Taking Flight in 300 Words or Less
Mmmmkay. Guess this just sort of happened. So the folks over at Queer SciFi on Facebook decided to have another go with their flash fiction anthology. It was something I’d never tried. Flash fic and short stories represent somewhat of a dilemma for me. You see, it’s writing so, as a writer, there’s the draw. I love stories, plain and simple.
But short stories have never really been my thing. Being highly inquisitive from an early age, I’ve always wanted more. Probably why I consider myself the James Mitchner of Queer Lit Fic. My books are tomes – in the literal sense. All of them, with the exception of a single novella I wrote for a friend, are over 500 pages long. I write about headspace and perceptions – which I find to be a very fertile playground from which to write. So when the folks over at QSF announced a flash fic contest I don’t know why I became intrigued. For the most part short stories and it’s smaller brother, the flash fic piece, aren’t my cup of tea. So why’d I do it?
Perhaps it was so I could see if I could? I don’t know. My compulsory inquisitive nature, perhaps? Ma-a-a-a-ybe. Perhaps it just hit me in one of my rare “oh, what the fuck” moods. That must be it.
Regardless, I decided to take the plunge into leaner waters. But what to write? The anthology/contest gave only the theme of flight. Somehow I needed to incorporate the essence, if not literally, of flight.
I didn’t have anything to pound away on. Then a thought occurred to me. Why not use this contest as a writing exercise to play with a theme in a future SciFi work of mine? There’d been an element that I knew was a prominent thread in my story but I’d never actually written it down. But in 300 words? Are ya fucking kidding me?
But then I saw it as a challenge. “Okay, bucko,” (yeah, sometimes I use antiquated slang phrases to address myself) so I metaphorically stared myself down and said, “… let’s see whatcha got, kid.”
So the story deals with Mohawk Indians, amongst the other nations of the Six Nations confederacy, who are the super heroes of my tale. Not many know a lot about Iroquoian/Haudenusaunee history. Though we’ve been the most influential in US history. Jefferson, Franklin and Adams were very serious Iroquoian buffs. They steeped themselves in our form of governance to help shape America’s. Bundle of arrows in the eagle’s grasp on the back of the dollar bill? That’s us. The large wooden staff carried in on joint sessions of Congress? That’s us, too. Even the phrase, “We the People…” Yup, the same phrase that was in our Great Law of Peace hundreds of years before Jefferson penned it. But I digress.
Writing this was more than a challenge. I was writing a very important plot element to a series of books that mean the world to me. They are my attempt at my own Lord of the Rings. They are epic sweeping SciFi that first appears as pure fantasy only to sort itself within the series that it’s really Quantum Mechanics in play – not magic. I am quite literally taking Arthur C. Clarke’s quote to heart. Anyway, so there I was, trying to put something together, a scene if you will, to show how a hero (one of many) in my story – think Star Wars Jedi vs. Dark Side Darth’s – where the hero is converted to a villain. At one point in their collective past, my heroes were culled and changed through rather nefarious means into an army of bad guys – very much against their will. A raping as much as a culling. The process can only happen at the moment of death. It’s a very tricky thing to pull off.
So I plotted quickly to tell a small vignette – a slice of one such hero being culled from her Guardian brethren, into the world of the Flintlings (my bad guys). So I had Mohawk peeps, a death, the transference of my hero at the time of her bloody death, the raping of her soul and the enslaving of it for the Flintlings nefarious purposes, and I had to do it in 300 words. Oy! The scene may never appear in the actual story at all. It was the first time I’d transcribed it from what I had in my head the whole time I’d been penning the other parts of the book. I used characters that don’t appear in the works at all. Just something I dreamt up on the spot to get it all down. Well, not all down … I’d need more words for that. But as a framework it sort of worked.
Somehow I managed it. My little exercise completed I sent it into the contest, not really thinking anything would come of it. To be honest, I thought they’d reject it outright. “What the bloody fuck is this?” I imagined. It was my first ever flash fic. But somehow, and I can’t say why, it was accepted and they included it in their anthology. So now I’m a hybrid author. Who bloody knew?
My story Transcendent, appears in the Paranormal segment of the book. Not sure what qualified it for that categorization as it doesn’t have a paranormal element in the story because it’s definitely tech, but I’m happy it’s there anyway.
There are some marvelous pieces in the book. And they’re quick reads, for like when you’re in the doctor’s office waiting room. You can easily skim several of them while the nurses and medical office people occupy their time with who knows what while you sit there, having arrived way before your appointed time, and they don’t seem to bother with you until like ten or fifteen minutes past your appointed time. Okay, that came out like I have a bone to pick with medical staff, doesn’t it? Anyway, the book is seriously great for times like that. Or while your kid is wrapping up Lacrosse practice and you’re sitting in the car trying to keep cool on a hot day. Yeah, like that, too. You can easily knock out ten or twelve of them in one sitting.
Oh, sidebar note: I worked a small bit of Mohawk humor into it. We natives like to do that – smoke signal ourselves. But I’ll let you in on the small joke: The names I use for my lesbian characters actually have a funny sort of Mohawk in-joke. The Guardian woman who is dying – her name means “hunter/gatherer of fruit” and her wife’s name that I mention in the story means “low hanging fruit” – I couldn’t resist. It’s in our genes. We like to tease each other that way. Not that I think there’ll be a plethora of Mohawk readers of this book. But if there are, they’ll get the sexual innuendo reference. Oughta give them a small smirk or snort for their efforts.
So yeah, pick this baby up. Despite my usual pasadena attitude with regards to short stories and flash fic pieces, I found myself immersed in them nonetheless. Maybe I’m evolving now that I’ve written one? Nah, can’t be. I’d have to turn in my Mitchner fanboy card then. #NothingDoin.
Until next time …
– SA C
The 2016 Queer Sci Fi Flash Fiction anthology, “Flight”, is here, and I have a story in it! It’s a really cool concept:
A 300-word story should be easy, right? Many of our entrants say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever written.
Queer Sci Fi’s Annual Flash Fiction Contest challenges authors to write a complete LGBTQ speculative fiction micro-story on a specific theme. “Flight” leaves much for the authors to interpret—winged creatures, flight and space vehicles, or fleeing from dire circumstances.
Some astonishing stories were submitted—from horrific, bloodcurdling pieces to sweet, contemplative ones—and all LGBTQ speculative fiction. The stories in this anthology include AI’s and angels, winged lions and wayward aliens. Smart, snappy slice of life pieces written for entertainment or for social commentary. Join us for brief and often surprising trips into 110 speculative fiction authors’ minds.
The book us available in eBook form (4.99), and will soon be available in paperback with b/w illustrations inside (12.99) and in a special collector’s edition with color illustrations (24.99).
Excerpt – From Transcendent by SA Collins –
Blood burst from my lips. Too much blood. Painfully, I tried to roll over; some small part of me accepted the honor of fighting hard and losing the battle. Tonight, I die with dignity.
Instinctively, I pulled upon the Dark. Feeble threads coursed through me, far too little to correct what lie beyond repair. I felt the enemy’s gaze upon me. I wished he would just finish the job.
My fingers pressed into the earth, sodden with my blood and the waters of the river. I coughed. I pulled myself, painfully, along the water’s edge. To where though, I knew not. Odd that, in the end, I thought not of myself but of Wahyawekon, my beloved wife. Inwardly, I wept.
A hand pulled hard upon my blood-soaked hair, turning me over to face him. A malevolent glee colored his face — his victory complete.
I felt my life slipping, like the slip of a fish when you think you have it in your hands. One last breath, coppery and wet, filled my mouth and lungs.
“Karhakonha, you fought well,” he said in Mohawk. “Your new life awaits.” …
(for more you’ll have to pick up the book … *snort)
The Conundrum of Native American History and Modern Storytelling
So here’s the deal: while peeps have heard about the Haudenosaunee (under the more familiar moniker of “The Iroquois”), with the Mohawk (mostly in part because of that wild punker hairdo of the same name) and Seneca being the most widely known, when pressed they often don’t know much about them as a people.
And we can’t leave it to the history books, in part because the Texas Board of Education’s influence on dumbing down of the masses ensures that they’ll never get Native American history right despite the author’s best intentions of capturing what’s really out there.
Some university presses may have a better grasp of the reality but let’s be clear – most of that is written so dryly that just getting through the front matter of the book is a struggle.
So, we storytellers of the modern age who want to craft tales from that rich tapestry of North America’s indigenous cultures, it’s a dangerous mazurka across a cultural mine field. It’s doubly hard if you’re a member of that community mostly because you have to question every aspect of what you’re doing. As a member, you don’t get the luxury of claiming ignorance and white privilege. Because if you’ve had any cultural instruction you know better and more importantly, you know who to ask if you don’t, and second – ya ain’t white, period.
But herein, as a native author, you have to weigh cultural indifference and ignorance on the reader’s part – not wholly of their own choosing, I’ll cop to that right now – on why all natives don’t live in teepees and say “Hau.” Don’t even get me started on the misconception we all refer to our women as squaws, either – ’cause if you really knew the meaning of that word you’d find it as offensive as I do.
