Saturday Short – This Strange Thing Called Fear

Well, life has piled up on me this month, and I haven’t been able to finish That Hideous Strength, which is the next book up in my Year of Reading Lewis series. And I’m a day late posting to the blog. Drat. Well, I’m sure all of you dear readers will survive this slight disruption, but to make it up to you I thought I would post one of my short stories, just for fun. I’ll make this a feature, called Saturday Short, a once and awhile treat of a short story, perfect for whiling away some time on a Saturday..

I originally wrote this for a contest which called for adaptations of Grimm fairy tales, with the addition of a different classic monster. The idea was to write a different story each week and the best ones would make it into an anthology. This story didn’t make it, perhaps because I decided to use an obscure Grimm tale rather than the standard Cinderella, Snow White, etc. Oh well.

The monster I had to incorporate in to the story was a vampire. Now, I can enjoy a good vampire story but I’m not that fond of writing about them. It’s all been done so many times before, right? But I actually found it a  fun challenge and in the end, I’m pleased with the story even though it didn’t get published.

If you are interested, the Grimm fairy tale I began with is The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear. 

And here’s my story, This Strange Thing Called Fear

One long ago winter’s night, I watched my older brother tremble and cry out as we listened to my father tell a story. We sat around the hearth-fire, the wind moaning around the rafters and knifing through the cracks in the walls of our wattle-clad home. I thought it was one of these icy fingers that had touched my brother, causing him to jump and screech, and so gave him my blanket. He wrapped himself in it but strangely, his squeals and shakes continued, and so I judged that there was something else that caused his strange behaviour.

I looked to my mother and saw her clenched fists, and breathy sighs, and the way her chest rose up and down as if she had been running. This was odd, as she was in fact taking her ease by the fire, being entertained by my father’s tale. It dawned on me then, seeing them both shudder and moan almost as loudly as the wind, that it was something about the story itself that caused their reactions. This puzzled me deeply, for it was a silly story, to my mind, about the dead who walked and the mischief they caused. I could not see the reason for my brother’s distress nor my mother’s wide eyes as they listened.

Mid-way through, my mother turned to me and smothered me in her bosom, crying out that such a tale be too fearsome for my young ears and begging my father to stop, which he did, chucking me under the chin and telling me not to fear, for ’twas merely a tale to bide the time.

Unnecessary advice, for this strange thing called fear I did not know, not then; nor do I now, as a man grown.

It became obvious as I grew older that this was odd, not to tremble and shudder when others around did. It was also odd that at times I saw others tremble and shudder at me, when I would walk through the graveyard at night or face a bear without flinching.

They called me courageous at first, then stupid, and then the other folk took to looking at me sideways, and scuttling away when I approached. Whispers spread, so much so that I determined in my mind that I would learn this thing called fear, and by so doing become as other men are.

My father did not understand my quest, calling me stupid and casting me out, with only 50 thalers to my credit. It stung, this rejection, but I promised myself I would overcome my difficulty and return triumphant, able to shudder with the rest of them.

Oh, the places I went and the things I saw! I met others, who, to be fair, tried without success to help me in my quest. They introduced me to some hanged men knocking in the breeze; and to a castle full of dogs and cats and merry moving beds and other such amusements.

Although through the course of my adventures I did not learn fear, it was not without reward, this journey. Through spending three nights at the enchanted castle I ended up a king, with a fair maiden as a wife, and great riches besides.

For the first few months we lived together well enough, my wife and I, but as time passed the nature of my affliction became real to her.

“Oh husband, ’tis unnatural,” she wailed, one night as a storm battered our castle, the wind whistling around the battlements. “I do not wish for you to be a coward, but surely you can see that to have no fear is dangerous? For without fear how will you understand what danger truly is? How can you protect me, and your kingdom?”

I smiled at her, and petted her head, murmuring sweet words to her until she slept. But her words kept me up the rest of the night as I puzzled over them.

There was a change between us that night. I found her looking at me sideways, at times, and felt her love withdraw from me as sand runs through an hourglass. Her previous regard turned into unease, until finally, I heard her whispers to her maid.

“He is not like other men, and I am afraid,” she said.

It was obvious that my quest was not yet over. I began to see that I would have to leave her as I had left my home, for as I went about my business it became obvious that it was not only she who whispered, but my servants and subjects. Perhaps they would kill me, I thought, which gave me great sorrow that I should die for such a cause.

I determined to leave one night, under the cover of the darkness they all feared, and left my wife sleeping soundly in our gilded bed, stepping softly so as not to wake her.

I left my castle behind, and walked long as the moon rose high, past the sleeping villages of my kingdom. I walked further than ever I had before and finally I came to a cross roads. Here I paused, wondering now which way I should take, for my previous journey weighed heavily in my mind, and most especially my failure to gain my desire. I had tried this once before, I thought, and failed. What point to try again?

It was vexing, this problem. Surely there must be somewhere I could go to learn how to shudder, when at long last I could be as other men were. And then I could return to my kingdom, and my wife, and the whispers would cease.

As I stood there, perplexed, I saw a shadow moving in the woods, and soon a man stepped out from the trees.

He was very pale, gleaming in the moonlight that shone all around. His eyes were black pools in his white face, and they were fixed upon me with marvellous intent. He was dressed all in black, and had an elegant air, I considered, seeing the smooth and graceful way he strode towards me.

A strange man, to be sure, but I was glad to see him, for I thought to ask him if he knew which places the roads led to. I was on a road I was not accustomed to, and wished to leave my kingdom, to seek a faraway place where mayhap they could teach me all I lacked.

I waited as he approached, and he stopped, a few paces away, silent. I drew my cloak closer to me, to ward against the chill that deepened as we stood regarding each other.

“Greetings,” said I. “It is fortunate indeed to meet you here, for I am in need of help.”

At this the man laughed, and as he did I saw his teeth were pointy in his mouth, and thin. His laugh made the air colder, and it had a sharp edge to it, that cut the air around us.

How inconvenient, I thought, and wondered at his own lack of a cloak.

“Help, is it?” His voice was soft, and pleasing to the ear. “Well, the help I give, you might not want. But I am curious, for when men see me they scream, and tremble, and run, yet here you stand, and do not move. What gives you such courage?”

“It is not courage,” I said, and I admit to some weariness in the answering. I longed for the time when I would not have to explain this, over and over again. “It is that I have not yet learned to fear. I am on my way, in truth, to find a place where I might learn it. You seem an obliging sort, to converse with me, so I would ask you: Do you know of such a place?”

A mist was rising, clammy and cold,, and I was forced to pull my cloak even tighter against it.

“Ah. Not a place, no. But perhaps I could help you, after all.” He stepped closer, his black eyes glittering in the moonlight. I saw his hands, the fingers long and pointed as he stroked his chin, regarding me with a faint smile on his face. “Tell me, why do you want to learn this?”

I sighed, and thought that perhaps this man could not help me after all. Surely he should not have to ask. “To be as other men, of course. To enjoy their society, to have the respect of my wife…” I trailed off as I saw the slow grin crawl across his face. It was odd, that grin, for it was most unpleasant.

“Then indeed I can help you! For here is your problem: you wish to be like them, but have you never thought that they should be like you? To have no fear, to never tremble?”

I was struck dumb, for indeed he was right. I had not thought of that before.

He stepped closer, the cold deepening around me, and I found my voice.

“Why you are right, of course! But how could I do such a thing? I seem to be the only one with this affliction.”

His smile widened, moonlight glinting silver off his pointed teeth, and I remember thinking how beautiful they were.

“You are wrong, for I, too am like you. I have no fear, no need to tremble.”

Again I was dumbfounded, and it took some time for me to speak. The mist was thickening now, swirling so that it alternately obscured and revealed his long, thin form.

“How could this be? I thought I was the only one.”

He stepped closer, through the mist, until he was right before me. I had not noticed before, but his black eyes had a faint tint of red in them, like a banked fire.

“Oh no, not the only one at all,” he said, and I was trembling now, but not for fear, but for the cold, which had thickened around us as surely as the mist. “There are many of us. And here is a secret: I know how to make others like us, and I will show you how, if you are willing.”

I cannot tell you the joy I felt at his words. I would be able to return to my kingdom, to my wife and subjects, and make them like me, to have no fear. I would be able to make the whispers stop.

“Oh please, sir,” I said, “I am most willing, indeed.”

His smile was fierce, and his eyes glowing coals.“Loose your cloak and bare your neck, then, and it will be done.”

It was long ago, when I stood on that road before him, so long that the years between then and now have blurred into a river of time that tumbles each moment smooth, robbing them of their poignancy.

But that moment I will never forget, that moment when his long sliver teeth bit deep and everything in me changed.

I woke up hungry, and my mentor showed me the way of our kind, the stalking and the pouncing, the salty nectar of blood and the burning fire of the sun.

You may ask what is the end of this story, what became of my wife, my kingdom, my family. It is a tale to long for the telling, but I can say that I did return, and indeed I made them like me, as my mentor said I could.

It has come to me, in the long years since that beautiful moonlit night when I finally understood my error, that this thing called fear is something not to be desired, after all. For see what I gained because of its lack? Wealth, a beautiful wife, a kingdom, and life never-ending.

Fear is highly overrated.

But it is hard to explain this by words. It is rather something you must experience for yourself.

I’ll visit you soon. And then you’ll see.

What’s It All About, Then?


I realize that there are many reading this blog – most, actually, who only have a vague idea of what my trilogy, tentatively titled, The Traveller’s Path, is all about. Some, or maybe all, of the following are likely what you have surmised is included in my books:

  • Dark Ages
  • fantasy
  • time travel
  • something about monks?
  • are there faeries in there?

I confess that I have kept the details of my novel pretty close to my chest. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, I know this about myself: if I started talking to people about this “great idea” for a story and even just one person said, “That sounds really dumb”, then that would have been it. Especially at the beginning of my writing journey. Lack of confidence in my own abilities and in my story wasn’t here, and so I would have been stopped before I even started. To avoid talking about your story until you are sure of it is advice often given to writers, and I think it’s good advice.

The truth is, most story ideas need a lot of fleshing out before they can stand on their own. This one was certainly one of them. The first nugget of my novel came from two things: the privilege of seeing in person the exquisite Lindisfarne Gospels, made by monks on Lindisfarne Island in the 7th century AD, and the book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization” by Thomas Cahill. Seeing the Gospels, so much more fantastic in person then in any illustration I’ve seen in books, struck a spark of curiosity in me about the incredible talent and artistry of these monks, and about their devotion that produced one of the most beautiful works of art ever made. All done by one monk, in a cold drafty building at the edge of the known world. Cahill’s book opened my eyes to the importance of these monks in preserving the wisdom and literature of ancient civilizations after the fall of the Roman Empire and disseminating them again throughout the Continent after the chaos of the early Medieval period.

Seeing the Gospels and reading Cahill’s book happened years apart, and it was years after that when I first started typing my novel’s beginning. The final propulsion for beginning the book came from another author, the wonderful Diana Gabaldon. I was a huge fan of her Outlander series, and so was delighted to read her Outlandish Companion, a book she wrote about the “behind the scenes” of her books – more information on the characters, setting, and most importantly to me, her writing process and an account of how she wrote the book! She revealed that she wrote the first one just to see if she could. Writing a book was something I always wanted to do, too, and so I finally screwed up my courage and began. Online workshops, lots or reading, and practicing writing by writing short stories followed, all with the goal of getting some competence in the craft before starting a novel. I gained some confidence and got some stories published along the way.

And then it was now or never; time to get started. Thanks to Cahill’s book and the Gospels, I knew I wanted to write “something” about those two things. But what? And of course, I love fantasy – how to fit that in, too? I have always loved  “portal” fantasy – books where the main character is someone from one time/place who is mysteriously transported to another. Especially ones where the main character is someone from our world. So, time travel of some sort was going to be needed.

Those were the three elements that I began with, and it was enough to get me going. I am definitely a “pantser” , a term for someone who writes by the seat of their pants. In other words, no outlining, just get the words down. I have huge admiration for outliners, and I have learned to do this more as I’ve gone along, but my best writing comes when I’m just as mystified as anyone else as to how the whole thing is going to end.

Time travel. Irish monks. Dark Ages Britain. Research, research, and more research. I found fascinating tidbits along the way that fit my story perfectly. For example, at first, a major storyline of my book was going to be the preservation of an important literary work, saved from the destruction of the library of Alexandria and brought to the monks at Lindisfarne. So, I had to have my story start just after its destruction in 642 AD (yes, I know, there is scholarly disagreement about this, but that’s for another day. Or blog post.).

