The story below was our first experiment in group writing. VerbSap started the ball rolling with an opening paragraph and readers were invited to submit the subsequent paragraphs.
The final section was posted Feb. 18. All told, Out Cold was completed in just under a month by 11 writers. Thank you all for participating.
It was dark when he opened his eyes and, for a moment, he couldn't tell which way was up. (Editor)
It was like being rolled in a wave. He closed his eyes and let the dizziness pass. He took a breath and felt his chest rise and fall. He felt the ground cold against his back. He opened his eyes slowly. (Gary B., New York)
Stars wheeled above him and it came to him in a rush that a) they were beautiful, b) it was an unusually clear night and c) he was naked. He sat up slowly. Definitely in the middle of a field; definitely naked. And the sun was coming up. (Lacey V., Saratoga, CA.)
He stood slowly and took stock. His body seemed to be working: legs, arms, fingers. He was unmarked. Aside from a slight buzzing in his ears he was fine. Aside from not knowing where he was. Aside from not remembering his name. (Gary B., New York)
Phil? Miles? No, something with a 'B.' Bart? Brad? Brad sounded good, but for some reason he didn't think it was Brad. He was too skinny for a Brad and too pale. He touched the back of one hand with another. Not pale so much as blue. He wished the sun would rise faster. Bart? Biff? Bill? "Bill, Bill, Bill," he mumbled. "Billy-boy. William. Willie." He rubbed his rubbed his eyes with a blue-tinged knuckle. Bill would have to do. He wrapped his bluish arms around himself. "I'm Bill," he said. Now for some clothes. (Tucker G., Madison, WI)
The field was vast, cupped on two sides by low stony hills and, in the other directions, stretching to the horizon. Squinting, he thought he could see the faint line of a dirt road running at the foot of the hills and a mound that could have been a car. He headed toward it, his bare feet sinking into the soil. It was a car, a nice car, a car that looked like it would run. And in the keys were in the ignition. (Joyce C., San Francisco, CA)
Billy-Boy moved behind the wheel. The walk had warmed him, had left a sheen of sweat on his skin, and his butt cheeks stuck to the leather seat. He shifted and they made a sucking noise, like someone was removing a giant Band-Aid from his ass. He turned the key and the engine came to life. He should feel relieved, he thought. He should feel grateful. But all he felt was faintly removed, slightly dreamy. Naturally there was a car waiting for him. Naturally it ran. He opened the glove box, half expecting a plate of eggs and bacon. Maybe a steak sandwich. It was empty aside from a pair of sunglasses. He put them on and looked at himself in the mirror. A naked amnesiac in a Mustang convertible: hot stuff. (Guy V., Pittsburgh, PA)
He floored it. The road followed the edge of the field, a straight shot into nothing. The wind felt good.He rolled down the window and leaned his elbow on the sill, tilted his face to the sun. He hummed a song he couldn't name. "Ba ba baa, ba baa." The road unfolded, a flat pale ribbon, and he hummed. "Billy-Boy," he sang finally, "this fucking road will never end." As he mouthed it, a cloud appeared in the otherwise bare sky, on the lip of the receding horizon. Not a cloud so much a forest. Not a forest but a house. Not a house but a petrol pump and, next to it, a bench and an eski. And in the eski a beer, sweating, and a fried egg on a roll. "I think," he said to the nothingness as he chewed, "this is my favorite sandwich." (Neroli S., Adelaide, South Australia)
Billy-Boy looked her up and down. Even wind-blown and plastered with dirt she looked fine. He was suddenly uncomfortably aware of being clothing-deprived. He snatched up the eski and upended it in his lap.
"I was unavoidably detained," he said.
"You have no bloody idea who I am, do you?" she said.
He shook his head. "Don't feel bad. I have no bloody idea who I am."
"Well, get on," she said, patting the bike seat. "I'll explain as we go."
Billy-Boy shook his head and tapped the eski. She sighed, stuffed her hand in her rear pocket and pulled out a pair of tiny red briefs. He dangled them by one delicate corner.
