Fiction Relay – Part 51

Keeping one hand on Spence’s back, Blue reached her hand out and felt along the wall, trying not to stumble in the pitch black tunnel. Her fingers touched a cluster of long, dry reedy things that felt like withered roots. And if there were roots, she reasoned, even dry ones, they couldn’t be that far from the surface. But not close enough to punch a hole through and hope for some light.

Fiction Relay — Part 47 (by me)
Fiction Relay — Part 48 (by TRG)
Fiction Relay — Part 49 (by Joanne)
Fiction Relay — Part 50 (by KC)

Links to the entire story: Fiction Relay Homepage. (Or, the Reader’s Digest condensed version on the Fiction Relay Summary page.)

 

Reaching her hand higher, she snapped part of a root off. Flicking her wrist she muttered, “Lumos!” Nothing happened. Fuck Harry Potter. She dropped the root, reached her hand back along the wall, and slid her other hand from Spence’s back to his shoulder, trailing down his arm to interlace their fingers.

“How do you know where we’re going?” she asked Spence.

“Uh, this was the only way out.”

“How do you know it leads out?”

“I don’t. But the hole in the wall appeared right after that old witch-lady threw that light-bomb at it. Right before she disappeared.”

“Oh, good. We’re following a hag-trail.” Blue grimaced and shook her head. “Crazy old voodoo-mama. Throwing light-bombs. Saying you dug out that space we landed in back there, You scoop this here hole outta you mama, boy!’ As if the mountain was your mother. A mountain-mama! What, did she think you were John Denver?”Blue gave a superior huff. “And calling us twins. Eeww! I would soooo not have hot monkey sex with my brother. Bat. shit. crazy. bitch.” She shuddered.

“Hot monkey sex? Mmmm….” She could hear the teasing grin in Spence’s voice, and he gave her hand an affectionate squeeze.

“I’m serious, Spence. Doesn’t it gross you out?”

“Relax, babe. We’re sure as hell not twins, because I’m two years older than you. And there’s no way we’re related because we have two completely different dads, and we do not have the same mom. Megan was eighteen when you were born, and even if she’d had another kid at sixteen, and forgot it like she forgot about you… Sorry,” he added as he felt Blue’s wince in his mind, “but even if she’d forgotten having another kid, either Sam or Ephraim would’ve remembered that. They were all together back then. We’re not related.”

Blue sighed, feeling relieved at his logic. Despite how weird her life had been, and how even more weird it had gotten lately, Spence’s words rang true. She could feel it. They weren’t related. At least not by blood. The ground beneath them rose on an incline. Spencer pulled her to the right as the tunnel began to curve. There were no more roots on the walls. They seemed to be headed deeper into the mountain.

“Plus, you remember your own mom,” she said. Spence didn’t respond. “Right?” she prodded.

“I’m not sure,” he finally answered. His voice sounded distant, sad. “I have memories of her — of my mother… of a mother — but now that I’m trying to remember her the memories don’t seem real. It’s like I’m remembering a story someone told me. I don’t know. I think something happened to me in that secret altar-room of Sanderson’s. Like I was finally seeing the truth about something, but I’m not sure what I’m seeing yet. I haven’t put the puzzle pieces together.”

A dim light shone far ahead. It seemed to be coming from around a corner. As they neared, though, they both suddenly stopped in their tracks. A half-human scream/howl echoed off the tunnel walls. The sound was followed by a crash.

Shit! Spencer whispered in Blue’s mind.

Don’t go into the light, Carol Anne, Blue murmured back mentally, her body trembling. She tugged Spence’s hand to go backward.

Yeah, Spence agreed, refusing to budge. Only problem is — can’t you feel it? That’s the way we have to go.

—–

Megan backed away, wondering if she could make it around the large room and to the door for her escape. She hated leaving Sam and Ephraim, especially in this place that was such a cruel replica of the lab they’d all been tortured in, but Sam was right: she had to get to Samantha. There were too many people too interested in their daughter, and if, as Jose had theorized, Samantha might have the power to beat Sanderson, then she was in danger. Megan and Sam’s daughter was walking around with a target on her back and had only limited time before she would be hunted. Megan couldn’t — wouldn’t — allow that to happen. She stepped over Ephraim’s unconscious form and held her breath. Maybe the thick clouds of smoke would shroud her.

Raj continued his transformation. Megan kept tabs on Melissa, noting that the woman seemed so distracted by Raj that she didn’t notice Megan making her way around the room’s perimeter.

Raj fell to the floor with a thud. He writhed, and a half-human scream discharged from his throat, echoing off the cavern walls in a barking howl. His legs thrashed out so violently that he kicked the stainless steel table free of the bolts that fastened it to the center of the floor. The heavy table skittered as though it were made of tin foil. Megan jumped backward, just before a corner of it lanced a section of wall that was right where Megan’s torso had been. The loud crash muffled her gasp, but she realized the commotion had probably already drawn attention to her position. And the fact that she was trying to escape. She looked up in alarm. Her fears were verified. Melissa was staring straight at her. 

