Can you keep a secret?

This is it: the complete prologue of Before the Empty Moon. I haven't posted any of my writing in a while, and this is all I've been working on. So you got lucky! Because I wasn't going to leak it. I was going to make you all bring me flowers and candy and concert tickets before leaking this thing. ^_~

If you're going to comment, do me a huge favor and pay attention to three things:
1) Does it make sense? Or are there too many new names/terms/ideas to keep straight? Are new concepts explained well enough?
2) Does it hold your interest? If not, where and why do you get bored?
3) Does it make you want more?

Have fun!


It was the sort of car ride you’d expect to end in a crash. We were teetering on the brink of dawn with the sky turned upside down over our heads like a bowl of molasses so that neither the sun nor the car seemed to be making any progress. The radio leaked static now that the CD had ended and no one had anything to say. The only other sound was the concrete whispering to the tires of Dad’s faithful ’95 Camry.

My best friend Jesse was sulking in the back seat and trying to hide it by doodling in the sketchbook he always carried. Even my dad, ever the optimist, was brooding behind the wheel. I had my forehead pressed against the cold hard Plexiglas, watching the white dashes streak past until they blurred into one another and faded into the same flavorless grey as everything else. Every bump reminded me how awake I was. How real it all was. How I’d gone into freshman year with two best friends and come out the other end with only one.

Lila Castillo wasn’t dead. Not literally anyway. Let me back up to where the story began, or at least to where I came in.

Once upon a time, there was a man who was made of paradoxes. He was fierce and humble, dignified and defiant, a craftsman and a caretaker all at once. He was a friend; he was a father – and not just to me, his daughter, but also to Jesse, who had never known his father, and to Lila, whose father was an incorrigible realist and frowned upon creativity of any sort. My father’s insistence that there was more to humanity than met the eye drove Mr. Castillo especially mad.

That brings us to it, then: Dad didn’t think like other people. He believed in dreams, and not the way most people tell their kids to “follow their dreams.” He believed that what we experienced while sleeping was a world unto itself, a world called Myriad where real heroes and villains clashed like the characters of storybooks.

My father reared me, Lila and Jesse on the chronicles of that other world. According to the lore, man was no different from any other creature wandering the planet at the beginning of time. Then Fëanáro established Myriad and appointed muses to script fantastic dreams for the people of our world, Versitas, and to bestow upon those we call “artists” the gifts of inspiration. By enabling us to dream, Fëanáro completed mankind. He gave us hope and raised us above the beasts of the earth. Ever since, Myriad has served as the Grand Central station of humanity’s collective heart.

Growing up, Jesse, Lila and I understood the establishment of Myriad’s muses, the Andasi, better than the Senate. We respected them more than we respected the principal of our school. We feared Jamus, the Andasi’s outcast, more than terrorists in the Middle East. We had our priorities straight; so, naturally, everyone else thought we were completely bonkers.

And so the other grown-ups rejected my dad, writing him off as a bad parent, a dreamer, a lunatic, or (worst of all), a liar. “Crazy man Quinn” they called him, and “Zany Zechariah.” You see, people don’t like being told Myriad is the fount of their hope and inspiration. They want to think their ideas come from themselves, not some distant, invisible strangers who deign to give us humans our dreams. Artists can be particularly stubborn about this. Sooner or later, all the greatest ones either recognize the hand of the Andasi in their work, hence their quirkiness, or go crazy and start cutting off their ears and stuff.
Then there are those who, like Mr. Castillo, simply can’t stomach the schmaltzy idea of hopes and dreams. For them, Myriad’s right up there with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. It’s a story for kids. Nothing more.

But Dad kept his chin up, a statue of steadfastness in the face of mockery. No one could change his mind about anything, and that was how I knew he was telling the truth in every one of the far-fetched yarns the other adults hated so much. Dad would never lie to us. I knew it. Jesse knew it. Lila had known it when we were young; we spent most of our childhood years searching for a secret passage to Myriad, or else pretending we were heroes of the lore. I was Adayla, princess of light; Jesse was Asa, king of the sea; Lila was Haligh, empress of the earth. The three of us scoured the woods around the Reservoir out back of my house for any signs of Myriad and staged battles in the state park beyond that. It was one thing when we were children; searching for another world and calling each other by imaginary names was, if not normal, at least acceptable at that age. But as our peers outgrew those kinds of activities, we were forced to become more and more secretive, and even so, we were each other’s only real friends in the small, suffocating world of the Scituate, Massachusetts public middle school.

