The Clearing – Chapter 2

Posted on December 13, 2013 1:00 pm

So I posted the first chapter of the new novel I just finished the third draft of, and I’m going ahead and posting the second chapter as well because A) I really like the second chapter and the character introduced in it B) The way things go, it will probably be years until this novel is officially out and I write these things to be read.

BTW, if you asked to be a beta reader, you should have gotten an email from me by now, so tell me if I missed you. And even if you have no interest in being a beta reader, here’s chapter 2 because I’m just excited about this story. And, yes, it’s probably full of typos since I’m the only one who has proofed it so far, but I don’t care at this stage.

CHAPTER 2

“The login is fixed and changes are checked in.”

Pendergrass looked up from his computer at Terrance and nodded. He was head of the software division, but someone probably much more comfortable coding than management. “Good. I need you to start working on those bugs in the main algorithm.”

Terrance frowned. “Not that stuff. It’s like that was written before anyone invented coding standards.”

Pendergrass brushed his thick mustache. “Yeah, I know. Usually I’d handle any problems with it, but I don’t have the time and we really need someone else familiar with it.”

“Okay. I’ll get on it. I just don’t get how code works for decades and then suddenly breaks down.” Terrance headed back to his desk — now sans the mysterious sword — and loaded up the main algorithm code. It was nearly inscrutable. It wasn’t properly indented, the variable names were almost random nonsense like “rdlfdth” and “tprsnyrsl,” and it was pretty much devoid of any comments clarifying the logic. Terrance wasn’t sure who wrote it, but he hoped he was no longer with the company.

After a long while of making no sense of anything, he finally spotted one comment on the code. It sat by itself, a couple lines separating it from any code. It read: “It consumes us from the inside, eating our bloods and guts until all that is left is a shell that looks like a man.”

Terrance stared at it a few moments. Then he appended “unhelpful” to the end of the comment and signed it with his initials.

Terrance jumped as something touched his shoulder.

“Calm down, buddy,” Lance said. “We’re going to Landing after work.”

“Isn’t that place kind of trendy?”

Lance laughed. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“I just don’t fit in with trendy.”

“Oh, there’s nothing to worrying about; you’re awkward everywhere.”

Terrance shifted in his seat. “Well, tonight I kind of wanted to–”

“You don’t have any plans. You’re coming. And guess what: A very lovely lady is going to be waiting for you there.”

“You’re setting me up?”

Lance smiled. “Yes I am. You can thank me later. Or now. I’m not in a big rush.”

“Last time you set me up…” Terrance thought about the woman, both beautiful and repulsive at the same time. “…I think she was a succubus.”

“And what’s that?”

“She wanted to sleep with me to eat my soul.”

“All I heard is she wanted to sleep with you,” Lance said. “Are souls even a real thing?”

“I don’t know, but… she obviously wanted to do something unpleasant and unhealthy to me. Gave me the creeps. Plus, all she wanted to talk about was the latest episode of Glee. I don’t watch Glee.”

“Well, this one is a winner, and know how I know? See, she’s Karen’s friend, and Karen took a lot of convincing — a lot — to let me set you up with her. So, once again, remember to thank me at some point.”

“What’s Karen’s problem with me?”

Lance shrugged. “You’re kinda weird. Remember this morning how you were going on and on about your faerie sword?”

“I wasn’t going on and on about it! And it’s in my car now so it won’t be brought up again.”

“Good. Don’t bring it in the bar.”

Karen walked up to them and said to Lance, “Did you tell him not to be weird?”

“I’m not going to be weird,” Terrance said.

“You better not. Shannon is a very busy woman — too busy to meet people — so I said I’d set her up with someone. I don’t want her to feel too insulted it was you. I don’t expect you to be great; I just expect you to be passable. So no, ‘Hey, look at this sword faeries gave me!’”

“I was not the one bringing it up!”

Karen rolled her eyes. “I’m already regretting this.”

“Terrance will be fine,” Lance said. “He’s only a little weird. Some women like guys who are quirky.”

Terrance sighed. “Why don’t you guys discuss how weird I am elsewhere and let me get back to my code.”

“Fine. Do your nerd stuff.,” Karen said and left.

“So tonight, bring your A game,” Lance said to Terrance. “And maybe you should watch Glee. People like that show.”

“I’m not watching Glee. I don’t care if it will make succubi like me.”

