I’m writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month. I’ve decided to do it here, and will be adding to this post throughout the month. The task is to write 50,000 words between November 1-30th. We’re not supposed to edit or review so this is the first draft, but I thought it might be interesting to follow the process. Here’s more info on www.NaNoWriMo.org
It was a dark and stormy month. November in Vancouver is always a bit cold. People who can, stay inside, except for the soccer players, who are crazy and run around in the mud and cold like it was any other day. Lucy found all her great tentatively anchored new good habits, to go for long walks daily, to garden and get outside to see the sky, washed out like a chalk drawing on the wet sidewalk.
Lucy’s friend Michael, had other ideas. A confirmed gym bunny, or whatever guys with tight butts who go to the gym all the time are called, he liked the different quality of gym time in the winter. The condensation on the windows of the second floor the Tim Ralley’s gym he went to prevented people from looking out and so people talked to one another more. You had to. The place was so crowded these days by people antsy to move but unwilling to get cold and clammy, that there was always someone asking to work in on your set, and conversations just happened.
“You should come to the gym with me sometime” he told Lucy. You’d get to like it.”
“Which part of it would I like more, the sore muscles or the slipped vertebra when I put something out of joint trying to lift the damn weights? Or maybe listening to my attractive puffing and panting in a nice public place where people can hear?” Lucy liked exercise that was dignified, or, failing that, done to loud music so no-one could hear her asthmatic bellows cope with the unaccustomed strain. Men with cute butts were in no position to know what would make a perimenopausal amazon like herself happy.
Walking slowly to the escalator, they left the food court and wandered upstairs. Lucy liked shopping with Michael. He shared her taste for rapid browsing, non-engagement with salespeople and Purdy’s ice-cream bars with fresh melted chocolate and toasted nuts that were so fresh and crunchy they squeaked on your teeth. After losing Brenda, he helped keep her moving, even if it was only on the mall level.
Hugging Michael goodbye, Lucy buttoned her coat and headed out the side doors of the mall and onto a courtyard that if not exactly rain-proof, was at least sheltered from the wind. The old stones were time-roughened, or perhaps time-smoothed from a rougher state centuries ago. Looking up in the too-early to be dark wintering sky, she noticed that the moon was a wee sliver of platinum coloured light, pale like baby hair against the black. Just past new moon, waxing crescent. Brenda would have said that it was a time for good new beginnings. But not to Lucy.
I wanted my life to be a science fiction novel, thought Lucy. Where anything could happen, and the truths that seem to hold me from stretching out into life were only one version of reality, and a highly unlikely one at that. I wanted to live in a world where Brenda and I could just be who we were.
Brenda had disappeared. On purpose, probably.
“I don’t know why you need to tell everyone. It’s not something I need.” she’d said during their last, dismal failure of a fight. Brenda’s need to pretend to herself that she wasn’t gay was understandable at first, but had begun grating on Lucy , who wanted to go out with other couples and stop pretending they were just roommates. Brenda’s religious guilt and, to Lucy’s mind, intrusive family were big blocks around her neck pulling her into the closet and anchoring her there.
The sex had dried up. They were barely talking, and had become room-mates in truth again.
Then one day Brenda was gone. Had Brenda told her family and they’d come to pick her and her things up while Lucy was at work, hauled her off to some bible camp to be brainwashed and married off to some church scion? Lucy had even called Brenda’s mother in Seattle, who said she hadn’t heard from Lucy and didn’t know where she was. Somehow Brenda doubted that.
This courtyard was where they’d met. Not in the rain, obviously, because they’d never had sat out here, finishing the last of their lunches while watching the birds finish the last of someone else’s and then fly off. The seagulls had been brazen, and had sneaked up beside Lucy and nearly stolen half of a good roast beef sandwich. Brenda had leapt to her defence and waved her umbrella like Xena the warrior. For someone who was such a strong presence in the rest of her life, so articulate and decisive, Lucy couldn’t understand why Brenda had quailed at this last, seemingly straightforward challenge, to be honest about her life.
