A Sneak Peek at The More Known World

A lot of friends have been asking me how The More Known World differs from The Oddfits. “It’s darker,” I’ve told them. “We find out a lot more about Ann’s childhood. And there’s a villain.” But like creative writing teachers always say: why tell when you can show?

So I thought it would be more interesting to post a sneak peek of The More Known World here on this blog. I do plan to tweet and Facebook post a different snippet each day, five days before the novel officially launches on December 19th. (Feel free to follow me on either Twitter – @TiffTsao – or FB.) But there’s nothing like an extended excerpt to give one a really good feel of what lies in store.

Also, for added fun, above is a preliminary sketch of the cover for The More Known World, courtesy of the cover artist’s (David Drummond’s) blog.

From The More Known World:

Ann’s eyes flew open. She sat up. Files and loose documents were scattered all over the bed, which she’d fallen asleep on. The moonlight streaming through the windows stained the whole room mauve. She rubbed her face, stretched her limbs, and tried to orient herself. Then, realizing how cold it was—the fire had almost burned itself out—she slipped under the fur covers with care to keep the papers from spilling onto the floor. It always took her a few minutes to recover from these dreams, which weren’t dreams in the true sense of the word. Dreams were fiction. What she experienced were memories—scenes from a miserable childhood back in the Known World that never dared rear their heads when she was awake. But they were cunning. Only when Ann was sleeping and helpless would the memories emerge, scuttling from their dark holes to cavort on the sands and frolic in the waves.

The night memories didn’t visit often. At least, they didn’t use to. They used to come only once every few weeks, leaving her to slumber peacefully the rest of the time in a black soundless void. But lately they had begun to do more stirring than ever before. They came every few nights now, and occasionally in pairs.

Staring at the ceiling, awash in the cool paleness of night, she meditated on what could have possibly roused these memories so. Perhaps the sudden deterioration of the One’s health had affected her more than she was aware. The sudden and bizarre display of jealousy she’d exhibited towards Mildred sprang to mind. Yes, perhaps that was it. After all, the One was the closest thing she had to a mother—a real mother, that is. Not the deranged, pageant-obsessed stage mother she’d left behind. At the very thought of her biological parent, Ann’s eye socket began to throb.

Abruptly, as if to fling her thoughts in a new direction, she turned her head to the side, and noticed for the first time, on the bedside table, a wooden bowl upside down on a wooden plate, and next to it, a small wooden mug of water. There was a note: For Ann. Dinner.

It was Murgatroyd’s handwriting. She lifted the bowl and found an enormous pile of bloodnuts topped with a triangle of squashed purple pastry and a wedge of cheese. Even though the bloodnuts were stone cold, Ann bit into them with caution. Her first experience eating them had been much like Murgatroyd’s. The liquid they exuded tasted pleasantly like jellied liver. Ann popped a few more into her mouth and took a bite of cheese. Then she put the documents back in their proper files and skimmed through them, creating short synopses of each victim’s details in her head.

Victim One: Hans Andersen, early forties at time of death. Murdered in Tunisia-Bathtub in 2004. Numerous stab wounds, throat slit, and nose sliced off. The body was discovered in a state of advanced decomposition two and a half months after he’d failed to report to the Compendium when he said he would.

Victim Two: Jonathan Wilson II—so dubbed not because of any previous Jonathan Wilson in his ancestry, but because he was, coincidentally, the second Jonathan Wilson to join the Quest. Aged thirty-one. Killed in 2005. Throat slit. Body found on the ringed shores of France-Paranormal.

Victim Three: Nimali.

Just Nimali. She’d had another name too—a clan name, she’d called it when Ann had met her. “It’s a Sinhalese thing,” she’d added, before a certain hardness crept into her face. Then she’d said, “I’m just Nimali now.” Ann, being “just Ann” herself, had sympathized.

Ann frowned at the memory’s intrusion into her thoughts and shook it out of her head. She started over.

Victim Three: Nimali. Aged sixteen. Killed in 2006 in Jamaica-Fallacy. Body discovered near Flee Town, Cambodia-Abscond. Throat slit. Words written on left palm in thick black ink: Flee Town.

Ann shut Nimali’s file, popped a chunk of pastry into her mouth, and chewed thoughtfully. None of it made any sense. What possible motive could anyone have for murdering these people? What did their murderer hope to accomplish? And even if she could answer these questions, how would it help her track down the killer?

Flee Town. That was the one concrete thing she had to go by. Did Nimali somehow manage to write it before she died? If she did, she must have known that her killer was going to transfer her there. But what was the point of writing it down? Or did the killer write it? If so, why? The only reason would be . . .

Ann sprang out of bed and ran from the room. She sprinted down the hallway to where Murgatroyd was sleeping and tried the door. It was unlocked. She flung it open and looked inside. There was Murgatroyd, fast asleep in bed, drooling all over his pillow.

Relieved, she went over to his window and made sure it was fastened. Then she left, locking his door from the inside and making a mental note to be more careful in the future.

As she walked down the corridor back to her room, her train of thought picked up where it had left off: the only reason the killer would write Flee Town was if he or she wanted to lure them here, into a trap. But what trap would that be? The One herself had come and gone without anything happening to her. (Not that the One was the type to be dissuaded by threats of personal danger.) Perhaps Nimali really had been the one who’d written it after all. But still that question: Why?

Leaving her door ajar so she would be able to hear any sounds from Murgatroyd’s room, she sat on the edge of her bed and steered her thoughts towards the unhelpful conversation she’d had with the man in the purple coat who’d discovered Nimali’s body:

“Where did you find it?”

“Field.”

“Which field?”

“Edge of town.”

“What did the body look like?”

“Flat.”

“Was there anything unusual about it?”

Here, the man had stared at her. “Yes, it was dead. And flat.”

“Were there any marks on the body?”

The man had pointed at his left palm.

“Anything else?”

The man had shaken his head. “Now leave me alone.”

Still sitting on her bed, Ann turned her thoughts back to the writing on Nimali’s hand—Flee Town—and what it could possibly mean apart from the obvious. Unexpectedly her mind swerved and went careening into an imaginary scene: Nimali in the last moments of life, sprawled on wet earth, her head flopped to the side like a spent balloon. An awful gurgle bubbled from the wide red gash splitting her throat.

Ann rushed over to the washstand, poured out some water from the pitcher, and splashed some on her face. Nimali vanished, and she was alone again. This isn’t me at all, thought Ann. I have to get some sleep.

 

***

Both very far away and not very far away at all, someone sat hunched over a table. The table was unfortunately constructed—hence the hunching. And the occasional splinter in the fingers and palms. And the pens and pencils that would roll off the edge, no matter how deliberately and firmly he set them down. The light was bad too, but the table wasn’t to blame.

Occasionally these things would irritate him, but he was usually too absorbed in his activities to notice. There was too much work to be done to bother about ergonomics. Yes, he knew all about ergonomics. Not only was the word in his beloved dictionary, but he had become more familiar with its usage through a tattered pamphlet that one of the others had found during a scavenging trip in one of the settlements: Office Ergonomics: Healthy Work, Healthy Life. It was no Odyssey or Green Eggs and Ham, to be sure, but it had made for good light reading.

For the past two days, however, he hadn’t done any reading at all, heavy or light. Inspiration had struck, and he’d spent almost all his time writing the latest instalment of his autobiography. Techniquewise, this was a particularly challenging chapter—a scene from his infancy. (He’d long given up writing the chapters in chronological order. Perhaps he would rearrange them sometime in the future, once he was finished.) He’d made several false starts before and concluded that, to have it ring true, he would have to unlearn all the skills he had learned thus far even as he exercised those same skills to their fullest. Or to put it another way: the scene must read as utterly artless, even as the execution required great artistry. The problem had baffled him for weeks. But now, as he read over his most recent attempt—the mere eight lines that had taken hours for him to compose—he believed he finally had it:

Warm. Arms. Heart. Love. Warm. In arms. Here is heart. Here is love.

Big heart beats. Dub dub dub dub. Big lips nuzzle. Nuzzle nuzzle. Dub dub.

Here’s my heart. Dub dub. Here’s her heart. Dub dub.

Fingers. Wave fingers. My fingers. Her fingers.

Fingers tickle. Lips nuzzle. Love. This is love.

Lips on my tummy. Burble burble! Joy! Joy! She is love.

I am loved. Hello sun. Hello heart. Dub dub.

Joy! I am loved. Here is love. Loved. Love.

He was still weeping when a woman appeared in the doorway to his room. “Murgatroyd and Ann came,” she said.

He’d been waiting for this news. “Both of them?” he asked eagerly, rising from his seat.

“Yes. They’re staying at the Bovquito Arms.”

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