throwing stones — chapter three

Terry smiled at Ron. "Is that better?"

Ron nodded, her eyes wide. "Yeah." She flexed the muscles of her leg. No pain. It felt kind of weird, but it didn't hurt.

Terry left the room, and Ron wondered if this was a dream.

A few minutes later, Marshall came in. He saw that Ron was awake and he came over to her, sitting in the chair Terry had been using.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her.

"I'm okay." He obviously thought she was just saying this to be brave, so she continued, "It hurt a bit, but Terry made it stop hurting." She made a face. That had sounded like something a child would say.

"How did she do that?" he asked, leaning forward.

"She just touched me. Here." She pointed at her cheek.

She was about to ask a question when the door opened and Terry came back in, carrying a tray. "I hope it's alright if we share. I couldn't fit– Oh, hello, Marshall."

"Hello, Terry. When did you get here?"

He stood so she could sit again. The tray held a large plate of spaghetti with some sauce on it, plus two forks and a large glass of water.

"A few minutes ago. The car died as we were going over the bridge and we had to walk. We got lost once or twice. Sam's knowledge of local geography is not, I'm afraid, quite as good as he thought it was."

"And the local landscape has changed somewhat in the last twenty-four hours. We had just about the same experience at the other bridge. The car didn't die, but the bridge had holes in it, so we had to walk across."

Marshall helped Ron sit up (she winced in expectation of pain from her leg, but there wasn't any). He took a pillow from the other end of the sofa and slipped it behind her back to prop her up. She smiled as he handed her the glass of water. She drank it all down quickly.

"Do you have any idea what's happened?" Terry asked Marshall. "Has there been anything more on the radio?"

"Nothing. Just static. And now the batteries for the radios are all dead anyway."

"Did they attack us?" Ron asked.

Terry frowned. "'They'? Define your terms."

Ron shook her head. "Never mind." She'd forgotten for a moment that Terry was a teacher.

The door opened again and Pat stuck her head in. "More wounded coming in, Marshall. We need you."

He nodded. "I'll be back." He squeezed Ron's shoulder. She would have been furious if he'd hugged or kissed her in front of a stranger, even a stranger who she thought was probably a member of her family.

"Well," Terry said, "if anybody attacked 'us,' meaning you – meaning, I presume, U-town – then 'they,' whoever 'they' might be, attacked the city as well, since we just drove through it, and it looks pretty much as it does here. You can draw your own conclusions from that."

Ron was in the rather unusual position, for her, of really wanting to curse somebody out and being unable to say the words. And it wasn't just because Terry was a teacher. Ron had cursed at teachers quite often. Maybe it was because she had brought food. Which she was holding in her lap, too far away for Ron to reach it.

Terry smiled. "Do you go to the school here? The U-town school?"

Ron nodded. "Yeah. My parents made me go." She shrugged. "It's okay. The other kids, they're okay. I only go in the afternoon anyway."

"Only in the afternoon? Why is that?"

"I deliver the mail in the morning. I pick it up at the bridge and then I bring it here, for Vicki and Mom and Dad and the others. The important mail."

"You deliver the mail? Isn't there a post office or something? Why do they make you do it?"

Definitely a teacher. She didn't understand anything.

"Nobody makes me do it. It's what I do."

"And what do you study in school? I've read about the U-town school, and it sounds quite innovative, if you're a fan of unstructured learning environments."

"Well, they change the classes around all the time. I was taking History. We were learning about slavery. Then they changed the schedule, so now I'm taking Civics instead. History is in the morning now. Civics is like history, but it's the history of U-town.

"I only went to one class so far for Civics. One kid said that my dad wasn't as important as the others, as Vicki and Ray and them. So I busted her in the nose and she had to go to the nurse." Terry frowned disapprovingly. Ron wondered if that sort of thing happened in her classes. "She only said it to bother me, to see what I'd say. Well, she found out. Miss Nelson?"

"Yes?"

"The food is probably getting cold."

Terry smiled. "Oh, I am sorry," she said, getting up. "You were far more patient than I would have been." She nudged the chair over so it was closer to Ron, then she sat down again and put the tray back on her lap. "As I said, I couldn't fit two plates on the tray, so we'll have to share. I hope you don't mind."

Ron had already grabbed one of the forks and was chewing on a wad of cold spaghetti. She shook her head, indicating that sharing was fine with her. One strand of spaghetti was dangling down her chin, and it left a trail of sauce as she slurped it into her mouth. Terry frowned, but she didn't comment.

