(Those emotional or introspective parts are like the "contemplative opening" note from the script pages I posted last week. They get a lot of fleshing out in the draft stage.)
I used the script I showed you last week to come up with the following six pages, only to realize at the end that I've written them in 1st (because it makes the introspection easier to me) and the story can't be in 1st. There are some "really big" moments that the MC isn't going to be privy to on a first hand basis. I'm going to have to rewrite it in 3rd person, but that's what second drafts are for.
So here's DARK WATER chapter 1, but unedited, so don't be surprised to see mistakes in spelling, grammar, tense, or anything else. Read it, if you're so inclined, and drop me a line in the comments if you've go questions or comments.
I was born the first daughter of a first daughter of a first daughter, all the way back for seven generations. When I small, my mother said this made me lucky, but also unfortunate, as the Groundling world resented mortal luck, and did their best to countermand it.
Once, a wicked elf snuck into our house to chew through the power lines, so we had no lights. The Queen of Winter bade her minions fill our gas lines with icicles, so the frost stole through our rooms instead of heat. Changeling beasts arrived at night to devour the food from our cupboards and fridge, leaving them always empty. And a dark enchantment afflicted my clothes, so they always appeared worn and thin. Sometimes, even new things arrived in my closet with others’ names scrawled across the collars and waistbands, but my mother said this was simply a trick of the Groundling world – a fairy creature grown so bold he it was unafraid to sign its mischief.
And so for me, every shadow came with the threat of snatching hands, waiting for the opportunity to drag me away, as Groundlings are known to do with the children they covet. I was sure my mother expected this to happen any day – why else were there so many locks on every door and window? Why would we leave in the middle of the night and live out of our car until it was safe to find a new place to live. Why was my mother so insistent that the kind teacher who kept asking about my life at home was actually a troll planning to gobble me up – not to be trusted?
Eventually, I was old enough to understand her stories for what they were – attempts to hide the fact that she couldn’t afford to pay our bills. I stopped believing, but my mother never stopped telling tales. She still heard the scratch of rats in the wall and called them goblins. Branches scraping the windows in a storm were monstrous fingers tapping to be let inside. Howling wind was the cry of a ghost who’d lost its way between life and death, and the dogs who patrolled our trash bins at night were transformed guardians sent to keep us safe.
All those born of royal blood had guardians, you see, and my mother made it very clear that I was a princess merely hiding in my hand-me-downs. My father lived far away in a castle, but one day, he would come and take us both home.
That one turned out to be partially true.
My father does live far away, and I am going to live with him, but there aren’t any castles involved, and I doubt his house will ever feel much like home. Assuming he even gets here to pick me up. The train was late, and I’m still waiting.
People are starting to stare – my fault, I guess. When I put on my school uniform this morning, it was simple convenience. St. Paul’s emerald green plaid was clean, and it’s the best thing I own, which is supposedly important for taking long trips with people who will never set eyes on me again. Stepping onto the platform here, my skirt and blazer felt like armor, as though I was wrapping myself in my old life to protect myself from the unknown of a new one, but the longer I stand here, the more tarnished I get.
A couple of guys crack a joke just far enough out of earshot that I can’t hear it, but they laugh, and I know it’s directed at me… either that or my mother’s paranoia is rubbing off. Not the best place to let my mind wander. They say that stuff’s hereditary, and that it usually kicks in around a person’s late-twenties or early-thirties. If that’s true, I’m already middle aged.
I’m also fairly certain I look like the orphan child out of some kid’s story. Is it possible to be an orphan when both parents are still alive? If not, it’s at least possible to feel lost and alone.
Maybe I have no sense of direction – it’s possible I got that from my father, assuming he’s the guy in blue jeans making his way up the platform, glancing at the face of each girl roughly my age. When he finally catches my eye, he actually looks relieved.
I was expecting “trapped,” to be honest.
“London?” he asks, jogging over.
He doesn’t sound like me or my mother. His accent’s different, twisting the words in his mouth so that they sound like a foreign language spoken in English.
“I’m your… I mean, you don’t have to call me… if it’s awkward, or if you’d rather, you can call me Adam.”
I nod again, tightening my grip on my bag when he reaches for it. Armor – tarnished or not – isn’t much good without a shield.
He straightens up, acts as though he’s going to guide me down the platform with an arm around my shoulders, but I pull back from that, too. I’m not sure if it’s an automatic thing on his part, or if it’s some sort of latent “dad” thing, protecting his kid, or a means of control, or what, and experience tells me that things I’m not sure of are best left on the outside where they can be observed. He still doesn’t look trapped, but frustration and disappointment are setting into his features.
“The car’s this way,” he says, and sticks his hands in his pockets.
