WIM Week 2: The Ugly Duck Draft
Without further ado, here is Ugly Duck 1. I wrote this in 1 hr., right after my first draft went up. With redrafts, I don’t take time off between them if I can help it. I want to stay immersed. I’m not trying to revise. I’m trying to envision the same scene in my mind and see things I didn’t see the first time. Most of the time, this takes me from one to three redrafts. This is where I’m really glad that
1) I word fast
2) I love this part of the process.
Waiting to Jump
Kenny was waiting on Batlady to jump. When she did, he’d make his move.
He leaned back in his desk chair, eyeing the framed poster with equal parts longing and dislike. She wasn’t his type, even if anything like those posters had ever been his type. His boss, the CEO, Evil Overlord, Master of all Masters, loved the things. Motivational posters hung all over the office. From Kenny’s rat-hole in accounting, he could see three of the damned things: Everest waiting to avalanche him on the west wall, a peloton of angry Tour de France riders bearing down on him from the east, and then there was her. Batlady. She stood on the top of the world, torch in hand, reaching for the clouds like he was supposed to do in his day-to-day work. Her face was in solidarity with his. They both hated what they were doing.
He hated his job. He hated his boss. He hated what his boss did—bribing congressmen, taking money under the table, and all the while their product was killing millions. Sometimes he wondered why he worked at all, and then his belly would rumble. Oh, yeah. He had to eat. He had to keep a roof, such as it was, over his head. Because he needed the health benefits.
She hated her job, too, holding that damned flare on top of her perch out over the skies. He knew she did. Her eyes hurt him every day. Her feet had to be killing her, stuck in that ballet pose day after day. She was probably frozen to death with waiting. Either that, or some evil person had nailed her feet to the ledge. He didn’t see the blood. But then, no one saw his heart bleeding out day after day either.
One day, she’d jump. He shoved his chair and went to get a cup of poisoned coffee. One day, she’d jump, and he’d burn the building down. But when it happened, he wasn’t ready.
The day Kenny jumped started out with a pink slip. For a full thirty minutes he stood, one hand on his stapler, the other holding the slip, unsure of whether to hurl it to the sky and dance, tear it into confetti and scream, or just…jump. Batlady stared off into the distance as he looked at her for inspiration. Ironically, that was the only time he’d ever felt inspired by those dumb things. A knot of anticipation coiled in his midsection. He’d burn the building down. That’s what he’d do. He didn’t care about anything anymore. He had no one who cared that he didn’t care. Utterly alone, he turned in his keys, put all his belongings in a paper box, and carried them out of the office for the last time. Only he knew about the key he didn’t turn in, and the codes that his boss had given him in case he needed to enter the building at odd hours to cook the books.
Getting in might be dangerous. The codes might change. But with the CEO off in the Caimans, he would have one night before the codes were changed and he was locked out forever. One night to make something out of his sad, endless existence of a life. When he came back at midnight, he carried a can of gasoline and a lighter.
The office was very quiet. It was a simple matter for him to slip in with the canister hidden in a box. The security guards greeted him as if nothing had happened. Nobody knew about the firing but him. Once he got into the office, he sat down at his desk as if nothing was wrong, and tried to access his files. Locked out. No huge surprise there. The computer generally knew more than security. He saturated the trashcan under his desk with gasoline. The fumes smelled like vindication. He visited every desk in the accounting department, anointing all the waste receptacles and recycling bins until the whole room smelled saturated. He was almost high on the fumes when he got back to his own desk.
He stared up at Batlady. And held up his match in a parody of her torch.
For a full five seconds, he didn’t know what to do. The match trembled in his fingers, unlit. She was screaming, although he couldn’t hear her. He could see her mouth open in terror, the frozen face steaming like a comet, her yoga pants on fire, and he bloody feet trailing streamers of red through the clouds as she hurtled to her doom.
Maybe it was his need to save something when he couldn’t save himself. Maybe it was the intimacy he had with this person who had been trapped the way he felt trapped, pinned to life by the needs of his body, not his soul. Probably it was the gasoline fumes. But he jumped up, flung himself across the room, and slammed both hands through the glass and into the poster frame.
Her scream was real now. He could hear her. The wind was whipping past his face as he reached into the air, calling for her. “Batlady! Grab on. I’ll catch you!”
One wild, desperate look, gray eyes under the shaggy mane, and she saw him. She reached out. Their hands touched, and then he had his fingers tight around her wrists. Her momentum wrenched him forward. He’d fall with her. Get sucked right into that world and fall to his doom with her. But the wall brought him to a sudden stop, and he braced his feet against it, pulling with all his might.
The weight on his aching arms lessened. He could see her fingers now, nails digging into his skin as she held on. “Don’t let me go,” she said, in the kind of calm voice that sounded like she was trying very hard not to scream. “Don’t let go.”
“I won’t. Can you climb?”
“If you lift me, I could,” she said.
He lifted. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
They left the poster hanging on the wall when they left the building. Kenny carried the gas can out with him, too. He didn’t need it. For a poster girl, she sure knew an awful lot about the codes that the CEO used. She smiled at him as he led her out of the office, hobbling at his side. He gave her his shoes; her feet were so bloody. In the folds of her cloak, she’d hidden all the information he would need to burn down the corporation, not the building. He wondered if security would ask them any questions, but with the lady at his side, they walked out without any questions asked at all. He asked her why. She only smiled, and leaned against him.
At the trial, no one knew who the dark-haired witness was who testified about the illegal activities in the offices overnight. It was assumed she was the CEO’s secretary. Everyone, on the other hand, knew Kenny, so he got the credit for being the whistleblower that single-handedly brought down a corrupt corporation.
They live together now, unmarried, but inseparable, on a farm in Oregon. Kenny is white-haired now, and he complains about his joints from time to time, but his heart is the heart of a twenty-year old man, and his Batlady is the passion of his life. She spins and weaves the threads of his fate from the hair-sheep on their farm, and clothes him in the warmth of her love for saving her life. Which he says is the only lie she has ever told. It was the other way around, he says. She saved his.
For this particular story, Ugly Duck one came in at 1,296 words, 21 paragraphs, and I added some dialogue.
My main concern is telling a whole story in under 1000 words. I have 3 acts composed of 3 scenes. That means I have to be very concise, move quickly from one place to the next carefully, and I need to make sure the focus is where I want it—squarely on the climax in scene 2.
Sounds a lot like planning, doesn’t it? It’s my way of setting a mental reminder to myself that there’s a particular structure for this story. This is flash fiction. It’s not a short story. I have to remember that to complete this particular project in the way I envision it.
Kenny settles in as an accountant in my mind. I begin to realize that he’s a dirty whistleblower, and feeling guilty about his part in criminal activity.
I decide that rather than hear a rumor, he actually has been fired.
I realize that Batlady needs more of a role in the story—something to show that she’s holding out for a moment, just like Kenny has been.
I correct…exactly none of it. No revisions other than a few misspellings. I’m not there yet.
The only thing I schedule is another time to redraft the next day.