Fiction Relay — Part 39

To catch up on the last few episodes:

Fiction Relay — Part 34 (by me)

Fiction Relay — Part 35 (by KC)

Fiction Relay — Part 36 (by TRG)

Fiction Relay — Part 37 (by Joanne)

Fiction Relay — Part 38 (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.)

—–

Sanderson — or whatever his name really was — directed his gray gaze at Meagan. His smirk deepened. She cringed beneath the weight of his stare. His words, the things he’d insinuated, were a jumbled, confusing mess in her brain. Melissa wasn’t her sister, except maybe in the sense that they’d been raised together in the orphanage. Melissa had been the daughter of Sanders, the orphanage’s director — the man who’d run insidious tests on all of them until that night of the fire — and there was no way Meagan was related to him.

Then again, she couldn’t remember anything about her own parents…. Wait, no, maybe she could… it was right there, on the edge of her mind, just out of reach….

And if Sanders was the orphanage’s director, and Sanderson was his son…. Only the man in front of them said Sanderson was his son, which would make him Sanders…. How would that be possible? He didn’t look anything like the Dr. Sanders she remembered — and she’d never forget the man who’d tortured her for years! Only… what if, somehow, he was? And he’d had her own daughter under his thumb for the past eight years!

A cry escaped her lips. “I don’t care about your stupid Club or its secrets! I want my daughter!” She pounded her fist on the table. “Where is she?”

“She is here, in this building,” Sanderson said. An amused quirk tugged at his lips. “Interesting that you cannot sense her. And I must point out again that it is similarly interesting that you did not track her here. Rather, you were tracking something else. Perhaps it was fate: maybe you were tracking the mission to fulfill my request.”

“I’m not going on a mission for you! I — !”

She was cut off by a scream of pain that filled the room. Meagan, Jose, Ephraim, and Sam jumped and looked around. Everyone — even the three brick-wall guards — seemed unnerved. Everyone except Sanderson.

Sam suddenly saw an image inside Sanderson’s head: a blue-haired teenager strapped to a table, just like the one he’d been strapped to so many times. She was being probed, like he’d been. Like they’d all been.

“Samantha!” Sam gasped. “No!” His blood boiled. With a snarl he elbowed his captor, broke free, and lunged at Sanderson. Grabbing the man by the throat he pinned him up against the wall.  Sanderson began to gag. He clawed at Sam’s hand. Sam forced his way into Sanderson’s thoughts, searching for the man’s darkest fears to unleash on him. But, like before, he was met with only a bottomless abyss. He pulled back, only to see Sanderson glaring at him with malicious gray eyes that turned black. And a face that was turning red. “Let her go, you sick fuck!” Sam growled.

Suddenly Sam’s own airway was cut off as his brick wall yanked him backward in a choke-hold. As soon as Sam was clear of Sanderson, another brick wall came up and smashed a fist into Sam’s jaw.

“Sam!” Meagan screamed as he went down. She jumped to her feet and ran toward him. Ephraim ducked low, sending his own brick wall into a flip, and turned toward the fight. Sanderson held up a hand. The brick walls instantly re-grabbed Sam, Ephraim, and Meagan, holding them in place, even though it was clear they wanted to beat the shit out of them. For a second, Sam thought he saw Sanderson’s eyes go black as he glared at him again, but then the man turned his attention back to Meagan.

“I need you to retrieve something for me,” he said, sounding as calm and unruffled as though he hadn’t just been proved human. Or at least part-human. “A small box. It is there.” He stood aside, allowing the distant, blue mountain to come into full view, and nodded toward it.

