For the stream team. You all inspire like none-other.
Also, for Sian, who is my writing buddy for Camp NaNo July 2015.
Lenore awoke with her skin crawling. As she become more conscious she realized it was just goose bumps crawling up her skin from the chill of the refrigerator. She sat in front of it, the door open and light shining down on her in an otherwise dark kitchen.
What the hell?
She braced herself against the fridge door and frame to stand, surprised as her hand and feet slipped out from under her. Looking up at where her hand had streaked down the door frame, Lenore saw a streak red-brown against the clean metal. She looked to her feet and found a similar puddle coloring the tile, her pajama bottoms and sluicing off of her feet. In the puddle, and sticking to her feet, were bits of what she could only think looked like flesh.
Lenore almost lost her stomach as the realization came upon her, that she was standing in a puddle of blood.
Instead she screamed.
Her parents ran in at her cries. Mom came straight for her, almost slipping in the puddle, but Dad hung back surveying the scene.
“Nor,” her mother said, trying to brace her arms on Lernore’s shoulders. But Lenore thrashed at her, unsure of why she was thrashing in the first place. “Lenore! It’s alright honey, it’s okay, you’re fine, you’re fine.” Her mother grabbed her hands and held her down, turning back toward her father. “John, a little help please?”
Father reached over her mother, careful of the pile of liquid and grabbed Lenore by her waist, pulling her up and over his shoulder.
“John!” said her mother. Lenore was sure she felt herself knock against her mother, and as her father turned, Lenore still screaming, she could see that her mother had fallen into the puddle.
Her father didn’t say anything, just carried Lenore from the kitchen to the bathroom, where he turned on the shower. Dumping his daughter inside, John took the detachable shower head and began to spay her down. Lenore sputtered as the spray hit her eyes and mouth, but she stopped screaming. The cold water streaming down on her body made her more preoccupied with shivering.
“’s too cold,” she managed to sputter old. “Dad…” The last word came out like a whine, but Lenore couldn’t help it.
John sighed, his features sagging from a blank expression, to one with a small smile. “Ok, sweet heart, warm water it is.”
He turned the hot water faucet, and for a while they stayed there like that, Father spraying the warm-hot water over Lenore’s body. Slowly Lenore came back to herself, though the knowledge of waking up in the kitchen was no less present in the forefront of her mind. She was awake enough that she realized when Mom stepped into the bathroom door frame, wearing clean jeans and a blouse instead of stained pajamas, holding a piece of Styrofoam she looked up.
“Mom,” said Lenore, “what is that?”
“It’s from the steaks we bought,” she said. “Searched high and low, but the only thing left of the steaks was that puddle you left in the kitchen.”
And then, despite the warm water, Lenore began to tremble.
“You can call out from work and email your professor,” said Dad as Lenore braided her hair at the breakfast table.
It was still wet, and normally she would have let it dry loose, but she was running late as it was on account of her morning happenings. Lenore just shook her head. “I skipped last class, so I need to go to this one. Plus, Donna’s on vacation and Lucy’s ready to pop any day now so she’s on bedrest at the hospital,” she said. “I’m the only one Cindy has to help her today.”
“What about George?” her dad asked.
“George is running a program all day today, so they need me to help run the library.” She tied off the end of her braid. “I’ll be fine, Dad. Weird things only happen to me when I sleep.”
“Maybe you just need more iron,” her mother suggested stirring cheese into a pot of grits. “When was the last time you bled?”
Her father shook his head as he raised his coffee cup to his lips and began to concentrate on the morning paper. But Lenore tossed her head back and actually gave it some thought. “I finished two weeks ago.”
“You could be early,” her mother said thoughtfully. “Johnny, how do you want your eggs?”
“Fried is fine,” he said, “over medium if you don’t mind, sugar.”
Lenore scrunched her nose. “I’m not usually early—or out of cycle at all really.”
Her mother shrugged. “First time for everything, baby. Anyway, do you want to go see Dr. Tomlinson, or wait on that one?”
