Monday, October 5, 2009

“The Space Between,” Patricia Faithfull

Chapter 1 of The Space Between, a juvenile novel by Patricia Faithfull

It was Tuesday, only day four of the twenty-one days they would be trapped on so-called vacation at the beach. It was day one hundred and thirty-three of forever of the so-called new family. Lily checked her watch: 1:18pm. The sun was directly overhead. It was as hot as the family counseling room when they look at you and ask you how you feel, and you know nothing you say will be right.

Breakfast had been at 8 am. They were all starving. They had been digging for over four hours. She ruffled through the cooler bag. All that was left were empty wrappers and crumpled juice boxes. Even the dog had moved under the shade of the rock face to lay belly down in the sand to stay cool.

At least the rain had not come last night to undo all their work. Rain had a way of displacing sand and smoothing it over quickly. They had worked hard to see how close they could get. A hollow had been dug. The hollow became a trench. The trench became a crater and it was now big enough to lose a small car in it. Not bad for two-days work. Not bad for kids who did not like being in the same room with each other, let alone the same family.

Being isolated at the beach – away from friends, television, video games or anything remotely civilized, including the privacy of their own bedrooms – had pushed them all down the warpath. Their parents banished them to the beach – out of earshot.

The only outdoor things they could find to play with were kindergarten sand toys and a few of gardening tools. Autumn, Lily’s new step-sister, wrote the first page in her beach journal: “Haw wii dug 2 cina,” and showed it to River, her older brother. He was 12, like Lily; Autumn was only 5. River never really played with her or anyone for that matter; but given the circumstances, digging an enormous tunnel to China seemed as good an idea as any.

So, there they were, Thursday, noon, and no idea how close they were to China or the Arctic, or Middle Earth, and waiting for Jack to return with lunch.

River had chopped up the straws of the juice boxes with his pocket knife. Jack had drawn the short one. Begrudgingly, he went to pickup their lunch to bring it back. For spite, he was taking over an hour to walk a mere 10-minute round trip,

Jack announced his return by throwing his shovel to the bottom of the quarry. He usually stopped short of physical contact when antagonizing River. He just wasn’t always that accurate at judging his skills. He tried to narrowly miss River’s head. He didn’t. The handle smacked River in the forehead causing him to cry out in anguish.

“OUWWWWWWWW!” When River looked up, Autumn’s eyes were wide. Jack looked like he was going to pee his pants. River touched the cut and saw his fingers were damp with blood. He shot out of the pit like a Ninja, and straight into Jack’s face.

The dog went berserk, jumping and barking, but not knowing what to do.

All that martial arts sure paid off, Jack noted, as he felt River’s breath on his face.

Lily pushed Jack aside, and held her ground between the two of them.

“It was an accident,” she lied. “Let it go.” River’s advantage was 11 pounds and 5 inches. It was obvious he could pummel Jack at any time.

“I wasn’t gonna do anything,” River started disdainfully.

“I don’t need you to defend me!” Jack shrieked as he vaulted into Lily, knocking her through Autumn’s sandcastle and flat onto her stomach. His eyes were on fire and his body shook with anger. River seized Jack’s shoulders squarely and drove him down to the ground onto his behind. His voice dropped an octave: “DON’T….. HIT…. GIRLS.”

Jack was stunned. River had never made Jack fear him, until now. The red in Jack’s cheeks began to burn. He blinked back tears. Older, bigger, stronger – Jack hated him. The humiliation smoldered, and there was nowhere to go to be alone.

A drop of blood dripped from River’s brow down his nose. He released his hold on Jack to wipe it away. Jack shook his shoulders in defiance to get the last of River off of him.

“Quiet!” River yelled at the dog. Amber lay down and whimpered. River felt the bump above his eye. It would probably turn purple or yellow or brown. The cut was small. Head cuts always looked worse and bled more than anywhere else. He wasn’t worried, just irritated. Maybe it would scar. That would be cool.

River turned to Lily, who was staring at his cut. “You okay?” he asked, offering her a hand up.
She glared at Jack, took River’s hand and let him pull her to her feet.

“Just winded,” she answered. She stared at Jack. He would not return her glare, but instead stared at his feet. He was only ten, two years younger than her and River. She was growing tired of his stupid games. His defiant, provoking behavior was getting them all punished lately. To make matters worse, she was now as much of a target of his frustration as their step brother and step sister. He sat there, wounded because she had accepted help from the enemy. This would make for yet another silent, brilliant waste of an hour with the family counselor.

“What’s in your beach bag?” River asked Jack, his tone and curtness returning.

“Lunch. And it’s a backpack, idiot,” Jack answered with contempt, rubbing his shoulders. They still pinched. He hoped there would be massive bruises because it was too far back to tell on him right now. Besides – he didn’t dare leave all the lunch behind. It would be all gone before he got back.

Amber was quiet now as River gave her some water and a biscuit.

Autumn, being dwarfed by the rest of them, wisely avoided these scuffles. She half jumped, half fell into the dig site, which was way deeper than she was tall. Egg sandwiches were awful, anyway. They smelled funny. And she couldn’t imagine eating a chicken before it was even born. River would save her a ham and cheese sandwich which her Mom always packed for her.

