Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Reader's Feedback

Readers!

I'd love to get your feedback on my latest work-in-progress. It's only half done, so you'll get a sneak preview of certain sections before it's released this summer. Preview any chapter excerpt below. Post your feedback as a comment and I'll be sure to read and take to heart what you write. Not sure what to comment on? Here's a short list: plot, characters, genre, style, wording, themes, title, cover. If you like giving reviews....feel free to comment on anything else as well. 

Thanks! Tina

Title: No Road Too Long
Release Date: Summer 2014
Author: Tina Webb

An unearthly rainstorm takes Maggie on an unexpected journey where her self-imposed isolation is challenged by human compassion and unsettling hallucinations.




Note: Only excerpts are included below.

Chapter One - Living: Push Pause

Oakhurst Central Library, stately and archaic, sat pinched between the glass-covered financial firm, IFF, and the new science and technology museum which was finished the previous year. Inside its dark, musty corridors and royal blue carpeted circulation and information area were senior citizens reading the daily news, moms introducing their toddlers to the discipline of library quietness, and college-age intellectuals desiring to fill their summer hours with romantic plots or paranormal thrillers.

Sunlight peered through a thin window, unmasking the exorbitant levels of dust in the dark, musty corridor labeled Ma-Mo. Maggie Carter coughed and kept her hand over her nose as she hurried to find a book that would tantalize her for a few hours.

Making herself satisfied with a short novel that she knew would be less than satisfying, she left aisle Ma-Mo and made her way to the circulation desk.

The vapors of her tuna salad sandwich were making their way from her backpack to her nose, and she hoped that no one else noticed the obvious odor of fish that had reached room temperature.

Maggie hastened down the old stone stairs of the library, turned right towards the science and technology museum, and reached the corner where she pressed the crosswalk button. Looking both ways she quickly jaywalked diagonally to her destination.

The trees of Oakhurst Central Park were as old as Oakhurst Central Library, but they looked much healthier. Planted by the town's founder, Thomas Oakhurst, the oak trees, spruce and poplar trees provided a sufficient natural beauty, shade and interest for the residents and visitors of downtown Oakhurst.
Maggie walked slowly down one of the meandering walkways in the park trying to find either a bench or a thick patch of grass on which to sit. She settled under an oak tree that seemed to grandfather the others on the slightly sloped south side of the park. The slope ended at renowned Lyndon Avenue, home to stately mansions built in the last century.

Maggie sighed. She had wanted to arrive at the park thirty minutes earlier. Warm tuna and moist bread were hardly appetizing. But a hungry stomach knows no prejudice. 

Chapter Two - Brain Fog

Maggie shivered and squirmed on the soft grass. It wasn't so comfortable after ninety minutes of solid sleep. She squirmed again and then frowned. Opening her eyes she realized that a light drizzle had been turning her grassy patch into a waterbed. She wiped her face realizing that it was quite wet, and so was her hair.

"Wow, was I that tired?" She shook her head, opened her backpack and pulled out a hair tie. She looked around as she pulled her brown, now frizzy hair up into a messy ponytail. No one was in sight and a light fog had settled in the park. The clouds overhead caused a dusky darkness. Suddenly, loud thunder cracked and the heavens opened.

"Oh sh-t!" She grabbed her bag, pushed her wet feet into her wet leather sandals and took off running toward the more wooded area where she figured the trees would at least serve as an artificial umbrella until she found shelter. Her feet squashed in her sandals making running a bit difficult, and the tumultuous downpour made seeing almost impossible. After a few minutes of running through the rain, Maggie gave up her shoes and carried them in her hand. She knew that the park was several acres and not a typical city block. She hoped that she was running toward the shops and delis nearer to the museum. Instead of walking all the way home, she could hop on a bus. Finally, she heard the muffled sound of motorists driving ahead and dashed in that direction.

"Yes!"

She saw a neighborhood street and dashed down the final slope of the park onto a sidewalk. She was not where she hoped she'd be. Instead of shops there were tenement style houses and a cobblestone street.
"Shoot, this must be Old Town. But I thought Old Town was miles from downtown. I couldn't have run that far." She remembered visiting the first occupied area of Oakhurst when she was a little girl.

