Fiction Reboot: Witchwood at Nob’s End–or, ode to revision

Welcome to the Fiction Reboot!

I started my day reading Psalms. I like to sit in the window with my breakfast and read aloud. Because I am a bit of a version control pedant, I often read different translations–everything from the King James version  to other languages, some Greek and plenty French. Today, I noted an interesting difference in Psalm 119: 54. My Anglican Psalter says: “Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger.” But I also have a worn King James (belonged to my grandmother). It says: “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” At first, it may not seem a great difference–but notice that “have been like” is replaced by “have been my.” They are not like songs. They are songs. The image that creates in my head is different–the metaphor redraws rule as song. Note, too, the “house of my pilgrimage.” It is archaic and we don’t use it much. The emphasis on “stranger” is easier to grasp, but also more lonesome and more passive. The house of my pilgrimage suggests a kind of ownership, doesn’t it? A kind of agency, a quest. Small differences in words, big differences in mental image.

It just so happens that revision requires a similar kind of break-down: do these words really work? My trouble is this: it makes sense in my head, where the image originates. So I forget to make sure that it resonates in someone else’s head. I overcompensate by using too much description–to make them “see” the way I “see.” But that is not the point. The point it to tip the reader in the right direction and let them create the world their own way. It requires a lighter touch. So, below I have put the first part of Witchwood, Chapter 2. In these few pages (4, I think) I sum up what had been nearly 15 pages of text. In the end, it doesn’t matter what specifically I cut–only that I kept the kernel from which the story will continue to grow. And, interestingly, I do much of this cutting by choosing words carefully–words that build an image and make more complex description unnecessary.

_________________________

Chapter Two: Other People’s Nightmares

It was dark and cold, and Alex suddenly had that horrible feeling of falling in space. His body jerked, heart pounding in his throat, and he awoke with a start. Or did he?

Alex was not tucked in his bed, and not staring at his ceiling fan. No; he was standing in a field of high grass, his hair full of dew and his feet cold and clammy. He felt the squelch beneath his bare feet, and dreams didn’t squelch.

This is not right, Alex thought as panic made a hard knot in his stomach. Nothng looked familiar. No crooked house, no blue sedan. In front was a sloping field and the twinkle of distant house lights. Behind him—something, or someone was waiting. He didn’t see anything, he just knew. A cold prickle was creeping up his neck with the feeling of being watched in the dark. Alex turned his head, but his body moved in ultra slow motion.

At first, it was a pitch black nothing. But slowly, he could make something out. Images, like ashy tree trunks and swaying branches, reached toward him. Was the forest itself was moving? No, there was something else there! Something in the shadows, rustle-rustle thump! The darkness came apart in great black strips, separating and snorting like rabid animals!

“Help! Help!” Alex shouted, and he catapulted forward in a blind run. Over the wet grass he went; over the field, over an exposed bit of rock, and head over heels. He sprawled on the ground, covering his head with his hands. There was a flash of lightning, and Alex saw letters blazoned on the rockface—

And then nothing. He sat up, sweating but safe, in his bed.

It took him a long time to recognize his own room. A storm was passing over their house and it made snarling, pawing sounds against the roof’s cracked tiles. Creepy animals at the wood edge, creepy dreams… Alex took a steadying breath and reached for his desk lamp. In the little pool of light, he could just make out the beady eyes of a mouse.

“You’re perfectly welcome,” he said, feeling that any company was okay at the moment.

And though he didn’t know it, Ezra was awake, too, watching the storm from the housetop like a sailor in a leaky boat. It wracked her little room all night, buffeting the windows and filling the rain bucket to the brim. It lasted almost to dawn, and by then, there was just no point in sleeping. She tossed the comforter aside with a grunt and wandered downstairs to search for bread the mice hadn’t chewed on before stepping outside.