So here I am, with my first Sci-Fi work finally coming to life and I ran smack into that cultural wall of:
“Holy Shit! They won’t know our history, the way we look at life, our morals, our creation stories, how we came to be as a people – say nothing of my alt-world spin on it all.”
So, what to do? I’ve heard many authors and readers gripe about prologues that instruct rather than “show” and reveal through the story telling. Or the expository nature of a character who has to impart native cultural history that is NOT part of the mainstream knowledge base. This shit simply is not known. It’s not like JK Rowling giving us a tale about witches and wizards. We know what those are. It’s part of the common vernacular and mainstream understanding. We only have to glean her twist on things to understand her world.
But how many of you could relate to me the tale of Skywoman and her importance in life? How many of you get the allegory of how the world was truly created and how closely her tale aligns with what we know in science to be true. If you knew, you’d think it was rather spooky how we had it down fairly well from a conceptual point of view. Actually, native perspective on the known sciences is rather interesting all on its own. And it’s something I’ll be exploring as we get into the Cove Chronicles. My native characters in my story went to Dartmouth – a university established specifically to address native peoples’ education.
But our cultural stories play a big part in how my characters move through their lives and deal with what I am about to throw at them. It’s fairly epic. Well, it should be if I expect people to care about them, right?
Still, how much to impart? It’s not an easy question. I don’t get that Rowling benefit of a common knowledge thing – aside from their being Indian. And we all know how misinformed that knowledge is. Epic doesn’t begin to cover it.
So, this week, I am posting the revised prologue – I’ve moved the original posting (it’s a work in progress, so shit’s gonna change) to further along in the book. In it, I take five pages to move the reader through a primer on who we are as a people and how my world works. It’s a stab. It’s a what if … kinda thing. I don’t know if I’ll keep it.
But I know I gotta wrestle that white privilege monster to the ground and give y’all some common place to start. Plus I gotta worry about the Natives in this world who might give me shit for condensing it as I have, say nothing of my twist on it all to put it in a SciFi perspective.
So here is my stab at leveling the cultural playing field, presented as an oratory from the guy who is actually the leader of the opposition. Yeah, the baddie gets to bring y’all up to speed on us. As a point of interest, Ati:ron’s part of this posting was written over 8 years ago. It’s still in its original form. It’s been quite the learning experience to see what I was doing back then.
Enjoy! (It’s rough (read: unedited) and still being worked out – so keep that in mind – subject to change).
Wherein we learn of the birth of the Tewakenonhnè, the Guardians, and meet young Ati’ron, a Mohawk boy in the midst of his Guardianship training, finding himself, and his teacher in a very precarious situation.
The Haudenosaunee Territories
October 21st, 1183 – 5:12 PM
“I speak to you now, the words and the voice of the people. Words that speak of our coming, our creation, and our enduring peace. These are the words of our fathers, our mothers, given to us since time immemorial. Hear now of the sacred warriors, the Tewakenonhnè, and learn what they tell us …”
All Haudenosaunee children grow up with the creation stories.
They are the fabric of who we are as a people. They learn from an early age about the fall of Skywoman and how she started life here on Turtle Island, of her epic struggle to find a place to land, of seeding the plants and creating the beginnings of animal life that would populate the land.
After a time, she gave birth to twins. One was a virile strapping boy who would be known as Spruce, bringer of all good things in life. A constant of the universe maintains that a balance must exist. So where Spruce was robust and healthy; his twin, Flint, was sinewy and pallid in color, even at birth. One a bringer of light, love, empathy and compassion. The other of darkness, malfeasance, calculated evil and deception.
Their differences did not end with their out-worldly appearances. As with all things in life, each responds and interacts with it according to their own gifts. From an early age, Spruce was enthralled with every aspect of life. His keen and sharp mind, coupled with his compassion and deep profound respect for all the possibilities life afforded him, became the wellspring of his creations. Spruce demonstrated from childbirth his ability to imbue wondrous things on the island, expanding upon the flora and fauna he freely gave of himself to this world.
Meanwhile his twin, Flint, Spruce’s opposite in every way one could be opposite, would spend his days finding those wondrous things bearing the mark of his brother’s loving creation, and pervert them into creatures of a darker purpose. Flint took on a fiendish delight in bending his brother’s creations to his conniving will. Thus, the common garden snake would, under Flint’s maligned hand, grow fangs and poison others with its toxic venom. This was but just one example of the ways that Flint’s touch could leave his mark upon the innocence of life.
These small skirmishes between the siblings eventually grew to outright warfare. As their bodies grew in stature, their conflicts grew in direct proportion. Ultimately, Spruce found he could no longer bear to ignore the malfeasance that seemed to pour from his brother’s very soul.
Thus the brothers engaged, and a great battle ensued. A cataclysmic tussel that lasted for a very long time – whether one or one thousand years passed – the battle raged on. No one knew as no one was there to mark its passing. What is known, the twins in their epic conflict created the mountainscapes, deep canyons and gorges as they flung their titanic bodies across Turtle Island, slamming each other into the fertile soil.
When the world seemed that it could no longer bear more of their conflict, Spruce finally gained the upper hand and, in his victory, banished Flint to the shadows of life where darkness dwelled and bitterness and anger made a home. Flint’s heart became blackened to his brother.
Though the battle had ended, their war was far from over. From those infernal depths, in the darkened recesses of his banished realm, Flint swore that he would not be gone forever. He retreated into the darkness to lick wounds and bide his time. For time, that ever uncontrollable but progressive companion, he knew was ever in his favor. His brother would soon grow weary of watching for him. Flint knew that he would work his way back. Patience and planning was all that he required now.
Slowly, over the millennia, he crept back into everyday life. Slithering through the cracks he worked out, testing his brother’s resolve to keep him at bay. Whenever threatened by Spruce, Flint and his horde of perverted creatures would retreat back to their shadows to fight another day.
Then a curious thing happened: Spruce decided one day that he had completed his work and confident that his brother was no longer a threat in this world, he became resolved to take his leave, to simply walk away. His sole final imprint on this land was that he put the people of Turtle Island as its custodians, or balance-keepers, of life. It would be to them that the world would be cared for and treasured. They would become the check and balance against Flint and his minions.
For a time, it appeared to work, because in the beginning there was a balance, albeit with the occasional skirmish between both sides. But Flint was not anything if not patient. He could wait several millennia if that is what it took to achieve his ultimate goal. So Flint prodded the people. He poked at their defenses. Never so much as to do them great harm, but to test their resolve.
Over time Flint became more crafty in his offensive tactics, doing great damage to the people. Setting them against one another to the brink of oblivion. In this, Flint’s plan began to establish it’s evil intent. Fear, mistrust and deceit would he plant in men’s hearts.
It appeared to work.
It became apparent to the people that they were losing too many of their kind to keep Flint in his place. The Onondaga faithkeeper, in desperation, appealed to Spruce and begged for his assistance, explaining that the people were losing the battle and that all would be lost if he did not intercede on their behalf.
For a while it appeared that his plea fell on deaf ears. Spruce remained silent on the matter. The people that remained, left to guard the planet were strong in their resolution to oppose Flint, they just did not possess the means necessary to even the playing field, say nothing of actually winning the war.
Under Flint’s influence, the people began to fight amongst themselves on the right way to defeat Flint. Flint saw this as an opportunity and played into this – pooling malcontentedness where he could, caring for festering feelings and enmity toward their brothers and sisters.
On the eve of a particularly cold and bitter winter night, in the midst of a great battle amongst the people, warring amongst themselves, tearing at each other to the brink of desolation, their prayer, long since forgotten, was finally answered.
He came. Spruce returned one last time.
He returned to us not in the form we remembered, but as another great man: Dekanawida – known to us as the great Peacemaker.
He came to a man, a Mohawk man – Aiionwa’tha – who sat grieving near a lake over the butchering of his entire family during a recent battle. The Peacemaker consoled the man in his desolate grief. Tears that seemed to have no end found peace as he spoke to the man. Though not because of his words, but of the calming peace that emanated from every part of him.
Resolved that the warring amongst the people had to end, the Peacemaker implored Aiionwa’tha to help him bring the people together. Using the analogy of a bundle of arrows, he explained that they would get the warring peoples to understand that a single arrow could easily be broken, but combined and of like purpose, they were nearly unbreakable.
The Peacemaker was no great orator. But what he did possess was that calming and abiding peace. It was hard work to bring the people together, but under Aiionwa’tha’s impassioned tongue, and the Peacemaker’s influence, the people began to respond and see the way to the Great Law of Peace, uniting the five nations – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca – to a common goal and purpose. Like those bundle of arrows, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy became strong.
But Spruce had a higher purpose in mind.
In their slumber as he visited each nation, he gifted the people with the ability to engage his brother and his twisted beasts. His gift would come in the form of preternatural powers that would manifest themselves in unique and powerful ways. Not every man – and later, woman – could answer its call.
At first, Spruce chose warriors who he observed showed the most promise; who were sound of heart and character and ultimately would not abuse the powerful sacred knowledge given to them by the Creator through him.
