I’m slow writing novels. I’ve drafted the first half (70,000 words) of a new one with the working title Silent Rain (you can see how slow I’ve been if you’ve noticed the yellow progress bar in the sidebar that hasn’t moved in almost a year). Now I’m going back and editing it down to refresh my memory of the story in preparation for starting a push through the second half in November for NaNoWriMo. I don’t expect to have the editing finished over the next month and a half, but I do plan on releasing the first half as a standalone work in early spring while I wrap up the second half.Meanwhile, I thought I’d share the beginning of the novel with you so you can see where it’s going, or at least how it starts. This is after a first edit to get rid of much of the slow sections and tighten the dialogue. Other rounds will deal with other aspects of the text.
“Anything interesting, boy?” Adulfus asked. He leaned against the back of the house and rested his rifle in the crook of his arm.
“The stream’s slowing down,” Sherman said. It seemed to be rising a bit as well. The big rock he liked to use as a table when it was dry was underwater now.
“When do you think the rain’s going to end?” A week can be a long time when you’re cooped up in a house.
“There’s talk of the dam overflowing up north,” Adulfus said.
Sherman wondered what the flood might do to folk like gramps. He wasn’t sure where people like gramps lived, but he figured some would be in town.
He looked back to Adulfus. “Do you think gramps will be staying here for a while?”
“He’s stayed here before.”
Sherman didn’t remember that.
“Back when you were just a baby,” Adulfus said, “he came out and stayed a week. Unnerved a few of us.”
If he listened for it, Sherman could hear the low roar of the river almost a mile away.
“Think the bridges are under water?”
“We haven’t seen any cars on the road since yesterday,” Adulfus said, “but don’t worry. Your mother did a supply run right after the rain started. We should be good for another week or two.”
Sherman picked up a pebble and chucked it into the stream.
“It does look like it’s slowing down,” Adulfus said. “I wouldn’t worry about it tonight though. It’ll slow down as it climbs. See how it spreads out the higher it gets?”
Sherman wasn’t too interested in the geometry of the situation. Water creeping up would rise to the house eventually. Whether it was tonight or tomorrow only changed when they had to worry about it.
“Maybe the house will float away and we’ll become pirates,” he said. That would be fun. No more school. No more being made fun of.
He imagined hoisting the jolly roger on the TV antenna. They’d float through town and wave goodbye to everyone. He hoped that it would be during the day so they wouldn’t have to worry about the night folk.
“You think gramps would help us out?”
“He can’t just leave us here,” Adulfus said. “But that doesn’t mean he’ll do what we think he should do.”
Sherman nodded and threw another pebble into the stream. Adults never did what you thought they should do. They were always pushing him to go outside and play with the neighbor kids when all he wanted to do was play on the computer. Why waste time hitting a ball with a piece of wood when he could be learning something useful? Controlling the computer was fun. It always did what he asked it to do. It never talked back. Never made fun of him. Never told stories about his family.
No use continuing to watch the stream rise and slow. Might as well go back in and see what the others were up to.
His cousins had come over as soon as the news started covering the dam.
“You never know what will happen,” Mary had said.
She was married to Adulfus, so not really part of the family except by law. Not a blood relation, anyway. Gramps was careful about making that distinction, not because outsiders were bad, but because the genetics were different. What might work for the rest of the family wouldn’t work for them.
The television showed the water several feet over the spillway. The camera zoomed in on a small section as the reporter voiced over about a few areas worrying the engineers.
“They’re expecting another week of rain,” his mother said as she came out of the kitchen.
There was no way they’d survive another week here. Not with the stream out back already rising.
Sherman went to his room and started sorting through his things. If they left, he’d need to pack. He pulled a duffle bag out of the closet and put his teddy bear in. Bop had been his since he could remember. He didn’t want to lose him just because the weather was bad.
The computer pad went in to the bag as well. He needed something to take his mind off wherever they ended up. Adults talking were boring after a while.
Jerry ran in and jumped on the bed.
“What’re you doing?” he asked.
