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)
Wonder Woman, The JLA and Why Comics Matter To Queers
San Diego Comic Con JUSTICE LEAGUE Trailer Release
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So this is an impromptu entry. Just something I felt I had to write about with Comic Con coming to a close this year.
I’ve gone to Comic Con since its very early days when it was a collection of comic book sellers and Hollywood hadn’t attached itself to the massive marketing event it is today. Back then it was just a bunch of geeks who’d get together to celebrate our communal geekdom.
I reveled in those days. I was a comic book fan since my father introduced me to it when I was a boy of five. Aquaman was my first. Dad seemed to like him a lot so he was my very first exposure to the world of super heroes. He’s always been an instant love of mine. He’s been much maligned and dumbed down over the decades, which sort of always hurt that people have a rather skewed and uninformed understanding of who Arthur Curry and his super hero moniker of Aquaman.
Many would be surprised to find out he’s actually a demi-god. His powers easily rival those of Wonder Woman or Superman. Talking to fish is fairly low on his power level, like we think of breathing. He’s even KICKED Superman’s ass in a one on one combat. So yeah, I am totes down with Jason Momoa bringing everyone up to speed on how bad ass Aquaman really is. Bout time y’all were schooled in this guy’s supreme epicness.
Glad to see that Justice League’s trailer shows Aquaman stepping up to the plate in a big way. It’ll also be interesting to see how Diana Prince and Arthur Curry settle their differences given that Atlantians and Amazon’s don’t always see eye-to-eye (given their allegiances to Zeus/Aphrodite and Hera for the Amazon’s and Poseidon for Arthur’s peeps – all of which have been at each other at one point or another throughout history).
And to cast Momoa (a Pacific Islander by heritage) as the Sea King is just absolutely brilliant in my book, say nothing of the fact that a solid Person of Color is one of the big players in the whole JLA realm is fucking off the chain cool in the BIGGEST bad assed way.
But you see, my love of comic book heroes is steeped very much in who I am as a queer man. These people often had to operate outside the spectrum of normal life. As a queer kid, I got that on so many levels. You knew you grew up different than everyone else. You knew that you had talents and gifts that people wouldn’t understand and might even be afraid of. So there were direct parallels for queer kids to draw from the super hero realm. The sad stark truth, until much later in the game, we didn’t have any real representation of superheroes who were just like us – queer – and unabashedly so. That’s changed quite a bit, yet the main heroes are still overridingly straight. No gay Superman, no lesbian Wonder Woman (though there are great hints of it throughout Amazon society at large that could definitely be argued), no sexually fluid Aquaman (mores the pity on that one alone …).
Which brings me to the greatest love in my queer boy life – Wonder Woman.
San Diego Comic Con WONDER WOMAN Trailer Release
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Let me perfectly frank here: I am a dyed in the wool DC comic fan. I get the whole Marvel thing, and yeah, they’ve even been more forward an progressive where queer superheroes are concerned. Bravo for them. But Aquaman was my first. So DC has always ruled my world from that perspective. Doesn’t mean I am not into Marvel heroes, just they take a back seat to my DC realm.
But getting back to Wonder Woman. I discovered her all on my own. While my love for Aquaman has NEVER diminished, Diana quickly became everything to me. As a young gay boy I realized just how much I identified with her. Her sense of wonder at how to move through man’s world. How she had this awe and amazement in her burgeoning love for Steve Trevor. All of it. I ate her up like mother’s milk. She was epic and awe inspiring … mostly because she was so closely allied with the Greek mythology that also kept my interest – probably why she rose to become equal to Aquaman, too. I loved them both desperately.
My father probably wondered at my fascination and obsession with Diana Prince. It was fairly obvious to him I was gay. He said he knew that before I was born. I’ve written about that before (both here and on my other site – Violet Quill Redux). Even during the heady disco days of the seventies I had my Wonder Woman fix in so many ways – both on my Saturday morning cartoons (we didn’t have the luxury of a cartoon network back in my day) with the Super Friends (which I totally lay blame on when Aquaman started to become dumbed down) as well as the short lived but wildy cool – to a queer kid like me – Wonder Woman series starring Lynda Carter. That woman will ALWAYS be a goddess to me!
That poster graced my walls – along with many others of Lynda for many years. It confused the hell out of my dad because my adoration of anything Lynda Carter knew no bounds. He just didn’t get the gayboy connection to how it all worked in my head. Poor Dad, sorry for the misdirect – it wasn’t intentional, Pops.
Anywho, queer kids needed superheroes. I dare say probably more so than our straight counterparts. Only because as queer kids, we had so very little going for us that these characters meant the world to us. They gave us hope. We identified with them in many, many ways. The subversive nature of their lives and loves. How secretive they had to be in the world around them. We got it – on an EPIC scale.
With the close of another SD Comic Con (one that I missed this year) I can’t help but feel nostalgic over not only not attending this year, but the general feeling that these characters matter so much to a queer man like me. Their ideals, their pushing against the monumental odds against them. I get it, in ways that I am sure most people never think about them. They just see the heroes journey. Whereas we see the double-life they have to lead in order to do some good in the world. The duplicity of it all. And queers get it. It mirrors our own lives in so many ways. That big shiny assed unicorn that we all are. It wants to come out and spread rainbows all over the fucking place, but often can’t.
So yeah, so hyped up for the new Wonder Woman and Justice League flicks that are in the pipeline. Momoa is SOOOOO gonna kill it as my fave Aquaman. I am sooo down with him taking the role I get fucking giddier than I’ve ever been about something. I fucking tremble if I think about it too much. And, as I’ve said it before, if I had to wait all this time to get Wonder Woman to the big screen – then I am okay with it. Gal Gadot fucking nails Diana Prince to the fucking wall! Consider the mantle successively passed from my hallowed Lynda Carter to Gal. I can’t wait to see what happens there.
Oh, and one side note: queer identified Ezra Miller as Barry Allen. He is sooooo fucking sexy that I’ve sorta forgotten all about Grant Gustin’s take on Barry. Sorry Grant, but just knowing Ezra’s a gender fluid sorta guy … yeah it brings him one step closer to my queer boy life. And I am so glad they’re letting him be the humor in the DCU. He is so gonna rock that role like no one’s business!
So, until next time …
– SA C
And one more of Ezra … just ’cause I gotta.
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 …
Mohawks, CDIB and the Alt-Worlds of Sci-Fi
So, last time I wrote about my real passion in writing: The Cove Chronicles. I was in the middle of working on it when Angels of Mercy descended and railroaded my Mohawk natives and their epic Lord of the Rings gone native tale.
