I don’t know where the idea came from, but I had this picture of a tree in my imagination, and I knew it was a portal to another place. Then I thought: what if a butthead kid - who walked into the scary woods on a dare - got dragged into a world where he had to become a hero. This idea has been percolating in my head for over ten years, and my husband has always urged me to write it. Fantasy, however, takes a lot of time with all that world building. So this year, now that I’m taking a respite from teaching full time, I thought: I’ll work on this fantasy for NaNoWriMo.
The moving parts to the story have changed a lot in that ten years and now that I’ve had some time to devote to the narrative. The butthead kid, Caleb, who isn’t so much a butthead anymore, understands that despite his best efforts, he’s an outsider in every way possible. He just can’t seem to get himself together despite the desire to do so. Enter an irresponsible and horrible foster mother who threatens to call the cops on him, and he’s on the run. Thinking his only option is to disappear into the great wide world (he’s got nobody anyway), he cuts through a forest to avoid being caught. It’s in the heart of this forest where he has a run in with a magic tree that draws him into another realm. It’s there - wait for it - he discovers that he’s come home.
(Please be kind with any comments - this is a work in progress - and writers are very sensitive).
Here’s an excerpt and be forewarned, Blogs this month will probably be an overload of NaNoWriMo excerpts. Happy writing to fellow writers (remember forward progress is progress regardless of word count) and happy reading! Welcome to November.
Excerpt (Please note there is explicit language):
Margie Doyle was still drunk which explained her words and her actions, but it wasn’t exactly what Caleb had anticipated when he’d gotten up that morning and come downstairs. He hadn’t expected that he’d break the world open around him changing everything forever. He’d expected her to be passed out still. He’d expected to make himself some cereal and help Jarrett and Jack with theirs. He’d expected Margie to haul herself up from her drunken stupor, yell about the state of the house and then put them all to work while she nursed her hangover watching TV on the couch. He’d expected to listen to Tim and Dalton muttering about being her house slaves, and for Dalton to sneak out after about thirty minutes to the basketball court at the park. What he hadn’t anticipated was that she’d still be up and find her standing at the doorway watching some guy walk away.
When she’d turned around from the doorway, unsteady on her feet, holding her bathrobe closed at her throat, tracks of tears on her cheeks, and found him watching her, she’d snapped.
“What the fuck are you looking at.” She’d swiped the tears at her eyes and stumbled past him into the kitchen. She’d tied her robe tighter, but not before Caleb had to avert his eyes because she wasn’t wearing anything under it.
He shuddered and decided the smart choice was to back out of the room without saying a word.
Margie, though, had other ideas. “Get your stupid-ass back in here, you good-for-nothing lump.” Her voice wasn’t filled with temper when she said it, and instead sounded like she was using endearments. It didn’t make the names hurt any less.
He suppressed his irritation, stepped into the cased opening of the kitchen and watched her light a cigarette. She sucked on it, inhaled and then released a mouthful of smoke while her eyes roved over him. It made his skin crawl.
“You should come over here,” she said her voice taking on a tone with which he wasn’t familiar. It was laced with an energy that she’d never displayed with him or the other boys. Ever, but he’d heard her use with other people when she wanted something.
“I’m okay right here,” he said.
“I want to get a better look at you. You’ve grown.” She took another drag of her cigarette. “Like overnight. How old are you now?”
“Seventeen,” he answered her.
She smiled. Another drag. Another puff of smoke from her mouth. She came around the kitchen bar and leaned against it.
Caleb averted his eyes again, her robe gaping so that it was easy to see the shapes of things he didn’t want to see on her. He figured that Margie must have been pretty once. Her dull reddish hair and cold eyes must have been bright and alluring at one time, but years of smoking, drinking and a life lived fast and hard seemed to have taken a toll. It wasn’t just her physical appearance but also the unpredictable spirit within her. She could go from sensitive and thoughtful at one moment to the next instant when she’d eviscerate with her words.
She laughed and sauntered to him. “You seem nervous.”
He shook his head and looked down at his feet.
“Then why won’t you look at me?” She asked and stopped in front of him. She lifted his chin with her thumb, the cigarette between her fingers smouldering near his cheek. Caleb resisted the urge to pull away afraid of that cigarette near his cheek. She studied his face. “You have grown into a handsome, young man.”
He swallowed and changed the subject taking a step away from her. “I’ll get the boys up and we’ll start down here.”
Her brows knit together. “You think you’re too good for me?” Her words slurred a bit.
Caleb froze not sure what to say and was saved by Jarrett and Jack ducking under Caleb’s elbow and walking into the room. They froze when they saw Margie in her barely-robed splendor. She turned away, pulled the silkie robe shut, and refastened the belt.
Jarrett and Jack’s wide-eyed gazes swung to Caleb’s face.
She turned back to face them. Hatred and something else Caleb couldn’t be sure about hooded her features, sharpening them into dangerous points. Her lip curled, she pointed her cigarette an inch deep with ash and said, “You’re a fucking worthless leftover.” The ash dropped off the end of the cigarette to the floor and she walked back into the kitchen. “Your own parents didn’t even want you. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.
Rage coursed through Caleb’s body at Margie Doyle’s words: Stupid-Ass, Worthless, Good-for-Nothing, Leftover. Unwanted. These were already words he’d thought about himself, but coming from her, it ignited something in him that was dangerous. His anger was palpable as though stalagmites pushed out from beneath his skin.
She stood in the kitchen watching him with a self-satisfied smirk curling her mouth. “Don’t look at me like that you shit.”
He couldn’t do anything but breathe through his nostrils, a raging bull ready to charge, and he couldn’t think clearly. He’d heard her all right. Her words that slashed like a scythe and then burned everything to a crisp.
