Waterwight (end of chapter 2)

A single beam of intense light streamed through a crack in the door and struck Celeste’s closed eyes, startling her awake. Instantly alert, she slapped herself hard on the cheek and feeling pain, realized this was no dream and she had, in fact, run away. She surveyed her surroundings. The odor of urine still lingered, but there was no sign of the furry animals who had kept her warm. She did not know how long she had slept, but by the angle of the sun, knew it must be close to mid-day.

Across the room she could see the contents of her gray sack scattered. Hungry now, she hoped the animals had not eaten the few items she had managed to scrounge before her hasty departure. Celeste shook her head as she moved to gather her belongings.

“Talking cats, yeah, right,” she murmured to herself, chuckling at the thought. Then she noticed her diary lying open on the floor. Feeling for the key around her neck—still there!—she reached for the leather-bound book.

“No . . . way,” she said when she saw something scrawled on one of the pages. Panic returned at the thought of someone invading her space and her property while she slept. She tiptoed to the door to see if she could see anyone outside. All was as barren as it had been when she first arrived. She looked back at the page and read aloud:

“You can’t stay here, you can’t go back,

A tool please find within your sack.

South is where you’ll find your home,

Though for a time you’ll be alone.

Head for where there are no things,

Follow your nose to find the springs.

Danger’s near, it’s time to go,

Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Mo.”

Celeste wondered who would play such a childish joke on a defenseless girl and was angry at herself for not waking when someone must have taken and replaced the key around her neck. She grabbed her sack and opened it to find an old metal object at the bottom. A compass.

The spinning needle brought back a fleeting memory of camping with her parents. Celeste’s father had given her a toy compass and planned a short adventure around the campground.

“The red arrow always wants to go north,” he had told her. She could almost hear his patient voice now. “So if you turn until it lines up on the ‘N,’ you’ll know where east, south and west are. Now, take ten steps west!”

That was all she remembered from a lesson meant for fun, but now she was anxious to leave this filthy place. At least they hadn’t taken her food. She devoured one mushy apple while reading the bizarre poem again. Not knowing whether to take it seriously or not, she gathered her things and stepped outside. If only the cats were there, then she might know if she was losing her mind. Talking cats were things for fairytales, and the world outside looked like no fairyland she had ever read about.

Holding the compass in her hand, she turned until the red arrow pointed north and realized that was the direction of the children’s home. She turned around to face the south. She knew her home was gone. Why would someone tell her to head south, and where was the danger? She had no idea what springs had to do with anything, or why her nose would be involved in finding them. As for “Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Mo,” she could make no sense of that whatsoever.

Although the sun shone brightly, the hairs on the back of Celeste’s neck prickled. A surge of energy motivated her to move away from the house and she instinctively headed south, her pace quickening with her growing feeling that she was not safe.

Her brisk walk became a jog and then an all-out run when she looked over her shoulder and saw in the distance a pack of what looked like wild dogs fighting.

Celeste heard one faint, gruff voice from the direction of the pack. The animals stopped their commotion and turned in her direction.

“Food!” it said, and Celeste ran like she never had before.

Waterwight (chap 2 beginning)

Chapter 2

The heavy old door complained at being pulled open in the midst of a gloomy night. Already filled with nervous energy, Celeste felt her senses tingle as she ran into the chilling darkness. She ran until she was breathless, stopping under a street light near an abandoned house over two miles from the creaky old door. Startled by the easy speed of her escape, she took a moment to look around and realized she had no idea where she was.

“What now, genius?” she asked herself, pretending not to feel the fear rising in her chest. Without a hint of daylight to be seen, she knew she would soon be shivering. She dashed to the back of the dilapidated structure and looked through a small window. All was dark. The back door was open, and cautiously, she stepped inside.

Frozen in place, her heart beating loudly in her ears, Celeste dropped her bag by the door and waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the small room. Soon she could see the shapes of a kitchen and discovered she was not alone. She also discovered the source of the powerful odor of urine that assaulted her senses.

Eight glowing eyes from four furry creatures stared at her from the opposite corner of the room. Cats, she hoped, though the huddled mass could have been a mutant creature. She did not move a muscle. Then, voices broke the silence.

“Of course we’re cats,” said the first voice.

“Mutant creature!” said the next.

“Silly Celeste,” said another, its eyes focused on her bag.

“Come, curl with us, sleep,” said the final voice, and Celeste thought she must still be dreaming. Perhaps she hadn’t yet left the frightening ledge of her nightmare, hadn’t yet run away. She knew her dreams could jump from scene to scene without making any sense. And how could they know her name?

The furry mass did not move, but the sound of a rumbling “purrrrrr” drew her, trancelike, toward the animals. They parted to let her kneel among them. Unafraid now and believing she was still dreaming, Celeste stroked the warm fur of her strange new friends and felt a pang in her heart when she realized there had been no animals at the children’s home.

