Another NaNoWriMo is over. And I finished my novel.
Did it suck? Probably. Were there times when I felt like the things that were hitting the page were actually quite good? Yes. But it's done, and that's all that matters to me right now.
"What's it about?" I'm sure you'd ask. Everyone always does.
And then I sigh and go..."Eh...it's about a guy who gives up everything he has for a chance to be happy. But it's not really about that. It's a story about a guy who gets his hand lopped off for stealing a camel. And he ends up in Paris (I still don't know how), where he meets an art thief...who is actually just a regular thief. And at some point they both end up running from this guy's boss, Mozer. And there are clowns and gunfights and fires and all kinds of stuff happens. And...after that...they maybe learn that happiness isn't something to be found. Or something? I don't know...it's terrible and I hate it, but it's all I've got this year."
Something like that. But the important thing to me is that it's done. I found myself having to stay ahead of the tide of "I don't wanna..." by writing furiously, 2,000 words a day. If I was ahead of my goal, I didn't feel discouraged. The more days ahead I was, the more I felt like I had to write to not lose my lead. That's backwards, I know, but when all you want to do is collapse into a ball and NOT write, it makes sense...at least in my head.
And no, writing isn't some burden on my soul or anything. I just didn't feel like it this year.
That's nine novels. Next year is number ten.
I toyed with the idea of posting it chapter by chapter here, at the beginning of the month. But I worried that it might make me nervous about the quality and would slow down my writing. I always write pretending that no one will ever read it. I'm more honest that way. I think...
But I ultimately decided not to. Because I don't want people to know how bad my writing actually sucks. Maybe some year, when I'm happy with my novel, I'll post it here for you. But this year...eh...it's just...too bad.
You know what? I just decided. I'm gonna post the first chapter as is. No editing. No anything. Nothing is scarier than shoving a screaming fetus into the light of day, but meh. I'm doing it.
So...The Paris Incident...which is a working title. Because it's just as bad as the rest.
Adam craned his neck and squinted into the sunrise behind him. They were definitely following him. Shit. He smacked the haunches of the camel, as well as he could reach them. It just wouldn’t go any faster. At this rate, he was sure they could catch him on foot.
He had to admit, the turban had felt weird at first, but it kept his head surprisingly cool, as did whatever the robes were. Probably cotton. He guessed they wouldn’t have access to polyester or whatever way out here. “C’mon, Bessie,” he grumbled, smacking the side of the dromedary.
He might not have paid attention in geography when they covered northern Pakistan—if they covered northern Pakistan—but he knew the D camel from the B camel.
The dirt road stretched out like a cat in the sun, in no more hurry to move him along than his humpy conveyance. Shouts rattled his eardrums from a distressingly close distance. He really should have stolen this camel earlier in the night, but he needed sleep for the getaway. Wherever that was headed. There had to be some kind of city on this road, some place where a person might speak English. He hadn’t seen a single car or bus or truck since he’d left the motorcycle in the brush on the outskirts of the village. Only camels. A few donkeys carrying packs. Horses, although they seemed to be carrying a higher class of Pakstani, perhaps military or royalty or something. What they were doing way out here, Adam couldn’t say. Hell, he couldn’t even ask. It seemed that no one out here spoke anything but a sort of nasal, chuckling, indecisive babble.
The same babble that was sounding more and more decisive as the men who chased him closed the gap. Adam shouted back to them, “I’m only borrowing the camel. You can have it back when I get somewhere.”
Of course, they didn’t understand him any more than he did them. Despite all his shouting and explaining, hand gestures, pantomime, and anything else he could do to dissuade them from retrieving their camel, they persisted. He finally stopped when they were within stone-throwing distance. He got down from the camel and offered it to the first man who approached. The man glowered at him, his cracked brown skin bunching at his mouth. Adam cleared his throat. “Ahem. Umm…I’m sorry?”
The man took a curved blade from his belt and held it before him. Adam put his hands up in what he hoped was a universal sign of surrender. “Take it back. I’ll walk. I don’t need it. Please! Don’t kill me. God, please…”
The man lifted his sword over his head, shouted something, and brought the hilt down with a crack. Adam’s last thought, “Well, shit,” didn’t even have time to escape his mouth before he was unconscious.
She was gorgeous. Golden skin from top to toes. Blonde hair only a beachside life can create. Curves. Oh, God, her curves. Like the perfect road. And he didn’t even have a car.
“Get it together, Adam. She’s just a girl.” He blinked hard.
But she wasn’t just a girl. She hooked him through the cheek and brought him flopping against the deck into her boat, clubbed him with an oar so he didn’t escape, and filleted any chance he might have had of forgetting her.
“Gwynne,” she’d replied, when he finally found the nerve to ask her name.
“Gwynne, huh? That’s unique.” He hoped his smirk was conveying the nonchalant interest he was aiming for and not the sheer panic that teemed just below the surface.
“My dad really liked the Munsters.”
He was lost. Instantly the panic surfaced. She was going to think he was uncool. But, to his delight, she stepped in, offered him a life jacket. Explained. “Fred Gwynne played Herman, the dad.”
“That’s the frankenstein guy, right?”
“Yeah. The frankenstein guy.”
The reality of this statement made Adam stop. “You’re named after a TV monster?”
“Not even as cool as that. I’m named after the guy who played the TV monster. But I guess it’s better than Herman. Or Fred.”
“That’s fair.” Adam had calmed again, trying hard to practice feeling like she wasn’t the most beautiful girl he’d seen in years. “So, how come I’ve never seen you here before?”
