Despite myself, I found myself thinking about criticism I had recieved at Pope's workshop of all places during residencies and the advice he had for successful fiction. I clearly remember one piece of advice that made me cringe : Don't begin a story with the character waking up. I found myself tinkering with a very differnet beginnig for the Blue Zone, though after I got so far in, I realized it was a different novel altogether. Still, I want to post at least a chunk of it, because there is a certain cleansing factor to wallowing in one's mistakes.
Chapter One: Remix
She walked through the high grass, her fingertips tracing a parallel path at her sides as her long white skirts sighed against the growth. Stars winked in and out over head in a net of velvety black sky. The moon hung low, and was so full it blazed like daylight over the field. Laughter bubbled its way up from her belly, spilling into the night as the wind played with her long fiery red hair.
Mina sighed. The hair, that’s what gave it away. She knew it was a dream when that glorious red hair danced at the corners of her vision. It was the same color as her mother’s and very much not her own. But in dreams, wishes were reality. She had wished for this place many times. The night inhaled around her, drawing her attention to the left. There was the house, complete with its network of ivy clinging to every brick of the structure. Momma loved ivy, even when Daddy had argued it would eventually crumble the brick under it.
“Well then,” Momma had laughed, “we shall live in a house of vines.”
Momma was the only person Mina had ever known to actually possess a laugh like wind chimes. A laugh which reached her now. Mina’s mother stood on the concrete slab of a doorstep, waving to her. She wore a white dress that matched her daughter’s, glowing in the moonlight. Mina grinned, racing towards the house. Her momma was waiting.
The wind picked up. The smile slipped from Mina’s face as the world drained of color. The only color left was her mother’s red hair, which whipped across the woman’s face in the building wind. Fear pricked into Mina like thorns. She ran faster, but the grass pulled at her skirts and scraped up her legs. She began to call out, each word squeezing her throat tighter until she could barely breath.
“Mom!” Mina gasped. She was nearly there, just a few yards away. Her mother’s laughter still filled the air, except now the sound was sinister and twisted. The woman grimaced in fear. Mina reached for her when the house exploded.
The wind shrieked, drowning out all other noise. Mina cowered as shards of glass and wood splinters came at her. Pain appeared like black stripes in her eyes. She looked down. A sash of red silk twined around her legs, burning where it touched. More red threads wrapped themselves up her arms, caressing her face. Abruptly the wind ceased. The silence was worse, dreadful. Mina felt her eyes dragged to the wreck of the house. Her mother stood on the step, her hair still rising on a soundless wind. She looked perfect, immaculately white. All except for the tiniest drop of red on her stomach. Threads of red grew out from that tiny drop like spider webs, growing thicker as they went.
Her mother burst into shreds of blood red silk. Mina screamed.
The scream followed her out of the nightmare. Mina sat up, shoving her hand into her mouth to stop herself. She didn’t stop the noise fast enough. Her roommate Sarah nearly fell on the floor as she rushed over.
“Mina!” Sarah wrapped her way too thin arms around her. It was like being hugged by a friendly spider. Mina quickly squashed that thought, Sarah had been nothing but wonderful to her and to her great disgust she was quaking in the tiny girl’s embrace.
“Was it another one of those dreams?” Sarah whispered, gently pushing Mina‘s sweat soaked hair out of her eyes. Mina struggled to calm down, she was four years older than Sarah, it was silly the other girl had to comfort her every time she had a nightmare. Frustrated, she swatted the girl’s skeletal hand away, regretting it immediately when she saw the hurt in her roommate’s face.
“I’m fine Sare-bear,” Mina muttered, trying to make peace. Sarah nodded, scuttling back to her bed without another word. She quickly put her back to Mina, obviously miffed but too nice to snap back. The older girl almost wished she would, it felt like kicking a puppy the way that girl cringed at every harsh word that left Mina’s mouth.
