Well, maybe you don’t recall, but I do. So here it is!
At the beginning, it appears to be a Young Adult novel, but it isn’t; I start with the protagonist’s childhood in order to introduce the reader to the unfamiliar setting and background, so when you get into the meat of the story, you’ll know what’s going on.
And I haven’t decided on a title yet, so for now, I’m just calling it WIP.
For some reason, however, I’ve been using chapter titles, something I never thought I’d do. Ever. I don’t like chapter titles! So why am I using them this time? I’m not sure. It just seemed appropriate.
So, without wasting any more of your time, I now present to you the first three scenes of my current WIP.
Chapter 1: My First Life
I shall never forget the day my first life ended.
Not that my next life began right away after that. For a fuzzy while, I hovered between them, not certain where to land.
But I’ll explain all that later. For now, let me tell you about that first last day.
Jeriah and I were about eleven, best as we can figure. Maybe twelve. Gran doesn’t remember when we were born, and Pa never talked about it. But we were about the same age as Mayne, and his twelfth birthday was the week after all this, so that’s how we figure our age.
Riah and Mayne found me near the cave that morning. You see, Ibro was at the house. He didn’t live there, but he hung around sometimes, like he was hiding from something. And when he was there, it wasn’t wise for a girl to be anywhere in the vicinity. Which is why I’d spent the night in the cave.
When Riah and Mayne canoed around the bend, I was high up a tallpole tree picking papes for breakfast.
Riah and I had found the cave one time when Pa sent him out with two baskets that he was to fill with papefruits. Pa didn’t send me, of course. As far as he was concerned, I didn’t exist. But he didn’t care if I helped.
Everybody knows papevines climb the trees that grow along the lower part of the sharpfall. Sometimes you’ll find them elsewhere, but they like the water best. So we’d canoed along the water’s edge, searching out the rounded, green-and-white foliage that wrapped around the tree trunks, and the pods of pink fruit high in the branches. We only found a few here and there, and it took all day to fill those two baskets. But we also found the cave hidden behind the falling water.
Now, Riah couldn’t see me up in the tree’s umbrella, but he always called whenever he approached so I’d know who was coming. “Jem!”
He needn’t have warned me, because I’d seen them a mile off. “What ya want?”
Riah didn’t answer. Just steered the canoe toward my voice. When they reached the bank, Mayne grabbed a rope and stepped off the bow seat onto a rock. While he tied the canoe to a scrawny tree, Riah climbed out and shaded his eyes with his hand to scan the slope. “Pa’s off dragoning.”
I didn’t move, wondering how long it would take him to spot me in the branches. “So?”
“So we have to get the skinning shed cleared out and the soaking pots ready before he gets home.”
The pain in my gut, always there those days, twisted and tightened till I thought I’d fall out of the tree. “I ain’t goin’ home.” I’d stay up there for a week if it kept me from Ibro.
Riah’s gaze had been searching all that time, but it zeroed in on me now. “Ibro ain’t there. Gram had him go with her to get a load of salt.”
I relaxed a little, though my gut still cramped. “What do you need me for?” I knew the answer, but had to ask.
“Takes two.” His tone implied I was stupid for asking.
“Only ’cause you’re a gel eel.”
Mayne climbed the steep slope. “I’d help, but Ma likes me to be there when she gets home from work.”
Holding a pod of papes in my teeth, I shinned down the tree, trying not to wonder what it would be like to have a Ma—especially one who wanted you around. “Riah don’t need your help anyway. Or he wouldn’t, if he weren’t such a sliming gel eel.”
Riah snorted. “If I am, you are, ’cause we’re twins, y’know.”
“Wish I could forget.”
I handed Riah the papes. He and Mayne plucked them from the stems and ate as we picked our way along the steep slope through brush and over rocks. After pulling off the last pink fruit, Mayne tossed the pod’s gnarled skeleton into the water below, where it floated on its back like a big dead spider.
I don’t figure you’ve ever been to Freemansland. Not many people have, though everybody’s heard of it. Probably most of what you’ve heard is wrong, though. So let me tell you what it’s really like.
It’s true that it’s an island, and not a natural one. In the distant past, some unknown peoples built it for a purpose long forgotten. The land itself was long forgotten after the last great war centuries ago, which just about wiped out everyone. It took the rest of the world a long time to find us again—and most of us wish they never did.
Freemansland is an uneven oval shape, built in six levels. At the base, it’s about 400 kilometers across and 350 wide. The highest level, the smallest, is flat on top like a table, with sheer rocky sides all around. This steep, almost-vertical wall, called a sharpfall, plunges down about 1700 meters and ends at a moat of sorts. The stillwater, so called because there’s not much of a current and it’s not much affected by tides, wraps around the whole tabletop in a watery band about a kilometer and a half wide and up to 10 meters deep.
A high rock rim around the outside edge holds the water in the stillwater, except for overflow areas where the water pours down to the next level. Each of the levels is the same—a sharpfall going up to the level above, with a wide stillwater at the foot. Except for the lowest sharpfall, which falls into the ocean instead.
On the day I’m telling you about, Freemansland was all I knew. And all I wanted to know. As far as I was concerned, Freemansland was all there was.
Though most of the things you hear about the place aren’t true, it does live up to its nickname, The Land of Many Mysteries. But I was learning its secrets. If I wished for anything back then, it was to learn more of them.
Well, okay, there were other things I’d have liked. To not be scared anymore, for instance, or in pain. I didn’t know why I hurt all the time, but it seemed to be getting worse. Sometimes I’d be too sick to eat. Sometimes my vision would blur. And a couple of times—I never told Riah, but I’m telling you now—sometimes everything would go dark, and silent, and I wouldn’t know a thing until it all came back a while later, with me wondering what had happened.
If I knew more of Freemansland’s secrets, then I’d know what was wrong with me and how to fix it. Just like I’d learned what I could eat and what was poisonous. How to smear my body with a mixture of mud, rufflemint, and burrowrat dung so the dragons couldn’t smell me. How to make a paste of barbweed and charcoal to soothe the yellow rash. How to move so I wouldn’t be seen or heard by predator or prey, and to enter and leave a place without leaving a sign I’d been there. Those were the secrets I knew.
I hoped if I learned more of Freemansland’s secrets, maybe I’d know how to kill whatever was inside me, killing me, before there was nothing left to save.