Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rain, rain, don't go away

There was a thunderstorm this morning. I love thunderstorms, especially during the day. Unfortunately, I've been sick, so I slept in. I still got to hear the thunderstorm, but my favorite thing is to sit on the kitchen couch by the window with a cup of coffee and watch the wind blow the pin oaks in the front yard. Or, to sit upstairs somewhere so I can hear the rain on the roof while I read a book.

Speaking (writing?) of books, you may have noticed a new button at the top of my blog. It is called "The Great Book List," and is a list of books that I feel like I ought to read before going to school for literature. These are books I will probably encounter in my classes, and I think a familiarity with them will save me time later. I am currently reading The Great Gatsby, and I must say it is a lot more entertaining than I would have expected, and the style is more modern than I thought.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Tesla Project- part three

Part one
The night was restless. Abby woke several times, and every time she looked Professor James was sitting up in the chair. He had a small light, and she heard the rustle of paper. Was he reading a book at 3:48 in the morning? 

The smell of coffee woke her. Abby sat up and rubbed her eyes. The clock said 9:16. There was a tray on the side table with scrambled eggs, bacon, an English muffin. A steaming cup of coffee was nearby with a tiny parade of creamer and sugar, ready for her choosing. 

Professor James was still sitting up. He was leaning his chair against the wall and eating breakfast. 

“Good morning,” He said. “That tray is for you if you’re hungry.” 

Abby was hungry, but she wasn’t sure she could eat. Her stomach clenched and rebelled. She started with the coffee to wake up, leaning back against the headboard. He sat slowly eating, giving her time to adjust.
Abby wondered if she had been kidnapped after all. 

“Who are you?”

He let the front feet of the chair come to rest on the ground and hopped up, placing his tray on the entertainment center. “And so the questions begin.” 

He sat at the foot of the bed, one leg tucked up underneath him. 

She put her coffee down and scrunched her legs up so he wouldn’t be close to her. “Who are you?”

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “My name is Alexander James. You can call me Xander if you want.” 

He offered a handshake. With his hair sticking up in all directions he looked young. Again Abby got the impression that he was not more than twenty. Then he met her eyes and the impression vanished. She shook his hand. 

“Abigail Norris, I’ve been trying to find you. You’re the last one.” he pulled a folded sheet out of his pocket and showed her a list of fifteen or twenty names, ending with her own. The others were crossed out.

“What is this?”

“This is every student who was accepted for a major scholarship this year. They sent your acceptance letter the day before yesterday.” 

“Why are their names crossed out?”

“They’ve all gone missing.”

To hear that you’ve been accepted into an important scholarship program is usually good news. Abby took two seconds to celebrate this before moving on to the fact that the others were missing and she was in danger of becoming so. “What happened to them?” 

His face fell and for a half second he looked like a sad little boy. The expression flashed from his face like something afraid and he composed himself. “The Tesla Project,” He said. “They take the brightest and the best and they all end up dead. I’ve been trying to stop it for years.” His eyes were clouded and faraway. “For too long.” 

“What is happening to them?” Abby asked, trying to steady her voice. “How do they die?”

Alexander James rubbed his ear and looked at the floor. “I- I don’t know what’s happening to them.”

Abby sipped her coffee and studied him thoughtfully. This was the first time in the conversation he had deliberately looked away before telling her something. 

“What does this have to do with me?” she asked. 

He looked surprised. “You’re the brightest and the best.” He stood and stretched. “I think you will be safe if you wait here. I’ve paid for two weeks. I’ll be back before then.” 

“I can’t wait here. What if you die or something and never come back?”

He seemed amused by the idea, a smile hiding in the corner of his mouth and lurking in his eyes. “I’ll be back within twelve days.” 

“Professor James. I do not want to wait here alone.”

“I told you to call me Xander, and you’re safe here.”

A sense of danger flooded the room. A hissing. They both looked around. It took Abby a moment to realize she smelled the thick sharpness of gasoline. 

“Never mind. You should come with me.” Xander grabbed her hand and dashed to the door. 

There are those who claim that the number three has power. This belief may stem from the idea of the trinity, or perhaps from the threesome of sixes that make the sign of the devil. One superstition says the third time’s the charm. Another says that bad things always come in threes.

Three bad things were waiting for Xander and Abby in the lobby. They were muscular and tattooed and ordinary. One of them held a gun, the smooth silver metal shining in the artificial light. They blocked the way to the car. 

