Saturday, 17 October 2015

Heaven’s Forgotten by Branden Johnson


Moira just wants a normal life for her daughter, Penelope. And sometimes, it seems like she has achieved it. Penelope is a sweet, smart, and precocious four-year-old girl. However, she is also the product of Moira’s affair with an angel. Her parentage gives Penelope strength far beyond what any child should possess. It also makes her the target of fallen angels who intend to use her mysterious powers as their way back into Heaven. Worse yet, one of those fallen angels is her own father. Now, Moira finds herself caught up in a terrifying struggle for Penelope’s life against beings more powerful than she can imagine. And when Penelope’s true power is revealed, it will shake the foundations of reality. Suspenseful and action-packed, Heaven’s Forgotten demonstrates the power of a mother’s love against the longest odds in Heaven and on earth.

Excerpt 1

Penelope liked to swing. On the playground, it was really the only thing she liked to do. The other children scaled the jungle gym, staking their claim to its peak and roaring superiority. Others clambered up the slide and screamed and laughed as they slid down to earth again.
Penelope did not want to return to earth. On the swings, she never had to touch the ground.
She had the whole swing set to herself this morning. That was okay. The other kids were nice sometimes, but she enjoyed swinging alone. She kicked her feet out and pulled on the chain and turned her face to the sky. The fall back down was exhilarating, even a little scary, but bearable because she knew she would rise again. Below her, the rest of the children scurried around the playground like the ants in their classroom ant farm.
She saw the little girl below, in her pink pants and white ballet slippers stained brown with mud. Penelope did not respond. She only kicked harder and let the wind cut across her face and blow back her hair, let the scattered droplets of rain splash her cheeks. If it started raining harder, the teachers would make them go inside, and that wasn’t any fun. She hoped it stayed just like this. Just like this forever.
“Hey, Penny.”
The little girl was not leaving. And now there were three others besides. They stood with their arms crossed, all alike.
“We want to swing. Get off, please.” The little girl with the ballet slippers tapped her foot impatiently on the gravel.
“I’m swinging right now,” Penelope said.
The situation was clear. There were four swings and five girls. Five was bigger than four, so there weren’t enough swings for everyone.
“Get off, stupid,” said another girl. “You’re stupid.”
Penelope decided to be good. She closed her eyes and imagined her mother telling her, “Be good. Be good. Be good.”
Out loud, she said, “No, and don’t call me stupid because I’m not.”
“You are stupid,” said a third girl, this one with a big white bow in her hair. “You’re stupid and if you don’t get off and let us swing we’re gonna tell Mrs. Ritzky.”
“Stupid! Stupid!” the girls began to chant. “Stupid stupid stupid!”
But Penelope was being good.
“Stupid stupid stupid stupid!” Sometimes being good was hard, but she knew that her Mommy was right, and that she had to be good, because—
“Stupid stupid stupid!”
Penelope shoved her feet into the gravel, sending it showering over the four girls. They screamed and covered their heads.
“Say you’re sorry to me,” Penelope said. She stepped from the swing. But she did not raise her voice. She kept her tone under control, like a good girl. She stood before the girl in the ballet slippers and said, “Apologize.”
The fourth girl, the one who so far had said nothing, the one who had taken a large chunk of pebble to her forehead—a wound that was already swelling into a quarter-sized welt—stepped forward and shoved Penelope.
Penelope fell on her backside in the gravel.
“Stupid!” said the girl with the welt, beginning to cry. “You’re mean!”
Penelope closed her eyes. A blush crawled over her, like a rash, spreading out from her face to the ends of her fingers and down to her toes. Her muscles ignited. She took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes, the girls were staring down at her as she sat in the damp gravel on her butt.
Then in a flash she was on her feet, and her hand flew out and smacked the first little girl’s nose. The girl flew back, sprawled, a tear like a fault line rending the leg of her pink pants. Penelope hit the next girl, and the next, and the next, and then a pair of grown-up hands had clasped her shoulders, and she kicked out behind her and connected with a teacher’s shin, and the teacher howled and fell away. Then at least three other teachers grabbed her—Penelope wasn’t sure how many, she was so focused on the girls who were lying on the ground holding their faces, holding in the blood that leaked between their fingers and pooled in the gravel.
The hands dragged her from the scene, and she listened to the crying. Even the teacher, the one she kicked, seemed to be crying, or trying not to cry.
She let her body go limp, so the grownups would have to struggle to move her. It was a technique that worked quite well on her mother. Then she shut her eyes and wondered what her mother would say, when she learned how bad Penelope had been.

