So I may have mentioned before that the beginnings I write rarely make it in the finished book (apparently, I suck at beginnings, since I've only been allowed to keep one in three of them
). Since I'm slogging through revisions on AT GRAVE'S END and chopping at that book like Jason Voorhees on crack (heh, a little Friday the 13th horror movie humor), I thought it might be fun to show the old, cut-during-revisions original beginning to ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE. When you're done reading, tell me why YOU thought it was cut, and then I'll reply with the reasons my editor gave me. Let's see who can think like an editor
Original beginning: (Note: Because of the profanity filters on the forum, I had to change a certain word that starts with ah “f” and rhymes with duck to “frack”. So, just mentally replace “frack” or “fracking” with what you know I meant, lol. Oh, and replace the "b" word the rhymes with itch with the censur-friendly "bee-yotch".)
Tate’s voice boomed through the thick walls I waited behind. He really got into his speeches.
“All of you have been selected to compete in this exercise because you represent the top of your field in weapons, combat, espionage, or infiltration. You come from different branches of the military, the Bureau, the CIA, and even the criminal justice system. Gentlemen, you are the toughest there is.” Tate paused for dramatic effect. “And you are all going to fail.”
Even through the solid concrete and metal, I heard a slight shuffle from the men at this proclamation. I shouldn’t be able to hear anything, but my hearing was far from normal. Hell, I was far from normal, as these men were about to find out. If Tate would hurry it up already.
“Out of the twenty of you who enter this room, we only expect a few to make the cut. Do not remove any of your protective gear. Once these doors close behind you, they will not open again until this exercise is over. Remember, participation is voluntary. Any of you who choose to decline, step forward. This is your last chance.”
More shifting but no one chickened out. Usually, if they got this far, no one did.
“Men,” Tate concluded, and the glee in his voice almost made me smile. This was his favorite part. “You have only one objective in this exercise. Defeat the enemy!”
The doors slid open to reveal a large square room lined with padding from top to bottom. Such insulation allowed for longer training sessions, but somehow, I didn’t think it was completely appreciated.
There was a shocked silence. Tate was grinning now. My other two captains, Juan, and Dave, wore similar smiles.
One of the potential recruits looked to them in confusion.
“Sir…? There’s, um, nothing in here but a woman, sir.”
Well, score one to him for stating the obvious.
“Lesson One, soldier,” Tate said firmly. “Don’t believe for a moment that because something looks harmless, it is harmless. What’s the matter with you men? She is the enemy. Defeat the enemy!”
“Come and get me, boys,” I taunted, anxious to get started.
A collective bellow erupted from the group as they charged me. When the first few got close enough, I simply started flinging them into the air. There were muted sounds of bodies thwacking against the padded walls followed by surprised yelps. One after another I threw them, until all twenty had experienced the dubious joy of flight.
The men rolling around on the ground stared at me with disbelief. Guess they hadn’t figured a five-eight chick with a medium build could toss them clear across the room.
“Cat,” Dave called out. “Teach these slops what Lesson Number Two is.”
To demonstrate, I grabbed the nearest soldier and promptly broke his nose. It happened so fast, he was bleeding before he even knew I’d moved.
“Lesson Two is take every cheap shot.”
Someone muttered, “Did you see that?” as if needing confirmation. Time for the third instruction.
“And Lesson Three is take every low blow.”
A hard kick to the groin of one of the men caused him to bellow in agony. Sympathetic winces appeared on every male face. The one whose balls got blasted rolled on the ground, curled around his parts.
“But the most fun is Lesson Four. Always, always kick someone when they’re down.”
To punctuate the point, I drew back my foot and nailed the same poor recruit, feeling three of his ribs break with the contact.
“Let’s get the bee-yotch!” someone yelled.
If only I had a dime for every time I heard that.
The fighting began in earnest and lasted ten minutes. After all, cameras were rolling. I had been criticized before for being too quick and not leaving enough footage. My boss, Don Williams, always complained about something.
When it was over, all of the potential recruits were either unconscious or flailing on the floor. My three captains Tate, Dave, Juan, and I picked through them to choose our new members.
“No, not that one. He wet himself. Thank God these mats are washable.”
I nudged the next one in the face with my shoe and got a bloodshot glare in return as the man weakly slapped at my foot.
