Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tango Girls

I finally finished the rough draft of my latest novel. This is the fourth novel I've finished in the last two years. I'm still not entirely sure how this happened....

The novel is part of what I think will be a set of four novels, each focusing on a different main character. I have no idea what the title of this novel is, but the series of books is title Tango Girls.

Here is a snippet from the novel. Please be kind, this is a completely unrevised rough draft!

I am lurking in the candy aisle at 6:55 Friday morning. I’m not sure that I really made a decision to do this, to take up Tate on his offer of a ride. It was just the idea of not having to sit on the bus. I did the thing that didn’t involve a bus. It won’t hurt to take the ride once, I can always change my mind later and go back to the bus. Even if the thought makes me cringe a bit.

The rattle-tinkle of the strip of bells hanging on the front door pulls my eyes from the gummy chipmunks. Why are those a thing? A guy with a tower of black kinky curls walks through the doors. His hair reaches the 5’11” mark beside the door. I estimate his head reaches to 5’9”. It’s a lot of hair.

He makes a beeline straight for the coffee island. I watch him grab a cup and dump in four packets of sugar and three cups of hazelnut creamer before pouring coffee over the top. He is humming something and shifting on his feet, almost dancing, as he does this. I can’t make out what the music is, but he is definitely putting on a coffee show.

“You’re here.” I turn to the voice on my right. Tate.

“Yeah. Good morning. And thanks.” If Tate is beside me, I think the coffee dancer must be his friend. “Is that Malcolm?” I send my gaze back to the island where the show has progressed to stirring while his feet patter out a bit of soft-shoe.

“Yes.”

“Does he do this every morning?”

“Yes.”

“What is he like after he adds all that sugar and caffeine to his already overflowing energy?”

“You’ll see.”

My eyes widen. I’m going to be trapped in a car with him when all of that hits his system. Maybe this is an awful idea. But I’m stuck. The bus is long gone. If I wait for  the next one, I’ll miss English.

“You’ll survive. He hasn’t exploded yet.”

This is my real concern. Tate pulled it right out of my head. I look up at him, and he is smiling down at me.

I sigh. “Okay. Let’s go.”

I have so many reservations. Deep, deep reservations. But I climb into the car with these two unknowns anyway. Malcolm insists that I take the front seat, because I’m “a lady.” I’d much rather sit in the back where I can hide, stay out of their conversation and the path of Malcolm’s potentially frantic, explosive energy.

The first few minutes are relatively calm, silent even. I pull my script out of my bag and flip it open, intent on memorizing the lines to my first two songs. I want to be able to focus on the notes, the music during rehearsal, not juggling a sheet of paper to help me with the words.

Malcolm has other ideas. He has a lot of ideas and a ton of random facts. He is determined to share them all with me in the next forty-five minutes.

“Did you know there are two skulls in Hayden’s tomb?”

This one stops me cold. “Hayden, as in, the guy in the show?” I pivot my head to look over my shoulder so that I can see Malcolm out of the corner of my eye.

His look of confusion mirrors mine. “Hayden is dead.”

“What?”

Malcolm and I sit staring at each other in puzzled silence for a moment. Tate breaks it. “I think Malcolm is talking about Haydn, with no e. Not the guy that goes to our school.”

Malcolm’s brows relax. “Why would I talk about a guy at our school? Haydn. No e. Austrian composer.”

That makes much more sense, and yet none at all.

Now that his confusion has passed, Malcolm resumes bouncing slightly in his seat, vibrating, really. I can feel it pass through the hand he is using to grip the headrest of my seat as he leans his head forward into the space between the two front seats.

At this point, I decide it will be easier just to play along. “No. I did not know there are two skulls in Haydn’s tomb. No e.”

I hear a tiny snort from the driver’s seat. I glance over. Tate is smiling and shaking his head ever so slightly. I feel like he’s heard this version of the Malcolm show before.

Malcolm continues as if I asked for more information. “His real skull was stolen. By those science-ish people who study the shapes of people’s skulls, the bumps and stuff. So someone, like his relatives, or something, put a fake skull in his tomb, so he wouldn’t be headless. But they got the real skull back eventually. And just added it to the tomb. They didn’t take the fake one out. I think it’s because they weren’t sure at that point which one was the real one, and didn’t want to through away Haydn’s actual head.”

