Sunday, June 5, 2016
1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Devine
Name: Jessie Devine
Genre: YA fantasy
Title: The Sweet Dark
I ran away the summer I turned fourteen. The plan was to join a gang in Hanglan, but no one wanted me. Instead, I gathered stragglers. You know, the ones that in the old days would’ve been picked off by wolves., I wish I could say we were running shit, but that kind of thing doesn’t actually happen. We were barely keeping it together. That’s why I was out here. I had a plan.
It was a terrible plan. Going to the cherry swamp during the seventh full moon—it was like a ghost story. I’d been raised better than that. But at the time, the idea of power limited only by what I was willing to give intoxicated me. Because I was willing to give anything.
The cherry swamp was hot, even in the dead of night. The air sweated in that place which made the cherries absolutely cloying, but it still smelled better than the rest of the countryside in summer. The heat (or good sense) kept everyone in. It was deserted.
The moon reflected orange across murky water, its round face broken by cattails and swamp grass. Where was I supposed to go, exactly? I had an idea based on the map in that creepy old children’s book, but the swamp looked different in the pitch black than it did under mechanical light. Plus, the path had disappeared.
North. I was supposed to go north, but that way was submerged. 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 stuck your foot in the toilet. I shuddered. Come on, only a little farther. The water started to recede, and I climbed up onto the bank.
The path continued all innocent-like, like it hadn’t made me take a dip in the sewer. It was barely there 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.
I turned the corner and broke into a run. The tree was indeed white, shimmery, silver white like old snow. “Finally,” I whispered, laying my hands against it.
The evocation came out of my mouth automatically, and the electricity surged through me. The air smelled like burnt hair and cherry blossoms, and my arms shook. All the muscles in my body cramped, and my jaw locked shut. Pain shot through my neck and seized the thin muscles on the back of my skull. My calves had knives in them. My spine spiral fractured all the way up. I had to keep holding on, had to. Agony exploded behind my eyes, lights flickering at the edge of my vision. No, 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’d memorized everything. 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 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 skin tingled. Acid flipped my stomach. It was kind of embarrassing that I’d done all this, actually. Had I been misled? It was 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.
Heat rose up my face, and I pushed myself to my feet. Now what? All those plans I had, everything I wanted? I turned away and
Screamed. There was a shade, standing silent and stone-faced in the middle of the clearing. There was no emotion on its face, no contempt for me or annoyance at being awoken. Weird. They were supposed to be annoyed.
I swallowed and stepped closer. No telling how old this thing was. It looked the same age as me, but wasn’t that the point? 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.
I swallowed. This was becoming rapidly more real by the moment. “Sael, what is your pronoun preference?”
“My preference is yours,” it said softly, 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 Sael. I’d never chosen a pronoun for someone before; it seemed like a weird thing to do. How was I supposed to tell which one was right? But Sael didn’t seem concerned. These creatures probably 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. Seemed appropriate enough. “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.1st