Saturday, August 9, 2014

Writer's Fever - A Cautionary Tale

by PJ Regnier

It’s my first day as Dr. Villmont’s assistant and I’m ready to quit. It hasn’t been anything like the job description promised. Apparently he has a lot of “return clients” as he calls them that have “predictable episodes.”

He uses a lot of finger quotes to accentuate his pet phrases. He says it’s a simple way of bringing me up to speed without going into elaborate psychiatric histories and past incidents. As an undergraduate, I find it all very belittling but frankly I need on the job experience so for now I’m keeping quiet.

We just arrived at the Sundown Parks apartment complex, our final stop of the day. Dr. Villmont called it a case of “writer’s fever.” The day was almost over and I was tired of asking for explanations so I just nodded.

I followed the doctor up the stairs to apartment two thirteen. He knocked on the door and leaned against it with a knowing smile.

“He’ll probably keep us waiting,” he said.

A quick burst of cursing and threats came from behind the door.

I looked down the empty hallway checking for the quickest escape route in case things got sketchy. “Maybe we should call the cops.”

The doctor laughed. “Relax newbie. We’ve got a sci-fi pen jockey in there. Cops only show for the dark horror types.”

Dr. Villmont gave a few quick pounds on the door. “Phil, your agent called. He said if you don’t let us in he’s dropping you as a client.”

I gave the doctor a questioning look. He just smiled and shook his head.

The sliding metal scrape of a chain lock was followed by a creak as the door opened. The darkened entry framed a disheveled man with wild, brown hair who looked to be in his late forties. His appearance was somewhere between caveman and skater. A potpourri of wine, old cheese and French fries burned my nostrils.

“My agent’s a bum,” the disheveled man said. He sniffed, scratched at his scraggly beard, then turned and trudged back into his trash-strewn apartment.

“Of course, Phil.” The doctor spoke in reassuring tones as he followed him inside. “Whatever you say.”

I shadowed the doctor across the worn, grey carpet that seemed to hug the soles of my shoes as I walked. A few low watt lamps struggled to keep the room from falling into shadows. A dusty, oscillating fan in the corner animated fast food wrappers like tumbleweeds in an old town.

“Now Phil,” the doctor said. “We need to clean this place up and stop yelling curses out the window about publishers ignoring your genius, okay?”

Phil slumped down in a lazy boy chair nestled up against a desk. A laptop lay open on the desk covering his bearded face with a ghostly glow.

“Oh, what’s the point?” Phil buried his head in his hands. “Maybe I should just go back to law school.”

Dr. Villmont let out a disappointed sounding grunt and leaned toward me. “This is worse than I thought. Hand me the med bag.”

I froze, realizing I’d forgot the one thing I was in charge of.

The doctor examined my empty hands and frowned. “Unbelievable.” He took out a red notepad and handed it to me. “As punishment, you get to stay here and chat with Phil while I get my bag.”

I grabbed the doctor’s arm as he turned to leave. “Wait. I’m not qualified for this.”

“Relax.” The doctor pulled his arm free and headed for the door. “Just read from the notepad.”

“But…” My protest was cut short as he exited and closed the apartment door behind him.

I was alone with creepy Phil. I turned with a forced smile. Phil grabbed a thick pile of papers from his desk and held them out to me.

“Do you know what this is?” Phil looked at me with wild eyes.

I didn’t know if it was a rhetorical question but I figured I’d answer just to be safe. “Um…your next book?”

Phil let out a mad cackle and threw the papers toward me. They hit the shabby carpet and spread out like flattened dominoes.

“Rejection letters,” Phil said. “The stack grows every day. Taunting me. Mocking me.”

I decided agreement was a good tactic. “Yeah, I know what you mean. They’re probably just jealous.”

“Oh, what do you know?” Phil leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.

I remembered the red notepad in my hand and quickly opened it, hoping for some help. A numbered series of statements were handwritten under the heading, Read slowly in a compassionate voice.

I cleared my throat and read the first statement. “Sometimes true art isn’t appreciated in it’s own time.”

Phil gave a few somber nods.

I seemed to be getting through so I jumped to the next one. “Rudyard Kipling once got a rejection letter that said he didn’t know how to use the English language.”

Phil gave a sniff that almost sounded like a laugh.

I was getting somewhere. I jumped to the third statement. “Critique directed at art is based purely on subjective viewpoints.”

Phil furrowed his brow and looked at me. “Yeah but when dozens of viewpoints agree you’re not good, doesn’t that mean something?”

“Um…” I scanned the page but found no responses, only more statements. Apparently Dr. Villmont didn’t anticipate follow up questions. I found this very shortsighted on his part.

I looked up at Phil. He was starting to get angry eyes.

I was on my own so I decided to draw from personal experience. “Hey, look man, my uncle says he rejects lots of promising books every day. It’s not that they’re bad, they’re just not what he’s looking for at the time.”

