The Stars Did Wander Darkling

“I’ve decided to quit,” I said as I swabbed coffee rings from the remaining table.

“Uh huh,” Lisa said from behind me, her voice soft and distant.

She was engrossed in a magazine, elbows propped on the front counter next to a tub of dirty coffee cups, her thin shoulders hunched forward as she pored over the glossy pages. It was one of those thought-provoking celebrity gossip magazines. I could tell by her face—lips parted, eyes round and staring—it was the same look rubberneckers got when driving past a car accident. They wanted to be shocked, they wanted to see blood.

I tossed my towel down on the table, hands on my hips. Muffled voices from the television mounted behind the counter cluttered the silence. “I’m going to give birth to kittens and move to Mars.”

“Uh huh.” She didn’t look up. “Hey! According to Sheeple Magazine, Michael Jackson was an alien!”

I sighed, marched across the cafe, and yanked the magazine away. Michael Jackson gazed up from the cover with giant buggy alien eyes. “You know these things cause brain damage, right?”

She looked at me through a sheet of wavy blonde hair, a sarcastic grin on her pixie face. “Yeah, yeah, but it’s not permanent.”

“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”

She scrunched her face at me. “Sorry, my brain cells were busy with all the dying.”

“I’m quitting.”

Her face dropped. “What? Right now?”

“Yeah. Well, I’ll help close up, but I’m never coming back to this shit hole.”

I was twenty-six going on sixty but not the good ‘led a good life and happy to slip into retirement’ sixty. It was more of a bitter, ‘rescue fifty cats and cry myself to sleep’ sixty. I needed a change, something to make me excited about life. Alien Michael Jackson wasn’t going to cut it, neither was slaving away at a coffee shop for minimum wage.
Maybe I just needed a boyfriend. Probably not . . . definitely not.

“Good for you!” She set to work cleaning the espresso machine. “Maybe I should quit too. Really stick it to that dick. Anyway, what’s next?”

I shrugged. For once I had no plan, and for the moment that was okay.

“Speaking of . . . is Rick coming in tomorrow?” I switched off the open sign and locked the door. No one would care or even notice if we closed fifteen minutes early.

“Yep, Captain Jerk Face will be in bright and early,” Lisa said, shaking her head. “That new girl, Dana, has to work with him all weekend. Poor thing.”

“We really should have warned her.” Rick, the owner, was a total perv. It was no secret that he only hired women he found attractive in hopes of getting lucky. Though, I wasn’t sure why he’d hired me. I wasn’t his usual type. Yet here I was, the dark-haired girl who wore too much black, amid a sea of chipper blondes. Perhaps he thought I would prove an easier conquest than my Barbie-esq counterparts.

Lisa shrugged and mugs clattered as she stacked them on top of the espresso machine. “Yeah, well, she’ll figure it out eventually. Maybe I’ll stop in tomorrow.”

Rick. Just thinking about him made my skin crawl. The way he would sneak up behind me and massage my shoulders, his breath reeking of coffee and cigarettes. Just another asshole who thought every woman on Earth was his to fondle. I was sick of having to be on guard all the time. It was definitely time to move on.

Lisa turned up the TV and we trudged through our half-assed cleaning duties. It would just get filthy again in the morning. When everything was passably clean I entered the cramped office and scrawled ‘Rick, I quit. -Sasha,’ on a sticky pad and slapped it in the center of the computer screen.

It felt like victory.

Lisa looked up from the TV as I exited the office. “Have you seen the news?” She pointed to the screen, her mouth bowed in a frown.

A serious-faced woman with sleek dark hair and a smart looking suit filled the screen. A banner scrolled below her, white letters against a red background: ‘Update: Total missing jumps to forty-five.’

“Missing?”

“Shh!” Lisa flapped her hand at me and cranked up the volume.

The newswoman’s stuffy voice filled the empty shop. “—authorities are not giving us much. At present, there seems to be no connection between the missing people, except that they have all vanished from the Portland Metro area. Detectives with the Portland Police are asking anyone with information to come forward—”

Lisa looked back at me, her eyes wide. “Forty-five! That’s nuts! Just last week it was twenty.”

I shrugged. It was obvious Lisa was worked up, but I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me. People went missing every day, most of them were assholes anyway.

“Seriously? You haven’t heard about this?”

I was embarrassingly bad at keeping up on current events. Life was depressing enough without being barraged with the horrors of humanity at the top of every hour. “I overheard something about it last week. It’s just drugs or something. Besides, they’re probably blowing it way out of proportion to boost ratings.”

“It has nothing to do with drugs. It’s real people.”

“Real people? As opposed to what? Fake ones?”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “You know what I mean! Guys, chicks, kids . . . freakin’ librarians―”

“So, what is it this time? A super prolific serial killer—do they have a Guinness Record for that yet? Ooh, no. Equal opportunity sex traffickers. Finally, right?” My laughter shriveled up. She was giving me that look, the one I inevitably got from most people. I had gone too far.

“Everything’s a morbid joke with you! This is serious. Those are real people.”

My eyes dropped to the tile floor and I watched an ant haul a crumb of muffin. I wanted to step on him out of spite.

