The L/Wake

The first of our team we sent down the stream into the lake was Arthur. He’d died just before the turn of the shifts and McKenna had found him half sunken in a radioactive pocket a 100 feet from the claw cyclotron and the furnace. The feed showed us he’d stupidly crossed the threshold marked by the red indicators but there had been a low rolling mist so his visuals were probably obscured. He always complained he was sweating too much inside his suit when near the furnace. We were extracting Astatine in those days.

I am reminded of this because now, seven years later I am standing by a different lake in spring, some immeasurable hours before a person I know or knew is to be lowered into the ground. It seems foreign to me this ritual of returning to soil. What they return has not been given by the earth but nonetheless they ground a vessel empty of what was vital, they anchor it so it would remain there as a return point for them in years to come. There is a hint of love in that, a melancholic one. Later, when I stand beside the casket set deep within the grasp of wet and wormy dirt, I might admire the boundaries the earth creates around it, because I know it will be there forever and I know that each time I venture to the cemetery and search for its marker, the grey gravestone, I would produce a set of memories. They would be different each time and I would be sad or happy thinking back to them. I would speak as if to the rotting skeleton hidden underneath the heaviness of unspoiled earth an in my mind it would speak to me and I would see the person it once was. It’s almost a luxury now that I think about it.

On another mission years before the Astatine one a colleague had been struck by a metal tube cracking his visor. In his confusion he’d detached himself from the line and had floated into deep space within a hands reach of his anchored partner. There are many ways to describe a body floating slowly, unreachably away, arms and legs flailing, the lack of oxygen after the backup compartment has been emptied coloring his cheeks purple and blue. He disappears fast, the rotation of his body engulfed by distance and darkness. It’s happens in quiet. Within moments there is no marker that he’d ever been present with us. No grave to return to, to mourn and talk to.

There are swans in this lake. I don’t know if they come because of the quiet or the ludicrous amount of bread crumbs the keeper feeds them from a plastic bag. We are an ordinary occurrence to him fumbling with words of condolences and thin alcohol glasses held between slippery fingers. The house behind me is unsteady with grieving voices, the occasional hoarse laughter. You can hear the tears in the dialogues, a common tongue with different nuances to it. There are trays neatly arranged with food almost like a cocktail party. Everyone takes small bites from the small pieces chewing through grief or sheer uncertainty as to what else to do. A wake is a time when people form a bond through the sharing of stories. I’ve heard most of them that they were willing to share. The stories are all the best ones and they gathered together faces that would intentionally avoid one another. The body rests in the middle of all, oblivious. It’s quiet within it.

“Soren, come inside you’ll freeze out here. It’s bollocks weather.”

Greggory, my brother in his thin rental suit, is shivering by the door of the house, cheeks red from the brush with the wind. When I returned home, I had a difficult time remembering how to accept the wind against my skin. On Epos the wind is almost non-existent, a planet that was initially audible with barely a whisper.

 When we pulled Arthur out we had to decontaminate the body if we were to bring it home with us. A stage of necrosis had begun on his lower torso and after twelve hours muscles in the lax body had become animated. There were frowns all around, a shared unfamiliarity with the side effects at play. The reaction reminded me of the work of some endoparasite sparking extra neurotransmitters in its host. I wonder of the creatures co-existing with poisonous gases, living in the deep dark of the pockets.

“What about the lake?” Alexandria asked when we gathered huffing and puffing in the heavy red hazmat suits.

“What about it?” McKenna mumbled. He’d been staring at the chamber where Arthur’s spasmodic body lay on the med tray. We had quarantined that section of the base in the first hours.

“We could put the body there.”

It was my suggestion picking up on Alexandria’s unspoken wish. The lake was like a biodegrading organism. The substance in it wasn’t water, it was heavier, the color of molten silver and the first truly alien material we encountered on Epos. We’d taken probes to distill but the samples evaporated too fast, a process of a hybrid hard and liquid state to gas in the matter of minutes. It existed solely as one. I knew it would chew right through Arthur’s suit down to the bones leaving no skeleton. It had done that to our equipment when we first tried dipping a camera. It’s only honest to admit that our tech was far too primitive for what was on Epos. Aside from our digging and extracting mission we didn’t tamper with anything else.

“What bullshit are we going to sell to the Mother Base? Because you know they’d be sticking their noses in this.” Janeck was Arthur’s bunk buddy. “They’ll ask about reason of death. They’d want it entered in the system and the body shipped back with the first batch.”

I knew what to tell them, what to lie. The return of the body was going to kickstart an investigation into the nature of the parasite and our work was going to be hindered, the company hiring us was going to lose millions of credits and we our jobs unless another contractor took us in risking we were carriers of some virus out of deep space. The Mother Base was going to send Specialists and they were going to close down Epos marking it a red zone. Quarantine. But after they saw the lake for what it was, I knew they would try to drain it. So I lied.

Later, the supervisor of the second extraction team on the other side of Epos, Piermont contacted me. One of his crew had suffocated in his suit after failing to secure his gear. After leaving the body in the med bay it too had reanimated to an extent correlating to Arthur’s case. Fewer hours though. Six or seven to the twelve we had with Arthur. I remember asking whether they had a lake on their side.

“A big silvery one, yeah. Nero nearly lost his fingers trying to stir it, the damned fool. I don’t think it’s actually a lake, more like a spill from something.”

“Put the body there, suit and all.”

It was that simple. Like we had sent Arthur down the thin sleeve of the silver river and watched the lake rise up to catch him and drag him down into a grave of sorts, below that reflectionless liquid to be anchored in a way. In a way through this returned to origins belonging to something else, a ritual mimicking that which I’m attending now. Funerals don’t differ much from one another as long as there is a place. It made Epos that, a waypoint to return to like a person returns home and goes to visit those who are no longer there.

I place my hand around Greg’s shoulder and let him take me back inside.

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 5

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4, Part 1

Chapter 4, Part 2

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It came bounding from the threshold of dusky woods, an achromic color like dying fire stirring the ashes, anemic body spilling between the tree trunks, tangling skin and bone and muscle in the branches and wailing as it did.

Neave caught the yellow of its eyes as it narrowed them upon her, piercing, devouring even from the great distance. Like smoke it moved swaying trees in its wake, borrowing a shade of the enclosing night, translucent, yet vibrant as it shifted making her eyes water. The color of death and decay.  Ambrose was eager to send biting bullets and they flew passing through the prism of its body hacking at wood and rock instead.

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Neave took them away, leaving behind the gaping mouths of unclosed doors, like black tombs erect in the dying light. She chose the path not down, never down where it was a territory of the dead and forgotten but up where people had a chance to come and go. Go. It was possible, wasn’t it? Neave wasn’t sure, tripping in the dark audible with snakes hissing, goats belowing. Ghost things, past things, things that didn’t exist but came with the Fox.

