I know, I know…I’ve been MIA for months. Released a new book in April and then poof, disappeared. I’m magical and mystical that way.
Actually, I’ve been attempting to fashion my next novel. It’s a young adult paranormal-ish fantasy, about a girl who learns that her dreams aren’t actually dreams at all. (Think parallel realities and whatnot.) And it’s taking me a ridiculously, insanely, over-the-top-maddeningly long time to plan and execute. But I’m hoping it will be worth the wait.
Today, I decided to dedicate a little time to cleaning up my author blog and website. As a result, I’m excited to say I have a shiny new blog design, which finally links with my website news page — No more posting the same stuff in two separate places! Yay, me! (Not going to mention that I intended to do this eons ago…)
So, in celebration of my blog re-design, I am going to post the first chapter of my work-in-progress (henceforth referred to as the WIP). It has no title yet — another source of the hair-ripping-outing that is taking place in my authory world — but I promise there will be a title by the time I publish. When will that be, you ask? Please consult the above sentence containing the words “a ridiculously, insanely, over-the-top-maddeningly long time”. I promise I’m working on it and will shout it from the rooftops when the time is nigh. That being said, in case you live out of earshot — I’ll also be sending out a newsletter and posting to this blog. I’d love for you to be included on the list! Follow my newsletter by signing up here, or follow this blog by scrolling to the bottom of this page. Or do both, and be my hero. I promise I’m not spammy.
So, back to the point…Here’s the first chapter of the yet-to-be-named WIP (unedited, possibly incomplete, and not immune to being tinkered with and trashed if the mood strikes me). I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to share with your bookish friends. Thanks for reading!
A pair of them—slit pupils set in glassy yellow—two glowing windows to an inhuman soul. The kind of eyes that lurk in the shadows, floating disembodied on a black canvas of night. Watching. Waiting for something. Maybe for me to make the first move? Creepy as hell any way you slice it, studying me through the cracks between the pine branches. Sizing me up. A low growl rumbles through the crisp night air, culminating in a warning hiss.
Mountain lion, I decide. Or maybe bobcat?
Another hiss-growl, this time louder. Guttural. The hair on my forearms prickles.
Definitely mountain lion.
My fingers tense around the knife in my right hand, the leather-wrapped handle familiarly molded to my grip. The leather prevents slippage when my palms turn inconveniently sweaty, which they happen to be doing in this moment, despite the chill in the air. Can’t imagine why. It’s only a hundred-and-fifty-pound cat, and I’m…Well, a girl. Petite for my eighteen years, and thus more girl than woman in most eyes. Words like “feisty” and “tomboyish” often hover around me, usually when someone makes the mistake of remarking on my petite-ness. I’ve been called a spitfire, a tiny terror, a shrew in sheep’s clothing; but in this moment—against this particular opponent—I’m nonetheless a puny human, coming up shy of a hundred and fifty pounds. And I’m trying not to think about the claw disparity right now.
Truth be told, I’m not quite sure how I landed in this predicament in the first place. My last thoughts entailed fluffing a down pillow, setting the alarm clock, pulling a quilt snug under my chin, and hoping tomorrow’s breakfast involves blueberry pancakes.
My stomach rumbles.
Man, I love blueberry pancakes.
Slowly, carefully, I sneak my arm to stretch out before me, angled across my body in a defensive pose, as I crouch low into the brush and make out the feline shape in the shadows. Kitty-kitty is meeting me at eye level, letting loose another shrill hiss with a slow step back into the forest’s edge. I’d almost say he’s cowering away from me. The polished blade of my knife catches the moonlight, steady in my hand. Maybe this isn’t a defensive posture…Maybe it’s an offensive maneuver? Maybe I’m the predator?
Funny, you’d think I would know the answer to that question.
I’m not left guessing long, the answer coming when my adversary lunges forward—a blur of fangs and fur—razor claws finding my left shoulder an instant before the back of my head thuds against the pine-needle floor.
I’m definitely the low-ranking member of the food chain.
A merciless crush of paws pins me on my back. My heart fights to break free of its cage of ribs—anticipating the inevitable snap of bones that will squash it like a tomato—and I think my lungs have abandoned their post entirely.
Instinct draws my searing left arm to block my throat, just in time to catch a mouthful of teeth clamping down on the flesh of my forearm, making a mockery of the leather gauntlet circling my wrist. The claws are brutal; but I’ll confess the teeth are infinitely more excruciating.
“Aaaaaarrrgh!” I snarl, equal parts agony and fury. I blink away the warm drip of my own blood, blindly swinging the knife still blessedly clenched in my right hand. My blade meets fur and flesh with a satisfying slice, nowhere near deep enough to incapacitate this behemoth, but enough of a sting to give him pause. I waste no time rolling to my feet, brandishing my blade along with a steady stream of profanity. “Didn’t think I’d put up a fight, huh?” I clumsily shake out the arm that looks like a blind butcher’s handiwork. “Nobody gets a free meal around here, you furry bastard.”
