In my anthology, Written Across the Genres, there are two examples of collaborative stories. I will post the first one in segments since I believe in keeping blog posts short.
To find the next segment if you read the first one or several, scroll down to the next picture and the story continues there.
Two groups of writers wrote separate stories that began with the same paragraph. Story One had 22 participants. Story Two had 10. Via emails, each person, within the maximum of a 150 words, continued the plot line from the last written entry. The larger number of writers who contributed and the clues in the plot made the consistency of details a challenge in Dock Story One. It took several months to complete.
Dock Short Story One
By Multiple Contributors
Out of breath from racing to catch the last boat of the night and then missing it, Marian slumped on the stairs below the Pont-Neuf. She had sacrificed dinner with her traveling companions at the La Rose de France to be on this Seine River tour. Taking a cab to the Eiffel Tower light show wouldn’t be the same.
She thought everyone had left the dock, but a slim, middle-aged man in a black topcoat and a hat waited for a boat on the wrong side of the pier. In his right hand, he gripped a small satchel that had a rip on one side. How long had he been standing there?
“Sir, something is falling out of your case.”
He didn’t move, but a wave of his fatigue and sadness smothered Marian. She struggled to leave, wondering if she could make it to the street level.
She brushed back the chestnut hair from her tired green eyes. Cat eyes, her father called them. She remembered how his disappointment had weighed her down with unbearable guilt, how she hadn’t been able to explain the suffocation she felt following the path he’d created for her, making practical decisions for the future and ignoring the present.
Marian had run away from him. She was tired of dealing with the bureaucracy in the state department and the mountains of paperwork that led to no results. Her domineering father had chosen the tedious profession for her. She didn’t tell him she had resigned. In Paris, she’d be able to think, to breathe, to decide what she wanted.
“I’ve missed the boat . . . again.”
Poised with one foot on the first step, Marian heard a sob. A quiet intake of breath, a wheeze of air as it passed trembling lips. She turned back. Did the cry come from the stranger or was it her imagination?
He stood anchored to the wooden planks. His head bowed over the satchel.
“Sir, can you hear me? Are you all right?” Over the gentle lapping of the Seine, Marian’s senses strained.
“Help me, please,” his whispers drifted through the moist night air. “They have a woman prisoner . . .”
Marian eased closer, yet kept one eye toward her escape.
The stranger lifted his head. “The key. Take it. No Gendarme.”
In the moonlight, she saw the blood, a crimson stream as it flowed from his left temple. He extended his arm and tried to touch her. Then his eyes rolled back in his head, his knees buckled, his body crumpled to the ground.
The hairs on Marian’s arms bristled. “Oh, my God.” The pool of blood told her there was nothing she could do for him. Her mind raced. What now? Think. Think. She sprinted up the stairs frantic for assistance but the streets were empty. “Where is everyone for God’s sake?”
She ran back down the stairs. The satchel. She had to find out who he was, who to call. Her hands trembled as she picked up the bag. The combination of the weight and torn material caused the bag to rip open. Sweat beaded on her forehead as euros spilled on the dock.
Her intuition pushed her to get out of there. Let the local law enforcement handle this. She had two days left to savor Paris. Two days to compensate for a lifetime of missed opportunities. A shame to waste it netted in a police investigation.
Ignoring her instincts, she shivered, jerked her hand away, and jumped up. Her foot slipped on a pile of euros uncovering a photo of a woman in her mid-fifties. The woman, her face not in focus, must be the prisoner. Who was she? Marian turned the photo over. On the back written in red ink were the words: Le Point Neuf, 9:00 p.m. Bring 500,000 euros in small bills.
Marian screamed, “He’s dead. Help.” No one answered her shout. She looked back at the man. How can I save the woman? A key, the money, the picture, and note were the only clues. Her heart pounded.
If she could figure out mystery novels and movies before the halfway mark, she could solve this one. Two days with the Paris police answering questions, or two days solving a mystery on my own? What am I thinking? This is crazy. It’d be different from her everyday work, test her investigative skills. What would her father think?
Sirens wailed in the background, growing louder, closer. Gendarme.
Marian crammed the key and the photo out of sight, into the bottom of her purse. She flew up the stairs. The small group of people who had gathered seemed not to notice her, so she slipped among them. An American told the others, “I heard a woman scream on the dock that someone was dead, so I called the police.”
The singsong siren stopped the voices. One policeman pushed the crowd back while a couple others clambered down the stairs. Marian strolled across the bridge as if she were a passerby. From the opposite side she glanced towards the dock. One man stood apart from the others, hidden in the shadows. Was he watching her?
She stepped into the road. Few cars passed, and no taxis. When a sputtering Citroen approached, Marian walked farther into the street and the car stopped.
“Mademoiselle, may I help you?” The elderly woman spoke in perfect English.
“Yes, please.” Marian swung the door open and lunged into the front seat. She tried to compose herself. “I’m meeting friends at La Rose de France, but—”
The woman interrupted. “I will take you. Tonight you are lucky.”
