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Home page: http://www.davidniallwilson.com
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This year I started out Nanowrimo (Wordcount just over 20k for those keeping track) working on the next novel in the Donovan DeChance series, which was to be “Kali’s Tale,” the story of one of the young vampires in Vintage Soul setting off for a town near The Great Dismal Swamp to kill the one who created her. Along the way, I decided I wanted a flashback for Donovan. It would be, I said, the short story of how he became who, and what he is – a back-story filler for those who love that sort of thing. I hit the right spot in the book, started the flashback, and danged if it didn’t spin out of control…
For one thing, I’m writing the flashback with no more of an outline than a brief synopsis. This freed me up to add in a lot of details. That turned what was to be a chapter, maybe two, into five, and then six. I chose a familiar setting for the story – the western town of Rookwood, but before the days of Hallowed Ground. In fact, SIlas Boone is a boy, as is the eight-fingered piano player McGraw. There is still life and love and mystery in the town. In Hallowed Ground it’s the dying husk of a settlement that’s purpose – supplying things to those traveling west – had left it all but a ghost town. In 1842, it was very much alive.
I’ve answered a lot of questions. Donovan’s age. How he met Cleo, his familiar…why he does what he does, and how he discovered it…this has opened up a hundred years of adventures I can come back to, while maintaining the modern-day line of books simultaneously.
Kali’s Tale will likely not include this flashback. It’s simply too long. It will be either a short novel on it’s own, or a novelette, and it will be released before the new year. Kali’s Tale I return to in a day or two, once this “flashback” that became a book is in the can. I’ll leave you with a short excerpt…
The old wagon smelled of sweat, leather, cheap liquor, and a miasma of spices, herbs, and chemicals that would have driven a bloodhound crazy. Donovan leaned back into a pile of old rags and tried to peer out through the crack between two of the wagon’s warped boards at the passing countryside. He knew they were getting close. Whenever they neared a town, or a settlement, Rathman picked up the pace. The two old ponies scented fresh apples and hay, and the old man scented whiskey and women. Donovan knew he would work long into the night, but hoped, in the end, it would mean a hot meal. Sometimes, if he could keep his distance from Rathman and find an hour’s work sweeping, or scrubbing, or shoveling out a stable, he could earn a decent meal before the old man’s screeching, bullying voice dragged him back to the wagon. At least it was something to hope for.
The town they expected to run up on next was called Rookwood. Donovan had never seen the place, but Rathman remembered it from many years back. Donovan hoped it was a lot of years, because the old fraud was seldom welcomed back to a place a second time if anyone remembered his previous visit, and it wasn’t easy to forget. For one thing, the decrepit old wagon was painted over with brilliant, garish designs.
“Dr. Hugo Rathman, Healer, Mystic, and Clairvoyant” was painted dead center in paint so bright and so red that circling buzzards had mistaken it for blood more than once and spiraled down to have a closer look. More than once Donovan had peered out into the driver’s seat of the wagon to be certain the carrion feeders weren’t after Rathman himself. The old man could drink himself into a death-like stupor so deep that he seemed dead.
Finally they passed by the first small grouping of board and tar shacks. Donovan caught sight of a think boy with wild hair and no shirt. For just a second he’d have sworn the kid met his gaze, right through the boards. A second later, the boy was off, flying barefoot across the desert toward town. Apparently visitors weren’t common in Rookwood. Donovan frowned. The rarer they were, the more likely someone would remember Rathman. It was possible that the old man hadn’t cheated anyone on his last visit, but that would make this a rare visit indeed. At least three lawmen were watching out for the wagon because ill townsfolk had taken one or more of Rathman’s potions and either fallen deeper into their illness, or died outright – poisoned.
Whatever the situation, Rathman didn’t hesitate. He aimed the wagon dead-center down the main road of the town, bumping through potholes and jarring Donovan’s teeth with each jouncing yard they progressed. The wagon creaked and moaned, but it held together. It always managed to hold together. Like Rathman, it seemed there was no force on the road or in the desert that could put the final nail in its coffin.
“You ready, boy” Rathman grated, turning so that his unshaven face, wild dark hair and red-veined eyes glared back into the shadows. There was no way he could see into the interior, but he still managed to stare directly into the particular shadows where Donovan rested.
“Yes sir,” Donovan said.
