Here and Away Chapters 0-4

Here and Away is my 2016 Nanowrimo manuscript. I’ve been releasing it, chapter by chapter, on Wattpad but I decided I wanted to put it up here as well because I want my story to be accessible to everyone who doesn’t have a Wattpad account.

The first four chapters are below and I will post one chapter every week until the story is finished. This is book 1 in a three book cycle.

I hope you enjoy 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Once upon a time a heart broke in two. This heart was not an ordinary heart and when the pieces flew apart the world died. One piece, the Bright Jewel Named Fire, scarred the land with flame and plague. The other piece, the Black Stone, sat cold and alone in the darkness of the void, begging to be found.

Here is a half-harpy, half-human changeling vagabond with a story to tell, a story of loss, betrayal, and death. A story that haunts his dreams and turns his world into a waking nightmare. Away is a cait sidhe, cat faerie, with his own troubled past, inner demons, and deep desires. He is also the only creature in the universe willing to listen to Here’s story.

What lurks there in the shadows among the trees?

Once upon a time two brothers survived the apocalypse. Spider and Fly live in the ruined world of Here’s story. Spider always laughed at the rumors of the Black Stone and locked away his deepest dreams in order to survive the devastation wrought by the Bright Jewel Named Fire. But his brother wants to save the world. Fly has heard the rumors too and he believes in them with all his heart. With his reluctant brother in tow, Fly is determined to find the Black Stone and set all the wrong things right again. Success means resurrecting everything they have held dear and lost, failure means paying the ultimate price.

Follow the curve in the road and you will come to The Rose Motel. Beyond and away, in the deep and the dark, waits a kaleidoscopic reality seldom seen wandering in the sunlight. Venture off the beaten path into unexplored territories where evil enjoys both wholesome and unsavory forms, where happy endings are fought for or—more often than not—stolen, and the nightmares lurking in the shadows will give you more than fear or pain.

As Here’s story unfolds, mysterious forces turn the peaceful woodland surrounding The Rose Motel into a desiccated wasteland. With the help of a few unexpected friends, Here and Away may triumph—as good things always should—over evil.

Deep in the shadows, the Heart of the Forest waits to be put back together.

0. T HE HEART OF THE FOREST

Reach for the sky,

for a world

far from the ground.

A voice from the hollow, bound to paper with spider web strands of ink that crinkle like the mouth of the happiest person in the world. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, a sad thing.

The splendor of sunset,

the bright bloom of morning.

You will see what I see.

A voice from the hollow, bound to the fingertips of those who reach through the air and feel for what is hiding there: the evidence.

Even the sky changes,

the storm gathers and crashes down.

Reach out

for a new world.

Chapter 1: FIRE

This is how the world began. The Bright Jewel Named Fire woke up and felt hate. The most terrible hate imaginable.

Instantly, Fire fell in love with her hate; pulled it into her, breathed it in and pushed it out into the newly born world.

Fire’s hate fed on the world and the world began to die; just as the world learned birth, it learned death.

The world died as Fire grew, Fire’s hate cradled all of existence in a toxic, red web.

Fire’s web grew and traveled and all she could feel was hate.

Fire had no concept or connection with what might have existed outside hate; love, grief, past, present, future, continuity, all went by unobserved.

Fire had no need for anything except hate.

The Heart of the Forest died in the mud.

The Heart of the Forest tore itself apart and for the first time in this story, Fire burst free of flesh and spirit and was finally free.

Fire flew east, toward the rising sun. The other half was abandoned.

Clouds moved under the stratosphere, the world turned, the tide rose, fell, and rose again.

The moment ended and another moment began.

Chapter 2: AWAY SPEAKS (a deviation from the story so you can get a better sense of the world)

Let me tell you about the world. You’re sitting in a Starbucks, Andina Café, or IHOP, or whatever and you see a shadow move out of the corner of your eye. That’s okay, shadows move all the time. Shadows are normal. Here’s something about shadows you might not realize: Shadows contain moments, moments stopped in time. Not frozen like miniature universes or alternate realities but little moments that no one in your normal, human world wants to acknowledge.

