[Author’s NOTE: This is the story I talk about in the post: “Saving a One Off Piece.”
I was responding to a “First Line” contest where everyone has to start their story with the same line. In this case it was: “On a perfect spring morning with flat seas and clear blue skies, Captain Eli P. Cooke made a terrible mistake.”
Desiring to show creativity, a foolish concept to begin with—one should never expect reviewers to recognize ingenuity, I had Lucy ( my character) read the first line from a children’s book. She then closes the book and my story proceeds to be about her and never speaks of Captain Cook again. I thought that quit clever. They did not. I found myself stuck with a One Off story and several weeks of life pissed down the drain. Here is the way the story goes now (to spite First Line, I took their silly first line out).
By the way, I’m checking these post and stories only cursory, because I think it is more important for me to go on to my next post than to make these perfect. So if you find something that reads nonsense, write a comment (I never read the emails) and I will correct it.]
Lucy shoved her hand under her jacket. I kept my eyes on the road, tracking its slow arc through the New England woods. Still, I saw her pull out the gold embossed book and open it on her lap.
“Why do you have Natasha’s book?” I shot a quick glance at her then turned my attention back to the highway.
She ignored my question and thumbed through the pages, scanning each from top to bottom.
“Can you believe they read this drivel to their kids?” In a gesture of disdain, she banged the book against her forehead just hard enough make a noise.
“Well, it’s their history, and Natasha believes it’s important to assimilate.” I accelerated our Galaxy Cruiser into a turn. Lucy braced her bare feet against the dashboard. Her skirt slid above mid-thigh and puddled between her legs.
The cruiser looks like an average car, but is much more. In my fluster, I pushed it a bit hard. Midway through the turn, we drifted a tad over the yellow line. A semi boomed its horn as it shot past, shaking us in its wake.
“A little heavy on the gas, space cadet,” she taunted and pressed her foot against my thigh. She gripped my pants with her toes and rocked my leg back and forth.
“You’re no fun,” she said and shoved away, knocking my foot off the accelerator. The sudden loss of speed flung us forward. My heart jolted. Eyes locked on the rearview, I wiggled my foot about, finding the pedal just as headlights flashed around the curve and raced up behind us. Lights glaring into our cab, the driver laid long and angrily on his horn. I floored the Galaxy. The acceleration, at least 5 G’s, slammed us back against the seats. The car lights drifted off in the rear view mirror.
“Jerk,” she said, turning sideways to glower back at him She grasped the hem of her skirt and made a half-hearted tug toward modesty before her attention returned to the book. She flung it open, grabbed a handful of pages, and ripped.
“Lucinda! That’s not your book!”
“Slow down!” she said. “I’m going to blast these out the ejector straight into his windshield. We’ll see how he likes that.”
“I’m not slowing down.”
“Okay, I’ll throw the whole thing down the ejector. He’ll run over it and crush the simplistic, mind-poisoning thing. Maybe he’ll swerve into a tree.”
She cranked the handle to do just that.
I grabbed her wrist.
“Their history—it’s irrelevant; bedtime stories. Brain-deadening drool meant to send children drifting listlessly into la-la land, so they grow up believing their little world is orderly and safe. A big lie—their world is not safe.”
“They’re Natasha’s kids. It’s Natasha’s book—or it was.”
“Ridiculous and stupid!” She twisted her hand free and yanked on the handle again.
“Don’t,” I ordered. “I’m about to breach!”
Eyes narrowing into death rays, she fumed through her nose and stared at the side of my head.
I switched on the main power thruster and pulled back on the steering wheel. We shot straight up between the trees. The line of approaching autos blurred beneath us then vanished into the haze.
Lucy sat up on her knees and looked back as Earth shrank away.
“Bet they believe in flying saucers now.”
I slowed and pulled alongside the nearest AT&T satellite.
“I wonder if I can jam this book in it somewhere,” Lucinda said, scanning it for a potential receptacle.
Cocking my face toward her, I bent my eyebrows into the meanest frown I could muster.
She smiled, bemused. She laid the book on her lap and wiggled in her seat.
“Okay,” she said as sweetly as the children she had berated. “I can’t stand that dreary Earth. Let’s take a spin around Saturn before we return. I love slaloming through the rings.”
