A Warning (Part Two)

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“If you come through that door you won’t get one step further!,” Jeremy promised the intruder. He cocked the shotgun for emphasis so that the person could hear just what kind of firepower they were up against. The house was totally silent with the only noise coming from the howling wind and occasional thunder, so Jeremy’s threat was clearly audible and soon answered.

Two more successive slams against the door proved that the intruder was either crazy or thought himself bullet proof. The last blow splintered the wood in the center. I realized in that moment that if the shotgun missed or somehow misfired I might be standing in a dark room alone with a maniac. My sweaty palm gripped the 9mm and I braced myself for the next blow. When it didn’t come Jeremy backed up and whispered to me, “We’re going through the kitchen and out the garage door entrance. You go first and I’ll follow.”

“Do you have your keys?” I hoped. Jeremy was many things but organized was not one of them.

“Not on me. We just have to make it outside and across the street to a neighbor.” He motioned for me to hurry.

The few steps from the darkened living room the lamp lit kitchen seemed to take forever. I kept waiting to hear the sound of wood cracking and a man bursting through. I couldn’t imagine what kind of person would want to get into our home so badly or why. I got to the kitchen door that opens to the garage and my heart sank. I had let the garage door down that night. We were trapped.

“Goddamn it!” Jeremy swore.

The wind suddenly picked up and I could hear tree branches scraping the sides of house outside as if the atmosphere was reacting to Jeremy’s mood. The unmistakable sound of glass shattering exploded in our ears. A grey and white streak of fur darted by my legs and into the pantry. Davey must have been hiding in the sunroom. Jeremy pointed the shotgun into the air in front of the doorway and inched forward. I used my cell phone light to shine into the room so he could see to aim -although I wasn’t sure what he’d be aiming at. The top half of a tree had fallen against one side and landed on the house bursting several glass windows in the process. A terrible stench like rotting leaves and animal remains came from the direction of the tree. As lighting flashed across the sky I could see muddy rain water streaming in through the new holes in our windows and dirt strew across the floor from where the tree had knocked over several house plants.

Jeremy drew closer to the scene, as if some macabre curiosity forced him forward. I shined the light for him so he wouldn’t be surprised by anything. A pitiful mew came from the direction of the pantry and caught my attention. Davey was blind and terrified by all these unusual sounds and smells. I followed his distress cry. The fact that a defenseless animal depended on me, lessened my fear. I stuffed the gun into the back of my jeans pocket and hoped there was no way it could spontaneously fire.

Jeremy backed up quickly and I could hear the shuffling sound of something following him. “They’re climbing up the tree!”

They are? How many people are trying to break into our house?”

“There aren’t any people.” He said it so quietly I almost didn’t hear before I could ask what he meant he shouted at me.

“There’s no time!” He ran down the hall to the front door. The lock had recently broken and it couldn’t be opened from the inside. “Back up and cover your ears.”

He took aim and fire exploded from the end of the gun. I’d heard it fired before, I’d even shot it, but that was at an outdoor shooting range and I’d been wearing protective headgear. This time there was nothing protecting me. I wasn’t able to plug up my ears while holding the cat and Davey carved bloody grooves into my chest in an attempt to scramble away from me. Hot tears ran down my cheeks. My chest was on fire and my ears rang. Jeremy’s voice was muffled like he was screaming into a pillow but I could tell from his expression that he was yelling at the top of his lungs. He put all his weight into delivering a kick to the front door. I still didn’t know who or what was attacking us but I turned my attention toward the danger. An awful sense of dread filled me as the shadows in the house drew together and formed a shape. The door gave way and opened enough for us to see that something blocked it from opening completely.

“It’s a tree!” Jeremy said. “It’s blocking the fucking door.”

Jeremy cursed and gave up on that plan of escape. He turned to see why I’d gone silent and we faced the nightmare together. The mass of black shadows had the vague outline of a man and it might have been my impaired hearing but it sounded like a growl came from it’s center. I could see Jeremy taking aim from the corner of my eye but he didn’t seem to know where to fire. Something like an arm reached out from the swirling mass and long tendrils flexed in my direction. Davey hissed and took a swipe that passed through the arm but caused it to shrink backward.

