Sunday, July 10, 2011

Here's a sample chapter ~enjoy!

Chapter 1  Lily Lightfoot, the Storyteller


Weird was quickly becoming a fact of life for Lily Lightfoot.   For the third time in a week, she got the feeling invisible icy fingers were slipping down the back of her neck, seeping into her spine.  It was if something was tugging at her very bones, pulling her toward her future.  She walked along a broken sidewalk littered with fall leaves toward her school; her friend Peter up ahead on his skateboard.  The crisp air was heavy with the moldy smell of decay as the skateboard clicked on the cracks in the sidewalk.

Spinning around, Lily saw nothing but leaves rustling as the wind swished them across the sidewalk.  Lily pulled her coat closer around herself and sighed.  Maybe she really was losing her mind.  Everyone else seemed to think so.  Peter was probably the only kid in school who didn’t cringe when she walked into a room.  Ever since she gave her entire second grade class the chicken pox, just by telling a story, everyone had avoided her.  That was before Peter moved to Maplewood.  Lily had a feeling he might see things differently if he had witnessed the infamous pox incident.  Peter stomped the end of his skateboard, stopping it, and looked back at her.

“Hurry up, Lily!” he said.  Why he walked to school with her every day was a mystery to Lily.  Peter had lots of friends - normal kids - he could hang out with.  Still, Lily was glad he didn’t seem to mind her little quirks.  OK, so maybe they were big quirks.

“I’m coming,” said Lily.  “Unfortunately,” she added under her breath.

“So, tell me a story,” said Peter.  He grabbed the end of his board and walked next to Lily.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, staring straight ahead.

“C’mon, witch girl,” Peter teased, pushing the dark brown hair out of his eyes.

“What kind of story?” asked Lily, annoyed that Peter would call her that.  Still, it was better than “freakazoid,” which was what most people called her.

“You know, the kind where you make something up and then it happens,” he said.

“I don’t know, Peter.  That last one got me in trouble,” said Lily, remembering the math test two weeks ago.  Peter had bet Lily he would score higher than she would and she wanted to put him in his place.  Unfortunately, she flubbed the story trying to whisper it during the test so no one could hear.

“His answers are gone,” she said softly.  Not only did Peter’s answers disappear, so did every other guy’s in the class.

“Yeah, but you have to admit, it was pretty funny watching Mrs. Doorman trying to figure out what happened,” said Peter.  Lily grinned at the memory of her poor, frantic teacher.   She didn’t mean to upset Mrs. Doorman.  If only she could get the hang of storytelling.

“Just a little one?  It’s so cool,” begged Peter, smiling sweetly.

“Nothing big?” asked Lily.  She had promised her grandmother she wouldn’t tell any more stories, but it was hard to tell Peter no.

“No, nothing big,” said Peter, grinning. How could she disappoint her best friend in the world?

“Are you sure you’re prepared for the consequences?  You know I can’t always control what happens,” she asked.

“I’m not scared,” he said.

“Well, all right.  Just a little one.”  Lily stepped over the smashed remains of a jack-o’-lantern on the sidewalk, scrunching up her freckled nose.

“Tell a story that will help me pass pre-algebra,” said Peter close to her ear.

Lily smirked at him.  She thought to herself, and closed her eyes in concentration until she got that familiar tingle in her toes, like they’d gone to sleep.  She listened for the warbling of birds, like far away meadowlarks she always heard before storytelling.  Sometimes it took awhile to hear them, but today they sang instantly.  Lily opened her green eyes and began her tale.  Peter listened closely.

“The boy who smashed this pumpkin will come around the corner in two minutes and slip on the mess he made,” said Lily.

Peter interrupted impatiently.  “Lily!  I just wanted you to help me pass math.”

“I’m not cheating again.  I’ll help you study.  Here he comes now.  Better stand over there,” said Lily, pointing as she backed off the sidewalk.

Sure enough, a burly eighth grader named Dillon Thompson raced around the corner on his bike.  He hit the slimy pumpkin smear and launched into the neighbor’s bushes where he lay stunned for a moment.

Lily and Peter were stunned, too.  Dillon was built like a bulldog and no one with any sense ever messed with him.

“Run!” shouted Peter as they both tore down the street.  Finally rounding the corner by their school, Lily stopped to catch her breath, and giggled at Peter.

