Excerpt: A Driftwood Captain

An excerpt from my current work-in-progress, working title A Thousand Things I’ll Never Know. My main character, Amanda Tillamoor, has just agreed to what is arguably a deal with the devil.

*****

That afternoon, still riding up and down on the swells of my emotional roller-coaster, I invite myself over to Collin and Sammi’s place. The boys are away, but Sam takes one look at my wavering face and asks if we should go to the backyard and break out the throwing knives.

I gratefully accept. I got her started on throwing knives, and wound up giving her my set, because my house comes with no backyard at all, (so lame,) and I made too many neighbors nervous, practicing on the tiny patch of front lawn.

Here, they’ve got a nice stump set up, already deeply scored by hours’ worth of blade bites. We go back and forth in near-silence for a while, smiling and nodding at the thunk of a blade sunk home, grimacing at the clatter of the odd miss and bounce-off.

Wanna talk about it?” she asks after we’ve hit a rhythm.

Do I ever,” I sigh, crouching to retrieve my throws. “But I’m afraid I can’t. I signed that right away ages ago. It’s all confidential.”

Ah.” She clicks her tongue. “Work, then?”

I nod, that being the simplest thing, the nearest thing that can be admitted.

Want to inventive-vent?” Sammi asks.

What’s that, then?” I pass off the knives.

You know, make shit up to complain about while we both know you’re totally complaining about something else. People do it all the time with boring things like the weather and their spouses when actually it’s mommy issues and the fear of rejection, but Collin and I made a rule. When you’re hyperbolically complaining about things that aren’t actually what’s upsetting you, at least be interesting about it.”

That’s a genius rule. Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that.”

Cool.” She flings the largest knife into the stump. “What’s the matter, then?”

I consider for a moment, looking for good emotional scapegoats. “You know what I loathe from the core of my being? This notion that rhyming poetry is automatically less deep and relevant than free form. Free form can be trite and pathetic! Consistent meter can be deep and ‘real’! Mouths off my meter, yo!”

Sammi grunts sympathetically, then sinks a medium blade. “Seriously.”

Sure, there’s trite roses-are-red stuff that’s only good for parodies and jokes. But free form is full of angsty hacks who think they’re being deep just because they’re all like—

Blackness. Claiming me from the past.

The pain swirls about my feet

Poisoned fog

Without proper punctuation

I hit the spacebar a random amount of times

“—so I can say—

the road splits beneath me, a chasm opens

I leap, reach, and hit the earth

Only to see that all earth is the chasm

My soul is the chasm

Wow

That had such impact

Because there were lots of spaces and no full stops until right now.”

Sammi laughs, and her final throw is a clattering hilt-hit. But I’m just hitting my stride. Is it parody? Sure. But there’s something to this stream-of-consciousness vitriol, and while I stubbornly refuse to call it art, I can certainly call it the spilling out of my soul.

This calm mask is lecherous as the calm sea is treacherous, waveless over a raging undercurrent, ready to suck the strongest swimmers and pin them to its volcanic floor. My soul thrashes and wrenches away as I turn to foam, into foam. I’m a stick of driftwood calling myself a captain when the tides rule my every twist; I’m so sick. My nightmares fill the sky like clouds, and the sky bends close with a thunderous mocking and stabbing spines of light that refuse to be the death of me. Prison bars once escaped twine around my wrists, dragging me into the understorm.

I sink like the stone I wish I could be, but I’m soft, soft as the sliming sea vines that bind me, drowned and undying, ever drowning and never dying, to the abyss. The pressing leviathan looms, a mile his reach, a whale his dinner, a whirlpool his pillow, and the undead his plaything. A driftwood captain cannot scream, but even crushed, I see a pearl—an ocean pearl, the palest pearl, white as the fearful page with the opal sheen of forgotten dreams, a pearl of such priceless perfection and size, and the world may be the leviathan’s oyster, but I sold ship and self and salvation to gain a pearl that outweighs its fee in blood.”

I take the offered knives in the silence, and fling them with rapid passion and varying success into the stump.

Damn. That bad?” Sam asks quietly as I collect them again.

It’s just senseless angst-verse,” I say grimly, sitting down and stabbing her lawn.

“Not feeling at all helpless and lost, of course?”

No, no,” I say in a lonely tone never meant to fool anyone.

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