13 May The Progeny Chapters 1 & 2 – Read Here!
So I’ve always been terrible at waiting. I’m the girl who does her holiday shopping… and then can’t stand it and gives people their gifts early (and has to buy new ones). Basically, you want to be on my shopping list. 😀
Well, the next 11 days to The Progeny’s May 24 release will probably kill me, so I figured I’d just throw the beginning of the book up here. I’ve already let the cat out of the bag on Chapter 1 on social media and my newsletter, so I figured I’d throw in Chapter 2 here. Because, you know, it’s my blog.
No one speaks when you enter the Center for the last time. There’s no need. You’ve gone through the counseling, tests, and a checklist of preparations to get the plastic bracelet you wear the day of treatment. The one that saves a life. They don’t need to know why you’re doing it any more. Or that you lied about it all. Just the scratch of the stylus as you sign your name on the screen one last time.
A nurse takes me into a room and I lie down on the table. I give her the sealed packet—the only thing I brought with me. There’s cash, meds, and an address inside, the one for “after.” It’s a thousand miles away. She’ll pass it to the companion assigned to me. No point meeting her now.
I’m 21 years old and my name doesn’t matter because it’s about to be erased forever. I’m choosing to forget the ones I love, and myself, in the process.
They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die. But they don’t tell you that every detail comes screaming back to life. That you taste each bite of every meal you savored, feel the shower of every rain you walked in… smell the hair against your cheek before that last, parting kiss. That you will fight to hold on to every memory like a drowning person gasping for poisoned air.
Then everything you knew is gone. And you are still alive.
There’s a figure standing by the window. Arms crossed, outlined against the fuchsia sky, looking out at what must be a spectacular sunset. When her chin lifts I wonder if she’s seen something in the trees.
I push up from the cabin’s lone sofa. An afghan with a giant moose stitched on it is tangled around my legs. It in no way coordinates with the moose valance in the kitchen or the fixture in the bathroom. Despite the name of the lake—Moosehead—I’ve yet to see a real moose anywhere since arriving here four weeks ago.
“You’re awake.” My caretaker, Clare, turns from the window. Her blonde hair is pulled back in the loose ponytail she’s worn every day since we arrived and she set up house. Going into town for groceries as I slept, taking me through two-hour assessments in the afternoon, complimenting my recent attempts at dinner including the under seasoned chicken casserole I made last night. It was the first time I’d tried it, I said, but I don’t know if that’s true.
My name is Emily Porter. I’m 21 years old and I am renting a tiny cabin in the north woods of Maine for reasons I no longer remember.
I go through this mental routine each time I wake, if only to assure myself I didn’t get the lobotomy I joked about yesterday before sleeping—what, fifteen, twenty?—hours until just now. I don’t even remember going to sleep. Nor do I remember where I lived before this, or where I went to college, or the name of the high school with the blue lockers and squeaky gymnasium floor where I graduated. Including what happened to the garnet ring on my index finger as I accepted my diploma, or the name of the woman who gave it to me other than simply, “Mom.”
Names, identifiers, faces up to age 19 and everything in the two years since. All gone.
“A certain amount of post-procedure depression is normal. That will change, in time.”
I slide my hand to the curve of my skull just above my left ear. To the stubby patch concealed by the longer hair above it. Not so stubby anymore. It could almost qualify for a military cut.
“As will that.”
“Not fast enough.” I flip the afghan off my legs, pop two pills from the bottle on the coffee table, already trying to decide what culinary disaster I’ll create tonight. “Caretaker” is a misleading word; as soon as I reached the two-week observation and recovery mark, Clare has seen to it that I cook, do laundry, find a job and my way around town as though I were already on my own.
“I’m thinking I should stay away from casseroles for a while. How do you feel about tuna quesadillas?” I get up and pad toward the kitchen, wash my hands. When she doesn’t respond, I look at her and say, “That good, huh.”
That’s when I realize she’s wearing the same blouse and skirt she wore the first day, the wooden tao cross hanging just below her collar. It looks like a capitol T, which is what I thought it was the first time I saw it, for her last name: Thomas. And then I see the suitcase by the door.
A surge of panic wells up inside me.
“Today was my last day, Emily.” She says quietly. “I was just waiting for you to wake.”
“Oh.” I put down the dishtowel, finish drying my hands on my sweatpants. Look around me, lost.
Clare tilts her head. “We talked about it when you got up for a while this morning—remember?”
No. I don’t remember. But I don’t need to turn to see the calendar hanging on the fridge behind me, to follow the line of Xs through each day in September to today—the twentieth—to know she’s right.
