The first step in any novel project is to brainstorm and research it. I have a plan drawn up with character needs and questions that need to be answered to outline the plot. From there, I'll do research on how to execute it. It looks like this will be a return to my mystery roots, with potential for a sci-fi element. That's exciting. I haven't written a mystery since Obsidian in 2014. But it also means I might need to brush up on my skills in writing it, since I've been focused on scifi for over three years. Then again, it will be a whole new adventure if it mixes mystery with scifi.
We'll see. For now, I'd like to share the story with you so you can see the seeds of this new novel forming. It will probably be a few months before more is written, since there are so many things to ponder and research, but this is a start. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the first stages of a novel-in-progress. You'll probably see the questions that need to be answered as you read: what did they do? Who are the other friends? How did they get to this point? Add to that bigger issues: how did this happen? Where are they? (In college obviously, but which one?). Is this present time, or the future? Think about this as you read, and you'll see how a novel starts to form.
And fellow writers, I also want you to ponder how the fiction journal is a great part of this process. This was nothing but a random story 11 days ago, and it's already growing.
“What if they find us?” Addison asked.
“They won’t,” Brianna said crossly from the cell phone. “Stop worrying.”
Addison sniffed. “I didn’t expect her to actually do it.”
“None of us did. We just wanted to scare her. Who knew she’d take it seriously?”
“How else was she supposed to take it?”
“Like a normal person.”
“How would you take people bombarding you with messages to kill yourself?”
“I’d tell them to go to hell,” Brianna said.
“Which is exactly where we’ll wind out if they trace our messages,” Addison said. “I looked it up. There have been several convictions for cyberbullying.”
“Addy, just stop it. You’re paranoid. I’m sorry Liana took us seriously. Nobody thought she’d actually slit her wrists –“
“Which is what we told her to do –“
“And the decision was hers and hers alone,” Brianna droned on. “So stop it. She made her choice. If she was stupid enough to take the dramatic way out instead of backing off of us, then it’s nobody’s fault but her own. There’s no proof. I launched that virus the minute she sent the final ‘Kay’ message. I could see this was ending one way or another. The messages are gone.”
“Maybe I should send you links to these articles I found on the convictions. They retrieved deleted messages in almost all of those cases.”
“Maybe you should chill out,” Brianna snapped. She sighed. “You’ve always been the sweetheart of the group. Don’t worry about this. If anything, you had the least to do with it. There’s no way they’ll find us, if we don’t draw attention to ourselves. So stop worrying. Go about your life. Finish your last semester. Go to grad school. Get a good job, and marry Blake, and pop out a few kids, and have a happily ever after. This is over. Let it go. She can’t hurt us anymore. The path is clear.”
“Not the way I hoped.”
“No, but it’s done. Look, I’ve gotta go. See you in class tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow.” Addison tapped off the call, turning to her computer. Somehow, she had to finish her homework. She should probably do laundry too, so she’d have something clean to wear to the memorial service tomorrow. It would look bad if one of her best friends didn’t show up.
Addison sighed, clicking open social media instead. The headlines screamed at her:
STUDENT COMMITS SUICIDE IN DORM ROOM DAYS BEFORE SPRING BREAK.
She blinked. Brianna was right. There was no mention of the messages. In fact, no speculation was offered at all. The articles simply said that Liana was a good student with a bright future, and her tragic suicide was a shock to the campus.
Maybe Brianna was right. Maybe it was over.
She sighed, fixing to click out when her message icon blinked.
Do not be deceived.
Addison blinked. What was this? A prank? Probably some sick person who knew she and Liana were friends. Well, she wouldn’t scare as easily.
Deceived about what? She typed.
Your secret didn’t die with me.
Addison’s hands flew to her mouth, stifling a scream that would surely alarm her roommates.
Liana? She typed with shaky hands.
A video popped open on her laptop screen. She leaned forward, studying the grainy video. No, it couldn’t be that. Not from that night. It was impossible. They all left their phones in their apartments and made sure there were no security cameras.
That’s impossible. This is a fake.
Still, she shook. It should be impossible, but this video – it wouldn’t take much work to make out their faces and voices. How did this happen?
Nothing is impossible. So much for your ‘happily ever after.’
Addison froze. No, this must be a prank. It must be Brianna messing with her. She knew Brianna was aggravated with her for worrying about the messages. Now she was trying to make a point.
Not funny, Bri.
Bri is next domino to fall. Unfortunately, you’re next.
I’m logging off now.
There was a knock at the door. Addison jerked. “Who is it?”
“The police. We have some questions about the suicide of Liana Markulya. Can we come in?”
The volume on the video rose to maximum volume.
“No, no, no!”
“You better get the door,” a voice said from her laptop.
“What?” Addison shouted over the screaming video.
“Addison Blake? Can we come in? We just have a few questions about Liana’s suicide so we can complete our investigation.”
“Investigation?” Addison asked. “Why are they doing an investigation?”
“Because they know the truth,” the voice said again.
“What is this?” she stared at her laptop. “Who’s that?”
The pixels swirled to the shadowy image of a woman. Addison squinted. “Liana?”
“Briana lied. The virus didn’t work. They have the messages. They’re here to question and arrest you.”
“How do you know? How is this possible?” She tapped the screen, but the face remained. “You’re dead!”
“Miss Blake, we hear you in there. Please open the door.”
“Yes, by all means please open that door and explain everything to them. I’m sure they’ll understand. It was all to secure your future. The problem was, it was at the expense of mine.”
“No, we never meant –“ She cut off as the knocking on the door became more insistent. She heard voices murmering in the hallway. No doubt, the noise alerted her neighbors, and now they were out there putting their two cents worth in.
“This can’t be happening,” she jumped from her chair, running to the window and throwing it open. She was on the twelfth floor. No exit.
“The fire escape,” the voice said from her computer.
“What?” she strained her eyes. The fire escape was badly damaged from a hurricane the previous fall. Building maintenance had been repairing it, but the closest secure landing was on the ninth floor.
“You were in gymnastics and cheerleading in high school, right?” the voice said. “Position yourself correctly, and you can jump down to that landing. You can make it.”
“It’s too far,” she whined.
A laugh. “You always were the weak one. Go ahead, then. Answer that door, and answer for yourself. And everybody else. The choice is yours.”
Addison studied the landing three floors below her.
“Face the consequences, Addy. What’s it going to be?”
Addison took a deep breath and jumped. The door to her apartment burst open to her scream as her slim body hurled past the landing. The police rushed to the window just in time to see her body crash to the ground twelve floors below in an explosion of blood and bone.
Detective Grace Milone swore under her breath, grabbing the radio from her belt. “Call an ambulance to the Riverside Apartments. We have another suicide.”
“Why did she do that?” Deputy Reid Gaillard asked, staring at the bloody mess below them.
Grace wandered around the small living area of the apartment, her eyes drawn to the glowing screen of the laptop. Only one program was open: a word processing document. The cursor blinked next to the single line on the page.
One by one, the dominos fall.
“Get a crime scene team in here,” Grace said.
“Why?” Reid asked, waving to the mess below him. “She jumped, and she was alone. There’s nobody else in here.”
Grace pointed to the computer. “I’m not sure about that.”