Referencing my previous blog, I am going to post my excerpt, and basically use this forum as an open-air venue to improve it. Blue font words are my comments.
Chapter One: Marie
Six months before she walked into the rehab, Marie had spent the day hiking in the woods of The Endless Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania with Frankie, her best friend for the last five years. When the day had dwindled, they’d decided to head home, but along the way had stopped by at The Brew House, their neighborhood bar that had excellent steaks. A few of their friends were always there. It was a good, homey place. What’s more, Marie felt safe there. Safe. Her mind ground on that word like a spent clutch failing to shift into gear, and that one word alone could be why this mission was so vital to her.
Marie was not unreasonable. She did not expect total security at all times, or feel entitled to it. No sane person could live in this world and expect that. It was just events in her early life in particular had made her especially appreciative of the concept of a security oasis. She had spent her childhood being backed into corners, living with lunatics who never allowed her any place to retreat. Whether it was a doll she loved or the most sacred rights of childhood, security had always been something capable of being tossed into a garbage can at any moment. So going out to The Brew House with some friends, some she knew from martial arts and some she just knew, was much more important to her than it might have been to someone who had not lived so much of their life in fear. Marie refused to sit home and hide anymore.
Maybe the text message had set her off? A longtime friend had texted her that she might want to steer clear of The Brew House tonight, as “The Creep” was there. If she and Frankie hadn’t already decided to go, she would have just avoided the place. If she hadn’t got the text message, she might have been too shocked when she got there and saw The Creep to stay, and just immediately left. But knowing he was there, and would have laughed if he knew she had avoided him galvanized her will. She had walked in there prepared to do battle, she admitted to herself now. She refused to be driven from yet another oasis by The Creep.
If she’d been thinking completely clearly, she might have considered that her real bastion of defense was her own self. Forgetting this might have been what compromised the security of the people in her life who cared about her. In all honesty, Marie knew that a certain measure of bravado had influenced her decision to go. Frankie was a freewheeling, confident girl, the type who easily combined her Mediterranean good looks with a kind of humor and endearing charm, and Marie had been unwilling to be perceived as being cowardly in front of her. Of course, Marie should have been informed more by her vast life experience with The Creep than her desire to impress a friend.
The Creep had no business slumming at a place like The Brew House anyway. He had an excellent condo in Lower Manhattan. He loathed the small Pennsylvania city of his origin, and only returned there to prove what a big shot he’d become and to torment the people unfortunate enough to have ever known him on his way up. The fact that he was at The Brew House, a neighborhood joint with a tiny following of blue collar workers and the more down to earth variety of student, indicated the weirdo had been tracking Marie with private detectives again.
Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean someone out there isn’t stalking you.
So Marie had strode into The Brew House with Frankie as if she had not a worry in the world, even though she had felt physically ill in doing so. Seated in a corner of her favorite bar, surrounded by loyal friends, she had felt protected and strong. What had she been thinking about that night, before it all got started? That the long nightmare of her soul had ended, and now she could be free, untouchable? That an inheritance so freely given to so many could finally be hers to possess-the right to believe she could live in a positive world freely, and without fear? That she had moved on?
Unfortunately, The Creep had not. Before too long, he had made his presence obvious, playing loud death metal tunes on the juke box and starting to whirl around on a non-existent dance floor with his latest “employee”, a hard looking woman who stared at Marie with an unnerving coldness and self-assurance. Something had seemed wrong, and Marie now knew what it had been. The Creep and his worker had been too focused, as if they were working through some kind of elaborate script. Marie should have understood this then, but her anger had been clouding her judgment.
After a while, since Marie had refused to acknowledge their existence in any way, the twosome had grown more obtrusive. Whirling into Marie’s group, they managed to spill Marie and Frankie’s drinks all over their jackets. Their laughter while apologizing profusely had not helped Marie’s mood. Most of all she resented Frankie getting dragged into this, knowing Frankie was watching her as she was again assaulted by demons from her childhood.
