by Ariel Ryan
Last Leprechaun Innes is destined to end & remake the world. But the Design says nothing about her sister surviving the remaking. #PitProm
Rover and fiddler Innes Shaed is the last Leprechaun who can see the Design, a pattern in clouds and cracks that shows her how to always be in the right place at the right time. When following the Design means only Innes survives the car crash that kills her father, she’s haunted by more than guilt and betrayal: she’s plagued with a debilitating vertigo that threatens to drive her out of her mind, or kill her.
Innes follows the Design to Ireland in search of a cure. She discovers the secret her father kept from her: a half-sister, Rhuyn, with questions and abilities of her own. Innes wants nothing to do with Rhuyn, but when she avoids the directions of the Design, with all of its arrows pointing at her sister, her affliction worsens. If Innes wants hope of a cure, she must convince skeptical and fiery Rhuyn their abilities are real and they must work together to find a cure for her sinister illness.
But Rhuyn's birth mother, Aelice, warped their paths before they were born, and the selfish, twisted plans she laid still haunt them now—as does Innes' recognition of Aelice's desires in herself. When Innes discovers the cure, it’s a terrible choice for her: rewrite existence, or be torn apart by the vertigo. Cunning Aelice twines herself back into their lives to reveal a second impossible decision, one that might still see her plans realized: bring Rhuyn into the new world and allow Aelice to weave her rapacious influence throughout creation, or doom them both to annihilation outside of the remaking.
At 83,000 words, SHAED & RHUYN is a standalone adult contemporary fantasy novel with potential for a second book that will appeal to readers of Charles de Lint and Shirley Jackson.
I am a 2014 graduate of DePaul University’s MA in writing and publishing program.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
First Ten Pages:
I will not say trouble found me, because I did my share of looking. But I was a marked woman from the day I was born. Da showed me, in small ways, how we weren’t like anyone else.
A small thing like never losing a single sock from a pair.
A small thing like having exact change in my wallet to help the person in front of me in the check-out line who doesn’t have quite enough to pay.
A small thing like never missing a turn when reading directions; never getting lost.
A small thing like always being able to correctly call a coin toss, even if I call heads 100 times in a row.
All those small things adding up to the first and the last thing to know about us: we are always in the right place at the right time. This never bothered me until I was older, until I started to wonder if it meant we didn’t have a choice. But I didn’t ask that question until it was too late.
I couldn’t help but feel Da hadn’t told me everything.
“It’ll be hot work in Florida, pickin’ oranges.”
Without looking up from the map spread across my legs, I knew Da was giving me the side eye. And a side smile.
“I know.” Fear of hard work wasn’t why we were trailing north along US-23 through the Nantahala National Forest, burning expensive gas to climb the mountain range heights with the Airstream hitched to our boxy station wagon.
“The Design showed to turn around, go the opposite way.”
“If you say so,” was all Da said, but it was enough. I swatted his arm, still not taking my eyes off the map. He didn’t really doubt what I had read that morning in the camping lodge’s floral-print draperies. What he did like to do was give me hassle when my sighting of the Design guided us away from his next idea for us. In this case, sweating and oranges.
Taking to the road with the directions from the Design still bright and loud in my mind gave me a thrill unlike anything else, like driving a treacherous cliff-side road at night, without headlamps, with my eyes closed because I already knew: If there was a road, I was meant to be on it. Clear as that. It was who we were.
Da fiddled with the radio for a minute before giving up to hum a tune of his own. The ditty ended abruptly.
“Would you look at that?”
Da craned his neck over the steering wheel to gaze up through the station wagon’s dusty windshield as we sped down the sharply curving freeway.
“Look at what?” I asked, turning from the veins and roots of the Blue Ridge Mountains I was tracing on the map to peer out my window at the sky.
“It’s a murmuration of birds. Watch the shapes, the swirls. Ah, there must be thousands of ‘em, Innes. Just imagine bein’ up there with ‘em. How they turn so.”
Out my passenger-side window, the end of a wavering tentacle of small black bodies rolled across the blue expanse like spilled ink.
