Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Shores of Dreamland: The Beach

Author's note: More than just moving around the furniture, this is more like a remodel of the house.
The characters are mostly the same from Untitled, but I'm adding bits here and there. Things are starting earlier, much earlier than "Of True Names and Dreaming."

This newer version of the (tentatively) titled version of Untitled will be picked out from the rest of the blog with the tags "Rewrite" and "Dreamland"

Good? Better? Worse? Leave comments
* * * * *
Book 1: Dreaming
Chapter 1: The Beach And The Girl
Jack ran along the beach, arms extended. He was pretending to be one of the gray and white sea birds, many of which glided high in the sky above him, or skimmed down to see just what sort of bird he was. They called their squeaking, squawking cries, and Jack answered them, as close as he could. He zoomed to the right, following the wave as it retreated down along the sandy beach, then wheeled left as another wave sloshed in. He wasn’t fast enough to avoid it, and the foamy sea water clung to him like the last of the bubbles in the bath as the water drained.
He’d never actually seen one of the sea birds, living in a farm town thousands of miles from any water. He'd never actually seen the ocean, either. The closest thing were a couple streams that trickled through the woods across from the house next door. He’d seen pictures, though, and movies. Mrs. Lamont had shown the first grade class pictures from when she and her husband had vacationed in Southern California.
The water felt different from the bath, though, or even from the cold water that ran through the stream just outside the woods. It was… thicker. Gritty, as if it had picked up some of the sand as it washed up over his feet and ankles. Well, it had, to be sure. The foam felt gritty, too. It didn’t slide down his ankles so much as… ooze.
Like the scary monster he’d glimpsed peeking from the top of the stairs as his parents watched TV after bed time. An oozey blob that just ate everything it touched. It wasn’t white, though, but was sort of a pinkish gray…
“You shouldn’t do that,” a voice said.
Not a seagull. A person.
Jack looked up, turning towards where the voice had come from. A girl maybe a little older than he sat on the sand further up the beach, slowly pulling an upturned metal bucket up, revealing a tightly-packed cone of wet sand. Once she’d cleared the bucket, she set it down with a ‘clank’ and began making faint lines across the surface of the cone.
Bricks, Jack saw, after she’d worked at it a bit. She started at the bottom, working all the way around.
“My mom says it’s not polite to ‘should.’”
The girl glanced up at Jack, shading her eyes from the bright sun. It was breezy, not windy, and the girl’s fine gold hair drifted a bit in the breeze. Her hair was longer than his sister Hannah’s, who wore it just past her shoulders. This girl’s hair brushed the sand as she leaned over to make another row of brick-lines around the sandy tower.
“Do you want to get eaten by a blob?”
The people in the movie had all screamed when the blob oozed over them. Jack didn’t think it was all from fear, either.
“Getting eaten by a blob would probably hurt,” he said.
“Probably,” the girl agreed. “If you don’t want to find out, you shouldn’t think about it. Not now, anyway. Not here.”
“What are you doing?” Jack asked after the quiet stretched for a while. The sound of the sea birds and the ocean was nice, but Jack thought that as long as there was somebody else to talk to, he should do that. It was polite, his mother said.
“Just playing.”
“How come your tower doesn’t have a door? How do people get in or out?”
The girl looked up again, from the fourth row of bricks. “Who says anybody’s supposed to go in or out of it?”
The girl stared. Her eyes, Jack noticed, were green. Very green, with flecks of deep gold scattered through them. It must have been the sun, but the gold flecks sparkled, seeming to glow on their own. He had a good imagination, but it wasn’t good enough to come up with that.
Jack turned, and squatted, dragging his finger through the wet sand.
The girl’s shadow fell across his work. The fluttering of her long hair looked like some ship’s tattered sail. She stood in silence while Jack kept drawing, a curving line here, straight line there.
“That’s very good,” she said.
“Thank you.” Jack’s mother said it was always polite to say ‘thank you’ when somebody said something nice to you. People always complimented Jack’s drawings. He’d already decided that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. “It’s a sea bird,” he said.
Jack saw the girl’s shadow nod. “So I see. But why would you want to draw a sea gull?”
“Sea gull? Is that what they call them?” The shadow nodded again. “They’re pretty.” Jack smoothed out a section of the sand between some of the lines. “That part is supposed to be black, see there, along the wing?” He pointed to one of the birds, waddling along the shore.
“You missed that part the first few times.”
Jack looked up, over his shoulder.
“The first few times you dreamed them,” the girl said. “I had to fill in the blanks.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I also had to fix your sea water. It’s not like that bubbly bath stuff at all, you know. And your air tasted like snow, not the ocean.”
“I’ve never been to the ocean before.”
The girl nodded. “I know. So I helped you.”
Jack smiled. “Well, thank you.”
“I still don’t know why you’d want to draw a smelly old sea gull. They’re loud. All they want is food. They can be mean.”
“They sound like my sisters,” Jack said with a grin.
“You should draw something prettier,” the girl said.
Jack thought about it.
He woke up thinking about it. He sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He could still hear the sound of the ocean, but it was fading as the sounds from the house began to creep back: the huff and tick of the furnace, the rattle-clomp of snow sliding down the roofline. Distant, through his closed door and down the two flights of stairs, he could hear the sounds of his mother in the kitchen, getting breakfast ready.
Jack got up, went to his desk, and flipped his sketchbook over to a fresh page. He reached for his crayons. It was the big box, with 64 colors. He picked out the colors he would need: Yellow, Gold, Fern, Black, Brown, Blue Gray.

