Here are the finalists for the May 2010 Strong Scene Contest. The theme was opening scenes. I know I always say I'll post the 3 finalists, yet somehow I can't resist adding more. There's such great talent out there who deserve recognition. So these are the 4 finalists. A big thank you to Robert Brown, literary agent with Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency. I'll be announcing the winner within the next couple of days. Congrats to all the participants.
1- Daryl Sedore:
Sarah Roberts wondered if today would be the day someone would die. Would she be able to save whoever it is she’s supposed to save? She looked at her watch again.
It was almost time for the premonition to come true.
This was the fifth premonition she had acted on. She’d had seven in the last six months. The first two were neglected because she wasn’t aware of what was happening to her. But now, she was reassured with the knowledge that if she followed her notebook details, everything had the best chance to work out.
She reached back and found a few stray hairs above the nape of her neck. She massaged them until they were firmly in the grip of her fingers. Then she tugged them out. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the dirty cement. The slight pain that oozed over her skin soothed her, calmed the nerves.
Vehicles crossing the bridge above came to her. She made a mental note that the next time she had to hover under a bridge waiting for whatever was supposed to happen she would bring a pillow to sit on. The ground she inhabited angled toward a small river at forty-five degrees. It was hard cement. The grass on either side looked more comfortable, but the message was specific. If there was anything Sarah knew, it was to follow the messages with absolute precision.
Thinking of the message, she recited it in her head; Sit directly in the middle, under the St. Elizabeth Bridge, at 10:18am. Bring hammer.
Bring hammer. She had no idea why, but she’d brought it. The hammer sat beside her on the cement. She lifted her wrist and checked the time.
She felt her senses go on alert. This is it, something’s about to happen. She lowered her right hand and picked up the hammer.
The anticipation of the unknown got her heart going. It pounded in her chest as if it wanted out. She looked down at her feet where a pile of cigarette butts were scattered. Her focus was on her breathing. Keep it regular.
Wait and see.
A dead fish smell wafted up from the river. A soft curling, whooshing sound came to her from the water. Any other time it would have been soothing.
Cars cruised by above her. Something louder came and went. Must be a truck of some kind, she thought.
A tire screeched overhead. A horn blared. The sound of metal hitting metal was surreal. It made her jump. Tires squealed again.
A vehicle came into view at an impossible angle. It fell towards the river, along with pieces of the guardrail. The cars’ roof took the impact in the water, crashing down hard on the passenger side.
2- Kate Mayfield:
One of the opening shots of my family’s 8-millimeter home movies was that of massive funerary flower arrangements. Flowers so plentiful and so perfectly arranged that they did not look real. The camera slowly panned a casket in which a young woman laid in perfect stillness. I’ll never forget what she looked like. Her coal black hair lay on a white satin pillow; her lips, painted a bright cherry red, contrasted brazenly against her gypsum-like skin. The thick black glasses she wore revealed the era of her death to be the 1950’s. The glasses looked out of place - why would she need them now? The first time I saw her projected onto our screen she looked so alive and vibrant that I asked, ”Is she really dead, or were you all just fooling around?”
I have tried to remember the first time I saw a dead body. There have been many firsts in my life, like the first time I touched a dead person. I was too short to reach into the casket, so my father picked me up and I leaned in for that first empty, cold touch. It was thrilling because it was an unthinkable act. But there was no first viewing that I recall, because from the time I first entered the world there were dead bodies.
When I was old enough to understand what they meant, people told me they felt decidedly creepy about funeral homes. I knew a woman who always ran to the other side of the street whenever she happened upon ours. She gave a little shudder when she saw me seated in the swing on the veranda. I faithfully nodded to her and remained silent; there was no need to defend my position, and anyway, sooner or later she too… well, I won’t hover. But I could understand how one would think that it might be a bit unnatural to spend day after day, year after year, entertaining the grieving and caring for their dead.
I suppose it could have been a gloomy existence if it were not for my father. Whenever I mentioned “undertaker” or “mortician” to people who’d never met him, I saw in their eyes what they thought. They pictured a dour man. Their undertaker was a Uriah Heap who wore black scratchy suits with dull white shirts that would soon turn yellow. Nowadays, people raise their brows when they think of the modern undertaker who burrows down in courses such as General Psychology and Dynamics of Grief, Mortuary Law, and Death and Human Development. These men are thought of as squeezers, nothing more than ruthless businessmen. My father would squirm at the idea of being compared to them. He never had to work too hard at being different, he just was.
I wondered why he chose to dress up like Beau Brummel every day and take care of dead people. I never asked, for as the years passed, I could imagine him doing nothing else.
3- Michael McShane:
GQ offered no rebuttal. Rather, he fell in behind me as I started up the cracked and buckled walkway toward my porch. I stopped abruptly and turned to him.
“Entrance is by invitation only,” I said. “Get behind the gate.”
“I can’t, dude,” GQ said. “My friend is inside your house. I was supposed to warn him when you were coming.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“You must be blind, dude. Didn’t you see that blond across the street? She was so hot she was smoking. I must have got distracted.”
“You’re a freaking idiot.”
“Whoa, dude, what’s with all the hostility?”
Having absorbed one too many “dudes,” I grabbed GQ by the collar of his two hundred-dollar shirt.
“This,” I said through clenched teeth, “is hostility—dude.”
I jerked my hands apart popping his shirt buttons all the way down to his waist.
“You’re assaulting me!” he cried as he stared wide-eyed at his chest laid bare by the ripping.