“Oh, no you don’t, Meagan!” Melissa sneered. She side-stepped until she blocked the room’s only exit. Sam growled and lunged at Melissa. Just then Raj finished his transformation. He snarled and got his monster claws under him. Panting, he rose to his full height above the smoke, his jaws pulling into a hideous smile at Sam.

And that’s when Megan saw it. Through the haze, beneath Raj’s feet, in a spot the stainless steel table had once covered, there was a small, square outline in the floor. A trapdoor.

And suddenly Megan knew that beneath it she would find the box that Sanderson so desperately wanted.

—–

Okay, Bossman. It’s The Reclining Gentleman’s turn! 🙂

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Fiction Relay — Part 47

Fiction Relay — Part 43 (by me)

Fiction Relay — Part 44 (by TRG)

Fiction Relay — Part 45 (by Joanne)

Fiction Relay — Part 46 (by KC)

To catch up on the entire story, you can link to the very first post, and all subsequent posts, from the Fiction Relay Homepage. (Or, you can cheat and read the cliff-notes on the Fiction Relay Summary page.)

—–

Raj felt his body follow Melissa’s directives out of the hotel room and down to the car. Earlier, when she’d been asleep, he’d tried to summon food and drink to himself to try to regain strength to his body. But the water had just leaked through rotted holes in his necrotic system, and the piece of bread, once he’d forced it down his unresponsive esophagus, had festered in whatever pools of gastric juices that still lingered in his stomach, causing him violent cramps. And he was powerless to double over in pain, or vomit, or otherwise react. Bitch! This was her fault. He was a prisoner.

Almost. His mind was still free.

Now, she drove them west, He he fumed at his helplessness to avoid her command. He was trapped in his own head, the silence overwhelming. On the plus-side, she wasn’t prattling on about her imaginary prowess and her simpleminded revenge plan. Meagan-this, Meagan-that! He was beyond sick of hearing it. But she could have at least turned on the radio or something. He’d had nothing but strange silence from her for hours now, ever since she’d returned from trying to capture Meagan’s daughter.

Which, he suddenly realized, was right around the time she’d unwrapped that coyote statue from its old-looking bindings.  In fact….

From his  position in the backseat of the car he studied her. Melissa drove, staring at the road, her eyes unblinking. The coyote statue was perched on the dashboard, staring straight ahead, also. Raj didn’t remember Melissa having brought the statue down, though he could have missed it. But right now it was almost as if the coyote was the one directing Melissa.

Something brown and furry zinged across Raj’s singular stretch of focus on the road in front of them. Then something gray and furry. The car slowed, and Raj realized they were following a pack — no, a swarm — of live, snarling coyotes, who were running down the highway.

The mountain. He could see it now, coming into his line of vision. That’s where they were all heading. And even in his weakened state he could feel the energy emanating from it. He wondered…? With Melissa’s focus elsewhere, Raj let himself sink into the depths of his mind. He began to draw energy from the mountain, regaining strength. And power.

—–

“Spence?”

Spencer’s head throbbed like a bitch, which was probably the reason that the cramped room he was in was also blurry. He sat up, pressed a palm to the front of his skull, and looked around for the familiar female voice that had just called him, but he seemed to be alone. He didn’t think he’d been out too long. There was one window, but it was only slightly darker than it had been when the General had caught him taking photos in the secret room, right around sunset. The room that only the General — who obviously was neither the General nor his father — was supposed to know about. At that point the General, or “Sanderson,” or whoever/whatever this entity was, had been livid. Spence had felt the waves of fury radiating off the thing’s body, even as the face of his father grinned back at him. That’s when the sickening pain had hit Spence’s stomach and he’d doubled over before blacking out. Now he wondered why he wasn’t dead. Why hadn’t Sanderson killed him? And where the heck was she?

Unless…!

In a panic, he reached out for Blue. He was relieved to feel her, to find her alive. She was pissed at someone, but not him. Who? And she was confused. She was worried about her bike and about her mother. And, Spence noted with a small sense of amusement, she was reluctantly admitting to herself that she was worried about her father. Maybe she’d called Spence’s name in his head, but it had sounded as though she’d spoken the words aloud, not thought them.

And then his gut dropped in horror as he heard his own voice saying back to her, “Babe, stop worrying about your bike. We’ll come back for it as soon as we can.”

