Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Writer's Doubt

       I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: Overcoming Writer’s Doubt’ held by Positive Writer. - See more at:

I started writing at the age of thirteen. I wrote out 103 pages long hand (spelling most words horrendously incorrectly) and I just knew it was the greatest thing since Shakespeare. Over the next two years, as I read over my work, I realized... I had a long way to go. Friends and family would say that it reminded them of this book or of that book, and they were right. My story was borderline plagiarism. From that moment on every time I sat down to write I stopped and thought, Oh no... this has been done before. I'm no good. This was my first experience with writers doubt.
Yes, many writers go through this. We write a new story and feel passionate about it. It's exciting, fresh, and daring. Even so, somewhere down the road, we hit a road block. I would say this it the real “writers block”. It's not that we can't think of what to write next, but that we fear what we want to write. The book I'm currently writing made me feel overjoyed and I couldn't stop talking about it with my sister. I'd never written anything like it. Then I reached page 100. By this point is where the writer's doubt attacks. I started thinking that it sounded too much like other books. People would think I stole the idea or even that I had zero imagination, since it was like all the others. It made me want to cry.
It was my sister who talked me off the ledge. She rolled her eyes with her sweet smile and said, “You always say that.” I stared at her for a few seconds and realized she was right. I did always say that. What I came to realize was that yes, my story did sound similar to others, but all stories are inspired by similar things. There's always the protagonist, antagonist, comic relief, and love interest. There's a crime that needs solving or a world that needs saving. It wasn't about me taking ideas, but how I used those ideas and made them my own.
I have a friend who I haven't seen or spoken with in many years. He is currently reading my story story which I posted on my blog. I had every reason to believe no one was reading it, so when he sent me an e-mail out of the blue telling me how much he was enjoying it, it made my heart swell. All that doubt I'd felt had been for nothing. He could be the only person in the world reading my short story, but at least he has been entertained. That is success. That is a personal win.
We as writers need to have faith in ourselves. Our stories are our own and deserve to be read, even if only by a few. Start your story, take ideas from everywhere, and make it your own. It may not be the next bestseller, but it will touch someone somewhere. It will spark a reader's imagination, inspire another writer, or help you grow in your writing until you do write that bestseller.
So, writer's doubt? Forget about it. It's all in your head, just like it is in mine. We are storytellers. We make dark days gain new life. Polish your story and make it fresh.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sad, Brown Eyes: Part 10

The time came for them to make their move. Lennon led the three of them back up to the tunnel. As before, Lennon checked the area. “Same men as last night,” he reported. “But there are many more civilians.”
Then why are we just sitting down here?” Juliana said haughtily. She wanted to end this now. Lennon held up his eyebrows. “Easy, Ms. Russo. There is one thing I haven't said.”
He pointed upward. “Gerard Black is patrolling.” As if that image wasn't enough to strike fear in her heart, he added, “On an Anichanical rhinoceros.”
Ellis let out a laugh. “Nothing terrifying about that,” he said facetiously. Juliana pressed her face into the neck of the puppy's warm hair. They should have done this last night. Gerard Black knew they planned to enter the laboratory. Of course he'd come personally. He knew the lab's location. He didn't want anyone to get in, but at least he could keep anyone from leaving it.
Lennon risked another peek and quickly pulled his head back in. “There's no way we will get out of here unseen.”
Juliana inhaled slowly. “Good thing we want to be seen.” She ran forward and pulled herself out of the hole, puppy tucked under one arm. Her burst of strength surprised her. She rolled to her back and stood, holding the animal over her head. Gerard Black and his men spotted her immediately. A man and a woman walking nearest her stopped dead when she appeared like an apparition. Their eyes moved up her arms to the barking puppy. The woman covered her mouth in shock.
Juliana glared into Gerard Black's eyes. “The animals are returning!” she shouted. “Look! This creature is alive!”
People stopped and stared. An old woman walking with her great-grandson squinted to take in the sight. Her winkled jaw dropped and she pointed a shaky finger at it. She said something so quietly not even her great-grandson could hear. He moved his ear closer to her lips and she said something to make him give the puppy a double take.
Gerard Black directed his giant Anichanical Juliana's way. The machine crunched across the street straight for her. She lowered the puppy and ran down the street. Lennon and Ellis climbed from the hole. Lennon shouted to her, told her to stop, but she couldn't get her feet to do so. Gerard Black's men started to chase, some on the back's of Anichanical horses. Lennon threw some of his smoke bombs into their path. Smoke obstructed their vision. It gave Juliana more time to gain distance.
Gerard Black's Anichanical thundered after her. Juliana shouted at everyone she passed. “A puppy! Look here! Puppy! The animals are returning! It's a living animal!”
Civilians stopped to see what this crazy woman was going on about. Some saw the puppy as she ran. Others stared in confusion. Most dodged the raging Anichanical stampeding down the street. Juliana saw the Eiffel Tower crystallized in ice. People were all around. If she could make it to the tower then there would be far too many witnesses for Gerard Black to stop her.
She picked up the pace, protecting the small animal as best she could. Men with guns and some with swords came at her from the street ahead. No doubt they worked for Black Industries. She looked back once and saw the Anichanical rhinoceros right on her tail. Only twenty yards between them. She continued to run, ignoring the uncomfortable closeness.
Gerard Black's deep voice came at her. “Juliana Russo! You're making a terrible mistake!”
She blocked out his voice. Nothing he had to say would make her stop from reaching her objective. She slid on some ice as she changed direction, moving gracefully and swiftly. Her body now faced the Eiffel Tower. Not much further. It was right in front of her. Push, Juliana, she ordered of herself.
A gun shot fired. The bullet zipped by her head. A tremor went through her legs and she almost collapsed in anxiety. She pinched her arm. “Still alive, Juliana.” She blinked hot tears from her eyes and pushed on. Civilians were starting to verbally question the scene before them. Once that shot was fired all discretion went out the window. “What's going on?” a man shouted. “You people are insane!”
