Today I want to share the first chapter of my novel, The Children’s Field. While I had started writing books on and off since, oh, the age of eight, this was the first novel that I completed. It’s a project I completed in March of 2012, and while I plan to revisit this novel in the near future to revise and edit again, it still sends a thrill of excitement through my body when I see it on page.
The yelling and tension escaladed. Though her parents’ argument had ended hours ago, the noise of it still lived on in her mind. Every hurtful word was etched into her memory; every word forged a deeper well of misery. Her arms were shaking as she gripped the sides of the sink; she lifted her head and glanced into the mirror. Her tear ravaged face stared back at her, begging for release, begging for an escape from the depression that had conquered her…
Claire was jostled awake by the braking of the vehicle. Her bright green eyes popped open and she lifted her head as she became aware of her surroundings. She stretched as best she could, cringing from the stiffness in her neck caused by the long eight hour drive. While she worked to straighten out the kinks that sleeping in the cramped vehicle had caused, Claire’s eyes caught on the sight before her and she sat up straighter in the passenger seat, gasping in surprise.
“I see you’ve rejoined the living.”
“Unfortunately,” Claire grumbled. “Dad, are you sure this the right place?” She asked astonished.
Her father chuckled, reached his hand out and ruffled the top of her head. “What, you don’t trust my judgment in buying a new home?”
“New?” Sarcasm crept into her voice as she reached her hands up to smooth her hair.
“Well the realtor should be here soon and then you can see how the inside differs. Besides, this can be the fresh start you-we need kiddo.”
Claire rolled her eyes, placing her chin in her hand as she rested her elbow on the door’s armrest, bracelets jingling on her wrist.
“How did you even find this place, Dad? It’s so…” Claire trailed off, unsure of what words to use to describe their new home.
“Remote…isolated…in the boonies?” Her father joked.
Claire turned her head and gave him a weak smile. “It’s just so different than what I was expecting. You said we were moving to Omaha, not to some small town where neighbors become so involved, so nosy…” Claire’s eyes dropped to her wrists.
“We’re not too far out of Omaha. And I was originally looking at homes in that area. But…” her father paused. “It won’t be like that, Claire. I grew up in this town,” her father said. “Yes, the neighbors can be nosy, but they look out for each other here.” Her father smiled and his eyes dropped to her wrists. “By the time school starts they’ll be healed, no one will notice. And you’ll be finishing your last year of high school at my old school.”
Claire, grateful for the change in subject, teased, “Do you think I’ll have some of your old teachers? I can just imagine them, plodding around the school behind walkers or in wheel chairs.”
Her father glared at her the softened. “I’m not that old!”
Claire smiled at him. More than once, her father had been addressed by teachers and store clerks as her grandfather. Her father had been thirty-eight when Claire was born and she knew that the years of stress and worry of raising a child, now a teenager, were taking their toll on him.
His once caramel colored hair was now flecked with grays, most noticeably around his temple. The lines around his mouth and in the corner of his eyes seemed to Claire, to have grown deeper in the months since her parent’s separation. His bright green eyes had recently turned dull and lifeless. Claire knew he was exhausted, body and soul. She glanced down at her scarred wrists and the guilt she felt consumed her as she thought of the actions she had contributed to his exhaustion.
Her father reached for her hands startling her from her dark thoughts. “It’ll be ok, Claire bear. I promise you that,” he said as he squeezed her hands.
She smiled at her father and wished she could erase the damage she had caused in aging him. She turned again to take in the sights of their new home and, optimistically, tried to see what had possessed her father to buy it.
She told him she wanted go for a quick walk after being pinned in the car and after hopping out of the passenger side began to stretch her long lanky frame.
The first thing she noticed was how drastically the landscape had changed. As they had left Denver, she had felt tears well up in her eyes as she gazed at the mountains that grew smaller in the rear window. And when they had entered Nebraska, Claire felt like crying all over again at the vast emptiness of the sand hills. She finally had given in to the overwhelming exhaustion and slept just to be rid of the view.
But now, Claire could hardly believe her eyes. The scenery before her was actually…beautiful. The house was situated on top of a flat hill that was covered in grass and great shade trees. A soft breeze blew by, catching a few strands of Claire’s long auburn hair. The air smelled fresh and clean, of new grass and sweetly scented flowers. She paused, as she took a deep breath, closing her eyes, letting the warm gust wash over her face.
When Claire opened her eyes again, they followed the path of a broken sidewalk that met the gravel driveway and led to a side door on the house. Her eyes then moved upward to take in the full scale of the house that loomed over their compact Subaru.
