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Yes, yes I can write a novel!

Updated on November 2, 2012

The Just War, Ch. 1

Note: I recently signed up for National November Is The Write Month (also known as NaNoWriMo.) The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30. That comes out to 1,667 words per day. They suggest telling your internal editor to take a hike, because all first drafts are crummy and yours will be to. Just write it! So in that spirit, here is my first chapter from my novel, "The Just War" That's a working title. Remember, it's a first draft, so spelling errors, syntax errors, continuity errors etc. will abound. But hopefully, if I can write a full novel in 30 days, so can you!

Victor Lawless was an average guy. In his mid-40’s, a little over 6 feet tall with dark hair, brown eyes and a slightly dark complexion, he lived in the middle class enclave of Fishers, Indiana with his wife Janet and his two children, Barry and Jen. He worked at a good job in downtown Indianapolis, one that had managed to weather the economic downturn. He was fit, trim and dressed well. He and the family lived in a nice two-story house, one they had had built in the early 2000’s and had never missed a payment on. He even drove his Ford Explorer with a great deal of satisfaction.

Barry was 16 years old and in the tenth grade at Fishers High School. His brown hair and eyes and slightly darker complexion attracted the attention of a few of the girls, but he was pretty loyal to his steady girl-friend Stacey. Janet was in her mid-40’s as well, and had been an account executive for an advertising firm until Jen was born. After Jen was born she decided to stay home and keep the house, which she did very well indeed. Vic never let a day go by without complimenting her on the clean house and the delicious food. She often got annoyed by the daily repetition but he knew that if he forgot, she would be hurt. One of their favorite shows was the PBS series Frontier House, which they bought the tapes of, then the DVD’s. They would sometimes fantasize about chucking it all and moving to a little cabin on the frontier where the whole family would have to pull together to make life work. Then they laugh and snuggle, or do other things.

Jen was 14 and in the bloom of her youth. Tall and fair-skinned (like her mother) with brown hair and eyes that were a strange mixture of blue and brown. Janet had blue eyes, Vic brown. She was athletic but not graceful. She had a quick smile but a hot temper. When she was angry she was known to reach out and slap people, or grab at them. Jen was severely autistic, and had very few words. When she wanted something, she would take someone by the hand (usually Vic) and lead them to what she wanted. They had managed to get her to say “I want help, please,” but they could never get her to use the actual word for what she wanted. If she got frustrated, she would bang her head against walls and doors (Vic had replaced her bedroom door several times and patched several holes in walls in the house over the years.) Sometimes she would take her hand and slap herself on the head over and over, or take her knee and bring it up to her head continuously. Sometimes talking could calm her, but sometimes she needed physical restraint and by the time Jen had reached 14 years of age Vic was the only one physically able to restrain her. They would sometimes wrestle for 15 minutes, her trying desperately to bang her head against him and him holding her head between his big hands, trying to help her. Then it would be over, and Vic would feel beat-up but Jen would go back to watching her video. She was given Risperidone twice a day, 0.5 mg in the morning and 0.75 mg at night, to help her. And it did help. When the scare about Risperidone causing boys to develop female physical traits had occurred, they thought about taking her off of it, and weaned her from it. The downhill slide was amazing and quick. They put her back on within two days.

Vic would have given his life for Jen, or for Barry or Janet.

Barry’s favorite spot was the Hamilton East Public Library, the Fishers branch (the other branch was up north, in Noblesville.) Every Saturday they would go in the morning, just as the library opened, to check out some books. Barry liked to take his laptop and stake out one of the study rooms, using the Wi-Fi to communicate with his friends, or looking for a book he needed for his advanced English class. Stacey would often come by and the two of them would sit in the room, across the table from each other and sometimes holding hands, each on their own computer. Vic had broken down and bought Barry a MacBook, while Stacey felt like her parents didn’t love her because she had to use a five-year-old Sony her parents had bought and then given to her. Vic would chuckle to himself, and then follow Jen to wherever she was going. He had learned he needed to watch her like a hawk. Ever since she had been diagnosed with severe autism he had learned that she needed to be watched every minute. She would still pick up things and put them in her mouth, her favorite being any kind of electrical cord. She liked big ones the best and he’d had to rescue power strips from her more than once.

Most severely autistic children weren’t as advanced as Jen. Most of them were just in their world all the time. Jen was different in that she wanted to have friends, wanted to be with other girls her age. She had crushes on boys. But she didn’t know how to say hello to someone, didn’t know how to be part of the group. When she was very young, she would walk straight up to other children and stick her face right in theirs, with a big smile. The other kids were understandably unnerved, and her attempts to join in on what they were doing usually didn’t go well. It broke her parent’s hearts to see it, and they struggled with what to do.

Vic was in occasional touch with one of his cousins from Ireland, where the Lawless family came from originally. He wondered if it perhaps ran in the family. His great grandmother, especially, now that he thought about it, exhibited symptoms that seemed to fit in with, if not autism then Asperger’s Syndrome.