Needless to say, my now two-year preoccupation with my boys from Mercy High have made my natives a bit restless. They want their tale told. So while I know I gotta get Marco’s backstory, and Pietro’s wrap-up completed in Angels so I can put the original vision to bed, I am fairly itching to get to the story that matters the most to me.
My first love has always been Sci-Fi (Science Fiction). But it has been a love/hate sort of thing. Love of the imaginative worlds, love the geeky gadgetry and extrapolated (sometimes stretching to the outright nope, no way that’s ever gonna happen but I guess I’ll run with it for the sake of the fucking story to see where it goes sorta thing) realms of what’s possible. Love the utopian/dystopian ways to examine humanity and our flaws. A great literary lens to examine what we do and why we do it. And I’ve always been about the headspace of that.
So yeah, love, love, love it.
And I also hate it. Hate it with a burning passion. Why? Because of two things that are still very prevalent to this day: Lack of queer characters and people of color as the main protag. And yes, I’ll cop to the fact I’ve not read everything that’s out there. But by and large, white washing is prevalent in most of those tales. Even where it’s not overtly stated, it’s fairly certain, given the nature of the writing and the author involved, that a lot of that is what dominates the landscape.
I am an author who is both queer, and a person of color (remember, Collins is a pen name).
My heritage is a mix with Latino on my mother’s side and native on my father’s.
It’s one of the reasons I am writing Cove with such a burning passion to get it out there. I want native peoples, Mohawks (and the rest of the Haudenosaunee nations – Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Onondaga, and Seneca) to be the heroes of these tales. It is a series of books that I have mapped out. I’ve been working on this off and on for nearly two decades. Tending to it here and there. I have several handwritten volumes of notes, I have Mohawk dictionaries to keep the vernacular down from my protag’s perspective. It’s been a real passion of mine.
But I had other reasons for writing it. I wanted the protags to be two men. Two native men. At least where it would begin. You see this epic journey also parallels the evolution of the Haudenosaunee as a people. I am taking all of their mythic stories and translating them, (*ahem, JK Rowling, ahem, are you paying attention, ahem*) and breathing a big ol’ burst of what if’s into them. To be safe, to be respectful, I decided early on to make this a parallel universe. I wanted to represent the culture, but not rewrite it. And I certainly wasn’t going to whitewash the fuck out of it, either.
But what does it mean to be a native protag in a genre that has precious little of us represented in it? What could I do with those amazing core value stories and give them a new platform with which to express their purpose and have characters demonstrate through their tale, the depth of why those stories continue to exist and be promoted to this day?
It’s a rather daunting task. One I don’t take lightly.
But I also wanted to pose the question, because it’s a very big one in the native community to this day, of what quantifies being native? What degree of blood says you are a part of the club? Natives wrestle with this all the time. Tribal councils have established guidelines in each nation to define what it means and how we quantify that blood line to say who is and who isn’t. Yet, natives have always been, historically speaking (and often to our own detriment and even demise) an inclusive people. There are a great many tales of white settlers who left their world in favor of ours. Some are over romanticized to the point of eye rolls so large that the pupils might get stuck in the back of your head sort of ways, but there you are, it happened.
The federal government even pushed, some would say bullied, the establishment of CDIB – probably the worst possible thing that has happened to us. CDIB stands for Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. So now, there’s a license to be native. The very idea is abhorrent fairly universally in the native community, yet, it has become the barometer that has poisoned many tribal council’s views on tribal membership. Don’t even get me started on the effects of casino money being involved now because then the discussion (if you can call it that) gets a whole lot worse.
So what quantifies being native? Does descendancy count? Sure, but that will only get you so far. Case in point, my father was native (he passed nearly twenty years ago). But in our culture the lines are matrilineal so membership comes from the mother’s bloodline. In this case, I cannot be an enrolled member because my mother is Latina. Now, the Clan Mothers (who govern such matters) can make exceptions. I just haven’t gone there. Mostly because it’s a lot of work to initiate the petition. And to be honest, I get the traditional nature of it all. It’s my lot in life. Dad got it directly, I did not. It’s fairly simple. The way it goes sometimes. But it doesn’t mean I can’t represent. It doesn’t mean I can’t be proud of where my pops came from. I grew up hearing stories about his life on the rez. In many respects, I am writing Cove for him.
So, yeah, Native in Sci-Fi. Mohawks, at that. But why the fuck not? But here was my little twist. My husband is Mohawk. But he is a mix as well and the other side of his family (he’s traced that side of his family back to Charlemagne – documentation and all – its quite epic all on its own) is nearly a who’s who of European and early American figures straight out of the history books. I’ve taken one such person from his own family tree on that English line, Elizabeth Fonnes Winthrop Feake Hallett (yes, those Winthrops of Boston, no less) and changed her lineage after coming to these shores and inserted my protag as a son that didn’t exist. What’s more I gave him a twin sister who is gonna be such a kick ass strong female character that I can’t wait to put her down on the page. Since I was alt-worlding it, I decided to insert the Mohawk line into their family as well. If only to bring up the question of native lineage and what constituted being a recognized member of that society.
From the onset, I have a character, William Matthias Hallett, who for all intents and purposes appears to be quite a dandy and peacock of Manhattan’s burgeoning high society of the early 1800’s America. He only wears the finest clothing, adheres to the proper social ettiequte and societal mores of the times, yet, William has a secret. William craves adventure above all else. So he ventures into the denizens of the Five Points to find the adventure he seeks. So from the beginning the reader assumes that he is like any other white male protag that dominates Sci-Fi works. But William has another secret: he is 3/4 Mohawk – his mother and grandmother are both Mohawk women who married into the Hallett line. He’s grown up with fanciful tales of Mohawk culture, but he always relegated them to just that – tales to tell restless boys so they’ll go to bed – and nothing more.
He’s about to be schooled by a Mohawk man from his school days at Dartmouth. The outcome of which not only provides him an adventure of a lifetime, but gives him back his culture in a way that he never imagined. And it brings the love of his life to him in a very unusual way.
I’ll admit I’ve struggled a bit with finding a visual Mohawk native man to give you a sense of who Joss Lightfoot is. Mostly because there simply aren’t a whole lot of native men in male modeling, let alone the specifics of being Haudenosaunee. So here’s the guy I am currently going with. Not Mohawk, but definitely has the characteristics of who Joss Lightfoot is.
This is a work in progress. Still rough around the edges. The tale starts in 1821 Manhattan but ends up in a fictitious town in Northern California called Hallett’s Cove that concludes in our modern times. The vernacular of the prose is meant to be reminiscent of the 1800’s when the story is set there, it will evolve to being more contemporary when we get to that part of the story. It is very much a story about family and culture as much as it is the old battle of good vs. evil.
