New Year, New Resolutions

A good day to all and to all a Happy New Year!

This year, like every year, I make a list of new year resolutions so I can again not keep them. The fact that I’m still writing them on January 13 should tell you something about our success rate over here.

But this one I must keep. Because it isn’t about losing weight. This one is to post more frequently for the good folks that choose (voluntarily!) to follow me and read my posts as well as my books.

So here we go. First, I get a lot of questions about a Homebound sequel, and yes, work is in progress to write the second book, Sky Song. No further update on this one yet, but I’ll post excerpts when I feel like they’re more or less rounded.

Also, both Homebound and Planet Zero will be issued as (gasp!) audiobooks. The narration will be done by professionals and the work has already begun. The ETA is sometime in the summer – will definitely post more about the release dates as they become available. And the wonderful people at the audiobook company already asked for my input re: the characters’ manner of speech and accents. Like, how they should sound. Whaat?? How does a Rix alien sound?? I’ll say a slight French accent should cover it.

Quite separately and at random, I would like to share a piece or two from a project I’ve been working on and off for several years. I’ve played around with an idea for yet another different world, trying to see what would fit, testing out different things. The book is working-titled Inner Beast (cheesy, no?) and combines a contemporary story with a fantasy. I haven’t finished it fully – too busy with other projects – and I don’t know if I ever will. But there’s a lot of material, so maybe I’ll throw it out into the world eventually as a completed novel.

For now, I’ll share the rambling drafts here for entertainment value. Cheers!