Marian wanted to believe that. She settled into the seat, and pondered what to do next after reconnecting with Pierre and the rest of her group.
They found a sign in the restaurant window that the woman translated, “closed for renovation.” Marian hoped her friends had returned to their hotel.
“Thank you for driving me here. I need to find them.” She reached for the door handle. “I’ll get a cab.”
“No need for that. I’ll take you.” The woman placed her hand on Marian’s arm. “My name is Madame Flaubert. But you can call me Genevieve, or Gen.”
“I’m Marian.” She let go of the door handle and settled into the seat. “I came to Paris to decide what to do with the rest of my life. I have only two days left, but I need more time. Something has happened that interrupted my quest and thrust me into a pursuit more confusing than finding myself.” She didn’t know why she blurted personal information to a stranger. There was something familiar about Gen, she reminded Marian of her long absent mother.
Gen put the Citroen in gear and merged with the traffic. “In Paris you will find many answers.”
Marian wondered how people found their way in the City of Light. To her, it created more questions, not answers.
“Quel hôtel?” Gen asked.
“Le Force Majeur. It’s in the 2ème Arrondissement, near rue de Rivoli.”
Marian absorbed the sights along the way. Lovers strolled along the dimly lit sidewalks and friends sipped coffee at cafes that remained open. The City was alive, unlike the man she had abandoned at Le Pont Neuf. The dead man, whose unique key and photograph now lay in the bottom of her purse, remained a mystery. Marian slipped her hand deep into her bag and gently fingered the cold outline of the key.
The Citröen turned onto an unfamiliar section of rue de Rivoli. Where was Gen taking her?
Marian faked a cough and pushed the key inside her bra before she spoke.
“Oh, I think we should have turned right back there.” Marian tried to sound casual, but inside she doubted every decision she had ever made in her life, including her most recent one to get into the car.
“There are many ways to drive to places in this city,” Gen replied. “I like this route because the traffic is lighter. I have lived in this city all of my life and never tire of exploring its streets.”
That’s when it occurred to Marian why Gen’s name sounded familiar. Pierre had read it aloud to her from this morning’s newspaper. “Wife of French National Police Commissioner accused of embezzling half a billion euros.” Pierre had explained what a huge story it was because the Commissioner was well liked, but little had been publicized about his wife of thirty years. Now she was making headlines—and her name was Madame Genevieve Flaubert.
Marian struggled to figure out where they were headed, heart sinking as her hotel faded in the distance. Fear and anger flared in her gut like bottle rockets on the Fourth of July. Just as suddenly, she felt her mind suffused with a cool, calm determination.
Don’t panic, Marian told herself, breathe. “Gen, let’s stop playing games. You’re not taking me to my hotel. You were waiting for me—it was no coincidence you were idling on the street to pick me up.”
“You are right.” Gen’s voice was reminiscent of a teacher praising a bright student. As they passed under a street lamp for the first time, Marian could see the deep circles under Gen’s eyes and the strain on her kind face.
“I was ordered to collect you and bring you in.” Her voice caught in a sob. “You are about to join my nightmare.”
Marian glimpsed a sliver of opportunity as Gen downshifted the old gears of the Citroen at the red light. She grabbed at the metal door handle, but a hand from behind jerked her back on the headrest. The sweet scent of chloroform filled her nose before her vision faded to black.
The throb in Marian’s right temple pulled her from her sleep, the outline of a man in a chair brought her back to the reality of the dead man on the pier and the ride through Paris with Gen. The instinct to bolt took hold of her, but fear held her in place on the bed.
“Marian, be calm,” said a recognizable male voice. She winced when he flicked on the nightstand’s small lamp, illuminating a face she knew all too well.
Dazed, the disdainful odor of chloroform lingered in her nostrils, and settled on the roof of her mouth.
Gen offered a bottle. “Here, drink some Evian.”
Feeling queasy, Marian accepted, “This is kidnapping. Why?”
“We’ll explain later. Drink. It’ll settle your stomach.” Gen glared at the man.
Marian did as she was told. The man’s face zoomed into focus. She stared in his eyes, the eyes of the man she least expected here in Paris. She sipped to borrow time, to regroup. She mistrusted him more than ever. Her thoughts strayed to the dock, the dead man, the money, her unforgettable past. How imperfect, yet perfect in timing.
“It was orchestrated, wasn’t it?” she asked.
“Yes, Child. Now, where is the key?” Her father’s voice, the controlling tone she knew too well, the one that annoyed her.
Marian hated the man who was her father. For the greater part of her life, she had tried to love him. It hadn’t worked. She endured his lies, his secrets, his unwillingness to open up to her.
Now here he was bringing a new danger to her. No, not a danger, but more, who could know how many new dangers? The sound of his voice crushed her joy at being in Paris to search for a new beginning, a new career away from his lies.
How did he know she would be on that pier? How did he know that she would go to the old man’s side? She had a thousand questions he probably would never answer.
“I know you have the key, where is it?” her father motioned toward the contents of her purse spread on the bed.
Marian observed the photo among her personal items.