So the Tewakenonhnè or Guardians, as they came to be known, trained under Spruce’s tutelage in this way. As a warrior moved into his declining years – provided he had survived that long for the work was often lonely, grueling and for the most part, hidden from Haudenosaunee life – it would be up to the aging warrior to choose an able bodied young man culled from the village into the Guardianship and pass on the knowledge.
Sensing the people had taken up the cause for themselves, Spruce decided to take his final leave from us. He gave us every tool we would need to succeed. The rest, he instructed, was up to us.
As he left, he approached the faithkeeper of the Onondaga nation, and gave him a special wampum belt. Not of the white an indigo beads we crafted of our own, this belt, silver and shimmering like the ripples of a lake, is the most powerful and sacred of them all.
Gifted with this final tool to assist him in managing the Guardianship, he became the Guardian’s first Central. He alone would bear the responsibility of the Guardian’s care, welfare and their training. He was not their master insomuch as their caretaker, their counselor, and their elder voice when need arose in the Grand Council for the Guardians to be heard.
“This is the way of the people, this is how the Tewakenonhnè came to be.”
The fog wound itself in and around the trees as if the cloudy moisture would spiral up around their massive trunks, enveloping and protecting each white pine from the evening’s events. Their white tendrils glowing softly in the nearly eclipsed double-moons.
Ati’ron ran as fast as his youthful feet would carry him. Sweat beaded across his upper lip, dripped from his chin and onto the length of this bare torso as he tore through the forest. If he stood still, for even the briefest of moments, the cold would have seeped into his bones from the frigid autumnal air.
His senses bristled, everything about him on alert that he was being pursued on all sides. Thankfully, he had one element in his favor: he knew this area along the river well. He grew up here and throughout his childhood he had played along this river. Born from these lands, he would be hard pressed to come up short by some sort of surprise along its terrain. Its formations and indentations –the weft and warp of his very soul.
But he witnessed something that disturbed that for all time tonight.
It started innocently enough, he was out training with his teacher this afternoon; a man that was very well respected in the confederacy. It was said that he actually knew the Peacemaker himself. Ati’ron, though barely a young man of thirteen himself, thought that his teacher looked old enough that the rumor might actually be true.
Their practice started out with the basics, but in recent months they evolved into more the advanced teachings his teacher began to press he master. Tonight Tiyanoga, his mentor, decided to take him out to the river along a ravine that was about two miles away from their home to apply those techniques. After an hour or so into them Tiyanoga proceeded to gather herbs and other necessities from the surrounding forest while his pupil continued his training near the river’s edge.
Twigs snapped under Ati’ron’s feet. His breathing was becoming labored. Though physically fit for a young pre-teen boy, it had been sometime since he had run this hard over this great a distance. He turned his head to either side only to find the attackers pursuing him with renewed diligence. The patters of their feet crunching the flora debris around him on all sides felt like ants crawling over his body. They raced around him like the sinewy fog that meandered through the trees, slipping with ease as if the terrain held very little challenge for them. As they gave chase he could distinctly hear their jaws snapping at the air hoping in vain, for the time being, to catch some piece of boy flesh within their maw.
Without looking back he could feel one of them gaining ground on the distance he had fought so hard to put between them. Why hadn’t he listened to his teacher when he was showing him how to slip-run?
Memories of his first attempt flashed across his mind of that feeling of slipping through space and time in a flash. Only in that attempt he nearly ended up right off the side of a deep ravine and a potential plummet to his death. After that scare he was reticent about pursuing it further. Something Tiyanoga would consistently push him toward mastering. Now he was deeply regretting on putting it off for as long as he did.
He hastily reached over his shoulder and pulled an arrow from the quiver he had strapped to his back. The tips gleamed in what little light the night had spared; they were made from the very stone named for the foe he was now facing. He could feel the creature clapping it’s jaws as if nipping at the air between his snout and the heels peddling before him would help close the distance, or at the very least intimidate the boy into the terrifying demise that surely awaited him.
Just as the creature closed in on him the boy disappeared from sight. It took a few milliseconds longer for the creature to realize that he had simply jumped from a small precipice and had slipped below the horizon.
The creature pushed further and leapt from the same jumping point the boy had used. While in mid-air the beast thought he should see the boy in the distance continuing his run back to the village which was now within easy viewing from where they were. He knew others in the village would be coming to help the boy, he needed to finish his work now. The Master would not be pleased to find out the boy had escaped. His mate, a vile she-wolf who lived to mercilessly taunt and cause great amounts of pain had moved off to chase Tiyanoga down and kill him; two more souls turned for the Master.
As the wolf cleared the stone precipice, his fur rising on the attack, he finally spotted the boy just below him bow strung and an arrow notched into the bowstring; the boy struggling to maintain his focus in the face of his exhaustion.
With the single word puncturing the night air in between his deep breathless exhaustion he uttered: “Yotekhà …” and the arrow was loosed just as the creature was about to land. Though stressed to the point of snapping and losing his mind with what he’d seen, the boy’s aim found its mark. The beast’s final cry cut through the night, all at once a human scream and the howling of a wolf. As the arrow pierced the skin a fire-like pain coursed throughout its pulmonary system literally searing from within. The wolf’s fur caught fire and the creature’s eyes melted in their sockets; the final vision etched into the final memory of the beast was of the impending leaf covered ground its body was about to crash into before the engulfing flames consumed it in a fiery comet. The remains, flame licked bones, sinew and bloodied fur, skidded along the earth and scorched the leaves with small flames that were in its landing path.
The others in the pack suddenly stopped their pursuit and howled rage into the night air. The boy breathed hard and uncontrollably bent over bracing himself against falling over by placing both hands onto his knees. He felt like he wanted to wretch, he had expended nearly too much energy in the chase. The smell emanating from the burning leaves where the creature had met its fiery death smelled like fetid, rotting meat which didn’t help in settling his stomach. He heaved just once from the pit of his stomach with a little spittle taking flight from the edge of his lips and into the night air. Puffs of heated breaths accompanied his dry wretch.
Above, he could hear the others pacing around clearly within striking distance. The only reason they must have stopped was that Ati’ron must have just killed the alpha of the pack and they were somewhat confused on how to proceed. Maybe this is how Flint’s hordes worked? Could this be a weakness he needed to ask his teacher about? Something they could exploit to their mutual advantage?
Tiyanoga! In his haste to flee as he was told, he’d completely forgotten about his teacher being surrounded as he took flight back to the village. He needed to go back! But how? Ati’ron turned around to see the other Guardians making their way out of the village and toward where he now stood.
That was all his mind could muster. But how could he? He barely had the energy to stand where he was. The was only one way he was going to get there without complete exhaustion; which he knew wouldn’t help Tiyanoga if he arrived beyond exhaustion.
His only recourse was to slip-run to get to him. He clamored up the side of the precipice; leaves and bits of dirt colliding with his face as he cleared the top of the rocky landing.
Distracted for only a moment, the wolf pack renewed their attack once they saw Ati’ron clear the small cliff. They began to pace about the boy surrounding him as best they could for the kill. Ati’ron could hear the Guardians of his village coming. He felt arrows sing in the night air as they connected with their corresponding targets. It took only a few fiery displays to disburse the pack and send them into retreat. If he was to assist Tiyanoga it had to be now!
He quickly cleared all irrelevant thoughts and concentrated mentally to establish a complete image in his mind of the layout of the land he had just traversed. He had to have an absolute picture of where he and his teacher were so he could slip to him. One mistake could land him in an even more perilous position, something no one would be grateful for attempting.
He saw the path. His eyes narrowed and he could sense in the distance the point he needed to reach. He could do this…he knew he could. He could hear his teacher speaking softly into his ear as if he were right there to guide him forward. “Focus, will yourself to the other point. Find its point and anchor yourself to it – that was the hard part. Then pull yourself to it – it all seemed so easy when he said it like that.” He could do it … he had to!
“Okay, NOW!” He clenched his stomach, which was already a churned up mess, and steeled himself to the oncoming sensation of your soul being ripped slowly, as if peeled, from your body. That was followed by the pin-like pricking sensation behind the eyes that darkened your vision to a deep blood red color where he could only make rough outlines of his surroundings. He barely felt his right foot make the first move and he was already in the slipstream. He could feel the center-point of his destination just there beyond his reach. Now was not the time to lose control. Almost instinctively he reached out with his mind to seize it, as if to hold it in the palm of his hand.
As he neared his destination suddenly a white pine he didn’t remember slammed into his right shoulder. It shuddered violently and he was tossed slightly to his left and came crashing down into the earth in a rush of pain and dirt. His mind was racing he could feel the breath of a hot fetid animal to the right of his shoulder and he rolled instinctively and was onto his feet with his bow up and an arrow notched before he even knew he had accomplished it.
Within seconds he was joined by six other Guardians from the village who appeared, to a casual observer, as if out of thin air. Fortunately enough his abrupt stop had landed him within a foot of his teacher. Who was lashing out with luminescent tendrils that seemed to coalesce out of thin air around the fingers of his hands. Ati’ron had never witnessed anything like this! Tiyanoga moved them about with a whip like action at the she-wolf who was pacing back and forth, gauging where her next move would be; looking for that weak link in his formidable presence. Ati’ron knew at that moment more than any other just what kind of master of their sacred knowledge he had been learning from.
