Author Topic: The Untamed Court, Chapter One  (Read 1432 times)

Offline Alex44k

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The Untamed Court, Chapter One
« on: June 15, 2008, 08:19:59 PM »
This is a piece I wrote in January.   It's short, about 22,000 words long, so its more of a novella than a novel.  Genre is fantasy/urban fantasy/dark fantasy; it's like a combination of Princess Bride and Stardust.

Comments are welcome but this is more finished than "Crossing Over" which I've posted in the review section.


The Untamed Court

Chapter One

          I grimaced at the touch of stringy cobwebs on my fingers. Brushing off the strands I thumbed through my mother’s favorite records - big band, swing.  For a moment I forgot about the past weeks as I looked at them, remembering the last time I saw my mother and father together.  I set the records down, blinking.  When the tears cleared I noticed a small wooden box resting on the floor next to the wall. It was shaped like the old lunch boxes but made from wood.  Frowning, I picked it up and turned it over in my hands. The wood was rough, the box much heavier than I thought it should be.  I ran my fingers along the top, filling the veins in the wood.  It was not like any I had seen before.  I couldn’t place it.  Mahogany?  There was a small latch on the side.  I paused momentarily before lifting it.  The lid flipped open.  Dust flew everywhere and I dropped the box, hearing it fall to the floor as I wiped stinging mites from my eyes.  After a few moments, my eyes stopped watering and I looked down for the box.  It was lying on its side, open.  Scattered about the floor of the attic were letters.  A small bundle was wrapped together with a rubber band, but the rest were loose on the floor.  I knelt down to gather them up.
   My fingers paused over the first of the letters when I saw my father’s name in my mother’s handwriting on one of the envelopes.  The address was this house but the postmark was French.  From Paris.  My first thought was that these were love letters.   Feeling a bit strange handling such private thoughts, I gathered up them.   Standing up I stumbled from a cramp in my leg, and dropped some of the letters.  Muttering I bent down again to pick them up.  I pulled my hand away quickly when a large black spider ran across the floor and went behind a cardboard box leaning against the wall.  Breathing hard I was about to turn away when I noticed another letter sticking out from under the box.  Taking a deep breath and on alert for the spider, I put the letters down and lifted the box, pulling out the loose one.  I stared at it, my heart pounding.  It was not a letter.  This was something else.  It was folded up, and thicker than any of the letters.  Slowly I spread it out on the floor.  It was a map.  Unlike any I had ever seen before.  It showed a city, but with numerous lines crisscrossing it and extending into the countryside.  The lines were of varying thickness and all came to a point near the center of the city   I stared at the map for several moments. The map was very detailed and painstakingly drawn.  It was labeled, but I could not understand the names.  The lines all crossed over what appeared to be a hill, and there were seven squares in a circle marked in an open area.  A line was drawn through each of the squares, with smaller ones entering the circle outside the squares.    The ink had a shine to it and glinted in the thin light coming through the attic window.  I touched the ink at the place where the lines came together in the middle of the open space.  My finger sparked and I quickly pulled it back, shaking it.  Carefully I folded the map back up and put it in my back pocket.  Gathering up the rest of the letters and the records I headed quickly downstairs.
   “Find everything?”  Pamela said as I came down the stairs.  She stood at the bottom of the stairs, and I immediately felt better at seeing her.
   “I found this,” I said, walking up to her and showing her the map.  She took it, turning it over in her small hands.
   “I’ve never seen anything like it.  Do you recognize the city?” 
“No.  But it could be in France.” 
“France?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, adjusting the records under my arm and handing her the letter with my mother’s name on it and showed her the stamp.
“The postmark’s from Paris. That’s where your parents met, isn’t it?” She said. 
“Yes,” I said.
   “Are you going to open them?”
   She was direct, my Pamela. 
   “I don’t know yet,” I said.  Pamela flinched. 
   “Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you,” I said. 
   “I know,” Pamela said.  She wrapped her arms around me.
I held her close, adjusting the records so that they didn’t poke either of us.  Then she kissed me lightly on the lips.  We parted.
   “Let’s go,” I said.  Picking up my jacket hanging on the door hook, I placed the letters in my pocket.  Pamela tucked her arm in mine and we left the house of my childhood behind forever.
   We got back to our apartment on the south side just as dusk was approaching. Stepping off the bus I was reminded how cold it was, and my nose itched with it.  The map weighed on my mind, and the letters. I couldn’t  shake the feeling that I was missing something important about the map – and that I should know what that was.
   “Are you all right?” Pamela asked as we stepped into the lobby on the first floor of our building. 
   “I…will be,” I said.     We climbed the stairs to the third floor and entered the apartment, Pamela tossing her keys on the counter.
   “I’ll get dinner started,” she said.  “Sit down and forget about those letters for a while.” 
   I stepped up to her and kissed her.  Her embrace was warm and I pushed away the beginnings of a headache.  “Go watch some TV,” she said.
   “Thanks.”  Putting my coat on the back of one of the kitchen chairs I stepped into the other room to find something mindless.  For a while it worked and I didn’t think of the letters again, and I started to forget about the map and the letters.

