Here we are day three of the KICKSTARTER and being a Friday I figured it might be a good idea to post a sample chapter for you to read. Have a great weekend!
As Penelope Hawk walked home from school along the gravel shoulder of Route 63, she stared at the pumpkins and scarecrows that decorated porches and stood tall in fields of dry corn. Busy farmers burned dying summer grass and leaves, giving off the rich, earthy smell that signaled the ending of autumn and the approach of winter. Already a light and early snow drifted down from the La Plata Mountains and settled over New Mexico.
As it did each year at this time, the town of Reedville was gearing up for the fall harvest and Halloween fair. The festival brought people in from the surrounding counties and even as far away as Durango, Colorado. For one glorious night a year, the dull town where she lived transformed itself into a place of color and hope.
Penelope passed the Whitman farm and then the Douglass ranch, thinking that, of all the places to grow up, Reedville was by far the worst. The flat-roofed buildings in disrepair showed off the hollow desperation that took hold of the town after the auto plant closed. This was long before she was born, and so Penelope had no idea that Reedville was once a prosperous and happy place. However, since the plant had closed and most folks were out of work, their enthusiasm and pride—once so strong that the town was named All-American City in 1975—faded like the paint on their homes.
Spotting the familiar slouched and weather-beaten barn, she picked up her pace. Clutching her schoolbooks, Penelope glanced from side to side, alert to as-of-yet-unseen dangers. The barn, worn from exposure to the elements, leaned on a slight angle, giving the impression of a weary beast that stopped to rest and eventually died there. She knew her fear of the barn itself was misplaced, and rather than face the truth of what scared her, she created a fantastic illusion. She imagined the shadows inside were creeping out like the arms of a spectral octopus to grab people as they passed by. Penelope, always the hero of her fantasies, slew the octopus in a grand battle, saving the entire town. The reality, which she chose to avoid, was far worse.
“Look who it is: Penelope the pink-haired freak,” said the familiar voice of Billy Brag as he stepped out of the barn. He wore a cowboy hat that cast a shadow over his face. In the gloom, his eyes glittered like chips of ice. Billy had a way of looking at you that could make your skin crawl. Dull-witted and mean, it seemed that Billy and his brother Sonny spent most of their time thinking up ways to torture the other kids at school. Penelope stood at the top of their list of people to threaten. This was, of course, because of her appearance but it went deeper.
“Penelope Pink Head. The ugly girl who thinks she’s special!” replied Sonny as he followed his brother out of the barn. Sonny was fifteen, tall, with pimples and greasy blonde hair. He wore a dirty cowboy hat that was too small for him. He always pushed the hat back on his round head, giving him the appearance of an overgrown baby. Sonny was so dimwitted that he’d been left back twice and couldn’t seem to escape Reedville Middle School. Penelope doubted that he would ever graduate since that would deprive him of the pleasure of being a bully and force him to find work. Instead, she expected his parents to pull him out of school and ship him off to someplace where his talent for cruelty and violence might find a home.
“What are you doing walkin’ by our barn? We don’t let no freaks walk near our barn,” Billy said, taking a step forward to block Penelope from continuing up the road toward her home. She thought about running, but both boys were much faster and not burdened by an armful of schoolbooks.
“I’m going home,” she said strongly.
“Home to your little tin box in Greenside trailer park? That’s where all you poor kids live, in the TP junkyard. We live in a house. You ever seen one?” Sonny asked with a chuckle.
“Why’d you do that to yer head? What kinda girl colors her hair bright pink?” asked Billy.
“A freak from the TP. That’s who!” replied Sonny. “A freak with no dad or friends who everybody makes fun of. Even the teachers do it from what I hear.”
The boys continued to block Penelope’s path, and so she shifted her books and looked past them to the road, determined to escape whatever cruelty they had planned. She only needed to walk another mile, and she would be safe. “It’s none of your business. I’m going home, so leave me alone.”
“I don’t think yer goin’ home just yet, eraser head,” replied Sonny.
Billy grabbed Penelope by the arm and pulled her toward the barn doors. Her books spilled onto the ground as she fought against him, but he was too strong.
“Get off’a me, you hick!” she shouted defiantly. She kicked wildly at his legs, trying to break free.
“Yer tough for a girl!” Billy said, laughing. Adjusting his grip on her leather jacket, he pulled her through the barn doors. Full of deep shadows where spider webs pooled in every corner like smoke, the barn smelled of musty old straw and horses. Overhead, the rafters were crowded with crows. They sat observing them with black, indifferent eyes. Billy held Penelope’s arms behind her back as Sonny stepped into the doorway. His face was smeared with a dull grin as he held a pair of large sewing scissors. Penelope felt her heart jump with alarm.
