View Full Version : Chapter 1: Doors - Warning: Language

Celeste Barwick
January 8th, 2011, 05:08 PM
Hello, I'm new to this forum. I have posted the first chapter of my novel "The Roar of The Dandelion", below. The story is about two girls who are dragged from town to town by their schizophrenic mother.

I am concerned, of course, about grammar and spelling. But because it's the first chapter, I'm even more concerned about "hooking" the reader. I would like the story to be engaging, so any feedback that you may have regarding that would be greatly appreciated! Also, I would love it if you would let me know if anything disrupts the flow of the story or doesn't seem clear. Thank you.


An exotic, reptilian creature pursued her. It surged forward with unusually graceful, fluid movements, as if it was submerged in liquid. It smoldered like hot coal in the nebulous darkness. Feathery tendrils flowed from its arms and hovered around it like fire. Sadie strained as she pushed her limbs forward through the dense atmosphere, dragging her feet through thick soot. Despair at the idea of drowning, and the dread of being chased, pressed painfully against her chest. The sluggishness of her escape was maddening. Something in the distance cut through the darkness. It was the faint whisper of the tide as it lapped against the shore. She swelled with relief when she felt the tide's overwhelming embrace. She was pulled out of her dream by the urgent hiss of her sister's whispers.

"Sadie, come on. Wake up. We have to leave."
"Why?" Sadie asked sleepily. The powerful feeling of the dream lingered with her.
"We gotta go...now! It's mom, can't you hear her?," April whispered desperately as she grasped for her sister's hand underneath the covers. Their mother's voice was maniacal. It was beastly. It bellowed and rolled down the hallway.

April crawled out from under the warmth of the covers. Sadie followed. They quietly pressed their bare toes against the chalky wooden floor in the dark. April had reached her hand towards the doorknob and was a moment from touching it when they heard their mother's heavy footsteps shiver the walls of the hallway. They stiffened with fear.

Alexa's voice thundered, "You don't know who I am, and what I could do to you! A worthless man like you will ever know what I could do! I could have you killed with a snap of my fingers! You're a fool to treat me this way!" Alexa's voice hovered ominously outside of the bedroom door. They remained frozen in the dark, dense tension of the room. Suddenly, the door was flung open violently and hurled closed with a startling thwap. The girls jumped. Alexa stamped down the hallway and into another room. Her words were lost in the angry rumble of her voice.

April wrapped her arms around her sister's shoulders. They stood silently for awhile, shaken. They marveled at the thin, jagged sliver of yellow light that streamed through the large, vertical crack in the door. She was struck with the understanding of how breakable the door had been, and how truly unprotected they were. It had seemed so solid. Sadie could sense that her sister was thinking about abandoning her earlier plan of escape. But after a moment's hesitation, April crept forward with Sadie in tow.

The wrought iron knob clicked faintly as April turned it. Their mother had slammed the door with such force that it was stuck closed. Alexa shot a barrage of fierce insults that could be heard from their room. It was safe to move. April pressed her shoulder against the door and leaned into it. It popped softly as it opened.

With the door now open, Alexa's shrill voice was more clear, "...You wouldn't dare to leave me!" Then Johnny said something that they couldn't quite hear, but Alexa interrupted brusquely, "I have children. I know that you don't care about them, but I do, and I won't have another man leave them!"

The girls scuttled across the hallway and into the other room. The soft shuffling sounds of their feet were unheard under Alexa's screaming accusations.

As they hoisted their bodies up onto the window sill they could faintly hear Johnny say, in a remarkably temperate tone, "Stop punishing yourself Alexa. Please...please stop doing this? Nothing is wrong between us, alright? You and the girls are happy here, aren't you? Let's just take a moment to calm down." They each hopped out of the window. As soon as their feet hit the cool grass, April grabbed her sister's hand and started running, dragging Sadie behind her. Alexa's yelling could be heard clearly, even as they ran away.

