Hey, everyone. Today's post is a little special, as in you probably won't want to read it (being 2,158 words and all). Anyway, the following is the first chapter of the novel I've been working on. It's taken a while to find my voice, but I think I'm beginning to get the gist of it. I rewrote this numerous times (even so far as getting 15k words into the story before starting again). Now that I've got a firm grasp of the plot, I figured I'd share this confusing first chapter with you. If you'd be kind enough, tell me how you truly feel about it. Seriously, be as mean and hateful as you want. I take criticism quite well, and I don't hold grudges. It's probably going to be confusing to you, also. Did I already mention that?
Anyway, the real reason for this post is to let you guys know that I'm not being lazy; I'm being somewhat productive. Also, it's not a final product obviously, just something I decided to occupy a post with.
Funny post to come later this week.
Sand assaulted Micah Fort’s hive-appointed goggles. He stretched his makeshift mask fashioned from a torn t-shirt sleeve over his stubbled cheeks. As he rigidly ran his fingers through his hair, a flurry of sand caught wind and flew off.
“Watch it, Fort!” Corson cried, spitting out what sand had flooded his mouth.
“Maybe you should try standing up front,” Micah said. “Or better yet, make yourself one of these,” he continued, pointing to the crude mask covering his face.
The pickup truck took a violent nosedive sending the five crew members crashing against the cab.
“Alright back there?” Redlick let out a boisterous laugh and continued, “A crater from a mortar strike. That means we’re close!” Micah knew the stunt was on purpose. Redlick always found delight in rattling his crew.
Prinley bolted to the edge of the truck bed as his eyes began to well up. “You think he’d be used to it by now,” Corson grumbled as Prinley let loose a steady stream of vomit. Kora shouldered Corson as she approached Prinley. She used one hand to brush back his loose, blonde bangs and the other to grip the back of his waistband to ensure the next bump wouldn’t send him over the edge. “Best make sure your lover boy don’t end up road kill,” Corson continued.
Kora balled her hand into a fist, but before she could deliver a quick blow to Corson, the truck took a slight dip, forcing Kora to refocus her attention. Fortunately for her, Prinley was too preoccupied to mull over the remark. Kora had made it clear that she wanted to let him know herself, and Corson had come uncomfortably close to crossing that line. It was obvious to everyone but Prinley, the newbie, of Kora’s infatuation with vulnerable boys.
After realizing that Prinley had been reduced to dry heaving, Kora dragged his weakened body back over the rail and sat him down. “Kora,” shouted Bailey. She turned in time to catch the canteen he’d just tossed her way.
Kora looked at Bailey huddled in the corner of the truck bed, his dark skin glistening in the merciless sun. “Thanks. You sure you got enough?” she inquired as she unscrewed the cap.
Bailey grinned, reaching into his pocket to reveal the tip of a flask. “Oh, I think I’ll make it.”
Kora lifted the canteen to Prinley’s lips and gently poured. Though Prinley was only able to swallow the contents through intermittent sips, he eventually regained enough strength to regain his composure. “Thanks, guys,” he said glancing between Kora and Bailey.
Two towers of smoke appeared in the distance. Micah looked back at the crew. “You guys ready? I can see the aftermath up ahead.” His muffled inquiry was met with nothing more than slight nods and subdued shrugs. Not that Micah was expecting much. He nodded in confirmation as he turned forward.
“Pushed them farther back than expected,” said Bailey. “The first mortar strike was about half a mile back.”
“That or they were luring them into a trap. Either way, it’s obvious we lost this one,” added Corson.
There was a brief silence before Redlick interjected. “Highway ahead!”
Micah readjusted his mask to no avail. Despite the numerous excursions to sites of previous days’ battles, he could not adjust to the thick, heavy stench of fermenting blood.
The crew peered over the truck cab in time to see a rusted green sign race by. Micah mouthed the text, I95. He had learned to read at an elementary level from his father before he died in the war. He had been twelve, nearly an adult, when his father returned home in a body bag. His mother died while giving birth to him, yet his father never showed any signs of contempt.
