Monday, February 16, 2015

"Who Was Veronica Dawson?" short story: 'Taking Flight'

The setting: five years ago, yesterday, Panera Bread, where I'd set up camp with a bagel and several cups of coffee. School had been cancelled for snow, and I didn't have any tests to grade, so I decided to write. Three hours later, I'd churned out what would become the first two chapters of the prototype manuscript of Sleepwalking, my first YA novel. 

Now, five years later, I've signed a publishing agreement with Jupiter Gardens Press, and Sleepwalking will soon be coming to bookshelves near you. In celebration of Ronnie's 'birthday', and her story finally being given life (or unlife, as it were), here's a new short story starring Ronnie and her honorary orphanage-sister, Deirdre. 

Check out Who Was Veronica Dawson? on Facebook, too. Show your support for a burgeoning author! 


“What makes you think this is going to work?” I asked, my voice shaking.

“What makes you think it won’t work?” My sister, Deirdre, replied.

I gripped the windowsill until my knuckles turned white. “That doesn’t count as reasoning,” I said. “You’re supposed to give me a real reason.”

Deirdre’s face appeared in my peripheral vision, but I didn’t take my eyes from the yard beneath us. “A real reason? Have you seen what happens to you at midnight? Is that not real enough for you?”

She made a good point. Still, when I tried to summon enough bravery to slide my butt closer to the widow’s edge, I froze with terror. I turned to face her again. “But what if it doesn’t work?”

Deirdre lowered her brow and glared at me skeptically. Then she took two steps back from me, extended her arms, and tossed her head back. Her chin lolled open, and she groaned and staggered around the room without bending her knees.

“Oh, come on,” I huffed, spinning back to our bedroom and placing my feet on the floor. “You’ve seen me in my cursed form for five months, now. Have I ever staggered around the room like an extra from a George Romero movie?”

“Braaaaiiiinnnsss,” Deirdre moaned, ignoring me. She suddenly lunged for me, and I stumbled backward. My feet got tangled in the chair to our desk, and I tumbled onto my huge butt with my sister on top of me. The chair went flying, I giggled uncontrollably, and Deirdre gnawed on my hair.

“Okay, okay! Enough!” I laughed, pushing her off of me. “You’re right, okay? The worst that could happen to me is a few dozen broken bones. And they’ll all be back to normal in the morning.”

Climbing off of me, Deirdre raked her brown curls back from her face. “So, why not try it? Do you know what I’d give to be able to do the stuff you can do?”

I pushed a lock of short, black hair out of my eyes. It was eternally wet, unable to dry, unable to transfer water to any other surface, and it stuck in place and showed off my massive forehead. Wet hair was one of a dozen transformations I underwent every midnight, each of which would be gone when the sun rose.

I, Veronica Dawson, am a Sleepwalker.

I was hit by a runway truck in front of my school six months ago. Instead of dying, like a normal person, I inherited my family’s long-lost curse of undeath. During the day I look the same as any other fifteen-year-old. But, from midnight to sunrise, I transform back into exactly as I looked the moment I died.

“If I could give it to you, I would,” I told her, trying to get to my feet. Both my hips were broken and shifted weirdly when I tried to stand, so Deirdre had to help me up. My broken ribs moved creepily through my torso as I straightened my shirt.

“All I’m saying is, since you’ve got to deal with the bad parts of the Sleepwalker, you might as well have some fun with the ‘ancient curse powers’ part. At the very least, the ‘being indestructible’ thing will be a blast!” 

I moved back to the window and placed my hands on the sill again, leaning out into the warm, summer air. “Deirdre, not even Sylvia can use her curses to make herself fly. And she’s over five hundred years old!”

Deirdre crossed her arms over her chest. “You’ve never even asked her if she’s flown, have you?”

“Well, no. But I just assume that she can’t do it. If she could, why would she drive us everywhere in that old station wagon?”

“You could be the first!” Deirdre cried, dropping to her knees at my side. “The first Sleepwalker to fly!”

I looked down at the lawn again. “But what if I fall? What if it hurts?”

“The sun rises in half an hour,” Deirdre reassured me. “You’ll be like Humpty Dumpty. You’ll be put back together again!”

