Pic from Wikipedia
The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring....
In Coraline's family's new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it's different.

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there's another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to
change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

I saw the movie first when I was younger and it freaked me out a lot. Now, the book freaked me out a little less. A little. Just a very little.

It had the same sort of quality as a Grimm fairy tale in that it had a sort of spindly horror to it. It wasn't so much bloody or gruesome as quietly scary. The idea of having an "other mother" who would eat you alive... *shudder* The descriptions were so, so creepy. Just... so creepy. The whole mood was made to make your skin crawl a bit.

And yet I loved Coraline. She was plucky and resourceful and believable. I wanted to stick with her, even as she confronted the other mother and she went right into the other flat without complaining or thinking about fear. She did what I wish I would've been able to do, but it was all so realistic. Her thoughts were genuinely childlike but not naive. She was one of the better protagonists I've read, definitely.

The cat, too. He was awesome. His mildly sardonic comments made it entertaining and he was a really, really good supporting character.

The villain - the other mother - let's not talk about her. She's creepy enough without me having to elaborate.

PS: The illustrations capture it perfectly. They are scary. :)

I would say go for it if you're ready for a little creepiness.
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I hate this dress! Māma loves it, though, and twirls me around yet again to get a look at my impossibly low neckline and bare shoulders. She squeals like a child playing with her dolls, and I can’t help but smile.

“Oh, you are just perfect! You’ll get a nánpéngyou in no time!” she skips around with glee. “Boyfriend, boyfriend, Chang will find a boyfriend,” she trills in a singsong voice. I glance fearfully in the mirror and stare at the intensely revealing neckline. I’ve always tried to dress more like my stepsister, Fen, but this seduction stuff is so sordid and underhanded that I’ve never been good at it. How can modesty be considered such a crime? Fen has been through twenty-some nánpéngyous already, and she’s fourteen, going on fifteen. Almost two years younger than me.

“Where did you find this again?” Māma and I talk like friends rather than a mother and her daughter, and she doesn’t notice at all. “This fabric is kind of…garish.” I wince at how much of an understatement that is.
“I ordered it myself from the emperor’s clothing supplier,” Māma replies, slightly miffed. “And it is not garish, Chang nǚ'ér. My daughter must wear only the best, most avant-garde fashion for her prospective husbands.” I look at the mirror more intently and try to adjust my posture to make the neckline appear a little higher. This is avant-garde? For the Emperor’s sake, I look like a jìnǚ on a three-night streak!

“Mother,” I begin, but she cuts me off.

“You have to wear it! You need a husband…” I can see the desperation in her eyes. Most girls my age are engaged at least, and I, delicate, clever Chang, was her favorite from the moment I turned up on her doorstep. Even in my raggedness, Māma always says she saw “potential” in me. It has never been lived up to. Forget proposing—I’ve never even had a boy even look at me. Why does she have to do this to me?

Fen walks in the room and eyes me up and down, glaring, and I know exactly what she’s thinking: Why does Chang always get all the good stuff? Why does Māma even care about her? I never should have brought her to our house. I do pity her a bit. She was the one who mistook me for her mother’s sister-in-law’s cousin’s daughter on the streets, so technically, I have nothing to do with it.

I remember that day. I was on the run again after being chased out of the alley I had been living in. Fen and Māma were traveling, visiting some diplomat or other. I was ten years old.

“Hey! I know you!” she said. “Aren’t you the disowned Li girl?”

I wasn’t. Never will be.

“No Chinese,” I said . “Ahni, ahni,” No, no. I was lucky that Fen hadn’t understood me, otherwise I would have been arrested straightaway.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she replied, in the affected sympathy that all wealthy people master. An eight, maybe nine-year-old girl, giving me that condescending face? I didn't care if she was clothed in the finest blue silk I had ever seen, she was eight! For a moment, my old Korean spirit flared up inside me before fatigue won out. I just whimpered. “ You've gone wild. Can you understand me? Can you still speak Mandarin?”

I just kept shaking my head, unable to understand her. She sighed.

“I’ll bring you to Māma and we’ll see if you can come with us, okay? We have a very nice house.” Fen took my hand firmly and walked me up to a lavish carriage, where I was received with mild surprise but general graciousness. They petted me and murmured. I didn't know what they said about me, but it looked as if Fen was begging for me to be taken in.

Eventually, Māma agreed, even though she was muttering something in Chinese the whole time.

Fen catches me looking at her, wearing my reminiscing face, the one she hates, and her gaze snaps up to meet her mother’s.

