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Author Topic: ROAD TO NINEVEH - Magical Realism  (Read 175 times)
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« on: July 05, 2018, 09:56:55 PM »

Chapter One

The man sat underneath the road sign, his back to the metal post, eyes squinting against the sun as the car - a nice one - slowed and came to a gradual stop, the driver-side window rolling down.

Present your guilt offering, he thought, and you shall be made clean.

A face appeared at the window; to Joe, it wasn’t anything special. It had the usual “I’m embarrassed to be stopping and hope no one sees me but I’d feel too ashamed of myself if I drove on, so here goes!” look on it. It was better than the wrinkled-nose-and-frown “One of them” look he frequently got, although he wasn’t sure which one he really preferred. At least the latter faces were completely honest.

A folded bill of some kind - maybe a twenty, given the car, but it was just as likely to be a dollar, in his experience - appeared out of thin air, like magic. It wavered, hesitant, caught on a breeze, then was extended past the window, a food offering to a cornered animal.

Joe shook his head. “Can’t walk,” he called out. “Vet.” None of it was true.

The man grimaced and nodded. “Sorry, sir. Hold on.” He opened the car door and with effort removed himself from the lap of luxury to approach. He waddled over, dressed in pleated khakis and a polo shirt, drops of perspiration already forming on his brow, and Joe instantly diagnosed him as a schmuck. A rich one, which was even worse.

This is who you want to save? he said in his head.

I WILL SAVE WHO I WILL, was the reply.

Joe was too tired to argue. He had long stopped caring, anyway.

The man reached down and held the bill - it was a twenty, glory be - toward Joe, who reluctantly reached up and took it. The man drew back, and Joe caught the look on his face: “Well, I did it - aren’t I a good boy!” For a moment, the gracious donor seemed like he wanted to say something, by the way his jaw was working, but he ultimately chose not to, which satisfied Joe, and turned to go back into his air-conditioned vehicle with a tight smile on his face.

“Wait,” Joe barked, guttural and tough like rocks grinding against each other. The man froze, then turned back, a questioning look on his doughy face.

One day you will not have me, he warned to himself. You take me for granted.

THAT IS NOT YOUR DECISION, CHILD, the voice replied, and Joe grimaced. He hated being called child, or son. Whose child was he? He belonged to no one, didn’t he?

“...Yeah, buddy?” the man said, with a faint, nervous chuckle, as if Joe were going to leap up and devour him from head to toe and dash away in his expensive car to whereabouts unknown.

“Down the road,” Joe said, jerking his head sharply behind him. “Mile and a half. You’re gonna come up on a four-way. Don’t turn left. Go right.”

The man tilted his head like a dog. “Uh, thanks, but I have GPS, so…”

Joe shook his head. Idiots don’t listen. Then: “Ignore your GPS. Turn right. Don’t turn left. Understand?”

“Why?” the man asked. His face was perplexed.

“Just do it,” Joe said, irritation riding the hot air from his mouth. “Thanks for the...you know,” he said, motioning with the folded twenty. He caught a whiff of alcohol on his own breath, and realized that his benefactor probably thought he was drunk. The man was half-right.

The man opened his mouth to speak, but shook his head and made his way back into the interior of his car before closing the door. He put the car in gear, then stared back at Joe, another familiar look on his face: the classic “Who the hell are you, buddy? What’s your game?” look.

Then he drove away, and Joe sighed. He knew what would happen. The man would turn left, instead of right, and the image that had flashed in his brain when he first laid eyes on the driver - an overturned hunk of twisted metal, charred black, water dripping from the frame from the firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the fire - would come true.

He knew it, in his bones, and it left a sour taste in his mouth.

Why? He asked, although he knew he wouldn’t get an answer. Why go through with the charade at all?

Nothing but silence responded.

“Useless,” he muttered to himself. “f**kin’ vapor, all of it.”

The man then stood, took just a bottle, left behind the other paltry possessions behind that he would no longer need, and walked away from the scene as, a mile and a half away, the driver turned left.

