According to Patrick Rothfuss, author of the masterful The Name of the Wind and the less masterful The Wise Man’s Fear – the most helpful customer review at Amazon for that one has it right on the money – November is National Novel Writing Month, where novelists both approved and aspiring struggle to write 50,000 words of their latest opus in thirty short days.
My novel that I shared with you some years back has been completed, revised, and repeatedly submitted for publication. I even got close once, but, alas, it was not to be. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to write even more stuff that probably won’t ever hit the printed page. I’ve outlined a sequel to that previous novel, but, currently, I’m adapting my unproduced musical Neverland into a book. I’m quite happy with the first chapter, and I’ve decided to take the NaNoWriMo challenge to heart and write a full 50,000 words this month.
I’m up to 3,593.
Just for kicks, I thought I’d share the first chapter with you and get your honest, unbridled opinions, which were really and truly helpful the last time I tried this. Don’t worry – I won’t inflict all 50,000 words on you, but I also won’t write the other 46,407 that I haven’t written yet if you guys hate the first 1,568, which is precisely how many words you will find in the chapter below.
A Novel by Stallion Cornell
As the twilight sky turned from grey to black, young Peter stood at the edge of the cliff and stared out over the angry sea.
Directly behind him, in the lighthouse in which he lived, a beacon flickered to life and began its nightly vigil, renewing its efforts to save any soul unfortunate enough to find itself on those treacherous waters. The murky pitch below was where two fierce ocean currents had been battling each other since time began. Peter often marveled at how neither side relented even for a moment, despite no hope for victory. He knew that any vessel foolish enough to wander into the melee would find itself dashed against the jagged, towering rocks that marked the northern edge of the British mainland.
“Peter!” called a scratchy, deep voice that barely cut through dull roar of the night wind and the relentless waves.
Of course it was his father. Who else would it be? Their nearest neighbor was at least two miles down a one-lane road. No one else was foolish enough to live in this damp-yet-desolate waste at the end of the world.
And that was the point. His home in London had been destroyed months before in the German bombing raids that had hit the city every day and night for three and a half months. On rare occasions, Peter was almost grateful that he remembered none of the horrors that scarred his father’s dreams, waking him with fits of terror that would force him to sob himself back to sleep. But most of the time, Peter was sure he would give his right arm to recall a single moment with the brother, the two sisters, and the lovely, forever absent mother that had been taken both from his life and from his memory in one hot, loud, brilliant flash of light, which was both the first thing he could remember from his new life and the last thing he could remember from his old one.
“Peter!” His father’s voice was closer now, close enough to expect an answer.
“I’m here, sir,” Peter called back, not turning to watch the approaching figure silhouetted by the bright crescent moon.
“No need to shout. I’m right beside you now,” said Peter’s father. And so he was. He was a tall, lopey, odd-looking sort of fellow with a nose and a pair of ears that were two large for his narrow, sharp face. His hair was just a bit too thin and his belly just a bit too large, but there was a kindness in his eyes that made it easy for even strangers to trust him, which had been a good thing for Peter, who now lived in a world where he had to become reacquainted with everyone he had known since the day he was born.
“Come inside, Peter,” his father said gently. “Your tea’s been sitting on the table for ages, and it’s no use once it isn’t warm anymore. Not even a dog wants to eat a cold potato.”
Peter smiled. “I’ll be right in, sir.”
“You know, you could call me Father. Or Dad.”
The wind seemed to grow louder as both of them stared out toward the blank horizon, but it wasn’t loud enough to drown out the silence of the unfinished sentence. Peter knew he should have said, “I know, Father,” but he couldn’t quite get there. At least he dropped the “sir.” That was something, anyway.
But it wasn’t enough to kept his father from talking. “Not enough light to see the whirlpool,” he said.
“There was just a minute ago.”
“You know why that whirlpool is there, don’t you?”
Peter sighed. Yes, he did, but the right answer wasn’t the one his father was looking for.
“It’s the old viking sea-king. Fellow by the name of Mysing, if I’m not mistaken. He had this right massive grain mill that was so heavy, it sank his island straight down into the tide. So he’s still down there, grinding away, making the ocean salty, churning everything up like mad.”
Peter cracked a grim smile. “Doesn’t he get bored?”
