Believe it or not, folks, but this is the 100th post on this blog! I personally find it difficult to imagine that I’ve written 100 (minus five uniquememorableinsightful posts from JennyMoon) posts. Considering they average around 300 words per post, I’ve posted 30,000 words! Seriously! Stunning news!

Of course, in comparison with my novel, 30,000 words isn’t really anything to um… write home about? My novel is 77,000 words at this current draft. That’s right – I can be pretty darn prolific!

Say what? You’d like to read a little bit of that novel?

Well, since you asked so nicely and since I’m celebrating the 100 post accomplishment… here’s the first chapter!


Mirror Image

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colors gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

 –  Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Lady of Shalott”


Part One

The Island



Chapter One

New Room


            There is now a rather large, broken blister on my right palm. I blame this, incidentally, on my best friend Ally. I tell myself I’m not going to tear off the loose skin, but it’s no use. Within seconds, I’ve picked away the blister and my hand is throbbing, agony.

           Ally has left me in her basement to sort out which ancient piece of furniture I think we should move next. I suspect she is secretly texting her boyfriend Patrick from the depths of the moving van in her driveway (which is destined for storage – thank goodness she isn’t moving away). I guess she could be doing as she claimed and rearranging the massive fixtures we’ve already somehow managed to haul into it. But I doubt it.

            As I have no one but Ally to text, my cell phone remains quietly tucked away in my back jeans pocket. I am perched uncomfortably atop an old dresser trying to ignore the pain in my hand and assessing my surroundings. It’s not like I, Darcie Thigpen, am a meticulously neat individual, but this basement borders on absurd.

            At first glance, it looks to be a classic example of hoarding. But after spending the last five hours sifting through the chaos, I can tell that Ally’s parents aren’t completely compulsive about their purchases. In fact, according to Ally, not many of them were purchased at all. Mrs. Morgan’s mother passed away ten years ago and  none of these inherited items ever made it upstairs into the main house.

            Ally, with her fine, straight, strawberry blonde hair blowing around her face, trips into the garage just as I make the decision that we’d better go ahead and move the huge dining table into the van next or else it will never fit.

            “Ally,” I say, suddenly very curious, “Why are your parents keeping all of this stuff?”

            She considers for a moment, then responds, “I think they have some grand ideas involving Antiques Roadshow.”

            Ah, well that explains the volume of hidden treasures in this basement. I’m sure they imagine that at least one of them will be worth more than they paid for it. I suppose that makes sense.

            We arrange ourselves on either end of the table and prepare to lift. I take a brief moment to regret never doing pushups, grit my teeth, and Ally counts us down.

            In unison, we lift, getting maybe an inch of air underneath the table legs. I stumble backwards a bit, Ally forwards a bit, and we both drop the table with a loud crash.

            “Well. Solid oak, I suspect,” I say, as if this somehow solves our problem.

            “Seats twelve,” Ally says. She fans herself with her hands, clearly deep in thought.

            I hear the door from the kitchen upstairs swing open, and I know immediately that it’s Cam who is bolting down the stairs, two at a time, to join us. His walk is just as energetic as his big sister Ally’s, but more rhythmic, heavier. I can’t believe we didn’t think to bring him in as a consultant on this project hours ago.

            And then, when Cam appears next to Ally, I remember why we’re doing this without him.

            “Keys,” he says, tossing his too long hair out of his eyes. He sticks out his hand, palm up.

            The car that the two oldest Morgan siblings share is a situation that has clearly progressed beyond civility. Monosyllabic pseudo-sentences are all that they have exchanged in my presence since Cam started taking Julia Crow out on dates and booking their Camaro at least once every weekend – and that was weeks ago.

            Ally pulls their only set of keys from her pocket and drops them in his hand. Clearly she will not stoop to asking for his help. This will be up to me, then.

            “Cam, before you go, could you help us get this into the truck?” I ask, smiling.

            “Sure, yeah.” He takes one end of the table and Ally and I take the other. Cam is tall, but only marginally brawny despite his athleticism. Okay, he’s on the thin side, but that is apparently deceptive. He easily lifts his end and the three of us maneuver the table into the remaining space in the van.

            He is wedged into a corner of the van, but shimmies free and heads toward the metal ramp. I lock arms with him on his way down the ramp, determined to at least try and ease the tension between the siblings. “Thanks for your help. That would have taken us another hour without you.”

