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Hopping around in the book at the moment, trying to get it polished up and somewhere near finished. Here’s a little teaser scene on the bus (neither guts nor glory here):

“Ms. Althea,” I said, “We have to go back to Umstauzel.”
“Back to—?”
“The first winery.”
“Why do you want to go back there?”
Dickerson Linton, clearly three sheets to the wind, stuck his face in between ours and breathed out alcohol fumes such that it would have been dangerous to strike a match. “If Bill wants to go back to Oompahpah, I shay we…we…we leg him. And Godschpeeeed.”
“Thank you, Linton,” I said.
Ms. Althea looked over at Julie.
“Umstauzel,” she said.
“Mr. and Mrs. Parker chimed in next, in unison, “Oompahpah.”
Somewhat of a chant began at that point, “Oompahpah. Oompahpah. Oompahpah…” with a little more than half of them managing to mangle even the mangulation.
“My God, you are all the worst bunch of…nevermind. I guess it doesn’t matter to me. You all paid for this, and the other wineries are expecting us.”
“Maybe you can call whoever is next on the list and tell them there was a holdup.”
“Yeah, I can tell them the holdup was Bill Travis.”
I nodded. “You might do that.”
“Okay, people. At this point I don’t believe any of you would be able to tell one winery from the other. We’re going back to Oompahpah.”
“Umstauzel,” I corrected her.
“Whatever the hell.” She turned to go back to the front of the bus and called over her shoulder, “Mr. Travis, please give me a head count.”
I turned around to face everyone and began counting silently, stabbing the air with a finger.
Linton Dickerson started throwing random numbers at me to try to break my concentration. “Twenty-one, thirteen, forty-two…”
“Shut up, Linton,” I said.
He laughed. “This reminds me of a song.” He started singing:

Neither a borrower nor lender be
Do not forget, stay out of debt.
Think twice and take this good advice from me.
Keep watch on your sovereignteeee
There is one other thing…you ought to do.
To thine own self be true.

I finished the count, called the total back to Ms. Althea, who grunted an acknowledgment. I said to Linton, “Thank you for that rousing chorus, Mr. Dickerson. You should go on the road with that.”
The bus lurched as Ms. Althea put us in gear.
“Looks like we’re already on the frackin’ road,” he exclaimed.
Elderly Mr. Parker suddenly stood and gave us all a moderately unsober yet poetic rendition of She Walks In Beauty Like The Night, at which not a few clapped and upon which Mr. Jameson remarked “Bo-ring!” Somehow, this prompted Linton Dickerson to stand and boisterously brutalize the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.
And so it went the five miles back to Umstauzel.

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Here’s an interesting little article from a private journal from 1962. The author is long dead. But what he foresaw is utterly relevant:

H. Verlan Andersen
Personal Journal, 1962

When the people commence to look to the federal government for their support, and if they don’t receive what they feel they are entitled to, they will strike against the power which is withholding that to which they consider themselves entitled. Just as in times past, men have struck against the companies who gave them jobs and provided them with a livelihood when they felt they were entitled to higher wages or shorter hours.

In both cases the recipients are not grateful for what they are receiving. They are angry because it isn’t more. The difference lies in this: When the strike is against a private company there is an independent unbiased police force to maintain peace and arbitrate the case in court, but where the government is one of the parties to the dispute there is no appeal to anything except force.

The employees can come to hate the government and its officers just as they come to hate the company and its officers when the law is not based upon moral principle. When the law can no longer appeal to either reason or justice, and where it is nothing more than a power which takes what is available and dispenses it with an arbitrary hand, with no fundamental principle to guide it in saying how much is to be given to which group, people lose respect for such a law and the police power which enforces it. No appeal to justice, reason, or compassion will prove effective. The people who are the backbone of civilized nations—the thrifty, hardworking self-respecting independent honest class—cannot respect such a law.

Where the right of private property is protected man is encouraged to look to himself to supply his wants. He is even forced to this just as nature and nature’s God decreed: Thou shalt eat thy bread by the sweat of the face. But when government announces that it will now see to it that his wants are supplied, he no longer feels the need to rely upon his own brains and body. That man loses respect for the rights of others. He looks to the use of force to provide for his needs. He looks to force which takes from others what they have created, and the more he is pampered the more he demands. He comes to believe what the government tells him: That there are no property rights which may not be invaded to provide for his wants. He no longer regards it as necessary to conserve and limit his desires or to save and provide for the future. In our complex economy this is the worst possible attitude, for when it breaks down the suffering will be most intense.

When a government encourages and advocates the belief that force may be used by groups, acting together through government to despoil others of their property, the reliance upon force becomes accepted. As the reliance upon force becomes accepted and as the numbers increase who depend upon government largesse, the greater becomes the problem of restraining this group when government can no longer supply their demands. The government must resort to force to keep them in place when their demands reach that point (which they soon will), where it is impossible to give them what they ask. Civil war will occur just as it did in Rome.

There are always large numbers in any society who are industrious and thrifty and who respect the rights of others to own and control property. These people know within themselves that it is morally wrong for the government to take from them the fruits of their own labors and saving practices and give to those who won’t work and won’t save. As the immoral practice of government grows, disrespect for law also grows. They no longer can be counted on to uphold and obey a law they know is immoral and is at variance with their conscience. The foundation of any stable government is respect and voluntary obedience by the masses of the people. When this is destroyed, free government is no longer possible and dictatorship becomes the only answer. Such a form of government must resort to a policy of foreign war to keep the people united in any respect. They must conduct a war against some real or imagined foreign government and cry danger in order to get any support.

In such a government only the corrupt will accept positions of responsibility, or those who are so blind that they are unable to see the perversion of government. Such a group will not scruple to stay in power. The love of power becomes the dominant aim in their lives. No means is too devious or too reprehensible. They will use force, lies, bribery, murder, and imprisonment to hold their opponents in check.

The loss of political and economic freedom is an inevitable consequence of socialism. Self-government becomes impossible because centralized planning displaces all local planning. As immorality grows apace, the people are unable to act in concert in sufficient numbers to put respectable and moral men in office. Each group is striving to protect its own selfish and government protected interests. Any man who stands up and says this is all wrong is vilified, maligned, and literally torn to pieces by the mobs who want government to continue to protect their labor monopoly, business monopoly, subsidy, welfare check, etc.