“Are you sure you want to go now?” I say. “I mean, it’s almost dark.” I gesture to the window, already in shadow.
I’m not ready for this.
She comes to stand in front of me and lays her hands on my arms. Her left brow is angled a few degrees higher than her right. But instead of making her appear asymmetrical, which all faces are, it animates her eyes.
“You’re doing fine, Emily. Your procedure was a success. You have your fresh start. It’s time to live.” A fresh start. A weird concept when you don’t know what you’re starting over from.
She gives me a squeeze and shoulders her purse. “I could, however, use a lift to shore and into town.”
“Right. Of course.” I glance around, lost in my oversized sweatshirt, looking for my jacket. I knew this day was coming. Then why do I feel like I’m being abandoned?
I lace my boots and grab my keys, but the questions that came at me like a hoard of insects those first few days—before Clare firmly counseled me to trust my decision—have come swarming back, louder than ever. I push them way but when I get to the door there’s something in her hand. An envelope.
The handwriting on the outside is mine.
She holds it out. “You wrote this before your treatment.”
I take it slowly. It’s sealed, my initials scribbled across the flap where it’s stuck shut.
“Most patients choose to write a letter to reassure their post-procedure selves. You can read it when you get back.”
I nod, but a part of me wishes she hadn’t shown it to me at all. I slide it onto the counter. “Okay.”
Outside, we climb into the john boat and I start the outboard motor. It takes all of five minutes for me to guide us in to the dock two hundred yards away. I grab the flashlight from the boat, knock it with the heel of my hand when it sputters. The owner’s beat up Ford Bronco is waiting near the slip.
I ask what time her flight is as we turn onto Lily Bay Road, make small talk about the magnificent foliage around the lake. Finally ask if she ever saw a moose. No, she says, she never did.
Twenty minutes later we pull into the Food Mart at the top of the hill—the same place I caught my breath as the lake first appeared below us the day we arrived. There’s a black town car waiting in the parking lot, and she directs me toward it.
I put the truck in park, wondering what one says in a situation like this. I’m glad it’s nearly dark out.
“I’ve got it,” she says when I start to get out. After retrieving her suitcase, she leans in through the passenger door.
“You’re going to be fine, Emily. It’s a brave decision to go through something like this.”
It doesn’t feel brave, to want to forget.
“Read your letter. Trust yourself. But just in case—” She pulls the tao cross over her head and presses it into my hand. “If you ever find yourself in need of answers.”
Impulsively, I lean across the seat to hug her.
And then she’s gone.
Maybe I don’t want to waste the trip to town, or maybe I just don’t feel like getting the crap scared out of me by the stuffed taxidermy bear in the bedroom that has managed to freak me out every time I try to sleep in there like a normal person. As soon as that black car disappears up the road, I hang the cross from the rearview mirror and decide to pick up some supplies.
But the truth is I’m not ready to read that letter. I don’t know what I’ve left behind—my mind has run the gamut from childhood molestation to abusive boyfriends and post-traumatic stress—but part of me is both dying and terrified to hear from that person before. Afraid of any indication of the thing that landed me on an island the size of a Dorito in the back woods of Maine with roots five shades lighter than the rest of my hair.
Inside the Food Mart I distractedly fill a basket with deli cuts, bananas, microwave popcorn, tampons. The grocery is connected to the Trading Post—a camping, fishing, hunting store—making it the type of place you can buy vegetarian nuggets and a rifle, all in one trip. Or, in my case, wool socks and flashlight batteries. I stop in the wine aisle last. It seems fitting to toast my past as I hear from my former self. Who knows, depending on what’s in the letter, I may even need to get drunk.
I’ve just picked a cabernet with a cool label off the sale shelf—because what else do you go by when you don’t know one from the other—when I sense someone staring at me farther down the aisle.
I look up to find a guy in a green Food Mart apron frozen on a knee where he’s been stocking a lower shelf. For a minute I wonder if he thinks I’m shoplifting, or, more likely, not old enough to buy booze.
I deliberately slide the bottle into my basket. As I start to leave, I hear quick steps behind me.
I turn reluctantly. Not only because I already wish I had just gone home, but because, now that he’s closer, I can see the chin-length hair tucked behind his ear, the blue eyes beneath thoughtful brows. And I’m standing here with bad roots and tampons in my basket.
He grabs something from the shelf. “We just got this in,” he says, eyes locked on mine. The couple days’ stubble on his cheeks is the color of honey, a shade lighter than his hair.
I glance at the bottle of non-alcoholic cider. “Thanks,” I murmur. “I’m good.”
