Short Stories

A Hole in the Sky – Short Story

Image by Simon from Pixabay

“What do you mean, a hole?” Thon stumbled but caught himself, struggling to keep up with his longer-legged sibling on the steep grassy slope.

Dahlia slowed to a trot and then stopped to look back. “A hole. Or a window, or something.”

Thon caught up to her and stomped his front hoof. “You’re not making sense. The sky is empty. You can’t have a hole in something that isn’t there.”

Dahlia twitched her whiskers imperiously. “You’ll see when we get there.”

Thon’s ears flattened in annoyance. Everyone thought he couldn’t understand things because he was too young, but how could he when nobody would explain anything?

“I’m not going all the way up the hill if you won’t say what you mean.”

Dahlia continued up the slope, tossing her next words over her shoulder at him. “Well go back then, if you’re going to be such a kitten.”

Thon scrambled up the slope, grumbling to himself. He was not a kitten. He was almost ten years old, which she knew perfectly well. It wasn’t his fault his legs were so short.

Angrily crashing through a clump of poufy-flowered grasses, Thon was rewarded with a spray of pink pollen in his face. Thon sneezed and shook himself. He frowned and looked around in time to see Dahlia disappearing behind a stand of aspen trees.

With a mischievous grin, Thon bent down to grab the base of one of the grasses in his mouth, and yanked it out of the ground. He continued up towards the grove, holding his head high to keep his prize from dragging on the ground. The fluffy flower would lose some of its pollen on the way, but there should be enough left to make pelting Dahlia with it worthwhile.

When Thon passed the grove, he found Dahlia standing on a rock at the top of the hill. She stared quizzically at the sky.

“See?” she said.

Thon didn’t see. It looked perfectly normal. Except for one patch where the sky was a slightly different shade of blue, and the clouds didn’t match up. It was like looking at a wall painted to look like the sky, but there was a window you could see the actual sky through. Only they were both the real sky.

“That’s weird,” Thon said. Or at any rate, that’s what he would have said if his mouth wasn’t full of plant material.

Dahlia turned to look at him, to make sense of his garbled statement. Thon was about to pounce and attack her with the flower when a roar split the sky. It was the loudest sound either of them had ever heard.

Thon ducked his head down between his front legs to block his ears, but that didn’t do much good. It just kept going on and on, like an angry waterfall.

The two creatures ran for cover in the trees. They didn’t notice the small, bird-like object crossing the odd-looking patch of sky. If they had, they couldn’t have imagined the chaos going on above.

In the cockpit of the Boeing 787, the pilots were struggling to understand why they had made landfall several hours ahead of schedule, and why the coastline looked nothing like they had come to expect after several years of flying the route from Houston to Sydney. What was worse, they had completely lost all GPS navigation, and could not raise anyone on radio.

To the great relief of everyone involved, after about five minutes the 787 found itself flying over the Pacific Ocean once again, and the sky above the hill where Thon and Dahlia hid amongst the trees was once again quiet.

Want more? Check out:

Bridge: Part One

Green: Part One

Roots: Part One

The Lost City of Netherborough

Jacai’s Journal

For today’s post, one of the characters in my upcoming novel The Lost City of Netherborough has agreed to share a section of her journal.


I am a fool. A simpleton. A great flapping burgess bird. I’ve only gone and told Lauren the wrong day to set off on the expedition. Or no, she gave me the day. Then I gave the wrong day to Mistress Marda, and reserved three gryphons to carry us through the mountain pass tomorrow, when we probably will not need them. For if we haven’t left by then somebody sensible will have prevented us going. Unless we can hide somewhere, with someone as foolish as I.

And then only if I can find Lauren and Meghan, for in addition to Mistress Marda, I have apparently also given the wrong date to myself, and therefore I have not met Lauren and Meghan at the lake this morning. How will I find them? If I had a gryphon I could find them. But I had to beg and beg Mistress Marda for the use of her gryphons, and I don’t think she will let me have them early.

Will they have gone home and abandoned the project? I pray they have not. I have dealt with more than enough disappointment for one moon. This expedition must go forward. Otherwise I will never be able to convince the explorer’s guild I will be an apt pupil, and I will have to go home and make ornaments out of shell, and river rocks, and listen to scores of wild tales without ever having been in one myself.

I think I would rather eat sand than do that.

Black Dog of the Sea · Characters

Black Dog of the Sea: Antagonists

(Plus one bonus contagonist and a few other people.)