There might have been breaths in there somewhere, but I didn’t hear them.

“Death is weird. And people dodge it all the time. Like the London orchestra. They were booked to travel on the Titanic. But something happened at the last minute, and they changed boats. So they lived. Like, the whole orchestra should be in the bottom of the ocean somewhere, but they’re not.”

“That was lucky.” It’s the best I can do. I feel obligated to say something, but I’m clearly not as obsessed with music-related death as Malcolm is.

Again, Tate seems to pull my thoughts from my head. “Maybe enough with the death facts, Malcolm. What else you got?”

Or, not quite what’s in my head. I was more interested in a general stop in fact-lets, not just the death specific ones.

“There are more than seventy pieces of wood in my violin.”

I turn my head to look into the back seat. I missed his case when I climbed into the car. There is a black hourglass settled in the seat behind Tate, sitting upright like a little human. The seatbelt is crossed over it and latched into place. I smile.

“Is that your violin?” I know it’s an obvious question, but I ask anyway. “Can I see it?”

“Not in the car. Tatiana stays safely buckled until the car is no longer in motion.”

“You named your violin.” There is zero question in my voice. Of course Malcolm named his violin. Maybe she knows the name of Tate’s car. I don’t suggest this out loud.

“I didn’t name her. It’s just who she is. The beautiful and elegant Tatiana de Corleon.”

I smile at Malcolm and turn back to look out the windshield so that he can’t see what happens on my face. I can’t control the raise of my eyebrows, the twitching of my lips as I struggle to keep in the giggle.

“She is beautiful,” Tate says. Somehow he manages to keep his voice straight, I don’t hear a trace of a laugh in there.

Malcolm is silent for long enough that I am able to focus on my script. I’m not sure if he’s lost in reverie, or dreams of dancing with Tatiana, or just passed out from caffeine and sugar overload.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Motivation (April 2017 Reads)

I finished twelve books in April:

The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (reread)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig
Touch by Courtney Maum (digital ARC)
Identical by Scott Turow

“What’s your motivation?”

I’m not sure how many times I heard that question in high school and college. When you are a theatre major, you hear it almost daily. Acting is really just figuring out what the character wants and showing the audience how much they want it.

This month, the same question has been swirling in my mind. Two of the books I read this month stirred it up, both because I had issues with the characters motivation. In one case, because they didn’t seem to have a motivation, in the other because their actions didn’t match their motive.

The first book I want to mention is Touch by Courtney Maum. This was a digital ARC I received in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in my review, click here.

The short version is I didn’t really like the book. What it boiled down to for me was that I had no idea what the main character wanted. I couldn’t even figure out what I should want for her. So I didn’t care what was happening to her. I didn’t care about the few choices she made. Eventually, this changed, the character developed a goal, and started moving toward it. But it was too late for me to become invested in the story.

The second book I actually really liked. The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig is the sequel to The Girl From Everywhere. This is a duology (I think there are only two books, but I would absolutely read a third) about a girl who has the ability to navigate through time and space as long as she has a map.

Warning: If you haven’t read the book, and plan on it, there are some mild spoilers ahead.

Nix (the main character) starts the story with a very clear goal. She has learned that Kash, the man she loves, will drown at some point in time (though she does not know when/ where it will occur). Her goal is to save him, to not lose the man she loves. This is a crystal clear goal, and one that I firmly support. Kash is my favorite character in the books.

The trouble I ran into was in the how. Nix learns that a man named Crowhurst has figured out how to change the past. He has figured out how to double back in time and revisit a map that he has previously visited to change what happened there. Nix latches onto this as the way to save Kash and sets out to make Crowhurst tell her how it works.

What was missing for me was how the ability to change the past would keep Kash from drowning. There was nothing (that I know of) that occurred earlier in Nix’s story that she could change to alter Kash’s future.

So instead of riding along with the story, I kept drifting out, into my own head to try to figure out how what Nix was trying to do was going to get her what she wanted. The best I managed to come up with was that Nix had already accepted that she would watch Kash drown. She just wanted to be able to go back and fix it after it happened. If that’s what Nix was thinking, it would have helped me stay in the story to have Nix lay it out there. Honestly, a conversation between Nix and Kash along the lines of “You’re going to die. But don’t worry, I’ll save you later” would have done the trick.

