Loon Harbour (originally published on creepypasta.com)

I got called out to Seal Cove on the coast about a year ago for duty. Small town on the coast, you know how it is. Maybe 700 people, tops. That’s including the ones who aren’t on paper. They told me I’d have a quiet eight months. Not much happens around there usually, besides the odd poacher or pissed-up drunk who needs a night in the tank to sober up. Never any real crime. Never any murders or nothing.

It’s a bit of an odd spot, but nice enough. Folks are pretty friendly. Made me feel at home. Lots of old folks – old fishermen and trappers and such – and they tend to keep to themselves more often, but still nice enough. Not a lot of young people around. I guess most of ’em head off to college and then they don’t come back much.

Things were going pretty good until about two weeks in. I walked into the station that morning – Wednesday, I think – and I hear Sheriff Thompson and Deputy Colby talking in the lunch room, real hushed, like something’s wrong. I figured I should pop my head in and say good morning. And grab some coffee, too. So I stroll on in and nod and give ’em a “good morning” and I’m about to grab a cuppa joe to head back out to the office when Sheriff tells me to sit down.

You can always tell in somebody’s voice when there’s something truly wrong. They always stumble, like they forgot how to explain things, or that the words they use don’t make sense at all any more. I could hear it in Sheriff’s voice that morning – he didn’t sound right.

Turns out, Sheriff Thompson’s father-in-law passed away the summer before at the age of 75, and he and his wife were real pioneer-type folks. Mr and Mrs Dossit lived up the coast a ways in a little inlet called Loon Harbour. They had the place all to themselves – not a single other cabin in the place. They were totally off the grid: no power, telephone, roads – you get the picture. Only connection they had to the outside world was their wooden outboard motorboat and little CB radio. Mr Dossit was an old school trapper, and his missus worked with him, side by side, curing and tanning hides and prepping them up to ship off to the city where they’d get sold at auction. The Dossits made their living from the land, and got their supplies from Seal Cove, without ever having to step foot in the city. That was the way they liked it – a quiet, simple life. Not a lot of people do that kind of thing anymore. I have to say, I admired it.

Since old Mr Dossit died, Sheriff said that his mother-in-law hadn’t ever been quite the same. Old Mr Dossit had been having trouble with his knees the last few years and so him and Mrs Dossit would stay with the Sheriff’s family during the winter, before heading back to Loon Harbour in the spring. The Thompsons didn’t mind – they all thought that Mr and Mrs Dossit were getting too old for their rough-and-tumble lifestyle anyways.

In the months following Mr Dossit’s death, Mrs Dossit started talking about spending the winter in Loon Harbour again – something that deeply concerned the Sheriff’s family. They tried to persuade her otherwise; that alone in the wilderness was no place for a woman at her age. In the end, though, Mrs Dossit got her way. Her undying reasoning being “It’s what he would have wanted.”

Sheriff got real quiet then, and said that up until Monday, his wife and Mrs Dossit had been in touch every day, and Mrs Thompson made sure to get every detail about how she was doing on her own. The last two mornings, though, Mrs Dossit hadn’t been answering her radio. It wasn’t like her, Sheriff said, to just leave people hanging like that. Something was definitely wrong, either with Mrs Dossit or her radio, and we were going to have to send a team to make sure things were alright.

We’d take Colby’s personal speedboat and head up to the Harbour and check in on Mrs Dossit, taking a specially prepared medical kit from Donna, the town’s resident doctor. Thaw was just starting so we’d have to take our time and watch out for ice, but it should be easy to do in a few hours so long as we all keep our eyes open. Sheriff told us the plan was to leave as soon as possible and be back before dark. I thought we’d easily be back by noon, but I hadn’t realized at the time what we might find at the cabin in Loon Harbour. None of us could have.

By nine we were kicking off from the pier and making our way out of Seal Cove, northeast along the shoreline. Wind was like ice in our faces, but Colby’s boat had a windbreak on it which made the trip bearable. The whole way, Sheriff had an uneasy look about him, which was understandable, given the thoughts that were probably going through his mind. It was his wife’s mother, after all. If something bad had happened to her… hell, I wouldn’t want to have to take that news home to Mrs Thompson.

The trip took about forty minutes, and by the time we turned around the point into Loon Harbour, we were feeling pretty anxious to get in out of the wind and onto land. The harbour was something else – bordered on either side by hills littered with remnants of the winter’s heavy snow, and with a low valley that reached for miles inland, curving left and right and filled with old, evergreen trees. It was truly a hermit’s paradise.

The Dossit cabin stood a short walk from the water’s edge, in a small clearing specked here and there by birch trees. Colby tied the boat on to the end of the little dock where Mrs Dossit had hauled up her boat for the winter. She had a winch, sure, but still – not bad for a 67 year old.

Despite all the beauty of that place, something seemed off about the whole picture. The harbour was ice-free, so why hadn’t the old girl put her boat back in the water? And why wasn’t there smoke coming from the chimney? Strangest of all, where was she? Now, I know Mrs Dossit liked to keep to herself these days, and I’m sure she had work to take care of inside the cabin or out back, but after two full days of no human contact surely she would notice the racket of an outboard motor less than a hundred yards from her front door.

“Claire,” Sheriff shouted out, “you around?” Silence. “Here with some  o’ the boys to check up on yah.” Still, no answer.

“Probably busy inside,” Colby offered. He meant to comfort the sheriff but the shakiness in his voice gave him away. He must have had that same feeling of discomfort that I did. We started up the path, walking slow and looking around for… well anything, really. And when we got a little closer I could tell the curtains were all closed. It looked like nobody was home.

“Something ain’t right boys,” Sheriff said. We knew.

Up on the front porch things got even more strange. It hadn’t snowed for the last week or so, and anything lying on the ground was leftover for a while, hard and crusty on the top from melting and freezing over and over. The whole front porch was covered with a layer of crusty snow. No footprints anywhere, and I started feeling mighty apprehensive when Sheriff pointed out the front door. It was open… just a little bit.

“Claire,” Sheriff called again, “we’re coming inside.”

I tensed up, preparing myself for what we’d find inside. I’d never found a cadaver before – never seen one besides at funerals. Sheriff opened the door.

In the dim light of the cabin, there was dark shape. It was hanging in the middle of the room… swinging slightly from the breeze that we let in. At first I took it for a blanket, or coat… but as my eyes adjusted I saw the familiar texture of raw meat.

“Dear God,” I let out. Colby swore. Sheriff ran to the porch rail and got sick, over and over. The shape was a body, a woman’s shape… hanging by one ankle from a rafter and spinning round, slow. Beside, on the floor, a knife with a long, curved blade lay in a pool of blood. A skinning knife.

The cabin was cold, so cold. Colder than the air outside. There was no smell – no scent of decay – and I knew at once it was because the body was frozen.

We all stepped down onto the snow-patched grass and took a breath. We couldn’t have imagined this. How could anyone have imagined this? The sheer horror of that poor woman’s body was unfathomable. We stood there, staring out at the water and slowly the reality of the situation settled itself in. This was a crime scene. A murder scene. We were police. We had a job to do.

Colby and I insisted again and again that the Sheriff ought to sit it out – that he shouldn’t get too involved because it was family we were dealing with. He would have none of it. I think in his mind, making sure the investigation went as smoothly as possible was a sort of farewell to the old woman. So the three of us got started.

There were photos to be taken, so many photos… every surface in the cabin, from every angle. The body. The knife. We dusted for prints, took samples of hair, blood, all the usual stuff. All the while we were collecting evidence, Mrs Dossit kept spinning round to take us in with those lidless eyes. Before long we cut her down and got her in the body bag. I’d like to say we did it out of respect but that way we didn’t have to feel her eyes on us anymore.

If things weren’t already terrible enough, other aspects of the crime scene were starting to stand out as being peculiar. First off, the lack of footprints outside the front door meant that nobody had entered or exited the cabin for at least a week. The radio was in prime working condition – something we discovered when Mrs Thompson called in to ask if we had fixed the radio yet. We didn’t respond.

The cupboards were stocked nearly full, and upon closer inspection it seemed as though Mrs Dossit hadn’t touched her winter supply. In the garbage, only a few empty cans were found. It was starting to look as though the murder had occurred much earlier, at the beginning of Mrs Dossit’s trip. This was backed up by the fact that the woodpile, which was stacked against the leeward side of the cabin, had hardly been diminished. Inside, a small pile of sticks sat neatly by the woodstove. Stranger still, was that there was only a small amount of ash in the stove – the remnants of one, maybe two fires. From the looks of things, she had been killed just a few days after returning to Loon Harbour.

“Sheriff, when was it you said Lucy and her last talked?” I asked, wearily.

“Day before yesterday,” he said, “I heard her voice myself on the radio.”

Clearly things weren’t adding up. We were reading the scene wrong, somehow. Maybe Mrs Dossit had extra wood and food stocked for the winter. Maybe she had gotten rid of the garbage somehow. Simple enough explanation. Only explanation, really. It was just hard to keep my mind thinking logically after seeing something so… disturbing.

Of course, the next thing that came to mind was the murderer. Where did they go? How did they get in the cabin and sneak off, seemingly without a trace? And how did they get there in the first place? It was frightful to think that the horror of a man who had committed this crime might be a mere two days walk from here. Perhaps closer. Where was he? And, more worryingly, where was the-

“Jesus Christ!” Colby shrieked from a few feet behind me, deafening my ear. I spun around as quick as possible, nearly choking with shock as he fired two rounds through the glass of the living room window.

“The hell, Colby?” I shouted, grabbing for my gun. Sheriff came running out of the bedroom, revolver at the ready.

“What’s happening?” he demanded of us, but by that point Colby was darting out through the door.

“Son of a bitch!” we heard him yell as he disappeared into the bright spring sun outside. He had seen something. He had seen them.

