When putting together a manuscript, there’s always a weird sort of limbo in between the “word vomit” writing phase and the editing phase. Much of that might be because the editing phase is no fun at all, and I’m the world’s worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) procrastinator. I’ve also recently decided that binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix is way higher of a priority than almost anything else. Luckily, the first step to curing a Netflix addiction is admitting you have a problem.
These last few months, I’ve been working on a YA dystopian project that I’ve been affectionately calling The Second Death. What started as a sci-fi short story assignment in graduate school has slowly unraveled into an apocalyptic saga, complete with all the necessary workings of teen angst. There’s also lots of zombies, but only because my husband has been demanding I write a book about zombies for nearly three years.
All the storyboarding is done, everything is written down and organized, and I’ve done all the editing I can possibly do on my own before all the words start blurring together. Luckily, I’m surrounded by an awesome group of friends and family who are willing to read the occasionally nonsensical first and second drafts that I put together.
I’ve been getting some really cool opportunities lately when it comes to the crazy world of publishing, and I couldn’t be more thankful for all the lucky breaks that seem to keep happening. Keep your fingers and toes crossed, and maybe we’ll see The Second Death gracing bookshelves sometime in the next year or so. I’m working hard to get Shea’s story looking its very best in time for the annual Writer’s Digest Conference this summer, where I’m hoping to use the much needed face-time to network, network, network my nerdy little butt off.
In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the apocalyptic world of Shea Parker and Jack Casey. It includes a dream sequence, because I love the dream sequences.
Happy reading, everyone! Thanks for sticking with me.
I am standing on a beach.
The sun is gone from the sky. Overhead, a blank white slate of hanging ether stretches endlessly in either direction. A chill cleaves to the air, blanketing my skin in a layer of frost. My eyelashes cling together with splintering crystals of ice. The tide is coming in, and I can hear the angry roar of the sea at my back. I feel a pressing sense of urgency—a need to run—but my legs are buried in the sand up to my knees and I can’t pry them loose. Several yards ahead of me, Lex lies on her back, unmoving. Her body is encased in a visible layer of crystalline snow. Her lips, pale and blue, open and close like a fish. Her eyes are milky white. Slowly, her skin cracking into pieces, she turns her head to look at me. I cry out, but my voice is stolen from me in a gust of wind.
The voice is Miriam’s. I glance over my shoulder, trying desperately to locate her. She is far behind me, standing on a sandbar out in the middle of the sea. She is young—as young as she looks in the pictures hidden beneath her bed. Richard is next to her. They are beaming, each of them, their faces ruddy with joy. She holds out her hand to me, showing me a ring on her finger.
“We’re getting married, Shea!”
Her laugh is as clear as bells. I hear a low snarl from the direction of the beach and I turn around just as Lex lunges at me. She draws to a stop inches from my face. Her breath is as cold as ice. The hollows beneath her brows are empty and dark and I realize she is holding her eyes in the palms of her hand.
“You did this to me,” she whispers. “You stupid, stupid Rat.”
She is shattering like glass, then, pieces of her flaking away upon the wind. I watch as dark cracks splinter through her—watch as she falls at my feet in shivering fragments of translucent flesh. Where she stood, there is only Jack. He leans down toward me, his forehead touching mine as his hand rises toward my cheek and lingers against my skin. This is familiar to me. This is a memory, a real one. I’ve been here before, standing on the beach the day we were discovered by the Fugees. I can feel his breath dancing on my lips and an unfamiliar sort of warmth creeps into my chest.
“Shea,” he murmurs. “My head is a mess. I can’t think straight anymore.”
I remember this. This is real—it was real. I feel warm in spite of the icy fingers of foam that claw at my legs. Jack flickers in the wind, his figure contorting beneath the grey haze of the beach.
“Wait, Jack—stay,” I plead, reaching for his arm. For a moment, my fingers snatch at air. He reappears before me, the cool steel of his forearm pressing into my palm.
“Don’t go.” The words sound childish as they fall from my lips.
His voice falls around me like rain, enveloping me in the ambiguous warmth of memory. “I’m not in control. I’m afraid I’m going to end up doing something I’m not supposed to do.”
“I can’t—” He pauses, falling silent. There is no more memory here.
“You can’t what?” my voice is seized upon a howling gust of wind. His frame appears to dance in the stinging gust. His face is cut with shadow—his eyes haunted by an unfamiliar sort of ache.
“I can’t tell you.”
“So show me,” I whisper. His brow crumples in dismay and I add, “I want you to.”
He kisses me, then, raising my chin upon his index finger. I can taste the salt on his skin as my lips part beneath his touch. My breathing catches in my throat. I am coming apart at the seams, drifting within his embrace. The tide rises, swallowing us entirely, drowning us beneath the bottomless sea.
My eyes fall open and I suck in air, feeling my lungs filling with oxygen. I am met with a blinding white light. It peels away from my vision, leaving stipples of gluey blue residue burned on my retinas. A low beep emanates from a machine somewhere behind my head and I hear a crisp signal, like a metronome, begin tick, tock, ticking in time with the sticky beat of my heart below my ribcage. I blink rapidly, clutching my hand to my chest as I suck in air in short, reedy gasps.
Adrienne Shaw perches on a stool before me, studying me from over the rim of her glasses. A flat screen sits on a rolling tray next to her, and I can see a complex grid of colored bars fluctuating across the monitor.
“That was very good,” she muses, sounding pleased.
I struggle to regain control of my breathing. My head wobbles back and forth on my neck, feeling suddenly impossible to support.
“What was that?” I gasp. “What’s happening?”
“That,” Shaw begins, “Was our first round with the Cerebrum Atlas. I think it went remarkably well, don’t you?”
I say nothing. Behind Shaw is a mirror that spans the length of the wall from the floor to the ceiling. I stare at this, my gaze studying the sallow girl that stares back at me from the smooth reflective glass. I barely recognize the pale stranger. She cannot possibly be me. She is dressed in a hospital gown, seated in a straight back chair of sterile, polished metal. Her tousled brown hair has been shaved off on one side. Several electrodes have been attached to her scalp. White wires rise from the electrodes, stretching up, up, up, toward a blinking metal box that sits affixed to the ceiling.
I stare at the box, feeling sick. A faint buzzing sensation trembles behind my eyelids. Across from me, Shaw is running her index finger over the flat monitor. Several of the colored lines dance beneath her touch. I hear a voice—Jack’s—emanate from a small speaker at the bottom of the monitor.
“My head is a mess. I can’t think straight anymore.” His voice sounds canned—stilted—but it is, without a doubt, his voice.
“What is that?” I ask.
Adrienne Shaw glances up at me, looking pleased by my curiosity. “That is a piece of your dream. We were able to extract a few fragments from your hippocampus. It’s nothing scary—you won’t suffer any lasting damages.”
I scowl at her, probing the blank space in my skull for any memory of a dream. There is none. There is only a ringing blackness and a dull fog. My head begins to ache.
“I didn’t—I don’t remember dreaming.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” Shaw explains. “We’ve taken it.”