The moon was bright and pale yellow, and the sky was an unusual deep purple color. The yard was decorated with large, white refrigerators and ovens. Some of them had been abandoned and were being consumed by rust. They seemed like beautiful moonlit monoliths. April navigated through the labyrinth of appliances, pulling Sadie by the arm until she found the path to the park. The girls' calloused feet were acquainted with the trail, and there was just enough light to aid in their escape. The trees parted at the end of the trail to reveal the rolling, grassy, moonlit hills of the park.

They plodded softly through the dew-covered grass. Sadie gazed at the fading stars in the royal purple sky. Her sister was still pulling her gently by the arm. April, noticing that her sister's pace had started to drag, stopped. April looked back at her, annoyed. "What's wrong with you? Do you want to stay here? Do you want mom to take us away again?" She said, shaking Sadie's shoulder lightly.
"I'm cold," Sadie whined, missing the comfort of the bed. Then she was struck with a realization, “We left Cuddles! We have to get him...” She bolted in the other direction, but April yanked her back.
"I'm cold too, but..." April, realizing that she hadn't fully explained the direness of their situation, knelt in front of Sadie and looked her in the eye, grasping her hand firmly.
"Sis, we have to find a place to stay, just you and me. You like it here, don't you?" April crooned, finally catching her attention.
"Yeah, but...I'm tired. Why can't we stay with Johnny?" Sadie whimpered, looking at her bare feet. April let out an exasperated sigh and tried to muster all of the patience that she could.
"I'm tired too, Sadie. And I'm cold. But mom is being stupid again. You know how stupid she gets sometimes?" Sadie nodded, pouting. "She's gonna take us away again. Somewhere else. And we're probly not gonna have a bed. Johnny was nice to us, remember? But, mom's next boyfriend probly won't be nice like Johnny is. Sis, pleeeaaase come with me. Please! We can come back after mom leaves and get your bear, okay?" Sadie wiped her eye sleepily with the back of her hand, and nodded reluctantly. It seemed that Sadie finally understood, so April squeezed her hand firmly and sprinted forward again.

Their feet were wet with dew and mud. A small twig had become stuck in between April's toes, but she kept running, despite the jarring pain in her foot.

April had known that it would only end in disappointment. She had known that they would end up leaving. In a moment of panic, she had decided that they were going to run from their mother instead of with her, this time. She didn't really know where they were going. We'll find a place to live, April told herself as they plodded. After all, they'd lived in strange places before, some worse than others. April was nine years old, but she thought that she could do a better job of taking care of them than Alexa ever could.

A leafy, rustling sound was following them. The girls looked over their shoulders to see flashlights searching through the trees in the dark behind them. April quickened her pace. She willfully ignored the dull ache in her foot. The park was usually filled with the laughter of children during the daylight hours. But now the only sounds that could be heard were the patter of their bare feet and the thudding footsteps and rustling leaves on the trail behind them.

"Sadie? April?" An unfamiliar male voice yelled. They knew that it wasn't Johnny, because he had a thick New York accent. It was an accent that had seemed strange at first, but had grown on them. The tromp of the footsteps were getting closer. The flashlights searched the ground around them. April clutched Sadie's hand even tighter.

Suddenly, their feet were flooded with light. "Freeze!" a voice boomed at the back of their heads. The girls froze with surprise. They heard faint chuckles in the darkness. The park was suddenly filled with men's howling laughter. Tired and hurting, April gave up on her escape plan. She felt a sickening combination of fear and defeat churning in her stomach. Unlike her sister, Sadie felt a little relieved that they'd been caught. She was tired of running, and being caught made her feel like she was playing a game of pretend, like cops and robbers.

"C'mon girls, we're just pulling your chain," one of the men assured them as he tried to catch his breath. They were two tall men with shiny silver badges; bright spots reflecting the moonlight against their dark uniforms. Their faces were invisible under the shadows of their official looking caps, except for their white, beaming smiles. They were policemen. Or as their mother called them, cops, or pigs.

"I know things are little shaky at home, girls. But you'll never survive out here in the wilderness," one man stated matter-of-factly. April's stomach churned. Her throat tightened. She was too upset to speak. The cops clearly didn't know what they were running from. They didn't know anything. One of the men squatted and reached out his hand. April didn't want to return to the house to face the upheaval that Alexa had caused, but she didn't want to be put in jail either. Her mother had instilled a sense of distrust in them. Distrust for men, especially men in uniform. So April was hesitant to take his hand, but she did. Sadie grabbed onto April's other hand. They were led back along the trail by the uniformed men. Just as April started to feel the panic rising at the thought of returning, one of the men said, "Where can we take you to stay for the night? Can you think of any place nearby that makes you feel safe?"

Safe? April turned the word over in her head. The policemen were surprised at the length of the pause as April searched her mind for a familiar face that evoked the feeling of safety. She tried to think of someone, anyone. Her foot throbbed. She reached down and dislodged the sharp twig from between her toes.
The painful was culprit removed. April's mind cleared. "We could stay with the woman that lives up the street, our neighbor. There are two older girls. They have horses. They let me ride them sometimes." She seemed unsure as she told them this, but was unable to think of anyone else nearby that they knew. There was a man that had sold Alexa some "weed". He was the only other adult that they really knew in town. April was young, but she still knew that this particular man wouldn't appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night by the cops. The nice lady that lived up the street was a much better choice.

"Okay, then," the officer said, smiling. The situation was mildly unsettling, but it was outside of his call of duty to do anything more. The girls were both seated in the back of the police car. "Now, don't get too used to sitting back there," the officer in the driver's seat stated with a stern frown, then smiled and winked at them. They didn't respond.
April gave them directions to their neighbor's house. The police car pulled up in front of the small house that was abutted by two horse stalls. The horses moved in their stalls in the dark, disturbed by the unexpected visitors. The windows of the house were black, except the reflection of the moonlight. As they stepped out of the car, following the men to the doorstep, they could smell the horse manure and hay. April thought that this was yet another thing, from yet another town, that she would miss. She knew that she may never see her neighbors or their horses again. She also realized that the sight and smell of the neighbor's house did make her feel safe, after all. As the four of them approached the front porch one officer spoke to the other.

"What time is it?"
"Dunno, around 4:00, I think."
"Hopefully they'll hear us knocking."
"If not," he whispered, "where should we take 'em?"
The other officer shrugged, "CPS, I guess. I don't know. Never had one like this. We'll find out." To April, something about "CPS" didn't sound good. It sounded bad, and she didn't know why. The officer knocked.
Knock. Knock-knock. Knock. He paused for awhile, then knocked again.

Sadie was only five years old, but she had already learned the difference between a good knock and a bad knock. They'd been driven from their small apartment recently by one of Alexa's boyfriends, who had kicked the door so hard that the hinge broke. They'd hidden in the corner of their apartment while he yelled angrily at their door. "No one ever steals from me! Especially not a dumb whore like you! Let me in or I'll break the door down!" Alexa had been clutching the wooden handle of a dull steak knife, which was the only weapon that she could find. April had whispered to her sister as they hid in the corner, reminding her of the story about the three little pigs. She had told Sadie to imagine that they were the three little pigs, and the irate man that bludgeoned their door was the big bad wolf. The game had worked. Sadie hadn't felt scared after that. They had packed the car with their few things and left later that night. After that, the girls always listened carefully when someone knocked, because A bad one could evolve into something worse.

The officer's rap on their neighbor's door sounded playful and thoughtful, as if to express: We're okay out here, no worries.

There was a pause, then one of the black windows filled with yellow light. The curtain was drawn back. The shadow of a woman peered out. The girls stood behind the officers, still holding hands. The door finally opened, flooding the front porch with light, and revealing the officer's faces. The girls looked up to see what they looked like. They were both clean shaven and tan, and looked a little tired around the eyes. The woman wrapped her robe around her tightly against the cold night air, then glanced at the children with a puzzled expression. They'd met her before, but she didn't seem to recognize them. "Can I help you?" She greeted them with heavy eyelids and a groggy voice.

"Yes, m'aam. These girls' parents were involved in a domestic dispute. They told us that you may be willing to take them in for the night until things get resolved? I apologize for the hour."

"Oh!" She said warily. In her exhausted state, she was obviously struggling to grasp the circumstances that had suddenly appeared on her doorstep at dawn. The officers told her that they would inform their parents of the girls' whereabouts when the dispute was resolved. Sadie and April didn't bother to clarify that Johnny wasn't actually their father, or anything close to it.

The woman looked at the two unfamiliar girls that were standing in front of her with disheveled hair and bare, dirt caked feet. She nodded and said, "Of course. Of course they can stay with me." She smiled at them, and they could now see genuine concern in her eyes.

She guided the girls into her house. One of the officers knelt down to their eye level and said, "Girls, you don't worry about your mom, now. Things are going to be fine in the morning." His smile was perfectly white and straight. Something about it seemed phony.
"Yeah, we know", April scoffed. That's what they always say, she thought.

The woman smiled at the officers and said goodnight, shutting the door. "Your hands are so cold! Let's get you warmed up!" She said with a voice that was still laden with sleep. "My girls are asleep, so try to stay quiet, okay. You can sit on the couch and watch TV with the volume down while I draw you a warm bath." They brightened when they heard her say this. They loved watching television. Johnny had one. The thought of Johnny and his nice house, television, and comfortable bed gave April a sinking feeling in her chest. Now that they'd been captured, she knew that they'd have to leave.

Sadie and April shared a warm bubble bath, dried themselves off, and changed into the clean t-shirts they'd been given to sleep in. They settled into the ample cushions of the soft leather couch and swaddled themselves in the clean blankets that they'd been given. They intently watched images flicker across the TV screen. The woman brought them hot chocolate with marshmallows. She told them that her name was Barbara, and that she and her daughters had lived in the house since her first daughter was born. When the girls asked about a framed black and white photo that depicted Barbara sitting next to a man with a kind smile, she told them that the man in the photo was her husband, and that he had died when her daughters were about as young as them. She was a single mother of two girls, just like their own mother. Sadie chimed, "We have different daddies, my dad is dead too," As she took a sip of cocoa.
"Oh, I'm sorry, darling," Barbara said softly, brushing Sadie's hair out of her eyes.
She shrugged. " I didn't know him", she said nonchalantly.

Actually, she wasn't sure that her father was dead. This was just something that Alexa would tell her sometimes when she started "asking too many questions". Alexa would often tell her outrageous things about her father. She'd heard so many stories that she didn't know what to believe, and had already given up on knowing the truth about him. Whenever she showed any curiosity about him Alexa would immediately snap, "Stop asking questions about that man, Sadie! He isn't worth thinking about!"
Even though she didn't really know the truth about her father, Sadie liked the response that she would get when she told someone that he was dead. Their voice would often take on sweet, silky tones that invoked a sweet feeling inside her.

After the girls were finished drinking their rare treat, Barbara pulled the covers up to their chins and told them goodnight and not to let the bedbugs bite, which made them giggle. Then the light clicked off and Barbara left. They whispered to each other in the darkness.

"Sadie, I'm not gonna go. If mom comes to pick us up in the dragon, I'm telling her that I'm gonna stay here." The dragon was what they had named their car; a sputtering, smoking green station wagon that always seemed ornery to them. Sometimes they felt as if it was swallowing them in the middle of the night like a beast. They'd been dragged from town to town by their mother's beastly car so much that they had developed a true fear of it.
"Yeah, me too. I'm gonna stay with you, sis. Maybe mom won't find us," Sadie said happily.
"Yeah, maybe not," April said sceptically.

The girls were warm and comfortable. By the time that the sun had washed the sky light celadon green, they'd drifted to sleep. But before they could even start dreaming, they were suddenly jolted awake by their mother, who shook them by the shoulders and whispered sharply, "We have to leave!" April tried to speak, but her mother's crazed expression scared her into submission. Alexa's eyes were wide and savage with excitement as she seized them from the comfort of the blankets that they were nested in. Alexa, who was still wearing a thin nightgown, moved quickly and feverishly. April hoped that Barbara wouldn't wake up to see their mother frantically searching through her desk drawers for a pen. Alexa quickly scribbled a note on a napkin from the dining room table, then dragged the girls by their arms violently through the front door. "Johnny is trying to kill me. He wants me dead," Alexa raved as she pulled them towards the car.

The dragon car was still running in the driveway, choking and sputtering. Alexa pushed them into the back seat and slammed the door. Sadie was tired of being dragged by her arm, which was still sore from April pulling on it during their earlier attempted escape. As soon as they were in the car, they were overwhelmed with disappointment when they realized that they were sharing the back seat with boxes. The front seat was also piled with boxes. They were still wearing the clean-smelling t-shirts that Barbara had given them.

"Mom, should we give these shirts back to that nice lady? They're hers, she gave them to us to sleep in," April said guiltily.
Alexa shot her daughter a fierce look from the front seat, "Of course not. We have bigger things to worry about right now, April. Didn't you hear me? Johnny is going to try to kill me! Besides, that's what she gets for meddling in other people's affairs!" Alexa said, sounding a little dejected that her daughter wasn't more concerned for her life. "Damned cops. It wasn't their place to take you to this stranger's house without my permission. Leave it to those fascist control freaks to meddle in your personal, private business," Alexa mumbled to herself.

Before the car even started to move, they dismissed Alexa's story. Johnny had been so tender with all of them that they couldn't imagine why he'd want to hurt her. Johnny had always stayed calm, even through Alexa's most vicious tantrums. Tonight was one of at least a few times that they'd seen her try to provoke him. But he never gave in to her mania. It was obvious that Alexa had imagined Johnny's death threat, as she so often did. Knowing that they were in no real danger, they leaned their heads on the edge of a box and tried to sleep.

Early morning sun now glared through the windows. This, and the clanking sounds of the old car, made it difficult for the girls to fall asleep. April pulled her shirt, the shirt that had unintentionally been stolen from Barbara, over her head to block out the light. It smelled clean. It felt soft against her cheek. Something about this made unwanted tears pool in her eyes. She was grateful that Alexa couldn't see her face. Alexa hated it when April cried. With her shirt covering her face, and her head laid against the blunt edge of the box, April cried herself to sleep.

As they drove away, Sadie thought about Johnny. She was going to miss his cooking, and his stories. In her mind, she replayed the days that she had spent alongside him as he fixed the appliances for his shop, talking to him and laughing at his jokes. Johnny's humor was a natural part of him. It was an automatic response to irritable situations, as easy as a sneeze. Nothing like Alexa. Sadie loved it. He even looked sort of funny. He had a stout frame that was accentuated by a big belly. He also had a receding hairline. He never failed to point out these traits, with good humor. She had loved his thickness. His size had made her feel safe. Sadie wished that her mom had been nicer to him. Alexa's other boyfriends had never even seemed to notice the girls, but Johnny had softened to them instantly. Thinking of this, she drifted into restless sleep.

"We'll live in a nice apartment." Alexa said as she drove down the familiar streets that led to the highway. "I'll find a man that will take care of me like a man should. There has to be at least one real man out there, somewhere. We'll live by the ocean. It will be amazing. I won't have to deal with any of this shit anymore," she said harshly through clenched teeth to her sleeping daughters. "Say goodbye to Ben Lomond, girls. This is the last time that we'll have to live in this shitty little town. We could go anywhere in California. We could go anywhere.” Alexa's voice was thin and wavering. She'd stretched it to it's limit that night. “You know what I'm gonna do? I'll write a book. I've been wanting to write a book for a long time. You know, my professor in college told me that I could be good at writing. But then I met Jeff.” She launched his name hatefully, like a grenade. The sound of it conjured something explosive inside of her, something that had to be thrown away and forgotten. “I'll make revolutionary art, now that I have the time. I won't have a man to distract me from what I can accomplish. I could have been a great artist if I wanted to be. I'll show him and all those other assholes what I can do! Then they'll feel worthless." Tears sprung from her eyes, wetting the front of her nightgown and clouding her vision. She hated herself when she cried. She didn't want anyone to know that she was breakable. She didn't want to admit it to herself. She would also never admit that she was going to miss Johnny, or any man.

Asleep in the back seat, Sadie dreamed of the dragon again. It soared towards her majestically. Its feathery, fiery tendrils wrapped themselves around her arms. This time, she wasn't able to escape its power. It swallowed her, and she knew that she would have to spend the rest of her life inside of its hot, red stomach.

The car clattered furiously as it coasted onto the highway. The weight of the mattress that was tied to the top of it made it sway and jostle. Despite this, the girls didn't wake from their sleep. The excitement of their escape, and their capture, had exhausted them. Alexa ranted as she drove, saying that the next part of their lives would be different. It would be better. She didn't remember completely what had just happened. She was only aware of the relentless impulse to run.

January 8th, 2011, 06:20 PM
Definitely the start of something, though I thought it was sort of odd that the officers would take the kids to anywhere other than their parents' house. I suppose if the officers were very close with the family and had a previous arrangement with the father, but they didn't even drop them off at a relatives house, it was some old lady. Not that this action is entirely impossible, it seems very irresponsible for an officer to drop of two kids anywhere but the parents' house or a relative. But in your story it seems that the officers know the family pretty well, along with others in the town. Small town procedures are different due to comfort, so with that in mind perhpas this action wasn't so risky after all.

Celeste Barwick
January 8th, 2011, 07:09 PM
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, MrDeadman. In the story, the girls are dragged from town to town by their insane mother, who is their only family. The officers don't know what to do with them, since they don't have any other family or people that they know that evokes the feeling of "safety", and returning them to their raging mother isn't an option. Your comment has made me realize that this could be made more clear in the story. Thanks very much for your feedback!

January 8th, 2011, 08:20 PM
I liked this a lot Celeste. It's a very good start and definitely held my interest all the way through, so I think you have the 'hook' down. :) I do think that the part where the officers take the girls to the neighbors can be clarified a bit. One other thing struck me as a bit off. That was, it seemed the time line was too short between the time they had left their house, to the time the sound of rustling footsteps from the officers were heard by them. Maybe clarify why the officers were there so quickly, or draw out the time they spent running.
Good story. :)

Celeste Barwick
January 8th, 2011, 08:49 PM
This is very helpful feedback, thank you! And thank you for taking the time to read it. I'll look at it with fresh eyes.

January 8th, 2011, 09:15 PM
A wonderful Beginning to a story. My interest was kept through and through, and i would love to read more. I would love to help with critiquing, but unfortunately i have very little experience doing so, and also have much to learn my self. :)

January 9th, 2011, 12:35 AM
Your story did "hook" me right off, I'm anxious to read more. But as I read along I was struck by the use of so many descriptive adjectives and adverbs. Maybe just a little paring. The police search was odd to me, abrupt and rather unprofessional and unsympathetic. It seemed they thought it funny trying to scare the little 5 and 9 year old girls, yelling "Freeze, then chuckling, then howling laughter. I , too, think taking them to a neighbor instead of the station at 4:00 A. M. was strange. (but maybe I watch too many cop shows )

There is so much to like about your story so far. You draw your characters well and i love some of your details, the twig caught between her toes, and Sadie liked the response that she would get when she told someone that he was dead. Their voice would often take on sweet, silky tones that invoked a sweet feeling inside her. I can see a little girl recognizing and craving that tenderness.
Very nice, Celeste and welcome. I havent't commented on your poetry yet, but yes, yes, yes.

Celeste Barwick
January 9th, 2011, 05:12 AM
Thanks so much for your reply, apple! This is also very helpful. The first chapter can be so awkward (it takes awhile to find the voice of the story), so I appreciate any guidance and support that I can get! I had the pleasure of reading one of your poems, and was really moved by it. Glad that I found this forum!

April 17th, 2012, 08:57 AM
My first thought was exactly the same as MrDeadman. I think if I were writng this, I might go to the local poice and ask what their policy is on a domestic situation of this sort. Maybe if the mother had a history of whacko violent behavior on record, then maybe thwey would take the kids to a neighbor, but more like, they'd take them to childrens services of some kind. I did think that was odd. Flow is not bad but, a bit off at times. My mind kept gyrating. There's potential this story, but for now I would suggest editing for clarity. Overall, I was confused.