Something for you to read...
...well, let us see how interested you are in this.
I have an unpublished work, which opens on Christmas Eve. This was written about two years ago, and I doubt that it will see light of day for a while. I'll warn you, this is a bit different than what I've offered before, but I would like to think this shows some growth, and has potential for a novel, and more.
We will meet the principal characters in these first two chapters...I'd like to know what YOU think...
Chapter 1—Light & Dark
Times Square; the center of New York City, mostly in the minds of those who’d never lived or been there. The place where dreams focused, for people who believed that old song, the one about making it there, and then propelling oneself further into that world.
Christmas Eve; around the gigantic tree, bedecked with hundreds of ornaments, a thousand lights or more were revelers, celebrants of the holiday season, with lip service to the child born on this night, but more to the gayer, less serious aspects.
Lights flashed across the sky, from the skyscrapers, the billboards and the windows of shops still open. Smaller and less noticed ones flickered as well, from the cameras of tourists taking selfies to broadcast to family and friends back home where they were. Others jammed the sidewalks and streets, partying from club to bar and then the next, and still more hitting those places with last-minute and impulse buys to be had.
There too, the music: holiday sounds, from the traditional to contemporary, the voices of those at Mass and other more staid events, remembering what they were taught about the so-called Holy Night. The overproduced, glitzy versions of schmaltzy songs about winter wonderlands, a reindeer with an improbable nose, and of course Saint Nicholas; no one here seemed to remember the roots of these things, the Pagan Gods and Goddesses that bore these children.
A word from the wise to those less experienced was: when in New York, one dressed and acted as though they lived there. The aim was to not fall prey to the pickpockets, scammers and grifters that plied the city streets, in search of an easy mark.
Amid the well dressed and heeled, those of the middle and working classes walked, rushed and jostled for position in these streets, as they did in cities across the planet. The chill of December was felt more by these folk, but they accepted cold and this time of year as a part of life. Their breath fogged like smoke or vapor; it rose and dissipated with millions more on this grand night.
And within all these, were the ones that no one noticed, or would admit, even to themselves, existed.
The ragged creature shuffled along the sidewalk, her feet taking in the freezing pavement through battered sneakers. They didn’t even feel as though they were on her feet, these numb to near frostbite. That mattered not to her; at least they no longer hurt.
She was surprised she felt anything at all. Cold set in weeks before, and never left her. The thin clothing inside of the wool coat, not one for this weather, did nothing to protect her from the elements. Her gloves, the fingers torn or cut away by a previous owner weren’t much help, but she flexed her hands and fingers as much as possible to keep some feeling in them. It gave her something to do.
Her jeans had seen better years, and the wool cap could not keep the long, matted rat’s nest of black hair from being seen. Down over her shoulders it bounced, like dreadlocks.
If anyone chose to look at this gaunt urchin, one might see a face. Thin and long, the jaw line was not completely square, but decently formed. Skin, pale from exposure; a Caucasian but not through and through, because it would have taken a very close look to see there might be a little more in this girl’s lineage.
The eyes were a liquid blue, the black lashes long, even under the body’s duress. The nose, thin, not too large or too small; the lips seemed correct for a female that one might draw a picture of. She was not beautiful by the standards of the day, but she was not ugly, either, apart from her current disposition.
The wind blew down these streets as the girl walked through, unable to find any protection from the buildings, the numerous vehicles or the people; they paid no heed to this child, and she did not stop or bother them.
There was no point. As the wind again tore through her, she drew her thin jacket, most of the buttons long gone about her, and kept on. The clouds had thickened throughout the day, she’d noticed, and there was almost no sun from this morning. A winter storm was coming; the first flakes had already begun to fall, glinting with the colors of the Christmas and city lights, and floated down like confetti. They already had begun to collect on the parked cars, SUVs, trucks and taxicabs that lined the block; it would be a bad night.
Again, it didn’t matter. She kept walking, but her head came up slightly. Leaned against a brick wall, near the entrance one of the high-end stores, she saw a man. Barely able to stand, in a rough looking jacket and clothes nearly as pathetic as her own, he held out a used McDonald’s cup, and asked for spare change. There appeared to be few offerings.
