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Archive for the ‘excerpts’ Category

Here’s another excerpt from the novel so far, written last week. Enjoy!

*

Artistic Methods

Everything smelled like paint; Aaron lay back on his couch and breathed in the acrid reek of his oily artistic tools lying a few feet in front of him on the table next to his easel. Everything was ready, set out in a militaristic line and waiting to do his bidding. All he needed was the feeling, and even though part of him still felt a nauseating dread over Jason’s visit – and promise – earlier in the day, he knew that in a few moments all of those fears would be comfortably obliterated for a little while.

His music blared loudly from a pair of ancient speakers set up on either side of his easel, a playlist he had crafted years ago when he had first moved to New York. The songs filled his ears in the same way the scent of his paints filled his nostrils, soothing him and taking him over. Or that could have been the heroin, at this point Aaron wasn’t sure exactly what was giving him the warmth and serenity spreading through his limbs. He didn’t care. He had a show coming up, and he obviously needed money, so he had no choice but to answer his artistic calling.

Standing up slowly, Aaron heard something fall to the floor with a soft ‘clunk’ at his feet. He looked down, feeling as if he were moving through syrup, and saw the glint of his silvery-black teaspoon lying forlornly next to a fallen cigarette lighter. His ‘works’ had a tendency to get scattered about once he got going, but Aaron knew he’d find them again. Having a small apartment combined with an old friend who knew the best places to get clean needles made his artistic methods easier than most. Moving slowly over to his easel, which in the half-dark of his dingy, candle-lit apartment looked more like a shrine than anything else, Aaron picked up a paintbrush as if it were a conductor’s baton and he was about to lead an orchestra through a tremendous symphony.

The candles were pretentious, and Aaron knew it, but he enjoyed the scent of the wax mingling with his paints, and it saved on electric bills, which were just one more expense he had to keep in mind in his day-to-day habits. If only his day-to-day habits weren’t so cost-consuming.

Staring down at his palette, a thin wooden square dotted with brightly-coloured blobs, Aaron gently dipped and twirled his brush in the nearest smear of paint, a shining stain of blue that bled into shades of black in the half-light. Or so it looked to Aaron, and as he stared down at the paint he found himself smiling almost idiotically. It had been days since he’d felt this good, felt this alive, this ready to bend himself to a creative will. After his initial testing of the waters, his colour selections came to him as naturally as breathing. Paints flew onto canvas so fast Aaron left splatters across his tattered green shirt, and he paused rarely, only occasionally stopping to step back and observe his creation, and only whenever there was a lull in the music.

Aaron couldn’t remember the first time he had picked up a paintbrush, but he knew that his love of art had existed since before he could remember. His family had always encouraged him, his parents and siblings all being aficionados to some degree as they grew up and older and expanded their horizons. In his twenty-three years of life Aaron had lived in Japan, Germany, Italy, New York, Illinois and back to New York again. He still remembered his first visit to Vatican City at the age of seven, stumbling behind his sisters on short legs as they urged him to keep up through the throngs of people. He remembered staring up at the Sistine Chapel and thinking it was the most incredible thing he’d ever seen, and that he could barely believe anyone could have created something that wondrous from nothing. He’d always enjoyed art, but he still had that moment of his life burned into his brain, and ever since then he had known that he had wanted to be as those artists, as Michelangelo and Botticelli, creating art that took people’s breaths away until the end of time.

Those moments always came back to him when he made art now, especially considering his methods. Echoes and memories of the past always came back stronger, and he smelled and tasted them as clearly as the candle wax and the paint that now stained his mouth, his lips being a common resting place for his brush whenever he paused to take stock of his work. He looked now as if he had recently eaten fresh blackberries, but he was too lost in his work and his memories to pay any attention.

Prodigy had been the word most commonly used to describe him. His art teachers in high school were left astounded by his designs and methods, as had his instructors at art college here in New York. Had. Times long past now. Aaron paused again, adding a splash of pale red to his lips as the brush rested there. Had it really been almost two years since he had dropped out of art school? It somehow seemed longer, as if the entire experience had been some kind of insane nightmare. He thought that often about the last two years of his life, and frequently felt also as if they had never happened and before he knew it he’d wake up in his old dorm room bed and still be matriculated, still with a complete family and no reason to drown his sorrows in anything at all.

