Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Leaving Home,"

I have always wanted to write more about Virginia City, Nevada.  I've published articles in historical journals and such, but this is my first attempt at fiction.  Please let me know what you think and how I might be able to strengthen this piece.  This piece is set in mid-November 1914. 

"Leaving Home"

Looking North on C Street, Winter 1989
Christine steps out of her home on Stewart Street.  The night is not yet over.  In the dim light of the gas street lamp, she sees her breath and wraps her shawl over her head and around her shoulders for warmth before reaching for her small suitcase.  Duncan, her son-in-law, beats her to it and picks up the bag.

 “You’re always such a gentleman.  I can carry my own bag.” 

“No, let me,” Duncan insists, offering his elbow. 

Christine grabs his arm.  Jennie, her daughter, joins them on the porch and the three step out, walking briskly through the dark streets.  Although she is a woman of sixty-seven, there’s still a spring in Christine’s step.  With her arm interlocked with her son-in-law, Jennie looks up.   Shortly after dark, earlier in the evening, she been out on the porch and watched Orion rise.  The constellation is now toward the west and appears to being chased by his dog out of the sky.  The Gemini twins and Tarsus the bull, whose advent in the eastern sky had preceded Orion, is now about to set behind Mount Davidson.  She wondered if they’d set before dawn erased them from the sky.

A neighbor’s dog barks as they pass and the horse in Old Man Sutton’s barn snorts.  Far down Six Mile Canyon, a coyote howls.  The wind rustles the loose tin on the dilapidated homes down the street. 

“There are too many abandon houses,” Christine said.  “When I moved here, I thought this place was at the end of the earth, but there was excitement, and no empty houses.  We had three families sharing our house.” 

“Virginia City now feels as if it has been abandoned at the end of the earth,” Jennie says with a laugh. 

At the corner of Union Street, they turn east and begin the descent down the hill toward the station. Off in the distance, the waning crescent moon hangs over the Pine Nut Mountains.  A little light is showing on the edge of the horizon, the promise of a new day. 

Between A and B Street, the three of them walk past the darken Piper’s Opera House. 

“Piper used to have the best shows on the Pacific Coast, but now there are only second-rate traveling companies.  I wish you could have seen it in its heyday,” Christine says.

“I expect the moving pictures are going to take over,” Duncan predicts.  “Jennie and I saw Ben Hur last weekend.  It was quite a show with Murray Mack pounding on the piano.”

“I don’t like reading the script, I want to hear the actors talking!”  

Between B and C Street, they step down the sidewalk stairs beside the International Hotel.  In the kitchen, Won, the cook, is fixing breakfast, his long hair braided and hanging down his back under his skull cap.  He is one of only a handful of Chinese left in Virginia City.  When the city was thriving, Chinatown consisted of a large chunk of the lower city.  In the dining room, under the bright electric lights, a couple of guests are finishing their breakfast in preparation for catching the train.  Stepping past the hotel, they reach C Street and stop and look both ways out of habit.  It is nearly deserted at this time of the morning, but it’s been nearly deserted for the past twenty years.  They cross over and begin the final descent toward the V&T Passenger Station a block below.

Two toots are heard in the distance and then a rumbling as the locomotive chugs out of the roundhouse and stops on the turntable.  Duncan pulls out his watch. “It’s barely Six, they‘re going to be late leaving.”  After a brief pause, the engine and its tender rumbles to life and pulls off the turntable and onto the mainline, where it stops and then reverses and heads up into town tender first.  The three step into the waiting room where a fire in the potbelly warms the air.  They crowd around the stove warming their hands.  A few minutes later, the locomotive emerges from the tunnel under the front steps of St. Mary’s of the Mountain and moves on past the station toward the car barn to the north. 

 “I don’t see why I can’t ride in the buckboard with the two of you,” Christine asks.  “When I came to this country, with Ma and Pa and your Uncle Owen and his family, we all rode in a buckboard, all the way from Folsom.  That was as far as the train ran, in those days.  Ma and Pa rode up front, Owen and I rode in the back on top of our stuff.  It took us four days to cross the Sierras.  At night, we’d camp and fix dinner over a fire and then, sleep under the buckboard.  By the time we got to Carson City, we were filthy."

“We’ve been through this, Ma.  You’ll be a lot more comfortable on the train.  It’s going to take us all morning to load up the wagon and a day or a day and a half to make it over the Geiger Grade and down to Reno.  Hopefully, we'll see you tonight.  If not, we'll be there tomorrow morning.” 

Ten minutes later, the locomotive, The Dayton, pulls back in front of the station, dragging a coach and a baggage/mail car.  A few businessmen who had been waiting to the last minute in the International Dining Room join Christine as they step onto the platform.  Christine notices the stars have all but faded from the sky as the new day is beginning.   A railroad worker loads a sack of mail and a handful of parcels  into the mail car.  Christine boards the car, turning waving to Jennie and Duncan before finding a seat near the stove at the far end of the car.  She stows her bag on the rack above and sits down and presses her face against the frosty window pane.  The conductor shouts all aboard and pulls up the stool.  The whistle blows and although she can't see it, the engineer pushes the throttle forward and slowly the wheels catch and the train lunges forward.  In the distance, the whistle at the Con Virginia Works blows, announcing the change of shift. The conductor punches their tickets as the train pulls into the dark tunnel under the Catholic Church. 

When the train emerges from the tunnel a moment later, Christine catches the first rays of the sun race through Six Mile Canyon, glistening the windows of the town she’d called home for nearly fifty years.  Morning always come quickly to this town, just as it became a major city almost overnight.  Likewise, twilight seems always extended as the sun sets behind Mount Davidson long before dark, leaving the town in the mountain’s shadow.  The town’s decline has been just as slow as evening is to come.  As it withered, she buried a husband and a son in these hills and now wondered if she’ll ever see the town again.

