Hi!So a day’s break from writing allowed a serious question to hit my face: What does Chloe care about? Here I’ve got this girl in the main crew of characters, we’re with her practically every step of this journey, and….I have no clue what matters to her. And if I don’t know, you sure don’t know, you awesome readers, you. So let’s see if this veiled grandmother can work a little narrative magic, as it were, so we can all learn what’s up with Chloe. (And for those who feel a little déjà vuwhile reading, it’s because I’m recycling some setting details from an earlier brainstorm shared in October.) Let’s go!
“Yana, what ever are you doing out of bed?” Dr. Artair wagged his finger at the old woman and pointed at the wall. “Back to your room, my dear. I’ve brought your medicine as well as your granddaughter for a little chat while the others calm your son.”
“‘Son.’ Hmmmph.” The veiled grandmother thocked the floor with her cane as she hobbled to somewhere on the left. “Refuse of the orphanages, they were, all of them. I knew he wouldn’t want them.”
Refuse? Refuse?! Chloe’s throat burned with acid and anger as she stomped up the stairs, nearly knocking the toadish doctor over. “My mom isn’t garbage.” She pounded after the woman, glaring down at her veiled back. “She’s smarter than any white man at her university. She knows more about the world than you ever will, and she’s smart enough to stay the hell away from you!”
A slow, gurgling cackle shook the old woman’s shoulders. Chloe should turn back. She should run. This woman can’t be human, not really. She’s a monster under all that lace, and that’s why Reg is practically foaming at the mouth. No wonder, no wonder Chloe’s mother never ever wanted to set foot in here and was ready to sleep out in the car in the middle of a blizzard.
“And yet, she has returned.” The grandmother turned, slowly, straightened, slowly. By the time she faced Chloe, her head was high, almost regal. The outline of a face floated behind the veil, with two holes where eyes should be. “Why is that?”
Chloe clenched her jaw. “To help her brothers, obviously. A minute with you and one’s crying crazy.” Why WERE they there, really? They didn’t have to come here. Chloe’s mother could have hung up the phone and left it all alone…no. Chloe didn’t know as much about her mom as she’d like, but she knew one thing for sure:
Angela Perdido Watchman could never leave any past alone.
“Now now.” Dr. Artair blocked the doorway out. They were all in this grandmother’s room, Chloe in the middle. “Let’s not start off on the wrong foot.”
“And which foot would you prefer, you fraud?” The grandmother stiffly sat on the edge of her bed. It stood high with wooden globes for feet, globes carved into precarious connections along the frame and headboard. The blankets on the bed looked like cast-off ball gowns, all bright colors in expensive fabric stitched with gold. “I will take no more of your supposed medications. You’re simply here for money. You will get your dues in the post from my attorney, just like Dr. Caden.”
Dr. Artair chuckled as he set the grandmother’s tea on the bedside table. “I only wish you to be comfortable, Madame. But, if you prefer to be in pain…” He took an orange shroud off a heavy, ornate lamp, throwing a hard, yellow light upon the room. “…then so be it.” The light added dark cracks around his smile.
Thock. “You care nothing about my pain or anyone else’s.”
Chloe had to blink, readjust her eyes. Everything, everything was golden–crucifixes, mirrors, even the very fireplace opposite the bed had gilded edges. So did the two wooden chairs framing it, right down to their scrolls carved with wings and talons.
Thock. “Sit, child.”
And lose her ability to look down on this witch? “No, thank you.” Chloe folded her hands primly in front of her.
“Well I should very much like to sit,” Dr. Artair said, and did so, “if you don’t mind.”
Now the way out was clear, and Chloe sure as hell wasn’t going to give that up. Only a couple more minutes before her father will come to rescue her. She would not end up like Reg downstairs. Chloe kept her face a mask, her heart calm. This heap of old lace won’t make her a wreck.
The grandmother certainly was staring at her enough, looking for something until thock. “Hmph. You see all the gold, but you do not stare at it. You are not here for treasure.”
Chloe felt like the woman was digging through her head. Chloe’s mind raced through childhood, pausing only a couple times: listening to Etta James for the first time,her father pulling out a gilded but broken timepiece from a dumpster, a wall of golden records, her mother sitting with her in the Public Museum, gazing upon the Egyptian mummy encased there, telling Chloe tales of archeological sites in the Far East and what an adventure it must be to dig through time. Then the memories became a blur, a spinning blur, a blur like a carousel ride in chaos and Chloe would surely get sick all over this witch—
Dr. Artair’s ring loudly rapped the arm of his chair. “Oh, this really is so exciting, seeing distant family brought together at last.” And he shooed with his fingers at Chloe to make her look upon the grandmother again. “Go on, go on. Pretend I’m not here.”
The old woman had removed her veil. Her sickly skin was as peeled and cracked as the woodwork downstairs. But her eyes—those weren’t holes at all, but dark, night-dark, and they looked hungry for anything Chloe had inside her. “You are Angela’s child. That stubborn stare confirms it.” And she nodded, approving. “You would fight the world to protect your own, would you not?”
The sweat between Chloe’s fingers made her folded hands slip a little. “Yes.”
“Tell me, child.” She leaned forward, hair long enough to touch the top of her cane. “What is your own?”
WORD COUNT: 925TOTAL COUNT: 8886
Gah, we didn’t get to Chloe’s motivation! Well, we sort of did. I bet you caught the hints. 🙂 Ah well. Let’s try next time, shall we?
Good morning, my friends! As promised, I have a lovely author interview to share with you while I run off into the snow to teach high school calculus (yes, you may giggle). Meet the amazing writer of mystery thriller and dark fantasy, Daniel Kuhnley!
First things first! Tell us a little about yourself please.