He smeared another thick line of red across the canvas and found himself laughing almost hysterically. Such a cliché, he thought to himself, leaning forward to mark his piece and then spun around once on his heel, dancing to his music. Sad little starving artist, dealing with his grief in drugs and alcohol, unable to handle death or hardship. Pathetic genius at work right here, that’s what this is. What a sad little show you put on for yourself. If anyone still cared about your artwork, you wouldn’t be living in this run-down loft giving blowjobs for heroin.

“It’s no way to live,” Aaron whispered aloud to himself, shutting his eyes briefly. “But it’s all I’ve got now. Watch me live. Watch me.”

He continued whispering as he moved and spun with the music, splattering his skin and his clothes with paint and wax. His face frequently contorted into snarls or into freakish giggles, his eyes leaving his canvas only when they were closed and he was losing himself in the music.

Somewhere in his reverie, it could have been minutes, could have been hours, Aaron heard the sound of a ringing, something jingling with a jarring cacophony that ruined the flow of his music. He scowled and looked back at the couch, where his cell phone sat vibrating and chirping with all the infuriating racket of a sparrow on the fire escape.

Leaning down to turn his stereo down, Aaron placed his paintbrush in his mouth and picked up the phone, which he answered and pressed the speaker phone button, not bothering to see who was calling. At this point he was too lost in his art to really care. “Hello?” he asked the air in front of him, taking the brush out of his mouth and sweeping up another glob of red paint.

“Hey, Aaron?” a voice he recognized. “It’s Ellen.”

“Hey sis,” Aaron said, face sliding into a half-smile. How had he known she’d call sometime today. “How’s it hanging?”

“Off a bridge,” she replied, ever sarcastic. Aaron could picture her talking to him a thousand miles away, probably walking down a crowded street with her face hidden by her hair, as usual. “How’s New York?”

“Same as ever,” Aaron said distantly. “Too hot, too crowded, cockroaches and cockheads galore. Chicago?”

“Similar,” Ellen said, and he could her the grin in her voice. “How’s the art?”

“In progress actually,” Aaron said, pride bleeding through in his voice. “Just adding another piece to the collection I’m showing soon. You should come visit.”

“No can do big brother,” Ellen sounded sad. “Spent all my money on summer classes and videogames. Maybe over Christmas break.”

“Hey,” Aaron shrugged and cleaned his brush, peering down at his palette to examine his colours, more of which had blended together at this point. “I can dig it. How are the ‘rents?”

“Worried about me, but that’s normal,” Ellen said. “They ask me how you are a lot. You should call them.”

Aaron laughed. “Yeah, that’ll happen when they stop telling me to go back to school. That goes for Fiona too.”

He swore he could hear Ellen rolling her eyes. “Whatever dude,” she said. “You do whatever makes you happy, but they’re gonna keep asking me about it since I’m the only one in the family you actually communicate with on a regular basis.”

“So?” Aaron smiled down at what looked like a perfect blend of turquoise and teal, scooping it up with his brush.

“So I’m sick of them bitching at me when I have better things to worry about,” she said. “Start answering your phone when they call, or I’ll have to relate all their self-righteous bitching second-hand, and you know how that gets old.”

“Do I?” Aaron laughed. “It’s older than Adam, sis. Older than Adam.” He hummed cheerfully to himself. “And it’ll stay that way until they finally understand.”

“Right, right,” Ellen said, and this time he knew she was rolling her eyes. “Tortured artist, nobody understands me, whine whine whine, save me your pity party. I’m just calling to check in.”

“’cause we haven’t talked since the fourth?” Aaron asked. “I was disappointed that you were sober.”

“Still only nineteen dumbass,” Ellen said. “No, I’m calling because it’s… well, today. I know you know what day it is.”

“Sure,” Aaron said, flippant as he stepped back from his canvas again. “Today’s two years since the accident.”

Silence crackled from the other end of the phone. He wondered if his sister was crying, or if she was just angry. Finally her voice came through, calm and restrained. “Exactly.” Ellen said. “And how are you dealing with that?”

