Saturday, November 3, 2012

Out of Dark Places CHAPTER ONE


Out of Dark Places
CHAPTER ONE (Author’s commentary is included in blue.)
It’s 4:56 in the rain.
Any other day, any other kind of weather, and it’s just a few minutes before five. Almost happy hour. But 4:56 in the rain is different. Nothing good happens in the rain.
As this story is told from Lukas Willow’s perspective, this is our first glimpse into his immensely dark mindset. But this is more than Seasonal Affective Disorder—as readers will find out later, a tragedy in Lukas’s past happened on a day it was raining, suggesting he’s now unable to disconnect rainy weather in his mind from tragedy and depressing thoughts.
Perhaps she’s not coming, Lukas thinks to himself. Staring through the thick windowpane as the rain cascades over it in billowy sheets is like watching the world from behind a waterfall. Not as magical, but just as isolating.
As the novel unfolds, readers get a very clear picture of just how isolated from society Lukas has become, all of it the result of deliberate actions on his part.
Lukas’s eyes drift toward a particular patch of soggy grass close to the house in the backyard. The waterfall effect makes it difficult to judge distance, but Lukas knows the spot well. He wonders if archaeologists a few generations from now will dig up that spot and unearth tiny pieces of antiquated stereo components, put them on display in a museum somewhere, and marvel at the primitive way in which twentieth century humans lived their trifling lives.
This is foreshadowing, and is not meant to be fully understood at this time.
Lukas Willow’s footsteps, ordinarily loud against the ancient oak hardwood floor, have trouble competing against the nearby sound of water raging through the tin gutters as he makes his way across the unlit parlor. The furnishings are sparse. A coffee table with a deep brown finish centers the symmetrical layout of the room, and it matches the end tables on either side of a dilapidated maroon sofa. All three surfaces are barren, covered only by faint stains which have alternately darkened and lightened scores of small circles and half-circles onto the wooden surfaces. The room smells as quiet as it looks. Cold, like the rest of the house. Lukas sets a wet glass down on the left end table and creates another dark circle. He grabs the Glenfiddich and drains the last drops of liquid from the bottle into his glass. Placing the empty bottle gingerly into a wastebasket near his feet, he stoops to look for ice cubes in the adjacent mini freezer. This freezer should sit higher, on top of something, he thinks. Knees don’t bend like they used to.
The early portions of this book attempt to establish not only the brooding mindset of Lukas, but also his detachment from reality as you and I know it. The mismatching of sensory details (“The room smells as quiet as it looks”) suggests someone without full control of his faculties, whose grasp on reality is tenuous
at best. Lukas is a man plagued by extra-sensory abilities, and his tendency to confuse his visions with his waking life is a recurring problem for him throughout the book.

A sudden tapping rattles the glass part of the front door. Lukas is undeterred by the interruption; his ice cubes are frozen together into one misshapen conglomeration. Scanning his dusty surroundings, he retrieves a brass letter opener from a nearby countertop and chips off a few chunks of ice.
Again the knocking, louder this time, almost urgent. He scoops the ice gently into his glass, making sure not to spill, and uses the letter opener to stir. Wearily, he straightens his legs and ambles toward the front door.
Katherine Reiker looks older than twenty-one. Her hair, when not soaked and matted to her head, is probably the same dark brown color as her upturned eyebrows. Her narrow, wiry shoulders are shivering. “Mr. Willow?” she asks, but Lukas has already turned and started walking back inside. She follows. “I’m Katie,” she says, pausing just inside the door to shake off some of the excess wetness. “I’m sorry I’m so late.”
Even drenched, she’s pretty. It’s so easy for twenty-one-year-old girls to be pretty. Late Katie. “I have a doorbell,” Lukas says.
Because of his inclination to live in complete solitude, much of Lukas’s interaction with the world is entirely internal, as opposed to the balance of internal with external that you and I utilize in our daily lives. The dialogue he maintains with himself—such as the opinions shared here, as well as the ‘late Katie’ nickname—is presented more prominently in this book than perhaps in other 3rd person P.O.V. stories, in order to reflect this extreme and somewhat unhealthy imbalance.
“I’m sorry,” she says. And it sounds like she really is. Lukas feels a stab of uneasiness. That didn’t come out right.
Of course not—he’s entirely out of practice when it comes to interacting with other people, and some of the subtle nuances of verbal communication are lost to him.
“I have somewhere to be, but you can take a quick look to get an idea of the place if you’d like,” Lukas says, still listening to the rain. This isn’t the sort of rain that just happens to fall; it is hurtling toward the earth, determined, as if each drop has its own vital mission to accomplish upon landing. If nothing else, he likes the sound of serious rain; it goes well with Scotch.
Even with another human being in his presence, Lukas is unable to exist in the moment. Rather, his attention remains riveted on his internal thoughts.
“That’d be great,” Katie says, and a lopsided smile stretches across her face that almost mutes the rain.
The relationship that develops between Katie and Lukas is one of the main plot points of the book. Readers are kept wondering just what the nature of their evolving relationship will turn out to be. This sentence, while vaguely suggesting that Lukas feels an attraction towards Katie, at the very least clearly
indicates that she’s able to “get to him”—that her smile, in this case, snatches him out of his internal quicksand for a moment and forces him to exist in the present.

