If all goes according to plan, WISHING CROSS STATION is going to be released in June. I don't have an exact date for you yet, as it is still in the final stages of production; but in the mean time I decided to share with you all a behind-the-scenes, first look at the first chapter of this novel.
This book is different from the ones I've written before. You may recognize my writing style, to be sure, but the content and the tone are darker. If asked why this is so, the only answer I can give is that this is the story that was in my heart; so there it is on the pages.
I truly wrote my heart out on this one.
I have not felt such an attachment to a story, or a cast of characters, since GODSPEED.
I hope that it will surprise you, make you think, and perhaps even make you feel something deep in your own heart, too.
Without further ado, please allow me to introduce you to our protagonist: a young Mr. Keigan Wainwright...
A dark fantasy romance from the author of GODSPEED and OF STARDUST…
Don’t stay a moment longer than you have to. Don’t say too much. Don’t pollute the timeline.
When nineteen-year-old college library page Keigan Wainwright is sent to pick up a private donation of books for the school’s collection, he has no idea where one of those books will take him, or what it will take from him.
Retracing a powerful man’s footsteps through the past, Keigan finds himself caught in the same dangerous trap: falling in love with a woman he was never meant to know, and uncertain he will ever find his way home.
WISHING CROSS STATION
by February Grace *
January 1, 2016
The wail and cry of the whistle. The puff of the engine. The clang of the bell and grinding screech of the brakes… all combined with the roar of a biting winter wind.
No matter how old I live to be, I will never forget that particular cacophony, an orchestra tuning up in preparation for a command performance. When I heard her approach, I knew the journey I was about to take would change me— no matter where I ended up when it was over.
She was beautiful, dark, and strong, with powerful legs beneath her as she rode the rails into the station. Plumes of white and grey rose around her as she moved, fluttering like angel’s wings. The smell of the smoke was a singular aroma. Coal, fire, and heat all combined to intoxicate a man, to loosen the ideas in his head from solid form into threads meant to be spun into the foolishness of dreams.
She was a vixen, a siren, a savior, and damnation all in one. All things that beckon men to follow her anywhere, do anything to finally reach ecstasy before demise.
She was one of a kind, this engine, and her name was Aurelia Belle.
She’s silent; the echoes of her glory only replay in my head. How clear, how deafening, how devastating, still.
She is restored now, sleeping in the roundhouse because the Historical Park is closed for the season. What happened to the version of the engine that took me on the voyage of a lifetime, I may never know.
I know just this: writing it down is the only way for me to even begin to come to terms with the fact it happened.
It did really happen, of this I am certain, because damn it, I was there.
It doesn’t matter now if anyone else knows, or believes.
I know, I believe, and I will always remember.
It started as the most significant things in life do: in the middle of an ordinary weekday afternoon.
Sandy, my boss, asked me to go on an errand to pick up a bunch of books meant as a donation to the library at J. Howard Fox Community College. Just one of my glamorous duties as a page there. My official job title should have been Lowest Man on the Totem Pole, and Hauler of Unwieldy Objects.
I sang softly, coming up behind her as she sat at her desk with a wireless earpiece in her left ear. “Sannnnndyyyy…”
“Keigan Wainwright, you’re going to scare five years off my life if you keep sneaking up on me!” She shooed me back, pretending not to enjoy the teasing, but I knew she did. “What do you want?”
“Just wanted you to know I’m taking off. To pick up the book donation.”
“Very good,” she replied with a nod, her graying blonde bob bouncing as she moved. “Be a dear and run them straight over to the research department at the museum afterward. They can tell us what we’ve got, clean them up. If they want, they may display some of them in the Park itself.”
“We don’t get them automatically?”
“Then why send me for them?”
“Because the research department is made up of little old ladies who couldn’t lift a spiral notebook over their heads without breaking an arm.”
“Ah.” At least it got me out of an afternoon of endless monotony shelving books. “I’m on it.”
