Is that the truth or what?
You’re exhausted, and then you see another obstacle…
The winners summon the strength and press on. The also rans say that’s it.
Is that the truth or what?
You’re exhausted, and then you see another obstacle…
The winners summon the strength and press on. The also rans say that’s it.
I was presenting at a writing seminar Saturday and this came up, so I’m reposting it so they can find it easily.
This post has become THE standard for creating a text conversation in your story. It was viewed over 22,000 times in 2017 and has been viewed almost 10,000 times already in 2018. It is the #1 Google result when someone types “how to show a text conversation in a story.”
YOU helped make all that happen!
Heather Kindt grew up in Derry, New Hampshire, but now resides in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and two children. She loves writing YA fantasy and humorous fiction.
A terrific story she called “Ruby Slips and Poker Chips” won our July 2017 Word Weaver Writing Contest; she went on to publish the entire novel under the same name shortly thereafter.
HEATHER KINDT: I began Dreamers about seven years ago. In the file on my computer, I only had a page and a half done. When Dan announced that the contest could involve suspense, I brushed off the old file and finished the first chapter of something that I hope someday can become a book.
When I won my first Word Weaver contest in July, I answered this question and probably had a similar response. With Ruby Slips and Poker Chips and The Weaver Trilogy I didn’t really plan out the writing beforehand. I’m a teacher so don’t tell my students I just said that. Now that I’m writing a little bit each day, I’m trying to be more intentional in my writing. The Ender, which I’m writing right now, contains complicated plot points so I need to know where they are going. I still try to let my characters drive the story at times, but I have to be in control of where it is ultimately going.
In my office, in my bed, in the giant beanbag and sometimes standing up because it’s not good to sit a lot and I’m on a health kick.
I’m glad you asked. My current goals are to continue to promote Ruby Slips and Poker Chips, which is doing very well in its reviews on Amazon. I also want to finish The Ender by June or July so I can publish my YA trilogy.
Encouragement. I receive encouragement from my husband who has had my back since the beginning. Dan has been my newest cheerleader, but he also provides honest critique, which moves my writing forward. My fans also give me encouragement. Words in reviews that have meant a lot to me are “Amazing read. Light, witty with real life thrown in the mix. Worth more than five stars” and “Keep writing Heather Kindt and I will keep reading.” These words keep me typing every day. Thank you to those of you who have left reviews. They mean a lot to authors.
Success to me is having people read my books and gaining some sense of joy from them. I think it’s true for most authors that they write because it is something within them that they want to share with the world. This is true with most artists. I feel alive when I’m writing and if I could make it a career, that would feel like a success to me.
Both Dreamers and Ruby Slips are written in the first person. I love the reader being able to go along on the journey with the main character. It’s my favorite way to write because I become that character as the writer even if they’re nothing like me. My first draft of The Weaver was written in the first person. I decided to rewrite it in the third person because I wanted the reader to see in the heads of other characters. In the first book, you hear from Laney and Jason. The Watcher and The Ender are told from Laney’s, Jonas’s, and William’s perspectives. I decided to do that because the first book starts off in reality and it takes awhile for Laney and the reader to discover she’s living in a fantasy world.
I’m going through my midlife crisis, but I think it’s a good thing. Most people go out and buy a Porsche or get a Botox injection. I’m obsessed with setting goals. I’ve totally changed what I put in my body and I’m working out. I’ve also set goals for my writing. Keeping to my goals is tough when most days I’m away from my house from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with my job as a teacher and I have two almost teenagers at home. But I’m determined and I know that’s more than half the battle. And yes, this keeps my house a disaster at times.
I want to write stories that people get lost in and fall in love with the characters. I HATE scary stories, except Stranger Things, but I love fantasy and romance. I love to write what I love to read.
And of course, my interview with her after she won the July Word Weaver Writing Contest.
This story is equally good if not better. I think it’s the best thing I’ve read from Heather, and I hope it finds its way to becoming another one of her terrific full length novels.