“Māma, can you do my eye shadow?” she says with a container of gold glitter in her hand. Actually, her whole body is covered in a golden shimmer. I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from bursting out laughing. I got her a bottle of bath salts for her birthday that was about half this golden, shimmery stuff. I thought that she might take it as a fashion statement, but I never thought she would wear it like makeup. Her dress is a floor-length Mandarin collar that is so insanely tight around the waist, I have no idea how she’s breathing. It has a slit up the left leg that goes only a couple inches shy of her underwear and tiny blue flowers for the buttons. The silk looks about twice as expensive as mine - I am at a loss as to how she convinced Māma to buy it - and it’s a brilliant lucky red. Those are the only colors on the thing besides, yes, gold. Even the embroidery of the birds and flowers is all in gold. She has on golden false eyelashes, gold pins holding her hair into a bun with a gold tassel hanging down from the largest one. What was she possibly thinking?

“Hold on, Fen,” Māma says, squinting at me critically and ignoring Fen for the moment.

“I’ll do it,” I say, stepping over with my hands out.

“No, you never do it right, I’ll do it myself.” she says abruptly, running out the door. I really wish she didn’t hate me quite as much, or at least respected my makeup application skills enough not to go running out when I offer to do it. I sigh and turn back to my mother. She straightens and smiles.

There is a rap on the door. Without waiting for Māma to let him in, Chao, our butler, enters the room. I nod to him. He nods back, then turns stiffly to my stepmother.

Nǚshì, madam, the driver wishes to see you,” he says, always much too formal. Māma finally tears her eyes from my dress (or should I say scrap of silk) and follows him downstairs.

“Chang, find Fen and do her eye shadow, please,” she says as a last reminder. I know that Fen will already have done it, so instead I nod and concentrate on arranging my neckline to conceal as much as possible. The party is in half an hour away, and at Ambassador Hu’s house, too - I groan. Though no one ever talks about it, Ambassador Hu is tacitly known to love encouraging young people’s relationships and has one too many empty bedrooms with locks in his house.

In that time, Fen has sidled back into the room, eye shadow on as I expected, looking haughtily and somewhat jealously at my almost completely exposed chest.

“Chang, give up trying to hide yourself. Just go to the party and have some fun for once.” she says, taking me completely by surprise. She sighs irritatedly. “The boys have been waiting forever to catch a glimpse of you. I’ve told them all about my beautiful sister.”

I look at her almost pleadingly and disbelievingly. Fen, helping me out? “How do you enjoy it?” My throat feels sticky, like I’m going to cry. “It’s just... I... it feels so...” revolting, positively disgusting, morally wrong?... “unnatural.”

She gawks at me. “What do you mean, Chang? How should it feel? Most girls your age have already been engaged! Get used to it. Guys like girls. You act all coy and they’ll like you even more.”

I pause, looking for words. “That’s what I don’t like. That whole shower-of-sparks romance thing. It just... feels like there should be... something else.” I start to realize what an idiot I’m sounding like, and how strange this situation is. Fen and I never talk, ever. Generally, we try ignore each other except for Fen throwing venomous glances my way.

“Then what should there be?” she throws her hands up.

I look down at the floor. “Respect, happiness,” I whisper. “A good Confucian household. A relationship that will last beyond two months.”

She looks at me like I’m crazy, though I should be used to that by now. Then her face softens. “When we took you in... I’d always wanted an older sister. Somehow I thought you would be that for me,” she says, then pauses. “You aren’t really the disowned Li girl, are you?”

I’m speechless for a moment, and I consider lying, but in the end, it doesn’t feel right. Fen has never spoken this nicely to me and I want to reciprocate. “No.”

“Well,” Fen sighs. “I guess I’ve always known that. Let’s go; we’ll be late if we stay any longer. Give the boys something to look at, for my sake at least.”

“I can’t.” Even as I say it, I’m pulling up my neckline.

“Just try not to blow it for me, too, then,” Fen says huffily, as if I am an obstinate child. I may as well be. She spins on her heel. “I, for one, plan on having some fun.” she says, looking over her shoulder sharply. Then, with all the drama of a well-bred Chinese socialite, she storms out of the room with a flourish. Wrestling with my feelings about the seduction Fen is advising me to use and why she suddenly broke down in front of me, I can only stare at Fen’s lithe frame and the ridiculous, revealing slit in her dress. Obviously, she’s chastising me even as she walks down the hall - she’s purposely overexposing her leg. I look down at my shoes, disgusted, and try to ignore the salty teardrops falling on my bare collarbone.
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At first, the miller’s daughter wasn’t sure what she was seeing. The dimensions of this new place were beyond her comprehension, and for a moment all she and Lorabeth could do was gape like dumbstruck fish. Then they felt an indescribable liberation of their souls, a floating sensation that baffled them until they observed that they were rising through an amorphous column of fog, damp and sweet-smelling. It must be that they were flying.