That man tried to shoot her!” a woman declared.
That woman has an animal!” said another woman. “I saw it with my own eyes!”
Gerard Black's men tried to convince them they were police, but not many bought it. That pleased Juliana. She only needed a few more witnesses. She reached the tower, held up the puppy, and then the Anichanical rhinoceros rammed her. The wind blew out of her lungs as she flew backwards. The puppy fell from her grasp as her back slammed into the frosty concrete. The terrified animal darted off through the scattering crowd of humans.
Juliana tried to suck in a breath. As she did something inside her burned. She tried to scream but nothing came out. She touched her side with her silent screeching. Broken ribs. That much she could deduce on her own. She touched her face as a warm sensation fell down to her lips and across her chin. Blood.
She got in a shallow intake of breath and a groan came free. A shadow fell around her. The Anichanical rhinoceros circled her. Gerard Black stared down at her broken body. “Ludicrous woman,” he jeered. He dismounted and crouched beside her. His pocket watches dangled over her face. If she had the strength she would have torn them from his vest.
He pressed his thumb between her eyebrows. “One tiny, hairy, foul-smelling mutt won't be enough to save Carlo's treasured laboratory,” he said. “I've been seeking a way to destroy that blasted place since I discovered its existence and no librarian from New San Gimignano of all places will get in my way.”
She clenched her teeth and spoke through her pain in a wispy voice. “Animals are more important to this planet than machines.” She took in three quick breaths, each feeling like fiery daggers twisting in her lungs. “You're vain... and self-indulgent.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “And Carlo... he wanted to help the world.”
Gerard Black removed his thumb from her head. He rolled his eyes. “I run a business, Juliana Russo. It is true that I have my greenhouses and other such inventions, but the Anichanicals bring in high revenue. They are what I'm affiliated with. If a scientist can bring animals back from the dead who's to say they won't find a way to end this God forsaken Freeze?” He pushed his spectacles high up on his nose. “I won't be put out of business just so people like you can have a furry plaything.”
The sound of a bullet clicking into its chamber came from Gerard Black's left. Lennon said, “Back away from the girl. Hands up!”
Gerard Black deliberately turned his head slowly. He grabbed his own gun but merely held it loosely. His casual demeanor was far more threatening than him aiming the weapon would have been. Snow started to fall gently. It made the whole scene dream-like and Juliana wished it were. That way when she awoke all this would go away.
Lennon held his gun still and spoke with authority. “I won't tell you again, Gerard Black! Drop your weapon and move away from the girl!”
A crowd started to form around the perimeter of the Eiffel Tower. Juliana tried to find the puppy within the mass of people but her throbbing head fogged her mind. Someone needed to find the puppy. They needed the puppy.
Gerard Black stood nonchalantly. He moved his gun from one hand to the other, over and over. “I am the future of the new world. Animals are dead. It was natures way. Bringing them back is the real crime. Scientist's believe they are Gods. Who gave them permission to meddle with the extinct?” He put a hand on his Anichanical rhinoceros. “This... this is the direction our world is going. I didn't set the path. I simply followed where it led.”
And why would you want to leave it,” Lennon said with a mocking tone, “when it is covered with money?”
Gerard Black's face broke into a wide grin. “Exactly,” he concurred. His eyes turned down to Juliana. His gun finally found a target. He fixed it on her. Lennon chocked his gun's trigger. “Don't! Don't do it!”
Gerard Black paid no attention to Lennon's demand. He stared at Juliana, the smile gone from his cold face. His burning eyes hurt almost as much as her black-and-blue body. She gasped for air and tried to sit up. It was no use. She couldn't move anything but her fingers and head. Punctured lung, she speculated.
Gerard Black clicked his own bullet into his weapon. Lennon started forward but the Anichanical rhinoceros gave a warning charge. If Lennon came any closer the powerful device would do to him what it did to Juliana. Perhaps worse.
From behind her where she couldn't see, startled gasps and screams rang out as something thundered through the scene, charging under the tower. It stopped to her right and rose up on powerful back legs. Gerard Black gasped and cowered back from the Anichanical grizzly bear. Alec roared artificially and then Benjamin entered Juliana's vision, aiming his gun at their opponent.
A hand fell on Juliana's arm. “My daughter, oh my G-God,” Pietro stammered. Juliana's hurt feelings and anger toward him vanished at the sound of his voice. She reached out and took his hand. “Dad,” she squeaked. He did his best not to cry in front of her. He smoothed her hair back. “I'm here,” he promised.
The two Anichanicals squared off. They circled the group, gears grinding and noses steaming. Benjamin and Lennon spoke over each other, demanding that Gerard Black stand down. No one would yield.
The animals are returning!” shouted Ellis's voice. The witnesses gasped and some even fainted. Juliana asked her father what was happening. He needed to take a moment to process it. Finally he described the sight in one word. “Giraffe.”
Ellis and some of the scientist's had brought out some of the animals. The beagle puppy, a parakeet, two mice, a small tank holding a coy fish, a pony, and the giraffe. Ellis held out his arms widely at his sides. “The animals are returning!”
Somewhere in the crowd the old woman from before stepped forward. She held up the puppy that Juliana had lost hold of. She walked her back to Ellis. He took the puppy and the woman beamed.
Gerard Black shook his head in disbelief. He eyed Juliana. “If you want your precious animals so badly, then what need do you have for an Anichanical?” With a wave of his hand the Anichanical rhinoceros charged at Alec. Metal crunched metal, steam screamed, and the Anichanical grizzly bear collapsed as a heap of scrap.
Juliana was hallucinating. That would explain the pile of metal she saw. That would explain the stench of hot water creeping over to her. She would awaken to find Alec at the foot of her bed ready for an evening ride. She refused to believe he was totaled.