Lucy had told her mother when she was 19. They’d been walking on the beach on one of her mom’s visits to town, and her mom had asked about her friends. “Do you hang out with any guys?” She asked. Lucy drew a deep breath. “Not really, I have a couple of guy friends, but most of them are gay.” Long silence. “I thought that might be the case.” said her mom, and changed the subject. But her mom had liked Brenda, and had treated them just the same as she treated her brother and his girlfriends, so Lucy figured her mom was fine about it.
Lucy passed the bench where a lone seagull squatted. No squabbling for leftovers today, he’d have to go back to eating fish. “Better for you anyhow” Lucy admonished him. “Omega 3 fatty acids are good for you too, I’m sure.” She reached the end of the courtyard and went down to the water, walking along the large rocks that line the shore, slowly to avoid slipping on the wet underfoot. It was barely raining now, only misting and by Vancouver standards, that really didn’t count as rain. But it was enough to keep the beach relatively clear, and she could pretend she had it all to herself. She might even be able to cry, here, surrounded by the comforting sound of the waves slipping back and forth, and the big grey belly of the Mother behind them.
Lucy could feel the mist swirling around her as she walked, getting to almost pea-soup thickness. It reminded her of Samhain, when they’d visualize visiting the island of apples, Avalon. Stories of getting lost in the mists and having adventures were a folkloric staple, as were tales of coming back after only a few days to discover years had passed.
Her shoes weren’t the best for this kind of thing. Brenda was always on her about wearing her nice clothes and shoes when she indulged a sudden desire for gardening, or fixing something in the yard, or walking a muddy beach. Well Brenda wasn’t here to judge. She could walk just fine in a leather sole on a slippery rock. It was just like walking on ice, and she’d done that often enough growing up. She’d be….
Lucy’s ankle wrenched as she went down on the rock, hitting her butt and back of head. A person standing on the courtyard above, if someone had been there, would have seen the mists wash over her, hiding her from view.
The sunlight was frighteningly bright. Looking out over green hills and birch trees with light green leaves. “I’m looking out over green hills and birch trees – what the hell?” thought Lucy. Looking down, she noticed her clothes and shoes were gone. Nearby, neatly folded on a rock was a cream-coloured soft fabric tunic, with soft leatherlike boots. She pulled them on. The rock she was sitting on looked familiar, somehow.
Just out of sight around one of the trees, she saw movement, and a woman emerged from the forest and started coming toward her. “Good, you’re here. Come this way.” she said. “Do you need medical attention?”
The woman was beautiful in a solid no-nonsense way that Lucy liked a lot. Slightly taller than Lucy’s average height of 5’6″, she was fairly broad-shouldered and carried herself with posture that Lucy’s chiropractor would have approved of. She was always giving Lucy exercises to do to strengthen the muscles in her upper back to balance her largish bust. Lucy shook her head.
The woman’s hair was pulled back in a low ponytail. She wore no makeup, and a tunic similar to Lucy’s.
“Sorry about your clothes” she said. “It doesn’t bring those. Maybe it thinks materializing you with our clothes on would be better than bringing you through naked, given your cultural norms.”
“What are you talking about?” Lucy said. “Who are you?”
“Oh, sorry” said the woman, pushing back a wisp of blonde hair from her forehead in a way Lucy suddenly found facinating, “I’m Mariha, Mariha Birch. This is going to be confusing for awhile, I’m afraid, and I’m not sure what I can explain to you yet. But we mean you no harm.”
With that, the woman turned and began walking back toward the forest. Lucy didn’t see any reason not to follow.
The path narrowed a bit and the ground underfoot got a bit boggy after a few minutes of fairly brisk walking. Lucy found herself panting and wheezing, as usual, from her asthma. Marja didn’t seem to notice, but slowed her pace slightly, which Lucy appreciated. She also appreciated the boots – her ‘girl shoes’ would have been more hopeless here than they had been on the wet seaside boulders she’d been walking on earlier.
