Re: Revised Redemption Prologue (about 4,300 words) feedback please!

Home Forums Critique Central Thriller/Suspense Revised Redemption Prologue (about 4,300 words) feedback please! Re: Revised Redemption Prologue (about 4,300 words) feedback please!



This is the prologue to my novel. I posted a previous version. It had some problems which I think (and hope) I’ve addressed. Whether you read the previous version or not, I’d love your feedback on this. I chose not to identify my main character by name. He is identified immediately in Chapter 1. In the prologue, however, he is referred to only as “he.” Is this a problem? I’d like your opinion.

Does anyone know why things like italics and paragraph indentations disappear when I post in this forum? I did a copy and paste from a Microsoft Word.

He grabbed his keys and was out the door before he fully realized what he was doing. He’d been watching the ball game. Bottom of the ninth and the Mets were trailing by a run–Two on and two out with shortstop Jose Reyes at the plate. The first pitch was a nasty curve ball. “No,” he groaned aloud as the ball was fouled off to the left. “Don’t swing at that garbage. Wait for your pitch.” He leaned forward, focusing all his energy on the television, willing the pitcher to deliver a fastball right down Broadway. “Come on,” he said under his breath. That’s when he was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. It was shrill and intrusive. He wanted to just let it ring. These days, it seemed like the damned thing never stopped ringing. But he couldn’t just sit there and let the noise wake up the whole house. So, annoyed, he’d answered. Seconds later, with Reyes staring at a full count, he’d turned off the TV, grabbed an old ball cap and was sliding onto the well-worn driver’s seat of his Ford Ranger pickup. He wasn’t happy about it. He wasn’t happy about missing the end of the game. He wasn’t happy about giving up his comfortable leather recliner for a squeaky seat with bits of foam beginning to poke through the small tears in the faded fabric. But what else could he do?

“I think I know what’s going on.”

That’s what the caller had said. At first, it took him a moment to place the voice at the other end of the line. It was a familiar voice, but it belonged to about the last person in the world he expected to hear from, especially at home and at a quarter past ten on a Wednesday night. Regardless of the circumstances, the unexpectedness of the call, the message was not to be denied.

“You had it all wrong. It wasn’t me. You’ve got to believe that. I know what’s happening. Well, I know who. I’m still not sure why. Just don’t quit. It’s what he wants. I can’t say more; not here. We need to talk. Meet me at 10:30 at the Port Authority.”

“Wait! Who is this? Where are you calling from?” The only response was a dial tone. He cradled the receiver in frustration. Of course he’d known exactly who it was. In his shock, his sudden confusion, he hadn’t known what else to say. The whole thing had been so bizarre, and, for lack of a better word, ominous.

It wasn’t a long drive but he took his time making his way across town. The voice on the phone had instructed him to be at the Port Authority at 10:30. He still had more than ten minutes to get there. That meant another ten minutes of listening to the other voice, the one in his head, the one that kept telling him to turn around and go back home. He sat through a red light, then a green light, and then another red light while he tried to determine which voice was more insistent. Subconsciously, he ran a hand across the back of his head. He winced when his fingers, seemingly of their own accord, found the spot where, a couple weeks before, he’d received thirteen stitches to close a gash someone had made with a lug wrench or some other suitably heavy object. The spot was still tender and he still didn’t know who was responsible for delivering the blow. He wanted answers. The caller claimed to have some. Was he grasping at straws? Maybe. But what was the alternative? He didn’t think he had any choice but to continue on his way.

Shifting down into second, he made the right turn off Bridge Street onto East 1st. He cruised past a few hotels, restaurants and bars keeping his speed slow and steady. There wasn’t much in the way of traffic, cars or pedestrians, but you never knew when someone who’d had a few too many would come stumbling out of a doorway and into the middle of the road. And for a weeknight in particular, the bars seemed to be doing pretty solid business. That was nothing unusual for Oswego, the self-proclaimed bar capital of the world.