One author note – I use the double colons (::) to signify mental speech – as my protags become mentally linked, which gives their romance a whole new thing to tangle with.
So, here is the first chapter of The Cove Chronicles: The Observational Prowess of William Matthias Hallett.
Wherein we meet William Matthias Hallett, a man of independent means and stature, doing everything he can to put a swift end to it all.
The Observational Prowess of William Matthias Hallett.
All Hallow’s Eve – October 31, 1847
Satan’s Circus, The Five Points, Manhattan
The name alone conjures up a visage of villainy.
A bright red effigy of Satan nailed to the doorway of the tavern made no pretense as to what sort of clientele this establishment served. Gluttony and wickedness made a home here.
To be sure, as taverns went, she did not disappoint. The Circus was not where one went to hone their craft of skulduggery and malicious behavior. If you had to perfect your craft, you had best do it elsewhere. Only the most proficient sharks, wildcats and beasts could call The Circus their home.
Somehow, I had become somewhat of a regular. Clever enough to keep my nose clean and not to have fallen in with any of the gangs that controlled the Points, I navigated these treacherous waters. I cannot entirely explain how all of this was accomplished. A pastiche of luck, concealment, and all the bottom of a braggadocio had allowed me to slip in and out of her timbered halls, perhaps. At times I almost thought a cloak of invisibility had shielded me from them all. No one seemed to take notice unless I wanted to be noticed.
Which, for the most part, I did not.
The moment you entered the tavern, your senses were accosted in such a manner that, if unprepared, would bring a stronger man to his knees. People who drank much and bathed even less peppered her halls and floors. The putridity of the smells was second only to the sounds that pierced your ears: a raucous cacophony of braggarts and riffraff. In point of fact, she’s one of the busiest taverns in all of New York. Every conniving and devious cutthroat, and the harlots who often hung onto them like leeches sucking the men dry, whether caught up in their usual routine of either getting drunk or getting someone else drunk so as to take advantage of their inebriation — their game was always afoot.
Like maggots over carrion, the tavern was pressed to her walls with those who picked at the fetid remnants of life. On her opening day, she no doubt had been quite glorious. Looking at her now, it was clear that water had long ago passed under the bridge of time. A tawdry remnant of her bejeweled past. She boasted two levels and the only place where a body couldn’t occupy a spot were the large round columns that ran the gamut from floor to the second story above. Though, many tried to cling to them from time to time.
Music played continuously from a couple of piano players who alternated at banging away at the keys with little ear to the line of the tune they played. For the most part the music went either enjoined in a drunken and off-tune chorus, or ignored in its entirety. Fisticuffs and knifings became standard entertainment fare and people took more notice if the evening progressed and bodies hadn’t piled up. These were the dregs of society — no one would notice their absence.
I watched this myriad of immigrants as they scratched at each other and at life; for they did everything to eke out an existence for themselves on these shores. In all of the commotion, it would have been difficult to spot an oddity within the torrent of drunkardness. Save for one spot, a single well of calm that stood out from the rest of the establishment: a darkened alcove and its inhabitants on the far side of the tavern just to the left of the barkeep.
This alcove held my interest and became the sole purpose of why I came back to the Points and The Circus time and again.
I visited this very tavern in the hopes of observing something that deviated widely from the normal cutpurse fair. An adventure so decidedly wicked and filled with a sense of raw mystery as to satiate my soul for a lifetime. The gentlemen occupying the far alcove next to the barkeep I spoke of earlier, no doubt the key to such an undertaking, held my attention captive.
For the past four nights the events surrounding these men varied little: they would sit in the alcove, each barely visible in the subdued light. The first thing I noted was how out of place they seemed. Where everyone else bore the drab clothing of their station in life, from what I could discern of these men’s appearance, they seemed highly financed and respectable as evident in the richness of their clothing — an island of wealth amidst the poor. Ensconced there, silent and immobile, a wall of dark stoicism, they did little to dissuade me of my course. Indeed, it did everything to secure my thoughts in the reverse. No service came to their table and they made no attempt to gain the interest of a barmaid to change that.
They merely sat and waited.
The longer I observed them, the more intrigued I found myself by their presence and the great lengths everyone else seemed to not take any notice of them. These men, mysterious creatures confined in that darkened alcove, signaled to all around they alone occupied the top of the food chain — predators that preyed on other predators.
The alcove possessed only one source of light: a tiny sputtering candle jammed into a singular glass container. This poor excuse of a flame sputtered as if it had gleaned some prescient knowledge of the men’s depravity as it struggled to cast some illumination against the three darkly figures in close quarter. As far as I could tell, the only clear element in view, illuminated by their right hands lying on the table displayed the same signet ring of a double-headed eagle, a symbol I had seen before but for the moment could not ascertain where, gave me my only clue of their true identity.
From the subtle outline that small candle cast, they bore quite proudly their ostentatious attire, evident by the fullness of their black redingotes and framed in the glow of lanterns that hung directly above the alcove. This allowed me to take note of their black furred hats.
These three men of mystery, large in stature for they nearly filled the alcove with their presence, always appeared around the same time each night. Yet, I could not recall the exact time of their arrival. Even the barkeep did his best not to look into that alcove when they occupied it. I believe I even saw him visibly shudder last night as he had been watching the door and never spied their entrance and yet, in that alcove, as sure as a tick of the clock, they sat.
Lighting, never in abundant amounts in any of the Five Points establishments, as dark endeavors require darkened quarters to operate, made it difficult to discern actions. This particular alcove of Satan’s Circus exuded an even darker purpose, one that kept even the more frightening miscreants of the Points at bay. For some reason even I could not fathom, I found myself in exactly the opposite disposition — I was riveted.
For an hour or so, I sat and just watched them, forcing myself to drink the “cocktail” of ale that ran more in common to what I imagined pig’s piss-water might have been.
From what I gathered, the barkeep spent the prior day buying up the dregs from other more well-established taverns’ caskets of ale and tossed them together with little regard in the way of taste; for all I know he probably did add his own urine to the swill. I heard one woman call it Satan’s Arse Cleaner. She, being a frequent customer, and a lady of the evening, no doubt meant the double-entendre when she would yell to the barkeep to give ‘er the SAC. I did not think her commentary far off the mark on that account.
Yet here I sat, observing these men who held me spellbound each night since they first made themselves known four nights prior. I do not know if they took notice of my stare from afar. I talked to no one, just sat there, tolerated the SAC and waited for my adventure to unfold, for I knew it would most certainly involve these three men.
Around nine of the clock on each of the preceding nights, a young lad of no more than seven or eight strode into the tavern and walked right up to their table. No one stopped the lad, no one seemed to take notice of him at all, save for myself.
He would speak to them for but a few moments, then he would turn and leave out the front door of the tavern. By the time I watched him go and turned my head back to watch what would happen next, the men would be gone. They just seemed to vanish into thin air. From the first time I witnessed it I thought I had imagined the whole routine. To be sure, I decided to gamble with my safety and changed my position to be closer to their alcove so I could observe their departure on the following night, again, to no avail. One moment there, and the next gone. The lack of lighting in the alcove did not help matters to be sure, but whether near or far, the result was the same: there one moment, gone the next.
Well, tonight I surmised, would provide a new game. I knew I had the right of it. What put me onto it I could not say, but I could just feel it in the air. Tonight, the fifth night of this mystifying rendezvous, something found itself precariously at the tipping point. Disappointment would not be the order of the evening as I would soon discover the nature of their darker purpose.
As I sipped what I could from the devil’s SAC, I realized that the men had waited much longer for the boy to arrive. They had no perceptible change in their posture to warrant my feeling, but the moment seemed pressed just a little harder. A tightening of the screw, so to speak. The edge to them was palpable. Whatever news the boy brought this evening bore the utmost urgency for these three men. As if on cue, the boy moved as he had each night before. Despite seeing him the previous four nights, this time I took real notice of him.
A lowly immigrant boy, of that there was no doubt, he bore his station in the tattered clothes marked with the filth of the Points. But the boy’s face. Now there a marked change revealed itself to me. Most of the youth in this part of Manhattan, relegated to cutthroat tactics just to survive their childhood, what little there was of it, etched that tough life upon them at an early age. To be sure, this young lad took his life in his hands, scratching out what little he could just to keep his head above the torrents of the Points and make it to his teens years, let alone adulthood. Yet, in his countenance he possessed an almost angelic repose to his visage. A proper looking lad, that had the singular misfortune of being cast among the poorest of the poor, he probably stood out from the more average fair of the child riffraff. For a moment, I fancied seeing him cast in a different light altogether, one where he would have the finest clothing, food and education. I guess the thing that struck me most about him that, save for our respective lots in life, he could be me at that age.
As with the previous four nights, he strode with purpose to the darkened recess. A young man willingly engaging what the more aggressive and salient of the cutthroats dare not do. He spoke with them very quickly and the men stirred. For the first time their faces came into the glow of the small candle’s flame. It wavered, cowering a bit, as if their malevolence would snuff it from existence.
Each man in that sputtering light, clearly a foreigner. Their hats, now fully in view established the tell-tale give away. Once they made themselves known to me, I identified them fully: Russians.
How odd to find them so far away from their home and in the Points. What possibly could they have to do in New York in this house of inequity? Though well groomed, each of them possessed a darkness to their eyes and did not bother to feign even the slightest element of any good-doing on their part. As the boy spoke, the men exchanged a silent but knowing look with each other, clearly taking whatever report the boy brought them to their liking. The man in the middle said something to his companions, gave instruction to the boy and then the most amazing thing happened: the men physically got up! Their quick movement caused me to jolt and I dropped the cup of swill I had. It clanked to the floor, though with the raucous sounds around me no one took note of my mishap. Cursing at my obvious blunder, I scrambled to retrieve the cup. However, by the time I had set it right onto the table top next to me, they’d taken their leave of the tavern!
I glanced at the door, only to catch a whisper of black redingote sweeping through it and out into the night.
At least this time, I have not lost them entirely …
I moved quickly from the table to the door and out into the square that was quite literally teaming with activity. A key point to survival in the Points, you had to keep moving. A stationary man was a target for any number of assailants to descend upon you and pick you apart. In some cases, that included the scattering of your bones, as well.
I had to find the men quickly and keep moving along in this stream of sharks and piranhas. I scanned the small marshy patch that stood as the Points common. This tattered piece of earth, where bare meager strands of grass dared to show themselves. Blades of life, symbolic of the plight of the immigrants who called this part of town their home, meager threads of life pitted against a harsh wasteland, provided the only piece of undeveloped earth the Points had to offer as a public meeting place. A place where many a man had met their demise – publicly, too. I did not wish my adventure to come to such a conclusion.
The Five Points were where Cross and Orange streets intersected with Anthony, bordered on the east and west by Water and Mulberry streets. Hell’s residence on earth, if there ever was one. And now I found myself swimming in the rip current of their existence.
And therein lie my current problem: I labored too long to find the men. A woman, who might have been quite striking save for how life had dealt her blow upon blow so that now she bore the visage of a mere shadow of what God had intended at birth to qualify as beauty, made her way toward me. The purposefulness of her stride left little doubt that I had a target painted upon me and it had only been not more than ten or so seconds on the sidewalk.
However, an added benefit to my notice of her advance, for just behind her I spied the last of the gentlemen making their way down Cross toward Mulberry. I surmised their goal lie beyond the Points, but as to their exact destination, their plan escaped me. The wharf, perhaps? I did not know for certain. ’Twas the only thing I could think of that lie in that direction. I moved from my spot trying in vain to circumvent the advancing barracuda harlot.
“Well now, a buck of a man like yerself. Where ya off to in such a hurry?”
She stood in front of me, attempting to ply her trade upon me, as if I could not deduce her ulterior motive. I would have definitely been put off by the state of her teeth which ran the gamut from putrid yellow to mildewing green and resolving themselves into decaying black. And if that were not enough, her breath billowed about me with a mixture of the death that had already manifested itself within her and whatever ale she had consumed thus far to mask – poorly – the putridity of her pre-decomposition.
She, for all intents and purposes, embodied a walking prostitute corpse. If I was clear on one thing, Necromancy did not fall under the classification of adventure. I possessed little stomach for death. Little did I know how wrong I was to be on this singular salient point.
“Eh, not interested,” I said with much haste and attempted to slip from the grasp of her left arm around my neck, entwined like a serpent hellbent upon consumption. Adam should have kept a better eye on Eve as the female sex had learnt too much from that reptilian encounter of biblical verse.
“Ah now, a strapping buck of a man like yourself, howzabout a quick one in the alley way?”
She ground her hip against my thigh and the frailty of her form along with her breath nearly made me wretch. However, I had not lost sight of her ulterior motive, which was to rob me of my money whilst she plied the dregs of her feminine wiles upon me. She did not think I noticed the sly movement of her right hand that ingeniously held a small knife where she was actively slicing the threads along my pocket and the few coins I had stashed there.
“I said, no, thank you,” as I slipped from her grasp and she attempted to move on with my coins in her right hand for which I promptly grabbed and applying the right pressure to her wrist, I forced her hand to relinquish the coins back into my own. I smiled and moved on, the confident winner in our cutpurse mazurka. I pushed my finger through the hole of the jacket, silently cursing that at some point I’d have to mend it but pressed on lest my adventure slip away from me. And I had little intention of allowing that to pass.
