Looking through some old folders recently, I came across the opening of a YA novel that I started and abandoned. This used to be quite a common thing for me, starting a novel or short story, writing two chapters and then giving up. It’s only been in the last 2 years that I have actually finished what I started, and lo and behold, I started to get things published!
So this is the prologue and first chapter of ‘Sadie Poole’. This was the only title I gave it at the time. Looking back on it now, it’s not terrible, and who knows, I may even finish it one day.
Sadie Poole by Em Dehaney
The girl is running as fast as she can, running for more than just her life. All she can feel is the dirt and leaves beneath her bare feet, and the branches scratching her face raw. Her arms, wrapped tight around the tiny bundle of rags, are thin and pale. The veins on her breasts are blue, in stark contrast to the blood running down her neck. Her lungs are exploding with pain and she is starting to see stars, as she struggles to breathe. Her fear is a solid mass in her chest.
The hounds are foaming at her scent; fear, blood, milk. She can hear they are closing in on her, she will soon be surrounded. Shouts echo through the wood. The men can smell her too, although they don’t know it, and it is sending them into a frenzy equal to that of their dogs.
Find her. Grab her. Take her. Hurt her.
So she runs on through the trees, under the cover of the dark green forest light, not knowing where she is going, just away. Away from the men and the dogs. Away from the village. Her long skirt catches on a thorn bush and rips, leaving a piece of sky blue cloth hanging. She looks back in a panic, knowing they will find it, showing them which way she has gone. The hounds will take huge lungfuls of her scent again and howl in anticipation of catching her. For a second she imagines herself hiding the bundle safe inside the roots of a tree, and turning to run back towards the men. She sees her flesh being ripped by the dogs, her dress being ripped by the men. She can almost hear the howls of the dogs being drowned by her howls of pain.
But then what would become of her precious bundle? Her unnamed treasure, hidden among the damp and cold roots. All alone. The only way she can guarantee its safety is to keep it close to her heart, where it belongs. Where she belongs. Her daughter, no more than a week old. So small and helpless. Innocent, shining and pure.
Suddenly she is blinded by brilliant sunlight, and falls to her knees in the forest clearing. A small flock of birds rises from the trees, disturbed by the noise of the men hacking their way through the wood, so close now. The cold wet grass of the clearing soaks her knees through her blue skirts and rough white apron, and she looks down at the long eyelashes and translucent eyelids of her sleeping infant, the only parts visible through her swaddling. The one thing, the only thing she knows to be true is that she could never leave her, never lose her, and never stop loving her.
The sunlight streaming into the clearing glints off the surface of a pond, piercing the girl’s eye. The water is so still, the overhanging trees and the birds flying above are reflected in such perfection that it looks like there is another sky underneath the water; a whole other world in reverse.
Time slows. The birds on the wing appear to hang mid-air. She walks to the edge of the pond and stares into the water, clinging to her beautiful bundle. Her reflection does not stare back. She knows what to do.
They have been chasing her through the forest in the direction of the clearing, knowing she will be trapped by the hounds on two sides, and the huge pond on the other. Stupid girl, stupid dirty whore, she played right into our hands. It will soon be time to teach her a lesson.
With a crash the men descend upon the clearing. The dogs let out a cry in unison. They wanted blood. They have been denied their prize.
No girl. No baby.
Just a pond. Perfectly still.
