Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Beginning 361

The amusement park springs to life. Flashing lights tease, begging me to look. Bells and horns. Toy rifles popping off at metal ducks. Balls hitting bottles. Coins bouncing off plates. Squeals of delighted fear as the swings swish by overhead. The sounds fill my ears. And the smells – sawdust under our feet, hot dirty oil of the rides, competing aromas of popcorn and cotton candy, blending into a peculiar lure my stomach isn’t sure it wants.

Dad gives me a slow, brown-eyed wink. Smiling, he points at the cotton candy. I nod. One quick jerk. Can’t be too excited. That’s not cool. He squeezes my shoulder as we head over to where colored sugar is spun into a cloud on a white paper stick. Grinning, he holds it high overhead. The little girl game. I’m too old to play, but I smile. He smiles back and takes a big teasing bite. Pink fluff speckles his black mustache, clings to the stubble on his chin. A wet drop of dark pink leaps from the corner of his mouth, disappears into the sawdust to be trampled by the crowd.

The last fleeting spasms of ecstasy are shooting through me when a tinny voice crackles, "Time's up. How was it?"

The amusement park winks out as I remove the VR goggles. "Close," I reply. "Real close, Frankie." I'm careful not to disconnect any of the sensors attached to my naked body. "Maybe something a little edgier. Not so much sawdust. And I'd rather be the dad. Can you do that? Better yet, uncle. Make me the uncle. And change the little girl to a boy. Swedish—no, California surfer. Licking a cherry Popsicle."

I close my eyes and replay the last scene in my head. It was all so real. My hands still feel sticky, like they actually had cotton can—

"Oh, and Frankie? I'm gonna need another towel."

Opening: Sarah.....Continuation: blogless_troll


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

I jolt awake, the dream resonating across my fevered, sweat soaked flesh. Deep beneeth the starved bone of my ribcage, my heart palpitates. I have to look. I have to know. At what point did my Dad start looking like Ron Jeremy the porn star?


Dad grins and his teeth and gums are deep pink and he looks like a crown. I giggle, then remember I'm not a little girl anymore. He takes my arm and leads me to the tent where a barker promises the show of a lifetime. Dad pays and we wander in and marvel at the tatooed boy and the wolfman and the walrus woman.

We pause in front of the bearded lady and she looks down at me and smiles through her think, curly face hair. "Enjoying the show, honey?" she says, her voice sweet as a candy apple. I blush and stare at the dirt floor. The other customers are watching me now. I hate that; I'm angry now. They should have told me mom was working here. I scratch my stubble and eye the exit and hope they'll let me out this time...


"Dad, are we done playing the little girl game? People are staring at me. I want to go home."

Before I hit puberty nobody ever looked twice, but now that I'm fifteen I look a bit odd in a sundress, especially with the hairy legs.

"You know the rules," Dad says, pulling me toward the ferris wheel. "The little girl game lasts until midnight on the day of Angelica's birthday."

Angelica. My older sister. The favorite. She died before I was born. My parents got pregnant a year after her death, trying to create Angelica Version 2.0. Imagine their disappointment when I turned out to be a boy.


I take the cotton candy and lose myself in its sugary softness. We drift over to the sideshows. There's a waxworks and a House of Horror and a rip off of Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Dad nods to this last one and grins. I shrug and follow him in, sure it'll be lame.

We wander through the exhibits and laugh at the fish with a monkey's head and the three legged chicken and the dinosaur's dick. Then, there in the corner, I catch sight of the best of them all. A model of a humongous woman, rolls of fat like the Michelin man, glistening skin and coarse hairs sprouting from her chin.

Jesus, I say, it's the bearded elephant lady! She turns around, and I see the look on Dad's face.

Honey, he says, this is Julia.

It's times like this I wish mom was still around. I offer Julia some of my cotton candy. Big mistake.


He licks his lips and holds my gaze. I knew where this was going.

"Time to come home with Daddy," he says, unaware of stares and snickers from the passersby.

He holds the cotton candy higher.


I refuse.


I jump and grab the cotton candy, and he grabs a breast in mid-flight.

"Who's your daddy now?"

I throw the cotton candy on the ground and walk away. Dressing up like Britney Spears has run its oourse.

When we go home, someone's gonna get a spanking. And it ain't gonna be me.

