What was it Douglas Adams said about money in Hitchhiker's Guide?
This planet has -- or rather had -- a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
This blog has had a quiet month. Largely because I couldn't think of a thing to say that didn't eventually return to the topic mentioned above. Which is silly really, because I'm here to talk about writing and publishing and should be able to talk about them without referring to the lousy economy and how our paychecks just aren't stretching as far as it seems like they should. Right?
But I guess it shouldn't be much of a surprise. It seems many people I've talked to over the last month or so have been subject to similar preoccupations. Probably because Christmas is when one is supposed to give gifts and gifts cost money (even handmade ones, unless you're inclined to keep craft supplies around). And of course there's that tedious fiscal cliff. I think we'e all a bit tired of looking over that precipice aren't we? It's high time we go find something with a better view.
I'm going to stand over here. You can join me if you want.
I can report this without flinching--I've been writing. I've been writing a lot. Bright is moving along nicely. Let me expand on that--nicely does not translate to a huge word count. I'm agonizing over every phrase even though I know I'll do more than one rewrite. And because I'm agonizing, my word count is about half of what it would be if I was just typing whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. However when I look back at the words I've been writing, I'm pleased. All in all, for a first draft--it is good. Solid even. I've decided to share a chapter with you. If you spot any typos or awkward phrasing, bear with me. It is still in the draft stage and I don't always spot them when I'm still involved with the story.
To orient you--Sarah is the eccentric sister of Hannah, who, you might remember from the synopsis, is missing.
"They are so big your customers will consider eating them instead of going fishing."
"My drivers bring them to you in a pickup truck. They are specially packaged to withstand the trip."
In response to every question, Sarah voiced the phrases she'd practiced in front of the mirror that morning. All phone calls had to be planned. All conversations rehearsed. Unrehearsed, unexpected questions were written down and the customer told that she would get back to them.
Sarah sat her kitchen table with her lap top open and her cell phone to her ear. Elliot snored at her feet, Butch and Sundance, the two strays she'd invited to stay for a few days six months ago were snoozing nearby. Though his cage was in the kitchen, Keester had flown to his perch in the front room, presumably to soak up some morning sunshine. He was pre-occupied and she was worried about his silence.
People bought from her because she was reliable and honest, never shorted their shipments, always delivered when she said she was going to. She knew they thought she was strange when they met her. She had trouble looking people in the eye, spoke in flat mono-tones, dressed in mismatched clothes, and said things that didn't make sense to anyone who didn't already know her. She didn't care what they thought as long as they paid their bills. But if she could figure out a way to avoid talking to anyone that wasn't family, she would.
This potential customer was a little further away than she usually traveled. She tried to keep her business local to keep shipping costs down, but the man was offering a tidy sum, more than her going rate. And he was offering to send his own delivery truck driver at a savings to her. An unusually good sale. One that would help her buy that stock she had her eye on.
The customer had just asked another question. It was about how soon they could expect the shipment to be ready.
"We can have it out to you in forty-eight hours," she replied and ticked off another standard question.
Just talking to strangers on the phone was a strain that left her tired for the rest of the day. She had to remember the rules of engagement, varying her tone so she didn’t sound like she was reading from a script, and to avoid saying what she thought. The last was the hardest.
This customer would pay ahead. She took his credit card number over the phone as she typed it into her computer. When the information checked out, she gave him a confirmation number. Then the conversation was over and if she wanted to she could exhale and go out to her garden where everything was in its place and her biggest battle was with Japanese Beatles.
But today she didn't, couldn't really. Not if she was going to keep it a worry-free place.
The thing she'd managed not to say to her niece was that she already knew her sister was dead. Had known since the day after Riana had received the text message. That morning Sarah had laid in bed and watched the wind in the tree outside her bedroom window, taken in the light from the sunrise, and knew that Hannah was somehow a part of that light, though she didn't know how.
