Hello dear, patient readers. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?
Where have I been, you ask? I’ll tell you!
Back in May 2015, I finally got the manuscript for She Will Become back from my editor. After some polishing and editing, I sent it off to a handful of beta readers who slogged their way through almost seven hundred pages of material to deliver some of the most valuable, insightful, educated feedback. The depths of my gratitude cannot be properly articulated.
As a result of this feedback, I sat back down with the manuscript and began to tear it apart, It was at this point that I realized there was quite a bit of work ahead of me in order to fix the issues brought to light. Fortunately, (or unfortunately depending on how you see it), I’d injured myself at work in June and ended up needing surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear. August came and I went out on leave from work to have the surgery. The following four months were full of healing, recovery, and physical therapy. They were also full of deep thinking, planning, and even deeper world-building. Scrivener helped tremendously with all of this.
Christmas rolled around and, having earned some Amazon credits through paid survey programs, I decided Scrivener wasn’t the sole solution and purchased a slew of resource books (K. M. Weiland’s books are stupendous and invaluable, as is Janice Hardy’s “Understanding Show, Don’t Tell: And Really Getting It!”). Finally, I had some technical answers and solutions to the problems my beta readers raised!
Excitement yet abounds!
As a result of educating myself on the finer, more technical points of writing a novel, I finally have a first chapter I’m ecstatically proud to share with the world. You can read the entirety below, or visit the Library as a permanent home/sample.
Thank you so much for your patience! Without further ado, Chapter One of She Will Become.
Only The Beginning
I never expected to arrive in an alien world. One moment I’d been sliding my hand into the silken red interior of a box containing a door to another realm, the next I was dropped from the clouds like an errant package without a rescuing parachute, Arctic- wind whipped past my face numbing it. Ice crusted in my eyelashes, clogging my sinuses. I let loose a terrified scream. There was nothing to arrest this dizzying uncontrollable plummet. The wind roared in my ears and tore at my clothes, numbed my fingers stealing every precious ounce of heat.
Water! Waves! Ocean!
I hit the water, a sound like thunder crashed between my ears. Frigid liquid stole my breath and ability to move. Years of childhood summers spent swimming in murky back-wood ponds and spring-fed lakes of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains had honed my aquatic skills, but nothing compared to the wild raging of these ocean waves. Weighted by the jeans, t-shirt and thick zip-up hoodie I’d worn to protect against the early fall chill back home on Earth, I sank toward the horrifying dark of the depths with terrifying speed. Oh, the irony of my choice in attire! Pumping and churning the water with my arms and legs got me no closer to the surface. Panic set in as my lungs ached for oxygen.
The cold settled into my bones faster than I’d ever imagined possible.
The aching, lethal temperature narrowed my consciousness to pinpricks of light. Two tiny bubbles ascended away from me before my eyelids closed for the last time. Finally, solace, the end of twenty-odd years of misery. My body twitched as my soul tried to shake off its mortal shell.
Something rough brushed across my hands and face, tangled around my feet and ankles and tugged upward. I didn’t care what it was. It was too late. I had no intention of ever coming back.
Consciousness returned, rolling in and dragging me up from the dark depths. My body seemed as if it were a small distance away. Was this death – awakening to sensations that made no sense?
“Do ye know who she is?” A strange voice obliterated the illusion like a match struck to ward off complete darkness.
That terrible freezing ocean hadn’t claimed me. The realization brought with it a welter of confused emotion. Rage at the denial of the peace I craved, elation at being spared. On the heels of this, I fought the onset of panic. If I wasn’t dead then why wasn’t I able move, breathe, see? I was a giant, bodiless brain tethered to a dead-weight body cast adrift in a sea of unending darkness. Fear swelled. Faintly, my heartbeat.
