Of BLACK DOG.
I checked with my new editor and she says it’s fine to post an excerpt. So that’s great! Only I have been dithering for days over which excerpt to actually post. Today I officially gave up trying to make actual decisions about this. I’m just going to post the first few pages. You can meet the protagonists and get a tiny, tiny taste of the world, which I hope you find evocative.
Let me just add that if you remember waaaay back when I posted an excerpt, after I “finished” this book the first time? That was the first couple pages, too, but I think you will find these pages completely different. This is because I eventually wound up adding a new first chapter to the front of the book.
There will be at least one longer excerpt posted later (much later), as we get closer to the actual publication date. And I have a short story that is set before the novel, which will become available sometime, but don’t ask me when; lots and lots of time to make that decision, too.
Without further ado:
With one fingertip, Natividad drew a pentagram on the window of the bus. It glimmered faintly, nearly invisible, light against light: protection against danger and the dark and all shadowed things.
Well, almost all. Some, anyway.
The glass of the window was cold enough to numb the tip of her finger. The cold was always a shock; she somehow never expected it, even after all these days of travel. It was cold even inside the bus, but she knew it was much colder outside. Of course winter temperatures here fell way below zero, but she hadn’t guessed what that would be like. She hadn’t known that air could be so cold it actually hurt to breathe. She knew it now.
The countryside framed by her pentagram’s pale glimmer was as foreign and comfortless as the cold. The mountains themselves were almost familiar, but Natividad recognized nothing else in this high northern country to which she and her brothers had come. Driven by enemies behind and hope ahead . . . though now that they were here, this didn’t look much like a country of hope. But they had had nowhere else to go. No other choices.
Natividad glanced surreptitiously sideways, reassuring herself that, even in this cold and unfamiliar country, her brothers hadn’t changed.
Her twin, Miguel, in the seat next to her, was reading a newspaper he’d scrounged somewhere. That was certainly ordinary. He turned the pages carefully in a vain attempt to avoid irritating Alejandro. Across the aisle, Alejandro was staring out the opposite window, pretending not to be annoyed by the rustling pages. Natividad saw the tension in his shoulders and back and knew how hard his dark shadow pressed him. Despite everything she could do to help her older brother, his temper, always close to the surface, had been strained hard – not only by the terror and rage and grief so recently past, but by the unavoidable awareness that they were running into danger almost greater than they’d escaped.
All the strangers on the bus didn’t help, either. All along, wanting no one behind them, Alejandro had insisted that they sit together in the rear of the bus. Though it was nice to sit in the front so you could get off faster when the bus stopped, sitting in the back was all right if it helped Alejandro keep his shadow under tight control. Even if it was harder to get a good view of the road. Natividad looked out her window again. She could still see the pentagram she’d drawn, though by now it would be completely invisible to ordinary human sight.
Out there in the cold, mountains rose against the sky, white and gray and black: snow and naked trees and granite and the sky above all . . . the sky itself was different here, crystalline and transparent, seeming farther away than any Mexican sky. The sun seemed smaller here, too, than the one that burned across the dry mountains of Nuevo León: this sun poured out not heat, but a cold brilliant light that the endless snow reflected back into the sky, until the whole world seemed made of light.
Beside Natividad, Miguel leaned sideways to look past her, curious to see what had caught her attention.
“Nothing,” Natividad said in English, as she had insisted on speaking nothing but English since they had crossed the Río Bravo. Miguel and even Alejandro had looked back across the river, toward the home they were leaving behind. She had not. She wanted to leave everything behind: all the grief and the terrible memories – let the dead past drown in that river; she would walk into another country and another life and never look back.
“It’s not nothing,” her twin answered. “It’s the Northeast Kingdom. It’s Dimilioc.” His wave took in all the land east and north of the highway.
“Just like all the other mountains,” said Natividad, deliberately flippant. But Miguel was right, and she knew it mattered. Since St. Johnsbury, all the land to the east was Dimilioc territory. She said, “I bet the road out of Newport is paved with yellow bricks.”
Miguel grinned. “Except the road is lined with wolves instead of lions and tigers and bears, Dorothy.”
Natividad gave him a raised-eyebrow look. “‘Dorothy?’ Are you kidding? I’m the witch.”
“The good witch or –” Miguel stopped, though, as Alejandro gave them both a look. Alejandro did not like jokes about Dimilioc or about the part of Vermont that Americans called the Northeast Kingdom – almost a quarter of the state. Natividad knew why. Americans might be joking when they called this part of Vermont by that name, but if you knew the truth about things, you also knew there was too much truth in the joke for it to be funny. Dimilioc really was a kind of independent kingdom, with Grayson Lanning its king – and everyone knew he did not like stray black dogs. They were all nervous, but Alejandro had more reason to be nervous than Miguel and far more reason than Natividad. Being nervous was hard on his control. Natividad ducked her head apologetically.
“Newport,” Alejandro said, his tone curt.
It was. Natividad had not even noticed the exit signs, but the bus was slowing for the turn off the highway. Newport: the town where all the bus routes finally ran out. Just visible past Alejandro’s shoulder, Lake Memphremagog glittered in late afternoon light. Natividad liked the lake – at least, she liked its name. It had pizzazz. She stretched to catch another glimpse of it, but then the bus turned away from the lake and rolled into the station and she lost sight of the bright water.
Newport was the town closest to Dimilioc that did not actually fall within the borders of the Northeast Kingdom. It was smaller than Natividad had expected. Clean, neat, pretty – all the towns this far north seemed to be clean and neat and pretty. Maybe that was the snow lying over everything, hiding all evidence of clutter and untidiness until the spring thaw should uncover it. If there was a thaw. Or a spring. It was hard to believe any spring could thaw this frozen country.