Rathman stared a moment longer, then nodded. He turned back to the reins, steered around a corner a bit too quickly, nearly tilting the wagon up on two wheels, and a moment later they came to a halt. Donovan rose, stepping up to the front of the wagon and peering out around the edge.
It was an alley between what looked to be a stable, and a taller wooden building that might have been a saloon or hotel. Rathman dropped the reins, stood, and stretched, pressing his knuckles tightly into the lower half of his back. He’d been sitting in the same position for nearly thirty miles, and Donovan knew it would take more than an hour for the stoop to leave him.
“I’m goin’ to see about getting the horses taken in,” he said. “You get this wagon ready – hear? We’ll be settin’ up in the morning, and there’s no time for delays.”
Rathman seemed to drop almost into a trance then, as if listening to a voice Donovan couldn’t hear. Then he turned back.
“Put out the books, and the rheumatism tinctures. Arrange some of the other cures behind. Then get this place presentable and set up my table. I believe the spirits might just speak to me here. There’s something in the air.”
Donovan thought that all there was in the air was dust. He thought, very briefly, of his father, sickly and barely able to carry himself to work in a mine so dark and deep it swallowed men whole. He thought of his mother, though he could barely remember her face. He thought of the tiny room that had been his, the bed that had grown too short to contain his long, lanky legs, and he sighed. At that moment, he’d have traded half his life to be back there, caring for his father – assuming the old man hadn’t passed on – and getting ready to take his own turn in the mines.
“Apprentice,” was the title he’d been granted so long ago. “Assistant to a man of books and medicine. A learned scholar with the ear of the spirits and the mind of a professor. What it had boiled down to was the life of an indentured manservant. He’d learned to read, but only by his own dogged effort, and stolen moments with Rathman’s precious books. When he proved he could earn a dime or two by reading from the old tales to those who passed by, the good “doctor” had taken an interest and taught what he could between drunken binges and fits of curse-spewing malevolence. He was obviously torn between the fear of teaching too much and having Donovan run off on his own, and the greedy desire for his apprentice to be able to shoulder a share of the burden of making their living. It was also true that no listener had ever asked for their money back, or threatened to run Donovan out of town on a rail, and likely Rathman held that against him too.
We recently moved most of the Crossroad Press audiobook operation onto the Audible ACX system. This is a very cool interface that allows rights holders, narrators, and producers, and authors to collaborate on audiobook projects. It is easy to sign in and be a part of things, but it is also easy to take that ease for granted. Here’s rule #1. No matter which role you sign in to fulfill, you still have to know what you’re doing. Not all books are eligible for ACX. Not just any old Skype microphone plugged into your laptop with a USB cord is going to make you a narrator. There are other considerations…but I’m going to bulletize most of them, and then give a couple of reasons why having your book done through a company like Crossroad Press – even on ACX – might still be a better option than going it alone.
1. Narration is an art. It requires an ability to act. It isn’t the same thing as a live reading at a convention, and it isn’t the same thing as a radio broadcast or a podcast. It has to be learned, and if you go in with the arrogant notion you can just “do it” you probably won’t get many jobs. As a rights holder and publisher you have to be familiar enough with audiobooks to tell the difference, and to choose a voice that will benefit your project.
2. Sound quality is very important. Your book will be competing for sales with professional studios in the market place. If someone spends a membership credit on Audible, or plops down the money to buy your book, and it’s full of background noise, computer fans, humm, or barkind dogs they aren’t coming back, and you’ll end up with some bad reviews.
3. Presentation matters. Cover art, the intro and outro to the book, and the marketing copy are important pieces of the whole project, and should not be ignored.
4. Note to narrators. The audition script isn’t optional. If you run through ACX and drop your professional demo tape in on a thousand jobs, my guess is you’ll get zero. Take the time to scope out projects that are right for you. Study the script provided and submit an audition that is appropriate and that demonstrates how you are right for “that” book.
Specific to ACX is the royalty share option. I’ve seen sides being drawn on this issue recently. Here’s the thing…while it takes a good bit of time to narrate and edit the audio for a book…as an author I can tell you it takes a good deal of time and work to write the book, and some to publish it as well. Authors and publishers have always had to wait for sales and made their money from royalties. In the new publishing paradigm, I can see this shift happening for voice talent as well. Over time, as you develop a body of work, you begin to receive royalties on all of them each pay period, and it develops into a revenue stream. If you are paid up front, it’s also a gamble. Say you do a project for $150-$200 a finished hour, and you sit back to watch the book sell ten thousand copies. A royalty share contract would include you in that success…and honestly, it seems to me it would give you the incentive to do an even better job on the book. On the other hand, if the book is by an unknown author, the up-front payment might be the way to go. It’s always a gamble, but at least in a royalty share it’s a shared gamble.
