|Cheesily done cover... by me.|
Below are the first two pages or so of my current work in progress... the before version, and the after version.
I would really like to hear what you think. Well, I would really like to hear that it's improved... but I'll leave that to your discretion. I admire all of you for either your writing ability or reading tastes. Your opinions matter to me. I'm a little nervous, but I would love to hear your honest thoughts. Here you go.
The barn smelled of hay and mud as Kolina entered. She blinked a few times to get used to the darkness after being in the morning sunshine. The dark wood of the walls was aged and looked frail, as though it would collapse at the wrong move.
Or perhaps the right move, she thought.
She side-stepped a puddle from the night’s storm, went to the pig pen and threw in yesterday’s dinner scraps before settling down to the first of three cows to milk. She tossed her long dark hair out of the way and began. She hummed a tune to the beat of the milk splattering in her pail below. When she’d finished with the cows she turned to the chickens. Slipping a little, she looked down to see a fresh pile of manure beneath her. She sighed, her mouth forming a hard line.
Setting the milk pail down, she held a basket lined with cloth. She went next to the chicken boxes lining the opposite wall. One by one she reached her right hand underneath each hen to gather eggs, placing them carefully in the basket.
“Koli?” she jumped a little hearing her brother Dax shout as he approached the barn.
“I’m in here, nearly done,” she shouted.
Dax poked his head around one of the large double doors and said, “Oh, good. One of the kitchen workers is ill, so they need you back there quickly.”
Kolina sighed and rolled her eyes a little. “Thank you Dax, I’ll be right along,” she said.
As Dax ran away, she wondered whose duties she’d get to take on that day. She reached underneath the final chicken and flinched with a shout as the hen pecked at her arm.
“Ow!” She drew back quickly and nearly lost her balance as the milk shifted in its pail. She carefully set it down with the egg basket and examined her right forearm.
A three-inch scratch deformed her porcelain skin. She sighed, frustrated. Her skin was the only attribute about herself that she admired. Seeing it disfigured only made her think she was in for a bad day. Nothing’s perfect, she thought. She tore a bit of fabric from what layered the egg basket and applied it to her arm. Luckily the scratch wasn’t deep, and with a bit of pressure it stopped bleeding.
She gave the hen a nasty look before picking up the eggs and milk, then left the barn and started towards the kitchen. As she went, she was stopped short seeing her younger sister Taya approach with an entourage of friends.
“Koli! Koli, please help!” Taya shouted.
Kolina lowered her load to the ground. Dusting her hands off on her skirt she asked, “Yes, what is it?”
“We can’t decide whether to play hide-and-find or tag!”
Oh the problems of youth… Kolina thought.
“Well why don’t you just play both?” she asked Taya.
The ten-year-old heaved a dramatic sigh and said impatiently, “We already thought of that.”
Kolina raised her eyebrows and said, “Then what do you need me for?”
“To choose which one we’ll play first!” Taya put her hands on her hips as though this was a very obvious conclusion that Kolina should have drawn herself.
Holding back her laughter, Kolina said, “Well, why don’t you play tag first? That way you’ll be able to rest during hide-and-find.”
“She’s brilliant,” said Dylan, who stood behind Taya.
Taya turned to him imperiously and said, “That’s because she’s my sister.”
I open the barn door. I’m sure the creak of it sends all the spiders and mice running, for which I’m glad. I don’t need them getting in my way. I stop to let my eyes adjust to the darkness before glancing at the decrepit walls surrounding me; walls that would probably shatter at the wrong touch. Or perhaps the right one… I think to myself.
The cows grunt at me to milk them. I put down the basket and extra pails I carry, and tuck a strand of my long brown hair behind my ear. I’m the shortest, so I get the short jobs – cows and chickens. As I begin milking, I hum to the beat of the splashing in the pail, grateful for the solitude.
“Koli? Kolina, where are you?”
That would be Dax – the model son.
“In here Dax,” I shout. Where I always am this time of day.
“Oh good,” he says as his dark hair and blue eyes peek around the door. “Mum says that after you finish with the animals you can take the day off.” He turns away for a moment, then peeks back in to say, “Happy birthday!”
I smile in spite of myself. “Thank you, Dax,” I say in a singsong voice. Though he’s only three years younger, I’ve always thought of him as a little boy.
I’d forgotten it was my birthday. This surprises me, since I’d been counting the days for months. I had been sure seventeen would feel special, but now it’s here, I’m a little disappointed.
As I continue milking, visions of my most recent dreams flash before my eyes: a castle corridor lined with soft carpets, a carved stone fireplace surrounded by plush velvet chairs, a gold satin gown sliding over my skin….
The cow I’m milking leans, jarring me from my reverie. I finish the first, move to the next, and the next, then to the chickens to gather eggs, all with the skill that repetition has taught. My arms laden with full buckets and basket, I step into the morning sunlight and view the farmstead as my eyes adjust again. The barn opens to face the rear entrance of the farmhands apartments, connected to my family’s quarters. My parents are the owners, so we’re lucky enough to not have to fit into one bedroom.
To my right is the kitchen, connected to the meal hall, and to my left the stables and smithy. I gaze longingly to the orchard, just past the meal hall, but my alone time will have to wait. I start toward the kitchen.
“That looks like quite a load, Koli.” I turn to see Gunnar, my best friend, approaching. His blond curls bounce as he walks. He’s average height, but definitely taller than me. “Here, I can take that,” he says, reaching for two milk pails.
I smirk, but let him help. “I carry this much every day, Gunnar. You’ve never offered to help before. Is there something you want?”
He rolls his eyes. “Can’t I practice etiquette on my friend without being suspected of treason?” He laughs, which makes me smile – a real smile.
“Well thank you then,” I say.
“By the way, happy birthday!” he says. “You’re seventeen! How does it feel?”
I shrug. “About the same as sixteen, I suppose.”
“No, really?” he says disbelieving. I punch his arm.
“Ow!” he shouts.
“Oh stop. It didn’t hurt.”
There you have them, folks. Thoughts? Honestly?