In a new effort for promotion, I am offering up the first three chapters of my novella, I of the Storm, out of a total of nine chapters. Today, I'll share chapter 1, tomorrow, chapter 2, and chapter 3 on Sunday. It's still $.99 on Amazon.com (Kindle - see the link on your left), so I encourge folks to give me a read.
I've been pondering some ways of getting exposure for indie authors, at least locally. Joining that publishing group has inspired me. I am on a mission to find more groups and encourage more activities for us around town to showcase our work. The world is a big enough place for there never to be too many stories to tell. I'm sad that so many people are missing out on really good reads by not giving the indie writers a chance. There's some serious talent out there! I've seen it, so I know! I edit their books and do reviews for a reason, so that I won't be of those who are missing out.
The crackling of thunder always makes me quiver. I don’t mind the spatter of raindrops so much, but the thunder … terrifying.
I suppose being struck by lightning as a kid makes one develop an unprecedented fear of thunderstorms. To this day, I feel my skin on fire every time I hear that sonic boom or see that burning streak across the sky. To make it worse, it happened on my 11th birthday, April Fools’ Day, 1993. I was playing in the rain just outside our house, indulging in my fascination with the sky. The unnerving irony was that my parents surprised me with a fancy telescope I’d been eyeing for the longest time, and I was wearing the cloud and lightning bolt pendant my grandmother had just put around my neck. This one was shaping up to be my best birthday ever.
Until then, I relished the sound of thunder and rain. I read countless books about weather and wrote poems about the sky and nature. I used to spend hours lying in the grass, staring up at the clouds, daydreaming about life and of all the things I wanted to do. We had a weeping willow tree in our yard, and my dad set up a small table and some chairs in its shade so I could have my own little haven. It was a special spot where I loved to spend time with nature, my favorite books and Grandma Edan. She came to live with us when I was 2 years old, shortly after grandpa died. No one knew me better than Grandma Edan, a 77-year-old belle from Malaysia, and my very best friend. That weeping willow was the sole witness to all our shared secrets, laughter and exclusive tea parties.
To the left of our house was an open field, a common sight in Clear Lake, Texas. I ran out into the freshly-cut grass, raised my arms up to the heavens and closed my eyes to feel the raindrops on my face. It was the first April shower of the year, a Divine birthday gift. I was so in love with the sky.
My beautiful new pendant from Grandma Edan became an invitation for the fiery sword that jabbed me from my beloved sky and set me ablaze in a split second. All I remember of the moment was a sudden flash and the immediate absence of sound. I still have nightmares about the suffering I had endured from the burns. I was out cold for three days in the hospital, and my hearing came back eventually, to my good fortune. I do recall some incredibly vivid dreams I had of flying through the cosmos with Grandma Edan, laughing and lounging as though we were free from the constraints of time and life in general. I saw planets and moons, shooting stars and translucent figures that floated around us like soulful clouds. I woke up clueless to my surroundings until my parents’ loving faces welcomed me back to a harsh reality. They nearly lost their only child to a lightning bolt.
The scalding hot pendant branded my skin during the lightning strike. This cloud and lightning bolt scar right beneath my left collar bone is all I have left of Grandma Edan. A massive heart attack claimed her life on my second day of unconsciousness. She died of a broken heart, as it became known in our family. Her last words to my mom were, “My fault ...” Her death left an unimaginable void in my life. Mom still crumbles whenever she’s reminded of that time. Her mother was her very best friend, too.
I never forgave mom for throwing the remnants of that pendant into the Gulf of Mexico as a ritualistic means of warding off the evil for which she blamed it. It was mine, after all. Grandma Edan wanted me to have it.
“Whether good or bad, every experience in life has a purpose.” Crafted to survive a lifetime, that simple phrase was a remedy Grandma Edan often gave my bruised ego in times of adversity.
