Suspicious Sparks

I’ve been a snail all this week, that’s all I can say. With this story, I had to settle on who the characters are. Yesterday the where-to-from-here became clear and I sat down to write my six lines when the doorbell rang. My visitor, a friend who likes to chat, stayed a couple of hours. So here’s my belated offering for the Six Word Story Challenge. The prompt word this week is SPARK.

Suspicious Sparks

“Great job getting rid of them before they did too much nosing around,” Jonathan said, stepping out of the hall closet. “So, how did you happen to show up here, Sonia — just when I needed you?”

“We’d set up a meeting with a shareholder for half an hour ago – a very important one – so when Herb didn’t show up I knew something was wrong and came to see what happened to him. “Now, what are you doing here and why Herb was out cold with a bruise on his face,” she demanded, glaring at him.

“The CEO ordered me to find out where his wife, Janice, is hiding; she’s gone and he was sure Herb would know where. Mr Zenzig thought he saw a spark flash between her and Herb one day and suspected they were meeting privately, so he sent me to nose around, see if she was here — in the course of our discussion Herb happened to trip and hit his head on the edge of the coffee table.”

What Happened to Herb?

It’s Six Sentence Story time again and, just to keep you on your toes, I’m going to continue the tale I started last week. The PROMPT WORD this week over at GirlieOnTheEdge is KNOT

What Happened to Herb?

Sirens and flashing lights attracted a knot of spectators in front of Herb’s house and they watched as paramedics carried him out on a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance.

“Poor Herb must have fallen downstairs by the looks of him,” a neighbour surmised as the ambulance drove away.

“She must have found him,” another person said, nodding toward the door where a pale thirty-something woman was talking with a policewoman. “I saw her drive up about ten minutes ago and go dashing into his house like she was expecting trouble.”

“While I was watering my planters awhile ago I saw some fellow–a smart-looking guy–go up Herb’s walk and ring the bell.”

“Yes, and I didn’t see him leave so he must still be inside,” said Mrs Robins from across the street, who was notorious for seeing everything that transpired on their block.

Image: Pixabay

In case you missed the first episode, click here to read it.

The Coming Storm – Part 2

Powerful Opening Hooks

After reading how important a novel’s first page is, I decided to check out a few. Using Amazon’s “Look inside” and Libby’s, “Download a sample,” I checked out half a dozen opening paragraphs in various genres. Some piqued my interest enough that I’ve borrowed the book.

I’ve never read anything by John Grisham; my impression from reviews is that his books are thrillers, and definitely on the darker side. However, the title, A TIME FOR MERCY, sounded fairly hopeful. His first page starts with a such a compelling hook that I couldn’t quit! He’s layered a number of issues into his first chapter, all with powerful hooks.

The writer starts with a picture of domestic abuse – something I’m familiar with. My birth mom was beaten severely at times by her father; she and my dad led an Andy Capp & Florrie life. My one sister got many beatings from a drunken spouse; when he started choking her, she finally left.

Opening scene:
Almost 2am, Josie’s waiting for her boyfriend to come home. Stuart’s a sloppy, violent drunk so she needs to be awake; she may need to protect her two teens who are upstairs, barricaded in the girl’s room. Brought up rough herself, living in an old camper before Stuart took her in, she knows she and the kids have nowhere to go if they can’t stay here, so she puts up with the escalating violence. But she won’t have him hurting 16-year-old Drew–who’s small for his age – and 14-year-old Kiera.

Finally he staggers in, angry that she’s up. She tries to placate him; he accuses her of cheating, starts slapping her around. She tries to keep things toned down for her kids’ sake but she really has no chance. Stuart’s been a street brawler all his life. Finally he gives her a pile-driver punch that shatters her jaw and knocks her cold.

