As vaguely suggested in a previous post, I’m following through with posting the prologue to my novel, Signs of Struggle. I hope you enjoy it so much, you can’t wait to read more. And, to that desire, ta-da!, I’m going to post the first chapter a few days down the road. Look for it.
My publisher is working with me and my family on a cover this week, which should be done soon. I got feedback from my wife and both daughters, so that’s a joy, especially since they’re all smart and beautiful. I’ll make the cover available to you as soon as we reach a decision.
I should have the “minor” suggestions for revision this week, which I will attend to immediately, then I’ll send those back. I hope to have a date of publication soon. We’re still looking at sometime this autumn.
In the meantime, here’s hoping this prologue hooks you. In a pleasant way, of course.
“Thus a dark hue moves ahead of a
flame over a sheet of paper,
as the whiteness dies away before
it becomes black.”
– Dante’s Inferno, Canto XXV
Karen O’Shea and her daughters expected a good time in Atlanta. They were excited about going Christmas shopping that Saturday morning.
Waiting for the girls to come downstairs, Karen fixed herself a cup of Earl Grey tea. It smelled good. She blew lightly across the surface, took a sip, and gazed out at the bird feeder beyond the kitchen’s bay window. The tea warmed her chest.
A brown thrasher scrounged for seeds below the feeder. Karen studied the bird. Brown thrashers are beautiful if you looked closely. Rows of brown specks flung across a white breast, rich chocolate feathering with white wing bars. Sharp, pointed beak. Karen had identified thirty-one birds on her Peterson Field Guides Eastern Birds checklist. “Thirty-two,” her husband, Thomas, had said, “if you count me, a common loon.” She smiled at the memory.
She gazed beyond the fence behind the house, the branches of the maple trees stark and bare. A sudden gust of wind shook loose three bits of color; red, yellow, and orange leaves, last remnants of a spectacular autumn. The leaves drifted to the ground.
Karen set down her tea and took an onion bagel out of the freezer, nuked it, pried it open and spread cream cheese on the steaming halves.
Michelle came into the kitchen first, an eighth grader with dark good looks and a flashy smile. Effervescent and energetic, she looked forward to the crowd and the crush of the mall in Atlanta. She headed for the cupboard, pulled out a box of Fruit Loops, and dumped the cereal into a big bowl. “If I keep eating stuff with lots of preservatives, I’ll live forever,” she said.
Gotcha, the family’s brindle and white English Bulldog, rumbled into the room, sat in front of Michelle, and looked up.
No bites for you, Gotcha,” she said. “This is my breakfast. You’re doomed to failure if you expect me to feel sorry for you. I have a cold heart, pupper.”
The Bulldog tried to look underfed. She stared at Michelle until a handful of colorful bits of cereal fell to the floor mat. Michelle sat down at the small table by the bay window and poured milk over her cereal. Gotcha ate the Loops, snorting and slurping. A thin smear of slobber remained where the cereal had once been.
Annie came into the kitchen. Tall, blonde, and lean like her mother, Annie strode to the cupboard and pulled out a box of Life cereal, read the label to be sure, and took the bowl over to the table. Karen grabbed her bagel and tea and sat down with the girls. Annie had started in on her cereal.
“Michelle’s up front on the way in and I’m shotgun coming home,” Annie said. “That way, I’ll be able to keep mom company so she won’t fall asleep at the wheel and kill us all,” she continued, winking at her sister. Mom took the bait.
“I have never, ever fallen asleep at the wheel,” Karen said. “I don’t even get drowsy.” The girls made eye contact with each other and grinned. Mom was half right.
They finished breakfast, aired Gotcha, and left the house. They drove through town and onto I-75 North.
“Where’d Dad say he was going today?” Annie asked. “Albany?”
“Augusta,” Karen said. “He’s got to tell a potential client there’s no deal.”
Michelle said, “Why can’t he just give the guy a call?”
“Your dad likes the man. He didn’t want to tell him over the phone.”
“Speaking of dad,” Michelle said, “let’s not forget to bring him something to eat.”
“Such as?” Karen asked.
Michelle said, “How ‘bout jelly beans? He inhales Jelly Bellies.
“He’d flip out,” Annie replied.
It was cold for early December, and the sky was dark and slate gray, even darker north of them. “Looks like we might have some weather ahead of us,” Karen said, “but I’m sure we can drive through it.”
They passed Macon. Annie read a book. Michelle and Karen talked about Michelle’s friends. The O’Shea’s left Macon and McDonough behind, quickly approaching Atlanta.
A semi-trailer truck, southbound on I-75, was drawing closer as the O’Shea’s Highlander approached Atlanta. Ricky Damon, behind the wheel for twenty-one hours straight, was sleepy. He had drunk three cold beers, the third one to cool his throat after the joint he’d sucked in half an hour before. Now, he was sleepy again. His eyelids drooped. The beer slipped from his right hand and fell to the floor of the cab, waking him. Ricky saw his truck drifting left from the fast lane. Someone had abandoned a Mazda Miata and he was going to hit it. A curse burst from his lips. The small car served to launch the truck over the low concrete median divider and into the northbound traffic.
The eighteen-wheeler flopped down on the O’Shea’s Highlander like a blind spaceship, its hot underbelly pinning the SUV and disintegrating the family, their beauty broken and crushed in a bloody bed of safety glass chips and razor-sharp metal, diesel fuel, and grease. Then it all hissed and exploded in towering flames with thick black smoke curling upward into the heavens.
Thomas O’Shea stopped by the Thrifty Flower Shop on the way home from Augusta and purchased red roses for his wife and daisies for the girls. He would be home first, and it would be fun to have the flowers waiting for his family.
When he pulled into his driveway, the Georgia Highway Patrol was waiting.