Originally published by F. Tennyson Neely in 1895.
Also published online by The Project Gutenberg
Title: The King in Yellow Author: Robert W. Chambers

Banner Artwork above by Shasta Lawton.
Illustration for THE PROPHET'S PARADISE by Eric York,
taken from the collection Carcosa Tenement Blues by Edward Morris

Monday, August 30, 2010

AUGUST ISSUE

PRESENTS



THE FOX IN THE THORN
by Adam Bolivar
©by adam bolivar
*Click To Begin Reading Chapter I*





Welcome to the AUGUST, 2010 ISSUE of the Freezine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. For this heralded occasion, the Freezine is proud to have showcased a singular serialization for our devoted Followers and readers, The Fox In The Thorn, by Adam Bolivar, published here for the first time anywhere, and hot off the presses, to boot. The ink wasn't even dry when it arrived on my doorstep, and the mysterious maroon wax seal on the envelope was still a tad pliable and yet retained the faintest tracings of warmth. The horse and buggy trotted off before I could catch a glimpse of the cloaked benefactor at the reigns.

Adam is no stranger to our Freezine. In fact, The Fox In The Thorn marks his third appearance in our pirate ship of letters, here. (The bloodhost have elevated his rank to Chief Mate.) Attentive readers probably noticed awhile back that two of Adam's inspirations are Lovecraft and Jack Tales. The Freezine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is extremely pleased to announce the World Premiere of the first "weird Jack tale".

The Fox In The Thorn was serialized in daily installments, having been published every weekday from Monday, August 16 to Friday, August 27. It kept more than a handful of people eagerly awaiting the next installment, as I heard from them myself in various missives and communiques. [This has pleased the nanoswarm greatly, and they have reported back that the next stage of the Freezine's development is now going as planned.]

A thousand shout outs and concurrent whispers in darkness go out to the author, Mr. Adam Bolivar, thanking him for having allowed his moulded dreams to take the shape of this first installment of a proposed trilogy of stories.

Thanks also goes to my wife, Shasta, for having provided eight pieces of original artwork which ended up being incorporated into the various dreamlands of the story rather effectively.



The sword on the cover
Taken from the NY Public Library's online archive of public domain images.


[The sword on the cover was a left over artifact that was originally going to be used for David Agranoff's JANUARY, 2010 serialization of The Fallen Guardian's Mandate. It is a 16th century Chinese sword. It was never used for that novella, and the nanofleet have left implicit instructions to use up any leftover, cutting room floor imagery for future Freezine installments. It's all part of the grand design for them, I suppose.

Following are the remaining attributions for the imagery utilized in The Fox In The Thorn]:


I.
fox with hen
from The History of the House that Jack Built,
issued by J. Harris and Son, London, 1820


*belt buckle
Unknown

II.
green haired wraith
by Shasta Lawton

VW
by Shasta Lawton

III.
green tree
by Shasta Lawton

*owl coat of arms
Unknown

magic beans detail
by Shasta Lawton

IV.
magic beans
by Shasta Lawton

*acorn coat of arms
Unknown

skeleton key
taken from 'Liam's Pictures from Old Books'

V.
dream gate
by Shasta Lawton

Theobald Craftwell detail
by Adam Bolivar

VI.
Theobald Craftwell
by Adam Bolivar

Craftwell's quill
by Shaun Lawton

VII.
fish suit
by Shasta Lawton

cat pirate
by Shasta Lawton

*ship icon
Unknown

broken teacup
by Adam Bolivar

VIII.
*goosebridge
Unknown

stone arches
taken from 'Liam's Pictures from Old Books'

bookstand
taken from 'Liam's Pictures from Old Books'

Goosebridge tile
taken from 'Liam's Pictures from Old Books'

*iron kettle
Unknown

IX.
tea of dreams
by Shaun Lawton

hare 1
by Shasta Lawton

hare 2
by Shasta Lawton

X.
jack with fox
from The History of the House that Jack Built,
issued by J. Harris and Son, London, 1820


*churchyard
Unknown

jack with giant's head
by Arthur Rackham

THE END
taken from 'Liam's Pictures from Old Books'



A final Thank You must go out to all the readers, subscribers, and Followers of the Freezine. This postliterary endeavor is for you.

submit your short stories or longer narratives to
freezinefantasysciencefiction@gmail.com



Stay Tuned This October When The Freezine Ressurects The Dead



Friday, August 27, 2010

THE FOX IN THE THORN:X

by Adam Bolivar




- X -
Into the Thorn



Once again, I found myself in the thorn. I followed a narrow path, careful not to scratch myself on the vicious pricks that surrounded me left and right. At last I arrived at a graveyard behind a small white church. And there beneath the willow tree lay the maiden in white, who slept in a thicket of the terrible thorn like a rose.

What is this my eyes behold?
Never have I seen such ringlets of gold...


“So, you have returned. The prodigal Jack.” The old man with the white beard stood sadly beside me.

I am a crooked man,
And I’ve walked a crooked mile.


“Whitlock is the name. The Reverend Ezekiel Whitlock, at your service. I have something that belongs to you.”

The Reverend Whitlock disappeared into his little white church and returned a few minutes later with a sword. It had a silver hilt with a glittering, blood-red ruby set in the pommel. The scabbard was of black leather and seemed familiar somehow. The Reverend handed me the sword and I realized why. The scabbard clipped easily to the belt I wore around my waist, the one I had inherited from my grandmother. It was a sword belt. And now I had the sword. They fit together like jigsaw pieces, reunited after untold centuries.

Take ye this sword with red ruby hilt
To keep your good word if blood needs be spilt.


I drew the sword and beheld the gleaming silver blade, which flashed in the twilight. The blade was of elder steel, and was engraved with runes much older than the ones on my belt. These were the runes that warded the Old Ones.

I’ll jump in the prickly thorn
With all my might and main,
And when you hear me blow my horn
I’ll jump on out again!


And sheathing my sword of elder steel, I cried “Tantivy!” and leapt once more into the thorn, leaving the old man to tend to his sleeping granddaughter, who one day would be my bride. Following the path to its inevitable end, I emerged by the bank of a misty river. The dark water murmured with a thousand voices, warning me away from this evil place. But I had no choice. Across the river lay the wood where I had business with the Shepherd.

A rotten old pier jutted out into the river, and docked to the pier was a boat that looked as if it had seen better days. A skeletal rat in a threadbare grey cloak awaited me.

“I’ll ferry you across in my boat,” he said. “The fare is a pittance, but one silver groat.”

“I haven’t a groat to ride in your boat,” I said, feeling in my pockets for change. “I’ve only a dime.”

“That’ll do nicely,” said the rat. “I must buy matches to light my lamp.” An old lantern hung from a hook on the bow of the boat.

“Well, why didn’t you say so? I have a match.”

I pulled a book of matches out of my pocket. Before the rat could protest, I lit the lantern, which glowed spectrally in the thickening gloom.

The rat grumbled, but let me aboard. He thrust a pole into the murky water and pushed the boat away from the pier. “That lamp is enchanted, for if one speaks a lie, the light in the lamp will grow dim and die.”

“Then answer me this,” I rejoindered. “And don’t tell a lie. Today on your boat, did someone else fly?”

“Nay,” said the rat. “Not today.”

The lamp went out, leaving us in darkness but for the moonlight.

“Argh!” spat the rat. “The wind.” He produced a match from his cloak and relit the lantern, which glowed yellowly. “You owe me that coin for the match.”

Then glancing down I saw the proof of the rat’s lie. The stump of a carrot lay on the deck. The rat noticed it too now, and hastened to explain. “That...that was my supper.”

Once again, the lamp fizzled. And not a trace of a breeze.

“I’ll tell you from where that telltale root came. The Rampant Hare I chase is to blame!”

The lantern agreed with me, and flickered to life again of its own accord. The rat grumbled, but didn’t bother to parry my riposte. He knew he had been beaten. We arrived at the pier’s sister on the far side of the river. Before the rat could challenge me, I hastened to disembark.

“My fare!” the rat cried. “My fare! Give me my due!” At these words, the lantern died again. I laughed. “You know it’s not true.” And turning heel, I set off into the forest.

Boy, I was just a dick to that rat. All he wanted was a dime. And why was I speaking in rhyme? The old Jack’s spirit was possessing me. Not the Appalachian Jack, the really old Jack. Jack the Giant-Killer, the one who dressed like Robin Hood. That one. Was he the first Jack? I wracked my newfound connection to the collective Jack unconscious, but I couldn’t come up with the answer. It was too deep a mystery. There have always been Jacks and there always will. Jack and Jill went up the hill. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candlestick.

Okay, focus now. I was neck-deep in a haunted wood. Even the trees looked evil. Like the trees in the Wizard of Oz. I half-expected a swarm of flying monkeys to swoop down and carry me off to the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle. I’ll get you my pretty...and your little dog too! What was that sound? I heard...crunching. Like someone eating a carrot! I hid behind a tree and peeked into the clearing ahead. There was the Rampant Hare! He was sitting on a stump, eating one of the carrots from his sack. I had caught him!

But even more mind-blowing was the fact that he was sitting in front of a giant shoe with a door and windows and a chimney on top. It was the same shoe from the nursery rhyme. There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

Forget the shoe. I had to do something before the Rampant Hare slipped away again. I had to let Jack take over...


I jumped into the clearing and drew my sword. The silver blade glinted in the moonlight. “Blackguard!” I cried. “I’ve caught you red-handed! You’re just a scoundrel, how can you stand it?”

And the Rampant Hare replied:

“I cannot run no more;
You’ve caught me fair and square.
You’ve painted me into a corner,
I, the Rampant Hare!

Let’s call off this chase.
I concede that you win.
Now what can I do
To save me my skin?”

“So you want to split hairs, do you?” I laughed. The Rampant Hare’s ears sprang up at that figure of speech. “Very well, if your service is for hire. Swear fealty to my sword and call yourself squire.”

The Rampant Hare knelt and bowed solemnly. “I swear,” he said.

I sheathed my sword and scratched my chin. “This is really most fortuitous actually. I can use your treachery to my advantage.”

“How so, my lord?”

“Explain the Black Shepherd’s ruse to me, and leave out not a detail.”

“I was to steal your prize carrots from out of your garden and tempt you to give chase. Over the river and through the wood I would lure you, to the Black Shepherd’s castle.”

“To what end?”

“The Black Shepherd wishes to invite you to his table to dine.”

“To dine? Surely there is more to it than that!”

“Surely. But to the Shepherd’s secret thoughts I am not privy. That is the extent of my knowledge.”

