I asked and you guys voted! So here it is: the first chapter of PRINCE OF FREAKS, book one of The Morningstar Circus for Lost Souls. I hope you love it!
The only way to get to Haven’s Ward was by train.
There used to be a road, but it was destroyed years ago. Some freak twister. There was no other damage. Mom said that’s how it was though—strange things just happened on the sizeable island not too far from Savannah.
We’d been standing outside the Crescent Marsh Station for over twenty minutes.
This was as far as Mom was taking me. Her flight to London left in four hours. She couldn’t miss it. No, she wouldn’t miss it. Not couldn’t. She made her choices, and I was dragged along the way. Collateral damage.
“I love you, Flower. It’s only a year. Maybe less.” Mom tucked a rogue strand of ginger hair gently behind my ear. Her hand paused at my earlobe for a moment, fingers playing with the dangling daisy-shaped earring I was wearing. Daisies were my favorite flower. A parting gift.
My stomach hurt, and not for the first time. Mom kept saying she’d only be gone for a year, but everything she said and did felt like a longer goodbye. We’d been here before. Months of separation as she’d gone on a wild goose chase. A possible sighting of my dad and brother in China. A glimpse of a man in Africa with black hair accompanying a kid with a shock of orange pulled through a baseball cap. My little brother had always liked his hair long. He’d cried the one, and only, time my parents had tried to shear it shorter.
“But why can’t I go with you?” I crossed my arms and leaned against the building behind us.
“We’ve been over this.” Mom pulled away from me, her forehead crinkling as she frowned.
“No, you’ve been over it and I’ve listened. This is the fifth time you’ve left me behind, Mom.” I knew I was making this harder for her, but I couldn’t help myself. Maybe I wanted to go to Istanbul and Morocco, do a little sightseeing on the useless quest to find a man who’d abandoned me and taking my only sibling with him. “How many times are you going to run off to God-knows-where trying to find them? It’s been three years.”
“I can’t give up on them, Flora.” Mom used my real name, instead of the pet name, and I knew she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
“Dad left us.” I pressed. “Dad left us and he kidnapped Micah. That’s what the police said. Remember? Dad. Kidnapped. Micah. My brother. Your son.” I jabbed my finger into my chest, and then pointed it at her. Anger and sadness were so close to the surface with me. It only took a moment. It made my skin tingle and my head ache and I had to shove it down and try to be happy.
“He wouldn’t have done that.” She shook her head, desperation creeping into her speech. “Your dad loves you. He loves me.”
“And he always loved Micah the most.” I sighed. I’d only been thirteen-years-old. I remembered waking up to people talking in our kitchen. It hadn’t sounded like my mom and dad. I’d peeked out the window and seen the police cars. I’d known something was wrong.
I’d gone to Micah’s room first. His bed looked slept-in, but he wasn’t in it. Maybe he was already downstairs.
He wasn’t downstairs.
Neither was Dad.
Mom had looked like she’d been crying for hours. She kept saying the same things back then too. “He wouldn’t have left. He wouldn’t take our son. He loves me. He loves Flora.”
She’d been singing that song for three years. For me, the record had broken a long time ago.
The worst part was that it had almost made sense. If Dad was going to leave, of course he’d take Micah. He wouldn’t take me. I’d always been a little odd. Micah was the golden child.
“If Dad wanted to be found, it wouldn’t be this hard, Mom.” I reached out and gripped her arm. Sixteen now, I often wondered who was the parent anymore.
“I can’t stop trying,” she mumbled, lip quivering.
“I know you can’t.” Still holding her arm, I pulled her to me and hugged her tightly. I was taller than her now. Micah and I got her orange hair and brown eyes, but Dad’s tall build instead of her more petite frame. “Just be safe,” I finally said. There was no use fighting. I didn’t want her to walk away with an ugly memory.
Pulling away from me, her eyes damp, she nodded slowly. “You be safe too.”
“So… Great Uncle Rudyard.” I tried to smile; the expression died before it was born. I walked away from the building, shoving my hands into my jeans. “Is he really like all the stories you used to tell me and Micah?”
Mom laughed, the sound ending on a small hiccup as she controlled the tears that threatened. “Exactly like all the stories.”
“None.” She held her fingers up in a mock scout’s promise.
I whistled. “Is there really nowhere else I can stay? I’m sure the Whitleys would take me in again.”
“Staying with the neighbors a year is a little different than a few months.” She leaned down and picked up my large suitcase. “Okay, it’s almost time. You’re registered for school already. Rudyard should have that paperwork and your books. The rest of your things were supposed to arrive by mail last week. Rudyard didn’t answer my letter though. If you have any problems…” her voice trailed off.
“Don’t bother trying to reach you because you’ll be traveling all over the place in a last, futile, ditch effort to find Dad and Micah? Oh, and Great Uncle Rudyard doesn’t have a phone… or television… or internet?” I completed for her, feeling my own eyes start to water.
“Exactly,” she chuckled sadly, hiccupping again. Crying. Laughing. Mom almost always got hit with hiccups. It was funny, endearing. I wondered if it was one of the things I’d remember about her when she was gone. It was that way with Dad. I couldn’t really picture him anymore, unless I was looking at a photo—which I avoided. Out of everything, I remembered his smell. Sandalwood and cinnamon. And his eyes. Greener than should be possible set into a human face, dotted with metallic flecks. Golden sap running down the branch of a Cypress reaching for sunlight.
