Well, this week’s writing has either been trash, or it has been good enough that I’m not sure (at this point) if I want to share it here, or develop it into something really good. So instead, I’m going to give you the first bit of my novel-in-progress, which is actually the product of last year’s National Novel Writing Month, and what made me realize that I could actually do this whole writing thing.
I call it “The Noble Work” for the simple reason that I don’t believe it is. But it has its points, and I’m going to soldier through to the final draft, whenever that may come. If nothing else, it is good practice.
A reminder: this is nowhere near finished. In fact, it’s only the second draft, so don’t expect brilliance. But if you like anything you see, I’d love to hear about it.
Anyhow, hope you enjoy this bite.
I’m on edge, like every nerve in my body knows nothing will be the same. Like all my cells are being exchanged in this one single day, instead of taking seven years, like they’re supposed to. It’s been so long since I’ve blinked that I’m not sure I still can. My eyeballs feel like they’re shrinking and cracking open. I sit huddled sideways in the back seat of the white van, my hands gripping my shoulders and my chin propped on my wrists. The seat belt is digging into my side, but I’m too nervous to make it more comfortable.
Watching the landscape slide past the window makes me shaky and sick to my stomach. For all my seventeen years, every window I’ve looked out of has had its own particular view, as familiar and solid as a name, but the views outside these windows never stop changing. When we left the Center this morning, there were the trees and bushes I was used to, but after a while nature gave way to buildings, taller than even the tallest trees I had seen. And people. So many people. They seemed to cover the ground. It was like watching bacteria through a microscope. I almost believed that I saw some of them split apart and become two. But none of them looked the same. That was the scariest part. Not one single person looked like the next. While we were in the city, I was glad the windows were so dark. Otherwise, I would have felt like the whole world could see me.
Now the big buildings have changed to small houses. One or two floors each, with yards. It’s kind of unbelievable how much they look like the movies. I never quite believed places like this existed. But they do, because here they are. It’s such a crazy feeling, I almost forget how nervous I am, staring at them. But then the van slows, and I can hear the driver and the man in the gray suit muttering numbers. And I realize what these houses mean. We’re almost there. My heart starts to pound hard, like it’s trying to knock my lungs out of the way. I try to focus on inhaling and exhaling evenly. I wish I could close my eyes.
I see the man in the suit straighten up in his seat a moment before he speaks. “Fourteen-oh-nine. That’s it. Pull in here.”
My throat is tight from trying to suck in air, and the sound of the driver shifting into park is deafening.
The man in the suit turns and looks at me. “I’ll just run up to the door to make sure everything is in order. Stay put. I’ll come and get you when everything is ready.” I just look at him. He doesn’t need to tell me to stay put. Where the heck would I go? I notice he doesn’t use my name. He doesn’t even call me “kid,” like Rodney used to. Maybe he isn’t sure what to call me.
He runs up the paved path to the door and knocks, and I allow my eyes to wander and take in my surroundings. House 1409 is shaped just like the one next to it, but flipped the other direction. They would look like mirror images, except that House 1409 is pale gray, and the other one is green. The grass is separated from the house by a strip of beauty bark, and that makes me feel a little better. I used to be able to see a strip of beauty bark at the base of the wall under Dr. Sherman’s window.
As I try to decide whether the door is red or brown, it swings open. A woman comes out, followed by a man. Their eyes slide straight past the man on their porch, and narrow as they look at the van, as if they’re trying to see through the windows. I’m pretty sure they can’t see me, but I still feel exposed.
The man in the suit steps toward them, and he must be asking a question, because they both drag their eyes away from the van and stare at him for a moment before nodding their heads. Then the man in the suit hands them a bunch of papers on a clipboard, and the couple bend over them, frowning, as he points to the places where they have to write something. There are a lot of papers, and lots of places for writing, and I’m glad of that. I know there is one more person inside that house, and I want him to show himself while I’m still in the van. It’s stupid of me, because I already know what he looks like, but for some reason I just have to see him before he sees me.
Eventually they finish with the papers, and he still hasn’t come out. The man in the suit takes back the clipboard and starts walking back down the path towards the van. They must be ready for me now.
I’m not ready. I fix my eyes on the shadowy doorway, willing him to show himself. I want to stay in here, protected by the dark windows. But I have no choice.
The man slides open the door of the van, and it’s like all my safety has slid away with it.
“Okay, everything’s set. Come on out.”
Before I have time to move, the driver says, “I’ve been keeping an eye on the other houses. Nobody’s watching.” He hasn’t looked at me once since I got in the van, and I wonder if he’s talking to me or the man. Maybe both of us.
Checking my breathing one last time, I make sure all my facial muscles are relaxed and under control, so they don’t register any of my thoughts. As I step out of the van, I’m afraid I’ll fall apart like I did this morning. But when I raise my eyes to the house again, everything else fades away.
There he is.
He’s leaning against the door frame, half in, half out. He must have appeared while I was focused on making it out of the van. Our eyes lock, and even from this distance I can see his eyes widen and then blink, his jaw slackening. I can’t blame him. It has to feel pretty weird, watching yourself walk toward you.
Okay, well, that felt weird. I’ve been taking time off from the book, so I can attack the next draft with fresh eyes, so this is the first time I’ve looked at it in over a month.