The night was warm and humid. The air inside the truck’s small cab felt oppressive. Beads of sweat formed and trickled slowly down the middle of his back. The old Ranger had no air conditioner so he cracked the driver’s side window a couple of inches. There was a steady breeze from the north and the smell of rain in the air. Only a handful of stars were visible, and a thick bank of clouds obscured what should have been a nearly full moon. A few thin fingers of fog crept up from the water to curl wetly around trees and buildings, or stretch ghostlike across the road in front of him. As he drove, he caught occasional glimpses of reflected lights playing off the surface of the Oswego River, sprawling dark and silent to his left. He shuttered involuntarily, imagining what hidden terrors might be lurking in the inky depths. He tried to force the thoughts away. He had enough to worry about already. Despite his attempts to think about anything and everything else, the memory came, unbidden and unwelcome.

His father killed the engine and let the boat drift. It was a small skiff, barely large enough for the two of them, with a battered hull, flaking gray paint and an old, twenty-five-horse Johnson outboard. The bottom of the boat was littered with life jackets, oars, a fuel tank and assorted fishing gear. They had catfish on the menu tonight. Since the ugly bottom feeders preferred to make their rounds after dark, that was always the best time to catch them. His dad did these late-night fishing excursions all the time. This was the first time he’d been allowed to come along. It was well past his bed time. But it was also his birthday. His birthday cake had been shaped like a fish, a fish with seven candles.

Their destination was Sandy Pond. He never understood how it got that name. It was more mud than anything else. That was okay, though. It made for some great fishing. The air was calm and the water was perfectly flat. Even without the anchor, the skiff wouldn’t have drifted far. They were in an inlet of sorts, a narrow canal opening off to their right, reeds and rushes poking through the water and tapping gently against the hull. This part of the pond couldn’t have been any more than two or three feet deep. It was dark and shallow, weedy and muddy, and the kind of place that catfish usually loved. It should have been a great night. But if he’d known how it would end, he’d have gladly stayed home with his new Monopoly game and an extra piece of cake.

His father dropped a line in and had a strike almost immediately. That was a good sign. Whatever it was had gotten away, but there was no question the fish were down there. He was anxious to get his own line in the water. With trembling fingers, he reached into the bait can and pulled out a night crawler, it’s thick, slimy body curling and wriggling. By the dim beam of a flashlight, he speared the worm on the hook. Then, for good measure, he speared it again. No fish was going to take off with his bait, not after he’d spent the whole evening catching the ugly things. He was about to cast off when he decided it might be better to do it from the other side of the boat. That way there’d be no chance he’d get his line tangled with his dad’s. He stood and started to turn.

In the years that followed, no matter how often the memory of that night entered his thoughts and dreams, he was never quite sure what happened next. He might have tripped over the tackle box, snagged his foot on one of the ropes used to tie the skiff to the dock, or somehow simply lost his balance. His father reached for him but it was already too late. He was going in. He remembered the sound of a shout. It may have been his voice, his dad’s or both. It ended abruptly when he hit the water and went under. It was cold, surprisingly cold for late July. He opened his eyes but could see nothing but blackness. And although he was an excellent swimmer for his age, he was having a hard time getting his bearings. He’d gone in head first, and couldn’t tell which way was up. To make matters worse, the water was full of some sort of seaweed. It was slippery and disgusting, sliding through his hair, over his body and against his face. He tried not to panic. He knew the water wasn’t deep. All he needed to do was locate the bottom. If he could manage that, getting back to the surface would be as easy as standing up. He reached out and immediately found the bottom. It was a spongy mess of mud and silt and one of the most welcome things he’d ever touched. He pushed off in the direction of safety. So he’d ruined their fishing trip. There would be others. Going home to warm blankets and hot chocolate would be a good way to spend the night too. Maybe they could even…. He never finished the thought.

