Where I’ve Been

I realized I completely let fall my blog writing when someone asked me why I hadn’t written in awhile. I blinked and aped a silent “oh!” and mumbled some busy excuse.My blog has sat dormant for a month! a whole month of nothing to say, or comment, or write about.

But in reality I am writing. Every day. An hour or so before other duties take over. I sit and I pound out and enjoy the feel of words and excitement flowing out of my fingertips into the vessel of the word processor file. I am dreaming, crafting, plotting, and planning. Along with Christmas cards, letters, new volunteer duties, my son, my husband, my house, my job, and that whole business of sleepdriveworkeatworkdriveeatsleep, I am finding time to write.

For the first time, I came up with an idea for a novel out of the blue, outlined the entire story, and am now writing it. Then, another idea hit me, and I started outlining it. Now, I have three outlines completed, and I have one WIP staring at me from my GoogleDoc dashboard.

This is a first for me, seeing as how I am usually more of a pantser than a plotter. I love just starting a story to see what happens, to experience it fresh as I go, to ride the wave of emotion and excitement when the plot bunny takes a hold of my ankle and chews.

But, with my new idea of plotting out the story arcs reaching over the beginning, conflict, middle, climax, and ending, I wanted to see if being a plotter would give me more structure to my writing, help me be productive with my small time per day to write. In essence, begin writin the moment buttocks hit chair. I also converted my Framemaker files into Google documents, and my writing is now portable. If I am not at home, I can access it. It is saved off my local drive as a backup. (when I finish a section, it gets copied to my local rive as well).

Its working.

I have no idea if what I have will be any good, but I am five chapters into one of my new stories, and have not hit the “where do I go now” wall that springs up in front of me at this stage in the game.  The inevitable crush of weight that settles onto my story once my hero and heroine kiss. that seems to be my stumbling block.

This morning, in the wee hours of black before the dawn, I had this momentus plot bunny knock on the door in my mind and it dumped this on my lap. So sans outline, without planning,  I thought I would share, and ask those of you who do read my small blip of a blog if you would read a story about this. It seems rather foreign for me, and I’m really not sure where it came from.

Where I’ve Been
She couldn’t remember any other way of living. There had always been the big timber gates at the edge of the town, standing across the cracked pavement of the bridge in front of it.

There had always been the big solar-powered lights that shon directly on them, bleaching out the dark creosote wood at night, making it look white. And there had always been the lookouts on either side, hidden in the large spruce trees, the small postlights glimmering through the boughs.

She used to go to the gates with her father, his hand engulfing hers, stepping quickly to match his gamboling walk, or following in his bootprints through the snow. She would want to go when the mail would come, or a visitor would bring things to sell. She liked the way the air felt, the exciting chatter sending happy thrills through her body. Sometimes, if her father had a bit of carved leather or extra food, he would trade it for useful boring adult things, like pots, tools, or spices. But once in awhile, he would trade for things like pretty barettes for her and her sister’s hair. Sometimes even cloth, if he could bargain the salesman down, or had re-bleached paper from the mail to trade,  coveted for its rarity.

Cloth was expensive, and was not easy to get, she knew this. It was almost like Christmas when her father got a bolt of cloth from a peddler. That meant new clothes, instead of patched up old ones. She and her sister would sit for hours, running their hands over the pattern, fixing hitched threads, counting shapes in the pattern until the candles and lamps burned low or their mother sent them to bed.

The lookouts that would signal the travellers before the bell even was rung were right on the edge of the gorge. You could lean out over the shiny worn railing at the top and just see the river, foaming and white as it fell away from the bridge, scampering through the twists and crags of the riverbed, journeying out to the rest of the world. Now and again, she would hear about people trying to climb the cliffs on their side of the river. Most often, it was told as a way to scare the children not to go to the cliffs, because the end of the story was always that the climbers were washed out to the South by the river. And you didn’t want to go South.

Regular people used to come by more when she was little. They were pilgrims, travellers, or displaced, looking for a new home, travelling North. Many were simply looking for a place to rest, if they were allowed. Sometimes they were asked to move on, sometimes they were forced to. Most often, those that could stay would continue travelling after a day or two.

If someone decided they wanted to stay longer, they were usually put to work doing something useful but abhored, like clearing rocks from the fields, tanning, or mucking the cow sheds. Her father used to say it was to test them, to see if they really could handle it, living here.

What there was to handle, she wasn’t sure. She was quite sure, however, that there was no better way to live. She was never hungry, she always had enough to do, and when she wasn’t at school with the other children, or helping her mother in the house, she was as carefree as anyone, playing as young children do. She never understood the need to test someone.

