#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 2nd chapter, part 2

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 scarecrow. 

“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 first.”

“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 said absently.

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…

…and eyes?

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!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 2nd chapter, part 1

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 into—

“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

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #WitchWeek & #writing a #firstchapter, part 3

Hello, all! Since my typical blogging schedule is out the door this month, I thought I’d do brief updates every 5 days as well as write. This’ll give me a chance to share neato updates and finds. For instance, I’ve FINALLY gathered all the NaNo posts so far onto my Free Fiction page for your convenience. 🙂 Next, I’d like to highlight the amazing Witch Week series on Calmgrove.

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.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a #firstchapter, part 2

Hello, friends! Let’s continue with Chloe in this first chapter and get her family to the Crow’s Nest. (There’s a two-part prologue in case you missed it.)

Writing Music: Mychael Danna, Capote (which can’t be found on YouTube, sadly)

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 eyes. 

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 her!”

“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!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a #firstchapter

Hello, friends! Yes, I’m leaving you hanging on that prologue. An idea struck me during a rather dull sermon today to leave that moment in time hanging for a spell, and perhaps return to it after we’ve been with our main characters inside the Crow’s Nest.

Writing Music: Nina Simone

Chloe slapped the lock pin down on her passenger door. The cassette of Nina Simone’s hits started its third loop, not that anyone noticed. They were too focused on the curtain of snow, and the man floating in it.

“Your mother say anything about this?” Chloe’s dad asked without looking at her.

Chloe’s mom shook her head. She’d hardly said a word since the phone call that had torn them out of Milwaukee and sent them up…wherever here was.

The man shifted, then fell a few feet to the ground before their headlights. His mouth moved, and it sounded like he was talking, but it was impossible to make it out above the engine and heater of their station-wagon.

Chloe squinted from her mess of blankets and books in the backseat. A truck’s flatbed–that is how the man had been floating. He kicked up snow as he walked to the driver-side window with long, sweeping strides. A man that big, Chloe realized he could kick a mean dent in their car door if he liked. But he only bent forward as if to keep his body away from the door on purpose. “I’m from the Crow’s Nest!” he shouted. “The old lady sent me to keep the road cleared for everyone. You another Perdido?”

“Yeah,” her dad said, keeping the window closed. He wasn’t stupid.

“Thank the Maker!” The man tipped his head back to laugh, revealing a small icicle clinging to the bottom of his close-cut beard. He wiped his nose with big leather gloves and pointed at his truck. “Follow me!” Chloe’s dad nodded, and the man returned to his truck. The snow was so high his trench coat dragged upon it like bridal train.

“Thoughtful of her,” he said to Chloe’s mom.

“Thoughtful?” Chloe’s mom pulled back, disgust all over her face. She leaned against the door, fingers on the handle like she wanted to get out.

Chloe leaned forward and grabbed her mom’s hand for the first time since the phone call. “Mom?”

She blinked, eyes darting as if to rewind the word in her head. Finally, her hand squeezed back, and she sighed. “Sorry, sweetheart. I’m just…I thought I’d never come back here.”

Chloe crooked her head to look outside, hand still tight on her mom’s. Wherever “here” was, Chloe couldn’t tell. The station-wagon followed the truck so closely its brake lights were all they could see—not that the snow helped. It spun in wide ribbons down from the tree branches onto the cars. And the trees, packed so damn tightly together it was impossible to see how this was a road at all.

If Chloe had grown up in a place like this, she wouldn’t be eager to come back, either.

Her father noticed, too. “This is paved, isn’t it, or gravel? Feels like we’re hitting rocks and brush under the snow.”

“Probably are.” Chloe’s mom stared ahead again, her fingernails tapping the door’s armrest with the same steady tick tock of the grandfather clock Chloe’s father had surprised his wife with for her birthday. Three months went into that clock, Chloe distracting her mother with extra trips to the library and college fairs while her father scrounged for parts at clock shops and donation centers. She was so happy when her blindfold came off, always amazed by little pieces of the past Chloe’s dad could bring back to life.