These motivational issues have gotten me thinking about my own writing. I am looking at every scene in my stories to see if the character has a clear goal, and if that goal is clear enough to carry the reader through the scene and story.

It has also got me thinking about why knowing what a character wants is so important for a reader. Knowing what a character wants tells us so much about them. It gives us something to root for. It makes us wonder how far they are willing to go for that thing they want. Where is the line they won’t cross? Who will they recruit (or squash) on the way to get it? Want characters (and people) want is the core of who they are. We are all defined by our dreams.

Friday, April 14, 2017

From the Way Back

Again, the middle of the month has snuck up on me. Typically, I post a new bit of short fiction around the fifteenth. But I am deep in the dark and spooky drafting cave where the bright flash of short fiction cannot reach. (Translation: All of my writing has been on my current novel in progress, I ain’t been writin’ any shorts.)

The current novel in progress is set in a school of the arts, which has sent me into the land of remembery. Even though I was in the theatre department at my high school, the editors of our literary journal were kind (or pitied me) enough to publish bits of my writing.

I have resisted the urge to edit myself, so here are the bits as originally published in Elan (Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Literary Journal).

Shears and Stripes


We sit in the small stick-shift truck
bumping towards the barbershop
with the candy-striped pole

inside we walk across the soft down of
the newly cropped hair to sit in
the old red chairs lining the wall
with their dull, worn leather
peeling off the seats

we never get our hair cut,
just chatter and jabber for hours
while we nibble on
the chocolate frosted donuts
that only taste good in the
small little shop with
the red and white pole out front.

Note- This poem is about five-year-old me visiting the barbershop with my grandpa. I miss you, Valter Vance.

Falling

He talks to me, and it becomes difficult to keep from jumping off the cliff. Even though I hate to fall, I think that eventually someone will catch me at the bottom and make it all worthwhile. But, that someone may not catch me and I’ll fall to the ground. Then I’ll have to pick myself up, wounded though I may be, and come face to face with the person who let me fall. If he let me fall to catch another, I’ll have to face her too. Sitting snugly in his arms, where I know it’s very comfortable to be. We’ll have one last long look and he’ll turn to walk away, carrying the princess in his arms. Then I’ll stand at the bottom of the cliff, watching him go. He might look back, or throw a word over his shoulder that will give me the motivation to turn to the cliff and begin the struggle to climb back to the top.

As I climb I think of the fall, the not knowing if he’ll catch me, or let me drop as he’s done before. I near the top and I swear I’ll never fall for him again. But in my heart I know that all he has to do is say my name, wrap his arms around my waist as he likes to do, or flat-out ask and I’ll gladly jump again. I’m a lemming, only a whole lot worse because I know what I’m doing and what it means when I step off the edge.

I’ve reached the top, and I look down. There he is. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him, yet it feels like only yesterday. I step closer to the edge to get a better look, thinking all the while, “You’re too close, step away from the edge!” Do I listen? No. I waver there on the edge watching him looking up at me. He holds out his hand. I start to cry as I take the final step over the edge, and I’m falling again, again, again……..

Note- This one is about sixteen-year-old me and that’s all I have to say about that.

What writings do you have tucked away that you might rather forget you ever wrote?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Bad Blood and Other March Reads

I finished twelve books in March:

Feversong by Karen Marie Moning
Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber
Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (reread, audiobook)
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Green-Light Your Book by Brooke Warner
Duma Key by Stephen King
Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (reread, audiobook)
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

I had some thoughts while reading (and after I finished) Bad Blood:

This is the fourth (and final, I believe) book in The Naturals series. Once you let yourself fall into the premise (a group of teenagers who are profilers for the FBI) the series is very good. It’s pitched as a young adult version of Criminal Minds.

Most of the series focuses on the crimes surrounding this group of teens, both the crimes that gave them the skills they use as profilers and the crimes that continue to swirl around them. It features an interesting cast of characters, who are very well developed (the teens more than the adults around them, which is appropriate).

