This weekend I'm participating in Romancing The Blog's Bad News Blog Fest with 30+ other writers! The purpose? To showcase writing where a character has to deliver bad news. Why? Because writers are generally tortured souls.
In my humble opinion, bad news in novels should be delivered like a chocolate-covered maraschino cherry: On the outside it might look pleasant enough but on the inside, once your teeth crack through the chocolate wall, your tongue will taste a cough syrup gooeyness that you won't soon forget.
So I've decided to share a never-seen-before excerpt from my recently released historical romance novel CAPTIVE SPIRIT where Honovi has to break sad news to Aiyana. In this particular scene, Honovi and Aiyana have just escaped from their captors after a bloody battle in the Sonoran Desert. They're Hohokam Indians and it's the dawn of the sixteenth century, remember. And they've just climbed a tree where they must remain hidden till morning.
Here's the "bad news" excerpt:
In the dim light, Honovi’s lips pressed together in a tight line and his chest stopped moving. Then he quickly stuffed another piece of dried meat into his mouth and my stomach tightened all the more. “Honovi?” I said slowly, carefully. Tentatively. “What secret do you keep from me?”
But Honovi didn’t answer. He took his time chewing the last piece of dried meat, unlike the other two morsels. Finally, he said, “We’ll need to find more food tomorrow, I think I saw—”
“Honovi,” I interrupted him. I reached for his shoulder and squeezed it. “Please,” I said, “You’ve got to tell me. You’re keeping something from me.” I paused to calm my wavering voice. “What is it?”
He drew in a long breath and exhaled, stalling again. When I wouldn’t release his arm, he finally said, “It’s Chenoa…”
“Chenoa?” My voice got higher. I wasn’t expecting that. My hands fell to my lap. “What about her?”
Honovi leaned forward. He placed both hands on my shoulders. “There was the fire…” His voice trailed off again.
“Yes,” I said, impatience creeping into my voice. “I know. I saw it. Remember?”
Honovi’s voice stayed calm, even as he started to repeat himself. “Everybody tried to put out the fire. Even Chitsa.”
“Chitsa?” I said in disbelief, picturing her bony arms lifting heavy clay bowls and baskets filled with water. She could barely see. But then of course everybody would have helped. Everyone knew the importance of our crops. Not saving them meant certain starvation during the Season of Shorter Days.
Honovi shook his head. “It spread quickly.” He paused, dragging his hand through his hair. “The wind blew sparks into the village. Fire was everywhere.”
“The village?” My lip trembled as I pictured blackened structures, ash-filled courtyards. Lifeless faces. “What’s left?”
“The roof of the Great House caught fire first. It spread from roof to roof.”
I paused. “And ours? What of ours?”
Honovi shook his head again and I sucked back a breath. He still kept something from me. Instinctively, my hand pressed against my stomach. I thought I was going to be sick, especially when I imagined my people with nothing but Hunab Ku for protection. “Yours, too?”
“Yes,” Honovi said with another heavy sigh. “Ours, too. No one was spared. Not even, Pakuna’s family.” Resentment laced Honovi’s voice when he spoke Pakuna’s name but I ignored it. It seemed silly to even discuss Pakuna and everything that happened before the fire. What did weddings matter now? “Your future husband and his father must start over like everyone else now. White Ant, Red Ant, we all begin again.”
My resentment rivaled Honovi’s, especially when I thought about the senseless destruction, but it had nothing to do with Pakuna. It had everything to do with Diego and his men. Why didn’t Diego take me and leave everyone else alone? Why destroy an entire village for a single girl? Why?
I pressed Honovi again. He avoided my real question. I tried another way. “Tell me more about our families.”
Honovi leaned forward, his legs straddling the thick branch that held us both. “Gaho and Ituha are fine, although sick with worry about you. Your father wanted to run with us, but I had to remind him he would only slow us down.” He paused and attempted a smile. “He was not so easily convinced.”
I smiled too, picturing my stubborn father with his thick arms and broad chest. Stockier than Honovi, he was hardly as fast. No one was. “And Onawa?”
“A few burns on his arms and legs but no worse than anyone else.”
I swallowed, thinking about the gentleness in my younger brother’s fingers as they carved magic into wood and rock. If Diego had stolen that too, I’d kill Diego myself with my bare hands. “And Eyota?”
“Ornery, as usual,” Honovi laughed but it was unusually forced. I tried to laugh with him but failed just as badly. It was as if we’d forgotten.
Finally, I said her name. “And Chenoa?” My voice cracked. As I searched the whites of his eyes, something pulled deep inside my chest. It was a pain that I didn’t understand. And that’s when I realized why Sinopa joined Honovi when it could have easily been any number of faster boys from the White Ant clan.
As soon as her name left my lips, Honovi’s eyes dipped again and faded into the night. He squeezed my shoulders as if he was preparing himself. Or me. I swallowed, waiting for him to answer. My voice cracked again. “Is she hurt?”
Honovi didn’t answer.
“Badly?” I prodded when he stayed silent. I pictured her beautiful, sweet face covered with red burns and streaks of dirt, and so close to her wedding ceremony. It wasn’t fair. She’d been planning it for almost two seasons.
“She’s not hurt,” he said finally and for an instant my shoulders lightened, though Honovi’s hands did not loosen their grip.
But then he quickly added in a whisper, “I’m so sorry, Aiyana.”
“Sorry?” My throat tightened. “For what?”
“Chenoa isn’t hurt.” He paused.
“No, Aiyana,” Honovi said quietly. “Not hurt.” He paused again. Then he said, “Chenoa got trapped inside your house, trying to put out the fire. The roof collapsed on her. Chenoa is dead.”
My eyes widened. Dead? Chenoa, dead?
“What?” I said, as the treetops began to spin. “Chenoa?” I said her name as if Honovi had made a mistake. Because it had to be a mistake. How could I continue without my older sister? It was impossible. She was as much a part of my life as breathing.
Honovi pulled me closer, carefully. Calmly. But in the next instant, there was no time for tears. I had to bury them away, along with everything else.
That’s because Sinopa raced across the clearing like a Sky Wanderer dropped from the sky.
Grieving for my only sister would have to wait. My captors stole that from me too.
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