Xander James walked towards the man with the gun. He looked him directly in the eye for a few moments, and the man took a half step back. Xander pivoted, his leg swinging in a blur. WHACK. The silver gleamed as the gun flew from the man’s hand. He shouted and stumbled, his finger broken. Xander spun and his foot landed in the man’s chest, knocking him to the floor to wheeze and cough. 

The other two men advanced, pulling guns from tucked in their belts. Xander took Abby’s hand and stood in front of her. The man closest to them stopped several feet away. “Listen, man, we just wanna take the girl peacefully.”

“Peacefully with guns?” Xander raised his eyebrows and something flashed in his eyes that terrified the man. “Fine. Come and take her.” He squeezed her hand and let go. The man stepped forward, appropriately wary.

WHACK. Xander leapt into the air and switched legs, kicking straight up, the gun flying into the ceiling.
The third man ran out the door. As soon as they could pick themselves up, the other two followed. The woman who had checked them in the night before was cowering behind the front desk. She peeked out as the door slammed. 

“You may want to evacuate the building,” Xander said. “There’s a gas leak.” 

They left.

Death is only a word. A word with five letters. It is a well known fact that words that are indivisible by three are the most dreaded. Loss. Failure. Insensitivity. Antidisestablishmentarianism. 

Abby’s phone was still not connecting. She tried calling her sister again in the car and nothing happened. She was in the passenger’s seat, watching the world flow past outside the window and wondering where her comfortable existence had gone. It seemed like only yesterday… because it had been only yesterday.  Her phone simply would not connect.

She sighed, and Xander’s attention was caught. He looked alarmed by the cell phone in her hand.
“May I see that?” he asked. She handed it over and he scrutinized it while intermittently glancing back at the road. 

He rolled his window down. “I think this cell phone is our problem.” He tossed it, and Abby could hear it crack on the pavement even over the rush of the car. 

“Hey!” Abby turned in her seat and watched out the back window as the shards of broken plastic receded towards the horizon. Then she glared at him. 

“They had a track on your cell phone. That’s why I don’t carry one.” 

“You mean we’re entirely without communication right now? Wait—you don’t carry a cell phone because you think people will track it?” 

“A perfectly justifiable fear, given the circumstances. And it’s not my only reason.”

Silent. A word divisible by three. They remained silent for a long time, the morning slipping away and transforming into afternoon. 

Abby was silent because she had questions she wasn’t ready to ask. Questions like, “Where are we going?” and “When will I see my family again?” There was a void in her mind where the answers would fit, but she was strangely comfortable in the void. She relaxed, watching the telephone poles fly past without knowing where they were leading. 

There is no way to know why Xander was silent. 

At 3:18 the small black car pulled into the parking lot of a good old fashioned diner. This particular establishment demonstrated that “good” is a relative term and “old fashioned” sometimes just means old. The smell of stale onions and grease hit them as they walked through the door. The floor was black and white linoleum that had turned black and gray. They slid into a booth across from each other, the cracked vinyl protesting with a piteous squeak. 

An impossibly short woman with bags under her eyes walked up to the table. “What can I get for you?” she asked, brushing a stringy brown hair from her face. Standing next to where Xander was sitting, her head was barely higher than his. 

Xander smiled at her. “I’ll have a cheeseburger and fries. Abby?”

Abby shook her head. It had been a long day. The thought of food made her nauseous. 

The smile disappeared. A worry line appeared on his forehead and he studied her for a moment, his eyes looking into hers and reflecting the exhaustion they found there. 

The waitress cleared her throat. “Come on, honey, they ain’t payin’ me to stand here.”

“She wants a bowl of chicken soup if you have it. Also, could you bring us a pot of coffee?”

The waitress nodded and wandered away in the general direction of the kitchen, looking like she could use some coffee herself. 

“I really don’t want anything,” Abby said. 

“You need to eat. We’ve still got a long drive.” He was analyzing her face again and she looked away. “Are you okay?”

She shot him an incredulous look. “No,” she said. “I’ve been kidnapped, kidnapped again, threatened with a gun and now I’m on a road trip with a stranger going who-knows-where. You could be some kind of serial killer for all I know, and I—I just want to go home.” Tears filled her eyes and she leaned her face on her arm. Xander was silent. She fought a small battle with her emotions and decided against sobbing aloud in public. The fabric of her jacket smelled like gasoline fumes from earlier. 

“I’m sorry,” Xander said, his voice cracking. 

Abby believed him. 

She sat up and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. 

