Well, in case you were wondering how the draft went, they liked it. They liked it so much, in fact, that they asked me to do another. Deadline March 7, or 16 days from now.
Okay, I’m game. I start rolling up my sleeves tomorrow.
Alongside my 19-day book marathon, I’ve managed to maintain my pace with The Dream King’s Daughter, although now I find that the pace has slowed as I encounter a portion of the plot that I haven’t discovered yet. Earlier this week, the story passed the 30,000 word mark, which is either 3/4rs of the way there, or 3/5ths, depending on how long this story ends up being (I’m betting it will be around 50,000 words long).
The post’s title is also courtesy of Tori Amos, whose albums American Doll Posse and From the Choir Girl Hotel seem to be on my iPod a lot when I’m writing this take. Make of that what you will. The songs don’t match up well with any scenes, but do seem to match the story’s energy.
Anyway, here’s another segment, taking us to the end of chapter two (and probably as far as I can go into the story, without scaring off prospective publishers):
Dream King’s Daughter Scorecard
Word Count: 30177
Increase Since Last Report: 4238 (Feb 5)
At four, Matron stood up. “Let’s get ready for the dinner hour.”
Everybody got up and stretched. Then Polk and Matron stepped into the kitchen, leaving Aurora alone in the empty diner. She glanced out the window and frowned. The thunderclouds were closer, now, though it was hard to judge. The sun beat down on the road and gravel driveway, but she couldn’t see the other end of the field behind the grey curtain of rain. The Henderson’s combine was nowhere to be seen. The driveway was empty and the houses of Coopers Corner still. She took a deep breath, but could not shake the sense of dread building inside her, like she was the last person alive in the world.
In the kitchen, she heard Matron scraping the grill clean, and the chop-chop of cabbage as Polk prepared the coleslaw. She held onto that.
She was just imagining things. The field hands must have had a busy day. They’d be here for dinner, and they’d be hungry men. She was going to be carrying a lot of plates. Soon, anyway.
While she waited, Aurora twisted the dial on the television set. The regulars liked to ignore the six o’clock news while they ate their meals. Her nose wrinkled in frustration as she clicked away and bent the aerials this way and that. Finally she gave up in a huff.
The bell on the door jam jangled. Aurora smiled. She turned and picked up her pen and notepad, and faced the end of the day.
Just as it had been for breakfast and lunch, the crowd of regulars was thinner, but it was thick enough that Aurora was able to take comfort in it and immerse herself in her work. The door jangled several times as more people joined the throng. Ike Henderson held it open for his wife and daughter and helped his wife off with her jacket. Britney gave Aurora a bright grin as Aurora handed out sodas. Aurora smiled and gave her a wink. Soon, the orders were up and Aurora was delivering dishes and the diner was filled with the sounds of scraping cutlery.
Outside, the horizon flashed. Distant thunder rolled over the sounds of dinner. The patrons cast uneasy glances at the approaching clouds.
Finally, Aurora was scribbling out her first bill. Around her the diner hummed with sparks of laughter. Ike Henderson got up from the table, stretched, and ambled to the washroom. Aurora slipped past him and delivered the bill to the Radwanski boys. “Was everything to your liking?” she asked automatically.
No answer. Aurora looked up at an empty booth.
She staggered back, stumbled on her heels, and fell, catching herself on the stools by the counter.
The diner silenced. She felt nearly a dozen pairs of eyes staring at her, and her cheeks reddened. She flashed her smile at the customers and pushed herself up. “I’m okay,” she said. “I’m okay.”
The customers gave her one more long look, before turning back to their meals. The ripple of conversation resumed.
But it was wrong. It was definitely quieter than it had been a couple of minutes ago. She was seeing more empty vinyl when there should have been a person. There’d been no sound of the bell on the door jamb jingling, she was sure of it. No one had left the restaurant for at least ten minutes. And yet, the noise level of the diner had gone steadily down.
