I’ve got two things going against me today so today’s post is going to be a tad bit half ass (but there’s still great stuff ahead, so don’t click away just yet).
First, YAY!!!! Last week I wrote the entire first draft of a new book. And by “week” I mean six days, which is making me feel rather biblical. As mine usually are, this first draft is really thin and there’s going to be plenty more to add, but I’ve now got a skeleton to slap some flesh on.
Second, the Evil Mr. Husband has given me his head cold, which began rearing its snotty head during the final day of my First Draft Marathon.
Combine the brain drain of spewing out all those words and the fuzzy-head feeling of the head cold, plus the fact that I am now jumping in head first to the second draft of two books, and I’ve got no brain cells left for much of a blog post today.
Instead, I thought I’d give you a little sample of April’s Featured Story (available in my Payhip Bookstore) to tide you over until I can cook up some fresh, new brain matter.
Here’s the quickie blurb to lead you in, then the first little bit of the story…
**The Back Room**
Whining, growling, the sound of distressed bagpipes…what’s being kept in the back room?
Rachel’s first trip to England didn’t go as planned. She’d signed up for a tour with her best friend, Janine, but two weeks before the trip Janine met “the man of her dreams” and couldn’t bear to be parted from him, which left Rachel going solo on their girls’ getaway.
Then there was the tour itself. Headed by a sturdy woman named Ursula who would’ve made an excellent drill sergeant, every moment of the tour was scheduled down to the second. Even London traffic couldn’t stand in the way of Ursula’s rigid roster of arrival and departure times.
Rachel, not knowing other forces of nature were at work, blamed both Janine’s absence and Ursula’s punctuality on why she was currently biding her time in a pet shop in York instead of wandering the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle. Rachel had been extra diligent about setting the alarm on her phone every night, making sure to wake at least ninety minutes before the driver’s keys ever touched the tour bus’s ignition.
But ever since arriving at Heathrow, Rachel’s phone, always touchy to begin with, simply wouldn’t hold its charge.
Rachel assumed it was her usual bad luck with electronics. At the tech company where she worked as a receptionist, she had been banned from the room that held the servers because if she got within three feet of the room’s door something would shut down, throw out an odd line of code, or randomly release secure information. The techies hated her, but she had to stick it out until she could find a job she really wanted. Perhaps something working with animals.
Still, she had triple checked the phone’s battery status when she set the alarm the night before, her final night after three days in York from which the bus would depart for Edinburgh at precisely 7:20 a.m. But at 5:40 a.m. the phone remained silent because despite being fully charged only the evening before, its battery had completely died sometime in the night, and Rachel’s eyes opened to an overcast day at precisely 7:22 a.m., according to the room’s bedside clock.
Rachel scrambled into yesterday’s clothes, hurled herself down the stairs to the lobby, and dashed out to the parking lot, which was empty except for one impossibly tiny British car. Rachel trudged back inside and, her face sans make up and her hair in desperate need of a brushing, went to the reception desk.
“The tour bus left?”
“Yes, just about ten minutes ago,” said the fiery-haired clerk in her thick northern accent.
“I was supposed to be on it.”
“Ah, then you’d be Rachel. You’ve been told to catch up to them in Edinburgh.” She slid a piece of paper over the varnished wooden counter. “This is the address of the hotel they’ll be at.”
“How am I supposed to get there?”
“Well I’d say the train, but North Eastern Rail has decided to strike today.”
“Of course it has.”
“I believe one of our guests is heading north, you might be able to catch a ride. Shall ask for you?”
Rachel wasn’t keen on the idea of being in a tiny car with a total stranger. “Isn’t there a bus?”
“Aye, but with the strike they’ll be brimming over. I’ll just ring the driver up, shall I?”
Rachel agreed and browsed the brochures and maps while the clerk was on the phone. After a short conversation the clerk called her back over. “He can take you but he’s got business at the Minster until 3 p.m. You’ll have to check out by 11:00, but we can keep your bags behind the desk until he’s ready for you. Now,” she said, glancing up at Rachel’s disheveled hair, “go and tidy yourself then come back down for breakfast. You’ll feel miles better once you’ve got tea and a full English fry in your belly.”
Rachel did she was told. Breakfast, with its overload of soothing fat and protein, did make her feel better, but she still seethed over Janine’s absence as she packed her bags. Somehow this was her fault. After all, Janine — knowing electronics’ ability to misbehave around Rachel — charged her phone obsessively, especially now that she wouldn’t dare miss a call from Dream Man.
If Janine had come on this trip the phone wouldn’t have died, Rachel wouldn’t have to traipse around by herself behind Ursula the Drill Sergeant, and she wouldn’t have face riding alone in a teeny tiny car with a stranger. Who was very probably a serial killer, Rachel thought as she slammed her suitcase closed.
It was only 9:30, but Rachel knew if she stayed in her room the grumpiness would only fester. Besides, it might be nice to wander around without Ursula precisely timing each step. She dropped her luggage at reception, selected a map from the rack, and set out to explore.
It was as she was roaming down a narrow, not-quite-straight street with the upper stories of wattle-and-daub buildings looming over her that she saw them: a display of puppies in the front window of a pet shop.
The pressing tide of irritation with Ursula’s rigid schedule and the annoyance over Janine and Dream Man eased off at the sight of the cluster of five black and four white Scottie dogs. Rachel decided some puppy therapy was exactly what she needed and stepped inside, the bell over the door giving a little jingle to announce her entrance.
The puppies, kept in an open corral, immediately clambered over one another to be the first to receive Rachel’s attention. Their clumsy antics and soft puppy fur did indeed lift her mood. As did the kittens and even a parakeet who nodded his head to her whenever she passed. She was just perusing the shelves for a gift for her mom’s cat when she was approached by a small man whose shaggy-haired head barely came to Rachel’s shoulder.
“Help you find anything?” Rachel’s ears perked up at his accent. It wasn’t the heavy northern tone, but a sing-song, almost sarcastic, Welsh cadence.
“Oh, just browsing, killing time.”
“The beasts like you.” He indicated the kittens who were now all watching her as intently as if she was opening a can of tuna.
“I’ve always had a way with animals, I guess.” Which was true. Rachel might ring the death knell for phone batteries and computer code, but animals were drawn to her like bees to butterscotch. She could pet the most feral cat without a single scratch and, on more than one occasion, birds had landed on her shoulder when she’d been idling at the park near her apartment.
“We got some new ones in. They were just delivered a few days ago.” He watched her with deep golden eyes, took a quick series of breaths through his nostrils as if sniffing her, then smiled like he knew a secret he was keen to share. “Would you like to see them?”
Rachel’s instinct would normally have been screeching on high alert, but the man was so small and seemed too frail to try anything. Plus, Rachel had that awkward drive to look forward to and needed all the puppy therapy she could get.
“They’re back this way.”
The tiny old man guided Rachel down the hallway that seemed too long for the small shop. Surely the businesses on this narrow street didn’t extend so deep. And would it kill him to buy a lightbulb or two? The only light came from the front of the store and that light, already faint due to the Yorkshire clouds, was dimming with every step.
Rachel was about to “suddenly realize “she was late for an appointment when the shopkeeper stopped at a door and pulled out what reminded Rachel of keys from a pirate movie — thick black metal things hung on a ring about the diameter of a dinner plate. They clanged against one another as the old man flicked through them, but even over the noise, Rachel could hear distressed whining, disgruntled snuffling, and, oddly enough, something that sounded like a bagpipe being squeezed with too much force. The sounds inexplicably tugged at Rachel’s heart.