Saturday, April 26, 2014

Fence Jumpers: Part 3

 Image courtesy of Pinterest
Skyler didn't want to wake up. He felt too comfortable and warm. He didn't want to ruin the moment. He felt somewhat dry, too. That was a new feeling.

And suddenly he remembered. Skyler gasped and sat up.

"Whoa, easy!" A voice said. Skyler turned to see the man from earlier. "It's okay, Skyler."

"How do you know my name?" Skyler frowned. "Where's Hannah?"

"Hannah's fine," the man assured him quickly. "She's getting something to eat. She's been sitting with you ever since you fell asleep."

"How long have I been sleeping?"

"All night." The man smiled. "Or what was left of it. How are you feeling?"

"Okay." Skyler shrugged. He looked at the man. He had longish dark brown hair, blue eyes, and the stubbly beginnings of a beard. He was dressed in jeans and a button shirt, the sleeves rolled halfway to his elbows. He looked about twenty-four-years-old.

"What's your name?" Skyler asked.

"Kip." The man smiled, extending a hand. "Christopher Oliver, actually. But everyone calls me Kip."

"What happened?" Skyler asked, pushing his hair from his face. "I mean, how did you find Hannah, and me?"

"The kids found your sister running from Nabbers," Kip replied. "They helped her lose them, and she told them she had a younger brother. So while she was taken here, Cody and a few others went off looking for you. Hannah told us where you were."

Skyler nodded.

"What is this place?" Skyler asked. "Why are so many kids here?"

"Later." Kip smiled. "First, let's get you something to eat."

Skyler followed Kip through the tunnels to the large cavern. Cook fires were sparking throughout the room, with kids once again circling them.

Kip directed Skyler to a fire where Hannah sat, absentmindedly pushing around some oatmeal in her bowl. Skyler came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.

"Oh!" Hannah jumped and turned. She smiled up at him and hugged him. "Hey there. Sleep well?"

"Yeah." Skyler nodded. "I almost didn't want to get up."

"Warm beds have that effect," Cody laughed. "Glad to see you looking better, kid."

Hannah scooted over to make room for him. Kip approached and handed Skyler a bowl of oatmeal. Skyler tried hard not to wolf it down.

"We should introduce ourselves," Cody said. "I'm Cody Baine." He waved to Wes. "That's Westley Hawkins." Cody pointed to the girl next to him. "This is Claire Smith."

Claire gave Skyler a smile and a wave.

"And this is Grace Alexander."

Grace smiled at Skyler and winked at him. Skyler smiled back.

Cody motioned to the whole cavern. "Collectively, we're called Fence Jumpers."

"Fence Jumpers?" Hannah asked.

"You haven't heard of us?" Cody looked surprised. "Juvenile vandals? Delinquents who infiltrate anything and everything off-limits to most people?"

Hannah shook her head uncertainly. 

Skyler jumped when Kip sat down next to him.

"What are we talking about?" He asked, smiling.

"Us," Cody said. "They don't know about us. I mean, they haven't heard of us."

"If the media had their way, they would," Claire said. "But of course they don't, not anymore. So whatever we do is only communicated by word of mouth."

"Why?" Skyler asked. "I don't understand. Why do you all live down here?"

"Because we're 'criminals,'" Wes replied. "Snotty juvenile vandals with no use in the city."

"But why do it?" Hannah asked. "I mean, what's the point if you have to live underground and hide all the time?"

"Because we're not actually vandals."

Skyler started suddenly, a memory coming to him.

"The abandoned car garage by the old oil company building," he said. "That was you, wasn't it?"

"Yup." Cody nodded. "Well, not us specifically. Kyle, Laurie, Melody and lots of others did that."

"The cops came," Skyler continued eagerly. "They said there were dozens of you, but every single one escaped unidentified. A newspaper had it once."

"Okay, there wasn't dozens, only a dozen or so," Cody laughed. "But yeah. All escaped and nobody knew who anyone of 'em were. Of course we didn't know that, so they had to lie low for a bit."

"I still don't get it," Hannah persisted. "Why vandalize an abandoned garage? Why vandalize government property? Yes, wise-guy, I've seen the masterpiece. I remember seeing one now."

Skyler looked at Wes, who Hannah had directed the remark to. He looked smug.

"Vandalism is only the crime we use to cover up our real motives," Grace said. "Kip can explain it better."

Hannah and Skyler looked at Kip. The man looked hesitant, then set down his bowl with the sigh.

"Remember that this is entirely speculation," Kip began. "You might have heard about the abductions that have been occurring these past months?"

"Yes," Hannah said slowly, cautiously. Skyler looked at her.

"People have been disappearing," Kip continued. "The homeless, the orphaned, people who won't be missed. It's usually the middle-aged or the young teen. But they have been missed by fellow homeless or fellow orphans. They've been reported, but they're low priority for the police. But eventually instead of being low priority, they've been ignored completely. The police won't even listen to anyone who has anything to say about it.

"And then it started getting worse. People who would be missed go missing. Kids, mostly. The parents of course are frantic, or feign to be-"

"Hold on," Hannah cut him off. "Feign to be? You're saying they fake being worried sick for their own kids?"

"This is speculation," Kip soothed. "But I wasn't finished. After a month or so, the parents 'lose interest' in searching for their child. It's awful, I know, but the searches just kind of die out. Nobody hears anything from them again about it, and the missing person is never found or heard from again."

