And this will help me finish it. Because right now I'm in that stage where I want to tear my hair out and I'm worried that my climax isn't going to be climactic enough and I just need to give myself some motivation. Negative comments won't slow me down (I do not mean that as a challenge, people! We don't have to be mean!) and putting it up will make me feel obligated to complete and publish it. Why? I'm not really sure. Something about putting up an excerpt feels like a promise to publish it so that the people who like it can read the whole thing, I guess.
So here it is, in all its imperfect glory. In the story so far, we've learned that one young lady, Caitlin, is obsessed with the fear that she might be a giant. Another young lady, this young lady, has the Sight which she calls sixen. She just lost her job for being late for the umpteenth time. She saw a stranger in the park in need of help, and found out that stranger is an alfr, or elf, who they themselves prefer to be called gless.
And here we go:
Amaranth slowed way down as they got close to the Fox’s gravel driveway that came off the regular road. It pitched down the downhill side of the road at a scary angle that ran almost parallel to the road and steep enough to make a good sledding slope. They’d walked to the house from Amy’s a couple of times, but she’d never driven down there, and she’d never approached the house on her own. She checked her phone. Still no text back. Shit. Well, it was way before lunchtime, and Cait might not turn on her phone between classes. She wasn’t hooked on it like most people.
The gless just sat there, staring out the window. What if she died? At least the tears had stopped.
Maybe that was a bad sign.
“Shit.” Amaranth pulled into the driveway. It had just enough room for two sets of wheels. An uneven strip of grass grew in the middle, and blackberries mixed with grape vines grew in from the sides from up way high. The vines scratched and scraped her car as she drove down. On the uphill side it made sense that they’d be up high, but the downhill side of the driveway it was just as high. Maybe a fence was buried underneath or something.
The driveway widened out after about a hundred feet in front of a small barn, a huge shed, and off to the right, a light green two-story house with a weird soft orange and white trim. It was a really pretty place, old-fashioned, with all kinds of decoration around the roofline, and stained glass in places. The garden looked like a scary maze with hidden rooms and what she hoped were birds moving in the shadows, but it was beautiful at the same time. Peach roses grew through rampant blackberries and some thorny bushes with thorns over an inch long. There was a tree with baby rose-like flowers all over it next to a gate, vines with huge purple, white and bluish flowers crawling up statues and fences and trellises, and mirrors hidden in the bushes. Past the rose tree thing, a huge pink crystal rock on a stand in the middle of a tiny pond had water flowing onto it from a marble pitcher held up by a statue of some sort of goddess made of green stone. Normally her brain said big money when she saw stuff like this, but this time her brain thought big mysteries, scary, run away before the garden eats you. Luckily, there wasn’t much growing right next to the house. The plants there looked like they belonged to Heidi. They were all pretty and perfect and trimmed with bark dust all around.
The gless got out of the car. Amaranth was going to stay, but then she remembered that the gless wanted to protect her, so she got out and stayed close, but not too close as the gless walked, um, not toward the front door but farther into the garden.
“Hey, um, shouldn’t we ring the–shit.” She hurried to the front door and rang the doorbell. It made a weird three-ring chime instead of a normal noise.
The gless came back from whatever path she’d walked down and settled next to Amaranth.
“What’s your name?” Amaranth asked.
“Mist will do.”
She wondered if Fox had always been named Fox, or if Heidi named him. Did they have names where they came from? Maybe not. They had to, though, didn’t they? They couldn’t just always be like, hey you. No you. The other you. Yeah, you. Whatcha lookin’ at?
She started to smile, but the gless looked about dead on her feet. Amaranth rang the bell again.
Heidi finally showed up and opened the fancy door with its fancy stained glass, some sort of purple flower with white and blue. She took a long look at Mist before she took a quick look at Amaranth. “What’s going on?”
“I found her in the park next do the mill.” All at once Amaranth felt bad for bringing her here. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to do. She’s hurt.”
Heidi didn’t look very sympathetic. If anything she seemed even more nervous. “Fox.”
Heidi called his name like he was just in the next room, but the gless turned a bit and lowered her chin and Fox came out from the barn. He had a machete in one hand, and looked extra sexy in torn-up jeans, work gloves and bare feet. Amaranth had never seen him wear shoes. He looked like a guy, a really gorgeous guy, but he was extra-pale like the sun couldn’t tan him, and he had light green hair down to his waist. Years ago when she peeked at him with her sixen he had a green, fiery aura–so bright she could barely see him because of it.
Mist’s probably should have been just as bright.
