Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Fairies Under Glass" Excerpt--A Giant Conundrum

 Mr. Gilroy sent a special request to move my work-shift to the morning the next day. I got a temporary pass for the afternoon Algebra class, and reported to the museum promptly at seven. I stared in shock at the machinery and large-scale renovation going on inside the building!
Workmen climbed ladders, shouted to each other, and busied themselves doing… something. Before I could discern what it was, Mr. Gilroy grabbed my arm and shoved me toward the employees’ wing. “Hurry quickly!” he cried, “Get to the Schlimme Exhibit! Go on, then!”
I automatically made my way to the Closet and grabbed my cart. I dimly wondered why he needed my help when Snowden House hadn’t even opened yet.
            In the exhibit hall, Krasimir Schlimme was overseeing the collapse of the large dividers containing the fairy and elf displays! I winced as the workmen simply folded the hinged dividers, and Krasimir, driving a forklift, picked them up and loaded them on a large flat-bed cart, like they use at hardware stores for the huge boxes and stuff.
            My stomach turned as I saw a pile of displays in the middle of the floor, the cracked frames and broken glass speaking of the harsh disregard paid these delicate creatures. I wondered why they were off the dividers, when I suddenly heard a crash. I looked up in shock.
            One of the displays slid out of its space in the divider, and fell face-down on the floor as Krasimir dropped the stack of dividers onto the cart-bed. I heard more glass shattering inside the stack, and it gave me a headache to think of those poor fairies, crushed but unable to do anything about it.            
Krasimir jumped out of the cab of the forklift and kicked the fallen display toward the pile with a sneer. He waved his hand superiorly at me.
            “Quickly, boy!” he cried. “Pick these things up and dispose of them!” He—typical of his nature—did not wait for me to respond, but started throwing the displays into my cart himself.
            My gut wrenched at the way he cast display on top of display, each, I knew, crushing the poor soul beneath it. I was more careful in my placement of the exhibits gently into the bin. I tried to work fast so he wouldn’t notice, but he was too wrapped up in his work, anyway. I didn’t need to worry.
            As we worked, I asked him, “Why are we doing this?”
            He stopped, stared at me, and I winced as a scene depicting elves at a tea-party slipped from his fingers and slid down the side of the pile.
            “Why—“ he gasped, still staring at me strangely. “You… you didn’t hear? Gilroy didn’t tell you? We’ve got to make room!”
            “For what?”
            “For her!”
            He caught himself with such a jump that the two pieces he held flew from his grasp and skidded face-down across the floor. “What do you mean, ‘who’, I said it! It’s arriving today!”
            I had distinctly heard him say “her”, so I knew this was obviously a cover-up, but I decided to play along anyway.
            “What is arriving, sir? And are you really going to throw away all these exhibits? Don’t you want to save them?”
            He waved a hand, flinging the last fairy display into the air as he did so. He was so enraptured by his thoughts, he didn’t even see the way I gently caught the display and laid it in the trash-cart.
            “What is arriving?” he mimicked my tone, “Do I want to save these meaningless, pitiful pieces? No, my boy! That which is coming is worth more to me than the contents of this entire hall!” He slapped me patronizingly on the back and chuckled. Jerking me into the crook of his arm with surprising and vicious strength, he pointed to the doorway with a jovial laugh.
            “Listen, boy: In a moment, through that wall—note well, lad, I say wall not door—“ he gestured to the workmen thronging around that area, “through that wall is coming the centerpiece of my exhibit, my piece de resistance, my masterpiece,” his voice fell, but I was close enough to just barely hear him remark to himself, “the single greatest prize of all my expeditions,” he released me and stood upright as an entire floor-to-ceiling section of the wall swung outward. He announced, “I call it, Girl in Bed.”
            I gasped; slowly wheeling in on a ten-foot-by-fifty-foot mattress was the gigantic form of a girl, a young woman. What with all the fairies and elves, I had no doubt that I was looking at a real-live (though obviously unconscious) giantess.
            She lay mostly on her back, tipped slightly on her right side, with her knees bent and her toes barely on the edge of the mattress. Her left hand draped over her hip, and her right lay palm-up just next to the five-foot-high pillow. Anyone looking at her without knowing she was real would be stunned by the amount of detail in her skin and fingers and such, but I knew better. I pretended, however, to be just such a person.
            “How big is she—ah, it?”
            Mr. Schlimme cleared his throat before responding, so I knew he had prepared an answer for just such a question.
            “I worked on a ten-to-one scale. Do you know what that means, young man?”
            “Ten feet to one, sir?”
            Mr. Schlimme laughed, “Right you are! I used a five-and-a-half-foot-tall girl as a model—“
            I’ll bet you did, I thought to myself.
            “—so this piece of work is fully fifty-five feet long.”
            I whistled in honest surprise. I made some calculations in my head. Fifty-five feet meant that her legs were about thirty feet long, which meant she was about twenty feet tall sitting up on the mattress. The ceiling of the Exhibit Hall was only thirty feet high, which meant that if she sat up while on the mattress (which she probably would), she would be five feet too tall for the room! I didn’t know if I wanted to risk it, but Sheerya had said that all the creatures must be awakened at least once before we could even discover the portal, and all of them must go through the portal of their own volition, or they could not leave our world. I really had no choice.

