Online Novel 2017: Scene 3

February 17, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

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The Promise Children
Scene #3 – The Hero

Crowley stood there for what seemed like an eternity, just looking down at them.

Braedon kept his gaze fixed straight ahead. It was extremely unwise, not to mention forbidden, to make eye contact with Crowley.

He has to know. Somebody told.

Braedon swallowed hard. He hadn’t even eaten anything, but he felt like he was about to throw up.

Why doesn’t he do something?

And just as Braedon thought this, Crowley turned and headed on toward the large empty stage at the front of the dining hall.

At the center of the stage was a mic stand. Crowley took the microphone from its stand and looked out over the assembled children.

“We have an award to give out today,” he said, smiling with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Reuben Bradshaw, please come up here.”

Nobody moved.

“Don’t be embarrassed, Reuben. Come on up.”

The little boy beside Braedon stirred. Then finally he stood up, looking terrified.

“There you go, Reuben. No need to be shy.”

Reuben pushed his chair back in and walked toward the stage. To Braedon, at least, he looked as if he were going to his execution.

“That’s it,” Crowley said as Reuben ascended the stairs toward the platform. “Let’s give him a hand, everyone.”

Polite—and restrained—applause broke out across the room.

Spencer Crowley reached a hand out toward Reuben. “Come over here and stand by me.”

Reuben walked over and stood beside Crowley. He looked like he would rather be anywhere else on the planet.

Spencer Crowley put a large hand on the boy’s shoulder. “We have a genuine hero among us today.”

Silence from the assembled children.

Crowley’s voice was strong, commanding. “Reuben has done his part in protecting this community. Earlier today he learned that someone is going to betray us. Now he could have been afraid and kept that bit of news to himself. But Reuben, courageous young man that he is, told one of the Watchers.”

A wave of nausea swept over Braedon, followed by a death-like chill.

Did they know about him? Was he the person the boy had ratted out? Or was someone else thinking of going over the wall?

Crowley interrupted his thoughts.

“Let’s have another round of applause for our hero.”

More cautious applause from the audience.

“For the rest of this month, Reuben is at the head of the line for every meal.” Crowley patted the boy on the back. “Good job, son.” He gently nudged Reuben toward the steps at the side of the stage.

Crowley held his mirthless smile as Reuben slunk back to his table. Then he looked out over the crowd and his voice took on a somber tone. “You won’t get away,” he said. “Your only hope is to come clean now, before we come for you.”

Spencer Crowley pointed to a large clock over the dining hall entrance. It read 6:30.

“You know who you are. I’m giving you thirty minutes to turn yourself in. After that, there will be neither grace nor mercy. Any questions?” The expression on Crowley’s face made it clear that this was a rhetorical question. No one dared to speak up.

Crowley nodded. “Enough said. You are dismissed.”

Not a person moved. They knew they had to wait until Crowley was gone. He left the platform and exited the room without another glance at the children.

Once Crowley was gone, the children left the dining hall, table by table. No one directed them; no one said a word. Each table quietly stood in turn, took their dirty dishes to a window near the kitchen, and then left the building.

Braedon sat, stunned, as his table waited for its turn. He looked over at Reuben. The boy refused to make eye-contact. Braedon wanted to grab him and shake him, find out what he knew and what he’d told the Watchers.

But he knew he couldn’t.

For all he knew, the boy had told on someone else. If that was the case, Braedon would give himself away by confronting Reuben. He’d just have to hope and pray that someone else was planning to escape. No matter what, he was going. And he was going tonight.

When Braedon’s table stood, he followed the others out the door. The clock over the door read 6:45.

Low in the sky, the setting sun cast a blood-red glow over the campus.

Braedon decided to take the shortest route back to his dorm, cutting across the baseball diamond and through a stand of tall, long-needle pines.

The thick trees obscured what little sunlight was left, leaving Braedon to make his way toward the dorm in near darkness. As he passed a large thick tree trunk, he heard someone behind him.

“Stop,” said the voice.

YOU DECIDE: Who is behind Braedon, telling him to stop? Is it…

  1. Dustin, his co-conspirator? or…
  1. One of the Watchers?

HOW TO VOTE: Either leave a comment below with your choice or go to my Facebook page, James Pence Books, and leave a comment on the post about this scene.

Voting is open until:

GO TO PREVIOUS SCENE

GO TO BEGINNING

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Online Novel 2017: Scene 2

February 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Promise Children, Scene #2 – Spencer Crowley

Dustin slunk away and returned to his own table, leaving Braedon alone with the little kids.

Spencer Crowley stood at the entrance to the dining hall, tall, thin and menacing.

Braden hated him.

So did most of the other kids, but only a few were willing to admit it openly. There were consequences for failing to love Spencer Crowley.

Every evening after supper, Crowley made an appearance at the dining hall. His purpose, thinly veiled, was to remind his charges that he was the boss. Braden didn’t know why they needed a nightly reminder. Crowley never let them forget that they were under his thumb.

The routine was the same every night, seven days a week.

Crowley would step into the room and there was instant silence. Fearful silence. This was a man who could decide their futures and they knew it.

