NaNoWriMo 2008 — writing BRAVE NEW GIRL.
BRAVE NEW GIRL chronicles the afterlife of Carly Marchelier, a teenaged genius coasting through life until an unexpected accident changes everything.
When death-by-clumsiness lands fifteen-year-old brainiac, Carly Marchelier, in a Heaven as real as life on earth, whatever she desires she need only think it in a place that feels like a permanent holiday. But her heart isn’t in it; there isn’t time to say goodbye to Firefly, her dog, or to mend fences with her annoyingly beautiful sister, Sharon. Even a joyful reunion with Grandma Beyla isn’t enough to pull Carly from her funk.
How can a girl enjoy the magic of Heaven if her death shatters her family on earth? What’s so great about working in Heaven’s Wildlife Ward, cuddling litters of bobcats and riding lightning-fast Wildebeasts, if your Dad is cheating, your Mom fell off the wagon, your little sister is a pothead, and it’s all your fault?
If she hadn’t lost the damned Instruction Manual, maybe she’d know the answer to the most important question of all: can the dead go back to check upon the living? And an answer she probably wouldn’t find in the manual: can she handle what she’ll find there?
Whoever said you can’t go home, again, never met the likes of Carly Marchelier.
How many godly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in’t!
The Tempest, Act V, Scene I.
When she died, she arrived at a huge Winn Dixie feeling as confused as she’d always felt under those blinding florescent lights. She’d been expecting a different kind of light, and angels playing harps — not muzak and The Carpenters singing Rainy Days and Mondays. As she wandered the aisles in a daze, (she wasn’t the only one), Carly lingered in the produce section, leaning against the dewy heads of iceberg lettuce, trying to wrap her brain around the situation.
It still feels as if things are spinning, a bit.
Like a ballerina, she focused on one, fixed point: the fat tomatoes across the aisle that she could eat like an apple, if only she had a shaker of salt.
“Breathe deep,” said the kid in charge of carts. (There was still a kid in charge of shopping carts.)
“Huh?” Carly said.
“I said, take a deep breath. It’s okay.”
Only, he talked in her head; his lips didn’t move at all. He was the same guy who’d handed her a cart when she’d first arrived, manifesting next to her in the entranceway, giving her a little shove through the automatic doors. He’d pointed toward the shining aisles of the Winn-Dixie as if everything was perfectly normal, and he’d handed her a list: a shopping list for death.
As it turned out, she still had to eat.
She didn’t need money, though. The signs above the cash registers stated this fact in thick black marker, the letters looping and sloping in perfect calligraphy. And, just like the wish of young women everywhere, she wouldn’t gain weight from the food. Every package she picked up? Zero calories.
As she made her way past the vegetables, Carly couldn’t help but wonder if some sort of happy gas was being pumped through the store ducts, like an infusion of peace and serenity that helped new arrivals get their bearings and shop for their lists. How else could she explain the overall sense of calmness?
I’m DEAD. How can I be calm?
An intake worker sat behind a long folding table overrun with file folders, pamphlets and a stack of books, his makeshift office set up in front of the Deli section. Carly did a double take. He looked exactly like the Easter Bunny.
“Next! Who’s next?” His ears stood at attention as he shouted to the crowd, searching for the person that matched the name and photo taped on the manila folder he held in his hand. Carly squinted to make out the sticker on his vest:
My name is Mr. Easter
Upon seeing her smirk, the lady behind the deli counter weighing tubs of macaroni salad smiled at her warmly.
“It helps put the newly dead children at ease, you know, and the adults find it funny, if not comforting.”
Carly had to agree; there wasn’t anything scary about the Easter Bunny. He looked like a real rabbit, too – a jack rabbit, going by his ears – although walking upright.
The kid in charge of carts appeared with a case of Pringles in his arms. He winked at her, and then waved her to the front of the intake line.
Carly parked her cart next to a leaning tower of saltines. She was wearing the same uni-sexual, baby-blue, long-sleeved nightgown as everyone else. She was still feeling woozy, too, although it appeared the younger folk had a quicker recuperation period, judging by the older folk who continued to look pretty out of it.
She’d noticed most of the shoppers were older, around her parents’ age and upward. She’d only seen two other kids, both younger than her, holding hands. The matching dimples, pointy chins and blue eyes meant they were probably brothers.