Sure. My name is Daniel Kuhnley, pronounced like “coon lee.” I’m a Christian and an author, but I don’t write Christian fiction. I enjoy all sorts of activities, including music, movies, disc golf, working out, programming, and writing. I’ve been married to my wife for 22 years. Wow, it doesn’t seem that long! Just this last weekend my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. That’s quite remarkable in this day and age. There are no children or pets in our household (my wife is allergic to both!) I have three siblings and six nieces and nephews.
What is your favorite childhood book, and how would you say it influenced your own passion for storytelling?
This is a tough question. How far do I go back? Perhaps a few examples would be good. I loved The Monster at the End of This Book, The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree, and Where the Wild Things Are when I was young. All three of them have a fantastical and sorta scary story. I think those led me on to books like A Swiftly Tilting Planet. This book opened my eyes to a new world where I could escape from everyday life as I read it. The characters and world and adventure stole my heart and made me want to write stories of my own. There were many other books as well.
I see you enjoy writing in two different genres: mystery thrillers, and dark fantasy. What draws you into these different writing-worlds?
Passion for the genres. I absolutely love Dean Koontz and the thrilling and mysterious books he writes. Old Stephen King ones too, like Cujo and Firestarter. What really drew me into fantasy and wanting to write it was Terry Goodkind’s series, The Sword of Truth. The first book, Wizard’s first Rule blew me away with the characters and depth of story. I’d never really read anything like it before. I knew I had to write character-driven stories like his. So, each genre is a different challenge. With fantasy, you get to create anything you can imagine. Worlds full of unique characters and places. No one can tell you it’s unrealistic. However, mystery thrillers allows me to delve into the human psyche and tell tales of sick and psychotic characters that fill nightmares. It’s fun to imagine how people like that think and what drives them. It’s even more fun to write about flawed heroes and heroines who are trying to stop them.
World-building is often one of the most difficult elements of fantasy writing: how far back should a writer go in creation? How much should be shared with readers, and what can be left in the notebook? What’s safe to rework from reality, and what’s got to be built from scratch? (You don’t have to answer my rambly rhetorical questions , but I am curious about your world-building process in creating Centauria for your Dark Heart Chronicles.)
World-building is a tricky thing. There are so many factors that go into it, and it can be the crowning achievement of a series or its downfall. A robust magic system is a must. It doesn’t need to be overtly complicated, but it should be a reflection and a driving factor of your world and its characters. Whether or not to include a language of your own is also another question to solve. I’ve read many books without one and it takes nothing away from it. I chose to create one for my world just for uniqueness. As far as creation of the world, you can go back as far as you want for its history or treat the moments your characters are living in as its beginning. I know many fantasy authors with tomes of history and backstory on their world and characters and others who have little to none. Personally, I find it far more interesting to understand the history of a world, its cultures, creatures, landscapes, and everything else that is part of its make up. I think if you’ve got some history to your world it creates a depth to it and your characters that you might not otherwise have. The readers will never know and understand everything about the world and its characters. The reason for this is that you never know when you might want to create another series based on some of that information. It could also spoil the mystery of the stories if the reader knows everything about your world and the characters. I’d say 70% of the information gets left in the “notebook.” It can cause issues though, too. Often I’ll be talking to my wife about something that happens to a character in my story and she’ll stop me and ask where that information was relayed to the reader and I’m sitting there thinking it’s somewhere but quickly find out those details are only in my head or “notebook.” As far as what can be reworked from reality vs. what should be built from scratch, that’s entirely up to the author. You want authentic, fresh worlds but readers also expect familiarity. If there’s no familiarity, it can cause the reader to have trouble picturing your world. There are obvious things that cannot be drawn from reality like unicorns, dragons, and other fantastical creatures. The hardest part for me in my world is describing the flora and fauna of the landscapes. I see them in my head, but I’m no expert in what those types of trees and plants are.
So I’m a HUGE fan of writing with music. I’ll even build up playlists to match up with major plot points as I write. What scores/composers would you like to recommend and why?
For me, I MUST listen to music while writing. It keeps my mind focused. However, I cannot write to music with words. I’ve tried and find myself singing along and not writing. As far as recommendations, my absolute favorites are Epic North, Audiomachine, and Brand X Music.
All three of the produce movie trailer and movie score music. Epic North has some great music for writing battle and physical conflict scenes. I’ve got a little over 500 of their songs in a playlist that I keep on repeat. I never get tired of listening to them. I love some of the music from Two Steps from Hell, but it’s difficult sifting through their music because they do have quite a few songs with lyrics. Some of the music I listen to does have chorus chanting but its in Latin, Italian, and other languages I don’t know, so it doesn’t bother me.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Outlining. I pantsed my first book and it took me 12 years from start to publication. With the second book, I pantsed the first half of it and outlined the second half. It took about 14 months from start to publication. Those time frames may seem quite drastic, but I had lots of time where I didn’t write anything. I put the first book away for 7 years after writing the first 70 pages. I loathe outlining, and I’m sure my wife loathes helping me with the process as well, but it’s a necessary evil. After outlining my third book, The Braille Killer, I wrote it in 2 months. That book went from start to publication in 6 months. So, outlining is both my kryptonite and my timeline shortcut.
Your Dark Heart Chronicles tell the tale of three unique characters: a family man, and twins bonded in magic. Do you find it difficult to shift between their points of view? What advice can you share with writers who struggle with writing multiple points of view?
I’ve gone back and forth through many ways of dealing with the character perspective changing over the years. Honestly, it just depends on the day. Sometimes it’s nice to switch between characters when I’m feeling blocked with one character. Other times, when I’m really in the flow of one character, I might just write multiple scenes from their perspective across the entire book. If a writer is struggling with multiple points of view, I suggest they take each character who has a unique POV from their novel and just write their story. Once they do that, weave those stories back together in editing. It sounds daunting, but it’s really not that bad. The most important thing is to get the story down, whatever the means. Piecing it together is far easier (at least for me).
Your mystery thriller The Braille Killer also carries a unique writing challenge: writing from the perspective of another gender. What was the writing logic that led you to share this story in first person from the perspective of Detective Alice instead of, say, Detective Alan?
