Monday, April 16, 2018

Drunk on a slinky, by J.C. Kavanagh

Winner, BEST Young Adult Book, 2016

P&E Readers' Poll

I've been on a two-month mission to finish the sequel to my book, The Twisted Climb, and I'm thrilled to say it's complete! First draft done and now I'm in editing mode. In celebration, I'd like to share a portion of the story..... in this chapter, the three main characters have 'crossed over' to the dream world and have travelled to the edge of a narrow volcano vent. They're on a mission to rescue Connor's little sister, Georgia, who is lost in this moonlit scary world.
If you recall my March blog, I wrote about the killer vines on my property. It is because of these tree-sapping, strangling killers that I wrote this 'cross over' adventure in this book.

DRAFT - Darkness Descends (part of Chapter 16)
Max lay on his stomach and examined the portion of the bridge that was visible through the steamy mist. The base of the walkway was made from loosely braided vines and he could see the flakey brown bark interwoven in an imprecise pattern, all originating from the vines tied around two pine trunks at the vent’s edge. The hand rails were also made from the slender growth and every few metres, a length of vine branched downward to connect to the walking base. That section was tied at the base before looping upward and around itself in a continuation of the hand rail. Max turned his attention to the start of the bridge, focusing on the base of the snapped tree trunks. His hands followed the contours of the vines wrapped around them, feeling them for breaks or tears. Their flexible ends were tied in macramé fashion, one set holding the walking base and the other set the upper hand rails. “It’s secure,” he muttered. They were the only materials keeping the ‘bridge’ suspended.

Max scrambled upright, an ecstatic grin on his face. “It’s so simple!”

“No, it’s so sketchy,” retorted Jayden.

“It’s the way across,” Max insisted. “I don’t think we have a choice.”

Connor surveyed the woods behind them and then turned toward the steaming vent, uncertainty written over his face. “The steam makes it difficult to see to the other end of this contraption but it can’t be more than 30 metres across.” He took hold of one of the vine hand rails, pulling it and then shaking it side to side. The bridge swayed gently but remained intact.

“Yeah, I’m not sure about crossing this thing, either” Jayden remarked. “Those braided base vines are set so far apart, it’ll be like walking on live snakes.” She shuddered, recalling the snake she had grabbed in the canoe.

Connor shook his head at Jayden in disagreement. “It’s going to be tricky but Max is right – we don’t have a choice. Georgia has to be close by and we can’t stop now.” He tossed the walking stick/weapon over the edge and leaned forward, listening. Jayden held her breath and Max cocked his head to one side. Five, six, seven seconds elapsed. A faint ‘thunk’ floated up when the stick finally struck bottom.

Connor’s face was grim. “No matter what,” he said, “don’t fall.”

They started across, Connor in the lead followed by Max and then Jayden. Connor held each hand rail tightly, attempting to maintain his balance and prevent the bridge from twisting from one side to the other. The mist from the vent made the rail vines slick with moisture and the wide spacing between the braided vines at the base made it difficult to gain a foothold. Every time one of them took a step, the bridge twisted to the opposite side. They lurched like three inebriated pedestrians on a moving slinky.

“Wait!” Jayden’s voice was urgent. They had clutch-walked about five metres. “We won’t make it like this. Connor, every time you take a step, Max loses his balance and when he flip-flops, I do too. So we have to walk together, in sync!”

“Okay,” he agreed.

“On my mark,” said Jayden. “Right foot forward – now!”

The bridge wavered crazily with all their weight moving simultaneously. It swung back and forth several times and then slowly came to a stop. Jayden breathed a sigh of relief.

“It’s working! Okay, get ready guys... left foot forward – now!”

The bridge careened crazily once again, and all three reacted by gripping the hand rails and planting their feet as tightly as they could in the loosely braided base.

“I don’t like my idea anymore,” muttered Max. “Are we there yet?” He peered ahead but the mist was too thick to see more than a few metres ahead. He steadfastly refused to look below the bridge, convincing himself that there were no heights involved and that the stick falling for seven seconds before it hit bottom actually meant nothing.

