Wednesday, October 3, 2007

My Work in Progress' 1st Chapter

Back in April I posted the introduction to a story I've been working on for a very long time on and off.

I'm still thinking about completely reworking this story idea into a more realistically based fantasy, but I want to post this 1st chapter here and see if I get any response to it. Be as critical as you can here, tell me whether it interested you or not, and what you think was worth its salt if anything. If this 1st chapter gets any responses, I'll get number 2 up here later this week. I apologize if formatting is off, copy and paste doesn't always work the way I'd hoped.

Here she be:

Harver’s Madness

The Great Stump, the Children of the Forest called it, and it was their home. From the winding and stretching roots to the broken and vine covered edges along its top, almost no place remained that was uninhabited. But like in every city, there was a place that stuck out like a rotten tomato in a lettuce patch. The place was dark and dry at all times and no green ever grew on the ground there. Legend tells that centuries before, when the Shymen were born, the light that had risen from the earth and splintered the Great Oak had come from this spot, scorching the ground and burning a hole through the stump until it reached the open and escaped to the skies. Whether out of fear that the light would rise again or out of respect for the past, no one willingly lived there; almost no one anyway.

As townsfolk passed, on their way home from work or to the market, they stared at the simple, lonely house that rested quietly on the arid patch of earth. It was just like any other home in the Stump. Its walls were made of stone, wood, and mud, its roof of thatched grass, smoke billowed from the chimney, and warm scents of stewing vegetables and roasting nuts swathed out into the open. Still the passers dared not get close enough to have a good look at the fools who were bravely dumb enough to build a house on the spot where the Great Oak’s life had ended. No one knew the quiet couple that lived there, or the quiet boy that was their son, who looked back at them through the window, mocking their fearful stares with his out stuck tongue and thumbed nose.

Unlike the norm with Shymen, Shea’s hair was red rather than green. His mother, Constance, called him her little Setting Sun when she was proud of him, and her little fiery nitwit when he’d done something wrong. He was small for his age, no more than an acorn high, and he probably weighed less than fifty stone. There were children as old as him and twice his size. For twelve years of age, he barely looked a day over seven. Had he any friends, they would have picked on him mercilessly.

His father insisted on living in the house that everyone eyed with wonder and disdain. He said, time and time again, “There’s nothing wrong with the land, it’s not cursed. My father built this home and raised me in it, and by the Stars, I am going to raise my boy here too. This is a perfectly good home. Who cares what rumors old shywomen spread in the late afternoons?” Shea and his mother had become so used to the speech, that when Harm recited it, the boy would mouth the words as she rolled their eyes.

Shea felt alone. Though he had his small family, it was just that: small. He found it quite odd that in a city of thousands, only a handful even knew he existed. There was his mother, father, the old man Harver that ran Shea's favorite shop… and that was about it. He knew he was small, but lately he'd begun to feel much smaller.

Both parents sat at the kitchen table, while a large black kettle steamed over the fire in the corner. The floor of the house was earthen and had to be swept daily by Constance due to how arid the dirt stayed through all seasons. The stocky shywoman had just sat down with a sigh of exhaust, when Shea grew bored with making faces at the passing crowd.

Most of his days and all of his nights were spent inside the humble home. He kept busy in his room or in the kitchen, reading his father’s gardening books or scaring himself with tales from In the Thick of the Wood by C.W. Umblebrush. The latter of which had to be done in the night by the light of a discreet candle, otherwise his mother would have most certainly taken the book and locked it away. But he’d read the stories at least ten times each in the past week, and at that moment and time he was utterly and purely bored. There was only one option for a cure, but he’d have to clear it with those who had brought him into the green world first.

“Can I take a walk to Harver’s before supper?” he said in his nicest, most innocent sounding tone. His hands were folded and resting on his feathered, yellow leggings. A vest that was too large for his small body, made of tanned moss, encased his shoulders and scrawny torso. Harm stopped reading, and Constance stopped sewing. Both parents looked up at their son.

“What’s at the old kook’s store that you have to see to believe this time?” asked his father with words that could’ve just as easily come from his mother.

“Dunno. Haven’t been there in awhile, really.”

“What about last week?” asked his mother, who’d gone back to her sewing.