She looked at him as she came abreast: he was black, probably in his twenties, but the life he led made him look forty. Sharp features, in the cheekbones, the prominent nose, damaged teeth behind his lips; his brown eyes stared at this strange one that walked past.
No words were exchanged, but the two nodded. They understood one another.
The girl turned onto another street, slowly leaving the noises, from the honking of horns and shouts of good cheer to the blaring of stereos, those coming from the vehicles and loudspeakers. Snow, heavier now, along with the wind picked up, and if she could have felt colder, the girl did.
On she walked, with no set destination in mind; hunger gnawed at her insides, her mind seeing every photo and image of food as some euphoric tease. She could smell them, and imagine what they once were like.
But such things were for others. Her bones felt brittle, and the girl wondered she did not break apart and fall into a pile of useless skeletal shards, skin and hair right here, then dissolve into the pavement, never to be seen again.
Yet something kept her going, all this time. She didn’t know how she came to New York; only that a thing inside her kept her guided, moving, and in this direction. She could never put this into words; but she had to keep going, to find it, whatever “it” might be.
Stiff and nearly frozen, the winds intensified, as did the snow. The gusts, blown from off the water now, blasted her and nearly knocked her over. Looking out, she saw lights, many lights on the other side, of more buildings and structures; places she’d never visited and likely would not. Between there and here, the dark, black pit of the Hudson River, with only buoy markers and a small craft or two out on this night.
She looked inland. The girl didn’t know how far out of the city she’d traveled, but now she seemed to be in a neighborhood. Houses, brownstones, large, old places, each one an architectural project of a separate design, and in these lives were being lived.
Yes, she could see in: living rooms, studies, kitchens; perhaps even an old-fashioned drawing room of the kind she had read of in stories. Lamps, ceiling and welcome lights, Christmas candles, and those on the porches show someone lived in these homes. Inside, she could see trees, as decorated and lit as that big one. Beneath these, the girl imagined gifts, presents and items for loved ones.
The walk continued, but with difficulty. Now the storm hit; a whiteout briefly stole her vision, and she now felt wet, as well as cold. The few vehicles still on the roads were having a rough go of it; wipers tried to keep windshields clear, headlight beams flicked from high to low to make their way; at least they had somewhere to go.
She found herself on a block not straight, but that curved with this street, around to where she could not see. Before her were a number of these houses once more; between the street and here was a side road, where cars were parked. Some were already covered in snow; unoccupied spaces still existed, but the four houses in her line of sight had garages.
What got her attention was the expanse of ground, an oddly shaped one protected by curbs and a metal gate. One tall, aged fir tree stood guard over this, and beneath it, a mass of snow and ice, not a snow fort, but an igloo.
She crossed the street, and stumbled into the enclosure. This thing was huge, nearly five feet tall, and in the dim light, she could see its construction: thick blocks of snow and ice, as in the Arctic. Whoever made this, she thought, took their time in doing it.
To her knees, she swept out the entrance, and looked inside. Dark, but inviting; at least inside she would be out of the elements.
The wet froze her fingers and limbs, but she pushed herself inside. So that was true; the interior was warmer. The Inuit and fellow tribes dressed in loose fitting clothes so as to keep pockets of heat preserved; strange how no one in “civilized” worlds ever learned.
Why she thought of that now might have seemed weird, but the girl found odd thoughts, things she recalled kept her mind working. In here, away from the opening she curled her frozen body up; she would have to move on as soon as she woke, and hoped no one would see her.
Time, morning, afternoon, night; none of this meant anything anymore. She only knew the date by all that was going on in the city; there was no way to register anything else.
She closed her eyes, and tried to sleep. That was easy, hunger, exhaustion and madness allowed her to remain weak and to collapse into the nightmare of what went on behind her eyes, and deeper within. Yet now she thought: I feel closer, somehow. Whatever has brought me this way, I’m near it. I don’t know what, who or it might be, but I have to find it. I just wish I knew what I was looking for…
The wind slammed against the solid enclosure, and in her dream state, she thought she heard a noise that didn’t sound right, a crushing blow from above. She couldn’t identify it, and sank deeper into sleep.