“You protect this one?” A thin spidery voice asked. I wasn’t sure if it had been spoken aloud or in my head.

“What?”

When the question was repeated I realized it wasn’t being asked of me at all.

Davey bared his fangs and made the fiercest hiss I’d ever heard before turning around in my arms and burying his furry head against my chest.

“Very well,” the voice said. “We will cause no harm.”

Jeremy relaxed the gun beside me. I held my breath as I watched the shadow man withdraw down the hallway and back out of the destroyed window in the sunroom. When it had fully retreated everything went still.

There was no more monstrous wind causing tree limbs to scrape the sides of the house, and no longer any frustrated rumbling from whatever it was that had been trapped in our basement.

Davey leapt from my arms and ran into the sunroom. We both followed and an instant later the lights flickered back on. The giant maple tree in the back yard had completely blown over and crashed into one side of the house shattering several windows . Glass, and mud covered most of the furniture. The light colored carpet in the room was stained with something black and viscous almost like tar.

“What is that?” Jeremy bent down to inspect the semi gelatinous black blob.

“Don’t touch it!” The evidence left behind still gave no indication of what had climbed the tree into our home.

I stared at my cat, who stared back at me as if he could actually see my face. “What happened here?” I asked as if he had the ability to answer. I wondered what he was thinking about. Somehow I knew there was more going on behind those wide green eyes than I’d ever imagined.

I remembered my phone and retrieved it from my back pocket. “My phone’s working now, I’m going to call the police.”

“And tell them what? We were attacked by a shadow?”

“I want to see something.”

I followed him through the house and into the garage. The door was working now and it lifted with a painful slowness. Most of the streetlights had been knocked down by the insane wind but the light in front of our house blinked slowly as it struggled to hold onto it’s tenuous connection to it’s power source.

The houses around us on all sides were gone. The structures themselves had been flattened as if a tornado had touched down on every single one of our neighbors’ homes. In their place trees had grown in an instant, trees that looked as if they’d stood for a hundred years and would stand for a hundred more.

Jeremy wrapped his thick arms around my waist and pulled me close to him. It was hard for my brain to make sense of what I’d seen. “What happened here?” I whispered into his chest.

“I’m not sure, but I think it was a warning.”

Her First Assignment

Every successful pregnancy provides the female with a higher station in the new S.A.F.E hierarchy of power. Let me rephrase that, women are powerless, but a woman who has borne live children-a thing that has become rare-have certain perks. A larger apartment was one of these perks, so I was currently enjoying the space in my neighbor Ebony’s bathroom.

I sat at her vanity waiting for her to magically transform my hair into a shape. I couldn’t have gone to a stylist, even if those people still existed somewhere, I didn’t have any money. The S.A.F.E program required females to be clean and the purity belts we wore demanded a certain style of clothing, but there was nothing stating we needed to have haircuts.

“Hold still unless you want me to muck it up,” Ebony warned. She was from Wales and had the misfortune to be in the U.S. when the Gender Flu hit. She hadn’t been able to flee the country before the travel ban and was effectively stuck here.

The blades of her giant sewing shears snicked together and strands of pale lifeless hair floated to the floor. She’d been a stylist in another life and still enjoyed practicing her craft in secret. I wanted an inverted bob with bangs but she said it would be too drastic a change and someone would notice. I didn’t understand who it helped to have every detail our lives so regulated? My short haircut wouldn’t hinder getting pregnant, but it also wouldn’t help it, and that would be their argument. Ebony wasn’t even a citizen but she was fully committed to the repopulation effort. If they ever updated the manual to say that haircuts were no longer allowed, she would obey the order without question.

Ebony finished and removed the towel she’d draped over my dress. “Fancy a Squeeze?”

