One of the new beginnings, or beginnings anew, for 2021 is a return to the writing habit. Truth to tell, it’s proven a stop-start affair so far, but one thing I have managed is to generate some beginnings, one of which I’m plugging away at to try to at least finish something.
So, to keep that goal in mind, and… if not celebrate, then certainly note… the fact that I’m slowly clawing my way back towards some of those routines, activities, and perhaps even careers that used to make me happy, here are five story openings I’ve managed to get down since the start of the year.
5 for Friday: Show me your opening.
All the Gods pass through here. The walls are thick with photos: Odin, back in the two-eyed days; Zoroaster poking two fingers up behind Zarathustra’s head; Kali with her arms around Mister Vitelli. A lot of Gods with Mister Vitelli. He might own the place, but you’ve never met a bigger starfucker in your life. And Mister Vitelli has lived several.
Truth is, nobody knows how long Mister Vitelli’s been around. I tried to map it out, once. Build a chronology using the photos as a guide. But times runs kinky here. Gods are natural phenomena. Black holes with daddy issues. Supernovae with bar tabs. The laws of physics and men get bent for party tricks in this place. All I know is, Mister Vitelli is old. Like, cosmic old. All the Gods call him ‘Mister’. That should tell you all you really need to know.
I saw him, once. From a distance. I was tending bar, trying to keep Circe and Freya from turning the bar top into a live action porn show. Again. He was at a table with a God I didn’t recognise. Someone lean, and modern, all darkness and bad intentions. Even through a halo of Goddess hair and love sweat, I could tell—this was a bad news kind of God, a no-future kind of God. And whatever he was pitching, Mister Vitelli was angry.
Declan pulled his jacket closer round his shoulders and kicked his way through the mud towards the pressing shed. The vines surrounding him were stunted and blackened by sleet. They wouldn’t bloom for countless months. Declan shivered. He’d lost track of time while he wandered aimlessly along the rows. He had no purpose, no drive. Nothing is as useless as a vintner in winter, he rhymed to himself, striking a rap-star pose and then sighing self-consciously. Time to head back to the homestead. Hot chocolate and a Jason Statham DVD, that was what he needed. The opposite of the thinking that threatened to drive him into an office job every time he stopped to contemplate what too many more weeks of this blight would do to his savings. He reached the end of the row of vines, and turned towards the small house tucked away at the back of the vineyard.
“Hello,” he muttered.
A tall, stooped figure stood at the entrance to the vineyard’s shop-cum-reception. Declan called out to him as he walked over.
“We’re closed, I’m sorry!”
The figure turned. It took Declan a second to recognise the features: the long, drooping face, the prominent ears, the eyes that viewed him with something approaching kindly contempt.
“Yes,” said the figure. “I’m rather afraid so.”
The lawn slopes down from the house to a point ten metres lower, and thirty further along he hillside. From the balcony I can see bushes older than me lining the paths—still flowering, still green and profuse, long after the hands that planted them withered and died. Flashes of purple and yellow dominate pillars of grey and white gum. Three chalets of pale wood like pill boxes stand guard over the middle distance. A car park of sorts nuzzles against the first—the lawn scraped back to red stone like some sort of corporate Uffington Horse for the 21st century, a scratch big enough for four cars to linger side by side. The air hangs thick with flower scent and insect buzz, the silence all the deeper for the minute interruptions of bees and butterflies. Behind, through the creaking sliding door, pictures of His Divine Majesty oversee hopeful aspirants. A new circle of faces, new words, old arguments, coffee cups worn familiar by decades of hands. The timbers creak. Lace curtains slither against windows. The ceaseless background hum of ocean and hidden wildlife lies beneath the hills.
The truck came through the stop sign doing at least eighty. It was never going to make the corner. The driver threw the wheel over, anyway. The squeal of tortured tires filled the neighbourhood air. Jimmy Piggott and his friends had a soccer game going in the street. They froze as eight tonnes of out-of-control metal teetered on three wheels. Time froze. Then gravity, physics, and inevitability reasserted themselves. The truck went over with a sound like the world ending. The driver was thrown against his door, then against his windscreen. If any of the boys had cared to notice they’d have seen a star appear where his head hit the glass. But they were already diving for the non-existent protection of Mrs Higgins’ front yard. The truck sped on for another twenty metres, collecting letterboxes, rubbish bins, and Mister Boateng’s Mini Cooper on the way through. And Jimmy Piggott.
“The colony of Kwinyah.” Regis pointed to a schematic: a straggle of buildings loosely gathered around a central square, some of which were easily identifiable as barracks, an abattoir; a hall; a circle that was most likely a well, or fountain; some fences surrounding blank plots, most likely corrals or stores. “Set up as an experiment. Remove prisoners from the incarceration system, force them to take responsibility for their own welfare, limit engagement with the outside world to only those interactions necessary for the survival of the community.”
“Sounds like paradise.”
“Far from it.” He smirked. “Nobody sends convicts, not even allegedly harmless, minimum-security types like the ones chosen for this project, to places real people might like to go.”
“Non-criminals. Outstanding types. Pillars of the community, that sort of thing.” He turned back to his display. “Don’t worry yourself. You’ve never met them.”