World War Z: Screw The Movie Edition

Wow, great trailer right! Now that I got your attention, kindly get this upcoming movie starring Brad Pitt out of your mind. I want to talk about the novel here. You know, pages, words and stuff.

Just another case on injustice done by Hollywood as per I Am Legend, which I have reviewed before here. My beef is this, two of the GREATEST vampire / zombie horror novels ever written by man, turned into star-driven dull-a-thons which totally destroys essence of the movie. I’m referring to I am Legend by the way, as for World War Z, we’ll know how the movies turn out this summer, though I’m pretty certain I’ll be on the right track.

The NOVEL, World War Z, is absolutely nothing like the trailer. The entire setting is wrong, the entire description of the zombies is wrong, the entire approach to the conclusion of the zombie outbreak is wrong. And that’s just from the trailer, what right do I have to prejudge the movie? Well, let’s just say anyone who has read the novel will know what I’m talking about.

Update: For those more interested in a debate between the book and screen versions of WWZ. Kindly refer to this article on Screenrant.com – World War Z Movie Debate: Too Different From The Book.

 

World War Z

World War Z: The Novel – in a nutshell

Firstly, think Wikipedia. Now think of a Wikipedia about Zombies. Great, Now think of a Wikipedia about a Zombie Invasion that forces humans to learn from their mistakes, adapt to their environment and very methodically, fight back.

What do you know, that already exists – The Zombie Wiki

Now this wiki isn’t exactly the wording in the book, but honestly, it comes pretty darn close in terms of presentation. The novel is essential a fake-mockumentary about how humans handled a zombie outbreak, minus the dramatisation, and minus the character point of views (except one particular storyline about a survivor from Japan).

Horror – Slowly, Surely, Methodically

World War Z is a horror novel. There is no doubt about that, but it’s not about senseless scares or shadows in the night. There are no suddenlys, plot twists or miraculous escapes here. It’s horror comes from the way the writer chooses to feed the information and plot to you – slowly, and bit by bit, letting you savour each zombie lumbering towards you and each human very slowly chewed up.

By the time you finish reading half the novel, you probably learnt more about zombies then all the rest of the Resident Evil movies put together, such is the difference in approach.

The Telling In This Story Works

They say telling a story doesn’t work. You have to express it, emote it instead of simply telling it. Not for Max Brooks. Taking the style of adventure guides and documentaries, he takes the present fiction as fact approach and puts his storytelling high up, away from the action and in a “this is how things went down” manner.

Some of the most incredible scenes in the book are retellings of epic battles that changed the course of mankind. These include the Battle Of Yonkers and the Battle Of Hope, basically the two big pillars in the book that swung the war in favour of whoever won them. He methodical describes the build up to the battle scene by scene, and then proceeds to dissect the action post-mortem, again scene by scene. You literally feel utterly hopeless and depressed by the end of the battle of Yonkers, and liberated and cheering by the end of Hope. And not once did he use emotive writing to create this whirlwind of feelings.

An Excerpt Of The Writing

ADS, that was my enemy: Asymptomatic Demise Syndrome, or, Apocalyptic Despair Syndrome, depending on who you were talking to. Whatever the label, it killed as many people in those early stalemate months as hunger, disease, interhuman violence, or the living dead. No one understood what was happening at first. We’d stabilized the Rockies, we’d sanitized the safe zones, and still we were losing upwards of a hundred or so people a day. It wasn’t suicide, we had plenty of those. No, this was different.

Stripping Storytelling To Its Essence

I don’t think this happened by chance. Max Brooks is able to accomplish this because of the risk he took in planning out the novel. He strips away almost EVERYTHING you ever cared for in a story – characters, emotions, choice, opinions – and presents just the story and nothing else.

P.S: He did leave some bits in, particularly in telling the story of individual survivors.

If you ever read a history book about World War 2, and remember how you felt as you went along with the rise and fall of the Allies, that would be basically what he managed to accomplish in a fictional novel.

