Monday, June 13, 2016
1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Devine Rev 1
Name: Jessie Devine
Genre: YA fantasy
Title: The Sweet Dark
Heat gripped the cherry swamp in its putrid claws, even in the dead of night. The air sweated in that place, and the cherries rotted ripe and sickly sweet. The temperature (or good sense) must’ve kept everyone in. The place was deserted.
The moon reflected orange across murky water, its round face broken by cattails and swamp grass. I shifted my weight between my feet. I was supposed to go north, but the swamp had swallowed the path. Trees twisted up out of the water, but I couldn’t tell how deep it was. Some fish or something that could probably eat me made a splash somewhere off in the dark. You’d think I would’ve read the signs: don’t do this, idiot.
Water soaked through my shoes. It squelched between my toes and rose up my shins as I trudged into the mud. I was looking for a white tree. Would it still look white at night? Would I miss it? Had I already missed it? I hesitated, my foot stalling to find a foothold. It slipped deeper into the mud and I grimaced. I was soaked through all the way up to my crotch now. There were probably leeches involved.
A cloud drifted over the moon, and it suddenly got a lot darker. I wasn’t even afraid of the dark, but this was not exactly ideal. I took another step, and another, breath hitching, the mud sucking on my shoes until one finally came off. Lost forever. I kicked off the other because I needed symmetry. Shifting silt floated all around my feet, soft in a gross way. The way I imagine puke would feel if you stepped in it. I shuddered. Eyes trained on the opposite bank, I forced myself to press on. Finally the water started to recede, and I climbed up onto dry ground.
The path continued all innocent-like, like it hadn’t just made me take a dip in the sewer. It was barely visible now. Probably people didn’t come this way much anymore. I took a step and all the fine little hairs on my body stood on end. They should’ve been slicked down with sweat and swamp, but electricity lit me up. A pang of intensity ran down my spine, and I swallowed. This direction, then.
It was quieter on this side of the water. The bugs were quiet, even. My footsteps seemed muffled too, my bare feet light on the cracked dirt.
When I turned the corner, I broke into a run. The tree was indeed white, shimmery, silver white like old snow. “Finally,” I whispered. This was it. This big, dead tree would change my life. My hands hovered a second before I laid them against the bark.
The evocation I’d practiced 7000 times came out of my mouth automatically, and energy surged through my body. All my muscles cramped, and my jaw locked shut. My arms started to shake. Pain shot through my neck and seized the thin muscles on the back of my skull. My calves had knives in them. Fractures bit into my spine all the way. All my bones were snapping. But I had to keep holding on, had to. Agony exploded behind my eyes, lights flickering at the edge of my vision. A trickle of something hot ran from my ear—not blood, please not blood. Still, I couldn’t let go, I had to—I ripped my hands off the tree.
I sank to the ground, panting. No one had mentioned this in their stories. Had I said something wrong? I was so sure I had everything memorized. The evocation was like a nursery rhyme, a thing adults said at night to scare children into behaving. Of course I knew it. It was a myth; everyone knew it.
I waited, staring at the powdery bark, willing something to rise out of it. If I hiked out here in the middle of the night and got submerged in filth, covered in leeches, and accosted by a tree for nothing . . .
My face started to burn. It was kind of embarrassing that I’d done all this, actually. Were all the stories really just . . . stories? Or had I done something wrong? It was the right place, at the right time, during the seventh full moon and everything. I’d followed the wives’ tales to the goddamn letter.
And it was really possible to summon a sugar shade; I’d seen one with my own eyes. Once. A long time ago. Okay, I’d been like ten and it might’ve been a dream. But.
I pushed myself to my feet. I was hot and sticky and aching, and now what? All those plans I had, everything I wanted for the crew back home? It was all over. I turned away and
Screamed. There was a shade, standing silent and stone-faced in the middle of the clearing. Its face was entirely expressionless, which was more intimidating than even rage could have been. It watched me.
I swallowed and stepped closer. No telling how old this thing was. It looked the same age as me, but that was the point I guess, to appeal to the bargainer. It was taller than me and as white as the tree. Its—hair? Was it hair? It looked like hair, only it was bright violet and fell in thick spikes around the creature’s face. Its face. Oh lord, its face. It had a jawline like the razor’s edge and cheekbones to match. Its eyes were wide and the color of hematite. It said nothing, but I could feel it, pressing against my mind.
I cleared my throat. “What’s your—” The word floated across my consciousness before I could finish my sentence. “Say-el? Is that your name?” I asked, trying out the word on my tongue.
“Sael.” The creature spoke barely above a whisper.
My heart fluttered like a dying bird. This was becoming rapidly more real by the moment. I wanted to scream and run and hide and jump for joy all at the same time.
I took a breath. I knew how this went. If I didn’t want to end up a scorch mark on the dirt, I had to be calm, and I had to be polite. I put on my most charming smile to go with my most charming voice. “Sael, what is your pronoun preference?”
“My preference is yours,” it said, its eyes glittering.
My whole body shuddered. This wasn’t anything like the stories. They said I should never do this, that I would be made powerless at the hands of an ancient evil. Instead, those soft whispers made me feel like the most powerful being in existence.
I reassessed the shade. I’d never chosen a pronoun for someone before. It seemed like a weird thing to do. How the fuck did I know what words would suit Sael? But then, we’re talking about a primordial, cosmic terror. Maybe these things didn’t have gender.
My friend once told me they identified only with the night sky and the spinning universe, and that friend preferred xe and xir. I swallowed hard, praying this wasn’t some kind of test. “Does ‘xe’ work for you?”
Sael nodded. There, I’d already chosen xir pronoun, and we hadn’t even made a deal. Honestly, this is the moment I should’ve seen how this was going to end, but I was too occupied with the possibilities.