Without warning, the truck abruptly stopped as Redlick hollered, “Free rides over! Les’ move!” With that, the crew exited the rear of the truck and reported to the front. There were two destroyed recon tanks on either side of the road. Smoke billowed from between the shredded, smoldering metal. What was left of an overpass lay beyond the tanks.
Redlick limped before the line. He was put out of action from the army after a piece of shrapnel made its home in his leg, but he never lost his sergeant mentality. Having worked under him for nearly four years, Micah no longer felt intimidated by his downward glare. In fact, Micah was left wondering why he’d ever feared Redlick at all given his portly physique and scraggily, unkempt beard. His army beret bearing Delta’s sigil, a feathered dog, balanced awkwardly atop his bald, bulbous head. He cleared his throat and wiped the sweat from his brow, he removed a small, crumpled piece of paper from his breast pocket. He unraveled it and read aloud, “The charge was accompanied by twenty Delta members. As proclaimed by the Return Home Act, your Battle Aftermath Sanitation Crew is required to account for all members of your designated hive’s party. Any fallen soldier unaccounted for must be reported to the respected hive leader. Ya-da, ya-da, ya-da. You know the drill.” When Redlick was finished, he returned the wrinkly note to his pocket. “You hear that, BASC-holes? We’re lookin’ for twenty Delta soldiers. Bailey, you’re on bed duty. The rest oh ya’ will be working the field.”
Despite sifting through mangled and bloodied bodies, BASC had its benefits. Free room and board at the hive barracks and three square meals a day; it was an orphan’s only option beyond scavenging the Souk or tilling the fields.
Bailey raced to the truck, gathered an armful of open-ended sacks, and dropped them on the rusty, decaying hood. Somehow the truck had braved the elements and survived for as long as Micah had been part of BASC. Redlick liked to boast that the corroded metal helped with ventilation. It was better to keep a positive outlook as Delta hive was more concerned with funding the Coalition than providing a new meat wagon to a bunch of orphans and a delusional sergeant.
“Micah, you’re with Prinley, again. I figure you might as well fill his tiny head with whatever knowledge you got in that equally slender head of yours before you’re shipped the vanguard.” That word twisted Micah’s stomach into a knot. In a month, he would be sixteen. The army would come for him and relocate him north to the Coalition headquarters, the Churchyard as some would call it. He had no family to vouch for him and not a nickel to his name. There wasn’t anything to prevent the army from tossing him to the vanguard. Many wondered whether you went to the Churchyard to learn how to fight or learn how to die.
“Corson and Kora, you’re together. Play nice,” Redlick jested. Kora let out an exasperated sigh. Corson furrowed his brow, but quickly shot Kora a sly, sarcastic grin. It wasn’t clear to anyone where Corson inherited his cockiness. Presumably he learned it from his older brother who joined the army three years ago. The only time Micah remembered feeling sorry for Corson was roughly a year ago when he was informed of his brother’s death. Corson quickly extinguished that feeling when he swiftly recovered from his bout of depression, reverting back to his old, arrogant ways.
Micah spotted Prinley timidly approaching him with one of the open-ended sacks. “Thanks, Cronk,” said Micah. It was one of the less humiliating nicknames he could derive from Prinley Cronkly. “Alright, I’m assuming you’ve got the gist of things. So this should be a piece of cake.” Micah pointed to a wooden makeshift sign marked with a scribbled ‘Z’ off to the side of the road. “We must’ve just missed Zeta’s crew,” mumbled Micah. Micah enjoyed the company of other aftermath crews; it made the job a lot quicker when there were twice as many people searching for fallen soldiers. Though, it’s better to have arrived after at least one crew since it left that much less bodies to sift through. “Alright, let’s get going.”
Micah and Prinley began searching behind trees and other concealed areas. After locating two bodies from Gamma and one from Beta, they eventually encountered a soldier from Delta bend over a waist-high boulder. Riga mortis had long since set in. The soldier’s hands gripped tightly around barrel of his rifle. Micah glared down at the body. In a month, that’ll be me, he thought.
