This is the first chapter of a novel I have been working on for a year and a half. I usually write much shorter forms (poems, short stories, picture book manuscripts), so completing the draft of a novel was a huge personal accomplishment. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m pretty proud of writing a novel on my phone while nursing my third baby!

 

Cloak

a new novel, presented in serial form, by Linda Peterson

Go to Chapter 2

Chapter 1

DURING EVERY RAID, Carmen ran out of snacks. No matter how many goldfish, raisins, and granola bars she packed, they would all get eaten–and probably make a hot mess during the fight.

Carmen dodged, snapping her Cloak around her. Protect, she willed, and three thrown Blades ricocheted off her Cloak’s suddenly slick, hard surface. She ran diagonally across the moonlit stone church yard as the three men she faced snatched up their Blades. Briefly throwing up a hand, she signaled for back-up with tranqs. Heading toward a shadowed wall, she flipped up her hood and willed, Hide me. For a moment, she disappeared from view. Baffled, the men started turning around, looking in every direction. Carmen invisibly smirked–but then loudly crushed a bunch of goldfish crackers under foot. Asha! she thought. The men ran toward the cracker crumbs–and three darts flew into three unprotected necks. Her assailants fell heavily to the ground over the ruined goldfish, dark red leather jackets with long collars spreading underneath them.

Carmen looked up. On the ledge of the church, Ty, Asha, and Deshawn had dart guns in their little hands, Cloaks on their shoulders, and big grins on their faces.  The moon clearly silhouetted the boys’ cornrows and Asha’s adorable twists–which mimicked Carmen’s own longer twists. “We got ‘em, Mama!” Asha beamed. Her teeth shone white, as did the puff of her breath into the November night.

Carmen grinned back. “You sure did, baby. Those fools never did think to watch their backs. And thank the Lord, they didn’t get a single slice on us tonight. But they almost got me, girl! You spilled your snack!”

Asha hung her head. “Sorry, Mama.”

“Be more careful, baby. We don’t need to hand those Blades any more strength than they already got. Y’all come on down now. We gotta get on with this raid.”

Each child did a little jump off the ledge, Cloaks flaring along their backs as they glided down. Ty ran to his mom. “Did you see me? I was so fast with my dart. I said, BAM you’re done, son!” He mimed shooting a dart at Deshawn, who collapsed dramatically to the ground.

Carmen laughed. “Yes, yes, I saw you, baby. But we’re not done yet. You and Deshawn check for spools, me and Asha will meet up with the twins. I hope they got what we came for.”

The boys rushed over to the three Blades and started going through their pockets. In one smooth, mirrored movement, Carmen and her four-year-old daughter swathed themselves in their Cloaks. Obscure me, Carmen silently willed her Cloak, and heard Asha whispering the same. As they hurried up the stone church steps–Asha using the railing for balance–Carmen smiled. Not everyone took their five children on a raid, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. My kids are better at cloaking than almost anyone, she thought. Even if Asha still spills her snacks every time…

Asha swung her Cloak up over the door hinges, muffling the creak as Carmen pulled the door open. The twins would have picked the lock with green Thread earlier. Once it was open a crack, Carmen glanced inside, then ushered Asha through. Asha grabbed her Cloak and slipped in, Carmen following. The air in the church was cold and dry; the autumn sun barely pierced the thick stone walls in the day, and now by night, the chill struck every uncovered bit of Carmen’s skin. “Keep your hood up, Asha, stay warm,” she whispered. “Will your Cloak to warm you up.

“I know, Mama,” Asha whispered back, a bit loudly. They started up some stairs to their right and nearly ran into the twins in the dark. They must have obscured themselves, too. Carmen still felt surprised every time she stood close to them. In the past few months they had shot up, only inches away from Carmen’s height.

“Mama, there were so many Threads!” whispered Zati excitedly. Her two buns bounced a bit with her movement. “We might get a whole spool’s worth from this church.”

Lenore readjusted her many long, woven braids back into her hood. “I thought this would be a good church,” Lenore added, handing Carmen some of the Thread. “Did you know it was one of the first churches in Philly to integrate?”

