PREVIEW columnist Jean Kilczer (A Corner of My Mind) has released a young-adult trilogy on Amazon’s Kindle, as ebooks.
The series is titled “Snowflake’s World.”
Book one is subtitled “The Deadly Sulphur Mine.” Book two is subtitled “The Enchanted Portal at Haunted Lake,” and book three’s subtitle is “The Quest for New Eden.”
The following excerpt is from the second book in the young-adult trilogy (readers from 8 to 14).
I came to a place where buildings and streets were lit as though the inhabitants were afraid of the night and could do without sleep. Crowds of humans walked the streets, talking, laughing, even singing under a dusting of fat white flakes lit by streetlights and the headlights of cars. I stood in shadows and watched a police car cruise by. I had seen many of them.
My fur was dry now and the gathering flakes just sat on my outer guard hairs. The snow was beautiful and I was born to it, but it’s difficult to dwell on beauty when you’re on the street and survival is your main concern.
Paper cups with the sweet smells of drinks rolled by in a wind that got under my fur. Garbage pails near curbs overflowed with paper dishes that still held the aroma of food. I licked my lips but was afraid to venture close to the lights and the humans. A good place, though, to find a scavenging dog who could give me directions.
Cars splashed through icy puddles and broke them into colored shards. I was about to dart out for a quick drink when I heard my name called.
A man with a cart full of long pieces of meat wheeled the cart closer and held up a piece of spicy meat wrapped in bread. “Hey, doggie,” he said, “you want some? C’mere.”
I drooled at the smell and though I knew I shouldn’t approach, hunger was a leash that dragged me closer.
He extended the meat. “A hot dog for a dog. Come here,” he said softly. As I tried to snatch the meat from his hand he dropped it and grabbed me by the scruff of my neck. I turned and bit his hand.
“Owww!” he cried and let go.
I grabbed the fallen meat but he kicked me hard. An explosion of pain erupted in my side. I yelped and dropped the meat. Gasping for breath, I limped away.
“Hey!” a woman exclaimed, “why’d you kick that dog, you slime!”
“There’s a reward for the mutt,” the cart-man said.
“Is that Snowflake?”
I heard footsteps pound behind me. Humans called my name. I ran across the street without thinking. Brakes screeched. The footsteps behind me splashed through puddles as I reached the other side. The pain in my ribs was searing, but I gritted my teeth and ran past humans and down dark side streets. Behind me the footsteps faded.
I was shaking badly as I rested between garbage pails at the end of an alley that was lit by a dim streetlight.
I was lost, hungry, thirsty, and scared. How could it be any worse? My ribs ached and it hurt to breathe. Were the humans still chasing me? I think fear was the worst part of the ordeal. It kept my stomach in knots and my thoughts scrambled. I wanted to curl up against Stumpy’s side and have him recite a poem to me. I wanted Dad and my home in the woods by the lake.
I rested my head between my paws. Tears mixed with the muddy ground. I wanted to sleep and have the pain slip away. I closed my eyes. To sleep forever... to be with Mom and my sister and brothers. I felt a warm touch on my face and jumped to my feet. Pain flashed through my side. Had the humans found me?
A gray husky hovered above me in the darkness.
“Mom! Oh, Mom,” I cried. She had come to me before, in the sulphur mine. I reached out a paw to her image but I knew it would just go through.
She smiled. I wish I could hold you, too, my daughter.
“Just stay with me a while. Please, stay with me.”
I am always with you.
“I know. But I’m so tired, Mom. Take me back with you. I’m too weary to go on.”
Listen to me, Snowflake.
I felt her love like a warm glow in my chest.
There is a purpose to your struggle. If you choose to give up now, you may, but there are important contributions you will never make, and lost opportunities that will diminish the light you could have brought to your people.
“I can’t be that important, Mom.”
Your work will be one more candle against the darkness.
“Just because I become a marine biologist?”
You have another destiny, my daughter, if you choose to take up the struggle.
“I’m not that strong, Mom. I’m lost!”
That is the reason I’ve been allowed to come to you.
“To help me find my way?”
To remind you that you have the strength of your father, and my strength. Snowflake, do you know my earthly name?
Yes. As a pup, you were wild and strong and curious about everything. I named you after myself. She looked toward the street light. It expanded and glowed golden. Search for strength and purpose within yourself, my daughter.
“You have to leave now, don’t you?”
I have to.
“It’s all right. I love you, Mom. I love you.”
She smiled. And I love you, my daughter, to the core of my being.
I watched her image fade.
