Haven’t been on here in a while, have I? Life has been busy. Teaching. All sorts of fun details, no time to talk about them now.
So context. Remember that story snippet I posted here a while back? About the guy Iosef? So I’m still trying to get that published–haven’t had any luck thus far. But I was hunting the names of literary agents in the library by looking through the different YA books they had. And I realized… there’s a lot of female YA novels.
Which is good. Excellent that the rising generation of women has so many strong female characters to look up to in literary fiction. But it occurred to me: “What do boys read if they want to get into YA fiction?”
To which my brain replied: “Harry Potter. Percy Jackson. Maze Runner. Or shoot, they can just read Hunger Games like everybody else and enjoy irrespective of the protaganist’s gender.”
Still. It seemed there was a gap in the YA market, or at least a way if one wanted to stand out in the YA market–write one about a boy. So I decided to work on that.
My name is Chad Peter Dickson, but I swear I don’t deserve it. I go by my middle name, because, well, obviously. If people ask for my last name and it’s not important I just say “Smith.”
I’m blonde, tall, and white, and I swear I don’t deserve that either. I guess you could take that multiple ways. All things considered it’s pretty good, but there are times where I’d rather it wasn’t the case. Despite what every adult says when they meet me, ladies don’t fall over themselves for someone who looks like he stepped out of a WWII movie reel. I think it just seems a bit too much to them. I’ve even got a little cleft in my chin. I hate that bastard. I tend to dye my hair blue, if I can. But I mean, obviously, being blonde and white has tons of other benefits. Either way. Good or bad, it’s not got anything to do with what I deserve. I just got born with them.
I also got born with (I suppose I should say by) my mother, and I can’t think I really deserve her either. She doesn’t seem to think she deserves me; she’s pretty fond of reminding me that if the Church wasn’t so against it, she’d have had the abortion. We live in the same house, but we avoid each other as much as possible. It’s not exactly bad, but it feels weird.
My mom is the reason I don’t think Dickson is my real name. She constantly talks about how she hates it, how it’s a stupid name, how she wishes it was just something less ridiculous, and how her old name Riley was so much better. But whenever I used to ask about why she didn’t go back to the old name, she’d just snort and say “because of you.” Which I used to think meant my father, and how the Church was so opposed to divorce also, but I’ve recently realized that she and my father were never married, so I guess it’s still a mystery.
I’ve got exactly one thing that makes me interesting, and that’s the hole in my chest. “Pectus excaveratus” is the doctor’s name for it, though even he admits it’s the weirdest case he’s ever seen. There’s a piece of my breastbone missing, which makes my whole chest sort of cave inward. It looks a bit like a cross.
I’m not from a minority class myself, so that makes writing a minority-style protaganist pretty much verboten in today’s culture. But more basically, I did want to write a protaganist who struggles with NOT being quirky, with NOT being unusual, who is actually a little worried at how normal they are. Think Emmet from The Lego Movie.
In fact, I wanted a white protaganist, who among other things, could struggle with issues of white guilt and white privilege. It was very much intended to be a story about identity, and this person, Chad, deciding how to feel about the history of his people, when that history is so full of corruption.
Naturally the best way to do this is to turn it into a fantasy story, or an urban fantasy in this case, as Chad soon discovers he has super-strength when he accidentally breaks his girlfriend’s arm. This brings the attention of the authorities and a strange woman arrives.
“This is always difficult to explain easily.” The severe woman clasps her hands and looks at them. “So I will simply be short and factual. You are a part of a class of peoples known as Nephilim. This is not strictly speaking a human group, though the genetic strains bear similarities.” She pauses, looks to see that I haven’t passed out, then continues. “This is why your muscles possess a greater proportion of power than they should have, which is why you hurt the young lady, which is why you will need to be attending a new school specifically designed for… people like you.”
I blink stupidly at her. “Nephilim…” I say. Then my brain catches something it does recognize. “Wait. I don’t want to go to a new school.”
“I’m afraid that’s not relevant.” Her expression does not waver. “Mr. Dickson, do you realize what could have happened if you’d discovered that strength while in a drunken bar fight? Or while tossing a baby up in the air? If you had slapped Ms. Price instead of holding her arm?”
“I… wha?” She’s moving too fast for me. “I’d never… Debbie? I’d never slap Debbie!”
