WIM Week 4: Second CP Round
Part 4: It’s Never The End
Waiting to Jump
By R. Lee Fryar
Kenny was waiting for Batlady to jump. When she did, he would too, but he never thought it would happen. Until today.
Kenneth Oden. Fired.
His morning coffee chilled in his stomach. He’d recommended layoffs in the interest of verisimilitude, but he didn’t expect this. He thought it was a mistake at first, but the only mistake was HR’s, copying him on the email. First time he’d ever been glad for the ineptitude of a department that smelled like cheese puffs and body odor. They’d given him time to decide. In minutes, he and his life-in-a-box would be out of the building. He fingered the thumb drive in his pocket. He should have given the damned thing to the Feds last week when they’d invited him to squeal.
He glanced around the cramped office at his fellow shit-shovelers, but they were busy with their own piles. On the walls, the motivational posters mocked him. To the west, a mountaineer dangling from Everest reminded him he couldn’t do it. To the east, a peloton of bikers threatened to run him over if he tried. To the north, Batlady watched him with the eyes of a woman who understood his position. Facing her future, she gazed out across an abyss, torch in hand, frozen in the kind of despairing truth that leaves no room for emotions. Kenny hadn’t taken the Feds offer, and not because he didn’t have the guts.
Like her lone painting on the wall, he was an oddity. Integrity was in short supply in Regen Corp.’s accounting division, and he was soiled in as much shit as upper management, but he had his pride. He wouldn’t compound fraud with disloyalty.
His resolve hardened. He’d come back by night to do it. No one else needed to know. Not like he was saving lives after all. He had always been able to make auditors believe anything he said. With a little finesse he could work the same sleight-of-mind on anyone, including the flustered, red-faced junior accountant working his way across the room right now.
Kenny accompanied his former employee to the door, accepted his condolences, and then calmly swiped the man’s keycard.
Kenny returned by the dingy light of the streetlamps to fire himself. He told the security guard the cardboard box was for a few things he’d left behind. The man believed him. People always did. In the box, Kenny carried a tightly sealed gas can.
Ascending by elevator to the ninth floor, images of his childhood raced through his mind—cold days on the farm helping his father with the sheep, warm days digging the garden with his mother. Hard works, but it was an honest living. Shame burned his cheeks.
Batlady cut her eyes at him when he walked in. Sometimes Kenny thought whoever painted the petite woman in the batwing cape had actually imprisoned her soul. Kenny had once asked a fellow manager what the painting was worth. It was painted by an accountant, the man said, a former company controller. What did he think? Kenny knew better than to say what he thought. It was the only authentic thing in the place. He loved truth when he saw it, even pinned like a dead butterfly to a card.
He sat at his desk and opened the gas can. The fumes escaped with a desperate gasp. Only one person in the world would witness his redemption and understand it.
He raised his unlit match like a torch. “Well, lady?”
She jumped. Her cape became tattered wings, her feet trailed blood like streamers. He couldn’t hear her scream. The glass stopped the noise. But her face broke with fear, poise shattered forever by the kind of desperation that drives a person off the ledge of their life. She tumbled end over end in an eternity of blue. No bottom. No sudden stop to end it all.
Kenny couldn’t bear it. He raced across the room, tore the picture off the wall, and smashed the glass on the nearest desk.
“Grab on, I’ll catch you!” He thrust his arms into the picture.
She hurtled past him, flailing, shrieking his name. He thought he’d lost her. Then she tumbled past again, top of the frame to the bottom. A sudden weight on the end of his wrists jerked him forward. Her shriek became a terrified whimper.
“Don’t let go,” she said in a tight voice. “Kenny, please.”
“Can you climb?”
“If you help me.”
Pulling upward, he dragged her to the edge of the frame. She cried when her bleeding feet raked over the broken shards of her prison.
“I didn’t know,” he said, staring down at her feet in horror. She had been nailed to her perch, just as the numbers had nailed him to lies he felt he must uphold. “I would have jumped sooner.
She stared up at him, weary, windblown, almost as jaded as he. “I was waiting for you,” she said.
They left the building together. Kenny carried the gas can in one hand. Batlady held the other, leaning against him for support. His shoes were too big for her, but she limped bravely, a faint smile painted on her face. No one stopped them. The cloak had disguised her for years, first in the boardroom, and then in the accounting department. It had always been big enough for them both. In the folds of it, she carried Kenny’s thumb drive. He’d entrusted it to her. As for the rest, she knew it all. SEC undercover work was a bitch, but she’d been a controller at the company before they fired her. Regen Corp. was doomed from the moment Kenny came to work for them. She loved integrity when she saw it, even trapped under filthy lies.
They live together on a farm in Oregon now. Kenny grows organic vegetables and raises sheep. He’ll never lie for his living again. Batlady cards wool, spins thread, and weaves batwing capes for those who would change their look, and possibly their lives. Kenny still calls her Batlady. She says he can call her whatever he wants. He saved her.
But Kenny knows the truth. She saved him.
Well, now. That’s not a terrible first draft. I think I have the whole story there, some backstory for the characters, motivation for both characters pulled out and baldly stated, and there’s even some decent lines in it. But it’s still a first draft in my mind.
Everything, up to this point, is negotiable, and will be on the chopping block once a story is done and goes off to agent or editor. This hasn’t been an easy lesson for me to learn, but whatever amount work I may have done to a story means nothing in terms of whether the story is ready. It’s polished. It’s written to the best of my current ability, given the constraints of form, and what I know about these characters. But it is far, far, far from the final product.
That’s why it’s so important to know your process, love your process, and find your own way to write that allows you to write your best work in a way that gives you joy, embraces your creativity, and allows you to have fun. You’ll be doing it over, and over, and over, and over again! If you don’t love it, or at least love parts of it, it gets very rough. Burnout is real.
So find your best way, tweak it until you know exactly what works for you and what doesn’t. Try a few new things, even when they don’t work for you, simply to be familiar with them. I don’t use beat sheets, outlines, and story maps, but I know what they are. If I must “turn them in” with a story for someone else who needs them, I can create them. Not happily, but it can be done. Remember what your math teacher used to say? Show your work? Sometimes a pantser has to show their work, too.
It’s also important to understand your personality, and not only to find what feedback helps and how to process it. You need to understand you and what motivates you. Find what recharges you when you are writing, and how much time it takes you to write from your first draft to your polished first draft, and work on streamlining that. Bottom line, find how you work hardest and happiest, and get good at it.
You’ll be doing it a lot!
Time spend on processing critiques, brainstorming feedback—30 min
Time rewriting, revising—90 minutes
Reading for flow, once to myself, once to my writing group—30 minutes
Total 150 minutes