Here are the two pieces that ranked in Fourth Place in New Wave and the Art’s Second Chance Contest. Hint #2 for our next scene-building contest: The top memoir pieces in the vein of those published by judges Amanda Miller and Sebastian Briglia may be included in an e-book anthology of New Wave and the Art memoir authors, with royalties split among contributors. Keep checking in for the official guidelines and dates. The list of Second Chance Contest winners and their rank follows the Fourth Place submissions we have published below:
Homage to a Homeland
a poem by Michael Farley
This. Tattered town,
Of old faces and even older ways…
Grope on the kerb side
Shackled suspension hanging,
Words in the shoulder,
Through your mind and through
Succour the returning,
Minder of your kin
And smite the tak’n plight
With clipp’d wings of flight,
A pang and ode to return.
I see who it is you made your own,
I walked with them tonight,
A fine crew you have of it,
In stupor none will climb your walls
Or seek your gates,
I strode among your partisans,
And a merry crew,
Did tread for you,
And oh was it not your tread?
Were you not their stride and striven?
Turning always inward.
How do you not heed time?
Untouched by course,
And just where ever did you come from?
And installed to your existence?
Was it a silent protest?
Not worth a protest?
Done with nod and grin,
Held by tongue through pin.
Ah! But I have seen the sun rise and fall,
And rise and fall, without you,
Over temperate prisons,
Though (at least)
Over liberal climbs.
Michael is currently a student at Liverpool John Moores University, England. He is very much an emerging writer with little experience and no previous publications, it is very much his ambition to one day become a published writer. He devotes as much time as is possible to writing, consuming literature and organising literary events within the community, these have included poetry performances and discussions. More examples of Michael’s work can be found on his blog at: http://worthwritingblog.wordpress.com/
a short story by L.S. Engler
It never bothered Kat to be stuck with the evening watch, even when it was cold, because there was just something incredible about a quiet night covered in snow. It fell softly from the sky, settling over the rooftops and the streets, the treetops and the gardens, the softest of blankets, muffling all the sounds of the world. If she closed her eyes and listened, she could even hear the wet snow as it landed. That nearly imperceptible music made her feel alive, as the air froze in her lungs before escaping as a gentle wisp of steam from her lips. While most of the village slept, she reveled in being privy to the winter wonderland, soon to be destroyed by the stomp of feet and the warmth of the sun when morning arrived.
She couldn’t let the blissful scenery distract her from work, though. Kat turned to open the flue on the lantern, sending a flare up into the glass chamber, lighting the top of the tower. A few seconds later, a similar flare came from the tower to the north. A few more seconds, one responded to the east, then, finally, a flare from the south. Kat smiled lightly and went back to observing, content that all was well, and it would be some time before the next signal was to go around the watchtowers.
No, she didn’t mind these late watches one bit. She felt so relaxed and at peace. Funny how even though it was night, the snow seemed to glow with its own energy, making things as clear as day. Kat didn’t have to strain their eye to detect moving. She could just lean comfortably on the railing and look out and see that all was calm, all was right, all was well.
Except that it wasn’t. Startled, Kat stiffened her spine. Far in the distance, at the crest of a hill near the forest, something moved. Her heart pounded in her chest, racing faster than it ever had, and she reached for her binoculars with one hand while the other found the bellrope. She didn’t pull it, not yet, lifting the binoculars to her eyes for a closer look. In all her tours in the tower, she’d never had to sound the alarm before, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to take that step if she didn’t have to.
But she had to, didn’t she? The question rang in her head. No one besides the watch was allowed out after sunset, and it was clear that the figure was on the outside coming in. Did he come from another village? No one in their right mind would travel the woods at night, not even on such a calm and peaceful evening, not unless they absolutely had to. Then something must be wrong, and she must alert the others. Still, she hesitated, loosening her hand on the rope.
She let it go to absently respond to the flare from the south. Yes, yes, Kat thought. All is well. Only it wasn’t, there was that mysterious figure, getting closer and closer, but she wanted to keep it all to herself right now, not ready to share.
I could go down there and meet the person, Kat thought wildly to herself. They would know something was wrong the moment they failed to receive a flare from her, but she’d have a five minute head start. She’d be the first to know, the first person to help.
Then something else caught her, cresting the hill that the figure was slowly descending, a few dark shapes, quick as lightning and just as startling. The person must have known they were there, too, because he stopped, throwing his head back before hurrying forward again. It was too late, though. With a flick of their tails, Kat realized they were wolves, and they were descending on that unfortunate soul.
Through the binoculars, Kat saw the man sink to his knees as the black shadows surrounded him, then envelop him entirely. She started to scream, a great, hoarse sound from her scratchy throat, as she tore her eyes away. In the magnified quiet of the snow fallen evening, she could swear she could hear the snaps and growls, the man’s pitiful screams, muffled though they were. Surely, her companions heard her screams carried on the silence, too, but, still, she scrambled for the rope, wishing she’d never let it go. She turned away from the carnage, the spot of white snow quickly turning red, and pulled the bell rope with all her might and fear.
