And...I have started. On Draft 2. I took a 1.5 month break between drafts this time, a bit too long. Maybe it's a good thing? We shall see. So far I'm having so much fun writing this, I find myself feeling guilty sometimes. I think this book will be glorious. I'm laughing almost on every page, writing it. I hope you will laugh too. Here is the excerpt for you, THE WHOLE FIRST CHAPTER.
A novel by Ksenia Anske, Draft 2
Chapter 1. The First Corner
It was a dangerous business, turning corners, especially corners with numbers. In exactly twelve minutes Bells would find a paper corner sticking out of the dirt by the old duck pond. In another minute she’d see number sixty-eight printed on it, lift it and get sucked into a book, together with her unsuspecting friends Peacock, Grand, and Rusty. The only things left behind them would be their four bikes, a gum wrapper, and a couple backpacks.
None of them knew this was about to happen. In fact, they hadn’t the slightest idea.
They were headed for their favorite school skipping spot, the aforementioned duck pond that was occupied by a dozen insolent ducks. At the first sighting of anyone coming in their direction the ducks would waddle up and demand bread without a trace of shame. Perhaps this was the reason why not so many people ventured to this end of the park, which suited Bells and her friends splendidly. It was far enough from prying eyes yet close enough to quickly make it back in case of an emergency. An emergency in this case constituted a stray adult spotting four eleven-year-old children idling about on the bench by the pond in the middle of a perfectly sunny spring day. Said adult usually disrupted their peace by asking annoying questions like, “What you are doing here, children?” and, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school at this hour?” and, “Where are your parents?”
Bells knitted her brows into a severe frown and pumped bike pedals with such ferocity, it swung from side to side. Only an hour ago Ms. Carbuncle, their science teacher, called her a “lousy scientist” in front of the entire class. She spat those words from her poisonous face like a pair of slugs and gave Bells a scolding for not completing her homework. Little did Ms. Carbuncle know that, number one, Bells’ little sister Maria used her homework for a drawing of a princess, and, number two, Bells’ life dream was to become a scientist—an ornithologist, to be precise—and anyone who called her “lousy” automatically landed on an enemy list.
“I will kill her.” Muttered Bells, not sure herself if she meant Ms. Carbuncle, or Maria, or both. “Let me through!” She yelled at Peacock.
“What?” He turned his head. It was hard to hear against the rush of air.
“Get out of my way.” She sped past him, kicking up dust, her dark ponytail whipping in the wind.
“Gee, Bells, you don’t need to yell.” Peacock steered his bike to side of the road, shaking his head, which bore a rather startlingly bright turquoise fauxhawk. Last week it was magenta. And the week before that it had stripes of bleached blonde intermixed with orange. Peacock couldn’t quite decide what color made him more noticeable, as he was largely forgotten by his dads due to a newly adopted baby sister.
“Yell what?” Came from Rusty. He grinned, exposing the wide gap between his front teeth. “Who is yelling?” Rusty always said the wrong things. His words didn’t quite connect with his thoughts that liked to hike ahead. On top of it, he lisped, and some words came out crooked.
“Never mind.” Said Peacock.
“Girls.” Rusty scoffed, putting in all kinds of feelings into this one word that meant something like, “I’ll never understand them and I’m not sure it’s a good idea to try and I hope I said the right thing.”
“That’s not it, Rusty. Just...forget it. Come on.” Said Peacock, and took off after Bells.
Rusty shrugged. Shrugging was his way of moving along in conversations and hiding his disappointment. By now he had already forgotten what it was they were discussing. Whenever he’d space out like this, his grandmother Agnieszka would tell him, “Snap out of it, Russell. Look at me.” She’d tap her veined finger on his forehead until pugs Teeny and Weeny would yap to her attention and make her leave Rusty alone.
This was no time to think about grandmothers, however—even if those grandmothers were the only family you had. This was time to enjoy skipping school.
Rusty slowed down and leveled with Grand. “Girls, right?”
Grand didn’t answer. He pedaled last in the group, his jiggling girdle giving him trouble. His round face was red, sweaty, and concentrated. Nothing ever was easy for Grand. Ordinary things like tying shoes or combing hair took him an enormous effort, deep thought, and were supplied with lengthy pessimistic ruminations, mostly picked up from his mother, a funeral home cosmetologist.
“Who is game?” Called Bells, skidded to a halt, dropped her bike and ran up to the water. She ignored the loud quacking of the ducks, took out a couple flat smooth stones from her pocket and sent them skipping across the pond.
“Three, four, five.” She counted and threw a triumphant look at the boys.
“Nice.” Said Peacock with appreciation and carefully dismantled his prized multi-speed possession.
“Don’t even hope.” Bells flicked another stone. It arced over lily leaves, plopped in the rippling surface and hopped six times before sinking. Bells smiled. She always won at skipping stones, always. No matter how hard any of the boys tried, Bells managed to tilt her head just so, lift her arm in a special way, squint her right eye, and fling the stone into a perfect spin. Her record was ten times. Her ambition was to get to eleven.
She squinted, aimed, and threw another. “Seven!”
The startled ducks quacked and flittered out of the way.
