NAT THE LOST GIRL is a work-in-progress middle grade novel that I’m currently revising. It’s a tricky one to sum up, but it was born from the idea that if I ever lost my daughter, I’d like to think she would continue to have adventures somewhere without me.

Below is an excerpt from the rough draft.

(image by jjcanvas at deviantart)

On Nat’s thirteenth birthday, a child fell from the sky.

She had been at her kitchen table feeling sorry for herself when the burst of light hit her windows, the falling child brushing an angry streak across the night with yellow-orange flames. The light cast party-shaped shadows on her wall: sagging balloons, a pile of presents even mountaineers would hesitate to brave, a table surrounded by empty chairs. Each shape told the story of another dull affair (after all, it’s difficult to make one thirteenth birthday party more special than the last, and at this point Nat had long since lost count of how many thirteenth birthday parties the village had thrown in her honor). At least there had been cake, with candles that sang songs louder than any of the party guests.

The whole village shook. Nat blew too-long hair out of her face and shoved her feet into her best climbing boots. Somewhere in the village outskirts, a new child lay waiting in a smoldering crater. There was a time when the sky hadn’t spit them out so often, but she could barely remember those days any longer. There were too many things she couldn’t remember.

Grabbing her trusty sword named Moonbeam, for that’s what the blade was made from, Nat headed through the front door and out into the village. Lights came on in houses as she trudged up the road that lead out of the village. A few townschildren even cheered out of their windows, but she paid them no mind. Of course they were all excited about a new child. They weren’t the ones climbing into the Snarlwood to go get them.

Nat came to a bend in the road, and she stepped off into waist-high blue grass that tickled her bare legs. The sensation made her think of ball gowns and father-daughter dances and dim gymnasiums, even though she had no idea what those things were. Above her, bright stars twinkled to get her attention, but she had no time for their affection this evening. She pushed ahead, clearing the brush with Moonbeam.

In the distance, the Cloud Sea swirled against a dark sky, eager for her to discover its gift. Each cloud rolled like ocean waves, and on especially cloudy nights you could hear them splashing, as if lapping up against a dock on the edge of the sky.

The swaying blue grass invited Nat onward, past the few trees that had migrated away from the Snarlwood over time, much too gentle to be a part of that wild, petulant forest. As she approached the tallest of them, the one perfect for climbing and swings and birthday pinatas, a clatter rose from somewhere in the uppermost branches.

Nat whirled, holding Moonbeam aloft. Its brilliant light shone on a boy, dangling from a branch by just one hand. He kicked his legs as if on an invisible unicycle, then fell straight down, landing in front of Nat in a heap.

Colin the Cryer stood straightaway, arranging what looked to be a black stew pot on top of his head. He was called Colin the Cryer because he was the town cryer in Ruthia, shouting the local news to whomever would listen; not because he was fond of crying, although he was that also. Some called him Colin the Coward, but Nat would never tell him that, because then he might just go and cry about it somewhere.

“Evening, Nat,” he said casual-like, as if he hadn’t just tumbled out of a tree he had no right being in, regardless of the time of day. Colin was a dreadful climber, even without a black stew pot on his head.

Nat was having a hard time getting past the stew pot. “Why are you wearing that?”

“Oh, this? It’s a helmet, see?”

“It’s a pot.”

“I know that, but it’s just as good as a helmet, right? It’s metal and fits on my head, same as.” He knocked the pot for emphasis. Perhaps a bit too hard, since he cringed afterward. “I asked Katja to build me one, but she refused. Said I’d just hurt myself.”

Katja was always very wise for her age.

“Go back to the village, Colin. It’s dark and dangerous out here.” Those were Colin’s least favorite d words, behind only dancing, because he was a worse dancer than he was a climber. Nat turned back toward the Snarlwood, where the the fallen child was already beginning to emanate its faint orange glow. If she didn’t get there soon, the trees would keep it.

“Well, see,” Colin said, hopping to her side, still balancing the pot atop his head with one hand, “I thought maybe I’d come with you. Keep you company.”

Nat thought back to her birthday party. “I’ve had enough company for the day, I think.”

“Is it that you want nobody to come with you, or that you don’t want me to come with you?”

Sometimes Nat wished Colin would decide whether or not he wanted her to know that he loved her, or whether he preferred to think her oblivious while he sulked about the matter rather openly. Because then she could smack him upside the stew pot with Moonbeam and tell him to stop loving her, because it was only making him miserable and her irritated. She was a Hunter, and Hunters had no time for such trivial things like kissing in tree branches and lying in the blue grass fields to watch the shimmering Cloud Sea. And she imagined if she did have the time, she certainly would rather spend it with a boy that wore a proper helmet instead of one he found in his kitchen cabinets. Although the truth of the matter is that she would prefer a boy with no helmet at all and perhaps red eyes, but it’s not like she thought about it that often in between her hunts or right before she fell asleep.

“Colin, there are monsters in the Snarlwood,” she said, instead of hitting him with her sword. “Scary ones.”

“I know that,” he said, puffing his chest. He straightened so abruptly the pot slid forward over his eyes. He yanked it from his head and let it land with a clank at her feet. “I’ll protect you.”

“You would do no such thing.”

Colin looked at the blue grass surrounding his knees. “I would try.”

Nat kneeled so that she could meet his eyes from underneath. “I do believe you would. And so you know, it was very brave of you to come out here tonight.” She scooped the stew pot from the ground with her free hand. “Now go back home. You’ll be needing your helmet for supper tomorrow.”

He gave a sheepish smile and took the stew pot, cradling it under his arms as if he might cherish it as a gift from her forever. “OK. I’ll work on how I’ll break the news to everyone tomorrow that a new child arrived tonight.”

She was glad to see him running back up the hill, his brown scarf trailing him behind him like a low-flying kite. And then she resumed her march to the Snarlwood. Moonbeam’s light swelled under her grip, anxious to seek out more darkness.