My friend, fellow writer and blogger Cedar Sanderson writes quirky, entertaining fiction that my wife and I both enjoy. I'm sure many of you may have read her name in these pages, but not any of her books: so I thought I'd provide the opening to her first young adult novel, "Vulcan's Kittens", published in 2013, to give you an idea of her style.
She's improved since then, as we all do with experience, but this book (and her second, "Pixie For Hire") have remained among my favorites, thanks to their chatty, simple, folksy style and easy reading. Also, Cedar grew up and lived for many years in homesteading environments in New Hampshire and Alaska, so she speaks with the voice of experience about many of the settings in which she writes.
This book (and its sequel, "The God's Wolfling") tell the story of Linnea Vulkane, whom we meet as a teenager getting used to an adult world - and the more-than-merely-adult beings that run in her family.
Linnea looked out the tiny window of the tiny plane and marveled at the mountains below it. They had flown out of the Boise airport just a half hour before, but already she could see few signs of civilization below them. Her trip had started out that morning, in the Seattle Airport. She leaned her head against the cool window glass and re-lived the earlier scene with her mother.
“Mom, I’ll be fine. I want you to do this.” She’d insisted.
Her mother had hugged her, and Linnaea had leaned into her comfortable bulk, smelling the scent of lilacs and roses her mother always wore. Theta Vulkane was a renowned photographer, and traveled the world taking pictures of volcanoes and forest fires. But for the last two years she had stayed home with her only daughter. When this assignment had come in Linnaea could see how much her mother wanted to go.
“Dad and I, we had a lot of fun when you were gone. He always wanted you to go. Just because he’s not here...” Linnaea tried to keep her lip from wobbling. She took a deep breath and went on. “I’m sure Grampa Heff can keep me out of trouble.”
“Oh, I know he can. He always kept me from getting into too much. He’s just, well, since your grandmother left, he is sad and a bit cranky.”
“Mom, it’s not like I don’t have your phone number. And a new phone - thank you so much!”
Reminded of that in the present, Linn sat up and pulled it out of her jacket pocket. Her mom had always resisted her getting a phone - no amount of teasing and begging had moved her for the last two years, since she had gone into sixth grade and most of her friends had gotten one. But in the whirlwind of packing and preparation her mother had bought her the latest smart phone and loaded it with games and ebooks. Linn suspected the gift was partly to atone for the abandonment.
She didn’t care though. It was cool. She texted her mother now, making sure she didn’t use text speak. Mom would explode if she did, so she wrote, “Almost there. Flying over Nez Perce Mountains.”
She played a game, and then, bored, switched to her ebooks. Her mom had loaded the Diaries of Lewis and Clark onto it, no doubt hoping that she would get interested in the history of the area her grandfather lived in. Linn decided she would read that later and opened the latest fantasy novel instead. It was really cool, about how the gods of myth and folklore were living among humans and hiding their abilities. She read happily until they were on final approach to the Pierce Airport.
Grampa Heff was waiting for her in the little terminal, which was barely the two rooms needed for TSA regulations. He was leaning on his cane, she noticed. She ran to him and hugged him fiercely, which made him snort and lean into her. He smelled of smoke and apple tobacco, which made her sneeze.
He grinned at her when she finally let go. “Ready for a summer with an old coot?”
“Yep. I’m planning to be bored and whiny already.”
“Oh, I remember your mother at this age. Whew. Her moods could change on a dime.” Linn grimaced. She did that too. Frustrating. She’d talked to Mom about it, and although she understood that partly it was her body and hormones and all that, it was still annoying to start crying for no reason at all. Or yelling at her mother.
“I’ll try to be good, Grampa.”
Despite the cane, her grandfather was as strong as the steel that was his trade. He pitched her bags into the back of the truck and climbed into the cab beside her.
“Want to tool around town before we head up to the farm. Need to pick up some groceries. I also remember how much your mom ate at your age.”
Linn sighed. Her mom wouldn’t let her diet, either. Women in her family were supposed to be all ‘generous curves’ according to her, and no, Linn wasn’t fat at all. No matter what her friends said. She had a pretty good idea of what her grandfather would say if she asked for diet food. She helped shop at the grocery store, a very small place, nothing like the massive city supermarkets she was used to. Her grandfather bought a lot of stuff in bulk.
“We’ll have a garden for veggies,” he explained. “And I have a freezer full of meat, so this is mostly staples for the next month. Your Mom said you like to cook and bake?”
“We aren’t coming back to town for a month?”
“Well, maybe. I don’t come to town much.”