“Does Mysing get bored?” Peter’s father pursed his lips as he considered the question before finally answering, “Of course not.”
“Yes, you would. But you live in our world.”
Peter turned his head to look at his father. “What world does this Mysing live in, then?”
His father shrugged his shoulders. “His world.”
“Oh,” Peter smirked. “Well said.”
“I can’t think of any other way to explain it,” said Peter’s father. “It’s not that different than this one, really. They just… don’t have time there.”
“No time? Days don’t pass?”
“No, days pass.”
“Well, that’s time, then, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not like that,” said Peter’s father, rubbing his chin. “The days, they pass, but – the days don’t count against you. One day is like the next. And like the day before and the day after. It’s all sort of – the same day, really.”
“Just like the Lost Boys you’re always on about,” said Peter. “And Peter Pan, too? Nobody grows up?”
“Not exactly,” said Peter’s father. “But you’re close.”
“I love how you act like he’s a real person. And that he comes from a real place.”
“Who says he doesn’t?”
“Right,” said Peter, “I’m sure he’s real. And you know how I know that?”
His father’s eyes brightened. “How?”
“It seems time doesn’t count here either. Because you told me that story two days ago.” Peter had meant it at a gentle, teasing sort of remark, but it came out sharper than he had intended, and suddenly the mood darkened.
His father furrowed his brow. “I did, then, did I,” he said, and Peter wasn’t sure if it was a question or a confession.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Peter said with a pained smile.
“No, you’re right,” his father said, still sounding guilty. “I think I’ve told you more about stories and legends than I have about the real world. You probably know more about Mysing and Peter Pan and all that rubbish than you do your own mother.”
“Please don’t take it that way.”
“Ah,” said his father. “Yes, well,” he began, as if to explain something, but then he trailed off awkwardly, adding to the clumsy silence from the moment before.
So, in a bid to get things on a better footing, he returned to familiar ground. “Your tea’s getting cold.”
“You know, you told me that one, too.”
“So I did,” replied Peter’s father with a playful grin. “Come inside, then. I’ll help you with your cane. Where did you put it?”
“I didn’t bring my cane.”
“What?” Peter’s father burst into a huge smile. “Walked out here all by yourself, did you?”
Peter nodded. “Limped quite a bit, though.”
“A limp?” Peter’s father laughed. “What’s a limp? This is brilliant! It means you’re getting stronger! Don’t you see, Peter? You’re healing!”
“Yes. Amazing,” Peter muttered in a tone that said it was anything but.
“Oh, don’t be like that,” his father chided gently. “One step a time, that’s all it is. We need to celebrate the progress as it happens.”
Peter didn’t feel much like celebrating. In fact, he often thought that he’d trade both of his legs for a chance to remember anything from before the bombing. Yet he knew that saying that out loud would spoil the mood, and he’d done enough damage already.
He turned to go inside when something caught his eye and set his heart racing. “What’s that?” Peter asked.
“That! There!” Peter pointed up into the sky, where the beam from the lighthouse hit the clouds.
Four small, dark blots along the horizon were hurtling toward them, slicing through the light with too much speed and intensity for them to be anything natural.
“Are those German night fighters?” Peter asked.
“Inside!” his father barked. “Now!” It wasn’t a request.
“But what are they coming to Dunnet? What could they possibly-”
“In the basement. Hurry.”
“Aren’t you coming?”
“Do as you’re told, boy!”
The dark spots were getting bigger. And closer. But Peter couldn’t hear the engines. Weren’t planes supposed to be loud?
His father grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him forward. “Move!” he yelled.
Peter almost fell over, but he caught himself and used the momentum to run as fast as his limping body would carry him. He scrambled through the front door, ran to the base of the basement stairs, and then he stopped.
All he could hear was the night wind whistling through the open door.
This was all wrong. Why would the Germans attack an old lighthouse up in the middle of nowhere? Why hadn’t his father followed him inside?
And why on earth weren’t the planes making any noise?
Peter turned and walked up the other flight of stairs that led to his bedroom. He ran to his window that looked out directly over the Pentland Firth, so he’d be able to see for himself what the strange, silent spots were. If his father wasn’t scared enough to come inside, then there must be a reason for it.
That was the last thought that crossed his mind before he was smacked in the face by two bare feet that shattered the glass directly in front of him.