It was mid-November, autumn. Shortly before the real winter weather set in, but it was still cold and the leaves were largely off the trees. That particular day was overcast and dreary; it had been raining most of the week. Jen had been home with a bad cold, they had gone to see her doctor and been prescribed Augmentin. Jen preferred the taste of amoxicillin, but she had already gone through two rounds of that during the year and now they were trying something stronger. It was a Saturday morning, and they were making their usual trip to the library. As they were pulling in Vic reminded Barry that they couldn’t stay as long as usual, that his mom wanted them to start gathering things for Thanksgiving.

“Aw, gee! Couldn’t we get the swell Thanksgiving stuff tomorrow?” Barry asked, artificially exaggerating the words “gee” and “swell.”

“No, wise guy!” Vic grinned back at him. “Mom wants to make sure we have a fifteen-pounder this year. Not as many leftovers to rot in the fridge.”

“Okay,” Barry responded, his eyes already scanning the group in front of the door to see if Stacey had been able to make it that day.

Sliding out of the driver’s seat, Vic opened up the back door and unbuckled Jen, making sure that her shoes were still on. Then he picked up the Hello Kitty backpack they took everywhere. It carried her drink (she was still drinking Pediasure, she wouldn’t eat most food,) some adult diapers, some wipes, and a change of clothes in case she soiled herself there. It happened very rarely, but it still happened. When she needed a change, Barry would stand in front of the door to the bathroom while Vic changed her. They’d gotten a few looks over the years, but the library staff was both understanding and accommodating.

Checking her one more time, he told Barry to go ahead and they would be in after a minute. “Do you have your phone?” Vic asked.

Looking exasperated, Barry fished his iPhone out of his pocket and showed it to his dad. “Of course I do!”

“All right, go on. Make sure it’s turned on!” he yelled at Barry’s disappearing back. Barry waved, signifying that he’d heard his father.

Taking out the iPad, Vic turned on the “Sand timer.” Jen liked to watch the little sand pieces fall from the top to the bottom, and she liked to hear the bell at the end. Vic had worked hard with her to get her to wait whenever they went somewhere long enough for the app to work. When the teacher at her school and her speech therapist at school had showed them some of the apps available, it had been a big blessing to them. When she was younger, as soon as Vic or Janet would get her out of the car, Jen would tear off like a bat out of hell to wherever she was going, which wasn’t always the place they wanted her to go. Once she had almost run out into traffic and Vic actually got bumped by a badly shaken driver while pulling her back. They almost stopped taking her out of the house. But now he could get her to wait for one minute, which gave him time to make sure the Explorer was locked, they had everything they needed, he could keep an eye on her and also taught her a little patience.

Walking in the front doors of the library, Vic felt uneasy. He didn’t usually feel this way, but something seemed off today. He had trained himself to scan areas when they went in, looking both for people who might cause trouble and for situations where things might get out of hand. After all this time, loud babies still upset Jen. When they started crying she would make a wailing sound. If the library was too crowded, as often happened close to Christmas and during tax time, Jen would start to get upset. But she liked to go over to the children’s section and get out Pixar videos or VeggieTales. Here too, Vic had to be careful. Sometimes she would want to take out every DVD the library had (or it at least seemed like it) and get very upset if not allowed. Or she would want to remove the cover inserts from the cases. When she was young she would rip them up. Janet had become a master of piecing and taping them back together so that it was hard to tell. She hadn’t done that lately, but they still had to be watchful.

He’d scanned the parking lot when he got out of the SUV. He always watched for careless drivers, or for anything weird. This time he’d seen an old van that stood out. In Fishers, you rarely saw vans that weren’t covered bumper-to-bumper with the logos and work numbers of businesses. This one was just a plain, white van. No rust, no excessive dirt, but not markings. He made a mental note.

He and Jen went to the children’s section, where she got out the VeggieTales, the Backyardigans and Cars2. They wandered a bit, but she was eager to leave with her acquisitions. Monica, one of the librarians who were usually there on Saturday, checked out the discs and unlocked them.

“How’s Janet?” she asked, her thick hair sitting on her head.

“Janet’s great, thanks for asking.”

“Any big plans for Thanksgiving?” Monica asked, handing the discs to an eager Jen.

“Yeah, gotta go get a turkey after this.” Vic looked over at the study rooms, but didn’t see Barry. He must be in one of the ones on the other side, where he couldn’t see. Taking out his own phone, an ancient model that still worked but had no texting capability, he called his son.

“Yeah?” came the young man’s voice.

“Did you forget?” Vic asked, a little sarcastically.

“But Dad, we just got here!” Barry protested.

“Is Stacey back there with you?” Vic responded.


“Well then, come on.” He had been prepared to let Barry stay there if his girlfriend had appeared, but he could really use the boys help to watch his sister while he was looking at the turkeys.

“All right,” Barry drawled out. A minute later the three of them were on their way out of the parking lot. As they were getting into their SUV, Vic noted the van again. A driver was sitting in it, he was hard to spot behind the glare of the windshield, but Vic could see that he was bald.

As they traveled the roundabout past Town Hall and out to 116th Street, Barry was looking out the window. “Looks dark to the east,” he said.

Vic looked over. “Yeah,” he replied, “looks like there’s a storm coming.”

copyright (C) 2012 christopher w neal all rights reserved


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