Today I’ll be discussing the two main antagonists in Black Dog of the Sea, Captain Shadrake and Morrighan, as well as their son, Shadrake Jr. the contagonist. I considered writing about them separately as I’ve done with my protagonists, but since the power struggle between the two antagonists cause the majority of the obstacles my protagonists face, it makes more sense to discuss them as a group. For the benefit of those of you who haven’t read the novel yet, I’ll be referring to Captain Shadrake and Morrighan’s son as Shadrake Jr, because spoilers.

Captain Shadrake, like most of the mer-folk left in Caladavan, is a mixed blood, roughly 75% percent human. He retains some mer features, such as silvery-greenish skin, and translucent needle-like teeth, but cannot change form into what we would know as a merman.

As with many others of his kind, his ancestry has barred him from participating in Caladavan’s social and economic structure, and over the years most merfolk either turned to illicit means of survival or have left. The strange goings-on in Caladvan’s gulf have both proved to be an attractant for the more sinister members of the merfolk, and helped to deter humans from attempting to annex their territories in the gulf.

Captain Shadrake’s power-hungry personality, and privileged social position allowed him to consolidate power in the gulf over his career, which by the novel’s beginning spanned nearly two centuries. He owns, directly or indirectly, dozens of ships and employs hundreds of other pirates who prey on the shipping lanes running between North and South Caladavan. Many of the strategically located ports in the Gulf of Caladavan are under his control.

Some hundred years prior to the beginning of the novel, when he was in the midst of seizing power in the gulf, he married Morrighan, a full-blooded boggle, or Black Dog.

Morrighan is the daughter of the most prominent boggle clan’s matriarch. Boggles are powerful in the gulf, mainly for their unique shape-shifting and ability to control the perceptions of others. They tend to prefer mates who are full-blooded Black Dog’s, or nearly, and so have kept their abilities and blood lines from being diluted the way most other fae people groups have.

The alliance of social powers proved satisfactory for both parties. Captain Shadrake loved Morrighan for her guile, and Morrighan was attracted to his ruthless nature. This didn’t prevent him from finding enjoyment in tormenting her. For instance, antagonizing her jealous side by fathering a child with a sea-elf (mermaid/elf hybrid) sorceress, who prior to this had been a close friend of Morrighan. The discord this action sowed was great and persisted for a long time, but Captain Shadrake kept it from getting out of hand by his obvious favoritism of Morrighan’s son, Shadrake Jr.

Shadrake Jr, being a human/mer/boggle hybrid, is what some might call a sea-dog. Proportionally less human than his father, he is able to shape-shift into a fae form, something between a black wolf and a sea otter, if you want a mental picture. Otherwise, he resembles his father in most respects, inheriting his silvery skin. But he inherited cat-like verticle pupils, a classic boggle trait.

For a long time the family went on this way. Captain Shadrake groomed Shadrake Jr for leadership within his growing empire, while occasionally tormenting Morrighan with the elf-child’s existence. Morrighan, in turn tormented Shadrake’s mistress and her child, but was otherwise mollified by Captain Shadrake’s growing empire. Meanwhile the half-brothers managed to scrape out an uneasy tolerance and even affection for each other, which they hardly dared show in front of anybody lest someone’s mother find out.

Everything went on in great dysfunction but relative peace, until Captain Shadrake’s lust for power eventually led him into necromancy, and the Inner Circle, much to the chagrin of the rest of his family. Both Morrighan and Shadrake’s mistress objected to the Inner Circle on principle, because it involved alliances with humans and because of the Inner Circle’s intention to harness the strange energies at work in the Gulf. Most disturbingly, one of the Inner Circle’s chief aims was a great enlightenment which could only take place by sacrificing the children of prominent Inner Circle members. Moreover, as Captain Shadrake became consumed with this new pursuit of arcane power, he became increasingly impossible to live with.

Eventually Shadrake Jr became fed up, relinquished his claim on the Shadrake family name and the power that came with it, and set off to make his fortune on the high seas on his own. This upset Captain Shadrake, but as Shadrake Jr was growing in influence in the family business, Captain Shadrake was beginning to feel he might be a future threat to the Captain’s dominion, so it wasn’t as troubling as it otherwise might have been. Morrighan, on the other hand, was devastated. She spent several years pleading, threatening, and arguing failed to convince Captain Shadrake to give up necromancy so Shadrake Jr might come home. After this failed, Morrighan killed Shadrake’s mistress in a fit of jealous rage, and “adopted” her son.

