I wanted to post the new version of the first chapter here. I am very excited with where it has gone. It is a long way from the first version. I’ve entered a few contests to get help with my query. I will be posting it here once I have more faith in it.
by F.M. Anderson
January 12, 2011
Before Dad told me the secret, the biggest unknown in my life was what starting high school would be like the next year. I knew I’d get a little more freedom, a driver’s license, maybe even an honest-to-God girlfriend. All that was gone after I learned the secret. My life became a snow globe that someone had shaken into a blizzard. The image was cloudy.
I was shocked to see how large the gathering was when I reached the last truck parked in front of the factory the night of the meeting. Before that day, the parking lot had been a pleasantly calming oasis where the hum of truck engines blended with idle chatter from the miners and office workers going about their business. That night, even the small trees that bordered the lot seemed to be shaking with anticipation.
The tiny Michellette office wasn’t much to look at. Its tin walls were painted an ugly yellowish tan – a revolting color someone would only buy if it was priced so low they were practically giving it away. A fine coating of gypsum powder covered everything, giving it a milky haze which was being kicked up into a lazily hovering dust by all the shuffling feet. It merged with the cigarette smoke wafting from the crowd, giving the air a dense, almost stifling scent.
Since there was no grandiose facade to show off, Michellette Mining, the company that owned most of our town, built the stage near the offices’ one pathetic distinguishing feature – a door made of metal and glass with brown age spots and a few peeling stickers plastered on it.
Rows of folding metal chairs were lined up behind a black podium. A cluster of microphones with the names of all the local news outlets mushroomed around the podium. Film crews had placed huge round lights on the back of the parking lot, bathing everything in harsh white light.
The crowd was full of men in trucker hats and women bundled up in winter coats. They huddled together in scattered groups, whispering nervously to each other. Cigarette butts dotted the parking lot like stinking, smoldering snow. You could feel the frayed nerves as everyone huddled to keep warm.
Everyone was anticipating the announcement. It was all they talked about in the weeks after it was announced. People took turns guessing what the meeting was about. Some thought we’d be saved and a new owner would be announced. Other, more practical people saw the writing on the wall. They figured if the economic recession could take down banks worth billions, our broke-ass town didn’t stand a chance.
I tried finding James and Slim, my two best friends, but moving through the mob was like wading through a murky river. By the time I spotted them near the back of the lot, the search had taken far too long and I saw my dad eyeing the crowd for me. I’d be in trouble if I made him go searching for me, so I waded back toward the stage.
I climbed the steps. It felt like being on the wrong end of a firing squad. Overly-primped jerks in black and gray suits were everywhere. I’d never even seen most of them before. It was probably the first time they’d stepped foot in Empire, even though they had its fate in their hands. All the local Michellette representatives sat there beside their families. Dad said it was to show solidarity with the town; I figured it just made a prettier picture for the cameras. It felt like everyone was staring at us. To tell you the truth, they probably were.
I was horrified when I saw the seat Dad saved for me. I had to sit right behind the podium, which meant I couldn’t hide from the crowd. I sat right as the meeting started. One of the ‘suits’ walked behind the podium and said, “I want to start off by thanking everybody for being here. I know it’s a bit chilly, but we wanted to show off the great facilities we have in Empire. We couldn’t be prouder of this division.” His voice was raspy, like he was a few-packs-a-day smoker.
I was a bit relieved to discover I was blocked by each speaker as they came up to the podium. Dad probably put me there on purpose; he was embarrassed of my appearance and wanted me present, but not especially visible. He didn’t want to world staring at his fat son, but did want credit from his bosses for having what little remained of his family there.
I thought, Here it goes.
“Sadly, I am here today to announce the closure of our operations in Empire.”
The suit kept droning on, but I tuned him out I watch as the once hopeful faces in the crowd hung lower with each word spoken. I’d worried about tearing up during the meeting the night before, but now it was actually happening, I felt oddly hollow; like someone scooped out my soul.
Once the first suit was done, others got up; each taking turns offering platitudes about how much they appreciated our hard work over the years, and how sorry they were to be delivering such bad news. They all claimed that Michellette would do what they could to “ease your transitions by helping you find new jobs and new homes.” But it was bullshit. They were just happy to get in front of the press. You could tell by the bounce in their steps and the calm grins they kept flashing at the cameras. I watched as everyone started asking themselves the same questions that had been plaguing me for weeks.
What do I do now? Where will I go? How do I move on?
Things were winding down when my father stood up to give the speech he’d been preparing for the last week. As soon as he opened his mouth to speak, a red truck swerved into the parking lot and lopsided stop behind one of the news vans. A group of stoned-drunk miners poured out of it, stumbling into the crowd still holding their drinks.
They pushed through the crowd. Carl Bates was right in front. He wore a crazed expression, like a wild animal. His daughter Trish used to be one of my best friends. We’d stopped hanging out by middle school, but I’d heard stories about his drinking. He’d turned into a bit of a local nuisance since getting fired.
My dad stepped forward to confront him. Everyone stopped to watch. An uneasy silence filled the air as my father spoke quietly. I couldn’t hear a single word Dad said, but Mr. Bates made sure everyone could hear his response.
“What do you think I’m doin, Simpkins?” he screamed. “I’m here to tell these bastards how it is. They think they can just roll over us and keep on going, like we’re some critter they can drive over and just keep on goin? Well, I’ll show ‘em what happens when the roadkill gets revenge. I’ll show ‘em! You just watch!”
Dad started talking again, holding both palms up like he was an offensive lineman. Police officers on the outskirts of the crowd started walking toward the stage. Right about the time I noticed them, Mr. Bates did, too. He took down the rest of his drink in one big gulp, a smile spreading across his face, then turned back to the stage and made an abrupt flinging motion.
I watched the glass flying through the air, rocketing towards me.
The realization that the glass was going to hit me square in the face came too late. I tried ducking, but only managed tilting my head enough for my forehead to take most of the blow.
The next thing I knew, everything went blank.