Excerpt from ‘Red Planet’ WIP

Red Planet Draft Cover
Red Planet Draft Cover

Disclaimer: this is a novel excerpt from the National Novel Writing Month challenge that happens every November. The goal is to get to 50,000 words in 30 days so that you have a working manuscript. That being said, the goal is to wait for editing until later so please keep in mind that this is a very rough first draft. Enjoy, and thanks so much for giving this a read. – Corissa


Chapter I

When They Came To Kill And Kidnap

Jak tried to remember how to hold his breath the way that Meg had taught him. Life, his life, depended on it as it never had before that moment. He hid, crouched in a fetal position with his knees tucked to his chin. He fit perfectly inside the locker, with just enough room to be uncomfortable after about ten minutes. He had been there for an hour. The tiny metal cage Meg had insisted he climb inside felt cramped, and Jak’s legs were beginning to fall asleep. Everything inside the locker was dark except for the thin lines of yellow light that slipped through three tiny slices in the locker door, covered by gently sloping metal edges on the outside of the door. Jak felt sick, nausea came toward him like a wave. He pushed it away before it broke over him, and held his breath tightly. Fear began to lump in his throat, and he wanted to swallow, but he didn’t. Jak could not let himself breathe just yet. The SiSo were still here.

Jak chased away thoughts of sickness and vomit as he pinched his nose shut tightly with two fingers, and covered his mouth with his palm. He tried to think of something nice, something that didn’t terrify him. A shadow passed by, covering the locker’s three little slivers of hopeful light. The inside of the locker went dark. The lump in Jak’s throat grew, yet he did not breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping the Silver Soldiers would not hear. Jak, on the other hand, could hear everything with a heightened sense of awareness; the volume of minuscule occurrences had grown in the tense silence. There were two of the soldiers just outside the locker. He had heard the click-click, click-click of their mechanical heel-toe approach, the dreaded claw walk of a pair of the large robotic soldiers. The last time Jak heard that tedious click-click approach was the last time he had seen his parents. Jak felt nauseous bile rise to the top of his stomach, but held it back again with the sheer power of survival and fear twisted together inside of the child hidden in the locker. There was a gentle whirring sound, like a camera moving, some mechanical part was moving only a few feet from Jak. In the far, far distance echoes of violent chaos thundered against the walls of the transport vessel. Somewhere on another part of the ship, the colonists were fighting back. There was no one here but Jak and the soldiers.

The near silence deafened the hallway when the SiSo stopped walking to sniff out their prey. Jak knew this total silence was a common hunting trick of the SiSo. Meg had taught him many of the tactics the Silver Soldiers used to employ mechanical search and destroy missions for their masters. One of these tactics was to let the prey show itself before the SiSo pounced. They rooted out their targets with patience, and precision. The SiSo were not human, and did not care about humans. Their strength was not to be challenged by a twelve year old child, nor by an adult, as Jak well knew after what had happened earlier that day.

Meg. The rock in Jak’s throat became a few spare tears that tried to escape his eyes despite their tight closure. The child shoved away the memories and traumatic mental images of her recent demise as they approached him in the dark locker. Jak held his eyes shut so tightly that his lashes burned and the tears stung. Another sound cut through the quiet. Jak knew the high-pitched mechanical whine. The SiSo’s cameras were sweeping the area for thermal signals. A little longer, Jak told himself, but he heard Meg’s voice in his head and felt sick again. Don’t even swallow, he thought. Pretend you’re under water. They’re sweeping beyond your locker, the child told himself, you’re lucky, you’re lucky, you’re lucky. Jak didn’t feel lucky, but thinking about it helped with the overwhelming feelings of fear a tiny bit.

It felt like years of darkness before the whirring stopped. Jak had no idea how long he held his breath. At some point Jak guessed to himself that he had blacked out, for he saw nothing, smelled nothing, breathed nothing even when he felt like hurling right then and there. Even his feet, which had been asleep a moment ago, did not even feel attached to his body any longer. After an eternity of silent suffocation, a sweep of air and a scent of sterile polish pushed through the locker door openings and hit Jak. He felt the gentle movement, and heard the click-click, click-click recede down the hallway. The light sweep of air encouraged Jak to sigh, letting out a huge breath and sucking air back in as quietly as he could.

Let’s play a game, Jaky. Meg used to say. Let’s see who can hold their breath longer. Meg always won, she’d been practicing since she was young. We all have to hide sometimes, Jak. And I won’t always be there to protect you.

Why not? Jak wanted to ask, and the nausea receded and the rock in his throat grew to full blockage size again. The child did not let the tears come, but held them back as he had held back death or worse just now. Jak realized he was shaking, then, his whole person shuddering in utter terror. He hoped the SiSo would never come back. He hoped, somehow, that Meg had lived.

