Unfinished

Here is the beginning snippet of a fantasy romance novel I began crafting over a decade ago. There isn’t much to follow this little introduction, but I did work out an outline of the plot and the premise behind it – which naturally involves a forbidden relationship. I haven’t decided yet whether this story takes place in the Teharan Cycle universe.

Please let me know if you think the prose has promise, or if I ought to abandon it.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

The Ties that Bind

Adele was shaking out the kitchen rug when the man ambled up to the front gate for the first time. It had been an uneventful summer morning, much like the past twelve mornings since she and Warner had been sent to set up housekeeping in the last cottage on the road by the lake. Warner had left before dawn, as usual, presumably to go out fishing on the lake. At least, the boat was gone from its berth by the dock. 

There were pasties in the oven, her own special oatmeal recipe was bubbling in the cookpot, and bacon was frying on the stove. She could smell the aroma and hear the pop and sizzle of the bacon through the kitchen windows. All the cottage windows were still open from the night before in an effort to dissipate the sweltering heat of the previous day. Adele had come out with the rug as an excuse to escape the combined heat of the kitchen fireplace and stove. Thus far, the day promised to be cooler than yesterday, praise the Lord. She had felt a comfortable breeze blowing from off of the lake and seen the tell-tale clouds in the sky. There was dew on the grass and the leaves of the garden greens. She reminded herself to gather some greens later for a salad as she twitched and cracked the rag woven rug in the early morning sunlight.

“Good morning,” a deep voice rumbled.

Adele gasped, nearly whipping the rug into her own face. She hadn’t even heard the man’s crunching footsteps approaching along the gravel road. Now he leaned up against the garden gate, tall and dark-haired, clad in the typical leathers and cambric of a wilderness ranger. His smile was slow and lazy, like the summer afternoons of late. “I smelled something toothsome,” he continued, winking green eyes at her. “And as I’m feeling a mite peckish, I thought I’d investigate.”

“Oh,” was all Adele could think to say, clutching the rag rug up at chest-level as a shield.

The man chuckled, shaking his head slightly as he straightened. “Ah, I’ve gone and startled you. Where are my manners?” He placed one large hand against his broad chest and dipped his clean-shaven chin in a curt bow. “I’m called Hadrien.” He gestured off to his right, where the gravel road eventually petered out into the wilderness. “Have a little shack out in the wild green yonder.”

“Oh! Good morning,” Adele said finally, after taking a deep breath. Awkwardly, she smiled at the stranger, rolling the rag rug up and draping it over the front porch railing. She wiped off her hands on her apron. “I’m Adele. I live here,” she added, and immediately felt stupid.

Once again, he turned that long, slow smile upon her. “So I gathered, Miss Adele.” He spared the cottage and well-kept yard a cursory glance before returning his focus to her. “But surely not all by your lonesome, a little slip of a thing like you?”

“Of course not!” she replied. “Warner lives here, too. He’s…um, out fishing right now. He’s…” And then, feeling the danger of those bright green eyes on her, she blurted, “He’s my husband.”

The tall man’s smile widened. “Well, naturally. I had assumed that was the case.” He glanced at her left hand. Self-consciously, Adele covered it with her right.

“Um, I take off my ring when I’m doing chores,” she said, proud of herself for coming up with an explanation on the fly. “We…Warner and I just got married a few weeks ago, and I don’t want to get it dirty.” Nervously, she rubbed at the offensively bare heart-finger.

“My apologies, Mrs. Adele,” he replied, touching his forehead in a sort of salute. “That would be a none-to-subtle hint that I am keeping you from your work.” He stepped back from the gate, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “I shall bid you ‘good day’ and – ” He started to walk away.

“No, wait!” Adele called out. 

Raising a jet eyebrow inquisitively, the stranger turned back toward her.

Like a jittery fawn, Adele approached the front gate and stopped several feet away. She smiled apologetically up at the tall man. “I can’t invite you in because Warner is gone, but…if you are hungry, I could bring out some breakfast to you, Mr. Hadrien.”

He smiled. “I would be much obliged to you, Mrs. Adele.”

“Just wait right here.” The young woman dashed back into the cottage. 

“Certainly,” he murmured after her, still smiling.

Adele entered the kitchen to find that the bacon was perfectly crisp and that the pasties were very nearly cooked through. She brought out a bowl of oatmeal and a generous serving of bacon to the stranger.

