Things are rolling along nicely:
The Dream King’s Daughter Scorecard
Current Word Count: 11003
Progress From Last Report: 1832 (Nov 20)
It’s all first draft stuff, of course, and won’t be publishable until gone over several times with an editorial eye, but that doesn’t mean I can’t post an excerpt on this blog. Here’s the story so far:
Now to the story. Enjoy!
She got in and slammed the door after her.
Her father started the car and drove off with a crunch of gravel.
When she got home, her parents planted her in front of their television set and put on her favourite movie (The Princess Bride). Her mom even made her popcorn and cocoa. But then her parents went to their bedroom and shut the door. And Aurora heard words.
She set her popcorn aside and crept down the hall, silent in her stocking feet, and put her ear to the door.
“We’re you followed?” said her Mom.
“Probably,” said Dad. “Those eyes are everywhere.”
“He’s coming, isn’t he?” said Mom frantically. “We’re not going to stop him. We can’t. He’s too powerful.”
“We’ll see about that,” said her Dad. “Rush hour traffic on the Perimeter highway? How many blue SUVs can they keep track of? It’s not like they can read license plates.”
“You don’t know—”
“We have to try,” her Dad snapped.
“Where will she go? We’re the only home she’s known—”
“Matron,” said her father. “She’ll be safe, there.”
“It’s the middle of nowhere! She’ll stand out like a beacon!”
“Not while I still have a few tricks up my sleeve,” said her father grimly.
Aurora gasped as she heard her father stride to the door. He hesitated when her mom called him back, and she took the opportunity to scrabble and skid along the hardwood floor back to the couch in front of the television. She swept up the bowl of popcorn and had it in her lap just as the bedroom door opened.
He smiled at her from down the hall, and Aurora tried to square that warm smile, the face that had kissed her scrapes and bruises, who hugged her at grade six graduation and told her how proud he was of her, with the man she’d heard behind the door. It didn’t add up. It wasn’t adding up, even now. The deliberateness of his steps as he came down the hallway, and the dark edge of fear (yes, fear!) behind his eyes as he crouched down in front of her.
“Hey, honey!” he said. “Want to make a little money?”
Aurora paused with a handful of popcorn halfway to her lips. She raised an eyebrow. “Maybe. Tell me more.”
“I just got a call from your aunt Matron,” said her father.
Aurora nodded. A kindly older woman, red hair, mom’s sister. A good source of gifts whenever she visited, and always a cheque to be had when the birthday or Christmas cards arrived. But where did she live again?
“She’s been caught short at her diner,” her father went on. “One of her hired hands up and left.”
Saskatchewan, Aurora thought. Northern Saskatchewan. The helper probably went stir crazy and ran screaming for civilization.
“So, she asked if you could come out and help, for a couple of weeks, until she can hire a replacement,” said her father. “It’s win-win. She’d love to see you, and she’ll pay the usual wage. How often do you get paid to spend a week with your favourite aunt?”
There is that, thought Aurora. I’d much rather you’d tell me what was going on, but you’re not going to, are you? You’re a bald-faced liar, and worst of all you think you’re doing this for my benefit. Oh, well. Visiting aunt Matron would be a good consolation prize. If I play along, maybe I can figure out what’s going on. And perhaps I could wear her down and get an explanation.
She smiled at him. “Sure!”
“Pack a bag for a week. Your Mom will fix a bite for the road,” he said.
She blinked at him. “We’re going now?”
He beamed. “Yup!” As though they were on their way to Disneyworld.
As she packed, Aurora thought about arguing, or even throwing a fit. But at the back of her mind, a little voice told her to play along. There was something about the tension in her father’s shoulders, and the tightness of her mother’s smile as she came to kiss her goodbye, that made her keep her head down. To do otherwise, she thought, would be like pricking a balloon full of burning gasoline.
So she packed up a week’s change of clothes, a bunch of her favourite books (Aunt Matron didn’t have cable! Augh!) plus Freddy, the teddy bear that she’d publicly sworn she was much too old for but had never deigned recycle, and hauled the suitcase out of the house and to her parents’ SUV.
Her father loaded the suitcase into the back of the SUV, and her mother handed her a paper bag which Aurora snuck a peak at. It contained a peanut butter sandwich, a granola bar and a juice box of orange. She tried not to roll her eyes.
Her mother gave her a hug that lingered a moment too long. “I’ll miss you, honey,” she said. “You take care of yourself, and listen to what Matron tells you.”
“I will, Mom,” she said, giving her an extra squeeze and a kiss. Then she got into the passenger seat. Her father slid in beside her and started the car.
As they pulled away, Aurora watched her mother in the side view mirror, waving. As they reached the end of the driveway, the woman stopped waving and ran into the house, crying.
They pulled into the first McDonald’s drive thru they passed and bought Big Macs and fries to eat on their laps instead of peanut butter and granola. Traffic was heavy as they eased onto the Perimeter Highway, but it moved. As the cars, trucks and SUVs surrounded them, Aurora heard her father breathing a sigh of relief. The tension eased from his shoulders by the time they reached the TransCanada Highway.
Her father had the radio on, and Aurora kept her ear open for the news. In case some secret tsunami or some other disaster was on its way to crush the city behind them.
They pushed westward. The rocky land of the shield gave way to pasture, and then grain fields. They chased the sun until it disappeared over the horizon and kept driving as the farmhouse lights winked off and the interior of the car flashed dark to bright in the headlights of oncoming trucks.
Aurora curled her legs beneath her, rested her cheek against the headrest and stared out at the blackness, flecked with distant specks of light. Late night jazz played on the radio, the volume low, soothing.
Finally, Aurora slept. She’d be surprised if she hadn’t been so sleepy.
A persistent light winked her awake. Aurora snorted and tried to flick it away, fruitlessly. She opened her eyes and shut them again at the sudden bright blindness. She raised her head and looked around, groggy. Her mouth was dry and tasted terrible.
“Wh-where?” she croaked. Her joints ached from sleeping upright. It was much too cramped to stretch out. “Wh-where are—”
She began to take in what her eyes were telling her. They were on a black ribbon ploughing through a sea of yellow, the only car on the road. The horizon up ahead was dark, but the clouds glowed like mountains.
Beside her, her father sat hunched before the wheel as the prairie slipped past. He stared ahead with a glazed look in the eye that suggested extreme concentration in the face of a desperate need for caffeine.
Clarity set in with a jolt. The sun peaking over the horizon behind her was sunrise. The landscape had flattened out like a roll of paper. They’d driven all night, and were still driving.
“Dad,” she mumbled, struggling against her seat belt. “Daddy, where are we?”
“Just rest, honey!” he said, “Just rest.” And he placed a hand over her eyes…
That was two years ago.
Aurora jerked awake. She was standing in the middle of the diner, the Hobsons staring at her, the carafe of coffee going cold in her hand.
In her mind’s eye, she burst out of the controlling comforter and wriggled free.
She blinked. “How long have I been asleep?”
End of Chapter One.