Adventures in World Building

Lately, I’ve been feeling stuck. I’ve been stuck with my writing, stuck with my novel, and stuck with my teaching.

Momentary aside:

Is it odd that I just noticed how strange the word “stuck” is?

Seriously.

Say it ten times, over and over again, and you’ll notice it too.

Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Stuck…okay, I’m done.

This morning, while surfing my newsfeed on Facebook before crawling out of bed, I clicked on a TedEd link titled “Comma Story” by Terisa Folaron. I clicked on it, hoping it would help me to become unstuck with lesson planning. It almost did help, and I almost picked up my lesson plan book to jot down some ideas for an upcoming writing unit, but then I got distracted and clicked on another link at the bottom of the page titled “More from The Writer’s Workshop.”

My train of thought is below.

Oh boy!

Videos on the three different types of irony! Videos that are actually helpful and student friendly! Those are going on my class blog.

And wait…what’s this? How to Build a Fictional World? I’m building a fictional world!

Screw lesson planning. I’m watching this.

(I watched the video) 

Well, crap. Now I’m inspired. I don’t want to do anything but write today.

(I write. And write. And write)

I need to take a shower.

(I continue writing)

I have to leave in an hour. I really have to take a shower.

(I continue writing)

Wow! I need to share this link on my blog. Then I can take a shower.

(Blogging)

Okay, but seriously, I need to take a shower.

Happy writing, friends! 🙂

Oh, and here’s the video: How to Build a Fictional World

(Somewhat) Random Thoughts about Writing

Grizzly_Bear_Gone_Fishing-1280x1024

Once, in eighth grade, my teacher had us write a short story. I don’t remember the details of the assignment, but I remember the story I wrote. It was about a bear and a trout, and as soon as I put my pencil to paper the floodgates opened and I had to get the entire story out of my head and onto the paper RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Unfortunately, I had language arts for second period (or maybe it was fourth period. I can’t remember), so I had to secretly scribble my story onto paper when my other teachers weren’t looking. It was very frustrating. I was finally able to finish my story on the hour-long bus ride home that afternoon. Between the bumps and my haste, it was nearly impossible to read the climax and the resolution.

I’ve always been a confident writer. I read a lot as a kid (like, a LOT), so writing has always come naturally to me. I could never tell you why a sentence was well written or how to fix one that wasn’t, but I consistently composed strong sentences and focused paragraphs.

Here are some secrets for you…

…I didn’t know the difference between a compound sentence and complex sentence until I had to teach it to my seventh graders three years ago.

…I didn’t know what an Oxford comma was until one of my friends posted an Oxford Comma meme to Facebook when I was in college.

…I didn’t know what an adverb was until I looked at a grammar worksheet two years ago and thought, “Oh! Well why didn’t anyone explain it like that before?”

…I didn’t know what a subjunctive conjunction was until I picked up It was the bestof sentences, it was the worst of sentences by June Casagrande and quickly read a chapter while walking to my car in the parking lot three weeks ago (don’t judge me. I survived).

Why was I able to write well without “knowing” the rules?

Because I read…a LOT…as a kid!

And by reading, I learned the rules. I just didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate those rules.

I believe that reading and writing is like learning a language. Think about it: language is completely arbitrary. You call something a chair because every English speaker agrees that the thing with four legs and a flat surface for your bum is called a chair. It’s completely arbitrary. The word sound “chair” won’t mean anything until it is learned.

Momentary aside: Perhaps the only words that are not arbitrary are onomatopoeias, but that’s only because we are imitating the sound they make and calling it a word.

When learning how to speak a language, whether it is your first language or your second, you learn best by constant exposure to that new language. Babies are constantly exposed to language from the moment their little ears develop in their mother’s womb. Second language learners greatly benefit by being immersed in the new language, and it is frequently said that the best way to learn a new language is to live in a foreign country for a year.

Writing works in the same way. Once you have the foundation, the basic skill of decoding the arbitrary symbols on the page, you can immerse yourself in written language by reading.

Why was I such a confident writer in middle school, high school, and college when I didn’t even know the difference between a compound and a complex sentence? Because I had already been exposed to strong writing through reading, much like the person who learns a new language by living in a foreign country for a year. Does that mean that I didn’t really need to learn the difference between compound and complex sentences in order to be a good writer? Well, yes and no. While I was a good writer before, I believe that learning those specific rules helped me to become an even better writer today.

Yet another thing to consider, however, is that most kids today don’t enjoy reading!

Typing that hurt my soul a little bit.

What does that mean? Well, most students haven’t been exposed to as much strong writing as their literate peers, which means that they require much more explicit instruction in both writing and reading. Sentence structure doesn’t come naturally to them because they haven’t learned what strong sentences are supposed to look like. Their diction is weak because they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate their complex thoughts and ideas. Their papers are poorly organized because they haven’t had as much experience with how organization impacts the reader’s comprehension.

So, what should you take away from this crazy English teacher ramble?

Read. Read a lot. Read what you enjoy reading.

Read books, read magazines, read newspapers, read the articles on Facebook, read short stories, read instruction manuals, read letters, read signs, read poetry, read drama, read textbooks, read EVERYTHING. Read to your little brothers and sisters.

The best way to improve your writing is to read a lot of strong writing.

And when you have children of your own in ten years or so, read to them every night.

And I know I always tell you not to start a sentence with and, but I’m the teacher and I can do what I want. ;)

Not sure where to start? Just ask a crazy English teacher!

Try this. Or this. Or this.

Oh, and my teacher submitted that story about the bear and the trout to the literature magazine.

It wasn’t chosen. Darn.

On Writing

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My earliest memory of writing takes place in 1995 in my mother’s kitchen. I was in elementary school (maybe third grade?), and I had to write sentences using assigned vocabulary words every week. I hated it.

When it came to writing sentences, my mother and I had a routine: I would read the vocabulary word aloud, and then complain loudly that I couldn’t think of a sentence using the word. My mother would then make up a long, complicated sentence while kneading dough or stirring something on the stove, and I would use my fingers to count all of the words in her sentence. After almost every sentence she recited, I would impatiently inform her that the minimum requirement for each sentence was only five words, not ten words, and I couldn’t possibly write a sentence with more than five words. That would be too much work.

My mother would shrug and say, “That’s all I’ve got,” and I would sigh loudly and immediately make up my own sentence using only five words. I’m sure my mother smiled every time I bent my head to carefully write all five words on the paper. Then, I would read the next word aloud, and we would repeat the process.

Later, in eighth grade, I was painfully shy. I read constantly. So much so that it negatively affected my grades. I was the kid in the back of the class hiding her open book under the desk, completely oblivious to the teacher or the lesson. That was the year I turned in a personal narrative about my family’s Christmas tradition, and my teacher, Ms. Fabiani, was so impressed she read it aloud to the class. I was startled to hear my words come out of her mouth and thrilled by the polite applause when she was done.

At the end of the year, Ms. Fabiani had us write an eleven-sentence paragraph as our final exam. I remember swelling with pride and joy at the sight of the big red 100% written on the top of my paper. I ran up to my teacher after class, beaming and screaming, “Ms. Fabiani! Ms. Fabiani! I got an A on my final! I passed!” She just looked down at me and said, “Yes, but you still failed, honey.” Her words were like a brick to my chest. I hung my head and walked away, and at the end of that summer I started my second eighth grade year at a different school in a different state, my heart still heavy with shame, finally understanding the weight of a zero. Or twenty zeros.

I started my freshman year in college with a malnourished English education. I was able to substitute English 11 and English 12 with Creative Writing 1 and 2, and I remember my first college essay came back covered in bright blue corrections. The most glaring mistake was the word “defiantly” circled more times than I cared to count. That’s when I learned that there is no A in definitely. In spite of this, I earned high marks on the other essays, and continued to excel in my other English classes as well.

writing_pull3

That’s when I decided to become a teacher so I could help kids like me. Kids who need the extra push. Kids who need a person to notice that they need to be noticed more than once or twice a year.

