Natalie Frank has a Ph.D. in Clinical psychology. She specializes in Pediatric Psychology and Behavioral Medicine.
Nanowrimo – or for the uninitiated National Novel Writing Month, the month when tens of thousands of lunatics decide to write an entire novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. There is also Camp Nano in the months of April and July which is a bit more laid back, allowing you to choose the number of words you want to write over the course of the month.
Since April is almost upon us, one of the writing groups to which I belong have started “training.” We get together to write with word count being the goal for each session. Even though there isn’t the pressure of meeting a Nano goal, there is still the concern that if we can’t write quickly now, we won’t be able to do so once April 1 hits either. Plus several of us have plans to go out of town for business which will limit our month by 4 or 5 days so the worry has begun.
There are all types of strategies to keep plunging ahead even when blocked. Some of the favorites include: Add a zombie, add a dream sequence, send a demon to possess one of your characters, change the point of view for a while, have your character observe what’s around them and describe it in detail until an idea hits or write out of sequence. Yet there are times when none of these, or any of the other old stand by techniques to break writer’s block work.
During my writing group this morning, it became clear that today was one of those days. I popped into the non-POV character’s head, nope. So I put him to sleep and perchance to dream, nada, I made him dream about . . .zombies? AAAAGGGHHH
I wasn’t the only one to have trouble today and so we decided to use a prompt. Since we are training for Nano we decide to do a long prompt complete with word war at the end. (The one with the most words wins a lovely parting gift). We have a bowl we all throw suggestions into at the beginning of the group for just this inevitability and one of us picks one at random. Today was my turn to pick and I picked. . . oh no! I already tried this and it didn’t work!
Just as I’m about to ask if I can pick, Jellica smirks and says, “No switchies.” Sometimes I really don’t love my writing buddies. Switchies? One wouldn’t know it but she’s the only best selling author among us (obviously name has been has been changed to protect the not so innocent). Okay, back to my prompt.
“Tell part of the story through the eyes of a non-POV character”
Prize: Lovely basket with journal, pens, mug, stationary and the ever necessary chocolate
Okay, so I figure the other main character didn’t work out so I’ll try someone different. the character I chose was the protagonist’s sister, who was previously dead, well frozen in some type of suspended animation anyway (open to ideas and advice on how I can do this in the future). When she’s brought back for her frozen state, she’s give a mission – chase down her sister and her sister’s annoyingly skillful best friend and bring them back to the compound where they will be killed.
While I’ve written this from the protagonist’s point of view, I now decide to write it from the one main character who will not get to carry the point of view in the actual story. So here is how the previously frozen to prevent her from dying, now reanimated, vengeful sister of the protagonist thinks and feels about said sister and said sister’s best friend who are on the run hoping to stay alive. The story begins when she wakes up after having gotten close to her quarry, she realizes she has been drugged, enabling the two to escape.
The Boot Thief
(AKA Mitaka’s Story)
I wake to familiar surroundings, confused and groggy, not knowing what’s happened to me. I’m not one to faint, especially during a mission. As I look around my concern grows along with my inability to fill in the blanks. Orange and purple globes spin lazily in neon green and pink shells, making my stomach complain and I close my eyes again despite the risk of continued sleep. I cannot afford to allow the distance to grow between me and those I chase. I’d much prefer to intercept them before they find their way into the next sector, which is filled with runners who may recognize me. You never know who might befriend them.
Befriend them? Am I kidding? Since when do I use phrases like befriend them? I sound like her, the embodiment of the well-educated. My education was cut short prematurely by the retroactive service agreement. That kicked in when the teachers were told to flunk me so my superiors, not that there are that many if I am to be truthful if not exactly humble, would have me at their beck and call full time. Not like her, the one who could manage school without trying and still meet their needs as required. So neat, so privileged so. . . her.
Then there was that whole being dead bit as in “stick me in a meat locker and take me out and thaw me when you once more need me to do your dirty word”. The coming back really wasn’t enjoyable. But come to think of it neither was the dying. Plus, being flashfrozen really doesn’t mix well with school schedules.
