Good morning everyone. The convention is the past, chemistry is the now, and a long trip lies in my future. With work woven all around those constants. I am working on editing the manuscript to use my beta reader’s feedback in making it a better story. I will be sending it to my editor either tonight, or tomorrow, as, yes, I usually do work on holidays.
The snippet that follows will likely have errors, as it is first draft manuscript. The edition that will be released upon publication may have changes (most likely will) and it all belongs to me.
If you want to begin at the beginning, look at the sticky post at the top of the blog, or click here.
Linn turned in a circle, looking for a path, or a clue. It was hard to tell what time it was, or what direction north would be in, with the overcast hiding the sun. She’d been taught that when lost, to hug a tree and wait for help, but that didn’t apply today. For one thing, she and Blackie could get on the High Path and head for home at any time. But that would mean admitting defeat. She picked a general direction.
“We go this way.” Linn decided that if they could reach the ocean, they might be able to see better. And that was the other thing she knew. Find running water, follow it downward, and you would find civilization sooner or later. Here, she felt, it would be sooner. Isle of Man wasn’t that big, and had a lot of people in a relatively small area, as far as she was concerned. Blackie loped ahead of her, a rippling shadow under the trees.
The wet didn’t bother her, it wasn’t cold. She knew it would be bad if she stayed out in it for too long, but she was confident that they would find shelter soon. Grampa Heff had sent them here, and he wouldn’t have let them come out too far from their destination. Training, on the other hand, happened best in the rain. She thought she detected Bes’s hand in this imprecise targeting. She could hear his laughing voice in her head. “A good lesson, and a long walk, never hurt anyone.”
The little Egyptian god had a wicked sense of humor, and had been her de-facto guardian that summer, and a friend as well as a teacher afterward. Linn missed him, but also wanted to prove that she’d been listening. She slicked her wet hair back off her face and paid attention. They were walking on a green carpet of mosses and grasses. It wasn’t like the Pacific Rainforest she had grown up with outside of Seattle, it was firmer underfoot and the trees were not as tall and broad. These trees gave off the impression of great age and character, she decided. They were gnarled and twisted overhead, with a directionality she recognized. They were coming close to the ocean, and the wind had sculpted the branches above over years of blowing in the same direction.
She couldn’t feel the full force of the wind yet. Too many trees, still, and now there was low underbrush to push through, as well. She slowed down and made it carefully a bit further, losing sight of Blackie. Linn was pushing aside a branch to take another step when she felt a tug at her back.
“What?” Blackie tugged harder. Linn looked back at him, seeing that he had her coat in his mouth, his ears firmly flattened to his head. Mystified, she put her foot down rather than taking the next step, and tried to figure out what had him worried.
The brush was too thick to see through, here, so she pushed the branches aside in front of her again, and then realized why he had stopped her. There was a cliff on the other side of the bush she was trying to navigate through. Had she taken about two more steps, she would have fallen down it. Linn didn’t dare get close enough to see how far down it went. Carefully, she retreated backwards through the bushes, Blackie keeping a tight hold on her coat until she was back into more open forest.
“Well.” She wanted to sit down, but it was too wet. “Now what?”
It was getting darker, and she was hungry, thirsty, and quite put out. Bes and Dierdre still hadn’t reappeared, which was beginning to worry her. She had water and food in her pack, of course, and she could have a drink, which she did now. Thinking, she munched a handful of gorp.
“Blackie, your turn. Obviously, my plan was for the birds.”
He chuffed a snort at her, his version of a laugh. Swiveling his ears to and fro, he lashed his tail, hard, and then set out purposefully. Linn had to almost trot to keep up with him. With the light dimming, he was more shadowy than ever.
“I see now why you are superior camouflage cat.” She told his tail. He twitched the tip of it in acknowledgement but didn’t slow down. Linn saved her breath after that. He was in a hurry, and she was, too. Going home because it got dark would be very little-kid. They needed to find where they were, and what they were looking for. Most likely, Bes and Deirdre were already there.
It didn’t take long at all, heading in this direction, to break out of the woods into an open, mowed field. Linn breathed a sigh of relief. She had been beginning to wonder if they had somehow ended up on the High Plane, in the vast wilderness areas. The rain was coming down harder, but perversely it seemed lighted now they were out from under the trees. Blackie semi-crouched in the muddy verge of the field, growling low in his throat.
“What’s wrong?” She asked him. The big cat, unlike his mother, had never shifted to human form, but Linn had equally never doubted his personhood. She did, however, often wish he could or would talk. He laid his ears back, still growling, and his tail lashed.
Linn peered through the rain. “I think I see lights. Let’s go.”
The back of her neck was prickling with anxiety over the way Blackie was acting, and the idea of being somewhere warm, dry, and above all, lighted, sounded wonderful about now. That atavistic desire was the only thing she could think of, and it was why she stopped dead just before she opened the garden gate. She hadn’t even thought until this second how normal people would react to her big black companion.
“Darn.” As if on cue, another trickle of icy water made it past the collar of her coat and down her neck. “Blackie…” She really didn’t want to leave him in the cold rain. He licked her hand and nudged her toward the gate. The he looked deliberately toward the barely visible bulk of the big barn. Linn sighed. He’d been born in a barn, after all, she just hated having to leave him out in the cold. He nudged her again, and she nodded and lifted the gate latch.