Teaching became my passion. During my first year teaching, I enrolled in Reading and Writing Digital Texts with Penny Pence. She made us blog. A lot. I loved it.

I kept up with the blog for a while even after the class had ended, but eventually stopped posting new blogs because summer and a social life got in the way. When I stopped blogging regularly, I would occasionally feel the itch to write. I started a couple of new blogs here and there, but eventually deleted them because I would lose interest in the topic or become too lazy to write something worth posting.

I suppose my problem with writing is that it comes in waves. I’ll have periods where I write constantly, and longer periods where I’ll hardly write at all. I have a lovely collection of beautiful journals, all mostly empty. The first few pages are always full, though. There’s something about a brand new journal that always motivates me to write for a few days, but then the desire pitters out. Then next time I feel the urge to write, I’ll go buy another brand new journal and do it all over again.

iStock_book_typewriter_writingCurrently, I’m “writing” a young adult dystopian novel. I put writing in quotation marks because I haven’t actively written anything in about three months, but I’ve realized that writing doesn’t always involve scratching words onto paper or pounding them onto a screen. Sometimes, writing involves taking the dog for a walk or meeting up with friends. Other times writing involves staring at a blinking cursor for twenty minutes without typing a thing before jumping onto Facebook and posting a witty status update.

There are also times when I want to write, but I just don’t have the time. Right now, for instance, I’m staying up way past my bedtime because I’m finally feeling inspired. I feel inspired to finally start chapter four of my novel, but those pesky lesson plans keep tugging at my anxiety. I feel inspired to start blogging again, especially now that I’m at a new school teaching a new curriculum to a new age group, but that pile of grading is already large, and it’s only the third week of school.

I feel inspired to write, but guilty for setting aside the time to write when I know I should be doing other things. Like making dinner. Or sleeping.

I guess I should stop writing and go to sleep now. Ugh.

Red Pen: A response to the Monday Poetry Prompt

EnerGel pens are like crack at my school. So much so, that the English Department spent $600 on pens alone.  Good job, EnerGel.
EnerGel pens are like crack at my school. So much so, that the English Department spent $600 on pens alone. Well done, EnerGel.

Holy crap. I haven’t written a poem in years. I used to write poetry all the time back when I was still young and unfazed by what others thought about my eclectic combinations of words and emotions. Now that I’ve been tainted by age and experience, I care far too much about what people think.

BUT, since my goal is to improve my creative writing skills, I figured I should participate in the Monday Poetry Prompt I stumbled across while perusing the most recent posts tagged with “writing”…particularly since I need practice in order to write a creepy sing-songy rhyming thing for Josiah Remington’s character to whisper maliciously in the next chapters of The Six Provinces of Debris.

Anyway, since I’m supposed to be grading right now instead of writing (naughty teacher), I figured I would write something related to success and failure, as dictated by my iconic (though neglected) red pen.

Here were the rules:

  • You have 20 minutes or less
  • The title should be an item (instrument, utensil, etc.)
  • A call to someone/thing
  • The phrase “what will you say”
  • A type of bird
  • At least 25 lines
  • And the words: plum, nearsighted, string, open, gate, slip.

Red Pen

What will you say

if I don’t make the grade?

If I just fly away

like a raven?

Or a dove?

What will you say

if I slip?

if I fall?

Nearsighted – candor,

tethered to dreams?

I know what I’d say

if you couldn’t appease –

if you were tied

by string

to a withering dream.

I know what I’d say

if you dyed your face

like a plum

from wondering right

while stepping wrong.

I’d say “open a casket”

or “unlock a gate,”

the only importance

is what you make

of your fate.

The Ninth Baby

Author’s Note: The short story you are about to read is the backstory for three of the characters in the novel I am writing, The Six Provinces of Debris. To read the first chapter of that novel, click here

Emmeline paced the marble floor, back and forth, back and forth. The balls of her bare feet made gentle slapping sounds on the floor with every step, her heels a dull sounding thunk. The sound, the rhythm, soothed her. The sector doctors had requested that she stay in the hallway, refusing to let her into the birthing room. Periodically, rhythmically, she could hear the moans and screams of labor. With every moan, with every scream, she quickened her pace, slapping her feet against the floor with purpose.

She didn’t usually come when Amabel gave birth. It had become such a regular occurrence that Amabel didn’t even bother losing the baby weight afterwards.
“What’s the point?” Amabel had said once over tea. “If I lose it, he’ll just try again sooner rather than later. I may as well stay fat and delay the inevitable for as long as possible.” She then sipped her tea daintily, averting her eyes in an effort to avoid Emmeline’s worried expression.

Usually, Amabel didn’t even bother telling Emmeline that she was pregnant. What was the point? She spent more time pregnant than not these days. She married Merrick, a powerful senator in the sector fifteen years her senior, more than seven years ago when she was seventeen.

This pregnancy was different, heavier somehow. Amabel didn’t need to tell Emmeline that it was wearing on her; Emmeline could just see it in the lines on her young face, in the way she carried herself to council meetings, in the way she stopped voicing her strong opinions so fervently as she had done in the past.

Two weeks ago they took the children to the park one Sunday afternoon. The great marble wall surrounding the sector glinted with a pinkish pearly hue, the great stone figures carved into the wall looking down lovingly on the city, protecting them from the uneducated masses beyond. Emmeline and little Willy had arrived first, and Willy, only eighteen months old with white blonde hair, was digging happily in the sand at the foot of the slide. Amabel arrived fifteen minutes later with her two children Pullox and Castor. The boys were fraternal twins and had just turned six two months earlier. Pullox had red hair and a light smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks, with a random spattering of darker freckles across his forehead. Castor had a darker complexion and was more serious, but he also had freckles to match his brother’s.

Emmeline and Amabel sat in silence for a while as the children played. Amabel’s belly was round under her dress, and she rubbed it absentmindedly as pregnant women often do. Emmeline watched her, noticing the crows feet etched in the corners of her older sister’s eyes, thinking she looked far older than twenty-four.

“What is wrong, Amabel?” Emmeline asked, placing her hand on Amabel’s.

Amabel squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head as if to clear her thoughts and regain composure. “Did you know this is baby number nine?” She said, adding a second hand to her large belly. Emmeline was silent, ashamed to admit that she had lost count of her sister’s babies.

“I can’t lose another one, Emmeline.” Amabel said quietly, smiling at Castor who looked over at the two women with curiosity.

Emmeline didn’t say a word. What was there to say? It was out her control, just as it was out of Amabel’s.

“How do you do it?” Amabel asked, watching little Willy stick a fistful of dirt in his mouth. “How do you keep from being…like me?”

Emmeline was silent for a while, unsure of how to phrase her response. When she married Langston three years earlier she told him she wouldn’t be a “birthing cow” like her sister. She was ashamed of the memory and ashamed of her words. She could feel Amabel’s eyes watching her, waiting for a response.

“Well, I told him I didn’t want to give any away.” Emmeline responded, watching Willy absently, “So we find other ways to satisfy his needs…and mine.”

“And yours?” Amabel responded, sounding confused.

Emmeline looked her sister in the eye. “Yes, and mine. I enjoy it too. Langston…he’s very gentle, and very…sensitive…to my needs as well as his own.”

“I don’t enjoy it,” Amabel said. “I never have. Merrick, he claims to be doing his ‘duty as a senator’ by ‘spreading his seed around the Provinces.’” She had deepened his voice to imitate him.

“I think he just enjoys the act, and damned if he gets me pregnant or not.” She sighed, and started rubbing her belly again. “I’m tired, Emme. I can’t lose another one. Not again.”

Another scream sounded through the double doors leading to the birthing room, and Emmeline couldn’t take it any longer. She looked back at Langston who was sitting on the couch at the end of the hall. “I’m going in.” She announced, and Langston nodded his head and stood up to follow.