“Follow me, Porter. Now!” Sheriff said, and we made out way out onto the porch. Colby’s footsteps lead away from the shore, towards the Dossits’ trapline. Straight into the woods.

“Colby!” Sheriff  yelled, but no reply came. Then, another shot.

We ran as fast as we could, Sheriff in the lead, watching the right, while I brought up the rear, watching the left. We could hear Colby shouting again, swearing. He sounded far off, not quite straight ahead. We were sprinting when two more shots rang off to our sharp left. Colby had left the main path. In patches of dirty snow there were footprints, spaced far apart. Another shout. Another shot. And then… silence.

“Colby, talk to us!” I shouted, praying that it was him who had fired that last shot. There was no sound for a good ten seconds and then…

“Here,” came a weak reply. Off to our left again this time. He had started to turn back towards the cabin, full circle. When we found him, he was standing with his back to a tree, gun gripped tight in both hands. Eyes wide open. The poor boy was shaking like a leaf of grass in the wind.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Sheriff boomed at him. Colby just shuddered at the noise, looked wildly around, and ran to us. The look on his face when he got near was indescribable. I’d never seen somebody look so relieved to see me.

“I saw… I… I mean… I saw… I saw…” he kept muttering, over and over. He looked scared, but almost like he was embarrassed to show it. “I mean… I saw… I think…” was all he said.

We made our walk back to the cabin, slow and cautious. Whoever it was that had been watching us was surely still nearby. We figured it best to get out as soon as possible. Grab our things and take the body back to town. Those woods seemed like the worst possible place to be at that point.

By six o’clock that evening we were pulling back into town. Nobody’d said a word since we left Loon Harbour, and the ride seemed to go on for hours. Colby was too stirred up from his encounter in the woods, and I figured it best if Sheriff avoid as much stress as possible so I’d offered to steer us back to Seal Cove. The whole ways, though, I kept glancing over to the shore, expecting to see… somebody watching us, I guess.

The funeral was held three days later. No casket for poor Mrs Dossit – the family had her cremated. Poor Mrs Thompson looked like she’d had all the blood drained from her body. Still, she held it together. For the kids, I suppose. Colby didn’t show up for the funeral. After I offered my condolences to Sheriff and his family, he told me that nobody’d seen Colby at the station since the day we got back from Loon Harbour, and I should keep an eye out for him.

That night I found myself back at my desk, sorting through photo after photo from the cabin. The woman had been dead for quite some time – likely for most of the winter. Whoever had done this to her was still nearby when we arrived at the harbour, but they couldn’t have possibly spent the winter there. There was no food missing, and no sign that the place had been occupied. Nothing was adding up.

I started putting the folders away when a terrible thought entered my head. What if the murderer was never outside that window? What if deputy Colby had fooled us all? He claimed to have seen somebody outside that cabin and certainly convinced the Sheriff and I that it was true, but who else had seen it? Only Colby.

What if he had killed Mrs Dossit?

It would explain the condition of the cabin, his mysterious encounter, everything. Colby had a boat and could have easily taken a detour to Loon Harbour during one of his hunting trips. But why on earth would he have done such a thing? What grudge could he possibly hold against the Sheriff’s poor mother in-law, or against Sheriff Thompson himself?

My mind was racing, my hands shaky. Hell, it was past midnight and I hadn’t slept more than an hour each night since that wretched day. I needed to head home and try to get some rest. It would be best to have a clear head when I confronted Sheriff about this in the morning.

I left the station and started walking to my rented house but decided to stop in at the pub for a quick drink. A little something to unwind. I took a seat and ordered up a double rum, just as somebody slid into the stool at my left.

“How’d the funeral go?” Colby asked, clutching an empty glass and stinking of whisky. My heart nearly stopped when I heard his voice, but I had to play dumb.

“Very sad,” I said, taking a gulp of rum. I had to get out of there as fast as possible. “You didn’t come.”

“I was, ahh… busy,” he slurred, tapping his empty glass.

“I see.”

“Been spending some, ahh… quality time with dear Craig here,” he said, pointing at the bartender. “How ’bout one more, bud?” Craig filled up the glass, shaking his head but saying nothing. Clearly Colby had been here for the last few days. I hoped it was the guilt getting to him, the sick bastard.

“You haven’t been at the station,” I said.

“Nooo, no no,” he muttered. “I cant be lookin’ at those pictures. Memory’s bad enough ain’t it?”

“It’s our job,” I said through gritted teeth. How could he sit here and talk about her like that? I was disgusted with him. I turned to look him straight in the face. “The son of a bitch is still out there, somewhere.”

“You got me there, Porter,” he said, staring into his whisky. Drunk as he was, it would be so easy to cuff him then and there.

“Well, you saw him with your own eyes, didn’t you?” I pressed.

“Her.”

“So it was a woman you saw?” I was getting impatient.

“It was her.” Colby twisted in his seat and looked me dead in the eyes. “Her, Porter.”

I didn’t know what to make of it. He didn’t look like he was guilty, or grieving, or lying. He looked afraid.

“What do you mean?” I asked. Colby drained his whisky in one go.

“Claire Dossit,” he said. “I saw her face watching us through the window. Or maybe I’m just crazy.” With that, he got up and walked out, leaving me staring at the bottles behind the bar.

“Another?” Craig asked me.

“No.”

I’m not sure why – it must have been something in Colby’s voice – but I decided to hold off on telling the Sheriff about my suspicions. I’d have to have a chat with Donna, the doctor. I was curious to hear what she’d have to say about Mr Dossit’s death.

The night crept by with agonizing patience. Stars sliding in and out of view behind the bank of fog that hung over the harbour. Each time I closed my eyes I would see Mrs Dossit’s lidless gaze. The last few hours of darkness I spent at the kitchen table, staring at the front door with a hand on my revolver.

The clinic was quiet that morning, and when I first spoke to Donna I could tell she was looking at me in a peculiar sort of way. She offered my a cup of coffee which I gladly accepted. I must have looked like shit.

“I have a few questions for you about Mr Dossit,” I said. The coffee seemed to warm me straight away when I took a sip. “About his health before his death.”

“Right,” she said. “Where would you like me to start?”

“Sheriff Thompson told me about his decline in health during his last year. Said that his father-in-law was unable to stay at the cabin like they had been doing all along. What sort of problems was he having? Sheriff mentioned arthritis or something like that.”

Donna took a sip of coffee, with a puzzled look on her face. “Mr Dossit had been having joint trouble for some years before his death. I had told him that he should start easing off, retire. He’d have none of it. I gave him information about other, less strenuous activities he might try, to keep active, which he dismissed as ‘yoga for hippies’. I wouldn’t blame his arthritis for slowing him down so much as his more general well-being.”

“In what way?”

“Well, mentally. More or less. He suddenly seemed paranoid of those around him. He seemed to think that he was being watched.”

“Interesting.” It was cold in the office. “Can you remember when exactly this… behaviour started?”

“I could find the folder with my notes from Mr Dossit’s appointment.”

“You have notes?”

“Scribblings, more like. I’m not a psychiatrist, officer, but I know enough to tell when somebody’s mind is in a troubled state.”

“And this was?”

“About six months before his disappearance.”

“His…?” Apparently Sheriff had left that part out. He’d never mentioned anything about any missing person case.

“You didn’t know?” Donna took a deep breath. “That poor family has been through so much. Lucy was depressed for a long time. Sheriff Thompson took her into the city for therapy for a few months, I remember. Mr Dossit just got up one morning, went out for a walk and never came home. It was a sad time for the whole town.”

“I can imagine. There was a search, yes? Did they ever find the body?”

She shook her head. “No body. They couldn’t even give the man a proper burial.” Donna gave me a look. “The sheriff would know a lot more about the case than I do, officer. Have you spoken to him?”

“Not about this. Not now. I don’t want to give him or his family any more grief. Sorry to bother you, Donna, but I’ve just got a few more questions.”

“Sure.”

“You said that Mr Dossit’s behaviour changed quickly about six months before he went missing. Given your medical knowledge, what do you think could have led to this change?”

“Well there are many possibilities, too many to guess. Again, I’m not a psychiatrist, Officer Porter, but it seemed to me that his personality changed due to some sort of experience, not a medical issue. Some trauma that he alone had gone through. Whatever it was that he saw or imagined, I can’t say, but it certainly left him…”

“Unhinged?”

“Broken.” Donna looked very sad. “I’d never seen somebody so full of fear. Claire used to come with him to his appointments. He seemed afraid of being alone, even for a moment.”

“But the day he went missing, Mr Dossit left home alone.” It seemed very strange.

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Doctor, this has been very helpful.” I got up to leave.

“I’m glad to help, Officer. I admit, I was expecting you ask me about Lucy’s mother, not her father. Have you found some sort of connection between them?”

Yes, I thought, but instead I said “I’d rather not say right now.”

“Of course,” said Donna, and she walked me out.

It was still early, too early for lunch. I wasn’t hungry anyways. I headed to the station to find a folder on my desk. Sheriff’s office door was shut, and I didn’t want to bother him. I opened the folder.

Coroner’s report was on top. I flipped through the pages but most of it was old news. Time of death was undetermined, but certainly more than a month ago. Notes about stomach contents, minor cuts and defence wounds. I poured over it all, obsessing over every line, but the one thing that grabbed my attention was the cause of death – hypothermia – and the side note that read “minimal blood loss, no cutting of major arteries.” She had actually survived being skinned alive. God, the thought of it was enough to drive somebody over the edge. Lucy would probably be needing some more therapy after all that had happened.

Lucy… I thought. She was the one aspect of the murder that complicated everything else.  All of the evidence, all of the details about the experiment, they all were shifted into the unreal by Lucy saying she had been in contact with her mother throughout the winter. It was the her testimony that made the whole thing so damn complicated… so what if it wasn’t true?