--Church Lady

He can be such an idiot, but he has his moments. The location monitor clamped around my ankle is visible to all. This must be horribly embarrassing for a town commissioner, but yet he takes me to a carnival for all to see.

I hate him. He never takes me anywhere. He's the worst father ever. He chains me to the wall and never checks on me. Now, the idiot is handing me the cotton candy. I give him the required thank you.

I just don't deserve him after all I've done to embarrass him. He's so sweet. I don't deserve him; what did I ever do to the jerk.


We wander the stalls and side-shows in the shadow of the roller coaster. As the steelwork groans above us, Dad topples a coconut with a hard rubber ball. He leads me to the hoop-la where he hoops me a goldfish, then with a sharply aimed dart he wins me a giant teddy bear.

I try to be cool. I try not to squeal like the little girl I used to be. I try not to be daddy's little princess anymore. I'm still pissed that he castrated my boyfriend.


Pink spittle slips from his mouth down his chin, mingling with the flecks of puffed pink in his stubble. When he smiles at me his teeth are stained with sugar, like a circus clown gone horribly, hideously wrong.

He holds out the paper stick. "Want some, baby girl?" With the question flecks of spittle spray on the cotten candy, darkening and hardening sugar crystals until the whole thing looks polka-dotted.

I force a smile even as I remember why it is I stopped going to amusement parks with my dad. "Um. Maybe later."


Evil Editor said...

You've described an amusement park well, but while the tension of not knowing whether the girl will actually get any of the cotton candy is nearly unbearable, I can't help but wonder if something even more fascinating is on the horizon. If so, you might want to start there.

writtenwyrdd said...

That continuation! Gross, but funny.

the opening is well written and intriguing. Not sure where it is going yet, but I'd have read on.

Bernita said...

Very nice, but I kept listening for the loud music and the shouts of the barkers - and I didn't hear them.

Robin S. said...

Hi Sarah,

Is this the opening for I Close My eyes? Is the father about to die?

This looks like the set up for that, to me. Knowing that, it makes me sad, but in a good way, oddly enough, because now I think I see the beginnng of it.

McKoala said...

This is the kind of description I totally admire, using sounds and smells as much as sight. The only thing I didn't like was this: 'The sounds fill my ears. And the smells' - you don't need it - you're piling up so much sensory experience there's no need to tell us that you're hearing/smelling - it's perfectly clear.

Actually one other small thing - your first line made me think of puppets/robots waiting in front of the stalls and all starting up at the switch of a button. The fairs I've been to open differently - either with a great rush of people from the gate - or the open ones with stalls opening one by one with rattling grilles while a few people wander past, growing gradually to a larger crowd. That doesn't actually matter and would be a dull start; I'm just not sure that the first line works with a fair that's clearly in full swing. Do you need it?

Anonymous said...

The opening sentence suggests that when she first entered the amusement park it was silent and dark because you can only spring to life if you are dead first. Sounds a little Twilight Zone, which is fine if that's what you want, but if you're just trying to establish that she and her Dad are at the Park, that first sentence promises something you aren't going to carry through with, so I'd take it out.

The rest of the first paragraph is a list, and I'm afraid that with a mental "yada, yada, yada" I stopped reading at the metal ducks. I had to force myself to continue. Though anyone might remember all these things from a midway, at any given moment they only identify one or two things - the things they're immediately involved with. I think the paragraph would be stronger if you distilled it.

pacatrue said...

Hmm... I actually agree with the chosen continuation and some of the other non-chosen ones that the description is just too sensual, bordering on erotic. I like being in the time and place with real detail, but the concentrated close-ups on each item seemed a little much.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it's just my twisted mind...but the "slow, brown-eyed wink" creeped me out, and I couldn't recover.

150 said...

As the continuation pointed out, the description of Dad is erotic in an icky way. You have my interest--child abuse is a compelling subject--but I don't know whether you intend Dad to come across as such a gross skeevy pervert. If not, you need to be aware that he does.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:04 here - I, too, expect from the sensuality of the second paragraph that this little girl is/has been/will be a victim of incest. Everything starting from Dad holding the cotton candy over his head to the wet drop of dark pink creeps me out. If incest is what this book is about, then I wouldn't give it away in the opening; if it's not then there's even less point to setting it all up, so I'd rewrite this with different imagery.

AmyB said...

