Thursday, January 14, 2010

Friday Fiction for January 15, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sharlyn, on her blog, Dancin’ on Rainbows, where you’ll find MckLinky and links to the other submissions.

Looking over my Friday Fiction index, I realized that I hadn’t excerpted much from Marta’s Pod, even though it is the single longest story I’ve ever written. In the early draft, it topped over 150,000 words, though I’ve been working on paring it down, and now have it back to around 134,000. Trust me; trimming 16,000 words from a story isn’t easy, but it is sometimes a necessary part of the revision process.

At the start of Marta’s Pod, Marta’s biological parents – the normal humans whose “genetic material” was secretly appropriated by Dr. Marcel for part of his project – have learned they have a daughter whom they never knew about. Rather than try to deny the relationship, Josh invites Gerald and Linda Lawton, along with their son Mark, out to the Island to meet Marta, their other three daughters, and the Pod. Mark has recently lost both legs about mid-thigh in an accident, and is not adjusting well. This excerpt takes place his first night on the Island, after a rather terse encounter with Eva earlier that day.

What Love Does

From Marta’s Pod, Chapter 8

His sisters slept close by, one of them holding his sleeping nephew in an affectionate embrace. Mark, however, had tossed and turned on the floor for a while before finally sitting up near the open doorway to the room. Each room was closable by a curtain, but all the curtains he could see in the dimly lit Family Room were pulled open. Once in a while, he would hear the sound of some member of the Pod moving across the floor to the bathroom and back, but other than that nothing broke the silence except the varied sounds of the sleeping Pod.

He’d spent many nights similarly awake since the accident, though most had been spent in his own bed and not on the padded floor of a mermaids’ bedroom. Mermaids’ bedroom; even thinking it sounded crazy. Agent Williams didn’t have to worry about him telling anyone what he’d seen out there. If he did break his agreement and talk about the Pod, people would think he’d been taking too many pain pills after his accident, or they’d think the loss of his legs had finally caused him to snap. That’s all I need; everyone thinking I’m crippled and psychotic, too.

He tried to think about the amusing “Movie Night” to take his mind off the stinging words that Eva had said to him, but his thoughts kept returning to the sound of her voice in the dark cavern she’d dragged him to.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of one of the Pod members moving across the floor again. He glanced out the dark door, expecting to see the shadowy figure of whoever it was heading to one of the two bathrooms. Instead, he saw one of the mermaids making her way towards the pool in the room. He heard the gentle sound of the water being disturbed as she slid into it. Mark shuffled himself closer to the doorway, hearing the sound of someone else trying to be silent as they opened one of the cabinets on one wall. The upright figure he spotted walking towards the pool had to be Joshua Cardan; he was far too lean to be the FBI agent, and the only other man Mark could remember being on the island was his own father. Even in the dark, he knew he’d recognize his father’s walk. Besides, his father wouldn’t be down there in the dark going for a swim.

Cardan dropped something close to the water’s edge before wading in to the pool, and then swam to the center, taking care to avoid any splashing noise while doing so. It was difficult to discern much of what was happening, but as Mark strained his eyes into the dim light he could just see the two alternating between swimming and floating. It seemed one would disappear beneath the surface while the other tread water, and a moment later the first would tread water while the other vanished beneath. It seemed an odd game to play in a darkened pool.

He assumed the mermaid was his sister Marta, especially since she’d come from the direction of the room she and her husband shared. It felt a bit strange spying on her that way, but at the same time, he found it fascinating. All day long the Pod had known he was watching them, and he’d wondered how much of their behavior had been normal and how much had been “best behavior” for the guests. This, however, was a completely candid display. The pair in the pool showed no signs that they were aware that anyone was watching.

In the darkness, he had difficulty at times telling which was submerged and which was surfaced at any given time. He received a clear indication of which he was seeing when Marta nearly leaped from the water to dive after Cardan, the silhouette of her tail obvious even in the dim light. Both were submerged for what seemed like far too long when they resurfaced together back near the center of the pool. It took a moment for him to realize that they held each other in a tight embrace, in which they remained without further diving and chasing around, and it finally dawned on him what they were doing.

Mark, you’re sinking to a new low, he thought. Still, he couldn’t quite turn his eyes away. He almost jumped out of his skin when the whispered voice next to him spoke.

“It’s a beautiful dance, isn’t it?” Ophelia was also looking out the doorway and watching. How she’d managed to move herself from where she’d been sleeping without him hearing her could only be explained by how solidly his focus had been on the swimming couple.

“Er, yeah, a beautiful dance,” he agreed, whispering awkwardly.

She rested her chin on her arms, gazing towards the pool. “They wait until they think we’re all asleep, but true privacy is nearly impossible around here. They know we see them from time to time, but as long as they don’t know we’re watching at the moment, everything’s fine. They enjoy their illusion of privacy; we enjoy knowing they’re happy. This may be as close as I ever get to knowing what it’s like to make love so passionately.”

Mark nearly choked. She did know exactly what was going on in the pool.

“What?” she whispered. “Did you suppose that because we’re different in how our bodies are shaped that we don’t have those same feelings all other humans have? Did your desire for love, both emotional and physical, disappear with your legs?”

“Well, no, it’s just, well, watching - ”

Ophelia’s voice held a remorseful note. “Many things in life we can only watch; so many experiences we live vicariously through others. I can never ride a roller coaster, but I can imagine the experience by watching the faces of those who are doing so in a video. My prospects for a husband or even a lover are quite slim, but I can see how happy it makes Marta. It may not be much, but for many of us it’s all we’ll have.”

“I see,” Mark said. “That much I understand.”

“So why do you watch? Surely in the entire world, your prospects for love and passion are still plentiful.”

“My ‘prospects’ walked out on me.”

“All of them? Your prospects are not limited to what few visitors ever come to this island, are they? You cannot tell me that you’ve exhausted them all, can you?”

“The one that mattered, yeah; she left after I lost my legs.”

“I’d say that wasn’t much of a prospect, then. A real prospect loves you no matter what happens.”

He decided she was an incurable romantic. Once upon a time, he’d thought the same way until Silvia proved him wrong.

“If she’d really loved you,” she continued. “She’d have stuck with you and made you want to keep living, even if she had to drag you to do something. That’s what love does.”

“And you know this how?”

“Because that’s what Eva has done to all of us at one time or another. That’s why none of us would stop her when she dragged you away today. She loves this Pod, and she’ll never let us give up living. You’re our brother; that makes you a part of the Pod, and as long as you’re here she won’t let you give up living, either.”

1 comment:

BethL said...

This puts me in the mindset of an "incurable romantic" too. (hoping for love to find both Mark and Ophelia.) [they're brother and "sister", right?] :) Creative work on this story. Good luck trying to pare down your story.

(thanks for your recent comments, they're much appreciated)