Spencer Crowley walked through the dining hall, in between the tables. As he passed, the other kids sat straight—slouching was not permitted—and looked straight ahead. No one smiled. No one breathed. As Braden watched, he could see each child stiffen as their master drew closer. He could almost see them sweating.

As Crowley passed by each kid, there was a visible relaxation. Their personal moments of tension had passed. Crowley had ignored them.

That was the best you could hope for in this world. For Spencer Crowley to ignore you.

As Crowley drew near to his table, Braedon, too, sat straight up and looked ahead. He dared not attract the man’s attention. Today of all days, he could not draw the man’s wrath. He could not risk discovery.

Halfway past the table, Crowley stopped.

The little boy to Braedon’s left sat with his hands in his lap, as they were all supposed to.

Out of the corner of his eye, Braedon could see his hands trembling.

Crowley looked down at them.

Braedon held his breath and looked forward. The cigarette lighter Dustin had given him felt like a lead weight in his sweaty hand. If Crowley caught him, he was dead.

 

YOU DECIDE:

Does Spencer Crowley:

  1. Catch Braedon with the cigarette lighter?
  2. Turn his attention to the trembling little boy beside Braedon?
  3. Continue up to the front of the room for his evening lecture?

The choice that gets the most votes will decide the next step in the story.

VOTING CLOSED.
READERS DECIDED: It was a tie. In a tie, I get to make the choice. I decided to go with #3

GO TO NEXT SCENE

GO TO BEGINNING

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2017 Online Novel: The Promise Children

January 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Just for the fun of it(and to motivate myself to write fiction again), in 2017 I am writing a suspense/thriller novel and posting it online. Not only that, I’m asking for your help. I’ll publish a scene most Friday afternoons, and at the end of the scene there will be a choice for you to make. Your votes will determine which direction the story takes next.

What follows is a two-sentence summary of the novel concept, and the first scene.

Two-Sentence Summary: When she becomes suspicious of the activities of a local home for wayward children, social worker Mary Shaw asks police detective turned private investigator Weston Thane to investigate. Will Mary and Weston be able to expose the illegal activities at the home before director Spencer Crowley stops them?

 


 2017 Online Novel:
The Promise Children 

by James Pence (with a little help from my friends)

Scene #1 The Meeting

As soon as Braedon Waters walked through the door, the stench hit him in the face.

Is this a dining hall or a garbage dump?

He wondered how it was possible to make food smell so bad and still have it be edible. No worry. He wouldn’t have to put up with it much longer. If everything went right tonight, he and his best friend—his only friend—Dustin Thompson would leave the North Warren Children’s Home forever.

He surveyed the room, looking for Dustin, but he couldn’t see co-conspirator. Strange. Dustin always got to the dining hall before he did. Dude loved to eat. Braedon hoped no one had ratted them out.

He’d only let a few people in on their secret, and those were people who he needed help from. He was sure he could trust them.

Pretty sure, anyway.

Truth was, he’d learned not to trust anybody in the two years and four months he’d lived at North Warren.

Braedon made his way across the noisy room to the food line. He usually hated the chaos that went with meal times. Kids shoving each other. Little ones bawling. Big ones shouting and grabbing. It was like a jumbo jet taking off. Except you had to sit in it for an hour. The noise level made his ears hurt, but nobody could leave until Crowley came in and dismissed them as a group.

Nobody could do anything without Crowley sticking his nose into it.

Braedon grabbed a tray and moved down the line. Tonight’s banquet was a bologna sandwich and one half of an apple. Only water to drink. As lousy as the food was, he wished he could steal an extra apple and sandwich.

It might be a while before he could eat again.

Braedon felt someone push him.

“Hurry up! You’re not the only one who wants to eat today.”

He turned around and glared at Rickey Gardner.  In addition to being an all-around jerk, Gardner was one of Crowley’s enforcers. Rickey had at least five inches and 50 pounds on him, but Braedon thought he could take him.

He might have to if he wanted to get out of this place.

Discretion being the better part of valor, Braedon held his tongue and moved on to find a table.

He chose a table at the far end of the dingy room where four little boys were sitting. They gave him a strange look. Older guys never sat with them.

Braedon ignored them.

The little boys were clearly uncomfortable, but they said nothing.

A few minutes later, Dustin sat down beside him.

“Did you get it?” Braedon whispered.

Dustin nodded. “I had to wait till he had left his office to come over here. That’s why I’m late.”

Braedon felt Dustin nudge his leg under the table. He reached down and Dustin put something cold and metallic in his hand.

“Be careful,” said Dustin.

“So, we’re on for tonight?” Braedon asked.

“Two o’clock. South side of the pond. Don’t forget to….”

The clamor in the room evaporated as Spencer Crowley entered. It was time for his evening lecture.

*   *   *

YOU DECIDE:

  1. What did Dustin put into Braedon’s hand?
  2. How will it help them escape from North Warren Children’s Home?

VOTING CLOSED — READERS DECIDED:

  1. A cigarette lighter
  2. Set off smoke detectors so Braedon can escape during the chaos.

GO TO NEXT SCENE

 

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The Joys of Home Ownership (or How I Discovered I’m Not Joe Handyman), Pt. 2

August 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Photo credit: Eniko Polgar | Unsplash.com| License: CCO

Photo credit: Eniko Polgar | Unsplash.com| License: CCO

[This is Part 2 of a 3-part story. You can read part 1 HERE.]