This was too "stylish" for me, with all the short sentences and fragments. The sensory details are great, but I find that I'm paying too much attention to the writing instead of getting drawn into the story. This is probably a matter of personal taste.

I agree with anon 6:04 about "The amusement park springs to life." It makes it sounds like the park was silent and dark until that moment.

I didn't pick up on the (unintentional?) eroticism of paragraph 2, but I did come away from that paragraph annoyed by the dad character. He struck me as more manipulative than fun.

Robin S. said...

Fathers and daughters often have a strange and strained relationship as daughters begin to look more like young women than 'daddy's little girl.'

Whether or not this opening is showing more than the typical straining point that comes at a certain age, I think the wondering by the reader is, in itself, a good hook.

Life can be a very strange ride - if you're looking, you know, really paying attention, as you grow up - there is often strange nuance in small things. What makes it both strange and wonderful at least to me, is that the very things that keep life from being just one slow death-by-boredom also carry such potential to go terribly wrong. I've always liked walking that line. (Liked it much more before I had children to be terrified for, in all honesty.) That may be why I like this opening – I see a crack in the line of what passes for normal.

Lightsmith said...

Your description is vivid. I would like to see it interspersed with the action of the story. It loses some of its effectiveness when presented all at once.

I liked the part about the aromas of the popcorn and cotton candy blending into a "peculiar lure [her] stomach isn't sure it wants." This shows deeper observation than your average writer would probably achieve, and it also made me think, yeah that's true. The smell of the food at an amusement park can be enticing and revolting at the same time.

Good luck. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the great continuations and the excellent comments!

Yes, this is the beginning of I Close My Eyes. Part of the problem is that it is in flashback and I think that is confusing (and overdone). I have started rewriting it, making the beginning more immediate. Here's the new beginning (so far).

Colored sugar is spun into a cloud on a white paper stick. Grinning, Dad holds the cotton candy high overhead. The little girl game. I’m too old to play, but I smile. He smiles back and takes a big teasing bite. Pink fluff speckles his black mustache, clings to the stubble on his chin. A wet drop of dark pink leaps from the corner of his mouth, disappears into the sawdust to be trampled by the crowd.
Laughing, Dad hands me the cone. Behind him, a swing and rider tear loose to fly away. The broken silver chain whips out behind the swing. The crowd screams. Mouths frozen open. Faces tracking the flight of the rider. I watch the crowd. Then, I watch the chain. My vision zooms in on the jagged broken link at the end. Heading straight for us. Say something. My mouth opens. No words come. The screaming intensifies. I stand there. Watch it get closer. Dad turns around. My heart pounds, drowning out the crowd. I can’t breathe. Words of warning die on my lips.

So Dad snuffs it at the start.

I think it's very interesting what comes out sideways. Dad's sleeziness is never decided in this book though it's hinted at in every nightmare. I didn't realize it was also in the beginning. I made the decision that one major issue in the book was enough and left the abuse question unanswered.

Maybe a sequel. ;-)

Thanks again!

writtenwyrdd said...

"breaks loose to fly away" sounds too easy and soft. Poetic language at this point doesn't get the reader's attention. I would recommend harsher words that echo the sound of breaking chain.

Also, paragraph break before laughing.

And if there is abuse, I would expect the reader to see the consequences and know what happened even if you never say it outright. This can be done without making it a subplot.

Robin S. said...

Hi Sarah,

I agree with WW - I think the insinuation in second paragraph of the first beginning gives an astute reader what they need to know - I think not spelling it out works very well.

I do think reworking the first paragraph a little is a good idea- but I agree, again, with WW, that you wouldn't want to use soft phrases - as the experiences the narrator is enduring aren't soft.

If EE wasn't teasing when he mentioned a while back - that the first 150 make a difference in whether an agent/editor will bother to read on - my opinion is that your second paragraph (1st beginning) is good, but the first one needs maybe a look- and then, as you've done - go into the death pretty quickly. But I'd intimate the smarm first.

Hope this helps.

browneye said...

Someone was creeped out by "Dad gives me a slow, brown-eyed wink," but I couldn't stop sniggering. Maybe it means something else where you guys are. I just wondered why he was wandering around the fairground without his trousers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone. The comments are very helpful.

Forgot about that other interp for the wink. ;-)

Good thing it's gone now.