Pietro pulled a sword from the scabbard at his side. Juliana hadn't noticed it before. He pointed the blade's tip at Gerard Black. “You will pay for that,” he swore.
Gerard Black pointed his gun at Pietro. “You swing, I fire. We'll see who dies first."
You'd fire with all these witnesses?” Benjamin challenged. “Surrender now, Gerard Black.”
Their adversary erupted in laughter. He lowered his weapon and turned to face the crowd. “Who said the people want the animals to return?” He raised his voice for them all to hear. “Do you all want these foul beasts to freely roam our planet? To eat what few resources we possess? To muck up our cities with faeces and fur? I ask you!” He gestured to the animals. “What use are these things you see before you?”
The old woman stepped forward. Her great-grandson stood at her side. She spoke softly and the great-grandson repeated her words so everyone could hear. “My great-grandmother says she remembers the animals from before the Freeze!” The old woman spoke some more and he said, “The animals were a joy! They brought comfort to the ill! Companionship to the widowed! Eyes to the blind! She votes they stay!”
Juliana felt power in the old woman's words. She gritted her teeth and forced herself to a sitting position. Pietro tried to stop her but she shooed his hands away. From sitting she moved to standing. Each movement shot searing pain through her body. A fractured pelvis, she added to her list of injuries. She gripped her side and kept her eyes off of Alec's mangled parts. She creased her forehead and waited for Gerard Black to take notice of her. When he did she said, “The animals... will return. You cannot stop the inevitable. Destroy my Anichanical... destroy my body... but the animals are returning.”
Staggered witnesses started to cheer. Clapping and whooping rang out around the Eiffel Tower. Soon everyone was at it. Gerard Black's men had given up long ago and now lay their weapons down. Real police came onto the scene and arrested them. The last to be handcuffed was Gerard Black. As the police took him away he gave Juliana one last look. Momentary but clear. He knew she'd fought better than he. He knew he was beaten.
Juliana closed her eyes and let every sound fade. She let her mind wander. She saw her last memory of her mother. She saw the moment she found her father. She saw Nathaniel standing in the smoke. She saw Carlo... laughing with her under the sky-train rails.
She opened her eyes and tried to release the sob stuck in her chest. Nothing would come out. She couldn't breathe. Her knees gave out and she fell in the snow.

End of Part 10

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sad, Brown Eyes: Part 9

The puppy barked which sounded more like a squeak. The scientist shushed the small creature. The furry animal pranced to the man and pawed at his legs. The man picked the creature up. “Sorry. Still training this one. Do come in.”
Even Lennon had no words. He and Juliana stared openly at the animal under the scientist's arm. The man chuckled. “Well this is a good reaction. You're the first people outside the laboratory to see an animal.”
That's a dog,” Lennon finally got out.
The scientist nodded. “Indeed.” He held his arm out to the inside of the door. “Come.”
Juliana and Lennon followed him inside. A glass chamber greeted them. The man held his hand on a pad that scanned his fingerprints. A green light flashed and a door whooshed aside. “Please step in one at a time for decontamination. We can't allow our specimens to get ill. You understand.”
Lennon stepped through first. A mist blew over him and a door at the back of the chamber opened to let him out. After Juliana's turn the scientist came out a side door. “Thank you for your cooperation. This way.” There was an elevator waiting and they piled in. The scientist pressed the only button and the door shut. A breath later they were descending. The man shifted the puppy to his other arm. “This little guy is getting heavy.” He scratched the puppy behind the ears. The puppy tried to nip his hand playfully.
Sudden tears sprung up in Juliana's eyes. She smiled as she watched the sweet creature. The scientist held the puppy out to her. “Would you like to hold him?”
Her arms shot out with excitement and he moved the puppy to her. She carefully held the squishy body and moved his face close to hers. The puppy breathed on her. It smelled sour and sweet at the same time. It was the most disgustingly sweet smell she'd ever experienced.
The scientist leaned against the steel wall and crossed his arms. “That one's only a month old. Cute, huh?”
A tear trickled down her cheek and the puppy licked it away. She giggled. “Cute,” she concurred with a soft voice. She held the puppy close to her chest and he rested his chin on her, staring at her with curious, black eyes. “What kind is he?” she asked.
Beagle,” the scientist informed.
Lennon began asking questions concerning the lab. Juliana sat against the wall when she heard how far down the lab went. Five hundred feet. The distance made her feel ill. How long had these men been trapped? The whole of her father's imprisonment? No matter how long, she couldn't imagine staying below the surface without fresh air or sunlight for so long.
Lennon motioned to the puppy now playing around Juliana's ankles. “Do you have many of those?”
The scientist pushed out his lower lip. “Well, no. Not many beagles, anyway.”
What's that suppose to mean?” Lennon asked skeptically.
The man raised and lowered one shoulder with a small smile. “Eh... we have a few other breeds, some birds, mice, a giraffe...” He halted his list when he saw the looks on their faces. Bugging eyes and gaping mouths. A puppy was one thing... but a giraffe? Juliana had read about those tall necked, spotted beasts, but to think there was one hidden underneath New Paris astonished her. “Can we see it?”
The elevator stopped and the doors moved aside. The scene before them came to a standstill. Men were standing around the lab, goggles over their eyes, syringes and beakers in hand. When they saw the newcomers they weren't sure how to react.
The scientist stepped into the lab and held his arms out to present them. “Gentlemen, didn't I tell you this day would come?”
One of the younger scientists set down his effects and walked closer. He pointed a shaky finger at them. “People. From the outside.”
The door has been opened!” another man shouted. The laboratory was suddenly in an uproar. Panic mixed with their delight. In the back came the sound of broken glass. They pushed to get closer to Lennon and Juliana. The scientist who had greeted them held out his hands. “Calm down, gentlemen!”
