FoxA Chapter by Domenic Luciani
Introducing only one of my main characters. There will soon be more.
August 17, 1871
They took turns holding her throughout the night; the husband and the brother.
She had given birth a few hours before to a demented child - a boy who was missing all limbs, save for a left arm. One of the child’s eyes bulged twice as large as the other. The two men had never seen such a ghastly creature and the only reason they hadn’t thrown it over the side of the ship was because it contained within its poor form, the blood of its weakening mother.
She groaned in a painful sleep as the slow rocking and creaking of the ship kept the men awake. Every tilt of the ship, left and right and left and right, seemed like the swinging of a pendulum as the devil’s clock ticked, counting down the seconds to her inevitable death.
Neither of the men particularly liked the other’s company, however, the situation called for mutual trust and cooperation. They could not simply ignore the sufferings of their loved one.
Could you fetch the washcloth, the husband asked.
Sure, the brother replied. He left the cabin, with its dangling lines of ropes, dusty wood, and darkened windows that glinted dim candlelight.
The husband leaned over his wife and whispered in her ear, fond memories they had once shared, and words of an even deeper affection. She only stirred by mumbling his name and tilting her head slightly sideways.
The brother returned and the men stared at her as she shook, doing what they could to keep the chills at bay, but it was no use. Cold sweat soaked the pillow she was laying on and covered her skin. It was wiped off, but kept coming back in shimmering pools. They were at least twenty miles away from the Port of England, and as it were, it seemed the mother would not survive.
The baby was whimpering in its crib hastily crafted spare wood. Neither of the men gave it a passing glance. If it died during the night, their lives and minds would be spared of it.
We are simply not equipped to handle a case this severe, the doctor had said. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.
The men had stood there, awestruck and unable to do anything besides watch as their wife and sister passed away before their eyes.
She left them that night, with only a wretch of a child to remind them of her.
For a week, they pondered whether or not the thing should be kept alive. The brother wanted it dead but the husband insisted that she died so that the thing might live, and at last it was agreed upon that the husband would take home to his castle in the countryside.
He brought it home and acquainted it with his first born child he had nicknamed Fox.
Fox had taken an immediate interest in the near-limbless boy. He crowded around his crib and played with him, mocking him with colorful toys, and watched as the thing squirmed oddly with delight.
As the two grew older, their relationship grew into something unexpectedly brotherly as well. The other children called it Wart, on account that it looked something like an enormous boil, but Fox simply called it Brother.
Things had to be done for Brother. Maids had to feed him and clean up after him. It wasn’t so much a problem when he was still just a baby, but when his years quickly approached adolescence, he needed as much care as the day he was born.
Though Father did his best to keep Brother locked up in the castle and away from eyes that would seek to dirty his reputation, Fox managed to smuggle him, in a wheeled chair, out to play with the other children. They liked Fox well enough, but they were as apprehensive of Brother as everyone else. When they were older, they began calling him cripple, and other names that would break a child’s heart to pieces. Fox would tell them off and return Brother to the castle, but Brother would still be sad. He had become aware of his horrible ailment, and transformed in front of Fox’s eyes into the sad and lonely creature that everyone believed him to be.
Some people like the rain; the sound of it pit-pattering on the windows as the sky outside grows grey. It’s soothing to them. But others think it’s a sad omen, and when the darkness sets in, they find the need to settle down, alone, with a good book and some candlelight to shut it out of their minds.
On his wedding day, however, Fox’s father found the rain to be aggravating. He paced his bedroom, an enormous room of the castle with an equally enormous four-poster bed against the far wall and luxurious scarlet tapestries that hung on the surrounding walls. Fox was eleven and Brother nine.
He was marrying some rich woman who lived in London, far from the countryside where their castle stood in its enormous white-stoned glory. She hated Fox and had never met Brother. Father was afraid she would leave if she saw him, and Fox was worried that she would stay and beat the two of them when Father wasn’t looking.
