The photo above is entitled “Diner Near Boston”, by Bob Jagendorf and it is used in accordance to his Creative Commons license.
I’ve been pretty fortunate that, with the first draft of The Night Girl done, I’ve had none of the crash that accompanied the aftermath of the finished novels of Fathom Five and The Young City. Sometimes, writing a book is like running a marathon, in that you are so focused on reaching the finish line that, when you actually pass the finish line and stop running, you end up feeling quite empty inside.
The key may be to have two books on the go at the same time. So, while I came off The Night Girl with a few additional changes, and while Mount Royal continues to percolate, a gathering of ideas (anybody have a suggestion what a gathering of ideas would be called?) grouped together over the past two weeks to produce this scene, which I knocked together on Friday.
If this story comes together, it will be called The Dream King’s Daughter, starring 15-year-old Aurora (last name as yet undecided) working at a small village diner in rural Saskatchewan. This girl without parents, as you will soon see, has a special ability. And I suspect this is going to turn into something of a road trip.
Anyway, here’s the first scene. Have at it!
When Aurora came to refill the coffee, she could see that Britney had been having that nightmare again.
The four year old girl sat by the window, studiously playing with her Barbie doll while her parents looked out at the dusty wheat fields and finished the dregs of their breakfasts.
Around her, the eggs sizzled and the coffee maker coughed. The stools along the counter were all empty save for one. Most of the locals came as families, these days, big men in plaid shirts with their little wives and littler children, choosing booths along the picture window wall looking out onto the gravel road and the Cooper farm.
Not that that there was any jostling for seats. The diner could seat twice the number of people that lived around the hamlet, and the number of visitors that drove up the road each week could be counted on the back of the hand. At the end of the lunch hour, only Britney’s family remained, along with the Hobsons, the elderly couple that would probably stay for the afternoon, where it not for Matlock showing on television at home. They probably would stay the afternoon if this diner ever got cable.
Britney looked up from her Barbie and giggled as her father made faces at her. She’s not even thinking of the nightmare last night, Aurora thought. She hardly even remembers it, but its there, waiting. It’s going to come again.
And when Britney looked up into Aurora’s eyes, Aurora saw it clearly.
A flurry of legs, the scrabble of claws, the slimy green skin. A great leap of fangs arching down. Britney screamed—
Aurora gripped her coffee carafe, closed her eyes, and let the dream pass through her. It was only a dream, after all. But try telling that to Britney. She approached the table with a smile. “More coffee, everyone?”
Britney’s father looked up, beamed, and held up his cup. “Yes, please.”
Britney’s mother passed her cup over. “Me too.”
Aurora filled the coffee cups and turned her bright smile on the girl. “And what would the little lady like for dessert?”
Her father grinned at her. “What do you think, pixie?”
The girl sat so upright, her blonde locks bounced. “Ice cream!”
Her father’s grin widened. “Are you sure, now?”
The girl’s head bobbed.
The father nodded to Aurora. “Ice cream it is!”
“Well,” Aurora set her carafe aside and clasped her hands together. “Maybe somebody would like to come and help pick out their favourite flavour?”
The girl kicked her legs happily, then looked quickly at her father. Her father smiled and nodded. Britney hopped out of her seat and followed Aurora to the ice cream stand.
But rather than haul Britney up to show her the eight available flavours, she knelt so that her face was level with Britney’s.
“Britney,” she said, keeping her voice low. “Have you been having that nightmare again?”
Britney’s smile vanished. She nodded seriously. Her lower lip trembled.
“You did what I told you, right?” said Aurora. “You imagined a door with a lot of locks?”
Britney nodded. She sniffed. “But it came through the window.”
Aurora looked away. Her fist clenched. Barriers never worked. Running away never worked. They always found a way through, and ran faster. There was only one way left to deal with this.
She turned back to Britney, “Okay, you want to make Mr. Scaly go away for good?”
Britney nodded vigourously.
“You’ve already imagined a fence, right?” said Aurora, “and it came true?”
Britney nodded. “But he leapt over it,” she mumbled.
“And you’ve already imagined a door, right” Aurora continued. “So you know that you can imagine whatever you want in the dream, and it’s right there in front of you. Right?”
Britney’s brow furrowed, but she nodded.
“So, I want you to imagine…” What could she say? The kid was only four years old. It didn’t seem right to be giving a four-year-old a gun, even in their dreams. “A broomstick.”
Britney raised one eyebrow. It was amazing how sceptical a little girl could look.
“Trust me.” Aurora squeezed Britney’s shoulder gently. “A broomstick… with a big wad of cork and gum at the end, so that Mr. Scaly’s teeth sink in and… get stuck. And… maybe you’ve hollowed it out and attached… a bicycle pump?”
A smile spread across Britney’s face. Already Aurora could see how the dream would go. Mr. Scaly would leap, teeth clamping down, while Britney raised her broomstick like a dragonslayer. And the teeth would go… scrunch… and there would be Mr. Scaly, dangling off the end of the broomstick, feebly trying to pry his teeth loose. Slimy claws slipping on the painted wood.
And Britney would clasp the bicycle pump and begin pumping. And Mr. Scaly would puff up like a balloon, eyes bugging out like a blowfish, making muffled, desperate grunts. Skin creaking. She’d pause, and he’d stare at her. It would make one last pleading squeal as Britney gripped the pump, shoved it down hard, and…
Aurora closed her eyes at the sudden pop. Britney laughed. Aurora almost felt sorry for Mr. Scaly. Almost.
Definitely don’t give this kid a gun, even in her dreams.
She hugged Britney and hefted her up to the glass. “Now, what flavour would you like?”
“Chock-lit,” said Britney. Of course.