The introduction reminded her of something that had happened not long ago, something rotten, cruel, intimate. She jumped at each gunshot unfamiliar to the sound live and present not dull like in the movies. Bang! The growling, drooling sound leapt left to right and back again now outside of its hideout, now with them on the blind road. The sun was nearly gone and everything that didn’t exist in it took a form.

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A car thrown in the bush emerged, doors ajar, light flickering, radio croaking, waves overlapping with indistinguishable voices. Neave recognized her silver, the car she had come with. Come. She had chosen to visit here, days ago, years ago. She had been here and with her had been the Fox. The only memory that mattered appeared.

She stopped abruptly, facing the Fox.

“Go, I’ll keep it busy!” Ambrose was shouting gesturing towards the car. Sierra was already working at it, trying.

The Fox had halted, throbbing, pulsating, a worm wriggling phantom. Its proximity was familiar to Neave, dangerously so. It leered at her, recognizing her scent. Its ragged head dropped down, muzzle sniffing between her breasts.

“You knew. When you asked whether it came for me, you knew it did. But you weren’t sure whether it had taken me.” She looked at Ambrose, reaching for him with eyes that he didn’t return quickly enough.

“If I had said anything you would have run. Back then, across the field in the rain. And I wanted to keep you close, safe. I saw the marks, Neave. I had to do something. For you to face it, however not like this.”

Neave bent back on herself, into herself, shuddering. The bruise where he had grabbed onto her arm, latching himself like a leech, sucking joy out and inducing fear, hurt. She rubbed at it, feeling the muscle underneath leather and skin convulse. He came at her, pushed her into a corner, tasted her, trying her on and off. Fast it became something else, terrifying, unwanted. Something to run away from, unaccepting. Ambrose took careful steps towards her, rifle aimed high at the Fox’s head.

“Maybe if I wasn’t so afraid we wouldn’t be here,” Neave put out a hand untangling a piece of her to give to the Fox. He licked her palm, ruby red tongue darting out to lap at sweat and dirt.

“Neave, don’t…” Ambrose pleaded, his rifle rising and falling with the heavy breaths of his chest, unsteady, sweaty in large palms.

“I have to, Ambrose it’s the only way. He takes me and it all ends. Just like in the story. Otherwise I am no one and everything around me is nothing. He would return me to me. I won’t be afraid this time.”

The Fox nodded, a grotesque thrust of its large head.

“Bullshit. Look at me. Hey!” Ambrose just like the night when he found her, stood there a towering figure with secure eyes and secure smile, grey hair falling against the side of his narrow face. “It will hurt you. You don’t need to indulge its whims. You can come home with me and Sierra.” He looked at the Fox, a tense smile and reached out his hand, long slender fingers touching her skin. Touching. A mistake.

The Fox recoiled from Neave and snapped its jaws closed on Ambrose’s hand tearing flesh from bone, dividing. The scream was Sierra’s, running from inside the car to pick the detached, cradle Ambrose in his blood-spurting convulsions. The luminous yellow irises lacking pupils rolled in their sockets, foam bubbling around the rabid snout. Midway it met Sierra, darting at her neck, departing the head half from her body. The person that had been Sierra seconds ago dropped to a shapeless form.

“They wanted to help…” Neave told the Fox, briefly catching the man that walked inside its skin. The Fox opened its steaming jaws, the pungent smell of carrion escaping, mixed with fresh blood, and laughed a human laughter.

Because she had nearly been stolen and in fear of losing herself she had run here, where there was simplicity and in it there was no one. Except the Fox in the autumn looking for his sacrifice. And in the attempt to escape what was nearly done to her she had come here to receive it anew but unlike the other time, the first time she couldn’t run now. She had been returned to it, some anomaly, some paradox that prevented her from going further. The memory leak.

The opaqueness presented itself to Neave, opposite, upside down, astray. Peripheral. That was a good word for it, Neave thought tasting bitterness and iron on her bitten tongue. Not remembering wasn’t a symptom of him and his advances, the hurtful bruise on her arm, but of this place. She didn’t exist in it, but she had crossed its threshold in a desperate attempt to escape to some familiar normality away from prying eyes. The density of it was unfamiliar to her and she felt lightweight, paper thin, impossible to gather, impossible to connect.

“Take me home,” she spoke to the Fox, gripping a handful of fur between her trembling fingers. The missing item locked into place, the harsh feel of the sharp hair irritating her palm. Going back home, she had to face herself. She closed her eyes waiting patiently, obediently for the Fox to do its duty. Take her, kill her, return her.

It weren’t jaws that closed on her neck but lips, salty and rich on blood. Ambrose’s scream punctured, her eyes snapping open. In his slumped form in the red dust, in the lightless night his grip on the rifle was janky, his voice incoherent, thick with grief and pain but he did send a bullet. It connected with the Fox’s eye, the great beast bellowing at the leaking juice from its yellow socket. In its confusion and pain it snapped different set of jaws on Neave.

The night seeped into her eyes, a cosmos reeling down on her, cold and solid, strangely like daggers sliding into sheaths.

“Neave! Neave!”

She stood on unsteady legs, swaying like the grains had been beaten to a submissive motion by the rain in that field so long ago. A brotherly hand came on her shoulder shaking red dust of her jacket, tears of her caked with regret cheeks. The illumination of multiple flashlights fell upon her, the brightness impossible to stand. She turned her head towards the place where Ambrose lay but there was no one there, there was no one where Sierra had fallen. Something was taken from her hand, a weight disappearing leaving her fingers numb, flexing in and out. Her brother held the rifle putting it away, safe distance, good intentions.

“What are you doing here, Neave? I looked for you everywhere, I thought you were dead!”

It’s not something she could answer sleeping in yesterday’s clothes. Yesterday she’d given herself over to the Fox, a ripple in time, a ghoul prancing in golden tilting fields in the moaning mountains. He hadn’t taken his token, his promise. Ambrose had robbed him of that, not allowing for her to sacrifice that which she valued, feared losing, feared giving. He’d understood, had seen why the runaway, why the lack of memory.

But she’d seen the out of place, the different. Now, being picked up, carried away past the trashed car with its doors ajar, past the crumbling houses she gave in to a different touch, the soothing caress on her back, thumb drawing circles. But she missed the other, the friendly hand pulling her from the mud leading her safely to a sanctuary. The only thing existing in that place had been the house with the swing and Ambrose and Sierra in it. She wept for that. She wept for his black eyes. She wept for Sierra.

Coming home she felt like running away again. Coming home she felt like going away.

***

The End

Take you for staying for this short journey!

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 4, Part 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

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Their eagerness to know more transfused into Neave. She allowed herself a deeper breath, eyes not meeting eyes, hers into the distant where the memory existed.

“The man who lived in that house over there told it to me.” Neave pointed at the smallest of the three houses, a green door marking it. “When I asked why he would want to hurt a hungry fox he asked me ‘what do you think the fox eats, little girl?’ and I said ‘chickens of course what else’.” Neave reached for Ambrose’s cigarette, an old habit calling back, and took a drag that jimmied open her throat clogged with difficult memories. He received it back with a twinkle in his eye.