She didn’t know how long she pulled at the rope, only that she was exhausted by the time someone was drawing her away. He was calling her name, so quiet at first, then getting louder, as though she was waking from a nightmare. “Kat! Kat, calm down. It’s alright, Kat, it’s alright.”
The world came back to her slowly, the chill of the night a slap to her face. She was sweating, she realized, and breathing hard, fear still lingering in her heart. Its grip loosened, though, when she looked up to see the concerned face of her friend Walt, and she dove into his open, comforting arms.
“Oh, Walt,” she whimpered, not even caring that she sounded like a frightened child. “It was terrible, just terrible. I saw this person, out on the hill, and then–”
Walt gently stroked her back, whispering into her hair. “It’s alright, Kat,” he repeated. “We know. People are going out to investigate it now, see? They’re already there.”
“But the wolves…” Lifting her eyes, Kat saw that the wolves had gone, leaving only the unknown figure in the pool of his own red blood, and she was glad for that much. The mere thought of those awful beasts and the way they moved made her want to keep her face buried in Walt’s broad chest forever. She’d never seen anything like it, didn’t even know how she could try to explain it. They weren’t the normal wolves one had to watch for when tending their sheep or walking the woods, that much was certain.
“Don’t worry about it,” Walt said, his arms wrapped around her like a cocoon. “We’ll get you home. Come on.”
They’d barely touched the snowy ground at the bottom of the tower before a small flock of curious villagers rushed over, throwing out a barrage of questions that thundered in Kat’s head. What happened? What did she see? Was she alright? Apparently, the village council had rushed to the scene and was being very particular about who they allowed to get close.
Lifting a hand, Walt quelled them all. “First off,” he said, in a very level voice, “we need someone to get up there and keep watch for Kat. Any volunteers?”
There were none, but a stern glare changed that. “Gary, good, go on up then. Now, secondly, if the council doesn’t see it fit to tell you about it, then neither do we. You’ll know when you know. And, lastly, most importantly, Kat here is feeling mighty shaken by the whole thing and should go get some rest. I doubt much is going to change until sunrise, so I suggest you all do the same. Excuse us.”
Petulant and put out, the crowd slowly dispersed, and Walt allowed Kat to lean on him as he walked her through the deep banks of snow. “It’s awfully impressive,” she said after a while, moving down the quiet, empty street. “How well you speak to people, Walt. You could probably read off the town ledger and people would be captivated by it as though it was the greatest literary work in history.”
Walt laughed. Soft as it was, it still echoed off the snow in a strange but pleasant way. “Now I know you need rest, Kat Chestnut,” he said. “You’re so shocked, you’ve become delirious. You’re spouting nothing but gibberish.”
Kat opened her mouth to object, but she stopped herself and slipped into sullen silence instead. He was right, of course, at least on that first part. She wanted to sleep for a thousand days, if her mind would let her. When she closed her eyes, though, she could only see the white snow and the dark shapes descending. She saw the spurt of red blood and their glistening, terrible eyes, staring right up at the tower into her.
She shuddered against Walt, and he hugged her closer, rubbing her arm. “Shhh,” he whispered softly. “It’s okay. See, here we are. You’re home now, Kat. It’s all over now.”
He knocked on the door, a quick and gentle rap that seemed so much louder because of the snow. There was a long pause, a rustle of curtains, and the door opened to the torrential flood of worry that was her mother. Kat passed from one embrace to the other, her mother frantically pawing at her in effort to soothe her.
“Oh, Kat!” she wailed. “Thank goodness you’re home. I was getting so worried! Everyone said it was your tower that rang the alarm, that you were the first to see them. Oh, sweetheart, are you alright?”
Her mother continued to fuss over her, ushering her inside so she could fix a cup of tea. She invited Walt to join them, but he politely refused. “As much as I’d like that, ma’am,” he said, smiling sheepishly, “I think I’d best see how they’re getting along. If there are any more of those wolves around, they’ll need all the help they can get.”
Kat tried to tell him not to go, but all that came out of her was a strangled gurgle. Her mother patted her back and soothed her with a gentle “there, there” and wished Walt a good night before closing the door.
“What a way to sound your first alarm!” her mother said, clucking her tongue. “I never had so much excitement on my watches. Nothing happened for years, and my first and only alarm was just a hunter who’d lost his way.” Her eyes were glittering, and Kat knew the rest of the story. “And that hunter was–”
“My father,” Kat finished, smiling faintly, and she realized why her mother decided to tell that story, distracting her from the event. “Mort Chestnut, so named because he had a pocket full of them and used them as payment to anyone who had helped him.” She shivered despite the warm cup in her hands, the dark cloud hanging over her persistently. “Hardly seems fair. Your first alarm gets you a husband, and mine gives me nightmares.”
