I just received the proof to my manuscript. That means the ARCs are going out and, once I give the “okay”, the manuscript is set in stone.
As promised a couple weeks ago, when I shared the cover reveal, I’m pleased to present a clip from the first chapter of A Time to Die. The book is set to release Fall 2014 through Enclave Publishing (formerly Marcher Lord Press.)
This is not the whole of Chapter 1, but it should be enough to give you a small taste of what you’ll be getting into when my book releases this fall. 🙂
(I wanted to present the entire chapter like this, but those are just too many pictures in one post.)
There was once a time when only God knew the day you’d die.
At least that’s what they tell me. I wasn’t alive then — back when life bore adventure and death held surprise. I guess God decided to share the coveted knowledge. Either that, or we stole it from Him. Personally, I think He just gave the world what it thought it wanted: control.
My thin rectangular Clock sits on the carved shelf across the room, clicking its red digital numbers — red like blood. Today marks the first day of my last year alive.
Three hundred sixty-four days, seven hours, five minutes, and sixteen — no, fifteen — seconds to live. I’ve always thought it cruel they include the seconds. But people want absolutes. They demand fine lines in a fuzzy world.
My toes curl like pill bugs when they touch the cold wood floor. I creep to the open window, flick a shivering spider off the sill into the October breeze, and close the shutters. Wind still howls through.
I pull on a pair of wool socks — a frequent Christmas gift of which I never grow weary — and ignore the mirror. It’s the same face every morning: tangled hair, bleary chocolate eyes, and a waspish glare that doesn’t leave until after coffee.
I push through the bedroom door into the kitchen and just miss a collision with my mother. She sweeps past bearing a mixing bowl of steaming cinnamon oatmeal. Pity her morning greeting isn’t as warm as the breakfast she slams on the table. “Twenty minutes, Parvin.”
“It’s my time I waste sleeping, not yours.”
The rectangular kitchen glows under the heat of the cooking fire on the opposite wall. A metal wash tin and a red water pump sit to my left, beneath our only glass window. Cold morning light reflects off the soapsuds. The rough kitchen table crowds most of the walking space unless all four chairs are pushed in tight. I plop into the closest seat.
“It’s already six-thirty.” She blows a stray hair away from her face. “You’ve wasted seventeen years, let’s not spoil your last one.”
Ah, mother-daughter love.
She slides a wooden mug filled with coffee across the table with one hand, and reaches for the creamer with the other. My morning pick-me-up splashes over the rim. I shrug. More room for cream.
Once I’ve transformed my coffee into a liquid dessert, I spoon oatmeal into a dish and calculate my schedule: Five minutes to eat, five minutes to change, ten minutes to walk there. If I stick to my planned detour, I’ll be late for assessment. I don’t care. The hearing is more important.
My coffee turns to vinegar. I force a swallow against my shaking nerves. I won’t be nervous today. I have to be strong.
A life depends on it.
“Get out of those thin shorts.” Mother barks the command as she stokes the cooking fire, then places the blackened kettle over it once more. “And stop sleeping with the window open. No wonder you’re cold at night — you’ve got legs like twigs. I don’t know why you make such impractical clothing.”
“They’re practical in summer.” And more comfortable to sleep in than the wool underclothes you insist on wearing.
I take a bite of oatmeal. My sewing fetish is my version of rebellion and independence. At least I’m in control in some manner, although sewing never helped my popularity.
After three more mouthfuls of oatmeal, I practically inhale my coffee before going to change into a grey wool shirt and black vest — self-tailored to fit my short torso. I pull on my double-layered cotton rousers and boots lined with speckled rabbit fur. The blend of dark colors makes me feel serious and firm — exactly what I need for the hearing.
Mother brushes my hair into a burgundy-umber fluff. I scowl and braid it down one side before jamming on an ivory cap.
She tucks my Clock into my vest pocket. “Forty minutes.”
No way I’ll be home in forty minutes. “Eighty.” I’ll probably be longer.
I stride up the uneven stone sidewalk of Straight Street. Mother never bids farewell anymore, not now that the real Good-bye is so near.
Weak rays of dawn peek over rows of identical wood-and-thatch houses. Flickering morning candlelight shines through every shutter. In the few homes with glass windows, homemade gadgets or goods line the sills — socks, herb teas, paper notebooks, candles, wax tablets, hair ribbons. Tiny price cards sit beside them.