From here he also got a real look at the beasts that were sent out to take them down. From a far off glance across the woods they would appear as any other wolf but for the larger torso and broader chest and head.
Upon closer inspection it was clear that the similarities stopped there. Their teeth were much finer than their canine counterparts, almost needle-like in their precision savagery. The snout, which alternated between fur and a lizard-like scale was a constant river of drool and a slime-like venom that dripped from their snake-like canines that would snap like a rattler into a life threatening strike.
He spared a quick glance at his teacher to take stock of how he had handled the situation before his arrival. At first it appeared that he was okay but a second look revealed a small puncture wound on his lower right calf muscle just above the ankle. The wound had some of the greenish-yellow slime oozing from the lip of the puncture. He could also see that the muscle of his calf was starting to collapse, much like it was losing life altogether and rotting on the bone.
Ati’ron knew he didn’t have much time to resolve this whole stand-off if he was to get his teacher back to the village and some immediate care. For a split second it seemed like all time stood still. Every being present taking full stock of their opponent, then just like water cresting over a dam the whole stand-off teetered on the brink before turning into complete chaos.
The she-wolf lunged forward in a flurry of claws and razor sharp teeth just as Tiyanoga sank to the knee of his injured leg. The field surrounding him, shielding him from her attack weakened and began to fall. Ati’ron knew he needed to strike now. He flung his body directly in her path and loosed his arrow. The tip glanced off her forehead but was enough of a threat that it brought her down to the ground hard. She roused herself up and shook off the blow.
Ati’ron reached out with his mind and focused as well as he could in the melee surrounding them both. The she-wolf snarled, then surprisingly she spoke to them both in Mohawk.
“Pretty courageous for a boy. You don’t think that your useless arrows are going to take me down? Just look at your teacher, he isn’t long for this world. Hope he taught you enough. You’re going to need it just to survive what I am going to do to you once I dispatch with him.”
“Stop talking about it and just get to it. You think you can take me? Then let’s do this.” Ati’ron spat at her all the while he was reaching with his mind to the energy that was seeping from Tiyanoga.
Tiyanoga was in agony now but trying to keep a straight face in the sheer pain consuming his lower leg. The others from the village were battling all around them. Both warrior and wolf alike were losing members. Ati’ron didn’t have time to spare taking stock of the score. He had successfully taken hold of the field that Tiyanoga was losing his grip on. He focused the energy just as the she-wolf bounded for a second attack. The shield held as she collided with it. The resounding sound echoed across the ravine as she was repelled back to the ground. She lunged again and this time he was unprepared for the attack and her head pushed at the limits of the shield and penetrated through her jaws snapping at the air just in front of his face. Their razor-like fangs mere inches from his nose. He removed his hand from the bowstring, reached around to his ankle, and pulled up the blade he had stowed there. In one move he thrust it forward deep into the throat of the beast.
She howled and sputtered blood and venom all around. Her thrashing around dislodged the handle of his blade from his hand. In two further shakes it slipped from her lower jaw. She had put all four paws onto the shield and was applying great pressure to bring her head back out of the shield. He couldn’t hold it much longer. Saturated with blood and venom the sick, rancid smell of her breath he let go of the field but she had a plan of her own.
As she sensed his withdrawal from the energy lines she used the same field to grab the boy and rip him from where he was planted. He was pulled from the ground, went careening over the side of the ravine embankment, and tumbled head over feet down to the river’s edge and plunging into its darkest depths. The icy water lacerating his body from all sides.
No time to think on that now. Get back to your teacher!
As he struggled to swim up and break the surface, he sensed the she-wolf enter the water as well. He was fully unprepared for her agility under the water. She sped immediately toward him. He wasted no further time in getting to the surface.
The current was strong and to get away from her he had to swim upstream. She seemed much more powerful a swimmer than he. As he broke the surface he had the good fortune of seeing a low-lying branch hovering just above the waters surface. He lunged for it as he was carried past.
The she-wolf had immediately changed course and spun in the water toward where he had pulled himself onto the branch and was squatted against another branch of the tree for balance. He saw her approach and he pulled an arrow from the quiver still tied to his back. The arrow he chose was a special one. He had worked for well over a year on it. There were ancient markings given to him by Tiyanoga during his trainings. Literally his blood and sweat were born into the arrow. It’s tip, dark flint, was still tinged with the dried blood from his own hand that he gave several moon cycles ago. It was the last of a long set of rituals to bring the arrow very powerful medicine to complete the task it was set for. Tonight was time for that task.
Ati’ron could see the wolf maneuvering under the surface and was now within ten feet of were he was on the branch. The fact that she wasn’t out of breath under the water and could move so easily within its strong current was proof she was a creature of Flint’s own making. In the next instant as he pondered this she broke the surface and was within a foot of him when he loosed the arrow.
He felt it connect with her throat from within her mouth where the tip shattered upon contact literally ripping the head of the beast into bits. Blood, bone and flesh were flung from the fatal wound and the body slammed with all the force of gravity back into the water.
Ati’ron stood there for a second breathing a bit harsh when he realized his teacher was still at the top of the ravine and the venom had more than enough time to take full effect. He ran up the branch and scurried up the embankment using his hands to grip branches, brush and vines wherever he could.
As soon as he reached the top he stopped.
The battle was all but ended. Four of the six warriors were left standing; two with serious but survivable wounds. Their opponents didn’t fare as well.
He saw Tiyanoga collapsed onto the earthen floor almost in exactly the same position he had left him in.
“Tiyanoga!” Ati’ron called out and moved quickly to his teacher practically sliding under his head and propping it up, as gently as he could, onto his curved knee.
“Ati’ron,” he said softly through labored breaths, “You must listen to me now more than ever. It is too late for me.” Seeing Ati’ron’s growing protestation he continued quickly, “No! Now is not a time for debate. I know what I speak of. Listen! Remember what I told you about bringing your thoughts into focus. Only then can you see the dark marks of the enemy.”
He coughed and some blood spewed from his mouth. Ati’ron did not react when Tiyanoga’s bloody spittle hit his face. It bore little concern for him.
“You are truly a great find, Ati’ron. I have been so proud of your dedication and your fearlessness and that you were mine. But now you must go. Leave me to my fate. Whatever you do from here out, promise me two things.” Tiyanoga was really struggling to keep focus in the delivery of his last teaching.
Ati’ron nodded, “Of course, ask anything of me and I will make it my life vow.”
“Remember what I taught you. But be innovative in how you apply it. Creativity is your strongest suit, you need to learn to trust it. One day, many years from now, your grandchildren will speak of you with great awe and reverence. Not because of your talents, but because of the man you will become. Become that man for me. Take hold and never lose sight of it. Promise me!” Pain and tears moved across his face as he was slowly losing his battle to maintain control.
Ati’ron saw small droplets hitting his teacher’s face but there was no cloud above to bring rain now, only to realize, his own tears dotted his teacher’s face.
“And the other promise?”
“Get up and leave. Don’t look back, whatever you do. No matter what you hear, no matter how tempted you might be to watch I need you to be strong and abandon my body as if you never knew it. You must do this! Go! Go now! I cannot hold it back any longer. Go! Please!” Tiyanoga cried out in a desperate whisper that crecendoed to a strangled plea.
Ati’ron kissed his teacher’s forehead, tears mingling with that soft kiss. He got up as he was told and though everything in his body and mind told him to stay and take care of the man who had become the single most influential man in his life next to his father and grandfather, he ran. He did as he was instructed. He would keep his promise no matter the cost. Tears streaked across his face knowing that his teacher was losing the battle against Flint and that if Tiyanoga, with all of the wondrous power he had amassed over his life could fall, how soon would he meet his own end?
He heard anguished cries as his beloved teacher was in the last throws of his rapidly emaciating body.
If he were to turn around he would have envisioned the final thing his teacher wanted to protect him from in his new life: as the light of his soul ascended from the body, its vessel decayed rapidly into an ashen mass. As that brilliant blue-white wisp of light took flight, a tentacle of dark energy lashed out from the decayed mass and ensnared it. For a moment, the light struggled against it, writhing against the dark strand until the light could fight no more and fell back to the earth in a semi-solid state, a small puff of dirt billowed where it collided there. For a moment, Tiyanoga’s spirit rippled and shone brightly, but in refusing death his prize, the light began to turn, take shape and from the decrepit mass that was Tiyanoga a new being began to form. The skin of this new creature darkened considerably to a deep black and almost reptilian in texture and appearance. After the transformation, it did not move. It did not breathe. The forest life became still, holding a collective breath the maligned creature’s presence promise of death and destruction. A stillness permeated every crevice of this part of the forest.
It took a long protracted first breath, before releasing it as an audible hiss.
When its eyes suddenly opened, they glowed with a deathly blood red – savage, brutal bringers of dark light, filled with malice and dark thoughts behind them. It raised itself up from the ground as if riding on the wind only to set foot to land gently on its feet. As it made contact with the ground, he became more solid. Tiyanoga, born into a new life, inwardly swelled with raw unfettered power. Who or what had granted him this he could not be sure. But he knew there would be time enough to ponder upon that. He sat up, taking in his surroundings, finally focusing on the retreating boy – the boy’s soft sobs caressing his preternatural ears.
