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The Painter's Butterfly - Revised Beginning

I'd love to share the newest opening chapter of my middle grade fabulism story, The Painter's Butterfly! Please leave feedback if you feel so inclined. Thank you, writer friends!

Photo by Aron Visuals from Pexels

Chapter One


On any other night, the glowing sheen of ivory moonlight against shiny hardwood floors would have been a pretty sight to behold. But as Nova crouched close to the ground and carefully maneuvered her bedroom door shut, blood pounded in her ears at the stark vulnerability of this eerie light. The group home sat stock still, as if waiting for her to make a mistake and alert the caretakers to her escape plan. She held her breath and listened beyond the ruckus of her heart. The entire facility hung suspended in a far off dreamland. Not even the flutter of moth wings puttered against the nearby windowpane. Maybe she’d be able to pull this off after all.

Shouldering her backpack and steeling her resolve, she lowered her belly to the floor and crept down the corridor, inching like a sneaky caterpillar to the back stairs . . . the ones that lead to the kitchen. The front foyer would be a stupid move, with the manager’s office ablaze in light, even at this hour. Nova could picture the manager tilted back in her wooden rocking chair, facing the entrance should any of the foster kids wake from a nightmare and need a cool glass of water. Even in sleep, the woman was diligent. So Nova would have to exit through the backyard. A cold sweat dripped down the curve of her neck as she scuffled toward the shadowy staircase, fingertips scratching against the fibrous wood floor. Freedom rang in her ears like a beautiful ballad. “Nova,” it sang. “Go home.” But home had never been anything more than a gamble, a game she always lost. She was ready to play her only hand.

Gently, she tackled the staircase, one creaky step after another. She tiptoed along the edges of the boards, shifting her weight to keep the house’s groans minimal. Nova had thrown her hair in a ponytail to keep it out of her face, but the hairdo pulled at the corners of her forehead and she grimaced, wishing desperately to free her locks. Soon.

At the bottom of the stairs, Nova peeked around the corner to investigate the empty kitchen. The normal bustle of children and staff had vanished, like someone had taken an eraser to the scene and scrubbed out the people. She allowed herself a small intake of air as she ogled the back door. Nova knew the manager liked to make hourly rounds to check on the children. A clock above the stove ticked to urge her on. Tensing her shoulders, she sprang into action.

Hopping expertly to the back door, Nova unlatched the chain and twisted the deadlock with a feverish click, squeezing her hands against the doorknob to gather the last of her nerves. Softly, she coaxed the door open, praying under her breath that this decision was the right one.

A small cough echoed behind her, and she froze. Twisting her head to the side, Nova spotted a tiny silhouette lurking in the opposite door frame: one of the youngest foster boys in red fire truck pajamas, thumb stuffed in his mouth and unruly black hair contorted into weird shapes. Nova raised a trembling finger to her lips and made eye contact with the boy. “Please,” she begged him telepathically. “Don’t tell.” He didn’t move. She took her brief chance, slinking out the door and into the darkness beyond.

She hurried around the side of the group home gripping her backpack to keep her hands from shaking. Was she really going to do this? Nova had a hunch where she belonged, but the journey would not be easy. And even when she arrived, she’d have to fight for her place. But maybe that’s the point of a bet. If you win, the prize is worth it. And what did she have to lose?

But Nova didn’t even make it to the driveway. Fate doesn’t always cooperate. A strong hand caught her by the arm and a familiar voice whispered in her ear. “It’s always the quiet ones.” The manager waggled a disapproving finger close to her nose and clung to Nova’s shoulders, guiding her dutifully back into the group home. The pale moon cried above them, tears of shimmering moondrops speckled along the pavement, a reflection of Nova’s resounding disappointment. She pondered struggling for a moment, pushing the woman to the side and bolting down the driveway, to the street. Deep in her heart, Nova knew she wouldn’t get far. Ripping her hair tie from her head, she shook out her tresses and released the tension in her muscles.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. Home is where the heart is, and Nova’s heart knew one reality: nomad.

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