Dark Star Rising Chapter 0.5

Semi-Unnecessary Exposition

By Lina Darkstar

I sighed, rolling over to stare blankly at the ceiling for what must have been the seventh time that day. My gaze wandered idly across the cracked paint and warped wood, and I wondered how long it would be until the decaying roof came crashing down on us all. Knowing my luck, I'll be stargazing on the roof when it happens.

Stargazing...

With a dissatisfied grunt, I rolled off the bed and landed unceremoniously on the thin, threadbare rug spread carelessly over the floor. Without bothering to get up, I twisted my neck to look at the clock. 11:24. Gyah.

I briefly contemplated the possibility of just lying on the floor all day. I even went so far as to rest my head against the cold, scratchy wool... until the immediately audible rustle of skittering insects motivated me enough to stand. Bad enough that I felt awful as I was; the last thing I needed was to have my hair turned into an ambulatory nest for any number of unsavory creatures.

After I'd cleaned my teeth, dressed, and twisted my dark mass of tangled hair into something resembling a bun, I felt much better. As usual, both my brother and father had taken breakfast earlier than I and were not yet ready for lunch, and so I had the shabby kitchen to myself. Breakfast was plentiful, although far from delicious, and having to shoo flies of various sizes and shapes away from it went far to diminish my appetite. Also as per usual form, there was absolutely no fruit to be had. I shook my head, cleared my place, pulled a small saucepan from its hook above the stove, and headed out.

The cool breeze washed over me as I stepped off the porch and into the midday sun, clearing my mind and sharpening my senses. For several seconds, I simply stood, breathing in the fresh air. Vermont may be cold in the spring, but at least it smells nice.

With a slight smile on my face, I set out for my grandmother's garden and the thick tangles of raspberry bushes contained within. It wasn't exactly a long walk, but there was definitely more space in between the house and the garden than one could ever find in a city, or even a suburb.

My grandfather bought that place decades ago, when land was cheap and plentiful, and the prospect of an isolated summer home thoroughly appealed to him. In those days, though, Granddad had more or less given up travel, and so it was up to his descendants to keep the place in use and in shape.

This was more work than it sounded. There was the house, of course, a two-story pile of wood and shingle which was probably more expensive to maintain than it would be to rebuild. There was Grandma's garden, just across the sandy gravel road from the house. And past that, a wide swath of clear green fields, perhaps a 10-minute walk from end to end, and thick forest beyond. No other buildings or human beings in sight.

And there, of course, lay the crux of my insomnia and irritability with the world. I sighed yet again, stopping at the locked gate that kept browsing deer out of our vegetables. With a well-practiced twist, I absently thumbed open the oddly-shaped latch and slipped inside the fence, letting the gate close behind me.

I missed people. Real people, people who would talk to me as if I were a decent human being. I was sick and tired of having my every move and word evaluated and criticized by my overbearing father, every attempt at conversation rebuffed by my brooding elder brother. I missed my friends, my mother, and everyone else who could give and would receive conversation upon request.

I paused just in front of the rows of raspberry bushes, allowing myself just a moment or two of extreme self-pity. Had my inner melodrama prevailed, I may well have sunk to my knees and bawled right there in front of the berries. Fortunately, the ground was covered in thorns, and even in my jeans, falling to my knees was entirely too painful a notion to indulge. As it was, I merely shook my head, blinked a few times, and set to work. At least we had an internet connection at that house; if it weren't for AIM, I may well have driven myself insane in that little patch of nowhere. I promised myself I'd get online a bit earlier than usual tonight, and then promptly put the thought out of my mind as I absentmindedly reached for a ripe-looking berry and stabbed myself on a thorn instead.

"Ow!"

My voice rasped in my throat. I blinked. Experimentally, I tried it out again.

"When was the last time I actually said something?" I wondered out loud. Again, my voice rattled, though it seemed to grow steadier by the last word, which meant it couldn't have been more than a week. "Two, three days, perhaps?" I thought back. "Maybe four. I did try to talk to Brian once or twice."

The vague absurdity of the moment struck me: Here I was, one hand stuck in a thorny bush, simultaneously talking to myself and trying not to cry. I sighed resignedly and returned to the task at hand.

"Really, Liz," I admonished myself in my steadily strengthening voice, "this is ridiculous. Not only are you turning into a hopeless romantic, you're letting the bugs eat all the berries. Now get to work!"

***

I complained about that place a lot. There were way too many bugs, and the house was falling apart. There were drafts coming in from everywhere, and there didn't seem to be a decent wool blanket in the place, so one either had to fall asleep in front of the fire that we built every night, or go to bed and freeze in the bitterly cold depths of the night. There was no tolerable human companionship, and every dinner cooked by Father was an exercise in controlling one's stomach.

But, you know...

I'd give everything I own, now, just to be there again. To pick a few berries, climb a tree, run through the fields and sing at the top of my lungs. For a 17-year-old on the verge of leaving home, it was a great place to explore my surroundings and myself.

Besides, the raspberries were delicious.


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