Writing

Chronicles of the Ageless: The Enslaved – Chapter 1: Hesper

A swift twist-pull and the jarred door opened to let in a beam of light. Slipping through, Hesper eased it closed behind her, wincing as the duffel on her shoulder thudded against the greyed wood of the door frame.

Her parents were asleep.

From the corner of her eye, she had seen her father draped over the sofa like a puppet, sunk in the deep and easy sleep of one devoid of a conscience. Her mother’s sleep was permanent and had its beginning in the moments after Hesper’s birth. She slept on in her earth-caked slumber, in a grave unknown to her daughter and unvisited by her husband.

It was better that way. Her mother remained a faceless stranger from the past, capable of anything—even love—and too dead to contradict the fantasies of her that Hesper constructed. There was hope in wondering. There was relief in not knowing.

Though living, her father was a closed book. Long ago, she had been measured by the scales in his eyes, and she had failed the test for which there would be no redemption. Her comfort was in knowing that her mother had loved her more, if only because her father couldn’t love her less. She often entertained herself with daydreams of the life she might have had with her mother. Possibility was always more beautiful than reality.

Especially her reality.

Last night, the rain had bombarded the tired roof of her two-story home, and Hesper now surveyed the aftermath through half-closed eyes. The lawn bristled with dew and the sidewalks sweated in the sun. The driveway was warm and damp under her bare feet. She stepped over to the car, which squatted in the driveway like a toad. Rust dominated the small vehicle, almost covering more of the surface than the original kelly green paint. She shoved her duffel through the broken back-door window, which bared its shattered teeth. There the bag sprawled amidst piles of old newspapers, cardboard boxes, and fast-food debris.

Taking a deep breath of the humid air, she tipped her head back, opening her bleary grey eyes to the sky. The light cast spinning red spots in her vision, and she blinked rapidly to clear them. Her olive-green hair shifted on her shoulders.

The sky was the blue of wet chalk drawn across pavement. After a week of thunderstorms, the sky was scraped clean of clouds. The forecast called for scattered showers this morning, but on the question of rain, it was as if nature had given a noncommittal shrug, a universal “meh.”

Let it rain, Hesper thought, and jolted her head down as she heard the wet slap of shoes approaching. The broken glass of the car window caught on her shirt and she tore it free with unusual agitation. The popping rip of fabric did nothing to calm her nerves.

Closing her eyes and forcing her lips into a smile, she was able to hide her momentary shock. The steps were too casual and light to be her father’s. It was Anthony—the only other person who spoke to her without a reason. She turned to face him with her arms crossed.

“Hey Hesper. So your dad said you could come?”

Hesper grimaced. She had forged her father’s signature on the permission slip only to find that the school was not providing transportation to the annual high school camping trip. Heading the trip this year was Ms. Malthace, an English teacher who bore the hatred of the entire body of tenth graders, Hesper included. Ms. Malthace harbored a particular resentment of Anthony and Hesper, who had both failed her class—Hesper had failed for lack of trying, and Anthony had failed despite trying. From the first day, Ms. Malthace had mocked Hesper, chastising her for her habit of staring at the floor and for her clumsiness. After Ms. Malthace asked her why she had dyed her hair the color of vomit, Hesper never turned in another assignment. Nor did she ever respond to her teacher’s comments again.

Despite this, Hesper wanted the excuse of a school trip to get her out of the house for the time being. Begging effort from her father, however, was not going to be easy. She required her father’s car, her father’s time, her father’s duffel. She knew the debt and resented it.

“Yeah,” she said. “I can come.” Anthony had spoken in the expectant tone of one who was certain of a positive answer. Usually, telling people what they wanted to hear was the fastest way to bring a conversation to an end.

Anthony was an exception.  “Can I ask you a question?” he asked, unaware that he had already done so.

“No,” Hesper said. One of her talents was knowing when someone planned on talking regardless of what she said. One-way conversationalists, she called them, and Anthony was a model for them all.

“Why do you always keep your eyes closed?”