As Lance walked off, Terrance took one last look over the code. He then noticed a little useless piece of code at the bottom.

world = death;

Where did those variables even come from? He thought about deleting the line, but decided the safest thing was to just leave it.

* * * *

“Here, take your glasses off; they make you look like a dork.” Lance took the glasses off Terrance and put them in his front pocket.

“They’re perfectly fine glasses.”

“Hey, my job is marketing for a company that does inventory management,” Lance said. “It’s my job to make boring things look interesting.”

They entered into Landing. For a moment, Terrance thought there was a power outage and the place was using emergency lighting. “I really prefer the bar near our apartments. I can barely see in here.”

“That will work to your advantage,” Lance said. “You’ll have a chance to charm her with your personality before your face scares her off.”

“Oh. Ha. I guess your advantage would be a noisy bar where–”

“Finish that quip later.” Lance strode forward towards a female figure Terrance soon made out to be Karen. The bar was pretty large and filled with a few dozen people. Terrance was a bit curious who it was he was going to be set up with and tried to scan the crowd for hopeful prospects — but again had trouble seeing much. And then he thought he saw something move on the ceiling…

“Hey, space cadet,” Karen said. “I’d like you to meet Shannon.”

Out of the darkness of the bar stepped an ominous figure. It had full armor of black steel, a black sword at its hip, and a helm that looked like the head of a demon. And out of its wide open mouth was a really cute face. “Hey, you must be Terrance,” Shannon said.

Terrance gripped the offered gauntlet and shook her hand. He was a little intimidated by the sight of her, but tried to keep his focus on the sweet, smiling face. “Nice… um… get up you have going there.”

She blushed a little. “I didn’t have time to change out of my work clothes.”

“Neither did I.” He pointed to his white dress shirt and blue tie.

“You could probably take the tie off now.”

“Yeah…” He loosened the tie and pulled it over his head. “And you could probably take the helmet off.”

“Fair enough, but you keep a watch out and make sure no one sneaks up behind me and bonks me on the head.” She pulled off the helmet and then undid her pony tail, shaking loose her blond hair. Getting a really good look at her face, Terrance did feel the need to eventually thank Lance.

“So here we are holding our tie and helmet. We feel better?” he asked.

“No, it’s kind of inconvenient.”

Terrance glanced around him to notice he was standing alone with Shannon. “So they just left us?”

“I guess so. Um… so what do we do now? I’ve never been set up before. I guess we kind of talk and see if we’re…” She motioned her hands together. “…compatible.”

“It’s my understanding that’s how it works. Want to go sit at the bar?” He held up his tie. “We can set our stuff down there.”

“Good idea. We’ll get some of that social lubricant.” She made a drinking motion.

They went over to the bar and took two stools. Shannon put her demon helmet on the countertop and whispered to herself, “Don’t forget it. Don’t forget it.”

“So… um… what is it you do?”

“Oh, I’m a Sister of Torment. We’re a group of women who serve the Darkness. That’s sort of a… well, it’s tough to explain.”

“So you like this job?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty neat. I’m like a… police officer slash soldier slash executioner.”

Terrance managed a smile, though he was a bit uneasy. “So you go around lopping off the heads of bad people?”

“Well, I don’t know if they’re bad; I don’t like to judge. But, you know, we keep an order to things. It’s an important job — hard work but fulfilling. And it’s a fun group I work with.”

“Good… good. It’s good to like the people you work with. Anything about the job you don’t like?”

She thought for a moment. “Well, as being fully dedicated to the Darkness, we have to remain virgins.”

Terrance shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Oh… that’s…”

Shannon burst out laughing. “I’m just kidding. Sorry, I joke when I’m nervous.”

“I’m making you nervous?”

“Oh no… no… you’re fine. So what do you do, Ter? People call you ‘Ter’?”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“How about ‘Ance’? Can I call you ‘Ance’?”

“I won’t physically stop you. Anyway, I’m a computer programmer. I work on web applications — sort of the logic in web pages so that they… do stuff.”

“So like when I buy something on a website, you make sure it properly handles the credit card and all that?”

“Yeah, that’s basically it. I do some of the web pages, but I also work on the backend stuff.”

“That sounds dirty.”

Terrance blushed. “I just mean the logic away from the web pages — back on servers somewhere.”

“So you’re pretty smart.”

“Oh yeah; a genius. If it weren’t for Einstein’s like me, you’d click buttons on web pages and nothing would happen.”

