Posts Tagged ‘Futuristic’

An adjunct professor at the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas State University, Dan Skelton is the author of three published works, Out of Innocence, The Human Element, and Boojum. His fourth novel, Renascence, which he just finished writing recently, blends elements of futurism and religion. Skelton was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. 

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I'm a native Arkansawyer (yes, yes, Arkansan, too) born in Conway. Educated at St. Joseph School and then at Arkansas State Teachers College; after that I earned an MA+30 in English at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and, ultimately, earned a doctorate in Higher Education from the University of Mississippi, Oxford. I have taught in high schools in Fort Smith, Springdale, and Morrilton with a brief stint with fourth graders at St. Joseph. From 1967 until 2002 I taught at Southern State College, which became Southern Arkansas University, where I worked my way through the ranks to full professor and Chair of the Department of Theater/Mass Communication.

I have one child, a daughter, who makes me endlessly happy and two beautiful, brilliant, and talented grandchildren, a girl and a boy.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

Probably at the age of four or five, when I first learned to read, but definitely by the time I got into the Freddy, the Talking Pig, series.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Voracious. I read everything and had no serious fixation on any one genre.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

My latest effort is still in manuscript. I finished the first draft last night (6-21-08) at around midnight. It is called Renascence and concerns a teenage girl named Skye and her best friend, Bombsie. Both are mall rats and drug heads. They live in a futuristic society in which belief in God is considered a mental illness worthy of a "mind wipe" and the "elderly" are "transitioned" in their mid sixties. Through the efforts of Skye's grandmother, Grandee Purr, the girl's life is transformed.

The other books I have written tend toward the gritty and dark in content and language. I began to think that any positive message was being lost because readers, perhaps, could not see the forest for all the ugly trees, so I decided to write a book that was strong, pure, and straightforward. That I have done.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I never create an outline. By the time I write, I have given a considerable amount of time to the story–beginning to end. If I know where and how it will end, I can get there. I trust my creative impulse to lead me. Some elements are transformed and rearranged in the writing because, in that mysterious process, forces do supersede the rational mind, always for the better in my estimation.

Did your book require a lot of research?

No, a minimal amount, unless you count a lifetime of experience and observation research.

What was your goal when writing this book?

I wanted readers to appreciate the fact that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit constantly seek to participate in our lives, that all of us caught in a mundane quotidian have the opportunity to cooperate with the supernatural and bring forth good out of apparently wasted and barren lives. Maybe just to present God's love, God's presence, God's availability, to establish that we humans are the body of Christ: arms, legs, eyes, etc., and that if good is going to be done for those in need, it will come through people cooperating with the spirit of God.

Who is your target audience?

Mostly teenage girls and women from as young as the middle grades, possibly, all the way up to include college students. Actually, I believe more mature women will like it also because the point of view shifts about between the girls and the older women. I'm hoping there will be no age barriers.

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

Who can really say? I hope they will learn that in the words of an old hymn, "there is no other way than to trust and obey," or that, as Whitman would have it, "The keelson of creation is love."

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?

Certainly I synthesize things out of my experiences and so I suppose that puts me in the Hemingway camp as opposed to someone like Arthur C. Clarke.

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?

Some of my best thinking comes when I am taking walks or doing some task that allows me to function with my mind "out of gear," so to speak. As I automatically walk or drive or work at a chore, my thoughts can range about freely. When they do, they provide me an image, a line, a concept, or they connect up notions I have idly considered before. Next thing you know, hunks and slabs of story line come poking through to the surface.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

So far, she has been generous. I am the one who resists, if I am in a funk over some real or imagined stress or failure in the material world. When that happens, I can block out communication for quite a while. She is patient with me, waiting until she finds a chink in my armor of obstinacy, whereupon she rushes in with some enticing nugget of possibility.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

Eight months to twelve or fourteen months.

Describe your working environment.

Word processor–My! How that invention has freed me–and silence.

What type of scenes give you the most trouble to write?