“Thank you, Mrs. Adele,” he said quite seriously. “You are a very charitable young lady.” He began to eat, making appreciative sounds.

“It’s no problem.” She twisted the hem of her apron around in her hands. “I even have pasties coming out of the oven soon. So…when you are done with that, I can send a couple with you.”

He nodded, humming his enthusiastic agreement. Adele grinned, and went back into the cottage, remembering to take the rug back inside. If there was anything she had confidence in beside her scholastic pursuits, it was her culinary skills. She puttered around the kitchen, waiting for the pasties to finish and washing up the dirty dishes. Frequently, she peeked out the window to make sure that her unexpected guest still lingered. He did. 

After the pasties came out of the oven, she wrapped some in a thick towel and brought them out to the stranger. “Trade you,” she said, smiling.

“Gladly,” he replied, handing her the empty bowl and accepting the warm bundle in exchange. He tucked it into a leather satchel at his hip. “That was delicious. It isn’t often I taste real home cooking. I’ll return your property tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps I can make the acquaintance of your…ah…husband then, Mrs. Adele.”

“Yes,” she said, eagerly. “Warner should be at home then.”

The tall man smiled, saluting her again. “Until the morrow, Mrs. Adele.”

Feeling as if a proper housewife should, Adele offered, “You could stay for supper, then, Mr. Hadrien. I’ll roast a chicken.”

HIs green eyes sparkling in amusement, the dark-haired man accepted her invitation.

Adele stood at the gate, holding the spoon and earthenware bowl. She watched him walk to the end of the gravel road. Just before he entered the forest, he turned to smile and wave. The young woman smiled and waved back. The man faded away into the dappled shadows of tall trees. It was then that Adele realized what had been troubling her about him.

Not only had he cast no shadow behind him, but his footfalls had made no sound at all.

A Sad Story from my Salad Days

I am convinced that nearly everything extracurricular that I wrote in college was either macabre or maudlin.

What follows is a little something that I whipped up in less than 24 hours during my sophomore year. At the time, my intention was to explore writing from the perspective of someone trying to emerge from the grieving process.

I recall that I submitted it to the Century, which is the literary magazine of my alma mater, previously known as Carroll College. I was a co-editor of the aforementioned magazine at the time, and the only reason I entered my own work was to bulk up the number of prose submissions for the judging process. I can’t remember for certain whether this piece actually passed muster and appeared in the publication or not…and I didn’t really care either way because I felt it wasn’t very good. Even now, it makes me cringe to read it.

Now, if that isn’t sad, I don’t know what is!

Our Sad Stories

When she looked out the window she could see that it was going to be a beautiful night. The setting sun cast its lurid, dying rays across the horizon, tingeing the sky pink like sanguine, warm bathwater. The clouds had already gone to sleep, and Evelyn hovered by her door, tucking a stray wisp of hair behind her ear, wishing she could do the same. Just crawl into bed and never wake again. Her throat seized up as she gazed at the photographs on the wall. “I will not cry,” she counseled herself with a quavering voice in the empty room. “I will not cry on a first date.”

From his frozen position above her bed, Luke smiled as he always had, his eyes full of love and reassurance. Evelyn chewed on her lower lip, sucking in a deep breath, and clutched the strap of her purse more tightly. “David will be here soon, and I can’t disappoint my friends…right?” she asked the picture on the wall, her voice desperate. Luke, trapped in time, could only smile. “You…you understand…I’m not betraying you, am I? I’ll always…love…” Here the sobs threatened to break free, and it took a greater part of her strength to swallow them. Just then, someone knocked, rather hesitantly, at her door. Evelyn’s eyes widened. Time to go, she thought, trembling, and opened the door to see David face to face for the very first time.

And almost forgot to breathe.

“Hi…Evelyn?” The young man at the threshold smiled nervously, long-fingered hands folded together to prevent them from fidgeting.

“Hello, David. It’s nice to finally meet you.” He’s very cute. Evelyn caught herself going cow-eyed, and mentally slapped herself for thinking about another guy that way. David’s eyes were an earnest green—the same color as Luke’s—and they stayed fixed on hers instead of darting away, radiating a shy sort of kindness.