I gazed agog at his silky smooth torso.
“Do you shave your chest?” I asked in amazement. “You do,” I said. “You shave your damn chest. I bet you shave your balls, too. You do, don’t you? You shave your balls. Say it!” I screamed. “Say you shave your balls!”
“I do, I do!” QQ said, shaking. “Now please, let me go.”
“Say it out loud!” I shouted from an angry place I seldom visit. “Say the words! Say I shave my balls. Say it or I’ll beat you to a bloody stump, you little poser!”
“I shave my balls!” GQ screamed. His energy quickly faded, and he whimpered, “I do, I shave my balls. I shave my—”
“Did you hear that?” I shouted to the hottie blond across the street. “This pervert shaves his sack.”
Blondie lowered her head and paced briskly down the sidewalk.
“Let the kid go,” said a voice from a distance behind me. “He was only doing what I asked.”
With my hands still gripping GQ’s shirt, I spun him in a half-circle positioning him between me and whoever had been my house.
“Your buddy is standing behind you,” I said to GQ as I looked over his shoulder at the mountain of a man framed between the stone pillars of my tidy front porch, “and he’s aiming that gun you said he didn’t have. Go ahead,” I said to the giant standing on my porch, “Fire!”
GQ’s eyes rolled in his head like he was going to pass out.
“No! “Don’t shoot!” he cried into my face, addressing his buddy behind him. “I wasn’t doing anything. I was just . . . Please . . .”
I turned him around so he could face the giant in the baggy brown suit, who carried no gun at all.
“Get the hell off my porch!” I yelled at the giant.
“You’re mighty volatile,” replied the giant in a voice as soft as mine was loud. At the same time he floated down my porch steps with the agility of a tap dancer.
GQ screamed, “That’s what I told him, Moog! He’s flipped. He’s totally mental.”
I let go of GQ and he dashed away his shirt flapping like a cape.
“The dude has no filter, Moog!” GQ cried upon reaching the man at the base of my porch steps. “What did you get me into?”
“Yeah, Mooooooog,” I said. “What did you get this waste of skin in to? More importantly, what were you doing in my house?”
Moog said, “Settle down, Balls. Maybe you should have a drink. Let’s talk about this.”
There it was again, somebody I didn’t know calling me “Balls.”
“I don’t drink,” I said, knowing full well there were several bottles of Molson Ale chilling in my refrigerator approximately 30 feet behind Moog and slightly to his left.
“Maybe you should start,” GQ said his bare-chested heaving as he stood engulfed by Moog’s shadow. “You have some real issues, dude.”
I said, “Did it ever occur to you that you were aiding a break-in, maybe even a burglary? If you’re really a lawyer you had to know you were committing a felony.”
GQ looked blank-faced at Moog. “You mean you don’t know this guy?”
Moog shook his head.
GQ said, “I swear, Balls, he told me—”
“Don’t call me Balls!” I screamed. “I’ll snap your neck for fun, you little prick!”
4- Gabrielle Taylor:
Jordan Finegold cut through the dark alley, trying to lose whoever was trailing him. Even in early June, the heat hung in the Phoenix air long after midnight. His hair clung to the sheen of sweat covering his neck. Out of breath, he stopped, pressing his back against a concrete wall. Only his eyes moved from side to side, searching for any movement in the shadows. Nothing stirred except a piece of trash rolling along the ground, carried by the warm breeze. Normal city sounds seemed to be on temporary mute, the night much too quiet.
He knew it was happening again.
“Stop running.” An unfamiliar male voice broke through the silence.
Jordan’s pulse pounded in his veins, the swish of each beat racing in his ears. He pushed his body closer to the wall and attempted to force strength into his voice. “Why are you following me?”
“Let me help you.” The voice came closer, the stranger had moved without making a sound. “I mean you no harm.”
“Ya,” Jordan laughed under his breath, “that’s what they all say.” Nervous, he reached into his pocket, searching for the knife he carried for protection.
“Ah…you wish to test your limited knife skills on me?”
The voice was right next to his ear now, but Jordan couldn’t see the man. He felt trapped by an invisible force and desperate to regain his footing. “Try me,” he said, pulling the knife and flipping it open.
A second later, a painful blow to the head knocked Jordan flat on his back. His hands instinctively covered his head as his body curled into the fetal position. The soft rousing of amused laughter circled him. There had been no warning, no sound of a coming strike. Nothing.
“Would you like to contemplate your next request with a bit more forethought?” The man’s voice seemed to come from everywhere…and nowhere. “Here, let’s fix that headache.”
Gentle pressure surrounded Jordan’s head. He tried to see who was touching him, but no one was there. Moments later, the pain vanished leaving a pleasant tingling sensation behind. He had no idea what was happening and wished he hadn’t run from home. “How’d you do that? Who are you?” He pushed himself to his knees, then to standing.
“Those are questions, not requests. Such mundane questions, too. You can do so much better.” There was a long pause. “Let’s try another approach, perhaps this will help.”
A glowing sphere about the size of a large marble emerged from the shadows, rolling along the ground. The silver ball stopped a few feet in front of Jordan. It pulsed with light, almost as if it had its own heartbeat.
He couldn’t take his eyes off it. It reminded him of the mercury he had studied in Chemistry. Nervous about the danger, he backed away from the object. “Is it mercury?”
“Your fear is controlling you. You must learn to trust yourself.” The man’s voice sounded with authority.
“I trust no one.”