The many men toned it down, taking deep breaths. Some had to take a knee. Lennon spoke. “I am Lennon Learmen and this is my companion, Juliana Russo.”
All eyes fell on Juliana. She could tell that they all knew her name. One mouthed it to himself in awe. She set down the puppy and he ran to a scientist. She stepped forward. “Why was the code to your fail safe my name?”
No one answered her. A man in the center of the crowd offered his own question. “Where is Carlo Costa? If the door is opened then he is the one who did it. Only those involved with Project Reinisiate know the code.”
Men nodded in agreement, eyes searching for a sign of their old comrade. Juliana wanted to forget about Carlo, but at every turn something reminded her of him. She stomped her foot. “He's dead!” she bellowed. Her direct, blunt report brought a hush over the lab. Lennon touched her shoulder but she shrugged it off. She tugged her headlamp from her head. “Why?” She needn’t elaborate.
The young scientist looked to the man who'd greeted them. “Ellis?”
The man –Ellis– rubbed his head. “Mademoiselle, Carlo Costa was a brilliant man and with his advanced knowledge and dreams to heal the planet came danger.” He paused for her response. She offered none. He cleared his throat and continued. “Carlo began Project Reinisiate thirty-seven years ago. Only those in high government positions knew of it. Gerard Black, being a well-known and powerful man in our new world, somehow learned of it and tried to learn of our lab's location. Luckily for us someone in the government destroyed all records of Project Reinisiate upon Gerard Black's discovery, including records of those involved with the project. Our families were relocated for protection and we were ordered never to leave unless an emergency occurred. That is why Carlo left the laboratory.”
Lennon held up a finger. “Carlo told us he wanted everyone to abandon the project.”
Some of the scientists chuckled. Ellis shook his head. “I have no doubt he told you that lie. No. He never wanted to give up this work. It was his life. His dream. He only left for his wife's sake.”
Juliana remembered Carlo telling her about his wife. He'd said he wasn't married anymore. Had Gerard Black abducted her to get to him? Killed her perhaps? Ellis said, “Madame Costa died while he was away. He arrived in New San Gimignano an hour after the fact. It devastated him when he found out. Still, she'd given him a precious gift. Upon his return to the laboratory, he created the fail safe and administered the pass-code to us.”
But why is it 'Juliana?'” Lennon asked. He wanted to know just as badly as Juliana did. She stared into Ellis's eyes. He tried to break contact but her hold was too intense. “Madam Costa died during childbirth,” he stated. “Carlo gave the child up... for the child's own protection.”
Lennon's jaw dropped and he shot his eyes to Juliana. She took an unsteady step backward. “You mean to tell me that Carlo is my biological father?” She said this with such disbelief behind the words. Ellis nodded. He could see the shock building inside her. He smiled for her benefit. “Listen to me, Mademoiselle Russo. Carlo knew if Gerard Black ever found out about you he'd use you against him. He only ever wanted what was best for his child, even if that meant removing himself from her life.”
A door at the back of the room opened and two men entered. The door was to another elevator. The laboratory must have had separate floors. The men stopped dead when they saw the gathering. Whatever they'd come to say lingered on their lips. One whispered to a man at the back and when he answered the new man's eyes shot straight to Juliana. He knew her. They all knew her.
Juliana saw Lennon look her up and down. He looked at her with different eyes. A new person stood before him. In his eyes Juliana had changed with that one simple fact. She was Carlo's daughter.
She rubbed her eyes. How could have Pietro never told her? When he and Carlo were together on the zeppelin they'd shared this silent secret. She'd stood inches from them and they'd said nothing. A dizzy-spell overcame her. Lennon steadied her as she swayed.
Ellis moved his eyes to the men who'd come from the elevator. “Yes, Messieurs?”
They stood uneasily until one of them said, “The capuchin has three arms.”
Ellis pinched the bridge of his nose. “Follow me,” he told Lennon. “Help her.”
I don't need help,” Juliana mumbled. She pushed on Lennon's chest and balanced herself. They walked behind Ellis, moving through the scientists to the back elevator. Five bodies standing in the elevator was a tight fit. Juliana had never experienced the feeling of claustrophobia before, but as the elevator moved deeper underground she found it difficult to breathe.
The trip didn't last long. The doors opened to reveal another level of the lab. More scientists were hard at work. There were half the amount than there were upstairs. However, the men weren't what stole Juliana's attention. It was the rows of cages lining the walls. The multitude of noises in the room clogged her ears. Hoots and howls. Growls and purrs. She feared her ears would bleed.
Something tickled her nose and she sneezed. Ellis fanned the air. “Our newest initiate is loosing most of his fur,” he explained. Two men were trying to calm a leashed capuchin monkey. The beast only had a few patches of fur on his petite frame. The three arms the men mentioned were clawing at the air, whipping wildly. His long fangs were bared, warning off the humans. The poor thing looked terrified.
Ellis went to assist his comrades. The capuchin's eyes were darting back and forth, frenzied. He tried to bite the men and did a back flip. The men held onto the leash to keep him on the table. Saliva dribbled from his mouth. It flung into the air with each strong jerk.
Ellis moved his hand over his throat and shook his head. The other scientist's face became disappointed. He pulled a syringe from a drawer and stuck it into the capuchin's hip. Instantly the creature relaxed. He sat down, then lay down, and finally his crazed eyes slid shut.
Juliana covered her mouth. Ellis looked at her. “He felt no pain, I assure you. Sometimes the procedure doesn't take and the result is a defective specimen.”
Something slimy pressed upward against Juliana's ear. She jerked away with a quick intake of breath and spun around. A long, purple tongue slipped like a noodle into a pair of large, golden lips. Juliana automatically reached out slowly to pet the soft nose of the baby giraffe. A smile spread across her face. “Fantastic,” she said.