The other judges didn’t know she wrote it, though, since I take the names off the stories once they become finalists, so you can rest assured that the following story is a good one.
Hugging my knees to my chest, I struggled to push the agony aside, betrayed by the sweat-drenched sheets wrapped around me like a chrysalis of iron. The hollow sound drummed through my head . . . solitude . . . isolation . . . panic. The sounds wanting to escape from deep within had to be suppressed out of fear of lengthy explanations to the higher-ups. The neon red lights of the clock alerted me to the fact that I only had a precious few hours of sleep before I had to face the dreaded day looming before me.
But the sleep that lay behind my drooping eyelids filled me with more dread than my first day at a new high school, so I rolled over to turn on the light and read a book. Flipping to my bookmark, I tried to focus on the fictional world before me, but my dream refused to give up its hold on my thoughts.
I tossed the book to the side and stormed into the bathroom. My hair was in a state of disarray from the tossing and turning. My eyes pointed to my sleeping deficiency—hollow, bloodshot, rimmed in an unflattering shade of gray. Sure, they still held on to their turquoise. My father told me once that they reminded him of the ocean at the family’s get away in the Caribbean. Now the water of my eyes seemed to be shark infested. Nothing that eye drops and a little dab of cover-up couldn’t fix.
I had a dire need to stay awake, even though my eyes threatened to close half a dozen times reading my book. There was no way I was going back to the place I had just been, and had been every night for the past month. It haunted me. Every time I dreamed, I found myself in a tiny room, gagged and bound. The room reeked of sewer. The odors vivid even in my conscious state. But the persistence of this dream scared me more than anything. I didn’t dream in black and white, I didn’t dream about random images, and my dreams didn’t connect the loose ends in my life. From as early as I could remember, I dreamed about the future.
The alarm woke me at six, but my sleep had been dreamless. I took a shower and then opened my closet and sighed. Hanging, neatly pressed, on a wooden hanger was my school uniform—the green and navy plaid skirt, the navy sweater vest and my white polo picked out by my mother from some high-end catalogue. Wearing the hideous uniform at high school in DC would have me shot. My parents insisted that I attend Woodland Academy, a private school that the country’s elite sent their stuck up children. Back in Washington, I went to public school, because my parents trusted the teachers with my education. Here, in Colorado, the school of my parents’ dreams was right down the road. How convenient.
From my top desk drawer, I removed a tattered spiral notebook and opened it to the page marked with a paperclip. I wrote down the date—August 20th. Doomsday. To the list I added click. Tiny room—bound—gagged—sewer stench—click. Possibly a door handle opening? If this were my future, I collected every clue I could recollect to the page.
“Lucy. Breakfast’s ready, hun.” My dad poked his head in the doorway. New fancy suit. New job. He’d started a month ago at some high-powered, top-secret military position in Colorado Springs.
“I’m coming,” I grumbled, trying to secretly let him know with my eyes that I’d rather walk across hot coals on top of a nuclear warhead than step one foot into Woodland Academy. To start a new school as a junior with the country’s so-called elite was suicide.
Mom cooked up a full breakfast in our fancy new kitchen listening to some self-improvement podcast on her phone. Through the sliding glass doors off the breakfast nook, Pikes Peak stood in all its grandeur. The landscape was definitely an improvement on the beltway, but I’d take my friends over the mountains any day.
“You could learn how to ski.” My father was forever trying to convince me why this move would make my life better. The moves always made my dreams worse—move vivid. Whatever was coming was getting closer.
“I’ll probably fall and break my leg.” I rolled my eyes. “In Washington, you wanted me to bike to school. We all know how that turned out.” The first time on the bike path, I hit a rock and flipped over my handlebars, ending up in the ER.
“I know this move is going to change our lives, Luce. To be able to live so close to nature after living in the city will do something for our souls.” My father was a tree hugger at heart, despite his outward appearance. He grew up in a wealthy home and had to live up to his parents’ expectations. Christmas at Grammy and Pa’s house were what one would call interesting, and not in a good way.