“You didn’t tell me it was gonna be Dillon,” said Peter, laughing with her.

“I warned you.  Run!” she teased him in mock terror.  A snide voice interrupted them.

“What’s so funny?”

Lily turned around to see Heather Whipple, a blonde with a permanent sneer staining her otherwise pretty face.  The sight of Heather always made Lily slightly ill, like when she ate too many of Gran’s homemade caramels and they threatened to come back up.  Heather sort of looked like she felt the same way about Lily.  She seemed to suck the happiness right out of the air around them.

“Oh, nothing,” said Peter, smirking.

“Did your little witch friend do another trick?” asked Heather, joining her own friends.

“She’s not a witch,” shouted Peter after her.  “Don’t pay any attention to her, Lily.”

“It’s all right.  I know everyone hates me.”

“No they don’t,” Peter tried to convince her.  “Only Heather hates you.  Everyone else just thinks you’re a little weird.”  Lily gave him a sour look.

“That helps a lot, Peter.  I think maybe I’ll skip school today.”

“Don’t be crazy.  Your grandma would find out,” warned Peter.

“Not if you don’t tell her.”

“You can’t skip today.  We have a history test.”

Lily groaned.

“Did you forget again?” asked Peter.

“Um…sort of,” admitted Lily.

After lunch, the seventh graders had twenty minutes to enjoy the beautiful fall sunshine outside.  Peter played basketball with some friends while Lily sat on a bench and tried to study for the history test she had forgotten about.  Nothing she read seemed to want to stick in her brain.  She tried to ignore Heather’s voice, which was just loud enough for Lily to hear.

“I don’t know why she bothers,” Heather was saying.  “She’s such a retard.”

Lily rolled her eyes.

“I can hear you, Heather!” Lily shouted.

“I don’t care, Lily!” Heather sassed back.

Lily slammed her book shut and retreated to the bathroom.  It’s a good thing for her I promised Gran no stories, thought Lily.  She doesn’t know how lucky she is.  Still, it didn’t stop Lily from imagining ten different ways to humiliate Heather.  Lily had experimented with storytelling from time to time, just to test her limits.  She knew she could affect things that already existed, but she couldn’t make a million dollars appear out of thin air or make it rain cupcakes, although she had really tried.  A lot.

Instead, Lily half-heartedly tried to study history in the bathroom, sitting in the last stall nearest the window.  It was the closest thing to a hiding spot she was able to find in her school. 

“Three things that start with ‘p’,” Lily told herself.  It was her way of focusing, or maybe just a way of forgetting what was bothering her.  Whatever it was, it usually worked.

“Pickles, pecan pie, pumpernickel.”

Ten minutes later, when the bathroom door opened and someone walked in, Lily pulled up her feet and sat quietly, hoping no one would discover her.

 “Do you think he will ask you to the dance?” said a girl’s voice.

“I don’t know.  He can’t seem to get away from Lily long enough to talk to me,” answered another girl.  Lily’s ears perked up when she heard her own name.  She knew without looking, it was Heather Whipple.  Her stomach knotted.  They were talking about Peter.

“Why does he do that?  Does her grandma pay him or something?” asked the first girl.

“No, I think he’s just kind of dumb,” said Heather, laughing as if she was funny.  The knot in Lily’s stomach exploded and she burst out of the stall, banging the next stall hard with the door.  Heather and her friend, Abigail, jumped.  Lily stared at Heather, her history book still hanging in one hand.

“Lily,” said Heather, surprised.

“I don’t ever expect you to forgive me.  I gave up trying to be your friend a long time ago,” said Lily, walking over to look Heather in the eyes.  “Say anything you want about me, but don’t you dare talk about Peter like that.”

The bell rang before Heather could answer.  Lily grabbed her backpack and left without another word.

Lily’s next class was art, which she loved almost as much as English.  The best part about it was Heather wasn’t in it.  Lily spent most of the hour just swirling colors around with her paintbrush.  No matter how much she tried to enjoy the blue seeping into the white to make the perfect sky color, her mind wouldn’t let her.  Instead, it kept replaying that horrible scene, the day she ruined her friendship with Heather last year.  If Heather had any sense of humor at all, it might have been forgotten long ago, but she refused to let it go. 

