THE TIME BENDER



ANNOUNCING

My latest young adult novel, THE TIME BENDER, is scheduled for release this September. It won’t be on Amazon until then, but you can see it on Goodreads now.

I’m hoping to have some reviewers ready and willing to post a review in September so I'm offering free digital copies (for Kindle or Nook) to anyone who asks now.

Here’s the blurb for THE TIME BENDER (260 pages):

Seizures. Visions. Nauseating shyness. If it weren’t for the friendship of Alex, a musical genius, Selina Langston would think her high school life totally sucked. And she’d be right. But suddenly being the object of interest to two good-looking guys lessens some of the sucky-ness. So what if they’re from another planet … who doesn’t like cute aliens? When they show her she can already manipulate time she begins to blossom socially… #firstdate. When they lure her to their space ship she never suspects she’ll be the victim of an interplanetary kidnapping or that she’ll hold the fate of the world in her hands. But time is on her side. And so is an unlikely hero.

I’d be thrilled to send you a copy. Please tell me if you’d prefer mobi, epub or pdf. I hope to hear from you soon. (First chapter is below.)


Debra Chapoton
contact me at bigpinelodge@gmail.com 


CHAPTER 1
#SnowAndStars

I ANSWERED TO loser, elf-skin, slobberer and Lady Bla-bla, to name a few of the less contemptible slurs. Everyone labeled me. Now my high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Smith, added a new one, classifying me as having an avoidant personality disorder. What the freak? Her analysis came after only three appointments during which I barely spoke.
This appointment was now over and she dismissed me from her tiny office with a smile. I, however, remained majorly stunned. So stunned that I stomped out. And by stomped I mean I slipped quietly around the door jamb, my lips tightly pressed together. She wouldn’t get a smile from me, but I did mouth my thanks—I’m nothing if not polite—though my eyes lingered on a piece of gum stuck to the floor. Whether or not she heard me was another thing.
I kept my eyes averted from her secretary and fixed them on the bowl of leftover Halloween candies on her desk. I was dying for some chocolate.
“Here’s your pass back to class, Selina,” the secretary said. She held out the pass, and also a piece of candy and a tissue, which motivated my independent feet to shuffle close enough for my indecisive hand to receive the objects.
I honestly tried to produce an acceptable word of thanks before she turned around and kicked the copy machine. Two seconds later the bell rang. The last bell of the day. I stood there crumpling the pass and judging the safest path through the corridors. The halls filled and so did my tear ducts. I focused on my feet and coaxed my ugly shoes into alternating steps all the way to my locker. My best friend Alex was waiting there. He had my locker open and was holding my winter coat out. I knew this not because I’d lifted my gaze, because I hadn’t, I knew it because coming from the counseling office instead of my last class took longer. Naturally Alex would be there to make sure I wouldn’t miss the bus.
I stuffed my arms into my jacket without a word, grabbed my backpack and shoved most of my textbooks in it. We walked out together with me a step behind and to his side. If I got too close to him someone would mock me and he’d spring into action. It was easier if there was no hint of our special relationship.
But it was one of those days. As we inched down the school bus aisle two junior girls whispered some choice gossip about why my skin looked icy blue. Alex looked back at me, wiggled his cocoa brown eyebrows and kept his temper in check. The wiggle was an effective distraction. It kept him from going ballistic and me from crying.
The girls repeated their taunt. Louder. Honestly, it wasn’t the worst thing they’ve ever said, but they continued with another dig about me being a virgin. Followed by tittering. Every kid already seated lifted their heads in unison. I could feel it; I couldn’t bear the unblinking mass of judgmental eyes, so I focused on the back of Alex’s head, willing him to look back again while I blocked out the snickering.