“Then we shall have to keep our wits about us. Pick up your purloined carrots, hare, and continue on your way. I shall give chase once more and walk into the Shepherd’s den. But when he springs his trap, you must be my ace in the hole.”

The Rampant Hare bowed. “At thy will, sire. At thy will.” He took up his sack of carrots and hopped once more into the wood. As we put the clearing behind us, I pondered the origin of the old woman’s shoe. Perhaps it belonged to a giant I slew? We pressed on, and the trees whispered to one another about what a fool had entered into their midst.

Before long, we arrived at the rusty, wrought-iron gate I visited once before in my dreams. Only this time, I knew I would not awake.

“Fee fie foe fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman;
Be he live or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make me bread.”

Perched on the top of the gate was a giant owl. She stared at me with wide eyes that contained colorful spinning vortices. I struggled to regain my wits.

“A monstrous miller you must be indeed if it takes a whole Jack your belly to feed.”

“And as for your little friend, let me see... He’ll make a tasty morsel for tea.”

The Rampant Hare cowered behind me. “Have mercy, sire. I make you a plea. Don’t let this monster make mincemeat of me!”

“Whosoever would get past me,
Must answer me a Riddle Three.

Ahem, the first fit:

No doors have I in my castle keep,
My golden eye doth easily weep.”

Of course the owl would challenge me to a riddle game. Classic fairy tale stuff. But I thought the Black Shepherd was trying to lure me to his castle? Why did I have to answer riddles to get in? I guess he was testing me. Seeing if I was Jack enough for him. Unfortunately, this Jack didn’t have a clue.

“Well?” the owl said. “Do you forfeit the game?”

“A moment, please,” I said.

The Jack in the tales wasn’t always clever. Sometimes he had help. Who could help me answer the riddle? Not the Rampant Hare apparently. He had already deserted me--skulked off into the shadows. Then it hit me. Gretchen could answer this riddle with half her brain tied behind her back! But how could I ask her?

No sooner had I thought it when I saw a phone booth built into a tree. Gotta love dreams. I pulled open the glass door and felt into my pocket for the dime. Good thing I hadn’t given it to the rat. I had one call. I’d better dial the right number. I picked up the receiver and heard a dial tone, which sounded surreal, given my surroundings.

I dropped the dime into the slot and dialed the number I had dialed a thousand times before. My memory didn’t fail me. After three rings, a familiar voice answered. “Hello?” It was Gretchen. I had never been so happy to hear her.

“Gretchen!” I positively blubbered.

“Jack, you freak. It’s four o’clock in the morning as usual. Good thing I’m a night owl. What can I do you for?”

“This is going to sound crazy, but I need to know the answer to a riddle.”

“Answers R Us, that’s me.”

I repeated the owl’s riddle word for word. The syllables had seared themselves into my brain. I could hear her riffling through pages, probably from that same book of Anglo-Saxon riddles she had showed me before, back when this whole thing started. Gretchen didn’t let me down.

“Hold on a minute,” I told her. “I’ll be right back.”

Leaving the receiver dangling, I stepped out of the phone booth to face my opponent.


“Why it’s as plain as the nose on my face,” I said. “An embryo chicken in ivory case.”

“Arrr!” the owl roared. “A very clever Englishman. We’ll see if you get the second ’un:

“I build some castles up,
But tear others down;
I make some men blind,
Yet help others to see,
If ground very fine--
What do you call me?”

I ran back into the phone booth and repeated the riddle to Gretchen.

“That one’s easy,” she said. I don’t even have to look it up.” She told me. “Why do you need...?”

“Just a minute!” I said. “I’ll be right back.” I stepped out once more to face the owl.


“The answer to that one slips out of my hand,
What could it be but a plain grain of sand?”

“Surely someone is working against me,” said the owl. “But now it’s time for Riddle Three:

The moon nine days old,
The sign next to cancer;
Pat, rat, without a tail--
Now, sir, your answer.”

Back into the phone booth I went, and repeated the riddle.

“What’s going on Jack?” Gretchen asked. She sounded concerned. “Are you in trouble?”

“You’d never believe me!” I replied.

“Try me.”

“I’m Jack the Giant-Killer. I’m in the dreamlands. I’ve been challenged to a riddle game by a giant owl before I can enter the castle of the Black Shepherd.”

“You’re right, I don’t believe you.”

“Just tell me the answer to the riddle, Gretchen. Please!”

I heard her turning pages. She found it. She told me. “Is that all you need? That’s three right?” She sounded a little scared, like I’d snapped and become a total nut job. For all I knew, she was right.

“Don’t go just yet. I think I’m going to need some more help
.”

I faced the owl once more and answered his final riddle.

“All the curlicues around your script
Cloak Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.
And now that I am free from bind,
Please allow me to repay in kind...”

Back into the phone booth. “Now tell me a riddle. Make it a good one.” Jack had been unleashed and my manner suddenly became ice-cold. Gretchen told me one anyway. She was truly a good friend.

Now it was my turn to ask the owl a riddle:

“Thirty white horses upon a red hill,
Now they tramp, now they champ, now they stand still.”

The owl flapped her wings and closed her eyes. She was communing with someone. The Black Shepherd, I guessed. The owl had her own telephone friend.

“What’s the answer? Ah, here it comes.
My master tells me: teeth and gums.”

I stepped back into the phone booth. “Gretchen?” I said. “Are you still there?” There a silence for a moment and I was afraid that she had hung up. But then she answered.

“I’m here, Jack.”

“I need another riddle.”

“This is getting too weird for me. I think I should go.”

“Please, Gretchen. Just one more. Please?” I needed two more, actually, but I didn’t think I’d be able to coax more than one out of her. I had pushed our friendship to the limit.

“Okay, fine,” she sighed and read me another riddle.

“Thanks, Gretchen.” I felt really bad. “I’ll so make it up to you. If I ever get back from the dreamlands.”

There was a pause. “Are you really in the dreamlands, Jack?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.”

I could almost hear her smiling through the phone. “That’s all the proof I need. Come back safe.”

“Of course I will. I’m Jack! Ciao for now.”

The call ended. I’d used my dime’s worth. No matter, I had all I needed. I hung up the phone and stepped out to face my foe. Jack is my name, I haven’t another. It’s the one given me by my mother.


“I went to the wood and got IT;
I sat me down and sought IT;
I kept IT still against my will
And so by force I got IT.”

The owl flapped her wings.

“IT creeps around the maid forlorn
My master says: the mighty THORN!”

“Tantivy!” I cried. I had known the last riddle all along. “Answer three:

“Wolfing word and song I wend my way,
The weirdest sup a thief in the dark
Should swallow from his house of lay,
No wiser at all for making my mark.”

A deep sonorous baritone arose to answer me, a voice I had heard in my darkest nightmares. It was him. The Black Shepherd. “That old chestnut I’ve not heard in many a year. Not since I learnt it from my grandmother, the White Angel. The answer, of course, is a bookworm. Well come.”

And the great gate opened, admitting me into the castle of the Black Shepherd. Gulp.

I found myself once more walking down a long wooden hall to an opulent, well-furnished parlor. A fire roared in the hearth and a comfortable armchair awaited me. A glass of wine rested on a wing-table next to my chair. I had picked up my dream exactly where it had left off, as though opening a book at a bookmark. A monk sat in the chair opposite me, his features obscured by a hood.

“So,” the monk said. “This is the valiant Cornishman that slew the giant Cormoran.”

“If you say so,” I replied, swirling the wine around in my glass but not drinking it.

“Oh come now. Your name is in my book. Signed and sealed in wax. Would you care to have a look?”

“Not I. Another Jack signed it.”

“Jack is Jack. Though betimes a Jack is Jill.”

The Rampant Hare entered, wearing black servant’s livery. “My lords forgive me if I have been rude. But carrots are best when they are well stewed.” He bowed and scuttled away.

“Fool!” the monk scoffed at the retreating hare. “He thinks I am deceived, but I am not. Do you know how long I have been writing your tale? All your fame and fortune you owe to me! Me!” He thumped his chest.

I noticed something was hanging from the ceiling by a rope. The something was covered by a veil.

“Time for the tale to end then,” I said, drawing my sword, which sung with power. This sword had drunk the blood of many monsters.

“Would you kill me, Jack?” the monk said. Would you kill me?” He pulled the hood of his habit down. I was flabbergasted. It was...me. Or someone who looked exactly like me. It was like looking into a mirror.

“Jack!” cried the Rampant Hare and we both turned. He yanked the veil off the something that was hanging from the ceiling. The something was a cage. And inside the cage was a snow-white goose, flapping and squawking angrily. The goose’s eyes fixed upon mine. The message was clear. Set me free!

Bounding across a table and leaping into the air like Errol Flynn, I swung the sword and sliced the rope that suspended the cage. It came crashing to the floor with a horrendous clatter. The door to the cage sprang open and the goose came fluttering out of it. She soared out the open window. The Black Shepherd...Jack...whoever he was...desperately clutched at the goose’s tail feathers and plummeted out the window for his pains.

I ran to the window and looked down, but my doppelganger was nowhere to be seen. I looked up and saw an old woman with a broom riding the goose across the night sky. Behind her hung a crescent moon, and a million stars glittered.

Old woman, old woman, old woman say I,
Whither O whither O whither so high?”

“To sweep the cobwebs from the sky,
And I’ll be with you by and by...



I came to the end of the thorn, and there I found the girl in white. The maiden all forlorn. This was a fairy tale, right? What else could I do? I lifted the veil and kissed her.

Harriet opened her eyes and kissed me back, a long, lingering kiss. A kiss that had a future.

“Now, don’t go getting any ideas, Jack,” she said. “First we have to find the White Cup. Then we’ll talk.”

Far from ending happily ever after, my tale was only just beginning. TANTIVY!







Thursday, August 26, 2010

THE FOX IN THE THORN:IX

by Adam Bolivar





- IX -
The Tea of Dreams



I awoke to the sight of Elizabeth and Sery standing over my bed, their faces scrunched up with looks of concern.

“Whaa...happened?” I managed to say. I felt more discombobulated than the usual just-woken-up wooziness. My fingers ran over the bite marks on my neck and I remembered why. Harriet had returned. Harriet and Crispin. Craning my neck to peer past Elizabeth and Sery, I espied a pile of bones wearing an oilskin coat lying face down on the floor. A stick of wood which greatly resembled a bedpost was stuck into the skeleton’s back.

“Harriet?” I said, the sight of the dead vampire chilling me back to my sense. “Is she all right?”

“She’s fine,” Elizabeth replied. “She’s sleeping in the book vaults in the lower levels of the library.” Of course, it was daytime now.

