Missteps, Misspellings, Bad Grammar and Ulik the Unstoppable…
I don’t often share work-in-progress with anyone other than my wife; and her only rarely (she’s a fierce, blunt critic with an excellent ear for terrible sentences so I need to be careful of my teacup ego in showing her pages) but, much like what happened with American Marchlands, I’ve gotten pretty excited about the shape my new book, The Age of Iron, is taking and wanted to share a page or so. I’m still feeling my way through the story but the characters are starting to pop. With that in mind, the following takes places in the first dozen or so pages of the book where we have a group of old men gathered in the morning at their favorite diner reminiscing about a famous, local killer of men.
“I remember Orson Storey,” said Otho. His one eye was pale and the scar where the other had been was pale as well. “I saw him once but I never talked to him. I saw that bear skin Ole Andersen had hung up in his store. I saw that. But Orson Storey wasn’t born wrong like some folks think. He was born sick and small and kept getting sicker. Then he got a fever while he was still just a little chap. Boiled his brains, they say. And, of course, his mama was already a crazy woman, so that didn’t help him none. Folks still like to talk about how crazy that woman was.” He shrugged and cut his eye toward Bill Loveless. “But he was a wild man. Orson Storey. The Wild Man. People like to tell about him swinging through the trees like an ape. Loggers would tell about him peeping in bunkhouse windows at night and scaring them half to death. He did kill some people, sure.” Otho took a sip of coffee and made a satisfied sound. “Killed moren we probably know about and, whenever they tried to catch him, he just went deeper into the woods. Sent them that went in after him back out again with their asses full of buckshot. Shit. But you can’t go back like that. Back into them woods. Not to stay. You can’t go back to wildness like Orson Storey tried to. He tried and they finally killed him for it.” The one eye was far away and the shucked-out one was a folded, cinched-up looking thing rimmed with fine black hair. “Shit,” he said, “you can’t go back anywhere to anything ever. It’s all got to go forward. One foot after another until you’re done. Until you get to wherever it is you’re supposed to be. And that’s how it’s been ever since man first put his plow into the dirt.”
They looked at him. “Jesus,” said Ed Ray. “You all right, Otho?”
“What?” said Otho.
“I don’t believe I have ever heard you string so many words together at once,” said Runacres.
Otho scowled and rubbed his old, empty socket with the side of his thumb. He looked across the table at Trevor. “You knew him, didn’t you?”
“No, I never did meet the man,” said Trevor Wilson. He sighed and his facemask moved with his breath. Coffee stains had blossomed on the rough cloth and he hung his head a moment as though he’d collect his thoughts and then he hunched his shoulders. The could hear the air moving out of him and thick, wet throat sounds and they looked away. Trevor gripped the table. His eyes watered. Something spattered against the inside of the mask. He took the paper napkin out from under his knife and fork and wet it in his water glass then leaned so they could not see him as he dabbed clean the mask and the remains of his mouth. After a few moments, he leaned back in his chair and sighed as though exhausted. The damp mask moved defiantly. “But I did know the man who finally killed him,” he went on. “I knew Steelink.”