For several years, the Seeds of Life story has rattled around in my brain. To silence the chatter, I started recording it on September 13th. I write approximately 500 words a day at this time of year because there’s so many other things going on.
On October 27th, I reached the 30,000-word milestone. When it comes to writing, my journey is like crawling up a large seesaw. At first, the going is slow; the climb is steep, and I need to build momentum. Then, around the mid-way range, the seesaw levels out, and I pick up speed. The seesaw soon starts to tip in the other direction, and by the time I’ve crossed over to the last 1/3 of the story, I’m travelling quickly, non-stop to reach the end. It’s a rush, and I’m excited to learn what happens. I burn the midnight oil and I rise early to continue the adventure. I ignore everything and everyone until the final words are recorded.
At 30,000 words, I’m one-third the distance to the end. Within three weeks, the seesaw is going to be level, and then I’ll write a few thousand words a day. I expect to finish this story by the end of November. It will ripen for the next few seasons, then, if all goes well, it will be published December 2021.
Here’s the first scene to Seeds of Life, my first dystopian novel. It’s mildly edited, but not too much. This is raw first draft. One of the main characters is Eloise. She lives with her uncle in The Forest of Rains.
Seeds of Life: Chapter 1, Scene 1
Eloise’s first memory of her mama was of sunshine sparkling on her hair on a warm spring day while they prepared the garden for seed. She was not yet strong enough to walk, so she reached the moist dirt on her hands and knees. Mama smiled at her eagerness to help, then frowned at the stains on my dress. A warm breeze returned the smile and the memory faded.
The last memory of her mama was of moonlight on her hair on a cool fall night while they exchanged frantic hugs and kisses at the door of a shabby cottage. Worry lines etched deep into her brow as she spoke the words Eloise was to repeat in her mind every day since: Never forget from where you came. It will give you strength when you believe you have none.
Then Mama was gone from her life like a candle snuffed by a gale. The man she had left her with was her uncle, her Mama’s older brother, a man she’d never met or heard of until that dreadful night. His name was Arthur, but everyone called him Gristle of Green Wood because he seldom left the meadow in which he lived. Over the years, few travellers had visited, leaving Eloise, only eleven years old on the day of her arrival, alone with a man who spoke little and who went about his daily affairs as if she wasn’t there.
A dozen years later, Eloise had come to appreciate the lack of supervision offered her. Her days were free to wander, explore and dream as she passed from child into adulthood. Gristle’s demands were few: keep the water bucket in Larkspur—the name he’d given his cottage—near full, sweep the floor daily, wash your clothes; tend to your needs, and never, ever, not under any circumstances be away from home after dark.
This last expectation enticed her to run faster on the deer trail. Distracted by ducklings on Hideout Pond, she hadn’t noticed the sun had slipped towards the horizon and now in twilight, she was still a good distance from home. Her heart pounded in her chest as she leapt over the thorny vines that grew indiscriminately in her path. This section being the worst, one she could have easily avoided by taking the route through the stand of oaks, but that would add ten minutes to her lateness.
She sucked in quick breaths, caused both from the exertion and the thorn embedded in the heel of her foot. Each time her foot struck the ground, pain shot up her leg like the sharp sting of a bee. She attempted to run on the ball of her foot but when her foot struck a thick tree root, the pain sent her reeling. She rolled several times, ploughing down a span of lush ferns before she slammed into a towering elm. The little wind in her lungs expelled, and she gasped for breath. Sputtering and coughing, she clutched her foot, grasped the thorn and drew it out quickly.
“Ah! Ow! Ow!” The pain of removing the thorn was greater than stepping on it. She rubbed the sore roughly, then scrambled to her feet and staggered towards home. Almost at full speed, she caught a glimpse of a shadow up ahead on the trail. She squinted to sharpen the image to identify it in the dim light. It moved swiftly towards her, and she slowed her pace. Fear leapt into her throat, making it difficult to breathe. It blocked her path and continued to travel directly towards her.
