Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Return of Sim (KIT) and Abel

I feel untethered.

Last Tuesday, I finished the fourth and final(ish) draft of The City and the Trees.

On Thursday, I had school Prizegiving and then the Leavers' Ball, which means I have Properly and For Real finished school.

On Friday, we left the EU.

In a way it seems silly to group those three things together. Two are personal, if momentous, happenings; one is a national event of international importance. But the common denominator is this feeling I have of floating away; of being cut loose, directionless, free-falling. I'm not going to talk too much about this today, because I don't want this post to be longer than necessary -- I'll give full updates (maybe even a prom picture, shock horror) soon. But I am in a very strange place at the moment.

Sometimes I feel the only constants in my life are God, books, family and writing. (Thank goodness for those things, eh?) In that spirit, today I'm posting a short story for Starting Sparks, the monthly prompt link-up hosted by Ashley @ [insert title here] and me @ right here. For rules, regs, and further info, hop up to the Starting Sparks page.
writing prompt:
The June prompt. Link up with us by clicking here; there is still time!

Do you remember The School for Heroes?

Based on comments, pageviews and the general tone of your response, I think it's the most popular story I've ever posted. It featured Sim, misanthropic, tea-addicted chemist from Nottingham, and Abel, all-American blond quarterback hero from Indiana. They are in their first year at the School for Heroes, which, to quote myself, is a top secret international institution training young spies, leaders and scientists. The School ran a five year programme, starting with people like him [Sim] and Abel: monitored in school for their abilities, and plucked from the threshold of their excellent degrees to come here, to Zurich."

I wrote that story for December's Starting Sparks -- the prompt was “Would you stop putting things in my microwave?" -- and originally it was meant to be a fun, one-off, let's-make-fun-of-Americans type affair. But they have resurfaced in my head, again and again, and now they're reappearing!

When I realised this, I realised I'd have to change Sim's name. I try not to be the kind of woman who rabidly plans her future wedding/husband/kids, because hey, I might have none of those things, but I do have three boys' names selected and they are Jude, Silas and Simeon. And obviously you can't have kids and characters with the same names. So if I ever do write this book, Simeon is a no-go.

I changed it to Cam (short for Cameron -- a fun fact about me is that I'm almost incapable of picking non-monosyllabic names for my MMCs), which was great until my friend was like “Cam and Abel? Seriously? Cam and Abel ... Cain and Abel." So then it was Seth, which was marvellous ... until I remembered Nina from LesMisBook. That is, Nina Seth. So now it is Kit (short for Christopher), and thus it shall stay.

Can you tell I take character names very seriously???

If you want to read the first part, click here. It's not really necessary for context, but it sets the general tone. Otherwise, all you need to know is: Kit makes fun of Abel and Abel is nice to Kit.

~***~

The School for Heroes: Flicker

The motel room followed in the grand tradition of motel rooms everywhere: clinical, ugly, slightly decrepit. One of the lightbulbs flickered. Kit glared at it. It flickered obstinately back. He felt it was laughing at him. 

“Are you sure you’re OK?” Abel said. 

“Abel, I’m fine! Will you give me a break for five seconds?” Kit’s shout made Abel blink, and he winced. “Sorry. I’m sorry, Abel, I didn’t mean to shout.” He drew long on his cigarette. As he exhaled he wished his mental state could mirror the smoke’s calm dispersal. “I’m fine. You need to trust me.”

Trust. The word was a red-hot needle under his skin. As if he could trust you, if he knew the truth. 

“All right,” Abel said. “I do. It’s just, you know, I don’t like the thought of you going through all this – whatever it is – alone.”

A battering wave of guilt washed over Kit. He couldn’t help meeting Abel’s eyes – blue, open, trusting – and hate himself a little more. Kit was running out of ways to quantify his hatred of himself. It had been simmering for years, but these past few months it had broken out, a vehement, fast-moving rash. Abel trusted him. Abel didn’t want him to bear his troubles alone. Abel would be horrified by the truth. 

“Thanks,” Kit managed to say. “That’s kind of you. Thank you.” He went to the window and stuck his head out, glad for air that wasn’t an unpleasant mix of smoke and eau de motel room. The January wind stung his eyes. He drew back and shut the window.

“So …” Abel said.

Kit couldn’t bear to respond. 

Abel said, “What’s the plan?”

“We’ve been over this so many bloody times!” Kit grimaced. Seconds before he’d remonstrated himself for shouting. Now he was doing it again. He was like a child that couldn’t learn, crying as it burnt its hands before putting them back in the fire. “Sorry.” There was a crack in his throat not merely smoke-related. “Sorry,” he repeated quietly.