“I don’t really like bars, to be honest.” She looked around at the frat guys lining up at the bar to hit on the pretty bar tenders, the regulars lounging in their booths, and the loud, catty girls at the middle tables.
He could see why. “I don’t really, either.”
“But you’ve been here enough to notice that I haven’t been in here much?”
She had him. She just smiled over her beer. He put his hands up in the universal sign for surrender. “Okay. You got me. We come here every weekend, at least to start.”
He looked around. What for? “I don’t know. I guess it’s a place to meet people.”
“No. Not like you at all.”
Her face didn’t bely any reaction at all. He wasn’t even sure she’d heard him.
“You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever seen in this place.”
“Come with me.” She took his hand. She took his hand!
He didn’t say anything, afraid of ruining whatever this moment was. She led him to a large rectangular table in the middle of the bar. Empty cups were lined up at one end like soldiers waiting to be decorated. The girls who sat around sipping drinks turned at once, as if controlled by a hive mind. Gwynne approached the table and stopped for a moment before asking them, “Do you know this guy?”
A few of them nodded.
“Does this sound familiar?” She turned to him.
He wasn’t sure what she wanted.
“Say the line.”
“The line you just used on me. Say it.”
“But why would I—“
“Say it!” She squeezed his hand.
His face was brilliant with blood, he could feel it. He swallowed. Had he just picked another crazy? “You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever seen in this place.”
Gwynne addressed the girls. “Except he didn’t say it like that. He really laid it on. How many of you has he said that to?”
The girls looked at each other, saying nothing. Adam felt more awkward with every passing second. He was sure his face would burst into flame.
The mentally-selected spokesperson for the hive mind looked at them and said, “Well, yeah it’s familiar. But guys tell us that all the time.”
“Right. But, has HE ever said that to any of you.”
They burst into peals of laughter that sounded more like hungry Maenads than anything. Adam was sure he’d been hooked by another psychopath. The spokesperson touched her face and replied, “Oh, God, no. I can’t even…”
Gwynne and Adam both waited for her to finish her sentence, but she just turned around and the girls proceeded to chat like they hadn’t just been surveyed.
Adam wasn’t sure what was coming. He just stood there looking at her. His brain let out a puff of something. Finally, she spoke. “Well, I guess you can buy me a drink.”
He looked at the drink in her hand. She caught his gaze and slammed the rest of the beer, leaving her glass on the edge of the hive mind’s table. He was sure he had hooked another crazy, but right then, he didn’t care.
Adam awoke in a hut whose interior looked similar to the one he’d woken up in the day before. He tried to sit up, but his head was filled with iron balls that clanged together every time he moved. Slowly, he balanced the clanging spheres somewhere near the base of his neck and sat up. His feet were bound together at the ankle. Past that, the door to the hut was filled with mid-morning light. Or mid-afternoon. He didn’t know. God damn this place!
“Hello?!” he shouted at the sunlight. It didn’t respond. Movement outside the dwelling set his ears on edge. Dirt crunched under a soft shoe or two. It was behind him. He didn’t dare turn his head for fear of losing his composure. In a moment, a man appeared in the rectangle of sunlight. He said something Adam didn’t understand. Another man joined him. A third man came through the door. They talked quietly, as if he might overhear and grasp what exactly they planned to do.
“I don’t understand a word of what you are saying. You might as well be talking about the aliens that crash landed here last week, your wives and their various bizarre sexual appetites, or just exactly what you intend to do with that huge sword that’s hanging on the wall…that you’re headed toward.”
The second man took the blade from the wall and checked the edge. It looked like it had never been used. The first man stood near the door for a moment before closing the flap. It was dark. A small lantern hanging overhead showed everyone in a flickering, unstable light. The third man muttered some words and took Adam’s hands in his own. He examined each of them, feeling along the pads of his palm, down each finger, and finally squeezing the wrist. He let the right one drop and grasped the left one in his own hand.
“What are you doing? Oh God. What are you doing?”
They approached him, speaking words that he felt were meant to comfort him. This did nothing but awake in him an animal instinct to flee. Flee. Get out of there and go back to his own country where he had once had everything he ever needed. Unhappiness seemed such a stupid reason to adventure, in hindsight.
“Help! Help!” He shouted in the deluded hope that some passing adventurer would smash through the wall and snatch him away, movie style, slinging one liners and making the village women swoon.
The first man brought a three legged table over with a thick wooden top. The slab of wood was criss-crossed with scores, all of them a ruddy brown. The third man held Adam’s arm below the elbow and extended his forearm across the table, wrist just shy of the middle. He held the hand down flat and looked Adam in the eyes. The horrible reality of what was about to happen didn’t need words to make the leap from brain to brain.
Adam bucked, screaming. The second man brought the huge blade up over his head. The third man spoke five loud words, never taking his eyes off of Adam’s. Adam grit his teeth and closed his eyes. This was going to be horrible. As the blade came down, his skull was filled with white noise that evolved into a terrible fire which erupted from his mouth. Even this primordial shriek couldn’t drown out the sickening thwack that he knew would be the last sound he ever heard.
And yet, he didn’t lose consciousness. He watched as they bandaged someone’s bloody stump, wrapping it in rough cloth and pouring a searing liquid over the end of it. He didn’t feel a thing. He’s glad it isn’t his own hand. Only this man in his body whose foolish ambitions and restless yearnings had brought him to this place. And in that moment, he was happy.