“I think we’re gonna cut that ugly pink hair off’a you.” Sonny took a few slow steps forward, and Penelope thrashed against Billy’s grip. Her arms ached as she squirmed out of the sleeves of her jacket and slipped free. Sonny was blocking the door, and so she ran frantically toward a ladder that led up to the loft.
“Darnit, Billy! Git her!” shouted Sonny angrily.
“Where is she gonna go? Ain’t nothin’ up there but hay and barn rats,” he replied.
Penelope scrambled up the ladder as birds scattered and flew out the holes in the roof. She searched the loft for a way out. There was a doorway to the outside, but she was fifteen feet off the ground. If she jumped, she might break her leg or worse. She noticed a pile of hay in the back corner, but that was of no help. They knew exactly where she was. She couldn’t hide from them.
From below, she heard Sonny and Billy coming up the ladder. She imagined those horrible rusty scissors cutting off her hair in thick clumps. Her mother let her dye her hair after her father disappeared—not that she was going to give the Bragg boys the satisfaction of knowing that intimate detail. Balling up her fists, Penelope reluctantly prepared for a fight that she knew she couldn’t win. They were bigger and stronger, but she might get a lucky shot.
Sonny was the first one up the ladder, the shears snipping noisily in the air.
“Come on, eraser head. You can’t escape. Have I told you that no one likes you? The kids at school think you’re a weirdo, and my mother says your daddy was the biggest freak in this town even before he abandoned you.”
Penelope felt her blood boil. She could handle just about any insult hurled in her direction, but when you said something about her father, then you crossed the line.
“Don’t you talk about my daddy!”
She spotted an old aluminum bucket used for feeding horses. Grasping the handle, she hurled it at Sonny. He ducked as the bucket flew over his head, hit a rafter, and fell harmlessly to the floor below.
“Nice try! You throw like a girl! Is that why yer daddy run off, leaving you all alone? Maybe he wanted a son and not some dumb girl!” shouted Sonny.
“Shut up!” raged Penelope as Sonny climbed up to the loft with Billy close behind. As they crept forward, there was a sudden rustling in the large pile of hay in the far corner. All three froze and turned slowly toward the haystack. A man—well, more of a giant—rolled over and stared at them. His sleep-crusted eyes were dark and angry. His long, stringy hair, laced with gray, hung over a bearded face, giving him the appearance of a freshly awakened caveman. There was something else about the man that was strange. He seemed to flicker in and out of sight. One moment he was there solidly, and the next you could nearly see through him, like a ghost.
“What are you kids doing?” he grumbled. To Penelope, it seemed possible, given her gift for imagination, that the man might well be a ghost. He stood up slowly like one of those inflatable towers from little kid’s birthday parties, brushing the hay off his ragged clothes. He was big, easily six feet tall, with broad shoulders and large hands. He continued to flicker like a ghost, which put everyone on edge. Even the Bragg brothers. Penelope was frozen in her tracks.
Sonny and Billy glanced at each other, passing a nervous look that showed just how scared they were. Sure they were tough, but this was a grown man, and a crazy-looking one at that. He might even be an escaped killer hiding out from the law. Penelope stood immobilized with fear. The man twisted his face and screamed, “Get out of here, you brats! Can’t you see I’m sleeping?” Billy and Sonny scrambled down the ladder and ran out of the barn, leaving Penelope to fend for herself. Chivalry was dead and buried in their world.
Penelope inched her way slowly toward the ladder. “Thanks, mister,” she said sweetly, “but you better get out of here too. Those are the Brag boys. Their grandfather is the sheriff and the mayor. He’ll probably be out here soon to take you to jail.”
“Just go home,” the man said somewhat dreamily. He settled back down in the hay and closed his eyes. Penelope stood for a moment, looking at him. There was definitely something strange about him. He flickered from solid to vapor, and she rubbed her eyes to focus.
“I was dreaming my way home. You know what it’s like to be lost in a dream, don’t you? Go away already.”
Penelope climbed down the ladder, collected her leather jacket and books, and ran the last mile without stopping.
If you liked what you read feel free to shoot over to The Adventures of Penelope Hawk Kickstarter page or please consider sharing the campaign on your social media! I would greatly appreciate any and all support.