Friday, August 22, 2008

Willows Blood Excerpt

I'm at about 45,000 words at present (a little over halfway) and stuck in the muck and mire of building toward the next "big moment". This is where the hard work really begins and where a lot of writers lose momentum or write themselves into dead ends. It's not hard to do either.

I took a quick look back at my progress so far and decided to post an excerpt of it, sort of for fun. What you need to know for this scene to make sense is that Warren Henderson, an FBI agent, ( and one of the two main characters in the book) is watching a cult from some distance for signs of his niece who he believes ran away to join them.

This is a first draft so expect to spot the isolated typo here and there, as well as a few awkwardly worded sentences.

For most of the day it was pretty much as he'd seen before: men hauling wood and repairing buildings, women hanging out laundry and gardening, children playing. People going in and out of buildings with books, smiling and talking.

The ones he suspected were minors were no where in sight. If what he'd seen of the chanting the day before was any indication of what was going on, he was pretty sure they were being heavy handedly indoctrinated. Very heavily handed in Paul's case.

The kid had obviously paid a price for telling him as much as he had. Was the fact that he stood directly beside Selene during the morning session significant? Did it mean she was keeping him close to her in order to educate him or that she was making an example out of him?

The day drifted on and he allowed himself a one hour nap around three when it seemed the entire compound had gone in doors, perhaps to naps of their own. It occurred to him as he slipped into half-unconsciousness that he hadn't seen Selene since the morning ceremony. After dismissing the members of the group, she'd withdrawn to a nearby building with Paul trailing sadly behind. On his heels were the men who'd met Warren at the gate the morning before. They'd come back out at lunch time, but Selene and Paul remained inside.

The evening came, and as it slowly grew darker the group gathered to enter the building Warren was fairly sure was a dining hall. The center of the compound was black by the time they finished and he strained to make out the figures as they drifted toward their own sleeping quarters. It filled and emptied, the faint sound of voices rising as they chatted on their way up the paths to their beds and fading as they closed doors behind themselves. Finally it was silent.

An hour later, Warren was considering pulling out his own sleeping bag when the bells sounded. He rose on his knees with his binoculars trained on the building Selene had withdrawn to that morning.

The members of the group appeared, carrying candles and various items—loaves of bread, pine cones, autumn leaves, apples, bottles of wine, and bags of nuts. They walked around the pond, carefully placing the food and wine in a pile at the end of the pond nearest the gate. Freed of their burdens, they extended their empty hands to the outside, fingers drawing a circle in the air as they walked. After making a complete trip around the pond, they lined up, setting their candles down on the ground at their feet.

The two men that Warren had come to think of as Selene's body guards materialized from the shadows of a nearby building carrying what looked to be a podium made of stone.

As it came into the view of the group of people around the pond they began to chant some encouraging sounding rhyme that involved the moon and a goddess. The closer it came, the louder they grew.

A few seconds later Selene emerged, this time dressed in a reflective gold robe that looked to be made of some kind of gauze.

She and the men arrived at the pond at the same time. The men stopped and waited for Selene who stepped in front of them, her hands flashing in the air. They moved forward and lowered it to the ground in the same place that Paul had stood beside Selene that morning, directly in front of the pile left by the members. Selene turned, her hands flashing in the air again. She faced the podium, waving her hands over the surface of it without touching it.

Only it wasn't a podium, Warren realized. It was an altar.

Selene raised her hands and uttered something that sounded Latin; the people all followed her example, raising their hands as well. The volume of the chanting rose with their hands and fell when they lowered them.

After a few seconds, Selene began to draw items from the pockets of her dress and holding them up. A small brass dish, three candles which she lit and set at corners and the center of the podium, a bell, a cup, and a stick he could only assume was intended to be a wand judging from the way she waved it over the crowd. With the appearance of each, the chant changed to some other set of words in Latin.

The last item Selene held up was a large knife with an ivory handle. It glinted by the candle light.