The Sheriff’s wife had a history of mental distress, I knew now. Extended periods of depression. She was obviously worried about her mother’s well-being, and under a large amount of stress. Hell, being married to a police officer was probably enough stress on its own. What if her conversations hadn’t really happened? What if it was just a delusion of hers?

But no, I realized. That wasn’t it. Sheriff had told me that day at Loon Harbour that he had heard Mrs Dossit’s voice over the radio himself. Another explanation shot down. Another reason to feel very much at unease. There was only one logical next step. I’d have to talk to her myself.

If anybody would know an important detail about Mrs Dossit’s situation, surely it would be her own daughter. The woman had spoken with her every day, she claimed. She must have noticed something, some small detail that would explain everything. Sheriff wouldn’t be happy but, damn it, I had to do something.

Sheriff’s office light was still on. It would have to be now, before he got home. I could use a walk anyways. I grabbed my jacket and walked out into the street. I was shocked to see that night had just begun to fall. Christ, I had been so wrapped up in things that the hours had melted away. I suddenly realized the churning hunger in my stomach and the tired ache in my eyes, but it would have to wait until later.

The road to the Thompson house was located on a new side road that hadn’t been paved yet. Theirs was one of the first houses built in that area, and it was a short walk through the woods to get there. It was cold out, so I zipped up and walked fast. The hard packed gravel crunched lightly under my feet, echoing off the bare tree trunks that carried on out of sight to either side of the road.

But was that an echo? I didn’t quite sound like an echo… The footsteps sounded faster than my own.

I stopped, and they got faster, louder.

I spun around, reaching for my revolver and realizing too late that I’d left it on my desk at the station. The figure flew at me from the shadows and rammed straight into my chest. It knocked the breath out of me, and as I struggled to get it off of me the stench of sweat and whiskey filled my nose.

Colby’s face was mere inches from my own, his bloodshot eyes staring into mine and darting wildly off to one side or the other, scanning the woods around us before looking back at me. Tears were wet on his cheeks and spit flew in my face as he screamed.

“STOP IT! STOP IT! YOU HAVE TO HELP! HAVE TO STOP IT PLEASE! MAKE HER GO! MAKE HER GO!”

“Let me go!” I yelled back, struggling to free my hands, but he had pinned them to the ground. “Get off of me, now!”

“I SAW IT! I SAW IT AND IT WANTS ME, PORTER! SHE’S GOING TO KILL ME, PORTER! PLEASE!”

“Fuck, Colby, snap out of it!” I yelled, but he was beyond reason. There was madness in his eyes.

“YOU SAW HER TOO! YOU WERE RIGHT THERE, YOU HAD TO! SHE’S COMING PORTER, HELP ME PLEASE! MAKE HER-”

I’d managed to free my hand, and slammed a fist into the side of Colby’s head. He rolled off, screaming and swearing and crying. “What  in god’s name-”

I didn’t get a chance to finish before he lunged at me again. I had barely gotten to my feet, but in his crazed, drunken state I managed to get out of the way. I had just grabbed for my handcuffs when he pulled the gun on me.

“NO!” he screamed, scrambling to his feet. “DON’T DO THIS TO ME!”

“Colby,” my throat was dry. “Colby let’s talk about-”

“NO!” He was sobbing now. The hand holding the gun was shaking. He was pointing it at me, but his eyes kept darting off to the trees. “NO PLEASE! IT-”

There was a loud “crack,” like the breaking of a branch, off to one side and he swung the gun around, firing three shots into the woods.

That was my chance.

I slammed a boot into the back of Colby’s leg as hard as I could. He went down like a wounded animal, screaming and shaking. Gunshots were ringing out as he fired wildly around.

I ran. I ran faster than I’d ever before. I scrambled over the gravel road, nearly falling head over heels while Colby’s screams and gunshots filled the night… among other, stranger sounds.

My memory after that is fuzzy. Bits and pieces are all that remain. I know I got to the Thompson house. I remember the look of shock on Lucy and the kids faces when I stormed in, slamming the door behind me. I remember the Sheriff arriving, and an ambulance showing up. Colby was nowhere to be seen. All that remained on the road was a handful of empty bullet casings and some blood.

I remember handing over my badge, and leaving the house key in my landlord’s mailbox, along with a short letter saying I was moving out.

My last memory of Seal Cove is the bus ride back to the city. Four hours of dead radio and nothing to look at but trees. I looked at the floor instead. I got a new job, new apartment, and tried never to think about it again.

Until now.

News station tonight aired a story on the growing number of missing persons in rural towns. The count now stands at eleven – nine being residents of Seal Cove, including the town’s Deputy Sheriff. They showed a quick clip of Sheriff Thompson, who looked more gaunt than ever. Only three bodies have been found, exhibiting what the reporter referred to as “heavy mutilation.” It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out exactly what that means.

People have to know that it’s not safe anymore. That thing – whatever it is – has gotten bolder. It had to have started with Mr Dossit. He had awoken it at Loon Harbour, it seems. After that, it had lured him off somehow, made him follow it into the trees. Then it descended on his wife when she was alone and miles away from help, probably in Mr Dossit’s form. And Colby… poor innocent Colby… the thing had followed us back to Seal Cove in pursuit of him after he’d seen it at Loon Harbour. We had practically lured it to humanity. How many of these new cases were victims of the same evil? Is this all our fault?

I don’t know if it will leave the woods long enough to come enter the city, but how will we know when it does? Each stranger you pass on the streets could be it in disguise. Each voice you hear on the phone could be a lie. The only safety, it seems, is to never be alone. Mr and Mrs Dossit, Colby… they had all been alone when it came for them. Maybe if I hadn’t abandoned Colby in the road that night, he’d still be alive.

It haunts my dreams every night, though I’ve never seen it with my own eyes. In my dreams it’s always Colby, though – always watching silently from behind the trees.

It won’t stop. It’s on the move and picking up speed. I wish I could say I know more about what to do but I don’t. For now, all I can say is stay close, stay safe, and stay out of the woods.

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The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 9 – Hektor

It was well into the afternoon when they decided to stop walking and make camp for the night. The weather so far had been decent, but the path was a tangle of windfalls and rocks that had rolled from the hillside above. They found a clearing in the shelter of a small cove and started setting up a lean-to and fire pit. Mavis was lining the floor of the lean-to with spruce bows when Jamie decided to gather some dry wood to burn.

Most of the branches and sticks that had fallen to the ground were wet or coated in ice, but Jamie found that there were dry pieces hidden under the rocky ledges close to the shore. By the time he had gathered enough for their camp fire it was starting to get dark. As he turned to walk back to where the shelter was, he saw the shape of a man moving the trees. In an instant he sprung to his feet and ran back to camp, throwing the sticks down and drawing his knife from his side. Mavis looked startled.

“Gods, Jamie, what going on?”

“There’s somebody coming towards the camp,” he whispered back, “a man walking the path. Just the one I think.”

Mavis reached for his bow. They had suspected they might meet a stranger at some point during their trek, but Mikhal’s warning had made them extra wary. Most times travellers were just folk in search of food or work. Other times they were trappers. But occasionally they were thieves – throat cutters living off the goods of men they’d killed. The two of them stood their ground, on either side of the fire pit, waiting.

Moments later, a short, broad man carrying a large pack stepped into their clearing. His beard was thick with frost, and four dead squirrels hung from his belt. He opened his mouth to speak, but paused after seeing the knife and bow. Slowly, he took the squirrels from his belt and held them out before him.

“If you lads mean to rob me, I pray you aren’t planning to sell your spoils. You’ll gain no riches from this poor trapper. All I have is rope and rags, and the rags stink.” Jamie and Mavis glanced at one another, and lowered their weapons.

“We’re not thieves,” Jamie said, “just cautious.”

The stranger raised an eyebrow. “Not hardly cautious enough.”

“What do you mean?” Mavis asked.

“If it’s throat cutters you’re worried about, you should set camp more than two fathoms from the path. You, mister hunter, should be hiding, ready to take a shot if I get violent. And you,” he gestured to Jamie, “should have a bigger blade.” The camp was silent for a moment.

“We’re heading south,” Jamie said, finally. “It seems you are as well. You seem to know how to handle yourself in the wild. We could walk together?”

“Aye,” said the stranger. He eyed Mavis. “I don’t think your hunter friend likes me that much yet. But I you’re not going to kill me at the moment, I say we eat. I have squirrel, and a bit of rum that’s better to share.”

Mavis nodded. “Fair enough. I’m Mavis and this is Jamie. We’re of Rivermouth.” He held out a hand, which the stranger took.

“Hektor,” he said with a smile, “of Knotten.”

Jamie took his hand as well. “Come, let’s eat.”

An hour later, the three travellers sat round the little fire watching fat bubble and drip from the skinned squirrel and land sizzling in the coals. The smell of cooking meat made their mouths water as they sipped tar-black rum from the flask that Hektor passed around. Mavis, still wary of the newcomer, had insisted that Hektor drink first, which he did, happily. Knotton, has it happened was a village in the Frost Hills that neither Jamie or Mavis had visited before.

“My home was laid down by my father and mother some fifty years back, but why they settled there, I’ll never know. The land is hard, thin, and there’s not a tree to be found for miles. Unless you count the little green dwarfs that cluster up around boulders. The only real way to make any coin is trapping. Keywings flock around the Hills in the fall, and that’s what most snare setters aim to catch.” Jamie had tried his own hand at snaring the elusive, flightless birds with little success. They were half the size of a grown man, with thick, cottony feathers and claws on their short, useless wings.

“What brought you to the Further, then?” Jamie asked.

“Same as you two, I’d reckon. The winter is cruel, cold and dark. I’m seeking out new trap lines, and shelter from the frost.” He took a sip of rum. “It hasn’t been promising.”