* * * * *

“Good morning,” Jack’s mother said. She leaned down and kissed the top of his head. “What have I told you about drawing during meals?”
Jack blushed, and pulled the sketch pad into his lap.
“That was a very pretty picture, but it’s time for breakfast.” His mom scooped some eggs onto his plate.
“Thank you. It was from my dream. I’m still working on it.”
“The ocean again?”
Jack nodded. “Did you know that the air there doesn’t taste like the air does here?”
“Well, I should think not,” Jack’s mother said, after considering it a moment. “Did you read about that someplace?”
Jack shook his head. “Just something someone told me.”
“Mrs. Lamont?”
Jack shook his head again. “No, not her. Her,” he leaned back and pointed to the girl in the drawing. She wore a white dress that looked like sea foam, and long blonde hair streaming out behind her like a banner. Two big green dots must have been eyes.
“Oh, and who is she?”
Jack shrugged. “I was having so much fun playing, I forgot to ask.”
“She’s not somebody in your class at school? Or from church?”
Jack shook his head again, because it wasn’t polite to talk with your mouth full.
“I like the detail you used on those sea birds,” his mother said.
“Sea gulls. That’s what she called them. She said I was dreaming them all wrong, so she fixed them.”
“I see.” His mother seemed like she wanted to say something more, but a pair of thuds and two angry voices from upstairs snatched her attention away.
“Hannah Elizabeth! Charlotte Katherine! Breakfast is on the table!”
The voices upstairs stopped, as if by magic when Jack’s mother called the girls’ names. Seconds later, their bedroom door squeaked, and Jack’s sisters trooped down the stairs.
Hannah was in sixth grade, and already tall. Her auburn hair was long, past her shoulders, and just served to make her look even taller. One of the men at church, who was also a photographer, said she looked “willowy.” Jack couldn’t picture her standing with her arms out holding leaves. That was definitely something Hannah wouldn’t do. Her hands always moved, either tapping a finger to her music, or tapping her foot when her fingers were busy on the keys of her flute, or winding her hair round and round a finger when she was deep in thought. As she came down the stairs, she was tugging at a cross-shaped pendant on a thin silver chain.
“Good morning.” Hannah’s greeting was short, cool, like it always was after she got yelled at. Mom was doing that more and more.
“Good morning, dear. I haven’t seen that necklace before.”
Hannah smiled, her voice warming. “It was… a gift.”
Jack’s mother nodded. “I see.”
“It’s from Bobby,” Charlotte said, two steps behind her sister. “Don’t worry, Mom. She thanked him.”
A blush crept across Hannah’s cheeks, a fraction of a second behind the scowl she directed towards her younger sister.
Charlotte was shorter than her sister, but had the same willowy build. She was two years younger, but would probably still be shorter than Hannah even after a growth spurt. Like her sister, Charlotte had the same brown eyes, but that was where the similarities ended. Charlotte’s hair was straight and black, without any kind of wave to it. She wore it short, not much past her chin in length. Jack’s mother had to cut the rest off after a disaster that also turned a towel, one of Charlotte’s blouses, and the bath mat bright purple. Her fingertips were still faintly stained.
“Hannah, sit down so your sister can have some breakfast as well.”
Charlotte was sure to keep two steps — Hannah’s arm’s reach — between them. She smiled brightly at her mother, kissing her cheek.
“Good morning to you, too. Stop teasing your sister,” Jack’s mother said. It was automatic, and like the yelling at Hannah, was something that was more and more commonly heard.
He looked up from the sketch pad. “But Mom, it’s almost done!”
“Put it away and finish your breakfast.”
He sighed. After breakfast was brushing teeth, and getting coats, and then down the driveway to wait for the bus. It was too cold outside to draw, too hard to work the crayons with gloves on.

