The Search for Lana (Preview)

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Here is a preview of my debut Novella, The Search for Lana, which is the first in The Lunegosse Tales. This book has been independently published through Smashwords, Create Space and Amazon.

Prologue

Hi, my name's Lana, at the moment as I write this I'm not that much older than you I guess, I just turned sixteen last month, but I'm not sure when you'll be reading this. I guess I could very well have left the physical life and entered the next; you may very well be older than I am now. But as the next in my family line you need to know as much as I can tell you about where you came from. Mum and Dad adopted me when I was six weeks old; my biological mum wasn't ready to have kids — she was only fifteen when she had me — just a little bit younger than I am now. I guess you can say that I've had a pretty average life, my adoptive parents and their kids (I have two older brothers, James and John, identical twins and an older sister, Sam) have always treated me like one of their genetic family, and through that I have always felt relatively normal. I say relatively because, well you'll see why. Even before I knew I was adopted, I knew that I was different — the twins and Sam always did averagely at school, and although all three of them did extra-curricular activities, none of them exceedingly outshone the others. Me on the other hand, well let's just say I've always been a little above standard. I'll never forget my old school teacher, Mrs Warburton's face when she asked me to read a passage of my reading book to the class — it was Dickens's “Tale of Two Cities” — I was six. Well there you have it, my reading skills were advanced, and so was just about every other skill I had. My parents and teachers called me 'gifted' I called myself a 'freak' and so did half of my classmates when they realised that I was too able. Which is why, at the age of fourteen, when the story really begins to develop, that I had few friends, and even at the all girls school for bright students I attended, I was considered an outsider.

Chapter One – The New Teacher

I was in year ten, and taking GCSE drama. For arguments sake we'll say that it was a Monday morning, although now I can't be sure, however I do know it was November and our first day back after the half term holiday. A new teacher arrived that day, her name was Mrs Rachel Higginbottom, and she was aged about fifty with grey hair, glasses, and about five foot six tall. We were performing duologues that day, and I was half way through my performance with a girl called Joanna, when she walked in. Just as we finished, Miss Carols called the class over and introduced us to Mrs Higginbottom. The new teacher's eyes were a deep blue, and they swept around the class, smiling as they went. However, as she reached mine, her eyes lingered, making a connection that I still find hard to describe, even though I know more now than before, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The feeling, as best as I can explain it, was as if she was staring into my soul, and at the same time triggering some long lost memory, so distant that I couldn't quite reach it. As the connection was severed, and she surveyed the rest of the class, I couldn't shake off the feeling. The only thing I remember her saying when she was introduced was “Call me Mrs H.” I managed to suppress the semi-queasiness from when our eyes had locked, however, until the end of class when the bell rang for morning break. I put my books into my bag and headed towards the connecting door to the canteen.

“Lana, could you come here a second?” It was Mrs H.

“Yes Miss.” I reluctantly answered, after all she was a new teacher, what could I have done to upset her; I'd only known her five minutes. Then again, with some teachers that was all they needed for me to have upset them, they tended to get sick of me knowing the answers to all of their questions pretty rapidly.

“Don't worry, you've done nothing to upset me,” she assured me in a calm, mother-like tone.

“You…you…” I stumbled, it wasn't a good idea to let her think, let alone know that I was a freak.

“Yes, I can read your thoughts, yet I see you haven't developed that area of your mind yet, unusual in a girl your age. Never mind, I can help you with that if you decide you want me to.”

“A girl my age…it's as though you think it's normal for people to read other people's minds!” Was this woman for real — read someone else's thoughts? Me?

“I know it's a shock, but you'll see with time that you are different to everyone else around you, and with good reason, telepathic skills included.” She spoke gently and calmly, as if she had all the time in the world.

“It'll take time, but you will see that I am right.” She had to be joking, either that or I was dreaming, 'cos there's no way that she could know everything, right? Wrong! And apart from that I already knew that I was different.

“I'm not joking, and you are not dreaming. I can assure you of that. Now, let me see…” she paused for a moment, and again those blue eyes pierced me in an indescribable manner. “…You have always been slightly advanced for your years,” Slightly! Talk about understatement!

