Eleanor, the story I've been trying to tell for the last decade and change, is coming together. (I wrote about Eleanor at length in a previous post, if you're interested in the backstory.) Really, really coming together. I'm planning to release it as a serial novel, with three installments. The first, Haunted by Waters, is coming along swimmingly. I expect to release it in July, and I hope you'll pick up a copy when it's available.
The series has a beautiful cover set, doesn't it? Keep reading after the artwork for a sneak peek at the first chapter! (This is a draft of that chapter, and is likely to change a bit before the book is published. Enjoy!)
Eleanor wakes up in the dark, but it is not her dark.
She starts awake with a terrible gasp, as if she has been holding her breath for a long time. She feels as if she has forgotten something, or been late for something, or has done something wrong. But none of these things is true. Not exactly, at least.
She is distracted by the quality of the darkness around her. It is complete, or seems to be at first. As her eyes become familiar with the black, shadows peel away from it. They aren't the expected shapes of her dresser or night stand. None of the shapes is her desk or closet.
One shape is a tree, and from it many more trees emerge, and Eleanor understands this to mean that she is in a forest. But as the darkness pales and her eyes adjust, she realizes that she is not inside of a forest, but sitting on the ground staring at one. The trees stare down accusingly, gathered together like a mob before her.
She shivers, and that is how she knows that she is cold. She looks down, and in the faintest light, she sees that she is only wearing her nightgown, the one that her grandmother gave her last Christmas. Eleanor wears it because not many people give her things, and when they do, those things are suffused with pleasant memories. So even though the nightgown tangles in the sheets of her bed, or rides up uncomfortably around her legs in the night, she wears it.
There are rips and tears and shreds of fabric dangling from her gown, as if Eleanor has run through a thicket. The ruffled hem has been torn away entirely, and little threads wave in the breeze, tickling the bare skin of her legs.
Eleanor looks up at the trees, and then beyond at the taffeta circle of the moon. Its light is dim, turned hazy by the clouds that brush past. It's clearly very late, and Eleanor worries about how she has come to be in a meadow at such a late hour, in such a state.
The breeze distracts her again, and this time she notices the sound that it carries upon its back. Harrumph, the breeze complains, and Eleanor turns.
At her back is the sea, gray in the faint light, rolling calmly towards her. There are no whitecaps, just the swells of a slumbering ocean. Each small wave breaks over a pebbled beach, over the gray and blue stones there. Harrumph, the waves grumble. Harrumph-hrmph.
This isn't quite right, Eleanor thinks.
She gets to her feet, then stumbles as a sharp pain grips her.
"Ouch," she says, wrinkling her forehead. She looks down at her feet accusingly, and then her expression changes to one of puzzlement.
Her feet and toes are black, as if she has run over coals, or through a room carpeted with soot. The black stain is complemented by scratches -- deep, red-rimmed scratches that cover her ankles and calves. Seeing the marks brings the pain to life again, and Eleanor frowns.
"This isn't right," she says aloud.
Eleanor is the sort of girl who goes to bed at nine o'clock and wakes up at six. She lays her school clothes out the night before, carefully folded and hung, and prepares her own bag lunch when she wakes in the morning. She sleeps perfectly still on her back all night long.
She's the sort of girl who is very disturbed to find herself on a beach at this hour, battered and looking as though she's been dragged behind a horse.
Eleanor takes a step, wincing at the needles that shoot up her leg. The sole of her foot practically screams, and she drops to the ground again, tears tugging at her eyes. She folds her leg and inspects the bottom of her foot. It is covered in hundreds and hundreds of tiny scratches, some of them quite deep.
She wonders if her mother knows where she is right now.
Then she sighs.
No. Of course Agnes doesn't know where Eleanor is.
Eleanor stands up. Biting her lip harder with each step, she leaves the meadow and crosses the beach to the water. She sits down on a bit of driftwood at the water's edge, then holds her breath and dips her feet into the sea.
The pain is unbearable for a very long moment, and then it isn't. The salt water invades the tiny wounds, scrubbing away the dirt, and when the pain diminishes, Eleanor looks at her feet again. They're still hideous, but they're not as scorched-looking now, and the cuts hurt less.
She sits on the driftwood for a while, trying to figure out which direction to walk. She can't see lights either way. There's only the dim moonlight above, and even that is often blotted by the passing clouds.
"Which way do I go?" Eleanor asks the sea.
But the sea cannot tell her.
• • •
She chooses north, because that's what Jack would have done. Not walk north, necessarily -- but Jack would have chosen a direction, and struck out without hesitating. "Pick a direction and go," he probably would have said to her. "It's not like you won't run into something eventually."
She smiles a little at the thought of him stomping into the dark, knees and elbows and messy hair.
Eleanor walks for only a few minutes before the first memory surfaces. It is a faint thing, fuzzy around the edges, but the quality of the memory doesn't bother her.
What bothers Eleanor about the memory is that it isn't hers.
She knows this immediately, somehow, and sits down on the beach again. She closes her eyes, reaching out. The memory flits around the edge of her mind, like dark fish in a dark pond. When one swims too close, she grabs it, and squeezes, and what comes out is so rich, such a vivid crush of color and taste, that she flinches and almost falls over.
A watermelon on a picnic table, just carved into pieces. The blood-red middle. The crisp, pink, almost clear edge. Beads of moisture trickling down the rind.
Eleanor's mouth waters at the image. It's utterly convincing, and then it's gone, and there is only the moon and the beach like a moon itself, gray and stony, and the breeze over the water to bring her back to this world from whatever place she has just visited.
She sits still, trying to grasp another bit of the memory. But none come near, and she sighs and gets up and begins to walk north again, more slowly this time.
Eleanor has never sat at a picnic table, has never tasted watermelon.
Except she can taste the memory on her tongue as she walks, and it's almost like she has.
The shadows of the trees fall over the beach like fence pickets. She steps lightly from one bright sliver of moonlight to the next, as if the shadows might wrap around her feet and pull her away from the water.
The next memory is not as kind as the first, and it arrives in the kind of white flash one might associate with a bomb, or a head-on collision, and it knocks Eleanor off of her feet.
Some seriously weird shit starts to happen after this, so I thought I'd leave you hanging -- for now. But if you'd like to know when this very-long-in-the-making novel is available, be sure to join my mailing list so you don't miss out!