Scenes of passion. It is so easy to overwrite. Francis Irby Gwaltney, Arkansas novelist and one of my early mentors, cautioned me about always trying to "rip your reader's guts out." I understood his point but realize that I am often still guilty of that error.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

I do edit as I go along; however, there remains a great deal to do in that department even after the first draft has been completed.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I've had some negative comments from "strangers," though nothing that was too scathing. Truthfully, it hurts, but I try to keep a level head; I pray about it, and, ultimately, try to learn from it. If that sounds "saintly," it really isn't. There's agony enough in the process, believe me.

As a writer, what scares you the most?

Hmmm! Nothing really, although I have been given moments of pause upon considering the possibility of giving scandal or leading some infirm mind and will astray.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

Love, duty, hope, responsibility. I think the culture we live in has neglected those, cultivating instead Lust, a sense of separation, despair, and irresponsibility.

Are you a disciplined writer?

I think so. At this point, I have three published novels and four yet to be published manuscripts so, if I'm not disciplined, I am productive.

How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?

I don't plan my writing sessions in advance other than anticipating a weekend or a holiday period as a great opportunity. I function as a soccer grandpa; I help clean the house and work on the lawn, mind the kids as needed and run the usual assortment of errands. My writing, of necessity, comes after those needs are seen to, which means some late night work and snatched times on weekends.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

Night owl, unless I have to teach the next day.

Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?

Yes. My agent is Mindy Phillips Lawrence of MPL Creative Resources; she is also my publicist.

My experience in searching for an agent parallels that of searching for a publisher–in a word, frustrating.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

Yes. I constantly punctuate by inserting three periods of ellipses, which vexes Mindy somewhat. Other than that, I'm sure I am a model of writing purity and saintliness.

What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?

My opinion is use them if you must. Some people need instant feedback, but, of course, what they want is instant praise. If that bolsters one, fine. If the comments grow snide or biting, check out of that place immediately.

As a young fellow, I rushed with writing hot in hand to teacher, parents, librarians, etc, asking "What do you think?" Mostly they were kind and helpful but, at some point, I came to realize that there was no ultimate arbitration, merely opinions and I lost the need to have myself validated. Now, I do what I do; if you like it, fine; if you don't, well, this is what I do.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Yes, but almost always because I have allowed a case of Poor Little Old Me to overcome my industry. "Oh, I'm not good. I'll never amount to anything. No one's ever going to publish me." Etc,etc. What normally unleashes me is reading or going back to work again.
Sometimes, it is possible that a writer simply needs a small vacation in order for the internal computer to reset.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

Keeping the dialogue believable, interesting and yet moving the scene along.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Vexation! Frustration! Hair Tearing! Try to tell yourself it's not personal and keep on plugging away.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I don't know this for a fact but I'm betting if you sell yourself well, your books will move off the shelves quicker.

Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Oh, so many . . . Norman and Norris Mailer, Donna Tartt, Robert McCammon, Preston & Childs, Koontz, Anne Easter Smith, the fellow who wrote SARUM (Edward Rutherfurd), Thomas Wolfe, Tom Wolfe, Faulkner, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price, etc.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Find your own voice; stop trying to be Wolfe or Faulkner or anyone else.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes. About all you have to do is Google Dr. Dan Skelton.

Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Having just finished Renascence, except for edits, I am in a free wheeling state for the moment. I have a strong interest in the horror/supernatural and have been toying with dealing with Chupacabra or some other crypto-zoological creature.

As an author, what is your greatest reward?

Well, it's certainly not money. Probably having someone who is a total stranger find a way to tell me that what I wrote deeply affected them.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

Only that I remain hard at work and hope that those of you who recognize my name from this source will give me a look-see the next time opportunity arises.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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This is one of the most interesting Science Fiction novels I’ve read in a long time. What makes Jemma7729 stand out is the strong heroine and the feminist issues Wray weaves in the story, making the reader wonder and think at its implications.

It is the late 22nd century in the United States. The government as we know it has completely collapsed. People live under huge city domes, afraid of what lies on the outside. Brainwashed by AGNA — the State Security of the Administrative Government of North America — they have been told to be believe that the ‘outside’ is toxic and inside the dome is the only safe place for them. Feminism has vanished. Indeed, any type of feminist idea is violently suppressed and women are accused of the destruction of democracy and the ‘old regime’.