She stood there eyeing me with a knowing look, as if to memorize every last line of me so she could challenge me anon.
Good luck with that m’dear.
As I moved down Cross Street in pursuit of the men I spared a glance back at her and noticed that while she took stock of her loss, she unwittingly broke the rule of the Points as well, standing too long in one spot. For now she was being accosted by some young boy who obviously deigned to pickpocketing her tattered purse.
“Barracudas beware the little piranhas …” I said to myself as I moved out of their view.
I finally reached the corner of Mulberry. I stopped and scanned the other three options on that corner until I spotted them to my right heading down Mulberry toward the docks.
“Just as I thought,” though who I was speaking to was beyond me as I had no one to accompany me on this quest. I guess I took stock that I still had survived another night in the Points and now had a lead on what might unfold before me.
I stealthily raced along Mulberry Street, and in my haste I had closed the distance to barely a half block behind the imposing quartet. I could not see the boy as the three imposing dark figures were surrounding him. Only when we had moved several blocks toward the docks along side the Battery did I notice that the men had produced rather odd-looking walking canes. Long and darkly metallic, as if made from a gun metal that was highly polished and gleamed in what little reflective light this hour held. I had not noticed the canes before, and this piece of male accoutrement would have sure caught my eye, for I possessed a rather large and tasteful collection of walking canes at home.
The night air was becoming chilled as we moved down along the river front. Yet, for some reason I could not discern, an awareness came upon me that I may not be the only one doing the following. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as if, like a predator being caught up in chasing his prey, I never bothered to take note that a larger predator was on my heels throughout the course of the chase. I did my best to convince myself that it was nothing more than the thrill of the oncoming adventure that had me so on edge and keyed up.
::This is not your game, William … ::
I stopped suddenly as that voice sounded off in what I thought at first played upon my ear, as if whispered to me and me alone. I looked around and there was not a soul in sight, save for the quartet moving off further the longer I stayed and tried to figure out what had just happened. The only sounds present were my quick, panicked breaths.
::You should go home, Will … this is not for you::
I spun around, employing every means at my disposal to catch the culprit whisperer only to find that breathing and most assuredly the rapid beating of my heart keeping me company instead.
Damn it all, that infernal voice!
At first I might have mistaken it for my own inner voice warning me to be wary of what I was doing, but upon review, I realized that the voice bore little resemblance to mine at all. Though, somehow I knew I had heard the voice before.
Who in blazes could it be?
I precious little time to think upon it as my conundrum foursome made their way just beyond where I could make them out. I renewed my efforts to close the distance.
A few moments later and I found myself only ten or so feet behind them, slightly worried now that whatever throng that recently occupied this area had thinned out to just a few people along the waterfront. I decided to duck into one of the building doorways to allow a tad more distance between me and my quarry trying not to draw too much attention upon myself. The rouse worked as I observed that one of the men to the rear of their group happened to glance back just as I slipped from view and into that darkened doorway.
Rather than suddenly appearing along the path at a later time, I decided to dart across the street to the other side and appear as if I had approached from dockside, and merely paralleling their advance down the road. It was then that I felt the pursuer being pursued feeling again. Only now it seemed to overtake myself and whip along the street as a gust of air that came from out of nowhere, yet carried none of the chill. In point of fact, the breeze felt oddly warm and held a very familiar scent to it, though I could not recall with every part of my being working upon it, where I had smelled it before. So now I had a voice to pair with the olfactory sensation of a moment ago. I knew the two connected themselves somehow. I stalled momentarily as I contemplated this, before picking up the pace again along the sidewalk nearest the docks, lest I lose them altogether.
After a couple of more blocks I closed the distance between us to within a half block. We had traversed three full city blocks at this point when they suddenly turned down a dark alleyway. This could not bode well for the boy. Even so, I still could not fathom why he would be in the company of such queer Russian figures in this part of town. Two of the men were sleek, with dark features and smartly clipped beards. Encased in black stylish suits but their waistcoats were of some of the finest damask looking silver silk I had ever beheld.
My eyes roved once more to their more than fetching walking canes. It was this feature that allowed me to spot them. The canes seemed to gleam, catching the dim gas lit streets that dotted along the wharf. As I came to the entrance of the alley, I paused. This alley in particular gave no quarter for relief from a survival standpoint for in point of fact, it was not open to the sky above, but a closed bricked tunnel of a passage. Never a good idea to enter one unless you knew all access points to and from the enclosure. I did not relish putting myself through this part of the adventure, but I would not shirk my course now. I peered into it and squinted as best I could, to discern what little the light afforded me, which was not much.
Nothing. Naught but the dwindling echo of the men’s footsteps at the far end of it.
Well, at least they have not dispatched with the lad.
I walked closer to the opening and placed a palm against its surface. I turned my head a little to determine if my ears could pick up what my eyes could not. Steeling every auditory prowess at my disposal, I concentrated on blocking the sounds from the remaining cacophonous ramblings of the dockside street and into the dark vacuousness of the tunnel. When all hope had nearly escaped me, I heard something which made my heart race. From the sound of their voices I determined they had emerged at the far end of the long tunnel.
“So you are sure that the requisite number of bodies have been procured.”
“Without a doubt, sir. Just as you required. I have them assembling now as we speak to the right of the shanty, as you’ll see, but remember I promised each of them a half-dollar as a token of your promise to provide them with better lives once they reach the west coast.”
The boy carried himself well with these imposing figures that surrounded him, but I could not believe my ears. If my ears did not deceive me, and I had no reason to think they had, this young lad established himself firmly in the trade of trafficking people to the west coast? I realized I suddenly came up short on a very important point in the boy’s words. What west coast could he mean? The Pacific? Quite a feat, I admitted to myself. Surely, he meant the west coast of Europe. But when I quickly explored that option I found that did not make sense, either. Why would anyone agree to make the trek back to where they had so recently fled? It had to be the western coast of this continent. They cleared the tunnel as their voices ceased to echo back in my direction. I had to press further along to gain a better vantage point.
“Well done, young Master Liam. Rest assured, that they will have a better life. You cannot help but have a better one after the repugnant existence of this hellish squalor.”
“Oy, that’s me home your ramblin’ on about, there.”
The boy crossed a line. He may have the right of it, but as my father had been fond of saying when in such circumstances where you are clearly in a one-down position, you could be dead-right as well. Which did you little good for the effort.
With the last exchange, I begun to creep slowly and as quietly as I could through the tunnel and into the back courtyard where the quartet conversed.
A snicker all around met the boys impertinence. “Well said, young Liam. So noted. I meant you no harm. Just an observation that even you have to acknowledge. Your life, such as it is, is not the height of aristocracy, now is it?”
