Terrific — Chapter One

Yes, yes, yes. I’m still working on my upcoming superhero novel, Terrific. What, you don’t believe me? Well, here’s the proof!

Below is the current draft of the first chapter. Note that it is just a draft and will undergo revisions later, but things are coming along. When you self-publish, it’s vitally important that you reject your own work to ensure you put out the best possible book. I’ve rejected two full previous versions of Terrific, as well as another half a manuscript, but I’m feeling confident about how this one is turning out.

So read it, enjoy, and bug me to get the thing finished and published.

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Copyright 2017 Daniel R. Sherrier. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Terrific

–a novel–

By Daniel Sherrier

1.

Miranda Thomas liked pretending to be someone else. Her true self receded behind a persona she had spent innumerable hours crafting, rehearsing, and perfecting to the greatest possible extent. And her hard work paid off as she made her regional theatre debut in The Reluctant Guest.

They enjoyed her. Several dozen strangers laughed at all the right moments. Everyone returned to their seats after intermission. They cheered when the lights went down at the play’s conclusion. And audiences never lied. Miranda loved that about them.

She had graduated from Olympus University a mere three months earlier, and she was already doing her favorite thing in the world…as a professional. Her castmates were fun, the reviews were strong, and the nonprofit company owned a charming venue. This was not a poor start.

Today’s matinee wasn’t quite finished. Miranda had one last moment on the stage, the only one as herself.

Warm light enveloping her, she crossed the polished floorboards of the Aeschylus Theater for her curtain call. The stage was smaller than most, and its house seated a mere eighty-eight on three sides. An intimate performance space, perfect for a four-person contemporary comedy. It minimized the barrier between actors and audience, filtering none of their reaction. Right now, it was Miranda’s stage.

Difficult to see the audience’s faces through the glare of the lights, but everyone saw her—a petite young woman with tremendous presence. Her eyes, large and vibrant, attracted all others. The applause sounded not polite, but genuine. She knew the difference. Enthusiasm fortified each clap, and it all coalesced into an intoxicating fanfare. Some of those silhouettes rose from their seats. They didn’t have to. Miranda earned that.

One tiny concern at the back of her mind, however. She wasn’t positive they were truly seeing Miranda Thomas, the actress, rather than the humorously absent-minded host she had played for the previous two hours. They needed to recognize her, and recognize that they wanted to keep seeing her in various roles in so many other plays, television shows, and movies. This production couldn’t be her pinnacle. If this was the pinnacle, then she failed, and odds were, she was going to fail in the only thing she ever wanted to do. But she couldn’t think about that now, certainly not while people were applauding her. Besides, she’d no doubt receive plenty of reminders about her long odds during dinner immediately afterward.

Miranda bowed, and a burst of cheers cleaved through the overall applause—cheers all coming from the same narrow source. She didn’t earn those. Her family gave them freely. Rest assured, they saw only Miranda—now and throughout the entire production. All that work, effort, and craftsmanship, and they perceived none of it. Until the curtain call, to avoid any distraction, she had pretended they weren’t even there.

Not that she didn’t appreciate their attendance, of course. A cross-country trip from the East Coast to Olympus City wasn’t a simple jaunt, and the timing just about worked out. Parents Naomi and Vern had just wrapped up a major project for the small architectural firm they founded, owned, and operated. Older sister Bianca was starting her next semester of medical school in a few days, and little sister Peyton had a week before she embarked on her first day of high school. They all found the time to support Miranda’s first post-college production…and evaluate the overall status of her life.

They hadn’t done the latter yet. As soon as she finished changing, Miranda met them in the lobby, received copious hugs and congratulations, and led them across the busy street to Ambrosia, the touristy yet tasty restaurant they had made reservations at.

As they filed into a curved booth situated beneath a mural of Ancient Greek paintings, her family continued raving about the play, and Miranda considered it in her best interests to keep them focused on this topic.

“I was surprised at how talented the whole cast was,” Naomi said while scanning the menu, which was written in a fancy calligraphy surrounded by ample white space to emphasize the fanciness. “We of course knew you’d be wonderful, but everyone was so funny.”

It was a professional production. Why was that a surprise? But Miranda decided to ignore the backhanded compliment. Just let her keep talking. And Naomi did.

“I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.”

Miranda almost chuckled. “That would be a great review quote. You should write that up, and we’ll plaster it across all the posters.” She swept an arm across an imaginary billboard.

Naomi squinted at an item on the menu, then looked over her glasses as her daughter’s words finally registered. In part, at least. “Is there some website where audiences can leave feedback? I’d do it if you think it would help.”

“No, Mom. I’m kidding. But thank you.”

