When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was the 1956 sci-fi flick FORBIDDEN PLANET, where a crew of astronauts are sent to a distant planet to "rescue" a scientist and his daughter and end up getting attacked by some massive invisible monster. I watched that movie over and over and over. Looking back at it now, it was kind of hokey. Bad special effects. Bad acting. But the story, the plot twists were really fantastic.
Years later, once I started writing fiction, I wanted to updated that old movie for a contemporary audience. More specifically, I wanted to write it for a teen audience. I love horror movies--not the blood and guts slasher kind, but the plot-twisting, nail-biting suspense kind that really tie your brain and your nerves into knots. Like THE SIXTH SENSE, ALIEN, or WHAT LIES BENEATH.
And taking older stories and rewriting them for a new audience isn't unusual. Gretchen McNeil did a spectacular job updating Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE with her 2012 YA novel TEN. And more recently, Colleen Oakes has revamped Peter Pan in WENDY DARLING.
I wrote the rough draft of SAND & SHADOW about three years ago, just before I started graduate school. I had a general idea of how I wanted the story to go. The beginning and the end were very clear in my mind. I knew who the characters were, who and what the antagonists would be. I did a lot of online research on things like cryogenics, deep space travel, habitable planets in distant galaxies, ESP, and so forth. My goal was to make this story as factual and plausible as possible while still stretching the boundaries of reality.
I finished the rough draft, but the middle was very mushy. In other words, I couldn't really figure out how to get from point B to point C. The story sort of leap frogged from the middle to the end in a matter of four or five chapters. Frustrated, and about to dive into three long years of grad school, I filed it away for safe keeping.
Three years later, I have dusted off SAND & SHADOW and am now working on the third draft. The pieces have fallen into place, and after plugging all my existing chapters into an outline, I've discovered that I need to write about five or six more chapters to fill in the gaps. But I'm not even close to being finished.
I've been reading Martha Alderson's THE PLOT WHISPERER, which has helped me see the fatal flaws in my manuscript. (I wish I'd read this book ten years ago!) Some important elements that I'm currently working on include the protagonist's goal in the beginning of the story, his development arch, his secret that is his catalyst for change, and situating the plot points at right spots in the manuscript.
As I work on this story, I will post updates from time to time and maybe even give some insight into how the story is developing. I'm hoping to have a good solid draft by spring of next year. For now, I thought I'd share the opening scene with you. Let me know what you think of it. Thanks!
SAND & SHADOW: CHAPTER ONE
Beneath the thin mantle of dust, a single LED flicked on. The feeble green bulb illuminated the shuttle’s cryo compartment just enough to emphasize how completely still it all was. The first light was succeeded by another and another until there were six. Only six. The other eighteen bulbs remained small, dark lumps beneath the dust. The compartment, awash in a hazy emerald radiance, might have been perfectly suitable in the Land of Oz, but here it simply did not belong.
He did not belong.
That was the first conscious thought in Adán’s head. Before he sensed that he was breathing or that his heart was pumping, he knew he shouldn’t be there. He’d known it for a long time, but he had kept it to himself. Hadn’t said a word right up to the moment the acrylic shield had come down and the icy serum entered his vein. But his apprehension was abruptly interrupted as he succumbed to the anesthetic that prepared him for cryo-hibernation.
Adán opened his eyes to a disorienting darkness. Light, he thought. There is supposed to be light. He blinked, squeezed his eyes shut, and then opened them again, straining to detect even the slightest glimmer. Panic seized him as he felt his own hot breath collecting in the narrow space between his face and the shield. Had the respiratory system failed? Was that why his cryo had been terminated? He had been asleep only moments. At least it felt like moments. He awoke to his half-finished thought, still feeling the tightness in his gut, what Colonel Foster had deemed nerves. “It’ll pass,” she had assured him. “It’s as easy as going to sleep.”
He breathed harder, faster. The moist air from his lungs condensed on his skin. Or was he perspiring? Raising his right hand to wipe the sheen of sweat away, his knuckles hit the underside of the shield. A dull thud reverberated through Adán’s unit, and something shifted just at waist level. Adán couldn’t lift his head much, just an inch or so, but it was enough to look down at the speck of green light near his feet. He lifted his hand again, striking the acrylic over and over. Each time it hit, the spot of light grew larger. Dust, he realized. My shield is covered in dust.
Finally enough light had filtered into his unit that Adán could make out the panel at his left just beside his fingertips. On it was a rectangular button marked COMM and a lever marked RELEASE. He struggled to remember his training. Even the simplest of thoughts resisted recall, and he understood that this was a temporary effect of coming out of cryo. Slowly, as memories coalesced in his mind, he pressed his thumb against the COMM button.
“H-hello? Can anyone hear me?” Adán held his panic in check as he waited for a reply. Nothing. “This is Mission Specialist Adán Fuentes. 4-ENG-003. I’m awake and need assistance.”
Again he waited. Adán re-adjusted his thumb. “Hello? Hello?”
The shield, so close to his face, seemed to press in on him. He had to get out. He had to get out now. He balled his hands into fists and hammered against the shield, striking it again and again. “I’m awake in here! Somebody!” More dust shifted off the shield, and the unit’s interior filled with an eerie green light.
