Our good friend, Peter Edwards over at Little Fears, just made a very nice mention of us, our new novel–
And of “Villains and Birdsong”, our little short that isn’t such a little short anymore.
“Villains…” came about quite simply: Pete casually uttered the phrase in a post on his site, and somehow, the phrase stuck in my mind. I (William) imagined this teen aged girl setting out a picnic blanket in a beautiful meadow. But when the blanket settles down over the meadow’s tall green grass, everything: the grass, any bugs in it, even the earthworms and microbes in the dirt below, suddenly die. And then I saw this wake of dead, brown grass, marking her path to the spot. A wake that’s still growing wider. And then I realized she has- not just fingernails, but claws…
And the rest just started to roll in. Ann wasn’t thrilled with the idea; I am supposed to be working on another story, a novelized version of a serial story we’d been working on called “The Last Italian Tune-Up”. But I couldn’t shake the new thought. And although I still really want to see LITU through, this short, and its somehow ominous girl (I’ve some to call her “Caly”, short for Calypso- read your Greek mythology:–) with her claws, won’t leave me alone. And I, like the boy she’s somehow netted up to come along with her on the horrible adventure they’ve both been on, am afraid now to leave her. Even more afraid than I am of Ann being pissed at me:-)
So, on the work goes. And here below, is the current opening of the newest draft, along with another new excerpt from later on. Hope you enjoy.
“Villains and Birdsongs”
She slid the mirror-lensed sunglasses down off of her nose and swept her eyes across the meadow. It stretched, almost endless. She hadn’t thought meadows like this even existed in Kentucky, but here this one was, looking as wide and grand as any she’d seen so far in say, Nebraska, or Wyoming, or even Kansas.
And oh, the sound of it! It had the sound of something just so absolutely… abuzz with life. What had to be hundreds- no, thousands of birds sang in the distant trees. While perhaps a million crickets chirruped in the tall grass. The tall, green grass- although I thought Kentucky grass was supposed to look blue? She squinted, maybe the glasses had messed with her color perception? But no, although each blade was tipped with very small, sapphire flowers, the grass itself was indeed a rich green, which swished and sighed in great, gentle waves. All beneath a mellow late-afternoon sun and a dazzling, cloudless sky.
The picnic blanket, made of a heavy, red and white checkered cloth, spread itself wide upon the late-summer breeze. She held the blanket tight, lest the breeze suddenly become a wind and try to pull it from her thin fingers. She would just have to watch her nails; they’d gotten so long, and if she were forced to pull too hard, she would most certainly-
Sure enough, the wind did pick up. Which pulled the blanket taut in her hands. She felt her nails dig into the fabric, felt their tips straining against it, ready to plunge through.
She cast a wicked grin up at the sky. “So help me, if you make me tear this, even one little hole… I will rip YOU a new-”
The wind became a breeze again, and the picnic blanket resumed its gentle flutter.
The previous moment’s strain would leave marks in the fabric, probably, but no holes. Nothing irreparable. Nothing that required any immediate… doing. Thank goodness again. All she’d wanted to do was rest out here. One last time.
She slowly brought the blanket down over the tall grass. It settled with a gentle, FLOOF.
Whereupon everything beneath it: the grass, a few unlucky insects, a great many earthworms- indeed, even the microbes in the soil itself… anything that had been unfortunate enough to find itself beneath the blanket’s footprint, immediately died. The song of the crickets suddenly lost four singers.
“My, my,” she said as she looked around, “what an awfully nice place this is.” She gathered her dress around her and dropped to her knees on the blanket. A muffled, brittle CRUNCH now came up from beneath.
Yet there he was anyway, undeterred, coming along roughly the same path that she’d taken, his feet occasionally crunching over the same spots of wilted grass that marked her own earlier footsteps. Her sweet, young-
She saw that he still had that stupid gun tucked in the waistband of his jeans.
She’d told him several times how pointless, how stupid, really, it was for him to keep carrying it. But…
Oh well, if it makes him feel better…
When he saw her looking at him, he smiled.
But then for some strange reason he suddenly frowned. And when he spoke next, he sounded worried. “Hey. Listen, uh… You’re not gonna like, cause a fire out here, are you? You left this giant, like, swath of dead grass farther behind you. And it’s spreading, like a boat wake.”
