I am still here, though you might not know that by looking at my (sorely neglected) blog or my spotty social media presence. Finally, after 5 years of word-wrangling, I have finished my latest manuscript.
A young girl's disastrous first foray through the multiverse cleaves her from her family and abandons her in a homeless encampment, adrift in a body not her own.
A doctor struggling with grief volunteers for the annual Boston homeless census and is confronted by the impossible and her deeply buried childhood trauma.
A lonely, disaffected seer rejected by those he seeks to help is drawn from his home by a desperate call across the world walls.
Three strangers, each broken in some way, become targets of an organization exploiting those with the ability to travel the multiverse.
Drawn together into a conflict that has already destroyed generations of multiverse Travelers and damaged countless worlds, the three must risk everything that matters to heal the fractured places in themselves and across reality.
This is Litany For a Broken World.
I'd like to share the first chapter with you.
Reina woke in darkness, her heart pounding. After all the preparation, the endless delays and disappointments, it was finally happening. For once, she didn't even mind the rush of cool air around her bare legs as she tossed the covers aside and leapt out of bed.
The house was silent. Her parents must still be asleep. Reina had retreated to her room last night to the echoes of their angry voices. No matter their assurances, she was sure they were fighting about her. She just didn't understand why.
They'd been preparing her for months now. But the closer they came to choosing the day and the destination, the worse and more frequent their arguments had become. Reina sighed and rifled through her closet. Maybe once she’d made a successful transit, their worry would ease and their family's life would return to normal. For now, all she could do was ready herself for the trip and stay out of her mother’s way.
Whenever she'd asked where they were going, Papa kept assuring her she would be safe. Her mother would quickly change the subject, leaving Reina alone with her doubts. She reached for the new trousers and tunic her parents had gotten for her. The fabric was soft and supple, the embroidery made by a fine hand. Certainly this counted as a special occasion.
She paused. Maybe better to wear something old and familiar, more a part of her. Even Travelers didn't fully understand why some things passed easily between worlds and others didn't. Reina had had more than one nightmare of arriving somewhere naked.
The sky lightened slowly as she dressed, casting a soft pink glow through her room. She glanced around the space as if it belonged to someone else: the bed filled with soft pillows in the shapes of animals, the desk piled with books, drawing paper, and inks, the rainbow painted around the walls. The next time she returned here, it would be the same, but she would be different.
Reina tiptoed through the hallway, past her parents' room toward the kitchen. A soft clink made her freeze in the doorway. Her mother sat silently, staring at the steam rising from the tea cup clutched in her hands. Of course she was already up. Had she even slept last night?
Her frown accentuated the lines across her forehead and the downturn of her lips. Her dark wavy hair glinted with new silver in the morning light. Papa's sickness had been hard on all of them, but he was finally feeling better. And he'd promised Reina that everything would be better, now. That's part of what this trip was for — to celebrate, now that she was old enough to Travel. Perhaps her mother still thought she wasn't ready.
It used to be her mother who'd secretly told her stories about their grand adventures Traveling from here to there, fixing the broken places. When Papa had fallen ill again last year, she wouldn't talk about it anymore. Even during the past few months when the fever-brightness had left his eyes, and the nightmares no longer woke him screaming, her mother still seemed distant and unsettled. Too many of their interactions ended with Reina retreating to her room in tears.
But Papa said he believed in her. And today she would prove him right.
"Good morning!" Reina strode into the kitchen as if she'd just come down the hall.
Her mother startled. The cup jerked in her hands, spilling tea across the table cloth. "Reina!"
"Sorry!" Reina grabbed a towel and mopped up the spill.
Her mother sighed and slid a second cup toward her. "There's more in the pot."
Reina looked for a third cup as she poured for both of them. “What about Papa?”
Silence was her mother’s only answer. Reina stared into the murky tea, confused. The past few years had taught her there were some questions that couldn’t be asked, but not why. She swallowed her uncertainty with a slug of the hot brew when the air around them shimmered and a low hum resonated through her.
Her mother shivered. "Do you feel that?"
Reina set down her cup, wide-eyed. "I do," she whispered. "Is it time? Is Papa ready?"
"Almost time." Pausing, her mother took a deep breath before continuing. "He went on ahead."