“Whatever.” I threw my favorite pillow into the cardboard box that would be picked up by the movers later that day. I loved my room looking out over the Potomac River. Now I was going to be buried in snow nine to ten months a year. Maybe a sled dog would be more appropriate than a bike.
I scooped scrambled eggs and added a couple of pieces of bacon to my plate. Sitting down in my Colorado kitchen, I felt alone in a vast wilderness. My mom would drop me off at the Academy each day on her way to her new job at a local boutique. It was the kind of place that sold high-end clothing to the tourists and local snobbery.
The ride in the car to school took all of three minutes, which I could have walked, but my mom said it would look better if we showed up in our BMW. I let out a breath, tired of the show that accompanied my dad’s status.
The large wrought iron gates that read Woodland Academy opened for our car after the man in the security gate found my name on the list of new students. My mother found a parking space near the building that read office.
“Good morning. May I help you?” The woman behind the counter wore a pantsuit in the same shade of blue as my uniform. Her nose literally stuck up so far I could count her nose hairs. I wondered if my mom would kill me if I offered the poor woman some tweezers.
“Yes.” My mom stepped up to the counter. “This is Lucy Thorne. She’s registered to start school here today.”
The nose hair woman removed a folder from a small stack she had on the counter, my name typed on the label. “I have a few things for you to sign, Mrs. Thorne, and then I will escort Lucy to her first class.”
We walked in silence across the campus to a brick building named after some wealthy benefactor. “This is where your Language Arts class will be.”
The classroom was on the second floor and when we reached it, the woman motioned the teacher to the door. “This is Lucy Thorne. She’ll be joining your class. Could you please send out Miss Johnson?”
“Hi, Lucy. I’m Mr. Hastings. It’s nice to meet you.” He shook my hand. Mr. Hastings appeared to be in his early thirties. I noted his receding hairline. We remained in the hallway while Mr. Hastings went to fetch Miss Johnson.
“Bree, this is Lucy. Do you mind being her tour guide for the day?” The woman plastered on a fake smile.
“Of course.” The girl turned to me. “I’m Bree.” She was tall with long blonde hair. Typical rich girl pedigree.
“I’m Lucy Thorne.” I felt self-conscious even though I knew my mom made sure before she left that my appearance was picture perfect. In Washington, I’d be dressed in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, ear buds around my neck. At the Academy, I already sensed that I couldn’t have one strand of hair out of place.
“There’s an empty seat next to me.” Bree smiled. Was it fake? “We’re discussing Of Mice and Men.”
The woman from the office opened the door and every eye in the classroom was on me. Not normally being self-conscious, I had butterflies fill my stomach. I didn’t notice individual faces, but the class as a whole. It was like a giant, well-dressed wave ready to swallow me up.
“Students, this is Lucy Thorne. Her family moved here from Washington and she will be joining our class.”
In my peripheral vision, a couple of guys whispered something. One of them elbowed the other and laughed. Heat burned my cheeks. I followed Bree to my chair by the window.
I hadn’t read the book, so I took notes and then absentmindedly doodled death threats to preppy boys in the crisp composition book.
As time passed, I realized that my doodles began to represent my repeated dream. The word click was scrawled all over the paper along with words associated with it. But if I created a Wordle, the two largest words would be CLICK and DOOR. Who was coming through the door in my dream?
“Lucy?” Mr. Hastings raised his eyebrows, probably expecting an answer to some question that I had no clue how to answer.
I threw my hands over my drawings and directed my attention to my teacher. “Could you repeat the question?”
A few muffled giggles sounded throughout the classroom.
Mr. Hastings frowned at the class, and then smiled at me. “I asked you what book you were studying in Washington.”
“Oh.” I kept my eyes on my hands that were covering my notebook. “Animal Farm.”
He set his chalk down on the desk in front of him and ran his hand through what hair he had left. “I’d like to see you after class, Miss Thorne.”
