Today we have a sneak peek at an exciting Fall 2017 book from BookThug: Oisín Curran's Blood Fable will be released in October, but you can read an excerpt now, exclusively on Open Book.
In Blood Fable, the utopian Buddhist community New Pond, tucked on the picturesque Maine coast, is in turmoil. Their charismatic but problematic leader's demands are growing more and more unreasonable, and the community members are slowly waking up to how exploitative he has become.
Through the lens of one young boy, the 11-year old son of two community members, we get a view of the slow motion collapse, even as he retreats into his imagination to cope with the adult anxiety around him. The story within a story of Blood Fable is the boy's claim to remember a past life, an epic adventure searching for a lost city. To their surprise, his parents find much of their community's issues reflected, and even predicted, in his strange story.
Read on to get a taste of Blood Fable, which has been called "an adventure for the heart and soul" by Johanna Skibsrud, courtesy of BookThug.
Excerpt: Blood Fable by Oisín Curran
DEATH FALLS! my father cried and whirled his ax, Death falls on your neck! Ax flashed through the sky and fell — birch log snapped in two; Myles rested, glasses crooked, head bound in a white rag, black hair on end — demented samurai. I caught up the log halves, stacked them and placed a whole one upright for division.
He was half-answering a question half-heard.
The night before, a drunken hunter had mistaken my cat Shadow for a raccoon and shot her. Or so we guessed – we never met the man, but armed drinkers were known to stagger through the woods and Shadow did look a bit like a raccoon, especially at night, which is when they're hunted in these parts. In any case, she was dead. We found her in the morning under her favourite tree.
Though she was my first love and though the blood from her bullet wound covered me, I didn't cry. My mother wrapped her in an old bed sheet while my father dug her grave. As she disappeared under handfuls of dirt it occurred to me that she’d been likewise invisible before I watched her slip from her mother’s body four years earlier. For that invisibility I had no name; perhaps it too was death. The rest of the morning I considered the matter with desperate attention to quell the sob welling in my chest because I thought it would kill me if I let it. For added distraction, I spoke to Myles.
Do we go back to death because we're born from it?
Death is simple, he declaimed, Unlike birth which is a feat of unparalleled difficulty. A feat of rage – explosive. We each of us seek our incarnation.
Ax fell again and wedged in the log. Face locked in a vicious grin, Myles raised ax with log and hammered both against the stump. Sweat flew from him and from the rag on his head and the rag at his neck and his dripping shirt, until the log sundered and he leaned against a tree, breathless and purple.
You chose us, he gasped, straightening his glasses, You picked us out and now we’re in for it.
From her position nearby where she was planting a spindly pear sapling over Shadow’s grave, Iris called out that although I was, without question, the cause of their union, I couldn’t be blamed. Myles replied that I certainly could be – it was only logical.
I blame him, he said proudly, but I admire him – the effort it must have taken to force the two of us together. To beget is simple – to be gotten is a trial of cunning and tenacity.
Iris raised her dirt-streaked, tear-stained face at this and retorted, For a man to beget is to pleasurably pollinate. For a woman - nine months of possession ending in painful dispossession.
An event you bungled, Myles grunted as he smote the next log. I slapped black-flies and gaped at a smeared rainbow of spilt chainsaw fuel. I daydreamed, or tried to, but it was no use... their voices rose inch by inch.
Like Caesar's mother, Myles went on, You required a blade.
Inform your son where you were then! she exclaimed, Bidding adieu to your other lovers while your child was cut from my body.
It was a joke! he said. I don't fault you that our son refused to come out the way he went in.
The way he went in? said Iris. I see Catholic school left you with medieval fantasies about human reproduction!
Myles ignored this, saying that as for severing ties with lovers, he’d done that long before, months before, and, as she well knew, on the day of my birth he walked with trepidation in the hospital gardens as though in some anti-Gethsemene, awaiting the arrival of his son, his heir, his fate.
Yes, of course, now Iris remembered (how could she forget?) that he had strolled among the lilacs while she bled.
