A Monday Post

I’m notoriously bad at working on multiple projects at once. At this moment, I have three documents open on my laptop, plus this blog post, and the dishwasher is running, and there are cookies in the oven, and STUFF SO MUCH STUFF TO DO I’M GOING TO DIE BENEATH A PILE OF ALL THIS STUFF AND ALL THIS JUNK MAIL I REFUSE TO SORT THROUGH.

And I do it to myself, of course. And secretly (well, not so secretly anymore since this is a blog and I’m typing these words for all seven of the people who will read this) I do it because I want to. Because I enjoy having thirty-nine irons in the fire and also my house is on fire because I’m too busy trying to find a word that means “nonchalant” but isn’t “nonchalant.”

So. Today I’m going to talk about Daughters of Men. It’s a project I’ve been toodling with on and off for about ten years or so (much more off than on, obviously) but it’s finally making its way to the forefront of my brain and so also garnering the majority of my attention.

Brother and sister, they were raised in fear, told to keep to the shadows cast by the walls slowly crumbling down around them.

Kai and Isak Vadra have lived their entire lives in London, scratching out a living in the shadows of the city’s filthy slums. While their mother struggles to keep them safe from the everyday threats of hunger and crime, a new danger presents itself, one beyond the reaches of politics and police.

Their mother does everything within her power to prevent this new danger from tearing their world apart. But instead of safety, it threatens to bring to light her worst fear, that a secret their family has kept for generations will finally be revealed.

I’m going to try to update fairly regularly about progress (I’d LOVE to see this one finished and fine-tuned and published sometime in the first half of next year, but I refuse to make any promises) and I’ll be generous and leave a little snippet from the first chapter here (before I run off to grab those cookies out of the oven.)

Her bowl sat on the floor in beside her, forgotten after only a few bites. Instead, she concentrated on the small tin lamp, her hands clasped loosely in front of her, elbows resting on her knees. Isak watched her, the steadiness of her gaze causing him to hold his breath. The flame flickered once and was still.

“Kai.” Her name was a hiss between his teeth. He glanced at his mother to make sure her back was turned towards them.

His sister’s dark blue eyes met his.

“Stop it,” he mouthed, and shook his head in warning.

Her cheekbones pushed upward, turning her eyes into slits as she smiled. A second later, another flicker of light, brighter this time, shot halfway up the lamp’s narrow glass chimney.

He wanted to say something, wanted to bark an order at her to quit, but their mother was right there, her shoulders hunched forward as she scrubbed at the inside of the soup pot, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows.

Unable to think of another option, Isak kept his head down, picked up his spoon and stirred what was left of his dinner. “Please,” he whispered again, but the flame continued to dance at the tip of the wick, strange shadows cast outside the small circle of light.

The blast made less noise than he imagined it would. The glass went everywhere, a few larger chunks littering the floor between them, while needle-sharp slivers had flown in all directions, some disappearing into the last of his soup.

Kai laughed, then gasped before clapping her hands over her mouth. There was the sound of rummaging above them, and then a match flamed to life and a candle was lit. Their mother stood over the two of them, the sharp lines and hollows of her face exaggerated by the candle’s twitching flame. Her eyes glittered as she surveyed the mess on the floor. She said nothing. Then, she bent down and struck Kai across the cheek.

Isak winced at the sound but failed to look away.

“Here.” His mother threw a cloth at her daughter and nodded to the lump of distorted metal that had been a functioning lamp only minutes before. “Clean it up, every piece.”

“But—”

“Say another word, Kai. Go on, then.”

Kai picked up the cloth and ran the stained edges of it between her fingers. Her bottom lip quivered as if she was about to speak, or about to burst into tears. Slowly, with a hand that trembled, she reached out and picked up a shard of glass from in front of her knee.

Isak picked up his bowl and stacked it on top of his sister’s.

“Go to bed,” his mother told him. Her voice was calm, quiet, as if she was reluctant to disturb the hush that had descended since the lamp went out.

“What about…?” He glanced at Kai, the cloth spread out in front of her, a small pile of glass and bits of metal accumulating in the center of the fabric.