"Are there any similarities between the families?" Hannah asked. Skyler couldn't quite place her tone. "Are they rich, poor? Government workers?"

"We don't know." Kip shrugged. "If I had to guess, I would say rich."

Hannah's face paled. Skyler looked at her with concern.

"What's wrong?" Claire asked. "Why are you so nervous? If the Nabbers were after you, you don't have to be scared anymore. You guys can live here. You're safe."

"Nabbers?" Skyler looked at her.

"People who hunt the streets for homeless people or orphans," Cody explained. "They make weekly sweeps of neighborhoods, alleys, and such. But it's random so no one knows for sure when they'll come, so they don't know when to stay hidden."

"Hannah?" Skyler looked at her. Hannah looked at him, her eyes scared. He had never seen his sister like this. "Hannah, what's wrong?"

"We..." Hannah cleared her throat, looking at Kip. "We ran away from home about... um, a few weeks ago, I think. Our dad works for the government, and our mom's a teacher. I overheard our parents talking to people one night. They were talking about.... I'm sorry."

Hannah stood and hurried away.

"Hannah?" Skyler frowned and started up. He looked back at Kip.

"Why are people being kidnapped? What for?" He asked. "There has to be a reason. My sister heard our parents talking about me to strange men we had never seen before. She heard something she won't even tell me. She said if our parents didn't cooperate, they would..." Skyler swallowed. "What do the Nabbers want?"

"Not the Nabbers." Kip shook his head. "They're just tools for a larger mastermind." Kip looked at the kids by their fire, watching him and Skyler. "We think the government is building an army. Not a human army, but half human and half machine. Cyborgs."

Skyler felt sick. Suddenly the reason for running away from home snuck up suspiciously, as much as he didn't want to believe it.

"Kip guessed this much when he was still up top," Wes added. "When he tried to find people who would be on his side, the wrong ears found out how much he knew and he was almost killed."

"My guess," Kip said quietly, "is that Hannah took you away from home to protect you from becoming a cyborg."

"No." Skyler shook his head. "No, they wouldn't do that. Hannah said we had to run because our parents told us to. Our parents weren't going to give me to them! Those men were going to try to take us away!"

"I don't know for sure if they were," Kip said carefully. "It was just a guess. But don't you think it's odd your parents haven't come looking for you? If the coast was clear-"

"Don't, Kip." Hannah reappeared. Skyler jumped and turned. His sister's cheeks were tear-stained. Skyler spotted a boy around his sister's age watching them before sitting back down with his group, watching them for a minute before returning to his conversation.

"Is there..." Hannah cleared her throat. "Is there a place where Skyler and I can talk? Alone?"

"Hannah." Skyler turned to her. "Mom and Dad told us to run away, didn't they? They weren't going to give us up."

Hannah said nothing. Skyler felt panic and betrayal rise into his throat.

"No," Skyler choked out. "No. Mom and Dad wouldn't... they wouldn't-"

"Skyler, Mom and Dad were going to give you to the government," Hannah said, her voice trembling, forgetting about finding someplace private to talk to him. "I heard them talking to two men the night we ran. Mom was crying, and Dad was arguing. But then one of the men offered a price. It was an absurd amount of money, and our parents accepted it. I didn't know what it was about until Dad told them to take care of you, and Mom asking if we could visit. The men said no, and gave them more money for their silence, to act like you had been kidnapped or run away, like Kip explained other parents did."

Skyler didn't know what to say. Was there anything he could say? His parents had sold him to the government, and promised not to tell anyone they had done it, and to then forget about him after a few weeks of hopeless searching for their supposedly missing son. His own parents.

"Skyler, I'm sorry," Hannah said, "I didn't want to tell you this way. Mom and Dad love you, Skyler, they really do-"

"Then why sell me to people who were gonna make a cyborg out of me?!" Skyler snapped. The idea of it sickened him and terrified him. "They sold me and promised not to worry, not to even care."

"Now hold on." Kip stood up. The whole cavern was watching them now. "They didn't promise that, Skyler. You know they didn't. They promised not to come looking for you, or to tell anyone what they had done. You don't know if they hadn't worried sick about you. They probably didn't have a choice. Hannah said they were begging the government not to take you."

"But they agreed anyways!" Skyler shouted. "They took the money! What kind of parent does that?!"

"The kind that have guns pointed to their heads," Hannah said quietly. Skyler stared at her. "I was in the hall after using the restroom when I heard it all. I heard a gun being cocked, and Dad begging the men not to hurt Mom. They didn't have a choice, Skyler. They didn't know what the government wanted you for, but they couldn't risk being killed and leaving us alone."

Skyler choked back tears of anger and grief and guilt. He let Hannah wrap her arms around him.

"I didn't know what would happen to you," she whispered. "I didn't know where they would have taken you. All I knew I wouldn't have seen you again. I didn't want that to happen."

"But running away..." Skyler mumbled. "The government would think they had gotten us out-"

"No." Hannah shook her head. "I checked one day, when you were sleeping. Mom and Dad are fine. They're safe. I think they even got to keep the money, too, in exchange for their silence on the whole affair. They were moving. Mom was wearing a pretty, expensive dress. I think Dad got promoted, too."