Keester had known as well. 'Wouldn't eat, wouldn't talk. He simply flew from perch to perch in the house and watched out windows. Keester had a lot of words. He could explain hunger, happiness, silliness, and love in just a few phrases. He could announce the arrival of strangers and friends: Mailman here! Company! (Always said joyously with a sharp emphasis on the first syllable). He could tell jokes Are you my mommy? And delighted in mimicking her frequent warning of Watch out for that! as he winged through the house, because he knew she'd say it if he didn't. When he was tired he would rest on one of his perches, quietly running through his repertoire in a near whisper. But he could not explain grief. She hadn't taught him those words because she didn't think he'd need them.
Today she wished she had given him some phrase that would tell her what was wrong. But how could she give him what she didn't have herself?
Outside a donkey brayed to be let out of its stall. Goats answered. She pushed away from the table and stood up. The weight of everything slowed her movements. She needed to call the young couple she'd hired to count and sort worms and tell them they had work if they wanted it. They nearly always did. And she needed to go the shed where she kept the containers and make sure she had enough stockpiled for the order. The animals called again, giving her a reason to take the next steps, to push aside her thoughts of her sister. Behind her Keester murmured, but she did not hear what he said.
Sarah talked to the stock as she dispensed hay and grain, opened gates to let them into the small adjacent pasture. She kept her back to the man they were watching. The man standing at the end of her house in the shadows.
Jasper, the donkey moved restlessly, ears flicking forward, snorting, neck arching. The nanny goat glared through the fence, looking past Sarah, her twin kids bunching behind her. The dogs, who'd followed her out of the house, leaving Elliot still asleep under the table, rose from their resting places in the shade of the cedar tree stand and padded over to her.
Visitors weren't unusual. Customers who preferred to pick up their worms, the kids who counted worms for her, her nephews and her niece were common. But the animals shrugged them off, often barely acknowledging them. They were passing scenery in the animal's day. They did not smell like threats, did not act like predators.
The stranger apparently did. So they prepared to run or defend what was theirs. The dogs took up positions between her and the shadow man. The stock moved further away, their backs to freedom, their eyes forward.
Sarah picked up a shovel and turned. She wished she could walk past him and pretend he did not exist and have it be so.
But she faced him, took in the bill of his hat first as he peered at her, stepping from the shade.
First she took in blonde hair, and then a smile. Though he'd stepped into the sunlight he still didn't belong in it, as though darkness still clung to him.
Though she rarely smiled herself and had difficulty reading other people's expressions, she sensed that this man was only being pleasant because it served his purposes. Her grip tightened on the shovel. She was no actress and did not know how to fake friendliness, but words were easy enough. "May I help you?'
"Hello Sarah. I understand you sell worms."
She waited, well aware that her blank expression was disturbing.
"I'd like to buy some to go fishing with."
"I only sell to stores that carry fishing supplies. You can go to one of those. Please leave."
"I think I might have frightened you. I'm sorry. Let me start again. I'm a friend of your sister's.
She told me that you sold worms and that you'd be willing to sell me some."
"When did you talk to my sister?"
He paused for half an instant. "A few days ago."
"Where did you see her at?"
"At her office. I'm one of her clients."
One of the dogs growled, as though calling him a liar, and saved her the trouble of saying it herself. The man took an involuntary step back.
Maybe if she just gave him the worms he'd leave.
"I'll get you what you want. Please stay here."
Like the palace guard, the dogs stood where she left them. She went to her refrigerator and retrieved a Styrofoam container where she always kept a few reserve worms just in case her farm developed an unforeseen problem.
Keester was on his perch in the kitchen near the backdoor, feathers ruffled, not moving. He fixed her with a gold eye as she went by, squawked softly and returned to watching the stranger.
Sarah stopped, stared through the storm door at the profile of the man standing very still in front of the stiff-legged dogs. His shirt bulged in the back. No wonder the animals didn't like him.
She stepped out on to the back porch. "Here." She set the worms within his reach on the porch railing. "Now please leave."
"Don't you want me to pay you?"
"No. It's just one container."
He picked it up. "Would you call your dogs?"
"I will once you've gone to your car."
He didn't reply, just moved backwards, turning without taking his eyes off the two dogs. In one smooth motion, he reached behind and under his shirt and pulled out a gun.
Behind her Keester screamed, Watch out for that! And all hell broke loose.