Phil’s face softened considerably. “Your uncle? What does he do?”

“He’s a senior exec or VP or something at one of those big publishers downtown.”

Phil sat up straight and smoothed back his wild hair. “Really? Downtown?” He cleared his throat and stood. “Listen, do you want something to drink or eat or anything?”

I was confused and delighted by the sudden turn of character. Apparently my uncle was a more valuable contact than I realized. “No, I’m fine. Are you, um, feeling better?”

“Who me?” Phil acted like the mere question was ridiculous. “I’m terrific.” He cast an anxious look around the room as if suddenly aware of its unkempt condition. “Sorry about all this, I’ve been sick.” He started picking up the stack of strewn papers on the floor. “So, this uncle of yours, does he ever, you know, take meetings from writers or anything?”

“Sometimes, I think,” I said. “He’s been looking for sci-fi stories lately. Isn’t that what you write? I could probably get you a meeting if you want?”

Phil froze, dropping the papers back to the floor. “Oh man, really? You could do that?”


Phil gave an elated smile and walked over to me. “You’re a lifesaver kid. Here’s my card.” He handed me a business card and shook my hand vigorously.

The door creaked open and Dr. Villmont walked in with his med bag in tow. He looked stunned at Phil's joyous composure.

“Dr. Villmont, great to see you.” Phil strode over to the doctor and gave his hand a hearty shake. “No need for that bag, things couldn’t be better. Hey, what are you guys doing? We should all go celebrate. My treat.”

The doctor gave an incredulous look my way. I decided to be kind. I pointed to his red notepad and nodded. He smiled and winked.

“Why, of course. That sounds lovely Phil.”

Friday, July 11, 2014

Introducing Dorcas Little Deer

Dorcas sat as tall as she could in an attempt to get air to the bottom of her lungs. She smoothed the black taffeta flounces, watching the fabric shimmer like the lake on a calm night. She idly imagined what a broad border of beading would look like, flowers and animals in glittering bits of trade glass with borders of variegated porcupine quills. Maybe some brightly colored ribbon to dress up the edges. Mother Barton would never approve, even though she had insisted Dorcas and her sister-in-law have the finest mourning dresses. These awkward metal hoops and yards of flounces were the latest style, brought to the upper reaches of the old Northwest Territory by the wealthy summer residents rapidly taking over the sleepy trading village of Harbor Springs.
Tawah tah, but this corset crushed! She didn't remember it being this tight eight years ago and the stays were still a finger-width further apart than she'd easily pulled them then. However, since it would be unseen and had almost never been worn, it was decided she'd make use of the corset she'd worn in her wedding on the day she laid her groom to rest. The same economic considerations meant other Mrs. Bartons also hid old support garments under new hoops and silks.
She hid her grimace as the jostling cart made inhaling even more difficult, but then realized it might have been better to let her discomfort show. Her mother-in-law's family began muttering about her stoicism before the bodies of her husband, his brother and his father were found in the smoldering ashes of the lumber camp on Crooked Lake. What she’d just done to her hair then only made the tongues wag faster. She had learned to ignore the behind-the-hand chatter, the muttering of the creek behind her house had more meaning to her. 
Her hair. Mother Barton hadn’t noticed yet, so overwhelmed by her three-fold loss. When it was apparent her eldest son had set his heart on on a “savage”, Mother Barton followed her husband’s lead and accepted his choice. But she didn’t take the decision with complete pacifism. Dorcas was quickly taken under the matron’s wing and taught how to style her hair, wear these unreasonable dresses and act like the wife of a respectable businessman. Dorcas was a good student, eager to please her groom and his family. Even if she did wear her old moccasins under the floor-length skirts instead of the ridiculously small and uncomfortable leather boots Mother Barton had supplied. She always returned to westernized traditional dress whenever she wasn’t going into “town”.
Today, of course, she wore the boots. But her hair was not up in the expected neat bun with careful curls framing her face. It was cascading down her back, long, unbraided and as black as the satin, except for the thick fringe above her eyes where she’d cut her hair short. It was to mark her grief that she risked scandalizing the Wasichu. Her sister-in-law, a cousin, had painted her face with coals mixed with pine pitch. If those gossips could be bothered to learn about the Odawa ways they’d understand the deep respect of that action. It meant she was in mourning and would not consider remarriage until the paint wore off - which could take year.
At the moment all those voices were silent. Creaking wheels were the only sounds as the long line of wagons traveled from the church to the cemetery. The dense blanket of autumn leaves turned the clattering of horses’ hooves to soft rustling. She was grateful. She desperately needed the peace after the endless chattering she'd endured these past few days. Callers at the house every hour, loaded with gifts and gossip. Under the thin disguise of condolences, they'd pried for information about the forest fire, the state of the lumber camp, and the solvency of the Barton lumber business.
Dorcas longed to return to her family, where she would have been sheltered from such impudent questions and be allowed to mourn her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law at her own pace. Her father had abandoned the traditional bark-covered wigwam for a wasichu-style cabin long before she was born. Even so, that home was full of traditional comforts. Her aunts, uncles and cousins would intercept all messengers, letting through only the most necessary. If she had married an Odawa brave, her grief would be wrapped in the comfort of her grandmother's embroidered trading blanket, not on public display.
Her parents had walked on years ago and the old cabin had been taken in the same fire as her husband. Her marriage into an English family meant her aunts, uncles and cousins were forced to observe her grief from afar rather than help her bear it.