For Writers

Even if you’re not a big fan of zombie or war novels. You really should give this book a chance, if only to learn his technical prowess in telling the story – the method to his madness. Not only is the story itself very popular, but the individual scenes themselves became major references and talking points. Don’t believe me? Google them.

For Everyone Else

Please, please, please, for the love of God and all humanity, don’t just wait for the movie and ignore the book. This is a fabulous piece of fiction that brings the “B” grade zombie genre up to the level of Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker in terms of monster fiction. Fifty years from now, when people talk about THE zombie author, it will be Max Brooks, while the movie will wither away with sub-50% tomato ratings.

If I can convince 1% of the people who will spend $10-$15 to buy the book instead of watching the movie. This book will probably shoot back up the bestseller’s list. Book! Book! Book!

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Micro: Crichton’s Novel That Never Should

Micro: The Last Crichton Novel

At the time of Michael Crichton’s death –  God bless his literary and Emmy-winning soul – His assistant found a few unpublished works in his possession. I’ve managed to get my hands on both and will give my personal views on them, though I will focus more on Micro, since Pirate Latitudes is pretty old news.

Pirate Latitudes

Follow Pirate Captain Charles Hunter on A High Seas Adventure In The 17th Century

Follow Pirate Captain Charles Hunter on A High Seas Adventure In The 17th Century

The first one, Pirate Latitudes, is a completed manuscript that for some reason M.C. did not give to his publishers. Released posthumously anyways with approval from his family, I got my hands on it as soon as I could, and dug into it with as much fervour as I had for his earlier books.

Turns out, and this is my personal opinion by the way, there is a good reason why M.C. did not want it published. I found it to be as good a novel as any, for lack of a better way to describe it, it is just not a Crichton book. Having read it twice (I love the setting by the way), it lacks the scale and flair of his previous adventures, and it also lacks the blurring the lines between science and fiction that he is so well-known for. There is still some of it of course, but most of it is lost in translation when you’re talking about gunpowder and rat intestines, instead of lasers and computer-programmed nanobots.

Still a good read, just not a typical M.C. read. Will I recommend this – Yes, highly entertaining, though the proper ending should have come much earlier instead of dragging it on for the low-key ending.

Micro

An adventure of Micro proportions!
An adventure of Micro proportions!

Unlike Pirate Latitudes, Micro is a completely different beast. Firstly, a bit of background, M.C. did not complete this novel in time before his unfortunate demise. HarperCollins, his publisher, chose science-writer Richard Preston to complete the novel from Crichton’s remaining notes and research, and it was finally published in 2011, three years after M.C.’s passing.

Unlike Pirates, which was announced pretty close to his passing and thus enjoyed quite a bit of publicity. Micro was a pretty low-key release. Unless you happen to be specifically watching out for it, there was little about this book in the mainstream media, which led to me getting this book only recently. (I don’t live in the states, books here are a bit more limited.)

In a nutshell, I read about a third of the book a couple of days ago, and haven’t picked it up again since. I was skeptical when I picked it up, and when I started reading it, turns out I was right.

Firstly The Good – This is typical M.C. stuff here, but smaller in scale, a contained adventure which harkens back to his days of Jurassic Park and Sphere instead of the global catastrophes in Next or State of Fear. Pick a group of experts specifically chosen for the purposeful scientific adventure that goes horribly wrong, and push them in the right direction using science-blended fiction goodness to move the plot along. It has worked for Crichton his whole life, it works here as well.

The Not-So-Good – M.C. was never known for tight writing, but this is ridiculous. When I put down the book, I was close to one third in, and it still hasn’t gotten into the main adventure yet. We’re introduced to a bunch of characters and a plot (murder) that just seems pretty meh by Crichton standards. It trudges along for way too long, especially given that Crichton already has taken the liberties of making sure the ENTIRE freaking group knows each other from the very start!

