DiscoverComing of Age

Not Alone (Vox Oculis #1)

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Synopsis

Looking for a break from dystopian or high fantasy sci-fi? Welcome to down-to-earth rural Vermont. Exploring the genesis of the teen opioid epidemic, Not Alone is a YA thriller with a hard science fiction twist:

"It's summer, 2011, and for four and a half years, all Blue has been looking for is a normal life after losing her family in a suspicious fire. But what is normal for a fourteen-year-old that can hear what no one else can? And what should she do when she hears something that presents a tantalizing opportunity to avenge her family? With an unexpected new friend and ally, she comes up with a slam-dunk plan. All she has to do is risk everything, including both of their lives."

"The first half of the book is set up ... the second half of the book is a blur of flipping pages ... I found the character Martin wrote to make the villain oddly fascinating ..."
-- Carolina Herdegen, Kiss the Book

"Interesting, fast-paced action that keeps the reader on edge ... I would recommend this for lovers of realistic sci-fi."
-- Kristina Shankles, NetGalley Reviewer

Another Year of Survival

Blue’s eyes were closed. She had closed them so she could open her mind to the familiar sounds that surrounded her now. There was the whine of the car tires on warm asphalt, the muffled hum of the motor that was buried somewhere behind the dashboard in front of her, the occasional rush of a car racing by in the other direction. And over it all was the soothing soft rumble of the rushing wind just above her head, coming from a slot formed by the slightly rolled down window. Blue felt the pressure of the seat gently pushing her about as the car followed the lumps and rolls and curves of the road. She felt the warmth of the sun as it moved to different places on her body mirroring the movements of the car like a solar compass. Shadows of passing trees created a pink-orange pulsing light show on the inside of her closed eyelids. The shadows gave the illusion that instead of being inside a car, she was in the middle of a stampede of giants who were racing the opposite direction and rocking the ground with their massive strides. She felt a kinship to the tree-giants because she wished she was racing the opposite direction, too. She didn’t know the destination of the giants but it had to be better than where she was going.

She had made trips like this before. Many times. Each one was supposed to be the last, the one that resulted in a permanent situation. Instead, each one resulted in a return trip. Return to what? Brookhaven Shelter, that dismal holding tank for the unwanted, or a respite house where there was at least someone who was trying to be helpful, or wherever else they had room to keep her until the next family who might take her came around. And then off she went again. She had long ago abandoned hope that the next place would be the one that actually worked, where she could create some sort of normal stable life like the one every single kid around her seemed to have. For Blue, this car and the woman who drove it, Mrs. Jamison, were the only stable parts of her life. 

Blue had started to fantasize that instead of stopping, they could just keep going. They could live in this car, driving and driving forever, visiting a hundred new places each year. They would never stay for long—just long enough to experience something new but not long enough for something bad to start happening. Then they would hop in the car and take off for another new place. They would never need to get to know anyone else. Blue would never have to pretend to be someone she was not. She would never again have to stand by her familiar beat-up old duffel bags and watch as Mrs. Jamison drove off, carrying hope and stability with her. Blue sighed. She was going to have to go through the ritual again. There was no driving off into the sunset for her. 

She concentrated on the sounds again to stop these uncomfortable thoughts from rattling around in her brain. The rumbling wind was soothing and she eased the window down a tad more to make it louder. The distraction worked for a while, but the thoughts managed to elbow their way back in and circle round and round. It was impossible to stop her brain sometimes, but she managed to at least guide it to thinking about less stressful things, like some of the things Mrs. Jamison had said earlier in the trip. Well, not “said” exactly, more like what she thought. What Mrs. Jamison had said out loud were the details of the new situation, which Blue had listened to politely but wasn’t interested in processing just then. She caught the gist of it, there was a lot of blah, blah, blah about the new family, and something about Mrs. O’Day and blah, blah. Blue tucked the words away for a later time when she could control her reaction to them. She didn’t want to deal with them just then. Thankfully, Mrs. Jamison didn’t rattle on and on. She only gave Blue the essentials and then stopped. It was like she knew how much Blue could handle at a time, and then she knew when to be quiet. 

When Mrs. Jamison was quiet, Mrs. Jamison was thoughtful. Blue paid more attention to Mrs. Jamison’s thoughts than her words, because they were more than just the monotonous drone of pointless information about Blue’s new situation. They were the deep thoughts of the true Mrs. Jamison, and they comforted her.

“I don’t know how this girl manages to survive all these changes . . . three families and a group home in four years,” thought Mrs. Jamison. She looked at Blue and Blue gave her a small half-smile. “And the trouble she’s seen, and look at her. Here she sits, as calm and peaceful as a saint . . . I honestly don’t think I could do it . . . she must have some inner strength I don’t have . . . why can’t there be more families out there willing to take these older kids . . . all they want is the younger ones . . . I guess I can’t blame them . . . it’s hard taking in these kids who have seen so much trouble . . . thank goodness we got the O’Days this time.”

Blue couldn’t hear everyone’s thoughts, and some people’s thoughts she didn’t want to hear, but Mrs. Jamison was a rarity, a truly good soul, so she didn’t mind listening in on her thoughts. They had a musical, lyrical quality to them. They were the sounds of a thoughtful person. They were a far cry from the bitter, spiteful thoughts of truly vicious people, people Blue sometimes couldn’t ignore, people she sometimes couldn’t control her reactions to. Sometimes those people’s thoughts just crossed a line, and Blue couldn’t let them get away with it. And that is one of the reasons why she was sitting in this car. Again. Another year, another new foster family, a new school, new vicious kids, new idiot teachers, new trips to principal’s office, new breakdowns, new violent outbursts, new counselors, new therapists. 

Another year to survive. 

The car slowed down and Mrs. Jamison pulled to the curb next to an old Victorian-style house. It had gray shingles and white trim, which gave it an ancient, wise look. A small yard was surrounded by a low white fence, and lilacs were tucked about the foundation of the house like a fragrant and colorful scarf around an old lady’s neck. From the front door came a solidly built woman whose age was hard to determine but whose face showed a lot of experience. Mrs. O’Day, no doubt. She had a nice smile, Blue thought. It was a comforting smile, even to Blue’s hardened eyes. Not overdone, not forced, not artificial. It was very natural. She noted it, but took no encouragement from it. Never get optimistic, it will just make it worse later when you get let down. Again.

She closed her eyes and took one last note of the pressure and warmth of the car seat on her legs and felt the vibration of the car stop as Mrs. Jamison turned it off. Blue sighed, took a breath, opened her eyes, and opened the door. As she got out, she put on her practiced act of being an ordinary girl joining an ordinary family looking forward to an ordinary year. It was like putting on an old well-worn sweater. But underneath the sweater, her heart was empty.

About the author

Frederic Martin lives and writes in and about Vermont. He was awarded the 2018 Vermont Writer’s Prize for his short story Maybe Lake Carmi. Not Alone is his debut novel and book one of the Vox Oculis YA science fiction series. view profile

Published on February 02, 2020

90000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Coming of Age