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ParaV:PVCACD Chapter 1 - Meeting Miss Doolittle (post-beta phase)

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Vance Coreman wakes after an assassination attempt without his memory in a bathtub full of ice water and a strange woman standing over him. Trapped in a version of the 1940s inhabited by angels and demons, Coreman is driven to action by events set in motion prior to his memory loss. Plagued with strange visions, Coreman sets off across the dual city seeking clues to his past and who wants him dead. (e)

Warning: This is a work in progress. -- Fritz.

This is the first chapter of my fourth novel and is a little over 1100 words. I’m primarily interested in the “hook” factor, but any and all critiques are more than welcome.

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Title: Parallel Visions: City of Angels City of Demons

Jacket Teaser: Is a sufficiently advanced entertainment system indistinguishable from magic?

Comment here: ParaV talk:Chapter 1 - Meeting Miss Doolittle (pre-publish phase)

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Chapter 1 — Meeting Miss Doolittle

I fumbled to awareness shivering. Ringing filled the lightless abyss of my existence. The sound grew until I realized it was inside me. (1)

I willed my eyes open. A red glare singed its way along my optic nerves to fill my brain with acid fire. I squeezed them shut. (3)

As if the red light had melted a layer of ice between mind and body, sensations flooded in. (4)

Something methodical sorted through and cataloged the sensations. The ache in my head and the ringing in my ears slowly diminished while uncontrollable shivering shook my limbs, sending waves of pain up my back. I was fully clothed and floating face up in water to my chin. Ice cubes jostled my cheeks and lips. I drew in a lungful of moist air, pungent with a complex chemical reek. The clinical, cataloging part of my mind concluded it was a mixture of sulfur and ozone, including traces of paper smoke. (5)

I groped with fingers swollen and water logged, encountering a chill ceramic surface several inches below me. I traced it outward in both directions. When it curved upward, I deduced I was in a large tub of some kind. (8)

A woman’s voice drifted down. It slipped through the ringing to insinuate itself into my awareness. “Are you going to laze around in there all day, Mr. Coreman?” (9)

For an indeterminate time, all I could think was that I wasn’t alone in this chill world. Then, like the melting of the barrier between mind and body, questions began to pour in. Who was she talking to? Was she talking to me? Was I this Mr. Coreman who had vexed her so? I tried to remember my name, but nothing came to me. I pushed the boundaries of my memory trying to get past the cold water enveloping me, but there was only dark nothingness. I knew something should be there inside the empty chasm that was my past. (9.2)

The sound of water pouring down onto a hard surface and the distant gurgling of a drain filled a space the woman’s voice had left. The sides of the tub pressed against my hands, and I realized that it was shrinking. The leaden fatigue filling my limbs extinguished the little flame of curiosity the woman’s voice had originally sparked even before my back settled onto the bottom and my knees breached the surface of the water. I was thankful when the splashing stopped, easing the pain of my throbbing headache. The tub was no longer shrinking. (11)

The quiet stretched out for several long moments. I focused on the thudding of my heart. A calm detachment returned and the pain faded. I began to hope the irritating presence of the woman was gone. (12)

I was disappointed when I heard an exasperated sound halfway between a sigh and a tsk. “Really, Mr. Coreman, I have been more than patient with you. There are things you need to do.” (13)

I refused to open my eyes or acknowledge her presence. Despite my best effort to think of nothing, my mind once again began to grope, like my fingers, swollen and clumsy from the pain, trying to find the shape of who I was and how I had come to be there. (14)

“Mr. Coreman,” she said, her voice clearer as the ringing continued to diminish. “This is beyond your usual games. Get out of that bathtub.” (15)

I cracked my eyes open again, the pain in my skull only incrementally increased with the glare of red light. After a moment I saw that, sure enough, I was floating fully clothed almost entirely submerged in a bathtub full of water. A slim layer of dying ice cubes jostled on the surface like the lonely remains of a gin and tonic. (17)

“Mrs. Grimnir is scheduled to arrive for a consultation at 3:30. That’s in thirty-eight minutes,” the woman said. (18)

My eyes focused on the figure seated on the edge of the tub near where my knees rose above the surface of the water. She was dressed in a black and white striped pant suit—at least I think it was black and white, as it was difficult to distinguish what the real colors were in the red light. Her jacket was tightly cinched at her waist by a black belt with a large, plain rectangular silver buckle. To top the ensemble off, perched on her head was a black and white striped hat shaped like a paper boat. It had a matching black band and silver buckle. The hair under the flaring hat was long, black, and wavy. Her face was pale in the red light, lips pursed in obvious frustration. I blinked to make sure, but yes, there seemed to be two small horns poking through the hair sweeping over her forehead. (19)

“Are you talking to me?” I said, still hoping we were both mistaken. My voice was a barely intelligible croak. (20)

She made the exasperated tsking sound again. I thought I saw something long and thin flick through the air behind her. Did she have a tail? (20.1)

“Of course I’m talking to you, Mr. Coreman. Do you see anyone else in this shabby excuse for a bathroom?” (21)

“Oh,” I said. The pain in my head seemed to be receding from jackhammer enthusiasm to a more manageable buzzing of a disturbed bee hive. (22)

“‘Oh’?” she echoed. “I would ask you if you were feeling up to meet with Mrs. Grimnir, but since you are already several months behind in your rent, not to mention my salary, I don’t think you have any choice in the matter.” (23)

She seemed certain of my identity. “Fine,” I said, wishing I knew something, anything, that would help me argue her into allowing me a few more minutes of oblivion. (24)

She uncrossed her legs and stood as I stirred, preparing myself for the effort of climbing out of the tub. “Wait,” I said fearing she was going to leave me, “Miss—?” (25)

A look of mild puzzlement crossed her face. “Doolittle,” she said. “Audrey Doolittle.” (26)

“Miss Doolittle,” I said, trying it out. “Audrey Doolittle.” There wasn’t a hint or echo in my mind to accompany the name. (27)

“Yes, Mr. Coreman?” (28)

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said. “I’m...” I trailed off, not knowing how to continue. (29)

“Really, Mr. Coreman,” Miss Doolittle said. “Is this some sort of joke? I’ve been your secretary since you discharge from the army, and while your sense of humor has been eccentric, you’ve never joked about something like this.” (30)

“Well,” I said, wondering as I spoke why I was being so candid with this woman. “I hate to break it to you, Miss Audrey Doolittle, but I don’t remember being discharged from the army, or, for that matter—” With an effort, I waved in order to encompass the tub and room. “—anything before waking up here.” (31)

Comment here: ParaV talk:Chapter 1 - Meeting Miss Doolittle (pre-publish phase)

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Chapter 2 — Out of the Tub and Into...?

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