Some of you know that I have been working on “Beyond the Veil” on and off for a while now. It’s going to be my second YA book and I am aiming for a finished second draft in September, which might well mean we’re talking about releasing it to the world exactly one year after “Prodigy” saw the light of day. The following is the very first chapter in its current form, to tease you and to perhaps get you excited for the actual book.
When I was born it was predicted I would one day kill my brother.
That in itself would not have been problematic. Our house was always full of prophecies made by mum’s neopagan hobby-group. They loved to predict things based on the moon phases, the colour of last night’s sunset, the time it took until the water in the kettle boiled, or the form of their dog’s morning poo.
The problem with this particular prophecy? Aunt Sophie – who wasn’t really my aunt but my mum’s bff – made it, not one of mum’s clients. While all the women flocking to our house for spiritual guidance and companionship in their wiccan pursuits did everything to look and sound like proper witches, Sophie – who always dressed in a pencil skirt and a well-ironed blouse, her stubborn black hair pulled back in a tidy knot – actually was one. Her prophecies were few and far between. But every single one of them had come true.
The exact wording of what Sophie muttered with closed eyes and a strange expression of “not-quite-there”-ness on her face, when she first held me in her arms four hours after my birth, was:
This child carries a heavy burden. The burden of being the difference between life and death. When your brother reaches manhood, you will be his end.
Well, that’s cheerful, isn’t it?
My parents made sure they didn’t mention the prophecy in front of me and would probably have kept it a secret forever, but aunt Sophie told me about it during one of her summer-visits as soon as I was able to understand enough words to process the information.
I guess they all had good intentions.
I, for one, preferred aunt Sophie’s approach.
I’ve never much liked being lied to and sometimes omitting something important and lying are the same thing.
I also didn’t like being scared. And while my parents anxiously noticed every minute that ticked by bringing my brother closer to his fate, but were frozen in terror at the prospect, I had long decided to prevent it. I read every book and watched every movie that even remotely touched the topic of prediction. And I learned that even if prophecies came from a reliable source, there usually was a loophole.
When I had finally read the fifth Harry Potter book, something that someone should have prevented me from doing at eight years of age, I had a revelation. Grinning like a madwoman, I ran up the stairs to my aunt’s room.
“Look,” I said and pointed to the respective section in the book. “Look at this! You have this prophecy which was made referring to ‘a boy’ and a date of birth but it didn’t mention anything about the family. There was never a clear indication that it was supposed to be Harry. It could have been Neville instead. There was a choice involved. Voldemort just assumed it had to be this boy because his parents had pissed him off more.”
Aunt Sophie looked up from the magazine she had been reading and frowned, clearly not understanding what I was talking about.
I knew, though. There was always an element that you could influence, always some possibility to bend the rules. In my case that meant: I might kill my brother by whatever means and by whatever chance – I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be on purpose – but there was nothing in the prophecy that said what would happen afterwards. There was nothing that said he had to stay dead!
When I was ten years old I signed up for the first aid course in town. I repeated the course until I could have done CPR in my sleep. I learned techniques to pull people from water who were drowning – It involved knocking them unconscious first, which was enormous fun. I went to the hospital to ask the staff for epipens which they didn’t give to me, even though I explained that I needed them as emergency supplies for the day my brother died. Later on I learned that epipens only had a certain shelf-life, so they wouldn’t have helped me much several years down the line.
I learned how to fight in several different traditions from taekwondo to krav maga, in case I needed it to beat anyone to a pulp who dared to attack my brother. I read up on how to treat a bullet-wound and enquired one of my dad’s friends who was an army doctor whether he could show me the procedure in real life, which he refused to do. Nobody I knew owned a gun, but I assumed it would be better to err on the safe side.
From the age of six, I had the local hospital on speed dial.
Throughout the years I saved my brother’s life over and over again. In none of these occasions was I at fault for endangering him in the first place. Somehow Oregon was just quite prone to ending up in life-threatening situations. Dad joked that if it hadn’t been for me, my brother might never have reached adulthood anyways and perhaps all aunt Sophie’s prophecy was about was that for once, I’d not be close enough to prevent an accident. We tried to laugh about it, but it wasn’t funny.
It was impossible for anyone not to love Oregon for the simple reason that Oregon loved everyone. Whenever I was upset, he would come and provide hugs and hot chocolate. I couldn’t have wished for a better brother and I had no intention of having anybody take him away from me. Robert, my martial arts trainer, once said that fear is a bad counsellor, because it paralyzes you. So, according to the Sutherland family motto ‘Sans Peur’ – Without Fear – I balled my fists, ready to face whatever was coming and to defeat death if it dared to stretch out its fingers once more to take Oregon with it.
Faucet Road Number four was just as crazy as it was every morning. As I opened my bedroom door, eyes half-open, not-quite-awake-yet pre-breakfast-me realized that there was smoke in the air. It also smelled very distinctly of burnt toast. I frowned and quickly re-evaluated my breakfast-aims, changing them from toast with Nutella to some porridge. As the smoke stung in my nose and throat, I took one quick breath and then leaped down the stairs as quickly as I could, taking two steps at a time. I rushed into the kitchen to find mum staring at a pile of charcoal black slices of toast which piled up on a plate right next to our new toaster, a chrome-coloured massive thing that could fit four slices at once. Handy on one hand, if you were a family of four plus aunt Sophie, plus random wiccan guests. Not that handy though, if all you did was burn all four slices simultaneously.
