Monday, June 02, 2008

New Beginning 508

I found the secret room quite by accident. Six months after father’s death, while cleaning his home office, I noticed one side of one of the wall panels behind his desk stuck out slightly from the wall. I went over to it, shoved at the loose edge, and heard a click. The next panel slid aside to reveal a lighted room. I looked through the opening, and saw walls lined with pictures. Curious, I stepped into the room.

Each of the walls held a double row of pictures, which were in chronological order, beginning with me as a newborn and ending with me an adult. I moved over to the nearest wall and looked at the first picture.

"Nella: Newborn October 12 3103." She lay naked on a pure white surface, her eyes scrunched up and her hands in tiny fists, as if she were angry at having been pushed out into the world. Had I once been such a tiny mite? I looked up to the picture directly above, and reeled back a step.

The stench was remarkable. I inched closer and read the caption through watering eyes, "Nella, full diaper, July 7, 3104." Ah yes, 3104, the year scratch-and-sniff photos were all the rage.

Opening: Petronella.....Continuation: Ulysses


Dave Fragments said...

it's not you. Blogger is having "server troubles" called 502 errors.

John Arivosis' AMERICABLOG is also blinking out of existence. So is Neil Gaiman, Bookends, Pubrants and Bernita Harris. All use Blogger.

Kiersten White said...

Oh, okay. That makes sense then. I was beginning to suspect that it was not blogger but you who hated me. I guess I won't go cry now.

Evil Editor said...

The vote for best continuation was all over the place, nothing receiving more than 2 votes. Then this new one came in, solving my problem.

Unchosen Continuations:

The upper caption said: IVF February 1, 3103. But the photograph! Two petrie dishes, a small plastic cup and Angelina, my Mother in stirrups with Doc Beppo holding a turkey baste to her lips.

--Dave F.

"Me: Working, December 3 3105"

Those long grey sideburns, the waistcoat buttons straining at the middle, the red laserbeam eyes, the hand resting on 'Novel Deviations: #2785" couldn't be. It was.

My father had been the latest incarnation of Evil Editor.


It was the most hirsute infant surely in all of history. Muttonchops, on such a tiny mite? And surely that caption couldn't be right?

But there, in the same spidery scrawl, it said, "Nella's Evil Twin: Newborn, October 12, 3103."


"Bella: Newborn October 12 3103." She lay clothed in red on a pure black surface, her eyes wide open and baleful and her claws extended, as if she were blooming furious at having been pushed out into the world--and intended avenging herself on anyone who came close. Who was this tiny monster? My evil twin?

I looked up to the picture directly above, and ran screaming from the room. I bolted the door, then nailed boards across it--heavy boards.

Thank God I hadn't looked at the fourth picture.


I stared wide eyed at the photographs. Disturbed, I left the room. I looked about at the office that had seemed so innocent recently. A terrible and emotional decision was before me. I didn't know what I should I do with Father's child pornography collection. Give it to my older brother, as part of his inheritance, or sell it on EBay?


"Nella: Newborn October 12 3073." She too lay naked on a pure white surface, a tiny might angry at the world.

And above that, another identical photo, with a birthdate thirty years earlier.

And another above that, and another above that...

The conclusion was inescapable: Nella was not herself, a unique individual with her own personality and her own life and her own hopes, dreams,
desires. She was a CLONE!

After the initial shock, she looked over the rows of photos again. While the styles of clothing and the background furnishings changed over the decades, not one of the baby Nellas had a single photo past her late twenties. That, combined with the regular interval of the birthdate, told Nella the next
dreadful piece of news: each clone had died, or was killed, before her
thirtieth birthday.

And this Nella was already 29.


It was a painting. Dogs. Playing cards. And one was smoking a cigar.

The next photograph was labeled "Nella: 18 Months. April 21 3105". She was standing in front of a swimming pool in a baggy daiper, squinting against the sun. Above the photograph, a Gypsy girl in a floral dress, in oils.

"Nella: 5 Years, December 24, 3108" showed half a little girl bawling her eyes out with, apparently, a christmas tree sprouting out of her head. It was partnered by a seventies' watercolor of Elvis.

I slid to the ground in despair. Was I destined to share the family shame? In this supremely aesthetic world, could it be that I, too, had no talent, and no taste in art?