Lennon tapped on Ellis's shoulder. “You need to bring one of these animals to the surface. When the people witness them there will be nothing Gerard Black can do. He'll be powerless to stop Project Reinitiate.”
Ellis scrunched his nose. “The problem is our animals have never been outside this lab,” he said. “There's no telling how they'll react.”
Juliana turned from the giraffe. “You can't stay down here forever. Don't be afraid.” She looked at one of the cages. It housed another breed of dog. A small thing covered in black curls. Juliana pressed her hand against the skinny bars and the dog sniffed her with a cold nose. With mutual trust, she unlocked the door and lifted it out.
Ellis grimaced. “She's kind, but I still don't know.”
Juliana smiled at him and kissed the puppy's fluffy head. “She'll do great. Let's go.”

* * *

The elevator moved upward. Juliana closed her eyes and waited to feel a fresh breeze or smell the icy river. Never again would she go below ground. It suffocated her. She preferred open spaces, to soar. The puppy began whimpering. Juliana stroked her back. “Shhh. It's all right, little one. You're about to make history.”
The elevator slowed and then stopped. Juliana's heart skipped a beat. The doors slid open and Lennon led the way up the tunnel. Juliana had left her headlamp in the laboratory, so she walked in step behind Lennon, mimicking his every move so as not to stumble.
They made it to the end of the tunnel. Lennon told them to wait and he stuck his head out into the night, making sure the coast was clear. When he lowered back down he said, “There are a few men out in the street. One has a gun and the other is suspiciously staring at the river. They may be working for Gerard Black.”
Juliana held the puppy close to her. “What do we do?”
Lennon leaned against the tunnel wall. He ran his hand over his head. Ellis took a step forward. “We should wait until morning,” he suggested. “That way there will be more witnesses.”
Good idea,” Lennon praised. That's what they did. They went back down to the lab and tried to sleep. Juliana wasn't able too. She stayed up the remainder of the night with the puppy. Her every thought focused on Carlo.
At one point in the night, Ellis approached her with a cup of water. She hesitated to take it. He said, “We've rationed our supplies for the passed year and a half. Only now we don't need too.” He set the cup beside her. She relented and took it. After a few sips a question came to her. “How long have you been trapped down here?”
Like I said, Mademoiselle. A year and a half.”
That didn't make sense. She'd thought they'd been trapped for as long as Gerard Black held her father and mother captive. Ellis sat in a chair across from her. “Carlo left the laboratory when he heard that your adoptive parents were hostages.” She cringed at the word adoptive. Ellis didn't notice her reaction. He continued. “He knew there was a much higher risk of him finding the laboratory, so he secluded himself in the woods of New Tuscany. That's when we locked it down.”
But you had food and water prepared for such an outcome?”
Yes. Carlo made sure we were well prepared for any occasion.”
Everything Carlo had told her when she'd found his cabin had been a fabricated back story. He had been more of a spy than a scientist. She held the sleeping puppy closer and tried to forgive his lies.

End of Part 9

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sad, Brown Eyes: Part 8

Nathaniel slept through the night and most of the next day. Benjamin had stopped the bleeding and stitched his leg up, but he'd lost a lot of blood. He'd be out of action for the next few days. That left the remainder of the mission to the two-man-crew and the book smart girl.
Juliana sat in the galley with her father. She fiddled with Carlo's cravat and the key card. She wrapped the card in the fabric and then unfurled it. Pietro ate some soup slowly. He'd shaved and was feeling much better. Physically at least. He watched her clammy hands. She sniffed constantly, trying not to shed any more tears for Carlo.
10, 21, 12, 9, 1, 14, 1, she repeated for the hundredth time.
Pietro licked his spoon clean. “I'm proud of you.”
She straightened her spine. She'd taken her hair down and it now hung loosely over her shoulders. It resembled ink flowing through water. Her father's brown hair paled in comparison. He scraped his spoon along the inside of his empty bowl. The spoon dug patterns in the leftover scraps.
Juliana scratched her nose. “Why are you proud of me?”
Because,” he said, “you went back for Carlo... when no one else would. You didn't wait until it was too late or until it was convenient.” He grinned at her. She'd missed his charming grin. He kissed her temple. “I'm very proud of you and he would be too.”
She mouthed a thank you and transferred her eyes back to the card and cravat laying on the table. The feelings boiling inside her needed to overflow on something. Or someone. Gerard Black had chosen to mess with the wrong girl. She would make sure that the code entered the keypad. Project Reinisiate would commence. No one else would die.
Benjamin appeared in the threshold. “New Paris is in sight.”
Juliana clambered to her feet, snatching up the card and cravat. She followed Benjamin to the bridge. She went to the bow and saw the most amazing sight. The skyline of New Paris. It was breathtaking. The sun hung in the western sky, casting an afternoon glare over the snowy city. Even from their distance, she could make out the Eiffel Tower, clear as day.
Her Anichanical grizzly came up beside her, resting his chin on the deck wall. “Isn't it beautiful, Alec?” she whispered, still trying to believe such a sight genuinely stood before her. If only Nathaniel could see, she thought.
Lennon entered her peripheral vision. He looked through a pair of brass binoculars. He twisted a dial on the side and the lences moved outward like a telescope. A dial on the other side made the lences grow or shrink depending on the way it was turned. Lennon concentrated and then hiss out, “Damn.”
That sounded bad. Juliana was sick of hearing bad news. “What happened?”
He set the binoculars on the deck wall and turned to the bridge. “Black Industries zeppelins! Plan B!”
Juliana took the binoculars to take a look. The city looked somewhat blurry when looking with the naked eye, but she became dizzy when she set the binoculars to her face. If she hadn't known better she'd have thought she was standing on the street. Civilians walked passed where she focused. She could make out their every detail right down to their collar buttons. She feared they'd see her they looked so close. Her fingers found the dials on the sides and she adjusted the lences. When she found the zeppelin port she saw four of the Black Industries zeppelins. They'd arrived ahead of them, waiting to intercept them.