In that moment Spence knew why he hadn’t been killed. That thing — Sanderson — had needed him alive to be able to rummage through his mind and learn enough to get to Blue, and was now using some sort of mental-disguise with her. Spence thought of what he’d learned in that room. His camera was probably toast by now, but he hoped the Sanderson-thing wasn’t techno-savvy enough, and hadn’t read Spence’s mind enough, to know that all of Spence’s photos automatically uploaded to a cloud-server. But why? Why Blue? He flashed on a memory of Sanderson’s secret room and the stone table in the middle that was covered with rusty stains and prayed that wasn’t what Sanderson was thinking.

All of these thoughts flashed through Spence’s head in a fraction of a second, just before he heard his doppelganger say, “Now get your sexy ass over here, you’re too far away from me.” Spence felt the sensation of the other guy running his hand up Blue’s thigh. His horror was instantly charged with a jolt of possessive anger.

“Now there’s my girl,” he heard the person using his voice say.

Wrong, jerkoff, that’s my girl!

He could feel Blue growing weaker and more distant, the longer she was in this thing’s presence. He had to risk exposing to Sanderson the fact that he was conscious. He needed warn her.

It’s a trap Sammy, please be careful, nothing is what it seems, please Sammy, please be careful. 

He thought the words into her head, using her given name to shock her into realizing how serious this was. And he hoped that, for once, she’d listen to him. Blue didn’t respond. He couldn’t feel her anymore. Dread built in him. Please, babe, have some sort of trick up your sleeve to get away!

Interminable minutes ticked by. Spence realized his head felt better, and the room was no longer blurry. Then he notice his skin was tingling, like electric ant-feet crawling all over him.

“What the–?” He stood up and half-danced a couple steps to get away from whatever was causing the sensation, but was unsuccessful. Suddenly found himself outside, next to the blue mountain, and in Blue’s arms.

“Babe!” He crushed his lips to hers, and she responded, seeming as relieved as he felt. “How did you–?” He said against her lips, but she pulled back.

“No time now,” she said. “We’ve got incoming.” She jerked her head behind her, and Spence looked up to see a dark blob swiftly approaching. The blob seemed to be snarling and angry. A deep growl to his left made them both turn their heads. Four huge coyotes were on the ground next to two SUVs. They thrashed out of clothes like the General’s bodyguards usually wore. Spence pulled Blue behind him just as the first of the huge coyotes sprang.

—–

Okay, TRG is up next! 🙂

Fiction Relay — Part 43

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get to this! To catch up on the last few episodes:

Fiction Relay — Part 39 (by me)

Fiction Relay — Part 40 (by TRG)

Fiction Relay — Part 41 (by Joanne)

Fiction Relay — Part 42 (by KC)

To catch up on the entire story, you can link to the very first post, and all subsequent posts, from the Fiction Relay Homepage. (Or, you can cheat and read the cliff-notes on the Fiction Relay Summary page.)

—–

Blue tailed the two black SUVs for over an hour and a half.  Her mom was in one with her dumbass dad. Their annoying cop-friend Ephraim, whom she’d met back in Kentucky, was in the other. Ephraim was with some guy whose name she couldn’t make out. He didn’t seem to have any abilities, though, as far as she could sense, and she couldn’t figure why the guy was with them.

Spence had somehow transferred to her the ability to shield herself from the four huge Native American dudes who were driving the cars, but she still kept a good half-mile back on her bike as they traveled flat, barren terrain deep into the desert. It was obvious where they were headed, though. The blue mountain, Mount Taylor, stuck out like the desert’s own giant, asphyxiated boob. Its energy, which she’d always previously been aware of, had more than doubled in the past day. Since her parents and their “friends” arrived in town.

Earlier, when she’d been bored on the long stretch of I-40, she’d made her bike steer itself — a neat telepathy trick she grudgingly admitted she must have gotten from her father — while she Googled to find what was so special about it. According to Wikipedia:

To the Navajo people, Mount Taylor is Tsoodził, the turquoise mountain, one of the four sacred mountains marking the cardinal directions and the boundaries of the Dinetah, the traditional Navajo homeland. Mount Taylor marks the southern boundary, and is associated with the direction south and the color blue; it is gendered female. In Navajo mythology, First Man created the sacred mountains from soil from the Fourth World, together with sacred matter, as replicas of mountains from that world. He fastened Mount Taylor to the earth with a stone knife. The supernatural beings Black God, Turquoise Boy, and Turquoise Girl are said to reside on the mountain.[6] Mount Taylor is also sacred to the Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni people.

Blah, blah, blah. Turquoise Boy, Turquoise Girl. Shark Boy, Lava Girl. And of course the ancient tribes called it a “female” mountain. Proved she wasn’t the only one who thought it looked like a boob. Blue rolled her eyes and felt Spence chuckle in her mind. He’d checked in with her more than a few times this afternoon, meaning he was more worried than he’d let on before she left. He was almost done with whatever it was he was doing and would meet her out here as soon as he could. Blue knew it would be faster if she just teleported back to get him, but she wasn’t ready to share knowledge of that gift of hers with anyone just yet. Not even Spence. She put her cell phone away and resumed manual control of her bike, blazing into a red-orange sunset.

