Fiction Fest: In tune with Sarah Beard’s ‘Porcelain Keys’

Porcelain Keys 2x3 webA new month brings with it a string of new Fiction Fest excerpts, starting with Sarah Beard’s debut novel, “Porcelain Keys.”

Aria’s life is full of secrets—secrets about her mother’s death, her father’s cruelty, and her dream to go to Juillard. When Aria meets Thomas, he draws out her secrets, captures her heart, and gives her the courage to defy her father. But when tragedy strikes and Thomas disappears, Aria is left alone to transform her broken heart’s melody into something beautiful.

“Porcelain Keys” will be released on Feb. 11, 2014, and is available for pre-order from online retailers.


Aria has just spent the night in her neighbor’s tree house—a secret and secluded place where she goes to hide when she needs to get away from her dad’s volatility. No one has lived in her neighbor’s house for a couple years, so she thinks she can stay in the tree house without being discovered.

 I awoke to a creaking sound, like wood bending under the weight of a heavy foot. But when I opened my eyes, there was no one there. Only a blue jay perched on the threshold of the doorway, his plumage vibrant in the early morning light. He tilted his crested head and stared at me curiously with one eye, then ruffled his feathers before going still again. He appeared to be listening, waiting expectantly for something.

Wanting to sleep longer, I shut my eyes. Every joint in my body ached as if I’d hiked a mountain the day before. The blue jay called again, a musical whistle that sounded like a rusty old swing. I picked out the notes and the melodic interval. B-flat to G, I thought, a minor third. He repeated the call again and again, but soon another creak silenced him.

I sat up in my sleeping bag, my ears suddenly attuned to the sounds outside the tree house. Weak wood whining against the strain of pressure. The tread of a shoe gripping the edge of a step. Labored breathing.

Someone was climbing to the tree house.

The blue jay’s crest bristled outward in warning, and in one movement I shed the sleeping bag and shot to my feet. The bird beat its wings and let out a hawk-like scream before flying up into the rafters, trapping itself along with me.

My first thought was that Dad had finally found my hidden sanctuary. If he saw me here, I could never come back. As stealthily as I could manage, I scooped up my sleeping bag and receded into a shallow space behind a tall cabinet. My sleeping bag bulged around the corner, and I hooked my leg around it and drew it as close to my body as possible. The sounds of the blue jay’s escape attempts only added to my anxiety. A thump against a window, a clatter against the roof, an ear-piercing warning call. Every now and then I saw a flash of blue feathers in the rafters. My heart beat as wildly in my chest as the trapped bird’s wings.

A shadow stretched from the doorway across the floor, and I held my breath and stiffened my body, hoping Dad would take a quick glance, then go on his way. But instead I heard the creak of steps. They were slow and tentative, and were coming closer. My lungs burned for want of new air, and I eased the stale air out and silently drew in more.

Another step closer. Too close. I guessed he was right around the corner of the cabinet. If I moved a fraction of an inch, he would hear me. My muscles cramped up from being tense for so long, but I couldn’t release them without being discovered. I heard one more step, then my stomach contracted as someone stepped into my line of vision.

It wasn’t Dad.

It was a boy, tall with dark, tousled hair. His back was to me, but a moment later he turned to face me and his eyes locked with mine. The look of surprise I expected to see was strangely absent. Instead, his expression seemed to say, Oh, there you are.