There had been no talk of animals just as there had been no talk of anything before her rescue. How was it that she had forgotten about holding the plump puppy her father brought home shortly before the event? She had forgotten about many things, and now her mind raced to remember.

Memories of shaking and shouting and deafening noise came to her then, overpowering her. She began to cry. The cats rubbed against her, coaxing her to curl up in their midst. She crumbled to the floor, her cry turning to a soft whimper, and soon she was warm and fast asleep.

(tbc)

Waterwight (end of chapter 1)

She was barely alive when they rescued her from the rubble of what was once her cozy home and brought her to the stark building where now she merely survived. They were not bad people; they were just cold, like everything around her. The other children in the home had evolved as she had into submissive little robots, doing what they were told and mindlessly following the endless list of rules.

Wide awake now in the dark room, Celeste took a deep breath, looked around and shivered. Thirty metal-framed bunk beds lined the bare white walls of the room in which she slept. The cracked linoleum floor had lost its shine years ago, and the curtainless windows, thick with grime on the outside and a wet layer of condensation on the inside from the breath of so many sleeping children, hadn’t let light through in decades. Chips in the white porcelain sinks in the communal bathroom at the end of the narrow hallway trapped used toothpaste and hair, and even though she knew the toilets and showers were scrubbed daily—one of the chores all the girls were scheduled to complete—nothing in the overused bathroom could ever be truly clean.

The other girls, still restless in their own unsettled dreams, would not waken until the clang of the dawn bell hours from now. After years of living with these girls—had it been three years? Maybe four?—she had not made any close friends, despite her efforts at coaxing them to share their past lives. No one within the cheerless walls would talk about the event that left so many children alone. They simply called it “the event,” and after a while, the children stopped questioning. She had grown to hate her life in the hollow building with its repetitive days and its people with their blank faces. She had often daydreamed of running away.

Celeste glanced toward the small nightstand where she knew her meager possessions lay: blue jeans, a few baggy shirts left by older girls when they moved away—Where did they go?—the green scarf, a diary with a lock, the key to which she wore around her neck, the gray sack stamped in orange with the single word “HOME” which they gave to all newcomers, and a worn leather jacket with her initials, “C.A.N.,” embroidered on the warm inside lining.

A wave of guilt washed over her when she thought of how excited her parents were when they gave her the expensive gift to mark her first decade of life. It had been far too big for her at the time and she refused to wear the baggy garment. Today she wished they could see how much she treasured the now perfect gift. But they were gone, and she didn’t even know why.

Her heart raced again when she thought about the voice in her dream and its message of an easier way. Was it time to listen to the voice? Was it time to turn her daydreams into reality? How she wished for someone to trust, someone to make her believe that everything would be okay, someone to make her feel safe and loved again.

Resolved now that she would leave this place of nightmares, Celeste rose, dressed, stuffed her belongings into the gray bag, removed her name card from the foot of the bed and slid it into the clear outside pocket. Holding her shoes, she moved noiselessly to the kitchen, hoping to find some food. With four bruised apples, the only unprocessed food the children ever ate, and half a bag of stale crackers—everything else was locked behind steel cabinets—she made her way to the imposing front door and put on her shoes, zipped her jacket and tucked her hair beneath her scarf.

Remembering a trick her parents taught her as a child when she was frightened, she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply with her face upturned. She believed now as she had believed as a child that this would help to make her courageous. She reached for the door latch. It was time for Celeste Araia Nolan to leave this wearisome place that would never be home. It was time for her to take a leap into the unknown, even if it might hurt.

Waterwight (Book 1)

Chapter 1

Celeste dreaded going to sleep. Every night she struggled to stay awake, but exhaustion always triumphed. The nightmares triumphed as well, and on this cold night she drifted into one of her most stressful dreams.

Perched on a ledge outside a 40-foot building, Celeste could feel her panic grow. Wind whipped around her and she knew that if she did not jump to the ground, something horrible would happen. She did not know why she was on the ledge or what might be worse than leaping from this height, but she felt she had no choice. The idea of landing on the ground so far down made her tremble, but she also believed that she had made this leap before and survived. She was tired of feeling afraid, tired of everything in her life being difficult and disturbing. Stalling, she removed the emerald green silk scarf that matched her eyes and held back her mass of tangled black curls, let it drop and watched its swirling, dizzying decent. Perhaps it would soften her fall this time.

But this dream was different.

Lightheaded from peering over the edge to watch as her scarf danced in the wind, she pulled back and caught her breath. Then, she heard a mysterious voice whisper, “There’s an easier way down! Come, come inside!”

Turning toward the voice, she saw an open window where none existed before. She could not see the whisperer with the foreign accent. Standing on shaky legs, she moved to the window to step inside, leaving the dangerous ledge behind her. This time, she would not have to jump.

Just as she stepped through the dream window, Celeste woke up, her heart racing, and she knew she would never have that dream again. Someone had whispered a message to her and had broken the painful pattern of a nightmare she suffered repeatedly since the people at the children’s home found her years earlier.

(to be continued)