Let me make one thing clear immediately. My novels' protagonist, Thomas O'Shea is a tough guy. I AM NOT
Now that it's been established that the glorious Mars landing by "Curiosity" has been exposed as another NASA hoax (remember the ones about men walking on the moon?) perpetrated by some miniature robots photographed in Death Valley, we can all get back to other things. Like the Olympics, which I no longer watch. Trampoline? Ping-pong? Kickball (soccer)? I'd rather watch reruns of "What Not To Wear."
Back to reality: I promised a few pages from Chapter One from my novel, Signs of Struggle, and I hereby deliver them. Just enough to get you started. A synopsis and a bit from Chapter Two are available at the Neverland Publishing site. Publication date will be sometime next month. More on that later. For now, here's the start.
Chapter One “No one ever told me grief felt so much like fear.” - C. S. Lewis
All I want is peace. All I want is to be left alone with the privacy and quiet that goes with it. So I gave myself the gift of a leisurely drive in the countryside. What could be more benign? I needed time to recover from my Georgia-to-Iowa nonstop road trip and two days of fruitless house hunting in Rockbluff. I needed cheap therapy, and a late springtime wandering in the hill country seemed like a good idea. I thought it just might work better than counseling, pharmaceuticals, or maybe even a cold six-pack. I had left America’s Best Bulldog, Gotcha, perched on her pillow back in the Rockbluff Motel, our home the last three days, and escaped into my country cruise. That’s all I wanted – a drive in the bucolic backcountry – something I’d often enjoyed before the move to Georgia. Something good, back when I had a family. Before the troubles came. Before a lot of things. So I took off, leaving Gotcha to catch up on her beauty sleep. The May morning was glorious as I meandered down gravel roads, weaving through dense stands of hardwoods alternating with fields of fertile farmland. Thick pigs wallowed in fresh black mud, and grazing dairy and beef cattle concentrated on generating more butterfat and bigger briskets. Living industry; blood and breath. I drove randomly for a while, serenity at every turn. But then, on a blind curve, I met a speeding, skidding, silver Corvette that nearly ran me off the road. I couldn’t blame the driver. Hard to improve on springtime and sports cars. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw the ‘vette disappear into its dust cloud behind me. I continued, rounding a gentle, deep-shadowed bend, and slowed to a stop to admire a mailbox seated squarely on a brick column. I had time. The surname “SODERSTROM” was calligraphied on the side of the mailbox in the midst of flashy cardinals, burly bluejays, and pink wild roses. Good Iowa name. Not many Soderstroms in south-central Georgia. Just then, a movement in the shadows caught my eye. I glanced up into a tunnel of shade produced by the oak-lined lane leading away from the mailbox. And there she appeared, tall, blonde, and full-breasted, emerging quickly from the shadows. A sprinting screamer, bloody and berserk. And her face? Fear and terror, and agony of some kind. Edvard Munch should have painted her instead of the sexless being in “The Scream.” He would’ve sold more t-shirts. My highly-cultivated selfishness took over and I paused, wondering if I could escape and avoid whatever problem was pushing that woman toward me, closer and closer. It would be so easy. I wanted to leave, free of any duty, responsibility or moral compunction to help someone else in pain. Her problem, not mine. My decision bounced around in my mind like lottery ping-pong balls waiting to be plucked. I froze. I muttered to myself, pounded my palms on the steering wheel. I knew I was going to do that which I did not want to do. The woman loomed twenty yards away, fifteen, closing fast. Too late for my escape. Maybe I had let the decision be made for me by deliberate dawdling, linked together with its sluggish brother, procrastination. I slammed the shift to park; killed the engine, stepped out of my pickup truck onto the gravel, pocketed my keys, my blood pressure in my ears, beating out a regular rhythm of “dumb ass, dumb ass, dumb ass.” I looked up into the sky and silently asked, What am I doing here? No answer. Imagine. I was reminded of the poem by A.R. Ammons, “Coward,” herein completely recalled: “Courage runs in my family.” I should have split. The woman, lithe, long-legged, and swift, ran beautifully and with purpose, her footspeed driven by some revulsion back there, at the farm. She drew quickly to me, her bulging breasts fighting for freedom under her pale pink t-shirt. I took two steps toward her and then the woman, shrieking words I could not understand, a kind of gory glossalalia, smacked into me in an awkward embrace. I staggered back, repositioned my glasses, and simply held her, overcoming my urge, even then, to flee. I wanted peace. Now this woman took it away, falling into my arms and covering me with blood and pulp, screaming words I finally understood: “Where are they! Where are they!” I shuddered, even in the growing heat of the day and with the warmth of her panting body pressed against me, almost enough to make me overlook the goop now pasted on my chest and arms. The tormented expression on her face would have stopped my heart a few months ago. Not now. I drew my head back and looked at her. The congealing bloodstuff smeared her arms, up to her elbows, and splattered on her tight t-shirt and light blue jeans. I pulled back my head a bit in distaste. I do not have the gift of mercy, unless it is directed toward myself. She trembled through our grim embrace. I took her shoulders and pushed her to arms’ length and looked into her face to try to stop her panic, to give her a stable point of reference, her stunning green eyes wide and filled with fear, and comprehending more than I could understand. Her outstretched hands and forearms, slick with spilled life, reached out to me as she sobbed convulsively. Then she pulled me tightly to herself again and I said, “It’s okay.” I am beyond stupid.