“Thanks, Keigan, you’re a prince.”
“I know.” I waved at her without looking back as I headed outside.
The brakes on my Grandfather’s–no, my—ancient sedan cried their complaints as I pulled up in front of the house of the book donor, Mr. Donahue.
I wondered how long it’d be before I accepted that the few possessions Grandfather had owned in this world were now mine. A month since the funeral, and I still expected to see him in his chair when I got home.
I tried to keep my mind on where I was, what I was doing. I sized up the dwelling before me.
At least the house is only one story, I thought. No stairs that’ll fight me when I carry the books.
I was wrong about the stairs. I ended up having to bring them down a ladder from the bloody attic.
“Be careful, they’re heavy,” Mr. Donahue said, tapping his foot against the floor and staring up at me. I struggled to rise to my feet from my knees. At six-foot-two, I couldn’t stand to my full height, so I hunched over, looking for boxes marked books among many tagged in uneven script with eclectic labels such as fishing lures and Grandma’s china.
“Would you like some tea?” the ancient man asked as I came down the ladder halfway, then reached back up to heft a heavy box of books onto my shoulder.
“No…thank…you…” I replied, struggling for air.
Granted, I’d never been athletically inclined, but the work I’d been doing as a page for the past year and a half since I’d started school should have allowed me to do this without getting winded so fast. Damned asthma. I took my inhaler out of my pocket, shook it, and drew a few puffs.
“Scotch?” he countered, taking a quick swig from a flask in his hand and then holding it out to me with gnarled fingers.
For a second, I considered it, even though at nineteen, I was still too young to do it legally. “No, thanks, not while I’m working and driving and all.”
“Sure, sure, sorry. Don’t let me get in your way. You just go about your work there.”
“Mr. Donahue,” I asked, as I wiped sweat from my brow with the sleeve of my jacket and grasped the rungs of the ladder again, “how many books did you want to donate to the library?”
I was wondering just how grueling this level of Hell was going to be, and how long I’d be expected to remain a resident of it.
“Not my books,” he clarified, checking the time on an ornate, antique-looking pocket watch. “My father’s books.”
“I see,” I said, though at first I didn’t. Then, I supposed he felt about these books the same way I felt about my Grandfather’s car. Technically they belonged to him, but he felt as though they were still someone else’s property.
“He left about a dozen boxes of books when he died, oh, that’d be, I forget how many years now, to be honest. More than ten but less than twenty. Terrible thing when your mind goes and there’s no one left to remind you of what used to be.” He sat down in an easy chair and took another swig from his flask. “Body is going the way of my brain, I fear. Docs don’t give me much time, so I figure, I better see to it Dad’s wishes are carried out, and these books go to the College like he wanted.”
I nodded, trying not to choke on the clouds of dust swirling around my head, which were now combining with the aroma of a freshly-lit cigar.
The old man leaned back in his chair, drew on it long and deep, and exhaled an acrid trail. “He worked for J. Howard Fox back in the day, you know.”
“Oh?” My voice was muffled as I wrangled another box down from the attic and set it at my feet before climbing the ladder yet again.
“Dad was an inventor. Fox kept a bunch of them on staff, always trying to be at the forefront of discovery of the next big thing. Of course, it never seemed to work out for him. His family’s fortune in coal and oil was what kept his empire running.”
I needed to rest a moment after bringing down the last box I could see marked books. It was heavier than the others, and covered in a layer of dust.
I turned away so as not to cough in the man’s direction even though, truth be told, his cigar was just about as bad for my lungs as the dust was.
When I was finally able to catch my breath enough to speak, I moved over to him and gestured toward the fourteen boxes I’d accumulated. “Do you want to look in any of these one last time? Make sure there’s nothing you might want to keep?”
“Son, they’ve been up there so long, the only thing in ‘em besides old books is probably a few petrified spiders.”