As much as she had come to love her new family, some traditions made no sense at all.

Wasichu means "fat-taker", what the Odawa called the early fur traders who showed no respect for nature, taking only the very best of the animal and wasting the rest of it.

Jane Wells has always gravitated toward reading material that pushed other people’s buttons. In 2nd grade it was a dinosaur book that upset her teacher at a Baptist school. Now it’s vampires and dystopias that catch her imagination. In them she finds parables and allegories illustrating God’s ancient plan in a language that is uniquely modern – and easily understood by people who may have never set foot inside a church. Glitter in the Sun and Bird on Fire are the results.
Always a writer, Jane’s “real jobs” have included newspaper journalism, youth ministry, sewing machine sales and marketing for a publishing house. Currently she is back to “just a writer” again, while juggling all the typical domestic duties of wife and mother, homeschooling two boys, managing two needy Golden Retrievers and answering to two very demanding cats.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Understanding The Omniscient Point Of View, Part 1

By Rebecca LuElla Miller

For a long time, I resisted writing about point of view because it's been done so often. It seems like every writing book I own has a chapter on the subject. The problem is, few of these have much to say about the omniscient voice. Around the web, too often I've found misinformation on the subject. It seems some writers equate this legitimate point of view with poor technique often referred to as "head hopping."

Please help me get the word out: the omniscient point of view is not the same as head hopping. It is true that the omniscient voice has been in disfavor with contemporary writers. Hence writing instructors more often than not warn new writers away from exploring what actually is a more complex option than the others.

First a quick—very quick—point of view (POV) summary.

• First person POV – I tell the story.
• Second person POV – you tell the story.
• Third person POV – he or she (or it) tells the story.

Where is omniscient in that? It's an option of the third person POV.

The he, she, or it telling the story can be one or more of the protagonists. The story, then, is told from the limited view of one character or several at a time. The latter is called multiple third person POV.

The omniscient storyteller, however, is not limited. This is not to suggest, however, that the omniscient POV must have a god-like narrator. That's only one kind of omniscient POV story.

It's a good one, too. Many of the stories I grew up with had that kind of narrator. It's the type of story that starts with something like, "Come gather around, children, and let me tell you a story."

There might even be narrator intrusions from time to time, such as, "Now those of you who are afraid of the dark should not read this next part late at night, or when you're home alone." In other words, at certain points in the story, the narrator talks directly to the reader.

Throughout the rest of the story, the narrator manages the information, internal and external, from his own perspective. When he says the obnoxious little boy, the reader understands this is how the narrator views the character, and the narrator is right.

The movie The Princess Bride employed the omniscient narrator in the fantasy part of the story -- the grandfather who was reading the story taking that role.

C. S. Lewis used the omniscient narrator in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Here's one example:

"We met one another in there, in the wood. Go on, Edmund; tell them all about it."

"What's all this about, Ed?" said Peter.

And now we come to one of the nastiest things in this story. Up to that moment Edmund had been feeling sick, and sulky, and annoyed with Lucy for being right, but he hadn't made up his mind what to do. When Peter suddenly asked him the question he decided all at once to do the meanest and most spiteful thing he could think of. He decided to let Lucy down. (Emphasis added)

Notice how the narrator includes himself by using the pronoun "we." The entire third paragraph tells his impressions and opinions, but the reader is confident he is right about what he's saying.

There are other kinds of omniscient POV stories however. One of the characters in the story may be telling it after the fact. He's lived the events and is looking back. Because of hindsight, then, he knows what the other characters did even though he may not have been present during the action. He even can know their motives and can speculate on what might have changed if this or that had been different.

A third kind of omniscience is more distant. It's a camera-eye view that gives a more objective report of the events without tapping into the characters' thoughts.

A fourth type is focused omniscience. The omniscient voice describes things the character couldn't see or know -- what's happening behind him, for instance -- but does so only for the focus character and no one else.

No writer should decide on omniscient voice because it is easy. In reality, it's quite demanding. It allows for description the narrator wishes to make and is not limited by the character's voice or opinion. But it must be consistent throughout the story. Because it doesn't allow the reader the intimacy with the characters that first or limited third allows, the narrator descriptions carry more weight. That can be a challenge—one some writers relish. Others—not so much.

