The Story Begins
I’m posting this especially for those who have requested something longer to read. I’m listening to your comments, and I aim to please! So here is a rather long excerpt from the beginning of “Atonement, Tennessee,” my debut novel, published on Christmas Eve 2013.
With our “interactive” serials, The Three Things, and The Three Ingredients, I’m considerate of the fact that you might not have time to settle in with the story. So I try to keep the episodes brief. Here, I’m giving you a large chunk from the beginning of Atonement, Tennessee. It’s doesn’t take itself too seriously. The urban fantasy is set in our world, in the current time, but with supernatural elements, and a side order of mystery.
Naturally I hope this leaves you with a taste to read the rest of my novel. It’s for sale at Barnes & Noble [online only of course], and at Amazon/Kindle. In case you’re curious, here’s my Amazon author page. I hope you’ll check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Teagan-Riordain-Geneviene/e/B00HHDXHVM
Dawn’s light cast shadows that shifted amid branches of magnolia and mountain laurel, and danced upon statuary and grave stones. A mouse scurried out from the darkness of the mausoleum, narrowly avoiding Lilith’s expert pounce. The big calico cat gave chase to the mouse, romping between headstones and tumbling the fallen leaves for some little while before losing interest.
Lilith held her head up expectantly, as if suddenly aware of something unseen. In a series of graceful but quick motions she jumped to a tall grave marker that had toppled against the mausoleum, and then onto the tomb’s roof.
From her high perch the calico could see a house that was on the opposite side of the street, down a short distance from her new home. Lights were on inside, silhouetting a large shape that moved from room to room. It looked like a man. He approached the tall, broad window on the second story front of the house. There he stopped, seeming to look outside as if aware of being observed.
The cat continued to stare. The silhouette seemed to shift and bulge, extending to fill the big window. Huge appendages moved rhythmically. Lilith watched, fascinated. After a moment the shape diminished and the house went dark.
Now that certainly wasn’t anything native to this place, she thought. Lilith wondered just how badly he had erred to be in this unique place. He surely wasn’t there of his own choice.
The calico sat meditatively swishing her tail as a pink sunrise gently lit the sky. Her ears pricked as she turned toward the distant sound of a rooster crowing. As morning light touched the tip of a spire on the mausoleum’s peaked roof, the calico abandoned her perch and trotted back toward her new home.
Sunlight glittered the morning dew on the grass, so she walked along the stone path. The cat stopped in a sunny spot to watch a spider. It disappeared beneath a stone, so she started washing her face, but listened for anything that might prove interesting.
Early sounds of the day were pushed aside when a shaggy dog with a ribbon bow on its head made his escape. The owner began chanting the dog’s name, “Puddles, Puddles!” in a loud, displeased monotone. The dog, having thus far outwitted the master, scampered between hedges and under a fence, where the hateful bow was happily lost. Skidding round a corner the dog came upon the fat calico cat. Lilith stopped washing her face, paw in midair, and looked disdainfully at the dog. An expression of comprehension sprang to the dog’s eyes. He turned with a shrill yip and ran back to his still chanting master.
The shadow of a hawk passed overhead as the cat sauntered to the back door of her home, entering when it opened, and meowing her opinion of the dog.
I A Home
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, ready to savor the moment. Then I opened my eyes, and for the first time, looked out the kitchen window at the morning. No. It wasn’t the kitchen window, it was my kitchen window. It seemed like forever since I’d had my own home.
I had felt terribly displaced. Renting. In the big city. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with my life there in other ways either. Many people thought I should just “catch a man” to solve all my problems. Yes, in this century, if you can believe that. But I’ve already made that mistake… more than once. I won’t make it again. Man, woman, or miscellaneous other.
Besides, I tend to freak out people when they’re that close to me. I have very strong intuition, that’s all; nothing special. I don’t see the future or anything, but apparently I “get” enough on my inner network to make some people very uncomfortable. I hide it as much as I can, but in close relationships, people usually figure out my freakish intuition. Then they’re weirded-out. So I was on a sabbatical from relationships.
