Saturday, February 29, 2020

Book Excerpt - my middle grade fantasy series - "Mermaid Summer"

Here is Chapter 1, of Book One of my middle grade fantasy series (Mermaid Lake series), Mermaid Summer. That is probably the only part that is close to being ready. Can you possibly guess what the main book is about? I'm having fun writing this, and it may become something one day. 
Image by Ioannis Ioannidis from Pixabay

Jenna was used to traveling but this drive felt endless. The car rumbled along through the twisty turns, and even the mountain scenery had become dull. They would get there eventually, she supposed, and the whole thing of being the new girl would start all over again.
Dad and Mom were talking about boring stuff – how long it would take the movers, their big truck following half a mile behind, to bring in their boxes, whether he should call in at his new job or wait until Monday. Jenna pulled out her phone and groaned to see that there were still no bars. All she knew was that it was going to be a long summer for this 11 year old, and probably lonely as well.
At last they turned off the highway, not down the hill towards the city they had passed and glimpsed whenever the road turned in the right direction, unfortunately, but upwards and further into this wilderness. The sign said “Windchime 4 miles” and at least the road was paved. Jenna perked up when the first part of the lake came into view. Soon they passed through the township, with small shops, and the lake shore with a small marina and parking lot. Most of the shops looked like they catered to winter tourists. The mountain nearby showed what ski runs look like when there isn’t any snow, large scars between the trees. The summer tourist season had not yet started. In fact, many of the shops were still closed. 
Mom and Dad had driven up here a few times, together and separately. Dad had his job interview down in that city, but they had both come up to look at homes for rent. It had been a surprise when they found a place for sale, that they could actually afford. Jenna had never been along, staying with her auntie for the couple of nights both her parents were away. But Mom had given her a long and enthusiastic run down about the place, its history as a spa town starting in the late 1880’s, the old lumber industry that had become less successful when the river silted up and transporting logs became much harder, the great skiing that meant several high end resort hotels tucked away in the forest. Mom knew her way around by now. She liked that it was “quiet and family oriented” so it felt safe. 
A block past the main village, the car made a sudden turn into a long driveway. The faded sign read “Windchime Lake Resort”. Jenna snorted as she thought to herself, more like last resort. Still, she felt a little tingly when they pulled up beside the main house, a little aged but not dilapidated, what her mother had called, “a surprising neo-Georgian.” This resort had been successful and busy in the heyday of Windchime, but had gradually become less popular as summer tourism had declined and the original owners had aged. They had finally retired and the business had been closed down for at least 10 years, but the property was not abandoned. Mom kept talking about “retro charm.”

Now that they were all here, Dad and Mom seemed very pleased, and all three walked up three steps onto the porch. Mom pulled out her key and after a moment jiggling, pushed the door open. They walked into the empty foyer, and in an impressive manner Mom turned back and said, “Welcome home.”
The arrival part of moving was always busy. In some ways it would feel like they were still living in the very first house they had, when Jenna was little. Her memories were hazy of all the houses and apartments with white or beige walls and the same furniture – that uncomfortable antique sofa that always lived against a wall to preserve its back, the pillowed bench that Mom always put under a window, if there was one. 
But this house was bigger than most, and the window in the living room already had a built-in bench. There were bookshelves too. But Mom had planned for this and was busy instructing the movers to haul some of their pieces upstairs. This was one thing that was certainly different. A second floor with bedrooms, and a whole other sitting room. Apparently the expansive room downstairs was originally meant to be for the guests to use.
Jenna started carrying her own luggage upstairs to the room that was to be hers. She only knew that it was at the far end facing the back, while the master was in the front. Good, she thought. It was all light and happiness now, but it wouldn’t be long before the snipping and bickering began as usual, and she’d rather not have to hear it. This was supposed to be a long-term appointment, but Jenna had long ago learnt not to count on that. Time seemed to mean something different to Dad when he thought one year was “a nice long stint.” Mom had told him that this was going to be her last chance to put down her roots. She liked gardening metaphors. They had both promised Jenna this would be the last move for a while – she would be able to attend the same middle school for the next three years, and probably the same high school as all her new friends. But Jenna was still dubious. She didn’t want to jinx it.

