Teaser: Nepenthe, Chapter 1

It’s time for a progress update!  Today I finished the first scene of Chapter 3 of the handwritten first draft of my novel, and finally got around to finishing a typed copy of Chapter 1 (I make small edits as I type, so I count the typewritten version as a second draft).  Here’s an excerpt for your reading pleasure:

She continued to walk forward toward town, far to the north side of the road, watching the approaching headlights until they hurt her eyes. She held up her hand to block the glow and her stomach sank until it felt like it was hovering around her knees as she saw the truck’s speed change. Deceleration. There could be no reason for it except her. Even past her fingers, she couldn’t really see up into the unlit cab over the blaring headlights. As the truck pulled into the gravel edging the highway and rolled to a halt beside her, Carmen stopped walking. The interior light came on now, but the angle up into the 4×4’s cab was too steep for Carmen to get a good look at the driver until he reached across and pushed the passenger door open. He was male. White, with reddish brown hair and brown eyes. His face looked withered; Carmen guessed he was in the last quarter of middle age. He wore a dark denim jacket. His truck was dark green. “Need a lift?”

Carmen hesitated only long enough to wonder whether she should try to play it like she hitch-hiked all the time, or if it would be advantageous to come across as someone who didn’t usually rely on strangers for aid. Remembering what had been demonstrated in her life as the most effective lie, she hauled herself up into the passenger seat.

The driver might have attempted to hide giving Carmen the elevator eye, but if he did, he was lousy at subtlety. At six foot even, Carmen was a very tall woman, a little pale, and had the lean build of a runner though she’d never gotten involved with athletics. Today she wore very simple black sandals, more like flip-flops actually, black cotton shorts, and a loose camisole made from artificial silk, which she’d bought from the lingerie rack of a vintage resale shop the year before and loved to wear as outerwear now that she was out from under her mother’s eye. The neckline of the magenta garment was beaded in a floral pattern, and the beads were dark gold and tortoiseshell. They decorated as nicely as any necklace, without a necklace’s hassle. But the rain had plastered the normally airy film of fabric to her body, and Carmen, who was small-chested and only rarely wore bras, badly wished for something more substantial between her flesh and the cool night air that had poured through the cab door when it had been open. Carmen prayed that he thought her face was ugly – few considered it remarkable in any way, and Carmen knew that to many men, “average” could slip into “ugly” very easily. Or maybe he didn’t like hazel eyes, or women with hair shorter than his own; Carmen’s dark hair was so short, she had nothing to tuck behind her ears anymore, which was a shame because it would have kept her hands busy right now, at least for a second…

Carmen was just regaining the presence of mind to realize that she, soundly atheist, had just prayed to a God she really hoped was listening when the stranger spoke to her. His quiet voice sounded as withered as his face. Carmen imagined that if a pile of leaves could talk, it would sound like him: “Did your car break down? I didn’t see nothin’ off the road when I was comin’ in.”

The lie came easy. “I got into a fight with my boyfriend. He kicked me out of his car.” She steeled herself for a judgmental response.

The man said nothing, just did another U-turn to get going back in his original direction, toward Flintfield.

Carmen kept her eyes on the road. Her body had locked itself stiff. She could feel rivulets of rainwater pulsing down the back of her neck. She did her best not to shiver. The silence bound the two of them together, like a force of nature. The stranger hadn’t introduced himself and hadn’t asked where she had been trying to walk. Carmen had begun to wonder what she should say when the stranger spoke, his voice still dry and husky. “Have you ever considered older men?”

Intrigued?  The chapter is 15 pages long (12 point font, single spaced, blank lines between paragraphs – in other words, a little less than 7,000 words).  Would you like to take part in test reading the draft?  I’d love to get your reaction.  Let me know if you’re interested!