Last November, as a participant in National Novel Writing Month, I created a rough draft novel of a little over 50,000 words. Beginning this month, I’ll be posting some excerpts from that draft, and later writing about my revision process as I work to make sense — and perhaps something publishable — out of my mad dash to tell a novel-length story in a month.
Below is the first selection from that story, a work of what I suppose might be called historical fantasy. It is also a work of fan-fiction, with several fandoms in play over the course of the narrative. I won’t say what those fandoms are just yet, in the hope that some of them will be self-evident. The text has been edited for readability, with obvious errors corrected. Otherwise it is more or less as I drafted it.
Worlds Over Again: A Fan-fiction
by Christine M. Bichler
“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
–Thomas Paine, Common Sense
“All the beautiful worlds that I have seen … they used to be yours.”
–Stevie Nicks, Songs from the Vault
Prologue: In which Our Heroine Discovers a Box …
It was a singular object to appear in the garden.
And at such a time, too, while the whole company, everyone who was anyone, was assembled in the ballroom under the light of the chandeliers and the spell being cast by the music.
It had to be magic, she mused. Magic was the only reason that otherwise rational people would crowd themselves into a confined space and dance and sweat and make themselves look like wax figures melting in the candlelight.
She had never cared for balls, nor for dancing, and so she found herself out in the garden when the mysterious object simply … appeared.
In fact, it appeared with considerable fanfare – a sort of thumping, wheezing, grinding cacophony of sound that could almost make one believe that the world was coming to an end. If one believed in such things. Elena du Chatelet, she told herself, was made of sterner stuff. Elena du Chatelet did not believe in apocalypses – except perhaps man-made ones. She believed in science and objectivity. She believed in seeing things with her own eyes.
If this thing was a meteor dropping into the garden, she was going to find out for herself.
Stepping out of the line of trees and into the courtyard that framed the fountain, she was oddly disappointed to find no smoke or large craters in the ground – nor indeed any evidence of anything having fallen out of the sky. In fact, the courtyard had gone eerily still. She gathered a handful of skirt in one hand so as to step out of the flower beds–and winced at the sound of silk tearing on something–probably rose thorns. Undaunted, she squared her shoulders and moved toward the dark object that had planted itself directly in front of the man-made waterfall.
A dark, rectangular shape, considerably taller than herself.
She pushed her spectacles back up on her nose. Most definitely, it had not been here earlier in the day. She supposed it might have been placed by workmen in the late afternoon – part of some landscaping project of the Comte’s – it would be like him to tell no one about it. The Comte was a man of secrets.
She pushed the thought away quickly, as she did not like thinking about the man.
The air had gone still. The strange wheezing noise had long since stopped. There was only the faint rustle of the wind in the garden, and for a moment, she just stood there, oddly mesmerized by this thing that had no place in the garden – that called attention to itself despite being a mere rectangular shadow.
She wanted to lay her hand on the thing, to make sure that it was real. Again cursing the impracticality of her voluminous skirts, she stepped closer, within arm’s length of it. On closer inspection, the shadow proved to have substance. It was a crate of some sort, laquered over with dark paint. She raised her hand to touch it, her fingertips hovering uncertainly for a moment.
Don’t be silly, Nell … it’s only a box.
– and yet, when her fingers made contact with the object, it felt … odd. There seemed to be a slight vibration, almost a hum coursing through her fingertips. As if the thing were … singing – as if it were alive.
And then the humming ceased.
She drew her hand back reflexively, afraid she’d somehow broken it, whatever it was. For somehow it had gone back to being an ordinary box. Yet still she held her breath and waited, sensing there must be more. There had to be something she had not perceived.
And so she waited, in the garden under the stars.
The box rattled, then revealed itself to have a door that sprang open.
Right there before her eyes, a man stepped out.
She stood rooted, unable to take her eyes away, though the fellow seemed perfectly ordinary.
His dress, it had to be admitted, was like nothing she had ever seen, uncouth even by her own patchwork notions of fashion. He wore long pants and a short coat made of leather. Like a common laborer, he was bareheaded, his hair loose and wild–though not long enough to be queued. It gleamed silver in the moonlight, though she was quite certain he wore no powder.
He looked up at her in surprise. He was tall and thin and had a long face–and the most remarkable eyebrows, which right now seemed to be frowning at her without any assistance from the rest of his face.
“Ah, you there!”
She stared back at him in momentary shock. No one of breeding would address a woman of rank in such a way, as if hailing a cab driver.
“Yes,” he said impatiently. “That would be you–with the glasses.”
Almost unthinking, she touched her fingertips to her spectacles once more, perhaps to assure herself this was real. She gazed in puzzlement at the tall man with the eyebrows. “Monsieur?”
The fellow rolled his eyes. “Can you tell me what century this is?”
She almost laughed. His French was abominable. He was probably an Englishman. Luckily, she could compensate for that. In perfect English, she replied, “The eighteenth century, of course, sir.”
It crossed her mind to inquire whether he was drunk. But she decided that would not be politic. Curiosity was her besetting sin, yet despite her mother’s opinion on that subject, she knew perfectly well how to reign it in.
The stranger looked skeptical. “You’re certain?” he said, taking a step away from his box.
“That this is the eighteenth century?”
How did one answer such a question? The man had to be foxed. Or perhaps he was mad. It would explain his peculiar dress. He didn’t seem dangerous, though. She didn’t feel the least bit afraid of him. Then again, she rarely feared anything in the appropriate way. She knew that her feminine instincts were insufficient. It was the reason, Mama said, that she ought not to be let out of the house. She had no sense of what to be afraid of.
She blinked at the man through her spectacles, wishing that it was not dark and that she was not near-sighted. “Why, what other century should it be, sir?”
Upon reflection, that sounded almost witty. Nell stood a little straighter, proud of herself. She was so very rarely witty. It was the stranger’s turn to look confused. Then he seemed to see her for the first time–to actually observe her person. He gave a little sigh.
“Touche. I don’t suppose you could help me find Renette, by any chance?”
“Renette? I don’t know anyone by that name.”
The fellow made an impatient gesture. “Madame de Pompadour, of course – everyone knows her.”
Nell frowned. “I doubt that such a joke would be appreciated here, sir.”
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
“Either that or you are from the moon,” she snapped, irritated now. “The old king’s mistress has been dead these twenty years.”
Something flashed over the man’s eyes then–something that she could not readily identify but that seemed a little like … regret.
He shook his head. “Ah, well–she wouldn’t have recognized me anyway. Not with this face …”
Definitely foxed. “There’s nothing wrong with your face …” she said, though refraining comment on his hair.
“I ought to be going. Sorry to have troubled you, Miss …”
“Chatelet … Elena du Chatelet …”
The gentleman frowned.
She had an impulsive thought, one that would not stay unspoken, irrational though it sounded.
“Are you from the moon?”
“Why should you think that?”
“No reason.” She gave a shrug. “People say I am from the moon, as a joke, you see … because I’m strange. But you are a good deal stranger than I am.”
The man seemed to deliberate within himself, but only for a moment. “Would you like to judge that for yourself, Miss du Chatelet?”
Without waiting for a reply, he stood to one side and flung open the door to the tall, dark wooden box with a flourish – as is he were revealing some secret of the universe, and Nell stepped up to the threshold to peer inside.