She felt her shoulders go stiff. Picking up a piece of toast, she took a bite to mull over the thought of seeing her psychologist. The toast tasted like ash—no she imagined the ash might have tasted better. It was only 6:30 in the morning, and Lenore wanted nothing more to gobble down a large pile of meat. Uncooked, if she could manage. Still, she chewed to give herself some time to think, and washed it down with a large gulp of orange juice.
“I don’t know,” she said at last. “Sleep walking is one thing; seasonal affective disorder is one thing. Waking up after I ate three raw steaks? That’s another. That’s weird. Freaking out like some kind of feral animal? That’s committable.”
“We’re not going to let you be committed,” said her dad, putting down his drink. “You’re not a danger to yourself or anyone else. And if you don’t want to talk to Dr. Tomlinson we’re not going to make you, honey, but that’s what she’s there for. To help all of us figure out what’s going on and bring you a little comfort in knowing.”
“I dunno if I want to know what’s going on with me though.” Lenore finished off her glass of orange juice, the acid almost feeling like it was burning her throat as she swallowed. “I’ve got to help open. I’ll think about seeing Dr. Tomlinson, I really will, but right now I need to go to work.”
Mom said, “Well say goodbye before you go.” She opened up her arms, and Lenore walked right into them. Her mother hugged her, rubbed her back and kissed at her temple, lips sliding off Lenore’s wet hair. She did not hold on too long, or like she would never see Lenore again. Mom released her almost as soon as she had taken hold, passing her off to Dad. Dad was much the same—a quick hug, a quick kiss and then sending her on her way.
Lenore grabbed her back pack at the edge of the door and made sure her coat was buttoned before she left the house. Her bike leaned up against the standalone garage. Lenore took the helmet from its handlebars, placed it on her head and then mounted the bike with a running start.
The ride into town was nothing special—it was still a little nippy due to the hour. Once the sun came over the mountains in the east it would burn off the morning chill. Lenore passed the same trees and houses and roads that she had known her whole life. Why people insisted on moving out of their hometowns she had never understood. Maybe on a practical level she could—if there was no work, or if there was no acceptance, that she could understand. But Lenore had always felt plenty accepted and she had gotten a raise from her job at the library so she had enough to pay her community college tuition, rent to her parents and still have enough left over to spend or stick in a sock.
She did wonder if she would feel the same when she figured out what she actually wanted to do with her life.
It was a twenty minute ride to the library. Lenore made it just in time for Cindy to pull into the parking lot.
“Morning!” Cindy called, pulling a box from the local bakery, and a canvas bag out of her car.
“Good morning!” Lenore called back working a chain around her bike. “Want me to get the door?”
Cindy nodded down at her bag. “There in the pocket there if you don’t mind.”
Lenore took the keys from the bag and headed toward the staff door. She opened up the door and held it so Cindy could enter while holding her bag and the pastry box. “Is George opening with us?”
“No, he’s still getting supplies and then he’ll need to directly set up for the program.” Cindy smiled at her as they walked into the staff area together. “But I don’t think it will be too busy—it’s why we picked the program for a Thursday. What time do you need to take off for class?”
“Not ‘till around 11.” Lenore hummed. Cindy set down the box of pastries as she spoke and Lenore removed her jacket and her bag, setting them by the coat racks. They both moved out of the staff room toward the circulation desk. “I need to get there by 12, and hopefully stop for lunch along the way.”
“If I let you take my car, do you think you could stay until 11:30?”
As Lenore turned on the staff computers, she thought on this for a second. She didn’t drive all that much—most places around town she could get to in a timely manner and so took her bike. It didn’t make sense to have a car when they didn’t have room for it at home. But she judged the distance between the library and the shops and then the college. “Maybe,” she said at last. “Do you think we can play it by ear and see what the crowd is like?”
Cindy nodded. “I was just thinking that 11:30 is around the time when the crowd slows down, so I would like to keep you as long as I can—at least until then.”
