The Kingdom of What Is
You may have noticed a one-year void in my blog posts. I've been focusing on another writing project.
I'm working on a novel for pre-teens. At this stage, it's in the hands of potential agents, one of whom will hopefully see its merits and put it in the hands of a worthy publisher.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter One. Tell me what you think.
Kate opened her lunch for her sandwich. She took a bite and heard a low croaking sound behind her. She craned her neck to find a crow with her photo, which had fallen to the ground, in its beak. It cocked its head human-like to one side and dropped the picture, which came to rest on Kate's lap.
"Hey, thanks crow," Kate said and laughed. She looked more closely. The crow had a white wing feather on one side, which stuck out ever so slightly from its wing. "How did you get that white feather?" she asked musing to herself. "Like a hair streak. Wow, cool crow."
The crow flew off, its white feather flashing like a sliver of sunlight breaking through the mist. It landed in another tree, looked back, and croaked. Kate jumped down and ran after it, but as she came nearer, the crow flew off and landed again as if expecting Kate to follow. The crow continued from tree to tree until she had followed it all the way to the far end of the park. She crossed the street that marked where Shelby ended and Time Out Woods began. She was standing at a hedge of wild roses. She felt a strange, warm breeze from the woods. With it came an intense smell of strawberries. Strawberries? It was October and strawberry season had long passed.
There was another gust of wind, warmer this time, and the smell was even stronger. She dropped her backpack at the edge of the rose hedge and parted the bushes, careful not to get poked by the thorns. She looked through into a small clearing dappled with sunlight. Behind her the park was still shrouded in a light rain.
The normal entrance to the woods was a marked path off the street about one hundred feet from where she stood. But she continued through the rose bushes, thorns scratching her and snagging on the back of her shirt.
When she had passed through, she found herself standing ankle deep in a small patch of strawberries. She picked one, tasted it, and then popped it into the back of her mouth. A burst of energy rushed through her and her senses came alive. Every smell of the woods seemed to rush to her nose at once. The shades of green in the woods seemed sharper and more distinct than she had ever seen them before. The breeze seemed to go down into the roots of her hair. It was like summer in the middle of October! Blossoms covered the rose bushes, and everything was green, while outside on the Shelby side of the woods, the trees were losing their leaves in the chill of fall.
“So you decided to come in after all,” said a voice.
Kate looked up startled. Above her in an old broad maple sat the crow with the white wing feather. Kate darted back toward the rose bushes.
“Kind of silly to run back now after all that fighting through the rose hedge,” the bird said.
“Uh...” Kate stuttered. “I was just following you. I thought... you were calling...”
“I was, but I expected you'd shrug it off like everyone else does. Why did you come?”
“I... I was bored, I guess. Doldrums?” Kate said.
“Doldrums. Others have venture into the Kingdom because of doldrums. But I don't think that's why you came.”
"Kingdom of what?" Kate asked.
"Of what?" echoed the crow, cocking its head to one side.
“You said the kingdom. The kingdom of what... or who?”
"The Kingdom of What or Who? Never heard of it."
"No, the kingdom of, like, you know... who?"
The crow shifted its weight from one foot to the other. "Never heard of the Kingdom of Like You Know Who either."
"I mean what do you call... this kingdom? The Kingdom of Who? Who?"
The crow cocked its head again and squawked. "The Kingdom of Hoo Hoo? Hmm, we do have owls... but it's not only theirs. It's everybody's kingdom... and everything's."
"What?" asked Kate.
"Neither the Kingdom of What nor Hoo. It's simply the Kingdom."
"That's it! I know, in your world, you like to give the Kingdom names, like New York, or England, or Shelby, or Katmandu... But here it's just the Kingdom of... of what is."
"The Kingdom of What Is?"
The crow cackled a long laugh."Well, if you must give it a name, the Kingdom of What Is is as fitting as any."
Kate suddenly shivered at the thought of talking to a crow.
"Oh acorns, I'm scaring you, aren't I?"
"A little... I'm a little confused. I love these woods, but today it's, like, enchanted. "
“If you mean ‘enchanted’ as in fairies and pixie dust, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. You won't find dragons, trolls, wizards or witches here. There's talk of them in places, but so far none found."
"But you're like, uhm, a crow, right? None of this is real."
"If you’re here long enough, you'll probably see that the Kindgom is more real than what you're used to.” The crow sighed deeply and looked off into the distance, as if he himself was taken by the simple wonder of the place. Then he cleared his throat and unfolded his wings as if to fly.
“Wait! Wait!” Kate said. “How...”
The crow relaxed. "Yes, how," he said and preened his white wing feather, thinking for a moment. "Thought you might ask. You want to know how you got here. Well, some would say that you brought yourself, but that would be ignoring the fact that mostly you were drawn here, quite beside yourself.”
“You couldn’t resist, right? You’re a sensitive one, for sure. Others catch sight of it, through the trees, several times over several years but always miss it and never come in. But you, you've fallen right in, more or less beside yourself."
“Beside myself,” Kate repeated to herself.
“Yes, with delight... wonder... curiosity.... Some have found their way in by hacking through the underbrush until they find that they're finally in. Whatever their reasons, they usually realize they've been drawn in, either running in or simply by falling in unwittingly.”
“Unsuspectingly... without knowing it... by surprise... quite beside themselves. Like you. Some have likened it to 'falling in love.' Never been in love myself,” said the crow somewhat apologetically, "but from what I've seen of it, falling into the Kingdom is much more profound and lasting." The crow scraped its beak on the tree limb. “Sorry for all the primping," he apologized. "There's only so much I can take of the garbage you've got out there in those barrels in the park. Eventually, it just sticks to your beak like a bad grub. Anyway... how you got here, yes... it’s like hearing a tune a few times, and before you know it, you find yourself humming it yourself. And you'll hum it over and over until, eventually, the tune becomes a part of you.”
“Like an ice cream truck tune,” Kate said. "And then the ice cream becomes a part of you?" She chuckled.
"Wait, did you say ice cream?"
Kate was caught off guard. "Yes... what? You eat ice cream?"
"The occasional drip or two, if I'm lucky. You don't have any, do you?"
"Uh, no, not..."
"Never mind. I'll have to do some scouting. To your point, like the tune from an ice cream truck, I suppose, if you consider that kind of tune catchy. But I suspect you like the tune because it comes with the ice cream, right?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Fair enough. A tune is only as good as its reward.” The crow raised one wing tip, beckoning Kate to follow deeper into the woods.
She hesitated, her heart pounding. Every tree, every pungent scent and warm ray of sunlight told her to keep going. But following crows was ridiculous, and talking with them was plain loony. Her mother would be wondering where she was by now. She started to push her way back through the rose bushes. She was halfway through when a branch snagged on her hoodie. She pulled, but the rose branch hung on stubbornly like a long slender arm and would not let her go.