Eyes still closed, the smell of something chocolatey rich with a slight bitterness alights on my tongue then is gone. Heat graces my fingers thankfully, the temperature outside the city is more extreme, both the highs and the lows, and today is one of the lows. Something burns my palate as if I’ve tasted it too soon. I almost register the flavor, a hesitant second of savory, acrid sweet aftertaste. Strangely, my mouth fails to water, testament to the incomplete retrieval of memory.
I force my eyes wide and hold them there, despite the sting of the adulterated air, the effect of our failure to protect the world before the collapse of the ozone layer. This allowed the flares, produced by the rapid increase in sunspot activity which we knew about for at least a century, to hit the earth. Luckily I lived in the inner city when that happened. Not so lucky for two-thirds of the human world, though it had been overpopulated so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. It will make it all the easier when it’s time for us to take over.
Not such a bad thing except for when we have to leave the inner cities purified air. I take shallow, smoky breaths – Should I take out my mask? A surreptitious glance - no one else is wearing theirs so I leave mine where it is stored in the bag by my feet. I allow myself the weakness of longing for something that will ease my breathing for a brief beat before blocking the indulgence.
I need to determine where I am first, then I’ll deal with the unforgiving indolence.
Good word – even if it does sound more like her, again. Maybe the whole flashfrozen thing enhances the brain’s abilities.
Feet. . . . By my feet. . . Why does that strike such a disharmonious chord? Boots? I look down trying hard to bring them into focus. The seams seem shredded, and the black is a lack luster dullness that is truly unattractive. And they’re scuffed. Not likely mine. I have the impression I’ve always been spit shined though not sure where this thought originates. Keep investigating, don’t get lost in contemplating the state of your boots. Your feet are covered that’s what counts. I continue scanning my surroundings in an effort to retrieve the location from wherever it was hidden within me.
That hand sculpture, I seem to remember making fun of it with . . . someone. It is a gaudy mirage in my compromised sight, sitting on its wire base, a throwback to a forgotten era of mod art, explanation enough for the lack of artistic quality. Even though I know the sculpture is from the Age-Old, the large blue eye in the palm, calls up the image of the current landscape filled with cameras responsible for creating today’s reality. Phantasmagorias are projected continuously onto giant screens raised everywhere except for within the outer most sector where their glass surfaces are now no more than a heap of rubbish, victims of disease filled minds.
A large women at a nearby table scratches absently at the rash which crusts her face. A shudder overtakes me as a hacking giggle, now recalled, fills my unrecovered mind. The sound is almost recognizable. Me? Not me? Frowning, I push the sound and thought away in a forceful effort to focus.
A small trunk-like chest, sits on bubble feet with tarnished handles, one lost to time or thievery. It sits in the doorway framed only by splintered wood. The carved panels of the chest are almost invisible from the stacked layers of yellow white paint that looks more slathered on than brushed. It seems intended to recall decorating tastes of pre-flare days though no one outside the city decorates now. There’s far more to worry about. A memory, feather light, beats across my head, fleet of foot, quick to disappear before I can gain access.
Children’s toys in snow colored cages sit on top of a scrapped peg board bookcase whose surface has been badly scarred in an effort to look age-old. As not much survived from before times, age-old equals invaluable but real age-old is only found within the inner city. Of course, that never stopped people from pretending, from playing that popular survival game, Act-As-If. Of course, this is exactly what I am doing now. . . Act as if I know where I am, act as if it’s perfectly normal for someone of my rank evidenced experience to fall asleep unguarded in a public place, act as if I don’t suddenly recognize my boots…
. . . only on someone else’s feet. Someone who dares to stare a level look at me. I can play that game old man. Don’t think you’ll be leaving with my boots. My shined just right boots, with no more than the lonely scratch or two gracing the unworn un-lacerated hide. Don’t get too comfortable, old man because you’ll be wearing these poor substitutes that are now polluting up my appearance before much longer. If you can still manage to put them on. I just need a few more glimpses around this place until I have enough memories to fake it without jeopardizing my safety, so enjoy your coffee while you can, old man, enjoy it while you can.