She sighed, resting on her knees. To her great disgust, she was soaked in sweat, so much it felt like it pooled in her sheets. Mina climbed out of bed, shivering as the air cooled her skin. She refused to sleep in that mess and the staff wouldn’t be around to change the sheets until morning. But she had other options. The door to this room with blessedly unlocked since she had been moved to the low risk ward and Mina intended to take full advantage of that privilege. Within ten minutes she was laid out on one of the many couches of the common room, comfortable despite the occasional whiff of old urine and cleaner. She did her best to ignore it and closed her eyes, trying to reclaim sleep.
Her clothes clung to her uncomfortably, nearly strangling her when she rolled over. When she straightened out that, her scars ached and itched. She carefully scratched around the nasty ones on her legs until she left red stripes on her skin. Ten minutes later, her hair tickled her nose, making her sneeze. Mina gave up, the sky was beginning to lighten anyway, which meant the night shift nurses would be gathering soon for Paperwork Hour.
Mina grabbed the ratty afghan hanging off the back of the couch and wrapped herself in it as she made her way down to the desk. It helped stop the shivery feeling despite the fact it made her look like a bag lady. Her journey proved a success when she caught sight of Nurses Bennett and Washbourne, the two nurses she could stand in this place.
Jeannie Bennett had been the first nurse to treat her like a normal person in this miserable place, and Max Washbourne was one of a handful of male nurses probably in existence, as well as being one of the most relaxing people to talk to. It was Max who glanced up from his paperwork first at the sound of shuffling feet, his tired face lighting up in a wonderful expression of concern.
“Mina, dear? Good gravy man, what are you doing up before the sun rise?” Max never swore, and spoke like a cross between an 18th century gentleman and Shaggy from the Scooby Gang. He ran a hand through his nest of quietly graying blond hair, massaging the muscles in his neck as Jeannie turned to Mina with open arms.
“Hunny, you having those god awful nightmares again? Please tell me you’ve been taking your meds on schedule.” She wrapped Mina in a tight hug. Mina loved Jeannie hugs. The woman always smelled like cinnamon, even after a night of work. She nodded into Jeannie's shoulder.
“I keep taking them, but I don't think my nightmares care if I'm taking sleep meds or not.” Wrapped up in Jeannie's hug the night caught up to her, Mina stifled the urge to sob. She missed her mother desperately and having an older woman hug her was almost unbearable. She gently pulled away, not wanting to reveal her feelings to Jeannie. It seemed the older woman caught on anyway, sympathy pinching her face as she ruffled Mina's still damp brown hair.
“You look far too tired for such an important day sweet heart. Why don't you go catch a nap in the staff lounge?” Jeannie pulled the keys off her wrist, much to Mina's surprise.
“But Jeannie patients can't do that, besides what's so important?” Mina got another shock when Max swore just under his breath. Jeannie's face darkened, Mina had never seen her so angry.
“Didn't Mr. Lyme tell you your out patient evaluation was this afternoon?” Jeannie asked quietly fuming.
Mina sighed. Mr. Lyme worked in one of the few offices at the center, though his actual job title had never been made clear to her. She knew his duties included such interesting tasks as drawing up the nurses shift schedules, writing requisitions for medications and other hospital supplies, arranging staff meetings to coordinate healing activities for the patients. It was also his job to inform patients of the various performance evaluations they had to undergo during their recovery. She knew the man did many tasks for the center and all around was a decent guy, in fact she saw him only yesterday. He really should have told her then, but Mina knew why he didn't, and for that reason she couldn't get mad.
“It probably slipped his mind,” Mina said as nonchalantly as she could, ignoring Max and Jeannie's shared expression of confusion. “Besides, Jeannie, I have a shift with him at 9 A.M. He could be saving it as a surprise.”
Jeannie snorted, slipping the keys to Mina anyway. “You go sleep on it, love, I'll wake you in an hour and half before I leave for the day.”