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
Of all the ways I never expected to arrive in a foreign world, plummeting straight out of the sky to splash land in a washing machine ocean had to be first. One moment I’d been sliding my hand into the silken red interior of a box containing a door to another world, the next I was careening out of the clouds with only a few seconds of darkness in between to mark the passage between universes.
Hurtling earthward, dropped from the clouds like some errant package without a rescuing parachute, the arctic-cold wind whipped past my face numbing it immediately. Ice crusted in my eyelashes, clogging my sinuses. I let loose a terrified scream and flailed my arms frantic for purchase. There was nothing to grab onto, nothing to arrest this dizzying uncontrollable plummet. The wind roared in my ears and tore at my clothes, numbed my flailing fingers and stealing every precious ounce of heat.
A great blue-black wall loomed ahead, growing larger and more threatening with every passing second. A storm swell of terror overtook my heart sending it into glitching horrified awareness.
Water! Waves! Ocean!
I hit the water with a sound like thunder crashing between my ears. Frigid water stole my breath and ability to move the instant it closed over my head. 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 down 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 of 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 too long denied.
The cold settled into my bones faster than I’d ever imagined possible. My eyeballs were ice cubes just barely able to discern a spot of bright sky far above, shrinking, receding. I couldn’t move my arms anymore; my legs hung like icicles from a frosty overhang. Ani was right; I’m an abomination. Divine forgiveness is off the table, was probably never even on offer. Perverts like me don’t deserve love or mercy. Just this abysmal, crushing, icy darkness. Here is where I die.
Surrendering came easy. I should have stuck to my original plan, ignored that damned abandoned mansion. Don’t they say bleeding out from sliced wrists feels warm, comforting? The aching, lethal cold squeezed out the last of my thinking narrowing my consciousness to pinpricks of light. Two tiny bubbles ascended lazily away from me before my eyelids came down for the last time. If the black depths of the ocean below had evoked a primal sense of terror, the inky blackness waiting to take me rendered the opposite. Finally, solace, the end of almost twenty years of misery. My body twitched only minutely as my soul tried to shake off its mortal dressings.
Then … something lighter than air brushed across my hands and face, tangled around my feet and ankles and tugged upward. I didn’t know what it was and didn’t care. It was too late. I was going and had no intention of ever coming back.
Consciousness came back to me slowly, rolling in and dragging me up from some unknown, unknowable depth. Where was my body or, rather, why did it feel as if it were a small distance away? Was this what death was – awakening to sensations that made absolutely no sense?
“Do ye know who she is?” A strange voice obliterated the illusion like a match struck to ward off the complete darkness.
That terrible freezing ocean hadn’t claimed me after all. 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 couldn’t I move, breathe, see? Why could I feel my body but not control it? I was a giant, bodiless brain tethered to a dead weight body cast adrift in a sea of unending darkness. Fear swelled, the necessary kick start, a key to wind the clockwork mechanism of my biology. Faintly, my heart began to beat.
“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 was 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 almost singsong. I listened, thinking I should speak, or perhaps even open my eyes to see these apparent saviors. Trying, I discovered that while I still couldn’t move, I had more of a sense of things around me. Shivers wracked my body, the tremors coming to me as though traveling along a fine wire stretching several feet. Cocooned and connecting this feeling with the deeper-voiced speaker’s words, I concentrated and soon identified the unmistakable itch of rough wool against bare skin. Warm, slightly yielding solidity developed along the backs of my legs, butt, and upper body. The sound of waves gently lapping at the shore some distance away and, high above me, gulls screaming gave further clues to my whereabouts, but only just.
Heat returned slowly, absorbed from whatever was beneath me. Nerve endings tingled, quietly and then with 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 could wiggle my fingers. Something tickled at the back of my throat, and I coughed. Immediately, my gorge rose. Hitching in a breath, 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 were quickly laid on me, rolling 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.
Fully conscious now, I took a ragged inhalation and dragged my eyes open. The faces above me were blurred, clearly human and roughly masculine in shape to match the voices. Surprised concern slurred their speech. Unable to understand them, I croaked the first word that came to mind.
“Genevieve…” Meager energy expended, I closed my eyes and fell back into the dubious mercy of forgetful darkness.
“What updates does Ohjion deliver?” Awake again yet just as unable to move, this time, I could feel every inch of my body immediately yet had no strength to show it.
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 look. Ohjion said this could be a sickness from wherever she’s come.” There was a momentary pause. Someone tsk’d in thought.
“Do you remember when I came here, 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 cut her off muted excitement giving her consonants a razor-edged rasp.
