In the Beginning

John Clark playing with beginnings. I’m aware that many writers I know, or follow through online blogs are feeling the funk of an extended pandemic. I have no such problem, at least in terms of short stories. I’m particularly pleased with the two I’ll enter in the New England Crime anthology and Al Blanchard contests.

My compatriots in the pool asked me the other day when I was going to write them into a story, so I created character sketches of two of them last weekend. It will be interesting to see how those are received. That got me thinking this morning about what to write about for my January post at MCW. Below are ten possible beginnings to short stories. Which, if any pique your interest?

1-Sarah Tonin made everyone around her feel good. Her twin sister Mella, tended to put her dates to sleep and was so desperate to snag a boyfriend, she forced Sarah to issue an edict. Want to go out with me? Set up a date for my sister. Jube Pinkham was so enamored with Sarah, he realized it was time to call in a favor. He gulped, then picked up the phone.

2-Pastor Herb Biggins was feeling at the top of his game, a sense reinforced by the amount of cash and number of pledge envelopes being dropped in the collection plates that morning. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. He’d just set foot outside the front door to shake hands when a commotion in the parking lot caught his eye. Someone had broken the lock on his Cadillac and stuffed it with naked mannequins before painting ‘Repent’ and ‘Confess’ in bright red letters on the side.

3-Our farm was posted as ‘Hunting by Permission Only,’ but we never turned anyone away except for Earl Norwich. After the way he’d butchered Gramp’s woodlot, the bastard was unwelcome. That was why coming over the knoll and finding him standing with a rifle in his hand and a look of horror on his face was unexpected, but not as shocking as the huge and very dead creature at his feet.

4-My head hurt like hell and there was an unpleasant coppery smell drifting up from wet spots under my butt. I was confined in a space that made moving next to impossible, but there was a faint air flow, so I knew I wouldn’t smother. I tried to remember where I’d been and with whom, but the pounding in my head made thinking too difficult. I held my breath, straining to hear. There were faint noises, more like what I heard in the background of big city crime shows on TV, and definitely not any from small town Maine.

5-Fern Griffith was a most meticulous fellow, perhaps the best such example in East Mapleton. Even at seventy-five, his blueberry raking crew was the one everyone wanted to be on, even teens with attitudes. The crew had started working a new field that morning, one hillier than most, hence Fern’s making certain everyone got on the bus at quitting time. He counted, then climbed onto the bus and re-counted. He was three rakers short.

“Stay put, I’ll be right back.” He climbed down from the bus and started up the hill. When he got to the top, none of the three were in sight, but there was a depression just outside the stone wall and tendrils of smoke were drifting up from it.

6-What kind of person kicks their kid out during the worst blizzard in a decade? I wondered, but already knew the answer as I staggered along the edge of Route 27, leaning into a twenty-plus mile an hour wind spitting flesh-biting ice particles. My parents were religious zealots and I’d made the mistake of yawning during grace at the dinner table. It wasn’t my first sin, but in their eyes it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So here I was staggering along getting closer to frostbite with each step.

I never heard the snowplow coming up behind me and I doubted the driver even knew I was there, but the impact of flying snow, followed by the steel plow, shot me up and over the guardrail.

When I came to, pain masked the change in temperature. When I realized how hot it was, I muttered the first thing that came to mind. “Well, Dorothy, I guess neither of us is in Kansas any more.”

Then a melodic voice responded, “Who’s Dorothy?”

7-Clard Briggs was a hard man, more than halfway through a hard life, living in a hardscrabble Maine town. He got up every morning, knowing life was unfair, but that he’d survive to watch depressing events in other parts of the world unfold on Fox News that evening. That things might change never entered his mind until he was thrown from his bed one Saturday in early March by the mother of all explosions.

8-The Emma Clarice was considered a myth by most people living near the Narraguagus River. If it was real, folks said, the wreck would have been located by now, especially since treasure hunters had high tech metal detectors and drones. I might only be sixteen, but I knew something about the river nobody else did.

9-Washington County was my favorite part of Maine. Whenever I got a consultation request from one of the libraries Downeast, I accepted the offer immediately. Driving the Airline was quick and easy with minimal traffic. Every time I went that way, I passed Dark Mountain Road, but never saw cars entering or leaving it. This trip, I finished early and decided to explore it, but when I checked my DeLorme Atlas to see whether it led to a road bringing me back to the Airline, the road wasn’t there. Now I had to see where it led.

10-I remember it like it was yesterday instead of ten years ago. I was caring for my granddaughter so her parents could have an evening out. I came down to start supper and found her looking into the back yard where light snow was falling.

“I am the daughter who likes winter, dark winter,” she said, never turning to look at me. Two days later, she vanished.

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12 Responses to In the Beginning

  1. Heidi Wilson says:

    My first vote goes to #7 because I love the prospect of fantasy even in mysteries. Same for my first runner-up, #9. In third place is #5, because I like blueberry barrens and I wonder about a man named Fern.

  2. chickadee04287 says:

    Stay put, I’ll be right back. #5. What happened??? I’d love to read that story.

  3. jselbo says:

    Wow. Impressive. Wow.
    #8, #5, #3 and #1.
    #1 because the set up /relationships with sister/am intrigued who the blind date will be
    #3 because of the character who has been banned from the land – want to know who owns the land, what the creature is – lots of things I want to read on to find out.
    #5 Blueberries
    #8 I like history, want to know more about this myth – and am intrigued who the main character might be.

  4. judy says:

    Could you write the rest of the stories and get them published in print form, please? I am intrigued and want to know what happens.

  5. kaitcarson says:

    #5 for sure!

  6. Brenda J Seekins says:

    #7, 8, 9 got my attention, love history, you know. And Maine-based even better. We’re always exploring old roads…plenty out there. But that pastor and naked mannequins? V-very interesting. But I never saw blueberry barrens in Aroostook county? Do they have them? I just remember endless potato fields. Let me know when you have “the rest of the story” (ies) !!

  7. Sue Parsons says:

    Number #5 is the one that has stayed with me, followed by #9, and #2. Thanks for asking!

    • John Clark says:

      I pulled East Mapleton out of my hat, no intention of blueberries in Aroostook. I did have a bear follow a truckload of us blueberry rakes out of a field on the west side of Sennebec Lake when I was in high school.

  8. crys101497 says:

    Number 2 was the one I liked best. Like all of them but #2 was intriguing.

  9. Julianne Spreng says:

    I’m with Judy. They’re all good beginnings. I really enjoy your work and would love to see these as short stories or novellas. Let us know when they’ll be available. I prefer print! (I’m saving this post.)

  10. GraceM says:

    #3 piques my interest. It says so much and raises so many questions in that one paragraph. And, it leaves me thinking: will this be sci-fi or a humanitarian story of neighbors coming together for a cause? Or, could there possibly be a reason why Grampa’s woodlot was “butchered” that will be explained later on. So many possibilities! Thank you, John.

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