Instead of trying to navigate toward her original destination, she jogged down the cobblestone street hoping that the next block would reveal other shops or at least a bus stop. The cobblestones were hard on her feet, and she could see that her sandals were dripping, so she gave up her anxious quest to find shelter and accepted the fact that she could not get wetter than she already was.

Shaking her head, she muttered sadly, "I may as well face my now moment of being alive and one with nature."

Being one with nature was not giving her a euphoric high, however, as her jean shorts felt like weights and the wet elastic of her panties began to cut into her hips.

"Ouch! C'mon...bus stop where are you?!"

She walked in defeat down the street and came to another intersection of Old Town. This was clearly a residential area. She had the thought of knocking on a door to see if some kind samaritan would let her wait out the storm on their porch. But she was not naïve. For a young woman like her, in wet skin-sticking clothes, to find trustworthy, honest people in this culture was like playing Russian Roulette with her life and body.

She looked at the tenement houses as she walked along hoping that maybe as quick as the storm appeared, it would leave. Clear bags of canned soda were stored on the porch of a house across the street. An old beat-up grey Buick sat leaning, the front-left tire deflated from living. The house she passed to her right had a torn shade revealing a small lamp turned on. In general, Old Town was a poorer section of town. Dusky grey siding on each house blended with dismal despondency of decayed hopes and dreams. Broken tree limbs sighed and swayed like drugged addicts on their way to rock bottom. Suddenly Maggie stopped. Startled, she looked to the right as the next tenement ballooned out, wood siding bursting and tearing, with shards of fragmented glass flying toward her. She crouched on the cobblestones, protecting her face and sacrificing the skin on her hands. A bass hum emanated from the exploding house. As if on cue, the other tenements began to vibrate, and the ground began to tremble. Peeking between cut and bleeding fingers, she expected to see a tornado ravaging toward her. Maggie gasped in horror as a huge colony of flies burst from the falling tenement. They flew in her direction and she screamed as the flies grew to the size of small mice, eyes fastening to her, mouths dripping with fire. These mutant insects darted for her and hovered around her head. Taunts of paralyzing words stung her, “This is you! This is you! This is you! This place is you!” Her screams turned into wails for help as she tried to scatter the flies away. Trapped in a tornado of torment, she gasped as darkness rescued her.

Pellets of rain formed small pools in the open cavities of her eyes, ears and opened mouth. Sputtering, she sat up and looked around. Shocked, she whirled around and began to panic. No timber and no glass, no blood and no insects were in sight. The neighborhood stood as it had for decades.

Fingers trembling, Maggie groped the ground next to her for her backpack and made her way to her feet. Her breathing was erratic and she still felt faint. I’ve got to get out of here! Soaked, she ran down the street searching for another human soul. However, this part of Old Town was vacant, quiet, and aloof. This place is you! She stopped, looking around for some mean kid playing an awful joke. 

Chapter Three - The Wanderer

Frustrated she looked at the sky. She was not panicked. She felt no danger. Her undergarments were partially dry. Her snack had satisfied her stomach. She sat still and looked around.

"No one is waiting for me because I live alone. Why should I still be in a rush?”

She considered her phone. Her parents were out of town but they lived thirty minutes outside of Oakhurst in the country. Friends had gone home to begin their post graduate jobs early. Only she had chosen to do nothing for two months of summer.

"If I'm serious about giving up mere living for the sake of being fully alive, then I may as well embrace this moment and have an adventure." She felt something brush against her ear, but turning, she saw nothing.

Maggie sat on the bench and studied the upcoming dirt road. The cobblestones had run out I guess, she thought. Beyond the last tenement on the other side of the street were a block of warehouses. Peering farther down, away from the direction she had come, she saw a lot of grass and open air. "Maybe I'll just get to know my town a little more. What the hell. I've got nothing else to do." There were a couple of hours until she'd be hungry for dinner and so she looked around in order to memorize this road for her return trip and walked where she had not walked before. 

Chapter Four - Inventory

Her parents weren't poor, but they also were not rich. Her dad, a mechanic, always worked late to finish cleaning up the garage for the next work day. She remembered looking at his oil stained, wrinkled hands as they grabbed knife and fork to devour his evening meal. He never said much. He was too tired and usually too stressed at night with the office side of the business. Her mom tried to help with the accounting and inventory, but numbers were not her thing. She worked at the area nursing home, tending especially to elderly patients left alone by relatives. She would listen tirelessly as the patients, on their death beds, took inventory of what they were leaving behind. Mom's gift wasn't numbers; it was loving.