As soon as Emmeline pushed the double doors open, the screams grew much louder. She broke out into a run, and pushed her way past the doctor and nurses to her sister’s side.

Amabel’s face was covered in a sheen of sweat, and she looked pale and delirious. Next to her a nurse checked her pulse, watching a timepiece on her wrist intently.

“We asked you to wait in the hall!” The doctor said angrily, motioning for the nurse to grab Emmeline’s elbow to lead her out of the room.

“She’s not doing well…” The nurse said, looking uncomfortably at Emmeline. “Perhaps we should let her stay.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” Emmeline said, grabbing Amabel’s other hand and squeezing it. It was cool and clammy, and Emmeline couldn’t remember if that was a normal reaction to labor.

“She’s not leaving.” Langston said coolly at the doctor’s shoulder, and the doctor glanced over his shoulder at Langston’s large, muscular frame.

The doctor shrugged, defeated. “Amabel, you need to push.” He said, sounding annoyed.

On the bed, Amabel just shook her head slowly, her eyelids drooping shut. “I can’t.” She whispered, looking at Emmeline. “I can’t lose another one. I won’t.”

Emmeline brushed the red hair out of her sister’s eyes. “Shh, don’t worry about that right now. Just push like the doctor said.”

“You have to take her.” Amabel said, looking at Emmeline desperately. “You have to take her. Don’t let them take her. I can’t lose another one!”

“Shh, you have to push, Amabel.” Emmeline said again, her heart quickening with the doctor’s stern commands to “get her to push or we’ll lose them both!”

“You have to take her, Emme. I won’t lose another one. I won’t let him give her away like the others. Please, take her, Emme.”

“Okay, I’ll take her, but you have to push, Amie! I can’t take her if you don’t push!”

A tear fell down Amabel’s cheek. “I can’t, Emmeline, I just can’t. I have no more energy. I just want to sleep.”

Emmeline looked at the doctor frantically and shook her head.

“We’ll have to do a caesarian.” The doctor announced, frustrated.

The nurse shook her head sadly, and turned to get a silver tray on the table behind her.

“No!” Emmeline shouted, growing frantic. Women in the sector rarely survived emergency caesarian procedures because the doctors were more concerned with the life of the baby than the life of the woman they were about to render infertile.

“Amabel, you have to push now! You have to, Amie!”

“I’m just so tired,” Amabel whispered, closing her eyes.

“Nurse!” Emmeline called, shaking Amabel’s shoulders to keep her awake. “Nurse!”

The nurse set the tray down and peered over her shoulder at Amabel. She walked over and picked up her wrist, checking it for a pulse again. She shook her head and shoved her fingers into Amabel’s neck, moving it around a few times to find the telltale pulse. She pursed her lips disapprovingly and shook her head at Emmeline.

“You’ll have to leave now so we can finish the procedure.”

“No!” Emmeline shouted, “I won’t!”

“She stays.” Langston said angrily to the doctor. “She stays or I will speak to your supervisor about your lackadaisical attitude about the lives of the wife and daughter of Senator Merrick Xadic.”

The doctor glared at Langston, and Langston glared back. Finally, the doctor sighed and said, “Fine, you may stay, but this part is not pretty.”

Emmeline didn’t move. She just clutched Amabel’s hand hard enough to crush the bone. Amabel didn’t react at all.

“Here we go,” The doctor said, holding a large silver scalpel in his hand and moving it across Amabel’s round, rippled belly in a single, smooth motion. The sharp smell of iron filled Emmeline’s nose, and she continued to grasp Amabel’s hand, now more for her own comfort than for Amabel’s.

Suddenly, her ears were greeted with the weak cry of a newborn. She turned and looked, immediately wishing she hadn’t. A bloody baby with a shock of dark, slimy hair screamed as the doctor swept her into the waiting arms of the nurse. He promptly removed his gloves, covered Amabel’s open belly with a cloth, and turned to walk out the door.

“Wait! Aren’t you going to stitch her back together?” Emmeline called after him franticly.

“There’s no point now.” The doctor said, shrugging. Emmeline looked down at her older sister’s big, green eyes, staring vacantly into a world Emmeline could not see.

“No! Amabel! Amie!” Emmeline shook Amabel’s shoulders, slapped her face, stroked her forehead, all the while repeating her name and hoping for a response.

Finally, Langston pulled Emmeline off of her sister and into another room, free of blood and afterbirth and sharp doctor’s tools.

“Shh, quiet.” He said, gesturing to a bundle in a basket on a table in the middle of the room. Emmeline took deep breaths, trying to steady herself and her pounding heart.

“Look, here she is. Amabel’s little girl.”

Emmeline looked down at the baby girl and remembered Amabel’s final words. You have to take her! Don’t let them take her!

“Langston,” Emmeline said, tears running down her face, “we have to leave. We have to leave the Sector. We have to take her.”

“Leave? Where? Why?” Langston asked, confused.

“Amabel, she asked me not to let them take her. She didn’t want to lose another baby. I think – I think she gave up, Langston. She stopped fighting. We have to leave, become readers, something. We have to leave the Sector.”

Emmeline’s body shook with distress as tears streamed down her face, “We have to leave. We have to take her.”

“Shh,” Langston said, holding Emmeline close to his body. “Shh, we’ll figure something out. Let me find the nurse.”

Emmeline nodded and gathered the newborn baby into her arms. She held her close to her body, whispering gently to her.

Langston returned shortly with the nurse, who looked uncomfortably at Emmeline and the baby.

“We need you to do something for us,” he said to her, placing his hands on both of her shoulders gently. “We need your help.”

Three days later, Langston and Emmeline submitted their resignation from the Senator Council and left the Sector to become readers.

They concealed the baby in a basket in Emmeline’s lap in the back of the wagon, and as they approached the large, marble wall, Emmeline looked up at the marble figures carved into the stone. Was it only two weeks ago that she had looked up at those same figures with fondness, thinking of them as protectors rather than jailors?

Their wagon was searched at the wall, and Emmeline pulled a sourdough roll out of the basket and passed it to the guard with a smile. “You look hungry,” she said, pressing the roll into the guard’s hand. He smiled back and bit into the roll gratefully. “Yes, ma’am, thank you very much,” he said through a mouthful of bread, moving on to the next part of the wagon. Both the baby and little Willy slept through the entire ordeal, and the guards accepted Langston’s transfer orders without hesitation.

Emmeline couldn’t believe how easy it was to leave the Sector. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. The death of her sister had disillusioned her from the Sector’s controlling laws: No more than two children to a family, one to replace each parent upon their deaths. Any and all children born after the first two would be sent beyond the sector to be adopted by the illiterate villagers of the provinces, sent to help repopulate the human race that was still suffering from the devastation of years past.

Once well beyond the walls of the Sector, Emmeline looked down at the baby in her arms. Only three days old and she was already growing quickly.

Langston glanced over and said, “You know, she still needs a name.”

Emmeline nodded, and remembered a conversation she had with Amabel when she had first married Merrick, flushed with excitement at her first pregnancy.

“If it’s a boy…Castor,” Amabel had said giddily, “And if it’s a girl…Adelaide.”

“Adelaide,” Emmeline said aloud, testing the name on her tongue.

“Adelaide Anders,” Langston repeated, “Adie.”

They rode in silence as baby Adelaide slept in Emmeline’s arms, Willy’s head in Langston’s lap, surrounded by the quiet dark of the unknown.

Want to read more? Check out chapter one of The Six Provinces of Debris, “The Table of Joy

Chapter 3: A Bone is Flung

Author’s Note: You are about to read the third chapter for my novel, The Six Provinces of Debris. Since these chapters do not stand alone, you may wish to read Chapter One and Chapter Two first.

Adelaide’s eyes snapped open at the sound of breaking glass. She lay there, awake, her ears alert and her heart beating quickly. It was too dark for her to see anything but shadows, and she wondered if the noise had been from a dream. She rolled over and closed her eyes, willing herself to go back to sleep, when the door to her bedroom burst open. She sat up quickly and saw the silhouette of a man rush into her room, closing the door behind him. She held her blankets close to her chest, breathing hard. The figure stood at the door for a moment, listening, before turning to Adelaide and approaching her bed.

