Tuesday, June 30, 2009
"Do you know how to drive stick shift?" he asked, one eyebrow raised. She was fairly certain those eyebrows were not merely facial features. They were black flags he hoisted to warn all in the area that he was well-armed with sarcasm and skepticism.
"Stop making assumptions about me, asshole." She clawed at the door handle and staggered gracelessly out of the truck and back into the empty expanse of the abandoned car lot. She stomped around the vehicle and wrenched its hood open. She noted the stunned look on Ryan's face with pleasure as she poked around at the engine.
"Try it again," she called victoriously.
Ryan cranked on the key and the engine roared to life with an indignant puff of dust. She smiled as she slammed the hood back into place, but she could feel her smugness dissolve into fear as figures began to materialize from the darkness beyond the car lot. She scrambled back into the truck as Ryan hit the accelerator. She could see the panic touching his eyes, too.
They didn't speak again until they were out of the spooky little town and back on the open highway.
"So where'd you learn that little trick?" Ryan asked, his voice neutral.
Amber looked up from the stained cuffs of her designer jacket and glared. "I wasn't always rich, you know. My dad was a mechanic. I used to sit around in the garage with him when I was young."
Ryan didn't respond. Just like him. Amber had no idea what her gentle roommate saw in this geek. She went back to cataloging the damage to her expensive clothing, trying not to think about what they had seen in the town that was now a good twenty miles behind them.
"Look," Ryan said softly. Amber glanced at him. His eyes were glued to the bright spot of pavement in front of them. "I'm really sorry I've been impatient with you. We've all been under a lot of stress, but if we're going to make it through this we need to get along."
"Get along?" she repeated sharply. "Maybe you and your little friends can make up a ragtag fellowship out of some fucking fantasy novel. Soon as we get back, I'm going to make some phone calls, contact the proper authorities, and get my ass out of this nightmare. I've got resources, and I'm not going to stick around and watch my people get swatted to death like insects!"
"Amber," he said quietly, "when was the last time you had cell phone reception?"
"I don't know," she said snottily. "My cell phone got lost back there. You know, when you almost got us both killed?"
"Shut up!" he snarled. "I had to check if those people were okay! How was I supposed to know they were done for?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe that kid's twisted neck was a clue? Or perhaps the man groaning 'braaaaains' should have tipped you off?"
"Goddammit, Amber. This is what I'm talking about."
"What, your ridiculous hero-complex? You can't save everyone, you know. You can't even save yourself!"
"Oh, and you think Mommy's money is going to keep you safe?"
"That's what money is for!" she yelled. "You work hard, you play the games, you make friends with the right people so that when the shit hits the fan you can protect the things that really matter!"
"Amber. You're being hysterical. You know as well as I do that the entire country is falling apart. Nowhere is safe anymore."
Amber opened her mouth to speak, but Ryan interrupted her.
"Quiet," he said, peering into the night. "Do you see something up there?"
All of the anger drained out of Amber's body. Yes, she saw something in the darkness. As they drove slowly forward, a structure solidified in their headlights. It looked like a hastily-erected barricade. And in the center, built into the wall, was an enormous old-fashioned cannon. Pointed straight at them.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
“Chela!” Trumpet vine leaves drooped down over her head. “Headed home?”
Chela grimaced at the canal bank.
“Hello, Steeplejack.” As she turned to face him, a bit of vine tangled in her hair. She swiped it away coolly. “Didn’t see you there.”
Steeplejack grinned, jostling the potted plant in one arm and hooking the handle of a tattered brown umbrella around the siderail with his other. “Not a very big water trolley, though, is it?”
As if hurt, the trolley jerked forward, giving an oily groan and sloshing muddy water against the channel banks. Everyone lurched tiredly against the siderails, and the trumpet vine nearly upended its trellis onto a harried-looking grocer crowded in beside Steeplejack. Chela caught the vine and nodded civilly at the woman, but she only shook her greasy apron and turned the other direction.
Steeplejack was still grinning. “It’s ornamental. Nearly extinct except in the North American Midwest.”
Chela eyed him. His old-fashioned wire-rims were slightly askew on his nose, and as the trolley pitched into a faster knot, he was settling easily against the siderail, all angles and wiry like an insect. There was a twig in his hair.
“You do?” Steeplejack leaned in close to her, pushing his face through the tangle of leaves. There was stubble on his chin. “An archeobotanist in disguise?”
“I worked in customs.” Chela took a step back—into an elderly street-sweeper dozing against his brooms—and craned her neck, pretending to check the station list tacked at the front of the cab.
“We’ve got five stops still,” said Steeplejack as he stuck out a hand and pulled her out of the startled street-sweeper’s lap. “You work in customs.”
“Worked. Trumpet vine’s ornamental, endangered, and illegal unless you’re carrying a nurseries license. Or labs. You’ve got a labs license? You’re a student?”
Steeplejack straightened and abruptly handed her the potted plant. The trellis dipped dangerously toward the canal bank. “Steeplejack,” Chela warned. “Don’t—”
“It’s Latin, isn’t it?” He was digging through the army bag at his side. The sun was setting quickly now, its dim, red light cutting through the trolley at a strange angle. They were on the inside of a lantern.
Chela growled and shouldered the sagging trellis back to safety. “Is what Latin?”
“I think,” Steeplejack muttered, still rummaging, “I think I read it somewhere.”
The other passengers were staring now. Chela narrowed her eyes and glared out at the canal wall. She hitched her boot against the splashboard, ignoring the leaves bobbing over her head hysterically in the warm canal wind. The whole place smelled like bodies, like warmth and dust. It was only her third day in Upground.
