Deep Magic - Fall 2019
- Book info
- Author updates
"Pile of Bones", by NYT bestselling author, Michael J. Sullivan
"Treaty's Imposter", by Marjorie King
"Forget-Me-Nots for the Potter's Field", by Wendy Nikel
"Weep No More for the Willow", by Wulf Moon
"Experiments with Time", by Jeremy Essex
*Plus* bonus stories from the board members:
Jeff Wheeler, Charlie N. Holmberg, Brendon Taylor, Dan Hilton, Steve Yeager & Kristin J. Dawson
Extended sample chapters for novels:
"The Lady in the Coppergate Tower", by Nancy Campbell Allen
"The Redwood Palace", by MK Hutchins
DEEP MAGIC is an electronic magazine that publishes clean short fiction in the fantasy and science fiction genres (epic, paranormal, steampunk, etc).
Release date: September 10, 2019
Print pages: 231
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Deep Magic - Fall 2019
Pile of Bones
Michael J. Sullivan
Suri wondered if it would hurt to lose a limb.
If her arm were torn off, the pain would, no doubt, be excruciating, but the ash tree that was missing its branch was quiet—no screaming, not so much as a whimper. They sat not too far from one another, Suri on a huge rock in the middle of a babbling stream, and the tree on a cliff’s edge above her. Large and dignified, the old ash, who went by the name of Esche, wasn’t the sort to blubber. Its elderberry cousins, which grew in the highlands, might moan or whine, and a willow—well, a willow would sob continuously for a month, but not Esche. In general, ashes weren’t the sort to complain. They were a noble, tough breed of wood, but even so, Esche was more steadfast than most. During the previous spring, Suri had witnessed a woodpecker stabbing at Esche’s bark for an entire day—and the tree hadn’t so much as flinched. Now, he was once more exhibiting the same sort of stoic perseverance.
Suri was certain she would cry if their roles were reversed. Esche’s limb, which had fallen into the stream, had been a big one—a lower bough as thick as Suri, not that she was all that stout. The juniper sapling down by the frog pond always proclaimed the girl to be skinny, which was a clear case of the fern calling the oak green. Still, there was no denying the truth in the sapling’s assertion; Suri was small for her age.
Tura had speculated that Suri was likely eleven, but the girl felt confident she was a full twelve and a half—and for a twelve-and-a-half-year-old girl, she was unquestionably small. Not squirrel-small obviously, nor even fawn-small, but certainly the-lower-limb-of-the-old-ash small.
Even as slight as it was, the branch had landed at the edge of a waterfall, and it was large enough to divert a small amount of the river’s flow. When seen from Suri’s stone perch, the torrent now appeared like a partially drawn curtain. Seeing the disruption raised two important questions.
The first had gnawed at Suri so many times that she had considered performing an experiment of her own to solve the puzzle: Can I stop a waterfall if I lay in the stream right where the water spills over the edge? The answer to that one was apparently no. Now that it had fallen, Suri could see that the branch was actually thicker and longer than she. This fact was something Suri was willing to admit to herself, but never in a million years would she concede the point to the juniper sapling. If that fallen limb wasn’t enough to entirely block the water—and it wasn’t because only a foot-wide gap was being cut out of the falling curtain—Suri had her answer on that score.
The second question, and the one Suri couldn’t believe she’d never wondered about before, was what’s behind the waterfall?
In her own defense, Suri had no reason to expect anything except a solid rock face that matched the rest of the cliff, but that’s not what she was now looking at.
“Do you see that? Do you? There’s a tunnel under there!” She turned to Minna for her reaction.
The wolf sitting on the river’s bank yawned.
“Don’t give me that. We need to see where it goes.”
Minna yawned again.
This was unexpected. Minna had always been interested in exploration. Together, she and Suri had investigated nearly every cave, meadow, hollow, and thicket in the forest, and most of those places hadn’t appeared half as interesting at this. Suri displayed her indignation by placing not just one but both hands on her hips. “Are you seriously telling me you’re not the least bit curious?”
The wolf made no reply.