“That man was not nice, I recall that. He laughed at me but when I tried to run away he grabbed my arm and took me inside his house. ‘Do you want to know the truth about your precious fox?’ he asked. His breath stank of alcohol and milk, his hands of gunpowder and dirt. But I wanted to know. I wanted to.”

She looked at them, Ambrose eager to hear, Sierra eager to see.

“He told me a long time ago just after the first houses were built near the river ill luck befell the people and the village. It desolated most of it and the elder stricken with grief, took a rope and headed to the oak tree to hang himself. When he got there a man wearing a fox skin was sitting under it roasting a chicken leg on a tiny fire. He talked the elder out of suicide and shared his chicken with him while the elder told him of their predicament. After hearing all, the stranger offered a solution. He told the elder that if they dined him with the finest meal tonight, tomorrow the sick would be healed and the crops would be rich again and if they gave him one girl after her first blood every autumn the village would flourish and expand and fill with the riches of the earth. They would be kings among the hills.”

“The elder agreed and in the morning when he returned to the village what the stranger had promised had come true. Come autumn the man in the fox skin came for the first girl just as he’d promised he would. The villagers were angry with the elder and how he’d hidden the truth from them. Dealing with demons and spirits…they called him a witch and butchered him. The demon took his girls despite everything, sneaking in the night soft as a whisper, quiet as a fox.” Neave inclined her head towards the green door of the small house. “I was so little, couldn’t be more than six. After I heard the story I wanted to cry but the man just laughed. ‘It’ll happen to you too! The man in the fox skin will come to take you and make you his whore you little bitch.’ I snuck past him and didn’t leave our house for days.”

“What a fucking weirdo. I’m so sorry, Neave. That must have been horrible,” Sierra sighed.

“Did it come? Did he come for you?”

Neave watched Ambrose, his unblinking stare piercing.

Sierra’s eyes widened. “Ambrose! Don’t be an asshole!”

She wanted to tell him, she wanted to be sure. The mark of something held in her hand returned and she flexed her digits tickling at her palm and the pressure there. Her mouth was dry, the red dirt carried in the wind crunching beneath her teeth.

A distant almost indistinguishable cry pierced her ears.

“Did you hear that?” Sierra asked and she swiftly ran down the stone steps and back to the yard where it was darker. The narrow light from her phone’s flashlight provided indication as to where she was.

“Inside the cave lived a Fox,” Neave whispered staring at the jagged rock.

 “Why isn’t it marked on the map, the cave?” Ambrose asked.

“It’s so people don’t go there.” Neave said listening to the cry. It was a woman crying, a child screaming, a person wailing in agony. It was a horrible sound and it chased away all other noise present in the vanishing daylight – the sound of night approaching through the trees making them sway as it came.

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Ambrose joined Sierra adding to the stretch of yellow glow. He clutched his hunting rifle and aimed it at the approaching darkness.

Chapter 5

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 4

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3



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After seeing the oak tree it was easy for Neave to find the path to the heart of the village.

“Where is everybody?” Sierra asked as they walked into a small yard surrounded by conjoined houses. Desolate and damaged buildings had given way to sturdier ones, wires and rusted satellites hanging from windows, bolted into walls crumbling in yellow dust over loose doors leading into pigsty’s smelling of feces and blood. Tennis rockets of a decaying green were barred between boards nailed into crooked sheds containing molded nuts and dried herbs hung from rusted hooks on walls black with time and ash. Nature crawled over lamp poles lacking bulbs and webbed its way over natural protruding rock, white marking a pathway leading to a mansized oven filled with child’s summer shoes and magazines with faces dated ten years back. It was an anachronism that made Neave tremble with newfound nostalgia.

“There isn’t anyone here anymore. They all…died.” Neave knew with a certainty the person she had come to see here had perished as well long ago. “It’s a ghost village.” Stood there in the middle of it all, Neave recalled the presence that once made this place a living thing.

This is the village?” Sierra captured the emptiness waiting to see if ghosts would emerge in the Polaroid once she shook it. The three living houses and the barn made for a small world.

“Over time it became that. The wells down in the valley dried and there was not enough water. It drove the people who were still alive to go up the hill and settle in with the wealthier families. Over time they became one. They stayed here for over 100 years, created this area to live close to one another. Almost like one big house. Until there were only five left,” Neave explained useless memories filling the space where she needed the healthier ones, the truth and clarity.

“Which one is your family’s house?” Ambrose stood next to her. Neave pointed to the crooked construction sitting in the middle of the yard. It had a porch aligned with white flower pots but the flowers had waned and only hard soil filled them.

Neave’s gaze filled with lament. She tried to picture it all as it were when she was a child, when she was young. Sweat and blood, hard work and calloused hands, vibrant dialect and echoing songs carried over vast hills overgrown with tobacco, the strange touch of newly shed wool, the stench of guts mixed with shit – all were present under layers of dust and abandonment and Neave took it all in, recalling whatever she could. Her memory had been meddled with; it was not on her own volition that she was a stray without a shadow. Outer help had canceled her existence allowing only short sighted memories and grief and detachment to remain. And this here, a distant home that was never a home. The call of her name upon familiar lips, feminine and gentle but weak with age transformed into the soft whisper of Ambrose raking her out of the past and into the present.

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“Neave? Are you feeling alright? Do you want us to go back?”

She declined the offer as the feeling of belonging was somewhat more reachable. Above all the floating sensations familiarity escalated and she wanted more. Neave wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve.

 “I think it was the oldest or so my grandmother used to say. I remember sitting on the porch and looking at the-“

Neave tried to remember but she fell in a loophole, memory leaking again. Ambrose caught her, a reassuring smile returning his dimples.

“It’s alright, take your time.”

Again he went first exploring the house, testing the wood, a boot against the floor thumping to raise dust and memories.

“Looks like it was raised from stone and earth!” Ambrose said.

“Boulders brought from the river in ox carts,” Neave remembered. She was surprised the details came to her with such an ease when a fuller, more recent memory was impossible to comprehend. “Over the masonry they used boards crossed with beams and covered that with mud. You can pretty much see the earth pattern on the floor. They made a tracery out of two sets of beams and twined that with oak sticks.”

“Covered it again with mud mixed with straw, right?” Ambrose asked.

Neave nodded. She took the stone steps and crossed over to the unsteady floorboards following Ambrose. The door that had once been shut was ajar, the wire used to twist around the nail to keep it close gone and the latch loose. The primitiveness allowed them to duck into the stale air and gray dark. The beds, twins in size and knitted covers, were still at their places, but the mattress stuffed with old clothes to fill the space was slumped, yellow with black and green and mold from water dripping out of the cracks in the ancient roof.

Sierra’s footsteps were much quieter but the snap of her camera was loud. She had framed the window overlooking the rolling hills. As Neave drew circles in the dust on the table and opened jars collecting dead flies, Sierra had rested her eyes firmly on the small window frame, sneaking closer to it. Her voice came surprised. “That is a formidable rock if I’ve ever seen one. Look, can you see it?”