Monday, December 30, 2013

"Fairies Under Glass" Excerpt--Learning

 I glanced around the hall. There were a couple people still wandering around, but they looked like they had already been there for a while and were on their way out.
            I unobtrusively strolled in and went about my work. The guests finished gazing in wonder at the numerous “sculptures” and “paintings” and took their leave.
            “Okay, you can come out now!” I whispered.
            Sheerya emerged and flew around the room, gazing closely at every composition. I followed her, curious to know more about these little folk.
            “Are these all fairies, Sheerya?” I asked.
            She shook her head, “Only the girls are fairies; all the boys are elves.”
            I looked at her in surprise, “Every time?”
            “Uh-huh,” she responded brightly.
            “So there's no such thing as a boy fairy or a girl elf?”
            “What? No!” Sheerya’s tone was terrified, and she covered her face with her hands. “That… that’s just wrong! Fairies are always girls and elves are always boys! To be any other way would be impossible!
            I shrugged, “Okay, never mind, then.” I went on with my work.
            Less than twenty minutes later, Sheerya was back on my shoulder. “Can we go now?” she asked shortly.
            I stopped and turned by head to look at her. “I need to finish first. I’m here for another hour.”
            “Well, can’t you finish now?”
            I shook my head, “Were you listening? Here, look over there,” I pointed at the clock on the wall. “When the short hand points at the number 5, I can go. I have to work till then.”
            Sheerya huffed impatiently. “Why do you have to wait for the short hand?”
            “Because the short hand marks off the hour. See, it’s pointing at the 4, and in one more hour, it will point at 5.”
            “How do you know it will point at the 5 in one hour?”
            For only six inches high, she confused me quite a bit! “I know because that’s how long an hour is. Do you see the little lines? Those mark off the minutes. When the long hand, which points out the minutes, moves in a full circle, the short hand will move too, and change the hour.”
            “How do you know that what the clock says is the right time?”
            I covered my head with my hand as I considered explaining Greenwich Mean Time and Big Ben and all that to a fairy from a different world.
            I was saved from all that when Sheerya clarified herself, “Who decides how long an hour is?”
            I sighed and put aside my broom for a moment. “Well, a long time ago, people discovered that the sun moved across the sky at the same rate, and they discovered a way to measure the amount of time it takes the sun to move across the sky, and they called it hours.”
            “Well, maybe it was hours to them,” Sheerya countered, “but what does that have to do with you?”
            “It’s not just me, though, Sheerya,” I reprimanded her, aware now that perhaps they had no concept of hours or divisions within a day most likely beyond “morning,” “midday,” “evening,” and “night.” “All humans follow the hours of a clock, and Mr. Gilroy expects me to be here at a certain hour and leave at a certain hour. I can’t decide how long I work!” I shoved the dirt into the dustpan and dumped it into my trash-cart. “What’s your problem, anyway?”

            I’ll admit I had let my frustration get the better of me, and I could tell my words affected her deeply, on top of her mysterious trouble.
            She sighed shakily and settled in the midst of a landscape depicting a fairy-ball.
            “It’s…them,” she replied softly, and I detected tears in her voice, even though she was too small for me to see them.
            She walked to a particularly over-decorated face, and immediately I could tell that it was an elf with fake wings, when compared to the real ones on Sheerya’s back. She placed her hand in his stiff one.

            I hastily leaned the broom against my trash-cart and knelt by the display stand.
            “How did he capture you?”
            Sheerya shrugged, and I heard her crying silently.
            “I…He—It was nothing spectacular, really. He had entered our world, Phantasm, through a portal, and wandered among us, merely observing as we gathered around him. We had never seen a human before, and we wanted to know all about him. He made no sudden movement, no sound, but smiled as we wondered at his strange appearance and towering size. He looked just as excited to see us as we were to meet him.”
Sheerya spread her wings and flew to the first painting I’d really looked closely at, the Audience with the Queen.
“He already had her in captivity, his first fairy,” Sheerya told me. “I don’t know how it happened, but he showed her to us as if it had been an accident. He explained that the jar was his water-jug, and somehow she’d gotten into it and damaged a wing, thus making it impossible for her to fly out.” Sheerya rubbed her eyes as her tiny body shook with sobs, “We should have seen through it, I don’t know how we allowed ourselves to be taken in like we were, but when he asked us for a volunteer to rescue our sister, we couldn’t refuse! The bottle had a long neck, so that, he said, was why he could not help her. One of us had to fly in and help her out.” Sheerya flew to the top of the fame and sat there to finish her story.
“I was the first one to volunteer. I entered the bottle and immediately passed out. When I came to my senses, there were hundreds of us in that bottle, and there was a cork in the top preventing our escape. He passed through the portal and into his workshop, where he disguised us all as the works of art you see here.”
I shook my head, not quite understanding why a gentleman like Krasimir Schlimme would do such a thing. “What is this portal you keep talking about?”
Sheerya kicked her legs nonchalantly, “It’s the passageway between your world and ours.”
“Wait, there’s a passageway between the worlds? That means you can get back, right?”
“Right…” I didn’t understand the hesitation in her voice.
“Do you know where this portal is?”
            Sheerya shrugged, “It is my job to know where and when the portals will open—“
            “Well, I guess you could get home pretty easily, then.”
“Not as easily as you might think, Casey. To even find the portal, every creature must be awakened at least once. Krasimir has many more creatures in his workshop that he does not have here on display. So even if you rescued all the fairies and elves in this room, there are still more that need to be rescued from Krasimir’s potions that paralyze us and keep us prisoner. Then, once you have freed them all, the portal can be anywhere, at any time; but every creature must be present at the site, and enter the portal voluntarily, or it will not work.”
I gazed around the wide room with slumped shoulders. “Are you serious? I have to rescue all of them?” Where would I put them all? Could I seriously walk out of the museum with the entire contents of an exhibit hall hidden on my person? “Well…” I decided slowly, “I’ll try, Sheerya.”
“Oh, good! One more thing you—“

I froze; had I been discovered? I turned even as I felt Sheerya’s wings flutter against my neck.
It was only Mr. Gilroy. The man looked over-burdened as he approached me, bullied somehow. He laid a hand on my shoulder. “Private tour group,” he explained, “you can leave for today.”
I sighed with relief, “Oh good.”
“Pardon?” the older man asked.
“I mean, um, okay, Mr. Gilroy. See you tomorrow.”

