Snippet: A moment with the captain

A star shot across the sky in front of us and burned out. Ever since I was a kid, I had been fascinated by how quietly they come and go. You see a flash for just a moment. That’s all you get. If you faced the wrong way, if you weren’t paying attention, you’d miss it all and never see it again.

“You mentioned at port that things weren’t good between you,” the captain said.“It must be hard being this far from home.”

Home. That word again.

“I don’t know. I guess it hasn’t sunk in yet. I mean, Mum didn’t even want me to know. My sister didn’t tell her she was calling me. I really hate that they keep stuff from me! It’s been like that my whole life.”

A handful of sand drained through the gaps in my fingers. I don’t remember picking it up.

“It’s just a lot to process,” I sighed. “No one told me Dad left us. Eventually, I figured it out for myself, but all those years, I thought he was stationed somewhere and work kept him too busy to call. When I left home, I thought, what if I left still thinking he was coming home? I hate that my Mum makes a naïve child out of me, and now it feels like I don’t even get to be mad at her because… because…”

Tears were coming. I could feel them. But I didn’t want to break down in front of the captain. I shut my mouth and held my lips tight with my teeth. I clutched sand in both hands now as I thought about the time some kid from school found my journal and read it to the class. I felt so embarrassed and violated. I thought Mum would take my side, but instead she laughed and told me to go off and play. My childhood was peppered with betrayals like that, but I was supposed to feel sorry for her now. Now that she was-

“I understand.” The captain’s voice brought me back. “My father left us when I was fourteen and it turned my family upside-down. I can’t speak for his reasons, or your father’s, but even with good intentions, parents can still do a lot of damage to their children.”

Excerpt from a first draft. My protagonist having a heart-to-heart with my hero, the captain.

Snippet: Orange zone

She poked her head round the door. “You wanted to see me?”

“Close the door behind you.” McBride barely looked away from his monitor. “Sit down, give me a minute.”

The office was small and stuffy, lined by shelves bursting with thick binders. Micah wondered if her boss even knew what was in those binders. There was no way he filled all of them himself. But he was the stuff of legends around this place, part of the furniture now. The varnish on his desk was wearing away at the edges. The permanent coffee ring beside his stuffed rolodex was just too perfect.

Micah’s shifted uncomfortably in her chair. It creaked. Her hand brushed against where the paint had come away on the frame, leaving bare patches of metal that slowly rusted. She had adopted one particular patch as her own. Whenever a lecture kicked off, she’d trace its outline to keep her fingers busy so her mind wouldn’t wander.

McBride didn’t look happy when he finally got to her. He looked as weary as his desk and her chair. He looked like he could have filled those binders after all.

“Here we are again.” He spoke slowly, deliberately. “Look, Micah, I’ll level with you. With stats like these, there won’t be much I can do once they start letting people go.”

The outline was different today. A little bigger with a change in shape. Someone else had picked at it since she last sat here. A new thread was loose in the upholstery fabric. It tickled her wrist as she searched for a new rust patch to occupy herself.

“Hey, cheer up, you’re not getting fired today.” McBride leaned forward. “Listen, your survey scores are pretty good. If you can stay orange for a few weeks, I might be able to work something out, all right?”

It was all well and good for the boss to offer, but she had been busting her ass for weeks to get her call stats up. It followed her home. More recently, she started waking up with a sore jaw from grinding her teeth in her sleep. She couldn’t help it if the customers were hard of hearing, or called up on a bad line, or needed every little thing explained. No way could she get to orange, let alone stay there.

But there wasn’t anywhere else she could do. Not with Shelby’s buying up all the support agencies in town. She needed this. She hated it but needed it. Even if she ran out of teeth.

Excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2017 WIP, Sleeper. Img via ronaldo (CC0).

Snippet: Run

Outside, it stormed. Rain fell hard on the house and the iron sheet roof of the shed next door. Micah was awake when she heard the voice again.

Run, it said, as a bolt from the clouds lit the horizon. Thunder followed. The clock in the hall struck one in the morning.

Her boozey veil was lifting, but the headache kept her pinned to the bed. She squinted against it and tried to keep reading, but in no time, her eyes forced themselves shut.

They opened again in time to stop the book from falling on her face. It was late. She was delirious.

Run, it repeated. She turned off the lamp and curled under her blanket, only just aware of the new resolve burning in her belly. Solid and foreign, unfamiliar.

In the morning, she snuck out before sunrise and ran. Past the house with the broken fence. Over the still highway and down five blocks into the empty school The air was crisp and damp, filled with the sound of her shoes hitting the pavement and then soft lawn.

The grass was a treasure on her feet. They were already aching, confined within her slab-soled Chuck Taylors, the closest thing to running shoes she owned.

She ran across the football field, out the other side and back onto the sidewalk, passing street after street before turning down a long alley with two tracks worn in the grass.

The birds were silent. A wind picked up. The pounding in her chest drowned out her footsteps as she passed panel after panel of corrugated fence; the wall between her and the world.

Up ahead, a hobo mattress lay propped up against a pile of old boxes. Anyone could be hiding there. Her heartbeat tightened into fear; the hood of her jacket became hands on her back. She remembered grandma’s warnings about bad men taking children away if they ran off by themselves. She remembered the story in the paper last week about a girl’s body found in a secluded alley. What was she doing here, alone, in this neighbourhood?

“She asked for it,” they would say, as they pull her, pale and broken, from beneath a sheet of cardboard.

But the voice spoke again: Run.

Excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2017 WIP, “Sleeper”.

Snippet: Into the forest

“When we upgraded, we recycled some of the old structures for an observation post. It fits six, but we only send a couple of folk out there at a time. We have to be careful not to disturb the wildlife.” She led us to a small rover. “I can have you there and back in a couple of hours if you can spare it. With plenty of time for your scientist to take samples.”

She nodded to me and my heart jumped. Me. A scientist. Someone’s scientist. I said nothing, but smiled and nodded back.

We rode past succulent broadleaves, woody and towering arums, echeveria shapes in unexpected colours, each so uncanny and larger than life. I recognised many plant parts, yet not their configurations or detail. This place was only alien-ish, not entirely unfamiliar. Bird sounds grew louder the deeper we went into the forest. We slowed down to watch a small pack of what looked like medium-sized reptiles bound past. Gigantus lizards, the doctor told us.

The captain rubbed the back of his neck. He drew a breath, then reached out the window and let his fingers idly brush the bushy ferns along the worn road.

Onward we rambled. My mouth hung open the whole time. I breathed in a fly and choked it back out, barely hearing my own hacking over the rover engine and trills from the canopy. The fly landed in my hand, pronotum open, opalescent wings beating. It whistled as it took off.

I have been writing a lot but not posting here. This is a snippet from something I’ve been working on. It’s a big something, the main project that’s been eating my head. Enjoy.

Snippet: Cleaning up

Emily was unfazed by the waft of bile from my washcloth. Maybe I just imagined she could smell it. I certainly could, but the residual taste and debris in my mouth might have been responsible for that. Lunch only tasted good going one way. I had now tested this enough times to know. The waste bin sealed shut and rolled away. Emily handed me a fresh towel and motioned for my arm.

She smiled. But I knew that smile already. She wasn’t happy.

Meant to have something new written last week, but fell so behind. Here’s a snippet from something I worked on over the weekend instead.