Writer’s Notebook: Holiday story

I’m sort of semi-cheating this week. I am working on an exercise, but the story I’m working on will eventually show up online as a story, so I’d rather keep it under wraps while I work on it.

Still, I want to offer something along the same lines here, so behold, a quick excerpt from my novella, In the Pulse There Lies Conviction. Then I’ll explain the exercise this is related to.

They walked the night in their long coats and their polymer fangs and their white face paint, laughing. Matt sketched jack-o-lantern carvings he admired, and Kid carried a plastic grocery sack for holding candy they took from the lazy households that put bowls on the front porch next to a dancing electric Frankenstein, a witch spread over the porch railing beside a sign reading “Don’t drink and fly.”

They met a group of middle schoolers out alone in the Matt’s wealthier part of their subdivision. Matt stalked them until they ran from him, but Kid had sneaked ahead and he cut them off. “What do you want, freakazoid?” one kid yelled. Matt caught up, fought not to breathe hard so he would seem eternal, while Kid said, “Your blood,” and then Matt said behind them, “Your soul.” They screamed when they turned, but then a big sixth-grader, as big as Matt though not as big as Kid, pushed through the tiny crowd and stepped up to Matt, nose to nose. The boy wore torn clothes and hobo make-up. His nose was bulbous and rubber; Matt’s nose was sharp.

“What you gonna do about it?” he said, raising his chin against Matt.

“How old are you?” Matt said. Kid was fighting a laugh.

“I’m eleven,” the boy said. “Be twelve in two weeks. How old are you, bitch?”

“My age is irrelevant, child,” Matt said. Kid did laugh, a small hissing thing that he spat through tight lips before he turned around and covered his mouth. Matt looked at Kid and did not laugh, did not even smile. He looked back the sixth-grader. “But you, you are too young to die.”

“Screw you,” said a small cowboy with an arrow through his hat. “You’re that butthead who scared Lemuel, aren’t you?” Matt looked around the hobo to scan the group. He spoke to all of them in even tones, calm and serious.

“I am he, and Lemuel, too, was too young to die. But I am patient. You will all be old enough soon. I will come for you each, soon.”

“You have no idea how stupid you look, do you?” the large boy said. Then he turned to Kid and said, “Why do you hang out with this dork?” The rest of the group joined him in his mockery, and Kid shouted through his own laughter for them to get the fuck out of there, and they left, Matt watching them until they turned a street.

You will be,” Kid said. “You will be soon. That was great, man. You’re so fucking goofy.”

“Yeah,” Matt said, his voice still even.

Out in a field near Kid’s trailer-dotted road, the sky glowed over a bonfire. Country music played through the trees, and twice they heard gunshots. “Bats,” Kid explained. “They always shoot at bats.”

“You got bats out there?” Matt said.

“No,” Kid said.

So, Eirik Gumeny, head honcho the literary magazine I work for, Jersey Devil Press, has challenged a group of us at the magazine to come up with some holiday-related stories, which is the new story I’m now working on. But I want to hold that story for Jersey Devil, so I had to find something else, which is why I rooted out this little Halloween scene from my novella. (I almost posted a scene from later that same Halloween night, involving a dead cat and a bottle of wine, but the scene runs a bit long for a blog post.)

If you’re interested in Kid and Matt as characters, I actually published another excerpt from In the Pulse There Lies Conviction in Forge last summer. That story is called “A Smooth, Clean Cut,” and it comes from the same “chapter” of the novella as this little Halloween scene.

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