WIP Excerpt: NaNoWriMo 2010
The working title for this novel is In the Shadow of Heroes, but I keep renaming it in my head. Sometimes it goes by Shadows, or That Superhero Hunters Novel, or Morning and Elle Fight The Man And Have Family Drama, on days when I’m not into that whole brevity thing. And surprisingly often lately, it’s just NO CAPES!, yelled in the voice of Edna Mode from The Incredibles.
None of these are great titles, but anyway. This is the first scene of whateveritscalled.
Elle had to hand it to her – when Morning didn’t want to be found, she pulled a mean invisible girl trick. It took three months of searching, her path covered by layers of aliases and fake-outs so deep that Elle had felt like she was hunting down some bigshot superhero’s alter ego instead of her pain in the ass little sister. Even Crosswind hadn’t caused her this much trouble, and he was Chicago’s most well-guarded cape. Morning, though? She was talented at this and damn well trained. If she’d wanted to be a cape for some godforsaken reason, there probably wouldn’ta been a hunter in the world who could bring her down. Except maybe Elle.
Ellen Beth Campbell leaned against the front desk of Plainsview Psychiatric, watching the admissions nurse search the database and feeling like she’d been hit by a truck. When her phone beeped out the search notification that led her hear, she’d been on the losing end of a fight with a small-time cape in a green spandex suit. Her left arm curled tight against her side, the partially dislocated shoulder still aching, and based on the stabbing pain when she breathed in too deep, she was pretty sure the guy had cracked a rib. Beaten by a cape who did Batman voice. Jesus, this life.
And then, to drive for two days straight, downing fast food and swearing at the windshield the whole way?
Three fucking months in a fucking institution. What the fuck was Morning thinking? Was this some kind of extended teenage rebellion?
“Looks like she just got out of the afternoon group session,” said the nurse, his glasses reflecting the schedule on the screen. “I can take you to the community room if you’d like to see her.”
“Sure,” Elle said, light-lipped. Morning in group therapy – this had to be a joke. Some kind of elaborate, belated April Fool’s prank. That was about the only holiday Morning celebrated, anyway.
Elle followed the nurse down a long hallway, her fingers locked in her belt loops and the stacked leather heels of her boots scuffing hard against the tile. Stripes of salmon pink ran the length of the walls, reminding her of the color scheme at the hospital in Houston, six months back. Her throat hitched. There had to be some committee that decided these color schemes, she told herself. The two places were nothing alike otherwise. The air in the Houston hospital was saturated with disinfectants; the air here had distant cafeteria smells blown through musty air conditioning ducts.
The nurse took her to a wide open room with large windows and clusters of well-abused furniture. He explained the visitor policy, and Elle nodded absently, too busy taking inventory of the patients in the room to be bothered. Slouched forms in pastel robes: a group watching TV, pairs at the small tables playing games and trading banter, a guy in the corner staring out at the creek… Elle stopped, her breath leaving in a rush. She hadn’t realized she was holding it.
There was Morning, sunk so far into a couch by the arts and crafts area she might as well be one of the cushions. Elle passed the nurse off with a nod and a “Thanks” and strode over to her sister. Morning didn’t even look up when she sat down.
“Hey,” Elle said gruffly.
“Hey,” Morning replied. “Three months, one day, eleven hours. That’s better than I was expecting.”
“You kinda blew it checking into a place on one of Joel’s networks.”
“You’ve got Joel doing your research for you?”
“Just the illegal internet activity part. My usual go-to for that sorta vanished.” Elle leaned back, wincing as her rib pinched. “Y’know, if you wanted a vacation, you could’ve pitched a trip to Florida.”
“You hate Florida.” Morning looked over at her, the smirk showing nowhere but her eyes.
“You didn’t think I’d hate this a bit more than Florida?” Elle sighed, reaching over to push hair out of her little sister’s face. Morning leaned into the gesture obediently. The two of them were a mismatched set, Mom used to say – Elle with her carefully dressed up paunch and blonde hair cut short around her cheeks, and Morning a starved looking thing hidden under uncombed dark curls and oversized clothes. The name Morning was a joke from childhood that seemed less accurate every year. She was nineteen now – three years younger than Elle – and had started looking more like a Midnight, given the constant dark patches and red rim around her eyes. The girl could sleep until dinnertime and she’d still look like she’d been up for a week straight.
