Fail the First Time

One goal I hope to accomplish in 2008 is to write my first manuscript. I’ve discussed my strategy for reaching this goal in my previous article: Just Two Pages – Front and Back.

Don’t let the title of this article mislead you — I have been keeping up with my daily goal. For the past nine days, I’ve forced myself to fill two sheets of notebook paper in order to stay on top of this goal. Sometime later today, I’ll force myself to fill another two sheets which will bring me to a total of twenty pages for the first ten days of January.

So far, the physical act of writing has been a success:

Manuscript in Progress - Click to Enlarge

The part that I feel I’m failing at is the story. I’m making my characters do things that I haven’t personally experienced or taken the time to research — so the story could be unrealistic. I’m flying by the seat of my pants every time I sit down to write the next set of pages — so I have no idea of where the story intends to go. Last night, when I spent two hours typing out everything I had written up to this point (and simultaneously re-reading all that I wrote), I noticed how my manuscript is blatantly amateur.

The thing is, my intention for this manuscript was to write a manuscript. It was never my intention to write a best seller, to win a Pulitzer, or to even have the manuscript published. The entire purpose for successfully writing a first manuscript is to have the experience of writing it.

In other words, I’m writing for about one hour every day with the understanding that it is throwaway writing. The finished manuscript will not be my best work. It will have plot holes and worldly inaccuracies. It will have boring periods of nothingness. It will have characters that fail to come to life. In short, my first manuscript will be a failure.

I’m comfortable with that. The process of writing fiction is somewhat unnatural to me, but I’m working to get better at it. In order to get better at anything, you need to fail the first time.

Since a few readers said they’d love to see the manuscript, I’ve included all that I have so far below. Although some authors are incredibly protective — secretive, even — when it comes to the first drafts of their work, I’m choosing to let it all hang out. All I ask is that if you have something to say about it, be honest. If you hate it, please don’t tell me you love it.

Chapter 1

Sam Hopper read the numbers again. He always wrote them down on a piece of scrap paper this way, but now his own handwriting seemed foreign. 12 19 27 33 50. Lucky Bonus Number 13, as always. The difference was that this drawing, he won.

12 19 27 33 50 / 13. He Stared at the back of the grocery receipt he had picked up off his apartment floor after Local 4 aired the Tuesday MultiMillions Lotto Drawing. He looked back and forth from this receipt he had laid down on the ottoman by his knees and the ticket he held in his hand. The pen he had been holding dropped to the floor among the stale pretzel crumbs and loose manuscript pages.

12 19 27 33 50 / 13. It jumped off of his ticket from the groups of numbers like a glowing lightswitch on the wall of a darkened room.

“Holy shit,” he finally said. “Holy shit I won.”

The stresses of life disappeared instantly. Making rent was no longer a concern. Worrying about “making it” in the rat race of life seemed laughable. Sam had just succeeded in what so many people of different walks of life say is impossible: He won the lottery. Now, everyone who has ever told him that he was a fool to throw his money away at such an improbable gamble will feel incredible jealousy that he became rich with such incredible ease. He didn’t need to work his ass off for it. He just got into a routine and played out in his favor.

He made rules for himself. Oh yes, he’s had problems with gambling before, so he made up a strict set of rules where he could only play on certain occasions. Rule 1: Can’t play unless the pot is over 50 million. Rule 2: Can only play during one drawing a week — once on Tuesday, or once on Friday. Can’t do both. Rule 3: Can only play $5 each drawing, meaning five one-dollar tickets. This curbed his gambling problem to a point where it was manageable. In any given month, he’d spend at most $25 on lottery tickets — and that was completely forgivable.

It’s no more harmful than spending that sum on a nice dinner for himself at his favorite restaurant. $25 could buy a full rack of ribs, dripping with sauce and falling off the bone, sided with smashed potatoes, some slaw, a pop, and cover the tip. It seemed strange to think about that indulgent dinner,and how just this morning Sam would not have wanted to waste his money on it. That’s two-hundred and fifty pop bottles to collect, and that’s serious work to be spending it on rotting bananas. All those thoughts of saving didn’t matter anymore though.

Sam was filthy stinking rich, as they say. He had waited to play since last Tuesday, and was pleased to see nobody won during that drawing or Friday’s. He won, and maybe by winning he upset some other hopeful recovering gambling addict playing using the same rules that Sam uses. It does take a long time for that pot to grow above50 million. Sam knows.

“I should sign the back of this ticket,” Sam said aloud, expecting his empty apartment to agree with him. Wouldn’t it be the joke of the century if he didn’t, and then he called his pal Joe D., and Joe D. came over with a sawed off shotgun under his coat and plugged good old Sam with it, then signed it himself.

Maybe Joe D. shouldn’t be the first person to call, right? He’s my boy, but not the most trusting of friends.

Maybe friend isn’t the word to use to describe Joe D. anyway. Sam met him in the west wing of the local medical center when both of them were at wit’s end. Sam was 30 grand in the hole and Joe D. was telling the doctors he had a plan to kill himself.

But he confided the truth to me, he did. We were talking about how you couldn’t get discharged unless you acted like the doctors wanted you to, and at the time, I lived with Carla. I told Joe D. about how I missed her and asked if he missed anyone on the outside. He made a joke about missing his dogs — I still don’t know if he meant his pets or his peers — but then he said he still needed a few weeks to stay in hiding. I asked him what he meant when he realized he slipped up, but once he did that he seemed like he was anxious to tell me about it — almost as if he’d been itching to tell anyone about it.

