Hi everyone! I’m doing a little shameless promoting for this blog post, but I think everyone will really enjoy! If you don’t already know, my first novel was recently published by Lands Atlantic. It has been such an exciting journey. I thought it might be fun to share the first chapter on The Rough Draft! If you’re interested in reading more, The Broken Have can be purchased here!
I died on a Friday, just like Jesus Christ. Actually, it was nothing like Jesus Christ. I shouldn’t compare my insignificant life to his. I was not nailed to a cross by my wrists and feet. My death did not wash away anyone’s sins. In fact, I think that my death caused more trouble than good. We did, however, both die on the same day of the week, so there is that.
I wish I could have died for a cause or something I believed in, but I was not granted such a luxury. My short life was stolen from me. When I was murdered.
Ewig is a place where not much happens. It’s a town nestled about halfway up Mount Ewig and consists of a population of less than two thousand, which, might I point out, is about the size of a large public high school. Most of the people that live there have done so since they were born and most of the people that died there are buried alongside their families in the Ewig cemetery. I lived in Ewig from the day I was born until the age of seventeen when I met my fate.
It is a sad truth that life and time are often wasted away. Days are spent on the road, watching television, crunching numbers, devoting effort and energy to things that don’t really matter, things that are never relevant in the long run. Hours turn to days, days turn to months. , and then, after years of just passing the time along turns into a lifetime of emptiness, the dying lay on their deathbeds and wonder when all the tomorrows disappeared and when all the yesterdays turned into a haze of nothing special. And then, because being so close to death has given the dying some sort of clarity, they warn the young, the ones who still have precious time, to live. They tell them to really, really live, never to squander away a single moment, because in retrospect, it all goes by so fast. But the young don’t listen, and they won’t listen, because they think they still have a lifetime to waste.
I’ve only met one person who I believe had the right idea about life and time at a young age, and that is because Phillip Kidd had lived for much longer than his body credited him for.
I sit here, today, the dead girl in the living room, listening to my parents in the kitchen. I cannot see myself, but I can imagine that I look like something you fished out of the drain.
“She hasn’t said a word in any of her therapy sessions,” I hear my dad whisper. The house is soundless. They are less than twenty feet away, and they think that I am so far gone that I cannot hear them. “I’m just wondering what we’re paying for now. It’s not working.”
“It will work. But it’s going to take time. This is going to be a process. No one ever said she would be back and better after just a few sessions.” This, from my mom. “Maybe when she goes today, she’ll talk.”
They think I’ll get better. But I know I won’t. I am once again gripped with the thoughts that have been circling my brain for weeks now. What the hell happened to me?
I sat there on that Friday, at my desk in the corner of Christina Griffin’s Algebra II classroom, gazing out the window. Four sheets of almost blank paper, a calculator, and a mechanical pencil with barely any lead in it lay before me. I had been sitting there, alternating between staring out the window at the great blue sky and at the clock, for over an hour. There were exactly sixteen minutes left of my junior year of high school until summer vacation. Sixteen minutes left to finish my math final, the final I was going to epically, utterly fail. I had tried to alter a few of the problems by changing the numbers printed on the page with a ballpoint pen to make them more manageable, but it was no use.
At last, the final bell rang, and excited chatter and thudding footsteps echoed throughout all of Lancaster Prep. I stood, collected the untouched papers and took them to Mrs. Griffin’s desk, hoping I could slyly slip them under someone else’s test. Just as I reached the door, doing my best to get to the safety of the hallway, I heard my name called from behind me.
I froze. The door slammed as the last person exited, and I was alone in the classroom with Mrs. Griffin. I turned apprehensively to look at her as she scanned the test I had just turned in.
“Yeah?” It came out far more sassy than I had intended. I had sort of given up on being polite to my teachers after they had started to call me “bright, but unmotivated,” in the comments on my report card. Mrs. Griffin had even gone so far as to say that she “had never seen a student with so little invested in her high school career.” My mother had highlighted that sentence in bright yellow and tacked it up on my bedroom door when she got it in the mail, as if I didn’t already know.
Mrs. Griffin continued to scowl. It wasn’t a pretty face; in fact, she was really unfortunate looking, which made her so much easier to dislike. She had damp curls, weighed down by some form of a greasy, hair product that really didn’t do her any favors. Her glasseswere old-fashioned and her clothes were dusty and overly business-y. She reminded me of one of the evil queens in the Disney movies I used to watch as a kid: high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, and really thick layers of makeup spread over a face of wrinkles.
“You didn’t finish your exam,” she said, sliding it toward me on the surface of her desk. She looked at me expectantly, as though she wanted me to retrieve it, but I stayed by the door. Through the glass windowpane, I saw a group of students gather their things together to head home, laughing with their friends and loosening their uniform ties. I envied them. They seemed so carefree. They would never be asked to stay behind after class to be disciplined for failure to complete an exam on a Friday afternoon, especially the Friday before summer vacation.
“No, Miss Loveless, you did not. This is mostly blank. You absolutely cannot turn in work of this quality for a grade.”
“I mean,” I said as I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, “what do you want me to do?”
“Sit down and take your test.”