You have to understand something about me before you’ll fully appreciate this story: Not only am I not Joe Handyman. I’m also not Joe Outdoorsman.

I hate camping. If you take me camping, within about 45 minutes of arriving at the campsite, I’ll be thinking, “Just shoot me.”

One of the primary reasons I hate camping is I don’t like feeling unwashed, dirty, grungy, or muddy.

Especially muddy.

I’m a wimp, okay?

Now, keep that in mind as we return to my underground heated swimming pool.

At this point in my life, I had not yet realized that I’m not good at fixing things. Instead, I decided that I would take on this challenge and vanquish it.

Joe Handyman to the rescue!

First task was to drain the water from under the house. I went to the local rental center and rented a sump pump. In short order, I had the water pumping out through our bedroom window and into the street. Piece of cake.

My confidence soaring, it was now time for phase two of the project. I had to find the leak.

Given that the water under the house was hot, I had a pretty good idea that the leak was coming from the hot water heater. (I know. My powers of deduction amaze me at times.)

In a direct line, the distance from the scuttle hole in our bedroom closet to the water heater couldn’t have been more than 10 feet, give or take a foot. All I had to do was go down through the hole and crawl the ten feet to the water heater, figure out where the leak was and what I needed to fix it, and then get the supplies and do the job.

I had this well in hand.

Until I went through the scuttle hole.

First, I’m not a particularly small person, so getting down under the floorboards was…how shall I say this…interesting.

Photo credit: Skeeze | Pixabay.com | License: CCO

Photo credit: Skeeze | Pixabay.com | License: CCO

I put on an old T-shirt and jeans and descended into the blackness. Well actually, I couldn’t descend very easily. I just sat down.

In cold mud.

Then I kind of had to skooch forward on my bottom until I was lying on my back.

In cold mud.

Next I had to figure out how to turn over. I don’t remember how I managed it, but I rolled onto my stomach.

Did I mention that the mud was cold?

So, now I’m soaked to the bone in cold mud, front and back, lying on my stomach and ready to belly crawl just a few feet to the water heater.

One problem.

Underneath the house was a labyrinth of old and new pipes, entirely blocking any direct path to the water heater.

I managed to work my way around until I was pointing the other direction. (Don’t ask how.)

The only way I could possibly get to the water heater and the leak was to belly crawl away from the heater, toward the front of the house, turn right and go the width of our bedroom, turn right again and crawl the length of the bedroom and several feet down the hallway.

On my stomach.

In cold. January. mud.

But the indignities were only beginning.

To be continued…on Friday.

 

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Is It Possible to Stop Grieving Too Soon?

July 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image Credit: Jim Jackson | License: CC-O | Used by  permission

Image Credit: Jim Jackson | License: CC-O | Used by permission

Most of us have encountered people who we thought were stuck in grief, who needed to “get over it.” [Read my thoughts on that HERE.] But what about people we think haven’t grieved enough?

Do you know someone who went through a tragic loss, but who seemed to handle it too well?

There have been times in my life and ministry when I have encountered people who worried me because they didn’t fit my expectation of what grief should look like. I concluded that they were either in denial, or suppressing their emotions, and I was worried for them.

Although it is possible for people to suppress grief, and this can cause real problems, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind before you come to that conclusion.

If a friend or family member seems “too happy” after a loss, remember:

  • If you are not seeing that person 24 hours a day, you don’t have the whole picture.
  • Some people prefer to keep their grief private.
  • Some people do not like to make others uncomfortable, and so they hide their feelings when they are with you.
  • Everybody responds differently to loss. Just because a person isn’t grieving the way you think they should, doesn’t mean they are not dealing with their loss.

When I see someone who is not grieving the way I think they should, I remind myself that I have not walked the road they’re walking, and it’s not my place to judge. My place is to love, support, and encourage.

Often the best way to do that is to go beside them and hold their hand as they walk the road of sorrow.

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How Long Should Grief Last?

July 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image Credit: Jim Jackson | License: CC-O | Used by permission

Have you ever thought or said this about a friend or relative who is “taking too long,” to grieve a loss: “It’s been a long time and she’s still grieving. Shouldn’t she be over it by now?”

Anyone who has experienced a traumatic loss will tell you that there is no set time for getting over grief.

Truth be told, you never get over it. You learn to live with it, to adjust, to function, and hopefully even to enjoy life again.

But you never get over it.

Grief changes you. It makes you into a different person than you were before your loss. That’s neither good nor bad; it just is. The grieving person must adapt to a new life he did not want or anticipate.

Sometimes it takes years to adapt.

And that’s okay.

People grieve at their own pace.

So, if you have a friend or relative who is still grieving after a long time, give them a break–even if you feel it’s been “too long.”

Pray for them; encourage them; love them.

But don’t ask, “Shouldn’t you be over this by now?”

 

 

 

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