Pale Winter Sun Redeux (excerpt)

As of this month, I’ve been trying to get Pale Winter Sun published for a year.  A year goes fast and slow at the same time and 2015 made a good example of that.  I realize that lady luck slapped me up side the head with Night Shall Overtake; it was picked up by the first publisher I sent it to.  Much love to Nick and BBS for that.  I suppose this is the karmatic balance of it; needing to work harder to get PWS published after such an easy time with NSO.  That being said, after this round of publishers if it still doesn’t find a home, I will seriously consider self-publishing.  I’ve been kicking the idea around for side projects (that I still haven’t gotten off the ground yet, surprise surprise) and maybe it will be a good option for PWS.  The beauty of all this, despite the nice collection of rejection notices, is that I do have options and it’s only a matter of my choices the dictate the direction I go.  So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I submit for your approval, the first chapter of Pale Winter Sun.  Enjoy!

I.

            On Tuesday Hannah Robinson was caught in a heavy make-out session with her best friend Lindsey Smith. Hannah’s brother, Mitchell, took credit with the discovery by walking into her room without knocking. His sibling disregard for her personal space yet again disrupted her plans. On Wednesday she was not allowed to leave her house. On Thursday, her best friend Lindsey had been taken out of school. On Saturday night Mark Jensen sat in an abandoned house, lit by a full September moon shining through a naked window. Across from him floated a pinprick of orange light in the dark.

            “I guess Lindsey is on suicide watch,” Mark said. “They won’t let her get near Hannah. She may be a cutter, but I doubt this is enough to kill herself over.”

            “Mitchell told me that Hannah finally admitted to her parents that she is a lesbian.” A voice said behind the lit cigarette. Trevor Buell leaned forward into the light. His face a mass of smoke and shadows.   “When she told them that Lindsey was her girlfriend they flipped out. Bishop Johns has spent the entire week going between Lindsey’s house and Hannah’s house.”

            “Why did they have to get caught?” Mark anguished. “Church tomorrow is going to suck.  It’s going to be all about ‘coming together’ and ‘call upon each other to help them in their time of need’.”

            “I’m sure coming together is something those two don’t need help with.” Trevor said then offered his cigarette.  Mark waved it away.

            “My mom will give me crap for smelling like smoke as it is, I don’t need it on my breath.”  He put his head back, the sound of it hitting the wall echoed in the empty house.  “You know what this means?”

            “Witch hunt.” Trevor answered.  “It’ll be like when they found Jeordie Ward’s older sister smoking weed behind the seminary.   They’ll shake us all down, ask us a million questions, but this time check our phones for pictures of dicks instead of our pockets for drugs.”  Mark heard the chains of Trevor’s biker jacket jingle.  No one was more amused at Trevor’s little jokes than Trevor.

            “Speaking of Jeordie,” Trevor continued, “you two better watch out.  They’ll be checking your breath for penis.”

            “We haven’t gone that far,” Mark said, glad the night hid the reddening of his cheeks.  “Besides, it’s not like we’re dating; we’re just…hanging out.” He stood up; he didn’t like talking to Trevor about his non-relationship with Jeordie. He always had something mean to say about it.  “Let’s go.  If my mom catches us in one of her empty houses again, she’ll kill me.  And don’t put that out in here.” Trevor grunted and followed him out. Mark often took advantage of his mother’s job in real estate, but rarely did anything more than sit and watch Trevor smoke.

As soon as they stepped outside he flicked the butt into the overgrown back yard. An unseasonable cold front settled on southern Idaho and northern Utah. The crisp fall leaves were crisper than usual as they crunched underneath the teenage boys’ feet. Their jackets were open though, despite the chill that nipped at their nose and face. The two fifteen year olds walked casually with one another, though they were an exercise in differences. Both of them had dark hair that danced in the breeze but the similarities ended there. The taller of the two wore a black and white Adidas track suit with an army-style jacket over it. His deep eyes occasionally darting around, as if searching for something to search for. The other boy wore a scuffed and worn leather biker jacket. His shaggy hair hung down hiding his piercingly blue eyes but not the permanent grin that always seem to inhabit the corners of his mouth.

            “I don’t know what you see in him.  He’s about as smart as a box of rocks and not that cute.” Trevor complained.

            “He’s nice.  And he’s good looking; in a…I don’t know…”

            “We’re stuck in Idaho sort of way.” Trevor finished for him.  Mark gave him a shove as they emerged onto the street.  As the teenagers walked towards their respective homes, the air chilled and they hugged their jackets around them tighter, unprepared for the coming winter.