Their trudging fell into a steady rhythm and Lucy found herself listening to the leaves rustle. Looking up she could see blue sky in places through layers of soft green leaves, lit up in the sunshine. As she let the peace of the place fill her, she found her breathing eased a little.
Mariha stopped for a moment and drank a little from a canteen looking thing she wore on a strap over her shoulder. She offered some to Lucy. “Water?” Lucy drank a little and caught her breath. She’d been studying the woman’s back for some miles now, but hadn’t hadn’t exchanged much in the way of words. Getting pulled along in Marija’s wake, a bit like she did with Brenda, now that she thought of it. Brenda had a way of sweeping you into things, that at first Lucy found endearing. Swept her into her bed, and then into the closet pretty quickly, once it became clear that was the only way Brenda would have a relationship. At first Lucy hadn’t noticed, since she pretty much didn’t want to get out of bed when they were together, but after awhile she picked up that Brenda would show her no affection at all if anyone else was around.
What am I doing? Where the hell am I? thought Lucy bracingly to herself. This is a crazy situation, and I’ve just been going along like a good girl. Just like with Brenda, Lucy found that with an attractive woman leading the way, she didn’t much care. “How sick is that?” She thought. However, what else was there to do, really?
Finally, the forest opened out to a sloped clearing containing a large adobe-coloured circular building. It appeared to be made of some kind of concrete, or maybe actual adobe. The walls had a comforting curved warm look to them, and several of the windows were round as well. A relief showing trees and what looked like agriculture scenes flowed along the walls, inlaid with what looked like bits of glass and stones.
Mariha stopped at a small fountain near the entrance and splashed water on her face, drinking some and sprinkling water lightly down the front of her tunic and over her hair. It was an automatic gesture that looked like she’d done many times. Lucy awkwardly drank a little water, finding that it tasted slightly of iron. Now that she was right at the fountain, she saw that the water seemed to flow from a stream nearby and then empty back into it once it had made it’s tour of the pool. The edges of the fountain were surrounded with shells, lozenge shapes, and sensual looking pale rose flowers.
Past the pond was a curving half wall that bordered the walk that led to the front entrance. Lucy scrambled to catch up to Mariha. The door looked to be carved of a single piece of wood, fir if she remembered her woodworking classes, with a curved top and a latchlike handle. Mariha opened the latch and held the door for Lucy. Then followed her in to the slightly cool interior.
Inside a lot of the light came from skylights curving around the ceiling, in which Lucy could see what looked like strandboard beams supporting the roof.
Lucy looked around, registering a kind of vestibule with a series of small doorways and one large one, like a church. “Is this a church?” she asked.
“Not exactly, I mean, all of our forest gathering places are sacred, of course, but not in the way I think you mean.” said Mariha.
“Well, where are we, then? What happened to me? What’s going on?” Lucy was beginning to feel like it was time for Some Answers. “It’s not that I’m not happy to be out of the rain but you have to tell me what is going on.”
“I’ll tell you what I can. A few years ago, we discovered that the rocks in the place where you emerged from would from time to time deliver us a person from some period in the past or future. It’s like we’re a way-station of some kind. The person stays for awhile and then, without us really knowing why, dissappears again. We’ve worked out a schedule in relation to the sun and moon, and are getting better at predicting when women arrive, but not exactly when they leave.”
“Women? only women?”
“So far. You’re the sixth woman to arrive so far.”
“Can I meet the others?”
“Eventually, although, only four are left. Two disappeared again about a month ago. First I’d like you to meet our Elder. She’s waiting for you in the central hall.”
Mariha led Lucy to the main doors, and into the central hall. The hall was a large circular room with a high ceiling. Benches in a circular pattern lined the circle two deep. In the centre was a beautiful mosaic floor pattern depicting the four seasons in colours of red, green, blue and yellow, that looked like it was made of glass tiles. A woman about Lucy’s age sat on a bench in the inner circle, to one side. ‘Elder?’ thought Lucy ‘this woman is about my age’.
The woman rose to greet them. “Thank you Mariha, for bringing our guest in. It looks like the schedule is as accurate as we thought.” she said. “At first the newcomers would wander through the forest and became quite tired and hungry before we located one another. This is a lot more civilized.”