“Adie,” the man whispered urgently. “Put this on,”

She breathed a sigh of relief. It was her father. “What are you doing?” She asked as he hastily swept a chain around her neck.

“Wear it under your shirt so nobody sees it.”

“Dad, what is going on?” Adelaide whispered, stuffing the cool chain under her nightshirt.

“Somebody broke into the shop,” he said, looking back to the door. “Take your mother and go. I’ll catch up.”

“Go? Go where?” Adelaide asked, growing frantic.

“Do you remember the shack outside the orchards?”

Adelaide nodded, feeling numb.

“Go there. Wait for me. If I’m not there by sunrise, move on without me.”

“But-”

“You have to go now!” Langston walked back to the door and stood there, listening with his hand on the knob. Adelaide franticly pulled on her shoes and a jacket. Suddenly, Langston threw the door open and leapt out silently. Adelaide heard a loud thump and rushed to the door. Langston was straddling a strange man that Adelaide had never seen before. He was punching the man in the face over and over again. Adelaide shuddered when she saw a spray of red fly across the floor. Shiny wet droplets settled and spread through the cracks of the wood.

Emmeline ran out from the door to the largest bedroom that she shared with Langston.

“Langston!” She shouted, “That’s enough!” She glanced up and saw Adelaide standing at her door, staring at the blood on the floor.

“Adie! We have to go.” Emmeline ran around Langston, who still sat over man on the floor, breathing hard. She grabbed Adelaide’s arm and pulled her toward the stairs. Langston stood up and followed with a dark look in his eyes. His fists were covered in blood, and Adelaide wasn’t sure if it belonged to her father or to the intruder.

Before she knew what was happening, they were down the stairs. Adelaide ran her fingers along the spines of the three books on the shelves as she passed before crouching by the front door of the shop next to her parents. The window by the back door was broken, and Adelaide could see the shards of glass glinting on the floor underneath it. They could hear shouts coming from the street outside, and Adelaide shivered when she heard a woman’s scream.

“What’s going on?” She whispered to Langston urgently.

“Shh,” Emmeline said, behind her.

Adelaide felt annoyance bubble up in her chest in spite of her terror.

“Just tell me!” Adelaide said louder than she should have, but she already knew the answer.

Langston turned away from the door and said, “It’s a raid.”

Adelaide’s heart stopped in her chest. Her brother had died in a raid twelve years earlier. She knew that raids still plagued the poorer sections of the village, but she never thought the raiders would dare venture this deep into the wealthier center of the town. Not again.

Langston turned and crept across the room to the back door. He crouched under the window for a moment, and Adelaide could hear the glass from the broken window crunching under his shoes. He stood up slowly and peeked out the window before crouching down again.

“Okay, here’s the plan,” Langston whispered, “There are a couple of men just outside. I can hear them talking. I’ll go out the front door and distract them, while you two run out the back. Wait for me in the garden.”

Emmeline nodded and pulled Adelaide across the room to the back door.

Langston tore off a piece of torn fabric from his shirt and wrapped it around one end of a shard of glass. “Careful,” he said, handing Adelaide the long glass shard. She stared down at it blankly. “Just in case,” Langston whispered. He hugged her, stroking her hair. “I’ll see you in a minute,” he said, kissing her forehead.

“Be careful,” Emmeline whispered, a tear falling gently down her cheek.

Langston didn’t reply. He rushed across the room and waved at them to go. Emmeline pushed the door open and ran out, pulling Adelaide behind her. Adelaide turned to see Langston throw the front door open and shove another shard of glass into the neck of a man standing just outside. Another man came up behind him and thrust a long bladed knife at Langston’s back, but before the knife could make contact Langston turned to the side and the blade sunk into the chest of the first man. Langston buried his knee into the second man’s groin, pulled the knife from the first man’s chest, and thrust it into the second man’s back. The second man immediately fell on top of the body of the first man.

Adelaide screamed, and Langston rushed over to her, pulling her into the small shack that protected their gardening tools from the elements. Emmeline followed.

“Where did you learn how to do that?” Adelaide cried, frantically once they were safely in the shack.

“Shh,” he said, stroking her hair back with bloody hands. “Do you have the box?” Langston asked Emmeline quickly.

Emmeline shook her head, and Langston moved to the doorless opening of the shack. “Wait here.” He said firmly.

“Wait, you’re going back in there?” Adelaide asked, horrified.

“I have to.” Langston replied, and he disappeared.

Through the small, dirty window of the shack, Adelaide and Emmeline watched him run through the garden and into the dark shop. Time seemed to slow to an unbearable pace. They waited in silence, pretending to ignore the sounds of shouting coming from the rest of the village. Adelaide could smell smoke, and the sky above was an eerie orange and black haze.

Adelaide heard the crunch of gravel outside and ducked away from the window. Since there was no door to the shack, Emmeline and Adelaide could only hide in the shadows and hope that they couldn’t be seen. Adelaide held her breath, but nearly gasped when she saw three men pass the shack. Two of the men were wearing boiled leather armor. The taller of the armored men carried a long, heavy knife, and Adelaide knew it was a sword. The smaller armored man carried a large bow and wore a quiver of arrows on his back. The third man wasn’t carrying a sword or a bow. Instead he cautiously held a small dagger out in front of him. He hung back behind the first two men, and Adelaide noticed that he wasn’t wearing any armor. Instead, he was wearing dark clothing and narrow glasses. She tightened her grip on the shard of glass, ignoring the painful pressure in her fingers.

She didn’t understand. Why would Josiah Remington, proud auditor from the Senator Sector, join the raiders who’ve been plaguing the Six Provinces for years?

“I want you two to stand guard at the doors of the shop while I go inside. Don’t let anyone out alive.” Remington ordered, and the two men obeyed. The man with the bow went into the shop to guard the front door, while the man with the sword stopped at the back door facing the garden.

“Give me your sword.” Remington demanded.

The tall man hesitated and said, “Sir, it is the only weapon I carry.”

Remington sighed loudly and gave the tall man his dagger. “Now give me your sword,” he said again. The tall man handed it over. In the flickering glow from the nearby fire, Adelaide saw Remington smile before he disappeared into the house.

Adelaide looked at her mother frantically and saw that she wasn’t watching the tall guard. Instead, she was looking up toward the house. Following her gaze, Adelaide saw that Langston stood at the open window to her parents’ bedroom on the second floor. He was holding a rusty sliver box that glinted in the strange light outside, and Emmeline was silently motioning to the armed guard at the door, who had not yet noticed Langston in the window.

Langston nodded, seeming to understand. He moved away from the window for a moment, and when he returned he threw a rope through the open window and leaned out to make sure it was long enough to reach the ground safely. Tugging on the rope to make sure it would hold, Langston started to climb out the window, the silver box resting on the window sill.

But before he could make it out the window, he turned quickly to look at something inside the bedroom. Before he could react, the silver blade of a sword pierced his chest and emerged from his back.

Adelaide collapsed to the ground, and Emmeline clasped her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming.

Remington pulled the sword away, and Langston stumbled backward, knocking the silver box off the window sill and into the dark soil below. Remington followed and grabbed Langston by the neck. He leaned down as if whispering something in his ear, and then he pushed Langston out the window. His body seemed to fall in slow motion, and Emmeline had to hold Adelaide tightly to keep her from running to him as he hit the ground with a sickening thud.

In the room above, Remington inspected the bloody blade of the sword before using the curtains to clean it off. A moment later, he called the guards from inside the house, and the tall guard disappeared from the doorway.