Her mother looked stung for a moment, then disappointed in herself, and Kat rather wished she hadn’t said anything at all. She moved to sit beside her at the table, reaching for her ice cold hands. Her mother’s were so warm that Kat felt herself melt a little, her weariness overcoming her. “Was it really so terrible?” her mother asked as she stooped in to catch Kat’s downcast eyes.
She didn’t know how to answer that, replaying the horrible scene in her head. The warm and familiar kitchen blurred from the tears filling her eyes, and she was crying again, hands to her face. All that blood, and she swore she could see their eyes. Her mother let her sob it out for a long moment before getting back up and moving for the pantry.
“I think,” she said, “this calls for something much stronger.” She pulled a small bottle from the pantry, uncorking it and tipping a little into Kat’s tea. “To help you sleep,” she explained, moving Kat’s hands to wrap around the mug and urging her to drink. She wasn’t thirsty, but the warmth was nice, and she thought it best to obey her mother.
She slept heavily, nearly into the next afternoon. Her room was bright from the sun on the snow outside her window, and her small orange tabby, affectionately called Marmalade, was grooming himself inside a warm square of light on the hardwood floor. It all seemed so normal, so typical, that she’d nearly forgotten about the night before. But when she rolled over and her head ached from whatever concoction her mother had brewed, she remembered. There were also voices in the next room, a conversation kept quiet in the effort not to disturb her.
“I understand where you’re coming from,” her mother was saying. “Really, I do, but if you had seen her last night, you’d know she’s in no condition to discuss it. She feels bad enough as it is.”
“She’s the only one who saw what happened, Nia.” It took a moment to place the next voice, sympathetic but forceful. The deputy, fairly new to his post as of a few years ago, a man named Ewan. Kat had always liked him; he seemed kind and fair. “We need to know what she witnessed and how we can protect her.”
“For God’s sake, Nia.” Sure enough, where the deputy was, the village burgomeister wasn’t too far away either. Thom Majors, named so since his family seemed to hold every major office in town since the dawn of time, had been burgomeister since before Kat was even born. A rotund, brusque man, he was getting on in his years, but he wasn’t about to let that stop him. His rough, no-nonsense manner came across strongly in his bold voice, which he very clearly refused to keep down. “When are you going to cut that girl from your damn apron strings? She’s not a bloody child anymore.”
“We can’t protect them forever, you know,” Ewan added softly. “Let us talk to her, Nia. We’ve got to figure this out before anyone else gets hurt.”
Kat’s mother scoffed. “You two certainly have got that good-cop, bad-cop act down, don’t you?” she said. “But too bad. Even if I felt she could handle all of this, she’s sleeping right now, and I’ve no mind to wake her up. She needs to rest before we start bombarding her.”
“She’ll have plenty of time to sleep later, woman!” Thom bellowed. “Wake her now, or I’ve half a mind to charge you with contempt. Obstruction of justice!”
“Justice!” Nia barked a wry laugh. ‘You wouldn’t know justice if it came right up and bit you on your–”
“I don’t know how anyone could sleep with all this racket, anyway.” While they bickered, Kat had slowly gotten up, stepped into her house slippers, and shuffled to the threshold
of the door leading into the kitchen. In addition to the deputy and the burgomeister, she saw Hank, the town’s best hunter, a concerned Walt, and fiery Eva, who had been on the watch with her last night. Kat blinked at them all blearily, and they blinked back. “What’s going on? Why is everyone here?”
“Kat.” Her mother made a bold attempt to be the first to explain, but Ewan placed a hand on her shoulder and Thom stepped forward, as if the physical act granted him the permission to speak. They must have been at it for a while if one simple hand could hold Nia Chestnut back so effectively.
“We need to speak with you about last night, Kat.” Thom’s voice was firm and steady, as was his gaze, holding her in place. “You’re the only one who saw the attack, and we need to know what you saw. We also need you join the search party, though your mother seems to have strong reservations about that.”
The thought of recreating that horrific scene for them made her dizzy; she didn’t know how she could possibly bring it to words. And joining them, possibly encountering those chilling beasts again…Her eyes desperately sought out Walt, who flinched as though struck, looking apologetic and heartbroken.
“Coffee,” was all she could muster. “I need some coffee first, and then maybe I can deal with this.”
As her mother fussed about with a pot and some mugs, Kat drifted over to the kitchen table. Sleep, or perhaps her mother’s drugs, still clung to her, and she stared at the table until a cup appeared before her. The dark coffee swirled with clouds of cream, pale and reminiscent of the snow. She had to look away, up into the expectant face of Thom Majors.
“Thank you,” she said, then sighed, casting her eyes to her interrogator and tiredly, almost blithely, asked, “Now what do you want to know?”
“What did you see last night, Kat?” he asked, his voice a wall that she couldn’t avoid. “What attacked that poor man?”