Well, all of my novels have female POVs, so it wasn’t too difficult writing a novel strictly from a female POV. Stories come to me in a unique way. It always starts with a character’s name, like Alice Bergman. As I thought about her more, what she looked like, how old she was, etc., I began to get an idea of what her story might be. Initially, I never thought she’d be a homicide detective or have the challenges that she did, but it just felt right. Alice could never be an Alan. I have a friend who is blind, so I often talk to her about her challenges and fears, and that led me to Alice’s story.
What would you say has been the most difficult scene to write in your novels and novellas, and how did you overcome that challenge?
For me, there are two things that are difficult. The first is fighting/war scenes. I never served in the military, nor have I studied wars, so writing about them can be challenging. That’s what I’m working through in my current WIP, Rended Souls (Book 3 of The DarkHeart Chronicles). I’m also no fighter, so blocking fight scenes can be tricky. It’s best to literally act them out to get a feel for what makes sense and is physically possible for a given character. The other issue I struggle with, especially as a Christian, is how far to go with language, violence, and sexual encounters. I’ve learned to just write it all out in the first draft, no matter how vulgar, sexual, or violent, and then tone it down (if needed) in the editing phase. Because I’m writing dark fantasy and mystery thrillers about serial killers, my books can be quite violent and bloody at times. There is mild cussing in all of my books as well (depending on the reader’s view of what that means). Although not vulgar and explicit, there is also scenes of sexuality in all my books as well. Humans are…human. It’s difficult to have compelling characters without exposing their flaws as well. No one is perfect, and I hate reading books where all the characters are wooden and sinless.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
To be honest, it goes both ways. There are times where the writing is flowing really well, and I’m excited to get the story down and discover what’s happening with my characters. But then there are the times where I feel writing constipated. The words are in my head, but I can’t seem to push them out no matter how hard I try. This third dark fantasy novel has been that way. I know the story and all the events that must take place, but I’m struggling to get the words out at a decent pace. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and focus on something else for awhile. I’ve done that, and I’ve finally started making progress again.
That’s wonderful news to hear, Daniel, and congratulations on the release of your latest!
An evil dragon. A powerful mage. An ancient realm on the verge of a devastating nightmare…
Nardus is terrified he may have doomed his kingdom. Instead of resurrecting his beloved wife and children, he brought forth a malevolent winged-monster who is advancing on his people with a mind-controlled army. And now his last hope of redemption lies in discovering an age-old magical secret.
Twins Alderan and Aria’s hostile history delivered them to opposite sides of a brewing war. And as Alderan struggles to master his abilities while torn between loyalties, Aria’s growing powers could hold the key to the kingdom’s fate. But faced with an enemy that controls his sister, Alderan has no choice but to outsmart a manipulative wizard and a centuries-old dragon.
As the battle lines are drawn, can Nardus and Alderan claim their rightful place to rescue their world and save Aria from herself?
Rended Souls is the third book in the riveting The Dark Heart Chronicles epic dark fantasy series. If you like dangerous magic, page-turning adventures, and headstrong characters, then you’ll love Daniel Kuhnley’s spellbinding tale.
Buy Rended Souls to enter a clash of conjuring today!
How about we close this chat with some encouragement for those who are participating in National Novel Writing Month? I know I could use all the support I can get. 🙂
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three different years and have yet to “win” it. However, I encourage everyone to think of it as more of a launching point than a “gotta get it all done this month!” panic. Not winning hasn’t stopped me from finishing novels and getting them out to the world. In the last two years, I’ve released 4 novels and two novellas. The key to success is to keep going and finish the job, no matter how long it takes. So many people give up right in the middle. Don’t do that to yourself. Keep pushing forward, and best of luck with NaNoWriMo!
Thanks again for sharing your writing life with us, Daniel! Folks, you can connect with Daniel in all sorts of places. Why not stop by and say hello?
Good morning, friends! Snow falls gently outside my window now, but the storm of school work is not far behind. Let’s get right to it, and see what Chloe makes of the grandmother she never knew she had.
Chloe finally relinquished her coat to the coat rack and followed the doctor to the steps, straightening her turtleneck sweater as she went.
“Is it not a pity, Miss…?”
“Is it not a pity, Miss Chloe, that such a treasure of a place be treated so?” He gave the wooden crow carved into the bannister a light tap with his pointer finger. “Everyone ought to be allowed their eccentricities, but this—” his eyes rolled at the dozens upon dozens of crow drawings. “–is a bit much, even for me.” He grimaced, reminding Chloe of an angry toad.
Good thing he started chuckling so she could laugh, even falling in step with him on the stairs. “Guess this explains why Mom never wanted a pet.”
“Ha! Indeed. Your mother is a history teacher, correct?”
“That’s right, Doctor…?”
“Dr. Artair. Yes, she’s even applying for tenure at the University in Milwaukee.”
“You must be very proud.”
Thomas appeared then. Chloe waved down to him, and he waved back with a cloth wrapped around ice. He continued on to the living room, quiet now but for hushed voices and crackling flames.
“I wonder, then, what she would make of these.” Dr. Artair used the stirring spoon to point at the crow pictures.
The second level was only half a dozen stairs away. Only one lamp seemed to be shining out of side onto dark green wallpaper. One door closed, who knew how many hid from sight. One of those doors led to her. The grandmother who made her children draw nothing but crows… “She probably hated having to make so many,” Chloe said.
But Dr. Artair tisked Chloe’s words, and rapped a few of the pictures with the spoon. “Look a little closer.”
So Chloe leaned in, eyes squinting to see whatever it was she was meant to see. One drawing was just a series of hard, crude strokes with a black crayon. Another was more like pencil, a bit finer, with some shading. One had a peculiar smell to it, almost like sulfur.
“The corners. Look to the corners,” Dr. Artair whispered.
