Nov 20, 2009 by

Round 11 Challenge –  Put your main character in danger in a new and hostile environment. There should be a struggle for survival through which new aspects of his or her personality are revealed  (Word limit – 1500 words)

Read UTAH 10 here (see “Similar Posts” at the bottom of this post for any earlier entries)

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Jacob’s dog, Herb, wasn’t chained up when the FBI agents pulled into the driveway. After seeing the Missing Child flyer at the Halfway House three days earlier, Jacob purchased a shock collar so that Herb would be free to roam the yard and ward off uninvited visitors.

The plan was effective for fifteen seconds. When the FBI pulled in to find a Presa Canario barreling towards them with flattened ears, they stayed put. Herb was on his hind legs, saliva dripping from his bared teeth, barking and clawing at one of the passenger windows. The agent loaded a dart gun, cracked the window, and shot Herb in the neck. As he slumped to the ground, they all burst out of the cars.

They found Corey hiding in the closet, the reek of alcohol on her. She was an aged and ravaged version of the shining girl in the photos they carried but there was no doubt she was the same person. The agents knew she was sixteen and had been held captive for three years but there was an unnerving equanimity about her. She neither resisted them when they led her into the car, nor expressed relief or joy at their arrival. Entirely unresponsive to their questions, she simply let herself be escorted out from the cabin – a pale and haunting figure as much dead as alive – climbed into the open car seat, and sat silently through the ride to the Burlington Fletcher Allen Health Care Facility.

That same moment, Jacob was driving towards Albany. He had been returning from the grocery when he saw the unmarked vehicles turn down his road. He knew it was over. At that moment it also dawned on him that Delia, whom he only recognized after seeing the flyer while leaving the Halfway House, must have realized who he was.

Even so, he had no idea how the FBI found him. It couldn’t have been the license plate: his plate checked out at a different address that wouldn’t trace back to him. Nor would his fingerprints lead them anywhere. Jacob had moved out to this remote Vermont cabin to flee the constraints and scandals of his family past. He was as faceless and unknown to his neighbors as he was to the residents on the far shore of Lake Champlain.

He had, however, been prepared for a raid. His browsing history and computer files were encrypted with a program he’d designed. No encryption expert would be able to hack into it. There was nothing in the cabin that would enable the authorities to trace back to him. Fingerprints and DNA samplings would only lead them to his past self, a man who, at least legally speaking had been a black hole for the past two decades. Nor was there any lead in the apartment as to his next whereabouts. There couldn’t be. He didn’t know himself where he was going.

Jacob abandoned his station wagon in an Albany strip mall parking lot, bought a laptop from Best Buy, and then took a taxi to the bus station. He then made his way westward by bus through major cities in a circuitous route to prevent investigators from ever tracking him.

A week later, in Las Vegas, Jacob checked into a Motel 6. He had read all the online articles about Corey and hacked into all the relevant police and FBI memoranda to know they had no leads on him. He was free to start a new life afresh.

However, a moribund bleakness had seized Jacob ever since he left Vermont. An oppressive fog of gloom had settled upon his formerly imperturbable disposition. It wasn’t his dislocation from his cabin and his gaming routine. His online life as the gaming overlord The Unseen hadn’t been uninterrupted by his recent flight. Corey’s story may have made national news, but no one in the online circles he frequented had any reason to suspect The Unseen was now on the FBI’s Wanted List.

It was his separation from Corey that brought on the saturnine mood. Just as Jacob’s virtual subterranean life had seeped into and taken possession of Corey, so too had Corey’s youth and vitality ebbed out of her into him. For two decades Jacob had lived exclusively in the ethereal disembodied sphere of the Internet. Corey was the first person over this period with whom he’d had extended face-to-face contact. Only now that she had been taken from him did he realize how much richer his life had been with her.

It was on the bus to Las Vegas, in the quicksands of melancholy, that Jacob first contemplated killing himself. By the time he disembarked he decided he would let the gods decide it. That evening in the Las Vegas Motel 6 Jacob sat motionless at the small corner desk for an hour. The desk was bare except for his laptop. He reached over and opened the nightstand drawer. Inside was a copy of Gideon’s Bible and a six-chamber revolver with a bullet beside it.

Jacob put the single round in the revolver, spun the cylinder and clicked it shut. With his left hand on the laptop, he placed the muzzle against his head. The hammer clicked as he pressed the trigger. Jacob’s heart was racing; his mouth had dried out; feelings for Corey were welling up inside him. He put the gun down. He wanted to tell Corey how he yearned for her and how he still had to so much to show her about the online sphere into which he’d only begun to initiate her.

