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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 10

 

 

Lark spent more than two months in a prison transport ship before being ushered into a smaller transport carrier. That carrier would take her the rest of the way to Prison Colony Beta. All of the prisoners had been kept in very small rooms — rooms that were the length of a small bed. Lark had thought that under the circumstances this was the only advantage to being small. Even so, the tight space began to wear on Lark. Still, when the prison officials came to deliver Lark to the vehicle that would deliver her to her final destination Lark felt as though she’d have been happy to remain in that coffin forever. But that wasn’t an option. The only options were to either stand up and walk out or be hauled away by force. Given that Lark wanted to avoid being noticed, she chose to comply. What good would the other option do anyway?

The seating on the transport carrier consisted of long metal benches. Every prisoner was chained to a spot on the bench. It was sort of unreal the way Lark was being treated the same way any other prisoner would be. One would have thought she was as imposing as the roughest of the men. Oh well, Lark concluded, this was the reality.

Lark noticed that the carrier was going through a sort of landing tunnel. The lights pulsated over her head. There was a strange reddish haze, sort of like a fine clay dust, surrounding the lights. It not only created an ominous haze — it also gave Lark a bad impression of the environmental quality of the prison planet.

Lark was tempted to look around to see how the other prisoners were reacting but then thought better of it and looked down. Suddenly, and without warning, the prison transport carrier stopped. The abruptness of the stop almost caused Lark to slide into the man next to her. Fortunately, she was able to brace herself before that happened. The chains were then unhooked from the bench yet remained on the prisoners’ wrists.

“Everyone stand.” a female prison guard stated.

Lark had her shoebox on her lap; she managed to hold it between her elbows as she stood. Still, Lark stood before the others. She then reddened. “Too eager,” she thought, “too eager and too visible.” She felt better when the others started to stand one by one as well. Eventually, even the most reluctant prisoner stood, and they were filed out of the transport carrier and into the hot barrenness of the prison planet outside. The prisoners were left, still bound, next to a large rock. Boxes, presumably of supplies, were left nearby. Then, the guards, weapons drawn, backed up toward the prison transport carrier. The hatch was finally closed.

Dust swirled around as the transport carrier lifted. The carrier then turned around, headed into the free-standing tunnel, and was gone. Lark was disturbed by the abandonment but didn’t dare ask anyone else what was happening. No one else bothered to speak either. Still, eventually someone would have to … then again, maybe not.

Then suddenly, the wind picked up, and the dust swirled again. Only, as it turned out, it wasn’t the wind. It was a gang of men on hover vehicles heading for the group. The one in the lead was a pale, rough, tall yet stocky teenager with a purple mohawk and various piercings on his face. His nose was wide, and his eyes were somewhat puffy. He was the first to dismount his vehicle and seemed to have a leader’s air of authority. He laughed as he approached the handcuffed group and proceeded to look over the lineup.

“Oh, poor things, still cuffed.” He laughed like a hyena.

Lark looked down and wrung her hands as the man approached. This wasn’t good.

“And look they’re thirsty. Two, give them some water.”

A lackey began spraying the crowd with a high-powered hose, which was attached to one of the hovercrafts. The gang laughed. Suddenly, the leader stopped right in front of Lark.

“What’s this? You’ve got to be kidding me!” the teen said in reference to Lark.

The others laughed again.

“I’d be doing this one a favor putting her out of her misery!” the leader joked to the others. “But the question is how to do it.”

“Go ahead and kill me.” Lark growled at him.

“What’s that?” The leader focused his attention back on Lark.

“Go ahead and kill me. You’re going to anyway.”

“Yeah right. Sure.” the leader scoffed.

Suddenly, the man put his hands on Lark’s throat and lifted her in the air. Lark looked down at him with intense anger and defiance. He stopped smirking and stared back at her with a cold yet curious expression. The man then dropped Lark, and she fell forcefully to the ground. Lark’s shoebox fell to the ground with her. Lark gasped as the newly-created mud flowed over the precious contents. She picked up her treasures as best as she could with her still shackled hands. But as she did, her emotions seemed to drift away.

“Leave her alone.” the leader finally muttered. “This girl, number twelve, as well as numbers eight, ten, thirteen and eighteen will come back with us. The rest we’ll drop off at the mines.”

The leader then stared at Lark until she looked up at him.

“By the way, little girl, you may call me Leader Monrage.” After saying those words to Lark, he quickly turned his attention back to the others. “All right, recruits. You are the lucky ones. This prison colony may be your home for now, but don’t get used to it. None of us are going to be here forever.”

What did that mean? Under the circumstances, it didn’t sound good.

“It’ll take hard work. People who don’t pull their own weight will be sent to the mines with the rest. We’re not just going to escape. There’s more to it than that. We will succeed. We will triumph. If you can’t help with that, you’re of no use to me.”

Lark let her eyes lose their focus; she stared straight ahead with a blank expression. Somehow, it gave Lark just the slightest bit of comfort to know she could go numb like this. It seemed to have a positive effect on those around her, too. This man Leader Monrage, in particular, seemed to leave her alone when she suppressed her emotions. His former fascination with committing violence against her was seemingly gone … at least for now. Apparently, Lark was to be almost an appendage, a tool to be used by him. At least there was something of value to being viewed as useful. Lark refocused back on the leader. Leader Monrage, meanwhile, was skimming the crowd. Eventually, his eyes fell upon Lark again.

“You are no longer who you were. Now, you are a member of our syndicate. You will be called the numbers that you were assigned from now on. Fortunately for you, the number twelve was available.” He smirked. “Anyway, you will no longer use your former names. You will not be a part of the rest of them anymore. Your past is dead.”

Lark didn’t react to that, though her eyes did shift. If he thought Lark was going to give up the mementos from her parents, he had another thing coming.

