Well here it is. The first drafts ending. I finished this over a month ago now, and I’m working my way through the second draft as time allows. If you want to read a retrospect/what I learned you can check out the post I did over at Berin Kinsman’s blog. It has been a good experience that’s for sure, and maybe I’ll even have a good story when I’m through with it as I’m well aware that there are still loose ends hanging. Any thoughts you’ve had while reading would be helpful.
My eyes fluttered open and I could feel my chest pumping. I could hear it. I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs. Like something had been crushing um, stopping the blood from flowing. My head felt light, and every small move of my head brought a wave of shock and distress.
It was still dark, the shadows were still prowling around looking for prey. But they had given up on me at least for now. As my eyes adjusted to the dark I saw two things.
I had a ring on my finger. Black and hard, but smooth and cool on my finger. It was a bit large, so it could slip off easily. Wouldn’t want that to happen, as I could guess its purpose.
Rolph was in the corner of the room, slouched against the wall. His chest rising lazily. I would have called out, I tried but I couldn’t make anything loud enough through my gag.
Maria was no where to be seen.
There in the dark, with Rolph’s motionless figure, the view of the world skewed, a finger slip away from being found my the shadows again, I waited. Not slept. I couldn’t have slept even if I wanted to, and I really didn’t.
She took the necklace from me the moment I had it off. She made sure I understood what was happening as she quickly threw it off east into the brush.
My head sank. It was too late to feel anything.
“How do you feel? Do you remember your father? Do you remember what you saw!” Maria, or was it Maldone? shouted.
I did, or I thought I did. Since she’d said his name, Maxwell Tills, an image began forming in my mind. A loose jaw; bright green eyes. Jet black hair short and matted. A wrinkled smile that came from the eyes as much as the mouth. Crooked teeth. This was my father, I knew it then.
Course then all the other memories came in, through a crack. Ridin’ into town with Daddy, him commin’ home with a new book. Him saying goodbye, waving his hat as he left me at the train station. In the forest this woman who knew me so well, ruthlessly, coldly, cunningly killing my father. The rage I’d felt four nights ago boiled up through the crack and busting it open releasing a flood of emotion.
I launched with my legs like I was gona jump up to Bessie and took off right at Maria. She wasn’t ready for this. I tackled her left leg and bit down hard. She screamed and smacked me in the face with the gun. I took it, and didn’t let go.
“Let go you good for nothin’s son of a bitch!”
I did let go but only in order to roll through her legs and leap onto her back from behind. I was pressing my advantage of surprise, and betting on her not using the gun. She fell on her back and I wasn’t quick enough to dislodge myself completely. My right side burst into pain as her greater weight pressed down on me.
Then she was off me, but my body was in too much shock to react. I was left helpless on the floor rolling in anguish. Then she shot me. Right in the leg. Dying as Zinderman should have prepared me, but it didn’t. Nothing could have prepared me for the shock, the pain. I didn’t care about Maria anymore, I just wanted the pain to stop.
When it did, I wasn’t outside.
After two days on my own I began to wonder if Rolph had made the best decision. I was living purely off of squirrel and lizard. It was hard work finding the meat and then cooking it. Cooking it meant getting a fire burning hot enough to cook. Again hard.
That first day I’d ridden till I couldn’t hear gunshots. That was past the mountains too. Then I stopped and let Bessie get some rest, and to give my legs some rest. My ridding training hadn’t prepared me to ride as hard and long as this.
The second day after little sleep I woke to find that most of the rations were gone. Stolen in the night by some creature. That scared me. Something could creep up at night and steal from under my nose. If that could happen, well I was as useless as a rock in sleep here in the open. ‘Cept worse, rocks can’t get there throats slit.
I made little forward progress that day. Spent most the day tying traps and finding wood for fires. It was a slow process. Afterwords I was still hungry. That night I didn’t sleep any better.
The third day I knew I had to find water. Bessie was making by on sips from my water and from the water she got from eating. Now my water was almost empty.
I continued south the way Rolph had said was the Sevier River. I kept thinking I was hearing the rush of water but it was just the wind playing tricks on my mind.
While ridding my mind tried to put together specific scenes with Rolph in it. I had to assure myself they were wrong. They were there certainly, except there was always something off. I could never remember what I was wearing. Plus it seemed to me in these memories we were doing things that Rolph would never do. Rolph didn’t go into town and say hello to everyone he walked by. Did he?
I had to stop thinking about it eventually. Too distracting I decided. Needed to focus on finding water. My skin was empty now, and I knew my time was running out.
I awoke next morning to the sweet smell of grass, and the light touch of dew on my finger tips. The sun was low but bright, and I heard a bird singing as I rose.
Rolph was up already. I made my way back to the house and breathed in deeply. Rolph was inside staring at the golden orb. It was sitting neatly next to its counterpart on top of Cezary’s dresser. Cezary had a pot of tea set out and was cooking a batch of greens for breakfast. It’s what he had.