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Ambrose and Sierra tried to distinguish it through the small rectangle fragments of the unwashed window but Neave knew from where she could see it clear. She went back out to the porch where a red carpet was draped over the DIY bench and sat herself there. She fixed her eyes on the greenery swooshing under some distant wind. It was so simple to remember now.

“I used to sit on the porch and look at the cave.”

Ambrose and Sierra joined her on the porch. On the mountain face jutted out a rock formation and they could just barely catch the opening to a cave before it disappeared bellow the trees.

“Inside that cave lived the Fox?” He asked through a chuckle.

“My grandmother used to tell me that a large fox lived in a cave under that rock. It would come at night through the tall grass and sneak into the chicken box. Four chickens it would eat on the first day and four more on the tenth and it would always come for more avoiding all traps and hissing at the gunshots instead of running. I dreamt to see that fox all my childhood. I thought I could see it come through the woods, through the valley, hear the soft thud of its paws because it was always so quiet up here.”

 “What about the legend?” Sierra asked toying with her camera. Ambrose sat beside Neave lighting a new cigarette. He settled on her line of view. Neave leaned, back against the house. She watched the empty bulb socket rock above her head. It would get dark soon and there would be no light.

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Chapter 4, Part 2

Portland sunsets and a Brass Automaton: An Interview with D. Paul Angel

d_paulangelIn the breaking days of a new indie novella blending Snow White with The Terminator and placing them in a steampunk world, I talked to one of its authors about what it takes to write, about trials and life and dreams, about books and authors that inspire, about his amazing photography skills, about the future and what excitement lies there and of course about Brass Automaton, including a neat little sneak peek behind the scenes! Paul offers very healthy thoughts about the self-publishing scene and delivers some fantastic links to things he loves and respects, so I urge you to check them on the way to knowing who D. Paul Angel is and why you should be on the lookout for his name.

Tell me about your journey in becoming a writer. Was there a particular moment or event that turned you to writing? What was the first story you published online about?

I have enjoyed writing since I was in elementary school.  I loved coming up with stories and letting my imagination run wild.  What I did not like, was having to go back through and correct my work.  So as I was going through the editing, I would cut significant portions of the story during the revisions just to avoid having to copy it over again.  I should add that this was well before personal computers, so everything was written in longhand, with the rough draft in pencil and the final in pen.

We would also have to draw a picture to go with our story, which I also enjoyed, but I would be far too ambitious in my drawing so I would have to rush to finish that too, because by this time all my friends would already be outside playing.  Priorities!  It’s interesting looking back and realizing that I still enjoy the initial flurry of writing significantly more than the tedious work of revising.  (I’m sure I’m totally alone in that too!)  And, more importantly, that my biggest weakness continues to be follow through.  I’m getting there, but I’m still learning the discipline required for the revising (and revising and revising) needed to continue improving.

Which brings us to the first story I ever posted online: Dagger of Delphi It is about the daughter of an oppressive King who is deeply affected by the suffering of her people, and must ultimately choose whether or not to take the throne herself.  Or something like that.  Truth be told I winced reading it, and I’m not wholly sure I even understand what my intentions were.  That being said, I posted it 11 years ago now, and I have grown substantially as both a writer and a person since then.

How do you go about your writing? Do you have a specific place? 

I have desk in my room where I now do most of my writing.  I have had mixed success over the years writing on the couch with my laptop.  It works pretty well for editing, especially with Netflix, but it can be distracting writing first drafts.  So I’m steadily learning how to set aside time every day to write, and make use of the writing space that I have.  It is, again, part of the growing process.

That being said I do some of my best writing in coffee shops, pubs, and Thai restaurants.  I invested in a cheap Chromebook, and it has been great for this- just pure word to page.  There is something to be said for being alone amongst people, and letting the myriad of conversations and crowd’s energy blend into a gentle hum of background noise.  Since I live in Portland, I’m blessed by a stupidly huge number of amazing coffee shops and pubs.  There’s just something about the ritual of writing while enjoying a drink that’s inspiring.  Thai also has a certain magic to it which I discovered quite by accident over lunch.  The heat in the peppers made me eat it slow, and it ended up creating a rhythm between the writing and the eating.  So now I mix in a couple Thai restaurants amongst the pubs and coffee shops.

Outside of writing who is D. Paul Angel? I know you do a lot of photography aside from writing, so is there a particular mood you like to capture and set with your photos? 

As with most of the other writers I’ve been fortunate enough to meet online, I have a dayjob that pays the bills and takes up most of my time.  I’ve been in the legal field as a paralegal for 15 years now.  My specialty is supporting trials and I have gotten pretty good at it.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that trials tend to be all consuming in both time and energy.  Trials can last anywhere from a couple days to several weeks, and the prepping takes even longer.  So when I am working on a large case my ability to write is hugely diminished.  That being said, while trials are exhausting, and mentally draining, they’re still rewarding over all.

Because of the work I do, I have always been vague about my professional career, but I’ve been happy to share most of my creative side online.  The writing is a huge part of that, with my photography being the other significant part of my repertoire.  With my photos I find myself drawn to capturing transitions, textures, light, and scale.  I’ve come to find that there is a lot of beauty throughout the world, even in the most familiar of places and things.  I have uploaded quite a few of my shots to Flickr, and I have been posting a lot on Instagram  too.  Flickr is all the shots from my DSLR, (a Canon T3 for the camera nerds in the audience) so they are higher quality and “bigger” scenes.  My Instagram shots are captured with my phone, so they are “smaller” scenes, and are definitely more found shots, as opposed to the shots on Flickr which I’ve sought out.

In 2016 I made the jump to selling my photos as a member of the Three Rivers Artist Guild in Oregon City, just outside of Portland, Oregon.  While I only had a modicum of commercial success, I learned quite a bit in the process.  I certainly would have liked to have sold more, but my sales did ultimately cover my costs of printing and such.  I even turned a bit of a profit, though only just enough to buy a large coffee, instead of a small.  I’ll sell in the gallery again this year too, and will start selling cards in addition to prints.

Finally, while I don’t have one definitively favorite photo, almost all of my favorite photos are either on my prints page, or my cards page.

Tell me about Brass Automaton. It looks really amazing and that cover art is just fantastic. I read the final, complete version in a heartbeat and I loved it. How did that start and where is it today? 

Brass Automaton was a fantastic experience.  I met Mark through #FridayFlash posts a few years back. He wrote a stream of consciousness story called Beginnings , which he wasn’t sure what to do with.  I volunteered to write the sequel, Overboard, and then he and others picked it up and it became the Beginnings Project.  I wasn’t able to contribute anymore to that story, but we stayed friends via blog posts and Twitter.  Then out of the blue he emailed me about a story he had just written called Brass Automaton.  He had rolled a pair of dice against a table of stories to determine which pair he would do a mashup of.  The luck of the dice gave him Snow White and Terminator, which I found both hilarious and awesome.  So when he asked if I’d be interesting in co-authoring it with him and I jumped at it.