“I mean it, girl. You’ll now be known as Twelve.” Leader Monrage called out.

Lark looked down again. There was nothing left to say.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 9

Lark sat down in one of the pews while one of her former teachers from the Bible school class comforted her. Eventually, they moved into the church library. Once there, the woman prepared Lark some tea. By the time the tea was ready, Lark’s eyes had dried up.

“I don’t want to pry, but is there a concern about your being here … with your conviction, I mean?”

Lark looked off to the side.

“My sentence expired a long time ago. I just wasn’t expected to live that long.”

The woman clutched her cup. It was so strange to her that Lark was there. In some ways, the girl looked exactly the same. In other ways, it was almost as though the woman were looking at a complete stranger.

“I never understood why they would send a child there. We didn’t hear about it until after.” she said. She reached out her hand and placed it on top of Lark’s. “We would have been there if we had known. Still, I’m glad you’re all right.” she added.

Lark looked up at her. She took up the woman’s hand briefly and squeezed it gently. Then, she let it go.

“I didn’t do it.” Lark mentioned softly. “But I did lie … I did lie.”

The woman nodded slowly.

“Are you going to be here awhile?” she asked suddenly. “On Colony 9, I mean.”

“I don’t know.” Lark answered, growing uncomfortable.

Lark’s pulse began to race. She didn’t want to talk about her job — the reason she survived. Maybe it was silly, but she didn’t want anyone to think less of her. But then, her lying for her cousin had probably made them think differently about her. Why should their opinion bother her now? Then again, maybe it always had.

“Well, you’re welcome here anytime. I’m sure the pastor would love to see you.”

Lark nodded.

“Thank you.” Lark looked down. “I’ll keep that in mind, but I should go. They’ll be locking up soon.”

Lark stood.

“Thank you … for being here.” Lark told her.

“Yes, of course.” the woman returned.

Lark smiled. Then, she turned and headed out of the church and back onto the street. She walked swiftly back toward the docking port. Fortunately, she made it to the cruiser before curfew. On one hand, it was silly; the officer of the ship shouldn’t be locked out for being late. On the other hand, those were Leader Monrage’s orders. So, head cast downward, she headed past the guard and toward her room as fast as she could. She quickly opened the door to her room then locked it behind her. Once safely inside, she leaned her back against the door and breathed out heavily. Cinnamon stretched out and began heading toward her owner.

“I’m glad to see you, Cinnamon.” Lark offered. “I need you.”

Though it surprised Lark there was still water left in her eyes to cry with, tears were set to fall from them nonetheless. Then suddenly, there was a knock at the door of Lark’s room. Lark blinked the tears away then turned toward the door. She hesitated at the knob.

“Yes?” she uttered with some reservation.

“It’s me Captain Smithson.”

Lark opened the door slowly. She found that Captain Smithson was taken aback for some reason.

“What is it?” she questioned him.

“I just saw you rush in. I was concerned something was wrong.”

Lark looked down for a moment. Her left hand, which held the door open, began to shake slightly.

“It has nothing to do with the ship.” she responded.

“You then?”

Lark looked up at him.

“We all have issues.” Lark acknowledged.

“Yes, that’s true enough. I did hear there may be a meeting between Leader Monrage and someone soon. Maybe it has something to do with why we’re here on Colony 9.”

Lark just looked at him.

“I thought you may be as curious as I am about why we’re here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t say that too often if I were you.” Lark warned.

“Just to you.” he said.

“Well, that’s good. Still, I wouldn’t think much of it. Leader Monrage’s plans are never easy to understand.”

“Yeah, I guess I’ll just have to get used to it then … for now.”

Captain Smithson looked as though he was about to turn away. Suddenly, he stopped.

“Oh, and by the way, you looked good like that.”

Captain Smithson smiled and walked away. Lark touched her face. In her rush to catch up with Celeste, she had forgotten to put her uniform on.

 

***

 

The next day, a message was waiting for Lark on her in-room computer. There was to be a mandatory meeting held by Leader Monrage in the control room. Perhaps this was what Captain Smithson was alluding to: the mysterious meeting between Leader Monrage and a contact on Colony 9. Still, if everyone was going to be there it seemed unlikely too many secrets were going to be revealed. It seemed more likely Leader Monrage wanted to make sure that none of the crew members were out and about today, so they wouldn’t see something they shouldn’t.

“Hmm … what are you up to here, Leader Monrage?” Lark asked herself. “Not that you confide your secret agendas to me.”

Lark looked over at her uniform, which she had laid upon a chair, with a certain sense of dread.

“What is the point?” she wondered. “It’s just a check-in, after all. No point in putting that stuff on just to take it off a little while later, right, Cinnamon?”

Cinnamon seemed to mew assent, so Lark dressed in her normal clothes and headed for the control room.

“Officer Twelve on deck!” one of the crew members called out when she arrived.

All turned. Of course there were a lot of surprised looks, but Lark pretty much expected that. Also, Captain Smithson had that same wide-eyed look from the previous night.

“About your business.” Lark announced.

Just then, Leader Monrage’s voice boomed out from behind Lark.

“What is this, business casual day?” Leader Monrage demanded.

Lark turned around towards him. Leader Monrage was glaring at her with intensity.

“What? You don’t appreciate who you are now?” he put forth. “You want to go back to that? Remember what happened the last time you were that person?”

Lark just stared at him unflinchingly.

“Then again, I’ve forgotten how much you resemble … sort of. Maybe you’d like to accompany me to my meeting. It might make things interesting. You know how I like to keep people on their toes. So, be sure to stay just like this.” Leader Monrage hissed bitterly. “By the way, that’s an order not a suggestion.”

