June 5, 2014

Crowd Source Decision Making

Hi there! 

Today's the first day of the rest of my...summer? Ha! Yep, Zoe graduated kindergarten yesterday, and while my thoughts on that subject I'll save for another day, it has put into sharp focus the fact that my summer is here. Less time to work, more time to play. Which is all well and good, but I still have plans. Big plans. I want to write a book in my *spare* time, but Zoe and I are currently in debate about which book I want to write. She thinks I should finish a kid's horror novel I've been mucking with for a while; I'd like to finally tackle that adult Holocaust-themed magic realism thing that won't leave me alone. I'm not sure who's going to win, but either way I can't wait to start writing. 

That'll begin next week....I'm taking today and tomorrow off. 

Ish.

The other decision I have to make is this: I've got a book, called JO, and I'm thinking of releasing it this summer. I love it. Charles loves it. My brother loves it. 

I'm just terrified of that thing called "formatting digital files." The learning curve would be steep and intimidating, so I'd like to feel like it'll be worth it in the end. 

Ya know?

Anyway, I figured I'd crowd source a bit now...and maybe build up some momentum that'll carry me through publishing this beast. So here's the first chapter of JO. I'd love to know what you think!


****

Part 1: Preservation

I’m dead.
Sort of.
I thought you should know that right away, because this story won’t end well for me. I don’t have much longer. The battery that’s powering my brain is shutting down.
I’m sitting in my dorm room in the middle of the night. My mother’s asleep on the bed, and she’s snoring. It’s not a loud snore, not by any means, but it’s soft and it’s nasal and it’s there. I hear it. It transports me back in time, back to the days before things went sour and I had all the time in the world. Back then, sometimes, when I was very small, my mother and I had sleepovers in my bedroom, pretending we were girlfriends. We’d paint our nails and eat ice cream and giggle for hours.
Then my mother would fall asleep on the bottom bunk, and she’d snore like she’s snoring right now. So soft, so gentle. I’d lay in the top bunk and listen to her for hours. I loved feeling so close, so intimate, like I was the only one in the world who got to be with her like that. I felt so safe, those nights in my room so far away from here.
Right now, I wish I felt safe. I wish I could fall asleep to the sound of my mother’s snores, like when I was a little girl. I’m so tired. But I won’t let myself sleep yet. Because if I do, I won’t wake up, and I haven’t told you my story. I want you to hear it. I need you to hear it. Are you ready?
First, and most important, I’m not almost-dead by choice. I didn’t choose to be this way. I didn’t choose to become a monster.
That choice was made for me.
And second. Second is this: the smallest decisions, the smallest choices in your life, can sometimes have the biggest impacts. You never know where you’re going to end up, and who you’re going to hurt in the process of living your life carelessly.
Me? I made a series of choices that tangled me up with some of the ugliest sort of people I could have imagined. I got my best friend, my boyfriend, even my parents involved. It’s been a disaster, and though the end has come for me, it hasn’t for everyone else. These bad guys won’t stop. No. They have big plans, regardless of the outcome of my little story.
So that’s why I need to share it with you. Maybe if you listen, if you hear, you can help stop them.