For example, you’re walking home from the library at night, you pass the mouth of a dark alley and you see three dudes mutilating a cat. You hear the screams of the cat, you hear one of the dudes curse at being scratched, you hear bones crack. And you walk by, you don’t want to end up like the cat. Now, in the shadows, that cat exists with a broken back and bloody teeth but that doesn’t stop him from gorging on human meat. That doesn’t stop the cat from being NOT an ordinary cat.

Another night you’re coming home from a bar with friends and you walk by a misty field, you’re hoping to get lucky with your friend’s cousin and you’re focusing intently on how her coat hugs her hips and how her hair falls around her face, you only half notice a thud from the field and shapes moving in the mist. You hear grunting and cursing, you blush because maybe someone’s getting lucky out there in the night and as you walk you don’t see the blood on the concrete or the scrabbled etchings clawed by desperate fingers in the dirt. If you did you would still walk by, you wouldn’t want to end up like those fingers in the field.

Now, in the shadows, a body lies in the gutter with no face and no guts and there’s a cat with a crooked spine waddling across a garden fence somewhere with a full belly. That’s the true nature of shadows. We are contained and safe within the boundaries of those shadows when we want to be. Heaven help you when we want to lash out at something.

Who are we? We are many things, seen and unseen.

We cannot be defined by a dictionary and our names are our own. As genus and species we are varied and incalculable. I don’t know the science behind my DNA but I know what I am and where I came from abstractly. The story goes a little something like this: a human was cruel to another human, the victim cried out his rage and the universe rushed in to comfort him. That comfort came in the form of sleek fur, sharp teeth, a crooked spine, and eyes that burned like stars.

I am one of many.

There are others like me who pulled themselves out of the shadows to live among humans for love and greed. Selkies with their oil slick skins and dappled bellies, mermaids, gull maids, schwan mädchen, minotaurs, satyr, centaurs, lamia, etc. etc. etc. Beasts with frighteningly human desires sewn into the fabric of their souls by stranger hands than theirs.

Literature calls us changelings or faeries, creatures delightful and terrifying. There are others too, more like stray pieces of anti-matter caught in the wrong dimension: manticores, unicorns, kraken, gigantic butterflies. But the root of the word, the fae, or fowk, whispered about all over the world in the same skeptical and hushed tone refers to all of us.

We are fae and we are real. We are here. We have always been here.

Chapter 3: HERE

Here woke up. The morning sky was dark and cool as a damp cloth over his eyes. A few strong stars still glowed through the haze of thick pine branches and mist floating lazily in the moments before the sun rose and seared the Autumn landscape. Here loved Autumn, the change from Summer to Winter, but this year, like last, Summer was hanging around longer and the trees held onto their green coats late into November.

The back part of his brain grumbled at the error in his waking. But the front part wanted to be productive. As productive as he could be with the cicadas buzzing angrily at the security light in The Rose Motel’s parking lot. Slowly, enjoying the movement after a few hours of stillness, Here unfolded his arms and legs and stretched his whole body out over the long length of the picnic table before he sat up and vigorously scratched at his scalp with both hands. His black hair fell across his still sleepy eyes as he hopped off the picnic table and made his way back to his room.

The thirteenth door at the end of a long row of shadowy doors greeted him with a friendly beep as he swiped the key card against the lock. The room’s air conditioner greeted him with a cold blast and flung condensation up the picture window next to the door. The two twin beds were neatly made, his backpack sat still and untouched in the chair he had pushed under the maple desk before he left to sleep.

The bottom of the backpack was held together with duct tape. It did not begin life as a sturdy creature, even though it was a Jansport. He had swiped it from a Goodwill when he was more down on his luck than he wanted to be. The zipper on the front pocket was broken but he rarely put anything in it. Maybe food, which never stayed long. The poly-canvas was black, one of the straps was slowly pulling away from the body and the other was wrapped with more duct tape.

Inside the bag Here kept his one spare pair of black jeans, a black sweatshirt, which was rolled up in a ball and inside the ball was one hundred and fifty dollars worth of small bills. It was enough for a bus ticket to the next place, wherever that was. A Gerber folding knife, also something he liberated from its retail prison along with a tooth brush and tooth paste.

Here was prepared to leave any time but he didn’t want to. Something about the Rose Motel told him that he was exactly where he was supposed to be. He hadn’t felt that way in a long time. Maybe it was the road, traveling too long, but when he tried to remember his last moment of contentment, people and places eluded him.