They printed off the list of books on hold by their patrons—one blessedly short and easy to find. Lenore worked through 4 pages by herself in about half an hour. Cindy had taken a little longer, but in all fairness she was working on the children’s books. The short shelves made it difficult for anyone to find anything, which was why the parents mostly put them on hold anyway.
As many books as they could find pulled and left for the morning volunteer to call and then put on the pickup shelves, Cindy and Lenore began checking in the books from the full book drop. They didn’t quite finish the pile by the time they had to open, but they were nearly ready. Thankfully, they had called two extra volunteers to help shelve the books (one of Lenore’s and Donna’s regular duties), so Lenore didn’t feel so bad about staying up at the desk.
The morning went as usual—their regulars came in and out to use the computers or to grab their holds. A couple of college students came in with the intent to study, and a few only with the intent to annoy the staff. One boy, wearing a team jacket of some sort, passed Lenore a copy of The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, who quoted at her, “And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, ‘Lenore?’ This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, ‘Lenore!’—Merely this, and nothing more.”
Lenore blinked and fought the urge to sneer. Keeping her face blank, she replied in the most even tone of voice she could manage, “You are the first person to ever quote this poem to me. Truly, you have a great wit. Anything else I can help you with today?”
The boy frowned. “Whatever,” he said, leaving The Complete Works, and walking toward his friends at the door.
Lenore checked the book back in and placed it on the shelving cart. Then, she tossed her name tag over her shoulder as she often did when people annoyed her about her name. In truth, she had never told anyone that she was actually named after the poem, because her hair was as dark as a raven’s feathers when she was born. Thankfully, her parents had had the presence of mind not to name her Snow White, for which Lenore was ever grateful. Especially since her skin only seemed to grow darker with age.
“Don’t let them bug you,” Cindy counseled. “They’re just silly kids.”
“I’m a silly kid,” said Lenore, wrinkling her nose. “And I have never once behaved thus.”
Cindy giggled a little. “Nor, I’ve known you since you started working here at sixteen—that’s what three years?”
“I’ve known you almost four years,” said Cindy, with a nod. “And you may still be a kid, but you’ve never been silly. You’ve always had a weight on your shoulder.”
Lenore gave a little smile. “Better than a chip I guess.”
The morning volunteers finished all the shelving and waited around until Lenore left for class. Even with George’s program the flow of traffic was a little light for a Thursday. Still, Lenore stuck around until 11:30 when they could be sure that most of their patrons would head out to have lunch—which was not allowed in the library.
Promptly at 11:30, Cindy handed over her keys, and Lenore left her name badge on the staff counter. It was almost a treat to drive through town, because it was so rare. The family had one car, and most places Lenore went in it, she was with her mother or father. She stopped off quickly at a sandwich shop near the college where her friend Mia worked and had something ready for her in exchange for $7.
“Movie night tonight?” Mia asked as she handed Lenore her bag.
Lenore paused, feeling the brown paper crinkle under the grasp of her fist. “Maybe,” she said. She focused on wrinkling her brow, and sticking her tongue out between her lips as she pretended to go over her mental calendar. “I have homework, as usual, but I think Mom and Dad may want to hang out with me tonight.”
“Text me and let me know,” she said. “It’s been forever.”
“Mia, we see each other every day.” Lenore rolled her eyes, with no effort at all.
“But for like five minutes each day.” Mia whined, drawing out her vowels. “Come on. Let’s watch a weird mix of Disney movies and action movies and talk about members of the same and opposite sex we would like to date. Please, Norry?”
Lenore rolled her eyes again, but smiled. “I’ll see what I can do. If not tonight, then tomorrow. I don’t close, and I if I hang with my parents tonight, they’ll go for a date night tomorrow.”
“Make it so, Number One!” Mia flicked her nose and then waved. “Now go get smart and shit.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” said Lenore.
Despite having a car, she was almost late. For one thing, it was more difficult to find a place to park a car than a bike, and Lenore had always been bad at parking. On her fourth attempt of backing out and pulling back in, Lenore left the car crooked and then jogged off to her class. She made it with five minutes to spare, in which she gobbled down her sandwich, much to the envy of some of her fellows who wondered in that moment why the hell they took a class at noon.
“Afternoon, everyone!” Professor Clay entered the room with a big grin on his face holding a large cardboard box. “I’ve tallied all of your votes, and I have here hard copies of your reading material for our last book of the semester!”
Lenore, chewing on the last bites of her sandwich, swallowed and turned to the person at the desk next to her. “I skipped last class, what’s he talking about?”
“It’s a part of the whole literature throughout the ages theme,” said the guy next to her, Kaden, she thought—there was also a Camden in the class and they looked alike, so she tended to get them confused. “Since we’ve been reading the ‘high art’ and ‘low art’ of each era, Clay had us vote on works of fiction published online, which is considered by the mainstream the lowest form of written work for this era. We’re going to read it against the Pulitzer prize winner for last year, and I’ve already forgotten what that was.”
Lenore had no idea what had won last year’s Pulitzer either. “So what did you vote for?”
Kaden—she was almost positive this was Kaden—grinned at her. “Mother f’in dragons.”
“That tells me very little,” she replied.
“If it’s not the one that won, I’ll email you a link to the story,” said Kaden. “I read the whole thing instead of doing my science lab. It was amazing.”
As it turned out, Kaden didn’t need to link her to anything—the Dragon story had won the vote as evidence by his loud whoop when Clay came around and let them pick their copy of the book out of his box. All in all, the copies were the same—they were all printed on 8.5” x 11” paper, bound with spiral—except the cardstock covers were all different neon colors. Lenore got a copy with a neon green cover.
“Alright,” said Clay when everyone had a copy. “Let’s open up and read the first couple pages together and see what we can discuss. We’ll be reading these two books concurrently, and you can see reading assignments for the next two weeks in the syllabus, but now is when I really want to discuss why low art is considered low art. So, when you have something you want to say, let’s say it.”
They took turns reading out of a story called The Envy of Eden by theNeverEndingPerth. If he didn’t feel like they were discussing enough, Professor Clay would stop them and ask questions. “What do you notice that’s similar and different about this opening chapter than from the other works we’ve read? Do you think the author has had any formal training on writing? Where do you think the story is going?”
Eventually the class broke down into an all-out argument over whether the story was actually going to be good or not. Clay sat back, a giant grin on his face, watching the calamity he had caused in the name of good discussion. Lenore simply read ahead while everyone went after each other, bringing up examples of past stories they had read. She had to admit that Kaden, if he was Kaden, was right. The story about Dragons and Humans interacting for the first time was indeed an interesting read.
Class ended swiftly enough, with Clay reminding them about their term paper which was to be due soon and needed to be at least seven pages, and Lenore rushed back to Cindy’s car. Getting back to the library was a shorter trip. Lenore arrived back at the desk just as a rush came through. The day flew by from there. George ended his program at five, and at 6:30 they closed the library early (much to the dismay of some college students, who had come around to bug them again).
“It’ll be easier tomorrow when we close normally at five, and George can be back on the desk to spell the two of us,” Cindy told her as they walked out to the parking lot.
“It’ll be easier when Donna comes back, next week,” said Lenore, unlocking her bike.
Cindy shrugged. “That’s true too.”
Lenore turned on the flashing doo-dads she had on her bike and a small lantern she had on the front of her bike—it was early summer that was true, but the sun still set at six and it was dark now. “I’ll see you later,” she said, climbing aboard and buckling her helmet.
Though the ride home was dark, it was no colder than the ride that morning had been which Lenore was grateful for. She began composing a list of all the things she had to do. Text Mia, talk to parents, work out some homework—she didn’t have classes until Monday but still—eat something.
Her stomach grumbled, and Lenore realized that she hadn’t had anything to eat since her noontime sandwich. She broke from her revere when she heard a growl out on the road before her. Stopping her bike, Lenore looked out onto the road where a fox was crouched over a rabbit. It growled again at her, moving its body over its prey so that Lenore couldn’t see it.