There was one exception to the general rule of well developed plot and character for me, though. The relationship between Cassie (the main character of the series) and Dean (who she is finally calling her boyfriend by the end of book four). We hear Cassie’s thoughts about Dean, and we see his actions toward Cassie. But the extent of their relationship is a bit fuzzy. There are a few moments where hints are given, scenes fade to a close without reaching their end.

Some of the same hints and fuzziness surround another couple in the story.

There are a lot of reasons not to give specifics regarding a physical relationship on the page. Especially if you are writing YA. While the “acceptable content” for a YA book has changed a lot over the years, there are still people who have strong feelings about what can and can’t be in a YA book. Swear words, violence, and sex are usually the focus of these proposed restrictions.

As an author of YA, your goal is to present the world in a realistic way, which means cussing, sex, and violence happen. The sticky bit is knowing when are you representing reality, and when it isn’t necessary to the story.

It may come down to an author’s personal choice in the end. It may be the publisher’s choice in the end. I have no idea which was the case in Bad Blood. Maybe Jennifer just wanted to leave some things up to her reader’s imagination.

Maybe the more interesting piece of this, to me, is what is included in the series. There is violence. A lot of it. The ending of book four had a moment that actually made me gasp. It was horrific, it was violent, it was not what I expected. But it was exactly what had to happen.

So tons of violence. But no sex.

Then I realized that this is really a cultural thing. Across the board, I think we are more comfortable with kids being exposed to violence in TV, games, movies, books, etc. than we are with them being exposed to sex or other displays of love. This is often true in real life as well. Many of us would be more comfortable with our kids witnessing a fight on the street than a passionate kiss at a bus stop.

This is disturbing. Essentially we are saying that violence and hate are acceptable but love is not. It is okay to display your anger, but don’t show anyone your heart.

Given that this seems to be spread throughout our society, I’m not sure how we change it. Maybe instead of encouraging acts of defiance, we should start encouraging acts of love.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Jenny

I should be working on the first draft of my next book, but a character asked a question I can’t answer. While the back of my brain chews on that problem, I did some productive procrastination and wrote this short, inspired by a song, and having nothing at all to do with the song at the same time.

“Okay. You’re all set. Want me to give it a ring to test it?”

Finally. The Internet has caught up with me.

I don’t care at all about the phone. It’s a useless land line. But I nod at George. I think that’s his name. It’s what is sewn above the pocket of his shirt.

George whips out his cell phone and dials. The huge new phone sitting on my kitchen counter rings. It works. Which means the Internet and wifi work. Hallelujah.

“Are you gonna answer that?” George asks.

“No.” I give him an eye roll.

His smile falls off his face. “Oh. Well. Everything works.” He holds out a sheet of paper for me to sign. “This has your phone number and instructions for connecting to the wifi. Give us a call if you have any problems.”

“Thanks.”

I watch as George packs up his tools and heads out the door.

Ten seconds elapse before I am on my cell phone, setting up my connection to the wifi. I pull over the information sheet George left behind.

Then I see my new phone number. No way. I didn’t think that was a real number. Why would they do this to anyone? Why would they do this to me?

The phone rings.

“Hello?”

“Is this Jenny?”

Weird. No one has my number. Except George. “Yes?”

“I saw your number on the wall.”

“What?”

A string of giggles and a click. I hang up and drop the phone onto the counter.

Fantastic. I have a phone number guaranteed to draw prank calls.

The phone rings again while I am sliding a pizza into the oven. I glance at the caller ID. UNKNOWN. I ignore it.

Two hours later I am putting my office together. Hanging bulletin boards, arranging books on the shelves, untangling the miles of cable that make my computer work and connect it to the rest of the world.

The land line rings. I answer without checking the caller ID. Honestly, I’ve already forgotten about the morning’s events, about my unfortunate phone number.

“Hello,” I hold the phone between my shoulder and chin as I reach up to add another book to the top shelf.

“Jenny. You ignored my call earlier.” The voice on the other end is rich, rolling, masculine.

“Who is this?”

“Hmm. I don’t think I’m ready to give you my name. Let’s just say I’m someone whose calls you should take.” The words sound like an order, a command, but they feel more like a seduction. His voice is so smooth.