Then he thinks of the girl upstairs and fancies a sexual encounter. (He’s abused her before–and threatened to kill her if she ever told.) But they’ve barricaded the door well. After several clumsy attempts to force his way into her bedroom, he gives up, goes downstairs, and passes out on the bed. After awhile the teens creep downstairs and find their mom out cold; they’re sure she’s dead. Drew calls 911, says, “Stuart killed our mother.”

Drew checks on him. Passed out now, but if he wakes up they know he’ll beat them for being downstairs. He has no use for Josie’s kids – nothing but white trash – won’t buy them food, treats them like slaves. He’s Somebody in the community; his family’s big here; he owns a house and land, has lots of friends. When sober he’s Mr Nice Guy; everyone likes him. Stuart’s a deputy sheriff, the officer with the friendly wave and cheerful smile who gives talks at schools about the dangers of drugs.

When his violent side shows, his fellow deputies cover for him. He’s been involved in drunken brawls that never get reported. Two other times when Josie called for help because he was beating her, his buddies came and settled him down; no other action was taken; if reports were even filed, they disappeared.

So Drew knows they’ll get no real help from the police. He’s at the end of his rope emotionally. He goes into the bedroom and takes Stuart’s police gun, always kept loaded, from the holster. Terrified that the man will wake up and start abusing them, filled with hate for this murderer, he sees no hope ahead. A few minutes later Stuart moans, shifts on the bed – and Drew shoots him.

Cops arrive; an ambulance comes and takes Josie away; the teens are taken to jail – for their own safety as much as anything. Now Sheriff Ozzie learns about Stuart’s domestic violence. “Why wasn’t I told this,” he asks his men. “Where’s the report on those incidents?” (Later he learns that Stuart’s blood alcohol content when he died was 3.6. Raging drunk.)

The sheriff, a newly-elected black man in this redneck Alabama community, is basically a good guy but knows he had to tread carefully. Drew’s under arrest for murder, but he asks Kiera if she has any family she can go to. Josie and the kids have gone to church a few times though Stuart didn’t like it at all and was rude to Pastor Brother Charles when he came to call. But Kiera asks Ozzie to call Brother Charles. He comes and takes her to his home.

A kind young man, Brother Charles is also fairly new in the community. He doesn’t notice the spiteful looks directed at him by the deputies present. He’s here for the killer’s family and in their minds their buddy was the innocent victim shot by this young punk. Stuart’s family likewise is gathering together, murmuring about revenge. Sheriff Ozzie will have his hands full controlling their reaction. And he’s up for re-election next year, a good time to show himself tough on crime.

Jake, one of the main characters in this drama, being the only reliable defense lawyer around, knows this will be a very unpopular case. He believes that everyone has the right to a fair trial, but the last time he’d defended someone in a high-profile, controversial case like this, he got nasty looks everywhere he went, was harassed by phone calls, even threatened, for up to three years after.

As he attends church that morning he senses the mood among his own Presbyterian church people. A minor or not, he’s killed a cop. And for sure the fundamentalists down the street, Baptists and Pentecostals who favored the death penalty, will be out for blood. This boy has no chance to escape the gas chamber. And if Jake acts as this boy’s defense, he’ll be universally loathed. As word gets around that he’ll be defending the boy, he starts getting threatening phone calls. “If you get that kid off…!” His wife even gets one at her job.

At the jail Drew curls himself into a fetal ball, wrapping the thin blanket around him. In the eyes of friends and family, Stuart has become a hero, a martyr almost. The media, with no official word, is distorting the picture big time: “Officer killed in the line of duty!” Folks are talking of skipping the trial, dealing with this cop-killing thug right now. Meanwhile Brother Charles and his Good Shepherd church rally around Josie and her family.

You can just see the thunder-heads building in the sky! Grisham has put so many issues on the plate, all compelling hooks:
Is there justice and a fair trial for the poor in America?
Will the defense be able to prove the threat Josie and her children were facing?
Will the relatives take justice in their own hands?
How will the family and predominantly white community react to a black sheriff if he allows the truth about Stuart’s violent character?
Will the area’s fundamental churches attack Brother Charles’s group for standing by the killer’s family?
Will the community lynch the defense lawyer?

