Excerpt: Meet Pru, from “Nobody’s Hero”

When the world needed saving, Pru needed a manicure.

It was her client’s job to fight evil. It was the nail technician’s job to fight overgrown cuticles. And it was Pru’s job to make sure that once the threat was vanquished, the world restored to harmony, that her nails looked good as she waved the press away from her sole responsibility as a public relations agent: Miss Opal Hayes, alias Nightfire, one of the most popular state-authorized masked vigilantes.

While the manicurist filed away what was left of last week’s Fleetwood Black Cherry from her left hand, Pru scrolled her phone with her right, scanning her newsfeed for any live streams of her client’s heroics. Unlike some of her peers who represented other vigilantes with checkered pasts, she never asked Nightfire to wear a body camera during combat.

Not that Opal would have acquiesced. While she was almost too open about her past for her own good, she demanded her privacy when not wearing the mask. No one had ever seen her face, and even the name Opal Hayes was a pseudonym, as if anyone would think someone named Mr. and Mrs. Hayes had looked at their perfect baby girl born more than a century after 1890 and think Opal was a fitting name. They may have given her a severe nut allergy, but not a name fitting for a 1920s ingenue.

Pru Mornay’s parents gave their daughter a perfect powerhouse name — a one-syllable punch followed by the soothing balm of a French-sounding surname with a phonetic spelling. It was a name made for a high-profile, high-demand woman, given to a girl raised to be a high-profile, high-demand woman. And that’s exactly who she became, against her best efforts.

Her scrolling came to a halt when a call came through. She stared at the three letters glowing on her phone and debated whether to answer. If she didn’t pick up now, the caller would just keep trying, and Pru couldn’t risk the distraction later. She hit the green button and lifted the phone to her ear.

“Hi Mom.”

“I wanted to remind you that this weekend is the Gladstone Gala,” Lilah Mornay said without a greeting. “You still haven’t told me if you’re coming with us this year.”

“Because I don’t know if I’ll be working.”

“That’s our game, sweetie,” Lilah said. “But you still have to have a life.”

It occurred to Pru for the thousandth time since her birth that her mom only gave advice that would steer people to help her achieve some personal goal. It was how Lilah came to have her own public relations firm. It was also how Pru ended up at the same college, in the same degree program, and now a senior private representative at D&L Mornay PR. In this case, Lilah wanted her whole happy family — philandering husband, cuckolding wife and I-need-to-focus-on-my-career daughter — to be present for a ridiculously opulent charity event that would have seemed the stuff of satire if not for its ability to get rich people to open their wallets.

“I have nothing to wear,” Pru lied, switching her phone to the other ear and allowing the manicurist to yank her arm halfway out of its socket so she could attack the other half of Fleetwood Black Cherry.

“We’ll go shopping. Make it a girls’ day.”

Girls’ Day with her mother usually involved a maxed-out credit card, more martinis than Pru could handle and off-the-record rants about office assistants with caky makeup, thick legs and names like Astrid or Ashley or Ammanda With Two M’s.

“I don’t have time, Mom. Have you been watching the news? Op- I mean, my client is a little busy today, and that means I’m on deck for the next 48 hours.”

Pru felt the excitement flush her face. She didn’t particularly like the hurry-up-and-wait that came with relying on havoc — and the subsequent vanquishing of it — to give her life purpose, but she did enjoy the adrenaline rush that came with knowing her next 48 hours would involve drafting remarks for Nightfire’s press conference, accepting and rejecting interview requests, and perhaps most exciting of all, participating the Federal Vigilante Unit’s debriefing, which only she, her client and a handful of FVU officers were allowed to attend.

“Well why didn’t you say so? Go get ‘em, baby girl,” her mom said, clicking the call to a close.

Pru went back to scanning the news feeds. A few posts from unverified sources using the hashtag #Nightfire had surfaced, but nothing from any official accounts. She read them to see what public opinion had to say on her client’s behalf.

@Bocknstein29: Holy shitt #Nightfire is on my block blasting some dude with a green ray gun. GO GET EM GURL.