There was an odd hitch in the air, a mass intake of breath. As though the crowd, already working as one, was shocked into near silence. The candles all flickered, blinked out, and leapt back to life.

Warren only just managed to keep from gasping. An illusion. It had to be.
The chanting continued, though barely audibly. Selene raised the knife, rolling it from one hand to another, and placed it on the altar between the two candles.
Selene nodded to her body guards. They stepped back, turned, waved their hands as though they were wiping the air clean, and retreated toward the building Selene had come from.

A minute later they returned, shoving Paul ahead of them.

Warren checked the safety on his pistol and trained it on Selene.

They approached the circle of the Willows Blood Coven. Paul entered and stood beside Selene. The men entered behind him, turning and waving their hands behind them.
The group was suddenly silent.

Selene gently pressed the young man forward, pointing.

He nodded his head and stepped in front of the altar. His voice rose, alone in the dark, chanting the prayer Warren had heard the new members say. He made a complete circle, his arm extending north, south, east, and west as he spoke.
The members nodded their approval.

He took the knife from the altar and repeated the gesture.

Again the members nodded.

Selene moved to his side opening her arms and holding them wide, her face lineless, no smile, no frown.

Paul turned toward her, a strange, serene smile on his face. He knelt and drew a circle around her feet, then rose to touch the knife to her head and to each of her out turned palms and last, drew a symbol with the point on her chest.

The members nodded en mass and murmured encouragement.

He then turned to them uttering a single loud phrase. "There is no life without blood. In blood there is power. I share this power with thee my family."
Paul bared his arm to reveal bloodied cuts and, holding it over the brass bowel on the altar, gripped the knife, held it over his skin, and closed his eyes.

The crowd cheered him on.

He drew it through the air an inch from his skint, repeating the chant, touching it to his skin this time.

"Now," someone called. "Now Paul."

He seemed to be roused from a dream by the voice and his eyes searched the darkness for a half second. Then he nodded, turned and plunged it into Selene's chest.
The Willows Blood coven wailed.

Selene screamed, collapsing on the altar; her blood pooled on its surface. She did not move again.

Then Paul turned the knife on himself, driving the blade into his own throat.
His blood gushed as he faced the circle of wailing people. He dropped the knife on to the altar beside the dead or dying Selene, wiped his hand through the blood running down his front and smeared it across his forehead. He fell to the ground.
The circle broke, people rushed toward the two bodies.

Warren himself cried out.

In the forest behind him some night thing keened.


Debby said...

MARY! You get right back here and tell us what happened next!

Big Plain V said...

Even with the first draft hiccups, this was very suspenseful, Mary.

I remember when you were researching cults for this book, and I've gotta say: it seems to have paid off. You've really brought your Willows Blood cult to life. Lots of well-placed, tactile details.

Good job.

Scotty said...

Just finished a day shift and I'm pooped, Mary, so I'll have a read over the next day or two and let ya know ...


Mary Paddock said...

Thanks guys.

If I did that, Deb, then you wouldn't have much incentive to buy the book. :)

Hi Ray. Yeah, it does have some hiccups, doesn't it? I try not to edit too much as I go along, otherwise I wind up bogged down in making changes and make no forward progress. Still, it bugs me when I spot problems after I've "gone public".

I'm looking forward to your thoughts Scotty.

Scotty said...

Looking good, Mary, with a very suspense-filled beginning. I'm gonna throw in some obvious things I noted (only because I don't know what you've noted as typos or awkward sentence constructions yet) - there's not much - I promise - *grin*

no where - nowhere?
heavy handedly should be hyphenated?
in doors - indoors?
The candles all flickered, blinked out, then? leapt back to life.
brass bowel = brass bowl
skint = skin
en mass = en masse?
night thing = hyphenated?

I may be anal retentive but I'm still looking forward to the next installment, lol.

Hope my observations are of some use.