Dear Ms. Agent,
Attached please find my novel, "Work in Progress". It's a 100,000 word urban fantasy ....
Somehow, I have a feeling if I ever sent something like that out, Miss Snark would return from retirement and her first blog entry would be on my query letter. Sorry, much as I miss Miss Snark, I am not that big of a masochist. In fact, the closet thing to masochism I come to is being a writer. Besides, a title -- even if it may be changed later -- says a lot about a book or short story. It is the reader's first indication of what they should expect from the book. Title and cover art will draw them in. Back cover excerpt -- or item description for e-books -- will set the hook. Then it's up to us, as writers, to fulfill their expectations with what we write.
Any way, here's the deal. I have a work in progress that is, so far, being very frustrating. For one, it insists on being dark in tone while the other book I'm working on is lighter and more humorous. For another, this is the first time I'm having trouble coming up with a title. So here's the deal. I'm going to excerpt the first of the book below -- Remember, this is a very rough draft and hasn't been through the edit process. So there will be changes and tightening of the prose -- and throw the floor open to you guys for title suggestions. Kate has agreed to help me choose the one that best seems to fit where the story is going. The winner will get, if you want, a line-by-line edit of your first chapter or first 5k words of a novel or short story. I figure this way, we're helping one another.
Here goes, and thanks!
It started with the war. Which, in so many ways, is the height of irony. The war was supposed to end all our problems. Once done, we'd no longer have to hide or walk in the shadows. For the first time in living memory – and our memory is very long – we'd finally be able to live "normal lives", whatever that means.
Only it didn't happen that way. The war was lost before it began. That's why none of the history books recorded it. You won't even find it as a footnote in some scholarly text. Nor will you find mention of us, not unless some miracle occurs to change the current path we've been on since that terrible day.
We were betrayed. Unbeknownst to us, there'd been a traitor in our midst. Our own Judas,
if you will. For not much more than the fabled 30 pieces of silver – and the assurance he'd never be harmed nor his secret revealed – one of our own had sold our plans to the enemy.
They'd struck without warning, killing indiscriminately. We didn't have a chance. So we'd
scattered, swearing on our dead that we'd claim vengeance one day.
We didn't know that day how deep the treachery ran. The traitor had done more than sell our plans. He'd sold our names and the locations of our homes and loved ones. Those of us who'd escaped the first trap found ourselves hunted like game. Using the information given them by the traitor, the enemy hunted us down and killed with no more consideration than they'd give a rabid dog. These witch hunts, for lack of a better term, continued throughout the years, slowly but surely shrinking our ranks until only a handful of us remain.
So, instead of coming out of the shadows, we've been driven deeper underground. We've been
forced to adapt to a changing world with technologies that make it harder and harder to hide our existence. We do our best to blend into the background, mourning those we've lost and always looking over our shoulders for those who hunt us.
Most of all, we thirst for vengeance. Our blood cries for the loss of our children. The traitor will pay. Even if it falls to the last of our kind. His head shall be separated from his body, his heart ripped out and cast aside. He will learn the price of his treason.
And I swear it will be by my hand.
They were watching. Or at least someone was. I knew it the moment I stepped outside. I could feel their eyes on me in the prickling at the back of my neck and between my shoulder blades. Somewhere among the crowd an enemy waited. Perhaps my time had finally come. If so, whoever watched me would soon learn I wouldn’t go down without a fight.
I stepped away from the door and glanced around, careful not to be too obvious about it. Yes, someone was definitely there. Again. As much as I’d like to believe the one watching me was more interested in my good looks – hah! – or even in stealing my backpack, I knew better. I’d felt their presence for a week now. Never at the same time or the same place. It didn’t matter that I’d varied my routine. At last twice a day, they were there, watching me, following me. And I was certain I knew why.
I was also tired of playing games. I like a good hunt as much as the next person. But only when I’m the hunter. This being the hunted wasn’t sitting well and I wanted it to stop – now.
One way or another, I’d end this game of cat and mouse. But I had to bide my time.
