A Little Birchthorn This Morning?
And now with my mornings back in my undistracted hands I have been writing a lot more. I got 3,000 words in today and will be posting a new chapter on the projects blog for the backers to read and comment on. Expect it up after lunch when I conclude this chapter. But what about the folks who can't read it because they missed the Kickstarter and just want a taste of the story? Well, here you go! I thought you guys would appreciate a little excerpt from the story, which takes place in Cambridge, NY in 1919. All you need to know is the locals have been experiencing very, very, odd and violent activity in their little farm town and all of it seems to have some association with a folk song they learned as children. The song is called the Ballad of Birchthorn, about a monster that is never really described in appearance but is infamous in local legend. Whispers say it has ravaged the area every couple hundred years, before even the Iroquois called the Battenkill Valley Home.
So grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy a slightly creepy glimpse into the goings on of my historical fiction. Oh, and just because it is fun to mention - one of the Kickstarter's perks was that at certain pledge points you could BE in the story. One of the "victim" pledges was an old friend from High school who supported the story at the level to be in it. I still have to kill off two others later in the chapter, which is resolved a few hours after this event.
The section below is not edited. Sorry. I'm a writer not an editor, but bear with me.
P.S. If you were one of the BIG supporters and are going to be a main character in the story with Anna, Roslyn, Lara and Meredith - please email me to discuss your roll! Jenna@itsafarwalk.com
P.P.S. You missed the Kickstarter and want to read along with it? Well you can, but it's too late to get a copy of the physical book or any of the pledge perks, but you are welcome to purchase access to the site and read the chapters as they are being written, if you'd so desire.
It had snowed gently the night before and the gaslights downtown were still burning, but dimly. He had been raised to love this time of day and see it as something special and secret, not a burden. He felt this time was his, earned through good work and special. He looked out into the train depot. This early in the winter there were often animals using the plowed roads for easy movement from the river to the forest. He was used to seeing small herds of deer silently striding down Main Street and had once even watched a mother bear and her cubs amble right past the Bakery’s windows. Foxes had always made town a home and it was common to see them trot by with a rat or mouse in their proud maw. Less admirable were the raccoons that knocked over the bin behind the bakery looking for any bread the pig farmers didn't pick up for their sounders. But life was everywhere, and this time of morning it seemed to be a club only Mr. Schwartz and the animals shared.
Josh very much enjoyed watching his usually busy town like this, all sleepy and feral. This winter he liked watching the family of deer that had taken to nesting in the lee of the train depot at night. The buildings around it made three solid wind blocks and with the few large shade trees and snow, it was very much a small forest outcrop right here in town. The deer would stir for their day just when he was. They would rise and shake off a back blanket of snow and then get to work pawing for grass or taking a bite of bark off the trees. Then the family would walk away long before sunrise. Before the paper delivery boys had even began.
Josh looked out the window and saw the deer he had grown so familiar with, all laying in the depot with their heads up and alert, watching the Bakery’s windows. He smiled to see them, knowing how they always did this as the first light and noises came from the first human up and about. It was their signal to start foraging and heading out of town. But right now they just remained transfixed on the baker, and watched as he set out a large batch of dough for kneading on the heavy table. He would roll up his sleeves and set into that happy work as soon as he started the fire that would need to be roaring before the first loaves were set into the giant wall oven. It was a routine that had become nearly sacred, and he was as focused on it as the small herd outside was focused on his shop.
Once lit and going strong, the fire in the oven filled his shop with light. He turned back to the bread and prepared for the work. This was done on a large wooden table that faced the windows and let him watch the town wake up as he set into the several dozen loaves he would produce that day. He looked back at the deer, expecting to see them up and about and starting their journey back to wilder places but they remained as he last saw them. He counted five, all without antlers, watching the Bakery as the snow gently fell about them. He thought that was a little odd, but got back to work. He knew he sometimes avoiding rising in the morning if his back hurt or felt under the weather. He mentally shrugged it off and set the first loaves aside to rise, cutting some slits in their crust with a sharp knife.