Thus Captain Shadrake was able to concentrate on his work again, the sea-elf’s life became a living hell, and Morrighan, even if she wasn’t actually happy, at least didn’t have to put up with a rival anymore.

Meanwhile, Shadrake Jr. quickly worked his way up to the rank of captain on an independent pirate ship, and within a few dozen years had a small empire of his own. Miniscule compared to his father, but it was his.

Shadrake Jr’s hijinks included taking a human lover and fathering his own child, which sowed the seeds for change within the Shadrake family, and everyone else within their sphere of influence.

Sensing an opportunity to manipulate Shadrake Jr into coming home, Morrighan changed her tune, and joined the Inner Circle. Lending her influence to the pursuit of the enlightenment eventually changed the overall sentiment in the Inner Circle about the sacrificial ritual, and allowed plans for the ritual to slowly go forward.

Captain Shadrake was thrilled about this development, but at the same time, he resented her ability to shift sentiments in the Inner Circle, when he hadn’t been able to, especially as he suspected she still thought it was all nonsense. As the time for the ritual draws closer, our protagonists are caught in the the power struggle between Morrighan and Captain Shadrake, and so the Black Dog of the Sea begins.

*Here’s some terminology for anyone who may be confused.

Protagonist: the good guy, often the veiwpoint character

Antagonist: the bad guy, directly and intentionally makes life difficult for the protagonist and causes most of the conflict in the story, or makes it worse.

Contagonist: has a complicated agenda that flip-flops between helping and hindering the protagonist. Example: Loki in most Marvel movies.

There are actually two contagonists in Black Dog of the Seas. The other one, Jabal, will likely get his own blog post later.

Black Dog of the Sea · Characters

Black Dog of the Sea: Protagonists – Part 2

Laia Hexton

Lady Laia Hexton is the only living child of Lord Percival and Lady Valentina Hexton. They had another daughter before Laia, named Fontina, who died of illness at four years of age. After Laia came a younger brother. There was a great pandemic in the first three years of his life, and consequently Laia was never able to play with him or even see him very much. Sadly, he was kidnapped shortly after his third birthday.

While Laia never forgot her little brother, she had ambitions even as a child. After a particularly disagreeable cousin told her that medicine was the worst possible profession for a lady, Laia decided she should be a docotor. Perhaps more suprisingly, she found she enjoyed reading medical volumes in her father’s library, and caring for injured animals she came across.

Her family humored her interest in medicine, believing it to be a passing childhood folly, but they became more concerned as she began approaching marriageable age and showed no sign of giving it up. While they didn’t quite agree with Laia’s cousin, they didn’t think consider the idea very favorably. Lord Hexton is the head of the very pretigeous Dappleton and Folke Insurance Company, so society at large considers Lady Laia quite secure of making a good match. So you see, a career in medicine would be of little help in securing her a future as the wife of a nobleman or powerful man of business, and might even get in the way.

For her part, Laia had only shown real romantic interest in Lord Dorian Wavorly, despite his lack of prospects as the fourth son of Lord Merrick Wavorly. Unfortunately, Lord Dorian vexed Laia greatly by purchasing a commission from the army of the nearby Tovernon Empire and never being seen again.

Characters

Black Dog of the Sea: Protagonists Part 1

This is the first of several posts about some of the more significant characters in The Black Dog of the Sea. In fiction there’s often a lot of backstory an author knows about a character that doesn’t make it into the book because it’s not relevant to the story. These posts will let readers dive deeper into the backstory of the characters in my novel, without giving anything away for those who haven’t read it yet.

So without further ado…

Corvin

Have you ever felt like you just don’t belong?

Corvin was adopted by the sylvie*. He doesn’t know what sort of creature he is, only that whatever it is, it’s nothing like his adoptive family.

The sylvie are peaceful by nature, preferring to endure and avoid conflict rather than defend themselves. Corvin struggled to understand this as a child, and as he grew older, he increasingly began to defy the guidance of the grove elders, using his wits to misdirect marauding humans or other threats away from the grove, and even physically confronting them when necessary.

His own adoptive family, despite raising more than a few eyebrows at his behavior, never saw a great deal of difference between him and themselves. Sylvie children are seldom raised by their biological family; when sylvie become parents they often give their child to a friend to raise, generally expecting one in return. Thus the members of sylvie families often look quite different from one another. To them, Corvin was just a little more different.