Emmeline finally let go of Adelaide and they both ran over to Langston. He wasn’t moving. Adelaide dropped the glass shard, tore his shirt open, and inspected the wound in the middle of his chest. She refused to believe that Remington had punctured his heart. She frantically searched his neck for a pulse and started performing the lifesaving pumping and breathing movements Borvo had taught her early in her apprenticeship. Emmeline was saying her name, but she was too busy counting and pumping and breathing into Langston’s mouth to listen. She didn’t notice Langston’s head rolling around or his eyes staring vacantly into nothing.

“Come on, Dad,” Adelaide whispered, breathing hard from the strenuous job of reviving life. Tears streamed down her face, and she pumped and breathed and pumped and breathed, stopping only to check for a pulse.

Suddenly, she was knocked into the dirt and a sharp pain blossomed in her ribcage. Every breath she took felt like agony. She looked up and saw the tall, armored man with the dagger standing over her.

He chuckled, “Well, what have we here?”

Adelaide scrambled backwards in the garden soil as the man took slow, confident steps toward her.

“You’re a pretty little thing, aren’t you? Remington only spoke of the wife’s beauty, but he never mentioned the daughter’s.” He licked his lips as he bent down to grab Adelaide, but before he could reach her, he was hit over the head with a large garden shovel. He fell on top of Adelaide and his body went limp.

She looked up to see Emmeline standing over him with the shovel. Adelaide struggled to get out from under his weight, and Emmeline helped to roll the tall man off of her. When Adelaide was safely back on her feet, Emmeline lifted the shovel above the man and thrust the blade into his exposed throat with all of her strength. Adelaide looked away but she still heard the sickening crunch of bone and cartilage as the shovel made contact. She felt queasy, unable to accept the fact that her mother had just killed a man.

“We have to go, now!” Emmeline whispered, looking around the garden.

Adelaide took one last look at her father. She noticed the silver box jutting out from under his leg and the shard of glass he had given her only moments before. She grabbed both quickly before following Emmeline.

Just as they were about to reach the road, Adelaide heard a yell.

“There they are!”

She turned quickly to see two more men chasing after them through the garden. One of them was the man with the bow, and the other she didn’t recognize.

“Run!” Adelaide cried breathlessly.

Despite her injured ribs, she ran harder and farther than she had ever run before. Her heart felt as if it had moved up to her throat and her already damaged lungs where desperate for air. Her sandaled feet slapped the hard ground beneath her. Her legs were moving so fast, she felt as if she might lose control and stumble to the ground at any moment. She could feel the cold, hard box slipping out from under her arm as arrows whizzed all around her.

She looked back and instantly regretted it. One of the men was right behind her. Turning around had slowed her down and gave the man a chance to reach up to grab her long hair. Adelaide was still clutching the glass shard in one hand, and without thinking she swiped it back, catching the man on the face. He screamed and slowed down, his hands covering his eye and his cheek where the glass had made contact, blood seeping between his fingers. Adelaide continued to run, refusing to let go of the glass shard even though it was cutting into her fingers and the palm of her hand, making her bleed.

Another man had caught up to Emmeline, who was a few paces ahead. He tackled her to the ground and threw himself on top of her. Emmeline screamed, and slashed at the man frantically with a knife Adelaide didn’t know she had. But before Emmeline could make contact, the attacker caught her wrist in his and wrestled the knife away from her, holding it to her neck.

Adelaide ran up behind him and swung the metal box into the back of his head. It wasn’t heavy enough to knock him out, but it did knock him off of Emmeline. He dropped the knife and it went sliding across the dirt road. Adelaide helped Emmeline up, and Emmeline scooped up the knife. The man groaned on the ground and started to stand but Adelaide jammed the glass shard into his neck using the same move she saw her father use against the man in front of the shop. Hot, red liquid streamed out of wound with a sickening pulse, and she knew the glass had hit the man’s carotid artery. She turned to Emmeline with trembling hands, now coated in sticky blood. Emmeline nodded and continued running. Adelaide picked up the metal box and followed.

They slowed down when they finally made it to the orchard. It was quiet and dark, and that made Adelaide nervous. One of the raiders could be hiding in the shadows, and Adelaide was afraid they would pop out at any moment to attack. She no longer had the glass shard and she felt defenseless.

They approached the shack. Emmeline walked slowly toward it, knife held out in front of her. Adelaide followed closely behind. They reached the door and stood on either side of it, listening for sounds of movement inside. After several minutes, Emmeline eased the door open slowly and waited. When nothing happened, she stepped in and looked around, the knife held high.

“It’s empty,” She said from inside the shack. Adelaide quickly followed her inside, closing the door behind her.

The shack was larger than the one in their garden. It was damp and smelled like earth. Shovels, rakes, hoes, and other tools were hanging from the walls, and a half-full water bucket sat in a corner alongside an old wheelbarrow. Adelaide dropped the box into the wheelbarrow and began scrubbing her hands furiously in the water. She felt like it would never come off again, her hands permanently stained with what she had done. With what she had had to do. She suppressed a sob. Emmeline pulled her into a hug, but Adelaide cried out from the pain in her ribs. Emmeline loosened her grip and helped her to the floor. Together they cried. After a few minutes Adelaide noticed that the knife had cut into Emmeline’s neck.

“Mom, you’re hurt,” Adelaide said, using the moonlight outside to get a better look at the wound.

“It’s just a scratch.” Emmeline said, brushing her hand away. “And you’re hurt too.”

“It’s just a scratch.” Adelaide responded, but Emmeline ignored her and caught Adelaide’s cut up hand in her own and studied it for a moment before ripping a strip of material from her skirt to wrap the hand. When she finished, Adelaide said, “Now your turn.” She inspected the wound in Emmeline’s neck. It was shallow, and Adelaide held another strip of material from the skirt to Emmeline’s neck with her good hand until the bleeding stopped.

Emmeline looked around the shack and found a lantern and a panel of wood large enough to cover the window. She leaned the wood against the wall.

“Look around for some nails.”

Adelaide found nails and a hammer in a leather pouch hanging by the door. She handed them to Emmeline.

“Aren’t you worried that someone will hear the banging?” Adelaide asked as Emmeline positioned the panel over the window.

“Not out here. Hold this.” Emmeline replied.

Adelaide hesitated.

“I don’t want anyone looking in while we’re sleeping.” Emmeline explained.
Adelaide obediently leaned her weight against the wooden panel so it wouldn’t move. She tried not to wince from the pain in her ribs. Emmeline lit the lantern, and the shack filled with a dim, flickering light. She then used quick, powerful blows to quickly hammer the nails in to the wall.

Feeling safer with the window covered, Adelaide settled down onto the floor again, leaning against a burlap bag filled with something that smelled suspiciously like manure. But she was too tired and the bag was too comfortable for her to care about its contents. She gingerly lifted her shirt and gently prodded her ribcage. They didn’t feel broken, but they were probably bruised.

As she lay there, she remembered the necklace her father had given her only an hour before. Pulling it out from under her shirt, she found a strange silver pendant. It was about the size of her thumb, and heavier than it looked. One end was flat and the other curved. A strange symbol that Adelaide didn’t recognize was engraved into the flat side of the pendant. It looked like a series of horizontal lines, all different lengths, connected by one vertical line. The flickering light from the lantern reflected off of the silver box and caught her eye. She struggled to get up and picked up the box.

Her father had died for this box. Had he not gone back into the house for it, he would still be alive. She studied it but couldn’t see why it was important. It looked seamless, like a metal cube. She could barely make out a faded symbol on one side: an ominous combination of sharp, circular shapes. She carried the box back to her resting place, and settled down, ignoring the pain once again. She looked at Emmeline, who was watching her.

“Open it.” Emmeline said softly.

“How?” Adelaide responded, turning the box over in her hands.

“Use the necklace,” Emmeline responded, sliding over to Adelaide. She pointed to the center of the symbol. She then gestured to the pendant around Adelaide’s neck.

Adelaide took off the necklace and gently placed the flat side of the pendant against the circular center of the symbol. Suddenly, a steady band of light glowed out of the pendant, and it grew warm under her fingers. She quickly dropped it, startled.