The room swam before Ephraim. Scenes flashed before him:

Time before time. Blood. An angry young man, straining to get near the mountain. He had a mane of dark hair, and his skin glowed golden, like a god. But his eyes burned black like hell-coals. An aura of red surrounded him. The young man tried again and again, over many ages, but the force that had been set to shield the mountain was stronger. In a final rage, the young man tried one more time. The strain turned his hair white. He fell to the ground, weakened, and was only saved from nothingness when he absorbed his form into a passing coyote. For several years, he rested inside the coyote, regaining his strength by eating humans, sometimes savaging entire villages. He was feared, like a god, and this assuaged some of his anger. But then, when he tried to arise and break free, he discovered he was tethered to the earth, and his form to the coyote’s. From then on his blood-lust truly knew no bounds. Through years, a coyote-man in various stages — sometimes more coyote, sometimes more man — approached the mountain. Always he was turned away, as if by an invisible force. His rage, however, only grew.

Ephraim shuddered, still feeling the coyote-man’s rage as the flash dissolved. He heard Sam speak, next to him.

“Your damn box is on the mountain? Get it yourself.”

“Not ‘on,'” Sanderson corrected. “In. It is inside the mountain. And you,” he turned back to Meagan, “are uniquely qualified to retrieve it for me. Do you have any idea how rare a gift it is for one to be able to teleport?” His eyes danced with greed. “It is a talent I’d wished your darling daughter had possessed. Alas. Well, you are back with me now, and you do seem to have demonstrated this ability a few times recently, haven’t you? Bring me my box, and you can have your daughter back.”

“This isn’t really a request, is it. I don’t really have a choice.” Meagan said.

“Choice, no choice. Semantics.” Sanderson waved the notion away with his fingers.

“Fine,” she agreed with a scowl. “Your box, my daughter.” Sanderson smiled; her brick wall released her.

“She’s not going alone,” Sam growled.

“Agreed,” Ephraim nodded.

Sanderson shrugged indifference, and their brick walls released them, though they hovered at the ready for a false move by Sam or Ephraim.

“You will need a guide?” Jose asked, rising from his seat and walking toward them. He paused, the question in his eyes.

“Yes,” Meagan said. “Thank you.”

*****

“Yeah, that’s what he said, but….”

“But what, Spencer?” Blue asked.

“Well, it’s like it wasn’t really coming from him. Like, I don’t know, something’s just off.” He plopped on the sofa in his room, stretched out, and glanced over at Blue, who lay sprawled on her stomach across his bed. “What-evs.”

“So, basically, you stopped me from going back to get my bike because of ‘what-evs?'”

“Uh… yup.”

“You suck.”

“Love you, too, babe.”

“What about my mom? How did she look? Was she okay?”

“As far as I could tell. Your dad might’ve been roughed up a bit, though.”

“Couldn’t give a shit,” she muttered. “He deserves it.” Suddenly, she propped up — arms straight, palms on the bed — alert. “She’s leaving the building!” Blue scrambled to her feet.

“Who?” Spencer asked, swinging his feet to the floor.

“My mom! Come on, let’s follow!”

—–

Next at-bat with the Relay: TRG! 🙂

Advertisements

Fiction Relay – Part 34

To catch up on the last few episodes:

Fiction Relay — Part 28 (by me)

Fiction Relay — Part 29 (by TRG)

Fiction Relay — Part 30 (by Hasty)

Fiction Relay — Part 31 (by Cara)

Fiction Relay — Part 32 (by Delilah)

Fiction Relay — Part 33 (by Ted)

To catch up on the entire story:

Fiction Relay Homepage

Fiction Relay Summary

—–

Having never before spent time in the American southwest, Sam knew it should have been the up-close, foreign sights that he noticed first. Like the terra cotta blooms on the prickly pears, or the flaming, vermilion buds spiking out of the yucca plants. But those curiosities had barely registered before his attention was drawn and held by the mountain. It was a blue mountain, the tallest peak in the range far to his west. Aside from its unique color, he could feel a force emanating from it, like a magnetic pulse. He couldn’t tear his eyes away. They were at the Bernalillo County sheriff’s office, where Ephraim had gotten in touch with a law-enforcement buddy on the off-chance they could find Meagan through traditional means, and Sam could barely resist the urge to walk out the door, get back in the car, and drive straight west.

Ephraim cleared his throat. “Uh, so I’ll just leave you and the scenery alone, then, while I go look for her….”

