Okay, one more short snippet, just because I really had fun with this bit, and because it illustrates a couple of points about writing.
First off, you may note that Sarah’s name has changed. I was not entirely happy with “Sarah.” It wasn’t quite right, and I stumbled over it a little whenever I typed it. It’s still early enough in the story that I can change it if I want, but we were getting to the point where her name would be set in mental stone. (Some characters you can’t rename after five minutes, if they have the right name, but if the name is a generic placeholder, you get some wiggle room. First person narrators can change names like shirts, for me, because their real name is “I.” The most agonizing is if you have to change after the book is nearly written, because it turns out somebody else wrote a book that came out ten minutes ago that has a character with the same damn name.)
“Summer” is better in my head. It may yet shift around, but I think I might have this one nailed down at last.
“The Purple Stained Glass Saint”
She looked down at the weasel. It looked back up at her and shrugged, a tiny shrug that rippled through its entire body.
“What do I do?” she whispered.
“I’ve no idea,” the weasel whispered back, “but you might start by watching where you were going.”
Summer was so startled to hear the weasel talking—although after the skull, she didn’t know why she’d be surprised—that she nearly dropped it. It whipped between her fingers, as quick as a skink, and threw its front paws around her thumb.
“Sorry,” whispered Summer. “You surprised me!”
She hadn’t expected the weasel to talk. The skull had talked and the house had been pretty…err…talkative, but the weasel was something else again.
Then again, she hadn’t expected to walk out of the door of the bird-footed house and find herself in a hallway either.
It was ironic—a word that grown-ups used a lot, and which Summer felt she was finally coming to understand—that after all that time wanting to be able to talk to animals, when she finally had a real honest-to-god talking animal in front of her, she could only think of a single question.
“Where are we?” she asked the weasel.
The weasel climbed up to her shoulder. It—he—peered both ways down the hall and said “I haven’t the foggiest idea. If it’s a chicken coop, it’s an awfully big one.”
“I don’t think it’s a chicken coop,” said Summer. “There’s a lot of stained glass.”
“Perhaps they’re very religious chickens.”
Summer thought that this was no help at all, but since talking to the weasel was keeping her from being scared of the fact that she was somewhere very strange, she didn’t say so.
At the end of the hall, a long way away, she could see a door. Since there didn’t seem to be anything else to do, she began to walk towards it.
The stained glass windows were interesting. They were extremely purple. There were saints and angels in them, clad in purple, with purple halos and wings. Only their faces and hands were a different color, and some of the angels even had purple hair.
Summer walked past three or four windows, full of saints smiling and solemn and stern. When she reached a window with an elderly saint with a long white beard, she had to stop and smile.
“He looks nice,” she said.
“I suppose,” said the weasel, who was licking his shoulder. “Humans are the best judge of other humans.”
He did look nice. He was skinny and bony and his wrists stuck out of his robes. His beard fell down to waist, but didn’t quite disguise a grin. Two grim-faced angels flanked him, their enormous purple wings outstretched.
In one hand, the saint held a very large book.
Summer went on to the next window.
It was the same saint again. This time he seemed to be leaning forward, and he was pointing a finger toward the viewer.
She hurried on to the next one, and was delighted to see the same saint again. He was giving her a knowing grin and was pointing at his book.
“They’re almost like a flipbook!” she said, walking more quickly. “Where each page has a drawing and if you flip the pages really fast they move!” She was aware that an actual flipbook made of stained glass would weigh thousands of pounds, and flipping it would probably be very difficult and involve a lot of screaming and crashing and breaking glass, so perhaps this was the best that the window-makers could manage.
In the next window, the saint was making a break for it. He was half out of the frame, his beard flapping behind him, and the two shocked angels were just starting to turn after him.
Summer broke into a run. The weasel clutched at her hair.
Even though he was made of stained glass, she couldn’t escape the feeling that the saint was running alongside her. The next few windows flashed by, and in each one, the saint was running full tilt, book clutched to his chest, with his robes flapping behind him and his bony ankles showing. He was wearing purple stained-glass sneakers with no socks. Summer giggled at the notion of a saint wearing sneakers.
Eventually the angels caught up to him. Not very fair, thought Summer, they have wings!
And indeed the wings were the first things you saw, a few feathers in the left side of the frame, followed by an outstretched hand. The angel had long fingernails, almost like claws.
“Do you think angels really have claws?” she asked the weasel, slowing down a bit.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” said the weasel. “I have claws, and I eat eggs and mice and rabbits. Sins are probably a lot tougher than eggs or mice.”
“What about rabbits?” asked Summer.
“Don’t mess with rabbits.”
Her side was starting to hurt from running, so she settled for walking quickly. The saint, still grinning, had turned to look over his shoulder at the pursuing angels. You could just see one’s face now, mouth open as if the angel were shouting.
On the far side of the next suit of armor, the angels finally caught him. They grabbed the back of his robes and hauled. The saint’s book went flying through the air.
In the last window but one, the angels hauled the saint away. Their purple wings seemed to quiver with outrage. The saint, still grinning, adjusted his halo with one hand, and with the other, tucked under the edge of his flapping robes, he pointed toward the book.
Summer reached the last window. All that remained of the saint and the angels was a stray feather on the far left and the tip of a purple sneaker. The book lay open at the bottom of the window. Words had been painted across the lavender pages, in a bold, flowing script.
“You know,” said Summer, “it almost looks like you can read it.”
“Maybe you can,” said the weasel. “I can’t read.”
“It doesn’t come up much when you’re a weasel.”