Linn blinked up at him, speechless for a moment. Yes, Pierce was a one-horse town, but the idea of not going anywhere for a month had surprised her. Where she lived in Seattle she could walk to the library, or to meet her friends.
“OK.” She finally said, realizing there wasn’t much to do in Pierce anyway. No wonder her mom had bought the phone for her. And no point in arguing with Grandpa Heff. His stubbornness was legendary.
The ride up to his farm was quiet. Linn spent most of it looking out the window admiring the scenery as they climbed up into the mountains. At one point her grandfather pulled over onto the side of the road and she got out and stared in awe at the perfect meadow of wildflowers in front of her. Her grandfather cleared his throat. “The blue ones are Camas. Kinda gets you, don’t it?”
“Wow, Grampa, it’s so beautiful.”
The field reached out endlessly, it seemed. The flowers were as blue as the sky above them, and for a moment she felt like she was floating between sky and sky. The scattered reds and yellows among the river of blue were like rays of sunlight coming through cracks. The scent of the flowers filled her up and she closed her eyes, savoring the warmth on her face. She looked back, realizing that she’d walked a little way out into the field. Her grandfather just leaned against the truck, his arms crossed and a small smile on his face.
Linn took a couple of pictures and climbed back in the truck. “Thanks, Grampa.”
“Thank you, young lady. Helps me see it fresh again through your eyes.” Without taking his eyes off the road, he reached over and ruffled her hair.
When they pulled into the farmyard the chickens scattered from the truck and then gathered again as soon as the engine was off. Linn hopped out and reached in for her bags, but her grandfather waved her off.
“Got a surprise for you in the barn. See if you can find it.”
Linn started for his small barn. Grampa didn’t keep any large livestock, so the barn was just big enough for a couple goats and their hay. As she got to the sliding doors, she saw the cat sitting on the stump beside them. Sitting upright, tail curled around her toes, she was a very elegant tawny cat.
“Hello, pretty lady.” Linn held out her hand to be sniffed. The cat surveyed her for a moment, and then leaped off the stump to wait at the doors. Linn was surprised at the size of her, fully as tall as her knee. The softly weaving tail, tip hooked like a shepherd’s crook at the moment, reached up to her waist. Linn slid the door open and the cat walked into the dimness of the barn. Linn could smell the sweet hay in the loft. The cat turned back and said firmly “Mew.”
Linn chuckled. “I am coming, Cat.”
The cat ascended to the loft in two swift bounds, one to the top of the stall door and the other to the floor of the loft, easily ten feet above them. Linn was impressed, but stopped to rub the noses of Grandpa’s two Alpine does as they stood in the stall. Then the cat miaowed again, and Linn obediently climbed the ladder to the loft. The cat sat on a bale of hay looking down into a little cavity surrounded by four bales on the floor. Linn looked into it.
“Kittens! Oh, how precious!”
She knelt on the floor and reached over the bale toward them, then hesitated. “May I?” she asked the mother cat. This was a very dignified beast, and very different from the house cats Linn knew at home. The cat curled her paws under her chest and began to purr, eyes half lidded. Linn took this to mean yes, and stroked the top of the nearest kitten’s head.
“You are so soft.” She murmured, not wanting to disturb the sleepy kittens. There were four of them. One black, one calico, and two silvery gray with black spots. They bobbed blind little heads at her and opened little pink mouths in soundless mews, but Linn could see they would be even bigger than their mother, as they were already the size of her two fists put together, and they couldn’t be more than two weeks old.
Linn stroked each of the kittens for a few minutes, marveling at the soft fur and cute round tummies. She stopped when their mother flowed into the nest and wrapped herself around them. The kittens immediately nosed into her teats. Even blind they knew exactly where to go. Linn sighed. This was a very nice surprise.
“Linn? Dinnertime.” Her grandfather sounded like he was calling from the porch.
“Coming, Grampa.” She called back, no longer worried about waking the kittens.
She climbed down the ladder and washed up at the pump between the house and the smithy. Her grandfather had designed the pump and basin to overflow into a koi pond, and she trailed her fingers in it to feel the eager mouths nibble at her.
Dinner was a venison stew and rustic bread. Her grandfather was a good cook. She sighed a little, looking down at her half empty bowl. Her father had been a good cook, too.
After dinner her grandfather pointed to the loft. “Up you go! These old knees can’t do the ladder, but you’ll be sleeping up there this summer, unless you decide to sleep in the barn.”
“Could I?” Linn asked, picturing the kittens.
“Not tonight, but yes. Now bed.”
