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Day 30: Last of the Random Excerpts (#6)

Mitch lifted a hand to gingerly probe his temples, which were pounding so hard he thought he might be on the verge of having a stroke.  The name in his mind, the one that seemed to belong to him, felt strange, alien, like a tag some zoo-keeper had arbitrarily hung around his neck.  None of the avalanche of images that had flooded into him seemed any more real than a movie flashing on a screen.

“What did you do to me?”

“It’s more what I did through you,” Eve said.  “I had to reach someone, and it meant breaking down a few doors along the way.  I wouldn’t have done it if I’d had any other choice, believe me.”

Mitch was filled with so many questions, that picking one seemed to take a great effort.  He finally settled on, “What the hell are we doing here?”

Eve tucked the filthy scrap of cloth into her jacket pocket, and rocked back on her heels.  “I haven’t quite worked that out yet.  What I do know is, that I was stupid enough to drag my cousin into all this, and if anything’s happened to him…  He’s just a kid, and he’s out there somewhere.  I don’t know if they’ve taken him, or what they might have done if they did.  All I know is, I have to find him, and get him back home in one piece, or my mom and Francine are going to kill me.  And I wouldn’t blame them.  Oh, and by the way…”  Her head lifted, and her body went very still.  Then she slowly reached down, and picked up the long metal pipe.  “I think there’s something else down here with us.”

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One Step Over the Finish Line: Random Excerpt #5

Aidan suspected that the stranger didn’t smile like that normally, might even be surprised if he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror.  The man looked oddly… happy.  Not lost or harried, but happy.  Aidan almost wished he hadn’t said anything, found himself thinking that things would have been better if they had never come here at all.  He felt somehow that it was his fault – their fault, his and Eve’s.  Why couldn’t they leave the man the way he was?  It would be kinder, wouldn’t it?  He might stay like this forever, or he might gradually fade away, but maybe that’s what heaven was.  Maybe the man was dead, and this was his ghost, or his soul, or spirit, or something like that, and this is where he belonged.

“I hate to be the one to tell you this…” Eve began.

The man looked away, the smile slipping, the contentment hardening into something that happiness had no part in.

“You’re going to say you’re sorry again, aren’t you.”

[Final total at the end of the day: 50,280 words for November]

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Final Week Count-Down: Random Excerpt #4

Then there was the problem of the watch.  It had been given to her on her sixteenth birthday, one week before she had left.  It was a modern watch, designed to look like an antique, with a brushed gold band and stylized Roman numerals on an ivory face.  The problem was not that it had stopped, but rather that it had simply ceased telling the time.  She knew it was working, because she could hear it when she held it up to her ear, a steady, reassuring tick-tick-tick, like a tiny metal heartbeat.  It would have been more reassuring if the hands were moving.  Sometimes she thought they had, but when she checked again, she saw that the time had not changed.  It was always 11:59.  She had, for some time now, been making a list of all the things she would willingly give up if it would only tick over to twelve o’clock.

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Final Week Count-Down: Random Excerpt #3

Back in the vast, dripping, bare, cold expanse that the signs on the door proclaimed to be level B3, Eve knelt on the concrete floor. She seemed to be looking at something. At first Mitch thought it was just a stain, or a puddle. Then he realized she was not looking at the floor, but at her own hands, with a kind of blank bafflement, as if she had been holding something only a second before, and now it was inexplicably gone.

Mitch spun around, remembering the darkness, how it had moved, and the mouth that had opened wide, and swallowed them in, and how he had thought he would feel the teeth tearing at him, shredding him, how he had expected to be devoured, crushed, obliterated. But it hadn’t happened. It hadn’t been a dream, either – everything that had happened, had been real, in its own way, but here, on level B3, in what he realized now was nothing more or less than a prison, almost no time at all had passed. Seconds, maybe, if that.

Someone was missing, though. There had been a boy with them, but no, the boy had never been here, only there. Mitch shook his head, realized instantly that this was a mistake – the pain was back, a hot steel blade piercing his skull, severing thoughts and reason.

“Where…” he began, but could not finish the question. He had been about to ask, “where’s the kid?”, but he knew what the answer would be.

“That’s it.” Eve’s voice was as tight as her hands, which had curled into clenched fists. She rose smoothly to her feet, like a dancer, her face set, eyes dangerously bright. “I’ve had enough of this. I don’t know what’s taking them so long, but whatever it is, I don’t care. I’m done. We’re getting out, now.”

Mitch momentarily considered questioning the certainty with which Eve made this statement, then decided it was wiser not to.