“Just peachy, little sister,” Aaron said, closing his eyes again as his quiet music swelled. “Takin’ it a day at a time, just like I have been since she died.”

“Yeah,” Ellen sighed. “Me too.”

“You holding up all right?” Aaron asked, still feeling distant and detached, trying to care but more interested in the way the blue in his painting caught the low light. “Heard from the family?”

“Like you haven’t,” Ellen said, sighing again. “Fiona called me at eight this morning. She was drunk as hell.”

“That’s our eldest sister for you,” Aaron said, laughing with a strangled chuckle. “Dealing with her pain in a healthy way.”

“Yeah,” Ellen said, her voice sounding almost angry. “Because you’re so great at that.”

Silence echoed between them for a few moments, Aaron pausing for a brief moment and letting his hand fall to his side. “We all have our demons El,” he said, resuming the movement of his brush across canvas. “And we all have our ways of dealing with them.”

“Sure enough,” Ellen said. Another pause. “Aaron, are you…”

“What?” Aaron asked, his tone dreamy, his mouth still crooked in a half-smile. “Am I what?”

He heard his little sister sigh. “Never mind,” she said. “You’re painting, so I already know the answer.”

“Glad you managed to clear that up with yourself,” he said, his tone suddenly caustic, and he grimaced. Apparently it had been long enough that things were starting to wear down. Next time he’d need a higher dose. Good thing he was almost done. “Anything else I can do for you?”

“Not really,” Ellen said, sounding sad again. “I’m on my way to visit Holly, and I just wanted to know if you wanted me to say anything for you while I’m there, since you’re too poor to fly out to visit and all.”

Aaron felt guilt creep up and over him, and he grimaced again. Not the emotion he was looking for today. Not that Ellen didn’t have a right to guilt-trip him, but he really had no interest in hearing it. “Tell her I’m still okay with being out of school,” he said, pausing in his painting again and staring at his canvas. “That I’m still running around engaging in godless acts of hedonism, following in her undergrad footsteps. And tell her that I’m still painting…” he trailed off and looked over at his dilapidated mantelpiece. In the center sat a framed photograph of his three sisters, Fiona the oldest but captured in time before her graying hair and alcoholism, Ellen still in braces with an unembarrassed smile, and Holly, the pretty one, fresh out of law school and ready to cause some trouble judging by the mischief in her eye.

He coughed and added a speck of blue paint to his canvas. “And tell her that today, this one’s for her. She’d know what I meant.”

“I know,” Ellen said. “I’ll pass that along.”

“Thanks El,” Aaron said, putting down his brush for the first time in hours. “Sorry I couldn’t come out for today. See you at Christmas, hopefully.”

“Hopefully,” Ellen said, and he hoped that he could hear her smiling again. “Thanks Aaron. Let me know how the painting turns out.”

“Will do,” Aaron said, smiling with a warm satisfaction.

“And…” he heard Ellen trail off and he raised an eyebrow.

“Hm?” he muttered, glancing at the phone.

“Be careful,” she said. “Just in general. With everything.”

“You know me sis,” Aaron said, grinning lazily. “I’m the king of care.”

“True enough,” she said. “Talk to you later dude. Take care.”

“Later,” Aaron said, picking up his phone. “You too.”

His sister hung up the phone and he pushed a button to take it off of speaker, shoving it into the pocket of his paint-spattered jeans and sighing. He took two steps back to look at his completed work, and then suddenly strode across the room towards the mantelpiece. He picked up the photograph of Fiona, Ellen and Holly and held it up, studying his older sister’s face. Then he looked back at the painting critically.

“Yep,” he said, glancing from the photograph to the painting and back again several times, examining the laugh in the eyes, the curve of the red lips and the dark brown in her hair. “That’s Holly all right.”

Aaron smiled widely at his completed portrait of his dead sister, and felt exhaustion take him with a sudden force. Leaving the photograph on his coffee table, he stumbled over to his bed and had fallen asleep before he even hit the sheets.

 

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… and I haven’t done this already, I think it’s time I post an excerpt of what I’ve written so far this November. So here’s what I wrote today, and what got me up over 15k this evening (yay!). It’s the fourth chapter of Ghost. Hope you guys like it!