Remember, Snowflake, I will always be with you. The streetlight diminished to its former pale glow.
“Goodbye, Mom. I’ll try not to disappoint you.”
You will never disappoint me, her fading voice murmured.
The pain in my side was gone. A gift from Mom, I think. Beneath the fear and hunger and thirst, I felt a hard diamond of strength that spread through my body. Whatever happened in the future, I would not let fear defeat me. I fell asleep feeling at peace.
It was morning when I awoke. The strip of sky between buildings was a river of clouds. I shook off a dusting of white flakes. The air smelled sharp with a certainty of more snow to come. I left the alley and stayed in shadows as I rummaged through garbage pails and drank my fill from a puddle of melted ice. I knew I had come too far south, but in this din of noise and lights, I had lost my sense of direction. The snow fell heavier, but then I knew it would as Demeter harvested clouds for the midnight storm of Christmas Eve. Cars slowed. Some skidded on sheets of ice in the streets. I checked my watch. Day Two. I trotted faster, searching the dark corners and alleys for a street dog to guide me. There were none.
Were they all at the Hall?
I came to a place where buildings with huge glass windows displayed a fantasy world of miniature moving statues in glittering costumes and video games and shiny bicycles and a science kit that caught my eye.
I sat in shadows between parked cars and watched a large statue of a fat human dressed in red with a fluffy white beard wave to the children who stood with noses pressed against the glass. Adults with bright packages brushed snow from the children’s shoulders. Other humans crossed paths as they went into and out of stores. One woman emerged with a laughing child who sat in a red wagon. A song about a reindeer named Rudolph emanated from somewhere.
A dark-skinned boy with a sandwich of spicy cheese and meat turned from staring at a bicycle in the window as a group of humans with bells on floppy hats sang and danced down the sidewalk. The boy saw me and grinned. “Hello, pup.”
I backed a few steps and licked my lips as I stared at the sandwich.
“You’re hungry, aren’t you?” He ripped off a chunk and tossed it to me. I kept my eyes on him as I dug it out of the snow and gulped it down.
“You don’t trust people at all.” He threw me another piece and I ate it quickly. “Sometimes I don’t either, pup.” He squatted, and piece by piece he fed me his sandwich.
I wished I could thank him but I knew it would only be a whine to his ears. I wagged my tail instead. The boy chuckled. “You’re about the cutest thing I ever laid these eyes on.” He held out his hand. “I wouldn’t hurt you. Promise. Maybe it was his innocent childlike manner that drew me to him. Maybe it was some ancient bond between our species. I moved forward gingerly, ready to run. He reached out and I let him touch my head. His hand was gentle and he scratched me behind my ear. His cheeks rounded as he grinned. “You’re so soft. If you were my pup,” I felt the longing in his voice, “we would go for rides together. Well, I guess I’d ride my bike and you’d run beside me through Central Park.” He glanced north. I licked his hand and he smiled. “I wish I could bring you home, but we can’t have a dog where I live. And anyway,” he shrugged, “I don’t have a bicycle.”
A dark-skinned woman emerged from the store with a package tucked under her arm. “Joey,” she called.
“That’s my momma with my Christmas present. Wish you were my Christmas present.” He stood up. “She don’t like me petting stray dogs.” He kissed my head quickly, then ran to her. As they walked away he turned and waved. “Goodbye, Snowflake.”
“Who you talking to?” I heard his momma say.
I stared after him. He knew who I was all along, and must have known about the reward. I wagged my tail and watched him go. Central Park, he had said, and looked north. The Hall and the Death Camp were both near Central Park. I watched the boy and his momma disappear behind the shower of snow.
I missed him already.
Snow was thickening and piling up on sidewalks but I felt warm and full as I came to a place where stores displayed diamond rings and gems in lit windows. Suddenly I heard a human wail; a sound that expressed such sorrow it touched my soul.
An old woman, huddled inside a tattered coat, sat on the curb with white hair plastered to her head. Melted snow dripped down her face to mix with tears. Behind her a metal cart full of wet sagging bags rolled a few feet in the wind and rammed into a parked car. People hurried past as though they didn’t see or hear her. A jewelry store door stood open, but no one came out.
How can this be? I thought. Had she committed some terrible crime and was this her punishment?
A man with an umbrella stopped and took her arm. “Come,” he said. He helped her up. She leaned against him as he guided her into the jewelry store. I heard loud voices from within.
As I continued north, I thought of the seven deadly sins I had encountered in the sulphur mine. Of them all, I had thought that greed was the worst. Now I wondered if there should be an eighth sin: Indifference.