Fox listened at the door. There had been an argument, perhaps. Or maybe it was just father’s angered tone. He sat outside, crouched low with his ear to the keyhole. The light was so faint that if you were to peer through, all you would see would be a darkened figure moving quietly, only slight creaking noises from the old floorboards as his shoes moved about distinguished him as something more than a specter.
There had been another man in the room only a moment ago; Fox could tell from the added set of footsteps chasing away the silence. He couldn’t hear what the men were talking about, but he could tell there had been raised voices.
Fox crept swiftly and silently away as his father shoved open the door and shut it with a quick slam.
Rain on my wedding day, he mumbled. Curse the gods. The unceasing enjoyment they get out of punishing me - Butler!
His voice trailed away as Father stormed off to harass a poor, soon-to-be victim of a pissed off rich man.
Fox crept into Brother’s room and closed the door lightly behind him. The room was near pitch black because the shades were closed and only a few thin slivers of grey light managed to seep in from the cracks of uncovered window the shades couldn’t reach.
Brother, Fox called out in a whisper. Are you in here?
Of course I’m here, said Brother. Where else would I be?
Fox opened the shades and blinked in awe of the light. Brother sat in his bed, propped up by pillows. The covers were pulled up to his bare waist, hiding his lack of leg, but the stub of his right arm was still visible. An unopened book sat in the space where his thighs would have been if he had any. His eye still bulged considerably, but since most of his body had grown and it stayed the same, it had come to look slightly more proportional.
Decorating the walls were enormous shelves stuffed from end to end with storybooks. Brother loved stories more than anything, except Fox, that is.
Father didn’t want me at the wedding. He thinks I’m disgusting, Brother said.
Consider yourself lucky, Fox replied. You won’t have to sit in one of those uncomfortable metal chairs for hours in the rain. Sometimes I wish I had been born without limbs. It would have gotten me out of a lot of dumb things.
Brother laughed. Fox always had a way of cheering him up.
I guess you’re right. So what did Father say?
Father’s annoyed because it’s raining on his wedding day. He says the gods have cursed him.
Just outside the windows, the wedding awaited. It was supposed to be an outdoor event, and while it is always expected you should have a tarp or tent at the ready in case of foul weather, Father had been so sure that it would be a sunny afternoon, he hadn’t bothered with any of it. Now guests were beginning to sit out on the seats holding black umbrellas. The rows of perfectly aligned white chairs looked more like tombstones and those who were attending looked more like mourners.
Fox found the image rather ironic, considering their arbitrary futures.
Anybody out there we know? Brother asked.
I think I see Aunt Maryanne . . . Yes, it’s her. She brought her bulldogs as well. Uncle Jude is already at the champagne; it’ll be gone before the ceremony even starts.
Is she out there yet?
No, I don’t see her. She’s probably still somewhere in the castle, yelling at a servant because her tea tasted too much like tea.
Brother laughed at that, too.
Well, I had best be getting ready. Father will throw another tantrum if I’m not there to play cute for his investors.
He is a bit like a child, isn’t he?
More a child than us sometimes.
Fox left and returned through the winding passageways, skirting by servants who would, no doubt, be just as aggravated as Father.
His bedroom was at the top of one of the castle's towers, with a vaulted ceiling that came to a sharp point. Although the common entrance was the door opposite the long, narrow windows, Fox preferred to sneak along a secret passageway that led from a broom cupboard all the way up to a trapdoor just behind his bed. He emerged from it, secretly; as would the animal he was nicknamed for.
His dress clothes were already neatly arranged, in order from what would go on first to last, on the top of his bed. He dressed, making a mental note of how much time was passing and where he would need to be when he was finished.
He returned down the trapdoor, out the broom cupboard, and down the nearby flight of stairs until he reached the next floor.
In the hallways, rain drummed a steady beat against the panes, but Fox could already hear the telltale sign of merriment. Crystal glasses were clinking together as people made toasts to their friends; some music was being played by an orchestra, and the raucous laughter of the usual drunks could be prominently heard through the heated air of mixed conversation.
