Sixteen-year-old Repentance Atwater hates living in the breeder village. She hates the foggy swamp, she hates that the other villagers think she's cursed because of her light complexion, and, most of all, she hates the thought of "buttoning" with Sober Marsh and breeding little slave babies for the overlords.
But the law is clear: Anyone who refuses to button and breed is taken away and sold as a slave on the overlord mountain. Repentance won't be taken alone, either. Sober Marsh, her intended button mate, will be ripped away from his family and sold, as well.
Before the night of her Button Ceremony is over, Repentance has devastated her family and ruined Sober's life. But worse things are coming on the overlord mountain. Repentance's stubborn idealism and unruly tongue enrage the king, and she winds up endangering her entire village.
Repentance Atwater stood beside her little sister, Comfort, studying the damp ground where all the mushrooms grew.
Comfort trudged into the patch. "I found a good one!" She bent down to grab it.
"Careful," Repentance said. "Don't get your bib and britches dirty." Repentance, in her sixth year, was the older sister. It was her job to keep Comfort out of trouble while they waited for Destiny—the big girl from down the creek who was coming to take them out of Mama's way for a while.
Repentance studied Comfort's mushroom. "That's a good start. But let's keep looking. We have to find the fattest ones." The mushrooms would be a nice surprise for Mama. They would cheer her up.
Trying to back up, Comfort tripped over her own feet and landed in the muddiest spot.
"Comfort! You've made a mess." Repentance threw a worried glance toward their cave, hoping no one was watching. "Now Mama's going to be mad."
Something was wrong with Mama lately. She'd been crying all week. And that morning she'd gotten really bad—sobbing so hard she hadn't been able to speak. Repentance had run to the swamp-squash harvest to fetch Daddy.
She pulled Comfort up and brushed at the mud on the seat of her britches, smearing it around, making it worse. "Daddy will help Mama," she said ... to herself more than to Comfort. "Don't worry. It will all come out right in the end."
Hearing a noise on the trail she looked up to see a figure coming—moving fast. It was too foggy to see who it was, but then she heard the familiar whistle. "Destiny!" she shouted.
Destiny ran up to the cave, poked her head in behind the thick leather curtain that closed off the opening, and hollered to let Mama and Daddy know she was there.
"You're late," Daddy said, stepping out.
"I'm sorry, I was—"
"It's not important. Just hurry and take them."
Destiny looked at Comfort's muddy britches. "Come on you two," she said. "I suppose we'll have to go to the swimming hole to get you all cleaned up."
"Yippee!" Repentance said. "I'll get Trib."
Daddy grabbed her before she could enter the cave. "Tribulation can't go."
Repentance stopped, confused. Three-year-old Trib loved to swim. And he wasn't ill. "Trib is hale and hearty," she said. "Why can't he come with us?"
Before Daddy could answer, the morning erupted with scratching and scrabbling sounds as birds and bunnies skittered off the path that led through the swamp.
Dark shapes came toward the cave.
They pushed through the fog—took form. Two overlords and a goat cart with a willow-branch cage in its bed. One of the overlords had a dragon stick slung over his shoulder.
Repentance automatically put an arm around Comfort and crouched down, wanting to be small. . . .
THE PUBLISHER'S STORY: It is so easy to start a small publishing company these days. Very affordable. And all you need to know—all you need to learn—has been put online by some helpful person. By more than one helpful person, in fact. This ease, though, has led to a glutted market. “Who needs another small press?” the evil little voice in my head asked. “And how will you sell books?” Well, I’m a literary agent, and I see many great manuscripts each year that I can’t sell. I see books that I know readers would like, but I can’t talk publishers into taking them on. Big publishers, it seems, have gotten more and more interested in buying big books—blockbuster books—and they seem to have no desire to publish books that many readers will love, but that are not fresh enough to break out in a big, Harry-Potter-ish way. And this push for the fresh, the big, the new, the shocking—the jolt of excitement that will get readers buzzing—has had a negative impact on our world, I think. I am not a fan of many of the books we are offering to readers, these days, particularly to young readers. So with the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States of America, and with a country losing its mind, it seems, it felt like time to set off on a new adventure. According to Verdant Labs, an overwhelming number of book publishers and editors are Democrats (over 97%). That’s all well and good. I have many friends who are Democrats. But as I saw that party leaning farther and farther to the left, I felt a need to see some publishing companies crop up that leaned to the right side of the middle. And as I prayed for this, it became more and more clear that I ought to be willing to publish books I love instead of complaining about the sad state of affairs in our world today. I felt that I ought to be willing to labor, in love, for the books I wanted our young people to read. So here we are—launching a new small press. And maybe it won’t just be a labor of love. Maybe we’ll make some money at it. We think the publishers are wrong, after all. We think they are living in a bubble. We think the same people who elected Trump will buy our books. Not that our books are going to be outspoken and bombastic. Not that our books will stretch the truth (though they will, like all good fiction, stretch facts to speak truth to the world), not that our books will brag or bluster or bully. But they will appeal to the people in the middle, we think, and those that lean a bit to the right. The name of the press is aimed at keeping us on an even keel (not leaning too far right!). We hope that the books we publish will encourage and comfort and console. And maybe a few of them will entreat or exhort. They may even deliver stirring addresses or persuasive discourses on occasion. Paraklesis Press. Founded in 2017. We shall see how far the Lord takes us. Sally Apokedak Publisher Paraklesis Press