All I really wanted was a home, and now I finally had one. Though how I came to have my home could be a story in itself. One day at work, I was doing some fact checking. Something just didn’t feel right about the piece I was editing. That’s my job – editing. While searching the Internet, I stumbled on a website where houses were being auctioned. I’d like to think it was my extraordinary intuition that took me to the website. However it wasn’t my intuition that led me to the site. I didn’t know it at the time, but something else was responsible for that.
Anyway, one particular house caught my eye. It was called Sunhold, though it looked more gloomy than sunny in the photos. Despite the melancholy pictures, it felt… comfortable, maybe even familiar; I couldn’t say why. It gave me goose bumps when I looked at the pictures.
Then through a stroke of luck that continued to amaze me, I won the auction for the house – and at an unbelievably low price. Granted, I was way overdue for some good luck, but things like that just don’t happen to me. It was too good to be true. Even so, only the night before, I arrived at the huge and empty old house in the quaint little town of Atonement, Tennessee.
Looking around the kitchen I felt a sense of satisfaction. It was spacious, but only a corner of it was set up for modern use. The listing had referred to it as a caretaker’s kitchen. It was furnished with an old but well-kept dinette set — 1950’s chrome-plated tubular steel frame chairs with green vinyl covered seat and back cushions, and a green and yellow dappled Formica table. There were also retro metal cabinets in a slightly lighter green than the chairs. The gas stove was low tech but relatively new, and there was a refrigerator.
The porcelain sink had a couple of chips in it, but it was in pretty good shape. I leaned against the sink as I watched a hawk settle upon the highest branch of an ancient oak, and remembered that they were supposed to be messengers. I should have wondered what the hawk’s message might be, but I marveled at its grace instead. Maybe its message was that I had just gotten my pajamas wet while leaning against the sink… I looked down at the big wet spot at my stomach and sighed.
Then I heard an unexpected feline noise at the kitchen door. It couldn’t be my cat. Or could it? The first thing I did when I got there was check the house to make sure it was “cat proof,” so she couldn’t get outside. The meow came again. That was definitely my cat. I hurried to the door.
“You know it upsets me when you get out, Lilith. What would I do if anything happened to you?” I complained, but was ignored. “Did Puddles get loose again?” I asked, noticing her catitude.
I’d heard the neighbor calling the dog the previous night, and again that morning. I gathered that was a frequent occurrence, based on the annoyed and bored tone of his voice. My answer was a long and very catty sounding meow as the calico walked past me to her food dish, fluffy tail held high and swaying. She inspected the contents for any change that may have occurred while she was outside, nibbled one kibble, and then strolled away to resume her investigation of her new living-room.
There was no microwave, I suddenly realized as I took the jar of instant coffee out of my bag of kitchen stuff. Fortunately I had included a pan among the odds and ends I thought I might need before the movers arrived. Before too long I had a steaming cup of coffee in my hand, but knowing Lilith had gotten out had been enough to wake me up, and no caffeine necessary.
There was a lot of work ahead of me. Decades of dust needed to be cleaned, and I held small hope of making progress before the moving truck containing my meager belongings arrived. Now a new task went to the top of my to-do list. If the cat had found a way out of the house, I had to find it and close off her exit. She had probably already met more neighbors than had I, and she wasn’t even supposed to get outside.
The neighborhood was rather charming, in its own way. Sunhold sat atop the hill, with a very long driveway to the road. The driveway was practically a street, the house being so far off the road. The drive was lined with tall shrubbery that had gone wild. I hoped that it bloomed at some point during the year, but I had no idea what the plants were, not yet.
Though the property was quite large, it was fenced all the way around. There was a comfortable degree of “closeness” to the houses on the opposite side of the street, though there weren’t any immediately next door. I moved dusty lace curtains to one side to look down the street. The neighborhood didn’t seem to be up and about yet.