But now, Angela Perdido Watchman’s cheeks were drawn in like she was chewing them from the inside out. Her lips had chapped so that when she pressed them together it looked to Chloe like someone had sewn her mother’s mouth shut. She was always so powerful to Chloe whenever she visited her mom at her campus, addressing white professors as her equal, demanding respect from all her students, not just the colored ones. No one could crack her.

Until today.  

Word Count: 638 Total Count: 2034

We’re getting there! At least, I was until the boys demanded to go outside in the frigid cold to play. Away we go!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!


#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a #fairytale sort of #prologue, part 2

Hi, friends! I’m continuing the fairytale backstory today. Of course I realized there was something I wanted to include in yesterday’s submission, soooo I’ll just manage it into this one. That’s the way of NaNoWriMo: always write moving forward. xxxxx

Today’s Writing Music: Philip Glass, Dracula

“Good morning,” said the Silver Man with a tip of his tall hat.

Such a strange creature! This man was not like Papa at all. His skin was darker, his voice smooth and fearless. He wore no wool sweater or flannel shirts as they, but a suit much like the fancy men in story books, right down to the shiny shoes. Beneath his long silvery coat was a lining that looked like white fur, but the hair was too long to be fur.

The girl and her brothers clasped hands. The little brother shivered. A crow called from atop the roof of their home, but the children didn’t answer him, either.

The Silver Man tucked his hands into his pockets and took another step away from the forest and closer to their front stoop. “I do hope I have the honor of addressing the children of Master Perdido.”

Black wings flew out of the forest–more crows for the roof just above the children’s heads. When the girl watched them perch, they seemed more like holes in the sky than birds.

It is just Mama and Papa and us, the older brother said, very loud and sure as he gripped his sister’s hand. Are you from beyond the forest?

“Indeed I am.” The Silver Man removed a small bottle from his coat pocket and took a drink. “I come from a land without snow such as this.” He picks up a handful, and tosses it in the air between him and the children.

The snow does not fall. Each flake remains clear and still and perfect before the children’s eyes, blinding them to the Silver Man and the forest behind him. Not even the crow swooping over the their heads as it circles the house can take their eyes away.

The Silver Man begins to speak.

“From beyond the forests and oceans and mountains…” A dot of still snow melts, revealing the Silver Man’s finger. The finger melts snow as it draws little lines, little circles, little arms and legs–

–three. Three little children.

“…I have crossed the world on magical waters to find you.”

A flurry of scratches in the snow surround the drawn children–the eternal forest that, to the girl’s amazement, is not eternal, for the Silver Man’s scratches end—the forest, it must end, too! He sketches lines for rivers, and, and squares for buildings, squashy circles for lakes and bumps for mountains. Snow melts into the ocean and there’s more, there is more to the world, such a world! The girl leans away from her brothers to see the Silver Man draw some buildings and trees, and…another line, circle, arms and legs. Himself, surely.

The world, it had never felt so near…and so achingly far away.

A dark shape melted into the snow map: The Silver Man waved his top hat through the snow, and the snow fell to the ground as normal, boring snow does. He brushed the last flakes from his hat, and replaced it upon his head. “My farm is kissed by the son every day, its air filled with the scents of sweet fruit and flowers. You can run free to play with other children all day, and the fairies will tuck you in to bed at night. That is,” his legs bent and suddenly he was eye to eye with them, “if you wish to go.”

The scent of oranges drifted from his shoulders. The children swooned, their imaginations filled with grass and no trees, with treats and no wool sweaters, with other children waving to them, calling their names, wanting them, them, to come and play–

–until a crow swooped again, knocking his hat off his head. There had to be a dozen crows now, circling the house and cawing, cawing, the noise too loud for dreams and maps and–

“Children!” Their mama stood in the open door, wild-eyed and shaking. “Inside!”

The children ran beneath Mam’s arms, the girl almost caught in the door as Mama swung it shut and brought down the beam to lock it in place. The children clung to the stairwell’s bannister, waiting.