"Best I could do on short notice," she said.
He edged behind the bench.
"What about the car?" he said as he changed.
He looked up. The Mustang was gone. ( Lacy V., Saratoga, CA)
Billy-Boy took stock. Clad solely in bright red briefs and Ray-Bans he was pressed against a strange woman on the back of a motorbike put-putting through barren countryside in a world that didn't seem to adhere to basic physical principles. So far so good.
"Where are we?" he shouted.
"The Block," she shouted back.
He chewed on that.
"What block?" he shouted.
"THE Block," she said. "Writer's Block." She pointed to the faint outlines of a boxy building in the distance. They drew closer. Billy-Boy rubbed his eyes.
"That's the New York Public Library," he said.
She shrugged. "I'm from L.A.."
He followed her up the steps and paused at the top. He glanced back. The motorbike was gone. The road too. And a weedy forest of Australian pines was slowly pushing through the sand.
Nearby, someone hooted. "Woo woo. Nice briefs"
Billy-Boy jumped back. Patience, the stone lion, was licking a marble paw and eying him through narrow eyes.
"Don't mind her," Fortitude said. "She's harmless."
Billy-Boy nodded dumbly at the statue.
"Through the doors to your right," Fortitude said."They're waiting." (Jason K., New York)
He stepped into a cavernous room, dimly lit by high flickering gas lights in ornate cut-glass globes. The stone floors were smooth and icy. 'Note to self: find shoes,' he thought. He followed Fortitude's directions and walked through an arched doorway on the right and out onto a balcony overlooking a maze of office cubicles. In each, a pale man or woman sat staring at a blank screen. The motorcycle chick was there, in a scrum of perturbed-looking people peering over the railing. A dour man with wild white hair and a drooping mustache looked Billy-Boy over in all his bikini-clad glory and scowled. "The savior of mankind, I presume." (Matt R., San Francisco).
Will Billy-Boy save humanity from The Dreaded Writer's Block? Will he deduce that the wild-haired man, Billy-Boy's disgruntled spirit guide if you will, is the formerly deceased Mark Twain, aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens? Will he ever get a chance to change out of those panties? We'll never know because, suddenly, unexpectedly and, from a plot-development point of view, thankfully, an explosion rocked the Public Library. The wall Billy-Boy was facing disintegrated and a tank rolled through the smoke. A tanned man in a Hawaiian shirt climbed out and stood quivering beside the turret.
"You have a naked guy, a chick covered in mud and a bottomless cooler of beer and you get Writer's Block?" He was jigging with indignation. "That's the best you could come up with?" He shook his fist at the crowd. "Dance with a few Senoritas. Climb a mountain. Shoot some pool. Shoot some grouse. Run the rapids. Learn to surf. Do something!" Then he hopped into the tank and backed it angrily out of the gap.
The roar of the engine died and the room was a quiet for a moment. One by one the pallid writers emerged from their cubicles and gathered by the hole in the wall shading their eyes.
"You're gonna need this," Mark Twain shouted and lobbed a long white tube of sunscreen into their midst. A thin man held it aloft like a flag and the group padded out into the light.
Mark Twain straightened his tie. "At the risk of repeating myself: Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today," he said, and disappeared.
Billy-Boy rubbed his chin. "Who was the guy with the tank?"
"Dunno. Jimmy Buffett?" the bikey chick said.
"Nibblin' on sponge cake, watchin' the sun bake; All of those tourists covered with oil," Billy-Boy murmured.
"Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing. Smell those shrimp -- They're beginning to boil," the girl sang.
She had a high quavering voice. Billy-Boy licked his finger and drew a small heart on her cheek. They were holding hands as they left singing, off key, but harmonizing.
"Wasted away again in Margaritaville. Searchin' for my lost shaker of salt. Some people claim that there's a woman to blame, But I know it's nobody's fault." (Chris M., Toledo, Ohio)
Updated Feb. 18.
Photo Courtesy of NASA
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