At the top of the stairs facing the front of the house, there was a bank of windows. Jenna looked out at the view. She found she could see down the slope past the trees and the neighboring houses, to part of the village, the little marina and some of the lakeshore. This house really was close to the action, if you could call it that. The lake sparkled out to the relatively distant wooded mountains on the other side. The trees along the near edges still prevented her from being able to see the mill from here. She turned around to look for her room.
She passed a couple of closed doors along the back hallway, that she would soon learn were other smaller bedrooms and a linen closet. Jenna walked into her room for the first time. It was nice and quite a good size. The walls had white painted paneling, and the ceiling sloped downward towards the windows on the back wall, but was still plenty high enough to feel airy. There were sliding doors to her closet, but they didn’t take up all the side wall. There would be room for her bed and desk, bookshelf, a couple of chairs for still non-existent friends. As long as she didn’t get saddled with the antique sofa, she’d do fine. Her view was of the rest of the property, with several small cottages poking out from between shrubs and bushes, linked by what looked like stamped dirt paths. Things were looking up. Jenna liked hiking. Below a pergola obscured whatever patio there was. Those cottages were why they were here. 
She checked and found that she had bars on her phone now, but remembered she had limited data. She knew Dad would want her to wait until the wifi was set up. So just one quick selfie, with her view, to her Instagram. Then, a mover appeared at her door. She told them where to set up her bed and desk, then got out of their way. Mom would expect her to make the bed before dinner, and unpack at least one box every morning before going anywhere. 
She thought she had better go downstairs to help with the kitchen. She walked down the short hallway and around the railing to the top of the staircase, and went down. It was pretty grand, she supposed, with a landing half-way. She had been forewarned that the kitchen was huge – professional style to serve the guests at the resort. The built-in sideboard was full of dishes, with the name of the resort embossed on the borders. But there was still plenty of room in the other cupboards for the family’s familiar things, and Jenna started unwrapping plates and mugs from the boxes, while Mom was still talking to the movers. Opening the full kitchen again would be one of the last steps in “Mom’s Big Plan”.
Suddenly there was a knock at the front door. Two people were crowding into the doorway. The first was a colorfully dressed mature lady, holding a casserole dish covered in foil, while behind her was stocky man, wearing a khaki and green uniform, who turned out to be the local Fish and Game warden.
As soon as she saw Jenna and Mom appear from opposite sides of the foyer, the lady started speaking, excitedly. “Hello! I’m Meg Connor, and this is Bill Marks, from the village. Welcome to Windchime!”
Mom replied, “Thank you. We’re the Hansons. I’m Susan, this is my daughter Jenna, and there’s my husband Geoff”, gesturing to Dad as he came in from the other room. "Please, won’t you come through to the kitchen?” They both came in, and Mr. Marks shook hands with Dad. Jenna glanced hopefully out the front door, but the adults were alone.
These people seemed nice. It only took a few minutes before Mom revealed her plans for the old place – “to hold artist’s retreats” – to which Ms. Connor replied that she was, “President of the North Lakes Arts and Crafts Association”, and they were off talking about the local artisan scene. Dad said, “I think we just lost them” and Mr. Marks said, “Yep”, before starting to ask Dad about when he planned on starting work. He explained, “I’m your liaison with both State and Federal agencies around here.” 
Well, that certainly sounded like it was shaping up to be the most boring conversation ever, especially since Jenna already knew plenty about her Dad’s work. But the conversation about the challenges of thriving as artists in the middle of nowhere wasn’t much better. Ms. Connor was just saying that the town lost all the passerby tourism to the city of Reservoir, “when the highway was rerouted there in the 70’s,” like with Route 66. The ski season kept the town afloat – that and the mill where most of the population worked. But for big box stores or appliances or bulk supplies, most people drove down to “the City.” 
Jenna quietly backed out to return to her room. Sure enough, there was the box marked “J’s bedding” ready for her. She glanced towards her phone, then turned away from the temptation, reaching instead for the safety cutter Mom had left for her.
A few hours later she was lying in bed, playing a game on her phone in the dark. She could hear her parents as they came up the stairs and headed to their room. Mom was already sounding pushy, while Dad was already sounding… like himself. He called it sensible. Mom called it defeatist.
“Meg says she wants to bring more arts and tourism to the Lake, and I can be part of that,” Mom was saying. 
“Sure, but it could take a few years to see your business being viable,” Dad said.
Jenna could picture her mom’s face becoming tight. She could hear her deliberate breathing and measured tone, when she answered, “You agreed that this was long-term. You agreed to consider this a long-term project, and you promised me we would stay here even if you took on external assignments.”
“Yes, I did agree. As long as the job exists, certainly, I’ll give it my best effort.”
The door closed muffling their voices, but Jenna could imagine the argument.
“It’s a mandated position. Why would it not exist?” “I thought you’d be pleased that I was taking a long view of it.” “Why say you support my idea but only ever point out problems?” “You place too much faith in external forces. Things can go wrong.” “You don’t place enough faith in anything. Things can go right too.” “They don’t seem to have so far.” “That’s really hurtful. You know why there have been problems. I’ve learnt a lot.” “Yes. Well I’ve learnt to have a contingency plan.” “You agreed to give this job your best effort.” “When did I say I wouldn’t?” and on until they finally went to bed. 
It was always about whose dream could be followed, his or hers. Nobody ever seemed to concern themselves with Jenna’s dreams. She felt like with every move and start over in a new town, a new school, her dreams were sliding further away.
Every now and then her parents would have a discussion when they thought she wasn’t listening. Mom was worried - already - about “how could she hope to get into a good college, or qualify for any kind of scholarship, without a record of outstanding community service work and extracurricular activities?” Dad seemed to have an assumption that she was headed for science, like himself. Mom always carried around a vague air of disappointment about it. 
Jenna felt like that was all a long way off. She didn’t know what she wanted her life to be, except that she liked swimming and sports and the outdoors. Her ambitions for herself included making a couple of true friends that she could laugh with, and share her secrets with, and tell her worries to - those being mostly about how her parents were acting. What she really wanted was not to be lonely. 
Maybe she should announce that her fallback plan was joining the Navy, which would really worry them. Well, at least that might unite them for a while. Jenna’s last thought as she drifted off to sleep, was that she needed to ask when the wifi would be available.

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