The moral element, seeing that it is impossible to restore government to its proper function, begins to plot its violent overthrow. This is the only recourse they have. Appeal to the ballot box is futile. Death is preferable to slavery to them. If there are no moral reference points, then government becomes nothing more than an instrument of force which treats man as if he were just another beast of burden. Not only does the government presume to own and control all land and natural resources, but it arrogates unto itself the power to treat each citizen’s labor as its own, to dispose of as it pleases, and even to direct what labor shall be performed.

—H. Verlan Andersen (1914 – 1992)

Woke up this morning from a dream and started writing. It’s been a long time since I wrote pure horror. I suppose this will be a short story or a novella. It’s temporarily entitled The Navigator. Here’s a taste: (and please forgive any errors–it’s hot off the old press)

In a small desert town along Interstate-40 between Barstow, California and Kingman, Arizona, a woman is brutally raped and left for dead behind a row of dented and sandblasted garbage cans that someone long ago had forgotten to continue filling. But this was forty years ago, and her son, the bastard who was conceived that horrific night, is midst his election campaign for United States Representative. Maybe he will win. Who knows; possibly someday he will become President.

Between St. Louis and Kansas City, up along I-70, a young woman of sixteen is certain that Christ has not only risen, but has returned. She knows this to be so because He came to her as a child and spoke things to her—things that no other living human being has ever heard.

In Harrisburg, Virginia, along the I-81 corridor, an almost ancient city councilman goes through the ritual of committing suicide. He has done this every night for the past thirty years, but has never been capable of summoning the nerve to put an end to his existence. Instead, he puts his grandfather’s Navy Colt pistol back into the holster in the closet where it has hung for his entire life. And then he cries himself to sleep.

Along the long, lonely stretch from Clovis, New Mexico to Lubbock, Texas, there exists a town named for a long dead Major in the Civil War. In this town each night a man awakens from a lurid, disturbing nightmare. What awakens him is the sound of his own voice, screaming. It is the same dream, the dream in which the gleaming bus comes to a stop, there is the brief, piercing, teakettle scream of pneumatic brakes being released, the doorway trundles open, and then he emerges.

***

Some believe that interwoven into the cosmic fabric of the universe are fine, spider’s silk threads that form a certain pattern. While it could be so that this pattern is set and held unbreakably in place by the stars and galaxies, there are a few who postulate that it is not the light at all that determines the woof and warp of these myriad skeins of thread, but instead this pattern is set by the night; the hidden and unseen. For them it is the black holes, the dark neutron stars, the postulated dark matter itself and other cosmic censures, unnamed and unnameable, that constitute the influences that marshals fate. To them, it is the cold night that is prevalent in the universe at large. It is the night that reigns supreme over the faint, hot little cinders of light.

For all that he has visited, this is most assuredly so.

His name is Christopher Pettibone. He is a diminutive-appearing man with a disarming smile, rumpled clothes, and a seemingly endless supply of cash. And when the bus comes to a stop and he arises, others wait for him to exit first. They don’t know why they do this, but they wouldn’t bother to question since they are not actually aware of him in the waking sense. Instead, they pause and shiver as he passes, and when he is gone, they shake the weariness and dread off of them as if they are shaking off the many miles behind. Just like on every trip Pettibone has taken, there will be one who is unable to bring themselves to climb back onto the bus before its departure. Pettibone knows this. He expects it, and in fact, cares not an iota. Caring is a human thing, a frailty. And he is much farther from human than other creature living on the Earth.

The first Chapter of Reveille In Red, Bill Travis #16, coming soon. I’m such a tease.
CHAPTER ONE 

 