This, said Myles, Is rank exaggeration, as usual, but how, in any case, could she be expected to remember anything from that glorious day when she was doped to the gills for the knife, while he, he was in a state of ecstatic transport as he beheld and held me in his arms for the first time.
As they disputed, I felt a strange interior tug as though a different source of gravity were pulling me at an oblique upward angle. The combined force of the twinned gravities, one internal, one terrestrial, produced a lateral floating sensation.
I remember, I said quietly but abruptly, and fell to the ground.
Here in the woods on the coast of Maine in 1980, a hundred years had passed since a shovel had delved this soil, or ax split the local wood; the stones of an old farmhouse foundation had become the outline of a frog pond and trees swarmed over the swampy ground shrouding all signs of human toil. Then Myles and Iris joined a nearby Buddhist community, bought these few acres and began to reclaim them with chainsaws and fire. For my part, I advanced with a pint-sized saw through the close alders whispering apologies to the saplings I gingerly severed from their roots and watching salamanders start slowly from beneath overturned stones. And later, after the wreckage and the bonfires, the crack of hammer blows bounced back from the receded forest as my father and his fellow disciples raised beam over post and a house stood once again on the land.
In the middle of that land, on a clump of grass I now lay, feet to the trees, head to the house. Loose corners of black tar paper were flapping and the plastic over the window openings bellied and smacked in a wind that blew over the forest from the ocean. And how do I recall these details? I don’t. Nor do I remember my parents kneeling above my damp body waving away the black-flies; panic-stricken as I spoke. They tell me my eyeballs were rolling in their sockets and my joints were rigid. I was muttering something about an old building full of new music, an accident.
Myles picked me up from the grass and carried me to the car. Iris rushed ahead to prepare a battery of flower remedies and herbal tinctures. Settled on the back seat of our station wagon, staring blindly upward, I continued, something about Sad hallways, Illness, Death waiting, threatening.
My poor little pumpkin seed, Iris cried climbing in next to me, squirting liquids in my mouth, massaging ointments into my temples. Hurry! she said to Myles who threw the car in reverse, tore out into the road and bounced off over the dirt road's potholes at top speed.
Slow down! said Iris.
Make up your mind! shouted Myles, compromising between her two commands by easing off the gas pedal for a few seconds before flooring it again while saying, Write it all down.
I went on, speaking of a Fugitive on the run, but the images were scattered, no story jelled.
My little beetle, said Iris, by now typing dictation at warp-speed on her manual Olivetti, which was rarely far from her side. In the months that followed those images became a story. As I told it, Myles also took notes, scrawling in his nearly illegible (but aesthetically intriguing) penmanship. When I retrieved those notes years later he told me that he still intended to devise from them a vast mythopoetic hermeneutic just as William Butler Yeats had done with his wife’s automatic writing.
For her part, Iris had undertaken structural adjustments and revisions of my muddled, run-on sentences. The onion-skin sheaves of her typing would, over time, come to contain great quantities of cross-outs and notes in the margins, alongside the sketches she planned to turn into illustrations. It is from my parents’ combined records that I have reconstructed that narration so it comes filtered through the syntax and vocabulary of three adults.
In the backseat of the car I apparently babbled of a bridge spanning the interior of a glowing world.
Dimly I heard my father exclaiming from the driver’s seat that I was experiencing some kind of visionary state.
Or a seizure! said Iris, unhappily.
Or a mystic trance! Like Edgar Cayce, said Myles. He may have access to another plane of consciousness.
Just hurry, said Iris, But not too fast.