My last point here, before I link to a few of our ACX titles, is that there is still value in having someone like Crossroad Press handle your book. For one thing, we work with our own established sound engineer. This adds a level of quality control most authors and agents just aren’t qualified to add on their own, unless they happen to be sound engineers on the side. We provide good quality cover art. We have an established market, growing every day, that draws people to our new titles. These are important, but here’s a kicker.
There are two awards important to audiobooks. The Audie, which is issued by the APA … and the golden earphone, which you get through reviews in Audiofile Magazine. WE have an established arrangement to get our titles into the review process at Audiofile. We are members of the APA. The only way to nominate a work for the Audie is to pay the APA for each nomination, and even as a member we pay $100 a title for those that are included. This can be very important step in getting people to listen to your book.
None of this is to say that you can’t sign onto ACX and make your own book…you can, of course, and if you are careful, pay attention, and listen to advice, you can probably make a quality book. On the other hand, if you’re a writer, you can get someone like Crossroad Press to handle it, and get on with writing, because the biggest problem form writers in this new digitized world is that most of the advice tells you to do everything yourself. It can really cut into your writing time if you aren’t a full-time, stay at home writer, and even then it calls for several unique skill-sets Publishers aren’t dead…they just have to change. Crossroad Press has been dedicated from day one to giving most of the money to the people who create the stories. Being an author, that’s important to me.
If you’d like to check out what we’ve been doing through ACX…you can find all of our ACX titles here:
Here are links to a few of our titles: Just click the images.
It’s been a really long time since I posted here. I know this, because this blog posts on to my Amazon author’s page, and they sent me a note saying if I didn’t start updating soon they would deactivate it. This is what happens when you diversify and spread out too far. This has always been my personal bully-pulpit, and also the place I focused on updates to my own writing. It will be that again.
Currently I’m novelizing KILLER GREEN – the first ever screenplay conceived on Twitter, posted as blog-posts, starring Twitter celebrities (and others) and then optioned right back there on Twitter. It’s not produced yet, of course, but we all know how those things go. It’s still “in the works,” and I’m ever hopeful.
In the tradition of this particular story, if you want to read along as I write it, I set up a blog. The chapter posts are private, but all you have to do to read along is register and login. I have fifteen chapters posted so far, and I’m well into the next one, so get on over and catch up at the KILLER GREEN READ-ALONG BLOG.
My novel MAELSTROM is due soon for Kindle and other eReaders. I have also recovered the trade paperback rights to this title, so it will be coming out from Crossroad Press in the next year. This, of course, will join the so far unspectacular sales of other trade paperbacks we’ve done…there was a lot of grumbling about books coming out digitally that you couldn’t buy in print. I set up the print line and priced it about five dollars cheaper than anyone else doing it…and no one is ordering. Not a great argument for the hardcopies, but we persevere. So far from Crossroad Press you can get a number of books in print, including original novels from Aaron Rosenberg, Chet Williamson, myself and Steven Savile, as well as an original collection by Jo Graham. If you buy these books straight from the Crossroad Press store, you will receive the eBook for free with your purchase. Many are also available in audio (with more to come)
All of this, of course, is available through CROSSROAD PRESS and also on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
More specific updates to come, and I’ll be fleshing out the books pages.
BAD MOON BOOKS is about to release my novel MAELSTROM in trade paperback, and a very limited hardcover edition. The hardcover will be printed only in the quantities ordered during the reservation period. A few of those who pre-order the HC limited will win copies of a a hand-bound story set in Lavender, California, where the action in the novel takes place. It is POSSIBLE that those people will have their names included in the story as well. It is PROBABLE that no more than five or six copies will ever exist…anything is possible. Details will be released as I have them, but for now … Go pre-order the book!
Cover art by the talented Alex McVey
Something in Lavender, California is waking up. Rituals not properly completed for centuries are coming together. Nothing is what it seems.