“Perhaps, but I’ll jump to no conclusion. There’s no denying the similarity of the situations, though. She doesn’t look a bit like anyone here – mayhap some of the Northern Tor folk like the fishermen guess. She’s either taken ill from one of their sicknesses or, of course, she may have come from the portal in the box, but I cannot allow myself the hope.” The last few words were cracked and full of strangled emotion.
The conversation dropped into a heavy silence. In the absence of the women’s lilting speech fragments of 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 could just remember 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 all 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 faster and faster 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 painting of a woman above the fireplace; a scrapbook filled with pages and pages of yellowed newspapers clippings and dozens of sepia-toned photographs all documenting the mysterious disappearance of a woman more than a century before I was born. A small box; touching, lifting, opening it. Inside, a note in looping 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 an entirely different world.
A flood of tears cut tracks through the cement sealing my eyes shut. A whimper escaped my lips, so low only I heard it. With the sensation of sand falling away from my eyelids, I blinked rapidly 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 to clear away the tears, trying to focus. That hair looked familiar – the color, the texture, the profile of her face. Could it be?
“Genevieve?” I whispered, unable to say anything else. Elated amazement overcame me. I wasn’t crazy or dead, and neither was the woman in the portrait. I didn’t know how it was possible yet here she was, close enough I could have reached out and touched her.
“Milady! She’s opened her eyes! Look!” blurted the second speaker. The young woman above me sharply turned.
“You know my name?” Those emerald green eyes narrowed in shocked consternation, bounced 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. I blinked recalling the struggle to feel the rest of my body, the tingling heat and the sick convulsions of my stomach and lungs.
Genevieve looked away for a moment. Fright widened her eyes framing them with mahogany lashes. “How do you know my name? Where do you hail from?”
“Freedomsburg,” I croaked. My throat had gone tight with barely 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 wishing my voice would cooperate. 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 don’t 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 about 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 almost all of my life. Freedomsburg was Mom, Dad, Jordan – family. Freedomsburg too was one failed relationship after another. First David, then Brian’s face went by, blurred at the edges in passing, both proof of sexual confusion, ambiguity at best. I’d never felt for them one iota what I’d felt for her. Ani. Sister from another mother, the other half of the diaper-duo, my boon companion through school and then some. How could I have been so stupid?
Oh God, what have I done?
“Who are you? How do you know this place – Freedomsburg?”
I almost lost the question 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 down at me with a daunting intensity. “How is it that you came to be here?” She shook her head when I started to answer. “I don’t mean how you were brought here to the castle. How is it that you are here on Abiniam and not Earth?”
The older woman gasped as if she was late in comprehending the situation. I gaped up at Genevieve wishing I could do anything 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.
Wincing, she asked, “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. I was tempted to ignore Genevieve’s question and surrender to the darkness tugging at me, At least there I’d be safe from the pain clamping my heart in an ever-tightening vice. I certainly wouldn’t be looking up into the face of a woman whose very sanity inexplicably seemed to hinge on my answer to her question either.
“Two thousand twelve.”
Genevieve’s breath rattled as her remaining color drained away. Her eyes dropped and seemed to roll back into her head evoking worry she might faint. She clenched the blanket at my shoulder.
“A hundred and ten years! I don’t – I don’t understand!” she whispered harshly, turned away and covered her face with shaking hands. Instantly sorry I’d spoken the truth; I struggled to sit up. I’d had enough of laying down, of being spoken to like I was an invalid (even if I felt like one). I also wanted to see the other woman in the room.
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?
Several seconds of struggling, I finally got my elbows beneath me. I propped myself up on the pillow and looked around. The other woman was much older than Genevieve or me. She sat on a stool close to the foot of the bed. Almost grandmotherly with gray hair pulled up into a tight bun on the crown of her head, her face was smooth except for the 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 eerily 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 to Genevieve and frowned. “Milady, would ye like tae 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 all been – well, it’s quite a shock. I’m sorry Tristen; I must go and collect myself. I will return later, or 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 fumbled for something to say and fell short.
“I’m sorry Genevieve. I didn’t mean to cause you any pain by coming here,” I murmured thinking, I came here to get away from pain, not bring it with me. 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 softly. “Rest well now, we’ll speak again soon. Chani will send Gwyneth to attend you.” Both women slipped through the open door and were gone leaving me awake and alone in this strange new world for the first time.
Frazzled, I flopped back to the pillow. The silence that followed the women’s departure left me too much space to think and remember things that should have stayed buried in the darkness. Genevieve had asked how I’d gotten here, but not the why. What would I have said if she had?
Struggling against latent bonds of grief, I scrubbed my face with my hands. On the other side of my fingers, the door opened and closed with a quiet snick. It was a little 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. Near in age to me, she was about 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 stunningly beautiful – 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, slightly parted 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.