The Witch [[Tag/The Apple/The Seed??]]

Blood Magic Always Grants Your Wish

Okay, another version of a story started in 1994. I posted the start of a major revision in Tag (now available free to everyone).

That major revision is going to turn into either a novella or novel set in the same geographic location as this story, although a bit in the future. This version here is preamble, probably something mentioned in that longer story as a predicating event.

This version also came about using different/new writing methods for me and is somewhat experimental. Do let me know what you think.

And definitely let me know what the title is. I’m open to suggestion.


Julia danced among oaks and ash, two short steps towards Eric, two long steps away, always drawing him into the hollow, always a hand or two beyond his reach. Once one of her long, blonde braids brushed the back of his hand and he almost had her, but he wasn’t quick enough, never quick enough.

“You’re such an old woman, Eric.”

Eric stopped as Julia entered a copse of ancient, dark boled trees. His hands staid his knife and axe, good forester’s tools his father gave him, swinging from his belt. “We are too far from the village.”

“Says your grandmother who brings apples to any who will listen.”

“The Old Ones remember — ”

“The old ones are old.” She disappeared among the trees.

Eric paced outside the copse. “The skies darken. A storm approaches. We must get back before we have to take shelter.”

She singsonged from deep in the hollow, “Oh, Eric. Oh, help me, Eric.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.

Her voice changed. “Eric, help!”

Eric lifted his axe and entered the copse. A hand spun him as he passed a thick bodied willow. His axe flashed up.

Julia leaned against a deeply boled ash, her hands over her stomach, laughing. “Oh, Eric. You’re such a child.”

He lowered his axe, his nostrils flared, his face red. “First and old woman and now a child. And in both I’m alive. You play a dangerous game, Julia.”

“Oh, poo poo poo, Master Eric.” She held her arms out to him. “Would you like a reward for your gallantry?”

Eric brushed her hands away as he turned back towards their village, his axe still in his hand. “Sometimes the reward isn’t worth the risk.”

Something snagged his axe hand. He spun back at her. “I have had enough — ”

A hand formed of twigs reached around Julia’s face, filling her mouth with leaves, choking her. A branch gripped his axe hand, holding it to his side, pulling him into the bole.

Julia took the axe from his hand as the tree pulled him beside her. She swung at the branch holding him. A voice shrieked from inside the bole. Red, blood-like sap covered Eric’s face as the branch snapped back. He screamed and covered his eyes.

Branches gathered around them and became flesh covered arms. Lightning broke through the trees overhead. Thunder shook the hollow.

A single rain drop fell onto the hand covering Julia’s mouth. It steamed like fields on a hot summer morning.

Rain drops blew through the leaves. The arms blistered into branches where the rain struck them. Pink flesh boiled into black bark. The thing in the bole screamed like a pig under the butcher’s hand.

Julia swung Eric’s axe again. The hand covering her mouth snapped back, clasping the side of the ash. A woman, half crone, half maiden, appeared in the bole.

Eric reached out, his hands searching.

The crone spoke in Julia’s voice. “This way, Eric. This way.”

Julia grabbed Eric’s hand and pulled him back.

Winds gathered rain. The smells of a sweet spring storm swept through the hollow.

The witch screamed and withdrew into the bole.

“Hurry, Eric. Run.” She pulled him, half dragged him, to the top of the crest of the rise encircling the hollow and stopped. Rain rolled down their faces, parted their hair, stuck their clothes to their cold, sweating skin.

Julia’s hand went to her breast as she gasped for breath. Eric held tight.

“We’re safe, Eric. Witches fear the rain. That’s what the Old Ones say. Grandmother tells us about them often. They can’t be out in the rain. She can’t hurt us as long as it rains.”

He didn’t let go, wouldn’t drop her hand. “I am blind, Julia.”

His beautiful eyes, eyes that once glowed like candles when they looked upon her, were covered with white, weeping flesh, no pupils visible at all.

The witch, inside her dark bole, laughed.

***
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Atmosphere Is…

Using physical descriptions to create emotional reactions in the reader

Regular blog readers have seen my reviews of writing books. I distill these readings into easy to use and remember storycrafting and storytelling chunks and will share my learnings in this blog.

Writing what I’m learning, explaining it, helps me understand it. Or let’s me know I don’t. Please feel free to comment and let me know when you’ve got something different. The whole point of this exercise is to learn!


Atmosphere is the presenting of physical details so as to create an emotional reaction in the reader. Emotional reaction is what allows the reader to identify and empathize with characters in the story.

 
Consider the line “Eric stopped as Julia entered a copse of ancient, dark boled trees” from a horror story I’m working on.

The details relevant to Atmosphere are “stopped” and “a copse of ancient, dark boled trees.” The word “stopped” tells us Eric doesn’t want to do something and what he doesn’t want to do is follow Julia into “a copse of ancient, dark boled trees.”

