Cassie Draws the Universe

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Overview

Cassie Harper is a disillusioned high school senior who is daily losing ground in a battle against her own nihilistic inclinations. When a beautiful new girl from California comes to town and attempts to befriend a reluctant Cassie, the two unlikely companions find common ground in a shared sorrow.

Cassie lives with her mother and grandmother in a dilapidated house in a nameless Kansas town, where she is haunted nightly by dreams of a father who died before she was born. Amy ...

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Cassie Draws the Universe: A Novel

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Overview

Cassie Harper is a disillusioned high school senior who is daily losing ground in a battle against her own nihilistic inclinations. When a beautiful new girl from California comes to town and attempts to befriend a reluctant Cassie, the two unlikely companions find common ground in a shared sorrow.

Cassie lives with her mother and grandmother in a dilapidated house in a nameless Kansas town, where she is haunted nightly by dreams of a father who died before she was born. Amy Cole has just moved from California, where she recently lost her mother and brother in a car accident. When Amy finally breaks down the walls of Cassie's self imposed solitude, the girls band together to avoid the common end of all high school students: inexorable assimilation into an increasingly empty and incomprehensible world. But as Amy and Cassie attempt to outrun fate, their pursuit will be cut short by an unexpected adversary, leading Cassie to devise a chilling and unimaginable revenge.

Cassie Draws the Universe is a complex and tragic tale of friendship and betrayal, living and dying, human cruelty, and the terrible price of vengeance.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781450243810
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 8/23/2010
  • Pages: 444
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.13 (d)

First Chapter

Cassie Draws the Universe


By P.S. Baber

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 P. S. Baber
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-4379-7


Chapter One

There were barren fields owned by dying men who were paid to let them lie fallow. And there were barns full of nothing that spent their days standing against the horizon waiting for something that refused to come. And there were swarms of rusted oil pumps whose heads no longer nodded and whose legs no longer churned. There were neighborhoods lined by broken fences, and red-brick streets lined by empty storefronts. There were miles of cracked sidewalks, often more grass than concrete, leading nowhere. And there were trees-a few-ancient and wise and silent, whose branches twisted up to an indifferent heaven. And there were also people-ignorant people-who probably didn't deserve a single thing they had ever been given in this life.

And most importantly, there was a girl.

Her name was Cassie.

This girl lived in a house that jutted out of the earth as if it had been tossed there by God as an afterthought. It was a brown, two-story affair, squatting a few miles outside the town proper right off the highway, surrounded by abandoned fields that stretched toward infinity in every direction. This house was nothing more than one of countless decrepit, wooden altars that lined the side of this seldom-used highway; but to Cassie the house was home and therefore provided a sort of comfort that she often railed against, but would never dare relinquish.

It was a farmhouse once. The old brown house, like the fallow Kansas farmland she once dutifully overlooked, began falling into disrepair a generation ago. By the time of Cassie's birth the entire second floor was dangerously unlivable, and so Cassie, her mother, and her grandmother were forced to make do with only the downstairs, which included a spacious parlor, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two converted bedrooms.

One of the bedrooms belonged to Cassie. It was a lonely little room with sad, gray walls that bore neither pictures nor posters. Once, long ago, Cassie had decorated these walls with a number of carefully opened and flattened cardboard tissue boxes suspended by small plastic thumbtacks. Cassie didn't actually collect tissue boxes, but whenever she saw one that she liked-usually something with a light floral pattern-she would take great care in opening it and pinning it to a precise, thoughtfully selected location on the wall.

But that was many years ago.

Against the barren gray walls stood a worn vanity, a small dresser, and a four-post canopy bed that no longer bore a canopy. A large plywood bookcase stood adjacent to the old vanity. Its cheap shelves bowed under the heavy weight of hundreds of books, all meticulously catalogued and arranged in perfect thematic symmetry.

This was Cassie's library.

It was here in this library that Cassie had spent most of her conscious hours growing up. And it was here in this library that Cassie sat now, clad in a loose tank top and loose pajama bottoms, reading by lamplight, as her mother knocked upon the door.

"Come in," Cassie called with her relatively low, but otherwise unremarkable voice.

Cassie's mother pushed open the door. She stooped down and squeezed through the doorframe as best she could. The dusty, wooden floor moaned beneath her feet as she entered. She was a large woman, perhaps ten or twelve feet tall, weighing well over a thousand pounds. Her hands were the size of tennis rackets and her wingspan covered the length of any room she entered. She wore her artificially blonde hair in tight curls, which framed her small, brown eyes and round face.

"It's getting awful late, Cassie," she rasped. (Her words were always broken glass dipped in honey). "I was thinking you should probably be getting off to bed, seeing that tomorrow's the first day of school and all. I don't want you falling asleep in class."

"I'm okay," Cassie replied. Cassie stared directly into her mother's eyes as she spoke-not defiantly, but with an assurance that most people found unnerving. Her mother certainly found it unnerving.

Despite her discomfort, Mother stepped in and placed a small kiss upon the crown of her daughter's head. "One more year, Honey," she said. "Just one more year."