“I d’know. Edrin said ‘e pulled ‘er up in ‘is nets. ‘E thought she were dead. Still, no need tae leave a poor drowned girl t’float, aye? But once ‘e got ‘er up ‘e saw she were still breathin’ sommat an’ brought ‘er ‘ere t’me. I ‘ave no idea, but she’s got a foreign look to ‘er, I say,” another voice answered the first. His thick accent added another layer of confusion to my addled waking.
“Oh, ayuh. The girl’s a might fairer than we Western lot. Mayhap she was tryin’ tae sail across from the Northern Tor, eh? She’s got their look. ‘Tis peaceful up there but who knows… people leave their folk sometimes. ”
“I’d say ayuh. I’m glad Edrin brought ‘er out o’ t’water but what’m I supposed to do wit’ ‘er? I dinna see any marks on ‘er – she’s not ‘urt, no bones broken, nothin’ like that. She joost lays there a’sleepin.”
The voices went back and forth, one deep and weathered, the other fair and singsong. I listened, thinking I should speak, or even open my eyes to see these saviors. I discovered that I had more of a sense of things around me. Shivers wracked my body, the tremors coming as though traveling along a fine wire stretching several feet. Cocooned and connecting this with the deeper-voiced speaker’s words, I concentrated and soon identified the unmistakable itch of rough wool against bare skin. Warm, yielding solidity developed along the backs of my legs, butt, and upper body. The sound of waves lapping at the shore in the distance and, high above me, gulls screaming gave further clues to my whereabouts, but only just.
Heat returned absorbed from whatever surface I lay upon. Nerve endings tingled and then grew into the fierce itch of being swarmed by an army of flesh-eating ants. Each limb, full of agonized irritation at being brought back to life, became distinct entities connected to a larger whole. Within seconds, I wiggled my fingers. Something tickled at the back of my throat, and I coughed. My gorge rose. I struggled to either sit up or roll to the side. My muscles screamed in weighted and painful protest, refusing to do my bidding. My soft yet urgent moaning elicited gasps; hands rolled me onto my side. I gagged puking up seawater. Snorting and spitting the dregs of vomit from my sinuses left the bitter tastes of bile and grief lingering at the back of my throat.
Conscious now, I took a ragged inhalation and dragged my eyes open. Human, masculine faces matched the voices. Surprised concern slurred their speech. Unable to understand them, I croaked the first word that came to mind.
“Genevieve…” Meager energy spent, I closed my eyes and fell back into the dubious mercy of forgetful darkness.
“What updates does Ohjion deliver?”
A woman’s voice, higher in pitch with educated inflections, asked the question. Unlike the men’s voices of earlier, this one was barren of accent save for intonations that rang distant chimes of home. It called me up from the depths of the blackest black. I was slow in rising to it.
“Nothin’ new, Milady,” answered another, this one a woman whose voice betrayed older age and idle concern. “The chirurgeon couldna find anythin’ wrong wit’ her, but she’s nae got a native appearance. Ohjion said this may be a sickness from wherever she’s come.” There was a momentary pause. Someone tsk’d in thought.
“Do you remember when I came, Chani? I was immobile. I could not even open my eyes or move or even speak for months.”
“Oh, ayuh, I remember. D’ye think she’s from -.” The first woman’s excitement gave her consonants a razor-edged rasp.
“Perhaps, but I’ll jump to no conclusion. There’s no denying the similarity though. She resembles no one here – mayhap Northern Tor folk like the fishermen guess. She’s either taken ill from one of their sicknesses or she may have come from the portal in the box, but I cannot allow myself the hope.” Her voice cracked on the last few words.
The conversation dropped into a heavy silence. The younger woman’s interjection piqued my attention. Portal. Box. No denying the similarity. May have come from… The words, important somehow, pried at my fugue. If only I remembered why.