The Bad:

Shortcut to character intros – Crichton’s novels always starts of as an assembly of special talent from across the globe. Even in the case of Timeline, where the cast is pre-assembled in the setup, at least it still makes sense. Micro however, takes the short cut and just dumps the entire cast conveniently as a bunch of scientist-to-bes who happen to not only be in the same university, but also in the same lab, studying completely different things side by side but still behaving like old schoolmates trying to get into the book goods of their professors. By chapter 4, I was already like… why is the botanist in the same lab as the guy extracting Cobra venom. To worsen this introduction, the main protagonist basically goes round the lab talking to each one of his friends and that’s how their work and personalities get introduced. That’s it. At least in Timeline, the protagonist is introduced via his hobbies, the cave-climbing girl via exploring a cave etc. Here, they’re all thrown into the lab and revealed in a contestant 1-2-3 manner.

Poor sub-plot leading to main plot – Lastly, the first pillar, or the point that drives them towards the conflict. It was just too convenient. A minor character dies suddenly and suddenly the protagonist is thrust into action via a sub-plot that somehow leads to the main plot. It was pretty ‘forced’ honestly, like two stories taped together to make it flow.

Forced initiation of main plot without input from main characters – I’ve read just up to the point where the adventure officially begins, but by then I was already half-asleep. Again, not helped by the ridiculousness of how they ‘translated’ into their new settings for the main adventure to being. (WTF moment 3 and game-breaker) Basically, it’s just ‘Follow me! You stand here! You stand there! No questions? Good, fire the laser!” A room full of characters and no one reacted….zzZZZzzz. Sure you can say the subplot led to this point, but given how badly that plot has begun, no surprises that the end fizzled here.Should I finish reading the novel? Maybe. Is it fair that I reviewed the book only on the first 1/3? Why not, would you sit through a bad movie just because it has a super ending… hmm reminds me of StarWars: The Clone Wars.All in all, I think this novel was just the first draft of M.C.’s work and shouldn’t have been released to the public. It makes a mockery of his earlier work in my opinion, and I was so hyped for this just  month back. Now, I think I’ll go back to Prey or AirFrame.

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Mark of Child: Part 3

Mark of Child: Part 3

When Leticia opens the door to her place, everybody’s senses were immediately assaulted by the sweet smell of incense burning in her apartment.

“Just a old habit,” Leticia says, as she takes off her shoes and enters the dimly-lit unit. She snuffs out the powdery sticks burning away in a jar on the dining table. “My grandfather use to light these around the house every night, to keep away bad spirits.”

“I don’t think bad spirits in America would know that,” Matthew jokes as he and the girls cringe at the sickly sweet odor. Taking Leticia’s lead, they remove their footwear and place them into the shoe stand before following her into the house.

Taking in the interior, they can see Leticia’s heritage and beliefs marking their presence in every corner of the apartment. On the floor next to the door, there is a little altar with an offering of fruit in front of it. Next to it, a strange statue of a deity or humanoid creature stands guard over the door. It looks like a miniature big-headed human with claws drawn in a threatening stance.

Looking into the living room, two wooden carvings are on the walls, one is shaped crudely like the head of a tiger, while the other resembled a boar with tusks. They hang on either side of a larger altar, table-sized this time, ladened with offerings of meats, fruits and more incense. From the door, Joan can see an intricate octagonal box in the centre, and in front of everything lays a thickly bound journal.

“Is that the book,” Joan asks, walking up to touch it. Her hands are almost on it when Leticia suddenly snaps, “Don’t!”

Joan pulls her hands back immediately. Flushing, she quickly offers her apologies. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“That’s my grandfather’s altar,” Leticia explains, “We don’t remove anything from it until we ask him for permission. That’s how we show our respect to the dead.”

“Sorry,” Joan mumbles as she walks back to stand beside her scowling sister.

“Try not to touch anything else will ya.”

“Take a seat, I need to make ready first before I can get the book,” Leticia says, scrubbing her hands at the kitchen sink before toweling them dry.

“Do what?” Penny asks as the three of them settles down onto the sofa.

“Like I said, I need to ask for permission.”

An awkward silence fills the room as Leticia moves in front of the altar and starts chanting in another tongue.

Penny and Joan looks over at Matthew who only shrugs his shoulders. “Don’t look at me,” he whispers, “This is the first time she’s invited me over.”

