cradle. I should phone someone, he thought as he ran his hand through his hair. I need to talk about this. I need a drink. What I really need is not to know about any of this. Heading toward the kitchen Dave decided he’d better stick to coffee; it wouldn’t look good to be smelling like a brewery when his sister arrived. Just wouldn’t be in good taste, Mom barely cold and him tipsy, yeah, they’d have a field day with that.
Cave Dweller says
Futuristic Paranormal WIP
Caden rubbed her finger across the gouge in her desk. The protective leather gloves she wore prevented her from picking up any unwanted residual emotions others may have left behind. Memories of a past she’d just as soon forget clouded her mind. An urgent beep from her computer interrupted her thoughts. Caden rose from her chair, stretched, then walked across the room. Most times her study was a place of comfort and she would have answered Zilla’s summons electronically. Today she felt the need to move around.
Zilla sat in front her own computer; a larger version of Caden’s. Much larger. An array of other machines surrounded her assistant, most of which were a mystery to Caden. At first she thought Zilla was in her often famous zone. When the girl had her brain jacked into the computer Caden didn’t like to disturb her.
Zilla looked up at her. “Message from Earth for you.”
“Why didn’t you patch it through to me?” Not that she looked forward to hearing from anyone on Earth. It had to be one of her cousins, Lissa or Stewart, her only living relatives. She hadn’t seen nor spoken to them since Lissa’s wedding a few years ago.
Zilla shrugged. “Thought it might be interesting.
Caden shook her head. “You thought you’d like to watch me squirm is more like it.”
“Right. You never squirm. Just interested in your family.”
“You’re nosy.” More like it was because Zilla never had a family, but Caden didn’t want to bring that up. Whatever Zilla had to endure on the streets before Caden found her wasn’t anyone’s business. She didn’t know what she’d do without her now. Caden couldn’t have bought the kind of loyalty the girl bestowed on her. “What’s the message and which cousin wants my attention after all this time?”
“Lissa. She says it’s important. Sounded a bit desperate to talk to you.”
“All right, patch me through.”
Caden watched Zilla raise one eyebrow. “Here or would you prefer in private.”
“I’d hate to ruin your fun. Here is fine.” She sat down in the chair next to Zilla.
In no time at all Zilla’s mind had run through all the channels needed to dispatch a call to Earth and Lissa’s home. Her cousin came on so fast Caden figured the woman had been parked on top of her communication machine.
Lissa didn’t look any different than the last time Caden had seen her, but something in her cousin’s face told her she wasn’t going to be happy with whatever news she was about to hear.
“Caden, I’m glad you got back to me so soon.” Not the cool tones Lissa always used. “I need your help.”
Of course she did. What other reason would she contact me. “Lissa. What can I do for you?”
“It’s Stewart. He’s… he’s dead, Caden.”
How much fun!
Young Adult-urban fantasy-WIP
You know that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you don’t want to do something? The one that tells you that you should stay in bed, with the covers pulled over your head for the next four years of your life?
Well, I’ve got that feeling, in spades.
Today is the first day of school. A new school about a gazillion trillion miles away from all my friends. They might as well have picked me up and put me on another flipping planet.
And it’s all His fault.
Him being Draven Whistlethorp, my step-dad. Me? I’m Mary Margaret Murphy. Murphy is a good Irish name. It was my Dad’s name. If I ever get married I’m never going to change my name.
My Dad died four years ago when I was ten. I miss him. You would think that it wouldn’t hurt so bad anymore, but it still does. Everybody tells me. “Mary Margaret, time heals all wounds. It will get better. Promise.” Everybody being our neighbor Lois who has known me since I took my first breath.
I’m still waiting, for it to get better that is, and I’m not sure I want it to get better. Cause like if it does get better won’t that mean that I won’t remember him? Won’t remember the way he used to tickle me until I couldn’t breathe or the way that he used to bring me presents when he went on long trips or the way he would sit and just listen to me? I miss that the most, the way he listened to me, like what I said was really important.
Mom went into a really bad funk when Dad got hit by that train. I didn’t think she would ever come out of it. For a while there I think she even forgot about me a couple of times, and if it hadn’t been for Sue Ellen’s mom having me spend the night so much I probably would’ve starved to death. There is only so much nutrition you can get from Pop-Tarts and Captain Crunch cereal.
But when Mom came out of her funk as she calls it, personally I think she fell off the deep end, she was different.
She said it was all because of Draven Whistlethorp. That he saved her. Yeah, right. But she didn’t listen to me and they started dating and got married which is why I’m nauseous and want to throw up.
Because now I have to start high school with no friends in a town I hate.
They don’t get it.
Either one of them. Why couldn’t I just stay in Charleston with Sue Ellen? But nooooo. I had to come with them to some weird town in North Carolina called Spookeville.
The town is just like the name. Weird. I didn’t even know North Carolina had a town called Spookeville. They don’t even have a decent mall.
Flight: 66,000 words
Kixur stood before his father. The other young gnardors, all candidates at their first challenge, hung motionless on their roost, staring. The vep was dead. Kixur’s vep. The only child of Elder Roquen had failed his kindness challenge.
The small creature’s thoughts lingered in Kixur’s aura. He had found a way to touch the vep’s mind, to revel in its thoughts. He had tried to squeeze an idea into the small being’s consciousness, trust me. But the beast proved strong. It ripped at Kixur’s aura, biting and clawing back at the young attacker who dared invade private niches. In a panic, Kixur defended himself, nipping at the creature with his incisors. But physicality in realspace is not constrained by the rules of physics or fair play. The lashing out had disabled the vep’s aura, extinguishing the creature’s life.
Roquen misted the space with his primaries, infusing the room with the calming scent of vanilla. The teens responded to the instruction, slowing their breathing and silencing their murmured accusations.
Kixur squirted submission from his functioning right primary, adding composted leaves to the bouquet. Failing the first attempted kindness trial was common among teens, but as Roquen’s son, the Trionists had high hopes for their leader’s heir. The channels waited outside the chamber, for news of the successor. With the Dualists gaining respect, demanding legitimacy, Roquen required a glorious triumph.
He got Kixur.
Naur spoke up. “Elder Roquen, sir. May I go next?”
“No.” He shook his triangular blue head. The iridescent streaks of gray on his hide sparkled in the light streaming through the window. “Terac will proceed.”
Terac sailed down from the roost and took up position in the center of the circle. Kixur nodded at his classmate and flew up to the roost. He hung from his feet, and curled his blue sails around his body. His left primary leaked dribbles of submission. The drops of scent pooled on the floor near his father’s feet. Roquen’s eyes darted to the puddle, then back at Terac, disgust in his eyes. Despite rehabilitation, a stringent diet, and prayer, Kixur’s left primary gland had malfunctioned since the accident.
Terac raised his sails to full presentation. His hide glowed red, the color of reason. He was the youngest, and the only male offspring of Jekad. The crimson spokesman and self-proclaimed leader of the Dualist movement was noticeably absent from his son’s first trial. Many believed that he would have exempted Terac from the ritual, grooming his son for the path of dualism, a religion that encouraged creative and scientific thought. A belief system that excluded the third trial of purity, advocating a more self-important perspective on death. But today’s test focused on life.