Bless the boy; he was cute enough, and relatively smart- if still nowhere near as smart as her. But once in a while, he still had some really, just genuinely dumb moments.
“Oh, my baby”, she purred (because even though she never delivered on the promise that purr made, Gary still seemed to love when she talked to him that way; seemed to regard the purr as a sort of consolation prize), “even if there was a fire, I could put it out just like that.” She clapped her hands together once, hard. “Like swatting a fly. I wouldn’t let my beeyutiful boy get burnt.”
Gary looked at his feet and blushed. “Well, thanks. But…” his voice grew serious. “I was actually worried more about the smoke. The brown grass is enough, they can see that from the air, it’s probably like a big arrow pointing right at you. But smoke… they could see that from anywhere. Even…” Gary pointed upward. “And you know how badly they want to get you. What they’d try to do. After all you’ve done to-”
“We’ve done… sweetheart. We.”
“Yeah, well. Ok, we. But anyways, talk about getting burnt… I mean, I don’t care about myself so much, but… they know. And I still think you underestimate what they might be willing to do to you now. The kind of things they’d be willing to risk- like, nuclear things.”
And that was Gary’s other big plus: besides being nice to look at, and almost damnably sweet, he practically boiled over with loyalty. Even though he had to at least faintly suspect by now that he’d probably never “get in her pants”, as the boys in the movies used to say, he didn’t just follow her, and didn’t just want to “get in her pants”; he genuinely cared about her-
Seems to care. She reminded herself.
And was that, perhaps, the reason why that pesky little question—just what is Gary?—still didn’t have an answer?
Because a great majority of the few other people she’d known so far in her short life: the doctors, the scientists and even a few of the Army guys, had also seemed to care for her, only to reveal in the end that they really hadn’t. At least not about her as a person.
No, they’d only cared about that one small part of her. The one that was now so very, very big. And which now scared them all (the few who were still alive, anyway) so much. Because it just kept getting bigger.
And because they can’t stop it.
But if Gary too was faking it, he was certainly putting on a good show. The best she’d ever seen. He not only seemed to care, but his very first thoughts in every single situation were always concerned with making sure that nothing bad ever happened to her.
As if that were even possible. Nothing bad, she always told him, can happen to me.
Gary looked back over his shoulder. “Anyways. I tried my best to hide the Trans-Am down the road. I wish you would’ve helped me, by the way, but I found a billboard, a few hundred feet further down and stashed it behind that. I mean, the car’s black, so… And I covered it up as good as I could too, kind of like Marty McFly hid the DeLorean in “Back to the Future: Part-”
“Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. Now…” She patted the blanket beside her- CRACKLE, CRUNCH, CRUNCH. “Did you bring everything? We don’t have all day.” She noticed that the grass beyond the blanket’s edges was starting to brown too.
“Well, yeah,” he said. “Although again, I wish you would’ve helped me instead of just going walking off-”
“With the blanket,” she reminded him. Then she smiled. “I did carry the blanket.”
“Uh huh… which I’m sure must’ve been a struggle, even for you, Supergirl. But this-” he hefted the picnic basket, “is friggin’ heavy. What do you have in here, by the way? Or do I want to know.” His face suddenly went white. “Oh my God, it’s not that guy from the-”
“A girl’s gotta eat, sweetheart.”
“Yeah, well, I hope you packed something else for me. And maybe some Twinkies?” He gave her one of his goofy smiles.
“Maybe.” She smiled back. “Although, you know, with all the crap in them- those stupid Twinkies will kill you.”
Gary sighed. Then he sat down beside her on the blanket. And after that he didn’t say anything for almost a full minute. He just looked out over the meadow.
Until, finally, in a low voice he said, “You are going to kill me, you know. You.”
If you want to watch this story’s progress, please feel free to follow us here at Ann-William.com. We try to keep things interesting.
We’re also running a Goodreads Giveaway right now, of our new novel “KRISSY’S NOTEBOOK”. And if you think you might like our “Caly”character, you might want to give “Krissy” a try. She’s not supernatural, but she’s definitely, uh… interesting too…