The three of them look on with bated breath, listening as Leticia’s chanting grows louder. Her body quivers, swaying from side to side as she enters into a trance-like state before their eyes. Joan, frightened by the ominous chanting, squeezes herself next to Penny and holds on to her tightly.

Matthew rises from his seat, but Penny puts a firm hand on him and indicates with her eyes that he should sit down and let this play out. Minutes pass as the pungent cloy in the air starts to make everyone uncomfortable.

Joan breaks into a cold sweat as her eyes fixate on the swaying motion of Leticia, unable to blink or turn away. She is all but ready to bolt, when finally, the chanting stops. The air seems to clear as everyone starts to relax again, breathing easier.

“Leticia?” Penny asks in a soft voice.

The still body of Leticia does not respond. Her eyes, still closed, start to twitch. Suddenly, she speaks again, in the same language she used earlier. Not in a sing-song chant, but in conversation. From her speech, it is evident that Leticia is speaking to someone or something in this room. Questions, answers, a few replies that sound like yes, then she starts to giggle out loud.

A creeping chill went down Joan’s back. The ritual happening before her is just too too much for her young mind to take. “That’s it, I’m out,” she says, making for the door.

Penny hisses at her and tells her to sit down, “You wanted this remember?”

“I don’t care anymore,” Joan replies, acting impulsive out of fear. She runs to the door and pulls it open, ready to run home if need be.

“Where are you going Joan? Grandfather says yes.”

The hairs on Joan’s back starts to stand. Leticia is speaking to her directly. Turning around, she sees a smiling Leticia, book in hand, back to her normal self. “Oh my god Leticia, I’m so sorry, but you scared the shit out of me!” Joan exclaims, awash with relief and laughing at her own cowardly behavior.

“Not to worry Joan, I should have warned you all before I started,” Leticia says with a good-natured smile. “Believe me, I feel the same way when I hear some Christians shouting when they pray.”

“Joan, get back in here!” Penny snaps, staring crossly at her sister for making yet another scene.

“Relax Penny, it’s all cool,” Matthew says, turning to smile at Joan as he intercedes on her behalf. Sheepishly, she returns to her spot as the rest gathers around the living room table.

With everyone in place, Leticia kneels down onto the carpeted flooring in front of the sofa, and places her grandfather’s book in front of them. “I must warn you, this is a book about magic, life and death. Inside, you will find many disturbing things. Some will be familiar, like the drawing of body parts. Others will be alien to you. My advice is to focus only on what you need, and forget the rest of what you see.”

Matthew and Penny nod in unison, turning to look at Joan. Still feeling a little shaken, Joan swallows hard before nodding her head, remembering full well that she is the one who asked for this in the first place.

She stares at the book, and its simple unmarked binding that laid forbidden just moments ago. Now, it’s about to spill its secrets on a group of unsuspecting youths. Somewhere inside its worn pages, is a centuries-old formula that could turn back the clock and repair the damage that Joan had inflicted on herself. All they need to do now, is find it.

Leticia opens the cover of the books, flipping delicately through its thick fibrous pages. The book is written in the language of her people, a deviation of modern Malay that has been adopted widely by the city folk. Words start in one handwriting, and end in another, as countless generations of bomohs add to its collective knowledge.

Each page is filled with notes and little corrections as Leticia scans through them, trying to make sense of the scribbles. But for the rest, it is the pictures accompanying the words that give them pause.

Crudely inked drawings, some no more than scratches, depict creatures and demons in various forms. Bats, tigers, boars, and even the insects of the earth all seem to play a part in inspiring the drawings within.

But these are only the first. As Leticia’s hand flies through the pages, the monsters take on human forms. A head here, a hand there, twisted beings fill entire pages in morbid detail. Some are shambling beings with guts turned inside out, others have additional limbs extending from their rears. Naked horrors, with neither mouth nor genitals jump from the pages, filling their heads with grotesque images of sexless beings crawling silently towards them.

“Ah here we are, childbirth. This is the section. Keep an eye out for a symbol that looks like the the word Janin somewhere in here. J-A-N-I-N. It stands for fetus, which is what we are looking for.”