My bloodthirsty foe hisses a particularly snide reply, as he rears up on hind legs and lunges again for my face. My deadweight left arm can’t shield my jugular this time, so I dip low instead, sinking to my knees with a ruthless thrust of my knife into his hungry belly. He lets out a yelp—dodging the strike before I can bury my blade in his gut—and rolls to the side to escape my second thrust. I’d feel a little smug having gained the upper hand, if not for the sting of claw marks searing down my back—his parting gift before skulking back into the trees, seeking supper elsewhere for tonight.
I squelch my panting breath to cling to the sound of his footfall, the near-imperceptible snap of twigs and rustle of pine needles retreating deeper into the forest. Just when I’m contemplating breathing again, a sudden booming bark rips through the silence, wrenching a startled shriek from my lungs. I turn to make out a lazy rumble of paws loping up the hillside behind me, and sink to my knees like a soldier whose reinforcements are arriving just in time to clear the battlefield of its last corpse. Another thundering bark sounds, this time right in my ear, as a hulking mass of fur nudges against my side.
“Good grief, Dodge.” I brace my knuckles against the ground—knife still tensed in my grip—with a sigh of relief dropping my shoulders. “It’s about time you joined the party. Come a little closer, maybe I can bleed all over you…At least make it look like you were the hero coming to my rescue.”
Dodge’s reply comes as a yip of a bark, with a sloppy lick of his chops and a chipper pant. Translation: “No worries, Perry, old boss, old pal. I’m here now. S’all good.” He takes a moment to sniff out the situation, then nudges my mangled arm with his nose, licking my wounds with a sympathetic whimper. “Geez, Perry,” I imagine the words to match his bemused expression. “You look like Hell.”
With a smirking shake of my head, I slip my blade back into the leather belt slung low across my hips. “I’ve seen worse,” I wince, cradling my ham-hock arm against my body. “At least it’s still attached. Come ‘ere, Boy.” I scratch fingers into the tangle of fur behind his ear, a howl of delight resonating in his hulking chest. As he snuggles a little too close, knocking me over onto my backside, I recline back against the hillside and let out a morbid chuckle when pained tears sting my eyes. “I’d almost forgotten about that brute sharpening his claws on my backbone,” I wince, shifting when the scrubby grass pokes through the shredded remains of my hemp tunic. “If I don’t bleed dry or die from infection, at least the scars’ll make for a good conversation starter.” I shuffle to cushion my head against Dodge’s matted coat, rolling to the only remotely comfortable position I can find. “Yeah, yeah,” I mumble, “I know what you’re thinking…Who strikes up a conversation with their bare back showing? Don’t ask logical questions at a time like this, Dodge…Just let a girl bleed to death in peace.”
Dodge lets out a protesting bark, and the racket isn’t quite enough incentive to stir my lazy head from its furry pillow. He prods me with another nudge of his nose, burrowing under my torso and strong-arming me back to sitting, my body propped limply against his side. I swing a reluctant arm around his neck, hoisting myself onto swaying legs and clomping lethargically down the hill like an intoxicated troll, using Dodge’s head for a cane.
We lumber through the interminable hike over a second hill—one that’s deceptively small when I’m well, now swollen to an impossible height—guided by the faint glow of a half-moon, and feet that know this path night or day. The village comes into focus in the valley below—where plumes of smoke snake from chimneys and the orange glow of fire flickers in frosty windows—all nestled cozy under an infinite blanket of stars. I release a sigh, tendrils of mist streaming from my mouth, a warm rush of relief seeping through my veins and dulling the throb of pain. I gather my last ounce of strength, trudging the remaining steps to a thatched-roof cottage, no less ramshackle than the neighbors’. I’ve made it in one piece, minus a pint of blood or two.
I’d recognize it bound and blindfolded: the crunch of winter grass and crushed granite under my boots; the knotted front door, its once ornately-carved knob worn to a misshapen lump of brass; candlelight dancing in the upstairs window, where my father hunches nightly over a dusty desk with a quill pen and ink-stained fingers, balancing the day’s ledger; the creaking hum of a chorus of crickets performing to the surrounding amphitheater of hills; and the tang of smoke from birch firewood—split by an ax known to generations of calloused hands—my own rough palms bearing the telltale marks of a daughter who earns her comforts of hearth-warmed bones and a hot meal.
This is my home—always has been—but…
Then why does a lifetime of memories tell me otherwise?
+ + +
My sister Soph giggles from the bathroom connecting her bedroom to mine. “How many times are you going to hit the snooze button?”
“As many times as it takes,” I grumble into the pillow, squinting to read the 6:22 on the alarm clock. Mornings never find me in the best of moods; but with crazy-vivid dreams wrecking my sleep for weeks, any and all polite words fail me.
“Mom said we’re leaving at six forty-five sharp…no matter the state of our hair and makeup,” Soph reminds me a little too chipperly, leaning closer into the vanity mirror to smooth a blonde strand into place.
A sarcastic snort escapes me. “So…Get to your point. I have approximately twenty minutes left to snooze.”