The class shuffled out when Mr. Hastings released them. Using bells seemed below Woodland Academy.
“Here’s a copy of the book we’re discussing. Please have it read by Friday.” Mr. Spalding also handed me the syllabus and the rules of the classroom. Now I knew what I’d be doing every night for the rest of the week.
“What’s your story?” Bree asked on our way to lunch.
“You know. Dad’s got a high paying government job. We move around a lot.” I readjusted the leather strap of my bag on my shoulder. “They made me go here because we live down the street.”
“Do you live in Woodland Hills?” Bree stopped, wide-eyed. “That’s where I live.”
“Yeah. Do you want to walk home together once I get my mom over the feeling she needs to drive me?”
“She’ll get over it. They all do. And it’s not that bad here.” Bree waved at a couple of students passing by. “You’re going to get the cold shoulder from a some people. Especially Sam.”
“Who’s Sam and why will he give me a cold shoulder?” I wasn’t sure what I’d done to piss off someone already.
“Sam’s a girl. You know, Samantha.” Bree leaned in close as we walked up the stairs of a large historical looking building. “You’re dad being here made her boyfriend have to move.”
“What? How did that happen?” Great. A revengeful mean girl had it out for me and it wasn’t even lunch yet.
“Sam and Levi dated since freshman year. His mom held the job at the base that your dad just started. It was all a big conspiracy and things were supposed to remain confidential, but you know how rumors fly in a place like this.” Bree stepped into an alcove leading into one of the classrooms.
“Why did she lose her job?”
“She was getting all hot and heavy with one of her superiors. Instead of getting rid of her boss, they got rid of her. Levi had to move to El Paso.” Bree wrinkled up her nose in disgust.
“Ewww.” Early in her father’s career, they’d lived in the Texas military town. It was warm, but their front yard consisted of dirt and scorpions. “So now she has it out for me? It was his mother’s fault, not my dad’s fault.”
“She wants to blame someone else.” Bree shrugged her shoulders. “Right now, you’re majorly on her radar.”
This was all I needed. First day of school and I was on someone’s hit list. Wasn’t it bad enough that I had to wear knee-high socks?
The cafeteria was surprisingly small and intimate with round tables scattered throughout the room. It also included docking stations for phones and laptops, a small lounging area, and a coffee shop. Bree claimed two seats at one of the tables near the center of the room.
I felt eyes on me, so I didn’t glance up on my way to the buffet. I call it a buffet because it was nothing like the food service at my high school in Washington—no lunch ladies, no hairnets, no liquid slop trying to be passed off as meatloaf. Most of the people replacing food on the line reminded me of waiters at the fancy restaurants we went to when my dad had a family business meeting.
The food was divided into sections—gluten free, vegetarian, dairy-free, and so on. “So where’s the normal human being section?”
“You’re not a vegetarian? I thought the schools in Washington were a little more evolved.” Bree used the tongs to scoop salad onto her plate.
“No, I like all kinds of foods.” I took the tongs and placed two leaves from the salad bowl onto my own plate to show her I could be progressive. “I’d just like to have a cheeseburger.”
Moving forward in the line, I left Bree and began my quest to find decent food.
A short girl with long dark hair and crystal blue eyes glared at me, leaning toward the girl next to her but speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. “Not only is her dad a job stealer, she’s also a line cutter.”
“Excuse me?” I held my tray in front of me, wondering if I should accidently dump it on her shirt. “Do I know you?” She was no match for me. I made it through public school.
“Sam.” The girl inclined her chin in my direction. “And I don’t care to know you.” She clicked her heels and about-faced. The other girl attempted to keep up with her as she crossed the room.
The rest of the day went by without any other uncomfortable confrontations with the infamous Sam. Syllabus after syllabus was crammed into my binder, to be poured over that evening or at least glanced at. I ignored the continuing whispers and stares, which I now believed all stemmed from the pint-sized troublemaker I’d encountered in the lunchroom. If I was going to survive this school year, things were going to have to change.