Each spectator misted encouragement, filling the room with the scent of the first tree sap to flow in spring. Terac misted his thanks, adding mother’s milk to the aromas. Roquen placed a frightened vep into the boy’s arms and signaled for the challenge to begin.
The smell took his breath, and for a second Javen lost the will to live. “Tell me this gets better, Mobsby, because I’m about to pass out.”
“Javen,” Mobsby dramatically stirred a foaming bucket, “this only gets worse. When the hot water combines again with the dung at the bottom of the hole and agitates the waste smells, they will rise once more to render coherent thought nearly impossible. Furthermore, once the foaming hot water is forced,” Mobsby raised the bucket to show Javen what he meant by forced, “through the tunnels and outside to the pits, we’ll dump buckets of special earth into the hole to absorb all manner of nasty things, stirring smells anew. As more water with cleansing herbs is then poured into the hole sending the special earth into the pits, the outcome of our most recent dinners will finally be covered – though the odor lingers a bit. Go ahead, grab the other bucket of hot water, and pour it in the hole too.”
Javen heaved the hot water onto the lip of the privy seat and tipped it into the hole. Again, the smell assailed him and he dropped the empty bucket, as he backed away to clutch the wall. He gagged as his eyes streamed tears.
“You’re right,” Javen said gasped, “that was worse. I’m glad this is only a week-long duty. I couldn’t handle much more of this.”
“I can’t believe you’ve been here this long without having privy cleaning in your chore rotation. I think I did this twice the first year I was here.” Mobsby said lifting a large bucket of white powdery sand from the floor and pouring it down the hole as Javen followed with the second bucket of special sand.
“What with being captured by Malcaster slave traders, and then kidnapped by a Malcaster lord, I think certain duties ‘fell through the cracks’.”
“Ugghh, that’s a foul joke, Javen and unworthy of you.” Mobsby’s virtuous pose lasted all of one second before an appreciative laugh exploded. “Wish I’d thought of it.”
Javen grinned shamelessly, “Anyway, the Malcaster wasn’t about to let me go so I could do privy duty.”
Mobsby hefted a bucket of water laced with cleansing herbs preparing to tip it into the hole. “Guess you never thought you would have reason to thank a Malcaster.” The ever-present twinkle came to his eyes, “Isn’t the stench, just a wee bit better now?”
Javen grunted, “Come on, smart guy. Let’s get done, we’ve got the Bonding tonight and I want to clean off this ‘stench’.”
Nathan Bransford says
Posted for Edward Lewis:
PROMISES Approx 110,000 words, Women’s Commercial Fiction
Standing at the window of my condominium on a January afternoon, I watched snow blanket Central Park. My mood remained as gray as the clouds. Despite the apartment’s warmth, I tugged my sweater tighter and crossed my arms protectively. I wasn’t working today; I never do on this, my least favorite day of the year.
It hadn’t always been like this. I loved winters as a little girl. Every fall I would watch for clues of what the coming winter might bring, checking out the wooly bears’ coats and spying on the squirrels to see how many nuts they’d gathered.
In Eastern Kentucky where I grew up, the weather turned frigid after Christmas. January meant frost on the inside of the windows, extra quilts on the bed and the Warm Morning heat stove in the living room set to high. January also brought snow, deep snow that filled the hollows and drifted over the back porch steps.
Those deep snows meant no school and going sledding with my younger brothers. Even today, I smile when I recall coming inside cold, wet and invigorated. We’d hang our gloves, coats and knit hats in front of the stove to dry and hurry to our rooms to change. When we returned Momma always had mugs of hot cocoa waiting on the kitchen table. She warned us to take baby sips so we wouldn’t burn our tongues. We, of course, never listened.
Sometimes, if we had the right kind of snow, she’d send me outdoors with a big spoon and a bowl. After carefully scraping away the crusty top layer so I didn’t get soot from the chimney, I’d fill the bowl and Momma would turn it into snow ice cream. I’ll never forget how soothing it felt on my sore tongue.
Those were good times for us all…me, my two brothers, and Momma and Daddy. The future looked as perfect as perfect can be. Everything changed the year I turned fifteen and Momma took sick. She died the following January.
Folks back home say I look just like her, that we could be twins. It’s true. More and more when I look in the mirror it’s her I see. Those same people think I rely upon her good looks to earn my living. In a way, I suppose I do. But it takes more than good bones and a nice figure to make it to the top as a model.
On melancholy days like today I remind myself Momma was not so much taken from me, as she was given to me. Even if only for a short while. She guided me in life and continues to guide me in death. A few days before she passed over, I sat at her bedside and made certain promises. Promises I’ve done my level best to keep.
The thought that I might have fallen short, that I’ve somehow let her down, continues to haunt me.
I was seventeen when a fortuneteller predicted I’d take my own life one day: “You’ll do it yourself. Your kind always does.” She stared at the cut marks on my arm. My friend Angie dragged me off the witch and said I was lucky not to be charged for busting her nose. I thought I should’ve sued the woman for jinxing me because I spent too much time looking around corners after that, waiting for whatever or whoever might be the pill-popping, gun-grabbing catalyst in my life. Truth was, I knew the psychic was right the way I knew the garbage man would spill crap on the walk when he dumped our bin—a tuna fish can or a Twinkie wrapper or a red-spotted tissue from one of my nosebleeds. The bad always stuck.
It wasn’t until my twenty-fifth year when I understood. I was in New York City, sitting in a hotel room drinking my third miniature bottle of Skol—though I should’ve been testing coffee at a restaurateur convention—when an airplane penetrated one of the twin towers four-and-a-half blocks away. The second plane came minutes later. I didn’t call home, though I could’ve. Just let my cell ring and ring, and never bothered to recharge the battery. Sometime during the first vigil, when I stood in the street among the vacant-eyed disbelievers and everything around me looked and smelled and tasted like Armageddon, I realized I could use it. A gift among the rubble. An escape hatch with an invisible door. A fulfillment of my prophecy.
I purchased a new life behind a hidden panel in a store specializing in imitation Coach bags. My name would be Maria, and Marie Montague would move to Miami; the phrase rang like a crystal supper bell in my head, promising grand things to come. I never could’ve predicted meeting Stance, who had my number in less than a minute and whose nose I couldn’t reach to punch.
You’d think my life had enough twists, but nothing affected me more than the day I learned about my mother’s death and returned home as plain old Stef Harold. The second thing I did after finding her gravestone at the dinky Northport cemetery was find my own. And when I learned a fallow casket lay buried under my six feet of clay, I felt driven to see it for myself. I convinced some guy to dig up my grave by pointing out I was clearly not dead, then showing him a tall stack of crisp twenties. Stuffed animals, dried flowers, pictures and more letters than I’d ever received in my life all but poured from the small pine box when I lifted the lid. I read every word my family and former friends had written, and then went out to stare at the scar my grave had left on the earth, knowing the task that lay before me—to fix it all—would be tantamount to raising the dead.
Sonia Timms says
Jarri and the Legend of Surfers’ Hollow
by Sonia Timms
Word Count: 20,000
Market: Children’s Fantasy, 7-10 years
Chapter One: A Bush Sprite Called Jarri
“It’s not fair!” Jarri Knot yelled. “How can I break a record if you never take me leaf surfing?”
Dad flicked his emerald wings and fluttered onto the branch beside Jarri. “Don’t be silly,” he said. “There’ll be plenty of time to break records once slater-bug season’s over.”
“It’s always slaters this, slaters that,” Jarri said. “You don’t care about me at all.” He screwed up his face and threw down his shiny leafboard. So what if it got scratched. Dad hardly let him leaf surf anyway.
“Settle down.” Dad dropped his bundle of twigs into Jarri’s arms. “Take these to the slater nursery for me.”
Jarri’s stomach felt hollow. Slater season was totally about jobs and lasted all winter long. “But my wing buds are itching like crazy. What if my wings sprout before spring?”
“Then you’ll be flying.” Dad flapped his four wings and shot into the air. “It’s more fun than leaf surfing. Watch this.” He somersaulted like an acrobatic dragonfly and then hovered in the air.
Jarri sighed. Dad just didn’t get it. Flying sprites couldn’t set leaf surfing records.
“Dad,” he said, “this might be my last chance to leaf surf before winter hits.” He put the twigs down and pointed at the horizon where charcoal clouds puffed high into the air. “I might never get into Surfers’ Hollow if we don’t go now.”
Dad raised his fuzzy eyebrows. “Well…”
A bolt of lightning hit the skyline and made Dad’s wings sparkle. He frowned at the storm and Jarri’s heart sank. He knew what was coming.
“That storm looks vicious,” Dad said. “I’ll need your help to get the tree ready.” Thunder boomed and made his blue eyes blink.
“Please,” Jarri begged, rubbing his cat’s-claw necklace for good luck. “Just one teeny ride.”
Dad scratched his head and jerked his wings in annoyance. His eyes flicked between Jarri and the storm. Jarri held his breath, waiting to be told off for pestering.
Instead, Dad nodded and sighed. “As long as you agree to help with the slaters later.”
“Yes!” Jarri whooped and did a back flip along the branch. “Anything.”
Lightning streaked across the sky again.
“We’d better make it quick.” Dad flew through a leaf-shaped door in the tree and returned with a paintbrush and a pot of sap. “Did you cut a good leaf? A brittle one might buck you into my arms again.”
“Strong and springy.” Jarri picked up his leafboard and flexed it. “The perfect gum leaf.”
“Lucky you didn’t scratch it when you threw it down. You’ve got to learn to control your temper.” Dad painted two patches of sap onto Jarri’s leafboard. “Go on then.”
WitLiz Today says
Phishing for Jesus Literary Fiction (wip)
“Jory, c’mere!” yelled nine-year-old Scooter Biggs. “Ya gotta help me look.” Squatting down on the shoreline of Lake Champlain, Scooter scanned the great body of water with his binoculars, hoping for a glimpse of Champ, the legendary lake monster. His best friend, Jory Harper, sat nearby on the edge of a rotting pier, a homemade wooden fishing pole gripped in both hands, intent on snagging a fish to take home to Miss Glory.
“Can’t, Scoot.” Jory’s voice squeaked even higher than usual. “I got somethin’ bitin’ on my line.”
A dark brown lump flickered on the surface of the gently bobbing waves before disappearing. Scooter jumped two feet into the air and shouted, “I-I saw it, Jory! You gotta c’mere.” He kept the binoculars trained on the spot where the lump had disappeared and muttered, “C’mon, c’mon. I knowed you’re out there.” A loud crack! startled him, and he looked over at the pier, only to watch in horror as it crumpled into the water, carrying Jory with it.
By the time Scooter rushed to the few jagged sticks still standing, the lake had completely swallowed Jory and his fishing pole. Oh no! He can’t swim! Without hesitation, Scooter kicked off his shoes, splashed into the water, and started swimming under the surface. He stayed below for a long time, but finally came back up gasping for air. No Jory. He called Jory’s name and submerged again. This time, when he sputtered to the surface, he was starting to panic. For a third time he went under, staying until he felt ready to burst. He popped back up.
While his lungs fought for breath, he heard a faint humming noise echo off the suddenly glossy, smooth surface of the water. He kept turning in circles, treading water as he tried to identify the source. A faint hope flickered that it might be coming from Jory. But all he could see now was a golden incandescent haze hovering over the surface of the lake, in stark contrast to the tragedy unfolding beneath it, and a white bird fluttering in the air.
The humming stopped, and the lake settled into a reverent stillness. He couldn’t ever remember it being so quiet. Fear struck him. Champ! Scooter had always wanted to see the monster, but meeting it face to face terrified him. He started floundering toward the shore, but a slimy bump hit him in the back. He stopped swimming and started screaming. “Help me, somebody! It’s the lake monster! Help!”
From a hundred yards away, Father Gabriel Theron, fishing from another pier and enjoying the strange calm, heard the screams. The Episcopalian priest threw down his rod and raced along the sandy shore until he spotted the young boy floundering in the water. He ditched his shoes and plunged into the ice-cold lake, plowing the water with strokes that had made him a champion in college. He reached Scooter as the boy started to sink.
Out of the Darkness 70,000 words
Darkness surrounded her. Darkness and cold and something else. Maybe it was calm. Maybe it was acceptance.
She didn’t know. All she knew was she had to be still. Had to pretend nothing mattered.
Her heart raced and she focused on breathing in, breathing out, trying to see, to feel, to know where she was.
Right, left, it didn’t matter. Directions were pointless in the void.
A voice. Deep, soft, soothing. She dropped her hands and focused.
She turned but there was nothing. No one.
There. A spark glimmered and for a moment she saw eyes. Calm. Peaceful. Alluring.
Drawn to them, she tried to move, but her legs refused to cooperate.
She opened her mouth to speak, to call out, to ask for help, but the spark flared and the eyes changed. Icy fear reclaimed her as evil replaced the peaceful calm.
This time when he called her name she tried to run, but it was no use. Her legs still refused to move.
Something nudged her shoulder and Holly Andrews snapped her eyes open at the same time her cat began purring beside her pillow.
Relief poured through her followed quickly by the anxiety that seemed ever present.
A nightmare. Again. That’s all.
She breathed in deeply and exhaled, trying to rid her mind of the dark images as she’d been taught, but the remnant of fear still held her in its grip as she kicked off the quilt that had twined around her legs like padded restraints. She looked around, anchored herself in the present. The same old room in the same old apartment.
She was fine. Everything was fine. Stupid nightmares.
The alarm clock next to the bed flashed midnight off and on and she wondered when the power had gone out.
Reaching over, she grabbed her cell phone off the bedside table and squinted until she could read the numbers.
Crap. She needed her sleep or the headaches would start again.
If she could just get her breathing under control and get those creepy eyes from the nightmare out of her mind. But she knew better. Knew the eyes would be with her for months probably. Because that’s the way the nightmares worked now. The way they had ever since….
Casper nudged her hand with his nose and mumbled as she scratched his chin. Sweet kitty, just trying to make her feel better. Funny how the cat seemed to know.
Tossing and turning, she finally gave in to the inevitable. Sighing, she slid her feet into her tiger print slippers and sipped the lukewarm Dr Pepper from the half empty cup beside the alarm clock then padded down the hall to the kitchen.
Her roommate’s laptop was open, the away message still on. Strange. Serena usually called to let her know if a date was going to turn into an over-nighter.
She forced the instant panic away. Stupid nightmare had her worrying over nothing.
I just heard about your contest today. Here is the first page of Last Straw by Ann Fischer and Linda Baxter
Thursday March 20, 2:00 p.m.
Liv Gordon danced jitterbug steps down the hall, body humming with heart-tickling energy. She had her engineers working crazy hours, even by Silicon Valley standards, but G-Tech would beat the Pentagon’s deadline. Their groundbreaking sensor would sniff out every explosive and snare that contract.
Liv opened the break room door and stopped short. Her team had devoured all the pizza. Nothing left but a few crusts. Her stomach growled.
As she stuffed the greasy boxes into the trash, something caught her eye. When had the juice machine disappeared?
She stepped into the empty space and cocked her head. Weird. Somebody had jammed a coffee mug behind the soda dispenser. She yanked it free. Milky scum had congealed inside. Grimacing, she tipped the contents into the sink.
Metal clunked against stainless steel.
Death smells like disinfectant and coffee.
My head spins, and my heart pounds through my chest. I glance around the emergency room; it’s empty, except for a young mother holding a small child with flushed cheeks in her lap. She rocks him back and forth, singing quietly to him.
When Matt was a baby, his mom probably sang to him, too. I bet she never saw this coming… Sixteen years later, her only son, unconscious in an emergency room, getting an entire bottle of pills pumped from his stomach.
Mom waves me over to the reception desk, and a nurse leads us down a long hallway. The lights reflect on the shiny floor. It’s too bright. The strong smell of disinfectant burns my nose. Each step grows heavier…slower.
Matt’s dad is slumped against a wall at the end of the hallway. I slip my hands into the front pockets of Matt’s sweatshirt jacket; it’s big and roomy and ‘Matt’. The cool metal of my cell phone rests against my palm, and I flip it like a coin in my hand. Back and forth…back and forth.
The nurse walks a few steps ahead of us. Her teal pants, an inch too short, show off the the weight of her ankles overflowing her white loafers. She points to the door next to Matt’s dad.
“One person at a time.” Brief and insincere.
Matt’s mom meets us at the door. My mom takes her in her arms, consoling her as she weeps. Just past them, Matt is lying motionless on the bed. An oxygen mask covers his face and an IV is shoved in one arm. On the other arm there’s faded black sharpie, like someone tried washing it off. It spells, ‘ Austin’ .
Oh God! Austin should be here–and he would be–if Matt’s parents weren’t so against him. In their warped sense of reality, Matt’s going to marry me after college and he isn’t gay.
Legs move! But it’s hard going. I can’t stand to see him like this, and the closer I get the more he looks like he’s laid out in his coffin. I watch his chest rise.
I reach for his hand. It’s unresponsive to my touch. I squeeze it hoping desperately for him to squeeze back. I lean close and whisper in his ear, “BFF, Matt. Best friends forever. Don’t you dare leave me.” My throat tightens and my eyes burn. “You promised!”
The Pirate Princess of the Desert
Youth, 75,000 words, Present Day
The white flag was still flapping in the air.
With each stroke, it kicked up less and less dust from the last batch of riders. They were already two minutes into the last lap when Sammy “Boom Box” Jones slapped his partner in the press box across the back of the head.
“Dang it, Donnie, put that away and get the checkered ready,” Jones yelled.
Donnie wasn’t too bright, but he lived for waving those flags. It was only four years ago that Jones won a lottery, a rich tiding of $103,089 after taxes. And he knew that his treasure was well-invested giving himself a new chance at life – the announcer of his own dirt bike races.
Sammy mopped at the fat beads of sweat on his forehead. It was a hot one today. He used the same rag to wipe down his binoculars one last time and took in the back edge of the course.
“Here they come ‘round the final turns,” he said into the microphone. A static-cracked speaker bolted to the back of the press box distorted his words into a subway station lingo. “It’s Maddie ‘Mad Tiger’ Roberts in first, holding off Ricky ‘Big Time’ Binks and the No. 3-ranked racer in the state, Curt Swan ‘Dive.’ One more jump and two more turns are between them and the richest purse ever, ladies and gentlemen.”
The pit row crews were already up and hawking over the best spots along the finish line. They were there even before the white flag went up. The spectators, charged five bucks a head, started to pull themselves out of their lawn chairs. The show was about to end.
Maddie cursed whatever idiot made this course. The jumps were all in horrible spots, away from the pit crews and help if things went bad. And most of the course dipped and dodged through the scrub brush terrain of the fringes of the Mohave Desert.
About the only thing she liked about it was that there weren’t a lot of places to pass. Normally, she hated this. But with a good pit stop 12 laps ago, she was reaping the benefits of being the lead dog.
Both Swan and Binks had some big-time sponsors. They had multiple bikes. They had engines that always started for them.
Roberts had a sponsor: The Four Corners Diner (watch for baby rattlers). Her bike, Sara, was finicky at best. But together, they could fly.
The ramp up the jump was ahead. Maddie gave Sara a good gunning. The high-pitched whine peaked. The ground stayed behind.
Maddie didn’t showboat. She could have. She wanted to. Just a little kick to the side. What could that hurt? But Spider’s whiskey-grained voice kept mumbling to her. She couldn’t actually understand what his imaginary voice was saying to her. Yet that purse was gleaming in her mind. It was enough booty to give Sara an overhaul and a spare engine. Enough to buy the entry fee for Vegas.
Nathan Bransford says
Annnnnnd TIME’S UP!!
Thank you to everyone who entered!
Nothing but prairie greeted Val’s eyes as he looked around. The people and wagons that should have been there were not. When he turned to tell his parents, his legs gave way. Immediately, he thought of the sickness. As the pounding of his heart slowed, his strength returned. Then, Val realized the obvious. Even if he told his parents of the wagon train’s departure, there was nothing they could do. Barely conscious, they were much too weak to leave the wagon. The noisy oxen finally gained his attention and gave him something familiar to do.
Once the animals were taken care of, Val busied himself doing things around camp that didn’t need doing. Those activities kept him from thinking about his parents; they didn’t keep him from worrying. He stopped often to check on them. Each time, he felt so helpless. As much as he wished or prayed for it, they weren’t getting better.
Then, just before mid-day, his parents’ suffering ended. While their deaths were not unexpected, Val was unprepared. Still, he did what had to be done. He used his father’s shovel to dig the grave. He dug until he was exhausted. The grave was scarcely big enough and just two feet deep. He stopped only briefly to rest and eat. By nightfall his parents were together, their grave was covered, and ten-year-old Val was alone for the first time in his young life.
When darkness came, Val tied the lead ropes of the oxen and horse to the wagon. He hardly noticed how tired and sore his body was as he climbed into wagon. There, he placed all of his father’s weapons close to hand. Two were inherited. One, a musket and the other a hand gun. Both were flintlocks. The other, an unusual weapon, was a more modern single shot, percussion-cap pistol. Once settled, Val could not stop crying.
The bawling of the oxen woke him. They were hungry or thirsty and letting the world know of their discomfort. When Val looked out, he realized how late it was. For a brief moment he felt shame. His parents were always up with the first light.
As Val stiffly and painfully climbed down from the wagon, the oxen saw him. Their cries grew louder and more excited. Whether they recognized him or simply wanted to hurry him along was a matter for debate. Before he could stop his thoughts, he remembered how his parents spoke of what they each believed.
Val breathed deeply several times to hold back the tears. By the time the animals were watered and staked on fresh grass, his decision was made. As he waited for the animals to finish eating, he slowly packed up. Hitching the huge animals to the wagon took far longer than he expected, but eventually the job was complete. After tying the horse’s lead rope to the back of the wagon, he took one last look around before he urged the oxen forward. He glanced back only once.
The Bear Riders, Fantasy/Mystery, progress
The old man stared in horror at the arrow that protruded out of the young warrior’s chest. No, a crossbow bolt, that much he recognized; but it was the runes carved into the shaft that frightened him. He had not seen them for years, nor ever wished to again. They had done away with that kind of magic. With stealing life in such a terrible way.
And in such a place, where only peace should exist.
The young man’s body sprawled across the steps leading up into a small mountain shrine, his blood staining the beautiful green silk of his tunic and short coat. Hanas had paused on his journey to the city to give an offering to the nature Spirit, Maira, mother to the trees and bushes and the plants of her soil; and instead he had found death outside the door of her shrine. He looked up into the small building housing the delicate wooden statue of a dogwood in bloom which represented her; then glanced at the cloth scroll hanging behind it, where the words of The Enlightened One were written in beautiful flowing script. Which did the young man come to honor; to find solace or joy in?
Hanas was torn, not knowing what words to offer over the body. The young man’s spirit could no longer care, but he, Hanas, must honor this dead one as the young one himself had come to honor his beliefs. He would give of himself what he knew; at least that, even if the young man didn’t follow the old ways. He reached into the pouch at his side and carefully withdrew a small amount of dried rice. It didn’t grow here, but all the Spirits found it a good gift. He sprinkled it near the young man’s head and then into his outstretched hand. When done, Hanas looked up into the sky and murmured a few words, petitioning the Spirits to watch over this young man and help his spirit find refuge and relief. He glanced down at the body, though, and continued to feel burdened, not knowing what more to say. That the young man’s spirit had been assailed in this way distressed him.
There was a way to find out what had happened, only Hanas recoiled from trying. What would he see, hear? Ashamed, Hanas bowed his head. His people did not back away from death, nor what they saw surrounding it; but this kind of death was monstrous and those who still killed in this way cursed. And he feared being cursed touching its energy.
But this young man did not choose to die this way either, and perhaps … perhaps Hanas could help his spirit … maybe, though it was too much to hope, even release it from that which bound it.
Our brothel squats below the inner eastern rim of Posidonius A, well in its shadow. Foot, cycle, and hover traffic flows past in the liquid ballet unique to low-g, breaking and rejoining, strangers moving from partner to partner in a rush-hour dance as they pour down from the Heights. From my perch in the third-floor window, the skyline is a mirage, barely glimpsed. Condensation from heat exchangers fogs the dome’s inner transparent surface, hiding Earth and the eternal lunar day that looms overhead.
My brothers and sisters avoid the view: too many people. Uppers riding and Downers walking, mixed as well as oil and water, each group as firmly bound to their classes by dictums of economics and culture as their boots and cycles and hovers are magnetically bound to the mazy pathways that traverse this metropolis. Each still has more freedom than lowly clones, we who are only nameless Untouchables.
My initial memory uploads include various dictionaries and encyclopedia, so I know my definition by heart. Used as an adjective, “untouchable” means forbidden to the touch, not to be handled; lying beyond reach; and disagreeable or defiling to the touch. The noun relies on circular logic — “One that is untouchable” — but provides derivative information that matches my encyclopedia entries. It explains the concept came from India and traditional Hindu beliefs, and describes a member of a large, formally segregated hereditary group that could defile a higher caste just through simple contact.
Here and now, in this city, which its citizens call Selene, convenience and economy outweigh ideas about contact and taboos. I am a commodity. I am used.
by Steve Vernon
The moon was a stone’s throw away from the Jack Pine Stretch and the lights of the town were nothing but a distant memory and the three of us were bunched together
in the front seat of the pickup on account of the back seat being crammed full of Tyree. He was kicking up some,trying to shuck himself out of the duct tape, snare wire and rope we’d tangled him up in, but other than that he wasn’t making much of a sound. The gag helped some and fear of retribution did the rest.
“Moose are the worst,” I said.
“Worse than cows?” Donny asked.
The thing about Donny was he didn’t always care about hearing the answer. To him talking was a little like table tennis. The object of the game was to snap that ball right back at the other guy just as fast and as hard as you
can. Donny had an incurable habit of asking questions because it pretty well guaranteed an answer. Words just felt good coming out of his mouth, I guess. I didn’t mind.
Donny looked up to me and made no secret about it. I did my best to live up to his respect. Bert and Ernie couldn’t have done it any better.
“Worse than bears,” I said. “Usually a moose will
just bounce, but man alive when they get their hooves tangled up in the tracks the engine will drag them a mile before letting go. You’ve got to hose their carcasses out of the locomotive’s wheel trucks. I’m telling you that nothing stinks like dead moose. Not even Irvin.”
Donny liked that. He grinned me that Donny smile of his. Half cocked to one side, all bright and innocent.
Looking at that Donny smile I knew that nothing could ever change between us. Donny and I were arguing about what kind of track-kill stank the worst after it had been pile-driver-pureed by a half a mile of freight train. It happened more often than you might think.
“You’re sure about that, are you?” Donny asked.
“Sure as shooting,” I replied.
“Shooting isn’t sure,” Donny pointed out. “Sometimes people miss.”
Donny had a point in his own weird kind of way. That was Donny’s magic. He wasn’t slow or retarded or whatever you want to call it. He just had a different way of
looking at things, was all.
“You know what I mean Donny.”
“I know what you figure you mean, but you’re only guessing. There’s three sides to every story,” Donny said.
“Yours, mine and the truth.”
MISSING CLAYTON 75,000 words
I don’t like it here. It’s dark. It’s cold. Why doesn’t Mommy come and get me? She knows I don’t like the dark. Where is she?
He said she was coming. He grabbed my arm. It hurt. He said it was a game. It’s not a good game. He’s not very nice.
I called her. But he put his stinky hand over my mouth. I wanted to bite it. Mommy doesn’t like biting. But he’s mean.
I don’t like this place. Will Mommy find me here? She will. She’s good at hide and seek. I hope she finds me soon.
He sat cross-legged in the cave-like space, a scrap of blue tweed rug his only protection from the dirt floor. Putting his head in his hands, he felt the mud coating his hair. He tried to scrape away the dried bits of earth. He’d screamed when the man had rubbed it onto his head. “Mommy doesn’t like my hair dirty. She’ll be mad at you.”
The man laughed. Not a nice laugh either. He sounded like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Brushing at his head, he felt bits of clay come loose. The mud was so thick nobody would see his blonde hair. He remembered this morning and Mommy brushing his hair. She said it shone like the noonday sun.
He scrubbed until his hands hurt but the dirt remained. He leaned forward, his head in his hands. He didn’t want to cry, but the tears started to slide down his face and mixed with the dirt. As they ran into his mouth, the muddy mixture stung his tongue. He spat it out.
His small hands clenched into fists and he pounded the rug beneath him. It wasn’t long before his hands throbbed from hitting the hard ground. He stopped pounding and began tearing at the ragged fringes along one end of the rug. When his fingers slipped beyond the rug, he felt the earth, damp and cold, and he shivered.
After what seemed an eternity, curiosity overcame his fear and he began to investigate. His eyes, adjusted to the dimness, allowed him to see a few feet beyond the rug he sat on. A dirt wall, like the one behind him, ended the open space in front of him. To his right side, the wall was about an arm’s length away; on his left, the area stretched into an inky void.
He peered into the darkness. He was able to make out several wooden crates, each filled with different shaped objects too obscure to recognize. Above him was the wooden door he’d been shoved through. He counted the four wooden rungs of the ladder that lead up from the crawl space. Mingling scents of mold, dampness, and dried animal droppings closed in on him.
He stretched a hand above him and sticky tentacles coated his fingers. He jerked his hand back and rubbed the spider webs onto his shorts. Maybe it was better not to check.
(Sorry if this is a double-post.)
Playing with the Tiger
With an easy, fluid motion, Bidjtru ducked and rolled away from his opponent’s high, arched kick. He and Paul moved to the rhythm of the music sung by the students sitting in the circle around them. Ôi, sim, sim, si-siiim, não, não, não, não-uh. After gathering himself together, Bidjtru sprung up in a counterattack. His foot connected with the side of the guy’s head as Bidjtru’s dreadlocks swung out and bounced against the sweat-soaked fabric of his thin yellow T-shirt. The rules required only that the kick connect enough to make it obvious that Paul couldn’t have evaded it. Well, his kick had certainly made it obvious. When the ball of Bidjtru’s foot crushed into Paul’s cheekbone, spit flew out of Paul’s mouth and his eyes widened in surprise. But Paul managed to hold himself together well enough as he and Bidjtru knelt down at the front of the circle, next to the students who stood playing the African instruments. According to proper form, after getting up from their kneeling position, the two stepped back into the circle and joined the chorus. Sai sai Catarina . . .
Bidjtru’s masked face hid his thoughts well. In São Paulo, where opponents in the Capoeira circles taped a razor blade to the toe of their right shoe before entering the circle, anyone who opened himself up for a kick like that would have been dragged out of the circle by his armpits. Bidjtru glanced at Paul. He was bouncing enthusiastically next to the birimbao player. Bidjtru pushed his lips upward into a subtly derisive sneer. He couldn’t stand how soft these Americans were. But, this group of overcalm students playing around in a third floor dance studio was the best Capoeira circle he had been able to find in Seattle. They took themselves so seriously with their borrowed Eastern religions and cheap incense. Still, they were better than the groups of “cultural celebrants” — middle aged women who were planning to save the world with workshops and “body work.” This circle didn’t have the mud and intensity of the São Paulo docks, but at least here the songs hadn’t been bastardized. And it wasn’t that bad to know that he could take any one of them — except sometimes Michael, the pansy-ass instructor.
It was hard to pin Michael down in his mind. He fit Bidjtru’s profile of a typical American perfectly, yet he somehow didn’t. Just old enough to be out of college if he had gone, Michael had trained in Brazil with Maestre Noh. Bidjtru still didn’t know why the maestre had accepted Michael’s petition and not his. He didn’t mind, of course, it was just that it was strange. After all, it has worked out all right for Bidjtru — he would have never been able to train with Maestre Vadrione if Noh had accepted him. But why had he been rejected?
Dulwich woke with a headache, a nagging desire to go to the toilet, and the uncomfortable realisation that sometime last night he had revealed to Sergeant Durham his reason for joining the police force.
Most of the rest of the previous night’s events were a badly edited, out of focus, Tarantino beer commercial; only this single one act conversation was clear. His self humiliation ensured clarity.
The pivotal conversation begun with Durham stating the reason he joined the force.
“There were nowt else to do”, he phlegmatically, stated, “I wasn’t good enough to play football, even semi-professionally. The army’s been getting into too many wars and I knew farming. My family been farming for generations, and I know that’s shit. Up at six, in all kinds of weather, and always scraping for a bob. Not worth it, was it?
I knew I weren’t suited to working in no office. I got too much energy, like, and needed something where I’d be about. So the police was all that were left.”
Then Dulwich’s moment of weakness, brought on by too much lager, a sudden feeling of compassion for this stocky farmer’s son, and the inevitable wash of euphoria and released stress that came from resolving the Kinsbridge Murder.
“I joined the force, Durham,” and here Dulwich clearly recalled he paused, trying to phrase the words exactly as Jack Thaw would have, ”I joined the force because of The Sweeney. Best police show on television ever. They drove fast cars, got the girls, and caught the crooks.” Then passed his empty glass to Durham. “Your round, son”.
Dulwich couldn’t recall if Durham had commented, or grinned, or even got the next round. Durham might have already been distracted by beerily leering at PC Tiffany Smith and her non-Newton objects dancing. PC Smith was the object of desire and lust for the entire constabulary of the Greater Birmingham District. Her departure to London would result in great efficiency gains by lessening the number of visits male members of the force found themselves compelled to make to the public liaison office when she was on duty.
Non-Newton objects. Some clever wit in the cafeteria had used the term to describe PC Smith’s magnificent breasts which defied both logic and gravity in staying so prominently upright on her petite nubile unblemished body.
Having completed his morning piss, Dulwich snuggled back deep under the duvet, against that deliciously warm, knowledgably carnal body. In her dozing Tiffany wiggled her buttocks back against him.
He glanced over at the clock radio. It was 7:15, needed to be at the police station by 8:30; and needed a shower. He had time.
With a mischievous grin Dulwich began drawing the map of the Kinsbridge bicycle paths on Tiffany’s back.
Scott from Oregon says
Waking from the coma was much easier than all of just about everything else. The lights were off and then- without my doing anything- the lights were on again. I was a suddenly-woken focus of hospital wonder who got baby-spooned small bits of information and food that I nibbled and swallowed. Nurses came and cleaned my ass and welcomed me back. Some reporter came and took my picture. She called me a hero. They all did.
“You’re a hero.“ they all said while I nibbled and swallowed.
I really had to blink my eyes at what I had woken to become. I got trampled by a dozen pairs of boots is what they tell me and I’m a hero? Imagine that? Three and a half months in a coma and you’d think I’d bump into some unique understanding of life’s profundities- and here I am, dumbfounded by a compliment on my second waking day? It’s all a mish mash. Who knew it would all become a mish mash?
Who knew I could get so angry, and “do” those things I think I remember?
I certainly didn’t. Like those retroviruses that erupt under stressful conditions- apparently- I always had it in me. It was hiding in my flesh and waiting for a ripened day- an evil hour- where all my circumstances converged into a reason to erupt.
Boy oh boy. I can’t believe I did the things I think I remember. I took on a gang of men, all by myself. I stormed into a gang of men, and demanded their respect. I did not turn my cheek. I did not roll over. I did not let them push me around. I stood up to a huge and hairy, nasty group of enormous men- I spoke up and I defended myself and those around me who were suffering too. Yeah. I did that and I’m a hero.
I did other things too. Lots of other things. Lots and lots and lots of other things. Wow. Yeah. Every time I think about it, I did some more.
The end of me is down there wriggling beneath a hospital sheet. I suppose it’s my beginning too? That’s where I start and stop. My beginning and my end. It’s where I come into being or disappear. Those are my feet. After that, there isn’t much left of me in that general direction. I suppose I could tell you that my footprints are some of me? If that’s the case, then my feet are near the end of me, but I go on and on. My head must be where I begin then, if that‘s the case? My head that holds my brain and all my thoughts. Sure. That could be where I begin? I think therefore I exist. I have a thought, and it begins me, and my feet leave footprints in the world and I leave me everywhere I go. My lights are off. My lights come on. I can wriggle my toes.
You can’t blame me for my way of thinking. I’ve got nowhere else to go. If I remember, I remember many things that seem like someone else. I remember days and nights filled with angst/revenge and longing and sleeping by myself. I remember the roar of the crowds when the lions were let loose. I remember I stood there naked and trembling with my pointy stick pointing accusatory crying “Momma”. It troubles me. I mean, I can’t be sure too much of anything.
I was trampled after all. And they say I’m a hero
I suppose the clichéd beginning to this should be “it was on a day just like this…” but that’s just in books. The truth is that the day couldn’t have been more different.
Today the hail hits the window in a tattoo of cold and up to now; it’s been summer, hasn’t it? I look back over what seems to be centuries of time that stretch between the first day I saw him and today and I hardly recognise myself.
And Alex? oh Alex changed outwardly with the times and the fashion, donned the motley, but inside he was the same from the first moment to the very last. I certainly don’t recognise me. How could I? Blue serge, black serge, bowler hat. I was the product of my youth – the jelly-baby man he accused me of being. Pre-fab Ed. A million of us; getting up, getting fed, getting on trains, getting to work, doing the hours and coming home. I was just like all the others.
Or I thought I was. No. That’s not true, and if I’ve learned anything, in the time we’ve had, it’s the value of truth. The value of it, at least. I knew I wasn’t like that. Oh, I went to work with the others, I had the nice house in the nice district. Valerie was the envy of my colleagues for her Nordic beauty, her fame, her talent and her capability to throw together an impromptu fondue night for bosses or colleagues with a mere hour or so’s notice.
I fitted that mould he talked of exactly – exactly – and I had the image so pin-stripe perfect that most people looking outside would only have seen Ed Johnson, the man with the pretty good – if not perfect – life, and been convinced by it. All most people would see was the stockbroker with shiny shoes and would never had have guessed the secrets behind the suit and the earnest expression. It’s so easy to fool people.
That morning as I crawled out of bed and yawned my way to the bathroom, there should have been portents, there should have been a dead raven on the lawn, a comet livid and bloody searing the sky, but of course there was nothing more epic than sparrows and starlings squabbling over the last of yesterday’s crumbs.
In the shaving mirror I saw Valerie float past the open bathroom door, and I realised that it was going to be another one of those mornings. She had that glittering hardness to her face, and she had on the red and orange housecoat that always spelled trouble. It would seem my penance of sleeping in the spare room had not papered over the cracks of the night before and battledress was the choice of the day. Camouflage, for Valerie, came in clashing colours.
Reasonable Doubt – Fiction
It’s a Green Mountain morning in October. Great drifts of scenic fog. The sun yet to rise over the dumpster, the parked cars, the leaves and litter blowing in restless tumbles down the slopes of the valley. I pack my small suitcase with the broken zipper, cramming it full of bulging woolens and scarves and a few hand knit sweaters I’ve had since I was sixteen. As if careful planning and an early start might offer any comfort against the cold hope that my father, before his passing, will say, just once, ‘I did it and I’m sorry.”
My old Honda starts with a shudder, the familiar whine of a Japanese car, a high pitched, tinny sound reminiscent of toy planes and Vespas. I wait for the engine to warm, rattling through the CD’s that Chad left in the glove box, searching for something appropriate, a score suitable for the epic and solitary drive. It’s a Fire and Rain moment. I need a little James Taylor, his familiar, mournful crooning. It’s nowhere. Gone. Chad must have taken Sweet Baby James with him, leaving me only the rejects. There’s No Jacket Required. I can’t stand Phil Collins. I blame Phil for the D+ I earned in Cultural Anthropology. My mind, too busy retaining every word of Take Me Home (which I haven’t heard in-total since 1985), to absorb lectures on the humanity. I settle for old Radio Head, singing along with Thom Yorke, If I could be who you wanted, all the time…
There’s one more cigarette in the pack on the dashboard . It’ll be a good five hours before I arrive, enough time for the smell of cigarette smoke to dissipate. Mom, reproachful, worried, has just sent a study linking malignant breast tumors and smoking. It won’t do to have that conversation upon arrival. Not with the Dad dying the undignified death of terminal cancer.
Memories of my father, his temper, his long absences, the defeated hang-dog way he drifted around the house filling ashtrays and playing Steppen Wolf albums so the windows rattled, make it hard to conjure anything close to pure sorrow. I hurtle past towns called Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, struggling to suppress panic as it occurs to me that I will be asked to say something apt and poignant at the service.
By Exit 62, I recover my senses. Mom and I will bury him in Franklin, the place he played his last USTA match in ’61. It will be she and I and the open grave site. No trumped up eulogies delivered by a minister that has never laid eyes on my father. Franklin is perfect. Franklin is a town thirty miles from the one in which my parents have lived physically together and mentally apart for more than two decades. Franklin represents a time before ashtrays and Steppen Wolf, a memory my mother will be willing to honor.
Still, I am restless and divided, unable to settle on which loss to mourn. There’s the effort to anticipate my father’s shrunken frame, his last days ahead of him, but just. But then there’s Chad’s recent departure. Nothing to show for our year together but the embarrassment that is now my car. Violent, sprawling expletives spray painted across the hood. ‘BITCH’ and ‘WHORE’ companion sentiments to the old bumper stickers, peeling and faded: Keep Your Laws Off My Body, Clinton/Gore ’92, Good Planets Are Hard To Find.
Karina Kantas says
Okay, I might not be the smartest woman in the world, but that doesn’t mean I’m dumb enough not to realize that all was not what it seemed when it came to my parents.
Although they attempted to hide their true nature behind airs and graces, Jade, my mother, let her tongue slip occasionally, allowing me a glimpse of her previous life. And when my parents argued, boy could they swear. It was like an explosion, as though they’d been holding it in for too long. All of a sudden, they would remember themselves, look at one another in disgust, and then return to their charade.
Another clue that the pretty picture was a painting after all, was their association with Beth and Clay, two hard-core bikers. Bikers that didn’t have a problem popping pills or smoking marijuana joints in front of me. In fact, when they deemed me old enough, they offered me my share. Who was I to object?
My brother John, took an overdose and killed himself when he discovered the truth. He was only twenty-two.
I suppose I blame myself, but it was also John’s fault. He should never have read my diary.
Clay is my godfather. My father, Marcus, was the best man at Beth and Clay’s wedding. He’s always been straight with me. Told me how it was, whether I could take the truth or not.
One late afternoon, the three of us were sitting on their veranda chatting, when I dared to bring up the taboo subject of my parents first meeting.
What Beth and Clay revealed changed my whole outlook on life. It changed who I was.
“So, why have you never brought this up before?” Beth asked.
“I’ve wanted to talk to you about this many times; I’m guessing being stoned might have given me the courage.”
“You know you only had to ask,” she said.
“Yeah, I don’t have a problem discussing it,” Clay added. “Although I know that Jade and Marcus would rather forget it.”
Beth left her seat and entered the house. Clay passed me another beer.
Clay’s appearance was one of a typical beer-drinking biker. A large, muscular man, with medium length, white, bushy beard, always wearing soiled jeans and an old tatty T-shirt. But if you could see past his appearance, you’d find one of the nicest blokes you could wish to meet.
I’d yet to see his temper, but I could imagine, if matched with someone his size, Clay would come out on top.
Beth returned and handed me a large photo.
A group of sixteen bikers stood in front of a line of impressive motorbikes. Each biker wore jeans or leathers, and looked tough.
Maria Alexander says
People are still entering. Wow! Perhaps your blog-o-philes love you so much. I see that I am the 660th
person to leave you a message. Run, Nathan, run very, very, fast!
I think that means you need to run the contest again for 2009.
The enormous bear soundlessly crept along the bank of the small stream with mincing paw steps. His head was locked, intently watching his prey play in the water with a small block of wood that held a bit of rag for a toy sail. The flesh-eater froze in place as the little girl leaned over the floating device and blew into the sail making the object move away from her. The bear knew he could rush her now but she smelled sweet and was sure to be unpleasant tasting. He preferred to feast upon running and bleating animals. The bitter flavor of panic in the blood was satisfying and the quivering of bunched muscles added a delightful texture.
He thrilled in his knowledge of self and knew he was no ordinary being. He had found beasts in the wilderness that looked similar to him but they seemed stupid and feared his tremendous size. Only once had he tried to mate with one before satisfying his appetite in frustration. He wondered if he tasted as good as they did.
His nose was an instrument of delicate surveillance, capable of relating his surroundings in detail from a wide-ranging distance. He silently stood on his hind legs to sniff the local terrain. A large wave of shadow flowed across the water towards the child as he rose. It rapidly blanketed the toy boat and continued on to envelope the girl who turned, looked up, and screamed. The smell of terror made him drool. Larger two-legs always accompanied little ones. Usually the little cries brought the larger food and this day was no exception.
He ate his fill, rummaged in the house for treats and decided to sleep in the barn. A storm was coming and he hated storms. Storms were the only thing he feared. Years ago, as a young adult he had been caught in a tempest that spawned large hail and lightning. The hail hurt. The storm had taken him by surprise while he was crossing open fields near settlements and he could only run and run, being continually pummeled and buffeted by large chunks of ice. A wooden cave built by two-legs provided the only escape from the punishing hail and he sheltered amongst breakfast stock, sleeping fitfully after a brief slaughter.
In dreams he always found himself alone; alone and angry with an insatiable appetite that continuously kept him moving towards his next meal. Awake, he was an abomination.
The first chapter of mystery/thriller 'The Deadly Caress' is below. The formatting here is beyond my control.
Amanda Blake opened the door of the silver Rolls Royce and sucked in the Monterey sea air in an effort to suppress her escalating anxiety.
The chauffeur hurried around to help her.
“I can manage thanks…Ricardo isn’t it?”
He nodded and straightened his cap, which covered short black hair.
She shaded her eyes from the afternoon sun as she stared at the brick, concrete and glass mansion perched on about an acre of prime Californian real estate.
God, she was so scared that this wasn’t going to go well. She shouldn’t have accepted the invitation. The knot in her stomach tightened as she swallowed and hoped that she was up to whatever came.
The contents of the letter that had brought her to California remained branded in her memory.
It is hard to know how to begin. I regret that I have not made contact with you before, but this was the agreement I had made with both your parents. It is with your father, Samuel’s permission that I am writing to you now.
I wish there were a gentler way to break this news to you. Elaine is not the woman who gave birth to you, I am. Nor is Samuel your biological father. He can verify this. I know your life has been a reasonably happy one from the annual letters Samuel sends me.
I realise you must have many questions you want answered. Since I am the only one that can answer fully the circumstances of your birth, please direct them to me. I hope you can forgive me.
Please come and stay with me as soon as you can. I have enclosed an open airline ticket to California for you.
I want so much to see you.
She had travelled from her home in Sydney to meet Jean Campbell, this woman who had given her up at birth, and she hoped her trip had not been in vain.
Google gave a reasonable amount of information but not the things she really wanted to know. What this mother was like? And, why was it that this woman had to break this news to her?
“Please let me help. I work for Mrs. Campbell for many, many years. She ask me…look after you,” Ricardo said. He spoke with an accent. At a guess, she thought it Mexican.
One of the double-fronted doors swung open. A short woman in a typical maid’s garb with black hair pulled back into a bun, hurried down the granite steps.
“Welcome. My name, Estella,” The shorter woman said.
Startled, Amanda took a half step back….more people at her beck and call? She heard the Rolls start forward. “Oh…my bags, my camera. He’s forgotten about them?” She swung round and waved, trying to attract Ricardo’s attention.
“Not worry Miss Blake. He take them to your room.” The maid’s accent sounded Mexican too. “We please you are here. Come, Mrs. Campbell is waiting.”