* * * *

Amanda wore brown garden gloves over her hands, and a dress that fell to her ankles and gently hugged her arms in dark turquoise lace. The color of the dress was singular, a rich turquoise hue that drew light to itself and harkened back to Earth’s deep oceans. Her waist was encircled by a brown rope belt that was tied, quite securely, through a circular iron ring. The iron, when polished, glistened and reflected off of any light source. Her black hair was long, held away from her face with a plain green headband.

The woman was potting a small scrub of basil at the gardening table in the solarium when she felt the ship lurch in a very wrong way. She heard the great crunch of metal upon metal, scratching and clawing and coming together suddenly, in a way that spaceships are not meant to do. Licorice the white cat nearly slipped off the garden table, taken aback by the sudden movement of the entire ship. The pot slid off that same table and broke open on the dirt floor of the solarium, its ceramic shards scattering and skidding every which way. Licorice clawed for purchase on the wood. Amanda caught her balance first by stumbling back and forth, basil scrub in hand, and then looked up as if it would give her a clue as to what had happened. Instead it reassured her that the garden was safe, for when she looked up she saw the familiar green branches of the oak tree in the center of the solarium.

‘What was that?’ She said aloud, again as if someone would answer her. Licorice yowled, the sound of a creature inconvenienced and in need of attention. ‘Hush.’ Amanda said, and her voice dropped to a low volume barely audible to most creatures. The white cat looked up, his crystal blue eyes seeking his owner’s gaze. He stood on two feet and gently raised his front paws to stretch upward and find a clawhold in Amanda’s skirts. Licorice leaned into his stretch, eyes expectantly staring at the woman above.

There was another sound of metal thunder, the kind of sound that made Amanda’s heart constrict and her stomach tighten. She felt tiny claws gripping her dress and looked down. ‘Shush, Licky.’ With her right hand, she gently removed Licorice’s claws from her oceanic skirts, and leaned down toward the fluffy white cat. Her long hair, blacker than shadow, fell down her back to the floor in a rippling waterfall of darkness. With her left hand, Amanda still held the basil scrub in its dirt clump, cradling it so as to keep it alive until she could find a place to put it. The cat sat by her knees, and licked his paws, cleaning each toe carefully with the delicate patience of a very busy cat. Amanda stayed there, crouched in the garden, until she heard the sound again; metal tore at metal as the transport ship fought back against whatever had rammed into it minutes before. Then, the sound of the ship’s alarms.

HULL BREACH flashed on the few digital screens that peppered the walls of the large garden room. Soon enough, the ship’s automated voice followed the sound of the high pitched alarms.

‘Proceed to evacuation routes to exit the ship. Follow the blue arrows to safety,’ said the voice, several times in a row. Then the screens all glowed with blue arrows. All of the ones that Amanda could see pointed towards the door, directing her to leave the room. A tiny voice inside her told her that nothing could be more dangerous than listening to the automated system right now. A final siren wail followed the repetitive message, and then the comm system went quiet. The blue arrows continued their flashing directions after the sound had died out and it was nearly silent.

That sound, the wail of the emergency sirens playing through every announcement speaker on the ship, solidified Amanda’s resolve to hide herself and her cat wherever she could find that seemed reasonable. Something felt very wrong about this. The woman could not identify why she felt the way that she did, but something held her back from leaving the garden. There was no one else in the solarium at the moment, and so she felt relatively safe. Whatever was happening, she could wait it out. She could save herself and Licorice from whatever had just happened to the ship. Something told her she should not try to leave the garden.

Amanda stood, and went to the nearest open plot near a thyme bush, and dug a small hole with her hand. She did this quietly, swiftly, listening at every stage for someone in the hallway outside the solarium. The woman placed the fragile plant inside the hole and packed in the dark earth around it. Her hair fell over her shoulder and got in the way; she brushed it aside. She carefully finished planting the basil plant.

‘Grow, little one. Even if something happens to me, I bid you grow.’ Amanda whispered towards the basil scrub, breathing on it gently but purposefully. Licorice rubbed himself against her leg as she crouched. Amanda removed her gloves, took one more look at the basil, and petted Licorice. Then she stood, grabbed her fluffy white cat, and placed the gloves in an empty ceramic pot that still stood near the wooden planting table. She turned off the lights in the solarium not meant for the plants, and withdrew into the darkest corner of the garden, Licorice purring and happy in her arms.

Beyond the bushes they huddled behind together, beyond the doors of the solarium and their wing of the transport ship, the woman and the cat heard distant sounds of screaming, and violence.