In history, Lily pored over her test.  There were at least two questions she didn’t have the slightest idea how to answer and probably four more she wasn’t sure about, but she was pleased to discover she actually remembered some of what she had read.  Maybe Coach McAllister’s tests were just a little easier during football season. 

Next to her, Heather was scribbling away on her test with her usual know-it-all look.  Lily saw her sneak a peek at Peter before her gaze flickered back to Lily with a look in her eyes Lily couldn’t read.  Caught, Heather shot Lily a dirty look and covered her paper.  Lily’s own anger flared up again, surprising her.  It wasn’t as if she needed to defend Peter, or that he even cared what Heather thought of him. 

Lily tried to concentrate on question number fifteen, but her brain turned to Jell-o.  She rubbed her eyes, trying to fight off the strange, sleepy feeling creeping into her head.  It was no use.  She lay her head on the desk, unable to keep her eyes open any longer.

In a dream, Lily walked through a dark forest of gnarled trees.  The branches grew so thick, light could barely penetrate.  Deep in the forest, Lily caught sight of a woman with dark hair and dazzling green eyes.  Lily called to her, but the woman didn’t seem to hear her.  She ran after the woman, but lost her in the maze of thick, black tree trunks. 

“Lily,” a voice called.  The sound was warm and inviting.  Lily wanted to run toward it, but she couldn’t tell where it came from.

“Where are you?” Lily called back.

“Here,” said the voice behind her.  Lily spun around to see the dark haired woman.

“Mom?” said Lily, hoping it was her.

“Lily, I need you,” the woman said.  “I can’t do this alone.”

“Do what?” asked Lily.  “Who are you?”

“You already know,” she said.  “Hurry!”

A light hand on her shoulder startled Lily awake.

“Lily!” Peter whispered.  “Wake up!”

Lily woke with a start.  The class was handing in their papers.  She looked down at her unfinished test, not really caring about her grade anymore.  Peter looked worried.

“I saw her!” Lily whispered back to him.

“Who?” asked Peter.

“My mother.  She said she needs me,” said Lily.

Heather’s cold voice cut in.

“Don’t be stupid.  Everyone knows your mother’s dead.”

Lily glared at Heather and her perpetual sneer, as if something always smelled bad to her.

“What do you know about my mother?” said Lily through clenched teeth.  She could hear the sound of her birds again.  Instead of singing, they were clamoring like restless shore birds.

“Whatever,” Heather said, turning to Peter.  “Lily is going crazy if you ask me.  She’ll probably end up in the loony bin pretty soon.  I wouldn’t hang around with her if I were you.”

Peter just shook his head, but Lily couldn’t stand it anymore. 

“I hope you flunk!” she cried, the chatter of birds only she could hear filling her ears. 

Lily grabbed Heather’s blond curls and pulled hard, yanking a good fistful of hair out of Heather’s awful head before Peter could stop her.  Heather screamed.

“Mr. McAllister!” Heather shrieked.  “Lily attacked me!”

“What’s going on?” asked Coach McAllister, his bulging eyes locked on Lily.  “I have just about had it with you two.”

He stalked up the aisle toward Peter and Lily.

“I didn’t do anything!” Peter protested.

“Is that true?” asked Coach McAllister, eyeing Lily.

“Peter was just trying to help me,” offered Lily, silently hiding the fistful of golden hair inside her desk.

“Cheating?  You were cheating?” shouted Coach McAllister.  “Give me your papers, now!”

“No!  He was just telling Heather to leave me alone,” said Lily.

The teacher grabbed all of their papers.  He scanned the tests quickly, disbelief spreading across his face.

“Heather, all your answers are wrong,” said the coach.

“What?” cried Heather, still holding her head where Lily had yanked her hair.  Lily gave Peter a little smile, knowing her storytelling had changed Heather’s answers.  Peter wasn’t smiling back.  He looked kind of angry, in fact.  By the looks of his scowl, Coach McAllister wasn’t amused either.

“Lily, go to the principal’s office,” he said.

“But…” Lily tried to explain.

“Go!” shouted the teacher.

As Lily slunk out of the room, she could feel Heather’s voice stab her in the back.

“Freak!” Heather said in disgust.


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