Now, looking back, she did understand.

If the new strangers were able to work well, the adults liked them, and there was no funny business, then there was a new member in the commune, and there was usually a party of some sort. An even bigger party if it was a new family. A new family usually meant new children to play with, and she remembered really being excited when that happened.

But now, the big bell on the outside of the gates didn’t ring much, if at all.

If it did, everyone would be on alert as the men got on their horses and trotted up the road to the gate to see who it was. Where there used to be welcome handshakes, or happy bargaining, was now pointed muzzles of guns and demands for identification. The women and children would stay back, waiting for orders to make ready a bed at the empty hotel near the centre of town, relayed back from the guard posts, or wait for the men to ride back with the report on who it was that had wanted in.

It had been two years since anyone with the Sickness had rang the bell, begging for a place to rest, but everyone was always worried it would happen, and bring death and devastation to the community again. No one could take the chance. No one wanted to die that way.

She hadn’t been allowed in to see the man who had died in the hotel from it, years before, but she had heard the screaming and wailing and scratching from the barricaded door once he had shown signs of the Sickness. They wouldn’t let him out, it was too dangerous to everyone else. Since then, no one who had come from the South was allowed in at all. They had burnt his body, and posted a sign at the gates that read “Sickness not welcome here”.

They had heard the stories from a passing traveller who had come from the North and was headed back that way, after seeing the curled up husks of people who had simply laid down on the side of the road, and never gotten up again. He had said that not even the animals would touch the carcasses, and those that did were usually found up the road a ways, in a similar pose. He even said that those who weren’t mercifully dead were unsound in the mind, and wandered, babbling and unable to fend for themselves. It was assumed the fever would cause damage to the brain, and the victims would act as if they had a stroke. He was still healthy, but even then, they had only allowed him to stay in a tent right by the gates, and only a few people saw him.

She remembered one of the adults calling it the Plague, many years before. She thought she remembered reading a story about something like that in an old book from the library, but that had happened in Europe, a long time ago. So she and her friends had made up grand stories of how a rat had bit a corpse buried for a long time, then stowed away on a ship, landed in the South, and bit someone who shouldn’t have been there.

Each time they told the story to one another, it got more grandiose, until it was a thousand rats, and they were all travelling North. The adults put a stop to it when children in the commune were running and screaming every time they saw a chipmunk or squirrel in the trees, thinking the Plague Rats were coming to eat their brains.

Now, even though she didn’t yet understand the Sickness, she knew how farfetched that tale was. She knew now that no one really knew how it started, but everyone assumed it came from the South. Since the Great Storm, which happened before she was born, everyone had left the South, the land being too dangerous to live there. The mess that the Great Storm had left behind, the rotting bodies, the seeping sewage, the mangled buildings and roads, and the toxic runoff eventually caused death for anyone who tried to stay. If not death right away, then horrible sickness and suffering.

The Government at the time of the storm had labelled the South unsafe to live, and urged people to move away, to seek a new life somewhere else. Those that stayed were on their own. Then, all Government offices were told to pull out, and eventually, the entire South Eastern Coastal region was declared uninhabitable. Roads were blocked off, signs posted. It was rumoured that they had even walled off cities, but since no one was allowed to live there, no one was sure how things like that got built.

For years it was patrolled from the air, and even as a very young child, she remembered hearing the roar of the big planes going over the town. The radio would spew reports of roving gangs, violence, murders, and soon not even the military, aid workers or missionaries would go into the area. It was officially declared not long after, that no humans lived there anymore.

No one knew for sure if anyone was still alive, or what it was like, but everyone heard the rumours of people who were still there, and over time, everyone started calling them The Forgotten. It had been so long anyways, it really was a forgotten place to the rest of the world. Except for those who lived along the borders of the South, as they did. They weren’t part of The Forgotten, but really were a forgotten place too. Her father always said that they made the best of it.

News and reports and sightings had all stopped years ago. Urban legends abounded, and scary tales of mutants and murderers prowling the outskirts went from news bites to camp fire stories. As a child, she had not really understood it very much. All she knew was that South was a bad place to be, and it was safer here in the North, where there was no suffering, no crime, no hurting.

She begged to be told stories of the big cities, and would dream of the stores on Rodeo Drive, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the ocean. She would imagine that she was able to fly in airplanes, or ride on busses, and see the whole world without fear. Now and again a traveller would tell them about the state of the country, that the Government was being overthrown on a regular basis, that anarchy ruled in many places. Walled communities were becoming the norm all over the country, and there was massive immigration North to Canada, where it was  safer.

The world was in chaos, and her town shut their big timber gates to it.

