Following is the first chapter, in which the main characters are introduced: a dying man from a time long past; a modern woman tired of enduring her husband's abusive behavior and on the verge of divorcing him; that woman's twelve-year-old daughter, who hopes to help her mother through magic; and a modern middle-aged man suffering from vivid, terrifying dreams.
ALL THAT IS RIGHT
He fought to ignore the lightning scorching his belly and the thundering of pain through his limbs. I am dying; surely I am dying ran like a song through his mind. Oddly, the refrain helped numb him.
Firelight licked the damp, lumpish walls that arched all around. Murmurings filled the air, melodic whispers and sighs, as if the fire’s fingers had coaxed voices from the throat of the earth. He took a labored breath and forced his mind into clarity. The throat of the earth . . .
Slowly, he turned his head to the left, to the right. He was lying on straw. It rustled beneath his skull and poked into his hair. He squinted into the gilded, dancing darkness. The ceiling seemed festooned with flowering vines. But he was not within an arbor. The blackness seemed studded with winking stars. But he was not beneath the sky.
Then he knew.
It was roots that hung from the ceiling, roots both thick and fine, entwined with flowers. He tried reaching out to touch them but his arm felt as heavy as a bloated boar. Suddenly, the scent of the flowers wafted over him like prayer--foxglove, cowslip, primrose--and he could smell the wedding of their delicate fragrance with the rich, heavy breath of the soil. He knew, too, that the surrounding glimmer came from stones, smooth and shiny and veined with crystalline colors, purposefully embedded in the earth to adorn this space.
The Folk had brought him here. This was one of their sanctuaries. They were everywhere around him, melding with the shadows. They were keeping vigil.
A cool, thin hand, light as the call of a nightingale, covered his forehead. Someone spoke in a strange language he strangely understood.
"Myklwyn, do not struggle so. Surrender to the embrace. Much love and promise lie within it. But first . . ."
* * * * *
Twelve-year-old Daisy Austen stood before the makeshift altar she had fashioned from two empty beer cases and her old toybox, which now housed all her ritual paraphernalia. Once again, but distractedly this time, she wondered if she should paint over the mincing, pastel fairies that fluttered across five of its sides.
The voice of her stepfather, like a series of muffled sonic booms coming through the walls, redirected her attention.
With trembling fingers, she hastily lit five candles--white for peace, red for courage, green for harmony, blue for protection, pink for love and romance--and a stick of sandalwood incense, then tapped her silver-plated baby spoon three times against a small, engraved brass bell that had once hung around the neck of her best friend Sonja’s potbellied pig. Sonja had donated the bell to Daisy’s "cause" after Link the pig’s expanding neck began to envelop it.
"Shut up!" the voice boomed through the wall.
Startled, Daisy dropped the spoon. For one mercifully fleeting second, she’d thought the command was directed at her.
"No, you shut up," she muttered, bending over to retrieve the spoon from the littered carpet. "Better yet, I’ll shut you up."
She needed the spoon. The brass bell had no clapper. The man behind the voice behind the wall had pulled it out one day.
Straightening, Daisy decided to dispense with formalities. She couldn’t remember them all, anyway, when she felt this pressured. Immediate action was necessary, so she would have to wing it.
Once again, she must try rescuing her mother from Devil Dale’s demonic clutches.
* * * * *
Julie was not going to cower. It may have been in her best interest to do so, but it certainly was not in her nature. Neither was she going to lash out and further provoke Dale. So she sat stoically on the bed, eyes lowered and hands clasped in her lap, and let him rant. Like a firecracker, he’d soon burn himself out. It was inevitable. He’d been drinking.
"Look at me when I’m talking to you!" he shouted, bending so near her face she could make out individual hairs in his mustache and beard and could tell exactly what he’d been drinking. Once her eyes were turned up to him, he moved away, satisfied.
Julie immediately turned her gaze to the mirror over the dresser. She had an absurd desire to comfort the woman she saw there: About forty-five, I’ll bet, and never beautiful--but, at one time, pretty . . .
Unconventionally pretty, with straight hair that never could seem to settle on one color but insisted on blending every hue in autumn’s palette, and with large eyes that did the same. The face had never been graced with symmetry, but kind Nature had compensated with outstanding cheekbones, an assertive-without-being-masculine dimpled chin, an "interesting" nose, and clear skin with a single small, coquettish mole between the left corner of the mouth and the ear. One tooth slightly overlapped another, giving her a charming, impish smile.
But look at her now--hair without luster, eyelids creased and weighted from sleeplessness and tears, face at the mercy of gravity, exhaustion, despair. And she doesn’t smile much anymore.
I have to do something to help her.
* * * * *
He couldn’t help her. In blurred fragments, it was coming back to him now. He had not been able to protect the imperiled woman, and he somehow knew these were her kin.
Had they sought retribution? Is that why he was imprisoned here, beneath a hill, in torment? Is that why he was urged to accept death?
"No," a voice replied, like a breeze soughing through the dense silence. Other, similar voices echoed the denial, until they were all chorusing, "No. No, Myklwyn, no."
They had read his thoughts! If only he could remember more clearly what had happened, how he had failed, why he was languishing on this bed of straw beneath a dank canopy of tangled roots. And how could it be that he was still clinging to life, however tenuously? Why and how and by whom was he spared?
"We did not inflict your wounds," said the same voice, an elder male voice both gentle and firm. "And we do not know why you were spared or who, if anyone, rescued you. We simply found you and brought you here."
The man was standing beside him and was likely the one whose hand had earlier touched his forehead. He heard the tinkle of jewelry, saw the glint of gold, copper, silver as the soothing hand once more descended. But the hand seemed ghostly, insubstantial, and the bracelets, only a little less so.
"Is this a troop of the Dynion Mwyn?" he ventured to ask, "of the race Tylwyth Teg?"
"Please, allow me to see you."
"You can and will see only as much as you are able--no more, no less. Most men do not see us at all. But you are not like most men, Myklwyn."
Ah, but I am, he thought. Most men feel pain. And all men die.
A vast weariness overcame him, and he let his battered body relax into the crude bed of straw. His pain seemed to be seeping into it. For this, he was grateful.
"Not yet, cousin," his companion whispered, close to his ear. "First you must remember."
He no longer wished to. It would be too agonizing. Nearly oblivious, he merely exhaled his answer. "Why?"
"Because it will bring you both peace and a sense of purpose before you begin the last, most wondrous leg of your journey. If we never face our shortcomings and learn the nature of our errors, and never take that knowledge to heart, we can never have hope of correcting those errors. And such correction is the key to a cleansing of the soul that leads to true peace in the afterlife."
"Redemption," Myklwyn sighed, not knowing, or caring, why that particular word had issued from his mouth . . .
The alarm rang and Butch Thomas jack-knifed forward, blankets tumbling from his sweating torso. He ached all over. He slid his half-open eyes to the right and saw 5:30 staring back at him with a boldly taunting, green luminescence.
"Damn," he groaned, dropping his head to his hands. "I am so sick of this shit."
He'd been sick of it for a good long while--not only this dream that kept tormenting him, but what he knew its aftermath would be: When he shambled into his bathroom and took his first tentative look into the mirror, he would see, or think he saw, a faint shadow of that battered man's face within his own reflection.
It was, as usual, a hell of a way to start the day.
* * * * *
Excerpt from "All That Is Right"
Copyright © K. Z. Snow