“ …And you have been bullied or outcast for most of your life by those you consider your peers. You long to be 'normal', and not a freak. Am I right?” She couldn't have got closer if she would have jumped into my skin and walked around as me for a day! Even though the situation scared me, for some peculiar reason, I trusted her, she seemed concerned rather than patronising, it was just that I couldn't get over how my peculiar inclinations appeared to her as nothing other than normal. This was weird.

“I…I…” the bell rang again, “I'd better go.” I mumbled as I hurried to the door, slinging my forgotten bag over my shoulder as I went.

“Come and see me at lunch, Lana, I think we should talk.” She called after me as I made my way down the corridor, through the locker room and to my next class.

*

 

It was with some reluctance that I returned to the drama studio that lunchtime, surveying the familiar black walls, the door in the corner that adjoined the canteen, the green filing cabinet in the left hand corner by the door to the locker room corridor, the lighting desk on the right, and the black shelves sagging under the weight of books, the only place at school, where the girls saw me as normal — maybe it was because in drama nobody acted like a regular fourteen year old. My reluctance wasn't due to the fact Mrs H was strict or beastly like Ms. Lawson, the cyborg maths teacher from hell who hated everyone and everything, especially me — she wasn't, neither was she as scary as Mr. Portland the English teacher who had supposedly worked for some secret government agency — it was just that, well, how many people are you likely to meet in one lifetime that can describe you and your life so far in the space of five minutes of knowing you? My guess up until that day would have been none. I knocked on the drama office door timidly, the office itself, no bigger than a walk-in closet, was and still is the least scary place I have ever been. Only accessible through the drama studio, it had two desks squeezed inside it, and there was definitely no room to swing a cat — not a hobby I'd suggest, cats aren't toys, as my brother James found out, Suzie, Sam's black cat ran away and never came back after James tried that one. Anyhow, I knocked and waited, no answer. I knocked harder, nothing. I opened the door, an empty room, if I was to leave, I could just tell her I forgot, or the truth — she wasn't there when I showed up so I left…damn!

“Lana, so glad you decided to come.” I swung round, and there she was, her hair piled on top of her head in a bun that resembled a pale pineapple.

“Yeah…I guess” What was I doing? I mean after all it could have been a daydream, right? The earlier conversation I mean.

“Well perhaps we should sit in the studio, it's a bit cramped in the office.” No I hadn't been dreaming. “Take a seat here, and I'll be with you in a minute.”

I sat in the corner nearest the canteen door, half hoping to escape, and wishing I was with Catharine (one of the few friends I did have at school), eating the veggie lasagne or whatever was on the menu that day that could be eaten with an extra large portion of chips, followed by chocolate cake. However, I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't, and sat apprehensively. Seconds later Mrs H walked in, carrying a small wooden box that looked as if it was about a hundred years old, the wood was darkened with age, and the thick iron hinges were worn and rusty. She sat down beside me, laid the box in front of me, and told me to open it. I looked at her questioningly and thought, 'She's barmy, nice enough, but positively barmy.' Even with this thought running continuously through my mind, I couldn't resist the strange temptation I felt as I picked up the box and ran my finger along it's dust-encrusted lid. As I did so, I felt a slight indentation. Using the sleeve of my school jumper I wiped away the grime and uncovered the apparent engraving. It was written in French, a language I had learnt from primary school, and had again excelled in; “Les secrets des Magiques. La boite de la famille Cornique” (The secrets of the Magiques. The Cornique Family Box, I could have translated the word 'magiques' but it felt wrong to do so, more instinctive than anything else). I gently lifted the iron latch, and opened it under Mrs H's watchful eye. Inside, it was lined with a material that was an exquisite shade of purple, unlike any I'd ever seen, not aged like the exterior, but new in appearance, yet I had the feeling that it was just as old. Another thing occurred to me, it was bigger on the inside than the outside, no, that couldn't be right — yet it definitely had to be. “Things aren't always as they seem” Mrs H had picked up on what I was thinking. On the top of the box, there was a leather bound A4 size book, with the words 'La Famille Cornique' embossed in fading gold leaf on the front cover. I removed it from the box and gently opened it, inside on the yellowing pages were photographs of people smiling back at me. I could only presume they were the family whom the box and album belonged to. They dated back to the eighteen hundreds, and as I flicked through the pages, the peculiar distant memory feeling hit me again. I reached more modern photos; a younger Mrs H stared up at me, followed by her children on the following pages. A sandy haired young man called Timothy, according to the name underneath the picture, an equally sandy haired girl called Kara, and two dark haired girls called Monique and Tillie, who were obviously identical twins. The lost memory feeling grew stronger as I looked into Tillie's piercingly sad eyes that stood out from an otherwise smiling face, the only difference that was contained within the pictures of the twins. My stomach churned as I looked down into the deeply concerned eyes of an otherwise stunningly beautiful young woman, who, at the time of the photo couldn't have been much older than me. In fact I wasn't sure that she was, everyone in the album seemed to be my age or thereabouts. I turned the page again, half expecting it to be blank; I dropped the album in shock as my own face peered back at me. The bell rang; I had to go to Science. We arranged to meet after school, with the promise that my presence in the album would be explained. Had I found my grandmother? If so was it pure chance, or was there something going on that I couldn't quite grasp?