The plan was so limp and feeble he could hardly bear think about it. He and Abel were fugitives, here in this motel in south-west Switzerland, and it was entirely his fault. Kit thought of his old life. Streets of London, rainy days in Nottingham, grotty schools and a grottier flat, evenings that smelt of stale cigarettes and burnt cooking. He’d never left England until that autumn. The School for Heroes had changed his life.

But ruining things had always been his speciality.

He remembered a documentary showing two mongooses fighting a snake. They overpowered it, and its last frenzied moment of life the snake reared, twisted, and sank its poison into its own neck. Had it been aiming for a mongoose, a final If I die you die with me, or was its suicide on purpose? As its body twitched and spasmed, Kit couldn’t believe it killed itself as a painless way out. Rather, it was driven mad by terror, until attacking its own flesh seemed like a good idea.

He was like it: a scrawny reptilian creature, shuddering as it writhed from its hole, hissing in a desperate kamikaze. The School could have given him so much, but of course he had to throw it away.

The School for Heroes: top-secret institute, plucking students like Kit from the genesis of their top-class degrees and training them as spies or scientists or the most powerful people in the world. Kit was a chemist. Who knows what sparkling plans the School had for him; how they planned to use his genius? He was the crème de la crème, but he was unsatisfied.

Perhaps it was because, like that snake, Kit had always felt threatened. He glanced at Abel, sitting there like a Greek god. Abel – American old money, sports star and loving son – was the sort of the hero that gave the School its name. Kit had never, could never be that boy: the six-packed blond with the winning smile, high school darling replete with happy parents and wholesome, home-cooked meals. When Kit had met his new roommate in September he’d hated him, his accent, his outlook, everything he represented. Kit had never felt like the hero. He was the villain, surely. It had been October when an unnamed organisation approached Kit with a plan to take the School down from within. It was very simple. He developed poison, and they paid him to use it. In his mind Kit wore a Zorro-esque mask, wreathed in the mystique and glamour of a hired assassin. Last week, when they gave him his first target, it hadn’t felt like that.

It had been working through him all winter, the horrible stealing conviction that he was doing a dreadful wrong, but it all crystallised that freezing day. Sitting on the floor of his room, with his first cigarette in two months, Kit had crumpled the paper in his fist. Abel Ledgister, it said. Since then he’d smoked like the proverbial chimney, and the plan was a slick of dirty water.

“Kit!” Abel said.

Kit jumped and looked to where his friend pointed: the cigarette, burning out between his fingers. The heat shocked his skin for half a second before he dropped the smoking stub.

A sigh that could almost have been a sob shuddered through him. He wanted to collapse onto the bed, but how would he get up again? Through swimming eyes – tears or exhaustion? Both? – he saw Abel looking at him. The concern in his friend’s face ran through Kit like a knife.

“I’m going to get you a cup of tea,” Abel said. “Do you want some food?”

Kit ran a hand across his face. His stomach rumbled. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was. “Some chips would be great.” Chips, salt, vinegar, tea. Simple pleasures. Why did he always make things so hard for himself?

He lay back, eyes following a crack across the ceiling. The light was still flickering. Kit shut his eyes, but he could see it through his lids. He groaned and rolled over. Now what?

Maybe it was his fate to ruin his life and others’. He’d backed himself against a wall, well and truly, and the stone was cold and unforgiving. He was on the run from what was probably an international, nefarious and very powerful organisation, after failing to carry out their task of death. He could not ask the School for help, because then he’d have to reveal he’d been plotting against them. And Abel – Abel, his only friend – could not know the truth. Abel the pure, the Arthurian knight, would be sickened to know what Kit had done. Abel loved the School for Heroes. He was its own. How could Kit tell him he’d sought to bring it crashing down?

He thought, wistfully, of his bank account, where the digits lay heaped up by his unknown employers. That week, after he’d been instructed to kill his best friend, had been a panicked dash of thefts and preparations. False passports, stolen from the School; clothes and food thrown in bags; money withdrawn from both their accounts, as much as they could. There were rules and limits to withdrawals and Kit could not draw attention to himself by taking out a massive sum, so most of his newfound wealth stayed where it was. He knew that was it, now; after leaving Zurich, withdrawals would be arrows pointing to them. They were going to have to survive.

Survival. Kit had done it before. At fourteen he’d spent a year on London’s streets; family was a word he didn’t know. But what would Abel do? How would he cope? This was the agony, this the awful question roiling in the greyness of Kit’s mind. He hated the idea of leaving Abel behind, but he’d do it in a flash if he thought it would keep him safe. But again and again he saw that sweat-dampened paper, Abel Ledgister, and wondered whether, should he leave Abel, they wouldn’t kill him themselves. Why was he the target at all? There was nothing he could have done. Kit thought, instead, that they chose Abel as a test of his loyalties; a test he’d failed. Nonetheless, if he left him behind, he had no doubt they’d kill him anyway. Out of spite.