Hesper twisted a strand of hair around a finger, feeling the tightness, imagining the hair as a vine against her dark skin, squeezing the blood from her fingertips. A similar tightness gathered around her throat as she retrieved the lies she had rehearsed from childhood.

“I know that you’re not blind,” Anthony pointed out. “You read aloud in History class.”

Impressive skills of deduction, Hesper thought sarcastically.

“And besides,” he continued. “You’re clumsy—sorry, but it’s true. Maybe you wouldn’t get bruised up so often if you looked where you were going.”

Hesper was willing to wait him out.

“Will you tell me what color your eyes are?”

Grey, she thought automatically. “Teal,” she said.

“Really?”

“No.”

Anthony groaned. “Come on. I just want to know you better. Everyone else hates me right now.”

“That’s your problem.”

“Yeah, but it’s not my fault.” His voice dipped to a lower note. “I promise you, I didn’t hurt him on purpose.”

“I don’t care,” Hesper said.

“I know,” Anthony said, shifting his heavy shoes and gasping in pain. He had placed his hand against the car window without looking. “Ow. Do you think I’ll get tetanus from this thing?”

“Probably.”

“Nice.” Anthony sighed. “Are you going to answer my question?”

“Sure,” Hesper said. “I keep my eyes closed because I hate seeing all the homo sapiens around here.”

“Me too,” Anthony replied. “That’s a kind of snake, right?”

“No, it’s Latin.”

“For snake?”

“For human beings!” Hesper said, throwing up her hands.

“Oh,” Anthony said. “Does that include me?”

“Indubitably.”

“I have no idea what that means,” he admitted.

“Good.”

“Well, I’m planning on biking to the campsite,” Anthony said. “But I’ll walk there if you want to come along.”

“Why?”

“I’m trying to save your life,” he replied. “Does that car even work?”

“Define ‘work.’”

“If you need me to define a word, that’s not a good sign. Just think about it—”

“Hesper Morrow.” A quiet, warmly-dead voice called her from the doorway of her house. The longing that had creaked within her like a stepped-on stair settled back into place and she turned mechanically, eyes downcast.

“Come here,” her father said softly, and she felt the irrepressible pull of habit keep her walking toward him. She passed him and stepped into the house.

“Bye,” said Anthony.

Bye Anthony, Hesper thought as the door clicked shut behind her. Every muscle in her body tensed at first, but she forced them to loosen.

“Are you going to explain yourself?”

Crap. Her muscles braced again despite her efforts as she stood there, staring at his thick boots.

A muffled shriek escaped her lips as her head slammed against the wall. Her father’s hand clamped into her jaw and cheek. Don’t fight, don’t speak, don’t look, don’t… Her heart spasmed in sync with her thoughts.

“Open. Your. Eyes.”

His acrid breath assaulted her. He had been awake for a long time last night. Long enough to have had a couple drinks. More than a couple. His fingers moved up to her eyelids, tracing them.

“Who were you talking to?”

Hesper said nothing, shivering as the pressure on her eyelids increased. The silence stretched taut like a string about to snap.

“Damn you,” her father said, and a blunt object smashed into her jaw. Pain rocketed through her head and neck. He released her, blundering into the kitchen.

Hesper collapsed, gasping with relief. Remaining there, she listened as he shuffled around the cramped kitchen, poured cereal, and popped the cork out of another bottle. She heard him shift back in his chair, muttering oaths under his breath. Eventually they turned to choking snores. He sounded like a drowning man.

Her limbs uncoiled as she eased herself to her feet. She walked toward the door, her fingers tracing the wall on both sides of the narrow hallway. Faded roses spilled around her vision. The previous owner of the home was a lonely botanist whose skill in gardening did not translate into artistic talent. Her father’s house was a wonderland of floral designs on wilting wallpaper.

Hesper opened the door, slowly, centimeter by centimeter until she was out in the open air, and shut it gently behind her. Her cheek throbbed as she ripped open the car door and tore out her duffel. No more. She couldn’t do this anymore.

 Time to go. Somewhere her father would never find her.

Wanwood. The forest that encompassed an area the size of the town, a nondescript strip of woodland on the maps of Pennsylvania. Untouched.