The story is told in the first person by Jemma herself, and begins when she is but a stubborn, willful young girl of seven. From the very beginning she questions her world and its laws, a behaviour that only leads to her punishment and incarceration at the tender age of ten. The event emotionally destroys her loving parents, but it’s either that or death for Jemma. The few years she spends incarcerated, however, only serve to harden her more and make her more rebellious. She has high ambitions and feels she’s destined for something great.

More than anything, she desires — while overthrowing a corrupt and oppressive government — to help her people, to make women realize that there’s more for them than simply being housewives or mothers, and to enlighten the citizens about what’s outside the city domes – freedom and hope for all. And the first thing she must do is escape. Will Jemma succeed? Will she live to overthrow the government and see the freedom of her people in spite of the prize that’s being put on her head?

Jemma7729 is a clever and thought-provoking novel with lots of action. The narrative moves at a quick pace, propelled by Jemma’s sharp wit and crisp dialogue. But at the center of it all is Jemma herself – brave, rebellious, definitely too strong for her own good, yet sensitive at the same time. Wray has painted a vivid world filled with original, interesting rules and way of life, transporting the reader to another place and time. I highly recommend this novel not only to fans of SF, but also to those readers who enjoy women’s fiction.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the author, Phoebe Wray, here at The Dark Phantom last week.

JEMMA7729 is available on Amazon, EDGE and from your favorite bookstore.

Visit the author’s Website.

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When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing?

I was telling stories before I could write. My Dad was a great story-teller, and he encouraged me to make up stories. The adults indulged and applauded and spoiled me. I wrote my first poem in second grade (I was about 7) and it was published in our very small village’s weekly newspaper. I started a newspaper in the 5th grade, a little weekly that ran 2-3 pages. Started writing stories about then, too.

Yes, I have another job. I teach in the Theatre Division of The Boston Conservatory, a very fine Theatre/Music/Dance private college in Boston. I teach History of the Theatre, Cultural History, occasionally Acting.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Yes. I especially loved animal stories, and action stories. I read a lot of comic books, too. I read all the kids’ stuff — loved Robin Hood (I wanted to be Robin, not Marion), Mark Twain, Stevenson, the Nancy Drew Dectective books. I liked poetry books and I read the dictionary. (It was a children’s version.)

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

JEMMA7729 is a rather dark action-adventure, futurist story, set in North America in the early 23rd century. The government is rotten and repressive —it’s a government that tells Big Lies and holds the country together with fear and intimidation. Once Jemma discovers that what she’s been taught is not the truth, she sets out to discover the truth for herself and becomes a rebel, a saboteur, and the government tries to stop her.

I got the idea one day thinking the “what If…” mantra. What if there were a government so repressive it just lumped all crimes and misdemeanors into one huge category: Inappropriate Behavior. That was the original title of the book. I’m sure that the discomfort and anger that I’ve felt (and many many other Americans have felt) over the past eight years of bullying and repression by my own government has a lot to do with why I wrote it.

The theme may be one reason that I got frame able rejections from American publishers and it wound up being taken by a Canadian publisher.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I can’t work with outlines. I had a hard time starting the novel. I just couldn’t get past a few pages until … it sounds hokey, but there was the morning when I sat down to write … and Jemma walked into the room. The novel had to be written in the first person. That’s not my favorite voice, but nothing else worked. The whole book comes off Jemma’s ideas and personality.

Of course I manipulated the character, but she’s a strong personality, and not a particularly comfortable one to carry around in your head for years.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

For-Evaaa! Or so it seemed. I wrote it first as a short story in 2000. Then a novel in two parts, and finally I turned the first part into JEMMA7729. From the time the publisher took the novel to its publication was about 2-1/2 years.

Describe your working environment.

I live in an 1860 farmhouse at the edge of a small Massachusetts town, with a huge yard and a protected wetland just beyond my back yard. Very pleasant place, even though the age of my house means windows don’t fit well anymore; it’s hot in summer and cold in winter and the floors are uneven. There are two stories. My study is a huge room on the second floor, with a window beside my desk that looks out to a street and a wonderful maple tree I planted in 1976 which is now taller than the house.