“That doesn’t really count.” Shea paused to think of a believable reason for his visit to the old shyman’s store of gadgets and baubles. “I was shopping for Dad then. You know, to find him some new tools to help with his planting.”

Harm smiled, “So I suppose you need some of my goods to
trade for my gift, eh?”

“It would help,” the boy answered, holding out his hands, and pleased that his father was as gullible as he was clever. His mother only shook her head like mothers tend to do.

Harm stood from the table and exited into the small room behind the kitchen, his “green-room”. He reappeared no more than a few seconds later, his hands full of upturned soil and freshly rooted plants. Shea watched as his father rinsed the roots in the stone basin full of water next to his mom’s dicing block.


Shea’s dad was one of the gifted few in the Stump. He was a Nurturer, and a very talented one at that, though his power was limited. He often heard talk of shymen that lived high on the terraces of the city, with power to make the rain fall and the snow melt, the rocks move and the mountains tumble, but his dad told him always that this was pure nonsense. He said, “No one shyman could be so great. And if he is, he must be a fool.”


Regardless of how much power Harm had, Shea was proud of his father. Considering his mother lacked any sign of the gift, and considering his own ability had not yet shown if he even possessed some form of it at all, Shea was simply glad one of them could tame nature. While most of the gifted were farmers in order to take care of their loved ones, which is a noble task, Harm was brave enough to follow his heart which led him to the study of medicinal herbs.

If there was an ailment, Harm had a cure. But due to the queer nature of where Shea’s family lived, his father was forced to set up a small shop close to the market district. It was a good thing that no one knew him as the fool who lived on the scarred spot; otherwise they’d not have bought anything he tried to sell them. Nor would they believe him when he told them he didn’t grow his goods in the dirt he lived on but rather in an old trough filled to the brim with fresh soil from outside the Stump. The thinned and graying shyman smiled and handed the freshly picked plants to his eagerly waiting son.

“These Perritill Scallions are perfect for tea, and can rid the head of any ache,” Harm told the boy. “So make sure you fetch a good bargain with them and bring me home something good.”

“Of course,” Shea grinned back. “But… if he doesn’t have anything good for planting, you won’t mind if I look for myself will you?”

“Well…”

“Your father won’t mind, Shea,” Constance stopped her husband from acting his somewhat greedy self.

Shea thanked both his parents quickly and with a fistful of Perritill Scallions, the red-haired child was out the door, through the milling crowds, and on his swift way to Harver’s Market.

****

The setting sun so dimly lit the Stump that the street torches were being set ablaze as Shea hurried down the earthen paths to his favorite shop. High up on the slopes of the Stump, Shea could see fires lighting the houses of the rich, and below them the Promenade of Goods was closing up for the night. Shymen and women walked worn but happily back home after the day’s work. There was chatter on the streets and music faintly filled the air as Shea passed the line of taverns known as Dervish Row. He wondered what all the normally serious adults found so amusing inside the walls of The Gilded Mushroom.

All that had gone out into the forest during the day had come back and the Stump’s giant gates were being drawn to a close slowly. They weren’t very necessary in terms of protection, because there wasn’t much to be protected from. They kept out pests of the forest that liked to use the Stump as shelter from the eeriness of the night: rabbits, mice, and the like. But more than anything else, the gates’ being closed was a sure sign that the day was done. The dark of the forest was widely considered no place for any shyman to be.

Shea much preferred dusk compared to dawn. Everyone was happier and without the worries of work when the sun was setting. Still, as Shea neared Harver’s and the dark of night began to settle in, he could not help but feel a bit frightened. Shadows seemed to move and hiss in the alleys behind buildings, and he began to wish he had stayed home and waited patiently for dinner. But for a small lad he was brave, and he brushed his paranoia away as an effect of all the scary stories he had read lately.

Harver’s Shop of Baubles and Innovations was the only shop Shea knew of that was open for business during all hours of sunlight and all hours of moonlight. Though, this wasn’t the only thing odd about the old man’s home and store. While most every building Shea had ever seen in his few years looked inviting and warm, this one was different. It wasn’t frightening or dangerous looking, just… different. Its walls were not made of stone, but of something Harver called iron. Its roof was flat and covered only by thick sheets of redwood the old man had gone out and found for himself. There was but one window on the front side of the shop near the thick wooden door, and at it stood a gray-haired old shyman whose beard hung out over the sill and down into the dirt below. His face had more lines and creases than any tree Shea had ever seen, but his eyes radiated a vibrant and youthful green.