Out of nowhere, rough fingers suddenly closed around his throat. At first he was merely confused. That soon changed to pure terror. He tried to scream for help, but sucked in a lungful of pond water instead. It was rancid, tasting of mud and decay. He didn’t understand what was happening; it just didn’t make any sense. Sure, he’d seen tons of movies featuring hideous sea monsters and weird creatures from the deep, but that stuff wasn’t real. It was all make believe. His parents had told him so. Those things didn’t exist. There were no mummies, no werewolves, no boogiemen and NO SEA MONSTERS. And this was Sandy Pond. Even if there were such thing as a Loch Ness Monster or giant sea squid, it sure as hell wouldn’t be hanging out here. There wasn’t anything down here bigger than a trout that had wandered in from the lake. Something had him though, impossible as that seemed. He tried to claw at it, to force it to loosen its grip around his neck. It was hopeless. And he still had no idea what it was. He didn’t think he wanted to know. Its skin felt hard, scaly and unrelenting. He tried to strike out but there was nothing there. His flailing feet and fists found only water. And still the horrid thing squeezed tighter, pulling him down into the muck and the slime. Its icy fingers… or maybe they weren’t fingers at all. Maybe they were teeth. It had him in its teeth. He could feel the sharp points biting into his skin. Suddenly he was thankful for the darkness. At least he wouldn’t be able to see his own blood. He decided that it must be a snake. It had to be. It was a huge, monstrous sea snake that was going to drag him down, choke the life out of him and then slowly feed on his body. No one would ever know what happened to him. He was going to die down here. He was going to die at the bottom of Sandy Pond and everyone would think he’d just fallen out of the boat and drowned. They’d probably all laugh at him for being so careless and stupid.

And then he was free. The thing had released him. It was probably just trying to get a better hold. At any second he’d feel the mighty jaws clamp down on his chest or his legs. Then it would all be over. Or maybe it was tired of playing around and it was going to swallow him whole. He waited. For a second, nothing happened. And then the beast had him again, this time by the ankle. It was dragging him quickly toward the bottom. He tried to scream again. A silent stream of bubbles would be his swan song.

He broke the surface of the water. His father was holding him by the ankle. Using the other hand to grab him by the seat of the pants, he hauled him over the side of the boat where he lay on the bottom, coughing and spluttering. “You okay Champ? What were you doing down there?” And that’s how the nightmare had ended. Only it hadn’t been a nightmare. It had been real. His father explained to him how he’d fallen overboard and must have gotten momentarily tangled up in the anchor line. At home in the bathroom mirror, Dad had even shown him the rope burn. It didn’t matter though. He knew what had really happened. Let Dad think what he wanted. He knew better. He knew the telltale marks on his neck had not been caused by any rope, and he knew he’d never again go fishing at night, at least not from any boat.

He’d never told anyone about his fears. They were irrational and he was ashamed of them. Still, even twenty-five years later, the mere sight of water at night terrified him. He wasn’t afraid to go in the tub or anything like that. Even swimming pools were all right provided they weren’t too dark or too deep. But any open body of water… that was a different matter entirely. Just the thought of it would give him a queasy feeling in his stomach and a tightening in his throat. In time, he had admitted to himself that his dad was probably right about what had happened. He’d fallen into the water, gotten briefly tangled up and had panicked. That’s all there was to it. And in the daytime, that all made perfect sense. But at night, common sense wasn’t worth a puddle of piss. His rational mind told him that there was nothing to be afraid of. His imagination, however, still as overactive as it was when he was seven, never failed to remind him of the dreadful thing that had grabbed him and tried to pull him down.

