The Lamb White Days

The Lamb White Days was first published in 2009. Back then I believed I was done with the story; it was in the bookstore, and I had other ideas that I needed to develop. Everything was fine until two years ago. I was talking to a local publisher at a street festival. We discussed the stories I was working on, and I happened to mention The Lamb White Days. The publisher was quite interested, but it dawned on me that I wasn’t willing to submit the novel as I had left it.

In the following days, the story began to worry the fringes of my consciousness. It wouldn’t let me be. Finally, I came to the realization that The Lamb White Days wasn’t finished with me, and, therefore, I wasn’t finished with it – parts of the story had been left untold. As a consequence, I have laboured for the last two years revising the novel. The first six months of that time were spent simply planning – working on back story and characterization. I have finally finished, and I believe I have created an honest story with much greater depth and complexity than when it was first published. Now starts the hard part: I have to find an agent to represent me! Wish me luck. I will keep you posted on my progress.

Below, I have posted a three-page excerpt from the manuscript. I hope you enjoy it.

Excerpt From The Lamb White Days

I stepped through the doorway of Dante’s and scanned the crowd. The bar was almost full. That was unusual, but given the number of people in the park, it wasn’t unexpected. A song I couldn’t identify thumped in the background, adding an underlying cacophony to the gathering. Will was tall, so it didn’t take long to spot his unruly mass of blond hair at the bar. He wasn’t the only one I was looking for, however. I let my gaze move from face to face, searching for Katheryn’s profile, but the press of people made it difficult. After a moment, I decided that I’d drawn too much attention to myself and made my way toward the bar. 

Will would either be waiting to share some news, or, less likely given the circumstances, he might have a new poem or short story to share. Writing was something we had in common; although, he was more into fiction than I was. A fair bit of Will’s work had been published, and I knew he made money at it. His real job, though, was as an I.T. guy. He told me that just before the war, he’d been working with the feds upgrading their network security. Along with Katheryn, the three of us had gone to a lot of plays together, and he and I had spent long hours discussing literature. He had a cynical edge that I liked, and if not for him, I would have been one of those poor souls sleeping in the park.

He hadn’t prompted me, but when I came to the city to find Katheryn, the lonely days on the road had left me so starved for human contact that I hold him about my desertion from the Emac and my journey from the coast. Putting my experiences into words was an unexpected release, but I felt guilty at burdening him with my secret.

As I approached, I could see that he wasn’t alone. He perched on a stool at the bar with a pint in hand, and standing beside him was a friend of his whom I’d met weeks before. She was a cop, and even when off-duty, her appearance proclaimed that fact. She was tall, athletic, and she stood straight with her shoulders thrown back. I was pretty sure she’d been in the military. Her curly, black hair was cropped close to her head. I thought she had beautiful, brown eyes, but the way they constantly surveyed and assessed her surroundings made me uneasy. When she saw anything she didn’t like, the muscles in her jaw bunched like fists. She was wearing jeans and a collared black shirt.

She saw me and nodded a hello, “Jake.”

I nodded back, imitating her serious expression, “Naomi,” and she grinned, flashing white teeth.

Will turned to me and shook his head, “Jesus, I can’t get used to that beard, H.”

I scratched at the half-inch growth on my face and frowned, “Neither can I.” The itch really did drive me crazy, but it was an easy way to mask my identity. 

Naomi favoured me with an appraisal, “I like it. It makes you look distinguished.” Will was taking a drink and almost choked on his beer. She frowned and punched his shoulder, “What’s wrong with distinguished?” 

When I went out to the Island, I’d let my beard grow in. For the most part, the whiskers had come in a shade darker than my light brown hair, but in Naomi’s defence, some unexpected white patches had asserted themselves on either side of my chin and probably made me look ten years older than I was. 

“Nothing,” I said. “Will’s just an asshole.” 

Will set his pint on the bar. “You just called him old. When you’re under forty, ‘distinguished’ is the kiss of death. It’s like when a waitress calls you ‘dear’.”

Naomi looked at him like he was speaking a foreign language, then she shrugged off the entire conversation. “So, you’ll reach out, Sheppard?”

Will’s smile faded, “I will, but if they were involved, I’d of heard something.”

“I appreciate it.” She stepped back from the bar, and as she walked past me, she rested a hand on my shoulder, “See you, handsome.”