Coffee. Now my mouth does the clichéd watering as I remember the taste and smell that first greeted me upon awakening. Not coffee, no mugs, no cups, no steam. A small device sits in front of the old man, fold out screen, depressed keyboard lacking symbols. I now notice that no one here is drinking except those who swallow from the ready to leak recycled plastic bottles, filled with cloudy water. Former coffee shop then – the thought flits and furls across my memory. One I frequented. Snuck out to frequent. To meet . . . him. Damn. A former life and one best forgotten. Seven years had passed while I’d been flashfroze. Letting me still retain my youthful 16 year old appearance, despite now being the actual age of 23.
Brackishly sweet coffee, another staple turned luxury during my 7 year hiatus, no longer to be gotten here. But what instead? Others have the same device as the boot thief. Incomms. I swirl the thought around and it seems to fit. The word comes from the term Internet and Communication Systems, an age-old terms for similar pre-flare technology.
Soon I sit before one of the devices, wearing my own boots, the boot thief now slumped unconscious against the wall. A few lazy looks are directed my way, but none seemingly belong to anyone willing to show solidarity with the old man. Each one turns away when I glare at them. I type in the first of my new passwords, expecting it to be enough but I am commanded to enter the other three including the last one which is just needed for high clearance access to military computers within the inner city.
Who the hell is this boot thief? I wonder not for the first or last time. The screen flashes on and I am greeted by a logo, The Age-Old Coffee Shop N-Comm Café. Other than the personal N-Comms accessible network (no rentals is printed below the logo), nothing in the title appears to be had. I wonder where the coffee and café fare are, looking around for mealsims, the one that is apparent looks like a model older than my 24 chronological years, it’s surface door and control panel so covered in dust they are almost invisible.
An age-old temperature regulator is embedded into the wall above the mealsim, Do Not Touch Unless You Work Here below which hands a sign similarly written that said, If You’re Not Here to Buy, Don’t Even Think of Asking for the Bathroom! Both were written in the age-old language, words bold, black, marching in a half circle around the bottom. Good thing we’re made to learn Age-Old in the inner city or I would have missed those enlightening messages. Something tells me they don’t even have a bathroom anymore.
I shift my gaze to where the old man lays, correction – sits, face aimed towards me, eyes burning dark. I glare back, stark severity nakedly obvious, a look that is usually enough to cause even those of the highest rank to drop their eyes. One of the few things I have in common with her.
The old man’s eyes are locked on mine and I’m the first one to break the connection – a first. Who is he? I flush despite the airs chill. I had practically drop kicked him into the next century yet there he sits, fully conscious, his body in a righteous pose.
I turn my attention back to the incomm and type in Find Location. Hunching over the screen I attempt to prevent anyone from learning I don’t know where I am. I keep looking casually around as the device responds to the underlying required set of commands. I hear the sound of running water from somewhere close by, loud in the empty space left by what I only now realize was previously filled by a loud concussive ringing. The cause of the new sound likely just a result of someone washing up under an open pipe, all that remains of age-old faucet graced water tube systems. The sound of water becomes a soft trickling then stops entirely replaced with a buzzing emitted by the lone electric light in the room, a bare bulb clearly visible in the fake gas wall sconce. A wasted attempt at ambiance if you ask me.
The N-Comm emits a soft, bleep, long before I expect it to, I glare back briefly at the old man, confusion growing though I don’t show it, as I try to steel myself against appearing overly enthusiastic about the results. I once more refocus my eyes, sight almost restored, to better see the screen. I center the arrow and automatically hit the right uppermost key glad my fingers know what my brain is still missing. LIPE appears on the screen.
What? I look up then back at the screen as if this will alter the message. The acronym is still there despite it being impossible or at least so improbable so to fit almost perfectly over impossible.
Standing for Location Identification Private Encryption the letters refer to a system that prevents even the most gifted monitors in the inner city from accessing a request for a location identity. It’s only available to a select few in the inner city, teasingly called stealth agents.
I was brought back to be an SA. The thought intrudes but as it signals my brains increasing clarity. I smile smugly at the boot thief, but he sits staring straight ahead at nothing a slight smile of his own on his face.