* * *

   When Pamela called me in for dinner, I felt better.. I told her as much.   
   “Then let’s open them after dinner,” she said.  I paused, the old sentiments threatening to creep back.  I didn’t let them. 
   “All right,” I said.  We didn’t talk much the rest of the meal.  I don’t really know why, we were talkative most of the time.  But also it didn’t seem to out of place.  I welcomed the silence tonight, and Pamela sensed that and let me have it.  I smiled to myself.  It was another reason she was my wife.  Her looks didn’t hurt either, I thought, staring at her.  Her brown hair was unkempt no matter how hard she tried to tame it. She was petite, and direct about pretty much everything.  It surprised people.  She noticed me watching her and smiled, her grin reflected in her gray eyes.
   “Finished?”  She asked, her tone playful.
   “Yes,” I said.  She took my plate and hers and put them in the sink.
   “We can save the dishes for later.”  She came up to me.  “Are you ready to open the letters?”
   “Yes. I am.” 
   “I’ll get them,” she said. “They’re in your coat pocket, right?”  I nodded.  She fished them out, and then stood by my side after placing them on the counter in front of me.   Pamela’s hand was on my leg as I sat in the chair looking as I reached for the first letter.  I felt Pamela squeeze my leg as I turned the letter over in my hands.  She handed me the letter opener.  With a deep breath I took it and carefully opened my mother’s letter. 
   Inside were three sheets of paper.  I gingerly pulled out the folded sheets.
   “It’s old,” Pamela said..  I nodded.  The paper was thick and crinkled as I handled it.  The corners were frayed and yellowed from age.  Slowly I unfolded the sheets and spread them on the table.  Pamela let out a gasp and I simply stared at the handwriting.  My eyelid started to twitch.   
   “I can’t understand this,” she said a moment later. 
   “Neither can I,” I said. The writing was something I’d never seen before.
   “It almost seems to glow,” said Pamela.  She leaned over me.   I looked again.  She was right.  Small flakes in the paper shimmered.  I turned the paper, trying it against the light in the room.  The flakes winked back at us as I did. 
   “It has to be something in the ink,” I said.  “That’s the only explanation.”
   I reached for an envelope.  I hadn’t noticed it earlier, in the attic. It was small but heavy and thick.    I took a deep breath. She leaned in and gave me a quick kiss. 
   “Open it,” she said. 
   I did, breaking the seal of the envelope.  I reached in and pulled out a small black booklet.  I opened it.  My throat tightened, my heart quivering.   On the first page there was the image of a black snake eating its own tale, in a figure eight.  Underneath it was my mother’s signature in dark, red ink.
   “Paul…” Pamela whispered.  “That looks like blood.”
   I snapped the book shut, breathing hard.  Pamela jumped.   
   “Let’s go to bed,” I said.   
   “Yes,” Pamela said.  I put the book and the letters out of my mind as we got ready for bed, not looking at them.  But just before getting into bed I thought I smelled something burning, like eggs burnt onto a pan after a restless night.
   Some point during the night I woke.  Pamela was still asleep next to me, her back toward me.  She had most of the blankets as usual.  My thin cover was enough especially on this warm night.  I felt the urge to use the bathroom and I stood, doing my best not to disturb Pamela.  She was a light sleeper. 
   This time I managed not to wake her and padded to the restroom.  I glanced at the letters on the countertop, trying not to think of them. I was unsuccessful and couldn’t shake the thought that Pamela was right.  I shivered.  My mother’s blood.  After I finished I stopped at the counter and picked up the black booklet. The apartment was dark except for the light coming in through the windows from other city buildings outside.  I could not hear Pamela from the other room.  Not knowing why, I picked up the strange passport.  I opened it, staring at my mother’s signature.  I reached out and touched the ink. 
   The chunk of the ice maker in the fridge caused me to jump, setting my heart off.  Reprimanding myself for getting jittery I put the booklet down on the counter and turned to go back to bed.
   Pamela’s alarm clock pulled us awake.  She hit the snooze twice before finally dragging herself out of bed.  She kissed me on the forehead and closed the door.  I heard the television softly through the door as she turned on the morning news.
   “What do you want me to do with the letters?”  She asked before leaving when I came out an hour later.  She was about to leave for work. 
   “Just leave them there,” I said, trying not to take out any negative emotions on her.  “I’ll deal with them later.”
   “All right,” she said.  “See you tonight.  Have a good day.  Don’t forget, they’re inspecting the apartment today.”   She kissed me and left.
   Before leaving for work I picked up a bit, gathering up the letters and put them in my desk drawer. I paused, holding the black booklet in my hand, fingering its cover.  It was irrational, I knew, there was no way the inspector would be rooting through my desk.   I put the booklet in my back pocket anyway and left for work.   
   I got back as night arrived.  The bus pulled to a stop and I checked the mail in the lobby before heading up.  Even though Pamela usually got it, she sometimes forgot.  It wasn’t there so she was home. 
   I was on our floor when I first noticed something was wrong.  There was a smoky odor in the air that held a hint of rotten meat.  Our apartment was at the end of the hall and as I moved forward I saw that the door was slightly ajar.  A floorboard creaked as I stepped on it, and I jumped.  My heart pounded.  Our door was always locked. 
Breaking into a run I burst into the room, throwing my weight against the door.  Fear coursed like hot metal through my veins at the scene before me.  Everything  was in shreds.  Papers were everywhere, books scattered and ruined on the floor.  The futon was ripped apart.  The TV had fallen and shattered. Glass was everywhere.  Even the door to the bedroom was ajar and as I stepped further in, I saw something that stopped all thought as an intense feeling of dread and horror filled my mind.  Blood was smeared on the door, a long diagonal gash that cut through my heart. 
   “Pamela!” I shouted, even though I knew it was in vein.  I shoved the broken door aside and stepped into the bedroom.  Empty.  The bed was in worse shape than the rest of the room.  The bookshelf had fallen across it.  My computer was smashed to pieces, my desk destroyed.  I knew without searching that the letters were gone.  Destroyed or stolen, I didn’t know.    A part of me wondered how all this had happened without anyone hearing.  Numbly I stepped out of the carnage that was my room.  Our room.  Going to the counter I pulled out my cell-phone.  As I did I noticed a piece of paper on the counter.  I picked it up, my mind strangely clear and my hands steady.
   The page was blank.  I was not surprised, for some reason, when I saw two words appear slowly on the blank sheet of paper, the second slower than the first.  My fingers tingled.
“John…Miller.”

I stared at my name.  The ink was red.  Like blood. 

Offline Wicked Redhead

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Re: The Untamed Court, Chapter One
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2008, 11:34:42 PM »
Lots of he said, she said. What about ...he replied. He snapped at her and she flinched. There is something about the way its told to. Like your telling it and we're not really reading about the characters. I dont know, but i did enjoy it otherwise.  :)
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Offline Wicked Redhead

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Re: The Untamed Court, Chapter One
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2008, 11:36:42 PM »
I forgot to add that the end of this post was really good. Has me wondering what will happen next!
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