Juliana felt the zeppelin slow to a stop. It hovered low to the ground to keep out of sight. They wouldn't enter the city without a new plan. Juliana turned sharply as Lennon went to the bridge. She walked in his wake. “What's plan B?”
Not as easy as plan A,” he said simply.
On the bridge, Benjamin pulled out a map of New Paris. He flattened it out over the table. “They're here?” It was a rhetorical question. He knew that their adversary awaited them. Lennon scratched his eyebrows. “Without Carlo this will be twenty times harder.” He hooked his thumb over at Juliana. “I still have no clue why he gave her the code. We're the ones who have the experience with rescue missions. Isn't that why he hired us?”
His words cut her deep. She wanted nothing more than to be home, but she wasn't going anywhere. This mission had become a part of her. Carlo trusted her. Nothing she'd done during their brief friendship was worth such trust. That fact irked her. She wasn't special, yet he'd treated her with admiration.
Benjamin ignored Lennon's words and got to business. “The laboratory is here.” He pointed to the Eiffel Tower on the map. “The entrance is there.” His finger slid across the map to the Seine River. “There is a secret door with the keypad hidden just below the water. That is where Juliana will enter the code.”
It won't be easy,” Lennon stated obviously. “New London was difficult enough even with Carlo and Nathaniel. Trying to access the very thing Gerard Black intends to destroy... this is laughable.”
Do try to at least sound optimistic.”
Both men stared at Juliana through squint eyes. She hadn't meant to say that out loud. Lennon's bitterness and snide comments were absolutely galling. She wanted him to shut up and get the job done. If Carlo were with them his attitude would be light and raring. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I don't know why Carlo gave me the code. I wish I did. Regardless, I have it and I will open the lab. If you're so bent on resentment then stay behind.”
Benjamin snorted a laugh, trying to keep it back. Lennon raised his chin in pride, inhaling through his nose. He and she locked eyes and she wouldn't let herself look away first. With a scoff, the man relaxed his muscles. “I'm... sorry... Ms. Russo.”
She smiled, proud for standing up for herself. “Thank you.”
Benjamin clapped dramatically. “Oh how wonderful. Hugs all around. Now... back to the plan?”
Yes,” Juliana agreed. Lennon pointed out an important fact. “You do know that once we dock Gerard Black's men will be on us in seconds.”
Docking at the zeppelin port wasn't an option. They needed to sneak into the city another way. Possibly, their zeppelin wouldn't even touch down. Juliana imagined hanging from a rope ladder twenty odd-some feet off the ground, a weapon strapped to her hip, the code pulsing in her skull. No matter how many stories she'd read, no matter how many textbooks, nothing could prepare her for real live peril.
Pietro cleared his throat at the door of the stairs. “Mind if I give my two cents?”
By all means, if you think it'll help,” Lennon said with a beckoning hand. Pietro walked to the table. For a minute he stared at the map, perhaps recalling a distant memory. Lennon rubbed his nape. “Sometime today.”
Watch you mouth,” Juliana spat.
Pietro held up his hand. “We're all friends here.” He touched her shoulder. “It's fine. Now, I've been here before. They wouldn't let me inside the lab, however. And... it was here that Gerard Black's men abducted my wife and I.”
The bitter wind outside rattled the windows and everyone flinched. Lennon reached for his gun which lay on a nearby chair. Juliana shivered. She'd never get used to the tense atmosphere. Every sound she heard made Gerard Black's face flash across her vision.
Everyone breathed deeply as the wind settled. Pietro forced a chuckle. “Anyway, the secret entrance you speak of is, in actuality, the decoy secret entrance.”
The look on everyone's faces indicated they were all befuddled. Benjamin raised his eyebrows. “Come again?”
Carlo told me... he told me of the decoy. It was created for this type of situation. Meaning Gerard Black. The scientists took into account that someone may try to stop Project Reinisiate, for whatever reason. Hence the decoy entrance.”
Juliana pictured her father and Carlo having this said conversation in that secluded cabin. Even then Carlo had had a confusingly abundant amount of trust for the Russo's. A secret project was just that. Secret. Yet Carlo told her father about the decoy entrance and her the code. Surely there were others of higher authority whom he could have confided in. A politician or a doctor even. But he chose a historian and a librarian.
So where is the real entrance?” Benjamin inquired.
Pietro touched a spot about a mile upriver from the Eiffel Tower. “A secret tunnel will lead you to the bottom of the river and there you will find the door with the keypad.”
Lennon voiced what Juliana had been thinking. “Why would Carlo tell you this? Who are you?”
Pietro suddenly found his hand fascinating. “It's hard to explain. Carlo and I... we had an agreement years ago. Only I, for lack of a better word, dented it.”
Juliana touched his arm. This news came as a shock to her. Had Carlo been an old family friend? Had she met him before as a child? She stared at her father, hoping her eyes burned his senses so he'd open up to her. “How long have you known him?”
He kept his eyes on his hand. “I knew him for many years. It isn't that important. Right now we must open the laboratory.”
Agreed,” Benjamin said. “And I think I know where we can get Juliana down without landing the zeppelin.”

The plan was simple enough. Well, at least Benjamin and Lennon thought so. The entire thing made Juliana want to regurgitate her lunch. She currently stood in Nathaniel's cabin, trying not to think of the plan. It would only make her over-think it, which she had no time for. Her friend was out like a light. His Anichanical was perched on the headboard. His bright headlight eyes watched Juliana. She tied her hair in a braid and did some stretches. Anything to feel more preparedfor her mission.
As she stretched her legs Nathaniel stirred. He spotted her at the foot of his bed, doubled over, hands on her ankles. He scoffed with a crooked smile. “What are you doing, Juli?”