He watched his former student depart over the horizon. There’s a good little lad, he thought. Always did as he was told. We shall soon meet again, little one; and then I will have the upper hand.
And with that last, he moved up into the air a bit and hovered for a few seconds then moved backwards and faded into the dark recesses of the ravine rock wall some ten feet behind him. A malevolent unspoken promise buried in his dark red luminescent eyes. Those eyes, the last to be seen as the crevices of the earthen wall closed in around him – a smile breaking across his sublimely handsome, wicked face as he watched the last of Ati’ron clear the horizon and slip from sight.
Until Next Time …
Announcing – The Cove Chronicles
So I’ve not posted anywhere lately. Seems to be a theme with not only me but several authors out there. I don’t think it’s intentional, but when you write it takes a lot out of you. I’ve just published two works that were but a few months apart. So, sorta busy on my end doing other stuff that authors do. Get the work out, and then start to promo it.
I am terrible with promo. I just hate being that guy who keeps screeching “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!” to the masses when most of those masses tend to be other authors. Like singing solos to the choir … I suppose. Well, that’s the way it feels.
BUT, there’s been other stuff in the works, too.
I’ve had this little gem of a story brewing for some time. In fact, I was working on it when Angels descended and took over my life. I can say now, as an author, NEVER utter those words that will doom you to the ninth level of writing hell:
Oh, this one will be easy. I’ll bang it out in a month or so.
Yeah, that soooooo doesn’t happen.
But moving on … With two works out on my Angels of Mercy series I think I am taking a small breather to get back to what I was writing before. It is a Sci-Fi novel (or as my husband calls them – Sifee (he hates the short term Sci-Fi and constantly makes fun of the SyFy channel – don’t get him going on that one, I’m just sayin’). But it’s a Sci-Fi/Sifee novel with Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Indians (ya know, my peeps) at it’s core. Gonna represent with this one.
It’s no small secret that my last post started a small fire storm in a Queer Sci-Fi Facebook group when I called JK Rowling out on cultural appropriation. She was guilty (IMHO) of such because she white-washed the Navajo culture in favor of her own books. My stories are based on Haudenosaunee culture (Mohawks, Oneida, Tuscarora, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca (moving from the eastern door to the west)). Yet, I am doing it with a solid eye to being respectful, even if I am turning some of our core myths on end to tell my tale. First off, it’s set in an alternate universe, very much like our own but there are some events that did not happen here that have occurred there that subtly change the course of my people and I think it’s fairly epic. Can’t wait to get this one rolling.
I am calling it The Cove Chronicles.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share with you a piece of the prologue – told by a Clan Mother who is present for the birthing of twins who will change everything for the course of mankind on the planet. It’s an ominous birth, one that brings as much hope as it does doom. It’s a work in progress (WIP), so some of what I post here and in The Works section of my site are subject to change as I work on it and move through the editing process. But this is where it is now.
Mohawks, Sci-Fi (masquerading as magic), and the epic battle of twin brothers – Good (Spruce and his Haudenosaunee Guardians) and Evil (Flint and his Flintlings) and how a world very like our own hangs in the balance. The narrator of this prologue is not from the central protagonists of my story. Indeed, she is a character from their distant past. But she is important because she is the first to truly see what is going on around their people and is present when everything changes.
A note about the prose: The vernacular is leaning to the prose of the 1820s but with a keen eye to Audrey not coming to English as her first language (which is Mohawk). So there was a slight shift I am employing where Mohawk conceptual speech is trying to fit the English mode. It isn’t supposed to be an easy fit.
So without further ado, as they say, I give you Audrey Brandt, a Clan Mother to the Mohawk people as she tells you Where It All Began … Again:
Wherein we meet Clan Mother Audrey Brant who recounts the ominous birth of William and Rebecca Hallett
Where It All Began … Again
Hallett’s Cove, New York
September 3, 1821 – 3:12 PM
The problem is, you see, I have seen things. I have always seen things that others do not. I assume it had been this way from the tender age of seven when I happened upon a peculiar metallic ball while roaming the forests outside of my village. It was very like those they shoot out of a cannon, I remember thinking at the time. I did not go looking for it. I found it just laying there, tucked in amongst the brush, waiting to be discovered.
At first glance it appeared as an ordinary cannonball, save that this ball possessed the smoothest, shiniest, silver I had ever seen. Beyond that, it did not appear as if anything remarkable separated it from any other sphere. It had no markings or etchings to make clear its intent. It seemed as any other.
That is, until I dared to get closer. Oddly enough, I could not deny that it begged me to draw near.
Though apparently solid, it did have moments when something inside seemed to ripple across its smooth surface. When it did, I peered into it, and it began to assume a life of its own – as if my presence woke it from a deep slumber. As I watched it, it seemed to undulate and glow with amber and green light that would ripple across its surface as if something just under its shimmering silvery coat beckoned to be noticed.
That light, hypnotic and wild, would occasionally bubble up from within. I felt a wary smile move across my lips. I found myself quite beyond being intrigued. I felt drawn to it. This here, whatever its truer nature, could not be confused with anything mundane. Rather, it appeared … magical.
Its allure beckoned me. Try as I might to resist its call, I found I could not help myself – so I touched it.
The shock I received from that simple touch threw me back on my hindquarters several feet away with the back of my head colliding with a small log. No small doubt the pain most assuredly expressed itself plain upon my face when I landed. I tried to rouse myself, but found it very hard to do. I’d nearly been knocked unconscious. Without much in the way of warning the orb hummed, I gave in to its call and everything went black.
When I came to, bearing a slight headache, I remember feeling quite disoriented; though as soon as I gathered my wits about me, I noticed the ball had gone. I gruffly pulled myself up, putting my hands to my hips, realizing how rude to have some passing stranger abscond with the silvery ball and not bothering to assist a girl in need. Who would have taken it and not bothered to lend me hand? That troubled me greatly as I slowly started to make my way home.
Hearing my mother’s clucking tongue in my head, only because I knew she would berate me for my shaken appearance, I did my best to dust myself off. Only I as I did so I discovered, to my shock while ambling over the countryside, I was not alone. I could not see who it was at first. All I heard was the fluttering of air, like hundreds of birds taking flight, moving about me with alarming speed.
My eyes tried to follow the wisp of shadow as it weaved in between the tall pines. At times it appeared high above me, and at others it seemed to move level to my own position, as if trying to discern its best line of attack. A quite unnerving experience, to say the least. ’Twas no ordinary movement, only one thing could move like that that I had heard of: dark forest spirits.
In truth, I did not know if the apparition could be called as such, but one thing made itself plain – whatever this creature, its motives and movements proclaimed its dangerous nature to me. My only thought: get back home, Audrey … and fast.
As I scrambled over rocks and ravines – doing my seven year old best to reach the village – I saw her. Not a horrifyingly dark frightening forest creature as I had expected, but a breathtaking beautiful woman drifting among the trees, ambling over rock and brush with a snake-like grace.
Though her beauty was undeniable, she bore nothing shy of a malevolent wickedness about her. She was cold. Cold and mirthless. She floated through the forest with an agility that belied naturalness. No tripping over stones or wobbling about like I did. Witchery of some kind to be sure. I had heard of such things. Witches.
It was possible.
When I dared, I allowed my gaze to flit in the darkly woman’s direction. Each time I did, my skin would prickle – as the witch seemed shrouded in a billowing pitch-colored dress that undulated at the ends in wisps of smoke like her presence was burning the space around her. What skin did show glowed ghostly blue-white, even in the light of an overcast day. And her lips, the darkest blood red I’d ever beheld. Her eyes were black as pitch with no whites to them. A most alarming visage.
If I allowed my gaze to linger a second longer I saw that the woman would flicker and shimmer as if not wholly of this world – a tortured spirit caught between this life and the next.
I wish that spoke the worst of it. It did not. For then she bade me, in Mohawk no less, to come closer. It rattled me to the core of my being, I can tell you that. Yet I knew she was not Mohawk no matter how hard she attempted to assume the like. Her soft tones caressed my ears with a beckoning lilt to it, teasing me, as if we were but long lost friends.
The longer we made our way to my village her pursuit enraged me, with her purring giggles and a haunting laugh, as if trying to share a special secret with me that no one else could know. I would remember later that her laugh contained absolutely no humor. Just thinking upon it now, it makes my blood run cold.
But I pressed forward, pausing a couple of times – probably not the smartest thing I had ever done. I was young, and therefore, prone to stupidity and curiosity that my mother said would one day be the end of me. But I knew I should get a better view of the witch – if anything than to inform others. Though, why I felt that it fell to me to do so only confirmed my not understanding things fully – I was very much out of my league. Not surprisingly, each time I tried to get a better look, the witch would alter her parallel course and began to pursue me in earnest, giggling all the while. That damnable giggle. A powerful taunting wrapped up with its maddeningly hypnotic pull upon me. Nothing terrified me more than the idea of something so beautiful and alluring could embody absolute danger and terror. The bait and switch chasing had me in a perilous dance, and one I deeply wished would come to its conclusion.
