A NaNoWriMo Novel Contest Entry by Evan M. Nichols
What it is: National Novel Writing Month is November 1 - 30th.
NaNoWriMo.org sponsors a contest for 50,000-word novels written completely within the month of November. Yes, this is slightly crazy, but I did it! 51,780 words, and most of them make sense!
The following are excerpts from what I've written. Be aware that this is a FIRST DRAFT! There isn't time for careful editing, so awkward phrasing, repeated words, or even grammatical errors may appear. I just had to say that.
And those of you keeping score at home, you'll be surprised to know that I used the word "throbbing" only ONCE in the entire novel. That's kind of a record for me.
(If you've already read Chapter 22 (below), scroll down for more...)
Susan awoke in a strange man's arms. Without moving, she looked around the room, trying to get her bearings. They appeared to be on the floor of an apartment living room, wrapped in a comforter, heads on sofa cushions. She could see part of his face. It seemed familiar, but she had no idea where she might have seen him before. She shifted, and pain shot up from her ankle. She looked down at her hand, clutching the edge of the comforter, and saw scratches. She carefully slid her arm from under the cover, and with increasing shock, saw the torn sleeve, bruises, and dried blood. Lots of dried blood. What had she done last night?
The man stirred, and as his arm lifted from where it lay across her, she rolled from under the covers, despite a cacophony of aches and sharp pains all over her body, and snatched the poker from the apparently unused fire set by a pristine fireplace. She whirled to face him as his eyes flew open.
"Who are you?" she said, then wished she could have come up with something more original. "Don't move!" This warning came with a firm shake of the poker. The man froze.
"I'm Daniel," he said. "I rescued you. Remember?"
"No!" Susan said, but a glimmering of familiarity hovered at the back of her brain. "How do I know you didn't do all this to me?" Daniel, if that was his name, started to sit up, and finished the motion more slowly after another warning shake of the poker.
"Your name is Susan," he started.
"I know who I am," she snapped. "I need to know who you are, and what I'm doing here."
"What do you remember?" he asked. Susan thought back. She had an unpleasant meeting with some parents, she remembered that. It had gone badly, and she had been in a foul mood for the drive home. She had gone shopping. Yes, there had been grocery shopping, then home. Then something happened, something bad, that had been bad for a very long time...
"Careful," Daniel said, taking the poker from her unresisting hands. He looked at her, and she trembled, wishing she wasn't, hoping that he would put his arms around her again, wanting not to need comforting from a stranger.
"What happened to me?" she whispered. Daniel put his arms out, and she let him hold her again. The cautious part of her brain still warned her that he could be responsible for the pain and blood, but the logical part pointed out that if he really wanted to cause her harm, he could have done so while she slept, so there. She listened while Daniel told her what happen, what he knew of it. As he spoke, she remembered more, and wished she hadn't.
"It was dark," Susan said when he was finished. "I was dragged somewhere, it was hard, like stone, and rough. They just dragged me like the proverbial sack of potatoes down stairs, in dirt, whatever. Then they just dropped me, and it was dark for a long, long time. There were things moving in the dark, and sounds, but I don't remember. Then something came. It was like it just grabbed my brain and it hurt and I was so scared, but I couldn't scream, and it just went on and on. Then nothing, like I was unconscious, but I knew I was unconscious, but I couldn't dream or even think. Then I woke up here."
"You don't remember being in a cell? Running away from the creatures?" Daniel asked.
"No, not at all," Susan said. "But that was just a dream you had."
"You twisted your left ankle," Daniel said. "How's it feel?" Susan flexed it, and the pain signaled just as it had done when she first moved it.
"It hurts," she said. "But that could have been from something else." She knew she didn't sound very convincing. Daniel gestured with his bandaged arm.
"I could have gotten this from something else," he said. "But I'm pretty sure it came from a dream. Or at least, where I went when I was asleep."
"What an odd way to put it," Susan said. "Where would you go?"
"It's not a simple answer," he said. "In one way, I'm in bed, asleep. In another way, I'm somewhere else, and I really have no idea where that else is, but I think it has a reality unto itself, more than just a dream. I think that's where you may have been for the last week."