Did I say my intuition was freakish? Well, it’s also extremely unreliable. I was not expecting a knock at the door. I looked around in an undressed panic. The sweat jacket I’d worn the night before was hanging on the stair rail, thank goodness. I put it on to camouflage the fact that I was braless, but nothing could hide my lack of makeup, or the dark circles under my eyes.
The knock came again. How could anybody be that insistent so early? I reluctantly answered the door, opening it just a crack. All I could see was a bunch of flowers, in bright fall colors. Maybe the caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet and I was dreaming… Then I heard a lilting voice come from behind the flora with a cheery, “Welcome Wagon!”
I didn’t think the Welcome Wagon still existed. Plus, how many people could sound that bubbly at that time of the morning? Usually I’m the one who’s a morning person. However, it had been a long drive from DC to Atonement, Tennessee. It was evening when I got into town, and it was very late by the time I settled down to go to sleep. I had a good case of moving exhaustion. I stood in puzzled, sleepy silence.
Then a handsome face with an engaging grin peeked around from the flowers. I was even more bewildered — and horrified at having a nice looking man, on my front porch, while I stood braless and frumpy in my pajamas!
As he moved the flowers to the side I saw one of those magnetic nametags on his jacket. It read “Guy, Fae’s Flowers,” but my foggy brain didn’t readily absorb the information. Then I saw the florist truck in my drive way. My driveway, part of my brain cheered. I remembered seeing the florist shop next to the antiques store on my way through town the evening before.
“I was so delighted to know we finally have a new lord of the manor — or I should say lady of the manor, living in the old Sunhold estate, that I simply had to do something to welcome you to the neighborhood,” he said in the most charming accent.
Was it Irish? No, not really. Scottish maybe? Not quite. Something else? I’m not good at figuring out accents. I couldn’t place it, but he was surely from somewhere around that part of the world. Then I noticed the mischievous twinkle in his green eyes. Mesmerized, I had to shake my head before I could look away.
Had I even spoken to him? I honestly couldn’t remember whether or not I had so much as opened my mouth. Or rather, whether I had uttered a word, because I think my mouth actually was hanging open. I felt my cheeks blush, and stammered a thank you.
“Oh, here. Let me get you a tip,” I started to excuse myself, and then realized that he was already standing inside. When had he gotten inside? I must have been really flustered to have let him get past the front door. Yet I honestly couldn’t remember him stepping over the threshold. It was very bewildering.
“No, no,” he said in a happy tone, waiving his hand. “I’m the shop owner. It wouldn’t be proper for you to tip me. Allow me the honor,” he said with a playful expression and a half bow. “Where can I set these?”
My face reddened further at my inadequate furnishings, but I spotted a dusty table across the room. The dust of course, was embarrassing as well. However, he placed the flowers there and pretended not to notice.
“I’m sorry,” I began, “the movers won’t be here for a while. I only got in last evening, so I haven’t had time…” I couldn’t manage to finish the sentence.
He pulled a cloth from his pocket, and I winced thinking he felt the need to clean the horribly dusty table before putting those lovely flowers on it. However, he only gave the cloth a snap over the table, and then used it to wipe the moisture from the vase. When he set the flowers down, that tiny area in front of the bay window looked like the only livable place in the house. It practically shimmered in the early morning sunlight.
“You know,” he spoke conversationally as he adjusted the arrangement, “flowers have a language all their own. Each one has a meaning. For instance in days gone by, someone might give you white heather, like this one,” he said, pointing to a blossom, “to say they hoped all your wishes would come true. It’s also for protection.”
Looking at this man, Guy, from a different perspective, he did strike me as the type of person who had a great deal of knowledge in general, not just about flowers. He had that kind of modest self-confidence. However it was combined with the contrast of cocky playfulness. So why did I feel so uncertain about him? A first impression was the area where my intuition never led me astray. But now it wasn’t leading me anywhere at all.