Inner Beast - Prologue

  “I want this bow! Mama, please, I want it! Tell Livvy to give it to meeee!” Phoebe whined and pulled at Mama’s pretty summer dress hard enough to make it slip off one shoulder.
  “Sweetpea, you have your own bow.” Mama adjusted the dress with a graceful tug, but Phoebe, red faced and disheveled, pulled again.
  “I want the pink one!”
  Mama gently patted Phoebe on the head where her dark brown hair, cut in a neat bob like Olivia’s, was adorned with a clip-on bow, also like Olivia’s but white. 
  “Your bow matches your outfit, sweetie. You look so adorable, like a princess. Doesn’t she, Livvy?” 
  Olivia frowned. The plump short-legged creature in front of her looked nothing like a princess. Even her pretty flared dress with little white roses on the capped sleeves couldn’t compensate for the deficiencies too numerous to count. 
  But under Mama’s pointed glance that warned her not to contradict the falsehood, Olivia muttered, “Yes.”
  “See? You look so pretty.” Mama nodded, satisfied, and tried to pull away from Phoebe’s grasping hands. “Let’s go to the front. I think I heard a car pull up - Grandma Betsy must be here. Do you want to run out and meet Grandma?”
  But Phoebe wouldn’t have it. “I want the pink bow! Please, please, can I have it?”
  “Oh bother.” Hassled and perspiring, Mama leaned down to look Phoebe in the face. “Phoebe, it’s Livvy’s birthday. You can’t have her bow today. Maybe you can have it tomorrow.”
  “No, she can’t,” outraged at the suggestion, Olivia covered her bow with one hand. 
  Mama pursed her lips. 
  Phoebe’s face crumbled, and she emitted a wail that made Olivia quickly press both hands over her ears. 
  “What’s that noise? Who’s sad here? Is it our little Phoebe?” Daddy walked in and squatted in front of her sister whose face now reddened to the color of the barbecue sauce Daddy was holding. “What’s the matter, bug?”
  “Wahahaaaaaaaaaa!” cried Phoebe with her mouth open so wide that Olivia could see all the way down her throat to the little hanging thing in the middle of it that contracted and expanded each time her sister drew a noisy breath. 
  Mama took Olivia’s hand, interrupting her fascination with the anatomy of Phoebe’s throat, and ushered her out of the bedroom while Daddy stayed behind to console Phoebe. 
  Glad to get out of the noisy scene without compromising her pink bow, Olivia skipped down the stairs after Mama, humming an impromptu song about sunshine and bugs. She glanced out of the arched window at the perfect day outside. The sun was shining so brightly that her eyes squinted into tiny slits. It was very hot, typical for mid-June. The sky overhead was clear and impossibly blue, but far away, white clouds began forming like dense smoke.
  She didn’t want rain to come. It was her birthday, and birthdays were supposed to be sunny and cheerful. They had been in the past; she knew they would always be. 
  Rain just couldn’t happen on a birthday.
  “Rain, rain, go away,” she chanted as she made her way to the backyard. 
  The large deck had already been set up with portable tables and lawn chairs. Aunt Doris and Grandma Olivia, the inspiration for her own name, were stringing little colorful flags in between two trees. Plastic tablecloths in pastel hues gently rustled under a weak hot breeze. Pink and white balloons bobbed everywhere. 
  Olivia walked off the deck but not before discreetly lingering next to a large bench heaped with presents. 
  Her heart catching a little from giddy anticipation, she skipped across the grass and over Selma, their elderly poodle. 
  The backyard teemed with people. Her little cousin Emma squealed in the swing attached to a sturdy branch of a huge oak tree, pushed by Aunt Robin. Teenagers Sarah and Jennifer, Olivia’s cousins and also cousins to each other, sat close together on a picnic blanket, busy with some crafts. Upon seeing her, Jennifer waved for her to come over.
  “Here you are. Cute dress. You need to look more special though. And we’ve got something… here… ta-da!” Jennifer deposited a bright paper crown on Olivia’s head, making sure it sat tight and didn’t mess with her bow.
  Larry, another cousin, rounded the corner with a water gun and sprayed all three of them, catching Olivia in the face. Sarah and Jennifer jumped up and yelled at him, but Olivia only laughed. The cold spray felt good on her sweaty skin. 
  The grill got going. Daddy and Uncle Charlie brought out a huge tray of burger patties. Sulking but quiet, Phoebe came out and sat next to them in a small lawn chair, sucking on a Popsicle. 
