Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Location: United States

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Unborn, Chapter One

Judy Smith and her husband Charles had taken the two-lane blacktop, thinking they might be able to avoid the Friday evening interstate traffic. Now Judy braced herself against the dashboard, as if by sheer will she might be able to stop the eighteen-wheeler barreling directly toward them at ninety miles an hour.

“No!” Judy shouted. The truck kept coming.

Charles had a deathgrip on the steering wheel. He was frozen. Judy had to do something. She reached over and pulled the emergency brake, and at the same time grabbed the wheel and jerked it to the right. The car spun out of control and then rolled onto its side, finally landing upside down in a roadside drainage ditch. The airbag deployed, pinning Judy against her seat, and her neck was bent at a painful angle against the car’s headliner.

But she was alive.

She was alive, and she could wiggle her toes.

The semi’s airbrakes hissed to a stop on the other side of the highway.

It was dark, and Judy couldn’t see Charles, but she could hear him groaning. He was alive, too. Surely the trucker would call 9-1-1 now and help would be on the way shortly.

Judy felt something dripping on her left arm, something ice cold and stinging hot.

Then she smelled it.


The tank must have ruptured when the car rolled. The liquid trickled down her arm in a steady stream and welled in her armpit. She could feel it starting to saturate her black dress.

“Charles? Honey?”

“I’m here,” he said. “I think my legs are broke. God, it hurts. It hurts so bad.”

“We’re going to be okay. They’ll take us to the hospital and fix us up good as new. You’ll see. I bet we’ll even get to ride in a helicopter. I’ve never ridden in a helicopter. Have you, honey? It’ll make one heck of a story for our grand--”

She almost said grandchildren, but she caught herself in time. No, there would be no grandchildren now. They had buried that dream earlier in a mahogany casket with brass hardware.

It was just a casket, she’d told herself, albeit a very expensive one. Just a casket, and the battered earthly shell that had once contained her son’s soul.

Charles had wanted Colin to be cremated, but Judy wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted to see him, to be near him, to touch and hold and kiss him before saying goodbye for the last time. She couldn’t bear the thought of him being slid into an oven on a slab.

“My legs are broke for sure,” Charles gasped. “I’m in agony. If I had a gun right now, I would shoot myself.”

“Don’t talk like that, honey. They’ll give you something for the pain. Dilaudid, or morphine, something like that. It’ll knock it right out. You’ll see.”

Charles didn’t respond. All was quiet and inky black. No traffic, no sirens in the distance, no chopper blades whirring to the rescue. What was taking them so long?

Judy tried to reassure herself. It hadn’t really been long at all. Five minutes, maybe. Of course help couldn’t have gotten there yet. They were on a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest town. It would take at least twenty minutes for a rescue unit to arrive, maybe more.

The safety glass on Judy’s side had crumpled inward, and there was a gap between the window and the doorframe that allowed fresh air to enter the car’s interior. If that window hadn’t broken like it did, the noxious gasoline fumes flooding the car’s interior probably would have choked Judy and her husband to death by now.

Thank you, Jesus.

The door to the semi’s cab slammed shut and a pair of heavy shoes clomped across the pavement. Judy’s broken window faced that way, and she watched the trucker approach.

He didn’t seem panicked, or even in much of a hurry. He stopped a few feet from the wrecked vehicle, pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket, put the cigarette in his mouth and lit a match. He held the burning matchstick for a few seconds, staring into it, entranced by the flame. He finally lit the cigarette and blew the match out with a lungful of smoke.

“Hey,” Judy said. “We got a gas leak here. Would you mind not smoking?”

The trucker took another drag. He didn’t say anything.

“Hey,” Judy repeated. “Can you hear me? There’s gasoline leaking into the car here.”

He still didn’t say anything. He hot-boxed the Marlboro like no tomorrow, blue-gray smoke jetting from his nostrils and rising into the cool night air.

What an idiot. Was he trying to blow them all to Kingdom Come? Judy wished he would go on back to his truck. She wished the ambulance would hurry up. She wished--

Then, faintly, there was a distant wail. Glory be. Help was on the way.

