On Saturday August 8 I posted my first draft of a short story I’m working on as part of the Writer in Motion project – a five week challenge to see how a story changes and improves over that time. In my first post I had about 2/3 of a near future pandemic fiction story completed.
This week, week 2, I present my draft 2, the self-edit. I’m also calling it draft 1.2 as I used only 20% of my first draft and created a much different story. My main character stayed the same: Elly. The setting of a near future pandemic stayed the same. I kept the bus trip and the gun. And that’s it. The rest of the plot, characters, setting and narrative arc are completely different. Draft 2 is also 500 words over the desired word count of 1000.
Draft 2 has already been peer critiqued by two other writers participating in Writer in Motion. With their guidance the story is stronger and closer to the word count limit at 1118 words. I’ll have my post-critique, draft 3 posted next. For now, I give you:
Not the Grand Tetons – draft 2:
The photo of the Grand Tetons in the National Park book Elly perused, reminded her of that rusty Airbnb she and Ally rented one weekend in the Adirondacks. It had been advertised as a yurt, the pictures looked lovely, the reviews were great and they looked forward to a quiet retreat to read and write. When they arrived they were greeted with a shed-sized, concrete building that wasn’t even round, and nothing like a yurt. They laughed and made the best of it, Ally could make any situation bearable. The photo Elly looked at in the book was a small church set apart from all the lodges and visitor centers, just a lone building with the magnificent Tetons in the background; it’s a photograph nearly every visitor has taken. The bunker was no charming church and the Adirondacks were tiny hills compared to the majestic Tetons, but at least, for a moment, she had a thought of happier times.
She ripped the photo out of the book and stuffed it in her pocket. As a writer and librarian she never dreamed she’d destroy library books but she was neither of those things now, she was simply a survivor.
Five years into the pandemic and the public health officials finally decided the only course of action was to empty every city. So many had died, Ally included. Officials assured everyone with the fraction of survivors left, the whole of New York City, Boston and Baltimore would easily fit inside Kansas and that was allowing every survivor an acre of land just for themselves.
She just wanted to be safe, to be through with the anxiety brought by wave after wave of disease. They’d learned many things since the breakout in 2020. It was a manufactured virus but not by the Chinese. To everyone’s surprise the Koreans created it. Not North or South, both together. In the spring of 2020 a diplomatic building on the 38th parallel, one that had been constructed for peace talks in the 1950s, was blown up. That was the signal of their reunification, but only the Koreans knew. They’d held secret meetings, exchanged scientists, figured a way to start the breakout in China and protected themselves in the aftermath.
“Did you find anything, Elly?” Jackson asked on her return.
Elly dropped her knapsack and pulled out a box of bandages, a tube of triple antibiotic ointment, three rolls of paper towel and a Motor Trend magazine. She tossed the magazine to Jackson.
“Not too much today but you’ll like this.”
Elly and Jackson met on the bus going west. He was sixty-seven years old and reminded her of her oldest brother, also gone now. Jackson’s cropped, salt and pepper hair hid his age, Elly originally thought he was much younger. He also had a love of the same classic rock bands and same classic muscle cars that her brother had.
Jackson stared at the magazine. “Motor Trend with a 2015 Camaro on the cover. What a beauty. Where did you find this?”
“In the library. Just like the others.”
Between poor road and vehicle maintenance, the arduous bus trip took days longer than expected. Each bus had been filled with survivors of assorted cities along the east coast. Every participant had been tested for antibodies, given thorough psychological and physical exams, background checked and DNA tested. They had to pass each of these steps to qualify for the relocation program. Most of it made sense to Elly, except the DNA test, she’d been told it was to double check she was the lone survivor of her family but she didn’t believe that reason. Didn’t matter she passed and found a kindred soul next to her on the trip west.