I struggled to my feet, waving away Sery’s tacit offer of help. Fortunately, I was wearing a tee shirt and skivvies, so I wasn’t too embarrassed to parade around in front of them. Nevertheless, I quickly retrieved my jeans which were draped over a chair, and slipped into them. As I suspected, one of the bedposts from my bed was missing.

“Harriet explained everything,” Sery said. “She was still under Crispin’s thrall, which is why she left you in Henport.”

“But Crispin didn’t know that drinking the blood of a Jack would give her the strength to resist,” Elizabeth added. “And you know the rest.”

“So Crispin is really dead now? And Harriet is free?”

“He’s really dead,” Elizabeth said. “See for yourself.”

I knelt down to examine the bones. There was no trace of flesh, although the floor around the skeleton was covered with a fine carpet of dust. I shuddered. Vampires were creepy.

There was something I had forgotten. Then I remembered. “Is there any chance of getting a cup of tea?” I asked.

“Definitely,” Elizabeth replied. “First tea. Then there’s something I want to show you.”

That sounded ominous, but I decided to wait until I’d had my first cup of tea to worry about it. Half an hour and two cups of tea later, I found myself standing by a white bridge spanning a murmuring black river on the outskirts of town. The bridge was gracefully designed, curving gently like a swan’s neck. But its beauty was marred by the creeping tendrils of wicked thorn that had completely overgrown the bridge, rendering it impassable.

“Don’t touch it,” Elizabeth warned, confirming my suspicions. The thorn is poisonous. One prick and you could fall into an enchanted sleep. Or worse.”

“I dreamt about a thorn like this,” I said. “I was in a garden behind a house. My house. The house that Jack built. There was a pond...” The details of the dream had become hazy, but I remembered the thorn vividly. “And I caught the Rampant Hare stealing my carrots. Where is he, by the way?”

“We were hoping you could tell us,” Elizabeth said. “He disappeared last night and we haven’t seen him since.”

“He’s...in my dream. I don’t know how I know that, but I do. I think he wants me to follow him.”

Elizabeth nodded. “That’s what we thought. Come on, Professor Ravenscroft is expecting you. He’s making tea. A very special kind of tea.”



Professor Ravenscroft’s office was deep in the bowels of the Library of Eaves, as though he were the mechanism by which the sheer mass of knowledge accumulated by the library was digested. Elizabeth led me through the labyrinth of bookshelves, and I was once again afforded a glimpse of the majesty of this collection. I had of course visited the Boston Public Library, as well as the New York Public Library, and on one occasion, even Harvard’s Widener Library. But none of these book repositories could even come close to approaching the mythic grandeur of the Library of Eaves.

It was not so much the size of the place, although the building was impressively monumental. It was the books. Every one of the books was a grimoire of ancient and forbidden knowledge. And there were thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands. We passed between two rows of black books and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise and my skin pucker in goosebumps. I exchanged looks with Sery, and confirmed that she had experienced a similar sensation.

“What were those books?” she asked Elizabeth, once we were past.

“The paper in those books is made from wood from the Dismal Forest. The less said about them, the better.”

At last, we arrived at our destination, an oak door with an acorn-shaped doorknob. Elizabeth knocked, and a creaky voice replied from within. “Enter.”

Elizabeth opened the door and ushered us into a study much like her own, only infinitely less tidy. There appeared to be almost as many books in the study as there were in the library itself. Most of them were stacked on the floor in dangerously unstable stacks, although some were strewn across the surface of every piece of furniture in the room, interspersed with an impressive array of china teacups.

And at the center of it all, like a spider in his web, was a writing desk, where an incredibly old man sat, his beard as white as snow, and so long that it rested on his lap. In his ink-stained hand he grasped a quill, and covering his desk (aside from stacks of books) were sheaves of paper covered in line after line of crabbed handwriting. I was instantly reminded of Theobald Craftwell, although this was a Theobald Craftwell gone mad.

“How goes the history, Professor?” Elizabeth asked, clearing a space on the couch for Sery and I to sit.

“Tolerably well,” Professor Ravenscroft replied in the same faint, warbly voice we had heard from the other side of the door. “My work inches ever forward.”

“Professor Ravenscroft is compiling a history of the dreamlands,” Elizabeth said.

“It is a tricky task,” the Professor chimed in. “For dreams are ever mercurial, and the history of the dreamlands changes even as I write it down. Even the names of places have changed since I first wrote them down. What I would give for a magic book that you could edit to change every copy that was ever printed.”

Professor Ravenscroft should check out Wikipedia sometime, I thought, although I didn’t say it aloud. I had the feeling that higher technology was verboten in the dreamlands.

The Professor had already begun to lose interest in his guests and was scribbling away again with his quill.

“This is the new Jack, Professor,” Elizabeth reminded him gently. That got his attention.

“The new Jack, eh? Well, well, well. And none too soon, I should say. What kept you?”

I was so stunned at the question I could barely come up with anything to say. “Well, there was a vampire after me...and then this nightgaunt.”

“Yes, of course there was, my boy. Of course there was. The important thing is that you are here now. Any much longer and it would have been too late. The thorn would have swallowed up everything. We haven’t a moment to lose. Pour a cup of tea, would you?” He gestured towards a teapot on the edge of his desk.

Elizabeth reached for the teapot but Sery stopped her. “I’ll do it,” Sery said. “I want to be the one.”

Sery poured a stream of the fragrant brown liquid into an empty teacup, and handed it to the Professor. The Professor produced a small key from a pocket in his waistcoat, and used it to open a small compartment in his desk. From the compartment he pulled out a jar that was half-filled with an amber substance that I guessed was honey. Opening the jar, he scooped out a teaspoon of the honey and stirred it into the tea. As he did so, he crooned:

In pot of clay I brew my tea,
Leaves of root, leaves of grass.
Into her cup I pour my tea,
And through the dream will I pass
By adding milk and honey yew,
Her love is old her love is true,
Branches above and roots below.


“This is the last jar of the fabled yew mead,” the Professor said. He shot me a meaningful glance. “I would make myself comfortable if I were you. The effects are quite immediate.”

Elizabeth guided me to a comfortable, velvet-cushioned armchair, and Sery handed the cup of tea to me with all the ceremony of someone handing a crown to a king.

“What am I supposed to do with this,” I asked, although as soon as I had said it, I realized that it was a foolish question. What else do you do with a cup of tea?

“Drink it, Jack,” the Professor replied simply. “Drink the Tea of Dreams.”

So I did. It was sweet as a lover’s embrace. Sery tried to catch the teacup before I dropped it, but it was too late. The cup shattered into a thousand pieces on the hardwood floor and I found myself once more in the thorn...




Click Here for the Conclusion
Chapter X: Into The Thorn

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

THE FOX IN THE THORN:VIII

by Adam Bolivar



- VIII -
The Library of Eaves



Did I mention that the architecture in Goosebridge was gothic? That’s putting it mildly. The town was like the unholy love child of M.C. Escher and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Grey gargoyles looked down at me from their perches between vaulted windows, while dizzying spires punctured candy-cotton clouds drifting in a sapphire sky. But the stark beauty of the building was married to a disconcerting weirdness. The angles where the walls joined were not quite right. It was nothing that I could discern distinctly. In fact, looking at the angles was strangely unnerving, and my eyes instinctively moved away from them.

No less unusual than the architecture were the inhabitants of this town. There were definitely stray members of the animal races in Henport, especially by the docks, yet humans were the primary residents there. But in Goosebridge, the humans were few and far between. Mostly I saw hares, rabbits, bears, foxes, even a goose wearing a wimple. The trippiness factor had increased tenfold from when I had first arrived in the dreamlands.

“Goosebridge is the highest seat of learning in the land of Hen,” the Rampant Hare said. It was unusual for him to offer commentary, so it made me take notice.

“I thought everyone looked...learned,” I said, trying to make conversation. Lame.

“So who is it you’re taking us to see?” Sery asked. She was as annoyed by the Rampant Hare’s uncommunicativeness as I was.

“An old friend,” he replied, but said no more. So much for that, I thought.

We followed the taciturn Hare through a winding labyrinth of lanes, some of them so narrow we had to go single file. Sery seemed as awed by Goosebridge as I was.

“Is this your first time here?” I said. If the Rampant Hare wouldn’t say anything, at least I could talk to Sery. She nodded.

“Yes, indeedy. I grew up far from Hen, in the western wastes of Ca-Hat. This is my first taste of the wonders of the homeland.”

Something about hearing of Sery’s origins made me feel better. At least I wasn’t the only hayseed here.

“One day, though, I should like to voyage to fabled Gandermoon,” she went on. “For I hear Gandermoon is a shining jewel of a city, older than the stars themselves and twice as beautiful.”

“That’s as may be,” the Rampant Hare said. “But not half as beautiful as Rootbarrow, I’ll warrant.”

Sery bowed her head, as though chastened. “Certainly not,” she said.

Curious as I was about this exchange, we had bigger fish to fry. We had arrived at our destination--an arch-shaped wooden door at the end of a long, secluded alley. The Rampant Hare knocked on the door three times. A few moments later, it creaked open. A bucktoothed rabbit wearing a velvet doublet stood in the doorway and nervously appraised each of us, one by one.

“Yes?” he said.

“Please inform the Lady Librarian that the Rampant Hare wishes to speak with her most urgently.”

The rabbit nodded and closed the door once more. I heard the click of a latch. We waited in an awkward silence for a few minutes, and then the door opened again. This time, a blonde-haired human woman stood there. She was wearing an ankle-length black robe adorned with sparkling silver stars and a conical hat, like a dunce cap. Something about her was familiar. Her jaw dropped when she saw me, and she threw her arms around me, locking me in a tight embrace.

“Papa!” she cried. “What are you doing here?”

I was too stunned to say anything. Then I felt a sea change. She drew back suddenly and looked at my suspiciously.

“You’re not my father. Who are you?”

“I think perhaps we should retreat to somewhere more comfortable,” the Rampant Hare said. “As usual there is a tale to be told.”

”Okay,” the woman said. I registered her use of the word immediately. That vernacular wasn’t very dreamlandy at all. “Let’s go back to my office. I’ll send for some tea.” I tried not to show it, but mentally I was turning cartwheels.



We walked down a long hallway of roughhewn stone and emerged in a cathedral of books. Shelves of strange black wood soared to vaulted ceilings and the shelves were filled with books, books and more books. There were leather-bound tomes and volumes with wooden covers, ancient scrolls and stone tablets. Stained-glass windows flooded the library with sublime illumination. This was a holy place. How I wished I could wander the labyrinthine paths between the shelves that blossomed like the petals of a secret rose.

