If I’m going to have a blog about writing, I suppose I should at some point put some of my writing up on it. So. Here is the unedited first chapter of my NaNoWriMo novel from two years ago, a steampunkish reimagining of the Wizard of Oz. When I finish my rewrites, I’ll put up the first couple of chapters again, for comparison.
The farm hadn’t been successful for a long time. Uncle Henry was working himself into an early grave trying, but the earth was as tired as he was. There was never enough rain. Never enough of anything.
Dorothy couldn’t remember ever living anywhere else. She’d come to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em when she was three. Aunt Em had told her about her mother, a few times, but it had never seemed quite real to Dorothy. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em were what was real. Kansas and their farm were real. The great grey-green prairie stretching out all around them, dotted with farms, was real.
And the Overlanders were real, the great moving, mechanical cities that had long ago replaced the cities built on the ground. They usually passed through two or three times a year. There was a bigger one and a smaller one. Uncle Henry had told her that there were others – he’d seen them as a boy, before he came to Kansas. But Dorothy had only ever seen two. They came to collect food from the special barns. Usually in autumn, after harvest, but sometimes as late as midwinter. Other times, too, but they never knew when.
It had been a while since she’d seen one, but Aunt Em had said that morning that Mrs Wood had said yesterday that there was one nearby, so Dorothy kept an eye out as she followed Uncle Henry into the fields. The other eye was on the sky. There was a storm coming… a bad one, Uncle Henry said. They had to bring in the cows.
“Uncle Henry?” Dorothy called, hurrying to catch up with him. “What do the Overlanders do during storms?”
“I don’t know.” Uncle Henry was looking at the sky, his worn face creased into a frown. “Dorothy, this isn’t just any storm. I think there’s a tornado coming. We have to hurry.”
Dorothy felt a shiver down her spine. She’d never known a tornado to come really close to the farm, but she’d heard about them. She tried not to imagine all that destructive force brought down on their little grey house, the farm, everything she’d ever known. She walked faster, almost running now.
The cows were nervous, and it took longer than usual to convince them to start back to the barn. Dorothy counted as they went through the gate… and came up one short. “Uncle Henry!”
He was on the other side of the gate, pushing his hat back on his head and looking anxiously at the sky. “I know, Bluebell wandered off again. We only have a few minutes, Dorothy. She’ll be all right.”
“But she’s down at the river, Uncle Henry, she always is, we can – ”
“There’s no time, Dorothy! We have to get into the storm-cellar.” Uncle Henry caught her arm and tugged, pushing her toward the path back up to the house. “You run and help your aunt with the chickens.”
“But – ”
Dorothy went. She knew Uncle Henry needed her help with the nervous cows. If he was sending her ahead, that meant he wasn’t sure they’d get the cows to the barn in time. She wanted to stay with him, but she knew what Uncle Henry did, too – that Aunt Em wouldn’t go down into the cellar until Dorothy was there. So she ran, looking up at the heavy, greenish-coloured clouds. The wind was picking up, pushing back at her as she ran, slowing her down…
And then carrying a low moo to her ears. Dorothy looked, and then stared.
Bluebell wasn’t down at the river after all. She was backed into a thicket, mooing frantically as a flying thing made of metal and wood, with a big sort of claw sticking out of its underside, tried to grab at her. A Gatherer! The Overlanders sent them out to the special barns to collect food, but Dorothy had never seen one. Children weren’t allowed near the barn, and despite the fact that she was fifteen, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry still thought she was a child. Dorothy just stared in wonder for a long moment, and then the thing bobbed and wiggled, its claw flexing and reaching toward Bluebell.
It was trying to steal their cow!
Dorothy jumped over the fence, which was low here, and raced down toward the thing. “Stop it!” she shouted, though she had no idea if it could hear her, or understand her if it did. “Leave our cow alone!” Closer to the thicket she found a fallen branch and picked it up. “Go away! This isn’t one of your places to get food!” She whacked the claw with the branch, which hurt her hands and made the struck metal ring. “Go! Away!” She hit it again, ignoring the strengthening wind yanking at her hair and her skirts.
The thing bobbed, twirling around in place and then tilting, as if it were trying to look underneath itself but couldn’t quite manage. Dorothy whacked the claw again, then jabbed the end of the branch up at the thing’s underside. If it couldn’t see her then it couldn’t tell she was just one half-grown girl with a branch, and if she bothered it enough…
Then it froze, suddenly, and Dorothy paused. She’d heard it too – a strange roaring sound. Was the city coming for the Gatherer? She had no idea how these things worked, nobody really did. The roaring was getting louder and louder, and she looked around, but she couldn’t really see anything from underneath the Gatherer.
Then it swung around and darted to the side, away from Bluebell, and Dorothy shrieked as the claw – as long as she was, and wide enough around to pick up the biggest bull – slammed into her, lifting her feet off the ground. She grabbed onto it, to keep it from knocking her down, and in the second she held on the Gatherer shot upward, leaving Dorothy dangling far above the ground. She managed to get her foot onto the curved part of the claw, so she wasn’t just dangling from her hands, and looked around.
It wasn’t the city she’d heard roaring. It was a tornado, like a long black finger reaching down from the clouds. And it was coming straight toward them, or so it seemed to Dorothy. The Gatherer seemed to agree, because it turned and flew very fast, away from the farm and away from the tornado, taking Dorothy with it.