Coffin Hop Day 3 …. Horror Alaskan Style!

Welcome to DAY 3 of Coffin Hop!

I write Alaskan Gothic. More than just a “setting,” The Great Land is actually a character in my writing. People who have read The Fishing Widow agree that it could not be set anywhere else in the world–and not just because it’s the Sitka Herring Sac Roe Fishery that’s depicted. No matter where I go in my writing, real and imagined Alaskan mythologies and creatures snake their way in to every tale. Add to that a rich and diverse history — we’ve had the Spanish, Russians, Americans through the ages, I’m pretty sure the Basques at one point showed up, and there isn’t enough room on the blog to mention all the Native Alaskan groups and their contributions to Alaskan history — and this place is an endless tale that twists and turns through time….

The one I have in edits now is In Dark Places. Set in an interior Alaskan copper mine not unlike Kennecott, the story follows a crew of miners working South Adit–one of the most remote places on the mining landscape–in the winter of 1913. Bitter cold and darkness sets in and, while there’s an underlying sense of foreboding and uneasiness, the characters (and the reader) are left with a sense of is it real? Is it imagined? Like fishermen, bless their hearts, miners are a superstitious lot. Toss together a multi-national crew (Irish, Swedish, Welsh, mid-Western Americans, Dutch), and each one brings his own stories, his own legends…and, being guys, they talk about it. It was a surprising story to write, because, honestly, I didn’t understand it until I got about three-quarters of the way through. What does that mean? Who are THEY? Whoa, what the hell is THAT? Yeah. Nothing planned, and everything twisty like I like it.

On rare, sunny days on my far-flung island, this is where I like to be best. At this table, looking out over what I imagine San Angelo Island was in The Fishing Widow and writing. Of course, howlingly-bad, windy, rain-swept, cold days are nice, too. And for In Dark Places, I’m at the disadvantage of trying to REMEMBER what -40°F feels like. I mean, I remember, but I want to be able to convey it (especially the sticky eyeball part). Then again, that’s what edits really ARE for ….

CONTEST!

Ready? This one is all sorts of cool-io. Since I’m talking Alaskan and there’s this little thing I wrote for Coffin Hop called “Salmon In The Trees,” I figure this is the perfect day to have that as a prize. But, wait! There’s MORE! Because I ripped off the title (shamelessly, but, hey, titles aren’t subject to copyright!) from Ray Troll and Amy Gulick’s book about how salmon are important to rainforest ecologym, I feel this overwhelming urge to somehow make amends… so, in addition to the COFFIN HOP DEATH BY DRIVE-IN COLLECTOR’S EP, I’m offering these two goodies to go with ’em … Ready?

The first is a t-shirt from Ray Troll’s Soho Coho shop in Ketchikan (you get the pick the size):

The SECOND thing is an enameled pin with a sentiment near and dear to all our hearts (I reckon):

What do you have to do? Well, hmmm…. how ’bout leave a comment about WHERE you like to write and WHY. Random.org (which, by the way, is administered out of Trinity College Dublin where I’ll be on Tuesday! Yay!) will pick the winner, um, RANDOMLY from the comments! Spread the word, and Happy Hoppin’!

 

♫On The Third Day of Creepfest, My True Love Gave to Me…♫

♫More un-named horror, a’contest reminder, and a hop you will never for-get!♫

I really wanted this to stay under 10,000 words so I could submit it to The Horror For Good Anthology. But, I have to face it, short stories never were my forte (or even within the bounds of my ability, really). I need practice, but this took on a life of its own, and, while I think I can get ‘er down in about 25,000 words, I’ll never bring it in under 10,000.

It’s another excerpt of Josh’s story of The Reach–now in creepy hey-I’m-getting-to-know-those-guys-and-UNHOLY-HELL-what-is-THAT-draped-across-that-tree-limb??? form. I may post that bit, when I get up the nerve to write it. My writing doesn’t scare me. I should say, my writing DIDN’T scare me before THIS. Sure, parts of In Dark Places sent me under the computer desk, but that was all psychological horror stuff. THIS, though. MAN, there are bits that are causing me to look at Alesio and say, “You’re… sure?” and he just smiles awkwardly and we go on. The bonus? He’s shut Ethan up. 0.o