“Whenever something unpleasant happens to you, my love, just say those words and know that whatever happened wasn’t in vain. It’s God’s way of communicating with us and leading us where we were meant to go. Think of it as guidance. It doesn’t always seem that way, but He can’t just come down and speak to us directly, can he? That’s obviously not His plan. So don’t fret too much. Just remember to be strong and move on with a smile because life is a gift, and we must never take it for granted,” she preached.
Even though she was far gone, her words still served me graciously. She gave me the power to understand and accept the mysteriousness behind most of my life’s tribulations. All I had to do was remember what she taught me, and, suddenly, the situation didn’t seem so unbearable. “Whether good or bad, every experience in life has a purpose.” I believed in that wholeheartedly. Even if the wind blew my hat off or I tripped and fell, I imagined all the possible reasons for this happening to me. Maybe the hat would have given me a headache. Perhaps my fall was to teach me to be more aware of my surroundings.
Several months after my recovery from the accident, I opened the front door to get the newspaper for dad, and a spider web startled me as it glistened in the sunlight right in front of my face. I nearly walked right into it. I saw it just in time and stood mystified at how it sat perfectly centered across the doorway. I wrote a poem to describe its purpose and smiled to myself, knowing Grandma Edan would be proud that I was putting her philosophy to good use.
I saw a spider web in my door, so beautifully designed.
It prevented me from passing through, sitting perfectly aligned.
The spider chose my doorway, fencing me safe inside.
The spider guards my doorway, encouraging me to hide.
I’ll stay behind.
I’ll stay behind.
Maybe it came to shield me from a world exceedingly unkind.
Thirteen years later ... Another humdrum Saturday on the couch, just me and my belly. A tiny kick against my ribs reminded me I wasn’t alone. The pain was getting steadily worse that day.
“Hang in there, kiddo, just two more months to go. I don’t know why you’re in such a hurry to see this unpleasant world. In case you’re wondering, today is April Fools’ Day, 2006, and mommy turns 24. Let’s hope for no mishaps this year, okay,” I whispered to my belly.
My life had been a dreary one. I missed Grandma Edan the most on my birthday, the anniversary of the last day I had spent with her. My 24th birthday marked exactly 4,749 days since I’d learned of her death. As a tribute, I kept a close count of the days since she left me. Her death was my first real sense of loss in life, something I eventually had to get used to. This baby was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. If I had only known that I would never get to see my daughter’s blinking eyes or feel the warmth of her skin for one second, I would have gratefully embraced the agony of this pregnancy as the only real time I would ever have with her.
I groaned at the pain in my mid-section and at the thunderstorm that was rattling the windows ... and my nerves. I turned on the TV as a hopeful distraction to both. The local news was all I ever watched, despite it being saturated with stories about murder, mayhem and an occasional pet rescue. At least it wasn’t fictitious. The news program was my only true connection with the outside world besides my less-than-thrilling excursions to the grocery store every Friday afternoon. I didn’t care for sitcoms and movies too much, because they gave me a false sense of the world. The TV news anchors were a nice taste of glamour and truth in one bite. They were always so charming, and I liked the way they dressed like soap opera stars, all made up, every hair in place and faces looking airbrushed. I was tickled at how they would portray a story, not only with their script, but with their changing octaves and exaggerated facial expressions. Even if the story was about one leaf that had fallen from a tree, they would make it sound like the story of the century.
I noticed a new anchor on the weekend news cast and how uncannily she resembled me. A more glitzy version of me, but she resembled me nonetheless. I envied her vibrancy and the way her dark, silky hair flowed across her perfectly-chiseled shoulders. I stared at her jealously and imagined myself in her shoes, sitting in front of the cameras, telling the story of the world to the world. I wondered if she was as glamorous off camera and whether or not she was happy in real life. Given the state of my own life, I couldn’t shake the curiosity I had about everyone else’s level of contentment. I would always look deeply into people’s eyes and attempt to figure out, by their mannerisms and expressions, if they harbored pain like mine beneath their smiles. When I noticed couples holding hands, I wondered if they were as much in love behind closed doors as they appeared in public.
