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First scene of Reflection


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This first scene of the novel introduces the protagonists, one of the secondary conflicts, as well as some foreshadowing of larger events to come.

 

 

ONE

A harsh chemical stench assaulted Skye as she left her bedroom. Her hands trailed across the golden flocking of the floral-patterned wallpaper as she tried to pinpoint the source of the smell. An odor similar to those in an art studio, but more subtle and with a hint of flowers, led her down the hall to the bathroom. 

A sigh escaped Skye’s lips as she opened the bathroom door. One word described this room: minuscule. The sink stood to the right of the door, with the tub to the left. Directly across from the door sat the toilet. Upon entering the small room, a person could easily touch all three amenities at once. Only the second bathroom downstairs made it possible for two women to live in this house with any semblance of harmony. 

Her mom currently occupied that small free space. Katherine stood with an old towel wrapped around her neck, and her hair set in a wet mass over top of her delicate heart-shaped face.

What are you doing?” Skye’s voice slashed through the silence; her anger never seemed far away these days.

"It's actually fairly natural. Most women my age dye their hair. I don’t know why you are getting so upset,” Katherine said, her sheepish smile causing the torrent to rise further within Skye’s chest. 

"Only to get rid of gray, maybe. This is completely different.”

"What’s so wrong about it, honey? I think it will look good.”

Measuring each word carefully, Skye tried to bring her temper back under control.

"Your normal hair looks better.”

"I know, but sometimes change is a good thing.”

"How much change is going to be enough for you? New town. New house. Okay, definitely old house,” Skye said, looking back at the faded olive-green carpet with its large leaves formed by brushstrokes of gold, green, and burnt orange. “New hair. What’s next? New names?”

"No, we will keep our names, thank you very much.”

"But why do we need all of this new?”

Instead of answering, Katherine looked down at the box sitting precariously on the toilet seat. Her eyes glazed over with unshed tears. Skye became flustered as she looked at the large container full of brunette hair dye.

"This isn’t just a trial thing, is it? I don’t understand. WHAT? Why?” The last question came out more as a plea than a demand.

"Is it so bad I want to look more like my baby girl?”

"More like? I’m already your clone. Everyone says so.”

"Well, now it's definitely true.”

Skye’s eyes narrowed as she crossed her arms in front of her. 

"And I know you won’t understand right now, and I can’t really explain. At least…. No, I can’t explain it. I just need you to trust me.” Skye her eyebrows as her mother fumbled on, saying, “But for now, at least, would, I mean, could we just not tell anyone that I am a blonde? I just really need you to do this for me.”

Silence fell for a moment as Skye tried to force the air to move slowly in and out of her lungs.

"Is there something wrong with being blonde?” Katherine flinched at the coldness in her daughter’s words.

"No, honey; I just… I can’t be blonde right now.”

"Are you hiding from something?”

"Of course not.” But Katherine's words came too quick, and her eyes cowered like those of a wounded and cornered animal devoid of hope and full of fear.

Her mom was broken—Skye knew that—but that did not make this change acceptable. What could make her mom so afraid? What could be worse than what they had already been through? No, this counted as a betrayal. Skye stared at her mom in disbelief. 

"Why this sudden need to uproot our lives and run away from everything and everyone?” Again, pleading bled into the anger suffusing her words.

"I don’t know.” Katherine’s voice barely rose above the hum of the exhaust fan. 

"You don’t know? Oh, wow. Okay then.”

"That’s not what I meant.”

Skye did not even try to mask the sarcasm in her voice as she said, “No, no. I get it. Well then, I’m going to go take a walk. I want to experience some of this wonderful beauty that is supposed to help me forget all my problems and start over.”

Katherine's voice quivered as she struggled for control.

"Listen up, young lady, because we are going to discuss some new rules. First, we just moved here, and you are responsible for helping me unpack this place. I know this is hard for you, and I can understand if you want to take a few short breaks—after you have already done something.” 