On his way down, he stopped back into Brother’s room. Brother was in the same place he had been when Fox had left.
Well, I’m doomed, Fox said with a mock groan. Father met me on the steps and told me I had to meet seventy people and tell them all a story about how wonderful he is. Could you imagine? Seventy!
That seems a bit rash, even for him, Brother said. Perhaps you could only pretend to meet them, and tell Father you had seen to them all and they had found him to be a wonderful man.
Fox had been lying through his teeth when he said those things. But he had developed a rather keen ability to believe the things he was saying; even when he himself knew he was lying. Brother always believed him, and so had been able to be kept sane.
If ever I were to leave, what would become of Brother? Fox thought miserably.
Come here, Brother said suddenly. I want to show you something I’ve been learning to do.
Fox moved next Brother and sat halfway on the bed. Brother opened up his book with one hand and, to Fox’s surprise, the book was blank. Brother removed a page from it, closed the book, and then set the page on the cover.
Watch this, he said as he began to fold the paper in a complicated and swift series of motions. Fox could barely trace his brother’s movements as they danced around the paper, folding it up, then sideways, then back on itself.
When he was finished, he held it up for Fox to see.
It’s a swan, he said.
Indeed, the paper now resembled a swan. Fox squinted, envisioning a lake of gold within a forest of amber as a sun set in a distant world. It looked like it would even float if you put it in water, or fly away if you opened its wings enough.
It’s beautiful, he said.
One of the maids taught me to do it. She said her son had once traveled to China and came back with these by the bucket load. It really isn’t that hard once you learn to do it.
Can I keep it?
I made it for you. I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.
Fox tucked the paper swan away into the folds of his jacket and thanked his brother for the gift. He left out the door, making sure Father wasn’t around to see him sneaking about when he should be doing his ‘family duties’.
Fox met a few people in the ballroom. Some didn’t notice or remember him as a result of too much drink, but he still strode up to them, gave them his broadest smile, grasped their hands firmly in his and thanked them from the bottom of his heart that they were there. The people smiled back and found the boy too wonderful to ignore.
Fox would turn around and search the room for the next target, rolling his eyes at the gullibility of rich people.
Eventually he migrated outside, where a few faithful patrons gathered to discuss the actual event they were gathered for. Fox made a point to sweep by, shake their hands, and pretend to be in a conversation with a group of three men who were talking about rare breeds of horses. In actuality, he was eavesdropping on the people he had just said hello to.
I swear, it’s almost hard to believe that our estranged Ella is getting married to rich man. One lady said.
Ella’s not that horrible, is she? asked a man.
Well, perhaps not. But she does have her fits, and more often than not.
Has anyone explained that to her husband-to-be?
No, but then again he might already know. The thing is, he’s hiding something from her as well.
Whatever do you mean?
He has a cripple for a son. It’s tragic, really. Poor boy only has an arm, I’ve heard.
That is tragic. Well, I suppose the marriage may work out after all. At least, until their skeletons decide to burst out of the closet.
The group decided to have a laugh and Fox clenched his fists. He was about to go over and mention something disturbing about what his father does on the toilet, thinking it would upset them all, but his thoughts were interrupted when one of the men he had been standing near decided to lean down and ask if he or his father knew anything about some breed of horse they had found in America called a Mustang.
I have no idea, Fox said. Perhaps you should ask my father yourself. He’s usually well informed of such matters. I believe some of his sponsors have connections in America.
What an intelligent young boy, one of the men said. I guess this is the one who will be taking over the company after his father departs.
The ceremony had started. Everyone quickly found their seats and awaited the arrival of the bride. Father stood at the altar, waiting, smiling. A servant stood behind him, whispering things in his ear. Father would either frown or smile and chuckle to himself quietly.
The heavy rain had lightened to a fine mist that even stopped every once in a while. In the humid air, the people sat, gossiping to one another. The rain had soaked the grass, darkened the cobblestones, and most of the guests now wore polka-dot marks of water on their clothes.