Author Bio:

Branden Johnson is a writer living near Chicago with his wonderful wife and hyperactive chihuahua. When he’s not writing, he’s playing music in the post-rock band These Guys These Guys. Heaven’s Forgotten is his first novel.

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Excerpt 2

She scribbled some more and worried that her handwriting was becoming illegible. Distracted again, her eyes found Penelope’s pile of discarded toys.
That girl. She had asked her twice this week to pick them up.
She stood, happy for something else to do.
It was a mass grave of dolls. Piled on top of one another, strewn, left in uncomfortable positions. How had the girl collected so many dolls by age four? Moira had never been allowed more than three or four dolls at a time. But she was a very different mother than her own had been.
She knelt beside them. A Raggedy Ann doll lay face down on three naked Barbie dolls. She shook her head. Raggedy Ann had been hers, one of the few treasures she found fit to bring with her when she started her new life. She picked it up and held it for a moment. Put her nose to it and breathed in the scent.
The basement. Even after all this time, all the distance, it still smelled like the basement. She opened her eyes and stared into Raggedy Ann’s for a moment.
“God, I’m pathetic.”
She set the doll aside.
Then something caught her eye. The Barbies. She picked one up.
Two long, deep gashes had been cut into the doll’s back, maybe with a nail file, just below the shoulder blades. She put her fingernail in one, traced it down. She grabbed a second Barbie and turned it on its stomach. The same. The third, as well. She fumbled through the pile and turned each Barbie over with a flurry of speed, feeling sick, feeling helpless, remembering again that it was all real, and realizing she would never escape it.
Abandoned. They had been abandoned.
Every doll was scarred. She looked under Raggedy Ann’s dress and found two gashes, stuffing peeking through like exposed tendons.
She bit back tears and stood, turned away, held her hand to her face and swayed back and forth.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. 
She hummed and hummed the tune until her heart slowed. Then she went into the bedroom.
She left the door open. The light from the hall fell across Penelope’s face. Her mouth was open in sleep, and a tiny droplet of drool had gathered in the corner, ready to fall. With a small moan and a sigh, likely prompted by the intrusion of light, she rolled over onto her stomach. The thin straps of her nightgown did nothing to cover the scars on her back.
Moira went and stood over her daughter. She reached down and touched them, those two lines, red and jagged rises and falls, like the screen of a cardiogram.
“Those are my wings,” the little girl said. Moira snatched her hand away. Penelope’s eyes were half-open. “They’re not here anymore.” She yawned, sniffed, and settled back into sleep.
Moira had kept the truth from her, had planned to keep it from her forever. But Penelope knew. Somehow, without even being told, she knew what she was.