But the Lady Librarian had other plans for us, and quickly ushered us into another dismal hall, which terminated at a door. Past the door was an oak-panelled study with comfortable cushioned chairs and couches. And of course, lots of books, some of which I even recognized. Pride and Prejudice. The Wind in the Willows. Plutarch’s Lives. The Lesser Keys of Solomon. De Vermiis Mysteriis. The Book of Eibon. Okay, maybe I didn’t know the last two or three.

The Lady Librarian bade us make ourselves comfortable and sent for a page, who returned a few minutes later with a tray. The tray had everything I needed: a pot of tea, scones, and clotted cream. The tea was excellent. Our host got down to brass tacks.

“If you aren’t my father, then who are you?”

“Why, this is Jack, of course,” the Rampant Hare replied on my behalf. “The new one.”

The Lady Librarian’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. “But if this is the new Jack, then that means...” She dropped her tea cup, which fell on the carpet, disgorging its contents onto the patterned fabric. The Rampant Hare awkwardly patted her on the back as she cried into his waistcoat.

“There, there, Elizabeth,” he said. “As acorns fall and rivers flow, the old must die so the young may grow.”

The Lady Librarian--Elizabeth was her name, apparently--seemed to take comfort in this ditty. “That’s something the Reverend used to say.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, even more awkwardly than the Rampant Hare. “I was there when it happened. He died trying to save me. And Harriet too. At least she got away. Although she’s a little...different now.”

“Harriet?” Elizabeth said. “Did she come with you?”

“Part of the way. But she bolted in Henport. I think she’s got problems of her own now. She was turned into a vampire.” It seemed a little indelicate blurting it out that way. But there, I said it.

“What?” Elizabeth cried. “This is terrible. We have to help her. You just left her?”

“I told you, she left me,” I said defensively. “I didn’t have any choice. She just...vanished.”

“Harriet departed of her own volition,” the Rampant Hare confirmed. “I suspect she may be on a quest to escape her servitude to the Queen of Night.”

“She should have come to me,” Elizabeth said. “I could help her. I’m sure the answer is in Mother Goose.” She retrieved a book from her desk. It was obviously a very special and well-loved one.

“Or at least it was,” she went on, caressing the book in her lap like a baby. “It doesn’t speak to me anymore. The words are just ordinary nursery rhymes. I can’t find any secrets like I used to. It’s like the book is sleeping. I don’t know what’s wrong.”

“This may relate to Jack’s quest. It is why I have brought him to Hen. Darkness gathers once more in the Wood.”

“Is that a real Mother Goose?” Sery asked. She had been politely observing the drama up until this point.

“It is,” Elizabeth replied. She passed it to Sery, who started flipping through the pages eagerly. I looked over her shoulder. It really was a Mother Goose. The book was old, but the rhymes were the same familiar ones I had learned as a child from my grandmother. Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle. Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold. Pease porridge in the pot, nine day old...

“What’s so special about Mother Goose?” I asked.

Elizabeth, Sery and the Rampant Hare all turned to look at me openmouthed, as though I were the biggest fool that’d ever seen. “What’s so special?” Sery said, barely able to keep from laughing. “That’s like asking what’s so wonderful about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. It’s night and day. It’s life and death. It’s the universe in a teacup.”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” Elizabeth smiled. She wiped away her tears and hugged Sery.

“I’m Elizabeth,” she said. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a terrible hostess.”

“No worries,” Sery said. “I’m sorry about your father. I met him myself when I was a little girl. And your mother too. Did they ever tell you how I helped them when they went up against the giant spider?”

“You’re Serendipity?” Elizabeth said. “I can’t believe it! My parents told me that story when I was a little girl.”

Sery crossed her arms. “Jack told me he’d come to visit one day. But he never did.”

“Well, I’m Jack,” I said. “And I’m visiting you now.” I meant it jokingly, but somehow there was a truth to it. I was Jack and Jack was me. Sery seemed to think so too.

“That’s right, you are.”

Elizabeth took my hand. “I’m sorry I was short with you. I know it’s not your fault. This must all be very confusing for you.”

“That’s the understatement of the year. But I think I’m getting the hang of it.” Suddenly something occurred to me. “Wait a minute. If you’re the old Jack’s daughter and Harriet is his granddaughter, does that mean you’re Harriet’s...?”

“Aunt,” Elizabeth finished for me. “She’s my sister Thomasine’s daughter. Before I could climb further up their family tree, Elizabeth turned to the Rampant Hare and asked, “You said a darkness was gathering?”

“In the Wood,” the Rampant Hare said. “I have come to ask your advice, but you have already answered my question. The Goose is fading. My worst fears are realized. The Black Shepherd has awakened.”

“The Black Shepherd?” Sery said. “Surely that’s just a fairy tale.”

“Oh, he is very real, I do assure you, young lady,” the Rampant Hare said.

“The Rampant Hare helped my parents defeat him a long time ago,” Elizabeth said. “Before I was even born.”

“And once before that,” the Rampant Hare said. “When I was the Giant-Killer’s squire. Now he has arisen again, and the third time is the charm.” He pulled out his pocket watch. “It is too dangerous to travel at night now. We will have to linger until dawn. May I trouble you for accommodations for us wayfarers?”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said. “There are plenty of guest rooms in the cloisters of the library. Being Lady Librarian has its advantages.”

Unable to stifle myself, I yawned. I could use some sleep. Maybe wandering through the bookshelves would have to wait for another time. Shadows were falling over Goosebridge, and it was time for all good children to go to bed.





This is the house that Jack built.



This is the green Garden

      behind the house that Jack built.



This is the prickly Bush

      that grew in the green Garden

            behind the house that Jack built.



This is the white Rose

      that bloomed in the prickly Bush

            that grew in the green Garden

                  behind the house that Jack built.



This is the treacherous Mary

      who plucked the white Rose

            that bloomed in the prickly Bush

                  that grew in the green Garden

                        behind the house that Jack built.



This is Jack who with his tender Thumb

      took the white Rose

            from the treacherous Mary

      who plucked the white Rose

      that bloomed in the prickly Bush

      that grew in the green Garden

behind the House that Jack built.



This is the sharp-pointed Thorn

      that pricked the tender Thumb

      that took the white Rose

            from the treacherous Mary

      who plucked the white Rose

      that bloomed in the prickly Bush

      that grew in the green Garden

behind the House that Jack built.



This is the red drop of Blood

      that was split by

            the sharp-pointed Thorn

      that pricked the tender Thumb

      that took the white Rose

            from the treacherous Mary

      who plucked the white Rose

      that bloomed in the prickly Bush

      that grew in the green Garden

behind the House--



This is the Blood that Jack spilt.




“Wakey wakey.”

I blinked my eyes, unsure whether I was dreaming or awake. Then I remembered I was in the dreamlands. I was always dreaming, just different levels of dream.

It was pitch-dark in my room and I couldn’t see who was speaking to me. But I felt cold. It was a familiar sort of cold. And then I remembered where I had felt it before. Vampire!

I leapt out of bed and pulled the curtains aside, flooding the room with silver moonlight. I saw an obsidian-skinned man wearing an ankle-length oilskin coat. He stood motionless, his eyes closed, feeling the moonlight on his face like a sunbather. It was Crispin.

“Uh hi, Crispin,” I said. “Nice to see you again.”

Suddenly, he was standing behind me, his freezing lips an inch from my right ear. “You didn’t think it would be so easy to dispose of me, did you?”

I tried to think of a witty retort, but I was all out of ideas. He had me dead to rights. I had tried to dispose of him.

“Harriet, come,” said Crispin.

Harriet appeared from the darkness and strode slowly towards me, her fangs bared. Despite my abject horror, I felt a certain thrill at the prospect of her biting me again. Was that wrong? Oh, it was very wrong.

“I would kill you myself,” Crispin whispered. “But it will amuse me more to watch Harriet do it. Watch her drain your lifeblood until you are a desiccated corpse, like a fly in a spider’s web.”

I tried to move and realized that Crispin had me pinned in place with his iron grip. With one hand, he forced my head to one side, exposing a generous swath of neck. Now I began struggling like a drowning swimmer, but there was no escaping Crispin’s grasp. I may as well have tried fighting a stone.

Harriet’s fangs penetrated the flesh of my neck with a brief sting, like a needle injection, followed by a rush of pleasure, impossible to describe. But there was little joy in the act as Harriet grimly sucked mouthfuls of blood from my body. I felt myself growing steadily weaker as I relaxed into Crispin’s statue-like embrace. My will drained with my blood and as the inevitability of my death loomed, I felt a sort of blasé acceptance of it, as though I were finally losing a protracted game of chess.

Then, Harriet was gone. A moment later, Crispin collapsed behind me and I fell backwards with him. But someone caught me and carried me to the bed, laying me down gently. My head lolled to one side and I was dimly aware of Crispin lying face-down on the floor with a wooden bed post protruding from his back. Then I returned to my dream of a green garden once more. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...



I threaded a winding path through the Green Garden behind the house that Jack built. My house. The path led me to an old rock, worn smooth by centuries of rain. I sat on the old rock and held court over the little pond, which was covered over with a green tapestry of lily-pads. And on each lily-pad there sat a frog. The frogs would jump from pad to pad like chess pieces at my command. I played a game with an invisible adversary, who pressed his advantage until I had lost my queen. A dragonfly flit towards me and bade me follow her into the thorn, which had overgrown my garden.

I followed the dragonfly through a narrow path, careful to step where she told me, lest I become entangled in the tricksy thorn. In the midst of the thorn, I espied the Rampant Hare digging up my carrots and putting them in a sack. He sang:

Hippety hop
When will I stop?
Forever running scared...
Stealing ripe carrots
Me and my habits--
O, the life of a Hare!


How dare he! I’ll have his head on a pike! Then, my entire harvest of carrots purloined, the treacherous hare slung the sack over his shoulder and hopped off. I gave chase...



Click Here for Chapter IX:
The Tea Of Dreams

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

THE FOX IN THE THORN:VII

by Adam Bolivar





- VII -
Night Passage



The Rampant Hare threaded us through the mazy cobblestone lanes of Henport. There was more of a bustle now than there had been in the predawn hour when we had arrived. A man in a tricorne hat and powdered wig regarded me thoughtfully from the door of his shop, while purple fumes billowed from his long-stemmed pipe. The smell of the smoke was familiar, sweet like lilac, yet tinged with almonds. Then it dawned on me--he was smoking weirdwort.