Skyler bit back tears. Hannah hugged him tighter.

"I won't let them take you away from me," Hannah promised. "Over my dead body will they have to take you from me."

"Don't," Skyler said suddenly, "Don't say that. You're not gonna die."

"Sorry." Hannah smiled a little. "I'm sorry for keeping this from you. I didn't want you getting upset when we were already struggling."

Skyler hugged his sister as tight as he could, blinking back tears.

"We'll be okay, little brother," Hannah told him. "We're gonna be okay."

"I know." Skyler nodded. "Because I have you."

Hannah gave him another squeeze and stepped back, smiling at him through tears. She looked at Kip.

"Is it okay if we stay here?" She asked him. "At least until we can figure things out?"

"You can live here as long as you like." Kip smiled. "This place is for kids like you who need a place to stay. We're family here. Plenty of beds, too."

"You can be Fence Jumpers like us." Grace grinned, shaking back her brown hair.

Skyler looked at Hannah. Here was their chance at a home. Friends, family even. Warmth and safety. And a chance to help learn the truth. Skyler wanted to know what the government wanted him for, and why.

"Why not?" Hannah smiled. "If we're staying, we ought to earn our keep."

"It doesn't quite work that way," Cody chuckled, "but welcome to the club, guys."

Skyler smiled, excitement soothing the distressing emotions that had been previously overwhelming him.

"Eat before you do anything else," Kip told them. "Your training or whatever it is these delinquents think you need will come later."

"Training?" Skyler asked, sitting down.

"Yeah." Claire nodded, pulling her bleach-blonde hair back into a ponytail. "If you're a Fence Jumper, you're gonna need to learn how to climb over fences and thing fast. You don't drop from the top."

"That wasn't my fault." Skyler blushed.

"She knows," Cody said. "She's teasing. We'll get you two set up with the right equipment and stuff, and then we'll head out."

After a few minutes of silence, Skyler looked at Kip. There was one more question nagging at him.

"Why cyborgs?" He asked. "I mean, what for? We're not at war with anyone. The other countries and their provinces are all peaceful."

"We don't know yet," Kip replied. "That's what the Fence Jumpers try to figure out. While some vandalize and keep up the image of harmless rascals, others infiltrate government or business buildings we think suspicious."

"Why are you called Fence Jumpers?" Hannah asked, setting her bowl on the ground.

"We are 'specially adept at climbing over fences." Wes winked at her. "We like fences. Anything fenced-off catches our interest, especially those with 'no trespassing' signs."

Hannah lifted an eyebrow. Wes stood.

"Come on and we'll show you," he said, straightening his jacket. "There's a park we like to practice on. Nobody goes there, so we can climb and jump around without getting caught."

"And if we do get caught," Grace said, letting Cody pull her and Claire to their feet, "we run for it. We won't leave you behind, though."

"We're fast," Hannah said. Skyler stood and pulled her up. He winced when he accidentally used his injured hand. "Oh, your hand..."

"I'll be okay." Skyler smiled, but he couldn't help the stab of disappointment. "I'll just watch for now until it heals. I can play lookout."

"We already have people who do that," Cody said. "We'll find you some gloves or something."

"Be careful out there kids," Kip called after them as they walked toward a tunnel. "Be back by lunchtime."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

For The Creative Juices

Ever had a nasty case of writer’s block and you just don’t know what to write? You glower at the blank document or paper, attempt a sentence, backtrack, glare some more, grab a snack, continue glaring, and so on. It’s hard to get out of the rut of feeling uninspired, and it can be frustrating.

Fear not, fellow writers. This post, I hope, will spark the sleepy flame and bring a wave of inspiration for a new story to jumpstart your writing into action again, or a new route for your current work in progress. Here I have 10 images that will hopefully inspire stories, and prompts to give you a few exercises to get your creative wheels turning.

Happy writing!

These images were found courtesy of these two Pinterest boards:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Fence Jumpers: Part 2

 Image courtesy of Pinterest

Skyler moaned, pain throbbing in his skull. He felt wet and cold, but it wasn't raining anymore. He grunted and rolled onto his back. His arm splashed into a puddle, and he realized he was laying in a big puddle of water.

Skyler groaned again and forced himself to sit up. He winced when the throbbing intensified, and he grabbed his head, leaning forward.

After a minute, the throbbing dulled a little. Skyler carefully got to his feet and stumbled. He caught himself against the lamppost. It felt wet and grimy under his hands.

The stench was almost overwhelming down here. It smelled of rotting meat and sour milk, and maybe human waste. It was awful.

Skyler gagged and pressed the crook of his arm over his nose and tried to climb the hill. But it was too slippery, and the second attempt made him hit his head on the hill on his way back down. He gave up on the hill and staggered down the street, determined to get out of this part of the neighborhood.

The smell was getting worse the further he walked, so Skyler turned around and went the other way. But eventually the smell got worse again. If his body had had anything inside it he would have thrown up.

But the really unnerving thing was the silence. No one was in the streets. No dogs barked, no TVs played. He didn't hear any cars, either. The sky was dark now. Dark gray clouds concealed the moon and stars, threatening more rain later.

Another hill blocked his path when he turned down a street. This one was as steep as the one he had fallen down, but Skyler tried anyway. The slick ground made it difficult to find holds, but he made it halfway up the slope.