“What?” Sam blinked and ripped his gaze away, forcing himself to focus on Ephraim. “When did you finish with your friend? Sorry, I got distracted for a second.”

“A second? I’ve been trying to tell you for the past five minutes that Dave hadn’t heard anything, but he’ll put out a BOLO.”

“BOLO. That’s ‘Be On the Look-Out,’ right?” His gaze started to drift back to the mountain.

“Sam!”

“Sorry. Don’t you feel it?”

“The passage of time? Yes, I do. Come on, let’s get moving!” Ephraim yanked open the door and walked out of the station.

“No, the mountain,” Sam clarified, jogging after Ephraim. “Don’t you feel that pull?”

“Pull?” Ephraim paused on his way toward their rental car. “No. Is she there? You don’t sense Meagan there, do you?” He nodded toward the mountain.

“No, the pull isn’t her. It’s not even human, though related to us somehow. It’s some other force, very powerful, and I think very ancient. I think it wants us to go there.”

It wants? Well, it is also very sunny. I know what I saw, and it was dark.”

Sam knew Ephraim was referring to his cryptic vision of blood and fire, and a death match between Meagan and Raj. Which was impossible, because Raj was already dead, and his body was back in Kentucky.

They’d discussed the vision on the flight to Albuquerque. The blood and fire were pretty self-explanatory, unless they were symbolic of something else, which Ephraim had said sometimes happened with visions. Only he didn’t think this had “felt” like one of those kinds of visions. But if the scene he’d perceived had been literal, then how did they explain Raj’s presence? The only person they knew who could do the resurrection-trick was Melissa, but her talent didn’t extend to anyone beyond herself. At least, not as far as they knew. Besides, she was tied to a chair in an old distillery back in Kentucky, too. By now Samantha’s friends at the Club would have picked her up.

Sam had requested this one favor from the daughter he’d just discovered he had, and to his surprise she’d immediately made the call. Samantha, or Blue, as she preferred to go by, seemed to despise him with the apathy of everything north of the Arctic Circle. Except for those fire-bomb moments where she cut loose to take digs at him. She didn’t quite believe that Sam had never known about her and still held onto the notion that he’d abandoned her and her mother. Not that he could blame her. Even though he really hadn’t known about Blue’s existence, he still felt guilty, as though there was some way he should have known. And he should never have agreed with Meagan’s idea for them all to separate back then, in the first place. Even if it might have been safer. Sam understood how much Blue missed her mother, because he missed her, too. Every. Single. Day. Leaving her was the worst decision he’d ever made, and when he saw her in that coffee shop six months ago, he knew he couldn’t let her walk out of his life again. Even though she didn’t remember him.

And now, even though they still hadn’t figured out the meaning of Ephraim’s vision, the one thing that was clear was that Meagan was in mortal danger.

They reached the car. “So it’s dark in the vision?” Sam asked, pulling open the passenger door. “Maybe it was nighttime?”

Ephraim slid behind the wheel and paused, considering. “No… I don’t get that sense. Maybe it’s night, maybe it’s day, but I think what I saw was somewhere inside. Like maybe a room…?” He knit his brows in thought, as though questioning himself, and reached for his sunglasses.

“So what do we do now, just drive around and hope I can get a lock on her, like before?”

“I’ve got nothing better, and it got us this far,” Ephraim shrugged.

Suddenly, two brick walls of men, as tall as Sam, each with tanned skin and shoulder-length brown hair, stood next to the car’s doors. The one on Ephraim’s side knocked on the window. Sam closed his eyes and was alarmed to find that he couldn’t see into the strangers’ minds, not even a little bit. He clenched his fists. Ephraim opened the window an inch.

“Sanderson wants to see you,” the man said.

“Who’s Sanderson?”

“He’s the boss.”

“The boss of… oh!” Ephraim glanced at Sam, and his look conveyed that he realized what Sam had just figured out, too. The boss of the Club? Maybe Sanderson could help them. “We’ll follow you.”