Their heads came up out of the cloud, lightly drizzled with unfallen rain. The miller’s daughter asked herself where they might be, and a surprisingly firm voice in her mind answered that of course they were in the sky, though the sky above what place she did not know. Around her she saw others, white-haired grandmothers smiling beatifically, middle-aged women analyzing their surroundings, and very few younger girls, perhaps as young as nine summers. A panic seized her as she considered the possibility of having died and come to the after-place. Yet the countenances of all those there did not match the shock of a quick death. And there were no boys or men—and as far as she knew they did have to die sometime. They must have come on the same train as her and Lorabeth, she decided.

A citadel, at once austere and welcoming, seemed to appear as if being shaded in by an artist’s charcoal stick. The miller’s daughter had always loved the way a piece of charred wood was given a second chance and was used to draw the world it had grown strong in. Everyone began to gravitate towards it, not really aware of where their feet were taking them. The doors beckoned to them and the miller’s daughter suspected a trick.

As they entered a cavernous hall, she thought that this castle was much like the Grand-Palace she had imagined in the capital city of her own kingdom. But as a girl whose life had been fraught with taunts, despair, broken, promise, false friends—all of this had made her distrustful. This was too good to be true. Time was in a muddle, and as for space? Distance had become irrelevant. Maybe she had simply slipped out of one dream and into another.

Nevertheless, her careful steps echoed on the marble floor. At the far end of the hall (which looked to be quite a long way, distorted space notwithstanding) she could barely make out a throne, gleaming in the soft light of the fog-land. It was ethereal and somehow ominous, a blatant dichotomy just like this world she lived in. Lorabeth seemed oblivious to any possible suspicion and the miller’s daughter debated with herself about whether Lorabeth was real. She would be quite saddened if she wasn’t; the distantly cheerful merchant girl had become her first new friend in too long.

The hall seemed endless and walking was slow going, and normally, the miller’s daughter thought, people would have picked up their pace by now. A tinge of rotten seemed to permeate the whole setup and the silence was nerve-wracking. She began to march forward with exaggerated urgency to instill, possibly, a sense of direction in her surrounding peers. The littlest saw her advance and saw a leader, a sister, a surrogate mother. They thronged around her and that motley crowd of girls headed determinedly for the silver chair. The older ones—and Lorabeth—still stared as they walked in a hushed procession, sometimes reaching out to stroke the wall with an otherworldly reverence. As they slowed more and more they seemed to become part of the wall.

They actually looked as if they were steadily becoming ghosts, and the miller’s daughter couldn’t part with Lorabeth. Wildly she took hold of Lorabeth’s arm and dragged her away. The force seemed to sever a link and she looked about as if awakening from a dream.

Rushing to the front of the little girls’ clump, the miller’s daughter saw the throne come jarringly close and they stopped. The enduring silence turned into awkward time-killing. The monster that seemed to reign here was laughing at them, she was sure of it. It was a raspy cackle, a nightmarish sound.

They waited for it to show itself. The fluid-time took over again and the youngest of the group fidgeted. The miller’s daughter felt impatient, a hidden fire now giving out smoke inside her. This cowardly thing was lurking, whatever it was, and it angered those girls.

“Come out, you!” the miller’s daughter cried. “You, whatever you are! We’re here!” The others nodded their assent vigorously. Some of the young women had reached the mass of girls. Horrifyingly, their skin was translucent. A thing film of light lined their bodies and ringed their heads. There was a definite feeling that something in them was leaving. The miller’s daughter brought them into the center of the huddled throng and led the girls in clamoring for the appearance of the unknown master of the house.

Spurred on by the smaller voices around her, the miller’s daughter shouted boldly. Lorabeth was becoming steadily more opaque and the pinkness was returning to her face. She gripped the miller’s daughter’s hand with instinctive warmness. Soon peer pressure had her shouting as well. The solemn hall was chaos as a growing crowd shouted at the empty chair and the half-women frantically tried to block out the noise. They seemed disturbed in their wonderful little world, trapped inside their own minds and the lure of the hall.

From behind the throne several drum-like booms sounded. A figure materialized on the throne, flickering in and out of existence. The miller’s daughter jumped back, suddenly, inexplicably afraid. The woman—for she was, unmistakably, a woman—commanded a powerful respect and some of the more transparent women began to grovel at her feet. She possessed some sort of ancient might, an all-seeing, all-knowing entity. The miller’s daughter shivered; her penetrating gaze made her feel like cornered prey.

