Content warning. This story is designed for adults and mature teens. It involves sex trafficking and mentions rape, drugs, and nudity. There is no “on-screen” sex, but the aftermath of rape is on-screen, including the presence of nude, partially nude, and/or drugged girls as they are rescued by the hero. There is also violence, including bloody killings, as well as rough language.
As the hero embarks on a new quest, a big obstacle smacks him squarely in the face. His identity is exposed, not only to the parents of his next prospective rescue but also to the antagonist.
It is crucial to increase obstacles and make the protagonist vulnerable. Readers need to believe that he could fail, and the struggle to overcome obstacles creates emotional connections with readers. They want to know how he will overcome the roadblocks.
Also, I added a new factor, a shade of darkness to one of the parents and more insight into the character of the new trafficking victim. The first victim, Amy, had no background provided, and her mother and father were model parents. My hope was to provoke in readers perfect sympathy for the first victim. Then, as the story progressed, I hoped to portray a slow shading across the victims and their families. In this case, Emma is a good kid, but future victims will look darker.
A slow regress allows readers to become accustomed to the idea that many of these girls are not angels. Some have acted quite foolishly. Yet, we need to view them as victims anyway. These girls don’t deserve what they’re suffering. True love offers a helping hand to all who are in chains, no matter how they got there.
Therefore, I hooked readers with a model child, gaining their sympathies, and I hoped to retain those sympathies even as the model deteriorates.
I plan for this post to be the last one from this novel. Next week, I hope to begin story development excerpts from book #2 in the Reapers Trilogy.
“Oh, my God, Rick!” a woman called, shrill and urgent. “Turn off the flashlight!”
The beam darkened. As shaking hands pushed the mask back over my head, the woman continued. “We thought you’d knock first. We’ve been kind of jumpy ever since … you know.”
“Understandable.” I straightened the mask to align the holes. “Someone’s watching in the tree out front, so I came in the back way. I hoped to get in and out without disturbing you.”
Barely visible in the dimness, Mr. Castillo, gun in hand, hustled to a window at the front of the house and peeked outside. His shirtless form carved a bulging silhouette at his waistline. “There he is. Still in the tree. I can’t make out his face.”
While he continued staring out the window, I turned to Mrs. Castillo. “Have you contacted any media? Talked to anyone about requesting my services?”
She combed back tangled dark hair with her fingers. Now that my eyes were adjusting, I was able to see her face, a near copy of Emma’s, just as attractive though more care worn. “We didn’t tell anyone.” She retied the sash in front of a pink terrycloth bathrobe. “Mr. Mahoney warned us not to. Emma’s life depends on it.”
Mr. Castillo spoke from the window, still peering out. “Emma should never have gone to that party. I was against it from the start.” As he turned toward me, his tone sharpened. “Boys these days. They’re dogs sniffing for blood. And the girls? They’re always in heat. They’re all alike.” He returned his gaze to the window and lowered his voice. “Even Emma.”
Mrs. Castillo gasped. “Rick! How dare you say that about—” She bit her lip and looked at me. “I’m sorry. It’s just that my husband and I don’t agree on—”
“He’s coming down.” Mr. Castillo hissed. “And he’s got a gun.”
Still holding the bag and socks, I whipped out the Beretta and joined him at the window. The stalker, now at ground level, skulked toward the door, his gun gripped in front with both hands.
“I can handle him.” Mr. Castillo waved toward the back. “You get out of here.”
“Right. He won’t know you’re watching. You can get the jump on him.” I put the gun away and strode toward the rear-entry corridor, but Mrs. Castillo grabbed my wrist, stopping me.
“Godspeed finding my Emma.” She kissed my hand. “Your face is gentle and kind. It’s too bad you have to hide it.”
“Thanks.” I pulled away and rushed outside. As soon as I neared the front yard, a gunshot rang out. A man fled across the street, limping in the glow of streetlights. Seconds later, he vanished in the shadows.
New lights flicked on at nearby houses. I glanced at the front door. A dark silhouette stood at the opening, the size and shape of Mr. Castillo. When the form waved a hand, I waved in return, then hustled toward my van, the purple bag in tow. In moments, police would arrive, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near this neighborhood while they conducted a manhunt for the stalker. I could try to detect Emma’s scent in a safer place.
