Woodhollow Tales is a short novel I started writing in the summer of 2001. It was originally intended to be fictionalized account of the events of my first summer out of high school, and my last summer before joining the military and starting the rest of my life, a concept I was still too young to completely understand. The course of human events completely derailed what the story was going to be about…everything that had happened that summer didn’t seem to matter anymore. Sometimes I wondered if it happened at all. I put the story away and forgot about it.
I picked it up again in 2007 and finally finished the first half of the story. Coming back to it with six years of hindsight really allowed me to examine what it was like to be stuck between child- and adulthood, and how the concept of ‘home’ can change. I still got stuck, however, when it came time for the main character, Sam, to leave Woodhollow. Perhaps one day I’ll come back to finish it. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the 2007 version of the story that I’m particularly fond of.
It is a scene from the main character’s childhood, as he struggles to deal with certain realities that he doesn’t fully understand.
In the week since his mother died, Sam had not spoken, not to his father or anyone else. Not speaking does something to a person. With no words to say, a person becomes more prone to listen.
And Sam listened, to everything that was said. They said he was unhealthy, refusing to mourn, and that he needed to be sent to a doctor to be ‘fixed’, like he was broken.
His mother’s parents blamed Sam’s father. They blamed him for darkening their door in Alabama and taking their sweet little girl away and turning her into what she’d become. He’d seduced her, same as Lucifer in the garden, had his way with her, and ‘miscalculated’.
Sam had no idea what this meant.
His father’s parents spoke as though they had expected it to happen. They berated his father for marrying that white trash, no good harlot from the south. She’d probably been drinking, they said. Irresponsible bitch. Never at home with her son, where she belonged. Why had she needed to work? they asked. The father made enough money to more than last them until time came to retire.
Fights had almost broken out between his two grand mothers at the wake. The two old matriarchs had gone after each other like school kids on the playground while Sam watched, his face still, his eyes cold, and his stomach turning…
Finally, they put his mother to rest, God bless her. More than any other, Sam listened to the words of the priest at the funeral, hearing both truth and emptiness. Sam knew that he would need some kind of strength, but the symbols he knew so well seemed hollow.
That night, he didn’t use words to pray. He used his heart. He prayed for strength.
The next day, Sam had to go back to school. He was waiting for the school bus when a pair of crows landed on the icy curb next to him. It was curious, he thought, that they would remain here in the winter. Even more curious was the way they looked at him.
You think you know so much…
Sam blinked as the words went through his mind. He had a sensation of thinking, but the thought was not his. Just then, a snowball struck his face and shattered. The crows fluttered away, and he turned to look at his assailant and found a girl he’d never seen before standing behind a nearby tree, already preparing her next attack.
He ignored her.
The girl dropped the snow ball, then came to stand next to him.
“Hey, aren’t you going to throw back at me?” she said, tucking a strand of dark hair behind one impish ear. Sam did not answer, just looked up to the sky, wondering where the crows had gone. Where was quickly becoming a secondary question to had he even seen them at all, however.
“I’m Faith,” the girl said. “Are you okay?”
He looked up when he heard her name. He immediately noticed her eyes, deep green, startling. The irises were sharp, crystalline, yet at the same time kind and understanding.
“No,” he said, and already his voice had begun to shake. “I’m not…”
“Hey,” she said, putting an arm around his neck, and Sam finally let go of the past week, of everything that had built up inside. He let it go into this strange girl’s shoulder, and she didn’t pull away. Instead she squeezed tighter.
Sam pulled himself under control and backed away, about to apologize.
“You should keep going, let it all go,” Faith said.
“No, I’m fine,” Sam said. “Thank you.”
Faith smiled and held out her hand, and Sam wondered at it, thinking it was a little too late for pleasantries.
“I’m Sam,” he said, shaking it anyway. “I’m going to be just fine.”
Somewhere, a crow called.