I looked at my Mom. I really looked at her, taking a mental picture in case the sick feeling in my stomach was right—that this would be a longer goodbye than it’s supposed to be. Beautiful brown eyes. Hair curling around her shoulders, the orange duller with age and streaked with silver. Her face is lined with worry. It never used to be. The last three years have been… so hard on her.
“I love you so much,” I said softly, bending down and picking up the other suitcase.
“More than life,” she responded, her voice cracking. “Come on. If we don’t get moving now, I won’t be able to leave you. I just won’t.”
“Would that be so bad?” Choose me, I thought fiercely, Choose me instead.
She doesn’t respond, and we don’t say anything more as we walk stoically into the train station.
The décor was old fashioned, not something you’d expect nowadays. Intricate mosaic flooring, paneled walls, gold trimmings and an oversized chandelier hanging from the domed ceiling. I’d never been on a train. Not a modern one, or the steam locomotive kind I could see huffing and puffing through the stations’ rear windows.
There’s no one sitting on the benches, no one waiting for tickets. We walk up to the sales booth and find an ancient man leaned back in his chair sound asleep. His hand was still reached forward, holding onto a large wooden stamp. Mom slapped a brass bell. It dinged loudly, the sound ricocheting off the large empty space behind us. The poor elderly man startled awake, nearly falling out of his chair.
“What? Who? When?” He scrambled to a sitting position. “How may I help you?” Beady, sleep-stained eyes behind thick black glasses stared us down. He looked more than a little upset that we’d woken him.
“Well, we’d like a ticket into Haven’s Ward.” My mom pointed over at the train.
“A ticket?” He questioned, staring curiously. “We don’t get many folks wanting to get into Haven’s Ward.”
I pushed forward. “Why not?”
“We just don’t.” He shrugged. “Supplies go in and out on the train. Rarely a soul.”
I opened my mouth to ask another question, but mom shook her head. “One ticket please.”
“Just one?” He quirked an eyebrow. “Girl going in alone?”
The feeling in my stomach intensified. This didn’t feel right. Mom shouldn’t leave. I shouldn’t get on this train. Aren’t you supposed to listen to your gut?
“One ticket, yes.” Mom repeated, placing twenty dollars on the counter.
“Have it your way,” the old man said, shrugging and pulling a long shiny slip of paper off a shelf next to him. “One ticket coming up.” He opened a pad of ink and pressed the wooden stamp down. He lifted it off, set it to the shiny paper and rocked it back and forth, making sure the rubber fully pressed against the surface. He slid the newly-stamped paper towards us. “Here you are. Train leaves in ten minutes. Last run of the day.”
He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and… still kept his hand outstretched holding the wooden stamp. He hadn't even touched the money.
“What a weirdo,” I mumbled to my mom as we lugged my bags out onto the passenger platform.
“Don’t talk about people like that.”
“Coming from the woman who’s called her great uncle way worse,” I elbow her.
“Look, Rudyard is his own breed. That old guy’s completely normal in comparison.” Mom’s eyes were searching the train. A few moments later, one of the passenger car doors opened. An arm reached out and waved us forward. When we got there, whoever the waver had been was gone.
“Shouldn’t we wait for someone to check my ticket?” I watched mom step onto the train, my luggage thumping against the stairs as she pulled it upward.
“Not if the train leaves in less than ten minutes,” she grunted. “Come on.”
I followed reluctantly.
Like the station and the outside of the train, the passenger car was similarly-decorated. And totally empty.
“I feel like you’re sending me to a deserted island…” my voice trailed off.
“Haven’s Ward is really wonderful. I promise. Just give it a chance.” Mom opened a storage container in the ceiling and shoved the largest bag inside, then she took the bag I was holding and placed it next to the window on the seat beneath.
“I’ll try.” I sounded sad. I couldn’t help it.
She gave me a ‘knowing’ look.
“I promise I’ll try,” I repeated, trying for more enthusiasm.
A whistle made us both jump, its pitch changing as it sounded. It reminded me of the Christmas Micah got a harmonica. He’d race around the house, the instrument clamped between his lips and he’d breathe in and out and in and out. I’d yell at him to stop. He’d never listen.
“That’s my cue.” Mom gave a small smile. “I already miss you, Flower.”
Then stop leaving me—is what I wanted to say, but I didn’t. “Me too.”
I walked behind her as far as the exit. Her hair bounced softly as she descended the stairs. I wanted to remember that, as she left me yet again. Moving back to where we’d stowed my luggage, my legs felt heavy. I shoved the smaller bag into the other seat and sat by the window.
The sun was setting now. Mom was standing next to the doors leading back into the station. She lifted a hand, pressed her palm to her mouth, and blew me a kiss. I pressed my own hand against the glass.
“Bye Mom,” I whispered as the train jerked and started chugging forward. She was out of sight too quickly.
And all I could do was look ahead as the passing trees fell away, revealing marshland, grey-blue waters, and Haven’s Ward in the distance.
Preorder on Amazon today!