Eventually, Ella, Father’s bride began her slow descent down the aisle. Music kicked up, playing the traditional here-comes-the-bride. Some people began to Ooh, and Ahh. Ella was a wicked twig of a young woman, with short black hair and green eyes. She looked out at everyone, not with happiness, but some form of scrutiny, as if she were weeding out those beneath her new prominent status.
Fox could just picture her saying, I’m better than them now. I’m even richer than before.
He got up slowly, careful not to draw attention, and left, just before they started regurgitating sappy wedding vows.
There were a few children in the courtyard that had had the same idea as him. They were just beginning a game of tag and allowed Fox to join in. They raced around, splashing in puddles and almost forgetting they were playing a game. However, as Fox jumped into a puddle, sending water everywhere, one of the children who were against Brother’s existence pushed Fox into the ground.
What the hell was that for? Fox yelled as the child snickered and skipped away.
Oh, and what’s this?
Fox looked up to see a tall boy with a head full of long, messy black hair. Trustafarian, most likely, Fox thought. He was holding Brother’s paper swan.
Give that back, Fox growled. He stood up and held out his hand in expectance.
The boy pressed the swan into his chest with a mock pout and said Make me.
Normally, Fox would not be seduced into complying with a child like this. He was smarter, better than that. However, with their future largely a mystery, Fox couldn’t help but feel attached to any part of his brother that he had, or rather any part that would remain. It was a foreboding thought, and though he would’ve liked nothing else than to forget about it all, he could not. Fox allowed his emotions to get the better of him - a rare event.
He snatched at the swan and missed. The boy moved backwards just as his hand reached out. You can have it back if you can catch it, the boy said, laughing.
Damnit, Fox whispered under his breath. The boy ran off through the maze of tall hedges. A few of the children followed, others stood still, feeling bad for Fox, but not enough for them to get in the way of the older children for his sake.
The sky had darkened again, making it seem like weight had been added to the air. Fox had hesitated for a moment, wondering whether or not the paper swan his brother had given him, his first true accomplishment in the many years he had been alive, was worth it.
Now Fox trailed behind the older boy as they went deeper and deeper into the maze. In the center they both finally arrived, out of breath. Between them, a stone well sat like a guardian. Fox clenched his fists again; ready for a fight if one presented itself. The other boy laughed between gasps of breath.
It’s just a piece of paper, he said.
My brother made that for me, give it back.
Your brother . . . the cripple? He tried to contain himself, unsuccessfully. Then I’m doing you a favor here.
The boy tossed the paper swan into the well and ran away, laughing obnoxiously as he went. The few other boys that had followed him went as well. Fox didn’t hesitate. He made for the well and looked down. At the bottom, floating in a shallow puddle of water, was the swan, slightly crumpled, but otherwise intact.
Fox swung his legs over the edge and grabbed onto the metal bars hammered into the inside that made a sort of ladder. His head dipped below and out of sight as he climbed down.
The inside was dank and smelt of mold. Fox tried to hold his breath against it, but somehow, the scent kept invading his nose. Something was stinging his eyes, too. Something in the air made them water and burn, so he shut them tight, resorting to feeling his way down.
On a bar almost three quarters of the way down, Fox’s foot slipped. In surprise, his grip on the bar above him slipped as well and then he was falling.
The well’s water caught him, but what he had presumed was nothing more than a shallow puddle turned out to be so deep he couldn’t feel the bottom. He reached for the bar above him, but it broke off and sank to the bottom. Fox started to yell, fear catching in his throat as he tried to tread water.
Fox couldn’t swim.
He glimpsed the paper swan and grabbed it, holding it close to his chest, hoping that it would transform into a real swan and rescue him from this place.
He began to sink. Fear turned to adrenaline which fueled instinct. He began trying to crawl up the wall, digging his fingers into the cracks, but it was too little, too late. He went under again, and this time he didn’t come up.
