Like I promised, I’ve got some actual text for you today. I’m a bit late because I’ve just finished pounding through Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance, which I rather liked, but hopefully this material will make up for it.
Keep in mind that this is all still rough. I’m not even sure that the narrator’s voice is appropriate, so whatever ends up being final may look wildly different. With that said… I do hope you enjoy it. Also, please do comment if you think something works particularly well, or really needs to be changed. The beginning of the story lies after the break…
“… like God struck them down.”
All of the other people on the show looked at her. Even lying in my motel bed, watching the TV, I could see how uncomfortable they were. Not surprising, really; it was a pretty good description of what the footage looked like. Maybe some of them thought it was a little over the top, but I thought it was just perfect.
That’s not because I’m religious or anything. Hell, given what I’d seen, maybe I had more cause to believe than anybody. But the thing that I believed in wasn’t ever going to get my prayers. I believed because I’d seen it tear apart a town, the very same town that all the talking heads were nattering on and on about. It hadn’t worked a miracle: the only thing I’d seen it do was covered in the same footage they kept showing of where Loneliness used to be. It was just one long looping piece of disaster-porn, the very epitome of what any 24-7 news channel wanted these days.
It didn’t really matter what channel I watched, I’d checked them all at this point. They were all just showing the same thing. Before and after images of Loneliness, PA, or footage captured from a circling news helicopter. In exhibit A we see a pristine and quaint town, built on the proceeds of its mines. Exhibit B is a flaming pit miles wide, like God loaded up on hallucinogens, read Dante, and then decided to make the Pit a real place on Earth. It’s a gaping hole in the ground full of burning gas mains and underground coal fires, exposed to the cold and snowy winter with every last house in town broken into tiny pieces and churned into the gaping mess.
Each network was trying to outdo the others in getting the best footage they could, playing up whatever human interest stories they could find, with people who’d heard what happened from miles away in the next town over, or people who’d been first responders to the mess. No one at the motel had asked me anything yet, though it felt like the clerk’s eyes were boring little holes in my back during the crappy continental breakfast. When I’d spoken on the phone with Mom and Dad, I’d asked them to pretend that they’d brought me with them to New York that weekend, and so far they hadn’t pushed me about it. They’d been too happy to hear that I was still alive. That was a good thing.
It was a good thing because I couldn’t deal with trying to tell them about what actually happened there, back in Loneliness. They have nice padded rooms with fitted coats for people who tell stories like the one that I was sitting on. Assuming that I could beat the several thousand counts of murder with an insanity plea. Of course, if I don’t share this somehow I’ll probably go crazy anyway.
* * *
Loneliness wasn’t so bad at first. I mean, it was a shit-hole that time had forgotten and left lying on the side of the road like a quaint litter violation, but it was a nice shit-hole, if that makes any sense. The houses were pretty, the neighbors were neighborly except for the ones that weren’t (which was most of them, when I think about it), and I was the new girl again.
Again. See, Dad works for a mining consultancy. One of the bonuses of working for a mining consultancy is that you get to move around a lot. And, if you’re my Dad, you drag your family with you. When I was really little, that was fun and cool. I got to hang around with all the miners that my Dad worked with, and Dad even got me my own safety vest and hard hat so that I could go on-site when he could bring me around to work. I still remember that being the best birthday gift ever.
I liked playing with dolls, but my dolls drove large excavation equipment. It was hard to find model borers that matched the scale of my dolls, so I had to just pretend that they could fit inside. Playing house never seemed as fun as digging and laying the foundations for one, and I’d always rather watch blasting at the mine. Until I was twelve, I was still more comfortable around the people that my Dad worked with than I was around other girls my age. Though I need different fits these days, I still prefer t-shirts, jeans, denim jackets, and boots. My first and last pair of acid-washed jeans lasted only a few months before I cut up their rags for patches.
By the time I was seven, moving stopped being fun. Every time I made friends, I’d lose them again before the start of the next school year. Other kids had known each other for years, and being the new kid purely sucked. Every year or two I had a new house, new neighbors, new scenery… and I just gave up on making friends. I started doing karate because there was almost always a dojo wherever we moved and it was easier than trying to reach out to any of the other kids my age.
But Loneliness didn’t have a dojo. Mom was a clerk, good at accounting, and she always seemed able to get a job wherever we went. But not in Loneliness. Loneliness was an exception to a lot of things.
* * *
The time before we moved to Loneliness, we actually stayed in a town for more than one year. By the beginning of the second year, I’d let my guard down. I’d decided that I would try to make my own new connections, and by the end of that school year I was the happiest I’d been in ages. Being a sophomore in high school isn’t great, but having friends, having a boyfriend? That was awesome. I was so ready for Dad’s job to stay there that I just completely stopped thinking about it and waiting for the other shoe to drop. That was foolish of me.
The move took me by surprise, but I did my best to meet up with all of my friends one last time before I disappeared forever. We all said we’d keep in touch, we all said we’d email and chat and text each other. Thing is, I’d done this before. I’d tried to keep in touch with people after moving away. But I knew how it worked; they’d make noises about keeping in touch, and I’d try to talk with them later, but they’d forget about me and only ever call occasionally at the most awkward time.
My boyfriend and I broke up. We didn’t want there to be any hard feelings, but there was that weird strained tension you get when you’re pretty sure that you’re lying to the other person and that they’re lying to you too. We told each other to not forget, because we’d see each other again soon. Another set of comfortable lies.
This time I really wanted to make it work. I wanted to stay in touch with these friends that I’d made, and we all talked about setting up big group chats to keep in touch. But Loneliness doesn’t have reliable internet. It doesn’t have cell phone coverage for most of the town. And it turns out that friendships are really hard to maintain when you’re limited to intermittent texts sent and received only when you’re on the highway’s onramp, or when you climb up to the top of the hills that overlook the town. The only thing that Loneliness had, as far as I was concerned, was an appropriate name.
* * *
… Annnnnd that’s the beginning of the story. What do you think? I think her old friends merit a little more definition, but I haven’t involved them in the rest of the story and thus haven’t bothered much with them. Perhaps I should change that. I think I’m a little too close to the piece to really feel able to tell how well it works.