Chapter 1

A blizzard raged outside Eli Peterson’s apartment, and I ran back to his bed and pulled his tattered, stained comforter tighter around my shoulders, shivering against the idea of the snow outside. He, in turn, pulled me in closer to his bare chest, the warmth of his body soothing and comfortable. Slowly I stopped shivering.
“Why’d you get up,” he asked, his voice thick and sleepy.
“I had to pee.”
He laughed and wrapped his body around me, turning me to my side, sliding his legs through mine until we were as tangled as a pretzel.
I couldn’t get used to sleeping that way. I always waited for him to fall asleep, and then I’d wriggle out from his grasp and over to the far side of the bed, where sometimes, if I was lucky, I’d manage to catch a few hours of rest before the next morning’s classes.
Wind howled outside, slamming a tree branch into Eli’s window. I jumped. “Stupid storm,” I said. “I’ll never fall asleep with all that noise. I’ll be late for Price’s class, and he’ll dock my grade, and when my father sees my report card he’ll kill me.” I groaned and pulled away.
Eli wasn’t bothered. Still half-asleep, his voice was a mumble. “Maybe it’ll be so bad they’ll shut down campus tomorrow. Maybe we’ll have the day off.”
I laughed, and it was sharp and somewhat rude. “Yeah, right,” I said, poking at his hand as it tried to slide back around my waist. “Are you crazy? This is Smytheville. Smytheville never closes for snow. Ever.
Eli quit grabbing me, quit trying to pull me back to him, and he rolled on his back, fully awake. He sighed. “Aren’t you just little miss sunshine tonight?”
“I’m just tired,” I whined. “And you were snoring, and the storm is so loud, and I can’t sleep!”
He sighed again, and sat up, swinging his legs out from under the covers.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To get a drink.”
Eli stood, his boxers hanging loose on his hips. When he opened the door to his room strains of Pink Floyd filtered in from one of his roommate’s ancient stereo systems. I flopped back on the bed, pulling his pillow over my head. “Why does everything have to be so loud?”
By the time Eli shuffled back to bed, my frustration at not being able to sleep had me raring for a fight. He slid in beside me and tried again to pull me to him, but I pulled away.
“What now,” he said, and I could tell from his voice that he was getting irritated.
I smiled my sweetest, most innocent smile, one I knew he could see in the dim light from the streetlight that was barely visible through the raging storm outside. “I was just wondering,” I said. “What you’ve decided about med school, and what we’ll do when you graduate in May.”
Eli groaned. “Really? You want to talk about this now? It’s two a.m. and you have class in the morning.”
“Whatever,” I said. “It’ll be canceled, you’re right. And I’m just curious.”
“Why are you curious now, Jo?”
I ran a finger down his side, satisfied when I felt goose bumps rise to the surface of his skin. I kissed his shoulder. “Well, it’s just…” I paused, giving him some time to think. “It’s just that the guy I told you about last week – the big German soccer player in my bio lab – well, he asked me out to a show this weekend.”
Now it was Eli’s turn to pull away. He gave me a hard look. “And you’re telling me this why?”
“Well, I told him I’d think about it. I wanted to see if it would bother you if I went?”
“Bother me? Would it bother me? Are you serious? Would it bother me if my girlfriend went out with another guy?”
I sat up straight in the bed, pulled my bare legs out from beneath the covers and slung them over the side. “Oh, so now I’m your girlfriend? Now that someone else wants to take me out? Why aren’t I your girlfriend when I ask about med school? Or when your friends want you to go hang out with them instead of me? I’m not your girlfriend then, am I?”
“Oh, come on, Jo,” he said, and his hands balled into fists. He took a deep breath, and I saw him count silently to ten before he spoke again. “Knock it off. You’re tired, and when you’re tired, you get crazy. You know you’re my…”
“Now I’m crazy, huh?” I felt my cheeks turn pink, and my hands tremble. Tears burned in my eyes – I always cried when angry, and the presence of tears never failed to increase my fury. “Crazy. Wow. It’s nice to know what you really think of me, Eli. Now I know why you won’t talk about May with me. A doctor doesn’t need a crazy wife!”
“Jesus, who’s talking about getting married! You’re nineteen. Jolene Hall, would you please calm down and go to sleep. We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
I stared at him. His cheeks were flushed, his body tensed for a tussle. We stood on opposite sides of his rumpled bed. Outside, the storm was loud, but inside things felt worse. I turned my back on Eli and walked over to my pile of clothes in the corner of his room. I dug out my jeans and pulled them on.
“Come on,” Eli said, walking over to me and taking my arm. “What are you doing?”
“Going home,” I said, tears finally spilling out of my eyes. “I don’t want to burden you with my craziness anymore.”
He tried to pull me to him, but I yanked my arm away from his grip. “Leave me alone,” I said. “It’s nice to finally know what you really think.”
“Jo,” he said. “You know I don’t think you’re crazy. I misspoke. You’re not going home in the middle of this storm and we both know it. Now take off your jeans and come back to bed.”
Part of me wanted to. Part of me wanted to let him comfort me, let him hold me and kiss me and apologize for calling me crazy.
But a bigger part of me was led by a need to get out, to run away, and so I made a choice. The choice. The choice that would change everything.
I slapped his hand away. “I’ll be fine,” I said. I pulled on my boots and heavy winter coat. “I’m not afraid of the snow. And I don’t want to stay here with you another minute, you stubborn, stupid asshole.”
Eli had a slow fuse. It was hard to get him angry. “Fine,” he said, his voice shaking. His shoulders rose and fell with deep breaths. “Go then. Go be the spoiled little brat I always knew you were. Go out with your Russian guy…”
“He’s German!
“I don’t fucking care! Go out with whoever you want, and get the fuck out of my life.”

****

It only took me a minute to finish getting dressed. I slung my bag over my shoulder, pulled out my cell phone, and stomped down the stairs. When I opened the door, the force of the wind outside was almost enough to make me turn around and wait out the storm in the living room, but then I saw Eli coming down after me. I gave him one last, withering look, and I stepped out into the blinding, pelting, violent snow.

