“I would like to suggest if you do not have a moment of unexpected tragedy or grace in your novel, you consider where you might put it in.” –Donald Maass
The Dhamshee promised she would one day return, because she did honestly have a great time and loved Rhune desperately, blah blah blah… But we’re not getting our hopes up again until she returns our phone calls first.
Did you tell her about me on your date, Hearwynn?
Oh, Dana likes you.
I don’t exist, but Dana likes me. You do exist—and even now after your first real-life date with her—we’re still not yet sure whether Dana likes you.
She likes me too, Rhune. Maybe Dana’s just busy.
Dana doesn’t like you, and so you take my woman away.
I can always write you another one, Rhune.
No, you’ll write up another girlfriend for yourself, which is going to be bad for me if you have one more miserable evening alone, and so decide to snatch her off again. Though, Hearwynn, in your earliest morning hours, it might feel good for you…
I’m learning to write a little bit of both the good and bad—wait.
Shut up, Rhune.
Rhune rubbed his warm, snotty meddler’s nose against a tight fist, then set out to enjoy this new life.
Do you see how he just goes back to narrating, to keep me quiet? It’s like my author never listens to me anymore…
The Humans wandered throughout their new world unburdened. The excessive fertility of the Dhamshee left roses without thorns and fruit that was easy to reach, growing above the roots of trees. Nor did fruits have any skin. Perfect for sinking flat teeth into. Not one stone was sharp at this place at the Edge of the Story, nor could no hike uphill wind one. People understood clothing but did not always need to wear it. They ate no meat. They knew no fear nor true frustration, craved nothing of their neighbors. Rhune lived among them, learning to be a man from them, and the only way he knew, the deceitful carnivorous way of the wolf, seemed useless and he forgot that he even had teeth.
When the trees died out or became hard to find, how did Human animals get their food?
Rhune liked wearing pants sometimes, because that meant he could curl his fingers into fists and put these deep into pockets. Hands were wonderful fun to play with. Then, Rhune would use his two legs (only two!) to walk up and down his sunny and green land, observe other funny two-leggers, discover his own answers.
A few times, he curled lip and stayed back while watching Human creatures hold funerary rituals for finished pieces of fruit. A grave would be dug first, then place the corpse stripped of its orange flesh inside the dirt. After, cover it over, place a stick or something to know where it would rest for eternity. Finally, mark the spot.
Another observation—Humans did not have enough urine for properly marking their whereabouts, which Rhune did miss.
Human beings always poured water onto the graves of dead fruit seeds, therefore.
They’d come back each day as might do a lupine (he supposed they inherited that part from their father), inspect the place, get low enough to sniff at it and then pour water again. Again, and again and again, until finally the cleared ground went back to trees’ time (making so much tender effort without any real commitment, Rhune decided, his children got from their can’t-even-pick-up-a-friggin-phone-mother). Forest would begin to grow back on the spot. Eventually, another tree would grow up on that same place, then they’d pick that fruit and eat it, and bury seeds all over again.
Who the hell wasted their time on something like this? And now, Rhune was not just perplexed, but one of these crazed, toothless creatures.
“This is the art of agriculture, Father Rhune.” One of his Human children tried to explain.
“Another art of survival? Does Agriculturey settle feuds? Does burying seeds in the ground and pouring water, rather than pissing on it, establish dominance?”
“No, why would we—?”
Rhune turned his back and went the other way. Please, let this not be a Human instinct. What an annoying one to have… Carnivory was when a creature was so successful a hunter that his sharpened teeth could be used as daggers to take down any animal who opposed him whether he was hungry to eat it or not, or that his skill at stalking prey for days behind sheaths of grass and downwind, became a skill at disappearing into the Howling Beyond. Wolves were cruel, but they’d got that right, at least. Now, as a man, Rhune did not always feel motivated to hunt. He liked to wander in pocketed pants and bare feet. He liked to observe and try to make sense of how odd or stupid his new family-pack of people were behaving. So then, with this lack of teeth, this gurgling, bored bloodlust, and plenty of time to do nothing about it, would he would he one day give into mastering the fool-craft of Agriculturey?
“Hearwynn? Story, is this your idea of a new good or bad adventure? This fleabitten rot is so monotonous, I swear I’ll pull all my fur—hair—out. For scratch’s sake, give me something damned else to do!”
