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Details through dialogue
I finished my second scene last night (you can read the first scene in Is this what a first draft character should look like?). In this scene, I experimented with moving the story forward and providing details through dialogue. I've written dialogue in short stories before, but this is my first attempt at using it in a small segment of a larger story.
Since all I've written before are short stories, I have a habit of wrapping everything up in one sitting. As a result, it has been challenging to get into the mindset of working on a project over several weeks. I keep wanting to rush things to a conclusion. I'm still working on my outline, but I had the first chapter's outline finished, which has helped me maintain the correct pacing. I'm planning to work on the story outline more today, so that should prevent me from rushing and destroying the story's pace.
I'm only two days in, and already the process is entirely different than what I'm used to. It feels like writing with my left foot.
Now, on to the second scene.
Bully: chapter 1, scene 2
"Check it out!" Paul said, pulling a jack-o'-lantern eraser perched on top of a black pencil from his backpack.
Lennon checked to ensure nobody was walking behind him, then let the first-through-third-grade door to the school swing closed. The autumn chill nipped through the Zombie Beatles costumes he and his friend Paul were sporting, but Lennon didn't want to cover his outfit with a coat.
"You dork! Tonya is going to murder you," Lennon said, pins of fear fluttering in his chest. "She'll murder us both."
Lennon glared back toward the single-story, white-bricked school waiting for looming doom to explode out the door to the sixth-grade end of the building in frayed jeans and a hand-me-down Iron Maiden T-shirt. Like a few others in their last year of elementary school, Tonya had dressed as herself for Halloween.
"Doesn't Grundie Pluck do that every day?"
"She usually just kills us, not murders us," Lennon said. "It's mostly way different."
"Well, she shouldn't fat-ass my pencil in half during assemblies, then I wouldn't have to steal hers," Paul said.
"She's not fat," Lennon whispered, shooting another nervous look back at the school. "She's three years older than us. Four, if you count the year she got held back."
"Duh! That's, like, ten times our age," Lennon said, dragging his eyes away from the school to flash Paul a look of disbelief as they neared the edge of the pavement. "Of course, she's gonna be bigger."
"What's age gotta do with it?" Paul asked.
"I don't know. My dad says she's an 'early bloomer,' and that's why she's all bumpy and stuff."
Lennon pulled the black Beatle mop off his head and scratched his strawberry blond scalp.
The Beatle-themed zombie garb had been Lennon's dad, John King's idea. Paul's mom wanted something with "less death," but since she worked two shifts of single motherhood each day, the ghoulish getup of second-hand tweed jackets, turtlenecks, and green face paint that Lennon's dad had come up with had won out.
"If Elvis was the king of rock 'n' roll, and Michael Jackson was the king of pop," Lennon's dad had said to him and Paul that morning while smudging greasepaint on their faces, "then the Beatles were the gods of all music, and that's why I named my boy Lennon," John had said, rubbing Lennon's head and beaming.
"Your name is just a happy accident, Paul."
Lennon didn't know what his dad meant by that last bit since Lennon's mom used to say the same thing about him before she died.
Paul stuck the pumpkin-tipped pencil back into his bag as the two friends walked across the asphalt between the school and the grassy playground.
"We'll be safe if we can get through the Hall of Freedom and out to the street, "Paul said. "Grundie Pluck never follows us after that. She lives in the opposite direction."
"Only if we ditch her. If she catches us, she'll pound us before going home," Lennon said, wriggling the dark toupe back onto his head, entirely eclipsing his sunny hair.
"We gotta make it there before she gets us, then, right?" Paul said.
Lennon heard the crash of metal against bricks. He turned back and saw Toyna emerging from the doorway to the school, arms out to her sides. The sixth-grade door jutted open, its hydraulic hinge hyper-extended by Tonya's rage.
"You're dead, Paul!"
Panic exploded in Lennon's chest, and he spun around to flee the thundering fury. The toe of his shoe caught in a crack in the asphalt as he turned, though, and he tumbled to the ground before he could take his first step.
"Stay down, Beatle!" Tonya shouted. "I'm going to squash your friend."
Lennon got back up as Tonya flew by, targeting Paul. He took a couple of steps to intervene, then paused. What could he do?
Tonya caught up with Paul as he reached the edge of the grass. She grabbed him from behind by both elbows, yanked his arms behind his back, and then launched herself on top of him like a sled.
Both students hung in the air for what seemed like a month before belly-slamming into the grass. Paul couldn't break his fall, so he took the full impact of the flight plus Tonya's blooming weight in the face, chest, and stomach. Paul bashed into the ground with a grunt. The blow popped his wig off, sending it flying several feet away.
"Paul!" Lennon screamed, thinking the wig was Paul's head.
Paul had to be dead now, a real Halloween zombie. Lennon's brain shrunk until it only contained one thought; survive.
Lennon bolted for the alley between the school and the road, the grassy distance vanishing under his feet. He turned back to see if Tonya was chasing him when he reached the galvanized barricade at the school end of the alley, but she was still kneeling by Paul.
Lennon turned to run through the alley and plowed headlong into a stranger.
"Hey, there!" Said the stranger, catching Lennon before he could fall. "Someone chasing you?"
