CHRYSALIS

Monemer1I was talking to a friend recently about being overwhelmed with all the projects that I have going on right now, and she suggested that I only blog once a week. That seemed a great idea. Since I’ve been talking a lot about my writing, and as I’m pressed for time, today I’m going to post the first section of my novel CHRYSALIS which is currently being queried. All comments and critiques are welcome!

Chapter One

Pain stopped the beautiful dream: a deep, pinching pain. Something jabbed her. Joyel tried to open her eyelids, but they were heavy. Snuggling with Magnolia would help her go back to sleep. Reaching for her closest friend made the pain worse.

Joyel gasped, her eyelids flicked open, as something sharp and cold slid into her little arm and dug around. She strained to see what was pricking her arm, but her room was dark, with only a dim, reddish haze. Pain became warmth. Warmth burned into a fire.

Joyel screamed for her handmaidens, jerking into a seated position. Three figures stepped into the brightening haze, two men and a woman, but these weren’t her servants, and this wasn’t her room. She was not at home. She was not at the Arboretum.

The pain in her arm lessened, but she was still reeling. The three strangers dressed liked citizens from the province of Miaarn. The men wore the open vests, strange looking pants that ballooned round the cuff, and wide decorative sashes. The woman was fully veiled, leaving only her eyes and her hands visible. The woman’s heavy veiling meant she was a Miaarn slave.

Joyel shuddered at woman’s gaze, lifeless, broken, weighed down by the fabric that imprisoned her. One day Joyel would also wear a veil, as all women do, but her veil would be light, beautiful, and would frame her fame, not cover it. Not for the first time, she was grateful she wasn’t a Miaarn, especially a Miaarn slave.

The presence of a Miaarn slave must mean she was in that dreaded province. But how? She had been traveling with her guardian, Micaah, to visit her friends. What had gone wrong? Where was Micaah?

Joyel glanced around the room for him, but the overpowering furnishings and lush trappings captivated her. Furs carpeted the floor, embroidered tapestries hung in place of windows, and mounted heads of animals pinned her to her bed with the stare of their glassy eyes. Killing animals for decorations was against the sacred laws of the planet. Whoever these people were, they didn’t care much for obeying her daddy’s rules.

Four walls of dirty glass, like a grungy mirror, surrounded her. She couldn’t see a door, but there must be one somewhere. If only the light was brighter. Light. Where was the light coming from? No torches were lit, no windows to let in the sun. Her handmaidens had told her about torches that didn’t use fire, but she had never seen them before. Whoever owned this room was going to be in big trouble when her daddy found out they used fake torches.

“She’s awake,” the woman said.

“Admira Joyel.” One of the men approached and bowed.

When he got close, Joyel could see a large tattoo of a dragonfly: its four wings spread over his chest, and its abdomen ran down, the tail ending above his belly button. The man was thin and gangly. His blond hair was dirty, either from brown strands or from not being washed, and was pulled back in a tangled ponytail. His beard was trying very hard to out-tangle his hair.

“My name is—”

“Shut up, Goraath,” the other man yelled. “Let Kern Anson deal with her.”

Goraath—a name she had never heard before—went to sulk in a corner of the room and ignored the sneering laugh of the other man. The second man was tall, and muscular, and confident in a mean, threatening way. He held his strength like an archer held the bowstring, ready to shoot an arrow at his chosen target. There were several weapons in his sash. One of them was bloody. Her eyes, searching for anything else to stare at other than blood, caught sight of his tattoo. It was the same tattoo as Goraath’s. The dragonfly’s wings were raised away from its body as they halted on the man’s large pectorals, as if the insect was ready to fly off his chest and attack her. Joyel tried to hug her knees close to her chest.

Stab!

Her yelp of pain jolted Goraath to come to her. The other man laughed at her, at the Admira of Phandiwe! What kind of place was she where they disobeyed her father and laughed at their Admira? If they would do that, what else would these people do? She trembled and studied her throbbing arm. Protruding from her delicate skin was a large metal tube. She was like a machine: a terrible, ugly, illegal machine. Metal restraints around her wrist caught her eye. She wriggled her hands to test their strength. The pain forced her to accept that she wasn’t asleep, but that this was a nightmare. She had been taken. This wasn’t pretend.