             When Mark entered the warmth of his house he was immediately greeted by his father sitting in front of the news and his mother finishing up dinner. The house was a cozy three bedroom that his parents bought right after his older brother Isaac was born. Four years later Mark came along and they talked about getting something bigger for their growing family. They continued to talk about it until it became apparent that their family might not be growing anymore. For his parent’s deep Mormon beliefs, this caused years of prayers and consternation. Up until six months ago, that is, when his mom came home from the doctor’s office, completely beside herself with happiness. She was finally pregnant again. Since his brother Isaac left for college, the house felt empty. Tonight it felt stifling.

            “You just missed Isaac’s call.  He wanted to talk to you.” His mother wiped a crumb off of the counter and leaned against it, her pregnant belly weighing on her.

            “I’ll talk to him next time.” He said quietly and tried to slip past her.  Her sense of smell had become stronger in the last couple months and he wanted to get Trevor’s smoke smell off before she picked up on it.

            “You haven’t talked to him once since he left to Brigham Young University.  I know he has called your cell phone.” Mark just shrugged his shoulders in reply and continued inching down the hallway to his room.  Even with Isaac off to school, he felt under his shadow. “Where were you, by the way?”

            “Just out with Trevor,” he said then regretted it, knowing where the conversation heading.

            “I’m not sure I want you hanging out with him so much.  Sandy, his mother, says he comes home smelling like smoke and…well…with what happen to Lindsey…” she struggled for the words as he took another step backwards.

            “Sometimes when he talks, he sounds a little light in the loafers,” his father finished for her.

            “LaVell!” she chided him

            “It’s the truth.  I’m not saying he is, but I haven’t seen him with any girls either,” he continued, not even looking away from the television.  Mark could see the top of his head, thinning hair desperately doing its best to hang on.    

            “I don’t have a girlfriend, does that make me ‘light in the loafers’?  Would you rather I knock some girl up now, at fifteen?” Anger was rising in Mark and he was doing a poor job at containing it.  He had been unduly tense lately. Since Lindsey and Hannah had been caught, he felt smothered in his own skin. He hated having to hide who he was to his own family, but he couldn’t see any scenario where coming out could possibly go well for him.

            “Of course not,” she said quickly.  “I just worry, that’s all.  There are a lot of negative influences out there.  This life is full of trials and sometimes it can be hard to make the right decisions.”  Mark grit his teeth, sensing another one of his mother’s dining table sermons.

            “Mark clean up and then set the table for dinner,” LaVell said standing from his chair and shutting off the television.  Grateful for the respite, Mark quickly did as he was told.

            After dinner, Mark lounged in his room, reading. His room was a typical teenager’s room; some clothes that hadn’t made it to the hamper yet, books and video game covers scattered about, and posters on the wall.   He had adorned the walls with a number of pictures of gorgeous super novae and space shuttles. His prized possession was a vintage Star Trek poster from the original motion picture. He turned the page on the book he was reading: Dahlgren by Samuel Delany.

It wasn’t a difficult book to read, but it was slow going. The story of a post-apocalyptic city in a non-post-apocalyptic world wasn’t the problem. An immense world of freedom resided in the pages, a freedom he yearned for, with little accountability for its main character. But there was also a sense of madness, of danger that lurked in the chaos that Mark wasn’t so sure about. He wanted freedom, he wanted a little chaos but he was afraid of the danger, and of the price. Grason, Idaho seemed too small for him, but it wasn’t the town, it was the people. Some days it felt like the entire population of fifty thousand suffocated him as he hid. He wasn’t just hiding behind a bedroom door, or behind a book; he was hiding inside his own skin. Every day and in front of almost everybody he pretended not to be gay and pretended that he wasn’t going against the church’s teachings. His family wouldn’t understand, they were Latter Day Saint and Idaho bred. Grason wasn’t some tiny hick town, but it wasn’t far off and bigger ideas sometimes took awhile to settle in.

            Few people knew his secret. Trevor and Jeordie obviously knew, as well as a couple of his classmates. None of his family knew, but he often wondered if his brother Isaac suspected. He never said anything outright, but Mark always got the feeling he knew something. It didn’t matter much as far as Mark was concerned. Isaac held rank as the Golden Boy in Mark’s mind.   He was the football and basketball player, got fantastic grades, and everybody loved him. But he wasn’t here anymore, he had gone off to college. Despite it all, Mark carried a sense of abandonment since his brother left to college. This abandonment was slowly turning to resentment, but it wasn’t personal, it was feeding a bigger discontentment. It felt as if he was crawling around in his own skin, suffocating and struggling while he died incrementally every day.

            Attempting to read to escape this scatter-shot mix of uncertainty didn’t help as much as he hoped. The main character of the story lived between lapses of time and in those lapses he found himself between beds of both a man and a woman. Something deep within Mark shifted and tried to come to the surface. With more practice, it became easier to swallow it down, but it was getting harder each time. The ease in which the transitions between loving man and woman occurred left him uncomfortable as he read on. If gay is a one-way street, he wondered, why am I always wanting to look both ways?

Remember kids: stay school, don’t drink and drive, and Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care.

 

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