Below is a sneak peek of Chapter Three of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion—a dystopian suspense for young adults and millennials now available through Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Sony, Smashwords, and paperback via Amazon. In honor of its release, I will be publishing the first few chapters FOR FREE on my blog over the coming weeks.
The Log Cabin
When I approach the front door to my log cabin after school, piano notes are dancing through the compacted wood. I pause before inserting the key, close my eyes and smile while absorbing my dad’s music into every crevice of my being. His tunes often greet me before he does.
Ernest, our three-year-old golden retriever, is the first to welcome me, as usual. Mom gave Ernest his name, after the great author and World War I veteran, Ernest Hemingway. She introduced me to Hemingway when I was twelve; she adores all his books and tries to style her own writing after his. Since I don’t see her relaxing on the couch and enjoying my dad’s music, I’m sure she’s currently locked upstairs in her room, working on her latest article for The Apollo Times.
The tantalizing aroma of my favorite dish, sweet potato casserole—warm marshmallows and cinnamon—lures me further inside. I stroll into the living room and plop onto the couch, petting Ernest as he rests his head on my lap.
The music stops momentarily. My father is seated at the piano bench across from me, his eyebrows drawn together in thought as he scribbles music notes onto blank sheets of paper. He’s in the midst of his next great composition.
But the moment I sit down, his mood changes. He knows something is wrong, and the look surfaces.
“How was school?” he asks, setting down his pen and paper while trying to sound matter-of-fact. My dad has these big brown eyes—real soft, like a teddy bear—and this scruffy mustache that makes him resemble a sheriff from the Old West.
“Ehhh,” I say, leaning over to scratch Ernest under his floppy ears. I smirk as his lips curl to reveal miniature sharp fangs. Ernest is perhaps the only dog I know who smiles.
“Your mother and I were thinking of going on a camping trip this weekend, down by Oak Creek Canyon. Do you and Andrew want to come?”
Diversion. My dad loves using diversions to distract me when I’m feeling upset. He started this habit after the hairspray incident when I was eight. We thought the “incidents” would end after that, but they continued for years, and so did my father’s diversions.
“Of course,” I say. “I’ll message Andrew.”
I smile at the thought of taking another camping trip with my parents and Andrew. They’ve treated him like my brother since we met as children, the same year the group of girls started their torture. In fact, it was Andrew who found me crying under the slide on the playground the day of the hairspray. Rather than laugh at me, he sat next to me, and has been my only friend since.
My parents love inviting Andrew for camping trips. For them, I think it creates the feeling of a complete family. They’d always wanted to have another child, and I know secretly, they would have wanted a little boy.
The laws of Apollo don’t allow it, though. Each family is permitted only one child, to prevent overpopulation of our treasured State.
I pull my cell phone from my backpack and send a quick text message to Andrew, a technology most of us know is dated, but still preferred for its simplicity. Camping with my parents for the weekend? Oak Creek? Within moments, my phone chimes with his enthusiastic response, and I tell my dad we’re on.
“Why don’t you go check on the garden?” he says, and I know his suggestion is meant as another distraction.
I obey my dad, as I almost always do, and walk toward the backyard garden, Ernest trotting loyally behind. I stare into the rows of sprouting tomatoes, lettuce, and strawberries.
My parents are the epitome of naturalists, like the majority of Apolloans. Almost everyone I know grows their own garden, but my parents tell me it wasn’t always like this. In fact, when Apollo was established, most of its citizens didn’t know how to grow anything.
“But everyone knows agriculture,” I’d said, in complete disbelief. “It’s like knowing how to read, or add two plus two.”
I couldn’t comprehend that the average Apolloan didn’t understand the concept of companion plants, nevertheless know that peanuts and watermelon are two of them. Nor could I fathom that older adults, thrice my age, were never taught how lavender flowers ward away unwanted, plant-eating bugs. Didn’t everyone know that?
My parents had to drag me to the Apollo Library to prove they weren’t lying. I didn’t believe them until I saw the history books flipped open, words and images spitting truth back into my face. And even then, I still openly questioned the sources of such perilous information.
Now, of course, I know the truth. But every so often, another inconvenient reality will surface, and I have to trick my brain into believing it. Otherwise, I might find myself living in denial.
“Are finals done, yet?” my dad asks, calling from inside the cabin. I know he’s probing.
I shake my head and walk back into our house. “No, today was Spanish Literature and Advanced Biochemistry. Tomorrow I still have World History.”
I collapse back into the warm embrace of the living room couch, letting its soft cushions engulf me. I grew up in this house and absolutely adore it. The place is old—I mean ancient—so much that the wood still smells of last century. The stairs to the second level creak, and I sometimes get the sense that ghosts of past owners linger within the walls, refusing to leave such an inviting atmosphere.
“Well kiddo, take it easy, and let your mother and I worry about dinner.”
My dad usually requests I help contribute to the house in some fashion. He doesn’t make me work; both my parents prefer I concentrate on my studies, as nothing is more important in Apollo than a well-rounded education. However, my dad does like me to help cook, clean, and tend to the garden.
This is how I know he’s sensing my uneasiness. I want to open up, to tell him about the Wall and Don, but I don’t dare. As much as my parents have been my source of comfort, my safety net when walking on a tightrope, I know when it comes to this one topic, he’d side against me.
My parents would never turn me in. Hell no.
But they’d lecture. And perhaps they wouldn’t trust me anymore. Quite frankly, the thought of losing my parents’ trust kills me.
And so, I smile at my father, grateful for his comfort, and keep everything else to myself.
Stay tuned for the next chapter, THE ANNIVERSARY, publishing next week on Tuesday.