“Whatever you say,” he said. “You want to tell me how, I’m all ears.”

“Ever tried to move a mountain?” The question was unexpected, but then again, so was everything else lately.

“Not personally, no.”

“Well,” said Eve. “There’s a first time for everything, right?”

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Final Week Count-Down: Random Excerpt #2

I’ve been so caught up with writing and rehearsals that I completely forgot I was going to post regular excerpts here.  So I decided to make up for it by posting one a day for the final 6 days of NaNoWriMo. Looking over the previous passage, I realized it was far too long for a blog post, so these will all be short and easily digestible (like cookies; although given the complete lack of either context or editing, cookies that fall into the “how did these get here, and why do they have a sign saying ‘eat me’?” category).


Sometimes, in a good moment, when the sun emerged from behind the clouds and kissed the world so the grass shone green once more and winks of blue hinted at a real sky, when the puddles lay like pools of light and the telephone wires caught fire and stretched before him along the road in looping lines of molten gold – then, and only then, and only sometimes, he would remember his name.  He could no longer be sure whether the name belonged to the man in the dreams, or who he had been before the long walk began, when he had other men at his side, and at his back, but it was a name nonetheless, and so better than nothing.

In these moments, he would say it out loud, relishing in the sound of it, despite the hoarse, cracked, phlegm choked sound of his voice.  He would say it over and over, matching it to the rhythm of his steps, the beat of his heart, the drawing in and exhaling of breath, the sound his boots made against the gravel, or the packed earth, or the asphalt.  He would repeat it until his voice cleared, until the wretched, tortured sound of it smoothed, morphed into something that sounded like a real voice.  He would continue to say it, until his voice began to grown hoarse and dry once more, and then he would stop, and take a draw on his canteen.

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NaNo Novel excerpt #1

Everyone knew him as Old Man Whitling.  Jenny Dearborn said it sounded more like a description than a name, and he had been known to take a pen-knife to a piece of wood from time to time, although he hadn’t the knack that Charlie had.  Percy Cox said they’d called Mr. Whitling that even before he was old.  He had been that kind of man almost since birth, it was said, going on about how things were better “back in the day”, although what day this referred to was never precisely specified.

Charlie managed to withstand the old man’s piercing blue gaze for all of five minutes, then decided he didn’t like being stared at by strange old men.  It was creepy, and rude besides, and it was distracting him from bridge building.  Charlie put the last of the foundation stones in place, and straightened up, looking the old man square in the eyes.  He was tall enough now, taller than most everyone at school, even the teachers.

“Hello,” he said.  Then, because his mother had taught him to be polite, “My name’s Charlie.”

“I know,” Old Man Whitling said.  His voice was like marbles rolling around in a clay bowl.  The rattle turned into a cough, and then a black gob of spit that arched out over the stream.  “Whole county knows who you are.  ‘The boy who found the body’, that’s what they say.”

“Is it?”  Charlie couldn’t help feeling pleased that people he had never met might know who he was.

“It is.”  Old Man Whitling pointed a thick-knuckled finger at the stones, and the piles of carefully hewn branches.  “That won’t hold you up.  Wouldn’t hold up a squirrel.”

“It’s not for me,” Charlie explained patiently.  “Not for squirrels, either.”

“For who, then?”

Charlie shrugged, embarrassment making his cheeks hot.  Old Man Whitling did not seem like the type who would understand about the Walkers, and so Charlie said, “It’s just practice.  Like making a model, before you make the real thing.”

“Sounds like a waste of time,” Old Man Whitling said.  “Why not just build the real thing first time out?”

“It’s not as easy as that,” Charlie said.

Old Man Whitling pushed himself away from the tree and stumped forward, leaning heavily on the walking stick.  He squinted at the pile of sticks, and spat again, this time into the tangle of water mint that was curling around the submerged stones, teased there by the slow current.
“Why not?”

“It’s engineering,” Charlie said.

In his mind this was all the explanation that was required, but the old man stared at him, clearly waiting for him to continue.

“If you want it to work,” Charlie said, “You have to fix it so that the force and torque balance without exceeding the strength of any individual piece.  Otherwise it falls down.”  He said it slowly, the way you might explain something to a not-very-bright child.  It was one of those things he thought everybody knew, like how lift makes birds fly.  He wondered what the old man had been doing all his life, that he had missed out on such basic information.

Old Man Whitling looked at Charlie as if he had starting speaking in a foreign language.

After a moment, the old man said, “So, read a lot of books, do you?”

Charlie shrugged.  “Some.  For school, mostly.”

