I began my fiction writing hoping to be the next J.R.R. Tolkien or Terry Brooks. While I owe much of my inspiration to these men, I’ve developed my own style. I drew heavily on my love for Irish mythology and everything Celtic for Hawthorne. Below is chapter one of Hawthorne. Enjoy!
A scent of sage washed over Rhiannon O’Neil as she put on her glasses and sat up. A drop of water fell from the tent’s ceiling and spattered on her sleeping bag. She lay back down and shifted away from the leak, knocking into CuChulain, her big malamute, who lifted his head and looked at her. She reached out a hand, stroked his white fur, and watched as he closed his eyes.
She tried to fall back asleep, wondering what had woken her. A stone made itself known to her ribs as she tried to settle in. Why do you keep doing this to yourself, O’Neil?
But she knew the answer. The discomforts she experienced were a small price for the peace of the wilds. The pure air, the forests, and the streams made her feel whole, even if only for a short while. The rugged terrain and long hikes in the Colorado mountains could be conquered. They were manageable. Her life was not.
Coming to the wilds had its risks, she knew. After the fae killed her mother, she was never completely safe or at ease. Her uncle protected her from faerie attacks, but there was always the chance something might get through.
Back home she immersed herself in her school projects, working on her PhD in Celtic Studies. Her hunger for knowledge helped to push down her fear and when she had the time, like now, she escaped to the wilderness. Here, in her favorite place—Eagle’s Nest Wilderness—she could go for days without seeing a single person. Her fiancé didn’t always understand her need to have alone time, but she didn’t let it stop her. It was risky coming out here, but it was worth it.
She told herself that she was being proactive, keeping her body and mind sharp by her choices, that she wasn’t running from her past, hiding from its dangers, but it was a lie. The insanity of being afraid of faeries, creatures that few people even knew existed, haunted her. Seeing her mother killed by them had left a deep scar. She required the healing power of nature regularly. She desperately desired to move beyond just being able to limp along. She longed to finally be rid of her fear, to be able to live again.
She shifted, trying to find a comfortable spot on the hard ground. Nearby she heard CuChulain’s collar jangle. He reached out and nosed her hand. She gave him a fond rub, grateful for his presence.
Feral cries suddenly erupted from the darkness, breaking the peace.
Her body stiffened. She grabbed her revolver. “What was that?” she whispered to the darkness.
The howls grew closer. CuChulain stood and growled.
Rhiannon rustled out of her sleeping bag, cursing the noise it made. “Be quiet, CuChulain,” she whispered. “Maybe whatever it is will pass us by.”
The cries grew nearer, creeping forward, retreating, then coming nearer, faster this time. A predator hunting its prey.
Rhiannon’s heart hammered in her chest as she fumbled to get her boots on. She unzipped the sodden door and peered outside, needing to see what was happening. A chill, far deeper than the crisp mountain air warranted, crept up her spine. She pointed her gun into the bleak darkness.
Eyes glowing purple, backs hunched with muscle and fur, a pack of creatures slunk out into the open, no longer hidden behind the trees downhill. The moonlight illuminated them—at least thirty strong. They looked like coyotes raised on a diet of steroids and evil magic.
She felt the magic in her well up, instinctively rising to protect her. She willed a protective shield around her, like she had been taught. Nothing happened.
Her breath caught in her throat, stifling a scream. Before she could move, CuChulain pushed past her. He stood protectively in front of her, hackles raised, a snarl rumbling deep in his throat. The pack turned toward them, and with terrible speed, rushed up the hill, their claws tearing up huge clods of earth.
She stepped outside, fighting the primal urge to run, knowing that she would be easy prey with her back turned. She had to stand and face them. Blood pulsed in her temples.
With shaking hands, she raised the gun and pulled the trigger once. The noise ruptured the mountain night, and the flash of the muzzle temporarily blinded her. When her vision cleared, she realized with satisfaction that her bullet had struck the closest beast in the shoulder. The physical force made it stumble, electric blue eyes flashing, but it was back on its feet. The leader bared its black jagged teeth and pressed forward.
Adrenaline rushed her system. Time slowed and her vision narrowed. Almost without thought, she called on her magic.
“Oh Taranis, mighty thunderer. I call on your power. Drive back these beasts with your fury. Hear me, sky father, and hold true to your word.”
The sky rumbled, as if indeed hearing her. Lightning flashed, and a blinding gout of pure energy struck the ground. Heat and light blasted her, knocking her off her feet.
She scrambled upright again, ears ringing. “Oh, my gods,” she said, eyes wide. Spots filled her vision as she looked for the pack. CuChulain charged downhill. Thunder rumbled menacingly as three coyotes ripped into her beloved dog.
Anger flooded Rhiannon. “No! CuChulain, come! Come!”
She fired the .357 again. The bullet struck true, killing one of them, but the other two pulled CuChulain to the ground. He struggled back to his feet, ripped the throat out of one, and broke the leg of another. The pack set upon him like a furred storm of teeth and claws.
He collapsed under the weight of the attack.
“Cu!” she cried out, her eyes stretched painfully wide.
Lightning struck again. The superheated air exploded, shredding five coyotes and setting fire to three more. In the brief flash, Rhiannon counted at least a dozen creatures left. She emptied her gun into the pack, but there were still too many. CuChulain stopped moving, and the pack turned all their attention to her.
Rhiannon stood frozen to the ground for an instant, but desperation forced her to move.