He smiled his not-good smile and walked over all casual-like. Something in his stride made her hair prickle up and gave her serious goosebumps. “I know you.” He pointed the machete at Amaranth. “You go in the house with Heidi. You, I don’t know.” His smile brightened. “I’m a little surprised that one of your ilk would come here without invitation.”
“I invited her. I’m sorry,” Amaranth told him. “She was hurt, and I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Fox.” Heidi’s voice sounded weird. Firm, like she’d talk to a dog that was thinking about misbehaving, but warm, like she liked how he was acting. “My world, my rules.”
Mist said something in the gless language and Fox’s eyes narrowed. “In English. Their world, their rules.”
A tear slipped along Mist’s cheek, and that made Fox’s smile go away. “I promised my protection to her,” Mist whispered.
“Protection from what?”
Fox gave Amaranth a look that made her shiver inside her skin. “Get in the house.”
Amaranth didn’t dare move. It felt too much like if she moved, it would set one or both of them off. “Fox,” Heidi warned again, but she twitched her hand for Amaranth to go ahead and go. Amaranth felt something shift between Fox and Mist, and she took the few steps she needed to make it just inside the door.
Fox seemed to relax, but that only made him look more dangerous. He swung the machete in a small, casual loop like he wanted to loosen his wrist, or just play with it. He did it so smoothly, it was obvious he’d played and worked with the machete a lot. “Why would she need protection from the Queen?”
“You must not have been home–”
“I have no home, thanks to you.” Fox started to smile again, but this wasn’t a bright, happy smile. It was a Mona Lisa, just a hint, full of secrets. “You need to leave.”
“I think you misunderstand.” Mist hadn’t moved except for little breaths and she turned her head a little, or like now, lifted her chin just enough to look more proud than submissive, though she was obviously trying her best to act all low-man and not piss him off. “The Queen has betrayed my King and joined the … Rose.” Another tear trailed down, and her breath caught. She hissed and put her hands over her wound.
“Damask,” Fox said. When Mist didn’t say anything, he said, “not Rose. Damask.”
“Damask,” Mist whispered.
“Step back off the porch, very slowly.”
Amaranth didn’t want to see Mist chopped up right here in front of them. “Will you guys please explain what’s going on?”
Fox, who’d been all ‘I’m gonna machete this bitch with a smile on my face’ started to look a little less sure of himself. “I’m willing to hear you out. Give it. Mist.”
He spoke her name so mean–and Amaranth got it, that Mist was a stranger and dangerous and Amaranth didn’t know her, no one knew her–but Fox had stepped over the line somewhere from being the hero and into being an asshole toward a woman. That pushed all of Amaranth’s buttons. “Hey, she’s done nothing to me and she’s had plenty of chances. Give her a break.” When Fox whipped a look in her direction Amaranth’s bravery crawled deeper than the place she’d stuffed her sixen. She was about to apologize and run for cover when Heidi took over. Actually, in a way, it felt like she’d been in charge all along.
“Why don’t we all sit down and have some tea?” Heidi opened the door wider.
“You don’t trust me?” Fox turned off all that creepy-smile stuff when he looked at Heidi. His weird, gorgeous eyes had narrowed again, and his lips stayed parted and he ducked his head.
“I took you in. Remember?” Heidi held out her hand to him. After a childish, pouty, mean glance toward Mist that made Amaranth shiver, he stopped playing with his machete and let it hang limp as he walked up onto the porch and took Heidi’s hand. He leaned in close to Mist and took a whiff, straightened up all proud, and then walked into the house with Heidi. He passed by close to Amaranth. His sweat smelled like fresh tree sap and the scent in the super-cold air that blew into town after the first big winter storm in the mountains east of town.
Mist finally came in, measuring each step, hardly making a sound when she moved except a little catch in her breath now and then.
“Have a seat on the couch,” Heidi suggested. “Fox?”
“Tea,” he growled. She kissed his cheek as he went toward the kitchen and it made him smile an almost human, perfectly-at-peace smile.
Their house was one of those with the kitchen by a big family room. The family room had a tiled-around red enamel wood stove. The kitchen had custom countertops in that cement stuff with rounded corners, paint-stained a pale gray. Cream-colored leather furniture looked really fancy with the blue-gray walls and cream cream trim. The high ceilings, light-reddish wood cabinets with beveled glass panes, the pot rack with copper-bottomed pots hanging all organized on it, the huge stove and fridge all screamed money money money. They probably had closets bigger than her bedroom. She caught a whiff of the chlorine from their indoor pool. That was in an addition connected to the house by what they called the glass breezeway, which was more like a greenhouse than a hall. When Cait had taken her to visit they got to swim in it. But mostly the place smelled like those eco-safe cleaners with edible smells like mint, lemon, and orange.