He began to float, the way a lifeless body would. He thought that this would be the part where his life flashed before his eyes, but all he could see was Brother, wondering where he had gone. Fox suddenly opened his eyes and blinked them curiously as something occurred to him. There was movement. He was sure of it.
The gentleman’s food came to the table. He looked up, annoyed that his story had been interrupted.
“Thank you, sir,” the gentleman said with a courteous nod.
The waiter smiled at the gesture and returned it with a bow and a leave through the swinging doors.
I’m sorry,” the gentleman said, picking up a fork and cutting the steak he had ordered despite his warnings. “Please continue.”
He sighed and rubbed at his temples. “Alright, but please, keep interruptions to a minimum.”
“Now, where was I . . . .?”
Fox became aware of a shift in his surroundings, something was changing.
The entire well was moving, tilting until it was horizontal. Fox realized he could swim left or right to reach the exit, but wasn’t sure which way to go. To his further surprise, the well didn’t stop there. It kept tilting until what was now up had once been down. Like someone had twirled a hollow reed with him inside of it. He was pulled upwards by a new found buoyancy out of the well, but the space beyond was still water " a different water, murky green and full of floating particles.
Fox broke through the surface, sputtering muck and kicking for all he was worth. He was in some kind of canal, that much he could tell. Grabbing onto the edge of the walkway above and hulling himself out, Fox collapsed on the stone, gasping for breath and clutching at his freezing body.
When at last he caught his breath and was sure there was no more water in his lungs, he sat up, shivering, to look at where he ended up.
For a brief moment he was unsure if he was dead, or would rather be.
The city he had surfaced in looked like London painted black. The sky overhead was covered in thick clouds that seemed to swirl and bubble like hot ink; the buildings were all made of pale brownish brick, and grey smoke seemed to come from every vent. There didn’t seem to be much organization to the city, either. Small bridges connected walkways but were slanted, or the one side rose higher than the other. The tall buildings, which were crooked and warped, were dotted with an incomprehensible pattern of mismatched windows - as if everything in the city had been designed by a man who belonged in Bedlam.
“You could probably imagine Fox’s surprise at the world he stumbled upon,” he said.
The gentleman grunted in agreement through a mouthful of steak. Once he regained his composure, he responded in a more civilized manner. “What I am curious to know,” the gentleman said, “Is how in the blazes did he travel from one world to the other?”
“Ah, a good question. I can see you’re thinking this through. But unfortunately I cannot answer that question now.”
“Why not?” the gentleman asked.
His face darkened somewhat. “Because, my good sir. It would ruin the story, and you can’t ruin a good story until it’s over. Believe me, sir. This story is far from over.”
“Then please, if you would, tell me more about this . . . England, you called it?” The Gentleman asked.
“It’s a brighter place, where the sun shines and people can actually live in peace. There were no cars then, and no modern appliances. Buildings were different, too.” He said, staring down with the faint look of reminiscence.
“No cars, eh? And no appliances? It’s strange to consider how these people might’ve lived.”
“Well, it was normal for them.” He paused and frowned. He had just ordered another glass of wine, why would he do that? He’d barely finished the first one. Probably a subconscious action, something he hadn’t been aware of at the time.
He looked up. “Sorry, my mind started to wander.”
“Could you continue with what happened to Fox?”
“No, because the story will lead in another direction first, then another, and another, and then all points will lead to the middle, separate, then fuse again.”
“Is your mind wandering again, or are you just being vague?”
“Just trust me. I’m telling this story, so I’ll tell it my way. You will learn what happens to Fox, in due time of course.”
He watched as the waiter appeared again and set the glass of wine down in the same, slow manner as before. He shook his head.
“Only way to go is onward. So then, the next part of our journey takes place much in the same universe as the last, only further in time. Now, the many nations of this world were at war for the second time. They used monstrous machines, even more powerful and fearsome than ours. Prepare yourself.”
© 2010 Domenic Luciani
Shelved in 1 LibraryAdded on August 23, 2010
Last Updated on October 3, 2010
The City of Senses
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..