Normally, I’d post a poem this second Monday of the month, but March 11th happens to be the protagonist’s birthday in one of my novel/game projects, Glass. It never fails that I end up thinking about this particular story on this particular day, so here’s an excerpt from the novel version:
Entry 1: Lost Boy
If Heaven is a real place, can I go there?
Cold. Why was it so cold?
I couldn’t tell. I opened my eyes – or were they already open? – and saw nothing but black. There was no sky. There was no soil. I stretched out my arms. I felt nothing. Nothing but a chill that tingled along the outline of my body. My fingers trembled. My legs shook. A shiver raced up my spine and pounded at the top of my scalp.
Wait. There was something. I noticed the roaring of the river for the first time. Why hadn’t I heard it before? Had it been my mind or my ears lagging behind? I still don’t know. Maybe the blackness outside was seeping inside. Maybe it was coming in through my ears. Maybe it was traveling over my tongue. Maybe it was bleeding in beneath my eyes, crawling into my veins, and painting over the white of my skull. Maybe it was clogging up my thoughts as well as my senses.
I looked around again at nothing. I needed to get away. If I was asleep, I needed to wake up.
The water was loud. Close. But no matter how much I searched, it wasn’t there. My hands couldn’t touch it. My eyes couldn’t find it. I could breathe, so I wasn’t beneath it.
Perhaps it was just an illusion, after all. Perhaps it wasn’t even there.
Or perhaps it was me who wasn’t there at all.
My head jerked in the direction of the noise. My pulse crashed against my ribs. That single word pierced the black. My name.
Should I have recognized that voice? For a fleeting second, I almost believed I had, but then that faint tint of familiarity was gone. It passed right through my hazy head, lingering only on the edge that emptiness failed to permeate.
Whoever it belonged to, they were frightened. Terribly frightened. I’d never heard so much dread before.
Don’t go? But I had to go. I certainly couldn’t stay!
“Don’t go!” the voice begged, as if it were arguing with my thoughts. It was a scream. The type of wail that cuts off as a heart stops beating forever.
I didn’t move.
They were calling for help. They were calling me for help.
My throat condensed with a heavy swallow. “Where are you?”
No answer. The nothing ate my noise. Could the stranger hear me at all? That thought sucked the voice right out of me.
My stomach tightened. I needed to save them. I wanted to save them.
But somehow, I knew that I couldn’t.
My own dread drummed in my heart and drowned out the river’s rumbles. “Hey, who – ”
“– are you?”
I was staring at the ceiling. My eyelids pushed against a clammy brow and left my eyes wide. My heart tried to hammer through my chest. My lungs fought for frantic air.
“Huh?” my confused whimper found no answer. Of course not. There was no one there.
…No one there at all. Heat rushed to my pale cheeks. Ugh, I was such a coward.
I kicked the thick blanket off as if the entire thing had been its fault and sat up in bed. A grimace knotted up my trembling lips, holding in any more whimpers that might try to escape. A nightmare. That’s all. Just a nightmare. Like something out of those dumb horror movies Mom wouldn’t let me watch. I forced my breath to calm for the sake of my own self-pride. Thank God I hadn’t wet myself, or Sis would never have let me hear the end of it!
Haze still clogged up the inside of my head. I ran tense fingers across my sweaty forehead, as if I could pull the blankness out. I closed my eyes and groaned, before slowly forcing them back open.
…Where was this, anyway?
I blinked. At first glance, the room looked like a mess of gray and red. The walls and ceiling were made of dull brick – a sheet of silver. My bedding was red. The carpet was red. The curtains that covered the windows were red. A new shiver crept up my spine as recognition – or rather, the lack of it – cut through the fog.
I’d never seen this place before.
We were traveling. That is, Mom, Dad, big brother, Sis, and me. We were on our way to a summer camp in California and my Grandma’s house, where we’d be staying. I never wanted to go. Dad made me.
But this…wasn’t my grandmother’s cabin.
I straightened, letting my bare feet touch the plush red carpet below my bed.
Was this…a hotel? Perhaps I’d fallen asleep in the car, and…
Yes. That had to be it!
I let out my relief with a smile, giving the room another scan now that my mind had calmed enough to take in the details. I was still in my day clothes – more proof that I’d simply dozed off. A dresser sat against the opposite side of the wall. Paintings of flowers and ugly old ladies hung from the brick – nothing unusual there, hotels always had stupid pictures. A fancy pendulum clock rested beside them. A tall, leafy plant stood in the corner. An empty table sat beside my bed. All of it was carved from the shadow by a flickering orange glow.
Something else became apparent as I glanced around. I was entirely alone.
A sudden joy got me to my feet. Heh. I had my own room, for once! I always had to share when we were traveling. This one was much bigger than my small bedroom at home, too.
I walked over to the curtains and pushed them aside. The view didn’t offer any new insights as I peered through the glass. It was dark.
I found myself frowning, just a bit. My gaze spun to the clock on the wall.