“Here,” Xander said quickly, “use this.” He pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and handed it to her, then had the manners to look at anything but her while she wiped her eyes and nose. 

Their food arrived and Abby found that she could eat after all. Despite the atmosphere of the diner, the food was delicious. The salty smell of the soup made Abby think of Saturdays when it rained. Elaine always made chicken soup for lunch. 

Abby watched Xander eat his hamburger and tried to guess his age. He looked like any college-aged person when eating. Maybe twenty-one. 

Having an outburst like that had made her feel better, but she didn’t mean it as much as she thought she did. She felt safe with this man. She found herself to have an illogical amount of trust for him. 

Xander held the last part of his cheeseburger and pushed the basket of fries over to her. The paper liner had the name of the diner printed all over it, grease making opaque blotches which clung to the wicker basket.
She popped a fry in her mouth. “So,” she said, “where are we going?”

He finished chewing the last bite before answering. “It’s, um,” He rubbed his ear. “It’s a military base next to Groom Lake, Nevada.”

There was an awkward pause. 

“You mean-- Area 51?”

He nodded.

Fifty-one is only a number. A number that is divisible by three. When you divide fifty-one by three you get seventeen, the age Abby had been when she wrote her first novel-length manuscript. Her writing had improved so much since then. You can change a lot in three years. 

“Just to be sure I’m following,” Abby said. “You’re saying that our destination is a secret military base rumored to hold extraterrestrial remains.”

“That’s only a rumor,” he said. “I wish that were all that was down there.” He poured two cups of coffee from the dull metal carafe and handed one to her.

She took the steaming mug and sipped, the warmth and bitterness sliding down her throat and soothing her.

“What is down there?”

“The Tesla Project,” he said. “Nikola Tesla was ignored by the public for most of his life, but the government was very interested in his inventions. The Tesla Project is just the continuation of his research.”

Abby poured cream into her mug and watched the cloud of white swirl through the rich brown coffee. “You said The Tesla Project was using the missing students. What for? What are they doing to them?” 

Xander had his fingers interlocked around the warm ceramic mug but he wasn’t drinking. “That school legend got one thing right.” He said, voice taut. “Tesla was fascinated with the human brain in the years before he died. His experiments were… intense.” His grip on the mug tightened, fingers white. “Too intense for the average person. If The Tesla Project is continuing that research, they should be snatching people with genius-level IQs.”

“I’m hardly a genius,” Abby said. “My IQ is just above average.”

“Exactly,” he said. “The Tesla Project is getting desperate.”

When they left the diner, the evening sun slanted golden over the fields of grass. They were leaving the last town for miles, and the small black car was alone on the highway. The only sound was the humming of the car and Abby felt her eyelids closing against her will. She thought it was odd that she was so tired. Her life felt more and more like a movie, and in movies people never slept. 

When she woke it was dark. They were still driving. She was curled on the seat, and Xander’s jacket was keeping her warm. He didn’t notice yet that she was awake, and she studied his profile, outlined against the moonlit sky. 

She shifted in her seat to glance at the clock. 2:18. “Don’t you ever sleep?” she mumbled, pushing the hair out of her face. 

He glanced at her. “We can stop if you would rather sleep in a hotel,” he said.

Abby adjusted her seat and tried to get comfortable again. “I’m fine,” she murmured, and they kept driving. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Shakespeare, Summer and Sleeping Beauty

There are reasons I haven't been posting on here... none of them are very good, but I will tell you anyway.

First of all, I've been working on condensing Hamlet and re-writing it in modern English. I started it just for fun, (yes, I have a weird sense of fun) but it has been really interesting and enlightening. I've had to decide which parts to leave out and which are important to the central plot, and it's made me so much more aware of what a good storyteller Shakespeare was. Translating it into modern English is also really difficult because nearly everything Hamlet says has a double (or triple!) meaning.

To post it on here, or not to post it? That is the question. : ) Let me know in the comments.

Secondly, I just haven't had much to write about. I've been going to a class two nights a week, going to work the other two days, babysitting Wednesday nights, reading several books and condensing Hamlet.

I wish I could say that another reason is that I've been writing my story, but I haven't started yet. I think I'm afraid to actually start writing it since the idea has been with me for over a year. I've been planning it out and trying to develop a subplot before I start, but I think I might have an idea for that now. I thought of it in class this evening and immediately wrote it down. I'm planning on starting the actual writing tomorrow afternoon, so wish me luck.  


