Lori Ryan

Rachel Thompson

Aicha Zoubair

Friday, February 6, 2015

THE GIRL WHO CAME BACK TO LIFE by Craig Staufenberg @YouMakeArtDumb #Excerpt #MGLit

Sophie woke at the table the next day before the sun rose and let habit and obligation drag her from her seat and pull her to the bakery. Setting her body in front of the floured marble table and searching her chest, she found a hole where her heart used to beat, and when she dove into this abyss she felt something close to cold, but far from feeling itself.

That morning her dough would barely budge when she touched it and the loaves she handled wouldn’t rise an inch and the bread she placed in the oven left their fires cold and flat and dead no matter how long they spent among the flames.

The baker saw this and responded to her as if she were a stubborn slab of dough. She pressed patiently and consistently and with constant motion, asking Sophie this and that, pushing and pulling at her, all without mentioning her failures, without forcing a point, yet unrelenting and unwilling to toss her to the side.

Yet despite this care, by the end of the morning, Sophie’s failures at the simple, mundane tasks built up and tore through her. Her frustration broke as she pulled a final frozen lump from the fired oven and a small tear arrived in her eye as she held the uncooked dough in front of her chest.

The baker stepped over to her and took the dough from Sophie and placed it on the table with a thud. She admonished Sophie, without any hint of anger or malice, “Cry if you need to, but don’t cry into the bread.”

Sophie stood there, that single tear still caught within her eye, her arms and hands still held up in front of her. The baker took each of Sophie’s raised, empty arms, one at a time, and placed them down at her sides. She took one of her own weathered hands and guided Sophie to the table and pulled up a stool and motioned to Sophie to sit. Sophie set her elbows down on the floured marble table and leaned across its surface.

The tear finally fell from her eye and dropped down onto the table, creating a little wet crater in the flour that lay sifted across the top of the marble table. The baker reached out a thumb and smudged the crater across and smiled to herself, then went to the front of the shop and picked up a small olive loaf from the day-old bin. She held it in one of her hands and opened the oven door with the other and let a whiff of the blasting hot air spill out and wash over Sophie. The baker commanded her, “Take out some butter, if you would.”

The baker reached her hand into the oven and held the loaf above the flames for a moment as Sophie walked to the side counter and pulled out the pan of thick yellow butter that sat there. She brought it to the table and returned to her seat.

The baker left the oven door open, warming the room. She pulled up another stool and sat next to her and placed the now-steaming loaf down. The woman tore off a chunk and slathered it with the rich butter, which melted on contact and found its way into the bread’s hidden corners. She handed the bread to Sophie, then she tore off and buttered a second hunk for herself.

Sophie took a bite of the bread, and that bite sank into her. The half-stale loaf crunched in her mouth and the butter pressed through her body as surely as it soaked through the bread.

As they ate for a moment in silence, the baker continued to pull off pieces of the bread and butter them, handing one to Sophie first then taking one for herself. She ate in silence as the dry heat of the oven filled the back of the shop, until Sophie broke the quiet and spoke first. She apologized for her shoddy work.

The baker nodded her response. “It’s alright. I had a lot of bad days too when my parents died.”

Sophie looked over at the sturdy woman with surprised eyes and asked when the woman’s parents had passed.

The baker replied with a soft smile, “Some time ago. I was a little older than you but I was baking by that point… and for a long time my bread wouldn’t rise either.”

The baker deepened her smile as she lifted her hunk of bread into the air and inspected it for a moment, then took a bite and continued as she swallowed, “Clearly it was a temporary problem.”

Sophie couldn’t stop herself from laughing. She asked the woman what fixed her troubles.

The baker thought for a moment. “Time.” She placed her elbow on the table and scratched at her cheek. “As the days passed I found myself again.” She paused, her finger rested against her cheek. “But my bread wasn’t this good again until I went north and Sent them.”

Sophie looked over and was about to speak but the baker stood up and cut her off firmly. “Come. We need to open the shop.”