With great exertion, Cassie forced a small nod.

Mother exhaled heavily. She closed Cassie's door behind her as she withdrew back to her own bedroom, where she would spend the next few hours watching a man on the television confidently claim to know what God wanted from His creation.

Cassie turned back in her chair and prepared to return to her book, but she hesitated. She placed the book down on her vanity and stood to her feet. After stretching the weariness from her long limbs, she stepped in front of the body-length mirror hanging from her door on the opposite side of the room.

With her left hand, she pulled the back of her long, unextraordinarily brown hair into a tight ponytail, the tip of which dangled between her shoulder blades. After a moment of introspection, she pulled the ponytail apart with both hands and fashioned long pigtails that protruded from the sides of her head, somewhat like antlers. Thinking better of the whole thing and very much ashamed of herself, Cassie released her hair and allowed it to cascade down upon the thin white shoulders of her angular, yet willowy body.

Cassie never could decide what to do with her hair; therefore, she regularly did nothing with it apart from maintaining the thick bangs that almost entirely obscured her round, dark green eyes. This was by design, of course, as Cassie hated her eyes-eyes that neither sparkled nor shimmered, but rather seemed to swallow all light into themselves. These eyes held value for Cassie only insofar as they often detracted attention away from her crooked nose and thin lips and ostrich-like neck and sinewy limbs and flat feet and translucent skin. The eyes did not, however, detract the attention of young and old men from her pendulous breasts, which, large enough in their own right, were greatly amplified by their juxtaposition against her thin frame. Since middle school Cassie had attempted to conceal her bust through a combination of tactical undergarment selection, layered clothing, and strategic shoulder-slouching. Nevertheless, every now and then, perhaps while bending over or stretching to reach for something ... Well, at those times, nothing could stop the ravenous eyes of surrounding men and boys.

Even teachers, sometimes.

The breasts were hideous. And dehumanizing. They hung off Cassie's chest like the distended teats of an unmilked cow. Cassie rarely looked at them directly in the mirror or in the bath. Whenever she did, it was an arduous battle fighting off the compulsion to slice them off of her body with a razor.

As her eyes lingered upon the mirror, Cassie found herself slouching instinctively. She thought about straightening her posture-even momentarily-but decided against it.

It was at that moment that Cassie spotted an unexpected flicker of movement in the corner of her mirror. Catching a small gasp, she focused her eyes into the mirror and on the source of that movement.

She exhaled in relief.

"Oh," Cassie sighed, "it's just you, Grandma."

Cassie turned and walked over to the wheelchair of the frail old woman seated in the corner of her room. She was so fragile and delicate now. Her skin was tissue paper and she always, even now, smelled like flowers. Cassie bent down, eye level with her grandmother, so that she could see her own reflection in the square lenses of her eyeglasses.

"Did something get you riled up?" Cassie asked.

Grandma said nothing. She said nothing in much the same manner that she had said nothing ever since the stroke.

"You're so quiet," whispered Cassie softly. "Sometimes I forget you're even here. I'm so sorry. I don't ever want to treat you like Mother does. Let's get you into bed."

Cassie turned down the white sheets and put her arms around the old woman. Once, Cassie merely aided Grandma as she mounted the bed herself. But that was a lifetime ago. These days, she had to scoop Grandma up in her arms and place her body onto the bed with no assistance (or resistance) from Grandma at all. It always surprised her just how light Grandma's small body was. But Cassie never allowed her mind to linger on this thought for too long, as it led down a dangerously frightening path that she was not yet willing to traverse.

Cassie gently tucked Grandma into her own bed and pulled the large glasses from her wrinkled face. Behind the thick, bifocal lenses were two miniscule, dark green eyes that seemed to swallow all light into themselves. Behind these green eyes, as was increasingly becoming the case, was nothing.

Cassie leaned over and placed a small kiss upon Grandma's forehead, then vainly pulled back to witness any possible reaction.

Rising from the edge of the bed, Cassie walked to her vanity and returned her book to its home on the shelf. She did not bother to mark her page as she had no plans to read any further. Though she had never read this particular work and was unfamiliar with its plot, Cassie had nevertheless already determined the book's themes, what the characters would say and do, and how the story would eventually unfold and end. With no suspense remaining, it seemed pretentious to continue reading any further.

As Cassie slid the book back into its rightful place on the shelf, she pulled another book down. It was a large, black notebook. Cassie tucked the notebook under her arm like a football before she turned off the reading lamp in her room and moved toward the parlor. The cold, wooden floorboards creaked and groaned beneath her large, bare feet as she walked.

The parlor was the heart of the old house, centered between the bedrooms on one side and an expansive dining room and kitchen on the other. It was a large room with a tall ceiling and long lavender walls spotted with ovular picture frames of varying sizes that bore the severe, sepia-tinted faces of Cassie's maternal ancestors. In her childhood, Cassie had convinced herself that all the framed pictures on the walls of the parlor were actually small windows to the afterlife, and through them her ancestors peered in on her and her mother and her grandmother.

Judging by their facial expressions, they were not pleased.