Anyway… that last bit would make sense if you’ve followed the blog or had been on the NaNoWriMo forums since 2010 and were familiar with the boy who flops on my bed at 4am or sneaks up behind me in the shower with, “Yeah, well, I was thinkin’–” and then goes on (and on and on) for hours… or heard me moan that my muse is a twenty-three  year-old, skinny white boy from the Alaskan bush with Swedish ancestry and a mouth that won’t stop moving… I’ll forgive him, though, because his FarMor’s (that’s grandmother on his dad’s side for the non-Swedes out there) Blåbärspalt recipe is killer.  Yeah. I said Blåbärspalt. It came out in a character interview about favorite foods growing up, and both Colin and I said, “What? What in the HELL is THAT?” I’d never heard of it, so I looked it up–Swedish blueberry dumplings. FarMor’s recipe DOES rock. Psychotic? Yeah, well, blame Ethan, because the boy does exist somewhere (and I mean beyond the OTHER Ethan Lindgren who friended him on Facebook… 0.o)

So, back to Alesio and Lita … and how they first sorta-kinda didn’t really start talking, since he speaks only Spanish and she speaks only Tlingit. But sometimes words are unnecessary ….

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In late-August, the women arrived. They took a keen interest in the ceremonies of the Brothers, sometimes lingering in the back of the chapel as they sang through their rituals.

The women moved around the enclosure boldly. They had inquiring gazes that lingered on all the Brothers and their lay servants did.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Alesio froze, unaware that one of the young women had followed him out into the forest. She spoke words he could not possibly understand, even as he presented her with the same conundrum. Alesio turned and attempted a smile. It was a smile she returned and, with a thrill of dread, Alesio recognized her. She was the young woman who had been in the canoe off their starboard bow as their ship had approached San Angelo Island. She was the woman who had gazed up at him and his brother as they conversed at the rail. Alesio swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat.

“What are you doing?” she asked again as she gestured toward the basket slung across his shoulder.

“I-I’m sorry,” he started lamely. He hesitated as she drew close beside him and looked down into the basket.

“You’re picking berries,” she said, her voice filled with shy laughter. She leaned closer. “Men don’t pick berries.”

“I’m,” Alesio started awkwardly as he put his hand to his chest and bowed slightly, “Brother Alesio.”

Her brow furrowed and he watched as she parroted the gesture. “Alé,” she said simply.

“No,” Alesio replied. “I’m Alé.”

Her expression brightened. “Alé,” she said and nodded enthusiastically. “Alleluia.”

Alesio felt his cheeks redden. “No,” he faltered, “Alesio.”

She would not be dissuaded. “Alleluia!” she laughed again and poked at him. “Alleluia!” Alesio started as she grabbed at his hand. “You’re missing the best spot for berries,” she laughed as she pulled at him.

“I really need to finish–”

She shook her head, pulling insistently at his hand. “This way!”

Alesio stumbled after her. “I don’t know if–” Alesio faltered as she led him further on, further into the cedars, away from the enclosure.

“Keep up,” she smiled as she pulled him over a large root that buckled across their path.

They moved deeper into the forest, the ground mossy and soft beneath their feet. He stole a glance at her; she moved easily among the roots, stepping gracefully down the twisting game trail. Alesio’s brain raced. Her hand was soft in his, the warmth of it alive and welcomed in the early autumn chill. He stumbled slightly as she stopped abruptly, still not releasing his hand, and looked around.

“This way,” she laughed, and he felt her tug again at his hand, pulling him more gently as she slowed to a walk.

Alesio looked around at the cedars; they were larger trees, more widely spaced, the ground beneath them nearly desolate save for an overlarge patch of bushes covered in plump, red berries. His breath caught as she drew him close beside her, her fingers twined around his as she reached for a berry.

“These are the best,” she continued as if he could understand every word she spoke. In his heart, he wished he could understand, but merely the sound of her voice reassured him. He gazed down at her silently, his mouth agape. She looked up at him and laughed quietly. “Taste,” she said, and he started as she popped a berry into his open mouth. Alesio blinked.

“Good,” he said. He nodded. “These are much better.”

She held his hand as she picked berries from the bush and dropped them into the basket. “I’ll help you. You can say you were with me to protect me,” she said conversationally. Alesio hesitated for a moment, unsure whether to withdraw his hand. He watched as she continued to pull berries from the bush. She dropped another handful into the basket. “Help you,” she said again, “not do it for you.” She gestured to the bush with a toss of her head.

“Oh,” he said quickly, snapping back to himself. He smiled awkwardly at her as he began to pluck the berries from the bush.

“Better you should hunt,” she said, her hand twisting easily within his as she reached for some of the berries higher up on the bush. She hesitated. “Or fish. My brother could teach you to make halibut hooks.” She continued to speak easily. He nodded politely, his fingers continuing to pull at the berries. “This is women’s work.” Alesio did not reply, he merely enjoyed the sound of her voice. He started as she turned suddenly placed a warm, berry-stained hand against his cheek. An electric shock surged through his every synapse. She smiled, and her voice became softer. “I do not believe you are a woman.”