Mist sat down. “The Damask have long waged a destructive but fruitless war against the King and Queen, in which I have fought for peace,” Mist told them. “Three days ago that all changed. In the midst of what I thought was a rough but minor skirmish of a few hundred all told, we have lost the war.”
Fox had started to reach for the water faucet, a red enamel tea kettle in hand. He lost his balance somehow and banged the kettle into the faucet.
“The Queen sent her best soldiers out all at once, we few but mighty, to drive the Damask from Amber Lake. We had been meeting fewer and fewer of them, so we thought it would be an easy task. She came with us, to observe, she said, and to fight if needed. The King she convinced to remain behind.” Mist whispered something and she sobbed and braced her arms over her gut. “I should have known something was wrong. She commanded her forces to take us. Perhaps a dozen at most among our ranks obeyed her, but their betrayal was so unexpected, so fierce and so close that combined with the Damask already on the field and the fresh force of Damask that charged out of the Lake into our flank ….”
Amaranth wasn’t sure what a gless battle would look like, but Mist didn’t have to spell it out for Amaranth to imagine the slaughter.
“I doubt that the trap encompassed the sum of her plot,” Mist whispered.
“How did you escape?” Fox’s voice had gone soft and nice.
“I didn’t escape.” Fresh tears trickled down her face.
“You’re dying.” Fox sounded breathless.
As if he hadn’t known. How could he not know? “Duh, genius.” Amaranth should have kept her mouth shut, but he didn’t seem pissed at her for saying it, so she kept talking in hopes that she could smooth things out before he decided to take offense. “Can you help her?”
“Three days. You should have healed from it by now.” Fox approached but Mist help up her hand, and then let it sag down like she wasn’t strong enough to hold up her arm for long.
Mist shuddered. “She made a weapon especially for me. I won’t heal from this.”
“Why did she single you out?” Heidi asked.
Mist pressed her lips tight.
“I think she’s said enough. Speaking is stealing too much of her strength,” Fox told them. “There’s someone I know who might help. Amaranth, will you take me there?”
“Fox–” Heidi began.
“Will you stay with her?” Fox walked to her as Heidi stood. He stroked her arm. “She shouldn’t be alone, and you, you do well with our kind.”
Mist bowed her head even more than it already was, like she was starting to slip.
Amaranth had seen a lot of bad shit, but she hadn’t seen anyone die in front of her. She’d found her brother, dead, but he was already gone and as horrible as that had been, she had a feeling that watching it happen would be even worse. “I’ll take him.”
“Sweetie, you’ve done enough,” Heidi said. “I can call the neighbors.”
“It’s okay. My day is shot anyway.” She couldn’t just get on with normal life after all this, not that she had much of a normal life. Anyway, it would be quicker if she took him. “I’m here and we shouldn’t wait on this.”
“Thank you.” Fox started for the door.
“Shirt and hat, Fox,” Heidi called after him.
He made a little growl and headed into the back rooms, places she’d never seen.
“I’ll get my car turned around,” Amaranth told Heidi.
“Fox won’t let anything happen to you.” Heidi got some glasses out of a cabinet and began filling them with water. “You’re Caitlin’s friend. That makes you his people.”
She wondered what Heidi was worried about. “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know. But Fox wouldn’t have asked you to take him if he thought it wouldn’t be safe for you. Well, it might not be safe, but he’s sure he can protect you.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Heidi set one of the glasses in front of Mist and then took a deep drink from her own.
“Yeah.” When her friends accused her of being a drama queen, this was why. She knew it. But she couldn’t be any other way. It wasn’t that she looked for trouble or anything. She just couldn’t leave shit well enough alone. The difference that made her look slightly less stupid than most drama queens, she hoped, was that she didn’t go tearing people down, and she didn’t make a big deal when she felt sick or hurt or whatever just so she could feel alive or noticed or why-ever they did it. She tried to make things that sucked not suck as much. If that created drama, then whatever. Guilty as charged.
Hence her getting into her car, starting the engine, turning the car around, and not taking off when she saw Fox come out of the house loading a revolver with multi-colored bullets. He had a shirt and a blazer jacket with a shoulder holster that hid the revolver pretty well when he put it away, and a ballcap that made his green hair look short and blond. His eyebrows were still green but at least he didn’t look quite so otherworldly.
Amaranth waited until he buckled in before she drove up the driveway toward the road, scraping through the grapes and blackberries again. “Where to?”
“You have money for gas?” she asked.
“I have plastic. Much better than the coin of the realm.” He smiled.
“Mmm hmm.” She turned westward onto the road and drove on the edge of her comfort zone. She didn’t know how long Mist had, and Beaverton was a long ways away.