Why did she have to mention that, Joan shudders at the imagery of floating fetuses. She closes her eyes and sees them, little unformed babies trapped in translucent wombs red with blood. They stare at her with black unblinking eyes, waving webbed hands and crying out for her.

“Please… can we just stop for a moment, please… let me… let me… Oh god I can’t breathe.”

End of Part 3

<– Part 1   <– Part 2

Should be pretty obvious where I’m going with this now. Still I’m having a lot of fun with this story and have a lot more I want to write. Apologies about some quirks with the PoV of the story. I’ll get them sorted out next time. I still haven’t figured out whether I want to go from Joan purely, or try some other approach. 

Quasi-Writer’s Block?

What exactly do you call a condition where you have some idea where you want the story to go, but just can’t get it to sound right? I’ve been banging my head against the computer for the past two hours and barely wrote two paragraphs… should I just skip the section and come back later or should I ensure the flow by keeping at it until I’m done.

Back to more head-banging.

Mark of Child: Part 2

Mark of Child: Part 2

An hour later, the girls arrives outside the dorm room of one Matthew Banks, a struggling student doing his graduate thesis in tribal cultures at the local university.

“Now, just leave the talking to me. If there’s anyone who can tell us about mystic magic, it’ll be him,” Penny says, petting her hair and adjusting her blouse to make sure nothing is out of place.

“He studies black magic?” Joan asks with fascinated eyes.

“No, he studies the people who studies black magic. He mentioned it… at some gathering. ”

“How did you know him?”

Penny stares at Joan with a look that says mind your own business, before knocking on the door.

From inside the room, came a loud tumbling noise and the creak of the wooden floor boards underneath. Whispers emanate from the room as the girls can clearly hear the voice of a man and woman coming from inside.

From the corner of her eye, Joan could see Penny’s expression, going from one of shock only moments earlier, to one of black hatred.

The door opens,  and a wide-eyed handsome blonde with a head of bed hair opens the door, pulling on a shirt. “Penny, what are you doing here?”

Forcing a smile, Penny cut right through the pleasantries. “We need your help Matthew. My sister, Joan, here has some questions which you might be able to help with.” she says, throwing a quick glance behind the man. “Are we interrupting anything?”

Matthew smiles and brings out the girl hiding behind the door. She walks to the door wrapped in the blanket. “This is Leticia, she’s an exchange student from South East Asia.”

“Hi,” says the attractive dark-skinned Asian girl clearly used to American sensibilities and freedom by now. Still she hides herself behind Matthew. Pleasantries and introductions are made once again as a visibly black-faced Penny shakes the hand of Leticia.

Oblivious, Matthew turns to Joan. “So which part of tribal culture are you interested in?” he asks, happy to meet a fellow enthusiast.

“Not exactly culture,” Joan answers, uncomfortable in discussing this in the open. “I’m interested in finding out more about their medicine. Is there somewhere we can go to discuss this somewhere more quiet?”

“Sure, there’s a cafe nearby, give us one sec and we can all go together.”

Joan wanted to tell him that they wish to speak with him privately. But the doors closes before she can act. The couple get dressed behind closed doors, while Joan watches a brooding Penny pace the floor outside. In minutes, everyone is ready and they made their way to the cafe.

Sitting down, Leticia volunteers to get the drinks while the three of them talk, relieving the girls the pressure of having to get rid of her.

“So, tribal medicine?” Matthew begins, getting things rolling.“Which cultures would you like to start with. African, Aborigines, American Indians?”

Joan looks at Penny, who decides to speak on her behalf of her sister. “Matthew listen, I’m going to be very direct here. We’re trying to find out if there alternative methods that these woman… you know, control the number of children they have.”

Matthew blinks, staying silent for a moment. He’s clearly not prepared for such a query. “Wow, that’s a very specific question, umm yes I’ve.. hmm.. I’ve read about such primitive birth control methods before. I could direct you to a few books or research papers if you like…”

“No Matthew, not birth control, I’m talking about abortion here. And were looking for someone someone familiar with such tribal practices in this town. We need his services now,” Penny says as a matter of fact.