I wheeled the cart back into the Closet.

On my way out, I bumped into a tall person in a dark, pinstripe suit.
Ach! Pardon me,” said a strong voice in a measured European accent.
It was Krasimir Schlimme. He smiled, and his eyes even sparkled kindly and wisely, but after Sheerya’s tale, I knew I could never look at that man the same way again. Wordlessly, I continued on my way.
When I got to the door, I glanced back over my shoulder at the man—only to find he was watching me, too! A chill went down my spine as I stepped out into the glowing sunset.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Fairies Under Glass" Excerpt--Fairies and Their Dust

 The next afternoon, I fairly stalked into Snowden House with a clear purpose. By golly, I was going to get myself a fairy if I had to destroy the painting to get it!
            I grabbed my gear and entered the Schlimme Exhibit. I had chosen sweeping as my cover. I commenced the construction of small piles of dust, heading all the while in a specific direction.
Closer and closer I waved my broom, trying to look as random as possible as I edged toward a certain display stand. I knew which fairy I wanted, but I had no idea how I was going to get it.
She was the exhibit titled, "Spring Fairy Wakens the Flowers," with her billowing skirts and her little thimble-full of—dust; fairy dust? It was too dull to be glitter, but it still had a bit of luster, which ruled out the possibility of its being normal dust or fine sand. I didn't know what it was, but at any rate, she was my target.
I'd cased her exhibit already, and it turned my stomach to see that Mr. Schlimme had, diabolically concealed behind the model trees and foliage, actually stapled her wings to the paper! I had to rescue her. Maybe if I bumped the partition, her display would fall. Maybe if I did it quick enough, no one would believe it intentional. But then again--
"Look out!"
Mr. Schlimme's booming voice coming from behind me almost scared the living daylights out of me! I jumped and whirled around, broom still in hand. As neat as you could wish, the end of my broom caught the corner of the "Spring Fairy" exhibit purely by accident, and the whole thing crashed to the floor.
Instantly, the suave gentleman scrambled to it. "No!" he gasped as I reached out to grab it. He got his hands on it first and turned it over.
"I'm very sorry, sir!" I said, putting all the remorse I could into my voice.
"Idiot!" Mr. Schlimme snapped at me, "This, young man, is what comes of not paying attention!"
"It will not happen again, sir, I promise. But . . . can it be repaired?"
Krasimir Schlimme shook his head. "No, no; more's the pity. Each of these, ah, pieces is as unique as each individual human! That is what makes them so valuable... when they are not broken! Then they are worthless trash!" With no more than a sigh, he tossed the whole display into my trash-cart. Then he pointed a crooked, ringed finger at me and warned, "See that nothing happens to the others!"
I wondered at his tone. Did he know they were alive?
I could feel my pulse increase to a triple-beat cadence as I pushed the cart back to the Janitor's Closet, where I had a little bench to sit on if I needed some privacy... like now. I had the fairy! Carefully, I lifted the paper with its prisoner out of the trash. Now that the "forest" was broken off, I could clearly see the four large, ugly staples pinning her delicate pearlescent wings to the painted sky beneath her. How badly I wanted to free her then and there! I knew that would not be the wisest course of action. I gently laid the paper in my duffel bag, zipped it, and tried to walk casually out of the museum.
Yeah, right; have you ever tried to act casual while you're so high-strung that the slightest noise will send you through the roof?
Anyway, I made it to my dorm room without mishap. Once I had my door closed and locked, I hot-footed it to my desk and laid the paper and the fairy on it, to examine her under the lamp.

In the stillness and the silence, I had to gaze at her. That smile etched on her face, the silky white-gold hair, and delicate, pointed toes. I pulled out a ruler; she was fully six inches from head to toe. My head spun; with this discovery, I could revolutionize the popular conception—now a mis-conception—of fairies being thumb-high creatures!
The next thing I wanted to explore was her thimble of dust. I poured it into a pile on the paper next to her head. Daubing some on my finger, curiosity suddenly blossomed in my brain. What could one do with fairy-dust? It was far too small an amount to sprinkle on oneself for flying, so that ruled out Barrie's fantasy. It almost looked like shiny mustard-powder. I swiped my finger across my tongue.