A craving fixed on me, and I suddenly wanted to smoke some myself. I hadn’t recalled weirdwort being addictive--quite the opposite, it had cured my addiction to tobacco. In the dreamlands, however, it seemed weirdwort was as habit-forming as tobacco was in the waking world. But the Rampant Hare was in a hurry, and I doubted he would agree to stop at the Henport equivalent of a 7-11 to buy some. So I forbore the craving for now, and resolved to get some weirdwort as soon as I could.

We arrived at a dockyard where all manner of sailing ships were berthed: longships, triremes, junks, and other fantastic forms that I had no names for were tied up here, and on their way to and from lands I couldn’t even guess at.

And as varied as the types of ships were, the types of creatures who manned them were even more diverse, although “manned” wouldn’t be the correct term in most cases. There were a number of anthropomorphic animals like the Rampant Hare--hares and cats, mainly--although I saw a smattering of other animal features like foxes, lizards and bears. Some of the sailors were of races I didn’t recognize: ugly, squat ogres (some of whom had two heads), haughty blue men with fish faces and bulbous black eyes, and sinewy tall beings with chalk-white skin and long snowy hair. These last ones were the most unnerving, although I couldn’t say why. Somehow I knew they possessed an astronomical intelligence. They understood secrets that would send me stark staring mad if they told me.

Harriet shook me out of my reverie. “Looks like the Rampant Hare has found your ship.” She pointed to a caravel with a high bow that curled with a fiddle-head. But this was no ordinary ship. The entire vessel was carved from ivory, and the sails were of ivory-colored silk.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “What do you mean, my ship? Aren’t you coming with us?”

Without warning, Harriet took me in her arms and pressed her ice-cold lips against mine. There was a faint taste of blood.

“I can’t,” she said. “Your quest is too important. I would only weaken you because of...you know.”

I did know, but I didn’t care. I liked what Harriet did to me, although it was unsettling. But everything else was unsettling in the dreamlands. Why should that be any different?

“But...I want you to come,” I said, sounding a little pathetic. “I’m all alone here. What will I do without you?”

Harriet smiled. “Don’t worry, Jack. You’ll be fine. People will be falling over themselves to help you. You’ll see.”

I started to say more, to try to persuade her to stay, but she put a cold finger over my lips to silence me.

“Hush, now. We’ll meet again. Be brave, Jack. Tantivy!”

And then, just like that, she was gone. Tantivy. That’s what Jack the Giant-Killer had said, and now I found myself saying it, too. The hunter’s call. This is Jack with his hound and horn, who chased the fox who lived in the thorn.

“Come, come,” the Rampant Hare said, interrupting my thoughts. “The captain is ready to set sail.” The fact that my only connection with the real word--however tentative--had deserted me, was slowly sinking in. In a daze, I followed a Hare wearing a tweed suit across a gangplank into an ivory ship that had a crew of cats dressed like pirates. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.



I stood on deck uselessly as cats lithely climbed the rigging and hoisted the sails. No one paid me any mind. I was a passenger. A tourist. The Rampant Hare must have paid my way, but he was nowhere in sight. That was a pity. I’d hope to get a chance to speak to him, find out more about where I was going. But he remained as inscrutable as ever. I’d just have to let the story unfold in its own time, I supposed.

Henport slipped behind us as we sailed down a narrow river that meandered in front of us like a lazy snake. In the nighttime darkness, the water looked like purple oil, and the full moon’s reflection rippled prettily.

Someone stood on the bow who wasn’t engaged in the business of sailing the ship. Perhaps it was another passenger like me. I approached shyly, wondering if I should make conversation. Then I caught a whiff of a familiar almondy lilac smell. Whoever it was was smoking weirdwort. Emboldened, I drew closer. I cleared my throat nervously.

“Ahem...excuse me...ah...”

The smoker turned around and favored me with a smile. It was a woman wearing a tweed suit and a fancy waistcoat like the Rampant Hare--only the cut of the suit was more feminine. She was a hare, but her features were less elongated than the others I’d seen. In some ways, she looked almost human. And not a bad-looking one either. But that was sick. Attracted to a hare? I tried to push those thoughts out of my head. She held out her pipe and offered it to me.

“Care for a puff?” she asked.

“How did you know?” I said, gratefully accepting her offer and taking a drag of the sweet, sweet smoke.

“I can spot a weirdwort smoker a mile away. Sery, by the way. Short for Serendipity.”

“I’m Jack.”

She looked at me curiously. “Jack, eh? I knew a Jack once. He said he’d come back to visit, but he never did. You look a lot like him.”

“That was probably one of the other Jacks.”

“Oh, you’re the new Jack. I’ve heard about you.”

“Really, what have you heard?”

“This and that. Rumors. We hares have long ears you know, and word gets around.”

“So you’re a hare?”

“Of course I am, silly. Well, half-hare. I’m human on my mother’s side.”

“Hares and humans can...uh...interbreed?”

“What a question! Did you just cross over from the waking world?”

“Is it that obvious?”

Sery smiled coyly. “I like you Jack. Where are you headed?”

“I’m not sure. Someplace called Rootbarrow, I think.”

Her ears shot straight up from her head. “Rootbarrow? Really? They never allow earthlies in Rootbarrow. Something very grim must be afoot. Perhaps I should go with you.”

I was about to ask her something when the lookout in the crow’s nest began shouting: “Nightgaunt! Nightgaunt!”

Sery and I immediately rushed to the railing and peered into the depths of the darkness, trying to see what the lookout saw. Try as I might, I saw nothing but black space and the moon. Then a cloud passed over the moon and I saw nothing at all, only darkness. Damn my human eyes. I’m sure the cats and hares could see in the dark just fine.

Then I felt a cold wind, and without warning, sharp claws grabbed my shoulders and yanked me off the deck. If I hadn’t been wearing a leather jacket, the claws would have made mincemeat of my flesh. I was flying through the air, my feet flailing and still I didn’t see anything, although I felt a chill more profound than anything I had ever felt before in my life. Colder than the coldest January morning in Boston. Colder even than a vampire’s embrace. It was a cold that pierced me to my core, to my soul.

Shots rang out in the darkness like raindrops hitting a tin roof. The cats must be firing guns at the creature that was flying away with me--the nightgaunt. I was certain that my existence had come to a sudden and ignominious end, that my very essence was about to be absorbed by some gibbering monstrosity from beyond the stars. I almost welcomed it, for at least the fear would stop. Then I was falling through space. The nightgaunt had let me go. My feet hit the water with surprising force and in an instant I was underwater, still in darkness, but now a wet darkness.

The shock forced me to inhale, and I expected to draw a gallon of water into my lungs, drowning me as suddenly as the nightgaunt has snatched me. To my astonishment, I inhaled air, though I was fully submerged in water. Three girls floated in the water in front of me. They were naked, skeletally thin, and their skin glowed wanly. At first glance, the girls were attractive, but a closer inspection revealed bulging eyes and webbed fingers. Their skin was translucent, and I could vaguely make out their hearts beating inside their breasts. Their lips puckered, and opened and closed like a fish’s.

One of them smiled at me, although with her thin lips, it was more like a leer. “We saved you, Jack,” she said in a comical high-pitched voice, like someone who had taken a breath of helium. I realized that I was glowing slightly too--a green, dimly glowing membrane clung to my body like a placenta. This must be how I was breathing underwater.

The other two girls took hold of my arms, and followed the one who had spoken upwards. In a few seconds, I had broken the surface, and gratefully took a breath of cool night air. I saw the stern of the ivory ship ahead of me. It had heaved to.

“There he is!” came a cry. An ivory rowboat glided across the water towards me and a minute later I felt hands--well paws anyway--hauling me out of the water and into the boat. That’s when I blacked out.




This time, mercifully, I had no dreams. Only the blissful embrace of blackest sleep.




“Jack?”

I blinked away the tattered remnants of the dark shroud of my slumber. Sery was standing over me, looking concerned. I coughed.

“Sery?”

“Thank the Goose, Jack. You really had us worried for a minute.”

I was lying naked in bed under a burgundy blanket embroidered with golden, royal-looking patterns. As soon as my eyes had adjusted to the light, I looked around and saw that I was in a tastefully furnished room with ivory walls. Ivory walls--I was still on board the ship.

“The captain graciously allowed you to recover in his cabin.” I swiveled my head to see the Rampant Hare standing on the other side of the bed. As usual, he was checking his pocket watch impatiently. “But we have now put to port at Goosebridge. We need to disembark as soon as possible so the ship can continue its journey.”

Memories of the night before came flooding back. “That...thing that grabbed me...” I struggled to remember what it was called.

“Nightgaunt,” the Rampant Hare reminded me.

“I was sure that was the end. How did I get away from it?”

“One of the cats was able to score a direct hit,” the Rampant Hare said. They have musket balls inscribed with warding signs. Without such precautions, they would be foolish to attempt a night passage.”

My head was spinning. Nightgaunts? Warding signs? Times like these made me want a cup of tea more than ever. I sat up, about to pull the blankets back, when I remembered I was naked. Really naked.

“Uh...what happened to my clothes?”

Sery giggled, and pointed to a chair, over which they were neatly draped. “Strangely, they were perfectly dry when they pulled you out of the river.” Another memory surfaced.

“When I was underwater, I was wrapped in some kind of...glowing energy. There were these three girls...they were glowing too. They saved me.”

“Riverwraiths,” the Rampant Hare said. “How remarkable that they saved you. Normally they drag mortals to their deaths.”

“Yes, well, I’m no ordinary mortal,” I said. “I’m Jack. Sery, do you mind?”

Sery made a tsk of disappointment and turned around, so I could get out of bed and dress myself. The clothes were indeed, bone-dry, and a good thing too. I doubt my leather jacket would have survived total immersion underwater. Sery peeked, but I pretended not to notice.

“No doubt the riverwraiths will expect a favor in return,” the Rampant Hare said.

“Comes with the territory,” I said, putting my feather-adorned hat on my head. I was feeling pretty cocky just then. I’d cheated death yet again. “Okay then, Rampant Hare. Where to now?”

“Before we proceed to Rootbarrow, there is someone I would like you to meet,” he replied. “Her advice will be invaluable.”

“Lead on. Coming, Sery?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for all the radishes in Hop!”

I took Sery’s arm and followed the Rampant Hare out the door onto the deck of the ivory ship. It was daytime now, and the bright sunshine made my eyes tear up. Being in the company of a vampire had necessitated traveling by night, but now I was free to move around in the day, which was strangely liberating. It must be a terrible prison to have to find shelter from the sun every single day. I wondered where Harriet was now.