Since as long ago as I could remember, Dad would convince Phoebe, my so-called mother (who was hardly more tolerant than Lila’s realist father), to let Lila and Jesse stay over some weekends and he would tell us stories late into the night. Then, once he’d tucked me and Lila into the full size bed in my room and Jesse into one of the twins in the guest room, we would scamper out through the windows to convene on the rooftop and talk about Dad’s stories, our own stories, or our latest scheme for finding a way to Myriad.

But once we started high school, it was nearly impossible to excuse or disguise what we were doing. It was especially hard to fool Phoebe. We dropped our Myriadan names. We started an environmental club at school, hoping to pass off our adventures as tree-hugging eccentricities. But free time was harder and harder to come by as our parents signed us up for all the extracurriculars we would need to get accepted at the best colleges, and in the end, we had to give up searching in favor of plotting and theorizing. I remember our last conversation like it happened just this morning.

“If we dream every night,” Jesse theorized, “then we must go to Myriad every night. It’s just a matter of controlling what happens when we get there.”

I objected. “Even if you learn to control your dreams, they’re still just dreams. You don’t wake up with battle wounds every time you dream about slaying the kraken, do you?”

Lila muttered, “I don’t dream about slaying the kraken.”

“Besides,” I continued over her. “Don’t you think someone would have noticed by now if people were vanishing off to Myriad every time they fell asleep?”

“Are you saying you don’t think it’s there?” Lila asked. Her bottom lip stuck out like she might cry if I said it didn’t exist.

“No!” I objected. “I’m saying that there must be a way to get there physically, not just in our heads.”

“Because it has to be more than a state of mind,” Jesse added. “Things don’t happen in a state of mind they way they happen in a place, and Myriad is a place where things happen. Real things!”

“Exactly,” Lila agreed. “But we’ve always known this. How do you suggest we get there? Because I’m pretty sure we’ve tried everything short of a rocket ship.”

As always, neither Jesse nor I could answer her with any degree of certainty.

“What if you just have to look at things a certain way?” Jesse finally said. “We’re using our imagination now, so theoretically, we could be there already.”

We hushed and looked around in silent wonder.

“Looks like Versitas to me,” Lila grumbled.

“I don’t think the Andasi like us to know too much,” I said thoughtfully. “They’ll give us hopes and dreams because that’s what Fëanáro made them to do, but they’ll never let us see the hand that’s feeding us.”

You might call it an obsession. And you wouldn’t be wrong, but you have to understand that to our knowledge, humanity was on the line. Every able body had to play a part in the resistance against the Jamus, the Rogue Andasun. If he got his way, the people of Versitas would not be a people for much longer. Jamus has been working against Fëanáro since the creation of Myriad, trying to cut off the unworthy leeches of Versitas from the source of their inspiration. He doesn't actually have the authority to do anything of the sort, of course. Instead he sends nightmares to punish us and unleashes whatever wars and plagues he can think of on the realm of Myriad, knowing that sooner or later the strife would bleed through to our world. Only Fëanáro had the power to do away with Jamus, but until the day he put his foot down, we would fight for him and for the sake of all that Myriad added to humanity, if only we could find our way there.

Anyway, that was how it used to be, but things started to change in high school. Lila became difficult to pin down. A seemingly endless onslaught of schoolwork and all-too-frequent martial arts lessons filled up her time. Dad kept saying to let her be, that she would come back to us when the timing was right. He was so certain of it that I truly thought she’d be on our side again within weeks, if not days, but winter dissolved into spring, and it was clear that the inseparable trio had separated.

Summer finally rolled around and Jesse and I hoped we could resurrect the old camaraderie, but Lila got a job at the dairy hut on route 3A and constantly used that as an excuse not to see us. All I have to say is, there are laws against making a fifteen-year-old work as much as she claimed to be working. I would have valued her honesty almost as much as her company, though admittedly, paddle boating around the Reservoir and snooping around the state park weren’t the same without her.