Jacob played another single round of Russian roulette the next night. For six consecutive nights he pointed a pistol at his head and fired a single shot. Each time fresh feelings bubbled up inside him. Jacob had always thought this emotional side of him had been buried along with his teenage years. It turned out it had just been hibernating.

Guilt consumed him as he thought of all the times he’d remorselessly punished Corey for her adolescent misbehaviors like locking her in the cellar or threatening to set Herb on her or leaving her passed out on the kitchen floor in her own pool of vomit. The only distraction from his remorse was the pangs of desire that fuelled his insomniac nights as he tossed about in the creaking motel bed, recalling her skinny childish limbs.

After a week, Jacob put the revolver away. He’d had a one in six chance of dying for six nights in a row and he was still alive. Though he never put another pistol to his forehead, he had to struggle against the temptation. It wasn’t so much that he felt alive in the face of looming death. It was that he felt death couldn’t touch him.

A month later Jacob purchased a small cabin on a creek in Northern California. He assumed that with time his thoughts of Corey would lose their sway over him. But with the months, they only grew stronger.

For several weeks now Jacob had considered contacting Corey. He knew that was bound to end in disaster. Not that he needed proof, but Jacob’s hacks into the FBI sites confirmed that all of Corey’s accounts were monitored. There was, however, one opening. Jacob had planned two years ago for a potential raid by setting up an account enabling the two of them to communicate in inviolable privacy. However, if Corey had revealed it to the authorities – and they would have done everything to draw out any information from her – the secret email would merely serve as a trap.

Jacob’s suicidal impulses didn’t diminish. By the end of the summer, he couldn’t take it any longer. He decided to play one last game of Russian roulette: he sent Corey a message.

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  1. An unexpected, but very welcomed twist to see the world through Jacob’s eyes. Who would have thought he would “miss” Corey on a fundamental human level. Or that it would be him facing danger and evolving.

    … and another cliff hanger.

  2. Jen

    The raid on the house is a good hook and its excitement is let down only because of the previous revelation that Corey *would* be rescued. But it’s the rest of the episode that really sucked me in, because remembering that Jacob is in fact the main character, not Corey or her mother, forces me to try to feel sympathy for him. The suicide attemps compound that. Really quite gut-wrenching. I do want to read more.

  3. C for Coco; U for Utah and all in between eliminated! But who’s it to be??

    Utah, really enjoyed this, so many angles and all of it well presented. On the face of it you seem to be a clear winner, you tick so many of the boxes and have maintained a consistent standard throughout the ‘show’. The plot has developed well over the contest and the challenges have all been maturely implemented. Given the limitations of a novella all the main characters have been explored and a difficult subject has been dealt with effectively. But … and this is the difficult bit, somehow there is an element of exactness present, an element that is not quite real, it is perhaps too compliant with the rules. I’m not explaining it very well but, while I can’t really put my finger on it, its something that Coco has perhaps somehow managed to capture better.

    Bottom line is I’ve not made up my mind and I don’t really want to!

    Well done, its been a great read throughout and as Jodi says ‘… and another cliff hanger’.

    • JD, I know this isn’t really what you have in mind, but your comment brings to mind Timothy Leary’s ’60s phrase: “Tune in, turn on, drop out.” Old memories are surfacing!

      • Oh no, I hit “Reply” on the wrong comment. Host, is there any way this can be moved so it’s underneath JD’s second comment, not his first one?

        • I don’t think I can move it, Utah, because it’s a threaded comment. You could always repost and I could delete this one, but I wouldn’t bother. Any readers who’d have trouble figuring it out probably dropped out long ago. Just consider it a reflection of your narrative shifts in time…

      • Got to ‘Turn on’ first!! Embarrassingly I had to look it up, I was in my teen in the early ’60s. Perhaps Bruce Lipton is more appropriate to my comment in today’s world – not that I’m really sure where he’s going! I’m not religious, quite the opposite, but lots of Lipton’s ideas make a lot of sense as regards to understanding the significance of environment – the Condition of Existence.

        As a result of your comment I watched a BBC documentary on Tim Leary – very interesting, he was quite a man. Sounds like you might have thought so too!!

