Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sneak peek: an excerpt from "The Breeze Against His Skin"

"What do you know about organic chemistry?"

Thirteen-year-old Mark Stanislavsky looked up at his mentor, Doug, with confusion. The answer was obvious: nothing, he had never heard of it. But Doug would expect some sort of rational guess. "Well...chemistry is about how different chemicals combine and change and heat up and become gasses or solids. So I guess organic chemistry would be...chemicals that aren't synthetic? Like, not plastic or manmade stuff?"

"Almost" conceded Doug, adjusting the green headband he always work on his shaved-bald dome. "Most of the time it means chemistry that has to do with life: animals, plants, food, medicine."

"Medicine?" That interested him. His mother was constantly sick. Late nights at the factories on the edge of town had caused her to develop a persistent, ragged cough. Her hacking always woke Mark up when she slipped in the door to their small apartment each weekday at midnight, prompting him to slip out of bed to give her a gentle, groggy goodnight hug before slipping back down into slumber.

"Right. When people develop medicines, they use organic chemistry to figure out how each drug will interact with the human body. And we can use the same kind of science to figure out what a particular chemical is composed of, by seeing how it interacts with a person. Mark, I need you to do something important for me."

His abrupt change in tone brought the youngster to full attention. Doug was only a few years older then him, but always spoke in a gentle, slightly condescending voice. Mark didn't mind: to him, Doug was the only real male influence in his life, and a guiding beacon of sanity in a world otherwise full of violence and stupidity. But now, all the condescension and wisdom had fled: Doug spoke to him as an equal who truly needed his help.

"The people I hang out with, you've seen them before..." Mark had. Every afternoon, as they studied in the library together, a friend or two of Doug's would come by to whisper something in his ear. They all wore the same green headband and razor-close haircut, and would smile and wave at Mark, but they never spoke to him directly. "My friends and I help deliver a kind of medicine to people we care about. But sometimes the medicine gets tainted – polluted – because it isn't made properly."

Mark nodded, wide-eyed with interest.

"We need someone to help us make sure it is pure, so the people who we give it to don't get sicker. You can help us, if you want to."

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