They followed the men’s gray sedan for five minutes, through the streets of downtown, until it pulled into the Albuquerque Country Club. Ephraim gave a wry chuckle. Apparently the irony of the Club being located at an actual club wasn’t lost on him, either.

They walked through gleaming interiors, over sandstone tile and polished wood floors, and up a key-locked elevator until they came to a private dining room. An enormous window faced west, giving a perfect view of the blue mountain. But the mountain was not first thing that caught Sam’s eye. It was the woman seated at one end of the long table.

“Sam!” Meagan gasped.

“Meagan!” He started to rush across the room, but was immediately restrained by one of the brick walls who’d brought them. The other man had a grip on Ephraim. Sam suddenly spied the good looking, dark-haired man seated next to Meagan. “You must be Sanderson. What’s going on?”

“No, Sam,” Meagan said, “this is Jose. He’s helping me. I have to find… someone… er….” She glanced at Ephraim.

“He knows about your daughter — his daughter,” Ephraim said. “I told him what you’d told me.”

“Meagan, she’s fine. Samantha was in Kentucky, looking for you!”

“What?!?”

Sam filled Meagan in on the details. “And then she took off again, after you, right before we did. We’re assuming she was following you. But you were easier for me to track.” He grinned, and she gasped as he sent her the mental sensation of his tongue circling her breast. She shot him a WTF?-look, but her cheeks went pink and a smile tugged at her lips. Then her smile fell.

“I didn’t want you to follow me. I tried to block you out. I couldn’t risk you getting hurt,” she said softly. Her eyes filled with love for him, and he caught his breath. She was crazy if she didn’t know he’d follow her to the ends of the universe and back. He was crazy for ever having let her go. He wasn’t leaving her, ever again.

Meagan cocked her head to the side and frowned. “But if Samantha was there, where we were, why did I know that I had to come here? What was I tracking?”

“I can help you answer your question.”

A man with a wild, white mane of hair suddenly stood before them. Sam hadn’t seen him enter the room. His tanned, weathered skin made him look old, but his cagey green eyes made him seem fierce and spry. He was ancient, and yet ageless.

Like the mountain.

The words popped into Sam’s head like an echo, as though they hadn’t come from him. But the next thought did: Possibly also dangerous. Next to Meagan, Jose tensed, staring at the man, confirming Sam’s thought.

“What is it, Jose?” Meagan asked in a half-whisper, not taking her eyes off the man, either.

“He is a Navajo witch,” Jose answered. “A skinwalker. He can take the form of any animal he chooses. And he steals the life-essences of those whose forms he takes. He cannot be trusted!” Jose rose from his chair. A third brick wall folded his arms across his massive chest and stood in front of the closed door.

“And yet,” the white-maned man grinned, “you have no choice but to trust me, since I am the one you seek.” He turned toward Meagan. Sam strained to break free.

“Who are you?” she asked. She sounded more curious than scared, which only heightened Sam’s sense of alarm.

“Like you, I have many names.” He winked at her. “But you may call me Sanderson.”

—–

Okay, KC, your turn! 🙂

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…! 🙂

A nod to anonymous bloggers

I started this blog almost six months ago, at the end of September 2012, because I was supposed to. It’s the “writer” thing to do.

For non-fiction writers, a blog is another venue for establishing platform which, in turn, helps sell books. For fiction writers, like me, we don’t really have “platforms” the same way that the non-fics do (despite the title of my blog). But if I can develop a readership for my writing, I can then go to an agent and say, “I’ve written a manuscript…, and oh, btw, I have a blog with X-amount of followers, and I get XX hits a month.” This sets off a light bulb for an agent, because if he likes the manuscript, he knows he has a little something-extra to help sell it to a publisher: blog stats are quantifiable.

Business people (i.e. publishing company execs) love things that are concrete and quantifiable because they can be translated into dollar figures. Publishers know that an author’s good blog-following equals a certain-percentage of already-sold books. (For example, if an author has 3,000 followers and 20,000 hits a month, it’s going to guarantee at least 1,000 books sold. Or something like that.)