Matthew narrows his eyes, “Wait, are you…”

“Look, just help us alright.”

Leticia returns with the drinks. “Hey, what you guys talking about?” she asks, joining in the conversation as she takes the seat beside Matthew.

“Tribal abor…medicine,” he mumbles, racking his brains for an answer to Penny’s query.

“Oh, what about it, maybe I can help,” Leticia says casually, stirring her latte. “My grandfather use to be a medicine man in West Java.”

The girls suddenly perk, Joan especially. After all the luck she’s had today, this is probably the first piece of good news she’s heard all day.

“What do you mean medicine man?” Penny asks suspiciously, unwilling to divulge too much to this man-stealer from halfway around the globe.

Leticia shrugs. He cares for his village, you know. Medicine, rituals, customs, the whole deal. Where I come from, we call him a bomoh, which literally means tribal shaman.”

“Leticia’s family comes from a long line of Javanese chieftains and bomohs,” Matthew adds, holding her hand and smiling at her. “They’re very highly respected by the tribesmen. For the longest time, her ancestors stayed in the jungles of Sumatra before they moved into the city,”

Joan can hardly believe her luck, she casts aside all worries and the doubts of Penny as she proceeds to tell them both the truth. Matthew sits back in his chair and whistles a long note as Joan finishes her tale, while Leticia looks on at her with heartfelt sadness.

“Oh you poor dear! I know how you feel, the same thing happened to my aunt long ago as well. Such things are a death sentence in tribal cultures back then. Woman who get pregnant without a husband are deemed to be evil spirits, and the child in their womb is cursed to be the devil’s child.

“What happens to these women?” Joan asks, expecting more to the tale.

Leticia shrugged, “Where my family comes from, they bury the woman alive. My grandfather once told me that you can still hear them screaming from under the earth for days after that.”

Joan’s face turns a ghastly white. Suddenly, getting screamed at by father and ridiculed by her friends doesn’t seem like so big a deal after all.

“Wait, how do you know all this?” Penny asks, still not entirely trusting of this woman.

“When he was alive, grandfather taught me the ways of the tribe,” Leticia explains, “That is until my father found out and burned everything in my room. He had a big fight with grandfather over this, he doesn’t want any more black magic in the family.”

“Strange, I could have sworn you used a love charm on me,” Matthew jokes, throwing Leticia a cheeky look while Penny fumes in silence.

“Wait, what black magic?” Penny asks, interrupting the lovebirds.

“Never mind that Penny, can we go back to the woman, what did they do if they want to avoid their sentence?” Joan asks, anxious to hear where this is going.

Leticia smiles, “My grandfather had a remedy if these woman came to him before they got caught. Of course, its a secret, the tribal leaders will never stand for such a thing.”

“That’s great!” Joan screams, jumping up in her seat. She could hardly believe her ears. This night seems to be getting better and better. Thank god they had the luck to find Leticia here. Matthew is turning out to be quite a bum.

“But…” Penny cuts in, staring at Joan to calm down, “There’s always a but somewhere inside, am I right Leticia? ”

She nods, “Yes, black magic always comes at a cost, at least that’s what it says in the book.”

“You even have a book on this? Joan asks, getting more and more impress with Leticia by the minute.

“Didn’t your father burn everything?” Penny interjects.

“Yea, well grandfather gave it to me for safekeeping before he died. My family has no idea that it even exists. It’s a strange book, you’ll know what I mean when you see it,” Leticia says, sipping her latte.

Eyes light up across the table. “You have the book here?

“Of course, I can’t leave it with my parents,” Leticia smirks, looking at us like it should be obvious.

Tiny wheels in Joan’s head starts to click into place. She leans forward and looks at Leticia with serious eyes, “Will you help me Leticia?”

“I don’t know Joan,” Matthew says urging caution. “You should let me take a look at it first, maybe…”

“No, I can’t wait. Will you help me?” Joan asks again.