That night, I lay in bed flipping through page after page of boring syllabus. I picked up Of Mice and Men, thinking it would lead me into peaceful, dreamless sleep. Yeah, right.
I choked on the rag in my mouth. The rope around my wrists cut deep as I twisted my hands back and forth, trying to break free. There was no way to block the ungodly smell that permeated every pore in my body. But then it came . . . the click.
Tonight was the night I’d find out. I twisted my body against the ropes that held me to the chair, trying to see what was behind me, but it was no use.
Footsteps echoed through the room landing on the concrete near the door. They were coming closer. My captor? My heart was about to burst out of my chest. Squeezing my eyes shut, I feared the worst.
But then he spoke. “Lucy?”
He knew my name. I lifted my eyes to a dark-haired guy around my age. It was longer, and untamed. He wore clothes that would never be caught dead on the school campus—ripped jeans, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and a flannel. Not the dirty old man I expected.
He raised his hand to my face and I flinched. He drew his hand back away and used it to draw a switchblade from his back pocket. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
I’d heard that one before, at least on TV shows. I screamed, as well as anyone can scream through a gag in their mouth. I wanted to wake up—to be back in the world with mom and dad, Bree, Mr. Hastings, and even Sam. If this was my future, I didn’t want any part of it.
“Shut up, or they’ll know I’m here.” The guy started cutting through one of the ropes that bound me to the chair.
Maybe he was telling the truth. My heart raced with hope this time.
The ropes lay on the floor in a heap of gained trust. I didn’t move, but widened my eyes. He lifted his hand to my face again and untied the rag in my mouth. I gasped for air.
“How did you know I was here?” I wasn’t even sure why I was there yet. My dreams didn’t tell me what led me to this point.
He crouched down and his deep brown eyes peered into mine. This time he let out the breath. “I’ve been dreaming about you for a long time.”
DAN ALATORRE: For me, I love the snark! A main character that is three dimensional, flawed but aware of the flaws; pained, yet able to crack a joke – that goes back to what readers loved about detective Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep – and again when Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe on the big screen. Classics are classics for a reason. They are worthy of emulation.
I liked the setup and the fitting-in awkwardness of the main character, but also the defiance. I wanted to read more – always a good sign.
JOHN WINSTON: Authentic Dialogue: Spot on, flowed well = 10. I got into the characters and story. Character development: Great job of developing the characters, especially Lucy through their dialogue, thoughts and actions = 9. Setting and description: This was the best part, great descriptions and settings mixed in with dialogue and action and it flowed well = 10
See you tomorrow!
Post your answer in the comments section below – and have fun this weekend!
Anne Clare lives with her husband in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where she spends her time chasing her three children, reading, writing, teaching, serving as a church organist and choir director, and procrastinating on her housework. She blogs about writing, World War 2 history, and ‘momming’ at https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/ .
Anne Clare: A little of both! The bones of the story came from a chapter halfway through a novel I’ve been working on. However, I had to adjust quite a bit of it to make it work as a short story – giving more background details in some places, and eliminating the bits that weren’t necessary for this story arc. I enjoyed looking at this section in more detail, and I think that some of the changes will have to make their way into the longer piece.
I’ve completed one novel to date. The process was…interesting. The following steps sum it up.
That’s it! I AM hoping that the next book will skip the plumbing and insomnia. I’m trying to make fewer involuntary library donations, too.
I spend most of my time as a stay-at-home mom, and focused writing time is scarce. I found that journals and notebooks do pretty well for a first draft as they are easy to transport and hard to break—I’ve filled lots of pages out in the yard while I watch the kiddos play. Otherwise, I like to work late on my laptop with music that fits the mood of the piece I’m working on.
I love stories. I grew up in the middle of a cornfield (no, I’m not exaggerating) and lived off of books. I’d like to create excellent historical fiction for others to enjoy. It would be nice to have them published with a fabulous-looking cover, too!