Kat lifted her coffee cup, blowing on it delicately before taking a long, slow sip, delaying her response. The warmth spread in her chest, vanquishing the troublesome cold within her. She looked to Thom and answered him as plainly as she could. “Wolves,” she said.
Thom’s grey brows sunk, glowering to let her know that he would not put up with flippancy. “We know wolves quite well around here, Kat,” he said, his voice low and almost threatening. “Hank better than anyone, and he is adamant that what happened to that man was not the work of your average garden variety wolf.”
“No,” Kat admitted weakly, curling around her coffee cup as she felt her defiance drain away, “it wasn’t.” But she couldn’t tell them, could she? Her defiance, she realized, was coming from a place of fear. If she didn’t tell them, then perhaps it wouldn’t be real.
“It was three wolves,” she said, and Thom immediately scowled at her, thinking she was trying to be funny again. Quickly, she tried to rectify the impression. “No, I mean, three of whatever they were. They looked like wolves, only…different. Larger, and dark, blacker than the darkest night, which is strange, isn’t it, since it was so bright? And they had these eyes, these strange eyes, that just seemed to…” She realized that she had no idea how to put fear incarnate into words. Looking up at the sick and pale faces staring at her, though, she realized that she wouldn’t have to describe it. Some of them already knew.
“What is it?” she breathed out, the words hurting her chest. She had to set her cup down, realizing that her hand was shaking. Her wide eyes went around to the faces of her mother, of Thom Majors, of Ewan Wright, even Hank the Hunter, feeling a shocking slap of betrayal. “You know what it was, doesn’t you? You know what attacked that man, but you don’t want to believe it any more than I do.”
The two town officials exchanged reluctant glances, and her mother turned away with a faint sob. Helpless, Kat turned her attention to the hunter, squirming uncomfortably where he stood. “Hank, please,” she implored. “Tell me what I saw.”
His eyes flickered to Thom, who kept his grave face forward, neither stopping Hank nor encouraging him. “Now,” Hank said, slowly, carefully, as if waiting for someone to interrupt so he wouldn’t have to say more, “I’ve never seen them myself, but it’s a well-known tale in all the lodges. Every so often, they come about, strange creatures from the very depths of hell. Three of them, like the three heads of the beast that guards the unholy gates, harbingers of destruction. It’s said that their teeth leave a sickly tinge to the skin where they sink in, and they always eat a man’s heart. The man we found, the renders in his flesh looked like they were decaying, brown and green and purple like a festering wound, and, sure enough, his chest had been ripped open by powerful claws, and there was no heart within.” Kat’s stomach churned, all the horrible sounds she heard making sense, his words filling in the details that her eyes weren’t strong enough to have seen. “What happened to them?” she asked. “Did you catch them, hunt them down?”
Hank slowly, sadly shook his head. “You were the only one to see them, Kat,” he said. “By the time we reached the man, he was gone from this world, and so were the creatures.
They’re said to strike three times before they’re finished, but perhaps…just maybe…if we stopped them before their next victim, all will be well. That’s why we need your help.”
Something in the way he avoided her eyes left Kat suspicious, exacerbated by the hard pit in her stomach. “Why me?” she asked. “Haven’t I already helped? I identified the beasts, confirmed your theories. What more do you need from me?”
The silence in the kitchen was deafening. Kat’s mother sunk into a chair in the corner, hiding her face. The uncomfortable task was left to Hank again, though Thom reached over the table to grab Kat’s hand to squeeze it, making her wish she hadn’t asked. But she needed to know, didn’t she? Why wouldn’t anyone look at her?
“Kat,” Hank said, briefly catching her eye, which caused him to moan miserably and try again. “Kat, we need you because they’re said to only attack those who can see them.” She heard the words, she understood what they meant, but she couldn’t fathom them in context. Small sounds escaped her, failed attempts to make a response; the rictus of pain in his face seemed to steal her voice. It was true, though, that much she knew for certain, and that’s why they couldn’t look at her. They could see the mark that the strange wolves had left on her like a brand.
“I…I can’t believe this,” she murmured, her eyes dancing from one person to the next, searching for some small glimmer of hope. “This is some sort of joke, isn’t it? A hazing, something to test my mettle? Well, the joke’s over, very funny, you can all drop the awful charade, and let’s get back to our lives as usual.”
But no one was laughing, no one was admitting to the ruse, and Kat’s throat went dry as a bone. She tried to sip her coffee, but didn’t trust herself to be able to swallow. Instead, she stared into the pale brown liquid as she mustered up whatever courage she could find.
“All right, then,” she lifted her eyes to meet Thom Majors’. It hadn’t been enough courage, she felt, not by a long shot, but it was all she had. Her voice sounded strained and distant, like it belonged to someone else. “What do we do now?”
Thom gave her such a heartbroken smile she thought he might cry, and he gave her hand a squeeze, so hard it made her fingers ache. “We wait,” he said, “and we watch. And we slay this beast before it kills again.”