            He steers us off the truck and toward the old, maroon Camaro up the driveway. “No problem. So, once all of that stuff is in storage, what’s the plan?”

            This is an excellent question. Ally called me this morning (way too early for a Saturday) and announced that she’d found us a dorm room for next fall.

            This came as quite a surprise to me, considering we are going to different colleges.

            “We’re going to convert your parents’ basement into a dorm room. It’s the only way we can fulfill our 5th grade promise to one another that we’d share a room our freshman year at college. Especially now that my parents are moving to Montgomery after graduation.” I let go of Cam’s arm when we reach the car.

            Mom and I toured my other dorm options just last weekend. She called them ‘cozy.’ I, on the other hand, finally understood the meaning of claustrophobia. Plus, and rather more important to me, the Facilities Manager on campus made it perfectly clear that painting is not allowed.

            “So, you’re moving in?” He smiles. A big, goofy grin. Then he shakes his ridiculous hair out of his eyes again.

            “In August,” I say. Ally is going to the state school in the city to train to become a nurse, like her mother. I’m going to the liberal arts college down the road, and I have no idea what I’m training to become.

            “Cool,” he says, opening his car door. “You have your car? I’m not going to get a call from Ally at 8:45 demanding her turn?”

            I assure him that his date will be uninterrupted and watch him drive away before turning to walk back towards the basement.

            It is fairly humid out here, but this is Alabama so I shouldn’t expect much different. Even if it is the middle of January. I contemplate this unseasonable weather, and then consider my dinner plans, wondering if I should get home and help Mom cook or stay here and hang out with Ally some more.

            Crap! Before I can consciously register that I have fallen, I’ve caught myself with the heels of my hands on the rough pavement of the driveway. Being that I am both distractible and clumsy, I know I should have paid more attention to where my feet were going, but there’s no use in crying over spilt milk. Or scraped, blistered palms.

            “I’m going to need some peroxide,” I announce, returning to the basement through the open garage doors.

            Ally is seated on the bottom step, staring at something in her hands. I can’t see what from here, so I walk over to join her.

            “What’s that?” I ask.

            “Not sure exactly. Looks like a piece of broken mirror. Really old.” Ally doesn’t look up but continues to turn the glass in her hands.

            “Where did you find it?” I push Ally over with my hip and sit next to her on the step to get a better look.

            “In one of the drawers of that dresser you were sitting on.” Ally points without looking.

            I put my fingertips on her wrist to stop her turning the mirror. It is clearly very old. The silver backing is nearly completely chipped away. The edges remind me of sea glass: smooth, polished.

            Without prelude, Ally stands up and shoves the mirror fragment into her pocket. “You said you were hurt?”

            “Yes, Bandaids are in order. Multiple Bandaids.”

*          *          *

            Ally is cooking spaghetti. Feeding this family of eight (not including me, usually) is Ally’s main chore, though you’d never suspect it wasn’t her favorite part of the day. She’s a natural in the kitchen. It’s a talent I don’t question, rather just make excuses to enjoy as much as possible.

            For instance, tonight my excuse is that Mom called Mrs. Morgan just as Ally and I were coming up into the kitchen to get Bandaids for my hands and invited her and Mr. Morgan to a wine tasting downtown. Like, tonight. Mom has a tendency to impulsively make plans, which is fine, but I can’t go home now – Ally needs my help wrangling her four youngest siblings, since Cam isn’t here to assist. So, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan rushed to get themselves ready – fortunately Mrs. Morgan took the time to bandage my hands before she headed to shower. Her nursing skills always make me feel very comforted. And now they’re off having a relaxing evening with my parents.

            In the meantime, everyone else still has to eat.

            “April – have you finished chopping the onions?” Ally barks this question at her twelve year old sister.

            “Almost.” April raises an eyebrow in my direction. She’s not thrilled to be playing sous- to Ally’s head-chef.

            Of course, neither is April’s twin, Casey. But Casey is a lot quieter and generally less sassy to her older sister.

            “Casey? The bread can go in the oven in three minutes!” Ally says, slightly less demanding. She chops lettuce for our salad as she directs.

            While I am treated to this pre-dinner show, I am seeing that the youngest Morgan sibling, Clint, is fed. He’s only eight months old, so I’m sitting at the dinner table next to Clint’s high chair, attempting to not get peach cobbler puree spit in my face. It’s a tricky task.