Staring at The Creep’s leering, drunken face as he and his latest squeeze made snide remarks about how cheap it would be to replace her and Frankie’s jackets had triggered something deep in her subliminal memory. She hurled the contents of her barely sipped pint of Yuengling in their faces, snuffing their laughter and high spirits instantly. The woman had immediately started to come at Marie, viciously holding up her painted claws for all the world like The Wicked Witch of the West menacing Dorothy. Marie had stood ready, and her friends had also immediately risen to her defense as well.
Marie had lost her temper. She shouted at The Creep, calling him a pedophile and a pervert, publicly denouncing him in a way she had dreamed of doing all her life. The Creep had acted calmly, which was completely out of character for him. He firmly, yet gently, led his “employee” away.
This alone should have set off some warning alarms in Marie’s mind, but again, the suddenness of the intrusion and her already deep anger had clouded her reasoning ability. Maybe The Creep had planned on this, made book on it. He knew her, after all. Her nature wasn’t to sneak; her nature was to be direct.
One of the distressing aspects of human talent is how often immoral people are blessed with it. The Creep had made a career out of predicting how individuals would react in given situations, and he was good at it. Marie had let her hatred of The Creep blind her to his ability out of loathing. Big mistake.
The pair had left, without even seeming upset. Another warning sign ignored by Marie, since The Creep was filled with rage even on his good days. Marie had been angry at herself for months thinking about how many warnings she had been oblivious to that night, but now her self-recriminations were replaced by an eerie calm. She had stared through the prison minibus windows as Pennsylvania rolled by with what could be termed a completely impassive expression on her way to rehab.
The rest of the night had been a blur. They had stayed late, and she had well exceeded her quota of alcohol, which was okay because Frankie was her usual self- one of those moderate drinkers who would have been perfectly competent behind the wheel of a car even if she had overindulged, as she infrequently did, as if she’d been born to drive a car. Marie had wanted to leave, but couldn’t, because to get up and run home would be to admit to herself how frightened and alone she felt, even surrounded by loyal friends. She had for some reason ridiculous to her now assumed the evening was mainly over, but of course it was just getting started.
Donnie had left shortly before closing time, but had returned only a few minutes later with news-The Creep and his escort were waiting for them by Frankie’s car in the parking lot.
When she had heard this, Marie felt a backwash of emotion, the way you might feel right before a tsunami, the perfect stillness of the moment when all the water has receded, and the bones of ships and dead sailors lie uncovered in the harbor. The ignored horror rising from the deep, exposed again.
All the group of young people could think of doing was to walk out into the parking lot. Marie had never trusted authority enough to consider involving the cops, and would have felt silly asking anyone for help anyway. She had her friends with her. In retrospect she would much rather have been alone.
The Creep’s tactic had first been one of solicitude. He was worried about her. He’d heard she had been drinking too much, and hanging around with all the wrong sorts of people. His “employee”, now introduced as “Esther”, had begun lecturing her about how kind and generous The Creep was and how he loved Marie and wanted the best for her. Marie should apologize for all the insane lies she was spreading about him. Didn’t Marie realize how damaging such lies could be to such an important man’s ability to advance and help the United States? Didn’t Marie realize how desperately the Country needed a man of The Creep’s ability right now?
Marie just pushed by them to the car. Esther seized her by the arm and tried to spin her around.
“Apologize!” she shrieked. So intent was Marie on ignoring them, at not giving The Creep the attention he so desperately needed that she had not seen Esther’s fist coming at the side of her head. She must have had a small rock or brass knuckles clenched in her hand, because Marie was instantly floored, covered in blood. The whole world had lit up for a second.