Then the woman on the throne smiled, and it was here that the entire hall was struck by the knowledge that she could not be anything but a queen. It was like sunlight breaking through a fog, and indeed, the miller’s daughter saw, the fog outside was clearing.

“Welcome,” the queen said. Her voice was sonorous, mellifluous, and hearing it was like being in the forest again. “You are all hungry. Come, let us eat.” The miller’s daughter thought it perplexing that she said they were hungry as a fact rather than an assumption. She had felt neither hunger nor thirst on the train. In response, her stomach growled loudly, arguing that she was still human and therefore needed food. The older women had already rushed to the long stone table that had been set before them. She hesitated, but her stomach gave in. Soon she was seated beside Lorabeth and savoring the heavenly aroma that wafted out from a room to the left of the throne. Something clattered and glass could be heard breaking. The queen’s features grew stormy and she swept out of the room.
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Okay. Isn't that just beautiful?

This is the cover design, done by the AMAZING Fena Lee of .book cover design, for my NaNoWriMo novel, The Universe Quilt. (You can view chapter posts at http://lifeisinexpressible.blogspot.com/search/label/the%20universe%20quilt.)

Fena's website is at http://pheeena.com. She has a portfolio and the best website design and EVERYTHING. I can't even explain how much symbolism and dedication and OH MY GOODNESS AWESOMENESS went into this. Fena is super nice and wonderful and my, my, my, I must stop gushing!

But anyway. That's it. Now marvel at the awesomeness. :)
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He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. —from the Song of David (2 Samuel 22:35)

The Bronze Bow, written by Elizabeth George Speare (author of The Witch of Blackbird Pond) won the Newbery Medal in 1962. This gripping, action-packed novel tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin—a fierce, hotheaded young man bent on revenging his father’s death by forcing the Romans from his land of Israel. Daniel’s palpable hatred for Romans wanes only when he starts to hear the gentle lessons of the traveling carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. A fast-paced, suspenseful, vividly wrought tale of friendship, loyalty, the idea of home, community . . . and ultimately, as Jesus says to Daniel on page 224: “Can’t you see, Daniel, it is hate that is the enemy? Not men. Hate does not die with killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.” A powerful, relevant read in turbulent times.

This wasn't really something I would've normally read.

For instance, it's historical fiction... and Christian historical fiction at that. I'm not saying I have anything against Christians (I know some perfectly nice ones), but I don't like reading anything religious.

Daniel was a weird guy. I was kind of asking myself why he wouldn't just let go, and why he could be so blind to the needs of everyone else around him. He was so frustrated the entire time, and it was a little unpleasant to read. He was so mean and impulsive most of the book, and it wasn't until the very end that he kinda-sorta learned to control his anger.

My favorite character by far was Thacia. She was so proud and brave and strong. She helped Leah as well, which immediately puts her into my good books. Unfortunately, she is also kind of in love with Daniel, so uh... yeah.

However, the ending moral of the book was powerful and Daniel does change a bit, so it's an okay thing, I suppose. I don't think I could justify the Newbery, though. It all happened too fast and in a whirl.

Still, give it a try if you're bored :)
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The goose gave a great honk and alighted on a grassy knoll. The miller’s daughter slid off its enormous, feathery back and walked to the little table that was laid out neatly before her. A pretty, sharp needle and spools of gossamer thread waited as if expecting her, arranged beside a towering pile of diaphanous, almost invisible fabric. The giant goose flapped its wings to set off on another journey in that magical land with sweeping whooshes and a call like a carved horn. She reached for the needle, but it dissipated in her grasp—

She blinked rapidly as her eyes fluttered open. It had been a dream, which of course it had, since all the nice things she saw lately were dreams. Yet she heard something outside, very near now, that made her stop and hold her breath.

She could hear the honk and flap of the goose.

Acting on excited impulse, the miller’s daughter scrambled into a comfortable dress and climbed through the window. She thanked the springtime for making the ground soft and her steps padded. No telling what the miller would do if he caught her now. There was still a slight nighttime chill in the air, but she forgot it in her eagerness to find the goose. As quietly as a girl of thirteen summers can be, she stole around trees and bushes. The goose-sounds seemed close.

Her heartbeat quickened and the brilliance of the moment heightened. She knew she would come upon it now, just a little farther—

She stumbled into a clearing that she had never found before in all the hours she had spent wandering the woods. She swore that the last time she had checked, there had been an impenetrable mass of brambles here, but there was no time to wonder. A wall of metal rose up to above her head. Strange rectangular chinks with rounded corners appeared at intervals throughout its length. It was a dull gray, a lackluster color. The miller’s daughter swallowed her disappointment and turned to trudge home. Just as she did, one of the rectangles was pulled back to reveal a well-lit opening. An inviting aura emanated from it and she was drawn to it despite herself. Caution vanished and in its place was an anticipation that was entirely new.

