…♫An Excerpt from a new Work-in-Progress that has yet to have a title, but that’s all right, because sometimes the titles come later!♫
Okay, so the tune and meter are lacking, but you get the idea…. HAPPY 12 Days of Creepfest!
Once Upon A Time…. Josh Padgett stood on the deck of the F/V The Case in Point during The Fishing Widow and terrified me and all the other characters (although Ethan wouldn’t admit it, but we all saw him freak out a bit about it) by telling a story of a haunted shoal in Southeast Alaska called The Reach. In The Fishing Widow‘s universe, The Reach got its reputation by being the final restless place of 40 lay servants who fled a mission on San Angelo Island after they and the Franciscan Brothers who established the mission were treated to a feast of shellfish by the villagers to whom they were ministering after a terrible series of events. Now, I’ll tell you… what’s been so much fun about writing this is that it explains even MORE of what was happening in the original story. And it looks like Ethan may actually get his wish for a sequel….even though I cannot fathom why he wants such a thing because … well … you’ll see….
This is an UNEDITED excerpt. I offer it to keep my “you’re-just-insane” status with Chris Baty and others at NaNoWriMo (that anyone would just fling something out on the internet or an email and smile and ask for comments). By this time in the story, strange things have started to happen. Brother Anicet is a scribe who continues his work on the island, and Santiago is a 13 year old boy from the village who has taken to the art of illumination, but in his own way. The Spanish (really) did not record the personal names of the people they encountered in Southeast, they simply gave them Christian names. Santiago, Aaron, and Lita are three such characters. As with others the Spanish encountered and wrote about (If you love history and have not read Through Spanish Eyes: Spanish Voyages to Alaska 1774-1792 by Wallace M. Olson, you’re missing a real treat), their real names are lost to history. This story is set in ca. 1793, a full 42 years before The Covenant‘s encounter with the creature in The Fishing Widow. Timing is everything. This is a turning point in the story. And much is lost in translation…..
Father Rodriquez approached Brother Anicet’s hut quietly and hesitated in the doorway. The latter was seated at his rough hewn table, a quill in his hand, and his brow furrowed at the parchment upon which the quill rasped rhythmically. He chanced a glance across the table at the boy they had christened ‘Santiago,’ the boy who had shown so much eagerness when he had first encountered Anicet, who had marveled at the quills and the art of it. Santiago’s feet kicked in time to the scratching of Anicet’s quill on the parchment; his own quill made longer, larger strokes, more a brush than merely a feather.
Father Rodriquez watched as Anicet drew back from his work and gazed down at it, chewing against his lip as his eye criticized what it saw. Across the table, Santiago scrambled up for a better view, leaning far over the table and assessing the drawing. He looked up, meeting Anicet’s eyes for a moment as his hand felt among the pots of pigment at the side of the table. He glanced over and pulled one of the pots from its place and set it on the parchment. Anicet smiled.
“Yellow,” he said as he gestured to it. Santiago nodded seriously.
“Yellow,” he said perfectly in Spanish. He gestured at the drawing. “Too much darkness,” he continued, his Spanish failing and falling back to his own language, his hand closing into a fist as if to convey his meaning.
“Yes,” Anicet agreed with a nod. “It does need light…” Anicet chewed at his lip for another moment and nodded distractedly. “I believe you’re right,” he muttered. Anicet glanced up and noticed Santiago was looking past him, toward the doorway in which Father Rodriquez had hesitated.
“Your father,” Santiago said as he gestured toward the door with a nod of his head. Santiago looked seriously at Anicet before he slipped back to his stool and picked up his own quill. Anicet glanced back toward the door before he got to his feet. Santiago continued to to scratch at his parchment. “It’s important.”
“Father?” Anicet’s voice was quiet, and he did not speak until he had approached Michele. He glanced back furtively at Santiago. “Is there trouble?”
Father Rodriquez gently took hold of Anicet’s sleeve and drew him out of the hut.
Santiago continued to scratch at the parchment. His feet continued to swing rhythmically. He reached toward a pot of pigment to refill the nib. He glanced furtively at the doorway, watching clandestinely as Anicet and Father Rodriquez continued to converse just outside the hut in low tones. Anicet began to reply. Santiago filled his quill again, his eyes fixed on the scribe who spoke. making large strokes in the air with his hands, as if his very speech were somehow an extension of his art. The boy continued to scratch at the parchment. He mindlessly stabbed at the pigment pot beside him, watching as Father Rodriquez set a hand on Anicet’s shoulder, drawing nearer to him, still speaking in low tones. Still Santiago scratched at the parchment, still his feet kicked rhythmically, still his gaze fixed on the two men beyond the doorway.