- - - - -

A former English teacher and an aspiring epic fantasy author, Rebecca LuElla Miller has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She has covered high school sports for a Los Angeles area newspaper group, published articles and short stories in several print and online magazines, and placed in the top twenty-five in the 2006 Writer’s Digest Short, Short Story contest. Most recently she is the author of Power Elements of Story Structure. She currently blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

Her editing credits include non-fiction and fiction alike, most notably four titles in the Dragons in Our Midst and Oracle of Fire series by Bryan Davis and two novellas in the Mission League series by Jill Williamson. You can learn more about her editing services and read her weekly writing tips at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Marketing Advice From a Queen

No, not me, although Her Royal Highness, the Queen Jane, Ruler of all She Surveys has a really lovely ring to it.

The queen in question is Esther, from her eponymous book in the Bible.

If you've never read the book of Esther, stop everything and do it right now. It is one of my very favorite Bible stories and the framework for any number of rewrites and tributes.  Esther also turns out to have been a very clever marketer.

Queen Esther by artist Edwin Long
Marketing, at its core, is reframing a problem you have in such a way that the person in power is moved to provide a solution that benefits both of you. As an author, my problem is how do I get my book in front of the audience I wrote it for. Esther had a problem with genocide.

Ok. So Esther's problem had more gravitas. Still makes a great case study.

Some background. Esther recently become queen after winning the Babylonian beauty contest, but the honeymoon was over. King Xerxes hadn't called her to his chambers in months. Now she hears that her cousin, who had adopted and raised her, is mourning like someone died. She sends a messenger to find out why.

He informs her that her own people have been set up for slaughter by the king's shifty first in command, a man named Haman who is carrying a 600-year-old grudge because his people's nation was wiped off the map by King Saul.

See, Esther is a Jew, one of the many minority cultures living in Babylon. As a general rule, the Jews kept their heads down and work hard - and they are broadsided by Haman's hatred. Haman has made it law that on a certain date all Persians and other people living in Persia turn on the Jews, kill them, and take all their stuff.

Here's where the marketing brilliance happens.

  1. Esther prays. She gathers up her entourage, and everyone else she can enlist, and they fast, seeking God's favor and will.
  2. Esther acts bravely. After all, what's the worst that can happen? She dies? That's going to happen anyway. Might as well face death while doing something proactive.
  3. Esther greases the wheels. She asks a question the King does not want to refuse by inviting him to dinner. Who turns down dinner? Who turns down an opportunity to gain something they desire?
  4. Esther asks big. She asks that the Jews be spared from the slaughter that had been written into law. This is a HUGE deal because the king's edict cannot be revoked. And even if it could, why would the king want to lose face by appearing to change his mind? Yet, that's almost what Xerxes does for Esther. He has another edict written allowing the Jews to defend themselves, and to plunder the property of their enemies.

All of this is on my mind as I prepare to ask big. I am praying about a national marketing opportunity for Bird On Fire that would put me and my book in front of hundreds of thousands of people I can't reach right now. It is the kind of request that could kill the book - or, with God's grace, change many, many lives. Please pray for me. Let me know how I can pray for you. 

Let's be bold, and ask big - because if there's anything I've learned, it's that God loves to tell a good story. And his favorite way of telling them is through people who are willing to be characters for him.

Jane Wells has always gravitated toward reading material that pushed other people’s buttons. In 2nd grade it was a dinosaur book that upset her teacher at a Baptist school. Now it’s vampires and dystopias that catch her imagination. In them she finds parables and allegories illustrating God’s ancient plan in a language that is uniquely modern – and easily understood by people who may have never set foot inside a church. Glitter in the Sun and Bird on Fire are the results.
Always a writer, Jane’s “real jobs” have included newspaper journalism, youth ministry, sewing machine sales and marketing for a publishing house. Currently she is back to “just a writer” again, while juggling all the typical domestic duties of wife and mother, homeschooling two boys, managing two needy Golden Retrievers and answering to two very demanding cats.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fiction Friday: Blood's Kiss (Part Two)