Why go west?” Mavis asked. “Surely the lands south of your home would be warmer. More sheltered?”

“Aye, hunter, but there are towns to the south. There are other trappers with their trap lines and hunters with their territories. It would not serve me well to take meat from another man’s land.”

“I hope you understand,” Jamie said, “that my friend and I were only protecting ourselves when you first approached us. It’s only our second day on the path and we have not been in these lands before. We know that there are dangers, but we don’t know what they look like. Tales have been told of strange folk around.”

“Aye.” said Hektor simply. He reached out to a sizzling squirrel and peeled off a thin slice of meat with his knife – an old blade carved in an arc for skinning. “I’ve seen the work of such people before. Knotton is lost, lads. Burned to the ground. Raiders. Barbarians. That’s the other reason I go west, hunter. I can’t go back.”

It was quiet then. Jamie could tell that it was not something Hektor wanted to discuss farther, and he didn’t want to push. It was Mavis who spoke.

“Our friend’s little brother is dying.”

“A sickness?” Hektor asked.

Jamie told him then about the shortage of food, the letter they had found in the wreckage, and why they were travelling to Lhorrenhelm. Hektor listened patiently, nodding.

“It’s a very brave thing, lads, what your doing,” he said when Jamie had finished. “But it will be difficult. I do not know how understanding the capitol will be.”

“Something I’ve been wondering about as well.” Mavis said.

“So the question is,” Jamie said, “will you join us? We could use somebody with your skills, and in return we’ll watch out for your back.”

Hektor smiled. “We’re both going south. Let’s go south together.”

Mavis nodded. “Settled. Welcome to the party, Hektor.”

The wind had lessened since night had fallen, and with nobody talking the Further seemed a void of nothingness – silent and empty. As the night wore on, however, Jamie thought he could see lights across the expanse, faint and winking in the distance. It must have been the campfires of travellers like themselves, journeying for their own reasons. However, he couldn’t help but think about what Mikhal had said, and the raiders who had burned Hektor’s home to the ground.

The three men wrapped themselves in their furs and slept in the lean-to under the winter sky. Before he fell asleep, Jamie wondered what sort of people could commit the cruelties that had fallen upon Knotton, and what he would do if the same lot came across Rivermouth. Finally, he thought of Felicia. Of her hair on his face and her silvery blue eyes and of the night they had spent together in his cabin those two months ago in winter’s youth. And he wondered about Lyca, and Geoffrey, and if they would be alright. He thought of her singing softly and the four of them happen and warm. Together.

In the distance the lights went out, and Jamie drifted into a shivering sleep.

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 8 – Passer’s Point

All around was the blackness of the water pressing in from every direction and squeezing him in an icy clutch. He tried to yell, to make some noise, but nothing seemed to come out. His head felt tight, and with great effort, he managed to open his eyes.

There was snow falling in flakes the size of pine cones and the trees all around him were still – even in the roaring wind. It was so loud that he had to cover his ears, but when he did he couldn’t feel his hands on his head. He couldn’t feel anything, except for a slight warmth deep within his chest. There was a noise behind him, and when he turned he thought he saw the legs of a hare disappearing behind a rock.

The heat in his chest suddenly intensified. It shocked him, and at the same moment the giant trees seemed to move – as if the forest had shuddered.

It came again. This time stronger, and hotter. It hurt him, and he tried to yell out. Still, no sound came. The trees shook.

Then, he felt what must have been fire inside of him. It burned his body, and his head flung back in agony. Every tree around him trembled and fell, their roots flying from the ground like whips that sliced through the air. The very earth beneath his feet churned like boiling water, and enormous forms like great swaying cairns rose from the land. The forest around him was gone, and he cowered in the palm of a terrible stone beast whose face rose above the clouds. He screamed, and finally from his lungs came…

Water! He was choking and spitting up water – warm and briny. The forest was gone, and he was lying on a table in a brightly lit room. Somebody had their hands pressed tightly onto his chest.

Frantically, he heaved again, and more came gushing up – more water than he thought possible to have inside. It started to run down his throat and he rolled over and vomited onto the floor, gasping for breath.

“He’s alive!” somebody was shouting. It sounded like Mavis, but Mavis wasn’t the one who had been standing over him. As he looked up, coughing and retching, he saw the face of a very pale-skinned man, with a bald head and a short-cropped, ginger beard.

“Don’t try and get up,” he said in a quiet, rough voice. “You need to rest now.”

“Who-” Jamie managed to croak out, but he fell into another fit of coughing.

“We’re at the stead, Jamie,” Mavis said, shaking. “At Passer’s Point. I can’t believe you’re alive, you bastard, I thought you were done for!” He looked as though he had been though a great deal of shock. His legs, arms and chest were wet – likely from helping Jamie ashore.

“He nearly was done for,” the other man said. Jamie figured it must be the Lightkeeper, because  there was nobody else around. “I was just getting back from the hillside when I heard voices. I ran to the cove, and just in time, I think. The bridge was wrecked last night with the ice.”

“Mikhal here caught you with a rope, and we pulled you back in.” Mavis was beginning to peel off his gloves and coat, which were hard with salty frost.

“My clothes…” Jamie said hoarsely, forcing his head from the table and realizing for the first time that he was in his undergarments.

“Your buttons and belts were frozen together,” Mikhal explained, “but luckily, you were still holding this when we dragged you in.” The Lightkeeper held out his hand – brandishing Jamie’s belt knife.

Jamie was nearly lost for words. “I don’t know… thank you,” he managed. It still hurt very much to talk. “I should be dead.”

Could be dead.” Mavis tossed him a wool blanket. “But there’s no reason you ought to be. And you should get some sleep, Jamie – it’s been a hell of a day.”

“You’re right,” he said. With his friend’s help, he shuffled over to a lumpy looking couch and shivered himself into a very easy sleep.

The sound of heavy winds and a whistling kettle stirred him the next morning.

He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and realized that he was very thirsty. There was a mug of water on the floor next to where he slept, so he took it and quickly drained it. It felt as though his throat had been stuck together, and the stench of salt was thick in his nose, but he felt otherwise very well recovered.

Mavis was sitting at the table, pipe in hand, and drinking from a steaming mug. He smiled when he saw Jamie get up.

Oh good morning,” he said with a little grin (it had been a long time since Jamie had seen that grin). “I see you’ve decided to turn over. There’s breakfast ready, and some nice hot tea too! Mikhal was kind enough to spare a bit of rum for mine.”

“I don’t think I could turn down food if it was served on bear shit now, Mave.” he replied, standing and noticing a bundle of clothes on a chair next to the table.

“Our host and saviour brought those out for you. Said they should well make up for the rags he cut off you.”

“He’s very generous, this Mikhal.”

Mavis shrugged and swallowed a mouthful of tea. “S’is job, innit?”

Jamie dressed quickly and poured himself up some tea in the water mug. It was strong and dark, and his stomach seem to feel a little better already. On the table was some hard tack and what looked like a platter of green mush. Scooping up a little bit on a piece of tack, Jamie decided it smelled like something between crushed leaves and boiled fat – not surprisingly, it tasted like it too.

“Where’s our Lightkeeper?” Jamie wondered aloud.

“He’s up int he tower, watching the waters. Not that he’s expecting to see anything, I’d imagine.” Mavis tossed a chunk of mush and tack into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

“Have you asked him about supplies?”

“I tried, but seems like he knows just about as much as we do. The last boat that stopped here was the one that ended up on the rocks. It was carrying tack, salt fish, salt and molasses. Usual winter stuffs, but that’s not the interesting part. Remember that letter you found? The smeared up one?”

“Yeah?” Jamie still had it tucked away in his  travel pack.

“It was a message for Arron Crewe, of Rivermouth.”

Jamie frowned. “Old Crewe, you mean?”

“That’s the one. Urgent message from the capitol.”

“That’s odd…” Jamie had thought for sure that the letter would have been for Mavis’ father. What special message would anybody have for a person like Old Crewe? He took another piece of tack and attempted to chew it up.

The two of them sat there and smoked their pipes for a while – Jamie had to dry and clean his out first – looking out the windows of the stead at unfamiliar sights. It was odd looking back at Rivermouth from here. They had only travelled a few hours from home but even that distance made the hamlet look like a few scattered stones in a canvas of white, green and grey. From the point, the Frost Hills were just visible at the horizon – their pearlescent peaks straining to gaze over the edge of the bays bordering hillside. The cove that they had so recklessly crossed the night before was blocked from view by a high bank and small cluster of trees that ran down to meet the shoreline.

Here, the Western Ridge seemed to tower higher still, and its ragged cliffs were not so dulled by distance. Jamie could see great gouges where landslides and lightning had attacked the ridge over time, and one peak that stood slightly taller than the rest, with a crown like a broken fang. The most intriguing of all things, however, was the view that lay to the south.

Passer’s Point marked the point where White Bay opened into the Further – a great inlet over two miles from shore to shore and twenty in length. Winds rushed in from the ocean and out of the inner bay and the Whitewater, like breath entering and escaping an enormous, yawning mouth. The hillsides which bordered it were steeper to the west, and giant grey scars marked places where the earth had given up and fallen onto the shores far below. The waves were low and slow moving under the ice, giving the surface of the Further the look of a great, shifting, morphing tundra.

They had been talking and smoking for quite some time before Mavis decided he needed a nap. They would be leaving at noon and needed all the energy they could muster. Jamie left him on the couch and went to have a word with Mikhal – there were a few questions that still weighed heavily on his mind. He found the Lightkeeper at the top of his tower, sitting in an old wooden chair and whittling while he gazed out the large, lens-like windows. Hanging from the ceiling of the tower room was an enormous lantern that glowed a brilliant orange-red light. Brass gears, pipework and chains held it precariously in place and Jamie could hear a deep, but gentle, hum coming from the orb of flame within. To his surprise, it emitted no heat.