No one would exactly admit to fearing Wanwood, but there was a reason everyone gave it such a wide berth. The number of disappearances associated with that forest were substantial, and that was exactly what she was planning.

A final disappearance.

Writing

Chronicles of the Ageless: The Enslaved – Prologue

I am P. A. Wilson, the greatest of all the Ageless, mind reader and espionage expert. Yet as all the Ageless that came before me and all who shall come to be, I’m trapped. My actions are not my own, and never will be. I am enslaved to a tyrant that lives within me; one whose watch never wanes, who is quick in anger and vengeance.

As a mortal, you possess free will…

So why are you still reading? Here are some useful alternative suggestions:

Throw this book out a window. Push it page by page through a paper-shredder. Send it down the river in a boat. Set it on fire. (Everyone loves setting things on fire. I can relate.) Tie it to a rocket and send it to the stars, or at least as high as your model rockets will go. I promise you, this will be the most fun you’ve ever had.

Just don’t read it.

I’m not picky about how you dispose of it. You could just push it far back on a shelf and never touch it again. Put it on a to-do list that you never plan on finishing. Dump it in the library return pile. Return it to the bookstore or casually dunk it into a garbage can.

I presume you are wondering what it is that makes this book so dreadful that the author pleads with you to choose another. So I will tell you, in the hopes that you will heed my words and make the right decision.

It is the maker of prophecies, the one who created the Ageless and monsters to inhabit the Earth, and to rival the native people, the mortals. No matter how wicked any villain may appear in this book, it is inconceivably worse. Remember that.

As Ageless, we do not choose if we are villains or heroes. We do not have the right. Our every move, thought, and ultimately our fates, are meticulously controlled. Our master is known by a simple, one-syllable word.

Phi.

Can you detect the utter hatred with which I wrote that single word? (Oh. I forgot that mortals do not have that ability. Never mind.)

I am being forced to do the Phi’s will; in this case, conveying a message to you mortals. To do this, I have to take on a mission collecting information on four so-called “heroes.” Many Ageless would be honored to undertake such a quest, and perhaps I would be too if it were not for one small detail:

I have to spy on a bunch of children! With all my unique capabilities, I’m stuck…how do you mortals say it? Sitting on babies! If the Phi thinks I’m going to do such an undignified task as this without a fight, it has something coming.

(Like a silent protest.)

Nevertheless, the Phi has its reasons. Clashes between monsters and Ageless have become more prevalent. Some Ageless believe that we are being tested, and that only one race will survive in the end. Yet we are aware that this has happened before. And at that time four heroes rose from the ashes of their previous lives to change the tide of battle, forever locking away the most dangerous races of monsters in a mountainous prison, as the prophecy demanded.

This would be great, except that recently those nasty beasts have been escaping. So much for “forever.” True, it lasted sixty years or so, but that isn’t very long.

The heroes that will rise to fight them are none other than the children I am…sitting on. (I dislike your odd mortal sayings, but the Phi insists that I adapt to the nuances of your language.)

This is not my story. As I am destined to, I will write an account of the lives of our heroes.

Still, any prophecy contains loopholes. If you venture past the prologue you will endure unceasing aggravation, confusion, and chapters where you will leap off cliffs. I mean hang on cliffs.

Hmm.

Anyway, I will offer you some words of advice, in the form of a familiar mortal saying. For your sake I hope these three words knock some sense into you.

Ignorance is bliss.

There you are. In order to achieve happiness, you must achieve ignorance. If you put this book down, you’ll be taking a tremendous step in the right direction. Just keep on doing the normal mortal things that normal mortals do.

Which is…you know…well…you can stop reading this now.

I am only required to publish their doings in this meager tome to appease the prophecy.

I am not required to have you read it.

So seriously, quit now.

This is a serialization of my novel Chronicles of the Ageless: The Enslaved. For all the entries in order, follow this link.