“Start in here. This,” she waved her hand indicating the party mess beyond, “is practice for what you’ll be doing with your life in the years to come, Caleb. So your high and mighty attitude needs to go,” she said. She took another drag of her cigarette and then stubbed it out on the counter while simultaneously blowing smoke out the side of her mouth. “I want this house cleaned top to bottom while I’m out, understood?”
A glance at the kitchen revealed a horrific mess. Besides the normal dilapidated cupboards duct taped at the edges, the linoleum original to the house peeling up in the corners and the aged grime that seemed to coat every surface, Margie’s evening the night before had left the kitchen littered with rubbish and sticky messes from the blender overturned on the counter. She burped. “The social worker is coming over tomorrow evening, so you’ll have it done by five. You do that, then,” she walked back toward him since she needed to get through it to go to her room. She stopped in front of him, Jarrett and Jack looking at her from the side. “Then, you might just prove to me that you deserve to be wanted.”
“Stop,” Caleb said through clenched teeth.
Caleb could hear Tim and Dalton’s footfalls and voices in the hallway behind him. They went silent.
“Stop?” Margie asked and leaned forward tapping his chest with her finger, “Don’t tell me to stop, you fucktard. You’re a no-good, rotten brat. Who’s taking care of you? Not the shitty parents who left you for dead. Me.” She pointed at her chest with her thumbs. Her light eyes had grown large and grotesque in her face. “So don’t bite the fucking hand that feeds you. You got that?”
“Yes, Missus,” Jarrett’s little squeaky voice interrupted; the squeak indicated he was nervous. Caleb understood; the kid was trying to deflect Margie. It wouldn’t work. Once she had Caleb in her sites, and she always did, there wasn’t stopping until he backed down.
Caleb wasn’t operating with all of the pistons in his brain firing. Instead, it was the sharp bitterness of his fury fueling him. He wasn’t going to back down from her even if he should. At one time, he used to hope that his parents would get their lives together to find him. They would just appear one day, together, and save him from this existence. They would say: We came back to get you that night, and you’d disappeared. We search and searched and finally found you - our Baby Boy. Not anymore. Caleb was too old for those kind of daydreams. This was his seventh foster home and he was nearly ready to age out of the system. He would be free. He realized he should back down but those muscles that didn’t fit correctly between his bones wouldn’t let him.
“I said, stop.” This time his voice sounded like a brick wall.
Margie stepped up and got into his face, so close that Caleb could smell the vapor of alcohol evaporating from her breath and skin. “Or what?” She asked through clenched teeth, hatred changing the shape of her eyes from the round look of surprise to a sharper edged squint. Her ashy red hair hung like yarn strings around her face slick with oil or perspiration; Caleb wasn’t sure which.
“Or I tell the social worker everything,” he said.
A short, sharp laugh escaped her slapping him with the dank smell of her alcohol-laden breath mixed with cigarette smoke and something else, something rotten. “You think they’ll believe you?” She laughed again and looked over at the boys behind him. “Him?” Her gaze came back to his face, eyes narrowed. “Now you listen here you worthless piece of shit; I’m a very good storyteller.” She poked his chest. “Who do you think they would believe if I told them what really happened this morning?” She leaned in and her eyes filled with tears as if on cue and her lips pouted, “I told him ‘no,’ officer, but he’s a strong young man now.” A tear slipped from one of her eyes and then her vulnerability shifted back into the ugly mask of hatred. She poked his chest again. It was beginning to hurt. “Shall we test who they’ll believe, Caleb?”
Caleb took a step back to get away from her.
She followed him, continuing to poke him. “Well?” Poke. “You owe me for taking your ungrateful ass in.” Poke. Poke. “You really think any social worker will believe you? You’ll end up in jail where your parents probably are if they aren’t dead.”
“Stop,” Caleb said bringing up his hand up to protect his chest and knocking her hand away. He could feel the burn of tears in his eyes and the dryness in his throat but refused to allow the tears.
She stopped a split-second looking at her hand he’d pushed away, and then her face grew mottled with outrage. She came at him yelling grabbing two handfuls of his t-shirt. “Don’t you ever put your hands on me you filthy pile of shit.” She shook him. “And don’t you dare threaten me.”
“Let go of me,” Caleb yelled and pushed her away from him, the force of which made Margie take a step back.
Her foot landed in a pink mystery mess from the party the night before on the floor behind her and she slipped through the slime. It knocked her off balance and sent her sprawling backward. In an attempt to overcorrect, her body turned, but she veered to the right causing the other foot to slide through something of the same mess, and her momentum continued. As she came down, her head smacked a lower cabinet door that had been left ajar and she landed with a loud thud against the dirty kitchen floor face down.
And she didn’t move.
“Oh shit!” Fear climbed into this throat. “I didn’t mean,” Caleb started. “Oh shit.”
Tim and Dalton rushed in from the hallway behind Caleb. “Oh shit!” They both said in unison.
“Oh fuck,” Jarrett said, the profanity seemed so wrong coming from his nine-year-old body. All of the boys looked at him and then Jack began to whimper. Jarrett said, “Caleb. You gotta run. You killed her. They’re gonna send you to jail!”
“I don’t want Caleb to go to jail,” Jack whined.
“Hush, Jack,” Dalton, said, his arm pulled Jack to him. “Caleb isn’t going to jail. It was an accident.” He looked up at all of the other boys. “We all saw it and heard her. She threatened Caleb.”
“Should we call 9-1-1?” Tim asked.
If his head had been clear, Caleb might have slowed down to think. He could have checked her pulse. He could have called 9-1-1. But his head was cloudy, cloudy with anger, with hurt, with the horrible realization that he wished she was dead. What did that make him? A monster like her?
And then she moaned and moved.