 

As it happened, Mrs H cancelled the afternoon meeting by way of a letter she'd left for me on top of her desk. I arrived at the drama office to find the letter and album on her desk: Dear Lana,

Sorry to tell you like this, but I forgot that I have a meeting to go to. Please take the album and look at it again. Don't concentrate on the pictures too much, look at the empty pages at the back, and remember, things are not always what they seem.

See you before school tomorrow,

Rachel Higginbottom.

 

Where had I heard that before! I was exasperated, I wanted answers to my questions, and instead I had an old photo album, full of people I didn't know — great! However, I picked up the letter and album, and slipped them into my rucksack, and went outside to wait for Dad on the front steps. I decided not to tell anyone at home about the album, there was no need to alarm them, and I mean, after all, I might be jumping to conclusions, this might be coincidence, and the girl in the photo may just look like me and share my first name. Irrational thought process I know, but come on — I was confused. Dad showed up in the family Carolla, and as I jumped in alongside him, I forgot all about the letter and the album.

*

 

It wasn't until a dinner of homemade sausage casserole and generously sized dumplings (how I love Mum's cooking!), that I went up to my room and opened my schoolbag ready to do some homework. I walked over to the window, turned the heater up a notch, and then flicked on my stereo. I grabbed a CD off the shelf, and soon my room was filled with the music of Boyzone (my fav boy band at the time), I reached into my bag, and grabbed everything out of it and piled my work onto the desk. The album and letter slipped from my grasp and landed on the floor, the album had landed with the back cover open, and a blank page staring at me. Ignoring the letter, I turned back to the more recent photos of Mrs H and her kids, and of course, the girl who could have been my twin. It was irrational to think this anything other than coincidence, after all I had never even met Mrs H until today, so it couldn't be me in the photo! I quickly closed it again, pushing it to the side of my desk and pulling out the maths homework that was due in the next day. Higher-level maths GCSE was perhaps the wrong maths for me to be taking, the homework, which allowed a calculator because of its difficulty level, was easy to do and within five minutes I had finished it without the need of the calculator. I hated it; I wanted to be like the other girls, not do it, get into school, and rush to finish it, gaining a lower grade than potential allowed. But it was like I was differently programmed, and I was bound not to have that as a possibility, it would be another one hundred percent, 'Excellent work Lana! Why can't you girls be more like Miss Le Monnier here?' Another reason for them to hate me at school, teacher's pet again! All apart from Catharine, she always stood by me, still does, even though we haven't seen each other much recently, but I'm getting off the point. With my maths done, I concentrated on my English assignment, turned on my laptop, and finished off the essay that wasn't due in for another week. My homework, which should have taken most of the night (according to those who had set it, and probably would for the rest of the girls in my various classes) but was finished in half an hour. That night I really longed for more, I was trying to ignore the album which sat on the corner of my desk, and I found that I couldn't any longer.