I walked over to the window and pushed it open to let the smoke out, then turned to the door to the lower balcony and threw that open as well. A chilly breeze drifted through the room and took the scent of acrylamide-heavy doom with it.
“It’s not working properly!” Mum complained.
“Good morning mum,” I said as I retrieved some milk from the fridge and a packet of pre-packed cinnamon-and-plum porridge from the storage cupboard.
I poured the contents of the packet into a cereal bowl, put some milk on top and put the concoction in the microwave. Ten seconds on, switch off, wait, stir, repeat three times, voilà, porridge! If you did it like mum – put bowl in microwave, turn to one minute, forget about it – the stuff usually exploded and you ended with hardly any edibles left in the bowl and a lot of sticky goo that you needed to clean off the inside of the microwave. It was disgusting. Oregon and I did our best to keep her out of the kitchen, but she regularly found her way back in. And burnt toast was the least scary of the things she had done in the last few months.
“Did you read the manual?” I enquired after a first spoonful of porridge.
Obviously, she hadn’t. Because nobody reads the manual, as it doesn’t tell you anything that the average person’s mind wouldn’t realize on its own. But mum wasn’t an average person. She was the least tech-savvy, least logical person I know. People like her were the whole reason why manuals were invented in the first place.
“It just burns everything,” she said sadly poking her thin, perfectly manicured finger at the toaster as if to coax it into submission by sheer willpower. “I put it on the same setting as the old one, and it just burns everything.”
“Oh mum,” I sighed.
With my porridge bowl in hand, I walked over to the counter and looked at our new kitchen utensil. There was a knob which had numbers on it and was currently set to 5. Out of 6. I looked at the toast. I was pretty sure that nobody ever ate toast that had been toasted at 6. I turned the dial down to 2 – which I assumed should be safe enough and put a couple of slices in. Two minutes later, the toaster spit out four slices of perfectly golden brown toast.
Mum’s eyes almost watered.
“You are so practical,” she said. “How is it possible that I gave birth to a child like you?”
That was a good question indeed and one that I had asked myself more than once. If I had not looked like my parents – dad’s nose and tall build, mum’s eyes and hair – I’d have assumed that I was adopted.
Not that I had ever wanted to be adopted. I loved my parents. I loved the chaos they created wherever they went.
Right after the first slices of unburnt toast popped out of the new toaster, aunt Sophie floated into the room, her naked feet making no sound on the wooden floorboards.
“Good morning, sweetie!” she said, pulled me into a hug and kissed me on the cheek.
“Would you mind going through the routine again just one more time?” Oregon asked when he lazily strolled into the kitchen, carrying our red striped tomcat Oscar on his shoulders and wearing a pair of sweatpants and thin-soled laced up leather dancing shoes.
I gave him a thumbs up and swallowed the last spoonful of porridge before I followed him into the backyard where dad had built a small stage from smooth wooden panels.
“Don’t you want to have breakfast first?” mum enquired. “Io fixed the toaster.”
Oregon, already much paler than he usually was, shook his head.
“Competition day,” I reminded mum. “Don’t make him throw up any earlier than he’ll do anyways.”
Back in the days, we had practiced both ballet and highland together. While Oregon had stuck to it and delighted in the rigidity of the sport and the finesse of the movement, I was happy to just be his personal cheerleader these days.
“Okay,” he said. “I am not entirely sure about the third figure of the Fling, so have a look at that, will you?”
He concentrated and then started hopping on his left foot bringing the right one up so it met his calf below the knee. Side behind front behind. Hop onto the right foot. Side behind front behind. Hop back onto the left foot and turn while doing the behind front behind bit. Repeat starting with the other side.
“Your knee’s not out enough,” I stated. “When you turn, you kind of bring it in like this.”
I demonstrated what I was referring to.
“Damn,” he murmured. “I noticed something was off.”
“I’ve seen you do this correctly a million times,” I noted. “How is it that before every competition you have this moment of premature dementia happening?”
“Stop them from doing that.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Have a look at my Sean Triubhas as well, will you?”
I nodded and let him go through the routine while I watched with my best judge’s eye.
“Your left foot goes two inches higher up in the shake than your right one does,” I noted when he finished. “Apart from that, perfect.”
Oregon nodded, pumping slightly after the strenuous exercise. There was a bit of sweat pearling on his forehead already. His classmates had belittled his dancing once. Most of the bullies had been guys who had been forced to learn one ceilidh dance back in primary school and never danced a step again, following the example of their fathers who felt that anything dance-related would have a direct and devastating impact on their masculinity. They had stopped laughing when he had challenged them to get through a full dance of that ‘weird hopping about’ he did.
“You know you shouldn’t have stopped training,” he said as we walked back to the house.
“I prefer the chaos of doing mighty high kicks at a ceilidh to exact foot placement and pointy toes. This is your jam, Oregon.”
He put his arm around my shoulder having recently grown tall enough to do so without lifting it.
“You’re coming though, aren’t you?”
“Watch you win the competition?” I asked. “Sure. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”