Civilized was right. looking around the room, Lucy saw that over to the side was fresh fruit and vegetables, a pitcher of what looked like the spring water from outside and some delicious looking bread. Lining the walls were beautiful tapestries meant to mirror the trees outside. The skylights in the ceiling were made of glass of uneven thickness, which provided a mottled light, primarily in the centre of the space. It gave the place the feel of being in a clearing in the woods, except with far more comfort. A fountain at one end provided a low burble that gave a restful undertune.
Seeing Lucy’s gaze, the woman moved over to the food table and took a seat on the outer ring of seats, motioning Lucy to sit opposite her on the other ring. “Can I offer you something to eat?”
“Perhaps in a moment”.
“My name is Rosemary, and I think Mariha will have probably explained that I am Elder here.”
“Yes, but I don’t exactly know what that means”
“Well, I’m the person in charge of holding this gathering space both physically and spiritually for the people who come here, which includes the nearby holy forest. Since the travelling stones have showed up near here, they have been given to my care as well. I’m called Elder in part because of my age, but also it’s just the name this role assumes.”
Lucy didn’t feel it was polite to ask how old Rosemary was, but wondered how young people died here if this woman was considered old. Rosemary’s face had a few wrinkles, like Lucy’s did, and her hair had a few grey strands, but she wouldn’t have put her at over 50, at the most.
It must have showed on her face, because Rosemary said “You’re wondering how old I am. Some of the others were confused too. It seems people in your time have environmental factors that make them age prematurely, so I’m not looking old enough to you?” She chuckled and shook her head. “I assure you I am old enough to have great, great grandchildren. Our people generally live to 150 or so, and I’m well past middle age. ”
The rock basked in the sunshine of this clearing. Of all the times it inhabits, this one was/is/will be its favourite, so it focused it’s attention here often, usually when it could feel the warm sun and strong pull of the full moon. A trick of the moon sometimes allowed it to bring along a traveller. This latest had seemed so wrong for her time, like that other one had. The rock is old, as rocks go, in this time especially, and it’s worn soft surfaces absorbed the radiance and pulled it deep inside.
The rock couldn’t remember when it had developed this skill. Like all rocks, it could be in multiple times at once. Most rocks learned this in the first millennium or so – it was only the fresh lava who hadn’t yet mastered it. Most of the beings seemed to be stuck in time. Some long-lived trees and fungi developed the ability of being in many times at once, but since they were easier to destroy than rocks, few made it so far. The ever-reincarnating spirits of people and animals did have a sort of permanence, but didn’t often retain enough memory while in body form to get the hang of it. But the ability to bring the soft ones along when it shifted focus from one time to another was not widely known among the rocks of this rock’s acquaintance. The Weaver, yes, that was who had helped Rock learn this skill. She had demonstrated it once, moving a doe forward in time to prevent her species extinction. She didn’t do it much, though. “Wouldn’t want people to catch on. They need to know the consequences of their actions. Just enough.”
Lucy is a woman on a Mission from the Gods. She just doesn’t know what it is. At least that was Rosemary Elder’s take on it. “You’re here to do something, to affect us or yourself, we don’t know. Follow your instincts. You’re here for a reason.”
“Yikes” thought Lucy. “What do I do now?” she said aloud.
“That’s not for me to say” said Rosemary. “Whoever or whatever brought you here did so for a reason.” We don’t even know what time period you’re from in relation to this one, or I guess where in the world.
“You must be in the future” said Lucy “since your setup here doesn’t seem like anything I know of from history, and besides I can understand what you’re saying. That must mean you’re not so far removed in time or geography that you speak a different language. Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”
“Wow! – er I mean you don’t look a day over 100. holy Dinah!”
“Just because Mariha and I can speak your dialect doesn’t mean the younger folks can. I remember it when I was a little girl.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“Canada, in the west near the ocean, in a place that’s now underwater, unfortunately. Before the big quake changed the coastline a bit. But I’m not that old, some of the trees have been here longer, and the rocks. Some of them were dredged up from the sea bottom and moved here to shore up the dike, but that was awhile ago now too”.