And so, frantically, Kit had looked up flight times, before cursing himself, because could he imagine they wouldn’t be watching his internet usage? Flights out of Zurich would be monitored, and so they had hitchhiked south, Abel’s charm patching the gaps in their lacklustre German and worse French. Here they were, in this soulless, cold room off the motorway; tomorrow they’d reach Lausanne, and thence fly to London. In the streets of his one-time home they would have to melt away, for now they were rebels. Prey. Kit breathed into his stale pillow. He was so tired and hungry. The tea, the chips, Abel’s care for him, hovered in his mind. Through those panicked nights and clawing, fear-filled days, Abel had been there, helping him, trusting him, blindly, not pushing for answers. Feeding the fire of Kit’s self-loathing.

The door opened and Abel smiled at him. He held a polyester vending machine cup and a bag of crisps. Kit frowned.

“Tea,” Abel said, handing it to him, “and chips. Why are you looking at me like someone’s died?”

Kit took the limp pink bag. Prawn cocktail, the worst kind. “Crisps,” he said, hollowly.

Abel’s brow furrowed. Very slowly, realisation spread across his face, and he groaned. “You meant fries.”

Kit groped for his cigarettes, found the box empty. He turned it upside down and shook it, as if magically one might be hiding, and let out a noise of abject despair.

“Probably for the best,” Abel said, seriously. “Think of your lungs.”

The light flickered as if it agreed, and Kit looked back to the empty box, the pale lukewarm tea with its scummy swirl of milk, the tragic bag of crisps. The awful motel room, the darkness and sleet outside. A sob was rising in his throat. 

“Kit?” Abel said. “I’m really sorry, I thought you meant chips like these, I didn’t think—”

Kit looked at him, the concern on his apologetic face; shook his head, and started to laugh. Abel frowned at him, and Kit’s laughter rose, streaming, slightly hysterical, until Abel had to join in. The light and the crisps looked derisively on, and the sleet pounded outside, and Kit knew that if he thought too hard about what he had done, what they were doing, he’d drown. So they laughed, there in the grimy motel room, laughed until they couldn’t breathe, and the next day they flew to London. In the rainy streets Kit wondered how they’d come to this, how they could continue.

~***~

How has your week been? (Has anything happened to make you feel as weird as I do?) If you've linked up with Starting Sparks, a thousand thank yous!

14 comments:

  1. Thrilled to have these two back! I remember reading and enjoying the first story. I feel so sorry for the both of them, though. Poor Kit, I suspected that would happen when he requested the chips.

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    1. I'm so so happy you remember them! I too feel desperately sorry for both of them, esp Kit. You know those charries you just love far too much? He's become one of them. He is my latest PRECIOUS CHILD.

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  2. Yes! They're back - even if a name has been changed! :D

    More, please?

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    1. We shall see! This book would involve actual research (ew??) but they do keep marshalling their way through my head so I don't know.

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  3. So I was internally dancing when I realized we were going back to the School of Heroes story!

    Why can't you name your children after characters? Not that I would name my kid Oddball. That would be cruel. I really do like the name Seth though. And I didn't realize Kit was short for Christopher? In the US, it's just Chris (we are so obvious. . .).

    Anyhow, I LOVE THIS! Love this so much. I really like Kit. He is a bit of a drama queen. But I think that fits him. Besides, he's obviously at his wits end. Anybody would be at that point, especially when he confides in nobody. I think he should talk to Abel though. He *might* find Abel a little more understanding than he thinks? Besides shouldn't Abel know that there is danger out there for him? So he can be on the lookout? Bah! Anyway. I really like the comparison with the snake too! It was great imagery and it seems fitting to Kit's character too. I do feel a bit sorry for Abel though. He's just going along with all this after Kit's realizing that his actions have probably ruined more than just his own life. They still make me think of Sherlock and John. But I still want to know, WHAT DOES ABEL DO?! I was hoping it would be revealed because more than likely (maybe you talked about this?) Kit doesn't know what Abel does because he never cared enough to pay attention in the beginning? I'm just kind of waiting for the moment when Abel reveals whatever it is he's good enough at to leave his family and country behind to join a School of Heroes for. (There is so much wrong with the structure of that sentence.) Anyhow, I loved all of this. Especially the little details, like the flickering light. (Gosh, that is always SO irritating.)

    I'm sorry everything feels so strange for you. Like a lost balloon. It's never a comfortable feeling. I anticipate it will come after I move because everything will be new and I'll have to figure out where I fit again. BUT finishing TCATT is so exciting! I'm very happy for you. :D I know there's a sequel, so is it a duology, trilogy? A GLORIOUSLY HUGE SERIES?!