Skye glared back. Did her mother just imply that she had not done anything yet? True, she woke up mere minutes before, but what gave her mom the right to assume that? Besides, I am not the one wasting my time dying my hair. 

Katherine’s voice grew steadier as she continued saying, “But for the time being, all your breaks should not take you out of view of the house. Otherwise, you’re too far away to be of any use. In addition, there will be no breaks in the woods. Not now, not ever! Understood?”

Skye’s mouth fell open as she stared at her mother.

"Is that why you brought me to this abandoned house in the middle of nowhere? So, I can be locked up here in this prison surrounded by woods I’m not even allowed to enter.”

"That’s not fair, Skye.”

"No, this—this is what is not fair!” Skye said, gesturing to the surrounding walls, accidentally hitting the mirror in the process. “Being fifteen and having no say in my life—is not fair. Moving here—is not fair. Getting stuck with you—is not fair.”

Katherine’s eyes flashed as the last of her control slipped.

"Trust me, child, you have no idea about what’s unfair. At least you still have me. And as for the present, you are going to have to trust that I am trying to protect you. So, I say again, you will not go into those woods. They are not safe. Bad things happen in places like that. But you are not a prisoner. I don’t mind if you go into town after we unpack the house. But the woods are forbidden. DO YOU HEAR ME?” 

Katherine yelled the last few lines, because Skye turned around, and stormed down the stairs, through the kitchen, and toward the back door. The door slammed on her way out.

Her mind raced as she stalked through the yard, paying no attention to her steps. When Skye finally looked up, a small smile tugged at her lips. A large tree stood sentinel before her, guarding the edge of the forbidden woods. The thickly grooved bark ascended several feet above her before branching out in towering limbs filled with rich green leaves. 

How could a person possibly be afraid of trees? Her mother acted like she expected something to come jumping out of the shadows. Bad things happen here? Her arm lifted of its own accord and gently caressed the deep depression of the tree. How? Maybe bears scared her mother. Are there even bears in southern Illinois? Skye doubted it. Maybe there’s a vicious squirrel or two.

A voice washed over her, drawing her out of her revelry. She turned and looked back at the house. Katherine stood on the porch, dirty towel still around her neck, yelling. Skye could not understand her mother's words, nor did she try. Her mother’s tone rang clear enough—Skye was not allowed to take another step further. Throwing back her shoulders, a malicious grin spreading across her face, she gave her mom a little wave before plunging onto a small path between the trees. Leaving her mom’s scared voice behind her. 

Skye’s mental rampage continued. Serves her right, let her worry about me for a bit, and maybe when I come back alive, she will loosen up. Fat chance. More likely, she will buy a leash. Or one of those invisible fences and make me wear a collar. Oh well. In either case, at least I know she will leave me alone for the moment. There is no way she is going to chase after me in here. 

Whatever aspect of the woods that scared her mom, she seemed particularly afraid of this set. A vehemence laced through the regular strictness of her mother’s words as she spoke about these woods, giving away the depth of her fear. Can there possibly be a stranger fear than dendrophobia? They’re just trees. They can’t even move.

After what felt like only moments, her phone vibrated. Her blood pulsed in time with the small device in her back pocket. “Seriously?” Without looking, she knew her mother lie on the other side of that ring. Who else could call her? The parental lock on her phone prevented her from sending or receiving calls from all but her parents, grandparents, and 911. Maybe I will call her later; let her sweat for now. She put her phone on silent and kept walking. 

Closing her eyes, Skye took a long, steadying breath. She took a moment to concentrate on the “fresh” air. People often describe the woods and country as a clean smell; Skye felt otherwise. It definitely did not smell like the city. Instead, the woods smelled like dirt, flowers, grass clippings, wood, and something else; something strangely musty and old. 

Slowly, the red in her vision gave way to green. A variety of plants littered the woods around her. So many new plants for her to explore. Though in all fairness, her mother’s insanity and Chicago upbringing limited her botanical knowledge. Every few steps, Skye stooped down to observe yet another new plant. She felt their leaves and stems and drank in their vibrant colors. Some plants tickled her fingers with their velvety leaves, while others felt as rough as sandpaper. One plant even gave her a slight cut, like a paper cut, as she ran her finger over the edge of its leaf.

