Jen Air: Asterion – Tamer of Horses

I’m still on a roll.  While still an early draft this, and the previous extract I posted, are actually rewrites of one of the very first parts I wrote of this novel and posted on Tumblr here.  So now you can see the creative process in action.  There have already been significant changes, such as the children being gone and replaced by an old man (setting up something to happen later).  See, the older version I wrote just because I had to start somewhere, so I started there.  Although I obviously start with a good idea of what I want to happen, as I’ve written more of the story I’ve implemented a lot of changes, moving things around, and thought of new ways of introducing elements I want to appear later, and some new things that weren’t there at the start but I realised made sense.  Anyway, the first novel is available still at all good vendors.  And now, this:

Tenley stood by the broken window.  She had watched the sun rise, listened to the birds morning songs, and now she waited.  For how long, she did not know.  It didn’t feel like very long.

“I used to stand by this window, sometimes, and dream about flying away,” the girl said, watching a crow glide beneath the clouds.  “Now I can, but I want to stay.”

“After my parents left,” Jennifer said, “I didn’t want to leave our old home either.  It was all I’d really known up to that point, and I was afraid I’d miss them in case they came back.  Starting another life someplace else was the most frightening thing I ever had to do…”

“I’m not frightened!” The girl suddenly turned and snapped, the blonde backing up a pace or two.

“No, o-of course not.  I’m sorry.”

“I just,” Tenley spoke again more softly, “there are things I need to do, is all.”

“Of course,” Jen paced forward again, “but, you can’t stay.  Eventually other people will come to find out what’s happened here.”

“I know.”

“And, um, Kaya has something she wants to say.”

“I do?” The punk asked incredulously, standing just behind the blonde.  “Looks to me like you’re handling it pretty well, so… owww!” She yelped in response to an elbow thump.  “Okay, okay,” turning to Tenley, she relented and said, “I’m sorry.”

“Well,” the girl said, straightening herself and placing one fist under the opposite elbow as she blinked and gestured with the hand next to her face.  “As you are both here, you might as well make yourselves useful.”

Tenley marched through the two women and out of the room.  Kaya rubbed her still sore throat and asked Jennifer, “are you sure about this?  You know she is probably going to kill us one day.”

The blonde shook her head.  “I don’t consider that a certainty, and neither should you.  Maybe in future try to avoid it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy by insulting a girl’s dead mother.”

“That was wrong, I’ll admit, but how are we going to teach her?  You going to send her to school?”

Jen considered it, but eventually sighed, “No.  I know how cruel children can be.  Imagine someone like Candace trying to stir other kids against her… they’d all start dropping like Mayflies.”

“Exactly.  That kid’s got a really bad temper.”

“So have you.”

“Yeah, but I can’t bend origami flowers out of sheet metal.”

“I thought that was sweet…”

Before they could finish debating, Tenley called up the stairs.  “I can hear you arguing you know.  Get your butts down here, now.”  The women shared a shrug and obeyed.

At the bottom of the stairs Tenley waited while twirling a bunch of keys round her finger.  On the last step, the two women paused, staring wide eyed down the hall as an old man shuffled across, his back bent over some wooden slabs in his hands.

“Oh!” He suddenly gasped when he saw them.  “I didn’t realise there was anyone else here.  Excuse me, ladies,” he bowed as much as he could and shuffled away.

“Who’s that?” Kaya asked.

“That’s Ben Liddle,” Tenley shrugged.  “He lives in the kitchen now.  I have allowed it.”

“Okay…”

Tenley used her keys to unlock the door under the stairs, which led to more stairs, and then a cellar.  There were some benches down here, metal cabinets, punching bags and other exercise equipment, and another door.  This door was braced, heavy.  If you didn’t have the proper key and combination for the lock, a would be thief would have needed something like explosives to get through.  Which would have brought the ceiling down as well and, rather inconveniently, were contained in metal cabinets on the other side along with a variety of other weapons.  Guns, swords, knives, sticks, maces.  Enough to arm a very eclectic army.

Kaya blinked and muttered, “so is this where you got those grenades…”

“This was all my mother’s,” Tenley explained.  “I don’t know where she got all of it, but I had to learn every single weapon.”

“You know how to use all of these things?”

“It’s hardly rocket science,” the girl shrugged.  “Pointy things stab.  Heavy things hit.  Sharp things cut.”

“Right,” Kay thought that Ten was actually being a bit modest.  She took a few steps to one side and picked up a pistol at random.  “And shooty things?”

Tenley shot a glance at her before snatching away the weapon.  “Don’t play with that,” she said, and with an aporetic sigh turned to Jennifer.  “Other people will come here, right?  So we have to move all of this before anyone else finds it.”

“Yeah,” the blonde agreed.  She reached into her pocket and took out her tablet.  “I’ll have Hull send the other van over, and a few extra hands…”

*****

As Jen and Ten went about cataloguing everything, there wasn’t much for Kaya to do but wait.  The punk slunk back into the first room of the cellar with the punching bags hanging from the beam in the ceiling.  She couldn’t imagine all this being someone’s life, but the bags at least were somewhat familiar.