Step.

Step.

Step.

The Silver Man approached the door.

Mama’s chest moved up, down, up down, fast like the bellows when she stokes the kitchen fire. “You can’t have them!” She yelled at the door. “I don’t know where it is! You can find your own demon seed!”

Black shapes whipped by the windows surrounding the door: crows, flying.

Step.

Step.

Step.

The Silver Man left the door.

Crows cried from the rooftop.

Mama’s breath kept heaving hard, so hard, harder than her children. Her skin shone with sweat, her dress sleeves sliced and bloody.

Who is he, Mama? asked the little brother.

All crowing stops.

Silence.

A cold wind tumbles down the stairs and over the children’s backs. The girl watches a snowflake land upon her older brother’s cheek…followed by a white feather.

The top stair creaks.

Only the girl dares peak over her shoulder to see the Silver Man standing there above them all, brushing snow off his top hat.

“You know I can’t.”

Word Count: 857. Total so far: 1420. Yay!

While I know 50k won’t happen, my goal is to write 500+ words every day through the month of November–enough to have a solid start on my next novella. So, I’ll see you tomorrow! xxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a #fairytale sort of #prologue, part 1

Hi, friends! I wanted to give myself a little warm-up to the main story with a moment in the story’s history. Considering my recent enjoyment of Labyrinth of the Faun, I wanted to take an impromptu stab at the fairy tale structure. Enjoy!

Tonight’s Writing Music: Bruno Coulais, Coraline

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had two brothers: one elder, and one younger. They lived with their parents in a forest filled with wild things in a vast house built of secrets and fear. No window allowed a view into the house from the outside. The brick walls were so unpleasant no vine wanted to climb them. The house, named Crow’s Nest for reasons which will later be revealed to you, looked out upon the forest with its mirrors eyes as if it loathed its own surroundings, but had nowhere else to go.

It was the perfect place for to live if you were an explorer, which is just what the girl and her brothers deemed themselves to be.

Not that they could all explore at once. Being that rarest of sorts known as sensible children, they knew it best to take turns with each dangerous task involved with an explore. One was required to distract the parents, be it helping poorly with chores, hiding the day’s cooking rations, or—the riskiest option—asking incessant questions about the world beyond the trees.

Only the girl dared do this. Why must my hair be black? What are those things that fly above us without flapping? Angel talks too much, can we eat him? I want go riding into the forest like Papa does. What are those loud noises outside the trees? Where does Papa go when he rides on Sean? When can I read the big papers Papa brings home with the food?

Often the questions would drive the mother to tears in a hand towel, to screams with a spoon, or to both. The girl learned to run and hide in the Crow’s Nest, very well, and very fast.

After the Distractor came the Watcher. This child must study the witchy trees and starved fingers for any signs of the Devil’s eyes, for to be caught by the Devil’s servants is certain death. They do not appear often in the day, but the children have seen them from their bedroom window when the sun has not yet woken, and the world is violet and sparkling with frost: small and yellow as the marbles they kept in their playroom. But those eyes never turned away. Those eyes stared upon their house. Those eyes stalked the innocent, flying down to strike any helpless rabbit or mouse foolish enough to cross the bare yard. The children’s book called them “owls,” but to their parents, they were nothing but servants to the worst Evil.

And no child wanted to be caught by the worst Evil.

So the third wore a dark green blanket they fashioned into a cloak and carried a knife. This was the Insider, crawling among the trees to carve little arrows near the grass line. Every found hoof print of Sean’s marked another clue to the living labyrinth around them, another tree marked to help them uncover the mysteries of distant rumbles and high-flying creatures, of where food came from, and clothes, and books, and maybe, just maybe, other children.

Oh, to see other children! The girl and her brothers often talked late into the night of their dreams of new friends, what they might look like and the games they could play.

So when the Silver Man emerged from the forest one wintry morning, the children were very curious, indeed.

Word Count: 563. Woohoo!

