Well, it’s certainly been a spell, my fellow creatives!
Partly this was due to health–a nasty sinus infection knocked out my voice and energy for much of October. But the other part came from a serious reflection inspired by dear creative kindred Pam Lazos, who asked me if I needed a break from blogging and podcasting. Turns out I did. My new position in the university, while exciting, also means doing more with research and scholarship, and that initial realization sucked the joy out of any writing for a spell.
But while trick-or-treating with my kiddos yesterday, I realized that I cannot let academic life drown out my writing life. I must find a way for both to co-exist.
So here we are with my first try. No more analysis for the time being. And the podcasting will, I think, return in December. For now, the writing here will be fictional, fantastical, and most of all, fun.
Rather than the pressure of a novella or novel, though, I’m going with the short fiction route. I already wrote one story for this peculiar place some time ago, and now it’s time for us to return to this land of homegrown magic, where sorcery is as everyday as the harvest.
We will begin with a boy, as many stories do…
Day 1, Story 1: The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island
If one were to ever bother traveling west of Pips Row—and few of the city-sort ever do—one would see nothing but farms and forests. How very dull to a city-sort’s eye! To the country eye, one may see a bit more in the promising harvests: grains to promise safe relations with the goblins, vegetables to promise stable transport and roads, fruits to promise means of celebration and good weather. Magic grows in every seed and every root, as any down-to-earth soul knows.
But even country folk don’t travel too far west if they can help it, for they’ve not worked out the best magic to promise safe relations with the birds.
Geese, in particular.
You may smile now, thinking all those fingers and brain cells make you somehow smarter than a goose. That is only because you’ve never met a goose from our part of the world.
Here we stand at the western edge of Pips Row. A quiet place, nowadays, now that our resident sorceress has been silenced! This road is named Chresto’s Way, and it leads to the river Chresto’s Tears. You can see it there, beyond the orchard of Fruit Seller and hives of Honey Weaver. It’s the thinnest of silver ribbons from here, but I promise you, the river stretches and shrinks in all sorts of peculiar ways as it flows through this countryside down to the Marplen Sea. Whoever Chresto was, their path ended with that water long before Pips Row was founded, and it is water that shows no kindness.
Which makes it no surprise, then, that the Goose King settled there.
Never heard of the Goose King? What a strange soul you are. Surely you’ve heard of Scraps and Goose Island, at least.
That settles it. Grab yourself an apple—not for eating, but for protection. I’ve a few corn ears and a week-old biscuit, but we best include a sack of cheese sticks and cocoa muffins, just in case.
Mind your feet, this road’s not used enough to warrant paving. It’s mud and dung all the way, I’m afraid. Let’s see, where to begin…
In my days as a tutor for Pips’ Pupilry, I helped many children find the special seeds with which their inner magic bonded. Some had a way with oranges, some with carrots, some with rhubarb, and so on. Once every moon or so, a child’s inner magic would not bond with a seed, but with an ore, and that’s how Pips Row has its own unique collection of artisans.
Once, and only once, did I meet a child who bonded with neither seed nor ore. His name was Mycroft.
But everyone called him Scraps.
The boy did not come from a family of any, well, worth, you see. The father delivered parcels while the mother polished the words of the Council before they were sent off to the Capitol Businesses for evaluation. Being neither farmers nor artisans nor business, their place in the town was of a lowly sort, so Scraps was not treated like other children in Pips’ Pupilry. His clothing was secondhand and stitched, and his toys cast-offs from the Scrap Bins of alleyways.
Yet of all the children I have tutored—and may I note that number is high, indeed—no child was ever as happy as Scraps. His smile could shade the sun whenever he made a new discovery. “Look, Professor Hastlot!” He ran to me almost every day before school with something in his hand. One day I was sure it was the maw of a beaver, but this day it was a broken pitcher mold. “You’ve been near Silver Smith’s again.”
Scraps held the broken mold up to my face. A little fellow of wiry frame and curly brown hair, his long fingers somehow dodged every sharp point on that rubbish. “It’s the perfect piece.” Everything was “the perfect piece” for Scraps.
“Perfect for what?”
“You’ll see!” And at his corner table, away from all the soil pots and miniature forges, Scraps would send the classroom into awes and giggles every day with whirlybird messengers, decoy duck walkers, dust bunny hunters, pea soup freezers, and even whole number crunchers. (A particular favorite on Arithmetic Assessment days.)
It was clear to any child and tutor like myself that Scraps’ inner magic had bonded with, well, scrap. But because it was neither seed nor ore, the Headmaster preparing to expel the boy. Imagine, being expelled merely for shining at being yourself!
That, my friend, is where the Goose King comes in.
We’re a bit closer now to Chresto’s Tears—let’s stop by this knocked tree so you can see it down this sloping hill. Such a dark, mysterious blue! I’m certain something lives in those depths. But it’s the island I want you to see especially. It’s not particularly big—a few school buses long, I’d wager. All trees and wild brush, nothing tenable for a farmer. No clear ground for good trips or mining. But there in the center you can see it, yes? A giant among all that brush with its wings outstretched, its muddy, colorful feathers eternally fluttering in the wind.
The Goose King ruled that island with an iron beak. Guards circled the island constantly. The infamous Gaggle would fly out and return with whole loaves of sugar-bread soley for him to devour. Any stray goose caught by the guards would be forced to give up their goslings to the King. Those who defied the Goose King were left outside the Butcher’s back porch. The Goose King would sit atop the tallest dead tree, as wide and tall as an old sow, and honk the terrible honk of tyranny.
On the day in question, Scraps did not come running up to me in the school yard. His hands were empty, and his eyes were downcast.
“Whatever is the matter?” I cried. “Did the Scrap Truck beat you to the construction site?” Those were Scraps’ very kind of bins, particularly because the Green Trenches tend to arrest adult trespassers for digging through them.
“No.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Yesterday Papa went to buy me the last sugar-bread for a treat because my corner-cleaner-upper helped Mama so much, but the stupid Gaggle mobbed him and took the bread and he had no money for any more!”
A knot formed in my throat. Sugar bread may be another child’s everyday snack, but for Scraps, that would be a special treat, indeed. “Then I will go with you to the baker’s during Play Period to get some,” I said, holding up a coin as a promise.
Scraps’ little fists shook as he glared at me. “No. It’s not the same. I’m gonna get that stupid Gaggle!”
Whew! Okay, time to take care of children. But I can’t wait to return here tomorrow to see what Scraps does next!
Perhaps this year, National Novel Writing Month may be the light you need to find your way back to the Writing Life. If you’re involved this year, I’d love to hear about it! It’s only Day 1, but I’m determined to be here on Day 30 and beyond. x
Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!