“Nice seeing you, Naomi.” I watched her leave, and as I turned back to the bar, I caught the flash of a familiar profile in the crowd. I turned away, worried that it was someone I knew from the Emac. Up until that point, I’d been lucky, but I knew such luck couldn’t hold out forever. I stole another look and realized that the face belonged to the doctor I’d met that afternoon. I asked Will to order me a pint and then made my way toward her.

She was seated at a table and speaking with another woman when I interrupted. “Hello, doctor, I didn’t expect to see you again until tomorrow.”

She stopped mid-sentence and turned to me with a puzzled expression. For a moment, I was afraid that she wouldn’t recognize me, then she smiled and extended her hand, looking quite formal. I shook it, relieved. “Of course, Dr. Harris, isn’t it?”

“Jacob is fine.”

She gestured to her companion, “This is Alex. We work together.” They had removed their white smocks, but I recognized the other doctor from the hospital. She was a little heavyset with shoulder length, light reddish hair and a ruddy complexion.

“Jacob?” Alex asked. “That’s an unusual name. Biblical, right? Jacob and the whale?”

The doctor grinned, “I think that was Jonah, Alex.”

“My friends just call me Jake.”

Alex frowned. “That’s not unusual at all. You’re a doctor?”

“PhD.”

“So not a real doctor.”

“Alex!” Sarah’s tone was sharp.

I was beginning to wonder what I’d gotten myself into when the doctor took my arm for the third time that day, and the inanity of the conversation didn’t seem to matter so much. The illumination in the bar was more forgiving than the florescent lights of the school had been. When she smiled, the tired wrinkles about her eyes softened, and her entire face was transformed. At the hospital, I had guessed her age to be in the mid-thirties; I decided that she was probably younger, but I was certain they had been difficult years. I noticed a silver crucifix hanging from her neck.

“I’d rather not continue thinking of you as ‘the doctor,’” I said.

“But I am a doctor,” she replied. I must have looked frustrated for she smiled again and added, “My name’s Sarah.” That was it, no last name. “It was very nice of you to volunteer today. I think you’ll find Simon an interesting case.”

“Simon?” I asked. “Isn’t that biblical?” As with half my jokes, it died an awkward death. Both women regarded me with slightly confused expressions. I could feel my cheeks redden and was thankful for the dim light.

Sarah mercifully terminated the uncomfortable silence, “We don’t know his name. As I told you, he came to us with amnesia and no identification, but we had to call him something. He reminded me of character from a Golding novel, so I started calling him that. He overheard me, liked it, and the name stuck.” 

Alex was staring at Sarah. “You read a book?”

Sarah wrinkled her nose. “It was for a class.”

Alex regarded me. “So you’re matching Jonah with Simon?” she asked. I moved to correct her but quickly realized the misnomer was intentional.

Sarah nodded, “We spoke today, and he said he’d be glad to have someone take him sightseeing.” She frowned, “That’s wasn’t quite the way that he put it though. You don’t think that’s a bad idea, do you?”

Alex shook her head, answering slowly, “No, it’s a good idea.” She studied me carefully for a moment, and I realized she was not as vapid as she first appeared. “Has Sarah told you what to expect?”

I shrugged. “He’s lost his memory and vision. He needs a guide and someone to talk to. That’s about it.”

She chuckled, “I think you’ll find more to it than you expect. When do you meet him?”

“Tomorrow.”

She smiled slyly, “Good luck with that.”

I excused myself a short time later and rejoined Will at the bar. He had secured a stool for me and took his leg off it when I came up. I sat down and pulled back a mouthful from the pint he had ordered me. I was a little overzealous and had to lick some foam off my beard. 

He shook his head, “Just ‘cause you’re on the lamb doesn’t mean you have to look like a lamb.”

I shot back. “Wow, that’s clever. You should try writing comedy.”

He snorted, “Ah, no. My comedy comes out like tragedy.” He motioned with his head toward Sarah. “New friends?”

“They’re from the hospital.”

“You’re gonna do that?” Will had been with me when I’d seen the poster.

“I’ll give it a try, and it’s a part of town I haven’t searched yet.” I considered telling him about Sarah’s reaction to Katheryn’s picture, but even though he already knew it, I didn’t want him to see how desperate I was.

He nodded slowly, “Be careful. Wherever you look, people are looking back.”

