THE SAMPLING: 'Awa and the Dreamrealm'

November 3, 2019

Some mysterious middle-grade reading for you today, in the form of a new Sampling! Here's the prologue and first two chapters of Isa Pearl Ritchie's first book for young people, Awa and the Dreamrealm

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

She slid down through the tunnel of light. I saw her peach-coloured glow as she landed silently at the foot of the bed. That was when I noticed how small she was: about the size of a toddler, but shaped more like an adult and glowing as if she was made of light.

 

She floated up, sending light and shadows swimming around the room. She looked down at the girl sleeping in the bed.

 

“It’s a small one,” the glowing creature said to herself, “…must be a young one.”

 

She moved closer, illuminating the girl’s face and chin-length hair, dark and messy, spread across her pillow. The girl’s skin was light brown, and little freckles were clustered across her nose and cheeks, a bit like mine…

 

That was when it hit me.

 

It IS me – this is my face!

 

She was looking at me, sleeping: it was my bed, my bedroom.

 

I must be dreaming.

 

The creature leaned down and whispered in my ear: “A snowstorm… a friendly polar bear… beware the gate-keepers.”

 

The vibrant images swam through my mind, as I jumped back into my body.

 

My eyes flew open to find I was still in the unusual dream I was having.

 

“Hello?” I said to the little glowing creature in front of me.

 

She squeaked like the sound of a dog toy. Her mouth opened so wide in surprise it looked like a little “o.”

 

“Are you… real?” I asked.

 

“You – you can see me?”

 

“Of course,” I said. She stared at me as if I was the most unbelievable thing she had ever witnessed.

 

“What’s your name?” I asked her. “If you even have one.”

 

“I’m Veila,” she said.

 

“Hi Veila, I’m Awa,” I replied.

 

And that was how I met Veila… but I’m getting ahead of myself. The story really began a couple of weeks earlier, the night after we moved.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

It wasn’t until I got to the very last box that I found them – my special toys. I know I’m too old for soft toys, but these ones were important, and I had been looking for them the whole time I was unpacking the zillions of boxes from the old house, or as Mum would say: cluttering up my room with all this stuff I don’t really need! She was totally wrong about that, but it didn’t help that my new room in the apartment was so small compared to the old house. I sighed, just thinking about it made me want to be back there.

 

I arranged them carefully at the foot of my bed: my favourite bunny Bobo, next to Squiddy the purple squid and my koala, Sir George Stanfordshire the Third (Stan for short).

 

I had carried them around with me wherever I went as a kid, especially Bobo, who was showing his age. Something about his gentle smile always made me feel better. I lay across my bed, hugging him, wishing everything could go back to the way it was before. Things used to be brighter, lighter… now I just felt so heavy and tired. I yawned and closed my eyes.

 

Bluey-white light shone from behind a door. I raised my hand to push it open, revealing stars – thousands and millions of stars!

 

***

 

I opened my eyes, coming back into my bedroom and away from the floating feeling of the dream I was just having.

 

The sky looked darker outside. I must have slept through dinner time and I was starving.

 

Mum’s bedroom light was on.

 

“There’s a plate of lasagne for you in the fridge,” she called out as I passed.

 

It must be late.

 

I had never looked out of these windows at night before. Outside, I could see thousands of lights, some far in the distance, some near. It was quite a pretty view, but even more interesting were the apartments across the road.

 

I could see into them. A few people were moving between rooms, sitting or standing. Art hung on the walls next to bookshelves and furniture. The effect of being far away made them seem like dollhouses. It was satisfying to look at.

 

 

Art hung on the walls next to bookshelves and furniture. The effect of being far away made them seem like dollhouses.

 

 

I realised that if I turned the light on they would be able to see me too, so I left it off. I took the plate from the fridge and warmed the cold lasagne in the microwave. When it was ready, I poured hot sauce all over it and carried it over to the couch. I sat there, in the dark, eating and watching the apartments.

 

It wasn’t the same as being in the old house, but it wasn’t bad.

 

“What are you doing out here in the dark?” Mum asked, coming into the room.

 

“Don’t turn the light on! Look!” I pointed out the window.

 

Mum came over and sat down next to me. “I like that apartment – with all the bookshelves,” she said.

 

“We should get lots of bookshelves too,” I replied.

 

“That sounds like a good plan.”

 

I drifted off to sleep that night thinking about bookshelves and all the great books we could get to fill them with.

 

*** 

 

Bluey-white light shone from behind a door. I raised my hand to push it open, revealing millions of stars! They swirled in shades of blue, purple and gold.

 

I felt so floaty and light, as if I was high up, far away from all my troubles.

 

A platform with a magnificent chalice appeared in front of me. A small white light sparked at the top, as if it knew I was there. It started pouring over like liquid, sending waves of stars flooding out around the sides. I needed to touch that light, whatever it was. I reached forward until the tip of my index finger touched the stars – my whole body lit up with pure joy.

 

“Awa!”

 

I opened my eyes. “No!”

 

I turned over, away from Mum’s voice, trying to get back there – to the room with the walls made of stars. I wanted to hold onto the feeling, but it was slipping away.

 

… the best feeling ever!

 

“Awa! Get up! Get dressed!”

 

“Mum!” I moaned.“You’re going to be late for your first day!”

 

By the time I was up and breakfasted and dressed and ready and in the car, I’d almost forgotten the dream.

 

“Awa!” Mum looked across at me grumpily from the driver’s seat. “Did I tell you that you could paint your nails?”

 

I looked down at my hand to see the tip of my index finger sparkling like purple stars. “No way!” I whispered.

 

I was dreaming – but I’m definitely awake now.

 

As we drove through the busy streets, I wondered, could it have been real?

 

 

I looked down at my hand to see the tip of my index finger sparkling like purple stars. “No way!” I whispered.

 

 

“Do you want me to walk you in?” Mum asked, jolting me back to reality. We were parked outside the school.

 

“No!” I blushed at the embarrassment of having my mother, in her really awkward looking red work jacket with the shoulder pads, walking me into school on my first day.

 

“Okay – if you’re sure.”

 

Mum patted me on the shoulder. She was probably just trying to reassure herself that this was okay – that moving to the city was okay, that everything was fine after the divorce – when really it was horrible. I didn’t want to think about it. I gritted my teeth and opened the car door. I stepped out into the icy Wellington wind.

 

“Just go to the office, honey – they will help you find your classroom, okay?”

 

I know Mum, I’m not a baby, I’m almost thirteen for crying out loud!

 

I closed the door, distracted by the swarm of other kids, who all seemed to be wearing ‘nice’ clothes – not my style at all!

 

They looked like something out of a fashion magazine – what Mum would call “business casual.”

 

I looked down at my ripped jeans and stripy long sleeve top.

 

This is not good... this is not a good sign.

 

I brushed my hair over my face with my fingers, trying to hide. Another sound interrupted the chatter of kids. The car window was being wound down. Mum started to talk again.

 

Don’t make this worse!

 

I pulled my bag on and ran across the road towards the school entrance, a big white archway with the words 'Magnolia Heights Intermediate' across the top.

 

***

 

There was no uniform, so why did the kids all look like they were wearing the same thing? And why were they all looking at me like I was some kind of freak?

 

My new classroom was already crowded when I got there. Some kids stood by the window, chatting, others sat at their desks; they all seemed to stare at me. The teacher, who I had been told was called Mr Jasper, looked up from his desk as I walked in.

 

“You must be Awa,” he said. “Take a seat, we’re about to start.”

 

I sat at the nearest desk, trying to avoid the stares of the other students. The bell rang, and the kids started rushing around.

 

“That’s my desk!” said a tall girl with blonde hair. “Move!”

 

I felt my stomach tighten again.

 

Not now, the last thing I need is a panic attack.

 

The classroom around me started fading to grey. I had already left it too long to respond.

 

I looked down at my hands on the desk in front of me, at purple sparkles still glimmering on my fingernail. I tried to remember the dream – to get back to that good feeling.

 

 

I looked down at my hands on the desk in front of me, at purple sparkles still glimmering on my fingernail. I tried to remember the dream – to get back to that good feeling.

 

 

“What’s wrong with you?” the girl said. “It’s my desk, and I said move!”

 

“Give it a rest Felicity,” Mr Jasper said. “The desks belong to the school, and no one can claim them as their own.”

 

“But Mr Jasper,” Felicity said. “She’s breaking the rules – look, she’s wearing nail polish.”

 

I tried to hide my hands.

 

“Awa is new, Felicity,” Mr Jasper said, turning to me. “There a no make-up rule at this school.”

 

There was nothing I could say. No one was going to believe me anyway. I just nodded and tried to breathe.

 

He turned to the class. “Take a seat, kids!” he called.

 

“You’re going to regret this,” Felicity said, quietly so that only I could hear. “And by the way – where did you get those clothes? You look like you just crawled out of a gutter.”

 

I didn’t respond. I just kept looking down at the desk until she left me alone.

 

“Good morning, everyone. This is Awa, our newest member,” Mr Jasper said, gesturing towards me. “Please show her what an awesome school this is by being kind.” Some of the kids snickered; I blushed.

