I’m happy to present you with a new excerpt from Frostwalker! This time, it’s the opening scene from the book. If you’ve read some of my interviews, you may recognize this. This scene is what grew out of a late night trip to the mailbox in winter, and from this scene the rest of the story developed on its own.
Meanwhile, preparations continue for the release. The cover art is being finalized and formatting is underway. Work is also being done on the media kit, as well as various other supporting efforts. Stay tuned – it won’t be much longer now!
For now, enjoy this excerpt, and feel free to post your thoughts below!
It was a cold night, but not so cold as to be unbearable. Late fall nights in North Carolina are mild, even here in the low mountains of the northwestern part of the state, and with his jacket and constant movement, Jake Marsden remained warm.
His lungs pulled the cold air in steady breaths, and his nose and cheeks were red with the chill, but he was unaware of these. Jake took constant, even strides and progressed through the darkened field. His footsteps on the fallen leaves slipped from time to time, but he did not fall. A cloudless sky sparkled above the rural darkness, but he did not see it.
Jake was thinking of the Light. It was out there, in the woods somewhere, and he meant to find it. This is becoming unhealthy, he thought, but quickly dismissed the idea. He’d made this trip many times, and while he was unnerved by recent events, nothing truly dangerous had happened. That’s not why it’s unhealthy—it’s obsessive behavior, part of his mind nagged.
It was obsessive, he had to admit, but he put such thoughts aside. He’d been dreaming of the Light for weeks now, and he knew it was out there, waiting for him and no one else.
When the dreams first began, they were like most any other dream he’d had: disjointed, unfocused and rarely remembered upon waking. Soon, he realized that he’d been having the same dream night after night, and the dream was becoming more and more clear.
After a week, he’d pieced together enough to have an idea of what it was. It was a glow in the woods and someone or something calling to him. He never heard the words, and the glow was sometimes green, sometimes orange, sometimes something he couldn’t name, but the dream was always the same: The Light, and the imperative that he must come to it.
A recurring dream isn’t unusual, of course, but Jake was gripped by this one like no other. Within three weeks, he was sure of two things: first, that the dream was more than a simple nocturnal flight of fancy—it was too vivid, too right for that. The other realization was that he knew those woods.
The woods were on a fairly open bit of land his father had given him. Henry Marsden had been a cattle farmer who dabbled in tobacco, soybeans and a number of other crops. He’d been successful, but beef prices fell and land prices rose. It was time to retire anyway, and farming wasn’t the life it once was. Over the years, Jake’s father had accumulated a good-sized farm, mostly pasture and fields, but also a few tobacco curing barns and other assorted outbuildings and equipment. These were sold at auction, fetching enough to see Henry and his wife Eliza through their retirement and a move to Florida, cliché though it might be.
While Jake had his own apartment in town, and had been quite happy there, Jake intervened at the last minute and asked his father to save a small plot for him. He wasn’t sure why at the time, but owning land is never a bad idea. Henry was happy to oblige his only son and gifted Jake with a dozen acres and the home place that had stood on it for some thirty years.
Moving in, Jake had found himself at a loss. There was so much room in the house—space he didn’t remember from his childhood or visits as an adult. His parents’ home had been lived in, and it represented the collected possessions of over sixty years of two people’s lives. Now, divested of their belongings—the knick-knacks, his mother’s doll collection, his father’s books—the house echoed like a tomb.
That was a year ago, and after a week of sleepless nights, the old place finally began to feel like home again. Now, a year later, Jake didn’t even feel at home in his own body.
What he was doing now was the reason why. For the past two weeks, he’d found himself awake in the middle of the night. Sometimes it was two in the morning, other times it was after four. Every time, it was after the same dream, and he felt that he had to find the Light.
At first, it was simple curiosity. Once he became aware of his familiarity with the woods in his dream, he wanted to see them, but he brushed such fanciful thoughts away and went back to sleep. However, it soon became something more. It was a yearning—an itch in his mind that demanded he go to those woods and find the Light.
So it was that, by the end of the fourth week of the dreaming, as he’d come to call it, he found himself dressing in the dark beside his bed. After slipping on his clothes from the previous day and tying on the hiking boots that normally never traversed more difficult terrain than the stairs to his second-floor office in town, Jake would head downstairs. From there, he’d cross the kitchen to the back door.