While I know 50k won’t happen, my goal is to write 500+ words every day through the month of November–enough to have a solid start on my next novella. So, I’ll see you tomorrow! xxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

The Childhood of an Unlikely Shield Maiden: Wynne IV

Good morning, lovely readers! What follows is a continuation of my previous three installments of free fiction–a dialogue between me and Wynne, a character from my Shield Maidens of Idana fantasy series.Today we walk with Wynne as she evades Prydwen, The Man of the Golden Hound Crest, and learn that maybe, just maybe, there is hope for her love, the smithy’s son Morthwyl.

Is that when you decided to join the Shield Maidens?

The Shield Maidens? Oh, Galene, if I had thought of them sooner… yet I was not of age, and the King’s Stronghold seemed to only make use of men, at least in Cairbail. But King’s presence or not, Trade is Law, be it done with the crown’s blessing, or not.

For the next three years, life in Cairbail flowed with the Gasirad: it sparkled with life, it stunk with decay. It all depended on where you stood: more traders came up the river and King’s Road, more business done. Father was elated, of course, which put Mother into her happy hysterics. But for whatever these traders brought into Cairbail, very little was left. And very few held to the King’s Road long after. Some of Caddock’s men were on the road one dawn as they veered off onto the small rutted road towards Morthwyl’s village. What use do farmers have for weapons and powders?

I, too, saw them from the oak where Morthwyl and I often hid. The ground had stopped feeling safe the moment Prydwen rode into our world. In the heat of summer, with the leaves at their proudest size and the bees endless in their own sweet industry near us, we felt safe.

Oh, those were the happiest hours! Morthwyl leaned against the trunk, and I against he, my head upon his shoulder, his scent filling the very air I breathed. Our fingers entwined, we would say nothing at all, our lips dancing as our feet yearned to do along Gasirad’s shores.

It was such a moment when we heard the whining of old wagon wheels, crude humor, the splash of wine, and the countless yips and cries of dogs. We dared not move the branches for a look, as the oak grew close to the road. But we could hear as they approach, hear the words, “What in blazing Hifrea a lone man’s needin’ so many bloody dogs is a mystery, make no mistake.”

“Shut yer gob, the money’s good.”

“Aye, the money, but what’s one lone man doing, asking a professional breeder such as myself, to bring not just one breed, but FIVE? And FIVE of each breed? It’s off the nut queer, it is. And ruins my offerings to many good clients for summer hunting.”

“Yer getting paid twice what any nobleman can give you. Now shut it, we don’t stay on the road long. There’s a marker somewhere round heres.”

Their noise only just started to fade when Morthwyl whispered to me, “That’s the fifth wagon I’ve heard talk like that.”

“With dogs?”

“No, but always five of something: knives, pottery, glass, furs, chairs. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

My heart lurched as we clung to one another, for we both thought the same: my sisters and I. The five of us, a collection.

That afternoon I accompanied Tarren from Little Innean back to Cairbail with my pretense: some repaired girdles for Heledd, Ysball, and myself. I refused to wear the new ones Prydwen had bought for the five of us, all “fine leather” and “stitching done with a fairy’s hand.” Fairy, my eye. The girdles all portrayed golden hounds, and those girdles were nothing more than brands to mark us for his own. Poor Congol! He sobbed on the open street when he saw his chances with Isolda really were over.

While Tarren and I were not quite friends, our similar ages allowed for easy conversation on our journey. When we approached the last hill before Cairbail, I turned to give the forest a smile farewell, and froze.

“Did you forget something?” Tarren asked me as she searched for what I saw.

Upon a speckled grey steed sat one of those guards, the grey ones heavy with death about their hands and faces, staring at us.

“Those men of that merchant’s give me the frights,” Tarren said, shuddering. “They look like rocks dressed in clothes.”

I nodded, and wondered how much truth lay in those words.

“Isn’t that merchant fellow courting all of your sisters, and even you?”

