John Clark on what happened to one of my story starts from my January blog post. If you remember that far back, I posted ten possible story beginnings. They were intended to become short stories, but a funny thing happened.
This one became a book about a teen who found himself in an alternate universe: 6-What kind of person kicks their kid out during the worst blizzard in a decade? I wondered, but already knew the answer as I staggered along the edge of Route 27, leaning into a twenty-plus mile an hour wind spitting flesh-biting ice particles. My parents were religious zealots and I’d made the mistake of yawning during grace at the dinner table. It wasn’t my first sin, but in their eyes it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So here I was staggering along getting closer to frostbite with each step.
Little did I know that another would become, as Yogi Berra said, “Deja Vu, all over again.” This time it was number 8: The Emma Clarice was considered a myth by most people living near the Narraguagus River. If it was real, folks said, the wreck would have been located by now, especially since treasure hunters had high tech metal detectors and drones. I might only be sixteen, but I knew something about the river nobody else did.
I decided to challenge myself to complete Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), where one tries writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I did it successfully thirteen years ago with an effort called Afternoon Break, a techno thriller about two academic librarians who find themselves in a completely scary and different world while on their walk.
This time, the imps in my head took over almost immediately, directing the narrative and flow in a completely unexpected direction. The main character turned out to be a twelve year old girl (who may or may not be human) named Thiery. The river doesn’t appear until well into the story, because it begins in a flimsy tent in the forest outside Gettysburg, PA.
Thiery has only two memories and every time she tries to remember more, it’s as if her head is full of static, or tangled lengths of fuzzy string. Here’s how it begins.
Mum and I were dancing under a half moon on a South Carolina beach. We’d waited until the last few stragglers had gone to their cars and driven away before creeping from the undergrowth where we hid out most of the time. I loved twirling and swooping to music only we could hear. Needing to stay unobserved for long stretches would be frustrating for anyone, but was torture for me at my age.
We had no permanent home and precious few belongings, but most of the time neither fact bothered me. Mum never hesitated to remind me I was special and she loved me more than anything else in the universe. We were skip-dancing through the warm surf when I saw eyes glaring from where we had left the safety of the trees. I turned to warn Mum when everything began dissolving.
I awoke, knowing something was wrong, but didn’t know exactly what until I turned over to discover Mum was cold and lifeless. Feeling numb, I got up, peed in the woods like I did every morning, then climbed the tallest tree I could find. When I reached the topmost branch, I closed my eyes and ‘searched’, instinctively knowing this was necessary if I was to be safe. Safe from what, I couldn’t say. In hindsight, a skinny and undernourished twelve year old standing on a trembling branch seventy feet off the ground should have been a recipe for disaster. Instead, I ‘saw’ everything spread out below me like an illustrated map. After tracing some of the glowing lines going away from the tree, I realized there were dots of various colors moving in the distance. They must be people, I thought. The more I studied them, the stronger a sense I had that warmer colors were attached to nicer, more compassionate beings. The warmest colors weren’t people, but a group of dogs playing together, surrounded by slightly cooler hues that must be their owners.
I shimmied back to the forest floor and started running toward their location, breaking into an open field. Just when I thought I’d collapse, the first pup noticed me, gave a joyful bark, and led the rest in my direction. I lay on my back and allowed the pack to lick me silly while I cried for the first time in ages.
Most people would be disgusted when attacked by a pack of slobbering canines, but I was still in shock after awakening beside the corpse of the only family I knew, so their enthusiastic greeting was more than welcome. I closed my eyes and attempted to catch my breath while scratching one especially soft pup behind the ears.
The murmur of concerned voices increased as their owners ran to see what the dogs were attacking, Various ones separated themselves the nearer the crowd got, and I heard snatches from pet owners who were unsure whether to be more concerned about liability, or my welfare.
“What is it?”, “It’s a kid, I think.” “Should we call for an ambulance?” “I’ll call the park ranger.” The flurry of words swirled over me like a giant swarm of bees while I continued to tickle whichever pup had curled up by my side behind its big fluffy ears.
My heartbeat slowed and I realized I was getting some sort of intangible support from the dogs. It was as if they recognized my traumatic state and had extra emotional nourishment to share.
None of the adults attempted to come close or talk to me, and I was fine with that. Granted my instinct, when I spotted them from the top of the tree, was to seek help, now that I’d done so, I had no idea what to do, or say. In hindsight, I guess at that moment you could have called me feral.
I’m at 58,000 words right now, and really enjoying the flow and how complex the story has become. Stay tuned for more.