Once, he’d stopped to consider taking a flashlight, but some instinct told him not to. Maybe the Light would be too faint to see in the glare of artificial light. Perhaps whoever called to him would be frightened away. For whatever reason, he traveled by the light of the moon and stars alone.
Nightly, Jake would step out the back door, cross the screened-in porch, and head down the steps to his back yard. The fence, now gone, had still left its mark across the yard like a shadow. Much of the original pasture, purchased at auction in 1973, was his back yard. It was mowed and manicured as well as any large country yard could be. Still, that line remained, like a ghost. The outbuildings were gone or converted, the equipment long since removed, but that fence line still proclaimed that this was farmland, cattle present or not.
In the first nights, the dew quickly covered his shoes and soaked the cuffs of his jeans. As the nights progressed, the dew became frost, and the grass was covered in the fallen leaves of the maples that dotted his yard.
Crossing the fence line, Jake found himself in the old pasture. The land opened up, and the smooth grass, mowed weekly by Billy Henshaw down the road, was a gently sloping sea of gray in the moonlight. In the gray light, the pasture looked to Jake like a tarpaulin, stretched taut, but large enough to bow down into a shallow bowl by its sheer size.
Across the old pasture, perhaps a quarter mile distant, the tree line waited. These weren’t the woods from his dream, but that copse lay within the same forest. Jake walked the pasture, looking ahead rather than watching his footing. He was sure of his steps the way a horse is, his eyes locked on the trees ahead.
Each night, it had been the same. For two weeks, since that night in late November when he’d first given in to the need to see the Light, he had walked the old pasture, and each night he’d met the same end. He would mount the rise, approaching the tree line. As he neared, the shadow of the forest made an inky blackness of the grass ahead. The demarcation of the trees’ shadow was as clear to his dark-adapted eyes as a line of yellow police tape around a crime scene.
Jake would approach that line, the terminator between starlit pasture and forest-shadowed blackness, and his step would falter. Each night his stride was confident, almost joyous, in his acquiescence of the urge to find the Light. However, at this point, reaching the shadows of the forest, he was always stopped. The chill air would become frigid to him. It was almost like waking up all over again, though he’d done just that only minutes before.
On the fifth night, Jake had pushed himself. He had stood staring at the shadowed line, the rounded tops of the trees, full of dead and dying leaves, etched in shadow on the smooth grass. “Why stop here? Why stop now?” he asked himself. His voice seemed too loud in the darkness, the clatter of leaves in the trees the only sound other than his breathing.
He stood at that line, unsure why he had stopped, unsure why he was so frustrated by it, making the decision to cross it—and cross it he did. It had taken him five minutes to work up the courage to do so. Why he was so fearful, he couldn’t say. He’d walked this pasture and in those very trees a hundred times as a child and as a teen, helping his father mend the fence or chase stray cattle that had wandered through a broken strand of barbed wire. Now, he couldn’t even walk to the trees, couldn’t enter their very shadow.
Jake had balled his hands into fists, clenched his eyes shut, and stepped over the line of shadows. The instant he crossed into that blackness, he had been gripped by terror. His knees had felt like water, and his bowels had clenched. Panicked, Jake had dove back into the moonlit grass. Crawling on his knees, soaked with sweat and dew, he had retched, and the remains of his dinner lay steaming on the grass before him.
But he had been relieved, so relieved, to be in the light again, however faint it might be. He didn’t know why or how, but crossing into those shadows had brought an indefinable terror that he couldn’t explain and never wanted to face again.
Since that fifth night, Jake hadn’t tested the shadows again. However, the shadows had receded. Now, in the middle of December, the trees had shed most of their leaves. The shadows had changed. No more were they the rounded shapes of trees in full leaf. They were now scabrous lines like claw marks of some massive beast that had ripped at the earth. They were still dark, still filled with that inky blackness, but their new form was gapped and skeletal, and pathways between the shadow trunks approached the tree line itself.
Jake no more wanted to enter the shadows in their new form than he had in their earlier shape. Yet, when his steps began to fail and he found himself stopped at the edge of darkness, he would probe deep between the shadows and very nearly into the woods themselves.
The woods he didn’t fear, but the darkness between the trees was hard for him to look at. When he stood there in the dim light, he would peer into the darkness. He found himself looking away, almost without thought, his eye settling on some brown and frost-shriveled weed or a fallen tree limb nearby.
Tonight, as before, Jake turned for home. The spell was broken, and whatever called him from the Light no longer drew him. He was cold and tired. The weeks of lost sleep were taking a toll.