National Novel Writing Month has begun! This is my third NaNoWriMo and I'm excited to get this year's novel started. It's tentatively titled Land of Legends and it's about a family that owns a roadside attraction in a little town in Virginia. It starts in 1995 when Iris is ten years old. We'll eventually get to the present and what happens when you have to come home again.
Today's word count (as of right now): 2,264 words. If I keep up at this rate I'll finish by November 23rd. Let's see how that goes. Until then enjoy chapter one of Land of Legends. (As always, please excuse any typos or misspellings; this is about writing a novel not editing one.)
Part One: June, 1995
There were fantastic hiding places at every twist and turn in the Land of Legends. A visitor had to look but they were easy to find once you set your mind to it. If you started at the entrance of the park and followed the marked pathway, you’d first find yourself in the middle of a snowy vista with hills and what looks like a cave. Follow the path and a creature comes into focus almost hidden against the white “snow” all around you. The Yeti towered above most visitors as he walked to his icy cave. That was the first hiding place; the entrance to the Yeti’s cave. It wasn’t large enough to actually hide anyone and wasn’t a cave so much as the illusion of a cave. If someone chose that as their hiding spot, anyone coming into the park would see a person after a minute or two. Best to move on to other options.
Continuing on the pathway would bring a visitor to the next display, the World of Greek Myths. Opting for the path to the left would bring a visitor to the maze, guarded by the Sphinx (found in both Greek and Egyptian mythology). What might be found in the maze? A minotaur perhaps or maybe a hydra or even the lair of Medusa and her stone people. Among the creatures are lots of dead ends, perfect for hiding until the maze guards come to check for lost visitors. It’s not uncommon to get lost in the maze.
To the right, a Pegasus in mid-flight greets visitors. Following his lead would take you through the world of gods and goddesses and the start of the park’s rainbow. A chimera crosses the path with its fire-breathing and ferocious roar. He’s actually good to hide behind but only if it hasn’t been raining; the ground gets a little muddy. The chimera leads a visitor to the Land of Dragons, the most popular area at Land of Legends.
Hiding places abound among the dragons. Under or behind their grand wingspans or along their winding tails. Every type of dragon from Norse myths to Asian banners are here. There’s even an epic battle taking place between a group of dragons; flames and thrashing tails and flapping wings creating all sorts of nooks and crannies. Dragons are nice but what about the creatures from the sea? Maybe the ideal hiding place isn’t among the flames of dragons but behind the rocks where mermaids and Sirens call sailors to their watery deaths. The shadow of the Kraken could provide ample cover as it brings a ship down into the briny deep.
None of these are quite right. One more magical land awaits, the Fairy Forest. If a visitor strays from the path but followed the arc of the rainbow connecting the gods of Greece to the fairies of the forest, a quiet tableau awaits. Unicorns, majestic and beautiful, take up this spot. The rainbow ends not at a pot of gold, although you can find leprechauns here too, but just behind a grove of trees large enough for a little girl to hide from the visitors of Land of Legends and more importantly, from her annoying cousins who have not yet learned the meaning of the word “privacy.”
Iris was hiding in the grove by the unicorns. This was her favorite place in the whole of Land of Legends. The unicorns were special and beautiful to her. She ignored the obvious age of the creatures, instead focusing on what unicorns symbolized: beauty, grace, healing, and magic. If she couldn’t hide in her grove, she liked to sit under the end of the rainbow. Iris felt most at home under its protective arc.
She often came to this hiding place during the summer months when it was packed with visitors, making their way through Land of Legends. Iris would finish her chores, pack her backpack, and come here to escape her cousins and the ever watchful eye of her grandma, Maeve. In her hideaway Iris could watch people come and go, daydream, and draw and paint uninterrupted. This was her studio. Iris drew visitors, little kids and their parents, walking around Land of Legends, posing for photos and enjoying themselves. She drew page after page unicorns, sometimes quiet studies of a single unicorn drinking from a lake. Other times she’d draw and epic battle between the unicorns and the world of man, as buildings encroached on the unicorn forest. She often drew the people she saw as figures from the park; moms became mermaids, the pattern of a shirt became the scales of a ferocious dragon. Sometimes it was just regular portraits of the people she saw. Iris practiced and honed her skills; her dream was to become an artist.
Iris always packed her backpack for the whole day. Her sketchbooks, pencils, and paint box were the most important part of her packing. She always included her most prized possessions; a crystal unicorn figurine and a small statue of Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess. Her aunt gave them to her for luck (or so Aunt Bronwyn said). The figures were comforting and kept her company. She attached a blanket and small pillow to her pack. The last part of packing were her snacks. Her grandma helped with this part and always included a grape juice box and a thermos of water. She was never expected for lunch.
Today was quiet. Iris had been in her grove for about an hour when the park officially opened for business. She hadn’t seen any visitors yet; she had been able to walk quickly through the park and found her grove undisturbed as always. Her father would look for her in the afternoon but she had hours before that. She was excited to get sketching today; she added a book to her pack at the last minute. It was about Irish and Scottish folklore. She wanted to draw banshees and thought the book would help. Her grandpa’s library had stacks and stacks of books about myths and legends and folklore. He never minded her borrowing any of them; he liked that Iris shared his love of these stories. She always took extra care of these books, treating them like treasures.