Leader Monrage then turned to another man, who had accompanied him.

“Take the roll call.” Leader Monrage stated. “And the rest of you — you’re to stay on the ship today. No excuses. I won’t be pleased if I find out anyone has disobeyed me — anyone. That is all.”

With that, Leader Monrage stormed out of the control room.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 8

 

The questions were pointless; Lark didn’t know the answers. Yet, for some reason they were inclined to believe in her guilt anyway.

“This is good,” Lark thought. There was no point in both she and Celeste ending up in prison. It was the fault of that guy Celeste talked about and Lark’s fault for being a burden. Besides, Lark was just a child, and Celeste was an adult. Surely Lark’s punishment would be less severe than Celeste’s.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go well with the judge. Since Lark was not forthcoming with the location of the diamond broach, she was deemed unrepentant. Apparently, throughout Lark’s life she hadn’t been told how seriously theft, especially of high cost items, was considered by the government of this colony. Why would she have been made aware? Her parents had been capable of providing for her needs, and she was told stealing was wrong. Then, there was the fact that Lark had never even had access to anything as valuable as the diamond broach.

Panic began to set in as the judge pronounced the sentence. Lark would, in fact, be sent to Prison Colony Beta — an adult prison colony. There were audible gasps in the gallery, but an example was to be made. Lark’s generation had to be sent a message; she was going to pay.

Prison Colony Beta was another thing Lark wasn’t familiar with. Yet, the bright girl was quick enough to put it together based upon the reaction of those around her; Lark’s life was over. She would never leave Prison Colony Beta alive. As Lark was led away in cuffs, she looked around the gallery. Though there were many sympathetic faces, there was no one there for Lark. No one would intervene on her behalf.

Lark’s public defender had managed to obtain permission for Lark to take a few of her shoebox treasures with her — the ones deemed harmless.

 

***

 

Officer Twelve had left the blinds open, so the sun streamed into her room as it rose. She noted how much she missed the sunlight when she was in space.

“The light is truly beautiful,” she thought.

“Well, Cinnamon, I may as well get ready.” she spoke aloud. “I have to get those supplies before we leave here. Who knows when that will be.”

Officer Twelve climbed out of bed and proceeded to change out of her white nightshirt and into her uniform. After she locked up her room, she mixed in with the other crew members, who had come back on board the night before but were departing again.

One of the things Officer Twelve appreciated about the members of her crew was that they were used to her uniform. The same couldn’t be said about other people. Much to her dismay, every time she went somewhere new there would be stares. Still, somehow it didn’t seem as though they were staring at her.

Officer Twelve decided to put in the order for the supplies at a local store. They could assemble the order, and she could pick it up later. She figured it would be less awkward than maneuvering through a crowd of shoppers in her uniform.

“Now what?” Officer Twelve wondered as she stepped out of the store and into the sun.

Perhaps a walk would take up some of the time. Officer Twelve walked a familiar path down some streets, in front of some houses, and by a church. Unfortunately, any feelings Officer Twelve had about these places were buried so deep that she couldn’t feel them — or at least wouldn’t allow herself to feel them. It probably didn’t help that life had moved on without her. Officer Twelve sighed. It was about time to pick up the supplies. That is, after all, what she set out to do when she woke up that morning. Then, she’d head back to her ship.

When Officer Twelve had time off, she usually spent it reading reports and star maps. The research had proven quite useful over the years. She also liked to learn about places she might see one day. After the atmospheric regulators had been deemed reliable, new colonies were constantly being set up. It amazed Officer Twelve how every colony always had a distinctive feel. Even if the buildings and layout were the same, the people were different. Things always go a different way from the way you’d expect when people are involved. Such was the way with Colony 9. If a place got in your blood, then it became more important than it would be otherwise. Maybe there was somewhere else that Officer Twelve could attach to, somewhere without the memories. Well, at least she had her ship.

Officer Twelve boarded the ship about an hour later. As the night began to descend, Officer Twelve was surprised by how bright the streetlights had become. Not long afterward, crowds began to mill around. Officer Twelve went to the window and sat in the chair next to it. It occurred to her then that some kind of street festival was going on. They had strung multicolored party lights between the streetlamps. Cinnamon came up and jumped in Officer Twelve’s lap. Officer Twelve petted her as she watched the people go by.

It was then that she saw her. A flash of recognition caused a jolt of emotion in Officer Twelve. This emotion created an impulse to stand. She carefully set Cinnamon down upon the ground. She then ran from the room and out of the star cruiser. When Officer Twelve got out into the festival, the woman she had seen seemed to be gone. Officer Twelve looked around her for a moment. Then, she decided to head off in the direction that she last saw the figure going.

It wasn’t easy making it through the crowd, but eventually she caught sight of the tall, well-dressed blonde woman. Could it be she? But how? Had she been capable of turning her life around this well? Many a night Officer Twelve had feared what had become of her. She convinced herself that the woman would be all right somehow. Still, Officer Twelve never expected this much of a turnaround in the woman’s circumstances. Maybe things could work out. Certainly, she’d never seen the woman in such beautiful clothes before. Yet, Officer Twelve reminded herself that she had always hoped the woman’s life would turn out well. And Officer Twelve had purposefully stayed away, so that it would. She hadn’t wanted to mar the woman’s potential happiness with the realization of what had become of the girl. Why remind the woman if she had put it from her mind? Still, as she stood there, Officer Twelve couldn’t help but want to talk to the woman again. So, despite her intentions not to approach the woman, Officer Twelve began to mouth the woman’s name with the excitement of a child.

