Now, on with the post.
Dream King’s Daughter Scorecard
Word Count: 25939
Increase Since Last Report: 5939 (Jan 21)
The pace of The Dream King’s Daughter appears to be increasing. I have a number of areas in the story where I can write, now, and I expect to be over 30,000 words before the month is over. Fingers crossed on that. And I am still enjoying the energy and the verve of the story. It’s a lot of fun to write, and doesn’t seem like it will stall out the way The Night Girl did. Again, fingers crossed.
Between this, a non-fiction writing project, and a couple of web design projects, I don’t have much time to blog, so I’ll post another installment from the beginning of the tale. When we last left our heroes, Aurora had been menaced by crows and a disappearing dark man. We also learned that she doesn’t sleep. Now, knowing that she’s been brought to Cooper’s Corners, Saskatchewan against her will, she is going into the new day with her eyes open. But something else appears to be working against her, now.
Enjoy! Comments and criticisms welcome.
The picture windows of their diner faced east. As Aurora got the coffee ready and laid out the cutlery. In the kitchen, Matron turned on the toasting machine, and the diner filled with the smell of melted butter and roasted crumbs. Then Matron scraped down the grill and turned it on, adding the scent of heating iron to the diner’s homey smells.
Aurora watched as the dawn fought to brighten against a line of dark clouds along the horizon. She caught flashes of lighting out of the corner of her eye as she worked, and moments later, distant thunder rolled across the fields.
A thunderstorm, she thought, then chided herself for stating the obvious. Was that good for the crops at this time of year? She hadn’t a clue. She thought about asking one of the farm hands when they came in, but then she remembered that she was supposed to have been here for most of her life. Asking would betray her city girl roots.
“Hey, there, dream girl!” said Polk, behind her.
She jumped. “What?” Then she flushed. “Shut up!”
He looked playfully blank. “What?”
“It seemed like you were dreaming,” said Polk. “Just standing there with the forks dangling from your hand. Be glad Matron didn’t catch you sleeping on the job.”
“I wasn’t sleeping,” Aurora snapped. “I was… thinking.”
“What about?” He looked at her expectantly.
She clenched the forks that almost fell from her fist.
Gravel scrunched outside as the first station wagon pulled up. Aurora looked up.
The door to the station wagon opened and Ike Henderson hauled himself up, pulling down his plaid jacket and adjusting his baseball cap. He glanced at the eastern horizon and shivered as the wind picked up.
Polk hurried off to the kitchen, and Aurora resumed laying out the cutlery as the door jangled.
Ike Henderson slid into the booth seat. “Hey, Aurora.”
“Hello, Mr. Henderson,” said Aurora. “You by yourself?” asked Aurora. Ike nodded. “Molly and Britney will be along for dinner, but I got work to do.”
“What do you think?” He grinned at her.
Aurora winced. It had sounded lame, but Aurora couldn’t think of anything else to say. The memories of her city girl upbringing robbed her of country small talk. She hurried away to grab a mug and the coffee carafe.
When she returned, Mr. Henderson was eying the scene outside the window. “Odd storm, coming in from the east like that,” he said. “Hardly natural.”
Natural. The word echoed in Aurora’s mind. She shook it out of her head. “Coffee?” Ike nodded, and she poured it out. There was another scrunch of gravel outside. A car door slammed, and the diner door jangled.
The storm hovered on the eastern horizon as the day drew on, clouds turning into mountain peaks under the noonday sun, a backdrop against which the threshers rolled. Aurora couldn’t stop herself from making quick glances at it as she polished the table tops.
Finally, after ten, there were no more table tops to polish, no more cutlery to rearrange. The diner was empty. Matron and Polk emerged from the kitchen. Polk sat near one end of the counter and grabbed some of the ketchup bottles he’d assembled, while Matron turned on the TV and tried to get a signal.
Aurora flipped the towel over her shoulder, came over and sat down. She glanced at the clock and blinked when she realized it was only ten-thirty. “Slow morning,” she said.
Polk looked up as he refilled the ketchup bottles. He shrugged. “It happens. Sometimes people wake up and decide to cook their own breakfasts. Weird, I know, but—”
From her stool, she kicked him in the shin.
