Each week I’ll publish a new installment of our award-winning YA fantasy novel Rowan of the Wood for your reading enjoyment. Comment below to be entered to win an author-signed free copies of the entire series! The more you comment, the more times your name will be entered to win!
Rowan of the Wood, Winner of the Indie Excellence Award for Young Adult Fiction, tells the story of Cullen, a young boy who meanders through the redwood forest every day on his way to school, losing himself in books and fantasy worlds full of elves, fairies, and wizards. Cullen’s life changes when he uncovers an ancient magic wand that is inhabited by a powerful wizard, Rowan.
Nearly fourteen centuries ago, Rowan and his bride Fiana were separated on their wedding day. Rowan manages to survive, trapped in time, until Cullen releases him from the wand. Fiana uses dark magic to stay alive as she continues searching for Rowan. Over the centuries, Fiana descends deeper into the darkness becoming something evil and eventually giving up her search…until a young boy brings Rowan back to her.
Coming in Autumn 2013, the fifth and final book: Spirit of the Otherworld
Teachers and educators, ask me how to get your class FREE copies of this Amazon bestselling novel and lesson plans as well.
Cullen lay awake, staring at the wall from the lower tier of the bunk bed in his dark room. He rarely lay on his back, mostly because he hated to look at the bulging mattress of the bunk above him, knowing that Rex was in it. If he looked at the wall, he could imagine he was in his tree-cave, safe from his tormentors. Lying on his side also allowed him to curl into a fetal ball, leaving as little of his body as possible exposed to the slings and arrows of the cruel world in which he lived.
Although still awake, he dreamed. His innermost desires came together to make sweet daydreams of fantasy. They danced through his head, taking him on adventures far from his unhappy, mundane life. In these dreams of escape, he led faithful friends to accomplish dangerous tasks that would make the world a better place for all. Rarely did he get specific about what that task entailed. The details only got in the way.
On this particular night, he dreamed of rescue. At the hour when he turned twelve, he would come into his inheritance. In his fantasy, a wizard from the magical world to which he really belonged would come for him. He would be hailed as a Prince of the Realm when he arrived. He would be surrounded and looked after by new friends. At his request, April and Maddy would be brought to share in his good fortune. The wizard would give April her sight back. She would see him for the first time and know she loved him. With that happy thought, he drifted into sleep.
As it turned out, no one rescued Cullen that night. Waking early, before anyone else—including the sun—he carefully removed his new book from under his mattress and began to read it by the light of his flashlight within his blanket grotto. For a time, he lost himself once again within Middle-earth.
As the last traces of the darkness began to fade, he hid the book and flashlight back under his mattress and got up to quietly dress. He always kept the next day’s clothes folded neatly under his bed, so he wouldn’t have to go through his footlocker and risk waking Rex, who would yell loud enough to wake Trudy and Frank. They would then storm into the room and scold him for disturbing the peace of the household. Best to avoid the entire business.
He dressed quickly and slipped quietly out the door, heading to the kitchen to make breakfast. It was the one chore he didn’t mind doing, since it allowed him to get a good meal inside him without anyone being the wiser. Not that they didn’t feed him, it just never filled him quite enough. He was always served last, just after Rex, who generally left only a token portion for him. He wouldn’t have left even that if Trudy didn’t make him. She always made sure Cullen never had anything serious to complain about to his social worker. It was probably the only reason why Trudy or Frank never hit him, although Rex more than made up for their lack of physical punishment. Rex’s abuse could be shrugged off as boys just being boys, so they never discouraged his violence.
By the time Trudy arrived in the kitchen with her robe cinched tightly around her nightgown, Cullen had made the coffee and set the table. Simultaneously, the bacon sizzled in the microwave, the toast smoldered in the toaster, and the eggs crackled in the frying pan. Trudy gazed around the kitchen to see that Cullen had everything under control and on time before grunting her lack of disapproval. She seated herself to be served a strong cup of coffee, which she counted on in the morning to chase away the lingering effects of her nightly martinis. She normally had dark circles under her eyes, but in the mornings they looked positively sunken.
