Here’s the entire first chapter of Written In Stone, my latest work in progress. I won’t be uploading this to the Internet in its entirety, but you can get a picture of what I’m working on now. Enjoy!
Bill Ashwood stood in front of a full-length mirror, the calm in the midst of a storm of activity. A woman applied makeup to his face while a man adjusted his suit. His wife watched on until they had finished, packed up their things and left before speaking.
“Ready to set the house on fire?” Marie asked. She stood in a glittering evening dress, her face plastered in makeup to hide her wrinkles and make the most of her plain face.
“I’ll be right out,” Bill said. “You go on ahead, dear.”
“As you wish.” Marie turned in an exaggerated motion and left the room, leaving Bill to stare at himself in the mirror. He could see the lines of middle-age starting to set in even though he was only in his mid-thirties, lines that no amount of make-up could cover. Lines that tell a thousand tales, he thought.
Bill sighed and pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket. His speech was laid out, a thousand words of fiery rhetoric from the mind of his speechwriter, Dean Atkins. He read over the speech with weary eyes. With these words I step off of the fence of moderation and into the realms of extremism. That’s what the League voters want. That’s what will get me elected.
Dean appeared at the door and knocked, letting himself in like a family member. “You’re not worried about the speech, are you?” He patted Bill on the back.
“I still think we should have made some changes. We’re alluding to murder here. It doesn’t sit well with me.” Bill paced the room, his hard shoes sinking into the think carpet.
“Listen, Bill,” Dean said. “I know you. You hate to piss people off. You want to sit on the fence and please everybody. Well, you’re not pleasing anybody. Polls have you behind by ten percentage points. League voters have overwhelmingly stated that you’re not hardline enough. They think you’re sitting on the fence about the important social issues of our time. Which you are.”
“I’m still not comfortable with it,” Bill said. “Inciting people to kill homosexuals is over the top.”
“Over the top is exactly what they want,” Dean said. “Out there are some of the League’s biggest financial backers, and they want some of the liberal changes to our state laws rolled back. An end to gay marriage. Prohibition of pornography and immoral materials. Protection for the traditional American family. Privileged status for religion. They’re willing to put their money where their mouths are if you can speak for them.”
Bill sat on the edge of the bed and fought the urge to mess with his neat, slicked down hair which made his scalp itch. “They want the Purge here in Florida. Nothing less. I’m to be the face of that?”
“If you’ve got a conscience, you’re in the wrong business,” Dean said. “Come on, you’ve said it yourself a thousand times; words don’t always equal actions. We’re on the verge of war with the Alliance and the people here want to hear that we’re with them. It doesn’t mean we’re going to start the Purge here today. Just read the speech, get yourself elected and we’ll work from there.”
Bill looked at his blue eyes in the mirror. “All right,” he said. “Let’s get this over with.”
“The League’s supporting your candidacy for state governor,” Dean said. “Just pay them a little lip service, will you? Without their money, you would still be screwing around on the local level. Now you’re set to become the most powerful man in Florida.” He shepherded Bill to the door, pressing him onward to his fate.
So you keep reminding me, Bill thought. Have I sold my soul to the League? It’s not like I believe homosexuals are right, but this kind of talk is dangerous. It only takes one zealot to start a fire and the whole of Florida could be consumed by the Purge. Book burnings, arrests… I had hoped League candidacy didn’t have to mean those things. Maybe I was wrong.
Before he knew it, Bill was being led out from behind the curtain to polite applause. He stepped up to the podium and laid out the paper containing his speech, clearing his throat and sipping from the glass of water. Expectant eyes looked up at him, waiting for the first word. Cameras were trained on him, ready to upload his video to the Net so it could be watched nationwide.
“The people here want to hear that we’re with them.” Dean’s words echoed in Bill’s mind as he studied the crowd. There were as many young people as old, as many women as men in the audience, many wearing red to support the Moral League. This movement is bigger than me and will continue whether I make this speech here today or not, he thought. If I don’t, I will be replaced. Dean’s words told me that much. The League wants fire and brimstone and one way or another, they will get it. He was aware of the silence in the room and shuffled his papers. Maybe it has to be me. Maybe I can control this thing, stop it from becoming the Purge again and bring political discourse back to a more respectable level. Each state of America is a nation state now; Florida doesn’t have to dance to the tune of any higher power. Even the League.
Someone in the audience cleared their throat.
“Just read the speech, get yourself elected and we’ll work from there.”
Bill Ashwood opened his mouth and spoke.
* * *
Daniel Wilson rolled over in bed as his cellphone rang, uttering a guttural sound that belonged more to instinct than rational thought. He picked up the phone and answered, running his free hand through messy black hair and reaching for his glasses that sat on his bedside table.
“Yeah?” Daniel answered, as much complaint as greeting.