“Holy cow, Bells.” Said Peacock. “How do you do it?”
“With female grace.” She wiped the dirt off her hands.
Female grace was something Bells’ mother mentioned in relation to Bells lacking it. An imperious hot-blooded Spanish woman by the name of Catarina Monterey, Bells’ mother was a famous opera singer and, therefore, intended to shape Bells into a performance artist of some sort, a singer, an actress, or a model. No amount of explaining that Bells didn’t aspire to be any of those things and was planning to become a scientist had any effect on Catarina. She forced her daughter to take singing lessons and drama classes and, worst of all, bought her hideous dresses and gaudy shoes and kitschy bow ties for her long dark hair.
Bells used every opportunity to escape the wrath of being turned into a ‘proper girl’ and ride bikes with her friends, watch birds, or simply hang out in the streets until she absolutely had to show up for dinner. Her father left the raising of the girls to his wife and spent all his time fixing cars, hardly ever home. To make matters worse, whenever Catarina lectured Bells, her seven-year-old sister Maria—proudly dressed in the ugliest princess frock imaginable—would mimic her mother, which made Bells want to strangle her later.
Girls never liked Bells, and she took on hanging out with the three most shunned boys in class. They didn’t care about what she wore or how her hair looked or whether or not she was ‘girl enough,’ and they always got excited by her crazy ideas, whether it was climbing a tall pine by her house to look inside an eagle’s nest or sit on her father’s garage roof, waiting in vain for a heron to fly by.
So when last year Bells declared that Belladonna Monterey was a grossly inappropriate and rather pompous name for a budding scientist, they all conspired behind the bushes of the schoolyard and brainstormed for a long time. As a result of this Belladonna became Bells, for her shrill commanding voice. Naturally. Russell took on Rusty, as he constantly cleared his throat and sniffed or snorted, sounding like some rusted out mechanism. Peter called himself Peacock, for the changing colors of his hair. And, collectively, they renamed George as Grand, for his formidable size. He neither protested, nor appeared excited.
“My mom says it’s not the name of the person that matters,” he had said solemnly, “it’s what’s inside that person. She doesn’t mean the actual organs inside, not like you would need to look inside someone when, I mean, the only time they’d do it for real is when they perform an autopsy on the cadaver, by which time it’s too late to discover whether that person was any good—” He’d fall silent under Bells’ piercing stare.
“That’s enough about cadavers,” she’d say. “Let’s go.”
And they did. They biked places, speeding along the streets, scaring off cats and looking for things to explore and discover. Still, no matter where they went, the old duck pond remained their favorite.
“Stand guard.” Said Bells to Peacock.
“Stand guard, I said.”
“Because I need to pee!”
“Oh.” Peacock blinked.
Bells whirled around and picked her way through the bushes.
It no longer embarrassed the boys to witness her disappear into the greenery, hear her unzip her jeans and do her business.
As a future scientist, Bells firmly believed in nature taking its course as nature intended. “Restrooms are bullshit.” She’d tell them, using one of her father’s favorite words. “If you feel like peeing, you need to be able to pee where you want and not hold it in your bladder. It’s bad for you. It can give you kidney stones. Besides, if boys can pee behind any tree, why is it that girls can’t?” And she’d prove them that she could.
She pulled up her jeans and came back out to the pond.
Peacock was checking his bike tires. Grand chewed on a donut. A particularly fat duck kept nipping at him, demanding he share. Rusty picked his nose.
They were all clearly bored.
“Well.” Said Bells.
“I know! I know!” Erupted Rusty. “Let’s climb trees!” He pointed at a sad looking willow with long tangled branches hanging over water.
“That’s dumb.” Said Peacock.
“Why is it dumb?” Rusty’s animated face pinched in indignation. “Why do you call everything I say dumb?”
“Because it is.” Parried Peacock. “Bells, what do you suggest we do?”
Bells searched the ground for flat stones.
She didn’t raise her head.
“Bells, come on.”
“What?” He voice was exasperated.
“What do you think we should do?”
“I don’t know. Read?” She tried to hide the sarcasm.
“We didn’t bring any books.” Said Grand gloomily.
“And how is that my problem?”
“I didn’t say it was your problem.” Grand licked the crumbs off his fingers, looking around dejectedly, as if the harder he looked, the more there was a chance of donuts falling from the sky straight into his lap.
“We could write one?” Offered Peacock. He picked up a stick and scratched a doodle in the dirt.
“Rusty, stop it.” Bells glared at him.
“What did I do?” He covered his nose.
“It’s disgusting and you know it.”
Rusty grinned. He couldn’t win over Bells when it came to witticisms, but he could annoy her with his special skill, at which he was a master. He’d let out a long line of snot from his right nostril—the left one never quite worked—then snort it back in with a rush of pride. Let it hang, suck it in. Sometimes he succeeded in hawking it out far enough to catch it on his tongue, fling it up in the air, swallow it, and pass it back through his nose and out of his right nostril, much to agitation of the boys in class, none of whom could manage the trick and watched Rusty with awe, while he performed it tirelessly at this back desk, until the teacher noticed and gave him a timeout.