"In my defense," she said, after she had eaten a couple of bites herself, "I realize it isn't warm, but it was pretty much cold when I got it."

Ron shrugged and ate some more.


Ron felt a lot better after eating.

"I would go look for coffee," Terry said, "but I'm sure there isn't any." She took off her glasses and started to wipe them. "Do you want to know something funny?"

"Okay," Ron said hesitantly.

"I don't mean funny-amusing, of course," she explained, which Ron had already figured out. "I mean funny-ironic. Do you think that everything has a good side and a bad side?"

"You mean people?"

"No, I mean things that happen."

"I don't know." She frowned. "No, some things are just bad."

Terry nodded. "I really don't know." She gestured at Ron's leg. "I imagine that must be pretty bad. There's nothing good about a broken leg, is there?"

"No." She had intended to say, "Fuck no," but somehow only one word had come out. Ron had been waiting for Terry to ask how she had got hurt, but Terry had something else on her mind.

"For me, it is not entirely a bad thing. Oh, I don't mean your injury. There's nothing good about that. But, even with all the death and destruction today, there is one good thing about all this."

"There is?"

"Let me ask you another question. What if somebody was to write a book about you, about your family and all the things that have happened to you in your life, and that book was going to be published and a lot of people were going to read it. How would you feel about that?"

"I'd hate it," Ron said.

"Well, I was in that situation. Someone wrote a book about me, about private things, and even some things that might get me in trouble, and it was going to be published soon. Now, I don't know if it will be published. So, I'm glad about that, even if I am sorry about all the rest."

The door opened and Marshall came in. Terry stood up. "Marshall," she said, "I have to ask you a very important question. Is there coffee?"

He smiled. "I don't think so, but there is tea. Somebody's started a small fire to heat water."

"That will have to do. Please excuse me, Ron." She left, carrying the tray.

"Fuck," Ron said quietly. Marshall sat down again as she said "Fuck" again a few times, with increasing volume and enthusiasm, pounding the sofa cushion with her good hand, culminating with, "Motherfucking Cocksucking Shit! Bitch! Fuck! Bitch! CUNT!"

She sighed and lay back.

Marshall smiled. "What brought that on?"

"It was weird, when Terry was here. It was like I couldn't swear. I kept trying, but it wouldn't come out."

"Well, she is a teacher. She probably thinks girls your age shouldn't curse."

Ron frowned. "You mean she was stopping me?"

"If she could make your pain go away by touching you, why not?" He leaned forward. "Don't be mad at her. I don't think it's something she does consciously."

"She's... she's Alex, isn't she? My grandmother?" He nodded. "She was saying how glad she was that now the book probably won't come out, how it would be embarrassing and stuff. But it's her book, Alex wrote it. Right?"

He nodded again. "Yes."

"That's weird."

He laughed. "I guess it is. How did you know she was your grandmother?"

"She looks like Mom."

He shook his head. "You are good with faces."

"What do you mean?" she demanded.

"You spotted that your mother and Vicki are related, which nobody ever sees. You figured out that Terry is your grandmother." He smiled. "And you are, as far as I know, the only person who can tell the Golden apart."

She shrugged. "Mr. Bostwick can."

"Okay, you're the only person who can tell the Golden apart other than Mr. Bostwick, and he lives with them. That's pretty impressive. The Golden all look the same to me, and even your mother sometimes has trouble. She can sometimes tell Sharon from her brothers, but I know she can't tell Will from Craig."

Ron was trying not to look pleased.

Jan came in and limped over to them, leaning over to hug Ron. "Oh, stop squirming," she said. "I hurried in here so I'd be able to do this before the others get here, but I am so glad you're alive that I intend to hug you quite often. Whether you like it or not."

Ron hugged her mother with her one good arm, then she quickly broke the embrace when the door opened again. Vicki came in and said, "I think we've got Ray about as sober as we can get him, so we need to meet."

Several people came in after Vicki. Terry was one of them, with a stocky Black man with short hair and a small beard. Pat was there, and Ray, who was wearing a bathrobe for some reason.

Vicki hopped up to sit on top of the meeting table, as usual. She was so short that if she'd sat in a chair she'd have been nearly invisible. The others took seats around the table and Ron noticed that Terry wasn't carrying anything. Apparently she hadn't been able to get tea after all.

Suddenly the door slammed open and four men came in. They were dressed like soldiers and they were carrying rifles. "Okay," one of them said, "you're all coming into custody. This whole 'experiment' is over. This situation shows...."

