Welcome to another Tuesday! This week, I’m starting the posts for the novel Soul Cages. This story is PG-13.
Here’s a quick description from the back cover of the book: Seventeen-year-old Marian Hawthorn knows more about Asperger’s than she ever wanted to. But she loves her brother Henry, and wants to keep him safe. However, her parents obsess about finding a cure for him–no matter the cost in money or convictions–and that obsession draws them all under the control of Pastor Andervender and his fringe church in Albuquerque. There she finds an unexpected friend and ally in her struggle to protect her brother: John, the pastor’s most beloved son, over whom a dangerous shadow looms that draws ever closer.
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Part One. Dreams in the Desert
To me the bars on our house’s windows were creepy. Way too creepy. Someone had tried to make them look decorative by painting them tan to match our mud-colored ranch house.
“Well, isn’t this nice,” Mom said.
I looked up and down the street. This suburb of Albuquerque looked quiet, and only about one out of three houses had bars, but still. Bars. Over every window of this house we were moving into tomorrow, plus a barred gate over the front door to do a jail warden proud.
I stood with Mom and Dad on the hot driveway staring at the house—my entire family except for Henry.
My brother was in the car, curled up tight in his seat, engrossed in a Scooby-Doo episode.
The long drive cross-country from Alexandria had taken its toll on him (and me), but being stuck in an airport and airplane would have been so much worse for Henry. His Asperger’s made packed crowds a torment for him.
But if I had to listen to him bellow out “Jinkies!” one more time, I’d claw my own ears out.
Dad said, “I’ll get everything unlocked. The garage controllers should be in the kitchen.” He strode up the sidewalk to the barred front door with a jangling of keys.
The June sunlight felt alive here, as if it pressed invisible hands on my neck and shoulders and head. My lips were cracking from the dryness of the air.
Dad dropped the keys as he fumbled with the lock for the bars. Mom hurried over to help him.
Every way I looked there was brown, brown, brown. Trees dotted the yards of several neighbors, but only the edges and tops of the nearby mountains looked green.
Mom called back to me, “Marian, can you get Henry?”
Henry had alternated between watching Scooby-Doo episodes or rocking back and forth in his seat while watching the countryside go from green and rolling, to green and flat, to brown and flat, and finally to brown and mountainous.
I’d spent my time arguing with Mom or Dad about letting me drive—
“I have a license. And it’s flat out here. Please.”
“No. You’re not insured.”
“I could get a job and help pay. What is the cost of—”
Dad twitched the steering wheel. “NO. It’s too expensive, and we need you to help watch Henry.”
I spared a quick glare at Henry, but really Dad was to blame. He didn’t want me driving his precious BMW.
I stared at the interwoven dead grass, weeds, and stream stones of our front lawn. It was clear to me that the hot sunlight had killed the grass.
Then I saw a flicker of a striped gray tail.
It was a lizard; its sides curved in and out as it breathed, and it lay under a tall weed. I squatted down and said, “Hey there.”
It flicked its tail and skittered across the dead grass to a flat red rock, climbing onto it.
A car door opened, and I heard the scuff of sneakers on pavement as Henry walked over.
Without shutting his car door. Typical.
He came and stood next to me, smelling that stress-smell he’d had since we started packing up the house to move—a mixture of rusted metal and stinky socks.
“Lizard,” Henry whispered. He squatted down next to me, and pointed. “Gray. Brown and orange stripes on its body.” He pulled out his notepad from his back pocket, and drew a sketch. As he wrote notes, he took a sniff of the air. “Smells like hot concrete.”
I thought it was an amazing gift Henry had—he couldn’t do small talk, couldn’t stop his body from twitching and stumbling—but he could watch for hours the ants, crickets, spiders, birds, squirrels, and whatever other living things were in our neighborhood.
Mom called out, “Come here, and see your new home.”
The two of us stayed still. The lizard’s sides rippled in and out like a flag, and Henry seemed to breathe in unison with it.
I threw my voice as best I could so the lizard wouldn’t run off. “Can we wait? Henry’s found a lizard.”
A tap of heels on pavement. Crud, Mom is going to fetch us, I thought. I wished we could just sit there in the sun a bit longer, and soak up the sunlight like the lizard.
The lizard, alarmed, scurried away into the neighbor’s evergreen bushes. Henry thumped his notepad against the dirt. “Jinkies, it’s gone.”
Mom said in a low voice, “Okay you two, I know it’s been a long trip, and you’re tired, but we’d really like you to come in and see the house we’ve worked so hard to find. Gena and Pastor Andervender are going to be here soon.”
Mom’s voice wobbled at the word Gena, and I wanted to groan in complaint. Gena was to blame for the move out to Albuquerque as far as I was concerned; it’d been yak yak yak between Mom and her best friend from high school ever since Gena tracked Mom down last year.
And then all those endless emails and phone calls from Gena and her husband, Pastor Andervender, about how great Albuquerque was, how less expensive than Alexandria, and how Pastor Andervender had doubled his congregation at the church he’d independently created six years ago, called “First Beginnings of the Godly Christian Church.”
I thought this was an awful name for a church, especially since using both First and Beginnings was redundant.
Mom herded us up the sidewalk, ignoring Henry’s mutters about the lizard. She said, “Pastor Andervender called. They’ll be here soon. Barbara is watching Luke and Mark for them, so you’ll only meet Matthew and John today.”
Meeting the two oldest Andervender sons (always spoken of as teenage paragons of Christianity) made me want to gag. It didn’t help that Mom had dropped hints to me about Matthew not having a girlfriend.
The propped-open front door exhaled a stale damp breath in my face.
Henry pinched his nose. “Phew, smells like a puddle.”
“Yeah,” I said. I let Henry go first. I didn’t like how the doorway swallowed me into a narrow dark hall.
