Mary Anne Gruen, who heard of this from Raquel Brynes who is hosting the blogfest. Today seems to be the last day to enter, so I came in unfashionably late.
Raquel is/was hosting a Primal Scream Blogfest. She was(is?) looking for the most "heart pumping scene" in your WIP, and has 22 people signed up to share their stories. I liked the idea so much, I decided to swipe borrow it for my blog since I'm so late at attending the party. But do please follow the links and read those other excerpts from writers who were on the ball (unlike me) to officially sign up for the affair.
Here's my little piece, which isn't so little. A chapter from a completed manuscript that I had set aside for some time so I can look at it later with fresher eyes to do a final read-through before querying getting beta readers/crit partners (anyone interested in the job?) It was so hard to just pick one scene. Hopefully, I've picked the right one to get the blood pumping erratically through the ticker.
This was the fifth time Graham had filled the stone in the past hour. Too long ago he’d stopped feeling the tips of his toes and fingers. He also stopped looking at his body and the faded edges winking in and out in the light.
He felt tired now, always so tired. Dangerously tired as he barely scraped the stone from his palm and dropped it into Marty’s hands. Graham wanted some sleep and couldn’t remember the last time he had any. His body also had the cold shakes as he turned up the heater as high as it’d go. Graham was losing too much of himself for the blood to circulate and keep him warm.
The memory of the homeless man kept returning to his thoughts. He relived every moment of it when his body slid into the man. Graham wondered whether the man had any family or if anyone’d miss him. Yet he didn’t have the slightest clue on how to contact them. He didn’t even find out the drunk’s name. It was like the man never existed. Living the life he led, many people already saw the man like this long ago. One moment there and the next moment gone, and no one thought either way about it.
Graham watched the bloodhound nap in the chair. Twice he thought of draining the dog and twice he shuddered about it. He couldn’t do it. Graham accepted the full responsibility in feeding his life into the stone.
Yet for how long?
He pushed off the side of the bed and moved toward the lobby headed for the break room. His stomach was far from wanting any food. Yet he needed to keep up his strength for his boy and the stone and the life he willingly gave up to it. Graham’s feet bounced across the floor; now used to the weightless feeling. He made it to the stove and heated up some soup. Then he hurried back to the storage room and laid the pot right on his legs, knowing he should scream in pain at the heat. Yet he barely felt it against his pants.
Graham had a few spoonfuls in his mouth when he felt the hand on his shoulder. He looked over and smiled. “How you doing, boy?”
“Don’t feel good, Pa. Don’t feel good at all. Like the time when I fell off the deck and all those people came.”
Graham remembered the moment. It was the first time Marty went to the hospital. His boy had scurried himself along the side of the rail, standing on the edge on the opposite side as he shimmied his butt around each rail post. He had held on, chattering away about his baseball team when suddenly his words faded into nonsense. Polly and Graham had looked over and watched their boy’s eyes roll up into his head and his arms slide off the rail. Marty had fallen to the ground without a sound.
Graham didn’t know who was more scared about it on that day: him or Polly. Yet they knew something more was going on in Marty’s body than what their family doctor kept writing off in the medical records as simple viruses. It was the time Marty had started his visits to the hospital, and had his visits with the specialists.
“Want you to eat something, boy. Can you get up for me a bit?” Graham shifted off the bedroll and folded it into a tight bundle. His hands wedged it behind the pillow, propping up Marty’s body. He rested the pot on the covers and used both hands in lifting the spoon. The left hand steered it toward his son’s mouth while his right kept the other hand from shaking too much. His boy took his time between each swallow, only having ten spoonfuls before refusing the rest. He wished Marty would eat more, yet he didn’t push the issue any more than he pushed himself into eating more tonight.
Miter had lifted his head the moment he smelled the soup in the room. Graham rested the pot on the floor as the dog jumped over the armrest and padded over. He listened to the bloodhound’s lapping tongue as he leaned against the bedframe. His eyes stared at the unmoving stone people, wishing one of them could tell him an answer. Then he felt a tug on his hair.
“Pa, can we talk?”
“Sure, Marty.” Graham turned to the side. His finger pointed toward the space heater. “Too hot for you?”
His boy shook his head. Marty plucked at a loose string on the blanket, tugging, as it unraveled bit by bit. “Why were you crying?”
Graham’s lips flapped, looking for a way past the embarrassment. He frowned. “When you see me do such a thing?”
“Some time ago. My eyes opened and I saw your head on the bed. Must’ve been doing it for a while ‘cause there was a wet spot on the blankets.”
“Drool.” Graham replied quickly and wiped at his mouth, reinforcing the issue. “Took a nap. Tired when I came back to the fort. I went outside . . .” He stopped. His body flinched at the thought of where he’d gone and what he’d done.