And there, finally, Chloe saw numbers smaller than a fly, written with precise, perfect lines: 1893.
Chloe gasped. “These aren’t all Mom and her brothers. These…” She thudded down the stairs and back up again, scanning row upon row of pictures, finding more and more dates. 1923. 1947. 1882. 1904. 1950. 1867. “She had to make more. Someone was always making them…”
Floorboards near them creaked loudly. Thock. A shuffling sound. Thock. Another shuffle.
Chloe looked over Dr. Artair’s shoulders to the top of the stairs.
They were no longer alone.
An old woman, draped in black lace and bent as a question mark, hobbled to the top of the stairs with a knobby wooden cane clutched by a gloved hand. Knotted locks of silver hair peeked out from the thick veil covering her head and shoulders. “Yes.” The woman’s voice seemed to claw at the very air between them. “A Perdido must make the sign to be protected. You.” She pointed the cane at Chloe. “You will make the next sign.”
Word Count: 527 Total Count: 7961
Gah, I hate interrupting a story, but I’m afraid we have no choice this week. I do hope you’ll stay tuned anyway–I’ve a lovely author interview to share, and Blondie wants to talk about her current projects. (Oh yes–she’s got quite a few manuscripts flying around!)
For a complete list of installments for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die, click here.
Hello, everyone! Thanks for sharing your wishes and prayers–yesterday was a rough one, but today can and will be better.It’s been wonderful to write a little every day, so much so that I am going to let myself take it a liiiiiittle bit easier this week, as my university students are starting to submit finals and I know I’m subbing for at least two full days in other schools. So, be on the look out for an indie author interview as well as some guest writing from my awesomely sweet daughter Blondie.
Now, where were we–ah, the mysterious doctor is stirring something while sitting next to a butchered rabbit.
Sumac pulled a long, dirty knife out of the kitchen sink and stabbed what remained of the rabbit’s abdomen. “Hungry?”
“You have got to be kidding me.” Chloe said, one foot already sliding back to the kitchen’s door. She stumbled back, and back, and lunged for the bare bathroom before the heaving started. At least the toilet wasn’t covered in animal blood, oh jeez I cannot STAND IT.
The doctor listened to Chloe puke, then said, “I may have something to help with that.”
“How—” Thomas’ hand swept from the shaven Santa Claus to the carcass and back. “How is this remotely sanitary?”
The doctor furrowed his brow and held up the spoon for inspection while the sounds of Chloe’s wretching lessened. “The dishes have been washed, if that’s your concern.”
“You have medicine next to a dead animal in the goddamn kitchen!”
“And where else is one expected to prepare food and drink?” The doctor’s belly shook as he laughed. “All will be well, Sir, if you calm yourself.”
When Chloe returned to the kitchen, the doctor was politely patting her father’ limp arm. Thomas was standing, but not with the straight back he always kept when a white man talked to him. “Yeah…” The word dropped from his lips, vague and distant.
“Oh, I admit, this place is terribly morbid.” The doctor went to grab the teacup, sniffing it with disdain. “But it won’t do a dying old woman any good to raucous over stuffed birds and dirty stoves. What matters now is giving her a bit of comfort–like a pain reliever in her tea–and a bit of company.” He was only as tall as Chloe, so it was her he looked to with a smile. The scar running along one side of his shaved face almost connected the smile to his eyes–almost, but not quite. “Would you mind attending her with me? Just for a few moments while this brogue tidies up.” The doctor added a rebuking look at Sumac for good measure.
Not that Sumac seemed to care. “Look, the lady wants to keep the crows coming, and they won’t come if there’s no food.” With four slick moves, the rabbits limbs were severed. “There’s proper human vittles in the fridge anyway. Unless you put something off-limits in there.” And this plowman Sumac gave the doctor a snotty stare.
Weren’t doctors supposed to be respected?
Chloe tugged her father’s arm. “C’mon, Dad, let’s—”
“Not your father.” The doctor raised a hand to stop them. He had a pretty fancy ring on, much like the professors who taught at Angela’s college. It reflected the light in their faces as the doctor continued. “Your father can find you something more appropriate to eat. I know I wouldn’t trust that butcher to boil an egg.”
A low rumble: Thomas’ stomach, then Chloe’s. She could picture a full plate of chips, grapes, pb and j, cookies, milk…she must not have emptied her stomach, but her whole body of fuel, and she so needed fuel. Her legs felt like they could buckle right now, and the rabbit didn’t look gross so much as dinner-not-ready-yet…“Nothing with, you know, its teeth still in.”
Thomas smirked, and gave his daughter a wink. “No kidding. Look, I owe your mom some ice, anyway. Five minutes, I’ll be up to get you.”
Thomas held up five fingers. Chloe clapped her hand against his, and said, “Okay.”
Word Count: 553 Total Count: 7434
I was going to go a bit longer, but the boys are demanding basement time, and those groceries ain’t gonna buy themselves. Guess we’ll all have to meet the infamous grandmother tomorrow. 🙂
Ugh, friends, what a day. I was determined to help sort and clean the basement; in the process I found correspondence from my grandparents, old friends…and from my parents in the weeks before I married Bo. I was an emotional wreck much of the day, so it amazes me I managed to write at all. I hope you enjoy this moment with Chloe and her father, the return of Sumac, and the introduction of yet another peculiar character…
Writing Music: Kronos Quartet, “Sigur Ros”
Chloe nudged her father away from the sliding doors and crying men. “So that Reg guy thought I was a monster?”
“I, I don’t know.” Her father paused to take in all the crows drawn or stuffed around them. “Childhood’s always been off-limits with your mother. Eating habits of ancient Egyptians, treasured relics of Spanish monks, secret treasure hoards of Celts…” Thomas approached the coat-rack with the decorative nest on top. His hand moved along the brittle sticks into the nest. His face changed as he lifted something out: a buckle attached to a strap of holed leather too short to be a belt.
