Friday, November 2, 2007

50,000 Words

This is completely un-farm-related. But hey, even a farmer needs a break every now and then, right?

Despite the many things on my to-do list that are urgently clamoring for my time, and the rapidly collapsing budget that is screaming for me to find ways to somehow make more money NOW, I've decided to set aside a little time each day this month to do something completely different.

I'm going to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is a light-hearted yet energetic event that challenges writers to compose a 50,000 word novel (or the first 50,000 words of a longer novel) during the month of November. Ken and I each did it once before, in 2003, and had a lot of fun. So we're going to give it a try again this year.

With everything else piled up that I have to do around here, I'm not sure I'll be able to complete the challenge this time (as I did in 2003), but it will be fun trying. I haven't had a chance to prepare as well as I might have liked, but the story is a concept that has been kicking around in my head for quite a while now.

The story is called Crossroads. It's kind of a mystery/ghost story with just a bit of a supernatural twist. It opens with the heroine driving alone on a dark, stormy road when she encounters a mysterious girl who gives her a cryptic warning.

Want a taste? Here's the first draft of Crossroads, Chapter One:

By the time I saw the girl, it was too late.

I'd been driving for three hours through the remnants of a late autumn hurricane. It was like driving underwater. The windshield wipers slapped back and forth, useless against the downpour. Rain hammered the roof, hissed beneath the tires, streamed in sheets down every window. I gripped the steering wheel tighter and squinted into the night. The faded yellow line was the only sign that I was still on the narrow, winding road.

I remember thinking I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. There wasn't a house or streetlight to be seen. Nothing that looked like the landmarks the old woman had described on the phone, just mile after mile of shrubby woods and run-down cow pastures. According to the directions I'd scribbled down on the back of an envelope, I should have reached the turn-off to the village of Kingsley Crossing by now, but there was no sign of the old country store that supposedly marked the spot.

A smarter person would have waited until morning instead of driving all night through the storm. But the old woman had sounded so urgent.

"Hello? This is Margery Greenacre. I need to speak with Kerian Cook, please." The connection was bad, crackling with static, but even through the interference, her voice still quavered with some unexpressed emotion.

I frowned and set down the book I'd been reading. "I'm Keri."

"You don't know me, dear, but please believe me when I say that I have information vital to your---"

I shifted the phone to my other ear. "Look, I don't mean to be rude, but if you're selling something, I'm not interested. A college student's budget isn't exactly---"

Her voice sharpened. "Does the date August 17 mean anything to you?"

"No. Why?"

"It should. It's your birthday. Your true birthday, not whatever one your adoptive parents made up for you."

"How do you---"

"I was there, dear. I helped bring you into the world. I know who your parents are. But I can't talk about any of this over the phone. You have to come here, and it has to be soon, before it's too late. Can you come tonight? I'll give you directions."

I didn't know what she wanted to tell me that couldn't wait or why it couldn't be revealed over the phone. But it was the first lead I'd gotten in eight months of dead-end searches for clues about the identity of my birth parents, ever since my adopted parents died in a hit and run accident with a drunk driver last March. With the only family I'd ever known suddenly taken from me, I'd become obsessed with locating the family of my origin. If this Margery person had information, I wasn't about to let the opportunity pass me by.

Now here I was, a young woman alone on a dark, deserted road: possibly lost and certainly miles from any decent cell-phone reception. For the past forty miles the radio had refused to play anything but static, and now the windshield was beginning to fog up again despite the air conditioner's feeble stream of tepid air. It was already after eleven, and the needle on the gas gauge was edging down towards empty.

"Brilliant. Just wonderful." I tried to swipe at the foggy windshield with the sleeve of my rumpled sweat jacket. Too late, I saw the dog.

It loomed in the middle of the road, so black and still against the reflected raindrops that for a moment it looked more like a gigantic pothole than a living animal. Its eyes caught the glow of my headlights and shone back at me like two yellow-green beacons. Then the lights swept past and revealed the figure of a girl on the pavement gripping the dog's collar.

I hit the brakes hard. The old Sentra bucked and twisted in protest. Its right front tire shuddered off the slick pavement and onto the soft gravel shoulder. For a moment, everything swung into sharp focus. A grassy embankment and a sagging barbed-wire fence loomed just beyond the scattered beer cans and fast-food wrappers in the ditch. My stomach lurched, and the shoulder belt slammed into my collarbone. With a sickening crunch, the Sentra came to rest, nose down in the ditch.