“It’s okay,” Emmeline said, gently. “I was surprised the first time, too.”

“What? You’ve done this before?”

“Of course. Now, try it again.”

Adelaide stared at her mother for a moment, baffled, before turning back to the box. She picked up the pendant again and pressed it into the indentation. This time she was prepared for the light and the unexpected warmth. A strange hissing sound escaped from the box, and Adelaide was shocked to find a seam where the box was once smooth.

“How…” Adelaide trailed off and looked at Emmeline, wide eyed.

“You can slide the top off now,” Emmeline said gently.

Adelaide picked up the box and was surprised to find that one side now slid easily away. Inside the box she found two books. One was the book of poetry Langston had given her only three days earlier. The other she didn’t recognize. It was leather bound and it didn’t have a title. The leather was faded in some places, and there was a curious dark ring in the top right corner of the book. Adelaide knew it must be very old, but she was surprised to see that the pages were still in very good condition, and it wasn’t as delicate as most other books.
“Open it.” Emmeline said. She looked away, seemingly uninterested. Adelaide gently coaxed the cover open and read the neat, handwritten words centered on the first page:

Personal Journal
Dr. Adam Hughes

Adelaide gasped. Books were already a rare find, and hand-written journals were even rarer. But this was a hand-written journal hidden in a magical box. Her father believed that the box and this book were important enough to die for. Heart pounding, Adelaide turned the page.

10 Jan 3014
I know this is a bad idea. I have no choice. Cyber security is too tight, they monitor all our activity. This journal is the only way to keep a record of my results that they don’t have access to. They’ll catch me eventually. They always do. I just hope I can finish my work in time. Damn them! We were so close! We had finally started to get positive results! I’ll do it anyway. This is too important. I know the team is on my side, but will they have the courage to see this through?

Of all things to cut my research funding for…the Z project will only make things worse, why can’t they see that? In the last century we’ve already lost half of our habitable landmass to the oceans, not to mention the sun fried wastelands at the poles. It’s hardly safe to walk outside anymore without a nano-rebreather and solar cloak. A new set of irradiated craters will only create more uninhabitable areas for another century. We have too high a population density in too small an area, conflict is inevitable. The only real solution is to adapt the human body, open up these areas for colonization, free us from the prisons that we have made for ourselves.

It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve used manual input since grade school. Setting everything in writing makes the whole thing feel…real. There’s no going back now.

Adelaide stared down at the book in her hands, trembling. It was a four-hundred-year-old journal. She looked up at Emmeline.

“Daddy died for this?”

Emmeline nodded without saying a word.

Continue reading Chapter 4: Josiah Remington

Chapter 2: A Crumb Falls

Author’s Note: You are about to read the second chapter in my novel, The Six Provinces of Debris. Since these chapters do not stand alone, you may want to read Chapter One first. 

“Audited?” Langston replied angrily, ignoring Josiah Remington’s outstretched arm. “We were just audited four months ago! We aren’t due for another until May!”

Remington nodded his head. “I am well aware of that, Mr. Anders.” He pushed past Langston and Adelaide and set a stack of parchment onto the table where the book of poetry had been only moments before.

Adelaide shifted her weight uncomfortably. Every time she moved, the book threatened to fall out of her waistband and down to the floor. She glanced nervously at her dresser. Emmeline was standing in front of it, her eyes on Adelaide. They made eye contact, and Emmeline nodded her head slightly to the bed. While Josiah Remington thumbed through the parchment on the table, Adelaide sat down on the bed and slid the book under the pillow.

“Ah,” Remington said, pulling a piece of parchment out of the stack. “You are usually audited in May by Mr. Samuel Tusky,” He took off his glasses and rubbed the lenses with the edge of his shirt as he spoke. “Unfortunately, the Sector has found Mr. Tusky’s work to be…of poor quality.” He held his glasses up to the light spilling through the window to ensure that every speck of dust was gone. “The Sector has appointed me to take over his caseload. After finding a few…discrepancies, it became necessary to double check his work in other villages. Including yours.”

Everyone was silent for a moment until Langston finally voiced the question bouncing around Adelaide’s mind, “What happened to Sa– Mr. Tusky?”
“I’m afraid I am not at liberty to say,” Remington replied offhandedly. He finally looked at Adelaide and Emmeline. “I certainly hope you weren’t close to Mr. Tusky.” He added darkly. “And if so, I’m sorry for your loss…and any future losses.”

Remington looked around the room seemingly oblivious to the emotional tension brewing around him, “Is this where I’ll be staying, or do you have something more suitable to my needs?”

Adelaide had never seen her father look so dark and so dangerous. His fists were clenched at his sides, and his eyes were wide with fury.

Emmeline was at his side in an instant. As soon as her hand touched his arm, he blinked, relaxed his shoulders, unclenched his fists, and transformed back into the man Adelaide knew as her father.

“We have a spare bed in our office,” Her voice was calm and unwavering. “Adie, will you please make the bed for Mr. Remington?”

Trembling, Adelaide nodded and slowly got up from the bed, readjusting the pillow to make sure the book was concealed.

Emmeline turned back to Remington, “Would you like some tea? I’m happy to prepare some for you in the kitchen.”

Remington nodded and gave Emmeline a smile that made Adelaide’s skin crawl. She hoped her father didn’t notice the way Remington was looking at her mother. As Remington followed Emmeline out of the room, however, Langston’s fists were clenched again and his eyes were narrow. He noticed.

***

I’m sorry for your loss…and any future losses. The words ran through Adelaide’s head over and over again as she made the bed for Remington. He said they found discrepancies in Sam’s work, Adelaide thought to herself, tucking the edge of a patchwork sheet under the small mattress in her father’s office. Why kind of discrepancies? She thought of the book of poetry. It didn’t fit in the small, hidden compartment where she kept her copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, so she had to give it to Langston for safekeeping.

Adelaide froze. Grimm’s Fairy Tales! Sam had given her the book when she was seven. Could that be the discrepancy? Did Sam give books to all readers’ children? She hastily threw an old quilt on top of the straw filled mattress, not bothering to smooth the wrinkles. If Remington discovered the book, her family would be done for. But where could she hide it?

She rushed to her bedroom, but before she could open the drawer concealing her book, she stopped. She was being careless again. Moving the book now, without a plan, would be reckless. I’ll wait until tomorrow when Remington is busy with the files, she decided. Besides, it’s well hidden. It’ll be safe where it is. Thinking that she should probably help her mother with dinner, she left the room, closing the door carefully behind her.

***

“This stew is delicious, Mrs. Anders,” Remington said, holding the spoon delicately in his fingers as he blew the steam away. He was sitting in Adelaide’s usual spot at the table, next to Emmeline and across from Langston.

“Thank you, Mr. Remington. Adelaide made it.” Emmeline responded without looking up.

Remington glanced at Adelaide with a look of surprise, “Oh? Are you a cook’s apprentice?” He asked, setting his spoon down.

“No, I’m the healer’s apprentice.”

“I see,” Remington said, narrowing his eyes at the stew. “So, what magical healing powers have you included in our meal?”

“None,” Adelaide responded curtly. She didn’t like Remington’s tone.

When Adelaide chose to become a healer, Borvo, the master healer, told her that the Sector didn’t take village healers very seriously. They didn’t see how natural remedies such as herbs and prescribed exercises could prevent disease, especially when they had their extravagant Sector medical center to cure any and all ailments.

“The Sector’s problem,” Borvo had explained, “is that they don’t bother to prevent illness, they simply fix it with potent concoctions and potions.” He continued to mutter to himself about witchcraft and the devil’s work after that, convinced that the Sector’s medical center did more harm than good. Borvo was slightly crazy, but he knew his trade well and he was a good teacher to Adelaide.

“And you’re attending school as well?” Remington asked Adelaide, snapping her attention back to the present.

“Yes, Diotima is my teacher.”

“Is she good?” Remington asked, but this time the question was directed at Langston.