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“This story happened when His Majesty was still a young man, a huntsman to be precise. It is the tale of a clockwork machine from the future, with a mission to terminate His Majesty to prevent him from meeting his future queen.” Jarvis paused for effect. “Then, she was known only as Snow White.” – Overview for Brass Automaton

We started with us alternating a couple chapters each, but we deliberately had very little communication between postings.  It quickly turned into the writing equivalent of, “Hold my beer and watch this!”  We tried to one up each other with each chapter, but more in terms of showing off than writing the other into corners.  Ultimately, it was all about trying to make it as good as possible, and pushing each other to get there.  At the time I was never expecting we would publish it, (or that anyone would enjoy it so much!) so I wrote with absolute abandon.  It was incredibly fun to write and I’m looking forward to starting on the sequel in the Spring.  This time, however, we’re going to collaborate more and make the chapters flow together more smoothly.

The cover art was all Mark.  He’s got some mad Photoshop skills and put the whole thing together.  It turned out beautifully and I have had a lot of people tell me how much they like it.  (I know Mark is already thinking about the sequel’s cover too!)

How did the experience of collaborating with another writer feel? 

Collaborating with Mark was great.  He’s very easy going but a driven writer, which I needed.  I tend to write in fits and spurts, and have struggled with getting word to page on a daily, consistent basis.  Mark was a huge encouragement, and having him drop his chapters, so rapidly meant I couldn’t procrastinate on mine.  Beyond just originating the story, this project wouldn’t have happened without him, let alone getting it published.

Was it a challenge to create the Brass Automaton universe? Were there any bumps on the road, did you have a lot of different opinions as to how to build up the world and the characters?

The biggest bumps in the road for us came from external sources.  Work and life take a toll when writing isn’t your main support, and we were both hit with extra busy times outside of writing.  We had actually written through about 2/3 of it when we hit our respective walls, and nothing more was done on it for some months.  Then Mark got over his wall, and was inspired again.  I was knee deep in trials at the time, so when he asked if I was cool with him finishing Brass Automaton I didn’t hesitate giving him carte blanche to finish.

The closest thing to a conflict we had was after I finished my second set of chapters.  I thought it was a great ending point, so wrote what I thought was an excellent setup for Mark’s ultimate finish.  I emailed him and told him what I was doing and he did the electronic equivalent of laughing before turning my “climax” into a battle creating far more story to explore.

Which was your favorite character to write in Brass Automaton?

My favorite characters were the Dwarfs.  I got a text from a good friend about their names along the lines of “King Odc? Pypha?  Really!?”  He laughed though when I explained that I hadn’t expected to be published when I wrote it, so I just used anagrams for the Dwarves names. I did the same thing with other names too, like Tenycks for Skynet, or Rennoc Woods which is Conner backwards.  Mark, of course, just took it in stride and ran with it.

My favorite character ended up being Poedy (Dopey of course!).  He had fulfilled the role of comedy relief quite well, and then I gave him a uniquely grim backstory, which also explained his lack of beard.  The chapter where this all comes to a head is my favorite in the book, but I’m deeply biased since it’s one of my best pieces of writing so far.

What do you think a story like Brass Automaton brings to the world of self-publishing today? It’s quite unique, a very rich mixture of fables, time travel and an industrial revolution, plus it manages to create a very feministic atmosphere in an era where it did not exist, so I’m curious how do you think it places in the world of fiction today.

I often read Whatever which is the personal blog of John Scalzi,  a moderately successful SciFi author.  And by “moderate” I mean standard bearer of the industry!  He knows the publishing industry better than anyone else I regularly read, and his first book, Old Man’s War, was originally self-published too.  The biggest thing I have taken away from his insights is how there is far, far more I don’t know about both self publishing and traditional publishing than I do know.

I think Brass Automaton especially is too unique to ever be picked up by traditional publishers, but it’s still a great story that self-publishing has allowed us to share. 

So what I offer here is based on my own, admittedly limited experiences, and I’m sure Dunning-Kruger will be watching me closely.

Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey (the latter of which started life as fan fiction of the former) are both, for lack of a better word, awful.  They are also awfully successful, which reinforces that quality is not necessarily an indicator of success, though I’m talking about their literary quality more so than their technical quality.  In other words, I’m sure they were correctly formatted, typo free, etc., even though their content was lacking (IMNSHO…).  But they obviously resonated with a large audience and were hugely successful from a financial perspective, so when I look at traditional publishing I see that not all variables are equal, nor are they dependent.

A brilliant story with fresh ideas and amazing characters that’s submitted with typos, randomly mixed fonts, and inconsistent formatting isn’t going to make it far enough along to be read to see the gem within the rough rock.  On the flip side, a submission that is technically flawless is likely to pass onto the next step, even if it is more mediocre than not.  Personally I’d think the first example is far easier to work with than the second, but typos have been the bane of my writing since forever, so I may biased.  (Fun fact: Spellcheck’s biggest influence on me has been to make ever newer and more creative spelling errors.)

Ultimately though, traditional publishing is a business which drives financial concerns to take precedence over creative quality.  This is true throughout the entertainment spectrum, which is why we have Transformers movie ever third summer even though its budget could pay for 10+ original, creatively stunning smaller movies- because ultimately far more people will pay to see Transformers than they would to see our 10 odd theoretically awesome movies- combined.  Traditional publishing, as far as I have seen, is no different.

Self-publishing though is an entirely different animal.  There are a lot of people who were rejected by traditional publishers, for very good reasons, who are now flooding Amazon with their works, making it increasingly difficult to find good works amongst the crap.  There are also “books” on the marketplace which are literally gibberish or collections of wikipedia pages as a means of gaming Amazon’s payment schedules.  Needless to say, this makes for a lot more noise than signal.

The reward of self-publishing though is that signal.  It gives a voice and allows an audience to works that would never be seen otherwise.  I think Brass Automaton especially is too unique to ever be picked up by traditional publishers, but it’s still a great story that self-publishing has allowed us to share.  One of the websites I frequent is fark.com, and they have a weekly thread for writers.  They put together an anthology called Heart of Farkness which I helped a teeny, tiny bit on.  The stories vary between great and amazing, and its another example of being able to share stories with the world that would otherwise go unread.

For all the troubles in the world, we live in a Golden Age of arts.  We have the ability to share books, photos, music, movies, and more across the entire world.  You and I live over 6 thousand miles away and yet we have been sharing and enjoying each others works for years now.  That isn’t just unprecedented in human history, it’s truly beautiful.  If ever there was a mechanism for peace and understanding amongst so many diverse cultures it’s this sharing of our artistic souls.  That’s a bit too optimistic, perhaps, but I have seen in my own life that Love beats Hate, and being able to share our own loves makes the world that much better.

What is the Emoji Raiting Guide?

