The dragon stared out over a menacing gray sea, the dark waters swelling below the raggedness of three miles of sandy hilltops that had been her home these past thirty years. An angry black sky warned of a storm brewing, and the dragon shivered at the thought of enduring yet another winter. She had seen many such squalls lying there on the hill overlooking Irvine Beach, but this one was going to be a beauty. The clouds sagged, heavy with rain, and it looked like it would only be a matter of time before the sky opened up and a tempest rained down on her. She worried that the bricks of her body would not hold up to this latest squall; after all this time she was feeling old and worn out. The wind lashed against her cold stone flanks, whipping sand into her unblinking eyes. Oh, what she would give to be real again; to stretch her stiff and aching legs, to rise up again. To be free.
And so it began to rain. Cold, harsh raindrops fell like tiny arrows against the dragon’s unmoving stone hide. She braced herself against the terrible weather that was to come, forever alone and miserable.
A few miles down the coast in a ramshackle guesthouse overlooking a large sewage pipe on the beach, a small ten-year-old girl was watching the approaching storm from the window of her attic bedroom. A solitary, sad little figure, the girl often knelt up against the headboard of her bed beneath the window and gazed out the dirty glass. She liked being up here, hidden from view where no one could see her. She could forget who she really was and fantasize about the lives of the people who often walked by.
In the summer, she would watch as the shiny cars filed into the empty field nearby, turning it into a makeshift car park. The car doors would burst open and out would spill excited children running with spades and balls toward the sea. They were always on the beach before anyone else, daring each other to go into the cold water first. Their parents brought up the rear, laden down with striped umbrellas and wicker picnic baskets, multicolored sun hats and sun cream. From her vantage point, Morag (for that was the girl’s name) saw everything. There was the joy radiating from the children, the togetherness of their parents and the love of the family. How she wanted to be one of those children getting hugs and kisses from a mother or father. How she yearned for a family of her very own.
The beach was hardly used in winter. Only dog walkers braved the cold, cold sea air, their faces set hard against the stinging wind and salty spray, the fur of their dogs dancing wildly in the gale. Morag loved to watch the dogs; she had always wanted a dog to look after and love, but Jermy and Moira wouldn’t allow it. They’re too dirty, they said. Costs money, they said.
She sighed long and hard. There were no dogs or holidaymakers playing on the sand on this wild October morning. The beach was deserted. There weren’t even any sea birds trotting along the shoreline. Morag turned away from the window and got down from her bed. She supposed she’d better start her chores before breakfast. She didn’t want to get locked in the cellar again.
Her foster parents, Moira and Jermy Stoker, were still snoring loudly in their bedroom on the floor below. She could hear them above the rumbling of the storm, snorting and snuffling away in their bed, oblivious to the gale outside. Thunder grumbled over the little house, rain lashed at the windows, and the wind tugged at the doors and shutters. Morag shivered. There was no central heating in the house and it was freezing. Barefoot and wearing her too-small pajamas and frayed pink housecoat, she grabbed hold of her special book and stuffed it into one of her pockets. This was all she had left of her real parents. It was a red leather-bound book of ancient poetry, about the size of a prayer book, and inside on the first page was the inscription that made her heart sing every time she read it. They were simple words, but they meant a lot to her:
To Morag, Until we meet again . . . Lots of love, Mum and Dad xxx.
There was a marker tucked away on page thirteen, held tight against a short poem. It was a little piece of pink cardboard, just big enough to sit snugly in the palm of her hand. It appeared to be an old-fashioned train ticket, and marked on it, in faded black letters, was the name of a station that, despite her best efforts, Morag had never been able to decipher. There was an M and an r, but she couldn’t read the rest.
The book felt reassuringly weighty in her housecoat pocket as she slipped out of her room and crept out of the attic and down the creaking, cracking stairs to the kitchen, where she could get warm beside the stove.
Stoker’s Seaview Guesthouse was always really creepy in the morning, and Morag hated being the first one up. The house was dark and shadowy on the brightest of days, and every room was in desperate need of some care and attention. Neglected paint peeled off the woodwork, strips of wallpaper were missing in patches from the walls, and the carpets were stained and threadbare. There were six rooms in the tall narrow house near the beach, not counting Morag’s bedroom in the attic. On the ground floor was a living room full of burst sofas and chairs, a dining room with no furniture in it other than Jermy’s locked desk with its computer, and a large, dirty kitchen that was dominated by an old stove. One of the three unloved bedrooms on the first floor was Jermy and Moira’s untidy room and the other two were permanently unwanted and unopened guest bedrooms. Morag often asked if she could move down to one of the proper bedrooms, but Jermy and Moira always refused, telling her the rooms were needed for guests. But no one ever came.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from DarkIsle by D. A. Nelson. Copyright © 2008 by D.A. Nelson. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.