From time to time I like to share bits of the book I'm currently writing. Eleanor , some of you know, is the story of a girl who keeps falling – but into what? As her story has evolved over the nearly thirteen years I've been trying to tell it, she's fallen from the sky, from her bed, from a cliff, and always into the sea.
There's a bit of magic to Eleanor's story that, in past years, never fully expressed itself. That's changing now, and her story is beginning to bleed into some really juicy new territory.
Here's an excerpt of some of that magic – shown in the darkest possible light:
The dreamkeeper trudges through the meadow. The earth is still damp from the morning's rain, and her bare toes curl against the cool wet soil. She's been to the edge of the mountains and back, her customary walk across the valley floor. A pale mist clings to the ground, obscuring it from view.
She feels a gentle thud in the earth beneath her feet, and the mist springs back. She pauses and looks down, and sees the dark shape of her shadow gathered beneath her.
"You're back," she says, quietly, and begins to walk again.
In the distance, her cabin is a blotch of gray in the fog. From its chimney a thread of smoke rises straight into the sky. There is no breeze in the valley to disturb it. The fire will probably have died away by the time she returns, and in fact, as she watches, the smoke draws thin and almost fades from sight.
Behind her, the mountains rise like broken teeth into the sullen sky. The dreamkeeper looks back at them, at the dashed trees below. Several are cracked, and two have toppled and fractured into great pieces against the earth. The treeline looks as if some dying monster has thrashed about in the forest, leaving behind a gash in the woods.
Her shadow does not reply, but she feels its memories pass into her like heat.
She prowls through the memories slowly, seeing what her shadow witnessed on the beach and in the forest and on the state road. She comes to a moment on the beach, and slows the memory until it is almost still.
A red-haired girl, clothed in a flimsy gown, on a slug of driftwood.
"There you are," the dreamkeeper says.
The girl's pale face bears fresh scratch marks and a smear of dirt.
"Hurts, doesn't it?" the dreamkeeper asks. "You've never walked into a dream before. You didn't know what to expect. Those scrapes, your feet -- you're an amateur. Who are you?"
The shadow trembles beneath her, but has no answer.
The dreamkeeper watches awhile longer. The girl's eyes are glazed and rimmed with red; she's exhausted, and with every step threatens to pitch forward onto the rocky beach. Her nightgown is frayed and torn, her hair tangled and unkempt.
"Where are you from, little girl?" the dreamkeeper asks.
There is no answer, of course.
The dreamkeeper sighs and turns back to the damaged trees, their trunks split, their hardwood bone white inside.
"Well," she says. "If you come back, we'll know. Won't we?"
The dreamkeeper walks the long way to the cabin, and her shadow follows.
The dreamkeeper's valley is obscured by clouds which never part to reveal the sun. It rains, often for months at a time, and sometimes the valley floods. In the worst of times, the rain fills mountain lakes, and they spill down the ridges and drown the valley. When that happens, the dreamkeeper climbs above the new lake and waits. Eventually, the floodwaters recede. The dreamkeeper has had to rebuild her cabin more than once.
She keeps to herself here, her shadow often her only company. Now and then, the cabin's windows darken as the great beasts pass. The glass in those windows vibrates with their heavy steps, and sawdust drifts down in waves from the raw pine ceiling.
The dreamkeeper sometimes pours a cup of coffee and stands on the porch and watches them pass. The beasts are as tall as the mountains, their bodies like mountains themselves, with long, spindly legs that seem to descend from the clouds. Their shadows stretch for miles and darken the land from gray to charcoal.
She thought once to name them, but never has. There are two of them. The first is almost beautiful in its immensity, with a long neck that disappears into the clouds above, and a tall back that scrapes their underbelly. This monster's steps are proud and sure and purposeful, and each step is like a long, low, music note. The dreamkeeper does not know for sure that the beast is female, but its graceful movements suggest that it is. She glides slowly through the valley, taking some care not to step on the cabin during her migration, for if she did, the dreamkeeper and her house would be flattened into the earth.
The second beast is heavier, less surefooted. Its stride is smaller but heavier, less delicate. The dreamkeeper thinks that this smaller beast may be sick, and indeed it seems to stumble often as it walks, and a deep groan issues from its long throat with every step. Once, it seemed to lose its balance, and nearly crashed down into the grass just beyond the cabin. The beast caught itself, but landed heavy on one foot. The resulting earthquake buckled the back wall of the cabin, in the room where the dreamkeeper often sleeps. The valley still bears the scar of the beast's stumble, a great depression from its errant footfall.
The passing of the beasts seems to mark the seasons here, and the dreamkeeper knows she can expect snow soon after they vanish into the mountains. There is nothing delicate about the snowfall in this valley. It falls gray and poisoned from the boiling sky and carpets the valley and forests. The dreamkeeper hibernates in her cabin until the day she hears the beasts return. Not long after, the snow always turns to rain, heralding the exit of winter.
She stands on her porch now, warming her hands with a cup of tea, a shawl pulled around her shoulders. Her bare feet are cold and white, but she pays no attention to them. The gathering clouds signal the impending snowfall, and in fact, she can see the smudge of it falling in the distance, as if one of the clouds has scraped its belly open on the jagged mountains, its toxic insides pouring out onto the land.
The snowfall is early, and she has not seen the beasts in a very, very long time. She has come to expect their migration, but she does not know where the beasts have come from, or where they go. The dreamkeeper knows every inch of the valley, but the beasts are strangers here, refugees who seem to have discovered the valley on their own, and who have made it their seasonal home. The beasts are summer tourists.
She looks again at the far-off treeline, at the broken spindles of the pines.
The dreamkeeper knows the valley and its seasons and its ghosts well. Something feels different now. Something has changed, and for a moment, she feels a twinge of fear.
And then it is gone.
She thinks of the battered red-haired girl on the beach, and looks down at her shadow.
"She'll be back, I think," the dreamkeeper says. "You be ready."
The shadow flattens out, changing its shape beneath her.
"You be ready," the dreamkeeper repeats.
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