First Chapter Book Award Finalist/Mystery: Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies
August 23, 2016
Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies: Book Two by Janis Thornton is a Finalist in the Mystery/Thriller category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
Award-Winning First Chapter
“Hold on, Miss Cropper! We’re gonna crash!”
I knew it! Ever since I let my friends talk me into adding “fly in a powered parachute” to the top of my bucket list, I had known “Hold on, Miss Cropper! We’re gonna crash!” would be the last words I’d ever hear.
My young friend, Clip Parker, had been piloting the levitating two-seater cart—which looked more like a flimsy dune buggy dangling from an umbrella than a federally approved aircraft—hundreds of feet above the Elm County countryside, with me straddling him from behind, for a half an hour. The whole time, he had flown it masterfully and, I should add, without incident, keeping my trepidation at bay. That is, until some bird-brained, directionally impaired waterfowl flapped loosey-goosey into the aircraft’s propeller and promptly burst into a kaleidoscope of shredded feathers and shards of meat in various shades of red. Bye-bye, birdie. I’d have been chewing my fingernails to the quick had anyone other than Clip been at the helm of that contraption. My faith in his piloting skills was resolute. However, a half a second later, the cart’s engine choked on a glob of the organic fallout, coughed once, sputtered, and died. And so did my faith. As my survival instinct kicked in, I lurched forward, wrapping my arms around Clip and digging my fingernails into his burly chest for dear life. The kid was good, but he was no Sully Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who had safely crash-landed his commercial airliner on New York’s Hudson River after a flock of Canadian geese had flown into its path. Thanks to him, everyone onboard walked away unscathed.
Cruising at thirty miles an hour generated a noisy wind that would have made conversation impossible if not for the two-way radio wired into our helmets. I had forgotten about the sensitive, audio connection and possibly could have busted Clip’s eardrums, when I screamed, “We’re gonna what?” into my helmet mike.
“Hold on,” he shouted back. “I’m bringing her down.”
Without a motor to keep the propeller spinning, our lives literally depended on the rainbow-colored parachute to keep us airborne. I’m sure it was the altitude causing my split-second lapse into hysterical clarity when I started to think that gliding through the crisp, spring air was not a totally unpleasant sensation. For a teeny moment, I flashed back to a childhood dream I once had where I was soaring with the eagles. I felt like shouting, “Whee!” And I would’ve if I hadn’t been about to die.
Approaching Elmwood from our lofty vantage, the city looked like a crocheted doily. Unfortunately, it lacked a single place for us to land as smooth and soft as the bean field we had taken off from in the northern part of the county.
“Where are we going to set it down?” I yelled.
Clip pointed toward the southeast. “Over there,” he said, steering the cart’s nose in that direction.
I was confused. “Over there” was the courthouse steeple. Surely, we weren’t going to land anywhere near there. Several blocks beyond the courthouse was the local radio station’s 500-foot-tall transmission tower, and past it was the cemetery. I had no idea what Clip was referring to. Surely, we weren’t going to touch down near any of those landmarks.
I had always taken pride in my ability to keep myself grounded—both feet firmly planted with my head bobbing some six feet above them. I don’t know what came over me a couple weeks ago, when Clip, my long-time mechanic and a veritable genius at tinkering with combustion engines, invited me for a ride on his new toy. I admit I was slightly intrigued and thought it would make a great feature story for my hometown newspaper, the Elmwood Gazette, for which I have been editor for just over a decade. And besides, Clip was a sensible young man, which was why I told him, “Sure, I’d love to go up in your powered parachute. Someday.” From that moment on, every time the phone rang, I feared it would be Clip calling to tell me the weather was perfect for our flight. Early that morning, after several rainy days, the ideal conditions finally arrived. It was Memorial Day. How appropriate.
“Where?” I asked him again, eyeing the neighborhoods, streets, treetops, automobile traffic, people—and even cats and dogs—all of which were growing increasingly larger below us. I was beginning to think we had shifted into free-fall. As if that weren’t alarming enough, we were on an approach for the courthouse lawn, where a mob of approximately 500 men, women, and children had congregated for the ceremonial Memorial Day service, complete with the community band and the American Legion firing squad.
“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” I gasped. Eyeing the innocent bystanders, I wondered if any of them could even conceive of the danger we momentarily would thrust upon them. “And how many others will we take with us?”
“Crystal,” he said, addressing me by my first name—a sign that I must have really ticked him off, “you’re going to have to trust me.”
It was the last thing he said before the stampede. At first, when the people noticed us, they grinned and waved. They yelled, “Hellooooooooow,” which attracted the attention of others around them, who also joined in. Soon, nearly everyone was waving and cheering at us—until the moment they realized if they didn’t get out of our way, the funny-looking flying machine was going to mow them down like spring grass.
As I expected, panic took hold all of a sudden. But then, the screaming crowd parted like the Red Sea, unwittingly clearing a perfect landing strip on the courthouse lawn. Clip gently touched down and the cart taxied to a graceful stop with both of us in one piece. We were alive. And unscathed. I threw my arms around Clip and shouted, “Whee!” I hadn’t doubted his piloting skills for one second.
Sully Sullenberger, eat your heart out!