Det er den første fredag i måneden og som jeg har lovet begynder jeg fremover at udgive et kapitel fra min roman, som jeg stadig arbejder på. I sidste uge fik i en lille smagsprøve i form af en prolog. I dag er det så tid til første kapitel hvor I møder vores hovedperson Jennifer Paris.
(It is the first Friday of the month and as I promised I will henceforth post a chapter from my novel, which is still a work in progress. Last week you had a little teaser in the shape of a prologue. Today it is time for the first chapter in which you meet our protagonist Jennifer Paris.)
Chapter One – Memories of the Past
The shadow moved swiftly across the ground in the increasing twilight. A necessary feat to keep up with its owner. The young woman ran through the wilderness paying no attention to her long, red hair getting caught in the branches surrounding her in her chase. The only thing her green eyes could focus on was a point ahead of her; everything else was just a blur on her path.
The woman was not fully grown in her appearance, yet she could no longer be called a child. Her eyes would give her away, and the determination they showed at that precise moment said it all. Her tiny body moved gracefully yet hastily through the thick undergrowth of the forest and did not take any notice of the many cuts and bruises she gained on her way. Her thin clothes were torn from the many thorns she had come across on her long journey. The skin was bright underneath layers of dirt and numerous cuts and bruises her body had sustained form the long period on the move. She stopped very suddenly. Every one of her senses were heightened and she slowly closed her eyes to enhance them. Standing like this, calm and peaceful, you would not know how upset the woman was and how strong her desire was to capture her prey. For several days she had been on the hunt, stopping only to take care of the basic needs that arose. The memory of a good night’s sleep was too far from her to recall and no longer a familiarity to her. All those basic things were no longer of importance however, not if her hunt would result in her gaining what was rightfully hers once more.
She glanced carefully around for the smallest movement, but as she became better at tracking her prey, so did the prey become better at hiding from her. She suddenly heard a branch break not far from her. Her prey had made a mistake and the woman leaped ahead sure of herself to catch up. The darkness was closing in on the forest but it didn’t bother her. Through her hunt all her senses had grown, including her vision; and she was rapidly adapting to the darkness growing stronger and stronger as the night fell. She could still tell the harsh smell of her prey through the fresh air of the forest and the newly coming dew of the night. The disgusting smell of soot, sweat and confinement was unmistakable.
She moved faster and faster and the stench grew stronger and stronger but she forced herself not to breathe it in. All of a sudden she found herself in a tiny clearing thickly covered with moss. Several small boulders lined the edge of the clearing. Leaning on one of these boulders was an old man. He was gasping for breath, heaving large amounts of air down his tired lungs. He stood bent over, arching his back, making it more hunched than it already was. His old skin was ruddy under the many layers of dirt and grime and like the woman’s his had several cuts and bruises; many of these were surrounded by congealed blood. His thinning grey hair was sweaty, clinging to his forehead and halfway covering the rest of his face. The eyes were bloodshot and stared directly at the woman, who had stopped behind him. Despite the many obvious and less obvious injuries, the old man did not seem to care about any of those things. His energy was addressed at the woman behind him and the tiny object he held tightly in his left hand. It was no bigger than a walnut and barely visible, aside from the silver chain dangling from the man’s hand reflecting the amount of moonlight getting through the trees. The eyes of the old man darted back and forth between the young woman and his left hand. He tightened his grip around the tiny object and very slowly, tiny drops of blood began to trickle down his hand and arm.
>>Hand it over!<< Commanded the young woman holding out her hand as she took two steps closer. The old man scrambled, as far as his body would let him, further away from the woman. He was a pathetic sight as he stood there, though it could be more accurate to say he was hanging on the boulder, still gasping for breath. It seemed unbelievable that it was this old man, looking so close to death, the woman had been chasing for so long.
>>Never!<< He rasped back, his voice only just audible above the swarm of mosquitoes drawn to the blood of the old man, yet he paid no attention to these either. If anything his grip only tightened further around the object, dropping more blood on the ground.
The woman felt more frustrated than ever before and her anger towards the old man grew steadily as he tightened his grip. As her anger rose, so did a bright light that had started to spread through the fingers of the old man and the tiny object he was clutching. In a desperate attempt he moved his hand further away from the young woman though it did no good. The light grew stronger and bigger and still he kept his grip tight. A tiny smile crept over the lips of the young woman. She could see the pain on the man’s face. He collapsed onto both knees on the ground in the clearing, yet he still did not loosen his grip on the object and the anger of the woman increased steadily with each minute. The air around the clearing started to grow warm and moisture began to find its way to the clearing, along with the many insects, besides the mosquitoes, and swarmed around the old man, now dripping blood from several more places on his body, though no places as bad as his hand.
His hand glowed red as if it were in flames and you could begin to see the shape of the object on the back of his hand; A small figure in the shape of a circle with a strap over it appeared to be burning its way through the old man’s hand.
>>Is it worth it? Is the pain worth it?<< Raged the woman, standing her ground, firm as one of the boulders, and staring hard at her prey without the tiniest amount of pity. The man was trembling from head to toe and sweat was dripping from him, soaking his worn clothes. He calmed himself for a few seconds and stared right back at the woman and her green eyes and in an almost non-audible voice he said:
>>Yes.<< At that exact same moment the wrath of the woman exploded and flames arose at the edge of the clearing cutting off every way of escape. The woman could feel the fear of the man seep through the warmth and she embraced it. The man was shaking and was by now lying flat on the ground. The young woman brushed a tiny lock of her hair from her face as she stepped over him and gazed down at him eagerly. Then, kneeling down she said: >>You can’t win Teron.<< No sooner had the last syllable left her lips before an ocean of flames erupted around them. The man twisted, screaming from pain. He couldn’t see or feel anything besides the scorching flames licking all over his body. All he felt was his life seeping out of his body as the flames consumed him ever so slowly.
At the same moment Jennifer awoke, drenched in sweat and tangled in her sheets. For a moment one would believe it had been her trapped in the flames because her eyes portrayed the same fear. She untangled herself from the clammy sheets. She had been so engaged in her dream, as if she was right next to the old man and young woman, that she had thrashed and turned in her bed, wrapping herself more and more in her sheets. Still shaking from the dream, she pulled her legs close and sat dead still for a few moments to gather herself. According to the clock on the dresser it was far past midnight yet a long time till she had to get up. The dream still lingered with her and she was well aware she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.
The same dream had been returning to Jennifer for several nights in a row, and it intensified more and more with each night; so much in fact that Jennifer could almost feel the wrath of the young woman and the old man’s fear. She rubbed her tired eyes as they started to adjust to the darkness. The lack of sleep during the night was starting to get to her and despite the fact that the summer holidays was about to start, her teachers were not happy with her for snoozing in class for most of the time.
She hinged her dark hair behind her ears and pulled the sheets over her again. After calming down again, the cold of the night crept over her. She had completely given up hope of going back to sleep. The first night the dream occurred she’d gone straight back to sleep, merely figuring it was a normal nightmare. However, she quickly woke again after returning to the exact same dream. After that first night, the dream had reoccurred almost every night, and Jennifer was well aware by now that it was no ordinary nightmare. She no longer tried to go back to sleep, afraid to go back to the dream, and she kept putting off going to sleep at all in the evenings. She knew it was just a dream, but at the same time it seemed much more real and not like any other nightmare she had ever had. That part scared her most of all. It was that part that kept her from going to bed at all some nights. But she had to try and get some sleep eventually.
Tonight was no different than the others; She would get no more sleep. Once more she pushed the sheets off and went to turn on the lights. Ever so slowly she opened the door to hear whether the rest of the house was asleep. After just a few seconds she recognized the light snoring going through the house from the rest of the occupants. She closed the door again and turned to face her room. Yet again Jennifer was forced to entertain herself in the solitude of her room. The problem was, she had been doing this for many nights prior to this and there wasn’t much left for her to do. She had tidied what could be tidied, organized what could be organized, leaving her questioning what to do this night? Her eyes caught sight of a photo album at the top of one of her shelves. The spine of the album was worn and the album itself was slightly dusty. She hadn’t been able to dust her room, due to the fact that she had to do everything by night without disturbing the rest of the house. Jennifer blew on the album, making the dust fly about the room as she sat down with her back against the bed. Thankfully the pictures had not been harmed by the dust. Naturally, a few had torn corners from years of flipping through the album but otherwise Jennifer had taken good care of them. She flicked swiftly through the first couple of pages, containing mostly baby pictures of her. After a few pages she stopped abruptly. She’d come across a picture of her mother. Her breathing became heavier and her mood dropped a few levels, even further after the nightmare. Her mother looked so happy and peaceful in the picture; Jennifer checked the date on the back. It went back almost three years, which meant it was dated nearly a year before they had discovered her illness and another year before the doctors had given up hope. Jennifer let out a heavy sigh. The last days had been very hard and trying for her mother. The only comfort Jennifer could think of was at least her mother would be happy now she had joined her father.
At the mere age of 17 Jennifer had lost both her parents. Granted, she had never met her father, he had died shortly after she was born. But she’d had her mother since she had been able to remember and now she would never see her again. It had been five months now. Five months where Jennifer had been forced to live without her mother, five hard months. Though, she wasn’t alone it didn’t make the loss easier. She still had her two sisters Samantha and Anna. Samantha, who insisted on being called Sam, had moved back into the house along with her husband, Jack, and their daughter, Susan, of barely one year old. Sam and Jack had named their daughter after Susan, their mother.
In the first days Jennifer didn’t want to be around people, let alone talk to them. Because she was the youngest of the three she’d had a different and at times closer relationship to their mother, and her death had left a larger gap in her heart compared to theirs, at least Jennifer felt it had. Jennifer had closed up and had not wished to talk to anyone during the first weeks. Sam and Jack had moved back in along with Susan, back to Sam’s childhood home, taking care Jennifer wouldn’t end up in the system the last year before she turned 18. After a short while Sam had been made Jennifer’s legal guardian. Yet Jennifer still was not approachable by anybody. Her other sister, Anna, who had also lived at home the first few weeks after their mother’s death swept Jennifer’s behaviour off as grief, saying she just needed time to get over the shock. In a way, Anna had been right, because as the time went by Jennifer slowly opened up. Although she wasn’t quite herself yet. However, Jennifer had realized she wasn’t the only one missing her mother and with the help from her sisters everything became a bit easier.
In the bedroom across the hall Jennifer could hear Jack mumble in his sleep, a thing he did quite often and it made Jennifer smile because of the familiarity. She replaced the picture of her mother in the album and kept flicking through it. More pictures of Jennifer as a baby came, along with baby pictures of Anna and Sam. All in all she was glad she still had them and that they both took so good care of her. She didn’t even dare to think of how it would be without them. As the minutes passed and Jennifer got through photo album upon photo album, light started to brighten outside her window. She hadn’t kept track of time and it came as a slight surprise when Sam poked her head in Jennifer’s bedroom.
>>Morning Jennifer. Up and…<< She had a surprised look on her face when she saw Jennifer sitting on the floor.
>>At’em.<< Jennifer finished.
>>Good morning.<< Jennifer closed the photo album and got to her feet. >>Is it morning already?<< She looked in bewilderment out the window at the sunshine.
>>Another nightmare tonight?<< Sam crossed her arms as she leaned in the doorway and looked at Jennifer in a way much too similar to their mother. Jennifer nodded without so much as a word and dropped down on her bed. Sam gave a sigh and went over to sit beside her as she pulled her blonde hair to one side.
>>How many nights has it been now?<< She asked quietly and placed her hands in her lap, waiting for Jennifer to answer. Jennifer kept her silence as she tried to remember when the first nightmare had occurred.
>>A few weeks. Sam, why do you think I keep having this same dream, over and over again?<< Jennifer looked up at her sister. Her green eyes pierced their way to Sam’s greyish eyes and she bit her lip, just as she always did when she was in doubt of anything. >>Sam?<< Jennifer repeated. Sam averted her eyes and sighed.
>>Come along.<< Was all she said and Jennifer followed her to Anna’s old room, which now also functioned as storage room. She pushed her way through the many boxes to get to a dresser at the very back of the room while Jennifer waited by the door. Sam soon returned with a tiny box, barely bigger than a lunchbox. She gave a small nod of the head telling Jennifer to follow her again. They went into Sam and Jack’s bedroom where Jack was only just getting out of bed.
>>Could you give us a moment, darling?<< Sam asked, and Jack left the two of them with a nod and a kiss for Sam. He recognised the look she gave him and he knew the two sisters needed some time alone. Once Jack had left the room Sam went to sit on the bed and indicated for Jennifer to join her. >>Originally, I hadn’t planned for you to have this at least for another year or two.<< She still had her eyes on the tiny box. >>But as things and time have progressed I only see it fit it is returned to you now.<< Her voice was heavy and Jennifer got the feeling Sam really didn’t want to give her what was in the tiny box. Sam opened the box and revealed another even tinier box. Jennifer could tell it was a small jewellery box of some kind. With the bigger box pushed aside, Sam held tightly around the smaller jewellery box.
>>Returned? What do you mean by returned to me?<<
>>This was given as a gift to you when you were born. It was a gift from our father.<< Sam began but was interrupted by Jennifer.
>>But if it was a gift from when I was born how come I haven’t seen it before?<< Sam sighed before she continued.
>>Because, and let me finish before you start asking questions. As I said, it was a gift from our father; mum however, took it away from us later on. Shortly after dad died she took them and hid them from all of us, she didn’t want us to be reminded of dad too much. It’s only recently I had mine back.<< At this point Sam found a box from her dresser in the exact same size as the one she had in her lap, only slightly more damaged and worn from time. Afterwards she handed the first box to Jennifer, who hesitantly opened it. Inside she found a necklace; bright silver with a beautiful locket. Sam opened her box and showed an almost identical necklace with locket, only in gold.
>>Once mum found out the seriousness of her illness it didn’t take her more than a couple of days before she gave me mine back. The next day, she gave Anna hers back. She asked me to give you yours on your birthday, when you were ready for it. Although it’s not your birthday I think you’re about ready for it. It’s a locket. Go ahead and open it.<< Just as Jennifer opened hers, so did Sam. There was already a picture inside the locket of their parents taken years ago, several years before they had children. They looked blissfully happy and as if they had just met.
>>It’s from their first year together. Taken many years ago. Dad told mum he knew at that point already she was the one for him and he had the first locket made as a gift for her. That was this one.<< Sam held out her own locket and Jennifer could clearly see it was much older than hers. >>When they had me it was handed down to me. When mum got pregnant for the second time dad had a second locket made just like the first one with the exact same picture. Anna’s is in a brighter gold. And they repeated it with you in silver as you can see. It’s our common link to our parents and each other.<<
>>But how come you’re giving it to me now and what’s this got to do with my nightmares? There’s more to it, isn’t there?<< Jennifer became very sceptical and with a look at her sister she suddenly began to question whether she wanted to hear more. Sam fell silent with a sad look on her face.
>>Yes, I do know more. I’m just not sure how to tell you. If mum was still here she would stop me for sure. It’s only six months ago I was allowed to tell Anna, while mum was still alive to back me up. So once I tell you this you have to believe me because no matter how you may want to twist and turn it around, it is true. There’s no way around it.<<
>>But what is it?<< Silence roamed between the two for a while, a silence Sam used to gather her nerves to tell Jennifer a piece of information that would change her life forever. Jennifer waited for Sam’s news and didn’t dare break the silence. Finally, Sam heaved in a deep breath and opened her mouth. But what she said was so mind boggling and impossible for Jennifer to wrap her head around that she simply sat completely still with her mouth open in shock.
>>Jennifer, dad never died. He’s still alive.<<
Copyright Michelle H. Lindberg
To be continued in Chapter Two – Burn Marks.