The trucker turned and started to walk away. He hesitated, pivoted back toward Judy, and flicked the smoldering cigarette in her direction. In slow motion the fiery butt twirled end-over-end and landed inches from Judy’s window in the dry roadside scrub grass.

She tried to pick it up, hoping to extinguish it, but it was out of reach. She leaned into the broken glass and stretched with all her might. If her arm had been a fraction of an inch longer, or if she had made it to her nail appointment that morning, she could have snatched the nasty thing and squashed it into the dirt.

No such luck.

Her heart pounded and her breath came in shallow gasps. She leaned and stretched, leaned and stretched, leaned and stretched and, finally, touched the filter with her middle finger.

She touched it with her finger but it was wet and slippery from the trucker’s saliva and she couldn’t get enough friction against it to guide it her way.

A plume of black smoke rose from a single blade of grass near the lit end of the cigarette, and then the unmistakable crackle of brush fire chewed its way into Judy’s consciousness like a team of hungry rats. She saw the flashing red lights of an ambulance and a fire truck seconds before bright orange flames engulfed the car and slowly roasted her and her husband until they were crispy dead.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jude,

It reads well. If I had to change anything maybe move the first paragraph after the first line of dialogue so "No,...." would be the first thing drawing you in, but that's nit picky I'll admit.

The only thing that maybe mention if the woman felt the child's presence a protectiveness or even write the first chapter from the unborn's perspective? I'm just winging things --

I hope things pick up. I think it's a good beginning.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Josephine! I appreciate the feedback.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Write Unborn 2, Unborn 3, then Package into a collection, for 2.99 or write the entire book, which very well could entail the three novellas, and make it available for 2.99.

Write more books featuring the protagonist's challenges and adventures. (2.99 for a novella is steep in today's overloaded indie market.)

Write more, sell more. WRITE MORE, SELL MORE.

Your writing is strong, Jude. You're talented. Why not write more and show your readers you're in it for the long haul? Allow your readers the opportunity to care about your characters and their journey.

Odds are by the time you reach the third book featuring the protagonist, you'll have developed your readership, and will see that rise in sales you're seeking.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Thank you, Anon. Right now I'm working on another full-length novel, but I do plan to write and publish Unborn 2 in the not-too distant future. You're right, I need to get more work out there!

12:18 PM  
Blogger J.M.Cornwell said...

Considering the circumstances sent up here (car about to be mashed by oncoming semi, careening off road, flipping over, broken legs, trapped, gasoline dripping, etc.) this does not read well at all. Where is the emotion? The conversation between Judy and her husband sounds more like the dinner table than two people trapped in an overturned car with broken legs, massive pain and about to be blown to smithereens. The scene should be sharp and hard, the sentences short and terse. This is a life and death situation. The trucker is evil and is about to blithely toss his lit cigarette into their tomb. Where is the struggle to get out? Where is the fear, the pain, the certainty that death is moments away.

In order to sell this, you will have to sharpen the descriptions, tighten the dialogue, and make it more real. You will have to get into the character's mind and emotions and lay them out raw and bleeding.

This does not draw me in and does not give me the certainty that this is going to be a gripping tale or that horror or thriller are part of the mix. This reads like a Sunday walk in the park and not a dire situation.

Your writing is good, but your dialogue is stilted and there are too many words strung together. I don't feel the tension, the emotion or the impending doom. You can write, but a thriller (or horror story) requires a different set of skills.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, J.M. Appreciate the feedback.

5:09 AM  
Blogger Clytie said...

I agree the story needs a first-person POV, or ways of bringing us more into the POV of the character.

I liked the bit about the petrol pooling in her clothes and being absorbed. That's the kind of small detail you oddly notice in life-threatening situations. How does it feel on her skin? How are the fumes affecting her? Where does she hurt? If she doesn't, what other symptoms of shock is she experiencing?

You need to pull the reader more into the experience. It's something that could happen to any of us. Make it real.

BTW, being burnt alive is one of the most agonizing experiences possible for a human being. Don't back off there.

I hope you don't mìnd the feedback, and I appreciate that you requested it. :)

2:36 AM  

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