“Mmm, this haul is decent,” Carmen said with approval, feeling the Threads between her fingers. They were soft, yet still very strong, despite probably being a couple hundred years old. “What a gift, girls. How long have these Threads been hidden here, waiting for Cloaks like us to find? God bless the Cloaks of the past.” She held them out in the light of a window. Each was a different shade–from deep maroon to nearly hot pink–but all could be called red. “Tradition holds, ladies. The strongest Thread–“

“Is always red,” they all finished together.

Asha stood on tiptoes and tugged on Carmen’s hand to get a better look at the Threads. “I like that one,” she said, pointing to a red-orange Thread. “Can I have a snack?”

Carmen quirked a brow, both at the request and the non-sequitur. “You tell me. Can you have a snack?”

“Don’t you have one little granola bar?” Asha pleaded, big brown eyes shining in the light from the window.

“Girl, if I had one little granola bar, I’d be eating it right now. I’m hungry too, so let’s get home. You girls need to gather up the rest of the Thread?” Carmen asked the twins.

Lenore and Zati both nodded, and dashed back up the stairs. Carmen took a deep breath and rubbed her face. Tired. She was always so tired. “Hey Asha,” she said. “You got that Blade real good tonight.”

“I practiced so many times!”

“Oh really? Who practiced with you?”

“Ty. We lay on my bed and shoot the stars.”

So that’s where all those marks on the ceiling came from. “And what if you tranqed yourself?”

“Deshawn catches the darts. He got tranqed. “

“Was that when he slept through dinner?”

“Yep!”

Carmen rolled her eyes. Lenore and Zati rushed quietly down the stairs, each with a dark drawstring backpack interwoven with blue, orange and purple Thread–a Threadpack–holding that night’s finds. Carmen and Asha’s Threadpacks were out with the boys. Together, Carmen and all her daughters went back out, wrapped and obscured in their Cloaks.

The boys had collected a couple spools off the unconscious Blades–spools that the Blades would have stolen from other Cloaks. Of course, the boys also had all the Blades’ weapons lined up. True to their name, the Blades each had a knife with about six or seven inches of gleaming, curved metal. The polished wood handles were sized to their owners’ hands and were each a different color. Tonight there was a dark brown, a gray, and a bottle green. Leaning down, Carmen carefully wrapped the Blades in a piece of leather and tied red Thread thickly around it. Bind, she thought. She tucked the package into her own drawstring Threadpack.

“Did you give them their notes?” Carmen asked, but then saw the boys had. One note was tied over a Blade’s eyes with Thread, one was folded into a paper airplane and crashed into the Blade’s lapel, and the last had been rolled into a cylinder and delicately shoved into the Blade’s left nostril. “You couldn’t just leave the notes in their pockets?”

“That’s no fun, Mama,” said Deshawn seriously. “Play is good for our development.”

“And that guy had really big, hairy nostrils!” Ty added. “We had to do it!”

Carmen opened her mouth to say something about the dignity of Cloaks, but cracked up instead. So did all of her children. Lenore and Zati leaned over to examine Mr. Big Nostril, Ty and Deshawn started acting out the battle again–but when Asha started jumping from chest to chest of the tranqed Blades, Carmen spoke up. “Aight, baby, now they’ve had enough. Everybody got their Threadpacks? Let’s go home.”

Carmen and each child fished a spool of yellow and orange Thread from their Cloak pockets or Threadpacks as they walked over to the church wall. Holding up their spools, each thought or whispered, Launch. Anchor. The Threads shot for the top of the wall and stuck there. Then everyone held the spool just under their ribs and willed, Lift me. Jerking forward, they were all carried smoothly to the top of the wall, accompanied by the soft hiss of Thread rolling back up. On the wall top, they left the Thread fastened where it was, but dropped the spools to the ground on the other side. Touching the top of the Thread, they willed, Stiffen. As always, Carmen reached out to hold Asha’s hand while they all slid down their Threads. Asha’s balance was good for a four year old, but Carmen still liked to be sure.

Getting over a wall like this was basic stuff. Carmen’s kids did it all the time, nearly every raid. It had been a long time since she had to remind any of them what to will, or that if they didn’t touch the Thread when stating their will that it wouldn’t work. She was impressed with Asha–her older siblings had been at least six before getting this good. Asha did get to learn from them, which gave her an advantage.