@Glamazon_3: Uh, I think I just saw #Nightfire outside the Starbs and Green and State.

@B!ggusD!ckus: Hey #Nightfire when ur done kicking ass, I’ll gladly eat urz. Hit me up. #Nightfire #SexyLady

Pru had discouraged her client from having any personal accounts, recommending she use a special service that could keep her online reputation clean but still give people what they want. After another vigilante, Quantum, had gotten drunk at a convention the year before and posted a video of himself describing how much amputees creeped him out, it wasn’t just his reputation that had tanked. His PR rep, one of Pru’s former acquaintance from college, had closed shop and started experimenting with apps that used photo recognition to identify any breed of dog. There was no way Pru would let Nightfire take to the web, though she wasn’t sure Opal would be willing to do that, either.

“Color?” asked the manicurist, allowing exasperation to creep into her voice now that she had tried three times to get the woman’s attention. She knew this woman. There was nothing about her behavior that separated her rom the other clients: She was more interested in her phone than in the human being shaping her sorry-ass fingernails, all the while trying not to get caught watching the dancers bouncing and grinding in the muted music videos playing on the screens above each table. The salon manager insisted that this woman was famous — that he had seen her on TV before, and therefore she was an important client — but to Angelique, she was just another set of dull, picked-apart nails begging for love and attention. At least she tipped well.

“Sorry,” Pru said. “Number 67.”

Angelique retrieved You Look Radishing from the storeroom and returned to see the rap videos on the screens had been replaced with a live news report from just a mile away. Almost everyone in the salon was watching it.

“Is that Scarlet Sword?” Francesca asked from behind the reception desk. “I like her.”

“Nah, she’s not carrying a katana,” the salon manager said. “That’s gotta be Nightfire.”

Pru’s head snapped up.

“Shit,” she hissed, pushing her chair back with a loud scrape. Turning to the manicurist, she uttered her apologies and dug in her wallet for two twenties. “I’ve got to go. Raincheck on the color?”

She didn’t wait for answer, just blindly took a pump of almond oil hand lotion and strode out of the salon, taking a hard left and disappearing from view before the bell above the door stopped ringing.

Fifteen minutes later, Angelique would see the woman on the TV talking live to a field reporter a block away from the scene and explaining that Nightfire’s first and foremost priority was the safety of Centropolis’ citizens and the preservation of their liberty, dignity and integrity.

This is the first chapter of a novel-in-progress called Nobody’s Hero.

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Excerpt: “Lacers” (from an untitled, undecided project)

As if driving a rig wasn’t cool enough, I’ve got my best bitches in the cab with me, packing three guns a piece and making sure anyone who tries to take our cargo ends up being a fresh coat of paint on the trailer.

There’s Cinn, face painted with the cinnabar that earned her the moniker, sitting shotgun as she cradles one in her lap. Dag, flying her arm out the window so the dagger tattooed on her bicep catches a breeze. And Stitch, threading a piece of fishing line through the latest ear she’s claimed as a trophy. This one has a ratty fringe earring dangling from it, clumpy with blood.

“Hey, Gears,” Cinn shouts. “On the left.”

I flip the rear view mirror and see one of the Flora’s distinct bikes coming up close. The thing about their little buzzbombs is that they’re fast and small, but easy to push off the road if you’ve got a big enough rig.

Which I do.

“Nice!” Cinn affirms as we watch the Flora take a sharp detour down an alley to avoid being smeared along the brick walls of Lower Wacker. “Wacker? I hardly know her!” my dad would joke. I still don’t get it.

“They’ll be back,” Dag says, pulling her arm in and checking her rifle one more time. “We should get up top.”

I pull up a street that used to be called Garland, going the wrong way according to the faded signs, and emerge onto a street roofed by elevated train tracks.

“Well that’s new,” I say, nodding to the hole blasted into the building in front of us. “Floras?”

“Nah, probably Sparklers,” Dag says. “That’s got glitter bomb written all over it.”