By Rachel Marks

In Case You Haven't Read PART ONE go HERE

I run through the brambles, thirty yards, past patches of blood, following the red streaks in the snow, and come the stump of a burned-out tree. I catch-up to the source laying over a bed of black ash, and—
It’s not a wolf’s body. Not a wolf at all.
It’s a man. Naked. Trying to pull himself into the hole of the tree stump. 
My mind registers details so strange, I wonder suddenly if I’m still in bed, curled in my dream-quilt, playing out a wish in sleep. A wish to find my wolf, a wish that’s turned twisted and wrong.
He’s choking, gasping, blood running from the wound in his shoulder. The flesh there is torn in a jagged gash, the arrow is lying beside his hand, like he’s just torn it out. There’s markings all down his back in a green and blue pattern that look similar to the weaving that wards against storms.
I step back. Close my eyes. Open them again. 
He’s still there.
He’s whispering through the choking, a strange language. He grasps one of the large roots of the tree, and pulls himself forward. I hear, “Please,” in all the muttering, and then he coughs, spraying out a mouth-full of blood.
He’s not human, though. He may look it, but he’s not. His hair is too clean, too golden like the sun. His skin is pale as the moon goddess herself with markings of spells coloring him in the strangest places. And his ears. Humans’ ears aren’t shaped to a point at the tip like that.
I stumble back, knock into a tree, get my bow tangled in the brambles. 
“Please,” he says again. And his eyes meet mine. A golden promise of horror. They lock me in, like a giant’s fist. “Come closer,” he pleads. A genuine asking in his voice, desperation and pain. 
And I should nock another arrow, strike him through the chest, in one of those golden eyes. I should run.
But nothing in my head can make my hands move to grab a weapon, or make my feet whisk me back to safety. 
I’m stuck. Terror rises in me, swift as a storm. He’s golden, just like the stories.
...just like the sun.
“Come closer,” he says with more authority.
I step closer.
Bile rises in my throat. “No,” I grind through my teeth. But my body isn’t listening, it’s only able to obey him.
“Closer,” he hisses. Blood is now running over his shoulder, down his arm, and pooling in the snow between his fingers. “Just one small task and I’ll leave you in peace.”
I have no idea what he means. I have no idea what’s happening to me—will I be whisked off to the Hidden Places, like Jimmi? Am I to be the toy of spirits, tormented and held captive between life and death until I plead for the later? 
My will battles with his, and my insides become a tug of war. He’s stronger, so much stronger than I could’ve ever imagined. Control belongs to him, over my body, my limbs, as they betray me, taking me to his side, forcing me to kneel at the head of a beast. 
I clench my jaw, hold in a cry of rage, and feel tears freeze to my cheeks. “I’ll gut you if you touch me,” I say.
He rises a little, coming up to meet me, so close, his misty breath brushes at my cheek. “You shouldn’t have tried to kill me, little bird. It may have lead you to a new path, one you won’t cherish.” 
His hand rises and he touches his finger to my temple, beside my eye. A caress, light and delicate, sending a shiver over my skin, my body being coated with his power. It spreads, growing warmer, the shiver turning to buzz. The buzz turning to heat. So hot. A fire in my flesh. 
The snow beneath us melts and steam rises into the air.
I gape at him, getting a full view of my end, my wolf, a creature of myth and fire-stories, as lovely and terrifying as anything I’ve ever seen. The fire fills me, burning my core, blurring my vision, pulling me under. Until a sudden white flash bursts behind my eyes and the fire is gone. But there’s something new left there, inside me.
He touches his nose to mine. “Be quick, and don’t forget.” Obvious pain and fear echoes in his voice.
And then he kisses me. Gentle, delicate, a whisper of lips to mine. But with the kiss comes the knowledge of what I have to do. The white fire is gone as I open my eyes, seeing him, his eyes full of tears, resignation in his shoulders. He’s readying himself, telling me to act. Now.
My hand moves to my belt, to my dagger, pulling it free. I grip his neck from behind. Feel the chill of his skin. The rapid pulse beneath. 
And I strike. Shoving the blade straight through his heart, twisting it, hilt to chest. There’s a stillness that settles, his last breath coming out in a hiss. His eyes stay on mine, going dull, from gold to copper before they close. Tears spill out, running over his cheeks and chin. And he’s gone, that spirit of wolf in him drifting away like misty air.
The control on me releases but I can’t seem to move. I can only stare at my work and feel sick. 
What’ve I done? What’s just happened? 
I killed a man.
No, he isn’t a man

His body goes limp and he slumps down onto the steaming forest floor. 

(To be continued...)

Rachel Marks is an award winning author and artist. You can read more about her and see her artwork on her webpage: Shadow Of The Wood

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fiction Friday: Blood's Kiss