She almost jumped through the wall at the sound of his groggy voice. He tried to sit up and he grunted as he moved. He chomped down on his fist to keep from crying out. She stood over him. “Easy. You're still weak.”
Noted,” he said. “If I find the no-good, rotten, piece of dog crap that shot me...” He left his half-threat hanging in the air. His head hit the pillow. “This sucks.”
Juliana's eyes fell on his leg. The bandages were crinkled, dried with whatever medication Benjamin had put on them. They needed changing. Nathaniel took a few deep breaths and pulled himself to a sitting position. He grimaced with the action. His Anichanical flew down to his lap. It's headlight eyes turned off and the room dimmed. Only a lantern on the nightstand lit the area.
Nathaniel shifted the topic. “So what's the plan? Fill me in. Please. I'm going mad sitting in here.”
She gathered a basket of medical supplies from the corner and sat beside him. She started to change his bandages. He tried to stop her and she said, “Let me, Nathaniel. It'll help distract me.”
He pushed his lips to one side and shrugged one shoulder. She got to work while explaining the plan. She and Lennon would climb down a rope ladder –as she'd imagined– in a park a mile from the Seine River. Once down, Benjamin would fly the zeppelin out of the city. Lennon and Juliana would go on foot to the Seine River and find the tunnel Pietro mentioned. They'd follow the tunnel, find the door, Juliana would punch in the code, and it would be done.
She finished changing his bandages. Nathaniel made a face. “Seems straight forward. Still, from what I've seen Gerard Black do,” He nodded to his leg. “and felt him do... it just seems like you'll be caught.”
The same worry had crossed her mind. Nevertheless, she had to believe Gerard Black and his spies knew nothing about the true entrance. That was their saving grace. It had to work. They were out of options.
Pietro entered the cabin. The Anichanical parrot squawked and flapped it's metal wings rapidly. They smacked against Nathaniel's chest. Nathaniel pushed the device off his lap. “You malfunctioning piece of equipment. I hate when it does that.”
Juliana smiled and imagined a living parrot always perched on her friend's shoulder. Bright feathers and big, golden eyes. Even the idea of bird droppings running down Nathaniel's shoulder made the dream of returning animals to the world that much more appealing. For a brief instant, Juliana felt excitement for the mission at hand.
Then her father said, “Lennon's ready for you.”
The excitement evaporated.
Nathaniel held out his hand and she took it. They squeezed tightly. He gave her a wink. “Go release havoc.”
Their hands fell away and she linked arms with her father. He escorted her to the deck. As they walked, Juliana inhaled slowly and exhaled slowly. She did this over and over, trying to stay calm. She had her father's arm in a constricting bind. He caressed her pale hands. Inhale. Exhale.
They reached the stairs and paused. Pietro looked down at her and waited for her okay. She stared up the steps. Night had fallen. The cover of darkness would help in their plan. Still, no matter how prepared everyone said she was, she didn't feel it.
10, 21, 12, 9, 1, 14, 1...
How long did you know Carlo?”
Pietro cranked his head back and looked at the wooden ceiling. “Eh... I've known of him for many years. Personally spoken to him only four, maybe five times.” He moved his eyes to Juliana's. “That man changed my life, my daughter. I owe him so much.” He choked up on that last word. His eyes glistened.
Juliana wanted to understand the importance of Carlo. She laid her head on her father's shoulder. “When I return I want to know the whole story. That will be your gift to me. Promise?”
He swallowed. “Promise,” he whispered.
She nodded and started forward. He followed her lead and they went to the deck where Benjamin and Lennon waited. Alec stood in the background, offline. Juliana made a mental note that she'd see him again. That personal guarantee soothed her. Goals would help keep her alive. She needed reasons to make it back safely.
Lennon had smoke bombs, a gun, and a tracker hanging from a tightly woven, cotton utility belt. A headlamp sat on his head. He passed Juliana a headlamp as well. She tugged it on over her skull with shaky hands. Benjamin touched them. “Steady on, Ms. Russo. Do you have the keycard?”
She exhaled sharply and nodded once. She needed to calm down. Shaking hands would do her no favors. Lennon grabbed the end of the rope ladder. “Ready?”
She embraced her father. He rubbed her back. No words were shared. No words would help lift her concerns. She moved from him and gave a thumbs up. “Let's do it.”
Lennon tossed the ladder over the side. It knocked from side to side for close to a minute before it went still enough for passengers. Lennon threw his leg over the side and climbed down first. “When I touch down you go,” he instructed Juliana. She nodded once to show she understood. Lennon started down. Bit by bit his dark hair lowered from sight. Benjamin went to the bridge to monitor his progress. Pietro would be in charge of raising the ladder when Juliana joined Lennon.
They watched as Lennon grew smaller with each step. Juliana licked her chapped lips. She could do this. How difficult could it be? It would be like climbing down a tree, which she and Nathaniel had done countless times.
Her heart gave a jolt when Lennon let go of the last rung and fell ten feet to the sidewalk below. The time had come. Her turn had come to enter the streets of New Paris.
Before her active imagination could psych her out, she positioned her body over the deck wall and searched with her foot for the first rung. It connected and she lowered all her weight on it. The ladder swung and her leg started to shake wildly. She let out a gasp and squeezed her eyes shut. This was nothing like climbing a tree.
Pietro touched her hand. “Be brave, my daughter. You can do this.”
She pressed her lips together so hard they turned white. Her other foot found the ladder and then her hands. She'd passed the point of no return. Downward. She slowly made her decent. Each step made the ladder sway. She opened her eyes and focused on her father. Don't look down, she told herself. Her father. She looked at her father.
Her foot moved to the next rung only to find there were none left. She yelped in surprise and instinctively stepped up on the higher rung. Lennon's voice reached her ear. “The last few feet go by fast! Let go of the ladder!”