I hope readers experience some tension, some foreboding, and at the same time want to read more to learn 1) why Eric stops and 2) what happens to Julia in the copse. People have walked among old trees and loved the experience. But chances are people enjoyed walking in a brightly lit forest, sunlight streaming through the leaves of ancient trees or perhaps a forest rich with the sounds and scents of wildlife nesting in old trees or maybe a woods with rustling leaves and grasses guiding travelers on their way.

Such descriptions are longer than a copse of ancient, dark boled trees and intentionally so. I kept the phrase a copse of ancient, dark boled trees short to create a sense of confinement, entrapment, to make readers ill-at-ease; all emotional responses to physical details.

Creating reader emotional reaction is important to successful fiction and non-fiction writing. You want the reader involved, engaged. A bored reader stops reading your book and worse, won’t buy another one you’ve authored. An unengaged reader doesn’t care about your characters, your plot, your story, and ultimately, won’t care about you as an author.

The line Eric stopped as Julia entered a copse of ancient, dark boled trees should make the reader sympathize more with Eric than Julia because Eric is showing caution while Julia is entering that copse of ancient, dark boled trees and people (in rea; life) tend to favor caution.

That sense of confinement, foreboding, discomfort, ill-at-easeness comes from the words copse (a dense growth of trees), ancient (anything ancient’s going to either be very, very good or very, very bad), dark (it’s going to be bad), and boled (even if you don’t know what the word means it just sounds like something that’ll hurt you) to create a malevolent atmosphere.

Readers read stories with characters they can sympathize with, characters they can identify with, characters they can empathize with. Place a sympathetic character in a malevolent situation and the reader identifies with them because everybody’s been in at least one bad place in their life and wanted to get away, hence readers will empathize with Eric’s situation and want him to get away.

Use physical details to give the reader a sense of environment beyond “this is where it happens.” The copse of ancient, dark boled trees signals the reader that nastiness will occur.

Eric doesn’t want nastiness to occur. Readers want nastiness in their horror stories, not in real life, and that desire to keep nastiness out of their real life creates empathy with Eric. Hopefully (and without being consciously aware of it), the reader is feeling, “Get out of there, Eric! Be brave some other day!” while simultaneously wanting Eric to follow Julia into the copse where nastiness will occur because that’s where the interesting stuff happens.

Make sense?

Let me know.

Empty Sky Chapter 15 – Pangiosi and Tom

What Real Monsters Are Like

Read Empty Sky Chapter 14 – Detective Colodnie Johnson


Earl Pangiosi poured himself another two-fingers of Macallan and turned on the stereo on low, Sinatra, soft and not distracting. Above the train’s rumblings and Sinatra’s croonings, he heard movement from the bedroom.

“Ah, Mr. McPherson, are you ready to join us?” He opened the door and flipped on the lights, turning the dial to full brilliance.

On the floor, straightjacketed and gagged, Tom McPherson closed his eyes and rolled away from the harsh lights.

“Well, Mr. McPherson how are you today? It’s such a relief to know you’re still with us. I was concerned, you know.” Pangiosi He helped Tom sit up then raised him up so both could sit on the edge of the bed. “It’s okay, Mr. McPherson. I am your friend.” He laid an arm across Tom’s shoulders and gave a gentle hug.

Tom hesitated, resisting Pangiosi’s gentle pressure, squinting at the silhouette Pangiosi made against the lights.

“Oh, so sorry, Tom. May I call you ‘Tom’? Let me turn those lights down a bit.”

Pangiosi walked to the switch and back. When he stood over Tom, Pangiosi adjusted his sportcoat to reveal his 92X in a sling holster.

Tom’s eyes went wide and fixed on him.

“Do you know, Tom, your wife, Eleanor, and I were quite close friends? Did she ever mention me?”

Tom’s eyes narrowed and his brow descended.

“God’s truth.” Pangiosi held up his right hand. “What became of her, Tom? Do you know? Can you tell me?”

Tom looked around the room, his eyes moving quickly, taking in the richly paneled walls, the dresser and vanity and entertainment system, the phone and computer recessed on the far wall, the slightly ajar lavatory door showing the hints of marble within, the other door showing the working table and chairs and paper stacks thereon.

But he never took his eyes off Pangiosi for long.

“Let me tell you what I know, Tom. Let’s see where it all fits.”

Pangiosi sat on the edge of the bed, his left foot touching the floor and his right leg crooked over the covers. He folded his hands in his lap and canted his face and eyes to the ceiling as if the memory was written there.

“I’m not sure where we recruited Eleanor. Oh, I have the information in the other room.” He waved towards the open door. “But that’s not important right now. I’m sure you agree. Don’t you, Tom?

“What I really want to discuss with you is the matter of her departure. It is most interesting and quite puzzling, to be sure.

“Now just so we’re clear, Tom, what I’m about to tell you is quite confidential. Top secret, hush-hush, eyes only and all that. I’m happy to tell you, of course, but then, as they say, I’ll have to kill you.” He laughed, looking sideways at Tom and punching a straight-jacketed arm. “Oh, laugh, Tom. I’m kidding.”