Searing fire stung my mouth, and I began spitting, yelling, and desperately wiping my tongue. It may look like mustard, but it tasted like powdered habanera! I grabbed my water bottle and took great gulps, trying to cool my mouth down. That's when I heard it.
It was a delicate tinkling sound, like sleigh-bells, but in the definite rhythm of laughter. It seemed to come from the fairy!
I returned to the desk. She was looking right at me, but not a muscle had twitched at all. Only her eyes moved. The jingling stopped. Carefully, I reached out a finger and poked her face. It still felt stiff, but a sharp, high-pitched knell—very loud and insistent, no longer delicate—made me jump.
For the first time, I decided to speak to the fairy.
"Is that... you... making the bell noises?"
She replied with more tinkling.
"Were you ... laughing at me when I ate the fairy-dust?"
Her eyes looked down and I heard the sleigh-bells again. She had been, and now she was again!
"You can... understand me?"
Another tinkling noise like the first, which I took to mean, "yes."
I tried to make my intentions as clear as possible, "I want to free you..."
Her eyes fixed on me, and she made happy jangling noises, giving her approval.
"... But I'm afraid of hurting you. Won't it hurt your wings to take the staples out?"
She made a low, clanging noise, similar to "yes" but less happy.
"It will hurt you?"
The low noise again. Maybe that meant "no," but I wanted to be sure.
"Are you saying 'no'?"
She replied, "Yes."
I took a deep breath and pulled out my pocketknife. This was going to be some delicate business!
"Ok," I told the fairy, "I'm going to try. I'll go slow and be as gentle as I can. Are you ready?"
She jangled so much, I could tell she was too excited about the prospect of freedom to worry about it hurting.
I held up the paper so that I could pry up the staples from the back. I lifted the ends so that I could pull them straight out. Laying the paper down again, I used the tiny pliers to slowly lift the staple.
She jangled so loud I jumped and dropped the knife.
“I'm sorry!" I cried, "I'm trying very hard to be gentle! I'm almost done! Please don't scare me like that!"
She made a quiet jingling that I'm sure meant, "I'm sorry."
She tinkled softly throughout the rest of the operation, but at last it was done. As soon as I got the last staple out, she took off in a flash of light, zipping around the room, jingling and jangling a mile a minute. I laughed.
"Come back, please!" I asked, as she was beginning to snoop in all sorts of places around my room.
She willingly returned to stand on the desk. As soon as she stopped flying, the glow died. I noted: fairies only glow while flying. That was convenient, as I could clearly see her.
Her dress was still ripped, but other than that, she seemed perfectly fine. She was an energetic little thing, constantly moving her hands or her feet as I looked at her. Even though her wings once had staples in them, I could no longer see the holes. A second note: Fairies' wings are possibly made of microscopic follicles like bird's feathers, and respond accordingly to piercing, by separating to allow the object through, but closing up again once the object is removed.
"You can understand me when I speak, right?"
She said, "Yes," and then a bunch of other jingles and tinkles that I didn't understand. She kept pointing to the pile of fairy-dust.
"How can you understand me?"
She "giggled" and went through a hilarious pantomimed re-enactment of my little "taste-test."
It dawned on me, "Because I ate the fairy-dust, you can understand my speech?"
“Yes," she jingled.
"How can I understand you, then?"
She grabbed a handful (a few grains) of the fairy dust and demonstrated putting them in her ears.
"I put the dust in my ears, and I will be able to understand you?"
I daubed the dust onto my fingers a second time, but this time I swiped it into my ears and not my tongue.
Instantly, I could hear words in the bell-noises, which faded to background noise behind the delicate voice.
"The dust in your ears translates my language into yours, just as the dust on your tongue translates your language into mine."
I stared at the little creature on my desk.
"That's what fairy-dust is for?"
She laughed, "Yes; not all fairies speak the same language, so we use the dust as a translator when we want to communicate. What did you think it was for?"
"Well..." I hesitated as I pictured trying to explain popular fantasy literature to the fairy, "I guess... not as a translator, that's for sure."
She laughed again, "But that's not all we use it for. It's good as fertilizer, too, for the ground and the plants, and it makes the animals healthy, too."
Now that I could understand her, there was one last thing I wanted to know. "My name is Casey. What is yours?"
She was evidently comfortable around me now, for she flew up to my shoulder. Her head was as high as my ear.
"My name is Sheerya," she whispered.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Fairies Under Glass" Excerpt--Discovery

 Being a janitor was not as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, if there was a least-exciting-job award given to the most menial, drudging job without being actually disgusting (which would make it exciting, really!), being a janitor for a single exhibit hall in a relatively small art museum was it.
            Not that I’m complaining; it was boring, yes, but I didn’t particularly have another option. So as I swept up the wrappers, dust, crumbs, paper-clips, pins, and other small jumble around the exhibit hall, I took to following the tour groups around.