Chapter 2—One From the Other Side
The black Mercedes SL 500 navigated the side streets of the city, its trip made slower by the traffic and bad weather. Outside, the snow blew in sheets down between the buildings, deflected by the light and the vehicles that for once slowed and paid attention to what went on about it.
A beastly night outside, Robert Hansard thought, as his gloved hands nimbly piloted the car. CBS Newsradio’s traffic report was dominated by the storm and a major accident. Robert was glad to have taken the long way home. Several vehicles, injuries; a terrible time for a wreck, he thought to himself, but said nothing of it.
Inside, the vehicle was warm, and the talk was of the performance of The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. To his right, the woman of Hispanic descent, her long black hair cascaded over the gray Michael Kors coat, which hid the luxurious dress of Claudia’s choosing.
Automatically, Robert checked the rearview mirror, and looked to the passenger in the back seat Claudia was turned and speaking to. The girl, belted in the seat was as decked out; a wool jacket in black, with a matching, brimless cap, stylishly angled to the side.
The eyes of the girl were wide and brown; same has her mother’s hair, thick with a wave, which rested around the face. She had the trim features of the Hansard men, however; and he saw that in his own lines.
He carefully brushed back the side of his thinning black hair. “It sounds like you enjoyed the performance, Evie,” Robert noted in his voice, which had never completely lost his accent, “I’m glad.”
“Oh, we did, Dad.” Evelyn Hansard smiled that irrepressible one, “I always do; thank you again for bringing us.”
“I always enjoy the event,” Claudia added, “It’s become a family tradition, hasn’t it?”
“That is so.” Robert and Claudia exchanged a smile. They did not mention Evie’s response; her words were correct, but the regular slur of them would have made those unaware stop to question, or ask for the girl to repeat them. They were accustomed to it.
Evie now gazed out the windows. “It’s pretty awful out,” she observed.
The talk now turned to the weather; they’d almost canceled the outing, as the winter storm was expected to bring at least a foot to the metro area, and more in some of the suburbs. But Robert noted that his daughter was not one to let a little bad weather stop her. Inwardly, he smiled; the girl was doing damned well. He owed Evie, in his mind, whatever he could, even if she didn’t ask for it.
Traffic thinned out on the narrow streets, past alleys and the few people that still trudged through the snow. There was a good six to eight inches out there already, Robert thought, but they were nearly home.
Home, yes, home, Robert mused inside. There, down the side passage, past Dr. Greenberg’s ancient, snow-covered Benz, and the neighbor’s SUVs. He pressed the switch; the light over the garage door opened, and the door swept up, taking snow with it.
A careful gun of the motor, and the car slipped inside the garage, with space just sufficient for the vehicle. The three exited the car and walked around the front, to the stone path, now covered, the posts with the lamps to guide them up the steps to the heavy wooden door.
On the street, three youthful figures, wrapped against the weather in various shades of color walked. Evie turned and waved to them, and called a hello. “Dad, I must give them a Merry Christmas,” she said.
“Of course,” Robert replied, “but make it quick. I’ll not have you bedridden on the holiday, young lady.”
“Yes.” She hurried down the steps through the snow to see her friends from the block, and boy and two girls.
Robert and Claudia waved to them. The key in hand, Robert slid it into the lock, but then turned and looked across the street, then up to where the night sky would have been.
“What is it?” Claudia asked.
“I don’t know,” Robert replied at length. His hand loosened his scarf, and he drew at his tie, despite the terrible weather. “’I’ve just had the strangest feeling. Very strange.”
He unlocked the door and stepped inside. Claudia did not press him, but also hurried in to seek shelter from the storm.
* * *
Evie jumped down the steps and across to the walk where her friends met her. Amid the seasonal greetings, Evie took what time she could find to be with these, her neighbors closest to her age.