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Secluded Secrets at Seawall Beach

Maine is an ideal place to live if you enjoy going outdoors, especially in a mild summer climate that rarely rises above 95 degrees. The northernmost state in New England boasts chilly sea breezes and sunny mountaintops covered in bright, thriving foliage and fauna. Where I live in Portland is particularly nice, because it allows access to mountains like Douglas Mountain or beaches like Seawall Beach within an hour of driving. Yet I am still close to the city, and can go downtown to the library for a book, or to Arcadia for a drink and a game of Galaga.

My trusty Doc Martens on a beach
My trusty Doc Martens on a beach

One of my favorite things to do is to find a place I’ve never been, and visit it. It’s easy in Maine because there are dozens of beaches close by. Even for those that are further away, I’m willing to drive up to 2.5 hours to go somewhere if it’s worth it. And when I can, I like to bring Batou the dog with me.

This last weekend I chose a beach called Seawall Beach, one that I had heard about on the radio. I don’t often heed advertisements, but when it’s for a beach in Maine that’s secluded and has a tiny parking lot, it’s hard not to pay attention. So I messaged my friend Alicia, who had planned on going on a hike with me this weekend, to find out if she wanted to go too. She said yes.

Seawall Beach at Morse Mountain Preserve.
Seawall Beach at Morse Mountain Preserve.

We went early on Saturday morning, armed with iced coffee, beach towels, and bathing suits donned under protective hiking wear. The warnings about the parking lot filling up early were no joke; by the time we arrived at 9:30 AM, more than 75% of the parking lot was already full. Alicia and I packed our backpacks up, sipped the last of the iced coffee, and started the two-mile trek through the woods.

The walk through the Bates-Morse Mountain Preserve was peaceful and beautiful. The weather was perfect; it was cool, in the upper 70s. The lush green trees along the dusty gravel road hung down, and gave us shade from the bright morning sun. It’s a 500 ft+ elevation climb, as the dirt and gravel road winds through low marshes and rumbles over a wooden bridge, to climb a short hill that leads over another rise. Neither climb was hard. It was easy enough for families we saw along the way, with their beach chairs and gear, the children tailing behind with their beach towels.

South to the other side of Seawall
South to the other side of Seawall

After some time we made it through the walk in the woods. We went up and down rolling hills, took a left turn here and a right turn there, until we came to the end of the woodsy path. The two of us emerged from the trees as the foliage faded away into brush, and the brush faded away into sand. Our conversation had been good, and the walk had handed both of us some challenges, including mosquitoes.

When we stepped out onto the sand and took our shoes off, we looked left and right. Nothing to see but broad beaches in either direction. There were barely any people. Tiny, near uninhabitable islands anchored in the mainland a half a mile from the edge of the beach, where it met deeper sea. We stood in awe at the wide expanse of sand that reached out to touch the Atlantic’s glittering blue waves. It was beautiful, breathtaking, infinite. We decided to walk north, towards the tiny islands and shallow tide pools beyond the sandbars.

Sand bars create knee-deep warm pools of sea water to wander in.
Sand bars create knee-deep warm pools of sea water to wander in.

Seawall Beach is peaceful, perfect with its glittering silver sand that leads you to the ocean. Everywhere you look, minuscule silver glints make it hard to look directly at the sand. The feeling of an extravagant, haunting magic we know nothing about hangs in the air. Gulls drifted on invisible breezes. We set down our backpacks beside a great rock that clearly belongs to the sea when the tides come in. It was early yet, and the tide was out just far enough for us to get to the sandbar, the border between deeper, icy seas and the warm shallow pools we wade in.

There was an abundance of shells at Seawall Beach, most of them in whole pieces, which felt unusual compared to other Maine beaches. There were shiny purple mussel shells, and wide brown and blue clam shells yet to be bleached by the sun. We saw the edges of the shells buried in the sand under the water. They were everywhere in the pools we wandered through; we even found a whole one. We gathered some shells to look at, but not to take home. There are rules about beaches in Maine; you do not take anything from the sea.

Alicia and I wandered around in these pools, laying on the sandbar and talking about our lives. We talked about how the world treats the people we love, and what love was. We considered our family relationships, and how we relate to other people and their understanding of the world. A helicopter flew over the tiny islands. We spotted a lighthouse on one of them, short and stubby, stubborn in its eternal watch for ships. Several small boats went by, and the morning wore on. The sun grew warmer. The sea began to creep into the mainland, covering our sandbar.

