Having gone through my revision of my first book, Discovery, I’ve decided to post the 1st chapter here. It’ll be in 2 (long) parts, as the entire chapter is 2,600 words. Once done, I anticipate re-releasing the book (publisher unknown) under the moniker The Changeling. Those of you who’ve read Discovery should find it darker, tighter, and more focused. It is the same book as before, but better and more reflective of who I am as a writer now. The new title represents the main characters’ evolutions in the story, as well as a key figure introduced near its climax. Until republication, Discovery is available on Amazon for only $0.99! Pick up a copy – it’s still rated 4.5 out of 5 stars. 🙂 Maybe I’ll be famous and these will be worth something one day. Who knows? 😀
Charlie hated mornings, due, in no small part, to his having the sleep habits of a caffeine-addicted owl. Often, he was just falling asleep as the neighborhood’s early birds were awakening. For Charlie, waking was a thing to be savored over the course of a drowsy hour. He always started his day the same way: by hammering his alarm clock with a closed fist, falling back asleep, arguing with his sister who had been sent to get him up, and then stumbling out of bed, eyes closed, into the bathroom to empty his bladder.
Those were the good old days.
Recent mornings meant a surreptitious sprint to the bathroom. As if starting the day shortly after falling asleep were not bad enough, lately, he woke up like that. Once, his dad had caught him before he could pee, stopped, saluted, and said, “Ten Hut!” Charlie had no idea what he meant at the time, but when everyone else laughed, he knew it wasn’t good. His mom chastised the family and consoled him by stating it was a perfectly normal thing for an eleven-year-old boy. Still, the damage had been done, as his red cheeks attested. It was one thing to be humiliated by virtue of a joke he didn’t understand. It was worse to have his entire family be able to read his embarrassment.
This morning, however, was different than all previous mornings, because though he believed himself awake, Charlie was actually in the middle of an excellent nightmare. In his dream fugue, he staggered into the bathroom, and after completing his mission, opened his eyes for the first time.
What’s the refrigerator doing in here?
He was a bright young man, and it normally wouldn’t have taken him long to guess he was no longer in the bathroom since his mom was a stickler for cleanliness, and having the fridge so close to the toilet would not have passed muster with her. However, Charlie was in the midst of the most vivid dream of his young life, and the relocation of the refrigerator only served to confuse him. It took him fully ten seconds to realize he was standing in the kitchen, dressed, facing the open vegetable crisper. After a quick internal debate, he decided against looking down to see if he had just emptied his bladder into it. He was certain Mom would let him know if he had.
Breakfast consisted of a single kernel of oat cereal in a big bowl of water. Even the dreaming Charlie thought his breakfast odd, but not odd enough to awaken him from his deep slumber. His hunger sated, he walked the quarter mile to his bus stop and stood there alone, waiting. After eternity passed, after the sun grew to a great orange ball of sputtering hydrogen, after the first two planets melted in admiration, and all the stars in heaven were visibly moved, the bus finally showed up. It was a Greyhound with Middul Skool displayed on the front panel.
Middle school is going to rock.
Charlie’s excitement lasted only seconds. The inside of the bus reeked of cigarette smoke and cheap perfume, which wafted like a noxious cloud from the bus driver. As he passed, she growled in his direction, but he didn’t stop to listen. He was too busy trying to find a seat while avoiding making eye contact with anyone on the bus. It was fortunate he was looking down, as a shard of clipped toenail grazed his face, just missing his eye.
Charlie looked up to see a swing set in the aisle of the bus. Fat Mrs. Martinez was sitting on the swing, humming a tune, kicking dust from the dirt floor with one foot, and trimming the crusty toenails of the other. As he squeezed past the swings, all the while ducking toenail shrapnel, he found a seat in the very back, next to, of all people, the guy from The Twilight Zone. It wasn’t the old chain-smoking guy with the creepy black shoe polish hair that his dad loved, but the newer, cooler one. Charlie found this not at all surprising.
The bus navigated an unfamiliar highway, past ramshackle houses and barren neighborhoods. At the distant end of the highway stood a set of high mountains. They sat in two rows, the first reflecting a pinkish hue in the morning sunlight. Behind them, rising ominously until they disappeared into the clouds were mountains of black rock. Gray clouds slumped down the mountain slopes obscuring the highway ahead in a blanket dense fog. A faraway part of Charlie’s brain began to cry out that he had never seen mountains like these in eastern Virginia.
Still, that is not what drew his immediate attention. Instead, he wondered why there was only one other kid on his bus. He could not make out the shadowy figure near the front, except that it was obviously a girl, with long, dark hair. She sat with her back to him, dressed head-to-toe in black. She never turned around, which Charlie decided was probably a good thing. From his position, she too-closely resembled a few Japanese horror movies he had covertly downloaded onto his computer. Initially, he wondered why he’d not noticed her before, but as he continued looking, he realized there was something familiar about her. He squinted, trying to focus in the dim light of the old bus.
It’s that girl again.
He was certain of it. He had been dreaming her all summer. She never spoke to him, though lately she had begun to smile on the rare occasions when he made eye contact. When that happened, Charlie always woke himself up, or, if that did not work, he would look down and hurry away. The girl never did anything out of the ordinary. In fact, most of the time, she watched him, silently, as though his dreams were created solely for her amusement. He guessed serial killers smiled too, just before doing their foul work. He wondered if the girl had killed Mrs. Martinez, since she was no longer anywhere to be seen.
That thought birthed a creeping anxiety, which he soothed by making spit art on the bus’ window. At the precise instant he was about to put spit eyes on a spit head, the driver slammed on the brakes, and Charlie sailed from the seat, coming to rest directly under the Twilight Zone Guy’s left leg. Twilight Zone Guy flicked a cigarette ash in his face and deadpanned, “Off the shoes, kid.” He was no longer the hip, modern host, but the black-shoe-polish-haired relic of an era Charlie estimated to be the 1930s, before God invented color TV.
Shoot. When did Mr. Shoe Polish show up?
From the front of the bus, Charlie could hear the female bus driver honking the horn and ranting, “Move, stupid freaking sheep!”
I’ve heard that voice before.
Charlie tried to recall her name, but it danced just out of reach. Whoever she was, her voice made him shudder. Standing, he strained to see what halted the bus, but it was too dark, and the fog surrounding the bus obscured his view. Charlie sat, slid along the seat, and craned his neck through the open window. The air was crisp, cool, and smelled of wet wool. There were no sheep, only an immense group of small children slowly crossing the wide highway. They were moaning, and their cries echoed in the morning stillness like the bleating of foredoomed sheep. Tall, slim shepherds in hooded cloaks followed the flock.
From above, a shadow crossed the bus and over the flock. At first Charlie thought it an airplane, but it circled again, this time accompanied by a piercing shriek that shook the bus. Charlie started at the sound and looked up just in time to see an enormous iridescent lizard or bird swoop low, its talons grinding along the bus’ roof as it passed. Charlie pulled himself back onto his seat as the beast grabbed four children, one in each claw, and rose into the clouds without slowing. The shepherds shouted brief curses, but then turned their attention to their flock. It seemed of no more interest to them than if a few apples had fallen from an orchard. Charlie eased his head out of the window. There was the girl, staring at the horizon where the beast had fled.
“Dragon,” she said, breathlessly.
Charlie’s eyes followed the sound of her voice to the sky beyond. “Dragon,” he repeated.”