Easy for him to say, Kat thought to herself. He didn’t see the creatures, those awful liquid shadows. He didn’t have a death sentence hovering over him like a thunder cloud about to strike. They delved into their plan to save her, which seemed absurd and unlikely and desperate. Given time, Kat supposed she could accept her fate, and she had a feeling that those around her would eventually accept it, too, but then another problem lingered. There would be at least a third death, and they couldn’t know who that would be. If the beasts only killed those who could see them, and they’d be trying to kill her next, then it would have to be those someone with her. According to the plan, that would be Walt, the Hunter, or Eva.
“How can you hunt something you can’t see?” Kat asked, gathering a few things in a small satchel, an irritated edge to her voice. It all felt so pointless and impossible. Her fate was sealed; shouldn’t she just give in and they could move on? She supposed that if they did manage to stop it, they would save another life as well, but that just made her gut wrench with worry for the next victim. One of these three people was potentially sacrificing their life for her, a thought that left her anxious and regretful.
The four of them packed a few comforts and meals, then resigned themselves to the watchtower, where it seemed they would be best prepared for an eventual attack. They were able to make a comfortable hideout for themselves in the tower, taking turns watching, waiting, though hours stretched on without event. Kat tried to convince herself that this was a good thing.
“Do you suppose they’ll come only at night?” She found that asking questions helped settle her nerves slightly, even if they were usually met with morose shrugs from her companions. She wanted them to talk, to fill her head with something other than her own grim thoughts. “Hank, show me how to use this crossbow again. Just in case.”
“You’ll be an expert at this rate,” Hank said with a faint, somewhat tired grin, but he obliged all the same. He helped her to hold the heavy weapon while she scanned the area for a target, imagining what she’d do if she saw those black shadows against the white snow, racing for the tower to find her, tear her apart, and consume her.
“Are we sure these bolts will even work?” she asked, after another successful round, while Walt left to retrieve the ammunition. “If they aren’t like normal wolves, isn’t it possible that normal weapons won’t do anything? What will we do then?”
“Is that all you do?” Eva asked, folding her arms over her chest and scowling. “Think of all the possible ways this won’t work? I almost feel as if you want to die.”
The claim was so absurd that Kat had to wonder if it was true. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Hank interjected. “Who would want such a thing? You’re just scared, Kat, and anxious, isn’t that right?”
One look at his face, and Kat knew that Hank feared it, too. “Yeah,” she said, smiling weakly, “and confused. Of course I want to live, but it seems so…so damn unlikely! It’s like standing out in the rain and wishing you were dry.” “Well, if anything,” Hank said, taking the bolts collected by Walt and loading them up again, “we’re here to be your umbrella, should you need us. But, the rate you’re learning, I don’t reckon you’ll need us at all. You’ll be able to get those beasts square between the eyes when they arrive.”
“And here’s to hoping it even makes a difference,” Kat said, shuddering. When they arrived, he had said, not if they arrived. Eva rolled her eyes at Kat’s pessimism and returned to watching the area. Kat did, too, stifling a small yawn. She hadn’t realized how tired she was, absurd with how soundly she slept the night before, but she had to stay awake, in case she truly was the only one who could see the monsters.
“Walt,” she said weakly, after a long half hour of silent searching. She kept her eyes on the line of trees until he stepped up beside her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned her head and smiled, though she felt a bit like crying. “Could you maybe go fetch more coffee? The chill is terrible, and I think we could use the pick-me-up.” “And maybe soup,” Eva added. “It’s starting toward dinner time, anyway, and I’m sick of sandwiches and cookies. We’ll need something more substantial to hold us through the night.”
Walt amicably agreed, disappearing down the stairs of the tower, and Kat thought to herself, then there were three. Already, she was trying to think of other things to send Walt after: blankets, playing cards, a lyre because she knew Eva could play. Anything to keep him away, because she thought maybe, if he wasn’t there, then it was possible that he wouldn’t see the wolves, and he wouldn’t be their next victim.
Nothing much happened in his absence, though, making Kat feel both relieved and disappointed. If the wild beasts didn’t kill her, perhaps the waiting would. The sun was starting its quick descent toward evening, and she could feel in her bones that, as soon as the night fell, the terror could prowl again. She tried desperately to send Walt on another errand, but he wouldn’t budge.
“You’re starting to wear me out, Kat,” he admitted, and, though he smiled, there was exasperation lurking on his brow. “Make Hank go, or Eva, or, better yet, quit worrying about every little thing and relax. We have food enough, blankets enough, and everything enough.” He reached down to grab her hand for a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll be just fine.”
And he almost sounded as though he believed it, too. She pulled away from him to pour another cup of coffee and curl around it as she eyed the snow banks and the forest line. Most of the evening’s snowfall had covered the tracks of the villagers, but there was still a faint pink smear on the hill as though not all the snow in the world could cover the stain. Her thoughts drifted to that man’s last moments and what it would feel like to die in some unknown field, alone and cold. They couldn’t identify him, and so his loved ones wouldn’t even know he was dead until some rumor floated into their village by some courier and they started to put the pieces together. At the very least, she was not alone and felt grateful for that. She almost thanked them, in this tiny tower on their vigilant watch, but could already hear Eva berating her to stop being so emotional and scared and defeated.