A seizure? No. I knew about Edgar Cayce, the Sleeping Prophet, the mystic clairvoyant. Back then it was hard to avoid him. My parents and their friends spoke often of his various predictions, especially, and with secret hope, the imminent disappearance of California under the waves. But for my part, no. No seizure, no vision. I’d grown sick of the heat and of my parents’ argument and felt dizzy enough to lie down. Well maybe I fainted a bit, I won’t deny the possibility. And if I did, that would explain the little bits of dream I spoke as I came around. The combination of collapse and surreal utterance electrified Myles and Iris. They stopped bickering and bent their attention on me. I couldn’t disappoint them. And anyway, I wanted to find out what happened next. So I went on, as best I could. It’s not as easy as it sounds, making things up and pretending you’re not, especially when there’s so little material, just a small, strange jumble of images, among them: a traveller in need, in peril, sheltered, smuggled to safety; a headless bird, feathers and blood everywhere, shining guts, a gleaming treasure trove, a sinking boat — there were more but in my fainting spell they’d spat themselves at me too fast to hold. Then they slowed until, at last, they settled on a scene of quiet waves sieving through a pebble beach.
WRAPPED IN an old coat, I sleep on a beach. Stones squeak. Lonely sound – hollow shoes on hollow planet. City shoes, expensive once, strange for a sailor, which is what he is — the one wearing them. At least, I think he is. He could be lots of things. Hard to tell how old he is too. Thirty? Not yet, but on the verge. He walks up to me where I'm lying in the cloudy light, and says all is ready, the ship prepared, crew assembled, and I should come at midnight because he'll be on watch then and can smuggle me aboard.
Rook (that's his name) makes a strange face that bends his broken nose (but that's the shape of his smile) and then walks away. His hair looks like black springs that bounce when he moves.
I don't follow him, won't press my luck – following was how I got to him in the first place. Last week I saw him smoking on the beach and realized he was from the Lizzy Madge. I took my chance and asked him to get me on board. That was the first time I saw his snarl-smile, his big black hair, short thick braid in the back, wide black eyes, brown skin, long, thin, twisted nose. He wanted to know if I had any money. I had a little. He nodded, scratched his chin, said he'd think about it.
So, this day, three later, full of hope and fear, I go to my sea-cave, the driest of the holes in the headland on the border of the beach. It's where I’ve lived for the past weeks, subsisting on raw bivalves and leftovers from back alley trashcans of Night Harbour.
Where I come from I don't remember. One afternoon I woke up on the beach not far from the mouth of the sea-cave. No past, no old life to recall, no idea who I was or where I came from. Just some images, or pieces of them, which I hold tight since they’re all I have of who I once was. Every hour of every day I tend my collection, gathering it in my mind’s eye — my little trove of visions. I lay them out one by one in the darkness of my thoughts, to contemplate and polish.
an old house in the night, music leaking out
a car accident on a long road
a green waiting room, death in the shadows
the belly of a glittering planet
a man from a faraway country seeking refuge
an axe on a bloody stump, head of a bird on a bed of feathers and shining guts
a treasure of silver coins
two people up to their ankles in water on a sinking boat
a spectre on a desolate road at night
a ghost with a gun, a shot, a wound
a rainbow of light flashing on a wall in a room full of children
firewood dragged on a sled from a broken forest through blue snow, cold blue air
a round loaf of bread hot from the oven, end cut and buttered, steam rising from it
a woman (my mother?) in bed, pale, in pain
an explosion of light in the middle of a dark night
a brown-haired girl betrayed, face once vivid, now ashen
an old book with my own life printed inside it
two men fighting in thick snow, moon behind thick, sky-spanning clouds, dark trees pointing up to it.
I march those images onto an interior stage and let them play and replay while I survive. And there they form their own kind of gravity, which pulls me toward a final sight, a city. It’s a place I’ve never known, but I can see it clearly: tall buildings with a big river flowing between them in waterfall after waterfall and somewhere nearby there’s a park full of lilacs. So many lilacs the scent is strong, sweet, almost sickish. The city isn’t just a city, it's City. I feel it in my muscles, my sweat, my nose and tongue. It pulls my bones like the earth pulls a stone, but the direction it pulls me is out to sea.
Oisín Curran grew up in rural Maine. He received a BA in Classics and an MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University (where he was the recipient of a national scholarship and a writing fellowship), and a diploma in Translation (French to English) from Concordia University. He is the author of Mopus (2008) and was named a “Writer to Watch” by CBC: Canada Writes. Curran lives in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, with his wife and two children.
For more on Blood Fable, visit the BookThug website.