Skyler reached up to dig his fingers into the dirt and pull himself up further, but a hidden shard of glass pierced the palm of his hand. Skyler yelped and yanked his hand back, but he dragged it over the glass, cutting his hand open. He lost his balance and skidded back down the hill, rolling to a stop at the bottom.

Skyler bit his lip to keep from crying. It looked like blood was gushing from the wound, and Skyler pressed his other hand over it. The pain flared, and a distressed moan escaped him.

Then he heard footsteps.

Skyler looked up quickly, peering into the darkness to try to make out the approaching figures. Beams of light scanned the road as they walked. He stood quickly, but there was no place to go. He inhaled sharply, then choked. The stench had gotten worse.

Skyler's legs buckled. He was tired, cold, wet, and hungry. He stood no chance against whoever was coming. He sank to the ground, trying to make himself appear small. He could barely breathe, which didn't help his panic.

"Hey," a voice spoke to him. Skyler jerked back when a hand touched his shoulder. "It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you."

Skyler looked up at the owner of the voice, but he couldn't see his face. It almost didn't look human. Something stuck out from its face, like a mini elephant trunk. Skyler tensed.

"Here," the voice said calmly. "Put this on, it will help."

Skyler felt something plastic close over his nose and mouth. He thrashed in alarm. They were trying to kill him!

"Hey, easy." The voice tried again. "I'm not here to hurt you. I want to help."

"Cody, we can't stay here," another voice, female, said. "Just get him and let's go."

"He's freaking out, Claire," Cody replied. "He's going to yell and struggle if we do that, and our cover will be blown. He isn't getting enough clean air for him to think straight." He looked at Skyler. "Put this on, mate, alright?"

The mask came back. Skyler struggled, but Cody held him firmly in place. Skyler yelped and tried to pull back.

"I need some help here!" Cody barked. Skyler felt more hands restrain him. Panic set in. Skyler shouted, but the mask muffled his cries. He jerked his head back, and the mask came away. He was free from it for only a few seconds before it came back. Someone grabbed a fistful of his hair to hold his head still. Skyler yelped, tears of fear and pain springing to his eyes.

"Easy, kiddo, easy," Cody soothed. "Breathe, breathe! Just relax."

Skyler jerked again, but he barely budged. His breathing was rapid and short.

"Deep breaths, kid," Cody instructed. "You're not keeping the oxygen in you long enough. I know you're scared, but right now you need to concentrate for me."

Skyler began to calm down. Silence pervaded the street. Skyler was still crying, but he had given up fighting. He was so tired.

"There we go," Cody said. "Deep, easy breaths, kid. That's it." Skyler obeyed. The air he breathed was cleaner somehow. It cleared his mind. "Let him go, guys."

The hands were removed. Skyler tried to pull away, but Cody kept him in place. He started to struggle again.

"No, don't. It's okay. You're okay," Cody told him. "Just take it easy."

Skyler slumped where he sat. After a few more minutes he looked around. There were about four people surrounding him, not including Cody. Two of them were guys, he guessed, and two were girls.

Skyler reached up to touch the mask.

"It's just plastic," Cody chuckled. "Here." Skyler's hand was placed over a small metal canister attached to the mask. "That's where the air you exhale is recycled back into oxygen. It has enough in it right now for you to breathe normally, but after a few minutes you'll need to pause for a second or two after every exhalation for the air to recycle."

"He's not gonna understand that, Cody," another voice, male, told him. "Look at him. He's exhausted. He'll be fine until we get out of here."

"Alright." Cody nodded. He looked at Skyler. "I'm gonna strap this over your head, okay? Hold still." Skyler felt too tired to do anything but obey. He flinched when the rubbery straps pulled on his hair, but when they were on, the mask settled nicely. "There, see? Not so bad."

"Hannah," Skyler whispered. "Where's Hannah?"

"Who's Hannah, kid?" Cody asked.

"Hannah," Skyler repeated. "She... my sister... those people..."

"We've gotta go, Cody," Claire urged. "He's sick. He's gotta be the one the girl told us about."

Skyler was helped to his feet. He kept mumbling about Hannah. Where was she? Was she alright? Skyler's mind was fuzzy, but whirling with these questions. Cody stayed right beside him, assuring him he was safe.

They snuck through the streets silently. Two people ahead of them a ways, and two nearby, watching their backs. Cody and Skyler were in the middle. Cody kept a firm arm around Skyler, keeping him moving.

After winding through so many streets Skyler felt completely lost, they arrived at a tall chain-like fence.

Skyler gaped as the two people ahead of him ran at the fence, jumped, and clambered up and over, vaulting over the top and landing neatly on the other side.

Skyler jumped when someone from behind ran and jumped at the fence, doing the same thing the other two had done,

"Your turn, kiddo," Cody said. "I'll give you a boost."

Skyler started for the fence. He jumped back when a girl ran past and vaulted over. But instead of dropping to the ground she clung to the top of the fence, as if waiting. Cody leaned against the fence turned his back to it, cupping his hands for Skyler.

"C'mon," Cody said, "You'll be fine. Grace will catch you and help you over."

Skyler hesitated, then stepped forward, planted one foot on Cody's cupped hands, and reached out to grab the fence when Cody lifted him up high. Skyler moaned when his cut hand rubbed against the cold metal as he tried to secure a hold.