 

“You were alone in the forest with her.” Alesio lay on his back, gazing up at the rafters of the dormitory he and the other Brothers shared. Around him, the soft snores of Rafael and Ezer were so familiar that they melded into the background noise of night. Outside, a high wind teased at the tops of the cedars, more a sigh than a moan as it climbed up and over San Angelo Island. Alesio drew a breath and rubbed at his eyes. Behind his eyes, he could see Father Rodriquez pacing the breadth of the chapel. Worrying.

“She followed me, Father,” Alesio replied, not lifting his head. “I only went to find berries for Brother Anicet’s pigments. He’s fond of that red.”

“Santiago is fond of that red,” Father Rodriquez replied without hesitation, referring to the Native boy who had taken to their scribe completely, “and Brother Anicet is fond of encouraging the boy’s talent with a quill.”

“Yes, Father,” Alesio replied meekly.

Father Rodriquez sighed. “You must understand the delicate nature of our mission here, Brother,” he started, his voice softening. “Lita is Aaron’s sister–”

“Father,” Alesio began earnestly in his defense. Michele held up his hand.

“And she is a truly beautiful young woman,” Michele continued. Alesio bowed his head. “I would not have you fall into sin–”

Alesio felt his heart hammer against his chest; his eyes closed. “No, Father,” he managed, sure that his master knew his every thought.

“I trust you, Brother,” Michele assured him softly. Alesio felt his heart twist suddenly.

Upon his mat, Alesio shifted slightly, his hands clasped tightly against his chest as he continued to blink sleepily up at the rafters.

“I trust you, Brother….” Alesio heard the words again, more distantly, echoing from somewhere far away as his brain began its slide toward sleep.

“I’m sorry, Father,” he heard himself say.

Alesio sighed and settled back beneath his blanket. He felt the warmth of a hand against his cheek.

“I trust you, Brother….” Father Rodriquez’s voice was more distant as Alesio yawned.

The warmth slid to the side of his neck, began to prickle toward his chest.

“You will need to work hard to remember those newly-made vows….” Lucas’ voice was a low, cold snarl against his ear.

Alesio’s breathing became ragged as pressure bore down against his chest, pinning him to his mat. He looked up as Lucas leaned in close. “I’m not like you,” Alesio gasped, his lungs suddenly aching with the effort of filing them. Lucas’ dark eyes flashed savagely and Alesio let out a startled cry as he felt Lucas reach for his sword. Alesio winced, folding his body in upon himself as Lucas drew the blade across him from his groin to his shoulder, cutting him deeply.

“You bleed as other men,” Lucas hissed suddenly, his eyes gleaming brightly.

Alesio’s hands flailed against the wound, his eyes wild as he stared up at his brother who continued to regard him quietly. He heard the bright rasp as Lucas sheathed the blade and leaned closer. Alesio writhed as sharp hands closed on him, prodding him, probing him, stretching his skin, assessing him.

“You feel as other men,” Lucas hissed. He leaned suddenly closer. “Is it true the Brothers use each other like women?”

Alesio’s eyes grew wide as he stared at Lucas. “What–?” he faltered.

Behind Lucas’ dark eyes, a glimmer of green escaped. Alesio began to tremble as the green brightened suddenly. “We have not witnessed it,” Lucas’ voice became a low growl. “Show us–”

Alesio struggled to back away. “It’s not true,” he said, finally finding his voice, his hands still flailing, bearing down pressure on the cut that had laid the muscles across his abdomen open.

It drew back. Alesio trembled, realizing not the shadow of his brother, but of a formless thing. “I trust you, Brother,” it hissed, its voice falling lower.

“What?” Alesio breathed. his heart pounding in his chest.

It nodded, bending low to wrap itself around Alesio; it pressed at him like a constrictor, its presence smooth and moist, cooling the wound. “You are most like us….”

 

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Don’t forget CONTEST #1 of the 12 Days of Creepfest!  I’ll be posting 4 total, so there are four chances to WIN BIG! Contest #1 is for a Deadman’s Reach ball cap!  Look below for the prompt!  Contest #2 will go out tomorrow (all contests run until the end of the hop — and because you have less time to be more creative later on, the prizes get BIGGER!)

♫On the Fourth Day of Creepfest, My True Love Gave to Me…♫

Yeah, well … you’re gonna LOVE this…

KEEP HOPPIN!