And so, Hearwynn tried again.
On the very next day, men and women began to wander back into the Great Wilderness and again witnessed the old wolf-world. The top predators had gone, the Bears were sleeping, but the savagery and beauty of Hearwynn was left still, reserve for a next great scene. The people went to go play in all that hadn’t happened yet, but found they couldn’t enjoy the story for more than brief moments before meeting with the latent violence and misfortune that was also part of a fictional life. It took Rhune some time to think to count his people, and much longer to draw the horrible conclusions to disappearances. It was an even more painful process for Rhune, after indulging fists in his pockets, pacing, worrying, then observing the worst, to finally decide to impress the first law on his people.
Grovel if you are the lowest.You cannot mate if we don’t like you.Eat last if you are the worst.
These were wolf laws. Rhune hated to give people rules, he’d hoped that the Dhamshee had re-made him into a creature that would be free of them. Well, he would only be enforcing it, as the one on top. Secret consolation.
“My children,” Rhune said softly and climbed up ontop of a conveniently-sized and placed rock at the choice moment. The sun also rushed overhead in the sky, and Rhune worried that Hearwynn was planning something more.
“…I must ask something from you, and you must do it because I love you.”
His people came from all over the vast, mostly flat fields, from among the few shade trees, and came to meet him, smiling.
“Yes Father?” One of them asked.
“You must not go beyond our lands at the Edge of the Story anymore. Here, new things are being written and so it’s safe to look forward. But, back in the Great Wilderness, is old content, events that have been drafts, or scratched out, re-thought and never to be revisited again. Please, stay here with me. That place behind us is now forbidden. Do not be curious. If any of you disobey this law… I will be forced to punish you.”
But the Humans did not know what punishment was. Rhune flagged a bit, he sensed that while he was off making them with their mother, some remarkable advents had occurred, towers raised, fires died back out again… he’d have to go this far?
Also, why were they standing in groups, each behind standard bearers who held odd objects up on poles? An old burying rock, an ancient hollow chewing-bone, some scrap of… oh, that pretty thing Dana had been wearing—nevermind it.
Rhune crossed an ankle over his bare knee. No pants today. So worried, that he forgot. “A punishment is when… I bite you, because I love you.”
This started a rash of mates leaving teeth marks on one another’s necks and thighs. The children cried when they saw it. Rhune was forced to make another rule.
“My people. Do not bite one another. Only Father Rhune shall bite you, if you disobey him.”
“Oh!” they exclaimed, as if seeing color for the first time.
As soon as the three tribes departed, Rhune hastened off of his royal seat and went into an old grotto covered partly by a morning glory vine. Rhune had started it long ago, intending to live in a den, then became embarrassed when he noticed other Humans making houses of wood, or clay and stone. Now, it was a crude hideaway nobody else appreciated. He hiked down and down and down, then shouted at the stalactites. “Is this all Humans are capable of? I can’t hunt, I don’t really want to. There’s nothing interesting worth smelling anymore. So, what am I going to do to entertain myself with these simpletons, Hearwynn? What happens if after all this time being left alone here, waiting for you to return, waiting for you to grant me a good life again, after dealing with all the wolf-bitches in my life as violently as you had me thirst for, then after betraying my own kin when you showed me how easy I could sneak at it… What if after allowing myself to make love to woman who turned out to be loose and foolish, some fantasy scheme of yours… Suppose your favorite son loses his will to advance through this half-assed plot? Biting people, really? Enough of silly meandering with fruits and transparent sex-jokes. Hearwynn, I need you to do better!”
Fast and high up the mountain, through the top of the cavern, where the sky pierced through, Hearwynn brought the night fast with a crescent moon that rolled as if its center were truly a black pupil, finally annoyed enough.
“Shatter your protagonist with a tragedy, or give her an unexpected gift. These things happen in real life, and in a novel they lend an enlarged perspective, a sense that the universe is paying attention.”
But, if I will be so literal, then will we also need another protagonist She? Nothing about grossly multiplied subplots and rampant hordes of secondary characters was learned from the previous chapter, in any case…
Exactly one month later, a young woman with red hair that at first fell from her crown’s peak in black strands, pointed beyond the Edge and whistled that it was clear to sneak across. She was good enough to merit two doting lovers, and the group of them rushed away into the forbidden beyond, laughter was hushed.