*

Future Prospects

Fiona felt herself sobering up long before her flight touched down at Reagan National Airport, and she combated the inevitable headache traditionally associated with airport wine with a cup of strong coffee. There was a cab and a driver waiting for her just outside the airport and she climbed into it gratefully. The heat in DC at this time of year was absolutely unbearable, and even a few seconds of walking through it was miserable, especially in her formal suit jacket and skirt.

Traffic was also miserable; Fiona’s flight had managed to be the one that landed during the height of rush hour. As the cab crawled along the highway at a snail’s pace, Fiona did her best to ignore her aching head by checking her phone messages and checking her hotel reservations on her internet application. Everything was in order, even if she was running a bit late. The conference proceedings weren’t due to start for another two hours, and at absolute worst she could go straight to the meeting hall if she didn’t have time to take her bags up to her hotel room. She was glad this year they were holding the conference in the same hotel she was staying in, unlike last year where she’d had to stay in a Holiday Inn near the airport due to spacing and funding issues.

She sighed impatiently, trying to be impressed by the historical monuments she could see out of the cab’s window. The slowness of the traffic made them far less interesting than they could have been, and after a while she leaned forward to address her driver:

“Do you have any idea what’s going on today?” she asked him. “Why is the traffic so heavy?”

The cab driver shrugged without turning to look at her. “Couldn’t say,” he said. “Might be something official going on at the Capitol, or maybe a truck went off the road. Don’t know for sure.”

Fiona sighed again and leaned back into the cab’s uncomfortable leather seats. “Is there any sort of shortcut to the Plaza from here?” she asked. “I really can’t be late for this.”

“Don’t get all bent out of shape lady,” the cab driver said, sounding a bit defensive. “The traffic has a mind of its own here. All we can do is go with the flow. I’ll get you to the Plaza in plenty of time for your meeting, I swear.”

Fiona bit her lower lip in frustration and stared out the window again for a few minutes. Then she went into her jacket pocket and pulled out a small wallet. “I’ll give you thirty bucks extra if you can find me a shortcut,” she said, pulling out a small folded stack of bills. “I mean it, I can’t be late for this.”

The driver turned around this time, an exasperated look on his face. “Lady, I really don’t think there’s much I can do,” he said. “I can take a different bridge, but it’s not guaranteed to be any faster.”

“Try,” Fiona said, pursing her lips and sitting back in her seat again. “I’ll make it worth the trouble.”

The driver faced the road again and grumbled to himself in Spanish and Fiona made out the phrase ‘perra tenso’ over the roar of the traffic. Bristling, she responded in kind. “y ver su idioma,” she snapped at him. Watch your language.

The driver turned back to her, obviously rattled. “Lo siento senora,” he apologized. “I don’t get so many passengers who speak Spanish.”

“Really?” Fiona scowled at him. “It’s practically the first language of the United States these days; I’d be more surprised to meet someone who doesn’t speak it,” She rubbed her temples irritably. “Just get me to the damn hotel and I won’t call your supervisor about it.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, turning back around in his seat and slowly pulling forward in the crawl of traffic.

Fiona sat in silence for the rest of the slow drive to the Plaza. She checked the messages on her phone again, disappointed to find that neither Ellen nor Aaron had called her back. She hadn’t expected to her from her little sister right away; she was taking summer classes and would probably be busy until late this evening. Aaron on the other hand was unemployed and in the same time zone as her; he had no excuse for not calling her back except for deliberately avoiding her.

Unless Mom and Dad cut off his phone, she thought to herself. If they did, it’s about damn time.

The cab driver’s shortcut was successful and she gave him an extra twenty dollars on top of her fare. Less than what she had promised, but he seemed grateful that she’d given it to him at all after his slip-up during the journey. He even helped her lift her suitcases out of the cab and onto the pavement, where a Plaza valet quickly picked them up and dutifully followed Fiona through the glass double doors.

Fiona had her bags sent up to her room after she checked in; she figured it would be wise to go to the conference room to get her badge and information before she went to clean up, just so she wouldn’t have to rush back right before the opening address. As she crossed the lobby, following the signs pointing her towards the conference halls, she heard a voice behind her:

“Hey, Fiona!”