“Fucking Sparklers,” Stitch spats as she ties the ear around her neck and adjusts it so it hangs in the middle of her chest tattoo spelling out “Lacer.”

That’s what we are in this post-apocalyptic world: Fucking Sparklers. Lacers. Floras. Fuck Mel Gibson in his desert wasteland. After Armageddon hits, the buildings are still here. Kids between the ages of 14 and 19 are still here. And with the patriarchy-pushers now just ashes in the wind, we girls have risen to the top while the boys are too busy doing dick-measuring contests in their underground Boys Only clubs because society tucked them in each night with a kiss and promise that they would inherit the Earth without having to do much to earn it.

Well move over, because we might run like girls, but we also run this world. We’re driving the gas rigs. We’re trading protein packs and solar lamps. And we’re not sacrificing our feminine sensibilities to fit some patriarchal bullshit that fits the narrative Hollywood decided would be most profitable to share in sequels upon sequels of special effects movies.

That doesn’t mean we don’t feel the need to bitch slap each other once in a while. There’s no love between us Lacers and the Sparklers, Floras or Prom Queens, but we also have our allies. The GCs — Gold Crowns — provide surveillance in exchange for a share of the loot we bring back from our runs, and there’s tight history between our leader, Golightly, and the chief navigator for the Chanels.

The boys wish they could be us.

“Flora is back,” Dag announces. “On the right, about forty feet behind.”

“We don’t even have the cargo yet,” Stitch says.

“Yeah, but she doesn’t know that, and she’s not going to wait to ask,” I say, cutting the wheel to cut her off as I hit the breaks. I wait for the telltale thump of her body hitting the back of the trailer, but instead I hear metal dragging on pavement.

The bike slides out from under the front of the truck, slamming into the light post ahead. There’s no sign of its rider as I put us back into gear and pull back out onto the road.

“If she’s back there, she’ll be long gone by the time we get to the pickup point.”

“Unless she’s Indiana Jonesing this thing,” Dag says.

Cinn twists around to look at her.

“Come on, Raiders of the Lost Ark?” Dag says. “Indiana grabs on to the bottom of the Nazi’s truck with his whip so he can keep up with it. No one?”

“I lost interest when my brother forced us to watch Church of Doom or whatever,” Cinn says, looking forward again.

Temple of Doom,” Dag and I say in unison. Cinn looks at me incredulously.

“Harrison Ford was hot in those,” I say. “Much hotter than he was in Star Wars. Definitely fuck material.”

“Nah, I’d much rather do Han than Indy,” Dag says. “Imagine how Indiana Jones smelled.”

“Yeah, but the stubble. And that open shirt, hat and whip combo.” It’s been forever since I saw them, but I remember realizing I liked boys thanks to Harrison Ford easing his shirt off with Karen Allen’s help.

“OK, you might have a point.”

Cinn gags melodramatically and keeps looking into the side mirror for a sign of our potential tail.

 

This is the beginning of an undetermined project (book? graphic novel? film starring Amandla Stenberg and Millie Bobby Brown?) that crosses Mad Max: Fury Road with Mean Girls.

#NaNoWriMo2017 Day 13: “The Cathedral”

Holy Name Cathedral

Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral sits among one of the high-rent areas in the River North neighborhood.

The cathedral held its ground against the high rises that have shot up like weeds around it, blocking the sun from the stained glass windows that used to share their kaleidoscope hope with the rest of the city when it knew better than to try to touch the sky with iron and steel.

#NaNoWriMo2017 Day 3: “Like a Fish”

Martini at the Drifter, a speakeasy in downtown Chicago

The Drifter is one of Chicago’s oldest operating speakeasies and a favorite place to catch a 15-minute act, order a cocktail from a deck of tarot cards and fall head-over-heels into candlelit inspiration.

“Any vices?” he absentmindedly flirted.

“Fuck yeah,” she smiled into her martini. “I drink like a sailor and swear like a fish.”

And he fell madly in love.