As he worked, mindlessly attending to the business, he kept looking out the window at the herd. They just stared back. They didn’t flinch. They didn’t shake the snow that was collecting on their heads and noses. They just stared. They reminded him of the photographs he had seen of Mr. Bishops trip to Egypt. In that country there were giant statues of animals laying down with their heads up and watchful. Most had human heads, but they still laid down with such attentions he couldn’t shake the comparison. It made the deer’s lack of movement even more mysterious.
He stared at them. Stared for what felt like a quarter hour. The snow started to fall heavier and swirl around the dark figures watching him. A wicked gust battered the windows and the fire behind him had such a draft it made him spin around to make sure it didn't aggravate the chimney, which was overdue for cleaning. The gust left as quickly as it came and when he turned back to his table and the windows he saw that the deer had seemed to come closer to the shop? Yes. They had. They were all still in the same position, the same formation of distance between each other, but they were definitely closer. At least ten yards closer and the foremost one only a few feet from the town sidewalk. The snow was still on their noses and heads. The swirl was still around them.
Now Joshua was getting worried. The barest hint of daylight was coming on now. The dark town was turning the slightest shades of a gray and blue dawn. The sky was overcast so it was subtle, but the slivers of light let him see the animals closer. He could not see them moving at all. No breath escaped their flared noses. No blinking interrupted their watch. He started to shift his weight and felt the need to be somehow protected, even though a larger part of himself mocked his fearfulness. They were does, docile creatures. Weren’t they? Even so, he looked around the table for a weapon and found the large knife he used to cut the vent slits into the loaves. Feeling foolish but certainly better, he looked back outside to the herd.
They were in the road. Another ten yards closer and laying down as if picked up and placed like wooden toys in a child’ menagerie. He let out a shout, and dropped the knife. The deer stared the same stare. Josh was now scared to look away at all. Without averting his gaze he slowly leaned down to pick up the knife. The deer did not move. He could see their dark eyes now. The closest one’s eyes were staring to collect snow as well. He could not reach the knife without letting his body bend below the line of the table and it would take the does out of his sight for a second. He let out prayer and grabbed it, bending and standing back up as quickly as possible.
The deer were at his window. Five heads within thirty feet of his door and the closest’s nose nearly touching the glass. All that could be seen was the head, they were all still laying down. Joshua backed up slowly, felt his skin break out into a cold sweat, clutched the knife so tight his knuckles turned white. The snow outside was reaching whiteout conditions and a blast of a draft sent the fire in an explosion of heat so intense he felt his back sting through the wool sweater, but he could not stop looking into those unblinking glass eyes. Soon the snow was so heavy he couldn't see any of the deer well but the one closest to the window, the rest just odd shapes, un moving but he could feel their stares as well. In the periphery, even has he locked his eyes, tearing from a fear of blinking, on that closest doe he could see a large black shape move unnaturally fast behind the possessed animals at his doorstep. Through the haze of water and wind in his eyes all he could sense was danger from it, barely noticing the bear-sized shape that didn’t even touch the ground - coming in and out of sight in the place where the deer had original been. The place where Joshua had felt safe.
Unable to take it any longer, his body betrayed him and his eyes forced themselves shut as the storm blasted and rattled around him. He refused to open them, curling onto the floor in terror as he heard scratching on the glass like an animal trying to get in. He screamed. He screamed in ways he didn’t realize a grown man could scream. A pounding on the door made him curl into a ball on the floor, dropping his knife and praying out loud. He thought he was saying the Lords prayer, was certain of this in his heart, but all that his sister could hear upstairs were the words of a song she knew from her childhood. A song about a monster in the forest, and the happy voice of her brother gently singing the lyrics as he went about the morning work of preparing loaves of bread for a wanting town.