Linn fell asleep quickly, worn out with her long day of traveling. In the middle of the night, she woke up with the familiar feeling of a crampy stomach. Her period had started. Yuck. She rolled over to get out of bed and then realized that there was someone in the cabin talking to Grampa Heff.
“You do realize you cannot stay out of this forever.” A heavy male voice, dripping with anger and a strange accent.
“We choose to treat Hephaestus as a refuge.” A sibilant and melodious female voice. Linn thought she had a speech impediment.
Linn crawled out of bed, her belly cramps forgotten and slid to the edge of the loft where she could see into the sitting area below. Four figures stood down there in the dimly lit room. The two closest to the door were very big. If they walked under the loft they would have to duck. The one on the couch appeared to be huddled under Grampa’s afghan. Grampa Heff himself was straddling a kitchen chair he had turned backwards and was leaning his crossed arms on the back of it.
“Vulcan - ah, Haephestus, as you prefer. You choose to live unnaturally. We would rather not force you to return with us.”
“I chose to make myself happy, not your lot. And do you recall what happened last time I was forced?”
Linn could see a grimace pass over the man’s face. In the firelight his skin was unusually red, as was his hair. She wondered why Grampa hadn’t lit a lamp.
“I cannot and will not leave here.” The woman on the couch declared, sitting up suddenly. Linn startled as she realized that the woman was a cat... This was her grandfather’s barn cat, talking and sitting on the couch.
The big man stepped toward her, casting his face into shadow. Linn could still hear the sneer in his voice. “Bastet’s Daughter, you are the least of our concerns. Vulcan may take on strays and broken... beings, but we do not.”
“I would not go with you, even without my obligations here.” Grampa interjected.
“Oh, the child.” The man’s dismissive tone made Linn’s blood boil.
“Not just a child. Blood of my blood.”
“Which I’m sure she knows nothing about. To her, you are just a broken-down old smith.”
“Her mother has told her what we are, I am certain.”
“She could not even see me if she were able to wake from the spell I cast over her.”
Linn blinked in surprise. Not only was she wide awake, riveted to the conversation below, but she could see the red man, the cat woman, and the bulk of something else (she was no longer sure it was a man) near the door in the shadows. And as for ‘what she was’... she was a human being. Wasn’t she? Linn remembered her mother once telling her that not all myths and fairy tales were made up. Many of the old tales had a grain of truth in them.
“There are very powerful things in this world of ours, things that most people cannot see or accept if they do see them.” Theta’s voice had gone dreamy, and Linn saw that her eyes were focused somewhere far away. “My family is a powerful one, and you have a little of that power, my sweet. If you see strange things, or feel like you did something you cannot explain, then I will tell you more.”
Linn dragged her attention back to the scene below. Her mother wasn’t there to explain, but she knew who she was going to talk to as soon as their visitors left.
“I think the child will surprise you, Mars.” Grampa Heff’s voice was mild. Linn suddenly caught the connection of names. Mars and Vulcan were gods. Bastet was the cat god of Egypt. Who were these people? Who was her grandfather? Linn felt dizzy even lying flat on the floor.
“In any case,” Her grandfather stood up and Linn could see the fire shimmering through his halo of white hair. She suddenly wondered what color it had been when he was young. “You will leave now. I have no intention of abandoning my work.”
“You will come to Olympus.”
“You can’t make me.”
“Oh, I have ways...” Mars backed out of the door. His unseen bodyguard had already gone out.
Grampa Heff sighed and ran his hands through his hair, making it stand even more on end. He looked up toward Linn. “Come on down, child.”
Lid slid down the ladder. “How did you know?”
He chuckled and hugged her. “I could hear you breathing, little one. How much did you hear?”
Linn realized he was asking her how much she had really understood. “Not much... why did he call you Vulcan? Where did he want you to go? Was he really red?”
Her grandfather laughed. “Vulcan is one of my names, the gods are meeting to arrange the fate of the world and he is indeed, red.”
“The fate of the world? Gods? What?” Her dizzy feeling came back.
“Sit, child.” Bastet’s Daughter, forgotten behind her, reached out a soft and very large paw to pull her down onto the couch. Linn sank down next to the warm bulk of the cat, who was now closer to tiger-sized.
“You grew.” Linn muttered.
The cat laughed.
Grampa Heff smiled. “I think we need to explain, but first, hot cocoa.”
There's your introduction to Linnea's world. This book and its sequel are free to read via Kindle Unlimited, so if you have a KU subscription, click over to Amazon via the links provided and read the whole thing. You'll enjoy it.