That was when she was just turning into a teenager, and now, no news trickled in from the airways. the radio had gone silent when she was a fifteen, and they could only get random fuzzy outlines of people on the big TV in the Main Hall, from what they assumed was Europe, if they pointed the big satellite dish the right way. No newspaper had made it to them for ten years.

But, it was not a bad way to be. Now, as she had grown up, she continued to live. It was peaceful, it was plentiful, and she never worried. She had no desire to leave, the world outside the gates being far too dangerous for travel, according to the men. She was content to stay and be productive as she best could, to keep the town running.

Since she had been old enough to notice such things, young men, chafing at the smallness of the town, would pack up their survival kits and declare they were leaving the commune to find supplies, find the world, and have adventures. It was always a hard time, since young men in the commune were valuable, their muscles needed for so many things. But go they had to, and the big timber gates would be swung open for them, their mothers crying, their fathers grim-faced.

No one had come back yet.

—-

Barley rang the bell and waited. He ran his hand over the rough hewn logs, the weather giving them an ashen gray colour, a rough texture from all the rain. Sturdy, strong. So long ago he had walked through these very gates, his fool head full of ideas of great adventures. His heart set on finding the modern world again.

He had left when he was fifteen. Young to travel, but after his mother passed away, he didn’t want to stay. He needed to get away from home, away from the memory of her soft auburn curled hair, and the way she always smelled like the peonies in the garden bed, her apron dusted with flour or sugar. Even now, standing outside the gates, the lump in his throat remembering her voice singing as she weeded the garden or rolled out pie dough rose up. It had been ten years.

He had found the modern world, and had gone on some mighty adventures. He had seen what he wanted to see. But now he was home again. If they let him back in, that was.

He knew there were people up in the sentry booths, looking down, and he had no doubt there was a sight of a shot gun aimed perfectly at his head. And he also knew that ringing the bell was a formality, his presence would have been noticed as he stepped onto the bridge that crossed the ravine, and whomever was in charge now would have already started making his way to the gates

He looked up to the booth and shaded his eyes, trying to see who, if anyone, might be there. He couldn’t make out any movement, but then, they were well hidden. He looked around, back up the road, noticing that the asphalt on the bridge was more pitted and cracked than when he left. It was also starting to buckle up in ridges from where time and seasons of cold winter had ravaged the smoothness. Not that it mattered, until the bridge gave out.

A creaking, cracking squeal brought his attention back to the gates, and dust swirled about as one side was levered outwards. After a few moments, it finished its arc, bumping along the ground, and he was greeted with three men, on horseback, with rifles hanging from their hands, hammers cocked, muzzled pointed down.

Barley cleared his throat and put up a hand. “There’s no need for guns. I’m alone, and unarmed.”

The man on the tall grey tilted his head and seemed to think on Barley’s words for a moment. The one beside on the chestnut quirked an eyebrow, and the other man on a shaggy brown horse twitched his nose.

“You carrying the Sickness?” the man on the chestnut blurted out, “We don’t want none of that here. You best be going if so.”

The man on the grey, who seemed to be the leader of the group, waved his other hand at him. “State your business, stranger. Where are you from?” He finally asked, easing back the hammer on his rifle and swinging it up onto his lap. The other two men relaxed slightly, but their pieces remained cocked.

“I… Well, I’m from all over, really, but originally, I’m from here.” He stated slowly, and waited for the reaction.

All three men suddenly came to attention and the man on the grey quickly dismounted his horse. He peered at Barley, studying him. Barley stayed put. Years of being grilled at border crossings, town gates, and immigration checkpoints had taught him never to underestimate a man with a loaded gun. He felt a twinge in his thigh from the first, and last time he had tried to be too friendly off the bat, and had paid for it.

“From here?” Who are you? Identify yourself!” The man barked as he walked towards Barley. Barley backed up a step, and put his hands out.

“My name’s Barley. Barley Benson. My father is Maury, my mother…” He stopped as the leader stopped too, his eyes going wide, his finger now slipping off the trigger.

“Turner, ride back, get Maury. Tell him to bring Jessica.” The man suddenly said, and his companion on the brown horse, Turner, spun and sprang into a gallop, dust rising as he disappeared.

“Barley… He left here a long time ago. We haven’t heard from him. What makes you think you can come here pretending to be him? You find his things, figure you could get a sweet deal here? he tell you about our town before you killed him?” The man asked, obviously provoking him to see his response.

Barley sighed inwardly. This was not going to be easy. He racked his brain for things to tell the man about himself that would indicate he was telling thr truth about who he was. If he couldn’t convince them, he was not going to get past the gate, period. Their obvious cynicism that people could survive outside the commune had most definitely increased since he had left. He assumed the Sickness had finally made it here, or no one who had left had yet to come back.