Hell, they both probably looked that way just now – Elle hadn’t had time for concealer since she’d jammed her shoulder back into joint and washed the mud out of her hair. She brushed her hand down Morning’s hair, tucking it behind her ear and resisting the urge to smack her for this stupid stunt. Three fucking months. “So,” she said, lowering her voice to a hiss, “Were were you before this? Having fun without me while I tried not to have a heart attack? Did you just take a break from visiting Graceland or something and decide you’d drop me a clue in the crazy house?” Elle wrapped a lock of her sister’s hair around her forefinger and pulled carefully until Morning leaned in toward her, nearly touching her face. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you signed yourself in under Mom’s name – and you really are crazy if you think we’re gonna talk about that.”
Morning’s shoulders hunched up toward her neck. “Look, I didn’t mean to—”
“I don’t want to hear it, Mor. And y’know why?” Elle tugged, and the crown of Morning’s head met her lips. She squeezed her eyes shut, saying into the mop of hair, “Because every night for the past three months, I’ve fallen asleep wondering if you were alive – except these last two nights, when I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus enough to chase one fucking lead all the way to the conclusion. I got my ass handed to me by a douche who answered his cell phone halfway through interrogating me, because I couldn’t concentrate on my own movements enough to take him down on the first try. My game’s gone, I’m out of coffee filters, and I’ve shrunk outta half my jeans.” Sighing deeply, she opened her eyes and rolled them toward the ceiling. Her finger unclenched from the lock of Morning’s hair, and she released her sister with an annoyed kiss. “To top off the shit sandwich that is my life sans you, the tape deck broke two weeks ago, and I’ve been driving myself nuts singing Bon fucking Jovi to myself.”
“The tape deck broke?” Morning said, looking genuinely crushed by the news.
Elle leaned back again, running her good hand over her face. “Yes, fuck you very much, and if you don’t fix it within twenty-four hours, you’ll be sleeping in the shower.”
That got a smile – albeit a small, self-conscious one. The first she’d seen on Morning in what felt like ages. “I missed you,” Morning said.
“You’ll have plenty of time to tell me just how much on the road.” She was smiling. The stupid kid knew just how to get to her. Elle’s shoulders sank, and her dislocated one gave a sharp stab, making her cringe.
Morning straightened up immediately, her thin lips drawing into a serious line of ass-kicking intent. “He hurt you. What one was it?”
“Fantasmo,” Elle whispered. “Can you believe that?”
“I’ll kill him,” Morning said, matter-of-factly.
“You better – it’s your goddamn turn. I already trie—” she started, but a voice from the TV in the middle of the community room grabbed her attention.
The Campbell girls’ heads turned at a lot of words. Different words, for the most part – coffee, sex, and sleep did it for Elle, in about that order, while curly fries, drive, and the lyrics to anything off Led Zeppelin IV perked Morning’s ears. They both jumped at each other’s names when said by anyone else, and at shadows. And they had been trained ages ago to listen close whenever the League was mentioned.
The Incorporated League of Incognitos for America’s Defense – ILIAD.
“Speaking as a representative of ILIAD,” said the news anchor in the powder blue suit, “forefather superhero Maker held a press conference to announce the untimely death of Stormfall, one of New York City’s most beloved superheroes. Maker was not able to release many details due to the sensitive nature of the issue, but he reported that Stormfall was not masked at the time of his death, and it appears to have been a mugging. After ten years of dutiful protection of the city’s people and two serving on ILIAD’s executive board as marketing director, Stormfall was more than just a pillar of the community – he was a foundation stone. Maker read a statement from ILIAD which read: ‘We extend our deepest sympathies to our brother’s family, veiled though their mourning must be, and our organization vows that his killer will see the blinding light of justice.
“We’re hearing reports from sources online that this killing may be related to the rash of muggings turned homicides in Brooklyn’s recent history.” The news anchor took a deep breath and adjusted her hands in front of her as if she didn’t know what to do with them suddenly. “This is the second death of an ILIAD member in as many years. A sad day for heroes.”
“Heroes?” Morning sniffed. “Sad day for capes, maybe. And me. Stormfall was on my bucket list.”
“That’s what you get for ditching your family,” Elle said, scanning the room around them. A few of the patients in front of the TV had started crying during the news story. Crazy or not, this wasn’t a place to be overheard talking about the hunt. “Come on,” she said, motioning for Morning to follow as she got to her feet. “Vacation’s over.”
I just hit 30k words on this project last night. It’s the roughest first draft I’ve written in years, and I’m kind of loving that now (when I’m not hating it).
My NaNoWriMo profile is here, with more info on the novel. Feel free to friend me if you’re doing NaNo, too.