“Apologize you little dyke!” The fist rose and fell on Marie’s prone body. Esther got down on the pavement, grabbed Marie’s hair, and literally started pounding her face on the concrete. Marie’s friends immediately starting pulling Esther off her, though in shock at what was happening. Incredibly, The Creep had pulled a gun out of a shoulder holster. Marie had known he sometimes carried, but it was uncharacteristic for him to get his own hands dirty in such encounters. What the hell was he doing this for? she remembered thinking, just before she blacked out. He leveled the barrel at her small group of friends, college students and kids who’d watched too many Bruce Lee films. They had never encountered pure evil before, unmitigated hate. Doing something she knew would haunt them for the rest of their lives, they backed off from the gun and the madman behind it. Of course, from a safe distance they had pulled out a cell phone and called the cops. She was told all this later, since she had been unconscious. She was totally unaware, even of Esther bouncing her face off the parking lot until it was raw meat.
Eventually, it ended. Esther rose, and turned over Marie’s body, looking at her face.
“Oh my God,” she said, or at least that’s what Frankie later said she said. Her tone had been hard to read, Frankie added. It could have been a moment’s remorse, or compassion. It might have been an expression of satisfaction at a job well done. Whatever her feelings, she and The Creep had jumped into his Mercedes and peeled off, leaving Marie lying face down in the parking lot as her friends came to her assistance.
Six months and a lot of reconstructive surgery had produced miraculous results. Her face had been truly ghastly that night, but though the human face bleeds and bruises easily, it often recovers quickly too, especially with decent medical care. Her nose would always be slightly crooked, like a boxer’s. It could have been much worse, she was told.
Her part time job at the hospital had served her well in this instance, as some of the doctors there provided her with much better care than her health insurance called for. She was grateful to them for this, especially as she and her friends had been arrested that night. Esther and The Creep had preemptively called the cops and said Marie and her friends had assaulted them in the parking lot. Some additional charges such as public drunkenness and disturbing the peace had been tacked on as well. One of her friends, Donnie, had a bowl and a small amount of marijuana in his pocket, and he was actually looking at jail time on some trumped up charges. He’d been in trouble for some piddling scuffles before, but a record is a record, and a good excuse for The System to throw the book if they decide they want you for some reason.
The county jail had been right next to the hospital, so her doctor friends hadn’t been too inconvenienced, but it was humiliating to have to go for appointments with people she had worked with while shackled and with armed guards.
Marie herself had been offered two choices-one year in jail and three years’ probation, or one successfully completed rehab and one years’ probation. She had chosen rehab because it would be easier to break out of to do what she had to do, or barring that, it was the fastest way to get the freedom to do what she had to do. Again, the cushy deal alone should have set off warning bells but she had figured The Creep and his cronies were trying to sweep everything under the rug to avoid a trial and any resulting publicity.
Of the four people she had been with that night, Donnie had already recanted his initial version of the events, and appeared ready to perjure himself in any upcoming criminal trials. He was an apprentice Pipe Fitter who had studied karate with her. He’d quit karate since that night, and spent a lot of time drinking alone. If he did happen to see Marie in passing, he was unable to speak to her or look her in the eye.
At first, Todd and Janey had seemed like they would be with her to the bitter end, but a couple of weeks ago, Frankie had told her Todd had said somebody had been leaving threatening messages on his phone, and Janey’s mom had been put into the hospital after somebody tried to run her off the road. They had also recanted, she had heard through her lawyer.
Frankie had had some problems with shoplifting and pills years before, so she had a record, though not a serious one. It was enough to make her testimony at least slightly questionable, and was still enough to threaten her with second offense jail time. Recently, Frankie had written her and said a long lost relative had left her some money in his will, and she was leaving for California to start looking for work.
All things taken into consideration, Marie thought, the price for a steak and a couple of beers with her friends was way too high.
Compounding all this was the fact that The Creep was involved personally and financially with a lot of high ranking courthouse types in Marie’s home county, a county famous for scandals and corruption. Just recently, mobbed up judges had conspired to send local juvenile offenders convicted of petty offenses to hard core juvenile detention centers designed for kids who had committed adult crimes, but could not be legally sent to adult prison because of their youth. For doing this, the judges were given millions of dollars in kickbacks by the owners of these facilities. Some of the local kids had committed suicide after being abused by more hardened kids in for crimes like rape and murder. This was the tip of the iceberg for corruption in this former coal mining nexus.
