Chapter 2 rewrite
Objective: shorten. speed it up. Add mystery.
Achieved? Yes. 10 pgs on US trade, paperback-sized sheets.
18pt title. 12pt font. Gutter: yes. No page numbers.
Stunning blue eyes and sleek, straight black hair. It fell into his face every now and again, needing to be tossed back, and he always obliged with an elegant flourish.
Christian Steven Avalon.
His skin shone a marble white once set against his inky black outfits and jewelry, and he always had something dangling from his neck and a glimmer or two on his fingers. 'Artsy' was Christian's type, as well as his dating preference. Admittedly though, he didn't date much. He liked the girls with short black hair, like his own, flat chests and equally nonexistent backsides: the ones who dressed in a way Heather liked to describe using only one word.
To which Christian would, laughing, reply, "Well yeah but isn't that the whole point?" Heather knew he was joking, of course, but her Chris never did notice his best friend's secret envy. Not even on those days when he lay right beside her, confessing his troubles and listening to hers, did Chris ever treat Heather as more than just a friend. He liked their heads side by side and their hands clasped together, but nothing more than that.
His whispered secrets stirred in her heart and the same love she'd sworn not to feel slowly grew along with them. A new chance to trust: hope for the future, and that, simply put, was Chris. He was a shining beacon of a boy who defied stereotypes with his whims and could melt winter itself with his warming blue gaze.
So when that sopping wet, shivering mass of fabric slumped to the ground beside her, blindfolded or not, Heather would not even have recognized her best friend of five years.
She was unconscious, in any case, and didn't get to say goodbye, but his voice triggered something: a dream of days long past, wherein both her parents stood at her bedside, reading the stories they so loved to tell.
"Without Light-" Father paused, clearing his throat as Mama and Heather settled back down, both stifling giggles. The three were supposed to be getting ready for bed, but so far had gotten distracted at least a dozen times. Marcus Mayhue gave his girls a moment before trying again to continue the story. "Without Light, there can be no life. Even plants cannot grow, and birds cannot see to fly. Ind-"
Again Marcus paused, turning to his daughter with a patient reply. "Yes, little princess?"
"Can't we skip a little and hear the one about Haku instead?" The little child had her fingers crossed, with those excited brown eyes aglow, and her father found that impossible to turn down.
"Very well." He nodded, but then he raised an eyebrow as Heather let out the breathless squeal of, "She's my totally favorite!"
"Is she?" Mama caught her husband's stunned eyes, highly amused, but Papa spoke up. "No, no my darlings, he insisted, "Haku, the magic silver dragon, was way too strong to be a cute little girl! He must have been a big handsome man!"
"No way!" his daughter stood on the bed, dainty little hands perched defiantly on her hips. "Haku was too pretty to be a smelly, stupid boy!" Laughing, Mama joined in, holding out her arms for effect, "That's right! Haku's pretty and strong, don't you see? For Haku was secretly me!" She flapped her imaginary wings, pretending to be the dragon herself as Father jumped in once more. He too held out his arms, letting out a roar like a lion.
"It is I, Haku, the most powerful being in all of creation!" was his own bold announcement. "No, I'm Haku!" Heather cried, standing up to join in with her parent's excitement.
The story was never fully read on that night, but by then Heather knew it by heart. Haku, the magical dragon would one day be reborn and bring happiness to the whole world! To her, it seemed Haku was already fast at work, spreading joy with Mama's stories and excitement with Papa's wit.
The little family wound up in a fierce dragon battle that night, each seeking to conquer the other with deadly tickling claws. In the end mother prevailed, story time forgotten, and all three wound up strewn out: breathless with laughter.
At some point little Heather accidentally kicked the book, and it tumbled onto the ground, snapping shut.
Likewise, the laughter in the Mayhue household would cease abruptly, to be replaced with blue flashes of light and blaring sirens. It was a Monday. Heather remembered the school bells and the bus that had dropped her off: number 00-67, but she couldn't, for the life of her, remember how it had happened.
Father was suddenly on the ground, with blood at his neck and down both his arms. There were no knives in sight.
"Marcus what's wrong! What's going on!" Mother had questioned him tirelessly but he never did answer. Maybe he couldn't. The doctors had muttered things like 'damage to the larynx' and 'multiple lacerations,' but these meant nothing to the two, grief-stricken girls.
Dire as his wounds were, however, it was not bloodloss that took Heather's father away from his family, but Marcus Mayhue himself. He'd woken from surgery and rushed out the door, refusing to stop even as the doctors chased after.
He simply never came back.
He had left a note, Heather eventually learned. She'd found it years later, hidden inside of that book, but by then the tear-smudged words failed to make any sense.
Only Mother, to whom it was addressed, understood.
By the time you find this letter I w dy be gone. I can't say to where, because imparting such knowledge would danger. I think we both knew this day would eventually come,
but I wanted you isn't your fault. There are some things mortal hands were just never meant to touch.
He has left something with me. I cannot afford to waste. No other can do what I must do now. Please understand this also. If re to happen to me, it would change Heather as well. You will know when it does, because she will leave. cruel of me to ask you to let her. But what other options could we have?
What other option could any human have?
Hikaru is what I named her: Light, for this very reason. And now, looking back I shouldn't ha I realize that all along, though you were my wife; my indispensable p I treated you second best.
But you were never second best. Not even for a moment.
I have heard what they say about destiny. About love. I know who I was meant to be with, and how important it is that I play my role. But he is No one else could possibly replace you.
I ramble. For that I am sorry. Once you have read this letter, please to Akiraka. If you do not, it could danger. And I want anything but that.
I only wanted to say goodbye.
Mother had cried for many nights. She held that letter close to her heart, and reread it, even after it grew faded and worn by her tears. Celine kept that letter, cared for Heather, and read her new stories, never touching his. Never again was she able to smile.
Heather thought it ironic, once she was old enough to recognize just how like her own life that old story of Haku really had been. She remembered, even years after hearing it, the sound of her father reading the final words of the story.
"The people forgot about Haku, after so many years.
Only the dragons carried down the tales and only the children sang the songs.
Even the trees mourned endlessly for they felt the death of life itself. The world fell into a sleepy stupor, awaiting the day when their light would return."
Eventually bedtime meetings ended, since Mother picked up two more jobs, and things like fanciful stories of magic died out. Their contents faded from Heather's mind, much like the memory of her own father's smile, and the sound of his voice: what it meant to be happy with someone she loved.
That same little story book lay in Heather's room for nearly ten years, without so much as one person to glance over even its cover with the engraved silver title.
"Without Light?" Christian had raised an eyebrow, wondering over the diary-sized storybook he'd dug from beneath Heather's dusty pink bed. The thing was very strange to look at, underneath the layer of dust, with a black, leather-like cover and the title etched out and then filled with some strange silver substance. "Never heard of it…" He flipped through a few pages, eyebrows raising only more. "It's all gibberish! What a useless-"
"It was my Dad's," Heather spat, snatching the book to herself, "And yes, stupid, I already know none of it makes any sense. He used to make up the stories I guess, back when he gave a shit."
Stupid Chris. Nearly eighteen full years of life should have been long enough for Chris to master the art of shoving his foot into his mouth, but apparently he still hadn't perfected that skill.
"Well sorry," He held up his hands blamelessly, "I'm just trying to help clean the place up like you asked…"
Heather met those apologetic blue eyes, relenting. "Yeah," she offered, halfheartedly, "Sorry I guess." It's not his fault.
Heather gave a meek smile, and Chris shot his more glowing grin right her way, implying that all was forgiven. Heather found herself immensely thankful for that. Graduation was coming up fast, and she hadn't even cleaned out her new room, let alone her old pink one! Chris had followed her right home from school to help out. He was just giving that way, but she knew for a fact he'd skipped work, and wondered how in the world he'd ever make it to college like that.
Chris was definitely a wonder. He'd set right to work in the little pink room that was not even his, and seemed right at home. In fact, he seemed to like all this girly, pink stuff. Heather could tell. His bright blue eyes weren't all that great at hiding enthusiasm.
"Uh, you wanna keep that?"
Chris started, pausing like a deer caught in headlights. He'd meant to organize Heather's old jewelry, but wound up frozen, mesmerized by the simple beauty of this one certain piece. A star. It was his favorite shape, hands down, and on top of that, his favorite color as well! Holding it up, he tried to tell himself this necklace wasn't anything special: just a long bit of black lace hung with what looked like creamy green jade. But still, Chris felt he'd never seen anything so cool in his life. "Mom would kill me if I wore something like this," he confessed, "you chicks are so lucky."
"Tuck it into your shirt then," Heather offered. She obviously did not understand. "But it's gay…"
"Pssht!" He glowered at that, but Heather only insisted he take home her necklace. "It's not nearly as gay as you, Chris."
"I'm not friggin' gay…" Chris muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Just try it on then," Heather sighed, pretending she hadn't noticed the forcedly restrained joy that lit up his bright blue eyes. She cracked open that book and shoved her nose inside, pretending to read while the boy behind her was undoubtedly trying on and most likely fawning over his new necklace.
It's beautiful. Chris turned to model in front of the dusty pink armoire. The jade brought out the aqua hue in his eyes and the black lace almost perfectly matched the loose strands of his hair, which he liked to keep at least long enough to cover the hickies on his collar. "Um… How's it look, Heather?"
She only nodded, turning a page as she continued to fake-read. She'd long ago made a vow to avoid checking Chris out whenever possible. She'd already done it a thousand times, and it only served to light embarrassing colors onto her cheeks. "Now it's got your cooties, by the way, so you gotta keep it."
