My novel: "Discarded Gifts" Excerpt



Chapter 1

The sneaker mocked her.  Penny rolled over.  Moonlight came in from the window and illuminated its gold sequins.  She pushed the sheet and duvet off.  It was boastful, that sneaker, with all its glitter and glam.  Worse, the sneaker knew of her stupidity.
 
With a click, Penny turned on the bedside lamp.  Her eyes squinted in protest.  The covers fell to the floor with a thud.  Her feet touched down on the hardwood and she kicked aside the offending pile of blankets.  The gaudy shoe wasn't moved by her scathing gaze.  It just sat there.  Each sparkle a spotlight on her shame.

Hours before she stepped out of the post office and the day stole her senses.  It was warm in the sunshine and crisp in the shade.  The pale blue sky was full of fluffy clouds and the sun played peek-a-boo between the trees.  All she could think, as she stood with the warmth on her face, was about walking down to the park.

She only went a few blocks outside her safety zone.  With thumbs hooked in the pockets of her size 14 jeans, she watched the kids on the playground.  A single breeze blew a strand of dark hair into her face.  Penny tucked the lock behind her ear, closed her eyes, and breathed deep.  All it took was that one stolen moment and the sneaker snuck into her life.
 
Late in the day, sitting on her bed and looking for a tube of chapstick, she found the sneaker.  It was shoved between her sunglasses and wallet, in the tight confines of her handbag.  Forgetting all about her cracked lips, Penny threw the offending item across the room.  It landed atop her dresser.
 
Penny jumped up off the bed and grabbed the sneaker.  The livingroom was dark but she could still see the outline of makeshift shelving.  On those shelves lay unimaginable treasure.  So unimaginable that the treasure often looked, and smelled, like junk. 
 
Sometimes Penny felt like she lived in one of those cramped stalls you find at a flea market.  But those flea market merchants were lucky.  They only worked weekends and holidays.  Penny's market never closed.  She didn't get a break from her regular stream of customers. 
 
Penny tossed the sneaker at the nearest pile.  The sneaky snarkey sneaker settled nicely amidst its peers.  She shook out her arms and expelled a breath.  The junk could spend all the time it wanted gossiping about how she failed in her goal. 
 
Penny was determined not to care.  She wasn't going to think about it a moment longer.  A timid knock brought Penny's head around.  It was soon followed by a more forceful rap.
 
"Fuck".  Penny muttered. 
 
She didn't hesitate to swing open the door.  Despite the late hour, she knew her unexpected guest wouldn't hurt her.  No matter how scary they might look they were on her doorstep for a purpose and they all seemed to consider her role a pretty sacred one.
 
A drawn, bookish looking man stood in the stairwell.  Penny watched him walk in.  He was suprisingly cliche.  Exactly what's you'd expect from a guy dabling in magics.  All brown tweed and specticales.

Penny's curiosity disappeared the moment he looked at her.  He started to open his mouth but Penny held up a hand.
 
"Better if you don't say anything."  He looked to disagree so Penny out on her best authoritative face.  "The mojo works better if you don't argue.  Just stand there and let me do my thing.  'K?"
 
He blinked, dumbfounded, and nodded. 
 
Penny stepped to the center of the room.  Eyes closed, she turned her head slowly from one side to the other.  It looked like she was listening for something but, really, she was was looking.  Searching the darkness.
 
"So you're the cause of my insomnia."  Penny muttered.  Eyes still closed, she held up a hand to stop him from talking.  "Don't bother answering.  I'm not talking to you."
 
She slowly rotated, still searching.  "I'm just rambling to myself.  Waiting for the-"
 
There it was.  A flicker and a feeling.  Sometimes the light was like the faint circle you see on your eyelids after looking up at the sun.  Or the soft shape of glow-in-the dark stars when you turn the light off. 
 
It used to be that the glow appeared even before they showed up at her door.  She'd blink and see something eager for the person that was about to knock.  Of late that happened less and less.  Since the clutter started to pile up she was lucky if she woke up before they arrived.