She dove for the tent opening as the coyotes rushed her. She fumbled with her daypack and pulled out the box of custom made hollow point iron bullets. Fae creatures were most susceptible to iron. Her hands jerked as one of the beasts grabbed her hiking boot and tried to pull her out.
Rolling onto her back, she popped the cylinder open and dumped the brass casings. Another coyote bit her other boot and yanked hard. She almost dropped the gun, but she loaded it. She fired the slugs between her feet. Grim satisfaction filled her as each bullet blasted into the creatures.
The Ruger was empty again. A cloud of smoke filled the tent. She reloaded blind and coughed as claws ripped into the fabric walls and the amassed weight of the coyotes snapped the fiberglass poles, bringing the tent down on top of her. Screaming, she kicked and punched blindly, trying frantically to get free.
Claws raked and teeth bit. Her thigh gashed, Rhiannon shouted and blindly poured bullet after bullet into the ravaging shapes.
The damage she dealt bought her enough time to scrabble free.
She spun in a circle. Jaw clenched tight, she scanned the ground for the dropped box of ammo.
Lightning struck again. Rhiannon dropped to her knees and closed her eyes to avoid a repeat of the first strike’s effects. When she opened her eyes, two more dead coyotes lay before her, and the rest of the pack pulled back toward the trees. She found the ammo, reloaded and fired, shooting until the gun clicked empty and the last of the coyotes disappeared down the hill into the night.
She stood, sucking in deep breaths as she surveyed the damage before her. She remembered CuChulain. Racing to him, she found him lying still in the long grass. Her steps faltered as she reached him, and she dropped to her knees.
CuChulain’s eyes stared lifelessly into the night. She touched his head gently, then closed his eyes. The feel of the soft fur on his ears, still so much like puppy fur, reminded her of his comforting presence through many dark nights. Rhiannon collapsed over him and let loose a wave of grief and anger. She hugged his body to her, yelling until her throat swelled.
Finally, she stood and left, determined to get to safety and to figure out why the faerie creatures had attacked her.
* * *
Rhiannon limped to the door of the truck, breathing heavily. She opened the door and waited for CuChulain to jump in. Tears came for the first time.
The faerie had killed him.
They had killed her dog.
She reached over into the glove box, took out another box of iron-tipped bullets, and reloaded.
She locked the doors of the truck and took out her cell phone. There were nine messages, two from a 353-91 area code, meaning Galway, Ireland, and seven from Logan. Brighid, what now. She hit the button to listen.
“Rhiannon, please call me as soon as you can,” a wavering older female voice said. “Something terrible has happened…please call.” Rhiannon knew it was Mrs. McBride, Uncle Brennan’s housekeeper.
No, not him too. I can’t take this; it’s too much.
She threw the phone on the seat and rolled down the truck window. She wiped her hands on her jeans and took a breath. She picked up the phone again.
Her stomach clenched as she listened to the second message.
“The police have come to the house and…oh, Rhiannon, it’s too terrible, please call. They couldn’t find him…”
Rhiannon swallowed, knowing her worst fear was coming true. Her hands shook as she tried to put the keys in the ignition. She dropped them on the floor, pounded the steering wheel with a growl. She picked the keys back up and started the Ford Ranger.
A spray of gravel erupted from the truck as she stomped on the gas. She gripped the wheel and braced herself to listen to Logan’s messages.
“It’s probably nothing, but I got a call from your uncle’s housekeeper, and she is freaking out. Give me a call.” He paused and said, “… and next time, take your damn cell phone with you.”
The reality of what was happening sank in. Rhiannon didn’t need to hear anymore, but she listened to the next message anyway.
“Your uncle’s housekeeper is worried that Brennan is dead. She doesn’t have any proof. She only knows he’s missing. She keeps calling me. I’m worried about you. Call me.”
The words, “Brennan is dead,” struck her like a club. She hit the brakes and nearly skidded off the road.
Okay, O’Neil, get a hold of yourself. Crashing into a tree isn’t going to help things. She took a breath. And then she called Logan.
“There you are,” he said, relief evident in his sigh. “Are you okay? What the hell is going on?”
“CuChulain is dead, and I barely made it back to the truck.”
“Where are you? I’m coming there now.”
“No need. I’m driving home.”
“Tell me everything.”
“A pack of overgrown coyotes attacked us. CuChulain fought them off as best he could, but there were too many. I had my pistol, and that saved me.”
She hated not telling him everything about what happened. She had never told him about the faerie curse on her family, knowing that if their roles were reversed she would have never believed it herself. Nevertheless it felt like a betrayal, not being completely honest with him. She knew if she started explaining things now there would be more questions she didn’t want to answer.
“I’ve never heard of coyotes doing anything like that. I mean, maybe attacking a poodle or something, but not a human and a big dog.”
“It was terrible, Logan. I had to leave his body. He deserved better than that. I didn’t dare bury him. I was out of bullets, and I had to get back to the truck.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“I need to you to book me a flight to Ireland today.”
“I guess I’ll need a ticket too?”
Rhiannon looked back into the woods and tried to imagine saying no to him. She didn’t want to endanger him any more than she already had. The faerie had a reputation for attacking loved ones, but she needed him at her side as she faced whatever awaited her in Ireland. His presence brought her hope that her life could one day be normal, that someday all the danger and strangeness would be gone and she could get on with her life. If Brennan was truly dead, she would be the last of her bloodline. That reason alone made her want Logan close. She loved him, and he would be the only family she had left.
She took a deep breath. “Yes,” she answered. “Yes, you will need a ticket.”