“Ow!” he whined theatrically. “Matron!”
“Now, now,” said Matron, giving up on the static-filled television. “None of that.” She flopped a deck of cards on the counter.
Around noon, the gravel scrunched outside, and the door jangled again.
But half the usual crowd turned out for the lunch hour. Britney and her mother sidled in; Britney ran up to Aurora and gave her legs a big hug before rushing to her seat. The Hobsons arrived a few minutes later. Aurora flipped open her notepad and began to take orders. Scrambled eggs with brown toast. Eggs benedict. A Hungry Man (four eggs, four bacon, four sausages, ham and a coronary). She leisurely carried the plates to their tables as the orders arrived. Scrambled eggs with brown toast. Eggs benedict. A Hungry Man.
When there was nothing left for Aurora to do but refill the coffee, she twirled the knob of a television, fruitlessly searching for the signal. She gave up when she spied Britney finish the last of her eggs and push the tomato to the side of her plate with the end of her knife, her nose wrinkling in disdain. She pulled out her notepad and began tallying orders on the cash register. Then she delivered these one by one to the tables.
“So, how was everything?” said Aurora as she scribbled onto her notepad. She ripped off the slip and held it out, and stared a long moment, wondering why she was holding a bill out to an empty booth.
She looked to her left, and then to her right. The Hobsons should have been here, but they weren’t. And they weren’t at any of the other tables, either. Three orders came to the diner this lunchtime. Britney and her mother had just paid their bill and were sidling out the door. The Pankiws’ father was making a show of pulling his wallet out from his pocket.
Aurora stood a moment, holding the bill in her hand. Then she shoved her pen into her pocket and darted for the kitchen. Matron looked up from the grill as she burst in.
“The Hobsons,” said Aurora. “They skipped out without paying!”
“What are you talking about?” said Matron.
“What do you mean, what am I talking about?” said Aurora. “Hobson family. They had one lunch special, one eggs benedict and a whole pot of coffee. $19.95, not including taxes and tip. I wrote up their bill, but they left before I could hand it to them.” Then she realized that Matron was frowning at her, rather than at the news. “What?”
“I never made up an order of Eggs Benedict,” said Matron.
Aurora gawped at her. “But… I took their order.”
Matron shrugged. “Well, if you did, you didn’t give it to me. Maybe that’s why they left without paying—”
“But I served them. You cooked it up!” She stared at Matron, who stared back blankly. “You’ve got to remember!”
Matron clucked her tongue. “You’re imagining things, girl. I know what I served up my customers today, and Eggs Benedict wasn’t on the list. Maybe you were remembering yesterday? Maybe one of yesterday’s bills got mixed up in your hands.”
Aurora bit her lip. Then she took a deep breath. “Yeah,” she said. “Must be.”
She turned on her heel and strode out of the kitchen.
The diner emptied out ten minutes too early. Clean-up took half as long as it should have. Aurora begged off the game of Go Fish and went into the house to grab a book to use as a shield against conversation.
As she stepped outside, gravel scrunching underfoot, she stopped. She did a slow turn, casting her gaze to the horizon and listening hard to the sounds around her.
No cars passed on the roadway outside the diner. As the sun baked the back of Aurora’s neck, starlings chirped from the tassels, and gradually the cicadas took up their hum. In the east, the lingering storm crept forward, slower than lava. Cooper’s Corners’ houses stood silent. Aurora strained to hear motors, anything.
Have they all gone? Are Matron, Polk and I the only humans left alive?
Then she heard the catch of an ignition, and the roar of an engine. At the far end of the Henderson’s field, a tractor pulled into view, threshing the wheat. She could see Ike Henderson, crouched over the wheel. He gave her a wave.
Aurora breathed a sigh of relief. She went into Matron’s apartment and grabbed up her book. The tractor was still rolling with Ike at the wheel when she emerged. In the diner, she sat at the counter, seats away from Matron and Polk and kept her nose inside, turning pages only when she remembered to, keeping an eye on the thresher as it weaved back and forth among the tassels.
On the horizon, a sun-bleached farmhouse disappeared behind a veil of rain.