* * * * *

“What’s that?”
Jack looked up from the sketch pad. It was after lunch free play, and Jack sat at the corner reading carrel.
Patty stood at his shoulder, and her twin sister stood at her shoulder, two pairs of brown eyes blinking down at him, round faces framed by blazing coppery red curls.
“It’s nothing,” Jack said, leaning over the page.
“It’s a drawing,” Patty’s twin sister, Catty, said. "He was drawing."
“Of course he was. He always does.”
“You rhymed.”
The twins giggled.
Catty and Patty. Identical twins. Jack could often only tell them apart when they spoke. Catty was the quiet one, probably because Patty took her share of the words.
“You should draw us.”
“Mom says it’s not nice to ‘should,’” Jack said. He kept coloring in the sand. It was a different color brown, since they didn’t have all the same colors he had at home.
“Where are the trees?” Patty asked.
“There aren’t any trees at the beach.”
“Why are you drawing the beach?”
“Because that’s what was in my dream.”
“You drew the beach last time.”
“That’s what I dreamed of that time, too.”
“And funny birds. They’re still funny looking. Aren’t they, Catty?”
“They’re called sea gulls,” Jack said. “And they aren’t funny looking. That’s just how they look.”
“They should be red.”
“No, they’re gray. And white, with some black in them, too,” Jack said.
“Well, they should be red. If I dreamed of a bird, it would definitely be red.”
Jack kept coloring. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, his mom said.
“Who is that? She doesn’t have red hair, so she can’t be me.”
“She isn’t you,” Jack said. “Why would I dream about you?”
“I dream about you,” Patty said, a pout creeping into her voice. “Just the other night we were—“ She broke out in giggles.
Jack kept coloring.
“Aren’t you going to ask what we were doing?”
Jack kept coloring.
“I asked —“
“I’d like to finish this,” Jack said.
“She looks like that Kelly girl,” Patty muttered.
“Kelly’s eyes are blue,” Catty said.
Jack kept coloring until the five minute bell rang. Then he carefully closed his sketch book, and put it in his cubby just before the final lunch bell.

* * * * *

“Jack, how was school, sweetie?”
Jack ignored his mother, sweeping past her and charging up the stairs. He threw his backpack on the bed, pulled out the sketch book.
He started flipping pages. A beach. Then the beach with rocks in the distance. The beach, rocks, and a seashell on the shore. The beach, the rocks, and some plain grey seagulls. Then the same scene, but the seagulls with black in their feathers, the beaks a bit longer, the wings broadened.
He flipped to the last page.
The girl’s seafoam dress had been scribbled over in red, her hair colored over with the same deep, zigzag strokes.
Jack bit his lip, steadied his breathing. He blinked quickly, tore out the page, crumpling it up.

