Thursday, July 10, 2008

WRITING: "Imp" (excerpt)

[This is what I submitted to the Orson Scott Card workshop. It is the first page of a short story.]

It was possible someone had once resorted to using a snow shovel as a weapon, but Griggs recalled no such anecdote. Maybe he was the first. Danger forced you to get creative, and fast. If necessity was the mother of invention, mortal peril was Dad.

In this case, ingenuity meant crouching in a cellar like a gladiator matched against Frosty the Snowman. Griggs tightened his grip until he felt his knuckles creak. His suit and tie were less than intimidating, but when he had gone to the closet that morning, he hadn’t known he would be fighting for his life.

Winter slipped down the steps, moving across the cellar, into the tunnel. Just inside this brick gullet was not Frosty the Snowman. Griggs’s opponent was non-fiction and only the size of a fire hydrant. At first, he thought he was confronting a child in jeans and green flannel shirt.

His adversary stood on the fringe of the light. Three toes on each foot, like splayed talons, without claws. The left hand held a brick. The right one had also held a brick until it had been thrown at Griggs. Brown hair tangled into snarls over the ears. No beard really, but black fuzz bringing to mind patches of lichen. The nose resembled a hematoma. Lips pulled back from blocky teeth.

This is not about keeping an accurate record. I’m trying to cling to objectivity. Resist the delusions blooming in my head. These words are calibrations, to measure my state of mind.

Writing always makes me feel steadfast. Ink subdues reality. Being that my situation is so surreal, these words will hopefully give me clarity. If I doubt my sanity, maybe I can rescue it.

I am in an abandoned house in Denver, just east of I-25, not far from downtown. I can still hear the rush of traffic, but as time goes by, it is growing fainter. This place is withdrawing. Pulling away. Some sort of side-effect.

The most disturbing feature was the eyes. Fiery purple, deep under the brows. Each glance had the elegance of a seizure. They didn’t just move. They flicked. Nothing in between. Flick—to the shovel. Flick—to the stairs. The effect was spidery.

“Who are you?” The imp asked. The voice was bigger than the body—not in volume, but in presence. It made your bones hum.

Griggs tried to keep his own voice steady. He summoned his lecturing tone—the one that had once intimidated undergrads. “Who are you?” He did fine until he got to the last word. It shook like a lose tooth.

The breeze found the cellar again. At the top of the steps, the door creaked. The eyes flicked toward the movement, locking on, then flicking back to Griggs.

As the murk faded, the flashlight on the steps was able to map out more of the cellar. A tangle of blankets, sleeping bags, and wadded clothing. A trunk patched with decals, faded into mosaics. A card table holding an array of thermoses, small cans of paint—the rims caked with umber and dusk. Paint brushes, palette knives, a jar of dirty water. Under the table, rags stained into withered rainbows. In the far corner, a mountain of decaying fruit rinds and the ruins of a thousand chicken bones. The stink that drenched the air was almost visible.

Eyes still on Griggs, the imp retrieved a paper sack with his free hand, rooting around in it, pulling out a Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese. He shook the wrapper off and took a huge bite. Part of the bun fell out of his mouth. “Lots of questions come to mind,” he said.

Griggs lowered the shovel, but kept a firm grip. “Yes.”


Brent said...

Whoops, I posted this comment in the wrong spot. Sorry.

Very interesting beginning--I'm anxious to read more. As always, you paint a vivid scene for the readers with fantastic detail and simile. My favorite is "like a gladiator matched against Frosty the snowman". What a great way to say that Griggs had to be confident in triumph even if he was scared.

Question: is the middle part Griggs thinking?

The Raabs said...

You kill me! You always get things started so well - give me more!!!!

I had the same question as Brent, by the way, but maybe that would be cleared up with more of the story.

Love your imagery!

"obxvhvu" - a polite way of mentioning the breaking of wind of the obx (this is the word verification for the comment).

Bret Carter said...

Thanks for reading this. The middle part is Griggs, but it's from a journal that he is keeping. For now, I won't say any more.
And thanks for the warning concerning the obx.

Brent said...

It is definitely a cool idea, but I found the placement a little jarring. A very tiny issue with an awesome start to a story...

abbie said...

I think the structure of the journal excepts will flow easier once we read more of the whole work. Reminds me of Willis. I like to make the reader work. They end up enjoying it more.