“Will Rhune truly bite us, do you think?” Asked one man. He wore a talisman round his neck that looked like some dirtied strip of red lace. The second man wore two earrings made of hollowed goat’s bone. Just… do not ask me how.
The red woman, the leader answered. “Of course not. Misbehaving feels good, Bone-Man, so then it cannot be wrong.”
“But Father Rhune has got big, sharp teeth in his mouth, different from ours. What if it is as he has said, that they were made, ‘the better to teach you with, my dears?'” said Strange-Negligee-Man.
The woman shrugged and said nothing more. She felt her eyes doing much the same dance she had observed of the moon, a month ago. Curious.
Hearwynn opened a field of red grass to them. Broad blades that were sharp and cut when they passed. The people did not like this. Next, Hearwynn dropped the ground, and playful lovers tumbled into a ditch. The people clambered onto their feet again, spitting out dirt and muck. A breeze came and swelled, then roared, like laughter.
“We should turn back–”
“Never!” shouted the whipped-headed woman. “Further, further still. We have a right to smell what there is to smell and see what there is to see. This whole place has been given to us–”
Now she stopped, because they had come to a great blue sea. The young woman dashed into the surf, screamed that she loved the feel of it. Her men came along, more wary, trying the vast, warm water with their toes.
“We have only seen streams and rivers before, never anything so deep?” tried Bone-Man. Woman stopped this complaint with a kiss.
“Suppose it gets above our heads, what then?” Another kiss from her, and Strange-Negligee-Man felt emboldened as well.
So, the people wandered deeper, then waded, then fired again and again at swimming. The Humans found they could learn and do it well. A pleasant day at the beach. Hearwynn brought another strong wind, but this did not frighten them into something more interesting. Next, the story made an earthquake far far away from them, on the other side of its cover, perhaps, and that caused a powerful wave to crash over the people’s heads. They cried out, but rode through it, recovered into relieved giggling. Hearwynn did not know what else to do. He even tried swelling the sun, but he not could evaporate the water or boil so much of it fast enough. Finally, Hearwynn decided that it didn’t matter what the people expected, a story or storyteller could do whatever he wanted, to get out of a fictional fix.
And so, nearby the most tanned, robust looking man (interesting, it was the one wearing the negligee), the water suddenly caught fire.
Now, three naked Human beings flailing about, trying to get back to the beach. The beach, however, was so ice cold it burned the skin off the soles of their tender feet. The world quaked once. Hearwynn was so glad, he must have fallen over with laughing.
The lone woman looked up at the sun burning so happily in the face of her struggles, then made a decision. She seized one of her lovers, the one with the earrings, why not—by the hair and threw him into the way of the flames. After she scrambled over him, she yelled at the second man to help her heave his screaming, burning body onto the ice, and they stepped on him and pushed and ferried themselves across the ice, to return to the safety of soft, temperate grass again. Here, Hearwynn quieted. There had not been a creature willing to do something so cruel in a very long time.
The world was waiting. The world watched.
“Go back for help, Strange-Negligee-Man. I’ll… I’ll mind him.”
Her last friend was already so terrified, it wasn’t hard to startle him into running away. When this last man returned to the village he told the story of their truly angry world, and the burning sea, his woman who had melted then scraped raw a fellow on an ice-beach in order to get them to safety. Now, they had to run back and save her from whatever greater evil the story Hearwynn and the Great Wilderness might do. Before all the other people, Rhune stepped down from his simple stone seat, shoved the man down with both hands upon his shoulders. Then, Rhune craned the neck of Strange-Negligee-Man, snagged aside the snatch of red lace cloth, and sank his teeth in deep.
“She will be left in the wilderness!” Rhune shouted with bloodied mouth, “As for the rest of you, look and see what I have said I will do, and am unafraid to trespass against those who do not listen to your King!”
The Humans had not known before, what a King was. There had been village heads and elders and chieftans… But they could not forget it now. They cried out and ran in all directions. Rhune was ashamed of himself and angry at what had happened, but he could not take it out on the story Hearwynn. So then, King Rhune dragged off his first criminal to a cave, and indulged a deeper lupine instinct, to finish Strange-Negligee-Man off. Or, was it a Human impulse, to hide pain and so prevent despair from infecting his peers whom he loved and needed—did he love these fools? He did not need them to hunt alongside, but just to be with, to touch and be near to, and grow on, like some disease?