Suri then used both hands to point at the gap in the drapery of falling water. “A tunnel. One that goes behind a waterfall! How has this been here all our lives and neither of us knew about it? It’s like waking up to discover you live on the back of a turtle or something. This is”—she struggled for a word that could sum up the monumental magnitude of the revelation—“big. No, it’s huge. If not for the storm last night, we’d still have no idea—none at all!” She stood up, leaned over, and stared at the dark crack in the stone, glistening from the wet. “It could go anywhere. It might lead to Nog!”
Minna lay down.
Suri’s hands returned to her hips. “You don’t believe in Nog? Hah! Let me tell you something, oh wise one, I was there. What do you think about that?” She grinned at the wolf. “Tura said I was stolen by crimbals and taken there, but I escaped. I was just a baby at the time, must have crawled out on my hands and knees, I guess. There’s just no other explanation for Tura finding me alone in the forest the way she did.”
Minna panted, her tongue dangling.
“Okay, I see what you’re saying. If I had been stolen away to that magical realm but was lucky enough to escape once, then exploring a crack that might take me there again would make me as crazy as a weasel drunk on winter wine.” She nodded. “Sensible conclusion as always.”
Suri thought a moment, tapping a finger to her lips. “Ah-hah!” She raised that same finger in protest. “But what if I wasn’t kidnapped? What if I was saved? What if my parents were cruel? They might have been beating and starving me, and the crimbals took me away to their world to protect me from the evils of this one. Nog could be a beautiful place filled with free-flowing honey and ripe strawberries!”
Suri saw the blank stare Minna was giving her and sighed. “I suppose you are wondering if that were the case, why would I leave Nog and crawl back here?”
The wolf began licking herself.
“Oh,” Suri said surprised. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. My mistake. But maybe I was just too young to realize that they were doing me a favor.”
Suri looked back at the crack, then up at the ash. Esche wasn’t as ancient or as majestic as the old oak, Magda, but the way he cast a shadow from the top of the falls—like a giant draped in a luxurious green cloak—was impressive. Grand as Esche may be, and as tragic as the loss of his limb was, Fribble-Bibble couldn’t be pleased with having such a huge obstruction dividing the water of his stream. It ruined the aesthetics of the falls. Granted, Fribble-Bibble wasn’t normally one for vanity, never the kind of river spirit to get twisted in knots over appearances. The very idea of water tying itself in a knot was absurd, but the branch was interfering with the flow, and Fribble-Bibble was all about cascading.
“It won’t stay that way,” Suri told Minna. “Fribble-Bibble is going to push that branch off.” Suri was certain the wolf knew this, but it was a great excuse for saying the name Fribble-Bibble out loud, she liked the way the sound tumbled out of her mouth. “Fribble-Bibble won’t let it stay there long, so we don’t have time to argue about this further.”
Minna continued to lick her fur, something Suri couldn’t understood. The two were sisters, both of them found alone in the same forest and taken in by Tura as infants. They each enjoyed a good late-night run, sleeping in the shade, and basking in the sun. They each preferred fish when they could get it and loved howling at the dark, but licking fur was where they parted ways. Suri hated getting hair in her mouth, but Minna didn’t mind at all.
“Fine. Stay here if you want. I’m going to have some fun.”
Suri was in the mood to explore. The recent storm that had attacked the forest and kept all three of them trapped in their little home beside the famous hawthorn tree, which gave the glen its name. Suri, Minna, and the old mystic, Tura, had huddled around the flickering glow of the fire in the hearth, listening to the wind howl. “It’s the Northern Wind singing his farewell,” Tura had said.
Suri believed Tura because the mystic was as old as most trees and perhaps a few stones. She knew everything there was worth knowing about. But while the old mystic was right, the Northern Wind wasn’t a particularly gifted singer. His howl didn’t sound anything like the way Suri and Minna harmonized their bays, making a beautiful, mournful, and yet sweet sound. The Northern Wind, who went by the less formal name of Gale, just shrieked.
Not only was Gale’s goodbye refrain tone-deaf, it lasted too long. The storm had rattled and ravished the forest for a day and a night. Suri didn’t like being trapped inside. She imagined few did, but she had more reason than most to hate being enclosed. Six years before, she’d been following a badger to its burrow and was nearly buried alive for three days. For months after that, she’d refused to go inside their little cottage, and she slept in the garden until good old Gale brought his buddy Winter to the Crescent. When the nights eventually turned bitterly cold, she was forced to go back inside, but even then, she slept right next to the door.