 

“Who would like to volunteer to show her around?”

 

Several hands shot up.

 

“Thanks, Ella,” Mr Jasper said. I turned to see a girl with a light brown bob cut a few desks over wearing a yellow cardigan. The girl smiled, and I felt relieved. At least there was one nice kid at this school.

 

***

 

Ella showed me around the school and shared her mandarin with me as we walked. The school was painted in bright colours, and everything seemed a lot newer than my old school.

 

I guess that’s what a school in a neighbourhood full of wealthy ‘professionals’ looks like.

 

I knew Mum had chosen this school, even though it was expensive because she thought it would be good for my education – which is obviously a huge waste of money because I’m not one of those kids who’s ever going to be good at school work. She also chose it because it’s close to the law firm where she had just gotten her first proper lawyer job, and Dad’s accountancy office. Most of the office buildings were not too far away, close to Parliament and the Beehive, which is that strangely-shaped building where the Prime Minister works.

 

 

I knew Mum had chosen this school, even though it was expensive because she thought it would be good for my education – which is obviously a huge waste of money because I’m not one of those kids who’s ever going to be good at school work.

 

 

“That’s pretty much the whole school,” Ella said. She lifted her cardigan sleeve and glanced at a teddy-bear watch, then quickly hid it under her cuff again.

 

She looked up at me to see if I was judging her, but I just smiled.

 

“Morning break is about to end,” she said. Just then the bell rang for us to go back to class.

 

It felt like a long day. Mum talked in the car on the way home, but I barely listened. I was too tired.

 

We got back to the apartment. I still wasn’t used to it, the big concrete walls were so different from the wooden house I grew up in, and that I missed so much. It wasn’t that the building was that bad. If I didn’t have to live there, I might have admired the curved shape of it, the patterns on the outside painted in pastels.

 

I went straight to my room, dropping my bag on the floor and getting into bed.

 

Mum poked her head around the door.

 

“Are you okay, honey?”

 

“Leave me alone!” I groaned. “I’m tired.”

 

“Okay, let me know if you need anything.”

 

I just wanted everything to go back to the way it was before the divorce. I wanted my two-storied house back with its big garden. I wanted my friends to be around all the time, but it seemed like they had less and less time for me since the move, even my best friend, Melody. The tears started trickling down my cheeks and I did nothing to stop them. Eventually, I fell into a light sleep.

 

CHAPTER 2

 

I didn’t want to get out of bed the next morning. I lay there, looking at the fingernail that had been so weirdly purple and glittery the day before. It still looked a bit shimmery. Something told me I’d had more strange dreams, even though I couldn’t remember them.

 

The thing is, I used to know who I was – before everything changed. I was the kid who took my toy bunny Bobo everywhere I went, who refused to wear shoes and climbed all the trees in the garden, who collected rocks and shells. I was happy, but now… It all seemed so far away.

 

My second day at school was just as awkward as the first. It was even worse in some ways because Ella was sick and so I had no one to hang out with. I wasn’t even sure if she wanted to be my friend or if she was just being nice to me because Mr Jasper asked her to show me around.

 

 

I wasn’t even sure if she wanted to be my friend or if she was just being nice to me because Mr Jasper asked her to show me around.

 

 

As I packed up my books at morning break, Felicity strutted over to me again.

 

“I hope you enjoyed sitting at my desk,” she said. I ignored her, but made a note never to sit there again; it wasn’t worth it!

 

“Awa is a weird name,” Felicity continued. “Where are you even from?”

 

I gritted my teeth at Felicity pronouncing my name wrong, making the “A” sound funny, instead of the calm, even “ah-wah” that it was supposed to be.

 

I stayed silent. At my old school, there were lots of kids from all kinds of backgrounds – but almost everyone here was white.

 

“I’m from New Zealand, just like you,” I said, through gritted teeth.

 

“You look a bit Asian,” Felicity said, sneering. “But Awa is a Māori name, isn’t it?”

 

I didn’t respond again. I hated the way she said Māori. Mum always said you could tell if someone is racist by the way they pronounce it.

 

I just had to get past Felicity and out of the classroom, and then I would be free of the awful feeling in my stomach– at least for a little while.

 

“You’re a bit of a mongrel, aren’t you?” Felicity said as I pushed past her.

 

My gut tightened in disgust, but I didn’t say a word.

 

***

 

I got home feeling just as tired as when I woke up. I dropped my school bag on the ground and kicked off my shoes. A familiar tune was coming from my bag.

 

My phone!

 

I quickly grabbed it from underneath my lunchbox.

 

Melody calling, it said.

 

“Hello?” I looked into the tiny screen at best friend’s face. It was such a relief to see her.