Frank arrived soon after and seated himself without a word, picking up the newspaper that had been laid out for him beside his plate. Cullen had fetched it while the coffee brewed and had already read the comics before carefully refolding it. Frank would get apoplectic if he thought someone had read the paper before him. He hated the idea of someone knowing more than he did, which in Cullen’s opinion, wasn’t too hard to accomplish.
Trudy dared to interrupt his newspaper-gazing. “Since you’re having bacon and eggs this morning, dear, it’s salad for lunch. Remember what the doctor said.”
Cullen froze, awaiting the wrath.
Frank’s stubby fingers slowly lowered the newspaper and revealed his plump face, red with rage. He wore metal framed glasses with square lenses. Even when he took them off, there was a permanent indentation where the arms of the glasses squeezed into the abundant flesh of his shaved head. His ears rested in large dimples, surrounded by so much lard. He looked up at Trudy, making a few rolls appear on the back of his neck. “Give me a friggin’ break! It’s too early in the morning for this, dear.”
“You’ve got to lower your cholesterol. The doctor said.”
Frank slammed the newspaper down on the table, making Cullen and Trudy both jump. Rex was still asleep. He didn’t get up until noon on Saturdays.
“I swear to God, woman, don’t push me. I didn’t climb to the top of the food chain to eat rabbit food. End of discussion.”
Cullen thought it unlikely for Frank to climb to the top of an anthill, let alone the food chain, since he couldn’t even see his feet beneath his massive belly. Frank glared at Trudy through his squinty eyes, until satisfied she wouldn’t nag him any more.
Trudy got up and made herself a screwdriver.
Frank took a deep breath, twisting his bottom lip against his teeth in a contorted grimace. “Tell me I’m wrong. I’m totally serious…tell me I’m wrong!”
Cullen ate in silence.
Frank picked up the newspaper again like nothing happened. He grumbled from the other side of it. “You have to out talk ’em. The only reason women win so many arguments is because they talk more. They never shut up. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Trudy sipped her screwdriver.
Cullen kept his eyes down on his food.
“Well,” Frank said, after flipping through the local section, “it looks like the commie air quality control board’s finally allowed us a burn day.” He pointed at Cullen with his eyes. “You better get those leaves raked up and burned while you can.”
Cullen hid a sigh. They hadn’t even mentioned his birthday, no surprise there. It looked as if he wouldn’t get the day off after all.
Cullen didn’t really mind burning leaves. He could stand close to the fire to keep warm, and it allowed him to be out of the house. After washing the breakfast dishes, he headed to the tool shed with a quick side trip to his room for an old Ozma of Oz paperback that Maddy had given him before she turned Goth.
He loaded up the wheelbarrow with a rake, pitchfork, and a propane torch. Soon afterwards, he stood close enough to a pile of burning leaves to benefit from its warmth. The pitchfork—its handle taller than him—leaned against his shoulder; and his book, propped open in his hand, pulled him into its magical tale. He soon became so engrossed in his reading that he failed to hear Frank angrily walking up behind him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” he shouted, his face bursting red with rage. He stomped on a small line of fire leading away from the main burn pile. “You’re out here to get a job done, not to read this garbage!”
He snatched the book from Cullen’s startled hands and tossed it into the flames. Cullen gave a cry of despair before he could stop himself.
“Well, I see something can get through that thick skull of yours after all!” Frank said, as his bottom lip flattened against his teeth in that sadistic grin.
He stormed back into the house, leaving Cullen to stare dismally at the burning remains of his book. Did he dare pull it out of the fire? He sighed with resignation and let it burn. Frank was probably secretly watching him to see if he would do just that. Cullen hoped he would stay gone for a while. He stayed very still, except to tend to the fire. He didn’t want to give Frank an excuse to come back outside.