When everyone got to the bottom, spools were tucked away. With all her children standing in the combined light of the moon and the streetlights, Carmen marveled at them. Zati and Lenore, growing so tall. Their faces may be identical, but their hair was always different. Slim Ty and hefty Deshawn, and little fairy Asha. They were so beautiful, and so were their Cloaks. Five garments, each a unique multi-hued patchwork of Thread. The Cloaks came to a close at the collarbone with a curved clasp that shone in the light. It always made Carmen think of an infinity symbol. Though each Cloak was different, everyone had a thick, red Thread zig-zagging across the inner right-hand corner–the Cloak Heart, where their individual Birth Thread was woven in. As their mother, Carmen had chosen that spot.

Ty put his hand on her arm. “Mama, can we Loop home?”.

“Yeah! Looping!” Asha cheered, and Deshawn started getting his spool back out.

Carmen sighed and smiled. “Look up at that moon, babies. What do you think?”

Ty got out his spool anyway. “What if we only Loop where it’s really dark?”

Lenore snorted. “You crazy, boy? The moon’s almost full! We can’t Loop tonight!”

Ty threw his arms around Carmen’s waist and looked up at her. “Pleeease, Mama?”

“It really is too bright for Looping, I’m sorry, baby. We don’t wanna be seen.”

Ty twisted his lips, let down.

“But…” Carmen started. Ty looked up hopefully. “These streets are real quiet. You can Zip to our bus stop.”

Ty whooped, and Lenore and Zati both shushed him–but they were also eagerly getting out their spools again.

“Zati, you lead tonight. No one goes in front of Zati–understand?” Carmen looked meaningfully at Ty and Asha. Deshawn and Lenore would stay in line.

Zati took off to the closest corner. There, she paused and looked every direction. Her siblings were silent. Their self-control is amazing when they want something, Carmen mused. They all knew Zati had to listen and look closely before Zipping.

It was all clear. Zati reached out, spool in hand, and a line of Thread shot toward the closest telephone pole. The Thread wrapped around the pole and stayed stiff, extending back towards Zati at about waist height. Holding onto the spool, Zati did a little hop in the air and Zipped to the telephone pole. Cloak flowing behind her, Zati grinned like a madwoman as she zoomed, held about a foot off the ground by her Thread. She kept her knees tucked up, and when she reached the phone pole she hopped down. The Thread released the pole, and Zati quickly aimed for the next target before Ty arrived.

After Ty went Deshawn, Lenore, Asha, and finally Carmen herself. She liked to sandwich the younger kids with older ones. Tucking up her long legs–she was 5’9″ after all–she took off. Launch. Anchor. Stiffen. Support. Rewind. Release. Carmen thought with each step of the Zip. Her face grew cold as the air rushed past her block by block, but she didn’t care. She was grinning like a madwoman, too. Zipping never lost its fun. And it was much easier to–

“Stop!” Asha hissed.

Carmen immediately dropped to the ground and thought Slacken. Her Thread fell just as two low-slung, dark red cars drove past, headlights shining briefly over each member of her family–who were all standing innocently on the ground, chatting to each other and holding their Cloaks so they resembled nothing more than patchwork hoodies.  

Carmen exhaled. “Nice timing. We’re still two blocks–“

“Mama, did you see those cars?” Deshawn asked.

“Yes, baby, I did.”

“Are we gonna run?” Lenore asked.

“You know it, baby. Zati, take that side street, you’re still leading!” And off they all ran. If there was any car that the Campbell family would know immediately–in day or in dark, by headlights or tail lights–it was an Oldsmobile Cutlass, chosen vehicle of the Blades. Where are these Blades coming from? Probably fresh from slicing through locks at a pharmacy or something. Those thieving rats. They were probably circling back around to the church, checking on their now unconscious and de-Bladed comrades. Carmen wanted to be on the bus and well away before the Blades started looking for the Cloaks at fault.

Running the last block to the bus stop, holding Asha’s hand, Carmen’s breath caught at a memory. Zipping to Tyrone, strong arms around me, warm kiss, chilly night. Tyrone, Lenore, Zati, me, holding hands in a row, running to the bus. Late fall. Threadpacks full. Their first raid. Cold faces. Tyrone’s deep laugh echoing off the buildings. Girls hugging his legs at the bus stop.

Running to the bus stop tonight, there was just Carmen–and several more children. And even though this was Tyrone’s third autumn gone, she could still hear his laugh in the night.

Go to Chapter 2

Cover image by Elise Matich