I commented that I had heard that flowers had meanings, but I wasn’t familiar with the particulars. I don’t have expert knowledge about flowers, but I recognized brightly colored oleander, orange roses, and the white heather among others that I didn’t know. It was an attractive, if unusual arrangement.
Reaching into his jacket pocket he withdrew a tiny green dropper bottle. The morning light was behind him as he held up the bottle, and it made the green glass shine like an emerald. “Put a few drops of this in the water, every other day or so, and the flowers will stay fresh,” he said and walked over to the spot, to which I seemed to be rooted, to hand me the little bottle.
Just then Lilith sauntered in, twined around my legs, meowed prettily, and then moved to rub her head against the man’s shin.
“Well, hello there beautiful,” he playfully said to my cat. “I hear calicos are supposed to bring good luck.”
At that Lilith jumped up into his arms. I’d always known she liked handsome men, but she’d never been quite that bold before. Startled, I started apologizing again. However, he held the cat as if he’d always known her, and scratched her chin, which she clearly enjoyed.
“I’m sorry, that’s Lilith. I can’t believe she jumped on you like that,” I said, blushing even more. My face must be scorched by now, I thought to myself.
The city must have dulled my manners, I thought, when I realized that his name was on his jacket, while I hadn’t thought to introduce myself. I held out my hand and said, “Ralda Lawton. Pleasure to meet you.”
Suddenly curious I asked, “Who is ‘Fae,’ your wife?” Then I felt humiliated that I had asked. It sounded like I was fishing for his status, and I really wasn’t. “I shouldn’t be so curious,” I added awkwardly.
Thankfully he didn’t seem to take it that way. “That’s alright, Esmeralda,” he said.
I blinked in surprise. Most people didn’t deduce Esemralda from Ralda.
“Fae was my gran. She taught me about flowers and I named the shop after her. Well, as I said, welcome to Atonement, and pardon the early morning intrusion,” he said.
He let the cat jump down as he moved toward the door. “Oh,” I blustered, “would you care for some coffee? It’s instant… sorry.”
Guy laughed. “Do you realize how many times you’ve said you’re sorry in the past five minutes?” he asked with a grin. “I should apologize for catching you off guard. I know you must have a ton of things to do… The house and the grounds — it’s a huge place for one person to take care of. I hope you’ll call on me if you need a hand with any of the ‘heavy lifting,’ I think they call it here,” he said.
There was that twinkle in his green eyes again. I could see a faint image of my frumpy reflection in the window behind him. I wondered what kind of… of trickster this man could be. That was what he seemed, a twinkle-eyed, mischievous, trickster. There was no way he was flirting! …Was he?
I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I cleared my throat, and graciously told him I’d keep that in mind. It was graciously said. Really it was. Unfortunately it came out as more of a croak from my suddenly dry throat.
“Thank you for being kind enough to let me have a look at this fine old place. I admit I’ve had an itch to see inside. However, I’m shorthanded today, and had best get back to business.”
When I thanked him for the flowers he said it was his pleasure, and then he was gone. Lilith jumped onto the windowsill and watched his florist truck turn around and head back down the long driveway.
I went to the window to pet the cat. That was when I noticed something different about the little area where he placed the flowers. The woodwork on the windowsill seemed brighter. Maybe it was a trick of the light. And the old lace curtains, which seemed so dusty moments before, weren’t showing any dust even though the sun was shining through them. That was odd, but it was early and I had an awful lot of work to get done that day, so I didn’t allow myself time to think about it.
I turned from Lilith to the flowers. They almost shimmered in the light, and I had to smile at how beautiful they were. Then I looked at the table and saw that there was not a single mote of dust on it. The wood grain shown as if it had just been polished. I blinked. Shaking my head again, I figured he had quickly wiped the table after all. I must really need more coffee, I told myself.
He’d called himself Guy. I didn’t care for the name… but what was his last name? I looked more closely, to admire the flowers, and saw the business card on the plastic stick. It read, Fae’s Flowers, Gwydion Fabdon proprietor. Gwydion? That was even more unexpected than Guy. But I liked it better. I tried it out for sound. Gwydion. Lilith meowed and turned a pirouette on the windowsill. Yes, much better than Guy.