“Hey, Aurora!” shouted Jake. A huskily built young man whom Aurora couldn’t look in the eye without either blushing or wanting to grind his toe beneath her heel. But she glared at him anyway.
“What?” she snapped.
He swallowed his smile at her look, and meekly held up his empty glass. “More water?”
She looked away, ashamed of herself. “Okay.” She went behind the counter, pulled a glass of the rack and filled it from the tap. She marched over to the table and plunked it in front of him. Then she looked up.
The table was empty.
“Aurora? You okay?”
The diners were staring at her again. The remains of them, anyway. She could count the number of people left with an easy glance. Mrs. Henderson and Britney stared at her with wide eyes. Three remaining farmhands sat where she had served them, beside empty seats set with plates that were fresh with crumbs and smears of ketchup. And in the kitchen, Matron’s grill continued to sizzle like nothing was wrong.
She breathed deeply. Tried to slow her thumping heart. Failed. This was getting worse.
Then her eyes shot back to Mrs. Henderson and Britney. What was wrong with this picture? Then she remembered. Mr. Henderson still hadn’t come back from the bathroom.
Aurora strode to the men’s room. Ignoring the looks of the remaining customers, she barged in.
At the urinal, Polk jumped and hastily zipped himself up. “Hey!”
Aurora scanned the room. There was one sink, one urinal and one stall with a toilet. She crouched quickly and peered beneath the barrier. There were no feet in front of the toilet.
Polk hurriedly washed his hands and towelled them off. “What is with you today?”
She straightened up. “Where’s Mr. Henderson?”
He cast the damp towels in the waste bin. “What are you talking about?”
“Ike Henderson!” Aurora’s voice rang off the tiles. “You know who he is, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.” Polk frowned, concerned. “Aurora, what’s going on?”
“Did he come in here?”
“What?” Aurora scanned the walls for hidden doorways, hatches. There was a window by the toilet stall, but it was by the ceiling and too narrow for someone to crawl through. “He came in here! I saw him go in here! Didn’t you see him?” She turned this way and that in the centre of the small room. “Mr. Henderson! Where are you!”
Polk caught her by the shoulders and held on as she struggled. “Calm down!”
She slapped his hands away. “Don’t you tell me to calm down. Either Ike Henderson was here and he disappeared, or I’m losing my mind. So, which is it, huh?”
Polk swallowed. “Um… Which do you want it to be?”
She turned away with an exasperated yowl and burst out of the washroom.
And found the diner empty.
The jangling of the door jamb caught her attention, and she looked to the door. Mrs. Henderson held it open for her daughter. They were leaving. Alone. The last customers of the night. The door swung shut behind them.
Aurora charged the length of the diner. “Mrs. Henderson! Wait!”
She ran out the door and looked around wildly. In the dying light of the sun, she saw a young girl standing with her doll on the middle of the road.
“Britney!” Aurora cried. The girl turned, her doll dangling by her side. Aurora ran onto the road and pulled Britney to the shoulder.
Aurora knelt in front of Britney and looked her in the eye. The girl stared back, lost but strangely calm.
“What were you doing?” said Aurora, trying to keep the edge out of her voice. “You can’t just stand in the middle of the road like that. What would your parents think?”
“Not here,” said Britney, distantly. “Mom, Dad, not here.”
Aurora swallowed. This was getting worse. Scratch that. It had passed terrible and was well on its way to catastrophic. She took Britney’s hand. “Come inside— I mean, you wanna come inside? C’mon, let’s get some ice cream.”
Britney looked up at her with wide eyes. “Chock-lit?”
Aurora smiled. “Of course.”
She turned for the diner, and felt Britney’s hand slip from her fingers. Aurora turned, and found herself alone on the gravel driveway. Around her, the wind made the tassels sigh. “Britney?” she shouted. Then she screamed. “Britney!”
Britney’s doll lay sprawled on the gravel. Aurora picked it up and stared at it a moment. Then she clasped it to her shoulder. Thunder rumbled.
Aurora turned. The clouds were almost upon her.