Autumn moved around the pit, pushing the bits of sand around the bottom. She picked up the shovel and let the weight of it smack down - and it wasn’t the usual thud. It was hollow sounding, like banging on wall. She looked up excitedly at River, who had stopped chewing. Raising the shovel, she awkwardly thumped it again. Again, the hollow thump.


Tossing aside the sandwich, River dove into the pit as Autumn scurried out with Lily’s help. Jack leapt in alongside River.

River and Jack started digging so quickly, there was a sandstorm! Sand flew everywhere. It was over their heads, scraping their eyes, and filling their ears. Autumn and Amber ducked the shovelfuls being flung up onto the wall. Autumn was keen to get a good look at the discovery.

“A treasure chest!” shouted Jack.

“A treasure chest?” repeated Autumn.

“It’s too big!” retorted Lily. Lily was unearthing the edges, which ran in a rectangle about the size of her Dad’s desk.

“It is! It is!!!” affirmed Jack, who was animated and giddy with excitement.

“Do you know the odds of actually finding treasure digging in the sand are a gazillion times a gazillion to one!” Lily condescended.

Jack used a beach towel to rub the sand off it which was surprisingly effective. The exposed surface was old wooden slats, held together by metal strips. It looked dilapidated, ancient, exhilarating!

“They found the Queen Anne’s Revenge in Beaufort over 10 years ago and they’re still bringing up treasure from it! Mom told me,” continued Jack. “They found gold and silver doubloons, pirate shillings, fossilized shark teeth and cursed gold coins, and rubies and emeralds…”

“Cursed?” repeated Autumn. She looked at River for clarification. As with most things Jack said, River just shook his head slightly as if to blow him off. Autumn looked relieved. River searched along each edge seeking a clasp or hinges.

“Maybe it’s a coffin for somebody’s pet,” suggested Lily.

“Look at it! It’s hundreds of years old,” rebuffed Jack.

“Maybe it’s a pet coffin that’s hundreds of years old!” Lily insisted.

“Don’t be stupid,” continued Jack. “People didn’t bury pets hundreds of years ago.”

“It’s too big for a pet,” River stated bluntly.

“SEEEE!!!! And Besides Beaufort’s just up the coast!” stated Jack, not realizing he had just deferred to River’s authority.

“Yeah, I know, I finished grade four geography two years ago. So what did they do with their dead pets?” Lily still ached from being hit in the spleen and then catapulted onto her face. Bashing Jack verbally felt good.

River found a padlock the size of a discus. It was rusted. It was amazing. Autumn sketched it. River loosened it from the wet sand and smashed it with the shovel until it shattered.

“I don’t know… Burn them at sea. Maybe they ate them…” Jack wasn’t sure he just didn’t want Lily to have the last word. “Wait, what did you mean it was too big for a pet?”

They all stopped dead. River shrugged.

“It’s too flat to be a treasure chest,” Lily observed.

“What, did you write the book on them?” Jack was snarky. He really wanted River to answer him.

“You two. Less talk and more help? Give me the trowel thingy.”

Lily passed it to him, “It’s a spade.”

“Whatever,” he stated as he leveraged the tip at the lid. He pushed down with all his body weight. He pried it around the edges. It would not give way.

Lily picked up a shovel and passed it to River, “Here,” she said. She held one herself, placing the sharp edge at the lip and pointing to a similar spot in front of River. “We just need a more leverage.” He put his edge in place. “On the count of 3. One, two….”

“NOOOOO!!!,” Autumn interrupted in a panic. “What if it is a coffin? Wouldn’t it be…. wrong to open it?”

River looked at his little sister. “If we find a body, we’ll all leave it alone. Agreed?”

He looked at the others, who each nodded and muttered, “Yeah.”

“Okay?”

Autumn nodded and smiled.

Jack couldn’t wait to see a real, live, decomposing, actual dead person. Maybe it was Blackbeard or Anne Bonney. Jack knew they had never been seen him since the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground in a storm hundreds of years ago.

“C’mon, let’s see what’s in here,” River said as he and Lily braced their weight onto the shovels. Autumn ran around behind them to get a better look. Jack readied himself to catch the opened lid. “One, two, threeeeeeeeeee…….”

*

Patricia Faithfull acquired a BA in English Literature from the University of Toronto before attending the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. She has studied screenwriting with Robert McKee and John Truby of Los Angeles and is pleased to be studying creative writing with Brian Henry. Before returning to Canada, she lived in the US, France and England. Currently, she is writing “The Space Between” for middle-grade readers and has two screenplays in progress: “Talia the Lionhearted Mouse” and “The Second Law of Thermodynamics.” Primarily, she is a parent, a partner, and an avid student of Kabbalah. Her next labour of love will involve an exploration of the Dead Sea Scrolls. On Sept 16, she read Chapter 1 of her middle-grade novel, The Space Between at CJ’s Café in Oakville.
Note: For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and courses, see here.

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