“She is,” Langston replied.

“For a village teacher, you mean.” Remington replied with a smirk.

Nobody responded. Adelaide was surprised to find herself angry with Remington for his comment about Diotima.

Adelaide couldn’t help herself, “Why did you become an auditor if you hate the villages so much?” She demanded of Remington. “Who did you piss off?”
Before he could respond, however, Emmeline said, “Adelaide! Apologize right now!”

Adelaide just crossed her arms across her chest and stared at Remington, eyebrows raised, waiting for his answer.

“Adelaide, I think it is time for you to go to bed.” Langston said. His voice was firm, but Adelaide noticed a small tugging at the corners of his mouth, as if he was trying not to smile.

“No,” Remington said, studying Adelaide, “I didn’t ‘piss anybody off’ as you put it. On the contrary, I was the one who discovered Samuel Tusky’s disloyalty to the Sector, and I was the one who revealed his crimes to the proper authorities.” His eyes narrowed into a nasty smile. “I volunteered for the position. I am determined to catch and penalize all of his known conspirators.” He continued to study Adelaide for a few seconds without speaking before he finally picked up his spoon again and continued eating his stew, as if nothing had happened.

Adelaide shoved her chair back and stormed out of the room, leaving her dirty bowl behind. Remington was responsible for whatever had happened to Sam, and now Remington was staying at their house, eating their food, searching for discrepancies. Adelaide wouldn’t let him find any.

The next day, Adelaide met up with Ivy after finishing her required morning hours with Borvo. As they trudged up the hill for their afternoon class with Diotima, Adelaide told Ivy about Josiah Remington.

“He is horrible,” Adelaide said. “He insulted Diotima.”

“So?” Ivy replied, cocking an eyebrow at Adelaide. “We make fun of Diotima all the time.”

Adelaide hadn’t thought about this, but it didn’t matter. She still didn’t like what Remington had said. “Yeah, but we’re allowed to make fun of her. We’re her students. It’s expected.”

Ivy didn’t respond.

“Remington doesn’t even know her!” Adelaide continued.

When Ivy still didn’t respond, Adelaide changed the subject to Sam. “Remington also said that he was the one who caught Sam. Apparently he violated the edict, and now he’s in jail or something.”

Ivy shook her head, her blonde curls bouncing off of her shoulders. “That’s terrible! I can’t believe Sam would violate the edict! And to think, our own auditor! How could he do this to us?” Ivy’s words continued to tumble out of her mouth. “Doesn’t he know what happens when people violate the edicts? We could end up like –” She gasped midsentence. “He audited my father once, you don’t think we could be in trouble do you?”

Adelaide sighed, frustrated with Ivy. She just didn’t understand. The conversation died as they reached the top of the hill. Adelaide was grateful that they were both too winded to talk. She didn’t know what to say to Ivy to make her understand how awful Remington was.

They were early, so they sat in the shade of the crumbling statue. They could see Diotima’s small cottage on the other side of the hill, and Adelaide stared at it, feeling guilty for making fun of Diotima the day before.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the cabin door opening. Two people walked out. The first was a tall, dark woman in a flowing white dress. Diotima. The second was a small, pale man dressed in strange, black clothes. Adelaide sat up suddenly.

“Ivy!” Adelaide cried, pointing to the cottage. “That’s him with Diotima! Remington!”

Ivy looked over at the cottage with curiosity. “He’s tiny!” She said, giggling behind her hand. “That’s probably why he’s so unpleasant.”

“What do you think he’s doing with Diotima?” Adelaide wondered aloud.

“Who cares?” Ivy said, lying down in the soft green grass. She closed her eyes and sighed happily. “It’s so beautiful today!”

Before Adelaide could respond, David, Erma, and Paulina arrived and sat down next to them. Paulina, Erma, and Ivy chatted happily about the weather while David and Adelaide sat in silence. David wasn’t much of a talker.

Diotima looked flustered when she finally reached the top of the hill. Her fingers clutched at each other, and her hair, usually held up in a tight bun, looked frazzled and lumpy.

“Good afternoon,” she said, releasing her fingers to smooth her hair back on her head. Her voice sounded tight and her words were clipped. “Unfortunately, I am not feeling very well today. Would you mind if we canceled class?”

Ivy sat straight up, looking delighted, “Of course not!” She caught Paulina’s eye and winked excitedly.

Adelaide was less thrilled. She had never known Diotima to cancel a class. What did Remington say to her?

“We will have class again tomorrow, then.” Diotima said, turning around to walk back down the hill.

When she was out of earshot, Ivy said, “Wow! Can you believe our luck? Diotima has never canceled a class!”

“Yeah…” Adelaide said absently, watching Diotima walk down the hill.

“So, what do you want to do with the afternoon?” Ivy asked the rest of the group.

“We could go to the river,” Erma suggested, “I saw the fishermen’s apprentices heading down there before my morning hours, and let’s just say it’ll be a good show!” She winked and nudged Adelaide in the ribs.

Paulina shrugged, “We really shouldn’t indulge in lustful thoughts,” she said uncomfortably. “It’s sinful.” Paulina was an apprentice of the church, but Adelaide suspected that she wasn’t thrilled with her placement.

“Well, I want to go,” Ivy said decisively, “But you don’t have to come if you don’t want to, Paulina…”

“No, I’ll come.” Paulina said quickly, clearly not wanting to be left out.

“I’m going to stay here,” Adelaide said, turning to the rest of the group. “If Diotima isn’t feeling well, maybe I can help her feel better.”

Ivy smiled, rolling her eyes to the others, “That’s sweet of you, Adie! Catch up with us later?”

“Sure,” Adelaide agreed, turning away.

She walked down the opposite side of the hill toward the small building they used for classes during the wintertime. Diotima’s cottage was next to it. As she walked through the gate in front of the cottage, she realized she had never been inside Diotima’s house before. She took a breath and knocked on the door.

“Just a moment!” Diotima cried through the door. Adelaide heard a shuffling inside, then a soft thud, like something heavy falling onto the floor. It was quiet for a moment, and just as Adelaide started wondering if she should break in to make sure Diotima was okay, the door opened.

“I thought I told you, Mr. Reming–” She stopped when she saw Adelaide at the door.

“Oh, Adelaide, how can I help you?”

Adelaide took a step back, feeling foolish for coming down. “Well,” she said nervously, “you said you weren’t feeling well, and I’m Borvo’s apprentice, so I thought that maybe I could help you feel better.”

Diotima’s stern look softened and she gave Adelaide a small smile. “That’s very kind of you, Adelaide, but I’m afraid you can’t help me right now.”

Adelaide saw an open trunk in the middle of the room behind Diotima. Some clothes and blankets had been thrown in hastily.

“Are you going somewhere?”

Diotima’s eyes widened slightly, and she closed the door a little more to block Adelaide’s view. “Oh no,” she said, “I’m just cleaning up a little.”

Adelaide had never seen Diotima lose her composure like this. She took a breath and said, “Is it Remington? I saw him leave here right before class.”

Diotima shook her head and said, “You should go. Enjoy your afternoon off.”

“He’s staying at my house,” Adelaide said quickly, “What did he say to you?”

“Goodbye, Adelaide,” Diotima said. She closed the door and Adelaide heard the bolt slide into place.

The shop was closed when Adelaide got home twenty minutes later. She found her mother sitting alone in the kitchen.

“Why is the shop closed?” Adelaide asked anxiously.

“Remington insisted,” Emmeline said, massaging the bridge of her nose with her eyes closed.

“Where is he?”

“In the office with your father.”

Adelaide bit her lip. “Remington was at Diotima’s cottage today. Diotima cancelled class.”

Emmeline’s eyes snapped open and Adelaide told her about Diotima’s strange behavior. Before she could respond however, Langston and Remington walked into the kitchen.

“Adie! You’re home early,” her father said, taking a seat at the table.

“Diotima canceled class today.” Adelaide replied, watching Remington closely.