A hand on her shoulder jerked her.

“Don’t touch me,” she screamed.

It was the woman. She bowed over her – the edges of her huge veil brushing against Joyel – put a hand on her arm, and sat her up. “Pardon, Admira Joyel.”

The metal tube was pulled out of her arm. Blood trickled onto her skin, pooling on her arm. She grabbed the edge of the bed to keep from falling off.

Micaah. Lying in a pool of red. Bloody memories barged in: her Guardian being wounded, her struggling against a group of armed men and someone hitting her head.

“Where am I?” She whispered. Her throbbing head fell into her hands. Everything in the room was moving around her, and she couldn’t stop it. Shaking, she stood up and tottered over to Goraath, but the other man, grabbed hold of her.

“Don’t ask questions.” He shoved her into a cold, metal chair.

Shocked by the coldness of the chair and the warmth of the thick fur of the skin underneath her feet, the room stopped turning. She was the Admira of Phandiwe, daughter of the Great Admanshalta over all of Phandiwe. These Miaarns were her subjects and they would treat her with respect. If they didn’t, her daddy would make them sorry. She stood, spreading her feet wide in the fur, planting them against the skin.

“Where am I?” She asked. “Why did you hurt Micaah? You must take care of him. When are you going to take me back home?”

“Shut up!” He knocked her back into the chair.

Beeps sounded from outside the room. Doors slid open, disappearing into the wall, allowing a third man to enter the room. Her heart skipped a beat as the doors slid back shut, closing the gap in the wall. None of the doors at the Arboretum did that. Too heavy to glide, the wooden doors often banged against the stone walls of her home. They never became the walls. What strange technology allowed walls to move? Where in nature was she?

“That’s enough, Jothraam,” the new man said.

She looked up to match a face to the voice. Goraath shrank back at once as a man walked towards her. The mean one – with the stupid name Jothraam – clenched his hands, crossing his wrists in salute, and offered them towards the new man. It was acknowledged with a nod.

He was trim, clothed in long, black, straight-legged pants and a fitted black shirt. Over that he wore an odd kind of kaftan. It was open, like the kaftans her daddy wore, but it was tight and crisp, with little flow to it, and it was a deep, ruby red. The high collar, embroidered with shimmering silver threads, emphasized his perfect goatee. His black hair was pulled tight into a short ponytail, the bottom of which struck against the red kaftans collar, ramming black with red.

“When a child asks you a question, you must answer her gently. Isn’t that right, Goraath?”

Goraath didn’t answer this man’s question, but Joyel didn’t care. She allowed her body to rest against the chair. This new man didn’t dress like a Miaarn. Maybe daddy had sent him to get her after she went missing. This man would treat her right.

She swallowed. “Where am I?”

The man crouched down next to her chair.

“You are in Miaarn. I am Anson, leader of the True Miaarns.”

Her eyes went to her lap. He was a Miaarn, and not just any Miaarn. Tension always surrounded the name of “True Miaarns” when it was whispered around the Arboretum. No one would tell her who the “True Miaarns” were, but she could tell all her handmaidens were nervous. They only pretended they weren’t. Miaarn or not, this Anson was duty-bound to obey her. Breathing deep and long, she willed herself to meet his gaze.

“I was supposed to visit the Provincer of Ancoris. You will take me to him.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. I’ve brought you here to stay, to live with me as my daughter.”

To stay? Joyel’s voice shook and she proclaimed, “I am the daughter of Jhaln Devenaar, the Great Admanshalta.”

“No longer,” Anson said. “Think of a butterfly, the precious symbol of Phandiwe and its unequal unification.”

Hundreds of butterflies whirled in her mind as she pictured the Sanctuary, flittering among her fear. The butterfly had a forever home at the Arboretum in the Sanctuary. Grandma Shay was in charge of taking care of the butterflies, so everyone called her Monarch. One day, Joyel hoped to earn the title of Monarch. Grandma Shay had been training her, but now she might never see the Sanctuary again, might never spend time with Grandma Shay again, might never—

“For a butterfly to exist,” Anson’s voice clapped like thunder in her mind and scattered butterflies far away from her, “the caterpillar must be transformed. It is a painful and frightening time for the caterpillar wrapped up alone in its chrysalis, but one day it breaks free and a beautiful butterfly emerges. So it will be with you, my special butterfly. You came to me as Joyel. You will leave as Joy. You came as Devenaar’s daughter, but you will become mine.”