*****

Sam rolled his shoulders and tried again to see inside the heads of the two brick walls in the front seat of the SUV, to no avail. It was the same with all of these guys, almost as though their lineage was impervious to him. Not good. Also not-good were Ephraim’s visions — blood, Meagan, Raj, the coyote-man, and more blood — which weighed on Sam. He had a bad feeling about how this would go down, but he was determined to get both Meagan and Samantha out of this damn place safely. His family.

They turned north off of the highway, following the access road on the mountain’s west slope. Sam reached his thoughts out, stretching, searching. There had to be a way to avoid the scenario that involved Meagan-and-blood. He picked up on something unexpected. Relief flooded through him to discover their blue-haired teenage tail. Meaning Samantha wasn’t strapped to some lab table, like he’d seen in Sanderson’s twisted mind. But Sam’s relief was quickly followed by a sick feeling in his stomach for the danger his daughter could be headed into. He sent Meagan the image, and her gaze reflected how he felt.

“She’s okay!” Meagan said in her head. “But…!”

“Yeah,” he thought back. “We need to get her out of here.”

She squeezed his hand across the back seat. In her mind she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her front against his. He hugged her back, kissing the top of her head.

“Is this how it always is?” he asked. “This parent-thing? The worry…?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “But you get used to it.” Her face softened into a gentle smile and she suddenly seemed to glow from within. Sam caught his breath at her beauty and reaffirmed a private vow to protect her.

Just then the car jerked to a stop. They were near the mouth of a small cave which, according to an information-sign, lead to an old, abandoned section of a uranium mine.  The information-sign was posted on top of a steel barricade with another sign that read: Keep Out! Danger! Unfortunately, Sam thought, the barricade wouldn’t be an obstacle to a teleporter.

“Ready?” one of the brick walls asked Meagan. She nodded. Sam stepped up next to her and took her hand in his.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m going in there with you.”

“But — ?”

“Me too,” Ephraim said, taking her other hand.

Meagan frowned. “I don’t know if I can get myself in, for sure, let alone you guys!”

Sam looked into her brown eyes. “You can do this, Megs.”

“Okay, then.” Jose smiled, joining the end of the line. He clasped Ephraim’s palm.

Without warning, a surge of energy vibrated up from the ground beneath the mountain and pulsed outward, knocking them and their guards to the ground. The mountain began to hum, a deep, low, ominous throb.

“What was that?” Meagan asked, getting to her feet.

“I don’t know,” Jose answered, “but I think we just activated something in the mountain.”

*****

In the middle of his shift at Bad Ass Coffee, in downtown Albuquerque, Dak dropped the order he was about to deliver, turned on his heel, and walked out the door. “Hey!” Tyrone, his boss, called after him. “Where you goin’? Get back here!” Dak paused, growled over his shoulder, and then continued forward, his eyes transfixed on the west. He began to jog, then broke into a run. Suddenly Dak wasn’t there anymore. Tyrone blinked as a large, snarling, gray coyote shot out of a pile of Dak’s clothes. The coyote ran off down the road and was soon a speck in the distance. But there were other specks, too. Tyrone squinted, rubbed his eyes, and squinted again. He grabbed up his binoculars. Dozens — no, hundreds — of coyotes charging west, a vicious gray-brown-black cloud hurtling across the desert. Toward the mountain. Tyrone rubbed at the chill that rippled across his arms. Then he stepped back inside and locked the door.

—–

Okay, not sure, but I think the bossman, TRG, is up next…?

Fiction Relay — Part 28

To catch up on the last few episodes:

Fiction Relay — Part 23 (by me)

Fiction Relay — Part 24 (by Hasty Words)

Fiction Relay — Part 25 (by The Reclining Gentleman)

Fiction Relay — Part 26 (by Ted)

Fiction Relay — Part 27 (by KC)

To catch up on the entire story:

Fiction Relay Homepage

Fiction Relay Summary

—–

The rumble against her back changed. The semi slowed, and then Suzi was jolted side-to-side in the sleeper-bed as they took a sharp turn and rolled to a stop. Never having fallen asleep, she sat up and swung her legs to the floor of the cab. “Where are we?”

“Nashville. Time to break for dinner before we keep on keepin’ on. I gotta make Mobile before I shut it down for the night. There’s a place around the corner here — walking distance — makes the best ribs this side of Texas. Sound good?” Wrinkles in the driver’s weathered face deepened as he gave an amicable grin. His name was Cal, and she felt calm around him. She smiled back. Despite the still-blue sky of late-May, the dashboard clock read six p.m.  The thought of food did sound good. But….

“Mobile, Alabama?”

“Yup. That’s where I’m headed.”