****

The next thing I knew, I woke up inside a morgue.
Of course, it took me a few minutes to figure that out. All I knew at first was that I was cold. So cold, in fact, I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. And I know people say that all the time, that they can’t feel their hands or feet, but what they really mean is that their hands and feet hurt in that bizarre way we all equate with “not feeling them.”
But me? Right then? I really couldn’t feel my hands and feet. There was an absence there that my brain couldn’t explain, an inability to move my fingers or wiggle my toes. I shivered in the cold, and I could feel my body shake, but not at all my hands or feet. They were gone.
My eyes were shut tight, the lids glued together like a kid with crusted-over pinkeye. I would have reached up a hand to pry them open, had I been able to feel even one of my hands. Since I couldn’t, I lay on my back, blind, as cold seeped upwards from whatever hard, freezing surface was beneath me. I definitely wasn’t in my dorm, nor was I on the creaky mattress at Eli’s. Like Dorothy and Toto, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. In fact, I had no idea where I was.
I tried to open my eyes. I tried so hard the muscles in my neck spasmed with the effort. But my eyes remained closed, and my hands and feet remained numb.
So then I moaned.
Really, I tried to cry out, to shout for help. But all I managed was a moan, and even that came out all wrong. It was an inhuman sound, unlike any I’d ever uttered. It became another lopsided piece to the bizarre-o puzzle my brain couldn’t fit together in those first few seconds. Because that’s all it was. Just a few seconds.
I moaned again, that creepy, guttural sound. I tried to roll to my side. I couldn’t. Groaning, I leveraged the little movement I’d managed to roll to the other side.
I was perhaps a bit too successful. I rolled over the edge of the rock-hard bed (or at least, in some terrified, panicked part of my brain, I thought it was a bed) and fell with a crash to the rock-hard floor. My head hit the ground with a jolt that sent something like electricity crackling through my body.
And suddenly I was on again. Zap. Just like that. The bang to my head was apparently all I needed. My eyes flew open, crusties be damned, and my hands and feet sprang back to life. Sitting up, I rubbed my head with a hand that felt new and exciting. I was no longer cold, filled instead with a sudden, almost burning, energy that flowed through my muscles with a twitching intensity. I blinked a few times to clear my eyes -- they felt dust-bowl dry – and ran my hands through my hair, catching them in a few thick tangles. As my vision came into focus, I was able to begin to process my surroundings.
The ground on which I sat was as hard as the bed from which I fell. But no, I realized. Not a bed. It’s a table. It was tall and made from stainless steel, with long legs ending in dusty black wheels. The floor was white tile, flecked with gray, and it was spotless but for some splatters of green goo that surrounded my immediate location. I wrinkled my nose at the goo, afraid to look beyond it to see whatever else there was to see. From that first impression, I wondered if I was in a hospital…or a warehouse.
A warehouse? That doesn’t feel right, I thought. But a hospital. Yes. That makes sense. Something must have happened. I’m a patient somewhere. But where is everyone? Why am I alone? Why am I on the floor?
I…began to freak out. Just a little. The weird thing was, even though I was terrified, even though I should have felt my heart racing and my stomach flip-flopping and my face sweating, I felt nothing. I wasn’t even panting.
Then I noticed I wasn’t breathing. Not even the tiniest bit. I took a deep breath to see what would happen, and the mechanics of breathing worked. The air came in, the air went out. But as soon as I stopped thinking about it, I stopped breathing again. And I didn’t feel like I needed to breathe, which was really weird.
So then I panicked.
A lot.
I yanked myself to my feet (it was a little more difficult than normal, but really, what with waking up alone in some crazy, unidentified space, I hardly had time to notice), and finally saw the room around me without table legs and shelves blocking my view.
Definitely not a warehouse.
Fluorescent lights in stainless steel hoods swung from chains below a high gray ceiling. Perfectly square cabinets covered with white Formica filled three of the four walls. They looked vaguely familiar, like maybe I’d seen cabinets like them in some 70s detective rerun. Matlock. Murder She Wrote. A flash of light flickered against a silver table, and I turned to it.
Beside me stood three other tables, identical to the one from which I’d fallen, and on each of the three tables lay the three dead bodies of three dead girls.
Dead. I’m in a morgue.
I opened my mouth to scream. All that came out was another moan.

****

From the OoA files, dated December 12:
Design Doc 32-A
Iteration 3
Vocal chords are problematic. They are delicate and rupture easily. Care must be taken to preserve the integrity of a subject’s voice in order to achieve full integration. This can be accomplished via a swab of oil (vegetable or olive; peanut has caused reactions in those with allergies) along the back of the throat every two hours during procedures.

4 comments:

w_layne_h said...

i have already read this and loved it. you should definitely publish it this summer. then start on/finish that next book. the offer for taking photos for that holocaust book still stands. :)

Lewis said...

Oh this is really, really good! I want to keep reading!

Leah said...

Sweet. Thanks guys!!

Kathy Brown said...

Loved the story! Mr. Tufo's fantastic writing ability just goes to prove that marijuana does Not damage brain cells!!! ; )

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