I’m currently focused on chapter five and six of The Dream King’s Daughter (alongside my Science Solves It project), which is a section where Aurora and Polk strike out across country and end up spending a lot of time just walking and spending time alone.
This is proving to be unexpectedly hard, as the tone of the story abruptly changes. What has, for the past four chapters, been an incident-driven plot, now transforms into a character-driven plot. Which is to say, not much happens, but we get to see more of Aurora and her developing relationship with Polk. And, as you can guess, the great threat here is that the pace drags to a halt, and the reader loses interest.
It would help, I guess, if I knew better who Aurora and Polk were, and I haven’t had much opportunity myself to get to know the two, given how I’ve been rushing along with them from action event to action event. So, I’ll be feeling my way around on this one, probably going through several drafts. But that’s the way writing often works.
This post was actually not the end of the second chapter, even though I said it would be. My apologies, but at the last moment, I split the passage in two in order to keep the thing from getting too long. I’m glad you thought the last segment was creepy. Now we kick it up a notch (I hope).
She started to call for Matron, but the words caught in her throat as a crow cawed. Aurora’s gaze shot round and then she saw it. One crow for sorrow, she thought, perched atop the utility pole at the edge of the field.
“Aaa! Aaa!” the crow cawed, a sound like a rusty gate. Then, “Aaa! Roa! Raa!”
It cawed again, then stretched its wings and kicked off its perch, coasting down into the field and perching again on a hay trailer. It tucked its wings in and looked back at her.
Aurora stepped to the edge of the field, then pushed aside the wheat stalks and sidled in. A thin streak of lightning lanced the horizon, and distant thunder rolled across the tassels. A speck of water caught her cheek like a teardrop, followed by another. Around her, the leaves on the stalks went pitter-patter and then whoosh as the rain started down.
The stalks closed around her, dripping on her shoes. The rain soaked her clothes. Aurora kept her gaze locked on the crow on the trailer as she shoved her way along. Finally, she stepped onto a muddy track the tractor had left behind. She stood at the ridge of the wheel rut, ignoring the water as it soaked into her shoes. She wiped her matted hair from her eyes.
The crow, perched on the hay trailer, turned its head one way and the other, focusing on her with each eye. It opened its mouth and cawed. “Aaa! Roa! Raa!”
Aurora yelled with a voice like a dam breaking. “Who are you? What do you want? What have you done with all the people?”
“Aaa! Roa! Raa!”
“I know who I am! Tell me something I don’t know!” she shouted.
“He! … He!” the crow cawed. Then, “He! Comes!”
Then movement caught her eye, and she looked up at the billowing clouds. Crows were flying in from every direction, hovering in the air in front of her, forming a cloud like starlings, then like smoke. As Aurora watched, the cloud began to take a shape. She could make out the beginnings of a head, legs, two arms, reaching out to her—
“Aurora, get down!” Matron shouted.
Aurora whirled around, and stared down both barrels of a shotgun. She hit the muddy dirt as Matron fired over her head.
The crows scattered, crying murder. A dozen dropped to the ground and lay limp.
“Matron, what are you doing?!” Aurora scrambled to her feet, her clothes and hands smeared with mud. She stopped short when she was confronted again by the shotgun in her aunt’s hands. “Since when do you own a gun?”
But Matron looked past her, and Aurora didn’t have to turn around to sense the darkening of the sky, the screeches carrying over the intensifying thunder. She ran her hand through her matted hair. “Matron, what’s going on?”
Matron drew back the pump of the shotgun, a classic click-click, full of menace. Then she looked Aurora in the eye. “You know, don’t you?” she said. “Don’t try to deny it, girl, I can see it in your eyes. After all the trouble your ma and pa went through, you woke up. You were always a spirited child.”
Aurora swallowed, her eyes locked on the shotgun.
Matron hefted the weapon onto the shoulder and brushed past her. “Well, it’s for the best, I think. He’s coming for you. It’s best you be wide awake when you run.”
So many things that she wanted to say crowded into Aurora’s mouth, that she spluttered. Run? Run where? Run from who? Who’s coming for me?
Instead, she said, “What about Polk?” She had to yell over the gathering cries of crows “He can’t stay here!”
“He’ll be fine if you run,” said Matron. “I’m sorry, dearie, but it’s you they’re after. I’ll hold them as long as I can.”
“Hold who off! You’re not making any sense!” Aurora resisted the urge to stamp her foot. She wanted to scream and cry and shake Matron to make her explain.
But Matron just hefted the shotgun in one hand and fished through her coat pocket. “Take the keys,” she said, thrusting the whole keychain, including house keys, into Aurora’s palm. “Take ‘em and get out. Go south, get to where people are. Try and hide yourself among them.”
And make them disappear one by one as well? “I can’t do that to them!”
“You have to!” Matron shouted over the wing beats. “You can’t let him take you, girl! It’ll be disaster if he does.” She nodded over her shoulder. “Look.”
Aurora turned and immediately wished she hadn’t. The billowing grey clouds had turned black and feathery. They were descending. Aurora froze.
“Run, you idiot!” yelled Matron. “Run!”
Aurora ran, mud squelching and wheat stalks chaffing. Matron’s battered brown Chevy came into view. The ground crunched as she hit gravel. Slipping and skidding, she caught herself on the car roof and fumbled with the door handle. It was unlocked and opened suddenly, knocking her hand, sending the keys to the gravel. Aurora twisted, bent sideways to pick them up, and fell over, into a puddle.
The light went out from the sky.
Aurora grabbed up the keys, dove into the car and slammed the door. She sat up and, without thinking, pulled on her seat belt and checked the rear-view mirror. She blanched.
The crows descended on Matron like a funnel cloud. Her aunt brought up her shotgun and sighted down the barrel.
Aurora turned the key in the ignition. The station wagon sputtered to life and she danced on the clutch. Gears creaked as she shoved it into first. Wheels spinning, gravel spraying, she manhandled the car onto the road. Second gear and the car picked up speed. Third gear. Go.
Behind her, she heard both barrels going off, and the murder of crows.