An odd sensation came over her, and her smile faded. She didn’t have a particular destination in mind, but something about “Alabama” didn’t feel right.

“I don’t think I can go that way,” Suzi said. She knew it must sound strange — especially after she’d said she’d go wherever he was headed — but she didn’t have any way to explain herself to Cal, who’d been kind enough to drive her for the past three and a half hours. She frowned. “I’m sorry.”

Misunderstanding her, though, Cal chuckled and nodded. “That’s okay, I feel you. There’re three states I can’t show my face in, and a fourth I don’t try, either. Just in case.” He winked. “Guess this is the end of the line then, huh?” He climbed out of the cab and helped her down.

“Thanks. Here, how much do I owe you?” She reached into her bag, the durable, now-unlined bag that used to hold the map, but he waved her off.

“Nah, save it. You might need it.” He locked his truck and gave her a nod. “Good luck wherever you wind up.”

Suzi stared after him as he strode off. Wherever she wound up…? Uncertainty settled, sending tremors of hyper-awareness along her skin. She was running, but she had no idea where she was going. She was alone. And clueless.

Panic simmered beneath her sudden sense of isolation, and she began to wander. Through the truck-stop’s parking lot, past the gas station, and into a nearby burger joint. She stood in line, but when her order came there was nowhere to sit. She picked her way between tables, searching, and feeling more and more uncomfortable. The place was packed with over-the-road truckers and bikers, a tough-looking, mostly-male crowd.

“Hey, girrrlie,” a large man with a long, grizzled, red beard slurred near her. “You need a sssseat? I got one riiii’ here!” He scooted his chair out and patted his lap. Suzi shied away, but the man grabbed her arm and pulled her over. He smelled like beer. Her stomach churned.

“That’s okay,” Suzi said, wrenching her arm out of his grasp. “I’ve decided to sit outside.”

The man’s two, equally-burly companions laughed. This seemed to spur him on, as though he had something to prove.

“No, rrrreally, sweetnessss!”

He grabbed her again, with surprising speed for as drunk as he was, and pulled her down to his lap. The tray she’d been holding, with her burger and Diet Coke, went flying. But Suzi barely noticed. Instead, memories of Raj from earlier that evening surfaced: his leering face…, knowing he was going to take what she didn’t want to give…, his thoughts creeping over her skin, removing her clothes…, his hands beginning to paw her body…!

“No!” Suzi shouted. Heat pulsed through her, crackling like lightning from her core to her extremities. And he was gone. They were all gone. It was dark. The man was gone, the people were gone… no, wait!

A low, familiar rumble shook her. Suzi blinked. She was the one who was gone.

She was in the sleeper-bed of a semi again, but the curtain was closed. She sat up and peeked through a crack in the fabric. The truck was just pulling out of the rest-stop and onto the highway. A sign said I-40 West. That wasn’t the way to Alabama. In fact, it felt like she was supposed to be going this way, headed west.

But then she shifted and looked left, at the driver. It wasn’t Cal.  Suzi gasped.

Suddenly the driver pulled out his iPhone and punched a few buttons. Suzi froze. He heard me! He’s calling the police!

She didn’t know how she’d managed to port from the restaurant to here — somewhere she’d never been, with someone she didn’t know — but she did know that she couldn’t afford to get caught. She had to keep going. Being detained by the police would slow her down, and there was no one she could call for help. Ephraim’s connections with law enforcement would make him the logical choice, but she didn’t want anyone else involved. Too dangerous. She had to keep them all away from this, especially Sammy, though she ached to see her baby girl, with her pretty blonde hair. Sammy would be fifteen now.

And Daniel — Sam — who she’d named their child after. She’d missed him so much all these years! And with the memories coming back, her heart yearned for him even more, as though she could close the gap to him with her desire. She could almost sense the warmth of his body, almost feel the crush of his lips pressed to hers, almost melt into his moss-green gaze, almost hear his voice… I love you…!

No!

She shut down her mind. I love you, I love you! She loved him too much. She wouldn’t involve him. Even if it meant she had to lose him.

Because Melissa was still out there.

Ephraim and Sam might have her contained, but Suzi knew all too well how clever Melissa was. And bitter. And now she knew how dangerous. If Suzi was detained by the police, for any length of time, she was as good as dead. And that couldn’t happen. Not yet.

All of these thoughts raced through Suzi’s mind in a fraction of a second, followed by the imminent need to escape. She braced herself to try to port out of the moving vehicle.

But then the driver set the phone down on his console, and Brad Paisley started crooning from the truck’s speakers. The driver warbled right along with Brad. The driver, she realized, had only been fiddling with his playlist. He didn’t know she was there.

Quietly, carefully, she shifted into a dark corner and lay on her side, hugging her knees. She tried to stay awake, but this time exhaustion and the rumble of the engine won out. Suzi drifted into a fitful sleep as the semi cruised westbound on I-40, and into the night.