“Come on in, Shea,” the man’s hoarse, quiet voice called. “I was just beginning to wonder if your parents had stopped letting you come see me.”

There was a tone in Harver’s voice that Shea didn’t recognize. He seemed impatient, worried, distraught, but Shea had known the old man to act strangely before, so this was nothing entirely new. Harver held open the door with a slight grin and the boy smiled back as he entered the smoke-filled shop of wonders.

The walls were plastered with papers upon papers; scribblings of the old man’s mind, and articles from the Stump’s daily news catalogue, The Mosswood Herald, named after its founder. Shea had never actually taken the time to read any of the writings, but he was convinced that they must be unbelievably interesting. That, or they were a simple way for a shyman of Harver’s age to remember the important things. Lining the cluttered walls were shelves of wood, covered in dust and items for sale.

There were books with odd titles like Under the Logs: What Lies in the Earth, and A Tree Falls in a Forest: The Study of Scientific Physicality. There were toys for the young: stuffed mice, wind-up birds that actually flew, and bows with arrows tipped in molasses so that they stuck to their targets, just to name a few that caught Shea’s wild eyes. On the higher shelves meant for the taller of customers, there were items intended to help with the daily problems of life: feather dusters for those hard to reach places, long sharp iron blades called trimmers to help tend the plants, something the old man called mulch that was intended to enrich planting soil, and so on and so on. Shea’s dad already had numerous pairs of trimmers, and he didn’t like the idea of mulch, so the boy was at a loss as to what to buy his father. Not that he needed any coaxing for it, but Shea gave up on finding his dad a gift and was beginning to look for himself when he realized that Harver wasn’t to be found watching over his shoulder and telling him all about his amazing wares.

At the back of the shop was an arched doorway that led to where Harver ate and slept, if he slept at all. Behind the hanging, faded, purple curtain that covered the doorway, Shea could hear the quiet mumblings of the old man. Carefully, so not to seem snoopy, Shea drew back the curtain and entered the room. Harver sat a desk that looked much like the walls of the shop, stuffing clothing, books, food, and the like into a large brown burlap knapsack. He knew Harver was a bit out of the ordinary, but the way he packed the things so hurriedly all the while talking to himself under his breath was pushing the old shyman’s uniqueness much further than usual.

“What are you doing?” Shea asked the shopkeeper, who jumped in his chair so excitedly that he fell backwards out of it. In a massive tangle of gray hair and gangly old bones, Harver stood with dissatisfied grunt.

“Cripes, boy! I thought you were looking around the shop?” His eyes darted back and forth as if waiting for someone else to jump out of the shadows.

“I was. But I noticed you’d left me, and you’ve never left me alone in the store before so…”

“You’ve been coming here long enough. I trust you. Besides, I know where you live, remember? If you stole from me, it wouldn’t exactly be hard to come find you.” Harver managed a wry smile, but like his voice, the expression signaled worry in the old shyman instead of mirth.

“I guess so…” Shea watched as Harver immediately went back to packing. “What’re you doing?” he asked again, and with his words, Harver stopped. The gray-bearded fellow sighed and turned to face his customer.

“I guess I can at least tell you,” he said. “You’re bound to be one of the few who cares when I’m gone.”

“Gone?” Shea remained frozen at the entrance to the room, while Harver hobbled around aimlessly, taking more things from shelves and stuffing them into what seemed to be limitless knapsack.

“I’m leaving. This place isn’t right anymore… it’s not safe, for an old man like me especially.”

“What are you talking about?” Shea asked, not entirely
expecting a sane answer.

“The Stump, Shea!” Harver yelled at him. The echo sounded
off the metal walls. “It’s all gone off kilter! And I am not staying around to wait for it to fall into ruin. No sir, not this old sack of bones.”

Not meaning to let the words slip out, Shea said, “You’re insane.”