Santiago felt his heartbeat quicken, felt himself jerk slightly with Anicet as the scribe drew back abruptly from Michele and shook his head in protest. Anicet took over the conversation again, gesturing toward the cliff path and shaking his head. Santiago blindly filled his quill and continued. His brow furrowed as he watched Anicet draw back further, his eyes wide. He started as Anicet turned suddenly to face him. Santiago quickly shifted his gaze down to the parchment. His eyes widened in terror.
Santiago struggled to raise the hand that held the quill. A dark form swirled beneath his hand. It began to spread languidly across the table, began to drip toward the floor. Santiago’s breath caught as he stared down into it. Deep within the darkness, two green eyes slid in and out of view. Santiago trembled, the cold searing his skin. He struggled against the pull as the eyes drifted closer.
“Anicet..,” he breathed.
The shadow crawled across the floor, began scaling the walls of the hut. Santiago’s gaze was panicked as he looked around, the darkness closing in. He let out of yell and yanked at his hand, desperate to remove it. Santiago’s gaze fell on the yellow pigment pot.
Santiago twisted wildly against the darkness. The cold was unbearable, crystallizing the cells within his hand and arm. He rose from the stool and lunged for the yellow.
“Light of light,” he whispered, his fingertips brushing painfully at the pigment pot, desperate to spill it. His arm sank deeper into the darkness as he strained for the yellow. Santiago closed his eyes, let out a yell, and stretched as far as he was able, his fingertips scrabbling madly for the pigment.
He drew back abruptly, pulling his arm from the darkness as the yellow spilled across the parchment, sank against the darkness, obliterating it. Santiago fell back, cradling his frozen arm close as the darkness retreated. He watched the green eyes narrow suddenly. Santiago’s heart raced; he trembled as the eyes dissolved, spinning into nothingness, before he fell.
“Santiago.” The boy heard Anicet’s voice distantly as the latter pulled him from the floor, his grip gentling as he cradled him in his arms.
“Take him to Brother Ezer,” Michele said seriously.
Anicet, his eyes still startled, nodded in agreement. “Yes, Father,” he breathed, his gaze switching to the trembling boy in his arms. He swept past Michele on his way out the door.
Michele hesitated for only a moment before he moved toward the pachment. He looked down, his eyes scanning the bright illumination that flowed across the page. Santiago had been working at the letter “K,” the red, blue, and black of his own art twining sinuously around the letter. Father Rodriquez’s eyes narrowed at the right edge of the picture; a copper colored claw reached from the edge of the illumination, scrabbling madly for the letter, catching it, and wrapping itself around it.
“You’re sure?” Anicet started skeptically as he gently tightened his grip on Santiago’s hand. The boy lay, writhing, on a sleeping mat.
“Frostbite,” Ezer said again as he turned to prepare a remedy. Anicet shook his head as he gazed down at Santiago.
“How is that possible?” he asked.
“I’ll need Brother Christian,” Ezer continued as if he had not heard Anicet. “I’ll need Aaron here, as well. Please, Brother–“
“Y-yes, of course,” Anicet faltered, only reluctantly releasing Santiago’s hand before rising, still trembling, to his feet. Ezer turned, his eyes softened.
“He’s in no danger of death, Brother,” Ezer offered. Anicet took a shuddering breath.
“I wonder, Brother,” Anicet replied before he turned and hurried from the hut.
“I assure you, Aaron, Brother Ezer’s ministrations will help the boy,” Michele continued through Christian’s interpretation as the men burst into the room in which Santiago lay. “Certainly, they will do him no harm.”
Aaron ignored them and dropped to his knees beside Santiago, gathering him into his arms. The boy smiled as Aaron began to speak to him in low, urgent tones. Aaron turned abruptly as Lita’s voice entered the hut before she did. Breathless, she pushed past Anicet and Ezer and dropped beside Aaron, pulling Santiago from his arms and clutching him tightly.
Christian listened quietly to their conversation, his eyes switching back and forth between the speakers. Aaron’s voice began to calm even as Lita became more agitated. Christian leaned closer to Father Rodriquez. “Their speech is like that of parents,” he whispered.