If only she had seen what Kat had seen, then she might understand. But, no, rough and unsympathetic as Eva had been, Kat wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Night settled slowly, the bright blue crispness of the day becoming tones of rich cerulean and midnight grey. The shadows lengthened and grew into darkness, just as the fear grew in Kat’s heart. Her eyelids were heavy, tempting her to sleep, but she stirred, reminding herself that she had to keep watch. She rubbed her eyes and blinked at the dark line of trees where the forest began, waiting to see if the hideous forms would emerge and stalk across the snow. It was darker now than the night before, filled with a brooding dread rather than the light airiness of the previous watch. She shivered, pulling her blanket tighter around her shoulders, though it wasn’t even really that cold.
“There.” Eva’s voice pierced the silence of the night as she stood straight, stiff as a board and growing pale. Her eyes were set toward those deep, awful woods, where, sure enough, three large wolf shadows slowly stalked, staying close together, flicking their eyes and their tails upwards, right into Kat’s terrified soul.
Even through her fear, a thought struck her like a punch to the gut. “Wait. Eva. You can see them, too.”
“God damn it,” Eva said, through clenched teeth, her steely stare unwavering. Her fists clenched so hard at her sides that her knuckles cracked. “I was hoping it wouldn’t happen. I was hoping perhaps you’d just gone mad, or only thought you saw what you had.”
“The wolves?” asked Hank, stepping up and hoisting the crossbow at the ready. His eyes danced frantically across the landscape, rolling around in his sockets. “The creatures? Eva, you see them, too?”
They were prowling slowly down the hill, snarling and growling, which she could swear she heard all the way up in the tower. When she let a low, desperate groan escape, Kat knew that Eva could hear them, too. She boggled at Hank, whose face became more distressed by the second. “You can’t see them out there at all?” she asked. “Truly?”
This was their village’s best hunter, their sharpest marksman. “Truly,” he said, looking devastated and apologetic. “All I see is snow and trees.” Kat forced herself to look again, where they stood out against the blue-grey snow as clearly as if it was the middle of the day. At least, she thought, we know who the third person is, but that was little consolation. “You knew,” she said, staring at Eva’s rigid figure in disbelief. “Although you didn’t see them last night, you knew you’d be able to. How? What’s going on, Eva?”
Eva slowly uncurled her fists, only to close them again on the rail of the watchtower for support. “You really don’t know, do you? No one’s ever told you about them. About the wolves.”
She turned to Kat with such intensity that Kat was startled, hand to her fluttering heart until she’d backed up into the watchtower’s railing. “No,” she admitted, the heat of embarrassment rushing to her face, “I don’t. What is it? What should I have known?” Eva closed her eyes for a moment, her face twisted in what seemed to be a balance of despair and annoyance. While Kat felt bad for her ignorance, she was also starting to feel an anger creep in from Eva’s reluctance. A quick glance at the trees showed that the wolves were making no haste to reach them, but still, time felt too short. “Damn it, Eva, what is it?”
“Don’t you know?” Eva asked again, gasping as if that was the only way she could get the words out. “How your father died, Kat? Didn’t they tell you?” The question seemed so random that it sent Kat into confusion, blinking at Eva as if to confirm she’d heard right. “Hunting,” she said slowly. “He died while hunting.” Her head pounded. “Eva, you aren’t saying that…”
Eva’s smile was distant and a little cruel. “I guess they figured you were too young to know,” she mused. “But those injuries on that man were the same as the ones they found on your father’s body, and my father’s, too. They died in the same excursion, you knew that, right?”
“Well, yes, I knew that,” Kat said, vaguely offended at Eva’s patronizing tone. She was only a couple of years older; there seemed little reason to treat her like an ignorant child, especially in these extreme circumstances. “But what does that have to do with our situation now?”
“They were killed,” Eva exploded, flinging her arm out toward the wolves, “by them! That’s why we can see them, that’s why they want to kill us, too. They’ve tasted our blood and now they want more. That expedition was with a friend of your father’s from his village, too. Ten to one say that poor bastard from last night is his son.”
“What?” Kat’s heart fluttered like a mad, caged bird, and something deep inside of her knew that was true. Her eyes danced to Walt and Hank, who stood silently, baffled and confused.
Her frantic, searching eyes must have broken Walt out of the spell. “What do you need us to do?” he asked, with new determination, and Kat had to wonder if his boldness was at all inspired by the fact that he was now safe if Eva’s tale was true. “How can we stop them?”
“I don’t know if you can,” Eva said softly. She seemed to be hypnotized by the creeping black shadows. They were gamboling down the hill, biting and wrestling and rolling in the snow, and Kat imagined them arguing about who to attack first, and who got the juiciest parts of each of them.