The girl on the fence gripped his arm.

"Hey there." She smiled at him. "Swing your leg over and straddle the fence. That's it."

Skyler paused on the fence, catching his breath. Cody watched them. Shouting suddenly came from further away on Cody's side of the fence.

"Nabbers!" One of the other kids hissed.

Cody and the three others dropped flat on the ground. Skyler felt Grace yank him over the fence.

Skyler hit the ground on his back, knocking the air out of him. Skyler's cry of pain was cut off when someone yanked off his mask and clamped a hand over his mouth.

"Easy, kid," a voice whispered in his ear. "Keep still."

Skyler was gasping, struggling for air. Someone turned his head away from the fence just as a faint beam of light panned briefly along the fence. Skyler felt tears on his cheeks as they lay still. Panic was taking over. He needed to run.

But he was quickly restrained, his arms and legs locked together.

Eventually the light moved on. No one moved for another few minutes, then Cody cautiously got to his hands and knees.

"Everyone alright?" He asked. "How is he? Grace?"

"I'm fine." Grace sat up as the others nodded. "He's really scared, Cody."

"I know." Cody climbed over the fence and dropped. He knelt by Skyler. "Hi, kid. How're you feeling?"

"Can't breathe," Skyler rasped. Cody smiled.

"You'll be alright in a bit," he promised. "That was close. We gotta get out of here."

Skyler flinched back when Cody grabbed his arm.

"Hey," Cody's tone softened. "Kid, you're okay."

"No." Skyler staggered to his feet. He jerked back when Cody reached for him. "Stay back!"

"What's wrong?" Cody frowned.

"What's wrong?" Grace huffed, standing. "I just hauled him over a fence and let him drop on his back, Cody. He's terrified."

"Leave him then!" Another boy said in exasperation. "He's just going to slow us down!"

"Shut up, Wes," Grace snapped. She walked to Skyler, who backed up. He had to get away from these people. They weren't safe. He had to find Hannah.

"Hey." Grace smiled at him. "You're okay. You don't have to be scared of us. We want to help you."

"Stay back." Skyler tried to focus. His back hurt, and he hadn't quite regained his breath. "I have to find Hannah. Stay back!"

"Okay." Grace raised her hands. "I'm not moving. Hannah's safe. Our friends took her to a place where she'll be safe. We can take you to her--"

"What did you do to my sister?!" Skyler shouted, able to comprehend just enough to know what Grace had said. They had Hannah. "Where is she?!"

The kids were looking at the fence worriedly.

"Shh," Grace said quickly. "Calm down. Your sister is safe with our friends--"

"Where is she?!" Skyler screamed. "Where is Hannah?!"

"Wes, don't!" Grace exclaimed. Skyler recoiled when Wes, a good two heads taller than he and twice as big, rushed him. The world went black.

* * * * *

Skyler groaned. His head hurt something awful. He felt dizzy, too.

With a jolt Skyler realized his feet didn't touch the ground. He tried to sit up.

"Whoa, don't move!" Cody said. Skyler felt himself be placed on the ground. "Easy, kiddo, easy..."

Skyler didn't move. He hurt too much.

"Are you alright?" Cody asked.

"My head hurts." Skyler squeezed his eyes shut.

"You have Wes to thank for that one," Cody told him. "I'm sorry it had to happen, but we couldn't get caught with your shouting. We almost did."

Skyler didn't answer. He was so done with this day. All he wanted was his sister and someplace to sleep, away from these people, away from everything that had happened.

"Hannah," Skyler said. "Where is she--"

Skyler nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of a shrill whistle. He heard Cody and nearly everyone else gasp with relief.

Wes whistled back. He looked at Skyler. "Sorry, kid. But now you can see your sister."

Skyler sat up. He saw two people emerge from the shadows. Skyler realized they were in an alley way. It was dark, but empty. Another fence stood between them and the newcomers.

"Cody? Wes?" A female voice asked, sounding shocked as her friend opened a side gate. "My word, guys, you had us all worried sick!"

"Is everyone alright?" A boy asked. "Grace, Claire? Stephen?"

"We're fine," Cody said. "We brought a friend."

"You found him?" The girl asked. "Thank goodness. His sister hasn't stopped fretting for him."

"My sister." Skyler registered the words. "Hannah."

"He's not well," Grace explained as Cody pulled Skyler to his feet. "We found him in the poor district, like his sister said."

Skyler was led through the gate. He nearly tripped over the threshold of a door as the group passed into an abandoned, nearly roofless warehouse.

Then they went down a trap door hidden under trash and a dusgusting rug. The two kids who had come to greet them stayed above to replace the garbage.

Skyler found himself in a tunnel. It was lit by what looked like Christmas lights. More tunnels branched off from the one they traveled down, more lights strung along their walls.

"Where's Hannah?" Skyler asked anxiously, looking down the tunnels.

"Just ahead," Cody promised.

Skyler tripped and stumbled through the tunnels to a large cavern. More tunnels stretched on at intervals around the cavern. Campfires were sprinkled throughout the room, crackling warmly.

The whole cavern had kids. Some Skyler's age, some older. There were even a few who were younger the he was. They were laughing, talking, and sometimes roughhousing.