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Tesla Project- part two

Read part one here.
The next class period arrived. At two minutes before the hour, every seat in the room was occupied. People had been talking. Students suddenly had deep insights to share in their philosophy classes, world culture classes, geography classes. There were historical discussions taking place over lunch. The other professors were noticing.

Several of them stood in the back of the room, serious in their black suits, waiting to see what this man had done to accomplish all this with one class period.

Three after. The door opened and Professor James walked to the front of the room, unfazed by the crowd. He acknowledged the back of the room with a nod, greeted the class with a smile, and began his lecture. 

Two hours and forty two minutes into the lecture, the room was still and silent except for Professor James’ voice. There was no restless fidgeting or secret texting. The students were listening with their whole beings to the story of the past.

Abby almost didn’t notice when her cell phone vibrated. She ignored it. A few minutes later it vibrated again. Professor James flicked his eyes in her direction, catching her gaze. She discretely pulled the phone from her coat pocket. He looked away. Two new text messages appeared on the screen.

From: Elaine Norris 
I need you, mom is sick, come right away

From: Elaine Norris 
At St Matthew’s hospital, doctor says it’s serious. I’m all alone

Abby grabbed her things and stood, her chair scraping loudly in the quiet room. Professor James kept talking as though he didn’t notice. All other eyes in the room turned toward her as she made her egress.

The door slammed behind her and Professor James kept talking in exactly the same tone of voice, but students on the front row noticed beads of sweat appearing on his brow and his hands shaking at his sides.

When he finished his lecture, the professors in the back of the room began to applaud, and it spread throughout the audience. To their surprise, he took off running, dashing past the students and teachers and out the door. It slammed behind him as it had behind Abby.

Abby Norris didn’t have a vehicle with her at the school. When she left class she ran out the front door of the building and down the street to the bus stop. She glanced at her watch. It was an odd time. The next bus wouldn’t be here for awhile. She sat on the bench and sank her head in her hands. Images flashed through her mind of her mother, bleeding, coughing, dying. Her little sister alone in the waiting room. The doctor approaching with that look on his face. They couldn’t go through this again.

A yellow cab pulled up in front of her. She jumped up and opened the door. “St. Matthew’s hospital.” She said. If her thoughts had been less distracted she would have realized how strange it was for a cab to approach someone at a bus stop.

Professor James was halfway down the street when he saw her get into the cab. “No!” he shouted, too late. He ran headlong, but barely reached the bus stop as the cab rounded the corner onto a main street. He collapsed onto the bench, gasping.

Abby re-read the texts from her sister and tried again to call. Her phone was out of range. Illness and injury cycled through her thoughts. She tried to calm herself, taking a deep breath and deliberately seeing her mother as she ought to be; jean shorts and a scarf over her head in the garden, laughing in the pool, singing along to the radio as she did the dishes. Mom is sick, hospital, serious, alone. Abby re-re-read the texts.

If she had been less distracted she would have realized that they were going the wrong direction. By the time she did realize, the cab was heading out of town on an empty highway.

“Hey!” she said. “We’re going the wrong way.”

The cab driver ignored her.

“Let me out!” She tried the door. It was locked. The ground was whizzing away too fast for a jump, anyway.

“Take me back right now.” She said, trying to think of a threat. “You’re going to lose your job. And also, you’ll probably go to prison.” As that was an incentive for him to not turn around, Abby decided to stop talking.

What was Elaine going to do if her mother was sick and her sister had been kidnapped? Abby imagined the doctor, grave, wearing a shining lab coat. He crept into the waiting room with a fake smile stuck to his face. Elaine was crying. “You’re mother is not going to make it, Miss Norris.” He said. “Also, your sister has been kidnapped. So sorry.”

A car passed them in the fast lane. Abby banged on the window and screamed. The man who was probably not a cab driver ignored her. The other driver also ignored her. There were no other cars nearby at this time in the afternoon.

Abby knew that if you were stuck in the trunk you were supposed to kick the tail lights out, but she wasn’t sure what protocol was for a back seat kidnapping. She wished momentarily that he had put her in the trunk then realized how stupid that wish was. She turned around and watched out the back window as the town grew smaller and the fields grew wider.

A tiny speck that seemed to be a car was coming from the direction of town but rapidly growing larger. Abby watched it. It looked odd for it to be increasing in size when the rest of the world was falling away. Abby measured the speck’s progress against the telephone poles next to the road.

Soon it was only five poles behind them. It was a small black car that looked like it shouldn’t be able to go so fast. Abby glanced over the man-who-was-not-a-cab-driver’s shoulder. The speedometer was hovering just above eighty. The black car behind them had to be going over a hundred.