One of the things that I have wanted to do with my blog is give my thoughts on movies, TV shows, and other things that catch my interest.  I started with the old, traditional star rating from 0-4 stars.  I know most ratings are now from 1-5 stars, but there are some efforts out there for which even a single star is too much!  As I started working with it though, I found that the number of stars wasn’t really indicative of my thoughts.  Zero stars are easy.  Same with four, but what differentiates a one from a two, or a two from a three?  Instead I came up with my own emoji ratings.

This way I could break things up into what I think are more helpful categories.  It helps differentiate between something you’ll be happy to see versus something that you should absolutely see.  On the lowest end it also helps distinguish between the bad, and the so bad its awfulness angers my blood and makes baby Jesus cry.  Where it really helps though is in the middle ground.  Those things which are flawed, but still worthwhile, versus those things which are basically more flaw than not.  It also allows me to differentiate why something is bad, helping to explain whether it just failed completely, or if it was bad because of poor decisions.

I’m always on the hunt for fresh titles and so are many of the people who come across this blog. What book recommendations do you have for us? 

My current read is The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Amazing Number by Mario Livio.  (It’s a loaner from @ganymeder, another friend from the #FridayFlash world and twitterverse, and yet another reminder of the amazing connections our world now offers.)  The books traces the history of phi, one of those magical irrational numbers like pi, only it is seen far more in patterns.  It’s been a great read so far, and I’ve been really enjoying nerding out on it.

I tend to oscillate between fiction and non-fiction reading, with the bulk of my reading being done on the bus to and from work.  I just finished a re-read of Harry Potter, which reminded me once again  that J.K. Rowling is truly a God amongst mortals.  After I finish The Golden Ratio I’m going to read Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars trilogy.  It’s basically the Star Wars movies written as Elizabethian plays, and I’m really looking forward to it.  When I’m done I’m going to share them with a theater friend of mine to see if they want to try and and produce them.

In addition to all this, I want to start making a concerted effort to read more self-published books, and in particular read more works from women and minorities.  I had never thought about how white male centric almost all of our popular culture is because, well, I’m a white male.  I have never lacked for representation, and I have now come to see how vitally important it is.  (And another way to bring our cultures together too!)  There were three things that really brought this to life for me, with the first being the work and studying my ex-wife (and still dear friend) was doing on social justice issues.  It has really opened my eyes to so many of the inequalities that I had previously been so blissfully unaware of.

Then, with these thoughts percolating there was a post on Scalzi’s Whatever blog about reading only women and minority authors for a year.  In thinking on it I realized just how white, male centric my reading had been.  It was driven home even more I had a story idea that I was thinking of writing as an Epic Poem.  To stay true to the form I wanted to write a prologue as a sonnet asking my muses for guidance.  In a clever twist I decided to have my muses be the authors who had most influenced my own writing.  As I began compiling the list, I realized they were all white males.  While there’s no disputing that Asimov, Adams, Heinlein, Voltaire, and so on were deeply talented and influential, the Venn Diagram of their worldviews is basically a circle.  So, I’m (finally) learning how reading authors from with diverse backgrounds, and significantly different knowledge and experiences than me, can greatly help to expand my horizons.

While we’re on the subject of books which book and why is your all-time favorite? 

As for ye olde “book on a desert island” question.  My all time favorite book series is Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  It is insightful, funny, and uniquely imaginative.  We lost a rare gift with Adams’ passing all too soon, but his works have influenced me far more than anyone else.  To tie this all together, I’d share one of my favorite insights of Adams’, from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, since it is such a fantastic metaphor for privilege.  It’s one of the opening scenes in which the Electric Monk is on a horse lost in his own world of thoughts, while the horse is only thinking about the Monk, setting up a line about the difference in thoughts between when you are being sat upon. And not.

Are there any new projects you’re working on right now or looking forward to?

Always!  I have far more ideas than I do time or, realistically, ability right now.  I’ve already talked with Mark about the sequel to Brass Automaton and we’ve agreed to start writing this March, and we’re going to forego the oneupmanship in favor of stronger collaboration.  We’ll still alternate a pair of chapters at a time, but we’re going to work out the major plot points ahead of time and talk about things as we go so we to make the chapters flow better on top of everything else.

I’m also working on my own SciFi adventure novella. It desperately needs some rewriting, but I think its story is both unique and intriguing (though I may be biased).  Ultimately I think I’ll be able to forge a larger story from it that would span 4 novellas altogether (give or take).  But, I have to take one step at a time and get this one finished first.

I also have a humorous short story I’ve been working on that was originally submitted, and rightly rejected, from the 2016 Heart of Farkness anthology.  I’ve improved it considerably since then and it’s just about done.

I’ve also been doing some beta-reading and editing work of late too.  It’s amazing how much easier it is to see what needs attention, and how to fix it, in other people’s works than it is in your own!  One of the books I edited is going to be published this summer.  It’s a history Boeing’s 737, written by a friend of mine who flies them for Southwest Airlines.  It was challenging, but a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to reading the finished book.

Down the road I have a couple ideas that I think would make great Graphic Novels.  The first is a humorous SciFi story idea which is the one I was originally thinking of writing as an Epic Poem.  I really do think it will do better in a graphic format.  It’s open ended and is driven by a cast of diverse, quirky characters who must save the world by going from quest to quest to quest.  It also makes use of the venerable Greek Chorus structure as an added bonus (thought they’ll simultaneously be affecting the story and breaking the Fourth Wall).

The other story idea is closed, and far more serious in nature.  It’s all the more important now too in light of how fake news stories affected voters in our last election here in the US (and Brexit too apparently).  It explores that our reality is necessarily framed by what we are told, and that what we grow up with is “normal,” regardless of the reality.  It’s also SciFi in nature and revolves around a “Millenial Ship,” on a thousand year journey to a new planet.  While there really isn’t a shortage of Colony Ship stories, my vision is rather darker, and more unique than those I’ve read.

Further down the line, much further, I have an idea for a very complex novel, which I don’t quite have the technical skills to pull off yet.  I’m roughly outlining it as inspiration strikes, but definitely need more writing experience before I can pull it off the way I feel it needs to be told.

Outside of fiction I have been working on a tabletop wargame.  It is meant to be super easy to play for people with little to no gaming experience.  It uses a chess set for the pieces, construction paper for the terrain, and dice.  A lot of dice!  It’s called DieLuck’s Chess and true to its name relies upon extensive dice rolls.  I’ve completed the second draft of the rules and am working on finalizing it so I can send it out to playtesters.

Finally, perhaps even more far afield from the normal, I’m writing, for lack of a better descriptor, a framework for religion, spirituality, and/or philosophy.  I have always been fascinated by religions, spirituality, philosophies, and the universality of all cultures that there is something beyond our mortal realm.  So I’m trying to articulate a framework for people to think about life, and its decisions, amongst the myriad of our emotions and experiences.  The idea is for it to work for anyone, regardless of their own personal beliefs, or lack thereof, in a higher power.