The structure started to hum and the miller’s daughter felt distinctly that it was about to leave without her on its way to some wondrous dreamland. Suddenly she knew that she belonged on the other side of that wall, inside that room. With a renewed urgency she half-ran to it and found herself inside. The rounded rectangle closed behind her like it had been waiting for her to board the metal box.

Smoothly, it shifted into movement, a sleek, well-tuned machine. Everything inside the moving room seemed oddly angular and it felt natural to sit on a box attached to the wall. The seat seemed to shape to her body so that the hard material was comfortable. Handles hung from the ceiling next to poles that connected to the floor. It was almost completely white, the atmosphere sterile. The miller’s daughter craned her neck around to look out the wide window behind her and gasped. The metal snake had risen into the sky and she could see the beginnings of a springtime sunrise beyond mountains that were coming closer with unbelievable speed.

After a few minutes she became bored of admiring the view outside the window and wished for someone to talk to. John would have loved this mysterious, thrilling ride and she wondered, with a little pang, how she would get home. She would never miss the miller’s cottage but John, what about John?

The metal box seemed to have been reading her mind, and a tall, slim girl walked into the room wearing a confused expression. She was really quite lovely in a faded sort of way. Her face was pale, but it was offset by striking, lively green eyes. Wispy, ash-blonde hair cascaded down to her hip. She looked around, rather like a bewildered doe the miller’s daughter had seen on one of her water-fetching trips. Then her eyes settled on the miller’s daughter and lit up.

“Oh, good, someone to talk to,” she said brightly. She hovered uncertainly for a bit before sitting down on the white box. Evidently she had wanted for conversation for an unbearably long time—in the space of five minutes, the miller’s daughter had learned the girl’s name, where she had come from, and about a dozen things that she had been thinking about on this unfeasible nighttime ride. Somehow the miller’s daughter found her sweet rather than exasperating.

Finally finished, Lorabeth sighed deeply and turned to her. Something like nostalgia clouded her face. She looked, the miller’s daughter thought suddenly, like the vulnerable sixteen-summer girl she was, far away from home with her whole life ahead of her. She had had a home that she had loved, and in this aspect the miller’s daughter found it difficult to sympathize.

Lorabeth jerked back to reality, seeing the miller’s daughter, a girl younger than herself, reining in her feelings with what seemed like uncharacteristic grace. She could not know that there were no feelings to rein in. Somewhat sheepishly, Lorabeth summoned up her burgeoning maternal instincts to care for the miller’s daughter as time became meaningless and the gray metal strip of rooms rose higher up into the sky.

The minutes bled into hours, the hours bled into some sort of interminable fluid-time. Every so often Lorabeth and the miller’s daughter would turn and spend short moments in the fluid-time feasting their eyes of the magnificence outside the window. They became used to their pleasant, if monotonous, new life inside what they came to call “the white room”.   

The only thing the miller’s daughter found mildly disheartening were the vague, shadowy attacks of memory about her other life, in the village. They pointed accusatory fingers and whispered twisted words into her mind about lack of loyalty, about John, about the wives in town who needed mending done, as she and Lorabeth slept during what they thought was night. It was impossible to tell now that the train forged onward on its inexorable path in a deep forever-darkness, dotted with the tentative twinkle of what appeared to be stars.

The miller’s daughter had long since given up on counting the days when Lorabeth breathed in sharply, feeling the floor with her foot and pacing skittishly.

“Do you feel that?” she asked quietly. “We’ve stopped.”

It was true, she realized, and the two girls explored the newly stationary qualities of the cabin. They verified and re-verified that they had arrived at last at the destination that those lost souls had wanted for so long.

They clambered to the window but were disappointed to see a thick mist on all sides. The place they had visualized was many things, but it was not misty. Lorabeth and the miller’s daughter sat down heavily, chiding themselves for getting their hopes up.

For the first time since they had boarded, a voice crackled from a grate that materialized in the ceiling. “We have arrived and will be disembarking shortly.”

In disbelief, the two girls stared at each other and started to laugh. It was a real laugh, one that filled their stomachs and their hearts and let all the confused joy and relief knotted up inside them tumble out.

The rounded rectangle doors that had let them into the white room began to open with an almost theatrical slowness and a pfffff sound like the wind blowing long and hard. A shaft of golden light found its way inside and both girls, with a spontaneous naïveté, reached out to try and touch it. Their fingers met with nothing and they giggled.