The woman who had survived by throwing her mate with the carrion-accessory into the fire, now walked alone in the darkness.
Thatan and Ammerwind flashed moonbright fangs alongside her scuffed heels. So taken with dark and unrepentant things, was she, that this woman did not even know death was on her.
“Will I become your dinner?” she said, half-absent.
“What? Is it that she loves for death to be closeby?” gravelled Thatan.
She continued to walk, and the wolf spirits think, after a time.
“A better revenge, than hunting Rhune’s children, Thatan, is to make our own, from one of his women.”
A shocked bark, “And then…?”
Ammerwind clarified his prose. “Stay your hunger, wait a while, last brethren, and we can forge our own dark heaven… Lady, would you stay a night with us?”
The stripe-haired woman stopped then said, “I am a doomed person. My father surely hates me, and I can never go back home.”
“What if we were to give you a home?”
She thought about this for a long time. She smoothed black hair at the peak of her round skull back, back, until it crossed with the red. “Whatever sort of home it is, I must be its queen. I will make the laws. Others can suffer from them.”
Thatan was able to press his chill nose against her calf because her flesh was beginning to like his spirit. “Do you know, that those words have been spoken before?”
Ammerwind agreed. “Do you know what we must call you, woman? Alpha-bitch Loveater.”
“Queen Loveater.” She insisted.
“Slight difference, not a hard adjustment to make. Ammerwind and I shall remember it. My greatest mate was the one, who once had such a name.” Now, the three creatures moved in a line, together. Shade paws flared when they attempted to touch ground. Fine hairs of her skin pricked, when her skin brushed against their plasma souls. The Howling Beyond could not come fully into the world of life, the wolves were by now drenched in the power of Carnivory, though tried their best to risk being smelled by Rhune and fully return. “I am certain, Ammerwind, that Rhune will be glad to know the Loveater lives again.”
“Walks again. Talks again. Bleeds again.”
“We will show you how to brew your favorite puppy-wine.”
“Oh, will you? That sounds horrific. I love it.” sneered Queen Loveater.
Thatan and Ammerwind raced around her, howling, twining gray sheer of their nightmare all over her, round her hips as she turned, licked and kissed her feet, twisted the air between the trees until these even stretched and bent, dried out in so much night without the sun, crisped and cracked, encased this girl, made her raise her arms, glad. A wind came, this was not a hurricane but a tornado, born of dryness and dark clouds wanting to war with each other, lightning, black air, eye of the storm. Not racing playfully along the water until it aroused and lost control, but galloping over the ground, swelling and arguing, raising, sharpening its point, until it found where it needed to punish and blasted apart the old ruins of some lost ancient home of some ancient lost people, dug out, then sent in a woman with back curved, spine moon white, panting, swatting tired-away the wolves that wanted her.
Queen Loveater knew that the wolves’ revenge was not the same as her own. The animal with the sharpest tongue wanted Father Rhune silenced, and the one with the sharpest ears wanted Father Rhune to finally hear as he did, that the howling of the dead she-ones still carried on, that they were furious and tortured. The old Mane Grey bitches were not done with him yet. All Loveater wanted was to be able to go back home and be with her brothers and sisters, she confided this to herself in those last white moments. How good, to live without fear of being eaten for breaking Father’s laws. But, she had committed the sin of curiosity for venturing back into the old story, then showed pride in believing her own story might be better than Rhune’s. Last, she wielded savage ingenuity to survive when there was no plot for her… All of these were natural gifts of her species. Why didn’t Father Rhune care enough, to try and understand how hard it was to stop being curious, determined, agriculture—ous?
Here and now it felt that… when he’d promised to bite them for doing wrong, and then did… when he dragged trespassers off to his cave, and nobody ever saw them again… however he settled up their sinning… Perhaps, not one spasm of Father Rhune’s old graying heart ever regretted it. What tragedy to get left out, but good grace gifted a gate-ope for getting girl back in.
“Oh beautiful and vicious one, let us breed you.”
Confessed, next, through teeth clenched. “Only if I will no longer be Rhune’s daughter.”
And that is how the Wolf People began. Loveater’s warriors would be so different from old King Rhune’s Toothless Ones.
 Maass, Donald, Writing The Breakout Novel, Mass (Writer’s Digest Books) 96.
Image: Ian Kahn