9:17. That must’ve meant 9:17 at night. My bedtime was at eight, after all. At least, when I didn’t sneak food and candy under my bed and stay up all night playing video games beneath the covers. Mom would have had a fit if she’d found out!
I smiled again, until a prickle at the back of my neck made it wilt. Where were Mom and Dad, anyway? What about my siblings?
They had to be around somewhere. If it were a hotel, then maybe they were in rooms next to mine. My parents would get mad if I woke them up, but big brother wouldn’t mind, at least. I didn’t think I could sleep again until someone told me where we were. That was normal, wasn’t it? I wasn’t scared by the nightmare!
It was warm, I realized as I walked through the musty, unfamiliar room. When I neared the door, I found the source of light – a fireplace set into the hallway wall. It was lit, with weak flames dancing in shades of red and yellow. I stopped and stared. We didn’t have a fireplace at home. I was a bit surprised that Mom and Dad had left one burning in my room, really.
I watched the fire a few moments longer, before something on the mantle registered in my eyes.
I snatched up the small brown book, half-expecting someone to try to grab it away. I held it close to my chest and surveyed the room, before looking it over more closely. The cover was unlabeled – purposely, of course – but the telltale soda stain in the lower left corner identified it. Sure enough, it was my journal. …What had it been doing up there? Tensing, I skimmed through the pages.
My stomach dropped. I stared at the last entry:
We left the house today. We’re headed towards Grandma’s and that stupid camp. We won’t be home for another four weeks. What a waste of summer.
I’m bored already. I’ve been sitting back here with big brother for, well, it feels like forever. I guess it’s only been a few hours. Sis of course has the front seat. She’s happy. She wanted to go. I don’t blame her, I guess. I’m sure she has a lot more to be excited about than I do.
Sometimes I wish I could at least have the spare bedroom.
That was it. I’d written this entry just after we’d left Seattle. We’d been on the road for a couple of days and I’d written several more, but everything after that was missing. A brief skim through the rest of it showed that a number of other pages were gone. I’d had this journal for years, but whole sections were now only serrated edges.
“Shit!” It was all I could do not to throw the book on the floor. Hopefully Mom hadn’t heard that.
My nostrils flared. Someone had gone through my journal. Someone had torn out those pages. Someone had left it lying on the mantle. Great. Now someone was definitely going to laugh at me later.
Sis wouldn’t have done it, would she? If she had, she’d show Mom. Mom would show Dad, and then…
I’d be in so much trouble.
“Sis!” My fists clenched as I spun to pull the door away.
The view that spread out through the opening wasn’t like any hotel I’d ever seen before.
The hallway was huge, lined wall to wall with that same red carpet and bordered with that same gray brick. Red curtains framed blank windows, while wood-framed paintings and formed clocks and shelves. The furniture matched the floor – thick, red, padded. It looked old, but didn’t look very used.
The only light came from the twin chandeliers hanging above the hallway. Their gold branches wound like long fingers with flames flickering at their tips. It reminded me a bit of Christmas Eve. My brother always insisted on putting lit candles on our tree, for just that one night. It surprised me again that whoever owned this place allowed the flames to burn while everyone slept, but without them, it would’ve been completely dark.
As I stepped into the hallway, the glow was barely bright enough to catch the specks of dust lingering in the air. The entire place smelled old. I was sure it’d cost more than the hotels we usually stayed at, but so far…I wasn’t sure I liked it. My eyes took a while to adjust, and I squinted to see the doors lining the corridor. The entrance to my room was the last on the left. They weren’t numbered.
With a confused grunt, I walked up to the door beside mine and knocked. I twisted the knob when no one answered. It opened. The room behind it looked almost exactly like mine, but the fireplace was dark. And as far as I could tell, it was empty. I bit my lip, peering inside.
That was odd, wasn’t it? Wouldn’t my family be sleeping in the rooms next to mine?
I worked my way up the rest of the row. Nothing. They were empty. All of them.
My stomach tightened with each room. “Mom? Dad?” I flinched at the loudness of my own voice. The silence made it sound so much worse.
There was no answer.
My teeth sunk deeper into my lip as I switched to the row of rooms across from mine. There were only about four doors on each side – there weren’t many other places they could be.
I was greeted by nothing but quiet disappointment as I opened the door directly in front of the one I’d left. No. They weren’t there either.
What the Hell was this? A spark of anger ignited in my thudding chest. None of this made any sense! Had they really just left me alone? Heat rose to my cheeks while ice ate at my toes. “Mom!” All I wanted was an answer. “Dad!” Even a simple reaction would do. But nothing happened. Nothing changed. The dust continued its slow descent to the dirty red carpet.
My eyes started watering without permission, stress stiffening my legs as I made my way to the next door. I pushed it open just like all the others.
But this time, she was there.
She faced away from me, standing near the opposite wall. Her eyes stared through the glass of a black window. A distance coated her gaze, as if whatever was out there had cut her off from the rest of the world. Long blond hair fell unkempt to her upper back. She was barefoot, wearing a red dress shirt that came down to her knees. A black cat twined around her ankles, purring restlessly.