Marie felt sorry for all her friends, and had absolutely no anger towards them. Her only regret was The Creep had besmirched their world with his presence. She understood how they felt. We go through our whole lives, reading about evil, and watching shows about it on television, and one day it waves a gun in your face in a parking lot and you are totally unprepared for its visceral existence.
It’s been written that Satan’s greatest achievement has been convincing the world that he does not exist. Unlike Marie, her friends had never met The Creep before. The Creep had always had a special aptitude for opening up the maw of hell and giving a guided tour. Marie was still puzzled though. Why was The Creep so heavily vested in destroying her? It had been uncharacteristic of him to use up so many owed favors just to screw up her life again. He just didn’t care enough to do it out of malice, and the whole episode could potentially make him look bad. Also, he had signed off on the plea agreement, after he had pushed for a maximum sentence for her. His only condition had been that Marie had to complete a program at a rehab for drug addicts and alcoholics at a facility of his choice. He’d pay, he said, but she had to complete this specific program before he’d drop the charges. There was a mystery here, a mystery Marie needed to solve for the sake of her physical and emotional well-being.
There was another thing that needed to be resolved as well. Marie was a good looking lady and she knew this. She was not under any illusions-she would probably never have been asked to be on the cover of fashion magazines even if she had never had to have plastic surgery, but that didn’t even matter. She was a girl, and The Creep and his whatever she was needed to learn that there were serious ramifications to cutting Marie’s face.
End of Excerpt-Below is a possible rewrite-
Chapter One: Marie
The bus ride from prison to rehab had been a long one, and Marie had ridden in silence throughout, staring out the window of the bus with a completely impassive expression on her bandaged face. She smiled and nodded at the counselor who greeted her, and waited politely as her leg shackles and handcuffs were removed.
Curiously, the counselor looked at the slightly built young woman in her mid-twenties or so who warranted such tight security. He had prescreened many intimidating characters in this very room, but this young lady seemed completely non-threatening, to the point where these precautions almost seemed like a practical joke. Mentally shrugging, he thumbed through her file. He paid special attention to a handwritten note appended to the front page and addressed to him. After reading it, he removed it and put the paper into his pocket. Marie appeared not to notice, and he began to ask the standard questions for her records.
“It says here you’ve been awaiting trial for the last six months in a County prison. Have you used drugs or alcohol during your time there?” he asked, looking at her closely. “You’ll be taking another drug pre-screening, so please tell the truth.”
Marie shook her head. “No.”
“It says here you assaulted your father and one of his employees in the parking lot of a bar. Is there anything you want to talk about?”
Marie looked deeply troubled. “My life is starting to become unmanageable. As long as I keep drinking, I’ll be doing things like this.”
“Yet, when you were arrested, you and your friends completely denied the assault. In fact, your first story was your father’s employee had attacked you, and your father had pulled a gun on your friends to prevent them from assisting you?”
Marie colored slightly. “I’m ashamed to admit it now, after thinking about it for six months, but we were lying then to try to get ourselves out of trouble.”
The counselor looked at her probingly. “Your father has said if you go to rehab, he will forgive all charges.”
Marie stared at the counselor with unblinking eyes. “It’s very generous of him, after what I did,” she uttered.
The counselor looked away and sighed. “The records indicate your friends had all sworn to testify against you in a court of law. This must make you pretty angry?”
“No, not at all,” Marie answered truthfully. “Lying to the police the night it happened is different than lying under oath?”
“Describe your relationship with your parents.”
“Well, we lived in kind of a communal environment with some other people. I ran away from home when I was about fourteen, and then I didn’t see them until I was about twenty,” Marie related. “Now, I see them once in awhile.”
“When you say it was a communal environment, what do you mean?” asked the counselor.