But then, Officer Twelve froze before the words could come out. The woman had turned to her left and smiled. A man came up to the woman, and she latched on to his arm. The woman then tipped her head against the man’s arm and walked with him that way. Officer Twelve had thought a lot about this man — the one who had been to blame for it all. If it hadn’t been for him, none of it would have happened. That’s why Officer Twelve had worked to piece together information on his identity. She knew there was a blood relationship between the theft victim and this man. It wasn’t hard to find his name and eventually his picture.

But she was with him — seemingly in love with him. How could she? Officer Twelve’s eyes began to water. How could she reconcile with him after what he did to her? Of course, there was the possibility that he didn’t do anything against the woman at all. The woman stopped and looked back just as Officer Twelve placed her hands upon her eyes and crashed upon her knees.

Officer Twelve sobbed there among the many strangers for what seemed like a long time. Eventually, she could hear those around her pondering whether or not they should ask her what was wrong. Officer Twelve stifled a sob then pulled herself up slowly. She couldn’t go back to the ship — not like this. There was only one place she could think to go — the church from her youth. Officer Twelve stumbled along the streets. The wind began to pick up by the time she reached the door to the church. Tiny drops of water — like daggers — plowed into her face. She just couldn’t breathe. She struggled with the knob.

“Help.” she mumbled.

Suddenly, the door opened.

“What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

Officer Twelve looked up pleadingly at the woman who answered the door.

“Lark? Lark Tampy, is that you?”

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

PART II

“The Life After”

Chapter 7

 

“Something on your mind?” the leader asked.

The girl looked at him.

“This place.” she stated.

“Oh, yes. This was the place you came from.”

“As if you didn’t know …”

“Yeah, well, that has nothing to do with why we’re here.”

“That’s good.” the girl replied. “I don’t want it to be the reason.”

The girl looked down.

“I do think it’s important for you to meet with this new captain right away.” the leader added.

The girl was silent.

“I consider you my best commander, Officer Twelve. That’s why I’ve given you the best: the best ship and the best pilot.”

The girl looked at him fixedly from the side, yet still said nothing. She knew he was exaggerating. Leader Monrage always kept the best for himself. Not that it mattered to her. Still, his desire for her to be grateful was annoying.

“By the way, I already met the pilot, remember?” Officer Twelve pointed out.

“Have you spoken to him?”

“No, what difference does that make?”

“Well, you’re going to have to talk to him eventually.”

“Yes, I would imagine.” the girl stated coolly.

The man and the teenager entered the control room of the star cruiser. It was a small, comfortable cruiser, but Officer Twelve had requested it because of its speed. It was important for her not to feel trapped. Officer Twelve had handpicked all of her crew members save one — the new pilot. She did wonder why her last pilot was transferred. He was dependable, though admittedly not overly skilled. Obviously, Leader Monrage had plans that required a pilot with swifter reflexes.

Officer Twelve looked at the man, this new pilot. He was leaning over the navigator’s shoulder, looking at the monitor. He looked up then, and he and Officer Twelve locked eyes. Officer Twelve then allowed her eyes to drift slowly downward. For some reason, she felt something when she looked at him. This emotion was a bit problematic for Officer Twelve, especially in front of Leader Monrage. Officer Twelve was careful not to show her feelings in front of him.

The pilot named Owen Smithson walked over to them then. Officer Twelve could feel his eyes upon her, but by the time she looked up again he was looking at Leader Monrage. Still, it gave her a chance to really look at him. He was tall, with fine-chiseled features and dark blonde hair.

“I’ll leave you in Officer Twelve’s capable hands.” Leader Monrage said. Then, to Officer Twelve he said, “I’ll be taking the shuttle back over to my cruiser now. After that, I’ll be in my cabin if needed. Give me fifteen minutes to disembark.”

Officer Twelve nodded.

“Jensen, has the shuttle pod left yet?” Officer Twelve asked after the fifteen minutes had expired.

“Yes, Officer.”

“Then, prepare to land on Colony 9.” she directed.

“Yes, Officer.”

“I guess that’s my cue.” Captain Smithson noted.

He headed back to the pilot’s chair. Officer Twelve took the large chair behind him. Her chair was elevated on a platform, and it was designated for the one in charge.

“Put the approach up on the monitor.” Officer Twelve stated.

“Yes, Officer.”

Officer Twelve kept her eyes on the monitor as the small planet became larger and larger. She had seen this scene briefly — only in reverse. That time, the planet had become smaller and dimmer. It was funny that in some ways the planet looked smaller as she was returning to it.

“Officer?”

“Let’s have Captain Smithson take us in.”

“Sure.” Captain Smithson acknowledged. “Prepare to fire the thrusters. Hold it steady. There is a small asteroid belt coming up.”

“It’s amazing that from space you have no idea what’s happening on the surface of a planet.” Officer Twelve muttered.

Captain Smithson turned his head slightly toward Officer Twelve for a moment then diverted his gaze back toward the monitor. As it turned out, the entry and landing were smooth and without incident.

“Good job.” Officer Twelve allowed. “All right, everyone is officially on furlough. But keep your radios on since you’re always on call.”

“Yes, Officer Twelve!” the crew chimed in.

Officer Twelve climbed out of her chair and headed into the hall. She was surprised when Captain Smithson caught up with her.

“What should I call you?” Captain Smithson asked.

“Officer Twelve would be fine.” she answered.

“I’ve always wondered about that — why that’s done in your organization. You must have had a name before you joined the leadership.”

Officer Twelve looked at him. Suddenly, she stopped.

“Did I offend you?” he wondered aloud.

“No, this is my room.”

“You’re not going to disembark?”

“No, I’ll be here if you need me.” Officer Twelve responded.

Officer Twelve headed into her room. The navigator, the man called Jensen, then came upon Captain Smithson as he lingered by Officer Twelve’s door.

“Heading out?” the navigator asked Captain Smithson.

“Yes.”

The two men headed for the hatch.