Hazy, incongruent images oozed into the gaps. A woman, screaming vitriol, the sounds of gagging. Night-darkened sky, a car idling on the street behind me. Wet grass in front and beneath me, the acidic stench of vomit wafting up from it. A meandering trail through the woods leading deeper to older forestry in mottled deep brown lichen stripes and gray bark. Ancient, sturdy pine, birch, aspen, and oak unexpectedly giving way to ground littered with uprooted and overturned brick paving and chunks of cement stones. A driveway and crumbled walls dead-ending at a wide circle in front of a massive, sprawling wood and brick mansion whose last good days had been over a hundred years earlier.
The images-cum-memories poured in as if someone was trying to fast forward through a lengthy film reel. Abandoned rooms filled with outdated furniture covered over and forgotten, left to rot under decades of dust and animal droppings. A parlor room in no better condition. Sumptuous decorations and plush upholstery dulled by age, and a huge fireplace commandeering most of one wall. A painted portrait of a woman above the fireplace; scrapbook filled with pages and pages of yellowed newspapers clippings and dozens of sepia-toned photographs documenting the mysterious disappearance of a woman more than a century before I was born. A small box; lifting, opening it. Inside, a note in ragged handwritten script: “There is yet another world beyond the wood. If you have the true sight, look again and behold the choice before you.” Replacing the note, a vision: the vibrant blue of a morning sky and beyond that the mountainous expanse of a different world.
A whimper escaped my lips, so low only I heard it. I blinked and squinted straight up into the turned profile of a young woman with a pale mien, hair loose, long and curling past her shoulders in a mahogany tumble. I blinked again, trying to focus through the tears. That hair looked familiar – the color, the texture, the profile of her face. Could it be?
“Genevieve?” I whispered. Elated amazement overcame me. I wasn’t crazy or dead, and neither was the woman in the portrait. How was it possible she was here, close enough to reach out and touch?
“Milady! She’s opened her eyes! Look!” blurted the second speaker. The young woman snapped her head toward me.
“You know my name?” Emerald green eyes narrowed in shocked consternation, alternating back and forth between my face and the other woman.
“Oh ayuh, Milady. Did no one tell ye? That’s why the fishermen brought her here instead o’ stayin’ in Cosco. The only word she spoke when they found her was yer name,” said the as-yet disembodied voice.
Genevieve looked away for a moment. Fright widened her eyes framing them with brown lashes. “How do you know my name? Where do you hail from?”
“Freedomsburg,” I croaked. My throat had gone tight with suppressed tears. I’d done it—solved the mystery! Genevieve was here wherever here was.
Genevieve flinched and leaned even closer. “What did you say?”
“Freedomsburg,” I croaked again, cursing my weak voice and inability to speak at length. I had so much more to say.
“Freedomsburg? But how?” She drew back at my answer and exchanged a glance with her companion. “Chani, how?” Her voice wobbled with the question.
“I donna know, child.”
As the older woman professed her ignorance, I thrust aside other memories that came bubbling up behind those that had led me here. I didn’t want to think of what and who I’d left behind, or why. I should have been celebrating surviving my plunge into the ocean. Instead, I had no choice but to lay here, half-mute and struck dumb by unfamiliarity.
Those snippets of memories came regardless, barreling past any objections. Freedomsburg was home and had been for most of my life; was Mom, Dad, Jordan – family. Freedomsburg too was Ani and years of sexual confusion. Sister from another mother, the other half of the diaper-duo, my boon companion through school and beyond. Oh God, what have I done?
“Who are you? How do you know this place—Freedomsburg?”
The question was almost lost in the tumultuous onslaught of memories.
“My name is Tristen Callayas. I know Freedomsburg because that’s… it’s where I came from—where we both come from.”
Genevieve paled and swayed in her seat. “It can’t be.” Her protest came from a mile away as she withdrew into herself. Seconds later she was back and staring at me with a daunting intensity. “How is it you came to be here?” She shook her head. “I don’t mean how you came here to the castle. How is it you are here on Abiniam and not Earth?”
The older woman gasped as if she was late in comprehending. I gaped up at Genevieve, wishing I could do something except lay here and bear the weight of her penetrating stare. A strange flush of shame warmed me.
