No grandchildren that I can read to during the blasted pandemic! I first presented this post in 2017.
When my three daughters were little I used to tell them stories that, for the most part, I made up on the fly. One such fantasy tale was about two teens, brother and sister, who enjoy a simple life in an idyllic land under the protection of Tutors (wizards). When a dark, festering Evil threatens to overrun their land the kids—Vall and Corrie—join an unlikely trio in a quest to destroy the Evil and save their people. My daughters enjoyed the dramatic way in which I told my stories, and they especially loved one of the characters: a gigantic performing bear named Guff.
Subsequently I turned the story into a YA novel and, under a variety of titles, it went the submission route. A top literary agent took on what by that time was called The Dark Corner, but she could not find a home for it among the Big Five, or Six, or whatever. So back it came, right into my file drawer, where it festered for a long time—until now.
Announcing the publication of The Dark Corner. I’ve always loved this story and felt that it needed to be out there, so now it is. Here are a few sample scenes.
At the beginning of the story, Vall and Corrie are on their way to the learning hall (school). Their dialogue and actions illustrate the simple life they live:
What an amazing South Uncer day! Way too nice, I thought, to sit most of the afternoon in the learning hall, where my sister Corrie and I were now headed.
But you know what, it would be an amazing day tomorrow, and the next day, and the week after that. We had plenty of time to enjoy it too, since our learning day only lasted three hours. And if any of us kids grew tired of all the “boring” beautiful days, then our Gray Tutor could always make it rain or snow. She could do just about anything.
The Bexel Road, which went right through South Uncer, ran alongside the Pebble River. Four miles or so outside the townlet, right off this road, sat our farm. Not many kids had to travel as far to the learning hall as we did. But we always made it there in plenty of time.
Closer to the townlet, the road bustled with activity. Travelers passed in both directions, some on foot, others on horseback. A few held the reins of their two-horse carts. Farmers and dairymen brought their stuff to sell in the marketplace. But we did not see too many kids.
“Maybe it’s because we’re late,” Corrie said, skipping a stone across the river. “Vall, did you hear me?”
I’d been walking ahead of her but stopped to wait. “Probably we’re early, as usual,” I replied. “But if you keep stopping to toss stones or pick flowers or stare at fish, then you can be sure Taffara will make examples of us for being late!”
Corrie grinned. “You’ve said the same thing for years, and for your information it hasn’t happened yet—oh, look!”
A barrelfish had poked the big bulgy eyes on top of its head above the surface of the river. Corrie bent down to stare at the clumsy thing.
“All right, I give up.” I sat down on the bank with a groan.
Wouldn’t you know, they wound up staring each other down for three minutes—which is actually not that long in the sport of fish-staring, unless you’re in a hurry. One time Corrie almost lost her balance. Finally the barrelfish turned and skittered away over the stones on the bottom.
“Yes, I won!” my sister exclaimed and raised both hands over her head. “Vall, did you see?”
I laughed. “You were wonderful. Absolutely amazing. Couldn’t have done better myself. Now let’s go.”
Later, with the spectacular Moon Festival a day away, they encounter Brendin and Guff for the first time:
Not far from the path to our farm we saw a man and a large beast of some kind walking down the Bexel Road. I had just come out of the river, which now twisted across our parents’ barley fields. I stopped when I saw the odd pair and told Corrie to do the same.
“Who do you suppose he is?” I asked.
“Never mind him,” Corrie said. “What about that monster?”
Corrie’s monster was a bear, not one of the sleek, tan creatures that roamed the Gray Shale Mountains. No, this one was much larger, as high as the man’s shoulder even when it lumbered along on all four paws. Its coarse, shaggy fur could’ve been either black or dirty brown. It sure looked menacing, a good enough reason for us to stand our ground.
The man, a tall, tattered fellow, had thick yellow/gray hair. I guessed he was about forty or so, like my father. His face seemed kind of kid-like, and I found it hard to be distrustful of him. Even so, we backed up a step as he came nearer.
“Hello!” the man called in a cheerful voice, stopping five yards away. “Sit down, Guff,” he said to the bear. “I want to visit with these young people.”
They encounter Brendin again the next day. He will not perform at the Festival; too much competition. But in a serious, cryptic tone he tells Vall and Corrie that they will see him again.
Some incidents at the otherwise successful Moon Festival hint at the Evil trying to re-assert itself all across Edgeland. And the ensuing year proves disastrous for their little town. Their protector dies and is replaced by a seemingly incompetent apprentice named Begen. There are accidents, apparent thefts, and finally, people disappearing. When the town’s sacred Books of Edgeland are destroyed, its talisman stolen—by Begen, it seems—the people can deny it no longer: the Evil, once confined to the Dark Corner of Edgeland, is re-emerging.
Led by Vall and Corrie’s parents, the people arm themselves and set off for the Dark Corner. The kids, despite wanting to go, are left behind. But not for long. Brendin and Guff appear, the busker saying that it is their destiny to join him in an attempt to defeat the Evil. The final scene in Part I illustrates the serious turn that the story has taken.
The bear busker sat under a tree near the river. Guff lay at his side like a great shaggy dog. The horses snorted and reared in the presence of the bear. I hadn’t even thought about that.
“They’ll grow accustomed to Guff,” Brendin said as he helped us calm the beasts. “Are these the best you have?”
I glared at him. “They’re farm animals, not steeds to carry crazy adventurers on desperate quests!”
“Well, that’s what they will have to be.” Brendin shrugged. “Are the two of you ready?”
With the horses under control, Corrie knelt by the river for a drink. A barrelfish glided across the stones, then stopped and poked its bulging eyes above the surface. It seemed to say Play with me, play. Let’s see who can win this time.
Corrie sighed. “Not now, my little friend. Not now. Maybe when this is over, I can be a kid again.”
The barrelfish scuttled away. Turning her back on the Pebble River, Corrie rejoined Brendin and me.
The dangerous trek across Edgeland comprises the greater portion of the story and is full of adventure and magic as our brave band struggles to resist the growing power of the Evil. Even should they survive these dangers they still must pass through the Crimson Wall, the cryptic barrier that separates the Dark Corner from the rest of Edgeland.
Although I’m calling this a YA fantasy, I believe The Dark Corner can be enjoyed by all ages. Heck, didn’t we “older folks” read Harry Potter and other stories in this genre? The Dark Corner is available from Amazon as an eBook and in paperback.