Atticus Finch, where are you?

Warning:
I’ve no clue how this will end and can’t give it a rating at this point. But if you choose to read this book, don’t start it later in the evening like I did!

The Coming Storm – Part 1

In an earlier post I said my husband and I have been following a writing course given by best-selling author Jerry Jenkins. The last lesson I did covers how important the first sentence and the first paragraph are. No time for rambling here; that opening scene has to grab the reader. Even if the story doesn’t start out with a bang (on someone’s head, in some building or some universe) the reader must get a sense of a fascinating storm just ahead.

I’ve tried to do that in my response to this week’s Six Word Story prompt over at GirlieOnTheEdge’s blog, where the prompt word is BAND. I’m cheating on the prompt, though, since this isn’t a complete story. 🙂

BETTER NEVER LATE

Herb glanced out the window, checked his time again, then snapped the band of his watch in frustration.

“If she isn’t here in three minutes, I’m leaving,” he silently vowed. He had an important meeting with one of his shareholders and he dare not be late.

A moment later he heard a knock and rushed to open the door, snarling, “What…!”

“What am I doing here, you were going to ask,” Jonathan said, shoving his way inside. “Can’t you guess, Herb?”

Grad night

Here’s my response to the Ragtag Daily Prompt word: FLOUNCE

Emily checked the clock again, wondering if her date would be early or just on time. “Please don’t be late,” she thought. “Let’s get on with the show.” She’d looked forward to graduation all through high school; now the day had come and she was jittery as well as eager.

She straightened the many frills on her new dress and wondered what he’d think of it. Would he be embarrassed? As her Dad politely commented half an hour ago, it was a little over the top. Mom had decided to try a new dressmaker and Emily described the type of dress she wanted. On impulse she’d added, “I’d like something with a touch more flounce.”

Yes, she’d definitely said “a touch.” Somehow the concept hadn’t been communicated well. The gown Emily envisioned hadn’t at all corresponded to the dressmaker’s image of “a touch more flounce.” She hoped she’d be able to move around in all these ruffles — and not roast once the action get started. Worse, she was horrified they might make her look fat!

Image by Natalja Danilchenko — Pixabay

Exercise One: The English Bride

This week my husband signed up to do the Your Novel Blueprint course from Jerry Jenkins. Because we’re both writers – and because it costs an arm and a leg – I’m doing the course along with him, sort of. Listening to the instruction videos, as least. The first few are more motivational: carving out the time to write, finding your goal(s), the real reason(s) why you write, committing yourself for the long haul.

In one exercise we were to imagine someone – I’ll call him Joe – getting off a bus. Who is Joe anyway? Where’s he coming from? Is this his final destination? Is he going to visit someone, or some place? Is he running away from something, or someone? Is someone meeting him here? Who is the most important person in Joe’s life, and why isn’t that person with him? As he looks around, what expression is Joe wearing? Many questions for us to answer, constructing a scene. Then the story: what trouble will Joe have to face now? How will he react, or deal with the trouble?

I really enjoyed this exercise, and soon had a tale-in-the-making…

The English Bride

As the train pulled into town, Annie’s eyes swept up and down the single street. Howard had warned her that Fox Bluff was a small place, but could anyone actually call this a town? It wasn’t a quarter the size of her English village, and they’d all thought that was tiny.

Bone-weary after four days and nights of trundling across this vast country, Annie was ready to throw herself down and kiss the solid earth. She stepped off the train ready for a hot bath and a good meal. She was anxious to go home – their home! – and begin their new life together. For the last hour she’d held his picture in her hand, trying to recall every detail about this handsome soldier she’d been married to for three weeks.

But where was he? She’d expected he’d be here on the platform, anxious to see her again.