“But, I did. I mean, I tried.”
“Eleanor,” she said as she picked it up and flipped through it again. “I’m sorry, but this looks like you absolutely did not try. It looks like you put in as little effort as possible. Did you…” she stopped and squinted at one of the pages, “change the questions? What is this?”
“Eleanor, this is infuriating. How many times have I asked you to come to me after school and let me help you?”
“Sorry,” I said again.
“Sit down and try once more.” She looked at me with disgust, as though I had a curse word scribbled across my forehead. I took a second to contemplate how I could get out of sitting down in a classroom by myself for the next hour, staring at the same problems I knew I couldn’t solve.
“That would be kind of pointless.”
“I said it would be kind of pointless.”
“Pointless?” She narrowed her gaze, her beady eyes smaller and less attractive than before. She was one of those people who you could tell was mean just by looking at them. People like that always end up doing torturous things like teaching math.
“I mean, let’s face it, I don’t know how to do this stuff. I spent the past hour and a half not knowing how to do this stuff. I don’t think sitting down and giving it another try will render any different results.”
“Miss Loveless, if you do not finish this exam, you will not pass my class.”
“I know,” I sighed.
“I’ll have to notify your parents right away.”
“I know.” I wanted more than anything to leave. “May I be excused now?”
She studied my face for a minute, as though she was trying to figure me out. I looked at the floor. “Yes,” she said at last, a hint of exasperation in her voice, “you may go.”
I turned, but before I had even reached for the doorknob, she stopped me again.
“I just have one last question before you leave, Eleanor,” she paused and took in a deep breath. “Why do you do this to yourself?”
“Eleanor, if you would just believe in yourself and try a little harder you could do great things! If you turned in your homework and came to me with questions, you wouldn’t be so unprepared for tests. You should not be failing my class. You’re such a smart girl.”
“I’m not, actually.” I didn’t want to look at her. All my teachers went on and on about how I didn’t care about their classes anymore, and I really couldn’t argue with them. That’s what they all said: that I was a smart girl. I was so sick of being called a smart girl. It had become an insult.
Truthfully, I didn’t care. While the rest of the world was working on maintaining their grade point averages and reading college brochures, I stood still, waiting for something worthwhile to happen to me, something that would actually change me for the better, something exciting. Something that would take me far away from Ewig. Little did I know what I was in for.
Once in the hall, I dashed toward my locker, when suddenly I felt someone from behind me grab my arm. At first, I thought it might be Mrs. Griffin, ready to torment me a little more with my pitiable test, but I turned around to find Kent Harris, captain of almost all of the varsity teams at Lancaster.
I remember meeting Kent Harris on the first day of kindergarten almost twelve years ago, and from that day on, I did not like him. He was mean, he was a bully, and he had always been taller and bigger than all the other boys in our class. By the time we all graduated from Ewig Elementary and got to Lancaster Junior High, he had about a foot of height on everyone else and looked like Superman. Everyone respected him, some out of habit, some out of fear, mostly because the alternative was painful. Kent beat people up. I’d seen him shove frail freshmen in the halls on several occasions and overheard him trashing various people at his lunch table full of varsity football players. Maybe he wasn’t all that bad, but the side of himself that he advertised at school was thoroughly rotten.
And yet, as much as I hated him, a part of me was always brought back to December of eighth grade, when all of Lancaster was buzzing with rumors of Kent Harris, that he had taken almost all of his father’s pain pills for arthritis and had slit one of his wrists open in the shower. He didn’t come back to school the semester after and no one saw him during the summer. First day of ninth grade, he was there and he was beautiful and masculine and confident, and no one said a word. I didn’t know if it was true or completely made up, but I always felt sorry for Kent, just a little bit.
“Eleanor, slow down,” he said, pulling me backward so I shuffled over my own feet. I tipped back, stumbled, and fell to the floor. “Well, look at that, Loveless.” He smirked. “You fell for me.”
The thing about the boys at my school, and I say this not to brag or to use as a redeeming factor in the story that is my sorry life, was that they chased me. It’s because I’m pretty. I’m not being conceited, I’m just aware. Most of the time, the boys would lose interest, once they had a conversation with me and figured out that I willingly chose to sit in my room and read on weekend nights and basically never talked to anyone.
Kent was a little different though. No matter how many times I turned him down, because “meathead” just wasn’t really my type, he would always try again. I always resisted though, because the idea of hanging out with Kent Harris made me a little sick to my stomach. I mean, sure, he was good-looking, he was very, very good-looking, but he had dated almost every girl at Lancaster who was pretty enough for his standards. Part of me just didn’t want to be added to his list of conquests. The thing about those girls was that they were all aware of his well-deserved reputation of being a serial-dater when they agreed to go out with him. You would think that the female side of Lancaster’s junior class would band together and make a pact not to date him, but apparently not one girl was capable of turning away his good looks and overused pick-up lines.
“What do you want, Kent?” I asked, regaining my balance and standing. I noticed that he still had not let go of my arm.
“Hey, that’s no way to greet a friend,” he replied, smirking.
“I’m sorry, are we friends?” I started heading for my locker again. “Because the last time I checked, you were just some guy who wouldn’t leave me alone.”