—–

Okay, Hasty, on to you…! 🙂

Fiction Relay – Part 23

Fiction Relay – Part 22.

Fiction Relay Homepage.

Fiction Relay Summary.

—–

Ephraim sped to the back entrance to the old distillery, shifting Suzi in his arms as he fumbled with the lock. Inside, he made his way to the kitchen, where he attempted to pry her arms from around his neck. “Meghan? Meghan, it’s okay. We’re back at the cabin. You’re safe now.”

Suzi’s breathing calmed. She loosened her hold on Ephraim, unwrapped her legs from around his waist, and tested her feet on the floor. Her knees gave out. Ephraim caught her. He grabbed a blanket from the back of the sofa, wrapped it around her, pulled out a dining chair, and sat her down. Her eyes were glazed. She was in shock. He stepped back into the kitchen, returned with a tumbler filled with ice and a liberal amount of bourbon, and held it to her lips. She took a tentative sip, then grabbed the glass around his hands, and guzzled. The blanket slid off her shoulders, puddling around her waist. “Easy!” He pulled the glass back. Suzi swallowed, gasped, and blinked.

“Where…?” She looked around the room. Then she glanced down at her naked, blood-stained torso. Her gaze flew up to meet Ephraim’s. In her eyes he saw the traces of Meghan recede to the background. “How did I get here?”

“I brought you after you ported into my arms. Had you been in the cave?”

Suzi nodded. “Melissa was going to…!” She choked on the last word and reached for the bourbon. The ice clinked against the sides of the glass as she brought her shaking hand up and took a sip.

“Melissa was there? Is that her blood?”

Suzi shook her head and set down the glass. “Raj’s,” she whispered. “He strapped me to one of the tables, like… before….” Ephraim nodded, feeling Suzi’s dread. He remembered all too well what it felt like to be strapped to those tables. “But then he was going to… to….” Her eyes widened with fear, and she clutched the blanket back up around her nakedness. Ephraim suddenly understood that part of his vision: the lust in Raj’s mad eyes, the smirk on his face. Ephraim’s hands curled into fists. Anger simmered in his core. He didn’t know if he could handle hearing what Raj had done next, but he had to know whatever details Suzi could give him. Years of training in law enforcement kicked in. He kept his voice steady.

“Go on.”

“Then Melissa came,” Suzi said. “She killed him.”

Melissa killed Raj?” Ephraim repeated. “But Melissa loved….” No, that part of his vision made sense, too. He’d felt the overwhelming jealousy and rage. It must have come from Melissa. But Melissa also hated Suzi. “Did she free you from the straps?” he asked suspiciously. There was no way Suzi would have been able to port out of those special-made bindings.

“No. I did it myself. I didn’t think I’d be able to… and she had the knife raised, and I thought I’d be dead… and then suddenly I was able to draw energy from… from….” Her jaw dropped and she gasped. Her gaze became distant, deep in thought.

“You drew energy from where?” he prompted.

“I remember,” she breathed.

“What do you remember?”

“Everything!” Her eyes locked on Ephraim. “I have a daughter! Daniel and I have a daughter!”

Now it was Ephraim’s turn to be shocked. Suzi kept talking, explaining.

“Early-on, I’d figured out how to port out of the rooms.”

Ephraim nodded. Meghan could have escaped the orphanage long before she actually did. But she wouldn’t leave any of them behind. Instead, she’d stayed and would sneak out to comfort whoever had received the worst of that week’s “experiments.” That is, unless the victim-du-jour had been Meghan. They all knew that those times she’d had to suffer alone. Sometimes he could still hear the echoes of her heartbreaking sobs in his mind. He, Daniel, and Raj had all loved her for it. But over the years, while it had solidified his friendship with her, he’d always known there was something deeper, more powerful between her and Daniel. It had driven Raj insane. Raj had turned his attentions to Melissa.

But Ephraim had had no idea that Meghan and Daniel had created life.

“Do you remember the night we escaped?” Suzi asked.

“Yes…?” he thought back. “Raj and Melissa had torched the orphanage and killed everyone else. Daniel and I were stuck in the cave. I had a vision, and Daniel could see my thoughts,  so we knew Raj and Melissa were headed for us. We didn’t think we could make it out of our straps in time. Then you rushed in. I remember thinking it was strange that you hadn’t ported in. We told you to go. But you wouldn’t leave until we were both freed. And even then you wouldn’t port away to safety.”

“First of all, you know I would never have left you,” she said. “But I couldn’t port then, and I knew I couldn’t, but I didn’t realize why until later. I was already pregnant.”

“You can’t port when you’re pregnant?”

“Apparently not. Meanwhile, after we’d escaped Kentucky, Raj and Melissa were still coming after us. You split off from us first, and later Daniel and I split up.”

