I promised you one of the discarded prologues from Connected. One of the reasons I decided to cut it is because the tone is so dark and serious, while the rest of the novel isn’t. Well, that and prologues kinda suck in general – most of the time they’re used as a cheat because the actual start of the story isn’t exciting enough to pull the reader in. I particularly hate prologues that pull from the black moment or final showdown, those are the worst kind.
Anyway, here it is! Enjoy, and please post your feedback.
Judy’s words echoed in Adam’s mind. Ten minutes ago, his greatest fear was whether he could finish his term paper on time for senior English. Now, he wondered what he would find when he went home.
He ran his fingers through his dark brown hair, attempting to calm himself. He felt the old scar on his scalp as his fingers brushed past. It seemed to bleed for hours, he recalled, that night his father hurled the beer bottle at him. “Tell them you fell down the stairs,” his mother Casey had said, with tears in her eyes and that bittersweet smile on her face.
He sighed, wondering if it was just another drunken tantrum. But the terror in his girlfriend’s eyes unsettled him. And her track record was too good to question. A mixture of fear and dread filled him, as he reluctantly drove home. God, what did he do this time?
The scene was grotesque when he arrived, like something out of a nightmare or a bad made-for-TV movie. Casey was collapsed in a fetal position on the blood-stained floor, his father towering over her with a worn leather belt in his hand. Adam gasped as he knelt down by her side. He pushed her curls aside and saw her face was busted open.
“I’m not done with her yet.” His father’s voice was winded, raspy. He glared at Adam. “You’ll get your turn next, boy.”
The smell of hard liquor tainted the air. Whiskey, Adam determined. He stood and faced his father. It was only a year or two ago that he finally could look him in the eye on level ground. Adam stared at him, this broken man with too much strength and anger for his own good. Did he ever have a shred of decency in him?
“Didn’t you hear me, boy? Get out of my way.” His father attempted to shove him aside, but Adam held his ground—the large frame and heavy center of gravity he inherited from his father kept him locked to his spot.
Adam felt his pulse quicken. “Leave her alone.”
A sick grin appeared on his father’s lips. “You callin’ me out, boy?” He snickered, never taking his gaze off Adam. “You ready to take me on?”
Adam’s heart pounded, his muscles stiffened in preparation. The scene was all too familiar to him. He knew exactly how it would play out.
“You won’t hurt her again. I promise you that.” Adam heard his mother moan on the floor. A few intelligible words caught his attention.
“Adam, it’s okay… Go to your room.”
Still making excuses for him. Still trying to protect me. “It is going to be okay, Mom,” he said, keeping his focus fixed on his father.
“All right. I’ll do you first.” The arm holding the belt suddenly raised and came crashing down on Adam’s chest, before he could even attempt to shield himself. The thud of the leather against his clothing was muted, but the sting of the strike was acute. More out of instinct than anything else, Adam grabbed his father’s wrist. He squeezed his fingers tighter and tighter around it.
The look of shock on his father’s face lasted only a second. He countered with a left hook to Adam’s jaw, the elaborate rings on his fingers tearing open Adam’s cheek. Adam fell back a step, disoriented, as he felt warm blood dripping down to his neck.
His father didn’t give him time to recover. He grabbed Adam by the shoulders, shoving him down until his knee made contact with Adam’s stomach. Adam doubled over in pain, leaving his back vulnerable. The belt found its target once more, raining down quick but devastating lashes again and again.
Adam fell to the floor and curled in the same prone position as his mother, trying desperately to protect as much of his body as he could. He winced. The punishment was worse this time. But he looked over at his mother and couldn’t help but feel grateful. At least it’s me now.
His father grinned. “Now that’s more like it, boy.”
With a great deal of difficulty, Casey sat up.
Adam dared to look up. The unexpected outburst had its desired effect – his father paused. His chest heaved, sweat dripping down his forehead.
Casey looked up at her husband, searching for some humanity. But his eyes were hollow.
Adam scrambled to his feet, fighting the pain from the fresh gashes on his back. He positioned himself in front of Casey.
“No more,” Adam said, glaring at his father. It was foolish to be so defiant. And though it would mean more pain, he was tired of it. Tired of living in fear. Tired of him.
His mother whimpered behind him. Adam glanced back and saw a cowering shell of a woman, holding her ribs. Begging him to go to his room, as if he were the one who needed protection.
“You want some more, huh?” His father’s lips twisted into a grimace, the expression that always surfaced when he was being smug. Superior. “Always said you were a little slow.”
His father started to whip him with the belt once more, but Adam didn’t try to fight it this time. He continued to glare, the anger within him growing in intensity with each strike to his body.
Casey tried to get up, but her body was so weakened she couldn’t even stand. She slumped back down. The helplessness in her expression dissolved, replaced with a consuming rage. Her gaze turned towards her husband.
The air in the room got thick, as if the very tension of the moment colored it. A surge of heat shot through Adam’s entire body, which he guessed was some kind of reaction to the pain. But Adam simply continued to focus on his father. He didn’t flinch for a second, even when the lashing suddenly ceased and his father dropped the belt. His father’s eyes accused him, staring back at him in utter horror. It appeared as if his father wanted to scream, but was unable, before he fell backwards to the floor.
Adam cautiously watched him. Bloodshot eyes gazed beyond Adam and his mother, his father’s body convulsing as if he were having a mild seizure. Only when he stopped moving did Adam kneel down at Casey’s side once more, gathering her in his arms.
“What happened?” she asked, in a voice so fragile, so faint. Adam gulped. His eyes and expression softened.
“Karma,” Adam said. It was a word she taught him when he was little, to try to encourage him to be a good person.
She smiled weakly in response. “Are you okay, baby?”
“I’m fine, but we need to get you to the hospital…” Adam said, his voice on the verge of cracking. Casey’s breathing appeared shallow. What did he do to her?
Adam started to lift her, but stopped when she let out a pained gasp. She shook her head.
“No. I’m going to be fine,” she said. A tired smile swept across her lips, as transient as the smoke of an exhaled breath in winter. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you better. But now…” She struggled to get the words out, “…you’ll be okay.”
Adam could feel her body growing still. He hugged her, rocking her gently, as if he could stop it. Will her to stay with him. “I love you,” he whispered, his voice lost in his throat.
She didn’t respond. Her arm slipped from his embrace and fell to the floor.
Adam wasn’t sure how much time had passed before he got up and carefully placed his mother’s body down on the cold floor. He walked over to his motionless father and kicked him in the ribs, a rough nudge to awaken him from his nap. When his father didn’t stir, he kicked harder. Adam’s jaw dropped, as he finally understood what his mother was trying to tell him. That he’d be okay now. He grabbed hold of his father’s wrist, the same one he tried to crush moments before. Nothing.
A wave of relief flashed over him, before the grief returned. Adam wiped his eyes and took in the scene as if he’d just arrived. Both parents, gone. Now he was alone. He took a long exhale, to relieve the pressure building up in his head. What am I going to do now?