He did and gave me another eyebrow wiggle. Okay, that one was a bit over the top. I knew Alex was struggling to keep his cool. His dancing eyebrows didn’t match his tight lips and clenched jaw. He flashed me a smile, a phony one for sure, but with good intentions. I matched it with a forced upturning of the corners of my own mouth. Some moron farted loudly and all the attention on me switched to him. I let my breath out. We took our seats and cradled our backpacks on our laps. Alex visibly relaxed. Me, not so much. I stared past him out the grimy window, forbidding my facial muscles to pucker my lips or quiver my chin while he searched for a particular song to listen to. A few snowflakes started falling as the bus pulled away from school.
I got a grip and concentrated on what was positive in my pathetic life: Alex. Sweet, sweet Alex. He was devotedly protective of me, had been since we were seven, but we were just friends. No racing heart or sweaty palms, at least not on my part. And not that I’d want there to be. Not with Alex. Only in books and teen movies did the girl end up with the dork-turned-dream-guy who had been right there under her nose all along.
He cleared his throat. “So … how about we pray for a snow day tomorrow, Selina? Or would you prefer an alien abduction?” His voice was deep, smooth and low, rich as homemade hot chocolate—a singer’s voice. His tone and the silly questions meant he was calm again even if I wasn’t.
I considered the options carefully. I rarely spoke in the close quarters of the bus—huh, maybe I did have an avoidant personality disorder—but, anyway, I thought of a clever answer and knew Alex would appreciate it. “Stand by, snow storm. Cue clouds.”
The girls across the aisle giggled through their sneers. Crap, they heard my stage directions. Stupid habit. Kill me now.
The bus rumbled over a speed bump and the seat ahead punished me with a smack to my knees … well, I definitely deserved that.
“You okay?”
I nodded and Alex handed me an earbud. “Good. I’ll cancel the aliens, then, and we’ll pray for snow. I found a song about winter.”
I closed my eyes and listened. Thank God for Alex. He was one of the very few who accepted how I looked and acted. His humming along with the tune soothed me. I squirmed in the vinyl seat, squeezed my eyes tighter, and fought the urge to do something radical. Like glare at my tormentors. Too bad making eye contact with cool kids was not in my social skill set.
“Selina.” Alex nudged me.
“Huh?” I opened my eyes. Usually such uncomfortable moments lasted forever, but somehow we were at my bus stop already. This wasn’t the first instance my perception of time seemed skewed. I handed Alex the earbud and almost winked at him. Oops. Emoji: troll face.
I pretended I had something in my eye. Sure, I can talk to Alex like I talk to my own soul, but I’d sooner flirt with a Martian—if I could flirt at all. “Call me later,” I whispered, code for you don’t have to get off at my stop today. I rose and carried my backpack like a shield.
Now if I could get down the foot-littered aisle and then the steps without tripping that would be good. Even better if no one tossed any barbed comments at my back. That thought was enough to knot my intestines.
My toes caught on the ribbed rubber of the last step and I fell into gray slush, dropping my pack and wetting both knees and one hand. Sweet. The driver took his time closing the mango-colored door behind me. Muffled guffaws rippled along behind the windows and the bus snailed ahead a mere inch or two. Diesel fumes puffed a noxious cloud around me. I kept my head down. I focused on the slurry oozing up between my fingers and tried my hardest to rise. It took forever.
In that eternity the strangest scene played out in my head like a fantasy movie. I saw two scarecrow figures running inside a large enclosure. They stopped next to a nebulous structure the size of a bus. In my mind’s eye they morphed into fuller, well-muscled bodies, but I couldn’t distinguish their faces—I knew intuitively they were good-looking though—and one entered the bus-thing while the other jogged toward a larger bus … no, it wasn’t a bus, it was a spaceship. They were going to pilot stolen ships to come to Earth. To come and get me. My heart lurched and my whole body, even the icy fingers still in the slush, tingled not with fear, but with excitement.  The startling images withered faster than they formed and as soon as I rose they completely vanished, but that didn’t stop my body from dumping a dose of adrenaline into my bloodstream. My heart contracted like a squeezed balloon.
“Changed my mind.” I knuckled a wet strand of hair out of my eyes as the bus turned the corner. “Forget the snow day,” I said to no one. “I’d prefer an alien abduction.”
***
Coreg jabbed an elbow in Marcum’s side, jogged ahead, and claimed the newest starship available to the young recruits: the celestial blue Intimidator. Its name matched Coreg’s temperament.