If only they knew what the world was really like.

“Jessica is my sister. She was ten when I left, I was fifteen. My mother Katherine died the winter before I left.” He started, then stopped. All things that would have been common knowledge to a stranger if he had known “the real Barley”. He wrinkled his brow and then he suddenly remembered his birthmark on his back.

“I have a birthmark on my back, its in the shape of a fish. I can show you if you like.”
The man didn’t move. He nodded, and Barley slowly put his pack on the ground, and undid his jacket. His t-shirt had holes in it, was stained from months of travel, and he was looking forward to throwing it away when he was safely home. He could see the man watching him undress, and wondered if all the people that came to the gates were as ratty as he was. Likely. It was a long way to travel by foot, to get to the border forests of the Southlands. Cars didn’t come here anymore.

Home. Even after all this time, this was home. As he hefted the rag over his head, he silently prayed that the man standing opposite him would remember the birthmark, remember who he was. He was vaguely familiar to him, this man, and he flipped through ames, looking for the right one. Lawrence? No… he was thinner, shorter… Percy? no… he was balding. Chris? Was it Chris, Nessa’s father?

“You wouldn’t happen to be Chris Wooler, would you?” Barley ventured as he finished pulling off his shirt. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, he thought ruefully.

The man tightened his grip on his rifle, and grunted uncomfortably. He was obviously waiting for his father and sister to get here and truly identify him. Barley decided to keep chatting, in hopes it would convince him that he really was Barley.

“I used to go to school with your daughter, Nessa. She used to help me with my English, since I could never spell very well. I still can’t…” He continued, but then trailed off as he heard returning hoofbeats. He saw his father, riding with Jessica behind him, on their old plow horse. Barley was surprised that it was still alive, it was old when he had left.

Barley waited, very aware he was shirtless, as his father jumped down from the horse’s back and then helped his sister down. She had grown so much! She had only been a child when he left, and a new lump in his throat formed when he looked at his now grown up sister, her auburn hair wavy and blowing about just like his mother’s. He swallowed. What was he going to say to them? What would he do? It had been too long. Maybe they wouldn’t want him back. Suddenly, the assuredness that he had felt ringing the bell was gone. Now he felt nervous. What if his family didn’t want him anymore?

“Maury. This man here is claiming to be your son Barley.” The leader said, nodding first at Maury and then at Barley. “We figured you’d be the best judge on if he was tellin’ the truth.”

Maury, his face ashen, walked quickly towards Barley, his mouth working, unable to speak words. Barley simply turned and flexed his back out, to show the fish shaped birth mark. He remembered, as he did, that there was now two tattoos on his back as well. One was a regiment mark, and the other, the tattoo they give you when you have recovered from The Sickness, and allowed to leave the island, to rejoin society. He figured that no one would know what either tattoo was, here.

“My God in Heaven.” his father said, quietly, after a few moments of silence.

Before Barley could turn back around, he felt hands on his shoulders, and he was whirled and brought into his father’s embrace. His face squashed into the rough wool of his father’s coat, all he could do was put his own arms around his father.

“Praise the Lord, you are home, my son.” His father eavered in his ear, the tears evident in his voice. “Praise the Lord.”

“Dad.” was all Barley could muster.

“Maury.” the leader said.

Maury let Barley go, and wiped his face and nose with his sleeve. He smiled broadly, and then took off his jacket, shrugging it around his son’s shoulders. “Its cold son, here.”

“Maury, we don’t yet know if he is sick.” The leader repeated, stepping forward now, peering into Barley’s face. “You sick, boy? You come home to die?”

“I do not have The Sickness. I’m clean. I’ve already had it, and recovered. I can’t get it again.” Barley answered, irritated. Was this all they worried about? It seemed bizarre.

“Chris, stop it. He’s fine. I don’t see no boils, and he just showed you his birthday suit all but clean. An he’s standing upright enough, ain’t he?” Maury said, gathering up Barley’s pack and hefting it on his shoulder. “My son’s alive, and home. Leave off your defense.”

Barley shrugged his arms through his father’s coat, and picked up his own jacket. He looked to the other two men who were now lounging in the saddle, talking quietly with his sister, who had also dimounted and was standing, holding her horses head, her eyes big and taking in the scene in front of her. Barley stood, waiting for Chris to give the all clear to let him through the gates. Maury seemed ready to plow past him.

After what seemed an eternity, Maury nodded his head. “Alright, welcome home, boy. Your family will see to you.”

