DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANNA!!!!
So, what goes on with a NaNo? Well, it’s all about an outpouring of words. You have to type 1,667 a day to finish by November 30th. For me, that’s usually no big deal. This year, it’ll be different. I’m busy revising SECOND SHIFT while writing THIRD SHIFT. I have two trips to take and a writing workshop to teach. I’m usually a few days ahead by now. Instead, I’m right on the line.
What I thought I’d do — since I enjoy writing in this glass house over here — is throw up a scene from today’s output so anyone interested can view my process. It’s just over 1,000 words long, so you almost need to double this every day. If you hate spoilers, don’t go any further.
Jimmy took his breakfast—one can of peaches and one of pineapple—to the great steel door. He unshouldered his rifle and sat down, resting his back against server eight.
The rifle had taken some figuring out. His father had disappeared with the loaded one, and when Jimmy discovered the crates of arms and ammo, the method of inserting the latter into the former had posed a puzzle. He made the task a Project, like his father used to make their chores and tinkering. Ever since he was little, Jimmy had watched his dad disassemble computers and other electronics, laying out all the pieces—each screw, every bolt, the nut spun back on the bolt—all arranged in a neat pattern so he knew where they went again. Jimmy had done the same with one of the rifles. And then with a second rifle, when he’d accidentally knocked the pieces from the first with his boot, sending them scattering.
With the second, he saw where the ammo ended up and how it got there. The spring in the ammo holder was stiff, which made it difficult to load. Later, he learned that this was called a “clip,” after finding the entry for “Gun” under “G” in the tins full of books. But that had come weeks after he’d figured out how the thing worked on his own, with the hole in the ceiling to show for it.
He kept the rifle in his lap, across his thighs, and balanced the cans of fruit on the wide part of the stock. The pineapple was his favorite. He had some every day, watching the stock on the shelves dwindle. He’d never heard of such a fruit, had to look the thing up in another of the books. It’d been the pineapple that’d led him on his first dizzying tour through the tins. Things had quickly gotten out of control. “B” for “Beach” had led to another book. “O” for “Ocean” had confused him with its sense of scale. And then the “Fish” under “F.” He had forgotten to eat that day, and the room with the radio and his little mattress had become a hazard of open books and empty tins. It had taken him a week to get things back in order. Several times since then, he had lost himself in similar excursions.
Pulling his can opener and fork from his breast pocket, Jimmy worked the peaches open, first. There was the whispering pop of air as he made the first cut. Jimmy had learned not to eat the contents if it didn’t make that pop. Luckily, the toilets were still in operation back when he’d learned that lesson.
He worked his way through the peaches, savoring each bite before drinking down the juice. He wasn’t sure if you were supposed to drink that part—the label didn’t say—but it was his favorite. He grabbed the pineapples and his opener, was listening for the pop of air, when he heard the keypad on the great steel door beep.
“Little early,” he whispered to himself. He set the can aside, licked his fork, and put it back in his breast pocket. Cradling the rifle to his armpit, he sat and watched for the door to move. One crack, and he would open fire.
Instead, it was four beeps from the keypad as a set of numbers were entered, followed by three sets of rapid beeps to signal that it was the wrong code. Jimmy tightened his grip on the gun while they tried again. The screen on the keypad only had room for four digits. That meant ten thousand combinations if you included all zeros. The door seemed to allow three incorrect attempts before it wouldn’t take any more, not until the following day. Jimmy had learned these things along with the men outside. He used to watch them on the screen downstairs. Now he stood guard. They both had their routines, he and these others. It was a bit of human contact, if scary.
He listened to the keypad beep with another guess and then chirp three times with the good news. Good news for him, anyway. Still, that was another number down, which meant time was running out. Twelve-eighteen was the number. Jimmy cursed himself for even thinking the code; his finger went to the trigger, waiting. But thoughts couldn’t be heard. You had to speak to be heard. He tended to forget this, because he heard himself thinking all the time.
The third and final attempt for the day began, and Jimmy couldn’t wait to eat his pineapples. On the server behind him, he had done the math. He assumed they’d started at 0000 and were working their way up. That’s how he would do it. With no idea when the first try had been, he assumed the worst, that it was day one. Three a day meant they would stumble on the right code on day 406 on the second try. That was just over a month away.
But then there was the lingering fear that they might skip some numbers, that they had started somewhere else, or that they might get lucky if they were going random. For all Jimmy knew, more than one code might open the door. And since he didn’t pay attention to how his father had changed the code a year ago, he couldn’t move it higher. And what if that only got them closer? Maybe they started at 9999. He could move it lower, of course, hoping to pass one they’d already tried, but what if they hadn’t tried it yet? To take action and let them in on accident would be worse than doing nothing and then dying. And Jimmy didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die, and he didn’t want to kill again.
This is how his brain whirled as the four digits were entered. And when the keypad chirped angrily at the good news, he was slow to relax his grip on the gun. Jimmy wiped his sweaty palms off on his thighs, and picked up his pineapples.
“Hello, pineapples,” he whispered. He bent his head toward his lap and punctured the can, listening closely.
The pineapples whispered back. They told him they were safe to eat.