A mystical adventure by Rebecca Weber
I love butterflies. My mother-in-law absolutely adored butterflies, so when we published the 2-disc CD of her musical works, a butterfly was the cover image. We have a big hand-painted Talavera pottery butterfly adorning our home. Last year, we published an excerpt from Sara Dykman’s book, Bicycling with Butterflies adventure with the monarch butterfly migration here at FC. So yeah, we like butterflies, including those in this youth novel, and we hope you will, too. This is Rebecca’s first novel!
from Chapter 3
Nova swiftly opened the white wooden door and a happy silver bell chimed out to say hello. Inside the place was cozy and welcoming, and her head pivoted around like a swivel chair as she took it all in. There were floral upholstered chairs, daisies in vases at each of the tables, and a countertop flanked by pink stools. The establishment was empty but for an elderly couple in the corner, holding hands over cups of coffee adding to the overall wholesomeness. It took all of three seconds to make her selection after snagging a menu, and she planted herself, squirming, on one of the open chairs. By the time Mr. Briar wandered to their table, she was ready to barge into the kitchen and fix her own lunch.
A petite woman in a frilly white apron and a pink cotton dress emerged from the kitchen. Nova peeped over the menu like a spy and made the quick assumption she must be the Ellie. With glasses perched precariously on the edge of her button nose and hairnet tamping down her lovely blonde curls, Ellie powered about the restaurant, a woman on a mission to save the world one home-cooked meal at a time. Her smile lit up the room, and the bounce in her step reminded Nova of dancing.
“Hello, Honies,” her voice was sunshine, so musical and bright. “What can I getcha?”
“Turkey club for me,” Mr. Briar replied. He paused, eyeing Nova sideways as if mulling over the potential damage. She batted her eyes at him. He knew her favorite culinary masterpiece. At last, he relented. “And chocolate chip pancakes for the girl.”
Ellie winked in Nova’s direction. “Good choice. They’re one of the favorites ‘round here. Any coffee for you travelers?”
Nova angled him a pleading grin and wiggled her eyebrows. Mr. Briar stood firm. “Just for me.”
With that, Ellie swished away to retrieve the coffee pot. In her haste, she abandoned her pencil on their table. It tugged at Nova’s fingers like a magnet. Mr. Briar busied himself checking his email, and Nova felt a familiar, unrelenting itch in her right hand, like it was covered by invisible ants. Discreetly, she scooped up the pencil and the itch vanished in an instant. She tucked her hair behind her ears in preparation. Nova pulled a napkin from the holder and positioned herself away from her companion. Her eyes skimmed the room for something worth preserving. She’d been told a while back art was the best way to capture a moment and save it forever, and Nova only drew what she believed deserved to last. She was the judge and the jury of her art… and she sat straight as a pencil when wielding the power of creation. Art was more than a hobby. It was her escape.
When she focused her gaze on the couple in the corner, her hand leapt into motion of its own accord. She tried her best to pay attention to the shadows and how they brought out the details in the scene. Nova’s eyes flicked up at the couple and then back to her drawing. Slowly, the napkin transformed into a rough detailed image. Two elderly people were born out of graphite, with hunched shoulders and distinct wrinkles from years of sharing grins. But Nova paid closest attention to their hands. The shading had to be just so to capture the way they fit into one another. The pencil refused to cooperate; every line seemed wrong. Tongue tucked in her cheek like a wad of gum, she tried erasing a few of the features, but the pencil’s eraser was practically non-existent. The hands became nothing more than a dirty smudge of gray. Disgusted and scowling, she scrunched the napkin into a ball and pushed it away, the pencil clattering to the table in defeat.
“That’s a real talent you have there, Miss,” said the light-hearted voice from before. Nova looked up and blushed, nearly snatching the picture to hide it away. She wasn’t quick enough. Ellie smoothed out her napkin picture, studying it appraisingly. “The most beautiful creations never come easy. You name it: chocolate chip pancakes, homemade soup, or even my famous apple pie. Took me a good year, a lot of flour, and a burn or two to get the recipe where it is today. But my, oh my, folks come from miles around to get a piece.” She laughed, a tinkling giggle that jingled cheerfully like the bell by the front door. Ellie folded the creased napkin gently into quarters and tucked it and the pencil into Nova’s hand with fluid grace.
“Best hang on to these. You never know when the picture may want to be finished.” Her touch was a whisper of compassion, feather soft, and Nova relaxed her tight, frustrated shoulders. With that Ellie flew away, buzzing around like a bee heading back to the hive, and her spell was broken. Nova slipped the supplies in the pocket of her jeans, and dug into her stack of pancakes, the fluffiest she’d ever devoured, smacking her lips at the incredible sugary goodness of the first bite. There was something to be said for years of practice.
