Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More Excerpts

Via Pixabay
A few weeks ago, I posted a couple excerpts from my current work in progress (DSS, YA Fantasy), and since you lovely people didn’t seem to hate them, I figured I’d share a bit more. But, like last time, I won’t actually be sharing anything too spoilery, though you’re welcome to guess what the story’s about. Also, I’ve replaced all the made-up names with their initials because I’d rather not share those just yet.
† † †
I stand and step away from him. Which is a mistake. Now I have a clear line of vision; I can see the tombstone guarding my father’s unturned grave. And a lump tightens in my throat at the sight of wilted flowers covering the unbroken earth, the ones I put there the morning I killed Titus.
† † †
While a handful of people pile kindling in preparation for a massive bonfire, others lug armfuls of wood from every conceivable direction. Already a haphazard stack of logs rises to greet the dimming sky as the stars begin to make their appearance. High on its throne, the brightly glowing moon oversees the entire operation. Waiting off to the side, I watch the workers, studying their faces and the way they carry themselves, chins lifted, backs held straight, steps light and airy—spurning the earth.

Half-shrouded in the thickening shadows, two figures sit apart—S in deep conversation with a man who bears a striking resemblance to Jude. Something very like a grin illuminates S’s face. Or perhaps the weird light simply softens her expression, bending an ugly smirk back into the shape of a lovely smile. Whatever it is, for an instant or two, she looks almost beautiful—almost happy. But then she glances over, and her features become a slate of sharply-chalked lines when her eyes meet mine.

“The boy over there—that’s V, my son,” A says, and I jump a little, surprised I didn’t hear her approach. As she seats herself beside me, she hands me a woolen blanket and wraps another around her shoulders. Across the way, the bonfire flares to life, filling the air with the chorus of popping sap and jumping sparks. More and more people arrive to clutter the gloom. Even with the brilliant flames, the landscape seems shrouded and indistinct, as though there is some element to this setting that can never be truly seen—brought to light only by the darkness, and but dimly. I shiver at the thought, though I don’t fully know why.

“Thank you,” I whisper before too many passing moments etch into A’s mind the impression that I am rude and ungrateful. Hypnotized by the swaying shadows, I watch as the others begin to dance, beating their feet to the rhythm of the music. Colorful skirts snap and billow in the freshening wind, and I follow the whirl of motion until my eyes glaze over. “Do you do this every night?” I ask, turning to study A. “Are you always celebrating?” For some reason, the question feels very important, as though I need—more than anything else—to hear the answer.

“Most nights,” A chuckles, gazing fondly at the dancers.

“And what about work?”

She purses her lips. “Of course we have a few trades. But we live on fertile volcanic soil, and all our food grows wild. We need only to mill it and bake it and eat it; we’ve never had to fight for it.” She gives a pained laugh. “So we do nothing but feast and dance and philosophize about meaningless notions. At least we’re alive.”

† † †
“You’re very confident about your opinions,” I observe, trying to hide how much Jude’s words have shaken me.

“I always am,” he smirks. “But you know I’m right. And I know you fear the thought of living among humans.”

“They couldn’t hurt me,” I snap.

“Yes, but they could hate you, and that’s worse. Look,” he leans in close and fixes me with his gaze, “I know I’m offering you danger, but I’m also offering you peace.”

“And what if I say no?”

“I wouldn’t force you to come.” He scoots back to the fire and warms his hands. “But how long do you think you’ll last out there…on your own?”

Pursing my lips, I study the fire and try to reason with myself. All my life, my father had warned me never to cross the Z River into D, never to linger too long in the badlands, never to cave to curiosity. The people there will hurt you, he’d say. They’re not as nice as I am. So stay here with me, where you’re safe.

Thing is though, he wasn’t safe. D spilled over anyway and took him out from under our noses. And I realize it’s a long shot, but the thought that Father might still be alive in the shrouded country beyond the badlands is a very powerful idea. After all, we never found the body, despite the search parties’ efforts. If I knew for certain, if I knew for sure that he survived, I would stop at nothing to save him. Besides, I murdered someone. Revenge or not, I can’t shake the feeling that that was wrong. Maybe rescuing Jude’s brother might ease the guilt of taking a life. I would do anything to get rid of that guilt, my constant companion. But I am young, and I hate the thought of dying.

“Fine,” I whisper, and the word is just a breath on the wind. “I’ll go with you.”
† † †
When I look down, I find my hands are trembling, so I busy myself scooping tea leaves into the cups, filling the bottoms with just enough but not too much, the way Father taught me. A breath catches in my throat, sounding suspiciously like a strangled sob, and I shake myself, digging my fingernails into the counter, ignoring the puckered look of concern on Jude’s face. I can’t escape it—I just can’t escape it, can I? Everywhere I go, everything I see, every thought that passes through my mind—Father has left his fingerprint on them all, on the entire spinning, burning world. There is nothing I can do that is not tainted with him. And no matter how far I flee, no matter how fast I go, I can never outrun his memory. Maybe I don’t want to. But oh, there are these moments—these moments like this when I would give almost anything just to loosen the knot in my throat, the tightness in my chest, and the ache in my soul. Moments like these when I would nearly be willing to trade what is most precious to me—my memory of him, his existence—for even an instant without pain.