“Pa, why’s the stone like this?” Marty pinched it up in fingers and tilted his head, gazing at the lightening red color. “How come it can make me feel better?”
“I don’t know why it can do what it does. Maybe all stars can do it,” Graham said. He had the feeling his boy had asked the question in a different way. Yet he pretended otherwise with his answer.
Marty was having none of it. He gave a fast huff many kids do when believing the parents were deliberately acting dumb because they considered the topic an adult affair. “Seen you hold the stone, Pa. Saw it change color and you got all woozy and fell to the floor. Then I held it and got better. It’s like Snatcher Man.”
“Who?” Graham scratched his head.
“He’s a bad guy in my comic book.” Marty leaned over the side of the bed and pulled out the box holding his books. He leafed through the plastic sleeves and showed off the comic book. It had the picture of a shadowy figure with glowing hands sneaking up on the innocent people. The hero stood on the ledge waiting to swing down and stop him.
Marty’s fingers tapped the cover. “He steals people’s souls for fuel to his machine. It can open a hole into another dimension so his demon army can come through and take over the world. Isn’t that what the stone does? It takes parts of people’s souls?”
Graham had no answers this time because he never thought of it in just this way before. He shook his head and saw Marty’s features scrunch, ready for an argument.
“Why you look all faded then?” He took a hold of his father’s hand and held it out in front of the heater.
Graham had turned off the overhead light because the heater threw off enough of an orange glow for them to see around the storage room. Also, the convention center owners would freak out at the high electric bill when knowing no one was supposed to stay on the premises long-term during the off season. Within the heater’s light, he could see a fuzziness around the edges of fingers. It also surrounded his boy’s fingers where he gripped Graham’s wrist, as if Marty’s hand had passed through the first few layers of skin and finally griped something solid.
“It’s just . . . something I need to do.” Graham tugged from the hold. Yet once Marty had his father’s mind seeing this, Graham’s eyes kept staring down at his body. He rubbed at his pants and rustled his shirt, acting like this would somehow make more of him reappear. Maybe he could snap his body back into reality instead of slowly vanishing into someplace else where he’d never find a way out.
“The more someone has it the more it changes color, right?” Marty took a bit of the pulled thread and wrapped it around the stone, watching the string slide up and away without holding on. “And the weaker they get, like Snatcher man when he gets a hold of someone. His hands go shooting out little lightning bolts while the person falls to the ground and you can see their bones as they crumble into dust and disappear. The star goes gray to red to black. But I’ve never seen it change to black when you hold it. How’d it get all the energy?”
Graham shrugged. He felt fine about telling his boy this part. “Deer. I went hunting and bagged two deer. This was before I came for you at the hospital.”
“How’d it get black the second time? You go hunting again?”
Graham’s stomach rolled at the thought. He bent over and threw up in the empty pot, then shooed Miter away when the bloodhound came over thinking his master had made him some more dinner. Graham staggered across the room using the statues for support. When at the exit, he tossed the pot out and slammed the door, locking it up for the night. He returned to the bed and saw the gray stone sitting in the plastic bag beside Marty. He reached over for it. Marty snatched it away.
Graham’s eyebrows lifted. “Boy, what’s bouncing through your head?”
“How’d it get black again, Pa?” Marty clutched the bag against his chest. He leveled his father with a defiant gaze. “No fibbing. You didn’t go hunting again. You’re too shaky to aim.”
“You go disobeying your old man, Marty? You hand it over right now.” Graham’s face glowered. He stretched out his hand for it.
With his lips up in a snarl and his nostrils flaring, Marty matched the expression. He opened the bag and placed fingers inside.
Graham sucked in a fast hissing breath. He held up his hands like his boy handled the world’s biggest bomb and he didn’t want God blaming him for clipping the wrong wire. “Don’t do it! Don’t touch it right now! It’s one-way, Marty. You emptied the stone out already. If you go touching it now, the stone will take your energy away and give it to someone else. It won’t give it back.”
Marty’s fingertips hovered near the stone as his eyes grew wide. He stood stock still, yet the glint in his eye said he had his mind set in touching the stone if his father should grab for it. “Where’d you go?”
Graham’s tongue licked dry lips. “Cotter’s farm. Went there to swipe some energy from his cows.”
“You wouldn’t cry over some dumb cows.” Marty shook the bag in warning.
Graham’s mouth dropped open. He never thought his boy would show this much audacity to disobey or even blackmail his old man with the fallen star.
Graham gulped down the shock and ran fingers through his hair. “Went there. Honest. But some drunk threw a beer bottle. We tussled and he got the better of me. He wanted what I had in my pockets and took the stone. Then he was gone.” Graham closed his eyes.
