I've received my ms copies from beta readers, and I'm hard at work today. Here's a peek at today's efforts:
December 28, 2012
Christina opened her eyes. She must have been drugged, for she could not wake until after they shoved her into this place. The walls and floor smelled of mold. The air grew increasingly cold, but warmth flowed in generously under the door. Christina tried to see through the crack against the floor without success. There was very little light in her space or in the living space beyond the door. No one came to bother her, although Christina heard someone moving. After a while she dozed again, awakening when heated air was not the only thing filtering under the door--she heard conversation. Once Christina started listening, she could not stop.
“Your mother owed me. When will you make good on her debt?” It was a sneering voice, jagged with tobacco’s effects. It was the voice of a man who liked being paid but loved being owed. Christina shivered in recognition. She knew the words of the man who took her.
Although she could not stop shaking, Christina opened her eyes and tried to shift her position against the floor to see. Making no noise, she slid herself over, coiling her elegant legs backward to press her face against the crack. Now there was a little light at the other end of a long room. The two men were just visible in the light of a single lamp suspended over an old table. The other speaker was young, maybe even Christina’s age. He had not been in the car.
“First,” his words were cool and unconcerned, as if he filed his nails while giving orders, “you must collect the items.” He said nothing more while he busied himself with objects on the table. Christina could see only the outline of a slim, attractive form in tailored clothing leaning forward on his palms. His nose was straight and his face clean-shaven. His blond hair fell away in neatly styled waves. After a few moments, the hulking, slouching shape of the one who drove the car began to shift. He planned to leave, but the younger man called him back. The slender figure’s eyes flickered upward in the light, and Christina spied a flash of cold, brilliant blue.
“Oh, and Ned?”
“Yeah?” “Ned” sounded disgruntled. The younger man had him played. Even from her moldy closet, Christina heard the resentment in his voice and understood the dynamic between them. “Ned” might wish for an “in” with his smooth-voiced, handsome employer, but Ned would never receive what he thought he was owed.
“Don’t take the gun.”
Gun? Christina’s already pounding heart clenched in panic. She remembered the gun. Of course: Ned held it in the car when…when….
Christina tried to sit up, but her dizziness and returning memory made her swoon. Her head rolled back against side of the closet. Still slumped to the floor, Christina rolled over, but her eyes flickered in surprise when she discovered the reason her closet was so cold. A gap let light in through the wall opposite the door. The air was icy, and Christina felt her breath as pain in her lungs. Her exhales formed clouds against the floorboards. She heard stomps coming around the corner of the house…or whatever this was. The stomps belonged to Ned’s booted feet. She recognized the brown, low-heeled, filthy footwear that kicked her away when she tried to fight. Christina did not want to think about that. She tried to focus on the car Ned approached now. Maybe she could memorize a license plate.
There was not enough light to make out letters and numbers, but Christina saw something fall to the ground when the familiar car’s door opened with a sickening screech and the dome light flickered. The item fell with a heavy thud against the ice. Ned bent to retrieve it, tucking it into the back of his filthy jeans for the trip.
It was the gun.
Ned fell into the driver’s seat and sped off after his unsteady tires whirled against accumulating ice. Christina lay on her back and stared up into the smelly dark. She tried not to imagine where Ned went or to fear the young man just outside the door. Rubbing her eyes did not help allay the drug’s effects. Fighting her own terror, Christina wondered: was she still dreaming, or did she actually see the spiders?
The dim light of the closet filtered in only through cracks in the walls and under the door. Christina was surprised she could make out the webs at all, let alone the frail legs constructing them. And, yet, a dozen or more of the weavers hung suspended just above where her head would have rested against the wall when she awoke. Christina tried to run her hand over her hair but missed. Her knuckles struck the wall behind her.
Christina groaned. She could see nothing clearly, and she could not stand up in this place—not with all the spiders. Examining the space above her, Christina hoped to decide whether or not the webs were real.