I like to have music playing in the background. It doesn’t need to be instrumental, but it needs to fit the mood of the piece I’m writing, and I need to know it well enough that I can tune it out if I need to.
Since I’ve been focusing on historical fiction, research has helped drive my stories. I’ll read about a fascinating event or place, and start asking myself what might happen to someone who was there. If I get stuck, I research my time period further, and see what ideas present themselves.
Writing success is being able to read something I’ve written and enjoy it, and to know that it is the best work I could do. If I’m not satisfied with my work, in the end it won’t matter what others say. Of course, if it moves on to publication, to others enjoying it, and (dreaming big here!) to paying for itself, those are excellent bonuses!
Along with the endless edits on my first book, blogging, and poking at some short fiction, I’m slogging through the first draft of my second historical fiction novel. It’s set in WW2 Italy, and involves a POW escape. I have the story arc set, but I have TONS of research materials to find and sift through. Library time!
I’ve been following Dan’s blog for several months. I’ve been impressed with his informative, encouraging posts. When he announced that the theme for this contest was ‘mystery/suspense,’ I immediately thought of the story I submitted. The contest sounded like a great opportunity to have my work critiqued, and to connect with other writers.
I entered a MUCH earlier (and much uglier) draft of my first book into the 2016 Athanatos Christian Writing Contest. I was pleased to make the first judging cut, but I didn’t make the finals. Their thorough feedback showed me why, and gave me many ideas for improvement. I’ve submitted part of the current draft into another contest—I’ll find out the results in the fall.
If I can come up with an idea to fit the topic, I’d be happy to enter another Word Weaver Contest.
Dan’s critique was very helpful. His notes were thorough and covered both grammar and style. He was encouraging and noted the story’s strengths, and was kind with his suggestions.
“explores the world of writing, one stolen minute at a time,” as well as her exploits in getting published.
Bonny tiptoed to the library door and peered around the frame, holding her breath. Miss Worther sat in the far corner, back bent over the desk, pen scratching across a sheet of paper.
She must be writing to that sweetheart we’re not supposed to know about. She’ll not notice I’m gone. And the other grown-ups are too busy talking about the landings in France.
Tugging on her dark plait, Bonny considered, then nodded, satisfied. She slipped through to the music room and out the French doors, the bottle of milk carefully concealed under her bulky jumper.
The June days were too long for the growing shadows to offer much concealment. She skulked towards the carriage house through the little orchard, travelling from tree to tree. She imagined she was a soldier like Daddy, evading searching German eyes.
At the last gnarled trunk, Bonny turned back to study Thrush House’s frowning face. The windows that dotted the stained stone were empty, blackout curtains in place. Even the other evacuees were absent, the little ones in bed, her brother Edward and the other big boys listening to the night’s programs.
Good. Miss Worther’s not likely to put up much fuss, even if she saw me. But I shouldn’t like to be caught by Mr. H…
Thrush House was about as good a place as they could’ve landed when Mum sent them away from the bombings, but the owner, old Mrs. Heatherington, didn’t care much for children. She’d given them over to Miss Worther, who was nice, but she was always busy at the convalescent home. Weekends like this, when Mr. H, the old lady’s nephew came by, were the worst.
Bonny hated how Mr. H’s eyes never changed expression, even when he pretended to smile at her. He was always suddenly interested in what they were doing when Miss Worther was around. Once she had gone, he went back to scolding them whenever he decided they were “underfoot.”
The rotter can make a big house like this feel smaller than our old flat. At least out here I can get some quiet.
The main doors of the carriage house were shut, and opening them would mean wrestling with rusted hinges while standing in full view of the house. There was, however, a little door on the far side, partially hidden by an old rubbish heap and some weeds.
Bonny tugged it open, then waited for her eyes to adjust to the dusty dark.
She had been the first to think of the old carriage house as a retreat. It was all but abandoned, and the empty stalls were dim and mysterious. The corners were cluttered with interesting old pieces of wood, rusty tools and bits of harness, and it had an excellent old beam in the ceiling on which she and Edward had managed to hang a rope to swing back and forth.