  A shadow passed over the sun and quickly moved away. Olivia glanced at the sky, noticing that the fluffy white clouds had made their way from the horizon to right here and were now floating past their backyard in a hurry, as if some scary monster was chasing them. 
  “Livvy, you wanna play hide-n-seek?” one of her cousins shouted.
  “Coming!” She stuck her tongue out at Phoebe and took off towards the group, holding her crown and uncaring of the squeak of discontent that sounded garbled around the Popsicle.
  Larry was “it”. When he turned around and started counting, Olivia ran back to the oak tree, went around it, and squeezed into a small crevice that existed on the opposite side of the huge trunk. Her cousins couldn’t know about this little crevice, but she could, because it was her house, her backyard, and her oak. She smiled as she wedged deeper into the tree.
  “See you, stupid princess!” Larry’s voice yelled.
Gasping, Olivia flew from her hiding place that seemed undiscoverable just a few seconds ago, narrowly missing Larry’s outstretched hand, and sprinted for the home base. She ran as fast as she could, her thin legs pumping. She was fast, she knew it, and Larry with his love for sugar cookies was no match for her. 
  Yet his hand roughly slapped her back. “Tag.”
  “That’s not fair!” Olivia panted and stomped her foot in frustration.
  “What’s not fair? I found you. I saw your crown in the tree.”
  Huffing from disappointment and exertion, Olivia dragged the crown off her head as she looked around, scanning the backyard for a better hiding place. She didn’t have to squint anymore - the sun was no longer shining. The sky turned completely overcast, and in the distance an ominous dark cloud was growing like a fantastic malevolent mushroom.
  But the turning weather wasn’t important to Olivia. Beating her cousins in the game of hide-n-seek was. 
  On the next round, she raced across the grass, pushing her hair away from her sweating face, going past the swing tree into the overgrown corner. Mama and Daddy repeatedly warned both her and her sister against venturing into the patch of the woods that grew in the back of their backyard. Mama and Daddy worried about them getting lost. Well, Phoebe maybe, but Olivia, at nine years old, wouldn’t get lost. There was nowhere to go past the chain link fence that separated their woods from their neighbors’. 
  She entered the woods and squatted, duck-walking under the low hanging tree branches and into the shrubbery to better cover up her light-colored dress. 
  A strong gust of wind blew out of nowhere, and trees rustled in response. Dry leaves and small twigs rained on her head. Olivia raised her hands to cover up her head and protect her bow. 
  “Gotcha!” a voice called and she realized that she’d been found. Grumbling, she slowly crawled from her hideout and went toward the home base.
  By now, Cousins Sarah and Jennifer had to abandon the game to help Aunt Robin take the food and utensils inside.
  “Hurry up, girls. Here, take this. Kids, don’t go too far – the weather’s turning nasty.”
  Olivia wasn’t ready to go indoors. “Aunt Robin, it’s not raining yet. Can we play one more round? Please?”         She jumped up and down and put her hands together in prayer. She had to have one more chance at hiding!
  Aunt Robin looked at the darkening sky. “It looks really bad over there.”
  But other kids chimed in, boosting Olivia’s plea. 
  “Okay, okay,” Aunt Robin relented under their chorus of noisy begging. She glanced worryingly at the sky again, and Olivia’s gaze followed the direction. The lead clouds by now completely obscured the blue of the summer skies. The temperature dropped by a few degrees providing a much-wanted respite from the sweltering heat. 
  “Listen, everybody!” Aunt Robin commanded, “If you hear thunder, you drop everything and come running home. Understood?”
  “Yes!” someone shouted in answer as they all took off again.
  Olivia was running alongside her cousins, laughing and shouting, red-faced and sweaty, mindless of her dress all askew and dirt smearing her best pair of ballet slippers. 
  This time, she followed a narrow overgrown path that led to the very back of the woods. Her cousins never ventured that far. No one even knew that an old abandoned storage shed sat in the corner of their wooded lot. It was in terrible disrepair, and every year Daddy put off demolishing it, not wanting to spare the expense.
  Olivia really wanted to get inside, but a large rusty padlock forced her to abandon that idea. Instead, she rounded the structure and pressed her back to the rough weathered siding to better blend in. Let them look. This time, no one would be able to find her.
  Just then, thunder cracked overhead, and it sounded very close. Olivia took a step away from the shed’s wall, indecisive about returning home. Aunt Robin had said…
