Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A New Start to an Old Novel: Doleful Creatures

NOTE: I've started a novel called Doleful Creatures several times since high school, but never have gotten far with it. This time, I think I might have an approach and some ideas that'll work. I'm not ordinarily a fan of multiple narrators, but maybe I can make this work.

Doleful Creatures

© 2013 Brian Davidson

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant places: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.

Isaiah 13:21-22

Chapter One: Where I Set the Rules

Know this, Jarrod. I will not sing.

I will not wear a twee waistcoat, nor allow any damn bird to fly about my head or perch on my back as I work.

I will not say things like ‘Oh my paws and whiskers.’

I will not scamper.

I will not – I absolutely refuse – to listen if she sings.

If provoked – and being approached with a hat or bonnet or shoes to wear is provocation enough – I will bite, and draw blood.

“I understand,” Jarrod said. “But we thank you for your help. It is essential.”

He left, tail flicking a moonbeam shadow across the grass as he ducked under the barbed-wire fence. Soon all I could hear were the crickets, the slight breeze ruffling the leaves.

I stared in his direction.


That, directed at me.

I have no stake in whether Purdy Farm thrives or dies, no matter what Jarrod says. That little busybody. Bossing folks around as if he weren’t a – well, as if he weren’t what he was.

Those of us who lived in field and wood tried not to think of it. Tried not to think of Jarrod and his ilk, living as they do. The more simple-minded or lazy among us might joke, staring into the dim lights that were Purdy Farm, smelling the smells, catching a whiff of the warmth on a cold winter night, that living on the farm is the life.

And maybe it was.

I was not about to find out.

For a moment, I considered running after him in the dark, stepping on that tail, stopping his march. Telling him I had changed my mind. That I would not cooperate.

But that’s how they get you. They convince you to go with them, to see the sights, and, piteous as things are, try to convince you you’re wrong. Forgetting, of course, that we in the wild live as we do in bare holes filled with what grass and straw we can find, not hand-hewn tables, cushions before the fireplace, barrels of brown ale and slabs of bacon in the cellars. We know piteous. And we like it. What do we care if the apes are in discomfort, in disarray?

I won’t say balderdash or poppycock.


That may be as close as I get to the apes’ expectation of we wild folk. Who do not call ourselves wild folk because this is just how we live, it is just who we are, not because we have no skills in carpentry or sewing or bricklaying or distilling, but because we live as we do because that’s how we live.


The lot of them.

Jarrod dares tell me it is a good life. And, when Ma Purdy and the young ‘uns were there too, a blessed life.

Tell that to the pigs. And the chickens. And the beef cattle. Tell it to the carrots and cabbages.

Blessed life indeed.

We understood that part, of course. Meals have to come from somewhere. And though we didn’t talk about this part much, we knew sometimes that somewhere was us. I am not shy to say I saw a sister of mine eaten by a fox. Nor shy to say that my father did not die of old age, smoking a pipe before a roaring fire, wearing slippers and a robe and a silk fez with a tassel on top. Two wolves shat out pieces of him someplace probably far away.

Blessed life. Fah.

Jarrod has ideas. He reads books for the same reason the apes write them – because life is rendered boring by comfort. He believes apes and beasts once had a magical understanding that allowed them to live side by side as friends. I’ve seen enough chicken carcasses in the midden – nibbled on too many of them myself – to believe such rot.


Rot. That’s a word the apes expect us to know.

One more thing. I expect you think I’m a badger. Grumpy and angry and – damnable word – curmudgeonly. Yet possessed of a heart of gold and a keen brain that, at the end, will mean the salvation of Purdy Farm and those who live there.

Well, I am a badger. You are right there. And I am grumpy and angry – because that is our nature.

But I am not a curmudgeon.

I give not a fig for the salvation of Purdy Farm. Whether the farm lives or dies, I will find food. I will find shelter. I will likely find death at the claws and teeth or beak of some other beast who, too, lives without knowing what are these apes who live in the hovel on the other side of the wood and the creek.

Fig. Another of those ape-words.

My heart – while not painted black – has little room for else but me and mine. And my brain, though keen, does not ken the ways of the apes, nor does it care to learn them.


Damn. I may as well have a waistcoat on, using words like that.

It’s Jarrod’s fault. He speaks to us that way and because there is general animosity and hidden inferiority between those who live on the farm and those who live in the wi – those who live as we do, where we choose to live, farm or not, wild or not – we pick up the affectations of speech.

I do not even know how many apes live at Purdy Farm. Nor do I care. Nor do I understand why Jarrod does, other than to think he is as soft in the head as he is soft in the beak.

He tried to eat me as a child, I think. Or at least his father did. But his beak was soft and could not penetrate the ruff of fur at my neck. I have lived to tell many tales, though you will not catch me telling them ‘round a fire, or with a candlestick held in my hand or at my elbow at some damnable three-legged table carved with leaves and wildflowers.