Now it was his turn to swallow back his thoughts. “Any history but her own,” he said, and tucked the bond into his coat pocket. A low whistled song began in the kitchen. “Must be that Sumac. Let’s ask him about gas for the morning so we can get out of here.
Chloe paused near the base of the stairs to study the crow carved into the bannister. The carving was slow, methodical, precise–the same painstaking pace her father would take when rebuilding a broken music box. Music boxes, they are special. They’re like magic you can call back again and again, and see how this one’s got a tiny compartment for some lucky little girl to hide a treasure in? And little Chloe would nod, following her father’s large fingers move with the delicacy of a danger among the pins, wheels, prongs, and cylinder. She always wanted that magic on her shelf, in her room, but too often the magic was for some other girl living in a far cleaner neighborhood. But that magic’ll never come for song that don’t play. One loose pin, one bent prong–one thing out of place, Chloe. It takes one wrong thing to break it all.
Chloe held her fingertip at the edge of the crow’s beak–sharp, knife-sharp.
A pricking in her brain made her pull her hand back as though wounded.
“Chloe, you okay?” Thomas took her hands and checked for wounds. “Amazed that thing didn’t blind that Reg fella as a kid.”
“N-no, it didn’t hurt me.” Chloe tried to shake that pricking inside her, but she knew it meant something. Even now she could feel the golden eyes, just a scribble, and yet, those eyes were hidden under a mass of crow drawings.
And yet, those eyes of a snowy owl were drawn and pinned in this house of crows.
But it felt too weird to say to her dad–at least, at this point, it did. “I’m just thinking about Mom being a kid here. I can’t handle it.”
The father and daughter hugged as a shadow watched. “If I had to grow up in a place like this,” Thomas said, “I’d see monsters everywhere I look, too.”
“Would you, now?” Sumac leaned in the kitchen doorway, drying his hands with a ratty towel. “Can’t imagine any monster taking you down.” The towel shrunk in Sumac’s hands, small into a ball into a— thwip. Sumac whipped the towel-ball at Thomas—
–who caught it without moving a step. “I should hope not.”
Not another showdown. Chloe nudged her father, hard this time, so she could get in between him and Sumac. “Our tank got really low driving up here. Is there a town we can hit in the morning for gas, or just, you know, pay you for some? I’d…” she paused to throw in a dramatic look over her shoulder. “I’d rather Dad not have to leave my mother with these people.”
“Heh. No one should be left with these people.” Sumac motioned with his pointer finger that they follow him back to the kitchen. “Closest town’s twenty minutes in the truck. We can leave at daybreak, Miss…”
“Chloe. I like it.” He held the swinging door open to the kitchen.
Remembering Sal’s warning, Thomas and Chloe took their time going in.
The kitchen itself wasn’t overrun with crows, at least. There were more pictures pinned to the walls, sure, but there weren’t feathers pinned to the cupboards or beaks in a bowl. It was actually pretty plain in there–wooden cupboards too old for their varnish lined one wall, interrupted only by a window and a sink. A long, narrow butcher’s block sat in the middle of the room, and a simple ovular table with four chairs sat over by a row of windows along the far wall–the back of the house, Chloe figured, since there was a back door, a pile of wood for the fire, and an axe. A big axe stained with blood. Stained with the same blood, maybe, as the blood on one of the kitchen chairs. On the furthest cupboards. In the sink. Maybe the same blood as that which sizzled atop a coating of grease, of oil, of God knows what else on the old gas stove where a kettle steamed.
The body lay spread out on the butcher’s block, limbs spread, ribs cracked into sections, skin hanging over the side like a wet dish cloth, jaw snapped open to show a complete set of tiny teeth crowned with the two long incisors. Inches away from those incisors sat a teacup, a teacup being stirred with a spoon held by a man who looked like a Santa Claus who’d lost a bet.
“Ah,” the man said with a playful grin. “You’re just in time for the evening medicine.”
Word Count: 915 Total Count: 6881
Whew! Here’s hoping I can shine a light on things tomorrow…and find a smile or two to share with you. x
Hi, friends! Sigh…Well, so much for catching up. 😦 I mean, I’m glad I’ve got the extra teaching workto support my family, but still. It’d be nice to have a few free days to catch up with you on YOUR sites.
The man’s hands were curled as talons, saliva flying from his mouth when he screams for Chloe’s life.
Chloe thrusts her book bundle in front of her face just in time, blocking his first swipe as she staggers back, losing her shield, tripping on a small table in this room of eyes and crows, not knowing where to run—
Thomas Watchman cut in front of his daughter, fist damp with the man’s spit. The man’s glasses flew across the room and nearly hit the floor, if not for Sal.
The man shook like a struck dog, wavering on all fours. The firelight couldn’t reach the floor beyond the couch, robbing his shape of anything human. He panted, moaned, “Aaaaang”
“I’m here, Reg.” Angela ran past her husband, pulled away from his own clawed plea, “Stay back, Ang, he’s dangerous,” and Chloe’s plea, “Mom he tried to kill me!”
But Angela did not stay back. “No, he didn’t.” She ran her fingers through the crumpled man’s hair. “Get Reg some ice, Thomas.”
“Thomas.” Angela undid her coat and folded it to lay upon the floor. “Please.” She looked at him, at Chloe. “Please,” she said again.
The crumpled Reg turned his face up to Angela’s, his eyes darting, constantly darting. Chloe hugged the back of father tight to stay as hidden from those eyes as she could.
Sal gave a little cough near Thomas’ ear, and nodded towards the sliding doors out. Chloe didn’t want her dad to back away, to leave space for that crazy Reg to grab her mom, but…but the guy was just crying on her coat-turned-pillow now, thumb near his mouth like some little kid. Angela kept right on stroking his hair, humming the same melody chimed by the grandfather clock back home.
Thomas reached around and felt Chloe’s body shake against him. “Okay.” Not that it was actually okay, not with that growl beneath it. “Chloe and I will be right back.”