By Rachel Anne Marks

The hare is tough to spot in the snow, white against soft white, but I see her. I have this sixth sense, an awareness of them, these little creatures that seem so scarce now. But so vital. My brother Jimmi was a trapper. The best.
The hare nestles just at the base of a tree about ten paces off. It’s white-grey fir shivers as I raise my bow. The sound of snow shifting in the early dawn crackles at the air. Mist drips from the dead branches above me onto my shoulder.
I let the sounds of the forest sink into me and look down the shaft of my arrow, aiming at the hare’s tender spot, below the front leg, and wonder if she has a knowledge like me. That it’s almost the end.
I breathe out and release the arrow.
It hisses through air and finds its home in flesh. Instant kill.
I take a weaving from my pocket, a small one. It’s just an offering of thanks for what’s being taken. Thread is scarce and needed for mending and patching the warn clothing supply, but as the Crone would say, if the ways of give-and-take are left behind, then what remains except chaos? 
I pick the limp body up, place the weaving of thanks on the ground, in the blood, and then pull the arrow out. It goes back in my quiver. The hare goes in my bag for later. It’s my second kill this morning. One more and we should do well enough for our supply of dinner and breakfast tomorrow, even though they’re boney things, living off bark mostly, maybe thin ailing roots beneath the constant blanket of snow. 
We all do what we have to, to survive.
Like me.
I should be apprenticing with the Crone, finishing my learning of runes and medicine, of bone magic and weaving spells. But when Jimmi went missing, someone had to take his place in the trap—to find the meals and fir to trade. And there was only me and Nessa left. It certainly wasn’t going to be Nessa. 
Has it almost been a year now? Nearly. Beltane came and Jimmi went out after the feasts—after the seven-day fires had turned to embers and ash—he went into the wood, a simple hunt, as always. But he never returned.
I watched him walk into the bone trees at the rim—I always did, it was tradition, good luck. Nessa stopped once she had the first baby but I still followed ‘til that last day. I stood at the wall, and watched his form fade into the shadow of the forest. 
I sat with the radio by my bed for weeks, hoping to hear his voice. Still, every time I come out here, I stop, click the signal on it and listen for an answer. Or try to see if I can find a strip of cloth left behind. Any clue of him. Anything would set my heart at ease. It’s the empty nothing, no information, the void, that keeps me awake in the night. That makes me imagine I can feel him pulling at me—begging me to save him.
I’d woven a blessing of return into his coat and everything. I’m not sure why it failed.
But I know he wouldn’t have abandoned us for the Hidden Places. 
He loved us. And he wouldn’t have left me like that, without a word, unless he didn’t have a choice in it.
The sound of a wren chatters in the far off brush. I walk on the path and listen to the trees. Dark limbs reach to grey skies against stark white backdrops, with silver briars speckling the underbrush. The branches moan and creek and I have to keep reminding myself the trees are dead—the way they sound off, it’s like they have souls. But they’re supposed to be green, not all sharp edges and colors of ash. I've only seen a few living trees, here and there, by the river, where the rocks hold enough warmth for the willows to take root. But once they were all green. Long ago, in the Before.
Mamma told me the tale, passed from her mother and her mother before, of thick emerald canopies and rich dark earth, of flowers speckling the valley in a blanket of violet and orange, of fruit that tasted of sunshine. There were even buildings full of so much food it could feed a whole village for weeks. 
Not now. Not anymore. 
Now everything’s rusted and threadbare. Ancient objects fill the barn behind The Great Kean’s hearth-home and no one can decide what the point was for half of them. The other half are useless.
One more hare, that’s all I need. Then I’ll take them to Jimmi’s hunting cave, skin and gut them, before heading home.
If only I could find a wolf. One of their pelts would be very useful for when Nessa has her new baby. I’ve been trying to track one for weeks and haven’t had any luck, though. I thought I found a trail yesterday, but it went off too far into the Deep. And it would be stupid to break a vow for comfort later. Certainly a pelt isn’t worth the danger of what might be that far into the forest. Where the briars and silver underbrush thicken even more, blocking any path, tricking the eyes. Where the trees seem to whisper and warn you to turn back. Where spirits of the dead guard the Hidden Places. And no human returns with their mind in tact. 
The Crone tells bone-chilling tales of the beings in the Deep that even I’m not desperate enough to follow those pathways. “If we leave them be, Nora, they leave us be,” she says. “They’ve got their own trials. But don’t be believin’ that poking at their boundaries won’t leave them sore. They’ll come for reparations. They always does.”
And so I steer clear of them. 
Okay, I admit, I might have ventured close before. Only once. I took a thin path a few feet—a few yards at the most—and I called out to Jimmi.
But he’d just gone missing, and I hadn’t been straight in the head. Mama kept weeping, saying he’d betrayed us. And the rest of the clan...all they could do was sneer and spit on the ground when I passed. I couldn’t take it anymore.
So, yes, I stepped closer and closer, I pushed the thick silver brush aside and once I saw the speckles of moss, the places in the trees where the life seemed to magically appear, I called out. “Please come home! We need you!”
And then I turned back and ran to the dead places again. Where it was safe. Nothing followed me. I didn’t hear the trees hiss or feel the spirits tug on my coat. There were no golden eyes in the mist. The only thing that I saw that matched the tellings of the fire-stories was the moss, orange and gold and green, in the crevices of the bark. 
Otherwise it was a wholly disappointing venture.
But I wouldn’t go in for a wolf. That would be nonsense.
Instead I slink my way through to the west end of the forest and look for more signs of life in the underbrush. It takes several minutes, maybe an hour, before I find something. A rubbed-on branch here, a scratch in the snow there. A tuff of fur.
But not rabbit fir.
I pick the tuff up and study it, smell it. Get a whiff of that heady oil smell.
My heart speeds up in excitement. 
What’re the chances? My wolf?  
I scan the trees, then, excitement tinging in my numb toes. All I need is a small sign, just a broken branch, a paw print. I listen with that other place inside me, I reach out, hoping to catch the feeling of warmth, breath, the pulse of blood. I reach into my pocket and rub my thumb over the weaving I made after Jimmi left, the prayer in criss-cross blue and knotted green, that asked for me to earn his gift, asked the trees to favor me, like they did Jimmi—well, at least they had until that last day—
A streak of grey moves to my right, in my peripheral. 
I stay utterly still, not even moving my head to look. I know it’s there. Like I sensed the rabbit, I feel the beast’s slick energy in the ground, distant, faded, but it’s there. And this time it’s not getting away. 
Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to have noticed me. 
I breathe out, slow. And then I pick a tree, press myself against it, take up my bow again, notch an arrow, and allow myself a look beyond, into the trees.
The form blends into the surroundings like it’s made of them. If it weren’t for the puffs of breath in the cold air, rising from the briars ahead, I wouldn’t see it at all. And this is the same one. A male, I think. He has a thick line to his shoulders, but his nose is narrow, ears regal and tipped in silver. 
He’s going to look lovely on Nessa’s bed.
I raise my bow and aim. 
At the neck.
The wolf’s rhythm slinks over the ground.
And as I release the arrow a thought passes through my mind: the energy feels off
Not animal. 
But before the idea can take hold the silver arrow-tip hits its mark and a yelp echoes off the trees. 