What’s up with that? Drop kicked. Next Century. Who the hell is he? Slowly, he is turning his head back to me, smile still in place, as if he’s heard my thought. This time he turns away first, also in what seems like slow motion, an unhurried, deliberate gesture. It feels as if he’s won again. I work to keep my anger in check. It won’t do to lose it here especially as anyone with any modicum of intelligence will be on alert after my treatment of the boot thief. I look down and my smile widens as the exact location for the café comes up. My memories start to filter back, filling in much of what I’d forgotten. Been made to forget, I correct the thought.
Rage fills me as an addendum appears suddenly to inform and enlighten. By her. Struck unconscious and made to forget by her. Shit! I’d had her, must have had both of them, then . . . What?
I can’t provide an answer but I am still somehow certain I am right about already crossing paths. What had she done to me? And what was her connection to the boot thief? There must be some kind of connection. They were both here when she caused my blackout and memory loss somehow. I’m certain of it. Was I lured here because she needed the Boot Thief’s help to use her developing power? She hasn’t turned 15 yet so maybe she needed someone to boost her ability. If not and it's still developing . . . Someone needs to know. Other than me.
Unless it was the boyfriend. He is 15 and no one knows his power either. Shit, I hate unknowns. I can’t believe they haven’t figured the boy out yet in over a year and she was under their watch at all times, how did they miss any signs of what she was. Mistakes like these are unforgivable and when I rule, my father’s true heir, mistakes that these will be punishable by death.
No, I am certain it was her. She wouldn’t have let anyone else deal with me. Perhaps it’s the boyfriend who augments her power. No, that would be too lucky. Though it could hint of an underground series of networks whose knowledge about what was going on with the citizens of the inner city is far too extensive. And dangerous.
Her being here, reuniting with that former neighbor of ours, my blackout and now the trouble with the old man can’t all be coincidence, not with my skill at shielding against known threats. That’s the problem, I think. Neither she nor the boot thief’s abilities are known. Nor the boyfriend’s. I’d been delegated to flashfroze purgatory before she’d shown a hint of her ability and her boyfriend I barely remember, though he was at least seven months older than her from what I can remember. That means he is undoubtedly aware of his abilities by now and likely capable of helping her determine and develop her own abilities. I’ll take care of the boyfriend first I vow then and there. Then my little sister.
I glance back at the N’comm, taken aback by the message that now wraps the screen.
Boot thievery may have a purpose other than the obvious. Respect your Elders or beware.
Sudden awareness floods me like lava, exploding into a cascade of static like confetti. My newfound insight flits away until it is lost behind the color filled curtain and flickers out. My vision wavers again as dizziness overtakes me. Fade to black.
I don’t feel my body carried and laid in a blind alley, clearly chosen to confuse me so I can’t find my way back. Somehow the old man knew . . . Score another point for the little-sis-in-cahoots-with-boot-thief theory.
The alley is a lookalike for a hundred others throughout Neutral Zone 1 and Sector 5. I no longer have the old man’s N’Comm and signs are a thing of the Age-Old except for in the City’s Entertainment Zone in the inner city. My head clears quickly this time and as I look around in the failing light I smile despite the factors which at first glance may seem to hinder progress by blocking my way.
My attacker didn’t count on my echolocation ability, one of the few advantages my people still retain in this generation. I close my eyes and send out signals, electrical not sound wave, mapping out the area against my inner eyelids. I easily determine direction and distance to the nearest tunnel access, not happy to find I’m at least two dozen miles further from an entrance than I had been at the N’Comm café.
The cold confidence which now courses through my body leads to me to inadvertently take in a huge breath of frigidly contaminated air. The odor of sulfur overwhelms me, causing my eyes to stream and after images of burnt amber to form when I shut my eyes. My throat feels as if someone has fired a blazer down it, the pain worsening as I launch into an uncontrollable round of coughing, only thinly relieved once I manage to fit my mask in place.
Once I regulate my breathing the built up pressure in my chest bursts to the surface like a bubble breaking open with a searing pain that thankfully lasts a brief second. I smile as I focus on the map I have retained in my head superimposing a network of shortcuts I know from before I was flashfroze. They won’t save me much in terms of distance but as long as the streets haven’t changed, I will avoid highly populous areas which will not only increase my speed but my safety as well. Didn’t anticipate that did you boot thief? Things are finally going my way but my smile falters when I notice I am, once more, wearing the old man’s boots.
© 2018 Natalie Frank