Several times I swore I could just feel her at the nape of my neck, like the cold rasping hand of death reaching out and barely scraping against the skin. But in those terrifying moments, I did not dare take the time to look, for I knew that would cost my life.
By the time I reached the village, back to the safety of my people, I finally had the courage to turn about and look back, only to find the witch had vanished completely.
I stood there for quite a while, eyeing the forest for her presence but found none.
I always bear witness to unnatural things, things no one else would wish to witness. It has always been a part of my life – a constant, odd and sometimes mortifying companion. Now at the respectable age of seventy-three, I ought to have grown used to it, accustomed to the stares, the small talk behind my back when others do not think I can hear or see them as much as the oddity of seeing such things in the first place.
But the gossipers are mostly the new Americans.
My people, the Haudenosaunee, have other ways of coping with me, though coping may be too strong a word. Even at my age, I am still learning to master the English tongue. I came to it late in life and I must admit that its manner of construction is most strange. Mohawk has a strong visualization to it. The words and phrases are conceptual in nature and structure. I found English a much harder means of communication. Whenever flustered, English made it more difficult to express. I am old now. I supposed it would always be this way until my last breath upon this Earth.
Thunder rumbled outside as my thoughts wandered over that terrifying event so long ago. And while that story had a great deal to do with the events of tonight, it was not the whole story. No, that story had no real conclusion; the conclusion I sought those many years ago would happen tonight. I felt it in my bones. Coldness had taken root and eked into every part of my body. I just could not get warm enough despite the stifling heat of the room.
The violence of the stormy night bellowed about us. A hurricane had engulfed Manhattan and was raging outside. The birthing of babies should present itself as a joyous occasion, a celebration. But this afternoon played itself out to be something altogether different.
As a Clan Mother of my people, the Mohawks of Akwesasne, I have often been present at the birthing of babies. It is the way of things and has been this way for far longer than the people can remember. Birthings are the most potent power women possess – the creation of life.
For the Haudenosaunee, women govern the culture and guide them through the forests of life. It is our responsibility and our birthright to ensure Haudenosaunee longevity. The chiefs and warriors may be out front, but that is only so the women can point over their shoulders to tell them where to go. So a request for the Clan Mothers to be present at a birthing in our territories was quite common place.
To do so elsewhere – not as much.
This birthing however, was proving to be different. As one of our own had married into a prominent New York family and her son, who had also fallen in love with and married a Mohawk maiden, requested the birthing of their baby to be handled in the traditional manner; so they sent for the Clan Mother.
Not to appear out of step with the times, the Hallett patriarch had also sent for a doctor to ensure that should the Clan Mother fail in any way then the doctor would fix it. It frustrated me. I could not understand what he meant by that. As women, as well as Clan Mothers who not only birthed their own, but assisted in countless other births within the nation, we knew what needed to be done and yet this young man who takes money for what comes naturally to us stood by to fix it should it go wrong.
As the English are fond of saying, Poppycock.
Contented that two of our own had married into the prestige of being a Hallett of New York, they did the sensible thing to ensure the birth of their baby was going to be in the traditional way. It was a great comfort to me that even within the halls of New York high society the Mohawks were finally making headway in educating the Americans on civilized customs and behaviors.
Rose, the daughter-in-law and my second grand-niece, began to call out in pain. Her baby was close. Sweat beaded across her brow, and her breaths came out in a rasp. I instructed the burning of Seneca grass and sage to calm her. The bedroom was thick with it.
Rose sipped from willow and white pine tea that was common during the birthing, wincing whether from the taste or the heat, I was unsure. It helped for the most part but her pains were strong. They raged as powerful as the storm outside. Indeed, the very walls of the great Hallett familial home seemed to rattle along with Rose’s birthing pangs, the two of them caught in a horrifying rhythmic dance. When the storm relented, Rose cried out in agony; when she settled, the storm outside raged and rattled the house again. It did everything to shake our nerves.
The other mid-wives, some Clan Mothers from other clans, tended to Rose as best they could – wiping her brow and gripping her hands to guide her through the waves of it. I was sure from Rose’s perspective she was going through the worst pain imaginable, but having seen many of these, I thought it a relatively easy birth.
Thunder rattled the skies above. All eyes cast their gaze momentarily to the ceiling of the room, eyeing the creaking and buckling noises warily. The Sky People, it appeared, had their own agenda tonight.
“She’s calling for John, Elizabeth, and her own mother. I think she would even call for the Christian God himself if she bought into all of that and thought it would help,” Kathryn said as she approached.
My eyes glanced over at Rose who was seated in the wooden birthing chair so it would be easy for her to produce the child when the time came. Many a child came into this world through that chair, though none of those before carried the weight of the birthing happening this night.
My gaze returned to Kathryn and I gave her a look of resignation.
“Let her call them all she wants. The baby will be around for a long time; they can see it after it’s arrived. She knows better, but that is the pain talking.”
Elizabeth Hallett, the expectant grandmother, swept into the room in a simple dark but smartly tailored no-nonsense dress. The rustle of her voluminous skirts turned heads in the room as she made her way to me.
Her confidence seemed to billow the aroma of Seneca sweet grass that seemed to give way with little resistance to her formidable presence. Gracefully composed, as ever the proverbial eye in any storm, she returned to us carrying another small pot of tea.
“She complained about the tea being too bitter, so I…” in unison we stated the obvious, “… added the Maple sugar.”
We all shook our heads and allowed ourselves a small smile for we had been in Rose’s position and knew we should have added the sugar in the first place. Willow-Pine tea carried a brutally bitter bite upon the tongue.
Elizabeth grasped my arm warmly. It was her way of letting me know how much she appreciated my presence. Elizabeth smiled briefly before turning to take in the rest of the women busy with caring for Rose.
“Heavens, it is warm and thick with the grass in here.”
“That is Patricia’s doing. She’s always heavy handed with the grass. She would burn the meadow bare if she had her way,” I said as I poured a small cup of the tea and handed it to Kathryn who spared no time in getting it to Rose.
Another cry rang out as a wave overtook Rose’s resolve to remain calm. As it abated, the house groaned again as wind and water pounded heavily upon the window panes. Not that any of us could spare the time to observe the storm as Elizabeth’s husband had all of the home’s windows shuttered up against it, say nothing of the birthing pulling focus. There was but one small sliver of light where the warp of two boards did not quite meet up. That sliver was our only connection to the outside world. But we did not have time for taking in the storm, as a baby pushed to make its way into this world.
I began to move in Rose’s direction, to guide her through the final stages of birth, when the room swayed before me. The walls seemed to liquefy, rippling as if they were melting in place. Only one thing I could think of would cause this: the sight was coming on again.
Not now, I thought. The child needs me.
A shrill from Rose shocked the room. In that moment a chill ran through my heart for I thought I heard a small laugh nestled within that cry. It was a mirthless laugh, a malicious teasing laugh. I staggered for a moment. I could feel the pull against my life, sapping energy from my limbs as it leeched across my body to my very core and I had no way of stopping it. Like that seven year old girl being pursued in the forest I found myself truly frightened – convinced that I was on the precipice of my own demise.
“Audrey, she needs you.” Elizabeth nodded in Rose’s direction before turning to me where she saw my pained expression and asked, “Are you … alright?”
I braced myself against Elizabeth’s offered hand and the small bedside table for support. I shook my head to try to clear it. When my eyes focused again, I was in shock at what I saw: there before me were two glowing points of light undulating within the belly of Rose, each bearing down toward their entrance into this world.
“Twins …” I felt the words sputter from my lips before I scarce realized I had said it.
“Twins? Did you say … twins?” Elizabeth asked bewilderedly as she helped me to a full stance. I nodded. The very air was sapped from my lungs; I struggled as if attempting to breathe under water. But through it all, my gaze never wavered from the sight of those two glowing lights as they made their way to the birthing.
“They are coming …” I barely managed a rasp out to the other women as I struggled to focus on getting back into the fray. The doctor came forward and placed a cone shaped tube to her belly. With a sudden burst of energy that I did not know I possessed, I knocked the boy-doctor aside.
“Out of my way, child. This is women’s work.”
Rose’s cry escalated into a piercing shrill, if that were at all possible, as she suddenly removed herself from the birthing chair and squatted as instructed. She bore down with a guttural cry as the crown of the first baby’s head made its way into this world.
The door to the bedroom suddenly opened and John, the father, obviously concerned in the change of his wife’s cry, had come to investigate. His father, James, was on his heels as they both stepped into the room.
“It’s time, James.” The doctor approached the men. “The Clan Mother thinks it is twins.”
“Twins?” John murmured, as if the thought had never occurred to him that his family would be off to such a grand start. James clasped a firm hand upon his son’s shoulder and the men beamed at each other before embracing briefly.
“No time for celebrations just now. They have yet to be born,” Elizabeth called to both of them. The men nodded and eased back to the edge of the room in an attempt to stay out of the way.
“Quiet now; here comes the first!” I called out as my hands cradled the head of the first child as it pressed its way into the room. Thunder roared overhead. The wind howled surrounding the arrival of the first child, announcing to the world that the birth of these babies carried an ominous tone.