“So what kind of web applications do you do?”

“Oh… nothing too interesting. It’s for inventory management. Still, my company demands that we dedicate ourselves to the job and remain virgins as well.”

“Doesn’t that just happen naturally from being a computer nerd?”

“Ouch.”

She laughed again. “Burn! I got you! You don’t mind if I kid you, Ance?”

“No. That was a good one.” She had an infectious laugh, and he loved her smile. His eyes moved briefly from her face, though, to notice a red stain on her arm. “You got a little something there.”

She looked at the armor. “Oh. Whoops. Well this thing cleans easy. So, do you like your job?”

“Yeah. I like tracking down problems to fix them. Debugging is a bit like being a detective.”

“Like Batman.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, exactly. Just like Batman. In fact, that’s probably an easier way to describe my job in the future: I’m basically Batman.”

“And you work with Karen?”

“She’s in human resources; I don’t really work directly with her.”

Shannon leaned in close to Terrance. Her hair smelled of sour apple. She whispered, “Good. She’s kind of a bitch.”

“Then you should lop her head off,” Terrance whispered back.

Shannon laughed. “If I started cutting off people’s heads for that, I’d wear out my axe.”

Terrance chuckled, and then his smile slowly faded. “You… have an axe for that?”

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.

“Oh…” He turned to Shannon. “What would you like, milady?”

“I will have a cosmopolitan.”

“And I will have a Guinness,” Terrance said.

“Ooh, manly drink,” Shannon said as the bartender when to get their order.

Terrance nodded. “I usually wait until a few dates in and I’m more comfortable with a woman before I drink appletinis in front of her.”

“I can pay for my own drinks, by the way. I’m a liberated woman.”

“I can see that, but it’s still my treat.”

“Well, sexism is never going to end while it equals free booze.”

They laughed and sat silently staring at each other for a few moments. “I think we need to ask each other more questions,” Shannon said. “Again, I’m not really familiar how this works.”

“Well… uh…” Terrance thought for a second, but only one thing popped into his head. “Do you watch Glee?”

“No, I don’t have much time for TV and don’t watch much of the current stuff. Lately, though, I’ve been watching Farscape off of Netflix.”

“Really?”

“You’ve heard of it?”

Terrance nodded. “Yeah, I watched it back on the SciFi channel back when they spelled ‘scifi’ correctly. It’s an underappreciated show.”

“Well, don’t spoil it. I’m only in the second season. With all the Jim Henson muppet aliens, I keep hoping the Pigs in Space make a cameo.”

“They’re actually part of a big arc in the fourth season.”

Shannon went wide-eyed. “Really?”

Terrance laughed. “No.”

“Oh! Now you’re teasing me.” She hit him seemingly lightly in the chest, but it almost knocked him off his stool. “Dangerous thing.”

“Yeah, I’ll be careful.” He resisted the urge to rub where she hit him. He tried to think of another question to ask, and he kept thinking of more queries about her job… though they seemed to have moved past that topic.

The bartender delivered their drinks, and Terrance quickly took a swig of his. Shannon sipped her cocktail demurely. “So what do you do for fun, Ance?”

“Well…” He tried to think of something more interesting to say than “video games,” but was at the moment failing.

“Uh oh. You’re a serial killer and you’re trying to think of a cover story!”

“And you’d think I’d have a few other interests than that, but serial killing uses up pretty much all of my free time. No, I play video games; I was just trying to think of a better answer than that.”

Shannon glared at him. “A male in his twenties who plays video games?!” She turned to look around her, shouting weakly, “Help! I’m with a freak!”

“So you play any video games, Nin, or do you just spend your time working on your stand up?”

“Nin? Oh I see what you did there. Well, I once tried some Call of Duty online, but I got sick of twelve-year-olds calling me a fag.”

“And they’re just so good at that game. You can’t beat the homophobic twelve-year-olds. So, what do you do for fun? Also a serial killer?”

“No, that would be too much like my day job. I… Well, I don’t know if it counts as doing something, but I have a cat. Her name is Amidala.”

“You named her from the Star Wars prequels?”

Her eyes brightened. “Yeah! I loved those! And that Jar-Jar Binks was hilarious. I really don’t know why they didn’t use him more in episodes two and three.”

Terrance sat up from his stool. “Oh, geez, look at the time. I have to get going.”

