Hello, Cam here with an out of schedule update. I promised that when it was ready, we would post the first chapter of Children of the Sun, the first full-length novel written by Anne, and here it is! If you don't want to read the rest of this preamble, just scroll down, but this is one of the Kickstarter rewards that I was most excited about. Without further ado, the first chapter of Children of the Sun:
There was a shape burnt into the wood, clumsily, with the faltering heat of a gas station lighter held in hands that sometimes slipped off its trigger. It was pointed at the bottom for a chin and tapered up at the top for two proud horns, and it was how she knew that he had been here.
Colin had always liked to make pictures. It didn't matter to him how he did it; he would use pens on napkins, spit on mirrors, sticks in the dirt of an unwashed car’s bumper, crayons on the snowy white of a wall. Very few of the things he drew were real, or not real the way Alison thought of things as real. He drew animals that were also people: rain that had a face, grass that was every color except for green or brown.
“Why did you draw that?” she asked him for the first time when he was five, and she a serious-faced ten with freckles across her straight-lined nose and sunshine bleaching her dark hair a surprised tan around her ears. It was a picture of a lion, she thought, because he had seen a lion on the National Geographic channel with her the night before, and had put his fingers in his mouth and chewed on them the way he did when he was interested in something. His lion had too many teeth, and they were square and blocky like a horse’s, and it had a distinctly human-looking face. She was not surprised. Colin almost never drew animals correctly.
He looked at her, surprise in his sleepy brown eyes, plastered down plump brown cheeks to his half-open mouth. He was always looking somewhat surprised when she spoke to him, as if he had forgotten that it was something people did. She couldn't blame him. After all, no one else talked to him much.
He looked at the lion with intense concentration, then back at her, then to the lion again, and pressed one of his hands against it so she would look at it, smushing and smudging. He never pointed; his fingers didn't seem to know how. “I saw it,” he said, his voice thin and flute-sweet. Alison liked hearing his voice, since he used it so little.
“The lion on the TV didn't look like that,” she told him, in the matter-of-fact voice she always saved to explain the world to him. He didn't seem to understand what she said most of the time, but she kept explaining things anyway. She got the sense, from the way his brow wrinkled and he chewed on the corner of his own lip while he watched her, that he liked it. “It should look more like a cat, only bigger.”
Colin regarded her seriously. “I saw it,” he repeated, with the stubbornness he attached to any attempt anyone made to correct him. He put his hand on the lion again, smearing the peanut butter of its mane across the plate, mashing it up between his fingers, and then put the hand in his mouth. “Saw it, Sunny.”
Alison was only ten, but she knew better than to argue with Colin. He didn't understand arguments. They were irrelevant to him, like bank accounts and dishes; or he didn't care to allow them to become relevant, anyway.
“Fine,” she said, her voice brisk and adult, and he smiled in his lazy unfinished way at the air near her left ear. “But we better clean that up before mom sees it. I’ll put more peanut butter on bread for you.”
Colin watched her butter the bread, and his eyes were solemn. She wondered if he was thinking about lions, or if he saw them even when he wasn't watching television. He never minded eating his own artwork. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it, and to enjoy sharing it, as if it were a secret held between them that went into their bellies and away from the eyes of the rest of the world forever.
He had not eaten the crude bovine shape burnt into the top of trainyard bench, which was a good thing for his teeth. At least he had stopped eating too many inedible things by the time he had become a teenager. Splinters in a young boy’s gums were difficult to extract and even harder to soothe, and the dental bills hadn't helped their mother’s outlook on life much.
Colin had never been good with alphabets, but Alison saw the small, grooved slivers where his fingers had scrabbled at the smooth, time-polished wood. She wondered if they were meant to be the letter S, which was the only one along with C that Colin had ever had much interest in writing down, repeating it over and over like a charm.
“S is for Sunny,” he said, “because it’s like a snake.”
“I’m not like a snake, Colin,” Alison had told him when she was twelve years old and he was seven and used almost half his crayons for drawing now instead of for impromptu food. “Snakes don’t have legs. I have legs.”
Colin ignored her, and held the paper up in front of him so that his shoe-brown eyes peered over it with secretive joy. “C is for Colin,” he said, “because it’s like the moon.”
Alison was not pleased to find traces of him at the train station. Trains could go anywhere; if he had managed to get a ticket, and there was no reason he couldn't, he could ride them anywhere that the line went. He could have bought a ticket for two stops down or across the country, or somewhere in between where he was unceremoniously disembarked for innocently riding farther than his ticket was meant to take him.
It wouldn't be surprising if he thought the ticket went anywhere. Colin understood that tickets took you places, but beyond that his grasp on their exact workings was sometimes hazy. “Like magic,” he once told her, and when she tried to explain timetables and fees, he shook his head, overgrown hair brushing across serious eyes like leaves on the surface of a pond, and repeated, “like magic.” She didn't think it was that he didn't understand that other people didn't think it worked that way; it was more that he disagreed with their assessment and had decided to ignore it.
In a way, he was right. Trains could theoretically go anywhere, and no matter what the local authorities thought, she knew Colin was perfectly capable of handling a bus transfer if he really wanted to. In that way, it was a kind of magic, that he could get off his feet somewhere here and turn up somewhere an entire continent away before setting them down again.
She wondered if there was anyone with him, pulling at his arm so that he turtled it against his side as if he could make it disappear, watching him so that he fidgeted with one loose fist falling softly on the other over and over because he didn't know what else to do with them. Had he bought his own ticket, and smiled shyly somewhere in the general vicinity of the ticket-taker’s face, because Alison had told him that smiling at people was a nice thing to do? Or had someone else bought it for him, and told him to get onto a train car, and told him that they would give him a bright red marker or a bear-shaped cookie the size of his head if he did?
Or maybe they had told him to get onto the car or else they would hit him. Colin wasn't afraid of much, but he knew how a bloody nose felt, and sometimes he had used to come curl up on the floor of the kitchen and wait for the other boys on the street to go home or play somewhere else, clutching a can of preserved peaches as a talisman against them following him.
Alison, who had bloodied at least twice as many noses belonging to children who had traded stones and sticks and chubby fists for Colin’s dreamy slowness and unfathomable solitary games, went through the turnstile and down toward the station’s guts, where the trains snuffled quietly to themselves and waited to leave and huff and puff across the landscape. Colin would have thought they were dragons, or stormclouds, or chariots that carried the dead down into Hades and back out again in the morning.
Alison was tall and slender and dark and angry, and she went to talk to the ticket-takers with a snarl kept just on the inside of her smooth-capped teeth and a gun resting underneath her grey cashmere sweater.