“She’ll be along when she’s done. She has to do this. She has to learn.”

 

 

It’s a Tuesday!

It’s Tuesday. I’m having to remind myself of this quite frequently today, since every part of my brain keeps declaring that it’s at least Wednesday or later. Silly brain.

I finally finished up the epilogue for An Unpracticed Heart yesterday. Now I simply need to edit my way through the entire manuscript (plus revise the epilogue) and have it off to my editor by Monday. *weak laughter*

Daughters of Men is trudging along (that sounds desultory, but it’s not). My plan is for a release just after the New Year, and lots of fun tying it in with The Half Killed’s world while I work on the next book in *that* series. (I really do need to stop jumping all over the place with my writing (PICK A GENRE, QUEN) but I think I’ve realized this is just how my brain works, fortunately or unfortunately. Silly brain.)

And so! To make up for the lack of meat in this post, I bring you a short story, just shy of 1500 words, titled “Driftwood.” As long as my brain doesn’t want to go ahead and turn it into something longer…

***

DriftwoodDriftwood

Jesper cursed. The cold wasn’t supposed to get to him, that’s what they said. But he felt it still, in his knees, in his hands, even in the arches of his feet. Everything hurt. And as he made his way down to the shore, clinging to the slick rocks for balance, he cursed every person who had promised him there would be no more pain.

He glanced at the horizon, at the pale green glow that illuminated the distance. It would be morning soon. It was morning already, he reminded himself, whether the blink of fading stars agreed with him or not. There was an hour left, maybe. And then who knew what other vultures would come to make their claim.

He skirted the water as best he could, veering away from the waves as they crept upwards, erasing his footprints before he could take another step. The body was in the shallows, a dark blot against the pale background. It could’ve been a piece of driftwood left to bleach in the day’s sun. Jesper moved towards it, drawn by the glimmer of life, or what was left of it.

As he approached, he saw that the dying man’s face, the closed eyes, the parted lips. He was young, Jesper thought. Hardly a man. With another glance at the brightening horizon, Jesper placed his hands on his knees and settled down on the nearest rock.

It wasn’t more than a few minutes before Jesper looked up again, his gaze drawn by the quick splash-splash of feet moving along the edge of the water. He hadn’t considered the possibility that there would be more than one coming to collect. He wondered if he should stand up, greet the newcomer as an equal. But his bones wouldn’t agree to this, and so he remained seated, one hip throbbing as he shifted his weight forward.

The newcomer moved with ease, leaping over the rocks and detritus that littered the small pools. He greeted Jesper with a grin, both cheeks pushed upwards. Jesper cleared his throat.

“Hey, uh… Don’t touch that.”

The other man balanced on the edge of a flat rock, his heels resting on nothing but air. His right arm was in front of him, fingers outstretched, while his eyes took in the cliff side, the

ragged edge of soil washed away during the storm. His grin returned when his gaze made the circuit back to Jesper. “You’re Land,” he said, teeth shining like pearls in the pre-dawn light.

A grunt. That was all Jesper would give him. “The boy’s not gone yet.”

“Soon enough.” The man bobbed on the edge of his rock, up and down, up and down, a motion that matched the lap of waves behind him.

“Do you think he’s yours, then?”

“What? This?” The man indicated the body between them, as if only registering its presence for the first time. “Of course. I’m surprised you feel the need to ask.”

Jesper waited for more. He waited for an explanation. He waited for the other man to leave off bouncing and skip back the way he’d come. He looked down at the body half sunk in the water, the body of the boy who had yet to die.

“You’ve no claim on him,” Jesper announced.

“Really? Should we cut him open? See what’s filling his lungs?” The man chuckled. “If he’s got a chestful of dirt, then I’ll gladly relinquish my hold on him.”

“He’s on land now,”Jesper pointed out.

“That he is,” he conceded.

“He’s also still living.”

Again, the grin. “I’d heard you were a stickler for details.”

Jesper nodded toward the water, illuminated by the sky above it. “There’s not much time left.”