“It’s supposed to rain for another week and the stream is rising,” Sherman said. “I don’t want to leave all this behind.”
“Your teddy bear?”
“And my computer. I need someone to talk to.”
“Don’t be. You’re normal. I just find normal boring.”
“Do you think gramps is going to come back?”
“How else are we going to get out of here?”
“But he’s one of them.”
“We’re his family. Where would he go for Christmas?”
“Your family is weird. Doesn’t he creep you out?”
“No,” Sherman said. And he meant it. Gramps didn’t freak him out. He was part of the family. The others made his hair stand on end, but he didn’t know them. Gramps had never tried to harm the family.
“You’re just jealous that gramps comes here more.”
Jerry shrugged his shoulders and left the room.
Sherman was a year older than Jerry. They saw each other every other Thanksgiving when the two families got together.
A yell came from the living room.
He ran to see what was up.
“The dam is starting to break,” Jerry said.
On the television, the camera was swinging back and forth showing the slow destruction. The water was churning through a gap. Chunks of concrete calved off and fell under the dirty water.
It would take an hour before it hit town.
Father was already on the phone trying to reach gramps. From the sound of it, he wasn’t having much luck.
“They put me on hold,” he said. “Apparently nothing is an emergency for them.”
Sherman knew who he was talking about. The ones like gramps existed in a different world.
Gramps seemed to care for the family, so hopefully father would be able to get through.
By now the dam was gone. The lake was falling. A brown line grew between the woods and the water.
Mother turned off the TV.
“We need to pack,” she said. “Father will arrange something. We should be ready when they get here.”
Sherman looked at Jerry and stuck his tongue out before running back to his room.
He threw clothes in the bag. A few pairs of shorts as well as a pair of long pants. A few shirts. At least one good pair of clothes for Sunday service. He added his favorite sweater on top of everything. Grandma had knitted it for him the year before she passed. Gramps said it was special because it came from her. He had passed it along to Sherman as her last Christmas present.
He could hear others in the home doing the same. No time to lose if gramps was going to be here soon.
Angry shouting came from the living room.
Duffle bag packed, he tried lifting it. Too heavy. Hopefully someone else could do the lifting for him. He grabbed ahold of the strap and started dragging it to the living room. The carpet helped a bit, but not enough. It felt heavier than a sack of concrete, but at least it had a handle.
In the living room, he found his parents arguing.
“What do you mean he can’t make it?” his mother asked.
“There are too many needing help in town,” his father said. “We should be good for a few days and he’ll try to send someone out to help us as soon as he can.”
“Does he know how the town folk look at us? Who knows what the flood will dig up. Once people see what’s happening, they’ll be coming after us.”
“That’s why he’s trying to help, so people see that his family isn’t part of the problem.”
“He should have thought of that a long time ago.”
“But he didn’t, and now he is.”
Sherman looked at them. “So gramps isn’t coming for us?”
His father rolled his eyes. “No, Sherman. And your mother seems to think it’s the end of the world because of that.”
“I do not,” she said. “I just think that our chances are squat without him.”
“He didn’t say he wouldn’t help us. He just said that he couldn’t right now, and he couldn’t come himself.”
“If he loved us, he’d come. What could be more important than us?”
“Maybe there’s something he knows that we don’t,” Sherman said. “Kind of like when you say to do something but won’t tell me why.”
“We’re adults. He could tell us if there was something going on. We’d understand,” his mother said.
Jerry ran in with his suitcase.
“I’m ready!” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“We’re not going anywhere just yet,” father said.
“But you said that we were.”
“Sometimes things change. I can’t help it if things don’t always go like I want them to,” father said.
Sherman looked out the window at the stream. It was closer, rising faster than Adulfus said it would. He wasn’t surprised. He had watched it for a while before coming to the conclusion that it was rising. Before tonight, it would probably be up to the house. Once it got there, it would start flooding the basement. Then gramps wouldn’t have anywhere to stay when he came.
“The stream’s getting closer,” he said.
No one paid attention to him. They were busy arguing about whose fault it was that gramps wasn’t going to be there by noon with a helicopter to ferry them across the water.