I feel my brows furrow, dig down deep into the flesh between my eyes. I turn from the bookcase and sit down in my rolly- chair. This may be a prank call, but so far it is entertaining, and a lovely break from work. I settle in for a bit of fun.

“Why is that?”

A chuckle. “It’s in your best interests. And mine. We have a lot to offer each other.”

“Okay…”

“You’re curious.”

“You’re vague.”

“Tell me what you want. Right now.”

The first thought that comes to mind isn’t one I’m willing to share with him, this man who is only a mysterious voice on my phone. It involves him no longer being on the phone. It involves him being here, with me.

“An idea,” I finally say. I hope he missed the pause.

He chuckles again. A chuckle that says he didn’t miss the pause, that he knows what I’m really thinking, what I really want right now. “Hopscotch,” he says.

The word knocks everything out of my head. It is so random, so not part of any thoughts that had come before. So innocent.

And exactly perfect.

“Oh,” I say, the word little more than a breath.

“You’re welcome,” he says.

“I gotta go.” I hang up the phone without saying thank you, without saying goodbye. I have work to do.

Thirty minutes later I have a complete story board ready to send to my boss. It is probably the best work I have ever done. It is lovely. It is sweet. It is inspired. Inspired by my faceless voice of a man.

I have one tiny flicker of guilt as I press send on the email, sending the story board to New York. I didn’t give any credit to the voice in my ear. No acknowledgment that the idea was not one hundred percent my own.

I sit in front of the computer, tapping my fingers on the light wood surface of my work table. I hope they like it. But it’s not really hope. I know they’ll love it. That’s not what has me nervous. I’m not sure what does.

The phone rings. Not my cell. The land line. Again.

I pick up the phone and don’t say hello. I know who it is. Well, not really who it is. But I know it is the voice that said hopscotch.

“Jenny,” he says as my email pings with a new message. I click it open without answering the voice. A message from my boss. Gushing. Squeeing. Praise for my brilliance.

“It’s my turn,” the voice says.

“What do you mean?” I ask, pretending that I am as innocent as the storyboard I just created.

“I gave you what you wanted, what you needed, really. Now it’s time for you to give me what I want, what I need.”

“And what might that be?” A few fascinating, filthy images flicker through my mind. I’m not sure I would say no to any of them. I’m not sure I would say no to him. I wish I knew what he looked like, if the face matched the voice. I wish I knew if he looked like I was imagining him.

“You underestimate me,” the voice whispers, a rough caress in my ear. It is a promise. It is a threat.

“You can hang up now,” he says.

The line goes dead. I pull the phone from my ear and look at it, as if it can tell me what just happened. He says it’s my turn to give him what he wants, then hangs up without asking for anything. Weird.

My pondering is interrupted by the doorbell.

Every muscle in my body tenses, freezes. No way. It can’t be my mysterious phone man. It could be George, or a neighbor welcoming me to the building. Or a Girl Scout selling cookies.

But I know. I know it’s him.

My heart jumps into action, pounding blood through my body. I can’t get to the door fast enough. Then I pause, one hand on the doorknob, the other on the deadbolt.

Maybe I shouldn’t let him in. This whole thing is too bizarre to end well.

I turn the bolt.

I open the door and there he is. He is more glorious than I imagined. Tall. Dark. Handsome. Yes, I know it’s the cliche, but all those words fit him. They don’t even begin to describe him. They can’t capture the power, the force, that stood outside my door.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, as if he hadn’t just hung up on me thirty seconds ago.

“I’ve got a thing for Jennys.” His mouth tips, turns, curls into a grin. “And you answered my call.”

There is a sudden flare in his eye, a fire bursting into life. It is not desire. It is not lust. It is nothing human.

I shouldn’t have answered the phone.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Compulsion and Other February Reads

I finished twelve books in February:

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
The Wolf of Tebron by C.S. Lakin
The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones (audiobook)
The Ruins by Scott Smith
Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquirel
Compulsion by Martina Boone
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
End of Days by Susan Ee
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (reread, audiobook)
No Easy Target by Iris Johansen (Digital ARC)
Innocent by Scott Turow
Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

An impressive count for a month that only had 28 days, if I do say so myself.

Here’s the part where I say something profound about my favorite book, or one that made me think about something important, or feel something deep.