I leave that for the books Jarrod reads. And I squat in my burrow in the darkness. Which I choose not to curse because it is not the dark’s fault it is here.

Chapter Two: Where Someone Else Sets the Stage

I am Lark.

I am a sparrow, because you expect it. The badger told me to tell you that, though I forget why.

He also wants me to tell you that he has no name. He is a badger. That is enough, he says.

But I have a name. It is Lark.

You expect me to be flighty and stupid, because I am a small, common bird. The badger tells me this also. But, he says, can a creature that can fly through the air, find food in the dead of winter, nest in the treetops, be stupid? No, the badger says. No.

But I am flighty.

I do fly.

Because I fly Jarrod has given me a task. That is to tell you where we live. To give you the lay of the land. I will try. Though I know the lay of the air much better.

Where the warm air rises with the sun is Purdy Farm. To fly across the fields, fifteen seconds, thirty feet above the ground. To fly across the yard and house, two. Further along, where the cool breezes emerge from the canyon, the creek. And on the other side, the woods where the winds are erratic and the insects plentiful.

I live in a stand of beeches near the canyon mouth – the badger tells me to move because beeches are expected.

They are convenient, nothing more. And tall.

The badger himself lives on a mound where the creek cuts a wide U near the farm, taking a bite out of the fields, preserving a bit of forest over the flat land. Jarrod, he lives in the barn.

I like the barn. It is full of holes and deeds and striped shadows and it smells of old urine and sour milk.

Nearby is a road. On the road, trucks. I can outfly them, and they smell of burning. Purdy has a truck, nestled up under a roof near the house. He doesn’t use it much, and when he does, it takes him a while to get it going and it belches blue smoke as it rattles along.

He has three and a half cows – that is one of Jarrod’s jokes; I will let him explain it to you. There is a tired dog, a family of cats. A pig. A donkey. A clutch of chickens, and rabbits that once lived in a pen but now live wild on the edge of the garden.

There, below, Purdy himself. Asleep in a hammock – it is a kind of nest the apes use, suspended low above the grass between two trees.

You are a magnificent flier.

Chapter Three: Paws on Solid Ground

You have met the badger. And Lark, I’m afraid. I’ll catch her and eat her some day. And not regret it. I’ve eaten many sparrows.

I don’t say it to be boastful. Well, a little boastful.

Okay, very boastful.

And that’s the shame of it – the badger would have told you to expect vanity from me, the cat.

I am a pretty cat, am I not; now that we have established I am vain. And useful. But useful in a way that’s useful to cats, not to the apes. Why, they used to love it when I roamed their upstairs landing, miouing loudly in the mornings.

“Good kitty,” they said, patting my head. “Who needs a cock to crow when we have you to wake us?”

Miouing, I led them to my food bowl.

Yes, I could go out and catch a sparrow. Or mice. They are all plentiful enough at my farm. But what joy it brings them to scrape a little food into my dish, to place a saucer of clear water – or sometimes milk – nearby.

I am meant to introduce the Purdys to you. Those who are left. Those I remember. Those who still bring me food.

Pa Purdy, that one, with the old trousers and floppy hat – the badger would seethe at his expected condition if he gave a fig – ah hah – for the man in the first place. He is the one who milks the cows and he is the one who laughs when I rear up on my hind legs, wailing for a squirt of milk.

Yes, I beg. Vanity does not preclude dignity, though we like to believe it does. Watch me as I slip off the top rail of the fence on the north side of my farm. When I fall, after stalking a bird that flies away or stumbling in my old age, I sit, I wash a paw. All is right with the world. The sparrow was meant to flee and I was tired of walking on the fence, that is all.

Ma Purdy has passed. Oh the man wept when he buried her six feet deep at the top of the hill where the daisies bloom. I wailed too for he buried her in her best housecoat, the housecoat where lay the pocket wherein lay the pouch in which Ma Purdy collected the catnip. I have not had a bit of catnip since Ma Purdy died those years ago, and all the milk in the world won’t make up for it. So I crap in the house in the dusty corners where the filthy old man doesn’t sweep any more. Of course, I did that when Ma Purdy was alive as well, but she cleaned it up and called me a dear for pointing out where the dusty corners were.

I am a creature of many uses to man, you see.

The children.

One of them, a boy, is left. The younger ones, when Ma Purdy died, went to live with her sister Millicent a valley or two over, temporarily, to while away their mourning among the honeysuckle and the cousins. They never did come back. Pa Purdy and the oldest boy, Yank, remained to care for the farm and to talk to the food and to neglect the cats.

Yes, there are many cats at my farm. I am their lord and master. Though there are rebels and usurpers, I know they fear me. My right ear missing in a scrap, tail snapped off midway when the wind blew the barn door shut. I am handsome and terrifying.

And the mice. We slaughter mice by the hundreds each year. That is why Pa Purdy believes he lets us remain. But of course, we would never leave. This is our home. Our farm.

No comments: