Today, as a Mother’s Day gift to myself, I decided to set aside fear and doubt and begin to show my baby to the world. I am posting the opening chapter of the Sleepwalker Chronicles, my first paranormal YA novel I am planning to publish at the end of this year. This is still work in progress, so bear with me.
So, here it comes. Phew!
The fire flickered on Elizabeth’s face. In some other time, she would have enjoyed the warmth cast by the flames, but not tonight. She stood on the sidewalk, lost and confused as the blaze swallowed her home. Her bare feet melted the snow beneath her. She shivered and gazed up at the burning house, now almost gone.
Looking around desperately, she realized she was the only one there.
“Mom? Dad?” she whispered, her throat suddenly tight.
Only wearing her pajamas, she felt as alone in the world as a sixteen-year-old could. She shivered uncontrollably, even though the fire made it feel like summertime in the middle of December. She wanted to run into the house, but her feet wouldn’t move. A wave of shock and realization slowly rolled over her mind – and then it went dark.
Elizabeth opened her eyes to see white walls, curtains, balloons. It didn’t look like her house, and she was sure it wasn’t anyone’s birthday. Her house… Her house… A painful memory sharply stung her heart. The fire flashed before her eyes and made her jump up in bed. “No!” she screamed before she could stop herself.
People in scrubs rushed into the room. Elizabeth screamed and thrashed around, unable to control herself. Unbearable grief threatened to explode inside her. Some nurses pushed her down, while others tried to re-connect the IV line she yanked out. Blood spilled onto the white sheets. Finally, another nurse ran into the room with a needle in her hand; Elizabeth felt like she didn’t care anymore. The world became hazy, muted and heavy. She closed her eyes and let the dream take over without a fight.
A buzzing noise came from somewhere. It grew increasingly loud and impossible to brush away. What is it? Why can’t they just leave me alone?
She wasn’t particularly sure who they were, but she wanted that annoying sound to stop. She considered opening her eyes, but something was telling her not to. Why? What is so wrong with opening my eyes? Her thoughts were slow and groggy. She wondered about that, too. She couldn’t recall anything, and her head felt empty and void of any information. Weird. What is the matter with me?
The buzzing noise persisted, throwing off her train of thought. It grew louder, then quieter, even stopping for a second before resuming. What a strange buzzing, it must be an annoying fly or a bee… I hope I don’t have an allergy to bees, or I would end up in a hospital…
Her eyes flew open. Now she knew where she was and why she was there: in the hospital. Her home burned down, her family was gone, and Christmas by the fireplace would never be the same again. It was her dad’s idea to finally light up the fireplace. It was never used for as long as she could remember, but this winter was so cold and the Christmas dinner so wonderful, it made them feel like celebrating as never before. They fell asleep in front of the warm, crackling logs.
Despite the usual sleepwalking jokes, Elizabeth didn’t walk into the fireplace in her sleep. Instead she wandered outside and eventually woke up when she got cold enough. She remembered thinking, “Funny, I’m cold and I can still feel the warmth of the fire…” When she opened her eyes she saw that she was standing barefoot in the snow in front of her burning house.
She heard a gasp; the buzzing stopped. She blinked her eyes and realized she had been staring into a blank space. Her best friend, Molly, was sitting by her bedside, hand to her mouth. The source of the gasp. “Liz, you’re awake!” she jumped to give a big hug. “I was talking to you all this time; I was hoping it would bring you back from the coma!”
Her high-pitched voice escalated by the second.
“Thank you, I heard you, you did bring me back, Molls… Wait, coma?! How long was I in coma? What year is it?”
“Settle down, it was more of a drug-induced coma and you were asleep for four days. You were kind of going crazy after you got here and they were concerned that your brain was having an overload.” Molly was visibly proud of her newfound medical expertise.
“Oh, Molls, I’m so glad you here. I felt like I was all alone in the whole world. I am alone. Mom and dad are gone… And I’m alive. All because of the stupid sleepwalking.” Elizabeth’s voice began to race, trying to keep up with images in her mind. “Why? Why didn’t I die too? I don’t want to be alive like this. Why did they have to die? What if I tripped the fire? I was sleepwalking again, maybe I bumped into something and it got the house fire started? What if it was me? I can’t live like this!”
Tears poured down her face. Long sobs shook her body.
Molly tried to wipe the tears from Elizabeth’s face. “Calm down, are you crazy? Don’t say things like that. It was an accident, things just happen. And I’m happy that you were sleepwalking, it saved your life! You are not all alone in the world, you have me. You can stay at my house for as long as you want.”
“Molls, you have no proof that I’m not the reason for this fire. And I love you like a sister, but I can’t just invade your house. What will happen to me now? What if they put me into a foster home or something?”
There were footsteps at the door. Both girls flinched. A tall doctor stood in a doorway, accompanied by a short, peppy-looking woman.
“Hello, Miss Hawthorne,” he said, “I am Doctor Mena, the staff physician on this floor. I have been keeping an eye on you these past few days.” His tone was a nice warm baritone. “This is Mrs. Talbot, she is with Social Services.” He waved to the woman by his side.
“Social Services? No, I don’t want to go into a foster home, please, no…” Elizabeth felt overwhelming helplessness and panic.
Doctor Mena looked as if he was about to jump to her side to administer another dose of “medically-induced coma”, but Mrs. Talbot extended her arm to hold him back.
“Oh no, darling, please calm down.” Her voice was surprisingly pleasant. “We have located your extended family; you will be moving in with them.”
“An extended family? Where? I have never heard of any other relatives. Everyone I knew of still lives in Europe. I have never seen them.” Elizabeth looked at Molly who was equally puzzled.
“Apparently, you had an aunt on your mother’s side, don’t ask me how many times removed, but I think at least three. Her name is Adelle Evans and she lives in Sweet Home, Oregon.”
“Oregon? Are you sure she is related to me?”
“Yes, darling, we do our job well. We wouldn’t just give you to a stranger. Our agents checked everything thoroughly. She is your relative without a doubt. It appears your family separated after arriving here many years ago for an unknown reason and lost touch with each other. Apparently, she’s been trying to locate the relatives for the past several years and she just recently found you. Unfortunately, the first news she heard was about what happened to your parents.”
“Does she know that I’m coming to live with her?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, we got in touch with her a couple days ago. She was delighted that the family will be reunited at last. It seems that at one point, your side of the family changed their last name to Simmons, you mother’s maiden name, and it became hard for your aunt to locate anyone, since the family name is Evans.”
“So my name is really Elizabeth Evans?”
She liked the taste of it on her tongue, but she tried to brush that feeling off. Her dad, William Hawthorne, wouldn’t be happy with her throwing away his name. “Why would have they change it?”
“Really, I don’t know, dear, that’s all an old family history. I guess it will be for you to find out.” Mrs. Talbot began to regret divulging so much information. “And speaking of which, as soon as Doctor Mena says you are good to go, we will arrange for your travel to your new home.”
Elizabeth sat quiet, trying to digest all that she just heard.
“I think we should give her a few minutes,” said Doctor Mena. He and Mrs. Talbot left the room.
Elizabeth turned to Molly. “I can’t believe I will be moving, all the way to Oregon! I don’t know anyone there, even my aunt. I hope she really is my aunt. And what am I even saying? My mom, my dad, they are dead, and for all I know I caused the fire, and here I’m talking about moving! What am I going to do, Molls?”
“You can’t be thinking that way, Liz, you just can’t. You didn’t cause the fire; it was just an accident, a horrible accident. Maybe in some crazy way it was meant for you to find that lost family of yours. I’ll miss you so much, but you need to take care of yourself, you’ll be better away from here.”
Molly tried her best to quickly wipe a stray tear and threw her hands around Elizabeth. They sat there, motionless, for what seemed like an eternity.
At last, they pulled apart. “Oh, God, it just dawned on me.” Elizabeth closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I need to pack and decide what to bring with me. I don’t know how much different the weather is there, and I’ll be starting a new school term; that’s a challenge in itself. I don’t even know if I can fit everything I need into my polka-dot luggage, or should I just use the old brown luggage, it’s way bigger…”
She stopped mid-breath when she noticed a wild look on Molly’s face. “What?”
“Ummm… Your luggage is …. ummm…”
“It’s all gone, they are all gone, and I’m rumbling about packing and polka dots like an idiot!” Elizabeth hugged her knees and buried her face. Her body shook as she cried silently.
“Liz, you’re not forgetting about your parents or anything, you need to think about your future. You just have to! I’ll give you my luggage and my stuff to wear. It will be something you can remember me by… And when you get there, you can get something new, whatever the kids there are into. It’s going to be ok. You’ll be ok.”
Elizabeth raised her face, her eyes red and wet, and silently nodded to her best friend.
“I will be ok, won’t I?”