“It’s organic,” he says, not even looking at it. He’s got an accent so slight I can’t place it, but it isn’t local.
By now I just want to get out of here. The letter sitting on the table back at the cabin has launched a march of fire ants in my gut. If what’s written in that envelope is meant to be reassuring, I need that reassurance now, because I was doing a lot better with my questions before Clare and her level counsel left and I ever knew the letter existed.
I put the wine back and grab a bottle of tequila on my way to the register.
There’s no one there. I swing the basket up onto the conveyer belt and look around. A moment later the same guy comes over and starts to ring me up.
“Hi again,” he smiles. I look away.
Halfway through checkout, I realize I can’t find my debit card. I pull out my keys and dig through my jacket pockets. And then I see it lying on the counter back at the cabin, right next to the grocery list of all the things I just bought.
“I forgot my card,” I stammer.
He shrugs. “No problem. I can set them aside or have them delivered if you want. You can pay for them then.”
“No,” I say quickly, stepping away. “That’s okay.” By now two more people are waiting in line behind me. “Sorry.” I turn on my heel and hurry to the door and the evening outside, leaving the stuff on the conveyer belt.
Outside, bugs swarm the lone parking lot light. I get to my truck, grab the door handle… and then drop my forehead against the window with a curse. My keys are back inside on the little ledge old ladies use to write checks.
I peer through the dark window like the truck is going to come unlocked by sheer force of will. It doesn’t. And there’s the flashlight with the nearly-dead batteries lying between the seats.
“Hey!” The voice comes from the direction of the mart’s automatic door. I push away from the truck.
It’s the guy, holding up my keys. “You forgot something.”
“Yeah. Like my mind.”
He hands me my keys and two plastic grocery bags. I look at them, bewildered.
“On me,” he says.
“Oh. No, I can’t—”
“Already done. Besides, that tequila looked pretty important,” he says with a slight smile.
“I’ll pay you back.”
“It’s no problem.” He hesitates, and then wishes me a good night.
I pass a whole five cars on my way up Lily Bay and none on the road to the lake. Six houses tucked in the trees along this mile-and-a-half stretch of gravel called Black Point Road share the dock where the boat is tied beneath a motion-sensor light. Modest homes of normal people living lives full of details they might like to forget, but have somehow learned to live with.
The water is black beneath the boat and I’m glad for the cabin’s wan kitchen lights, relieved even for its parade of moose above the window, the bear waiting in the bedroom.
I dump the bags on the counter and sit down on the sofa with the letter, not bothering to take off my boots. After a long moment of staring at my name, I slide my finger under the edge of the envelope and tear it open.
Emily, it’s me. You.
Don’t ask about the last two years. If everything went as planned, you’ve forgotten them along with several other details of your life. Don’t try to remember—they tell me it’s impossible—and don’t go digging.
Start over. Get a job. Fall in love. Live a simple, quiet life. But leave the past where it is. Keep your face off the web. Your life depends on it. Others’ lives depend on it.
By the way, Emily isn’t your birth name. You died in an accident. You paid extra for that.
I look up from the letter and take in the tiny, eco-friendly cabin with new eyes. No computer. No phone. No cable television. I’m twenty minutes from the nearest town, population sixteen hundred, where people are outnumbered by invisible moose.
I didn’t come to start over.
I came to hide.
I wake the next afternoon beside an empty shot glass. I stumble to the kitchen to find the groceries put away, flashlight waiting by the door, batteries swapped out. There’s a notepad on the table with a wobbly spiral scribble where I attempted to get a pen to work. Apparently it never did.
The letter I re-read at least fifty times is nowhere to be found. I finally find a piece of it in the ashes of the living room’s wood-burning stove. The bear in the bedroom is turned toward the corner.
At least I had the sense to cork and put away the tequila. I find it shoved to the back of a cabinet, only an inch of it gone. Whatever I did in my prior life, heavy drinking was obviously not a part of it.
Burned to ash or not, I can recite every word of the letter, picture each determined arch of the script. Whether I ran from the mob (my latest theory, given the almost alarming amount of cash I brought with me to Maine), or stole drug money from that abusive boyfriend, I was resolute by the time I wrote it. And though I remember only unhelpful details—that I grew up in a yellow house and had a high school friend who lost his a finger in a tubing accident—I know for sure I was no idiot.
Your life depends on it. Others’ lives depend on it.
