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Chapter Two: introduces PROTAGONIST - an overprotective mother who feels guilty for not being home as much as she’d like, and later in the story, is not above lying to her son to protect him from scary realities of the world. This follows the opening chapter from the ANTAGONIST POV - a creepy slightly disturbed 15-year-old girl. It sets up a fear connection between Mother and Son. First the son will be afraid of “Patty”, a girl he’s never met, and years later, the mother will be after she meets her in person.  I'm using chapter 2 as my writing sample, since most of the chapters are in Protagonist POV anyway.


Vivian heard the yell from her son’s bedroom. Her feet hit the floor, slapping hard on the cold wood down the hallway toward his room. Her mind half-awake, she pictured him fallen out of bed, like two nights ago when the thud awakened her. As soon as she opened his door, her eyes focused on the bedside rug, empty. Instead, he was still tucked in, head tight under the covers, not moving.

“Honey are you okay?” proud of her restraint at this hour. Not Now what? Not This is two nights in a row. She pulled down the race car comforter and put a hand on his forehead, miming the technique she’d read about in a parenting magazine: Let the child know that night terrors are a sickness.

“I dreamed about the girl in the freezer,” he said. “She was trying to get out.”

She sat down on the bed. “Honey, that was a nightmare. There’s no girl in any freezer.”

“Yes there is. Dad put her in there.”

Even at this absurdity she felt something endearing in her son’s fear. Cherish the moments he needs you to make the monsters go away, she thought. He’ll grow up fast. She reached for the lamp and her attention was drawn to the watercolor on the wall. Her son’s name floated in thick amateur letters above a blob of a pony. A thunderbolt of love struck her as she took in the three over-sized consonants surrounding a cowering vowel. She’d lobbied hard to name him Mark, after her father, but Scott was dead set on naming him Lars, after his grandfather. Days of alternating hurt feelings and playing martyr gave way to the unexpected, even giddy compromise: Mars. But as a middle name, sort of hidden away, like a secret ingredient in the recipe of their new son’s life. And though they used it like a nickname, and last month made sure his school papers listed only his first name, the watercolor had made it clear that Scott Mars Castro, by christening it with his middle name, had made the first decision that might carry into adulthood.

His voice piped up. “Dad turned her around, so she wouldn’t look at me when I opened the door. But she’s still there.”

“Mars, that’s enough. Your father would never do such a thing. How ‘bout I get you some water?” She rubbed his chest and planted a hard kiss on his cheek.

After she’d delivered the water, and before turning off the light, she surveyed the room she’d decorated when she and Scott bought the place last year.  All the important choices made on patterns and color. The placement of personal objects among the functional, new clothes hung orderly in the closet, a place to grow a perfect boy into one ready for an equally perfect place in the world. Except the school year had brought a new reality to Scott and Vivian’s life. They’d somehow become parents of a child who exempted himself from roads of discovery, and instead saw daily separation from home as traumatic and painful. Last week Mars treated the neighbors to a terrified escape from Scott’s car while he was already backing out of the driveway. Vivian saw everything from the living room window. Scott braked, ran out after him, grabbed his arm and marched him back to the car where his protests remained audible even after he closed the door. And now the nightmares. She first thought his new separation anxiety was cute and showed the world how much he loved his parents. Lately it wasn’t so cute anymore.

Back in her bed, she tucked herself in next to Scott, closed her eyes, and replayed her son’s yell in her mind. Something was off about it. Something that hadn’t registered at first, but now that she was back in bed, she realized what it was. He’d called for his father. Not for her.

She felt petty. Letting something like that pierce into her. She was grateful beyond words for everything their family had. She’d been gone all summer for the TV show as her son called it, in a tone carrying an undercurrent of your other family. Later this fall, the first episode of the season would air, and she was looking forward to him seeing how Antiques Road Station was about helping people, about showing them the value of what was there in their own homes.

From the open bedroom door, she heard the fridge in the kitchen downstairs turn on, and the sudden connection to her son’s nightmare made her sit up. The freezer in the garage. She turned Mars’ story over in her head, the oddness of it, the absurd accusation of it. She mumbled out a laugh, felt Scott stir in response, and sat there another moment to make sure he hadn’t woken, realizing she needed closure more than sleep. She got out of bed, went downstairs to the kitchen, and opened the side door to the garage. She turned on the light. The white Maytag, filled with meats, ice, and frozen fruit looked undisturbed. Scott kept the freezer covered with a picnic blanket, a security gesture as charming and useless as their picket fence. She folded back the blanket and slowly opened the lid. Part of her expected to hear a creak, like the door to a haunted house, but it was too new for that, and she only heard a quiet suck of warm air go in.

No dead girl. Last weekend’s catch lay on top of the stacked meat. Scott’s weekend fishing hobby had yielded one Largemouth Bass, cleaned and stored in a Ziplock, then wrapped in newspaper to ward off freezer burn. She lifted it out and wiped the ice particles off the paper to see a page from last week’s Chino Champion: an advertisement for Stater Bros on Riverside Drive. Feeling foolish for letting her mind find intrigue in her son’s macabre dream, she flipped the frozen fish back on the stack where it landed on its opposite side, exposing the face of a child staring back at her in newsprint. The caption: Missing Child. Patty Walsh. East End Ave. She grabbed it and unwrapped the paper. It was damp but still legible. The girl had been missing for two weeks. The street name didn’t ring a bell, but Vivian hadn’t learned all the outskirt areas yet. Their own Lincoln Ave was surrounded by other historically named streets: Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Jefferson. Two blocks away Telephone Ave may have been an homage to Alexander Graham Bell, but East End had neither quaintness nor historical cachet. Dairies and farms, two aircraft museums, and quiet neighborhoods of mostly single-story houses. That was the Chino she and Scott moved into. But lately pastoral lots had given way to over-development, homes built to the property line, front yards non-existent. Chino Men’s prison, once separated from the town by miles of empty fields, was now shoulder to shoulder with sprawl.

The girl in the newspaper might have been a Darwinian casualty, off-putting in a way that went beyond homeliness, as if diseased with her own life. Neglectful parents, Vivian thought, grateful her son had the two best parents she could think of, but felt guilty veiling herself in comfort when someone else’s child was missing. Still, Mars had two solid families in his DNA, both fiercely devoted to raising a child ready for rigors of life. Her stock hailed from Alberta, Scott’s from Mexico, both third generation, and neither with close relatives outside the states. America had been the only homeland they had ever known. Still, what makes for the ingredients of a well-adjusted child? Adulthood always went astray, followed its own course, just as often oblivious to careful planning as not. But kids? Who decided which ones were okay, better armed for the future? She went to the recycling bin, rummaged out another newspaper, and re-wrapped the fish. She slipped the original paper in her robe pocket.

Back in bed, a heaviness anchored in. Was Mars okay? Her travel schedule had ended for the season, and she’d kept a close watch on how he’d adjusted to her earlier absence. When she was on the road, she’d talk to him on the phone every night, send photographs from the cities she where she was working. Scott would drop him off at her sister’s house each morning. She was the homemaker of the siblings, plus there were plenty of neighborhood kids to play with until Scott picked him up after work. By all accounts, Mars had seemed to enjoy his summer, not appearing any worse for it, no obvious resentment. And tonight’s nightmare was easily enough explained.

Still, maybe things were not so perfect. Who a child calls for in the middle of the night is primal, instinctive. They call for the one person they consider their protector. That stayed true whether it was after a bad dream, or when they were dying on a battlefield.

Boys always call their mother.

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