She grimaced at the sight of it. The house, a giant two story eyesore-that in its prime was probably considered a castle on the hill- sat above the town that lay in the valley below. The paint, what little of it was left, Claire could tell had been originally white; most of it had peeled off due to age and wind but bits and pieces of it still clung to the second story. The wood boards that were stripped of paint had aged to a dirty gray color.
The windows looked to Claire like little dark black holes that threatened to suck the life out of anything that dared to peep inside. Although most of the windows stood bare, a few still had shutters, shaded a darker gray color then the house. Those that still remained flanked their windows and hung at awkward angles, ready to leap to their death at any moment. She gazed up at the roof and could see shingles peeling and curling back, sneering down at her.
As Claire felt her muscles loosen she began to walk around the perimeter of the house, starting around the front that faced the empty highway she and her father had just traveled. She walked past a large bay window to the front porch that looked over the grassy slope of lawn onto an overgrown field across the road. The porch was outlined by bushes that had grown wild, branches twisted and twirled, enveloping the poles that supported the roof overhang. The grass around the home was overgrown from the sudden warmth brought on by the oncoming summer heat and was in dire need of a trim.
Claire curled her lip in disgust and turned to continue her circle around the house. Behind the house was an old orchard, apples, she believed. Claire walked under the canopy of the branches and was surprised to find an old swing that swayed slightly on the wind. She smiled, and moved toward it. Claire had always loved swings, the feeling of the wind rushing past her, blowing her long hair off her shoulders, away from her face, pumping her legs faster and faster until the chain slackened above her, jerking her back. But as Claire stepped closer, she saw the frayed rope supporting the swing and thought better of climbing aboard. With a deep sigh of regret she retraced her steps leaving the orchard and came upon a small overgrown fenced in area.
Claire’s stomach lurched as she walked cautiously closer, certain it was an old cemetery. She took a deep breath of relief when she saw it had once been a garden, nothing more. She rolled her eyes at her silliness and seeing she was almost back to the driveway, Claire continued on.
On her left an old barn sat sinking on its crumbling foundation. Claire could tell the driveway at one time had continued to it. The rock and gravel was faded and patchy from the overgrowth of grass.
The barn leaned sharply to the right; the big swinging doors on the front of it had been removed, Claire assumed because they wouldn’t close due to the lean. The hay loft door above the mouth of the barn was also void of a door and sparrows flew in and out of their massive home. Beside the barn was a wood pile that contained the remnants of the shutters and old doors. All added to the appearance of abandonment, something Claire knew well, and she felt compassion rise in her for the old homestead.
As she made her way back to their Subaru another car pulled up beside them and a woman stepped out, teetering for a moment on her modest heels due to the uneven ground. She was older, in her late fifties; her whitish-blonde hair was cut short around her face, her stomach a little pudgy beneath her black two-piece suit. She swung her plain leather purse onto her shoulder, and reached into her car for a briefcase in the same shade of black as her purse. Her father stepped out of their vehicle, the echoes of slamming doors ringing in the distance as he greeted the woman.
“Teddy! You made it! Phew, I was hoping my instructions would be easy enough to follow,” she said as she wobbled on the uneven rock over to the duo.
“Hi Nancy, I’d like you to meet my daughter, Claire. Claire, this is Nancy Thurman, an old classmate of mine and the realtor who talked me into this venture.”
“Mmm…” murmured Claire, indifferent, but she still shook the woman’s outstretched hand as she had been brought up to have good manners, no matter how annoying she found her situation.
“Well, have you folks made it inside, or have you just been staring at your new home?” Nancy asked, overenthusiastically. .
“I didn’t think it’d be unlocked, we were just going to wait until you got here to show us around,” Ted answered. He motioned toward Claire, “Claire has been wandering around though.”
Nancy smiled at Claire before answering Ted. “Ya’ll could’ve gone inside! It’s unlocked, I came out yesterday to air it out, being shut up all these years it was so musty!” Nancy replied, as the little group walked the broken sidewalk to the backdoor. She twisted the old doorknob, opening the door into a mud room, the kitchen just beyond the open doorway.
“Years?” Claire asked. “How many years has it been since someone lived here?”
“It’s been empty, oh, about four years now,” Nancy answered as they stepped inside the kitchen.
It looks like it, Claire thought, rolling her eyes.
