Friday, February 24, 2012

Novel Sampler: The Vehicle

I'm working on my Young Adult Novel. Here's a sneak peak, let me know what you think (the short story with all the sex and the f-bombs is taking longer for me to get to you than I'd hoped)..

When Charlie and I come up on The Institute, I am heaving and nearly out of breath. It was longer than I thought it would be getting here, and tougher going. Three miles at least, and all uphill. I’m used to riding my bike everywhere, even in winter. But I’m used to riding alone. Keeping pace with someone else is tricky. I can hold my own with Henry, but I don’t know Charlie as much. When he hops off his beaten bike and makes his way up the stony driveway, I let him know.

“On the way back, I’m leading,” I say. He turns and gives me half a nod. Whether he means it or not, I don’t know. He’s the one with the power, he’s the one who can let us into The Institute. He’s the one who can get us into his dad’s files, and my mom’s. But I will be the one to lead us out of here, whether he likes it or not.

The Institute looks like The White House. It is big, looming, white. There are columns and big windows that you can’t see into. There are long trimmed hedges on each side so that in the summer during exhibits, kids and their parents can line up. Today, those hedges look scraggly, and there are bits of trash clinging to the bare branches. The Institute is closed for the season, and probably even for the workers since its Sunday.

I think, there is nothing good about Sundays in winter. Nothing at all.

We’ve grown up knowing The Institute as the most important building—well, the most important thing of all—about our small town. There’s nothing else here. It’s a museum, it’s a research center, and it’s what we are famous for. Some old rich guy started it something like a hundred years ago, and to me, that might as well be the beginning of time. I have never been in The Institute without a tour group, and even when we go in and see the biological exhibits with the dead stuffed cougars and birds, or the anthropological ones where the weird plastic models of cavemen are frozen in the act of throwing a spear, I have never been to the back half, where the curators and the scientists and the researchers sit in silence and do their work. This was where my mom went almost every day before her assignment to Pompeii. Charlie can get us in, and I need to see the file of her mission there.

I walk to the front door but Charlie darts fast to the side of the building, and when I start to protest he hushes me fast. I shut my big mouth. I don’t do that often.
His black hair looks nearly blue in the bald winter light. His face is red and he puts his finger to his lips. I run up next to him so fast I bump into him hard and feel the scratch of his wool jacket against my hands.

“Sorry,” I mumble. And he hushes me again.

On the side of The Institute is a less grand entrance. A brown door, scratched and small, with a key pad where you punch in numbers to a code. Charlie works his fingers on the code quickly.

“Why don’t you tell me what it is? I should know, if we come back.”

Charlie looks at me gravely. “We’re not coming back, Kate.”

We push through the door, almost together because I shove myself along with Charlie’s movements. It’s dark, and it takes a while for me to see what we are looking at. Then, Charlie flips on a spotty florescent light that buzzes like that wasp’s nest Henry and I knocked down last summer. He had told me not to hit it, but I did it anyway. When it happened, he yelled at me to run, and I did. He ran faster, and I almost made it. One wasp caught up with me and stung me once in my right knee and as I fell, on my left cheek. I remember picking myself up, tears streaming from my face as I swelled up, and then when I saw Henry, stopping immediately. He saw I was red and asked if I was okay. And I put my hand to my face like he had been the one to point it out, and faked a laugh. Oh, did I get stung, I said. I didn’t notice. Henry gave me his portion of ice cream that night. He never called me out on it, he never ratted on me. I have been avoiding losing Mom for nearly a year. But if I lose Henry too, my heart will break for good. I sniff once and don’t think about Henry again. I think about defeating The Vehicle. Once I do that, I can think about saving everyone else. Even me.

What I see when the light is on is miles. Miles and miles of filing cabinets, stacked high and in many long rows. They are not marked. Not by date, not by project or name. I start walking anyway. I figure I will have to walk up and down each aisle, and look at the top file and the bottom file in the row to figure out the pattern of what is categorized and why. I pull open the first one in our aisle. I scan it quickly. It’s about the history about the domestication of grain. The bottom one is about computer chips. I soldier on, pulling papers out, reading them quick, and then laying them back in very carefully. This goes on for a good half hour. Finally, I look up at Charlie, who is leaned up against the wall and looking very amused at my frantic reading.

“What we need is in my dad’s office.”