Frank, however, returned just a few minutes later carrying a cardboard box. With horror, Cullen realized it contained all of his books. Frank dropped it on the ground next to the fire.
“I’ve had enough of these books,” he spat. “Life isn’t a fairy tale, and it’s high time you learned that. And no more dilly-dallying after school either. From now on, you come home with Rex every day. You need to learn some responsibility.”
Cullen looked at him, confused.
“Well, go on,” Frank said.
Cullen’s confusion gave way to desperation as he realized what Frank wanted him to do. Not his books. Anything but his books.
“Throw them on, one at a time, and watch them burn.”
“But, sir,” Cullen pleaded, “please…”
“Do it, boy. I’m not playing around.”
Cullen looked up into Frank’s face, and he saw that he was completely serious. He also saw a glimmer of joy sparkle in his eyes, even though his face held its normal scowl. He must know what torture this was for Cullen, and he was enjoying it. A distant thought in the back of Cullen’s mind felt pity for a man so miserable in his own life that he must destroy everything around him. But that fleeting thought quickly dissipated at the reality of what he must do.
Cullen approached the fire and tossed the first book on: The Two Towers. He watched it slowly burn as Frank stoked the fire. He threw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on the fire next. One after another he watched them burn, blinking back the tears in his eyes. He wouldn’t let Frank see him cry. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. This was the worst birthday ever.
“That one, too,” Frank said as Cullen clutched his tattered copy of The Hobbit to his chest.
“Please, sir, let me keep just this one. My father gave it to me.”
“Not a chance. It’s time you stopped daydreaming, boy, and learned about the real world. It’s not all magic and fun. Life is hard work and pain. Tell me I’m wrong!”
Frank only scowled as tears filled Cullen’s imploring eyes. “Don’t make me come over there and throw it in for you. I swear to God, you don’t want me to have to do that.”
“No, sir, I wouldn’t,” Cullen said quietly.
He dropped the book on the smoldering fire. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t stop the tears from spilling over his lashes as he watched the pages blacken and curl. He felt his life burn in that fire, the only thing that made living bearable, destroyed. Fire, again, took what he held most dear.
Suddenly, a new hope blossomed within his soul as he remembered the new hardback book still under his mattress. A warm rush of joy entered him and splashed across his face like cool water on a hot summer’s day. He masked his joy immediately by bowing his head and covering his face, just as Frank looked up at him again. That was too close! He couldn’t let Frank see even the slightest glimmer of happiness, or he would know he missed one. Frank didn’t know about the book Ms. MacFey had given him, and Cullen would now have to find a better hiding place for it.
He did his best to stay out of the way of Trudy and Rex that Halloween day. He had always thought it would be really cool to have a birthday on Halloween, but nothing was really cool about living with the Samuels.
Trudy doted on Rex like a small child. The two of them made his pirate costume together. Trudy had even gotten him some really cool black boots. She and Frank planned on going out tonight themselves, so Cullen had to stay and give candy out to the kids. Fine with him! He preferred being alone, especially if the alternative was the Samuels.
The Samuels left for their Halloween party after a stern warning against any foolishness. Trudy finished up the last of her martini and shoved the empty glass in Cullen’s hands. She liked to get an early start on the festivities.
Rex left soon thereafter dressed as a pirate, giving Cullen a slap upside his head on his way out the door.
Once they were gone, Cullen ran to his bedroom and looked under the mattress. Sure enough, the new book Ms. MacFey had given him was right where he left it. All was not lost! He tucked it away deep in the corner so it couldn’t easily be seen, just in case. Tonight, after everyone was asleep, he had to find a good hiding place for it—one that no one would ever find.