Maggie reluctantly looked back at those days. Her independent nature grew out of necessity. An only child, solitude became her friend. Her parents did not have much time or money to take her to ballet lessons or to play at the playground. Her mom's gift was displayed each morning at 6:30 am by the warm sugarcoated bran muffins left on the table with a note, ‘I love you, my dear. Enjoy school today. xo Mom’.

After working at the gas station for three hours after school each day, she'd walk the two scenic miles home as wealthier classmates drove by to hang out at the mall before dinner. Maggie recognized at a young age that she did not want to duplicate her parents' life of just living to make ends meet. The sweat of the brow was not fun and did not bring the sparkling joy and wonder that Maggie believed humans were made for. So Maggie promised herself to save up money and get good grades to not only pay for college, but also to be in a position where the best paying jobs in her area were hers for the picking. She had succeeded and secured a well paying job that she was able to postpone starting until mid August. She was not on earth to just live and succumb to the cares of this life. She was determined to be alive.

Up ahead on the left sat a red stone flat-roofed apartment complex. Across from this complex was a school playground, older in style, the metal poles of the swing set slightly rusted from time. It was an run down elementary school, the chipped pink brick façade blending in with a community that was just living, but yearned to be alive.

Maggie smiled. She hadn't been on a swing for years. Laughing, she jumped over the short metal fence, dropped her backpack and hopped on the hot black rubber seat. "Now this is being alive!" She felt gleeful. "I can do anything I want right now! I can make my own memories. I can see new sights. I can swing for as long as I want!"

A few apartment residents across the street looked out of their windows and stared at the 20-something-year-old woman swinging, grinning and shouting on a child's swing set. All would conclude that she was high on something.

Scratch, scratch, scratch. The bottoms of her sandals scraped the sandy gravel below the swing until she came to a complete stop. That was fun, she thought. Now what? She looked left towards the apartments and down the long gravel road that she'd walked on for over an hour. She looked to the right and saw sprinkled in the landscape small homes, a grocery store, a gas station and a farm.

Chapter Five - To Be Continued

She walked briskly now as the sun began to show that dusk was on its way. Something didn't feel right inside. Her joy at discovering new adventures had slowly waned ever since her hallucination in Old Town and the creepy guy from the store. What did the creep call himself? Steve. She shuddered. This was real life and not a dream and she felt stupid and guilty for her childish frolicking. She could have been accosted and raped.

Somberly she kept walking. The dust from the road billowed up as the breezes steadily increased in frequency and intensity. Small ground level dust balls swirled on the road. Overhead a flock of birds in V-formation headed westward. The long leaves of the corn stalks fluttered. Maggie wrapped her arms around her chest, sullen and lonely in the arid farmland.

About twenty-five feet ahead of her, a small patch of fog had settled over a section of corn. Maggie stopped. It was a curious sight and she wondered what atmospheric condition caused the occurrence. As she looked, the foggy patch grew whiter and her eyes widened as small flames began to emerge in the mist of the patch. A fire in the corn! Maggie ran toward the patch to see if the flames were coming up from the ground or whether the tops of the corn stalks had somehow been scorched by the hot sun. Getting closer, she realized that the flames rose about a foot in height, still encircled by the foggy patch of what she concluded was smoke. Reaching the patch, she gasped. The corn was not on fire. Smoke was not wafting in any direction. Instead the flames were situated directly in the center of the patch of fog. She shook her head refusing to believe that she was encountering still another strange hallucination.  In the center of the flames an image began to appear. The image grew clearer in detail and she realized that she was staring at a headshot of herself in the midst of the flames.

“Nooo!” She turned and escaped down the gravel road. Someone was playing a cruel joke. Maybe it was that guy Steve. Maybe he was involved in some sort of occult activity. Maybe the episode in the convenience store was a warning for her. Panting, she slowed and fell to her knees on the ground.

“What is going on!” She pounded the ground in anger. Never had her sense of security been so breached. Never had her view of the world been so wrecked by mystical and unexplainable occurrences. Gathering her emotions, she sighed and set forth again. The sooner she got to the motel, the better.

