My brain decided I shouldn’t sleep last night. Like, at all. Now, I’m a champion insomniac — I’d medal in not sleeping at the staying awake Olympics — but this morning I was still awake at 6:15am, which is freaking impressive, even for me. I feel like I’ve been beaten with a bag of hammers. Like I’m hungover or still drunk or flu-sick or half-mad.
I’m living alone at the moment, which is kind of fantastic. When I’m not walking sleepless circles around my mostly-empty house, I’ve been working my way back through the Harry Potter movies, drinking too much wine on my couch, and generally avoiding writing anything of consequence. So here’s a scene from AFTER, because I don’t have anything new to share today.
AFTER, that beautiful disaster, is my Big Idea. I’ve blogged about that before — it’s the book that keeps you awake at night, that rattles around the back of your head for years, the characters taking up space in your dreams. I hate it more often than I love it, but I can never seem to leave it alone.
At my current pace, it’ll be finished sometime around 2025. Stay tuned!
It was still early, but the sun was furious and hard on the dusty blacktop. In a few hours, the tar would be sticky, the reflected heat like a furnace. A line of ancient fast food outlets strung the sides of the highway like dirty, broken beads. Scout felt like she’d been walking forever.
“Think it’s still there?” Kit asked. He huffed a blond curl off his forehead, cheeks pink in the morning heat. Even though he hadn’t shaved, Scout thought her brother looked about six years old.
“I think it’s still there,” she said.
“You have absolutely no reason to think that.” Kit bounced on the balls of his ancient sneakers like the massive, misshapen pack he wore weighed nothing. Scout felt like hers was compacting her spine, her pelvis, her knees — like every step was making her shorter.
“I’m an optimist,” she said, and Kit laughed loud and hard.
“Hey,” she said without real rancour, kicking a pebble at him. He danced backwards, skinny legs grasshopperish under the turtle-shell growth of his pack.
“Comedy gold,” he said, sounding delighted. “Remind me to tell all my friends.”
That made Scout laugh — she wasn’t expecting it and it stuttered out of her like a cough.
In front of them, the shell of a car tipped drunkenly against the parking lot fence of a Motel 6, its roof rusted into an open orange mouth. A lone crow stood on one busted wing mirror, head tipped curiously to one side.
Kit darted a look at the broken, empty windows of the motel’s ground floor. “What do you want to do first? When we get there?”
“A bath,” Scout said, and couldn’t hide the lust in her voice. After three nights on the road, her hair felt like a greasy, gritty mop on her head, her hands cracked and dust-scoured. “A long, long-ass bath and then I want to sleep for, oh, a year or two.”
“Yes,” Kit sighed. He liked being dirty even less than she did. “I’m going to get so freaking clean. And then I want to eat, like, everything. Like, a chicken sandwich and a huge bowl of fries, and maybe they’ll have soda…”
“Even the sandwich is pushing it,” Scout said.
Kit looked at her in reproach. “Don’t destroy my fantasy meal. I haven’t even gotten to the cheesecake…”
The crow tipped its head towards Scout, claws scritching against metal as it shuffled to face them. She flapped a hand at it and it ruffled its wings but didn’t move, one beady black eye fixed on her.
“Sorry,” Scout said. “Continue.” The crow’s head tipped further at the sound of her voice, beak working at nothing as it ground its claws against the frame of the car.
“That was kinda it,” Kit said. “I’m not greedy. Cheesecake and a burger and fries and a soda. And, oh, maybe they’ll have chocolate.”
“We’re not going to Narnia,” Scout said. “Just so you know.”
Kit aimed a kick at a rock in the road. It came off his sneaker and thunked into the rusted body of the car. The crow, startled, clapped into flight.
Scout watched it flap heavily through the still morning, coming to rest in the cracked yellow arches of a McDonald’s. It was stupid, but she felt better once she couldn’t see it looking at her.