Excerpt Two! :) Let me know what you think?

Posted: March 8, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Chapter One:

A Friendly Gathering

“How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.”

~Barry Lopez

 

“When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.”

~ Unknown

 

 

 

Present Day

 

Astrid was there. Again. The same warm coffee filled cups throughout the cramped café. The same couple flirted in a crowded corner. The same barista flicked long strands of sweaty hair out of her eyes like they were lingering flies. And across the room from Astrid, there she sat—Astrid’s dream-self—staring at the trendy antique clock hanging above the glass doors with mounting impatience. Astrid casually watched her dream-self for a bit. The girl did nothing exciting except sip her latté and examine a chipped nail. Both Astrids were very bored.

But Astrid’s dream-self was also angry. Whoever she was waiting for was late and Astrid could practically hear the obnoxious tapping of her foot. The girl was even pursing her lips. Astrid rolled her eyes and prepared to leave her self-absorbed dream version when something outside the window of the shop caught her attention.

“Grandma?” Astrid looked perplexed. Yes, the elderly woman was standing there, swathed in a yellow gown, but something was horribly wrong. A faceless man dressed all in white was forcefully dragging her grandmother away. The man was towing her towards a strange, foggy, black abyss. Astrid freaked out and frantically searched for help. But no one seemed to realize she was there. She ran up to her dream-self and tried to rouse her twin. Nothing. Her twin looked back with vacant, angry eyes and drummed her painted fingers, completely consumed in her own world.

Astrid glanced out the window again and saw the man almost had her grandmother at the edge of the fog. She abandoned her other self and sprinted after the kidnapper. Panting, she chased the two, begging for the man in white to release her loved one. All three were on the edge of the abyss, but just as Astrid reached for the hostage’s hand, the man stopped, pointed a gun at his victim’s head, and pulled the trigger. Then, he jumped into the ebony mist. Astrid sat there, holding her grandmother’s dead body in her arms, suddenly covered in warm pee, screaming hysterically to her dream-self who still sat inside the café sipping away.

Then she woke up.

“Meow. Meow. Meow!”

Astrid bolted up from her bed, breathing heavily into the whiskery face of her cat.

“Meow!” He screeched.

“Peanut! Gah!” The orange fur-ball brushed his head against her shoulder. Astrid pushed him away, rubbing her eyes, and tried to get back to sleep. It was useless. The second she shut her lids, she had vivid flashbacks of her nightmare. “Ugh!” She looked at her clock. Oh, hell no! She thought. 8am. On a Saturday. You’ve got to be kidding me. She grabbed a pillow and screamed into it.

“Meow.” Damn this cat. Damn my dreams. Peanut pawed at her hand as she clasped the pillow. She gave in and stroked his long neck as he purred contently. Selfish animal. He pranced around the house like he owned it, demanding attention and love when he wanted it with no regard for others. After a few minutes, Peanut decided he’d had enough and jumped off her bed and out of her room. “Thanks. Now what do I do?” She was a kitty booty call. Looking at the clock again, she rolled her eyes, and then crawled out of bed to her bathroom.

She flicked on the dull fluorescents, and stared at a foggy, makeup-splattered mirror. Her reflection wasn’t very promising. Her caramel eyes had lids like limp spaghetti, covered in black scraps of used liner; her tawny skin was chapped and flaky with bits of last night’s drool clinging to her pouty lips. Her curly reddish-chestnut hair flared and flattened at unflattering angles.

Astrid wished she could blame this new look on wild parties with large quantities of stolen booze, but her life wasn’t that glamorous. She sighed, grabbed her brush, wet it, and then gave up and jumped into the shower. A few minutes later she emerged, less frazzled, and far fresher. She threw some mousse into her hair and tossed it in a messy bun.

Once dressed in sweats, she closed the dream-box on her antique dresser, enclosing the nightmare, and hoping fruitlessly it would work this time. She cracked a few joints and grabbed the dream journal that she’d bought last week off her dresser. She spelled out “Day 15,” at the top of a new page and wrote her entry. It was the same as before, except now her subconscious must have hired a special effects artist because the blood dripping dramatically from her grandmother’s head was new, as were the bits of skull that shattered sideways hitting the floor like dirty crumbs. Astrid no longer felt like sobbing every time she woke up. Desensitized, she was now just angry at her subconscious for torturing her every night. It was a song she couldn’t skip. It was the same dream for over two weeks, and now she had sound effects, squirting blood, and even a cinematic slow-motion sequence as her grandmother’s head was blown off. Her movie just got better and better.

The icy gold of her necklace brushed softly against her protruding collarbone. She lifted the tiny dancer figurine to eye level and pondered its details for the thousandth time.  It had been a gift from her grandmother when she was born. It was delicate, all gold with a tiny clever smile and a ruby leotard, skirt and shoes. The dancer’s arms were raised in a high fifth position, gracefully balanced atop her body, and her feet posed in relevé. It was a beautiful, yet simple piece. It had been with Astrid her whole life, and kept her afloat.