            To open the new exhibit, the artist himself agreed to come to Snowden House three times a week, to lead a special tour around the exhibit hall, describing and touting his artwork to the goggling public. Personally, I think they were more amazed at his appearance and his manner of speaking than his artwork. The man knew how to command attention.
            “… And here we have a piece titled ‘Enchanted Dreams.’ Observe the intricate detail of the fingers, how they curl ever so gently inward, and of the body, how it seems to breathe with life…”
            I shook my head at the elaborate descriptions Mr. Schlimme used. “Showboating”, my dad would call it. I wandered away from his overly exuding voice, taking time off from sweeping to gaze with fascination at the many figures and portraits hanging on the walls. At least, they seemed like portraits.
            But the longer I stared at them, the more I couldn’t help wondering how Mr. Schlimme achieved such a degree of three-dimensional painting! The tiny figures seemed to pop out of the frame, or go deep into the wall, but these were narrow dividers and small frames, such a thing would be impossible.
            I stopped before a display, titled “An Audience with the Queen.” The figure gazed out of the frame, so piercingly it sent shivers down my spine. She verily looked like a queen, even in her expression; what kind of an artist could capture that? I shook my head and returned to my cart. Another tour guide had just led a second group to the same piece Mr. Schlimme had just left.
            “… And here we have a piece entitled, ‘Enchanted Dreams.’ Observe the eerie realism, as the hand hangs over the bed, as if just about to drop…”
            Wait, what?
            I waited till the group left and stepped up to the display. That was weird; I could have sworn the portrait was of a girl sleeping in a bed on her back when I left, so one could see the “delicate features of her pale face,” as Mr. Schlimme put it. But now she lay on her front, head turned slightly, hand nearly draped over the edge of her bed. Was it a different exhibit? No, it couldn’t be. It was at the same place in the room, same title, everything. Then what…
            Even my thoughts froze as my eyes caught a movement of the supposed picture! As I watched, the tiny hand, draped so cleverly over the corner of the bed, fell down the side of the mattress! Not like a piece of broken sculpture, but in the exact manner of living flesh!
            My mind exploded. I ran around to the rest of the exhibits. No wonder the art seemed so dimensional! No wonder their eyes seemed to follow me as I cleaned the floors every day! They were alive! Did they exist in our world? Where did they come from? I’d never given much thought to fantasy creatures; to me, fantasy was a form of entertainment for little kids. To realize they actually exist, well, it just blew my mind!
I went back to the “Audience.” Staring hard, I saw, behind the curtains hung around her throne, the glint of pearlescent wings. I walked to the left of it. Her eyes! Her body did not move, but her eyes did. They followed me. I walked to the right. They still looked straight at me. I bent underneath the frame then popped up quickly.
            There! I was just in time to see her eyes snap from the bottom lid, back to center.
            I had to fight to keep myself composed. I checked my watch. I had an hour before the next tour group. I had the sudden urge to go to the library and read about these 6-inch-high creatures so diabolically disguised and on display before ignorant people who assumed they were “art.” The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that it really wasn’t right for them to be in captivity. I frowned at this shoddy form of “capitalism” used by Krasimir Schlimme. This wasn’t how one ought to treat strange creatures, locking them behind panes of glass like this! (Not that I was any expert on extraterrestrial etiquette, but still…)
            They were so pitiful to see! Perhaps there was a way to somehow free them, if they were still alive. Perhaps Casey the Janitor would somehow become Casey, Champion of these fairies under glass….
I was a complete wreck all the next morning. I don’t recall anything I learned in class, if I really did learn anything that day at all. My mind was filled with planning for how I would rescue the fairies.
Would just stealing one of them work? I saw myself walking into the museum, making sure no one was around, slyly picking up one of the elves, because they were mostly in actual papier-mache displays, not frames, tucking it into my pocket—and turning around to see Krasimir Schlimme right behind me. No, that wouldn’t work. What about taking a whole display? Walk into the empty room, lift a frame off the wall—and the thing just keeps coming, until I have this large box in my hands. Putting it under my coat, I look like I just ate a cereal box. Dumb idea.
I was still thinking hard all the way to Snowden House. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind. My conscience made me too jittery to be able to just sneak a little figure off a display. Deeply troubled, I went about my work.
Seeing the Audience with the Queen again, I was overcome with a longing to know about these creatures. I glanced around to make sure no one was near me. For the first time, I attempted to speak to the fairy.
“Are you real?” I asked in a very low whisper. I felt kind of stupid, like I was really talking to a painting, but something about the glint in her eyes told me she understood, even if she didn’t move. Could she move if she wanted to? I wondered if they came to life during the night, when no one was around, like I’d read about in books and seen in movies. I tried again.
“How can I—“ someone came around the corner and interrupted me. Abruptly, I grabbed my broom and tried to look like I’d been sweeping. Unfortunately, the handle had caught around the edge of my trash cart, so the sweeping movement of the broom brought the heavy cart rolling over my left foot and crashing into my stomach. I tripped over cart and broom, with the innocent patron gazing over me in pity.
Shakily, I regained my footing, disentangled the broom, and finished sweeping the floor in that area.
I sighed as I walked out of the Exhibit Hall. As much as I wanted to find out about the fairies, I hadn’t the slightest idea how I would be able to do it!

A hand settled comfortingly on my shoulder. I turned straight into the steely gaze of Krasimir Schlimme himself. It was the first time I’d seen him.
His dark hair was buzzed short, his features were firmly chiseled, and his skin was a dark tan, like he had some Arab blood in him (small wonder, with a name like Krasimir!). In stark contrast to his heavy, dark brow were his brilliant grey eyes, like small round daggers in his face. Right now, those daggers were pointed directly at me. He smiled, but it was a cold smile; those eyes almost belied a ruthless nature, but I couldn’t figure out why.
“So, you’re the janitor, eh?” he said in a thick European accent.
A cold fear seemed to creep from his fingertips into my shoulder, right to my heart. “Y-yes, sir,” I stammered with a squeak in my voice.
“Ah, so what do you think of my collection?” His tone was congenial, but his eyes confronted me and demanded an answer.
I fought to control my voice; what could this man possibly have against me? Why did I need to fear him? “Um, I’ve never seen anything like it, sir,” I answered honestly.
Krasimir chuckled, “Nothing like it in all the world,” he said, finally leaning away from me, directing his eyes back toward the exhibit hall. “I spent years collecting all those... pieces, and I want you to help me make sure nothing goes wrong with them.”
My heart was still pounding. What exactly did he expect me to do? I was saved from having to ask as he continued, “If you see anything out of the ordinary, anything that doesn’t look quite right, you’ll tell me,” the daggers turned on me again, “won’t you?”
I gasped for breath before answering, “Sure.” More than anything, I wanted to leave his grasp!
The hand slid down to my arm, and Krasimir Schlimme chuckled at me, “Good lad; I like to have someone I can trust.”
With that cryptic remark, he turned and walked into the exhibit hall, leaving me in front of the Janitor’s Closet.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Amazon": An UnExcerpt

unexcerpt: n. 1. A single scene coalescing with remarkable clarity in my imagination, having no point and even less context.
2. What my brain does, waking me up before 8AM instead of letting me sleep.

