The trip to Spokane has distracted me from blogging about this. Are you ready? Here we go.
DRAFT 3 OF THE BADLINGS IS DONE!!!
This is such a fun book to write, at times I feel guilty. Instead of crying every day like I did when writing IRKADURA, I'm giggling and sniggering and laughing. Due to the copyright I had to cut down the number of books the badlings jump in and out of down to 10. The title has changed from CORNERS to THE BADLINGS as it doesn't fit the story anymore. Below is the first chapter. I'm taking two weeks off and starting Draft 4 on February 16th. Wish me luck.
A novel by Ksenia Anske, Draft 3
Chapter 1. Mad Tome
Just because you find a book in the dirt, doesn’t mean you have to dig it out and throw it at innocent ducks. It could be a bad book. It could be a very bad book and it could go after you.
Unfortunately, nobody offered this crucial advice to Bells. Mad at her mother for calling her a “silly scientist,” she halted abruptly by the duck pond and, dropping her bike, stomped to the water in search of something to hurl as far and as hard as possible. Her eyes fell on a corner sticking out of the ground. In the next minute she uncovered a thick leather-bound tome, weighted it in her hands, and, with a sly grin of satisfaction, chucked it right at the birds.
I imagine you want to know what happened next. Well, it was as expected.
The book creaked mid-flight, landed in the midst of startled fowl, and flung open. An ominous and rather repulsive sucking noise issued from its midst, enough for Bells to step closer and lean in—another mistake she made on this lovely autumn afternoon. By the time her unsuspecting friends Peacock, Grand, and Rusty biked up to the pond, Bells was sunk in the book up to her waist, too stunned to utter any noise or make any movement. Her dark ponytail hung limp and her eyes shone out like two frightened saucers.
At first the boys gazed at her silently. This lasted perhaps a couple seconds, during which the book made a motion akin to slurping in its prey. Bells clasped the edges of the cover that hugged her in a determined rectangle. She felt her legs dangle in the abyss below and suddenly found her voice. “Sissies!” She took a deep breath and added another insult, in the hopes of persuading them to move. “What are you looking at? Help me!”
Grand’s round face shone from perspiration. He wiped his hands, sticky from the sugar-glazed doughnut, and opened and closed his mouth several times before finally saying, “Bells? Um, how did you get in there?”
“Did you dig yourself in or something?” Said Rusty, sniggering. He sniggered a lot. He also talked a lot, which, coupled with his small size and knobbly joints that never seemed to stop twitching, gave him an appearance of a monkey.
“Does it matter?” Bells slid further in, as if jerked by an invisible and contemptuous force. Her shoulders prevented her from falling through, and she clawed at the dirt to try and climb out. “Are you going to stand there until you die?”
“Um, no, I don’t think so.” Said Grand thoughtfully.
“Good. Then maybe you can— Ah!” She dropped another foot. Her head vanished from sight, and only her knuckles indicated that there was anything strange about an open book calmly resting by the sedge.
Peacock scratched his head. “What the...” He was the tallest of the four, the gangliest and the most colorful. A peacock, indeed, with slanted green eyes and a bright blue fauxhawk. “Holy cow, Bells, what happened?”
“I’m falling! Help me get out!” Her voice came muffled, distorted by the swish of the wind that appeared to have been born out of the book. She hung over a misty nothing that stretched into a scary forever, holding on to the edge of the page, her fingers slipping one by one.
The book shook.
Bells slid further in, losing hold.
The boys unfroze and rushed to her aid, brushing aside curious ducks that have gathered around the strange sight, perhaps thinking that they could score some bread or doughnuts or whatever it was that smelled so cunningly sweet in one of Grand’s pockets.
As you may have guessed, several things were about to happen at once. We will pause here for a moment and observe this peculiar scene.
A nice sunny September afternoon. A rarely visited corner of an ordinary park overgrown with yellowing maples. An old duck pond, complete with mossy stones, round lily leaves, and a dozen or so shameless ducks, the very reason why not so many people ventured here. Four bikes heaped one of top of another helter-skelter. A growth of sedge, a mound of dirt, a thick open book that looked like a hole cut in the ground. Not a dark hole, mind you, but a piece of sky from another place. A girl inside it, as if fallen into a well, hanging by its edges, and three boys kneeling around, their faces lit with a mixture of amazement, bafflement, and fear.