Special? Joyel lifted her face and meet the eyes of this man who wanted to call her daughter.

“You have before you a simple choice: you can resist the chrysalis, or you can surrender to it. A chrysalis is restrictive, but think of how safe it keeps the caterpillar until he is ready to face the world in his newfound glory. You can resist my adoption and choose to live as a prisoner, or you may choose freedom. You will remain restrained until you loose your own bonds. Your door will remain unsealed. At anytime you wish, you may walk into freedom. As my daughter, you will learn to trust and obey me. It is for your own good. Do not fight me, Joy.”

Father had wanted her to be something different too: a boy instead of a butterfly. Her father had never said it, but her heart knew she was a disappointment to him. But Anson said she was special. To be special, to not be a frustration, to have a father who wanted her for a daughter…but no. She wasn’t his daughter and never would be.

“You will address me as Admira Joyel,” she said. “You will return me to my family, and you will take these off.” She lifted up her restrained wrists. Goraath, the only one who seemed to have any idea of how to behave, moved to obey her.

“No.” Kern Anson stopped him. “She can take them off herself.”

“Release me right now and take me home.” She sat a bit straighter, stuck her chin out as far as she could, and stared up at the three men. “I don’t like it here, and I won’t stay.”

“Demanding, isn’t she?” Kern Anson turned to leave. The other men followed his example. Joyel’s hands were still restrained, and they were leaving her.

“How dare you turn your back to the Admira of Phandiwe?” She wailed, jumping up onto her feet, stretching her hands out towards them. “Take me home, at once!”

Kern Anson smiled at her. “This is your home.”

The doors opened like magic to let the men leave her. Once they were gone, she crept over to touch the wall that was also door. The surface was cool and smooth, not at all like the carved, wooden doors of the Arboretum.

“Elohim,” she whispered, “help me. I know you will. You have to.”

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6 thoughts on “CHRYSALIS

  1. Two questions pertain to good allegory. Does it work without an awareness of the allegory? And does it work as allegory? With this post, the answer is mostly yes and yes. And it would work great as a stand alone piece as well, perhaps even better than the novel that comprises it. There is obvious depth (too obvious?) The imagery is fresh and not plodding. The writing is seasoned. You’ve been at this for some time. But there is one thing I wish the story had left me with by the end, more ambiguity about the true nature of the emerging world. Is the new ‘reality?’ a truly good place that will lead to true joy, or is it in the end no better than the fantasy, or worse like the emerging nightmare of a futuristic dystopia? I wish there hadn’t been the part with Anson (an echo of Aslan?) expounding on the butterfly (echo of Williams?). It seems pretty central and I think probably necessary. It just diverted me away from the particular way that I was enjoying the story up until that point. And it didn’t seem all that original sounding, the whole cocoon butterfly motiff. I can tell it was deeply meaningful to you, no doubt representing something of your own experience. But I would have preferred it if it hadn’t been so plainly stated.

    But besides all that, this story could lead to all kinds of interesting reflections. One sort of at random is the contrast between the aesthetic pang CS Lewis experienced as a child (in the safety of the chrysalis) when first reading “Balder the beautiful is dead”, and the quite unaesthetic “deep pinching” pang of first hearing years later, “your wife is dead.”

    There is much to love here and I am surprised no one else has commented on it yet. But to be fair to them, I am recently unemployed. Weeee…

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    1. Finally able to sit down and respond to your initial comment! Thank you for taking the time to read my first few pages of my novel. I appreciate the feedback and have been pondering ways to incorporate them. The butterfly motif is central and in an earlier draft had a stronger twist to it in this conversation, but it got cut and moved to a later part in the chapter because it was slowing down this opening section. After thinking about it, I believe I know a way to help make this slightly less cliched, so thank you again for pointing it out and giving me reason to consider it again!

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  2. Not to become too pesty, but I just wanted to come back a day later and say that this story is still hovering like a mist over my mind. And I found myself repeating unthinkingly “the carved wooden doors of the Arboretum.” Yep, you are a witch. jk Use your powers for good.

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