The one good thing about getting older is that there are far many more opportunities to drink wine and relax—for other people. Things are a little too busy for me to attempt such a passtime. Julie, my wife, likes to have a little wine now and again, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday night, and while I have tasted the stuff, I couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a serious wine-drinker. Or a drinker of any kind of alcohol in any appreciable quantity, for that matter. First of all, I have to have my wits about me at all times. Second, I never particularly liked the way it made me feel.
 So when I got invited on a tour of the Fredericksberg, Texas wine country through the Austin Chamber of Commerce—one of those “reciprocity” deals that is really little more than flagrant promotion—I didn’t exactly snap at the chance. But when I did finally give the nod and accept the invitation—and received two tickets for my troubles and for my modest donation—it was with an eye toward treating my wife to the kind of life she’d wanted to live all along, or at least it was in my estimation. Possibly, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything.
 The worst disasters typically begin that way: good intention gone awry; an effort to kill two overly vociferous song birds with the same sling bullet, which in this instance included Constance Fielder and her pushy public relations methodology, and the realization during our little talk that it was perfectly true—I rarely treated my wife to anything except a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, taking her car down to have it washed, waxed and detailed some time in the neighborhood of her birthday every year, and the obligatory Christmas and Anniversary presents. 
 “Bill,” Constance said while standing in front of my desk, as if she belonged there and had real business to conduct, “when was the last time you treated Julie to anything? I mean, aside from taking her to dinner?”
 “Well,” I began, and was fully ready to charge forward with the details of our last trip to South Texas, but then I remembered that Julie had spent most of her time in the hotel room while I was out running around trying to figure out who was killing people and turning their bodies into instant mummies. I thought of our most recent trip to the re-opening of a blues bar in Houston, but then, on the heels of that, came the realization that it had all been for my benefit.
 I regarded Constance’s serious face and steady eyes, then sighed and leaned back in my chair.
 “How much, Constance? How much is my conscience going to cost me?”
 “Three hundred dollars. It’s the best deal you’ll ever get for the sale of your thoroughly used and overly abused conscience.”
 I opened my desk drawer, withdrew my personal checkbook, opened it and started writing.
 “You won’t regret it,” Constance said.
 As I wrote, I realized that it was all my fault to begin with. Constance and Jack had divorced a couple of years back, and Constance had been sitting in my office, quietly sobbing while I went over what Jack had done to their portfolio in the months and years leading to their breakup. I did two things for her that day: I recommended one of the best divorce attorneys in Austin to her, and when she asked me, “What am I going to do with my life?” I told her about the opening that I’d heard about with the Chamber of Commerce. All by way of saying that it always comes home to roost. No good deed…and all that.
 I finished writing the check, tore it out of the book and handed it to her.
 She gave me an envelope in return.
 “What’s this?” I asked.
 “It’s your tickets. Two tickets to paradise.”
 “Paradise,” I said. Full blown in front of me a panorama came into view: Julie and me sitting outside under an awning with half-empty wine glasses in front of us, crickets chirping in the scrub brush nearby, a vast field of grape vines stretching out to the horizon and the sun going down behind the farthest hill. 
 Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the stark beauty of South Central Texas with its rolling hills, stubby trees, and its often dry, sun-baked earth. But I do have a problem with the passage of time, or specifically, with time wasted wherein something that could be accomplished is being frittered away like money flowing through the hands of a wastrel.
 Time. My life was all about time.
 And then Constance, a late middle-aged and diminutive woman given to flowery apparel and almost obnoxious optimism, did something funny with her face. She smiled, got a little giddy-looking, and reached across my desk and put her hand on top of mine and squeezed it. “Oh, I so envy you, Bill Travis. You with your beautiful wife and your wonderful family. And now you get to go romance her all over again.”
 “All it takes to romance her, Constance, is eggs for breakfast and banana pudding for dessert.”
 “Oh, poo,” she said. She turned around, sashayed across my office while doing a little happy dance, then turned and said, “This makes me feel young, Bill, so I’m not going to let you ruin anything for me.”
 “Goodbye, Constance,” I said, but she was already gone out the door—with my three hundred bucks.
 I sat in my chair and looked at the envelope in my hand. It was a plain, white envelope, with no address on it, all clean and pristine. It would be all too easy to pull up the address for one of my clients, write their address on the envelope Constance had handed me, slap a stamp on it and put it by the front door with the outgoing mail. But it felt a little more thick than just a couple of tickets.
 I opened the envelope, since it was unsealed.
 Inside, there was a brochure, and sure enough, it had a photo splash of a couple holding hands, looking out across a field of grapes. Inside the brochure there was a wine bottle posing next to a hogshead of cheese that no family of any size could possibly eat in one sitting, and below this was another, smaller photograph showing the wine label:
REVEILLE
 There was a small bugler inked into the background, forever blowing his bugle.
 This jogged a memory.
 It had been in the paper a few days back. I looked around my desk, but no newspaper.
 I got up, went out into the outer office, but Logan didn’t work on Friday afternoon. I poked my head in Penny’s office. “Hey, where’s my newspaper?”
 “What newspaper?” she asked.
 “I had a newspaper on my desk. Where’d it go?”
 “I have no idea. For what day?”
 “I think Tuesday. No, Wednesday.”
 “The housekeeper comes every Wednesday night. She probably threw it away.”
 “Oh.” Lost. So many things, irretrievably lost.
 “I think I have Wednesday,” Penny said.
 “You’re kidding.”
 “I never kid about the newspaper.” She pushed with her feet and her chair rolled backwards. She opened her buffet bureau and I saw a stack of newspapers there.
 She handed it to me.
 I opened it on her desk and turned the page to the Local and State section, and found it.
WINERY DEATH INVESTIGATION ONGOING
 “This is it!” I said.
 “What?” She got up and looked across her desk at the paper.
 “Hmm. Now why would you be interested in that?” she asked.
 “Oh, I don’t know. Two tickets for a tour of the wine country were just dropped in my lap, and the brochure has this!” I pointed at the picture to the side of the article.
 “A bottle of wine,” Penny said. “Very nice.”
 “No. If you look close, it’s the same name, same logo as on the brochure.”
 “So, you get to tour the winery where somebody died. That sounds…about right.”
 I suppose I had made a spectacle of myself, because I suddenly became self-conscious. It had something to do with the way Penny was looking at me, with her head slightly cocked, as if something had been confirmed. Or worse, as if she thought she understood me.
 “Never mind,” I said, and turned to go.
 “Bye,” she said.
*****
I went home.
 I live in a commune, or so it seems. The garage—converted into a spare bedroom several years back—was where my old friend and client lived. Hank’s old Ford pickup was parked out front, so I knew he was home. Inside, I had two little kids chasing each other around in the squashed circle of hallways and doorways that comprised the path through the kitchen, the front hallway, the living room and the dining room and back again to the kitchen. It was Michelle and Claudia. In the living room, Jessica sat on the couch, rocking the baby in her arms—my new youngest, Bill Jr. My oldest natural daughter, Jennifer, sat at the dining room table doing her homework in an effort to get it out of the way so that she could do anything she wanted with her weekend. Julie was in the kitchen, cooking. I came up behind her, put my arms around her, and kissed her on the cheek.
 “What did you do?” she asked.
 “What? Can’t a guy be affectionate to the love of his life?”
 “He can, if he has ulterior motives. Do you want to chop some onions?”
 “I’d rather walk on broken glass,” I said.
 “That can be arranged.”
 Michelle flew past me, followed quickly by a giggling Claudia.
 “In this house, nothing surprises me.”
 “So,” she said, and put the lid back on the pot she’d been stirring. Whatever it was, it smelled good. “What’d you do?”
 “Oh, nothing. Just, I got a couple of tickets for a tour for two of wine country.”
 “Napa Valley?” she asked, incredulous.
 “No. Not that wine country. Our wine country.”
 “What, exactly, is our wine country?”
 “Oh. Fredericksberg, Trantor’s Crossing, Center Point, Luckenbach.”
 “Hmph.”
 I held the envelope out in front of her, between her and the cook pot. She took it from my hands.
 “What’s the catch?”
 I thought about it. She turned around and kissed me, then looked deeply into my eyes.
 “Tell me,” she said.
 “I…there’s this thing.”
 “What thing?”
 “Somebody was killed—possibly it was murder—at one of the wineries we’ll be touring.”
 “And you have to go and poke around.”
 “I don’t have to do anything. I just thought—”
 “You thought you could do several things at once: one, keep me happy, and two, keep yourself happy by stirring up trouble.”
 “Something like that,” I admitted.
 “When do we go?” she asked.
 At that instant, Claudia slammed into the back of my knee head first. I very nearly went down to the floor, but Julie saved me in time.
 Claudia giggled, pulled herself up and resumed the chase.
 “Not soon enough,” I said.

A lot of uncool stuff going on right now. Here’s the solution. Chapters 11, 18 and 19 are particularly important right now in today’s world, but also Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10. Do these things, and problems seem to smooth out. These are brief statements of common sense.

 

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Coming soon! Here’s the Author’s Note:

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I’m a bit of a tea-todler these days. That is to say, actually, that I am now a tea-todler. There was once a time—way back in the way back—when I was a professional drinker. I was never an alcoholic, I just really liked to drink—and it didn’t matter what it was, so much: beer, whiskey, wine, kahlua…anything alcoholic was my favorite drink. Then, one day in my late thirties, I was done with it, having grown abjectly bored with the whole thing. Since that time, I have learned to appreciate fine drinks in very small quantities, because, like our friend Bill—not the other Bill, not the AA Bill—I prefer to have my wits about me at all times.