Awkward, the young man chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck before reaching for her hand. She allowed him to draw her outside of her room. “Yeah, Since Jamie told me about you, I’ve been kind of…anxious.” He grimaced. “No, that’s not right, that sounds bad…”

“No, it’s not,” Evelyn reassured him, craning her neck a little as she looked up into his face with a gentle smile. He smiled back, a little of the tenseness melting out of his features. Sensing him relax, she grasped both his hands and squeezed them. “Please don’t worry about what you say to me, about it sounding bad. I’m used to guys making disgusting jokes.”

David grinned, and Evelyn felt her heart glow. Luke grinned just so, she mused. “Well, uh, Evelyn…I wanted to be a gentleman tonight, having just met you.”

She laughed. “Oh, that’s good, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Jamie’s cousin!” She let go of his right hand and coaxed him away from her door. “Let’s go, the night’s wasting…”

“All right,” David agreed, his hand clammy in hers as they walked down the hallway. “Lead the way, but remember…it’s my treat tonight. Jamie’s rule, and mine.”

Passing by the other rooms, Evelyn felt her senses sharpened. She could hear the chattering and laughter in Dawn and Tracy’s room at the end of the hall, the clacking of her short heels against the hard linoleum. Someone was making popcorn in the kitchen; they could both smell the aroma wafting throughout the entire floor. “Mmmm, popcorn,” David commented, squeezing her hand.

“Should we join their party?” Evelyn asked, feeling her heart speed up with apprehension. “I could introduce you to the girls on my floor.”

“Nah,” David replied, his glance both warm and knowing. “Why would I want to meet any more girls?”

Her face flushed, Evelyn’s heart spasmed, then slowed as she appreciated what he had said. “That’s nice of you.”

“I want to be nice to you,” David murmured, and put his arm around her shoulders, a little uncertainly. Looking into his honest, flawless face, Evelyn decided to let him. She found herself comforted by it, although melancholy tainted her satisfaction.

He knows about what happened, she brooded. He must pity me.

By then they were out in the parking lot, and a warm evening breeze caressed her bare calves. David helped her into his car and shut the door. As he rounded the hood to the driver’s seat, Evelyn felt all the grief bubble up inside her. Having heard her story from his cousin, David had felt sorry for her, and Jamie had suggested for him to take her out, and here he was, a Boy Scout doing a good deed.

The car door slammed shut, and she looked up. David smiled eagerly at her as he turned the key in the ignition. “Well, my Lady, where dost thou wish to go this evening?”

“Do you know the Chinese restaurant on Grand?” Evelyn heard herself say brightly. “They have great sizzling rice soup.”

“Your wish is my command,” he replied, expertly guiding the car out into the traffic. There was silence for several moments, and Evelyn studied David’s strong masculine features in the urban twilight. The sun had set, and his skin seemed to have a bluish cast as if they were underwater. Suddenly uneasy, Evelyn touched the back of his hand, resting comfortably on the steering wheel.

“David?” Her voice was hesitant.

He glanced at her, his face seeming to light up again. “Yeah?”

“You don’t…have to take me out like this if you didn’t want to.”

David’s face went blank. “You mean…I could just park in the parking lot, grab you…and make wild passionate love to you right out in the open?” Then he threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, sorry! You should see the look on your face…it’s priceless!” Then he sobered, looking at her quickly. “I wanted to take you out…ever since Jamie told me about you.”

“About what happened,” Evelyn said bitterly. Outside, the road wound next to the river, and traffic slackened.

“Yes, she told me about Luke…but I wanted to before then, too.” David heaved a sigh. “There, I finally got to say that, and sound like an opportunistic jerk.” She could see his knuckles whiten as he clenched the steering wheel in a death grip, like a drowning man. Hurriedly, she moved her eyes to his face. He was looking at her again, and she found it difficult to swallow.

“You should watch the road,” she said softly.

David’s jaw tightened, and he maneuvered his car into a parking spot by the river walk. “We need to get to know each other better,” he said earnestly, staring into her eyes.

Evelyn smiled. “Let’s go for a walk,” she suggested in a quiet voice.

David was silent for an instant; his eyes seemed to soften. “Yes.”

David got out of the car and ran around to help her out, and this time he was anxious, as he had said when he first stood outside the door of her room. He kept his right hand firmly pressed against her shoulder, and insisted that he walk on the street side of the sidewalk. The night was growing cool, and they had the riverside to themselves.

“So…Jamie told you about Luke,” Evelyn began.

