My novel CANDY LAND is currently making some agent rounds. Here’s teaser 🙂
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Candy felt something warm and wet on her foot. Jamie was losing blood fast. She stepped to the side, just in time to see G. M. jab the bloody bottle at Jamie once more. Out of nowhere Jamie’s hand snapped around G. M.’s wrist, stopping the thrust. He squeezed harder and G. M. sniveled in pain.
“You’re still gonna die, retard,” G. M. was panting now. The bottle slipped from his fingers and smashed on the stones. “That’s a river of blood. And then I’ll get your girlie.”
“Go—before I kill you.” Jamie’s voice was deep and calm. He sounded strong and unhurt. Candy saw the look of surprise on G. M.’s face, followed by a flicker of doubt. Then Jamie shoved him away from them with such force that he staggered into the concrete, before slipping up the bank and disappearing over the railroad tracks.
Candy could smell the life draining out of Jamie. He sank to his knees and reached a hand out to her.
“Stay with me.”
Candy grasped his hand in both of hers and raised her eyes skyward, focusing not on some indiscernible heaven, but on Anteres, the single star not paled by the Moon. She did not pray, at least not in a way that Aunt Janet or any of the congregation of the First Methodist Church of Nowhere would have recognized. Her silent call made no mention of Our Father or amen.
Staring at that distant star, Candy felt tiny yet not insignificant. She had a place all her own in the universe. She existed for a reason. The fact that she stood here with Jamie could not be accidental, but this task was beyond her.
Help me, please. I don’t know how to save him. I can’t do it alone.
Jamie shivered, and when he spoke his words were barely audible.
“Get the root workers.”
Candy peered over her shoulder into the night.
“Help,” she yelled, her voice echoing off the concrete. “Somebody help me!”
After an endless minute a light flickered on at the opposite camp.
“Please,” she called, louder this time. “Please help.”
A glow bobbed across the rocky ground. Candy dropped to her knees and leaned Jamie back, then cinched the webbing from her bedroll tight around his upper thigh.
“What the hell’s goin’ on?”
A gnarled woman with wild red-gray hair set a lantern next to Jamie and bent over to look at him. “Get me some Liverwort from the bank over there,” she barked at Candy. “’Fore he dies.”
The woman puffed reprovingly, as she sorted through a satchel at her side, placing tins and bottles on the ground around her. “Just bring me a couple handfuls a’anything growin.”
Candy dashed to the bank and pulled up plants, using her shirt like a basket. She returned, dropping them beside Jamie’s huge, outstretched body. His eyes were closed and his breathing came shallow and labored.
“What have you got of value?” the woman asked.
“This powder’ll slow the bleeding, but it’s worth a half-a-boob-job these days.”
Candy thought of the cash she’d earned, but the woman was already pointing at something hanging out of Candy’s pack. It was the sweater Martha made.
“I’ll take that.”
And before Candy could reply, the healer began sprinkling powder on Jamie’s leg, muttering strange words under her breath as she worked. Next, she inspected the plants Candy had picked, wrapping certain leaves like gauze over his wounds.
“He’d be better off if you’d thought of a tourniquet sooner,” the woman observed, pressing her hand to Jamie’s heart and pausing tentatively. “Loosen it up a little, ‘fore his foot falls off.”
Candy slipped the webbing from the plastic latch. Immediately blood trickled from under the leaves.
“It’s not working,” Candy cried.
“It’s working, well ‘nough.”
Candy sat on a nearby rock, knees pulled close to her chest, and waited. An achy sorrow grew in her stomach as pain and despair beyond tears threatened to overwhelm her. She could not bear the thought of losing him.
“Don’t just sit there!”
The command made Candy jump.
“What can I do?” Immediately on her feet, Candy hurried to the healer’s side. “Do you need more herbs?”
“You couldn’t find an herb in a bottle,” the woman scoffed.
Too concerned with Jamie to react, Candy ignored the insult. Instead, she watched the women intently, waiting for some instruction. The Root Worker shook her head in disgust and placed several tins back in her bag.
“Give’m somethin’ to come back for.”
“Something to come back for?”
The woman snorted. “Love, friendship, singin’ an-dancin’— them things make life worth living. They say laugher is the best medicine.”
“You want me to make him laugh?”
“Not much chance he’s gonna laugh just now.”
“Youse the one that needs to be happy. Your joy’ll wrap around him like a blanket.”
“But I’m not happy.”
The Root Woman lifted one of the makeshift poultice leaves from Jamie’s leg and he groaned. “Happy ain’t something you are. It’s something you do.”
Candy wrinkled her forehead in concentration. Yeah, just be happy, she thought to herself. That’ll work. But before her mind could contradict further, a tune found its way to her lips.
“This little light of mine,” she said in whisper, more speaking than singing. “I’m gonna let it shine….”
She lowered herself to the ground next to Jamie and caressed his forehead. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” she sang softly, surprised to find that even this tiny bit of song had calmed her. “Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
Candy spent the darkest hours of the night, singing a mixture of pop tunes, Sunday school hymns from her youth and folk songs she’d learned from Dick, humming whenever she forgot the lyrics.
Just after sunrise, the healer shooed Candy off to find food and fresh water. “Some for him to drink, and more to clean the mess ‘fore the flies find it.”
Candy returned with the requested supplies, sweat running down her brow and back from rushing in the August heat. Gazing at Jamie, her heart stopped. His body lay perfectly still, a peaceful expression on his sweet face. She felt her stomach drop, as a rough, claw-like hand grasped her shoulder.
“Sleeping like a baby now,” the root woman said. “But while youse gone he came to. I stitched the worst cuts. If they don’t get infected and whoever done it don’t come back, I think he’ll live.”
Candy’s face split into a wide grin. “He’s gonna be ok?”
“Prolly—now get me that sweater.”
Candy watched the woman return to her camp, then returned to her seat close to Jamie. Pondering their situation, she realized they couldn’t stay under the bridge after dark nor could they walk far, if Jaime could walk at all. Her thoughts returned to the money she’d worked so hard to save. Maybe she had enough for a train out of Green Town.
She looked down. Jaime’s voice sounded strange, the childlike reticence replaced by competence.
“Candy, I want to go back. I want to be with Delia.”
Swallowing the burning lump rising in her throat Candy nodded. “I think Delia would be very happy to see you.”
Jamie’s face broke into a sheepish smile and he looked stronger. For a few minutes they shared the silence. Finally, Candy took a deep breath.
“What changed?” she asked.
Jamie picked at a spot of mud on the back of his hand before answering. “I couldn’t let it happen again.”