I just got back from the folk festival in Beverley where my cafe writer’s circle worked with the coordinators to provide additional pieces of work to be read aloud during a session. I performed one small piece of my own, and a poem written by a member of our group who could not be present tonight.
It’s been ages since I’ve addressed a group of people, and never have I read out “in public” before. Not that there were a huge amount of people in the room, I think about 15, but still…woomph. See, when my writer’s circle was planning out our order and arranging our pieces, everyone was nervous about being either first or last. Being me, I said, what the hey, stick me in both slots.
Then sitting there tonight, right after a series of people who have obviously been performing their poems for some time, I wondered what on earth I’d done to myself. My hands were shaking so horribly. They always do when I’m nervous, and I sweat. So I’ve learned to to two things: First, wear a black top so no one can see the sweat. Second, put my papers down on the podium. Tonight there wasn’t a podium. I put it down in my lap instead, and I don’t touch the paper because if I do, then it shakes.
I had no real idea what to do. Total flip-out panic mode. Yet some tiny part of me must still work, because I sat up there and while I tried to figure out what to really say, I introduced myself and my penname, and I held up my paperback copy of Feral Magic, and I explained that I was going to read out a horror story from the sequel.
At this point, I knew the clock was ticking, so I didn’t go into the blurb of Feral Magic, nor that of the sequel. I’d thought upon entering the room that it wasn’t an ideal setting for a horror story. There were windows and it was bright and sunny and cheerful, with white table cloths and plush chairs. Exact opposite of horror. So I knew in advance that I’d have to set the scene for the horror story.
The reason I’d picked it out was because it was a complete tale of 340 words, which fit into the time slot. Now, the important bits to understand the story, I outlined like this: The main characters are in an enchanted forest, and they’re sheltering from a storm in a village. They’ve just had dinner. A young couple comes and asks the village elders if they can be married. There are objections, but the main characters don’t know why. The village elder proceeds to tell this story:
A young woman married a man she’d met on her travels. He was a good enough man, and they lived with each other happily except for one thing: he liked to hunt. Sometimes he’d hunt for a whole week, and she complained of how frightened she was.
Now around this same time there were wolf attacks happening up and down the villages. Usually it was just livestock or wildlife, but once it had been a man who had walked home drunk. The neighbors started to go on hunts for the wolf, but her husband refused to join them. He wouldn’t say why.
After a few months, there were still animal deaths, but no people had been hurt. So the neighbors stopped hunting the wolf every night. But her husband still went on his nightly hunts.
Then one morning they found a man who had gone missing the other day. He had been brutally torn up by wolves, but they didn’t know if he’d been killed by the wolves or if they’d found his corpse after. So they buried him, but that wasn’t the end of it.
It happened that the young woman’s husband and another man argued.
That same night the young woman was making a pearl necklace for her sister’s wedding present. Well, she dropped a pearl and it rolled out of the wagon. She found it, and when she stood up she saw a terrible sight.
It was her husband, passed out mere feet from the door. He was all bloody and his shoulder had been shot. She was very panicked, and she got her husband inside the wagon and went and got help.
The poor doctor had already been out to see one man that night, who had been attacked by a wolf. He guessed that her husband had accidentally been shot during the chaos.
But then they both saw it at the same time: the hand which had been hidden beneath her
Except my sentence in the paper ended just like that. I freaked out mentally, and filled it in with something like “beneath his body was nothing other than a wolf’s paw.”
Because that was the gist of it and I didn’t know where the devil the rest of the words had gone! Eee! And this is a story whose very meaning centers on the last word of the last sentence. To explain, I asked someone else to print off my story because I don’t have a printer. I don’t know if the final words cut off were my fault. I might have not copied it all down right.
Now, here’s how the sentence should have read:
But then they both saw it at the same time: the hand which had been hidden beneath her husband’s body wasn’t a hand at all, but a gigantic wolf’s paw.
Whew. I wasn’t that far off, but yeeeeesh.
I felt so underwhelmed with the story because right before me were these plush poems, totally lyrical, and here my ghost story is all plain Jane and with conjugates of to be in 9 out of 10 sentences. That was intentional and meant to convey a verbally told story, but taken in isolation it almost sounds like the only verbs I know are: is, was, were, are, and had. If there had been more time, like 10 minutes to myself, I could have spouted off the opening to Black Locust Letters.
But hey, I met a couple of people and that totally made the night worth it.
Till later, I’m going pubbing with the husband to celebrate 4 years and 2 days married.