Lukas turns and crosses the stone floor of the alcove toward the staircase, passing by a two-level bookshelf built into the wall that displays only two identical layers of dust. Although the uneven wooden stairs look like relics, they register barely an audible creak as Katie follows him up. The clacking of her clogs against the rigid wood, however, is deafening. At the top of the stairs, Lukas pauses outside the door, motioning for Katie to go inside. The walk up the stairs has left him lightheaded. Too many drinks, possibly. Too few trips to this part of the house, probably. Not enough drinks…definitely.
This is our first clue that this second floor is somehow connected to Lukas’s dark past.
The girl steps lightly into the old apartment-style room and looks around, as if silently assessing its livability. The doorframe is low, and Lukas would have to slouch his lanky frame to pass under it, but he stays just outside, on the landing. He has no interest in the old room; he knows it well. It hasn’t changed much since he’d rented it as a student, long before he bought the house. Not much has been added. A few items have been removed. But everything has changed.
“I was excited to see your ad,” Katie says, her slender fingers delicately examining a discolored pine desk in the corner. The room is a humble space, with a slanted ceiling and a lone window shrouded by a dusty film that suggests it hasn’t been disturbed in years. A twin-sized bed, lumpy and thin, sits on cinderblock supports across from the desk, and has been covered by boxes and warped stacks of papers, bundled with roughly tied twine. Lukas had mentioned over the phone that he had been using the room primarily for storage, and had promised to clean it out, but he hadn’t yet gotten around to it. Standing in the doorway, Katie shrugs awkwardly, and Lukas has no idea how to interpret the gesture. She scans the room again, smiles, and says, “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find a place this close to the start of the semester.”
The room’s physical description resembles a room I rented while attending college—right down to the slanted ceiling and the pitiful bed, cinder blocks and all.
“You got good and soaked out there,” Lukas notes. He feels old. Particularly in a college town, particularly beside Katie. So young, soaked and she doesn’t even care; she’ll bounce back. “Umbrellas aren’t as popular as they used to be, I s’pose.”
“Actually, I have one, but I was running late and forgot it.” Katie turns to meet his gaze, then quickly turns away. She stares pointedly at the old piano bench, inconspicuous upon first glance from its neglected spot beneath three boxes of yellowed paperback books.
This is significant, because we learn later in the story about Lukas’s musical past, and how it parallels Katie’s own life as a troubled pianist.
“Then I forgot to bring the address with me and went to the wrong house at first.” Forgetful Katie. Free-spirited maybe. Still young enough to get away with it. She runs her fingers through the
wet, shoulder-length strands of her hair, and paces around the room, scanning each direction as if looking for something in particular. “God, I must look ridiculous,” she says with a sheepish grin. Lukas catches himself on the verge of smiling. Somehow, her remark didn’t sound as phony as it should have. Funny how a pretty girl’s self-consciousness somehow makes her even prettier. She stops and faces him. “Aren’t there any mirrors in this place?”
The question catches Lukas off guard. He gulps down the last watered-down sip of Scotch and shakes his head. He doesn’t need to run a mental inventory of the house’s supplies. “No,” is all he replies.
Lukas’s ability to quickly put his defensive walls back into place is evident here. The idea with this question and its response was to make the reader wonder about the significance of Lukas having no mirrors in his home. Obviously, it’s not a coincidence. Does it have something to do with Lukas’s past, or with his clairvoyant abilities? You’ll have to read the rest to find out!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting approach to doing an excerpt. I do think that the author's commentary adds to the presentation. However, the first person singular voice of the author should have been maintained throughout the comments. At times the comments become a bit high-school English teacher instead of being insightful. Examples:
    The room’s physical description resembles a room "I rented while attending college—right down to the slanted ceiling and the pitiful bed, cinder blocks and all." is great.
    Then there is the less useful to me: "This is significant, because we learn later in the story about Lukas’s musical past, and how it parallels Katie’s own life as a troubled pianist."
    Here I wanted to learn more of the author's own musical history rather than that we are discussing parallels in character arcs.