Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Doleful Creatures -- Parts of Which Still Have that First Draft Feeling

NOTE: The problem with revision is that I can say I'm in the fourteenth draft of the book, but this chapter, as it's new, technically has only that first draft feeling to it. And yeah, that title. It's going to change.
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Spirit Whispers This to Me and Tells Me it is So
            Jarrod stood in front of the entrance to the sett.
            The burrow was mature. If any dirt had been spread in the digging, its freshness was long since hidden underneath the tangle of brown and green grass. Enough rain had fallen to reveal rocks and pebbles. A clutch of tiny purple flowers, their strong scent hanging in the air, grew on the edge of the black hole that angled steeply into the earth.
            Chylus sniffed.
“Smells clean enough,” he said. “No blood. No death. Whatever he’s eaten, he hasn’t taken it below. Or he’s cleaned up afterward.”
“Chylus, hush!” Magda swatted him with a wing.
“Oh. Right.”
“You’ll have to leave,” Jarrod said.
“He’ll kill you,” Chylus said. “If we – ”
“If he’s going to kill, he’ll kill all three of us,” Jarrod said. “Better for me to go alone than for all of us to go.”
Magda nodded. “We’ll stay nearby,” she said. She made to take off.
“We cannot leave him here alone!” Chylus shouted.
            “Oh, he knows we’re here already,” Chylus shouted. “I’ve never known anyone to sneak up on him, whether in his hole or not. The skunks tell me they came upon him, sitting here in the rain, and when they passed by he said ‘What took you so long? I heard you coming fifteen minutes ago!””
“Respect,” Magda said. “And being loud shows fear.”
“You’ll have to leave,” Jarrod echoed. “I’ll be fine.”
“You will be fine,” Chylus said. “That’s what he says when he licks the bones clean!”
Magda grabbed a beakful of wing feathers and pulled Chylus from the hole.
“He was my friend,” Jarrod said. “And can be again. I’ll just have to use the right words.”
“Does Aloysius hear words anymore? Chylus asked.
“He who Marks the Sparrow’s Fall,” Jarrod said, “will carry the words to Aloysius’ ears.”
“Call out,” Chylus said, “and we’ll be here in an instant.” The two crows pumped their wings and flew to a nearby pine and worked their way inside its cover.
Jarrod closed his eyes and breathed deeply of the air trickling out of the sett.
He is home, he thought. I can smell his musk fresh on the walls.
He will listen, said the voice in his head.
“He always listened,” Jarrod thought. “Listened to every fool thing Rebekah and I suggested. Climb the cliffs, Aloysius, the blueberries are thicker on top. And he did. And they were. Swim and catch us a fish, Aloysius. And he swam and caught fish and dined with his friends, with his Landi, on the sandy shore of one of the beavers’ smaller ponds, his fur steaming as the sun evaporated the water clinging to his fur.”
He crouched, took a deep breath, and walked into the sett. He dug his claws into the dirt as the tunnel descended steeply, but then relaxed a bit as it leveled out and widened. He paused for a few moments, considering the two tunnel branches that left the small chamber. The one on the left was illuminated for an inch or two by the light filtering in through the hole, but the tunnel on the right was black as the dirt around it.
            At random, Jarrod went down the hole on the right. The tunnel at first had a gentle downward slope, but quickly steepend and twisted around roots and rocks until the wan light from the tunnel mouth was gone and Jarrod was in darkness, scratching over the tunnel floor with his claws as his ears strained to hear the slightest noise.
            His heart pounded terribly in his ears and he tried to walk forward without breathing as the breath came in rasps and snorts he was sure his dead mother could hear. Once he stopped short and spread his wings, trying to find the sides of the tunnel. He happened to stop at a crossroads where two tunnels intersected --- and realized he was lost. He could wander underground forever and might never find his way out, might find a fiend more dangerous than a friend gone mad.
            “Aloysius,” he whispered to himself, “I’m sorry.”
            “You said that before,” a voice whispered from the gloom. Jarrod jumped and crashed into the side of the tunnel. “I didn’t believe it then. You can’t have come to apologize. Only  fool would come here in my darkness.”
            Jarrod stared into the black, then found his tongue. “Then call me a fool. I can only repeat my apology.”
            “I don’t know my way out. And I won’t be leaving.”
            “I’ve just eaten, and I feel a little bloated,” Aloysius said. “Otherwise, I’d be at your throat. Walk out. Fly out. Dig yourself out. You’ll eventually find that sun. Or I’ll find you when I’m hungry again. I don’t care to see you. Leave.”