And Lenore couldn’t see it.
But she could definitely smell it.
Lenore pulled one foot over the saddle of her bike, as slow as she could so that the fox wouldn’t care to notice what she was doing. The animal still had eyes on her, but had stopped growling. Lenore met the fox’s eyes as she placed her foot next to the other, and began bending to place her bike on the ground. Her eyes focused on just the fox, and its unblinking, black eyes. She kept staring, because she knew the moment that she stopped, the moment she looked away, the fox would—
A ringing echoed across the empty road. The fox broke eye contact first, to look down at Lenore’s finger, which had shifted across her handlebar enough that she had run the bike’s bell. Lenore followed the fox’s gaze and when she looked up she saw the animal bolting down from the road into a grassy field toward the mountain caves. Lenore cursed her loose grip, dropped the bike and began running after the animal.
She almost lost her footing as she slid down off of the road’s bank. But at the bottom she regained her stride with a little leap and took off running. The muscles of her thighs pumped as she had never felt them work before. Her feet knew where to step to avoid snake holes. Her eyes could see the fox even in the dark, its orange fur, almost standing out against the greening grass of the early summer.
Lenore felt, as her heart beat fast to keep up with her legs, a thrill rush through her as she chased the fox. Several times, she felt she became close enough to pounce, but she left it to run ahead of her a few paces and then continue again. Her lungs heaved a little against the thin, mountain air, but Lenore kept running. She kept running. She spotted the fox running for a burrow, and knew this was her chance.
She leapt on the animal, hearing the fox squeak as she grabbed it around the middle. It dropped the rabbit and began thrashing against her. With her free hand, Lenore grabbed the rabbit, and then set the fox on the ground. It scurried away, as fast as it could. Still panting, Lenore let it go.
She had what she wanted. She had the rabbit.
Lenore looked to where she held the held the rabbit in her hand. Blood gushed out of her palm, and she could feel the disconnected bones squirming around in the slippery mass underneath the rabbit’s skin. She dropped it, the body falling to the ground with a squelching thud.
The rabbit’s blood ran over her skin differently than the bloody steak juice had. It was thicker, and refused to separate from her hand when she began to shake it. Lenore tried to shake free of the blood staining her, she tried to restrain the part of her brain that urged her to lick her hand. Her hand went back and forth for a moment, almost with a mind of its own as she reached down to wipe it on her jeans, but then thought better of it. But if not there, where? If not her pants, what could she wipe it on?
If she wiped on her pants, how would she get it out before her parents saw?
Lenore looked around for a tree or a shrub or something with leaves that she could wipe her hand on. She spotted a yucca plant near the side of a rock face and bolted for it. The long sturdy leaves took most of the blood off of her hand, even if it did almost feel like she was giving herself some tiny paper cuts. She wiped at her face with her clean hand as she slid the yucca leaves through her dirty one.
Cleaning the blood, even with something to wipe it on, was a slow business. She started having to spit into her hand to get out stuff that has started to dry or was too spread out to be wiped any further.
When she felt like she was almost clean enough to return for her bike, and ride home as quickly as possible, that was when Lenore saw the fire.
It appeared as a light on a cave wall, some ten feet from her, for only an instant and then disappeared. Lenore thought, for a moment, that she must be hallucinating lights now. Given the circumstance, it did not seem impossible. But still she moved forward, rationalizing to herself. If there was a fire, she would need to tell Mom, so that Mom could tell dispatch, so they didn’t end up with a forest fire. But if she were hallucinating, then there was no fire, then it couldn’t hurt to check on the fire
Lenore stood in front of the cave. The dark stared back at her. Then, a flame spurt. It came from its point of origin at an awkward angle, hitting the wall and then curling around the top of the cave, making a circle. The fire created a singular moment of light that illuminated a creature lying on its belly in the cave, bright, red eyes shining in Lenore’s direction.
She stumbled back, not because she was afraid of the fire, or even because the eyes kept staring at her after the fire had died. Lenore felt the breath catch in her throat and her heart stop. In the cave, blowing fire from its mouth, lay a dragon.