So this is what it is to be dead: afternoon breakfast of cold cuts and a banana. Maintenance on the composting commode. Boat to shore to take in the trash. Head an hour out of town to purchase three boxes of hair color and cheap shades. Drive back to town to the local fly shop for supplies. Return to cabin, dump everything on kitchen table. Dye roots so the scrubby patch looks far less conspicuous. Eat dinner in front of the first season of teenage alien drama Roswell because it’s the only DVD set in the cabin’s tiny library I haven’t seen yet.
Work at the table until dawn.
All this time, the letter is running in an endless loop through my head.
Two days later, I am out of cold cuts and sick of bananas. I need to make a run to the fly shop and pick up gas for the boat.
I grab my bank card and driver’s license and then pause. Who is that girl in the picture? Is she a victim? A criminal? I try to see her in each light. I can’t. But what else is there, when you’re living a false identity?
I flip the license over. It was issued in Maine, though I know for a fact the center I woke up in is in Indiana. My identity might be fake, but the license itself is not, despite the suspiciously good photo. I wonder for the fiftieth time if I’m in a witness protection program. And for the forty-ninth time, I hope to God if I am that I’m living far enough away from whatever it was I witnessed.
Trust your decision, Clare said more than once to me. But it was so much easier to find peace in that mantra when she was here.
Entering town, I drive slowly by the tiny library. I tell myself I should see if they have a DVD collection. But I’m really thinking about the computers inside. It’d be an easy enough search to look for a fatal car accident earlier this month.
An easy trace, too.
Don’t go digging.
I stop instead at Citgo to fill the Bronco and the boat’s plastic gas tank before heading to the Fly Shop.
My case of flies—streamers, olive mayflies, beetles and Caddies—is light, but full. The owner’s wife, Madge, who can no longer tie them since her stroke, inspects a full fifteen of them before squinting up at me.
“How long did you say you been tying flies?” she says.
“As long as I can remember.”
“Well, you didn’t lie when you said you were good. I’ll give you that.”
No. But I’m pretty sure I lied more than once about how I learned. I don’t remember whose hands I watched weave thread and feathers into colorful nymphs and midges, but I never forgot the patterns.
I convince her to lower her commission if only by five percent—it’s not like either one of us is going to get rich at any rate—and ten minutes later, I’m out the door with some cash in my pocket. Not that I’m strapped.
The Food Mart is busy in the middle of the day, no less than five people waiting in line at the deli counter. I scan the register and then the produce section on my way in, an empty five-gallon water jug in each arm. I drop the jugs in the bin, and walk along the ends of several aisles.
“Can I help you find something?”
I whirl around and come face-to-face with a friendly-looking man in his fifties. Tanned face, white bushy brows, sunspots on his forearms.
“Yeah. There’s a guy who works here—he helped me with some wine the other night.”
“Wine’s this way,” he says, gesturing for me to follow. “Do you know what you’re looking for?”
“Actually, no. He made a recommendation and I forgot what it was. I was wondering if he’s working today.”
“Was it Dave?”
“I, uh, didn’t get his name. About my age… brown hair?” Blue eyes.
“Oh, Luka. I’ll see if he’s gone to lunch yet,” he says.
Luka. Definitely not from around here. I loiter near a display of saltines, canned tomatoes and chili beans. A moment later a familiar form strides toward me down the aisle. I shove my hands in my pockets and hope my smile is friendly enough to have warranted his kindness the night I was an ass.
“Bronco!” he grins. The stubble on his cheeks is gone. He’s got a nice mouth and really great jawline and with that hair I wonder why he’s not teaching ski school in Utah or modeling underwear or something.
“Yeah,” I give a little laugh. “Keyless Bronco girl.”
“I hear you’re back for that cider.”
“No, I just came to get some water and,” I dig three twenties out of my pocket, “pay you back. Thanks, by the way.”
I hold the money toward him, but his eyes are searching mine. I slide my fingers up to the hat covering my stubby patch of hair. His gaze follows. I drop my hand. “Here.”
“That’s too much.”
“Actually it’s thirty-eight cents short, but I don’t have change.”
“I never gave you a receipt.” His gaze is leveled on mine.
I shrug. “I remember what everything cost. Take it.”
He slowly folds the bills and slides them into his pocket. “You need help with that water?”
Ten minutes later he’s following me out of the Food Mart, a jug in each arm. After loading them in the back of the truck, he says, “So, Bronco. I have an idea.”
“You’re obviously not from around here—”
“Speak for yourself.”
“Okay, yeah,” he laughs a little. “You been to the Mad Moose yet?”
“I’ve been pretty much nowhere.”
“I thought I’d go into town and grab a sandwich. Join me.”
