Lark’s Song is a novel-in-process by Philip S. Wenz, Firebird Journal’s editor. Here is a representative sample of the writing, taken from the first few pages of the book. To learn more about the book and read a quick synopsis, see Lark’s Song: a novel (query).
A novel by Philip S. Wenz
© Philip S. Wenz, 2019: All Rights Reserved
To the victims of gun violence, and those who try to prevent it.
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.
–Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, commenting on the 2012 incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School where twenty-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot twenty children and six adults, before shooting and killing himself.
Suicidal Dream blared on Perry Withermore’s car stereo as he eased his old, dented Ford Focus into a space in the student parking lot at Oklahoma Prairie Community College. He switched off the engine, but kept the song playing.
Cocking his head, Perry listened intently to his own voice, which he’d dubbed over the original music. How well did he harmonize with the rock group Silverchair’s lead singer Daniel Johns, who wrote and recorded the haunting tune? Could he match Johns’s tone, intonation and power? Would he hold his own with the famous performer’s stark expression of rage and despair?
When the music ended, he sighed and nodded, reluctantly approving his final recording. It would have to stand despite a minor discordance between his voice and Johns’s in the second verse. There was no time for a redo.
“This will be my note,” he thought. “When they listen to it, they’ll know how good I was. They’ll know what they did — how they let Coleman fuck it all up. Coleman and his big star girlfriend and the rest of them fuck everything up because they wanted…this.”
He looked across the lot at his destination, the college’s boxy Schooner Building, its gray concrete walls squatting beneath low, oppressive clouds. A handful of students, wearing bulky winter garments that made them move stiffly, hurried toward Schooner’s distant main entrance to avoid being late for their 8 AM classes. Sitting alone in the steel and glass bubble of his car, Perry thought they walked like characters on a tiny television screen: almost animated, not completely human. He smirked .
“Watch out what you wish for, people,” he said out loud. “But it’s too late now, isn’t it? Too late to stop me. You’ll just have to miss me.” He paused, took a deep breath, and released it as a second, longer sigh. “Sure…like anybody would,” he told the empty car.
He noticed a few crumbs on his passenger seat, remnants from last night’s fast-food dinner. Brushing them carefully into the palm of his hand, he threw them out the window. Then he set his emergency brake tighter than needed. Checking the car’s interior one last time, he spotted a small streak of dust on the dashboard and wiped it away. His preparations were complete. He was ready.
He grasped the door handle, but stopped short as a sudden spasm punched up from his gut, clenched his throat and slammed his eyelids shut. Gasping, he groped for the steering wheel with both hands and gripped it until his knuckles turned white and he felt his pulse throbbing in his wrists. For a time, he stopped breathing altogether.
Catching himself, he gulped hard and forced down the convulsion that threatened to overcome him and sabotage his plan. Slowly, he compelled his eyes to open, then dropped his hands to his lap.
“Perry must keep control,” he admonished himself. “He cannot let negative emotions disrupt his beautiful operation. If he stays strong, everything will work out like it should. Perry knows that, doesn’t he? This is his time…if he just sticks with the program and executes.”
He smiled. “Executes.”
Bowing his head, he focused on the rise and fall of his diaphragm as his rapid, painful breaths subsided. He reviewed his plan. It was simple, really. And it wouldn’t hurt — not for long. He could take it. And soon it would be all over.
His breathing eased. He raised his head and sat for a moment, staring through the windshield. How still, how peaceful the world beyond the parking lot seemed on this December morning — how tranquil under its vast, uniformly gray sky with its distant trees, barren of leaves, standing out like sharp ink strokes on clean paper. It was fitting, this stillness. It nullified his turmoil and soothed him, seeming to give him permission to follow the path to his moment of triumph. He closed his eyes and, after taking a few more deliberate breaths, opened them slowly to the pervasive light. Now he was ready.
He ejected his CD and stepped carefully out of the car. Chilling gusts of northwest wind whipped across the school’s campus, driving tiny snowflakes ahead of a coming storm. He removed his long, black overcoat, folded it neatly and placed it on the driver’s seat with his CD on top, then gently closed the door.
