Inhuman (11)

To read from the beginning, please visit the Inhuman page.

“Hi, Mom,” Amanda said into the phone. “I made it. The movers just left.” After the unsettling trip out to her car, she had needed a little comfort and reassurance. She just hoped her mother wouldn’t pick up on the anxiety in her voice.

“Dear, you sound like you’re out of breath. Is everything alright?” her mother asked.

Amanda laughed nervously. “Oh, yeah. Fine. Just hauled my luggage in from the car. That’s all.”

“Ok, good. Now are you sure you don’t want your father and me to come and help? We could leave here bright and early. I could bring breakfast…?” 

As much as she wanted the company of her family, Amanda knew they’d be safer staying away. “No, really it’s fine. The movers already took care of most of it. Just going to run out to the supermarket for a few things and then I’ll get started putting my clothes away and…”

“But Amanda, we’re just dying to see the place. Couldn’t we…?”

“No, Mom. Really. Let me get settled and you can come for a proper visit.”

“Alright,” her mother sighed. But…”

After a few more minutes of gentle persuasion, Amanda made her excuses and said goodbye. She really did need to get some food in the house. Maybe the town wouldn’t seem so strange if she got out and had a look around and maybe talked to a few people. Even if it was only the cashier at the supermarket.

The afternoon shadows were growing long so before grabbing her keys, she drew the blinds closed on the front windows and turned on a lamp. None of the curtains moved on the houses around hers this time but she couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling she was being watched. “I’m being ridiculous,” she murmured. “Of course the neighbors are going to be curious. And small town people can be suspicious of newcomers.” And with good reason, she thought. If they had any idea they had a secret government laboratory in their back yard…

Amanda retraced her steps to the supermarket she had passed on her way into town and found a parking spot near the main entrance. Mentally, she was composing a list of supplies she’d need to buy when she realized she was gripping the shopping cart handle like her life depended on it. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to relax. Lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onions… she filled her cart with vegetable basics. One of the store clerks stocking the shelves smiled and nodded. That’s better, she thought, relaxing a little more. 

After she had collected everything she would need from food to personal care, she wheeled the overflowing cart to the checkout aisle and began to unload. The cashier chuckled at the size of her order and asked, “find everything you need?”

Amanda smiled and said, “Yes, I just moved here and I needed almost everything.”

“Well, that’ll keep you for a while,” she said as she scanned each item. “That’ll be $189.98. Cash or card?”

“Cash,” Amanda said, handing over four $50 bills.

“Here you go. $10.02 is your change. Thank you and welcome to Makepeace, Ms. Connor.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that,” she replied with a smile. Maybe the town wasn’t so strange after all. Then, as she was loading the bags into her car, it hit her. The cashier’s words echoed in her ears. “Welcome to Makepeace, Ms. Connor.” But she had never given the woman her name.  

Inhuman (10)

To read from the beginning, please visit the Inhuman page to find all the links.

The following days, weeks had been a whirlwind. Brian’s ‘accident’ and subsequent funeral, Amanda’s resignation from her job, and giving notice to her landlord all came in rapid succession. Amanda’s family had pleaded with her. “This is a mistake. You’ve just lost your husband, how can you just pick up and leave everything behind? They say you should never make big, life changing decisions so soon after a trauma. Wait a year at least.”

She made the excuse that she couldn’t bear to be in the home she’d shared with Brian. She needed a fresh start, in a new town with a new job. This opportunity was too good to pass up. “Don’t worry, I’m not going across the country or anything. It’s only about two hours away,” she had said. And so with her belongings packed and her rent deposit refunded, Amanda drove north and west from Philadelphia with the agency-hired moving truck following her. She had been issued a new phone and she used its GPS to guide her to Makepeace, the small town she would now call home.

The long drive gave her the first quiet time, the first alone time she’d had since Nathan had driven her back to her apartment after that fateful day at the laboratory. She’d been given a more thorough tour, and a cursory interview for the job she would now be performing. Lastly, she’d been required to sign the confidentiality agreement that would ensure her silence about the agency’s true purpose. For all her friends and family knew, she was going to work for a sub-agency of the Department of Energy, responsible for oversight of the region’s controversial hydraulic fracturing industry. She’d left the place with her head spinning. Nathan had been quiet on the drive, just answering questions as they came to her. Upon leaving her, he’d given her a final warning about what could happen if she went to the authorities or the news media and also his cell phone number if she felt that she needed to talk. She hadn’t used it.