Alas. It’s yet one more of those annoying places where we have to step back in time. This book is full of them, in case you were wondering. If it doesn’t suit you, you are welcome to close it and fling it at your couch in a fit of vexation. If, however, you decide to stick with it, this is what you will find.
Less than an hour ago Bells had a mighty row with her mother, an imperious hot-blooded Spanish woman by the name of Catarina Monterey, a famous opera singer and, therefore, an avid proponent of raising her daughters—eleven-year-old Belladonna and seven-year-old Maria—as future singing stars, or, if they exhibited no voice talent whatsoever, at least actresses or models. No amount of explaining that Bells didn’t aspire to become an entertainer of any kind and planned to become a scientist had any effect on Catarina. She forced her daughter to take singing lessons and drama classes, bought her hideous dresses, gaudy shoes, and kitschy bow ties to pretty up her long dark hair.
Bells used every opportunity to escape the wrath of being turned into a ‘proper girl’. She rode bikes with the boys, watched birds, or simply hung out in the streets until she absolutely had to show up for dinner. Her father left childrearing to his wife and spent all his time on fixing cars. The terror of womanhood reigned in their house under Catarina’s overpowering presence. Whenever she lectured Bells, her little sister Maria—proudly dressed in the ugliest princess frock imaginable—mimicked her mother behind her back, which made Bells want to strangle her.
Bells concocted her revenge in the from of dressing as carelessly as possible, spending her time with boys who didn’t care what she wore or how her hair looked or whether or not she was ‘girl enough,’ and performing daily scientific feats like climbing trees or jumping from her father’s garage roof or throwing things in the pond.
It was last year when Bells declared to the boys that Belladonna Monterey was a grossly inappropriate and ostensibly pompous name for a budding scientist. They have conspired by the pond for a good hour, brainstorming and feeding ducks. As a result of this Belladonna became Bells, for her shrill commanding voice. Russell took on Rusty, for his constant sniggering that sounded like a rusted out mechanism. Peter called himself Peacock, for the ever-changing colors of his hair. And, collectively, they renamed George as Grand, for his formidable size. He neither protested, nor appeared excited.
“Don’t you like it?” Asked Bells, twirling her hair on a finger.
“Um. Don’t I like what?” Grand bit into a doughnut.
“Your new name? Don’t you like it?”
“I guess I do.” He shrugged, chewing carefully.
“Well, you’re welcome.” Bells squinted at him in that unforgiving expectant way. She waited for a while, but Grand didn’t say anything. “It was my idea, so, naturally, I want to know if you like it or not.”
“I do. I like it. Thank you.” Grand brushed the crumbs off his t-shirt and sighed. Nothing was ever easy for him. Ordinary things like tying shoes or brushing teeth took him an enormous effort and deep thought, and were supplied with lengthy pessimistic ruminations, mostly picked up from his mother, a funeral home cosmetologist. His father died from heart failure three years ago—“from being too fat,” as his mother explained—and it was his main home chore to watch over his two little bothers who liked to climb him like a little mountain, twist his ears, pull his nose, and poke his sides. This instilled in him an admirable and enduring patience, as well as caution in choices and a morbid obsession with death that could be curbed only by eating doughnuts. “Um. Does this mean on my tombstone it will say Grand Palmeater instead of George Palmeater? I don’t think my mom will like that.”
“No, of course it won’t, you dolt.” Said Bells.
“Poor Grand. Are you sad now?” Peacock looked at Grand with mock pity.
Bells narrowed her eyes. “Peacock, stop it.”
“What? Can’t I say a joke?” He passed a hand through his hair, magenta at the time. It was his desire to be noticed in the multitude of people present in his crazy house. His father, a real estate agent, has gone off his marbles, in Peacock’s opinion, and married a loud artist woman in swishing skirts, who recently moved into their tiny apartment together with her five children from three previous marriages.
Bells stared at him. “Don’t you get it?”
“Don’t I get what?”