When Nick Leatherman, his girlfriend Ruthie, and their buddies Flash and Weasel invade Shady Grove Cemetery for a “ghost hunt” on their way home from a concert, they are drawn into a web of darkness and intrigue that threatens to consume them. Nick and Ruthie witness a gruesome murder, and Nick’s pocketknife shows up at the crime scene the next morning. Nick has had problems in the past, and Inspector Kendall Straker remembers. He remembers Ned Leatherman, Nick’s alcoholic step-father as well, and he doesn’t believe the boy is a killer. The problem is that the knife – emblazoned with the name of the band Maelstrom – is the only clue he has.
Horace Goldbough is the local pastor. He’s built a huge following and a beautiful church, but there are things about the good reverend that the town doesn’t know. In particular there is his relationship with a dark woman named Beauchane, and a certain book he keeps hidden from the world.
With local reporters, and a television talk-show host hounding his every step, Straker attempts to unravel the series of grisly killings terrorizing Lavender, while simultaneously protecting Nick. Nick, in the meantime, has begun his own investigation, feeling trapped and needing to clear his name.
Ritual words are being spoken, and a power that has been denied access to the Earth for centuries is poised to strike. The clock is ticking. Can Straker, Nick, and Maelstrom find the answer to the killings and put an end to them before the final ritual takes place, or will a horror be unleashed on the unsuspecting town of Lavender beyond their comprehension?
The novel Deep Blue finds its origin in the novelette by the same name published in an anthology titled Strange Attraction. In Strange Attraction, all the stories were inspired by the “Kinetic” Art of Lisa Snelling, each author choosing one of the characters on an intricately detailed Ferris wheel sculpture. I was honored to be among authors such as Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe in presenting our separate visions of what lay buried behind her art. From the images presented, I chose a harlequin, hanging by a noose from the bottom of one of the Ferris wheels seats. I took the image, made it the wallpaper on my computer, printed it out and carried it around with me, and let it sink in. I could have written any number of stories that would have sufficed, but somehow I knew there would be more to this work, and so I waited.
The publishers of the anthology, Vince and Leslie Harper, invited me to have dinner with them one night when my mundane job took me to Washington DC. We met for Mexican food and went together to see the movie PI which, at the time, was newly released. On the way to meet the Harpers, I walked down into a shadowed subway, and I was assaulted by some of the most haunting saxophone music I’ve ever heard. It bordered the blues, walked down old jazz roads, and I never saw the musician. That set the mood for what was to come.
I reached the restaurant without further incident, and we spent a pleasant hour scalding mouths and stomachs with jalapenos and washing them down with beer. Then came the movie. I won’t go into detail about PI, but I’ll say it’s a black and white film, very surreal, filled with symbolism, and it left me visually and emotionally stunned. I parted company with Vince and his wife, found my way back to the subway and my hotel, and called it a night.
The next day, a friend of mine and I set out to visit The Holocaust Museum. I have always wanted to see it, but I was not prepared for the intensity of the images, the displays, and the words I would find in that short hour visit. I purchased a book of poetry written by the victims, and left with so much bottled up inside from those two days that I thought it would be the end of my sanity.
That night, I started to write. I started to write about The Blues, and how deep they might really get. I wrote about pain, not my pain, but the pain bottled up inside the world, as the pain had been bottled up inside me, and I wrote a way out. That was Brandt, his guitar, and his blues. The story, like the pain, refused to be bottled up in just the few lines of that novelette, and so I released it into the novel you now hold.
Everyone comes to their crossroads eventually – the defining moment of life. As Old Wally, one of the novel’s main characters tells us – “Crossroads, or the crosshairs.” Forward or back, but you can’t stay stagnant – that way lies madness. I give you . . . Deep Blue.
We have been slowly and tentatively making our way into the world of print books at Crossroad Press. I like a physical, page turning book as much as anyone, and though we are careful folks who want our business around for the long haul, we want to put some of those page-turning books into people’s hands at a reasonable price. Here’s what we have so far
Not going to put descriptions here…click the links!
We have tons more on the way…including this last…a preorder for our very first hardcover novel – HALLOWED GROUND – by myself and Steven Savile. You can preorder this also wat http://store.crossroadpress.com – there are several options including signed, international, and others…get your copy reserved now.
