With The Burning Man published on April 17, I thought I’d supply one more brief extract in an attempt to whet appetites. This one comes from a few chapters in, so I won’t spoil the story with a scene setting:
The tiny flying figures swooped low, dipping in and out of the branches, following then leading the procession. Every now and then Ruth thought she glimpsed movement away in the dark, neither beast nor man, but something in-between, yet oddly unthreatening.
What is happening here? she asked herself.
Finally they came to a large clearing. Rosalyn’s shrouded body was placed in the centre and then the women stripped off their white dresses unselfconsciously. Ruth felt no pressure to join them. She sat back against an olive tree and watched as they played music on an old CD player, and danced and drank and sang. There was a heady atmosphere of languor punctuated by moments of grief. They would start to cry softly before the dance and the music took them away again on an upward spiral of suphoria.
This is very strange, Ruth thought to herself. I feel like I’m here and not here at the same time.
The wine went straight to her head, and at some point she fell asleep. When she came round, it felt like she was still in the throes of a dream. The women were lost to their frenzied dancing. Their whirl reminded Ruth of film she had seen of voodoo rituals, wild limbs, thrashing hair, rolling eyes. They left trails in the air behind them, and in her detached state, Ruth had to accept she was as drunk as the rest of them.
Strangely she found she was lying on a bed of ivy that had not been there before, and when she squinted she thought she could make out snakes of blue fire sinuously weaving across the ground.
"Come to me."
The voice was deep and resonant like the call of an animal and she couldn’t tell if it was real or in her head. She pulled herself to her feet and moved into the trees. A shape circled her, and another, and a third, but however much she looked she could only catch impressions, like the flash of a shadow on a summer wall.
Lost to her dream, Ruth hurried through the trees until she turned and was confronted by a face that made her black out for an instant. She saw red eyes and fur and horns, but the rest was lost to shadow.
"Do you know my name?" it said in the deep, throaty rumble she had heard before.
Ruth tried to see who was talking to her, but every time she focussed her head swam. "No," she replied in a voice that appeared to be coming from somewhere else.
"I am a lover of peace and a lover of madness. On the boundary between the living and the dead, you will find me. I am of the trees, and of fertility, and of destruction. I was ancient even when the Greeks worshipped me in the Grove of Simila, strange and alien to them. In ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Mycenae, they knew me as DI-WO-NI-SO-JO, and many other names were mine in the time before that time. I am not the oldest thing, but I am one of them."
"What do you want with me?" The god terrified and entranced her at the same time.
"You are favoured by the oldest things – the mark of my kin is upon you." Ruth realised he was talking about the brand of Cernunnos she carried. "You have a part to play in the great, unfolding pattern. But first you must give in to the madness and the ecstasy to unleash the hidden you."
Ruth tried to back away. It felt like there was a field of electricity around the god that made her heart pound and her anxiety and excitement rise in equal measures.
A wine sack was thrust into her hands. Though she fought it, she was unable to resist and when the warm, powerfully intoxicating liquid ran down her throat it felt more like a drug than wine. Her vision fractured; colours shifted, glowing with heat and life; sounds boomed and echoed in unnatural ways. Music swelled around her and she felt instantly aroused.
"What’s happening to me?" Her hands went to her belly where a heat was rising.
"See my little brother? He brings the fear of wild places and the joy of congress."
Ruth caught sight of a distorted image, goat legs, human torso, animal horns, an erect phallus. "The horned one," she gasped, recalling her Craft. "Pan…"
Another figure slipped by furtively, sleek, seal-skinned, with a dangerous grin and glowing eyes, gone before she could comprehend more.
"The oldest thing in the land," the god growled."We three stand beside and behind you as the pattern unfolds. Know you this, and act accordingly."
"What am I supposed to do?" Ruth asked desperately."I don’t understand any of this!"
The god cocked his head, listening. "Too late now!" he boomed. "Great danger approaches. Run. Run!"
(c) Mark Chadbourn 2008
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