They continued in measured step-by-step fashion for another dozen paces, with Jayden barking out orders for each movement. The farther they travelled across the bridge, the hotter the temperature. Misty vapours from the vent clung to them like a wet cloth. It was just as hard to hold on to the vines as it was to breathe.

Connor’s arms were shaking with the effort of keeping the hand rails aligned and rigid. His thighs were ready to explode from maintaining a crouched, balanced position. Perspiration dripped through his scalp and down his back, joining the creek of sweat trickling between his shoulder blades. He shook his hair and blinked back the sweat from his eyes. The mist was fading ahead of him and he could see that the incline of the bridge was becoming steep again. “There’s good news!” he hollered.

“I’m ready for some!” replied Jayden.

“I think we’re at the lowest, saggiest part of the bridge!”

“Great! Onward and upward?” Jayden asked.

“Onward and upward!” Connor responded.

Max released his hold of one handrail and wiped the sweat off his brow with the sleeve of his t-shirt. The action caused him to lean forward a tad too much and he hastily over-corrected his posture. But by jerking to the right, the base of the bridge lurched to the left and the vines on the handrail responded in a caterpillar-like jig. In horror, Max watched as Jayden reacted to the caterpillar-jig with her own slow-motion floppy dance. A moment later, Connor mimicked her movements. They were trying to regain their balance by reacting to the surging movement of the vines like an alpine skier would – bending knees up, then knees down – but they were, in fact, encouraging a forward surge, like a child pumping on a swing. Max jerked again to his right, swinging the crook of his arm around the handrail and narrowly preventing a fall. Just when he thought he was balanced, both feet slipped then separated around one section of the braided base and he fell through. He took a breath to cry out but before he could make a sound, his groin slammed into the fleshy part of the braid. Internally shrieking with pain and with his splayed legs hopelessly dangling, Max grabbed two of the braided vines around his torso. He tried to pull his legs up, but the vines were greasy with moisture and rippling with movement as the others continued to undulate in a crazy balancing dance. The pain from his groin was overwhelming and Max did the only thing his brain told him to do to make it stop. He grabbed Jayden.

“Noooo,” she screamed. Jayden was in mid-motion, caught between meeting her knees at her chin and holding the handrails rigidly by her side. She buckled backward with the force of Max’s pull and her butt hit him squarely in the chest. He fell back on the walkway but Jayden ricocheted to the right. The bridge’s rippling momentum kicked her off the braided walkway like a novice rider on a wild horse. Jayden flailed her arms, reaching for the rails – the base – anything. Connor had no time to think. He released the handrails, turned and dove toward Jayden. He managed to hook his right arm around the walkway base and the left underneath Jayden’s armpit before he slammed face-down on the braided vines. He quickly straddled the outer portion of the walkway with the topsides of his feet, lying as rigidly as he could. Jayden had one arm wrapped around the vine base and the other hooked around Connor’s neck. Her body dangled below. Their faces were inches apart and both were panting heavily.

“You saved me,” whispered Jayden. Her green eyes glowed with gratitude and she adjusted her hold on the walkway. Connor clenched his teeth and braced his back, neck muscles straining with tension as he held on to the walkway and Jayden. The bridge stopped its slow heaving surge and Max very carefully pulled himself to a sitting position.

A prolonged creaking sound from the bridge compelled Max to stop moving. “Something’s not right,” he said. “We’re not balanced.”

Jayden kicked her dangling legs, trying to elevate them so she could straddle the walkway. The bridge shuddered in response and began a twisting, rotating motion.

“The other way... move the OTHER WAY,” Max shouted.

But it was too late. The handrails began to twist and before anyone could react, the bridge had flipped over. And they were falling.
* * *

The sequel to The Twisted Climb - Darkness Descends will be published this summer. Stay tuned for more excerpts.

J.C. Kavanagh
The Twisted Climb
BEST Young Adult Book 2016, P&E Readers' Poll
A novel for teens, young adults and adults young at heart
Twitter @JCKavanagh1 (Author J.C. Kavanagh)

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