“But no,” Da started, drawing out the words, craning further over the wheel, “those can’t be starlings. They’re—it looks like ma--”
I wanted to ask him what he thought they looked like, but a loud eruption of air and sound and heat threw my head into the side of the station wagon. Da’s voice turned into a shrill, unending noise. My sides hurt; they were constricting into much too small of a space for my lungs and all of my organs to fit. I was in a vise and I couldn’t breathe.
I lost track of the parts of my body. There was only the constant tightening, and the dark, and the shrill mechanical sound pouring into me from everywhere—not just into my ears, but into every space between my pink organs and strung tendons—until I was a black hole consuming alien sounds and not letting anything out: not sound, not even breath.
It was a thinly attended graveside service. Despite the soft, encouraging spring sunshine that first day of May, the ground felt rocky-hard under my feet—unyielding, bearing me up into the world of light and voices and stolen glances. The other four bodies standing above ground with me must have felt a similar, uncomfortable hardness pressing up into their leather-soled dress shoes because every few minutes one of them would lift their feet and stomp softly on the ground, prancing in place like unsure horses.
“Innes, would you like to close with a few words of your own?” The director of the little cemetery stood aside and opened his arm for me to step forward. A small curved white headstone with Da’s name—Caradoc M. Shaed—played peek-a-boo behind his outstretched arm and his long black dress jacket.
The memory of that crushing metal vise returned. Bruised ribs, the doctor had said. The cuts on my hands, neck, and face had healed already, and I hated them for disappearing and not taking the rest of me with them. If I had to stay, I at least wanted to carry some reminder of our last moment twirling and crashing through the world together. But now all I had were dark hurts held deeper than bones—inside and unacknowledged by the light and the voices and the stolen glances.
“Ahem,” the director cleared his throat in what he must have thought was an inviting tone.
I had to make my lips move and make intelligible words. It was expected. Damn.
I stepped up to the newly minted headstone and purposefully stood in a spot where the sunshine darted through the leaves and shone in my eyes. I cleared my throat against the anticipation.
“So much green. He’d like that.”
There was a feminine sigh and concurrent “Mmmm” from the other woman in the group, Mrs. Harrier. Apparently she felt this was an appropriate sentiment from the daughter of an Irish immigrant of dubious paperwork.
Squinting into the stinging light, I said, “Da, I promise to always check the oil on the wagon myself, and I promise I’ll—” Something over the horizon of the near hill moved. A sudden release behind my tailbone and heaviness in my feet—like I had jumped from a school-yard swing and was about to fall back to earth—buckled my knees an inch. I held the line of the horizon, but now it lay unmoving. Whatever had passed, my silence didn’t bring it back, and I lost the thread of my words.
I stepped out of the light and blinked hard, but the wet stinging followed me into the leafy shadows.
The director took the reins of the awkward affair again and began the end of the service, his voice a comforting background not requiring my immediate or thorough attention.
As if seeking out a detail more painful than the beautiful, unassuming, inopportune spring day, my eyes fell on the small girl, Mara Harrier: such a dainty murderess, with lace-ruffled socks and a scarf with a madras design.
This little girl was the artist of the bloomed bruises across my ribs and the spark to my father’s crematory fire.
When I had become lucid in the hospital, when my father was already dead and gone without a goodbye, the police had told me this small child had crawled out of the moon roof of her nanny’s SUV, which was lying across the road on its side from a wreck that had happened mere seconds before our station wagon had rounded the mountainous freeway corner. Da had swerved at the precise moment and at the exact angle to miss her, strike the overturned SUV and spin it to protect her from on-coming traffic, and flip our station wagon away from her. The young detective said he didn’t know how Da had veered in time and so precisely.
With the detective still shaking his head, I had laid my own head back on the crinkly hospital pillow and closed my eyes. Images of dark bodies in flight continued to coil across my sealed eyelids.
I did not question out loud the detective’s assumption that my father had seen little Mara in the road. Among all the shattered details of the wreck that were repeatedly, clinically poked into me, no one mentioned the large murmuration of birds cast above the crash. And I didn’t ask my questions about this curiosity. It must have been meant only for someone like us to see.
I didn’t think anything could overcome the palimpsest of grief and doctor’s questions. But I was wrong, twice.