You were and still are a part of the #fridayflash community. What’s the first thing any aspiring writer should know about flash fiction writing?

That it is awesome and amazing and why aren’t you already doing it?  It is a fantastic tool in honing your writing skills.  Constraining yourself to a wholly self-contained story in a 1,000 words or less is far more challenging than I originally thought.  So many times I’ve written out what I thought was a simple, straightforward story only to look down and find that I’m less than halfway through and already over 1,000 words.  It really teaches you what words are truly invaluable, and what needs to be cut- no matter how great a line it is.

It is also an rewarding way to explore different genres, practice dialogue, or any other technique you want to hone.  In my #FridayFlash’s I’ve written SciFi, Fantasy, Humor, Horror, Mystery, Satire, and I’m sure others which I’m now forgetting too.  I’ve also used it to practice writing with sparse descriptions, as well as utilizing it to explore the possibilities afforded by more complex sentences, more vibrantly colored adjectives, and an aggrandizingly exaggerated vocabulary.

The other great thing is the community.  While I haven’t post a #FridayFlash in awhile, unfortunately, it truly is a great way to get feedback on your works.  It will also help you learn how to give positive, usable feedback to others.  I’ve met a lot of great people over the years through reading other people’s posts and getting thoughts on my own.  Almost every person I’ve met in this community  has been both encouraging and helpful, with people tailoring their critiques to the writer’s skill level.  Indeed, most of them I still keep in touch with via twitter, and it’s inspiring to read how they’re all doing with their own writing.

You can find Paul at these links:

dpaulangel.com 

Twitter

Amazon – Brass Automaton

Instagram

Flickr

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 3

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

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Neave woke in bed in the spare room of the cottage. Mud and anxiety washed away, she had surrendered to a motionless sleep lulled away by the low kept voices of Ambrose and Sierra and the still lingering scent of the opiate candle. The morning was a different shade but Neave was still clutched in the remembrance of yesterday.

She rolled on her side, fingers woved into the blanket, pulling hard to simulate possession. She curled her body into a fetal position escaping for new seconds into darkness behind closed eyes. Beneath the cover she felt naked, exposed, only a skin thin shroud of a memory covering her, the house, Enok, the blurred faces she called family. And nothing more of her present self, of who she was. All memories were fragments from the past, just nostalgia in heaps, nothing useful, only bittersweet. A fickle horror swirled like smoke from a burning cigarette but she blew on it disconnecting its chances of encompassing her to suffocate in its blue haze.

Despite it all her memory loss had boundaries now, a beginning to be placed with precision and an intermission- now, to be played out in order to restore the middle and provide the ending. Her want to go home was still present, but returning would also mean living with the missing and Neave couldn’t bear to be her own stranger. She opened weary eyes to the dull silhouettes in the room. The voices in the other room had escalated to fully developed sentences, rising in volume and urgency. Neave left the bed and received the cool morning air against her bare skin.

She found Ambrose and Sierra in the small kitchen. The devious grin that had played on his lips hours ago was replaced by a youthful smirk.  There was a sudden gentleness lurking in his features and Neave found herself reaching for the coffee mug he offered, a symbol of an act of complete normality she welcomed.

“We know where to go,” he said pointing towards the backpacks on the sofa. Next to them rested against the leather seat was a hunting rifle.

“I don’t know why he needs this,” Sierra joined taking a long sip from her cup.

“In case. Just in case.”

“There is something wild to shoot? How about you leave the shooting to me?” Sierra waved an instant camera at him and slipped it in her backpack.

Neave left the coffee untouched. “I don’t understand. What do you mean you know where to go?”

“It was something you said that gave me an idea. Fair fact, it’s a long shot but I suspect a plausible one. On the way here you mentioned that story, “Inside the cave lived a Fox”. You said it was like local lore, so we did some digging and sure enough there is a similar folklore tale originating in Yarlford, one of the villages up in Mt. Wrell. We figured it would be best to start there.”

Neave folded her arms searching through her brain for the village, a place she had known, had visited. Yarlford, hundreds of years old withstanding the wheels of time, the changing currents. It surfaced with semi-vivid imagery, echoes more than voices, passing weak odors instead of pungent smells. It hovered ghostlike but the more she focused on it, the more the link strengthened returning her to a world less distorted and more memory like. It settled right there in her childhood, a pieced of her mind untouched by her amnesia. Neave could feel Ambrose watching her closely, leaning into the same want to construct a world that was not tainted, that could be reached and anchored.

“I remember spending my summer vacations there but…. Could I have gone there?” And was I alone if I did, Neave wondered.

Sierra took Neave by her hand and pulled her towards the door. Her lips hovered close to Neave’s ear, the breath ticklish on her skin when she whispered. “I think it’s worth the try. Are you ready, Neave? You will rediscover yourself today.”

*      *      *

Yarlford was far. Neave remembered trekking up to it from the train station in Tallbridge. It would take half the hours of daylight to cross the invasive river, hoping from boulder to boulder, to climb over fallen trees shattered by lightning and find the right herd path beside game trails leading into deep woods. A bullet had whistled above her head once, the hunter hiding in silence behind his scope. She had to crisscross over hills and valleys overgrown with grass, remaining at all times above a quaint quiet world populated by distant yowls of cattle. By the time she would reach the house the sky would be turning indigo.

Ambrose took the wheel leading them out of the dirt road and on to a new one miles away that climbed them in her periphery of civilization’s reach to a domain where the wind rustled through the tall grass. Sierra rolled down the backseat window. Her hair scattered, toyed with by the currents.

“It really is a moaning mountain,” she noted. They crawled, tires fighting against the still wet unevenness of the red dirt road threatening to become a landslide and throw them in a ditch of splintered trees soaking in mire ponds filled with rocks. Sierra took photos and wrote down with a blue marker on the white space of the Polaroid her thoughts.

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Neave could see she was enthralled by the endless valleys and jutting peaks colored in pale blues.

A map was spread on the dashboard but Neave’s uneducated eyes couldn’t see where they were or would go. Ambrose tapped a finger at a junction. “That would be somewhere at the foot of the village. We’ll leave the car there and continue on foot.”

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Outside of the car the steep trail that opened on the side of the road snaked its way past the first houses, caved in under time and nature’s pressure. Neave knew them to be sanctuaries of snakes, tongue-splitting venomous reptiles hiding inside their man-made shrines.

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“These were abandoned a long time ago,” Ambrose spoke squinting to look inside an empty window.

“When I was a child people would still search for buried gold coins in them. One man was bitten twice by snakes.”

“Did he die?” Sierra snapped her photo pausing only to scribble, the marker leaving a squeaky noise.

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“I think so.”

“But did he find gold coins? A pot of gold coins perhaps?” Ambrose caught up with her lighting a cigar. The smoke he blew caught her in a sweetened haze.

Neave pictured two gold coins dug from underneath dusty floorboards crawling with the slimy bodies of smooth green and yellow snakes, placed over her eyes, a cold payment for greed, mistrust and cruelty.