“I found your house, the scrapbook, the box.” I stopped as a wave of fatigue rolled through me. Genevieve turned an unhealthy shade of pale and brought a hand to her forehead.
She winced, asking, “When? Pray, tell me, when did you find these things?”
“Milady?” The older woman raised a note of concern. Genevieve waved her off.
“No, Chani, I must know the answer to this question. Tristen, when did you find the box? What year?”
Gray mist encroached the edges of my vision, tempting me to ignore her question and surrender to the darkness tugging at me. At least there I’d find safety from the pain clamping my heart in an ever-tightening vice. I wouldn’t be looking up into the face of a woman whose sanity inexplicably hinged on my answer to her question either.
“Two thousand twelve.”
Genevieve’s breath rattled as her remaining color drained away. She clenched the blanket at my shoulder.
“A hundred and ten years! I don’t—I don’t understand!” she whispered, turned away and covered her face with shaking hands. Sorry I’d spoken the truth, I struggled to sit up. I’d had enough of lying there, of being spoken to as if I was an invalid. I wanted to see the other woman in the room too.
My muscles were leaden. Why was I still so weak? What had I done to myself in sticking my hand in that stupid box? Or was this a result of my crash-landing in the ocean and the fight to survive?
I propped myself up on the pillow and looked around. The other woman was much older than me or Genevieve. She sat on a stool at the foot of the bed I lay in. Grandmotherly with silver-streaked graying hair pulled up into a tight bun on the crown of her head, she had deep lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Bright sky-blue eyes caught and met my gaze above a tight, strained smile. Most of her attention was on Genevieve.
“We were beginning tae think ye’d never wake, lass. I’m glad tae see you alert an’ speakin’, at last,” the woman murmured.
“How long have I been here?” I glanced at Genevieve sitting silent and motionless on her stool, still covering her face with her hands.
“Wit’ travel time? Jus’ a tick past a mont’, lass. The fishermen who found ye said the only time ye ever came ’round was tae clean out the water ye’d swallowed and tae call out the Lady’s name. Tha’ was the day they found ye. Ye’ve been here since, sleepin’ and seemin’ like ye’d never move again.” Now she looked at Genevieve and frowned. “Milady, will ye return tae yer chambers?”
Genevieve roused herself, responding as if she was returning from a distance greater than what lay between here and wherever home was.
“Yes, thank you, Chani. This news has been … it’s quite a shock.” She faced me. “My apologies Tristen; I must collect myself. You may have Gwyneth, your handmaid, send word when you are ready to be up and about.” She went to the door just beyond the end of my bed
“I’m sorry Genevieve. I didn’t mean to cause you any pain by coming here.” She glanced back as Chani opened the door for her, a dismal sadness in her eyes.
“None of us means the harm we inflict,” she imparted. “Rest well now, we’ll speak again soon. Chani will send Gwyneth to attend you.” Both women slipped through the open door, leaving me awake and alone in this strange new world for the first time.
Frazzled, I flopped back on the pillow. The silence that followed their departure left me too much space to think and remember things I wished had stayed buried in the darkness. Genevieve had asked how I’d gotten here, but not the why. How might I have answered if she had?
Struggling against latent bonds of grief, I scrubbed my face with my hands. The door opened and closed with a quiet snick. It was easier to sit up this time, and I gasped at the unexpected sight that greeted me. A young woman stood at the end of the bed looking at me in expectant curiosity. Near in age, she was my height and slender with perfect curves beneath a plain blue dress. A tumble of raven curls framed her face and disappeared over her shoulders. Her face was stunning—narrow, with sharp cheekbones and chin; a petite nose and the warmest, most expressive green eyes I’d ever seen. Her eyelashes were thick and full, caressing her cheeks when she blinked, and her lips—oh God! Pink and luscious, opened partway as she returned my stare; she licked them and cleared her throat. I couldn’t look away even if I’d wanted. This girl, whoever she was, resembled Ani almost exactly.