It was an older girl I’d never seen before.
I froze in place, startling. Some part of me hadn’t expected to find anyone in the rest of the rooms. My limbs relaxed with a surge of relief. I wasn’t alone! At the very least, she could tell me where I was, right? Maybe she’d know where the rest of my family was staying.
She didn’t notice me. I craned my neck for a better look at her. From her hazy auburn irises, I doubted that she’d heard me, at all. How could she not have? The silence made my voice way too loud, and the doors had been quick to creak and moan as I’d gone about the rooms.
But her eyes never faltered from whatever it was they saw in the blank beyond the window, even as I stepped inside. It was the cat who caught sight of me first. Its yellow-green gaze found mine, then it ducked away under the protection of the room’s single bed.
Cats. Sometimes I swore those things could tell that I hated them with nothing but a quick peek at my eyes. Maybe if they tried being friendly once in a while they wouldn’t bother me so much.
The girl refused to acknowledge me as I approached. If it wasn’t for the faint rise and fall of her chest, I would’ve begun to wonder if I’d found a statue instead of a person.
“H-hello?” I peered around from behind her, trying to catch her gaze. No use. Irritation mixed with my unease. What the Hell was she staring at? There was nothing out there!
“Miss?” I tugged at the hem of her shirt when I got no answer.
She spun with such force that I almost toppled over.
Her eyes were wide and wild, the emptiness replaced by blank shock. Her stretched pupils scanned me up and down. “Y-you’re…!” Her lower jaw fell from its upper half. Had she not been against the wall, I actually believe she would’ve backed away. From me. Just me. “How…?” she whispered, strained.
I stumbled a few steps backward myself, feeling my own eyes open wide. The way she looked at me…it was like she’d seen a ghost. “I-I’m sorry!” I wasn’t quite sure what I was apologizing for. “Umm, I –”
“How did you get in here?” Her gaze narrowed, her fingers clenching into a fist above her chest. “I don’t want you here!”
I flinched at the rise in her voice. That…hadn’t been what I’d wanted to hear at all. “But where is here, exactly?” I persisted, refusing to leave with nothing. I straightened and lifted my chin, trying to look braver than I felt. She wasn’t going to chase me off! Not when she was the only person I’d found. “I’m –”
She took a step forward for the first time, and I almost stumbled another back. She wasn’t especially well-built – nothing like that – but somehow, she was imposing. Maybe it was her sharp tone or her flared nostrils. “My home. And you’re not welcome here.” She gestured to the doorway behind me. “Get out!”
Her home? That wasn’t…it wasn’t possible, was it? It had to be a hotel of some sort if my family was staying there. “My family! Where are my family’s rooms?” My vision wavered beneath her hostile glare, threatening to water even as I fought to keep it dry. Stupid coward!
The girl – or now that I got a better look at her, maybe she was actually more of a woman – ground her jaw. “What makes you think I know? They’re not here, I hope!” She bared her teeth as she spoke, “quite thankfully, you’re the only person I’ve seen. I’d like to keep it that way. Leave.”
My legs went numb, the fear budding in my belly getting the better of me. “They’re here! They have to be here!” The panic spilled from my tongue, “if they aren’t, then how did I –”
“I assure you that I have no idea. Figure it out and go back through whatever hole you crawled in from!” It was more than anger – her voice was venomous.
I shrunk into my own small shape and managed only a final, wordless whimper.
I spun, my legs carrying me away from the room and that woman. The door slammed behind me.
My tight throat turned the breath going through it into sniffs. For a while, I just stood there, trying my hardest not to cry. There were still two more doors left. I couldn’t give up yet!
But they were empty, all of them. I had to bite down on my lip to keep the sobs in after I checked the last door. Where the Hell was my family? Why would Mom and Dad just leave me there?
Maybe it was them who’d gone through my journal. Maybe I’d been abandoned. Maybe they’d already moved on from the hotel. Maybe they left me there because of what I…
No! No, they wouldn’t do that.
Maybe it was just another of Sis’ tricks. Maybe the rest of my family was asleep in a different set of rooms nearby. If this really was a hotel, then there had to be more than eight, right?
I looked in the direction of the woman’s room one last time.
It…was almost as if she’d been afraid of me. Why? I wasn’t scary at all! I wished she could’ve at least told me where I was, but whatever she knew, she wasn’t going to share it with me. I was on my own.
I forced myself to straighten. I needed to stop crying. I was a man, after all! I needed to toughen up. I wasn’t supposed to be scared. That’s what Dad always said.
Besides, if Sis saw me cry, it would only make her more satisfied when I found her and this turned out to be one of her stupid jokes.
That thought was enough to push my legs down the hall. The south was a dead end, leading only to a painting of a garden, but twin cedar doors waited at the north. There was only one way to go.
I hesitated as my fingers wrapped around the silver handle.
I’m hoping to publish Glass this October. If you’d like to keep up with updates, they’ll arrive in my email newsletters first, along with ARC and discount offers for all my upcoming releases. Hope you liked it so far!