It was hard to contain the feeling of disappointment, almost of revulsion, as I started at this picture. I had idolised my father as I grew up in this home that had meant so much to him -- to us. He had designed it and built it just for us.

In my eyes, father had been perfect, infallible, pristine; we were so alike. But today, it felt as if I hardly knew him. The papers cluttered in his office, the loose panel on the wall, and now this?

My hands trembled as I reached out and straightened the frame.

That was better. Now I could call the realtor.


Father never discussed Mother. "She's long gone," was the only comment before he changed the subject.

Now I knew why. The woman in the faded photograph looked exactly like me. The only difference was the calico dress and bonnet. I recognized myself in the white dress and cap without reading the caption. "Nella and Molly December 12, 1898." His best seller about a man and his family who traveled back in time where he lost his wife was true.

--Julie Weathers

It was me, in all my glory, in the Playboy spread on sorority sisters I’d done back in college. The airbrushed perfection of my own body caused me to gasp and I wondered how father had ever gotten a copy. But more importantly, I wondered if he had any of the hardcore porn videos I’d starred in back in the ’20’s?


I stood, frozen, as I saw my childhood shatter - my life, up to now, a lie.

I knew the woman in the picture. I sometimes saw her with my father. I wondered who the woman was. Mother never explained.

Now I knew. I knew who she was. And what I saw on the picture confirmed it.

The woman in the picture, tall, with beehive magenta hair, smiled menacingly as her brown eyes gazed down at me - gazed down into my soul. Her name, on a small label fixed to the frame's corner: Varmighan. A note from her awaited. I shuddered. I read it. She explained, ``Sometimes daddies fall out of love. Sometimes they find new ``for one-night'' mommies. That's where I come in. I'm your real mother, Nella. And fix your shirt collar.''

A tear rolled down my cheek as the news sank in. I looked in the mirror. I fixed my collar. She was right. Mother is always right. And Mother always explains.

--R. Watson

"Lola, Pubescent December 24 3114. Sally Being Naughty February 28 3120," the detective read over my shoulder. "Looks like we've found the ringleader in the kiddie porn case."

My mother stood behind me, as if ready to catch me should I faint from shock. I mumbled an apology, sorry that she should witness such horror.

Mother sighed. "For God's sake, pull yourself together. How do you think he got the money to send you to Princeton?"


The frame was heavier than the others, gilted, expensive. It was a portrait, one of those where the eyes follow you round the room. I recognised him immediately. The archaic clothing, the hair, the narrow eyes behind tiny windows of glass, the expression of evil in his oil-painted scowl. It was him.

"It's you," I told the painting. "You. You rejected my father; you questioned his meaning; you tore apart his life's work. He told me enough. He told me you killed him!"

Though paintings can't speak, I could hear his voice: words that ripped at my heart.

[No, Nella, I am your father...]


Evil Editor said...

I would have expected the topmost left-most picture to be declared the first, as if reading a book, yet the narrator looks at the "first" picture, then at the one directly above it. A minor point.

If the pictures are of Nella, maybe she would refer to them in first person (I, my) instead of third (she, her).

Dave Fragments said...

scratch-and-sniff photos - Remind me to be a luddite or a late-adopter for this particular invention!

I don't know where this opening is going. The scene is set. The character/speaker is set. The situation is plausible. But what am I to feel about that? There's no emotion to anything here.

In P2 you say: pictures ... beginning with me as a newborn... Then why does P3 use the third person "she" as in She lay naked... and she were angry?

I also think that you repeat things in P1 and P2.
double row of pictures, which were in chronological order, beginning with me as a newborn and ending with me an adult.
This specifies the order of the photos twice.

Also, we know Nella will move to the nearest wall and look at the picture. That's useless action. It doesn't add to the story.

Anonymous said...

I would have expected the topmost left-most picture

Agreed! I had trouble following the description's directions. But Uly saved the day at last with a great one. I love scratch n sniffs!! (Especially when shown to the very young for the first time)

This sounds like it might be a mystery in the future, or IMO, anyway. Not sure I would be reading on.


EB said...