♫On the Second Day of Creepfest, My True Love Gave to Me …. ♫

♫Memories of summer … and a tidbit a-bout living where you write….♫

I live on Prince of Wales Island in far Southeast Alaska. It’s further than “far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the galaxy,” and for most people, it’s a place unimaginable–no movie theater, no mall, few roads, and few people. Well, MOSTLY it’s few people. Summer is different. Our island explodes with two-legged life — mostly male, mostly fishing boys, or cannery workers, or guides, or loggers. I keep hearing this is a “hard place for women,” and there’s no doubt that divorce rates here are high, but I don’t think it’s any harder or easier than any other place.

I write here. Not only do I write in Southeast, I write Southeast. From the moment I arrived and began walking through these forests, the world became smaller–everything coalesced. That’s not to say I’m going to write some new legend about Southeast. Not in the least. I do recognize that every rock and tree, every breaker that crackles against the shore, every raven argument with every eagle, has some story to tell.

Southeast is broken land. It’s a collection of islands, and when I want to get off-island and go to Ketchikan, I have to remember that Ketchikan is just on a different island. It’s float planes and ferries, boats and kayaks, and it’s always being sure and careful in whatever you’re doing because, in the end, Southeast is a place where Nature is trying, actively, to kill you. If you’re unprepared or stupid, there’s a chance you won’t survive to tell the tale. Alaska is a helluva place to live, and even more of a helluva place to write.

Craig is a tiny fishing town on the razor’s edge of forever. Save for a few barrier islands, we’re the last landfall before you hit Japan further west. Weather slams us from the Pacific, winds in excess of 75mph routinely howl through town, bending the cedars, as torrents of rain, to the tune of nearly 14 feet each year, pound down. I live in a rainforest, some of it only a remnant of what it once was, before the logging started. Elders tell me that they can remember harder rains, harsher winds, raindrops the size of which I could only imagine, and the rains came nearly everyday like that. But, the cutting of the trees has changed the weather patterns, they say.

The young bucks don’t talk about the weather, unless it’s to complain about their lot aboard boats that go out after herring and salmon, halibut and ling cod. They seine, they troll, some gillnet, some longline. In the bar, the seine boys tell me longliners are nasty sons of bitches ’cause they have to bait all those hooks, so they’re perpetually pissed off and, therefore, can’t get laid. Longliners tell me nearly unmentionable things about the sexual dysfunction of seine boys. It’s not that they’re crude and uneducated, it’s that they’re crude 20-somethings away from home and usually making good money for their stints aboard these boats. And whether they seine or longline, they all drink like … you know. They are also, for the most part, voracious readers…..

Beyond the boats and the fishermen, the island harbors other inspirations–dark places that drip with possibility and need only the gentlest of urging in the right direction to come to their full potential. When I was half-way through writing In Dark Places, which is set in an interior Alaskan copper mine not unlike Kennecott, my husband brought me here, to a mine called Salt Chuck to stand before this–The Portal. “Stand here,” he said as he placed me in front of it and then removed his hands from my shoulders and backed away. The Portal breathes. Not only does it breathe, it breathes icy air even on the hottest of our summer days. “You can use this,” he said, still smiling, “to finish the one you’re working on now.” I stood there, feeling The Portal breathe, feeling the tickle and pricking of that icy air that danced its way through the 60°F (yes, that’s hot) heat of the day. I felt the writer’s block begin to fade, and I heard their voices distantly, then more strongly, and then they were there once again….

That picture at the top? It’s across the channel (on the Craig side) from Fish Egg Island near the old cannery. That island out in the distance? In my imagination, that’s San Angelo Island of The Fishing Widow, but in reality, it’s San Juan Bautista, not far from Sumez, across Bucareli Bay where the Spanish really did explore and write in the late 1700s… and the murder to the Spanish monks in their mission and the creatures and revenants that crawl through The Fishing Widow, and Brother Alesio and Lita … Elizabeth and Priam … and Ethan and Nan… well, they’re all right there. Because they are. Right. There. Standing in front of me. Every day. In that place. The place I write. The place I live. The place where I was born….

And now for something completely different!  It’s CONTEST TIME!

I’ll be doing several of these over the course of The 12 Days of Creepfest!  Write a scene based on a given writing prompt and you could win. And I don’t mean little, you could win BIG!  Ready?  Here’s the prompt:

He hesitated, feeling the burning of eyes from somewhere behind him, or above ….

GO FOR IT!

Oh, wait … you’re probably wondering about the prize …  This prompt’s prize is THIS:

You waaaant it. Post comments here or email to thefishingwidow@akmarshall.com

Happy Writing! KEEP HOPPING!

♫On the Third Day of Creepfest, My True Love Gave to Me…♫

(I’d bet you’d love to know……)