Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Five

Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4 if you missed them

“What happens to the rabbits?” I asked.

“The same thing that happens to us all,” said my great uncle Echart.

“Right,” I said.

For the rest of the buggy ride, I avoided looking at the rabbits in their little cages. The inhabitants of Innswale put them out by their mailboxes, apparently for Echart to collect, because they still followed the “old ways.” What old ways? And why did they all ban cars for a whole month?

Not a proper month, really. The last two weeks of June and the first of July, because that’s when I said I could come visit. A chill came over me.

No it couldn’t be. Surely, they did this every June. It had nothing to do with me.

Instead of the rabbits, I focused on the rear end of the horse pulling the buggy. It was round and speckled white, and as pleasant as could be expected. It was also puzzling. Nobody said anything about this before I came here. I mean, we all knew Echart’s side of the family was weird. They don’t like technology. They spend too much time in the woods. Blah blah blah.

Too me, all this seemed beyond the pale, and probably something I should have been told about before coming here. For this, and I still didn’t know what “this” was, I’d given up my full yearly allotment of vacation time. I decided I was far too much of a people pleaser, and really needed to learn to say no.

The front yard of Echart’s home was as large as most lots in my neighborhood, and a plethora of my distant relations milled about under the great umbrellas of trees. Packs of children ran around the shrubberies.

As we meandered up the drive towards the house, they were drawn to us as if by magnetic attraction. Older children fetched the rabbits from the back seat of the buggy, cooing an exclaiming over them. Others grabbed my bags. Me carrying them myself was out of the question.

A crowd of cousins of various kinds escorted me to the front door, our procession led by an eager older lady puffing under the weight of my bags. Voices gabbled around me as I was introduced to more names and faces than I could possibly remember.

The house was sprawling and old. The hardwood floors protested with the weight of feet upon it, but thankfully people had started to drift away from the procession, and back to whatever they were doing as the novelty of my arrival lost its luster.

Once we arrived at my room everyone cleared out and left me alone for a bit so I could freshen up and what not. I didn’t stay up there long. Everything was poufy and flower-print, and I felt if I stayed there too long the vines on the wallpaper would come to life and strangle me.

I went downstairs, and then out into the backyard where everyone seemed to be hanging out. Echart’s wife, Maria, found me a chair in the shade and plied me with sugar cookies and lemonade.

Large rabbit hutches were stacked up against the house, which at least solved the mystery of where the rabbits had gone for the time being. The hutches were decorated with ribbons and the children fed the rabbits flowers through the wire mesh.

A petite woman with a shoulder-length bob sat down in the wicker chair next to me. “Hi, I’m Anna,” she said. “I’m one of the other…visitors.”

“Oh. So this is a thing, then,” I said.

“I’m pretty sure everything is a thing.” Anna giggled.

“But you know what I mean. An event. It’s not just me visiting, for reasons.”

“Yeah. I think there’s about five of us.”

“So are you on Echart’s side of the family, or…”

“I’m not. Actually I think maybe one of my uncle’s married Echart’s cousin. But no, I’m from one of the other Innswale ‘old families’.”

“Oh, okay. I guess this is more of a thing than I thought.”

“I know, right? The secrecy is crazy. I tell you though, if we’re being inducted into a cult or something, I’m out of here.”

“Yup, I’ll be right behind you.” I took a sip of my lemonade. “Hey, do you know what’s with the rabbits?”

“No. There’s something with the rabbits?”

“People just left them by their mailboxes for us to pick up.”

“Oh, weird.”

Anna had opted for the pink lemonade, spiked with raspberry cordial.

“The car thing is a pain, though,” she said.

“Oh yeah. Do they do that every June?”

“Different times. Depending on when it works for people to come.”

“It’s for us? It can’t be for us. That’s crazy.”

“It is, but it’s true.”

“Why?”

Anna shrugged and nibbled on a sugar cookie. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Four

Click for Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 if you missed them.

The coffee was a mistake. They didn’t have half-caf, but I felt like I should at least get some credit for having asked. Nevertheless, I was fully wired and in no way able to cope with what I found when I finally arrived in Innswale. At first I thought I had gone the wrong way, that it was some kind of mistake.

A metal gate stretched across the road, bearing the sign “no motorized vehicles beyond this point.” Clearly, I had wandered onto the access road for a park, or private property. But no, another sign stood to the side of the road, next to the metal gate. A squat obelisk built of stones proudly bore a large copper sign that said “Welcome to Innswale.”

I stared from one sign to the other. They couldn’t both be correct, could they? It didn’t seem possible, and yet they had both clearly been there for a long time, and couldn’t have been placed by accident.

A dirt road broke off to the right, and I wondered if maybe there was some way around this odd edict. But no, as my car crawled closer, I saw an array of parked cars through the thick tree canopy and underbrush. Some, judging by the quantity of dirt and forest debris collected on them, had evidently been there for a long time.

I was stuck. On the one hand, I had driven many miles to be here, and there were people expecting me. On the other, parking my car and continuing on foot was too bizarre to be the correct response. The sound of a horse-drawn buggy clip-clopping down the road interrupted my musing, though the quandary wasn’t resolved until I saw Echart lean out of the buggy’s cab and waved at me.

I waved back, and went to park my car, trying to normalize the situation in my mind. Innswale is not an Amish or Mennonite town, or anything like that. But I had heard that quite a few people there preferred a low-tech lifestyle. Had this segment of the population managed to make bylaws enforcing their preferences?

Echart hadn’t mentioned anything, but then I didn’t hear from him that often. Though one would think he’d have mentioned it after I said I would come visit.

After I parked, I lugged my suitcases towards the metal gate separating Innswale from the rest of the world. Echart greeted me warmly and threw my bags in the back of the buggy. He was a tall beanpole of a man with a wizened face, and a strength that belied his years. The sparse mop of grey on his head was always slightly disheveled, and the white stubble on his chin made it look like he’d dipped the lower half of his face in sugar.

“Is this a new bylaw? This no cars thing,” I said.

“Oh no,” he said. “We do this every year. Sort of a tradition.”

“How long does it last?”

“It’ll last the month.”

“Is there something special about this month?”

“Yes.” A conspiratorial grin crossed his face. “Oh yes. But we’ll get to that later.”

We exchanged small talked as the buggy rattled into town. He asked how the drive had been. Long, but not bad. I asked what the horse’s name was. Bitterberry. Which I thought was odd, but didn’t say so. Aren’t bitter berries usually poisonous?

We drew to a stop at maybe the second drive way we’d come to. I wondered if we’d arrived already.

“Hold on,” Echart said. “I won’t be a minute.”

As he walked up the drive I noticed a rabbit in a small cage, just beside the mailbox. Echart retreived the cage, and put it in the back of the buggy on top of my bags.

“What’s that about?” I asked.

“Some of the townspeople like to keep up the old ways,” he said.

I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t.

We picked up three more rabbits before the end.

“So, what happens to the rabbits?” I asked.

“The same thing that happens to all of us,” he said cheerfully.

“Right.”

Now unsettled on many levels, I held my hands in my lap and fiddled with my wedding ring. The coffee was most definitely a mistake. I had to pee so bad. I hoped indoor plumbing wasn’t verboten this month as well as cars.

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

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┬áthe 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.