            Avery, the three year old princess of the household, is regaled in a pink tutu and fairy wings. She twirls across the linoleum floor of the kitchen attempting to engage everyone’s attention. The only person not currently wielding a knife (aside from Clint – thank goodness things haven’t gotten that far out of control) is me, so I divide my attention between her dancing, Clint’s spitting, and the cooking going on over my left shoulder. It isn’t long before I get a face full of orange splattered spit. Great.

            Finally, dinner is over and the two babies are asleep. I take duty rocking Clint and Ally reads to Avery for awhile before turning off the light in their shared bedroom. Just before she flips the switch, I smile at myself, absorbing the circus scene painted on the walls. My handiwork. About a year ago, these walls held ballerinas (also of my creation). Avery was very attached to this scene. She nearly had a meltdown when her parents told her that they wanted me to repaint it something different for Clint’s arrival. Fortunately, Cam stepped in and suggested she come up with the new theme. I spent the next three months painting elephants, trapezists, and tight-rope walkers, at Avery’s specific direction. The Morgans have no idea how much they’ve helped me grow as an artist – taking commissions at fifteen is quite an honor. Of course, I came pretty cheaply. Well, free. What can I say? I love to paint.

*          *          *

                  It’s late when Ally and I pull out the sofa in her living room. When we stay over here, we prefer sleeping in the living room over sleeping in Ally’s bedroom, which she shares with April and Casey. They tend to over involve themselves in our fun. For example, after putting the babies to bed, I took a shower. The moment I was redressed and had combed out my hair, April and Casey pounced. Fifteen minutes later, my long brown hair was braided in about a zillion little braids. Of course I look ridiculous but the girls are twelve, so I indulge them. Plus, Cam is still gone on his date with Julia, so I don’t feel so self-conscious. Not that I care what Cam thinks, but he holds a lot of knowledge about me in his little brain, and it’s in my best interest to limit his exposure to anything particularly embarrassing I’ve done. Or have allowed to be done to me.

            “Let me take those out,” Ally offers, pointing to my head.

             Perhaps this is a good time to get it over with. “Sure.” I turn my back to her and readjust the sketchpad I’d been drawing on while Ally read.

             “What are you drawing?” she asks as she pulls tiny rubber bands from my hair.

              I wish I could admit to be sketching in preparation for my next artistic masterpiece, but instead I say, “See for yourself.” I lift up my sketchpad for her to see my name, Darcie Wade Thigpen, scrawled in countless fonts all over the page. It’s something I do fairly regularly, so Ally doesn’t respond.

                I go back to doodling, Ally continues to pull the braids out of my hair. When she finishes, she ruffles my head. “Turn around,” she commands.

                I drop the sketchbook to the floor and comply.

               “Oh Dee, you have to see this,” she says, laughing. She leans over her side of the pull out bed to grab her jeans from the floor, removing the mirror shard she found earlier from her pocket. She hands it to me.

                I take one look and snort. I look like Medusa. Not pretty. “Seriously, when will I learn not to let them anywhere near my hair?” While still holding the fragment of mirror in my hand, I realize I’m ready to crash. I’m so tired I barely register Ally’s response. She’s still laughing when she jumps up to turn off the light. I’m pretty sure I fall asleep before she even makes it back to bed.

*          *          *

               Given my collapse mere moments ago, I’m really surprised to find that I’m not actually asleep. I know I should be asleep because this isn’t the same sensation I usually have when, after sleeping for several hours, I wake up feeling like no time has passed at all. I know with absolute certainty that no time has passed. And here I am, eyes closed, but most certainly awake. And another thing. It’s not dark outside. It’s actually quite bright outside of my eyelids. I’m torn between believing this to be a practical joke of Ally’s involving a flashlight, or an alien abduction, but since I’m a fairly rational person, I tend toward the first explanation. I keep my eyes firmly clamped shut, not wanting to go temporarily blind with a flashlight in my eyes. “Cut it out, Ally,” I say.

            Well, here’s another shocker. I’ve got an accent. A very British, very elegant sounding accent that I’ve never even attempted before.

            I’m dreaming. Well. This is a very odd dream, to be certain, but I guess I’ll go with it. I open my right eye a teeny sliver.

