This one is another unfinished project I've been working on since I was about fifteen and that I never got around to finish. It was a bit too much to handle with my skill at the time, so I could start the novel, but I couldn't push through the challenging bits. I've been reworking it (with long, sometimes year-long lapses, like the one since I lost rewrote it, long before I came to blogger) ever since.
It's pretty low on the to do list for the time being (the things on there always shift about, depending on the circumstances, I'm afraid I have no control whatsoever over that), so I won't be making it more decent anytime soon, but I decided - very much against previous incentives - to post it. Especially since I'm too busy to get a lot of short stories up during the exams. I'll schedule the parts I've got (which is at least 80 pages or so), one a week. I don't think I'm going to read over them first and bear in mind that they're imperfect drafts, but what I'd like is for you to tell me what you didn't like about it. I'm aware of the flaws, especially that it gets pretty long-winded at times and that the whole could and should be smoothed out considerably - a legacy from its early birth, I guess - but I'd like to map out just when, where and why it spins off, so I can take it into account while rewriting it, when I get around to it.
I wasn't keen on sharing this. I don't think I ever even thought of putting it up, until today, all of a sudden, so here's the first part. Enjoy!
“A book is a mirror. When a monkey looks in, no apostle can look out.”
Berry season... Finally the sweet berries are ripe in the woods behind our house. Daddy holds my hand tightly. It is warm, a bit roughened by hard work, but it is daddy’s hand, firm and safe. I look up. It’s not dark yet, but I can see lights dancing in the sky. I recognize the brightest of them, daddy told me its name: star of Lilith. Daddy said it was special, like me.
Andrea is whining again. Mum said she is having her teeth. “It always hurts with babies”, she told me. “You cried too, John”, she says, “all night and all day long”, but I can’t remember a thing. I don’t cry, I’m a big boy!
I guess mum is trying to calm her down and that’s why she picks her up and rocks Andrea in her arms, singing to her as if she is the most precious thing in the world. I know she’s younger and that I’m supposed to be strong, like daddy, but I wish she would hold me like that.
All of a sudden the crying stops. I turn back and see Andrea staring ahead, fully absorbed. Something shiny beneath father’s belt caught her eye, silver by his hip. It shows just for a second or so every time he makes another step and lights up. When he sees me looking, he covers it with his tunic and smiles at me reassuringly.
I’m still a little curious, but just smile back and try to be quiet. Daddy doesn’t like it when you ask him too many questions. That’s probably why he and my big brother Paul get in so many fights all the time. Paul always asks questions. Where is Paul?
He left for the woods with father this morning, but still isn’t back. I look around, perhaps I can see him somewhere. He is probably still chopping wood. I know he’s still out here because I’m smart, I saw him take his axe with him, and winter is coming. And then we’ll need fire wood to keep us warm. That’s what daddy always says, but I can figure that out for myself too. I like fire, it’s nice and warm and light. I move closer to daddy and cuddle up to his side. He pets my head. I look up at him, he doesn’t look down. He has to watch his step, the grass is treacherous. I know that because I’m smart. And because I fall down a lot.
The forest scares me, it’s so dark, but daddy is here to protect me. He holds my hand in his and squeezes it gently. I laugh. I’ll find out what that shiny thing is when we get there.
Why is daddy walking so fast?
“Keep up, laddy.”, he says, smiling at me softly. It’s the same smile he gives me when he comes home after a day’s work and I run out to meet him. Then he will pick me up and hug me and I will sit on his lap as he tells us what happened out on the fields that day. I love it when he does that. He always makes it sound just like a legend, like the fairytales mum tells us at night, or in winter by the fire place when it is cold outside and we cuddle close together, all four of us, while mum tells stories and dad is in his chair.
I do my best not to trip over the lumps of wood and the roots that spring up from the ground trying to grab your feet. If they get you, they drag you down and tie you up so the forest witches can eat you, just like in some of mother’s stories. They can talk you know, the roots, they whisper something to the ground so the witches can hear it. The witches speak root.
Daddy keeps going faster. I can’t keep up, he nearly drags me over the ground like the deer and wild pigs he brings from his hunting trips on the baron’s land. But I’m not supposed to talk about that, it is a secret. No one is supposed to go onto the baron’s land, the baron gets very angry when people do, especially to hunt there. Daddy says the baron wants to keep the game all to himself, but daddy is very good. He always catches something and he never gets caught himself. Unlike our neighbour, Aaron.
He was poaching on the baron’s land, but the baron was hunting with some of his friends and then they got him and they hanged Aaron and his family and burned their cottage down. One of his younger sons, Daniel, was my friend and mother said I couldn’t go play there and I didn’t know why but then I heard her and father talking and they said that he hanged there, by the throat, and that I shouldn’t see. And then I had no one to play with any more. Except Andrea, but she is so small, and Paul always picks on me saying I’m daddy’s favourite and Sara only plays with her stupid doll. Daniel’s mother made great apple pie, even sweeter than mother’s though I would never tell her that. I went back to the house, but it was gone. Daniel was gone too, the neighbours buried him and put a great cross into the ground.
“Daddy, not so fast!”, I plea when I trip and crawl back up. Mum and Sara are falling behind, I guess they can’t walk that fast either.
“Come on, son. We have to get to the forest before dark otherwise we won’t see the berries. Don’t you won’t some nice sweet berries to eat tonight?”
“Come along then, before the other kids steal all of them away.”
I almost run to keep up with him. Daddy is so much taller and his legs are so long that I need to take three steps quickly to match one of his.
We come to an open space in the woods. “Wait here!”, daddy says and he lets go of my hand. I am still scared and watch the trees around me. There moving. I’m afraid the wolves will get me, or the witches. They’re probably watching me from all around in the shadows, waiting for daddy to leave me alone so they can eat me. Where are the berries? I can’t see any. And where is daddy?
Daddy is walking back to mum, Andrea and Sara. He will probably help pick up Sara and Andrea so they won’t have to walk that far. They’re always tired. It’s just because they’re small, mum says, but I’m not tired yet and I’m just one year older than Sara.
My heart is pounding. Daddy is now so far away at the other end of the meadow and I’m left all by myself with all these eyes around me. I run to catch up with him, but I shouldn’t have done that. My foot gets caught in something, a root I guess, and I fall down again. It really hurts. I wrap my hands around my ankle. Maybe daddy will carry me back now. I have to get up quickly, or they’ll come for me. I feel around for the root so I won’t trip over it again while trying to stand up, but my fingers touch something soft. It isn’t grass or moss, it’s dryer than that and longer. I let my fingers move on and feel something smooth, cold and wet. My fingers are dirty, mum will be angry if she has to wash my clothes again. She has to go all the way to the river for that.
I look at the thing that had soiled me and see... PAUL! It’s Paul, but his eyes are wide open and so is his mouth. I struggle to crawl away from the cold white thing in the grass. His head, his head! Where is the rest of him? I scan the grass and see his limps scattered across the ground, his legs that used to move too fast for me playing tag, his arms that would hold me up in the air, his hands that tickled me, Paul’s axe and my fingers.. Red, everything red, the grass, the earth, my hands and Paul... all covered in blood. I feel tears coming up and yell for dad, but he is with mum and Sara, talking, he doesn’t respond. Perhaps he saw it but didn’t want to scare me and is now telling the others because mum takes a step back and pulls Sara along with her. Andrea is crying again and clutches to mother. I get up and run towards them but then I see what the shiny thing is: it’s a knife, rising high like an eagle of light.