I found this rather flat. The tone and sentence structure seemed somewhat antiquated, reminding me for some reason of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. That and the secret room made me think this was set in the 19th century...not the 32nd. Not a big deal, but a perhaps a detail of some kind to point us towards holophones and away from telegraph wires.

But what IS a big deal (for me as gentle reader, that is) is the fact that for a secret room, your narrator reacts with nary a surprise. Give us some emotion. Is your narrator invested in this? Dad's dead, and now--gasp!--I'm finding something he'd kept hidden from us. I suspect you're trying to get us to the action, but I think you've missed an opportunity to create some tension. If your narrator doesn't care, why should the reader?

I agree with what's been said about the "blocking" of the photos. I think that "newborn" in the first sentence of the 3rd graph is redundant if you describe the photo.

Robin S. said...

With all that's been pointed out - I'd still read on. So I'd say you passed your hook test, author.

You just need some fine-tuning. I like it.

ril said...

For me, the first painting would be the one at eye-level, regardless if it is top or bottom. If neither is at eye-level, then they're not, ah, well hung.

I don't have a problem with Nella finding and exploring the room in a state of understated curiosity. Doesn't have to be shock and awe. But there does seem to be an opportunity to get us a little more inside the character's head and break this very distant first person feeling. There are only actions here, and I'd like some feelings.

ril said...

Oh, and I really liked the continuation.

Evil Editor said...

I would expect eye level to be between the pictures, so they can each be viewed comfortably. If the lower picture is centered at a normal person's eye level, the upper picture would be difficult to view for Kiersten or Robin, whose eye level is about the height of a kitchen counter.

ril said...

Hm. OK, excuse me. I now have to go scour the internet for the one article that supports my position. Back later...

Anonymous said...

The opening reads well enough, but like others have noticed, it's rather unemotional. I wasn't bothered by the order of photos because I would have added them low to high, myself; but I seem to be in the minority.


Robin S. said...

Hey, Sparky.

Let's not forget, five-feet-and-nothing-else used to be the normal height for just about everybody.

I feel strongly pictures should be hung (well hung, as ril would say), accordingly.

Besides, short women have extraordinary powers. Secret powers. Yes, I'm talking about something entirely different than Kiersten would be talking about.

And (to take a page out of your sentence beginning playbook) I note that neither of us has been granted a nickname in your comment.
Saving up to zap me again, huh?

Bonnie said...

I, too, would expect well-hung pictures to have the most important or interesting ones hung at eye level for an average person, and that would be the "first" one I looked at. But I don't know that I would expect a well-thought-out arrangment in secret family photos hung in a hidden chamber.

I think the anonymous clone continuation would make a fantastic novel or screenplay.

And I would keep reading this opening.

Stacy said...

Huh. I always got the impression Robin was tall.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Robin is larger than life.

I liked this and would read on. Got me curious about what's going on. I like how the time frame is told by the picture caption.

A few tweaks, like the placement of the pictures - maybe. Whenever walking to a wall of pictures, I start at the top or at the bottom, not necessarily at eye level.

And this could be a good place to get a bit more reaction from the character. Create a slightly deeper emotional connection for the reader.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Great continuation, btw.

Anonymous said...

I'm the author of this piece. First of all thank you for all the comments. I liked the continuation - stinky diaper indeed!

The bottom pictures are hung at eye level for her. She's six feet tall as was her father. She has to look up slightly to see the upper picture. The one that shocks her is an image of her baby privates in close up.

The person who mentioned child porn was right on the mark. She's inherited an extensive child porn collection from her father. And, yes, he was a pedophile.

Actually, he wasn't her father as such because she is a genetically modified clone of his. She did not know of this and doesn't learn of it until later in the story. Except for the anonymous woman who donated the egg, no woman took part in Nella's birth, she was gestated in an artificial womb.

She is unemotional because she's trying to keep her emotions under control. For six months she's been weeping, wailing, sometimes in total hysterics over her father's death. He was her lover. The emotions come to the forefront again soon enough.

I have the novel posted online at (Writing.Com) for reviews.

Don't know what else to say... Oh, yes, EE you're right, she should refer to the baby as 'I'.

Thanks again all.

Julie Weathers said...

If the lower picture is centered at a normal person's eye level, the upper picture would be difficult to view for Kiersten or Robin, whose eye level is about the height of a kitchen counter.~


Breathe, Julie, breathe.

