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Haunted Houses

Sometimes the world is stranger than you know. Stranger than you can know. What do you do when you emerge into a place you cannot explain and must fight to understand? When there are no answers, but only more questions? When everyone you have known is dead?

You keep walking.

This sounds a lot like the act of writing. You keep going and you find something new, which changes your path one way or another.

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This story began in conversation with Jacqueline Harpman’s I Who Have Never Known Men, a haunting novel that Beth first told me about. I was both hooked and annoyed by the concepts within. It is grim, it is captivating, it is unexplainable. And I wondered how I might tackle something similar.

This story took a long time to find its feet. Its title came first; I was taking an art journal class, and the themes were all about roots, how they support and how they strangle; how they are hidden support, how they can rot and fall apart. I started drawing birds on my roots, and I wondered what the heck birds were doing underground. Of course, they weren’t entirely birds, were they? They were not.

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The voice came slow. I wanted it to have an edge, but couldn’t find the edge. I tried many points of entry; how did one find an anchor in a character when there was only one character? Of course, there wasn’t just one character, was there? This world is a character as much as the woman who walks through it; this world has veins and arms and a slowly emerging heartbeat. So I considered the world and I drew a map. As I drew this map, another thing I love began to emerge: Magic the Gathering.

Oh, a card game, sure, but its lands started to do things in this story. The tundra, the mountains, the plains, the swamp, the island seas. What might a person find as they travelled through and toward each? What might the land say of a person’s struggle? What would the swamp steal from you, and what might it give you? What would a footprint in a wasteland mean? Was it even there?

The world is a haunted house.

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This story has its anchors in two men, even as it tells a woman’s journey. The more I write, the more I find myself drawing from my friends, from my spoon-shaped muse. The good, the bad, the unexplainable. Sometimes these things don’t have answers; sometimes you never learn what it meant, only that it was a thing that happened.

I saw the shadow of a man — was it a man — was he there at all? I saw a beast rise from a muddy swamp to swallow me — or did it mean to push me out of the mire, and into the island seas, where the stars hang so bright?

Sometimes we cannot know.

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Migratory Patterns of Underground Birds” appears in the May 2014 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine. Some imagery that guided me along the way can be found on Pinterest — the small figure against the looming world. The vast and empty spaces where no one has tread. Until they do.

by Kasia Derwinska

 

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