Old Man Whitling pulled out a dirty grey handkerchief, put it to his nose, and proceeded to make a sound somewhere between a fog-horn and an elephant’s roar.  He then stuffed the handkerchief back in his pocket.  “And what do you do when you’re not reading books, for school mostly?”

Charlie looked at the sticks and stones, and back at the old man, wondering if this was a trick question.  “I build things,” he said.  “Sometimes I have to take them apart first.  But I usually manage to put them back together again.”

“Usually.”  This time the wheezing sound the old man made sounded almost like a laugh.  Then his massive brows dove together, forming a deep cartoonish V, and he glared at Charlie from under them like a troll peering out from under a ledge.  “So then, Mr. Charlie Dreydon, the builder-book-reader.  What, exactly, are your intentions?”

Charlie considered this.  Either the old man was having trouble grasping the simple concept that a twelve-year-old boy might want to build a bridge out of sticks on a sunny summer day, or he was referring to something else.

“With regard to what?” Charlie asked, as neutrally as possible.

Old Man Whitling made that wheezing sound again.  “With regard to what,” he echoed, and slapped his thigh.  “Ha.  I mean, of course, with regard to our Abigail.”

Charlie felt the heat in his cheeks spreading out to his ears and down his neck, and knew he was blushing, and that his freckles would surely be standing out like a thousand brown polka dots on a bright red field.  He tried to hide his face behind his hair, which was over-long – Grandma Dreydon would soon be after him with a pair of sharp shearing scissors – but not quite long enough.

“Ah,” Old Man Whitling said, as if Charlie had answered him.  “Your silence speaks volumes, my young friend.”

Charlie felt a surge of anger, and clenched his fists to keep it from spilling out into words.  He wanted to tell the old man that he was most definitely not his friend, and that he had a gob of spittle on his scruffy grey beard, and would he please go away and stop bothering him, but he gritted his teeth and said none of these things.

Charlie gave another shrug, and resumed his work by the stream’s edge, putting his back to the old man, doing his best to pretend that he didn’t care.

“I don’t even know her,” he said.  By which he meant, of course, she doesn’t even know that I exist.  But that would have made him sound like a pathetic, love-lorn sheep, which he most certainly was not.

“Oh, but you will,” Old Man Whitling declared.  “And I need to know that your intentions are of the noble variety, pure as the driven snow, utterly without guile or mischief, because otherwise you and I will have to have a serious Conversation, and it won’t be pretty.”

The old man said the word ‘conversation’ in such a way as to make it plenty clear that he really meant something else, something more along the lines of ‘confrontation’, but infinitely less pleasant.

Charlie turned and faced the old man.  “She’s never even said a single word to me.  So it seems to me, my intentions don’t matter one way or the other.” He kept his voice calm and matter-of-fact.  It was what his mother liked to call his diplomat’s voice.  She was sure that someday her youngest boy would cease his incessant dabbling with tree houses and bridges and old short-wave radios, and grow up to become a famous politician.  He had given up trying to dissuade her of this notion, since telling her that he would rather earn his wages as an organ grinder’s monkey, or perhaps a rotten apple taster, had not made much of an impact on her convictions.

“Look here, boy.”  Old Man Whitling took two long strides forward, so that his spit-speckled beard was almost touching Charlie’s nose, his rank tobacco breath rolling out like a cloying fog.  He stuck out a long, gnarled digit and poked Charlie’s chest with it, twice, so that Charlie had to take a step back to keep his balance, the heel of his boot splashing into the mud at the stream’s edge.

“I’ll tell you this once, and never again,” the old man snarled.  “One day that girl will see you for what you are.  And if you break her heart, so help me God I will end you.”

Fear found Charlie then, a sick, sharp heat that rose from his stomach up to his Adam’s apple and turned his limbs rigid.  He understood, now, why everyone always kept their distance from Old Man Whitling, why even the tall, horse-strong farm-hands nodded their head in deference whenever he walked by.  Charlie decided if it ever did come time for a confrontation, he would prefer to have it with the snaggle-toothed old Grizzly bear who had taken to rummaging through the town dump and stealing all the carp from Mary Godstone’s fish pond.

It was only after Old Man Whitling had stomped off down the path that led to the Miller’s house, muttering under his breath all the while, that Charlie grasped the implication of what had been said.

One day Abby Whitling would see him for what he was, and that would somehow lead to the possibility of his breaking her heart.  It was, he thought, by way of being the oddest back-handed compliment he had ever received.  Charlie realized his mouth was hanging open, and pressed it shut.  When he resumed his construction, he did so whistling, with a smile on his lips.


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