Title: "Amazon"
Setting: Amazon rainforest
Narrator: red-haired woman 

The dense air was difficult to breathe, and muffled sounds enough. I couldn't tell where it was going to strike from next. My only hope was to keep running and hope that I could reach civilization before anything reached me. I slipped my hand into my pocket to grab my compass—only to recall that the compass was in the backpack I'd dropped in the first attack.
A macaw overhead screeched a frantic warning. I took off running at the sound. With a roar that virtually disintegrated every muscle in my body, the caiman erupted onto the bank, skimming over the land almost as quickly as it had been swimming through the bog. I felt the jaws around my leg and heard the bone snap as I fell before the pain slammed into my head. I couldn't help myself; I screamed as a flurry of tropical birds took wing. The caiman rolled expertly, tossing my body through the air and slamming me to the ground, all while keeping a firm hold on my leg. Then it began to drag me back toward the water. I didn't even have the willpower to resist my imminent death.
The undergrowth snapped as a large shape sprang into the clearing. The caiman paused to see who would dare interrupt its meal. I looked, too, and saw a huge black panther thundering toward us. I envisioned being ripped from the jaws of the caiman and torn to shreds by the panther, but there was no point in trying to see a way of escape. My fate had been sealed.
I had no feeling in my leg, but my body gave a small jerk and I looked down. The caiman had dropped my leg to greet this new oncoming threat. I turned my head once more just in time to see the panther leaping straight for me. I snapped my eyes shut, bracing myself.
I heard the roar on my other side, and smelled a musty, hairy scent that almost smothered me. There was no pain like what I had been expecting. I opened my eyes.
The panther stood over me. The fur on its belly brushed my face. The paw resting next to my head was easily bigger than my whole face. The panther screamed at the caiman till the reptile returned to the swamp from whence it came.
Now we were alone, me and the panther—and I was bleeding, wounded, and almost dead. Perhaps any moment now, the panther would turn, snap my neck with one chomp of its powerful jaws, and drag my mangled body up into a tree to feast on me at its leisure. I closed my eyes as I felt the paw beside my head lift and transfer to the other side. Now the panther was standing over me, watching my face. I felt whiskers brushing my cheeks, smelled the reek of death on its breath, and it was all I could do to keep from flinching—though the panther could probably sense my breathing and my wildly-beating heart. Any moment now...
The panther hovered over my midriff. I could hear the animal snuffling with its nose against my side. The massive jaws opened, and I felt the sharp teeth press against my front and back—

But they did not puncture. My head flopped back as the panther lifted me off the ground as easily as a dog lifts a doll. The teeth held me firmly in place, like laying on a bed of nails, but they did not pierce the skin. I was having an easier time playing dead, as the real thing loomed closer and closer. The panther walked slow and easily through the forest with unusual tenderness. I almost wondered if it considered me one of its young, with the way it had defended me from the caiman—but if so, then why?

At last, as I teetered on the edge of total blackness, the panther laid me down, this time on a softer surface than the cold ground. I could almost identify the feel of the fibers beneath me as some animal pelt. Moaning softly, the panther nosed along my shoulder and began slowly licking the blood from my face. The beast's breath reeked of the old flesh that made up its diet. The tongue felt like wet sandpaper against my skin.

"What have you found, Carnossus?"
I did not have the strength to open my eyes at the sound of the low female voice. I sensed someone crouching nearby, and felt the hand laid on my head. The palm alone covered my face; dimly, I wondered how big the person would be, with hands so large. Another hand quickly slipped under my back, and she said something else, but then the darkness swallowed me....


More to come...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Inkweaver" Excerpt--Escape from Blackrope


