Five: Episode Sixty-Three is based off the following book excerpt from my science fiction, supernatural, thriller, The Contingency Generation.
The Narrow Road
I follow the shepherd through rows of tree trunk arms holding branch crowns to the sky. We are in an apple grove, but the absence of fruit and leaves indicate the trees are suffering from Umbra Blight, also known as “the trials.” This curious botanical phenomenon sporadically affects various geographic locations on Five. Most plant life on the island exists in exquisite form and is without compromise, but Umbra Blight causes disfigurement, and any afflicted plant requires quick treatment in order to survive.
Unlike Martha, who is a master gardener, I’m only an apprentice gardener, and the cause and stages of the unusual condition are a mystery to me. I can see when a plant has an obvious problem, but “the trials” impact on plants exists long before it becomes visible.
The grove is in terrible disarray, but the shepherd says nothing about it. In fact, he remains wordless until we reach the other side of the orchard. There he pauses to adjust his hold on the wriggling lamb and issues a command to the creature, “subsiste sermonem,” or “stop speaking.”
Immediately the lamb is quiet.
The herdsman’s use of the forbidden Darkonium language alarms me. If nothing else, all heralds I’ve encountered on Five display a great loyalty to obedience that is notorious. My guide seems unconcerned. Maybe shepherds have special permission to use the ancient tongue.
The flat area where we stand is actually a portion of a large field road that slopes downward on the hill. To my right, a narrow foot path twists upward and disappears into deep woods and possibly the rocky hills surrounding us.
“Both lead to Namesake Field,” the shepherd says, now speaking in Common Tongue.
“How is that possible? They go in opposite directions.” Even as I point this out, I’m glad for a choice.
“So it would seem. Your doubt is admirable.”
His strange praise evokes a sense of warning in my spirit that I’m trying hard to ignore. Still, I’d rather push forward and take the wider road with the potential cheer and safety of encountering others on it than to agree to travel along an isolated and claustrophobic hiking trail with the oddly acting herdsman.
“Let’s take the road. Shall we?” I speak decisively and start down the slope.
“A perfect choice.” The shepherd murmurs behind me.
I’m glad to take the lead. We walk on the wide grass covered road for what seems like hours.
Surely, Namesake Field is not far away. True darkness never comes to Five, but the light shifts, and now the brightest beams are settled low in the horizon, sending stripes of gold and orange cirrus clouds across the heavens above.
This day is almost over. I’m more than ready to rest in a soft grassy field curled up by the lamb, who appears to have already fallen asleep. Its legs dangle limply from under the shepherd’s arm, and the head moves only with the rhythm of our walking pace.
Still, we continue on.
Soon the first stars appear, soft glimmers sprinkled throughout the greater expanse of the sky.
I pause to dislodge a stone from inside my shoe. When I straighten, I notice one of the clouds sweeps so low that it seems tied to the ground, but then I realize it’s a plume of smoke drifting up from a stand of elms.
The shepherd passes me up and turns to enter the deeper grass in the gully beside the road.
“Are we taking a shortcut?” I ask, when he motions for me to follow. The new direction will put us directly in the location of the smoke.
“Merely a refreshment detour as we are not quite half way,” he says.
Not quite half way? I should have asked more questions about the route. I hate not knowing where I am. The only certainty I have is that we’ve been traveling through the uninhabited side of Five called “the wilds.” Only heralds and herdsmen know their way through it.
Parting the head tall grass as I walk, I follow the shepherd into a clearing and see that we are in another orchard, only this one is lush and there are all kind of trees and the fruit looks delicious.
“Eat. Take your pick. All are good, but in fact, there is one that surpasses all the rest.” The shepherd leads me to a central tree with fruit so beautiful and unusual that I’m eager to have my fill. Fruit on Five is incredibly satisfying, so having a taste of a new one with such a reputation is exciting.
We each pick a fruit, and I marvel at the sweet scent it releases when I rub the golden pear-like skin. “What is it called? Why do you say it’s better than all the rest?”
“It’s been called many things by whoever eats it. You will know it’s benefit when you taste it.” He says and then bites into his.
Although I’m more than eager to take a bite, I hesitate, because his words bring to mind the fruit eating advice I first heard when coming to Five. “Eat fruit only until you are full, and of the healing fruits, eat only when you’re ill, otherwise detachment will take over your spirit and only with great effort will you be brought back to wholeness.”
“If this fruit is for healing an illness that I don’t have, then perhaps I shouldn’t.” I remark judiciously, although my mouth quivers with anticipation as I watch him wipe the juice of his off his lips with his sleeve.
“There’s always an illness to be cured. This one provides the remedy for all of them.”
I hear the crisp cut his teeth makes as they tear into succulent flesh, and I watch as he chews.
After swallowing, he continues. “Your illness is fear. Eating from the fruit of this tree will give you all knowledge so you can know what is coming or what to do about things. Think how life would be if you only had to prepare for a real coming event and not for every contingency. All knowledge is yours once you eat of this fruit.”
Embarrassed, I say, “But my fears are almost gone now,” and I wonder how he knows of my weakness.
“But not quite, now are they? You’re still afraid, and you still have doubts. Doubt is the origin of wisdom, and with the help of this fruit, you will soon know all things and then all things can be conquered by you. Isn’t that wonderful?” He takes another bite and lets the juice run down his chin and into the corners of his scar.
I’m so thirsty and hungry, and the sight of his nourishment, and the logic of his words makes me crazy for a bite of my own.
I close my eyes and open my mouth for that first sweet taste. Suddenly, the fruit is ripped from my hand. Before me stands a man—no a herald, or even perhaps an arch herald—holding a sword with my fruit speared on the tip. My pam stings and blood drips from a smal cut on my hand.
My fruit luring herdsman now also holds a sword. His stature grows to the same size as the intruding herald. The bleating struggling lamb still held under the herdsman’s arm has torn the side of his cloak revealing a glint of gold armor.
“You are a thief and liar and have no claim to her.” The fruit spearing arch herald roars.
“Soul Evie chooses freely all that is offered.” The herdsman’s voice slithers all too easily over my name.
He knows me. How does he know me?
This blog post is an excerpt from my supernatural thriller, Five, presented in rough draft version. The posts appear weekly as my story development progresses. The story snippets will likely be full of typos, garbage, and confusion. I’m sure to regret allowing readers a sneak peak of the chaos involved in this process of making a finished book.
Someday, if I still have an audience, my book(s) and screenplays will be polished and for sale. Until then, my story snippets are free, but payment by “subscribing” with your email would be a nice gesture. For doing this you might get a discount on my purchasable work should that day ever arrive. All you get now is a notice via email of a new story episode that I have ready to read on my “blog.” I don’t sell my email list or do anything else with it.
Why am I doing this stupid and terrible thing—letting readers see my “off the cuff” story writing?
Book industry experts say that in today’s world of book marketing, an unknown author must build their own sales platform. I’m supposed to advance my platform by collecting readers, and for now, by blogging. Since I can’t imagine blogging about what I had for breakfast or the things my cat does, then instead, I’m blogging fiction excerpts of my work(s) in progress.
Thanks for slogging along. Maybe we’ll meet on a bookshelf someday.