I've always liked the number seven. And four. No real reason, I just like these numbers, their sound and feel and colour. So I put them in my fiction when I can. When I need there to be a number of something I'll make it four or seven or multiples thereof. It's all part of that thing of ritualising the writing process, creating patterns where before there was blank space.
So today I hit 77%! That's two sevens! Home stretch! I'm nearly there, the doors to Versailles are ready to be thrown wide open. And in that spirit I thought I'd share a new extract from the book, the chapters that follow on from those available on my pledge page (http://unbound.co.uk/books/versailles). I hope you like them. They're pretty juicy (no pulp). Feel free to leave comments if you like what you see.
77%. I like sevens but I prefer the number one followed by two zeros. To get me to 100% I'll need some help getting the word out there about Versailles. If you haven't already pledged for my novel about identity in the internet age featuring animatronic dragons, enigmatic cults, speedboats and a social network guru gone haywire, then you should! You get your name in the back of the special edition hardback and a chance to be part of a revolution in publishing, deciding what voices are heard and stories are told.
If you have pledged, be wonderful if you could spread the word, either on your social networks, or word of mouth. That link again (!): http://unbound.co.uk/books/versailles. Enjoy the sunshine, beauties!! xxx
The mountains loomed and Missy turned left onto the northbound highway. The sky was cartoon blue. Her first time alone outside the city. It was like a dream.
I’m running away — I’m running away from home — I’m flying — Like an arrow — My black feathers fluttering in the wind — My wings fluttering with black feathers — I’m flying, away from them, away from everything, and the boy at school, the boy at school who told her she was beautiful.
She almost wished it was one thing she could bury deep inside, like a specific memory of a bad event. But this wasn’t like that. What Casey did was more like finding out you were living on top of a giant ant colony. Under the carpets. Teeming. First it was two three ants crawling up the power cable to your computer, up your little finger. Then they’re in your clothes, in your bed, crawling in your mouth when you’re asleep. Continuous. What Casey did was— a betrayal, but Missy wasn’t interested in finding the words just yet. First she had to live her life, follow her broken heart while it was still open. The music loud on the stereo, sword on the back seat.
A convoy of bikers overtook Missy. The roar, the vibrations, it was kind of scary but she wanted a part of it. More painted faces. There was definitely something going on. She’d drive till she got tired then find a motel, new sheets, fresh sheets, get some beauty sleep! It was weird because she didn’t miss any of the people she’d left behind, except her mom…and her brother…and Leticia…Okay, those guys, but that didn’t mean she wanted to go home. No way. Maybe it was too early to say, but right now? She felt she could handle her business just fine.
She thought about flooring the accelerator to keep up with the bikers but she was happy cruising at this speed for now, following the gentle instructions on her phone, the landscape outside her windows playing like a film all day, the highway disappearing under her car, appearing and disappearing, the rush, rush of tarmac and the landscape outside her windows, wide, wider than anything she’d ever seen, wider than a dream, this landscape like a film outside her windows, moving through and then across, a rush of tarmac and the thrill of escape. Away from Versailles, no cameras on her now. This time alone was precious. She played the right music. And the boy at school. The boy at school who told her she was beautiful.
It was a seven-minute walk between River’s bunker and Synthea Baer’s office in Versailles’ East Wing. The elevator opened into a work space defined by a single pane of curved glass framing a view of the ocean so total it sometimes felt like being at the bridge of a great ship headed elsewhere. She had lost entire days in this room, and that is how it would be today.
Her first pill had eased the nervous tension in her chest and neck enough that she could at least breathe more fully now. Synthea sat at the angled desk, closed her eyes and placed her palms face down on the cool brushed steel surface. She inhaled deeply through her nose and out again through pursed lips. She was like an actress on film, waiting for a kiss that never comes.
Synthea loved to swim. She especially loved to swim early in the morning and late at night, when her husband was asleep. Versailles had two swimming pools, but Synthea had not set foot in either for some time. She couldn’t remember exactly when the changes started. Every morning she would enter the walk-in closet intending to put on her swimsuit, and emerge wearing her work clothes. It was automatic. Like sleepwalking, the silver gray suit a second skin, the imagined ribbon of light guiding her out of the closet, out of her room, and back up to her office.
Once there, sitting in front of her desk, the trance only deepened, the numbness spreading to her lips and finger tips. And there she stayed, sometimes for hours, not moving a muscle. The journey to her son’s room this morning had been a deviation from the designated path, this pattern of non-existence, and the effort had left her with barely enough energy to breathe.
But breathe she did, and swim. She swam great distances in her mind, out, out into the ocean, away from Versailles and out of frame, until there was no land in sight and then downwards, diving deep, and deeper still, until there was no light, no one, nothing but her.
