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Work in Progress: an excerpt

Cheryl's Musings: Work in Progress: an excerpt

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Work in Progress: an excerpt

After all my posts about orcas, seals, and the San Juan Islands, I thought I’d better prove that I’m actually *writing* about these things. Here’s the opening of my current work-in-progress, a YA realistic fantasy that I’m trying very hard to finish by the end of the month. It begins not in the San Juans, but in Argentina. I hope you enjoy it!



I only have one memory of my mother. We’re in the ocean together, riding waves and laughing, me clinging to her neck with one arm while I splash with the other. My feet rest on her side; I can feel the rhythm of her legs pulse through me as she treads water. Dark hair sticks to her face with wet, then fans around her shoulders where it hits the waves.

This is the memory I use to fall asleep at night, so vivid that if I close my eyes, I can taste the salt. I can feel the water’s gentle roll and the sun, warm, against my cheeks.

“It can’t be real, Cass,” Dan says.

Part of me agrees: the facts don’t add up. The water temperature in the Pacific Northwest, where we lived when Mom was alive, is a chilly 48 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit year round, not exactly great for swimming with a toddler. How could it have happened?

But another part of me won’t let it go, because the memory feels true, the kind of true that trumps facts.

I am thinking of this now because there’s a sea lion bobbing in the water just offshore from where I’m sitting. The sight reminds me of how it feels, to float and roll with the waves’ movement. He looks like he’s enjoying himself.

I’m sitting on a rise above a pebbled beach, arms wrapped around my knees so I’ll present the least possible target for the wind gusting in off the Atlantic. I’m watching the sea lions. Most of them have settled on land by this time of evening. Only a few yards from the one in the water, the pebbled beach is carpeted with lumps of fur and flippers, sea lions flopped to rest singly and in piles, like a kid’s toys scattered across the shore. Only a few show signs of life, heaving onto their flippers and hustling to some better spot, and I hear the occasional bark rise above the surf’s roar. Gulls stalk their way between them, ignored by all.

In the water, the sea lion stretches his neck high and peers out to sea.

I have just time to wonder what he might have seen when a black torpedo surges up beside him. It doesn’t break the water’s surface. I can see the sleek, powerful shape as if through blurred glass: an orca, tall dorsal fin slicing upward out of the water, white eye patches sliding beneath a film of wave like twin, misplaced spots of sea foam.

Wind whips away my breath; I’m on my feet, even though I don’t remember standing, as the sea lion leaps clear of the water. His front flippers are flat against his sides, his body a graceful comma, as he arcs through the air and dives into froth—the froth churned by the orca’s thrashing head.

I shouldn’t be seeing this.

:) Cheryl

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