I’m so happy about getting permission to use the Scleroderma Foundation in my next book that I’m going to share ch 1. It’s rough and unedited but it makes me happy… for now.
*This material is the sole intellectual property of Marcia Young. Any use of it in part or in whole without prior written permission is illegal*
Vella glanced at the newspaper cutting on the fridge again. It had been there, mocking her, for over a week. She wasn’t even sure if it was still good. Choking on tears she blankly scanned her one bedroom apartment. There wasn’t much in it. The riots had reached a fevered pitch but were mostly concentrated in the more affluent sections of town and near businesses. She owned so little she didn’t think she had to worry about looting anyway.
It had come as a surprise to nearly everyone when the riots tore through cites across America. News reports still speculated on what sparked them. Everyone had though that the verians would have won easily against the human’s bid for power, but it had become a close thing. Human weapons leveled out verian abilities. It was speculated that the attempted takeover of the verian portion of cities was preplanned not spontaneous. Right now no one knew much beyond violence and fear.
Vella’s own parents had been caught in the crossfire when the rioting spread to Savannah. They had been out shopping downtown when the fighting started. Her father, a retired Army soldier, had been struck down by a verian’s attack. Her mother was critically wounded; out living her husband by mere hours. It was believed that, that particular riot had been in retaliation to humans killing a verian couple in Atlanta.
Nearly every major city across the country lived in fear while violence ran rampant. There were even rumors of discontent in Europe. It all came down to who was going to be the apex species; humans or verians. Neither was satisfied anymore with co-inhabiting the planet. Vella feared what would happen to the species that lost.
The death of her parents and riots, however, were just the tip of the iceberg in her personal hell.
Her financial situation was laughable at best. She didn’t even have enough money for food having to rely on a nearby shelter for her meals. Her parents’ life insurance was tied up and the hospital had filed her mother’s health insurance incorrectly. They had filed for an active duty dependent instead of a retired one, meaning that payment was denied. Vella had tried to explain to the hospital that if they would just refill the claim under the correct section of the insurance company that it would be approved, but to no avail. The hospital was insistent that she pay the ICU fees, ambulance ride and everything else that amounted to tens of thousands. She needed a lawyer but finding one was next to impossible given the current climate of violence.
Everyone was laying low.
Savannah had gotten so bad that the schools had been closed; verian and human alike. Public transport had been shut down for fear of being caught in riots. The mayor had ordered a curfew to be enforced but with little luck. The human mayor was ignored by verians and the verian one was missing. Vella wondered how anyone ever though that living on top of each other would ever work; two mayors, two police forces, two sections of town, two of everything for nearly every city in the country. While her father had served in the U.S. Army he had only obeyed human commanders while the verians didn’t have an army at all. How they handled wars she had no idea.
Once again her eyes flicked to the torn piece of newspaper. Even its jagged edges seemed to mock her. Would she even get accepted? Did she even want to? She needed time to grieve… but she didn’t have time. Her parents’ house had burned during one of the worse riots to hit Savannah; the insurance money for that was tied up too. Bitterly she wondered if anyone would ever see their insurance money, too many claims had been filed by now, too many lives destroyed.
Vella reprimanded herself for her thoughts. Life was hard she’d known that since she was a teen. The thick patch of skin adorning her forehead, indenting it and causing a loss of hair along the scalp was proof enough of that. Her twisted fingers covered in thick, shiny brown skin was a constant reminder along with the bone deep ache in the delicate joints.
Vella had been a late bloomer not being seriously interested in boys until she was seventeen. She had noticed them before that but hadn’t wanted to actually date them. Her father had certainly been happy about that, reminding her that she didn’t want to end up like her cousin; unwed and with a child at fifteen.
Any blooming however was cut off when she started to develop an odd patch on her forehead. The skin just off center on her forehead had started to turn colors. Her mother worried that she had contracted some sort of infection had dragged her daughter to the doctor. None of the treatments worked. Finally after months of the skin worsening she was sent to a dermatologist. By then there was little he could do. The skin had dried and hardened into a very noticeable dark brown mark much like the cut from a sword. It stretched from just above her left eyebrow into her hairline, nearly to the top of her head.
Her friends who had at first teased her with concern had started to avoid her as the condition progressed. None of them knew what she had or if it was contagious. Not to mention it was unsightly before she started losing her hair along the ‘cut’.
The dermatologist had known what it was instantly; coup de sabre, a form of linear scleroderma. The good news was it wasn’t contagious and since it developed on her head instead of her face the severity of it was limited. The bad news was that the discoloration could take up to five years to fade and there was no cure, only treatments. Once it went into remission not only would it probably come back one day but she could be left with a deep indent in her head.
The cut of a sword indeed.
It had sliced though her relationships not only severing her friends from her but destroying her self-image.
She had hated nearly everyone and everything by the end of the first year. She had no idea her friends had been so shallow, abandoning her as soon as they realized her condition wouldn’t just go away returning her to normal. The boys at school who had been interested in her before couldn’t be bothered to look at her now. Too many times she watched as students and teachers alike slid their eyes across her as if she was invisible.
Her once thick, long black hair was now permanently covered by a hat in an attempt to mask the hair loss. There was nothing however that could hide the deep gouge that puckered the skin along her forehead. By the time she developed a second form ofscleroderma that turned the skin along her hands hard and shiny she had withdrawn from society almost completely. The delicate joints of her fingers had twisted up as if she had arthritis. Gloves, even in summer, covered it up nicely.
The damage to her self-image and self-esteem had been done, however. A female was most vulnerable in her teens when she was discovering her sexuality and Vella had been damaged beyond repair. The depression that gripped her for the last five years was difficult to overcome. Many days she would refuse to leave her parents’ house. She had refused to go to college unless it was online courses. The only reason she had not been killed alongside her parents was because she had been in Atlanta attending a support group hosted by the Scleroderma Foundation.
The first two years of her illness she had hid herself in her parent’s home refusing to leave unless it was under the cover of darkness, cloaked in a hat in an attempt to hide her deformity. Her parents had insisted that she finish high school but it had ended a scant four months after her official diagnosis. By then she had no friends; no one wanted to be seen with someone so deformed. The dark brown skin stretched across her forehead an inch wide tugging and pulling the surrounding light olive skin around it till it looked puckered.
Her doctor assured her it was merely cosmetic, and nothing to worry about.
She had learned that nothing was ever ‘merely cosmetic’. People avoided her. Some assumed that since she looked the way she did that she was mentally lacking. Others couldn’t stand to see someone who was so different. There were even those who believed she was contagious and wouldn’t so much as shake her glove covered hand.
Her mother was the reason she attended the support group so regularly, making the five hour drive every two months, and the reason she hadn’t been in Savannah that fateful day. At first she demanded her mother attend the meetings with her, too nervous to been seen in public after two years of hiding herself away. There she had met others who suffered similar fates; all forms of scleroderma were represented at some time or another. The speakers gave her information and insight she had been lacking. The others who attended the meetings offered advice and encouragement. Slowly she found herself opening up; the depression of two years still hovered but had withered at the edges allowing her to hope again.
Vella gritted her teeth and willed herself to stop crying. Nothing would be solved by crying; though the desire to give into the dark thoughts was seductive. Tomorrow, she’d decide what to do tomorrow.
Wishing one last time in the dark room that her parents were still alive she crossed the small living room to her bedroom. Climbing under the thin coarse sheets before falling asleep she wished she had joined them.