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Excerpt from “Explosions From the Middle of Nowhere”

I feel the need to preface this for those who are not a part of VCU’s OCDI. I am participating in an Online Course Development Initiative, and this post is part of an activity in which we engaged.  The assignment was to choose one set of eight or so series of pictures the instructors had posted, and collaboratively write a story. My partners in crime for this were Ann Creighton-Zollar and Peter Temple.  Our collaboration tool of choice was a Google Doc. We voted on which set of pictures to use and put down some preliminary thoughts about what the pictures said to us. Once one was chosen, we added to the skeleton that was already there. Peter really took off with it and we went on quite the journey with this story. I wonder if we’ll write the novel…anyway, here is the series of pictures we used:

And here is our excerpt from our novel:

“This is insane!”

“No,” the elderly man wheezed into his oxygen mask. “The definition of insanity…is doing the same thing…over and over…trying to get different results.” Long, drawn breaths and exhales dotted his sentences, the disease wracked his body to ruins. His arm rested along his hip, and a pistol was weakly aimed at one of the suits before him.

The trio of special agents had weapons drawn, ready “Do it, Neils! Give us what we need to unarm the weapon!”

“For example…ranting and making demands…when that isn’t what I want!” Neils shuffled in his wheelchair, pulling out a manilla envelope. “But this?” He shakily raised the gun to his left hand, tapping on the envelope, “This…is what you want.”

Each agent had been trained for this kind of scenario, but Neils was clever. Nothing was ever easy. Even as a frail, ill man, Neils was wily and just as sick.

A coughing cackle escaped his lips, as a cracked grin spread across his face. “Bang.” He pulled the trigger, causing a small flame to emerge from the barrel, slowly igniting the paper. “Bang.” Another spot started to catch. “Heh-haugh-ha…BANG!” Neils pointed his gun directly at Agent Evans, starting to squeeze when a shot rang out.

“CARATACHEA! STAND DOWN!” Evans pushed Caratachea’s gun down to the ground. Gallahan rushed in, stamping out the flames that the old man had dropped. “DAMMIT, Matt! What were you thinking?!,” Evans yelled at the youngest agent. “It was a damned lighter! What did you think he was going to do—” he caught himself, growling under his breath. “Tudy, is what we need in that envelope?!”

Agent Gallahan gently pulled out the contents. They were damaged, but recovered all the same. “Thank goodness,” she muttered, “I think we’ve got them, Robert!” The aged papers had markings, the basis of the code they needed.
“Heh…haugh…” The elderly man strained to breathe, a rusty laugh emerging from his lungs. “Cracked…code…but that’s…not all.” He laughed in defiance of his current situation, each cough adding specks of blood to his oxygen mask. Evans hurried over, keeping Neils’s head straight up, his eyes locked.

“Neils…what do you mean?! Tell us what you mean!”

“I stole much…from antiquity…do you know…how much…it’ll cost you?” Another glob of blood filled the mask. “Nine…ninety…seven. Heh…haugh!”

“Neils, what does that mean?! Nine ninety-seven? NEILS!” Evans shook the heap of the man.

“You’re all…so…cheap.” Neils’ eyes rolled back, his last breath escaping from what remained of his lungs.

“DAMMIT!” Evans turns around, and flipped the small side table over. Matt winced at the explosive act from the normally calm veteran agent. “Caratachea, I SWEAR, he was our ONLY ANSWER! And now he’s dead! I’m going to personally see to it that the director has your AS—”

“EVANS! If you’re done chewing Caratachea out, I think I know what he means…” Tudy fanned out the pages, showing 991, 993, 995, and 999. “We need to find his missing page.”

Evans bit at his bottom lip, nodding. “We’ll call cleanup, and then we need to get out feelers on all of Neils’ dealers, fences, contacts…respectable or otherwise.” As he passed by Caratachea, Evans dug his index finger into his shoulder. “And you? You’re going to have one hell of a write up once all of this is done.”

But if we don’t find that page with the disarm codes every tunnel on the Atlantic Coast will come down. The chatter of the other agents disappeared into the background and her mind was flooded with memories of other explosions and cave-ins. She ran her hand through,  well it would have been through her hair,  if it had not been burned off in … 67, 68? As she fingered the scar tissue left by a blast with a fuzzy date the only thing getting through was the infernal racket from a guitar.  That bit her mind recognized- Bach, a prelude BWV 997. WAIT – PAGE 997 BACH 997

Then it came to her, like a flashback from hell – PENNSYLVANIA HIGHWAY 997. In the middle of nowhere. A BARN. A barn filled with BOOKS.  A barn Neils had used as a hiding place, dismissed as part of a wild goose chase they had been led on before the explosion in 67, or was it 68? The explosion that took her hair and the desire from his eyes. If her ducts had survived 67, 68 they would have seen a tear roll down her cheek. She yelled on her way out of the door. “Follow me guys.  I know where it is. I know exactly where it is. I’ll drive.”

As she started the engine she smiled. “Clever son of a bitch,” she thought. Neils was always good for a puzzle. “Get out your reading glasses, boys,” she quipped. “We’re gonna have a lot of books to go through.”