Then the opening became large enough to step through, and Lorabeth and the miller’s daughter, exhilarated, prepared to confront this brave new world before them.
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Hey! This is a novel that my friend and I are working on together. Feedback is greatly appreciated.

Gunfire and light footsteps ring through the compound’s hallways - not an uncommon sound here, but I walk towards it anyway, because the fast breathing accompanying it sounds girlish, frightened. Picking up my pace slightly, I half jog towards the direction of the sound.  I turn the corner and collide into a thin form, clumps of long hair flying on both sides. The other girl’s hair is brown, though - a Caucasian chestnut brown. There’s only one person in the whole Empire with hair like that.

“Run, Para,” Brenna gasps. “They’re coming.”

Annoyed that she isn’t being more specific, I follow her in the general direction that she’s sprinting. Soon I, too, am panting - curse her long legs! Someone yells behind us and I ascertain that he’s around twenty years old and Punjabi. I suddenly wonder why Brenna and I haven’t gotten to know our guards and officers better.

Apparently my running has slowed, because Brenna comes back and shoves me forward. I still don’t know where we’re going.  Then I realize something and almost stop running: her hair is not bound into a braid. The only time I have ever seen it down is when she is re-braiding it. Now it is hastily stuffed into  a dark brown ponytail to her mid-thigh. The hair band is wrapped around the ponytail only two times - very bad, since her hair is so slippery. Now I am sincerely scared and struggle to keep up.

“Brenna! Slow down!” I’m getting increasingly ticked off, and this girl must be feeling some serious adrenaline, because she’s already twenty feet ahead. Also, this problem is evidently pretty bad. Forget her hair, not even Brenna can ignore me when I’m yelling. Instead, she huffs and takes my hand, and then we’re flying. My legs stumble trying to keep up with her smooth, effortless gait.

She almost pulls my arm out of its socket, and I start to tell her that getting away from these people is really not worth losing my arm when something explodes behind us. Brenna leaps, always graceful, and I jump like some sort of disabled frog. Even in all the chaos, my stupid mind manages to think, Typical.

We’ve landed on the hard tile and I see that Brenna has taken most of the impact. Shakily, she stands and for once it’s me helping her. After a few quick breaths, she bursts into a sprint and my hand catches her arm just in time. Finally able to orient myself, I see that she’s dashing madly towards the courtyard—do not ask me why it’s called that—so that we can get our bearings in all this craziness. Although technically it would make us more open to attack…shut up, analysis.       

Brenna slams something in front of us, and I’m surprised at her level-headedness, but then again, I always am. Bright sunlight burns my eyes, painful compared to the fluorescence inside the facility. Stringy, unloved grass bristles beneath my feet. More shots ring out, though by now I’m too panicked to tell where they’re coming from. We’re running at an almost unbelievable speed thanks to Brenna’s incredible sprinting, but I can hear her panting and I know we’ll be slowing down soon. Now is my time to take over, but I’m still worrying about whether I can keep up our speed.

It apparently doesn’t matter. I feel a rush of adrenaline - about time! - and my feet finally start moving. It’s slow going at first, but I have plenty of motivation, so it’s not too bad. Blasts echo behind us, almost shattering my hearing. The bombs cloud my consciousness and I don’t hear the helicopter blades whirring above us until a hatch opens and a small, lethal-looking dart flies out of it. I cry out, but Brenna’s energy chooses that exact moment to give out and she pants and stops, hands on her knees.

“Brenna!” By this time I know I’m wasting my breath. “Look out!” As if that wasn’t obvious enough already. She does look, but the dart has lodged itself into her shoulder. Terrified, eyes glassy, she screams, and I run in her direction. The helicopter has gotten there first. A man scoops her limp body up and I catch a last glimpse of her face. It’s white and no part of her is moving.

Like part of a bad movie, the world seems to shift into slow motion. I can practically hear the cheesy orchestral background music. I mentally hit myself and scream for the orchestra to shut up, but I’m not sure what I’m doing on the outside. I feel something wet hit my hand and will myself to stop crying, but my best friend just died, so what am I supposed to do? My knees hit the ground. It’ll make two nasty bruises. Then I jerk back to reality and I scream incoherently at the sky, at the rapidly receding helicopter carrying Brenna’s body away.

Wait. Why are they taking her?

My mind can’t seem to form any other coherent thoughts. It repeats over and over, strangely like the government announcements over the speaker in the facility. I sit there, staring at the helicopter in the blazing afternoon sky, India’s trademark summer blueness. I’m drenched in sweat and my thick black hair is forming a messy sort of halo around my head. The sun has a numbing effect on me, gradually burning away all feeling. I lose track of time and no one seems interested in coming for me or sorting this out. General Han should be here by now, I think. Why is no one...