As vaguely suggested in a previous post, I'm following through with posting the prologue to my novel, Signs of Struggle. I hope you enjoy it so much, you can't wait to read more. And, to that desire, ta-da!, I'm going to post the first chapter a few days down the road. Look for it. My publisher is working with me and my family on a cover this week, which should be done soon. I got feedback from my wife and both daughters, so that's a joy, especially since they're all smart and beautiful. I'll make the cover available to you as soon as we reach a decision.
I should have the "minor" suggestions for revision this week, which I will attend to immediately, then I'll send those back. I hope to have a date of publication soon. We're still looking at sometime this autumn.
In the meantime, here's hoping this prologue hooks you. In a pleasant way, of course.
"Thus a dark hue moves ahead of a flame over a sheet of paper, as the whiteness dies away before it becomes black."
- Dante's Inferno, Canto XXV
Karen O'Shea and her daughters expected a good time in Atlanta. They were excited about going Christmas shopping that Saturday morning.
Waiting for the girls to come downstairs, Karen fixed herself a cup of Earl Grey tea. It smelled good. She blew lightly across the surface, took a sip, and gazed out at the bird feeder beyond the kitchen’s bay window. The tea warmed her chest.
A brown thrasher scrounged for seeds below the feeder. Karen studied the bird. Brown thrashers are beautiful if you looked closely. Rows of brown specks flung across a white breast, rich chocolate feathering with white wing bars. Sharp, pointed beak. Karen had identified thirty-one birds on her Peterson Field Guides Eastern Birds checklist. “Thirty-two,” her husband, Thomas, had said, “if you count me, a common loon.” She smiled at the memory.
She gazed beyond the fence behind the house, the branches of the maple trees stark and bare. A sudden gust of wind shook loose three bits of color; red, yellow, and orange leaves, last remnants of a spectacular autumn. The leaves drifted to the ground.
Karen set down her tea and took an onion bagel out of the freezer, nuked it, pried it open and spread cream cheese on the steaming halves.
Michelle came into the kitchen first, an eighth grader with dark good looks and a flashy smile. Effervescent and energetic, she looked forward to the crowd and the crush of the mall in Atlanta. She headed for the cupboard, pulled out a box of Fruit Loops, and dumped the cereal into a big bowl. "If I keep eating stuff with lots of preservatives, I'll live forever," she said.
Gotcha, the family's brindle and white English Bulldog, rumbled into the room, sat in front of Michelle, and looked up.
No bites for you, Gotcha," she said. "This is my breakfast. You're doomed to failure if you expect me to feel sorry for you. I have a cold heart, pupper."
The Bulldog tried to look underfed. She stared at Michelle until a handful of colorful bits of cereal fell to the floor mat. Michelle sat down at the small table by the bay window and poured milk over her cereal. Gotcha ate the Loops, snorting and slurping. A thin smear of slobber remained where the cereal had once been.
Annie came into the kitchen. Tall, blonde, and lean like her mother, Annie strode to the cupboard and pulled out a box of Life cereal, read the label to be sure, and took the bowl over to the table. Karen grabbed her bagel and tea and sat down with the girls. Annie had started in on her cereal.
"Michelle’s up front on the way in and I'm shotgun coming home," Annie said. “That way, I'll be able to keep mom company so she won't fall asleep at the wheel and kill us all," she continued, winking at her sister. Mom took the bait.
“I have never, ever fallen asleep at the wheel,” Karen said. “I don’t even get drowsy." The girls made eye contact with each other and grinned. Mom was half right.
They finished breakfast, aired Gotcha, and left the house. They drove through town and onto I-75 North.
"Where’d Dad say he was going today?" Annie asked. "Albany?"
"Augusta," Karen said. "He's got to tell a potential client there's no deal."
Michelle said, “Why can't he just give the guy a call?"
"Your dad likes the man. He didn't want to tell him over the phone."
"Speaking of dad," Michelle said, "let's not forget to bring him something to eat."
"Such as?" Karen asked.
Michelle said, “How ‘bout jelly beans? He inhales Jelly Bellies.
"He'd flip out," Annie replied.
It was cold for early December, and the sky was dark and slate gray, even darker north of them. "Looks like we might have some weather ahead of us," Karen said, "but I'm sure we can drive through it."
They passed Macon. Annie read a book. Michelle and Karen talked about Michelle’s friends. The O'Shea's left Macon and McDonough behind, quickly approaching Atlanta.
A semi-trailer truck, southbound on I-75, was drawing closer as the O’Shea’s Highlander approached Atlanta. Ricky Damon, behind the wheel for twenty-one hours straight, was sleepy. He had drunk three cold beers, the third one to cool his throat after the joint he’d sucked in half an hour before. Now, he was sleepy again. His eyelids drooped. The beer slipped from his right hand and fell to the floor of the cab, waking him. Ricky saw his truck drifting left from the fast lane. Someone had abandoned a Mazda Miata and he was going to hit it. A curse burst from his lips. The small car served to launch the truck over the low concrete median divider and into the northbound traffic.
The eighteen-wheeler flopped down on the O’Shea’s Highlander like a blind spaceship, its hot underbelly pinning the SUV and disintegrating the family, their beauty broken and crushed in a bloody bed of safety glass chips and razor-sharp metal, diesel fuel, and grease. Then it all hissed and exploded in towering flames with thick black smoke curling upward into the heavens.
Thomas O'Shea stopped by the Thrifty Flower Shop on the way home from Augusta and purchased red roses for his wife and daisies for the girls. He would be home first, and it would be fun to have the flowers waiting for his family.
When he pulled into his driveway, the Georgia Highway Patrol was waiting.