I didn’t want a tart lemon drink, I wanted a glass of wine. I remember my mother was always given a single glass of white wine when she had her hair done. I was given a water or juice if they had it and sometimes the manicurist would even paint my nails while I waited on her. Of course that had been a real beauty salon and it was prior to the Gender Flu.

“Squeeze sounds good,” I lied. I didn’t want to seem impolite or ungrateful. My hair would be hanging down the middle of my back by now if it wasn’t for Ebony.

I opened the can she gave me and took a long swig. The first taste was always the worst, but once you got past that it went down easier. Despite it’s awful taste we all kept drinking it because it was free and also because the government said we needed to drink or risk intestinal infections.

Dorian stood in the doorway with his arms crossed and a severe expression on his face. “It’s time to go we’ve wasted enough of the day.”

I stood and did a twirl. “Do you think he’ll like it?” I asked. Tonight was my first scheduled encounter with my new assignment from the Dating Pool. I didn’t know anything about him other than his name and the fact that he’d paid an absurd amount of money to be with me.

“He has no choice but to like you,” Dorian said and ushered me out of my friends apartment.

I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or a bleak and obvious comment on the current state of affairs.

Ebony followed me us to the door and before I walked out she turned me around and placed a palm on my flat stomach. “Good luck, and let it be a girl,” she said.

Something to Smile About

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“She’s here again,” Shane said as he passed me carrying a plate of steaming pasta. That wasn’t good, the fact that he’d noticed me noticing her.  Then again it was hard not to notice a Golden. Shane had been gay since before Gender Flu and he even stared at her.

I peered into the dining room from the small kitchen window. She sat across from her assigned companion with her back in my direction. The low candle light from the tables cast a golden glow around her. If I believed in the existence of angels I would think she were one. The blonde hair that fell down her back made her more valuable than any other female in the room. I couldn’t see her face but she was looking down at her hands. She wasn’t happy to be at Cha Bella having dinner, or either she wasn’t happy with her companion, it was hard to tell.

The man with her was young for one of those Dating Pool freaks. He frowned at her from across the table and looked as if someone had pissed in his minestrone. If they’d sat at my table I would have pissed in it! This was the third time I’d seen them here, so that must mean she hadn’t conceived yet. Good, there is still time.

Shane sat the pasta down in front of her companion and headed back toward the kitchen.

“Didn’t she order something?” I asked him.

“She had a side salad but no entree. She said she wasn’t that hungry.” Shane moved on to the ticket window to pick up his next order. There were only two of us working the entire restaurant at a time. Times were hard and only a select group of people could afford to eat so the restaurant had more business than two waiters could handle.

That dickhead probably didn’t want to pay for her dinner. I would fix him. “Want to see something funny?” I moved over to the desert counter and opened the mini fridge to pull out a previously frozen precut piece of tiramisu.

The Chef looked up from his work and glared at me. He knew we had a limited supply of deserts on hand. The tiramisu, like many things was rationed. He shook his head and then  stirred a pot of noodles with his left hand and with his right hand he flipped the handful of tiny shrimp he had frying in the pan. Their was no Sous Chef or Assistant Chef and man was simply too busy to worry about what I did. I was thankful for this. I was also thankful for the fact that he was also responsible for the inventory.

“What are you doing with that?” He knew I was up to something and couldn’t help but smile. He needed his job too badly to do anything against regulations, but he fully supported my attempts to thwart the authority.

“Just watch.” I placed the delicate dessert on a saucer and added a swirl of whip cream and a chocolate covered espresso bean right on top. With one hand on the kitchen door called out to Shane over my shoulder, “This is going to be fun!”

 

 

 

 

Popular Girl

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I’ve seen him sitting in the back of my art class sketching intently and never speaking. His name is Dylan, he’s a senior and plays guitar in a local rock band. Dylan is too cute and probably dates a girl with piercings in odd places and a killer singing voice. I’ve admired him from a distance but never had the nerve to speak to him. As he came around the corner the familiar theme music started up and he swaggered to the beat. I felt a cramp in my stomach as he walked over to me.

