May 31, 2010

Query Me This...THE NEXT ATTACK

Click here for the discussion thread. 

Dear Agent:

Travis Walters just lost his part-time job at the 7-11. His stepfather refuses to put in a good word for him at the auto shop. And the Army recruiter, whose office is next to the food court at the mall, flatly tells him he is “not suitable” to enlist in the armed forces.

On his way to the unemployment office, Travis is knocked to the ground by a blast that rips through a federal court house. A dozen other attacks occur simultaneously throughout the United States. Humdallah, a previously unknown terrorist group, claims responsibility. The US mobilizes its forces in search of Humdallah terror cells throughout the Middle East.

Ashamed of his lack of heroism the day of the bombing, Travis looks for a way to prove his patriotism. He meets Daisy, pretty but surly, at a pro-war rally. Daisy introduces Travis to her brother, Maurice, who recruits Travis to join a covert group to defend against the next terrorist attack.

Travis finds his purpose. Maurice and his fellow vigilantes teach Travis the ins and outs of weaponry and explosives. Daisy begins to take a romantic interest in Travis. Travis catches the eye of the leaders of the group, who assign him a key role in a special mission to Washington, DC.

On the morning of his mission, Travis walks in on Daisy and Maurice making love among the firearms. That’s Travis’s first clue that maybe Daisy and Maurice are not who they say they are. He suspects that Humdallah and this covert group of ex-military aren’t what they claim to be either, and that the real threat to his country is closer than he ever imagined.

THE NEXT ATTACK is a five-page thriller. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Me


Travis was jaywalking when the bomb went off. The blast knocked him flat on his back, and an oncoming Ford F150 pickup nearly ran him over. Travis scrambled to the curb, in the direction of the unemployment office, where moments before he was turned away by a chirpy girl behind a cold, gray counter.

Something trickled down the back of Travis’s head. He took off his baseball cap. His hand was bloody. The sound of sirens floated through the air and filled the space around Travis. He looked up from his bloody hand.

Down Peachtree Street, Travis could see the smoke and debris. Men and women covered their heads with their arms and briefcases as they ran down the sidewalks and into the street. Gray ash covered everything -- the people, the cars, even the dogwood trees on each side of the road. A few customers from the Starbucks across the street stuck their heads out of the doorway of the shop, unsure if they should flee or stay put. Travis did not know what had just happened, but he knew it was big.

Then the second bomb went off.

He was looking right at the courthouse when it happened. A brilliant plume of orange fire leapt from the windows and doors of the building, the fire’s massive energy blowing out the brick and mortar onto the street. The brightness of the plume darkened as it grew into a black cloud. Fragments of glass, stone, and metal fell to the ground like horrible confetti. Travis did not see the wave of people rushing towards him, then past him. So he was surprised when he ended up flat on his back again.

The driver of the Ford jumped out of his truck. “Get on up, son,” he said, scooping up Travis from the sidewalk. “Get out of here before something else blows.”

“Huh?” Travis said. His ears were ringing. He didn’t remember hearing any explosions, but the sound must have been deafening. Travis blinked, and tried to rub away the burning from his eyes. He turned to follow the man from the truck. Two steps in, Travis lost him in the mass of people running down the street. Travis let the crush of people take him away, like a fallen branch whisked downstream by whitewater rapids.

A couple of blocks later, the crowd slowed. Travis craned his neck to see what was ahead of him in the road. Police already had set up a barricade, and Travis was on the wrong side of it. An officer on horseback directed the crowd through an opening in the barricade. Travis funneled through, and gasped for breath once he was on the other side.

“You okay?” someone asked him.

“What?” Travis shouted, his ears still ringing.

“You’re bleeding. Are you okay?”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. You look like you were there. You tell me what happened.”

Travis looked back towards the unemployment office and the courthouse. A column of dark smoke climbed towards the sky.

“Was it the terrorists?”

“What?”

“Was it a bomb? Was it the Muslims? Didn’t you see it?”

Travis didn’t have an answer, but it didn’t matter. An EMT carrying a mylar blanket approached him. “Come with me, sir,” the EMT said, wrapping Travis in the blanket and leading him to the sidewalk. About a dozen people sat on the concrete. They were all covered in varying amounts of ash and blood, and all wrapped in silver blankets. Shiny refugees rescued from some unthinkable fate.

The EMT sat Travis down beside a young woman wearing a dark green uniform. She gripped a cell phone in her right hand, her left arm motionless at her side. “Damnit, I can’t get through.” She looked at Travis. “Can you get through? On your phone?”

Travis remembered. His phone. He left it back in the car, along with his wallet. That’s why the girl behind the counter at the unemployment office turned him away. “Sorry, sir,” she had said. “You’ll need a photo ID to enter the building.” He was just going to run down the street to the parking garage and grab his wallet. It was only going to take a couple of minutes.

The woman in the green uniform -- her nametag said her name was Tasha -- continued to curse her phone. “How are my kids going to get home from school?”