“So they all say. But again you are missing the point.” Headmaster Plath presses her lips together. “Your super-strength is merely the first of your abilities to manifest. We do not intend to take the chance that you discover, say, the ability to shoot fire from your hands while in a crowded elevator.”
“I can do that?” I look at my hands. How would that even work? Pores in the skin or…
She sighs and massages her forehead. “Most likely not. There are only a few anecdotal cases. Again you are missing the point. What if that had been what you had done tonight with Ms. Price?”
“Three hours ago you would have said you would never have broken her wrist. Stick to the point, Mr. Dickson, what. if. you. had?”
There’s a memory I don’t like to think about, of a bonfire I went to when I was nine. The host tossed a can of diesel oil into the fire. Said he did it all the time. I’ve tried, so hard, to lose this particular vivid image I have of him being loaded into the ambulance, his skin bubbled and blackened, parts starting to slide off the bloody flesh beneath… I can’t fry hamburgers without the smell flashing that image on my brain.
I swallow. “…I’d never forgive myself.” I say.
“They all say that too.” But she looks marginally less pissed-off. “I see that you are starting to appreciate the dilemma.” She straightens in her chair. “Whether you would forgive yourself or not is neither my nor the state’s concern. What is our concern is preventing such a need in the first place.”
I look at her, and her eyes are clear and cold. “I shall not deceive you, Mr. Dickson. You have no choice—you will be attending this school. To prevent incidents like this, you will be required to live inside the school until you have demonstrated control. You will not be permitted to hold a job, and you will be under constant guardianship.” She leans forward. “But. Within what we have to do to maintain everyone’s safety, we do our best to allow you as much freedom as possible. You will be able to come back down here and visit your friends, you will have facilities to cook your own food and wash your own clothes. We have teachers and classrooms so you can continue your education, and advanced classes to deal with recognizing and controlling the… abilities.” She gives a small tilt to her head. “It’s a good school, and while I can’t be sure you’ll enjoy it, I’m extremely certain it’s good for you.”
Incidentally, I should say that part of the reason I feel comfortable posting these is that I’ve since changed things around considerably. Chad no longer discovers his powers like this, and his first meeting with Wolfe is much less… expository. In both cases, he’s quickly hustled off to his new, secret, school, which is a camp far up in the Aleutian Islands near Alaska.
The showers are a bit like the high school locker rooms. We get hustled through and randomly assigned shower rooms. There’s soap in little canisters on the walls, with shampoo right beside.
I’m pretty sure I’m smelling ripe right now. Kind of a weird concern, after everything, but my shirt’s sticking to my back and everything has this disgusting slimy-ish feeling. I peel off my shirt without thinking, kick off my pants and underwear and start showering.
It’s only when I feel the grubbiness start to peel away that I look around and realize something.
Just across from me is a fat kid, his plump skin pink in the hot water. Next to him is an olive-skinned guy with startling dark eyes and long messy dark hair. There’s a scrawny, freckled kid with reddish-brown hair and a sullen expression next to me, absentmindedly scrubbing his back.
He catches me looking and glares. Then he catches what I’m looking at, and stares. We turn to face the other two, who seem to have just noticed it too.
All of us have caved-in chests. It’s less noticeable on the fat kid, and olive-skinned kid has an impressive set of muscles built around his, but all of us look like we had a giant cross-shaped hole-puncher slammed into our midsections.
I think of all the kids outside. All the kids in the camp. Impossible. But there’s no way this is a coincidence.
After a few moments, we all sort of awkwardly turn back to finish washing up. But when we leave, we leave together.
We’re struggling into some loose red polo shirts and khakis when one of us finally says something.
“Where on earth are my clothes?” The fat kid says, looking around.
We pause. The rest of us hadn’t even noticed. I’d left mine in the shower room. I get up to take a look—gone. One of the drones, probably.
“They’re just clothes.” Olive-skin comments.
“Easy for you to say. You had barely anything left to take off.” Fat kid says.
“It’s not like you’d be able to hang onto them for very long.” I point out. “I don’t know about you guys, but I didn’t exactly pack a wardrobe.”
“What’s a wardrobe?” Olive-skin asks.
“That’s not the point.”
“Hang on, are you guys American?” Olive-skin is pointing at the both of us.
“Uh, duh.” Fat kid says. “What gave it away?”
“The whiny-ness.” Olive-skin snarks. “You act like you’ve never been in a camp before. Seriously, you Americans. Complaining about clothes?” He sighs and shakes his head. “How’d you learn to speak Farsi so well, anyway?” He says.