At the forceful command, all movement and noise ceased. My heart lodged in my throat. There was no doubt in my mind that the man who had been shadowing us had been waiting for this moment. We were all entirely at his mercy!
"W-w-wh-who are you?" I stammered, even as the vine from my shoulder crept nearer to my throat.
"Do not move and do not speak," the stranger said. I could hear him enter the clearing. "The blackrope vines are difficult to counteract. You in the center, I can free you first, but you must catch the covering I will throw over you and run out of here as fast as you can. You cannot speak, but your hands are free; flex your fingers twice if you understand my instructions."
I sent my hand in a flurry of motion that shifted my arm and sent the blackrope racing down my elbow.
"On my signal," the man said, "Three.... Two... One... Go!" Abruptly I heard a metallic snick and felt the blackrope pull away, and then I was nearly knocked over by a heavy blanket tossed over my head. I gripped it and ran instinctively, as he had instructed. Only when I saw the green leaves around my feet that signaled I was beyond the blackrope clearing did I stop. I turned and removed the covering. First Greyna then Larryn came charging out from the blackrope in a similar manner, followed by our mysterious savior, who wore a hood made of the same thick material.
Now that we were all safe, I dropped the blanket and demanded of him again, "Who are you?"
He threw back his hood, uncovering his thick dark hair and bright green eyes.
"Shereya," said Belak, "It's Belak."
Larryn clapped her hands and laughed, but I was too shocked to have any kind of proper response.
"Belak!" I burst out. "How did—you—what—I—" Why was he following us without making himself known sooner, and how could he possibly know how to escape something as insidious and unnatural as blackrope? I looked up when he started speaking again, as I realized that Larryn had asked him how he had known we were in danger.
"I've been following you secretly for about some time," he confessed. "Ever since you entered these woods. I was actually on my way back to Mirrorvale to—" he stopped suddenly and glanced toward me.
Right then I knew that this journey was changing me. Only a few days ago I thought he was the one I wanted to marry, but it took several moments now for the fondness to return.
"If you've been following us for so long," I spoke up, "Why have you not made yourself known before now?" It seemed rather disingenuous to me to wait until your subject was in peril and then prey upon their desperate need for a hero.
He shook his head as if he could not understand the frown on my face. "I wondered what you were doing so far from the village, and I figured you would not want me along if you did not need me. If you would have made it through the forest, I might have continued on my way."
Greyna watched him carefully, almost not even blinking. She looked between me and Larryn. "What do you think," she murmured, "is this man telling the truth?"
"Of course he is!" Larryn cried. "He's an old friend of Shereya's. He's not dangerous!"
I could see the expectancy in his eyes. Through my mind, unbidden, leapt the image of Belak in his plain clothes, standing before a village council and announcing, "I will stand up to this beast and fight! I will succeed where others have failed!" Would he really usurp our true mission like that? I imagined he would not be satisfied with just looking for the Inkweaver, especially if the most dangerous thing we faced would be blackrope.
Greyna was watching him carefully, "Do you—I mean, that is to say..." she blushed furiously, and Larryn giggled.
"Would you join us?" Greyna finally managed.
Belak glanced at me. "What exactly are you girls up to?"
"We just want to find somebody is all," I said quickly before the others could chime in.
Belak raised an eyebrow. "And so you left Mirrorvale, picked up a stranger—" he cast an appraising glance over Greyna, "entered the deep woods and got yourselves trapped in blackrope... To find someone?" He chuckled, "Admit it, it's me you're looking for!"
I stepped back and shook my head, "No, Belak, we had no intention of even seeing you on this journey. I didn't think I would see you after—"
Belak smiled at me in that irresistible way of his. "After I left Mirrorvale the night after the Decorum Banquet?" He shrugged, "To tell you the truth, I didn't either. For all I knew, I was just minding my own business when a girl who bore striking resemblance to a timid young maiden I once knew wandered into the Deep Woods and got trapped. Look at you, Shereya! So far away from home; looks like you managed to cross the Wall without me after all." He stepped toward me and reached up to push a loose strand of hair out of my face. "So what do you say? Can I please join you so I don't have to go skulking about any more?"
Truth be told, I didn't want any more people in our group! What did the Inkweaver expect? Would we arrive in Gramble with a small army? The more people, the more difficult it would be to make decisions. And besides, if Belak knew we were after the Inkweaver—my cheeks burned. Larryn believed, and Greyna did as well. What would he think if we told him the truth? What would he think of me then?
He kept watching me, waiting for my answer. I sighed, "Oh, all right."
Belak grinned.
Larryn thrust a fist into the air. "Huzzah!" she cried.
"What's this?" Greyna asked, and we all turned to look at the object in question.
She reached into the undergrowth and pulled out a small round shield. Greyna gripped it in one hand and brushed the dirt and grime off its front with the other.
I couldn't restrain a gasp when I saw the crest on the front: a black dragon on a white field.
"The shepherd-knight!" I breathed.
Belak glanced at me in puzzlement. "Who?"
I shook my head. "Nothing," I dismissed his question. Truthfully, I had no idea how I knew; for once I had not dreamed this story as I had Greyna's. It was purely some instinct, a definitive whisper in my mind that told me whose shield it was. But there was something else about the shield that I recalled, as well. I reached over my shoulder and pulled the tapestry out of my bag.
"What's that?" Belak asked as I unfolded it.
"It's just a ta—a map," I caught myself. "We think it might lead us to the one who made it." I chose my words carefully and shot warning looks at Larryn and Greyna, who only shrugged me off.
"Oh," Belak was studying the tapestry now. The happy kingdom at the very beginning had all but disappeared; all that was left was an impoverished, dying kingdom devoid of Wordspinners. "So that's the person you're looking for? The mapmaker?"
Larryn snorted, but I said, "Yes," very distinctly.
I shielded the part of the tapestry that displayed our current position from Belak's view. There was the tree with the blackrope, and the bush with the shield on it. There, also, was a figure not unlike Belak himself. So he was supposed to join us after all, I thought to myself.
After noticing the shield, further perusal seemed to designate specific objects in the other scenes as well: a sword in the hand of a villager, one with a very distinctive guard around the hilt. I also saw an old woman's gnarled staff; she wore the garb of a Wordspinner. There was also something like a medallion around the neck of the monarch and a crown upon his head, and a single oil lamp in the window of a house. Six items in all, and we had managed to find the first. Did that mean that in addition to our original goal, we had to also find and collect all the items?
"Okay," I said, folding up the tapestry. "The edge of the forest is not far from here, and then we should reach the next village by nightfall."
Larryn and Greyna nodded.
"Lead the way, Mistress Guide!" Belak joked.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Inkweaver" Excerpt--"The Invisible Gift" and "Forward Unto Danger"