  4. tetra

    Host, may I have two votes? hehe

  5. Utah, this was amazing, Jacob had been a bit dormant throughout the competition, although he’s the one driving force behind all the events, and behind Corey and Delia’s actions. It was very refreshing to to get a glimpse of Jacob’s inner world, however creepy and twisted it may be. One almost, *almost* (lots of emphasis on the almost!) feels some empathy for him, a little like Lolita’s Humbert Humbert. In any case, it was satisfying to see him suffering a little.

    Oye… this is going to a tough voting round.. can there be 3 winner? (including Olaf who was awesome as hell).


    • It’s a pity we can’t bring Olaf back…

      (and Tess, and Fyor, and Igor, and Fido and Omar – so many talented writers!)

  6. seldom seen

    So Utah, honey, you’ve got my vote if only because a. Olaf isn’t there and B. its absurd to me that Coco’s little disjointed tale wasn’t voted off about 4 weeks ago. Honestly, you’ve got an interesting story here and while i like it, i just don’t think its as good as Olaf’s. You’ve got some talent though, and hey, the fact that you’ve made it this far likely outweighs any negative thing i could say. I’ll let everyone else do the in depth review and incorporate the fancy words- you’re second best in my book. good luck anyhow.

  7. I feel like I’m in a contest and a lit crit class and a book club all at the same time! I thought some readers might have been outraged at an even remotely empathetic portrayal of Jacob but it doesn’t appear so. Of course, maybe they’re out there and just keeping quiet.

    JDEvolutionist, I’m intrigued by your critique that there’s too much exactness and compliancy with the rules here. The rules of what? Don’t take this as sarcasm. I’m genuinely curious.

    I have to disagree with the last comment. As Jodi mentioned, Coco has proven in this latest post – and in earlier ones – why she has every reason to be here in the final stages.

    Oh and by the way, no, I don’t live in Utah, littlestar! :)

    • I’m curious myself because I’m not sure I understand where I’m coming from myself. Is it that there is a hint of it all being a product of an education? That probably sounds absurd but it relates to the restriction placed on us by the limitation that is placed on us all by the constraints of organised (controlled) systems in society, which I feel limit our intuitive potential. Perhaps Coco’s contribution is less restrained in this respect, more intuitive.

      Its something that I feel our society needs to address but the difficulty is how. There is so much to know, so much to learn and make sense of and the error inherent in our thinking only serves to complicate the whole issue. We have to understand that as yet we are only a very tiny way into the process of our potential evolution – which could end tomorrow! There I go again – its interesting though, I think.

      Sarcasm never entered my head, its all about trying to understand and learn, all the best, JD

    • Utah I feel same way for your writing. Last sentence about Russian roulette is very strong!

    • I didn’t think so! I’m wondering now if you’re even American, Utah. Guess I’ll find out very soon (c:

      Congratulations on making it to the top two!

      I didn’t count on seeing any of (what I thought of as) Delia and Corey’s story through Jacob’s eyes. It threw me for a bit – I thought of him as an intruder, getting in the way of the story.

      But on re-reading, I realised that, yes, his story does have a place in your novella. It makes him more convincing once you’ve seen a little of what’s in his head. And that he actually did love Corey, in his own sick, twisted way… (Anna, I’m also reminded of Lolita and Humbert Humbert)

      I have everything crossed that we’ll all get to find out how Corey and Delia are doing and how Corey reacts to Jacob’s secret e-mail next week…

      Good luck, Utah!

  8. Utah — I really loved this entry. I think seeing the world through Jacob’s eyes was a very good move. That’s not to say I don’t want to see the sonofabitch caught and suffering a LOT. I think I mentioned before that one of my students is writing a memoir about this and what I find most horrifying is the way the abused child is manipulated by the adult because the adult is the authority figure. I really liked how you stuck up for Coco, too. That shows real aplomb and honor.

    • Kaylie, thank you. Your comments are always a pleasure to read. I do remember you writing that. You suggested I focus more on the mental enslavement of Corey. I’m not sure I followed through on that as much as I should have. But I thought this round to reserve the tables. In some ways it’s Jacob’s mental enslavement at question. Not that I wanted there to be any element of exoneration. I included the line about his lust over her “skinny childish limbs” so that any empathy for Jacob could be viewed in light of the terrible reality of what has happened.

      • Utah — I got that totally. I thought you showed very well how perpetrators/abusers see themselves as victims of their victims. Fascinating. I didn’t think you were too easy on him at all.

  9. Great job Utah. I like how you brought the story back around to focus on Jacob. Injecting a little empathy makes for a better bad guy. This is going to be a tough choice this week. Best of luck to you.

  10. “…a better bad guy.” I like that line, Chris.

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