The Gifted is a novel I finished in early November 2007. It is my second.
Initially, it started as a comic book back around 2001. My good pal and artist Steven Butler has done a considerable amount of art for this, mostly when it was slated to be a comic. I’ll post some of that up here soon. We’d spent several hours in conversation about it, and finally Steven decided to bring his whole family up to my home (then Florence, Ala.) and we spent a good couple of days talking about it.
As things have it, I was offered the position as editor of the weekly paper in Piggott, so the project once again took a backseat. I’d finished about six chapters. After several months at the paper, I’d gotten it pretty much where I wanted it, and so began to read over those six chapters again. Eventually, I started working on it again–it just kept calling to me.
So, in November of 2007, I was able to finish The Gifted, a novel that I’ve intentionally aimed at a “teen” market. One of the cool things is that my daughter, who was 12 at the time, was able to be one of my first readers.
The sketches you’ve seen above are some of the sketches Steven has done as proposed “illustrations” to accompany the text. Instead of a comic book, my pitch will be a novel with illustrations. Sorta like the old Hardy Boys books we used to read and love.
Posted below is the first chapter, or Prologue to the book. I invite you to read it and leave me some feedback.
Prologue: The Incineration Program
“My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city.”
The thick double doors of the church shattered inward with a loud crash. Shards of oak hit dozens of people sitting in the back rows. Several surprised people were impaled by pieces as big and sharp as small spears, others were merely scratched by splinters. Many in the back row cried out in surprise and pain.
PolBots, or Police Robots, stormed inside with their weapons fully charged and ready to stun anyone who threatened them with a sharp bolt of electricity, a bolt that would render them unconscious. Their metal feet clanked loudly in the front entrance. Only the gears could be heard once they stepped onto the carpeted floor of the sanctuary.
At the opposite end of the room stood a man behind a podium on a small stage. He had been addressing the crowd of approximately one hundred when the PolBots entered.
“This is an illegal gathering,” rang the metallic voice from each PolBot simultaneously. Their unified voice filled the room with electronic fear. Nearly twenty of them had taken up positions intermittently along the center aisle. The people on every row from front to back began to inch away from the center and towards the outer walls.
“This is a peaceful community meeting,” said the man still standing behind the podium. “Don’t we still have the right to meet?”
“You will come down and join the other lawbreakers,” said one PolBot stepping closer to the man and motioning for him to move from behind the podium. The man’s hands moved discreetly behind the podium as he slowly stepped away.
The PolBot lifted its mechanical arm and fired a blast of energy. The blast emanated from the weapons built where a human’s hands would be. The blast screeched a short distance through the air hitting the podium. The podium erupted in a ball of flame.
“No!” said the man as he jumped back toward the podium, grabbing for something in the flames. He franticly beat at the fire engulfing a book.
The PolBot leaped onto the stage with a loud clank and yanked the book from the man’s hands. A loud hiss of moist air sprayed the book extinguishing the flames. The PolBot held the burnt book high for all to see.
“This man has been found in possession of a document containing hate propaganda and potentially riotous inducing text.”
“It’s the Bible!” shouted a man from near the back. “It’s not riotous! It contains a message of forgiveness.”
“It contains a message of love,” said another voice, this one belonging to a female.
“Only your government is authorized to forgive any transgressions. Possessing this hate propaganda with the intention of spreading its unpatriotic message is a crime that carries the punishment of death.
“You have been found guilty and punishment will now be executed surely and immediately.”
The Bible in the PolBot’s hand burst into flame and was immediately incinerated. At the same time, the PolBot pointed its other arm at the man and fired another blast of energy. The man was enveloped in a flash of bright light and then simply faded from existence as the light faded.
A child screamed and five or six PolBots near the entrance suddenly toppled over like bowling pins.
“Run!” came a man’s muffled voice from outside the door. Still stunned, everyone in the building turned to look at the source of this new voice.
A man wearing a full costume barreled through the door knocking down another two PolBots. His costume was dark, but the image of a cross could clearly be seen on his chest. A full mask, hiding his identity, covered his face. And even though most of the people in the room had never seen one before, they each knew this man was a living breathing superhero.
The superhero ripped the arms off the PolBot he’d tackled sending sparks everywhere.
“Run!” he shouted again.
Panic set in and the people began to run for the exit.
