In between maps and constructed languages, I decided to take a little break and test out a new story idea. This isn’t set in Graven, and I’m not really sure where I’m going with it, but I like the descriptions and the writing style. It’s different from the way I usually write; kind of reminds me a bit of Patricia McKillip (one of my all-time favorite authors ever). I’m guessing that the book I just read of hers influenced the writing. Here’s the snippet, complete with a few grammatical errors I’m sure I missed.
They come out before the weary light touches the dull-weight fog. They climb over rotting pilings, their bony bird-bodies blending into the wood, the moss, the decay. They search, deep into the mud. Fingers chill and bleed, and still they seek. The fog whitens and lifts slightly, the only mention of the day. In screaming flurries a bird careens into the whiteness, startling large hungry eyes. Feathers fall, pulling them in with a force like gravity, like savage hunger, like death pulls in the dying. Quickly the feathers disappear into small bags, hanging from bony shoulders, hips, and slender necks. Resting astride smooth stones with veins of color, nestled in with the dead insects and broken bones, the odd-formed wood.
They huddle together as the light dims, whispering about the ghosts. All shadow-play, dancing down the slow-breathed river, the ghosts sing and call out, unseen and unseeing. Sometimes, a crust of bread, a gift from the ghosts, is passed around from bony fingers to skeletal hand. Thin lips mouth the bounty, afraid that it will be good, that it will fill them up, that it will take away the emptiness. Night settles in with a tired sigh, and they slip up the banks to the little doors, locked against the outside beasts. They tap, afraid they’ll be heard, afraid they’ve been forgotten. The doors open, never all at once, always reluctantly. The hinges don’t want to turn. The wooden slats have grown attached to one another; they do not want to let go. But the doors open, and those small seekers slip into the streets and disappear into another kind of darkness. Down the slenderest of alleys, to the ill-lit and sickly stores they whisper in, their found things clutched tight to bony ribs lest someone steal their once-lost bits of time. Grimy hands go over the bits and pieces laid out as offerings to their keepers.they hold their breaths together, not a whisper escapes, and yet they speak of longing in their silence.
‘what have I found? Is it beautiful?’
‘is it enough?’
‘never mind – what is it worth?’
‘is he lingering? Does he like it? The red veined one is best.’
‘will he take it? Will he give me something back?’
‘I want it to be good. Is it good? Did I do well?’
And then he turns, ponderously-weighty, a god of skeletons and speaking eyes. He takes what he likes from their collections, disappearing only to reappear suddenly with a rind of bacon, the bones of a bird, the leftover flesh of a drying cheese. They quiver, waiting, speaking eyes wandering over their new treasures.
‘how long will it last?’
‘is that for all of us?’
‘who needs this the most?’
‘do I dare trade it for something better?’
‘should I eat it now? Or should I wait?’
‘will I wake up tomorrow?’
They flee out into the night, each clutching to fearfully fluttering heart their priceless bits of present-time. Some eat as they run, some wait until they’re safe in their hidden nests, others gather together and share amongst those who have no such things. Yet all of them eat in tiny bites, not letting thin lips touch the food. First meat, to line the stomach, then cheese to sweeten the tongue. Then bones, snapped in half eagerly and sucked dry of marrow as slowly as their hearts drum against their ribs. They settle into sleep, no sound touching the dark, even the sound of breathing muffled by the heavy night. The cold will carry off some before the rest rise to seek again.
She wandered into their world, introducing herself with a thin clear whistling song that breathed wonders of tiny birds in wind-brushed bushes, colors cascading across gold-laced green. They startled up and stopped, calloused fingers flinching away from the cold and pain they tried never to think of. Speaking eyes quickly found the shadow in the fog, flickering as light-gold on the sluggish water. She brought a flicker of the sun with her, and behind her trailed others, from further down the river. She found them shadows of bone and rag and time-spent ash, digging in the mud for little treasures. She called herself Sparrow, and she came from the sea.