“Danny, there’s something I think you should see.” The voice of Marissa, Daniel’s assistant, was loud and clear through the handset.
“Rissa, it’s three in the morning. Unless the war has started, I don’t want to hear about it.” Daniel was ready to hang up but decided to hear her out. Perhaps the war has started. It wouldn’t surprise me.
“I’m sending the link over now. Grab your laptop.” Marissa said.
Daniel reached over and grabbed his wafer-thin computer, flipping the light computer open in one easy motion. He clicked the link and a video feed popped up.
“You called me at this hour to send me a League speech? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, well, watch the video before you judge me,” Marissa said. “Trust me, you’re going to be interested. More on the personal level than the journalistic one, but I suspect you’ll be after this story when you watch it.”
Daniel sent the video feed to his TV with a hand wave and the TV lit up, filled with the image of Bill Ashwood, candidate for governor. He clicked his fingers and the video started to play.
“and I say that this country is not going to be clean again, be pure and good for our kids to live in again until we clear away the filth and debauchery that fills our streets and our law books. The remnants of the corrupt federal government’s rule over us still mandate laws that do not fit with our values. Laws that allow two men or two women to marry and enjoy equal rights to the natural, Biblical standard couple of one man and one woman.”
“Jesus, this guy is so two-hundred years ago,” Daniel sighed. “Still, that’s the League for you. What’s so important that I have to get up for this?”
“Keep watching,” Marissa said. “You’re just getting to the good stuff.”
Daniel sighed, but there was an uneasy feeling in his gut as he watched Ashwood talk. It’s like his pretty blue eyes are a thousand light-years away, even as he puts passion into this speech. What’s the deal with this guy? Is he just thinking about the buffet or does that pretty face actually hide a dark secret?
“It’s gotten dark in America,” Ashwood continued. “So dark. Splitting into individual states was supposed to restore our right to make the laws that matter to us, but has instead become a reason for national corruption to spread to the local level. Special interest groups have lobbied to keep laws that don’t adhere to our principles on the books, and my predecessor has taken their money like bribes. Newspapers run by queer liberal journalists lobby for free. Tell me, how can a gay man write articles about family values when he knows none?”
“Hey, that’s not cool,” Daniel said. “I want a family someday. I had a family growing up. I have values. Just not yours, you asshole.”
“Oh, it gets worse,” Marissa said.
“I actually think you’re enjoying this,” Daniel said. “Do you love to see me get frustrated?”
“Sometimes,” she laughed, then fell silent. “Just watch it, okay?”
The energy in the crowd seemed to be growing as Ashwood spoke, with clapping after every line. Ashwood seemed to lose his reluctance as the crowd gave their approval. He took the mic, left the podium and started to walk across the stage.
“Gay men work with kids now, have children in their homes that they call their own. That ain’t right. Kids need a father and a mother. These are the things we’ve lost; the sense of family, of tradition, of order. Chaos reigns supreme; you can see it when you look at the Alliance-run states. Two hundred years of war against the family unit and nobody knows what a traditional family looks like any more. I saw a kid on a Net video who said his dog was his brother from his two mothers. What kind of crap is that?”
“Really? You’re judging society on the Net? I guess we should all be doing the Holo Dance twenty-four seven.” Daniel reached for the glass of water that sat on his nightstand and took a sip, his mouth suddenly dry as a bone. Marissa sat silently on the phone, listening to his every word but keeping quiet.
“Some days I look at the world and I fell genuinely frightened inside,” Ashwood said. “These people are parasites, leeching from the natural order and giving nothing back. That kid was still conceived from a man’s seed, yet that man has had no part in this child’s upbringing. These leeches are taking from society, they are feeding on life, culture and art and twisting it to their own desires while we are the ones who prop up the backbone of this country.”
“Hear, hear!” A woman yelled from the audience. Bill picked up his glass from the podium and took a sip of the cool water.
“That’s why I have to say something hard now, I have to say something that’s going to be hard to hear, something that is politically incorrect. The news organizations and the media fags are going to hate it, the Alliance politicians at the Assembly are going to decry it in a resolution but I have to be honest now and come out and say it; we have to destroy this monster. This twisted child of our society has gone too far and the only solution is to put it out of its misery like the creature it is before it consumes us and destroys the last hope we have of a future. We have to take the twisted fantasies they call art and we have to take the vapid pornography their culture is based on and we have to burn it like they did in San Fran, we have to get rid of it before it poisons our kids. We have to get rid of the recruiters and the queens and the queers that are fouling up our streets and hell, throw them on the bonfire too, because it’s only out of the ashes that we can create anew, it’s only by burning the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and walking away that we can reclaim this world in God’s name.”
The crowd stood in rapturous ovation, thunderous applause rocking the building. I feel like a preacher channeling the Holy Ghost, Bill thought, a smile on his face as he felt the power of something else acting through him, the crowd’s reaction filling him with energy. The part of him that loved to be loved ate it up and he pushed down the voice of his conscience crying inside, smothered it with the joyful cries of the crowd and the clapping that filled the auditorium.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Daniel said, but there was no mirth in his voice, just outright shock. “I can’t believe he said that. I can’t believe he said that and everyone clapped.” He put the glass down before he broke it, realizing he was gripping it until his knuckles were white. “He wants to bring the Purge to Florida. The one thing even the League seemed to be backing away from, he’s taken it and embraced it with full force.”
“Are you okay?” Marissa asked.
“No, I’m not okay,” Daniel snapped. “I’m not okay with yesterday’s moderate coming out and saying he wants me dead. God, you think I’d be immune to this stuff by now but damn it if it doesn’t still hurt.”
“I’m sorry,” Marissa said.
“It’s not your fault, Rissa,” Daniel said. “I’m glad you called me. I need to get a story out there and blow this thing wide open. I have to tell the world what a hate-monger Florida’s voting for.”
Marissa’s voice fell to a whisper. “Chief doesn’t want you on this story.”
“What?” Daniel almost dropped the phone. “Why the hell not?”
“Because you’re the definition of queer liberal journalist,” Marissa said. “Chief doesn’t want to prove Ashwood right by having you write a fiery response article. Besides, he’s trying to protect you. Do you really want to get harassed by these jerks? They’ll pull out the sordid details of every sexual encounter you’ve ever had if they feel like it.”
“Let them try!” Daniel said. “That’s not Chief’s decision to make.”
“It is, and you know it,” Marissa said. “He’s just got your best interests at heart.”
“He’s just scared of the League’s power,” Daniel sighed.
“Perhaps a little,” Marissa said. “Look, Daniel, we all just need to keep our heads down and get through this.”
“How can I keep my head down after watching a video like that?” Daniel asked. “The Purge is coming here, Rissa. How can I just sit back and watch it happen?” He stood up and walked to the balcony doors of his apartment, pulling the curtains back and heading outside. The cool air met his skin and he could hear sirens in the background. “The people have to know what Ashwood said here tonight.”
“They do know,” Marissa said. “The video’s gone viral. Millions of people all over the world have watched and posted on it. Analysts say he’s just rallying the base, that there’s a good chance he won’t impose any of this once elected.”
“We can’t be sure of anything,” Daniel said. “Maybe this is a new direction for him personally. We can’t afford to take that risk.”
“What are you going to do, Danny?” Marissa asked. “The election is less than a week away.”
“I’m going to dig up some dirt on this guy,” Daniel said.
“There is no dirt,” Marissa said. “The League picked the most squeaky-clean candidate they could find. He doesn’t even have so much as a parking ticket on his record.”
“Everyone has secrets,” Daniel said. “Nobody’s perfect. I’m going to dig up something on this guy, one way or another.”
“You don’t know who you’re messing with!” Marissa said. “The Moral League could have you killed!”
“Don’t be so paranoid,” Daniel said. “They’re a political party, just like any other. They’re counting on our fear to keep us from getting in their way. I’m not afraid of them, Rissa. I won’t let them make me feel afraid. Ashwood is a person like the rest of us . I refuse to believe that he doesn’t have something hidden under that pretty face.”
“That pretty face? Daniel, you don’t think he’s…”
“Gay? Yes, yes I do. In fact, I’m counting on it,” Daniel said. “Oh, he’s so far in the closet that even he doesn’t know it, but I can tell. The question is, can I make him fall from grace?”
“You’re going to seduce him? Daniel, are you insane?” Marissa’s eyes widened.
“Maybe,” Daniel said. “Quite likely, in fact, but if my plan works, he’ll be mortal and vulnerable just like the rest of us. He’ll get elected only for the League to find out he violates all of their moral principles. The article I’ll write will mire the League in scandal for months and destroy Ashwood’s credibility.”
“They’ll never let you publish it,” Marissa said. “The League will hunt you down to protect their candidate. Besides, you’re assuming a lot of things. We don’t know for sure Ashwood is gay. Even if he is, he might not be interested in you. He has a wife! If he is…” Marissa sighed. “Danny, this could get really complicated, really fast,” she said. “Are you sure you can handle it?”
“Rissa, I don’t know anything,” Daniel said. “All I know is that I have to stop Ashwood. I have to stop all of this. My survival depends on this.” He closed his eyes. “Rissa, I can’t expect you to understand. I know this all sounds crazy. I just need you to support me.”
“Okay,” Marissa said, after a brief pause. “I support you. What do you need me to do?”
“Get me details on Ashwood’s public appearances,” Daniel said. “I need to meet him somehow, make a suggestion, slip him my number. I need to make an impression he won’t be able to forget in a hurry.”