Three poles behind, Abby could begin to see details of the person in the driver’s seat. It was a man. A young man with brown hair.

Two poles behind. It was a man with piercing dark eyes.

One pole behind. Professor James looked her right in the eye and motioned for her to stay silent. Abby continued to look out the back window, shifting to block the view of the small black car, in case the man-who-was-not-a-cab-driver turned to see what she was looking at.

The small black car pulled up next to them. Professor James picked up a black box, like a thin remote control, from the passenger seat and aimed it at the cab. Hold on, he mouthed to her.

Abby buckled and grabbed a hold of the plastic handle on the door. BOOM. A burst of smoke poured from the engine and smothered the front window. The car rocked and weaved, slamming Abby’s side into the door. She held her breath. “So sorry, Miss Norris,” the imaginary doctor said to her sister. “Your sister was killed in a deadly car crash while being kidnapped.”

The car slowed as the cursing man (who was not a cab driver but had the vocabulary of one) let up on the gas and let the car roll to a stop. They were engulfed in smoke. Abby unbuckled her seat belt and tried the door again. She looked out the back window. Smoke. The man opened his driver’s door and disappeared into it to look at the engine. A shout. CLANG. Something slammed against the hood of the car.

Professor James appeared at her window and opened the door. Smoke poured into the cab. He reached in and helped her out as she coughed and sputtered.

They emerged from the billowing cloud and climbed into his waiting car. Professor James slammed the car into drive and rapidly accelerated. Within seconds they were pushing ninety. Abby put her seatbelt on and wondered if she might die in a crash after all.

Professor James glanced in the rearview mirror. His eyes were steel. He gripped the wheel as though it would try to get away.

Abby shook, every muscle in her body moving with involuntary spasms. Her teeth chattered. She leaned back on the seat and took deep breaths.

Professor James glanced at her and his eyes softened. He reached into the back seat with one hand and found his jacket, tossing it over her. “You’re safe now.” He said. “Everything’s going to be ok.”

Abby wanted to ask what was happening but she couldn’t form the words through her chattering teeth.

“You got a text message saying that your family was in danger, right?”

Abby nodded. “M-my mom.”

“It’s a lie, your family is fine. Abigail, your family is just fine, nothing has happened. So don’t worry.”

They were still driving out of town. Abby observed this as her nerves began to calm and she breathed at a normal rate again. She was still shaking but she had control.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

He glanced at her and saw the worry in her eyes. “We can’t go back to the school just yet. You’re still in a little bit of danger.”

“You said everything would be ok.”

“And it will be.”

Several minutes later they pulled off at a small town exit and parked at the hotel. Abby had stopped shaking but her muscles were like jelly. Even her eyelids were exhausted. When he had turned the car off she found she could barely move. Professor James came around, opened her door and helped her out of the car. He supported her with a gentle arm around her shoulders and they made their way inside.

He spoke to the desk clerk. Abby’s vision was blurred and even sounds were muffled as if through a fog. Somehow they made it to the room and Abby sat on the edge of the bed.

“I’m going to sit up and keep watch. Go to sleep.” He pulled a chair over and sat in front of the door.
She pulled off her shoes and fell asleep the second her head was on the pillow.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sleeping Beauty revisited

Last year I started planning this story... a twist on Sleeping Beauty. I worked on the plot for a few months, but I couldn't get it all straightened out in my mind. I was too close to it, and I had so many ideas that I couldn't piece them together. I finally gave up on it, thinking it was a lost cause.

Today I was sitting at work, looking through my writing folder. I have a lot of documents that I didn't label very clearly, so they sit in that folder until I find them again. I've actually re-discovered a lot of great ideas this way.

Well, today I found one labelled "Sleeping Beauty plan." I almost dismissed it because I remembered giving up on it before I got very far, but I decided to take a look anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I have a lot more than I remember. I've been working on outlining the plot out of my rambling pages of notes, and I think I have a good idea of where this is going and how I will lay it out.

I now have a new project to work on over the summer, one that I am excited about. I can't work on anything unless I am extremely excited about it. This is why I so frequently stop in the middle of a project to start something else. 

I think this one is going to turn out well if I can keep this energy. It is a unique idea, and I happen to love fairy tales. Maybe soon I will reveal a little more of the twist on the story.

What do you do when you run out of energy on a project? Do you push through and finish it, or do you set it aside?