Chapter Six - Twists and Turns

Outside of her hearing, a watch alarm went off. A mile away, a spirit, using a derelict’s body, began to walk down the street towards Maggie.

Although the neighborhood was dense, people were sparse. After walking almost a mile down the street, Maggie concluded that the whole area had been taken by aliens. A rancid smell, the blistering sun, and the loud silence made her desperate to get to the commercial area that Jeff had mentioned was in this direction. Suddenly she looked down towards the next block and saw a man walking towards her on the opposite side of the street, limping, dressed in black, and head downward. Every few steps he swaggered as if drunk or high. "Oh great!" Maggie fished down into her backpack and got her mace out to carry until she knew she was safe out of this strange man’s path. The street was paved now, so she put her sandals on in case she needed to run.

She glanced at her options. There were none. Each side of the street was lined with cottage style 1950s houses. Each had a driveway and a carport. The limping man had turned onto this street from another, but Maggie did not see whether she had a turn on her side. Street signs did not exist in this strange part of the world.  Breathing rapidly, Maggie tightened her grip on the mace. The limping man seemed to be making a heaving noise. Suddenly he stopped, abruptly looked up and around, saw her and smiled a toothless grin. Maggie pretended not to see but inwardly she began to panic. No car had driven down this long road.
Where is everybody? Maggie did not want to attract unnecessary attention from the limping man so instead of running she began to walk very fast. As she came within fifteen feet of him on her side of the street, she heard him say, "Hey Miss! You gotta dolla?" She looked down, pretending not to hear. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him begin to cross the street toward her. "Hey Miss! Lady! You gotta dolla?!" Her hand tightened on the mace.

Suddenly he stopped in the middle of the street, ripped off his shirt and stuck out his chest. "Hey lady, I'm Superman! You want some 'o this?"

No other hint was needed. Maggie ran as fast as her semi-dry sandals would carry her. Behind her, the limping man no longer limped but ran behind her laughing and shouting vulgar slurs about his masculinity.
Suddenly she heard an engine coming behind her. “Good! That'll make him go away!” she said under her breath.

The squeal of tires made the windows of the houses shudder and a loud voice thundered, "Leave her alone!"
Maggie turned and immediately recognized the silver mustang. Stunned and becoming paralyzed with fear, she watched, walking backwards, as Steve, the guy from the grocery store who had stalked her on her way to the motel, went over to the limping man. The strange man had stopped to face Steve and yelled obscenities at him. Quickly, the man lunged towards Steve, who in turn knocked him to the ground. The limping man cackled on the ground, rolling over and over, shouting lusty obscenities to Steve. Steve, disgusted, backed off and yelled at the man.

The spirit looked at Steve and recognized his prey. Releasing the limping man, he flew over to Steve and sat on his shoulder.

Maggie gasped as she saw the limping man, suddenly get up, looked around confused, and stumble away, hand on head as if he suffered from a cruel headache. She felt so weak, so astonished by the events of the past minute that she began to shake. Steve watched the man stumble away, then got in his mustang and drove twenty feet to where Maggie was shaking.

Steve got out, leaving the engine idling. "Hey, you okay?" Steve walked over to her and smiled. "It's you. And I guess you know me." He stayed a few feet away and put his hands up in surrender.

Maggie still could not respond. She was unsure of this Steve guy. She had been saved from him and now she had been saved by him. What were the chances?

"Uh, thank you." Maggie took a step back and waited for his next move. She was unfamiliar with this chess game. But she knew she needed to come out safe.

Steve lowered his hands and put them in his loose fitting jeans.  Brown haired and brown eyed, Steve stood a few inches taller than Maggie. Today he wore a striped shirt rolled up at the sleeves; collar buttons undone. "So, I see you are on foot again. I know for a fact that you aren't from around here. So....where are you going?"

There was no way Maggie was going to open her world to this stranger.

"Listen, I appreciate you helping me out, but I don't know you and I need to be on my way. It's really none of your business where I'm going." Maggie tightened her hand around the mace again. 

Steve saw this small gesture. He shook his head. "You really don't trust people who help you out do you?"
Agitation opened Maggie's mouth. "Listen, I don't know your intentions! So thank you for helping me out, but no thank you to anything else you may offer."

Quickly, Maggie turned around and briskly resumed her walk down the street. Her agitation and fear of this deserted neighborhood increased her desperation to find and to welcome the public.