All lived further up the block and around the bend: Ron was a stocky kid of Scottish descent. His parents still called him Ronnie, which he hated, but largely, Ron was a good-natured boy.
Sandra was a small girl one year their junior, and still in middle school; her long black hair was dusted with snow, and the girl looked even younger in her matching multi-colored cap, gloves and scarf. She was also the loudest and most demonstrative of the gang; Sandra never failed to give Evie a big hug, which Evie was happy for.
Theresa was Evie and Ron’s age; an African-American, Theresa was already the tallest girl, with long limbs. Beneath her headband, her black hair was done in thin braids, and these also glistened in the streetlights with snow.
“Where were you tonight?” Ron now asked, noting Evie’s outerwear.
“Oh, we went to The Nutcracker again,” Evie replied, “just something we like to do on Christmas Eve.”
“Lucky you,” Sandra said, “I’ve always wanted to see that.”
“What are you all up to?” Evie now asked. She didn’t like to show off, especially not to her friends.
“School thing for me and Sandra,” Ron explained, “and we ran into Theresa.”
“I went to church with the fam,” Theresa said, “we always go to the Christmas Eve sing. It’s like gospel Christmas,” she went on, “not all preachy and stuff. More about loving one another, and being thankful, that kinda thing.”
“That sounds nice.” Evie wanted to say more, but her eyes were drawn to the “garden,” the spot between the driveways and the road. “Let’s…let’s get under the tree, shall we?”
The others agreed. As they slogged through the snow, and entered the gate, Evie said, “Oh, the igloo’s been blocked.”
She and Ron leaned down to inspect it. “Guess it’s the weather,” he assessed, “well, we can fix it tomorrow. This was fun to make, Evie; you have the cool dad.”
Evie’s friends laughed, but she didn’t. “He does like to make things interesting,” she said. Her gloved hands began to dig at the pile of snow around the collapsed opening. “Dad never likes to leave anything to chance.”
Ron stood up. Evie knew her friends were watching her; they were accustomed to Evie’s ways, but this made them wonder.
Evie didn’t even know, but despite the snow, the wind, and the cold she began to dig away at the snow. “We need to clear this,” she said suddenly, her voice unnaturally urgent.
“Why now?” Sandra asked.
“Yeah,” Theresa said, “this isn’t the time…”
“We have to.” Evie dug more furiously; her friends followed suit, wondering what had got into the girl.
A few moments later, the opening, barely enough room for one person to squeeze through was cleared. Evie pushed through the entrance, and began to crawl through.
“Evie,” Ron asked, “what’s got into you?”
“I need to see,” Evie called back. In the back of Evie’s mind, her stockings would be ruined, and her dress might also suffer, but that didn’t matter. Her hand dug inside her coat pocket, and found her Smartphone. In pitch dark, Evie knew something was wrong.
She tugged off her gloves. Hands shaking from cold and fear, Evie switched on the flashlight. “My God!”
“What?” Theresa called from outside, “what is it?”
“There’s someone in here!” Evie’s hand grabbed at the small body, and shook it. When it didn’t move, Evie shone the light on the face. We’re too late...
In the light of the phone, Evie saw a girl’s face. The eyes were closed, she didn’t appear to be breathing, and the skin looked almost blue.
Like her father, Evie was methodical, even under duress. She put her phone back in its pocket, and quickly pulled on her gloves. Backwards, she crawled from the opening, and seized the legs of this unmoving person. “Help me pull her out.”
Booted feet slipped in the snow, but Evie, with Ron’s assistance dragged the body from the igloo. Theresa and Sandra put the lights of their phones on the subject, as Evie lifted the upper body of this unknown person in her arms. “She looks about our age,” Sandra noted.
“Is she alive?” Theresa asked.
Ron slid up the sleeve of the girl’s arm. “There’s a pulse,” he said, after a search.
Evie lifted the head up and brushed back her scraggly hair. The girl’s face was dirty and expressionless. Evie lightly slapped the girl’s cheek with her hand, but got no response.
Three stared at one another; one stared at the girl. “Someone get my father.”
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Joyous Yule, all...