I blink at him. “Far-see?”
“Isn’t that a language?” Fat kid blinks at him. “Where are you from, anyway?”
“Lebanon.” Olive-skin is looking at us very strangely. Pale-and-scrawny has turned around now too.
“You speak good English.” I say.
“That’s just it, I don’t.” He says. “You guys just speak good Farsi.”
“We don’t.” Fat kid answers for me.
“You speak good French, too.” Says Pale-and-scrawny.
I liked the idea of giving automatic language translation as a superpower. It simplified issues with the super-people coming from all over the world, and it opened up another fun twist.
“So. You all got names?” says fat kid. The way he says it makes me realize I shouldn’t be thinking of him as ‘fat kid’ all the time.
Olive-skin speaks up (I should probably stop thinking of him as that too). “They call me The Rich and Prosperous One.”
We all look at him blankly. “What?” says fat kid.
“Rich and Prosperous One. Just that. You don’t need anything else on the streets.” Rich-and-Prosperous-One looks at us. “What? It’s just a name. What about you guys?”
Fat kid rolls his eyes. “Weirdo. Fine, my name’s ‘Gracious’.”
Rich-and-Prosperous-One gives a dry chuckle. “What, seriously?”
I hate to agree with him, but I sort of do. “Is that… like… a family name or something?”
Gracious is looking at us both. “No. My family name is ‘He who lives on the Sea-Wall.’ ‘Gracious Man who lives on the Sea-Wall.’ It’s Dutch. And before you ask, no, that’s not a ‘house of ill-repute.’” He makes quote marks with his fingers. “They’ve got these big sea-walls in the Netherlands, to keep the ocean rushing in. They call them dikes. A house on the sea-wall is a dike-house.”
Something clicks. “Quick test here.” I say, holding up my hands. “When I say my name: ‘Peter Smith’, what do you hear?”
They’re both grinning now. “Really, man?” Rich-and-Prosperous-One chuckles at me.
“I hear, “Stone, the Smith.” Gracious says. “Who names their kid, ‘Stone…’” Something shifts in his face and I can tell the same thing has clicked.
“We’re hearing translations of our names.” I say. “I’m named after the apostle Peter, who was called the Rock on which Christ’s church was built.”
Rich and Prosperous One slowly nods. “So… when I say ‘Rich and…’”
Except this time, I do hear it. It’s weird, but under what my brain is telling me he’s saying, I can hear the actual sounds he’s making. Farez.
Apparently I’m not the only one. Gracious is looking back and forth.“Whoah. So wait, you actually heard me say ‘he who lives on a sea-wall’ and not–” Again this time I hear the actual sound—Dykehouse. Miles Dykehouse.
“Huh.” Pale-and-scrawny says. “Well. I’m ‘King of the Road,’ if anyone is curious.”
We all look at each other. “This language thing is going to take some getting used to.” Miles says.
(I find the etymology of last names fascinating.)
Miles can’t let the name thing go. “It’s weird in a way.” He says. “I mean, your parents choose your name when you’re born, but they can’t actually know anything about you. I mean, ‘Gracious.’ Does ‘Gracious’ describe me, on any level?”
We all agree that it really doesn’t.
“I guess in my case they didn’t know what the name meant more than anyone else did. But… what about girls who get called ‘Prudence’ or ‘Charity?’ What happens when a girl who gets named ‘Joy’ grows up with clinical depression?”
“You know, no one on the streets struggles with ‘clinical depression’.” Farez makes one of his unnecessary asides.
“Probably because they die first.” Miles says. “But when a parent names you, they’re probably just hoping what you’ll turn out as. Like my parents, hoping I’d be the next—“ He waves his hand. “—Gracious One who stands Upright.”
It takes me a while to parse what I heard. Miles Standish. “Really? They named you after the one Pocohantas guy?”
He turns around and huffs. “They named me after the badass soldier of fortune who fought his way all across the Atlantic before first-handedly getting the lazy gold-digging Englishmen to practice some basic survival skills, yes. They got a fat, athsmatic asshat who loves being pedantic. Which is my point. Your birth name doesn’t actually give a good sense of who you are, just who they hoped you’d be. People should… I dunno, rename themselves once they turn sixteen or something.”
