A fellow indie author recently posted the first chapter of one of his novels on his blog in its entirety. Those of us Kindle readers know we can download a sample of any book that interests us, but not everyone owns a Kindle, and it takes a minute to go out of your way to do that anyway; then, of course, once you have the sample, it’s easy for it to get lost in the backlog of books you intend to read or check out, if you’re like me!
So I’ve decided that I’ll go ahead and do the same for Emaline’s Gift. The chapters in this book are not long—it’s simply the rhythm that I found worked best for this story—so I’m going to go ahead and post the first two chapters. If you’re curious, go ahead and check them out. There’ll be more info on Emaline and The Magi Chronicles here in the future, as well as some tidbits about The Book of the Harvest, the short story I have published, but this blog’s never going to be exclusively about promoting my own work, so there’s plenty else in the works as well. But, for those who are interested. . .here’s how our story begins:
by Brad Francis
The alley was deserted, save for an old brown tabby that crept stealthily along the concrete. The tabby, which no one had ever bothered to name, used to have vibrant orange fur, but years of living on the street, soiled from the exhaust fumes and picking through dumpsters, had turned it a matted brown. It had been raining, and the tabby was careful to navigate around the puddles. There was a fish market off this alley, and the dumpster usually had a selection of tasty morsels.
From deeper in the city, behind it, there came a sudden commotion. The cat darted behind some pipes. Hidden in the shadows, in the most rudimentary way, the tabby considered its dilemma. Its stomach ached for want of food, and the dumpster was not far. But the banging and clanging was growing louder, and the cat was scared of the noises.
In the end, hunger won out. Even as the commotion—sounds of struggle, of conflict, not that the cat could know—drew ever closer, the tabby darted from behind the pipe and sprinted for the dumpster. Just as it hurried to within paces of its goal, golden sparks lit up the still night air and the cat began to howl in pain. Its tail was on fire.
Moments later, the cause of the disturbance burst into the alleyway. As the cat soaked its charred rear in a nearby puddle, mewing in discomfort, a tall boy with dark black hair came running along the pavement. “Sorry, kitty,” he called out, twirling around to face the darkness he had just come from and sending another stream of golden sparks flying from his hand.
He stopped for only a moment, then turned back and took off down the alley again. Purple sparks soared through the air where the boy’s head had been seconds before. The stream hit brick on the right side of the alley and mortar exploded in a small blast of brick and concrete.
The tabby cowered in the shadows. Its tail throbbed in pain, and the dangerous strangers were not done coming. Emerging from the darkness at the other end of the alley, the cat heard whistling and footsteps.
Three figures emerged from the shadows: two boys and one girl. The boys were big and thick, and could have been twins. Both had brown hair, a mix of muscles and fat and no neck. The girl was skinny and pretty, with a smattering of freckles and long red hair, pulled into a ponytail. The girl was the one whistling.
The girl stopped at almost the exact same spot that the dark-haired boy had stopped maybe a minute ago. The thick boys, who flanked her on either side and walked half a step behind, stopped as well. She finished her tune and called out.
“Oh, Anthony!” The red-haired girl called out, but didn’t move. Whether she expected a response or not was unclear, but none came. “Do you have to run? Why not come out and face us like a man?”
Now, a reply came. The boy’s voice bounced off the walls in the narrow alley and could have come from anywhere. “Three on one? Is that your idea of a fair fight?”
The girl shrugged. “I’ll tell Simon and Brutus not to interfere.” Her eyes darted around the dark alley, looking in vain for her prey. Then, in a singsong, she added, “Promise, promise, porcupine. . .”
Anthony scoffed. “Your word means nothing, and you know it.”
She smiled in response. “Well, I can’t argue with that. Not that you’d face me alone. I think you’re too scared to fight a lady. Afraid of being beat.”
Laughter echoed from the shadows. “You’re no more a lady than Brutus there.”
The thick boy on the girl’s left raised his fists and took a step forward. “You want to come out here and say that? You’re pretty tough when you know we can’t see you.”
The girl put a hand on Brutus’ shoulder and he backed down. “Don’t worry about our scared little mouse, boys. No sense in rushing him. Maybe we’ll just wait patiently. Bide our time. Maybe we’ll follow him back to that little secret base of his and burn it to the ground.”
When she said this, she raised her left hand with the palm up. A flame hovered there, just above the skin. It was a very deep purple, closer to blue.
Anthony didn’t respond. The girl lowered her hand and the flame went away. She waited another few seconds, then started moving again.
“Come on,” she said to the thick boys. “He’s gone.”