Other vestiges of the familial history were scattered about, including an old grandfather clock that no longer kept the hours with any degree of reliability and an exquisitely carved cherry-wood coffee table cluttered with antiquated magazines that no one ever came by to read. Opposite the little table stood a mammoth stone fireplace, which, when lit, could have doubled for the gaping mouth of Hades itself. However, for most of the time-like tonight-it was just a big square hole in the wall. Above it an equally large, rectangular mirror hung, dutifully reflecting the reality with which it was presented. So large and clear was the reflected image, the looking glass often resembled a portal to another room somewhere beyond the fireplace wall. One could imagine Carroll's Alice jumping out of it at any moment, ready to share a cup of tea. A few cushioned chairs loitered about the small coffee table. They were as old as anything else in the house, but having recently been reupholstered in a sea-foam green polyfiber, the old chairs no longer seemed to have any rightful place here.

And perched on every available surface, encircling the parlor, was an audience of small, smiling porcelain angels. They belonged to Cassie's mother. They stared intently at nothing and everything all day and all night.

Beginning a circuit from the hallway, Cassie orbited the room, snuffing out lamps in each corner. Mother, who had the night off this evening, was in her own bedroom with the television blaring. It would remain on, chattering throughout the night and into the morning until Mother woke up around ten.

With every light in the house out save one tall lamp near the dining room, Cassie retired to the divan where a pillow and a folded sheet awaited her. She sprawled herself out across the seat cushions, resting her back against one of the divan's stiff arms. She pulled the black notebook from under her arm and laid it out upon her lap.

Though one could not necessarily tell by merely looking at it, this notebook was, in fact, an altogether extraordinary book, the likes of which the world has rarely ever seen or likely ever will again. It was large. And it was black. It contained a three-ring binder that snapped open and shut with the mere press of a finger. It also sported vinyl pockets on each of the inside covers. And on the front cover, inscribed in handwritten White-Out, were the words: Never Forget-The Emperor is Naked.

Inside, clamped together by the three large metal rings, were four spiral notebooks. Each page in each of the spiral notebooks was covered in ink. Behind the fourth spiral notebook was a worn, brown folder full of loose papers crammed into the inner pockets of its covers. Past the burgeoning folder was a ream of college-ruled paper, half already written upon.

Together, these many pages held Cassie's poems and stories and histories and thoughts.

Beyond the stack of loose papers, tucked neatly into the pocket of the back cover of the notebook, was a large, glossy portrait of a handsome young man in full military regalia. Cassie carefully pulled this photo out with both hands. She studied and admired it for a long string of minutes.

Near midnight, after returning the photograph to its rightful place, Cassie began traveling backward through time, slowly flipping back through the loose pages of her notebook. Eventually, when she found a blank sheet, she stopped and set about writing.

From the Notebook of Cassie Harper

At dusk, when shattered skies rain down upon The yawning earth, and all the walking ghosts Slip off their masks of skin and bone behind The false security of hollow roofs And empty walls, then dark, primordial Night- In all her curiosity-begins Her inexorable descent; the Night, So sacred and inviolate, shall turn Us from a stranger light that we may rest Beneath the shadows that we cast ourselves: The truths that only let themselves be seen When darkness falls and dreams give way to dreams.

Chapter Two

Cassie had discovered the formula years ago.

Like many great inventions or innovations, the discovery had occurred entirely by accident. It was an accident in the sense that Cassie had not intended to discover it. She had not intended to discover anything. She had simply intended to pass the long, lonely summer by reading through a box of her father's old books.

But the books held the answer.

Cassie discovered that all these books, every one of them, pointed toward something. At the very least, they all pointed in the same general direction. Each held a clue, a piece of the mystery. It became clear to Cassie over the length of that summer that these individual authors each knew something of a common truth-or untruth-that each grappled with, struggling to ensnare in a net of carefully selected words. And based on the mustard seed of knowledge that each writer possessed of this truth, each had vainly attempted to exercise dominion over it.

But it was too large for them.

It was so large, that in its entirety it could only be imagined, and certainly not seen or defined. But after pouring over many dusty tomes, Cassie could see it. And she could understand it. On the flat surface of her bedroom vanity that summer, Cassie placed all the jigsaw pieces together.

And there it was, ghastly and beautiful and terrifying.

When Cassie realized the true nature of what she had discovered, she vowed never to share her knowledge of it with another living soul.

As might be expected, possession of this knowledge effectively cut Cassie off from the rest of humanity. She had been plucked out of the world as she had formerly known it, the victim of a natural but unchosen exile. From that day forward, Cassie was a stranger walking among the ignorant and uninitiated masses, who, for their own welfare, had to remain ignorant and uninitiated. Cassie knew that the rest of her life, from that day forward, would be spent vainly attempting to cope with the burden of living in a world that she could no longer recognize, and which could no longer recognize her.

Coincidentally, the day she discovered this knowledge was also the day that Cassie pulled the tissue boxes down from her bedroom walls.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Cassie Draws the Universe by P.S. Baber Copyright © 2010 by P. S. Baber. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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