I simply wanted to dispense with all that from the get-go—I’m no stranger to strong drink, and in quantity. My friends of very long standing can attest to that fact. That, for “drinking.”

Which brings us now to wine. More books have been written about wines and grapes, about the “wine country” (of various nations), about wine and food, about the history of wine, etc, than perhaps any other subject. I mean, wine has been with us since forever. Ancient Egypt, Chaldea, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Norway, China, and even the Americas all had their wines. All you have do is conduct an online search on the subject and a wealth of information springs forth at your fingertips. But no, I’ve not been interested in any of those things, those elements incidental to the subject of wine and drinking. Instead, I’m fascinated with the culture of wine, or possibly the sub-culture. And no matter your persuasion—pro or con, wine-drinker or not—you have to admit, there is indeed a culture of wine. It’s out there, brothers and sisters. All you have to do is get some books on the subject and litter your coffee table with them, then start appearing at private and semi-public events and bring along a bottle or two (with a cork, as opposed to a twist-off cap) and share it all liberally, and sooner or later you will find yourself in deep in conversation with an adherent. And wine afficionados are adherents, by any definition of the term. I kid you not.

Factually, I was first introduced to wine and wine-drinkers this lifetime at a fairly formative age, when my father took me wild grape-picking with him. My father knew a lot of people in the countryside around our tiny and insular little town, and he would quickly figure out who had wild grapes growing on their place that they couldn’t bother with. Normally he’d strike a deal with them: he would pick a bushel or two of grapes—and I would help him—and give them half or a third of them, whatever the bargain was, or he would take them home and make wine and jelly with them, and give them a portion of the harvest afterwards. What a wonderful trade! Therefore, we had homemade wine at our house, and we had neighbors and “friends” who liked to drink it and get plumb dang sloshed. And that, to these young eyes, was something to behold. Adults, no less, acting like little children. Consequently, I know exactly how to make homemade wine. I don’t have to consult a recipe book. I was rooted to the spot, watching the whole ritual unfold in the deft hands of my father, who while possibly wasn’t a High Priest, he was nonetheless an adherent of a different ilk: he liked to make wine to share with other people. I rarely witnessed him drinking his own vintage.

Thus, my first introduction to the culture. And notice, if you please, the root of that word, culture.

So, wine.

That day, long ago, when I sat down to title out this series, I came up with the title Reveille In Red not having even the vaguest idea that it would be about wine. That’s the confession part of this little author’s note. No sir, it was just the title, the color red (at that time more like an elegant lady’s evening gown red than the color of wine) and a certain amount of tension in my guts.

Here’s another thing: I am probably the world’s “guiltiest” fellow. That is to say that I feel responsible for not only everything I’ve myself done, but everything that goes on around me. Truth be told, I feel somewhat responsible for what’s going on in Southeast Asia, in Washington D.C., and on some random back street in Brooklyn. I mean, after all, if something’s not right, then somebody should have or should be doing something about it. And if somebody else isn’t, then why didn’t I? So while it’s probably easy for the casual reader to pass off statements such as “a certain amount of tension in my guts,” let me tell you that I’ve never known a complete absence of that tension. I’ve never, this lifetime, felt “free and easy.” Oh yes, I’ve had plenty of moments of intense enjoyment, times of laughter, and I do, factually, sleep. But the tension, the irksome stick-poked sore spot in my belly, always returns. I learned to live with it long ago. I suppose it’s a part of me, so don’t worry none for me or my health on that score. The reason that I bring this up is that Bill’s readers are used to seeing the evidence of this in what he thinks, in how he reacts, in what he says and what he doesn’t say. I just wanted you to get the genus of that, straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s not the writer “being literary” and trying to “create tension.” Good God, no. I’d rather write about a peaceful journey through a mountain valley somewhere. No, this is my method of putting the demons at bay. For expiating some of my essential guilt. You see, I’m starting to see that Bill is the guy I should have been had I lived life the way I’ve always known that I “should,” not the way I have or even am. And this is also my way of turning something “bad” into something a little more healthy. On an even more personal level, I try to do that in most situations.

Yes, like Bill I’ve had my share of fist fights. Like Bill, I’ve had people screaming at me, people threatening me, people betraying me, and people running around trying fiercely to do me in one way or another. No matter how I handled each of those situations, I attempted at every turn to learn from them.

What’s the old saying? You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, or at least act it. Sometimes you have to disappoint people. You have to do the right thing, not the expected thing. I’m by no means a Solomon, to say the least. But there’s that guilty feeling again: why aren’t things going well everywhere around me, not just this minute, but every minute? What did I do that I shouldn’t have? Or worse, what the hell didn’t I do that I should? I think you see what I mean.

Just a little insight into old Bill, there. I hope you didn’t mind.

All right, so we’re coming down to the last of the planned titles, aren’t we? Let’s see, what’s up next? I see only two remaining titles in the original lineup, prior to the prequels. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook—and hey, if you aren’t, why aren’t you? Huh?—know that I have been slinging new titles around recently. So here’s the tentative lineup going into the future, starting from this one:

#16 Reveille In Red
#17 Bexar County Line
#18 The Long Goodnight
#19 Amarillo Waltz
#20 Double Ought Buck
#21 Murder On the Llano Estacado
#22 Wolf Country (prequel)
#23 Manhunt (prequel)
#24 Borderline (prequel)
#25 Leaving Extreme (short story anthology)

So, for right now, that’s pretty much it. It gives me a little more runway down there for this big, slow, lumbering airfoil to get off the ground. I always told myself that if I could complete this series, why, then I’d know something about writing. Here’s the last confession, then: I’m nowhere close to where I should be. And that, my friends, is all on me. Just like Southeast Asia and D.C. and Brooklyn.

As a final word, I want say something to you, personally. Not anyone else, just you. So you bought my book—either you downloaded it on a kindle or some other device, or you’ve bought a paperback copy somewhere, and now you’ve got it in your hands. That’s a one-way flow. It’s me outflowing to you. My words are going into your universe, like old radio skips coming in a clear night. It’s not a two-way flow (although I’ll never for a minute discount that fact that you’ve spent your hard-earned dough buying my book. No sirree, ma’am!) Apart from your initial downlay to purchase it, there’s little coming back. Now don’t worry, this is not a plea for a review, because frankly, I’ve never asked for those. In fact, I regularly admonish my writer friends when I find them doing so. This is, however, a request that you (you, personally) try, somehow, to balance that flow. My experiences are rich enough to write about for only one reason—I’ve met tens of thousands of people in my lifetime, and I consider almost all of those beneficial experiences. That is to say that what I’m missing in my life is you. So please, email me (email me at texaswier at gmail dot com) or friend me on Facebook (anyone can look at the George Wier–Author page without friending me, but it requires you requesting my friendship directly on my personal FB page. Before you do, message me and say, “Bill sent me.” I’ll understand). At the very least, if you have a membership, follow me on Twitter. And say something. I’m practically begging here. I happen to know for a fact that there are hundreds of you die-hard fans out there, if not thousands. It’s time for you to come in from the rain. The place is warm, the table is set, and there’s a chair, waiting for you.