Adán hooked two of his fingers around the emergency release lever and pulled. The dull click of the latch resonated through his enclosure. The shield slid open, pushing more dust to the floor. For a moment, he saw only green, and it reminded him of the time he went scuba diving with his dad—how under water everything had that odd seaweed-like tint to it. But then the overhead lights blinked on, and the dim oceany color evaporated. The sudden brightness stung Adán’s eyes, and he shielded them with his elbow. When he thought he could tolerate the light, he lowered his arm and cautiously sat up.
He was in the Quarters just as he should be, the vast cavern-like hibernation compartment housing two rows of twelve identical cryo units each—twenty-four in all—and the main control panel at one end. This room was the last image he’d had before his shield came down, but it had looked nothing like this.
The overhead lights that ran the length of the room flickered and dimmed at irregular intervals. The intermittent light made it difficult for Adán’s vision to fully adjust. Then, instead of cryo units, all he could see were two dozen oblong heaps of rust-colored dirt—his own open unit the only exception. They reminded him of the mounds of earth on freshly filled graves. The next thing he noticed was the thick indentation along the starboard wall, extending from the far end of the room to just past midway—a long, massive dent in the side of the ship. Adán noted that the dent had actually displaced several of the units.
Adán felt weak and lightheaded, which he had been told to expect. After the initial dose of anesthesia, the needle in his arm had delivered a steady stream of nutrient-infused fluid during the three year journey to Europa. But even so, upon waking his stomach felt horribly empty, as if the very core of him was missing. Adán ignored it. Lifting his hand and sitting had been difficult. His muscles cramped, and his fingers felt tingly. He made a weak fist, and then cautiously unfolded each finger, allowing time for normal sensation to return. Once it had, he turned his attention to the I.V. needle in his arm.
Where were the medics? The MED squad was supposed to awaken first and help the others. There was protocol to follow. How else could they fulfill the mission successfully? But from what he could tell, none of the others had awakened yet. He looked at the dent, the dust, and swallowed back the panic rising in his throat.
Something had gone terribly wrong.
Adán walked his fingers up his arm to the circular silicon patch that tracked his vitals and peeled it off. He did the same for the one on his temple, the one that had recorded his brain activity during hibernation. Then he slid his fingers around the needle above his wrist.
There was bound to be blood.
Leaning over the side of his unit, he felt along the edge of the dust-coated metal cabinet below him until he found the clasp. He popped it open, retrieved the familiar plastic case from inside, and set it in his lap. It was a first aid kit, and each unit had one just like it along with other necessary supplies and equipment, as well as a storage box for personal items. Adán removed a square of gauze and spool of medical tape from the kit. He wondered if the tape’s adhesive would still work after so long, but to Adán’s relief, the low humidity and temperature maintained throughout their flight had preserved everything well. He tore off two lengths of tape and stuck them to the back of his hand, and then returned the kit to the cabinet.
Once again he gripped the needle. He considered just yanking it out, like tearing off a band-aid, but couldn’t quite get up the nerve. Instead he tugged, gently at first. An acute pain rippled up his arm. He released the needle, gasping.
No wonder the medics were supposed to remove the IVs and then wake up the crew.
He tried again. This time he sucked in a deep breath while sliding the metal tube out from under his skin. Ignoring the throbbing pain, he slapped the gauze over the small globe of blood swelling on his arm and secured it in place with the tape.
It’s as thick as a nail, he thought, examining the red-tinged needle.
Adán pressed the heel of his hand against the bandage to stop the bleeding and shifted his legs over the side of the unit. As he set his bare feet on the floor, a cloud of dust puffed up, staining the hem of his white pants burnt orange. As he took his first step, the muscles in both calves seized up. Pain stabbed at the backs of his legs and knees. Cramps. He had been warned about the cramps.
Pull your toes up, Colonel Foster had told him. Stretch out those muscles.
Adán let go of his arm and reached down to pull on his feet, straightening each leg as he did so. It took minute or two, but eventually the cramping subsided.
He stood up, taking a few wobbly steps down the center aisle between the two rows of cryo units. If he was awake, then maybe others were, too. At least the ones whose lights were on, though after the MED squad, they were all scheduled to come out of cryo at the same time. But none of the other units were open yet.
He studied the pale green glow beneath the dust on his own unit. The light signaled that his body systems had stabilized and that he was ready to be released. He turned to the unit beside his own and wiped the dust away from the light panel with his arm. There was no green, no light at all. Not even the yellow LED that should have indicated the unit was in use.
The mound of dust on the unit’s shield had formed a sort of crust, like the plates of caked earth in a dry river bed. Adán touched it with the tip of his finger, and the crust crumbled. It was so delicate that if he blew on it, it might all just float away. But something inside of him resisted. Instead he stepped away from the unit and moved to the one beside it.
The green light was like a beacon. Adán was so relieved he had to steady himself. He wasn’t the only one awake. He was not alone. Scraping the dust from the shield with the side of his hand, he peered inside.
A pair of bewildered brown eyes gazed back at him.