He was in trouble with some people. He didn’t say who or for what, but I suspect it was drug related. I overheard his doctor threaten to take away his amphetamine prescription and he fell in line right away. So he got in trouble and felt like there must be a hit out for him. He checked into the personal injury prevention program at the emergency room. Some emergency. But Joe D. was proud.

“State’s got to give you treatment,” he said. “It’s the law. Don’t no matter if I can’t pay it or what I’ll be a hiding here for cheap as long as I need.”

He might’ve told me more during the few weeks we stayed around one another, but if so I forgot it. They doped us up full of so many different meds in that place you were lucky to maintain consciousness for one thing.

None of that mattered anymore. That was the old Sam, and he had successfully left that dark spot in his life behind him nearly a decade ago. Now, at age 42, he would start the next chapter of his life as a multimillionaire.

Where to start? Signing the back of the ticket.

He picked up his pen from the floor and turned the ticket over. He signed his full name — Samuel Horatio Hopper — on the line. He pulled out his empty billfold and tucked the ticket inside it.

Where to go from here?

He had already eaten dinner — if you can call a package of crackers with a side of pretzel sticks a meal — so maybe he should celebrate with a new pair of sneakers, or a new jacket. But Sam was getting ahead of himself. His wallet was empty. It was his strategy for lessening the amount of money he spent. Now that he had the winning ticket, he shouldn’t worry about that anymore.

The bank, he thought, or maybe said aloud to his apartment again. It would be closed by the time he rode his bike there but he could try the ATM. He’d need his card though.

He kept it in his “filing shoebox” with other valuables like his birth certificate and checkbook — another thing he purposely didn’t carry to make it difficult to spend money. Sam went to the bedroom (bed “area” would be more appropriate, since Sam rented only a studio apartment) and pulled out the bottom drawer of his dresser. He bent over to feel along its bottom, lifted it off its wooden track, pulled it entirely out and set it on the floor beside him. Stashed in the six inches of hollow space between the track and the floor was his shoebox.

He retrieved the ATM card and pulled out his billfold again. He was surprised when he checked to see if the ticket was still in there, added the ATM card to the section designed for plastic, and then checked to see if the ticket was still there a second time.

Finally with a plan in mind, he grabbed his winter coat off of the futon and stepped into his sneakers. he locked the door behind him and left for the bank.

Chapter 2

Carla Price had never had a worse workday. Or at least, that’s what she always thought whenever she had an uneventful day at work.

Her whole morning was “slow as hell” as her coworkers liked to say — and Carla always looked down on them for this comment because it made no sense. “Hot as hell” made sense — “Slow as hell” didn’t.

That didn’t make their description any less true, though. They had been slow, and the afternoon was just as slow as the morning. What was the point of anyone even coming into the call center on days like this? The company was just throwing its money away to put people in seats for eight hours. She felt that if she ran the company, she’d send half of her workers home on slow days like this. The office really only needed to be fully staffed during televised promotions or the Christmas season.

No matter. It was a paycheck, and that’s what she needed. That’s what everyone in this city needed.

6:06pm, she noticed. The line at the punch clock will be completely gone by now.

She turned off her computer, stood up, stretched,marveled at how exhausting a day of doing absolutely nothing could be, donned her coat and purse, and went to punch out. She held her card in place for another 30 seconds or so and punched her card at exactly 6:10.

It’s another few cents on my paycheck.

She turned off the lights to the office as she left, and took the elevator to the parking garage.

Chapter 3

Sam hated January. Every other month of the year it was enjoyable to cycle through the city — but January practically guaranteed snow. Sam was thinking he’d probably splurge for a scarf and some gloves in addition to shoes and a coat — and by the time he arrived at the bank, his frozen fingers were practically certain of it.

The bank was closed as expected. The lot, empty. He might’ve rode over the grass on another day but since the snow plows had built a tall snow mountain while clearing the lot, he entered using the driveway. He leaned his bike against the ATM enclosure and pulled out his billfold.

After checking to make sure the ticket was still in it, he removed the card, checked once more, smiled, and entered the ATM box.

Enter Pin Number: 1313.

Primary Checking.



Sam thought a moment before entering $130.00 using the keypad.

That’s most of it, he thought.

Balance with your receipt? Yes.

It will be interesting to know just how poor I was on the day I became rich.

Processing. Take Bills and Receipt. Another Transaction? No.

Please remove card. Have a nice day!

I plan to, Sam said aloud.

He carefully put the wad of cash in his billfold, checked for the ticket, and glanced at his receipt.

Withdrawal: $130
Remaining Balance: $11.22

$130 would be more than enough for the few items he intended to get tonight. Where to get them? He’d been so tight with money for so long he’d forgotten that there were so many options for clothing. Typically, he bought what he could get for cheap at the local GOOD WILL. In fact, that’s where he first met Carla.

It was halloween ten years ago, and she had picked out this vinyl piece of nasty off the rack and he couldn’t help but chuckle at her interest in it. She turned to him and asked “Are you laughing at me, sir?”

Nobody had ever addressed him so formally before, and nobody had ever caused him to stop laughing so quickly before either. She didn’t like it when people thought poorly of her, even if it was a stranger. And she obviously wasn’t shy. She came out and said what was on her mind — let him know he was being rude. Didn’t let him get away with it. Didn’t let him get away with any bullshit for as long as he knew her.