  Something rustled in the shrubbery, and she caught a glimpse of Cousin Larry’s neon orange shorts. 
  No way. 
  She slunk back and pressed her body flush with the shed’s wall. 
  Voices rang in the distance and quieted. Olivia waited. The wind stopped blowing. The still air smelled fresh, so thin it was dizzying. 
  She waited some more. 
  When it finally became clear that she won this round and no one found her, Olivia stepped away from the shed. Slowly, she started picking her way through the undergrowth. 
  It’d gotten dusky as if it were nighttime, and the darkness held a strange greenish tint. The wind unexpectedly picked up again, strong and gusty, and tore at her dress. The branches slapped at her like whips. Thunder unrolled overhead with the force of explosives, and the rocketing wouldn’t stop. Like waves in a stormy sea, the next peal came before the previous one ebbed. 
  The pathway that led to the house all but disappeared in the green gloom. Olivia couldn’t hear anything for the storm. Heart hammering in her throat, she veered off to the left where bushes seemed not as dense. Her house was very close. Mama, Daddy, her aunts, uncles, and cousins would all be looking for her, the birthday girl. Suddenly, she wanted very badly to be found.
  Just a little farther. Tears burned her eyes as she reminded herself that she couldn’t get lost in this small patch of the woods. Her house lay just ahead. 
The air around her shimmered. Strange, ghostly whispers swirled between the trees. Disoriented, Olivia turned left again, with no purpose, just to get away from the wind, the thunder, and all the weird sounds coming from the green sheen. 
  First fat drops of rain splattered on the ground. 
  She couldn’t breathe. The strangely sharp air was too thin to fill her lungs with. The desire to close her eyes and blot out the terrifying forest got too much, and she squeezed them shut. Thorny undergrowth scratched her bare arms and legs, but she ignored the pain and groped for the trees as she stumbled ahead, moving toward somewhere. 
  All thoughts left her. The effort of putting one foot in front of the other got to be almost too much. One more step. And one more after that.
  And then, it got easier.
  The thunder abruptly ceased. 
  Prying open one eye, Olivia peeked at the world. She was still in the woods, but they looked much different. For once, the green dusk was replaced by blue dusk, the color so clear and pure it sharpened the shapes of the trees around her rather than blurring them. And the blue dusk was calming, like a warm summer evening. 
Olivia opened both eyes.
  Everything around her looked very strange. The trees around her were nothing like the trees from her backyard. Thick and smooth blue trunks, completely devoid of bark, weaved together in intricate braids. And braided together, they soared up, high above her head, where umbrella-like canopies glinted with glossy purple leaves.
  Underneath, dense moss absorbed her footsteps. Dusty green so dark it appeared black in some spots, the moss was everywhere: on the ground, at the roots of the trees, and even covering large oval boulders that rose higher than her head. Skinny grasses poked here and there through the moss’s terry cloth texture, crowned with bright flowers so large Olivia was surprised the fragile stems didn’t break.
  The wind stilled completely. The woods were quiet but not silent. Birds quipped and trilled from the trees.   And Olivia became aware of soft music in the air.
  Mesmerized by the sound, she followed the music wondering who was playing out here in the magical woods.     Clearing the trees, she came up to what looked like a creek or a small river. It wasn’t very deep - Olivia could see the tops of smooth blue rocks poking above… well, not exactly water. She didn’t know what it was. The liquid flowed thick and milky-white with iridescent spots slowly appearing and disappearing on the surface. It frothed around the rocks creating mini rainbows, and as it flowed, the river… sang. Olivia thought of the recorder back in her music class. The recorder was just like a flute, and if you gently blew into it at low register, the sound would come out airy and wafting.     Just like this river.
  She slowly approached the “water”-edge and stopped on the riverbank. She stood there and absorbed the melody. She soaked it in. Her entire being relaxed and she swayed back and forth from the peacefulness of it.
  A slight movement up ahead drew her attention. She focused her eyes and saw a boy sitting with his feet in the white water up the stream. The boy gave a jerk, noticing her at the same time she spotted him. He quickly pulled his legs out of the river and stood up.