“Morning, Jamie,” Mikhal said once he realized he was not alone. He set down the knife and wood. “Mavis said that you would be leaving today. Are you well?”

“Morning, and yes, I’m feeling good, thanks to you. I owe you a great deal, friend.”

Mikhal smiled. “You owe me nothing, traveller. Come, sit.” Jamie took a chair opposite him.

“I was just enjoying some of your… rations, and I had some things that I needed to ask you about before we go.”

“One of my more brilliant concoctions,” he replied. “Swile blubber, choke bark, some good northern herbs and salt and other bits of things. A little bit will keep you going for a while, even in the cold.” Mikhal shrugged. “But I’m assuming it wasn’t the mush that you were wondering about?”

“You’d be right. Mikhal, do you by any chance remember a young woman passing through here about two months ago? Brown hair, blueish eyes… not very tall… about my shoulder height. Left Rivermouth on a Shieldran schooner heading south?”

He thought for a moment, rubbing his chin. “I did not see your lady friend – she must not have come ashore. Odd, because it was a stormy night, I remember. But I remember the ship. It anchored here a few hours before that fool messenger sailed into the bay. I told him he should have stayed the night, but he insisted that there was urgent business with some Mister Arron Crewe in Rivermouth. I couldn’t imagine what business a man would have in Rivermouth that would be so urgent.” He looked apologetically at Jamie and said, “No offence, of course.”

“None taken. Do you remember where the schooner was heading?”

“South, that I can guarantee. The captain was heading back to Altas in the shield, I believe, but I seem to recall him mentioning a stop in Ghendorral. That, I’ll reckon, is where your friend was heading. Big town, Ghendorral. I’d be surprised if you didn’t find her there.”

Jamie’s heart sunk. They would have no time to search for Felicia on the way to the capitol. Still, at least he would know. “Thanks, friend. Another thing I’ve been wondering…”

“Ask away.”

“Has something happened in Quartz cove? The place looked nearly empty yesterday. We’d been planning on stopping there for some pack-filling.”

“Nothing’s happened, per say, but the winter has been testing their strength. Most families winter to the south in Granite, but there are a collect few who remain to manage the mines. Their stocks, however, are running low. I’ve helped them as much as I can, but I have to keep on hand supplies fit to share with travellers and lost souls such as yourselves. That is my duty, as Lightkeeper.”

“So it’s not just Rivermouth that’s in trouble, then.”

“It would seem not, Jamie.” The older man rubbed his scalp and stared out into the blistering cold. He was perhaps twice Jamie’s age, but he seemed much older somehow. Wiser, perhaps. There was something troubling about his eyes – they seemed almost sad. Felicia used to say I had sad eyes.

“Mikhal, how long have you been Lightkeeper here?”

“Oh gods… whatsit now, going on twenty-two years I think. I used to keep a journal but after a while I gave it up. Stories are wasted with no one to tell them to in a place like this.”

“Must get lonely here sometimes, I’ll bet?”

“Ah, that it do,” Mikhal sighed, “but that’s my duty. ‘Keep the light,’ they told me. ‘Keep the light and shine the way, O torch that guides the wandering home.’” He smiled. “Very solemn words for a boy of sixteen to swear into, not that I really understood what I was getting into. Back then, I used to dream of captaining a ship of my own and sailing south to the tree lands looking for treasure. Hah! I found green lands alright… green when they aren’t bloody frozen.”

“You’re not from the north?” Jamie asked.

“No no no, I don’t belong here. Not as you do. It’s plain to see if you knew me. I come from salt, kelp and granite, friend. From the lands of the old world founded long before the common folk came to Lhor and the darkness fell.”

“You’re of the shield, then?”

Mikhal nodded. “You don’t feel the cold as I do,” he said with an exaggerated shiver. “If it was my bald self sinking below the waves last night, I’d not have woken up. That, I’m sure of.”

“Perhaps,” Jamie said, “but I damn well hope I won’t have to try it again.” His thoughts were drifting to Felicia and her mother, and he wondered then if there was some remnant of his family left in the world. Somebody he could call kin. “do you remember, b any chance, if anybody with the name Wyndwood has passed through here before?”

He thought for a moment. “I’ve seen hundreds come and go over the years, Jamie. All sorts of folk, but I don’t remember hearing the name. Why?”

“It’s nothing,” he said, “just a curiosity.” He put a hand on the Lightkeeper’s shoulder. “I have to thank you again, for saving my life, friend.” He stood up to leave.

Mikhal nodded, and picked up his knife and wood. “I have not saved you, only preserved you. For that matter, try to avoid fall overboard from now on. Still, it’s been very good to meet you. Perhaps we shall meet again, pray the light bring you back. Safe travels, friend.” Shavings began to fall once more as Mikhal continued working the blade back and forth, forming the shape of a leaping fish in his hands. Before Jamie left the room he said, “Be wary of any you meet on your way. I’ve heard tell of strange folk around the Further these past months.”

An hour later – earlier than they had planned – the two men from Rivermouth stood outside the Lightkeeper’s door, double-checking pockets and belts and straps. After a final glance towards home, Jamie and Mavis faced south and start off along the shore path. On their left, the faint glow of a morning sun burned beyond the winter clouds. On their right, the rocky spine of the west glared coldly from across the Further.

And among the waves, the ice continued to gather.

A NaNoWriMo Update (novel announcement)

evrwndr-565x800It’s less than a week away, so I’ve decided to do some prepping. Very little, but it counts for something.

You can now find me on nanowrimo.org – my profile name is kdanielsauthor. If you are participating, feel free to add me as a writing buddy, or not! Whatever works in your favor. I’ve also announced my project – a fantasy adventure novel called… here it comes…

“Everwander”

I know! Basque in the glory of it’s over-the-top-cheesy-fantasyness. I’ve also decided on another thing, which, despite being very cool to me, won’t really affect the outcome of the story, although it may affect some of the content.

I’ve decided that Everwander will take place in the same universe as The Keeping of the Light (my current fantasy novel project). I’m doing this for three reasons: (1) It will allow me to show off parts of the universe which are not covered in TKOTL, including bits of magic and cultures that don’t get a lot of time in that novel, (2) I can explore other areas of the universe that have existed in my mind for years, but TKOTL doesn’t venture into, and (3) I can create a story mostly from scratch, without having to spend the first three weeks worldbuilding.

It may seem like a cop-out, or a cheat… and that’s because it kind of is. I only have a month to do this, and if I want to manage to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month I need to spend the least amount of time creating new concepts as possible. But, fear not. This story has virtually zero overlap with TKOTL. Everwander takes place about sixty years before the beginning of TKOTL, and in a different region of the world – a country west of Lhor. So in short – somewhat familiar ground, but in an unfamiliar context. This is probably evident in my rambling on, but I’m rather excited to get started. Happy writing.

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 7 – The Mapmaker

Back in Rivermouth, Lyca watched as her little brother turned over in his sleep. It had been a long time since he last got some rest, but after eating some of the watery stew she had made from some of Jamie’s goods, he seemed to have regained some of himself. It was a relief to see, but sleep had become impossible for her.

Lyca’s mind was swimming with thoughts of her brother, of her own safety, of Felicia, and most of all, Mavis and Jamie. They must have made it to Passer’s Point by now, but where would they go from there? Neither of them had ever gone south before. The only times she could think of that they had left the bay at all were on hunting and trapping trips to the Frost Hills, but there were small outposts along the way for people on that journey. It could take them days, maybe even weeks to reach Lhorrenhelm, and by that time the village might be in truly dire straits.

But it wasn’t only her mind that was struggling. Her body had become weaker over the last three weeks. The constant hunger left her stomach feeling twisted and torn. There was no doubt her health was declining along with Geoffrey’s.

Looking out her little window by the table, she strained her eyes as hard as possible, trying to pick out the Lightkeeper’s beacon in the distance. It was no use. It was so black outside that she could barely see the trees near her cabin. For hours she sat there, wondering and worrying, peering questioningly into the abyss. Her stomach hurt, her eyes were tight, and even though the night was cold, she couldn’t seem to shake an uncomfortable sweat that had set in that afternoon. Little by little, the candle on the table shrank.

It was near midnight when a low knock came on the door.

“Who could…” she wondered aloud. Opening it, she was met by a fair face, framed with curly, light brown hair and a tightly-drawn hood.

“Lyca, good. I hope I haven’t woken you,” said Susan – eldest of the Wyndhill sisters – in a hushed voice. “I was sent to ask for you.”

Lyca paused, visibly surprised. “No no… I wasn’t, I was just… Is something wrong?”

“Nothing more than we already know, I think, but Helena and I were helping Mister Crewe with some of his things – he’s so old, you know – and he asked about Jamie and Mavis. He said that Mr. Straulk came by to visit and told him that the men were walking to Passer’s Point to speak with the Lightkeeper. He said that he wanted to hear about what their plans were, and he mentioned that he needed to talk to you about something urgent.”

“Something urgent?” Lyca asked, beginning to feel afraid. Mavis had lied to his father about going to the Further. Perhaps the journey was more treacherous than they would allow her to believe. “Superstition, you think?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s always telling stories about adventures and what not, but to be honest we’ve never paid much attention to them. His mind’s not as strong as it used to be – nor his body for that matter – but he did seem awfully concerned when he asked for you.”

She grabbed a thick, furred cloak, and with an endearing look to her sleeping brother, she said “Let’s go.”

It wasn’t a long walk to the old man’s cabin, which was just down the path from the Straulks’ store, but to Lyca it seemed to take forever. When Susan and her finally reached the front door and went inside, kicking the snow from their boots, she was shaking nervously.

