Y O U N G A D U L T N O V E L E X C E R P T
from The Invention of Paradise
b y c a t h a r i n e l e g g e t t ~ l o n d o n, o n t a r i o, c a n a d a
Y O U N G A D U L T N O V E L E X C E R P T
FROM THE AUTHOR: Here's a bit of a set-up. Greer and Preston must tend
to their alcoholic, abusive father, Randy, as a 'monster' weed, from a field that
surrounds the suburban homes on Meadlowlark Court, invades their yard.
Fish Hound is the name of Randy's boat, which now sits in the driveway. The
cottage that went with the boat was sold at the time of Randy's marriage
breakup, leaving him a very bitter man. He has Preston and Greer running
scared most of the time. At this point in the story, Monster Weed is trying to
rescue the boys, though they don't know it yet.
GREER TURNED to look at the house, the large picture window once again covered in vines. Whenever he left this place, if only for just a few hours, something sprang loose in the pit of his stomach when he came back. The current of fear ran through him as soon as he put his hand on the doorknob and listened to hear if the fiend had broken loose inside, all the time frightened about what his absence had caused Preston.
He'd get Preston the hell out of here.
Heat lightning blinked over the field and dimmed the stars.
Barefoot, Greer walked over the vines, which held him up above the burnt gold grass and cooled the soles of his feet, until he stood beside Fish Hound, now completely entangled in Monster Weed. It looked like an ancient wreck. The boat appeared to move infinitesimally forward, toward the back fence, a natted whale adrift in the night sea, its bloated sides heaving gently with a rhythm.
Preston leaned against the deck and wretched. A vine reached up to wipe his face, while a large heart-shaped leaf massaged his back.
Greer went to him. "You okay?"
"Yeah." He nodded. "Too much sun, I guess."
"Where to?" Preston shivered with exhaustion and fixed his large tired eyes on Greer. He appeared beaten, as if he'd given up all hope of escape.
"We'll figure it out later." If he waited for more concrete plans to develop, they'd never get out of here. Anyway, he'd done it. He'd made the first decision; it served up a strange brew of freedom, power and the burden of responsiblity. How would he know if he was making the right decision, and not just for himself, either? He wouldn't. That was the deal. He'd have to get on with it, make changes, and make mistakes, too. "First we'll go inside and grab some things."
Vines had unlatched the two large family room windows, drilled holes in the screen, crossed the Berber carpet, trailed up the back of the couch and spun a snug-fitting cocoon around Randy. What a racket the neighbours would hear when he woke up!
They tiptoed upstairs, shoved a few articles of clothing into backpacks, slipped quietly downstairs to raid the kitchen. They took processed cheese, a jar of sandwich spread, white bread, a sack of jalapeño cheese flavoured nachos and a bag of cookies.
They would leave out the back, through the field, and avoid detection by the neighbours, who might report their flight to Randy tomorrow. They picked across the vine grid to the back fence and found it had woven a ladder down both sides. They climbed up and over, lowered themselves into the waist-high stems of grass and weeds, their hot skin cooled and cleansed by the dew. The ladder shrank from the fence and collapsed once they had crossed over. On the far side of the field, the outline of the woods stood like the silhouette of a long, low building. The field's hollows glowed with sparkling dust. As they walked ahead into night, star-shaped flowers popped up at their toes, bright as patio lights, magnolia-scented, and led them away from their house and deeper into the field.
Hall-elujah. Hall-elujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hall-e-lu-jah, lifted up into the sky, then subsided into a gentle hum.
Around them they heard, but could not see, the flow of water.
Activity in the weeds ahead startled Preston. They stopped. Bird's long curvaceous neck rose up. She turned her stately head to regard them. The bird appeared undisturbed by their presence. Then she turned and slowly began to walk toward the forest. She advanced a few feet and stopped. Something obstructed the path a few feet in front of her, something low and glowing. Greer moved ahead to see what it could be, then came back to tell Preston. "Turtle. It glows in the dark."
Both creatures picked along the path. Greer and Preston fell in behind Bird and Turtle and together they formed a slow convoy to the forest. Turtle's shell cast a dim glow over the ground, and here and there they saw the luminous globes of star blooms among the tall weeds.
Preston tugged on the back of Greer's t-shirt. At first, Greer thought he wanted something, but he was only holding on.
They stopped once they stepped into the woods. High up in the trees, eyes flickered like candles. At ground level the air stirred with a balmy tropical breeze.
Bird and Turtle moved deeper into the woods; Greer and Preston followed.
"Where are we going?" Preston whispered.
"I don't know. I have the feeling they're taking us somewhere."
The soft path of leaves and dead wood wound through the forest. Heat lightning strobed above the trees. Bird stopped at a pile of limbs and leaves heaped high like a nest. She turned her majestic head to them, stared, turned away. Turtle stood still.
"I think this is the end of the line," Greer said.
Preston climbed on top of the stack and bounced. "Man, this is comfortable. I'm sleeping here."
Leaves stirred as if hit by a strong gust of sudden wind, and an air current rushed against Greer's hot face, as Bird flapped her massive wings and vanished into night and shadow. He looked down for Turtle, but Turtle had gone.
He climbed up to join Preston on the nest, a collection of scavenged debris, soft beneath his aching muscles, and stretched out beside his brother. Overhead, branches illuminated by distant neighbourhood lights and sheet lightning shaped a complex geometry. He dug for his flashlight in his backpack and scanned lower tree limbs. Thousands of butterflies clung to the tree trunks. Their fanning wings sucked in the magnolia scent of star flowers to sweeten the air. He aimed his light beam higher, looped it from tree to tree, and spotted large white owls, nestled high in the branches. He turned the light off. "Sorry." A guest of the birds and creatures hidden away in the darkness, he did not wish to cause a disturbance. He rode the hypnotic blink, blink, blink of thousands of eyes, inhaled the sweetness of air fanned by butterfly wings, and his mind drifted far away from Meadowlark Court and his worries. He felt safe, at ease. He closed his eyes and fell into the blended coos of roosting birds and the relaxed rhythms of Preston's breathing as he slept. Just as he was about to drift to sleep, a woman'a soft voice said, "Sweet dreams." He heard the beat of wings against the air. The voice sounded, for all the world, like that of his mother.
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