Olivia’s face flushed scarlet, and she hastily dropped her gaze. The boy was completely naked.
  “I am sorry!” she said loudly. “I didn’t mean to catch you unawares. I’ll turn around so you can get dressed.”
  She almost stumbled in her hurry to turn around and give him time to pull on some pants. 
  Looking up instead, at the trees, she waited but couldn't hear anything except for the river music. Did the boy leave? Maybe he got embarrassed and ran away. She knew she would have, if she were him. But then again, it would never occur to her to sit around outside naked in the first place. 
  Thinking that she had waited sufficiently long, she turned around and jumped. The boy was standing not five feet from her, still naked. He was looking at her intently.
  She backed away. For once, he was taller than she, and upon closer inspection, he wasn’t really a boy. Boys didn’t have short muzzles with nostrils that flared with each indrawn breath. His broad sloping forehead wrinkled like a dog’s when he sniffed the air around her. His bright eyes were the most human feature on a face that belonged in make-believe movies. 
  “Who are you?” Olivia croaked. “Are you in some kind of a movie?”
  The boy cocked his head and purred. The sounds that came from his throat oddly harmonized with the river music. The cadence of his speech rolled over her senses in pleasant waves, soothing.
  “My name is Olivia. I live over there.” She pointed in the direction she came from. “What’s your name?”
  He purred.
  “Do you speak English?”
  His hand shot out and grasped her throat. Olivia’s heart exploded in a frantic beat and she thrashed against his hold. His grip didn’t hurt but she kept struggling, unable to get free, terrified at his strength, at being rendered so helpless, not knowing what to expect. 
  He purred again. From this close, Olivia saw that he had a thin mouth that wrapped on both sides of his snout like a dog’s. Or a dragon’s. If he opened it all the way, he could probably fit her entire head between his jaws.
  “Please don’t hurt me! I am sorry if I caught you naked, I just got lost. Can you help me find my way home? I won’t tell anyone, I promise!” She tried to pry his hand away from her throat, throwing another fearful glance at his scary face. 
  And saw that he wasn’t even looking at her at all. His eyes were shut and he appeared lost in his own world. His eyeballs moved behind closed lids. 
  She stilled in his hold.
  Then his eyes shot open and he released her.
  “Olivia,” he said with a strange purring inflection. His voice was thin and slow. He sounded like a regular boy, and it calmed Olivia somewhat. 
  “Yes, I’m Olivia. What about you?”
  “Sihgrt,” he purred and splayed his hand on his chest. Olivia gave another start catching sight of his thick short fingers, a paw really, with huge pointed claws. The claws were translucent and sparkled like diamonds, and inside them Olivia could see little dark veins.
  “Zit,” she said.
  “Sihgrt,” he corrected.
  “Sigrid. Sig-o-r. Zigart.” He was looking at her with pity, like her teenage cousins did when she tried to act like them. 
  Olivia wilted. “Can I call you something else? Like, Friend?”
  He wrinkled his nose rather adorably, and his mouth twitched as if he was about to smile.
  “Yes,” he purred.
  “So you do speak English.”
  “I just learned it from you.”
  “Learned it? How?”
  “When I held you, I took some of your knowledge into me.”
  “You’re making fun of me. No one can do that.”
  His lips twitched again, and his nose wrinkled.
  “You are not supposed to be here,” he said, suddenly serious.
  “I know. We played hide-n-seek and I got lost. Are you my new neighbor?” Olivia knew the Wheelers, an elderly couple who lived to the back of their property, but they didn't have children her age. And he didn't much look like either of the Wheelers. They must’ve moved out.
  He pinned her with his strange stare. “Do you know this place?”
  Olivia fidgeted. “No,” she had to admit. “It all looks very weird.”
  He nodded as if she confirmed something. “You breached the portal from the human side. It never happens.” His grave words sent chills up Olivia’s arms.
  “The human side? And what are you, then?”
  He paused thinking about an answer and gurgled a response.
  Olivia giggled, she couldn’t help it. “You sound like my sister Phoebe with her mouthwash. What does it mean?”
  He clearly had trouble finding English words to describe his race, or species, or whatever they were.   “Just… us. We are us.”
  “Okay. Um… do you, like, wear clothes?”
  “No. Why?”
  “So you, well, don’t get cold?” 
  “We don’t get cold.”