I follow when he walks away. I’m a full stride in when I remember this is something I’ve always promised myself I wouldn’t do.
“I got some news on your mom,” he says. “She’s stable.” There’s a bit of a pause or a stumble over that part. It may be him taking a breath, but no one’s going to fault him if it’s not. “Stable” is overstating things. “They’ve flushed her system, but say it’ll be a few days before she’s able to talk, and there’s a mandatory-”
“Seventy-two hour hold, without communication. I know,” I finish for him. I don’t need the primer; I already know the basics.
There’s a small hitch in his stride before he shakes his head.
“I don’t know if I should be impressed that you’re so calm, or horrified that this has apparently happened enough that it’s routine. How many times has she tried to kill herself?’
“This is the first one in a couple of years.”
And the one before that wasn’t a real attempt. She was trying to distract the Groundlings. The doctors didn’t buy it; they just upped her dosage.
“She’s fine when she’s on her meds, but if she forgets a pill, she’ll usually forget the next one, and the one after that, and then the symptoms come back and she convinces herself she doesn’t need them at all.” I grip the handle of my bag tighter, trying not to tear up. “I check to make sure she’s taking them, but I was at a friend’s house for the weekend, and I didn’t think she’d… not in two days.”
“Hey-” He goes full stop – I guess that means he can tell I’m crying. He slides my bag out of my hands, and tries to tip my face up, but it’s not going to happen. I’ve known him five minutes; he doesn’t get to see me cry. “Hey – listen to me. This is not your fault. It’s not even your mom’s fault.”
I’m not so sure. She probably thought she was doing me a favor; that’s why she waited until I was out of the house. If she was off her meds, she’d think she was making sure I never had to deal with her or the Groundling world again.
“You did not do anything wrong, London,” he says, and tries a hug. It’s awkward, and quick, and not tight, but still a nice gesture – assuming he means it. I shrug a little, and he lets go. “I wish she’d sent you out here sooner. This is more worry than a kid needs to shoulder. It can’t be good for you… I’m sorry.”
He stands still, waiting for me to decide we’ve been here long enough. By now, my armored uniform has turned back into cotton.
“Which one’s yours?” I ask, glancing at the parking lot.
It’s best to change the subject quickly when people apologize for things they can’t control or change. Nothing but misplaced guilt, and I’ve heard it before from people who assume my mother is a cause no longer worth fighting for. They’re usually less sorry that she’s suicidal that they are sorry for leaving me with her and not really wanting to get involved so she can’t become their burden, too.
We start walking toward the cars, but he doesn’t give the bag back.
“Is it always so bright here?” I ask as we step out of the building’s shadow and into the full sunlight of a southern autumn afternoon. Aside from the people in business suits, most everyone is in T-shirts or shorts, and wearing sandals.
“Pretty much,” he says, then stops, suddenly staring up the way people do when they’ve remembered something important at a bad time. “I got all the way out here and didn’t ask you where the rest of your bags are. I’ll go and see if-”
“There aren’t anymore.”
Now he looks confused, maybe apologetic.
“London, I don’t know what they told you, but you’re going to be here for a while. Your aunt said she was packing everything.”
“Did you not like the things I sent? Your mom’s never said anything. I would have found something else, or sent a gift card, or-”
“I never got any clothes.”
I haven’t even seen any clothes, but it’s not a surprise. My mother hardly ever passes things along that he sends, even though she usually lets me see what they are. If we take the things he sends, she says, he might believe that’s enough, and one of her rules is that we don’t want things, we want him.
I slide into the passenger seat and reach for my belt.
“You and Shae can go shopping tomorrow. I know you probably have your own license, but I’d rather you not drive on your own until you’re used to the roads – it’s not like a city down here, and they aren’t all paved. I’ll have to call the DMV to check on getting you an in-state ID, too.”
“Who’s Shae?” I ask.
Nope, can’t say it. The step’s name is Stephanie. If I call her step, I can pretend it’s a nickname.
“My daughter – your sister,” he says.
“Oh. Mom said her name was Brooklyn.”
After all, that’s why I’m London – it makes us both bridges, so we match. It makes sense to my mother.
“That’s where she was born, but her name’s Shaelyn. Shaelyn Selby Caffrey.”
Great. I’m London Selby Caffrey. I guess my mother got one right.
“She wanted to come, but Stephanie thought it might be easier if everyone didn’t mob you on the platform. If Shae had come, there would have been no way to keep Maisie out of the car, and then there would have been no way to keep her out of your hair.”
He stops talking, and I don’t bother to start. I’m more interested in watching out the window, trying to get a feel for how life works after it’s been turned upside down and inside out. That way, I might be able to figure out how to hang on for the ride.