She turned to see her colleague and fellow lab employee, Doctor Thomas McGill, moving towards her in a half-run, hand raised in a wave. Resisting the urge to sigh, Fiona smiled and slowed down so he could catch up. “Thomas,” she said as he fell into step beside her, panting slightly. “Glad to see you made it.”

“You too,” he said, wiping his palms on his jacket. He was a few years younger than Fiona, and the youngest member of the research group they participated in. “Did you just arrive?”

“Yeah,” Fiona nodded. “I left this morning. Red-eye.”

“Yikes,” Thomas chuckled and winced. “Rough gig. I flew in last night with Zach and the Doc. We got a group discount. How come you didn’t get in on that?”

Fiona shrugged, trying to remain nonchalant. “The Doc wanted me to stay the night before the conference to keep an eye on some samples,” she said. “The interns are going to take care of it while we’re gone, but he wanted me to look over them one last time before we were all gone to make sure it was all in order.”

“Oh,” Thomas seemed to crumple slightly, and Fiona tried not to look too smug. “That’s good. Have you seen your room yet?”

She shook her head. “Nah, I figured I’d pick up my badge first and all the information so I can look over it before the proceedings start. How are the rooms here?”

“Good,” Thomas said, still looking a bit deflated. “I’m bunking up with Zach and a couple of other guys from the Biology department.”

“Mm,” Fiona nodded. “That’s not bad.”

“They give you your own room again?” Thomas asked, looking slightly envious.

“Yep,” Fiona said, trying to remain patient. “One of the benefits of being the only female on the team I guess.”

“Yeah,” Thomas trailed off, clearly feeling awkward. “I was just going to go find some lunch,” he said, pointing back towards the hotel restaurant. “You want to grab a bite with me before things get started?”

“No thanks,” Fiona said with as much politeness as she could muster. “I’m not hungry just yet. Maybe I’ll see you at dinner.”

“Sure!” Thomas perked up, and Fiona regretted making that suggestion. “I’ll talk to the Doc and the others, see if we can’t get a group together for some drinks.”

“Okay,” Fiona attempted a sincere smile. “I’ll see you later Thomas.”

“Yeah,” he smiled back and waved at her as he stopped walking and she continued to move away. “See you later!”

Turning her back on her colleague, Fiona resisted the urge to swear and make a detour to the hotel bar. Thomas was the most inept and socially awkward of her associates, and his rather obvious interest in her was frequently a source of frustration for her.

As she entered the conference room at the end of the long, carpeted hallway, she heard another voice call her name right before she reached the registration table:

“Doctor Forrester!”

Fiona turned and saw her boss, Doctor Monroe, standing to the right of the double-doors that led into the second conference hall. With him were two older men, neither of whom she recognized. She joined them after determining that the line at the registration table would be too long for her to politely pick up her materials and respond to Doctor Monroe’s greeting.

“So glad you made it here safe Fiona,” Doctor Monroe said, shaking her hand warmly and smiling, his face crinkling with what Fiona thought was relief. “I’d like you to meet some of my colleagues from when I was first starting out in the Microbiology field. This-” he gestured towards the dark-haired man to his left is Doctor Clive Watterson. He’s been researching cell microstructures in England for the last twenty years.”

Doctor Watterson leaned forward to shake Fiona’s hand. “A very long, dull twenty years,” he said, chuckling with a warm tone. “A pleasure to meet you Doctor Forrester. Doctor Monroe speaks highly of your work.”

“He does indeed,” the second older doctor spoke up as Doctor Watterson stepped back. “Pleased to meet you Doctor Forrester. I’m Doctor Cooper.”

Fiona shook his outstretched hand with barely contained awe and disbelief. “It’s an honor,” she stammered out, trying not to blush.

“Doctor Cooper’s one of the top Epidemiologists in the United States,” Doctor Monroe said, smiling. “Though I assume you already knew that Fiona.”

Fiona tried to remain calm as she spoke. “Yes,” she said. “I’ve done a great deal of research based on your work with the CDC.”