 Steve stood, not sure of his next move. She was definitely worth pursuing. Not only was she hot, but she had spunk. Thoughts pervaded his mind. He could keep up with her in his car and convince her that he'd drop her off wherever she wanted to go. He could drive down the street and wait for her to catch up. He knew this tiny community inside and out and there was no where she could go where he wouldn't find her. The only way back to Oakland if you didn't have a car was to take a bus at the depot. Taxi service wasn't available. Steve sorted through his ideas. She was intriguing...this no-named hot girl. He finally decided to keep his morning appointment at the mechanic down the road. While he was waiting for his car, he'd simply scout the four corners of the main intersection and keep an eye out for Miss No-Name.

Chapter Nine - The Offering

"Well, this is my abode. Welcome and make yourself comfortable." Steve paused and looked at Maggie's damp clothes, wet hair, and tired face. "You want a shower don't you? I'll pull out some of my sweats and a sweatshirt if you want. I need to clean the bathroom real quick though."

Embarrassed, he went into the kitchen to get some cleaning supplies. "I've got food in the frig if you are hungry. And there are some beers too," he yelled over his shoulder. "Help yourself!" He went into the linoleum tiled bathroom and closed the door.

Maggie scooped her wet hair off her neck. She glanced around to get little hints about Steve. She was not worried about being alone with him anymore. She felt a strange calm. Leaving her wet sandals at the door, she walked into the kitchen. "Ugh." Dirty dishes filled the sink and the counter had not been wiped off in a few days. She opened a squeaky cabinet and searched for the cleanest glass she could find. Happy to see some newly purchased lemonade, she poured herself a glass and stood waiting for the bathroom to be cleaned.

Finally, Steve came out of the bathroom. "All clean!" He smiled and bowed before her. Maggie laughed. It felt good to laugh. Steve beamed. Getting Miss No Name to laugh was a good sign.

"Oh, hey, by the way," Steve turned to Maggie as she was beginning to close the bathroom door. "There is a clean towel on the rack, and also I was wondering," he paused. "What is your name?"

Maggie blinked. She had forgotten that she had not told her anything about herself, not even her name. "Maggie, Maggie Carter, sorry for the late introduction," she smiled sheepishly.

"No problem, Maggie Carter. It's nice to meet you." Steve smiled. Maggie smiled back and closed the door. Steve heard it lock. Laughing to himself, he put his cleaning skills to work in the kitchen while listening to the shower water run and daydreaming.

The preying spirit sat bored on Steve's shoulder. The girl's resistance was formidable. The spirit could see her resolve like a bright white light around her. It was a wall that would be hard to penetrate. Tactics must change. Her thoughts must be challenged. Then maybe she would change her mind and let Steve get to know her better.

Steve's sweat clothes were thick enough to keep Maggie modest but so warm that she knew she would be uncomfortable sleeping. She left the bathroom with her clothes in a heap in her arms. "Steve?" 
"Yeah! I'm in here." Steve was in her bedroom. Maggie stayed in the hallway. "Do you mind if I use your washer and dryer for my clothes?"
"Oh. Yeah sure babe. It's the door beside the bathroom."

Chapter Ten - Dreamland

In his bedroom, Steve had fallen asleep quickly. He dreamed of chance encounters and island beauties. Unconscious to the manipulation of the unseen, he began to see women, luring him with smiles and winks, then yelling at him with scathing accusations that insulted his manhood. At one point, he saw a former girlfriend secretly reach into his wallet and pull out all of his cash, only to tantalize him with flattering compliments, while crossing her fingers behind her back. The poison of the dreams made him feel vandalized, angry, and vindictive. In the course of a few hours, women became ill-meaning vamps. Violence coursed through his veins. His tossed and turned, fantasizing of brutal encounters that would serve these vamps? their eternal sentence.

Sweat dampened his sheets and foul saliva formed at the corners of his mouth. He was a hound, a devil.
As one dream weaved and interlocked with fresh ones, his will towards Maggie shifted, throwing off reluctant patience and putting on vehement impatience? How dare she convict him for being normal? Her giant finger poked him in his chest, leaving blood dripping where her sharp nail had ripped open his heart. In his dream, he saw her eyes absorb every inch of his pride and then her mouth open wide to cackle at his humiliation. She sat on a giant wooden throne that hung in mid-air above his bed.  He tried to reach up and knock her off with his clenched fist but he couldn’t reach. He was locked in chains.