They followed her out of the alley. The tabby stayed put for several minutes, every nerve on end. The alley was silent again. Finally, the cat slinked out of the shadows—moving more gingerly now in deference to its tender backside—and crept toward the dumpster for its reward.
After tonight, it had earned it.
Emaline shivered in the damp, but perhaps not entirely from the chill in the air. She didn’t like to be out this late, and certainly not alone. Nothing bad had ever happened to her, but this neighborhood took on a spooky, deserted look after dark. Everyone was shut up in their houses, watching TV and getting settled in for the night.
Which is precisely what Emaline wished she could be doing. She had been in her room, listening to music, when her Mom called for her to come downstairs and run an errand. It was nearly 10 pm, and Emaline had been thinking about reading for a bit before bed—until she was summoned, that is. Her baby brother was sick, and they needed milk. There was money on the table, and wouldn’t Emaline walk down to the convenience store and pick up a gallon? After all, it was summer vacation, so if she didn’t get to bed right away it wasn’t a big deal. Just sleep in tomorrow.
The milk was in a green reusable grocery bag that Emaline had grabbed from the hook near the door, and it swung gently around her knees as she walked, perhaps a little more quickly than she would have during the daytime.
Stop being silly, she told herself. You’re thirteen years old, and you’re acting like a child.
She shook her head as if responding to something spoken aloud and her long brown hair swished from side to side. Despite her chiding, Emaline quickened her step. She had actually just begun to settle her nerves when the arm reached out and grabbed her.
The three strangers seemed to have come out of nowhere. She couldn’t see the one who had her in a tight grip with an arm around her chest, but there was a large, brutish boy with dark hair and a tall, pretty girl with red hair.
“Hello there,” the girl purred. “I’m Violet. This is Simon and the one hugging you over there is Brutus.”
Simon and Brutus both grunted something that could have been a greeting. Maybe a half-greeting.
Violet took a step forward and took Emaline in with her eyes. “My, my. You’re a pretty little thing, aren’t you? Well, don’t worry, beautiful. We’re just using you as a bit of bait, that’s all. You’re very unlikely to be hurt—or killed.”
A shiver shot through Emaline, and she had the distinct impression that it would be foolish to believe any word that came out of the redhead’s mouth. Emaline kept her mouth shut and stopped struggling. Brutus’ grip was firm and strong and she had no chance of escape.
“Silent treatment, is it?” Violet asked, then shrugged. “No matter.” She turned and took several steps into the deserted street, raised her voice and called out, “Are you there, Anthony? Do you see? We’ve got ourselves a hostage.”
It wasn’t long at all before a boy a little older than Emaline emerged from the shadows. He had dark black hair, but a kind face. He seemed different from the others, and Emaline decided that they were likely enemies.
Anthony stopped far from the group and glared at Violet. “A hostage? Really? Why do you always feel the need to involve civilians?”
Violet laughed, and it was a cold, humorless sound. “Lighten up, Anthony. It’s just a bit of excitement in their otherwise dull, pointless lives.”
“I’m sorry,” Anthony said, and Emaline realized with a bit of a start that he was speaking to her. “This doesn’t involve you, and I’m sorry you got dragged into it. I want you to know that I’m going to help you, and I’m going to make sure that nothing happens to you.”
Emaline felt her cheeks flush with color, and was glad it was dark. Despite the danger, she couldn’t help but notice how cute Anthony was. She couldn’t quite make out his eye color from this distance, but Emaline thought she saw a glimmer of light blue.
She was snapped back to the reality of the situation when Violet grabbed her by the hair. Brutus did not relax his grip, and Emaline’s head was yanked to the side.
“How sweet!” Violet exclaimed. “Anthony’s going to be your knight in shining armor, pretty one. Maybe I should kill her in front of you, Anthony, would you like that? Make a liar out of you? Be careful—start lying and you’ll cut off your connection to the Almighty, and we all know what happens then.”
Emaline felt real panic surge through her, and she began to sweat. Her hair hurt, and she was very scared—very scared and very confused. What in the world was that about the Almighty? Did she mean God? Was this some sort of religious debate?
Anthony took a few steps forward. “A dead hostage is no good to anyone,” he said.
Violet jerked Emaline’s head forward, and extended her other arm. Emaline couldn’t believe her eyes. Indigo flames seemed to ignite from Violet’s palm, and then hovered just above her skin. Despite Brutus’ grip and the pain from Violet grabbing her hair, Emaline began to struggle again.
“Violet.” Anthony called her name in a warning tone and stepped forward again. Out of the corner of her eyes, Emaline thought she saw golden light, as if Anthony had conjured his own flames.
“You’re absolutely right, Anthony,” Violet said, and she brought the purple-blue flames toward Emaline’s face. “A dead hostage is no good to anyone. But a little torture. . .”
What happened next happened so quickly that Emaline surely would have doubted it all if not for the events to follow. Violet was so focused on bringing her flames nearer and nearer to Emaline that she didn’t see Anthony prepare to attack. Simon shouted something, and Violet jerked up, releasing her hold on Emaline’s hair, but in that moment, something very strange happened.
Brutus began to howl in pain. That’s what Emaline noticed first. Then she became aware of a very strange sensation flickering about her hands, which had been clamped onto Brutus’ arm where he held her. Her eyes widened as she saw tiny, mostly transparent flames seeping through her fingers and burning Brutus’ skin. Her first thought was that Anthony had somehow made this happen, but these flames were a bright red, not the gold she had seen out of the corner of her eye.
Brutus released his hold completely and fell to his knees, grasping at his wounded arm. Emaline saw two red handprints embedded on his arm before he covered them up. Her jaw dropped. She didn’t move. Brutus was sobbing and Violet and Simon were focused on Anthony, but Anthony was focused on Emaline. She became aware of his gaze and met his eyes.
“Run,” he said. He didn’t even shout it; there was a slight movement that indicated the direction opposite of the one she was facing, and Emaline did not stop to think. As she turned, she saw that Anthony was running her way, and he shot a golden stream of light in both directions, at Violet and Simon.
Emaline ran, blindly. She ran as fast as she could, but Anthony still overtook her after a matter of moments. “Follow me,” he murmured before passing her, and she was glad that someone was telling her what to do. Coherent thought did not seem possible at the moment.
They twisted and turned through dark alleys and shadowy streets. It seemed to Emaline that the pounding of their feet on blacktop was so deafening that it would pose no challenge for Violet and the others to pick up the trail. She had no idea if they were following close behind and didn’t dare risk a look back.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity and as Emaline was just wondering whether her burning lungs would be able to keep up with the pace much longer, Anthony grabbed her hand and pulled her into an abandoned storefront. Putting a finger to his lips to instruct her to be silent, Anthony led her deeper into the store, and they ducked down behind a counter.
She trembled with fear and excitement. Anthony leaned in and whispered quietly into her ear, “I know you have questions, but we can’t speak now. The obeah are not far behind.” She had no idea what the obeah were, but this was not the time to argue, so Emaline nodded her head. “I’m going to get us out of here,” Anthony continued.
He leaned back again and turned away from her. With his left hand, Anthony began tracing a golden circle in the air. The circle shone brightly in the dark store.
“This takes a couple of minutes,” Anthony whispered to her. “And the bright gold circle isn’t exactly subtle. We’ll have to hope that Violet isn’t searching this area right now, or she’ll see the light from the street.”
Emaline turned and slowly peered over the counter, toward the front of the store. Everything was silent and still, but the store was filled with a yellow glow. Given how dark the rest of the street was, they would be easy to spot.
She turned back. Anthony had stopped drawing in the air now, but the large golden circle was still there. A small pulse of golden light traveled around the circle clockwise. As Emaline watched, the pulse sped up until it was speeding around the circle and leaving its own trail in the light.
“Just a few more seconds now,” Anthony muttered, but a commotion from the front of the store captured their attention. Brutus had stumbled into some of the rubbish and it clattered across the floor. He froze when he saw them, and ducked out of the way as Anthony shot a stream of gold sparks in his direction.
“Violet!” Brutus called. “They’re in here!”
Anthony turned back toward the circle of light, but Emaline kept watching as Violet and Simon ran up to join Brutus at the front of the store.
Violet cursed loudly. “They’ve got a portal.”
Panic started to set in again for Emaline, and a hand on her shoulder almost made her scream. It was Anthony.
“Don’t worry about them,” he said. “Portal’s almost ready.”
“Portal?” Emaline echoed. She glanced back anyway and saw Violet and the boys making their way across the small store.
Anthony pulled her back down behind the counter just as Violet sent a stream of indigo sparks at her head. “Portal’s almost ready,” he said, “but that’s no reason to give them an easy target.”
Emaline’s cheeks flushed pink, and she muttered an apology, but Anthony didn’t hear her. He was focused on the circle of light, which was no longer just an outline. It had filled in with waves of glimmering gold. It was strikingly beautiful, but Violet would be reaching the counter any moment.
Anthony grabbed her hand. “It’s time,” he said. Without any further warning, he darted through the portal and pulled Emaline behind him.
The last thing she remembered before blacking out was a sea of gold.