It had taken five days to reach Columbia, Missouri, a trip that years earlier may have been as long as two days, some would drive it in one. Elly and Jackson had already decided they would make a run for it at the next stop, wherever that may be. Rumors spread at every rest stop: there would be no acre of land when they arrived; they were being taken to prison camps; they were going to be used against their will as vaccine testers; Kansas only held danger. Elly never bought-in to conspiracy theories but nonetheless erred on the side of caution.
She knew Columbia from her years living in St. Louis. Great college town, lots of libraries. When she heard it was their next stop Elly told Jackson to put their plan into action. They grabbed all their carry-on and headed toward the restrooms, they each stayed in a stall until the bus left. Seemed too easy but it worked. Six months later they lived in a dorm room, the building filled with squatters, and scavenged for supplies. It in no way resembled the life she thought she’d have but it worked.
As Elly put away the last roll of paper towel she heard loud voices in the hallway. She’d devised a Franklin lookout mirror so they could investigate the hallway before they ever opened their door. Jackson peered into the lookout and described three men with automatic weapons and clipboards headed in their direction.
Elly had heard some of the westward deserters had been disappeared, while she was skeptical, she’d taken precautionary steps to protect them. She had a revolver at the ready, a gift from Ally. Jackson had rigged up a device to throw household objects at any intruder; he was a big fan of the Home Alone movies. He watched through the mirror as the men threw people against the wall and showed them the clipboard. Bob, down the hall, pointed in their direction.
“This is it, get the gun,” Jackson shouted.
They had agreed they would not leave the apartment without a fight. They each desired peace and safety but rather go down in a fight than be disappeared. Elly took her position next to Jackson, just as they’d practiced, and waited for the door to be kicked in.
Then came…a knock.
Jackson shook his head. “Don’t move, this is some kind of ruse.”
“Homeland security guys don’t knock,” she responded.
“Keep still a few minutes.”
Another knock, this time paired with a shout. “We’re looking for Elly Sanchez. We know you’re in there, don’t do anything stupid.”
The spot where she always felt hot flashes in her lower back began to warm. “Maybe it’s ok? Maybe we should let them in?”
Jackson shook his head. “Are you nuts?”
“They wouldn’t knock if they were gonna drag us away.” She tucked the revolver into the waist of her pants, gave Jackson the silent finger signal and shouted through the door. “This is Elly, who are you? What do you want?”
“We need some identification before we can share that info with you.”
She cracked open the door and stuck out her right hand. They scanned her thumb and the machine made a very familiar beep. “We need a librarian, ma’am.”
She looked over at Jackson who shook his head. “You have a library emergency?” she said through the crack in the door. “How did you even know I was here?”
“We know exactly where you’ve been since you left the bus, can you please come with us? It’s best if we do this peacefully.”
Elly grabbed a few things and shoved them into her knapsack. She hugged Jackson, “I have a good feeling about this, it will all be ok.”
“You shouldn’t go with them.”
“It’s easiest this way.”
She opened the door and followed the security force out of the building.
“Can you please tell me what this is all about?”
They guided her to a car and indicated she should step inside. A woman was seated in a gray suit and a perfect bun at the nape of her neck. She reached her hand out to Elly and they shook.
“Suzanne Hall, Secretary of Homeland Security. Nice to meet you. You were a librarian, correct?”
“You’re going to be one again, you’re the last surviving librarian in the US and you’ve just been named Librarian of Congress. It’s the only library still intact and we need you to protect it.”
Elly rubbed her hands on her jeans. “This is some kind of joke, right? Very elaborate joke.”
Ms. Hall pulled a tablet out and showed Elly the headlines. She knew certain professions were being wiped out by this virus but she hadn’t heard librarians.
“This is crazy,” Elly finally responded.
“Indeed but we need you back in DC.”
Elly went back to the dorm room and told Jackson to pack up. “We’re finally getting what we’ve desired, safety. You’ll be able to read all the car magazines ever published.” He grumbled but agreed to go with her.
They left the dorm with a few bags and were escorted into a van. As it drove away, the doors locked and Elly looked over toward Jackson. That’s when she saw it. In small print on the window, “Fahrenheit 451 Squad.”