“Joan, Matthew’s right.” Penny says, siding with reason, “We’re dealing with something we don’t understand here.”

Joan turns and glowers at her sister, “Penny, you promised me anything.”

“Yes but…” Penny looks at the hopeful eyes of her sister and knows that this is a lost cause. “Alright fine, whatever. Leticia, you’re sure it’s going to be safe?”

Leticia nods her head. “Our ancestors have been using it for generations, can’t see what’s wrong. Of course, we might need to find the necessary herbs, that might prove tricky.”

“Between the horticultural lab and greenhouses here on campus, the medicinal shops in Chinatown, and the weird gypsy place down on the west end,  I’m sure we’ll find what we need,” Matthew suggests, actually saying something useful for the first time.

“Well! Let’s get started,” Joan says to all the waiting faces, eager to get this over with once and for all. Matthew and Penny look at each other grimly as they reluctantly agree.

“Great, to my apartment then,” Leticia chirps, “Let’s see what grandfather’s book has to say.”

 END PART 2

<– Return to Part 1

Please let me know how this passage is able to capture your attention. I’m trying to build up the thing here, but might be too draggy. But basically, I’ve passed the first pillar here and will be delving into the action proper soon. Also looking for a more readable theme, looking at Mimbo Pro. 

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Mark of Child: Part 1

Mark of Child: Part 1

Joan Eckart is late.

Sitting on the bathroom floor waiting for the test strip to pronounce her sentence, she wonders who it was that got her into this mess. The boys in her life have been a blur lately, moving on faster than she can change her Facebook status.

“Joan, are you ok in there?”

“Just a sec,” she looks closely at the test strip and shakes it vigorously, “Come on, minus baby, minus!”

“We’re going to be late, the show starts in ten.”

Joan ignores that comment. She does not feel like going to the show anymore as the faint symbol of the plus sign lights up. Right now she just wants to sit here and cry.

Gripping the strip tightly, she closes her eyes and begins to pray, willing the little spot on the paper to turn red. “Please God,” she utters under her breath, “I promise to be good from now on, just please!”

Joan opens her eyes again, and stares into the blue abyss of the plus sign shining into her face. Suddenly, everything in her life feels like they have fallen apart. Why me damn it! 

In need of a second opinion, she pulls another pregnancy test kit out from under the sink, ripping out its contents and peeing on the strip again.

“Joan!”

“I’m coming!” she chucks the box and wraps the urine-stained stick in a wad of paper, stuffing it into her pocket. Taking one hard look at her dilapidated self in the mirror, she opens the door and sees Penny waiting for her outside the bathroom with stern eyes and folded arms.

“Spill it, what you doing in there?”

“Leave me alone Penny,” Joan sighs as she brushes past her elder sister.

Penny grabs her by the arm, “Hey! We’re all worried about you.”

“Yea whatever,” Joan replies, shrugging off the hand and storming into her room. Right now, all she wants is be left alone with her thoughts.

Penny comes after her, “Joan, you know you can tell me anything, right?” she says, sensing that something is very wrong.

“I’m fine, just leave me alone.” Joan says, crashing on her bed and burying her face into the sheets.

“Suit yourself, want me to get you dinner?”

Joan shakes her head, laying there silently until Penny walks out of her room.

Alone for now, Joan turns to her computer immediately and begins searching the web for homemade remedies to get rid of pregnancies. The first page of results she gets all claim to be safe herbal methods, but none of the sites look trustworthy.

She puts a hand on her belly and imagines the life growing inside, contemplating her choice between being a child murderer and a single mother. Either way, when her father finds out, he is going to kill her.

Joan needs to talk to someone desperately. In her mind, she thought about Patricia from school. Joan has seen her outside hanging around older men. She’s probably an expert in this subject already, maybe she should confide in her.

Picking up her phone, she dials her number. She and Patricia have never been close actually, but they did work on a school project once. Maybe she’ll remember Joan.

“Hello?” came a husky voice across the line.

“Hey Pat, it’s me Joan, listen I…” Joan hesitates, realizing she hasn’t thought about what she wanted to say.

