Hey there, Avocadoans. Many of you know me as Cookie_Monster, and some of you may have put a real name to that furry face, between my Snubby Awards feature on this site or Wiki Wormhole column on the Mothership. (side note to Snubby voters — sorry about last week, Mama Cookie was in town and I had no spare time). I’ve also published four novelty-format books, two for young kids, two for all ages.
But of everything I’ve written, I’m proudest of my latest project, my first novel, Selfdestructible. It alternates between two main characters — one’s a 24-year-old borderline alcoholic who hit rock bottom after her parents were killed. She leaves New York and moves to their hometown, Buffalo, hoping she can clean up her act and stay out of trouble, but it’s hard to stay out of trouble when you have super powers.
Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy nearly burns down his school when he discovers he can shoot fire from his hands. Trouble is, powers are usually handed down from your parents, and his parents are super boring. When he meets a hip, older girl who can freeze things, he tries to enlist her help in the hopes of getting closer to her, but she’s got a mystery of her own.
The basic idea was to do what The Magicians or Jonathan Lethem’s early stuff did, to use a genre setting to tell a literary fiction-type story. Super powers are a terrific metaphor for the potential none of us quite live up to, and directionless young people trying to find their feet takes on more weight when the stakes are life-and-death.
If that sounds appealing to any of you, it’s available in paperback and ebook on Amazon. Rapacious corporation they might be, but they’re also the most affordable small-press option that’s ever existed. So both formats are pretty cheap for you, the consumer. But to further help you make up your mind, I’m posting an exclusive-to-The-Avocado excerpt from the book below.
But before I do, one more plug, and not for myself. Last year, our own Supreme Leader Bean, Mrs. Langdon Alger, wrote a terrific YA book. The heroine lives in a world where everyone finds an animal familiar at a certain age (think the daemons from His Dark Materials), but she hasn’t yet. Her inner journey to figure out why is a terrific coming-of-age story that readers of all ages can enjoy. So check out MLA’s book too!
And now, a chapter from Selfdestructible:
And I never heard from that girl again.
That’s what I assumed I’d be saying, anyway, as two weeks went by, and two more visits to Dr. Walters, and I never heard from her. But one night as I’m about to go to bed, I get a text from someone named iceqn.
iceqn: Hey have U burned down yr house yet? :p
At first I figure it’s someone from school giving me a hard time. It takes me a minute to realize iceqn meant Ice Queen, and another minute to realize Ice Queen is her. Yeah, I’m dumb. But at this point I didn’t think I was ever going to hear from her again. So I texted back,
charlesch: No, I’m coming over to burn down your house. iceqn: oh, I’m totally scared. charlesch: U should be. Ill melt all your frozen shit. iceqn: who wd win if we had fight i wonder charlesch: i totally would iceqn: right youve been doing this like a week. I’d freeze yr feet in block of ice then have my way with U.
Have her way with me? Wow. What do I say back? Please, please have your way with me? Too desperate? I need to not seem overeager. Even the idea of fighting this girl is kind of exciting, maybe I’ll stick to that.
charlesch: we should really have fight. might be good practice. iceqn: ha i will beat you up charlesch: i’m serious. see who wins, fire vs ice. charlesch: get bucket of water, see if you can freeze it before I boil it
The screen doesn’t move for a long minute, before she finally replies.
iceqn: okay lets try it iceqn: prolly cancel each other out iceqn: room temp water
This is the most excited I’ve ever been about room temperature water. We make plans to meet at Glen Park, not too far from my house, and Sunday afternoon, I ride my bike down there and she’s already waiting, sitting on a bench listening to her iPod, looking bored. It’s a rare spring day that’s actually warm and sunny, and I’m determined to enjoy it whether or not anything happens with this girl.
Ellicott creek runs through the whole park, and in the center is a 15-foot waterfall, which freezes into a giant sheet of ice in the wintertime.
“So. You think you could freeze the waterfall.”
“Easily. What could you do, make the water warm?”
“Shut up. I bet I could boil the whole thing.”
“It’s a river. It’s like a million gallons. There’s no way.”
I raise my arms towards the water. I’m actually starting to doubt myself. I mean, I know I can shoot fire out of my hands, but that probably wouldn’t do much to a whole river. Maybe if I were in the water… I take a step towards the creek and she puts her hand on my shoulder.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do this in front of all these people. I mean, we could get in trouble.”
“Yeah, I guess if the whole creek turned to steam—”
“That’s obviously not going to happen. But if I froze the whole thing, people might—”
“Oh, so you’re so sure I can’t do it but you can?”
“I can. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
I want to do it, partly to show off to her, and partly to prove her wrong. But if I screw it up, I’d rather not do that in front of a crowd of people. And if I did pull it off… people at school freaked out a lot when they saw my powers in action. Who knows how people would react in the middle of a park.
“Come with me.”
I take her by the hand, and drag her across the park, back to the street. One side of Glen Ave. has park benches and the waterfall and concrete pathways. We go across the street to the other side, which is just a dirt path that follows the stream, and is otherwise just woods.
We go by a guy fishing with his kids, and a few guys our age dragging skateboards behind, but after a few minutes, we don’t see any people. I pull her further down the path, and now we have to step over the odd tree branch, or go around the big rocks I used to climb on as a kid. Finally, we get to the island. The river splits in two, then joins up again, making this little island in the middle. My friends and I always made that our kingdom, when we were kids, although there were always empty beer bottles, and once we found a used condom, so we knew it was mostly a place where older kids hung out.