 

“Awa!” Melody squealed. “So good to see you!”

 

“You too!” I said. I had been wondering if I would ever hear from my old friends again.

 

“How’s Wellington? What’s it like living in the city? Do you love it?”

 

“It’s… okay, I guess,” I lied.

 

“I miss you so much – and there’s so much to tell you about school and – oh – so much gossip!”

 

“Tell me everything,” I said. I wasn’t really feeling in the mood for gossip, I just wanted to be connected to my old life.

 

 

“Tell me everything,” I said. I wasn’t really feeling in the mood for gossip, I just wanted to be connected to my old life.

 

 

“I will, but first – oh my gosh – do you know what’s happened to your house?”

 

“What?”

 

My heart pounded.

 

“It’s gone!”

 

“Gone?”

 

“Just gone. They must have busted it down overnight.”

 

Something broke inside me.

 

It was only a few months since the house was sold. I had gone up North to stay with Nannie and my great-aunt Rosetta while Mum looked for a new place to live. I didn’t realise I would never see it again.

 

“It was so quick. All the trees are gone now too,” Melody continued. “It’s just like a blank section where your house used to be.”

 

I closed my eyes against the feelings.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“I just remembered something,” I said, my voice low, but not crying; definitely not crying. “I’ve got to go. I’ll call you back when I have the chance – say hi to everyone from me.”

 

“Wait!” said Melody.

 

I hung up and threw myself across the bed so that I could cry properly, in peace. I sobbed into the pillows, crying for the house… my house. I pictured it, with the stained glass, the green veranda, and matching green around the windows. I always thought it looked like something out of a fairy-tale. It was perfect, and now it’s gone.

 

***

 

I was sitting in the lounge when I heard Mum’s key in the lock, and the sound of her walking down the hallway.

 

“Did you know?” I asked, before she had even entered the room.

 

“Hello, nice to see you too,” Mum responded before she saw the look on my face. “Know what, honey?”

 

“Know what would happen to our house!”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Melody called – it’s gone.”

 

“Oh,” Mum said. “How?”

 

“I guess they demolished it – and all the trees too – it’s like we were never there – like our whole lives never existed at all!”

 

Tears were running down my cheeks, and my voice was cracking, but I didn’t care.

 

“That’s a bit of a shock,” Mum said. “But it’s just a house, honey, it’s not our lives.”

 

“It’s not just a house!” I sobbed. “It’s a home – it was… I grew up there. Don’t you even care about that?”

 

 

“It’s not just a house!” I sobbed. “It’s a home – it was… I grew up there. Don’t you even care about that?”

 

 

“Awa,” Mum said, but I had already gotten up.

 

I stormed down the hallway, slammed my door closed, and threw myself on my bed. I’ll call Dad; maybe he will care.

 

“Awa – hi – look, I’m just in a meeting at the moment – I’ll call you back, okay.”

 

He hung up the phone. Blinking back more tears, I typed Dad a message instead:

 

Hi Dad, I just wanted to tell you that our house – the one we used to live in – is gone now. It’s just gone. There’s nothing left. Anyway, I hope you’re having a good meeting. Bye.

 

How could this happen? My parents didn’t even care. Maybe no one cared but me. I cried until I was too tired to cry anymore, and then I drifted off to sleep with heavy eyes.

 

***

 

I felt the sensations under-foot: the ground I knew so well, tree roots in the dry summer grass. The scent of my Nannie’s freshly baked rēwana bread drifted through the air. Something lit up inside me – like I’d stumbled back into a memory of the last time I’d felt properly happy. I was walking on the lawn of my old house, under the old redwood, past the magnolia tree. I looked up towards the house with its familiar green edging.

 

I wanted to explode into celebration, Melody was wrong!

 

Then, as the house blurred and shifted in front of me, I realised I couldn’t possibly be there. My excitement sank and swirled into a dark heavy feeling.

 

You’re not real anymore, I thought, looking up at the house.

 

I must be dreaming, but it feels like I’m awake… how strange.

 

Everything seemed to slide into itself. The view around me faded at the edges. I saw movement and looked up at the house again. Someone was at the window, a boy with a pale face, looking out. The ghost of the house, the thought came. A chill ran down my spine. I turned to run, terrified that the ghost would follow me, would haunt me, I woke up to a buzzing sound.

 

 

 

Extracted from Awa and the Dreamrealm by Isa Pearl Ritchie, published by Te Rā Aroha Press, RRP$22.99. Text © Isa Pearl Ritchie, 2019

AWA AND THE DREAMREALM

By Isa Pearl Ritchie
Published by Te Rā Aroha Press

RRP $22.99

 


 

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