It was hours before she surfaced again, she could not tell how long, but the sky had darkened outside her window. Time for her second pill. Versailles roared beneath her like a vast, buried spaceship. Missy’s birthday. For several moments she couldn’t remember her daughter’s age. She made a calculation. That’s right. Her Missy was sixteen years old today. She realized there had been no promises. Nothing planned for Missy’s birthday. Not even a cake with candles. Synthea opened her eyes. An unexpected adrenaline rush allowed her to stand up from her chair. She picked up the smartphone from the desk and selected Missy from her favorites. It was ringing. It was ringing but Missy didn’t pick up. Synthea couldn’t bring herself to leave a voicemail. She touched the metaphor of a red button on the capacitive screen and let the device fall to the floor at her feet. She looked down and saw the diagonal crack. Time to break the rules. She put the pill back in its plastic bottle and screwed the lid until it clicked and clicked again. She turned to face the elevator and walked towards it. She had to find her daughter.
Until now the voice had told her where to go next. Which turns to make in the city, which exits to take on the highway. Like satellite navigation but better, because this was her adventure. Around four in the afternoon, the landscape playing like a film, the voice on Missy’s phone said to stop at the next gas station and take something that wasn’t hers.
Whatever happens, the man said, do not hesitate. Do not look back, Missy. It does not matter what it is, but you must. To move to the next stage, you must take something that is not yours. Right away she turned the music off, the landscape now a different film outside her window. She felt sick. Controlling the car was suddenly a very difficult task, like the whole thing might break apart at any moment. Like riding a rollercoaster. There was no way. No way was she going to steal. This wasn’t a video game, this was real life, and stealing was wrong. No way would she ever do something like that. She thought of her mother, the comb passing through her long, dark hair, a cache of birthday presents still waiting. Sixteen candles. A birthday cake made with lemons and her mother waiting in the electric blue dress, the choice of outfit, her careful makeup. A tear rolled down Missy’s cheek but she could not go back. Not now, not ever. This wasn’t a video game, this was real life, her life, her decision to run away, out of frame, Versailles in the rear mirror. But no way was she going to steal just because some random voice— and there it was, still a ways off but close enough to know: the spinning blue and white sign of a gas station. She checked the fuel gauge. Almost empty.
The sharp air-conditioning set the mood. Missy hooked her arm through the rubberized blue handles of her basket like, look, this is me, walking down the aisle, shopping for myself. She realized she never did this before. All the food, drink, clothes, make-up, whatever she needed, it was there before she even asked. Versailles was a dream she was only just waking up from, here in this convenience store.
Right now she needed supplies. Something to eat, something to drink. Apple juice, she liked apple juice. Orange juice, she liked orange juice. Iced tea. She loved iced tea, especially with lots of ice, by the pool. There was lemon iced tea. Raspberry. Green tea iced tea. All different kinds. Missy had never been this thirsty in her life. She held one of the cold bottles to her cheek, the condensation leaving a patch on her skin. Then she cracked open the lemon iced tea and took a hit. She was paying for it so why not, right? Wait, this was too many drinks, the basket was already too heavy. She put back the orange juice with pulp and the diet sparkling green tea with strawberry kiwi iced tea, and kept the rest. Next. Cereal. Most important meal of the day they said. Two boxes of Cap’n Crunch and her basket was full and almost too heavy to carry. Missy felt suddenly very tired, ready to go to sleep tired. She set down the basket on the ground and took a second to compose herself. Shopping was really hard, she decided. Missy gave herself a second. But in that moment something happened, the world shifted on its axis — Twinkies. Twinkies happened. Right in front of her, at eye-level, she saw them, or rather they saw her. She didn’t even like Twinkies, but in that moment she knew. Flying crocodile. Versailles in the rear mirror. What Casey did. She suddenly had the strangest sense that this bunch of Twinkies was the answer, her escape. She plucked the packet from the scratched white shelf and scrunched the cellophane till it tensed like a balloon. She closed her eyes and she was high above the earth, suspended there from a brightly colored air balloon and rising, Versailles too small to see, the ocean waves unmoving, areas of blue, patches of green, yellow, brown and then — Missy opened her eyes and started walking, reality left behind with her basket full of cold drinks, the condensation forming a small pool on the ground now they were out of the refrigerator. Next thing she knew she was through the automatic doors, a slow flash of glass catching the neon and the sun, a blast of warmer air from outside. The automatic doors and her act felt automatic, her shiny, black SUV waiting for her in the parking lot across the way, the closing distance and the man calling her back from inside. The man was calling and she started running, closed the distance to her car and climbed inside. The thumping bass of whatever music played last.
She chased herself for miles afterwards, every car in her mirror, the pine trees growing darker to the right, taller somehow and the looming mountains behind. She thought of him. The young clerk who hadn’t made eye-contact. She saw him on the way in – a little heavy around the edges, his curly hair a murky blonde. She thought of him in his glass box, as the tarmac passed underneath her car she worried he might get in trouble with his boss, their different colored shirts, the pine trees growing taller somehow and the thought of cameras, grayscale security footage of her crazy act.
Twinkies. She laughed out loud at this, but didn’t dare glance at the shiny cellophane packet on the passenger seat, the feeling in her belly blossoming with new guilt, the laughter turned to singing when Scout Rose came on the radio, her favorite song, a song she’d had on a loop in the weeks before she ran away, away from Versailles, across America, Twinkies on the passenger seat and the soft roar of the SUV, minor adjustments translating to giant swerves, the thrill of escape and the blue unknown. She touched her phone and spoke a text.
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