Tura was always telling Suri she needed to conquer that fear, and the young mystic did try. Her curiosity helped. Exploring the caves and crevices along the Bern River was a positive first step. Going inside the dark, wet caverns was scary, but in a good heart-pounding way. Doing so was made easier because Suri always had Minna with her. Being brave was easy with a sister at your side, especially when that sibling was a big and wise wolf.
“Last chance,” Suri said. When the wolf didn’t even look over, Suri tossed off her tattered wool cape and carefully untied her belt of bear teeth. She coiled it inside the wrap for safe keeping. Then she waded into the deep pool.
Being spring, the water was cold. Not bite-your-tongue-and-curse-your-mother cold like when ice covered the lake, but it took quite some effort for Suri not to cry out. Looking back at Minna, she forced a grin. “Water’s great.”
Suri swam fast, aiming for the separation in the curtain where the surface of the little lake wasn’t dancing from the falling water. She passed through and found a slippery ledge. Hoisting herself up, she got to her feet on a convenient stone shelf, which was a good two feet behind the falling water.
How has this escaped my notice for so long?
Under the falls, the crash of water was deafening, made louder by echoes coming from the cave behind it. Peeking in, Suri couldn’t see much except that it was tall and narrow—too narrow.
“Can’t spend yer whole life being terrorized of entrapment,” Tura had said. “Fear, for the most part, is yer friend. It keeps you alive, and stops you from doing stupid stuff like trying to fly or jumping in a fire. But, when yer scared of sumptin’ you ought not to be, well then, there’s just nothing for it but to grit yer teeth, spit in its eye, and challenge your dread to an arm wrestle. That’s the best way ta get past it. Just got ta get in there and take charge of things. Let yer fear know yer not gonna stand for its silliness.”
Suri peered into the dark cleft in the stone, shaking. While she wanted to believe she shivered because of the cold pool or the chilly mist drummed up by the colliding water, she knew better. She was scared, and even more so because she was—
Minna came into view, her head bobbing across the surface of the pool. Her tall ears twitched, tossing off droplets. Claws raked the stone as the wolf joined Suri on the rock shelf beneath the falls, and she gave a massive shake, throwing water in all directions.
The fear, which had clutched Suri’s heart a moment before, was thrown away, too.
“I knew you’d come.” Suri grinned.
Together they entered the crack that narrowed further as it descended into the cliff.
As her eyes adjusted to the dim light that filtered through the falling water, Suri noticed the unmistakable outline of a door. Almost anyone else would have seen nothing but an oddly straight irregularity in the stone, a queerly symmetrical bevel, but Suri knew it was an opening. She understood the truth of the matter in the same way she perceived most things of this sort—something told her.
She didn’t hear an actual voice. No one whispered in her ear, “Psst! Door here!” Suri understood it as a notion that had popped into her head, but the feeling wasn’t her own. This happened to Suri fairly often, and the understanding that the ideas came from somewhere else was obvious in cases where the thoughts opposed her natural inclinations. Once, when she saw a beehive for the first time, she thought it was a fruit and planned to hit it with a stick to knock it down. As she picked up a stout switch, a thought had popped into her mind suggesting that hitting it wasn’t a good idea. So odd was this cautionary thought—as no one who knew her would ever accuse Suri of being prudent—that it caused her to laugh. After striking the hive several times, Suri stopped laughing.
Tura explained such intuitions easily enough. “How is it you think the squirrels know to gather nuts for winter? How do spiders know the pattern for a web? How do birds learn how to build nests? It’s the same thing. You’re hearing Elan, the world speaking to you.”
Being stubborn and not remotely careful, Suri originally struggled to heed the alerts, but after enough painful lessons, she learned to pay better attention. Once she started to take note, Suri became aware of more than mere warnings. She began hearing the same announcements that other things in the forest did—like the one that went out every autumn to tell the birds who didn’t like snow to take flight. She also knew when bad weather was coming even while the sky was still blue. She also could tell when the murderous bear, Grin the Brown, was in the area. In this same way, she knew the vaguely rectangular outline in the stone wall at the back of the crevice was a door. The only question remaining then was how to open it. The door to their little cottage was opened merely by pushing on it, while a string tied to a bunch of stones closed the door with their weight.
Suri pushed on the stone.
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