Excerpt 3

Penelope returned to her seat on the couch, wiping her hands on her pants. Jake stood and shut the door. Then he crossed the floor and crouched to Penelope's level.
"Now. We're going to try something a little different than we used to. And if you want me to stop at any point, just tell me, okay?"
"Okay. Jake, did you know that I have four dolls named Josephine?"
He smiled. "That's a very pretty name."
"Now, sweetheart, I want you to look at this." He reached into his pocket and brought out a pen with a fine black tip. He held it in front of her face. "Right here." He tapped the tip with his index finger. "Look right here. Good girl. Now. I want you to take a deep breath. Do it with me, okay? Deep breath in..." He inhaled, and she mimicked him. As usual, Moira was surprised, impressed, by her daughter's occasional flirtations with maturity. "Deep breath out... Good. I want you to keep breathing, just like that. Good girl."
The breathing, the soothing talk from Jake, continued, until even Moira felt drowsiness creeping in. She looked, saw her daughter's eyelids growing heavy, nearly falling shut.
"Now, I'm going to count to three, and you're going to be asleep, but you're still going to be able to talk to me. One. Two. Three."
Her eyelashes drifted toward each other, met, and her deep breathing slowed.
"Good. Penelope? Can you still hear me?"
"Yeah," she said, in a voice barely above a whisper.
He put the pen back in his pocket. "I want to talk to you about some things. Is that okay? Can I ask you some questions?"
"Thank you, Penelope. I want you to think back to yesterday, to school. Do you remember what happened yesterday at school?"
She nodded her tiny head.
"That's good. Do you remember the four girls? The ones that you hurt?"
She nodded again.
"Penelope, I want you to tell me why you hurt them. What did they do to you?"
The little girl took a deep, shuddering breath. "They wanted to take my swing, but I was swinging on it and it was mine."
"I see," Jake said. He had reached back for his clipboard and was now jotting furiously. "They wanted to take your swing away from you. And you weren't bothering them, were you?"
"No. I was swinging by myself because nobody wanted to swing with me."
"Nobody wanted to swing with you?"
"I asked some of the kids and they said no they didn't want to swing with me and somebody said that he didn't like me because I was scary. But I'm not."
"Of course you're not, sweetheart, you're not scary. So, you were swinging alone, and the four girls came and wanted you to give up your swing. What did you do?"
She was crying now, tears flowing down and merging with the stream of snot on her upper lip. Moira wanted to grab a tissue and wipe it away, but she couldn’t run the risk of breaking the trance.
"I'm a good girl," Penelope said, and sobbed. "I'm a good girl. My mommy told me to be a good girl, and I was."
"But Penelope, didn't you hurt those girls? Didn't you get off your swing and hit them? And didn't you hurt that teacher?"
"I'm a good girl," she said. She continued crying, and she would say nothing more.
"We should stop for now," Jake said. Moira nodded. "All right, Penelope. I'm going to count backwards from three, and when I say 'one,' you're going to wake up. Three. Two."
"Oh, hello," Penelope said. Jake froze, his mouth a small O. Penelope's eyes were open now, and she was looking, not at Jake, but to his left. Moira followed her gaze and saw nothing but a bookshelf full to capacity with psychiatric books.
"Penelope," Jake said. "Penelope, sweetheart, I'm over here."
"What do you want?" Penelope said.
She sat silently for a short while. Moira's hands moved on their own to her mouth. She shook her head back and forth.
"Wake her up," she said, voice muffled by her palms. "Please, Jake. Wake her up."
"My daddy isn't here," Penelope said. "I don't know my daddy."
Moira felt hot tears on her cheeks. Her breathing came quick and hard. "Please, Jake, please. If you don't wake her up, I'm going to."
"No, don't," Jake said. "This is important. We need to listen."
"Jake, no. Please."
"But I want to meet my daddy," Penelope said. Her voice adopted its frantic tone, as it did moments before she threw a fit. "Why can't I?"
Jake held up a hand. "Wait."
Penelope's tears came anew. "I want to, though. I want to." She began to bawl.
"Jake!" Moira said.
Jake leaned forward, face inches from Penelope's, and said, "One. Penny, honey, are you okay?"
Penelope fell to her side, lost in tears. She cried and cried and cried, and only when Moira wrapped her in her arms and pulled her onto her lap did she calm. The tears pressed into her blouse, warm and wet.
"What in the hell just happened?" Moira said.
Jake returned to his chair and sat in it heavily. He sighed and shook his head. "I have absolutely no idea."