The Flying Woman — Chapter Two

The Flying Woman is coming later this year, but for now, here’s the latest draft of Chapter Two. (Read a draft of Chapter One here, when the book was called Terrific.)

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Copyright 2018 Daniel R. Sherrier. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

The Flying Woman

–a novel–

By Daniel Sherrier

2.

Greek gods lined the way to Mount Olympus … though these gods appeared in the form of meticulously maintained topiaries, and this Mount Olympus was a fat tower occupying a public park in the center of the city, standing taller than all else within a seven-mile radius.

Miranda hiked between looming bushes, down the long brick path that led straight to the elevator centered beneath the tower. As always, she found the nice old policeman, Officer Hoskins, patrolling the park with a friendly smile beneath his white mustache.

The overhead lights shaded and deepened his wrinkles as he nodded at her. “Welcome back, young lady. Enjoy yourself up there—but not too much, you hear?”

He said that every single time, and he chuckled at himself every time. But Miranda had to admire the old man’s relentlessly positive attitude. He may not have gone far in his career, but he seemed happy where he was. An enviable quality.

“Yes, sir. I’ll be sure to keep my ruckus to a minimum,” Miranda said, mirroring the smile.

And she entered the elevator, as usual, alone.

Her family had retired to their hotel, but she continued to brim with restless energy from another successful performance. Going to bed would have resulted in a long night of staring at the ceiling. Better to gaze at the stars from the city’s best vantage point, which was seldom busy this late, making it the perfect spot for quiet reflection and unwinding.

Sleeping would have been sensible. Monday was a day off from the play, but not from her side gig—acting in the background of a movie. She was going to be an extra. Extraneous. Expendable. But even that meager paycheck wasn’t expendable, not to her. In any case, Miranda had plenty of experience in the background and therefore could background-act on a minimum of sleep.

The elevator car lifted off, embarking on its two-thousand-foot climb.

Her ears popped, and white noise was Miranda’s only soundtrack as the car slid up the rails. Only external soundtrack, rather.

Involuntarily, she dwelled on Bianca’s analysis of her love life. Miranda attempted to disprove the conclusion that she was somehow a saboteur of her own relationships, deliberately choosing the wrong guys. In the case of Brad, he had wanted to move in together. She didn’t. So they were clearly incompatible at this stage in their lives. Miranda didn’t consciously mean to attract a guy who would prematurely want to live together. The very notion was preposterous. But could she have, unconsciously?

The elevator settled and doors opened, granting passage to a steady, cool wind. The observation deck was, as expected, empty. Several times the square footage of her apartment, a sizable perimeter of railing—all hers for now. But she picked the same spot as always, which offered her a view over numerous skyscrapers, down the bridge connecting this island city to the rest of California, and to the distant Santa Monica skyline. Miranda intended much of her career to take place not far beyond. That was the direction of her future—she hoped.

She leaned on the bar, gazing down at the city through the protective grate. At this distance, the cars looked like fireflies that forgot how to fly, forcing them to conform to the city’s preplanned grid.

Plenty of lights still on across Olympus, even at this hour. She noticed one unusually bright spot in the far north corner, in the otherwise dim suburbs. The glare spilled up from a street but stayed confined to a tight radius, its intensity never fluctuating. Miranda suspected it was the handiwork of a film crew. Probably the movie she’d be working on tomorrow. She wanted to be working there now. She had auditioned for one of the bit roles. Didn’t get it. So many others didn’t either.

She knew her dream was not unique. Every day, she encountered other young women pursuing the same career. Only a small percentage could achieve somewhat steady work, and only an infinitesimal percentage of that group could catapult to Miranda’s ultimate goal—the A-list, the most talented, most bankable, most adored. Miranda was one of a gazillion … yet another over-ambitious and under-employed actress. But then she remembered the applause she received that afternoon, its delicious enthusiasm enveloping her …

Miranda redirected her eyes to the starlight, and she thought of Peyton’s excitement at seeing Fantastic Man. The kid could focus on nothing else the rest of the evening. At the first opportunity, Peyton took to her phone and scoured the internet for any and all tidbits. While lacking in depth, the tidbits were plentiful. Fantastic Man, though less than forthcoming on personal details, was not camera-shy. News and amateur websites alike provided ample coverage of the man who should have been impossible. Peyton had found an escape from her worries. But Miranda couldn’t escape the dread of her inevitable failure to become a star, no matter what altitude she reached. Reality refused to untether her.

She had set the bar so high for herself that she’d never be able to reach it, but she refused to lower it an inch. She tightened her grip on the railing. Her chest constricted, she couldn’t breathe, goosebumps sprouted across her shivering arms as the wind picked up …

“Miranda? Are you okay?”

The voice was familiar. A distinctive baritone. Once she ensured her eyes were dry, she summoned a huge smile and spun around—and she saw Ken Shield, an old friend from high school.

“I’m wonderful. Hey!” She rushed over to give him a quick hug. “Oh my God, how long has it been? A year? Two?”

“Three.”

“Three! Well, that’s just wrong.”

Sure, they went to rival colleges on opposite sides of this island city, but they shared that hometown bond. Not that Miranda considered herself bonded with most of the people she went to school with back in Meadowville. She couldn’t care less if she never saw ninety-five percent of them again. But Ken qualified for the other five percent that was worth seeing once a year or so—certainly sooner than three whole years.

