Today I’m going to do something I thought I’d never do – post my WIP. Writers need feedback, so I’m asking for your critiques. This is the second rewrite of my opening scene. Please post comments and tell me what you think. What works? What doesn’t?
His pick-up truck sucked the miles along U.S. Route 9 like a thirsty kid pulls soda through a straw. His truck’s high beams on the deserted highway illuminated the Burma-Shave signs. Their messages took on a personal relevance. If these…Signs blur…And bounce around…Park your car…And walk to town. He hadn’t slept in days. At four o’clock in the morning, the empty highway placated his rattled nerves. He had driven the last hundred miles without being followed. Still, David checked his rearview mirror and pushed his foot forward on the gas pedal. Don’t lose…Your head…To gain a minute…You need your head…Your brains are in it. He had a plan to protect his family, but he needed Louise’s help.
By the time he parked his truck two blocks away from Louise’s driveway, the sun was rising over Manhattan, but along the row houses of Poughkeepsie, the porch lights wouldn’t turn off for another hour. He closed his eyes, but couldn’t close his mind to the dread that haunted his thoughts. I’m sorry, Louise. I didn’t want to involve you. But you’re the only one I can trust. The whole town has gone mad. You have to help Rachel and the kids…The kids…Oh, God, they’d better not touch my kids.
In his dream, it was Sarah’s fifth birthday. His wife, Rachel, was tying a blindfold on Caleb for pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Instead of a donkey’s tail, his son was holding a rabbit’s foot. He saw Dr. Stone pouring Kool-Aid into plastic cups and handing them to the children. Dr. Stone? No! Suddenly, Sarah’s new pogo stick became a rifle. He grabbed it and aimed it at the grinning doctor.
Sunlight, like an air to ground missile, struck his eyelids and exploded him to attention. He scrambled out of his truck and took note of his surroundings – a woman in a house dress walking her poodle, a postman on foot, a kid on a bicycle throwing papers – an ordinary suburban scene. It felt like the Twilight Zone. This can’t be happening! As he walked the two blocks to Louise’s house, his pace quickened. I’m being paranoid, he told himself. Still, he didn’t use the front door, but approached the house from the side, the entrance to the kitchen shadowed by a row of lilac bushes.
He knocked. A woman wearing a pink checkered apron opened the door. “David!” she embraced him warmly. “I didn’t see you drive up.”
She frowned when she noticed him looking over his shoulder before going inside. She poured two mugs of coffee and set them on the table, gesturing for him to sit. As he did, he opened his mouth to apologize for involving her, but Louise spoke first.
“David, I have the medicine you asked for – streptomycin. And just like you said, my doctor didn’t question me when I told him it was for Rachel. But you still haven’t told me the whole story. Don’t tell me Saranac Lake doesn’t have any streptomycin. I know Rachel needs it, but why did you have to come all this way to get it? Any why all the secrecy?” she asked.
“Louise, she’s not getting any better.”
“So why the cloak-and-dagger, David? Shouldn’t you be talking to the doctors? They’re the experts.”
“Louise, I don’t trust the doctors at the sanatorium anymore. I don’t trust anyone in Saranac!” He ran his hands through his hair. The panic and despair in his voice was uncharacteristic of her easy-going brother-in-law.
“David, tell me what’s going on,” she said, tapping her spoon on the rim of her coffee mug.
“What I’m going to say will sound like the ramblings of a lunatic,” he muttered, keeping his voice low. “The doctors at the sanatorium have been experimenting with some kind of new drug and I’m pretty sure it’s not for TB.”
“What makes you think that?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Last week I drove to the old camp, the one by Miller’s Pond, to deliver the usual batch of medical supplies. When I came to the front door, I saw the TB patients through the window.”
“Isn’t that where Rachel went for treatments? The hunters’ lodge that the sanatorium converted to a cure cottage?”
“Yeah, that one. I rang the doorbell and waited there on the porch. I saw patients lying in hospital beds with IVs attached to their arms.”
“So what? It’s a cure cottage, David, that’s what they do there. What’s so unusual about that?”
“That’s not the weird part. When one of the doctors came to the door, he told me to bring the delivery to the back. There were too many packages, so I got back in the truck and drove it to the back to unload.”
“Flashing lights and weird sounds were coming from a corner room. I stayed in the truck for a few minutes and watched through a window.” David continued, “And that’s when I saw some of our neighbors. Louise, they were acting so strange!”
“What were they doing?”
“At first it looked like some kind of party – pink flashing lights, heavy drum beats, music. They were all laughing and drinking what looked like fruit punch. Some were dancing,” he took a breath.
“Sounds like fun, David,” she rolled her eyes, her skepticism over-riding her good manners.
“Oh no, I’m sure the party goers thought they were having fun, but…You remember Martha Stone, that prissy lady who parades in mink coats all the time?”
“I think so, the one we snickered at in church when I visited at Easter?”
“Yeah, that’s her. Well, she was eating some concoction of wiggling worms, dirt and all.”
“Come on, David. That sounds like a party game – Truth or Dare. Haven’t you ever played?” Oh dear, he’s gone over the deep end, she thought.
“I’m telling you Louise, this was no party game. One of the doctors was sitting in the corner taking notes.”
“Taking notes on how to have fun, I’ll bet.”
“Seriously, Louise,” David continued, “Oliver Burton, the guy who owns the hardware store? He was dancing in his underwear. And Julia, his wife, was snipping off her hair. Jacob Mills, the hunting guide – he was vacuuming the rug. But the strangest thing, the thing that disturbed me the most was Peter Campbell happily sawing at his left toe. Louise, he was cutting his own toe off – and smiling!”
“You’re kidding, right? Jacob Mills, that scrubby old mountain man – vacuuming?” Come-on, Peter Campbell cutting his toe off? She didn’t buy it.
“Louise, please, I’m not kidding around!”
“Okay, so what do you think is really going on, David?”
“Some kind of mind control experiment! Before I handed off the supplies, I noticed the shipment labels. Some packages came from Langley, Virginia – that’s CIA, Louise!”
“That is odd. Why would the CIA be shipping medical supplies to Saranac Lake?”
“Because they’re not medical supplies – they’re mind control drugs!” David declared. “I started asking questions the next day. Julia had a new hairdo – short and wavy. When I asked her where she had her hair done, she said a new operator in town fixed her hair. Louise, there is no new beauty operator! I asked Jacob Mills where he was last night and he couldn’t remember – that, coming from a man who knows exactly how many nuts and bolts he’s sold on any given day?”
“What about Peter Campbell?”
“I made a stop at his house, too. He had his slippers on and blood was seeping through the side of his left foot. When I asked him what happened to his foot, he told me a log probably fell on it. Probably? Look, these people had no idea what happened to them.”
“David, maybe they were too embarrassed to talk about it, or maybe they were too drunk to remember,” Louise offered. “I wouldn’t want to tell you anything either if I woke up at a cure cottage with a hangover the next morning.”
“I didn’t see any booze there, Louise.”
“Alright, David. What if those people were under some kind of drug influence,” Louise argued, “that doesn’t mean the sanatorium or the CIA is behind this.”
“I also spoke to one of the doctors who were there that night. I asked him how his patients got any rest with all that racket. You know what he said? He told me I’d better mind my own business if I wanted my wife to continue getting free treatments. So I told him where he could stuff his treatments – they weren’t helping Rachel anyway. I told him his patients didn’t look any better either. Then he poked his finger in my chest and told me to shut my trap and stop asking questions if I knew what’s good for me. Louise, he threatened my family!”
“Oh, David! What are we going to do?”
“Here’s my plan…”
Thanks again for reading. And please, tell me what you think.