Cont. in PART TWO


You can read more from Rachel Marks and see her artwork at:


Friday, June 6, 2014

Fiction Friday: "At His Table"

By Rebecca LuElla Miller

This short story first appeared in Fellowship: Link, a Canadian print publication.

- - - - -

I am Omari Mbogo, though Bwana Harrison called me Omani. No—I wanted to shout—O-m-a-r-i, a fine name, one steeped in the history of my people, one I share with my father’s brother and someday hope to give to a son.

As yet, I have no son. My wife Mukami gave birth to two beautiful daughters before her sickness … before her death.

When she first became ill, I believed it was the fever and sat by her bedside as soon as I returned from work, feeding her broth and telling her the village rumors. Day after day she steadily grew worse until she became so thin I could hardly recognize her. Although I knew taking her to the government hospital meant she would never come home, I could not watch her die without trying everything. Bwana Harrison gave me permission to miss work, and I sent my daughters to Mukami’s parents.

At the hospital, Dr. Rajesh Patwa, a slender, light-skinned Indian, inspected Mukami with his instruments. When his assistant poked her arm with the needle to capture her blood in a tube, I turned away. For days I stayed by her side caring for her, but she grew weaker until she barely opened her eyes.

At the end of the week, Dr. Patwa returned, saying Mukami had AIDS and that I needed to be examined, too. His assistant removed my blood as she had Mukami’s.

Days later as I held water to Mukami’s lips and urged her to drink, Dr. Patwa made his way to my side. Pulling his spectacles from the top of his head and placing them on the tip of his nose, he set a thin folder on the end of the bed. After leafing through three or four pages, he withdrew one sheet, studied it, and cleared his throat. “I am so very sorry,” he said at last, “but you also have the HIV.”

That night my friend Bomani Mutala explained this meant I too was sick.

Such a notion did not seem possible since I felt well and had not lost weight like Mukami. In fact, since going to work in Bwana Harrison’s shamba—cutting the tall grass, working the soil, planting the maize, weeding and watering—I became stronger, healthier. I no longer went to bed hungry and never worried about having enough money to pay the landlord.

Bwana Harrison might not have known how to pronounce my name, but he was kindhearted. Since he was the first teacher I worked for, I did not realize at once that he was different from other wageni. That first day on the way home I stopped to tell Bomani what it was like to work for a foreigner. Bomani’s eyes bulged when I said that Bwana Harrison would not let me clear his field with fire, but when I told him what happened at midday, he declared me a liar.

“Bwana invited you into his house?” Bomani’s tone was full of doubt.

 “He did. He seated me at his table.”

 “Why would he do this?”

I shrugged.

 “What did you eat, his leavings?”

I chuckled, knowing how surprised Bomani would be. “They served me exactly what they ate—meat from a cow, potatoes, cabbage, bread.”

 “A feast! What was this, some special event? A birthday? A religious celebration. That’s it. He made you partake in a Christian ritual.”

I could not tell Bomani about Bwana and his family lowering their heads before the meal while he said words to their God. My friend would surely think I was corrupt. “No, he said I am to eat with them every day.”