“I don’t think there were ever any.”

Coming up the uneven trail outside the density of trees and nodding houses, Neave’s heart skipped and she rushed ahead. She slipped over exposed rocks white as bone to climb the path to open ground. The sight of a crownless oak spreading dried branches like a scarecrow to touch no sky, made her smile.

“I remember this tree. Lightning struck it and it never grew afterwards.” The snap of the camera behind her sealed the moment. Ambrose gave her his leading stride offering open palmed the discovery.

“We’re here,” Neave told them.

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Chapter 4

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 2

Chapter 1

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The road took a swerve and the car eased into a stretch illuminated only by the headlights. Pine trees white against the colorless background buckled under a high wind and she could just catch their crowns so high above. The world wasn’t clearing and she felt trapped on this narrow road, in this car going somewhere that meant nothing to her. She was going in the wrong way regardless of the promise.

Her body shifted away from him patiently pulling on his thin cigar providing the same scent she had breathed with familiarity on his coat. Her heated temple rested against the cool glass of window. Her head was static, memories heavily faded. Lolling with the motion of the car she thought her fingers someone else’s. She opened and closed her palm, flexing her digits. There was a sense of something amiss, something that had been there in her hand but was now gone taking away with itself her feel, her touch. Her skin hurt and she rubbed a thumb against it feeling nothing.

Soon he chose to break the silence “I’m Ambrose by the way in case you fear riding with nameless strangers. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you that before. It seems stupid now, but…”

She could feel his eyes on her back, waiting, wanting to ask more, to know. “Neave. My name is Neave.”

“Are your folks Irish?”

Neave shifted again so she could face him.

“I think they just liked the name. It isn’t spelled like you would if it was Irish. What about you, were your parents religious? Were you named like after Saint Ambrose?”

He laughed and his laughter was even hoarser than his voice. “No, they were not that religious. I like to think Ambrose Bierce served for inspiration. My mother…she was a scholar. She taught Latin and Greek almost her entire life. That and maybe she thought the name sounded posh.”

Ambrose cleared his throat, his grin waning away. His lips became thin, the lines around them more pronounced now that the dimples of his smile were gone. His eyes under a furrowed brow returned to the road.

Neave disregarded her own half-smile and returned her attention to the dial. Time had scarcely passed since they had left the near accident. “Where are we?”

 “Just outside of Tallbridge. See there? That’s Wrell mountain. People sometimes call it “the moaning mountain” because of how the wind whistles through the valleys.”

Neave inched in her seat, inclining her head to catch the slowly rising hills in the distance. There was not a flicker of light there and the mountain looked wild and undisturbed, but she knew of villages hidden within its folds.

 “Inside the cave lived a Fox.”

Ambrose looked at her. “I’m sorry?”

“It’s an old story my grandmother used to tell. Local folklore I think. I remember it originated in a village somewhere high in the mountain.”

Ambrose steered the car left leaving the main road. The tires hit gravel and they started to climb a narrow dirt road between the trees. “What is it about?”

Neave shook her head. “Not sure. It was a really long time ago when I first heard it. I think it made me both scared and sad.” Her skin goosed up when she thought long and hard about it. It too was amiss, not fully formed, partial. Memories of the past were easier to access and process. The now was a blur haunted by them and not all were happy memories.

 “Here’s the house.”

The headlights broke through the dark revealing a small cottage visibly a faded white, a side of it overgrown with ivy, red and brown and orange, an Autumn coat. It had been here for a long time and Neave could sense the coziness it provided along with seclusion. She followed Ambrose through the dark alley, tiny sharp rocks sticking in her soles, and past the makeshift swing still wet with tiny droplets. The light and warmth seeping from inside the house came with a voice.

“Where the hell have you been? I tried calling but you’ve left your phone and…”

Neave shut the door behind her awkwardly stepping inside and facing the petite woman with her arms akimbo.

“Who’s this?”

“Sierra this is Neave. I nearly ran her over on the farm road.”

Sierra’s face changed. She took hold of Neave and led her further into the living room sitting her down on the coach by the fireplace.

“What were you doing at this hour in the fields?”

Neave took the warmth of the fire for a second to defrost her thoughts.

“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

Ambrose sitting across from her shook his head in dismay. “You never said…I assumed…”

“You never asked.”  She still wore his coat and it was enough but Ambrose was pale, wet strands of hair falling in his dark eyes.

Sierra reached over to the cabinet placed between the couch and the armchair and produced a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of red wine. She poured a healthy dose for Neave, none for herself and for Ambrose filled an elegant glass with the wine.

The alcohol burned her throat, not a sensation Neave was used to. It loosened her and the fire, the stillness of everything around her, the disappearing numbness from fingers and limbs altogether softened her. She glanced at the phone hanging on the wall, a landline most definitely dead and then at their phones on display on the table. There was no one to call however. Relationships were strained, a thread of her memory knew that.

“Do you want to?” Ambrose asked, his voice gentle.

“I don’t want to bother anyone.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Sierra probed.

“Nothing. I find only nothingness and the more I try to remember the more distant I feel.”

Sierra found her hand, warm against her still cold one. “Think hard. Last image, last sound.” Ambrose lighted a candle and placed it on the table in front of Neave. The scent filled her nostrils, sweet and heavy. She inserted it into herself within seconds, deep breaths to calm herself bringing more of the opium scent into her body and mind.

Neave closed her eyes following Sierra’s voice to continue breathing deep. She could hear a door getting closed, the rattle of a key chain, the muffled barks of a dog behind that door.

“It’s my house in Lowview.” It was her hand closing the door, turning the key. “I’m at the door and Enok is barking.”

“How does your door look? Describe it to me.” Sierra said.

“It’s just a normal door. White but the paint around the handle is peeling and you can see the original green underneath it. It has scratch marks from Enok, deep into the wood.”

“Is there a date somewhere?”

A car had unlocked behind her and the key was in her hand. She was walking towards it, climbing in it, starting it. The dial caught her attention. “October 16th,” she whispered.

The scent was removed from her and replaced by that of burning wood and sharp whiskey.

“There is your start. But you’re still missing three days and they seem gone for good.” Sierra blew the candle free of its dancing flame.

Neave shook her head feeling lonely without Enok. How could she forget about Enok?

‘The way I see it you have two choices,” Ambrose said rubbing his greying goatee. “You could go home tomorrow, forget all about this and return to normal. Call it an episode.” He swirled the dark red wine in its thin glass. “Or you could try to discover where you went and what you did during those three days.”

“I told you, I want to go home.” She spoke with urgency, one that threatened to tumble-down what little defence she had left.

He cocked his head to one side. “But aren’t you curious?”

Neave remembered the thing that was amiss, her fingers closing in on thin air hoping to grab something that wasn’t there but had been.

Ambrose stood up and circled around the couch she was sitting in. His hand fell heavy on her shoulder, the squeeze a new seal.

“Tomorrow we’ll find out what happened. You have my word.”

Chapter 3