“If the roads are impassable, is there another way we might get around the water? It’s all running down to the river, so it has to come from somewhere. Can we just follow it upstream to higher ground?” Mark asked.
Mark was father’s brother. He was part of the family regardless of what might happen.
“We could. We’d have to leave almost everything behind except for what we could carry. You and I could take a bit extra weight. That would give us some food for a couple days,” father said.
They discussed who’d get what before splitting up.
Father headed to the garage.
“Sherman, Jerry,” mother said, “Y’all need to ditch anything you don’t want to carry. Don’t worry about clothes. We can always buy some when we get to safety.”
Sherman opened his duffle bag and looked at the sweater from grandma. He’d hold on to that. He set it aside and dug out the rest of the clothes he had packed. He put the sweater back in the bag with Bop and his computer. With those three, he could face the world.
Jerry added to the pile of clothes.
“Hearts on your underwear?” Sherman asked.
“What would you prefer?” Jerry asked. “Teddy bears?”
“Boys,” Mary said.
Father returned from the garage with a few small bags.
“I found the matches. I don’t know if they’ll work or not. They’re several years old.”
“They should be fine. Those things will last forever,” Mark said.
“Boys,” father said, “I found a couple of small backpacks you can use to carry your stuff. They should be a lot easier than a suitcase or duffle bag.”
Sherman took the bag and looked at it. It might hold the sweater, but it surely wouldn’t hold all three. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t try.
He put the sweater in first, neatly folded so that it would take as little room as possible. Bop could be pushed in as well. He hated to do that to the bear. He wouldn’t want to be smushed into a bag for who knows how long.
The bag didn’t look too waterproof. If rain got in, then Bop would be soaked. If rain got in, the computer would be soaked as well. With a few grunts and some effort pushing things around, he managed to zip it shut.
Now the bag seemed like an odd overstuffed ball. He could squeeze it and get some give out of it, so the compute might fit. It wasn’t that big.
He opened the zipper just enough to fit the computer and tried to slide it in between the sweater and Bop. That might protect it from a little water if some got in.
It seemed to snag on the sweater, but it was going. He rummaged around between the sweater and the computer to straighten things out. Eventually, it went in.
It was tight, but everything was there that he absolutely had to have with him.
His mother handed them some raincoats.
“Wear these over the backpacks and they should stay dry.”
Eventually, everyone was ready and they set out. His father was in the lead and his mother brought up the rear. Sherman and Jerry were in the middle.
The stream had become a pond. They walked until they could see the water moving again.
Sherman looked back at the house.
“What about Smitty?” he asked. He should have remembered him earlier, but the rush of packing and leaving had distracted him.
“He’ll be alright,” his father said. “Animals have a way of surviving these things.”
“We should open the gate and let him out.”
“Anyone want to trudge back through the mud and rain?”
Everyone stood there and said nothing.
“I’ll do it,” Sherman said as he took a step towards the house.
“Sherman!” his mother said.
But he was running now. No one else might care about Smitty, but he wouldn’t want to be left if he were a dog.
If he hurried, he wouldn’t delay them too long.
Smitty was standing at the gate and wagging his tail. He was drenched from the rain, but happy to see Sherman.
“Come on, boy. Let’s get you out so you can stay out of the water.”
He opened the gate.
Smitty bounded out of the yard and jumped on Sherman.
“Whoa there. You’re muddy!”
Smitty stopped moving. His ears pricked up and moved like radar dishes.
Just then, Sherman heard a scream from the family.
He looked back.
A group of people were walking down the stream towards them with their rifles leveled.
They didn’t seem to have noticed him yet.
“Come on, Smitty,” he whispered. “Let’s hide around the corner.”
He slipped around the house and looked back to see the group of men surround his family.
His father, Mark, and Adulfus were standing with their feet spread apart, blocking the other group from reaching Mary or his mother. Jerry was standing in the middle mimicking the men.
Sherman could see the conversation. Mark was waving his arms around and his father was shaking his head.
Adulfus gave up his rifle. Father pulled a pistol out of his pants.