Wanted to take a few minutes to work out in writing something that has bugged me about our society for a long time. The subject? The notion that every single thing in life has to have a new version, new features, constant updates, and flashy bling. We’ve worked ourselves into a hole by letting advertising and marketing rule our lives to far too great an extent.
Take a look sometime at the soap and shampoo aisles in the grocery store. Tell me that it is BETTER now that there’s no such thing – for instance – as just shampoo or conditioner. Even the simple, more generic brands come in fifty shades of bleah. It’s shampoo people. Phones…how many features do they need? Shoes, shaving cream, bread (really, we have to break it down by grain, and how many calories are in each unhealthy slice?)
Here’s what happened, I think. We had a simple industrial society, making good things, and then, making them better. Then we started hiring advertisers and spending unholy amounts of money on campaigns to sell. We found ourselves in direct competition with the guy across the street with one more feature than we had, or a flavor we didn’t think of, or a burger bigger than ours…and we dumped MORE money into marketing and advertising, less into actually caring about whether we had the better product, and the war was on.
Here’s a clue for everyone out there. If your insurance agency spends more money on commercials than ANY OTHER INSURANCE AGENCY … they are NOT going to be cheaper. If your car is the most advertised model in the universe, it doesn’t mean it’s better, it means it’s overpriced to pay for all of that advertising.
Another clue…every show on TV is not MUST SEE, and regardless of what they tell you, the critics don’t love it before it’s even aired – at least not to the point they are ready to proclaim it the next best thing and mean it. They are paid.
We are a country filled to the brim with ingenuity, but most of it is buried in the idea that we have to compete with the advertising budget of the Joneses to sell..I hope that’s not true.
This phenomenon branches out into other areas too. Look at TV shows that jump the shark. If every year when sweeps comes around your heroes have to save the universe, or the big bad has to be bigger and badder, you are on a collision course with either becoming ludicrous and hated, or ending your show. If you have a formula that works, and is loved, don’t botch it up by trying to be the most popular thing for one week. The X-Files was famous for this, as was Buffy – hell, they even said on Buffy one time (I believe it was Spike) “Where are you going?” “To save the world….AGAIN!”
Time to take a glance inward I think. I’d trim off some of those desperate marketing and advertising dollars, staffs, and campaigns and shoot for being the better product. In the long run, it works. Change is not always good…if you don’t believe that, think back to “New Coke”. People want what they like, not what you think you can convince them to like…and if you have something they like, don’t stop making it in the hope of a big “score” because big scores are always buried in the overall steady “win” of quality. Always.
To my best Father’s Day presents:
I wanted to take just a few moments to thank the five people who have made Father’s Day such a joy for me. I know I’m not a perfect father…but I try my best. I love my kids, and I love the woman I share my life with…some thoughts.
Thanks Bill. You’re the one who looked up to me, even when it seemed like you weren’t. You’re the one that followed my love of computers, learned to do web sites, and now, you’re following my footsteps into the US Navy. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, but I’ve always known I can count on you, and I hope you know, the same will always be true for you. Love you buddy, and you’ve made us proud.
Thanks Stephanie. You were my first daughter…and though I missed some of your life, I shared a lot of it. The first time we met, and I had to leave, I’ll never forget that you cried … and how it felt to know you cared. You’ve grown into a lovely young woman, talented, artistic, and always positive. You’re the smile in the family when – at times – everything else frowns. I’m proud to be part of your life.
Thanks Zach. You’re the one who has most shared my love of reading, and of places and things not real, but that seem better. You’ve grown up honest, and kind, and even though a big chunk of the years we should have shared got stolen, I’ll never forget the first half hour of your life, when I held you in the hospital and the stupid nurses forgot I had you. You’re doing great in school and looking to the future, and I couldn’t be prouder of you. Looking for you to turn the world of Physics on its ear…or at least to write the next great epic fantasy.
Thanks Zane. If Stephanie is the smile in the family, you’re the laugh. Like with Zach, a huge piece of the time that we should have shared got messed up. Through all of that, you remained a good kid, and grew into a talented artist, photographer, and guitar player. You and Bill shared that love with me too – the music. There are great things ahead of you, and I’m glad I still have some time to be part of it. You know I’m there when you need me…always will be.
Katie…we are all blessed to have you. Smart, pretty, and so loving – you’re the one that loves everyone here unconditionally…the one that is happiest when you are with your brothers, your sisters, your mom, and with me. You are like the knot that ties us all together, and you have an AMAZING group of brothers and sisters to look out for you through your life.