He’d vanished completely by the time she knocked at the heavy wooden door of the farmhouse. She was shivering in earnest now, and trying to pull together a coherent cover story to explain why she was out in the seeming middle of nowhere, lost and alone. Her knock seemed swallowed up in the dense wood of the door, like her voice had been by the High Path when she was calling Bes. Linn blinked back sudden tears, and knocked again.
The door opened with a suddenness that had her taking an involuntary step backwards, her hand still lifted up. Linn blinked at the apparition which had appeared before her. The goth chick with the piercings glared back from behind an unruly mop of obviously dyed black hair. Of everything Linn might have expected to find opening the door at a remote British farmhouse, this was the least plausible… She opened her mouth, finally, and managed, “H-hello?”
The creature scowled harder, and turned her… Linn could see now it was a girl perhaps her own age. She turned her head and bellowed in a piercing soprano, “Granda! Visitor!”
Linn stayed on the doorstep, not having been invited into the warm light that was spilling out around the figure of the girl in the NIN t-shirt and baggy black cargo pants. She could have stepped out of the halls of Linn’s old school, which only made her that much more incongruous here. Footsteps sounded behind the girl, and she finally stepped aside. The man who came to the door was no taller than Linn, a half-head shorter than his own granddaughter, if Linn interpreted the appellation goth-chick had shouted correctly. His white hair stuck out from his head in what she suspected was a permanent halo of curls and wisps. He was drying his hands on a tattered dishtowel.
“Eh?” He peered at her, his blue eyes widening. “Child, you’ll catch a death! Come, come…” Linn gratefully obeyed his beckoning hands and came dripping into the hall.
“Thank you.” She got out around her chattering teeth.
“Here…” He pointed at the rack half-full of jackets, over a rack of boots. “Get oot o’ t’wet.”
Linn complied, feeling bad about the mess she was leaving on the worn stone flags of the floor. She hadn’t realized quite how cold she was until she was fumbling with the laces of her muddy hiking boots. By the time she had them off, he was mopping the puddles she’d made up, expertly whisking it out the door with a flourish. Fascinated, she watched, wondering simultaneously how old he was, how old the house was, and just how many years it had taken of feet walking and bristly mops to wear the stone down like that. She glanced around and realized this place was old. Incredibly ancient, from the feel of it.
She couldn’t risk a peek with her other sight, she needed to explain… “My name is…”
“Tsk. Coom, ha’ tay.”
Linn blinked, wondering what he had just said to her. She followed him into a little kitchen, where he sat her firmly at a chair drawn nearer the stove, which was open and had what looked like bricks of something burning in it. That, she thought, must be peat. She started to steam gently as the heat soaked into her damp clothing. He brought her a chipped mug full of a dark, hot beverage that smelled like… “Ah! tea!” She smiled at him. He grinned back, a charmingly toothless smile that made him seem incredibly young and old all at once. He put a little plateful of cookies on the table near her elbow and turned back to his dishwater, leaving Linn to stare at his back, wondering where the goth apparition had gone, and why he wasn’t curious about her.
“He’s deaf as doornails.” The goth-chick appeared in the doorway. “I’m Gloryann. Call me G.”
Linn took the thin, pale hand, a little relieved that it was warm to the touch. “I’m Linn. I got separated from my group…”
“Ah, the lost.” G made a face. “What inspires you yanks to walk in the rain.”
“We, er, didn’t have much time.” Which was strictly true, even if Linn did hope G would take that as a short vacation, not an urgent mission.
“Better call them up, then. Let ‘em know you aren’t being eaten by ogres.”
Linn blinked, and then realized she was being treated like a child and made fun of, not being given a serious warning. “Yes. Thank you for the tea and cookies.”
G sniffed. “Biscuits. Crikes, didn’t you watch Harry Potter, even?”
Linn nodded. “Sorry, I’m tired.” She fumbled the cell phone out of the waterproof case her mother had insisted on, and when she looked up, G had gone again. Granda still stood at the sink washing, humming tunelessly.
She had one bar on the cell phone, and no idea if it would work overseas. With a helpless shrug, she dialed. To her delight, it not only went through, but Bes answered.
“Linn. Where are you? No, wait…” She could make out other voices in the background. “Nevermind. I’m sending someone to pick you up. Sit tight until he arrives, Okay? And be careful what you say.”
Then he hung up, leaving Linn staring at the phone in dismay. How did he even know where she was, when she didn’t know herself? G drifted back into the room. “That was fast. He got a gps tracker on you?”
Linn didn’t know. That would be more reassuring than feeling like she had once again stumbled into something she didn’t know enough about. “Where is… where are we?”
“You are lost, aren’t you? We’re near Ballentrae, just by Nickaloggie Burn.”
Linn couldn’t help it. She giggled at the name. G let her facade slip and cracked a smile. “Aye, it’s not an easy name.”
“This place seems… very old.” Linn ventured, hoping the laugh hadn’t offended the other girl.
G went back to her practiced gloom. “Old, rotten, and so boring I could die.”
“Why are you here, then?” Linn had been wondering that since the goth had opened the door. G looked at her Granda’s back. He’d moved from the finished dishes to a pan on the stove, which smelled appetizing to Linn’s empty stomach.
“Not much choice.”
She sat across the table from Linn, but didn’t say anything more. Linn looked around the room. It was clean, but everything was worn. The curtains over the sink had been patched, carefully, but still. Linn couldn’t help contrasting this place with her Grandfather’s cabin. They shared a certain homeyness, a warmth and comfort she could feel wrapping around her like a blanket. But the cabin was gone, blown to splinters by a vengeful god when her grandfather refused his overtures. Linn shivered a little.