The vessel’s underside drained away an oily substance that ran along the hangar’s grooved floor. In the low gravity it left a dull mechanical odor.
Marcum reached the ship a moment later. Coreg laughed at him. “No time-pacer blood in your veins, is there?” Coreg pulled his thumb ring off and showed Marcum the inner readout. “Here’s the extended leave code.” He elbowed him again. “And, hey, I won’t speed, sunny.”
“I don’t believe you.” Marcum ignored the throb in his ribs and the loathsome nickname. He adjusted his thumb ring to accept the code. “Your time-pacing will be a good diversion if we start near the space alley before the guard ship gives chase.”
“Technically we’ll be exceeding the distance limits there, but it’s absolutely worth the risk of banishment.”
Marcum gave a reluctant nod and a grunt from the back of his throat. “Ehk. I’ve already jeopardized my future twice by listening to you. What’s once more?”
He and Coreg, rivals since they entered the Interstellar Combat Academy, held nothing back in trying to best the other in both simulated and real battle.
Coreg snorted. “There were no consequences either time, thanks to me. The odds favor us again and the guard will never suspect we’re going to pierce the space alley. Especially if you take the Galaxer.”
They both glanced at the old spaceship Marcum had trained on, its sides and underbelly a faded cerulean frost, the nose and topside a dull copper. Coreg continued, “You translated the uncorrupted radio waves from Earth with me. You know how high the probability is of finding a human time-bender there.”
Marcum’s grunt was enough to concede. He moved toward the Galaxer.
“Don’t back out on me, sunny,” Coreg called out. He pressed his ring into the side of the Intimidator not waiting for Marcum’s response. He was already fixated on how he would use the time-bender. And as a time-pacer himself, he might be awarded total control of him.
Or her.
The thought of the time-bender possibly being female caused Coreg to hesitate. Before he could initiate take-off Marcum’s old ship lifted off ahead of him. He pressed his feet into the piloting divots and stretched his hands up to the ceiling levers. He gave a warrior’s shout and blasted off without checking the immediate airspace.
***
Four long hours later I finished my homework and the laundry. My tears had retraced their tracks a couple of times. It sucks to be me.
The snowfall had changed from light flakes to frozen crystals as soon as the bus finally lumbered out of sight. Wisps of swirling snow rose like genies escaping an enchanted lamp. After my little brother got home the weather steadily worsened, transforming into a whiteout with huge flakes. The heavy wet kind. They made the spruce tree branches bend low to the ground and the pine boughs push threateningly across the power lines. I guess they did more than threaten because five minutes after the dryer buzzed the electricity went out. Could this day get any worse?
Unfortunately, stomping one’s feet in protest of the weather has relatively little effect, especially when executed in bare feet on carpet. I stepped on something sharp—a piece to one of Buddy’s toys—yelped and limped a few steps before reaching the smooth floor of the kitchen. I found the candles in the junk drawer and the matches on the highest shelf. Buddy was at my elbow, whimpering, but at least he wasn’t throwing a fit. I lit the candles and lined them up on the table. Their orange glow reflected in my brother’s glasses in a most unnerving way.
Michigan winter. Something else to cry about.
“Cue the scary music,” I mumbled. Sheesh, it wasn’t even mid-November yet.
“Thelina?” Buddy’s voice trembled as he lisped my name and asked for the tenth time, “When … Mom ... h-home?”
“I don’t know, Bud. Soon, I hope.”
Nine years ago Alex got a puppy for his eighth birthday; I got a special needs brother. I wouldn’t trade him for a thousand puppies.
Of course I might trade him for an honest-to-goodness boyfriend. Not to sound desperate or anything, but you could leave out the “goodness;” I just wanted a boyfriend. Good, bad, tall, short, blonde, brunette, as long as a check appeared in the box marked Human. And it would be nice if he had his driver’s license. Okay, so I was desperate, especially since I’d come to terms long ago with the medical fact—all right, suspicion—that I probably wouldn’t make it to eighteen. Mrs. Smith thought I had APD, but I had something much worse, something I couldn’t explain to her. Yeah, a lot of tears over that.
