#37 Crapometer

Genre: paranormal suspense
Title: Nick of Time

Physician researcher, Rachel Mayton, works for The Coleman Neuroscience Center, a privately-owned facility providing state-of-the-art care to comatose, brain-injured people. Rachel is about to make medical history with a new drug she has developed, one with the potential to restore mental and physical function to these patients. Though the drug may bring fame and fortune, Rachel’s primary interest is in whether it will help her nine-year-old daughter, Megan, awaken from the coma she’s been in since a car accident five years ago.

Just as Rachel is about to start her clinical trial, she is shot during a robbery and “dies.” Before medical personnel resuscitate her, Rachel has a near-death experience in which she sees and talks to her dead husband, Doug, who delivers a cryptic warning Rachel doesn’t understand. In the weeks that follow, Doug continues to “haunt” Rachel, first in dreams, then when she is awake.

Once the clinical trial starts, Rachel witnesses several short “awakenings” in one of the patients, a brain-injured construction worker named Tim Nerad. No one else witnesses these episodes and Rachel’s boss, Hal, becomes concerned about Rachel’s mental health, particularly after she tells him about her ghostly experiences. Then the supposedly comatose Tim disappears from the hospital and turns up at Rachel’s house claiming to be a time-traveling soul from the future who is “borrowing” Tim Nerad’s body.

Rachel is skeptical despite Tim’s proffered proof, but before she can sort it all out, a dead cop comes to life and tries to kill her. Rachel narrowly escapes and, when the authorities peg her as the cop’s killer, goes into hiding along with Tim and her closest friend, Ashleigh.

While in hiding Tim and Rachel fall in love, though their happiness is overshadowed by Tim’s grim description of the future. He explains how most of the world’s population has been turned into “zombies” because a madman named Ahmad has poisoned water supplies with a future aberration of Rachel’s drug. The poison forces souls from their bodies and keeps them from returning, leaving its victims alive on a very base, primitive level. Though unattached souls are normally reassigned to newborns, they can’t occupy the bodies of babies born to the poisoned, soulless humans. As a result, billions of souls have become trapped indefinitely in a holding dimension, leaving humankind on the brink of extinction. It’s Ahmad’s hope that only his protected minions, whom he plans to use to create a super race, will survive.

Tim explains that a group of resistance fighters from his time possess an antidote to the poison – an antidote Rachel will create at some future date. Armed with this antidote, the resistance group is making some headway and because of that, Ahmad wants Rachel dead now: after she creates the drug that spawns the poison but before she can develop the antidote.

Toward that end, he is sending souls from his army back in time using a temporary space-time anomaly. These souls can occupy and use dead bodies – such as the mortally wounded policeman – and Ahmad hopes one of them can kill Rachel. There are limitations though: the bodies must be relatively “fresh,” as cell deterioration and rigor mortis quickly make them unusable.

What Ahmad and his men don’t know but eventually discover, is that a soul from the future can also occupy a live body (as the soul inside Tim has done), but only if the original soul has vacated the body and the body has been treated with Rachel’s drug, which creates an anti-rejection effect for “foreign” souls.

Rachel figures out that Doug, who was a dedicated Scrabble player in life, anagrammed his communications with her so the enemy “souls” wouldn’t understand them. She manages to unravel part of his cryptic message just before she learns that Megan has awakened from her coma. She heads back to the hospital, an action that will cost Ashleigh her life and allow one of Ahmad’s soul soldiers to temporarily occupy Ashleigh’s body.

Hoping to sneak Megan out of the hospital, Rachel solicits help from Hal and then spurns his romantic advances. Angry and bitter, Hal disappears, taking Rachel’s drug formula and the remaining doses with him. His body turns up later but the drug and formula are never found, setting the stage for the future apocalypse.

Megan tries to kill Rachel as they are leaving the hospital, forcing Rachel to accept that Megan’s soul is long gone and someone else is using her body. Without additional doses of the drug, the souls within the bodies of Megan and Tim are forced out and they both die. While mourning the loss of her friend, her daughter, and the man she grew to love, Rachel discovers she’s pregnant with another daughter. Eventually Rachel unravels the rest of Doug’s message and learns her second daughter, Leigh (named in honor of Ashleigh), is destined to become the future leader for the resistance.

Leigh’s story, which happens thirty-six years later, is told along with Rachel’s, tying together events in these two alternate times. Leigh, who has spent most of her life preparing for her role as leader of the resistance fighters, is grieving the loss of her lover, who has died in the effort. Guided by information Rachel passed on both verbally and in a set of secret diaries (some of which are stolen and given to Ahmad), Leigh knows it’s her destiny to send the soul of a man named Gavin back in time to occupy Tim Nerad’s body.

Success will not only insure Rachel’s survival in the past and Leigh’s own existence in the present, it will create hope for the future of Leigh’s unborn child. The resistance experiences a serious setback when a member of the group turns traitor. They eventually rally and gain a slight advantage, but Gavin’s soulless body is killed in the process. His overall mission succeeds, however, and though the future is still a big unknown, there is new hope for mankind’s survival.

And “I’ll be back” is the tagline, right? Because you’ve focused solely on events, and not given us any hint of character or voice, there’s nothing to banish the image of Arnold while I read this.

Particularly if you have a plot that draws on the classics, you MUST distinguish your work by voice. A synopsis can be a powerful tool; this one is merely a recitation of events.

It would help too if there is a twist or turn in the plot that I wasn’t expecting.


Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

I've noticed many of the synopses have information-packed first sentences. Is that a good approach, or do you suggest a shorter, quick punch to lead off?

BTW--you are doing a tremendous service to writers here. I'm sure the rosy Karma will come back to you someday.

Anonymous said...

I've seen them remake Shakespeare and Austen, but this is a little early to remake Cameron, don't you think? Are they even DONE with the original Terminator franchise yet?

This one gets my vote for biggest cojones.

Shadow said...

The first paragraph sounds like Robin Cook meets Robin Williams. (Coma the book/Awakenings the movie)

Beth said...

Many thanks, Miss Snark. I appreciate the feedback.

Rei said...

I was going right along with this one up until the "madman named Ahmad" part. First off, of all the world's cultures to choose names from, naturally you picked a stereotypical middle eastern name to be a "madman", playing right into Arab Baiting Fever. I'd forgive that if only the "madman" actually seemed mad.

What is it with this cliche of villains as "madmen" who competently carry out complex plans? Saying that they're "mad" is just a cheap excuse for not having to come up with a motivation for them, however twisted.

For example, you could say that he's schizophrenic. But then you better darn well figure out how he hasn't estranged everyone in his life enough that he wasn't able to reach the point that he did, and why his delusions haven't led to his downfall already.

It could be religious. He could be the leader of a doomsday cult. But then he better act it, consistant with the dogma, and the cult better resemble real-world doomsday cults in its actions.

I could list several other possibilities, but I'll stop here. It's your job as the author to try and make it sound realistic,.

"Madman villains" are cliche. Furthermore, not only do they make no sense, but they make the resolution less satisfying. Ok, so your main character outwitted a crazy person. Yeay. I'm sure I'd win in a battle of wits against a homeless guy wearing underwear on his head as well. What's special about your MC?