I drove out of the neighborhood, parked at a convenience store with my window down, and peeled off my ski mask. This time I stopped next to a parking lot light pole. Nothing says “I’m not a suspicious character” like hiding in plain sight.
Soon, a siren closed in, then a police cruiser zipped by, then another. Moments after a third one passed, the sounds settled.
My pounding heart slowed. What did it all mean? How could The Candyman have tracked me down in just a few hours? Come morning I’d have to check in with Mahoney to see if he could figure it out.
I picked up Emma’s socks, pressed both against my nose, and inhaled. The odor was strangely subdued—dirt blended with a subtle perfume. Skin lotion? Maybe. Whatever it was, it masked Emma’s essence, assuming it was even there. This wouldn’t work.
I opened the bag. Three items lay inside—a locket, a framed photo, and a diary with a purple cover.
As I withdrew the diary, my hand trembled. Why? Maybe the color. I wasn’t sure. A tiny gold key protruded from a lock on the front. I turned it and opened the cover. Pretty handwriting on the first page spelled out, “Emma Castillo – Stuff I Think About.”
I pressed the page to my nose and inhaled. Nothing more than a hint of dust. I looked toward the neighborhood. I couldn’t go back and ask for a different scent source, not with police prowling everywhere.
Looking again at the diary, I began reading Emma’s neat script on the introductory page.
Name: Emma Castillo
Profession: Just a kid who wants to be an actress and a singer.
On the following page, her first entry began.
I’m fourteen today, and I got this diary for my birthday. It’s pretty cool. I’ve been asking for one, and I should’ve guessed Mom would get a purple one. She knows I like anything purple. More tomorrow!
I flipped to the last page. If there were any clues to her disappearance, they would be recent, though the police had surely already gone through it and photocopied every page.
The top line started with the end of a sentence, so I turned to the beginning of the entry three pages back and read again.
So I posted a stupid duck face picture of myself, and Daniel said I was hot. I know he was just trying to kiss up, but then he messaged me a party invitation. I told him no way my dad would let me go. He doesn’t trust me to do anything. Daniel said I should lie. Tell him I had to study with a friend. But then I’d have to lie to my mom, and I hate doing that. I want to go to the party, and I’m glad he invited me, but he’s like 18. Gigi says he just wants to have sex with any girl who’ll give it, even one as young as me. She’s probably right. Maybe she knows from personal experience. I’ll just tell them the truth and see if they’ll let me go. Mom will trust me, so maybe she’ll convince Dad. The party’s not far away, so who knows?
I closed the diary and clutched it tightly. How could the police dismiss Daniel as a suspect? Could they be secretly tracking him now that he feels off the hook? Maybe.
I reopened the diary to the final page and scanned the entry again. Emma’s writing was quite mature for her age—no spelling errors, no chat speak, good communication skills. She definitely got her message across, especially her respect for her parents. Well … at least for her mother. She and her father obviously had a falling out somewhere along the line. Emma’s words didn’t reveal any sexual activity of her own, but she was clearly not naïve. Whatever her father’s suspicions were, no clues about them appeared in Emma’s entry.
Lifting the diary to my nose again, I took a deep draw of the final page. This time the aroma of ink entered, and a new sensation joined it—freshness, vibrancy, and … a hint of shame? Maybe regret?
The sensation never failed to amaze me. A scent could stay consistent enough to be tracked yet change based on the mood of the one who left it. The subtleties had taken some time to learn, but now they were easy to detect, like downturned lips reflecting a shift in a person’s mood. The face itself wouldn’t change. Anyone could identify a friend no matter how emotions altered the friend’s features, and anyone could also detect a friend’s mood shift. So it was with me and scents.
I let Emma’s scent and moods flow across the frayed nerve endings within my wounded heart. The sensation seemed to heal and wash afresh, a cleansing more luxurious than any truck-stop shower could offer.
As I exhaled, I smiled, maybe the first real smile in years. In the midst of a diary’s aromas, I had found the scent of Emma’s soul, so beautiful, so filled with life.
And the strangest part of all? She smelled like Emily.
Categories: Story Development