It wasn’t like Jesse and I were still actively searching for a secret passage to dream land. It was just nice to know that we both expected the same things out of life. Somewhere in our hearts, we both still believed that the time would come for us to make our way to Myriad, and if nothing else, we mutually understood and appreciated each other’s weirdness in a way the others at school never could. Lila never quite overcame that weirdness, even when she cut herself off from us. What hurt the most was that she still refused to come back.

The four of us had an old tradition: as soon as school let out for the summer, Dad would take us on camping adventures as often as Jesse and Lila’s parents would allow. It was the best ever for Jesse since he didn’t have a father of his own to do that sort of thing with. Dad used to wake him up early and the two of them would have “man time” catching and gutting fish for breakfast while Lila and I slumbered happily in our two-person tent. But best of all, far away from critics and doubters, we didn’t have to hide what we were doing. Dad could tell us all the stories he wanted without making Phoebe angry. Jesse, Lila and I were free to discuss whatever we wanted without raising any eyebrows. And, we could search in earnest for any signs of that other reality overlapping ours, because let’s face it: the world is a lot bigger than the state park near home. The way to Myriad could be anywhere.

Dad taught us to look for anything out of place: moss and lichen growing on the wrong side of trees and rocks, non-native plants and animals, areas of mysteriously dead or thriving flora, signs of rain on a dry day….

It wasn’t often that we found anything noteworthy, but the few times we did, Dad marked it on his map and made us camp and fish far away. It drove us crazy that he never explained why. I always thought some Myriadans might wander into Versitas while we slept and I wanted to see them when they came. Maybe Dad thought the same thing and feared it for reasons I couldn’t have understood.

In one last desperate attempt to win back, if not Lila’s belief, then at least her friendship, Jesse and I begged my father to take us camping the summer after freshman year. We were fifteen years old, and with the loss of one of our number, even Jesse and I were starting to play tug of war with the real world. There was so much pressure to act like everyone else, to think like everyone else, to make oneself into a clone of everyone else. We weren’t antisocial by a long shot, and the fact that nobody wanted us around was almost enough to make us give it all up. We would never admit it, but Jesse and I needed the camping trip as much as Lila. We were on the cusp of something new and frightening, clinging to the old ways but thirsting for change. It was a make or break kind of summer, and I hoped to God we wouldn’t break.

Usually we would’ve camped at least twice by mid-July, but this would be our first excursion of the year. I think Dad had recognized the rip tide we were caught in and feared we had moved on, so naturally he was thrilled that we wanted to go. He cracked out his collection of maps and immersed himself in planning the journey. Part of the adventure, after all, was never camping the same site twice. He tauntingly refused to let Jesse and I look at his plans. He wouldn’t even say what state we were going to. The curiosity would have stretched out the days leading up to the trip if they hadn’t been such a whirlwind of finding long underwear and socks and hiking boots that fit.

The Friday morning of our departure finally dawned – if you can call it “dawning” when the sun has yet to rise – and Dad and I set out. Jesse was waiting for us on his stoop, wearing a fleece and stamping his feet to generate warmth. He crashed into the back seat and thrust a handful of CDs in my face. I shuffled through them and popped in our favorite album for starting the day, U2’s “The Joshua Tree.”

We pulled up by Lila’s house. But it wasn’t Lila who came to greet us; it was her father. Before we had even shut the car doors, he was striding down the slate-stone walkway wearing a scowl that could have curdled milk on the spot.
Jesse and I quickly ducked back into the car, where I hand-cranked the window open a crack to listen to his conversation with my dad. “That guy scares me more than anything we might meet out in the woods,” I whispered. “Wolves, bears, or otherwise.”

“I bet he could make Jamus cry like a little girl,” Jesse agreed darkly.

Mr. Castillo reached the sidewalk and spat, “She en’t going with you.”

Jesse sucked in air through his teeth. “Ooh, skipping the formalities? Your dad won’t like that, Samjay,” he remarked.