I frowned at her. “You never actually read that nursery rhyme, did you?”

“Come on!” Deirdre pressured. “When you’re cursed, things don’t hurt nearly as much as they do when you’re normal! You probably won’t feel a thing.”

Probably versus actually is a distinction I’d rather not test by throwing myself out of a window,” I murmured.

“Oh my gosh, you are the worst immortal, zombified, magical-curse-using sister ever,” Deirdre prodded, her voice sarcastic. “Are you going to do it, or what?”

I took a deep, steadying breath and looked down to the lawn again. Since I had become a Sleepwalker, around six months ago, I had put up with a lot. Crazy cultists, who saw Sleepwalkers as abominations, had hunted me since the day I woke up in the morgue. Their minions had attacked me in Starbucks, in the back yard… even on dates. Things hadn’t exactly been easy, and more than once I had wished that I was just a normal teenager girl again instead of an undead monster.

Sure, being able to fly wouldn’t make up for all of that. But would be a nice start.

“Okay,” I said, squeezing my brow into a knot. “I’m going to do it.”

“That’a girl!” Deirdre cried. She dropped to her knees and leaned on the window sill. “Want me to give you a countdown?”

“No,” I replied. “The power for the curses comes from my emotions. I need to pump enough emotion into the curse to make it work. And flying will probably take a lot. So I probably need to psyche myself up or something.”

Next to me, I heard Deirdre give a speculative Hmmm before standing.

Then she pushed me out the window.

Normally, my curses are powered by my words and emotions. Sylvia, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, told me that it took a delicate balance of both to make a curse do what you want.

I opened my mouth and tried to come up with something – anything – to say that could keep me from becoming a greasy stain on the grass. But sudden terror caught my voice in my throat, and my stomach lurched from the sudden freefall. No words came.

The backyard rushed up to meet me.

I tried to scream. Even that wouldn’t come out.

The world became a white flash of pain. I became a crumpled heap on the grass.

Dimly, I heard Deirdre scream, “Ohmygod!” from the bedroom window. For ten or fifteen agonizingly slow seconds, I lay in a twisted, painful pile, the dew-covered grass cool on my cheek. The city around our suburban house was strangely silent, I realized, aside from the ringing in my ears from impact.

I heard the back door open, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Deirdre charge across the grass toward me. She dropped to her knees by my face. “Oh my god, Ronnie, I am so sorry! I thought that if I pushed you, you’d be scared enough to make yourself fly! I was trying to help!”

“… ow,” was all I could manage in reply.

“What hurts?” Deirdre asked.

“Everything,” I groaned. I tried to roll over, my a dull ache in my back told me that was a stupid idea. “How bad do I look?”

Deirdre winced. “Well… things are sort of… twisted out of place.” She tried to brighten her face. “But, not much more so than your normal cursed form, so that’s a plus, right?”

“Please don’t do me any more favors,” I breathed, trying again to get my arms beneath me, and again falling back to the grass.

“Does it hurt? Do I need to get Sylvia?” Deirdre asked.

“Well, it doesn’t hurt like a bunch of broken bones would normally hurt,” I huffed. “But I feel like one big bruise. All over. Still, I don’t think you need to wake Sylvia.” I looked up to the sky, which was still dark. “How long did you say it was until sunrise?”

Deirdre revealed her phone from her pocket and swiped the screen a few times. “About twenty minutes,” she said.

“Oh,” I sighed. “Okay, good. Since you pushed me out the window, you get to keep me company until my body repairs itself.”

Deirdre sat cross-legged on the grass. “Okay. I owe you that.” She swiped her phone a few times more. “Want to know what’s happening on Facetagram?”

I tried to shrug. I think it dislocated my shoulder even more. “Sure.”

“Oh man! Sharee broke up with Brandon!” Deirdre cried, already absorbed in social media heaven. “Look!” She presented her phone to me, and I tried to read the status update even though it was sideways.

“She was talking about that last week,” I wheezed. “What else is going on?”

“Ooh, look. Carrie posted a picture of what she ate for dinner last night.” Deirdre showed me her phone again, and I saw a sideways picture of a hibachi restaurant.

I sighed. It was going to be a long twenty minutes.