Every now and then I regret my snarky tone with my little sister. She can’t help it that she’s too flippin’ perky, darling of Westlake High—cool enough to know better than to join the cheerleading squad, but nonetheless a walking almanac of all things trendy (from the brand of lip gloss with the best color-to-sheen quotient, to the exact height of heels that rides the fine line between chic and slutty)—which means we live in separate universes and speak different languages, loving each other purely on the basis of shared DNA. She’s a freshman—soon to advance to the hallowed rank of sophomore—and knows far more of my senior classmates than I ever will. That’s not a complaint, merely a statement of fact.
A cheery little knock raps at my door. Everyone in this family is sickeningly happy-joy-joy at the crack of dawn. Another little rap follows, as my mother’s voice sing-songs from the hall, “Rise and shine, Peregrine.”
Yep, my name is Peregrine.
What joy is mine.
It’s Perry, for anyone who isn’t my mother, and wants to keep all of their appendages.
“I’m working on it,” I groan into the pillow.
“Clearly,” Soph giggles, searing another strand of blonde straight.
“If we don’t get there by eight-thirty,” Mom peeks her head through the cracked door, “all the campus parking lots will be full.” It’s Family Weekend at Oregon State—where my brother Ezra is a junior—and the Teasdale family will be there with bells on. Mom comes to sit on the edge of my bed, gently sweeping the tangle of black strands from my eyes. “I thought you’d be excited to see your brother.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I croak, flopping onto my back and scrubbing my bleary eyes.
“Play it cool all you like,” Mom smirks, “I know how much you miss Ezra.”
I shrug, giving in to a guilty smile. “So much it hurts.”
“Then get dressed. We’re leaving in half an hour.”
“Half an hour?” I protest. “You could’ve let me sleep at least fifteen more minutes.”
“I thought maybe you could use the time to do something special with your hair.” She runs fingers longingly through my thick waves. I know exactly what’s coming out of her mouth next, having heard the gist of it at least a million times. “Other girls would kill to have this hair.”
“And you wonder why I don’t associate with other girls?” My forehead puckers. “You make it sound like a cut-throat sport.”
“Well, it kind of is,” Mom shrugs with a playful wink, “but I think you can take ‘em.” She throws a pointed glance to the row of Judo trophies on the high shelf above my window.
“So you have a point,” I concede. “All the more reason I should just keep my distance.” I swing my feet to the floor, working my way to the bathroom, as I pull my hair into a ponytail. “Just for you, Mom,” I call over my shoulder, “I’ll braid this bad boy.”
An hour and forty-five minutes of car time and a painfully monotonous Grateful Dead marathon later (Thank you, Satellite Radio), our family of four stands outside a red brick dorm building, waiting for the long-lost, university-educated, eldest son and fifth member of our proud clan to emerge.
“Ezra!” Soph blasts past me with arms flung wide, leaping into our brother’s lean arms with a tinkle of giggles. Her feet flutter well above the sidewalk as he spins her in a hugging circle. Ezra’s deep boom of laughter echoes off the dorm’s brick wall, sending an eager flutter through my stomach.
Man, I miss that laugh.
Even so, I hang back a few feet, as Dad gives Ezra a proud back-slapping man-hug, and Mom gushes over how much taller he seems. After graciously enduring a solid two minutes of outpoured admiration, Ezra politely ushers everyone aside to clear a path for me. Unlike the ginger way he hugged the ladylike Teasdale contingent, he crouches and charges me like a bull, tackling me back against the grass. Before he has a chance to pin me, I roll to the side and kip up onto my feet, sweeping his legs out from under his body with a swift kick. He catches himself short of falling flat, acrobatically balanced with one palm braced in the grass, and uses the other hand to seize my ankle and yank. On my way down, I make sure to take him with me; and we both end up rolling with laughter on the lawn, as curious onlookers stroll along the sidewalk, and Soph buries a mortified face in her hands.
“You seem scrawnier than a month ago.” Ezra musses my hair, already stubbornly abandoning its braid. “How is that even possible?”
“You still let a scrawny girl kick your ass.” I shove his head to the side, pushing up to sit on the grass. “How is that possible?”
Deep dimples crease his cheeks. “Hey, it takes a real man to set his ego aside, and let a pipsqueak girl win.”
“There’s nothing manly about squealing for mercy like a little girl.”
He chuckles, sitting up beside me. “I never squealed for mercy.”
“Oh…You’re right. I suppose we’ll have to fix that.” I seize his right wrist, twisting his arm behind his back and pinning him face-down against the grass. “Hmm…No squealing yet?” I dig a knee into his back. “Guess I’ll need to twist a little. Bit. Harder.”
Ezra is laughing too hard to fight back, finally conceding with a grinning yelp of pain, as Dad pats a firm hand on my shoulder.
“Okay, you two,” Dad warns. “You’re killing the grass.” Leave it to the horticulturist in the family to be worried more about the grass than the fact that his kids are ripping each other’s arms off.
Ezra bounds to his feet, still riddled with dimpled laughter, and pulls me up so hard I fly a foot into the air before landing in his bear hug. “I’ve missed you, Perry,” he chuckles in my ear, just loud enough for me alone to hear.
“Yeah, yeah,” I smirk. “Can’t say I blame you.”
Stay tuned for more later! Thanks for reading! 🙂