Miranda smirked and expected Bianca to also be smirking at their mother’s naivety, and they would share a silent laugh across the table as they had done countless times in their youth. But Bianca’s phone distracted her. Probably a text from her boyfriend. Whatever was on her phone elicited a fond smile.

Flashing a grin, Bianca patted Naomi’s shoulder as she put her phone away. “Don’t worry, Mom. We always pick with love.”

The eldest Thomas girl looked like a barely older Miranda stretched out to accommodate an extra six inches of height—a bigger Miranda, like a funhouse mirror.

A young waiter arrived to take their orders. Miranda could’ve sworn she had met him somewhere. Another actor? She might have seen him at the auditions for The Reluctant Guest. Poor guy.

Miranda didn’t want to even contemplate what she might be doing that very moment if she hadn’t gotten cast. She could have been serving the next table over, channeling the full force of her talents into convincing customers she wanted to be there and delighted in tending to their every Ambrosia-related need. Five days a week, maybe more, she would be coming to this same place, walking past those same replicas of Ancient Greek artifacts and artwork, internally mocking the establishment for trying to be a weird restaurant/museum hybrid, at least when she wasn’t struggling to tune out the obligatory screaming child. A tantrum was already in progress across the room, easily making itself heard despite the considerable competition from the neighboring table of loud-talkers. The sole bright spot would be that the European cuisines smelled delicious, but they would no doubt transition from tantalizing to revolting after piling into her nose day after day.

Miranda wrapped her arms tight around herself in response to a perceived temperature drop. Vern asked if she was cold and offered his sports coat. Fitted to accommodate his protruding belly, it could easily blanket Miranda several times over. She declined. She already felt small enough after noticing little Peyton had surpassed her in height since their last visit.

All meals decided upon, her family resumed complimenting various aspects of the production, as if that would lend validity to their obviously biased praise of Miranda’s performance. But she was happy to discuss the show for as long as they wanted. It was a safe topic that, once exhausted, would give way to a barrage of highly invasive questions. Those questions currently waited within a time bomb, one hidden so Miranda couldn’t see its timer. She could, however, keep twisting the dial back to delay the inevitable explosion.

“Oh, hey, fun fact—the guy who wrote this play also writes for that TV show you all love, the one about the doctors.”

That led to a nice tangent that filled the remainder of their wait for the food. But Bianca grew quiet. She observed Miranda, something bugging her. Peyton was even less chatty, had been all night, kept twirling her long hair around her fingers.

The waiter eventually returned with everyone’s meals, which for Peyton necessitated an inspection to gauge the edibility of its contents. She poked the pasta with her fork to make sure no unwanted elements lurked underneath. She moved lethargically, her eyes squinted. This distracted Miranda from her detailed explanation of the costume design process. What was up with the Little One?

Bianca, between bites, exploited the brief lull. “Has Brad seen the show yet? What did he think?”

Boom.

Brad was Miranda’s boyfriend until a few weeks ago. She hadn’t gotten around to informing her family about the break-up. In hindsight, it probably would have been better news to share during a phone conversation, which she could have ended with the slightest vague excuse. She considered telling a little white lie to avoid prolonged discourse on the topic, but they were so nice to come all this way. And besides, Bianca’s tone suggested she had an educated guess about her sister’s relationship status. Bianca and her own boyfriend had been dating since their freshman year of college and would be getting engaged any second now, and somehow that elevated her to the status of expert on Miranda’s relationships.

“I don’t know,” Miranda said.

“Has that boy not seen it?” Her father bristled at the very idea. “At a minimum, he should have been there opening night.”

Time to get it over with. “Don’t make a big deal about this, but we broke up. It’s fine, though!”

“Are you okay?” Naomi asked.

“It’s fine.” Miranda’s hands shot up into a defensive posture, which she didn’t realize until after the fact.

Vern wiped a speck of salad dressing off his goatee to ensure he asked his question with the requisite dignity and gravity. His eyes narrowed. “Are you okay?”

Because if Naomi’s emphasis on the word “okay” failed to uncover any problems, then surely the emphasis on “are” would succeed. Maybe next Bianca could emphasize the “you,” just for kicks.

“I am still fine.” Miranda put on a ridiculously huge smile and pointed to it. “See?”

Naomi persisted: “I’d still like to know what happened. You two seemed to be getting along just fine at the graduation ceremony.”

“We were, and we’re still on friendly terms. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“I know what happened,” Bianca said, tapping the table and drawing attention back to her. “You did what you always do. You latched onto a guy you figured would be fun for the short term, but who you knew wasn’t a keeper. The guy came with an expiration date, and you reached it.”

Miranda planned on taking a breath, focusing on her succulent lamb, and simply allowing everyone to keep talking until they purged the topic from their systems. Instead, she found herself speaking extra quickly.