Belatedly, he realized that the Port Authority was right on the Oswego River, close to where it opened into Lake Ontario. He hadn’t considered that when he’d agreed to this meeting. Then again, he hadn’t really agreed to anything. He wasn’t given a chance. He drove on, trying to ignore the sight of the river, and the cold sweat that was now soaking his shirt and dampening his forehead. He removed his hat and rolled his window down a little more, trying to concentrate only on the road ahead. After a half mile or so, he reluctantly left behind the friendly laughter, welcoming lights, and delicious aromas of seafood coming from some of Oswego’s finer establishments. Traffic had been thin. Now it was nonexistent. The road was empty and desolate, the darkness nearly complete. It seemed to swallow up the night, and the truck’s high beams did little to carve a path through the gloom. The fog was thicker now, closing in on him from all sides. The river was no longer visible. Still, it was there. He could feel it. There was a marina down there somewhere to his left. It had disappeared in the void. And above to his right, he could only assume the big guns at Fort Ontario were still keeping their silent watch.

He peered ahead, trying to make out details of his surroundings. He passed a road sign but was unable to make out what it said. His whole body was stiff with tension and his hands had started to ache. He realized that he’d been clutching the steering wheel in a death grip. He relaxed his fingers and tried to relax his mind. It was no use. He was nervous for reasons he didn’t entirely understand. And on top of that, he was angry. It all made him angry: his situation, his confusion, his fear, his inability to do anything about any of it– and this place, this stupid place. What a ridiculous place to meet! That’s what he kept telling himself as he drew ever-nearer to his destination. The thought burned in his consciousness, throbbing like a fresh wound. Why the hell did it have to be here, of all places? Why couldn’t he have said a bar, or a booth at Friendly’s, or the lawn and garden section at Wal-Mart? Even some damn park bench would be better than this. He noticed that the fog had thinned somewhat. It didn’t help. He still couldn’t see a thing. He turned the wipers on; then, once he saw that they were of no use, he turned them off again. He thought he would need them soon enough. The air was heavy, and it felt like it was going to start pouring any minute.

And what the hell business was it of the guy’s anyway? His internal dialogue continued. It didn’t have anything to do with him, did it? Was it possible this whole thing was some sort of a set up? He thought again about the phone call and tried to concentrate, not so much on what was said, but on the voice itself. The guy had been rattled. There was no doubt about that. He’d sounded anxious and maybe even a little scared as well. Why? Did he really know something? The answer to that question was supposedly waiting somewhere up ahead.

He glanced at the luminous dial on his wristwatch. It was 10:00 on the dot. The entrance to the Port Authority should be coming into view soon. He realized that some small part of him was hoping that, once he reached the gate, he would find it firmly closed and locked. That wouldn’t solve any mysteries, but it also wouldn’t be an entirely unsatisfactory way for this unexpected nocturnal foray to end. Of course the gate wasn’t closed or locked. When the headlights finally caught the silvery metal of the chain link fence, he saw that it was standing wide open. He had known that it would be. Officially, the port is open twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. This time of night, though, you’d never know it. And of course the fog didn’t help matters. In his very limited field of vision, the place looked and felt totally deserted. The open gate was the only obvious sign that anyone had ever been there.

From what little he could tell, it appeared he had the place entirely to himself; it was hard to say for sure. It was a big place. And even on a good night, the few dim lights mounted high on poles did little to illuminate the surroundings. On a night like this one, it was impossible to make out much of anything. There might be a whole welcoming committee there. But, unless they were all lined up at the roadside, waving flags and holding brightly-colored banners, he’d probably never see them.

He drove on, a little slower now, following the natural curve of the road as it swept gradually around to the left. The truck bounced over some old train tracks; he wondered briefly if they were ever in use anymore. Other than those tracks, there wasn’t much to see. He passed a few squat buildings hulking in the darkness. There were no signs of life there. He hadn’t observed so much as a security light. Stretching out to his right, nearly buried beneath a tangle of weeds, was a rusted guardrail that ran the length of the lot’s outer edge. What lay beyond, at the mouth of the Oswego River and the entrance to Lake Ontario, was a manmade break wall consisting of huge boulders piled seemingly at random.