“Here,” Steeplejack shouted over the sudden shrieking peal of the rudder breaks at the next stop. He reached out to show an open book to her—his bag must have been full of books—but lurched forward as the trolley choked to a halt. This time, Chela put out one arm to break his fall and caught him firmly by the shoulder. Overhead, the bio-naptha lamps strung along the aluminum roof of the trolley suddenly crackled and lit, washing the trolley in a soft green glow.
In the new light, Steeplejack caught the glint of the copper hardware of her hand, and smiled warmly. “Ever see any crabs in customs?”
Chela raised her eyebrows.
The street-sweeper and the grocer were edging past them under the naptha light, ducking under the bobbing trumpet vine, looking bewildered.
“Your name. From the Latin. It means crustacean pincer. Chela means crab claw.”
Chela dropped her hand from his shoulder.
“Just get on.”
She sighed, but climbed behind him onto the bike. With a roar they sped off down the dark street, wind whipping her cloak out behind them. The buzz of the bike underneath her was strange and disconcerting, but less so than the fact that she had to hold onto the man in front of her just to stay on. She carefully held his sides, silently cursing every acceleration that made her hands reflexively clutch him tighter.
“I would have had him,” she couldn’t help saying.
“What?” he called back to her. “You’ll have to speak up.”
“I would have had him,” she repeated over the noise of the wind and the engine. “If you hadn’t interfered, he would be in a nice bundle for the police by now.”
“Sure,” he scoffed. “Whatever you say.”
The buildings whipped by, and Barbara focused on watching the car in front of them. They flew through downtown, hurtling down the streets and skidding around corners as the driver tried to lose them. But eventually he miscalculated; taking a turn too fast, the car slid to the side and slammed into a light post.
The motorcycle screeched to a stop as the man pulled himself unsteadily out of the car and began to run. Barbara leaped off and ran after him, the Boy Wonder at her heels. The criminal was moving quickly, but he was disoriented from the crash, so Barbara was able to catch up with him before he could get away down the alley. Coming up behind him, she jumped up to catch a bar of the fire escape built into the wall of the building and swung forward to kick him in the small of his back and knock him over. Dropping down, Barbara quickly jumped out of the way as the man twisted around and tried to grab her ankles. He scrabbled to his feet and faced her, scowling darkly.
The man swung at her, and Barbara dodged his fists, but one connecting with her stomach knocked her to the ground with a grunt. Rolling back from him, she positioned herself to kick out his legs, watching him approach her and waiting for the right moment…
But one of those spinning ropes the Caped Crusader always used, and the criminal was down again. Robin walked up and held out his hand to Barbara, but she went over to see that the criminal was well tied up.
“I appreciate your help and all,” said Robin carefully, “but you really shouldn’t be coming out here like this. Crime-fighting isn’t a game. You can’t just… take it up.”
“Oh, and you were catching crooks at birth?” The knots finished, Barbara flicked an insect off her shoulder and began to walk away. Robin followed her.
“No, but unlike some people, I know what I’m doing.”
“Is that so? Got a diploma in vigilante-ism, huh?”
“I’ve got training. I’ve also got a record.”
Barbara sighed and turned to face him. “Look, I know you’ve been doing this for a while, and you’ve done all right for yourself. But it didn’t happen overnight. When you started out, you were just some kid in a dumb costume.”
He stiffened. “You got a problem with my costume?”
“You don’t exactly blend in, do you?”
“Here’s what you don’t get,” Robin said. “I didn’t start out like you. I didn’t just decide to put on a costume and start fighting thugs.”
“No,” agreed Barbara, “but he did.”
“You think you’re as good as Batman?”
“No.” Robin smiled smugly, and Barbara continued. “But then, I don’t think I’d want to be a billionaire.”
Robin started. “How—what are you talking about?”
She smiled at him grimly. “You think because I’m a girl I don’t stand a chance out here. Well, I’m no idiot; I know my weaknesses as well as you do. Better. I’m not as strong as you? Fine. I’ll settle for being smarter.”
“Won’t keep you from getting killed when you’re cornered in a fight.”
“Don’t you see, Dick? I don’t plan on getting cornered.”
The Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson, stared at her, face pale behind his mask.
“How did she figure it out?” Barbara asked, imitating his voice. “Who is she, anyway?”
“You’re hysterical.” he told her.
“Give my best to Mr. Wayne,” she replied, turning away from him. “I’ll probably be seeing you around.”
He glared at her back, though not without a little fear. Barbara laughed as she walked away. Smarter, she thought.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
- Put two characters in some sort of vehicle. (As in A Thing For Transporting People and/or Goods)
- Employ the following words and phrases (picked at random from the library book on my kitchen table): insect, hysterical, built into the wall
- By the end of the scene, someone is ticked off.
- 750 words. Exactly. No excuses.
- Deadline: Wednesday, June 24th, 2009, 11:30 p.m.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I should get my computer back in the next week or so, but until then why don't you tell us about your progress on your romance novel, Captain? I'm deeply interested in the trials and tribulations of Dr. McNamara.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
God knows I haven't a job/foreseeable future to entertain me. So I'm going to dive headfirst into this one. It ain't gonna get me no MFA, but I think it'll be a hoot and a half.
So. I need your help. I can't decide what part of Chel is actually robotic. Her arm? Her left hand? Her liver? Of all the people I know, I trust you guys the most with this issue.
Dear friends, I miss you. I hope you are well. Love love love you.