King Beatrice releases on the 21st of November . . . that's one week away! In honor of that, I will be releasing the first 4 chapters one chapter at a time!
Enjoy the first chapter!
Let me know what you think!
And remember, you can pre-order King Beatrice online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more!
(n.) a shifting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination
You’ll find yourself surrounded by the unlikeliest of people.
The boy, Alex, thought he had heard that somewhere before.
You’ll need who you least expect.
What a load of garbage. Alex glared at the television screen, or, more accurately, through the screen, past the actors, around the set, and straight to the directors and writers who oversaw the romanticization of that trash. He should have changed the channel an episode ago when he first stumbled upon the show, yet the poor boy found himself staring at the screen as if he were witnessing a car wreck.
Lilian, the gorgeous teen who was made “nerdy” by sticking on a pair of thick glasses, was too smart for her new adventurous and, as far as Alex was concerned, annoying band of misfits this character decided to call friends. It was all to get back at her parents, which seemed incredibly irrational considering Lillian apparently had a 4.0 GPA, suggesting that she had some sort of notable intelligence. But what did Alex know? He was only twelve and on his second episode.
It caused physical discomfort to the boy watching as Lillian got herself into all sorts of trouble, but he continued to follow her story, muttering I-told-you-so’s under his breath every twenty minutes. She should have stuck to solitude, Alex thought with an exaggerated sigh. Look at what those idiots got you into this time. . .
“Alex. Alex, honey?” The boy’s mother, Marianne,looked down at her son and pursed her lips. She hated when he slipped into a daze, utterly oblivious to all around him as he focused so intently on the television. “Alex,” Marianne repeated, and finally, he turned and faced her, his face showing a puzzled expression. “Honey, the summer is almost over.”
“I know.” He frowned and stared out the window. It was almost the end of summer and she wanted him to go outside, but he wished to stay inside where it was cool, quiet, and far from everyone else.
“Why don’t you go outside? Find some friends? Mm?”
Friends. He almost laughed. Alex didn’t want friends. What he wanted was peace and that was certainly not what he got his first year of middle school. Alex hadn’t the faintest idea as to why his mother found the prospect of him attaining friends so enticing.
“The ladies from church are coming today. You can stay and have tea with us or . . .”
His eyes grew wide.
It was Sunday afternoon and the old ladies always came on Sunday at four o’clock. They smelled like stale perfume and raisins, and they never missed an opportunity to pinch his cheeks and tell him how handsome he was becoming.
“I’ll go,” he said quickly, turning off the television and heading for the door. He called for the dog who came gallivanting with a wide, silly grin on his face.
“Be back before dark!” his mother called, though she had no doubt that her son would be home long before then.
Grimacing, he closed the door behind him and clasped the leash onto Rex’s collar. Eternally grateful, the yellow lab barked. There was nothing Rex loved more than a walk with Alex, even if it was in the blazing summer heat.
“Come on.” Alex didn’t have to pull very hard on the leash to get Rex to go. Alex took the same route every walk, so the dog already knew the path as well as he knew his own home. “You’re more excited than I am.”
Alex had never cared much for the outdoors; there were always too many people, and talkative people at that, especially whenever he dragged Rex along, and it was always too hot or too cold. But if he ever did have to go outside, Alex preferred it to be because he was walking Rex, his only friend.
They stopped at an intersection with shade where Alex took the opportunity to wipe the sweat from his forehead. To the left was the route they always took. It went into more residential housing and there was a shortcut to get home sooner should they both tire of the walk early, which Alex was already planning on taking. To the right was a way he’d never traveled. Three blocks down and the road ended at a forest. Alex had no knowledge of how deep it went, nor did he particularly care. Bugs. Bugs. And more bugs. No, thank you!
Sighing, Alex started to the left, but Rex had another idea.
Catching a scent, or perhaps eyeing a squirrel, Rex took off in the opposite direction. At first, the boy pulled and pulled hard, yet Rex didn’t seem to notice or care; he was relentless. After a block of embarrassing fumbling, Alex gave up and let Rex lead. It wasn’t until they stopped at the entrance to the wood that Alex finally put his foot down.
“No,” Alex said deeply, or at least as deeply as a boy of twelve could.