The Harriers and their generosity quickly overran the wreck of my life. They had paid for the extensive repairs to our station wagon and our small Airstream and for the headstone peeking from around Mrs. Harrier as she now bent to lay flowers next to it. They had also paid for Da’s cremation at my insistence. Not insistence they pay for it—although it was good they had because the price tag for burning a body was more than I could have afforded—but insistence he be cremated. I had my reasons.
The service must have ended because the director was walking back to his car, escorted by petite Mr. Harrier. I brought my sleeve up to my nose and dabbed at its cold, possibly wet, tip.
“Thank you for letting us attend today, Innes,” came the polished voice of Mrs. Harrier, her hand unexpectedly firm on my arm. My shoulders gave an involuntary twitch under my pine green canvas jacket. Looking into the shadowed, black liquid–rimmed eyes of Mrs. Harrier, my own unadorned eyes read the unspoken—but not unexpected—words “Poor vagrant girl, with no one else left.”
I gave a small nod and watched little Mara raise herself up on her toes, up and down and over again.
“Are you sure there isn’t anything else we can do for you?” prodded Mrs. Harrier. I wondered if she thought me a suicide risk if left unattended. That was probably her imagination’s most likely outcome for a recently orphaned drifter girl in her early twenties with limited formal education and such a short haircut.
I pushed the jagged swoop of hair out of my eyes and said, “I’m sure. Dad’s at rest, but I need to be moving on.” I would have said anything to send her away. She was standing too close to me with her pity and her money and her daughter and her not understanding anything about me. She gave one last squeeze of my arm before letting go. She had done her best, the squeeze told me; she was sure.
As Mrs. Harrier took the winding path back to her luxury sedan and waiting husband, her long coat fluttered at her heels, reminding me of preened feathers. Her daughter followed, a smaller but no less posh shadow of her mother.
After they left, I slid my hand into my jacket pocket for a cigarette and waited in the cemetery. I needed time alone to compress the cracks of my life. With the cigarette’s yellow-red heat only inches from my face, I wondered if I could solder the pieces together and burn everything anew. Maybe I could accomplishing something so monstrously huge, but only because right then I couldn't feel any of the small things that perish in a remaking.
Cigarette in hand—mind decidedly not—I scanned the thin space between the sky and the far-away treetops, but everything stayed put. Today during my failed eulogy wasn’t the first time something happened to the horizon line. The first time I suffered from this “acute vertigo,” as the nurse named it, was the day I walked out of the hospital.
And this was the first thing I didn’t see coming through the demands of death and grief on my life.
I don’t remember walking out of the hospitals’ sliding glass doors—I think soon after was when I noticed I wasn’t feeling anything small, small like a pen in my hand signing myself out, small like the sound of doors opening to allow the world to suck me back in. The day had been cloudy, gray from the concrete sidewalk up to the zenith where the sun should have been.
What I do remember is knowing I was about to step over some line, something as definite and permanent as the horizon, and shatter everything, including myself, if I took one more step.
But I had stopped. Or I had tripped, and that clumsy fall had kept me in the reality of the hospital’s large courtyard, where the nurses rushed to pick me up. I had refused their help and remained splayed on the cool concrete while one of them stayed with me and explained sometimes vertigo visited people who had suffered head traumas like I had. I often thought later that if I had believed her—really believed her—and let her assure me up with her logical words, things might have turned out differently. But I didn’t believe her. I had almost gone somewhere else, permanently, and something outside of me had moved from where it had always been.
Whatever was coming for me, or drawing me away, moved almost every day, sometimes twice a day. It scared me like nothing else had since the darkness of backless childhood closets. With Da gone, whom could I ask to explain anything that happened to me?
The cigarette smoke blew wispy into the light despite my desire for it to stay inside me, expand and fill space. Besides the fractured horizon, the scariest moments after the crash, after Da’s death, came when I thought about trying to fill the rest of my life with just me. How could I ever be enough for a whole lifetime?
I reached for a second cigarette but came up empty. One smoke was good enough. Easy to burn through, easy to let go. That was the way to keep it.
The oncoming twilight ushered me back to the repaired yellow station wagon. The Harriers’ money had clipped me free. Neither debt nor obligation tied me here or anywhere. Their money had solved all of my pecuniary problems and had set me adrift. It was a cruel gift I could not give back.
# # #
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