“Yea?”

“I’m just wondering you know, since you’re so popular with guys and all… You probably know a lot. Do you know anybody who can like.. fix me up?” The last words were uttered very deliberately as Joan starts to think that maybe asking Patricia is not a good idea after all.

“Fix what up? You mean like you’re pregnant?”

“Errmm… Yes,” Joan squeaks into the phone.

Patricia bursts out laughing. “Oh my god, you got yourself knocked up, and you’re calling to me for advice? This is hilarious!”

“Oh, it’s not me, it’s a friend,” Joan lies, trying to cover it up by laughing it off as a joke.

“Save it sister, I don’t know what kind of girl you think I am, but I’m definitely not dumb enough to let a man stick me with a kid. Haven’t you heard of protection?”

“Well I just thought you might know someone…”

“You thought wrong sister, wait till the other girls in school hear about this,” she laughs before hanging up.

Joan drops her head to the desk, feeling her world spiraling out of control now. She sobs uncontrollably as the walls of her room start to close in on her, filling her with a sense of dread and loneliness. What she wouldn’t do to make the thing growing inside her disappear. Right now, she needs a magician, not a doctor.

Penny hears the crying from the outside and rushes into the room. “What is going on Joan,” she asks, distressed by the terrible state of the sister. She goes up to Joan and cradles her head in her bosom, soothing her with gentle words.

“Joan whatever it is, I promise you I’ll help. Just tell me what’s going on.”

Teary-eyed, Joan looks up at Penny, “Swear you won’t tell father?” she says in between sobs.

“I swear, now can you please tell me,” Penny answers, looking at her sister with reassuring eyes.

Joan takes a deep breath. “Penny…”

“Yes?” Joan says, coaxing her sister.

“I’m pregnant.”

Penny stares at her younger sister. “Are you sure about this?” she asks, as calmly as she can given the circumstances.

Joan nods her head, and pulls the tissues out of her pocket. Taking out the crumpled strip, she shows it to her sister.

“Christ,” Penny exclaims, seeing the faded plus sign on the stick. “How Joan? When? Who?”

Joan shakes her head, not knowing the exact answer herself, “Help me Penny please,” she begs, holding on to her sister with both hands.

“What do you want me to do, find you a doctor?” Penny replies at a total loss.

“Help me get rid of it.”

Penny is shocked, “I… I don’t know how Joan, I’ve never done this before.” Her first thought is to tell father, and let the adults handle this the way they usually do.”

“You’re older, you have friends, ask them!” Joan pleads.

“I’ll think of something,” Penny mumbles, left without a choice. “But first things first, I want you to see a doctor.”

Joan shakes her head violently. “No way, this town’s too small for secrets like this. Besides, my friend knows and she’s going to tell everyone.”

“What sort of friend is that?”

“Believe me, if I had known, I wouldn’t have told her.”

“Well, once your teachers find out, it’s over anyway,” Penny shrugs, trying to get Joan to see the light.

Both girls sit around quietly for a moment, as they try to find a solution to the predicament. Joan’s thoughts are still on radical ideas like the herbs she read about online, while Penny focuses on possible alternative treatments.

“You know, there’s more to medicine than doctors and hospitals,” Penny finally says, thinking out loud.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m thinking maybe African witchdoctor, I don’t know for sure, but they practice medicine too, don’t they?” Penny shrugs. “Just a thought, if you don’t like the idea…”

Joan rolled her eyes, but the more she thinks about it, the more she likes how that idea sounds. At least it’s better than trusting advice from random strangers on the internet.

“I don’t know Penny, how do we start looking? I don’t think these guys have sites or anything on the internet.”

Penny stands up. She picks up Joan’s jacket from the floor and throws it at her sister’s face. “By getting your ass into the car.”

“Where are we going?”

Penny smiles, “Like you said, I have friends.”

 END PART 1

Note, this is rewrite using the intro from the Flesh Eater story, but this is now a new work. Objective here is not to go all blood splattering from the get go and try to tell a tale that leads up to it first. 

Part 2 Here

Part 3 Here

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