NaNoWriMo Sneak Peek
I would say I’ve been hard at work on Reluctant Godmother #2, but that would be a lie. I’ve had too much crowding my brain this month to get much of anything done. But a little progress is still progress, so to celebrate crossing the 1/4 mark (please let it be the 1/4 mark…), here’s a (raw and unedited) sneak peek of what Tessa’s getting herself into this time!
Forests are dangerous places.
With one hand on my cameras and the other stabilizing my bag, I quick-timed it as fast as I dared back up the deer path.
I was just crossing a clearing, my eyes focused straight ahead, when something tall caught my eye off to my right, at the long end of the clearing. Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look.
It took me several seconds to make sense of what I was seeing. Partially because a blustery gust of approaching winter dried out my eyes, forcing me to blink to moisten and warm them. When I could see clearly, the rest of my confusion came from the incongruity of it all. It wasn’t a snake; it was a dress. And not just any dress. A ball gown. The puffy kind with tulle and chiffon and a breast-supporting bodice that hugged a slender, perfect hourglass figure. The woman’s skin seemed to glow with life, and I could feel the intensity of her blue eyes from thirty feet away. She lifted one delicate, petite hand and waved.
Alarm bells rang inside my head as my own hand rose to return the gesture of its own accord. My feet had stopped moving. My heart rate slowed. I could feel my whole body relax around me, even while my brain worked furiously to understand what was happening.
“Help me,” she called, though there was no urgency in her voice. “Please help me.”
Hell no! said my brain. Be right there! said my feet.
She moved toward me with a slow grace that made me feel like I was watching a Japanese horror flick. Strike that; that I was starring in a Japanese horror flick. People back home would be shouting at me to stop being an idiot, and I didn’t blame them. I was shouting at myself as fear rolled up my gullet like smoke signals from my stomach gremlin. Stop! Desist! Resist!
And just like that, I did.
My camera bag fell off my shoulder, landing on a rock with a metallic crunch. I winced and crouched beside it, gathering it up and prepping to bolt.
“Wait,” the woman-thing said, the creepy, dream-like quality in her voice vanishing. “You’re a woman?”
The pressure on my body, that dragging, drawing feeling that made me feel like I was a boat in a current with no sail or paddle, fell away. I peered at her cautiously, tilting my head in case she had a face like death. I needn’t have worried. She wasn’t horror walking. Nor was she as beautiful as she had seemed from afar. Up close, she was just…a woman. Like me.
Before I could move or say anything, she added, “In that coat I thought you were a burly lumberjack or something.” She crossed her arms over her bodice, her perfect figure now too-thin, her ribcage knobby beneath the stays.
I looked down at myself and muttered, “Oh. Awesome.”
She sniffed at me, her nose scenting the air like a hungry puppy. “You even smell like a man. Why is that?”
“Uh…beats me…” I slung my bag over my shoulder again and stood. “Who are you?” I wanted to ask what she was, but I felt like that might be unnecessarily rude and it seemed better not to piss off a woman who could make herself simultaneously angelic and creepy.
“Who, me?” She batted her eyelashes at me and tossed her hair. The movement showed me how limp the blonde locks really were. “I am Rohana, youth’s mistress. Lover of men and bringer of beauty. Who are you that look so mundane and yet can resist my call?”
“Tess,” I answered, dropping the ‘a’ for no definable reason. “Photographer.”
Her blue eyes – pale and watery now – widened as she clapped her knobbly hands together. “Ooh, is that one of those, those digitalis cameras? I love those! Mundanes are so clever. Here, this is my best side.” She fluffed her hair, placed her hand behind her head, and blew a kiss at me.
At the same moment, Mueller’s voice echoed through the trees. “Tessa? Where the hell are you?”
“Ooh!” Rohana squealed. “That’s why you smell like a man! You brought me one.” She sniffed at the air as the wind gusted again, leaving us downwind of where I thought Mueller’s voice originated. A sensual shiver coursed through her. “And he’s a virile one.
A second shiver. “You really shouldn’t have. It’s not even my birthday. Be a dear and call him here?” She giggled, and just like that, she was a fair maiden again, ready to head to a ball.
She began to glide across the clearing again. Apparently mannish thing that I was, I had no such facade to maintain. I surged to my feet, pressing my gear to my body tightly to enable me to run as fast as I dared on uneven ground. “Mueller!” I shouted, hearing my voice echo across the clearing. “Run!”
“Run to me, Mueller!” the echo shouted back. Except it wasn’t the echo. It was Rohana. With my voice. “Help me!”
I heard him crashing through the trees. Though I had no idea what sort of magical creature this woman was, I knew enough about fairytales to know a woman who could make herself beautiful at will gliding through the forest in a fancy dress was dangerous. I threw myself into her path, putting myself between her and my approaching friend.
“Wait!” I yelped. My hands fumbled with my cameras, selecting one at random. I lifted it to my eye just as she snarled, “No, not that one! The other one.”
Through the viewer of the antique camera, Rohana wasn’t beautiful. She wasn’t horrific, either. She was just…old. Like, insanely old. Like, walking, talking mummified princess old. The skin of her face was a mass of wrinkles held in place by what I could only guess were cobwebs. The skull beneath was well-defined, her high cheekbones protruding beneath sunken eyes and eyelids that drooped. Her mouth gaped, dark and terrifying, in a death smile. Beneath the tattered, dirty, ancient gown, her skeleton was just as obvious. She glided merely because her muscles could barely function.
Click went my camera.
The clearing erupted in a blood-curdling scream from that terrible mouth. “I said, not that one! Now I will have to kill you. Quickly, before your man gets here.” She advanced on me, her bones shaking precariously. “But don’t worry, sweetie. I’ll use your vitality to make sure he’s happy as he dies.” A tongue like a desiccated worm ran over her shriveled lips. “He’ll die of love. You, on the other hand…”
Her mouth formed an ‘o’ as she advanced on me. I retreated a step. Then another, lowering the camera with the slowness of shock and dread coursing through my own muscles. The plush, berry-red lips were open, her eyes locked on my mouth as she extended her delicate hands, reaching for me. To kiss me. To suck the life out of me.