16 thoughts on “The Stars Did Wander Darkling

  1. dave says:

    Not sure about the title, but John Green did pretty well with The Fault in our Stars. Maybe it will make more sense later in the book.
    I felt this was very well written and the dialogue was believable and realistic. There was nothing that pulled me out of the story. Crisp and clear.
    Some believe the beginning has to be catchy and evocative. This wasn’t that, but I personally would keep reading because you did a good job introducing the characters and making the reader feel for them. I got a good sense of where the characters were coming from.
    The biggest criticism I can make is up to this point there is not a lot that would set it apart. Chit chat between a couple of girls, nothing that unusual. The disappearing people is interesting and gives some mystery, but so far, not that unusual. At least how you have described it anyway. Perhaps you could add a little more to this part.
    Most books take more that a thousand words to draw one into the story, at least me anyway, so I would keep going. Would like to see some action soon though and perhaps an inkling of why you have this in the Sci-Fi genre.
    Nice job though, you write well.

  2. Sofie says:

    You have a strong voice and I enjoyed reading this. I’m curious about where this is going and would definitely read the rest of the chapter. Well done!

  3. Dominic Sero-Asturi says:

    I read the whole of your submission.

    I am quite interested in what will come in this narrative, though, I’m not sure if I would read far enough to get there. The protagonist lacking direction slightly turns me off, but – the promise of events is still there, so – I still am not sure. It would depend on the end on the end of the first chapter.

    The writing is solid, you tell the story well, and I am painted a picture of a modern world that might take a turn for the fictional.

    Best of luck in your writing!

    • anastasiapoirier says:

      Thanks for your input. Sasha is certainly lacking direction in the beginning of my novel. It’s something she’s forced to address fairly soon in, and it becomes part of her character arc. Thanks for reading!

  4. cpcurty says:

    The dialogue was good. But I felt that some of the description and metaphor was unneeded. Not that it wasn’t good and witty, but it just didn’t have to be there. Every word on the page has to be a word that you cannot live without, our motto as writers has to be, (no extraneous words) Also there is a thousand words and nothing happens you establish a Phillip Marlowe sort of feel that I like but it just goes on with nothing really occurring. I really have no way of knowing what this story is about if you hadn’t put it in the Sci/fi category I wouldn’t have labeled it Sci/fi. It seems more like fem-lit to me or maybe a mystery/thriller. Maybe instead of the two girls talking about this killer, maybe have the M/C confront him. Maybe you write in a creepy guy in the coffee shop that won’t leave even though its closing time. (is he the serial killer on the news story or just some random weirdo?) Or you could have Rick the manager actually harass the M/C. In my opinion this first thousand words has to show me who the main character is, (what they want from life and who they think they are) then you need to foreshadow the rest of the novel while giving me a reason to keep reading, you have to make me want to turn to page two. (no pressure right.) You have a very good voice though, your writing is on point, you just have to get whatever this story is about onto the first page so that I know what I’m getting into, and make it exciting so that I want to get into it. Good stuff, keep writing.
    (Chase Curtis)

  5. Raelene Purtill says:

    Hi Anastasia. I chose this for the intriguing title. Your voice is strong and your style is effective. I liked the setup, although I wonder if it could be shorter, bring in the missing people which is obviously the hook, sooner. Also discussing people who aren’t there – the manager and the new girl. Put them in the scene? Show us what sort of jerk he is. ‘It felt like victory’ – what about just ‘Victory’? Would it be more interesting if the m/c confronted him directly? I think there is too much internal stuff going on which needs to be conveyed to the reader another way.
    This story has lots going for it and I hope you keep writing. Cheers. Raelene

  6. Jeff Ziegler says:

    I like the characters and the dialogue, but believe that this seems wandering. This isn’t necessarily evil, having the main character aimless in the beginning – the progression of their character is one of my favorite points to a story. But I feel you need to add tension. I like Raelene’s suggestion of having the others (at least Rick) in the scene, that would accomplish this. Maybe a little more conflict about quitting – wondering if she could afford her expenses without working there. We all want to slap that post-it, but we all need to eat, too. Maybe plant the seed of a later conflict here? I think if you add that sort of tension, the wait for the missing people is a reasonable distance from the beginning. And if you add that tension, my draw to the character would be even stronger.

    Good job. I think this has merit.

  7. English Tim says:

    I’m hooked by these disappearances and I like the quirky setting you’ve created. However, I think this opening could be edited down around fifty per cent, preserving your structure and style, creating more conflict and bringing the abductions teaser higher. I suggest you look for repeats, like her references to quitting, and make sure your novel isn’t too wordy. Some of your one-liners are very strong, so other lines become redundant. The narrator seems well educated, then uses phrases like “this shithole” (one word) and “assholes”, which imply street talk. It’s a great device, revealing plenty about her, but readers will question the contradiction. These issues aside, you write well and I’m definitely turning pages. (All those people. Gone!)

  8. sam says:

    “…“Everything’s a morbid joke with you! This is serious. Those are real people.”

    My eyes dropped to the tile floor and I watched an ant haul a crumb of muffin. I wanted to step on him out of spite…”

    i like the voice a lot. I like the main character a lot. I came back and read this because i just read your “voice/emotional-what-have-have you” excerpt in the newest workshop and thought it was great. I would really like to read more of this!

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