Now I was the older kids. And I don’t think they ever tried anything like this.
“Let’s walk across to the island. You can step across those rocks. Just be careful, it’s really easy to slip and fall in.”
“Is that so?”
Chloe knelt down at the bank of the stream, and put just the palms of her hands in the water. The surface starts to turn white, as a sheet of ice spreads out across the water until it reaches the other side. She stands up and walks across the ice.
“Well, if you want to do it that way…”
“So, are we doing this thing or not? I’m impatient to beat you.”
I kneel down in the same spot she had, and put my hands against the ice. Just as quickly as the ice spread across the creek, it vanishes, until the ice beneath her feet melts away and the water starts to soak into her pink Chuck Taylors. The water around my hands bubbles, and a second later, Chloe yelps and jumps out of the water. It’s boiling hot.
It’s funny, being fireproof. I can feel the heat, I know it’s boiling hot, but it just doesn’t affect me. Heat feels the same as it always did, but instead of being painful, it’s like touching something rough or smooth or sticky. Just another sensation.
I don’t have much time to think, as Chloe kicks the water, and I get splashed with shards of ice. They’re cold and sharp and I vow to block them next time she does it. But in the time it takes me to think that, I nearly lose my balance, as I’m now standing on a sheet of ice.
I have to think about my next move carefully. I don’t want to actually hurt her, and I could burn her pretty easily. I want to prove myself, but I don’t want to put her in the hospital. I slip off my sneakers and step onto the ice. It feels cold on my feet, but then a minute later it’s warm water and steam is rising all around me. It still feels weird burning things with my feet, but it’s actually no harder than my hands. I could burn you with my elbows if I wanted to, it’s pretty much all the same.
She paces the ground on the other side, figuring out how to get me. I’m keeping the water around me at a low boil, so she can’t freeze it. She makes sheets of ice float downriver towards me, but they just melt before they get within three feet of me. Finally, the steam around me turns to snowflakes, which vaporize as soon as they get near me or the water. I’m not sure how that was supposed to get me, but I have to admit it was a cool trick.
“You can’t touch me!”, I cry out cheerfully. She looks annoyed. She looks around, probably trying to find some way she can get the better of me. Finally, she looks up. It takes me a minute to notice just one tree branch coated over with ice. Between the steam in the air and the sap in the tree, there’s enough moisture to give it a pretty thick coating. I could cool down the water, and stop giving her steam to work with, but I’m curious to see where she’s going with this.
The ice gets especially thick towards the back of the branch, and the ice turns solid white. It starts to give off steam — the cold kind. I later realize she’s turning the air to liquid nitrogen, and the tree branch itself to who knows what. But I don’t have time to think about that now, as the branch cracks, and falls towards my head.
I could step aside in time, but the whole point was to use our powers. I hold my hands up, and flame shoots out of both palms. By the time the branch gets to my head, it’s a light shower of ash. I make a show of brushing it off my shoulder.
“That all you got?”
She doesn’t say anything for a minute, and it’s clear that she’s out of ideas.
“Well… you can’t get me either.”
“I just don’t want to put you in the burn ward. But I can still get you.”
I run towards her, splashing. She screams, a little, and dashes for the trees. The island’s only about 30 yards across, so she really doesn’t have anywhere to run. I sprint towards her, skidding on a patch of leaves for a second, and it’s only a minute before I’m right behind her. She goes left around a big tree, and I go right and catch her on the other side, pulling her down with me into the leaves. We wrestle back and forth until she’s on top of me, hair in her face, leaves in her hair, laughing and out of breath and just achingly beautiful.
Now’s the moment. Now’s when I kiss her.
I grab the neck of her shirt, and I pull her down closer to me. She doesn’t resist at all, in fact she leans in closer, until her face is just a few inches from mine. She parts her lips ever so slightly and says,
She jumps up, and I frantically try and think of what I did wrong. I turn my head to follow her, and realize what I did wrong when I see the trail of burning leaves I left behind when I was chasing her. I forgot I was barefoot; I must have singed everything in my path. Now the dry leaves were actually burning, making a trail of fire across the island, which was spreading.
“Shit! What do we do?”
I can start fires, I don’t know anything about putting them out. She runs to the water and freezes a stretch of the creek. When water backs up and runs over the ice, she freezes that and starts building up a dam. But most of the water that trickles past only runs a few inches around either side. It’s really just a tiny creek, where we need a raging river.
I’m frantically trying to stamp out piles of burning leaves, but it’s barely doing anything. “It’s not working!” I shout. The fire is spreading across the tiny island faster now. Chloe curses again, and starts to look scared. She flings her arms out in front of her, and just as fire shot from my hands a few minutes ago, a stream of solid ice shoots from hers. It coats the ground, and the fire’s out instantly. She holds her hands out in front of her — I think she’s as surprised as I am. She shoots out more ice, and quickly puts out the rest of the fire.
“Yeah. I’ve never done that before.”
“I think you win.”
She smiles, but I realize the moment we had a minute ago is gone, and I messed it up.
“Kid. We have to stop screwing around.”