Years ago, when I was supposed to be working on my dissertation, I wrote a novel. As with many of my stories, it was based on a misunderstanding of some song lyrics. I’m okay with that. It doesn’t matter if the story properly represents the song. It gave me the idea and I run with it. Anyway, while I did finish the dissertation, I also finished the novel. But the novel needed work. Lots of it. My teaching career began shortly after that, and I never made the time to fix it.
This morning, my muse was being stubborn. I was up very early, and I thought I could knock out another piece of flash fiction. But no character or story presented itself for the writing. Instead, the only thing I had was the first scene from that novel. And I knew the rewrite for that was going to have to be massive. I couldn’t simply fix the words, I needed new ones. So I wrote the first two pages. Because I’ve written the story once already, I have the plot. But I think I have better words this time.
I fully intend to finish the sequel to The Mage before anything else gets done. But this morning it felt rather good to actually revisit River through the Mist for the first time in over a decade. This beginning only suggests the bizarre story that will follow, but it’s much better than anything I wrote all those years ago. So just to tease you all, here it is…
The click of his shoes on the sidewalk echoed through the night. It annoyed him. Insomnia made every annoyance worse. Even with the sound grating on him though, walking was preferable to standing still or lying in bed staring at the ceiling. If only some other noise would offset his own gait. However, the darkness held no relief. It gave him a place to escape his oppressive bed, but Greg Stillman would find no other succor in the night. He had to be okay with that.
A mist hung over the streets, obscuring even the few pockets of light provided by the occasional working street lamps. Normally, even at night, a few people would be out wandering to various destinations. But the damp had driven them indoors, and he had the night to himself. Even cars weren’t venturing out.
Shivering involuntarily, he drew his coat in tightly. It had ben a warm April so far, but the mist brought with it a chill too strong for his jacket to keep out. It wasn’t enough to drive him back to his apartment though. There the darkness was close, threatening. Outside the darkness had the whole world to expand into and didn’t threaten to smother him.
A crash followed by a moan coming from a nearby alley startled him. The interruption left him puzzled: what should he do? Habit told him to finish his walk. There was little sense in wandering into a dark alley. Yet an uncharacteristic curiosity held him in place. Something – someone – was back there. Perhaps he ought to check. His feet itched. The walk had been stopped short, and his body was anxious to get back to it. Overriding the demand, he cautiously took a few steps toward the sound.
Every muscle in his body ached as if to convince him this was a mistake, but the pull of his need to know what was happening was too strong. Another few steps, and he thought he could make something out. His eyes had already adjusted to the little light on the street, but the dark here was deeper. It took him a few moments before he could see the leg for what it was. Horrified that he had found a dismembered leg, he inched closer. But he had been wrong. The leg was not severed. Debris had fallen on the woman and obscured her from view at first.
He could not immediately tell whether she was alive. She looked like she had no right to be. Her clothes were ripped and dirty. Cuts and bruises covered nearly every inch of skin that he could see. As he took a few more steps, a soft moan escaped her. So she was alive, though how was still a mystery. For how long she would survive was yet another question. She needed help immediately.
His cellphone was on the nightstand next to his bed. He hated bringing it with him on these walks. Now he cursed softly at his disdain for carrying it. There weren’t any working pay-phones in the neighborhood, perhaps not anywhere in the city. Where was the nearest hospital? Several blocks, but she looked as though she couldn’t weigh much. He picked her up as carefully as he could and began walking.
Even her 120 pounds or so began to wear him out before he reached the hospital. Still he managed to get there without jostling her too much. As soon as the receptionist saw her, she called a nurse over. The nurse helped him set her down on a bed.
“What happened to her?” She didn’t stop working on the unconscious woman while she waited for his answer.
“I don’t know.”
She gave Greg a skeptical look.
“Honestly. I don’t know who she is. I found her lying in an alley like that. Just a few blocks from here.”
“Hmmm…” But she didn’t stop to question him further. She finished the brief exam and began pushing the wheeled bed to another area. “Wait here.”