“Give me the key now.” He smashed a chair against the wall.
“Why should I?” She controlled the quiver in her voice. “Tell me what you’re after.”
“We have a common goal. Save your mother.”
“My mother? She disappeared when I was ten.”
“I don’t have time to explain. Give me the key.”
“Where is she? Don’t lie to me.”
“She’s being held hostage somewhere in this Godforsaken city. The key must remain out of their hands.” Marian plucked the key from her cleavage. Her mother must be the prisoner in the faded photo.
He grabbed the key then stuffed it in his pocket. “Your mother’s abductors are evil. You must escape them.” His voice deepened, “Gen, get her on a plane to San Francisco.”
“Yes, yes,” Gen said, with a catch in her voice, almost a sob.
“Get going.” He shooed them toward the door.
Marian grasped her father’s wrist. “No.” Her lips trembled.
He turned his face away from her. “I can’t lose both—”
She interrupted him, “They intend to kill you.”
“You know nothing.” He thrust his chin to Gen, “Take her away.”
“The dock money wasn’t touched,” Marian said, her voice firm. “This isn’t about ransom. What have you done that someone would want revenge?”
Her father’s facial expression flashed a look of agreement, but it changed to anger. “That’s not your concern.” He positioned himself at the door, with his hand on the knob for her departure. “You must stay safe.”
“Father, you’re the one who forced me into a dreary career. Let me do something worthwhile now. It’s my mother’s life at stake and probably because of you.”
“I’m coming too. She’s my sister, and it’s my freedom on the line,” said Gen.
“You’re retired from the agency.”
“I still have a few good years left in me, and I have my service weapon here.”
“The three of us have to save the mother I never knew. We must work together,” said Marian.
Her father rubbed his forehead and grimaced. “I’ll make the arrangements for the meet.”
Marian approached the Eiffel Tower as her stomach roiled with fear. She moved forward, alert like a nuclear weapon specialist ready to push the button for the next war. She was thankful the lights on the tower illuminated the ground under it. A large crowd of tourists with their cameras stood in line for the elevator to the upper levels. Smells of food cooking in the restaurant above made her hungry. A hot meal would have relieved the damp of the cool night.
A man and woman stood alone a few feet away. Her father and Gen, from opposite directions, looked towards the couple. Marian and Gen received the planned nod from her father directed at the couple. The woman had to be Marian’s mother.
Marian pretended to be one of the sightseers milling around and edged closer to the man and woman, slipping behind them. The man held something in his hand. A gun? She maneuvered closer, and suspected the object was a remote control device. She had read about them in the mysteries. A bomb’s nearby.
The man flashed the object so her father could see it. He in turn revealed the key. Seconds beat along with Marian’s heart as the two men squared off. Suddenly, the man slumped to the ground, a red smear blossoming on the side of his head. The remote flew out of his hand. Marian scrambled to grab it without the fear that it could be a dead man switch. She straightened, met her mother’s abject terror-filled eyes. She directed Marian’s stare to the bulges under her coat. Marian froze.
Her vision blurred and all movement appeared in slow motion. Police descended on the scene. A man dressed in protective gear ambled toward them. Marian couldn’t stop her body from shaking while the expert disarmed and unstrapped the vest of C4 packets from her mother’s body. Marian’s mind raced to figure out what happened. Gen must have shot the criminal and Marian’s own instinct made her recover the remote before it hit the ground. Had it landed the wrong way, there would have been nothing left of any of them.
Marian’s mother crumpled to the ground once she was free from the bomb vest. Marian hurried to kneel beside her and held her tight as they sobbed. Several times her mother said, “Forgive me. I never wanted to leave you.”
Marian felt like an outsider while her father and Gen reunited with her mother. She gazed at the sparkling lights on the dazzling landmark. From the dock to the tower was what she had wanted, but she never expected the dangerous way to arrive there.
“Marian, join us,” her father said as he pulled her closer. She blanched at his touch but followed him. “You must have questions.”
“Interpol? Were . . . are . . .”
“Yes, the three of us since before you were born.”
“I went undercover and then couldn’t get out. All those years wasted,” Marian’s mother said.
“Gen, you embezzled?”
“For your mother’s release. Interpol didn’t send the money fast enough. I had to save my sister.” Gen kissed Marian’s mother on her cheek.
Her father whispered, “Classified information with a potential to start another world war.” Aloud he said, “Let’s go home.”
Story Contributors in the order of participation: Julaina Kleist-Corwin, Anne Ayers Koch, Jordan Bernal, Paula Chinick, J. K. Royce, Beth Aaland, Carl Gamez, Arleen Eagling, Sonia Geasa, Victoria Emmons, Carole MacLean, Emily De Falla, Cindy Lou Harris, Sheila Bali, George Cramer, Stacey Gustafson, Blake Heitzman, Shannon Brown, Neva Hodges, Gary Lea, Diane Lovitt, Linda Todd
I will post the next dock story in the future to show how the second group, starting with the same first paragraph, wrote a different plot. Both stories are in Written Across the Genres.
Editor of Written Across the Genres
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