† † †
I smile, though I realize his words are hollow, meant only to reassure me. Behind me, the kettle begins to shriek and complain at the boiling water sloshing around in its belly, and I seize this chance to turn my back on Jude’s intense face, his piercing eyes. Wrapping my hands in the threadbare cloths he dropped on the floor, I retrieve the kettle and settle it down on the counter, waiting a moment for my skin to cool before I pour the heated liquid into the tea cups. Even though I move quickly, I still manage to burn myself.

“Come, let’s go outside and take care of that,” Jude says, eyeing the red mark on my palm.  

I cock my ear, listening for any noises in the other room that might clue me in to what our host is doing. But all I hear is silence. Perhaps he is sleeping?

The door bangs shut behind us, loud on its hinges, and I grit my teeth as we make our way around to the back of the house and across the sparse lawn. Jude works the pump a full minute before even a thin stream of water begins to trickle from the mouth. Grateful at least for this much, I hold my hands under the lukewarm stream, hot from the metal throat it must pass through in order to reach me. Still, it soothes the angry skin, and I smile.

“Do you miss your brother much?” I ask. I’m not sure where the question came from, or why it chose this moment to surface, to voice itself against my will. But once I’ve spoken, I do not wish the words back.

His eyes widen as he tears his gaze from the ground near his feet, and his jaw clenches. “Of course,” he says, and he sounds so matter-of-fact. “You think I’d be here if I didn’t?”

Pursing my lips, I shrug, attempting to size him up, to read him and all his secrets. No matter how hard I try, I can never seem to understand people, to look past their acted fronts to their hidden motives. And it strikes me as odd that Jude would wait six months—that long—before setting out to search for his beloved brother on the spur of the moment. Somehow he does not strike me as the type to do that.
† † †

“Annoying, isn’t it?” Titus sneers, and I turn to find him stoking the fire, digging up cherry coals from beneath the ashes where they rested, sheltered through the night.

“I wouldn’t know,” I frown, facing the jungle once more, tucking my knees up close to my chest and hugging my legs. The air feels chillier with him awake. Though dawn traces the sky, stronger than ever, the draining darkness holds no more splendor than a funeral, and hope fades away with the wind. Summoning my remaining courage, I stand and stretch the stiffness from my cold muscles, watching as he coaxes the flames into existence. “What are you doing?” I ask, since I had expected him to be antsy to leave.

“You’ll see,” he murmurs, licking his bottom lip in concentration. I study his hands, brown and calloused, and wonder if he ever feels guilty about the blood that stains them. If he avoids looking at them. For the past few weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve done. And again I ask myself, does he regret murdering my father? Deep down in the softest parts of his soul, does he care? Not that it makes any difference.

“Why did you kill him?” I ask, and my voice is steadier than I had expected. In fact, it is almost icy. And I suffer a twinge of sorrow at the realization that I can maintain such a calm façade. I should be pacing, ranting, screaming. I miss Father so much, I tell myself. Yet I wonder if my actions imply otherwise.

He glances up, eyebrows raised. Is it my question that surprises him, or my tone? “I thought I answered that ages ago,” he smirks. “Why are you bringing it up now?”

     And there it is again, that almost unbearable urge to hit him. Somehow I manage to knot my clenched fists behind my back, to check the fiery words that will do me no good.
† † †

Blinking slowly, Titus rocks back on the balls of his feet, rests his forearms on his knees, and frowns at me. “What does it matter? He’s dead.”

“Is he?” I ask, and this time I choke a little. Not much, but he notices. His eyes glint.

“So you still think there’s some way of saving him? Touching, but he couldn’t get any deader if he tried.”

This time I do take a swing at him, knuckles aimed at his face, nails slicing into my palm. But long before bone can connect with bone, he snatches my wrist from the air and wrenches it down sharply, twisting my arm behind me. Just like old times…

† † † 
“You’re growing up,” she says, and I flinch a little. It’s true. I have gotten so much older in this short time, in this brief span of hours and days that stretches from the moment I first heard of Father’s disappearance until today. That is grief’s greatest crime—the way it ages people’s minds and hearts. The way it takes us further and further from the ones we love.

I wish I could fully remember what it was like to be a child, to be happy and carefree, innocent and safe. Now all I know is this pain, this constant backdrop to my new existence.

“Yes, I am growing up,” I agree.
† † †

All excerpts copyright © Elizabeth Brooks



  1. I love how you had so much beautiful setting descriptions, especially in the second excerpt. Plus your main character has a great voice. (But the MC isn't human? I NEED TO KNOW MORE!)

    1. Thank you! I really appreciate that. :D (Perhaps someday I will reveal all--but for now, my lips are sealed. :P *mischievous cackle*)

  2. Ohh, this is QUITE SIMPLy wONDERFUL. I particularly like that last one. Very bittersweet and paaaainful.

    1. Why thank you. *bows deeply* I'm glad you like the last bit--it's one of my favorites.

  3. AGH. IT'S ALL GOODNESS. Like, I'm sure you knew that when you posted these, but STILL. They are lovely, they are beautiful, they are all deep and clear like a mystical pool you find in the middle of the woods. They are amazing. Now I want to know more. D:

    1. Why thank you! I was definitely hoping they were all good. Your compliment means a lot to me. Maybe someday I'll share more, but I don't want to give away too much. :)