“There you are, then!” the old man said, rubbing his brow. He was nestled in an old wicker chair near the fire, looking rather more feeble than usual in the flickering, orange glow. With a look around the small room, Lyca realized that the walls were covered with dust-covered picture frames, but most did not hold pictures. Instead, the majority of the frames displayed maps. Hand-drawn in ink on ancient parchment and cloth, some seemed so fragile that they might fall to pieces if they were removed from their protective shield of glass.

“Here I am indeed, Mister Crewe,” Susan said in a hushed voice, “and Lyca’s here with me. You said you needed to speak to her?”

“Something about Mavis and Jamie?” Lyca asked, louder than Susan.

Old Crewe smiled – a sad sort of smile – and said, “Yes, good. Might we have a few moments alone my dear?”

“Of course,” Susan said, and with that she left quietly.

He turned his gaze again to the anxiously waiting young woman and examined her face closely for a second. It seemed that he was wondering – or knowing – what he was feeling.

“I fear that your friends have taken on a task that’s to heavy for them them.”

“I have faith in them.”

“As do I, Lyca. As much faith as I can have. However, this winter is strong… fierce… I cannot say that the courage of young men is all that we need in these dark days.” He shivered. “I must ask, my dear, where your friends told you they are going to search for help? And don’t tell me it’s Passer’s Point there they’re heading for. I might be older than Straulk, but sometimes I swear it’s me that has the most sense.”

“The capitol,” Lyca replied, slightly disheartened by his tone. “To Lhorrenhelm.”

“Yes… I suppose he was trying to stop his father from worrying too much.” He rose from the chair, slowly balancing himself with his cane, and beckoned for her to follow him. He led her into the next room – slightly colder than the last – where there were small crates, chests, and boxes piled high against the walls.

“The top… in the corner there… could you?”

“Yes, of course.” Lyca said, reaching and lifting down a book-sized folder, fastened with a tiny rawhide belt. She laid it on a small, round table, and Old Crewe unfastened it and opened it with care. Inside were – as expected – more maps, but these were especially preserved. Due to their manner of storage, Lyca suspected that they must have been precious to the old man. A sort of private treasure, perhaps.

“I was young once as well. It seems so long ago now though… so very many years ago. I remember my days as a young boy on the river, exploring and hunting with my friends. We had adventures too, you know – journeys over the Frost Hills and to the Shores of Glass beyond that. I would draw maps of wherever we went, to show hunters and trappers the best places to go – and the places best left unexplored.” A slight darkness seemed to come over him. “Those deep caves of ice… I will never forget, I fear, the riverbed in the valley…”

For a moment he stopped, and the room became quieter than ever before. The winds outside seemed to cease, cloaking them in the silence of Lyca’s anticipation, until…

“This is the one.”

It was a very old map, Lyca could tell, and inked on thick parchment that had long ago turned bronze. However, the lines were still thick and black like deep cracks in stone. The old man started to unfold it, and Lyca was surprised at how large it actually was. The North of Lhor, read the title in a sweeping hand in the lower right corner.

“I prepared this map many years ago,” he said, “for a dear friend of mine. He was a sailor – a cargo ship captain from the Shield. Some say that sea folk are cruel and hard and made of salt, but he was one of the best men I’ve ever known. Saved my life, he did. More than once too, but I paid him back in the end.” Old Crewe paused for a moment, admiring his handiwork. “It seems that the best of us are always put to the test in the harshest of ways. Drowned, he did… man of the sea, and returned to the sea, he did, after all was said and done.”

He spread the paper out, and snapped a finger down at the center of it.

“Rivermouth,” he said, smiling quietly, “and here… Quartz Cove. Birchbanks. Ah, the old country path to the Frost Hills – many memories made on that journey, you can believe it. And my hometown – Greepetown – on the banks of the Whitewater.”

Lyca was hardly listening – she was too busy scanning the many lines and words on the paper before her. Even the Frost Hills looked close compared to the other names on the map. To the east, beyond them, was Dhevon (she had heard of this one), and Knotton, and at the edge of the map was a long shore, straight and unbroken save for one large inlet names Hivenos. Her eyes returned to the bay, and began to follow the Whitewater northwards, past the Mouth, the Gut. Past Old crewe’s antive town, past Spirit Falls and the Eye. The river came from Lake Owhea, nestled between the norther limits of the Western Ridge and a single mountain on its eastern shore that did not seem to have a name.

Beyond the lake and the mountain pass, the lands of the far north – the Northendings – stretched beyond the limits of the parchment. From what was drawn, Lyca saw strange names of places like Eroheu and Oyesi. She supposed that these were the settlements of the Eru.

The Western Ridge was greater than she had ever imagined. It stretched from the far north for hundreds and hundreds of leagues, southward and westward towards the south shore of the northern lands. Beyond the ridge lay the Barrens, and on that part of the map there were no markings for woods, hills or towns. There was but a single river that ran through it, coming from a small lake in the Keywing Mountains to the northwest and running through the Barrens southward into the sea.

There was one place, it seemed, where the Western Ridge was broken. A narrow gap named Noer’s Pass, was at the very corner of the ridge where the western shore of the Further met the sea on a sharp point. Nestled on that point was the image of a Lightkeeper’s tower. Next to it was a name marked in long, curved letters. “Lhorrenhelm,” she whispered, realizing now what the old man had meant.

“The capitol is unreachable unless your friends have a ship or wings.” Old Crewe looked sad as he said it, and the lines in his weathered face seemed to stretch with solemnity. “There will be no crossing at Passer’s Point – the ice is too thick now. Unless they find passage at Granite, they will to journey to the ends of the Further, where the Eastern shore meets the sea.”

Lyca stared at the map where the old man had tapped his knuckle. “Ghendorral,” she said. “But it’s so far. And how long would they have to wait for a ship to cross?”

“In winter? It’s hard to say, my dear. But my concern is that your friends will not take the sure route.”

“What do you mean?”

“How patient would you say our young sirs are, Lyca?”

She bit her lip, and frowned. “Not very.”

He nodded. “I fear they will take to the ice, and make to cross the Further. The west shore is inhospitable. Deadly. There are no paths along that rocky waste. If Mavis and Jamie take to the ice, I fear they will not stand a chance.

I’m Entering NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year. November is coming. The month of mustaches and and panicked, frantic novel writing. I’m participating in the latter. I’m going to write a novel in a month. Why. Why oh why do I do this to myself?

I’m already partway through the writing of two very large projects, so it’s safe to say that those will take somewhat of a back seat while I focus my efforts on my NaNoWriMo entry. I’m planning on writing a fantasy, but nothing as complex as The Keeping of the Light. Something straightforward, something fun, and something undoubtedly more lighthearted. An adventure story, like the ones I used to read in school.

I have zero plans. Mostly because I have no time to plan, but also because I want to see where my imagination takes me. Stories like TKOTL take so much time planning and preparing that by the time I start writing I sometimes forget what I had planned to do. I enjoy making a complex plot, and being able to include bits of foreshadowing and hints for the reader, but this will be an exercise in spontaneity. We’ll just see what happens! If I’m happy with the results, I’ll share it here.

Cheers.

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 6 – The First Few Miles

It was late in the afternoon when they had finally packed their bags with the necessary travel gear – cloths of dried kelp and root, knives, spare sets of clothes, flint and steel, pipes and bark, a few small loaves of very hard bread, and some small corked flasks of water-down berry wine. Mavis’ bow was slung over his shoulder, and it was time to go. After handing over his key to Lyca and enduring a rib-cracking hug, Jamie stood next to Mavis on the icy bank by his cabin. They looked back at their hometown, where thin streams of smoke were rising and being rushed away in the wind. With a final tightening of straps and belts and a quick “A’right?”, the two friends turned and started to walk out the shore, slipping occasionally on the ice-glazed rocks.

It was frigid in the bay, but walking kept them nearly warm. There were many obstacles, however. The stormy winter winds had caused many a tree to topple onto the shore, so every few minutes of travel was interrupted by the need to climb over, around, or under one of the ancient spruces.

Stopping for a quick break, Jamie couldn’t help but notice that the waves were growing slower, and the ice was pressing tighter. Here and there, blobs of thick slush were forced skyward and frozen into ragged shapes – statues rising in the cold.

By the time they had reached Quartz Cove, Jamie was sure that the sun would be setting soon. They would need to hurry if they hoped to reach Passer’s Point by nightfall. One slip, one wrong turn in the dark and they would find themselves hopelessly at the mercy of winter.

The paths in the little mining settlement were empty, the trading shop closed. Here and there a candle or a thin face could be seen peering from behind a curtain. Most homes, it seemed to Jamie, were empty. More than a few doors and shutters had been planked over. One stone hall by the mine entrance seemed to have toppled in the storm, and large boulders were strewn about in the streets. They decided to press on. A quick glance over their shoulders revealed that they were now out of sight of home. The falling snow obscured their view. Everyone in Rivermouth would know that they had left by now.

Another hour and they’d be at the Lightkeeper’s stead, but the conditions were worsening. The wind had picked up, thrusting jets of icy air onto the shore. Salty spray drifted on the breeze, painting their clothes and cheeks white. The clouds overhead tightened, and it seemed that night was chasing them along their path. Little by little, they made their way – slipping, tumbling and sliding among the splintered logs and banks of ice, until they came to a cove.

It wasn’t a large cove. In fact it was rather small – no more than a hundred feet from side to side, and wouldn’t have taken long to walk across, had the bridge that once hung there not been torn asunder by the storm. Around was the only way to go, but to Jamie and Mavis’ dismay the cove was walled by steep cliffs that seemed to lean outward over the freezing water below.

“What now?” Mavis shouted over the howling wind. Jamie thought for a second then turned around.

“It’s too late to go back… we’ll lose ourselves in the dark. Maybe we could climb across?” he suggested, wishing he hadn’t.

