First Chapters – Onio by Linell Jeppsen

Today’s First Chapter is from a fantastic book called Onio by my friend Linell Jeppsen.

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In this modern world of science and high technology, in secret places deep under the ground and in the forest primeval, legends still walk the earth and what we think of as myth and fairy tale are all too real.

Driving home late one night, Melody Carver, bereft and grieving after the death of her mother, sees a strange creature standing on the lonely road. This being will change her world-view forever, and open her eyes to a reality beyond her imagination.

Melody’s chance encounter on that dark and snowy road will mark the beginning of a journey of discovery and wonder that will bring two worlds together in hope and despair.

Can one person bridge the gap between the ancient and the modern, the mundane and the magical?

An urban fantasy filled with adventure, romance, war, heartbreak and triumph!

Chapter One

 

Melody Carver stood under the flickering sodium light and lit a cigarette with shaking fingers. Other tobacco refugees stood in the shadows, murmuring softly and staring out at the falling snow. It was 12:35 in the morning…forty-five minutes after the death of her mother from lung cancer.

Mel sighed in disgust and ground the butt in the ashtray before heading back inside Deaconess Hospital to make final arrangements for her mom, Angela Carver. She was assured that the body would make its way safely back home to Republic, if she would only sign here… and here.

The lights in the cancer ward hurt her eyes. Mel suddenly felt frightened by the shadowed glimpses of patients on the ward, and the erratic lightning strikes on the monitors that helped keep the stricken patients alive and kicking for another dose of chemo or radiation therapy.

Frightened, she acknowledged, and angry too. Those same modern, medical miracles of technology had failed her mother. Although she was happy…truly grateful…that many of these people would survive their ordeal with the big C, Mel resented the fact that her own mom had not. And why? she raved, walking into the patient room to gather up the meager belongings left behind by Angela’s passing.

Her mother had never smoked (well, except for a little pot when she was younger), didn’t drink alcohol, and ate only the most healthy foods. She had worked out regularly, stating that the body was God’s temple and should be treated as such. Her mom was the picture of health and glowed like a Madonna fresco: that is, until lung cancer robbed her of all vitality, and eventually her life, at the age of forty-five.

Mel grabbed her mom’s backpack and stuffed it full of nighties, underwear, a toothbrush, and a couple of books and magazines. She looked around and found some hand lotion, talcum powder, and a discarded earring. Grabbing the two get-well cards off the windowsill, Mel paused, swallowing the tears that threatened to swamp her in grief.

Angela Carver was the light of Mel’s life, her best friend and most loyal fan. They had never had much money, and after Mel’s father left, stating that he had neither the time nor patience for a handicapped child, they were mostly left alone. Angela was an only child…both of her parents had perished in an automobile accident.

So it had been a team of two, and for the most part Mel was happy with the arrangement. Looking at the two lonely get well cards though—one of which was brought in by Mel herself, and the other by one of Mel’s case-workers—brought home just how alone in the world they really were.

A soft touch made her jump and gasp aloud.

“It’s for the best, honey,” Mrs. Gilford croaked. “Your mamma is at peace now.” Those few words sent the old woman into a fit of deep, rasping coughs. Mel cringed. She could not hear the coughing noises, but she could see the tears that streamed from Ada’s eyes and how red her face had become. Mel picked up the call button, ready to signal a nurse, but Ada shook her head.

“I shouldn’t try and talk so loud. I just wanted you to know…to understand.”

Mel watched the old woman’s mouth and nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered, hoping that she got the words right.

A high fever in infancy had damaged Melody Carver’s ear canals. She was considered legally deaf, although she could hear things…sort of. It sounded to her as though all the oceans of the world were roaring through her ears all of the time. The spoken voice blared like a car horn and the tiniest whisper boomed back at her like a trumpet. Now she wore hearing aids to drown out the constant cacophony, and was more comfortable with complete silence than trying to decipher the incessant howl of the world around her.

Her mom had taught her to read lips, but even though Mel was great at signing, talking out loud was difficult. No matter how hard she tried, she mangled the words together into a hash of indecipherable syllables, earning her scorn and painful pinches when she was a child and a certain pitiable disregard from her peers as she grew into adulthood. She was introverted to begin with, and eventually her disability drove her into a cocoon of solitude, enlivened only by her beloved mother and the occasional caseworker that specialized in the hearing impaired.

***

Mel had no way of knowing that as Ada Gilford stared up at the grief stricken young woman, she thought that if she was lucky enough to ride the wings of angels as she flew on her last passage to the heavens above, those angels would probably look like Melody Carver. Her long blond hair glowed like a halo around a thin face and hauntingly beautiful gray eyes. Her smile was infrequent but dazzling, like the sun breaking through the clouds on a stormy day.