  Clearly he didn’t share her discomfort at standing here and talking to her stark naked. “What about to look pretty? Clothes can make you look pretty.”
  He reached out and touched her dress, fingering the material. “Yes. You look very pretty. Like an elf.”
  He didn’t smile, and Olivia couldn’t tell if he was being funny or if he really thought so. His thick fingers were surprisingly deft.
  He focused on her face. “You have a sister?”
  “A baby sister,” she stressed. “Do you have a sister or a brother?”
  “Oh. What about cousins?”
  “I don’t know.”
  She blinked. “How can you not know?”
  “We don’t think about us that way. I know what they know, and that’s all there is.”
  “You aren’t making any sense, Friend.”
  He cocked his head in that way of his, and his small cat-like ears turned. “You humans aren’t born with the knowledge of your ancestors?”
  That was more than Olivia was ready to contemplate.   “They teach us stuff at school… The knowledge, I mean.”
  It was his turn to appear puzzled.
  The river continued with its heartfelt melody.
  “Why is the water making this sound?” Olivia asked. 
  “It just does. The water rubs against the riverbed, against the rocks, and creates this sound. Here, you want to see something?”
  He went to where he’d originally been sitting with his feet in the water and motioned for her to follow. When his back turned to her, Olivia made another bizarre discovery: the boy had a tail. An honest to God, long smooth tail with a pom-pom on the end, and he held it angled up when he walked to avoid dragging the fluffy tip on the ground. 
  Mouth agape, she scrambled after him.
  He picked something up from the moss and lowered it in the water. Olivia crouched next to him listening very carefully. The white liquid parted around the object he dipped in it, and a whispery, air-like tune reached her ears.
  “Oh! Wow. Can I try?”
  He handed her the object that felt like a rock. She examined it and decided that it was a rock. The color of white moonstone, its shape vaguely resembled a boat with a sturdy base and a tapering sail – a crystal boat.
  “You can let it go,” the boy encouraged her with a thrust of his muzzle.
  Olivia carefully lowered the crystal boat on the surface and let it go. Contrary to what she expected, the current didn’t carry it away, and neither did it sink. The “boat” stayed put right where she left it hovering on the surface, and as soon as its base came into contact with the river, a mild chiming started.
  The whole experience of it was so surreal, so magical that Olivia felt like it was she who was floating and chiming. 
  She laughed, “Look, the rock is bobbing and the water is whistling!”
  The boy smiled, too. For real. With teeth. Olivia’s laugh ended in a startled gasp.
  “What’s wrong?” Immediately, his smile slipped and his broad forehead furrowed.
  “Your teeth… I think you have too many of them.”
  The observation made him look embarrassed, and he pressed his lips together and cleared his throat.   “Actually, I don’t. I still have to grow more before I am ready to go hunting with my clan.”
  Olivia stared at him in fearful wonder because what she’d glimpsed was a mouthful of long sharp canines that grew in rows. Not even a shark would need more of them. 
  “Is that why you are here by yourself? Because you can’t go with your parents?”
  “Yes.” He looked at his sailboat and said nothing else.
  “You come here often, don’t you?” Innately, Olivia sensed that the boy was lonely.
  “Do you have any friends who can stay with you?”
  “No. I am the youngest of my people. I have to wait until I am old enough. Then I can join them in hunting.”
  Olivia puzzled over that. “Why hunting? Can’t you do something else?”
  He gave her an equally puzzled look. “I am from the Hunters Caste. It’s what we do.”
  It sounded boring. Trying to strum a happy note, Olivia asked, “Do you have any other toys? Other games you’d like to play? I can stay and play with you a little.”
  “No.” The boy scooped up his toy boat from the water and handed it to her with pride. “I have this. The child hunter that came before me played with it. When I grow up, I will pass it to the one who comes after me.”
  “What? There aren’t other kids for you to play with?”
He shook his head. “A clan has only one child at a time. It’s easier that way.”
  Maybe it was easy but it didn’t sound like fun. Olivia thought about her own house, with Mama and Daddy, pesky Phoebe, her aunts, and uncles, and cousins. They all came to celebrate her birthday and to make her feel special. She thought about the huge cake baked for her by Grandma Olivia and decorated with roses and pink butterflies, and about all the presents that were waiting for her to be unwrapped.