“Top of the morning to you, Mr. Castillo,” Dad replied cordially, inclining his head in a tiny bow. I fumed silently. This guy didn’t deserve my father’s warmth, especially if he was about to spoil our camping trip. I pressed down the car door lock so I wouldn’t be tempted to jump out and kick him in the shins.

Meanwhile, Mr. Castillo folded his arms and chewed his lip, searching for words behind dark, furrowed eyebrows. Jesse couldn’t resist a chuckle. If there was one thing in the whole world that terrified Mr. Castillo, it was my dad. “Zee: one,” Jesse tallied. “Castillo: zip.”

“Look, Quinn, you know how I feel about you,” said Lila’s dad, jabbing an accusatory finger in my father’s face. Dad didn’t so much as blink, but I flared up. How dare he! I dug my fingernails into my palms, wishing that finger would somehow, miraculously, detach itself from his hand and fall twitching to the pavement. That would teach him to disrespect Zechariah Quinn!

Mr. Castillo was on a tirade, and my dad coolly waited for him to finish, fiddling behind his back with the chunky ruby class ring we never saw him without. “For fourteen years I’ve tolerated you feeding nonsense into my little girl’s head,” Castillo ranted. I noticed he was still waving his finger around. “But I won’t stand for it anymore. She’s a big girl now, and she needs to start acting like it.” He must have realized how crazed he looked, because suddenly he shoved both hands deep into the pockets of his black leather jacket and tried to look nonchalant.

“I respect your opinion, Mr. Castillo,” said Dad. “However, I must disagree with you. Camping is an activity that requires a lot of maturity, responsibility, and resourcefulness, not to mention its health benefits-”

“Quinn, she en’t going,” Mr. Castillo interjected.

“Perhaps it would be wise to talk it over with Lila.”

Mr. Castillo’s eyebrows shot up. “Talk it over!” he roared. “I don’t know how your family does things, but I make the decisions in this house, and I say she en’t going!”

“All the same,” Dad persisted, “let’s hear what she has to say.”

As if they’d scripted it, Lila appeared on the stoop just then, wearing a black bathrobe and a frown. Jesse and I exchanged a triumphant glance. Castillo was going to cave now. He had to.

But it turned out Lila’s frown was for my father, not hers. “Zee,” she said sleepily, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t take the time off for something like this. Looking for a magic gateway to another world was a fun game when we were kids, but you know how it is. Everyone has to grow up sometime.”

Do they? I thought. Maybe everyone else, but not us. Never us! And we weren’t “looking for a magic gateway,” as Lila had so derisively phrased it. We were just camping.

Dad jerked his head in some semblance of a nod. “Of course I know how it is,” he said. “Well, I guess that settles it. Mr. Castillo, sorry to have bothered you. Lila….” He embraced her, and she awkwardly returned the hug. “We’ll miss you. You’re always welcome if you ever change your mind.”

Lila pulled away. “Thanks, Zee. Have a good trip,” she said curtly. She saluted to me and Jesse in the car and shuffled toward the door, followed by the man I couldn’t help blaming for her change of heart. Mr. Castillo stood scowling by the door until we pulled away.

So that’s how the three of us came to be speeding west on the Mass Pike at six thirty in the morning, one friend short of complete.

1) Did it make sense?
2) Were you interested or bored?
3) Do you want more?
Thanks my lovelies!


Colleen said...

Hey Amanda!

I absolutely loved it! It completely made sense, and I got a sense of all the characters even though it was only the prologue. It completely held my interest and I seriously can't wait to read more!

Anonymous said...

i love how this has evolved into what it is! You've really come a long way since this summer. I can tell that you've internalized this plot. it flows better and better the longer you've lived with it.

I LOVED it. i want to read the book RIGHT NOW! (i know, i know, it's not written yet...)

i couldn't believe you were such a push over though, leaking this onto the internet like that. you must be pretty desperate for feedback. C:

it made perfect sense and really the only dumb little criticism i have (you know i always have one. lol) is "My father reared me, Lila and Jesse..." Would it be me or myself? you really could be right about this, but i just wanted to make sure you double check.

that is all. we can talk more details later if you'd like. C:

Brijenieve said...

You're cruel - why would you post this right when I have to study for a midterm?! *cry*
I'll be back to read and comment officially later on tonight. =)

Captain AWESOME said...