“I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry.”

It was the very first thing he’d ever said to her and it became commonplace to say it whenever he did something stupid around her. She was a bitch, and he liked that about her. Somehow, it made her more real.

She didn’t feel the need to explain herself to him, she just went about looking through the items on the rack. It was always so hard to find things at GOOD WILL because they arranged clothes by color — not by size. he asked her “Is that for someone?”

“No, it’s for me.”

“It’s much too large for you — and it’s vinyl, from an era that is no longer fashionable. That’s why I laughed. I wasn’t laughing at you.”

“You were, even if you say you werne’t, you were. You just feel bad about it now cause I called you out on it. That was rude.”

“Well will you tell me why you’re considering buying it, at least?”

“Hellooooo, it’s Halloween in five days, and I plan on making a costume.”

“Oh so you’re going trick or treating as someone with an awful fashion sense?” It was his best attempt at being flirtatious.

“Yes. Now leave me alone.”

Sam’s joking smile faded. He razzed her, and she told him to go fuck himself, in so many words. He thought he was in love. This young girl was impossible, and it attracted him to her. He was in deep shit with her for giving her a hard time when she was already irritated — almost as if they were already lovers.

But that was a different time. A time when he was into her and she kind of liked being wanted by an older man. A time when she didn’t know he was dirt poor. A time when he was determined to stick it to her. Sam wondered what she’d think of him if she heard he’d won the MultiMillions Jackpot. All five numbers plus the Bonus — Unlucky 13. She might come back to him. Did that make him feel good? Not so much. If she came back to him now it wouldn’t be because of him, it would be because of the money. That would suck.

So where the fuck do you shop when money is no object? Well, let’s not get ahead of yourself again now Sam. You have some cash now, but it’s still a finite amount. Don’t go too crazy. This is just an exercise you’re doing for the novelty of it. You aren’t doing it for any other reason except that you can, when you previously couldn’t. And because you expect it to feel good — like a first stage of a metamorphosis into a different person. A person who can afford whatever the fuck he wants without thinking “That’s SO many bottle returns.” That’s the old Samuel Hopper. The deadbeat who barely had two nickels to rub together, who bought all of his closes for one dollar or less at the local GOOD WILL, who couldn’t survive if it weren’t for welfare. Well I’ll tell you something, that old Sam’s gone and experienced a goddamned miracle. He can afford to buy a brand new set of clothes from a department store — a brand new suit if he wanted. No more hand me downs with sweat stains or worn soles or busted stitchings — brand fucking new.

He supposed the best place to go would be across town to the Commons. There were a bunch of shops where the middle class kids liked to spend their Friday nights running around between all of them barely capable of carrying all their shopping bags. He never resented these kids for having more than him, but he never related to them either. Maybe soon he would.

He hopped onto his bike and headed in the direction of the Commons, once again happy that he knew what his next step in the plan was. Ironically, on his way he’d have an idea that would cause him to be uncharacteristically spontaneous — demonstrating just how quickly his metamorphosis had taken hold of him.

Chapter 4

Carla Price began her 30 minute commute home. She would have liked to listen to something other than the drone of her Neon’s engine and the wiping of her wipers in the snow, but the radio hadn’t worked since she bout it off Carversville Auto’s lot. Of all the things her father recommended she check when purchasing a used vehicle, the strangely obvious thing he failed to mention (and she consequently failed to check) was whether or not the radio worked. After realizing she didn’t get reception from the player, Carla thought she would try the tape deck. In an era where CDs were the norm and owning tapes was laughable, she checked out a book on tape from the library. As the penultimate “fuck you” from her Neon’s radio unit, it immediately ate the library’s copy of H.G. Well’s classic “The Time Traveler” — a pity because Carla had always wanted to read that but never found the time to. And after having to pay $34.99 to the library for a replacement, chances are she would never want to read it for the rest of her life out of bitterness. So she drove her entire trip listening to the drone of the engine, allowing it to lull her into that hypnotic state where you’re aware that you’re driving but more focused on your thinking — a state of being with which anyone who has ever had a daily commute is familiar.

She was glad the day was over with. She never wanted her life to be reduced to such a deliberate routine — wake, work, bah, sleep, repeat — but that’s what it had become. She never wanted to work in an office. As a college student she remembers saying it out loud to her family whenever she visited during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

“I will never work in an office.”

She was going to school for art and imagined her grown self selling personal works in her own gallery. On her 30th birthday she realized she really didn’t pull that off, or even get close for that matter.

Fuck, when was the last time I even painted anything? “Display my works in my own art gallery” is one piss-poor choice for a to-do before turning 30 when you stop painting immediately after leaving the classroom.

She supposed that she would probably have done a lot more painting if she had the space, but she lived with someone. Asking your flatmate to “Mind the easel,” when it would most likely be in the common room where the sleeper sofa was would be a dumb thing to ask — akin to him asking her if the bathroom could double as his recording studio.

She liked Ken, he was good to keep around for when she felt hot, he was always up for a late night fucking and he was good about protection. Better than any of the boys she had ever gone with that had said they loved her.