Miss Worther hadn’t forbidden them to play in the carriage house –when the children rescued the first cat, she’d even suggested it as a safe home for the wee thing. However, she had suggested that they only go in during the daylight, and with an adult. She also wasn’t likely to approve of Bonny’s giving part of her milk ration away.
But, if she doesn’t know…
Bonny glanced back one last time and darted inside, pulling the door almost closed behind her.
The new kittens slept in a back corner on some tattered old horse blankets. They knew Bonny’s step and came, mewing and scrambling over each other.
Bonny played with them for a bit, cuddling their warm bodies and teasing their tiny paws. Their mother, Portia, kept to the shadows, and Bonny couldn’t spot Brutus, the tom. She spent a few moments trying to call him and peering through crannies before giving it up.
I suppose I ought to hurry back before I’m missed.
Still, Bonny took her time wiping out the discarded dish she used for the cats’ milk, careful of the large chip in the rim. She refilled it, and the kittens jockeyed for position, lapping the treat greedily.
The crack of light by the door slowly faded, the light turning rosy with sunset. The others would notice she was gone.
Bonny sighed. She stood, stretching, trying to think of one more reason to stay. Nothing. She took a reluctant step towards the door, then froze.
A low murmur drifted from the direction of the orchard- were those voices?
One sounded like Mr. H.
If he sees me, I’ll catch it for sure.
Bonny ducked far back into the corner, crouching, hoping the shadows concealed her.
“We can talk in here,” came Mr. H’s slow drawl as he opened the door. “No one uses it anymore.”
He left the door open, the last beams of light reaching towards, but not quite illuminating, Bonny’s corner.
A bulky shadow nearly filled the doorframe. The glowing end of a cigar failed to illuminate the stranger’s face. “You sure? Door wasn’t locked.” The rumbling growl of his voice sounded like the butcher’s back home.
Mr. H. sniffed. “The evacuee brats probably broke it.” His head swung around, eyes skimming over the shadows. Bonny’s skin crawled as they passed her corner, but after a moment he turned back to his companion. “So. You have a solution to my problem?”
“Half of one. I can’t get anyone down there soon enough, and there are people about who make it not worth the risk. If it didn’t have to be a rush job…”
“There’s no time to spare.”
“So you said. What’s the bloke got on you, anyway?”
“That information wasn’t part of the deal. And if you aren’t going to help me, I don’t see that we have anything more to…”
“Oh ho! Settle down now.” The shadowy stranger flicked the ash off of his cigar, his voice amused at the panic in Mr. H’s voice.
Bonny smiled. Mr. H always acted so big. Sounds like he’s gotten himself in some trouble. Serves him right.
She strained her ears, more curious than frightened.
The big man took a long drag on his cigar. “I have some stuff that’ll do the job. I’ve got a friend on the staff, found out his medications…” he listed off some names that sounded like gibberish. “Just get one of the bottles and dump it out in the loo—it’ll look like he took ‘em all, and then give him this in his drink. He’ll be none the wiser—well, until it’s too late anyway.” He gave a harsh laugh.
Wait—what? What, he can’t mean…
Mr. H held the little glass vial up to the light. “They won’t be able to tell the difference? What if they do an autopsy…”
“Who’ll be asking for one? He’s a mental patient. He’ll be just another victim of the war.”
“Why can’t you handle this? After all, it’s your field…”
The cigar glowed bright. “Not just mine, from what I’ve heard. Just how did your big brother end up in that alley?”
There was a long silence. Stabs of pain shot through Bonny’s foot, cramped from her sustained crouch. She held her breath and tried not to move, waiting for Mr. H’s answer. There must be some answer—none of this could be what it sounded like.
“What…that was…that was an accident.”
The other man snorted. “Lucky accident. In any case, you can’t afford me. You’ve had some losses.”