So for right now, that’s one of the reasons I’m here. I’m playing around, trying to find my correct blogging niche, which might, one day, help me sell my books. I try to be as real and approachable as possible, but I’m showing you my “public” persona — you know, the one I play at dinner parties or when I volunteer at my kids’ school. Me, but dressed-up and wearing makeup. I actually disclose very little about what goes on behind the silk curtain.

But there are those among us who have not only pulled the curtain aside — they’ve torn it down, shredded it, and thrown it away. They’re walking around the dinner party with no makeup on. And they’re naked.

You know who I’m talking about: the anonymous bloggers.

Some choose the path of anonymity for the complete sense of freedom that it provides — the ability to pour out one’s heart and soul, in whatever manner it comes tumbling forth, without fear of being judged by anyone who knows them. Sometimes writers are afraid of criticism of their work at this stage in the game, or of backlash because their genre would be frowned-upon by family and/or friends. Writing anonymously emboldens them to let the muse out, in whatever form she takes, and to get past their fears.

But many other anonymous blogs are written by people who are not necessarily “writers,” and who are going through difficult, often painful times in their lives. Their blogs read like online diaries — not your average dinner-party chatter. Probably not stuff they can discuss with their co-workers. Maybe not even their neighbors. In some cases, not even their best friend.

Yet I submit to you that it is these blogs, in all of their raw, unedited glory, that are among some of the best writing in the blogosphere.

The authors expose parts of themselves that, perhaps, they are unable to show in any other way. I’ve read post after post on which whole hearts and souls were bled open. The Anonymouses parade their ripped, dirty laundry with unabashed abandon for the whole world to see, holding it up to point out the various stains. “This is the one where I was raped.” “This is where my mom became an alcoholic.”  “This is where my child died and I started doing drugs.” “This is the one from when I cheated on my wife.” “These are the ones from where I’m still cheating on her.” In some cases the authors are proud of themselves. Mostly, though, they express the deepest levels of doubt, anger, fear…. Guilt, shame, humiliation…. Despair…. But the common thread running through all seems to be an elemental quest for answers and meaning. Truth.

Unless they are blogging under a pen name that they intend to use when publishing, there is no business reason (read, “no potential financial incentive”) for them to be doing what they’re doing. It’s all personal. These blogs read like stories, the most intimate glimpses into the darkest corners of the human soul, and I find myself cheering for each and every one who is brave enough to put himself or herself out there in this way. The blogs, themselves, become like giant, interactive diaries, and I’m constantly impressed at the decorum and restraint shown by commenters, whether or not they agree with the actions and ideas of the blog’s author, and the openness with which the authors respond to the different points of view presented to them.

If you haven’t yet discovered the hidden gems of anonymous blogs, you might want to treat yourself to a WordPress search. Just type in a topic of interest, and spend an afternoon with a fascinating real-life read. And who knows? You might even find one that resonates with something inside you.

 

“Um, a little help, please!” — getting an Rx from a writing-doc

I’m in limited-writing mode right now. On purpose: orders from my new writing coach.

I’ve written multiple 300+ word manuscripts. I’ve been an active part of writers’ groups for over seven years. A Chicago Manual of Style and a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (both well-thumbed) sit front-and-center on my desk. I’ve even had a literary agent once.

[Hmmm. I’ve stopped writing, at my previous sentence, for a while now. I’ve been finding excuses to do things other than going forward with this post. I “needed” to check my e-mail. And play spider-solitaire. And take a drink of water. And go to the bathroom. Riiiiight. Those things all “prevented” me from knocking out the minimum one-post-a-week — a measly little 500 words a week! — that I’ve committed myself to doing on this blog.

Sorry, no. What I’m really doing is mental-blocking because I’m about to admit my failures as a writer. And that’s not a fun thing to do.]

You see, despite all of my hard work — even the achievement of scoring an agent (for eight months, back in 2008, until she quit being an agent) — I’m still not published. Which means I’ve never earned a penny from this endless drive inside of me to write. Which means I’m nowhere close to being able to making a living at it. Which means my endless drive is currently headed toward nothing.