The great house shuddered and groaned. Thunder pounded upon the roofline. I looked at the boy I held in my hands as I received him into the world and began to wrap him up into a swaddling cloth. The other women moved in to tend to the afterbirth as I guided the young boy to the birthing cradle. My eyes tried in vain to focus upon him but he kept shifting and vibrating. I thought it must be something wrong with me, that I became overwhelmed with everything. To calm myself I ran my hands into a hot bath of water to wash away the birthing when my breath caught. A bone-chilling moment overcame me, leeching it out of my body and turning the water to an ice slurry in a matter of seconds. A puff a humid air billowed from my lips. The temperature of the room seemed to drop about 20 degrees within a matter of seconds.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the men in the room, seemingly unaware of the change in their surroundings, faces alight with delight of the birth of a healthy son. As I slowly turned, I became rattled by the way the room was beginning to lose its form. Walls rippled and undulated all about me, yet no one else seemed to take note of it.
A bright flash cut through the room as the shutters were forced open from their frames. In the brilliance of the lightning, the room became crowded with a collection of Haudenosaunee warriors. Unseen by everyone else, these spectral shapes dominated the available space in the room. These warriors were the likes I had never seen. Proud warriors in full battle readiness; they were silent sentinels who had but one focus in the room: the birth of these babies.
I knew at that moment that the others were watching. This was no normal birthing. A new chapter in Haudenosaunee history was being born.
Though I had never witnessed them myself, I knew what they were: the Unnaturals, preternatural beings akin to the Sky People of old, spirits who seemed to look like us but with a pallid, violet blue-white skin of the beyond. Each warrior bore different images and small patterns and pictorials tattooed upon their skin that changed and undulated across their flesh. They were creatures of immense power. As the storm continued to rage, pulsating lights seemed to burst from within their expansive bare torsos, matching the intensity of the thunder outside as if somehow the bombastic nature of the weather were tied to them.
They did not simply come with the hurricane. They were the hurricane.
I could not bear seeing them any longer and in haste I balled my fists to my clenched eyes to clear the vision. I did not know if I could make it through the birth of the second child. I feared losing my grip upon this world when I was needed most.
I kept my eyes closed to the horror of it, taking a moment to breathe deeply, begging for them to disburse … to leave us to our work. When I dared to open them, I was relieved that the warriors had all gone. But the oppressive feeling of their presence remained. They were still there, just on the other side, unseen. Their arrival served to underscore the significance of these births. These children were being watched and not necessarily by a benevolent presence, either. The Others were tricky; one never really knew the measure of their allegiance.
“Have to get back to her …” I stammered under my breath. My once sure and direct hands suddenly felt feeble and failing. I could see the light flickering within Rose’s groin, too much time passed between the birthings. She was going to lose the second child.
Rose’s head snapped up, her eyes wild with fear. “Something’s wrong. I can feel it.”
She looked at me pleadingly. She began to panic. I plucked up every ounce of energy I could muster and leapt into action.
“Look at me, Rose,” placing my hands on either side of her frightened face, trying to pull the woman from the terrified girl, attempting to catch her frenzied gaze, I tried with everything I had to soothe her rattled heart. “You will not lose this one. She’s much too important.”
Now, why I said that to her, I was not sure. I had no reason at all to assume that the second child would be female, much less the influence she would have in this world. But sometimes these things just come to you. I’d learned not to argue with it when it happened.
Rose nodded – together, she realized, we could do this.
I began to chant a song her grandmother had sung to her whenever she needed calming. As soon as I cooed the first few syllables I felt the room shudder. Some of the other mid-wives looked about the ceiling wondering if the home would hold against the storm or if, in the next moment, we all would be swept into oblivion. Without much warning the flickering light of the second child grew in earnest and pressed forward.
Her time had come.
“Now, Rose … NOW!” I called out and Rose did as I bade her. With every ounce of strength between us we brought the second child into this world. She was radiant. Her skin literally glowed in my hands. The delicate flower of a girl already had the fine wisps of dark auburn hair that was prevalent within the Hallett line. Had the brother had this trait as well? I honestly could not recall.
As I handed the girl to Kathryn and Elizabeth, I turned and saw the men as happy as they could be. I could only feel relief that I had made it through. The other women could tend to the clean-up there after.
Then, without warning, everything stopped. The sound of the storm suddenly abated. There was silence. Even the babies had calmed themselves from their birthing cries. A soft shaft of sunlight poured into the room, giving the moment a subtle glow, bathing it in tranquility. Every person seemed rooted to their spot. No one moved a muscle.
As soon as I moved the action in the room seemed to pick up again, as no one else had been trapped between time and for that single radiant moment the possibility of peace was real.
I took up the birthing chair as the other mid-wives got Rose back into bed. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, grateful that the birthing was finished and somehow everyone survived. For the next few moments I allowed myself to be wrapped up in finding a way to return to normal breathing. Just the flow of air to and from my lungs calmed me immensely and I relished these few moments to gather myself from the entire event.
“The storm seems to have let up. Heaven itself is welcoming these two brilliant children into this world,” James said brightly as he lit his pipe. How much I wished his sentiment were right, though inwardly I knew it could just as easily have been the reverse.
“Audrey, do you require anything? Something to eat or drink?” John asked as he knelt next to the chair taking my right hand into his. I could tell by his touch how deeply he felt the blessing these children brought into his life. I gently squeezed his hand to let him know I appreciated his gratitude. A wave of nausea overcame me, I became a bit light-headed.
My eyes fluttered open … and saw her.
The only creature that had ever truly frightened me. Gone, the days of forgetting her evil beauty. Gone, the intervening sixty-six years as if they had not happened at all. Within the span of but a few seconds, I was that frightened little girl again in the forest with Hell’s Witch upon my back. Only now, instead of upon my heel she faced me directly.
She was standing there behind James Hallett and to my great horror no one else seemed to notice or care. Time had not changed her radiant beauty. She was as luminescent as ever in the semi-darkened room. I lifted a hand and began to point at James. Every warning in my head began to sound, the horror of the witch’s presence pressing upon me. I was rattled, in shock. I found, to my confused dismay, I just could not get the words out to warn them all.
John looked at me quizzically and turned to his father for advice. James shrugged at my bewildered state.
WHY COULD THEY NOT SEE HER STANDING THERE?
I stammered with some spittle flying from my lips, “There, look out! Get … away … from him.”
I waved my hand about in the air as if swatting unseen flies. Everyone stopped what they were doing when they heard me. They looked quizzically to each other, not knowing how to respond to my frenzied antics.
The beautiful woman, completely shrouded in the same dark, ominous-looking tresses, her face and limbs the only thing protruding from the smoky visage, smiled wickedly as if this were the shared secret between us that no one else would ever be privy. She flickered in and out of existence. My eyes widened. Wracked with frustration, I couldn’t understand that no one else knew the danger the witch represented.
Though I had not laid eyes upon her in over sixty-six years, I knew that vile creature for what she was … she was death or something akin to it and she had come to claim a soul.
Helplessly, I watched as the witch moved around to James’ side and slipped one arm around his waist and the other she seductively ran up his chest and leaned her head against his shoulder. She pouted playfully at me, feigning an apology for what we both knew she was about to do, confident in the knowledge that no one would believe me should I even speak about what I saw.
“No, not James … not today” I muttered mournfully, knowing that the plea would fall upon deaf ears.
The seductress smiled again and plunged her hand into James’ chest. I knew what she was doing; she was squeezing the life out of his heart. A man who had loved Elizabeth so deeply that he had endured the scandal of marrying a Mohawk woman and bringing her into New York high society, of ensuring that the family was firmly rooted in both worlds. A man who had a heart big enough to love all who knew him and to be generous with that love of life and spirit. And now it was being crushed, obliterated, swept aside as if his presence was no longer required. His smile faded from his face, the pipe fell from his hand, his eyes dimmed and he was gone. He crumpled to the ground before his pipe hit the floor.
Elizabeth screamed as she and John rushed to his limp body. When I looked up at the she-witch, Death’s paramour, she had moved to a different part of the room. She hovered above the bed where the twins lay with their mother. Slowly, suspended from the dark billowing smoke that coursed about her, she lowered herself like a Black Widow moving in for the kill – a small hiss escaping from her lips. Her ravenous gaze moved slowly over each child, a cold hunger coursing through her. Then, without any indication why, she turned to look at me square in the eye with a deadly stare and a wicked smile before silently drifting up into the darkness of the ceiling and out of sight.
In the massive bed Rose sobbed as she cradled the crying babies in her arms. The room was consumed with grief from James’ untimely death. The doctor had immediately rushed to James’ side but I knew it was no use. He was gone. There was no bringing him back.
I leaned forward and pressed my face into my hands and wept with the enormity of the moment. The children’s birth would be forever marred with the ring of death. It was an inauspicious and yet a powerful revelatory moment, one that would prove to have far greater resonance in the time to come.
Until next time …
The Power of Betas
Who knew? I know I sure as hell didn’t.
Now, you might be thinking, and rightly so, what the hell is he going on about now?
Well, I’ll tell ya.