I was kind of hoping the Dad would snap and go bat shit nuts resulting in a killing spree. While he does it... he incoherently babbles about a dream world while raping someone in the mouth. He then turns to face the camera "Can you keep a Secret Bitch?! Because obviously my kids can't!" Then he holds up the severed heads of Lila and Jesse. I want brutal Death Metal in the back ground and the story will end with the father making anti-semitic remarks off into the sunset. Holy Shit! I am a genius!

Mandemonium said...

Thanks asshole. That's not remotely helpful. Or even remotely funny.

Sares - I'm pretty sure "me" is right in that context as a direct object. I always think of "myself" as reflexive.

Colleen, as always, it's lovely to know you're still reading!

Hope your midterm goes well, Carrie. I look forward to your comment; you always have something productive to say. =)

Anonymous said...

alright, i suceed on the "myself," but are you sure it couldn't be "Lila, Jesse, and me..."? like i said before, you really could be right, but it just feels awkward.

as for the addition, i like it. it sheds some light on the paradoxes between Versitas and Myriad that readers might question. i think you should work on the transition INTO the conversation. The sentence before the conversation " it was this morning" makes it feel a little out of place like you had suspected. if you're still questioning it's placement, the story works without it as well.

send me a question if you don't understand. C:

your faithful reader...SF

Anonymous said...

p.s. i'm pretty sure that my dream last night was prompted by reading this. which is sort of ironic. C: i'll tell you details later.

Brijenieve said...

2) Yeah, I found it very intriguing. I love the idea of Myriad, and really want to know what's up with the dad's insistence that they camp far from apparent evidence of the Andasis. I'm sad for Lila - reminds me a bit of Susan in the Chronicles of Narnia.
1) It makes sense - though when you referenced the 'senate' I went into a SciFi mindset. It wasn't until my second read that I realized you actually meant the...senate... haha. The transition into the flashback (? right word? explanation? history?) felt a little forced. "Let me back up to where the story began," and "so that's how we came..." don't feel right. I enjoy your style - but these phrases in particular struck me as not exactly fitting. I don't have suggestions, though, haha. Sry.

All in all, well done - I look forward to reading more (HINT HINT). =)
Oh and my midterm is done - finally! It was tough's over and that's what matters, haha.

Mr. Paul said...

Okie dokie... and here we go!

1) Does it make sense? Or are there too many new names/terms/ideas to keep straight? Are new concepts explained well enough?

- yes it is and I advise not to add any more or else you'll end like J.R.R Tolkien. Mr. Tolkien flows nicely but there is so much info you can only read 10 to 20 pages at a time of his work.

2) Does it hold your interest? If not, where and why do you get bored?

- okie dokie, who is your target audience? I didn't get bored, it holds interest I just want to know who your target audience is? Oh and in reference to characters (I'm not accusing you of this just an F.Y.I) try your best not to make them reflect your self in anyway.

3) Does it make you want more?

More Blood? yes... anyway yeah but this goes into different branches of taste, and target audience. (me obviously being more extreme) Yes i think it's a very interesting story and I do want to know what happens next.

P.S. I don't believe I saw this anywhere which is good but (for F.Y.I) don't name drop other books "like mentioning Narnia" for the following reasons. As a reader you want them to just think about your story and your story only and you do not want to bring attention away from that and to other books. but yes very good.

I give it three and half stars

P.S. how longs is this going to be and how many books are we talking here?

Mandemonium said...

Ah yes, target audience is an important matter. I intend for it to be a little more sophisticated and for a slightly older audience than the Narnia books; not that younger kids couldn't read it but that it would be better suited to high school and college age readers because of style/vocabulary as well as darker content.

As for mentioning other works, I had a couple references in the first draft but cut them out.

And as for length, well. There's a lot that needs to happen. As many a professor has said, "I don't care how long it is as long as you say what you have to say." But I expect this one will be pretty long, at least a few hundred pages since my first two books were way less epic and still cleared 200 pages, and it is part of a series which will be anywhere from five to seven books long. This one falls somewhere in the middle.

Mr. Paul said...

Oh P.S.

Mandemonium said...

You'd better be dancing like that next time I see you. XD

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