Book Excerpt: Flight of the Condor

Below is an excerpt from Flight of the Condor, a novel that takes place in a dystopian future where much of the population is crammed into small apartments in 100-story buildings, known as towers.

In this excerpt, which comes early in the book, Gabby introduces her boyfriend Jed to her family. Jed’s family is well below hers in terms of social standing and lives in a much smaller apartment.  You will note that due to the plague years (I wrote this while on quarantine due to COVID-19) no one shakes hands; they bow instead.

Likewise, the formality the characters display is intentional. It developed in their society to give inhabitants the illusion of personal space in a crowded state.

Please keep in mind that this is only a small part of a much larger work-in-progress and not a short story. The first draft of this novel is only about 70 percent complete. Consider this your sneak peek, and feel free to leave any feedback or comments below.

Flight of the Condor by Mitchell Cane
Flight of the Condor by Mitchell Cane

Gabby let go of his hand, straightened her shirt so the buttons aligned, and palmed the lock, opening the door. Her mother was waiting for them and arose gracefully, bowing slightly. “Daughter, welcome home. What good timing.”

Gabby bowed in return. “Thank you, mother. Please allow me to introduce my boyfriend, Jedediah Johnson.” Jed felt a grin cracking his face at the word “boyfriend,” so he held his bow a little longer than necessary while he regained control.

“Mr. Johnson, it is a pleasure to meet you at last. Gabriella has mentioned you several times. Please come in and be welcome in our home.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, stepping over the threshold and presenting her with a small, carefully wrapped box. “A small token of my appreciation of your invitation.” She accepted the present with a nod and a slight smile.

He saw two younger children peeking at him through a doorway. Their mother beckoned them into the room.

“These are the twins, Jessica and Joseph. Children, this is Mr. Johnson, who will be our guest tonight.

“Please call me Jed,” he told them.

There was a steamer near the door. Gabby opened it and used a pair of tongs to hand a hot towel to Jed. A common cleansing ritual developed during the plague years, Jed thoroughly wiped his hands, enjoying the smell of citrus while making sure to get the backs of them as well as in between his fingers. Then he looked for a place to put his shoes. Most families had a row of shoes just inside the door. Gabby opened a closet door, answering his unasked question, and joined him in slipping hers off.

“Mother, do I have time show Jed my studio before the lighting of the candles?”

“Yes dear, at least ten minutes. I’ll send one of the kids to fetch you when your father is ready.”

But Jed was already staring at a canvas on the wall. “Isn’t that The Umbrellas by Renoir?” he asked. Then he realized that the girl in the foreground was a younger version of Gabriella. “Oh! A self-portrait,” he breathed. He approached closer and peered at it before turning towards Gabby in amazement. “You even duplicated his brush strokes. You never said you were an impressionist.”

“That was a study I did two years ago,” she said dismissively. “The assignment was to duplicate a famous painting and put yourself in it. I don’t know why my mother insists on hanging it out here; I’ve so outgrown that style.”

“I insist upon keeping it for exactly this reason,” her mother said proudly. “Because it is instantly recognizable and displays your talents.” She turned to Jed. “Do you like Renoir?”

“Oh yes, but I prefer Cezanne, especially his earlier works. I think Degas’ Dance Class is almost without peer among the impressionist works I’m familiar with.”

The Umbrellas
The Umbrellas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir – National Gallery, London, Public Domain via

She gave them both a look. “My daughter failed to mention you were an art fan, Jedediah,” she said.

“I am as surprised as you are!” said Gabby, returning her mother’s look.

Jed was not exactly an art fan, but he had been reading and consuming a great deal of media about painting and art history since he had learned Gabby was an artist.

“I’m not much of an expert, ma’am, but talent cries out. In this case, so loud that it is hard to miss.”

“Wait until you see her latest works,” Gabby’s mother enthused. “Go on, dear, show him your studio. We’ll talk more over dinner,” she promised him.

Gabby led him down a hallway and opened a door, gesturing for him to precede her. He entered a studio twice the size of the bedroom he shared with his sister which certainly answered the question of what they did with all the space in their apartment. There was an array of paintings hanging on the walls, more canvasses were stacked to the side, and one was covered on an easel.

“I don’t know if you are trying to impress me, or my mother,” she said after the door closed, “but either way, it is working.”

He shushed her. “Hang on,” he said. “This is a lot to process all at once.” Surprised, she waited while he gave his full attention to each piece, slowly walking around the room, his eyes taking in each one. Finally he turned to her.

“These are your older works, yes?” he pointed to the wall on his right. She nodded. “And as you worked, you filled the room across this way,” he swung his arm from left to right. She nodded again. “This is really quite amazing,” he said. “With these canvases, I can see your ability develop over time, the influences of one artist or another as you try on styles and techniques until by the time we get here,” he gestured to the last wall, “you have a style all your own.” He turned to her. “You are a high potential aren’t you?”

She gasped. “How did you know?”

“There is no other explanation. Plus, like finds like,” he said.

“Are you?” she asked. “I mean, I had hoped, but I wasn’t quite sure. But I think you must be. No one has ever understood me and my art like that before.”

“I won’t know for sure until this year’s tests,” he reminded her. “But people hint about expectations.” He looked down at his feet, his voice dropping. “You should know that my strength is not art, nor even creativity.”

“No, it is intelligence and analysis, isn’t it?” He nodded. “I’m only a 13 in intelligence,” she said. “I hope that will be enough for you.”

“My sister and parents, everyone I love, are 13s in intelligence.” She gave a soft sound and melted into his arms, kissing him. He felt her tears running down his cheeks. Did I just tell her I loved her? He wondered. Maybe he had. Maybe he even meant it.