Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Let the adventure begin!

Those of you who read The Forward Path section of the blog may recall that I mentioned that I have begun work on a novel. 

This is true.

I also mentioned there that I would probably be posting tidbits of this work in progress every now and then for your reading pleasure and/or ridicule.  

This is also true. At least starting today it is.

Having just checked to see if I spilled the beans on what the novel is supposed to be about, I can confirm that my first novel is a twist on the Greek myth of Hercules and the Twelve Labors.

I love Greek mythology, and it seems that it's enjoying something of a resurgence recently, what with Percy Jackson, and Clash of the Titans, and God of War, and all that.  I passionately want to write a story that really does justice to those great tales of old.  

I spent the first few months of this year struggling with how to tell the story, or more accurately, nailing down the voice with which I wanted to tell the story.  I tried several different ways:  first person from the protagonist's point of view, first person from the antogonist's point of view, and some strange hybrid of first and third person.  In the end, I think I was guilty of being too clever, of trying to do too much, when what I should be focusing on is simply writing my first novel.  I'm not saying that those weren't valid ways of telling this story, maybe they are potentially even superior ways of telling this story, but the point is, I've never written a novel, and maybe, just maybe, there are enough challenges in that process to keep me busy.  

So tonight I sat down and began the story over, this time in straight third person limited (which means a narrator tells you the story, and can give you the thoughts and feelings of one character, in this case the main protagonist, whose name is Les).  When I did that, I felt like things started to click in a way they hadn't yet.  I got very excited about what I wrote, and in my excitement I have decided to forego, wisely or unwisely, my most cardinal rule:  never post anything the same day that you write it.  

I won't go into all the reasons why it's not a good idea to post something without allowing the heat of creation to dissipate first.  I could, but I don't want to talk myself out of it.  Getting into a writing groove is kind of like getting drunk: in the moment everything you say and do feels golden, it sounds and feels like the best thing you've ever done, and the golden afterglow tends to linger for awhile.  It's only the next day, when cold, painful reality is back in control of your life, that you realize that half of what you said was utter garbage, and the other half only has the potential to be decent, if you're willing to invest the sweat-equity to make it so, that is.  Being drunk has the added advantage of blurring your memories, allowing you to half-believe in the greatness you achieved in your inebriation; writing has the distinct disadvantage of providing you with a complete and accurate transcript of your inebriation. 

Regardless, I've decided to post this without review and while still under the influence (creatively, not alcoholically).  I trust that readers will compensate generously for this fact, as well as for the fact that what you are about to read is a first draft, and as such, is subject to all the flaws and shortcomings that make them first drafts to begin with.    

All you need to know in order to understand what happens is that the main character, Les, is a boy of roughly fourteen years of age, who has a strong mistrust, and perhaps even, downright dislike for, his stepmom Julia, whom his father married a short six months before.   The father is temporarily out of the picture, and in this scene, stepmom Julia is driving stepson Les to an unknown destination...

So, without further ado, and before I chicken out, let the adventure begin:

Les and Julia drove across town.  Neither of them spoke.  Les had no idea where she was going; every time he thought he had it figured out, Julia would turn, or not turn, depending on what he expected her to do, confusing him all over again.  He badly wanted to ask where they were going, but he stubbornly resisted the urge each time, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of knowing it was driving him crazy.  He could see her looking back at him in the rear view mirror, her black eyes narrowing as though she were trying to read his mind.  There was also a devilishly mischievous twinkle that did nothing to make Les feel better. Not to mention those cartoonish arched eyebrows.  After what seemed like an hour of nonstop driving, he noticed that she had slowed considerably, and was scanning the right side of the street as though looking for something.  Finally, she turned into a strip mall that was isolated from the busy corner businesses they had just passed a few blocks back.  The strip mall was almost vacant, with just a place selling bottled water and a cell phone store connected to six or seven empty storefronts.  Les couldn’t imagine driving all this way for some water or a cell phone.  But instead of pulling into a parking space, she cruised slowly to the far end of the building, and then turned, following the side of the building to the back.  What is she doing, Les thought, suddenly a little anxious.  The rear of the building was deserted.  The back doors of the individual stores, closed, windowless doors, most of them padlocked, were spaced equally along the flat beige plane of the back wall.  The car slowly moved across a broad, open expanse of asphalt, wide enough for delivery trucks to pull in and turn around easily.  A block wall running parallel to the building separated the edge of the business property from a low line of apartments just behind it.  A few randomly placed dumpsters were pushed up close to the wall. 
Julia brought the car to a stop next to the last of the dumpsters.  She put the car in park, but didn’t turn off the engine.  She turned back to look at Les with a detectably inauthentic smile of supplication. 
“Be a dear, and get that box of trash from the trunk and throw it away for me.”  As she spoke, she simultaneously pressed the button that popped the latch, unlocking the trunk.
“Trash?” Les replied uncertainly.
“Yes, Les, there’s a box of trash in the trunk.  Would you please take it out and throw it in the dumpster?  It’s full of your father’s rags or something, and I really don’t want to get my clothes dirty.”  She smiled again. She was possibly the worst person when it came to fake smiling. 
“Dad asked you to throw away his garbage?”  Dad never asked her to do anything, let alone something in which she might actually get dirty.
“Actually, your father asked me to have you do it.  I didn’t want to bother you about it this morning, so I told him you would do it later, and he graciously put it in the trunk to save you some trouble.  Then I almost forgot about it, until just now.”  She fixed him with a stare.  “So, now that you know the whole story, would you take care of it please?”  The door next to him suddenly sprung open, catching Les by surprise.  He didn’t know she could open the doors from the front seat like that.  “Please.” It no longer sounded like a question, or a request.  “We have places to go.” 
Shrugging, Les swung his legs over the seat and pushed himself out.  Something about this was weird.  However, if he gave her too much trouble, she’d no doubt report it back to his father at the earliest opportunity.  He wouldn’t put it past her to even embellish the story, just to make it sound worse.  He slouched to the back of the car, and pulled up the trunk cover just a little harder than he needed to.  He saw the box sitting next to his skateboard, flaps loosely folded over.  As he bent down to slide his hands under it, he noticed that the trunk’s open lid blocked her view of him.  He pulled up the flaps of the box and looked inside.  It looked like rags, all right, rough-textured cloth of various shades of tan and brown.  Oddly though, he noticed that they didn’t look particularly used; in fact, there didn’t seem to be any dirt or grease marks or stains of any kind.  They were dingy looking, but uniformly so.  He shook his head.  These didn’t look like anything his dad had.  He heard a window rolling down.  “What’s the problem back there?”  There was a pause, and then she added, with a short, callous laugh, “I told your father that box of rags might be too heavy for you to lift.” Another pause.  “You need to start drinking your tiger’s milk, Les.” She said his name scornfully, teasing him exactly the way he knew other people would tease him if they knew what his real name was.  He felt blood flushing his face and looked angrily down at the box of rags.  She was probably just doing this to be a jerk.  But what could he do?  If he refused, she would certainly complain to his father.  All right, Julia, he said sternly to himself, if this is your idea of fun…  He slapped the flaps down and lifted the box out of the trunk.  He carried the box, which wasn’t particularly heavy but big enough to be unwieldy, in both arms to the last dumpster, the one nearest the car.  Unable to balance the box on one arm while opening the heavy black lid, he trapped the box with his chest against the side of the dumpster, and placed both hands on the lid, planning to raise the lid and then push the box up and over with his body.  He had his back to the car, and couldn’t see Julia.  Nor did he want to.  She probably thinks this is hysterical, he thought, having to adjust his body so the box wasn’t pressing against the lid. 