Getting close to the stained glass book meant stepping between two suits of armor. That was a little creepy. They were very definitely empty—the visors were up and you could see inside—but it was still all too easy to imagine them waking up, the visors clanking down and those big mailed fists reaching for you.
She was also just a little afraid that she’d knock into one by accident and it would fall over and clatter into dozens of little armored pieces and then she’d have to try and put it back together the right way before the owner of the hallways came back and found it.
Up close, the stained glass book was much bigger than any textbook Summer had ever had for school. When she stood on her tiptoes, she could read the words. She read each line out loud to the weasel.
1. Gods and angels are often busy, but saints are usually well-inclined.
2. Don’t worry about things that you cannot fix.
3. Antelope women are not to be trusted.
4. You cannot change essential nature with magic.
“Hmm,” said Summer. “I understand all of them except the last one. What does that mean?”
“It means you can’t change something into something else with magic, not really,” said the weasel. “If you turned me into a human, I’d still be a weasel inside. If we turned you into a rabbit, you’d still be a little girl down deep, where it matters.”
“I’m eleven,” said Summer, a bit indignant. “I’m not that little.”
The weasel flipped his tail across her neck and said nothing.
She took a last long look at the book and read the four statements over again to herself. They seemed important. The saint had run away from the angels in order to show them to her—or to show them to someone, anyway, there was no telling how long the hallway had been here. Obviously the stained glass maker had had a very peculiar sense of humor.
She glanced back down the hallway. If she walked back down, the other direction, would she still see the running saint, or would the windows be full of the angels dragging him back to his original spot?
It was an unsettling thought. Summer found that she didn’t really want to know, and instead went to the door. It stood slightly ajar, and she could smell cool air and leaves through the crack.
She pushed the door open and stepped outside.
Behind her, the stained glass saint stuck his head back in the final window. He picked up his book, grinning, tossed his beard over his shoulder, and danced a jig with a suddenly joyous angel.
(And now, your meta-analysis…)
This one section, like most of them, got blurted out on the page mostly in one go, with a couple amendments. The last line wasn’t added until a few days later, when I felt like the reader deserved a bit more and we weren’t going to be quite so limited first-person, since as the narrator, I keep talking to the reader directly anyhow.
The second line of the Saint’s book said, for about three days “(Insert Relevant Plot Point Here.)” Eventually I decided that what it said would be more useful to Summer coming to grips with the bit where she can’t get home and her mother will know she’s gone, and that the bit about antelope women was enough foreshadowing.
That bit may not actually stay. Long-time readers may or may not recognize it as one of those lines that go rattling around in my head occasionally–I think somebody said it to me in a dream, and it stuck with me.. (I’ve painted a couple of antelope women, and there is always something sly about them. I have no idea what to make of that. You hate to be a species essentialist and antelopes are no one’s idea of Always Evil Races, but there you are.)
Whether or not this is the story where antelope women matter, I’ve no idea. I’ll find out. Since I am not doing this as a serial (not really) I can always go back and decide that the line is about being kind to tadpoles or sorrow and sacrifice or the proper proportions of chicken feed. (I suppose other people know their prophecies in advance, I just slap something down and retool it to look omniscient. Unless it’s Digger, in which case I slapped something down and then had to work my story around it so that I looked much more clever than I actually am.)
The next bit has trees whose leaves turn into horned toads and quail chicks, and three sisters named Bearskin, Boarskin, and Donkeyskin (and yes, like you’re thinking.) Things go wrong quickly, though, and as I figure out what is going wrong, I’ll hopefully soon figure out who’s responsible, and how to send Summer off to fix it. Then I might actually be able to write a plot synopsis and send it off to my agent for poking, but it’ll take some writing to get there.
Wolf Lahti ,
I can’t help but wonder who would not immediately think of Summer Glau from Firefly and Serenity?
The weasel talks! Bliss.
I am so happy that this looks to be turning into something that will see fruition.
Wolf Lahti ,
There is a bit about untrustworthy antelope women in “Cathexis”, a Star Trek Voyager episode.
Maybe not so much untrustworthy as seductive, though in fiction, that often works out to be the same thing.
“Hmm,” said Summer. “I understand all of them except the last one. What does that mean?”
She understands about the antelope women????
Ursula, have you read The Alchemaster’s Apprentice? I just finished it, and I thought of you from the very start! The style was quite reminiscent of you, in a delightful way. I think I saw somewhere that it’s an odd reimagining of a German fairytale?
Antelope are far more tricksy than their publicists let on.
Thanks for sharing this, Ursula – it’s always fun to read the weird you come up with! I do hope it comes about that this one gets published. It’s really awesome 😀
(Also, I particularly liked the purple sneakers.)
Antelope women, untrustworthy, cannot change essential nature…
You know, antelope are herd creatures, and not the most sturdy ones, either. When I think antelope herds vs. predators, I envision general fleeing, not the sturdy confrontation of the Cape Buffalo, or whatever. IOW, a herd where the only real hope is to outrun, either the foe, or each other.
Maybe I am a species bigot, maybe I’m confusing biology totally, or maybe it is a perfectly viable evolutionary strategy, and I’m projecting human values… but if you had a herd of human women with that attitude, it sounds to me like a really nasty clique. No support for threatened friends, just a “better them than me” attitude…
Ugh. Nasty scenario: A herd of female antelope-turned-humans flee a killer, one falls behind, gets caught, the others watch from a safe distance, saving energy for the next sprint, if needed. Summer initially tries to rally them, pointing out the advantages they have in their current form, but… essential nature, and all that. 🙁