“I called to make sure that the utilities would be on about a week ago, and had people in for the inspection which passed with flying colors. Surprising considering it’s been empty for so long…but surprising in a good way!” Nancy tacked on, as she flipped on the light switch and bright burning fluorescent lights flickered on from the ceiling. “Well, so far so good!” Claire’s father exclaimed.
Claire looked around the kitchen, taking note of the grimy looking countertops and cupboards, the old refrigerator and oven, and the lack of the one essential appliance for Claire: no dishwasher. In the middle of the room was a counter island for workspace.
“Well, we certainly have our work cut out for us, eh kiddo?” Her father threw his arm around her shoulders and squeezed her.
Claire made a face at him.
Her father and Nancy stood talking about the different things he had planned for the house, so Claire decided to continue exploring on her own. She stepped through the arched hallway and into a dining room. In the center of the room was a small glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling, in much need of dusting. As Claire turned into the room she saw the stairs to the second floor were against the left wall, a huge sweeping banister curling up the incline. The huge bay window ahead of her overlooked the overgrown field that ended in woods. She turned around and saw the wall contained a built-in curio cabinet and a door which Claire opened.
A bright beam of sunlight shone on the floor before her. Floor to ceiling windows flanked French doors that opened onto a little terrace. Claire walked over and opened the doors, stepping outside. From here she could see the old overgrown vegetable garden next to the barn. Giant shade trees grew close by, turning the whole area into a cool sanctuary. Birds chirped cheerfully from their hidden nests within the branches. Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, Claire walked back into the house, leaving the French doors open to blow in the warm spring wind.
She continued through the dining room and entered a large living room, a stone fireplace sat against the right wall. Dirty old wallpaper with an ancient flower patterned covered the walls and she felt as if she’d walked back into time. The room also opened onto the old porch Claire had seen when on her walk. She tried opening the door to the porch as well, but couldn’t get it to budge. Nowhere could she find where it was locked and after a few more tugs Claire gave up, glancing once more through the tiny window to the field across the road.
Her father and Nancy looked up when they saw her enter the kitchen and Nancy suggested they continue on with the tour. They began by going through the basement, the stairs descending from a door in the passageway between the kitchen and dining room. Nancy, of course, was pointing out the wonderful condition of the foundation.
She then walked them through the same trail Claire had gone on, first showing them a little bathroom just off the kitchen that Claire had missed, a new addition to the home added on by the last tenants, Nancy had told them, and then led them upstairs.
Once on the landing, Nancy showed them another full bath, this one with a tub-shower combination, and then showed them the bedrooms.
“There are three bedrooms. Two directly across the hall from one another,” Nancy stepped into one bedroom, Claire and her father following her, and then into the other. “The other bedroom is located at the end of the hallway,” Nancy said as she motioned them to follow her through the tight hallway, single file.
“What’s this to?”
Nancy turned around surprised, and saw Claire looking up at the ceiling at a rectangle that had been cut into the drywall, a cord dangling downward attached.
“That takes you to the attic, I honestly could not tell you what’s up there, I don’t think it’s been used in years, and frankly I was to chicken to pull the latch and possibly find dead animals, or a little family of raccoons up their,” Nancy answered sheepishly, “you don’t need to worry about vermin though, the inspector would have been up there testing the roof joints and for any leaks,” Nancy quickly added.
Nancy and her father continued into the last bedroom while Claire continued staring at the square in the ceiling. She was lost in thought about what other world might be up there, what lost treasures there could be, what secrets the house was holding that could lie in those rafters, when her father jostled her, asking her what bedroom she wanted.
“I don’t care.” Claire looked at her two options, the room in front of her, or the room behind her, guessing her father would take the room at the end of the hallway. “I guess I’ll take this one,” she pointed to the room on the left. Her father and Nancy went downstairs while Claire walked around her new room. The closet was miniscule. Claire figured she would have to keep half of her clothes packed away, switching them out for the different seasons. It was nothing like her walk-in at their old home. She did another once over, looked out the window, and found she was again staring at the overgrown field.
Its ugliness mesmerized her. Brown and black weeds covered the ground. It looked like it hadn’t been cared for in as long a time as the house. She peered out the windows, straining her eyes to look through the grime on the glass. She could have sworn she’d seen a flash of red, darting around the field, before disappearing into the woods.
Claire shook her head and stepped away from the window, leaving her new bedroom and headed downstairs. Nancy and her father were going over some last minute paperwork in the kitchen, the papers spread over the island when Claire entered.
“What’s wrong with the field out there?” Claire asked.
