So it’s release day for the second in the trilogy. And I am struggling. Really struggling. Like many people I am overwhelmed by the continuing transfer of power in the U.S. government and the chaos around it. I considered handling it like I have in the past, through journaling, but just the thought froze me up. Then I “heard” this line from the book:
I know I should meditate, but for the first time in my life, I don’t want to be alone with my own thoughts.
Neri is a character; she is not me. I’d be lying though, if I were to say she didn’t have a lot of me in her, and this rings true right now. When your thoughts are dark, you don’t want to be alone with them. You want to avoid them and you will do most anything to do that until they become so strong that you can’t fight them off anymore. And the thing is, if you just sit down and work it through, you realize that the “thoughts” that you believed were like 30 or 40 terrible things are only 4 or 5, but they keep cycling so it seems like more.
That said, I still do not want to do the journaling. I mean, what if I’m wrong?
Regardless, I do have to talk about this book. I love it. Truly, I love both in the trilogy, and I will love the third, too. I’ve written a few scenes already and have enjoyed them so much I’ve re-read them several times. Publishing the books is my way of sharing pieces of myself with the world. It’s beautiful when people respond positively.
So–deep breath!–here’s a short scene from early on in the book. If you’re here accidentally, and have never read the first book, The Liars, I suggest strongly you start there. I worked hard to put enough world-building information in the second so that if you start with Children of Liberty, you won’t be totally lost. Still, it’s not just the world you’d be missing, it’s the development of the characters, and the most important character arc of all, Neri’s.
When you’re starving, water is your best friend. It fills your stomach and dulls the hunger pangs.
I pull Mellow to a stop next to a wide mountain river and slide out of my saddle. A fog of dizziness closes in on me, and I grab the saddle horn to steady myself. After the fog passes, I retrieve my canteen and climb over mossy boulders. The water sparkles in the sunshine and I note the pretty sound of a rushing waterfall somewhere to my right. It would be idyllic . . . if I weren’t dying.
While filling the canteen, I note deep pools in the direction of the waterfall. Could there be fish in them? Yesterday I made a hook, rod and line with sticks and thin strips of cloth from my gown. I’m the daughter of a fisherman—a gulf shrimper—and I should be able to catch something.
I carefully hop from rock to rock, searching the pools. Twice I look back to check on Mellow. She seems restless and I briefly consider tying her up. I’m weak from hunger, though, and I need to conserve energy. Besides she hasn’t run from me yet. . . .
I round a small bend and find a bear cub.
He’s across the river from me, an adorable brown ball of fur. He must be in trouble, because his nose is in the air and he’s braying. I couldn’t hear him until now due to the rushing water. Poor little thing. Is he caught in the rocks? Maybe he’s lost. As my food-deprived brain tries to reason it out, I head toward him. Surely his mother—
A full-sized bear.
The hairs on my neck stand up as I turn in slow motion to look upstream.
She’s about twenty feet away. Between me and Mellow. Between me and my rifle. And she’s enormous. She opens her mouth to growl, baring big, sharp teeth.
My heart jumps and starts, and I raise my hand to reason with her. “I’m not going to hurt him,” I soothe, holding her eyes with mine as I back off the rock. “He’s beautiful,” I continue. “You should be proud of him.”
I’m not watching what I’m doing. Suddenly my feet plunge into water. They slip on moss and I let out a little yell as I fight for purchase.
And hear a splash. I raise my head. She’s coming for me. Hundreds of pounds of muscle, and teeth and claws.
Heart pounding, I jerk around. I scramble over two boulders, scraping my knees and then lunge for the bank. I climb a small hill, turn, and lurch for the trees.
She won’t follow. Her baby’s crying. . . .
Something crashes behind me.
She’s chasing me. I want to scream, but I can’t. I’m breathing too hard. I picture those teeth ripping into my stomach, yanking out my intestines. I’ve seen what starving dogs can do, have heard the victim’s agony.
I stumble, twisting my ankle. Screeching pain shoots up my leg. I rise and start running again. It’s difficult to put any weight on my ankle, and it slows me down.
Where do I go? Where’s safe? A tree. No, bears can climb. A hollow log? Maybe a cave?
She’ll reach her big foot inside and rip my arm off.
Tears of fright run down my face. The earth shakes from the bear’s pounding feet. As its hot breath brushes the back of my neck, I cringe, preparing for the agony of its teeth sinking into my flesh.
Harder. Push harder.
That heat isn’t from the bear. It’s the sun burning through thinning trees.
I can make it. I can.
She growls again. Her roar echoes in my ears, going on forever and ever. This time I do scream.
My chest is on fire; my vision is blurring. I’m going to faint.
I don’t want to die . . . I don’t want to die . . . I don’t want to die. . . .
The ground is sloping downward. Up ahead there’s a big swath of blue sky and sunshine—an opening in the woods. I’m through the trees before I see the precipice. A hill, a steep hill. I have to stop.
My brain is too slow to halt my feet.
They slip and I lurch forward. My body hits the ground, then starts sliding headfirst down the hill. When I put my hands out to stop, they slam into rocks. My head hits a scrub pine and explodes in pain. Another scream.
My body slides to a stop at the bottom of the hill. Everything’s going grey. Maybe I’ll pass out and I won’t feel the pain when the bear tears off my legs.
No such luck. I clearly hear the bear roaring at the top of the hill.
One last, desperate, attempt. Planting my hands, I try to push myself up. My arms shake, unable to support my weight. This is it, then. This is death. Death without redemption, without forgiveness.
And then there are two feet next to me. I lift my head to look into the eyes of a young woman dressed in laborer’s jeans. She raises a rifle into the air. She fires twice—no three times—before I finally, thankfully, lose consciousness.