  “Come with me to my Birthday party,” she said on impulse. “I have toys. They’re for girls, mostly, but I can share some with you. And you can make friends with my cousins. You’ll like them. Well, maybe not Larry - he’s mean. But there are others.”
  “Birthday? Is it the day when you are birthed?”
  “Of course. Don’t you have one?”
  He shrugged. “I am not sure.”
  By now, Olivia kind of expected this kind of answer. “It’s okay, you'll see. Come on, let’s go. It’s not far.” 
  To think of it, she had been gone for quite some time. Mama and Daddy and all the guests were probably wondering where she’d gone to. She grabbed his hand and started pulling him in the direction of the big boulders where she estimated she’d come from.
  He dug in his heels but held on to her hand. Their linked arms stretched taut like a rope. “Wait. I don’t think you can go back. It doesn’t work that way.”
  “Of course I can go back. It’s not far. Come on.”
  He was looking at her with his large brilliant eyes. “I can’t come with you. I can’t breach the portal yet.”
  Olivia still clutched his sailboat in one hand and his hand in another. “Are you sure?”
  He dropped her hand, lowering his gaze to the ground.   Then he resolutely trusted his muzzle up, and his nostrils flared. “I can try. Lead the way.”
  Pleased, Olivia moved ahead sensing him following behind without making so much as a sound compared to her shuffling and stomping steps.
  She rounded one large boulder where the blue air shimmered and stretched, and stepped right through it, emerging right where she thought she would, next to her last hiding place. 
  But it looked nothing like she expected.
  The chain link fence hung broken. The shed was gone, replaced by a flat pile of rubble. All around her, the trees were missing their crowns, and she was standing in a forest of trunks that looked jagged and sharp at the tops as if snapped by a giant hand. It was raining, and her face and bare arms stung from the droplets peppering them. 
  Olivia gripped the crystal sailboat with both hands and stood still, stunned, looking at the scenery she no longer recognized. A distant peal of thunder vibrated the air but sounded half-hearted and spent.
  “This is… this is my home,” she whispered, unsure. Her brain went numb trying to process the devastation in front of her and reconcile it with the picture she remembered.
  Now with the trees mostly gone, she could see the top of her house that appeared intact. The familiar sight broke her stupor and filled her with warmth. 
  “Yes, this is my home,” she reaffirmed. “Let’s go!” 
  She turned to her new friend, but no one was behind her.
  “Oh. Boy? Hello?” She turned around in a circle.   “Friend? Hunter? Where are you?”
  There was no answer. Olivia was standing completely alone. She listened, hoping to hear his peculiar purring voice. 
  Nothing. No sight of him anywhere. No sound at all except for the rain falling softly on the mutilated trees.
  Olivia’s heart constricted, and she knew with instinctive certainty that she’d lost him. Somehow they got separated, and she would never find him again. 
  An overwhelming sense of loss came out of nowhere and filled her. 
  “Wherever you are, please find me,” she said quietly to the broken forest. “Please.”
  Her dress was getting soaked through. 
  Wiping tears, she started walking toward the house.   When she crossed the edge of the lawn, she saw that the devastation reigned there as well, though not as bad as in the woods. 
  The great oak tree that had held the swing lay on its side with roots exposed. Its huge crown rested on the deck that gave in under the tree’s weight and caved.   Tables and chairs were smashed; the grill was half-buried under the thick trunk. Garden umbrellas disappeared.
  No one was outside, and Olivia briefly wondered if they all, too, disappeared like her friend, and she was left entirely alone on the surface of the earth.
  “Mama? Daddy?” she cried softly, and then louder.
  After a long moment of worrying silence, voices reached her, and Mama burst from around the corner of the house and ran towards her.
  “Livvy!” Mama screamed. Her face was white and frantic, unlike anything Olivia had ever seen. She reached Olivia and fell on her knees in front of her, grabbing her and holding on so tightly it hurt. “Oh my God, we thought we lost you!” Mama was shaking, sobbing hysterically, covering Olivia’s wet face with kisses.
More people came, and Daddy was there, also crying. Others were crying, too, except for the two sheriff’s deputies who for some reason appeared among her family.
  “Thank you, Lord. Thank you,” Daddy groaned and wiped his eyes with the hem of his shirt.