“Stop playing games, Charlie.”

“I’m not, I just knew you wouldn’t go there without looking at this first.”

“How do you know what I would and wouldn’t do?” I slam a cabinet shut. “You don’t know anything about me.” Immediately, I am sorry for saying this. I am often sorry for saying every little thing that comes into my mind. But Charlie is still smiling. He’s not offended at all.

“No Filter Kate, that’s what I’m going to call you from now on.”

“Dead Man Charlie, that’s what you'll be if you don’t cut the crap.”

Charlie stops smiling and sighs. “This way.”

We wind through several more aisles of several more beige filing cabinets. It could be a library, it could be a morgue. There is nothing special about anything here, except for what could lie inside.

At the far end of the room, Charlie takes a sharp right, again to another door. I think about asking him how much time he has spent here, alone and learning all the ins and outs. Maybe it’s as much time as I have spent with Henry in the woods, or alone in the woods. Or at The Site. Charlie is moving through everything as if his eyes are closed, just like I can do in those other places. Meanwhile I bump into corners and fall into him again at the next door. He punches in another code, and when we walk through, we find another world.

It is bright white, a laboratory, and cluttered as if we are in the middle of a big crowd. There are desks overflowing with file folders and papers, corkboards with pushpins of swatches of colors, glass containers of different colored powders—some look like glittering gems, others like dirt—and random piles of the most glorious materials I have ever seen. There are bones, tusks, skulls of monkeys and birds. I want to touch them, but I can’t disturb them. There are tattered rugs with patterns that I recognize as Navaho, broken pieces of carvings that I can tell are Incan, papery scrolls with cryptic and beautiful writing that I know is Egyptian, big fat cubes of rock that have cave paintings—monoliths, they are called—with running buffalo. There are vials of water, or what looks like water. Vials of what looks like blood. Amber chunks of resin with trapped mosquitos. Charlie had been holding my hand as we walked through to here but I drop quietly and I stare. This sight is what my Site should have been. Could have been. Suddenly, The Site seems so childish. For kids. And I’m not a kid. Even if I was when this began, I’ll never be a kid again. The treasures here are too many to count, and they are unguarded, and I know that the answer to the Curse of Pompeii, and the curse that The Vehicle is now bringing upon us is here. If only we can find it.

“My dad’s desk is back here,” Charlie says, and walks away, though I can barely follow him as I take in more bounty. Pinned butterflies, more beautiful and in unbroken glass, unlike the only one I have. Beaded jewelry from tribes long gone. Rocks of all kinds—sedimentary, metamorphic, and the most important of all, igneous. The Bravery was once a tongue, but now it is petrified not unlike an igneous rock. Of course it would be igneous. It was transformed in the volcano of Mount Vesuvius. It was supposed to protect whoever had it. And now, it has transformed The Vehicle into a monster, and I don’t know why.

Right before Charlie’s dad’s desk, I stop. Here is the most amazing thing of all: a full-grown lioness, stuffed and mounted. She is incredible, and I am sad that the only way I can get this close to her is because she is long dead. I look at her yellow eyes, the way the fur becomes whitish around her plasticized nose, her fangs out and the position she has been wrangled into—as if she is running, as if she is about to charge, as if she could get away.

“Kate, hurry!”

I take a moment to look deep into her glass eyes and feel as though I can see her even though she will never see me. And then I look at the rest of her. What I see is terrible, her fur is worn and ragged. Faded. She looks so old on part of her and so young on the rest. It’s as if part of her has been in the light, and part of her has been in the dark and she has aged horribly because of it. Though I don’t know which it is.

“What is this? Why is she like this?” I ask Charlie.

“It’s nothing, they have to restore it. Under the lights of the display case, the animals fade to nearly nothing. It’s being painted, it’s being repaired, more of its natural body is being torn away and they’re painting the fur. It’s the price of being able to look at it, I guess.”

“But she’s barely real at all any more.” I say this and it comes out with great sadness.

5 comments:

Buffy said...

More, please.

N. said...

Yes, more. Update us, woman! ;)

N. said...

I'm convinced you're engaged, orhave otherwise run off and done something crazy. Post to your blog and convince me otherwise. Please? ;)

Farrah Khan said...

Where'd you go? I followed you for years and now you're gone :(

Dr. kold_kadavr_flatliner, MD, the Roamin' Cat said...

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