The music stopped when he spoke so his dialogue could be heard. “Hey, what’s up?” He was so casual, as if we talked every day, as if it wasn’t a pivotal moment in my uncool freshman existence.

“Uh, h-hello.” I concentrated on being casual and feigned indifference to the fact that this hottie was talking to me.  Luckily I’d painted my eyeliner on in a way that made me look perpetually bored.  I stared up at him through bangs that had grown so long they tickled my eyelashes.

He gave me a half smile. A single perfect wave of blonde hair had come unraveled from the man bun at the top of his head. He offered me a flyer with something written on it.

“I know it’s a school night, but White Rabbit is playing at Starforce tonight and I’d really like to see you there.” He squeezed my shoulder and gave me a wink.

I think I might have died of shock right there but I realized his gesture required a response from me. “Sounds cool. I’ll be there.”

“Great.  I’ll put you on my list so there won’t be a cover.  See you tonight, Ardis.”

He knows my name? OMG the hottest senior in school knows my name!

As I watched him walk away my own spirited theme music started up. It was a cue that my next scene would be a montage of me trying on various outfits in my bedroom.

 

***

I took care to arrive somewhere in the middle of the lineup so that I missed the first band but had plenty of time to see White Rabbit. I didn’t see Dylan anywhere and guessed that he must be backstage getting ready. I was thankful that the music was too loud for talking because I’d come alone and I didn’t see anyone there I recognized. I pretended to be intently interested in the band on stage and my skirt swayed as I moved back and forth to the beat. I decided to try my luck at the bar with my newly minted fake ID when a hand tapped me on the back. I turned around to see Dylan smiling down at me. He looked hot as hell in his tight black pants and almost threadbare t-shirt. He took my hand and I think I peed a little.

Dylan lead me backstage and introduced me to the rest of his band. “Guys, this is Ardis, she’s my special guest for tonight.”

He didn’t bother telling me all of their names so I just gave them a quick wave.

“Do you mind if we have a little privacy?” he asked them.

An Asian kid with a shaved head snickered and earned a punch in the arm from Dylan. “Nothing’s funny, Shinjayu.” The kid rubbed his arm and glared at Dylan. “Don’t be stingy, either.” He stretched out his hand and opened his palm. Shinjayu dropped a ziploc baggie into it and left.

“Finally,” he said.  Dylan grinned at me as he removed the contents of the bag and produced a lighter from his pants. “Want to smoke?”

“Uh sure.” I didn’t want to tell him I’d never smoked so much as a cigarette before and that I really hated the smell. As he handed me the joint I  had a horrifying realization that I would take any drug if it would make him like me. I tried to copy what he’d just done. I took one long inhale and immediately started coughing my brains out. It felt like something tickled the inside of my throat.

Dylan laughed at my reaction. “So I guess you’re not much of a smoker?”

I shook my head because I was unable to form words in between coughs.

He took the cigarette from me and inhaled then brought his face so close to mine that our lips nearly touched. He blew the smoke into my face and I breathed it in. I felt as if I were walking on air. When he finally kissed me he had to hold me to keep me upright. His right hand held the back of my head and his left circled around my waist and lifted my jean jacket.  I felt a tingle from the middle of my back all the way down to my toes. When he finally pulled away from me I was breathless.

“Sorry, I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”

“Don’t be sorry! I really liked it.”

AND CUT!

The Director walked over to us with a stern look on his face. He put his arm around me and pulled me aside so Dylan couldn’t hear. “Look, it just isn’t working for me. I feel no chemistry between Ardis and Dylan.”

“I can do better, please let me try one more take?” I knew my popularity ratings had slipped in the past few weeks but I had no idea how bad things had become.

“You know there’s nothing I can do, Ardis. It isn’t even up to me, it’s the audience. Just take a look.” He pointed to the meter hanging on the wall that gave a numerical value to the likeability of each character. Dylan’s was at 96.2 percent and mine had dropped to 54 percent. I tried not to look at the meters while we were shooting, now I wish I’d paid more attention. I grabbed onto the director’s jacket with both hands and pleaded with him. “There has to be some mistake! You know I’ve never been below 90.”