All of you…there isn’t anything I’ve done in my life more important than helping offer you guys up to the world. It’s what I’m proudest of – it’s what I hope I’ll be remembered for – it’s the thing that keeps me going. Your mom and I spend more time than you could imagine thinking about you, worrying over you, wishing and working for your futures.
Thanks for making this –and every Father’s Day – magic for me.
I love you all,
For those following the Palin historical fiasco over Paul Revere’s ride, just a quick note. Paul Revere rode off got distracted, and was captured by the British … but he got all the credit… another guy, William Dawes, ALSO rode out yelling “The British are Coming” with a much different outcome…he actually completed the job. Such is the fickle finger of history. I was rustling about some old parchments and suddenly – I felt the presence of Benjamin Franklin…I grabbed my ball-point quill and began to scribble…
There once was a fellow named Dawes,
Who rode off on his horse for a cause.
But a guy named Revere
Hollered HEY! OVER HERE!
And made off with the fame and applause
BF (poorly channled by DNW)
This story exists because of and – thus – is dedicated to … in no particular order – Brian Keene, Justine Musk, Rain Graves, Mari Adkins, Bailey Hunter and the rest of the Twitter Crowd who believe in rainbows and unicorns…and Zombies. Enough said.
VANACE AND THE CURLY STICK
by David Niall Wilson
The sun was high in the sky, filtering down through the leaves to send light dancing over the leaves and dirt of the forest floor. Vanace paid little attention to this, as he was busy keeping himself upright, having just awakened from far too little sleep and far too much wine the night before. He had at least another mile to go before he’d reach his bed, and even the large, spiral-shafted walking stick he’d found along the way was failing to right his balance for more than a couple of steps.
It was an odd piece, and on any other day, he’d have stopped to examine it at length. The tip was very sharp – so sharp, in fact, that it seemed as if it should break each time it struck the ground. It did not. It buried itself a few inches, even when he accidently stuck it into the root of a tree, and it pulled free effortlessly. In a forest prone to magic, this should have set off warning bells, but on this particular morning all warning bells would have done was make Vanace’s head hurt, so it was as well there was relative silence.
There had been other signs. The clearing where he’d found the thing had been darker even than the lightless forest. No moonlight had penetrated there. He thought he remembered that there was a stone buried in the center of that clearing – a headstone? Who could remember such things? He’d nearly impaled himself on the walking stick in the dim half-light of morning. Only dumb luck had brought his boot against the thing’s base and broken it free of the earth before he staggered onto it.
There was a rustle in the trees behind him, but at first Vanace was unaware of it. There were others in the woods, there were always others in the woods. Most of them were harmless, and almost all of them knew better than to get within spewing range of a drunk.
The sound behind him grew louder, and he was very suddenly engulfed in a cloud of horrifying stench.
“By the Gods,” he muttered. “What in the five blazing blue levels of hell is THAT?”
Vanace plunged the tip of the walking stick into the loamy earth and used it to pivot back the way he’d come, leaning heavily on it for balance. He peered into the shadows and squinted. He was not sure whether he should hold his nose or keep both hands on the walking stick, and he was nearly certain that if the smell of whatever was following him continued, he’d be leaving a large quantity of used wine in the forest.
“Who’s there?” he said.
There was no answer, but a pair of flickering blue eyes watched him balefully from deep within a small copse of trees. He leaned closer, but this served only to cost him in his balance. Only an incredibly lucky half-spin around the walking stick, and dropping to one knee, saved him from falling face first.
The thing in the shadows stomped the earth. Hard. Leaves and dust flew, and at the back of his addled mind, Vanace felt the first stirrings of sobriety…and fear.
“I said, who is it?” he repeated, filling his voice with bluster he didn’t feel. “I haven’t got time for games, and – by the blue fairy herself – you need a dunk in the river. You’ll attract buzzards smelling like that.”
He regretted these last words as soon as he spoke them. Whoever, or whatever, was there was not particularly friendly, and he was in an uncharacteristically bad condition for fighting, or running. Possibly better to make nice and hope it would go on its way.
Branches parted, and something large pressed out into the open clearing. At first he thought it was a large, black horse. Then, as the shoulders came into view, and he caught the drooping, rotting flesh dangling from the left side of its jaw, Vanace found his feet and staggered back.