“Hello Father,” I said greeting Rolph. He turned with a look of shock, but there was a slight smile in his eyes. I smiled back and took a seat in Cezary’s creaky old chair.
Cezary walked out with two steaming plates and said, “did you change your mind? I thought you said he wasn’t your father.”
“Never said that,” I said lifting a forkfull of food to my mouth.
“Anne…Tell me what happened again, when you held the golden orb,” said Rolph.
My stomach grew cold as I thought about it. The death, the sound, come to think of it the lack of sound is what got me. I felt like something was missing though. I couldn’t even think of what it could be, just somethin wasn’t feeling right.
“Well, like I told you I was in a battle. Some people died. I don’t really wana talk much about it. I ended up getting shot and then I was back here.”
Rolph had stopped eating. “Who, who died Anne? Think very hard.”
“I don’t know I didn’t even learn some of their names. Don’tcha think it’s better that way?”
“Anne,” said Rolph standing his tone stern, “what did you do last night?”
I was scared, “What, I just, I just went to bed, I couldn’t sleep for a while so I layed awake but…but I swear I didn’t do nothin.” What could I have done?
Rolph just got up and ran his hand through his hair. I stopped eating too. Cezary came out with his plate and looked at the scene in bewilderment.
I awoke in midday. There was something wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There was a smell in the air, like something that’s been sitting out too long. I squirmed under the bedsheets.
I opened my eyes and realized where I was. I was home. Me again, and never happier that I was myself. Then I remembered what I’d seen. I knew what had happened wasn’t a dream. It was too long, too vivid. Whenever I dream’t I was lucky if I could remember half of it. This…this thing, well, I remembered every moment. Every breath I took is as clear to me as the waking world.
Things seemed the same. I was in Cezary’s only bed. There was a chair next to the bed and on the rotting nightstand there was a cup of hot tea. I picked it up and slid out of bed. Ugh, the smell! I was wearing the clothes I’d been wearing last time I was, me. I’d only been gone what, five days? I tripped on somethin’ and fell breaking the cup and spilling hot water everywhere. It made a loud crash and I yelped. My hand was red hot, scalded by the water. I stood and rushed out of the house only to run into a gun pointed my way.
It was Rolph. When I stopped he lowered the gun. I stood there for a second more, then ran off to the stream to cool my hand.
Ahhh. I let out a sigh. The water was refreshing, and the sound was music to my ears. I remembered how horrible it had been not to hear anything.
“How do you feel?” said Rolph. He was standing over me.
I looked up at him. “I’d like to wash off.” My voice was quiet, and hoarse. My throat felt the way it feels after ya throw up.
Rolph nodded but said, “No. Come on, you must eat first. You must be starving.”
I was a hungry now that he mentioned it, but I felt that the stream would feel better than a bowl of soup right now. Rolph was walking away back to the cabin expecting me to follow. I didn’t.
Instead I stripped down and sat in the middle of the stream. I splashed water over myself making sure no spot was left soiled.
This was where I learned how to work herbs. I saw Rolph’s tree big and strong already as tall as me. Then I noticed two other tree’s. They were small, only about a foot, but they were mine. I knew immediately. My magic had worked. I giggled inside. I’d thought I needed that feeling, that great feeling to work magic, but I didn’t. I hadn’t felt it then, so why would I need it ever? That mean’s that Rolph’s three rules were only more of guidelines. Yes. Of course my spell didn’t work quite as intended but it ended up better in the long run. Yep, my magic had worked better than Rolph’s! Two tree’s for the price of one.
My mind wandered back to the battle, as I closed my eyes.
The water was cold. At least, I knew it should be cold, but I could barely feel it on my skin. When I felt clean I let my head drop into the stream face first, eyes closed.
And I kept it there.
It was pleasant. This was the nicest I’d felt in a long time. My lungs crumpled in my chest, and I heard a pounding in my ears. I could stay like this forever. And I would have.
Arms wrapped around me, pulling me out. I screamed and kicked and tore and bit at them. How dare they take me out of this tranquility. I felt skin under my nails and blood on my hands before the arms pinned me against a warm body, overwhelmingly warm. I calmed, my legs stopped kicking and I let my cries out. Rolph shushed me, and I realized that it’s his blood on my hands. I go limp.
He takes me back and sets me on Cezary’s one rug. It’s brown and coarse. I look shamefully into his eyes as he brushed back my wet hair.
“Tell me.” It’s all he has to say. I’m crying again, and that’s that.
We were lined up. Seemed kind of stupid. Our supplies back behind the line. Then the line broke. Me and four others, including my bearded friend were assigned to protect one o’ them huge guns. A Cannon. Cannon itself was operated by three large individuals who were responsible for carting, and shooting the thing. Course if one of them died, we were expected to take over.
The scene was set; north versus south, union versus confederation. Don’t they mean the same thing? Sorta wished I was fighting shadows. Least then it would be good versus evil. I wasn’t sure those things applied here, now, in Georgia.