Here never slept with four walls or a roof over his head even though this room and The Rose had been nothing short of welcoming and sometimes even supportive bordering on affectionate. Walls and roofs made the back of his brain grumble. But the front of his brain took some time to think about what a shame it was that he had been here for so long and still couldn’t sleep in the bed Marlette re-made every morning even though she didn’t need to.

With a sigh he steered the front of his brain away from thoughts of beds he would never sleep in towards the task at hand. He had a story to tell and he needed to find someone to listen to it.

Fists bunched in his pockets, he stared at the needle carpeted ground as he walked underneath the pine trees by the lake, keeping his eyes safe from the approaching dawn and scanning for tracks. He looked for the telltale scratches in the ground that marked the passing of his quarry. He saw several sneaker and sandal prints, adult and child sized. He saw raccoon and deer tracks, little scuffs of robin and grackle claws in the dirt. He saw pebbles overturned by crows and one stately footprint that belonged to a kingfisher when it alighted from the water and flew towards more peaceful hunting grounds.

Then, there in the mud lay the marks he sought. Subtle, like a scrap of white lace caught in a bramble shrouded in snow after a hard storm. They veered off the path and deeper into the woods, fainter and fainter as the ground away from the lake hardened and dried. Here tasted the early morning cold on his tongue and licked his lips, noticed the moisture dried almost instantly.

The wind picked up. Leaves from the path, crinkled and dead, twirled up and spun around his head, one smacked against his temple with all the strength a dead leaf could muster and pulled itself across his eyes.

“So, you don’t want me to find you,” Here whispered to the wind. “Why not?”

He stepped off the path and followed the tracks where dawn wouldn’t be interested in exploring for at least another hour. Young branches and tender vines whispered softly against his shoulders and twined around his boots as he walked. It wouldn’t do any good to rush. He might scare or alert his quarry, fear and flight were of no use to him.

He wasn’t looking for food or a fight, he was looking for a decent pair of ears. Sooner than he expected, the tracks he followed took up less of a straight line and more of a wandering spiral. A smile pricked at the corners of Here’s mouth and as the trees grew thicker and the undergrowth rustled and sighed with secrets, Here traced the labyrinthine path of his prey until he came to the end.

There was a tiny, clear space amidst the denser part of the forest where carefree hands had scraped away the dead leaves and rootlets of the undergrowth to make room for a small camp sight. The word “picturesque” floated arrogantly in the front of his brain. A human word, very inappropriate for his quest.

A small and safety conscious fire pit had been dug and a cast iron kettle was left to hang on a frame over the coals. A bright orange tent had been pitched the night before and a food bag, hoisted up by a strong length of paracord, hung from one of the closest trees. Fishing poles were propped against the trunk, still waiting for their lines and hooks.

Three bodies lay frozen around the fire pit. Frost traced their limbs with a silver, coated their clothing and hair with a rough sheen of starlight. Their faces kissed the freshly cleared earth. Their skin was the soft, pale blue shared by Winter skies and death. The shadows of the morning flowed around their stillness in such a way that their edges blurred and drifted out and away as if their bodies were trying to escape down the same etherial path their souls had fled.

Here scratched at the frost with a sharp fingernail.

“You’ve had a busy night,” he mumbled against a sudden chill in the air. His breath left his lips in a visible puff. “You’re probably tired.”

Slowly, the flap of the tent unzipped from the inside and a silver arm pushed the flap down. The arm extended from a rib cage of sharp, wispy, spun sugar and a spine of ice crystal vertebrae strung together with a tangled fractal of silver nerves. Long silver hair hung down around narrow shoulders and framed a glassy, chiseled skull with cheekbones that could cut through the hull of an oil tanker and a sharp grin that would ruin a diamond if given the chance.

“You come to play?” A voice like a branch weighed down with too much ice after a storm cracked across Here’s face. The words left a scratch under his right eye and a buzz in his ears as they passed. The grin and sharp words belonged to a Winter Rake, similar to Satyrs in their moods and their habits but more like geese in their brutality.

Uncommon but not unheard of for this time of year. Here’s experience with seasonal rakes was limited to looking up at them from the ground as they flew overhead, using the clouds as cover during a hunt. They were like jaguars of the seasons, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and snatching their prey, usually humans, up and away to their sky lares. Rakes were fierce but delicate, no strangers to damage.