Sal walked with them to the sliding door and paused. “I’m so sorry you’re seeing Reg like this first.” He held the glasses in his palms like a child holds a butterfly. “He’s usually the gentlest of us, setting spiders free outside and rescuing rabbits from Mother’s traps, that sort of thing.”
Chloe scoffed. “That doesn’t explain why he called me a fake, or why he tried to strangle me.” Damn, her books were scattered on the floor with her blanket from home, a real home with family photos, and laundry, and records not put away, and sketches of old machines’ insides, and piles of history books all cracked open to different pages with notes stuck in every one of them.
Sal turned towards the fireplace, looking at a dark corner beyond it where a dented bucket sat, covered with old soot. “This place…Mother. She liked to scare us, you see. Keep us here with stories of, of monsters out to eat us.” He laughed nervously and lay Reg’s glasses to rest on a shelf next to the door. “They could take any shape, the monsters, and…anyway, together we three could handle it all right, especially because of Angela. But when Mother’d catch us alone…” A beastly sound warbled in Sal’s throat. “Well. You see what she did to Reg in just one hour.”
“One hour?” Thomas asks. His growl was gone.
“Yeah.” Even Sal sounded like he couldn’t believe it, “Doctor says I arrived just an hour after Reg. One hour alone with that woman…” Sal shook his head, and wandered away from Thomas and Chloe to stand and stare at the fire, hands and thoughts to himself.
Word Count: 608Total Count: 5359
I wasn’t planning on going THIS slow here, but I do like how the next scene can focus on the “outsiders” Chloe and her father Thomas…plus maybe get Sumac and the mysterious doctor into the mix.
Pardon me, friends! I’m quickly uploading this while sitting in the teacher’s lounge for lunch. Most of the students are off to a soccer match today, so I’ve been given the fortunate job of watching the teenage stay-behinds. 🙂
So, where were we…ah. Chloe’s mother Angela is finally entering her childhood home, the Crow’s Nest.
Writing Music: Rob Simonsen, Foxcatcher (I really need to get a hold of this soundtrack)
Angela Perdido Watchman gave little attention to
the crow-filled room. “I’m better now, really,” she whispered to Thomas, but
Chloe knew her dad didn’t believe her. He dropped one hand down only to keep
his other arm snug around his wife’s shoulders.
But still, Angela was smiling–and to Chloe’s
relief, a real smile, at that. She even took off her mittens and tucked them
into her coat pocket. “Hi, Sal.”
Sal blinked back a couple tears, making his
eyelashes sparkle like the snow. “Hi, Ang.”
The two shared a nervous laugh. “You got tall,”
said Angela, looking up into his face. If not for constantly bowing his head
down, Chloe was sure he’d be taller than her father Thomas.
Sal laughed a little more. “You got a clone.”
And he nodded at Chloe.
For the first time since the phone call, Chloe
felt like her mom saw her instead of whatever was going on in her head.
All the black feathers and bones, all the fear around whomever called herself a
mother in a house like this, didn’t have to matter, at least in this
moment. “Had a little help,” she said, and nodded to her husband.
This time, Chloe’s father didn’t prove himself
with a strong grip. Handshakes are hard when one’s being hugged by a lanky
“Uh, hi.” Thomas patted Sal awkwardly on the
back while mouthing What the? to Chloe. Angela’s hand found Thomas’ on
Sal’s back and threaded their fingers together to keep Sal close. He shuddered
in their hold
“This place, Ang…” he said, and sobbed.
“I know.” Now Angela was starting up again.
Chloe bit her lip, looking around for something to stop the damn panic. Her
dad, too, was whispering lots of “come on, now” and “it’s just one night, okay?
We’re together, we can do this.” He even managed to nudge their huddle far
enough from the door for Chloe to close it.
Then Chloe remembered the man who practically
carried her in, the not-Sal. “What about Reg?”
That broke the huddle in a hurry, much to
Thomas’ relief. “Reg!” Ang said. “How is he?”
“Reg is…Reg.” Sal bit his lip. “He got here
“Oh no…” Angela’s eyes searched the stairs, her
body began to shake—
“I think he went in there, Mom.” Chloe grabbed
the iron handle for the sliding door and tugged…and tugged…she even set
her bundle down to try with both hands. ”I think he did.
Chloe’s dad joined her. “Let’s all look in here
first,” he said, and with Chloe tugging and Thomas pushing, they finally
managed to open the partition enough for a person to walk through properly.
Three of the old scrawls of crows crumpled and broke free of their pins to fly
a few inches before coming to a rest at Sal’s feet.
“We never did try pinning them to the floor…” he
Thomas stared at Sal until Chloe gave him a
little kick to stop. “And you don’t have to now, either, because tomorrow we’re
all leaving. Right Ang?”
Angela walked by all of them without a word but
“Reg?” They followed her into the living room, though Sal kept to the walls,
fingers tracing the tattered paper decorated with a strange stencil of a “Y”
with an extra line in the middle.
The room had to be as big as the Watchman’s
apartment if all the rooms were stacked in a cube. The ceiling was just as high
as the foyer here, but thanks to the blazing fire in the large fireplace, Chloe
felt warm enough to unbutton her coat and set it on the dusty couch. “Reg?” she
said, joining her mom and the others. He wasn’t hiding behind the two easy
chairs, or under the desk Thomas tapped. Even the few bookcases gave no sign of
him…or books, for that matter. Instead, the shelves were pinned with more
pictures of crows, so many they were pinned in layers upon each other. She
lifted a few. Her mom must have made at least some of these. What a hell, to be
stuck drawing crows over and over and over…
Big, yellow eyes, squat liike eggs, with sharp
black circles for pupils. They stared at from the paper like the snowy owl atop
the truck, mindful, amused, curious—
Some distant door in the kitchen slammed.
“Getting more wood!” Sumac called, and slammed away again.