            Silence in the dark.
            Jarrod strained his ears to hear any noise over the beating of his heart. He scratched gently at the floor of the tunnel with a claw and felt smooth stone under a scattering of dirt.
            “We – ”
            “We do not have to talk,” Aloysius said, startling Jarrod with the nearness of his voice. He thought he felt for a moment the badger’s breath ruffling the fine feathers on the back of his head. “I want to sleep,” he continued. “But with you here . . . I will have dreams.”
            “Then share now a few waking thoughts,” Jarrod said. “Before the sun goes down on another day.”
            Aloysius drew in a long breath and for a moment Jarrod thought he heard the whistle from long ago when the badger breathed in through freshly-broken teeth; teeth broken trying to gnaw away the metal clamped around Landi’s neck.
            “The sun has set, the sun has set,” Aloysius said. “Dark be the sky.”
            “Yet the stars shine, Aloysius. The same stars we played under; the same stars we flew and scrabbled under, not so long ago.”
            “And the same stars she will never see again!” Aloysius spat. “If you’ve come to remind me of woe . . . ”
            “Not to remind. But to console.”
            Aloysius drew a long, ragged breath. “There is no consolation.”
            “He will show the way.”
            “He will, will he? She has been here, you know, showing me many ways. None were the steps back to the time. Back to when I could have . . . ”
            “She sups on our misery like suckling kits.”
            “What do you know of that, Holstein pheasant that you are!”
            “She has been with me as well.”
            “Then I pity us both.”
            “Pity is what she savors.”
            Aloysius rushed out of the darkness and pushed Jarrod into the side of the tunnel, his nose rooting through feathers to find the magpie’s face. “Pity is all I have left, magpie, thanks to you and your schemes! And if The Lady savors that pity, let her savor it! At least She is here! Where is He? Nowhere! Where was He? Absent!” He drew in another long breath and Jarrod heard the air whistling through broken teeth. “I would rather have one watch me with a hungry eye than wait on the one who sleeps, or is on a journey, or is otherwise too occupied to see – to see one of his own, his daughter . . . ” Jarrod flinched has he felt a bead of drool fall onto his beak – but then tasted the salt of the badger’s tears. Again he felt the strength pushing him to the earth wane.
            “He left her to die. He left her to die, Jarrod,” Aloysius said. “And I could do nothing. Nothing but watch the light leave her eyes and the breath leave her body!”
            “Long did I feel the same about Rebekah,” Jarrod said. He pushed on Aloysius slightly and breathed a little easier in the space now between the badger and the tunnel wall. “I asked the same questions. But I came to realize—”
            I was there all along.
            Neither Jarrod nor Aloysius breathed as the voice echoed through the tunnel.
            I was there all along.
            Jarrod could see Aloysius’ furry outline in the gloom, as a light began to shine from behind him in the widened chamber where he had slept.
            “I was there all along.”
            It came in a whisper but caused dust and pebbles on the stone to shake and the tunnels to vibrate as the sound journeyed and echoed and played in the fading dark.
            “You asked for waking thoughts, Aloysius, and I bring them,” the voice said. I was these when your Landi saved a beaver mother from falling into the trap that took her life. I was there when your Rebekah saved the beaver pup from the trap that took her. I was there when Jarrod defended the beavers from The Lady, and I will be there again when The Lady comes to claim what she calls her own.”
             A ball of light no brighter nor larger than Venus bobbed in the cavern air, filling it with a warm yellow light. It danced about and left streaks of light in their eyes as they watched – and they watched, not taking their eyes from the light which caressed but did not burn.
            “Come out of your grief, and stand with me. She has many helpers in the woods. I call but a few. But those whom I call, I choose out of their affliction. Come out of your stony grief to cleave the sky.”
            “No, Lord,” the badger said. “I cannot come.”
            “That is always your choice,” the voice said. “Remember that, when The Lady offers you hers.”
            “What do you need, Lord?” Jarrod asked.
            “I need those who tunnel through the sky and tunnel through the ground to find what The Lady seeks,” the voice said. “Her servants seek it, and they are legion, blotting out the stars with their numbers in the air and probing every crack in the earth below.”
            “What is there?” Jarrod asked.
The light began to fade.
            “Wait, Lord!” Aloysius said.
            “Time is short,” the voice said. “But I will always wait.”
            The light faded but through a new hole in the tunnel, the light of the stars shone.
            Aloysius staggered into the small circle of light the new tunnel let in.
            “Sun, moon, and stars forgot,” he whispered. “Yet upward I fly.”
            He collapsed in the circle of light.

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