She arranged her studio as she always did. Her aunt had first called the grove Iris’s studio. Her father, grandparents, and aunt knew about her hiding place and encouraged her artistic interests. They also kept it a secret from her cousins, telling them that she was helping with a project somewhere in the park. Her arrangement of her studio never changed: the figurines sat on the upper left corner of the blanket so they could watch her paint and draw. She laid out her pencils and paint box at the bottom left of the blanket so she could easily reach what she needed. Her sketchbooks were right next to her but she had settled on looking through the myth book to get her day started.
Iris was in the middle of a story when she heard voices in the distance. At first she thought it was her cousins, Brigid and David. She could hear the voices of a boy and a girl but as the voices got closer she realized it wasn’t them. She put down her book and grabbed her sketchbook and a pencil. She turned to look through the trees and saw a family walking towards her hiding place. The girl was around her cousin Brigid’s age; the boy was taller so she guessed he was older but not by much. Iris was ten but she was good at guessing people’s ages. They were dressed nicer than most people who visited Land of Legends. Iris realized it was Sunday and thought maybe they had come from church. The girl’s dress seemed out of place even in the Fairy Forest. The forest looked shabby compared to the bright pink and white flowers of the sundress. The family must have skipped the rest of the park if they were already here. The Fairy Forest was the at the end of the path. There was no way to skip around; her grandpa designed it that way.
Iris began to sketch the two children as themselves. As she began sketching the pair she saw out of the corner of her eye, the girl trying to climb onto one of the unicorns. Her dad got to her just in time and stopped her from climbing up.
“Elaine, you can’t climb on the unicorn. Don’t you see the sign? We told you the rules before we came in.”
“But I want to ride a unicorn!” Elaine screamed. She was almost to the point of tantrum.
Brat, Iris thought. People had no respect for the time Iris’s dad and the staff took caring for the displays. They might be old but that was no excuse for people to treat them badly. Iris hated when people touched any of the creatures but it was especially bad when it was the unicorns. Those were hers.
“If you don’t follow the rules you don’t get to pick out a prize in the gift shop.” The girl’s mother tried to take Elaine’s hand but the little girl was having none of it. A full out tantrum was about to start.
The boy had stayed out of the tantrum, looking intently at the unicorns and reading the signs. He stood the closest to Iris’s hideout. She tried to be quiet but the movement of her pencil across the page made some noise. The boy saw her through the trees. He didn’t say anything but smiled and returned his attention to his family and the full out tantrum that was going on behind him.
“Aunt Sarah, can we go see the dragons? The unicorns are kind of lame. I really want to see the dragons and the fire. Uncle Alex said there were dragons.” It was almost like he knew Iris didn’t want them there. She certainly didn’t want to be discovered and if they stayed any longer they probably see her.
Aunt Sarah sighed loudly just as Elaine stopped her tantrum. “Dragons are scary. I like scary stuff.” The girl ran over to the boy and grabbed his hand. The group moved away from the unicorns. Iris let out her breath and relaxed. The boy glanced back at her and winked. He definitely knew she was there and was helping her out. Iris didn’t understand it but was thankful for his help. Iris waited until they were far enough away from her spot. She packed her bag quickly. No one had ever seen her before (at least that’s what she thought). She didn’t want to chance them coming back.
She figured she could spend the rest of the day helping in the gift shop or hang around the cafe. Her dad let her stock items and reorganize the little figures and buttons as often as she liked. Sometimes she’d get to fold t-shirts or bus tables in the cafe. Summers were the best season at Land of Legends; people even tipped her.
The back employee entrance was closest to the unicorns. She could go in that way and avoid her cousins for a little while longer. Brigid was eight and Daniel was seven so not that much younger than her but younger all the same. They enjoyed following her around the park on days they didn’t go to camp. Brigid was the worst; she idolized Iris (or so her dad said and then defined idolized for her) but she really just got in the way. She wasn’t a good artist like Iris and she didn’t like to hang out in the park; these were Iris’s favorite things to do. David always wanted to play pirates. Iris liked playing pirates but not all the time. Her cousins exhausted her.
No one noticed Iris come through the back entrance. She turned down the back hallway and opened the door to her grandparents’ house. Well, it was her house too. The house was on the same property as the park but as separated by a large fence. Iris thought it was like a moat. Hse and her dad moved in five years ago; she had her aunt’s old room. It overlooked the park; she could see the top of the kraken from her window. Most of the displays were obscured by trees. It was spooky at night when the lights were off; the creatures cast shadows in the moonlight.
Iris dropped her backpack in her room. She took out one of her sketchbooks and a few pencils. If the shop wasn’t busy she usually spent her time in the shop drawing. She made her way back down through the kitchen. Her grandma Maeve was there, baking bread.
“You’re back early. Is it too hot out?” Her grandma kneaded the bread with a force that always made Iris jump.
“No, a boy saw me. I didn’t want him and his bratty sister coming back so I came home. I guess I’ll go help in the shop.” Iris grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter.
“Your dad’ll like seeing you. By the way, your cousins aren’t coming by today. Bronwyn took them roller skating or something. They have camp the rest of the week so you’re safe.” Her grandma smiled at her.
“Thanks Grandma.” Iris gave her a kiss and made her way back across the moat to the shop.