I scan the sills for an old newspaper, rubbing my fingers over the last coin in my pocket. Crumpled black-and-white paper catches my eye. I stop and scan the headline:
10th Anniversary of Worldwide Currency ‘Specie’ Celebrated with Increased Dividends
My eyes flit to the date to confirm my sinking hopes: October 06, 2148
Three days ago. I’ve already read it. Besides, the price card tells me it costs two specie, and I have only one to spend.
With a sigh, I look between the houses to the horizon still shrouded in shadow. Barely, just barely, the Wall is visible through morning fog. The stone spine looks as menacing as ever, stretching a thousand feet along the west border of my state, Missouri. It’s hard to imagine it encircles the earth’s longitude, but that’s what they say.
I break my stare and quicken my pace. Red maple leaves fly through the air like autumn snowflakes. I hug myself and cross the narrow, muddy street, nodding to the milkman on the corner as he organizes his various bottles between the wood slats of his pushcart. He waves a gloved hand, which returns to his side as if out of habit, rubbing a square bulge in his trouser pocket.
I’ve seen his Clock — four more years and a thimble-full of days until his zeroes line up. Longer than I have even though I’m younger, but I don’t begrudge him. We’re all a population of walking second-hands, ticking toward the end.
A wooden arrow painted white points toward the center of town — Father’s handiwork from his carpentry shop. My fingers brush across the smooth top of the sign. The black letters glisten, painted to withstand the upcoming winter: Unity Village Square.
Unity Village. The insinuation in the name is far from the disposition of its people. Seventeen years haven’t been long enough for me to change this. Instead, I’ve conformed to the cold separateness we cling to. The concept of unity is now a nostalgic whim from the past — like gentlemen doffing fedoras, free ice cream on a hot afternoon, barefooted children hoop-rolling. Selfless consideration is rare, except from the Mentors. And they only fake it.
Mentor. The word turns my stomach and my shoulders tense.
A few yards from the village square, my trudging slows like a dying wind-up toy. I stop and allow the mud to creep its fingernails into my boot leather. Straight ahead, a weathered wooden platform rests dead center inside a square of empty market booths. Leafless dogwood trees surround the square as if trying to fill the silent space.
Harman, the master gardener, stands rigid between his stocked vegetable stand and the Enforcer car parked beside him. It shines like a black stinkbug, its warning to the meager crowd of onlookers as palpable as any stench. A painted gold backward E shimmers against the black paint as the sun peeks over a thatched roof.
Atop the platform stands a middle-aged stranger. Grey facial hair quivers as he chews on his upper lip. Two Enforcers flank him, statue-like, with black coats brushing the dirty platform floor. A backward black E marks the left side of each of their faces.
I avoid their eyes and grip the Clock in my pocket. God, let today be the day.
“Martin Foster is reported of being an unregistered Radical,” the Enforcer on the right says. “Is there anyone to vouch for his Clock?”
The square remains silent. A handful of people mingle, as if trying to ignore the question.
“Can anyone vouch he has a Clock?” The Enforcer widens his stance and clasps his fist behind his back.
Mister Foster’s chewing stops. He stares at his feet.
Look up, I think to him, as if he’ll catch my projection of courage. Be brave. I’ve never seen his Clock, but I went to school with his son. Mister Foster has a life. He has purpose. He has a family.
“I vouch for his life,” I squeak.
The Enforcer glares at me. “That is not applicable to the question at hand, nor will it affect our decision.”
“But his life matters. Not his Clock.”
The other spectators avoid my eyes. Will they ever speak out? Can’t my village come together to save a single life?
Mister Foster’s gaze lifts, finding mine. This moment will burn in my dreams tonight, like with every other Radical I’ve unsuccessfully vouched for these past three months. Not that it’s done any good. If only I’d started doing this sooner. Years ago.
His eyes hold glassy hope — not that his life will be saved, but that his life has made a difference and someone has noticed.
I have. But I’m helpless.
“If no one can vouch for Martin Foster’s Numbers” — the Enforcer shifts into mechanical monotone — “then he is sentenced to the Wall.”
“No!” I step forward. “That’s not the law. Register him as a Radical.”
The Enforcers lead Mr. Foster back to the car in three swift steps.
“He can choose relocation!” My courage withers. I can’t swallow. My eyes never leave Mr. Foster’s even when a thick film of tears blurs the scene.
The door shuts and the car rolls away through the mud with a high-pitched electric whine.
I sink to my knees, immune to the wet chill the mud sends through my pants. Today wasn’t the day. Another innocent will die, sacrificed to the mystery of the Wall. God, why do you allow this?
My Clock is cool against my sweating palm. I didn’t even realize I had pulled it from my pocket. I can’t look at it. I want to smash it, but if I do, I’ll be the one on the platform.
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