“You remember what to do, right?” Micah asked.
“Yeah,” responded Prinley. He reached for the gun’s safety. “I just have to…” Prinley’s voiced trailed off as he focused on the task at hand. Click. “There.”
“Good. Now you may remove the gun,” said Micah.
Prinley nodded and wriggled the rifle from the soldier’s taut grip and knelt down to place it in the dirt.
TCH! TCH! TCH! Gun fire resonated through the air as both Micah and Prinley dove behind the far side of the boulder.
TCH! TCH! TCH! The rifle echoed until it abruptly stopped. Micah opened his eyes and released his palms from his ringing ears. He glanced at Prinley who still had his hands pressed against the side of his head. Micah regained his footing and looked about.
As the ringing in his ear subsided, the laughter in the air became clearer. Micah turned toward the neighboring forest and saw Corson hunched over, clutching his midsection. A rifle lay beside him as a thin trailed of smoke left the barrel.
“I,” choked laughter interrupted his admission of guilt. “I’ve never witnessed anything so damn funny,” he managed to spit out before the laughter resumed.
Micah’s face ignited with rage as he rushed to confront Corson. His knuckles grew pale as he approached, but before he could reach him, a loud crack sounded as a bullet hit the dirt separating the two. Micah and Corson turned toward the road where Redlick held his drawn pistol. Redlick furiously stormed toward Corson, whose face had gone from fire red to a stark white.
Redlick stopped, leaving him no more than a foot from Corson. “You’re lucky that we’re short on volunteers,” Redlick’s voice trembled as he tried to suppress his overwhelming fury. “Otherwise I’d tie you to the bumper and drag you back to the hive.” With that, Redlick delivered a quick jab to Corson’s stomach. “Now get back to work, all of you!” he shouted before returning to the truck.
Corson glanced up at Micah, who had concealed most his anger, and managed an apologetic shrug. Though it wasn’t much, Micah learned that it was about all he was capable of. His repeated antics never truly caused any harm. Though, that’s not to say that they’d ever lose their desired effect.
Micah took a deep breath and returned to Prinley, who was still lying flat on his stomach. Micah reached down and helped him up with ease. “Sorry,” Micah said. “I should’ve warned you that Corson’d tried to pull something. Though, something of that caliber was a first for me as well.” Micah forced a laughed. Prinley still looked perturbed. “No matter. Let’s haul this body back.”
Micah opened one end of the sack as Prinley grab the soldier’s legs and dragged him through the other end. Once secure, the two tightened the rope on either side and heaved him off the ground.
Once they reached the bed of the truck, Bailer dragged the body over the tailgate and stacked him neatly beside the first body secured by Kora and Corson.
This continued for three more hours until nineteen of the twenty bodies were secured. The one missing body was presumed to have been one of the unidentifiable piles of gore caught by a launcher or mine or one of the charred bodies amidst the tanks’ remains.
After inventory, the crew piled in the bed of the truck amongst the stacked bodies and wedged themselves between any available crevasses.
The crack of the truck’s engine broke the silence, and the truck began the five hour trek back to the coastal hive, Delta.
“Does the Hive, the Crown Hive, ever come to collect their soldiers?” asked Prinley to no one in particular. “I mean, I saw a few at this aftermath and the one before, too.”
Bailey, who remained quiet up until this point, replied, “They can’t be bothered to show respect for those who’ve died for their cause. They’re fighting on multiple fronts and are unfortunately winning. What makes you think they’d be willing to make any changes in their game plan? Eta’s defeat is imminent, and pretty soon there’ll be only four remaining free-hives. No, why would they bother coming to collect their dead?”
Prinley could only mumble an incoherent response. Beyond Bailey’s habitual drinking, Micah understood his needless rant. Bailey would be joining the Coalition only a month after him. They’d both stand no chance against the well advanced and over equipped Crown Hive.