The red eyes staid locked on her. Lenore felt, much like with the fox, that she could not remove her gaze from that of the dragon’s. She thought that if she kept her eyes locked on the dragon’s then it would not come after her. Or at least she could get far enough away that she could give herself a good running start. The beast looked much too large to simply shimmy from the mouth of the cave. And if it were a hallucination it did not matter, but if it were, Lenore did not want to die like this. It would be as if she had disappeared, and her parents would never know the reason for it.
The ground rumbled, and she knew that it had taken a step. The tension broken, her will for small, measured steps went with it. Lenore turned tail and ran.
As she ran, a voice echoed out of the cave saying, “Anazinera! Anazinera!”
Lenore knew now that the dragon must be in her own head—though it did not stop her from running—for what dragon could speak? And even as it spoke the strange word, “Anazinera,” at her retreating form, she heard the world over it and separately and with it, “Starchild, Starchild.”
The words beat in her ears long after the beat of her pulse should have drowned them out. She ran out blindly in the dark, whatever ability that had let her chase the fox was long gone now. Even as the lights came into her vision, the light of her bike, she could barely make herself slow down, because the words still echoed in her ears.
“Hey!” called down an officer from beside her squad truck. It did take Lenore a moment, but thanks to the light from the truck, she could read the writing on the side that announced to the world that this person was a deputy. “Who’s out there?”
Lenore swallowed, trying to find her voice, trying not to repeat the strange word echoing in her ears. “It’s Lenore Jenkins,” she said, as she finally slowed to a walk. She felt the weight of her backpack for the first time since she ran off the road. Her helmet slipped around and knocked her on the head, and hair stuck by sweat to her forehead.
“Norry?” the officer called out. Lenore recognized her voice as that of Karen Carter who had gone to high school with her mom. They still say a lot of each other, since mom was a fire fighter and Karen was a deputy with the sheriff’s department. “What the hell are you doing out there at this time of night?”
Lenore didn’t have an answer at first. Finally she said, “I lost something, off the road as I was riding along. It got tossed out a little further than I expected. Then I got a little turned around in the dark, but I saw you pull up. And there’s my bike.”
She was close enough now that she could see Karen nod at her. “It’d do to keep your bag zipped up tight, and next time take your bike off the road. I could ticket you, you know? Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Eh, yep,” said Lenore. She bent to pick up her bike.
“You alright honey?” Karen asked.
“Been a long day,” said Lenore. “The hike just tired me out even more.”
“Well, hand me your bike, and I’ll put it in the bed. Hop up front, and I’ll drive you home.”
Lenore passed the bike off to Karen, then climbed into the passenger seat of the truck. She rested her elbow on the window sill and her face on her hand. The ride home was quiet except for Karen reminding her to buckle her seatbelt. When they arrived at her house, Lenore helped Karen take the bike down from the truck bed, parked it in the garage and finally remembered to take off her helmet. Karen followed her inside, where her father was sitting with a cup of tea at his desk in the living room.
“Evening Karen,” he said. “You alright, Nor?”
“M’fine,” she said. “I’m just tired. Thank you for the ride, Karen,” she said turning back to the police officer.
“Hey anytime,” said Karen. “I mean that. Anytime it’s dark and you’re feeling a little out of it, call, and I’ll come take you home.” Karen reached out to hug her, and Lenore accepted the gesture, though she had never felt less like being touched in her life. Karen pulled back and held her by her shoulders. “You go get cleaned up and get some rest alright?”
“Yes’m.” Lenore stepped away from Karen, and found that her father was up out of his chair and in front of her. He didn’t try to hug her, but kissed her forehead and sent her on her way. Neither of them said anything until she was in her room, but Lenore could still here them talking. No doubt, Karen was telling dad about the cock and bull storyLenore had made up. She blocked it all out. The trouble came from when she blocked out the noise around her she could still hear that voice calling out “Starchild, Starchild.”
She fell onto the bed, bloody hands and all, and passed out.