The opening paragraphs of another science fiction novel that I’m almost done writing (the first draft, that is):

Chapter One

Malissa Ann Jennings flapped her hands and shook her head, revealing with the shake twin white cords that dangled from her ears. Her mouth moved in a tone-deaf drone, “To become enraptured by the beautiful is easy,” while her eyes closed briefly and she shook her head again. “ The deformed is not promptly agreeable. But when we finally perceive the beautiful through the obscuring fog, that is when we first taste the wine of love.” Her feet did a little hop bop dance and she grinned.

Unwashed, a grizzled man in shabby brown and dust sidled past her, putting the bottle wrapped in a tattered bag to his lips and giving her a look he normally reserved for the other alcoholics.

Malissa snapped her fingers and hummed tunelessly, oblivious to the strange looks and the wide berth she was getting from those she passed. Likewise, she was oblivious to the distant sirens, the roar of the passing bus, the clatter of voices. She barely saw the sidewalk in front of her, let alone the graffiti scrawled walls, debris strewn empty lots, or even the group of three young men more or less her own age leaning against the traffic light post on the corner she was nearing. They glanced her way, then focused their attention a bit more firmly.

Malissa was barely nineteen, model thin but with unusually large boobs that she hadn’t bothered to put into a bra that morning. Her short t-shirt was tight, leaving little to the imagination, while a diamond glistened in her belly button. Her jeans had that painted on look. Her toes, displayed in her flip flops had nails the same bright pink that decorated her fingers.

One of the three young men grinned and shoved at one of his companions. Black baseball cap on his head, turned backward, his pants cinched around his hips, with his baggy blue shorts clearly visible above. One hand grabbed his belt as he sauntered slowly toward Malissa, his grin widening. He planted himself in her path so that even in the midst of her musical fog, she couldn’t help but notice him.

Her happy, if tuneless song came to a sudden end in her mouth, which twisted into a shape opposite of the young man standing in front of her. He towered over her head, forcing her to tilt her chin and shield her eyes with her hand to block the sunlight that glared around his head.

“Jason!” she bellowed. “Why you standing there all grinning like a fool, getting in my way. I could have walked right into you.”

“You make that sound like something bad.”

Her frown briefly shifted to a smile, but she quickly shifted it back to its former state. She yanked the earbuds and swung them in an arc. “So what you want?”

“What you doing later?”

“Later? Later when?”

“Later, like—“ he glanced at the afternoon sun “later like in an hour.”

“You got something in mind?”

“I was thinking Ernie’s.”

Malissa wrinkled her nose and sucked at her lower lip. “I ain’t got no money.”

“Then you’re in luck. I got some.”

“Where’d you get money?”

“I got a job.”

“Since when?” her mouth twisted into a lopsided grin.

“Last week. Got my first pay last night—Friday night. But I work swing.”

“Where, fool?”

His eyes shifted sideways, glancing toward where his buddies were huddled off to the right and behind him. Then he shifted and leaned toward her, dropping his voice. “Burger Shack, okay?”

Malissa resisted the urge to laugh, and her eyes briefly rose to scan his friends. Working at Burger Shack—hell, working anywhere—was less than cool. Or so they’d say. But she didn’t agree. Burger Shack didn’t pay much, but at least you didn’t have to worry about getting shot over shorting someone a bag of fries. And the cops weren’t going to shake you down, either. Briefly it flitted through her mind that he could be lying to her, too. For all she knew Jason had gotten the cash selling drugs like so many others. She knew for sure that his buddy there, Mick, was in Dweeds, and so were the others standing there with him. There was no reason to think that Jason wasn’t as much a Dweed as his best friends. Hell, they wouldn’t be hanging together if he wasn’t a part of the gang. But maybe he really did have a job, and wasn’t just saying that to make her happy.

She consciously smiled at him again and put her right hand on his arm. “Okay,” she said. “I like Ernie’s, especially on a Saturday night.” And then she hit him in the shoulder, making him wince. She smiled bigger.

“You want to head over there now?”

She kept the smile but shook her head. “You want I should go looking like this?”

“You look mighty fine, Malissa…”

“You just saying that. I’ll meet you there in an hour. Better not be late.”

“I got a watch.” He pulled briefly at the chain dangling from his front pocket. It jangled.

Malissa bumped him with her hip and marched on by. She gave a brief grin and head tilt to his buddies, then laughed and walked on, poking the ear buds back in her ears. Within another few steps, she was dancing along, singing tunelessly to herself once again, oblivious to the stares meted out by Jason and his friends.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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