Thursday, September 9, 2010

Second Best

These scenes were in my new novel. I found that removing them tightened the focus of the story. They are hugely relevant as backstory. I am happy to present them as a short.


Today I'll get him. Curtis waited and watched; his excitement feeding on the anticipation of long overdue revenge. Gonna shoot his ass. Tired of being second. Tired of Jake winning everything. Time to put him in his place. Curtis crouched, shielded by the trunk and shade of one of the cottonwoods on the forested slope rising above his family's home. This is my birthday party. I only invited the stupid cottager so I could beat him - in front of everybody. Curtis reached for the tail of his shirt and pulled it up to wipe his face. Wearing dark stuff today so I blend in with the trees and bushes. Hot as hell, but it's worth it. Jake's not cooler than me; he's not better than me. Just been lucky, that's all.

From his hidden vantage point, Curtis scrutinzed the two teams of boys - one in red jackets, one in blue - racing up and down the slope, trying to shoot each other with their paintball guns. I only want Jake. Not going to middle school with everybody thinking he's better. I hit a home run; he hits a grand slam. I run for a touchdown; he passes for three. Bad breaks - all of them. I'm Senator Dalton's son. I'm the one everybody should be following around.

Electric expectation charged through Curtis, temporarily suspending his bitter thoughts. He hunkered down into position; an impatient hunter forced to wait for a chance at his prey. I'll bet Jake's never been in a yard this size. His house isn't even big as our garage. I know every inch of our property - and I'm in the best spot for an ambush. All I have to do is spot him and track him long enough to get behind him and shoot. Painstakingly, methodically he moved his eyes from target to target. Just like Dad says when we're hunting. Check and reject - or check, line up the target and shoot. Looking for red jackets. Over and over it's check and reject. Not that red one, not that one... Gah! Where the hell is he? Curtis zeroed in on the jackets, checking them off one by one. There he is! I got him.

Jake disappeared and reappeared with maddening unpredictability. Curtis ghosted from tree to tree, barely keeping him in sight. Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead and shoulders, evidence of his determined effort and the mid-July heat. Making sure to stay out of paintball range, Curtis silently pursued Jake as he weaved - unscathed - between and among the boys in blue. He knows he has the weak team. He's not depending on them, he's personally taking out my guys one by one. Can't the idiots see what he's doing? He just waits behind a tree until one of the fools runs by. Curtis watched as Jake's team gathered at his signal beneath one of the oaks further down the slope. Taking advantage of their momentary gathering, Curtis quickly looked away to wipe his sweaty hands on his shorts. Don't want to miss the shot. Need my hands dry. He focused in on them again just in time to see them give a whoop and disperse. Curtis' eyes locked onto Jake. Guess he was explaining strategy. I've really got him now. My turn to be the best.

A startling noise suddenly tore through the silence. Curtis rose halfway out of his crouch turning toward the sound. Remembering to use his cover, he immediately ducked back down. Cautiously, he peered through the surrounding bushes. He was instantly relieved. It's just Marcus yelling. He always does that shit. Damn fool doesn't want to admit he's been hit. Even from here I can see that there's red paint on his blue jacket.

Shaking off the distraction, Curtis narrowed his eyes and searched again for his target. Without warning, the silence was again shattered - this time by the crack of a shot. Son of a... He wheeled and dove for cover - but too late. He felt the impact of the paint ball as it grazed his shoulder; tagging him out. Seething, he stood and faced his adversary, bested yet again. "I wondered where you were," Jake said with any easy smile. "So I went looking." The animosity that Curtis felt surged quickly and irrevocably into hatred. Jake's team approached, running up the slope. Heightening his humiliation, one of them shouted excitedly, "Jake got Curtis!" He turned to yell back down the hill, "Jake got Curtis - Jake got Curtis!"

As clearly as if his father had been standing there, Curtis heard his voice. "Never give your opponent a victory over a sore loser. Always - always lose with honor." Heeding that voice and swallowing his loathing, Curtis looked Jake in the eye. "Congratulations Jake, your team won." Jake smiled again and shook his hand. "Thanks, dude." Heading down toward the house with Jake and his other guests, Curtis hid the virulence of his thoughts; joining their laughter and banter. In spite of his efforts, one covert glance in Jake's direction was filled with malevolence. I hate that bastard and his damn grin. I'm the best and I'm going to prove it. He's a dead man.

Six years later...
Curtis stood on the beach watching the waves carry the last of the sawdust out to sea. I didn't mean it to go that far, but things got crazy... At least nobody'll ever find the bat. Carefully keeping his expression neutral, he climbed the path back up to the family house. Everybody's grieving. Gotta remember that - no matter how good it feels to finally be the best. After scrambling up to the plateau, he looked outwards toward the house. His father was walking toward him. What now? Gotta keep it cool - no one knows. No one knows... Curtis kept his expression calm.

"This isn't a good time I know, what with Jake's murder just the day before yesterday," his father said, throwing an arm around his shoulders. He gave Curtis a quick hug and released him. "But the school called and said that since you're the alternate, you have the option to take his place this fall at the Senate Page School if you want it." He paused and cuffed Curtis lightly on the chin.  "I know you didn't want to get it this way son."

"Naw, Dad. It's alright - I'll take it. It's too good an opportunity to pass up," Curtis answered. He matched his Dad's sad smile with one of his own and followed him slowly back to the house. As he would for the next several weeks, he surreptitiously checked his fingernails for traces of blood.


  1. I like that final detail, that he'd check his fingernails needlessly for a long time afterward. It feels very genuine.

    Are there some parts, like in the first paragraph of the second section, that should be italicized for inner monologue?

  2. That's a good question John. Some editors say italicize inner monologue; some say don't. I'm still not sure which is better. If I italicize inner monologue, how do I indicate emphasis in that monologue? Anybody know?

  3. You did a great job of painting the scene. Really good. One small question: why is Curtis wearing dark clothes? Isn't he part of the paintball teams? I didn't get that, but otherwise it's terrific. The fingernail detail at the end is chilling, and perfect.

  4. I loved the staccato rhythms of the first paragraph, you could just feel his frustration & resentment.

    Personally I don't italacise inner thoughts for what it's worth

    Good job

    Marc Nash

  5. Thanks, John. D. You're right - I should have pointed out that he took off his blue jacket. Thanks for the catch.

    Glad you liked it, Marc.


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