“Should we sound the alarm?” asked Hank, eyes flickering nervously toward the other stations. The first flare of the evening made its round, and he was quick to respond in kind, a small nuisance with everything else going on.
“I don’t see what good it will do,” said Eva. “They can’t even see them. They’re only after us.”
“But if all this is true,” Kat implored, “then what will it matter? No, they can’t see them, but won’t that make them safe? If we sound the alarm, then they’ll at least know.”
“Know what, Kat?” Eva demanded. “That we’re as good as dead? They know that already.” “Where are they now?” Walt interjected before Kat could admit her exasperated cluelessness over the situation, and her stomach knotted. She didn’t want to look; it made her sick just thinking about it.
“They’re headed this way,” Eva said. “And fast, too. I think the flare must have set them off, like a signal they’ve been waiting for.” Hank turned sharply to Walt. “You locked the door downstairs, didn’t you?” he asked.
“Maybe you’re safe. Maybe they won’t be able to get up here.” “So, instead, we’re trapped up here forever.” Eva barked a humorless laugh. “We’ll have people sending food up by pulley while the beasts brush by them, pacing like caged lions.” “If you could see what they looked like, Hank,” Kat said darkly, “you’d know a door couldn’t do much to hold them back.” “So what now then?” Walt demanded again with an odd burst of anger. “Is that it? The hounds are at the gate, and you might as well let them in?”
“What else would you have us do?” Eva asked, her anger igniting as well as she turned on Walt with a simmering fury. Despite the heat in her voice, though, her eyes were trembling with frightened tears. She was about to say more, but a great howl ripped into the air, making Kat gasp. A shiver ran down to her very core. It was followed by the sound of an unmistakable scratching from down below, beyond the tower stairs.
Hank stared at them, frightened and confused. “What?” he asked. “What is it now?”
That howl stuck with Kat, and it would be with her for a very long time if she managed to survive this. She shook her head, looking back at Hank in disbelief. “You didn’t hear that just now?” “Hear what?” he asked, though the expression on his face told her everything. A low groan escaped Kat as she helplessly dropped to her knees. How many of these howls that haunted her on sleepless nights had been the cries that she heard now, that only she and Eva had heard?
“That’s enough!” Walt all but exploded, ripping his sword out from his scabbard. “This is absurd! I’m going down there. I’m going to take care of this. Anything is better than just sitting here, waiting like lambs marked for slaughter.”
“You can’t see them any more than you can see your own ignorance, you fool!” Eva barked. “What are you going to do, fight an invisible enemy?”
“Better than nothing,” he growled, and, with that last statement, he wrenched off the door to the stairs and went thundering down them, sword brandished and ready. Kat winced as the hatch clattered against the floor of the tower, realizing there was nothing to do to stop him. For as tall as the tower seemed, it took him no time at all to reach the bottom.
“Fool,” Eva cursed under her breath. “Can’t you just see him down there now, hacking away at nothing but thin air?”
“And now the door is open,” Hank remarked. “They won’t even have to break it down.”
Even without the strange, hollow tone of his voice, Kat would have shivered, feeling as though the already chilly air had dropped instantly. The only warmth seemed to be coming from Eva, who had lowered herself down beside Kat and reached for her hand. They could both hear the growling coming up the stairs, almost mocking and laughing. They were taking their time now, as if they knew their victims had nowhere else to run.
“Kat?” Hank asked, his voice wavering and unsteady. “Eva? What is it? Are they here already? What would you have me do?”
The wolves had arrived, their sinewy figures little more than shadows oozing up through the hatch left open by Walt. As far as they knew, he was still down there, hacking blindly in the hopes hitting one, but there they were, all three, looming impossibly large toward the two young women. They bared their teeth, long and sharp incisors as dark as the rest of their strange shadow bodies, the only color to them being their intense red eyes. The color of fear. The color of hunger. Kat tried to scream, tried to speak, but she found she could only work her mouth soundlessly, staring into those eyes that seemed to grow brighter the more terrified she felt.
“Nothing,” Eva told Hank, and there was a strange, distant relief in her words, some peaceful sort of acceptance. Kat forced her eyes from the wolves to look at Eva, fear making room for a bit of envy. “There’s nothing you can do, Hank. It’s over for us.”
“Eva.” Hank was pale and shaking as he stood there. “No. There must be some way.”
Eva didn’t look at him; instead, her eyes sought out Kat’s, and she gave her hand a squeeze. “What do you say, Kat? Let’s not face this screaming in fear, but with acceptance. We’ll be with our fathers, soon, think of that.”
Even in the gloaming shadows of the tower, Kat could see Eva’s eyes glistening with tears. She could feel the hot breath of the wolves on her now, sniffing the two of them out. She was so scared her whole body seemed to vibrate, but they weren’t attacking them, not yet. Was it because they weren’t fighting it? Was Eva on to something with her acceptance, or was she merely trying to make this as easy as she could for her?
