So, in an effort to capitalize on some recent writing momentum, I am setting up a number of ways to keep the words flowing. The first one is what appears below, the beginning of a novel that I have been fleshing out for the past several days. I like the basic idea a lot, but rather than working on just background and plot I need to start producing pages. I am hoping that by formalizing the process a bit (CC License, a promise to make some of the work public, and stating specific goals), I will give myself some incentive and opportunity to continue writing.
What follows is the first part of the opening chapter for a novel currently titled AETAS NEX. The title will make sense pretty quickly, I hope. I do not want to give too much away, other than to say that once you figure out what the story is about, you've come to the beginning of what the story is really about.
Comments are very necessary. Even just a quick note to say that you read it would be great. Critique would be even better.
15 April 2012
It’s tax day. I just realized that as I wrote the date. This time last year I was scrambling to find the last of my travel receipts, shove them into an envelope, and head over to Karen’s office to turn it all into something vaguely official. The little basket that I toss the slips into is still sitting half-full on top of the windowsill next to my desk. It has a lot fewer slips in it than it did last year.
I haven’t left the house in about three weeks. Will, Kendra, and I decided that a trip to the convenience store in Richford was necessary if we were going to keep getting hit by more snow. March snowstorms aren’t unusual up here, but a solid week of blizzard had drained a lot of our fuel supplies, even after siphoning gas out of the McHughs’ pickup truck. The thaw was incomplete, and Will figured that the weather was going to turn bad again quickly. You could see it in the gray sky that kept filling with clouds, in the bend of the trees still burdened by ice and crusty, dense snow that refused to leave them. The quiet of the woods was the worst; when the snow abated the wind died down and everything was still. Nothing moved, nothing made a sound.
But if snow was returning we needed to grab what we could and hole back up. I think we also hoped that a trip down to the town might reveal more about what was going on. Maybe we would encounter people this time, find a working radio (the batteries in mine had died in late February), something. . . .
On a good day it’s a half-hour drive to crossing in Richford. On unplowed hillside roads it took nearly three hours. The snow came up to the windows, and if it wasn’t for the makeshift plow Kendra had rigged up and the above-freezing temperatures I doubt we would have gotten out to the main road. But we did, and we got to the little store, and fifteen minutes I was frantically driving away from the crossing, Kendra screaming for me to stop as I barreled up the hill, hoping I had enough momentum to get to the top.
Will hadn’t even had a chance to scream. I really, really hope they ate him.
The snow did return, for just a few days, and then a long, slow thaw began. It’s still chilly for this time of year, and the woods are like a shattered field of spears behind my house. The snowpack has left some of the ground, but everything beneath is still brown. The sky has cleared up to some extent but I have yet to see the sun unfiltered by clouds. October may have been the last time I saw a completely blue sky.
I hope it is different elsewhere. When the news was on it sounded as if some places were less hard-hit than others. It wasn’t bad here for the first few weeks, and I know people tried to prepare, but once they got to Whitney Point (coming up 81, I suppose), things became horrible quickly.
That’s when Emma and Jace went in with the McHughs for some kind of meeting. She called me when they got there; she talked for about 11 seconds. She gurgled for 4 more, and when all I heard was wet ripping I hung up. I called eighteen other numbers and no one picked up. 911 was busy. That night we lost the satellite dish. My last news of the outside world was the sound of my wife choking on her own blood, after telling me that she loved me and that the world had ceased to be what we thought it was.
I hope that whoever reads this never hears that. I hope that whomever reads this never has to leave his teenage daughter behind to watch her boyfriend being. . . . Well, if you’re reading this, you probably know what was being done to him.
I wanted to write this letter to talk about what has happened. I wanted to write the story of my family. I wanted to tell someone what’s been inside me the past three weeks that no amount of tears, weed, or screaming can dull or exorcise. But I can’t do any of these things; they melt into each other and harden into memories that should be unreal. I can’t tell you my wife’s last words, or what Will’s warning sounded like, or how I made it back to the car. Those details have been fused into what I cannot get rid of, this hot cannonball in my stomach, the burning behind my eyes, sudden flashes of noise and light. I have almost frozen to death twice because I forgot to stoke the fire; I can never remember my previous meal. Everything melds into the thing that makes my muscles ache every waking moment.
I cannot name it; I hope that you will never feel it. I hope that, when this letter is found, you will know a different world.
Hark blinked hard as he finished reading the letter. It was written on a few sheets of fancy resume paper using a felt-tip marker of some kind. The quality paper had soaked up the ink and blurred the words a bit. The pen, cap off, was next to it on the desk. Hark had found the chair on its back across the room, but other than that the room was undisturbed.
He shook his head, looked over to the windowsill where a poorly-woven basket held some papers. His companion, a young, wiry woman with poorly-shorn blond hair, unfolded her arms and sighed. "Another flowery-ass letter about hope,” he grunted. “Poor bastard." He started to crumple the pages but the young woman growled and held out her hand. "Dude," she rasped. He handed it to her with an apologetic incline of his head. She dug a small journal from her backpack, folded the letter carefully, and put it in the journal. It’s pages were stuffed with other papers that were slowly exceeding its capacity to contain them. She crammed the book back into her dusty pack, then moved over to the south window.
"Do you like this for the night?" she asked, looking downhill.
He sighed hard, put a hand on the tabletop. "Guess so. Haven't seen anything better for over two days. Can't sleep in the open again."
"Yeah," she replied, still looking outside. "That sucked. And maybe rain coming tonight." She seemed to fixate on something in the distance, then looked down at the floor. "Barricade or rabbit?"
"Barricade I guess. Doors are easy to secure, and that’s the only unboarded window ‘cause it’s got shutters. Should hold long enough for us to get up and away. We can scurry out under the place and head out the side while they pound on the door and windows. That way we can both sleep."
"Yeah," she said slowly, moving back from the window and then looking around her at the interior of the cottage. "It seems pretty deserted around here. Maybe we can get a good night's rest here."
“Mmh,” he replied. “Sure better than a burned-out car.”
The woman put her hand on the butt of a revolver that was jammed in her belt. “Never doing that again. I’ll sleep in a fucking graveyard first.”
As they went back to check the kitchen Hark remembered, briefly, that in high school he had dreamt of being buried in the remains of his vintage Mustang, enshrouded by twisted metal. He scowled. “Dumb fuck,” he muttered, and then stopped worrying about the past as he opened the cupboard and found a row of canned beans.