The crew of cats lined up respectfully and nodded as we made our way to the gangplank. The captain introduced me to a roguish-looking sailor with ginger stripes and green eyes.

“This is Bootstraps,” he said. “The gunner who hit the nightgaunt.”

I took his padded paw into my hand and shook it vigorously. “Thanks, man. I really appreciate it. I owe you one.” Why not? It seemed I had a running tab now.

“Nay, my lord Jack,” replied Bootstraps in a strange, archaic accent. “Thou owest me naught. ’Tis an honour, sirrah, a very honour to strike a blow against the Black Shepherd.”

The mention of the Black Shepherd made my legs go wobbly, and I almost lost my balance. The shrill scream of the nightgaunt came rushing back, the dreams of the black wood, the monk and the haunted mansion. Was he the Black Shepherd? That’s who I was supposed to go up against?

The Rampant Hare and Sery had to guide me down the ivory gangplank until my foot stood once more on terra firma. I beheld the city before me, a marvelous concoction of parapets, gothic steeples, ogival arches and crumbling stone walls. If Henport leant towards the eighteenth century, this place was firmly ensconced in the the Middle Ages. This must be Goosebridge.

“Tea,” I said firmly to my companions. “Take me some place where I can get some tea.”



Click Here for Chapter VIII:
The Library Of Eaves

Monday, August 23, 2010

THE FOX IN THE THORN:VI

by Adam Bolivar




- VI -
The Private Life of Theobald Craftwell



The floor creaked beneath my feet as I made my way up a well-worn staircase with a rickety bannister that inspired little confidence. Somehow I knew instinctively that Craftwell would be in the garret at the top of the house. At the top of the stairs was a long hallway which terminated in a plain wooden door with a brass knob shaped like an acorn. I opened the door, revealing a dark, narrow stairway that led upwards to regions unknown. “Hello?” I called, not wanting to go where I wasn’t wanted. “Mr. Craftwell? Are you up there?”

There was a long silence. Then, just as I was about to give up, a familiar reedy voice answered me. “Yes, yes. I’m up here. Do come upstairs, my boy.”

The stairs creaked ominously beneath my feet, and my heart raced. I had reached the garret. In front of me was a wide window that provided an awe-inspiring view of the slate-topped roofs and winding alleys of Henport. Pigeons nested in eaves. Men tipped their tricorne hats to ladies in bonnets and bustles in the streets below. Henport was a city of old fashions and quaint dignity. In the far distance, fantastic ships with lemon sails nestled snugly in a harbor. Beyond that, a sea of a thousand dreams.

By the window was a desk with a staggering number of drawers, some large and some small. I had the feeling that there were marvelous things in those drawers. And seated at the desk was Theobald Craftwell himself, scribbling away with a goose quill that he dipped obsessively in an inkwell. Seemingly oblivious to my presence, he kept writing something in a tiny crabbed handwriting that was nearly indecipherable. Finally, after a number of minutes had passed, he stopped. Laying down the quill, he turned his seat around to face me.

“You must excuse me,” Craftwell said sheepishly. “When I am in the throes of versemaking, it is difficult to stop until the meter releases me.”

“I understand completely,” I nodded. “I’m something of a writer myself.”

“Oh really?” Craftwell said turning to look at me, suddenly very interested. “I knew there was a reason I liked you. What sort of things do you write?”

“It’s hard to describe,” I said, embarrassed. “I write weird fairy tales about Jack, like my name. And now, somehow, I’ve stumbled into a real Jack tale.”

Craftwell nodded. “Exactly what happened to me a few years ago. I was a writer of weird fiction myself. My readership was scant. I’m sure you wouldn’t have heard of me. One day I grew very ill--such terrible pains in my stomach--and was taken to the hospital. I was certain the Reaper had come to call. His dread blade glinted in the corner of my eye. But fate had other plans in store for me. I drifted into a deep slumber and wound up here, in Henport. Not in death’s realm, but in dream’s.

“To my astonishment, it was as if I had always lived here. The townspeople knew me by name--although it's a someone different name from the one I had in my previous life--and I had an account at the local grocer’s, which I have never had to pay. And wonder of wonders, I found my beloved childhood home here--my grandfather’s house which we had to sell when I was ten, replicated to perfection, even down to the distinctively shaped cracks in the walls. I had somehow wound up in the dreamlands, in one of my own weird tales.”

“But if you are in your own weird tale,” I said, gesturing to the pile of ink-covered parchment on his desk. “What do you write about?”

The corner of Craftwell’s mouth quirked upward in an inscrutable smile. “Why, even weirder tales, my boy.”

My eyes fell on his manuscript once more. The words were alive, wriggling on the page like tiny black worms. The longer I stared at them, the harder it was to look away. The words bored into my brain...



This is the House that Jack built,



This is the Silver Key

      that turns the lock

            that opens the oaken door

                  to the House that Jack built.



This is the Silver Key

      that turns the lock

            that opens the oaken door

                  that guards the mahogany hall

                        that leads to the creaking Stair.



This is the rat-crawling Attic atop the creaking Stair.



This is the musty cedar Trunk

      that was kept in the rat-crawling Attic

            atop the creaking Stair

                  in the House that Jack built.



This is the worm-eaten Book

      that was laid in the musty cedar Trunk

            that was kept in the rat-crawling Attic

                  atop the creaking Stair

                        in the House that Jack built.



This is the...




“Hey Jack, I wondered where you’d gone. For about a second.”

Harriet’s familiar voice broke my trance, and with relief I pulled my gaze away from Craftwell’s unsettling manuscript. Harriet leant against the door frame. Her scarlet lips quirked upwards in a mischievous grin. “What happened to the bunny?”

“Hare, if you please. You may call me the Rampant Hare.” The wool-suited hare pushed past Harriet and entered the garret. “Forgive me for my absence, but I have been negotiating passage to Goosebridge.”

“Goosebridge?” I asked.

“This is as far as we can go by boat. After that we shall continue on foot into the Yellowed Reed until we reach Rootbarrow.”

I looked helplessly at Harriet. “Are you following this?”

She shrugged. “Grandpa told me about some of these places, but geography was never my strong suit. Just go with the flow, man. There’s no fighting it. The Weird will take you where it will.”

The Rampant Hare pulled out his pocket watch and inspected it nervously. “We mustn’t delay,” he said. “Our transport will not wait.”

I turned back to Craftwell, who had already stowed his manuscript in one of his desk’s many drawers. There was already a fresh sheet of parchment on his desktop. It looked hungry for the black ink that was about to feed it. Our host forced a smile and extended his right hand politely. I reciprocated and we shook. The process was quaintly charming. Just being around Craftwell made me want to tuck in my shirt and comb my hair.

“Thanks for the hospitality,” I said. “Sorry we have to rush off.”

“Think nothing of it, my boy. I am eager to return to my work anyway. Do call again anytime you find yourself in Henport.”

“Count on it.” I turned to leave, when Craftwell stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.

“Wait, Jack. One more thing.”

Craftwell took a feather from his desk, one of the ones he used to write with. “Take this. It may come in useful. Besides, you need a feather in your hat. No Jack is complete without one.”

Smiling broadly, I accepted his gift and stuck it in the ribbon of my porkpie. I felt like this was the final rite of passage. I was fully a Jack now. Harriet nodded approvingly.

I waved a final goodbye to Craftwell as he ushered us out of the garret and closed the door behind us. I could almost hear the quill pen scratching on parchment on the other side. Certainly the vampire and the hare could.




Click Here for Chapter VII:
Night Passage

Friday, August 20, 2010

THE FOX IN THE THORN:V

by Adam Bolivar





- V -
The Dream Gate



We slipped out my bedroom window, Harriet and I. I wondered what my roommates would think when I didn’t come out of my room for a few days. They probably wouldn’t even notice. Maybe after a few weeks they would. Would I be gone for more than a few weeks? Would I ever come back at all?

I felt for the shape of dream key on the key ring in my pocket. Harriet had decided that I should be the bearer of the key. She was afraid that her vampire sire might regain control of her, so it was safer if I kept it. But what good would I be protecting the key against a two-hundred-year-old vampire? I didn’t know, but I’d think of something. I was Jack.

The Volkswagen bus was parked next to the house, and I climbed into the same passenger seat that I had on that fateful day in January. Harriet turned the ignition and the ancient vehicle roared to life, its engine sputtering comically. I watched as the familiar streets of Jamaica Plain passed by, inwardly saying goodbye to the life I knew. I knew nothing would ever be the same again.

Although I was born and raised in Boston, I would never have attempted to drive through the city. Such was the folly of tourists and the dangerously insane. Unlike younger cities, which were planned in some sort of rational manner, Boston’s streets started out as a maze of cow paths that were paved over with cobblestones, and later, asphalt. As a result, there was no discernible rhyme or reason to them, except perhaps to a cow.

And Harriet was able to navigate through the city with no difficulty. I marveled as we wound our way around the Boston Common, up Beacon Hill, and down again into the North End. For some reason an old nursery rhyme sprang into my head:

See saw, sacradown,
Which is the way to Boston town?
One foot up and the other foot down,
And that is the way to Boston town.
Boston town’s changed to a city,
But I’ve no room to change my ditty.


The bus pulled up alongside Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, which looked especially spooky beneath the full moon. Being in the company of a vampire about to meet her two-hundred-year-old sire didn’t hurt either. Harriet led me through the wrought-iron gate into the cemetery, one of the oldest in Boston. It was a famous tourist trap, and was usually full of out-of-towners wearing Hawaiian shirts snapping photos. But at night a serene hush fell over the place. It was truly the domain of the dead.

“Good evening,” came a voice from behind me. I almost jumped out of my skin. I turned around to see a tall black man wearing an ankle-length oilskin coat. He didn’t look at all what I had expected, though really I hadn’t known what to expect. Someone wearing a powdered wig and a tricorne hat, I suppose. But of course a vampire would update his wardrobe to keep with the times. This one looked almost too hip, with teased hair and a nose ring. Far from two hundred, he didn’t look a day over twenty. He smiled ferally, and held out a hand that had a silver ring on each finger.

Without thinking, I reached out to shake his offered hand, and suffered a painful scratch on my palm for my trouble. The vampire lord sniggered. “Sorry. I just sharpened my rings.” Around his middle finger a coiled snake glinted in the moonlight.

“Be nice, Crispin,” Harriet reprimanded him. Taking my hand, she licked the scratch on my palm, and it instantly healed. And that’s not all it did to me.

“I see you have already sampled the merchandise,” Crispin sniffed. “I should have given you instructions to leave him unsullied.”

“But you didn’t,” Harriet rejoindered. “And he was so juicy. I couldn’t resist having a taste.”