Each time he was done writing, the Easter Bunny looked up, smiled, and sent the newly registered off to finish their shopping lists. He pressed a pamphlet, a spiral-bound book, and a foil-wrapped chocolate bunny into each person’s hand.
I’m allergic to chocolate; I always was, and I know that chocolate bunny is going to taste like – dare I say it? – heaven. I’d hazard a guess that I’m not allergic, here. Not to chocolate, nuts, shellfish or cats.
I wonder when I’ll get a cat.
“Miss Marchelier? Please step forward.” Mr. Easter’s teeth were whiter-than-white as he smiled at her, motioning her toward him. Hesitantly, she stepped from the crowd and stood in front of him.
“Ah, Miss Marchelier, welcome! Have you found everything you’re looking for, today?”
“I’m still shopping, but so far, so good, Sir.” Carly cleared her throat, husky due to nerves. She couldn’t stop staring at him. It took all her self control not to reach out her hand and ruffle his thick, ticked fur.
“I have some very important documents for you,” he continued. “I’ll need you to read them after you reach your Predestination.”
“You mean I’m not staying at the Winn-Dixie?”
“Of course not.” Mr. Easter shook his head, chuckling. Kids.
“Do all dead people come to the Winn-Dixie?” Carly asked.
“Only those who are supposed to.”
He handed her the pamphlet, first. On the front was a family standing together as if for a photo: a mom and dad, son and daughter in the middle, and Fido on the grass next to them, still in his traveling crate. In the background, a 747 engulfed in flames lay mangled in a field beneath billowing clouds of smoke.
She skimmed the words inside.
Because the Dead
Because the Dead have a need, we have a job to do.
Because the Dead have sensibilities, we must be considerate.
Because the Dead have an urgency, we must be available.
Because the Dead are unique, we must be flexible.
Because the Dead have high expectations, we must excel.
Because of the Dead, we exist.
Welcome to Heaven!
Next, he handed her the book.
“This book is of vital importance, Carly. You must take good care of it.”
She took it from him and read the words across the front. She couldn’t believe it.
“For death?” she asked.
“For Death,” he replied, and in such a way that the “D” sounded capitalized.
“Dead seriously,” he said, smiling for a moment, before frowning again. “Don’t lose it. Some of the younger kids hang it around their necks so they don’t leave it somewhere. Any questions that come up, you’ll find the answers inside.”
“What if I have a question that isn’t covered in the manual?”
But Mr. Easter had already turned to the next person on his list.
The cart kid gave her a “time to move on” look, like she was loitering outside a 7-11 or something. She wasn’t about to argue with him, either.
It was all a little disjointed, what had happened to her on earth, or how it happened, because it happened so fast. It was the last thing she’d expected on a sunny, quiet Tuesday morning. She was supposed to be babysitting for Joey Maxwell that afternoon, too, and she’d promised to read him the new Doug-Dennis book. Truth be told, she couldn’t wait to read it, herself.
Carly wondered what was going on with her family that exact moment. Even more pressing, what would happen to Firefly, her dog? No one could take Carly’s place. She and Firefly were connected in a special way, occupying that sacred space between dog and human that made dogs and humans a little bit of both.
That’s what worried her most, as she checked ‘cookies’ off her shopping list, grabbing a package of raspberry Fig Newtons and a package of Keebler’s Pecan Sandies. She’d had to bug the crap out of her mother to get Firefly. No one had wanted a dog except Carly.
Could Firefly end up back at the pound? What if everyone was too freaked out to remember to feed or walk her? Mom would never keep a dog that pooped in the house.
Carly hadn’t been paying attention, and found herself in the gardening aisle. One object in particular caught her eye: the circle of looped-up garden hose, jogging her memory.
She remembered now what had landed her in the Winn-Dixie; it was quite embarrassing, actually. She’d gotten her leg tangled up in the garden hose, when all she’d wanted to do was rinse her mother’s car after washing it. When she fell, she’d hit her head on the car’s back bumper.
Considering the fact that her brain was in there, obviously it wasn’t a smart place to land — twice — first the bumper, and then the driveway’s unforgiving blacktop. The little snap that happened next only complicated matters further.
It was definitely one of those life-changing moments.
What a boring death, Carly thought. What happened to being gunned down in a third world country while saving orphans? She’d read that getting shot happened so fast a person didn’t feel it. What about skydiving and the chute failing to open, or dead from smoke inhalation after dragging five toddlers to safety?
Instead, it was death by garden hose.