“It’ll be great being on firm ground again.” Jensen mentioned.

The hatch opened slowly.

“Yeah, but I prefer the processed air to this smog.” Captain Smithson put forth.

“Yeah, I guess there’s been more industrialization here in recent years.”

“The air from the atmospheric regulators always smells funny to me.” Captain Smithson admitted.

Captain Smithson leaned against the hatch door and watched the drizzle fall around him. Jensen, a short and stocky man, looked up at him.

“Catch you later.” Jensen offered. He pulled up his collar and headed into the drear.

Captain Smithson sighed then headed out as well.

 

***

 

Part of Officer Twelve’s uniform was a cape. She removed it. Next, there were the contact lenses; they made Officer Twelve’s large blue-green eyes look like slits — not unlike a snake’s eyes. She removed them. Finally, makeup that resembled a lightning bolt crisscrossed her face. She wiped it clean. Usually, Officer Twelve would then go straight to bed. But this time Officer Twelve looked at her reflection — at a face she hadn’t really looked at for years. On this occasion, though, it seemed appropriate. It was at that moment that Officer Twelve’s small brown cat came up to her.

“Cinnamon.”

Officer Twelve rubbed her cat behind her ears.

“I guess I’ll be spending a lot of time with you in the room. Yet, for some reason, it feels a little stifling today. It’s as though I’m trapped. I don’t know — maybe we can wander the halls together since no one else is here. I probably do have to get you some supplies in town. I don’t want to have to ask someone else to do it. There’d be too many questions. I don’t know.”

Officer Twelve pressed a button to open the window that was facing the street. She could see out, but no one could see in.

“I don’t even know how long we’re going to be here. I may never be back here again. Still, I wasn’t sure I’d want to come back, Cinnamon. I’m not exactly the same person I was. It’s better to let things stay the way they are, right?”

Officer Twelve looked down. She fought back the tears she felt welling.

“Tomorrow.” Officer Twelve said. “Tomorrow I’ll just go in for some supplies.”

 

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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May 7, 2017

Hello,

I have finished up my typing/ first round editing of Intermezzo. Now I’ve begun typing Grave — or I should say my mom is doing most of the typing while I dictate and edit with some typing. At this point, I am alternating between editing Intermezzo and typing/editing Grave. Grave is a bit more of a challenge since it wasn’t written in chronological order, and I have to put it in order. Plus, I put notes for future books in the margins, which have to be typed up.

I began writing Grave in earnest in August of 2014 — the August after my stroke. That is sort of interesting, at least to me. My mom mentioned my style is different than previously. She seems to like it better. My handwriting was certainly shaky back then, but all things considered it was remarkably legible. I was still getting used to using my right hand to write again. After my stroke, I couldn’t use either hand to do much of anything. Not to mention, in no time in my life was my handwriting ever going to win an award for beauty! A thank you goes to God and His Son Jesus for His mercy.

I’ve started writing five books at a time. I started Book 5 of Nocturne’s Reaping®, Etude, when I finished writing Grave. Plus, I recently started a whole new book. Initially, I wrote a page in two books one day then a page in the other three on a subsequent day. But writing in three books in one day proved to be difficult. So instead, I am doing two in a given day. I am repeating days for Labyrinth — a book that’s the first of a three-part dystopian series and is the one of the five that is the closest to being finished. Making slower progress on the others allows me to be open to new avenues and extend the pacing and length of the books. But once I get close to the end of a particular book, such as with Labyrinth, I think it is better to be more focused and revisit it more often in order to keep up the pace and momentum.

Lastly, I will be posting Prelude two chapters a month starting today. God willing, I plan to post two chapters on the seventh of each month. Chapters 1 and 2 were already posted. I’ll be posting these on Word Press and my website: http://www.jenniferalicechandler.com  or http://www.nocturnesreaping.com

My books will continue to be in e-book format on Amazon (Kindle) and in paperback format on Amazon/ CreateSpace. I won’t be enrolled in the Kindle Select or Kindle Unlimited programs any longer though.

Thanks for reading this!

Jennifer Chandler

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 4

The funeral was held the day after Celeste returned to the lawyer’s office. It took place at Prince of Peace Christian Church. It was well attended, despite the fact that it was held early in the morning. Celeste had insisted that it be early. After all, the club meeting had been rescheduled for that afternoon. And while she was at school, she planned to take care of another matter as well.

Mr. Davis had found documentation that pointed to the existence of a wall safe in her parents’ house. The documentation also listed the combination for that safe. The money was put there, so that her parents’ assets wouldn’t be tied up in litigation. Celeste was ecstatic there was more than enough money to pay for the rest of her yearly school tuition. In addition, there would be enough left for her and Lark to live off of for a while. In the meantime, Mr. Davis would be working on liquefying other assets and checking into any life insurance policies. Though, he advised, it may take awhile because of his busy schedule. Celeste was a bit dismayed to hear that her struggles weren’t a priority for her father’s supposed friend. Perhaps, she should take Lark with her next time; Lark was sure to evoke some sympathy. Yet, at the end of the day, Celeste concluded that it was more important for Mr. Davis to do a thorough job. She, therefore, couldn’t afford to call him out on his lack of enthusiasm. Instead, she decided to focus on the fact there would be plenty of money once everything was settled. After all, if her parents had that much in a safe imagine the size of both estates! And there was more good news; it seemed there was no stipulation about age or trust funds in the will. That meant that Celeste could control the entirety of both estates! At last, control seemed to be returning to Celeste. So much for Mrs. Baker’s proclamation of doom!

“Celeste … Celeste.”

Celeste turned towards Mrs. Baker.

“Would you like to say a few words?” Mrs. Baker offered in a solemn tone.