“Yes, I’m sorry…for your loss.” Now, David was avoiding her eyes. His dark blond hair hung like a bird’s broken wing as he examined his shoes. “If it helps…I’ll listen to whatever you need to talk about.” He looked up, then. “If you need someone—me—to listen.”

Evelyn took a deep breath. “I should tell you,” she began, carefully. “He drowned…last year…” David’s arm tightened around her. “He hit his head at the bottom of a pool, got disoriented…he was all alone!” I will not cry, she screamed inside, but the sobs tore free from her mouth and David’s arms enveloped her, cradling her against his chest. “I couldn’t save him!”

“There was nothing you could do, it wasn’t your fault,” The words were mechanical, distant, but she could hear his heart, and it was very close, beating strongly beneath her cheek. She thought that if she wanted to, she could reach inside and touch David’s heart, hug it like a pillow in her arms—and he would let her have it, for always.

Luke had done no less for her, but he had gone away.

“David?” Tears streaming down her face, Evelyn sought his eyes, his earnest green eyes, so like those of the man she had loved.

“I’m sorry, Evelyn…I’m just a stupid guy…I don’t know what to say.” He touched her cheek, brushing away the moisture there, looking helpless and rather frustrated. “It’s just, we both have our hard times, and I should know…” He pressed her head back into his chest and stroked her hair. “Jamie never told you, but my brother died a few years back in a fire…our house burned down, and…we didn’t know where to go from there.”

Evelyn choked back another sob and shuddered. “Oh, God…” She reached around and hugged David with a fierce desire she hadn’t known was there inside her. She thought that part of her, the sharing kind of love, had drowned in that horrible pool with Luke. “Why can’t we just die..?” She knew it was foolishness even as she said it.

“I felt the same way, then.”

Evelyn pulled away so she could look at his face, his beautiful face glowing beneath the lamplight, his eyes smiling sadly down at her. “Did Luke…” David placed his hands on her shoulders, and they were quivering slightly. “Did he ever tell you how beautiful you are?”

Evelyn felt a knot growing in her throat. “All the time.”

“You are, Evelyn. When I saw your picture last year, I thought ‘Wow, that boyfriend of hers is some lucky guy.’ And now you’re right here in front of me.”

“A basket case,” she muttered.

“From what I’ve seen, you’re just lonely, like me.”

“You? Lonely?”

“Yeah,” David smiled bleakly. “Not everyone is as easy to talk to as you. Jamie told me you’re the best friend she’s ever had…because you care and listen.”

“Jamie’s nice,” Evelyn replied lamely.

“So are you,” David countered. “And…” Here he broke off, his face coloring as he rubbed the back of his neck nervously.

“Are you okay?” Evelyn touched his arm.

“I want to be your…friend.” He managed to spit it out with some effort, grimacing. “Darn it, that was lame, Dave!”

Evelyn laughed, in spite of herself. “Oh, David!” She shook her head. “I’m ready to be friends, don’t worry about that.”

“And later…” he began hopefully, grinning widely.

Evelyn smiled tenderly and leaned against him. “There will be time for that…maybe sooner than you think,” she replied softly. She looked within herself, waiting for that sense of guilt, but this time the little voice was silent.

David sighed, touching her hair with a kind of reverence. “Do you know, yet, when that will be?”

“After we’ve told all our sad stories.”

David smiled grimly. “That’ll be a while, then.” His arm tightened around her.

And the two stood there by the river, watching the moon rise in a companionable sort of silence.

beautiful beauty blue bright
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

 

The Assassin’s Tale, Part 1

A little nightmare nugget from my college daze – I mean, days – when I had an overweening sense of my own talent. Okay, and I was obsessed with assassins. Go ahead and laugh at the geeky gothness of it all.

Clean Sweep

I’m going insane.

 The assassin gritted his teeth and kneaded his forehead, inwardly snarling at the headache forming behind his left eye.  He counseled himself to patience. He must wait here in the darkness beneath the oak tree, and not think about the splash of arterial blood on the sidewalk, the hot, metallic spray against his face as Kyle jerked like a rag doll when the bullets hit him—three in the chest and one nicking the carotid artery—the rising shrieks of the children in the playground…

    “Enough,” he whispered, raking his fingers through the unruly mop of  dark auburn hair. He had not bothered to dye it black this time, because this was supposed to be a clean sweep, a strike out of the darkness and retreat sort of operation.  No flourishes. Just a kill like so many before. the assassin took pride in his efficiency; Kyle had been the artist in NEMESIS.