And would you know…this was a strange sensation, but once I did it, I knew what I had done: I sneered. My heart kicked my chest. All I wanted was on the other side of that….thing. That thing, and that man, IF you can call him that, which he represented. That man who dared show up, insist he know my family, lay claim to us as if we’re some sort of lost property, and then, then, stand aghast when he hears a girl is not to be won over by money or status. The impudence! The garishness! The audacity! It all churned and bubbled into a terrific bile in my mouth, and I spat it all out, far louder than was polite to Tarren, but I didn’t care, I wanted it out: “He can have the pick of my sisters or all of them, but not me. Never me.” 

Weren’t other people thrown off by how he wanted to marry all five of you? You were what, fifteen by then? That’s still more kid then woman, for goodness’ sake.

Goodness had nothing to do with it. Marriage is a business more than anything else in Idana: one marries, and money is exchanged. One marries, and money awaits for your offspring. One strives to marry above station, but not too above, that’s just as scandalous and unseemly. And while polygamy didn’t happen often outside of the aristocracy, it still happened.

Tarren thought it a bit odd, to be sure, especially when it seemed far easier to simply take me on as some sort of handmaiden. “Surely five dowries amounts to a king’s ransom. I can’t imagine how your parents or that merchant are affording all this.” I liked how Tarren always referred to Prydwen as “that merchant.” Many in Cairbail did, too, because he so very rarely showed his face. Lord Murdach has even given Father a bit of grief for sending his daughters off rather than make more sensible marriages within Cairbail. But once my sisters knew they wouldn’t have to smell the tannery all their lives, why should they bother with the likes of our townspeople?

Of course Sage Forga insisted he knew the truth. He insisted yet again as Tarren and I came to Market Street. “A new river will flow in Galene, Mistress Wynne, mark my words,” he called from his window box of herbs. The apple of his throat jumped with nervous delight. “Yes indeed, told Lord Murdach just this morn of my latest vision.” Tarren rolled her eyes as she went on towards Aedh for leather scraps. I, being the object spoken to, could not roll my eyes, let alone step away. Oh gods, send a storm upon us to close those shutters and his mouth! “I see…” His eyelids fluttered, and his hands spread before his cheeks. He rather had the look of a fish when he envisioned past visions. “I see a river of gold flowing in a crimson sunset. I see your suitor, an enchanted prince from a far-off land, who wants to love all. A new age comes for Cairbail, for aaaaall the land that is,” his hands whirled closed, “Idana.”

I considered his popping eyes, brown teeth, and sweaty face, and thought him to spend far, far too much time in the smoke of his pipe weed. “Time will reveal all, Master Forga,” I said with as much civility as could be mustered. “Good day.” I curtsied and turned to leave.

Prydwen stood but a few feet away. Where in all blessed Idana did he come from? Yet there he stood, flesh, velvet, and all, one leg bent as he flourished one side of his cloak to bow from the waist down. “My lady. Summer blesses your spirit once again. The air of wildflower and honey suits you.”

Surely, surely he spoke as he did because he knew. He knew of the tree. He knew I continued to see my Morthwyl despite my family’s schemes. Yes, I could see it in his chest, barely moving beneath that golden hound, eyes warm and bright like candles: small flames, but even the smallest flames can burn far and deep.

“I’ve come to inquire after your mother’s health, as I cannot help but do. A meager excuse to see you and your sisters, but,” he held his orange jeweled hand open to me, “I simply cannot help myself.”

He stood without steed, servant, or guard. He carried no money, no goods. Perhaps he needed none, for what he carried was deadliest of all: knowledge.

I swallowed my fear, and all my words. Of what could I accuse him? All would say he was merely protecting one of his…brides. Oh, disgusting word! To spit upon his face and run!

“Master Prydwen, what a most marvelous surprise!” Never had I been more thankful for Sage Forga than in that moment, especially when he burst from his door in a strange mix of sliding on a horse pat and bowing at the waist while still trying to draw smoke from his pipe. “I simply must speak with you soon. Such omens fly above me and crawl beneath my feet that point to you, and only you, Noble Sire!”

