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When The Fires Cease - Women’s Fiction


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Opening Scene: Introduces protagonist, setting (flip-flops between two setting: past and present), tone and foreshadows the primary conflict. 

 

1

Mesa, AZ  (ten years ago)

  

Corey laid lifeless. Her eyes had yet to open and she was already resentful of the day before her. Her cheek clung to her pillowcase, still damp with tears from the night before. And then, like clockwork, came the weight, rich with pain, nuzzling into its usual spot within her sternum. She opened her eyes and slowly, a blurry room began to merge into focus. Corey’s eyes fixed upon the metal object atop her nightstand. Beams of light slipping through the window promoted it with a brilliant glare. Her switchblade. It taunted her, as it did every morning these days. Corey gazed at it longingly and, had she perhaps one more ounce of strength within her, just a flicker of energy, she might have reached for it and finally put an end to all this misery. It was hers for the taking. She just wondered when the morning would come when she would finally find the strength to do so. 

 

Corey let out a wretched cough, shuffling her vocal chords like a deck of cards. Her throat was raw. The single last noise it had produced were the screams a a nightmare, at least three days old by now. 

 

Mornings were the hardest for eighteen-year-old Corey Collins. Nevertheless, she wrestled herself out of bed, clamored into her ancient truck and begin driving. Aimlessly, mindlessly, Corey drove. Success—another morning she’d avoided killing herself. 

 

Three hours had passed, without trace, meaning, nor purpose, when Corey suddenly found herself bouncing along a desolate dirt road, snaking her way through the most curious of rock formations. “Where the hell am I?” Corey thought, glancing in all directions. 

 

She thrust her truck into park and stepped out, a billow of maroon dirt kicked up under her Converse One Stars. Not another living soul in sight. These rock formations, with their smooth facades and curling angles, seemed to be prompting her in. Corey had lived in the Southwest all her life, but never had she encountered terrain like this before. The land, the air, it all felt different here. For the first time in a long time, Corey could breathe.  

 

A ragged “For Sale by Owner” sign along the side of the road had caught her eye while driving in. Corey called the number listed and, when an old, brittle voice answered, she was caught off guard. Two months later, the land was hers. 

 

When Corey relocated to Sedona, Arizona, at the tender age of eighteen, she knew nothing about managing twenty-seven acres of wild, high-desert land, but that was exactly the point. She wasn’t looking for something easy. Corey was looking for something new that she could wrangle and pour herself into. Something to occupy her mind and distract her. This property at 22 Carriage Way had become a fresh start for Corey. It was the beginning of a new life, allowing her to start over and forget all that had been.

 

 

 

 

2

Sedona, AZ

 

This was the sweet spot of her day. The Arizona sun surrendered its feverish grip, making way for some much needed relief. Corey squinted as she scanned her land from her disintegrating Adirondack chair, perched west to regard the sunset. Her land was quiet and tucked away on the remote outskirts of Sedona, miles away from any traces of the touristy parts. 

 

Ten laborious years of molding and pruning this property to her liking had left it a sight to behold. Rolling hills ablaze with wildflowers, a bustling chicken coop, a handcrafted greenhouse overflowing with bounty and, of course, the many trails weaving their way across her acres like a primitive cross stitch pattern. But perhaps most spectacular of all were the bordering red rocks, with their erosive past hidden deep within their iron sediment — this was the aspect of the land that Corey loved most. There was a kinship of sorts, an understanding that the past had not always been kind. 

 

Corey took a sip from her glass, the cool water quenching her throat like a tidal wave. She stretched her long, sun drenched legs out in front of her as the final beads of sweat evaporated from her brow. When the sun had disappeared behind the mountain tops, Corey headed inside to began her nightly routine. She threw a couple of logs into her cast iron wood burning stove, placed a large kettle filled with water on top, then meandered into her bedroom where she stood weary in front of the mirror, loosening her braid and rustling her fingers through her long, golden brown strands. 

 

Corey retrieved her kettle and carefully poured the lukewarm water into her antique claw bathtub then grabbed her book and a fresh bar of soap. She pushed open the old French style windows and let the late day breeze, along with the last notes of light, spill in. She stepped into the bath and, as the warm water engulfed her, Corey eased her tired body in. The day’s work was complete, her body could rest, and her mind could get lost in the latest book she was reading. 

 

These fantastic stories about others and the lives they lived, surely far different from her own, kept her entertained, but perhaps more importantly than that, these books occupied her so that in the still, quiet moments, her mind couldn’t wander into the past.

 

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

 

3

Mesa, AZ (ten years ago)

 

Corey leaned back on the blanket as she watched her little brother standing next to her boyfriend on the riverbed in front of her. Mason’s young legs, squat and strong, launched his body into the air as he laughed watching the stone skip over the water’s surface.  