The city gave way to suburbs and then long stretches of farmland interrupted occasionally by small towns, more like villages, until she reached the road that circled around the restricted area that once was the mining town of Centralia. A few miles further and she passed a sign welcoming her to Makepeace, established 1947 and boasting a population of 1701. She passed a gas station and convenience store, a supermarket and drug store and a medical complex with a general practitioner, dentist and eye doctor. The town center had a square with a well-tended park and each of the store fronts facing the square seemed to be occupied with small businesses —a jeweler, florist, hair salon, and dry cleaners, as well as the post office. Self-contained, she thought. Then again, the town was out in the middle of nowhere. It made sense to have everything you would need close at hand.

The GPS directed her to turn left onto Elm Street which, true to it’s name, was lined with stately old trees fronting the neat, uniform yards of nearly identical Cape Cod style homes. The street was oddly quiet for a beautiful, sunny Saturday —no children outside playing or people walking dogs. She pulled in front of number 12, allowing the moving truck to back into the driveway. The pale grey house with its black shutters and red front door, were as pretty as a postcard. Window boxes full of cheerful flowers adorned the two sills on either side of the door. Amanda took a moment to absorb it all. She shook her head. A dream come true, a nightmare in disguise. Well, at least I will be comfortable while I figure a way out of this mess, she thought.

As the movers brought boxes and furnishings, she wandered around the rooms, trying to stay out of the way. She found herself at the kitchen window, staring across the lawn to the yard of the neighbor behind her. Another Cape Cod, quiet and eerily similar to her own. A post-war town, she thought. All the homes built for returning soldiers.

“All finished, Ms. Connor,” one of the movers said. “We’ll get our of your way, if everything looks good to you.”

“Sure, sure. Thank you,” she replied absently. Movement in the house behind hers had caught her attention. A figure stood silhouetted in the window, then pale fingers pulled the curtain aside. Amanda instinctively stepped back into the shadows to avoid detection but it was probably too late. The watcher remained at the window, but she couldn’t see the person’s face. Someone curious about their new neighbor, no doubt. Then why did she feel unnerved? She took a deep breath and stepped back into view. She leaned toward the glass and smiled and waved. Immediately the curtain fell back into place. “Hmm, maybe curious, but not particularly friendly…” she murmured.

At the sound of the moving van backing out of the driveway, she looked around at the boxes trying to decide where to start. She had left her suitcases and toiletries in the car. Might as well pull the car into the drive while I’m at it, she thought. So grabbing her keys, she walked out to the street where her car was parked. Movement in the periphery of her vision had her turning her head. Another curtain parted, another watcher in the window, this time in the house across and to the left of hers. Then again, at the house straight ahead and yet again in the one to the right. A finger of anxiety traced along her spine and she found herself running to the car as the invisible eyes of her neighbors watched her.

Serial Distraction

The disadvantages of writing a piece of serial fiction never occur to me until after I’ve started writing and posting on my blog. I get these story ideas and find that they’re too long for one blog post and suddenly they take on a life of their own. Then I find myself facing the pressure of writing a new section each week whether the ideas are forthcoming or not! I should have learned my lesson last time.

Even with a well outlined plot, each segment of a serial piece is a little short story on its own and has to have a mini story arc in itself. To keep the readers’ interest from week to week, there needs to be action and intrigue, there is less time for character development and transition between scenes. Imagine the difference if the reader had the entire piece to read all at once. Both the writer and the reader would have time to explore a little history and character backstory, and the physical location or setting. The hook at the start and the cliff hanger at the end don’t need to come every 800-1000 words. It can be exhausting! Nevertheless, I treat these serial pieces as explorations and of course, they are truly at the rough draft stage, needing revision and expansion. So if each section of the current serial is less than perfect, I hope you will take those things into account.

I remind myself when I get frustrated, that the novel I’m working on began its life as a serial piece —you know, that WWI story I keep talking about? Yeah, I really need to get back to that!

So even though I’ve been distracted from my main work in progress, I still believe these serial pieces are valuable. They can be filed away for possible development and eventually I’ll have two more potential novels in progress.