Lennon tried to respond, but fear and flight had stolen his breath.
The stranger had short black hair and wore a black ribbed jacket, black pants, and mirrored sunglasses. The style reminded Lennon of the pencil Paul had stolen.
"It's OK," said the stranger. "I'll help you."
Lennon bent over, put his hands on his knees, and gasped for breath. He looked back at Tonya over his shoulder. She was standing over Paul, shouting at him. Lennon couldn't hear her from this distance, but she was punctuating her words with Paul's stolen pencil. Paul sat on the ground, staring at Tonya's feet, his head still on his shoulders. He's alive, Lennon thought and relaxed a little.
"Maybe you can help me too, "said the stranger. "My kitten got away from me and ran between the fences here."
Lennon turned and looked down at the checkered kitten through the chain link.
"His name is Chess. Could you climb between the fences and get him for me? I'm too big to fit."
Lennon stood up and nodded, still breathless. He climbed up the chain link border and then used the horizontal rails of the wooden fence to descend toward the kitten, doing his best not to get a sliver from the weathered wood.
Lennon dropped from the lowest rail to the ground, and a dried weed punctured his ankle through his sock as he landed. He pulled the weed from his skin, sucking air through his teeth at the pain. Other students stared at him between the fences as he rubbed his ankle, then looked away when Lennon made eye contact.
Lennon pulled his sock down to assess the damage to his ankle.
"It's not a biggie," Lennon said, pulling his sock back up, then reaching for the kitten.
Chess mewed and stiffened with panic as Lennon picked it up. It clawed at his tweed jacket until it got a firm hold and then relaxed with a meow. Lennon cradled the cat close to his chest, offering the comfort and protection he had craved only moments ago.
"You're OK," Lennon said, stroking the kitten as Chess nestled into his arms.
Lennon turned toward the chain link to pass the kitten to the stranger and saw Tonya stomping toward him. He pressed his back against the peeling wooden fence, hugging Chess tightly, to place what distance he could between himself and his tormenter. She must have finished with Paul and figured Lennon had been an accomplice in the pencil heist.
Just before she reached Lennon, though, the stranger stepped between them and gave Tonya a stare. Tonya paused for a second, then plodded away in burning silence.
"Thanks," Lennon said, holding the kitten over his head. "Here you go."
The stranger took the kitten, and Lennon climbed back up the wooden fence rails until he could jump over the chain link and back into the alleyway.
"It's Lennon, right?"
"Yeah," Lennon said, surprised. "How do you know my name?"
"I work with your dad. He got stuck at work and asked if I could pick you up and take you home," said the stranger. "Good thing he did, it would seem. Does that girl bully you often?"
"Just after school. It's because Paul's always teasing her."
"What did he do?"
"Today, he stole a pencil they gave us during the Halloween assembly because she sat on his and busted it in half."
"I'll have your dad talk to the school tomorrow," said the stranger. "Maybe they can keep her after school a bit to give you and your friend time to get home.
"Do you want me to take you home or to see your dad at work?" The stranger asked.
"Can I go to my dad's work?"
"Sure. Here, you can hold Chess for me on the way," the stranger said, handing Lennon the kitten. "Otherwise, he gets under my feet while I'm driving."
Lennon hesitated, a faint warning about strangers scratching his mind.
"What's your name?" Lennon asked.
"Oh, of course, I'm sorry. I'm Alex."
Alex stuck out a hand and waited for Lennon to shake it.
Lennon stared at Alex's hand for a moment, then shuffled Chess in his arms so he could return the greeting. Alex didn't seem strange.
"OK. I can hold Chess," Lennon said, squeezing the kitten.
Lennon followed the stranger to the vehicle and climbed in the back seat. The stranger closed the door, walked around, and jumped in the driver's seat.
"There's a dog house in the back that has a bunch of toys in it," Alex said, buckling the seatbelt. "You can play with the kitten in there while we're driving."
"Do you mean this cage?" Lennon asked, looking over the seat.
"It's not a cage. It's a regular box with really big holes so my cat can breathe," Alex said with a grin.
"But," Lennon said, "doesn't the kitten just get out through the holes?"
"He can, but he usually stays in there because he likes the fluffy padding," Alex said, pulling away from the curb. "I tied some string to the top of the crate that Chess likes to bat around if you want to play with that."
Lennon reached over the seat and slid one of the strings back and forth along the section of the crate Alex had tied it to. Chess stared at the wiggling string for a moment, then jumped over the back of the seat and into the cage. Lennon kept sliding the twine back and forth with his thumb and forefinger while Chess clawed at it from inside.
"You can get in the cage and play with the kitten if you want to., Alex said, braking at a stop sign. "I think it's big enough for you to fit."
"OK," Lennon said, climbing over the seat.
Lennon climbed into the cage, held Chess in his left arm like a baby, and dangled the string over the kitten. Chess batted at the line a few times, then caught it between both paws and drew the line to its mouth.
Lennon smiled as Chess purred, the day's trauma slipping into benumbed memory. He continued smiling until Alex opened the back of the vehicle, pushed the door to the cage shut, and slid both locks into place.
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