I can feel the world slipping away from me, and too late I realize that my throat is parched and the sun is steadily sinking. It must be at least forty degrees Celsius out here, and I’ve been sitting for at least four hours, no food, no water. Not enough to kill me, but..

I struggle to conscious as the world fades. Something gleams on the ground. At this stage I could be hallucinating, but I feel the blade and my hand comes away bleeding. Almost like a papercut. Papercuts can be so vicious. My reason is definitely leaving me. My eyelids feel like lead and my tongue like a piece of sandpaper. I pick up the object. It appears to be a knife. I turn it over in my hands, but there’s nothing I can deduce in this haze.

Green flashes on one side of the blade. I turn it over to see something I’ve only seen slides of: a symbol from over fifty years ago. The image flashes before my eyes. I must be hallucinating. There’s no other way that I could be seeing this. But what part of my subconscious is reaching out to me here? 

“Doctor Prasad!” I hear the shout of the firm general. His Hindi is heavily accented, so Chinese-sounding that I cough out a feeble laugh. I turn to look, but the sun finally catches up with me. The form of a white medic sways as I fall into their arms. “Doctor Prasad, speak. Did you see any men? Where were they from, do you think? Did you see Doctor Malhotra? Do you know what happened to her?” That last laugh has choked all of the voice out of me, but I want to tell him to stop talking long enough for me to actually answer him.

The small rectangle has burned itself behind my closed eyelids. I mull it over. I know I’ve seen it before, but I can’t place it. It’s like an itch that I can’t reach. Annoyed, I reach for the memory. Surely it’s there - my memory is photographic, and has never failed me. A slideshow... in a defense meeting... two years or so ago... yes! I’ve got it! But why would anyone use this sign? Who is sending this message and what does it mean?

“What is this, Doctor Prasad?” the general has found the knife and is analyzing it. He has pulled it out of the ground and is looking at me intently. I’m about to tell him the answer, triumphant that I’ve remembered it, but my throat is too dry and my attempt at words is a reptilian rasp. I need to tell him; this is important, but the sun is beckoning me towards blackness. Instead, a thought echoes in my head, so loudly that for a moment I think that I really have told him:

It’s the Pakistani flag. No one has hoisted it for fifty years, but unmistakably, that’s what it is.
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I can't believe I haven't told you this before - I'm a 2012 NaNoWriMo participant! My novel is called The Universe Quilt and you can read more about it on the Long-Term Projects page. Here's Chapter One for my faithful readers :)

The miller’s daughter sat with a needle in her hand. Then, in, out, in, out, it flashed over and under the faded blue fabric. It was a silver serpent ready to do her command. With a needle and thread, the miller’s daughter could do grander things. But focus now, she thought to herself. Focus on mending the broken pieces that come to you.

A door opened in the next room. Startled, the miller’s daughter hid her sewing and flew into the room to greet her father. She hoped he hadn’t caught the sound of fabric on wood or a needle being hastily poked in to save a place.

No such luck. “Have you been sewing again?” he asked, pronouncing sewing with the same distaste that one would use for the word plague. His daughter hung her head. It was impossible to lie to the miller, whose sticklike shrewdness had earned him a reputation throughout the province. She knew better than to try and fool him.

The miller raised his hand and sent a resounding slap across his daughter’s cheek. The slight puff of flour dust made her cough.

It was unfair, she thought furiously. Her father didn’t say anything when she brought in the money from her mending jobs, but whenever he caught her in the act, his anger grew palpable in the air. He thought it was pointless, but he took her money anyway. She never got so much as a single copper coin out of anything she made. It seemed that he was trying to tangle her ever more tightly in an insidious, life-sucking web.

She dared not say anything aloud. The last time she had, he had burned all of her thread and fabric and sold her needles without telling her a thing. She had been forced to borrow and beg until a kind old widow who had been visiting that month gave her new supplies.

Another slap raced across her other cheek. Blinking back the tears that threatened to turn his fury into outright cruelty, the miller’s daughter turned and fled to her bedroom. It was here that not even the miller could touch her; here that she sat on her too-small bed and wished she was strong enough to defy her father. She wished she was brave. She wished she had a mother there to protect her from his harsh and terrible words that beat on her with all the strength of a blacksmith’s hammer. I wish, I wish, I wish…but the wishes died out into hopelessness as the miller snuffed the still-burning candle and she heard fabric ripping. It was a deadly, joy-killing sound, and its fatal rhythm and her tears slowly nudged the miller’s daughter into a sorrowful sleep.


