Monday, January 31, 2011

Fresh From My Fingertips

I'm about to do something I've never done before. I'm going to post the opening scene of one of my works in progress. Its tentative title is The Golden Mask, and it's YA fantasy. I have been editing and writing a non-fiction text book about the solar system all week, and I can't tell you how great it felt to open up The Golden Mask file and re-read some of my work.

And since I didn't have a post topic ready for today, I thought, hey, why not. I'm usually very private about my writing. Maybe it's time to change that. Without further ado, I present you with the opening scene of The Golden Mask:

          I pushed open the wooden door and stepped into The Pit Stop, a seedy bar right off the 5 freeway. And that’s exactly what it was, a pit stop for the truckers who needed a break from the treacherous mountain roads. For me, this place was both home and work. Home, when I slept in the small attic-turned-office upstairs, and work, when I played the slightly out of tune piano in the bar’s darkest corner.
          Standing at the threshold, I stomped hard, hoping most of the snow on my boots would fall onto the welcome mat instead of tracking it half way across the bar, making even more work for poor Luis. As usual, the jukebox was blasting a familiar tune everyone knows and loves, which made me wonder why Carmen, the bar’s owner, even bothered with live entertainment in a place like The Pit Stop.
          “Hey girl,” Carmen shouted at me just as she turned a vodka bottle upside down to fill three shot glasses. I gave her the customary wave but didn’t say a word. Lifting my hand a little higher, I tugged on my sweatshirt hood to cover more of my face and then continued to the back of the bar.
          The piano greeted me with ice-cold keys. I cracked my knuckles—something my mom always warned me against if I was going to take the piano thing seriously—and waited for the jukebox music to fade. When it did, I played the intro to a Billy Joel song, thinking about the old life. That’s what I called it, the old life, my existence before the fire. There were the afternoons at Sam’s house, building forts and studying trigonometry, and at home, the smell of Dad’s pot wafting up to my bedroom from the backyard, Tuesday’s piano lessons, and Mom’s romance novels. It was all part of the old life, but I didn’t want to think about it. Not now. Not ever. It was like fantasizing about your favorite food knowing you would never eat it again. One of the only times I could tune it out was when I sang.
          My lips were an inch from the microphone as I began in a velvety voice, “It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday. The regular crowd shuffles in. There’s an old man sitting next to me, makin’ love to his tonic and gin.”
          From my dark corner, hidden behind the piano, I could watch the room as though it were a stage. There were the clumsy guys playing pool and the chatty ladies eying them with interest. A couple of overweight truckers, wearing ball caps and no coats, had just stepped inside. They scanned the room, their eyes filled with the hope of finding a warm body sometime before the night was over. They didn’t see me, thank god. The hood sitting low over my forehead helped to keep me invisible. At least, I liked to pretend it did. It hid my bad side sort of like how that guy’s mask, the one from the Phantom of the Opera, hid his. The door opened again, this time letting in too much cold air. It stung my cheeks. I lowered my eyes to the ivory keys and leaned forward to sing the next verse into the mic.
          I was halfway through my favorite line when I looked up and saw him, striding across the bar, in that long dark coat specked with snow. My fingers stumbled over the keys, and I choked on the next couple of words of the song but got it together quickly. A tear found its way to my cheek, and I turned my head toward the wall. After all that running, it didn’t make a difference. He found me like I knew he would.
          Just because you’re not looking at him, Cass, doesn’t mean he isn’t there. He was at the bar, handing Carmen a twenty. He carried two beers my way, smiling at me as though we were longtime friends. His eyes told a different story. They said, where the hell have you been for the last eight months? My skin prickled, and I was suddenly hot and cold all at once. The left side of my face throbbed like it always did when the blood rushed to my cheeks. I had stopped singing and playing, but no one seemed to notice.
          The froth slopped over the edge of the glass just as he set it on top of the piano. He shook the spilled beer off his hand and stepped closer. I flinched as he slammed the fallboard over the piano keys. I had pulled my hands away just in time. He tugged the hood off of my head and grabbed my chin with his deft fingers, staring at the scars.
          “This could have been healed. It’s too late now.”
          I pushed his hand away. “I don’t care.”
          I reached for my hood, but he stopped me. He smiled again, this time looking pained.
          “I want to see the face of the girl skilled enough to outrun me. You’ve been practicing, I take it.” I didn’t answer. “You can veil yourself already?” He gulped his beer and then set it next mine. “Look, sweetheart, this will all go down a lot smoother if you’d just play along.” His jaw clenched, making it appear more square. He looked awful. No amount of good-looking could hide the fact that he hadn’t had a haircut in months, or that he hadn’t shaved in a week.
          I reached for the slippery glass and sipped the beer. “Haven’t I been playing along since I was a kid? I might not have known it, but I was. Isn’t that what that picture book was all about? That library book that somehow found its way into my pile. Little Cassie with her green eyes and brown hair, just like me, living in a small beach town, just like me, riding in her red station wagon with her dog named Sandy, having strange but exciting magical adventures on every page...”
          “Just like you,” he answered. “The book was a way of preparing you.”
          I shook my head. “Brainwashing me. Manipulating me.”
          “It was just a book, and you chose to read it.”
          “It was a little hard to ignore.”
          “Don’t call me that.”
          He cleared his throat. “Look…”
          Carmen cut him off. She had come up from behind, holding a dishrag in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. “You all right, Cass?”
          “I’m fine,” I said, grabbing my bag from the floor just before I stood up. This is your last chance. Make it count. “I’m not feeling good, though, so I think I’m going to have to stop a little early tonight. I’ll make it up to you tomorr—”
          He was gone.
          Carmen blinked, hard, and frowned. “Cass, why am I holding a baseball bat?” She stood beside me, glancing around the bar as though she didn't know where she was.
          I shrugged. “I gotta go, Carmen.” I kissed her cheek and threw my arms around her. It was the only time we’d ever touched and would be the last.

So, that's that. I feel a little shy posting my work. :-D But, oh well. I hope you enjoyed.