“Who is that?” Angela asked.
Sal made a face. “Oh, you haven’t even seen the
doctor yet. I’m sure he’ll be down shortly.”
Chloe backed away from the drawings and turned
towards the mirror windows. A form moved across them in the dark–that Sumac,
likely, for wood. Three worn, broken chairs surrounded a circular game table
covered by a lace tablecloth. When Chloe lifted it, the dust left a perfect
shadow pattern of the lace.
The grown man who carried Chloe in sat curled up underneath. Sweat beaded from his head down his glasses to drip on his knees. His forehead twitched as he spoke through gritted teeth. “You’re not Angela, you, FAKE!” The table flew back as he leapt up, hands out for Chloe’s neck.
Word Count: 865 Total Count: 4751
Break time’s almost up! I’m rather hoping I don’t have to sub tomorrow so I can 1) grade for the university and 2) finally catch up with you folks!
Sorry, no time for introductions because I taught all day and my kids are driving me NUTSO right now. Just read the previous stuff, or read on, or just…oh, take some deep breaths and drink some cocoa like I clearly need to do.
Writing Music: Bruno Coulais (yes, again), Coraline
“Mister, I’m not—” Just getting those words out
was nigh impossible for Chloe. The man practically picked her up and ran into
the house, leaving Sumac and Chloe’s parents out in the snow.
“I told you she’d come, Sal, see?” And just as
quickly as he’d grabbed her, the man released Chloe and left her spinning in
the foyer while he vanished into a neighboring room.
“Hang on!” said an irritated voice behind a
closed door on Chloe’s right.
Chloe held her book bundle tight. A cold, lofty
spot, this foyer, with an old, hungry smell that pecked at Chloe’s nose. The
wooden staircase before her was losing its varnish, not to mention its red
carpet. It crooked to hug the fall wall halfway up before continuing to the
second level lit by a single lamp.
No need to go there yet.
Chloe took a few steps to the left, where
not-Sal had vanished. Sliding doors stood open enough for a fast body to slide
through; for now, out of them came more warmth, and the sounds of a crackling
fire. Pinned to the wooden doors were at least a dozen pictures of crows. The
paper looked faded, the lines and coloring like a child’s.
The pictures continued onto the wood-paneled
walls. The more Chloe’s eyes moved around the room, the more crows she saw:
carved into the bannister. Statues on a narrow table beneath the climbing
stairs. Feathers pinned behind glass with dates scrawled. Frames of wing bones
outspread as if they fly on in death. A lit curio full of stuffed crows stood
next to the closed door where the voice came from.
A toilet flushed, and the closed door opened to
a beanpole of a white man–no, white wasn’t right. A speckled man, really, with
messy red hair to match. “Sorry about the smell, Ang. You know how I am–” he
paused, staring hard at Chloe. “Oh shit–I mean, crap–I mean, I’m not talking
about the smell, in there—” he waved at the toilet behind him. “I mean, the old
meat smell. You’re not Angela.” He bowed his head, so flushed his freckles were
all but lost.
“She’s my mom.” She held out her hand and kept
her chin up. “I’m Chloe.”
“Sal.” He held out his hand–took it back,
glancing back at the toilet—
Chloe took it anyway and shook it just as her
parents taught, quick and firm.
“That’s it.” Sumac stomped his way in and set
the Watchman Family’s luggage next to the curio. “I’m not waiting for them. We
may need a rescue operation for your mother, girl.” He hung his hat and coat
upon a coatrack with a nest on top. “I’ll get the feed for the yard.”
Sal rolled his eyes. “You’re going to attract
bears if you keep that up.”
“It’s your mother’s rule, not mine. Still…”
Sumac scratched the last of the snow out of his hair. “Wouldn’t mind some
bigger game than crows to wander our way.” With a wink to Chloe he vanished
“The kitchen.” Sal shuddered. “Wouldn’t make a
sandwich in there right now, if I were you.”
“My stash of oatmeal pies might still be behind
the egg collection.” Chloe’s mom, finally in the doorway, the tips of her boots
just crossing the threshold. Chloe’s dad had his arm wrapped around her shoulders,
his hand on hers, his eyes on Sal and Chloe and crows and stairs and everything
all at once. Chloe watched him mouth Holy shit to himself while her
mother took one last clean breath of wintry air.
“Thomas, this is the Crow’s Nest,” she said, and led him inside.”
Word Count: 616 Total Count: 3886
Here’s hoping I have a little more time to finish this family reunion tomorrow. x
From White Witches to innocent-looking aunties, you’ll find a wealth of discussion on villains in books, graphic novels, and more. I was honored to contribute this year with an analysis of Black Maria. Do check out the series–every article’s a feast for the mind and imagination!
Now, back to that first chapter. The plowman’s ushering Chloe Watchman and her family out of their car and into the Crow’s Nest. We’ve some other family to look out for besides this frightening “mother” figure: two brothers, Sal and Reg. Let’s see if we meet them today.
Writing Music: Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal
Harsh white light from somewhere overhead switched on, turning the plowman’s skin the color of bone. “I’ll help you unload, get us all in faster….unless you’d rather stay here.”
Chloe’s mother exhaled an icy breath onto her window, erasing the outside–and the plowman– from her sight. “I’d prefer it,” she said flatly.
“Ang.” Chloe’s father shook his head as he stepped out of the car. He held a hand out to the plowman over the windshield. “Sorry, it’s been a long road. Thomas Watchman, Angela’s husband.”
The plowman removed his cowboy hat and held it to his chest. “Sumac, Sir, at your service,” he said with a little bow and a strong handshake. Very strong. Her father had the biggest hands Chloe ever knew, but this plowman’s were just as big, with hairy blonde knuckles that practicallyl turned his hands into paws. No wonder he had no gloves on.