"But he promised!" Reina winced at the flicker of anger that crossed her mother’s face. This wasn’t right. They were supposed to be together. What if something went wrong? "Why didn't he wait for me?" She hated how whiny she sounded.
"It will be fine." Her mother's voice was flat.
Reina felt her face heat up. Was her mother mad? What had Reina done wrong this time? Everything just seemed to be wrong these days. Between her parents. Between her and her mother. Reina sighed and cradled the mug close letting the steam soften the air between them. This wasn’t the time for another argument. This was supposed to be her special day. Why did Mama have to ruin everything? She studied her mother’s face trying to sort out what to say next that wouldn’t cause an even deeper rift between them. Her eyes were red and swollen. Had she been crying?
"Mama?" Reina said softly. "Are you okay?"
Her mother shook off the question. Like so many others. As if Reina’s concerns were not at all important. The anger burned again in her chest.
"Remember, it's like a cross tide in the ocean. Don't fight it. Let it carry you a while. It will build —"
"I know," Reina snapped. "Look for the Moment's shadow and slide through it. Just like we practiced." Just like Papa had told her.
Her mother stared at her briefly, then sighed and turned away, fiddling with the silver band on her right thumb. Her father wore its mate on his left. A beam of sunlight struck it and dazzled Reina's eyes.
The last conversation she'd had with her father had been about what she should bring as her focus. He'd been standing in her doorway, silhouetted by the hallway light.
"What means home to you?" he had asked.
She knew he didn't mean the physical place. Her room was full of the things she'd collected — smooth stones from the shore, iridescent bird feathers, her animal pillows. In her closets were other treasures, once hoarded, now outgrown. "I'm not sure."
He tightened his left hand around the ring on his thumb. "When the time comes, you'll know."
Now he was gone.
And she still didn't know what to take.
She jerked her head up. Her mother was studying her intently now. Reina fought the urge to look away, determined to prove she was more than prepared for this.
"Do you have your focus?"
"I left it in my room." It wasn't a lie, exactly. Surely something in there would work.
Her mother's eyes widened. "Get it. Now."
"Now?" Reina's voice squeaked.
Reina leaped out of her chair and ran down the hallway. Her stomach churned and she was glad she hadn’t risked eating anything. Glancing through her room, she desperately hoped some particular thing would call to her. But the problem was, she had changed this past year. Her room seemed to belong to someone else.
"When the time comes, you'll know." Her father’s voice echoed in her mind.
Well, the time was here and she still had nothing.
"Reina!" Her mother called, sharp and urgent.
Her heart thudded and her breathing quickened. She glanced at her bed and the quilted creatures she still slept with. There was the crow with shiny beads for eyes her father had made for her. Or the little dog that had been her mothers from her childhood, and loved well, it's fabric thin and worn. No. Something small. Something she could slip in a pocket. A bowl on her desk held her beach stones. She found them soothing to hold and had rubbed many of them smooth. Her favorite had shimmers of blue and black through the white. It was right on top, as if waiting for her to choose it.
Reina raced back to the kitchen, opened her palm, and showed her mother the stone.
"Are you sure…?" Mother started, before shaking her head. She took a deep breath. "It's time."
Golden light shimmered through the kitchen. It thickened into an opaque curtain.
Her mother tried to set down her tea cup, but it tipped over again. Tea darkened the lace table cover and dripped to the floor. Reina reached for the already tea-stained towel.
"Remember, follow exactly in my wake. It will ease the way."
Reina's cheeks flushed. Anticipation and fear had chased away the resentment. "I know."
Her mother took her hand. It was cold, clammy. Reina looked at her and frowned. Why would she be afraid? Where was her father? What weren’t they telling her?
As the Moment solidified, their kitchen faded into a hazy outline of vague rectangular shapes. Reina counted her heartbeats as they raced by. Her mother squeezed her hand. Dancing lights surrounded them both.
"Go. Now!" her mother shouted, taking a single step into the shimmer.
Reina followed. The light embraced her body in a gilded second skin.
Her home vanished behind her.
Her mother's hand faded into a memory of warmth and pressure.
"Mama!" Reina cried out, but there was no sound in the emptiness. She tried to hold onto her father’s voice, the memory of him teaching her and his very first lesson was that all Travelers journeyed alone. This was fine. This was normal.
But still, she felt — nothing. No heartbeat, no breath, no warmth or coolness or pressure. All connection to her body had vanished.