Reduced to a fast walk, at two hundred feet she noticed the shadow did not touch the ground. It skimmed the top of the low bushes on a collision course with her. In seconds, the form took shape. It was a…a…an owl?
She dropped to the forest floor, and the great-winged bird flew over her, leaving in its wake a rush of wind that sucked the remaining air from her lungs. On her hands and knees, with her vision fading, she fought to stay upright, keep her mouth open and her throat clear for oxygen to rush in once her lungs regained function. An eternity passed, and the ground rushed forward. Smashing into the dirt, her lungs slammed into gear, and she gulped the life-saving oxygen. Moments passed and the lingering light slipped from the sky, leaving her in darkness.
With the meagre amount of strength remaining, she propped herself up on all fours. Three breaths later, she slowly rose to her feet. The owl was gone. She had spotted it many times during her time at Greenwood but never this close. Her uncle called it Shepherd without an explanation. His only comment was, Stay away from Shepherd. He won’t bother you if you don’t bother him. Until now, she managed to respect the distance of the great bird that travelled only during the night.
A snapping tree branch brought her attention to the trail behind her. If it was Shepherd returning, she didn’t want to wait to see what further damage he could inflict. Stumbling towards home, feeling her way in the dark, she glanced back many times, hoping it wasn’t Shepherd, yet hoping it was him and not another great beast.
Tripping and stumbling, she found the mouth of the trail that opened onto the meadow. Her strength returned, she jogged through the spring grass and blooming flowers towards the glowing window of Larkspur. If she was subtle, she’d slip behind the cottage, pretending to gather wood for the evening fire and use that as the excuse she was outside after dark. Technically, she was not away from home after dark, only outside of it, performing a favour for her uncle.
Nearing the cottage, she slowed and crouched low, scanning the front of the dwelling for Uncle Gristle. He was no where in sight. Mapping her route, she slipped by the well and went directly to the woodpile. Upon reaching it, she stood straight and acted casually, as if she’d been here all along. She straightened her dress and brushed twigs and dirt from the material. Perfect. She drew deep breaths in an attempt to slow her heart rate. Tucking her hair behind her ears, she leisurely filled her arm with several sticks. One more breath, and she was ready. She turned and walked towards the front of the cottage, feeling pleased she had once again avoided a lecture.
Sudden movement grabbed her attention, and she whirled to find the shadow she had thought was a log leaning against the woodshed moving towards her.
“The wood box is full.” Uncle Gristle walked past without looking into her face and disappeared around the front of the cottage.
Her mouth hung open for several seconds before she clamped it shut. Marching back to the wood pile, she threw the sticks onto it and progressed to the front door, where she expected solemn words awaited. In an unhurried manner with her chin up, she stepped inside the warm room and closed the door behind her. The single lantern illuminated the space, including the haggard face of her uncle, who poked at the fire.
Measuring the space between her and her curtained room, she took several steps before the aged voice broke the silence.
“It won’t happen again.” He cast a long glance in her direction. “See it is so.” He turned back to the fire and busied himself with the hot kettle.
“Yes, sir.” She crossed the space quickly, slipped behind the curtain and flopped onto her mattress stuffed with straw and feathers. If not for Shepherd, she’d not have been late; or at least not as late. She released the tension and sunk deeper into the mattress, allowing her uncle’s words to replay in her head. The onus was on her to not let it happen again. Why hadn’t he lectured her for five minutes about the dangers beyond the meadow? She wiped cooling sweat from her forehead, finding dirt and twigs stuck to her skin. Why indeed? It was unlike him. Then she remembered the single-sentence reprimands in the past. They accomplished what drawn-out lectures failed to do: make her think and put those thoughts into action.
She groaned and rolled to her side, drawing her pillow beneath her head. He had come to know her too well. It was as if he read her mind, saw her actions before she did. Today was no different, and a voice deep inside told her tomorrow would be the same.
…end of scene. Look for more on Seeds of Life in the future.