“On the street, they name you whatever sticks.” Farez says. “I got lucky because when I was like three some guy gave me a whole billfold of cash. I knew a guy they called ‘Snot-ball’, until the day he stabbed some guy. After that he was ‘Twitchy.’”
“See, we should do that.” Miles points. “Just do nicknames. Probably going to be better at describing who we actually are. Plus, I’m sick of hearing ‘the Rich and Prosperous One’ all the time.”
“How does it take you five words to say one name?” Farez ponders.
“I like ‘King of the Road.’” Roy says.
“You’re totally not, though.” Miles says back. “You don’t even have a car. You don’t like cars. And you’re not a king, kings make pronouncements and stuff. You’ve barely said three sentences together. You should be ‘The Quiet One’ or something.”
“Hush.” Farez suggests.
“Whisper.” I say.
Roy considers this. “’Whisper’s’ not bad.” He says.
“Cool. ‘Whisper’ it is, then.” Says Miles. “I’ll be Fatty.” We all stare at him. “What? It’s what you think of, isn’t it? I’ll bet half of you had me labeled as ‘the fat kid’ within seconds of meeting me.”
“Yeah, but that’s when we met you.” Farez says. “Like having gotten to know you, that’s really doesn’t describe much.”
“I think of fat people, I think of somebody jolly.” Roy—I suppose he’s Whisper now—says. “You’re not jolly.”
“Grumpy?” Farez suggests. “Rude? Pedantic?”
“Those are adjectives.” Miles says. “You could go with ‘Grump’ or ‘Pedant’.”
Unbidden the word ‘Piggy’ springs to mind, and I’m ashamed at my brain for thinking of it.
“How about ‘Know-It-All’ or ‘Tightwad?’” Whisper suggests. I can hear the French word—it doesn’t quite mean ‘Tightwad’, but it’s the closest in English.
“Square.” I suggest.
“Squares’ are more polite.” Miles says. “Tightwad’s not bad. Or, it is, but it seems fair.”
“Tightwads are prudish.” I say. “You’re not. I get the feeling you just like busting people’s chops.”
“Balls.” Miles says. Then his eyes light up. “That’s it. Ball-Buster. That’s it, I can tell.”
We look at each other. “Ball-Buster.” We agree.
Farez is called Mouse. Chad’s name gets to be “Square.” Still… thinking that over. It plays with his tension over feeling too boring, but I’m worried that, well, it actually is too boring for a story. And confusing. I might change it.
“You guys know what ‘Nephilim’ are, right?” Mouse says.
“Us.” Ball-Buster says.
“No, but like the word. Where it comes from.”
We all look at him.
“Seriously?” He looks at us. “It’s a verse in your Bible: ‘The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.’”
Ball-Buster blinks at him. “You know that off the top of your head.”
Mouse shrugs. “The local imam would give a bowl of gruel to whoever could recite a verse from the scriptures from memory. Lot of kids got a lot of gruel that way.”
“Why would he give you food to read the Bible?” Ball-Buster asks.
“Because he’s a nice guy?” Mouse says.
“They have the Bible too, dipshit.” Whisper says. He looks very amused. “Basically the whole thing is their prequel series.”
“Hang on.” I say. “Sons of God, who’re the sons of God?”
Whisper speaks up. “They’re called the Grigori, messenger angels who fell because they were seduced by how sexy all the earth women were.” We all look at him and he rolls his eyes. “The Church has all this stuff too, though it’s up for grabs how much of it is officially believed.” He sighs. “Story goes: God sends the eighth class of angels, the Grigori, to earth to look out for humans. Grigori are on earth, notice some mighty fine females, and stick around. They have kids, and those kids are gargantuan super-powerful monsters like Goliath.”
“So what you’re saying is…” Ball-Buster gives one of his rare grins. “…we’re the friggin’ sons of angels.”
“Or some sort of alien-human hybrid.” Whisper says. “Or just a convenient excuse a wife came up with to explain why her son looks nothing like her husband.”
“Well, that’s less fun.”
So Chad and his friends go on to discover more about what it means to be a Nephilim–including more “unique” powers that change depending on the person–and discover the secrets of Camp Solanas. And in the process, they begin to learn that there are powerful forces playing for the Nephiliim.
I’ve got lots more… in fact, I’m posting this because I’ve finished my first draft and am working on polishing up some stuff before taking a break. But I wanted to post an idea of what I’m working on, and I wanted to update this site.