He checked his watch again; 10:33. He was on time. But it was looking more and more like he was the only one. That fact, for whatever reason, didn’t surprise him at all. He’d half expected it. And, in a way, it helped to put him more at ease. The whole thing had been too weird. It felt like a bizarre chase straight out of the Twilight Zone. Drug dealers do their business on street corners in broad daylight, but here he was, seemingly miles away from anywhere, waiting for a secret meeting by dark of night. Scenes like that may suit Sean Dillon and Jack Ryan just fine. He could do without them. He wasn’t looking for an adventure. He just wanted an end to the whole crazy business.

What to do next? That was the question. How much time should he give this? With a sigh, he decided that ten minutes was sufficient. He had better things to do than waste his whole night hanging around here. And he still wasn’t entirely convinced that the whole thing hadn’t been some sort of stupid hoax. If, at the end of those ten minutes, no one had showed yet, he’d shove off. And, if it started to rain before the ten minutes were up, well, he’d call it quits that much sooner. He was already thinking about what he could do with the rest of his night. That was an easy one. He’d head back up the road. But, instead of driving all the way home, he’d stop by the Captain’s Lounge, one of the restaurants he’d passed on the way in. They should still be serving this time of night. A dozen steamers and a cold beer or two would make it well worth the trip down here. Maybe Jose Reyes had knocked in a run and sent the game into extra innings. He might get to see the end of it after all. He was thinking about baseball, succulent clams and puddles of melted butter as he swung the truck around in a wide arc. He wanted to be facing the entrance so he could see anyone coming in. He nearly smashed into the dark blue Mustang before he saw it. It hadn’t been anymore than fifty feet away. But it was parked against the guardrail in the shadow of the break wall. He slammed on his brakes and slid to a stop mere inches from the Mustang’s rear bumper. No one had gotten out of the vehicle yet but he was pretty sure he’d found what he was looking for. He’d seen a similar car at the race track a number of times. And this one had the same telltale bumper sticker plastered to the left rear. “If you don’t believe in oral sex, keep your mouth closed!” There couldn’t have been too many of those floating around town.

Anxious to finally get to the bottom of this, he climbed quickly out of his truck. The Mustang sat quietly, lights and engine off, and still, no one got out. What was going on? The guy must have seen him pull in, had to at least notice how close he’d come to getting hit. He suddenly had a bad feeling in his gut. He didn’t know why. The car was here. The driver had to be nearby. Maybe he was in the car after all. He’d been sitting here a while and simply dozed off. Or, he’d gotten tired of waiting and went for a short walk. He’d come jogging up any second. He knew that neither scenario made any sense. He’d only taken that phone call 15 minutes ago. He didn’t know where the call had come from but the guy certainly couldn’t have been here that long. So where was he? The bad feeling in his gut was getting worse and starting to spread.

He approached the Mustang cautiously, trying to see through the windows. He’d left the truck’s lights on but the angle was wrong. He got nothing but glare. Returning to his truck, he doused the lights and retrieved a high-power flashlight from the glove compartment. Reluctantly, he shined the beam in the Mustang’s windows. He didn’t know what he would find, but was fairly sure he wouldn’t like it. But there was nothing to see. A set of keys dangled from the ignition; a couple CD’s had been tossed carelessly on the passenger seat, and there were a few magazines on the back seat. That was it. He let out a sigh of relief and jumped at the sound. He didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath. Okay, so the car was empty. That was good. But there was still the problem of a missing person.

He shined the flashlight around in all directions. He saw gloom. He saw shadows. He saw a Ranger and a Mustang. Most of all, he saw a whole lot of nothing. So, maybe this Mustang wasn’t his car after all. Maybe there was another car parked somewhere further along the break wall. A bumper sticker wasn’t exactly a form of identification. He decided to check the hood to see if the car’s engine was still warm. He nearly fell headlong as he rounded the front of the vehicle. The body he’d tripped over had been rolled against the guardrail and hastily covered with weeds. In the flashlight’s harsh beam, the spreading pool of blood was as dark and black as the night.