“So you’re not going to tell me where to go or what to do?’
“No, but we’ll help you in whatever way we can. We have a pack fixed for you if you want it, with some supplies and equipment and you can take the ferry to the mainland. You won’t need money. That’s so funny to think of needing money, I haven’t thought of money in ages…”
“You don’t have money here?”
“Not as such. People just do and make and help where and how they see fit. For larger projects, like the ferries, we meet in places like this one and decide who will do what. It’s kind of like barter, but we don’t keep strict track of things, just make sure everyone gives what they can and has what they need. It only works because we organize in smaller communities. In the larger places they have a more formal system of credits, with the produce and labour each person contributes tracked by neighbourhood, and then they draw what they need. It’s all tracked by something you’d probably think of as a computer. It’s not the only way to organize, but it works for us around here.”
“So what do I contribute?”
“You’re a special case. You’re here from the Gods to do whatever you think you need to do. You don’t have any restrictions on you, within reason. When you feel you’re done, go back to the place we found you and you might be taken away again. We’re not sure where to, though, since nobody has come back.”
How wierd. No job, no family, an important mysterious mission, and no one telling her even which way to go. Lucy couldn’t let it all in. She decided to focus on the concrete. Travelling alone. She’d never travelled alone before – she was unfortunately too aware of the hazards.
“Where are all the men?” Lucy suddenly realized that she hadn’t seen any guys or even heard male voices around.
“Oh, they’re here all right, but we didn’t know what time you were from. Some of the other times seemed to have some quite barbaric practices about women and men and we thought it would be most comfortable for you to be met by a woman. In your time are men more violent than women? Some of the women seemed quite wary of men here – it seemed they’d come from times where women were enslaved and treated pretty badly.”
Lucy had to admit that in general that men murdered more women in her time than was true in reverse. “I guess, when you’re used to it, it doesn’t seem unusual. Women aren’t property in my time, but it was a relatively recent thing, so a lot of vestiges still definitely exist. Women’s labour is worth less, for example, and women aren’t safe to travel alone in many places. In some places in the world women are still property.”
How strange to talk of women’s oppression like it was ancient history. This might be a good thing after all.
After her interview with Rosemary Elder, Mariha led her to a small bedroom off the main corridor, which held a double bed and very little else. “These are our guest quarters for gatherings”, Mariha said. ‘Mostly people are so busy meeting they don’t spend a lot of time in the rooms.”
Laying back between sheets made of something that wasn’t cotton. Linen? Lucy began to cry, tension rolling from her body in large shaking sobs. First all her worry and hurt about Brenda and now she’d had such a confusing and overwhelming day. For all this space was almost unbelievably calm, ordered and tranquil, it only made her all the more aware of the rocks of tension in her shoulders, the screaming waiting at the back of her throat. Thankfully, the soft looking plastered walls looked soundproof. She certainly didn’t hear anything from outside, and hoped that went both ways.
If this was the future, then everyone she’d known, Michael, her parents, even Brenda were long dead. How wierd to think she’d outlived them in the blink of an eye. Would she ever get back to them?
Eventually, the room’s cool, solid, patient darkness won out and she fell asleep.
When she woke she didn’t remember any dreams.
A bird landed on rock, scrabbling a bit as it settled in with it’s prey to eat. The soft brush of it’s feathers were familiar, as was the light touch of it’s spirit, trusting, grounded by the rock’s presence.
The rock liked birds, the light touch of their mind, focused on small details that were easy to overlook otherwise in the vast stream of time. Birds paid attention to small things – seeds, wind patterns, the clouds of dust raised by a small animal digging, an unusual animal in the forest. This bird had flown from the mud building some distance from here, and had seen the soft-bodied one the rock had shifted through time enter it.
It was as the rock had expected, he’d seen it plain in the mind of the soft bodied human who’d collected his charge. The swirl of time around her made her easier to track, dust patterns were shaped by it as they blew by. The rock would watch this one.