His voice grew quiet, confidential. He leaned in to Tom, an arm around his shoulders.

“The first thing you need to know is that I’m involved in dream research. That’s where all this begins, and Ellie got herself involved in it with us. Did you know Ellie is what some people in the field call ‘a gifted dreamer’? I don’t think she even knew it. Basically, she had the ability to go so deeply into her dreams they became her reality. Now this is something right out of mythology. Australia’s aboriginals have been telling us about this kind of thing for years but let’s face it; dreams become realities? You have that whole wishes-horses-beggars thing and nobody wants that.

“But back to Ellie. At one point Ellie was fully in D-sleep — that’s ‘desynchronized’ or ‘dreaming sleep. That’s what we call it, D-sleep — and had been for days. It almost seemed as if she’d been waiting for us to come along and help her succumb to Morpheus’ charms. Except we didn’t. My hand to god, we didn’t do a thing to her.” He slapped Tom’s thigh as if the two were enjoying a joke. “Can you beat that? We didn’t do a goddamn thing and, as soon as she can, she’s fast asleep and twitching to beat the band.”

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Empty Sky Chapter 14 – Detective Colodnie Johnson

Questions Without Answers

Read Empty Sky Chapter 13 – John Nighthorse


Detective Colodnie Johnson huffed and puffed her way to the Lake Shore Limited‘s security station at the rear of the kitchen car. Despite the smoothness of the ride she waddled in the narrow train aisles and pulled herself along as if climbing uphill. She hadn’t eaten before leaving Chicago and didn’t want Games or McPherson to know she followed them onboard so she stayed in her berth all through supper chain smoking. Her stomach moaned in disbelief.

She sneered into one of the security cameras as she passed underneath and wondered what whoever was on the other end saw. A big, black woman? She wasn’t really all that black. She could have passed for a dark skinned Mediterranean, maybe a Sicilian or a Moroccan, her features were soft and her skin rarely ashed. There was an Italian girl in college with Colodnie, big like Colodnie. The BSU, the college’s Black Student Union, approached her to join but not Colodnie. She found out years later they were so embarrassed by their first mistake they didn’t dare make another so never invited her to join.

In the beginning she thought she wasn’t good enough, maybe not black enough or not militant enough or not cerebral enough. Maybe they found out about her Aunt Connie, who ironed her hair and passed for the thirty years she worked as a secretary downtown, and that’s why they never spoke to her or called her “sistah.”

Or maybe they were just fucking morons, such totally inept fools, clods, and idiots they didn’t deserve the likes of her.

She got her degree, enrolled in the Chicago Police Academy, and started eating two portions instead of one with every meal all in the same week. Smoking came much, much later.

She tapped on the patrol station door. It was ajar and no one answered. She withdrew her GP100 7 Shot .357 Magnum from its holster and slammed herself against the door, ramming whoever might be on the other side into the wall.

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Empty Sky Chapter 13 – John Nighthorse

Teach Your Children Well

Read Empty Sky Chapter 12 – Shem


John stood before Earl Pangiosi in the latter’s private car, the two men still on his shoulders and showing no sign of strain.

“Mr. Nighthorse.” Pangiosi sat at the far end of the table, his chair tilted against the wall on its rear legs and his hands behind his head. He stared at John, cocking his head first right, then left, evaluating. “That’s quite a story.”

“Yes, it is, sir.

“Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re confident Mr. Steyle is the only one compromised?”

“As I said, Mr. Pangiosi, there were three suites I didn’t enter. Considering — ”

Pangiosi interrupted him. “Yes, yes. Well.” He rocked forward and got up. “Would you put what remains of Mr. Steyle on the floor, please.”

John knelt and lowered his comrade’s body without a word.

Pangiosi knelt beside the body. He arranged the shirt and sportcoat. He picked some lint from the lapel. He sighed.

The billy, still gripped in Steyle’s right hand, caught Pangiosi’s eye. He lifted it and the hand and arm came with it. Pangiosi tried to pry it free but Steyle claimed it even in death.

“Mr. Nighthorse, jacket that one in the next room, please, then bring me some sheets of plastic, a hammer or better, a mallet, and a knife, the sharpest you can find.”

“Yes sir.”

John gathered two plastic straws from the wetbar then lay Tom’s sleeping body on the bed in the next room. He pulled a straightjacket from the closet, gently maneuvered Tom into it and strapped it tight. He put the straws between Tom’s lips, took out a tube of SuperGlue out of his pocket and glued Tom’s mouth shut. Lastly he gently placed Tom on the floor and put a pillow under his head.

He returned with Pangiosi’s requested supplies.

“Thank you, Mr. Nighthorse. Spread out the plastic and center Mr. Steyle on it, would you?”

John did as instructed.

“Now stand back, please.”

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