Jason Erik Lundberg‘s fiction is forthcoming from Subterranean Magazine and Polyphony 7.

Luc Reid writes about the psychology of habits at The Willpower Engine. His new eBook is Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories.

Angela Slatter’s story ‘Frozen’ will appear in the December 09 issue of Doorways Magazine, and ‘The Girl with No Hands’ will appear in the next issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Kat Beyer’s Cabal story “A Change In Government” has been nominated for a BSFA award for best short fiction.

The Lord of the Hills

by Rudi Dornemann

Alan had told the story himself, scared younger kids in the neighborhood when he was growing up.

Toward the crest of the hill, past the last house, a path in the woods: you had to know where it was, especially in the dark. Not the path up to the bald rock hilltop where the high school kids drank, looked down at the lights of Hartford, and smashed bottles.

A path to where ruined cellar walls marked the site of the house, where an old man had lived in the 1800’s, dabbled in witchcraft, and spelled himself not into a single bird, but a whole flock. His mind came back together at night, and then not quite enough. You could almost make out the old warlock talking to himself.

Alan hadn’t been in these woods in years. Not since dad died and mom moved away. He found what he thought was the path, a trail of matted leaves between the birches and through the raspberry canes thicket.

They said you’d hear secrets, if you came up alone, stayed very quiet. The crows would come, hundreds of them, and cover the tree. In their squawking you could hear voices. If you had questions, you’d hear answers.

The crows did come. Silhouettes against the snow-illuminated clouds, circling away and back. He listened, and, eventually heard. What the birds had seen; what they’d heard. A city day; crumbs of lives.

But not the answers he wanted. Was the first test wrong, or the second? Would the experimental treatment work? How long if it didn’t?

He kept listening, his feet soaked with melted snow. Waiting for some fragment of a sign, something he could tell himself was an answer. Nothing.

Nothing but what some he said to some her, what she did, what he thought, what someone else thought they saw, what happened after that. In the early hours, exhausted, shivering, he lost himself in the fragments; all stars and no constellations.

He half-hoped that it would ground him, give him perspective, make the rest easier. But he still had a prescription bottle in his pocket rattling near empty and a day full of appointments.

He hiked out at dawn.

Part of him stayed behind to join the story told and retold by the Lord of the Hills. This still wasn’t an answer, but it would continue, as long as there were crows to fly or trees to roost in.

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3 Responses to “The Lord of the Hills”

  1. Daniel Says:

    January 20th, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    “…he lost himself in the fragments, all stars and no constellations.” I love that line.
    This is a great window onto a cool setting and speculative element, a place where you can hear answers. This story, like so many others I’ve read here could easily and delightfully expand out of thier 400 word incarnations…

  2. Luc Reid Says:

    January 20th, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    I was a bit confused by this, but the ideas behind it really grabbed me. I love the idea that the character might have been able to get some answers from the crows. Not to say that he should have, but why didn’t he?

  3. Rudi Says:

    January 21st, 2009 at 11:42 am

    It’s always hard to tell if there’s more going on in my head than on the page, so I hope I didn’t do that here.
    I was thinking that the crow intelligence knows what it can observe while scattered, and — while that might answer a lot of questions you could ask — it wouldn’t necessarily answer the questions Alan’s brining.