"We're back!" Cody announced. The kids all looked up and cheered. Skyler hung back warily. He looked up at Grace when she took his hand.

"We're all friendly," she assured him. She looked ahead and smiled. "Is that your sister?"

Skyler looked. It took him a minute to find her, but he finally spotted her emerging from a tunnel at a run, followed by an older, dark-haired man.

"Skyler!" Hannah shot forward. Skyler pulled away from Grace and stumbled into her arms. Hannah sobbed, clutching him as hard as he held her. Skyler buried his face in his sister's shoulder, as if to hide from all that had happened.

"You're okay!" Hannah was sobbing. "You're alright! Oh, Skyler, I'm sorry."

"Hannah..." Skyler murmured, hugging her tight, his tears unchecked.

"Are you hurt?" Hannah asked, pulling away but keeping hold of his shoulders. Skyler shook his head, wiping away his tears. "Skyler, your hand!" Hannah grabbed her brother's injured hand. He had forgotten about that.

The older man stepped up. Skyler looked at him. Hannah turned and looked up at him too.

"He's hurt," she said, her voice shaky.

"We'll get him patched up." The man smiled. He looked at Skyler. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

"Sore," Skyler replied. He looked at Hannah, relief almost overwhelming him.

Skyler wasn't sure what happened after that. Someone led him away to take care of his cut. Hannah was with him the whole time. When the girl tending to him poured alcohol over his cut, Skyler cried out in pain, and Hannah wrapped an arm around him.

Hannah coaxed him to drink something after that. Skyler realized too late it was a sleeping drug. Someone helped him into a bed in a small, quiet room before he fell asleep. Hannah sat on the edge of the bed as he slipped into unconsciousness.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Author Interview: Melody Beerbower

Welcome back to Inkspots! Today, I have the great honor of interviewing young self-published author Melody Beerbower. I know Melody personally, and she was willing to let me ask her a few questions about her and her lovely debut book, The Gossiping Wind. So meet Melody, everyone!

Hello Melody! Thank you for joining me on my blog. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MB: Hi! My name is Melody Beerbower. I have been home-schooled from kindergarten all the way up to graduation. (I graduate at the end of this school year) Besides writing, I enjoy drawing, hiking, and hanging out with friends. I have seven siblings, two of which are getting married this year.

What is your story about?
MB: The Gossiping Wind is narrated by the Wind. The Wind has taken interest in the lives of the inhabitants of the small western town of Prattlebrook. A gossipy spinster, an idealistic school teacher and her overbearing mother, a single father struggling to raise five sons and run a store under the critical eye of his own father, a handsome young man who is trying to win the school teacher's heart, a man whose skin is "black as night", and others struggle to keep what is theirs. With mysterious kidnappings by a band of Chinese bandits, a terrible fire, and raging rumors, everyone must pull together to keep their town being torn apart. But who will be willing to take that first step to overcome all the prejudice and lies that have crept in unnoticed like a soft current of air?

Where did you get the idea for The Gossiping Wind?
MB: I actually started out with just the title, "The Gossiping Wind". I wrote a little piece (I guess you could call it a poem) describing the wind, and that set the tone for my book. I knew I wanted it set in a western town and I wanted a gossipy spinster. That's about all I knew before I started writing. The rest just came as I went along.

You wrote TGW during National Novel Writing Month in November. Can you tell us a bit about NaNoWriMo, and what made you decide to write TGW?
MB: NaNoWriMo is a website that encourages writers of all ages to write. You can sign up on their website for free and receive helpful pep talks and interact in many different forums, made specifically for your various writing interest. NaNoWriMo's biggest project is a writing contest in November. The goal is to write 50,000 words by November 30th. All who complete this task will receive various prizes, including a chance to get five free paperback copies of your book. They also have smaller writing events throughout the year.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo from my aunt. She was participating in it, and I though it would be fun to join her. November first came around and I had no idea of what I was going to write about. I flipped through a notebook of ideas I had jotted down, and came across a hastily written title. The Gossiping Wind. It really captured my imagination. I explained above how I used that as a jumping point for my story.

What was the writing/editing/publishing process like for you? What was your favorite part? Least favorite?
MB: For the NaNoWriMo contest I wrote over 50,000 words in November of 2012, which is approximately 1,666 words a day. On a really good day, I could type one page (about 500 words) in half an hour. That meant only two hours of writing a day. Not bad. But that was on on realllly good days. It usually took over an hour per page. I am a slow typer, I admit, but most of that time was spent thinking, not typing.

My most intense day of writing actually took place after the contest. I had given myself a dead line to complete the manuscript and was far behind. (See, after November I had 50,000 words, but not a complete story by any means.) I sat at the computer determined to finish the ending of my story. That day I completed roughly nine hours of writing, adding nine pages to my story, (approximately 4000 words), plus did some random editing. It was pretty intense. After that I printed it out a couple of times, had multiple people edit it for me, made changes, revised, cut scenes and added some, until my story was complete.

I published The Gossiping Wind through Createspace, a free website which is affiliated with NaNoWriMo. They have wonderful tools to walk you through the process of formatting and uploading your book, even designing the cover.

My least favorite part was definitely formatting the manuscript. All my page numbers got messed up. They wouldn't start in the right place, and then some were missing. I had to add and delete pages to get them right. I had to figure out how to have two different headers and how to delete them off specific pages. It was definitely a learning experience, but also a whole lot of busy work.