The hours crept by as the trick-or-treaters drove up with their parents in their colorful costumes. There was never more than fifteen minutes between groups all evening, but Cullen didn’t mind too much. He, at least, was alone. He smiled when he opened the door at the little kids and some his age, too. Some even from his school, but they didn’t chide him now because he controlled the candy! He didn’t mind not being part of the fun out there, not too much anyway. April and Maddy didn’t come by after all. He bet that April looked adorable in her blind bat costume. He wondered what spell Maddy cast tonight. What required a full moon? He couldn’t wait to see them again on Monday and share stories.
Late that night—well past eleven o’clock—Rex snored soundly, hugging his plastic Jack-o-lantern full of candy, most of which he had bullied away from smaller kids. Cullen watched the Batman clock and stayed quiet until the entire house slept. The clock emitted the time on the ceiling in a beam of light, like the Bat Signal. He had been officially twelve for nearly a full day. What a horrible birthday it had been, his worst ever. When the Bat Signal showed 11:45, he figured it was probably safe to sneak out. The house was silent.
He pulled the small flashlight and his new book from under the corner of his mattress and crept outside. Once he walked a safe distance from the house, he broke into a full run toward the forest. He wasn’t taking any chances on being caught. He had to be quick. The full moon shone brightly, lighting the path before him. He didn’t need the flashlight until he reached the cover of the trees. Even at night, with the light from his tiny flashlight reflecting off the heavy mist, Cullen ran as gracefully as a deer over the stumps and through the trees until he reached his secret grove. Stooping down before his favorite tree, the greatest of the redwoods, he crawled inside the chamber created by its split trunk.
He dropped his book and began to dig frantically with a flat stone he found nearby. He needed to get back as soon as possible in case Rex woke up and saw him gone. He couldn’t risk what would happen to him then. As he dug deeper the mist thickened and the wind picked up, finding its way inside the chamber and blowing his sandy hair into a big tangle.
He looked outside at the full moon peeking through the tops of the giant trees. The sky was completely clear that night. Clear and cold. Clouds came in from nowhere and covered the moon. The familiar fear deep in his stomach began to rise into his throat and choke him. He dug faster. The stone hit something hard in the earth; he thought it to be a root. He reached down to it and found a piece of wood not attached to the tree. It was loose. He picked it up and looked at it in wonder.
“A magic wand!” he exclaimed, as he examined the strange knotty piece of wood. It was about as long as his arm from fingertip to elbow.
The wind died down as suddenly as it had picked up, and the clouds moved away from the moon. The wind didn’t fully stop, however. It whispered. All the trees were whispering in harmony with the wind and the stars and all life around him. They whispered, “Seann.”
“What?” Cullen asked out loud, in spite of himself.
They whispered again, “Seann, Seann, Seann–Daonnan Seann.”
“Daonnan Seann?” Cullen asked.
Was he hearing things? That didn’t make any sense! But as soon as he spoke the words aloud, the wind whipped into a frenzy around him, blowing much more fiercely than ever. A huge bolt of lightning cracked directly above the grove. He jumped out of the tree and screamed, opening his hand to drop his wand; but it didn’t fall. It stuck like glue. He tried to shake it off, but it wouldn’t budge. Terror filled him, body and mind.
The wand in his hand began to grow. First, it sprouted vines and wrapped around his hand, then it began to crawl up his arm. Cullen fell to the ground in utter terror, thoughts of alien invasion throttling his senses. His mind raced and he screamed inside his head, but it didn’t reach his mouth. He was too scared to even scream. Up and up his arm the vines grew. They felt cool and warm at the same time, as they snaked through Cullen’s jacket. When they reached his throat, they spread out down his chest and back and around his neck. Now Cullen really panicked. He would choke to death! He would die out here, alone! No one would find him. He would rot here alone. He desperately clawed at the vines around his throat with his free hand, feeling them squeeze the breath out of him.
Then they were gone.
The wind stilled.
The sky cleared.
The forest was silent.
Attention Readers: As of 7/13/13, there has been exactly one hit on this page and the other three installments. If no one’s reading, I’m not going to post. If you get this far and you want more. Email me, please.