The man leaned over the body, eyes narrowing as he searched the neck for a pulse. “No worries,” he said. “Another minute or two and it won’t matter.” He stood up and tilted his face up toward the sky.

The other man was also young, Jesper thought. And tricky. The young ones always were.

“I’m surprised he’s stayed on this long,” the man announced, his smile never leaving his face. “It’s always a bit of a bother when they decide to linger.”

Jesper looked down at the boy again. His face was an odd, colorless shade. The skin that stretched across his jaw seemed to be as fragile as paper, ready to tear, to disintegrate into nothing.

“You didn’t get enough with the storm? You have to take this one, as well?”

The man stepped onto a smaller rock that dipped precariously beneath his weight. “I don’t understand why you try to be so stubborn, so solid all the time.” His grin brightened, then

faded rapidly. “You want to be immovable. You want to be a bulwark. A protection. And I… I don’t understand it.”

A minute passed. The sound of the waves was an irritant. Jesper shut his eyes and released a breath, ready to curse himself for reacting to the man’s prodding. “What?” he asked finally.

The man tilted his head to one side, regarding him curiously. “I’m sorry?”

“What is it? What don’t you understand?”

“Oh, that.” Another grin, this time accompanied by a brief shrug. “Just the silliness of it, your insistence on never giving in, and yet…” He moved gracefully from one stone to another, arms spread wide as he gestured towards the battered shoreline. “You’re so malleable, so easy to tear down.”

Jesper nodded. “You’re trying to distract me.”

The man hopped onto another rock and dropped down to his haunches. “A little bit, yes. But it doesn’t seem to be working all that well.”

Jesper shook his head.

“I must admit, you’re fairly pleasant for one of your kind.”

Jesper made no indication that he would return the compliment.

The man reached his fingers into the still pool of water that surrounded the dying boy’s legs. The surface of the water shimmered, ripples gliding outward and then swirling clockwise before they turned back again. As he removed his hand, the water calmed, the only color it reflected that of the grey sky shifting above it.

“So what are we to do with him?” he asked, his gaze fixed on the drops of water that clung to his fingertips.

We will do nothing,”Jesper said, and dug his heels into the soft sand beneath his shoes. “The boy’s about to expire, and that’s a great deal of soil beneath his rear, despite how waterlogged his boots might be.”

The man laughed. It was a bright, giddy sound that bounced off the rock wall and  mingled with the breaking of the waves against the shoreline. “What? You don’t feel inclined to gamble for him? Or perhaps some wise man will rule that we should cut him in half, each of us taking our fair share.”

Jesper placed his hands on the rock. He didn’t want to stand. He was too tired, too sore to stand. But he dug his heels in deeper, until he felt the water squelch out of the sand, and even the rock beneath him seemed to sink farther into the ground. “Should this boy have drowned at home, in the tub, which one of us would be there to collect him then, hmm?”

His smile faded, and a line appeared between his eyebrows. “You’re going to make this difficult.” He sighed and stood up again to his full height. Around him, the various pools and shallows began to ripple. Behind him, the waves that crashed onto the shore reached far enough inland to swallow up a wall of debris left behind by the storm.

Jesper didn’t stir. He felt the rock beneath him, the roots of it reaching down into the earth. He rolled his shoulders forward, and the movement was echoed by a groan from the stone wall. A few pebbles broke loose and bounced down to the sand.

“You’ve no claim on him,” Jesper repeated. He didn’t raise his eyes.

The man spread out the fingers of his left hand. The water around the boy’s figure shimmered in response. “If that’s the way you’re going to play, then—”

There was a harsh cough, and then a wet retching sound.

Jesper looked down. The boy moved. His thin chest heaved as his lungs fought for air. More coughing, and the boy managed to raise his head out of the sand, rivulets of water dribbling from the corners of his mouth.

“Oh,” the man said, his lean figure looming over the boy. “That’s inconvenient.”

Jesper let his gaze sweep back towards the horizon. A sliver of sunlight appeared above the waves, setting their crests on fire. He smiled, then. He couldn’t help it. And when he looked back at the other man, he caught a glimpse of a grin in reply before the both of them glimmered and winked out of sight.

***