            I’m in a room I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, but it seems somehow familiar. Maybe I’ve dreamed it before, or painted it or seen a painting of it or something like that. And as Ally never responded to my accented statement, I already assumed she isn’t going to be in this dream, though I can’t help but look for her anyway. Not finding her or anyone else in the room with me, I decide to give my voice another try. It sounded lovely the first time.

            “Hello, my name is Darcie Thigpen,” I say. My unique name sounds romantic and perfect this way. Now my curiosity is piqued. I’m in a bed of sorts, though it’s more like an uncomfortable cot than any bed I’ve ever slept in before. Instead of trying to get up, I start small, examining my hands. They are still pale and freckled, perhaps a little more callused than I’m used to, but not so different that I don’t recognize them.

            I pull a strand of my hair in front of my face. It, too, is the same deep brown color I am used to. The same texture as always (and thankfully free of the kinky waves I observed in the mirror just a moment ago). It’s amazing how real all of this feels.

            There is no knock, so when the large wooden door at the foot of my cot swings open, I shriek a bit and clutch a blanket to my chest. I’m dressed more fully than I usually am when I leave the house, but somehow my modesty insists that I’m not decent and no one should see me this way.

            But it’s only Magda.

            Wait just one second. Who is Magda? And how do I know her name? I certainly know her, but again, I can say confidently that I have no idea how.

            “Well, child, are you still in bed? Lady Elaine is awaiting! Apparently being a handmaiden isn’t near so important to you as it should be. You won’t want to lose this position. Your Father would be forced to leave his spot at court, and he’d be angry as ever at you. Get up, now!” Magda practically picks me up out of the bed. I’m standing in stunned silence as she opens a large trunk of what appears to be clothing and shakes out a long, simple dress. I look again at Magda and at the dress with my normal, wide awake eyes and see a woman dressed for Halloween trying to get me to dress up with her. While the dress looked simple to me only moments ago, it now looks ridiculous. Where am I? And when?

            I try to follow along with her words, realizing that I’m in a position of servitude in this house. I strain my conscious brain for the meaning of “handmaid” and find nothing. But once I turn my thoughts to Magda harshly tightening the laces, the definition pops right into my head. I’m here to wait on the Lady Elaine. I’m not her maid, but she’s got status and I don’t. I’m supposed to be the friend that makes her look good.

            “All right then, dear, it’s time,” Magda says, giving me a once over-like glance. She leads me down bricked hallways spouting last minute instructions. “Now, I know you were the lady of your house before, but things are different here. You’ll curtsey when you meet her, and don’t dare eat before she’s had her first bite. Understand?” She gives me a motherly smile as we stop in front of a wooden door that looks exactly like all the rest.

            “Go in, then,” she encourages.

            “Shall I knock?” I ask. Good grief, I even say British words like ‘shall.’ This dream seems so incredibly real. I am somehow familiar with this place, I’ve got a different accent, but I’m still me. Surely this is a dream?

            While considering this bizarre situation, Magda takes charge again by gently tapping on the door in front of us and pushing it open.

            I step inside a room that is entirely different from the one I just left. This room is large, at least three or four times bigger, lit by a massive window with heavy brocade fabric curtaining either side.

            Lady Elaine is propped up in her bed (which resembles an actual bed) with a slight smile on her delicate face. Remembering Magda’s instructions, I immediately fall into a curtsey. The floor, which I hadn’t noticed before, is covered in opulent rugs, showing no hint of the cold stone that lies beneath.

            I suddenly realize my curtsey has lasted a few beats too long so I stand and say, “M’lady,” with my eyes cast downward in humility.

            “Darcie of South Britain, is that correct?” Elaine smiles again, encouraging.

            “Yes, ma’am. May I help you dress?” Where are these words coming from? I have no idea what I’m doing, but I let my instincts take over as I slip a satin gown over Elaine’s head and tie her in.

            For some reason, I am now certain I’ve landed myself in a dream of Medieval Great Britain. This whole experience is frighteningly familiar; I keep feeling waves of déjà vu. I’ve got to ignore this or else I have a feeling I’ll never make it through the morning without losing my new position as attaché.