Downtown Fort Worth wasn’t the place for a confrontation. At least not the sort that I usually found myself involved in. Unfortunately, I hadn’t chosen the arena. Unless I wanted everything out in the open, I needed to find someplace secluded and quickly.
A hint of worry licked at my confidence. Whoever was following me had managed to do so for a week now. The fact they’d been able to keep track of me no matter what I did to throw them off meant they were at least as good as I was, perhaps even better. So I had to be careful. No unnecessary risks. Well, at least no outrageously unnecessary ones. My whole life was one of risk. The fact someone was stalking me – again – only proved it.
We’ll, we’d see soon enough how good they were. I was tired of playing mouse to their cat.
But for anything to happen, I had to get off the street. A pubic confrontation would only play into their hands. Too many people had cell phones with video capability. The last thing I needed was for a video of what I had planned to hit the internet – and reach those who had made it their life’s mission to destroy me and those I cared for.
But Fort Worth, even downtown Fort Worth, wasn’t without out of the way areas where I could
put my plan into action. All I had to do was get to one, before my unseen trackers decided to make their move.
I started down the block, blending in with the crowd. One in the afternoon meant the sidewalks were crowded. Attorneys and paralegals hurried down the street in the direction of the county courthouse, their briefcases swinging like weapons to part the crowd before them. Men and women in business suits strolled only slightly more leisurely back to their offices from lunch. One or two may have staggered a bit, the worse for wear after one too many drinks. I stepped around a group of four women, dressed in the latest after-tennis wear that cost more than my entire wardrobe. Their voices grated against my ears as they debated where to go for lunch. They were quickly drowned out by a group of kids, laughing and talking and wanting to know if they were going to the zoo soon. Everyday life in this city that proclaims itself to be the gateway to the West.
As the crowd pressed on down the street, I paused near the entrance to the Bank of Texas, located in one of the tallest buildings in town. I carefully shifted my backpack, settling it more comfortably over my left shoulder, leaving my right had free. I wanted to be able to drop it without hesitation when the time came. And something told me that time would be soon.
I had to get off the streets.
A man bumped against me and I stiffened, relaxing only as he mumbled a quick “’cuse me” and moved on. At least he’d said that much. One thing about Fort Worth, it was a polite town.
Even though I looked like the average college student wandering the streets, trying to decide whether to go to the bookstore to study or one of the many bars located in the area to forget about school, people still greeted me and begged for forgiveness for whatever minor breech they thought they might have committed. But at least they meant me no harm. No, that came from another quarter and it worried me that I still couldn’t locate the danger. Were they really that good or had I finally grown sloppy? Had I spent so much time hiding in plain sight and getting away with it that I’d made a fatal mistake somewhere along the line?
No, I couldn’t – I wouldn’t – believe that. And now it was time to see just how good my shadow really was.
A slight smile touched my lips as I ducked inside the bank building. It was a risk. I knew it. There were any number of security cameras here, cameras that would capture my image. But they’d also capture the image of whoever followed me. It might not help me but, in the long run, it might help others like me. That really was the best I could hope for.
The glass doors slid shut behind me and or one moment I relished the cool air and soft music that greeted me. But I couldn’t stand there enjoying it. Too many others wanted inside, politely but insistently pushing past me. Then there was my shadow, that threat I could feel even if I couldn’t see it. No, I had to move further inside and hope whoever it was didn’t choose this place for our showdown.
“May I help you, ma’am?” the uniformed security guard asked as I approached his desk.
To the right lay the lobby for the bank. Through the glass walls, I could see customers and employees and armed guards. Unless my tail was a fool of phenomenal proportions, he wouldn’t try anything here. Still, it was best not to hang around and tempt fate.
“I’ve got a deliver for George and Chandler from the Jessup Firm. They’re expecting it.”
I waited as he called upstairs to confirm my story. Funny enough, it was the truth. I hadn’t realized when I took the temporary job as runner for a local law firm that it would come in handy as a way to keep alive. For the first time in my life, I had a reason to be thankful for those bottom feeders call lawyers.