Chloe slid out of the backseat into the snow, quietly watching as the two men gripped hands over the station wagon, smiling fine while also tugging like they wanted to pull the other over the car. Snow was spilling over the tops of her boots and melting down to her heels. Her black pantyhose should have been wool and denim jeans, but she just had to look professional like her momma by wearing a skirt. Not that her momma was any sort of professional right now, her dad acting like he’s got to prove himself to some white man again…
“Help would be great.” Chloe wraps up her books in the blanket and presses the bundle close to her chest. “Thanks.” She turns around.
And finds another Chloe staring right back at her: a black girl tall enough to make small white boys nervous. Hair speckled white with snow like her Aunt Tic’s. Headband’s askew. Hat made in home ec. Navy wool coat rescued from a Sear’s discard bin by her father, carefully repaired by her mother. Her classmates didn’t act like they knew, but Chloe could feel her mother’s stitches itch on her skin, scraping her up, marking her as cheap, unworthy
Get outta our school
You don’t belong here
Nothing but a low-life n—
“Still can’t get over these windows.” Sumac towered over Chloe, the frozen locks of his hair brushing snow off his own shoulders and onto hers. He had their only two suitcases–Chloe’s dad must be working on getting her mom out of the car. “Every time I drive here, I think another car’s playing chicken with me.”
“Are all the windows like this?” Chloe took a step back to take in the Crow’s Nest.
Two bright lamps stood upon either side of a massive door etched with…something. The snow stuck to much of it, but Chloe could see curves and grooves in the way the snow was shaded by the lamps. No light could be seen in any of the dozen windows staring down at her: not on the first floor, second floor, or attic. Only the flickering reflections of the door’s lamps and snow, like muted static on a television.
The roof itself was steep and lined with little spears–all but the center, where a circular shape remained blurred and secret in the night snow. The house itself was all large red bricks and cement, complete with cement scrolling rails up the wide, icy stairs to the front door.
The opening front door.
Even from the bottom of the stairs, Chloe could feel a wave of warmth spilling down the stairs. There was light, normal light inside, and what looked like carpets, and a staircase, and then a man’s shape. A man with combed black hair, narrow eyes, glasses, sweater. He staggered onto the front step, gaping at Chloe. “Angela?” With a jump he was off the stairs and in the snow, arms so tight around Chloe she lost her breath.
Word Count: 643 Total Count: 3270
Hmmm. I’m feeling like Chloe’s a bit too passive for own good these past few scenes, but then again, the current circumstances are out of her control. I’ll try to make her more active in the scenes ahead.
Like what you see so far? I’ve got books to share with you, too! Click here to learn more about my YA Fantasy novel, my serial fantasy on Channillo, and my fantasy western novella.
When the Nina Simone cassette began a fourth time,
Chloe’s father slapped the console to turn it off. A bead of sweat trickled
down the backside of his right ear and soaked into his coat collar. “If I knew
we’d be in the woods this long, I’d of filled up by that bastard out in Eagle
River,” he said. His eyes stayed fixed on the truck ahead of them, so he didn’t
see Chloe glaring at him from the back seat. Thomas Watchman never swore, not
even when his tools sliced his skin open on a job. This was bad.
So Chloe put her other hand on her father’s
shoulder. “We’re okay, Dad.” For as much good as those words could do in a car
low on gas in the middle of nowhere.
A large snowy owl comes to a sliding perch upon
the truck’s tailgate and looks into the Watchman station wagon with yellow
Chloe risks a smile. “Didn’t think owls liked
free rides.” For it clearly did, preening its feathers as the snow blew around
him and the truck bumped on beneath him.
“I know I wouldn’t mind one in this snow,”
Thomas added with a relaxing glance Chloe’s way.
Trees stopped reaching for the car. The snow no
longer swirled in ribbons, but straight down, gently, like a snowglobe left to
play its song. The truck was turning away to park upon an open space; Thomas
pulled the station wagon up alongside him and shut off the engine. “Finally.
Tomorrow I’ll ride with the plowman to a station for more gas to get out
of here tomorrow.”
“No!” Chloe’s mother nearly lunged out of her
seat, her fingernails digging into Thomas’ arm. “Don’t leave me here alone with
“Mom, Mom, I’ll be with you, it’ll be okay, I’m
here.” Chloe tried to hold her mother’s face like she’d hold Chloe’s after a
bad dream. Her skin was so cold Chloe almost recoiled from the touch, but she
didn’t. She had to be strong. If her momma could walk by protestors demanding
segregation of schools without wincing once, then Chloe could be strong with
this…this grandmother, whomever she was. Not a good mom, if her own
daughter’s too scared to be around her.
Chloe’s father finally released the steering
wheel. He slid a gloved thumb beneath her clawing fingernails, and gently pried
her off. “All right. I’ll pay him to bring us gas. That better?”
Angela Perdido Watchman breathed his words in
deep, exhaled, breathed in a little easier exhaled a little easier. She closed
her eyes, nodded, and said, “Don’t say anything about the owl.”
“Why?” Chloe asked. She turned to look out the
passenger window–the owl was already gone. The plowman stood back there now,
rubbing down the tailgate with a cloth. He noticed Chloe watching, and tipped
his cowboy hat to her. “It’s already gone.”
“Good.” Angela took a few more breaths, then
eased back into her seat. “She asked for one night, and that’s all we’re
giving. The others agreed. We hear her out, and we leave in the morning.”
Thomas, too, watched the plowman wipe down the
truckbed. Two other snowy hulks became visible in its headlights. “Those cars?”
“Sal and Reg must be here already.” Angela slid
her hands into chunky green mittens a student had made her for Christmas. She
was about to put on her hat when there was a knock knock on the
windshield: the plowman again.
“You’re not going to sleep in there, are you?”
He had a nice grin, the plowman.
Word Count: 593 Total Count: 2,627
I like stopping mid-scene sometimes–it’s a lot easier to pick up the writing momentum. Blondie’s been back at her Alley Heroes story, too. Here’s hoping I can share some of it with you later this week!