Joe stood on the bridge, his feet on the six inches of concrete that formed the edge, his back against the hard metal guardrail, his hands on either side of him, gripping the steel but not too tightly - holding on with just his fingertips, really, the fragile things.

Below him was the river. It was wide, and slow - or so it appeared. In his vast experience the quiet-looking rivers were the most dangerous. He suspected that beneath the tame surface was a strong current, not that one would be needed - he had never learned to swim. The fall itself might do the trick, anyway; he was up high above, with nothing but empty air between the soles of his feet and the inviting surface of the water.

All he would have to do is let go.

I’m going to do it, you know, he said.

No reply.

You think you know, but you don’t. You take us for granted, always have. We blind you so much you don’t know what we’ll do - you just push, and push, and demand, and demand.

Nothing in response.

All the long years, wandering up and down lonely highways, sleeping in alleys in the pouring rain and freezing snow, meandering through without purpose or aim. All of the messages he had delivered, to those unwilling to hear. All of the time he had wasted, on those who weren’t worth it.

All the pain he had swallowed and shoved down, deep into his gut. All the memories he had seared into his brain that he wasn’t allowed to forget.

He wasn’t allowed to forget. That was the cruelest part of it all. It was wicked, far more than a Sodom whose sin was that they could not conquer what the Creator had created them to be.

Joe’s mind was swirling at this point, a byproduct of the cheap booze he had consumed along the way to the bridge. He felt the depth of the darkness fall around him and he didn’t fight against it, not that he could’ve. You can’t fight the abyss, bless you. The abyss wins, always. His arms felt heavy and light at the same time, and he swayed, ever so slightly, on his heels.

Then he laughed - short, derisive. This was all pointless. He doubted he could die anyway.

You’d just save me. You’d do it. I know you would. Then a sober thought hit him: maybe not. Maybe not this time.

There’s just one way to find out, then. See you in Sheol.

He let go and fell forward and down toward the river.


Kira rubbed her belly, and something inside moved - and she wasn’t sure what she felt.

She was supposed to be happy. Babies are happy things, right? But if she were happy, wouldn’t her baby at least have a name by now? She hadn’t thought about it. Okay, that was a lie. She had, and on better days, she had even come up with a short list.

But then she would always come crashing back down to reality, and it was that reality that found her in the woods, attempting to camp without having any real idea how to do it, with no place to go and no idea how’d she get there.

And besides, the baby growing inside of her represented problems, not happiness. A lot of problems. She could only run away from so many. This was one she couldn’t run away from. No matter how far she went, or where she found herself. No matter what she did - and she wasn’t going to do that. She couldn’t.

A sigh. She would face that problem in a few months’ time. Right now, she had a more pressing problem: what she was going to do with herself, knowing that she couldn’t go back there and show her face around that house, not after everything, no way. Her arms circled her torso protectively, not so much guarding her baby - baby, oh God - as keeping darkness away.

Kira closed her eyes and felt a light breeze on her skin, and tried really hard to just exist, if only for a quiet moment. To not be anywhere or anyone, just for a second or two. To -

She heard a splash from the river to her left, a loud one, like something heavy had fallen in, and she opened her eyes and gasped as she saw arms flailing.

Kira got up from her seated position as quickly as a pregnant girl could and took off toward the riverbank, her lifeguard instincts kicking in. She ran over dirt, over brush, keeping an eye on the form in the water moving swiftly down the river. Caught in the current. The current. I’ve never done this in a river before. Jesus.

She came to the water’s edge, and for a second she hesitated. But the figure went under, disappearing completely, and she pressed her lips together and kicked off her shoes and waded in and started swimming, arms cleaving the water aside like Moses in Egypt.

Stroke. Stroke. Breath. Stroke. Stroke. Breath. She couldn’t see the person, just bubbles hitting the surface. He was moving fast. She had to adjust her angle, to try to intercept him. It was just geometry, Mr. Chambal would say, not rocket surgery. Just shapes.