My study is very messy and full of bookshelves, files, two desks — the computer desk and one that came off a 19th century sailing ship. There’s a sound system, too. Sometimes like music when I write — music of all kinds. Mozart is good, so are Dixie Chicks. Depends on what I’m writing.

I use a Mac. I am generally accompanied by one or more of my three cats. If they aren’t sprawled some place in the room, they come to interrupt me periodically. The big catboys (Max and Mouse) like to sit behind me when I write. I have a big leather chair, so there’s room for them, one at a time. The little cat, Jenny, likes to sit under my feet.

Are you a disciplined writer?

Yes. I like to write in the morning. I’m an early riser — usually waking at 5:30 or 6:00, and after the cats are fed, I’m at the computer. I write something every day.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Yes and it’s a rotten state of affairs. I think only once has it be really disabling, and that was early on, because I wasn’t able to sell any of my stories. I’ve been a nonfiction writer, and , generally, everything I wrote, I sold. These were articles and a book about endangered species and marine mammals, short plays, some theatre stuff.

Then I did begin to sell the fiction, and that helped to get me back on track. The trick I use when my Muse is failing is to open the dictionary at random, stick my finger on the page and write something using or about the word I’ve pointed at.

One of the times I did that, I had pointed to “name.” I wrote a weird horror story called “Names,” which I’ve just sold to Inkspotter Publishing for “Backless, Strapless and Slit to the Throat: A Femme Fatale Anthology.” It’s due out sometime soon.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

Starting. I need the first sentence. That is sometimes tough to get. I just keep writing first sentences. I don’t let myself give up. I have rarely changed those first sentences. I certainly didn’t with JEMMA7729.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

When JEMMA was first shopped around, I had an agent. I don’t have one now. We had all those glowing rejections. Then nothing happened, my agent couldn’t think of where to send it any more. Once I was on my own, I started sending it to small presses, and finally sent it to EDGE. It took them about six months to get back to me, but they bought it.

Just don’t give up. If you believe in your work, keep trying. Often, the problem is that what publishers are looking for is a narrow band. You have to fit into that band. You have to find the compatible fit.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I don’t know yet.

What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?

I would love to write like Connie Willis. Her fabulous time-travel novel “The Doomsday Book” is one of my very favorites. I’ve read it many times with pleasure. And I like George R . R. Martin, and Suzy Charnas.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

That one is simple: write from your heart.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yep. http://www.phoebewray.net. It’s under construction, but readable.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

JEMMA7729 is my first published book. I’ve got four setting on my desktop. A magic realism series, Tales of the Winter People, and a thriller.

The Winter People series is partly based on my adventure of being a working environmentalist for eleven years, I worked several times with Native American people, and became fascinated with the old tales of how the tribes integrated new technologies into their societies without losing their culture.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

think people who can write ought to. We’ve become so wifi and anime and other techno things that sometimes we can feel overwhelmed. But I’m about to teach Drieser’s “Sister Carrie,” published in 1900, and it captures the fin de siecle in America as nothing else. Words ARE.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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By Gerard Readett
Writers Exchange E-Publishing
ISBN: 1876962771
Copyright 2001
International Thriller/Futuristic
Author’s Website

If you like international thrillers about terrorism, you may consider getting a copy of Readett’s novel, Roadworks.

The setting: Brussels, Belgium
The year: 2022

What if all transportation in the city—rail, road, underground—abruptly comes to a standstill? What if a bomb is placed in each hotel where a head of state is staying, as well as in buildings nearby? What if a terrorist group demands the greatest humanitarian aid package the world has ever seen?

This is the scenario in Roadworks. Thus comes the protagonist, Hugh Ryan, a Transport Authority controller who has recently lost his wife and who tries to come up with a plan to outwit the African terrorist leader. The web of intrigue is pushed deeper by a man named Wellens, a crime lord who originally was helping the Africans but whose devious plans have taken another cunning path.

