When Character Backstory Becomes a Story


I started free writing about the main character of the novel I’m working on a couple days ago and began to see a structure come through. I think I’ll finish it and perhaps use some of it later as flashbacks. Here’s an unedited chunk-o-text sample, just for fun:

He pushed the cheap rental car to its limit to get from the spaceport to the city despite warnings of looters, wild animals, and radiation. Refugees streamed away from the capitol city in the opposite lane as he sped north in the only car moving toward the destruction. Aircars flew to and fro overhead, but his car remained the only one on the highway headed toward the city. As he crested the last hill he saw why. The bridge was gone. He skidded to a halt before reaching the twisted metal that had once anchored the bridge to the south bank of the Okeanos River, threw open the door and ran toward the water. Ash fell from the sky like black snow.
I’ll swim across. I’ll find them. They could have been in the basement.
The Hashrati weapon, a directed asteroid propelled from the ring of debris that orbited the Elysion system and cloaked from the colony’s modest sensors, had punched a hole in the planet’s atmosphere and erased most of the capital city before an effective evacuation could get underway. The aliens must have jumped into the star system months or years ago, launched the attack, and slipped away undetected.
He made his way to the water’s edge with some difficulty. Thin ooze crept into his expensive shoes as his feet sank into the silt. The house-sized chunk of black asteroid and huge pieces of concrete from the fallen bridge had created a giant strainer that caught downed vegetation and the scorched detritus of a once thriving colonial city. A flash of color caught his eye as something broke loose from the jam and sploshed into the lower downstream water. He watched it float toward him until he saw the bloated face of what had once been a young woman in a red dress. The sweat soaking his business suit went icy. He fell to his knees in the mud and retched up the sandwich he’d been eating when he saw the news on the in-system shuttle. When he looked up, a pack of canoids appeared on the opposite bank. The creatures chuffed and raised their snouts at him. There were six or eight of them. With ultrasonic broadcast barrier gone, local predators could pick the bones of Nova Macedonia at will.
Ramy spit, took off his jacket and dropped it in the mud. Black smoke rolled over the river, stinking of burnt plastic and spoiled meat. It stung his eyes, and he coughed. He looked up toward the hills, split by the founding engineers for highway and bridge. Before Joya had come along, he and Jen went there to picnic and look down on their newly-purchased home. He stood and pulled his feet from the sucking mud, careful not to lose a shoe. The heat was already getting to him, and he had no water. The canoid numbers had grown, and the beasts began to howl in frustration at the live food they couldn’t reach. He headed for a sign beside the small roadside parking area that read “Scenic Overlook.” He should be able to see the house from the top of the cliff. Winded from the climb, he hopped the fence and stood at the edge overlooking exclusive waterfront property. Gravel broke loose under his feet and fell half a kilometer to the river below. He and Jen used to count one street over and two back from the bridge to identify their house in the mass of tiled rooftops. Now there were no streets. The earth had been pushed up around the impact crater. A few structures remained on the waterfront. The next street’s homes lay collapsed and half buried. Everything else was part the crater that had become Nova Macedonia’s dominant feature.
If I took another step, could I be with Jen and Joya tonight? He swayed in the stiff mountain breeze, inching one foot forward into open air, and let his vision lose focus in the black cloud. Somewhere in that swirling cloud rested a huge chunk of metal launched at his wife and child by an intelligence he couldn’t imagine. Ramy, like all of humanity, knew only what had been learned from one tiny scout captured at what was then the edge of human colonization, nearly three hundred years ago. He imagined a group of insect-like aliens gathered around a conference table, planning to kill his family. The thought kindled a rage that grew until it overshadowed his grief. He wiped at tears with the back of one hand and wondered about radiation.
Harsh canoid barking echoed off the rock face like a pack of laughing drunks. They weren’t particularly bright, but eventually they’d find a way across the rubble. He imagined them pulling his body from the rocks below and stepped back from the edge.
They’re gone. I may as well be dead. He backed up against the guard rail. They’re going to pay. They’re never going to stop paying for this.
He sat in the ashes and wept.

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