Celeste’s eyes flashed as the people around her turned and stared. Celeste’s face flushed.

“No.” Celeste snapped.

Celeste could tell by the reaction of the people around her that they thought less of her. Celeste turned to her left and looked at Lark. Lark was silent. Her head was bowed down; tears streamed continuously down her face.

Celeste remarked to herself that no one asked Lark to speak. No one ever expected anything from her. Why was that? Why didn’t anyone cut Celeste slack? Her parents died, too. Celeste turned from her cousin and stared straight ahead. Suddenly, tears began to form in Celeste’s eyes as well. Lark looked up at Celeste then placed her hand on Celeste’s. Celeste looked down at the hand for a moment. The weight and heat of it became almost unbearable somehow. But Celeste couldn’t exactly move her hand away. What would everyone else think?

After the funeral, there was a delay. Mrs. Baker was going to drive Celeste and Lark to the cemetery, but she was taking her time leaving the church. In order to avoid having to talk to too many people, Celeste placed herself away from the door and next to a bulletin board. One after another, the other mourners filed outside slowly. Celeste began watching them leave out of the corner of her eye; that is until she realized that one of them was coming towards her. To avoid having to deal with the person — whoever it was — Celeste turned completely away and stared at the bulletin board. As it turned out, this incident was fortunate, for one notice quickly caught her eye. Without hesitation, Celeste grabbed an information pamphlet from the board. Celeste then turned to Lark, who had come up silently to stand next to her.

“Look.” Celeste directed. “This may work for you. There’s an after-school church program for kids. Since this church isn’t far from your school, you could walk here. I wonder how much it costs. Remind me to call and ask later.”

***

There was a lot of food at the luncheon after the funeral. The good news was Celeste wouldn’t need to cook for a while; though, she did wonder whether there was enough freezer space for all of it. Still, the problem with having all these people come over to the house was how to get them to leave promptly. They seemed almost dazed and unsure of what to do with themselves. Celeste tried dropping hints about how she had somewhere else to be soon, but the guests just looked at her as though she wasn’t speaking their language.

Fortunately, they eventually started to say their good-byes and excuse themselves. Then, it was just she and Lark left.

“All right. It’s time to get ready for school.”

Lark was perplexed.

“School?”

“Yes. I have to go, so you have to go.”

Lark looked off to the side for a moment and considered. Then, she headed for her room to change. Celeste got ready in record time. It wasn’t that hard, for her hair and makeup were already perfect. Then again, that wouldn’t do. Celeste swiftly grabbed a handkerchief from her father’s desk drawer and began taking off some of the makeup — that way no one could accuse her of not grieving enough. Too bad she hadn’t thought of that during the funeral. Perhaps, she might have been treated better if she had looked less pretty — like Lark. Suddenly, Celeste sighed. All that was left for her to do was wait for Lark to show up. Once Lark finally did appear, Celeste promptly ushered her out the front door. Lark’s school was a little out of Celeste’s way, but it couldn’t be helped. It would be just like Mrs. Baker to show up to check on them later and find Lark home alone. That could potentially ruin Celeste’s chances of becoming Lark’s guardian. Fortunately, it didn’t matter. If Celeste hurried, she could still make it to her own school early enough to complete a half-day. And that would make her eligible to attend the after-school meeting. Thankfully, Celeste now had access to her mother’s car. Celeste knew she couldn’t make it on time if she had to walk.

“Remember to go to the church after school.” Celeste mentioned when they arrived in front of Lark’s school. “I talked to them. They’ll be expecting you. It turns out it’s free.”

Lark nodded; then, she stepped out of the car and onto the sidewalk. Seconds later, Lark could hear the car retreat behind her.

Of course, people looked at Celeste funny when she arrived at school. Something about death seemed to bring on this reaction, Celeste thought. Oh well. There was one thing she could do to cheer herself up. Celeste headed directly to the main office of the school. There, she proudly took out most of the money from the safe and presented it to the bursar.

“I’d like to pay my tuition for the rest of the year.” Celeste announced.

The bursar didn’t seem to react. Of course, they were used to this kind of thing, and Celeste’s account had always been kept current. Why should anything change now? Feeling confident in having secured part of her future, Celeste now just needed to secure the presidency and the scholarship. Since it was almost time for the lunchtime passing period, Celeste decided to wait around in the hall for Deidre. Celeste had become friends with Deidre over the course of the last few months. She was a perfect friend to have at the club. Deidre’s parents were rich, so Deidre certainly didn’t need the scholarship. Deidre was also very busy in the show horse circuit and had no desire to take on more responsibilities. If Deidre had wanted the presidency, she would have had it with ease. She was very influential and well liked. Fortunately, instead of being a rival she became Celeste’s asset.

Of course, there was one problem: Deidre’s best friend, Melissa. Deidre had thrown her support behind Melissa up until about a month ago. But now, Deidre’s support was firmly behind Celeste. Well, as firm as these things could be. The bell rang.

By the time Celeste caught sight of Deidre in the milling crowd, Deidre already seemed to have caught sight of Celeste. Celeste was a bit surprised that Deidre appeared to be dragging her heels heading over to her. What was even stranger was the fact that Celeste was standing in front of Deidre’s locker. Could Deidre be avoiding Celeste because of her personal tragedy?

“Celeste. I didn’t think you’d be here.” Deidre stated when she eventually found herself standing in front of Celeste.

“What do you mean? Certainly, you’re not saying you purposefully scheduled the meeting for a time when you thought I couldn’t be here?”

“No, of course not.” Deidre replied. “But once I heard about the funeral, I just assumed. I mean, as it turns out, you really don’t have to be here.”

“What? Of course I do.” Celeste was incredulous.

Deidre raised an eyebrow then looked off to the side.

“What?” Celeste demanded.