There were old ones, she decided, hanging tattered and dusty in the corners of the ceiling—if you could call it a ceiling. Below them, delicate threads drooped, leading to newer webs built across the space. Below that, Christina saw more single threads, then more webs from wall to wall, then more single threads again. It was a pattern leading lower and lower.
Christina watched, dazed but horrified, too, as tiny eight-legged figures that were little more than shadows spun new homes above her. Were they the creators of the now wrecked webs above them, or descendants of those weavers? Spiders should stop spinning once a web was done. They should sit in the web’s center in a darkened place like this closet, waiting. Why did these spiders continue to weave? Why were they coming closer? When would they stop?
Drugged or not, Christina observed with unusual calm. Spiders did not terrify her, but no one had ever locked her up with them before. Christina thought she should be more nervous; yet she lay on the floor, growing colder, watching the work of her tiny arachnid captors. The threads glowed like icicles in the scant light. Was the closet filling with smoke, or was that Christina’s own breath? Almost more than she longed for freedom, Christina wished she could know how much of this was real.
Christina drew her injured hand down over her shoulder and onto her chest. Her fingers touched her throat where her necklace should be. Until now, Christina did not know the ring and its chain had vanished along with the protection charm giving her mother comfort. Christina hoped her mother did not know the necklace was missing.
Once again, Christina struggled with the memory of the car. It had been very large and rusty: a car from her parents’ teen years, perhaps. On the street in front of Mallace Mansion, she and Paul thought nothing of it. But then the door popped and creaked as it opened and a man stepped out.
Christina fought to remember the night’s details. After an explosion, her father fell to the ground. Why had her father been there? Christina’s memory could not seem to arrange events in the right order. What she did recall, though, was how a large gold ring made its way onto her finger. Paul wrestled the man—Ned--and held onto her at the same time. Ned twisted away from Paul as Christina’s arms slipped through Paul’s grasp. Christina remembered a pop—the clasp of her necklace caught on something? As Paul’s hands struggled to hold onto hers, an object slipped from one of his fingers. It was his school ring, and Christina knew he loved it.
Had Christina tried to keep the ring from falling? Did she reach to catch it? Is that why she let go of Paul’s hand?
On her thumb now, the large ring glinted in the half-light. Christina twirled it there. Paul screamed her name when she let go, and the ring slipped easily onto her thumb as Christina struggled upward to see through the window. The old car doors groaned shut, and she fought in vain to find the handle. Paul yelled and banged against those doors as the car sped away.
Tears slipped down her cheeks now as Christina remembered that someone else had been there, sprinting toward them down the long drive of Mallace Mansion. When had that happened? The memory was out of place. She had looked through the dusty window at her home speeding away, but by then her father was already on the ground.
Her father lay on the walk, and something had thrown him to the ground. How had that happened? Ned was in the car with her. The explosion: Christina never heard a gunshot before, let alone up close. Now, holding Paul’s ring, she understood what the noise had been and why her father fell. She remembered Paul yelling at her father as Ned scrambled into his seat. From the back, Christina grabbed at him.
That was when he kicked her. The man—Ned—did not reach for her with his hands: one of those was on the steering wheel and the other grasped the gun. He did not point the gun at her, either. Impossibly, Ned reached his right leg up over the seat and kicked her. For his age and bulk, Ned was spry.
Memories and dreams and images of spinning spiders wove together in Christina’s mind, and she could not tell what was real. Christina began to give up on that. Maybe she was sick, and she dreamt nightmares in her own bed. Maybe her mother sat nearby with a bowl of hot soup. But Christina knew that if this were so, she would feel the presence of Carin Mallace. Wherever she was and whatever was happening, one thing Christina understood for certain: her mother was not with her.
In the growing darkness, Christina’s eyes squinted. The spiders finished their web…did they begin a new one? Fresh webs formed beneath the completed structure. The spiders lowered themselves closer to the girl on the floor.
Christina grasped Paul’s ring with her other hand. She spun it round and round on her finger, thinking of him, thinking of the last words he said to her as he struggled and she slipped away.
“I can find you. I will find you.”