Perhaps a drink, that'd help, it'd calm me down, and give me an excuse to get out of my room for five minutes or so whilst I went downstairs to the kitchen, found a glass, poured myself some coke and came back upstairs. However, I still ended up back in my room, with the glass sitting half drained on the coaster on my desk. It was no good, I couldn't avoid it forever, picking up the album, and I walked over to the bed, and collapsed on my duvet. Placing the album next to me, I cautiously opened the front cover, each photo appeared to have been taken in the same place, a place which seemed familiar, but one I was sure I had never been, yet even my photo, or the photo of my double, was in front of the same backdrop, a wall with a fireplace that seemed as if it were in a family home. I felt like I was prying into someone else's life, it wasn't right, and yet, I couldn't bring myself to put the book back in my bag. The photos contained a familiarity, one that in the context of me and Mrs H was obvious, I knew me, and I'd met her, the rest, I couldn't explain, especially the instinctive feeling that her daughter, Tillie was someone I wanted to hug and never let go. I flicked through the empty pages, which filled the rest of the volume, lingering on the second to last, examining each and every square inch, as if it hid some detail, some long forgotten memory which my mind had locked away, and needed to be discovered now. The longer I stared at it, the more I felt it, and without my knowledge, the further my eyes drooped. It wasn't until Mum woke me up the next day, shouting that I was going to be late for my seven-thirty play rehearsal that I realised I had fallen asleep.

 

*

 

I got to school, just in time for rehearsal, and to my great surprise ran straight into Mrs Higginbottom. That was the last thing I felt I needed, if I did not hurry I was going to be late, and Miss Carols would kill me, there was only a couple of weeks until the school production, this year it was a musical version of 'Twelfth Night', and as Viola, I had more than enough to do, including sing a song about the dual roles my character was playing. Whilst it was another thing I excelled at, I hated singing in public (still do), but Miss Carols and the music teacher Mr Delaney had insisted that I take the part, solo and all, as it was in a range that varied too much for the others in the cast to accomplish. My argument had originally been, you wrote it, you can change it, but Mr Delaney said he had written it with me in mind, and I couldn't turn him down, he was one of the few people at school who believed me when I said I hated being top of the class and over-achieving, and had taken pity on me when my classmates made fun of me — he told me they were jealous and that I needed to concentrate on the friends I had (you know what? He was right, teachers and adults sometimes are). Mrs H smiled when she saw me,

“Don't worry, you're not going to be late, I'm heading to the hall myself, I'm assisting Miss Carols, she's worried about the chorus work, and I offered to help.” Typical, the one place I thought she wouldn't be, and she was! Rehearsal sped by, and I promised Mr Delaney I would practice my solo during music class at three-thirty. Another thing about being gifted, I was doing all the GCSEs offered, not just the ones I wanted to, and yet I still seemed to have more time than anyone else, maybe because I finished the work set in class and the majority of the homework in class time.

I managed to escape without Mrs H catching up with me, which for all of ten minutes seemed like a blessing. I got to form and sat down, waiting for Mr Atkins to come and take the register. My form teacher was as dull as dishwater; he spoke in a monotone voice that sent my form to sleep, and left me in a state of semi-consciousness. His tweed suits had stereotypical leather patches on the elbow, and he took the whole of form time to read the register.

“Lana?”

“Here Mr Atkins.”

“We established that five minutes ago, are you alright?” Mr Atkins looked generally concerned for the first time in his life. “ I was calling out Cassie's name.”

“I'm fine Sir, mustn't have got enough sleep last night.” Great, another thing for Cassie, the most popular girl in school to make fun of, she would probably start telling everyone that I wanted to be her, which was as far from the truth as it got. But I could have sworn somebody had just called my name.

“Lana, keep quiet and listen. It's me, Mrs Higginbottom.” Ok! I was freaking out; I knew perfectly well that she wasn't in the room. I definitely hadn't gotten enough sleep.

“Why do you assume that you're freaking out? I did not get a chance to ask you to hang around after drama, during lunch so we can continue our discussion.” Something was definitely not right; I obviously had Mrs H on the brain that had to be it. I managed to shrug off the weird experience I had just had, and made my way to English with the rest of the class.

 

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