This is awkward. I am looking over this list, and I really just don’t have much to say.

Yes, there were books that I really liked (Compulsion might have been my favorite read of the month).

Yes, there were books that I didn’t like so much (names withheld to protect the innocent).

But there is nothing here that I feel I want to rave about. There is nothing here that made me have deep thoughts.

I just read. I’m okay with that. That is a large part of the purpose of stories, right? Entertainment. Escape.

In other news, I started writing a new novel this week. This is my fourth novel. Which is terrifying. And exciting. And feels completely unbelievable.

This novel is set in a school of the arts. Which makes the story both easier and harder to write. It’s easy because that was my high school experience. It feels like coming home and having everything be exactly the way I left it.

It is harder because I feel obligated to do it right. I am the voice of the world I loved in this story. (Not to mention everyone I went to school with may read the story, looking for themselves in it.) I have to create a fictional world that is every bit as rich as the real one I came from.

Now that I have made myself sound like an alien from another planet, I think I’ll stop.

What did you read this month?

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Gallows Girls

In today’s episode of Chuck Wendig made me write it, I was given a choice of ten titles and told to go forth and write a story to match one. Go here to see the list of titles and what other writers have created. Here’s my story.

Sometimes we leave bits behind. Pennies. Stubs of pencil. Bites of bread. Things we tuck into our pockets to save for later. Things we forget about, at least on the surface.

The things are shaken loose when the rope snaps tight, our weight heavy on the noose. The rebound bounce of our bodies frees the prizes. Or the rustling of the boys as they swing our bodies, cut the rope, drag us away.

Sometimes we leave. But our bits are there, lying on the ground. In the pit.

It’s disgusting. The waste. Worse, the attitude. Helena and her boys have so much that they can’t be bothered with the bis we leave behind.

We bother.

We pick up after ourselves.

Today I watch. Like always. Yes, our presence is mandatory. But most of us avert our eyes, or just turn our gaze inward.

Most of us can’t bear to watch.

There is no way to avoid the sounds. The smack of wood on wood. The rush of skirts falling through air. The sharp crack of spine.

I find it easier to take if I can see the drop. I can blot the sounds a bit if my eyes are full.

Plus I can see the bits. See what falls, where it lands.

I am careful to keep my eyes away from her face as she stands waiting for the floor to drop. Meeting Sarah’s eyes would only speed the cycle. So I watch her hands. Sarah’s fingers twitch, memories of the signs and symbols that put her in he noose dancing through them.

My hands echo hers. I clamp the damp fabric of my skirt to silence them.

The floor finally falls.

Sarah falls.

I watch the hem of her skirt. A bounce. A continued sway.

Two objects fall from her to the pit below. Two bits of Sarah. Two bits of us.

I stand silent and staring as the crowd filters away, the sea of skirts retreating home. The boys come then, joking and jostling as they pull Sarah down, cut her free, drag her away. They don’t notice the single skirt still standing in the square.

Once they are gone, I slip forward, slide down into the pit. A glint of silver catches my eye. I let my fingers graze the surface of the the soil, the water, the fluids and lift the shiny.

I polish it on a fold of my skirt and turn it on my palm. A small mirror. Twice the size of a penny. Infinitely more valuable. I lift it to my lips and press a kiss to the glass. Into my pocket it goes.

Two bits fell.

I scan the muck, looking for the missing piece of Sarah. I don’t see anything. No sparkles. No shines. Not even a nub of brown bread.

Just mud. Endless mud.

I shuffle forward, sifting with my naked toes. Grit. Slime. Nothing with any sort of form. Nothing of substance. Nothing of Sarah.

Where is it?

I lift my hem and drop to my knees, plunge my hands deep. I close my eyes, let my fingers do their work. They dance, sing, call through the soil until the bit is in my hand.

I have Sarah back.

I open my eyes and smile, lift my face to the straggling rays of the sun.

“Oh, looky. Another one.”

My smile drops away. Two of Helena’s boys stand at the edge of the pit.

They watch as I scramble out of the pit, slip the bit into my pocket, smear the slop from my hands onto my skirt.

Then their hands are on me, wrapped tight around my arms as they pull me away.

I wonder which of us will come to retrieve my bits.