As the rejections pile up Self-Doubt grows like a cancer, anchoring its tentacles into the weakened foundations of my confidence. No one will hear your voice…, your thoughts…, your passions…. Ever!

But giving-up isn’t going to stop my need to write. I do want need my voice to be heard. And I get positive feedback from enough readers that I think I have a chance, if I can just figure out what it is that I’m missing. So I’m fighting back.

Just as one would go to the doctor to diagnose an illness, I hired a writing coach to help diagnose what was wrong with my writing. In our first session (so far), she listened to my background about where I’m at with my writing. She read my synopsis of The American (the cliffhanger-ending one), and she got through the first four pages of my manuscript. First-and-best of all: she likes my story. ( :)! ) But based on my “symptoms,” she said she thinks I’m at about seventy-five percent of where I need to be. (Hey, by Rotten Tomato standards, that would make me more than “certified fresh!” 🙂 :)) She then recommended that I read three books (Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass; Hooked, by Les Edgerton; and Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron). Then she wants me to revise my first fifty pages and meet with her again.

I’m wading my way through the Donald Maass book, which I found easily at B&N. The others just arrived in the mail yesterday. (Btw, I’ve been rejected by Donald Maass, personally, on two different manuscripts. Yes, feel free to regard me with awe: I’ve been rejected by the best. *tosses head*) It feels like I’m in school again, and I’m cramming for finals. I really hope I can do this. I have to do this. It’s what’s in me. It’s who I am. I. Am. A. Writer!

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!

She may as well have been speaking Chinese

Last week I had my first, scheduled, online discussion with “Amy” from Rosetta Stone. When I finished, I wished I knew how to say “Oy vey!” in Mandarin.

A “scheduled online discussion” in Rosetta World means that for thirty minutes you get to talk to someone who is a native speaker of the language. I was excited, because I had a lot of questions about syntax, and I really needed some help. At the designated time I logged on with my pre-prepped microphone headset and waited. Soon Amy’s voice called out.

Nǐ hǎo, Dawn!”

Nǐ hǎo,” I responded. My stomach quivered a bit; I’m not comfortable wrapping my tongue around this language yet, and even the “hello” set me off. But this was all part of the famous Rosetta Stone process. I needed to do it, and I was ready to go with Amy, who is a native Mandarin-speaker.

What I didn’t realize is that it was the only language she would use in our chat.

I knew that she was going to stick to words I’d learned two lessons earlier. At the time, I’d been on Unit 1, Lesson 4. Amy was quizzing me on stuff from Unit 1, Lesson 2. Should have been a piece of cake. It was more like a piece of mud pie. I couldn’t even remember the word for “milk” (niú nǎi).  I felt like a clueless two year-old.

Except that a two-year old Chinese kid would know the word for milk.

I should be better at this, I screamed in my head. I’m a writer, for Pete’s sake! I have a better-than-average command of the English language! I manipulate words on a regular basis!

Making things worse, during the chat it became clear that Amy also had an excellent command of the English language. (And she pronounced my name as though she was American.) But she stuck to speaking in Mandarin. She’s probably supposed to do that, however on-the-verge-of-tears the Rosetta Stone customer is. Maybe it’s some Tiger-Teacher philosophy.

She was patient with me. “Tǐng hǎo!” she would encourage when I got things right… which was usually after she’d had to type the answer on the screen. A few times I broke down and had to use English to explain that I didn’t know something. Or that I didn’t understand what Amy was asking me to say, like when she asked if I had a cat, as she pointed to a photo of a cat. (It was only an “Oh, duh!” after I understood what she was asking. Then I couldn’t remember the word for “no,” which, it turns out, isn’t “no.” Because “no” means no, except in Mandarin.)

It was the longest half-hour of my life. I literally breathed a sigh of relief when she said our time was up. “Zài jiàn, Dawn.” Zài jiàn, Amy!

I’m still going forward with the course. I want to learn this language. Eventually, I’ll even schedule my next chat session. But am I looking forward to it?

Bù shì!