"Anyway, I'm bored with cleaning. Let's go do something." Hoping her diversion had worked, Heather peered up over the book, not even realizing the perfectly clear sentences rearranging themselves from what had once been pure gibberish. Chris had raised those steel-blue eyes to the ceiling, contemplating.
"Oh," he decided, "I know! Wanna go down to the creek?"
Heather wanted to roll her eyes and respond with 'does this skirt look like it belongs at the creek?' but thought better of it. Chris had never been one to appreciate cute new outfits anyway. At least not when I'm the one wearing them.
"Sure I guess."
She wished he'd recognize that as the 'not really' that it was, but of course he did not. Instead Chris took that as a challenge and raced out the door, yelling "Beat ya there!" on the way.
Those words were a trigger. In one split second Heather dashed off and suddenly found herself sprinting down the street and into the woods, chasing after her hyper best friend, with that jet black hair whipping behind and yet leading the way.
Chris hopped effortlessly up and climbed high onto the creek's ledge, announcing his victory, and only then did he turn back, just for the sake of gloating. "Not even fast enough to put down dear Daddy's book, are ya, Heather?"
"Oh shut up," Heather snickered, and without even thinking she tossed that book right at him. Chris ducked, laughing, but the movement was so quick that he wound up slipping and tumbled right out of sight, a flurry of fall leaves kicked up in his wake.
With her hands now freed, Heather made to follow, snickering still. She expected to climb right up to the top and poke her head over the edge, to tease her undoubtedly wet friend, but instead found herself shocked.
There was the familiar water of the creek, but Christian himself was nowhere to be found.
"What the hell?"
Chris crawled up onto the bank and swung around, unable to believe his own eyes. What was once the familiar, rocky little creek had somehow warped into a vast, crystal blue lake. Luckily he seemed to have fallen in the more shallow water, and so was able to reemerge quickly and with minimal damage. The same did not hold true, however, for the sopping wet book he'd instinctively retrieved. Water dripped from its pages, almost as rapidly as from his own wet hair, and with it ran the ink.
The shaken teen easily freed himself from the water, standing in the shallows, but had no idea what to do next. His arms fell to his sides with water running down as his confused blue gaze rose to the unfamiliar orange-streaked sky.
This lake stretched on for miles, disappearing beneath a stirring volcano. Soft plumes of smoke billowed forth from the tip, dusting the neighboring mountains with thick grey ash, but once he'd turned around, Christian found himself met with a very different image. Soft grasses and evergreens replaced the familiar forest and trail: overgrown and alien.
Only the wind in the trees answered his call, though at least a dozen redbirds burst into flight, scattering into the sky. I'm somewhere totally different. But how? And why had he arrived alone? Heather was right behind me…
He turned back toward the lake, scanning the area, but it seemed his best friend was still nowhere to be found. Without even thinking Chris made to toss the book back in the lake. It was ruined now, and of no use whatsoever.
The soaked volume seemed to hit the sky, just like those birds, but once it touched down, it slipped right back out of existence, not so much as grazing the water.
Heather instinctively reached up to massage the swiftly growing knot on the back of her head, but it wasn't until after she'd finished cursing coconuts, dead tree limbs and the sky itself that she realized what'd actually hit her. Dad's book?
"What the hell?" The book had seemed to fall down from nowhere, hit her in the head and then landed with a wet thud on the ground. Her glaring eyes swept over the still Christian-free creek and darted around the deserted, dead forest, but still she saw nothing.
What was going on?
"It's a fault."
Chris paused. He'd only just reared back, preparing to throw a rock at the apparently magical lake, but now found himself completely distracted by something even more magical. He'd wanted to watch the rock disappear just as the book had, but now was forced to focus his sights on a strange new arrival.
I've lost it.
What looked to be some kind of deer had walked right up behind him, and as if this were normal, the thing promptly began speaking to him in plain English. "You're pretty sharp," it first offered, cocking its head with those huge brown antlers raised, "most humans just wander about the forest, not realizing the lake'd take 'em right back…"
"How?" Chris immediately questioned, trying not to look as shocked as he felt. Those unnaturally dark green eyes began sizing him up, and he did the same. This beast had reddish-brown fur, powerful, speed-built legs, and looked ready and willing to run those sharp antlers through anything in its way. "I already tried swimming back to where I was. It didn't work."
The strange creature snorted with a nod. "There's a fault in everything, got that? And always a way to take advantage a one. Take people for example-Kids especially- always talking to strangers…" The stag-or whatever it might've been- stepped closer then, but Chris immediately backed up, not caring when his feet sank back into the murky green lakewater.
"Scared?" challenged the stag, but Chris shook his head.
He took another step back, eyes fixed on those dangerous-looking antlers, the deepening water at his knees reassuring. "Deer can't swim."
"That is true," it agreed, tossing those deadly horns back, "but snakes can."