They went a bit closer to the cliff face, edging precariously along the now dangerously slippery rocks, but there was no way they could get across. The bare granite wall that stood before them was so encrusted with ice that it was as smooth as glass.

“We’re stuck.” Jamie yelled. “If we stay here, we freeze. If we turn back we’ll be lost and then freeze.” But Mavis wasn’t listening – he was kicking at the bank of ice near the waters edge.

“Help me!” His voice was faint in the storm. “If we can break this off we can get on and pull ourselves across!”

Jamie rushed to his friend immediately. It was a mad idea, but it might be their only chance of making it to Passer’s Point before nightfall. They both climbed on top of the great sheet of ice and at the count of “One… Two… THREE!” they jumped into the air and forced down with their legs as hard as they could. There was a crunch, but the ice didn’t move. “AGAIN!” The bank emitted a deep groan, like the sound of a huge annoyed animal, but it still didn’t move. “AGAIN!!!”

CRUNCH!

The bank gave way, and Jamie, Mavis, and the great chunk of ice came down hard on the wet shore near the water. As quickly as they could force themselves to move, the two men scrambled off and mustered the strength to stop it from sliding off into the bay. Slowly, carefully, they edged the chunk along until they could climb onto it and hold the cliff face. With knives as makeshift ice picks in hand, they gave the ice raft a push and scrambled on it.

It sank deep into the water, so much that Jamie and Mavis’ feet were partially submerged, and they cried out in agony as the deathly cold liquid filled their boots. They dug their knives deep into the ice of the cliff, slowly pulling themselves across to the other side. If either of them slipped, or lost their knife, or they drifted too far from the cliff, it would be death.

After what felt like hours and hours the two of them were only a few feet from the opposite shore. This side was much steep than where they had come from, and the water was deeper here, but they had made it. Now came the tricky part.

“You go first,” Jamie shouted, “I’ll hold the ice when you jump.”

“Okay. Gods above, Jamie, be careful!”

Jamie took a swing at the cliff with his knife and dug it in as deep as he could.

“NOW!”

Mavis leapt from the ice – his arms waving madly in the air. As he did, the ice chunk surged backwards. Jamie clenched his fist tightly around the handle of his knife, and yanked hard to pull himself forward and regain his balance. I will not let go. I will not.

The ice broke.

There was a sound of somebody crying out in vain – had it been Mavis, or him? Then there was blackness. Needles shot through Jamie’s body, and he felt as though his head was about to explode. It was colder than anything.

He was running, shouting.

A hand was reaching out to him…

Reaching out…

Too far… Too cold…

Whistle while you work: Thoughts on music and writing

People, and writers especially, tend to have quirks. Some of us find it hard to work unless the conditions are just right. When it comes to writing, sometimes extra attention paid to little details in our environment can make the process a little easier. It might seem bizarre to somebody who hasn’t spent their time authoring a story or poem, or even a song, that sometimes a room can be too quiet to work in.

For me, listening to music doesn’t seem to help all that much. I’m too easily distracted, and perhaps that comes from being a musician myself. I can’t help but be drawn in by lyrics and my own thoughts get put on pause. Instrumental music is better – acoustic arrangements, classical or jazz guitar for me – but it still tends to draw me out of the creative process, rather than ease me into it.

What I have found to be helpful – especially for longer projects – is noise. Not radio, not music, but straight-up background noise. People talking. Wind. Rain. Cars driving. Crowds. Busy places. It’s something about being alone in a coffee house, park, or library that I really find inspiring. It can also be distracting, but in an entirely different way. Sometimes I catch snippets of people’s conversations, or even them talking to themselves. Other times the smells of food or dusty books or a warm breeze will put me in the scene I’m writing. There’s something about the noise in those places that helps me to concentrate, even though I feel like it should have opposite effect. If I can’t put myself in those situations physically, I’ll load up a Youtube video of ambient noise that varies depending on the mood I’m in or the piece I’m writing. Anything to break the silence and put me in that environment.

For me, it’s the music of everyday life that helps the most. Being around people while still being in my own little world. Maybe it’s simply that sitting with a laptop in a library or cafe makes me want to look busy, and if that truly is the case – what the hell? It’s working.

Cheers

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 5 – A Desperate Plan

Fifty-seven days had passed since Felicia Tyndwell had left Rivermouth for good. The nights at Jamie’s cabin were not quite as cheery as they had once been, but something else had changed as well. Mavis’ father had not had a shipment of supplies for nearly three months. Tomorrow was the first day of Dimlight, beginning of the new year, and by now there should have been two shipments of cured fish, barley, molasses and pickled goods from the capitol. Things were starting to look bleak. The winter was proving to be a particularly harsh one, and without imported goods from the Further, the folk in Rivermouth were not faring well.

Traps kept coming up empty, the Whitewater was nearly frozen to a standstill, and Jamie was forced to remember a time six years ago when his parents never came home from hunting. The shores of the bay had frozen in great frost banks, and the water was thick and heavy with a layer of slush, floating mortar-like between slabs of ice. All that Mr Straulk had left in his shop was a small pile of unsold skins and a few old sacks of salt – the latter being useful of course, but doing nothing to ease the pains of hunger. There was talk of sickness, and Jamie himself was looking skinnier than he had in a very long time. The only source of meat was the occasional crow, and they were clever and would take flight at even the sound of a bow being drawn.

Jamie had taken to chopping away at the ice in the cove in search of kelp weeds, which he boiled to make a horrible soup.  He had just begun to heave at the ice one late morning when he heard Mavis walking out through the path.

“Bad news, Jamie, bad news.”

“Has there ever been any good?” he asked, with a grim smile. Mavis wore a pained expression. “Is your father okay?”

“Pop’s fine,” he replied. “But Lyca’s in a terrible state, Jamie. I don’t know what to do. It’s Geoffrey – he’s awful sick. The poor kid has hardly eaten for days.”

Jamie stuck his axe in the thick ice and pulled his collar down from his mouth a little. Lyca loved Geoffrey as if he was her own son. If something happened to him it was hard imagining how she would cope with it.

“There’s nothing in the shop cellar that could help him? No medicines? Have you checked?” Jamie said, hoping he hadn’t.

“Yes. Time and time again. There’s nothing.” Mavis’ eyes, usually bright as wet stone, were hard and dull. He looked genuinely worried. “I don’t know why there hasn’t been a shipment in so long. Pop gets a load once a month, that’s the deal he had with them lot down south. Something must be wrong.” He stopped for a moment. Slowly, he added, “You think this could have something to do with that wreck?”

“It’s possible,” Jamie agreed, “but Lhorrenhelm would just send another boat right? Ships like that get lost all the time I bet. And word of the wreck must have reached the Further by now?”

“You would think.” His friend said, rubbing cold hands together.

“Let’s go see the boy. I haven’t talked to Lyca in near a week now.”

At that, Mavis nodded and turned to lead the way along the path to Lyca’s home. The Kyllens’ cabin was one of the smaller households in Rivermouth, a little one-room cabin cradled by a small brook that ran down from the Frost Hills somewhere to the far northeast. Now, the little brook was still as stone. Jamie left his axe outside the front door as Mavis and him made their way inside.

Geoffrey was a pitiful sight. The boy was frail, and his skin a pale yellow. Dark circles shaded his eyes and he barely moved his head to look up and see who had come in. Lyca was by the stove, boiling something in a large pot; it smelled very bland. Her hair was greasy and snarled, her eyes sunken. It was obvious she’d been neglecting her own well-being in efforts to make Geoffrey well.

“How are you holding out?” she said, in a voice that sounded much thinner than usual.

“I am.” Jamie replied. He gave her a distracted hug, unable to take his eyes from the sick boy. “I guess that’s all anybody can be doing at a time like this.”

“What’s this?” Mavis walked over to the stove and looked in the cooking pot. His eyebrows drifted up, a mix of curiosity and repulsion. “I see… a potato… I think.” He squinted. “Whassat? Turnip?”

“More potato,” Lyca said, rolling her eyes. “Could do with an onion or two around here.”

“And how are you feeling, friend?” Jamie asked the boy, sitting at the foot of the bed. “I have to admit you’re looking a bit less than chipper.” He gave him a smile.

“I’m fine,” Geoffrey muttered, not looking up. Mavis took a seat in a small chair near the stove, looking intently at him.

“And what might cheer you up, I wonder?” Jamie asked.

“I’m fine,” was all he said.

The little cabin was chilled, despite the roaring fire. Lyca scooped up a small bowl of the watery soup and brought it to Geoffrey, but he just held it in his hand, uninterested.

“If you don’t eat, you’re not going to feel better,” Lyca said kindly. “This lot’s not quite as bad as the last.” She put a hand on her brother’s forehead and ruffled his hair. Jamie thought he caught a glimpse of a smile on Geoffrey’s lips, but it didn’t last long. The boy took a sip of the concoction. Mavis gave him a small nod of approval.

The wind rattled on the window as they sat there, talking of cellar contents and weather. Jamie was fiddling with a loose string in his coat pocket when his hand came across something small and crumpled. The letter.

“I’d forgotten about this,” he said, pulling it out and unfolding it. “Picked it up in the wreckage the morning that body washed ashore.” He squinted at the ink smudges, trying to pick out some words. The whole page was a blotchy mess of grey.

“What’s it say?” Lyca asked.

“Nothing anymore.”

Mavis looked up, brow furrowed. “That wreck… There were branded sacks from Lhorrenhelm right?”

“Yeah, we gathered ’em up afterwards.” Jamie had an idea where this was going. “Your father-”

“Gets his shipments from the capitol.” Mavis finished. Jamie thought he knew where this was headed.

“What if this letter was something important? Something for your father? Some kind of notice or something? If Lhorrenhelm was going to stop sending freight, they’d send a warning first.” He looked hard at the parchment, but it was no hope.

