The Twilight Gods is a retelling of the Native American folktale, “The Girl Who Married a Ghost.” Set in Victorian England, it’s an alternative perspective on a gay teen’s coming-out process, with Norris’ journey of self-discovery couched in magical and supernatural terms and imagery.
BLURB: London during the Great Exhibition of 1851 is a new world of technological advances, eye-popping inventions, and glimpses of exotic treasures from the East. For fifteen-year-old Norris Woodhead, it’s a time of spectral figures mingling with London’s daily crowds and an old rectory in a far corner of the English countryside — a great house literally caught in time, where answers to curious little mysteries await him.
Confined by his family’s financial woes, Norris suffers a lonely and unsatisfying time till the day he (and only he) notices “shadow-people” in the streets. Then a strange widow appears, rents a vacant room in the house, and takes him under her wing. She becomes his guardian, slowly revealing those shadows’ secrets, Norris’ connection with them, and the life-altering choices he has to face in the end.
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Excerpt: “My dear Master Norris,” Mrs. Cavendish said, momentarily pausing in her work and regarding him with those pale, mysterious eyes, “if your mother is behaving in ways that don’t seem like her, it’s because she’s undergoing changes as well.”
“Changes!” Norris echoed, his eyes widening. “Do you mean to say that she’s also one of the shadow-people?”
Mrs. Cavendish laughed heartily, reaching out and tousling Norris’ hair with a certain motherly affection. “Oh, heavens, no!” she said once she’d regained mastery of herself. “Your mother is just like most of the world, my dear boy. Whatever changes she undergoes are in some way or another affected by your own changes and the decisions you make. Remember that she’ll always be touched by the path you take in the end. Mothers are like that, you know. They can’t bear to let go of their children, even when it’s warranted.”
“Changes,” Norris echoed again, shaking his head and frowning. “I suppose I am going through changes right now. I can’t say what they are, but I feel them – or at the very least, I’m growing more and more aware of certain things that I’ve never even considered before.”
Mrs. Cavendish’s smile remained as she listened to her young charge. Yes, Norris couldn’t help but think, he was her charge now, the way he was never Mr. Garland’s.
Penelope from ‘The Odyssey’ was my inspiration for Mrs. Cavendish, who’s forever sewing her tapestry. In the original fairy tale, Mrs. Cavendish’s character is Screech Owl, who guides a terrified bride through the island of the dead.
“It’s most certainly the latter point,” she said. “If you’re growing more and more aware of things, unusual ones, about yourself, don’t be afraid of them. Don’t be afraid of knowledge. Learn what you can, my dear. Take advantage of the opportunities that are opening before you. Believe me when I say that there are others out there like you who aren’t as fortunate in the way they perceive their hearts and their souls.”
“What do you mean?”
“They fear change, you see. They fear being different. They were simply not taught to open their minds to things that challenge what we’ve all long held to be true, but I really don’t think we should blame them or their families. It simply is the nature of our time. Things will get better, I assure you. They will.”
Norris stared at her. “You speak as though you’ve seen the future,” he stammered.
“Time, my dear. I see both directions of Time’s road. If I make strange references to what’s yet to come, it’s because I see the need to reassure you, if not enlighten you to a point.”
Mrs. Cavendish spoke with such calm and clarity, her manner a mixture of lightness and gravity. As she talked, the shadows cast by the parlor’s interior shifted on her face, lending her complexion an otherworldly translucence in brief periods. Her pale, pale eyes alternated shades as well, from the usual spectral blue to a deeper and stormier gray. Through all this, she kept her gaze on him, watching him watch her. Norris tried not to pull away in a reflexive effort at hiding his warring thoughts and senses. Instead, he readily opened himself up to her, as though sensing this was the next step that was expected of him in their relationship.
I couldn’t find any good representations of the twilight rectory, but Tintern Abbey comes fairly close to the physical embodiment of infinity.
Prove to me that you aren’t afraid, she challenged with her fixed gaze and shifting colors.
I’m not afraid. Not yet.
You’ll soon find your choices stretching out before you, Norris Woodhead. Will you be strong enough to take one path over the other?
I will. I know I will.
Don’t be so sure. Stronger men have decided self-denial and sacrifice, and while many of them prove their choices to be good ones, there are some who suffer so many regrets for the rest of their lives.
Either way, I’m bound to lose something, aren’t I? Choices always come with sacrifices.
Either way, you’ll have to bear the burden of some loss. It’s your fortune to be born into this age, young man. You’ll have to make do with what human laws in this century define to be the limits of your lot.
Norris felt a faint chill sweep up his spine as he listened. There was something ominous in what Mrs. Cavendish just said.
“Then I’m destined to be an outlaw, aren’t I?” he asked. “I must confess that I don’t even know what it is I’m supposed to do wrong for me to be thought of as different from almost everyone else, but I’m guessing that what I am, I can’t help.”
The Great Exhibition, where modern inventions are highlighted. I wanted to use this as a backdrop against Norris’ coming-of-age as I thought it a great contrast of advancement and backward laws regarding homosexuality.
The widow’s smile broadened, but it also took on a sad quality, and Mrs. Cavendish said nothing in return – merely reached out to him and stroked his cheek, a touch that was most definitely very comforting.
When she withdrew her hand, she indicated her embroidery with it. “This tapestry, Master Norris,” she said as she gently pulled at the fabric so as to spread it on her lap, and every embroidered detail could be observed. “This will never be done.”
Norris frowned as he looked at it. “It’s a strange piece,” he muttered, leaning closer. “The colors of your thread are different from what I’ve seen. Mama and my sisters use bright and colorful spools for their work.”
The piece itself seemed a fairly large one to Norris. Against a slightly discolored white cloth a pastoral landscape sprawled. He could see very faint outlines of graphite where he believed Mrs. Cavendish had sketched the details, but around half of the entire tapestry was already embroidered.
Norris took careful note of the sewn parts. He found them to be intricate in design and rich in hues though Mrs. Cavendish, it seemed, preferred to use a fairly limited palette of colors. He could make out various shades of brown, red, gold, and black mingling as stitches formed an autumn landscape of shepherds, nymphs, and gods. He wanted to see what was kept inside her sewing box, but he felt too embarrassed to ask.
“This is lovely,” he breathed, finally, reaching out a tentative hand and gently touching a few places. The thread Mrs. Cavendish used was of a strange quality, he found, with the textures varying distinctly even under a light brush of his fingers. Some were coarser than others, but none appeared to have its exact match. The same could be said of the colors, all of which varied very slightly in hue and tone. Every single thread used for the tapestry was unique in its own way, which amazed Norris
because he’d never seen or heard of such a thing before.
It’s really difficult trying to imagine how gay teens from previous centuries dealt with their sexuality. There are romantic friendships formed in school, but not much else is available unless we’re looking at adults.
He glanced back up at Mrs. Cavendish and smiled. “This is a strange tapestry,” he said, “but I like it.”
“Thank you, dear. As you know, I’ve been hard at work on it since…” Mrs. Cavendish’s words faded, and she chose not to pursue the matter, allowing any thoughts that might arise from her cryptic response to be devoured by Norris’ hungry mind.
“I’d like to know, though, why won’t it be finished?”
“Infinity is its nature,” Mrs. Cavendish replied. “As long as people are born into this world, and the twilight gods emerge from their ranks, my work will remain unfinished.” Her manner was so light and dismissive that a second after she spoke, Norris wasn’t sure what it was he’d heard, but something assured him it wasn’t relevant, at least for that moment.
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