Kyle had also been careless.

The target is on the move. 

The cold little voice he always listened to drove away thoughts of his late partner and encroaching madness, and the wiry young man stirred, uncoiling from his hiding place like a panther in one fluid motion.  He wrapped his black duster tighter around him, embracing the darkness of the early autumn night. He could hear the susurration of a light breeze in the foliage, and the faint ree—ree of persistent crickets.  Cautiously, he crept around the bole of the tree; luckily, the leaves had not yet fallen from the trees, so he wasn’t worried about making too much noise.  Neither was he afraid that he’d be seen—on this far side of the residence hall, the gloom was deepest. There was a hedgerow lining a small path leading up to a dimly lit doorway—it was from there his target would exit the building.

    The assassin cast a quick look behind him, then scanned the surrounding area.  Good, still quiet as a tomb, he thought, sinking slowly into a crouch.  He had grown familiar with the college campus, after all the time he spent here, watching her—seeing that bastard with her an arm slung around her like she’s his property she giggles nervously cringing away the diamond glinting on her finger—

Licking his lips, he thrust a gloved hand into a pocket in the lining of his coat and reverently withdrew his knife like a priest handling rosary beads.  His eyes shone as if reflecting the starlight—in her deep blue eyes so far away I want to get closer—high above, and the blade glinted in sympathy.  This was his special knife, a dagger forged by a blacksmith with revenge in mind.  It was made for delivering swift justice, and if nothing else governed the assassin’s hardened heart, there would always be Justice

—and through the bedroom window the girl smiling smiling up at Neal always a ray of something pure like love splashed crimson blood on stained concrete the children screaming her eyes are the deep blue heavens— 

 The door swung open, creaking on old hinges, and the young man’s nostrils flared as he caught the odor of cigar smoke, sweet and musky.  Peering through boughs of tight-cropped cedar, he saw the target step out on to the path, all alone this time. Last night and the night before the target had had at least one giggling girl draped over an arm, and never the same girl twice.  The assassin’s hackles prickled with loathing; he knew what this target liked doing with—her no I won’t let him do that to her—young women friends.    

 It was one of the reasons he had looked forward to this assignment.

The target—bastard—strolled a few feet along the wall, kicked a stray stone, then leaned casually against the wall, puffing his fancy Cuban cigar with a smug look on his face.  The target was a twenty-year-old man of average build, taller than the assassin by an inch or two, with dark hair and eyes, a tanned complexion, and moderately predictable habits.  The assassin had catalogued this information religiously, as he always did, not allowing his emotions to drive away rationality. In his mind, he calculated the force he was going to need for the knife-thrust to penetrate the target’s skin. 

Be cold…death has silent wings and arctic breath…Now was the time.  the assassin scanned his surroundings once more, his ears opened for any stray sound of approach.  There was nothing, only the heavy silence and the smell of his target’s cigar.

This is for her

He parted sculpted cedar branches and flowed through the hedgerow, catlike in stealth and grace.  His right hand gripped the knife–familiar in texture and weight as he closed in on his target—a blur of black motion against a starry sky and black bushes.  The target’s mouth went slack with surprise, the cigar dangling, then falling, from limp fingers when he saw the assassin coming for him. Then the knife, a silver slash slitting the muscular neck from ear to ear—a bloody grin—and the assassin’s arctic blue eyes blank and glowing in the dim light as the head fell back and the body slumped to the ground.

 A contemptuous snarl twisted the assassin’s thin lips as he glared down at his quarry, reduced to useless meat all too easily.  Anger seized him then, and he slashed the target’s face, putting out his sightless, glazing eyes for good measure. “You can’t look at her with lust now,” he growled, wiping off his knife on the target’s sleeve.  Replacing the dagger within his hidden pocket, the assassin melted back into the night, berating himself for succumbing to his rage.  To emotion.

Once again, the thought crossed his mind: I’m going insane.

This begs the question: what professional hitman in his right mind creeps around at night wearing a great big bulky coat like a duster on a college campus? So yes, he’s clearly nuts!
Also, there will be no Part 2. If you though that this was bad, the rest of “The Assassin’s Tale” is even more maudlin garbage.