The relief flooded through Barley, and he visibly slouched. Thank God. That had been overly stressful. He watched as Chris got back in the saddle, and the three men turned, waiting for Maury and Barley, arm in arm, to reach Jessica and their work horse. Jessica was hefted into Turner’s saddle by one of the other men, and Maury cupped a hand for Barley to vault onto the mare’s back.

As Barley hefted himself up, he looked over to Chris, who was watching him with narrowed eyes, back straight, and he knew he was going to have a lot of explaining to do when he was reunited with everyone. Including his father, and Jessica. She was still looking at him, a mixture of curiosity and shyness in her eyes.

No matter what else lay in store for him, he was home.

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7 thoughts on “Where I’ve Been

    • Thank you! I’m so happy to be feelign creative again. It always comes when I am my busiest lol.

  1. First of all, I’m curious what your other plot outlines are about. And I’m intrigued by what you wrote here. Post-apocalytic is pretty hot these days! I’m interested in the characters and what will happen to them.

    • I have a couple. One is a simple romance formula with a young woman who is a landscape architect and runs the local tack store, and a guy who gives up his suit and tie to become a rancher. He asks her to design his ranch facility. There’s a scummy ex-husband intehre too. (They say write what you know….) The next is a Roman-era *ahem* explicit romance which I have named A Noble Congress, where a young Roman noble woman is shipped off to Britain to marry a general, but ends up having some fun along the way with a Centurion. The third I’m still working on, which I’m not so sure about yet. Its about a a doctor who meets a gypsy in a travelling circus, and she tells him his fortune, which he doesn’t believe until thing start to happen to him, and he does meet “the woman he was supposed to”. And it turns out its the gypsy. its still in dev.

      I have no idea where this idea came from. I’m not really a post-apocalyptic writer, and I’m worried the details of Barley’s story will bog me down a bit. I haven’t even begun to outline this yet, it was straight off the cuff pantsing… so I have my work cut out for me to figure this one out. I have not figured out how Nessa (The narrarator in the first part) and Barley fit together, and what will happen. But it feels like it has potential.

  2. OK, are you ready?
    My first question is to wonder what you’re going to do with this. I noticed you used a shifting 3rd person omniscient style of narration. So that made me think it’s definitely not a short story! I don’t read much sci-fi, and the stuff I read is usually geared toward a younger audience, so I don’t know if you see omni narration much these days. Most of the shifting 3rd person POV I’ve read is usually epic-proportion genre fiction, like Frank Herbert or JRR Tolkien, or Robert Jordan, etc. I’m not saying don’t do it. It can work. I’m just wondering where you’re going with it, and who your readers will be.
    Second, I think you need to scale back (no pun intended) on the backstory. Keep it, but weave it in more instead of dumping it all in at the beginning. You could try using flashbacks, for example. Starting with description and backstory takes us out of the action, and slows the pace down. If I were you, I’d start with Barley coming home (’cause there’s more action there), but throw in some more conflict to make it interesting. You could also use conflict to drop it some tantalizing hints about where he’s been and why he left.
    It’s a great start, though. Good characters, intriguing premise, spot-on imagery. I’d say just pick up the pace.

  3. Kaylie:

    First, thank you for taking the time to look through this. I’ve never had anyone go through my writing (like this), and it is quite refreshing to get someone else’s take. Because these are so rough draft-like, I figure I have lots of improvement I can make, and your critique will make it better.

    I think this will be a novel. I’ve always written my stuff with different POV’s, sometimes I try to just use one, but then end up wanting another character to speak, wanting to see the plot arc through their eyes. it doesn’t always work, I’m not sure on this one yet, I may stick with Barley and nessa, but Chris, he wanted to talk about his daughter…. . I love my 3rd person, it feels so much more natural to me. I find I read books with the same style, and tend to gravitate to the books with eleventy-billion POV’s and characters. Except my trashy romance novels, they are just great with the formula 2 POV. 🙂

    This will definitely be an adult novel, and as for the sci-fi, I’m not sure it falls into that category yet. I am a romance writer, and I love experimenting with the different genres out there. There is no reason why a post-apocalypse romance can’t work… just might not be a market for it yet lol.

    I agree on the backstory, I read through it again and went “whoa, DUMP!” and I’ve put in some notes on my source doc to rework some of the tidbits elsewhere. I think that dump was from the massive plot bunny that said “WRITE!!” 🙂 Maybe do away with Nessa’s memory segment and start with Barley at the gates, like you suggested.

  4. That is great about the writing! So glad to hear you are immersed in it.
    I liked the story too. It was hard to find time to read it, I have been trying for the last few days, but I really enjoyed it!

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