National Novel Writers Month is basically a giant kick in the ass. Every November, prospective novelists turn to NaNoWriMo as motivation for churning away on the books burning in our brains. Ask your writer-type friends; I guarantee each has at least one, somewhere, in progress.
A novel is the writer’s Holy Grail. Such a big quest is often hard to admit and reveal. So that unborn book stays hidden, stashed away and often languishing from spotty attention. Is progress stalled due to creative doldrums or fear of failure?
I’ve decided to bring my dirty little secret to the light.
Throughout NaNoWriMo, you’ll see some work in progress on”Fiction Friday.” Why? Because there’s nothing like a deadline–and a little fear–to provide ongoing motivation. And a giant kick in the ass!
Lani ran because not moving meant letting the brain demons eat her alive. Dodging limestone and sticks kept her inner voices still and quiet but the minute she paused, a black current of bile welled up.
Fat fucking failure, the demons hissed. You will never be anything or anybody.
She kept her head low and picked up the pace.
Her thighs chafed; her feet hurt. Lani looked down at her shoes because that angle kept the stinging tears dripping away from her face. The hat she usually hated to wear was valiantly wicking away forehead sweat while conveniently shielding her hazel eyes. Lani would’ve liked the additional privacy of sunglasses but tinted lens messed with her depth perception—the play of tree shadows and dark roots underfoot conspired to catch a toe and send her into a full Superman sprawl across the rough, rocky single track.
It’s bad enough being slow, Lani mused, tucking the stray, damp bits of hair escaping her ponytail under her hat—why add klutzy to the whole decidedly un-pretty picture? Sure, fast runners wore scrapes and bruises—“trail kisses”—like some sick badge of honor, but she knew better: falling just meant you’d tripped.
Without raising her head, Lani felt the hill’s crest approaching. The stair-stepping limestone and her heart rate had climbed incessantly along with the final steep incline. This relatively unpopulated trail was one of her favorites; this monster of a hill had a large part to play in that lack of wandering foot traffic. Despite her black mood, Lani smiled to herself. If she couldn’t be fast, she’d be tough. And if she was slow, why, then, Lani’d run by herself.
Fuck ‘em all.
Head down, eyes stinging, smile fading, Lani muttered, “Lani Johnson don’t need you.”
At the top of the hill, Lani stopped and pulled out a small package of Sport Beans. She chewed absently and drank deeply from her backpack’s water tube, surveying the powerlines stretching above the live oaks and scrub cedar and across the central Texas rolling hill country. In the high bald patch, the deepening light and early evening breeze cooled the sweat beading the light bronze hair on her arms. The preserve was quiet, only the sound of birds and breeze singing across those high stretched lines to keep her company. She pulled the old, grubby tank top up to expose her pale belly. Spitting a bit of water into her palm before patting her cheeks, Lani rubbed the soft, worn fabric across her salty face. About an hour of run time remained before the trail spit her out into the far parking lot.
This run isn’t going to get any easier or faster in the dark. Lani rolled her head, first one way and then the other, before straightening her shoulders and letting out a long, cleansing breath.
Maybe by the time I hit the car, I’ll have let go of this disappointment. Maybe by the time I bomb the sweet downhill, losing that job won’t hurt quite so much. Maybe. She sighed heavily, dropped her head again, and started to run.
Sunday runs were more than exercise. Sure, Lani had goals; keeping her short, squatty body in shape was up toward the top of the list. At 36, Lani had the look of a clean-scrubbed former soccer player, with her powerful thighs and square build. Four hours-worth of accumulated sweat and dirt, almost indistinguishable from the light freckles patterned across her tanned cheeks and forehead, covered her face. The kind of face that invites strangers to ask for directions.
Sunday runs were therapy, and Lani looked forward to those solitary reveries. The trail provided time to think, a place to process and, yes, like today, a private space to cry. An interrupting horsefly nagged at her thigh, pestering, and Lani slung her hand back in an irritated swat. Was it her sweaty stink, the wringing wet dark shorts, or a territorial impulse that kept the pesky bug painfully biting?
Between the horsefly and her natural tendency to let her mind wander, Lani wasn’t paying much attention to her surroundings. She’d run this route a million times, her fourth time today alone through this segment; she was almost done; no one else was out. And then, suddenly, she was aware. Something registered without quite catching her attention. Lani’s head popped up—what was that?
She’d hit the trail’s widest part, where the uphill narrow single-track morphed from seeping limestone to rutted man-made tracks. Exposed. Close to the preserve’s gates, wide enough for maintenance trucks, accessible only to authorized vehicles. Rather than work the gravel, Lani chose to travel the softer, irregular clumps of grass growing between the dual tracks.
As her head swiveled, a slight frown creased Lani’s forehead. Goddamn it, the last thing I want is to run into those fucking pigs, she scowled. There wasn’t a decent climbable tree to anywhere close, though a few tall live oaks punctuated the skyline just into the woods. Just the other week, she’d encountered a completely freaked guy who’s turned a corner and run smack into a feral hog wallow. With as open as this segment of trail was, at least Lani would spot them from a distance.
Again, something caught her attention. Lani’s eyes were drawn upward by a quick, bright flash. Suddenly, a massive blossom of force burned into her right shoulder, knocking her down. What? Confused, Lani lifted her head to scan the trail; she must’ve run into something. There was an odd keening sound—where’s the pig? No; that high-pitched wounded cry was coming from her. As Lani rolled among the rocks and grass, shocked, her mind rebelled: What the fuck?
On all fours, unable to find the necessary purchase to push herself upright, Lani slowly took stock. There was a wet feeling on her back; the fall must’ve ruptured her pack ‘s bladder. Sinking back on her heels, she saw blood—Did I hit something when I fell? A strange electrical buzzing throbbed throughout her body; though the rocks were surely biting into her knees, Lani felt strangely numb.
I’m not finishing this run before dark, she thought inanely.
Lani heard the man running toward her but before she could register much more than his outline against the soft golden orange of the November twilight sky, the trail reached up to grab her in a dark embrace.