Books

Crimson Bound: A Dark Fantasy Romance for Young Adults

Book Review (with spoilers):

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Decent representation of a character with a disability
  • Moderately successful at worldbuilding
  • Dark, complex heroine
  • Lots of twists
  • Pretty good writing

Cons

  • Used fairy tale references that created certain expectations and then failed to deliver
  • Weird love triangle between polar opposites, one of which is completely unsavory

Warning! Minor spoilers ahead!*

*Does not spoil the ending and the major twists.

Review

Let me start out by saying that there is no reason to call this a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It just isn’t. Rachelle, the main character, wears a red hood, but that is where the similarities stop. There is no big bad wolf, no helpless grandmother. It’s just Rachelle and her bad decisions. This is as much a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood as the anime RWBY is.

This is also supposed to be loosely based on The Girl Without Hands, a lesser-known tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. I do see the connection here, because there is a man/love interest whose hands were chopped off and who wears silver hands.

Rachelle is in training to become a woodwife. The woodwife’s purpose is “to weave the charms that protect the village” and “remember the ancient lore.”

Only she’s still young and is prone to bad decision-making. A forestborn, which worships the evil Devourer (a dangerous god) coaxes her from the path and marks her with a curse. She has a short time allotted to kill someone before she will die. She kills her beloved aunt in her second bad decision of the novel. Or at least a morally bad decision, if not perhaps logically bad, but it is one that haunts her.

She becomes something that is not quite human, a cursed creature, a bloodbound. Wanting to serve her kingdom, she enlists as one of the king’s hunters, saving the people from monsters such as wood spawn.

Her aunt told her once that in life, you could take “the path of needles or the path of pins.” This advice was inspired by the actions one could take if a dress tore. You could either pin it up, a temporary but quick fix, or take the time to sew it together. I love this adage and I believe it becomes Rachelle’s life philosophy. She’s not looking for the easy way out. She wants to prevent the Devourer’s return and kill it if possible, and will go to any means necessary to find the sword capable of doing so.

The adage appears to have been taken from a variation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. In it, the girl is asked by the wolf if she will take the path of needles or the path of pins, and the girl chooses the path of needles, like Rachelle always does.

Rachelle wanted to sew the world back to safety, if she must use her own bones for needles.”

Rachelle is ordered by the king to guard his bastard son, Armand, whom the people of the kingdom believe is a saint. He claims to have been cursed like Rachelle and refused to kill to survive, which led to the loss of his hands. Rachelle frankly hates his guts. If he is lying, than he is creating an unreasonable expectation for bloodbound like Rachelle not to do what they had to survive. If he is telling the truth, than Rachelle did not have to kill her beloved aunt.

The story ends up giving us an odd love triangle between one of the king’s other bloodbound hunters–Erec, Armand, and Rachelle. Armand and Rachelle are great enemies-to-lovers.

It is worth noting that Armand does not fit the stereotypical YA romance dude mold. He has stumps for hands and is rather plain looking. Some diversity for once is nice. It is also worth mentioning that Armand’s lack of hands is not something Rachelle finds unattractive or that she must get used to. I feel like there was so many ways like that, that the story could have been written wrong and cringey, and Hodge didn’t make any of those poor writing decisions. Initial shock at seeing Armand without the silver hands is all that Rachelle ever feels about them, and it moves on. It’s just not an issue, thank god. Some disability rep without making it a sob story, pity party, or ableist crap.

Erec is a piece of work. He’s brash, arrogant, obnoxious. Just ugh! Not a good dude for Rachelle to like, but hey, whatever. I don’t know why there even needed to be a triangle here. I think love triangles can be done well, but this one was not.

To be fair, romance is not my typical genre of choice, so you might enjoy the drama the love triangle offered in this book, but I found that it was more like a third-wheel-kind-of-situation.

My other complaint for this book is that it was confusing at times, especially with the mythology behind Zisa and Tyr. I noticed that several people also complained that Hodge used a lot of names from fairy tales and myths, which created certain reasonable expectations, and then flaunted them. It did not do the source material justice. Plus, as I said before, it cannot really be called a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book mainly to those who appreciate YA romance and either don’t mind or enjoy the enemies-to-lovers and love triangle tropes. If you want a light-hearted fantasy, look elsewhere. This one is pretty dark.

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