 

“Again!” he cried, clapping his hands.

 

“Alright, look for another stone,” said Jack.

 

“Here’s one!” Mason ran the stone over to be inspected by Jack.

 

“Let’s see,” said Jack in a serious tone, as he turned the rock over in his hand. “Not too small, not too big, and look, flat as a pancake. Perfect.”

 

Mason jumped again. “Five this time! Try to get five, because I will be five soon.”

 

“Five skips for the almost-five year-old Mason!” Jack shouted as he sent the stone sailing.

 

Corey smiled, her eyes fixated on Jack now. His back glistened as the sun shone off the thin layer of sweat that coated his skin. Ravines and ridges decorated his torso, leaving it no mystery that Jack was an athlete.

 

“One, two, three, four….aww, only four.” said Mason.

 

Jack lunged towards Mason and threw him up in the air, “Well then I guess that means you can’t turn five!”

 

Mason howled with delight as he landed safely back into Jack’s arms. Later, as the three walked back to Jack’s car, Mason turned to his big sister, “I will still turn five, right Corey?”

 

“Of course you will still turn five. Jack was just teasing,” Corey jostled his mop of blonde hair, blissfully unaware of the lie that had just sauntered from her lips.

 

 

 

 

4 

     Sedona, AZ

 

            The following afternoon was quite peaceful until his thunderous voice burst through the air. Corey was so startled, she nearly sawed her finger clean off. She had been working on her fence in the far west corner of her property, lost deep in the rhythmic hum of her sawing. There was no reason why a man’s voice should be nearing - not now, not ever. Corey lowered her saw, scanning in the direction of the voice. And there it was, a bobbing cowboy hat in the not too far distance, rising in and out of view between the sunflower stalks, and it was coming closer. Corey crouched low, concealing herself behind one of the many piñon trees inhabiting this section of her land. She positioned her lean frame behind the trunk and carefully peered around. 

 

            “This way,” sounded the voice.

 

            Corey strained to make out a second, smaller figure, dutifully trailing alongside the taller man with the cowboy hat.

 

            “What if we can’t find her?” said the younger figure, clearly a boy.

 

            “Then we retrace our steps and track the other direction.” said the man.

 

            They were getting closer now. Corey’s heart quickened. She clutched her chest, in fear it might gallop straight out of her chest. 

 

            “I don’t see any tracks.” said the boy.

 

            “You’re right son, I think we lost her.” There was a pause. “Well, hold on now, wait a second…what do we have here? Looks like someone’s been working.”

 

            They had to be no more than fifteen feet away by now. Corey clenched her eyes and listened as the sounds of their footsteps approached closer. And then – silence. Still and baited silence. Corey pressed back against the tree trying to will the trunk to open up and swallow her whole. Her body trembled as the footsteps sounded again, but only this time, with a hurried frenzy.

 

            “There she is!” roared the man.

 

            Corey’s head went light and her gut churned so deeply she was certain it had irreparably knotted itself, never to be the same again. She remained bound tight against her tree, eyes closed, breath held, waiting for whatever was to happen next. 

 

            Boom – the gunshot echoed over Corey’s fields and off the nearby canyon walls.

 

            “I think I got her!” hollered that man, and off they ran. Corey listened intently as their footfalls grew farther away. Only then, when the sounds had all but disappeared, did she realize the tears that had been streaming down her face. She lifted her trembling fingers to her cheeks, brushing them away, and rose to her feet. Corey peered out from behind her tree just as the father and son had reached their fallen elk in the distance. 

 

            Utterly drained, Corey remained perched against that piñon tree for the next two hours, until the duo had long since dragged their kill away, and the sun had called it a day. Only after the darkness emerged did Corey feel safe enough to move. For in the dark, Corey was invisible…the way she liked it. 

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2 hours ago, Cindy said:

Beams of light slipping through the window promoted it with a brilliant glare.

This is so awesome. I love your lines like this one that make her desire to harm herself appear like an external, omnipresent force. Really really well done. 

Two things to consider, in the name of trying to be constructive. One: How does an eighteen year old with an ancient truck afford 22 acres? Two: 

2 hours ago, Cindy said:

blissfully unaware of the lie that had just sauntered from her lips

While this is a line that I really enjoy to read I think it's the only one you should consider cutting. Reason being that we already know she is suicidal due to a past event and so through this lens of trying to figure out why the line "Of course you'll turn five." is super daunting. Following it up with the narrator's statement, in my opinion, diminishes this effect. 

2 hours ago, Cindy said:

There was no reason why a man’s voice should be nearing - not now, not ever

Also, the "not ever." made me so very happy. Had my mind racing for a "why" just as she leaps into action. Super cool.

Thanks for the read,

Ethan

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