Why is vital information leaking out of the Transport Authority? Who are the spies? As tension and chaos escalate and time runs out, Hugh must unravel the mystery in order to bring order to the city and save innocent lives.

The book is tightly packed and moves at a quick pace, with the author relying mostly in clear-cut dialogue and short action narrative to propel the feeling of suspense. The scenario is realistic and Readett does a fairly good job in describing what Brussels would be like in the future. The novel is plot driven rather than character driven with the main story taking place in less than twenty four hours, adding to the tension as the reader can’t help wonder what’s going to happen next.
The only aspect of this book I didn’t like was the tiny print; even with glasses it was a strain on my eyes. Also, I feel the quality of the writing deserved a better cover. All in all, this is a well-written, entertaining novel that most readers of the genre will enjoy.

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The Book:

Have you ever thought what the world might be like if the present-day vices of society are allowed to continue to run rampant? That is the subject of The Last To Fall, a look at the legacy we leave our children. Civilization as we know it has fallen and the United States has been broken into a series of dictatorships, each with its own army. Death and disease, poverty and starvation, walk hand in hand with greed and madness. Three teenagers seeking a safe haven are caught up in a commune’s battle for survival against the armed might of a power mad resident and his henchmen.

The Author:

Anne K. Edwards enjoys writing in various genres and experimenting with new ideas for stories. She likes writing mystery novels, children’s stories about the misadventures of a dragon named Elvis and the little boy named Jeremy who outwits him. Anne also writes short stories about Death and the Detective that are published occasionally in an online mystery ezine. She’s editor of The Voice in the Dark ezine. Visit her website.

The Excerpt:

Jeanne Foster brushed a weary hand over her stinging eyes. It was impossible to see anything through the hanging mist that mixed with the smoke of burning buildings. What streetlights there were cast shapeless, bluish blobs of light. Buildings appeared as shapeless blackened ruins in the yellowed haze.

Worried, she studied Lester as he sagged against a grungy brick wall for support. It seemed hours since they’d started for the hospital, and their goal was no closer. He sank to the sidewalk coughing, a nerve-shattering sound in the predawn silence.

His thin body shuddered as he tried to draw the polluted air into his damaged lungs. “Jeanne, get help,” he gasped.

She felt a rising hopelessness. “But nothin’s open.”

“Get someone,” he begged as a new spasm seized him. His bloodshot hazel eyes pleaded with her. “Please.”

“I’ll try.” Unhappily, she moved away. The swirling yellow murk immediately engulfed his skinny body as he sprawled on the walk.

Turning her head in an effort to keep him in sight, she collided painfully with a public phone stand that loomed out of the mist. Rubbing her bruised shoulder, she shoved the lowered plastic privacy shield up into its groove and fumbled in the change slot seeking a stray coin. Nothing! The box was greasy and smelled of souring humanity. The line was dead. Just like all the others.

“Damn–” She set her jaw and fought against the pressing tears of frustration.

The choking stink of fire thickened. Her eyes watered as she blinked rapidly, squinting to see what lay ahead. She’d never traveled alone through northwest Washington, D.C. and had no idea where she was. Through an unexpected break in the fog, she spotted the blurry shape of a blue and white police vehicle moving slowly along the street. Running toward it, she shouted for help.

* * *
Officer Delon Stimm heard a girl yelling and swung his vehicle to the curb. He and his massive partner, John Kersey, got out. They kept their hands on their weapons, poised for trouble.

“What’s wrong?” Delon asked the slim, brown-haired girl who came out of the fog like a ghost.

“I need help. My friend’s sick,” she spoke in a voice shrill with urgency.

“Jojo?” He bent to look into her frightened brown eyes. It was the latest illegal drug to take over the younger generation.

“No! He can’t breathe.” She covered her face with her hands and began to cry.

“Where is he?” he asked with a sigh. The morning was to be a continuance of the night before–nothing was going right.

“About a block from here. That way.” Impatiently, she pointed, wiping away tears with the back of her hand. “Please hurry.”

The fog closed in again.