“No, but that’s how I come to be under your employ, sir. I meant no disrespect by it. Just mindful of me ways and make no mistake about how low they are. But if I has anyfing to say ‘bout it, there’s gonna be a change in my life and for the bettah, too.”
Another laugh, this time echoed by the three gentlemen in chorus.
“Come now, Master Liam. Let us settle accounts then, shall we?”
“Ippolit, Ivanovich, do go and get these people processed through the warehouse. See to it that they are housed in the upper Hudson floor, and begin the sedative as soon as everyone is settled in. You know what to do with the children. Send Alexi to me within the shanty so we can make final processing arrangements.”
By now I had entered the courtyard and had the good fortune of finding some discarded crates and barrels with which to hide myself that were near the mouth of the alley passage. They afforded me with some cover with which I could observe the men entering one of the doors leading from the courtyard into a small shanty structure that was raised above the ground. A young man of no more than twenty approached them. He too was immaculately dressed for such a nefarious operation.
The boy was correct. Next to the shanty was a collection of about seventy to seventy-five people of varying age and creed – all of lowly immigrant class. At this late hour some of them had sleeping children, either upon their father’s shoulders or in the crook of their mother’s bosom. They were obviously recently arrived immigrants, some still had the weary look of a prolonged travel plainly upon their faces. To their left a mass of luggage and belongings carefully arranged as if first or second class accommodations lie in their immediate future.
I watched the two men, bringing William with them, move up the short stairs and onto the porch which creaked from rot and over use. It’s oddly slanted shingled roof of dark forest green that had seen a more colorful day seemed strangely out of place for this industrial structure. As if the house had always stood here and the surrounding behemoth of a building sprang up around it.
Grimy paned windows to either side of a dutch door that stood between them were coupled with rotting stairs and porch that it gave the building the apparition of a man’s face – all withered with age. The dilapidated roof slanted slightly askew completed the visage of that same man wearing a funny sort of tilted hat. The stilts upon which the porch stood sagged in the center from overuse and age that only added to the look as it gave the impression of an odd snaggletoothed grimace. After the bottom half of the door closed, a gas lamp bloomed into brightness and illuminated what little was viewable through the years of city filth that had occluded the windows.
A burst of light crackled in the night sky but not so high that it rose above the courtyard of the warehouse. The people collectively took in a awestruck gasp of air, only to be mesmerized by the glowing orb. I found, I too, had been caught up by the wonderment of that glowing light with its undulating whites and blues and little sparks that trailed in the night sky. It seemed to be controlled from the tip of Ippolit’s cane. When he moved forward I felt myself pulled along with the rest of them.
My progress was stymied with a sudden unseen force thrusting me back into my hiding spot. It was then that infernal voice filled my every sense, blackening the world around me, completely obscuring that hypnotic pull the glowing orb had upon me.
::Stay put, William, and do NOT engage these men.::
With that, the black that surrounded me faded and the world came back to me. Despite the warning, I was in the thick of it now as I knew my adventure had finally begun.
I chanced a glance over the barrels to spy upon the collection of people again – only to discover the last of them being skirted into the large warehouse opposite the shanty with a large metallic door bolted behind them. Another two men leveled their canes at the collection of baggage and belongings and slashed the air above them and the items floated into what appeared to be a giant tear in the middle of the air. Once completed, the two men took two steps forward toward the door and in the span of a single step completely slipped from view, as if vanishing into thin air. This left me quite alone in what had only been a few moments ago awash with activity.
From my secluded vantage point I watched the trio move further back into the main room of the shanty, still well within sight of the opened dutch door. I needed a closer vantage point if I were to get the fullest measure of what was going on here. I quietly darted from the safety of my cover to the porch steps, keeping to the balls of my feet I slowly crept up the stairs. With catlike care, I took each step so as not to elicit so much as a creak from the stairs or any part of the porch. As I gained a vantage point from the half-opened door I peered cautiously over the closed lower half to witness this settling of accounts as the finely tailored, albeit sinister, leader of their crew indicated.
Settling himself into a large chair behind a rather plain looking desk, he laid his cane on the desktop as one of his companions went about lighting the oil lamps within the room. The room itself was as nondescript as the desk. The only other furniture within this structure stood a small bookcase just behind the desk with a stack of what appeared to be accounting ledgers. As Ivanovich moved about the room I took note that he lit the lamps not with a match or torch, as I anticipated, but with the tip of his shiny cane which crackled with a bluish spark the likes of which I had never seen. This only added to their mystique. I took great care to sink back below the doorway as he passed by to light the torch lamp nearest the entrance to the little shack. Once he completed his task, he moved back to stand just behind the young boy at the back of the house. Luckily, from my vantage point, he did not completely obscure the view to the man behind the desk, nor young Master Liam.
“Let’s see … we agreed on half-a-dollar per head, I believe you put it. You did demand a rather high price as I recall. And you procured … how many of them was it again?”
“Seventy-five, sir, counting the children n’ all.”
The sinister leader whistled loudly at the amount, though a certain spark in his dark eyes belied the largess of the sum. Evident upon their countenance, these men suffered little when it came to affairs of a financial nature.
“Now what would a young lad like you have to spend all that money on?” he asked as he produced two coin bags onto the desk.
“Who’s to say that I am going to spend it? I have plans, sir, I have.”
“An enterprising young man, you are, William. You clearly wish to continue to work for us then, I take it? No?”
“Most definitely, sirs,” he said as he removed his cap from his head and began to wring it in his hands, a sign that he was growing more apprehensive the longer he toiled here with these men.
This piranha detected just how many teeth these sharks possessed. He, no doubt, did not intend to furnish them their next meal.
I understood his reason for concern. The longer I stayed on the porch the more uneasy my stomach became, say nothing of not occupying young Master William’s place in the room. This young lad had more bottom to him than most of the men back at Satan’s Circus who avoided these men like they had the plague. Yet, William stood his ground amongst these malevolent creatures. Impressive, to say the least.
My fear for the boy grew as I noticed that the posture of the two companions shifted ever so slightly. Almost imperceptibly so, though I caught it, nonetheless. I was unsure, whether to call out or play the buccaneer and actually bound in unannounced, of what would be the best course of action to save the boy.
Say nothing of the distinct possibility that if I did anything of the sort, what would likely happen is that the boy would be killed immediately for bringing along an intruder, or worse yet, I might be captured and killed as well. Neither of which suited my purposes. But I knew I had to do something.
The larger, more muscular of the two companions had produced what looked like a stiletto from the sleeve of his overcoat. It glinted for a brief second in the lamp light. No time to waste …
“But other considerations need to be taken into account, young Master Brackett. Like the fact that you have allowed yourself to be followed. There is a brutish fellow hanging outside our door as we speak now.”