Michele watched as Aaron smiled faintly at Lita and smoothed back her hair before reaching to kiss at her forehead. Lita flinched and continued talking, ignoring Santiago’s protests. She watched as Aaron gestured to Santiago’s arm. The boy dutifully held it out to her. Lita’s eyes widened in horror and she grasped at the boy’s arm, kissing it fervently and rubbing roughly at it.
Ezer, unable to stop himself, swept closer. “Gently!” he admonished quickly.
Lita shot him a filthy look and jerked as Ezer reached for her hand.
“Gently,” he said again, his voice quiet as he took her hand and moved it softly across Santiago’s arm.
Lita’s expression softened. She nodded and kissed at the boy’s forehead as she and Ezer continued to rub the circulation back into his arm.
Michele watched as Aaron got to his feet and turned to face him. “What happened?” he asked, his tone even.
Christian drew a breath and glanced at Father Rodriquez before he translated Aaron’s question.
“I’ve seen this injury before,” Aaron continued as he gestured down to Santiago. “But never in summer.”
“We are not quite sure of the circumstances,” Father Rodriquez replied truthfully. “I was hoping the boy could shed some light on what happened.”
Aaron waited, his expression unreadable.
“I wonder, now, if you will pardon me, Aaron, is this your son?” Father Rodriquez continued carefully. Christian hesitated. He drew slightly closer to Michele.
“Are you sure of your question, Father?” he asked as he glanced at Aaron.
“Curiosity on my part, Brother,” Michele replied.
Christian glanced down at Lita and Ezer who both continued to speak softly to Santiago, reassuring him. Christian struggled to form his next question. “We have not asked about their relationships to one another before, Father,” Christian said in a whisper. “It was Aaron who volunteered that Lita is his sister.”
Christian glanced back at Aaron as he spoke. “What does he want?”
Christian drew a breath and tried to smile. “Your concern for the boy touches us,” Christian began carefully, diplomatically, “and my master wonders if the boy is more meaningful to you beyond the other children–“
Christian drew back as Aaron’s expression darkened, the anger palpable in the room. Lita looked up, her eyes wide as if Christian had mis-stepped to his own mortal peril. She switched a panicked gaze between Aaron and Christian as she instinctively felt her brother’s hand feel for the knife in his belt. She drew a breath.
“The Christian has misspoken, brother,” she said quickly, her arms tightening around Santiago, pulling him away from Ezer suddenly. “His meaning is tangled–” Lita let out a startled shriek and fell back as Aaron pulled Santiago from her arms and rose, cradling the boy. Aaron pushed past Michele and Christian, leaving the hut, calling over his shoulder for Lita to follow. Father Rodriquez watched as Lita struggled to her feet, her green eyes boring into Christian. “What was your meaning, Brother?” she demanded, her voice shaking.
“I-” Christian faltered, his chest heaving, “My master only wondered if the boy is Aaron’s son–“
Lita’s eyes teared. “Son?” she whispered. “That was your meaning?” Lita’s voice caught. “You are a foolish man who twists words to no purpose! Ask directly and you will know!”
Aaron yelled again for her to follow. She blinked and looked out past the hut, into the chaos of the villagers departing.
“Is he your brother’s son?” Christian asked directly.
Lita shook her head. “That is his question, Christian,” Lita replied, breaking into sobs. She pushed past the men and rushed from the hut, “and none of my own…”
Michele looked up as Rafael and Epicuro hurried toward him. His dark eyes followed the last of the villagers who moved to the cliff path, not turning, but following as they were bidden. The silence left in their wake was deafening.
“Father, what has happened?” Rafael asked breathlessly after he stopped and bowed slightly to his master. Epicuro and Rafael watched Christian slip to his knees beside Father Rodriquez and bow his head. Epicuro’s brow furrowed.
“My error, Father,” Christian said, his voice soft. “And my eternal apologies.”
“What did she say to you, Brother Christian?” Michele asked, still watching the now-empty cliff path as if willing the villagers to reappear.
“That my meaning was tangled,” Christian replied in a whisper. Rafael watched the younger brother wring at his hands. “That I should have asked the question directly. That by some implication, I asked –” Christian’s voice caught and he bowed his face into his hands. “Oh, Father,” he whispered miserably, “forgive me…”
Father Rodriquez finally glanced down at the interpreter who began to sob at his feet. He closed his eyes and set a gentle hand on Christian’s head. The gesture sent Christian to the ground and he covered his head with his arms.
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♫ On the Second Day of CreepFest, My True Love Gave to Me…♫
(Come back tomorrow and see…..)