Ephraim nodded. “Because we knew we’d be too easy to find as a group. And we agreed not to use our powers, because it would have made us that-much-easier for them to track.”

“Yes. I wound up having my daughter and raising her alone until she was eight. But by then, Raj had tracked me to Miami. So I did the only thing I could. I placed her for adoption. Then, at the last second, just before Raj captured me, I did a memory wipe.”

“On yourself?”

Suzi’s face contorted with pain. “Yes,” she breathed. Then she straightened her shoulders and set her jaw. “It was the only way I could protect her from Raj. He never knew of her existence. I’d forgotten about her… until tonight. There was something about that power I was able to draw-on… I wonder if — ?”

Ephraim interrupted with his own thought that had been bothering him. “What I never understood is why Raj and Melissa pursued us for so long.”

Suzi’s eyes dropped. “Because of the map. After I freed you two, I swiped it from the safe.”

You have the map? You have that map?”

Suzi nodded sheepishly.

“How did you get it out of the safe? That thing was locked! And why didn’t you tell me? Or Sam — does Sam know?”

“No. I didn’t want to compromise either of you. I’m the one who had to go back and take care of what the map leads to.”

“You don’t have to be so secretive. I know what it leads to, also. And you’re not doing it. I’ll take care of it.”

“No! I don’t want you getting hurt! You or Sam! Where is he, anyway?”

“He went to check on the cave, and — .”

“The cave? That’s where Melissa was! We have to go help him! He’s in danger!”

Ephraim exploded. “At this point, good! I can’t believe you’re sticking up for him, Suzi! You were always there for us. Always! I can’t believe Daniel left you, and then never came back. Especially in your condition! You should never have had to go through that alone! If I’d known you were pregnant, I’d have never left your side, even if it wasn’t my kid.”

“But he never did know,” she said quietly.

“Excuse me?”

“He never knew I was pregnant. Sam doesn’t know he’s a dad.”

—–

Okay, Hasty, your turn!

“The best part of your story hasn’t been written yet.”

I joined the Boulder Writers’ Workshop. It feels so good to be part of a writers’ group again! Last Saturday I attended my first session. It was a Literary Salon, hosted by memoir author Priscilla Stuckey (Kissed by a Fox,  © 2012). She read some beautiful passages from her book, and when she was done she answered questions.

Naturally, it being a writers’ group, the discussion turned to process.

She said that it took nine years (!) from inception to publication (she’s a professor of environmental humanities at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, and said she had to learn the creative process), but when she first started trying to query agents she wasn’t getting any bites. She took her story to an editor for help. The editor got back to her with, “The best part of your story hasn’t been written yet.”

Can you imagine being told something like that? After having worked soooo hard for soooo long… and thinking you were done…!?! Of course Priscilla was devastated, but when she calmed down and digested the editor’s words, she really went back and thought about her book. It was a series of nature experiences she’d had. But that was all. That’s when, she said, she went back and wrote the “thinking parts” of her book – the things that would ultimately weave and tie her real-life stories together. She attributes her ensuing ability to get an agent to the fact that she’d found a theme.

I thought about this, and at first I dismissed it. Fortunately, I thought, I’m a fiction writer, and fiction doesn’t have to have a theme. It’s not like I have to be out to convey some higher message through allegory or anything. Some writers do this, and it’s fine, but it’s not an absolute necessity. In fact, for thrillers, the main “theme” is the plot, itself, right? All I have to do is to tell a good story, and tell it well.

Or so I thought.

Then I thought about it some more. And I remembered something I’d read by one of the best-selling authors of all-time:

Mostly I don’t see stuff like that until the story’s done. Once it is, I’m able to kick back, read over what I’ve written, and look for underlying patterns. If I see some, (and I almost always do), I can work at bringing them out in a second, more fully realized, draft of the story. Two examples of the sort of work second drafts were made for are symbolism and theme….

But wait. Symbolism doesn’t have to be difficult and relentlessly brainy. Nor does it have to be consciously crafted as a kind of ornamental Turkish rug upon which the furniture of the story stands. If you can go along with the concept of the story as a pre-existing thing, a fossil in the ground, then symbolism must also be pre-existing, right? Just another bone (or set of them) in your new discovery. That’s if it’s there. If it isn’t, so what? You’ve still got the story itself, don’t you?

If it is there and if you notice it, I think you should bring it out as well as you can, polishing it until it shines and then cutting it the way a jeweler would cut a precious or semi-precious stone….

Does that make it necessary to the success of your story or novel? Indeed not, and it can actually hurt, especially if you get carried away. Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create a sense of artificial profundity. None of the bells and whistles are about story, all right? Only story is about story.  (Are you tired of hearing that yet? I hope not, ’cause I’m not even close to getting tired of saying it.)