The sea dragged in and out, like the long, slow breaths of peaceful sleep. The waves were little more than swells, the water not even reaching his toes, which he’d dug into the wet sand.
The wind was cold, and the usually sunny skies were overcast.
“You should wear a coat.”
“It’s not nice to—“
“Well, you should. Look, you have goosey bumps.”
Jack looked down at his arms. He shrugged, and it turned into a shiver.
Somebody put a scratchy woolen coat over his shoulders. Well, he knew who’d put it there, but he didn’t have a name for the blonde girl.
“I don’t have a coat like this,” he said.
“Of course you don’t. It’s my dad’s.”
Jack swallowed the comment he was going to make about it being worn and scratchy-feeling.
“Thank you,” he said.
“It’s easier if you think about your coat, if you really want it,” the girl said.
“No, this is fine,” Jack said. He looked up.
The girl stood beside him, just far enough behind that he could see her from the corner of his eye. He turned his head further.
She stood with her hands in pockets of a deep maroon coat that trailed into sand. By the way the sleeves bunched up, Jack knew that they would hang a good distance past her fingertips if she took her hands out of the pockets. She looked down at Jack, smiled briefly, then turned her attention back to the sea. This time it was as gray as the clouds above.
“Who’s coat is that?”
“It’s awfully big.”
The drooping shoulders rose and fell. “I’ll grow into it.”
They watched the waves.
“Why don’t you cry, if that’s what you want to do?”
Jack looked up. “I don’t want to!”
The girl looked down at him.
“You don’t have to be afraid here, like you are out there.” She turned to stare back out at the ocean, but Jack knew that wasn’t the ‘there’ that she meant.
“I’m not—“
“Don’t,” she said, the word sharp and cold as the gust of wind that sent her hair streaming.
“But I’m—“
“Don’t,” she said again, but this time, it sounded more like a request than a command.
“Why not? It’s my dream, I should be able to do what I want here!”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“But…?” She said that word like his mother did, when she agreed with him but wanted to say something else.
“I’m just saying… it’s safe here.”
“You have to be careful with the freedom here. If you aren’t true to yourself, if you bring the lies in from the outside, it gets… darker.”
Jack looked up at the clouds.
“Don’t worry about those,” she said. “Those are just doubts and worries.”
Jack scratched his head at that. He had to shake the sleeve of the coat so his fingers could poke out the cuff.
“Only babies cry,” Jack said.
The girl sat down beside Jack. “Who told you that?”
“Kyle.” Across the distant sea, thunder growled.
“Is he your brother?”
“I don’t have any brothers. Just two sisters.”
The girl looked like she wanted to say something, but after a bit, she nodded.
“This Kyle…”
“He’s bigger. Older, but he got held back.”
A glimmer of confusion flashed over the girl’s expression, but she didn’t interrupt.
“He’s a bully. He picks on… the kids at school.” A flicker of lightning danced along the horizon.
“He picks on you?”
“Not just me!”
“Did he hit you?”
“He pushes. I fell down some.”
“On the blacktop?”
“The playground, yeah. Scraped up my knees and arm.”
“It hurts.”
“And you cried?”
“Not after the second time! Only babies cry. I’m not going to let him make me cry any more, because that’s just giving him what he wants.”
The girl looked over at Jack for a long moment. She nodded.
“But it’s all right to cry about other things. Other times. Tears aren’t always about being hurt and sad,” she said. “And even if they are, they can help not to make things hurt as much.”
“Do you cry?”
The girl nodded.
“Does a bully at school push you around, too?”
The girl smiled, but it wasn’t a happy smile. “No,” she said.
“Ask me later,” she said, standing up. She drew a shuddering breath.
“You’re going to cry now, aren’t you?” Jack struggled to his feet. He’d been sitting so long, his feet and legs were tingly.
“I have to go,” she said, blinking quickly. The corners of her lashes sparkled.
“Wait,” Jack said, calling after the girl as she turned and hurried away. He flapped his arms. “What about your dad’s coat?”
As his arms moved, the wind blew in his face. It didn’t smell right, not like the sea.
He lifted the arm of the coat to his nose. It smelled of smoke and ashes.

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