Continuing this thought, and by way of illustration, in The Lone Star Express there’s this point where a funeral director is called out to open a casket and examine a body. Anybody remember his name? Maybe not, but I do. His name is Bob Thomas. Bob is, in fact, a real person. He’s the Funeral Director at Hammon’s Funeral Home in Littlefield, Texas. He’s a huge Bill Travis fan, and now he’s one of my best friends. He was thrilled that I name him in the book. Point of fact, I do know that most of you won’t want your name in one of my books. But a few of you? Ha ha! I can’t wait to put you here.

All this by way of saying that I do read your emails, I do respond. And I do want to hear from you. Some folks have trouble articulating what they want to say to someone like me, but let me assure you, once you get to know me you’ll find that I’m easy to be around. I’m, in fact, safe. You and I have something in common, and it’s not just Bill. It’s a way of looking at things. And that’s what’s important; important enough for me to remind you.

Okay, that’s pretty much it.

Y’all take care, now.

And all the best to you and yours.

George Wier
August 1, 2017

As part of the overall book, I will be including several stories in Appendix form, from the history of the Isherwood. This one I previously posted, but in unfinished form. Here it is, mostly finished now. There will be at least five shorts like this, of varying length, dealing with some of the legends touched upon in this fantasy epic (because it has begun taking on epic proportions, as I knew it would). Therefore, here’s the full “Craypipe and Stovelilly”, along with an “Editor’s Note” at the end. I hope you like it.

CRAYPIPE AND STOVELILLY

Of all the tales of great adventure that come down to us from the old days and the older ways, nary a one is any more moving, any more adventurous, nor more affecting than that of Craypipe and Stovelilly. As you all know, Craypipe lived in the Wide Valley and Stovelilly kept her abode up in the Laurel Range of the Saw Teeth, and only upon great peril would Craypipe adventure forth from his shack among the stands of paper reeds; but the weather was fine and Craypipe was still young and less set in his ways, and he wondered what sort of land lay beyond those far, high and jagged peaks, and as you well know, there is no stronger motivation than simple curiosity. So one clear and bright morning, after all the chores had been done, Craypipe cursed to himself, threw up his hands—those hard hands of his, already gnarled with great strength and abrasive with harsh toil, even then—and put a paper note on his door saying, Gone Explorin’, put a blanket and one of his old belts around the mule, put some crackers, cheese and jars of honey wine in his burlap sack, grabbed his stick and set to walking.

Now, as you also know, Stovelilly got her name on account of her odd birth—her mother, Pratelin, was cooking that day for the Savior Man’s Feast and all the extended family in the hills, and the babe chose that precise moment when two or three things were ready to come off the stove or out of the oven all at once to come into this screaming world. Pratelin felt Stovelilly start to drop and reached down in a flash and caught her by the foot, lifted her up and set her in the cooking pot on the back of the stove—there was no fire under that burner, don’t you know, because it was nothing there but water for cooling things down with—and the new babe settled into the cool water, looked up at her mother and smiled. In the next instant, Old Ames came into the kitchen, took one look and stated, “Now Ma, what you cooking over there on that corner? Because I don’t think the folks will want any of that!”

“Oh shoo!” Pratelin said, damping down the fire under the taters. “That’s nothin’ but my little stove lilly.” And as you know, the name stuck.

But that was a long time ago, close on to thirty years, and Stovelilly lived in the cabin perched on the saddle of land between the two valleys all alone. Old Ames had died of the white rot and Pratelin got herself struck by lightning—and that is a whole other story, let me tell you—and it’s a hard world when you’re living on your lonesome. The family didn’t bother to come and state when they were moving off to the valley. They had forgotten about Stovelilly, as people sometimes do when they are deeply involved in their own affairs.

Now there was still magic in the Earth in those days. Some believe that it originally came from the great volcanic vents in the ocean, mixed with the water, was skimmed from the waves by the great winds that blow unceasing, and was dropped upon the mountains in great rain deluges, and ran down across the land and found its way into the very crops and the animals that we eat. It didn’t, then, take a lot of magic to manifest itself in ordinary ways, so no one thought of the lesser miracles as being quite…magical. They will see a tree growing from a little nut and think nothing of it, or a water spring up from a rock and pass it off as simply the way of the world. But it takes magic to move things, to cause them be when they weren’t before, and to generally bring forth life and living.

However it was that the magic came to be there, it so happened that Stovelilly was particularly sensitive to the ways of magic. She saw it everywhere around her, and was quite versed in pushing it along, of spreading it around such that little things throve and grew in profusion near her. Consequently, the saddle of land between Laurel Mountain and Forrestal Peak became ringed with a great forest of birch and pine, black walnut and maple, and fruit trees were everywhere such that there was no need to plant any crops nor slaughter any animals—for it wasn’t in Stovelilly’s nature to kill anything that could gaze upon a sunset or grow tired or thirsty. Thus, she walked alone in the forest, singing songs to herself to bide her time, and wondered as she walked if she would ever hear the voice of another human being ever again.

She had no way of knowing that a human being would be coming to visit her, and very soon. The magic didn’t speak of it, and her Dream Spirit kept the secret of his coming, for if she had any inkling of what would thereafter occur, she might have blanched at the aspect of it, and hidden herself, and not answered when the call came, borne of the wind that blows about the misty peaks in the morning.

It was seven days for Craypipe from the morning he left the shack until he came to the foothills beneath Laurel Mountain. He spent much of his time talking to his mule. The mule listened, but to his credit didn’t talk back. Nor had Craypipe ever named the beast, other than to call him, properly, Mule.

When Craypipe laid his head down that last evening before attempting the peak, he looked up at the stars and saw that they had not changed one iota from where they were back home, and he wondered at this. He had always heard that the stars were different in the southern climes. This, from the tales of old explorers, handed down through the years. But those old explorers had great boats, and all he had was an old mule who couldn’t talk or even curse back at him. Maybe it was all foolishness. How could the stars change?

Now the Great Old Bear also ranged the Saw Teeth, from Darkfell in the far south all the way to Northern Cross and the Castle ruins, and his wanderings took him past Laurel Peak, where the Mountain Magic was strongest. The Mountain Magic always made the Great Old Bear feel young, and when he slept in one of the dry caves beneath the saddle between the mountains, he awoke hungry, and hunger always made him angry, if not a little crazy.

It so happened that morning that the Great Old Bear and Craypipe awoke in the same instant, and while Bear was moving downhill to one of the streams with its treasure trove of brightfish, Craypipe moved steadily upward, pulling on Mule’s halter rope and cursing the beast at every misstep.

When Craypipe saw Bear coming, he said the bad word—the word no one can write under pain of death or imprisonment—and Bear, upon seeing Craypipe and hearing the word, let forth a fierce roar. Mule jerked the halter rope from Craypipe’s hand, turned his tail and ran, leaving Craypipe all alone on the mountainside.

Craypipe had naught but his walking stick, a shaman’s crook given him by his great grandpappy, and although it was chock full of both wonderment and power, the words and gestures that could summon the dark magic failed his mind upon the charge of Bear and imminent death.

Thus it was that Craypipe took the full force of Bear’s charge and was bowled over. Both man and beast tumbled down the mountain in a death embrace, and both would have perished were it not for the fact that one word escaped Craypipe’s lips during the mad descent, and this word was the only Power Word that Craypipe new. The Power Word set the shaman’s crook ablaze with the Hidden Fire, and the Fire enveloped Craypipe and turned the Bear’s great claws away from his all too tender skin. Additionally, it slowed their descent until they were aloft, suspended in the air with no ground beneath them. There, in the air, Bear became enraged and Craypipe became even more terrified. He was already bleeding from several deep slashes, and while the claws of Bear could not penetrate the fire, the concussive blows of Bear’s powerful forearms pummeled at Craypipe and very nearly knocked him senseless.

Stovelilly heard this great scuffle, distinctly heard Craypipe’s screams and Bear’s tremendous roar, and like a moth drawn to the flame, flew down the mountain toward them, gathering all the force of magic within her perimeter and channeling it into her arms and face.

Thus it was that in the last instant when she could have ceased her flight, instead she leapt outward from the face of the mountain and struck Bear with the concentrated force of her magic. The Hidden Fire of the shaman’s staff in Craypipe’s death clutch was snuffed out in a twinkling, and the three of them fell. Bear, however, was struck senseless by the Stovelilly’s magic, and thus it was that Bear alone—or rather, Bear’s ponderously huge form—that saved them, for the fell atop him and lay dazed upon his inert form on a high cleft in the mountainside.

Stovelilly awoke first, and found the bleeding man, still clutching his staff. Far away she heard the neigh of a horse or mule, and wondered if it was the man’s beast. There was nothing for that, however. She took hold of the man and pulled her to him. Her hands quickly became wet with his blood. She listened for his breath and felt for his heartbeat, but both were faint and fading, all too quickly. Instead of being repelled by the prospect of the strange yet handsome man dying in her arms, even as they lay atop the sleeping form of the Great Old Bear, Stovelilly began the song of Binding, first in a hushed whisper so as not to awaken the Bear, then, as the magic poured upon her from the earth around her and then through her, she was emboldened to sing all the more loudly and clearly. And those of you who know the Song of Binding, may sing it with me now, for here are the words as they were in the time that Stovelilly sang them:

Were it for me
I would not sing
Were it for death
I would not cry.
This is for life and
For healing
I sing.
Hear me Savior Man
And bring to me
The power to save
This lost soul
From the shadow
That comes.
To fight the shadow
Bring light.
To fight the death
Bring life.
To fight the wound
Bring healing.
And in healing
Bring Victory.
Thus I bind.
Thus.
Thus.
Thus I bind.
Thus.
Thus.

And as she sang “Thus” again and again, the magic multiplied and shimmered in her hair. Her old dress with the little daisies became a garment of light so bright that no thing could gaze upon it lest it be blinded.

And thus Craypipe’s gaping wounds were both cleansed by the Light Fire and closed, and the torn skin was sealed, even as the rent blood vessels were re-connected and blood once more flowed where before it flowed only outward through the breaks in the dam that was his body. For that is all a body is, a reservoir.

When Craypipe’s body was healed, he awakened to her beautiful visage and was struck dumb with admiration and wonder. He took her by the hand and bade her to rise. From the stomach of the Great Bear, the pair ascended the mountain, where they found Craypipe’s mule, standing and regarding them in a copse of mountain wildflowers. Stovelilly laid her hand on the beast’s head, and he too was struck as by a woven spell of love. Therefore both man and beast followed her to her little house on the saddle between the peaks, and there bided for a time in bliss and wonder.

There came a day when Craypipe’s tobacco had run low, and there was nothing for it but to venture forth in search of other people. Stovelilly would not travel so far, either on foot, or upon the back of an animal, and therefore she pled with him to stay.

Craypipe would not do so, even though he loved her more than he did his own hide.

She asked of him, “If thy mind is settled, would not thou instead then travel no more than a short time with me along the Ways, and there see other worlds?”

“I know not the Ways,” Craypipe stated, “though I have heard tell of them.”

“It is a simple matter, for a Byway Gate lieth not far from where thy sleepth next to me. For I know the ways, and would travel there before I would walk down the mountain, for the day that I go down will be the last day I shall ever see my home, and I shall never return.”

“Why speakest thou so seriously?” he asked her.

“When thou depart this place, I shall indeed go with thee, even though my heart be shorn in twain, for I love thee, silly Craypipe, and would live beside thee and also die, as thy wife.”

“I never had a wife,” he said, and spun his pipe on his fingertip. “But if thou would be my wife and have no other husband, I will forego a traipse down the slope, and instead travel with thee the Byway Gate, and gaze upon these other worlds of which thee speak.”

“Oh Cray,” she cried, and her tears came, and she kissed him.

They left the mule in the pasturage upon the mountainside, where all was green and lush, and would remain so throughout the seasons, and Craypipe followed Stovelilly to a secret cave.

Therein she lead him to a narrow passage hewn within the rock.

“Walk with me,” she said, “but lay aside the torch, hold my hand, and walk backwards, with nothing but hope and trust in my direction.”

“I would follow thee even into the Great Pit,” said he, and setting aside his torch, took her hand.

The walk through the Ways was a brief one, and they emerged amid a great battle, ongoing, in which men in shining armor hacked with swords at their enemies and fell from their mouths when the rains of arrows penetrated their armor, and there died.