Marie answered carefully. “It was a group of people from all walks of life and many different occupations who chose to live together and raise their families according to their beliefs.”
“Was it a religious community?”
“Yes,” Marie answered simply.
“Why did you run away?” the counselor asked.
Marie shrugged. “I just felt like it. We all lived in a couple of houses in upstate New York near this huge lake. It was really isolated and boring. I got sick of it.”
The counselor took some notes. “Is that when you started using drugs and alcohol?” he asked.
“Around that time,” she answered levelly.
The counselor looked at her. “Your father said there was a pretty extensive search for you, and they kept looking for years. How did you stay on the run for so long without getting caught?”
Marie looked embarrassed. “When I ran away, I had some jewelry with me which was pretty valuable. I pawned it and used the money to buy fake I.D.s and documents so I could work and travel freely. I moved a lot, and kept buying new I.D.s.”
“Where did you get the money?” the counselor asked, looking at her levelly.
“I’d rather not say,” Marie answered, looking at the desktop.
The counselor was stern. “We can’t help you unless you’re honest.”
“Are you going to let me into this rehab or not?” Marie asked. “I can still see the prison truck parked outside. If I am honest, you might not sign the admittance papers.” For the first time, Marie was beginning to betray annoyance.
The counselor shrugged. “If you have a problem with drugs and alcohol, we can help you. However, if you lied at your plea bargaining agreement and still blame your father for what happened, you’d be better off going back to prison, as far as I’m concerned.”
“What if it’s both?” Marie asked suddenly.
“What do you mean?” he responded.
“Well, what if I was raised in an atmosphere of physical and mental abuse, and this led to my alcoholism and drug addiction. Every word of my father’s story could be a lie about what happened that night outside the bar, but I could still be an addict and an alcoholic, couldn’t I?” Marie asked crisply. “I mean, one doesn’t preclude the other, does it?”
The counselor produced a piece of paper from his packet. “If you sign this, I can let you in. It’s a letter absolving your father of any personal responsibility for your assault upon him and his employee, one Esther Romes. Sign it, you go to rehab and get out of jail free. Recant and you’ll be in prison for the next three years.”
Marie looked shocked. “This was never mentioned in court. How can I sign something like this without my lawyer being present?”
The door opened, and a tall, thin black man wearing a white coat and expensive Italian shoes stepped into the room.
“Please excuse us, Bob. I wish to speak to the young lady alone,” he said.
“Certainly, Doctor. Here are her files, if you wish to see them,” Bob answered, getting up.
“That’s all right. I’m very familiar with this case.” The Doctor waited until Bob had left the room, and then he spoke to Marie, smiling. “Hello Marie. I’m one of the resident Clinical Psychologists here. Please call me Gerard.”………
Now, the above is an attempt at a rewrite based on the suggestions. It’s mainly dialogue, and everything comes out in the form of an intake interview. But where’s the heart? Where is the slow, brooding creation of a scenario in which Marie has finally found what she believes to be a safe environment, relaxes her guard, and kapow, back in to the hate filled dimension of the cult in which she was raised? How do I know my beginning was good or bad?
I did take a creative writing class once. I remember a girl in my class wrote a beautiful poem once, and by the time the teacher and our fellow students got done “helping” her with it, it was tripe. It had been beautiful, in my opinion, and then it was tripe, in my opinion. I could almost quote her original poem from memory, all these years later. She even agreed with me (though I did not say tripe). She knew I genuinely liked her original poem.
Anyway, you can sort of see where I’m going with the new rewrite of Chapter One. Once past the beginning, the book starts falling into place, but I need to write a beginning which will introduce the book but I also feel keeps some integrity.
I mean, doesn’t the new rewrite seem like Sarah Connor’s interview with the shrink in T2? is that what I’m supposed to aspire to? (I loved the third Terminator book. I bought it in a dollar bin and read it thirty times in the bathroom. It was as if they watched the movie and then precisely recorded every scene as it happened.)