I’ve always loved the way fantasy and science fiction take my imagination beyond the ordinary. Realizing the obsessive creation of stories in my head meant I should be a writer, I set out to fashion a unique niche for my musings calling it Southwest Contemporary Fantasy, specifically New Mexico fantasy. Thus Don, Nersite, Raquela and all the other characters were born and sent out on their unpredictable adventures.
But like many children, they have their own ideas, and I struggle to keep up with them, attempting to tell their story as accurately as I can. I admit they share some of my life experience growing up in New Mexico with its unique culture, terrain, and climate. But at times, I wonder where these people came from!
Join me as I chronicle their adventures and challenges.
Excerpt from Tower of Il Serrohe
- A man who has lost his way.
- A rundown casita near the Middle Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.
- A bat offering a formidable quest to this unlikely hero.
- A Portal to another valley called the Valle Abajo.
- Clans in the Valle needing help to overcome the evil Soreyes.
- A Tower, the mysterious source of Soreye power.
Early in the past century Teresa, a young curandera, traveled to the Valle Abajo to bring down the Tower. But the Tower still stands and Don Vargas, an alcoholic looking for escape from failure, may be the only one to destroy it.
Don travels through the Portal to the Valle, encountering beautiful Raquela and feisty Nersite who join him to fight the Soreyes. Meanwhile Nightwing, the enigmatic bat, manipulates events behind the scenes. Many surprises and revelations await as this contemporary fantasy unfolds…
Out on a lonely expanse of Seared Meadow that stretched across the mesa above Valle Abajo, Don stood in twilight, transfixed by the approach of an odd figure: a tall, lanky man leaning so far forward his head seemed to glide just above the ground, a wide toothless smile at once singular and voracious, with arms apparently clasped so tightly behind he appeared to be armless.
A voice behind Don exploded in a harsh whisper.
“Hey! Hey! What are you doing? Don’t just stand there staring at the Crotalmin, come on!” Sprouting hands in the semi-darkness, the voice grabbed Don, pulling him toward a hole in the ground.
“No!” Don cried, wrestling himself away. “I’m not going into some Nohmin hole again! I’m staying here. What’s the big deal anyway; this guy looks OK. Sort of.”
“That ‘guy’ is Sliktooth of the Crotalmin clan and he needs to feed,” Nersite hissed. “It’s into the hole or into his stomach—which would you prefer?”
Don peered at the hole. After the last time, he’d promised himself he would not willingly go again into the claustrophobic home of his new friend, Nersite. He raised his head and looked around. Sliktooth was approaching with surprising haste and the forest was too far away to make a run for it.
“Trust me you don’t want to engage Sliktooth in conversation,” Nersite whispered. “It will be short and it will be your last!”
Don stared into Nersite’s eyes. He seemed different since the last time Don had seen him. As best as he could see in the fading light, those beady little eyes held fear, anger, and total sincerity. He knew the essential battle within himself would not be resolved this evening so, for now, he would follow his instinct, trust the little guy, and go down into the hole.
Steeling his mind against rising panic, Don felt his shoulders brushing the sides of the tunnel. He wound his way, awkwardly following the sound of Nersite’s movement.
He could hear other Nohmin scurrying through the tunnels toward hiding places.
The downward slant leveled out forcing Don to bend almost double to avoid the lowered ceiling. They continued on, twisting left and right through countless junctions. At last he felt Nersite’s hand on the top of his downcast head.
“Stop,” Nersite whispered. “Reach out to your right. You will find a small hole in the wall, shoulder high.”
Don gingerly reached out to the wall, trying not to gain too much information in this cramped, humid tomb. He found the hole as its edges crumbled under his touch.
“Climb up in there,” Nersite said. “It’s too small for Sliktooth.”
“It’s too dammed small for me!” Don cried, suppressing a sob. Not again! How quickly can I get out of here? Can I even find my way out? I’m in too deep!
“Sliktooth will eat you! There is no option,” Nersite added.
“I’d rather be eaten and die than be alive down here,” Don mumbled. “At least it will all be over with quickly.”
“Not with a Crotalmin,” Nersite said. “It’s a slow death in his stomach. This place is like the wide open plains compared to his stifling poison.”
“Wouldn’t he kill me first?”
“No,” came the reply. Don could swear he heard Nersite’s brain whirring as he thought about what to say next. “You don’t want to know, it’s too horrible for me to say. This hole is far better; this part was originally a Loopohmin home, so it’s roomier. I will stay with you. Now be quiet.”
Nersite sounded so confident that Don began climbing into the hole, Nersite boosting his butt with a push. Don really didn’t want to be touched.
Nersite slipped in behind him.
Inside, by Don’s reckoning, the hole was about two feet high, maybe four feet wide, and eight feet deep. In spite of the soft earth of the passageway, the ground here was hard with fist-sized rocks that pushed painfully against his ribs.
“Move all the way back, away from the passageway,” Nersite said.
Don did his bidding, sobbing softly with each shallow breath.
Laying about three-quarters over on his face and stomach, he didn’t want to feel the wall or the ceiling. He could, of course, feel the constant rain of atoms and water vapor molecules as they piled upon him.
Nersite groped around, finding Don. Placing his hands gently on Don’s shoulders near his neck, he spoke calmly. “We’ll just relax here. Slow our breathing. You will hear him shuffling about as he passes in the tunnel. He will not be able to reach us.”
“OK, fine, asshole,” Don whispered back. “Just don’t touch me.”
There was a long pause. Don tried to quiet his sobs and deepen his breathing.
Nersite added one more thing. “We must not talk or make any sound with voice or body.”
Don knew that was purposely misleading—as if Sliktooth would not knowthey were there even if they were quiet. Nersite was trying to give him hope.
Calming himself, Don brought back fond memories of playing as a boy in his big sunny backyard in Peralta: the towering sunflowers, bushes big enough to double for jungles in his childish playacting, with the over arching cottonwood spreading ancient branches almost as thick as its trunk as its cool shade fell in a dappled pattern of light and shadow across the spacious yard.
This calming reverie was rudely interrupted by a sound like dry cornhusks dragging across gravel. Sliktooth was coming down the tunnel!
He could hear the sound of slow breathing, not his or Nersite’s as both held their breath so deep inside, it would take a conscious effort to resume breathing, if the chance ever came.
Now the cornhusks were across from him, behind Nersite. Sliktooth must be testing the sides of the passageway. Don’s heart thundered in his chest, trying to pound its way out. Surely, Sliktooth could hear that.
Nersite patted his shoulders softly in reassurance.
I told you to NOT touch me! Don raged silently.
Just as Don’s lungs were about to burst, the sound of cornhusks began dragging away along the tunnel, loud without stealth. Sliktooth may have found the tight entrance to their hiding place too hard-packed to crumble.
Don let himself breathe, but with short little puffs almost silent in their exhale and inhale.
“He’s moving on,” Nersite whispered. “We must stay here for a while. A specially trained team of Nohmin will vacate him soon enough. They cannot kill him for Sliktooth is too big, but he will be appropriately discouraged. We will hear other Nohmin moving about once it’s safe.”
Don thought that through as they waited. OK, fine. But once I’m out of here…