“That one,” Juan nodded, pointing to the soldier at my feet. A nod from me sent special personnel to retrieve him.
“What about him?” Dave inquired when we came to one who didn’t even twitch. He’d been thrown through the air seven times before going night-night.
“Good pick,” I said approvingly. “He just kept coming back.” Another jerk of the head and he too was carted away.
“Fracking freak,” a low voice hissed.
I walked toward its direction. The others hadn’t heard him, since he was on the far side of the room, but they followed me.
“You sure you want to be saying that?” My voice was threatening and I ground my heel onto his bashed ribcage, forcing a wheeze of air outward. Brown eyes stared up with fury from a face that looked mulatto.
“Frack you,” the man spat.
I turned to Tate. He was smiling.
“Oh, I like him,” I grinned. “He’ll do.”
Tate chuckled his agreement and away Foul Mouth went, cursing me the entire time.
“Anyone else?” They looked around while I cracked my back to relieve a kink. “Right, then. Three. Well, that’ll offset the loss, at least.”
We hadn’t had a banner month. One in our unit had died a gruesome death. Two more dropped out right after, unable to handle the horror of witnessing it.
“Hopefully they’ll last,” Dave added.
I shrugged. “We’ll see. We play the hand we’re dealt.” Oh, if they only knew who had taught me most of the advice I now dispensed. “I’m off to the showers. Got blood in my hair.”
The blood was only a few shades darker than my hair itself, which was a pure crimson red. Along with my pale skin and gray eyes, I looked exactly like my father, or so my mother had said. She hadn’t meant it as a compliment.
Juan and Dave said goodbye, but Tate walked with me. He had a far off smile on his face.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I was just remembering the day we met. Every time I see the recruit’s faces when those doors open, it reminds me. When Don told me you were more than human, I didn’t believe him. Not until you broke my arm and threatened to blow my brains out with my own gun.”
A stab of grief went through me that I carefully concealed. I had vivid memories of that day as well, but not of him. No, not of him.
“If you reminisce further you’ll recall that you were about to shoot me,” I pointed out. “I was only defending myself. Now as for Don, well, okay. I broke his kneecaps out of spite.”
“I can’t believe it’s been four years,” Tate marveled. “Don thought you’d turn on us and I’d have to kill you inside of six months.”
“I’ll bear that in mind when I buy his next Christmas present.” My voice was dry but this wasn’t news to me.
“Well, you have a while to hold that grudge. It’s February. You’d be better off shafting him on his birthday in April.”
We reached my locker room. Due to my gender, mine was separate. I was the only female in our unit. Don had once said he didn’t want any internal ‘conflicts of interest’ but I thought he was just being a sexist pig.
“If it makes you feel any better, I thought very little of you also when we first met. One look and I had you pegged as a dumb G.I. who wouldn’t last five minutes in real combat. Who knew you’d be the one I counted on the most?”
Tate smiled. “Who knew you’d be the bravest, meanest bee-yotch I’d ever served with? I’m glad you didn’t shoot me. I would have missed out.”
I smiled back. “I’m glad I didn’t shoot you, too, because I’d probably be dead long ago if I had.”
He laughed at that. “No, you wouldn’t. I’m only good enough to take on the ones that are too easy for you. You do all the hard work.”
I shook my head but didn’t respond as I went inside. He didn’t understand. If it weren’t for him, Dave, and Juan, I might have given up years ago. Their dedication made me want to fight on, despite my broken heart.
It wasn’t easy being a genetic fluke. Too all those who say there aren’t things that go bump in the night, I say look closer. My mother didn’t believe in vampires either until a date with one took a horrible, toothy turn. He didn’t just bite her, he also raped her, and then several months later there was me. To say I had a weird childhood was to put it mildly. I hadn’t even known why I was different until I turned sixteen and my mother told me the real truth about my father. About the only thing I hadn’t inherited from dead old dad were two pointy teeth and the need for a liquid diet.
Don found me at twenty-two when I got into a little trouble with the law. You know, the usual youthful stuff. Killed the governor of Ohio and several of his staff, but hey, they had it coming. After I was arrested, my funky pathology reports tattled on me for not being totally human. Don snapped me up to lead his branch of “Homeland Security” by giving me the quintessential offer I couldn’t refuse. Or death threat, to be more accurate. I’d taken the job. What choice did I have?