The unseen manipulator laughed as it watched Steve struggle, convinced that his chains were reality. In reality, the manipulator, not Maggie, held the chains that bound Steve to his nocturnal passions and his new violent disposition. Looking through the wall, the spirit saw Maggie in deep sleep, a gentle snore coming from her mouth. He drooled.

Chapter Eleven (untitled)

Finishing her coffee, Maggie leaned back in her chair and asked in a calm and measured voice in order to avoid sounding offensive. “I need to ask you a question and tell you something I saw.”

Steve nodded, sipping his coffee.

“In the grocery store across from that elementary school, I overheard you talking to the cashier.”
Steve pursed his lips and nodded again.

“Your back was to me and I saw something really creepy on your back and then in your hair.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Steve put his coffee mug down.

Maggie inhaled deeply. “I saw, I saw a snake. I thought it was a print on your shirt, but then it crawled to the top of your head and buried itself in your hair like there was a nest. It freaked me out. I assumed that you’d brought your pet snake with you to the store.”

Staring blankly, Steve picked up his coffee, finished it off and then set the mug down again, with a mild thud.
“I don’t own a snake, Maggie.”

“So what do you think I saw?”

“I think the better question is, why do you keep experiencing weird things…voices, a snake in my head. I know you said that you don’t do drugs, but….” His voice trailed off in suspicion.

“Steve, honestly, I’ve never done drugs. But I,” Maggie paused. “I had a dream tonight before you, well, you know. In my dream I was told to consider that these weird things were messages for me to learn from.”

Freaked out, Steve moved his chair back a bit.

“Please, you’ve got to believe me. Here is something maybe that will convince you. When I was back in Old Town during the first storm, I had a vision. I thought it was a hallucination and maybe they are pretty much the same. I don’t know. But in the vision, a tenement building exploded and a swarm of mutant flies came at me saying “This is you. This place is you.” I’ve been thinking about it and I know what that dream meant. The tenement house was me. Something inside of it made it explode. The flies were trying to tell me the message but I was in a place where I was clueless. But my dream tonight clued me in.” Maggie rubbed her eyes. “You were right when you said on the street with the man in black that I must have a trust problem. I do, I mean, I did. I’m working on learning to trust people. A lady I met today helped me to realize that I need people.”

“So you see, I’m not crazy. I am new to this and I don’t understand it. But I know that my dream tonight helped things make sense. Things that the voices and human voices have said to me.” Finished and feeling emotionally raw, she closed her eyes and waiting for Steve to respond.

There was no response.

“Steve, have you ever done weird things like occult type stuff?”

“What makes you ask that?”

“Because that snake episode and the way you acted tonight, foaming at the mouth, made me think of movies that I’ve seen like that.”

He shook his head with a look of disbelief. “Damn. I mean, damn…that’s heavy.” He looked up. “I did do that stuff when I was twelve. In fact, I just remembered something.”

Gathering himself together, he told his story. “Some boys in my 7th grade class invited me to hang out with them after school one day. We smoked some weed and looked at magazines. Then one kid pulled out a deck of cards. They were tarot cards. I’d never seen them before, but the pictures were really cool. So he read them and some of the stuff he said to me was so true. After that, we would go to his house and looked at the books he had bought at some store. The books talked about stuff like curses and controlling destiny and guides, a whole lot of stuff I’d never heard about before. We got into that stuff all year. At one point, we made a voice and cut our wrists to join ourselves with what he called the eternal eye.”

Steve paused and shook his head. “I got a new name. After we did that blood pact, we called forth the spirits of eternal to guide us and we each got a new name. The kid, his name was um, Kevin I think. He said that he knew that my name needed to be Kundalini. It sounded cool so I said yes. He told me that my sign would be a snake on my back. We would pass coded notes to each other in class. The guys always drew a picture of a snake to signify me.”

“Damn, I haven’t thought about that in years. I always spent the summer with my dad, so I didn’t see the guys. Then I went to a different school the next year and got into track and field. I just ended up forgetting about all that stuff.”


Thanks for reading and especially for your feedback. I'll upload a 

few more chapters soon.