Rex wasn’t listening. In fact, he was sniffing with even more intensity than before. The lab wanted to go into the wood, just as he had wanted every day previous, but this walk was different.
This little forest in the middle of the city gave the boy the creeps. Sure, it was probably safe, Alex thought. However, it was far too foreign and a little too eerie for the boy to try. Alex took a few steps backwards, tugging Rex lightly, but the lab surged forward with urgency and strength that Alex wasn’t expecting.
For a moment, the boy stood there, empty-handed, dumbfounded, and astonished by his pet’s boldness. He shouted for Rex, and then screamed. Rex only looked back once, a bright grin on the dope’s face. Alex couldn’t tell if Rex thought it was a game or if he was just plain stupid, probably both, but one thing was certain: Alex had to go into the woods.
Murmuring to himself, he reluctantly put one foot in front of the other and called for Rex.
When Rex disappeared over a hill, Alex ran for the first time all summer. Half of him expected Rex to return instantly like a loyal lab should, but the other half couldn’t help but imagine turning a corner and finding him . . . Alex didn’t want to think of the nightmarish possibilities.
“Rex!” he shrieked again, panic seizing him.
Alex had lost track of the time long ago, and then got lost not long after that. He continued running, though he wasn’t sure how long he could keep that up; he was terribly out of shape.
Nearly collapsing, Alex fell against a tree, clutching his chest and trying to breathe. The boy thought of his overbearing gym teacher yelling at him to put his hands behind his head if he was so out of breath, so he did. He didn’t realize how hot it was, even in the shade, or how much he was sweating until just then. And the stupid breathing trick wasn’t working.
Alex started pacing.
With each step another thought crept in, and with every arriving thought came the screaming fact that he couldn’t breathe. Oh God, he thought, Rex is dead. Rex is dead, and then Alex would be dead because his mother was going to kill him.
Alex leapt from death’s clutches and scanned the area.
Alex sprinted in thedirection of the sound, trying his hardest to not give in to his body’s desire to lie down and die right there.
“Crap,” Alex whispered. He slowed to a walk, and then stood completely still, impatient but listening.
Something stuck into his back.
He turned, assuming it was only a loose branch or something harmless, but moving only intensified the pain.
Trillions of thoughts raced through Alex’s mind. Someone had snuck behind him without making a sound, and now he was going to be killed where no one would find him for weeks, maybe months.
He shut his eyes tight as if it would help.
Alex whimpered, “Please.”
He was shoved hard and stumbled forward. The sharp and sudden sound of a laugh cracked and nearly made Alex pee, fearful that he’d be killed at the hands of some lunatic. But the laugh wasn’t as Alex expected. It was a girl’s laugh.
A girl, Alex thought, puzzled.
He regained his balance, opened his eyes, and looked around. There, just in front of him, standing proudly with one hand on her hip and the other hand grasping a large stick, with her chin up, a head of frizzy hair, and a smirk, stood a girl on a boulder.
“Who are—Rex!” Alex exclaimed as his lab appeared atop the boulder beside the girl. “Come on, boy!” Alex patted his leg and breathed a sigh of relief.
Rex looked up at the girl as if asking for permission, but stayed in place.
“Sheis not a he,” the girl corrected.
“He is my dog. Come here!” Alex whistled, but Rex obeyed the girl . . . again.
“Her name is Regenald.”
“That isn’t even a girl’s name!”
“Well, she likes it, and that’s all the matters.”
Alex started to get the feeling that arguing with her was a waste of time. “Rex, we’re going home. Now.”
Rex headed for his owner, but the girl’s grasp and petting was far more exciting. “I have an idea.” She grinned and scratched Rex behind the ears. “I’ll call you Regenald Rex. I think I like that much better!”
You’ve got to be joking, Alex thought, absolutely baffled.
“Do you want to play?” she asked after a painfully long stretch of silence.
Play? Alex didn’t know if she honestly believed that keeping his dog hostage would make him want to play with her, but the girl was dead serious.
This boy was the first kid she had ever seen in that wood without a parent—he was one of the few people she had seen there at all—and to make it even better, he had a dog. He would be the perfect friend.
“I have a game that I—”
“No, thanks. Rex, come.” This time the lab listened.
She watched, a smirk creeping upon her lips, as Alex looked around him, lost. Jumping down from the boulder and driving the stick into her belt loop as a sword into a sheath, the girl spoke. “Do you know how to get back?” She skipped around him theatrically.
“Are you sure? This place is surprisingly big and—”
“Just leave me alone.” His words came out sharp and cold, and her pain and embarrassment shone clear to him. For a moment, he felt guilty. “P-please. And thank you for taking care of my dog.”
Standing perfectly still and erect, the strange girl nodded to him.
He found himself somewhat astonished that she said nothing. Better not push my luck, Alex thought, grabbing hold of Rex’s leash and hurrying off.
A few minutes later, Alex was lost. There were no people to ask for directions, no signs, not even a path to follow.
“Way to go, Rex.” By that time, Alex should have been back home, both he and his furry friend rehydrating and hiding from the old church ladies up in his room and watching his favorite engineering show. “We are so lost.”
The girl barged past Alex, sweeping the leash from his grasp and taking a sharp left turn. “This way,” she sang, glad that she had decided to follow behind.
Submissive, Alex bowed his head and followed. He just wanted to go home. The boy glanced down at his watch. It was gone. With his luck, of course it had fallen off. Would he be hit by a bus on the way back, too?
“Stay close,” the girl said to Rex just as she set him free.
“I-I really don’t think it’s such a good idea to let him off the leash.”
“She’s fine. She can be trusted.”
If Rex was fine and could be trusted, thought Alex, then why was he in the forest instead of at home?
“Regenald Rex is my trusty wolf companion,” she explained, slowing her speed to match Alex’s.
“Wolf companion?” She’s kidding, he thought. Right? She can’t be serious.
“Yup! And I’m King Beatrice.” She halted and pressed a hand to his chest, stopping him, too. The girl looked around, suspicious of their surroundings. Finally, she said in a hushed tone, “But be careful who you tell that to. It isn’t safe to be blurting that kind of information to just anyone, you know?”
Of course, it wasn’t safe. That’s the kind of talk that gets you put in the looney bin!
Alex didn’t know how to respond. He just stood there and stared at her. She thinks she’s a king? He couldn’t believe it. Had he done something wrong? Was he rude to his mother? Did he forget to help Dad? Alex couldn’t figure out what it was that he had done to deserve the day he had had.
She wasn’t surprised by the look on his face; most people expect kings to be much larger. She’d be tall one day, though, and then she’d really fit the bill.
“So. . . your name is Beatrice?”
She squinted for a moment, and then smiled and continued the trek. “It’s KingBeatrice to you.”
He wouldn’t be caught dead calling her king anything.
“And your name?” She petted Rex who appeared at her side.
Beatrice frowned, “I don’t like it.”
“I-It’s my name.”
Suddenly, she planted herself in front of him and studied the boy from head to toe. Alex felt unmeasurable levels of discomfort. No one had ever looked at him that closely before, not even when he had peed his pants in the cafeteria in the fifth grade after he asked out his crush, Pam Truly. He hated Pam Truly after that day, her and all her friends.
Beatrice had never had so much trouble coming up with a new name before. Names came so easily to her, but he stumped Beatrice.
He was scrawny, a little shorter than her, and it looked like he had never smiled in his whole life. “You seem to be a bit snotty and most definitely serious, so we’ll call you . . .” she tapped her chin, “Ah! We’ll call you Mr. Holberry!”
“Mr. What?” Alex didn’t know just what he heard, but he knew he wasn’t going to like it.
“Please, my name is Alex.”
“Right this way, Mr. Holberry! Now, I must warn you that we are in quite a dangerous part of my kingdom.”
She was ignoring him. She had to be, thought Alex, and she had to be crazy, indisputably insane. He didn’t want any part of her game. Besides, they were far too old to still play pretend. Alex, again, simply wanted out of the stupid woods.
The boy had no idea how deep in they were until Beatrice started talking, and then she kept talking and they still hadn’t gotten out. Alex partly believed she was tricking him and keeping him captive in that godforsaken place as her little play toy for all of eternity.
She told him everything. She told him about the castle, the great river that led into the ocean, the cliff that overlooked the same ocean, the mountains, and the Dark Woods. Beatrice shed some knowledge, not wanting to overload the boy, about how she planned to renovate her castle, that there was a boat festival coming up, and a little about her subjects, one of which he was now considered. Beatrice had been waiting so long to share her world with someone.
“Shush! Be quiet,” she warned Alex, calling Rex beside her and crouching behind a bush. “Come on, get down!” Beatrice waved him over quickly.
He didn’t move. The boy didn’t see anyone or anything. There were just trees and dirt and bugs and sweat and that was it. “I really just want to go home,” Alex groaned, more tired than he’d ever been in his life.
Beatrice frowned and pulled him down with more force than Alex knew a girl had. “Do you see them?”
No, of course he did not see anybody. For a second, he was gullible enough to look, but they were alone. They had been the entire time.
“There are the bandits! The ones I told you about!”
A word stood out clearly to the boy as he gaped at her. Phantasmagoria. He had read it in a book once and had never thought of it again until the girl who stood before him began rambling about bandits. She suffered from that disease, that phantasmagoria. He would have bet his allowance on it.
“They’re horrible,” she continued, either oblivious to or not caring about how unhappy Alex was. “They’ve stolen nearly everything from the village just outside the Dark Woods,” she noted his confused expression, “which is where we are now.”
He looked at the area around them. The trees were closer together, taller, and older than the rest. The more Alex thought about it, the more uncomfortable he felt in what she called the Dark Woods.
“We should do something.” Beatrice pulled out her stick—her sword.
“No!” He pulled her back down and dropped his head into his hands, feeling a massive headache coming. “No.”
“But it’s my duty to protect my people and we’re soclose to them right now!”
“There’s no one there,” the boy pleaded.
Maybe he could find his way back, he pondered. However, he knew that was just wishful thinking. The boy didn’t recognize the “Dark Woods.” In fact, Alex was nearly one hundred percent sure that she was just leading him around parts of the forest to show him her pretend kingdom instead of getting him to the entrance, so he was probably further than ever from home.
He was thirsty, sweating, nearing exhaustion, and Alex could see that Rex was feeling the same way.
She cleared her throat annoyingly loud and glared at him.
“No, I’m not calling you that.”
Beatrice’s eyes raised.
Alex didn’t budge.
“Not my problem.” Beatrice whistled for Rex and sauntered away from the boy.
Crap. “K-king Beatrice!” The girl smiled and stopped at the sound of her name. “Look, my mom is gonna freak if I don’t get home now. You understand. Right?”
She nodded, her spirits dropping for a fraction of a second. “We’ll save it for next time, then?”
“Sure,” he agreed, not planning on coming back or even taking Rex on a walk ever again.
“All right! Well, we’ll have to hurry so they don’t spot us! Let’s go, Regenald!” Beatrice and Rex took off, leaving Alex far behind and asking himself how those two could possibly have that kind of energy.
Much later, Beatrice came to a halt. “We’re here.” Sure enough, Alex could see a small trail and even the pavement if he looked hard enough. Overjoyed, he took hold of Rex’s leash and raced forward, the promise of air conditioning pushing him ahead.
Having realized he forgot to thank her, the boy turned back, but she was gone. Maybe she was a ghost, or a hallucination from the heat, like a mirage.
“You were gone for a long time!” His mom had been pacing the kitchen for the past hour with worry and had been only seconds away from getting in her car and scanning the neighborhood.
“Yeah, Rex pulled me into the woods.”
Marianne teased, “But isn’t that against routine?”
“I lost my watch, too.” Alex felt the bareness of his wrist and frowned. He loved that watch. It had a beaker and a microscope on it and fit better than any watch he’d ever owned.
“The one from the science center in Hawaii?” his dad, David, asked, entering the kitchen. Alex nodded. “You’d better find it.”
“Do I have to?”
His father gave him a look. “You begged your grandmother for that watch. What is she going to think when she finds out you lost it and didn’t care to find it?”
The boy groaned. He was hoping that she simply would never find out. “I’ll go look for it tomorrow.”
Alex hated the idea of possibly seeing the girl again.