“I can’t make any calls either. Worthless piece of garbage,” said a grungy kid with a pierced nose. “What do you think it was?” he asked no one in particular.

A man with tiny cuts all over his face and hands turned towards the kid. “Do you think it was a dirty bomb? Radioactive, or chemical?” The man started to shake. “I was running late for a trial. I was supposed to be there.” The man’s mouth was still open, but he ran out of words. Tasha slide across the concrete and put her good arm around him.

“Don’t you worry,” Tasha said. “Somebody’s looking after us today. You’re still here, aren’t you?” The man buried his face in Tasha’s shoulder and he started to cry.

“It’s not just Atlanta,” said a young man with a laptop and long, bloody gash running down his leg.

“God help us,” Tasha said.

“Cell phone systems are overloaded, but the Internet’s fine,” the young man continued. “They’re saying there were also explosions in LA, Phoenix, and Boston. Early reports of something happening in Houston, too. Nobody has taken responsibility yet.”

“Al Qaeda?” someone asked.

“Taliban?”

“Goddamned Democrats,” offered a man being bandaged by an EMT.

“If you’re gonna blame the Democrats,” said the guy with the laptop, “I’m blaming Glenn Beck.”

Travis watched a news crew work their way through the crowd. A reporter jumped among a pack of onlookers, waving his hand and trying to capture the attention of a group of police officers near the barricade. Travis held the mylar blanket over his face as the news camera panned in his direction.

An EMT crouched next to Travis. “Look this way,” he said. He shone a light in Travis’s eyes. “Can you tell me your name, sir?”

“Travis Walters.”

“What’s today?”

“Tuesday.”

“Who’s the President?”

“Jimmie Johnson.”

The EMT smiled. “I’m a Dale, Jr. fan myself. But other than questionable NASCAR taste, you seem alright.” The EMT slipped his pen light back in his shirt pocket and patted Travis’s shoulder . “If you pass out or vomit, head to the ER. Otherwise, you’ll be fine.” The EMT jumped to his feet and offered Travis a hand up.

Travis looked at the EMT’s hand. He didn’t take it. “What do I do now?” Travis asked.

“Go home.”



It took Travis hours to get home. The police shut down the MARTA trains because of security concerns, but the buses were still running. Travis asked around and got directions to a crowded bus stop, but wasn’t sure which route to take. He always drove his father’s old, green Monte Carlo -- a car that would have been a classic if Travis had any idea how to take care of it. Travis refused to ask his step-dad for any help, even though he worked at an auto shop since before he married Travis’s mom.

Travis waited at the bus stop for a solid hour before any buses showed up. Half a dozen overloaded buses hammered past the stop before Travis managed to squeeze his way onto an express bus going in the wrong direction. The bus driver eyed Travis as he squeezed onto the bus.

“Fare?” the bus driver called after him.

Travis stopped, and just shook his head. The driver waved him on. “Go ahead, kid.”

After two transfers and a mile walk from the bus stop, Travis was home. His mother stood in the doorway of their house. “Travis, where the hell were you?” When she opened the screen door and stepped onto the front steps, she started yelling -- a river of curses and blasphemies the likes of which Travis hadn’t heard since the night he told her Cheryl was pregnant. “Jesus H. Christ, what happened to you?” Travis was covered in a thin layer of gray dust, his shoulders slumped by fatigue, and he was toting the crumbled mylar blanket under his arm. Travis didn’t realize he was still in his silly, shiny wrapper until a little girl on the bus asked if he was Superman. He didn’t want to leave it behind on the bus for someone else to clean up.

“Oh dear Lord, what happened?” his mother said, her voice a good octave higher than usual.

“They blew up the courthouse.”

“I know that, Travis,” his mothered ushered him into the house. “Everybody knows that.” When Travis passed his mother she shrieked again. “God damn it, Travis! Why is there blood all down the back of your shirt?”

Click here for the discussion thread.

3 comments:

middle grade ninja said...

I love the phrase "making love amoung the firearms." That is poetry. Also, I'd tell a little more about Travis. Is he an undercover badass? Does he go fisticuffs with the terrorists? This query needs to include more about the main plot. Travis getting cheated on is an inciting incident to a sub plot, not a plot.

JESSJORDAN said...

Sorry I don't have time to offer anything more constructive right now, but I'm guessing your novel isn't really just a five page thriller, right?

Best of luck, and I'll try to stop back by later with more feedback, if I can.

Jenny said...

The "five-page thriller" made me laugh. I was half-expecting the sample pages to be the entire plot in miniature. (Maybe with bunnies.)

I like the idea of Travis finding his stride for the first time and then finding out it was all a lie. The idea of him being ashamed of his lack of heroism as the catalyst for joining Daisy's group doesn't really work for me, though. We didn't see any lack of heroism--or at any rate, no particular cowardice. What does he expect of himself? I'm willing to buy that he (1) wants to impress Daisy and (2) is feeling a little desperate for a purpose in life, though.