“That’s strange,” Langston muttered, “I’ve never known Diotima to cancel a class before. Did she say why?”

“She said she wasn’t feeling well.” Adelaide continued to watch Remington, who had pulled out a stack of parchment and was marking individual sheets with a quill. Watching him, she felt anger building deep in her chest. Before she could stop herself, she said, “Would you know anything about that, Mr. Remington?”
Remington’s quill froze mid-mark, and his beady black eyes settled on Adelaide. Behind him, Emmeline was shaking her head quickly, warning Adelaide to stay silent. Langston simply looked from Adelaide to Remington with a furrowed brow, confused by the question.

“Excuse me?” Remington replied icily, removing his glasses.

Adelaide took a deep breath, but before she could ask Remington about his business with Diotima, Emmeline stepped in.

“Adelaide was simply wondering if you heard anything while you were in town this morning. As an Auditor from the Sector, you are privy to more information than the rest of us. Adie is simply worried about her teacher.” Emmeline made eye contact with Adelaide, and gave her a warning look.

Adelaide sighed, and nodded without speaking.

At Emmeline’s comment, Remington straightened in his chair, a smile tugging at his lips. “I see,” He bent over his stack of parchment again and continued marking individual sheets. “I’m afraid an Auditor’s business is far more important than village gossip about the local teacher.”

The anger bubbled up to the point of boiling, and Adelaide had to bite the inside of her cheek for relief. She stood up quickly and pushed her chair away from the table. “I’m going to go find Ivy,” she announced, not bothering to push in her chair.

Nobody responded. Once out of the room, she lingered on the other side of the door.

“When can we reopen the shop, Mr. Remington?” Adelaide could still hear Emmeline’s soft, musical voice clearly from the hall outside of the kitchen.

“In three days,” Remington replied.

“Three days?” Langston’s voice was tight and controlled, “Is that necessary? Mr.

Tusky never–”

“Thankfully, I am not Mr. Tusky,” Remington said dangerously, “The shop will reopen in three days when I have completed the audit.” Silence followed his comment, and Adelaide left to find Ivy, Erma, and Paulina.

***

The three days passed slowly. Diotima was nowhere to be found, so Adelaide spent the extra time working with Borvo. On the third day, while grinding up herbs to help quicken an expectant mother’s labor, she turned to Borvo and said, “Tell me about the hospital in the Sector.”

Borvo didn’t look up from his work. He was setting the arm of a young boy who had fallen out of a tree. The boy was asleep thanks to one of Borvo’s many potions, but his mother had been hovering anxiously, questioning every step of Borvo’s treatment, so Borvo made her leave.

“What do you want to know?” He grunted, jerking the boy’s arm back into alignment. The boy moaned a little, but he wouldn’t remember the pain. “Bring me that splint.” Borvo said, ignoring the boy’s moans.

Adelaide set down the pestle she was using the grind the herbs, and handed the splint to Borvo who shook his head and held up his hands.

“You do it.” He said, stepping away from the boy.

Adelaide stepped up to the boy. She had a strange fluttering sensation in her stomach, and she was glad the boy’s mother wasn’t in the room with them.

“Notice how the bones line up again?” Borvo said, indicating the location of the break on his own arm. Adelaide nodded, gently prodding the boy’s arm. “They say that in the Sector, they can see through the skin to the bones.” Adelaide’s eyes grew wide at the thought of seeing through someone’s skin and muscle. She lined the splint up to the boy’s arm and wrapped it with a soft, quilted material. With trembling fingers, she then dipped strips of old, donated clothing into a fresh mixture of flour and water and wrapped them around the boy’s arm, making a cast.

When she was finished, Borvo inspected her work, nodding silently. Borvo only gave compliments through grunts and nods. “Now we let the cast dry, and the boy can go home.”

“What else can the Sector hospital do?” Adelaide asked, mesmerized.

“I’ve heard that they can block all pain,” Borvo replied, stroking his gnarly beard.

“But we can block pain too,” Adelaide said, unimpressed. She gestured to the still sleeping boy.

“No,” Borvo said, “We cannot block all pain. The boy still feels pain, it is just dulled. We can provide herbs and potions to lessen the pain, but the Sector doctors make it all go away.”

Adelaide was doubtful. She wasn’t sure she believed Borvo. “How do you know all of this?” She asked him, picking up the pestle again to continue grinding the herbs.

Borvo shrugged, “it’s just what I’ve heard,” he mumbled. He walked out of the room to fetch the boy’s mother. Adelaide watched him leave, wondering if what he said was true. She decided to ask her parents after Remington left the following morning.

She sensed tension in the house as soon as she got home that evening. Her father was hunched over the table, looking over the records from the shop. Her mother was sitting next to him, stroking his arm nervously.

“What’s going on?” Adelaide asked, looking around the room for signs of Remington.

“Remington left this morning to run an errand and hasn’t returned,” Emmeline said.

“So? Good riddance,” Adelaide responded, shrugging it off. Perhaps something terrible happened to Remington. Adelaide felt guilty for the wave of satisfaction that swept over her at the thought of a wounded Remington, but she pushed the guilty feelings away, replacing them with memories of Sam and his books. Remington was responsible for whatever had happened to Sam. He deserved to die.

Langston shook his head, “No, this means that Remington will have to stay another day, which means the shop will be closed for another day.”

“And if something did happen to Remington, our village will be swarming with soldiers from the Sector to investigate,” Emmeline added.

“Oh,” Adelaide said, taking a seat at the table. Even though she didn’t like the idea of soldiers invading the village, she was still savoring the idea that something horrible had happened to Remington.

Langston slid the records over to Emmeline and stood up from the table. “Help me with dinner, Adie,” He said, walking over to the small pantry, “Fetch some vegetables from the garden, please?”

Adelaide nodded and went downstairs and out the back door to the garden. As she was inspecting a zucchini on the vine, she heard heavy footsteps coming from the gravel pathway. It was Remington.

She knew she should be happy to see that he’d returned, but she wasn’t. “Good evening, Mr. Remington,” She mumbled, breaking the zucchini off the vine. She wasn’t being careful, and the top of the zucchini remained on the vine. She didn’t care.

“Adelaide,” Remington replied with a curt nod. Adelaide noticed that his boots were muddy, and his clothing, which was usually freshly pressed, was wrinkled and stained with sweat. He stepped over her basket and walked through the door. Adelaide added some tomatoes and peppers to her basket and followed him inside. Traces of mud marked his path through the shop and up the stairs.
“Mr. Remington! We were worried about you!” Emmeline said as they walked into the kitchen.

Remington smiled at Emmeline and took her hand, “I’m sorry to have worried you, Mrs. Anders. My errand today took a bit longer than I had anticipated, but that just means I get to stay with you another day.” He bent his head and kissed her hand.

Emmeline snatched her hand from Remington’s and turned away from him. “Dinner will be ready soon,” she said, quickly. “I suggest you go wash up.”
As soon as Remington was out of earshot, Langston said, “I know I should be relieved, but I agree with you, Adie. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he never returned.”

Adelaide smiled, but she knew something was off. Where could Remington have gone for the day? His boots were covered in dried mud, but it hadn’t rained in a long time. And now he was staying an extra day? As she chopped the zucchini, she decided she would share her concerns with Emmeline in the morning after Remington and Langston disappeared into the office to continue the audit. After all, there wasn’t anything she could do about it now.

But as she went to bed that night, she noticed her hairbrush wasn’t in its drawer with the false bottom. Instead, it was sitting on top of the dresser, along with the leaf her father had used to mark the Langston Hughes poem in the book of poetry. The side with her brother’s name was face up. Unnerved, Adelaide quickly opened the drawer and removed the false bottom. The book of fairytales was still there, undisturbed. She placed the leaf on top of the book, replaced the false bottom, and swept the brush into the drawer. As she crawled into bed, however, she couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something was seriously wrong.

Continue reading Chapter Three…