And all sense of time. How long had she been here? Her thoughts were a storm of urgency and panic, even as part of her mind watched, as if from a great distance. It was like drowning.
Then memory broke across her like the wave that had pulled her under when she'd been just a few years old, collecting stones and shells at the beach.
Her father had yanked her sputtering and choking from the water. Through the day and night that followed, Reina wouldn't open her hand and the small stone she had grasped left a geometric scar on her right palm.
Reina forced herself to recall everything about the unusual stone, the focus she had chosen to take with her on her first journey.
Her panic receded, like the wave had. Her father’s voice whispered in her mind and she remembered. This was the void between worlds. Her parents had warned her about it, but learning about it and being suspended in it were very different things.
Reina concentrated on the stone, a dull lump of white shot through with blue and black streaks. Slowly, she built a sense of self from the hand around its uneven shape, to the arm connected to that hand until she had reclaimed her body from the emptiness.
"Thank you, Papa," she whispered. This time, she imagined she heard the sound of her voice and felt his warm approval beaming over her like sunshine.
Now there was a sense of directionality in the void. As if she were a feather caught in a wind current. Or a kite on a string. And finally she felt it — the thinnest of threads that joined her to her parents. Reina stopped fighting and let them tug her. The stone warmed in her hand. It had been the right choice.
Now that the panic faded, a fierce joy sang through her. She was a Traveler. When the Moment collapsed, she would be in a different reality.
Her father would be there, too, waiting for her and the illness that had plagued him would be a memory. The anger and the secrets could stop. Their family would be whole again.
A shadow fell across her mind.
Something cold and sharp abruptly severed her from her mother and father. From the connection she had reclaimed to her own body. The pain of it bore through her, driving out everything except an icy dread as she tumbled out of control.
Reina tried to scream. The void swirled around her, tightening down like a caul, cutting off her breath. She clawed at her throat, but her hands felt nothing. Her hands didn’t exist. The stone she’d once held in her palm gone as if it never was.
Painful memories tortured her: Her mother storming out of the house and vanishing for days at a time, only to return without explanation. The first time she found her father collapsed in the kitchen, his limbs jerking and his eyes rolling far back in his head. The unendurable silences after her parents’ arguments when Reina was afraid to say or do anything that would start the shouting all over again.
And still, she kept falling. Could feel the shriek of air as she tore through the emptiness faster and faster. Knew she would die when she hit the bottom of the endless plummet. There was nothing she could do except desperately long for the end to stop the terror.
“Mama, Papa, help me!” The words reverberated in her mind, trapped in nothingness.
As fast as she could form them, her panicked thoughts were torn away by the wind.
“Papa, Papa,” she whispered. But he had been beyond her reach for far too long.
Light and shadow flickered past as if a thousand days and nights each lasted an eyeblink. A roar of sound blasted by her, the pitch wailing then fading. Voices shouted in an alien tongue, the anger far too familiar. Her senses burned raw with fresh pain.
“Please,” she cried, knowing no one could hear her.
The echo of a dog’s sharp bark filled her awareness and chased away the barrage for a bright instant. Before she could take a breath, it cut off abruptly leaving her suddenly bereft in an unnatural stillness that was even worse than the endless plunge.
She hung, suspended in emptiness, waiting for the next horror.
Below her, rectangles sketched themselves out of the darkness, getting larger and larger, rushing towards Reina as she watched. Dizziness overwhelmed her senses. One by one, the shapes vanished into the periphery until only one remained. A crumbling brick building, its windows broken and covered with splintered wood grew to fill the black void of an unfamiliar sky.
Without warning, she slammed into it, her mind disintegrating into dust and agony. Time stopped. How could nothingness hurt so much? Slowly, slowly, the world coalesced around her once again. Reina gasped for breath from rigid lungs that refused to inflate. A terrible pressure slammed against her chest over and over again.
A strange voice rang in her ears, the words running together in a string of nonsense, the urgency needing no translation. And then a bolt of lightning struck her and she was sure her heart would explode.
Pain burned in every muscle in her body. Her head throbbed. Her hands felt clumsy and distant. She struggled to conjure up her stone, but it was gone. It was so dark, she couldn't even tell if her eyes were open or closed. Cold seeped up from the hard ground until she felt as stiff and frozen as something long dead.
--From Litany For a Broken World, by LJ Cohen