Brutish? How dare he …
Before I could take note, one of the two men vanished, seemingly to slip into the darkness of the room to appear very quietly at my backside with the pointed instrument at my back.
Damn! Well this was it, for sure. My adventure had come and gone in the span of a few minutes and now to a miserable demise. And all I had to show for it? My feeble attempt to save some miscreant’s life that probably would be none too pleased to see me.
At my captors prodding, I pushed inside the doorway. Young Master Brackett looked positively murderous for my intended rescue. Well, damn him too.
Let them kill you as well, see if I care.
Only problem was I was already trying to plan a way to save the little whelp. Sometimes I think I am seriously deranged and should have my head examined.
“Well now, who do we have here, Liam. A cohort of yours?”
“Never saw the likes of ‘im before in me life.” The anger in his face still plainly visible.
“He speaks the truth of it. I do not know who he is either. I, … er,” I was trying to think fast but found myself coming up woefully short. The leader wearily sighed, not bothering to hide his boredom with my arrival.
“Seeking to displace his employment in favor of yourself, perhaps?” he offered.
The answer percolated upon my lips when the hounds of hell let loose upon the place. Though the next few moves came within mere seconds of each other, time seemed to run much slower so that every nuance of the fight about to ensue lay forever etched upon my mind.
The ceiling came crashing down in two places and in the process I felt myself blown from my current spot off my feet onto my buttocks, and down the short hallway, sliding the remaining distance to stop just in front of the door. Two Mohawk warriors had crashed through the ceiling, landing on top of the desk and with a loud crack as one of them sent some sort of powerful burst of light into it, shattering it into pieces as they continued their descent through its remains to the floor. The ring leader of the terrible trio retrieved his cane with the first sound of the roof cave in. Instead of confronting them he pressed his finger to a coat hook on the wall and a passage way opened and he slipped into the darkness of the small tunnel beyond. One of the two warriors gave chase yelling for the other to remove the lad and myself.
Master Liam however, in the middle of the blast, possessed the wherewithal to bound forward and grasp the two coin purses from the desk prior to its untimely demise, and proceeded in my direction as I sat up and shook my head to clear the cobwebs from the blast.
Muffled sounds, as if heard underwater, very like cannons being fired in close quarter played upon my ears. My body recoiled from the waves of sound and energy moving about in the small shanty. Light flashes and small percussive explosions rattled before me and though my eyes, half hidden by my hands to shield myself from its onslaught bore witness to the fantastical things before me. My ears, however, came up short on balance. I shook my head, banging the heel of my left hand against my head to see if something inside had become dislodged. I knew, having taken anatomy at Dartmouth, that this clearly could not the case, but I did it anyway. It seemed to help somehow as Liam’s voice sifted itself from the murky din.
“Oy, me white knight, get away from the door you feckin’ idiot! Or I am just gonna climb right over you to get out!”
I scrambled to my feet and turned to look down the hallway at what appeared to be the remaining two of the trio desperately trying to defend themselves from …
“Jacob?” I murmured to myself.
For indeed one of the two Mohawk warriors was none other than my old college mate from my days at Dartmouth! I had not seen him in over two years since we parted company on our last day of school. He had been my confidant and best mate but at no time during our near six years together did I ever think to see him as I did now.
Astonished, I started to walk not from the extraordinary fight as anyone with a clear head would, but rather towards the battle. As I came into view of the room, which by now bore little resemblance to how it stood only two minutes prior, I stood slack-jawed beholding the likes I could not have imagined, yet clearly played out before my eyes.
Jacob stood where he had landed in the remnants of the shattered desk and proceeded to fight off the two blokes who, based on size alone, might have posed a serious threat to his continued health. However, evident in the dour expressions the Russians wore in the course of engaging my Mohawk friend, they did not have the upper hand in the fight. Indeed, they acted as if Jacob could dispatch with them with little more than a mere thought.
Blows billowed back and forth between the terrifying threesome but not with their fists or any weapons that I could see but vibrations that seemed barely visible as they rippled in the air between them, as if the finger of God were running along the fabric of reality in a constant volley. For my friend’s part, the energy ripples being sent his way by the other two Jacob shrugged off with little effect upon his own aggression.
Taking no obvious notice of my entry into the room, Jacob took the offensive. His opponents tried desperately to fend off Jacob’s assault by putting up some opposing force that attempted, quite in vain, to repel Jacobs impressive volley of power. Each brilliantly lit jolt, as if Jacob commanded Thor’s hammer, only pressed them further to their respective corners of the battle zone. The larger, more brutish man, Ivanovich, called to his partner something in what appeared to be broken Iroquoian. Being a friend of Jacob’s and having heard the language for the better part of my days at Dartmouth, I knew it for what it was, but could not decipher the exact phrase. As if it bore some sort of command but the words were not in the right order.
One thing I did discern, that the two Russian men employed a coordinated effort to attack Jacob. I could not stand there and not do something, as he was my best mate from school. I searched the ground for anything with which to attack the brute directly in front of me. I spotted a rather long piece of wood on the floor of the hallway, probably from the demolished roof, but it would do nicely enough for the task.
As I picked it up I could see the two men turning their shiny walking canes so that the ends pointed to one another without actually touching. An arch of power radiated from the tips, like a bolt of lightening it crackled to life. Jacob was about to counter their move when the other Mohawk warrior, who seemed as if he should be familiar to me though I could not envision where such a meeting would have taken place, appeared as if from out of nowhere by his side.
“Coward took off. Seems to have done a ripper on me. I got this. Take your friend and get him out of here.”
“Battery Street meeting place?” Jacob landed a bright bolt of light that collided with the men’s arc of lightning, the result was a feedback along the lines to each man’s cane which blew them from their feet. One against the wall next to me, whilst Ivanovich sailed through a rather dingy window on the side of the room that I had not noticed when I was originally brought in.
“Right you are. As soon as I have had a go with …”
Jacob looked about as if he were missing where young Master Liam had got off to.
“Lost one, have we?”
The odious man before me on the floor regained his composure and slowly stood up. I spied that his plan to change tactics when my chance revealed itself to me and I swung all my might at his head. My strike came into contact with that unseen force that had repelled Jacob’s earlier assaults, it shattered the wood and I bounced back against the wall of the hallway, my arms and shoulders throbbing with the harsh contact that reverberated throughout my body. The man took no notice of my advance. I dropped the last of the wood onto the floor and began to slide down the wall in pain.
“Jacob, get Will out of here and find the boy!”
The other warrior nudged Jacob with his shoulder to get moving. Before I could respond, Jacob appeared at my side and his hand gripped the collar of my shirt and waistcoat, bodily hauling me to my feet.