“I talked it over with the other girls. Seeing that you now have a little cousin to take care of — how can you expect to fulfill the club responsibilities?”

“She’s old enough to stay at home by herself a little while. Plus, I’m getting her into an after-school program.”

“Then, there’s the little matter of the scholarship.”

“What about it?”

“You can’t use it.”

“How so?”

Deidre rolled her eyes.

“They’re not going to let you take your little cousin to Highland. You won’t be able to attend there until she’s grown. So really, why waste this opportunity for the rest of us? It doesn’t make any sense. Plus, it was close anyway. The fact is any one of us … well, any one of the rest of us could do just as good of a job as you could.”

Celeste glared at Deidre with intensity.

“Listen, the thing with Lark hasn’t even been settled yet …” Celeste pointed out.

Deidre sighed.

“Before you go on, you should know that I know.”

“Know what?”

“Well, it seems you were mistaken about Melissa.” Deidre added. “She never went out with my ex-boyfriend. It’s a good thing we got to talking. Now I can vote for her instead without reservation. It’ll be enough to change the outcome.”

Deidre turned — a satisfied grin on her face. Celeste just stared; hers was a look of shock mixed with impotent rage.

“Please, Deidre, can’t the vote wait?!” Celeste suddenly cried out. “I just buried my parents today!”

Deidre turned and looked at Celeste with disbelief and disgust etched on her face.

“I really don’t see how that would be fair to Melissa, do you?” she countered.

Deidre turned around again; this time she kept walking.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 3

It was going to be a busy day, but Celeste felt ready for it. First thing was first — get Lark ready and out the door. It wasn’t part of the plan for Lark to stay home again; Celeste couldn’t deal with that. The possibility of having to call Mrs. Baker was not something Celeste even wanted to consider. Fortunately, Lark seemed more cooperative than she did the day before, and Celeste managed to get her onto the bus on time.

Next, was school. After what happened yesterday, Celeste had to make it clear to the other members of the club that she was up for the responsibility of being the club president. Celeste had to admit there was a risk to her showing up at school at all the day after the news of her parents’ deaths broke; people might think she was cold. But let them even suggest she wasn’t grieving enough, and they’d regret it. Celeste would just burst into tears in front of everyone. Not to mention, if Celeste didn’t show up at school who would excuse her absence? The last thing Celeste needed was people thinking she couldn’t handle herself.

As it turned out, the day was uneventful — if not a bit awkward. Most people didn’t even talk to Celeste; they just looked at her blankly. The ones who did talk to her gushed sympathy; this got to be annoying quickly. Yet, because most of these were the ones who supported Celeste’s bid for the club presidency she had to play along. But what made the situation truly intolerable was the fact there was no news about the club presidency or when the meeting was to be rescheduled. In fact, when Celeste tried to press the members for details there was a distinct feeling that the topic should not be breached. Celeste decided there was always tomorrow. Celeste would figure out what was going on and fix it. In the meantime, there were other matters to attend to.

Celeste was grateful that her father’s lawyer fit her into his schedule that day. Celeste figured that if anyone could help her return her life to normal it would be he. Just the idea of that was a relief. People like Mrs. Baker just wanted to change everything, to ruin the good things in Celeste’s life. Celeste was determined that Mrs. Baker’s vision of the future would not come to pass.

Right after school, Celeste headed to the lawyer’s office. Regrettably, there wasn’t even time to go home and change out of her school uniform. As Celeste approached the large, marble steps of the lawyer’s building, she reflected on the fact that Lark was getting out of school right then. Celeste had given Lark instructions on how to get off the bus, let herself into the house, then lock up behind her. Celeste hoped that Lark could handle this one thing. Celeste didn’t need any more complications.

After tracking down the lawyer’s office number from a registry on the wall, Celeste headed for his office. The waiting room was large. It had well-groomed plants and a waterfall sliding down the opposing wall. Right in front of Celeste was a huge cherry-wood desk with a well-dressed woman sitting behind it. Celeste went straight toward her.

“Hello. My name is Celeste Tampy. I have an appointment with Mr. Robert Davis.”

The receptionist lifted her eyes slowly. Then, she began to rifle through a day planner.

“Ah, yes.” she started. “I see he’s going to squeeze you in.” The receptionist made a directive gesture with her hand. “Please, have a seat.”

Celeste turned around. This was unexpected. Celeste needed to get this done and return home before anyone realized Lark was home alone. Maybe if Celeste mentioned her cousin … Celeste turned back toward the receptionist. Only this time, Nancy Springfield was turned away from Celeste and had her phone to her ear.

Celeste looked back toward the chairs; she grudgingly headed toward them. She remarked to herself that the chairs’ cushions were made with expensive-looking blue velvet. Celeste daintily sat on a chair with a direct view of the receptionist. Several times, Celeste lifted her eyes in irritation toward the woman, but the woman didn’t return her gaze. As time passed, Celeste began knocking her Mary Janes against the wooden legs of her chair. If the receptionist noticed Celeste’s actions, she never showed it. Then, all of a sudden, the entrance door to the office swung open powerfully.

A tall, well-dressed blonde teenage boy walked briskly into the room. He went directly toward the receptionist. Nancy Springfield turned, a surprised look in her eyes. She said good-bye slowly then hung up the phone. The teen looked about the room briefly, his eyes scanning above Celeste’s head. He then turned his attention back to Ms. Springfield.

“Where’s my father?”

“In with Mr. Davis.”

“Why was I summoned here if my father doesn’t have the decency to wait for me?”

Ms. Springfield just stared at him. Finally, after a few moments of the two of them staring at each other, the teen turned on his heels and headed over to a chair. He sat next to Celeste without actually looking at her. Eventually, he did look over and at Celeste directly. He noted how pretty she was with her long blonde hair and delicate features. He thought she looked a lot like a female version of him.