"This is outrageous behavior!" said a voice Ron didn't recognize. A tall, well-dressed woman in a bright yellow suit was limping toward the soldiers, who were lowering their weapons. She had long, reddish hair. Ron looked around the room, and she saw that Terry was missing.

Ron hadn't thought that having multiple personalities meant you could change your clothes and hair whenever you wanted to.

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About Anthony Lee Collins

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6 Responses to throwing stones — chapter three

  1. Maggie says:

    Ron’s personality is very well-defined here.

    I definitely did not expect Terry/Alex to be a shape-shifter or have the ability to turn into other people. Her “teacher” persona is pretty spot-on, especially with her dialogue.

    It bothers me how Marshall seems very indulgent of Ron’s behavior and her habit of cursing. I’d think an adoptive father would be a bit less lax.

    So… the “experiment” at the end… does that mean the entire U-town is the experiment? Because I had had that thought in my head as I was reading the first two chapters, but I wanted to find out whether or not the story would confirm it.

    And as I’ve mentioned before, more description would allow me to better picture this world. Like instead of saying “they were dressed like soldiers,” describe their uniforms.

    But I’m very curious to see what happens next. The story seems headed in a good direction so far, even though I’m not precisely sure who the antagonist is yet… or if there is just one antagonist, which I doubt.

  2. Maggie, thanks for the excellent comments as usual.

    Terry/Alex: That was fun to write, since it was the first time I’ve ever written her interacting with a kid, so her “teacherness” came out more than usual. (And, no, she’s not a shape-shifter. You’ll see.)

    Ron’s cursing: This is a very complex question, which I’ll have to get into a some point. In brief, they (Jan and Marshall) are prioritizing, and cursing is not the highest priority.

    The “experiment” will become clearer, but yes, he’s talking about U-town.

    Interesting about the soldiers. I did have more description, including that they were Army uniforms, but I’m trying to stay within Ron’s viewpoint, and she wouldn’t know the difference. But when I read your comment, it occurred to me that I could describe that the soldiers are wearing combat fatigues, not dress uniforms. She’d be able to see that. I also had to edit the description of Terry’s clothes, since I’m sure Ron wouldn’t know what “cream-colored” meant.

    I also should have described the meeting room more back in Chapter Two. Having missed that opportunity, I didn’t want to do it here since basically this chapter takes place within about six feet of the couch. I’m going to describe it in Chapter Five, when there will be an actual meeting.

    The antagonist is a big question. The first draft didn’t have one, not a single one like you’re talking about, and it was kind of a lack. U-town (novel #2, the long one) had a real rat-bastard antagonist (and some other not-so-nice folks as well), and I think this one needs more of that. So, I had the idea of bringing the antagonist from Book #4 forward into this one. I just haven’t figured out how to do it. So far.

  3. sonje says:

    Well, you’ve got a lot of interesting characters here with interesting abilities. The town/city state/whatever is interesting too.

    I guess the one thing I have to say is that, by chapter 3 in a book, I expect not to be so in the dark about what is understood to be “normal” by the characters in the book. So if I’m reading a book where people have magical powers, and everyone knows about magical powers, then I expect to know about magical powers too, you know?

    Now, of course, it seems like Ron doesn’t know about the magical powers of her family, but this also seems odd to me. Even considering that Ron is a recent addition to the family, no one seems to be making any effort to cover up their powers, and they are such important figures in U-town, and Ron seems so worldly, that I don’t understand why she doesn’t know–or at least have some theory about these powers.

    Then there is U-town itself. You’ve mentioned Civics class repeatedly now, so Ron must know something about how U-town came to be. Even without Civics class, I expect a character like Ron to have figured out for herself how the city she lives in works. But *I* still don’t know what it is exactly, and at this point, I don’t see why I should be in the dark? Especially since I assume that readers who are familiar with your other books would know about U-town, so keeping a reader in the dark about it must not be essential to your plot.

    Many people frown on exposition, but exposition has its uses if it is used wisely.

    This is really the first chapter where I feel like I’m “missing something” that is necessary to my understanding and enjoyment of the story. But like I said at the top, you’ve got a lot of interesting ideas at work here!

  4. Sonje, thanks for the comments. You make some good points.

    About U-town itself, this is a really good point, and (fortunately) it has a very clear solution. Some of that information can come out in the conversation between Terry and Ron (they’re already heading in that direction, both with the “us” and “them” part, and also the part about Civics class. Terry could definitely (from her position of teacherly superiority) express her opinions, which Ron would then dispute.