More strokes. More breathing. It was harder to swim with her clothes on. And with the obvious. But she kept going, even though her arms were starting to burn because it had been months since she had last swam, when she quit the swim team after...after she found out.

But she kept going. Soon, she found herself in the middle of the river and knew that the person had to be around there somewhere, they just had to be, and she looked for bubbles. But none were coming up. The water wasn’t clear; she couldn’t see anything by looking in. She stuck her head underwater and opened her eyes. Brown water. Nothing to see.

She came back up, blinked to clear the water. Then she saw it - one big bubble. It broke the surface with a pop, an arm’s length away for the moment but growing more distant by the second, and with a powerful lunge she shot forward and desperately swept her hand under the water and hit fabric and grabbed, hard, and pulled.

It was a man, beard soaked and matted, hair plastered on his face. Kira looped her left arm under his left armpit and grabbed his right shoulder across his chest and put him on his back as she switched to her back and started kicking while pulling toward the shore with her right arm.

Stroke. Stroke. Stroke.

She couldn’t tell if the man was breathing, or conscious. If he wasn’t - no, focus, worry about the next step later. Just get back to shore.

Inhale, exhale. Stroke. Stroke.

Kira could see the shore but she could also feel her muscles burning. The man was heavier than she was and was dead weight. It was a struggle to keep his head clear of the water while moving them forward.

Stroke. Stroke. Kick. Kick.

She gritted her teeth. Narrowed her eyes. Blew air forcefully out of her nose. Gripped him by his shirt and shoulder so tight that her hands were cramping. His weight was pressing against her chest and pushing her into the water, so she had to keep him afloat while keeping her own face out of the river.

And keep them both from being swept down the river by the current she could feel beneath them, reaching up with arms to tug on her legs as they kicked with desperate determination.

Stroke. Kick. Breath.

Then, she felt something move. The man’s head jerked - once, twice - then his arms came up and flailed and she felt his body stiffen.

“What are you doing?” he gurgled. “Let go of me damn you!”

Kira ignored him, just gripped tighter. He gripped her forearm with his hands - they were strong - but he didn’t rip or claw at them, just held tight as he continued to growl and curse and shout.

“Let go of me! Damn you!” Some of the words he was shouting were in a language she didn’t understand. She didn’t care to. She just had to get them to the shore. To the shore. He could yell all he wanted after they were safe on the riverbank but until then she had to keep swimming, stroke, kick, breath, stroke, kick, breath, stroke -

He twisted suddenly and turned over and broke free of her grip and threw himself away from her, and Kira’s head went under and she almost sucked in a mouthful of cold river water. She gasped and whipped her head around.

And saw that he was standing near the shore, the water only chest-high, a murderous, crazed look in his eyes.

She pulled toward the shore and found her own footing in the soft mud and stood there. They stared at each other. Or, she looked at him, her chest heaving and fear flushing her face, while he stood with bared teeth.

Then he turned, wordlessly, and trudged out of the water, and she let him go for a few seconds until she, too, walked back to the shore, not wanting to be around him, but not having anywhere else to go.

They found themselves on the sandy riverbank, soaking wet, water dripping from their sodden clothing. For moments, they tended to themselves, squeezing out water and dealing with their hair - hers was a mess, typically, but at least she had had it cut in the past three years unlike him - and recovered. She glanced at him from time to time, watchful. He was a wreck, not just because he was soaking wet; it looked like his clothes didn’t fit and were mismatched. Between that and the unkempt black beard and hair with streaks of gray, Kira guessed he was homeless. His skin had the same color and texture as leather. He looked worn, and tired.

The silence continued, until they both stopped, and looked at each other again, chests rising and falling as their pulses slowed.

The man closed his eyes. “You were supposed to let me drown. You weren’t supposed to save me,” he said, his tone menacing.

“I’m sorry, but I wasn’t going to let you - “

“I wasn’t talking to you,” he snapped, his wild eyes open. He pointed a crooked finger at her. “But you should’ve minded your own business. I didn’t want your help.”