But Ken wasn’t dating material. He had ambition, but he lived in his own world where he was convinced someone would knock on the door one day and offer him a label. It ishis fantasy that he’s certain will happen, but never works towards. So he sings in a band that plays a few venues for cash. Nothing spectacular, but he helps afford her rent — and she knows that without Ken, she’d be back with Sam.

Why did her thoughts always work their way back to him this way? Sam’s gone. She told him he was putting a ceiling on her potential for life, and she didn’t want to be held back anymore by a societal loser like him. If she though Ken lacked “sticktoitiveness,” then fuck, Sam made Ken look like America’s finest entrepreneur.

While she was with him, she liked the way she felt, though. She wasn’t sure if it was something she would call “love,” because she was never really attracted to him – but since he was so into her it made her feel good to have him nearby. Sam was so determined to get on her good side no matter how poorly she treated him. She could do no wrong in his eyes. He told her that she was the most beautiful woman that he’d ever seen, and it was the fact he used the word “woman” instead of “girl” that melted her. He was over ten years her senior, yet he still regarded her as a woman. Respect, is what it was, she knew it. It was what every other boy she had been with had been incapable of giving her, and with Sam, she took out all of her misdirected anger from previous boys with no consequences. He just kept on loving her and telling her how beautiful she was, and she could tell him to go fuck himself and he’d obey. It was a powerful feeling, having such control over him. Almost like the sensation of penetration, except better because Carla was wielding the penis.

Chapter 5

Sam estimated that he could shave ten minutes off of his ride if the church’s back gate was open. He’d risk losing five minutes if it trapped him at a dead end, but Sam liked to play against poor odds. It worked for him once already tonight, why not keep gambling?

He steered his bike into the church lot and rode diagonally across the painted parking spaces. If it were Christmas Eve, he’d have to ride in a straight line because the lot would be full up — and in that case, he’d know for certain that the rear entrance was open.

On a Tuesday evening in January, however, there’s no telling whether or not that gate was closed utnil he got there. He wondered who it was that even operated the gate, and for what reason.

There was a gate in the back to prevent people from coming in off Starks Avenue but there was no gate in the front, meaning that one could always come in off of Hampton Boulevard. So the gate couldn’t be there to keep people off the church property, because to serve that purpose, there would also have to be a gate in the front.

The more Sam thought about it, the less sense it made — and the more irritated he became as to why there was a back gate in the first place. He was coming up on the last stretch of road now, the long driveway beyond the church leading up to Starks Avenue. He saw, frustrated, that the gate was indeed closed.

Fuck, he thought. What’s the point? If whoever designed the gate intended it to keep people off of the property, it wasn’t working very well. If Sam turned around to leave, he’d spend twice as much time on the property than he wanted to. And it’s not like he was on the property to cause trouble — he wasn’t planning on setting off illegal fireworks in the middle of the lot like some of the local kids enjoyed doing on the Fourth — he just wanted to take a shortcut over some nice pavement.

Like most of the things he owned, Sam had gotten his bike from the GOOD WILL store and its former owner wore the seat so thin Sam’s ass felt every imperfection in the roads as plain as could be. The smooth surface of the church’s pavement was a refreshing change from the city roads and sidewalks.

Sam thought that he might as well turn around now, and so he did. The gate was easily ten feet tall and though a younger Sam might’ve thought tossing a bike over a ten foot tall gate and then climbing a chain link fence after it would have been an ordinary solution to a minor obstacle such as a stupidly placed gate, Sam was 42 and such an idea had been considered impossible for well over a decade. He completed his U-turn and felt a little glad that he would spend more time riding on the smooth blacktop. Much to Sam’s surprise, he now noticed someone exiting the church.

An older woman left the side double doors, took three steps down the walk, marched across the lot and got into the only car in it. Sam was still staring at her as she drove away.

He had never been much of a churchgoer and didn’t realize the church doors would even be open on a weeknight. Unsure of his motives, Sam rode up to the side door and got off of his bike. He propped it against a hedge still partially concealed by snow, and walked to the doors the woman had exited.

Maybe she had keys. Maybe she worked there, doing cleaning one evening a week. That would’ve meant she would have been carrying some supplies out with her, right?

He wasn’t sure why he cared. But he had reached the doors and gave the tall vertical handle a pull. It opened, and Sam entered.

Chapter 6

Carla was stopped at a T-junction — the last stop sign of her commute home. As always, she looked left to see if any cars were coming as she turned on her right blinker. She began to roll forward as she let her foot off the brake and moved it to the accelerator. She turned the wheel using the hand-over-hand method her father had taught her when she was first learning, and depressed the pedal. Her car accelerated rapidly into a teenager, immediately knocking him off of his bike and onto the Neon’s windshield and hood. Carla stomped on her brake with both feet as her car stopped abruptly, only halfway through the turn that would forever haunt Carla’s dreams. She didn’t think she was going very fast at all, but she could see clearly that the teenager’s lap looked like it had spun completely around — and found a new home directly below his back.

Chapter 7

Sam hadn’t been inside a church since he was seventeen. His mother made him go even though she herself did not — a textbook example of the old adage “Do as I say and not as I do.” When he turned eighteen, his mother let him decide whether or not he should continue to go, and, in a pure act of defiance, he stopped going.

