I’ve immerced myself in another writing project again. This time it’s a YA thriller set in the mid 1950s and tentatively titled, He’ll Bring You All Down. What’s surprised me the most about this story is how easily it’s coming together. The writing. The research. Perhaps the reason is this isn’t my first go around at writing a novel.
In He’ll Bring You All Down, everyone has secrets. Some are just darker than others. You’ll find a sample of the first chapter below.
No. 1: Gayle Fisher
At the end of this story, I’m going to kill my brother. This may sound callous to you now, but when I put the barrel to his skull and pull the trigger, you’ll wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.
It was the fall of ’55. An Indian summer had taken hold. Uncle Corky and I had just finished repairing Grandmother’s orchard fence. Again. A couple of two-by-fours were no match for two half ton Percherons who thought apples were far more appetizing than scrounging for fodder in the adjacent field. Sweat streamed down the sides of my face. Some plopped into my eyes. I squinted against the burning pain and fumbled in the back pocket of my overalls for my handkerchief. I took my time wiping my brow. I knew my perspiration wasn’t entirely due to the weather. My stomach knotted again. I needed to get Uncle Corky to the opposite end of the orchard, but I couldn’t make it appear too obvious.
“God damn, worthless pieces of shit.” Uncle Corky tossed the hammer into his opened tool box. The metal gave off a clatter of protest. I winced as the sound vibrated inside my skull. “I should turn those stupid horses over to Ol’ Man Jones and he can turn them into fuckin’ glue.”
Obscenities. Grandma said it was one of the many things he’d brought back with him after his time in the Pacific. I didn’t think anything of it. To me, his profanity was as much a part of him as his angled face, short, stocky frame, thick black curls, and piercing brown eyes.
“Grandma would have your head,” I said. “As far as she’s concerned, Bob and Bill are family.”
“Well, your Pop should have put a bullet through their heads a long time ago. That’s what a tractor is for, damn it.” He gathered up the remaining tools. “Someday, your Pop’s gotta realize, pleasin’ women gets you nowhere.”
I shoved my handkerchief into my pocket and plucked a few torn leaves from my musty overalls. How was I going to get him to the other side of the orchard? My heart pounded faster. I was running out of time.
“Speaking of women,” Uncle Corky rose and tucked the tool box beneath his arm like a football. “Where is your brother’s lazy ass this morning?”
Maybe if we talk about James, he’ll stick around?
“Homecoming,” I said. “Sleeping it off. Why?”
“And you didn’t go?”
I bristled and shoved my rust colored braid over my shoulder. Even if I’d wanted to go, no boy had asked me. My hair and stick-skinny frame didn’t amount to much on the popularity scale. I had to deduct a point for not playing basketball. Another because I wasn’t a pomp-pomp shaker. I got decent grades. I wasn’t a bully. But those weren’t traits that made one popular at William McKinley High School. Unlike my brother.
“So, what unfortunate girl got to go on a date with your brother?”
Goose bumps prickled my skin. My heartbeat echoed in my ears. I swallowed the lump at my throat. Take it easy. For God sake, don’t give it away. Not yet. “Gladys Fisher.”
“The banker’s daughter?”
“Yeah,” I couldn’t help it. My voice quivered with sarcasm. “And when the star quarterback and captain of the basketball team asks your daughter to homecoming, you can’t exactly say no to a god, now can you?”
He snorted. “Your brother is no god.”
No. He wasn’t. But that didn’t stop everyone in town from thinking it. The football and basketball team had made it to the state championship two years in a row. By the way people talked, James had done it single-handedly.
Uncle Corky began to walk away. Panic assaulted my brain. My breath came short. Why hadn’t I done something earlier? I kicked a rotten apple. It imploded on impact. Juice and rotten fruit splattered my boots. I wrinkled my nose in distaste.
“Wait a sec!” I grumbled as I braced myself against the rough bark of tree while I scraped the mess from my boots. When I raised my head, I found Uncle Corky staring at something past my shoulder. A frown furrowed his forehead and drew his bushy brows into a deep vee.
Exhilaration shot through me. Did he see it? I turned in the direction of his gaze. “What?”
“I don’t know. Thought I saw something.”
Long, brown grass. Multi-colored leaves. Naked branches danced in the breeze, obscuring the view of the repaired fence and black, cultivated fields. Then something white flickered in a sea of greens, reds and browns. In attempt to squash my relief, I bit my lip. Good. He saw it.
I tried for nonchalance and shrugged. “It’s probably just a piece of trash.”
“Maybe.” Uncle Corky’s frown lingered. He didn’t sound convinced. “Come on, let’s check it out.”
I followed him. The orchard floor was a carpet of tangled grass, dried leaves and rotten apples. The debris crackled and popped beneath or boots. The scents of earth and decay tickled my nose, igniting another spark of exhilaration inside me. He cleared a fallen tree with ease. I was about to holler for him to stop, to let me catch up, when he stilled. His stocky shoulders looked like a taught wire pulled taunt and about to snap.
He held out his hand as a warning. “Lucy! Stay there.”
He was too late.
A white and black dress. Ruffles. Tulle. They’d been torn and rucked up to her waist. Steaks of blood stained the porcelain skin of her thighs. One of her white shoes was missing. Leaves and twigs were mangled in her shoulder length curls. My gaze halted at her face. I can’t get it out of my mind, even now. Her blue eyes bulged with fear glazed over in death. A purplish-blue welt branded her cheek. Another two inch bruise encircled her neck. Most people would probably feel pity. Fear, maybe. I clenched a fist at my side. The only thing I felt was an acute sense of anger that made it hard to breathe.
“You know her, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” My voice broke. I swallowed. “It’s Gladys.”
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
He let out a sigh. It was heavy and long, as if he’d been holding his breath for years. I hoped he was thinking the same thing I was thinking: James.
“I want you to go up to the house,” he said. “Don’t talk to anyone. When you get there, you call Pat. You wait for him. Once he’s here, you bring him to me. Understand?”
He called my name, but my brain was so numb his voice was too far away for me to answer. Rage boiled in my veins. I could feel the heat in my face. I still couldn’t get the image of Gladys’ face out of my brain. What a stupid fool. She should have known something like this could happen if she trusted my brother.
“Lucy!” He punched my arm. Hard. My trance broke and my gaze skittered to Uncle Corky’s face. Pale, his lips were set in a firm line. He watched me and not the body. I wonder how he could stay so calm. Then, I remembered. He’d seen a lot more dead bodies than me.
I gave a shaky nod and scrabbled toward the house. I tripped over dead branches—even my own feet. James—all my life he’d been like one giant armed atomic bomb waiting to implode. But unlike those poor suckers in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, we’d all been warned.
And I was the only one who’d listened.