“Let me not detain you from a conference of such importance, Master Forga.” I curtsied to him and walked around Prydwen without so much as a goodbye. Enough of his gem-stoned wooing and endless compliments. Enough of his golden hounds and gifts. I cared not that I left his hand shaking in the air. Sage Forga is not easily deterred, especially when he is full of visions that require a bit of gold to complete.

I nearly collided with Aedh’s precious mule as I moved with all civil haste to Caddock’s warehouse. Even at 15, I still met Caddock for my lessons. Though Mother thought my skills proficient, Father noted Caddock also a fine teacher in the ways of goods keeping. She’ll be such a help to Prydwen that way, my dear wife.

Ugh. Oh ugh, these are the moments I nearly lose myself…a moment while my stomach calms….please, sit with me here, Adyna’s neighbor Niall always has some ol and wine on hand. Some cheese dipped in batter sounds wonderful, thank you.

Sounds like Sage Forga knows how to butter up the money. I’m guessing that Lord Murdach, being the guy in charge of a town, didn’t like being showed up by some outsider.

You use words strangely, but…if I understand you, yes. As performers need to share the stage without dominating one another, so Cairbail felt a stage, and Prydwen an actor who had walked through the audience and onto the boards without permission. “What’s a man like that doing here?” I heard Lord Murdach say as a dagger whistled and thunk a far box of what I hoped to be fruits, beans, anything not alive. “Don’t get me wrong, Caddock, I enjoy an upturn in business as much as any man—”

“But the upturn came a bit quick.” Caddock’s voice was low, clear, and disquieting.

“Precisely. A little black market makes no mind, but he has gods-know-how-many barges and wagons coming up from the ocean filled with gods-know-what because he’s duped the inspectors into thinking it’s all just typical animal feed and livestock. You tell me who needs five oxen and doesn’t farm!” The next dagger struck but a few feet in front of my nose as I stood, still out of site in this labyrinth of crates and sacks. “He’s got something going on, but everyone’s too keen for his coin to care. It’s only my title, my seat, my life on the line with his business.”

“I fully share in your skepticism, Sir.”

“Good. And good on you for not storing his goings-on here. He’s got boxes of all sorts tucked into every other warehouse in town. Don’t like it. Not one bit.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

I came into view, then, halting their dialogue. Caddock’s gaze was angry but distant, while Lord Murdach looked like a mad bear, with froth about his lips and hair barely braided back from his gargantuan frame. “Ah, daughter of Master Adwr, yes?” I curtsied and greeted as manners dictated. “You’re a big favorite of Master Prydwen, you and your whole family. Gods know your father’s holdings have nearly quadrupled these past three years, your sisters donned in velvet and pearls every day.”

Caddock snorted. “You see velvet and pearls on this one?”

“No…no, you have a point there, my friend, I don’t. Look up, girl.” Lord Murdach studied my roughspun cloak and shawls and cold eyes. “You don’t seem too taken with the man.”

I curtsied again, my breath slight puffs in the air. “I find him generous with words and coin, yet miserly with motive.”

“Motive. Yes. Yes, girl, that is the crux. And the sage is useless, of course, fopping over himself to bring more good news of Cairbail’s future thanks to Golden Prydwen. I wonder if the King’s Stronghold would have another sage untainted by this…whoever he is…” Lord Murdach mumbled himself out the warehouse and into the street.

Caddock waited until the mumbling fell into the ebb and flow of street noise before speaking once more. “Have a care, Wynne. That sort of man’s not to be antagonized.”

I settled onto my favorite seat, the old barrel saved for apple cores and fruit skins. “I wasn’t rude to Lord Murdach.”

“I do not speak of Lord Murdach.”