Rusty snorted it in with an accomplished grin.
“Boys.” Said Bells, putting as much meaning into this exclamation as she could into a thousand words.
“Okay, I’m bored.” Said Rusty.
“You’re always bored.” Commented Peacock.
“We could go back?” Said Grand.
They lapsed into silence.
Bells spotted a white edge of what she thoughts was a nice flat stone. She brushed the dirt off to expose it. It wasn’t a stone, it was a paper corner, thick and yellowish, buried deep in the ground at an angle, as if caught mid-turn. Bells frowned, scraped around it and tried to pull. It wouldn’t budge. She dug into turf with her fingers and scooped up handfuls of soft crumbly earth until more and more paper came to light. It looked like a corner of a giant book page, with number sixty-eight the size of her palm printed on it.
“Wow.” She said.
“What? What is it?” Rusty crawled over.
“Find a dead bird or something?” Peacock craned his neck.
Bells scraped dirt from under the corner and lifted it off the ground, widening the gap underneath.
“What is it?” Asked Peacock.
“I don’t know.” Bells’ heart beat so loud, she could barely hear herself talk. “Looks like a page of a...very big book?”
“How do you know it’s a book? Maybe it’s just a sheet of paper.”
“It has a number on it!” Exclaimed Rusty. “Look! A page number. It’s huge!”
“It’s opening.” Said Grand quietly.
“Holy cow.” Said Peacock.
“This is sick!” Rusty crouched closer.
“Rusty, move your head, please.” Bells hastened to clear off more dirt. “Help me.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea?” Said Grand cautiously.
Bells had exposed about two feet of the page by now. “It is a book. There must be words. See?”
But they couldn’t see. A gush of freezing wind washed over them from the gaping darkness underneath.
“There is a hole! It’s covering a hole!” Rusty’s eyes shone with excitement.
Peacock leaned in to look. “This is insane.”
“Come on, help me.” Bells dug around the corner, crawling on her hands and knees.
The boys joined her, Peacock and Grand reluctantly, Rusty with fervor. They didn’t have to dig for long. The sky scudded thick with clouds that came from nowhere, shielding the sun. Fierce wind picked up and whistled through the branches of the trees. The ducks grew quiet and fled to the farthest end of the pond. The coldness issuing from under the corner made a sucking noise, like an enormous vacuum. Leaves, twigs, loose earth fell into it like into a maw of a hungry abyss.
Peacock stood up. “Guys? I don’t like this.”
They watched with silent horror how the corner began lifting on its own, revealing a triangular void underneath. Now it came to their knees, now to their waists. Now it opened to their full height.
Bells could barely breathe. It was dark and light inside it at once. Dark from the vast space that opened up, and light from its color. The color of snow.
“Whoa.” She said.
“This is sick! Isn’t it, guys?” Rusty looked around for confirmation. Bells intercepted his gaze. Her eyes shone with a dare. “I want to go in. Who’s with me?”
“Go where? There?” Peacock’s face grew pale. “Are you crazy?”
“We don’t know what’s in there.” Said Grand. “What if it’s a tomb full of corpses, or worse, a giant fridge full of—”
“Let’s find out.” Interrupted him Bells. “Let’s go and find out what’s inside.”
The boys looked at her, frightened.
“I can’t believe it.” She gushed. “Are you scared? What are you, sissies?” Sissies, along with bullshit, were her father’s two favorite words, both of which her mother despised and grounded Bells every time she used them. “Last I heard, you were complaining of being bored. Well, here is a perfect opportunity for you to get un-bored.”
“But how is this...I mean, how is this possible? Why is it lifting like that?” Said Peacock.
“Why does it matter? I’m going in.” Said Bells.
The wind died and the sucking noise stopped. It’s like the enormous book—if it was an enormous book indeed—has heard her and was weighing her words.
Bells shivered. She had an uneasy feeling they were being watched. For a brief moment a terrible doubt flashed through her head, giving her a sense of danger. She quickly dismissed it. She’d gone too far now to lose her face in front of her friends. Besides, the opening pulled her like a magnet. There was something irresistible about it, something that beckoned her to step in and to find another corner and turn it. And the next. And the next. Like it wanted her to do it. It needed her. It demanded.
Bells took a step closer.
“Bells, don’t.” Said Peacock. “Please.”
“Peacock is right.” Said Grand. “We don’t know what it is. It can be dangerous.”
“Life is dangerous in general.” Said Bells. “If you want to sit at home and feel scared and never go anywhere, then suit yourself. I’m going in.” But even as she said it, fright stole over her spine and sent hairs at the nape of her neck to stand up.
“No!” Rusty grabbed her arm.
Bells twisted out. “You think I can’t do it? Watch me.” She hovered her foot over the void and before any of them had time to blink, it sucked her in, ponytail and all. The boys heard a weak yelp and then nothing at all.
“Bells!” Called Peacock. “Bells, where are you?”
He reached in with his arm and was gone with a whoosh.
Grand and Rusty looked at each other, their faces grey with fear. In another moment they were yanked off their feet and vanished inside.
The page corner closed with an ominous rustle, startling the ducks and sending ripples across the pond.