“So, have you been waiting long?” the boy then asked Celeste.

Celeste turned her head fully toward him and looked him in the eye.

“Do I know you?” she returned.

The boy laughed.

“Ha! Most girls want to be nice to me.” the boy responded.

“I’m sure.” Celeste replied. “But you see, most boys want to be nice to me as well. There are so many who talk to me; I lose track.”

“Wow, really?”

Celeste smiled.

“Yes and no.” she said. “I don’t remember you.”

“Frederick Applegate.”

Frederick offered his hand. Celeste waited a moment then decided to shake his hand.

“Celeste Tampy.”

“That’s a pretty name.” Frederick admitted.

“And yours is impressive.”

Frederick’s face fell.

“What?” Celeste wondered.

“You recognize my name?”

Celeste looked at him doubtfully.

“No, should I?”

Frederick analyzed her for a moment. Suddenly, the door from the inner office opened. Two men emerged, both meticulously dressed. They shook hands. At that moment, Frederick stood, his attention directed solely at the men.

“Frederick.” the older of the two men stated. “It’s good of you to show up.”

“I got here when I could.” Frederick mumbled.

“I’m sure. I’ll fill you in on what was discussed when we get home.”

Frederick looked on his father with irritation.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Davis.” Mr. Applegate concluded.

“Sure. Thank you for your patronage.”

Mr. Applegate came up to his son and placed his hands on Frederick’s shoulders. As Frederick turned back around, he looked at Celeste. He maintained eye contact with her as he left. She returned a look of sympathy. After all, she now knew how it felt when adults tried to run your life. Celeste then turned her attention back to the receptionist. Mr. Davis and Ms. Springfield were discussing something.

Ms. Springfield looked up.

“Miss Tampy, Mr. Davis is ready for you now.”

Celeste stood up then followed Mr. Davis into his inner office. Mr. Davis pointed to a chair in front of his desk. Celeste sat down.

“So, what can I do for you?” Mr. Davis asked as he walked behind his desk.

Celeste’s forehead crinkled.

“Well, don’t you know that my parents are dead?”

Mr. Davis was briefly taken aback by Celeste’s affect.

“Yes, I was informed.”

“Well, I don’t know what to do.” Celeste admitted. “I’ve never buried anyone. I’ve never paid bills in my life. I was hoping you could help me.”

Mr. Davis sat down.

“Your father wasn’t just my client; I considered him a friend. I would be glad to help you in any way I can. I can make Ms. Springfield available to help you with the funeral arrangements.”

“And the estate? What about that?”

“From what I understood from talking with your father, there should be enough money in your father’s and your uncle’s estates to take care of both you and your cousin until the two of you reach your majority.”

Celeste beamed.

“As long as the two of you can adhere to a budget …” Mr. Davis quickly added.

“Budget?” Celeste repeated.

“Yes, there should be plenty of money for all of your living expenses. As I’ve said, you can live quite comfortably until Lark reaches her majority.”

Celeste bowed her head in thought.

“Of course, there’s the matter of guardianship. I’ll have to review your aunt and uncle’s will to see whether they recommended anyone for Lark.”

“I’m almost eighteen.” Celeste said.

“Yes, that is something to consider. But I realize you must be busy …”

“Part of the estate would go to Lark or at least to her guardian, right?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What if I became her guardian?”

Mr. Davis looked perplexed.

“You’d have to prove you were mature enough for that.” Mr. Davis informed her.

“How?”

“For one thing, you should find some employment.”

“Employment? Why should I have to do that? You said we’d have enough money.”

“It doesn’t need to be a full-time job, but it would help to show you can be responsible with money.”

“I see.” Celeste uttered.

“When is your birthday?”

“Next month.”

“Assuming that is what you both really want, we could delay filing for guardianship until then. But in the meantime …”

“What if I hired a nanny until then?”

“That could be a possibility.”

“Well, how long before the estate is dealt with?”

“I can’t give you that information just now. I will have to see whether there’s an executor named.”

“And if there is, he or she will be in control of the money?” Celeste continued.

“As you know, I’ll have to review your parents’ paperwork. There may be stipulations about age, trust funds, and other such things. I’ll try to free up some liquid assets for you and your cousin right away. In the meantime, talk to my assistant about arranging for the funeral. Once again, I considered your father a friend, so I will pay for the funeral expenses.”

“Thank you!” Celeste was quick to say.

The thought occurred to Mr. Davis that he couldn’t tell whether Celeste was happy for her relatives’ sakes or because she wouldn’t have to pay the expenses. Perhaps it was both.

“Why don’t you make an appointment for tomorrow afternoon? That should give me the time to look over at least some of your parents’ documentation. Will you and your cousin be all right overnight?”

“Yes. We have enough food.”

“Good. Then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mr. Davis picked up his phone.

“Ms. Springfield, I’m going to send Miss Tampy out to you. I want you to make her an appointment for tomorrow afternoon. I also need you to please help Miss Tampy make arrangements for a funeral for four individuals.”

“All right, sir. By the way, your 4:30 appointment is here.”

“Okay. Thank you.” Mr. Davis hung up the phone. “Thank you for coming in, Celeste.” Mr. Davis stood and offered his hand to Celeste. “Ms. Springfield will take care of you outside.”

“Thank … you.”

Celeste headed out the door. As she stepped into the waiting room, a man rushed past her and into the room. The door was shut soon after.

“Miss Tampy. If you’d take a seat in the chair by my desk, we’ll get started.” Ms. Springfield offered.

Celeste sat down. Things were happening quickly now.

“That’s good,” Celeste thought.

The only problem was it felt as though she had just lost control of her life.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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