“That would have been true a week ago.” He interrupted our conversation to speak with a nearby PA. “Get a cleanup guy out here, would you?”

I looked around for help but there was none. Dylan was already being introduced to the new Ardis. My voice rose in panic. “Please, don’t do this!” I’d always known this was a possibility, but I’d never imagined it would happen to me.

As the Director reached for the 9mm on his utility belt I fell to my knees. Tears stung my eyes and spilled out onto my cheeks.”

“Now if you could have just shown this much passion with that scene it wouldn’t have come to this.”

I had time for one last pleading sob before he fired.

You first, everything else second

When I sat down to write you wanted my attention and put your body between my hands and the keyboard. How could I have ignored those soulful eyes that  tried to stare up at me but instead stared into darkness? Your innocent expectation melted my heart. I gathered your familiar weight in my arms and recognized you’ve grown fatter in the past month. I haven’t given you as many treats anymore, but I think you’ve been stress eating because you don’t like your new baby brother. I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t like it if someone was always leaping on my back and I had no way of seeing it coming.

I stroked your head in that spot you like until you fell asleep in my lap. My feet rest on a box speaker under my desk and it is very uncomfortable. I won’t move for anything. You are so often disturbed and upset, stumbling through life with those beautiful but sightless eyes. I won’t rob you of your peaceful dreams. Your mouth and front paws twitch and I imagine you’re dreaming of hunting. Maybe you’re chasing birds, lizards or chipmunks like the one I took from you earlier this year. I’m sorry about that, but he was just a baby and I didn’t want you to kill him. In  your sleep I hope you run through uncut lawns with cool grass tickling your belly. I hope you climb trees without fear. Most of all, I hope you’re happy.  I’m sorry my sneeze was so loud it just woke you up.

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Sleeping like an angel faced baby with his sister Snifferz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lful eyes that stared up at me although they don’t

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tennessee Writing Workshop Review

I read a quote somewhere that said the key to happiness was to have a definite goal, and then to do one thing every single day to move toward that goal. Having face to face conversations with two amazing agents at the Tennessee Writing Workshop was a huge step toward my ultimate goal of getting my story told. The query critique from Chuck Sambuchino was invaluable as well.

I chose this conference in part because it was located within driving distance from Atlanta and also because of the price. This conference was less expensive than some of the others I’d looked at before. I emailed my query letter to the conference organizer a few weeks prior to the event and received an edited version back a few days before. This was great timing because an agent ended up asking for the query letter! I decided to dip my toe in the water with “pitching” and signed up for two sessions with Literary Agents.

Pitching

Despite my king size bed with 18 pillows I got no sleep the night before the conference. All I could think about was the fact that I had to deliver pitches to both agents first thing! I had time to pick up my name tag and get right into the line of people standing around waiting to pitch their novels!  As I walked up I was greeted by nervous smiles from other waiting participants. We had time for brief mini pitches to each other and when 9:40 struck we all walked in together to take our seats in front of our respective agents.  It turns out I was much too nervous for no reason! The fact that Victoria Lea was interested in what I had to say and asked engaging questions made it so much easier to talk to her. After I got my first few sentences out without stumbling too horribly, it felt like a natural conversation. After our time was up she requested my full manuscript! My eyes started to water as I stood on shaky legs and got up from her table. I was overcome with relief and gratitude that things had worked out so well.

The success of my first pitch made it easier to give my second. I loved the enthusiasm that Marisa Corvisiero showed for my story. She even asked me to tell her the ending! It was a great conversation and she also made a request for material.