Doctor Cooper smiled lightly, his eyes calm and rather calculating. Fiona felt as if the old man – and he was old, he had to be at least in his mid-sixties – was sizing her up, trying to get a feel for her as a person and a scientist. She had a sudden flashback to her disastrous prom night her senior year when she was living in New York and her date’s parents had spent a good fifteen minutes sizing her up and making sure she was a good Catholic girl who wouldn’t turn their son into a raging sinner the second they walked into the school cafeteria. An ironic attitude, since he was the one who had tried to feel her up on the way there, causing her to get out of the car at a stoplight and spend her senior prom in a night club with the fake ID Holly had made up for her.

Fiona shook her head violently, clearing her thoughts. What was she doing reminiscing about high school? She was standing in front of Doctor Thaddeus B. Cooper, the leading expert in her field, and she was thinking about prom night? Get it together, she thought to herself.

“I’ll be interested to see how your research progresses Doctor Forrester,” Doctor Cooper was saying. “Richard has told me a lot about your current project and I’d be fascinated to hear more of your take on the ‘flu pandemics of the early 21st century. Perhaps the two of you could join me and we could discuss it over drinks later this evening, after the opening procedures of course.”

Fiona resisted the urge to squeal with excitement. “Of course,” she said, nodding, and she saw Doctor Monroe also nod approvingly. “We would be glad to.”

“Excellent,” Doctor Cooper said, smiling a thin-lipped smile at the three of them. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to deliver a speech sometime in the next two hours and should probably be more prepared than what I scribbled down on my restaurant napkin.”

They said their goodbyes and Doctor Cooper slowly ambled away towards the conference hall. Doctor Watterson also departed, needing to speak to his lab assistants. As they left Fiona turned to Doctor Monroe, who looked at her appraisingly.

“Thank you so much for introducing me to Doctor Cooper sir,” she said, still resisting the urge to jump up and down like a small child. “It was a pleasure to meet him.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Doctor Monroe said. “He’s quite a legend in the field.”

“I know,” Fiona said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve cited his work on my research.”

“More times than I can count at least,” Doctor Monroe said, smiling. After a brief pause he spoke again. “Doctor Cooper has a research position open at his lab you know.”

Fiona felt her heart-rate suddenly rise and she tried to breathe regularly. “Really?” she asked, trying to keep her voice even.

“Yes,” said Doctor Monroe, looking out at the crowd of scientists and doctors slowly filling the conference hall. “I’ve recommended you for the position.”

Fiona swallowed hard and looked at her boss, who smiled benignly out at the crowd, looking innocent. “You have?” she asked, her voice cracking.

“I mentioned to him that you were one of my brightest students and better research partners in Santa Barbara,” he said. “And that you would make a great asset to his research team. If all goes well over dinner tonight, and of course during the conference itself, he should be asking you to join him here in Washington sometime next Spring.”

Fiona could hardly contain her excitement. She breathed out heavily and shook Doctor Monroe’s hand. “Thank you sir,” she said. “Thank you very much.”

He sighed and released his hand, smiling with a touch of regret. “I’d hate to lose you at the lab Fiona,” he said. “You are one of my best and brightest. But you’re young; I can’t expect to keep you around forever, no matter how much it benefits my research.”

“I understand,” Fiona replied, feeling her face repeatedly slide into a foolish grin. “Thank you.”

He smiled and nodded. “I have to go find your colleagues before things get started,” he said. “No doubt they need more time to prepare before we present our findings tomorrow morning. Do you have all your documents in order?”

“Yes sir,” Fiona nodded, clasping her hands behind her back and stretching her arms in an attempt to relieve tension.

“Very well,” he said. “Then I’ll leave you to get registered and signed in. Be sure to check in with me later so I can tell you what time we’re meeting Doctor Cooper for dinner.”

Fiona nodded so hard she felt her neck strain. “Yes sir,” she said. “I will.”

“Good,” he said. “I’ll talk to you later Fiona.”

He walked away through the amassing crowd towards the hotel lobby. Fiona stood alone for a few moments, taking deep slow breaths and resisting the urge to squeal and punch the air. Of all the pieces of news she could have gotten that day to offset the way it had started, this was definitely the one she had needed. She got in line to pick up her badge, allowing herself a wide grin. Things were looking up for her, and this was only the start of it.

*

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