The landscape was a rolling forest. The sun was high. The occasional patch of grass, open from vegetation, scattered the countryside. Didn’t get a real good lay of the land. Upon setting out with our cannon, the battle broke out. I’d begun to think of the bastard that had caught me two nights before as The Beard. He was still watching me. I knew I couldn’t run without him picking me off, if someone else didn’t first. That meant I had to take my chances in this fight.
Guns, cannons, screams, it all sort of flows together in the thick of it. Really I couldn’t tell you what happened in that battle. But I do know that it’s where my Daddy died.
The worst part of wakin’ up was realisin’ that it wasn’t all some strange dream. I’d slept that night next to the boy. He was up at the bang of the gun – and that ain’t a metaphor. Me, I wasn’t so prompt. I rubbed my eyes, put my head in my hands and checked myself. I was still Tom Zinderman. Still in Georgia.
I crawled out of the tent and squinted at the world. The sun was just rising, and the camp was in motion. People scurried around the camp handing things to one another. The closest thing I ever scene to it was a time when Daddy’d pointed out a wasps nest. The little guys buzzing all around collecting little bits to build their nest. Well this time the wasps were destroying their nest.
“Come on,” said the boy I’d slept in the tent with, patting me on the shoulder. He couldn’t be over 16. He walked over to the tent and grabbed a spike in the ground. “Come on!” he said.
I hurried over and helped him take down the tent and fold it up.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Robert,” he said. He didn’t say anything else. We placed the tent in a bag, along with everything needed to tie it down and placed it in a pile.
A man, short and chunky came around handing out pieces of bread. Breakfast, yum. It was stale, and hard to chew. I had to get a swallow of water to even get it down.
First thing I noticed: the sound of the train sliding along iron. It isn’t a good sound to begin with, and it makes me think I was having a nightmare. Maybe I was. I can only hope so.
Next thing I noticed was the smell. Dirt, sweat, and a lot of it. I open my eyes and they confirm what I’d been feeling. My head was slumped over, giving me a view of my legs. Beat up mud caked pants. Only thing was, they weren’t on my legs. Well they were on legs, but my legs didn’t seem like my legs. They felt, wrong somehow. Too long, and there was something hangin in between um.
What’s going on I thought. I jerked my head up to get a view of my surroundings. Twelve other men. Bearded, scruffy, dirty and armed. They all had rifles and one had a long blade, curved at the top.
I looked at my arms: hairy and large, cumbersome. I didn’t know how to deal with this body, and the horror and shock I felt must have shown through cause the man next to me somehow yelled through his mountain of a beard, “Looks like Zinderman’s having a bit of homesickness already!”
The statement was met with a round of laughter by the men. The cabin was dark, and it looked like we were in some sort of storage crate, not a passenger train. No windows, just a hole punched in the right hand door for air. No seats, just wooden crates and some piles of hay.
I looked back down. Whatever was going on, I didn’t want to take any chances. I told myself this was just a dream, but something about it felt too real to be a dream. But if it wasn’t a dream, I didn’t know what it was. I could feel the eyes of the men watching me like dogs waiting to pounce.
The first thing you do to learn. Copy. It’s how we learn to speak, walk, and it’s why we understand what a handshake is. Still it seemed odd that it was the way in which I was learning magic.
I found a spot on the opposite bank of the stream. A place where my own willow tree could flourish. The ground was soft as I dug a hole for my start. The ground was warm on my hands and knees. I replaced the dirt after securing my stick.
Three things, I thought. My heart was in my throat.
“Don’t be scared,” said Rolph. “Remember your emotional state directly influences the impact of your magic.”
I swallowed. I reached into the pouch and felt as much as heard dry herbs rustle through my fingers. Dried oak leaves mixed with foxtail. I took hold of a pinch between my fingers. I raised my hand above my tree start. I felt myself calm. This power, this feeling welled up inside of me. It was always there; it was overpowering the shadow inside. This was the first time that I’d felt free of the shadow since I’d been cursed.
Panic: what was the word. I looked to Rolph. He looked back and motioned back to the ground. My target. The shadow was returning, my stomach ached. My head burned with a unquenchable flame.
We were eating lunch by the stream. Nice piece of meat with a crisp loaf of bread that Cezary had just baked. I was sitting on a fallen tree my feet dangling free above the ground.
I wasn’t sure how my training was going. I was learning things and Rolph was encouraging enough but my fighting skills left much to be desired. I’d yet to pass Rolph’s five minute test at holding the pistol and as yet had not fired a single shot. I wondered how long we could stay here. Weren’t there shadows, and soldiers out their fighting a war?
Rolph taught me how to tie various knots and how to set up some basic traps, we even caught a wild rabbit that we gave to Cezary. There was hardly any meat on the bone.
Cezary’s research continued making the cabin smell of rotting flesh. Some nights I slept outside curled up next to Rolph for warmth and comfort. We all smelled terrible at some point though. The infrequent baths in the stream we made could clean us temporarily but a thick stench was never far behind.
“How will we find her?” I asked Rolph at lunch not wanting to say Maria. It was only a suspicion after all.