“Girls.” Said Rusty and sniggered, putting 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.” His parents were killed in a terrible car crash when he was six years old and the brunt of his childhood was spent in the company of his Polish grandmother Agnieszka who walked dogs for money, cursed like a man, smoked cigarettes without filter, and filled his head with her own ideas about how the world was supposed to work.
Peacock appeared like he didn’t hear Rusty’s short and witty remark, although Bells glared at him so hard, he thought she wanted to melt him.
Neither Peacock’s ignorance, nor Bells’ silent wrath produced the desired effect on Rusty. He hopped up and plopped next to Grand. “Girls, right?”
Grand politely didn’t answer.
“You know what?” Said Bells, standing up. “I can say the same thing about you. Boys!” She turned on her heel and stormed off to the water. The ducks circled her, loudly quacking. She produced a couple flat stones from her pocket and sent them skipping across the pond.
“...five, six, seven.” She looked back with a triumphant smile. “Seven. Can you beat that?”
Peacock snorted derisively. “Easy.”
“Oh, is it? How many can you do?”
He tossed his hair. “Eight.”
“Don’t even hope.” Bells turned around and flicked another stone. It arced over lily leaves, plopped on the rippling surface, and hopped eight times before sinking. Bells smiled. She always won at skipping stones. No matter how hard the boys tried, she managed to tilt her head just so, lift her arm in a special way, squint an eye, and deliver a perfect throw. Her record was ten. Her ambition was to get to eleven.
She tossed another. “Nine! How about it?”
Peacock stared at the spot where the pebble vanished. “Holy cow, Bells. How do you do it?”
“With female grace, you dolt.” She wiped the dirt off her hands. Female grace was the only manifestation of womanhood she declared to the boys as often as she could, precisely because her mother said it was something Bells was lacking.
“I thought your mother said—” began Peacock.
Bells rudely interrupted him. “It doesn’t matter what she said! What matters is what I say.”
Grand walked up to them, hands outstretched in a way he did when pulling his two little bothers apart, their fingers and teeth intertwined in a deadly embrace of sibling rivalry. “Guys, please. My mom says it’s not what people say about a person that matters, it’s what’s inside that person that matters.”
Peacock grinned. “You mean, intestines?”
“No, not that.” Grand sighed and continued solemnly. “She doesn’t mean the actual organs, not like you would need to look inside someone when performing an autopsy on them, after they are dead. No. By then it will be too late to discover whether that person was any good. What I mean is—” He fell silent under Bells’ piercing stare.
“That’s enough about cadavers,” she said. “I need you to stand guard.”
“What?” Peacock appeared puzzled.
“Stand guard. Get it?”
“Oh.” He said, understanding.
Bells picked her way through the bushes and squatted behind. It no longer embarrassed the boys to witness her disappear into the greenery and do her business. As a future scientist, Bells firmly believed in nature taking its course as nature intended. “Restrooms are rubbish,” she’d tell them, using her father’s favorite word. “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 anywhere, why is it that girls can’t?” And she’d prove them that she could.
Only today her proving went too far.
As you remember, we have left her dangling at the edge of a very strange book that opened up into a sky of some other place. It took a whole minute of swinging suspended over a vast emptiness for Bells to give up her resolve and bellow, “Don’t just stand there, pull me out! I can’t hold on anymore!”
“But why did you get in there in the first place?” Asked Peacock incredulously. “How did you—”
“It wasn’t me, it’s the book!” She cried. “I found a book and it got me.”
“A book?” Peacock looked at Rusty and they shrugged. “What book? What are you talking about?”
“The book I’m in! Can’t you see?”
“Come on, Bells,” chimed in Rusty, “stop making fun of us, all right?” He winked at Grand. Grand frowned.
“Please!” Bells’ voice didn’t sound bossy anymore. “It’s not letting me go. I can feel it pulling me in. I don’t know how deep this place is, what if I drop and die?”
It didn’t dawn on the boys until this sordid cry that the problem at hand was very serious. They unanimously believed that Bells had somehow managed to burrow herself into the sand and was playing a joke on them. It simply didn’t fit in their minds that there could be a possibility of dropping into a book, much less an idea that a book could be something more than a bundle of paper stamped with lots and lots of words. And in that they were inexcusably wrong.