It wasn’t about his beliefs or his faith — it never was. It was always about his mother’s power to punish him if he didn’t go. So he went until she stopped caring whether or not he went, and now the memories came rushing back. The fear he experienced as a youngster entering a building with tall stained glass windows and high ceilings, both of which made him feel even more minuscule than he already was. The way his sneakers squealed on the marble with every step and how the sound seemed to resonate throughout the entire church while he hurried to find a seat. He was convinced that everyone who turned to their neighbor to whisper something was talking about him — the young boy who came to church completely alone. Who was he? Where were his parents? What’s his story? Sam was surprised to feel his heart rate quicken as he reached to dip his hand into the Holy Water basin just inside the door. That was a lifetime ago — he had no reason to fear this building anymore. This thought was further comforted by the fact that the basins were different than the ones in the church from his childhood. Each of those basins had a browning sponge in them — maybe to prevent evaporation and lessen the number of times they required refilling. Touching those vile sponges and then immediately touching your face was unpleasant.

He rose his wet fingers to his forehead. The Father. He dropped them to the center of his chest. The son. Left shoulder. And the. Right shoulder. Holy Ghost. The left shoulder definitely got the shaft out of that arrangement, didn’t it?

Sam chuckled to himself as he proceeded around a corner and into the main “area.”

Was there even a name for this room?

Sam was convinced that there must be, and maybe at one point in his life he knew it — but twenty some years without even the faintest interest in attending church might’ve caused him to forget. What was he doing here now anyway? Had he truly just walked into a church for the first time since he turned legal just because he saw an elderly woman walk out of it, and he was surprised it was open? Had he just been curious, and wanted to determine whether or not the church doors had locked behind her? Or was there something bothering him about his recent change of luck?

Sam immediately pulled out his billfold and checked for the signed ticket. It was there, tucked between the leather and the first twenty in a group of bills totaling $130. He pulled out his only ten, shoved it into his coat pocket, and returned the billfold to the back pocket of his jeans. He entered the pew nearest to the altar and sat down. The church was seemingly empty, so Sam felt no need to kneel down for appearances sake. He unzipped his jacket and closed his eyes.

What are you doing Sam? Why are you here? Do you even know yourself, or have you forgotten?

He wished that he had indeed forgotten about the prayer he made the night that he bought the winning ticket. Sam had gambled a lot, and he had said a lot of silly prayers that went hand in hand with his gambling addiction.

If I win with this ticket, Lord, I’ll tell the world that I prayed to you and you delivered. If I win this hand, Lord, then I’ll cash out my winnings and be satisfied with breaking even on the night. If you drop the ball on number 13 this spin, Lord, then I’ll have enough for a plane ticket out of Vegas. If you save me, Lord, then I’ll give up gambling for good, for forever, for eternity.

None of these prayers were answered. Or at least, he didn’t remember any of the times that they were. Like most gambling addicts, Sam had no trouble remembering (with explicit clarity and detail) the numerous times where he had gambled big and lost, but had few recollections of the times where he gambled and won. It was possible that the Lord answered some of Sam’s pleas, and he recognized that it was highly probable that he simply took his winnings and forgot about his end of the bargain.

Regrettably, he didn’t think he would ever forget the circumstances surrounding the purchase of the winning ticket. Partly because he went from broke to multimillionaire in a single evening, but mostly because of the prayer Sam said while the dollar store clerk punched his numbers into the register.

This time, Sam wasn’t reaching out to the Lord. This time, Sam wasn’t kidding himself as he thought of a silly request that would probably never came true. This time, Sam genuinely prayed to the Devil, asking for his numbers to win the jackpot. In exchange, he offered up his eternal soul.

Chapter 8

Carla heard screaming. She looked around in a panic to find out where the screams came from but saw no one. It was at that moment that she realized she herself was the one screaming.

She wanted to get out of the T-junction to stop her car from blocking the street, but the thought of the boy sliding off the hood of her car and being crushed to death underneath it paralyzed her. She knew that she needed to call for help, because she didn’t want to look at the boy.

Insurance. She had no insurance. She had been driving without it because she didn’t think she could afford it, and believed she could afford to live without it.

I’ll just drive extra careful, she thought. I’ll just drive the speed limit, and avoid getting pulled over — and it’s not like I’m a bad driver. I’ve never even been in an accident.

Her ears felt hot. She was never in an accident because she thought that other people followed the rules of the road, for the most part. All it took was one kid on a bike riding down the left sidewalk instead of the right to totally fuck up that plan. She never looked right before making right hand turns — only left, to make sure traffic was clear. She had barely put her foot on the accelerator before her eyes were back on the road, looking at where she was going. It was a split-second, but fuck, it was certainly enough to redesign this kid’s skeleton.

Fuck, he could even be dead. He would certainly die if she didn’t call for help. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed 9-1-1. Her finger hovered above the SEND button. If she called for help, she’d probably lose her license. Driving without insurance and killing some kid on a bike practically guaranteed that.

The other option was to run, and probably get caught, lose her license anyway but also risk going to jail for hit-and-run vehicular manslaughter.

“Fuck fuck fuck! I was almost home!” she shouted as she pressed SEND.

Chapter 9

Sam imagined the folk tales you sometimes heard about people who made a pact with the Devil. In those stories, it was always clear cut for the person who so foolishly chose to sell their soul. The person announces how they would literally sell their soul if they could only (some improbable dream). Then the Devil appears, in any form he believes to be advantageous, tempts them with a previous of what their life could be like if they gave up their soul, then takes the preview away leaving the victim wanting it back. They want to experience it again and the Devil whips out a contract — all of this can be yours again for the low low price of your soul, just sign on the line.