The train passes the Collar Mine and enters a second, shorter tunnel.  On the other side, she looks back but can no longer see much of the town.  High up the hill on the right she sees the Fourth Ward School where her children attended.  Then the car jerks and wheels squeal as the tracks snaked first to the left and then back to the right, rounding another curve at “The Divide.”  The car is again plunged into darkness, the only light being the oil lamps of the car, as it moves through the third tunnel, the longest one on the upper end of the tracks.  The air is smoky and heavy inside and the when the train emerges from the tunnel, Virginia City is gone. 

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This piece is partly based on real person who came to the Comstock Lode in the early/mid 1860s and lived her life there, before moving to Reno where she died in 1919. What kind of things would you now want to know about Virginia City or Christine?  Do I need more or less detail?  Help me out!  What has been your experiences at writing fiction?

33 comments:

  1. nice...cool details in this that really set the scene...i would love to ride a train again...i plan on walking the old tracks this weekend, they turned it into a walking path...but the old tunnel between the mountain is known for growing huge icicles

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    1. That tunnel sounds interesting! I am sure in the olden days the train's heat melted the icicles in the tunnel.

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  2. The only articles or stories I've written have been on small animal care but I really like what you did here. I really enjoyed reading this.

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    1. thank you and don't sell your writing short!

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  3. I can easily imagine the scenes but feel that I know next to nothing about the characters.. what they're feeling.. why they're on the move.. hopes.. dreams etc. I'd want to know more about them - what led up to their departure and what lies ahead. It sounds like there could be a good adventure in the making.

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    1. Thanks, Hilary. This is helpful. I am hoping that I leave folks wanting more. My thought is to use this as a beginning and then go back to her arrival as a teenager in Virginia City (from Nova Scotia, so it was quite a change)

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  4. This is a very vivid tale. I can feel the smell of the streets.

    Greetings from London.

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  5. This was some story! Very realistic and visual.

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  6. As you know, or should by my comments on nearly all your reviews, you spin a most lovely tale, always for me. You keep the pace smooth and show us all that you feel, or see, and we can wrap ourselves right in to being where ever it is that you're describing, or retelling. You have a way making the roses smell right off the computer screen. That's when you know you have a person hooked! Great story!

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    1. Thanks for the flattery, Karen. Would you like to be my public relations guru?

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  7. I liked the details in this. Great piece.

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  8. Into the dim light of the gas lamp Christine steps from her home. Seeing her breath she wraps her shawl tight about herself before reaching in for a small suitcase(carpetbag ?).
    Duncan, her son-in-law, beats her to it and picks up the bag.
    “No, let me,” Duncan insists, offering his elbow.
    “You’re always such a gentleman. But I really can carry my own bag.”

    Now that's as far as I'm going. I lost too many friends over the last number of years doing as they ask and editing their prose/baby/creation/art. :-)
    Here's a tip. Think Coco Channel, when you're ready to go out look in the mirror and take an embellishment/accessory off. Works with adjectives and adjectival phrases too. :-)
    It's a beautiful story.

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    1. Thanks, Vince. I knew when I asked for advice, I was opening myself up so don't worry about offending me. I do like how you changed around that opening and may borrow from that in a later draft! I am not sure I know what Coco Channel is (it sounds like a perfume), so offer to google

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    2. Hey, I'm right, it is a perfume, now I will have to look at their ads.

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    3. No, she's a person. A fashion designed very famous after the first war. She pioneered the LBD (little black dress) but back then there was a hangover from the Edwardian era when there was Rains of Diamonds and they were the least decorative of the jewelry. Anywoos, to stop people from over doing it she coined the phrase 'take one piece off' to gain an elegance. The perfume is hers.
      But Horace the Roman poet was there 2000 years earlier. :-)

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    4. i understand and like the phrase. Are you into Mark Twain? If so, send me your email and I'll sent you a link to an article I've written that you might enjoy.

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  9. fantastic detail, beautiful writing! loved it.

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  10. You are getting some work done!

    ALOHA from Honolulu
    ComfortSpiral
    =^..^=

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  11. It's good and detail is wonderful but you can get lost in detail and never get to the gist of the story.
    The comment about Coco Chanel (who everyone should know) really meant "take out," "take out" "take out." and keep what's necessary for the story.
    signed: born to edit
    ~pia

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    1. I knew she had something to do with perfume, but I do like that mantra, "take out"

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  12. I really like all the details that drop the reader directly into that scene. It's neither too much nor too little, but you have a full story you could expand upon. Great stuff. It reminds me of the small towns I like to visit in California's Gold Country.

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    1. This is right across the Sierras in the Virginia Range of Nevada

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  13. I love this Sage. Sounds really real and I can look the people and houses you describe!
    So good Sage!

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  14. I think you could end this part of the story with her wondering if she'll ever see the town again. I liked that as an ending. You could even take a couple of details from the final paragraph and put them before that.

    It held my interest, and I would like to read more. I got a little lost in the "two toots" paragraph but that may be in part because I didn't understand all the train terminology.

    Most of the details really brought the city alive to me. That being said, I've always heard, when in doubt, too few details is better than too many. Though I don't always follow that.

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  15. The thing that best holds my interest when reading is facts. Yes, this is fiction, but it also contains facts and information relating to time and place. I think you did a great job! You gave me enough to have a good picture in my mind's eye, to see where they where and during what time frame they were there. By reading about your life and earlier travels, I already knew you were a good writer.

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  16. I enjoyed this! Maybe you could do flashbacks of the days when Virginia City was thriving. Some of her memories of the Opera House and all the houses teeming with families. I think you need to pursue this! You have the talent, for sure!

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