My favorite part was writing about the wind and finding just the right words to describe it.

What was your most favorite scene to write?
MB: That would have to be the scene right before the ending, but I can't tell you about it or I'd give it away. I also loved the scene where Bertha and the ladies from the sewing circle chase a chicken out of her house. Then again, all the scenes with Rich Shi and his sons are fun.

I know you based a couple characters off of your uncle and your cousin. Are there any other characters who are based off of people you know?
MB: There are a few, but mostly I did not have a specific person in mind. Just a strong character.

What other kinds or genres of writing do you enjoy? Are there any more works in progress you want to publish?
MB: I enjoy westerns and have attempted to write a few, but never finished one. Mostly I enjoy historical fiction.

I have several story ideas floating around in my head, but the hard part is deciding which one to finish. I completed a short story called Dancing Dust, which I may publish in a collection of short stories when I have enough of them to fill a book.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring writers? Or even advice for writing during NaNoWriMo?
MB: My advice for both is simply: Keep on writing. I often build stories in my head, but if I don't put them down on paper, no one else is able to enjoy them. Don't be discouraged when parts of your story sound awful. Keep writing. You can go back later and edit, but you can't edit a blank page. Often as you're writing another scene, you'll have an idea of how to improve the one that was giving you problems.

Also, jot down ideas, phrases, and words that strike your fancy. You never know when you can use them. After all, The Gossiping Wind started out as just a title in my notebook.

I hope you enjoyed the interview! I know I did. Now go enjoy her book, too, so you can get the full experience! You can find her book on Amazon.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fence Jumpers: Part 1

 Fences are made to keep people out of private property. They're made to keep animals in. Others are made to protect the privacy of backyards.

But there are some young people who aren't hindered by fences. On the contrary, fences are a welcome challenge. No trespassing signs are just an added bonus.

In the big city, these young adults are delinquents who are nothing but trouble. They climb over fences with ease, as if they were hardly an obstacle. They don't climb the fences just for the fun of it. They take it a step further and infiltrate whatever is behind the fence.

For the most part, people think they're just no-good delinquents who like vandalizing government/business property. And for the most part, these fence jumpers keep up that illusion. It makes it easier to search for the truth when people think you're just causing mischief.


Image courtesy of Pinterest

Skyler shivered in the cold rain. His brown hair was plastered to his face and neck and kept dripping water into his eyes. His thin shirt did nothing against the cold, and his jeans were even worse. His stomach growled hungrily, but of course he had nothing. There had been no food for three days. Skyler thought he would have gotten used to it by now, but his stomach still twisted painfully, reminding him that he hadn't eaten.

Hannah never seemed to be affected by their situation. And if she was, she never said anything. Maybe when you're sixteen you don't feel very hungry, but Skyler's fourteen-year-old body was feeling it strongly.

"Eureka!" Hannah squealed, startling Skyler out of his misery.

"What?" He looked up eagerly at the dumpster Hannah was rooting through. He didn't care if it was moldy bread, so long as it was food.

"Pizza!" Hannah called back. "Boy, there's, like, half of it left! It's pretty new, too. I assumed it was just an empty box at first--"

"Stop talking," Skyler whined, "I've been standing here long enough."

Hannah clambered down from the dumpster and let Skyler peek inside the box. Sure enough, half of a cheese pizza lay inside. A bit soggy, but it didn't look old.

"Come on," Hannah smiled at her little brother's eager expression. "Let's get back to the hideout and--"

Shouting cut her off. The siblings turned quickly toward the entrance to the alley. Hannah pulled Skyler behind the dumpster just as three people appeared.

"Who are they?" Skyler asked. He shivered again. Hannah rubbed his arm soothingly, but said nothing. Skyler peeked out from their hiding place.

The three strangers were turning over trash cans, crates, and looking in dumpsters. In the darkening sky, Skyler saw that they carried long, straight rods and what looked like pistols.

"Hannah," Skyler whispered, "we should go--"

"Shh!" Hannah said.

One of the strangers suddenly shouted. Skyler was surprised to see a kid bolt from where he hid behind a dumpster. He was headed right for Hannah and Skyler.

Hannah jerked her brother back. They heard the click of a trigger and a cry of pain. Skyler bit his lip, panic shooting through him. He heard struggling, and a series of thunks and more cries, then silence.

Skyler realized Hannah was gripping his arm tight. He held perfectly still, barely daring to breathe, even though the rain covered any noise they might have made.

"Are there any more?" One voice asked over the rain.

"No, there was just that one," another answered. "Get him into the truck and let's go."

A minute later they heard an engine grumble to life. Skyler waited until the sound faded away before he crept out from hiding.

"Careful, Skyler," Hannah whispered, following cautiously.

Skyler looked around. The alley was empty, no sign of any struggle at all.

"What happened?" Skyler looked at his sister. "Who were those people?"

"I don't know," Hannah shrugged.

Suddenly Skyler felt a strong arm wrap around his throat. He writhed as Hannah screamed his name, but his captor's grip tightened.

"Be a good boy now and don't struggle," his captor growled. Skyler felt the cold metal of a pistol press against his head. "Now, little girl, you come along and your friend won't get hurt."