Not likely to find a boyfriend though. Not if it meant I’d have to talk to a guy, let alone flirt with—
A loud booming noise made Buddy and me jump. “It’s the outside deck, Bud,” I assured him—and myself. “The wood cracks that way when the temperature drops so fast.” That sounded like a reasonable explanation to me. Yes—pep talk to self—I was going to believe that was the deck cracking and not some crazed murderer with a gun or a psycho-maniac breaking the basement window. I looked through a gap in the clouds where stars pin-holed the night and forced my imagination to fly to safer orbits. There couldn’t be any murderers or maniacs up there … and it had to be a zillion times colder that far out in the universe. I imagined a spaceship racing toward Earth. No, two spaceships … like I envisioned before. Cue the science fiction adventure.
Echoes of the shock of hurtling through space wavered through my flesh, and I tried desperately to stop the vision. Then I drew a long, painful breath, and found myself shaking, the shock turning to a very real feeling of danger.
***
“Twenty light years is stretching it, isn’t it?” Coreg’s voice crackled through the minuscule speaker in Marcum’s helmet.
Dying stars—lances of red and green against the cold black universe—dove past Marcum’s viewing screen as his heart beat double time in anticipation of an illegal contest with Coreg. “What’s the big deal?” Marcum goaded, a cockeyed smile playing at his lips. “Too hard for you to speed up time for one hundred twenty trillion miles?” He kept an eye on the readouts as Coreg maneuvered his spaceship within inches of the sparkling bio-metals that framed the exterior of his own craft.
“You Gleezhian fart, you know I can.” Coreg’s ship latched onto the port side of Marcum’s older, wider vessel, clinging like a persistent leech so both ships could fly as one. “The real question is: will you be able to communicate with the females? You’ll need some skills there, Marcum.”
“I learned English, Russian, and Chinese, same as you. Shouldn’t be a problem. Your job is to time-pace us there fast.” Marcum sniffed and crinkled his nose at the stink the interior bio-metals were releasing: oily vapors from living machines. He sat forward and relaxed his hands which on their last partnered training excursion had been busy firing anti-flames at Coreg.
“Oh, I’ll get us there fast. You can count on it.” Coreg’s lips were halfway to a cocky grin as the gray light of the upper screen cast shadows along his jaw.
Memories intruded: forbidden shouting matches with his father, filled with words too harsh to take back; running away; being forced to join the space school. He shook off the memories and squeezed his eyes tighter as he pushed himself to pace the ships onward. He’d show them. He’d show them all, especially the Commander who gave him the secret Intel.
***
I bent down, not too far since I’m short to begin with, and gave Buddy a squishy hug—so glad the scented candles masked the odor of his dirty hair—and said, “Mom’s probably caught behind a county snow plow. Don’t worry, I can make us some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.”
I nuzzled him some more as a guilty wave of regret came over me. I’d had an awful shouting, or rather pouting, match with my dad the day before he left. About something stupid: sandwiches for dinner.
I gave Buddy a final squeeze and looked him in the eye. “You love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, right?”
I watched his round face as he gazed at me; words visibly trembled past his lips but were muddled. “Peanah-butta en chelly,” he said. The tip of his tongue stole out again, wetting his upper lip. His therapist worked so patiently with him. Two steps forward, but then one step back.
“I cold.” He pressed his fat fingers onto my face and I grabbed them, held them in my own, and blew hot breath on them. I sure hoped the power came on soon or it would be more than frozen fingers I’d have to deal with. There was an upside though: we might get a day off school. I helped Buddy into his winter coat and mittens then pulled my orange and black Panthers sweatshirt over my head and smoothed the front over my virtually non-existent boobs. No upside there.
My imagination took off again. I saw Black Holes and interplanetary passageways where astronauts had to shield their brains from debilitating radio waves or radiation or maybe cable reruns. But again it didn’t feel like my imagination. It felt real. And I felt a little less afraid. For a day that had been filled with a boatload of tears I almost, almost felt happy.