She removed her jacket, dropping it on a bench before she began pounding the bags.  Softly at first, just testing it, and as she grew more confident started pounding harder and harder until she was grunting between each blow, not even noticing her knuckles turning red.  The bag was still hardly budging, so she still felt like she wasn’t hitting hard enough.  Maybe if she imagined it was him… she put all her weight into one last punch.  The bag budged, but still it didn’t hurt as much as she did, her hand suddenly throbbing.  She shook it, backing off a step and regarding the bag as it hung there while gritting her teeth.  That hadn’t helped her feel any better at all.  Perhaps it just wasn’t enough…

Tenley snorted indignantly, leaning in the doorway.  Kaya peered over at her, hunching her shoulders to ask ‘what?’.  “You’re doing that wrong,” the girl explained as she walked over to the bag.  “For one thing, you should wear gloves.”

Kaya flexed her fingers.  Her hand was sore, but still Tenley was being a bit presumptuous – perhaps she wanted that.  “I know what I’m doing, kid,” she sighed.  “My dad used to be a boxer,” she smacked the bag again with a haymaker.  It didn’t budge, but this time it was because of Tenley having her hand on it from the other side.

“I could tell,” the girl said.  “You try to put all your weight in a punch, but if that doesn’t hit or knock a person out, then you’re leaving yourself off balance and vulnerable to a counter.”

“I said my dad was a boxer.  I didn’t say I wanted to be.  I’m just blowing off steam here, okay?”

Tenley hunched her shoulders and held up her palms.  “Fine.  Don’t get help from an expert,” she groaned and marched away, muttering, “don’t know why I bother trying sometimes.  I really don’t…”

“Hey!” Kaya snapped, and Tenley stopped and looked round.  Kay’s neck wasn’t so sore now, but she still felt it.  But maybe this was Ten’s way of trying to make up for it.  So as the girl waited expectantly, Kaya found herself shaking her head and muttering, “oh, I know I’m gonna regret this, but… all right, c’mon.  Let’s see what you’ve got.”

*****

Jennifer had heard of survivalists.  She often ran scenarios in her own head and with hull – Nuclear Armageddon, zombie apocalypse, alien invasion – and calculated the odds and what she would have to do to survive.  If possible, she would put some things in place, just to pass the time.  But all the weapons in this cellar… Tenley’s mother looked she wanted to do more than survive.  She was prepared for an all-out war.

At first Jen thought Ten’s mom might have been one of those right wing nutcases she’d seen on TV, convinced there was going to be a race war or something.  But Tenley held no values like that, regarding all butts equally worthy of being whooped.  Maybe her mother had been afraid of the government, but again Tenley had no strong political views.

This all left Jen feeling an itch – just what was this woman preparing for?  Or rather, preparing her daughter for…

Jen heard noise coming from the other room.  Shouts and thumping… immediately fearing the worst she ran out.  As quickly she allowed her heart and chest muscles to relax and her blood to flow again.  Tenley was standing behind a punching bag, shouting out instructions to Kaya as she hit it.  They seemed to be getting along.

“Hey Jen,” Kaya grinned.  “You wanna get in on this?  We’re going to learn how to throw later, apparently.”

As useful and fun as that sounded, Jen still had that itch.  “I’m just going to go upstairs for a few minutes,” she said.

“Alright,” Kaya said, resuming punching.

At the cellar door, Jen carefully peered around.  The strange old man was still in the kitchen.  He seemed to just be asleep, and so Jen tiptoed out and up the next set of stairs, to the bedrooms.  She knew that Tenley didn’t have many more answers than she did – her mother simply never spoke much about her life before her daughter.  Just the odd scathing reference to Tenley’s father.  And so Jennifer turned away from Ten’s room to look behind the other doors.

One of course was a bathroom.  Another just a cupboard.  The third was a bedroom, what she’d been looking for.  Single bed, wardrobe, dresser, computer, but otherwise seemed like the other rooms in the house.  Apart from Tenley’s room were there where her toys and books, every other room was fairly bare and functional.  There were ornaments and the odd store bought painting, but no photos or other personal affects.  This was very frustrating to Jennifer, but there had to have been some clue left somewhere.

She looked under the bed and found shoes and boots.  Behind a painting was just a wall.  Cupboard and drawers… nothing.  Maybe in the attic?  The blonde put a finger on her temple and thought, where else in the house might you hide anything?  The house… she pictured it, and saw something she hadn’t realised from outside.

Jen paced across the room, counting… fifteen feet.  But this side of the house was almost two vans length from outside… more like twenty-five feet.  Peering out the window to get some bearings, she realised that the west wall was short.  She knocked and felt along it’s width until finally something clicked and a section of the wall moved out to show a portal just large enough for a person.

Jennifer always carried a small flash light with her, which she needed now as there was no light switch in this small room.  Wasn’t much else either, but a few small.  One contained a statuette of a woman in ancient garb.  A goddess or a priestess, but not a replica of any sculpture she instantly recognised.  She thought it was probably a representation of Amphitrite, judging by the trident, although she judged the statuette itself to be not more than a century old.  Tenley had mentioned before that her mother had a tattoo depicting a sea monster on her arm…

That aside, there was also a case and a dagger.  Ceremonial, made of gold and silver.  The handle and pommel were twisted into the image of a horse rising out of a wave.  Given that the statue was likely of Amphitrite, Jen wondered if this represented Poseidon.  Before he became god of the sea, Poseidon was known as a tamer of horses and may have created the first equines.

But, despite being able to put her own mother’s lessons on ancient mythology to good use, Jen still didn’t know what any of this really meant.  And she knew Kaya and Tenley would start wanting to know what she was up to the longer she was gone, and she especially wasn’t sure how Ten would react to her snooping around.  She would sneak the artefacts home along with the weapons, where she could examine them in greater detail and research if they had any other significance.

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