I discovered that Northumbria, where Lindisfarne is located, was a very interesting place that year. Oswald, Bretwalda (High King) of Britain, had just been killed in battle after reigning some ten years. His half-brother, Oswy, had managed to get enough support from the high-class thegns and earldomen to take Oswald’s throne. Hmm. A new king? The old order disrupted? An ambitious rival, the pagan king Penda, flush with victory after killing the powerful Oswald, rumbling along Oswy’s border? Uncertain times make for a great setting for a novel, don’t you think?

At first I sailed along with the idea that my main character, Thomas, just “somehow” arrived in Dark Ages Britain. He’s fallen and hit his head and he doesn’t remember what happened. Yes, bad, bad, I know. But thrilled with all the other aspects of my story I went with this for a little while until my inner reader sat up and took notice. “Wait a minute,” she said. “You have to explain how Thomas got there. Never mind all that bosh that it’s too hard to figure it out. Are you a writer or not?”

Gauntlet thrown. Think, think. And one day the solution presented itself, which happened to be the answer to another question that I had thought idly about here and there for a long time. But, as Riversong* would say, “Spoilers!” so I’ll leave that out for now. Suffice to say the Fey invaded my story and then things really got interesting.

So.

  • Dark Ages
  • fantasy
  • time travel
  • something about monks
  • the Fey with all their sneaky, subtle, shenanigans, but with a little twist

Now you know a little more about my books. Yes, there is more than one. I got to the end of the “first” one and realized I had written enough for three. That darn “pantsing” thing again.

I will post again about some of the characters and more about the story, but that will wait for another day!

*For those who don’t know, Riversong is a character from Dr. Who, one of my favourite TV shows. 

Picture credit: “Autumn” by Alice Popkorn, on Flickr. The cross and the crows….this is such a perfect picture for my book, I can’t even tell you!


Have any of you followed your dreams and done something you have always wanted to do? Tell me about it!

My Shelfie, Pt. 2

So, continuing on from Pt. 1, here’s a look at the second half of my shelf, which, aside from the first book,  contains books on the writing process or writing tips….

12. Flame in My Heart: St. Aidan for Today, by David Adam. Another book by David Adam, the Vicar of Holy Island. This one is about Aidan, the first Bishop of Lindisfarne, and a major character of my book. Good historical information, and Adam writes this in a way that relates to our lives today. It’s a devotional format, which I quite enjoyed, with opportunities for further reflections, prayers, etc at the end of each chapter. This helped me to see what Celtic Christianity looks like in practice, which helped me to flesh out the life of Aidan in my own mind.

13. The Synonym Finder, by J.I. Royale. The big red book….and oh, how I love thee! Sometimes you get stuck for a word, and all the ones you come up with just don’t work. Or you are looking for a different way to describe something you’ve already described quite a few times already. Yes, I know you can go online and find these sorts of things, but I have to say I used this book way more than I Googled for synonyms. Fantastic tool. I owe J.I. (male? female? who knows?) a hearty thank you for this book!

14. The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Picked this one up at a writer’s conference last summer. It’s a great idea – listing various emotions and giving writers different ways of showing that emotion in their characters. The authors include physical signals (crossing arms, looking away, etc), internal sensations (dry mouth, flush in cheeks), mental responses (anger, hurt feelings), cues of long-term exposure to the emotion (blaming others, becoming closed-minded), emotions this one might escalate to, and cues of repressed emotion (avoiding eye contact, refusing to argue, etc). I got it after my book was finished, but plan on using it more as I do more writing. Sometimes you get stuck on one particular way of showing a character’s emotions, so this book will be a great help.

15. Faithwriters – Abundance of Life, anthology. Whoops! One of “my” books snuck in there somehow. A short story I wrote called “The Color of Love” is in this one.

16. Writer’s Yearbook 2012, magazine. A special issue of Wrtier’s Digest magazine, subtitled “Your Annual Handbook for Writing Success”. Good tips and articles here.

17. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Brown and Dave King. Pretty much self-explanatory. Each chapter tackles a different topic, i.e. Characterization, Point of View, Interior Monologue, etc and gives you some exercise to work on using your manuscript. I thought I had read this whole thing but I see my bookmark is at Chapter 2. Oops. Oh well, another one to return to!

18. The Art of Compelling Fiction, by Christoper Leland. Picked this one up at a Value Village thrift store when i was first beginning my writing journey. Was an excellent primer to get me thinking on the whole process of writing.

19. Mystery and Manners, by Flannery O’Connor. A selection of essays by the brilliant Flannery O’Connor on the writing process. All of them are worthy of much reflection, but of particular interest to me is the section on religion and writing; in particular, how does a devout believer write honest and true fiction without being preachy. This is something she managed very well, and she has much to teach the rest of us. Reading this book is to hear the voice of a wise mentor who passed along the way before you and is pointing out the challenges and glories to be found. I highly recommend it for any writer, and particularly so for those who have a faith.

20. Webster’s English Thesaurus – never use this one. My beloved Big Red Book is MUCH better.

21. The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, by Jeff Gerke. A good primer on writing in general with a little encouragement in there for the Christian writer. Not as contemplative as Mystery and Manners, but worthy of a read.

22. Nigel Dempster’s Address Book, by Nigel Dempster and How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction by Persia Wolley. Only dipped into both these – the first book is a compilation of 400 people whom Dempster feels have been largely responsible for the triumphs, excesses and scandals of the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties. The second book is pretty self-explanatory. Both thrift store finds, the Wolley book is a bit dated but has some good info in it. The first book has potential for some good time-travelling characters, methinks!

23. Room to Write, by Bonni Goldberg. Writing prompts and inspiration for when you get stuck.

24. Pen On Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within, by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett. Pretty self-explanatory. I confess that I got three-quarters of the way through it and then got too busy to finish it. Sigh.

25.100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, by Gary Provost. Quick little tips, with a paragraph or two on each and examples.

26. The Canadian Writer’s Handbook, by William Messenger and Jan de Bruyn. Left over from my University days, I’ve kept this as I thought it might come in useful “one day”. All the boring nitty-gritty stuff on grammar that a competent writer needs to know. I should probably study this one HARD but it has sentences like, “A preposition is a function word that is part of a phrase – which it usually introduces – and that has an object dependent on it. As its name indicates, a preposition usually precedes in position the rest of the phrase.” You know, life is too short. But it’s a good reference book for when i need it.

That’s it, my shelfie complete! My little review has reminded me that I really should read some of those books on the second half again – some good stuff there!


So, have any of you read any of the above, or have them on YOUR shelf? Let me know!


Christ’s Cross – a Celtic Prayer

It is Good Friday today, the day when Christians commemorate the death of Christ on the cross.

The image of the cross was very important in Celtic Christianity, as a symbol of the faith and as an object to be venerated. There is much to be explored on that theme, and I would like to do more in other blog posts. But seeing as this day is more about contemplation and meditation, I would prefer to offer you a Celtic prayer, attributed to Columbcille, a monk of the early British Church. It is abridged a bit from the whole.

You can learn much about the Celts practice of the faith and the way they looked at the world by studying this prayer, but today I would rather you pray it than study it.

May your eyes be on the good Christ and His sacrifice today.

Christ’s Cross

Christ’s cross over this face, and thus over my ear. Christ’s cross over this eye. Christ’s cross over this nose.

Christ’s cross to accompany me before. Christ’s cross to accompany me behind me. Christ’s cross to meet every difficulty both on hollow and hill. 

Christ’s cross eastwards facing me. Christ’s cross back towards the sunset. In the north, in the south, increasingly may Christ’s cross straightway be. 

Christ’s cross up to broad Heaven. Christ’s cross down to earth. Let no evil or hurt come to my body or my soul. 

Christ’s cross over me as I sit. Christ’s cross over me as I lie. Christ’s cross be all my strength until we reach the King of Heaven. 

Christ’s cross over my community. Christ’s cross over my church. Christ’s cross in the next world; Christ’s cross in this. 

From the top of my head to the nail of my foot, O Christ, against every danger I trust in the protection of the cross. 

Till the day of my death, before going into this clay, I shall draw without…

Christ’s cross over this face. 

Amen.