"I've been gone a week?" Susan said. "I thought... I mean, a week?" She settled onto Daniel's chest again.
"Um, it's a little embarrassing to ask this, but what's today?"
"Sunday. Your brother said he went to your house last Saturday, when he found your briefcase and a bag of groceries on the ground."
"I've missed a week of work!" Susan said, sitting up. "Oh god, without approval! They won't stand for it! I'll be fired!"
"Wait, it's okay," Daniel said. "They reported you kidnapped, you've been on the news. I think they'll give you some leeway."
"Oh no," Susan groaned. "I've been on the news." She shook her head, and started laughing. She laughed until her cheeks were wet, not really knowing what was so funny. It's better than hysterical crying, she thought, which brought back another memory.
"Daniel," she said. "Was there, last night, perhaps a whole lot of crying that happened?" He nodded.
"I would appreciate it if that didn't get mentioned to anyone else. My brother is, well, the truth is he can be a terrible jerk, and it's a family thing that goes way back, but it would be much better if the crying aspect of our time together was our secret. Is that all right?" Daniel said that it was.
"Good. And another thing," she put a hand on his chest so she could prop herself up and look in his eyes. "My memories of what happened really aren't very clear. If it turns out that you were actually responsible for what I went through, I will cause you a considerable amount of pain, probably though a series of beatings with a shovel." Daniel looked worried, and started to speak, but she stopped him.
"On the other hand, as bizarre and improbable as your story is, I suspect that the truth is closer to you being responsible for me escaping from wherever I was. In that case, I will somehow, someday, repay the debt I owe to you for doing that in a suitable manner, even at the cost of my very life. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Daniel said, still looking as if he had lingering worries about shovels.
"Good. Now, I should call my brother and let him know I'm alive, and I really, really, really need a shower."
When Susan called, Diana was happy to hear from her, and expected to take a message for Chad. It turned out to be the longest conversation she had ever had with Susan. Susan told her about the attack on Stephanie, and the subsequent discussion where Susan insisted that they all stay out at the farm.
"Why?" Diana asked. "Isn't it over? I mean, you're back, safe, right?"
"Yes," Susan said. "But it may not be over." She told Diana about Charlie's theories, and Diana grew very quiet. Daniel and Stephanie were setting up to telecommute from the farm, so they wouldn't have to drive to work. They were watching for more creatures. Possible attacks from other dimensions. It all seemed improbable, but it made some of the odd series of events make sense. Diana promised to tell Chad, and have him call Susan.
After Susan hung up, Diana thought for a long time about what she had said. Then she reached for the phone. She was just finishing up the last of several calls, when Chad arrived home.
"Hey, Babe," he breezed. "Miss me?" Diana hugged him.
"Your sister called," she said. "Something happened to Stephanie. She's okay, but they're all going to stay out at the farm for a while."
"What?" Chad said. "Why?" Diana related what Susan had told her, with numerous detours for Chad's interruptions and questions.
"So they're going to be out there until they figure out what's going on, and what they can do about it," Diana said. "I thought it would be good if we went out there too."
"No, that's stupid," Chad said. "I knew they were up to something. This is just the next step."
"What are you talking about?" Diana asked.
"It's some sort of scam, don't you see? They've earned her trust, now they're going to move in. They could claim to be tenants, Susan couldn't evict them without due process. They could even sue her and get the property," Chad said, reaching for the phone. "We should call the police now."
"No!" Diana said. "You can't do that! They were right about her being taken somewhere else, where the police wouldn't find her. I don't think they're lying."
"Babe, think about it," Chad said. "There's no way we can really prove them wrong, is there? What better way to run a con than give a story where something mysterious happens, something that can't be explained, and Susan's magically rescued from some fake monsters. She's grateful, gives them whatever they want, and they take her for all she's worth."
"What, they've targeted her for her secret fortune? She's a junior-high-school counselor, not a millionaire!"
"They could take the farm," Chad said. "It's in her name."