Below I’ve included some tips that helped me get through this process:

  1. Practice! Out loud in your office, with a sympathetic friend in the car driving to the conference, or on the phone with your mom.  Talk about your book to whomever will listen. Every time I was forced to go through it, it got a little easier.
  2. I had a few notecards in case I got stuck. My pitch wasn’t written out word for word on the notecards but I had the highlights written down.
  3. Try not to think of it as a “pitch” but more like a conversation you’re having with someone who has simply asked you, “what are you working on?”
  4. I had 10 minute time slots so we mostly talked about my story but I was asked some questions about my writing background as well. I was asked how long I had been working on my novel and what my goals were for my novel. I did get the opportunity to talk about my other published novel and short story publications.
  5. My last piece of advice comes from Ms. Marisa Corvisiero, Founder and Senior Literary Agent of the Corvisiero Literary Agency.  During the “Writers’ Got Talent” portion of the workshop she reminded everyone not to be nervous because agents are eager to hear our stories and that they need us as much as we need them.
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My face after 2 successful pitch sessions

Everything Else

After pitching was over and I had stopped shaking from nervous excitement, I enjoyed the “Writers’ Got Talent,” portion of the conference, in which Brian Klems selected random novel submissions and read them aloud to the audience. A panel of six agents sat in judgement of the material and raised their hands at the point in which they would naturally stop reading the selection because of something they didn’t like. It was great to hear the agents perspective and get some inside information into their thought process. Most of the mistakes people made were things that could have been avoided with better editing. There were a couple of first pages read that the agents critiqued for being unclear as to the direction of the story. For instance a story that was supposed to be a romance but had absolutely no tension or anything sexy on the first page! So the take away is to make sure that first page is polished or the rest of your story may not even be considered.

My last activity for the day was the afternoon Q&A session with Brian Klems that focused on, “25 Questions You Need Answered Before you Seek an Agent or Self-Publish Your Book.”This was helpful because he had very specific answers to many questions I’ve had but have heard varying opinions about. It was nice to get an industry professional to answer some questions I had about platform, social media and even the querying process!

I don’t think this conference could have gone any better for me. I made some good connections with people who can help me with my career, I learned some valuable information about publishing and as a bonus, a few new twitter followers! It was definitely worth the money and the drive. Thank you, Brian Klems, Chuck Sambuchino, and especially Victoria Lea and Marisa Corvisiero!

 

 

 

 

Which bad habit should I start?

I’m mostly joking when I ask this question, mostly. Someday I hope to become a great storyteller and there is no denying that many famous writers also had serious drug or alcohol addictions.  At this moment the only drug I abuse is caffeine but I don’t think it will alter my perspective enough to allow me to tap into my inner writing genius.  Just for funsies, I’d like to take a look at a few notable writers with serious drug issues.

Phillip K. Dick I have seen several movies based on his works but the first novel I read was “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” This is one of those books that makes you wonder what kind of mind came up with this, and the answer to that question is, a mind altered by mescaline, LSD, PCP, etc. I’m sure the man had a great imagination without the drugs, by the reality altering effects of them certainly contributed.

Hunter S. Thompson A man known just as well for his fiendish drug use as his writing. According to the biography written by E. Jean Carroll his daily routine consisted of cocaine use, multiple glasses of scotch whiskey, cigarettes, weed, writing beginning at midnight followed by more cocaine, whiskey and other drugs throughout the night. I can’t believe he lived to be 68.

Stephen King was also a cocaine addict.  I don’t care for him but can’t deny he’s the name that everyone thinks of when considering the “horror” genre.  According to wikipedia he has 55 published novels and 200 short stories, and a bunch of really terrible movies based on his books with the exception of “The Shining” and “Carrie.” So yeah, for cocaine?

William S. Burroughs speaks candidly about heroine use in a 1977 interview. Interview . He admits that his experience with drugs helped him write “Junkie” as well as “Naked Lunch” and he hasn’t seen any negative health effects from the use but he does admit that he didn’t bathe much and as of the date of the interview was no longer addicted.

All this shows me is how difficult it really is to write a good story, which is something I already knew. My own methods of getting the creative juices flowing are much less interesting. They include the following:

  1. Drink a glass of beet juice
  2. Go for a jog
  3. Watch any episode of Doctor Who
  4. Have coffee with my favorite writer buddy and brainstorm