Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo '09, Chapter One: For Want of a Nail, the Kingdom Was Lost

The below is a section of the novel that I wrote for National Novel Writing Month. It isn't a stand-alone story, and it's probably not worth your time to read. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month so wordcount is valued above quality. This is a good thing, as it encourages people to actually finish a project. Nobody expects that the result will be ready for public consumption without heavy editing. If you want to read it for some reason you can view the whole thing in one place HERE although that's still totally unedited and terrible. You have been warned.

"Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds, and I have come here to destroy all people.
With the exception of you, all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain."
- Bhagavad Gita, 11:32

Once upon a time, there was a magical kingdom where everyone was happy…

To the world at large that seems to be where the story starts so I guess it's as good a place as any for me. Those who remember what things were like before the fear, the curfews, the government checkpoints - they all get this wistful look and talk about how great Disneyland was. For myself, I can't picture it at all except for how it looked at the end, with the crowds screaming as they packed themselves into a solid wall of flesh and the castle engulfed in flames that seemed to reach forever up into a black ceiling of smoke.

But I'm getting ahead of myself - or maybe behind. It's hard to really say where some stories begin and end, but at the very least Disneyland is the first big milestone here. It happened on a Saturday in July, when attendance was about as high as it ever is - I was already covered in ashes and cuts from the first part of the "terrorist attack", the part nobody hears about, and so somehow it didn't seem strange to hear the sounds of panic as we arrived. Agent Mackey unloaded me from the van and checked my vitals, then we ran through backstage areas that surprised me with their industrial appearance - you would never know we were inside the Magic Kingdom.

People were running past me and my handlers were trying to tell me what to do and the whole world seemed to vibrate. I could feel the one we were looking for, sense him nearby. At that moment it was like he was the only real thing in the entire universe, and everything else was just a pale illusion burning off like fog under his heat. I snapped back to the real world as someone ran past wearing Mickey Mouse's lower half, crying and stumbling. I nodded and told the agents that I understood, still watching Mickey's legs as they turned a corner and vanished.

We ducked into a building with some sort of water works, a mixed smell of bleach and mildew. After a second the walls went from concrete to carefully molded fake rocks and I knew where we were - inside Splash Mountain. For a moment it could have been any other day at the park, but as soon as we came out into open air… That scene we were faced with upon emerging into the park came back to me once at a concert and I nearly lost it. The strobe lights kicked on and everyone was yelling and the club was filled with smoke… just like that, I was there again. Back in Disneyland with thick clouds of ash blotting out the California sun as lightning fired full-auto into the crowds.

Geographically we were close to the front of the park but there wasn't a throughway to the main gate, so the area was packed with scared tourists that had been backed into a corner. Most were finding their way into staff areas or just running into rides to find somewhere that the lightning couldn't reach them. My handlers shoved them roughly to the ground as they passed, and soon a pathway opened up - nobody wanted to mess with the strange men in the black suits.

Agent Mackey looked at me, took off his glasses and looked right into my eyes. "This is what you were put on this Earth to do, do you understand me? This is your destiny, David. If we get killed you need to keep going, you need to get to him and shut him down." I nodded, I think, and he headed away into the park. I still hear him saying that to me sometimes, when I think about the twisted remains of Disneyland. So much for destiny, right?

Once we were through the crowd it opened up, because nobody was headed towards anywhere but the main entrance anymore. I didn't know it at the time, but they were crushing each other to death, trampling little kids and grandparents and staff. Barely a quarter of them made it out of the park. Meanwhile we circled past Pirates of the Caribbean, navigating by that horrible flickering electric glow of the sky as it struck down more and more innocent people. As we approached Thunder Mountain I saw him for the first time, floating in the air surrounded by a blue halo that made my retinas itch just to look at it. My handlers opened fire immediately, but I think they already knew it wasn't going to work. Mackey told me to keep going while the thing was distracted, but I was petrified. I was completely incapable of moving closer, and probably would have stood there forever if it hadn't been for the deep bass noise of Agent Mackey exploding behind me.

Most days, I had hated my handlers and the place they kept me. I had hated the group home I lived in before that, and hated the foster parents I had before that, and hated my real parents as best as I can remember. But sometimes Agent Mackey would talk to me like a real person, and he would slip me a cigarette even though I was only sixteen. He was, if not a good person, at least a nice guy. I felt part of him slap into my back, hot and wet, and saw what in retrospect was probably an arm fly by me… and something snapped. I charged.

When the lab was first ripped apart by that thing, that horrible scarred monster, I felt excited. I thought I would be able to escape in the confusion and be free, be just a normal kid again and forget the experiments they had done on me. I wasn't useful except to manipulate the other test subjects anyway, so with the scientists dead it felt like a sure thing that they wouldn't look too hard for me. I had my freedom in my grasp, and stood staring at the ragged hole in the wall filled with fear of a normal life. My handlers had provided me with everything for two years, and… while I didn't want to admit it… I couldn't stand the thought of not getting to use my ability again.

So I stayed, and let them load me into the van and take me to confront the monster. I didn't know who had sent him, I wouldn't find out who had made the attack possible until I was thirty-two years old, and so when I finally attacked it was just about agent Mackey. As I charged towards the thing it looked at me, and that scar-covered face broke into a smile. It dropped to the ground, and didn't make any move to rip me apart. The only flex of power was one that slammed an invisible wall between us to keep me from trying to grab him with my bare hands.

"It's good to see you survived. You're David, aren't you?" I felt a cold shiver run down my spine when he - it - used my name, but I kept focused, looking past the visible world and examining the wall of force he was projecting. Lines of energy were snaking out of him into the clouds, but also in directions that didn't exist - trying to follow them made my stomach turn.

"Don't be afraid, David. This is a good thing. This is… a preemptive strike. The people you came here with were going to do something terrible, far worse than this, and I came to stop them." He paused, waiting for some reply, but I ignored him. "I know it looks like a mess, but I can fix this. I'm still flexing my muscles, you know. You'll learn someday that there is no limit to what people like us can do. I'll teach you myself, now that I've eliminated the program that created you. My side, my people, are already dead. Now yours are too. We are our own people, David. I saw where they kept you, like a lab rat. It can be so much better."

He was so strong, so powerful. The others that had developed powers in the lab after ages of surgeries and treatments had gained some weak control over a very specific area; maybe they could generate enough heat to cook an egg or make their eye color change. Nothing like this. Nowhere even close. I couldn't stop thinking, someone else is doing the same thing the people at the lab were, and they were doing it a hell of a lot better. It felt hopeless, I wanted to just give up and collapse on the ground, but then something seemed to click in my mind and I could see how the wall was woven. My hand slipped through and pressed against that face, that horrible mask of scar tissue, and the world ended.

It should have shut him down. It should have stopped everything. Instead, it felt like I had punched my hand through a dam and released the flood. It felt like my soul was being torn away in the rush of energy, like I had tried to grab the sun in my hand but somehow couldn't burn or die, only channel the heat though me into the Earth itself, destroying everything and everyone, blackening the planet and shattering it into dust.

I woke up thinking that was just what I had done; the twisted and blackened spires of Disney were barely visible through the acrid fog and I was certain that beyond the walls of the park the rest of Los Angeles, of California, of the world would look the same. When I discovered it was limited - almost exactly - to the Disney property, it was somehow worse. I disappeared into the city before they managed to seal the area, tried to forget everything after the group home. I watched the news talk about the terrorist attack on the Magic Kingdom, and I knew it was all my fault.

When the first reports of freaks appeared in the Los Angeles area, my stomach felt like a lead weight and I actually supported the government's position - round them up for the sake of national security. As it spread, and people throughout the southwest United States started to wake up and realize they had strange abilities, I knew some sort of genie had been let out of the bottle and could never be put back. In a way, I really had destroyed the world.

So that's where the story starts, for me. I still blame myself, after all this time, but I've learned it's never about one thing, that no story has one beginning. Tiny events, seemingly harmless choices, somehow come together to shape the world. A scientist leans too close to a test subject. Someone goes to the bathroom at the wrong time and gets left behind. I wonder sometimes about the pattern of these little events, about the fact that in the midst of the big questions about who destroyed the Magic Kingdom and why the freaks started to fight back and take on the Feds we're not asking what controls all those so-called "random" events. We're not asking if we really do have a destiny.

That's what this whole thing is about to me, I guess because I'm still looking for absolution. For all those involved who didn't destroy Disney and tear a hole in the universe… I guess for most of them it really comes down to the last night at the Drowned Spider - before that stupid little dive bar burned to the ground the freaks were in hiding and the Feds were hunting them but it was stable somehow, routine. After that the war started, short though it was, and so the sixteen years between that and Disney seem more like background.

And I have to admit, I really did love that damn bar.