"I don't believe you," Diana said. "Last week you were ready to do anything to get Susan back. Now she's home, and you're accusing the only people that actually did anything helpful of trying to rip her off!" Chad shook his head.
"I know, I was confused," he said. "Susan was gone, I was willing to listen because there was nothing else. I've been thinking about it since then. I mean, do you really believe their story about monsters with horns taking her to a cave and being rescued in a dream? I stopped believing in things like that when I was four."
"You're being unreasonable," Diana said.
"Me? I'm the only one who is reasonable!" he yelled. Diana stared darkly at him.
"I'm going out to the farm. I wanted you to come with me," she said. Chad laughed.
"Be serious," he scoffed. "I shut down my practice for a week, I can't go out there now. I missed a tournament, and didn't surf all week, and I've got to get some wave time or I won't stand a chance all season."
"Fine," Diana said. "I'm going." She stalked out of the living room. Chad didn't follow her. She had her suitcases almost packed when he appeared, leaning against the bedroom door.
"All right, Dee," he said. "I'm sorry I yelled at you." Diana kept packing.
"Come on," he continued. "You can't think it will do any good."
"Maybe not," she said. "I just think I should be there."
"What if I'm right? What if they are trying to pull something? You'll just be in the middle of it." Diana pushed past him, heading to the bathroom. She started tossing toiletries into her bag.
"You're not going to commute from there?" Chad said. "It's probably an hour each way."
"I'm taking the semester off," Diana said.
"Don't be ridiculous," Chad said.
"I'm only teaching one class this semester, Gail said she'd pick it up for me. I told the dean I needed a sabbatical, he said it was fine," Diana said. "It's not ridiculous."
"Yes, it is," Chad whined. "I don't want you to go."
"I really liked the idea of us spending time on the farm together," Diana said.
"It's not a farm," Chad said. "There's no crops, no livestock, it's actually..."
"That's not the point!" Diana said. "I thought we could spend some time away from here, not doing the same old things, so we could be together. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I need time by myself, so I can think about us."
"You can think about us here," Chad said. "I don't want you to go."
"You see, that's just it," Diana said. "I want to go, you don't want me to go; who wins? When was the last time we did something that I really wanted to do?"
"We do things you like all the time," Chad said.
"I see. Are you sure about that?"
"That's the problem," Diana said, grabbing up her bags, and walking out the door.
(This isn't the whole chapter, but it's the last bit...)
"We should give it to her now," Susan said. Everyone looked at Stephanie excitedly.
"Give what?" she asked. Daniel held out the orb.
"We think you should have it," he said. "As a souvenir." Gingerly, Stephanie took it.
"Does it still work?" she asked. Daniel shrugged.
"I don't know," he said. "I didn't want to try it."
A few hours later, Diana stepped out into the back yard, and found Stephanie sitting on the back steps. "There you are," Diana said. "You keep disappearing."
"I know," Stephanie said. "I'm not good with large parties." Diana sat next to her and took her hand.
"That's okay," she said. "I still feel pretty overwhelmed about all that's happened in the last couple weeks."
"Do you think we can ever go back?" Stephanie said.
"What do you mean?" Diana asked.
"After all that's happened, do you think we can go back to living normal lives in a mundane world? I mean, I've fought monsters here and in another dimension. I led an army against them, and we saved the world, potentially at least. We faced life and death, and now it's over, and I don't know what it will be like when I go back to work. Will corporate business seem boring and insignificant? Will I have to do something dangerous to feel like I'm doing anything worthwhile? Will I just be a rebound relationship for you, and you'll dump me once you get to know what I'm like when we're not fighting for our lives?"
"Is that what this is all about?" Diana asked. Stephanie shrugged.
"Maybe," she said. "Those other questions are still valid, though." Diana hugged her.
"I don't know what will happen in the future," she said. "Maybe Daniel will have a vision, so we'll know. I can tell you that I don't feel like this is just a rebound thing. Things will be different when we go back to our normal lives. But I think we can adjust. I really want to be with you." Stephanie sniffled, wishing she wasn't crying again.
"Me too," she said. "Come on, let's go home."
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