Who’s Your WIP; ESSENCE, by Lisa O’Kane
October 29, 2013 2 Comments
I’m posting this month’s guest excerpt a little early as I have a special post for the end of the month.
Today I bring you another excerpt from a fellow #goatposse member (and the newest goat) Lisa O’Kane. Her first novel ESSENCE, is a dark YA about a young teen living in a mid-21st-century Centrist cult, who discovers that life outside her small, restrictive community may not be as perfect as she first thought.
Ryder took a few moments to show me our gear—a much less complicated assortment than what Trey and Adrian used to rock climb.
“Okay, let’s get terminology straight first. This”—he said, motioning to the coiled rope at his feet—“is called webbing. It’s made of nylon, and it’s weaved to be flat, almost like a seatbelt. Even when it’s pulled tight, it’s still pretty springy; that’s why it always jumps around when you walk. Different from the old tightropes of circus days.”
He picked up three D-shaped metal clasps. “These are called carabiners; we’ll use them to secure the webbing between trees.” Chuckling at my head nod, he said, “There are tons of ways to string a slackline, but the easiest is what we’re gonna do today. See two trees you like?”
“For starters, you wanna look for two trees about 20 feet apart. Strong ones. In a nice flat place where the ground isn’t too rocky. See any trees like that?”
I pointed to two pines, and he nodded. “Perfect.”
He picked up the webbing and a few large sticks. “Wanna help me wrap ‘em? We’re gonna want the line to be low, maybe even with your mid-thigh?”
He instructed me to hold the sticks vertically against one of the tree’s trunks while he wrapped the webbing around it. Once the webbing was secured by a carabiner, we stretched the remaining length across the clearing and secured the other end to the second tree. I cushioned its loop with a few more sticks while Ryder wrapped it, and then we took turns pulling it tight with the second and third carabiners.
When the slackline was officially ready, Ryder instructed me to take off my shoes. “You gotta feel the webbing, Red,” he said, kicking his own pair into the dirt. “Every tiny vibration; every little inconsistency and flicker. You gotta know that webbing better than you’ve ever known anything in your entire life. Can’t fake it, or you’ll fall.”
I smiled at the intense way he scrutinized me while I took off my own shoes. “Got cute feet, Red,” he said, planting a quick kiss on my cheek.
“You wanna take your time standing up,” he continued, coming to stand beside the webbing. He placed his right foot on it—like Shana had during moonbows—and then he stood still for a moment, eyes focused forward.
“See how I’m not just popping up to stand? Taking a moment to feel the webbing and gather my thoughts before I start. Gotta clear all that shit out before you get up. Just… whoosh. You know?”
He closed his eyes. Tension seemed to drain from his face, and then… Whoosh. One quick exhale, and he was standing.
He was… beautiful. Of all the words in the world, it was the one that jumped to my mind first. In an instant, I knew it was the right one.
Gone was the Ryder I thought I knew—the Ryder that smoked cigarettes and swaggered and laughed and flirted with me. Gone was the guy I met in Golden Gate Park, the guy who skinny-dipped on top of Vernal Falls and kissed me on the Housekeeping Camp bridge.
In his place was this man—this laser-focused, intense and centered man. His expression was calm, and his eyes never left the slackline as he took one step, then two steps, then three steps forward. His arms, held outward from his sides, swayed slightly as he corrected his balance, and his movements were fluid and graceful as a cat’s.
Desire swept through me at the memory of those arms wrapped around me, and I felt pride swell inside me as well. Ryder thinks I’m capable of doing this, too.
In several short steps, he made it to the other side. As he turned to face me, his face melted into a grin. “Ta da!” he said. “And that’s all there is to it. Ready to give it a try?”
I’ll admit it; I was smug. Ryder made slacklining look so easy that I was certain I’d be up and strutting around on that thing in no time.
As he jumped down and motioned for me to begin, I approached the slackline and mimicked his opening stance: right foot elevated and parallel to the webbing, left foot solid on the ground. The position was a little harder than I expected, but I blamed that on how much longer Ryder’s legs were than mine.
I stood very still for a moment, and then I attempted to straighten my right leg, just as he had. That’s when things started to fall apart.
It’s apparently really hard to lift your entire body with only the strength of your thigh to support you. And apparently my thigh wasn’t up to snuff, because my body barely budged. I popped up about three inches, and then I felt my leg collapse beneath me. My knee buckled, and then I was back on the ground.
My face burned, but when I looked in shock at Ryder, he did his best to control his smirk. “No worries, Red. It’s crazy hard at first. Your muscles’ll build in time, but standing up is one of the hardest parts. Why don’t you try again, and I’ll give you a boost if you need it?”
I returned my attention to the webbing, but my leg collapsed the second time as well.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Let’s see what a little help does for you.” Coming to stand at my side, he instructed, “Put your left arm on my shoulder. And then push up when you’re ready to straighten your leg.”
I nodded, but the nearness of his body flustered me. When I straightened my leg and tried to stand, the webbing vibrated, and I tumbled sideways into his arms.
“Can’t you just hold my hand and lead me?” I asked, frustration edging into my voice.
“Can’t do it, Red.” He gently deposited me back to the ground. “And you shouldn’t hold onto my shoulder when you get on your feet, either. It’s a crutch, and it’ll hold you back. Gotta find your own balance, you know?”
I must have frowned, because he chuckled and flicked my nose. “You’re cute when you’re pissed off. You know that?” Turning to pat the slackline, he continued, “The thing about this is, it’s not a party trick. It’s a tool; it makes you find your center. Makes you push everything out of your held and focus on only one thing. If you get unfocused, you start to wobble. And if you start to wobble, you start to fall. End of story.”
He slouched against the nearest tree. “Remember your Centrist meditation exercises? All that aura-smoothing shit? Well, that’s crap meditation; not the real thing at all. But in order to get those auras smoothed, you had to quiet your mind. Slacklining’s like that, but now you gotta concentrate on your physical self as well as your mental self. What’s your body doing? Where’s your gaze? How does that webbing feel beneath your toes?”
He smiled. “Don’t rush into walking this time. Just push up and balance on one foot. See how long it takes to find your center. When you find it, start walking.”
I nodded. Turning back to the slackline, I propped my right foot on the webbing and grabbed Ryder’s shoulder for balance.
I concentrated on the feeling of my breath as it left my lungs, on the slow relaxing of my face as I breathed in again. From somewhere to our right, I could hear Trey and Adrian laughing, but soon their voices faded a little. The sun felt hot against the top of my head, but the rest of my body felt cool. Sharp. Focused.
Instead of bolting to a standing position like before, I straightened my right leg slowly. The webbing jerked again, and I could feel the muscles in my thigh quivering, but I didn’t give up this time. Instead, I extended my arms like he had, and I took a moment to catch my balance.
Whoosh. My breath felt like it weighed a thousand pounds as it left my lungs. And then, whoosh, another breath back in.
My eyes drilled into the slackline and began to burn, but I didn’t look away. I’m not even sure if I blinked, and the jerking of my arms slowly subsided as my body began to find its center.
The feeling was new. A slow melting and reformulating of my insides that startled me so much that I jerked sideways to see if Ryder was watching. The movement sent vibrations humming through the line again. Within seconds, I was falling.
I managed to land on my feet this time. When I straightened, I didn’t feel frustrated or antsy like I had before. Instead, I felt energized. And determined. And a tiny bit fixated. Someday, I would be able to do this.
“I want to try again.”