For same, there was no physical appearance from a devil in disguise. It wasn’t a voice in his head that he heard, nor did the terms of the contract ever get discussed in a dream. It simply happened. He was standing in line, thinking of how desperately he wanted to win, when he admitted in his own thoughts that he’d most certainly sell his soul in order to win the lottery. His thought process was completely unplanned, and he didn’t vocalize his intention to trade away his soul — but he was convinced that he had.

Never before had he won so big, and it happened the first time he ever had such a thought. Now he found himself sitting in a church, confused, worried, and believing that Satan was real. Sam hadn’t seen him, talked to him, or signed a contract for him, but he made a silent prayer and Satan jumped at the opportunity.

What if he prayed for Satan to show himself now? Could he be reasoned with? What if Sam just burned the ticket instead? What was the fine print?

He remembered specifically asking for his numbers to be drawn, not for the cash — so technically, the Devil already paid up his half of the bargain.

Does that mean I have no soul at this very moment — and how does one even tell? You can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and ask if your soul is still intact. What with my medical history of being hospitalized once already, something like that would most certainly be grounds for permanent institutionalization. Fucking hell Sam, what happened here? Yesterday you had no interest in God or Satan or any other religious bullshit! You were in control of your own life! Now, you’re like a frightened child afraid of the dark. You just won the lottery and you’re spoiling the experience because you’re paranoid about one stupid prayer. You should be excited, not frightened. The church doors didn’t burn your hands off when you touched them, did they? The holy water didn’t react to your skin as if it were boiling acid, did it? What the fuck are you afraid of? Are you that sure your soul has been removed from your body?

He felt sweat run off of his eyebrows and sting his eyes. When he opened them, he was surprised to find that he was kneeling. He didn’t remember doing that on his own accord.

Chapter 10

“Thank you,” Carla said before finally hanging up her phone. It was the first time she’d ever called 9-1-1 and she was surprised at how matter-of-factly she could admit that she thought she just killed a kid with her car.

When the woman on the line suggested Carla get out of her car to assess the situation, she admitted she was afraid to — and the woman was surprisingly empathetic.

“Help is on the way,” she said.

If it were a busier intersection, Carla was certain that help wouldn’t arrive before passing cars started stopping to investigate. This particular one was relatively unpopular, being that it was in the armpit of the city. She imagined that the industrial workers that filled up the workplaces along these streets had been home for hours, and the only people who might head in this direction would be the foreigners who inhabited what seemed like her whole apartment complex, her roommate Ken, or the paramedics.

She suddenly realized there was a good chance that the kid she just killed belonged to one of the foreign couples in her building. They never took advantage of the public park a few miles away — they always played in the parking lot like it was fucking Great Adventure. Fucking hell, if it was one their kids then Carla and Ken would have to say goodbye to their apartment — which would be a shame, since water and heat was included in their rent payment.

What a selfish thought, Carla. You just killed a kid and all you can think about is how it negatively affects you. You can’t even be bothered to step out of your car to check and see if the poor kid is still breathing!

She felt that her legs were starting to cramp and realized that the Neon was still running, in gear, and both her feet were still forcing down hard on the brake. She put her car in park and shut off the engine. She forced her legs to relax, felt the pins and needles dance along the soles of her feet, and began to cry.

“Help is on the way,” she assured herself.

Chapter 11

Sam took the ten dollar bill from his coat pocket and forced it through the thin slot of the donation bow before rushing out of the church. He knew that giving ten dollars to “God” wouldn’t make up for what he’d done, but it made him feel a little better — he took comfort in the fact that the donation box also hadn’t burned his hands off.

He mounted his bike and started heading in the direction of home. he had lost all interest in doing any unnecessary shopping tonight. He’d stop at CVS, find something that might help him sleep, and then restart tomorrow morning. Maybe he was just experiencing another anxiety attack. He would take something, get some rest, look back on tonight’s events tomorrow and have a good laugh. He pedaled faster.

Chapter 12

The police dispatch and the ambulance arrived on the scene at the same time. The paramedics removed the kid from the hood of Carla’s Neon and went to work on him. His red “Earth Cruiser” laid ignored below Carla’s front bumper — one of its pedals was pushed completely through the spokes of its front tire. Officer Doherty filled out her report based on Carla’s answers to her questions.

Carla appreciated the fact that officer Doherty wasn’t a stereotypical cop. She expected a big, condescending prick of a man would come give her a hard time about the accident, immediately asking her if she’d been drinking (Are you serious? On a Tuesday?) . Instead, officer Doherty was a short-statured young woman who had the sense to see that Carla was shaken, and therefore focused more on helping her relax than anything else.

“Are you alright?” was the first thing she asked. When Carla replied “I think so,” Doherty confirmed “You don’t need medical attention? Just a little shaken up?”

Carla nodded. “A little shaken up, that’s all.”

“Can I see your driver’s license please?”

No insurance. She hadn’t asked for your insurance yet. She just wants to find out who you are and what happened.

Carla retrieved her purse from the passenger’s side floor — must’ve been thrown from the seat when I stood on the brakes — and found her wallet. She removed her license and handed it to officer Doherty through the window.

