Nano Excerpt

This is the opening scene from my Nanowrimo 2013 attempt. This is before any editing so may change drastically over the development of the novel. The concept is related to my entry last year, titled Monkeys in Space, but the story is completely different.

Barbara walked into the darkened room as quiet as she could, the only light available was the warm glow of the sixteen candles on the cake she was carrying. She tiptoed into the room as four of the five children — teenagers, really — sitting in a semi-circle watched her. The candlelight flickered as she moved, casting odd shadows over the faces of the children — lengthened and strengthened their features. To the casual observer it would appear is if they were wearing masks, or were deformed in some fashion — their thick brows and broad faces didn’t seem quite human in the flickering, orange light.

Except for Alice, sitting in the centre of the line of children with her delicate hands covering her eyes. Compared to the coarse and stocky features of the other children she was too thin, too delicate. Just a little too fragile.

“Surprise!” yelled Barbara, as she reached the centre of the semi-circle.

Alice opened her eyes and dropped her hands down to her cheeks, a large grin forming on her mouth. Even in the dim, orange glow of the candles her eyes still shone the brightest of blues.

“Blow the candles out,” said David.

“We helped make the cake,” said Carah.

“Make a wish,” said Eric.

Alice took a deep breath, her mouth opening wide in a pantomime of the task ahead of her, and blew the candles out in one swift puff. All the children cheered and clapped as the room descended into darkness.

“Get the lights, please, Ben,” said Barbara as she placed the cake on an empty stool.

Ben got up from his stool and walked over to the wall. He found it with ease, despite the all encompassing darkness. He knew every inch of the room with his eyes closed — most of the building, in fact — and had no problems finding his way through the chairs, desks, bean bags and other detritus of the room. He flicked the light switch with one thick-nailed finger, flooding the room with a harsh white light.

“Happy birthday, darling,” said Barbara as she picked up the long knife and started to cut the cake into slices.

The children watched the cake cutting with glee, their broad mouths smiling, eager; thick brows creased; coarse, dark hair falling over their faces. Except for Alice. Her hair was fine, straight and the whitest of blondes; her smile the most delicate of things. Even though they were dressed the same, in white plain t-shirts and blue jeans, even though Doctor Ward treated them the same, insisted they were siblings, Alice knew she was different.

Later that evening, after the children had finished eating and were left to their own devices, Alice walked through the corridors of the institution — her home — to Doctor Ward’s office. The long corridors, all painted a stark white, with light grey floor tiles and lit with harsh, electronic light echoed at her step but were otherwise silent. When she reached Barbara’s office she took paused to take a deep breath. She read the inscription on the door “Doctor Barbara Ward, Chief of Staff” before knocking quickly, twice. The sound of the rap of her knuckles surprised her, it was far louder than she had expected in the silence of the corridor.

“Come in,” said Barbara, her voice muffled by the door.

Alice pushed the door open, walked into the small office and sat down opposite the Doctor. Unlike the corridor Barbara’s office was positively homely in comparison. It was carpeted in dark blue with an old, worn sofa, under the window. The dim glow of a street light outside the window shone on the sofa, showing a pillow and blanket carelessly discarded there.

Barbara sat behind an oak desk, an anglepoise lamp casting a bright glow around her. After a moment should put down the piece of paper she was reading, picked up a pen and signed the bottom. Once her work was complete she looked at Alice.

“What I can help you with, dear?” she asked, looking over the frames of her glasses, which had slipped down to the end of her nose.

Alice sat quietly, staring at her hands, which rested in her lap, tightly clasped together.

“What’s wrong, dear?” asked Barbara, “You should be happy today, it’s your birthday. Didn’t you enjoy the party.”

“Ben and Carah and the others. I’m not like them, am I?”

Barbara took her glasses off and placed them on the desk. She brushed her mousey brown hair — flecked with grey at the temples — behind her eyes and sighed.

“No, you’re not,” she said, her voice almost a whisper.

“Why am I different?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I’m not like you. And I’m not like the others. And the others aren’t like you either. What are they? What am I?”

Barbara frowned and began drumming her fingers on her desk, a subconscious habit she’d developed ever since she’d quit smoking twenty years ago. The quick, repetitive thump of her fingertips on wood calmed her like nothing else could. Alice looked up and stared directly into her eyes. Barbara looked away quickly. She’d never been comfortable meeting that oh so blue gaze.

“You are… an experiment.”

The shockingly bad choice of words struck her as Alice gasped. Barbara stood up and hurried around her desk and knelt on the floor beside Alice. She wrapped her arms around Alice’s slender shoulders and pulled her close.

“I’m sorry,” she continued, “I didn’t mean it to sound like that. I knew you would ask for the truth some day but I just…”

Barbara sobbed and pulled her closer, held her tight. Alice could feel warm tears drip off Barbara’s cheek and land on hers, to run down her face.

“You and the others are a scientific break through but you’re my children and I love you all dearly. I hope you understand that.”

Barbara stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes. She placed her hand on Alice’s head and stroked her hair before walking over to a filing cabinet in the corner of the room.

Alice watched her, feeling numb. Cold. She felt Barbara’s tears, still hot, on her cheek and quickly wiped them away. Barbara returned with a manilla folder, thick and stuffed with paper. She knelt down beside Alice again, her knees creaking as she came to rest on the carpet.

“These are my notes from before you were born. All of my early research from when I was working with the government before I joined Indicion.”

She handed the folder over to Alice who clutched it to her chest as if it was something precious, or something private.

“Take it with you. Read it if you want, tell the others if you must, but I hope you don’t. Please, give me some time to explain.”

Alice stared at her, feeling something a little like pity in amongst the cold shock of the news she had received.

“I won’t tell the others,” she whispered, “Not yet.”

Doctor Ward stood up and returned to her desk.

“Thank you,” she said as she sat down.

She picked her glasses up off the desk and placed them on her nose. Her composure instantly restored, she picked up the paper she had been reading when Alice arrived.

“Are you looking forward to your trip to the museum tomorrow,” Barbara asked, as Alice got up to leave.

For an instant Barbara thought she looked like a dear in the headlights. She was frightened, still clutching the folder too her chest as if her life depended on its safety.

“Yes,” whispered Alice as she opened the door.

Alice pulled the door shut behind her and ran down the corridor as fast as she could. She didn’t stop until she got to her room — her new room, on her own, away from the dormitory she had shared with the others. She slammed the door behind her and collapsed to the floor, her back resting against the door. With the manilla folder still clutched to her chest, she began to sob.

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Stoo Goff

Stoo Goff is a writer, musician and programmer hailing from Norwich and now living in Glasgow. When not buried beneath a mountain of programming code or torturing guitars he can be found creating strange new lands and conjuring dreams from nothing. He regularly promises himself that he will finish the next novel and album.

He is heavily influenced by a number of writers and musicians, including: Tom Waits, Ursula Le Guin, Trent Reznor, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Gene Wolfe, Frank Miller and a host of Finnish Folk Metal.

Follow him on Twitter @stoogoff.