Kira blinked, swallowed, taken aback. “I...I’m sorry, I just - “

“Sorry, sorry, bah, always sorry, they are,” he said, flapping his hands, before continuing the sentence in that same guttural language she didn’t recognize. The rant continued on; he would stomp his feet, or shake his head, or clench and unclench his fists, and occasionally his voice would grow louder and he’d jab at her and no one in particular with his index finger, and he ran a hand through his hair and pulled on his beard.

Kira just hugged herself, shrinking back. Feeling very vulnerable. And very alone.

“Look, mister, I’m sorry for saving your life,” she said to him eventually, even though she knew it was a ludicrous thing to say, to apologize for doing good.

The man stopped his rant, and peered at her sideways. Then he flapped a hand dismissively at her and sunk to the ground, suddenly spent.

“Forget it,” he muttered. “Just...forget it.”

Kira hugged herself tighter, not sure what to do or say. Should she leave him? He clearly wasn’t in his right mind. Or maybe he was just stressed, or his nerves were shot from almost drowning. Falling into a river is a scary thing. She couldn’t imagine being that close to death and being okay with it all.

She started to leave, to go back to her pathetic campsite a few dozen yards up the shoreline, back in the trees and resume doing what she was doing before - trying to figure out life and everything associated with it - when he looked up at her from sitting on the beach, his eyes no longer crazed but just...tired, maybe.

“What’s your name, girl,” he said, quietly.

She swallowed. “Kira,” she said.

“Joe.” He touched himself on the chest, let his hand drop. “I’m...Joe.” He paused. “Short for Jonah, but I don’t answer to that anymore.”

“Uh, nice to meet you, Joe,” she said slowly.

“Yeah,” he grunted. “Real nice.” He was about to say something else, but then he cocked his head to the side, looking off past her into the distance. She turned and didn’t see anything, and turned back, eyebrows raised. What was he doing?

Joe shook his head, and sighed. Then he peered back up at her and shook his head again before speaking.

What he said next sent a bolt of lighting through her.

“Kira,” he said.

“Yeah?” she replied.

He pointed at her belly. “Does the father of your child know he’s not really the father?”


Repped by Marisa Corvisiero of the Corvisiero Literary Agency
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« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2018, 03:20:57 PM »

I like this premise a lot, and I can quickly understand what's at stake for both Kira and Joe. Although this isn't a genre I usually read, I'd look forward to reading more of this.

Without going into line edits of a full chapter, I think there's work to be done on clarity and efficiency.

Sometimes clarity of scene, such as "...his feet on the six inches of concrete..." followed a sentence later with "nothing but empty air between the soles of his feet and the inviting surface of the water."

Sometimes clarity of voice (a difficult thing to carry off for an MC with voices in his head Smiley, but still...). The very first inner voice, for instance—"Present your guilt offering, he thought, and you shall be made clean."—is that really Joe's thought, or is that the voice of the force who inhabits him? The use of quotes to indicate Joe's presumption of the driver's attitude is a hard mechanism to pick up in the midst of other quoted voices. The use of moderate omniscience to tell us Kira's attitude is occasionally shifted to the use of direct inner dialogue. You're doing a lot of work inside people's heads in this story, and it's going to take precise control for you to lead us safely and surely through these wild mental landscapes.

Sometimes I was distracted by an unneeded descriptor that we could already intuit from the context. "...removed himself from the lap of luxury..." for instance. We can already tell this is a guy who pampers himself. Or, "What he said next sent a bolt of lightning through her." Let US be jolted by the power of what he's said, rather than just telling us that she was jolted. And both of those direct statements lead you into cliche as well. Your descriptions already do that work better.

There are plenty of other small things I'd touch on, but all by way of saying that the overall structure gives us a pretty compelling story, and I'm ready to know more about Joe, more about Kira, and more about the adventure the two of them are about to embark upon. That's the job of a first chapter, and you've got that.
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