An arrow passed through Stovelilly, and at first Craypipe cried out, but seeing she was unharmed, he gazed at her ethereal form in wonder and said, “Is this place not real? Are we not real to this place?”

“It is as real as the Great Bear, and fifty times more dangerous, but we are not yet wholly real. We must walk onward a ways, but continuing backwards, until we shall be restored to full flesh, for as now, we are mere shades.”

“Wonder of wonders,” Craypipe said.

One of the fallen knights gazed at them, even as he was slowly overcome by his wounds.

“A vision,” said he. “Art thou angels? I must be already dead.”

“She may be,” Craypipe said, “but I assure you, I am not.”

Then dismissing Craypipe, the knight turned his head to Stovelilly and cried. “Wilt thou not bless me? For my wound is mortal.”

Stovelilly knelt and placed her hands upon the brave knight’s brow and said, “I bless then in the name of the Savior Man, and of all that is good and blissful.”

The brave knight smiled. His eyes glazed over and he perished.

“Come,” Stovelilly said to her husband. “Let us walk further and away from this place, for I should not like to fully emerge amid so much death and carnage.”

“Aye, Lassie,” he said. “That we shall.”
[Editor’s Note: The story of Craypipe and Stovelilly ends here, as it did in the Book of Laird Merrick. It was likely collected by Merrick because of its references to the Ways, which were apparently an obsession for him. Although by decree, all references to Merrick have been stricken from the royal records, the tales of Laird Merrick have been passed as folk tales of the people of the Harrows from mouth to ear. Those tales follow.]

 

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Here’s a little post for aspiring writers—just a few tips that I hope will speed you on your way:

You should treat your writing project as though it’s so much clay, there to be shaped and molded at your whim. That is to say that in order to achieve the desired final result, you sometimes have to add things, embellish a bit here and there, and you sometimes have to lop things off wholesale; those things that don’t contribute to the overall project in a meaningful way, must be scrapped. The most direct way of stating this is that you must be perfectly willing to waste words. Words are your stock-in-trade. No book is ever written except that it’s done One Word At A Time. After the first draft stage, you may have a few dozen, possibly hundreds, and even thousands of words that don’t add anything to the story you’re trying to tell. Waste those words. Kill them. And add more if need be. I believe that writers who suffer from this truly non-existent malady they call Writer’s Block, actually suffer from one very simple thing only: a dearth of words. The remedy for any lack of a thing is to supply that thing. Therefore, you have to Sling Words At The Page. You have to sling far many more words at the page than you would care to think. The trick is to sling more than enough, and be willing to waste what’s not needed. Poof, no more writer’s block.

In keeping with the whole “clay” theme, there is no rule that says you have to write linearly. It’s true, books are written one word at a time, just as I said. But! There’s no reason you have to write them in straight order, from beginning to end. Those who say that a thing “must be done this way” are typically people who can’t break out of the box. They tend to write the same story, over and over again. And, well, that’s just yucky. But you don’t have to do that. You can write the first chapter, then write the last chapter, the write the next to last chapter, then write the second chapter, then the third from the last chapter, then the middle, then the Prologue (before the beginning), then the Epilogue (after it’s all over but the shouting), etc. There ARE no musts. None. Period. So don’t get trapped in downtown Linearville. It’s boring. It’s nothing but a one-way street through the same old town. Jump around a bit. See the sites, and along the way, write whatever the hell you want to write. Make it fun. Surprise yourself. The only person you have to please—at least at this stage—is you. And guess what? You’ll be way tougher on yourself than your future fans will ever be, by lightyears. So don’t sweat it. Just have fun with it. Splurge!

Another thing about rules is that I have found that they are made to be broken. Not just one of them, but very damn nearly ALL of them. Somebody says to you that you must must must begin a book with action, well by Jiminy, prove they’re wrong. Start with how boring everything is here in Dumpville, and that nothing ever happens. What? Nothing? Yep. That’s what I said. Nothing. You will be amazed at how riveting nothing can be. I mean, the reader is on the edge of his damn seat! Because guess what? Something ALWAYS happens! But guess what? Not here. Not in this first chapter. And pow! It just sucks them right on in. So, find a rule, break that damn rule. And that’s my only rule. I remember an editor told me once that you should never use words ending in ‘ly’. Words like “suddenly” and “freely” and “likely.” I mean, crap, there goes about five percent of the language, just because some wet-behind-the-ears junior editor with a brain filled with all the claptrap he learned in college latches onto something a professor—who probably couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag—blurted out because he was having a bad day and his wife was riding him about something stupid that morning. These are the same people who will tell you that you must sneeze thus. No. Not even. Forget about it. But they won’t listen to your protests because they are incapable of thinking for themselves, so whatever you do, don’t argue with them. Just smile at them, thank them, nod sagely, and then run like hell. And while you’re running, flush everything they just told you, because it’s a load of garbage.

For me, writing is a freeing experience. It’s best when it’s not loaded down with semesters (and even lifetimes) of preconceptions, bad advice, and a host of other baggage. Write to be free. You command the language. It’s your language! I mean, you’ve been speaking it well, bad and indifferent since you were kneehigh to a busted knee. Well, why the hell don’t you write it?

Shoot, I could go on. I could teach whole writing classes on this and get the weirdest looks from the attendees (who have each and every one attended other writing classes where they’ve been told the exact opposite of everything I’ve said thus far) but it’s all pretty well summated in the above few paragraphs.

It’s my contention that if you can speak the language passably well, if you can tell a story around a campfire and have everybody’s attention and have them leaning forward so as to catch every word, then by God you can be a writer. You can be the best writer who ever lived!

I guess that’s all. Go do it, now.

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It’s coming. Here’s is the author’s note for it:

AUTHOR’S NOTE

As a writer, I have been on the track of this story for most of my life. It has been hanging fire back there in the dimmest recesses of my awareness, never quite leaving me alone. I have, in fact, wanted to write this tale ever since I can remember.

Having become intrigued with the notion of the possibility of alternative dimensions for some time, and desiring to pen a “dark fantasy,” Isherwood was born. The title, however, was not born until I read George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, the 1945 science fiction classic. The protagonist of that book, Isherwood Williams, is witness to the apocalypse of man. His viewpoint—that of an aloof and discerning man of science and student of human nature—carries that particular masterwork of fiction to its chilling conclusion. The book, as my friend Christine Bell of the Bookworks Bookstore (alternately called The Bookstore of Mystery and the Imagination, in downtown Glendale, California) stated, is “the most haunting book I have ever read.” And it was that for me. The images that Stewart painted for this reader will linger for decades.