Skyler's breathing was rapid, and every muscle was tense as he clawed fruitlessly at his captor's arm. Hannah nodded, trying not to cry, and approached submissively.

"No, Hannah--" Skyler started, but he choked and coughed when the arm tightened around his neck.

"Good girl," the man had a smile in his voice. The pistol was lowered. "Now--"

Hannah slammed her shoulder into the man's side. Skyler smashed his foot down on the booted foot of the stranger and let Hannah jerk him away.

"Go go go!" She shouted, pushing him forward. Skyler shot out of the alley, followed closely by Hannah. They heard the man yell angrily, and Skyler spied him charging after them.

The siblings dashed down the fairly empty sidewalk. Skyler didn't want to be the one leading the way, but he didn't want to slow down to let Hannah get ahead.

"Left, Skyler! Go left!" Hannah shouted. Skyler veered left and lost his footing, slamming his knee into the pavement. He yelped in pain and got to his feet, shaking, as Hannah joined him and pulled him onward.

They ducked down another street, eventually finding themselves in the suburban area.

"Okay, stop!" Hannah gasped when they entered a cul-de-sac. She grabbed Skyler's arm. Skyler slipped on the grass and fell on his butt. Hannah knelt down by him. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Skyler nodded, his sides heaving. His stomach snarled at him. Running on an empty belly hurt, but Skyler didn't say anything. He let Hannah inspect his grazed knee, but then she hugged him tight. Her dishwater-blonde hair tickled his nose.

"I'm okay, sis," Skyler mumbled into her shirt. He wrapped his arms around her. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Hannah smiled, nodding. Skyler smiled back and let her pull him to his feet. "We lost the pizza."

"Better than losing each other," Skyler told her. It had been their motto ever since they ran away from home. Any time something went wrong, they would remind each other other that it was better to lose a comfort rather than each other. It kept them going.

"Where are we?" Skyler looked around himself. "And what's that awful smell?"

"I think we're close to the poor parts of the neighborhood," Hannah replied. "You know. They smell bad because it's where people dump their garbage."

"Oh yeah," Skyler grimaced. "Yuck." He approached the hedge of bushes that bordered the cul-de-sac. There were no houses, only a steep hill going down to another street. Even from up on the hill Skyler could see the filth soaking in the puddles.

Shouts drew his attention away just long enough to register his sister shoving him down the hill.

Skyler yelped and tumbled down, unable to find purchase on the slope. He slammed into the street, hitting his head hard and blacking out.

I hope this first installment of Fence Jumpers was exciting for you! It's been immensely fun writing and planning this serial story, and I hope it will keep you eager for more. And I hope you love the characters as much as I do. They're all great fun.

I have a Pinterest board for this serial that you can peruse. It may contain a few spoilers, but I don't think there's anything huge. The board is also where I pull the images for these posts, so I can pin blog posts to the board for easy access.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"The Exchange"

I wrote this short short story for one of my first online college courses. It was fun and suspenseful to write while I tried to figure out though whose point-of-view to write it. Enjoy!


I arrived at the abandoned gas station a half-hour early. I don't know why. I was probably nervous. Who wouldn't be? This was an important meeting. If I blew my cover, it would cost me my life. I had to act just like the man sitting in the holding cell back at HQ. Cold, secretive, rude...

I adjusted my jacket as I listened to the voice in my earpiece telling me to chill. Of course he would say that, he's not the one risking his neck. If I blew it, everything would explode in our faces and we would be back to square one...

The door opened. I exhaled slowly and whistled softly. My contact, a woman named Melanie, whistled a quiet reply. I turned, hoping I didn't look as nervous as I felt, and watched her approach casually. One of my hands rested in my jacket pocket, and the other held a small sack, the weight of the world.

"About time," I spoke roughly, sounding impatient.

"Traffic," Melanie shrugged, "I hope I didn't keep you waiting."

"Just give me the money," I replied shortly. She lifted an eyebrow. "Were you followed?"

"No," Melanie shook her head, "You?" I gave her a hard stare, making it clear the answer was obvious. She cleared her throat and produced a plump yellow envelope. I reached for it, but she drew back. I snarled irritatedly.

"The jewel, if you please," Melanie said politely.

"Money first," I hissed. Melanie frowned, but she tossed the packet on the grubby counter. I hesitated, then gave her the sack. She took it quickly, glaring at me. I glared back, sticking my free hand in my pocket.

She had pulled out and opened the dark wood chest. I hadn't seen the contents, but whatever it was glowed a green hue in her face. I didn't like the smile that spread over her face. She closed the box and smiled up at me.

"Thank you, Mr. Riley, for your business." She held out her hand. I looked at it, then at her with a cold stare. No use risking that. And besides, she looked way too confident. No harm in making her feel awkward. Her smile weakened as she withdrew her hand. "Well, have a good night, Mr. Riley." She turned to leave, but then turned back. "We will contact you again soon for the rest."

"You better," I answered, my voice as low and threatening as I could make it. Just leave, close the door...

"Good-night, Mr. Riley," Melanie smiled and disappeared into the black night. Not until the door clicked shut did I heave a sigh of relief. I did it. I was alive and in one piece. I didn't know how much longer I could have stood that. Some agent I make. At least she bought it.

"Money's on the counter," I said, "I'm following her." I heard the voice caution me as I stepped into the cold. This was going to be another long night.