Monday, November 16, 2009

NaNoWriMo '09, Chapter Sixteen: Socializing at the Silent Squid

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.

I unfreeze time and walk into the Laughing Squid, wincing as I see that it's filled to capacity. It's so noisy. I hand the sack of firing pins to Jezebel, who is making some sort of sculpture out of them, and slink off to a chair in the corner. Eddie is drunk and telling the same story as every night, about having Big Dave and someone named Francis fake their deaths in Mexico. People are getting pretty tired of that story, but nobody bothers to say anything and Eddie can't tell nobody is listening. He made a big show of saying that nobody was in charge anymore but I think that was just to avoid responsibility. I think in all honesty he wants to be our leader. He's got a certain kind of slimy charisma, and he's come up with some good plans, but in the end nobody trusts him to be in charge of anything.

Instead we just form little committees, break off into groups to do whatever seems right at the time. We’ve agreed that we shouldn't kill anyone except in self defense, but some of the more violent freaks quickly revised that to include a "tax" of five soldiers per freak killed. The especially nasty ones just went out and picked fights so they would have an excuse to defend themselves. Most people are good though, a lot of them are offended that they've been labeled as terrorists and don't want to earn the title. I don't know where I stand anymore. I want everyone to be okay. I want this whole thing to be over. I especially want those men I killed on the way out of the federal building to be alive again. If I have to pick a more attainable goal, I'd love for it to be quieter in here.

I can't keep hiding from people. It's been getting easier and easier to keep time stopped, and now I'm actually spending more time with things paused than not. In the eight and a half weeks since escaping I've aged nearly six months. That can't be good for me. I know that, I force myself to step back into the world and interact with people, but as soon as I get into a crowded room like this I want to stop it all. Something is wrong with me. I try to listen in, but there are a hundred conversations going on. Big Dave is trying to explain why he hasn't sent Eddie on another rampage - I assumed it was because it didn't fit with our current tactics, but Dave is saying that with all the new freaks arriving and all the scanners running there's some sort of interference, he loses Dave after just a block.

Crazy Ike, meanwhile, is trying to convince everyone that one of the soldiers gave him a note pad full of intel and helped to smash a jeep. The general consensus seems to be that he's another ringer like the one that tried to infiltrate the last bar these guys hung out at, some place called the Drowned Spider. There have been two other ringers since then - or at least two that got caught. One emitted a high pitched sound that could render you deaf, and the other fired lasers from his palm. Ike is insisting this guy was the real deal, but nobody is listening. He's getting louder and louder, and then Eddie talks louder so that everyone can hear that same damn story again, and then Dave yells at them both to shut up, and then everyone is laughing and Eddie and Ike are still yelling and…

That's better. For a second it seems like there are echoes, whispers bouncing off the walls, and then it's as silent as the tomb. Things never used to echo with the world paused, the few sounds were muffled and faded almost instantly like everything was happening in a padded room. What changed? Is my power starting to fail? Maybe I'm burning out. What a relief that would be, burning out and losing my ability. Being normal again. But then… I'd never get to walk around in this silent world, and I'd never get to be a hero. To set all this right. With great power…

I weave between the statues of the other freaks, and head out of the bar. I made it almost ten minutes tonight… that should count for something. God, I'm pathetic. Leaning against the outer wall, I can actually see the Laughing Squid's bouncer. He's bone thin and wears a ratty trench coat and fedora, and you almost never get a good look at him. He likes it that way. Even now he's hunched so I can't make out his face. I suppose I could go closer and take a look but I don't want to ruin the mystery. I stare at him, really look right at him, and let time flow again. Almost instantly he loses definition, and it's like looking at a pile of laundry in the middle of the night with your mind finding shapes in it. He's part of the wall. He's trash falling out of the dumpster he's next to. That part that looks like a fedora is just a stain on the brick, or graffiti, or a reflection of light off of something. Meanwhile I can still hear the arguments, picking up right where I left them.

"I'm telling you, it's implants like in that baby faced agent they sent to the Spider." Someone says, "The one that burned the place down."
"Naw," another voice yells, "that was Eddie!"
"Eddie isn’t an agent!"
It's too much. There are too many voices, too much movement even outside. I stop time again, and there's still that slight echo:
"It was Dave that burned the spider down." A faint voice whispers. And then, "The Spider never burned, it's fine." And then silence. Beautiful silence. I start walking towards home - I haven't been there is what feels like a month. It may have even been a month, for me. Most of the time when I need to sleep I just crash on whatever bed is nearby. I'm there and gone without time passing, so nobody knows I've broken into their house. Tonight, though, I want to go back to the space I set up for myself after escaping.

It's part of an old auto shop, a crumbling property with weed-laced junkers and little pools of oil and engine grease on the cracked cement. After a little work I was able to clean up a space and seal it off so that unless you measure the place it's hard to tell there's a room missing. I have a bed, a dresser, a little lamp. There's also a chest filled with weapons I never touch, most taken from the van Walter and I escaped in. I don't know why, but more and more I feel like I need to check on it. I worry about it, worry that someone will find it and steal it. It would be simpler to just drop it into the ocean and stop worrying, but I can't. It's almost like it has sentimental value.

I seal the door back up behind me, making sure that no light will spill out and reveal my presence, and then I unpause time and turn on the lamp. The chest is still there, of course. I lift the lid gently and remove the guns, feeling like I'm being watched, and then reach the carefully wrapped package underneath. I want that to be good enough, to satisfy my obsessive worrying, but I need to be sure it hasn't been swapped out for something else. I place it on the bed and begin to unravel the fabric, not stopping until it is sitting fully revealed before me. It makes me almost sick to look at, but at the same time something about it is exciting.

There really is a strange beauty about the Extractor, crab-legs gleaming silver in the tiny lamp's light. The back panel comes to life with a touch and the screen glows green, scrolling status and power levels past. The beauty is marred somewhat by the dried blood still stuck to the protruding spike underneath. Why have I kept this? When I found it in the van I should have smashed it, should have made Walter rip it apart, something. I guess I still can. I can take it out into the auto shop and get the old sledge that's leaning against the wall… a few good hits should do the trick. I stand, intending to get the sledge, and then I just stare at the Extractor.


I wrap it up again, carefully, and place it back in the chest. Maybe tomorrow.