The dead thing still reminded him of a large black horse, though something was – wrong. Ribs stuck out through ruined flesh on the sides of its chest. Though the blue light flickered in its eyes, the sockets around that light were empty pits. What might once have been a glorious mane hung in ugly patches. The thing stood on legs more bone than flesh, decayed sinew and muscle hanging in strips. Insects buzzed around it.
“Stay back,” Vanace said. He pulled the stick free of the ground and pointed the sharp end at the creature now stalking him, stepping back and trying to plant himself solidly. He cursed inwardly as his legs refused to accept his order to balance properly.
And then he saw it. Dead center in the thing’s forehead was a notch of bone. It protruded from the skull like a gnarled root, or a chipped fence post. Something was missing. In his hand, the long, spiraled stick suddenly felt oily – and wrong. It grew hot to the touch, and he noticed for the first time how old it was, and how odd. The thing stopped as he pointed the stick at it. It pawed the earth and pulled it’s ruined lips back to reveal startlingly intact teeth.
The horn was magnificent, but Vanace had no chance to admire it. As the thing grew closer, he found it increasingly difficult to keep his grip. Without really knowing how he knew, he was certain that if he let go, it would be the last thing he ever did. He gripped the horn with both hands and held it before him, keeping it aimed at the thing’s head.
“I didn’t know!” he cried. “How in blazes could I know? It was just sticking out of the ground…”
If the unicorn heard, or understood him, it gave no indication. It snorted, and foul air rushed from its nostrils, shooting the shells of long-dead bugs into a cloud of debris. It stomped its foot again, and Vanace felt sweat drip down the back of his tunic and trickle down his spine.
He took a step back, and the beast followed. As it moved, shivering its flanks, debris and insects poured out holes in its hide. The closer it drew to the horn, and to Vanace himself, the brighter the blue flames in its eyes blazed.
Vanace knew he should try to run. It might catch him, but then, it might not. It’s body was falling apart. Something in the blue light drew him. Instead of breaking for home, or trying to lead it into the sunlight, he took a step closer, and then another. The horn had grown heavy, like a broadsword, and it was getting more and more difficult to keep his grip. Struggling with every ounce of his strength, he fought the compulsion urging him forward.
It was futile. The closer he came to the thing, the heavier and hotter the horn grew. The tip dipped, lowered, and as he came within a foot of the putrid, decayed thing’s face, it dropped the last foot and drove into the earth. Vanace pressed the base of it forward, angling it toward the unicorn’s corpse. It bowed its head, and, just as it seemed the horn would topple over and drop to the earth, the thing rammed its head into the horn. The base fused with the broken knot on its head. The two did not come together cleanly. It was skewed, pointing off at a broken angle, though solidly planted.
And in that instant, Vanace’s muscles were his own. He turned, waved his arms wildly to keep from falling, and staggered toward the edge of the clearing. The unicorn blew another cloud of insect parts and dust and let loose a rattling, hissing sound that might have been the ghost of a scream. Vanace reached the trees, just as the point of the horn pierced the flesh of his back and drove forward through his heart. Still he tried to run, but though his feet found purchase, and his legs churned, the unicorn paced him, driving it’s horn deeper, and deeper, until at last, spent and broken, he felt the bit of those dead, bony teeth rip into his skin. He tried to scream, but only a gurgle of blood and day-old wine rolled from his lips.
~ * ~
Katrina ran through the forest, searching for Vanace and muttering under her breath. He’d been out late again, and she’d known he would not make it home, but now most of the day had passed, and she was worried. He’d never stayed gone so long. She followed the track of the stream, a shortcut to the tavern he frequented. About halfway to her goal, she stopped still as stone.
In a clearing, across the stream, a unicorn stood, tall and handsome, black coat gleaming in the sun. Its horn was long and spiraled, and oddly it shot out at an angle from the creature’s brow, rather than sitting straight. It turned and started at her, and though the beauty of its visage drover her half mad with unfettered desire, she was unable to choke back a rising scream.
Dangling from that horn was a bit of cloth she knew very well. It was the tunic she’d sewn patches onto only three days before. It belonged to Vanace, and now, as the unicorn crossed the stream slowly, holding her with its gaze, she saw that it held something eles.
The thing watched her with her husband’s eyes…and it was hungry…