“Okay, hon, after I download the message.” I tried to sound upbeat, but her shenanigans had frazzled my brain. My mind saw one thing: the face of Lucinda’s cousin, Mila. Polite, intelligent, pretty, rational Mila, the other mate offered to me at matching time. However, I chose the firecracker: impetuous, exciting, insane Lucinda.
I mobilized the robot grips, and they clamped onto the satellite. Our signal cable squirmed from the underbelly of the Cruiser and snaked like the Alien’s tongue into the satellite’s innards.
Lucy slid over. Wrapped her fingers sensuously around my neck and pressing her breasts against my shoulder, she bent her head next to mine to watch the communications display. My heart purred.
Symbols streamed through the air from left to right. I finished translating before the decoder even started. Lucy’s face went ashen and blank. A tear formed in the corner of her eye and dripped down the side of her nose. She leaned forward and stopped the decoder. Expelling her breath with the wheeze of a deflating balloon, she slid back into her seat. Eyes straight ahead, she placed her hands in her lap, one on top of the other.
“In another month, they would have been here.” Her voice was soft and sad. “The whole armada wiped out by a supernova?” With a spasm, her hands separated and clenched. Blood shot hot crimson into her cheeks, and her eyes blazed. “What kind of captain takes his fleet near an unstable star?”
“He thought he was outside the impact zone,” I whispered.
“Thought? Didn’t think, you mean! Carthian was a moron. The fools that picked him to command… They’re all dead now.”
I knew better than to speak. We sat there in silence. She stared into the vast nothingness. My mind whirled, considering our options.
Her eyes began to drift toward the marbled blue and white globe of Earth, the place our people had planned to colonize.
She raised the book and brushed her fingers across the textured cover, then bent down and lifted the torn pages from the floor.
“We have tape?” she asked.
I nodded toward the glove box. I watched her work, matching the book’s stubs to the ragged pages, one by one, applying the tape with the dexterity of a surgeon. She finished and leafed through them again. Visibly pleased, she shut it gently, as if it were the Holy Grail.
I swallowed and made my voice soft. “Shall we take that jaunt through Saturn’s rings?”
The bemused smile spread over her face. Her eyes twinkled.
“No, why don’t you park in a crater on the dark side?” She blushed, then added, “Of the moon, I mean.”
The acceleration must have been 8 G’s.
A month later, Lucy stood on Natasha’s porch again. I hung back, letting her clear the air on her own.
The book pressed against her side, she stood smiling at the door. She rocked from heel to toe until the lock clicked, then she froze at attention.
Natasha’s lips curled into a smile while her eye widened with surprise.
“Why, Lucy, what brings you back so soon?” A quick glance down at the book showed she already knew who had taken it.
Lucy offered it to her. “Natasha, I picked this up with my stuff last time. I didn’t realize my mistake until we had gone quite far. I tore a few pages—accidentally.”
Fists pressed against her hips, Natasha dropped her smile. “Keep it,” she snapped.
Lucy’s face sank into anguish. The discomfort didn’t last long. Natasha stared at Lucy’s midsection, then her mouth flung open, and she stamped her feet with the exuberance of a child.
“Little sister, you’re pregnant!” she screamed.
They sprang together in a hug and swayed side to side chanting, “Ewe! Ewe! Ewe!” like a couple of val-gals.
Then Natasha pushed Lucy back and studied her belly.
“You look pretty far along. When?” she asked, shifting her gaze from Lucy to me and back again.
“A month ago; the night we last visited.”
“Oh my god, you’re due to deliver any minute!”
Natasha turned and shouted over her shoulder, “Rudolf, get the car quick! Lucy’s pregnant, and she’s due!”
To Lucy, she said, “Looks like you’ll have twins.”
Hand on her stomach, Lucy groaned. “No, I think it’s a full litter, maybe five from the kicking.”
“Don’t worry,” Natasha said. “There’s an all-night vet just a few blocks away.” She yelled over her shoulder again, “Ru-u-u-dolf! Hurry!”
“A vet?” Lucy asked, bending in pain.
“Silly, he’s one of our doctors. He does the vet thing for supplemental income.”
Moments later, we were all in their car-a station wagon. Rudolf floored it, and we fishtailed down the street toward the vet’s.
We will make Earth our home after all, I thought. It’ll just take a bit longer than we planned.