“Didn’t you tell him about it? About what it’d do if he took it?” Marty’s face turned downcast, and frightened. His boy looked frightened about what his father had said. “Pa, you do it to anyone else? You’re not turning into Snatcher Man, are you?”
Graham pounded fists against his legs. “Never wanted it to happen, boy. Feel horrible about it. Ain’t my right in taking a man’s life like that. But . . . I was desperate too. You needed the energy. I knew if I didn’t get back soon, you wouldn’t be waking up anymore.”
Marty said nothing. With his mind deep in thought, he gazed at the thread in his lap. Any normal kid would’ve cried at the idea he could die. Cried. Screamed. Graham’s boy took it in stride. Three years of doctors and hospitals and beeping machines had him accepting the idea for a long time now.
More than anything else in Graham’s life, this fact disturbed him. Marty accepted it. Polly had accepted it. He couldn’t.
“It ain’t working anymore,” Marty whispered in a tense voice. Suddenly it seemed like they stood near a campfire telling each other ghost stories only to discover the tales were real. “Not like the first time. Not like when I first had it.”
“It just takes a little more energy.” Graham pulled the plastic bag away. He stared at the stone, tilting the bag from right to left, watching it slide into the corners. “A little more than I thought before. Then the stone will heal you. I can take you home. We won’t deal with anymore hospitals or monitors or doctors prodding you with instruments.”
Marty closed eyes and took a deep breath. “But it’s not working. I’m like Snatcher Man’s machine. I keep taking more of people’s souls, yet when he pushes the button it never fully runs. It always turns off before the hole opens. And you’re vanishing, like those people he drains. Soon you’ll be dust. Or you’ll start taking other people’s souls, good people who never did anything wrong. But I’ll still be broken.”
Graham’s eyelids blinked. His hand brushed at wet eyelashes. He never heard anyone say it so simply. His boy was smart. He was smarter than his old man and not so blinded by his own wishes in making things better. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t want you to be broken. I wish I knew how to fix you for good.”
“I’ve gotta go back to the hospital now.” Marty’s body shook. His breaths turned more labored. A light sweat appeared on his splotchy skin. “They can keep me going without the stone.”
“Butchers won’t do anything. They’ve given up.” The words slipped out before Graham could consider them.
Marty shifted his head. He stayed calm. “You can show them the stone. They have to believe it’s magic now. It’s magic and it helped me for all this time.”
Won’t they believe? Graham nibbled his bottom lip. He’d kept his boy away for two days off their monitors. No modern science could’ve done such a thing. At least they would have to consider the possibility, especially with his conscious son telling them about it in his own words. Hell, they could just look at Graham’s see-through body and know something strange was up.
Or even more. He could go back to Cotter’s farm and get his hands on those cows. Graham could fill the stone with energy and sneak his boy back inside. Then he’d show the doctors firsthand at what the stone could do. Their own eyes would make them believe.
Graham nodded. “All right. I’ll take you back. Won’t know what the law will do to me for taking you away, but I’ll accept it if I know they’ll treat you right.” He grimaced, remembering the car still sat in the ditch on the back road near Sumter’s junkyard. “Go to Tony’s place first. The radiator is busted on the car. He can drive us there. I’ll tell him the truth during the ride. He, sure as hell, will be pissed over it. Probably more so that I didn’t just ask him for help at the very start.”
Graham stopped talking when Miter’s howl filled the room. Outside, a engine rumbled as a car pulled up beside the building. He knew it could’ve only been two people outside: Tony who drove by to check on him and make sure everything was all right, or another officer stopping by to give Graham an update on the search for his missing son.
The door knob jiggled. He had the scared feeling of being busted for all his misdeeds, like whenever the police had caught him during his thieving days.
Marty spoke, “Pa?”
Graham used the sight of his sick boy as his incentive. He pushed past the convict fear and pushed away his pride of wanting things done his way without considering the world around him and all the hardships he created. Graham reached down and ruffled Marty’s hair. Then he commanded Miter to lie down by the bed and stay put. After shoving the sandwich bag into his back pocket, he emptied lungs with the long sigh. From around his neck, Graham pulled the string with the click of keys jiggling. He ignored the fact that they sounded like a guard’s keys for a cell door.
“Keep my courage for this. I’ll tell the whole story.” Once Graham found the right key for the lock, he neared the door.
A boom echoed from the other side. Graham watched the doorknob fly backward at the force, the wood around it splintering apart, sending pieces outward as they tapped into the stone statues nearby and against his clothes. Pain erupted in his left side, stinging and hot. His nerves thrummed throughout his body, going numb as he staggered back and smacked his butt against the floor. He gazed down at the forming stain. Red. Blood soaked through the shirt along the singed area with his skin torn open and raw.
It took a moment more for Graham’s thoughts to register the fact that someone had shot him.