“Get in.” He held the door for her. These kids… He shook his head. They get garbaged up and then cry for help.

Was that what the crumbling society he served did to its children? So many walked the streets looking for something solid to believe in and found nothing. So they turned to jojo and each other. It did not bode well for the future of the country. What future there was, he thought.

He exchanged knowing glances with John. Kids had to learn the hard way. In the rear view mirror, he saw the girl huddle into herself, shivering as she searched the street for her friend.

They found him where she’d left him, a convulsed heap of long blond hair and old blue denims. One of his sandals had fallen off.

“Lester, they’ll take you to the hospital,” she told the boy, bending to touch his shoulder.

Delon could tell by the way Lester tried to push himself up, the police were the last people he wanted.

In spite of his protests, John and Delon carried him to the car. Skinny kid. Not any bigger than the girl. Wonder when he ate last. They placed him on the back seat, his head on the girl’s lap. “Looks like bad stuff to me,” Delon muttered.

“I told you, he’s not on anything,” she said fiercely through renewed tears. “It’s his lungs. He’s got emphysema or asthma.”

“Could be.” John Kersey started the car. “Could be. The air’s rotten. All that smoke… Don’t know why anyone would start fires now. My nose burns all the time from this polluted rot we call air.” He grunted as he turned the car around.

Delon nodded in agreement. As soon as the sun rose above the haze enveloping the city, the smoke would mix with heated humidity, making the air almost too thick to breathe. His sweat-soaked, light blue uniform shirt was already clinging to his spine against the plastic seat covers. Everything smelled of smoke. He shuddered involuntarily.

This wasn’t the first trip they’d made before daybreak to The Old University Hospital, nor would it be the last.

“The hospital isn’t going to like this,” he mumbled over the boy’s wheezing gasps. He hoped they didn’t run into any of the roving military groups searching for looters or streeters. He’d have to turn these children over to them.

John caught his meaning. “We’re becoming an ambulance service,” he said as he steered the car into the emergency entrance, passing the remains of the sign that bore the once-proud name of Georgetown University. Peering through the rounded swaths the wipers made on the windshield, he said, “Going to be an ugly day. Sun isn’t going to break through this muck.”

* * *
White-coated attendants wheeled out a squealing gurney to meet the cruiser. Jeanne waited impatiently as the dark-skinned officer opened the rear door so she could stretch her legs to get rid of the cramps caused by holding Lester’s head in the confined space.

Sniffing at the stale odor of heavy pine-scented cleanser used to cover hospital odors, she reluctantly followed them into a dim, green-walled corridor.

Officer Stimm drew her to a battered counter set to the left of the scratched glass doors.

Twisting a lock of her long brown hair, she watched sadly as the guerney carrying Lester’s twitching body disappeared through double steel doors on the right.

A round-faced clerk with green-tinted hair and discontented mouth handed Jeanne a sheaf of forms and a pen. “Are you a member of his family?” she queried, eying Jeanne suspiciously.

Jeanne shook her head.

“Where have you been living?” the officer asked, his teeth flashing white against his dark skin.

“Two thousand two Connecticut Avenue in Northwest,” she mumbled, twisting the hair over her left eye. The old hotel, once an uptown address, had long ago been condemned. It was home to dozens of young streeter couples like herself and Lester. She’d miss it, but without Lester, she didn’t belong.

“I see,” he said flatly. “One of those old places beyond DuPont Circle. Not a safe neighborhood for a girl.”

She didn’t answer.

“Do you know his family or where he’s from?” he prodded.

She shook her head, avoiding his kind brown eyes. His unspoken sympathy would only increase her need to cry. She had no idea who his people were so she focused on the forms, placing them on the counter. “I can’t fill these out.”

“They have to be filled in,” the clerk tapped her chewed pencil on the counter.

“I can’t. I don’t know if he’s allergic to things. I don’t know if he’s been sick before.” Jeanne’s temper edged into her tone.

“Does he have hospitalization?” The girl flashed Jeanne a quick look.

“He never told me,” Jeanne snapped. Most people didn’t have it.

“Does he have a bank account?” The clerk reddened, scrawling angry notations on a pink form.