He trailed closely behind. “Come on, Loveless. You know I like a challenge.
“How flattering.” I reached my locker, opened it, and tossed my calculator inside. I turned and walked in the other direction, hoping Kent would stop following. To my dismay, he didn’t.
“I’ve been hanging around here forever looking for you.”
“I was talking to a teacher.” I picked up the pace, trying to out-walk him. It didn’t work.
“Well, what are you doing right now?”
“It’s a Friday afternoon, Kent. I’m leaving.”
“Eleanor, wait,” he yanked me toward him again, gripping the same arm. I glanced around the hallway, noticing for the first time that it was completely empty. I knew everyone wanted to get off campus as quickly as possible after the last bell, but I hadn’t predicted that the school would be so deserted. From the outside, Lancaster looks like a posh sorority house, made of dark red brick with colonial columns and white trim on all the windows, but I know for a fact that the teaching salary keeps declining and our tuition keeps rising and the money all goes to the upkeep of appearances. There, alone in the hallway with Kent Harris, surrounded by hardwood and navy blue lockers and gold light fixtures above every doorway, I was reminded of just how uncomfortable this place made me, and was even more grateful that I had chosen to spend as little extra time there as possible.
“Listen, a bunch of us are heading up to the cliff at Mount Ewig, and we’re going to, you know, throw rocks off it and stuff. You should come.”
I glared at him in disbelief. “You’re… what?”
“We’re going up to the top of Mount Ewig.”
“The suicide cliff?”
“Yeah, why not? You should come along.”
“I am not going up to Suicide Hill with you, Kent. It’s creepy up there.”
“Well how would you know?” he asked. “Have you ever been there before?”
“No,” I said. “Have you?”
“Plenty of times,” he bragged, a dopey grin on his face. I had the feeling he was lying.
No one willingly hikes all the way to the top of Mount Ewig unless they have the intention of never coming back down again. Hundreds of years ago, when the cemetery in Ewig hadn’t even been plotted yet, a group of settlers built the town from the ground up, just before the founding fathers wrote a stern letter to the mad king across the pond informing him that they were declaring their independence.
Before long, several of the men in the town left to serve the country, and only a few made it home. This caused the widows of Ewig to hike to the peak of the mountain, where the cliff drops directly to uncharted forest a few hundred feet below. There, they would leave the troubles of this life behind and jump to the next one, with one step of desperation.
For about a hundred years after, Ewig was still. The people were peaceful, and the bleak history of the cliff seemed to have been forgotten. The era was, however, short-lived, and after that came the dispute between the north and south. Since the rumors of “Suicide Hill” were still afloat a century later, people took the leap as war tore one family apart after another. Ewig became one of the most popular spots for suicide in the continental United States. They fenced off the hiking trails leading to the top sometime in the late 1940’ s, after the second and first world wars led grieving widows to reunite with their loved ones lost in Europe, and wealthy businessmen who had been destroyed by the stock market crash took the leap. People came from miles around to jump from Suicide Hill. To an outside observer, jumping off the cliff would almost look like a sick trend. However, for those who are determined enough, hopping a chain-link fence is hardly an obstacle compared to the trouble life can dish out.
My grandmother, Cecilia Loveless, my father’s mother, did something terrible when she was in her mid-twenties. She had only been married for three years and my father was a baby. It was quite the cliché really: she came home early one day to find her husband in bed with her sister, Eleanor, who I am named after. Instead of throwing a fit and demanding a divorce like any sane person would do, she quietly turned and headed to the top of Mount Ewig. There, she met her fate, leaving my grandfather with the baby and a world of guilt to live with for the rest of his days. He ended up marrying my great aunt, and together they raised my father until they both died and were buried in the Ewig cemetery.
“No thanks,” I said, twisting my arm to break Kent’s grasp and pushing open the mahogany double doors that led out to the parking lot. I was blinded by the rush of daylight and had to stop and squint before I got dizzy. I started toward the sidewalk, because, me being the loser that I am, I still don’t drive and I have to walk everywhere.
“Come on, Eleanor,” Kent said, reappearing and positioning himself in front of me, blocking my path. “What are you going to do instead? Go home?”
Across the lot, I noticed Mrs. Griffin heading to her car, carrying her briefcase and a white cardboard box stuffed with manila folders and assorted assignments. She had her cell phone pressed to her ear.
“No,” I said, feeling the heat of nervousness wash through my insides. “Parents are there.” I would come home to a bitter mother and disappointed father. They would sit me down at the dining room table, my mom would do most of the talking, my dad chiming in when he thought of something to say. They would then force me to study, checking over my shoulder every ten minutes just to make sure I was actually working and not copying down the lyrics to a Simon and Garfunkel song. And then they would say something like, “Why do you keep doing this to us?” I would feel horrible about myself. It would be miserable. It would inevitably happen, but I could postpone it. Going to the top of Mount Ewig with Kent and his friends didn’t sound so terrible. At least, I didn’t think it would kill me.
Hope y’all enjoyed! To keep reading, you can purchase your copy by clicking here! I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, so please always feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org!
Have a good weekend everyone!