            As I finish dressing Elaine, another servant brings in a tray of food and places it on a small table near the fire. We sit delicately on the provided chairs and smile at one another for a moment. Elaine bows her head and I do the same, silently asking a blessing for the food before us. Somehow I’m sure this is what Elaine intended to happen, and when I look up, she is smiling sweetly at me again.

            She doesn’t speak, but takes a small bite of freshly baked bread with drizzled honey. I wait patiently for her to finish chewing before taking my own bite.

            “I am so pleased you’ve come to spend time with me. I am quite without distraction just now, and Mother says you are well-known for your artistic talents. I hope you can teach me something.” Elaine blushes demurely at this.

            So, I’m still an artist. “It will be my pleasure to paint with you,” I say. “Do you prefer still life or landscape?” I feel like I’m finally on solid ground.

            “Oh, no, you misunderstand. My Mother tells me you are a skilled weaver, accomplished in tapestry making. I wish to learn.” With this, Elaine takes another small bite of honey toast.

            Tapestries. Weaving. I am definitely not finding this information in my twenty-first century memory. This dream is rapidly becoming a nightmare. Trying not to panic, I think of ways to stall. “Perhaps we should pick a subject before we begin?” I suggest.

            Lady Elaine stands gracefully and walks to the mirror hanging on the wall near her bed. After looking herself over, she walks to the chamber door, speaks to someone on the other side, then returns to the mirror. “A landscape, I believe.”

            Before I have time to process this, another young woman enters the room and approaches Elaine. She invites Elaine to sit and starts pulling and pinning her hair elaborately. “Darcie, I think you will sleep in the adjoining room from now on. Tessa will help you dress and will do your hair before you come in to me; you look rather plain as it is.”

            With this, I realize that my hair has the look of a barn hand, not a hand maiden. I wonder a bit at Magda for not suggesting I do something to arrange it before coming here, but oh well, it’s done now. “Of course,” I demure.

            “After Tessa finishes with my hair, she will do yours.” Elaine makes a very subtle expression of pain as Tessa tugs at her hair, then continues, “It will be so nice to have some young, female companionship. I have been quite lonely since my brothers left home to pursue honor and esteem – nothing short of knighthood I assume – that I can hardly bear getting up in the mornings. But having you here will be much nicer!” Elaine smooths a bit of her hair and smiles up at Tessa. “Thank you, Tessa.” She stands up and gestures for me to take her place. “Darcie?”

            “Something very simple, please,” I whisper to Tessa, who nods.

            She knots up my hair much more simply than Elaine’s, and I thank her. I stand up to look at myself, backlit by the large window on the wall behind me. The dress I’m wearing is actually quite flattering to my average figure. I lean forward to touch the spot on the mirror reflecting my collarbone, which looks particularly delicate at this moment. For an instant, I feel completely comfortable here in this place, even comfortable enough to teach Elaine to weave. Then I blink, and there’s no reflection of me anymore, just the ceiling of Ally’s living room.

*          *          *

            I sit bolt upright, my wild hair flying in front of my face. I brush it back and shriek when I see Cam standing in the doorway, dressed for an early morning run. Ally is, I can tell without looking, still completely asleep beside me.

            “Oh, hi,” I say, totally flustered.

            Cam flips his hair out of his eyes and raises an eyebrow at my appearance. Oh, no. I must look completely absurd.

            “You let the twins play beauty shop?” he asks, smirking.

            “How’d you know?” I ask, struggling to regain some composure. I’m still reeling from that unbelievably vivid dream, not to mention being caught looking this way by Ally’s brother, who happens to be much more popular than I am, despite being two years below me in school.

            “You look a bit like I did the one time I let them touch my hair,” he says, grinning broadly.

            Well at least he understands. “Wish I could have seen that.”

            By this time, Ally’s deep sleep has been disturbed and she begins to stretch, eyes still closed. “Please, please tell me it is after ten AM,” she demands, groaning.

            “More like seven,” Cam responds.

            “Get. Out!” she says, in a way only a big sister can. She still hasn’t opened her eyes. This is, in fact, very unlike her. She is almost always awake and chipper well before I have my bearings. She’s usually such a morning person.

            Cam rolls his eyes and heads for the door. “See ya, Dee.”

            I collapse back onto the pillow. Seriously, I feel like I haven’t slept at all – and as I drift back into that relaxed oblivion, I wonder if when I open my eyes again, I’ll be here, with Ally, or there, in that old world, with Elaine.