The dawn with its unwelcome grayness woke the miller’s daughter just when her sleep had become dreamless and her breathing even. She wondered what crime she had committed to deserve the hatred of even the kind morning, the morning that supposedly helped to heal all wounds.

She found her father where she had expected him—at the table, throwing ashes out the window that were once the scraps of the baker’s tablecloth, a special work of mending that had been passed down in their family for generations. Undoubtedly he would go out to market later and buy a new one for the baker’s wife so that she couldn’t possibly think of missing it. He would use the money the baker’s wife had given his daughter so that his own reserves of coin would be untouched. It was why the village gossips never talked of his liability to storm and rage, especially at his daughter.

Silently, she watched from behind as woodland birds hopped out to examine the debris landing on the fresh forest floor. The miller’s cottage was on the outskirts of the village, one of the few things she liked about living in it. It was no fault of the little house’s no—but as her father grew more controlling as time passed and her limbs grew longer and more energetic, it had begun to seem like a cage.

The miller turned abruptly and saw his daughter gazing at the birds, now pecking, pecking, pecking. She looked up and him with a sad, bitter smile, at once achingly young and tiredly old. With a wordless step she picked up a large bucket and slipped out to fetch water.

The miller’s daughter sighed with heartfelt relief as the healing essence of the forest buoyed up her spirits. In spring the sunlight spilling through the canopy and dappling the ground put life into the frozen earth and into the waking trees. Her nose tingled and she sneezed gently. She laughed a little, knowing that the flowers had started their sniffling game again.

Having reached the well and the brook, babbling merrily now that the frost had gone, the miller’s daughter set her bucket down and sat to drink in the calm, wise air of the forest. The water could wait a few moments. Birdsong washed over her, and its carefree simplicity was both heartbreaking and reassuring. If only she had been born a bird. She thought of all the hours she could have spent in the bracing blue sky and bemoaned her existence as a girl. A stray tear followed a meandering path down her thin face. She wiped it away, feeling defeated.

“Did the old man catch you again?” The miller’s daughter whirled around to see who was causing the unwanted disturbance—and then showed one of her rare genuine grins to see John walking towards her. John was one of the only people, no, the only person she could speak to without feeling constricted. Of course he was the only one to know of her troubles, and his easy way of referring to the formidable miller as “the old man” was funny in a ridiculous sort of way. He sat down next to her on the rich soil, not minding the dirt, and put an arm around her shoulder, looking up at the trees thoughtfully.

They had been quiet companions for as long as anyone could remember. There was no miller’s daughter without the chandler’s boy. A strong resonance had always existed between the two. John saw her thinking and patted her shoulder. She lifted her tearful, gray-blue eyes to his twinkling ones in unspoken thanks for the comfort of today and all the days past. His eyes smiled just the slightest bit more and the miller’s daughter lowered her head, remembering. She had fancied herself in love with him once, but all that burned inside her heart now was this clinging desire to be free.

Pointing to her bucket and nodding to the well, John reminded her of what she had ostensibly come to do. She stood with that weariness that characterizes those rare people who know more about life than they’d like to, and John felt a fresh wave of an ineffable emotion that he had frequently felt about his friend—wanting to help her but finding her stranded and lonely in a faraway place where he could not reach. There was something about her, he decided, that no one would ever understand.

The clear, pure tone of well-water sloshing about in her bucket gave the miller’s daughter a small glimmer of ephemeral happiness. Before making her way to the dreaded cottage and her father, she waved a goodbye-for-now to John. His expression seemed to say, whenever you need me.

The remainder of the day passed in drudgery, further worsened by her father’s irritability. If there was one thing the miller’s daughter feared more than the miller’s terrifying tantrums at night, it was the ominous thundercloud that would loom over the whole cottage the next day. Part of her thought he was simply taunting her, lording over her the power he held throughout the insignificant life she led.

Thankfully, there were no eruptions of temper that day. The miller’s daughter, glad that she had gotten off so well, even bought vegetables and meat at the market to prepare a hearty stew for her father’s dinner. It was received with surprising goodness by her father, and she realized that the new tablecloth she had seen draped over a chair that afternoon was gone. The baker’s wife must have promised him a favor, perhaps a free loaf of bread. Her hunch was confirmed by the three small, soft rolls he gave her before she went to bed. He even said “good night”, albeit gruffly.

The miller’s daughter made her bed, drowsy from the happy bustle of the day. The last thing she heard before drifting off into contented sleep was a vaguely annoying blare in the far distance.

If only it had stayed that way.
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