Annie walked up and down the platform to get her bearings, waiting for Howard. A few minutes later she grabbed her two suitcases, now sitting beside the train baggage car, and entered the depot. She approached the wicket and spoke to the agent. “Excuse me, sir. I’m Mrs Howard Hendry. I was expecting him to meet me here. Has he been?”

He gave her a puzzled look. “Has he been what?” Then the light dawned. “Oh, you must be Howard’s English woman.”

Annie bristled. “I’m Howard’s wife. He was to meet me here.”

His eyebrows rose. “Well, Mrs Hendry, you may have a little wait, unless you want to walk out there. It’s haying time, you see, and the men don’t take time off for just anything.”

“For just any…” Annie closed her mouth. Least said soonest mended. She looked down at her two heavy suitcases. She was not about to set out walking across this dusty country carrying those. “Is there a tea room here in town where I can wait? I’m sure he’ll be here soon.”

“Tea room! This isn’t England, lady.” His tone softened. “There’s a few tables down at the hotel and you could probably get a cup of tea. Mabel may even have a bit of baking on hand, if you’re hungry.”

At this point in my tale Annie’s trouble is still small-ish. Howard could still show up any minute. So I’ll send her another big problem…

Annie spotted a fly-specked mirror and decided she’d better tuck in straggles of hair before heading for the hotel. She was straightening her hat when two women rushed into the station. Probably mother and daughter. Possibly her new neighbours? Annie would have greeted them but they never glanced her way.

“Millie here needs a ticket to Donahue,” the older woman said. “She’s off to teach school. Frank’s putting her luggage on the platform.”

“Teaching school, eh? Well, good for you, Millie.” The agent wrote out the ticket. “Here you are. One ticket to Donahue for the new schoolmarm. Hope you like your new job and don’t get too many rowdies to wrestle down.”

Her mother paid for the ticket and handed it to Millie. “It’ll be better than sitting at home pining over that lost beau. He’s not worth it.”

“Oh, mother! I wasn’t pining.”

“Yes, you were! And when I see Howard again, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind, that’s for sure. We all knew he’d pop the question after he got home…and then that English floozy got her clutches in him.”

Annie froze. Her Howard? Surely not.

The mother turned to the station agent again. “I’ve heard say those English girls just hung around our army base bold as brass, begging our boys to marry them so they could get away from all that war mess. Can you imagine?”

The agent waggled his bushy brows and swung his gaze meaningfully toward Annie. “Now, Selma, best not believe everything that’s said. You know how some folks exaggerate.”

Millie sighed. “He probably forgot all about me once he got over there with those stylish English girls with their peaches & cream complexion and all. I hope you’ll snub her good and proper when she gets here, Mom.”

“I’m sure every woman in town will snub her good and proper. They all know you and Howard Hendry had an understanding.”

The agent cleared his voice in a gravelly sort of warning that finally caught the older woman’s attention. Annie saw him arch his brows and shoot a meaningful look in her direction.

Selma spun around. “You! You’re the one that stole our Howard.”

Annie flushed. She summoned all her courage for a response. “Yes, I’m the ‘English floozy’ Howard married. And no, we certainly did not hang around the base and beg the Canadians to marry us. I was working in a shop the soldiers came into now and then. Howard and I fell in love. That’s all.”

“Oh, for sure,” Selma retorted. “Why, you’re not half as pretty as our Millie here. I can’t believe he’d take you in her place without a little…coercion.”

Annie’s eyes stung. Millie was a pretty girl; she could see that. She knew she’d be called “plain” by comparison. Still… Her temper rose. “Howard married me because he loves me,” she said firmly. “Besides, so many men were killed in the war. You had no idea if he’d even come back to marry your daughter.”

The station agent intervened before any more could be said. “Selma, if Millie wants to get on that train before it pulls out, she’d better hustle along.”

Her mother took Millie’s arm and guided her toward the door, adding a loud comment in parting. “Well , Millie, you can be thankful for one thing: you won’t have Eloise Hendry as your mother-in-law.”