Each new plant took Skye inescapably deeper into the woods. One group of tall plants with greenish-yellow flowers on top sported white hairs all over its stem and leaves. The thought of a plant with hair lifted her face in a gentle smile. She reached out to touch it but drew back quickly. Instead of the soft give of hair, the white extension held firm and stung her. This ended her textile tour of the forest. 

Trying to rub the sting out of her hands, she let her eyes drift upward. An assortment of trees surrounded her. The forest held many varieties besides the few maples and oaks she could identify. Trees with leaves that ranged from no bigger than a paperclip to larger than her head, and even some with large thorns, grew on every side of the path. Maybe these trees can bite.  

After an initial chuckle at the thought, she remembered her mother. A long sigh escaped her lips; she left the house quite a while ago. Skye still did not feel like talking to her mother, so she opted for a quick text message. When she opened her phone, she stared at it in disbelief for a moment. Fifteen missed calls flashed on her screen. Did her mom call her every minute since her departure? Wow—chill, lady.

I'm fine  B back ltr   Stop wasting mins

 

Skye keyed the text as one long message so her mom would not get the chance to reply. Her phone snapped shut in her hands and she quickly shoved it into her back pocket. Despite cooling down considerably, Skye still did not feel ready for this conversation.

The woods made her feel alive. Skye loved wandering around the trees, not caring about her destination. It seemed like every time she hit a fork in the road, her feet knew exactly where they wanted to go. She never even paid attention to the direction or considered how she would get home. 

The longer Skye stayed in the woods, the more she felt at home. These woods felt strangely familiar to her; like she had walked its paths before. The preposterous feeling increased, as the farther she walked, the more she knew her path led to somewhere in particular. Maybe she just wanted to belong somewhere so badly, and not just anywhere, but to a world without her mother that kept her feet walking.

After a while, Skye came upon a sad little creek. Calling it a creek seemed like a mercy. The water flowed only a couple of inches at most above a small bed of rocks. The world felt dark and lonely next to the water. She stared at it, getting lost in the shadowy swirls. Colorless stones littered the bottom, simply various shades of gray and black, covered by a translucent film of water. Will this be me soon? Will I just flow by, surrounded by trees with nothing to brighten my life? Skye felt the walls around her heart constrict a little, as the trickling stream echoed the distant tears that no longer flowed from her eyes. Unlike this small stream, her heart’s creek bed lay barren.

The cloud blocking the sun slowly crept out of the way, and the change before her took Skye’s breath away. Gray rocks shimmered with various hues of red, blue, brown, green, and yellow. As the water tripped over the rocks, it formed bubbles that reflected the colors in all directions. Light and beauty filled the creek bed.

At first, the mere wonder of the scene mesmerized Skye, but then, slowly, the sounds of the water caught her attention. Her eyes closed as she listened to the trickling water flow over the rocks. Without thinking, she stepped out of her flip-flops and into the creek. The cool water refreshed her and tickled her toes as it funneled over and through them. She could stay there forever. 

Skye sighed. As much as she enjoyed the water, she felt anxious. Deep down, she knew her destination still lay in front of her and this only wasted valuable time. Such a strange feeling because she came out here exactly for this relaxation. Still, she could not shake the feeling that pulled her to continue walking. Opening her eyes, she reluctantly stepped back to her shoes.

Abandoning the path, she followed the creek bed. The clouds kept passing over the sun, and Skye watched the kaleidoscopic performance of the water, sun, and clouds as she walked. Later, she would come back to the stream and paint it. Her amateur skills would not do the stream justice, but if she could just capture some of its essence, it would stay with her no matter where she went.

As she rounded a bend, she froze. Her breath caught as she felt the thrum of her pulse in her ears. She found it. A cabin, but not just any cabin. She knew this cabin. As a scream echoed through the wood, Skye fell into a crouch, trying to hide from both sight and sound.

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