I took in a deep breath. Will was right: I wasn’t as cautious as I should have been, but that was my conundrum: I had come to the city to find the woman I loved, but in order to find her, I had to risk being found out myself. There was no questioning my priority or my resolve, but that didn’t mean there weren’t sleepless nights. Still, at times I wondered if there was any actual cause for concern. On the Island, I’d seen deserters who’d been executed by the Emac, but the Island was a long way away. Did anyone in the city care? Then again, it wasn’t just the Emac that had me running scared.

While I’d been talking to the doctor, Will had taken out a half dozen scraps of paper and spread them out on the bar before him. Most of them looked like they’d been torn from a pad, but some were napkins, and one was a coaster. Several had crescent rings on their corners where he’d obviously set down drinks. Another was a sodden Rorschach test seeping through from the wet surface of the bar. They were all covered with lines of his scrawled script. Whereas I carried a notepad tucked into my backpack, Will just grabbed any scrap of paper he could find and scribbled down the ideas as they struck him. His only form of planning ahead was that he kept a blue pen clipped onto the collar of his t-shirt. His was a system that in equal parts baffled and amused me, but it obviously worked for him.

I gestured at the anarchy assembled before him, “What madness is this?” 

He leaned back and blew out a breath, then he spread his hands above the assembled scraps. “The ideas won’t stop. I’m writing down everything as it comes, and it’s a total disjointed mess, but I’m afraid that if I try putting anything into solid form, I’ll lose the flow.” I laughed with surprise at the creative outburst, and was somewhat humbled by the controlled bedlam of his inspiration.

There was a trade paperback novel sitting on the bar. He picked this up and handed it to me. “This is what I wanted you to see.” I assumed it had been there before, but I hadn’t noticed it when I was talking with Naomi. 

I looked at the cover. “Bukowski. Haven’t you had enough of that hack?” Charles Bukowski was one of Will’s favourites. He loved the chaos of Bukowski’s style, and the occasional moments of brilliance delighted him. Will preferred him to some of the other writers of that period, especially Kerouac, whom he considered a waste of natural talent. Since we’d first met, I’d always thought of Will as a Neal Cassady doppelganger, except, of course, Will wasn’t destined to die alone by a railway track in Mexico.

I flipped through the book and saw that he had scribbled notes into the margins of the pages. That was a habit of his, and I’d often thought that a second-hand book from Will’s library would be as much an examination of his thought process as it would be of the original author’s. I sometimes wondered if other readers added notes like that in his books. Did his writing inspire poetry in his own readers?

“So?” I asked.

He took the book from me, opened it to a specific spot and then handed it back. “I found this this morning. I have no idea when I wrote it.” On the last page of the book, clean and with no revisions, there was a hand-written poem signed by Will. There was no date. “I was looking for a quotation, and I stumbled on this. What do you think?”

 I leaned in toward the bar to get better light and read: 

I have a clear memory

of flying amongst the clouds

and thinking how 

– if I could reach beyond 

my fiberglass cocoon –

I could touch them,

but I didn’t,

and such a thing would kill me anyway.

Can anyone live to have their cloud

reduced to particles of rain

on a cold, outstretched hand?

W. C. Sheppard

The second stanza came as a surprise. I responded with a “Huh” and then read it again. 

“A few years ago,” Will said, not waiting for my response, “I don’t think you were around, a friend took me up in a glider. I must of written this afterward, but I have no idea what the connection is to Bukowski.”

“None, I’d guess. This was probably all you had to write on when the poem hit you.”

He brought both hands up to his forehead and then clawed his fingers back through his thick hair. This gesture was a mostly futile attempt to control his unruly mop, but I’d come to realize it was also a technique he used to allow himself an extra moment of deliberation. He nodded, “Most likely.”

I read the poem a third time.

“And?”

“Well, it’s not your best, but it does have something. There’s a disarming simplicity to the first stanza that sets up the surprise in the second, and I think that’s necessary for the poem to work. Still, it strikes me as a weakness. Hm, maybe not.”

“Changes?”

“‘Clear’ is good; it foreshadows the symbolism of ‘cloud’ as an ideal.” I paused and looked up at him, “I assume this is about the disillusion of ideals.” He nodded. “Okay. ‘Gliding’ might be better than ‘flying.’ ‘Reach’ and ‘cocoon’ are good. In the second stanza, you might want to consider whether ‘cloud’ should be plural. Otherwise, it works.” I turned the book back to him but paused and held on to it for a moment, reconsidering, “Actually, given the subject, I think the simplicity of the first stanza is appropriate. Yeah, yeah that works.” I handed the book back to him. “It’s interesting that there are no revisions written over this copy.”