“You must be lying. No rich, educated mgeni would invite the worker he hires for his planting to eat at his table. I can hardly imagine them feeding him on the porch or in the yard; maybe in the kitchen when the rains come, but invite him to his table? Absurd.”

Absurd or not, Bwana Harrison did just that. Each midday, one of his daughters would come to the door and call me to come and eat—pronouncing my name the same strange way Bwana Harrison did.

A month later as I worked, shirtless in the hot sun, to plant my own maize from the seed Bwana Harrison gave me, Bomani noticed my bones no longer showed under my skin, and conceded, “You must really eat at his table.”

“He gives me extra pay, too, for doing my work well.”

Bwana Harrison did more than feed me and give me money. When Mukami died, he joined my family at the grave. I hated to cry in front of him, but of course I did; and when I glanced in his eyes, I saw tears there, too.

One day I awoke with a cough that tore at my chest. I forced myself out of bed and into the field because I could not let Bwana Harrison down. At the midday meal, though, the coughs came again, and I left the table to sit outside until they quieted. Mama Harrison brought me a cup of tea, then packed my meal in a box and sent me home.

The next day I was too ill to leave my house. At noon Bwana came to me. I was embarrassed to have him see my one room with the mud walls and floor—certainly nothing like his fine, spacious five-room house with glass windows and a tin roof. He did not seem to notice how poor my home was but squatted on the dirt beside me.

He told me he was concerned, that I should go to the mission clinic, that they knew how to treat the HIV.

“They can cure me?” I kept any spark of hope from my voice.

“No, they can’t cure you. But there is medicine that can help with your cough and other medicine that might keep you from getting sick for a long, long time.”

I didn’t want to go to the mission clinic. What would I tell Bomani? No good Muslim had anything to do with the mission, and I was a good Muslim. I even kept Ramadan, though it was hard to fast when I knew I could have been eating Bwana Harrison’s dinners. I lost much weight that month.

As politely as I could, I told Bwana Harrison I could not go to the clinic. The following day I returned to the shamba but could do little more than lean on my jembe.

I held out for a week, but my cough was only getting worse until I could no longer even pretend to work.

When Bwana Harrison called at my door on Monday, I answered in a feeble voice. “Karibu.” He came in, glanced at me, and announced that he was taking me to the clinic. I agreed. He nearly carried me to his car because I was too weak to walk, too weak even to enjoy the ground blurring past me as we sped to the mission.

The people there put me on a clean bed, then a foreign doctor came, wrote my name on a paper, and inspected me much like Dr. Patwa had inspected Mukami. I cannot remember much about the next few days. Bwana Harrison told me they gave me medicine that quieted my cough, and I slept much of the time. Within a week I was feeling better, and the mission doctor told me I could go home. He also talked to me about the HIV, about the medicine I would need.

“Ed—Mr. Harrison—has agreed to fund your care, but you must take the medicine just as I tell you to.”

I said I understood, but I didn’t really. As Bwana Harrison drove me back to my house, I voiced my concern. “Even if I work for you the rest of my life, I cannot earn enough to repay you for this medicine.”

Bwana Harrison kept his eyes on the road. “I’m not asking you to, Omari.”

I blinked. It was the first time he said my name correctly. “Then why?”

“It has to do with what happened to me as a boy.”

He was about to tell me a story from his life—a high honor, perhaps as great as sharing his table. I shifted to face him.

“You know you could have corrected me when I mispronounced your name.”

I let a nervous laugh escape.

He stopped the car in front of my house. “When I was a boy, I thought there was someone I couldn’t approach, too. Someone so great, I couldn’t talk to him, couldn’t tell him what I needed. But then one day, I learned that he wanted me to be part of his family, to sit at his table.”

I made no move to leave his car. Who would Bwana Harrison have been afraid to approach?  Someone living in a great palace, perhaps, or an important government official. But why had he left his protection? “Did he change his mind?”

"Not at all. I'll always be part of his family. And you can be too."

“This is about your God.” 

He nodded. “I mess up, Omari—things like not getting your name right or . . . helping Mukami get the treatment she needed. God wants me to do things different. He wants to take care of you—by using me to do it. You think I could tell you more about him?”

What could it hurt to listen.

- - - - -

A former English teacher and an aspiring epic fantasy author, Rebecca LuElla Miller has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She has covered high school sports for a Los Angeles area newspaper group, published articles and short stories in several print and online magazines, and placed in the top twenty-five in the 2006 Writer’s Digest Short, Short Story contest. Most recently she is the author of Power Elements of Story Structure. She currently blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

Her editing credits include non-fiction and fiction alike, most notably four titles in the Dragons in Our Midst and Oracle of Fire series by Bryan Davis and two novellas in the Mission League series by Jill Williamson. You can learn more about her editing services and read her weekly writing tips at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.