Sadie Poole stared out of the window of her hotel room. She was on the 20th floor of the Burj al Arab, the most luxurious hotel in the world. Below her lay the lurid waters of the Arabian Gulf and as far the eye could see were hundreds of hotels, shopping malls and sky scrapers of ever increasing size and elaborate design. Beyond this, she knew, was sand. Not that she had seen any of this from the other side of the glass. Sadie Poole was 14 years old, and had travelled the world. She had been to Kinshasa, Hong Kong, Vienna, Istanbul, Mumbai, Cairo, San Francisco, Mexico City, Bangkok, Barcelona and Moscow. She had flown First Class, Club Class, World Class and Business Class. She had seen the air conditioned leather interiors of a thousand chauffeur driven limos, and stayed in 5, 6, 7 star hotels on every continent. And in every country it was the same, no matter the time zone, temperature or political climate. She stayed within the confines of her hotel room, behind the glass, sterile. The smells, sounds and tastes of these exotic and majestic cities remained a mystery to Sadie. She lived on room service and World Service. The reason for both her extensive travels, and her incarceration on these travels, was her father.
Christopher Poole was an antique dealer, and so the historical cities of the world were his office. He had taken Sadie on his travels with him ever since she could remember. They always booked into the best hotels, where your every whim and desire would be catered for by 24 hour butlers, catering and concierge. But Sadie stayed without her father. He would go “on business” and return after a few days, at which time they would check out of the hotel and return home to London. Christopher Poole never spent one night in any of the luxurious queen sized beds, never washed in the gold plated spa baths, never watched the 50 inch flat screen televisions that rose out of the end of the bed at the touch of a button and never ate the breakfast platters laden with tropical fruit and pastries. Yet he always specified one thing, and if the hotel could not fulfil his request, then they would not stay.
There were to be no full length mirrors anywhere in their rooms.
This eccentricity was happily indulged by the most prestigious hotels around the world, because Christopher Poole paid well and never caused the hotel staff any trouble. Because Christopher Poole, of course, was never there.
Sadie had never seen herself in a full length mirror; her father had enforced this rule so strictly throughout her whole life. “Vanity will be the down fall of man”, was what her father would say. No full length mirrors, and only washing in running water. These were the two iron rods which set the guide for her very existence. They were the only rules enforced by Christopher Poole, either at home or away. Those, and when back at home in London, Sadie was to NEVER enter the basement. This was where her father kept his priceless antiques. What they were exactly, Sadie had no idea. Large wooden crates and boxes would be delivered at all times of day or night. Sometimes on the back of rusty pick-up trucks driven by Travellers with Brylcreamed hair wearing their uniform of white vests in the summer and Barbour jackets in winter. Sometimes the crates would arrive in the back of huge lorries, that could barely fit down the street that Sadie lived on, driven by faceless men in immaculate cabs with blacked out windows and no writing on the sides of the taught silver sides of their trailers. Sometimes they would turn up jammed into the back of a black cab, and the driver of the taxi would need Sadie’s father to help him to carry the awkward, and clearly very heavy parcel down to the basement, after which Christopher Poole would tip him generously and send him on his way. Once, a strange old man even arrived with a great, thin, flat package wrapped in brown paper tied on the back of his pedal cycle with threadbare bungee cords. Sadie saw him come wobbling and weaving down the street one afternoon, wondering how far across London he had rode with his precarious parcel. He wore no cycle helmet, and had the most impressive moustache Sadie had ever seen – thick, black and glossy, and in such complete contrast with the man’s frazzled white hair, Sadie was sure he had to dye the hairs under his nose, or perhaps paint them with some kind of dark oil. She imagined it would smell like chocolate and sweat.
Sadie longed to leave the confines of her hotel room, as sumptuous as it was. It was so comfortable, so luxurious, so extravagant it made her feel sick and set her teeth on edge, like eating a whole pack of chocolate peanut butter cups in one go. Everything here in Dubai was fake, even the air in the hotel room. Sadie imagined her father out in a souk market, amongst the smoke and the spices, listening to deals shouted in strange tongues. Sadie often argued with her father about these trips.
“Why do you even bother to take me along with you?”, Sadie would shout. “You never spend any time with me, we never do anything fun, I never see you!”. Christopher Poole would look his daughter in the eye (for they were almost the same height)and say the same thing everytime she questioned these trips; “It’s only because I love you so much that I can’t leave you at home when I’m not there.”