I bite my lips together. I had been planning to head back, but it’s not like I have a full afternoon planned. And aside from the Fly Shop, Food Mart and gas station, I’ve never been anywhere in town.
I shrug. “Sure.”
His face lights up and I decide there must be some woefully slim pickings around here to warrant a smile like that.
He unties his green apron on the way to his Cherokee, and then gets the door for me. It’s a whole three-quarters mile to the restaurant on the public dock where resident feral ducks dart between outdoor tables fighting over the intermittent dropped french fry. It’s warm enough that the place is half full. He pulls my chair out for me, and as I sit down I realize this is the most people I’ve been around since my arrival over a month ago.
“Were you really coming here before I showed up?” I glance up at him over my menu.
“Nope,” he laughs.
We order and he sits back and regards me. He’s the kind of ruggedly pretty that makes me wonder if I went for his type before—and if that’s what landed me here. I remember exactly one date from my past, if it can even be called that, when some kid’s mom dropped us off at the mall with thirty dollars to see a movie in sixth grade.
“How do you like Maine?” he says.
“You live in town?”
“I’m renting a studio over Charlie’s down the street. It’s not bad. I can listen to whoever’s playing at The Dropfly on the weekend for free. So, Bronco, do you have a name?”
“Emily. Porter,” I add.
“Emily,” he says, trying it out. And then he leans forward, hand extended. It’s warm, his grip firm. “Luka Novak.”
“What brought you to Greenville?” I ask, fiddling with a straw wrapper.
“No,” he laughs, though it sounds more ironic than anything. His eyes have turned grey as the drifting clouds. “A fresh start, I guess.”
My skin actually prickles.
It’s then that I begin to notice a few people at the next table over staring in our direction. Mine, specifically. I reach toward my ear, checking the scrubby patch of hair covered by my ball cap. It is. I tug the hat a little lower.
“Hey,” Luka says quietly. “Everything okay?”
“I feel like people are staring,” I say, wishing I had the menu back.
“It’s because you’re pretty,” he says.
When our food arrives I busy myself spreading mayo on my burger, my fingers glad for something to do.
Luka offers me some of his lobster roll, but I’m suspicious of anything that looks like a scorpion, no matter how good it tastes. He eats with relish, shaking his head with appreciation after each bite. “You don’t know what you’re missing, Bronco.”
I’m just happy to be eating something that isn’t made of cold cuts or my cooking. And to be socializing like a normal person, the sun shining on the parts of my face not obscured by my Red Sox cap.
I glance up when I realize he’s stopped eating.
“What are you doing Saturday night?” he says.
“On a Saturday?”
“Pretty much every night.”
“I um, tie fishing flies.”
I drag a french fry through some ketchup, flick another onto the ground, and immediately regret it because it incites a stampede of feral ducks—not to mention several more gazes our way. “Yeah. I guess I’m kind of a night owl.”
“Come catch a band with me for an hour or two.”
“Wow. Groceries, lunch, band on Saturday…”
“I just got in last month and haven’t had a chance to make many friends yet. I’m guessing you haven’t either.” He smiles when he says it, though there’s a tension in his posture that doesn’t match his offhanded shrug. I don’t get it. A guy this good looking and outgoing just can’t be that desperate.
The next table over is talking about a bear one of them shot on a hunt the day before, and orders a round of celebratory shots. I was envious of the couples and groups seated around us when we first sat down. Now, as laughter erupts from the table and a few more stares bypass them to turn my way, I feel jittery and more isolated than before. I told myself to live a quiet life, to fall in love, even. Obviously, the former me didn’t think this through; I might make friends, might even be attracted to a guy like Luka. But I’ll never be able to tell the truth. And what kind of friendship—let alone relationship—is that?
“It’s the fall spawn and the weather’s good. There won’t be much demand once it gets cold.” I’m not exactly desperate for money, but he doesn’t need to know that.
“I’ll tell you what. I’m going to be at The Dropfly at eight—”
“I thought you could hear them from your place for free.”
“I can. But I don’t have Guinness on tap.”
“So if you can, come by. If not, we’ll do it another time.”
He asks for the check and I try to pay—he bailed me out the other night, after all. But he waves me off and lays one of the twenties I gave him on the table.
As we return to the Cherokee, I notice a guy in a pair of khakis and a black jacket standing near the small crowd outside the ice cream place, staring in our direction. What is it with people here? I glance at Luka, but he’s getting my door. When I get in and look over again, the man is gone.
By the time Luka drops me off at my truck, I’m relieved to head back up the hill. But I keep one eye on the rearview mirror all the way.