The glow behind her eyes might be different each time but the sensation was always the same.  It was like a gentle electric charge.  A tingle that went to the core of her being.  The urge to move pulled her in one direction or the other.  Like playing hot and cold with herself, the feeling told her where to go. 
 
She took slow, inching steps.  This time the light behind her eyes was faint.  She knew the item was close but that was all she could tell.  She let herself follow the pull and the light got brighter, leading her to the item he so deperately desired.
 
"This may look stupid to you," Penny informed her silent companion, "but it feels even dumber to me.  The whole thing is just id-"
 
Penny stubbed her toe on the couch corner.  "Fuck!"
 
She reached down and felt the item before she saw it.  The trinket was an old, tarnished belt buckle.  There was some kind of design on it but Penny didn't bother to look closely.  She wasn't into the objects, like an antique dealer or a flea market peddler.  This junk was her burden, not her treasure.   
 
"You know," Penny continued on her rant, "there's nothing mystical about stubbing your toe.  It just friggen' hurts."
 
She handed her guest his trinket.  "There you go.  My pain is your gain."
 
He looked disappointed.
 
"Not what you thought, huh?" 
 
He shook his head.
 
"Join the club." 
 
Penny opened the front door and waited for him to leave.
 
"Wait," the guy said, "um..."
 
"It's exactly what you're looking for."  Penny assured him.  He opened his mouth again but she jumped in before he could speak.  "I can't answer any of your questions because I don't know.  The only thing I can tell you is don't come back."
 
"Uh...why not?" He asked before she should stop him.
 
"Because it's bad.  Becasue I said so.  Because you're the one that came here to get that thing from me.  So don't push it."
 
He persisted, "But-"
 
"Oh my god!  You people."  She said, full of frustration.  "I can't help you.  I'm just a conduit.  I don't have any answers."
 
He snapped his gaping gaw shut but didn't budge.
 
"You have to leave."
 
The guy crossed his arms.  She was suprised to see a stuborn streak in someone that looked so bookish.  There was nothing Penny wanted more, at this very moment, for him to leave.  But she couldn't bring herself to touch him.
 
All she had to do was take his arm.  Grab him and pull him down the stairs and physically eject him from the premise.  Instead, she just stood there, doing her very best to stare him down.
 
"Fine."  Penny shrugged and then held out her hand.  "You might as well give it back to me."
 
He shoved the hand that held the trinket into his pocket.  "No."
 
"Stick around and you'll mess up the mojo.  Then it'll really just be a usless piece of junk."  Penny held her face firm, attempting to hide the bluff.  "Or you could just leave.  And I can go back to bed.  Becasue, let me tell you, I'm tired of this whole scene."
 
Reluctantly, he walked across the threshold and out the door.  Penny didn't give him a chance for second thoughts.  She shut the door behind him and clicked over the deadbolt. 
 
Penny hated to lie but she couldn't stand when they pushed.  They wanted to pick her brain but there was nothing to be picked.  They'd both just end up frustrated over questions that had no answers.
 
A wave of fatigue washed over her.  At least it wasn't a shoe that woke her.  The thought was vaugle comforting.  Penny padded back to the bedroom.  The bed was inviting.  She switched off the light and grabbed the covers from the floor.
 
She closed her eyes and pulled the blanket tight around her head.  Not that she considered the sneaker blameless.  The thought flittered through her mind like a bug that wouldn't stop pestering her.  Penny grimaced in the darkness.
 
Trying to settle, she flipped over.  If she could just clear her head.  Focus on sleep and not anything else.  But trying to make her mind go black made the thoughts buzz all that faster.
 
The damn thing stuck into her home.  She didn't care if it was an inanimate object.  It was an intruder.  Even more of an intruder than her uninited guest.  At least the guy she could get rid of.   

Penny kept her eyes shut.  The thoughts were useless.  They just made her feel helpless.  There was nothing to be done about the snarkey sneaker or the late night visitor that left her with a throbbing toe.
 
She felt herself starting to drift.  Her mind slowed.  All that stuff could wait until tomorrow.  Sleep was a comfort she was very eager to give into.

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