But Corvin knew the rest of the sylvie didn’t see it quite the same way. At least not in every regard. Very early on it became clear to everyone that Corvin was aging at roughly the same rate as a human, or about five times faster than the sylvie. For the most part, this meant very little to them. The complication only became clear when Corvin started attending gatherings of the sylvie as a young man.

A few of the sylvie girls seemed to like him, one in particular. Her name was Calla, and she had silver-green skin and pale strawberry blonde hair, and sang like a bird. But despite her evident interest in him, she persisted in keeping him at arms length.

Eventually Corvin realized that, assuming he continued aging at the same rate, if he married a sylvie he would grow old and die before their child became an adult. He could imagine that prospect very attractive. Not to mention the possibility that his children might inherit his shorter lifespan.

Though the sylvie groves were the only home he’d ever known, he knew he had no future there. It was only a matter of time before something happened to force him to leave…

*Sylvie are dryad/human hybrids. They are very similar to humans in appearance, except that their skin is green, ranging in shade from the pale silvery green of sage to the deep green of holly. They live in large nomadic communities called groves.

On Writing

Black Dog of the Sea: The Making of

This novel has been equal parts labor of love and the bane of my existence for the past way-too-many-years.

The idea sparked during one of my first-year English Lit courses. I was already working on a novel at the time, but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. So I started what would become Black Dog of the Sea, thinking I would soon get tired of it and be able to return to my in-progress project. Well, that never happened…

I have “finished” it twice, and partially finished it a few times, and then promptly realized major plot and character changes were necessary, and I would have to rewrite it from scratch. I realize of course, multiple complete drafts are pretty normal when writing a novel, but when the process drags on for ALMOST A WHOLE DECADE one begins to suspect that something has gone awry.

I’ve heard of something like this happening to other authors early in their writing journeys, and I think it’s due to a combination of not knowing how to structure or outline a novel properly, and the fact that I was changing so much myself over that period of time.

Very little is the same between the first and final drafts of the novel. As I mentioned before, I first got the idea when we read the “Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens” in Lit class, and the novel was originally intended to be a sort of retelling of the story set in my own fantasy world. Since the Ballad was written several hundred years ago, copyright wasn’t an issue.

Basically, “Sir Patrick Spens” is the story of an unfortunate captain who is chosen to undertake a voyage to take a princess through waters everyone knows are horribly dangerous, implicitly because someone has it out for him. Since it was written before the advent of Hollywood, everyone dies.

In my version, the “Patrick Spens” character–who I called Patrick Hood, although his adopted father was called Spens–falls in love with the princess. On this dangerous voyage she gets turned to stone by a cockatrice, Patrick is blamed for it by the nefarious people who were really responsible for the dangerous voyage, and then after some time he comes back, restores the princess to life, and lives happily ever after. The novel was also called “The Mythos of Jaro Reddinger.” Jaro Reddinger was Patrick Hood’s real name, you see. Because…reasons.

As to what the novel is like now, well…

There’s still a female character undertaking a dangerous voyage which was instigated by nefarious persons who don’t like the male protagonist very much. Otherwise everything is different. Well, the male protagonist is still roughly in the “bad boy with a heart of gold” camp, but only just. Kind of. I guess he is by the end of the novel.

It’s also not a romance anymore. Both because I’m not terribly fond of romance novels, and I found there are more possibilities for the unexpected when writing a male-female friendship.

In the category of genre changes, I also significantly narrowed the scope of the novel by transforming Princess Winnowna Whats-Her-Face into Lady Laia Hexton. The events of the novel don’t effect the fate of the kingdom anymore, making what might have been an epic fantasy into high fantasy. What’s more, the negative character arc of my male protagonist (who is now called Corvin) and my recent fascination with Lovecraft have pushed it firmly into dark fantasy territory. I also blame the pandemic. And not being a naive undergrad.

For those who don’t know, a negative character arc roughly means that the character changes over the course of the novel, but not for the better. And Lovecraft is basically the Tolkien of cosmic horror.

I could keep harping on forever about this, but I think I’ll leave it here for this post.


Author’s Note

Those of you who have been reading the blog frequently will recognize this is something new. I’m still going to continue with Fiddlestick’s Diary, but not every week. Fiddlestick’s Diary is designed to interact with my fiction, so it’s sort of difficult to do since I don’t have anything out yet. I also think having more time to figure out where the plot of the Fiddlestick’s Diary is going will ultimately result in a better quality story.