Looking back toward the mainland on Seawall Beach
Looking back toward the mainland on Seawall Beach

“Let’s go back before it becomes waist-deep,” we said to one another, and ventured through the tepid blue pools that stretched east to the sandy mainland. We were still talking, and it was only just 12 PM. We knew it would take us about an hour to get back to the parking lot, and about another hour to get back to Portland. Both of us had naps planned that afternoon, and I had to walk the dog. There’s no dogs at Seawall so we had to leave Batou at home for this hike. We headed away from Seawall Beach.

The way back through the woods was warmer than the way there had been. The afternoon had become more buggy also. The mosquitoes were in force despite our enthusiastic bug repellent use, and the horseflies soon joined in. We booked it back to the car, down the now less shaded gravel road. Through the marshes we marched, and up over the last hill before it gave way to the parking lot. Seawall, we decided, was a beach we must return to. Its sparkling silver sand and incredible expanse of wide, tepid tide pools would call to us again. We would bring willing friends and family who could make the hike here, any time they wanted to go.

If you’re looking for a peaceful, out of the way, gorgeous beach to spend the day, try Seawall Beach. Get there early, bring plenty of bug repellent and sunscreen. Bring food, and don’t expect to find a bathroom anywhere. But enjoy the beach for what it is: untouched, some purity remaining within this less traversed conservation area.

See the map below for directions (1 hour from Portland) :

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What is True Friendship?

I grew up as a homeschool kid in New Jersey, under the wings of two very conservative Evangelical Christians. For 18 years, I had a singular primary social context for how the world worked, and how I interacted with others. The idea of a “friend” or “best friend” was not often discussed, because we were all “brothers” and “sisters” based on our relationship with God and Jesus. We were all part of a flock that supposedly believed in a few basic tenets about relational love for others. These “rules” about how to treat a sister or brother-in-Christ were often broken, in my own household growing up, and at church.

This left me confused about relationships in general. I found it hard to relate to people in college, as I strove to mimic my parents’ behaviors out of habit, and ignorance. I began to deceive my friends as my parents deceived people; I downplayed my emotions until they either became a drama volcano or a breakup. Sometimes it was both. Everyone around me in college had to deal with this, and as a result many of them don’t speak to me. I would be sad to hear what they had to say about my behavior almost 10 years ago now, but I would accept it. I was not a good friend. I did not know how to be a friend.

This decade-old quest to understand how to interact with others and how to relate to them, plagues me. It dogs the steps of every friendship I have. So lately there’s this big question on my mind.

What is a True Friendship?

From Gilgamesh the King, by Ludmila Zeman

First, I have many mythical or literary comparisons to answer this question. There are countless examples of True Friendship* in fiction. The story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu is a great example of true friends. Enkidu dies for his best friend and adventure companion, so that Gilgamesh can seek eternal life. Another favorite example of True Friendship are the March sisters in Little Women. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are some of the sweetest and most honest young women I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. They sacrifice themselves for one another daily out of real, gritty love, in a time of darkness and death.

Of course, I could go on for quite some time about great literary and mythological True Friendships. Eustace and Jill, from The Silver Chair. Sam and Frodo, or Legolas and Gimli, or Gandalf and everyone, from The Lord of the Rings. Hermione, Ron, Neville, Luna, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, the Weasley family, and countless others from the Harry Potter series. These are people who fight and die for each other. They are honest with one another, and when they are not honest they regret it. There are no hidden agendas, no unspoken feelings. These people, fictional though they may be, have given me something to aspire to. They have shown me what True Friendship really is.

Friends

Nora and I hanging out in Maine

Some of my friends have shown me what a True Friendship is. A few people have lasted decades with me, despite all of the struggle, change, grief, and joy we have both gone through. I have best friends, newly made in the last seven years, somehow glad to put up with me and I with them. A True Friendship gives me a place to stand that makes me feel true to myself. These folks make me a better person, and I hope I improve their lives, too. The freedom to be ourselves tugs at our souls, and emerges within that open bond between two people.

This also highlights the consideration of relational connections that are not True Friendships. These humans are still friendly, and I will still support them. Perhaps we are even acquaintances. I enjoy their company, and enjoy hearing their stories or following their interesting lives. When I have the emotional capacity, I try to be sincere, and kind. I try to be honest. Sometimes, they need that kind of love from me, the same way I need it from others. Other times, my friendly advances are met with a closed door. That is OK. Everyone cannot be True Friends with everyone else. That is something special.

I wonder, what is an individual’s responsibility in a friendship? I think I have more responsibility towards a True Friendship than a basic, relational connection with someone. What do you think about friendship, and friends? What has your experience been with your fellow humans?


Glossary

True Friendship – A term used to describe an intimate mutual, relational respect and candor between two creatures.

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