    (I like it when you propose problems where the solution is pretty easy to figure out. :-) )

    I’ve been staying away from straight exposition in these chapters since I’m trying (not always entirely successfully, I know) to stay within Ron’s point of view, and she would not be lying there, injured, in the middle of some form of disaster, reviewing her Civics lessons. So, I think a much better solution is to get it into the dialogue, especially when it’s a pretty natural fit. And some more can come out in different ways in the next two chapters, also. I’ll keep that in mind.

    As for the “magical powers,” and what is understood as “normal,” it’s somewhat complicated. Vicki is well-known to everybody (she’s in charge, after all), and she’s obviously not normal, but people have grown to accept that. She is not forthcoming about how she got the way she is, and it’s not even clear if she knows the answer herself. She is not unfriendly, but she is not the sort of person who invites nosy questions.

    Except for the question of Vicki, the general idea of “normal” is pretty much like yours and mine. She’s just an anomaly, in people’s eyes.

    Jan’s abilities will not appear in the early chapters at all (the telepathic link between her and Ron is going to be dropped), except for her general premonition that there was a problem (and that’s not that magical — my mother has had a few of those which turned out to be right). And nobody knows about what Jan can do, except Marshall.

    Alex/Terry is not known at all. Nobody in U-town has even met her before now, except for Jan and Marshall. And she has been living quietly for some time as Alex, which will be brought out at some point. As has been hinted at a couple of times, one of her personas has done things which could get her in real trouble.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  5. Tiyana says:

    Hey, Anthony. Sorry I’m just now getting to leaving some comments! :(

    I like what’s developing here with the Alex/Terry character. (I get the feel this could be like a superhero instance of split personalities or something, especially after the description of the “tall, well-dressed woman in a bright yellow suit” and red hair coming in, lol.) That, along with the destruction of U-town and also why Ron is carrying mail are the most intriguing things in this story. So kudos on this!

    “[Ron] would not be lying there, injured, in the middle of some form of disaster, reviewing her Civics lessons.”

    I think this goes back to what Maggie brought up: right now the story is pretty short on worldbuilding (and I don’t just mean that in the sf/f sense because all stories have it), but this is the first draft, right? So it isn’t a huge issue. Just leaves you some room to play around with more of the material you’ve already developed in the dialogue and action descriptions.

    The fact that Ron has sat through Civics lessons and keeps bringing it up suggests that it’s influenced her somehow, so you could actually play with this to help bring in some more information about the world she inhabits. You’ve already begun giving us more insight into Ron’s thoughts about the people in her world. (“Definitely a teacher. She didn’t understand anything.”) Why not do this with her thoughts on the setting, as well? Maybe there were things she learned in Civics class which could correlate to her current experience below the rubble of U-town. This would be a perfect way to key us in on the character of the setting. (Sometimes it may help to view the setting as a character and not just background because it is an important player we aren’t experiencing a whole lot of at the moment.)

    Also, you said you are trying to focus less on exposition and more on Ron’s character, but really you can do both through Ron herself. If there are soldiers running around outside trying to break up the “experiment,” then they’ve got be making some kind of noise, unless we’re dealing with an elite stealth group, which to me doesn’t seem to be the case. (Would the people of U-town willingly submit, or would they protest the presence of the soldiers?)

    Perhaps Ron can hear a little of what’s going on out there from where she resides before they even arrive in the meeting room. She doesn’t necessarily have to come to the conclusion that she, in fact, hears “soldiers outside,” per se, but to be able to hear what’s going on the exterior (I’d think the town would be a bit chaotic at this point) just gives us a better picture of the situation.

    So my biggest suggestion it to just consider tuning the reader in through the full range of Ron’s senses, not just what she sees and hears right in front of her.

  6. Thanks for the comments, Tiyana. Very helpful, as usual.

    You’re the first person to point out the thing about the soldiers attracting attention as they go to the meeting room (and that was in the first draft pretty much as it is here, though resolved differently — and nobody ever spotted the problem). I’ll have to explain that. :-)

    What you’re talking about with Ron’s thoughts about civics and U-town and so on is coming in Chapter Five, when there’s going to be an actual meeting in the meeting room, which she is going to be listening to because she’s sort of stuck in the room. There will be a lot of catch-up then, both from the meeting itself and from her thoughts about it.

    And, yes, we’ll meet the redhead (strawberry blonde, actually, but Ron wouldn’t know the difference) in the yellow suit.

    But first, Chapter Four, which will be different (though it will also start to answer some of the questions about U-town, from a different angle).

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