Excerpt: “Untitled Vampire Story”

The fact there was something different about him should have clued me into the fact that this was a bad idea — but I never heed my own instincts. My sister said it would eventually catch up to me, this haphazard lifestyle, but hey: I’d been purposefully arrogant for all 563 years of my life.

That’s what comes with being 17 for the last 547 of them. People expect me to be a thrill-seeking, living-on-the-edge, throw-caution-to-the-wind adolescent because I look like a walking, talking teenage cliché.

My sister, ten years my senior, used to moan about how inconvient it was that I vamped at the height of my teen years. She was a perpetual victim of my pubescent mood swings until I figured out how to control them around Year 303 of vampiredom. It also meant having to move around constantly because I never grew older. Then she realized continual transfers were useful, as it meant she could take complete advantage of any man she dated, then disappear when the relationship had run its course. No awkward breakups, and no one-night-stands gone long.

This was fine for the first 500 years until everyone suddenly became like us.

I don’t know who did it. Brom Stoker? Anne Rice? Fucking Stephanie Meyers? Almost overnight — or over-day, rather — the 300 or so vampires, including me and Morgan, came out of hiding in droves. Maybe it was because we were tired of being casted as brooding teenage heartthrobs. Maybe we were jealous of the attention fictional characters attracted and wanted some of the lime light. Whatever it was, suddenly, it was cool to be a vampire.

All I know is that one minute I was a rarity — a freak, some would say — and the next everyone I knew was drinking blood and sleeping from dawn until dusk.

Along with this change came another.

For 563 years, I avoided the hormone cesspool of high school successfully. Now that everyone turned out immortal, everyone started hitting Vamp Highs, where the older you were, the cooler you looked. It was a place where if you were new the first question wasn’t “Where are you from?” but “How old are you?” Some people jacked up their age, just to get attention. That was stupid, since just one glance at your V.I.D (Vampire Identification) clarified the subject.

None of us really needed school, but we were in the habit, and habits die hard, especially when you won’t. Or can’t. Ever.

Like any other “new kid,” when he walked into history class and the teacher, 958 years old, told us his name was Ron Jones — quite a pedestrian name, as far as everyone could tell compared to the students named Cecily, Piper, Loradonna, and Hunter that dominated the roster — the first question he was smacked in the face with upon taking his seat was “How old are you?”

“17,” he replied, looking at his books. I snorted at how Hollywood it sounded.

“No,” said Cecily di Garso (Cecily G. for short). “How old are you? Like — all together.”

“17,” he said again.

That was when the teacher told Cecily G. to shut up and listen to the lesson. Because we were all pretty old, the teachers didn’t really take care “to protect the youth.” Half of us had braved the Crusades, and we had all lived through at least the second World War. When we weren’t trying to one-up another during history class, we were busy swapping war stories.

Which helped make abundantly clear that this Ron kid was weird.

First off, he took notes.

Second, he had no good stories to tell. Not even when the topic of conversation moved on to the Vietnam War did he perk up. He attempted, once, by regaling us with a story told by his last history teacher who had passed around a shell from a bomb he almost died from just outside of a small coastal village in South Vietnam, but when no one seemed to care unless Ron had personally collected it, he grew quiet.

I overheard Cecily G. talking with the over-600 crowd at lunch that day while I eyed Ron taking a seat alone at the corner table.

“He must be a newbie,” she said. “That’s why he said he’s seventeen. Must have just Vamped.”

“Wow,” gasped one of them. “I didn’t know there were any humans left!”

I took my seat at a table away, with my friends in the mid-500s. There were no humans left, even 20 years ago. We had all taken care of that pretty well. I personally had never bitten anyone — I didn’t believe in all the stories about how kinky it could be — but I knew Morgan had. Once. By accident.

I found this in my files from God knows how long ago and thought it would be fun to share in the light of today’s Halloween festivities. Honestly I don’t know where I was going with it, but it fits into my usual M.O. of imagining a tired storyline with the roles reversed or perspective changed. A vampire figuring out what to do about a human in their world? Now that could get spookily hilarious. Who knows: Maybe this will turn into a YA book one of these days….