Sometime last year I began to get quite interested in being a writer. It’s not something new. I’ve had these stories burning in my head – albeit on very far away and distant back burners, mind you – that needed me to get on with the telling.
So last year I began to start writing in earnest. I was writing mostly for me. I still am to a great degree. It doesn’t matter if no one else really likes what I am doing. I like it and that’s the bar I need to hit – as a matter of reference I am never quite satisfied with any creative work I do so that bar is probably a helluva lot higher than any of the critics out there could begin to tear down.
In any event, I began writing.
First it was a story that had been passed back and forth between my husband and myself – an alternate history dealing with Natives from the America’s and the ‘what if’ of a little known and oft missed point in our American past where the British reneged on an agreement that would’ve backed the establishment of a Native nation on the burgeoning American continent. In actuality, there was a small book that my husband introduced me to that dealt with this in an indirect manner – an alternate history of a world where this had come to pass. It detailed, quite well, how Natives would have evolved in western society and applied their precepts and outlook on modern life in an alternate universe that pseudo paralleled our world.
The book was: The Journey of Silas P. Bigelow by Keenan Heise.
It’s a lovely little book that actually grapples with some fairly complex societal mores. I loved the book and I was inspired to write my own “what if” on how I would see Native’s in the bold new modern frontier if they’d been allowed to prosper and evolve unimpeded by the western Europeans.
So I started on that piece and it became quite a behemoth in scope as well as in tone. I decided to table it because so much of it was interesting but it just wasn’t jelling. I was undeterred though – I knew that writing was my thing – I just needed to find the right vehicle to get me started. So that story is on the back burner where it my likely remain for all time. I have the manuscript files, I have the notes and research (which was extensive in both history and in quantum mechanics and native theory on physics in general). Just those pondering alone can point to an over-indulgent exploration that would rival Tolkien’s. To be blunt about it, I wasn’t up to the task (just not then, at any rate).
So that got shunted for another take on Native life – since I am of native descent (my own father coming straight from the rez) I took to writing a different sort of story that was still scientifically based (mostly because I married a real rocket scientist) I wanted to play with the whole – let’s present it as magic (ala Harry Potter but with Indians) only to show by the end that it was all science – just not understood by those who were wielding it what it was. That work is still in progress and has quite a bit amassed already.
But then I got an itch, brought about by Chris Hemsworth’s turn as Thor. I wanted to do something with Viking lore – so I became enamored with the Norse Fae called the Feigr. That iron was put into the fire and I began writing that in earnest too.
I am sure you can see where this is going – a whole shit load of irons in the fire but nothing coming from it.
Enter my Angels: Marco, Elliot and Pietro.
Angels of Mercy had none of the above. When it hit it came like a hurricane and completely sidelined EVERYTHING I was doing. I wrote the first volume of Angels of Mercy in a matter of months. At 205K words it is one helluva tome – and it is only the first of three books in the series. With book one completed (yes, I FINALLY completed something) I began to write volume two (I figured I was on a roll now).
Then NaNoWriMo reared its attractive head – ‘write a novel in a month’ was the challenge. I’d just put the wraps on a 205K novel so the 50K challenge didn’t seem like anything of the sort. So I set aside Marco’s part of the tale in Angels to create another new universe: Werewolves in a fictitious town of Sparrow’s Hollow in 1956 West Virginia. It’s proving to be a bit of fun writing fluff of a horror nature (albeit with a whole lot of gay boy on boy lovin’ thrown in for good measure – I am all about the man on man love fest here in case you hadn’t noticed).
Well, that is about to wrap up (within this week), and I have taken time off to get it accomplished so by the time November 30th rolls around I’ll have my second (if smaller) novel completed.
So, aside from the possible tie-in with werewolves, where does the whole beta thing come in?
Simple. As a writer I found out from my other author pals that betas are invaluable to any author and are worth their weight in gold if they aren’t the sort that will just (as one author put it so eloquently) “cast so much sunshine up your backside that you get a sunburn from it.” So I found out I needed me some beta readers to give me feedback as I began to write and develop my worlds.
Now to be honest, this was something that initially I was toying with. I was always going to write either way. It’s just in me to do so. Yet, here’s the thing: I was curious to a small degree on what someone else thought of my work.
So I began to find others who might read it. I found my first beta in a LGBTQAI support forum board and began to chat him up (no, not in that way – head out of the gutter now), to see how receptive he was about my writing. He admitted that he wasn’t much of a reader to that point because most of what was out there didn’t interest him. But I asked him to read Angels of Mercy and to tell me what he honestly thought. Surprisingly, he did.
While he had praise for the work, which I found so gratifying, he also demonstrated a complete attachment to my boys in the story. As if they meant something to him. I didn’t expect this. I didn’t have a plan for that. But there it was – plain and simple – he loved my world. He loved my boys. And he had thoughts on what was working and what didn’t. I had me my first beta.
He’s golden. He’s one of a kind. He’s thoughtful about my worlds, he’s asked questions and pointed out inconsistencies when they’ve cropped up. In a word, I was gobsmacked. I just didn’t think that anyone would find what I did remotely interesting let alone be just as hooked with them as I was.
I’ve since taken the works to a few others and the response has been rather universal. The work has a certain something. It has some sort of quality that people respond to. My other betas have all said the same sorts of things (with variations on a theme depending on where their own life has taken them). That has been a wonderful thing to take to heart. Sometimes I don’t believe it. It’s just easier from a writing standpoint if there isn’t someone else’s bar in the mix. If it’s my own I can write to that and attempt to impress myself.
My betas? Yeah, that’s a tough one. Not because they’ve kicked me really hard (though they have certainly held my feet to the literary fire when needs be), but because they’ve all consistently gave me the consistent encouragement to press forward. That what I was doing wasn’t in vain or some little silly thing that only I was going to ever read.
In the course of my writing, I discovered that while I write stories with strong gay male figures that contain (amongst other things) a strong romantic element thread, they are not the M/M romance fluff that is out there. I am not disparaging those works – those that find them of interest have a large selection to choose from. As for myself I require more. I require an element of truth that only comes from within. From having lived this life as a gay man. I am not a writer like those of the M/M romance genre. More power to them but I am not of their kind. We may have elements in common but that is where we also diverge from one another.
My betas all seem to be in agreement with me in this. They like that I am not guaranteeing anything when you open one of my books. There is no automatic HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) ending. Because life doesn’t work that way. My worlds, fantastical though they may sometimes be (the Feigr, the “magical” natives, etc) are all rooted in my own or a loved one’s experiences.
This is reflected in the lives of my betas themselves.
Recently one of my beta readers, my very first, a man who I’ve come to count on for a great many reasons ran up against a health concern that had the potential to be life threatening. When that hit I literally almost fell apart. I didn’t write. I stopped cold. The passion drained from me – and this in the middle of the NaNoWriMo contest – not a good thing. But my beta’s life was in the balance. Nothing seemed as important as that. I stewed, I pondered the what if’s – which were many because my husband also had been a practicing physician so I had the 411 on what the potential outcome was even before my new found friend got the official news.
I was gutted.
And let’s be clear – this wasn’t about me. I was overwrought with concern for him. I am not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. There were no prayers involved. I’m just not built that way to give into the whole ludicrous “no atheist in the foxhole” mentality. Yeah, husband has had his life threatened numerous times so if I was gonna cave on the whole God vs. No-God thing it woulda been back then. But it certainly didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to stop and think about how my bestest friend, my first “fan” (if you will) was faring through a very difficult time.
He dropped off for a while. Little to no communication from him. Wasn’t easy to endure on my end because I wanted to know how he was doing. But I gave him space. I wrote him once to tell him I was here no matter what – it felt so empty to offer that. I wanted to give him back so much more.
That caused a fire to be lit in my belly. I began to focus all of that into my writing. I had taken up the subject of werewolves because of this very person who was struggling with this life threatening illness. I wanted to write something for him since he has a particular fondness for werewolves (along with men). So it was sort of a fun thing I was doing for him. Only now, it had morphed into being for him in ways I never originally envisioned. I recast one of the characters in the book with his name. I dedicated the book to him. It felt so hollow in many respects – so railing against the big thick glass pane that separated us (he in Michigan with me in CA). But I wanted him to know in some small way how much I’ve come to count on his advice. How much his words meant to me.
I never bargained for this when I started out. I never in a million years thought that I’d ever have this to deal with (and Michael, this is NOT a gripe on my part – please believe me). But these people, these generous people who have given me their time and energy in reading my works and giving me “what for” when I went astray, have become so important as I progress and grow as a writer.
I always said I would trade five million five star ratings for one person who deeply felt what I was doing. Michael is that guy. I am writing for him and men/boys like him. Men who need to hear about our worlds from our own. Men who understand what it is like to deal with the world around us that keeps reminding us at every turn we are NOT like them. We are NOT the norm. I welcome anyone who wants to read what I write. I thank them with all the humility and graciousness I can muster. But I am clear about one thing – I write for men like Michael.
A dear friend I met through my writing.
A man who has so much to offer in life.
A thoughtful individual who cares about my boys almost as much as I do – sometimes, more so.
Yeah, turns out, this Alpha writer does need his betas. They might matter most of all.