The Write City Magazine
August 30, 2016
Excerpt from Carpe Diem, Illinois – Winner of the Chicago Writers Association 2014 Book of the Year Award for Non-traditionally Published Fiction
By Kristin A. Oakley
At the corner of Tiger Whip Road and Highway 20, Patrick Holden slumped over the handle bars of his idling Harley. The motorcycle’s black leather seat and saddle bags were creased with age, the twenty-year-old fenders dusty but barely scarred. Patrick hadn’t aged as well as his bike. Years of fighting school administrators, education tsars, and a weird mix of politicians had creased more than his outward appearance; it had creased his soul.
The motorcycle’s headlight illuminated the decaying façade of an abandoned shed. Swirling farm dust mixed with dry hay made Patrick cough, leaving a gritty taste in his mouth. He ran his gloved fingers over the neat stitches holding the cycle’s seat together and regretted the late night meeting.
He had been persuasive, articulate, and even-tempered but the meeting had been a disaster. Illinois State Senator Christopher Shaw, in all his patronizing benevolence, had refused to see the obvious dangers of his legislation. Instead, threatened by reason, the senator stormed out of his office. When the door slammed, Patrick realized he was no longer sitting. His skinny, six-foot frame leaned over the senator’s wooden desk, his hands splayed on the maple, leaving damp prints.
What had he done? Perhaps his father was right. Perhaps he had gone about this the wrong way, screwed things up, and jeopardized the future of Carpe Diem.
The idling purr of the motorcycle’s engine soothed some of Patrick’s despair until a semi trailer roared past. He shielded his eyes from a tornado of dirt and gravel and watched the truck cut a path of light on the dark highway.
Cutting a path through the darkness, what an idea. Turning the motorcycle back onto the two-lane highway, he fish-tailed, then accelerated to eighty miles an hour.
* * *
Alexandra Shaw steered her silver BMW down Highway 20 toward home. She had spent an inspiring day in Chicago at a novel writing workshop, followed by dinner with other passionate writers. She had been told several times that her story would make an excellent book. Thrilled, she hummed along to the sultry voice of Norah Jones on the radio. She couldn’t remember ever being this happy.
She slowed through a small Midwestern town, passing three churches and a corresponding number of neighborhood taverns, then sped by endless farmland crawling with late night tractors lighting up rows of dried corn stalks. At a sharp bend in the highway, she spotted the sign, “Carpe Diem, 5 miles.” That sign always intrigued her. Now she took it as a good omen and even considered stopping for a cup of coffee until she heard the muffled Won’t you take me to Funkytown? ringtone of her cell phone. It was probably Natalia, eager to hear about her workshop.
Alexandra grabbed her purse from the passenger seat and felt inside but couldn’t locate the phone. Her eyes on the road, she dumped the bag’s contents. She riffled through gold pens, a mini notepad and her leather wallet. Won’t you take me to Funkytown? She had it. She looked at her right hand. A packet of tissues.
She snatched another glance at the road. Won’t you take me to Funkytown? A single light came over the nearest hill. A car with a busted headlight? A motorcycle? Yes, now where was the damned phone? She reached between the leather seats. Nothing. She felt on the floor and found a hardened French fry. The phone stopped asking her to take it to Funkytown. Why hadn’t she listened to her husband and gotten the car’s Bluetooth option?
The BMW’s interior brightened. Alexandra jerked her head up. The motorcycle was driving in her lane. Straight at her. She punched the horn but the motorcycle didn’t swerve. She yanked the steering wheel to the right, her foot smashing the brake pedal, the car’s tires screaming. It wasn’t enough. The motorcycle slammed into her.
The wrenching scream of tortured metal filled her ears. She buried her head in her arms. Shattered glass spit at her, pinpricking her bare hands. She tasted blood. The steering wheel’s air bag crushed her against the driver’s seat. The driver’s door smashed inward, the side air bag deploying too late.
The car began to roll. Compressed, gasping for breath, strapped into the tumbling car, Alexandra flipped over and over as if on a crazed amusement park ride. My book will never be published. Natalia, I’m sorry. Right before passing out, she saw something bounce off the air bag — the delinquent cell phone.
Kristin A. Oakley’s debut novel, “Carpe Diem, Illinois,” is the winner of the 2014 CWA Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction and a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year. The sequel, “God on Mayhem Street,” will be released on September 15, 2016. Kristin is the president and co-founder of In Print, a professional writers’ organization, a board member of the Chicago Writers Association, editor of The Write City Magazine, and a writing instructor at the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies. She has a B.A. in psychology and a J.D., both from UW-Madison. kristinoakley.net
The Write City Magazine is published by the Chicago Writers Association. We welcome quality poetry, fiction and nonfiction, including short stories, personal essays, op-eds, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, interviews, play and novel excerpts (if self-contained), plus writing tips and resources.
Submission guidelines: Include your full name, the title of your submission, your email address, and website link (if available) plus a personal photograph and a short 150 word bio. Include the title of your piece in the Subject line. While submissions previously published on personal blogs are acceptable, we do not accept submissions previously published in other publications.
Prose: Submit no more than one prose piece at a time. Prose should be single-spaced, Times New Roman font, and no longer than 1,500 words.
Poetry: Submit no more than three poems at a time. Poems should be single-spaced in a Times New Roman font.
Email submission to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep in mind that submissions may be edited.