Now, here was a rake on the ground, using a human construct as a hide-y-hole complete with leftovers.

“I have a story to tell you,” Here said, unmoving. “I tried telling it to an unseen War Ram a few weeks ago but it was tired and spent and went back to its maker in the dark before I could tell it.” Here edged forward on his knees, crawled closer to the tent. “Before that I tried telling a Summer Hare but he bounded back up to the moon before I could say hello. Will you be as rude?”

The long silver arm with long silver fingers reached out toward Here. Frost grew on the cast iron kettle like fungus. It fell from its frame and shattered against the bones of the dead fire. The sharp grin grew wider and icy jaws opened to reveal three rows of sharp icicle teeth.

Snowflakes and a harsh Winter wind spilled out of that open mouth and cold gales pulled at Here’s hair, whipped and scratched at his leather jacket. The cold wind howled and Here sighed in disappointment.

“You don’t want to listen. That’s fine,” Here lunged forward, rocketed across ground now slick with ice and flung himself into a cold, silver embrace with sharp icicle teeth. The Rake’s lungs churned the air like a compressed, angry pipe organ and the cold heart slammed against sugar spun ribs. The Rake’s voice cracked and lashed against Here as he pinned it to the ground. Talons sprang from a hand that once held fingers, black scales flowed across once human skin.

“This is Autumn’s forest heart, snowflake. You are not welcome here,” Here’s voice rasped and thickened, the scratch of a black wing against the sun. Here’s neck stretched and bowed, his human face began to lengthen and curve. His beak opened with a shriek and, like the crest of a wave, tore down into the Winter Rake’s exposed belly.

Here tasted cold, tacky blood like frozen sap and smelled the innards of a dark Winter night void of fire and the warm pulse of blood in the living. He snapped at the icy gristle until he reached the crystalline spine. His talons scraped downward, tearing into those delicate lungs. He thrashed his head from side to side and the spine cracked in his beak. The Rake hissed as it died, melted down into the ground.

The frost dissolved from the bodies of its prey and soaked the ground underneath them. Here wiped his hands, talons retreated back under his skin, on his black jeans, now wet with rake blood and Winter’s thaw. His tongue and lips felt numb, like he drank liquid nitrogen. He licked his teeth and spat coldly onto the patch of dirt where the Winter Rake melted.

The humans’ camp sight was far enough away from the trail that their bodies would not be found for a few days. The fight with the rake had scuffed any tracks Here made with his boots. The glade would not remember him.

Chapter 4: MARLETTE/SHADOW

During the day Shadow called herself Marlette. She wrote Marlette on the application when she first walked into The Rose Motel. She wrote Marlette on her plastic name tag with bright red Sharpie and drew little flowers and butterflies floating around the letters.

The Management wrote Marlette in spiraling calligraphy on the envelope with her weekly wages in her staff mail slot, which also had the name Marlette emblazoned upon it in faded pencil on peeling masking tape. Marlette had been working at The Rose Motel for a whole month now and Shadow lived in Marlette’s heart.

Marlette and Shadow were not two separate people. Marlette meant nothing to Shadow and Shadow was sure that if Marlette was a real, regular, cookie cutter human girl with long brown hair, blue eyes, and a gap between her front teeth, Marlette would run screaming for the hills if she ever met Shadow.

In the light, Marlette looked like a regular, cookie cutter human girl with long brown hair, blue eyes and a slight gap between her front teeth. She wore beige scrubs and a three pocket canvas apron tied around her waist when she cleaned the rooms in the morning and she wore the same beige scrubs, when she washed dishes and put out the food Gloria cooked for the continental breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

When her shift ended Marlette went back to her room, cast away the beige scrubs, and went to sleep. Shadow would wake and cast away the brown hair, the blue eyes, and let herself be Shadow. When she wasn’t working, Marlette wore faded blue jeans and oversized t-shirts paired with long strings of plastic rainbow beads and a band of sterling silver around each finger. She enjoyed reading in her room or watching TV. Marlette also enjoyed trips into town and six packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon from the gas station. Sometimes she would go down to the lake to drink but mostly she stayed inside, her shy self reluctant to socialize with the guests of The Rose Motel.

