The Novel Approach is pleased to have Hayden back with us today. She’s offering a little excerpt from her latest novella Grave’s End, from Queerteen Press, and she’s offering the chance for one lucky reader to win an e-copy of the book.
Blurb: It isn’t business as usual for Maelwine when a new family moves into Grave’s End House. With the old, great house standing untenanted for quite some time, being a house shade attached to it has turned the hours dull for Maelwine. He has no family to entertain him, no variations in his daily duty, which involves the rousing of shadows in every room when the sun goes down.
Things change when the Villar family arrive, however, and Maelwine is finally happily caught up in the comings and goings at Grave’s End. That is, until he notices Royden Villar, a young boy with a secret that depresses his spirits and touches Maelwine in surprising and alarming ways. The more Maelwine studies Royden’s behavior, the more he glimpses the other boy’s heart, and, suddenly, new paths reveal themselves to Maelwine — paths that are as muddy as they are dangerous.
As a house shade, Maelwine is immortal and enjoys certain benefits that can only come with immortality. Not once has he questioned his situation. It is, after all, as Nature has always intended. But with Royden’s arrival, Maelwine’s forced to face difficult answers to unsettling questions about the nature of his existence.
He’s only a house shade, after all, and nothing more. He doesn’t have a heart, doesn’t feel loneliness in the shadows of his world. Things should be easy, but Royden Villar has set certain wheels in motion, and there’s simply no turning back.
Excerpt: Maelwine didn’t want to get involved. He really shouldn’t. Aiken had told him so, and logic — that now-ignored friend — emphasized the need for detachment. The shade watched, despondent, as Royden cried miserably, head still bowed, tears visibly falling onto his lap. Once or twice, Royden made futile attempts at dragging a sleeve across his face, but the tears kept coming. Maelwine thought he could hear them softly land on the fabric of Royden’s trousers.
He climbed over the mirror and entered the bedroom, hesitating for the briefest moment before moving confidently toward Royden and pausing just a couple of feet shy of the boy. He reached out and tentatively touched Royden’s sagging shoulder, once again shivering at the feeling of warmth under his hand.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. Feeling a touch bolder, he dropped his hand and bent down in order to hold one of Royden’s, which were limply draped on the boy’s lap. “Perhaps it’s for the best this had to happen.”
Royden suddenly gasped, froze, and held his breath. Maelwine only had a second to catch this, and then Royden’s head snapped up. He stared, wide-eyed, at Maelwine. Drop-jawed, his complexion pale and damp from tears, Royden looked directly at him, making him realize too late he’d just stepped in the path of the moonlight.
A moment of stunned silence fell on the two before Maelwine snatched his hand away and quickly stepped back until he was safely out of the moon’s beams. Candlelight kept the room relatively bright, the moonlight somehow blending in and fooling Maelwine into thinking he wouldn’t be seen.
Maelwine took in the room with renewed vision and a clearer head. No, he thought. There was a difference in the amount of illumination in that part of the bedroom. The moonlight had made that area much brighter, yet Maelwine never saw it because his attention had been wholly fixed on Royden.
He pinched his mouth into a thin, tight line as he moved his gaze back to Royden, who was now frantically scanning the room and not seeing Maelwine anywhere. His earlier pain gone, fear had now taken over, and the boy had jumped up from the bed and staggered toward the door, breathing hard and looking as though he were about to faint.
Maelwine sighed. “I’m sorry again,” he said. “I just made things worse for you. I won’t do it again. I promise.”
He turned and climbed back inside the mirror, looking out for a brief moment to see if Royden had gotten over the shock. The boy continued to stand by the door, searching the room, his arms now tightly folded over his chest. Maelwine sighed again and moved away, allowing the darkness to enfold him and wishing he could find comfort in his isolation. He eventually reached the mirror that led him to the old room he was supposed to settle himself down in for the night.
It took him a good while to fall asleep, and when he did, his dreams haunted him, waking him several times in the course of the night and the following day. And for better or for worse, he couldn’t remember any of them once he finally awakened to the waning hours of the day.
It was one less matter to fret over, really, because something more dire was at hand. For the first time in his long and young life, Maelwine began feeling the stirring of his conscience.
“I’ve heard mortals talk about consciences before. I know what that’s about. But I didn’t realize house shades have them,” he said. He’d just entered the empty, gloomy room and had finished rousing the shadows there. But he’d yet to move on dutifully to the next room and instead opted to pace around this one, chewing a nail while glowering magnificently at his shoes. “Why on earth would we have them if we’re supposed to keep our distance from mortals? I thought we shouldn’t be affected. Doesn’t make any sense.”
No amount of talking out loud and pacing in irregular circles helped, though, and before long Maelwine was forced to climb back in the mirror in order to carry on with his task. He pointedly avoided Royden’s bedroom even after going through all those on the upper floors, though he really wouldn’t have any cause for concern, seeing as how the boy was downstairs, waiting for dinner to be served.
“At least he’s eating again. On the other hand, he’s also probably avoiding his room out of fear.” Maelwine’s conscience took another blow from that thought. He went about his downstairs work with spirits low and feet dragging. His confusion over his current state never once abated, and it didn’t take long for him to wonder if house shades ever went mad. “I should ask Mama.” He stopped in his tracks and pondered that further. “Then again, she’ll probably drag me off to have me fixed or something like that — if house shades can be fixed, anyway.” Would he want that? Yes, he would. His present state was nothing if not intolerable.