  Two days later Olivia was sitting at the table idly moving her spoon back and forth in a bowl of soggy Cheerios. Her eyes followed Mama who bustled about the kitchen tidying up and watching the news that played in the background. Phoebe sat next to her, and several times Olivia caught her staring.
  “Why are you looking at me like that?” she finally snapped.
  “Was the river really singing?”
  “Yes, it was.”
  “I told you how. Like a flute.”
  “How’s that? Can you show?”
  Olivia paused. She couldn’t stop thinking about her new friend. Unfounded guilt nagged at her for she was afraid that she got him in trouble. But most of all, she missed him.
  Puckering her lips, Olivia closed her eyes and started blowing out air, not quite whistling, in an approximation of the gentle music of the milky river.   When she concentrated, she could hear the melody so clear in her head. She heard it in her dreams.
  Opening her eyes, she saw that both Mama and Phoebe were staring at her - Phoebe in wonder and Mama with worry.
  “This is pretty! I wish I could go with you.” Phoebe clapped her hands.
  Olivia ducked her head. She prayed hard every night to be able to go back, but in her heart of hearts she knew there wouldn't be another chance. Maybe she really imagined it all.
  The tornado that had ripped through their neighborhood caused a lot of damage. Their house was spared except for the deck crushed by the big oak, but others on their street weren’t so lucky. 
  As it turned out, Olivia was absent for several hours, and came out of the woods after the worst of the storm had passed. By then her parents had called in her disappearance, and law enforcement arrived to mount a search.
  Upon her miraculous return, Olivia was thoroughly questioned, and she was completely honest about what had happened. She told them about the beautiful woods just outside of their property, about the river that sang, and about her new friend, and showed them the crystal sailboat that he’d given her. She asked the deputies very nicely to help find him so she could give back his toy. She felt like he must be somewhere close by.
The sailboat generated some interest, and one of the deputies asked to take it to the lab to have it examined, but the thought of losing the only toy her new friend possessed, something that he had entrusted her with, filled Olivia with irrational anxiety. She had started crying, refusing to let go of it, and the deputies backed off and left her and her boat alone.
  Yesterday, Mama took her to a doctor who asked her a lot of the same questions and listened attentively to her story. The lady nodded in understanding and smiled very brightly. She took her pulse, checked her pupils, and prescribed lots of rest. 
  Olivia pushed the bowl away, uneaten. The news on TV continued with the coverage of the damage caused by the tornado and of the restoration efforts by their community.
  “Anyone who might know this boy, or has any information about his identity, is encouraged to contact their local law enforcement agency,” the words of the news coverage penetrated Olivia’s wandering brain. Her eyes snapped to the TV screen. 
  What she saw there wasn’t the muzzle with the sloping bow, nor the ears that twitched funny when he tilted his head. Neither was it the strange marble color of his skin or rows upon rows of teeth. The boy on the screen looked normal and completely human, pale with dark eyes, light hair, and regular features that were unremarkable. He had a lost, slightly dazed look to him, but otherwise looked just like any other boy Olivia knew.
  The news lady was interviewing a lady in a sheriff’s deputy uniform. “Please tell us how the boy was found, and what his situation is right now.”
  “Yes. He was found outside a residential neighborhood in the aftermath of the tornado. We don’t know his name. He cannot remember it. He cannot remember where he’s from, who his parents are – nothing. We estimate he’s about ten years old. He speaks with some kind of accent and says very little. His medical condition is still being evaluated.”
  The news lady pulled the microphone toward her own mouth. “So let me recap for our viewers. The boy was found wandering the streets after a bad storm had torn through this quiet Atlanta suburb. He was completely naked and has no recollection of who he is or where he came from. Is there any evidence of foul play?”
  The microphone moved back to the uniformed lady’s face. “It’s hard to tell at this time. He doesn’t seem to have any external injuries. He’s in a stable condition but says he isn’t able to recall anything about his past. We are working very hard trying to locate his next of kin.”
  “Is there any suggestion he might be local?”
  “We don’t think so. All of the area schools have been interviewed and none was able to identify him. We don’t believe he is from this area.”
  “And what will be the next step for him?”
  The law enforcement lady smiled slightly. “We hope that his family comes forward and he’ll get to go home. In the event no one claims him, child protection services will take over and help place him in foster care.”
  Olivia turned to Mama. She didn’t realize she had walked over and was now standing smack in front of the TV. “Mama, can we adopt this boy?”
  Mama gave a small choked laugh. “Sweetie, I’m sure this boy has a family somewhere. It’s very sad what happened to him, but someone must be looking for him. They’ll find him, it’s only a matter of time.”
  Olivia wasn’t so sure. “What if they don’t?”
  “I don’t want a brother!” Phoebe chimed in. “What if he’s mean, like Larry? And we don’t have another room. Where’s he gonna sleep? And what is he gonna wear?”
Olivia ignored her. Her heart was beating fast inside her chest. “Can we go to the hospital to visit him?”
  Mama dried her hands on a kitchen towel and came to stand next to Olivia.
  “Can we? Please, Mama?”
  Mama took her hand. “Sweetie…”
  But Olivia interrupted, “I have to go see him. I think he’s the boy who gave me the crystal boat, and he really needs to have it back because he has no other toys. Please, Mama, I have to return it!”
  She was getting agitated, and Mama’s face was getting more and more worried. “Livvy, sweetheart, we can’t just show up at the hospital – we don’t know this boy!”
  “I know him. From the woods.”
  “The boy you described from the woods… you said he didn’t look like a real boy. You said he had a tail.”
  “I know. He did have a tail. But maybe something happened, and he… I don’t know… he can’t find his way back home.” She gestured at the TV in utter desperation. 
  Mama kept looking at her. Phoebe remained quiet.
  Olivia started crying. “I have to return his boat. I have to see him. I think something happened to him. I think…”
  Mama’s arms enveloped her. “Shh, Livvy, shh. Everything is alright. You’re home. You’re safe.”
  Phoebe’s small arms came around and joined Mama’s in embracing her. “Don’t cry, Livvy. Don’t be sad.”
  But she couldn’t stop. She cried from dejection and from her own helplessness. They didn’t understand.
  A piece of her went missing in the woods.

6 thoughts on “New Year, New Resolutions

  1. I nearly screamed when I checked my email and saw a new post from you! I’m so excited to hear about your New Year’s resolution to post more often, yay for Homebound sequel, congratulations on the audiobooks, and omg I just devoured that snippet.

    I have to know more! What happened to ‘Friend’ and was he that lost boy found? Does Olivia’s family adopt him? Will he get his one and only toy boat back? I have so many questions!

    One post suggestion, would you be able to recommend any books? I understand writing books takes time so I have to be patient for new releases from you, but I’d love to try anything you enjoyed. Please and thank you!


  2. I just read Homebound. Fantastic book! Simon was such a mystery at first and it kept me reading. Simon and Gemma had the slowest burn ever but I loved every minute. I was crushed when the book abruptly ended with so many unanswered questions. So I am begging you to write the second book! I think I will be unhappy forever if I don’t find out what happens to Simon and Gemma in their new life. Please!!!! And hurry!


  3. I read Homebound back in 2020 and it was so good that I picked up a paperback copy and just started rereading it as an audiobook this week (the narrator does such a lovely job, I’m so glad that I did)! Super excited for Sky Song to introduce us to the Cricket/Lyle romance ❤


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