“If you are interested, though, you’re welcome to take a peek inside. You’ll be cataloguing them anyway, I would imagine.”
I wouldn’t, at least not at first; the people at the archives would. Still, curiosity got the better of me, and I carefully opened the folds of cardboard at the tops of the first couple of boxes. I saw a few pretty volumes, perhaps first editions; others looked like they belonged in a landfill rather than a college library. I knew looks could be deceiving when it came to rare and used books, though, so we’d have experts checking them out. Anything really valuable would go into the J. Howard Fox Museum collection, maybe even go on display in an exhibit, or in an appropriate building on the grounds of the adjacent Wishing Cross Historical Park.
The Park, one of the nation’s premier historical theme parks, held many such treasures, and I thought it would be cool to go back there to visit one of these days. I hadn’t actually been inside the place myself since a field trip in high school. Money was tight, and even student ticket costs were steep.
“These will make a great donation. Thank you very much, sir,” I said, anxious now to get going. I was tired, my skin was itching from my blasted dust allergy, and I needed to take an antihistamine soon or my eyes would swell shut.
“Be a good boy, close the hatch to the attic for me? Stick the ladder back up inside before you do. Next person to go through this place will be the estate liquidators after I’m gone. They’ll need a way to get back up there.”
“Sure thing,” I sighed, thinking about my Grandfather again. It just didn’t get any easier, the thought of people you loved aging and withering away. I wondered for a moment if this man had anyone left who worried about him. “Before I close up shop, is there anything else you want from up there?”
I thought maybe there were family photos, or some other keepsakes he might want to rummage through.
“There is one thing…a box just marked ‘Stuff’. Do you happen to see it up there?”
Oh, how I hated myself in this moment for agreeing to look for a needle in that dirty, wretched haystack.
“Let me take a look…” I poked my head back up and shone my flashlight back and forth. “I don’t see… wait, hold on. Give me a second.”
I climbed all the way in and moved an old tackle box and rabbit-eared television out of the way, revealing the box marked Stuff. I swore softly as I soundly hit my head on the low ceiling. The blow would leave a bump.
I withdrew the box from its hiding place and carried it down carefully, taking note of the fact I was now breaking out in hives.
I was going to have to do something about this before it got any worse. Damn me for forgetting to take a pill before I came here, anyway…
“Sir, I’ll be right back, I just need to grab a water bottle from my car,” I said, and without waiting for him to answer, I lowered the box of stuff to the ground at his feet and hurried out the door.
Soon, I was fumbling through my backpack for antihistamine and eye drops. I found both, and with a quick swig of water, swallowed two pills. I put the eye drops in, careful not to lose the cap for the bottle, and then waited for them to start working.
Fortunately, by the time the drops kicked in, I was feeling well enough to venture back inside of old man Donahue’s house.
I found him holding a small model of a train engine in his hands, and a book that I was curious about simply because it wasn’t in any of the boxes marked books.
“Land sakes, I forgot about this one…”
He held the book out to me, and I analyzed it. It was ornate, leather bound with a silvery-gray colored cover.
“This book is the most prized of his entire collection. He never would tell me why, and I tried to read the darned thing half a dozen times. Got a whipping once or twice for it, I’ll tell you. By the time he was dead and couldn’t catch me trying anymore, my eyesight had gone to the point I couldn’t make out the text.”
“May I?” I carefully opened the book, fully aware with its apparent age and condition the cover could crack right off at the spine if I weren’t careful.
And I wanted to be careful. I’d always been a book lover; even as a kid, I took good care of my well-read paperbacks and the occasional hardcover I got for Christmas from my grandparents. Every year from the time I was ten, they also gave me a leather-bound blank book to use as a journal. Writing things down became something of an addiction I’ve never been able to shake.
I was certain from the moment I set eyes on that particular book that I’d never seen its like before, not even in the library’s vast collection. The pages appeared to be typewritten on discolored onion-skin paper, likely a canary shade when it was new. With the tip of my finger, I could feel slight indentations from the keys striking each word.