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    1. I'M SO GLAD! To make people externally dance is my #1 goal as a writer, so I guess I'm nearly there! :D :D <3

      I just think it's weird, because obviously the kid and the character would end up with distinct personalities and you'd be like WHICH IS WHICH. I'm all for naming my kids after other people's charries, but my own are like my kids anyway. So it'd just be like naming two of my sons Simeon. AKA a WEIRD THING TO DO.

      I'd say the majority of Christophers shorten to Chris, but I have to be a bit indie ;) Kit is normally Christopher, I think. (I can't think of anything else it'd be short for?)

      Kit is my newest baby :3 He is a bit of a drama queen but as you say, I think it's allowed just now. (He kinda reminds me of Adam? And Ronan. Crossed, if you will.) I too think he should tell Abel the truth, but Abel's pretty much the first person ever to love Kit. In his life, Kit has always been treated with cruelty, suspicion or disinterest. He's never really had a proper friend before. He thinks that if Abel finds out he was plotting against the School, that'll be Abel finding out what he's “really like", and then he'll turn his back on him like everyone else. What he doesn't realise is that Abel's friendship is not that shallow, and Abel would respect Kit for telling him the truth.

      It would be good for Abel to know that he's in danger, but Kit is again taking it all on himself to protect both of them. He's kinda like Jem in that respect; he just wants to shoulder everything. (Also, he sort of gets off on self-loathing. He's punishing himself.)

      I HAVEN'T WORKED OUT WHAT ABEL DOES AND IT'S BOTHERING ME! Is he a scientist? Possibly ... He might be an economist/statistician, not very exciting, but someone has to do it. I don't think it's going to be like a big revelation/plot point. I guess Abel was just chuffed to be selected, and his family support him, and also, you don't have to pay for the School! #winning

      I'm so glad you liked it, thank you <3

      Thank you. It's especially weird because it's not like moving somewhere new and fitting everything together again -- that's a different kind of strange. This is more like everything has been taken away. BUT YES TCATT. It's a trilogy. :D

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    2. Hm, that is true. It guess it would be like having two kids of the same name. XD I didn't think of that!

      (AH! Yes, he is definitely an Adam Ronan mix.) That makes complete sense. Kit's never had real friendship so he doesn't understand how to accept it or give it. But hey, at least he's trying, yes? Like Adam.

      He wants to shoulder everything. . . See, now you've got me comparing him to the TRC boys. Because that sounds like Adam Parrish, army of one. (Haha! That's funny, but true. Is it me, or do we all have our self-punishment moments?)

      Oh. I had a random thought just now. The way you describe Abel and such. Friendly and jovial, and everyone loves him sort of guy. He sounds kind of like a politician? Like Peeta. Someone who's good with words and speeches and inspire people. But that was just a minute ago thought. I don't know if that's what you're really going for with Abel.

      True.

      Trilogies! Huzzah!

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    3. HE IS TRYING. Like Adam. Bless both their hearts!

      My parenthesis was not meant to be funny! POOR LITTLE KIT. We do all have our self-punishment moments ... though some (ie Kit and Adam) more than others!

      Interesting. The word “politician" kinda makes me BLEH but I see what you mean. He is that kinda everyone-loves-him guy .... buuut I don't know if he'd want to shoulder that kind of public responsibility. I dunno though. Maybe that's what the School is training him for, but not actually what he wants? And Kit has never realised that, but when they're on the run Abel opens up more and we realise he was only there because his parents wanted it, and he doesn't actually want that life ...

      Huh! Now you have got me thinking! (Dangerous thing to do, that!)

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    4. Oh, sorry. I didn't mean "haha" funny. I meant like "we humans are funny and strange" sort of funny. If that makes any sense. . .

      The word "politician" does the same for me. *nods*

      Oops. . .

      By of way, I FINALLY emailed you about The Dream Thieves. I tried not to make it long, but I love the book so-- Forewarning: it's kinda long.

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    5. That does make sense! (And I am thinking about this politician thing! Though it's JBH who's been in my head this week. I just finished another piece about him and Nina ...)

      Amazing! I will reply just as soon as I have a second. Looking forward to reading it! Though you should be forewarned that I've probably forgotten about half the plot. I, too, drop my brain sometimes ;)

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  4. I loved this, your writing is so polished and strung together so well. I`m jealous. Abel confusing chips for crisps was awesome.

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    1. Thank you Skye! I do my best to polish while editing XD Glad you enjoyed the chips/crisps debacle. It was Ashley who chose the prompt this month and when I saw it, French fries, I felt I had no other option but an amusing British/American misunderstanding XD

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  5. This was so great! I haven't read the first one you did, but I love the dynamic these two have. And it was all so polished and shining and beautiful, and poor Kit has some serious issues to work through. Like seriously, poor dude. I really want to hear more about them!!

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    1. Thanks, Victoria! You are so kind <3 He does have a lot of issues, externally and internally! Bless him </3

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Thanks for commenting! :)