“Don’t let go of the box,” he heard her say.  He was having trouble getting his fingers under the lid, and his face was now pressed sideways against the side of the box.  No doubt she was enjoying this little spectacle.
“Les,” she said again, “I mean it.  Don’t let go of the box.” 
“I got it,” he responded curtly.  That’s funny, he thought, she sounded serious.
He finally got the box positioned correctly and found some leverage with his fingers.  He began to push the lid up.  At that exact moment, there was both a sudden whoosh, and the lid was yanked cleanly from his hands.  The lid flew back, slamming into the wall behind it.  Because his vision was largely blocked by the box, at first he thought a strong burst of wind had ripped the lid from his hands, and he stepped back quickly in case it came back down.  He was surprised to see the massive flood of small black particles that was now billowing from the open dumpster.  Beads of black came coursing out of the container’s open mouth, spreading out in all directions; it was as if, by opening the lid, he were allowing a black blizzard to escape.  He could feel the air being whipped as they came streaming over and all around him, but he himself was not touched.  Nevertheless, he instinctively held the box up to shield his face and crouched down in response to the onslaught.  The bits were flying so thick on all sides it was soon like being in a solid black tunnel.  He turned back towards the car with a bewildered look, and found Julia watching him intently, almost grinning.  “Is this some kind of joke,” he shouted, even though he couldn’t even hear himself over the deafening noise.  She broke into a genuine smile, one that was far creepier than her fake ones.  Then he noticed that these black blobs were pelting every object in sight, except for him, and beginning to cover everything:  the ground, the other dumpsters, the side of the building, Julia’s car.  Somehow even the sky above was being blacked out by these thick drops that looked like liquid but didn’t splatter at all on impact.  Instead, they seemed to stick like tissue paper on a wet surface, fixing themselves on contact.  They obliterated the color and texture of anything they touched, replacing it with the dimensionless flat of eternal black.  As black as the center of a black hole, Les suddenly thought, as black as Julia’s eyes.  The dumpster continued to erupt its inky particles, and everything within his view was rapidly being replaced by an empty black uniformity.  He looked again to the car, caught between trying to make a run for it, and staying put as it seemed that his was the only safe place to stand.  He locked eyes with Julia, his expression pleading with her for some guidance.  She was still smiling, almost a giddy smile, and then shook her head slowly, as if telling him not to try it.  The car was almost completely covered, to the point that it was now impossible to distinguish its basic shape from the all-consuming blackness.  The black pellets struck the windshield by the hundreds every second, and it was quickly being blotted out at the same rate as everything else.  He could barely see Julia’s face behind the glass.  Soon he could only make out her eyes, which seemed to linger momentarily, even after everything else was gone.  He suddenly heard her voice, even though the roar from the dumpster was still going strong.  “Don’t let go of the box!” He heard it clearly through the din.  How can that be, he thought, but then her eyes disappeared, obscured by the same blacker than black.  The noise ceased suddenly.  He looked up, and saw that he was standing alone in a fresh infinity of nothing. He gasped as though the wind had been knocked out of him, and his mind was instantly seized by a terrible panic.  I am losing it, he thought with frantic clarity, I am going to scream a scream that is going to come from the deepest part of my being, my very soul, and then I am going to die.  He could feel the living blackness reaching into his unprotected, innermost self, feeling for the trigger of that scream…

So, there you go, a taste of the beginning of Les' adventure.  I hope it made some sense...  I'd love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment with your reaction - good, bad or ugly.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what happens next!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sounds very intriguing! I am looking forward to the next installment.

    Regarding your struggles about telling a story from a different point of view, why not from the point of view of the rags?

    "I was suddenly enclosed in a box by the evil grinning human. The box was warm but also cold; cold as in unfeeling, no "cloth"-ness to it. It was a foreign feeling to me. My brothers, "Red" and "Grey," were shoved in beside me and the smell from our greasy clean-up permeated the air. Normally, it was a happy smell to me, but as I felt the box move and realized the light was dimming because the box was being closed, the happy smell became stifling and restrictive. My world, my simple, flat, square world, was being unraveled."

    Just a thought from your mentally ill friend. :)

    1. Thanks for waiting until after I resolved my point of view problem to suggest that possibility!

      And yes, there must be some type of therapy, maybe 'textile-sensitivity awareness' or something. Calling them by their colors, how uncouth! I don't see color; I see thread count.

    2. Yes. I have a dream that someday rags can be judged not by the color of their thread, but by the content of their thread count!

    3. Maybe not in our lifetimes, my friend, but don't stop believin'.