“Okay Ms. Price, I’ll be asking you a few questions for my report. You’re not in trouble here — you’ve had an accident and you stayed at the scene like you should have. I’m not going to ask you to step out of your vehicle to answer them because in my experience, motorists sometimes faint when recalling the details of the accident. I may, however, ask you to move your car if my backup doesn’t arrive soon — he’s supposed to be here to help direct traffic, not like there’s much of it right now.”

Carla forced a small grin and nodded to indicate she understood.

“Can you tell me what happened here?”

Carla took a breath and began. “I was on my way home from work. I looked left, made sure no one was coming from that direction, and then started turning right. By the time I turned my head in that direction, I had hit that boy. Knocked him off of his bike. He landed on my car and he looked like he was broken.”

She paused there for a second, remembering how it looked like the boys lap was below his back. She started to cry again.

“So you’re right up the road here? Fourteen East Maynard Number 301?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Carla said. Yes, I was almost home.

“Did you call 9-1-1 immediately after hitting the boy?”

“Yes. Barely remember what I said on the phone but the woman I talked to said she’d send help. Then I just waited and both you and the ambulance showed up at the same time.” She thought about how it had only been a few minutes to wait but it seemed a lot longer. She spent those minutes staring at the digital clock on her cell phone, because she wouldn’t dare look at the broken boy.

“Thank you, Ms. Price. Like I’ve already told you, you’re not in any trouble here until we determine who is at fault. I’m going to check with the paramedics now to see if the boy had any identification on him. Most around his age don’t have a real ID, but carry cell phones. We’ll see if we get lucky with this one. Do you feel comfortable moving your car to the side of the road over there?”

Doherty gestured to a spot on the road as another police car arrived on the scene.

“Yes, I can do that,” Carla said.

“Thank you. I still have your license. Once you’re parked, jsut wait in the car and I’ll be back with you as soon as I can.”

Doherty hurried across the street to the other patrol car, said something quickly, then darted over to the two paramedics. They already had the boy on a stretcher and loaded into the ambulance. When Carla had finished moving her car, she waited as instructed. She watched Doherty in her mirrors for a little while, and began feeling faint when she saw her reach into the boys pocket and fumble around, hoping for a phone. She adjusted her seat and fell asleep.

Lucky 13

Sam wasn’t used to the jingling of change in his pockets. He had bought some Nyquil at the CVS. When he looked at the package he laughed because it was basically booze. “Puts you to sleep so well cause you’re passed out drunk,” he said to the empty pharmacy aisle.

He had paid for the nighttime drowsy whatever whatever rest so you can have a good morning medicine with one of his twenties, checked to see if his ticket was still there — doing so no longer provided him comfort — and checked out with the clerk. He slid the holes of the tiny plastic bag around the handlebars of his bike and then pedaled home.

The idea of trying to go to sleep before 8pm seemed ludicrous but at the same time the escape of sleep sounded so wonderful.

Once home, he locked the door behind him and immediately unwrapped the box to get at the bottle inside. He drank the proper adult dosage and stripped out of his clothes. This time of the year the backs of his pant legs always got a little damp from the snow run-off and he hated the feeling of water slowly seeping into his socks.

He then remembered there were valuable things in his billfold — a fact he wasn’t at all used to. He retrieved the billfold from his crumpled pants on the floor, leaving the spare change. He repeated the ritual of removing his bottom dresser drawer to get his shoebox, and then deposited the entire billfold — 100 some odd dollars, his ATM card, and the MultiMillion dollar winning lottery ticket — inside.

He leaped into his futon, pulled his sleeping back up to his chin, and eagerly awaited unconsciousness.

Chapter 14

Carla hadn’t dreamt of Sam in years. yet there he was, smiling that helpless smile at her.

“I still love you. I’ll love you no matter what — every day until forever. This changes nothing.”

“But I killed someone Sam. Ran the fucking kid over with my two-ton death machine.”

“You always were a drama queen. It was an accident baby — it could happen to anyone. But I know you’re upset, and I’m here now. Sam’s here now.”

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23 Responses to “Fail the First Time”

#1 Dalia on 10, Jan, 2008 at 12:09 pm

I haven’t read the manuscript yet, only the post itself, but either way – I believe in you.

#2 Bibi on 10, Jan, 2008 at 12:23 pm

It sounds like you are leaning towards a mystery, I enjoy reading mysteries. So far so good. I was wondering did you want chapter 13 to be titled Lucky 13, as you did? Spelling error in chapter 9, 3rd paragraph, 7th word. In chapter 1 you mentioned that Sam was 42 and later on you mention it again, was that intentional? The format would look better if you had the even margins on both sides, some words may stretch, but it looks nicer. Keep on writing.

#3 Heywood on 10, Jan, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Sucks. Stick to nonfiction.

#4 Bibi on 10, Jan, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Oh, yea, I forgot to mention that I don’t enjoy reading all the f… and sh…words in any book. You can turn a lot of people off with that kind of language.

#5 Patrick on 10, Jan, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Decent start for the rough draft of your first manuscript. I enjoyed the read and hope you continue to post as you add to it.

#6 Jinno on 10, Jan, 2008 at 7:01 pm

My only real problem with it is length. If you intend for this to be a full manuscript, and you’re already 13 chapters in at only 20 pages, that’s a little low count. I think you should probably have started by making an outline of what you wanted the story to detail, plot-wise, start to finish, and then established chapters by each event that would lead up to that conclusion. It would probably also help you with your feeling that you don’t know where your own story is going.