“What field?” Nancy replied, pondering over the question.
“The field that’s outside across the highway, it’s covered in weeds and it looks like there was a fire.”
“Oh, that field! No one’s paid to farm on that in years. It belonged to the property when the house was first built and before the highway was created but was sold piece by piece. First to allow for the highway, and then later to a farm which leases out the land. And you’re right; there was a fire a few years ago. The last person to farm on it was tired of never getting any produce out of it so he set it on fire hoping it would reestablish the soil. Instead, it began growing all kinds of twisted thorny weeds and no one has tried farming on it since.” Nancy opened her mouth as if to continue telling Claire something, but she snapped it shut, her face completely masked over as she turned back to the paperwork her father was signing.
Sensing that was the end of the conversation, Claire went out the backdoor and strolled to the car to begin unloading it. She pulled box after box out, lifting the flaps to discover their content then plopped them onto the ground until she finally found what she was looking for, a box containing her most treasured items: her journal, her favorite books and CDs, a stuffed dolphin that was a present from her grandmother, and a picture or her parents and her, from before their separation.
Separation. That’s not what they were calling it, but that’s what it was. Each of them had moved on, her father buying this house in “Nowhere”, Nebraska while her mother floated around on the east coast, slumming with her distant relatives.
Her mother’s excuse was that she was trying to “find herself”. The last time she’d seen her mother, almost two months ago, she’d tried explaining to Claire how she had never lived her life. She’d gone from high school to being a mother and she had told Claire she wanted to live a little, have a little fun. Claire didn’t care what her excuse was, she just felt abandoned by her mother. It wasn’t her choice to be born to an irresponsible selfish woman. She’d chosen to have a child and she needed to care for it, and it angered Claire that she only had one year of high school left before college.
She blamed her mother for the move. Claire could have been sunning around a pool, shopping the malls with her friends, gossiping about boys, and dreaming about the future, if not for her mother’s childish behavior. Now she was trapped in the middle of nowhere with her dad as her only companion, in a town that probably didn’t even have a dollar store let alone a mall.
Claire heaved a sigh of depression, as she looked around her new home once more. Even as angry as she was with her mother, she still missed her, still wished she was there with her and her father, still wished her family was a family.
Claire carried the box into the house, rushing past her father and Nancy finishing the paperwork. Tears filled her eyes as she reached her new room, Claire sat down on the hardwood floor and began going through the remainder of the box. Lotions, candles, and a necklace she’d taken from her mother’s jewelry chest after she’d left them, the softest blanket she’d every found and her favorite pillow, both of which smelled lightly of lilac, sprayed with the perfume her grandmother had insisted on buying for her every year on her birthday.
Claire rose, and went into the bathroom to put her toiletries away. She glanced into the mirror at herself. For being seventeen she looked at least three years younger. She was only five-five and still flat-chested. Her long auburn hair fell down her back, waving gently, her big green eyes glistening in the light, swollen and red from the tears she was choking back. She looked tired after the car drive, dark purple circles under her eyes, and she felt grungy in her clothes. She craved a shower and her bed more then anything.
Raising a hand to push the hair away from her face, Claire’s eyes caught on the thick white raised flesh marring her wrist. She ran her fingertips lightly over the scar, pushing the bracelets further up her arm, her mind going back to the day it happened.
She heard a door shut and jumped out of her thoughts and back into reality. She followed the noise downstairs to the kitchen where her father had hauled in a couple boxes after walking Nancy to her car and was busy unpacking.
“Hey kiddo, how’s a pizza sound for dinner? There’s a little joint in town I can call and place an order to go. I’ll go grocery shopping tomorrow after the moving truck comes with the furniture.”
“Sounds fine,” Claire leaned on her elbows on the counter.
“You ok Claire bear?” her father asked, glancing over at her.
“Yeah, I’m just tired; it’s been a long day.”
“It has at that. Do you think you can handle driving into town to pick up dinner? I can work on unpacking what we’ve brought.” Her father opened up a cabinet by the sink. “On second thought, I should probably wash these out first.”
“Sure,” Claire sighed. “Think I can fit in a little tour of the town before the pizza gets cold?”
Her father had his back to her as he began filling the sink with soapy water, but she could here him chuckling. “I’m positive. The town isn’t that big, only about twelve-maybe fifteen hundred people. It’s a definite blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town.” Her father picked up his phone and began calling in their order.
Claire rolled her eyes and stood up. “I’ll just go get my purse and be on my way.”