“You’d best turn away, Hank,” said Eva, “or go down and fetch Walt. This isn’t going to be pretty.”
“I can’t just leave the two of you here!” Hank insisted. “Tell me where they are, maybe I can still manage to get them.” “No,” Kat said, surprised by the firmness of her voice, while she felt so incredibly weak. She spared a slight smile to Eva, who smiled back, though the wolves were now at their faces, sniffing away, huffing their hot, fetid breath into their noses, making small, almost teasing nips with their teeth. “There’s nothing you can do, Hank. It’s too late for us now.”
“So you’re just going to sit back and accept it?” Hank’s voice left him in a choke, strangled by the idea of abandoning these two friends to their fate, but knowing, deep down, that he didn’t have a choice any more than they did.
“Yes,” Eva said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do, isn’t it, Kat?”
Feeling all the energy fall away from her as if the proximity of the wolves drained every fiber of her being, Kat nodded. The fear was melting into something else, something soft and light and comforting. She felt exhausted and ready to succumb to whatever awaited her. Maybe, she thought, and she had a feeling Eva thought the same thing, that if they didn’t fight the creatures, then it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt as much if they numbed themselves to the fear. She squeezed Eva’s hand, and slowly closed her eyes. “That’s right.”
When the wolves finally got her, if that’s what it was, Kat Chestnut didn’t feel anything at all. She wouldn’t have to feel anything ever again, and all she could remember after that was the soft sound of Hank the Hunter’s sobbing and a faint howl carried on the wind.
Winners of New
Rekha Shankar –
A Period Piece
Tara Le Reynolds –
Sticks and Stones
Breed Wilson –
Geography of a
L.S. Engler –
Michael Farley –
to a Homeland
Tamara Harpster –
City Mouse, Country Eagle
Tara Le Reynolds –
FAQs: A Summary of
Amanda Miller will be at the Rochester Fringe Festival performing One Breath, Then Another: An Interactive Yoga Show, based on her memoir, from September 18th to September 27th. Tickets are available by clicking here. On September 30th she will host Lyrics, Lit and Liquor, a music and literature party in New York’s Lower East Side where Sebastian Briglia will do a reading.
Amanda Erin Miller is an actor, writer, yoga instructor and massage therapist. She is intrigued by the ways these practices inform each other. Amanda recently published her memoir One Breath, Then Another about her quest for healing to avoid her father’s self destructive path on her own Lucid River Press.
She has adapted the book into an interactive solo show about studying yoga on an ashram in India, which premiered at Dixon Place in New York City on March 9th, 2013. Excerpts from One Breath, Then Another have been featured in Underwired Magazine, Om Times, Love Your Rebellion, Runaway Parade and So Long: Short Memoirs of Loss and Remembrance, a memoir anthology. Her writing has also appeared in The Rumpus and UC Riverside’s Cratelit.
She hosts and books the monthly literary/ music series Lyrics, Lit & Liquor at The Parkside Lounge. She has also created a two-person comedy show called Please Don’t Let Me Die Alone with her collaborator Shawn Shafner about the perils of love and dating. They have performed this show around Valentine’s Day every year since 2010 in New York City at The Tank Theater, The Magnet Theater and The People’s Improv Theater. Amanda earned her BFA in Acting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. For more information, visit her website http://www.onebreaththenanother.com/.
AS A CHILD Sebastian Briglia wanted to be American, and luckily for him at the time, so did his parents. They emigrated from Bulgaria in 1991, not long after the fall of communism. As an adult, he wanted to be Bulgarian again, mostly because of his mounting legal troubles in America, though unfortunately for him at the time he was estranged from his parents and Bulgaria as he remembered it did not exist anymore. Later he began to suspect that Bulgaria as he remembered it never existed.
He has attempted to reach a balance between what he thinks he wants and what he thinks he needs by exploring spirituality and materialism both on and off drugs and new wave music, in urban as well as rural environments. All of this, of course, has been to no avail. His New Wave and the Art of Heroin Maintenance series reflect this struggle.
Two excerpts of New Wave and the Art of Heroin Maintenance, “Raven on Heroin” and “Raven in the Motel Room,” have been featured in Horror Sleaze Trash Magazine. As a journalist, he has only written under his real name at The Italian Tribune News in Newark, NJ, where he worked as a staff writer over a decade ago. The rest of his journalistic and feature writing has been published under a pen name. He currently works in public relations and plays guitar in the New York band Like Herding Cats. Their eponymous EP had just won The Deli Magazine’s NYC Artist of the Month Award when he joined.
Rejection can be the most exhilarating roller coaster you can be on emotionally, provided you remain the ultimate judge of your own failure.
Maintaining awareness during the working process can be very helpful in keeping rejection in perspective. Below is a post written by Sebouh Gemdjian that delves into some meditation techniques that can be practiced while working: