Our second First Impression for the month of February comes from Larry O’Donnell, my brother-in-law and frequent guest poster. This is the first page of his most recent WIP, a thriller titled THE PORTAL.
Chapter 1: The Release
It was one of those damp cold nights that only West Virginia seems to get. It goes straight to one’s bones and stays there at least until the sun comes back. I had been asleep for about three hours when my dog, Ralph, alerted me to the sound of rapping on my front door. Arming myself with a five iron, I went to the door and flung it open. There at my feet was Derek Sanders, one of a group of regulars who gathered on Wednesday and Friday nights for drinks at the Jeff Davis bar in downtown Port Anthracite. I usually attended these gatherings, although I don’t drink anymore. It is my only regular social activity, but I felt achy and the chilling weather decided me to go home after work. Sanders was shivering in the cold mist and mumbling incoherently.
“Jesus, Sanders, I nearly chipped your head back out to the street.” As if I could hit anything with a golf club. Instead of calling me on it, he pushed himself back up into a sitting position.
“We opened the door. One of them got out. We closed and barred it. Too-late-to-stop-one.” Derek gasped out the phrases and then sat up higher for a moment. A low congested cough was the last audible sound he made as he fell over on his side in a fetal position.
“Sanders! Come on buddy, wake up!” I couldn’t wake him and it was apparent that he was no longer breathing. The last cough brought bright red frothy blood out of his mouth. I felt for a pulse and found none. Then I saw copious amounts of blood from several other places and I knew he was beyond any help I could give him.
A call to 911from the house of the Chief of Police resulted in a flood of State Police cars, ambulance, Paramedics, some Firemen, County Detectives, and Roy Biggers, the County Prosecuting Attorney. Fifteen minutes later, the County Coroner, Doc Paxon, arrived.
Now, Roy and I do not get along, not even going back to our time in High School. It’s nothing specific, it’s just an oil and water thing. We played on the same football and baseball teams but could never find common ground on anything else. There was no competition between us, no argument over a girl, just a deep seated dislike of each other. Oddly, just as it was when we played football, we could work together for a common goal but never cross the threshold of the other’s home.
I’ll start with some small technical details: The opening paragraph uses past tense for things that happened that night and present tense for things that are always true. I think common practice would recommend keeping to the past tense throughout. (ex: It went straight to one’s bones and stayed there at least until the sun came back.) There are also some common nouns that shouldn’t be capitalized, such as high school, firemen, and county detectives.
I would hold back explaining why the narrator hadn’t been to the bar with Sanders on this particular night until the county prosecutor asks him. If they don’t get along, it might make for a nice tension-filled moment later.
The cough with the frothy blood should probably come in the paragraph while Sanders is still talking, rather than when he has no pulse, and I would go for a more breathless feel to his words: “We opened … the door. One of ‘em … got out. Closed and barred it. Too late … to stop one.”
I might also like a hint of what’s going on inside the narrator’s mind before everybody else arrives. He’s the chief of police, and a death on his doorstep is going to activate the “business as usual” part of his persona, but still – this is somebody he knows. Is he upset? Does he suppress it? Or, as chief of police in a small town, is he used to seeing death and disaster befall people he knows? Just a line or two would help us bond with this character before the rest of the cast appears in force.
Now, as one of Larry's CPs, I’ve read more of this. I wish I could include the line where the county coroner questions the narrator about Sanders’s last words and exclaims: “Did he mean the door? They opened the portal? Holy shit, were they crazy, drunk, or crazy drunk?” But you can’t fit everything on the first page. ;) I know Larry’s got a spooky thriller here, and beginning with a death on the police chief’s doorstep is not a bad way to start.
Thanks, Larry, for sharing your first page! Please be sure and stop by Mainewords today to check out Marcy’s critique of this same page.