Sorry, but that was pretty good.

As for the novel, most of what stuck out to me has been noted. It just seemed flat to me.

With the explanation of the child porn and pedophilia, I would back away from it very quickly. Each to their own, of course.

Robin S. said...

Hi petronella -

Well- with your subject matter as serious and as uncomfortable as it is to face- it's all down to the prose and the exposition, and the willingness of the audience to read and take it in, and the elasticity of the prose to take them to the place where reading this and exploring this terrain would be a do-able thing.

(I realize you already know that. I'm just thinking out loud. Sorry.)

Dave Fragments said...

Ypou might want to give your character a bit of internal dialog about how she's put aside her emotions to clean up the office after his death. We've all had to do that - dispose of the belongings of relatives.

I went through the aftermath of a plane crash. My work lost 5 men at once. Even through all the tears, we got some work done. It might have been only the arrangements for the memorial and the funerals but we still did it. Grown men sat in their offices and cried for five days. But eventually, you gather yourself, put the weeping aside, and go on. That is the position your character is in. She is not emotionless, she merely has enough strength to set the sorrow aside and go on living.

When I first read this, I got no hint of sorrow or emotionality. It was like the daughter came back to a hoome that had no emotion in it. So this didn't work as the opening you thought it should be.

There's two competing emotions here: 1) sorrow at the death of a loved one, and 2) horror at the just discovered porn.

The picture of a baby naked is common enough. What the character realizes is that every picture is of her naked genitalia and the pictures weren't made out of love, but out of some emotion more sinister. Those pictures are exploitive. You are pouring horror onto sorrow. We must feel sympathy for the character who lost her father and then revulsion at her father being her lover and then shock and horror at the cloning.

That's a dark journey. Your words aren't there yet. They have to serve those three masters and they need work.

Brenda said...

It's 150 words. I'd read on to find out what's going on.

As a person who had a photo-wall, they did not hang in any type of order. Besides, it's the unexpected that makes things neat in stories, is it not?

What's given is well-written so I'd give it a couple of more pages for sure.

none said...

Cod psychology from the person who doesn't believe in it. Priceless.

Dave Fragments said...

You know Buffy, after 10 years I still have bad times about that plane crash. If I wasn't sincere about helping writers, I would never have posted anything here.

So get over whatever you don't like about me and quit being snarky. Life is too short to hold grudges that way.

Anonymous said...

Author again...This is the next line: “No, it can’t be,” I said in a whisper. “Father was not like that. He wasn’t!”

I don't know if that shows any emotion. Nella tends to be rather unemotional and her reaction to her father's death was atypical for her. Cicero, her father, was the emotional one of the two.

The secret room was made for her and filled with memorabilia meant only for her. It contains drawers full of pictures, vid-albums, vid-crystals containing holograms, prototype robot copies of herself at various ages, and her father's journals.

She has lived in the house since the day she was born, and because of acute agoraphobia has never been able to leave it. Except for using the InfoWeb and the NewsNets, she was kept totally isolated from the world by her phobia.

The novel contains two intertwining stories: Nella's story, and her father's story told in his journals.

It's nice to know some of you would read on.

Dave Fragments said...

Why don't you use that line of Nella's as the opening sentence:
“No, it can’t be,” Nella whispered. “Father was not like that. He wasn’t!”

Think about that. It takes the reader directly to Nella and her current emotional state.

Bonnie said...

I can see that a woman raised in those conditions might be detached from her emotions. I like Dave's suggestion of starting with the reaction.

Anonymous said...

Were the room lights on the whole time, or did they come up as the thing clicked?

I agree with those who say you need to bring us more inside the character's emotions - even if they're well-muted emotions ie 'Father had a secret room. Why doesn't that surprise me?'

Anonymous said...

Author here. Dave I'm already thinking about your idea of using that line as the opening - it's a good one.

I could also see if I could add in some emotional reaction at her discovery of the secret room. She is surprised by it because she believed her father kept no secrets from her. I'm learning new things about the situation and about my character.

Jeb, the lights go on automatically when the 'door' is opened.

I don't know if I would ever dare send this novel in to a publisher. There's a lot of very graphic material in it