I felt a little nervous being talked about as though I were some kind of hors d’oeuvre. But I knew Harriet was playing a part, so I grit my teeth and tried to keep my knees from knocking together.

“No matter, my sweet,” said Crispin, stroking Harriet’s chin like she was some kind of pet. “As long as he has brought me the key, then you may do with the mortal what you will. Consider him a gift for your service.”

“And my freedom?” Harriet said. “Will you release me from your thrall.”

Crispin’s eyes narrowed. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse, my dear. First we must see if the gate opens.”

Harriet inclined her head subserviently. “Of course, my lord.”

Crispin strode up to an obelisk-topped tomb and Harriet and I followed in his wake. His fingers found a hidden catch in the copper plaque affixed to the base of the tomb, and to my astonishment, it squeaked opened like a door, revealing a square aperture large enough to climb into, which is exactly what he did, disappearing into the darkness within. Harriet stole a glance at me and winked, then she too disappeared into the opening.

I considered taking the opportunity to bolt, to run away as fast as I could. But where would I go? These were vampires. I had seen how fast Harriet could move. If I tried to escape, Crispin would probably chase me down like a cat hunting a bug. Scarcely able to believe what I was doing, I climbed into the opening in the tomb, and plunged headlong into the darkness.

But no, it wasn’t total darkness. There was a light. I descended a flight of stone stairs to the bottom, where I found Harriet and Crispin waiting. Crispin was holding a lantern, the source of the light. We were in an underground passageway, a catacomb beneath Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. I followed the two vampires wordlessly through the twisting corridor, which had the faint reek of decay, no doubt from the centuries of death that surrounded us. Crispin seemed in his element. No doubt he frequented this place, and I wondered if all of Boston had underground passages beneath it where creatures of the night burrowed like worms while mortals slept.

My head buzzed with such thoughts until we arrived at our destination. A rectangular door shape was etched into the stone wall, bordered by the strangest of runes. These were not Old English runes, like the ones on my belt, or any kind of symbols I had ever seen. Crispin seemed to know what they meant, however, and his mouth moved involuntarily in a silent prayer as he read them. In the center of the door carving was a keyhole, and I know at once what fit it.

“The key,” Crispin said, his piercing gaze directed at me. “Give it to me. Give me the key and I shall release you and Harriet. I shall give you whatever you desire. Just give it to me.”

Crispin’s voice was hypnotically persuasive. He was so convincing. It was such a small favor he asked. Imagine having a two-hundred-year-old vampire in my debt. Of course I should give it to him.

Then another voice spoke to me inside my head. It was the Appalachian drawl of the old Jack. “Whickedy whack! Now you’re Jack!

I felt in my pocket for my key ring and pulled it out. The key to my house, the key to my work, the key to my grandmother’s house... I had forgotten about that one. The key to my grandmother’s house was an old-fashioned skeleton key that looked a lot like the dream key. Would it fool Crispin? Why not? He’d never seen it. Without thinking, I pulled the key off the ring and handed it to him.

“At last!” he cried, seizing it. He thoughtlessly handed me the lantern and turned towards the wall, pushing the key into the hole. I only had a few seconds while Crispin’s attention was focused on his task. Only the joy of finally achieving what he had worked towards for two hundred years could distract a vampire enough for a human to get the upper hand. And I was no ordinary human. I was Jack.

“Tantivy!” I cried and opening the lantern, touched the flame to the hem of his oilskin coat. Instantly, the coat went up in flames, and Crispin howled in pain, spinning like a whirling dervish. I whipped out the real dream key and pushed it into the keyhole. Click. The door in the wall swung open. I took Harriet by the hand and hurtled headlong through the dream gate, pulling it shut behind us. Crispin screamed with rage and then there was silence as the dream gate locked behind us. Clack. Two hundred years for nothing. I almost felt sorry for him.

“You did it,” Harriet said, her eyes wide. “You did it! You’re Jack!”

I grinned like a Halloween pumpkin. “Tantivy!” I shouted again. “Tan-fucking-tivy!”

“So, what now, Jack?” Harriet asked. I was really feeling my oats now. I was the leader.

“Let’s see where Crispin was so all-fire eager to get to.” The “all-fire” came out of nowhere. It was a Southern expression. I was Boston born and bred, but somehow saying it seemed natural. Harriet looked at me openmouthed. It was something her grandfather would have said.

Without pausing to think about it, I forged ahead into the darkened passageway ahead of us. The floor, walls and ceiling were smooth slate of the kind used in the gravestones above us. But the cemetery wasn’t above us anymore, was it? We had passed into another realm entirely--another world.

I was still holding the lantern I had used to incinerate Crispin. Burnt him to a crisp. Wasn’t burning one way to kill a vampire, along with putting a stake in his heart and beheading him? I wondered if I had killed him. Jack the vampire-killer. How can you kill someone who’s already dead? Then I stole a glance at Harriet, her impossibly pale skin, and remembered when she had sucked my blood, how good it had felt. Was she also as dead as Crispin?

My thoughts were interrupted as the hall of slate terminated at an arch-shaped black door with a silver knob shaped like an acorn. Harriet shot me a quizzical look, which I interpreted to mean, “Shall we knock?”

I saw that there was a silver keyhole beneath the doorknob, which looked as if the dream key would fit. I was right. It turned easily. Click. I took hold of the doorknob and was about to turn it, when Harriet stayed me by putting her ice-cold hand on top of mine.

“Wait a minute,” she said, gesturing for me to stand aside, which I did. Harriet bowed to the door as if asking it to dance. Then she said:

Thrice I smite with holy crock,
With this mell I thrice thee knock,
Once for God, once for Wod
And once for Lok.


Then she knocked. Once. Twice. Thrice. The door snicked and opened of its own accord with a horror-movie squeeeeeak.

Harriet grinned, looking more wolf-like than ever, and said with a cheesy German accent, “Vill you step into my parlor, said ze spider to the fly?”

“Tantivy,” I said, with less enthusiasm than before, but still meaning it. I stepped through the door and found myself in a grand, sprawling bedchamber. Predominating the room was an enormous four-poster bed with a canopy of peach silk, which swirled in the breeze from the open window. Outside the window I saw a crescent moon and a million stars. Hadn’t the moon just been full, earlier tonight?

On the bed, propped up by innumerable pillows of burgundy velvet, was a beautiful young man, his skin milk-white and his hair as black as a raven’s. His lips were pouty and the color of strawberries, and he was fast asleep.

“Who is that?” I asked Harriet, but she shrugged, as puzzled as I was. Then the sleeping man answered me, although he hadn’t spoken. I heard him in my head.

“I am Hypnos,” he said, the voice in my head gentle and lulling, like ocean waves. I was starting to feel sleepy myself. I had been up all night. It would be so nice to lie down on that big bed with him and take a nap myself. There was plenty of room. Harriet must have noticed my drooping eyes, because she pinched my arm. Hard. The pain was enough to shock me wide awake.

The voice in my head spoke again. “Would you enter my domain, or turn back to the waking world?”

Considering going back might mean facing a very pissed off vampire; there wasn’t much of a choice.

“We would enter,” I said, speaking for both of us. Harriet had no objection.

“Then you must answer my riddle,” Hypnos said. “Or offer me a gift. Which do you choose?”

I started to sweat. It would have to be a riddle, I supposed. But what if we couldn’t answer it? What would happen? Suddenly I felt sleepy again and saw the space on Hypnos’s bed. I had an idea what would happen. Then an epiphany jerked me awake again.

“A gift!” I said, unable to suppress a cocky grin. “I want to offer you a gift!” Harriet looked at me like I had two heads. She hadn’t expected that. I pulled the tiny bottle out of my pocket--the one Old Greybeard had given me. The bottle full of magic beans.

Hypnos’s lips quirked into a smile, although he remained sleeping. “Of course you do, Jack,” said the voice in my head. I could hear--well, mentally hear--his amusement. Then--still asleep--Hypnos held his hand out, palm up. I tapped the black beans into his hand, and he closed his hand around them. Then, unexpectedly, he hurled the beans out the window.

The effect was immediate. Within seconds, a colossal emerald-green beanstalk shot into the sky right in front of the window. The beanstalk was composed of braided vines from which heart-shaped leaves sprouted almost as big as I was. Where the branches interlaced were plenty of nooks to slip a foot into, plenty of tendrils to grab a handhold.

“You know what to do,” said Hypnos, laughing gently. I did know what to do. Without a second thought, I climbed out of the window and onto the beanstalk. Hypnos’s bedchamber appeared to be at the top of a soaring tower, which dropped off below me as far as I could see. The top of the beanstalk looked as if it went higher than the moon.

I spared a look back into the tower. Harriet was already at the window, looking at the beanstalk with utter amazement. “I didn’t think anything could surprise me anymore,” she said. “But I guess there are even weirder things than becoming a vampire.”

“Last one up’s a rotten egg!” I challenged her, and started climbing for dear life. It was a threat I lived to regret. Harriet leapt onto the beanstalk with a catlike agility and began to ascend it like a bottle rocket shooting into the air.

I kept climbing at a disappointing human pace, and after about five minutes, I was thoroughly exhausted, wishing I could still curl up on Hypnos’s bed. Harriet sat waiting for me, perched on a branch and grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

“Humpty Dumpty, I presume?”

“Okay, that was a dumb thing to say,” I conceded. “I don’t know what I was thinking. You win.”

Harriet winked. “Come on, I’ll give you a piggyback.”

I was so tired by that point, all pretense to pride had evaporated. Harriet gamely let me climb onto her back like a little boy. Once my hands were safely clasped around her neck and my legs were wrapped around her waist, she began a dizzying ascent upwards. The speed at which she was climbing was unreal, as though she were a cartoon character. I wasn’t even going to chance looking downwards. I couldn’t imagine how far we'd fall if she slipped.

But Harriet didn’t slip, and in a few minutes we had reached the top. I wondered how long it would have taken me to climb this far under my own power. Probably all night, and all the day next.

We found ourselves in a bank of mist so thick I could barely see my own hand in front of my face. My feet connected with terra firma, and Harriet took me by the hand, guiding me forward. No doubt her vampire senses were keener than mine. It seemed that vampires were superior to humans in almost every way. Except for one very important one.

We reached some kind of wall, which we followed to the entrance to a flight of stairs. Hand-in-hand, like Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods, we climbed the stairs to the top and emerged on the cobblestone-paved street of a strange city.

We weren’t in Boston anymore. Then where were we? All the buildings looked very old. On either side of the street were public houses with hand-painted wooden signs swinging from poles sticking out above the doors. A horse-drawn carriage, driven by a man wearing a three-cornered hat and a tattered old coat, went clomping by. It was still night, but the sky was just beginning to flush a faint shade of pink.