“Thirty-fifth floor, ma’am. I’ll need you to sign in and put this on.”
He pushed a clipboard across the desk in my direction with one hand and handed me a guest badge with the other. His eyes didn’t leave the page as I scrawled my name on the first available line. I handed him back the clipboard and then attached the badge to the right front pocket of my jeans. There, I was official. If anything happened, the cops would look into it and boy would they be surprised by what they found.
So I simply had to be smart and not let anything happen. The fate of too many others rested on it.
Ten minutes later, I stepped into the corridor outside the law firm of George and Chandler and glanced around. No one else was visible. But that didn’t mean anything and I knew it. My pursuers could very easily be waiting for me in the lobby. It would be easy to flank me as I stepped off the elevator. They’d rely on the fact I wouldn’t want to create a scene. By the time we were away from the crowds, it would be too late – at least for me.
They could be closer, hiding in the restrooms down the hall or in the stairways. But I doubted it. I was sure they hadn’t given up, but I could no longer feel them bearing down on me as I had before. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. All I knew for sure was I had to get out of the building without being backed into a corner that would force me to either surrender to them or reveal much more to the public-at-large than any of us wanted to.
The elevator doors slid open and I tensed, waiting for the inevitable. Instead of the monsters of my past stepping into the corridor and coming for me, a couple of well dressed women stepped out instead. From their whispered conversation, I knew they were talking about a different kind of assignation than the one I’d been expecting. No, they were comparing notes on their love lives, oblivious to all around them.
Inspiration hit. I reached out and stopped the door before it could close. My lips pulled back into a satisfied grin as I punched the buttons to make the elevator car stop on the twenty fifth, nineteenth and tenth floors before coming to a stop in the lobby. Unless I missed my guess, the car would stop on at least one other floor along the way which was all to the good. The more stops it made, and the more people who got on and off, the more difficult it became for my pursuers to realize where I actually had gone.
Now, to get out of the building and make sure that any confrontation happened on my terms and not theirs.
I resisted the urge to run as I moved back down the corridor toward the stairwell door. I could hurry once there. But I didn’t dare draw attention to myself now. I’d take the stairs up six floors and then take the elevator down. Everything above the fortieth floor used a different bank of elevators than the one I’d come up on. These elevators opened out of sight of the main lobby and just across from the stairwell door that led down to the parking garage. If I could just cross to the door, I’d be in the garage before anyone knew it.
Of course, that was a very big IF….
The elevator doors opened and I let myself be swept into the back section of the lobby by the other passengers. As I stepped out, I glanced around, every sense alive and seeking.
Much as I’d hoped my shadow had given up and gone home, he was still there. I could feel him. He was close, too close for comfort. But where? Why couldn’t I see him?
Praying the explanation was as simple as whoever it was being on the opposite side of the elevator bank and blind to my return, I looked for the stairwell door. All I had to do was get to it. That’s all. Only ten feet separated me from potential freedom.
With my backpack thumping against my back, I hit the door at a dead run. Now we’d play it my way. Let’s see just how good he – or she – happened to be. I’d spent a lifetime training for situations like this. I’d bet my life – hell, I was betting my life – that he hadn’t and I hoped that I wasn’t backing the wrong horse this time.
I pelted up the drive, climbing, climbing until I saw daylight. Cars lined up at the gates, waiting for their tickets to enter or to pay so they could exit. I slipped between them, emerging onto the street. Even then I didn’t slow. I couldn’t. I could hear someone behind me. Running feet, labored breathing. Good. He wasn’t in the physical condition I was and now he’d pay for it. Then he’d tell me what I wanted to know or pay an even greater price.
I veered to my right into another parking garage, an above-ground one this time.
We’d already run more than a city block, not counting the time in the bank’s parking garage. I could feel my pursuer flagging. Good. Just a little longer. I had to be careful about where I chose to confront him. But soon, very soon, this would be over.
There’s something about the hunt that excites at the primal level. It doesn’t matter if you’re the hunted or the hunter. At least it doesn’t matter to me. My senses seem to sharpen as my pulse increases. My mind is clear, calm. I know how good I am. I’ve managed to live a very long time by most standards because of it. This hunter, if you dared call him that, was no match for me.
Soon, he’d realize that the hunter had become the hunted and he was now the prey. I could
hardly wait to see his expression, to taste his fear.
I raced up the ramp and around the corner, one level and then two. My running shoes, carefully selected for just such an emergency, cushioned my steps. Only a muted slap-slap-slap with each footfall betrayed me. Even though my pulse raced, my breathing was barely labored. I was born for the hunt and for the long chase it entailed.
I hit the door leading to the stairwell. Time to add some distance between us. The door slammed behind me, just as I wanted. I wanted him in the stairwell. I wanted him to pause and wonder which direction I’d gone. Then, when he started up the stairs in my direction, he’d be even more tired, his legs heavier, harder to move. And that, she knew, made him an easier target when the time came.
Three flights up, I slammed through another door, ignoring the possibility others might be on the other side. This was between me and the man who followed me. The world had shrunk to just the two of us. There wasn’t time to worry about anyone else. Not until this was over. Until he was over.
Then I could worry about consequences.
For one moment I slowed, my eyes scanning the level. Good. Almost every parking space was
filled. The cars and vans increased the shadows on the level, making it easier to hide. And hide I was going to do. Now was the time for patience and cunning. Maybe even time to play with the fool a bit before pouncing. He needed to learn that the mouse often has very sharp teeth and the cat had best be battle-hardened before going after it.
He was close. I could feel it even as I heard his steps. The fool. Why wear boots if you’re trying to stalk someone in the heart of a city? Every step he took reverberated even though the closed door. Better, he’d grown tired, just as I planned. Soon, very soon, it would be over.
I crouched behind a van near the top of the ramp, hidden in the shadows. My backpack rested on the concrete beside me. Down the aisle, the stairwell door clanged shut, followed almost instantly by a sharp curse. I couldn’t help smiling. He’d grown tired and careless. It just kept getting better.
Still, I remained where I was, secure in the knowledge the shadows were, as always, my friend. For a moment, the only sounds were of my heart beating and my slow, even breaths.
There! A step. Then another. His pace quickened. He wasn’t running, quite, but it was close. If I’d doubted someone followed me, I no longer did.
Someone most definitely was following me. What surprised me was how they seemed to be breaking all the rules. Whoever it was, he hunted alone. His tactics, or lack thereof, betrayed his inexperience. He was either very sure of himself or very foolish. Either one could play to my advantage, as long as I didn’t get cocky.
Leaving my backpack, I edged around the rear of the van. The backpack, if he found it, would delay him further. It would divert his attention and give me the chance to act. But I had to take care not to blow my chance before it arrived.
I crept behind another car, big and black. Some sort of SUV. I really didn’t care what it was so long as it offered me protection. That was all that mattered. Now was when hunter became the hunted and the thrill of it raced through me. If only we were away from town where this could become a real hunt.
Footsteps neared. Slower now, more relaxed. It was almost as if someone was taking a leisurely stroll toward me. Had I misjudged? Was it possible my stalker had been playing me? No, I didn’t believe that. There had to be another explanation.
I shrank further into the shadows between the cars, creeping backwards, away from the aisle. My heart hammered as it hadn’t since leaving the bank. Fear clawed at my throat.
For one moment, I closed my eyes, praying this was all some horrible dream I’d soon awaken from. But it wasn’t. I’d learned long ago that the only nightmares are the ones we’re forced to live, day after day after day.
A car door opened just a few yards away and I started nervously. My hands flew to my mouth
in a desperate attempt to silence my gasp. It wasn’t him. By all that was holy, it wasn’t him. It had been an innocent, that’s all. Not that there’s really any innocents left these days. Still, whoever it was, they weren’t a part of this. All I had to do was wait for them to leave. Then I could finish this, once and for all.
If I had time. For all I knew, the one following me had heard my gasp and even now was using the sound of the car starting and backing out of its space to close in on me. Dear God, what should I do?
Patience. I had to stay patient and not move too soon. Nor could I risk getting careless now, with the end so close.
A red sedan slowly passed my hiding space. Behind the wheel sat an attractive, gray haired woman. Even from where I crouched in the shadows, I could see she hadn’t locked her doors. It would be so easy to slide into the backseat as she drove past, to force her to drive my out of there and away from my pursuer. It was so tempting. . . .
No! That wasn’t the way. It was far too dangerous to involved someone else, someone outside the clan. In this day and age of lojack technology on cars and global positioning software in cell phones, it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. One phone call to the police and they’d know within minutes where the car was. I might be willing to do a lot of things to stay alive but risking a police shoot out wasn’t one of them.
The car disappeared around the curve and I sank back against the wheel of the SUV. Where was he? My ears strained and my heart pounded. No matter how many times I'd been in this position – and I'd been there more times than I cared to count – it never got any easier. How could it when so many deaths haunted me? But this time was different. I could feel it. The hunter was alone and a one-on-one fight suited me just fine.
But I wouldn't kill him unless he forced me to. Not that I wouldn't do whatever was necessary to find out how he'd found me. Once I knew that, I could disappear into the shadows again and move on, another town and another identity.
Leather scraped concrete and my muscles tensed. I waited, ready to pounce. All he had to do was come a little closer.
Wait. Something was wrong. This was all happening too easily. Was it possible this was all some sort of elaborate trap they'd laid to capture me.
Fear licked at my confidence and without thought I glanced down, frantically searching for that tell-tale red dot of a laser scope. Nothing. If anyone besides the two of us was there, they hadn't tagged me, at least not yet. Maybe I was worrying for no reason.
Not willing to take the chance, I dropped to my stomach and looked under the cars, searching for another set of feet, for anything to prove or disprove my fears. Nothing. Only the boots and jeans of the pursuer I knew about.
I sat back up and drew a slow, deep breath. My lips pulled back, baring my teeth and a low, primal growl fought for release. My muscles all but quivered in anticipation as each step brought the hunter closer, ever closer.
From where I crouched, I saw his legs first. Faded blue jeans. Black, worn boots.
Interesting. That wasn't the usual attire of the hunters but it did make sense if this one was trying to blend in here. Maybe he wasn't quite the amateur I first thought. Or maybe not. Although he moved slowly up the aisle, checking first one direction and the other as he scanned between the parked cars, his hands were visible and very empty. My well-trained eye saw no hint of a weapon anywhere on him. Good. That would make things much easier.
I slipped further into the shadows cast by the SUV and the wall behind me. All I needed was for him to take another couple of steps forward. That's all. Then I'd be in his blind spot and could move. He'd never know what hit him. By the time he figured it out, it would be too late and they would both be well away from there and anyone who might be looking for him.
Silently, I rose from my crouch and stepped into the aisle. As if suddenly aware of my presence, he turned. My fist froze half-way to his face and a gasp tore from my throat.
No! It couldn't be. I couldn't be seeing him, not here and sure as hell not now. He was dead, damn it! Dead by my hand.
My mind may have frozen, but my body acted on instinct. I turned and took one step away from him. I had to run. It didn't matter where. All that mattered was getting out of there. I'd made the worst mistake possible. I'd gotten too sure of myself and I'd fallen into his trap.
But how do you fight a dead man?
For one moment, I thought I'd actually manage to get away. Stupid. I was so stupid.
Three sharp jabs hit my back, like needles or nails. I reached back, swatting at them without breaking stride. Then my system lit up. It felt as if a thousand – a million – hot needles suddenly pierced me. Every nerve seemed to catch fire. No longer would my body answer my demands. Muscles tensed, spasmed and I fell. There was pain – I think there was pain – as I hit the concrete face first. But I wasn't sure. Not when everything hurt.
Breathe. I had to breathe. But my lungs wouldn't work. Panic filled me. This is what Hell must be like. A mind alive and terrified in a body that does nothing but scream in agony. Dear God, was this really the day I'd die?