“No. He’s unemployed.” Jeanne turned away.

The girl chewed her fleshy lower lip in silence. “I see,” she said after a pause and picked up the telephone. She toyed with a pulled thread in her blue knit top. Something red stained the shoulder.

“Will they take care of him?” Jeanne asked, pulling on her own clothes to straighten them. It had been so long since she’d fussed over her looks, she rarely thought about it. All she had was what she wore, jeans and a faded blue blouse.

“Yes. Now, can you answer a few questions about yourself?” the policeman asked in a kind voice. “Do you have a family?”

She shook her head again. No sense in getting her mom involved. She’d only say she didn’t know where she failed, her excuse for everything that happened in her life. Jeanne didn’t want any more of those horrible crying scenes with the well-remembered recriminations. The recollection of the hurt they caused each other nudged her conscience.

“Do you have anyone at all?” he persisted. He guided her to some chairs with patched red-cloth seats along the wall.

“No, nobody.” She took the one nearest the exit sign. The fabric was unraveling and it wobbled when she shifted her weight.

“How old are you?” He sat next to her, putting his hat on his lap.

“Twenty. I left home last spring after papa died.” Tears pressed in her throat. In some ways Lester had reminded her of her dad. Now he was gone again.

She straightened her shoulders and looked at the policeman. Knowing he would want proof of her age, she handed him a driver’s license she’d found on the street. The plastic coating had cracked and water had distorted the features in the picture, but it looked a little like her.

“This is expired.” He handed it back, his expression reflecting his belief the photo wasn’t her.

Jeanne shrugged. “Don’t have a car anyhow.” She shoved her hair back from her face with shaking fingers. She clamped her lips shut. The license said she was twenty, but she felt more like a hundred.

He studied her intently. “We’re just trying to help. You kids come here looking for God only knows what. I see it every day. You get hooked on jojo or sick like your friend.”

She remained silent. The police always knew all the answers.

The officer stood. “If you have a family, go home and make up. This way doesn’t work.” He peered down at her, adding, “Wait here. I have other questions for you, but I want to check on your friend.” He put on his black hat, pushing it back, and walked away.

Jeanne eavesdropped as he spoke to the nurse who chewed the end of a pencil. She wanted Lester to be all right, but doubted he would be. He’d been spitting up blood this time. Fear formed a knot in her chest.

“How is he? Good news might help me get the truth out of her.” He nodded toward Jeanne who read concern in his gaze.

The nurse took her pencil out of her mouth. “You know University takes no public cases now that our federal funding has been cut off. The new owners are very specific about accepting only paying patients. The boy was been sent directly to Cartersea in Northeast with a few others. He was on oxygen when they left.”

“Thanks.” Officer Stimm turned to John Kersey, who stood near the unplugged coffee machine. “I guess that’s better than nothing. We’d better get the signatures on these new service cards to show how we spent the last hour. I miss the old days when all we did was patrol through our shift. This new paperwork is a pain.” He sounded tired.

The waiting gave Jeanne the jitters. If I stick around, I’ll get sent to the juvenile center. And they’ll get word to Mom. She felt the tears pressing again. I don’t wanna go home. It’s always the same thing.

She’d lost count of the times she’d been returned only to run away again. The burden of guilt her mother shifted onto her for her troubles was too much to face any more. The thought of it impelled Jeanne to her feet as the two officers were distracted by the nurse inquiring about the identity of another patient they’d brought in earlier. Catlike, she moved to the door to make her escape. Lester didn’t need her now.

He’d probably never leave the hospital or, if he did live, they’d send him to one of those detainment camps where people without permanent addresses were held. She shuddered. Much as she didn’t want to go home, she didn’t want to wind up in one of the horrible camps she’d heard about. Even if the rumors or torture and death weren’t true, the people were still prisoners.

Sadly, Jeanne accepted that she’d never see Lester again. The best thing to do was get away from D.C.

She headed into the thickening mist where she felt secure from curious eyes, but as dawn broke, the smoky tendrils began to lift and thin. Another ugly day in an ugly city.

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