She shook her head. If she let go she'd fall and falling meant death. Her last memory of Carlo flashed across her mind. A splatter of blood, a toppling body, a crater in the snow.
Let go! The drop is slightly more than your height!”
Her feet left the ladder, hanging in the air. She straightened her arms. Loosening her fingers, her body grew heavier, and then her fingertips slipped. The fall only lasted a second, but it felt as if time slowed. Flakes of snow danced a ballet around her. Her eyes watched the ladder move away. It bounced around, happy and free of her weight. Miles she fell.
Her feet hit the sidewalk. Snow shot up around her legs. Time resumed it's normal speed. Lennon clapped her on the back. “See? Simple.”
E-e-e-yeah,” she stammered. She shook her shoulders of tension and started to laugh. Now that she was down the whole experience exhilarated her. She almost wanted to do it again. Almost. Lennon raised an eyebrow as her laughter died down. “Finished?”
She covered her smiling lips with her fingers. “I apologize.”
Passersby gawked at the zeppelin as it rose over the buildings and flew away. Then their eyes moved to the two that had climbed down the ladder. Lennon checked the street signs and pointed in the direction they sought. Juliana ignored the people watching them and followed Lennon. One man trotted along beside her. “The zeppelin port is back that way,” he stated. “You two are either lost or completely insane.”
Both I expect,” Juliana retorted without missing a beat. The man slowed his steps and she pulled ahead. Lennon turned down a new street and Juliana saw the river. So far so good. They hugged the buildings as they headed downstream. Gerard Black's spies hopefully had their eyes on the decoy entrance. Lennon's smoke bombs could only throw them off the sent for so long. This had to work. They had one shot.
Lennon stopped them after a few minutes run. He examined the waters edge. “There,” he declared with a hint of excitement under his breath. He and Juliana went to the side of a bridge. She saw an ordinary manhole cover, only this one had two C's etched on it. “Carlo Costa,” Lennon speculated. He checked for witnesses. Due to the late hour not many New Paris civilians were out; at least not in that part of the city. Lennon searched the area for something to pry the cover off. Juliana spotted a large metal cane floating in the river. The end was bent, smashed flat, and she assumed that was why it had been discarded. She shook her head; she detested littering.
She stepped out on a sheet of ice on the bank and grabbed hold of the cane. The ice started to crack as her fingers wrapped around the object. She gasped and felt Lennon's hands on her waist. He yanked her to safety before the ice could break. He glowered at her. “I thought you were smart,” he bickered.
She inhaled slowly and tried not to let his snide words get to her. She dropped the cane at his feet. “Will that help?”
Lennon picked it up. “Maybe.” He jammed the flattened end under the cover and pushed down. After a few attempts the cover popped free. “Quick, grab it,” he grunted. Juliana grabbed the cover and pulled it back. It flopped to the ground with a clang. They winced and checked for any unwanted attention. The coast was still clear.
Juliana looked inside the dark tunnel. She couldn't see anything. Lennon carefully climbed inside and turned on his headlamp. It shinned into the darkness. “Clear,” he assured. Juliana climbed down with his help and turned her headlamp on. All she could see was more tunnel which lead to more darkness. The only sound was that of dripping water. An image of the tunnel bursting with freezing water gushing in at them made her shiver violently.
Lennon lead the way. They walked silently for twenty feet. The tunnel, Juliana realized, was slowly dipping. They were moving downhill. She slipped on a patch of ice and bumped into Lennon. He helped steady her. “Sorry,” she said with flushed cheeks. She rubbed her thumb on the cravat and took a deep breath.
And then she saw it. The door. Her feet picked up speed and soon she was face to face with it. She rested her hand on the frozen steel door. To the left of the door sat a black screen. Lennon caught up with her. “That must be the keypad.” He touched a thumb to it and the screen lit up, turning a rich blue. A scanner turned on and words appeared on the screen. Place keycard here. Juliana pulled the card out and held it up to the scanner. They waited and then a beep sounded. The word clear came and went and then the numbers came, listing 1 to 26.
Lennon grabbed Juliana's shoulders with excitement. He rocked her back and forth. “This is it!” he claimed excitedly. “Enter the code.”
She swallowed. For a second her mind went blank. She couldn't remember it. She rubbed her temples. Lennon tapped her back. “What are you waiting for?”
Shut up. Just shut up.” She closed her eyes and breathed. “Got it,” she said to herself. She raised her finger to the number 10. In the space above the list of numbers, a letter shinned. Juliana furrowed her eyebrows.
She punched in the next number. 21.
Each number is a letter,” Lennon deduced. Juliana had come up with the same conclusion. She added the next few numbers. 12, 9, 1... L, I, A...
It became clear. She knew the word without needing the final numbers. Lennon did as well. He looked down at her. “Did you know about this?”
She shook her head and added the last numbers of the code. 14, 1... N, A...
A lock clicked open and a light started flashing. A secret slot in the wall slid aside and a microphone and speaker appeared. A man's voice called out from the speaker. “Carlo? Carlo is that you?”
Juliana couldn't find her voice. Her eyes were glued to her name glowing on the screen. How could the code be her name? Her father had said he'd known Carlo in the past, but they must have been closer than he'd let on if Carlo's secret code was her name.
Lennon spoke to the man. “This is Lennon Learman and Juliana Russo. Carlo is dead. He gave the code to Ms. Russo. Did it work?”
The air fell silent. After a bit the man responded. “Yes... it worked....”
The door opened, mist seeping from the longed sealed edges. An old man stuck his head out. He looked exhausted and his arms were stick thin. He stared at the newcomers. “Welcome... and thank you.... Now Project Reinisiate can make its debut.”
Something whacked repeatedly against Juliana's leg. She looked down and inhaled a deep, startled breath. The culprit looked up at her, tail wagging and tongue hanging practically to the floor.

End of Part 8