The rain had washed away the dust of August and for the first time there was a telling autumn crispness in the air. It almost tasted good. Ezra stretched her legs, and loped across the dewy lawn. Calf muscle, tendon, hamstring, quad; every muscle was indexed in her brain like an anatomy chart, and that gave her comfort somehow. And, at least she had plenty of room to go running. One teeny plus in a world of minuses.Ezra touched her toes, and looked at the yard behind her—at the long sloping field.

“Wait just a minute…” Ezra felt a shiver raise goose bumps on her arms; like déjà vu, she had seen all of this before.

“Hey Ezra, whatcha doin?” Alex poked his head out of the screen door just as she made her way to the drive.

“Walking,” she said, dismissivly. “It’s how people get from one place to another.”

Alex (who was eating peanut butter) pointed his spoon at her.

“You’re cranky. Er. Than usual.”

“I’m tired. Er. Than usul,” Ezra sighed. Then she made a face. “Are you just eating that straight out of the jar?”

“Uh-huh. It’s good—here,” He scooped up a spoonful and presented it.

“That’s really gross.”

“Not as gross as the basement. You should smell it after the storm last night,” Alex made a face.

“Yeah, well you see the rain bucket in the hall. I was practically in the storm,” Ezra turned back to face the field. “You coming? I need to check something.”

“Sure,” Alex shrugged. “But I still win because my bedroom smells like earthworms. And I had a nightmare. Worms and nightmare beats rain bucket.”

“Mmm,” said Ezra, who was scouting the ground for something and clearly not listening.

“Yes. A nightmare, since you asked. I was being chased by this forest—”

“The western wood.”

“How should I know?”

“It was,” Ezra insisted. Her eyes had narrowed like a hawk’s to its prey, and Alex shrugged.

“Sure, whatever. So anyway, I was running to these houses, but then I tripped on a rock and—”

“Village.”

Alex frowned.

“Do I get to tell this story or—oomph!”

Alex ran into Ezra’s back and almost did a face-plant in the dirt. She’d stopped without any warning.

“What are you doing?” he asked as she dropped to all fours.

“It’s just not possible,” she muttered, scratching in the dirt. Alex watched her as though she’d just lost her good senses.

“Um—are you okay, Ez?”

“Not really No. Look!” she sat back on her heels and pointed to a lump of earth. “Is this what you tripped over in your dream?”

Alex dropped his peanut butter.

It wasn’t a lump of earth at all. It was a large stone, overgrown with moss and weeds, with writing on the side.

“Omigosh—Ezra, I dreamed about that thing!”

“I know. So did I.”

“That’s impossible!”

“That’s what I just said.” Ezra bent down, trying to see the words.  “There was a village right here—and the forest was that one, on the western side. If you stand by the maple tree, it’s the same view.”

“Oh, that is so weird! I mean, we-should-be-on-TV-weird,” Alex breathed. Ezra didn’t seem to notice the increasing level of creepy; she was too busy scrubbing at the rock. When the last piece of lichen peeled away, Alex leaned closer. Chiseled into the surface were the words Jacob’s Green.

“Is this a grave or something??”

“No, it says Jacob’s Green, not Jacob Green. And there’s only one date: 1786.” Ezra stood up and brushed her hands off on her jeans. “I think it’s a foundation stone for the town that used to be here.”

“The village was from 1786? I wonder what happened to it?”

“It burned down.”

“Oh come on, how could you possibly know?” Alex asked, following behind her.

“Because.” Ezra felt a chill run up her spine again. “In my dream, the town was on fire.” [...end of p4 in c2]

About Brandy Schillace

A scholar of medical-humanities and writer of Gothic fiction, Dr. Brandy Schillace spends her time in the mist-shrouded alleyways between medical history and literature. She is the Managing Editor, Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry and Research Associate/Guest Curator for Dittrick Museum. Dr. Schillace is a freelance writer for magazines and blogs, and has published fiction (High Stakes, Cooperative Trade, 2014) as well as non-fiction books (Death's Summer Coat, Elliott and Thompson, 2015, Unnatural Reproductions and the Monstrous (co-edited collection), Cambria Press, 2014).
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