“I may be,” Harver raised a finger at the boy, “but you’re just as loony as me if you don’t see what’s happening round here.” Shea said nothing. He just waited for his old friend to go on, which he did. “There’s a shadow, boy. I see it in my sleep. There’s something lurking under this tree’s old bones. I dunno what, I may be mad like you say but… great trees do not just fall, Shea. Whatever form of evil sleeps under our simple city drove the life out of the Great Oak; drove it to madness and then to death. Now the number of trees in this forest grows less everyday. I hear them fall to the shadow one by one in the night. I lose sleep over the sound.” Harver began to pull at his beard, nervously. “One day soon this whole area will be as arid and dead as the ground you live on. All life is being driven from the land.” The old shyman’s eyes burned a brighter green than Shea had ever seen, and they settled on the frightened child. “If I were you, I would leave and get as far from here as you can. No good can come from staying, only death.”

“You are insane,” Shea said again, entirely meaning to do so this time.

“Fine,” Harver seemed disappointed that his young friend would treat him so harshly. “Take anything you like from the store, I won’t be needing all this junk. And shut the door on your way out. Leave an old man to his packing.”

“Harver…” Shea tried to apologize, but the angry, grayed shopkeeper ignored his presence completely. Even given the free will to, Shea could not bring himself to take from the store’s shelves. He set the Perritil Scallions his father had given him down on a lower shelf, hoping the old shyman would find some use for them, and quietly and confused the boy left the iron home, and Harver to his madness.

5 comments:

heather (errantdreams) said...

I definitely enjoyed the read. The one negative I can think of at the moment is that a couple of bits seemed a little off-kilter, like the first time Shea tells Harver he's insane, or the bit about Shea's mother stopping his father from being 'greedy'---both have a slight feel of... of not quite suiting the characters, and being more conveniently used in order to move the plot forward, if that makes sense.

Anyway, all exhausted, so I think I'm going to go bum around in WoW or Eve for a bit. I get to go for an ultrasound a week from today to see if I'm having gallstone troubles. Sorry for not being more helpful with comments, but my brain isn't entirely in gear. I really did enjoy the read. :)

Bildo said...

I'm actually very relieved you liked it, Heather. The 1st 2 or 3 chapters have been pretty finely polished. But the rest of the book I think needs a lot of work, and if I continue to post bits and pieces, we're going to get to the garbage soon.

I think I agree on the two bits of dialog you mentioned. They just don't feel appropriate. I'll see if I can rework them a bit.

I once taught this book, or what I had written of it then, to a YA Lit class and a Children's Lit class for one of my former college professors.

She liked it so much she wanted me to give a lecture on my thought process in creating the story... truth be told I have no idea where my stories come from. I rarely outline, they just pour out of my head based on a founding idea and I have to remix them as I go along.

She told me I had the talent, but that I needed to persevere through the writing and re-writing and finding of an agent and publisher... I haven't. I think it's time I finished what I started.

If you liked it, I'll be posting more of it soon. I'd love it if you could keep taking a look at it for me.

Good luck with teh gall bladder! A relative of mine had to have their removed recently... why have one if we don't need it?

*vlad* said...

I read it through from start to finsh, without skipping any bits, which is a good sign!
One thing it reminds me of is a book by Tad Wiliams (or rather a series of books) known as Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
In it the story revolves around a boy who works in a castle kitchen, and often goes to see a strange old man who works in an alchemy lab or some such in another part of the castle (haven't read it for awhile, so my memory is a bit sketchy on the actual details).

Anyway, I would be interested in reading the next instalment.

Bildo said...

Thanks, Vlad. I'm glad that at least 2 people were able to read through it without glazing over.

I'll post the next chapter before I leave work for the day. As always, any and all comments, positive and negative, brutal even, are welcome.

brackish said...

I liked the story. The reason I am pretty sure about this is because right before I had to leave work, I had read down to the *** on the page. About 2 hours later I still wanted to know more about the story, it had stuck with me.

I'm glad Heather stopped by, because I am probably not a good judge of cohesion/continuity/quality, but I can tell you what I like. I like the setting and I can't help but wonder if its going to be set in some real fantasy realm or if its supposed to possibly take place in our backyard.

Looking forward to the next chapter.