It was like spun glass, so fragile I was terrified even to breathe while I was holding it.
“It says…” I strained to read the title on the page, “Wishing Cross… something. I can’t make out the last word. I can’t make out the author, either. Did you want to donate it? There will be no way to catalogue it until we get an author’s name so it can be properly researched.”
He let my question hang, lost in thought. I waited a moment, then tried again.
“Do you have any other information about this book? Any idea where your father got it, or who might have written it?”
“I don’t think so, I’m sorry,” Mr. Donahue said at last. “There, tuck it into one of your book boxes. I know you should be getting back to the library, and I’m overdue for my nap.”
I took the hint that he was ready for me to be on my way, so I loaded the car up with boxes as quickly as I could before I finally came back to gather up the last one in my arms.
“Wait… here. Take this.” Mr. Donahue scribbled something, then handed me a small scrap of paper with a name and location written on it I could barely decipher.
I looked closely. The note read: Seymour Sanderson, Winter Forest Retirement Home. I frowned, puzzled.
“My father may never have explained the silver book to me, but if there is anyone on Earth who might know what it means, it’s this guy.” Mr. Donahue coughed deeply before he drew another long drag from his cigar. “He was an intern at Fox Industries when my father worked there part time, after he’d retired. You know, my father never stopped working until right before the very end. He lived to be a hundred, and he did something productive every day of ninety-five years before it. Rest his soul.”
“He sounds like he was quite a man.”
Mr. Donahue’s eyes took on a faraway look. “He really was. I could never be half the man he was.” He actually welled up, and he dabbed at his nose with a handkerchief. “Just take care of the special book, and here…” He gestured toward me with the small locomotive model. “For your trouble.”
“I couldn’t, really, I mean, the library is already paying me to—”
“I insist,” he added, and from the tremor in his voice, I knew it would be disrespectful to say no.
“Thank you.” I tucked the tiny engine, about the size of a Christmas ornament, into the breast pocket of my jacket. I’d look at it in more detail later.
“Boy, one last thing,” Mr. Donahue added, as I moved to the door. “Don’t let the College get their hands on the silver book until you talk to Sanderson first. Understand? I don’t know exactly what it means or what it is, but I know it was very important to my father.”
“Give me your word, please,” the old man asked, extending a withered hand. “This means a lot to me.”
“Sure, I give you my word.” I shook his hand as gently as I could, but still feared breaking his fingers with the slightest touch.
He settled back into his chair, seeming greatly relieved. “Good. Very good. Thank you.”
“Thank you,” I said, then closed the front door behind me.
I was careful to hold the box of books away from me as I got into the car. I didn’t want to smash the small treasure I’d tucked into my pocket.
I placed the last box into the back seat, then pulled out the special book. I didn’t have anything, really, to protect it with, so I took a clean sweatshirt from my backpack and wrapped it around the book before zipping the bundle inside. I took the small locomotive model out of my jacket and tucked it into the front compartment of the bag, along with my cell phone.
I knew, of course, I should tell Sandy about this book, especially if it could be very rare or valuable. But I also knew Mr. Donahue was making a donation to the College to follow his father’s wishes; the items were his to do with as he pleased. If it pleased him for me to ask this Mr. Sanderson for information first, then I would do it.
Tomorrow my shift at the library would be short. I’d have time in the morning to stop by Winter Forest, which was not far from my apartment, and see if Mr. Sanderson was lucid enough to have a meaningful conversation.
So begins a journey that will change Keigan's life forever... and that I hope will live a long time in your memory.
WISHING CROSS STATION, coming soon from Booktrope. Thank you, Booktrope...and thank you to my amazing team: Majanka Verstraete, Laura Bartha, Jennifer Gracen, and Greg Simanson.
*All rights reserved, February Grace and Booktrope 2015