“I really wish we could trade places, Ms. Trudy,” I said to my look-alike on the TV screen before turning it back off.
The storm had subsided, and I proceeded to lie flat on my back on the couch to do what I did best. Daydream. It was a far cry from my days as a kid, lying in the open fields, staring up at the sky. Now, the grass was this tattered, brown couch. The sky was my living room ceiling, and the clouds were those pesky cobwebs too high for me to swoop at with the broom. My love for nature was forever marred by the accident. I was left with plenty of scars to remind me of what the sky had done to me. It didn’t return the love I’d given it. Such became the story of my life, a trend I had hoped would change with motherhood. A baby would surely return my love. Babies know nothing of evil, so innocent and unprejudiced. She wasn’t even born yet, and I had already started wishing that she could remain a baby forever. The irony of that wish turned out to be ever so daunting.
I was more entertained by my bare pregnant belly than anything else. The way my skin would rise and fall every time she squirmed reminded me of something out of a science-fiction movie. It was awkward, and I’d spend hours staring at it. This incubation state was so dreadfully uncomfortable. I hated that I was unable to see certain parts of my own body without the aid of a handheld mirror. My favorite fried foods became mortal enemies. It was impossible to sit ladylike, and I cried every time I had to stuff my inflated feet into shoes.
There’s something else … I see things. Ever since this life spawned inside me, I’ve been different. I see things. Things I’d never seen before. It was different from the hallucinations I remembered having after the lightning accident as a child. This was more real, because it happened both while I was awake and in dreams. Sometimes I’d see shadows with no source. I’d nod and smile at friendly strangers, and in one blink, they’d vanish. The other day, I was drawn to the phone a few seconds before it rang. In my dreams, I often visit people who’ve been long gone from this world, and I end up in the most exotic places. The living visit me in dreamland as well, but they’re not as intriguing as the dead.
I spent an evening on what appeared to be another planet with Grandma Edan one night. We sat at a black marble table that was planted firmly on a gray-sand beach. I enjoyed the rippling sound of the murky, blue water in the distance. Above us, a dark sky was illuminated by twinkling stars. We talked as if no time had lapsed since our last encounter under the shade of the weeping willow. I felt so comfortable for a change, and it was nice to see her precious face again after 13 years.
Grandma Edan was so excited about my pregnancy. She held both my hands in hers just like when I was little and explained that we were able to meet again because of this new baby inside me. She said the unborn still had a connection to the other side since they had not yet breathed the air of the living. She told me that an unborn baby is a very powerful force, and some are capable of connecting the mother to what was beyond the human dominion.
“You were never the same after your accident, my darling. You joined the other side for a while. I saw you when I passed. We spoke then, too. And now, here you are with me once again, led by this new soul you’re transporting. You’re very gifted, Kira, and I don’t think you even realize it yet. The human mind has unimaginable potential and … every now and then, certain people can … well,” She stopped talking and looked upward.
“Grandma? Can what? Certain people can what?” I asked her eagerly. But there she went. In a whirlwind, she was gone, and I found myself wide awake, sitting upright in my bed, reaching out in front of me. I always woke up sweating after these dreams and to no avail. They left me confused and slightly provoked. The dreams were always incomplete, like a mystery that was begging to be solved.
My grandmother was right. This child. This living thing I was nurturing inside me. Since the moment our souls became embodied as one, I’ve been different. This child of mine was definitely extraordinary. Everything Grandma Edan said had a ring of truth. It’s like a door in my mind was opened 13 years ago, and something was picking up where that event had left off. My daughter. What was she trying to tell me?
Dr. Hasan assured me this was nothing more than mild hallucinations, common during pregnancy, especially since I was in preterm labor and under a tremendous amount of physical and emotional stress. His frivolous lecture on the issue wasn’t very comforting, and it made me feel crazy. I never mentioned my visions to anyone again, not even my husband. As the old saying goes, “Some things are better left unsaid.”
* * *
Thanks for reading! Come back tomorrow evening for the release of Chapter 2!