Short Story Collection Excerpt

Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World by Caroline M. Yoachim

My collection comes out on August 16th, one week from today!

If you want a sample of my work, many of the stories are available to read online (see my publications page for a complete list), but I thought it would be fun to post a teaser from one of the two original stories in the collection.

The excerpt below comes from the opening of “On the Pages of a Sketchbook Universe,” a secondary world fantasy novelette.

Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories is available for Pre-order at:
Fairwood PressAmazonBarnes and Noble


On the Pages of a Sketchbook Universe

The First Page of the Sketchbook

In a sketchbook of pure white paper, a watercolor king met a pencil queen.

The king was made of sixteen shades of watercolor paint, with colors pressed together in thin diagonal stripes. His fingertips were brushes and his heart was a jar of water that had no lid.   He dipped the end of his pinky-finger brush into his heartwater and loaded the brush with yellow paint from the stripe that ran down his neck.

He touched his brush to the blankness of the white, leaving a tiny dot of yellow that spread into a circle as it seeped into the page.

Nothing happened.

The queen was stiff and straight, made of wooden pencils with graphite cores. Her joints were erasers and her heart was a steel blade. She pulled one fingertip across her heartblade until the graphite core came to a delicate point, and tiny curls of wood dropped down to the page. She scooped them up and offered them to the king, but he shook his head.   He had no use for them. It seemed wrong to discard little bits of herself, so the queen held the shavings with one hand and used the sharpened finger of her other hand to draw a box.

She drew an outline in delicate straight lines, but nothing happened.

The king came to examine her sketch, and when he reached out to touch it a smear of yellow stained one corner of the box. As the paint dried, the corner began to jut out from the paper, as solid and real as the queen and king.

The queen sketched the king’s yellow circle into a sun, which rose above them and lit the page in a glorious warm light. The king painted the rest of the box, and the queen put her pencilself shavings inside. Together they created a forest of deep green pines and a sparkling blue lake. The queen sketched distant mountains and a handful of clouds to diffuse the light of the yellow sun. Everything she sketched, the king painted, and together they created a beautiful realm.

The clouds darkened, and rain began to fall. Water ran down the king’s face and pulled his paint down to the paper, leaving murky brown puddles of mud on the once-white ground. He ran and hid beneath the branches of a dark green pine, horrified that the clouds they had created could turn against him so thoroughly.

In this, his first moment of need, the queen abandoned him, disappearing into the vast undrawn white. He huddled against the tree and waited for the rain to stop.

#

The pencil queen had come to love the watercolor king, for his colors were beautiful. The box he’d painted for her pencilself shavings fit neatly into her chest, nestling up against the blade of her heart. When the rain drove him into hiding, she decided to sketch him a castle, a place where he could be safe.

A castle required an empty expanse of paper, so she left the forest and walked toward the center of the page. As she traveled, most of the page was pure and blank and white, but halfway between the upper bindings and the unbound lower edge, there was a great rift, a tear in the paper. She detoured to walk the length of the tear. It ran a great distance, starting at the leftmost edge of the page and running nearly to the center. On the right side of the page, there was a second tear, a mirror-image of the first. She sketched a large stone at the end of each tear, in hopes that the weight of the rocks would keep the rifts from spreading. When she finished sketching the king’s castle, she would ask him to paint the rocks real.

The queen continued on past the rifts, and found a wide expanse of blank paper. She sharpened all her fingers to make the work go faster and placed her shavings into their box. White paper gave way to sketched-stone walls–storerooms and apartments and a cavernous great hall, all connected with covered walkways so that the king would never need to face the weather. At each corner, she drew a tall tower, so that he could look out over the realm in all directions. In the center of the castle she sketched an even taller tower, so that she and her king could sleep close to the heavens.

By the time she had finished, the rain had stopped, so she returned to the forest and found the watercolor king.

“Did it honestly take you this long to realize you can’t make anything real without me?” the king asked. His diagonal stripes were smeared from the rain, and all around him were formless blobs of paint where he had tried to make–something–in her absence.

“I was drawing a surprise for you,” she said, but her excitement about the castle was dampened by her guilt at leaving him to suffer the rain alone.

#

It was many days’ work to paint the castle, and by the time it was finished the king had forgiven the queen for abandoning him in the rain. He fell in love with her angles and her strength, and he admired the delicate lines that she drew. He painted the rocks she had sketched to stop the page from tearing, and admired her foresight and ingenuity.

The queen drew birds and beasts and fish to live in their beautiful realm, and he brought them to life with his colors. He painted the night sky black, and she sketched a moon and stars. He painted the celestial bodies in whites and yellows and tossed them into the sky.

“Let’s make ourselves a child,” the king said. It was the right time. From his tower window, he could see reflections of moonlight dancing on the lake. “We’ve made a beautiful world, and all it needs is a child for us to share it with.”

They’d left one wall of their tower bedroom blank with the original page, intended for just such a purpose. The queen began to sketch a pencil child.

“I thought,” the king said, “that we could have a watercolor child.”

“The eldest will be heir to the realm. Clearly a pencil princess is the better choice. When she is finished, she can sketch herself a prince that is to her liking.”

“It is no more your realm than it is mine,” the king answered. “If not for my paint, your sketches wouldn’t even be real. A watercolor prince would make a fine heir.”

“And then what? He would paint a formless princess for me to sketch?” The queen kept drawing her straight-lined wooden child, with a sharp-blade heart and eraser joints. “I’m not going to sketch you a prince.”

“And I’m not going to paint you a princess,” the king said.

So the royal couple remained childless, and the heir was nothing but a sketch, abandoned in the highest tower of the castle.

#

Strange art crept in from beyond the edge of the realm, giant lizards that flew and breathed fire. The king named the creatures dragons. They gathered on the white page beyond the proper boundary of the realm, up near the bindings of the page. Periodically, they fought amongst themselves, soaring high above the page and spewing jets of fire from their mouths.

“The fire is too dangerous. We must fight the dragons,” the queen said, “before they destroy the realm.”

“They have done nothing to attack us,” the king said, “and they only breathe their fire when they are in the sky, well away from the paper.”

“This is our page of the sketchbook, and we have to defend it. The beasts have been flying wide circles over the realm, scouting. It is only a matter of time before the dragons attack the castle, and everything we’ve worked so hard to create will be destroyed.”

“We should have someone to tend the realm if we fail,” the king said, choosing his words carefully. “Perhaps instead of one heir, we could have two, a prince and a princess–”

The queen didn’t let him finish. Her mind was as rigid as the pencils that formed her body, and she lacked the flexibility for compromise. She believed the realm had to be controlled by someone who could sketch. She led the king up to their tower and pointed to her sketch of the pencil princess. “Here. This is your heir. Paint her and be done with it.”

She left without waiting for the king to reply.

The king considered the drawing. It had the form of a princess, true, but that didn’t mean he had to paint the child as pencils. He dipped a red fingertip into his heartwater and painted the core of one pencil red. He did the outside of the pencil in red paint, too, all but the bit of wood where the pencil had been drawn already sharpened. That detail was a credit to the queen–the heir would not begin with blunted fingers, as she had, but would begin life ready to create art.

He stepped back to admire his work. A red pencil with a core of watercolor paint. He set to work on the rest of the sketch, giving the heir watercolor pencils in all his sixteen shades, and four ordinary graphite pencils as a token to the queen.


 

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