#7 Shaun Boyd on 10, Jan, 2008 at 7:27 pm

I agree with you. When numbering the chapters I realized that at this rate, I’d have 300 chapters by page 400. I’m glad that someone else had the same thought. Thanks as always for your constructive comments.

#8 Lauren on 10, Jan, 2008 at 9:31 pm

I kinda like all the chapters. Some of my favorite books are broken up into small parts , not necessarily numerated chapters, but definitely broken into sections like that.

#9 gemz on 11, Jan, 2008 at 5:28 am

awesome, keep it coming.
while reading I assumed that Sam was gonna lose his ticket or something:)
…waiting for the next chapter:)

#10 daily progress | Great for news on 11, Jan, 2008 at 10:34 pm

[…] Fail the First Time […]

#11 emma on 12, Jan, 2008 at 12:26 am

I found it interesting, and wanted to read more at the end, so to me that’s a good start.

I agree with Lauren, small chapters or parts are great, and I find them easier to read in bed than 20+ page chapters!

Good Luck with the rest of the manuscript, I look forward to reading more.

#12 James Urquhart on 12, Jan, 2008 at 10:06 am

Kind of reminds me when i writ a little book in primary school. At the time i thought it was great, but looking at it now i find it was rather silly and incomprehensible. About 12 pages, a “chapter” for each, and about half the page filled up with writing.

Still, i thought your little manuscript was an interesting read. 🙂

#13 Lisa on 13, Jan, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Today is the first time I’ve read your blog. Your writing is very interesting. About your manuscript – as I read your entry about writing two pages, well it occurred to me that it might be interesting to write a book by “committee” or some such nonsense. Not literally committee, but when you commented that you were writing about things you haven’t actually experienced, the idea or inspiration came to me of a collaborative effort, where different writers contributed as characters, each one writing about their own individual and genuine experiences. I haven’t really thought this through but I wanted to share the idea.

#14 JJ on 16, Jan, 2008 at 1:52 am

I read the first two chapters. I’m entertained so far. I have no complaints or anything to suggest as of yet.

I just finished a book called 1st to Die by James Patterson. It’s the first book for the Women’s Murder Club series. 462 pages with 126 chapters. I mention that because his chapters were as short as 2 pages a chapter and as long as 5 pages. But his chapters changed every time there was either a character change or a change of thought.

Just thought you might want to know that it’s not horrible to have many chapters, as long as you have a purpose.

Good so far. I plan on reading the rest and having an opinion should there be something that bugs me. =P

Oh and good site too. Enjoyable.

#15 David Bradley on 21, Jan, 2008 at 9:53 am

Great story so far. I would not abandon it. There are ways to reduce chapters. Stephen King has chapters and then sub chapters in the Dark Tower series.

Or if you like Frank Herbert (DUNE), just puts a couple of lines between paragraphs. FH jumps all over the place but the story is still very cohesive.

#16 tony on 23, Jan, 2008 at 4:17 am

Just the fact the you have actually started is more than a majority of people can say. Except for the f** & s** which don’t have to be included to make a good story and turn some people off I was interested in the story and the characters and want to read some more. You’ve got real talent.

#17 Bo Stenberg on 13, Apr, 2008 at 4:46 pm

As a first draft, surprisingly good. Most importantly, not boring. Problems, yes. Boring, no.

You can fix this up. Cut. Rewrite. Paste.

With a bad first draft, there’s no hope. But this is a pretty good story….

I suggest you let it sit a bit after the draft is finished. Come back and have a look at it in the cold light of day. Getting the draft DONE is a great idea.

The Working Dead at the publishing houses have preconceived ideas based upon lifetimes playing Solitaire. Don’t even give them a second thought. Run it on the net, after it’s done–if necessary. They will fall into lockstep all in due course. Just like they always do.

I’d buy it–cleaned up. And I’m a snob.

For cold, clear prose, see in particular The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

#18 Cordell on 15, Apr, 2008 at 3:55 am

I liked it, but where’s it going? and i like the idea of two pages a day. i think i’ll try it.

#19 Mark on 25, Jul, 2008 at 9:54 am

I really like it – it’s got good attention to detail and it’s interesting.

The “thoughts” (that you italicize) are sometimes distracting. Careful with that. They can disrupt the flow too much and then I’ll lose interest or the story will get too complicated.

Not sure where the lottery ticket winning thing is going, but it would be important that i’s not something too predictable: he gets hit by a car, his wallet gets stolen, he read the winning numbers wrong, etc.

All in all, very promising!

#20 Stacy on 25, Jan, 2009 at 2:24 pm

hey i was wondering if you finished the book yet it seems good so far what i read, keep it up your great

#21 kath on 14, Apr, 2009 at 2:38 am

hi! honestly,i love your manuscript,and i’m looking forward for the next chapters.
for me it’s not a failure.
keep it up!

#22 Bill on 07, Feb, 2011 at 5:22 am

I really enjoyed this. It provoked emotional response, which isn’t always easy with me. I hope you keep writing fiction.

#23 JustJen on 10, Aug, 2012 at 10:56 pm

I have to say that I currently work in a call center but was an Art Major at one time….characters are highly relatable and found myself wanting to read more. Don’t mind the language but by making both mentally converse with it so much, I find each loosing their individual flare:O) Wondering when he realizes the ticket was in with the 10$:O)

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