“I do not do that. Sometimes things just don’t work out. You’re luckier than most.”

“It’s not luck.”

“Okay, so you’re better than most.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Do I look unhappy?” Miranda’s speech continued its acceleration, and her hands tried to assist, gesturing this way and that without a discernible game plan. “Do I look like I’m pining away for some great lost love? No, I’m fine. I’m focused on the show, and focused on making sure another show follows.”

She miscalculated. She opened the door for a new, potentially worse line of questioning—her most-likely-to-fail career.

His meal wasn’t half finished, but Vern set his utensils down and folded his hands as he leaned forward. “What are your plans if there’s not another show immediately after this?”

Naomi served the follow-up: “Is this show paying you enough to meet all your expenses? Rent is not cheap in this city. You could get the same square footage for three quarters of the price back home. Maybe less. And oh, you could room with Alyssa. How fun would that be?”

Having not heard from her supposed best-friend-forever in nearly a month, Miranda wasn’t entirely sure. Yet another topic she preferred not to explore in this group discussion.

Miranda wondered if she could stage a last-minute segue to steer everyone back toward discussing the show, but a ship this size could not easily turn.

Naomi went on about the city’s high tax rates. Vern offered multiple suggestions for part-time employment to “stop the bleeding,” as he put it. Naomi suggested that if Miranda married a well-to-do young man, he could support her and allow her to act without any urgency for a paycheck and “just for the fun of it,” and certainly Brad didn’t seem poised for a lucrative career, so perhaps there was a silver lining to Miranda’s heartbreak. Miranda reiterated that she was fine.

The conversation continued, but with Miranda firmly in the role of spectator. Bianca accused Naomi of suggesting her daughter become a “kept woman,” which Naomi refuted. Peyton studied a portrait of Athena—the kid was utterly transfixed, her expression blank.

Miranda zoned out briefly and missed the transition into worries about her physical safety in the big city…the big city she had already survived for four years of college.

“I should look up the crime statistics when we get back to the hotel,” Vern said. “Not every part of this city will be as safe as that campus was.”

This, at least, was an easy one.

Miranda stated the obvious. “Dad. This city has never been safer. Never.”

*****

The high sun surprised Miranda as they exited the restaurant. She could’ve sworn it was later, though she wasn’t sure whether to blame the matinee or the dinner conversation for that confusion. But she knew what she needed to do.

She linked an arm around Peyton’s, and they quickened their pace down the sidewalk.

“I’m showing her the huge bookstore right down the block,” Miranda shouted back. “You’ll see it.”

Lest the kids forget, their parents issued the usual reminders to have fun and be careful. Of course Peyton would have fun in a bookstore. She was always reading around the house, always in the middle of a few novels of assorted genres, always on the hunt for the next great one.

Peyton whispered, “Where are we really going?”

“To a huge bookstore. I’m not getting into any more trouble here.”

Miranda truly had expected the bookstore to excite her, but Peyton’s fog didn’t lift. So Miranda employed a second tact—having fun with her growth spurt. Peyton had always seemed more on track to achieve Bianca’s height rather than succumb to the same short genes that left Miranda barely scraping past the five-foot mark. While not shocking, Miranda was never going to be prepared for it.

“So I see you’ve grown. That really wasn’t necessary. High schools don’t actually have any of those ‘You must be this tall to enter’ signs. You’re thinking roller coasters.”

Peyton laughed. She still sounded young and girly, and she remained awkwardly scrawny, unsure how to carry those narrow shoulders. All as it should be. Only so much growing up permitted.

The giggling petered out sooner than usual, though, and Peyton withdrew into her own head.

“This is a used bookstore, so everything’s super-cheap,” Miranda said. “And I know this is a short trip, but you’re still so many miles from home, so it counts as a vacation and Mom and Dad will get you a special vacation prize. Don’t forget to claim it.”

All she got in response was a muttered “Yeah, okay.”

Miranda guided her through a gap in the oncoming pedestrian traffic and into Olympus’s premier seller of secondhand literature. Stacks upon stacks of potentially amazing discoveries awaited Peyton…and she still couldn’t care less.

Something was bothering her, and it wasn’t hard to guess what. “You’ll do great in high school. Now middle school—that was the hard part. If you can get through that, consider yourself unstoppable.”

“It’s just…” Peyton’s mouth hung open long enough for the words to perish. “It’s nothing.”

Clearly not. The sidewalk had a few benches, so Miranda escorted Peyton back outside.

“I want to hear all about this ‘nothing,’” Miranda said.

Peyton sat and then nodded. “So in high school, I’ll basically be preparing for college, right?”

“There is a lot of college prep, yes.”

“Then college is all about preparing for a career.”

“It does help with that.”