Symbolism (and the other adornments, too) does serve a useful purpose, though — it’s more than just chrome on the grille. It can serve as a focusing device for both you and your reader, helping to create a more unified and pleasing work. I think that, when you read your manuscript over (and when you talk it over), you’ll see if symbolism, or the potential for it, exists. If it doesn’t, leave well enough alone. If it does, however, if it’s clearly a part of the fossil you’re working to unearth — go for it. Enhance it. You’re a monkey if you don’t.

[From On Writing: A memoir of the craft, by Stephen King, © 2000, pp. 197-200.]

I don’t have to have a theme. My stories are what they are, and they come out of my head in whatever way they choose to do so — and not for the primary purpose of having some hideously clunky message imposed upon them. But if one or two of them did have a message that was already there, I’d better make sure I find it. And to do that, I have to listen.

In first drafts I’m little more than a scribe, desperately trying to type as fast as the story wants to come out. But the next time around, I need to think and hear what it was that did come out. I have to make sure I’ve shown the tale for what it really is. After all, I don’t ever want to be told that I’m a monkey.

Or that the best part of my story hasn’t been written yet.

For Honor

This is the fourth, and final, installment of Trig Denton’s story — with a twist. You are Trig Denton. This writing exercise was called “Imperative.”

Write a fragment of a story that is made up entirely of imperative commands: Do this; do that. This exercise will be a sort of second-person narration (you is implied in the imperative). 500 words max.

Yes, you read that correctly. 500 words. Max. Our group’s guru, Brenda Moffitt, even bolded the word-limit because writers have a sneaky tendency to go over…. (What? Who? Me?)

I was going to rewrite the fourth part of Trig’s story so that it was in third person, which is my preferred writing style. But upon rereading it, I think the second person POV, combined with all-imperative commands, helps to build the scene’s intensity. I hope you agree, and that you like this ending (of sorts…):

——-

FOR HONOR

You approach the nine-foot, blast-proof steel door that looms in front of you. You swipe the card you took from T’ien Jing, the engineer who lies motionless in the shadows of the tunnel off to the side. When the door beeps green you turn the handle and check your watch. Keeping your pulse steady, as you’ve been trained, you see that you have less than five minutes until the paralytic you injected into T’ien Jing wears off.

You stride into the concrete cavern that is the aeronautical fabrication center—the rocket room—with the knowledge that the security of the entire country is at stake. Your orders ring in your head: Get a count, get proof, get out, but what you see vaults you over the impenetrable wall on which the orders are written, with only slight queasiness at the knowledge that you are about to disobey them. You resist gulping to quash the oh-shit sensation at the apocalyptic vision of thousands of TRUE LOVE smart bombs before you. Bombs that the Chinese are already developing right under New York City.

You see dozens of employees—maybe fifty—working on an assembly line, and behind them a wall of completed products. You veer left and grab a clipboard that you pretend to examine as you continue to study the room, cognizant of the fact that, despite the disguise, you still do not look Chinese. Scratching the back of your neck, you adjust your ear-cam to make sure it’s recording. You puzzle at cables that run from each bomb into a central hub until you note ten offices along the right wall. You realize that the bombs are wired to a network, which is separate from the network in the rest of the building–the network you’ve already disabled with a virus.

You weigh your options: leave now and report back to Langley, knowing that by the time anyone else gets back in it will be too late. Or stay, cripple their systems, and probably die in the process. You smile, since this is an easy choice for a former Marine, and also because the floor manager is walking toward you, frowning.

Reaching your hand in your pocket, you extract a five and a half inch cylinder, pull the pin, and toss it on the assembly floor. In the tear-gas confusion, which you’ve been trained to withstand, you bolt across the space and into the first office. You draw your G26, put a single bullet through the head of the engineer, and then fish a flash drive from your pocket. You shove the drive into the nearest USB port and begin uploading a virus to the network.

Leaving the flash drive in the computer, you dash out the door and down the side-tunnel. You pass T’ien Jing, who is coming-to, and you pause to shove C4 and a remote-timer into a large crack. Once you’ve passed the exit, you detonate the plastic explosive. You had hoped to demo the tunnel, but instead you see that you’ve unleashed the Hudson, which rushes to fill the underground facility. You bolt up four flights of stairs, across the lobby, and out into the afternoon sunshine.

——-

I’d be interested to hear which of the POVs explored in this four-part series (first person, third person, third person omniscient, or second person) was your favorite. Through which viewpoint did you like Trig the most?

Oh, also, I don’t know whether you’re interested, but before I left Kentucky I did one more writing exercise with Trig. It picked up shortly after the TRUE LOVE assignment ended. But then it exploded in my mind, and that writing exercise is now the first chapter of a story I’m currently working on. It fleshes-out Trig’s backstory, as he is jarred by present-day events that change everything…. 😉