Mom sighed and shut the door, locking it behind us. “The swamp coolers seem to be a bit off due to disuse. We’re going to ask Pastor Andervender what we should do.”
My eyes adjusted to the dimness. Carpet, walls, even the ceiling—all painted shades of brown. “What’s with all the brown?”
“The people who built the house loved brown,” Mom said. “We’ll fix it up.”
We passed an archway on the left that led to the living room. Brown fake-wood paneling covered the lower half of the living room walls, and brown curtains covered the huge window. All the wall and ceiling lights had smoky brown covers.
After passing a closed door on the right—”home office,” Mom commented—we came to a T-shaped intersection of halls, and in front of us was the archway to the kitchen.
The left hall led to the dining room and garage entrance, and the right to the bedrooms.
I entered the kitchen and gaped at the puke-green walls.
Mom cleared her throat. “This used to be a popular color.”
The vinyl flooring (which had a twisted vine pattern) was peeling off the cement next to the double sink. The cabinets underneath the sink had dark water stains.
“The cabinets are the color of poop,” Henry said.
I faked a cough to keep from laughing. “Shh.”
“They are,” Henry added.
The kitchen had a half-glass back door and a barred security door.
Henry and I glanced through the door glass into the backyard, and saw pounded dirt surrounded by cement block walls.
Henry said, “There’s no grass.”
Mom looked over our shoulders into the yard. “The previous owner let the grass die. There is an irrigation system—once it’s fixed, we’ll put some new grass in.” Mom’s voice rose at the end, as if to say, Don’t complain about this place, be glad we have a roof over our heads.
Mom sure was twitchy about our reaction to the house.
Henry just stared. I knew he was disappointed; few creatures could survive in that backyard dust bowl.
Then he said, “Can we get a dog?”
“No!” Mom said. “Let’s go see your rooms.” She tugged at Henry’s sleeve so that he left the door, and I followed.
Dad’s nervous whistling echoed from down the hall that led to the bedrooms.
As we walked down the hall, I saw that there were two doors on the right—the first was another entrance to the home office, the second led to the main bedroom (Dad was in there, pulling open the windows). On the left side of the hall’s end was another hall, shorter, that had three closed doors—one on each side, and one at the end.
Mom pointed at each door in turn. “The door at the end of this hall is your bathroom. Marian, your room is on the left, Henry’s on the right. I’m going to get the car into the garage.”
I went into my bedroom, which had one window. Barred. How I hated the sight of the bars. A crust of gray crud covered the window’s aluminum frame. It was a struggle to yank the window open, and once open, it let in a mixture of car fumes and dust. The winds were blowing from the direction of the mountains, which the backyard faced.
I studied the bars. They were too close to the window for me to consider trying to wriggle down the inside to get outside.
The bedroom walls were painted a faded yellow. But at least the closet was large and had sliding doors … painted mustard. I thought, Ugh, what’s with the ugly colors?
My bedroom smelled like swamp and cleaner chemicals. Trying to get the carpet clean must have been a lost cause—it looked to be as old as the house.
A thud startled me, and I ran over to Henry’s bedroom.
My brother kicked his closet door again.
“No pounding!” Dad yelled from down the hall.
“Can’t get it open!” Henry yelled back.
His closet was different; it had a cheap wooden door, warped in its frame.
Henry said to me, “Door won’t open.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m going to grab hold of the bottom edge and lift to line it up, and you yank it open when I say ‘Go.'” I grabbed hold of the smooth wood, and lifted. “Okay, go!”
The door stuck to the frame, but we kept pulling and the stickiness gave out.
Henry sniffed. “Roses.”
The interior smelled like rose sachets. There were lots and lots of clothing shelves built into a wall. It must have been a girl’s room before. So why didn’t I get this room?
Henry had two barred windows, but both had a close-up view of the cement wall. The right window also looked onto a large square thing that had to be the swamp cooler. His room was a bit larger than mine, but painted in the same faded yellow.
I wandered back into the hall. Henry trailed after me.
The stupid stained carpeting was everywhere. With dread I pushed open our bathroom door.
Henry held his nose. “Why does it smell so much like pee in here?”
I eyed the carpeting, which led right up to and around the toilet. “That’s because the carpets in this house have been soaking up gunk for over thirty years.”
“Older than you.”
“Right. I’m going to ask Mom if we can get the bathroom tiled.” My toes curled at the thought of having to step out of the shower into that germ-pool. Well, we’d get cheap bathroom rugs and soak the carpet underneath in disinfectant.
Henry said, “Rather have my old room. Could watch the squirrels in the oak trees because it was on the second floor.”
I kept myself from snapping at him, Yes, I know it was on the second floor. I lived there too. At times I got tired of him telling me things he’d told me so many times before, and had to remind myself that at least he was trying to make conversation.
Dad came out of the main bedroom and headed toward us. He paused to peek into Henry’s bedroom, shook his head as if to clear it, and joined us. He said, “Bathroom tile is first on the home improvement to-do list. There’s carpeting in the main bathroom, too.”
Henry said to Dad, “Miss my old room. Could watch the squirrels in the oak trees from my second floor bedroom. They would crack open and eat the nuts like this.” He made the motions a squirrel would use; my brother had become that squirrel in his mimicry.
Dad looked at the carpet. “Uh, yes, that’s right, son. But you’ll be able to see the doves that like to sit on the top of the yard walls.”
Henry perked up a little. “Doves?”
The muffled noise of a telephone made us all pause.
Dad looked around. “That’s funny, we don’t have a phone. Is your cell phone—”
“It’s the front doorbell. They’re here!” Mom called out from down the hall.
Oh no, it’s the Andervenders.
************** End of Part One. 1. *****************
Thanks for reading, and see you next week.