“And when you’re working, you’re preparing for retirement and your kids’ educations.”

Oh, yes—Miranda was supposed to be saving her oodles of excess income for retirement. She had intentionally forgotten, largely because those oodles were, in fact, imaginary.

“What’s wrong?”

Hardly even blinking, Peyton gazed straight ahead at the vehicles crawling down the street, futilely honking their horns. She scrunched her face, carefully considering her response as she spoke it.

“This summer is the end of my childhood, and then everything is about preparing for something else. What if I’m so busy always preparing that it all stops being fun?”

Either of their parents would have handled this much better, Miranda realized. They, or even Bianca, would have dispensed suitable wisdom to alleviate Peyton’s anxieties about growing up. All Miranda managed to do was mutter the basic no, no, that would never happen, you’ll be fine, you’ll have a blast…did she actually say “you’ll have a blast”?

It sounded pathetic and unconvincing, and guilt over her poor showing blocked her brain from producing anything better. But any advice would have involved mere guesswork, if not outright lies. What did Miranda know? She didn’t know what she’d be doing in four weeks when her play closed. Even her friendship with Alyssa—which was supposed to be her one enduring relationship from high school—no longer seemed a given.

She kept trying. She couldn’t look at Peyton’s melancholy face and not keep trying. So she started talking about how much fun she had in high school, then slowed down upon realizing she didn’t want Peyton to partake in all the same types of fun. All the worst examples kept pushing to the front of Miranda’s mind—that day she played hooky, her first party with alcohol, losing her virginity in the auditorium’s well-concealed catwalk. Where were the PG examples? They existed, they happened, but the memories chose that moment to go into hibernation.

“Everything will be fine,” Miranda said, knowing damn well how often she used “fine” to mean nothing of the sort. It reeked of insincerity—a sin for an actor.

Peyton rested her head on Miranda’s shoulder, so Miranda put an arm around her. They watched the traffic, occasionally glimpsing the pedestrians on the far side.

But Miranda wasn’t content. She felt she was failing her little sister with every second she proved unable to offer the perfect advice, the perfect wisdom, the perfect reassurance, anything perfect. Peyton deserved no less than perfect.

Her concentration collapsed altogether when a large, haggard man snatched a lady’s purse across the street and dashed away, shoving people aside with his meaty arms.

He made it half a block before the equivalent of a giant camera flash blinded him, and the light congealed into a man.

Miranda tugged at Peyton, urging her to her feet. “Peyton! You’ll want to see this.”

Pedestrians on both sides of the street did, too, and the motorists ceased their honking, suddenly in no hurry. Many cell phones vacated pockets and purses. Everyone, whatever their background or current plans, stopped and watched the confrontation between the stupidly brazen purse-snatcher and the world’s first and only superhero—Fantastic Man.

As of a month ago, an actual superhero existed. Not some martial arts enthusiast with a costume and death wish, but rather a uniquely talented man who could manipulate light by thinking about it…a man who was able to convert his entire body into a bunch of photons, transforming himself into living light, and return to human form unscathed. No one knew who he was or how he came to be, but everyone knew he protected Olympus City.

Miranda and Peyton angled for the best view of that radiant blue-and-amber uniform, whose radiance wasn’t figurative. They couldn’t hear a thing over all the commotion, but for a moment they had an unobstructed line of sight to the most sparkling smile ever seen outside a toothpaste commercial, beneath a mask shaped like a hazy setting sun. Even with some distance, Miranda could read him—his posture impeccable, his yellow cape fluttering behind him, he projected the image of man who would never allow anything to go wrong, not on his watch.

And that purse-snatcher knew it. Rubbing his stunned eyeballs, he hustled away, not even attempting a fight.

Fantastic Man dematerialized into light and reappeared once again in front of the purse-snatcher. The superhero was tall and muscular in his own right, but still smaller than this hulking thief, a fact neither seemed aware of. Fantastic Man thrust an arm forward and unleashed another flash to disorient his opponent, and he followed by sweeping his leg through the purse-snatcher’s, toppling him onto the pavement.

Two police officers cut through the crowd and handcuffed the criminal. Fantastic Man stuck around to shake their hands, his smile unrelenting. He returned the purse to its owner, who responded as if she had won the lottery, and the Beacon of Brightness waved at the cheering throngs surrounding him, then looked to sky and disappeared in a brilliant flare.

Peyton was entranced. Her mouth hung open, and the grin looked permanent.

“That was the coolest thing ever,” she said.

Her previous worries were now the last thing on her mind. Where Miranda had failed, Fantastic Man saved the day.

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And there you have it. Chapter One, or the current version of it, anyway. Let me know what you think, please.

By the way, I don’t do Kickstarter, but I do have other books for your consideration.