She felt sorry for the painfully shy young woman, and knew that the loss of her mother would not only retard her growth in the “hearing” world, but also stifle any confidence she might have gained in her maturity. Knowing that there was no family to help ease the girl’s burden, Ada simply held frail arms up for a hug, and closed her eyes as Mel crept from the room.

***

Mel rode the elevator down to the parking garage and got in her car to drive home. She drove around and down until she reached ground level, and was taken by surprise when a snowplow plunged past her on the access road. She gripped the steering wheel tightly and stared in shock at the blizzard in front of her windshield. The snow whirled in dizzying eddies and settled in hillocks on the road.

Gulping, Mel fumbled for another cigarette. She wasn’t accustomed to driving, and had only done it since her mother had grown too ill to drive herself back and forth to the hospital for treatments. Now she had an eighty-mile drive back home in a snowstorm to deal with. She briefly considered spending the night in the hospital waiting room (she didn’t think that the nursing staff would kick her out just because their patient had expired) but disregarded the notion immediately. She just wanted to go home, curl up on the couch and sleep for a week. Staring into the maelstrom of winter, Mel gritted her teeth and turned left on to the road that led home.

Two hours later, she coasted to a stop by the side of the road, trembling with nerves and fatigue. After following the snowplow for almost thirty miles, as long as she didn’t go too fast she felt fairly confident that her mom’s old Subaru was up to the task. Then the plow pulled sharply to the right, flipped a U-turn and headed back the way it came, leaving her alone at the foot of Sherman Pass. Mel was now at the Stevens-Ferry County line, the snow had tapered off, and Mel could see the wan, pale face of the full moon staring down at her from the ragged sky.

Forty miles and she would be home, but the miles between where she sat and her home encompassed one of the highest and most treacherous mountain passes in Washington State. One more smoke, she decided…just one more, and she would quit smoking forever.

She lit up and poured the last of the coffee from her thermos into a cup. The moon was bright now, painting the rising hills in shades of gray, silver and black. It was beautiful, and right now, deadly. The thermometer on the dash said that the outside temperature was fourteen degrees. Mel could see shiny rivers of light reflecting off the tire tracks on the road. It reminded her of the silent, silver tear tracks that lined her mother’s cheeks in the moments of her death.

She finished her coffee, butted her cigarette, sucked in a deep breath and took off. For a moment, she thought she might be stuck, but the little car heaved itself out of the snow and settled into the plow marks on the highway.

Twice in the first leg up the pass headlights approached, both of them set high off the ground…log trucks coming from the high hills to drop their loads at the closest mill in Kettle Falls. Mel gripped the steering wheel tightly and held on as the big rigs sprayed her car with clouds of blowing snow and ice. Then she was alone.

It was 4:45 a.m. when she reached the summit. Heaving a sigh of relief, she grinned. It was smooth sailing now. Soon she should be catching up with the snowplows for Ferry County. Staring down the road, she felt the emotions of the long sad night and the tension of the drive home dissolve into a fugue of fatigue. Like magic, her eyes began to feel gritty and her fingers twitched in a spasm on the wheel.

She shook her head and thought, Hold on…only twenty miles to go and you’re home!

A sudden movement caught her eye. Her first thought was that a deer was crossing the road, but it was too far in the distance and she was driving too slowly for a deer to cause her alarm. But when she forced her tired eyes to focus, she caught her breath in surprise.

It was a man…or a bear standing upright. Her first thought couldn’t be right, because first, what man would be standing stock-still on a deserted mountain pass at five o’clock in the morning in the middle of January, in freezing temperatures? Also, the shape of the creature was far too large and bulky to be human.

But then again, shouldn’t the bears be hibernating? Mel knew that sometimes a male bear would roam during a balmy winter season, preying on rabbits, deer and coyotes. But it had been a long, cold winter, and this kind of season would drive even the most restless bear to den. Besides, since when did a bear stand upright for such a long time? She had been approaching slowly for maybe thirty seconds. Most bears would have been long gone at the first glimpse of the headlights.

Mel started to brake as the creature was bathed in light. Her eyes grew wide in shock, and she gasped as she saw clearly what her mind tried to process in terms she could understand and accept.

The creature that stood upright on the road in front of her was huge, nearly eight feet tall, and was covered from head to toe in mottled dark fur. He wore a sort of loincloth and carried a large sack in his left hand. As Mel watched he set the sack down on the side of the road and lifted his hand to shade his eyes from the glare of the headlights.

His face was humanoid and distinctly handsome. Although his features were heavy, with a dark, slashing brow line and thick, finely etched lips, it was his eyes that mesmerized Mel’s dazzled senses. They were huge, intelligent, humorous and knowing. The creature’s eyes met Mel’s and in an instant a connection was made. Although Mel’s conscious mind screamed in disbelief and denial, her emotional core understood that she had just been touched, probed…deeply, by something she had only ever read about in shock rags and books on mythology. She was driving up on, and about to run over, a sasquatch!

 

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