Shadow enjoyed venturing down to the lake, walking its perimeter to the farthest point from The Rose Motel where the concrete of the dam dipped down the constructed hill and the big granite rocks had been dug up and dragged into the sunlight from the quarry 40 miles down the highway. She enjoyed curling up in the dark and the dust, listen to the stories spiders recited to each other as they wove their meals into their webs and where she could watch the fireflies that were becoming less frequent now that the temperature was dropping.

Shadow knew things that Marlette didn’t. Shadow knew that, in addition to humans, the world was populated by stranger things, magical things. Shadow knew that Marlette’s heart was not a heart made out of sopping red muscle and blood vessels but a microscopic, dense—but not too dense—chunk of gravity. Shadow knew that Marlette was a sentient human being with the heart of a black hole, which was also sentient, as all black holes are. Shadow knew that Shadow’s real genus and species classification were not “black hole,” that that was what humans used to classify her species in the time period she found herself in so she let the urge to correct everyone go and adopted the pronoun “she” to match her sentient, human outer shell.

How Shadow came to reside in Marlette neither could remember. Shadow did remember existing in Marlette for a very long time, definitely before Marlette was born. Shadow remembered existing as stray atoms that circled the nuclei of the molecules that made up the teeny, tiny cells of the embryo that was Marlette.

Shadow remembered those cells growing and reveling in the increased room to spin, the spaces between tangible flesh. Shadow knew there was a time when she did not feel, when she did not enjoy consciousness as a being with flesh reacting to gravity. She did not exactly remember when she transitioned from void to womb, air, and light, but she did remember what life—the way of existing she now called life—was like before, when she existed as an undeniable force in the void of space-time.

If Marlette ever found out that Shadow remembered these things Marlette would probably lose her mind.

One of the things that Shadow liked about Marlette was that Marlette liked rocks. Shadow collected rocks as well and Marlette was, more often than not, at the beginning of a new day, delighted to find her jeans stuffed with quarts and sandstone when Shadow returned home from one of her excursions down by the lake. Sometimes the question would creep in from the back of her mind: where did they come from? But she would always brush it aside, tell herself she found them in a room on her cleaning route or in the parking lot. Things like that were normal even if she didn’t remember how or why they happened. Marlette’s room was full of rocks. Big rocks, small rocks, shiny rocks, rough rocks, sharp rocks that she scratched her bare feet on when she danced through the early morning and didn’t pay attention to where she jumped. Every available surface was covered with rocks.

In addition to the rocks Marlette had a tiny twin bed with a mattress sheet and a comforter she bought from Savers, both contrasting shades of pink, two throw pillows, one an embroidered calico cat and the other a grinning, polyester Simba, an old desk she had pilfered from the dumpster when room ten got new furniture, a micro-fridge and microwave, and a filing cabinet, also pilfered from the dumpster, that she used as a dresser. The bathroom sink and counter doubled as her kitchen as the toilet and shower stall were separated from the rest of the room by a sturdy door.

The room was part of The Rose Motel’s abandoned side. There were 28 rooms in all but only 20 were fitted and advertised as vacant for guests. When a fire three years back raged through that part of the complex The Management decided to use the charred out rooms for storage and staff housing even though Marlette was the only member of staff who lived on site. The Management enjoyed the extra storage.

That morning Marlette enjoyed sleeping in. It was her day off and Shadow kept her up late last night. Down by the lake, Shadow had stared for hours into the dark, still water and wished for the return of Summer. Shadow was not inexperienced when it came to feelings. Shadow had spent 25 years feeling everything Marlette felt and processed her emotions much like Marlette processed them.

Shadow suspected that she lent Marlette a fair degree of solidity and stoicism. Shadow also suspected that Marlette forced her to feel as well, for example, whenever Marlette became overexcited for seemingly no reason, Shadow would feel giddy also. The night before, while Marlette was pleasantly serene and asleep, Shadow was worried.

Shadow felt something that Marlette could not feel. Shadow felt the push of someone arriving. A harsh ripple in the air like someone slapped the surface of reality and didn’t care if they left smudgy, greasy fingerprints all over it. Shadow felt the ground pulse beneath the gentle surface of the lake, felt the trees grow silent and still.

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