My fears are many. For most of them I have a philosophy: if I'm afraid of something, and that fear is brought to my attention, I have to confront it. The bigger fears - the ones that involve death and torture of those I love and the Cataclysmic End of the Planet - are big enough that I don't want to tackle them in a blog post. Since one of my little fears is that of people reading my writing and hating it, what you get today is an excerpt from the novel formerly known as Swimming North, and tentatively titled BETWEEN.
(Note: Poe is a penguin. In case you anybody was wondering.)
Vivian stood with Poe at the center of a garden, bounded on all four sides by an overgrown hedge, ten feet tall and impenetrable. An old maple, scarlet and gold, draped its branches over a wooden bench, half buried in a drift of leaves. Dead, dry flower stalks poked up out of the grass, brown, skeletal. A ray of sun broke through a mass of clouds and warmed her face and hair, an intense physical pleasure that felt too real for dream. She raised her face to the sky, breathing in the scent of fallen leaves and earth. Poe hopped about, exploring.
Her hand sought the pendant and found it gone. This was Dreamworld then, not that there was any safety in this knowing, not anymore.
When the fear came she felt it as a gradually expanding fracture line, rather than a sudden thing, slight at first, but growing. Looking around for a cause she saw nothing that was cause for alarm.
Light and shadow flickered on the hedge, artifact of a breeze moving the branches of the sheltering tree. A leaf drifted down and landed at her feet. All peaceful, all serene.
But her heart thudded against her ribs with a logic of its own. The penguin stopped exploring and pressed against her leg, feathers puffed and ruffled. Vivian dug in her pockets for the knife, but it was gone.
Something white caught her eye, half buried in a pile of crimson leaves. Flies buzzed around it, a sweet, cloying stink filled her nostrils. Reluctant, but compelled, Vivian knelt and uncovered the thing. A hand, dead white, bloodless. It lay palm up, the fingers slightly curved, a delicate woman's hand. On the fourth finger a familiar diamond ring.
Paralyzed, she knelt there in a heap of blood red leaves, trying to scream and unable to make a sound.
A rustling in the hedge drew her eyes. Branches shivered and shook.
With a supreme effort of will she staggered up onto her feet. A wooden gate, braced with black iron, appeared in the hedge at the far side of the clearing. She tried to run toward it, but her legs felt weighted and the earth softened beneath her sucking her down. Her right foot sank into deep mud, throwing her forward on her hands and knees. Clammy cold seeped through her jeans into her knees; her fingers scrabbled in loose, wet earth, unable to find purchase.
All the while the thing behind the hedge tried to force its way into the courtyard. She could hear it breathing now, smell a reptilian stink over the odor of leaves and dirt and corruption. Pulling, kicking, digging her fingernails into the sod, she dragged herself forward inch by inch, until her foot pulled free at last with a sucking sound. Half running, half crawling, she made it to the gate, curled her fingers around the cold iron and pulled herself back to her feet.
The gate was locked.
Overcome by panic, she rattled and shook it with all of her strength. Tried again to scream, but still no voice would come. Some memory, a fragment of thought nudged at her, but she couldn't grasp it. Poe pressed up against her leg. Warmth flowed out of him and into her.
I am the Gatekeeper.
All dreams lead to Surmise.
The instant this thought entered her consciousness the gate clicked open and she stood between the pursuing fear and the open gate, not knowing which marked the greater danger.