Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Race Card

Happy Snowy Wednesday! (well, here in NY anyway) Is there anything better on a cold day than curling up with some hot chocolate and trying to solve a murder? Well, you're in luck. Today's story is from Gale Martin, who shared part of her novel, Deviled by Don, with us last year. I'm very happy to share with you part of her new novel, Race Card, about an anthropologist who is murdered after speaking to a college about racial tolerance.

Gale Martin's is an MFA graduate of Wiles University whose work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Sirens Magazine, Duck & Herring Company’s Pocket Field Guide, and The Giggle Water Review. She received her first Pushcart Prize nomination in 2009 for a short story published in Greensilk Journal, and is an avid blogger - she hosts a writing blog called Scrivengale, an opera blog, Operatoonity, and is the accredited Metropolitan Opera reviewer for Bachtrack, an online site featuring classical performance.

Gale also alerted me to this list - Top Ten Fiction Articles of 2010 - from Write It Sideways, in which one of my blog posts is kindly featured, among other helpful posts that you should all check out after you read Gale's story!

Race Card
By Gale Martin

Thursday, April 17, 2008
5 a.m.

She was thirteen, strolling through the Place d’Armes at twilight. Her arms had been wrapped around her peacoat, her bare hands tucked into the sleeves for warmth. Patchy clouds stretched across the horizon. Intrigued by their shapes and colors, she counted the seconds as they turned from rosy to burgundy to purplish blue. The streetlights hadn’t yet flickered on.

Without warning, all the clouds darkened to the same shade of indigo as the sky. They transformed themselves into black tendrils that snaked to the ground and wound across the flagstone path, encircling her ankles. Once thickened to tethers, these strands culled from the horizon raced up her legs and midsection, lashing her to the nearest tree. Their rubbery ends nipped her the way tree branches smack into others during a rainstorm.

In the gloom, two white megaliths appeared. First, they sprouted legs, then arms that shoved her as they passed by, storming toward a lone black figure huddled against the wind whipping through the plaza. One of them unfurled his giant appendage and lifted the man high into the air, as high as the treetops, and hurled him to the stone path. She tensed, lowering her head, squeezing her eyes closed, not wanting to witness a man’s head cracked open like a raw egg, ten feet in front of her.

The other creature turned to face her. “Watch,” it screamed from the maw in its torso as blood gushed from the man’s skull. “Look!” it commanded as the monsters pummeled and kicked him until his arms and legs turned to jelly.

Blood lapped at her ankles then rose with the speed of a rain-engorged river until its metallic tang engulfed her mouth and nose. She was drowning, drowning, drowning in an unwitting victim’s blood, with no one to save her.

Beep, beep, beep. Beep, beep, beep. Lynne Faraday’s right hand flew out from under the covers, feeling the nightstand for the alarm clock. Tremors wracked her body as she groped the small box. The alarm now rang in rapid fire beeps. Where was the button? The snooze bar? The damn button-bar thing? Her fingers finally settled on the on-off switch, and she dismantled the alarm. Clutching her blankets, she sat upright, panting, trying to shake off the nightmare. She inhaled and exhaled deeply, to slow her breathing. Once it had returned to normal, she dragged herself out of bed, yanking a chenille robe off the dresser. Her vision still blurred, she shrugged on her robe, and stumbled toward the kitchen.

That was the second time inside a month she’d had that dream, though this one had been more chilling. What had triggered it? Bringing Antonio Vargas to town? No psychologist by training, even she knew the two events must be linked in her subconscious.

She glanced at the kitchen clock—ten after five. Since she’d be leaving town within the hour, she better check her email. Vargas had been scheduled to fly out of San Francisco on a red-eye, due to arrive in Philly in three hours. If he opted for a later flight—she could slip back in bed for an hour or two. She needed more sleep. The nightmare had left her exhausted.

Duty beckoning, she booted up her laptop then lit the gas under the tea kettle. Which would hum to life first, she wondered? Inside a minute, the tea kettle had throttled itself into shrill whistle while her laptop was still churning.

She poured herself a cup of Earl Grey, savoring the aroma of the bergamot. Her dream had been dark and threatening, and the warmth and comfort of the hot tea had begun melting all the morning’s ugliness away.

Finally, the laptop whirred into action. After a few sips to soothe her stomach, she logged onto her college email account—the only address she’d given Vargas. One new message sent to Junk E-Mail.

The way the Green Tree College I.T. department had it set up, Outlook always directed her to new junk mail first. It couldn’t have been from Vargas—he was on her safe senders’ list by virtue of his work address. Colleges never sent anyone whose address ended in .edu into junk mail.

A quick click showed the message was from WHITE AMERICA. Subject line: WHATEVER IT TAKES.

All capital letters. No wonder it went straight to junk mail. She clicked on the message:

“Hey, you liberal commie freak. We don’t need some uppity Latino turning Green Tree into a NIGGERIZED HELL!!!”

Commie freak? Niggerized hell? Did someone send this as a joke because of tonight’s lecture, thinking it was funny? It wasn’t funny. Fragments of images from the nightmare flashed in front of her. She began trembling and another bout of nausea roiled her stomach.

She should call the Provost. No, too early. Wes? Way too early. At this hour, her choices were either Campus Security or the Green Tree Police Department. She dialed the college’s main number, which always was diverted to Campus Security before business hours.

“This is Lynne Faraday. Someone just sent a hostile message to my campus email account.”

“Good morning, Miss Faraday,” the security officer said. “Who sent it?”

“A group calling themselves ‘White America.’”

“What did it say?” the security officer asked.

Lynne pausing, considering what to tell him. “It was racist.”

“It was what?”

“Extremely bigoted. See, I have a program in the conference center tonight about race,” Lynne said, thinking someone with authority needed to review the actual message. “Your boss needs to see this. What’s your email address? I’ll forward it.”

“, ma’am. Are you on campus now?”

“No. Logged in from home. I have to leave for Philly shortly. I won’t be back on campus until early evening.”

The security officer promised to follow up with the head of security and took her cell number in case he wanted to contact her. Lynne set her laptop to hibernate, downed a few more swallows of tea, and shuffled into the bathroom for a quick shower.


  1. I like the descriptive phrases and the setting of the scene but I can't say I enjoyed starting with a dream. I always feel a bit cheated when someone starts with a dream sequence.

    Plus I couldn't tell from the opening that it was murder/suspense novel. It felt truly like a sci-fi novel.

    As a person who feels about most sci-fi the way fashionistas feel about polyester pants, I'm not sure this sets the right mood for a murder book.

    I like the creepiness though. I think the descriptions were the perfect balance of detail and reader imagination.

    Good luck with it.


  2. Gray,

    I love this selection, as you know, I love the idea for this book! I liked the dream, it set the tone for the piece and really foreshadowed some of the events that are coming up.
    Can't wait to read the whole thing!
    Thanks, Sarah, again for a great piece!


  3. Gale, I love it! A few lines really stuck out for me - Lynne wondering if the teapot or laptop would start first, and the 'button-bar thing'. As a snooze-abuser, I can relate! I really love your style. This is a great start and I look forward to reading more.