Astrid finished her entry and headed downstairs. Her mother would be up and her father, Colin, already at work. Her bedroom was in the corner of their modest four-bedroom craftsman house. One of many on their quaint, suburban street, at least the interior design changed every few blocks. Wooden floors, recessed lighting, bold colors, furniture made with organic materials, and a large quantity of artwork all made it a modern home in a contemporary neighborhood.  

Jessie feigned a heart attack at the sight of her daughter up at this hour. “Did aliens take away the real Astrid in the night?”

“Ha-ha-ha.” Astrid mocked. “Peanut woke me up and I couldn’t go back to sleep.”

Jessie stood over the stove, scrambling a pan of eggs. “Same dream?”

“Every night.” Astrid shrugged and sat on a metal stool at their marble kitchenette. Jessie wanted to hug her but knew Astrid wouldn’t like that.

“Well, I found something that might help. It’s on the table.” Astrid raised her eyebrows questioningly, but went over to the investigate. On top of their handcrafted ebony dining table, was a dream-catcher—an old one, with blue and black feathers and a black string. There was something carved on the top, too, but she couldn’t read the Cherokee writing. “My dad gave that to me when I was a kid. I use to have bad dreams too. It has my name engraved in our language. I didn’t know where I put it, but I found it finally last night. I should have given it to you earlier.” Jessie laughed sardonically. “One of my few family heirlooms.”

Astrid scrutinized the dream-catcher, wondering about the person who crafted it. Could it have been a great aunt of hers? A cousin? What would they think of her owning this? It must have been hard for her mother to give this to her…Jessie had so few things left. When she was shunned for marrying Colin, she wasn’t allowed to keep much.

“Thanks, mom.” Astrid hugged Jessie and ran upstairs to put the dream-catcher over her four-poster bed.

As she exited her room, she veered away from the stairs and walked tentatively down the creaky, tangerine-colored hallway towards the last room on her left. The door was closed. She tried the brass knob. It was locked. She exhaled, relieved. After the first nightmare, she’d gone into her grandmother’s old room and Jessie found her there, curled up on the floor, near hysterics. After that, Astrid had avoided the room, afraid of her uncontrolled emotions. And apparently, Colin had feared the same thing and locked the door.

The room didn’t have anything in it. Technically speaking, it was a guest room and had all the necessary accoutrements like a bed, dresser, and IKEA mirror, but no guest stayed in there and all the furniture was unused. Astrid wished it was at least haunted, but instead the room felt empty, void of any life. It reminded her of how she felt the last time she’d been in there, a year ago. It was the night she learned the news and she had just gotten home from the hospital. Her parents were downstairs on the couch in shock.

A few months prior, her grandmother, a spry and spunky old woman, had taken a stray bullet for a stranger’s child. Quite the heroine, she’d paid the ultimate price and was in a coma, dying slowly, until eventually one day, she just let go.

Astrid went into the lifeless room filled with oxygen tanks and IV stands. They had a live-in nurse stay with them—Sophia.  It cost Jessie and Colin all their savings, which didn’t matter until Jessie’s firm laid off all its junior partners.

Astrid had looked around the room and cried. She cried for the first time since hearing the news. She cried until she fell asleep in her grandmother’s empty bed. Then she woke up the next morning and never went into the room again—until these dreams.

“You finished packing?” Jessie asked when Astrid returned to the kitchen. She was vigorously chopping some vegetables for dinner. The sharp slap of her knife, bubbling cauldron on the gas stove, and faint bluesy tunes on the radio colored the normally quiet atmosphere with a warm melody.

“Nope. I’ll do it tonight. Any interviews?”

Jessie half smiled. “Nope.” She walked over the stove and shoveled some eggs onto a plate and handed them to Astrid. “But they’ll come. You remember Carol right? Heavy-set woman? She applied to over 500 jobs before she got the one she’s at now. I haven’t even hit half that, so I got time.”

“Not that much time.” Astrid muttered, under her breath. Jessie gave her a warning look.

“That’s for me to worry about. Not you. I’m still the parent here.”

“But why won’t you let me work? I could do that modeling job and then pay for all my own stuff and save you and dad the money.”

Jessie snorted and dropped her knife. “Ha! Like we’re letting you do that music video shit. I see what they want. No way. You’re too smart for Hollywood. You can help by getting good grades for Harvard. Just do your school work and stop being a smart ass to your teachers—no matter how stupid they are.”

Astrid rolled her eyes. “Yea, yea, yea.” The point had been argued to death but she was convinced her parents would cave eventually. They needed money and she needed to start her career. Harvard could wait. It was mutually beneficial and completely logical.

Taking her plate, she went into the living room, plopped down on their plush velvet couch, and turned on Saturday morning cartoons, hoping her bad mood would dissipate before Phillip came over. She hated taking her anxieties out on him but it seemed to be all she was doing lately. He had enough to worry about at home without her stupid drama.

Pouting over her food, she tried to absorb herself in pointless characters and decided that this was another rocky road and vanilla ice-cream morning.  

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