Shakily, I unbuckled the seatbelt and flung open the door. Rain rushed in, drenching me to the skin. My first step landed me ankle-deep in cold water, then the night split open. A light pierced the darkness, a whistle bellowed, and a hundred tons of thundering metal roared past… and past… and past.

It was so close I felt its rhythmic clatter through the soles of my shoes, felt the breeze of its wake cool my wet cheek. But it was already receding into the distance before I could pull myself together enough to identify it. A train. Just an ordinary freight train, probably carrying coal or lumber or corn across the rural landscape to-well, to wherever those things go.

Suddenly my knees felt weak. If I hadn't gone off the road, I would have been crossing the tracks a few seconds later, just as the train barreled through. If that had happened, I wouldn't be standing here now worrying about how far it was to the nearest house or pay phone where I could call a tow truck.

Why had there been no warning? I hadn't even seen the railroad crossing sign, leaning drunkenly to one side, half hidden by bushes. Its black and white paint was peeling, its two red bulbs shattered and dark, shot out perhaps by a frustrated hunter or some rowdy farm kids out on a spree. If it hadn't been for that stupid dog---

I grabbed my purse and keys from the car and went to look. The dog was still standing in the exact same place, and the girl had not moved from its side. She was thin and fair-skinned, about eleven years old. Her red hair hung down her shoulders in two long, neat braids. Her raincoat was open, and beneath it she wore a pair of faded overalls cut off just below the knee. Water flowed over her tattered, discount-store sneakers, but she didn't seem to notice. She just stroked the dog's wet fur and watched me floundering in the ditch.

As soon as I caught my breath, I'd meant to say, "Are you okay?" but her calm composure unnerved me. I'd no sooner opened my mouth than I heard myself ranting, "Are you nuts? What are you doing standing in the road like that? Do you want to be run over? Look at my car. I could have been killed!"

Solemnly, she nodded. "It's not safe."

I don't know what kind of response I'd expected, but that wasn't it. "What?"

Her eyes were dark hollows beneath her brows. The dog whined and pulled against its collar, tail swaying gently. The girl rubbed its head until it subsided. "Go back," she said. "It's not safe for you here."

"Go?" As I crested the slope my foot slipped on the slick grass and I tumbled onto my hands and knees. Shards of gravel bit into my palms; cold mud saturated my jeans. Now soaked, filthy, and stranded in the middle of nowhere, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "I just crashed my car into a ditch. I'll be lucky if it ever goes anywhere again!"

I wiped ineffectually at my muddy legs, then straightened up and tried to push my dripping hair out of my eyes. "I'll need to find a phone. There's no cell reception here. Where's the nearest---"

Finally able to see again, I stopped in mid-sentence, gaping like a fish. The little girl was gone. Vanished like she'd never been there. The dog stood there alone for a moment longer, then gave one sharp bark, turned, and trotted off along the yellow line in the center of the road, its furry black tail swinging cheerfully behind it.


Autumn said...

Oooh! I really like it!! You should post more :D :D

Nancy Chase said...

Thanks very much! Maybe I'll post some more eventually, but I'll have to write it first!

Meggie said...

Nancy: I enjoyed your writing very much. I hope when you write more you will allow us to sample it.

Ness said...

LOVE it! :-) I was going to do NaNoWriMo this year, but I just found out that we must move...again.

Can't wait to read more of yours!!

Nancy Chase said...

What?! You're moving again? I never even got to see your new place.

I don't suppose I could convince you to move down this way, could I? :-)

heather said...

Um....where's chapter two?!
yes, please, more!

Nancy Chase said...

I did kind of leave you in suspense there, didn't I? Good, that was the plan! :-)

I do have Chapter Two mostly completed, but I've been skipping around writing scenes from various other parts of the book, as I think of them.

I'll try to post Chapter Two soon... but don't think that your suspense is going to be cured when you read it!

This is kind of fun, having people read it as I go along.

heather said...

oh goody! an online book! yea! You have my full support when you publish and make so much money from the books that the farm will be "just a hobby"! tee hee!