“Do not flee,” hummed the PolBots in unison. “Running will be interpreted as attempting to avoid due punishment. Immediate action must be taken. Do not run!”
The people ignored the PolBots and scurried toward the door. Several people grappled with PolBots in the aisles as everyone tried to usher the children out.
“Hurry!” said the superhero, swinging the torn PolBot arms above his head trying to clear a path to the door for those fleeing. He released the robotic arms and they wrapped around the head of the closest PolBot. The superhero grabbed the arms again and yanked, snapping the head off the PolBot.
“Do not flee,” repeated the PolBots. “You have ten seconds to comply or face appropriate punishment.”
“If you don’t get out of here now,” said the superhero above the screams, “they’ll start shooting!”
The PolBots began to count down. A PolBot standing near the back aisle had grabbed a little girl and had her in its arms. The mother of the child pulled desperately on the robotic arm, trying to release her little one. The superhero spun and kicked the back of the PolBot’s legs, causing it fall and release the child.
“Here,” said the superhero, taking the child and handing her to the mother. “You’ve got to get out of here as fast as you can.”
He watched as the mother exited the door safely with her child tucked away in her arms. Other people followed her out.
He turned to help someone else and instead met the metal fist of a PolBot. The force of the punch slammed him straight to the floor.
“You are guilty of obstruction of justice,” said the PolBot, the numbers 259 stenciled down the right side of his chest.
Punishment is now executed surely and immediately.”
Shaking his head to clear his blurry vision, the superhero looked up in time to see the PolBot aiming the weapon on its hand directly at his head.
The superhero pushed up with all fours like a cat and flipped over in a backhand somersault. He paused next to another PolBot currently entangled with a man, woman and young boy.
The first PolBot swung to take aim at the superhero again. The superhero, finding himself in a spot he liked, turned to the family and told them to duck!
The PolBot fired again. The family broke free and the superhero ducked at the same time, causing the first PolBot’s blast to hit the second. It immediately turned to cinders.
“You’d better get outta here,” said the superhero. “It’s about to get very ugly.”
The family dashed for the door. The superhero quickly surveyed the room. Almost everyone had gotten out in the confusion he caused. Almost. In the middle of the room approximately seven or eight people were completely surrounded by the PolBots.
There was nothing he could do. It wasn’t the first time he’d interrupted a raid. He knew what was about to happen, and the thought of it made him angrier. He reacted to the rage that welled up in him.
“Over here,” he yelled at the top of his lungs. The PolBots all turned to face him. When they did, one of the remaining people shoved the backmost PolBot causing it to fall into another beside it. The group all dashed through the small opening in the circle of PolBots. They somehow sensed this was their last chance at freedom.
“Commence punishment,” the PolBots said. Almost at the exact same moment those few PolBots with a clear shot, took it. Three people ceased to be.
The superhero tried to take a step forward and found the air forced out of his lungs. PolBot 259 had grabbed him from behind in a fresh attempt to detain him. The superhero struggled to break free, but the PolBot was too strong.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another person blasted out of existence by a PolBot. Each person killed tore at his own heart. The PolBots at the front of the building near the podium had already begun their incineration subroutine. Liquid fire blazed out of their arms in all directions, engulfing the building in flames.
He felt a small shove forward and the PolBot suddenly turned him loose. He spun at the same time the PolBot did and both of them saw a teenaged boy with a baseball bat. The superhero realized he’d just used it on the PolBot to set him free.
With no hesitation, the PolBot raised its arm and aimed it point blank at the boy. The superhero tackled the PolBot at the same time liquid fire shot out. The boy screamed and tried to get away but the fire was so hot that it partially caught him as he turned to run.
“I can’t see!” yelled the boy. The superhero forced the PolBot on over until it fell to the ground.
He jumped up and grabbed the boy by the arm and led him outside. Across the street, many of the former occupants stood watching, ready to run again at a moment’s notice.
Seeing the boy, a middle-aged woman ran up next to him, called him by name and hugged him.
“He’s going to need extra care from you now,” said the superhero. Then, he pointed to the burning Church and spoke louder, addressing all those nearby.
“Don’t ever forget what has been done here. But don’t let them change you. They might be able to legislate what we can say and what we can do…but they can’t legislate what…or who, is in our heart!”