“Okay, very funny, Bells. You win. Ha-ha-ha. Can you stop this and get out already?” But as he said it, Peacock reached and seized her arms. A gust of freezing wind washed over him from the gaping void of the open book. He shrunk back.
“Holy cow, it is a book.” He stared at it, an old scuffed leather cover lying flat on the dirt. Where the pages should have been, there was air. A rectangular opening the size of two pages into what looked like a snowy afternoon sky.
“It’s snowing there! Look!” Rusty’s eyes shone with excitement.
Peacock cautiously peered in. “It is. This is insane. How can it—wait. How is this possible?”
“Pull me out first?” Cried Bells, clawing at their arms. “Then we’ll talk, and I’ll kick this stupid book and throw it in the pond!”
“No, you won’t.” Said a spooky rustling voice.
The children started, looking at each other.
“Who said this?” Asked Peacock.
There was no answer. Instead, a fierce wind was born out of nowhere. It rushed across the treetops, whistling its treacherous tune, tearing off leaves and loose twigs. The sky scudded with clouds. The sun disappeared. Squawking, the ducks fled to the far end of the pond and huddled there in a tight trembling mass of feathers. The coldness issuing from the book made a sucking noise. Bells, half-way out of the hole, suddenly slipped back in, together with leaves, twigs, and loose earth.
Rusty cowered, looking around.
“Who is here?” Repeated Peacock, turning white. “Bells, did you say something?” His grip slackened and, if not for Grand’s hold, she would’ve tumbled in.
“No, I didn’t, you idiot! It’s the book. It can talk! Grand, you’re hurting me!” Only her head showed, the rest of her twisted in the hole.
“Sorry.” Grand puffed, gripping her forearms, fighting the sucking force like in a tugging war with his bothers.
“The book said it?” Peacock swallowed. “What book?”
“The one I’m in, dummy!” Said Bells.
“That’s right.” Said the rustling voice.
The children fell silent.
“So...you can talk, can’t you?” Asked Bells breathlessly.
“I sure can. I can scream too, if I need to.” Answered the voice. It did indeed issue from the book itself, and Bells started trembling, sensing a malevolent thing that possessed considerable intelligence. She glanced over the cover and asked the obvious question. “Are you a talking book or something talking in the book?”
The voice huffed on contempt. “No, I’m a troll rolled over by a tractor.”
Rusty sniggered. Bells gave him a deathly stare. “Do you have a name? What kind of a book are you?”
“I’m not telling you.” Creaked the voice.
“Why wouldn’t you?” She said quietly.
“Because I’m pissed off. Isn’t it obvious?”
“Pissed off at who?” But as she said it, Bells knew. “Oh, are you pissed off at me because I threw you at the ducks?”
The voice broke into a cackle. “Exactly. In you go!”
In the next instant, as if fed up with playing the game, the strength of the pull overpowered Grand’s significant weight and with a shriek full of agony and terror Bells tumbled into the swirling snow and out of sight.
“Bells!” The boys fell to the hole.
“I’m going in.” Grand swung his legs into the opening. It was large enough for him to squeeze in and potentially get stuck in the middle.
“Going where?” Peacock’s eyes widened. “Have you lost your marbles?”
“What if it’s a tomb full of corpses, or a giant fridge, like the one in your mom’s funeral home?” Added Rusty.
“It got Bells.” Said Grand, and with an effort pushed himself in. In another moment he was gone.
Peacock and Rusty stared at each other.
The wind died, the noise stopped. The book began to close.
“Wait!” Rusty wedged a hand between covers. “We can’t just leave them there alone, can we? I mean, it’s nuts, right? Man, I’m scared. But we have to get them.” The book swung open. It pulled on his hand and he stepped in, shaking from excitement and fright. “I’m going in, Peacock!”
“Okay, whatever. I’m coming with you.” Peacock shivered. The little hairs at the nape of his neck stood up, and before he had time to blink, the book sucked both of them in. The rectangular void dimmed back to yellowing paper stamped with words. The pages rose and flipped with a rampant rustle, and when the last of them fell into place, the cover shut close with a vicious thump, startling the ducks and sending ripples across the pond.
“Happy reading,” rustled the book and sunk into dirt.