Shivering just once, he stooped down to adjust his black tie in the side mirror, and smoothed back his hair with his palm. He stood, loosened his belt to tuck in his neatly pressed shirt, then retightened it.
Peering nervously around the parking lot to make sure no one was watching, he opened his car’s trunk, pulled out a pistol concealed in a plastic bag and stuffed it into the back pocket of his dark slacks. He glanced around again before lifting out a semi-automatic rifle wrapped in a worn, olive-drab blanket and tucking it under his left arm. Locking the car with a click of his key fob, he tossed the keys into the trunk and shut it.
Carefully protecting his polished black shoes by steering around puddles of slush left in the parking lot from a previous snowstorm, Perry moved as quickly as he could toward the rear of the Schooner Building where a single door opened into a narrow hallway leading to the OK Chorale music room.
Part 1: Beautiful Dreamer
An ecstasy to music turned — George Meredith
Chapter 1: Lark
“Clara, could you come here?” Blanche Ravel asked as she stopped and spun around on her back stoop just before entering her house.
The seven-year old’s eyes widened and she glanced at Blanche’s daughter Bridgette for reassurance. Had she done something wrong? Bridgette shrugged.
“Hold Molly,” Clara said, handing her playmate the doll she’d been singing to. She walked slowly across the yard, head down, stopping before her friend’s mother who clutched a bunch of fresh-cut daisies from her garden.
“Could you sing that again?”
“Sing? Sing what, Mrs. Ravel?”
“I was about to take these flowers inside, but then I heard you singing something.”
“Oh. We were just playing. We’re pretending Molly is taking a boat ride, so I sung Alouette.”
“Could you sing it again?”
Clara looked at Bridgette, who had moved closer, then back up at Blanche.
“Do I have to?”
“No, of course you don’t have to. But I’d like you to, if you wouldn’t mind. I’d like to hear the song. I…I don’t know it,” she lied.
“Oh, it’s just this song for when you ride in a boat. My mom taught it to me. But I don’t really understand it. It’s in French, and it’s something about a lark. That’s a kind of a bird, and the song’s about plucking its feathers off its head and its beak.” Clara screwed up her face and stuck out her tongue.
“But how does it go? You can sing it to Molly, if you want. Hand her Molly, Bridgette.”
Clara took a breath, looked down and sang softly and slowly.
Alouette, gentille alouette…
“A little louder? I can’t hear you. And faster, like you were singing before.”
“Alouette, je te plumerai
Je te plumerai la tête… »
Clara pointed to her head, and both girls snickered.
“Je te plumerai la tête
…rai la tête
…rai la tête
Alouette, gentille alouette,
By the second verse, Clara had forgotten about her audience and unleashed her buoyant, melodic voice for the benefit of the doll she held between her hands. When Blanche jumped in for the chorus, pretending, as she sang along, to pick up the words she already knew, the child instinctively struck a higher harmonic, then dropped back down to the melody when she took the lead for the next verse.
Blanche motioned Bridgette to join in, but she refused, shaking her head and frowning. Ignoring her, the singers went through all of the six body parts Clara knew in French as she pointed to each one on her small figure. Then they stretched out the final “Ah-a-a-ah,” which Clara wrapped up with a trill and a flourish.
“You’re a lark when you sing!” Blanche uttered between laughs and claps.
“What do you mean?”
“Just that you remind me of those meadowlark’s that sing so beautifully in the morning and the evening. Their song brings a smile to everyone’s face. Have you heard them?”
“You’re such a little songbird, we should call you ‘Lark.’ Shouldn’t we, Bridgette?”
“Yes. You sing like a bird.”
“Like a beautiful songbird,” Blanche corrected her daughter.
“If we call you ‘Lark,’ maybe somebody will pluck your feathers someday,” Bridgette added, looking levelly at Clara.
“Bridgette!” her mother snapped. “Why did you say that? It wasn’t very nice. You apologize to Clara right now.”
“I’m sorry,” Brigette mumbled, looking away.
But Clara knew she didn’t mean it.
End of Sample. To learn more about the book and read a quick synopsis, see Lark’s Song: a novel (Query).