“Nothing that I won’t win back. And besides, I’ve got backup. When I inherit…”
“When Auntie kicks off you mean? An’ a tough old bird she is.” The cigar wiggled as he shook his head. “No. You already owe me, and I’ve done the hard work for you, getting this, getting it planned out. You’re not worth any further risk to me—not without more coin, anyway.”
“I’ve paid you more than enough. I could’ve gotten this much help from any two-bit swindler…”
“Careful, Heatherington.” The man’s growl made goosebumps rise on Bonny’s arms. “Let’s not forget how things stand. If I were to call your debts in today, for instance…” He pulled a knife out of his pocket and flicked it open. Even in the dim light, the silver blade flashed as he trimmed his fingernail. He left the blade open, and held it between his body and Mr. H’s.
Bonny’s mouth went dry, but Mr. H didn’t sound concerned. “More fool you if you did. What would you stand to gain?”
The shadow chuckled; the knife clicked shut and vanished. “True enough.” He turned to go. “Still, I wouldn’t expect any more favors. Clean up your own mess.”
Bonny hardly dared breathe as the men’s silhouettes filled the doorway. She clenched her sweaty palms together.
Just at that moment, one of the kittens rubbed against her leg.
Her shoulder bumped the wooden wall. A board, leaning against the wall, slid sideways.
Bonny grabbed for it—too slow.
It teetered, scraped against the wall, then fell to the floor with a clatter.
Both men spun about, staring towards her hiding place. “Who’s there?” Mr. Heatherington’s voice cut the air. The other man’s hand flew to his pocket.
Oh God, Oh God, please…
Bonny bit her lip until she tasted blood. Closing her eyes, she imagined herself as a statue.
The image of the knife danced behind her eyelids.
Mr. Heatherington took a step towards her dark corner—
– then another.
A terrifying yowl rent the air.
Cursing, Mr. H and the stranger jumped back. Bonny nearly toppled over.
The tomcat, Brutus, streaked across the floor to her corner, yowling and hissing. Shaking with shock and momentary relief, Bonny stifled a hysterical laugh.
“Blasted cats,” muttered Mr. H. “If I had a free hand I’d drown the little beasts.”
“Hardly good sport. We’ll find better…” and the two men were gone, shutting the door behind them with a click.
Bonny’s heart pounded a frantic rhythm as she waited to be certain they were gone. The silence stretched long, but she did not move. What if they come back? What if they find me? What would they do if they knew I heard them…
At last, legs cold and cramped, she could hold her pose no longer. Bonny drew air into her lungs with a little sob, and plopped down on the ground.
She scooped Brutus onto her lap as he came near.
A few deep breaths later, Bonny scrambled to her feet. Brutus mewed in discontent.
I’ve got to get back to the house before anyone notices I’ve been gone!
She didn’t want to give Mr. H any reason to wonder where she had been tonight.
DAN ALATORRE: For me, this story had terrific tension. It set the stage without overdoing it – I like to get hints at setting without being spoon fed. I loved the snarkiness in the main character, and her multifaceted personality. She dislikes some people and likes others, as one might expect, but she takes time for stray cats, too – as children will. She read as real. Three dimensional.
The suspense and tension were terrific, building as the story went, but Anne didn’t just lay it out there. She had it go up and down in the way I believe great storytelling should.
I loved this story, and I can’t wait for more from this very talented writer.
JOHN WINSTON: Good showing over telling = 10. Authentic Dialogue: Spot on, flowed well = 10. Rising tension: Perfection = 10. Character development: Great job of developing the characters with just a few words = 9. Setting and description: I thought this was brilliant. Nice combination of action, description, setting, and even dialogue in such an economy of words. I could visualize all the scenes clearly = 10
JENIFER RUFF: Overall this writing is very clean. Either the author is just darn lucky to be able to write this way, or she put in the time to do a really nice job. There’s really nothing in it that doesn’t add to the story. The imagery is clear, the timing and pace are consistent. I felt like I was watching it happen.
See you tomorrow!