“Had enough of fun time, Will?” he asked with a slight grin to his mouth.
Oh surely, he could not be so smug as to think I found all of this …this … whatever engagement we were in, as fun. I thought to myself.
But before I could say anything further on the subject, he changed his grip to my wrist and within the next instant we were out of the house and into the courtyard of the warehouse building.
The abrupt change of the harsh light of the shanty to that of a subdued quarter phased double-moon lit night was a bit of a struggle for my gaze to help me find my way. Jacob released me and turned his head slightly to catch me in the fullness of the moonlit glow. He even had the temerity to smile at me!
The snarky bastard!
“Got an eyeful back there did you?” he chided as he continued to stride out into the courtyard scanning for what I could only assume would be young Master Liam, who I had every confidence had not made the mistake of loitering about the place and instead made his escape to quieter destinations long ago.
As we continued to cross to the far side of the open courtyard, I could still hear percussive sounds from the thrashed building behind me. I looked back to discover the little shack now completely dark save for the brilliant flashes of power Jacob’s cohort leveled at his opponent. As I completed the turn back to Jacob I discovered the younger warrior had miraculously joined us, seemingly out of thin air. How he accomplished such a feat left me bewildered. The whole of this evening became an exercise in the surreal and fantastical. Yet, despite what I’d witnessed thus far, some small part of my mind still tangled with this young man’s name which still escaped me.
John, James? Like Jacob, I was fairly certain it began with a J.
We moved along at a fast clip, determined to clear the courtyard lest we have to engage any others. I did my best to stay close when my world rattled again. In truth, I have few words to describe the feeling. A sensation of a hook, painlessly but firmly lodged in my breastbone, gripped me and the breath from out of my body and I suddenly found myself air-bound being hurled back in the direction of the house. My arms and legs flailing as if that was going to be of any help.
“Jacob!” My cry pierced the night.
Within the next moment the younger warrior disappeared from sight only to reappear by my side as I came to what I thought would be a body crushing blow the likes of which were sure to claim my life. The irony that my desire for adventure had put me in harms way not once, but twice in one evening could not have been more plainly felt than in this moment. I did not pretend to fool myself into thinking that it would be the last, either.
But no life-perishing breaking of the body for me. Instead, just as my body should have crashed into the ground, my friend’s mate somehow undid the force of the impact so that I landed upon a feather light cushion from calamity. I came to a stop only a few inches from the ground, the sensation of which bore little difference as when I leapt into the comfort of my bedding at night. He held a hand out to me and, once clasped, pulled me onto my feet.
“Thank you … er, I am sorry I do not seem to recall your name.”
I held my hand out to him but before he could respond the shanty exploded to which the young man held his hands out to it and seemed to contain the blast so it rolled up an invisible bubble keeping ourselves safe. In the next instant the fire from the blast seemed to change into a volley of steam before it changed to water which collapsed onto the strewn debris. As soon as the fire was out the bubble was gone and the water came runneling about our feet. But the fight appeared far from over it seemed as four or five bolts of light shot past us. My young friend again put his hands out and the volleys of light only seemed to dance upon the invisible wall he put between us and the attack.
“Flintlings on the roofline,” Jacob shouted, “two on the left, four more on the right.”
“Take Will. Get him out. What about the boy?” he called to Jacob whilst they traded powerful blows with the dark figures that bore that odd sounding name. One man on either side of us took a hit and fell toward the ground, but their compatriots shot a brilliant blue-white light that appeared to tear at the air beneath their falling comrades so they simply slipped from sight before coming into contact with the ground.
Could this be what my young companion referred to as ripping?
“He seems to have found his own way out. I could not find any sign of him,” Jacob said with little in the way of exertion on his part given the tremendous amount of energy flying about us. To them it seemed as if t’were nothing more than having a chat on a bright spring morning.
“Made off with quite a sum, do you not think? Quick thinking lad. I think I like him.” Jacob’s wicked smirk that never failed to get a rise out of me slithered across his lips. That smirk alone had brought about many adventurous nights during our days at Dartmouth. I immediately felt my reciprocating smile taking form in response to his.
Two more shots from Jacob that seem to burst from the palms of his hands. In that, I could see the very air around his palms alight with what looked like the dust glowing in a quickened swirl and compressed to a singular dark point in the middle. The power seemed to press in until it burst forth in a volley of pure energy. I was astounded by the enormity of it all. I looked over at my savior who had not only employed the same tactic with his right palm, but had erected a formidable invisible wall with the other that our assailants were having a most difficult time cutting through. As to our opposition, their power, while equally astonishing, seemed to come from not from their hands at all, but their long glinting staffs. Appearing as the same highly polished reflective metal as the walking canes I observed earlier only now extended the length of a javelin. One of my younger warrior’s shots was spectacularly brilliant but infinitesimally small, almost insignificant to the other exchanges that came before. Worry crowded my brow for the first time this evening that they were running out of energy and our doom might come after all.
However, as soon as that insignificant sliver of light made contact with its intended target it not only shattered the glittering staff, it burnt the bearer to a cinder in a flurry of flame and smoke – the creature’s shrieking cry of agony cutting through the remnants of the blast.
“Nicely done! You will have to show me that sometime,” Jacob commented as he pushed both palms together and condensed the power he amassed into a compact orb that grew in strength. Satisfied in its compressed power, he released it so that the resounding explosion, once past our shielded wall, radiated across the roofline in a fiery ring of iridescent blues, pinks and purples. The resounding shock knocked two of the figures from their stance but they quickly rebounded and used that slicing motion to extract themselves from the scene. Their fellow warriors did the same and the violence came to a speedy resolution.
“That was fun!” the younger warrior said with a bright smile that made his darkened eyes dance brilliantly in the double-moonlight.
“Not a bad way to spend an evening,” Jacob replied having come closer to us, also grinning from ear to ear.
This was their idea of a good time?
“Wait a moment!” I cried out pointing to Jacob and then rounding onto his companion. “My arse nearly got handed to me not once, nay twice, but three times tonight and you both have the temerity to call it … FUN?”
They exchanged a knowing but maddeningly silent look in that way that the Natives did so well but offered me no reply for my query.
“We better clear out in case they bring back reinforcements” the younger Mohawk said choosing to ignore my commentary on the matter.
Jacob nodded, “Come with me, Will.”
He placed a hand upon my shoulder and gripping my collar he moved forward, pulling me along with him. The moment he did so, I felt a pressure build behind my eyes, obscuring my sight. Before I could shake it out, from one step to the next, my vision cleared and I found myself in the Battery, several blocks from the dockside courtyard we occupied a moment before.
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 …