“Why do you stare so? I care nothing for his intentions, I have been clear on the subject, I will not accept gifts from a man and lead him on as Mother instructs. That is rude, and selfish, and—”

“Wynne!” He shot my name like an arrow and silenced me. Caddock muzzled himself with his own hands, breathing heavily, the muscles of his neck tight as a growling guard hound…at last he sat next to me and unloosed his tongue. “A man like that does not hear ‘no.’ Only ‘you haven’t won me yet.’ I know his kind, Wynne. Men who insist on more than one wife wield an entirely different sort of greed. Your sisters may be cloth-eared, empty-headed ninnies, but they’re beautiful, and that’s a man who clearly likes his beautiful things.”

“Why do you think I dress as I do? To prove I’m not beautiful.”

Caddock smiled sadly. “You cannot hide real beauty, girl. I’m sorry.”

“But…but I don’t want to. I just…I already…” I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket to catch the tears before they blot my face and betray my feelings to outside eyes. But I had forgotten what was wrapped in the linen: my iron orpine fell softly into my lap.

Caddock, of course, snatched it from the air before it hit the sawdust on the floor. “You’ve already given your heart, haven’t you, Wynne?” I opened my mouth to beg him, to unleash words of mercy and hope secrecy, but he raised his hand to silence me. And, with his head close for secrets as when we shared our love of the river Galene, he laughed. “Good. Now I know your family hasn’t a hope of influencing you down the years.” Caddock whistled as he delicately traced the leaves. “Your boy has skill, impressive skill.”

Pleasure filled me, for Caddock’s compliments do not come easily. I knew my Morthwyl could amaze others! “The smithy’s son in Little Innean, Morthwyl.”

“That’s a fair walk north. What brought you two together?”

I had to laugh. “Galene. She led me to him, actually.”

“The goddess holds you highly, Wynne, make no mistake.” He placed the orpine back in my hand and folded my fingers down upon it. “This promises a fine future for you both, if you could…one moment.” Caddock ran out. How strange the warehouse felt in his absence! No longer a sanctuary, but a maze of shadows and sharp corners I could never navigate were Prydwen’s men to follow…Thank the gods Caddock returned before my fears could grow any darker. “Can you visit the boy today?” He moved with a skittish urgency, pulling charts and maps from a chest precariously balanced on rotting crates.

“I was just there, but yes, I think so. If we’re not to dine with him again. Heledd’s not complained, at least.”

“Good.” He unrolled a large map, nearly torn apart in three places, littered with notes and arrows and scrawls. Idana, our country, looked a child’s mess. “Then let us hope the river goddess’ watch is vigilant.” His finger followed the river north, past Cairbail, the King’s Stronghold, and into forests far from the northern towns. “I’ve a barge to leave before daybreak tomorrow. Get the smithy’s son and yourself ready to be on it.”

My heart felt as a falcon loosed from its hood. Was it possible? Could I really escape Hafren and all its scheming souls? But I paused. Morthwyl loved his family, all kind, gentle people who did depend on him. “How far north would it take us?”

“As far north as I pay them. Till Galene’s beginnings, if possible.” Caddock breathed deep. “He won’t let you marry your boy, nor will your family. And he wants you for something, Wynne. He doesn’t have his ‘men,’ whatever those creatures are, following your sisters. Just you.”

“Because I’ve yet to agree to the marriage.”

Caddock looked up with an expression I will never forget: the paleness of his skin beneath his hair, the slight tremble of his chin, the way his voice fell to a whisper.

Caddock was afraid. Very afraid.

“No, it’s more than that. I’ve heard your father boast of meeting Prydwen the same day the river saved you, of how Prydwen looks just like his son. I, too, met Prydwen years ago, when I was but five, and Heledd seven. Galene bid us hide and be silent for not one but three days. It was torture to lay among the rocks and briars, but in those days a strange merchant bearing a golden hound upon his chest and a caged wagon of slaves interrogated my town for what he called ‘friends of the goddess.’ It took threat of the King’s Company to drive him out. That’s no son, Wynne. That is the same Prydwen.”

Thanks so much for reading! We’re nearly at the end of my dialogue with Wynne. I’d love to hear your feedback on this moment, or on any of the other moments of Wynne’s childhood–a prequel, you could say, to her adventure in Beauty’s Price.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!