This entry will, I hope, be more comment than posting. First, just to set the mood, here’s an excerpt from my story “Uther.” This “Fred” character isn’t me: he just happens to have the same name.
Fred checked his jeans pocket for his key, then quietly exited by the back door and locked it. He threaded among the leaning rakes, mower belts, oily rags, and generator parts. The sagging porch groaned under his added weight. Someday soon, all this junk was going to crash into the crawlspace below.
The leaves were mostly down now. Fred’s high-topped sneakers sank ankle-deep in their crackly carpet. The moon rode high and round through the limbs, but the night wasn’t as clear as he’d thought. Piles of cloud slithered like dirty snow in a stream, and a clammy breeze rustled the cornstalks his father had lashed to the porch posts for Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving. There was no art to the decoration: just a pickup load of dead stalks bound thickly to every support, like phase one of building a pyre.
[In this story, Fred is an inventor. He remembers a night from the previous August, and goosebumps break out on his arms.]
Fred was playing then with a gadget he’d impishly called “night vision goggles” — not because they helped you see at night, but because their prisms warped ambient light, helping you see night visions. The effects were wild and disturbing: objects had colored auras, tree branches seemed to reach toward you, and shadowy figures hovered everywhere, the mirages and residues of things beyond the lenses’ peripheries.
The goggles were downright creepy. It hadn’t been too smart to wear them into the hilltop cemetery. As Fred had scanned the tombstones, watching the marble angels breathe, their robes seem to flutter — watching the ground ripple, as if the dead were trying to claw their way up — he’d glimpsed two figures.
[Later in the story, Fred visits one of his favorite haunts, where he often gathers parts for his inventions: the town junkyard.]
Still, the illumination of the distant town brought comfort: the winking red light on the radio spire, the water tower like a Wellsian Martian war machine, the glowing windows of the five-story St. Francis Hospital. Human habitation, he mused. A little circle of warmth around the campfire, and beyond our cave, the bottomless night.
He followed the road toward the grain elevator, but turned off on the gravel lane leading toward Huggins’ Salvage. This track, which angled through an apple orchard on the town’s outskirts, was deeply rutted from the passage of heavy trucks, the caravans of exotic plunder — dead freezers, discarded furnaces, the obsolete and unwanted.
A chain-link fence and gate barred the main approach, but they were only a facade. The original Huggins had been dead for a decade, and his sons had done away with the fences on the sides and back of the salvage yard. Trucks could drive freely among the corrugated buildings now, and off to where the compound dissolved into mounds and canyons of trash brought with no expectation of payment.
The apple harvest had just ended, the ground still littered with the bird-pecked, the worm-eaten, the withered rejects. Fred trudged beneath the low, tangled limbs that drooped over the fence on his left, branches groping down toward the wrecked cars. The pulpy, overripe smell was strong here, the shadows deep; even leafless, the trees formed an interwoven roof.
At the snap of a twig, he spun.
[And later. . . .]
His heart leaped. Someone stood watching him, utterly motionless, a bald head and shoulders outlined between two cars.
Fred backed up, ready to run, hunching for a clearer view. The person made no move and seemed not even to breathe, as calm as. . . .
A mannequin. Fred slumped against a burned-out Chevy, knees going weak in his relief. He’d seen the dummy before, a thing with no arms, no face, and only a stick for a lower body. He was just too jumpy tonight.
Nor did it help that he was within sight of a feature he called the Gallows. It loomed to his right, a locust tree that had pushed up through a stack of chemical drums, a plastic-sheathed clothesline wire ingrown into one outstretched limb, swinging in the wind. He always looked to see if anyone had looped the wire into a noose.
Okay, let’s leave Fred there, because the situation is about to get very grim indeed.
And let’s go to the wonderful first lines that the readers of this blog have suggested so far! These come from comments to the posting two back from this one, called “Boo.” Here they are:
1.) The tree was weird.
2.) There shouldn’t have been a crack in the sidewalk. It hadn’t been there yesterday. The odd squishing sounds I had heard during the night came back to me as I leaned in for a closer look.
3.) It was a night when the white moon sucked all color from the world; a haunting melody was riding the breeze, but nobody in the car seemed to hear it but me.
[Those first three were submitted by SwordLily.]
4.) At the first exhibit at the grade school haunted house, Billy knew his hand was dunked into a plate of cold spaghetti, and not “body parts,” as his cousin claimed, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it seemed as though some of the strands were warmer than others, and had tightened slightly around his fingers.
[That was from Marquee Movies.]
5.) It was a dark and stormy night.
[From Jedibabe and Daylily.]
6.) No one walked past this particular house even in daylight but I knew someone lived there, though I’d never seen them.
7.) It wasn’t dark yet; the sky was gray and looked like static as the wind screamed past us, rattling the old boards at the end of the street.
[Those two are from Shieldmaiden.]
8.) I watched, frozen in silence, as a deformed black shadow inched its way up the street . . . but where, pray tell, was its body?
9.) Two large red eyes, missing their pupils, stared at the boy, a mouth with multitudes of reddish teeth slowly materializing in the darkness.
10.) The moon twisted and moved, forming impossible shapes in the cold night; something black, with small beady eyes, sat atop it.
11.) She screamed as something rose out of the black water, making as if to grab her with its white bony hands.
[These latest four are from Kyran.]
Thank you to all contributors so far! (You can still contribute entries; I’d suggest leaving them as comments on this post, so we can find them easily.)
The next step: anyone who wants to can choose one of these eleven beginnings and use it to start a paragraph (or a few paragraphs). Write the paragraph(s) as a comment on this entry. You don’t have to tell the entire story of what’s going on or bring it to any kind of conclusion: just add to the scene, perhaps deepen the mystery, increase the weirdness — and above all, have fun! Let’s not any of us feel that we “can’t write” well enough to try this — remember, the bumblebee “can’t fly,” either!
It’s okay to reuse certain ones if someone takes the one you wanted. That’s the great thing about electronic text: there’s enough of it to go around. But ideally, let’s try to use them all before we’re done!
Talk to you soon!