“Where are we?” Harriet said.

“Why, this is Henport, of course.” They wheeled around to see a man-sized hare standing on two legs and wearing a wool suit. “You must be the new Jack,” he said. His voice was high-pitched and brittle, and had a distinct English accent. Somewhere in the distance, a clock chimed four times. The hare pulled a silver pocket watch out of his waistcoat pocket, dangling from a silver chain. Consulting the watch, he made a tsk tsk sound and fixed his dewy brown eyes on Harriet, his nose twitching fiercely.

“It will be dawn soon. We must find you shelter. Come.”

Then, without another word, the hare bounded off down the street at a frenetic pace. Harriet and I looked at each other and shrugged. What else could we do? We followed after the hare, practically having to run in order to keep apace.

The sky was growing lighter, and I could see Harriet wincing. The rosy fingers of dawn were anathema to vampires. They arrived at the entrance to a barbershop. The hare stopped and checked his pocket watch again. His ears shot up in alarm.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” he said. “This isn’t right. The inn must have changed ownership since I was here last. By Easter’s green girdle, you earthlies live and die like mayflies.”

“Please,” Harriet croaked, shielding her eyes, though it was still rather dark. “I have to find somewhere protected from the sun soon, or I’m done for.”

Just then, a lantern-jawed gentleman came ambling down the street towards them. He was wearing a black, four-button suit, wing collar and ascot, and was carrying a canvas shopping bag filled with an assortment of leafy vegetables.

“Hi,” I said, acting on impulse. “This sounds crazy, but my friend is a vampire, and if we don’t find somewhere dark before the sun comes up, she’s toast.”

I expected him to run screaming, but instead he replied,
“Well, I suppose we could bring her back to my house. If we draw the curtains, I think we can make the guest room suitably tomblike.”

His accent was unmistakably a Yankee one. He had dropped the “r” from curtain and stuck it on the end of “draw.”

“You’re not from Boston, are you?” I asked. “The South Shore maybe?”

Our new friend arched an eyebrow. “Providence, actually.”

“Guys,” Harriet begged. “Hurry.” The birds were chirping the approach of dawn.

“Come along,” the man said. “My house is just around the corner.”

“Thanks,” I said, as we hurried down the street. “I’m Jack by the way.” I extended a hand, which the man shook courteously.

“Craftwell. Theobald Craftwell, at your service.”

Theobald Craftwell’s house was, like his accent, classic New England, topped with a gambrel roof and a fanlight over the front door. A garret protruded from the side of the roof, sloping like a sleepy eye. Craftwell ushered us inside courteously and showed us to the guest room. Harriet inspected the heavy red velvet curtains covering the windows and deemed them adequate.

I turned to follow our host, who offered to take me to a room of my own, but Harriet asked me to stay. Craftwell raised his eyebrows, but politely refrained from commenting. “I shall bid you good morning then,” he said.

“And I,” added the hare. “I have business to attend. I shall return for you this evening.” And so they left. Craftwell shut the door, leaving me alone with the vampire.

With the door closed, the darkness was near absolute, but I could feel Harriet’s presence next to me. She led me by the hand into bed with her, and snuggled up against the side of my body. It was odd to be so close to someone, and yet be so chilled. My skin was covered with goosebumps, and I shivered as though it were January again.

“Sorry to be so forward,” Harriet whispered into my ear. “But I’m so...hungry. I hate to ask... I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind...”

I didn’t need to answer. My body spoke for me. My head involuntarily tilted to one side, exposing my neck to her. She had become a drug to me. I needed her as much as she needed my blood. Vaguely, the thought crossed my mind that this couldn’t be a good thing. But it was too hard to resist.

She bit into me gently, her needle-sharp fangs penetrating the soft flesh of my neck. I felt a warm trickle of blood flow from the penetration, and her ice-cold tongue licking it up like a cat lapping up milk. In some ways this feeding was more pleasurable than the first time, which had been so wild and ecstatic. In the darkness, I couldn’t tell if I were awake or asleep, just the stark rapture of feeling my life force mingling with Harriet’s. At some point, however, I did sleep. It had been the longest day of my life. If this was the dreamlands, I wondered idly, where would I go when I dreamt?

The answer came quite suddenly. I found myself floating in a black void. There was no sun or moon or stars, no up, down, left, right, forward or back. There didn’t even seem to be any time, and I had no idea how long I floated there. But then I saw someone else floating in the void with me. A girl in a black dress with inky-black hair flowing around her head. Her skin was pale white and glowing, exactly the same color as the moon.

She reached out to me and took my hand. Then she wasn’t a girl anymore. She was a goose. A black goose. I was riding on her back, holding silver reins. It was absurd, but I barely noticed. Dreams have their own logic.

No, I wasn’t riding on a black goose, I was walking down a path in a fragrant garden at night. A full moon shone above me, exactly the same color as the girl’s skin had been, and illuminated the flowers in the garden, which were all white. There were white lilies, white roses, white lilacs and white lotus blossoms, all at full bloom even thought it was night. These flowers fed on the light of the moon, not the sun.

The path threaded a labyrinth of hedges and I followed it inevitably to the garden’s heart, where a sable-haired woman sat on a throne of black onyx. Her skin was glowing moon-white like the goose girl’s had been, but this was no girl. She, like the flowers, was in the full of her bloom.

At the woman’s feet were two black geese, tethered by silver reins that she held in one hand. One of the geese flapped her wings, and honked at me. I knew that this must be the girl who had rescued me from the void.

The woman--no, not a woman, a goddess, surely--gazed languidly into my eyes, and I was as enchanted and in love with her as I had ever been with anyone. Well, maybe not as much as with the white-veiled girl who slept in the thorn.

“Welcome to my domain, Jack. This is the realm of deepest slumber.”

I bowed low and kissed her snow-white hand, which was also as cold as snow. Was she a vampire also? If so, she was the queen of them.

“You have me at a disadvantage, my lady,” I said. Somehow in this dream realm, I had lost all my insecurities, as I was as debonair as I wanted to be. I was fully a Jack.

“I have been known by many names. If it pleases you, you may call me Lily, for this is the flower that I love most.”

I inclined my head courteously. “Lily then. But I am still at a loss as to why you have brought me here.”

“Consider it repayment of a favor. My sister is in great peril. And as her champion once freed me from my bondage, so I shall send mine to free her.”

I frowned, feeling less debonair and more confused. “Your sister?”

“You know her as Mother Goose. But now is not the time for stories. If you free my sister from bondage, then I will grant you a drink from the White Cup.”

I startled awake, and found myself in bed with Harriet again. She was asleep, although she was perfectly still and didn’t breathe. If I didn’t know she was a vampire, I’d have thought she was dead. Actually, I guess she was dead.

I was wide awake now and Harriet showed no signs of stirring. Absently rubbing my neck, I got out of bed and started feeling around for my clothes. I decided to pay a visit to our mysterious benefactor.




Click Here for Chapter VI:
The Private Life of Theobald Craftwell

Archive of Stories
and Authors

Adam Bolivar's
SERVITORS OF THE
OUTER DARKNESS

Adam Bolivar's
WYRM'S BLOOD


Adam Bolivar's
THE DEVIL CAME
TO BOSTON



Adam Bolivar's
THE DREAM KEY


Adam Bolivar's
THE WHITE CUP


Adam Bolivar's
THE FOX AND THE THORN


Adam Bolivar's
THE TIME-EATER


Adam Bolivar is an expatriate Bostonian
who has lived in New Orleans and Berkeley,
and currently resides in Portland, Oregon
with his beloved wife and fluffy gray cat
Dahlia. Adam wears round, antique glasses
and has a fondness for hats. His greatest
inspirations include H.P. Lovecraft,
Jack tales and coffee.


Keith Graham's
MIZUKI


Keith Graham's
EVERYTHING BUT
THE OINK



Keith Graham's
FAREWELL TOUR


Keith Graham is a computer programmer,
blues harp player, fellow beekeeper, and
speculative fiction writer. He currently
maintains 45 active websites. He has
published more than 50 stories over
the last six years in venues such as
others. Underground rock music
played an integral part in the early
days of cyberpunk, and The Freezine
of Fantasy and Science Fiction is
excited to have Keith onboard, and
grateful to showcase the premiere
of his passionate story of rock'n'roll
redemption.


John Claude Smith's
BLOOD ECHO SYMPHONIES


John Claude Smith's
NOT BREATHING



John Claude Smith writes weird fiction,
something between Horror and Magic
Realism, most of it psychologically driven.
He's had over 40 tales and over 1100 music
reviews, interviews, and profiles published.
He is currently shopping two novels and
a collection to agents and publishers, all
while starting the third novel. Gotta keep
on keepin' on! Looking forward to Rome
in the not too distant future, but for now,
just looking for the next short story to
be written.


David Agranoff's
A PLANET OF YOUR OWN


David Agranoff's
THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE


David Agranoff is the author of the
short story collection Screams From
A Dying World, just published by
Afterbirth Books. David is a hardcore
vegan and tireless environmentalist.
His contributions to the punk horror
scene and the planet in general have
already established him as a bright
new writer and activist to watch out
for. The Freezine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction welcomes him and
his defiant vision open-heartedly.

David is a busy man, usually at work
on several different novels or projects
at once. He is sure to leave his mark on
a world teetering over the edge of
ecological imbalance. David's latest
books include the Wuxia -Pan
(martial arts fantasy) horror
novel called Hunting The Moon Tribe,
already out from Afterbirth Books.;
The Vegan Revolution...with Zombies,
[Deadite Press, 2010]; and
[Deadite Press, 2014]

Daniel José Older's
GRAVEYARD WALTZ


Daniel José Older's
THE COLLECTOR


Daniel José Older's spiritually driven,
urban storytelling takes root at the
crossroads of myth and history.
With sardonic, uplifting and often
hilarious prose, Older draws from
his work as an overnight 911 paramedic,
a teaching artist & an antiracist/antisexist
organizer to weave fast-moving, emotionally
engaging plots that speak whispers and
shouts about power and privilege in
modern day New York City. His work
has appeared in the Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, The ShadowCast
the collection Sunshine/Noir, and is
featured in Sheree Renee Thomas'
Black Pot Mojo Reading Series in Harlem.

When he's not writing, teaching or
riding around in an ambulance,
Daniel can be found performing with
his Brooklyn-based soul quartet
Ghost Star. His blog about the
ridiculous and disturbing world
of EMS can be found HERE.