I finished my coffee and went upstairs to get dressed. The truck from the Annie’s Antiques and Consignment Shop might be early too, I thought, catching another mortifying glimpse of my reflection in the window.
I spotted the consignment store when I drove into town. The moment I saw the shop, I knew there would be some things in the house that bothered me. You know — because of the freakish intuition. So as soon as I got into the house, I checked for any furnishings that I didn’t care to keep and called to arrange for their removal. Annie promised to send two men first thing the next morning
I told myself that after the selected furnishings were removed, it would be easier to finish dusting and generally make myself at home. However, the truth was I had immediately spotted a few pieces that while they were quite nice, they felt very wrong to me, and I wanted to be rid of them as quickly as possible. That kind of thing was part of my “intuition.” Over time I had learned to listen to it. If something felt wrong to me, there usually turned out to be a good reason for the feeling.
Choosing what to wear was no problem; most of my clothes were on the moving truck. I pulled a knit top over my head, and put on a pair of jeans that were comfortable for working. As I tied my red hair into a ponytail, I heard plaintive meowing and the noise of a rattling door. The ability to jiggle open a door that wasn’t closed properly was one of the first “talents” I had discovered Lilith possessed.
As I walked down the hall Lilith’s meows grew louder. Turning the corner I saw the calico trying her best to open a bedroom door. When I admonished her, Lilith stood, placing her front feet against the door, pawed the doorknob, and cried, “Purrr-yeow,” her most affective combination of purr and meow.
“Please don’t tell me you hear a mouse in there,” I said with a sense of the inevitable, as the cat inserted her paw beneath the door and tried to lift it upward, a tried and true feline technique for opening doors.
It occurred to me that I had only glanced at the contents of that room. I scooped up the calico and opened the door. Lilith struggled to get free. The room was almost empty except for the wardrobe and a chair. I didn’t see anything with which the cat might hurt herself, so I let her down. She went directly to the armoire and pawed at the latch. Raising an eyebrow at the cat, I opened the wardrobe, ready to jump if a mouse ran out.
At first I thought the armoire was empty, but then I realized a large mirror stood at the back. I pulled it out into the light. The metal frame was elaborately worked, and the mirror was in perfect condition. It was a fine piece. Yet when I looked into the mirror I experienced sudden intense wave of nausea. Lilith hissed.
“Nasty!” I said with a look at the cat who clearly agreed. “This can be the first thing on the truck.”
Despite the bad feeling the mirror gave me, it was an intriguing piece. I propped it in the old chair (I hadn’t decided whether to keep the chair) so I could examine it better.
The top part of the frame was worked with the image of a sword that stretched across its width, and served to connect the designs at either corner. On the right corner was a woman with arms raised. She was blindfolded. On the left corner I saw a pair of scales. “Lady Justice and the scales of truth and fairness,” I said and looked at the calico as she swished her tail in displeasure. “Maybe it’s Victorian to be so moralizing,” I pondered aloud.
The lower center of the frame was engraved. I polished at it with the edge of my long-sleeved T-shirt. The writing was so elaborate that it was almost impossible to decipher. “See in your reflection, truth and justice most poetic,” it read.
The mirror itself had a light haze of dirt that I hadn’t noticed at first. So when I looked into it, my reflection was cloudy. The haze made my hair look more brown than red. For a moment I thought it looked like my hair was up on top of my head.
I rubbed at the mirror with my sleeve and cleared a small round area. I looked at my reflection again and just saw my red ponytail and makeup-bare face. Ugh. I wished I hadn’t seen it. I looked travel-weary and generally awful.
Suddenly the light caught my silver locket. The reflection shot out so brightly that I saw spots for a moment. At least, I consoled myself, the locket was one thing that didn’t need cleaning.
Copyright © 2012 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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