WHO WOULD YOU BE IF YOU WEREN’T YOU?

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Into each life a little rain must fall.”  The phrase comes from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and, to my mind, it is absolutely true. No one’s life, no matter how joyous, proceeds without some dark moments.  You can argue that the difficult times in our lives enhance the brightness of the good times, like light and dark threads in a tapestry.  Probably right, but believing in that idea doesn’t always make the rainy days much easier to bear, when you’re living through them.

But in some lives, a little rain becomes a torrent.  As COMPASS NORTH opens, Meredith has been betrayed by her husband and worn down by years of abuse.  In the middle of her misery, a terrible accident hurls her into a new identity and a new life in a small town in Alaska.  At first she is swept away by circumstances, but then she starts to make her own choices.  She starts to rebuild her life anew–but she also discovers that leaving behind her old self isn’t that easy.

Haven’t we all suffered dreadful periods when a little voice in our head whispered that it would be so wonderful to run away and start again, as a different person?  Impossible, for most of us, and thankfully dark times pass, for most of us…Take the journey of adventure and personal reinvention with Meredith in COMPASS NORTH. 

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COMPASS NORTH:  What if, during the darkest period of your life, you suddenly had a chance to disappear and start again, as an entirely different person?  Would you take the chance?  When Meredith stumbles into a new identity and a new life in a small town in Alaska, she finds it’s not so easy to leave behind the baggage from her past.

The clouded window glass revealed nothing but the blackness of the night outside. A short, plump waitress with spiky black hair and a nose ring brought them mugs of steaming coffee. Meredith looked around the room. Men dressed in heavy pants and sweaters filled a few other booths, their thick, dark jackets slung over the seat backs behind them. Three men in one booth laughed and talked in loud voices, but most seemed to be in a state of quiet exhaustion, not saying much, nursing cups of coffee, and stabbing at plates of eggs and toast. A couple of banged-up red toolboxes in the aisle threatened to trip the waitress as she shuttled around the room to refill coffee cups. Meredith stared down into her mug, holding it with both hands. The coffee smelled metallic and a little burnt, but the heat from the cup was comforting.

“Just a couple more hours,” Jan murmured.

Meredith nodded back at her. She couldn’t muster the energy for any sort of small talk, and she was at a loss to know what to say anyway. She had no idea where she was going or why. She was traveling to a place she didn’t know with people she didn’t know. She looked down into her cup and shook her head. This was all just some strange mistake, a misunderstanding she should have corrected right away.

Her silence didn’t seem to bother Jan, who finished texting and now was rubbing the back of her neck as she sipped her coffee. Jan didn’t appear to expect any conversation. She and Evan seemed quite content to have her tag along. She supposed they saw her simply as some middle-aged transient traveler caught in the turmoil at the airport, needing a ride to where they were going. As far as she could tell, they didn’t mind that she had been thrust on them. They hadn’t asked her any questions, maybe because they could tell how tired and upset she was, or maybe, she thought, because they just weren’t very interested in her. Either way, it was a godsend, because Meredith didn’t have the answers to any questions. Not even the simple ones like, “Where are you headed?”

Evan joined them and shrugged off his jacket, moving with the gait of an adolescent puppy, loose and awkward, not quite sure of where its body ended. The reek of old sweat drifted over the table. He looked up and waved. “Joyce, coffee?” The waitress headed over with another cup, and Evan wrapped his hands around it. He nodded toward the man behind the cash register, who sat in a chair hunched over a dog-eared paperback, and he grinned at Jan and Meredith.

“Ron said he got a scare the other day. Someone came in who looked just like his ex-wife. Thought he’d been found out for sure.”

Evan and Jan looked at each other and snickered. Evan turned to Meredith. “He took off from someplace, I think it was somewhere in Oklahoma, years ago. Left his family. I’d guess running away from child support. Not a good story, really, though maybe his reasons were good. Who knows?” He shrugged and spooned sugar into his coffee.

“Took off?” Meredith didn’t understand. Her voice creaked and broke, out of practice after the long hours of silence, and she coughed. “How can anyone do that in this day and age? You need a social security number, you need an ID to go to the doctor, to use your bank account…” Her voice trailed off. She was so very tired. She didn’t think she had ever been this tired before.

Evan laughed again. “Well, yeah, you’re mostly right. That’s the way it would be in most places. But Alaska is different. At least some parts of Alaska are.”

Evan gulped his coffee and waved his cup at two fishermen walking by. He stretched his arms above his head, one at a time, groaning. “Lots of people here get by off the grid. They barter for food, work in exchange for getting what they need, no records, no government, no Big Brother. They hunt and fish when they can. It’s not always easy and it’s not always pretty, but you can do it.”

She leaned back against the sticky vinyl seat. The clanking of dishes in the kitchen and the rise and fall of voices from the other booths flowed around her, comforting in the normalcy they evoked. She gripped her coffee mug tightly and rubbed her finger over a tiny chip in the rim. She closed her eyes and felt a prickle of cold air from the drafty window slip down under her collar. Alaskan cold. Alaska, where things are different.

Off the grid…
I’m off the grid.

Her head swam from the fatigue, the heat, and the unrelenting memory of the crash. I should be dead. They all think I’m dead.

She ran her tongue over her sore chapped lips.
Maybe, at least for just a little while, I don’ t exist.

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Stephanie is giving away an ecopy of COMPASS NORTH to one (1) lucky commenter who answers her question. Giveaway ends @12am est 4-14-14,  Good Luck y’all!

Stephanie Joyce Cole, author of COMPASS NORTH, recently relocated from Alaska to Seattle, where she resides with her husband and a predatory but lovable tailless Manx cat.  She is currently working on A LATE HARD FROST, the sequel to COMPASS NORTH.  Visit Stephanie

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