Miranda swept her wind-blown hair from her face. “I see we’re both terrible at sleeping.”

Giving a small shoulder shrug and a soft, lopsided smile, Ken said, “Hasn’t been my strong suit lately.”

“But in our defense, we’re insomniacs with exquisite taste in late-night hangout spots.”

“We’re not without our talents.” Ken’s humble face exuded warmth and sincerity. “So how’s life as an actress?”

Miranda could’ve discussed her show, but she didn’t trust herself to stop there, not when Ken had always been such a patient listener. She worried she’d sound ungrateful or like she was too good for regional theatre. She was acting professionally and yet wasn’t satisfied—the nerve of her.

So she swatted the question away. “Oh, I don’t want to bore you with all that.”

“You wouldn’t—”

“It’s really not all that glamorous.”

“Never thought it would be.”

She lightly touched his thin arm—a small gesture to tug him away from his line of questioning and toward her own. “So you’re teaching now, right? How is that? Everything you always dreamed? Or I guess the school year hasn’t started. But you student-teached. Taught.” She winced. “Student-taught. It’s very late.”

Ken wandered to the railing. He leaned on the sturdy bar, his posture slacking. Miranda followed, and standing beside him, she tracked his gaze to the city streets beyond the tower’s dark moat of grass and sparse trees.

“Actually,” he said, not blinking, not looking at her, not smiling, “I dropped out of my school’s licensure program.”

Miranda studied his profile. So sullen. But he was always so sure about this path, as sure as she was about her own. How did he descend from certainty to quitting? Miranda could never picture herself quitting.

She blurted out her question. “Wasn’t that all you ever wanted to do?”

His head drifted down until he had fixed his gaze on the railing’s rust. “I wasn’t feeling like the right fit for it, and for a job that important, you better be the right fit.” Ken brushed his thumb against a paint chip in the process of flaking off. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Miranda needed to offer reassuring words, but they proved as elusive as they had with Peyton. She had gotten lucky with that conversation. If Fantastic Man hadn’t shown up, what would she have said?

Ken continued, “I want to make sure I do something useful—but not something I’d screw up.”

Then she realized—she didn’t need Fantastic Man’s presence to use him.

“Here’s how I look at it,” she said, making it up as she went. “If a man can turn himself into a beam of light, then surely we can turn ourselves into successful human beings.”

The sullenness melted away as Ken absorbed her statement, and he let out a quick grunt, his standard mode of laughter. Miranda wanted to pat herself on the back for a job well done.

“That is very crazy,” he said.

“I know! Right? Tell you what—I’ll promise to do amazing things if you promise to do amazing things. No excuses when anything’s possible.” Miranda extended a hand. “Deal?”

He nodded, and they shook on it. “Deal. I’ll see on you on the big screen, and you’ll see me doing … something of value.”

“But you will figure it out,” she said.

“I will figure it out.”

His smile was fully restored—Miranda did that, and doing so bolstered her own, locking them in a smiling loop.

But Ken broke her out of it. “Hey, how’s Alyssa doing? What’s she up to?”

Miranda swiftly recovered from the unwelcome reminder, and she had no trouble supplying the basic, surface-level summary: Yes, Alyssa was still pursuing certification to become a dental hygienist. No, Miranda wasn’t sure what the appeal of such a career was, but hey, job security was a thing for some people. And yes, Alyssa still lived near the old hometown. Ken told her to pass along a “hello” from him. Miranda didn’t tell him that she expected to forget by the time Alyssa finally got around to returning a call or text.

From there, they drifted into conversation about their college days and life in Olympus. And when Miranda learned that he, too, was planning on sticking around the city for the foreseeable future, she developed an idea.

“You know, we should get together for coffee one day,” Miranda said. “Sometime sooner than three years. We’ve got a lot of time to make up for.”

Caught off guard, Ken’s eyes widened and he tensed, like he wasn’t sure what was going on exactly.

Miranda feared she had miscalculated, but Ken was a genuinely nice guy—not one of those “nice guys” who expected some magnificent reward for the extraordinary feat of not being a blatant jerk. No, he was a good-hearted, honest soul. And, present uncertainties aside, he was responsible. Miranda had no doubt he’d figure out a rewarding, worthwhile career. His looks, though not of leading-man caliber, weren’t bad by any means. He was tall and lean, had a nice solid chin devoid of any cleft, and his dark hair hadn’t thinned any.

And Miranda had asked him out. No real build-up. No historical basis from their mutually friendly past. She blindsided the poor guy. Blindsided herself. Was this what she actually wanted?

She had no answer. But the thought of him declining, with any excuse, froze her, and the encroaching ice squeezed her every internal organ.

After a couple seconds’ consideration, though, Ken relaxed and agreed, pulling off a casual air of Sure, why not? “Yeah, that’d be nice,” he said.

Miranda masked her tension, dissipating it through light laughter as they fumbled with their phones and exchanged numbers. He promised to call sometime in the next couple of days.

Like a proper gentleman, he offered to walk her to the subway, but she declined, insisting that he not cut his Mount Olympus time short on her account.

“Are you sure?” he said. “It would be no trouble.”

“I’m pretty sure I can get to the subway without a bodyguard.” Miranda tossed a parting smirk at him. “But I’ll be seeing you, Ken.”

And she intended to do so—sometime after he started missing her.

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And that’s Chapter Two! Stay tuned for more updates!