WIM Week 2: The Ugly Duck Draft
Ugly Duck 3 was written in 30 minutes. The only thing that happened of interest on this draft is that one of my alpha readers grabbed Draft 2, Rewrite 2 (because she knows me), and ran off with it to read. She came back saying it gave her chill bumps.
I’m not in the chill bumps stage with this one. I like it. But chills don’t come unless it’s something really special. Not sure this story is in that class. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be.
Waiting to Jump
By R. Lee Fryar
Kenny was waiting for Batlady to jump. When she did, he would jump, too.
He’d been an accountant for Regen Corp for decades now, soiled with as much dirt as the upper management, although he still toiled in the shit division, and would for the rest of his career. Only his career was over.
He hung over the keyboard, reading the accidental email for the second time. Kenneth Oden. Fired. He’d been copied on by mistake, but there could be no mistake about his name in the spreadsheet of employees to be “let go”. Two seconds too long—a quick log-in confirmed his suspicions. He’d been locked out of his files. Surreptitiously, he glanced around the office at his fellow shit-shovelers, but they were all buried in their own piles, ignoring him. On the walls, the inspirational posters he’d mocked for years mocked him back. On the west wall, the mountaineer frozen on the side of Everest reminded him he couldn’t do it. On the east wall, the grim-faced peloton of bikers bore down on him, threatening to run him over if he did. And on the north wall, Batlady posed on her perch, torch aloft, face cold and desperate in the wind, as indecisive as he felt at the moment, fingering a thumb drive in one hand and wishing with all his heart he’d filled the damned thing when the Feds talked to him the week before. The blinking password blank mocked him. Access denied. This was the price for his loyalty. He didn’t have a choice now—no more than his lady on the edge. He wondered if they’d nailed her feet there, the way they’d nailed him by his numbers to a crime he couldn’t escape. He’d have to jump.
He came back by the dingy light of the streetlamps to make his leap. In one hand he carried a box for the documents he needed to work the long weekend at home. That’s what he told the security guard who let him in. The news that he’d been canned hadn’t been passed down to the grunts yet. In the box, he carried his chosen weapon, a tightly sealed plastic container of gasoline. He was an accountant, not an anarchist. Homemade bombs weren’t in his arsenal. As he ascended the elevator, heart pounding loudly in his ears, his thoughts went back to his childhood—days on a farm, playing with the kittens in the barn, helping his father with the sheep, digging the garden with his mother, and always, always wishing that his skill with numbers would earn him a better life. He’d give a lot to have that wish back.
In the dark of the office, he glanced at Batlady cutting her eyes at him as he walked it. It was a trick of the light, but out of all the posters in the building that he’d mocked, this was the one he never laughed at. Sometimes he suspected that whoever shot that picture of the woman in the batwing cape had actually imprisoned her soul with her. He sat down at his desk, not even bothering with his computer. He’d come for one thing, and one thing alone. He opened the gas can and breathed in the fumes with a desperate gasp. He was reminded of the stink of the diesel fuel in his father’s tractor, puffing smoke clouds across a blue horizon.
“Well, lady?” he said, speaking into the darkness. “It’s time.” He raised his unlit match like a torch.
Her cape flew out like tattered wings, her feet flamed behind her, trailing blood like streamers. She screamed. He couldn’t hear it. The glass stopped the noise. But her ceramic face was broken by fear, her poise shattered by the kind of desperation that drives a woman or man off the ledge of their life.
He didn’t think. In seconds he’d raced across the room, torn the picture of the wall, and smashed the glass on the nearest desk. She hurtled past him in an eternity of blue, flailing wildly. Wind whipped his face as he held out his hands.
“Grab on, I’ll catch you!” He thrust his arms in.
He thought he’d lost her. But a weight on the end of his wrists jerked him forward, and he braced himself as her full weight swung from his shoulders.
The shriek became a terrified whimper. “Don’t let go,” she cried. “Don’t let go.”
“I won’t. Can you climb?”
“If you hold me.”
He held her. Pulling upward, he dragged her to the edge of the frame, and she pulled herself out, crying as her bleeding feet raked over the broken shards of her life.
The left the building together. In one hand, Kenny carried the box with his gas can, tightly stoppered. Batlady held his other hand, leaning against him for support as she limped at his side. He’d given her his shoes. They were too big for her, but her feet were so mutilated, he wondered that she could walk at all. But she went bravely with him, a faint smile on her ageless face, soft hair pillowed on his shoulder. In the folds of her cloak she carried the thumb drive with all his files. She had been trapped a long time. There was little about the corporation she didn’t know.
At the trial, no one knew who the mysterious Batlady was. Kenny didn’t tell the federal agent he’d found her trapped under glass. She was a secretary in the eyes of the law, and he was the accountant who’s whistleblowing brought down a corrupt corporation and earned him the name of whistleblower.
They live in Oregon together now. Kenny farms organic vegetables and raises hair sheep. The numbers that imprisoned him now support his dream. And Batlady cards the wool from the sheep Kenny raises, spins her own thread, and makes batwing capes to sell to those that would change their look, and possibly their lives. Kenny calls her Lady Fate. She laughs at him, and says he can call her whatever he wants. He saved her.
But he knows the truth. She saved him.
Total word count 1026! Okay. That alone tells me I’ve got my final Ugly Duck. If I was trying to revise that 1,296-word monster, I’d be deeply unhappy. But 26 words? Not a problem.
Another thing I’m happy with—Kenny has a little backstory in this draft, but not upfront where it would burden things.
Is it perfect? Hardly! Look at that mess! However, this is the final Ugly Duck for this piece. Whatever changes I make will be determined by this draft and the visuals in it.
And now, I can revise.