In the morning, a rooster crowed, and Naten greeted us in the main area of his cottage with three packets of fresh provisions.
“This should keep you till you reach the next village,” he told us. “And for you,” he turned to me, “I have a gift.” He brought out his hands in front of him and extended them, palm-upwards, toward me.
The other girls gasped in awe, but I still waited for him to show me the gift.
“What are you waiting for, Shereya?” Larryn asked. “It’s beautiful.”
Naten smiled and gestured toward me with his hands again.
I shook my head, “I do not understand; there’s nothing there!” I waved my hand between his to show Larryn her mistake—and the side of my hand connected with something hard. “Ouch!” I cried, drawing my hand back. I stared at Naten—were Wordspinners sorcerers after all? “What was that?”
Naten’s grin dimmed somewhat. “You must accept the gift first; can you not hear its tale?”
I could indeed; it was the same story I’d heard and seen last night in my dream: footsteps on flagstones, clanking goblets, creaking door-hinges, labored breathing—someone dying. It scared me; who was dying? Would we be expected to save them? Would they join our group as Greyna had? Why couldn’t I see it? I backed away from him.
“I want nothing to do with an enchanted object, gift or no!” I informed him.
Larryn stepped forward and seemed to take the thing out of Naten’s hands. She turned to me, holding the invisible item. I could see the way she curled her hand around it, gripping it, but I all I saw were the fronts of her fingers.
“Why are you behaving like this, Shereya?” She whispered to me. “Here, let me fasten this belt around you.”
“What belt?” I asked, but Larryn already had her arms about my waist. I could hear the jingling of buckles, and I felt the press of leather and the weight of something heavy, but try as I might, I could not make out so much as a glimmer of whatever the gift was. Once this was done, we took our leave.
“Farewell, fair maidens,” Naten waved as we retraced our steps along the little path back into the forest. “May my gift serve you well, Lady Shereya!”
I blushed at the title and at the way he persisted in kindness even when I had shown such distrust.
“Thank you!” I called back, only half-genuine.
“Farewell, Naten,” said Larryn, “Thank you for your kindness.”
I took my mind off Naten and the mysterious object hanging at my side by checking the tapestry. For the first time, I noticed that our route had been traced along the various landmarks, and at the end of the trail there was Naten standing at his anvil in front of his cottage. I also saw that the various patterns and designs were more detailed than I remembered. Even the compass at the bottom seemed more ornate.
“Larryn, look at this,” I said as I clearly saw that what had been misshapen lumps of embroidery before were now very clearly heaps of charred wood with diamonds in their midst. “It changed!”
She shook her head at me, “Weren’t you the one insisting that tapestries don’t change, when we left? I’m glad you think so, even though, honestly, it hasn’t changed since yesterday.”
“But—“ I couldn’t say anything more. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. There was so much about this journey I didn’t understand. When would it all make sense?

The three of us walked down the path through the woods in relative silence. The invisible object weighed heavily on my waist, and several times already, I had complained about it, but Larryn and Greyna both refused to help me take it off.
"Why would you want to throw away such a magnificent gift?" Greyna asked.
Magnificent indeed! I snorted. In truth, I was getting nervous about the path ahead. The voices had been very faint ever since they arrived at Naten's house, and they weren't getting any stronger with distance. I had tried to check the tapestry, but beyond the forest, there were only the faintest lines before the end of the picture. To cap it all off, I knew someone was following us. The noise of the Telling voices had masked the sound, but in straining now to hear them, I could on occasion make out a fourth pair of footsteps creeping along beside us, somewhere deep in the undergrowth.
Larryn and Greyna chatted away, oblivious to this. I figured that the safest thing for us to do would be to get out of the forest, forcing our footpad out of hiding.
I stopped to gather our bearings. All I could see were trees all around us, and every gap just revealed yet another tree beyond.
"Will these woods never end?" I groaned.
Larryn paused and glanced around them. "This forest does seem impossibly large, doesn't it?" she observed cheerfully.
I rolled my eyes at her. There were some things a dauntless mood just did not help! Adjusting the—whatever it was—over my hips, I started off again.
"We didn't have any forests near Mirrorvale," Larryn explained to Greyna, "at least, not ones like this one, that you could go wandering through."
"That's incredible," Greyna chuckled, "for Stania is situated right in the thick of a large forest, entirely surrounded by trees."
I paused as we reached a wider clearing. "Speaking of surrounded by trees—" I muttered.

All around us were the strangest trees I had ever seen. There were thick branches protruding exactly perpendicular far above our heads, but instead of leaves, these branches bore thick, black, shiny vines hanging from them. It may have been my paranoid brain playing tricks, but it seemed that the more I stared at a vine, the longer it hung, till they were almost touching the forest floor.
"I've never seen anything like them," Greyna breathed.
"Let's get out of here," I warned the two of them. There was something sinister about those black vines.
"It's sticky!" I heard Larryn cry, and only then did I turn to look.
Larryn had the end of a vine in her hand, and if I didn't know any better, I could swear that the vine was attaching itself to her palm! She spread her fingers wide and shook her hand furiously, but only succeeded in wrapping more of the vine around her wrist. Wide-eyed, Larryn looked up at me. It was the first time I had ever seen terror on her face.
"Run!" I told Greyna, but the vines were too thick. We had no sooner felt the brush of them than we found ourselves stuck fast. Larryn, in trying to pull the vine off one hand with the other, found both hands firmly bound. Greyna shrieked as a vine caught in her hair and pulled her mercilessly into its grasp. My heart raced as I froze in the very center of the clearing, only attached by the merest contact on my cloak and shoulders. When Greyna's hair had been seized, I had thrown the hood of my cloak over my head to avoid the same fate, and that was the last movement I could make. My mind, unfettered, churned madly. Why had the voices not warned me of this? In fashioning her tapestry map, one would think that the Inkweaver would have the foresight to include such a danger in her designs! No, instead I was hearing hoofbeats and roars and the crackle of fire and people wailing—and the screams of my friends. Greyna and Larryn were completely trapped; the more they struggled, the more vines caught hold of them. Already Larryn's head was covered by the black vines. I was paralyzed and helpless. Here was the end of our journey.

Also from "Inkweaver":

-The Legend of The Wordspinners
-The Last Inkweaver  
-What Are You Afraid Of?  
-In The Inkweaver's Cottage 
-The Unfinished Tapestry 
-Tales of the Inkweaver: "The Three Daughters"
-In The House Of The Talesmith 
-Escape From Blackrope 
-The Rise and Fall of Morgianna Plontus-Byrmingham 
-The Morning After 
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "The Four Travellers
-In the Court of Count Bergen 
-"The Four Travellers" Part 2 
-Do You See What I See?
-Welcome to Criansa
-Meeting Delia
-A Nice Cup of (Honest) Tea
-Saving Margo
-Interpreting The Stone
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "Four Animals in Partnership"
-Tark Trades People
-"Plotting" and "Meet Tark's Crew"
-Storytime for Tark
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "The Stone in The Road"
-Moon Valley
-Writer's Eyes