“That would mean there aren’t any shipments coming.” Lyca was pale-faced. The room was silent apart from the winter winds outside, trying to find a way in. Another long look at Geoffrey’s shrunken body and Lyca’s worried face made Jamie realize exactly what needed to be said.

“I could go to town and find out what’s going on.” Mavis looked at him, surprised. Lyca shook her head.

“Travel? In this?” Mavis pressed, pointed at the window. “Jamie, there probably won’t even be  ferry to Lhorrenhelm at Passer’s Point, not with this cold. With the way things have been going – this much ice in the water – anybody’d be crazy to try and sail far inland.”

Then I’ll have to walk.” He stuffed the parchment back into his pocket. “There’s no use staying here like this, not while people are sick and dying. You know it’s true, Mave – we rely on that damned shipment to survive around here. There’s no food.”

“Well you’d be stupid to think I’d let you run off into the Further without any help.” Mavis said.

Lyca looked at the two of them, predicting what was undoubtedly unfolding. “No, you can’t,” she said, “you two can’t leave – gods it’s bad enough with Felicia gone.”

“I’ll leave you my key. I’ve still got some goods in my cellar. It’s not much, but it’ll help. And we won’t be able to carry much with us, regardless.” Jamie offered.

“And Pops has something, I’m sure, that he could spare.” When Lyca didn’t reply, he said, “If we don’t do this, Geoffrey might not got better, Lyca.”

She wiped her eyes, and nodded. It was true – unless a sledge was sent soon along the shore path it was almost certain that her brother wouldn’t live to see another birthday. She was silent for a while.

“And I’ll just be sitting here like some old maid, while you two are out risking your lives?”

“Geoff needs you, Lyca” Mavis said.

She took a long, slow breath and finally, but reluctantly, nodded. “I can’t stop you, then?”

“Not hardly,” said Jamie.

“But what if you don’t get back?” Geoffrey’s frail voice could have brought tears to Jamie’s eyes. He had taken risks before, travelled some dangerous paths, but this would not be easy. Somehow, the words came out of him as though it were somebody else speaking.

“We will be back, Geoffrey. We’re going to do everything we can. It’s a little scary, yeah, but who’s to say that’s not such a bad thing? It’s being afraid that can give you the strength to do things you never thought possible. And besides, I’ll have Mave here with me. You know how many big beasts he’s sorted out with that bow of his?”

Geoffrey looked at Mavis and shook his head.

“Hundreds,” Mavis said, in an overly casual tone.

Hundreds?

“Give or take,” Mavis reassured him. Lyca rolled her eyes.

Jamie smiled. “So I can’t imagine there’s a threat the two of us can’t handle. You like stories, don’t you?”

The little boy nodded.

“Well the next time I see you, you’re going to hear one hell of a story.” Jamie said.

The fantastic adventure of Misters Straulk and Wyndwood!” Mavis gave a little bow to Geoffrey, who was smiling. It was the gleeful smile that Jamie saw young boys give their fathers. It made Jamie’s heart ache.

“Okay,” said Geoffrey.

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 4 – Dead Men and Letters

Nearly all of the town had fled their homes in the early morning during the waning of the storm, hoping beyond hope that some sort of rescue would be possible. They were met with nothing but bitter disappointment.

Jamie and Mavis had been the first to arrive at the mouth, alerting others along the way. The folk – young and old – had been scouring the rocks for hours, finding nothing but shattered timbers and bits of frayed rope. Among the wreckage there were empty sacks, all marked with the Lhorrenhelm brand, and a small wooden box with a piece of parchment inside that was smudged from being soaked in water. It appeared to be a letter, but even the keenest of the literate few were unable to make out anything legible. Jamie folded it and tucked it away in a pocket, thinking it might be easier to read once it had dried out.

It seemed that the boat had been abandoned before it wrecked, because no bodies or clothing could be found. The tragedy of the scene was disheartening, but even so, Jamie’s mind was elsewhere. He couldn’t help but wonder why Felicia hadn’t shown up, or why he hadn’t seen her since the night of the party. Lyca had shown up with her young brother, Geoffrey. Even Old Crewe was poking at the wreckage with his knotted cane. It didn’t seem right. Had something happened to her?

Overhead the sky was still churning, but the winds had died and the storm seemed to be on its way out. An eerie glow still hung in the bay, making things appear bluish and metallic in the morning light. The crowd had just begun to collect the broken timbers into bundles and share them out for firewood when somebody let out an exasperated yell.

“Ere!” It was Locke, Mavis’ uncle. He was clambering over a rock and looking down with a pained look on his face. “I foun’ summing lads.”

“Body?” one of the crowd yelled, as they all ran to his side.

He nodded. It was a man lying in a pool of water. From the look of it, he had been in his thirties, and his soaking wet coat was wrapped tightly up to his neck, his arms folded close against his chest. Though the man’s face was crusted and cracked with salt and frost, his eyes were open wide in a blank stare.

“Poor lad probably couldn’t swim,” Locke remarked sadly. After the body had been found, the group carried the bundles of wood to the bank near the Straulks’ shop. The body was carried by Harven, the giant of a man everybody called Tiny. They cut boughs, and with these and timbers from the craft, they prepared a funeral pyre for the nameless dead man. His spirit was returned to the sky, his ashes to the cold, hard earth.

“I nearly panicked this morning when you and Mavis told me.” Lyca said to Jamie as they walked along the path back to their homes. “I should have known better, though. The schooner left in the morning, so she’d have reached Passer’s Point long before the storm hit.”

“What do you mean?” Jamie asked, confused.

“Well… oh it feels ridiculous to say now… I was afraid that it was Felicia. Thank the gods I was wrong.”

“Felicia?” Jamie was stunned. “Why would you think-” He stopped short. It felt as though his stomach was filled with cold, squirming eels.

“You didn’t…” her voice trailed off. She looked at the expression on Jamie’s face with something that was equal parts pity and helplessness.

“She left yesterday, Jamie. The other night, I thought…” She looked to the ground with large, sad eyes. “I thought she’d stayed with you to say goodbye. She made me swear not to say anything to you. I’m…” She put a gloved hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

Was that what it had been? A goodbye? Jamie could feel a bitterness in his mouth, a hot ache in his chest. Gods, he thought, why didn’t I see it coming? She had said it herself, but he’d been too blind to figure it out. “I’m going to miss all of this,” Jamie remembered her saying. How could I be so blind?

“It’s… I’ll be alright. But, Lyca… How long had you known? Did she tell you why?”

“She told me a week before the party. She seemed really shaken up over something, and I couldn’t quite get her to explain herself to me. At first, all she would say is, ‘I have to go, I’m sorry,’ and ‘It’s nothing you should worry about.’ Of course that kind of talk only made me worry more. It was three days before I could finally get any real explanation out of her, but I threatened to tell you about her plan and that seemed to do the trick.”

“Tell me? Why would that make any difference?”

“Gods above and below, Jamie.” she rolled her eyes and gave him a look that was frustrated, but kind. “You can’t tell me you didn’t know how she felt about you?”

He shook his head, unable to think of any response that wouldn’t sound pathetic. Lyca hugged him tightly, her cold cheek pressed against his.

“So she did tell you why, after that?” Jamie prodded.

“She did. It’s her mother, Jamie. Apparently she’s on her way to live with her.”

Jamie was stunned. Felicia had never mentioned her parents to him. He had always assumed she was an orphan. Jamie never asked because he dared not see her upset and be responsible.

“What exactly did she say?”

Lyca thought for a moment. “Never much, just ‘I need to find her, and help her.’ It sounded to me like she must be sick or in some sort of trouble.”

“I’d always assumed her parents were dead,” Jamie said. “How would she have gotten word of her mother?”

“I couldn’t begin to guess. But now you know why I couldn’t tell you about it.” She paused. “What would you have done if you found out she was going away?”

“I’d have gone with her,” he said, almost at once. “I’d not have let her go alone. It’s dangerous to travel in these parts, and with winter coming.”

Lyca nodded. “You know she’ll be okay, though.” She smiled. “Our Felicia’s no spring flower.”

“I know that as well as anyone. She’s tough as nails.” Still, the thought of Felicia alone in the bowels of some dark, creaking schooner made him feel nearly sick. “I just hope she finds what she’s looking for. If it were me, if it were my… I would have to go too.”

Lyca gave him a knowing nod. “I as well.”

“Does Mavis know?” Jamie asked after a short silence.

“No. I’ll have to give him the news tonight. I’d assumed that you spoke to him about it yesterday.” She raised her arms in a sad shrug. “I suppose It falls to me, the bringer of bad news.”

“No,” he said, grabbing her by a hand, “we’ll both tell him. You’ve carried this alone long enough.”

That night he sat on the old cushions, staring out the window at gannets diving in the distance. The Lightkeeper’s beacon at Passer’s Point glowed a pale orange-red in the distance, and though he stared in that direction for what seemed like hours, Jamie could see no outline of the Shieldran schooner on which Felicia had taken her leave. She was gone. He didn’t leave his spot by the window until it had gotten very dark. By that time the woodstove had nearly gone out, and the cabin was frosty. Jamie didn’t even notice the cold – he was too busy thinking. Thinking about the little trading shop in Quartz Cove, and how the waves would feel when they churned against the side of a ship’s hull. Thinking about Felicia and her mother, and his own parents whom he’d never see aside from those haunting dreams. Thinking about the ship that had wrecked during the night. Thinking about the dead man, who was free of cold and hardship forever as he walked the heavens, wherever they lay.

He sat there, staring out the window until the world disappeared, until it was him, the moon and the beacon in the distance. The water reflected a cold, black sky. The Western Ridge stood silent against the night, a thin jagged line on the horizon. Watching.

He held Felicia’s necklace in his hand and wept, and knew that he’d never see her again.