When the pancakes had disappeared and her belly was sufficiently stuffed, Nova glanced over at her companion, still fiddling with his phone. Mr. Briar had moved from his email to the GPS app and was struggling to make sense of the route options featured on the screen. Nova probably could have helped him but instead busied herself studying the patterns of the floor tiles. She traced the lines and angles in her mind. When Ellie came whirling back through, Mr. Briar gave a throaty cough to get her attention.
“I don’t suppose you could give us directions,” he paused, glancing back down at his phone. “We’re looking for 111 Orchard Road.”
Furrowing her brow, Ellie’s cheerful expression sunk faster than a penny in a wishing well. The reaction lasted only an instant, and she recovered smoothly with a beaming smile. Nova’s keen attention latched onto Ellie’s hesitation and her belly did a couple of jumping jacks.
“Of course, darlin’,” she said, overly cheery. “You’ll be heading north to the fork in the road and turn left. Travel along that way for a few miles, and the first right turn you come to, take it. The house’ll be on the corner. If you hit the pond, you’ll have gone too far.”
“Thanks much,” Mr. Briar responded, always a man of few words. He fished some cash out of his wallet to pay the bill. Nova sauntered over to the door while she waited, but a bundle of nerves wreaked havoc on her stomach, sending her breakfast for a jittery tumble. The pancakes had been a nice distraction from the real hurdle of the day. She felt her invisible armor creeping back up as she steeled herself for what was to come… a new home, naive hopes, the same inevitable disappointment.
Mr. Briar led the way out the door, fumbling with his keys. Ellie tapped Nova on the shoulder before she could follow. She wore a knowing smile and gave Nova a reassuring pat on the back.
“You’re off to the right place, little Miss. I think you’ll find that tiny corner of nowhere to be the spot where you belong.”
Nova almost snorted in disbelief. She wanted so badly to trust Ms. Ellie, but all she could do was bring herself to shrug and say a hasty “Thanks” before rushing out the door. There had been plenty of people in her past with flowery words and promises which hadn’t come to fruition. She wasn’t as gullible anymore. There was no way to know for certain what the future held without facing it first. She wished she had a remote control to freeze time until her nausea receded. As sick as she was of grass and fields and no air conditioning, she wasn’t in any hurry to acclimate to the house or her new guardian.
About three miles up the road, they reached the turn. The street was aptly named Orchard Road. Blossoming apple trees flanked the gravel, soaking up the summer sun and providing a glimpse of the natural, undeniable beauty of the countryside. The apple trees were lovely to look at: regal, green and welcoming. Their branches dripped with budding flowers and looked like a vision from a dream. If only that dream extended another twenty yards.
At one time, 111 Orchard Road would have made an incredible statement. The three-story farmhouse had intricate details to add character and unique charm. The gables sprouted curved and glorious, and wooden posts on the porch had a hand-carved shape which made them the focal piece of the home. A crooked, discolored brass door knocker decorated the front door. Unfortunately, the rest of the house had seen better days. Faded white exterior paint peeled back on every piece of siding as if the house was shedding its skin. There was a hole in the dark green roof of the garage, large enough it seemed as if a bowling ball had fallen through. The main roof sagged and dipped in a foreboding way that suggested it would soon look the same. The windows were large and dusty, and any interior view of the house was full of shadows. There was no asphalt driveway, only gravel. Weeds were so interspersed through it you couldn’t figure out where the driveway ended, and the yard began. Nova gaped and her heart fell into her spastic stomach. Mr. Briar’s rearview mirror eyes got wide with shock.
Mr. Briar pulled cautiously off the road to a grassy parking spot and shut off the ignition. His hands gripped the steering wheel a little too tight, knuckles white, and he let out an enormous release of air.
“I’ll be needing to inquire with the office about this. The homeowners were cleared through the application process, but I don’t see how there could have been an in-person interview,” he mumbled under his breath, an edge to his voice.
Nova sat glued to the seat, immobilized with sheer apprehension, her palms sweaty. A headache pounded in her temples. She had been to some neglected homes in the past, but the state of disrepair on this one put them all to shame. She prayed the inside living quarters weren’t a mirror image of the outside mess. The care of the house had fallen to ruin, forgotten and abandoned. Nova’s eyes stung and she covered her face with her hands. She knew what it felt like to be forgotten.
“Well, let’s take a closer look at least. It was a very long trip.” Mr. Briar unfastened his seat belt and was out of the car.
Nova hesitated a moment, digging deep into her heart for courage. Like ripping off a bandage, she forcefully grabbed her backpack and exited, trying her darndest not to lunge under the seats like a frightened rabbit. The car creaked as it settled, and she shut the door with an ominous click. Stepping outside was like entering a sauna, the oppressive heat immediately weighed her down. The quiet stillness of the yard broke with feverish barking, and a huge blur of white and gray fur dashed out from under the porch. In that split second, her brain screamed instinctually: ‘WOLF’. The animal sprinted straight for Mr. Briar.
Be sure to check out the interview with Rebecca’s publisher, Geoff Habiger, the publisher at Artemesia Publishing LLC, in our creative nonfiction section.