The baker gathered the few loaves she managed to salvage from Sophie’s empty heart and sighed out loud, “Here’s hoping for a slow day…”

She smiled then pushed her to clean the oven, as she always did, and from there the afternoon proceeded as it always had. Sophie took on her chosen chores, straightening the shop, cleaning, organizing and restoring order as the baker took her seat at the counter where her customers purchased their bread. When her grandmother arrived, Sophie avoided her gaze. Aside from a lingering moment when the baker stepped to the desk and spoke for a moment longer than usual to the old woman, the day proceeded as it always had, right until the sun began to set and the baker asked Sophie and her grandmother to come to the counter to receive their day’s wages.

The old woman placed her payment in her purse, and as she stood for a moment to wait for her granddaughter to receive hers, the baker told the wrinkled woman, “I need to speak with Sophie for a minute longer, you don’t need to wait for her.”

The old woman nodded and said goodbye and left through the shop’s swinging doors as the baker asked Sophie to stand there for a moment. She held still and watched as the woman came out from behind her counter and walked through the shop, examining the little touches Sophie added to it throughout the afternoon. The baker inspected the organized loaves and gave a small approving nod, then examined the swept floor and made a minor appreciative grunt, then noted the neatly stacked bags of flour with a lingering look, before she returned to the counter and opened her drawer and began to count out Sophie’s wages. As she did, the woman spoke to herself, loud enough for Sophie to hear, “Let’s see…”

The baker set down Sophie’s usual wages. Sophie thanked her and reached for the bills lying there. The baker stopped her hand and spoke, without looking up, “The shop looks better than ever lately.”

She turned her eyes to Sophie. “You’ve been working a little later than necessary for some time now.”

Sophie looked at her feet, embarrassed, as the baker pulled some paper and a pencil from beneath the counter and set them down and continued, “I used to hire someone to tidy up the shop as you’ve been doing. I can’t quite remember what I used to pay them.”

The baker marked a few calculations onto the paper and reached into the cash drawer and placed a few extra bills on top of Sophie’s normal wages and looked down at her paper.

“That doesn’t seem right. You’ve been working late every single day for some time now… Let me check the math again. Oh, I shouldn’t have let your grandmother off, she’s better with the numbers than I am.”

The baker made a few more marks on the paper, performing some simple math, adding up the days and Sophie’s extra wages, reaching into the drawer and pulling out more money and placing it on the counter, before checking her math again and pulling out more and adding it to the growing pile, speaking loudly and absent-mindedly the whole time.

“This afternoon your grandmother told me she plans on heading north soon, and that she’ll be gone for some time.”

The baker looked casually at Sophie. “It’s to be expected, of course. She never said so but she adored that man.” The baker looked back down. “Though now I’ll have to find someone else to take care of the books for me.”

She placed more money on the counter. “As I said, I’m not very good at math.”

She returned to her paper, then scanned the neatly ordered shop, then added even more money to Sophie’s thick pile. The woman looked back down and spoke some more to herself.

“I’ll have to find someone to help me with the oven and the store too, while you are traveling with her.”

Sophie’s heart returned to her chest for a moment, before rising and getting caught in her throat as she looked at the thick stack of money on the counter.

The baker rolled her eyes up at Sophie with lightly arched eyebrows. “Though only temporary help, of course… as you’ll resume working here when you return…”

Sophie nodded yes, yes, yes. The baker sat back in her chair and pushed the money towards her.

“And I’m sure if my math was wrong and I’ve overpaid you now, then you’ll work the remainder off when you return.” Sophie pressed her heart down her throat and back into her chest and released a soft, “Of course.”

The Girl Who Came Back to Life

When you die, your spirit wakes in the north, in the City of the Dead. There, you wander the cold until one of your living loved ones finds you, says "Goodbye," and Sends you to the next world. 

After her parents die, 12-year-old Sophie refuses to release their spirits. Instead, she resolves to travel to the City of the Dead to bring her mother and father’s spirits back home with her. 

Taking the long pilgrimage north with her gruff & distant grandmother—by train, by foot, by boat; over ruined mountains and plains and oceans—Sophie struggles to return what death stole from her. Yet the journey offers her many hard, unexpected lessons—what to hold on to, when to let go, and who she must truly bring back to life.

Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Middle Grade
Rating – PG-13
More details about the author
Connect with Craig Staufenberg through Facebook and Twitter


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