While Earth Abides may not have been the inspiration for the current work (it’s hard for me to say what the inspiration actually was—probably a combination of several masterworks, including Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, and his and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, Clifford D. Simak’s City and Waystation, and perhaps a tad of Roger Zelazny’s famous Amber series) and it is not written from a singular viewpoint a la Isherwood Williams, it is, instead, itself—perhaps twenty or more differing points of view. That is to say that this author has no idea where it came from, except for possibly a synthesis of many works and my own imagination. There are indeed other tales similar to this, both from fact and from fiction—tales of a person being transported into the future and meeting their future selves, stories of being taken backwards or forwards in time, of being uprooted wholly from this world and taken to another; and last but certainly not least, the near-death and other macabre experiences of those who have suffered great illness or privation. According to their authors, these stories are not fictional. Not by a long shot. While most such are traditionally ignored in the mainstream, to say that “there is nothing new under the sun” is the same, in my book, as saying, “let me die now.” What a boring world it must be for some.

Isherwood is the world I wanted to create, to revel in and embellish. I believe that if there are other worlds, then they must have some of the same unbreakable edifices as this one: there must be peoples with their own distinctive culture, they must have rituals, they must have legends, and they must have heard of this—our—world. Another world would have pieces of our technologies (and conversely, ours of theirs). For another world not to exist is far too close to saying that there is no afterlife, that there are no spirits, that we are alone in the vastness of the universe, and that modern science IS, in fact, God. No, I’m afraid it isn’t, although some worship it as such. I have always felt somewhat of pity for those who do. They do not even know that they are not their bodies; that thing that animates their fragile form is itself both immortal and indestructible.

I set out to write the history of a world that “is not.” In that I believe I have failed. I failed to write a history. I’m rather happy about that. Instead, something else has occurred. The work itself has written a history of me.

My first attempt at this tale was an epic I was working on in the early 1990s entitled The Footprinters. That story was set in the primordial past (a hundred and fifty million years, to be exact) with a segue into today by way of the prologue. The Footprinters didn’t work out so well, and despite stretching out to forty thousand words in length, it was from a time when I was learning how to write. Ah well. The story itself may have been going nowhere in no particular hurry, but there were too many elements that, like Earth Abides, haunted me. Entrellis and his lairdsmen on horseback, Trey (who was at that time named Kern) the boy who was yet a man, Sherrin the witch and healer (in The Footprinters her name was Francin), and half a dozen other characters have lived on here in Isherwood. In 1992, when this world was first born via the printed word, I was married to another woman, I was living a hundred miles away from where I live now. I was, in fact, living another life. But, I was me. I was a writer, even then. When I would set myself down to write near the ending of each day, I was transported to another world. I was transported to the world where Merrick and his harriers once walked, where the land was in turmoil from civil war, and where a stranger with a higher knowledge walked among the simple folk.
Remembering those times and those images of the world I was trying to create, I recently embarked upon rewriting it all from scratch, and thus Isherwood was born.

Here we have good and evil in conflict as it always has been, we have a struggle for freedom from oppression, we have the bereft surging forward to assail those who would kill or enslave them, and we have personal journeys, love, and finally salvation. This is invariably the case when a writer sets out to do one thing and surpasses that thing—I am not saying that this work has surpassed any of those I have here named. Quite simply, I am saying that I have merely surpassed my own expectations for the work. And that, in the final analysis, is as it should be.

It is my sincere hope that you have enjoyed Isherwood, and that you will want to visit it once again. I am intent on at least two more in this series, thus forming a trilogy. But, I have no idea at this juncture, how long the final story will be. We are, after all, spanning whole dimensions, complete universes. There’s no telling where we may end up. And the final battle could very well end up being fought upon the surface of a star in another cosmos entirely. All by way of saying, let’s preclude no single thing.

All right, I suppose that’s it.

Take care, my friends.

See you on the other side.

George Wier
Austin, Texas

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A little sneak preview here of Isherwood:

Riding alongside Trey in the deepening night, with no thought to where they were or where they were headed or how or if they might get there, Farrin felt something warm spreading inside her, a strange sensation she had never felt before. It was like drinking a cup of mead for the first time and feeling the liquid begin to kindle a small blaze inside her, and it was like standing too close to good fire and feeling the heat soaking in through your clothes but not wanting to move away because of the strangeness of it. And also it was like thirst.

When it was too dark to see with safety they walked their horses for awhile until they found a quiet place on a saddle between two low hills where a large oak tree had fallen and caught in the crook between two other trees. They staked the horses and made camp, Trey deciding to risk a small fire despite Geoffrey’s warning against it. Neither of them were really hungry, and when Trey mentioned food—no doubt for her sake—she demurred, but with a brief, kind smile. When the fire was going good Trey went off to find water. Soon, the horses taken care of, Farrin waited until Trey sat down so that she could sit beside him. Her thighs and her rump were indeed sore and there was a stitch in her back, but she promised to herself that she wouldn’t complain about it even once.

When she sat down beside Trey he started at her closeness, but only a little.

Crickets chirped in the wilderness around them and once Farrin was sure she saw the reflection of the fire in the eyes of some animal twenty or so paces away. Above them spread a cloak of blueblack velvet with diamonds for stars.

Farrin laid her hand gently on Trey’s forearm, feeling the rough bristles of his hair. She heard Trey breathe a long, low sigh.

In the small blaze before them she saw reds and blues and greens as the larger branches were consumed and broke into orange, square pieces to join a growing bed of coals.

“I love thee, Farrin,” Trey said, softly.

She laid her head against his shoulder. “I know,” she said.

Trey let loose all of his pent up breath, perhaps letting go of some small portion of a long season of torment. They were both fifteen seasons in age, which was the beginning of marriagable age for them both.

“How long have you known?” he asked.

“Long enough.”

The kindled, meadlike warmth at her center suddenly blazed alight. She felt swollen and sore, but no longer the same soreness from the ride.

“Trey. Look at me,” she whispered.

“I…I can’t.”

She reached for his face and touched his chin, pulling his face around where she could look at it with as much gentleness as she could muster. When she could see him looking at her in the firelight, eyes distant as if to keep his thoughts secluded, sheltered far away in some safe harbor of the soul, the fires banked inside her were loosed, spreading upward into her breasts and her lips, and then downward. And her question, that darkest of all questions as to what she might do for Trey, for herself, was answered for her now.

The moment blurred when they began to kiss. Maybe it had nothing to do with time at all.