Shannon laughed. “I’m not fooling you anymore, am I? You’re on to me. I just liked the sound of the name; those movies were a travesty.”

He sat back down. “I can put up with so much from a pretty woman, but not hating Jar-Jar Binks is a bridge too far.”

“Oh, you think I’m pretty.” She batted her eyes.

“You really pull off that dark armor.”

“Thanks. I feel a little self-conscious hanging around in it.” No one seemed to be paying attention to her, though; it was only Terrance who felt it was a bit odd. Which seemed a good enough reason not to worry about it.

* * * *

They chatted for hours about movies and old TV shows and other light topics. Terrance could tell he was a bit smitten for her; she wasn’t only gorgeous, she was witty and sweet. It’s just apparently she had a job where…

He shook the thought from his head. He figured he was making a big deal out of nothing, and he didn’t want to ruin this.

Shannon looked around. “So Karen and Lance totally ditched us.”

“It appears that way.”

“I bet they’re somewhere right now doing naked things.”

“If they are, Lance will tell me in the morning.”

“That reminds me.” Shannon pulled out her cellphone from a leather pouch on her armor and checked the time. “Oh, I need to get going. I have to get up early tomorrow for the ole jobby job.”

“Oh… well… It was really nice talking to you. Would you like to do this again, because I haven’t run out of all my opinions on popular science fiction.”

She smiled. “Sure.”

Score! “How about this weekend.”

“I’m busy all this weekend. My job is awful; I’m sorry. Um… I have time tomorrow night, if that wouldn’t be too much of me too soon.”

“Yeah, we can get dinner somewhere and maybe figure things out from there.”

“Ooh. Adventurous. I like it. Just give me time to change.” She motioned to her armor.

“Yeah, it will be nice to get you out of that.” He blushed. “That came off a little too forward.”

Shannon giggled. “I know what all the guys think: Does she actually fill that breastplate?” She thumped her metal chest. “Hey, if it’s okay, I’m going to tell Karen you took me to your place and ravaged me.”

Terrance nodded. “It’s a believable story.”

She stood up. “It was really nice meeting you. I was a little nervous about this — I just assumed Karen would set me up with a real douche.”

“Glad to defy expectations, then.” He took one last long look at her face. She was gorgeous; he could hardly believe his luck.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move. He looked up at the ceiling, and there was something there staring back at him. He couldn’t make it out at all except for the yellows eyes locked on him.

“What is it?” Shannon turned and looked behind her.

“There’s something on the ceiling staring at me,” Terrance said, not breaking eye contact with it.

Shannon glanced at the creature. “Yeah, those things will do that.” She looked back at him. “I have to get going. I have your email, so we’ll meet up tomorrow.”

He broke eye contact with the creature. “Yeah, looking forward to it.”

Terrance watched as the armored figure of Shannon walked off and looked again to the dark creature on the ceiling. None of it was unusual, so why was he so bothered by it?

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6 Responses to “The Clearing – Chapter 2”

  1. Annie says:

    w00t!!!

    Okay, I did not read chapter 1, just happened to catch this and time to read it coincidentally. And I really mean major w00t!

    I have no idea what is going on, and apparently, neither does he, but it reads fabulously. Now I have to go back and read the first chapter and then say… May I please have some more?

  2. Burt says:

    Major Wisdom!!!
    (“Well, sexism is never going to end while it equals free booze.”)
    I will try to remember to credit you with that every time I use it.

  3. mrsizer says:

    Love it!

    Now your prospective beta-reader needs to look something up. You have a lot of periods and quotes. I’m not sure if those periods should be periods or commas. For example: Terrance nodded. “It’s a believable story.” vs Terrance nodded, “it’s a believable story.”

    I _think_ the latter, which is how I would have written it, but I will find out for certain. It can also be chalked-up to style: You are very consistent and it’s a good way (imho) to avoid “said”, “saying”, ‘explained”, “exclaimed”, etc… all over the place.

  4. Stephen says:

    Pretty good, reminiscent of Charlie Stross’ _Atrocity Archives_. My nit is the constant shifting of perspective from first to third person. This works best in first person and you might as well stay there.

  5. Wyrmlaf says:

    And here’s a beta reader who somehow deleted the email with the book attached. :( I promise to save it the hard drive first before I play with my email on my nook.

  6. HCG says:

    Hi Frank,
    I’d love to be a beta reader. It will help me pass the time while I wait for SuperEgo.
    Cheers,
    HCG

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