Recently, we’ve started making this writing endeavor a little more personal by finally making space in our hectic lives for some good old-fashioned writing meet-ups (you’ve been warned, coffee shops and pubs of Seattle). As a part of these little informal gatherings, we’ll be taking on little group writing exercises based off of set prompts. In the spirit of sharing, rightly or wrongly, we’ll publish the result here. We’re calling this series “Write Club”, and we’ll likely invite our vast readership to weigh in and give feedback on each piece. So here we go.
Write the paragraph that would appear in a piece of fiction just before the discovery of a body. You might perhaps describe the character’s approach to the body he will find, or the location, or both. The purpose of the exercise is to develop the technique of at once attracting the reader toward the paragraph to follow, making him want to skip ahead, and holding him on the paragraph by virtue of its interest. Without the ability to write such foreplay paragraphs, one can never achieve real suspense.
– John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
Reggie’s head was a mess of crossed wires. Getting home was the only thing he could think of, the only fully-formed thought on his mind. The air smelled of blown-out matches and cantaloupe. His car door made a dull click as he closed it, breaking a dreadful silence infecting the air around him. No-one stirred. The neighbors had put their lights out. It felt like everyone had been sucked into the sky but him, like those crazy people talked about beating old books against their hands like gavels. 2AM never felt so lonely. He walked in measured gait, breathing in each moment like a year, expecting for everything to fall out from under him at any step. The concrete steps were scuffed with black smears, like a calligraphy pen, thick then thin, a single line leading upwards. That’s odd. How have I never noticed that. He thought simple things like this. Focus changes with perspective. There are a million things you will never have the opportunity to see, but they’ll always be just in front of you. The bar work did this to him, he thinks. He’ll never get his focus back, never get back those years sacrificed to all those worthless drunks. The door was ajar, maybe broken. Adrenaline gushed through him, sobered his corroded mind. Now what. Always something. The knob was broken. Pieces in a pile. He walked through, slowly, became a stealthy thing out of the movies. He thought he heard a low moan down the hall, but it could just be his blood pulsing through his ears, auditory hallucinations. The air inside was stifling, metallic and dusty. He could taste it on his tongue. Foreboding. He tiptoed to the bedroom down the hall. The door opened with sluggish effort. He inhaled, eyes widened, the tears salting the back of his throat.
Sean, Bonus post
Gary felt free suddenly. He’d never had to break it off with a girl before, had barely gotten the chance to ask one out for a drink, his relationships being born out of the wet mouths of late-night house party beers and dying with the same lack of clarity. Linda was different, on both ends of the thing. Began and ended with proper formality, a nice meal to bookend it all. But the end is the end, he thought, and how much does it really matter if it was Colonel Mustard in the study with the crowbar? He breathed in the humid air, staring up the the fog-blurred streetlights, and exhaled dramatically. It felt great. He thought about the fresh cold six pack he had waiting in the fridge, imagined the crisp sound of escaping carbonation, that first taste. The streets were nearly empty, a few phone-lit faces walking past. The fog gave everything an eery presentation, amorphous shadows and vague swarms of light. And something up ahead, about thirty feet, swinging. Gary began to feel like he was arriving at the beginning of a Poe story.
Carol was sure this elevator hated her. It usually sped it’s way up to the thirty second floor where she worked far faster than she wanted it to but on this day when she was trying her hardest to be the first one in, it crawled as if it too had barely woken up. It had been a long time since Carol was the first one into the office- really since that asshole Jed was promoted over her, but today she was ready to prove she deserved it more. She had a big account on the ropes and was giving a final presentation. She’d been working on it for ages and meant to put in some extra time last night but she accepted a happy hour request at the last minute that turned into her calling Leon, something that brought her forehead and mouth into a scrunched up scowl as she thought about it. She released it by telling herself she’d allow herself time to be pissed about it later. Carol was brought back to reality with an unusual shudder of the elevator and a flickering of the pale unnatural lights. As the indicator flicked from thirty to thirty one Carol thought she smelled smoke and for a minute her anxiety driven brain had convinced her she was having a stroke. When the door opened Carol’s eye was caught by the dangling light fixture over the near center of the cubicle farm and the several missing ceiling panels surrounding it, the twisted crumpled ceiling grid reaching down like vines in some corporate themed jungle. It wasn’t until the the light flicker of flame contrasted against the empty cavern that appeared where the ceiling used to be and the smoke passed in front of the dim lights left on for safety in the distance that her brain finally let go of that silly stroke idea.
Pettis stamped heavily up the front wooden staircase to the building, oblivious to their state of disrepair. Jimmy eyed the rotting steps, resembling a birthday cake misshapen by hours in the sun, and chose his footpath more carefully. Pettis, working hard to bury any appearance of nerves, glowered down from the rotting platform. He turned to the rusted steel door and rapped the surface three times with closed fist. The metal reverberated hollow, echoing off into the unseen distance of the warehouse. Jimmy took a step back to the edge of the platform and looked up and down the decaying brick façade. He shivered in the midnight chill. “Christ, Anthony,“ he muttered, “Why in the hell would Mike T call, middle of the goddamn night, and ask to meet him in this graveyard?”.