The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Eleven

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Content Warning: Strong language


For a heartbeat no one spoke.

Em’s wide eyes, filled with surprise, flickered from one face to the next, her grip tightening reflexively around May’s shoulder.

“Dom, what the fuck?” she demanded. She looked ready to run or fight, whichever was necessary first.

Holding his palms up in surrender, Dom kept his focus locked on her. He could sense her mix of fear and anger from where he stood. A part of him wanted to bridge that gap, to coax her down to a peaceful place with a compassionate touch. He knew her well enough to stay back. His heart ached, reflecting on how he had hoped his first reunion with these friends would go; so different from the scenario he found himself in now.

“Please, Em,” he begged. “These people need your help. You’ve got to know I wouldn’t have lead them to you if I didn’t believe that.”

And that was the problem – Em did know Dom believed he was doing the right thing. He was so good, and helping people was in his nature. For the first time she regretted not being more honest with him, for waiting so long to tell him her truth in what wound up being just a hastily abridged version anyway. She didn’t know what these people told him but there was no way he could have realized just how far away from them she had hoped to stay. For that she had no one to blame but herself.

Despite having tried to avoid it, Em eventually let herself look at the man gaping at her from the centre of the room. His dark eyes were troubled beneath a mess of unruly red hair, his expression that of someone who had just been slapped – hard. His companions glanced uncomfortably between him and Em, none of them speaking until the blond man with sad green eyes cleared his throat.

“We aren’t here to hurt you,” he said, his voice gentle and low. “But he’s right, we need your help. We’ve been trying to find you for a long time and we hope you’ll hear us out.”

Em licked her lips and let out a shaky exhale. It took her a moment to reply.

“Why us? Why me?”

The man opened his mouth to answer but it was his redheaded friend that stepped forward.

“It’s a long story, so we should probably start from the beginning.” He offered his hand for her to shake. He didn’t smile. “My name is Jeremy.”

May let out a barely audible gasp, flinching imperceptibly to everyone but Em, whose arm was still draped protectively around her. Instead of acknowledging May’s surprise, Em took Jeremy’s hand and gave it a single, firm shake.

“Emanthy.”

The moment between the two seem to hang, but around them their friends exchanged wide-eyed glances. Everyone was tense.

At last Jeremy pulled back his hand and gestured to his companions.

“This is Connor,” he said of his blond friend. “His wife, Rue. And that’s Priva.”

Jeremy watched Em’s face carefully as he spoke, looking for something he didn’t seem to find as she nodded curtly in turn from Connor, to the golden-eyed Rue, and finally at Priva, who at least gave a slight wave back. In response, Jeremy frowned deeper and looked away, missing the way Em’s knuckles faded to white as she gripped at the loose edges of May’s shirt – the only hint she was reeling.

Another deep breath. Em slid her hand – clammy with nerves – to the small of May’s back and rolled her shoulders so she stood a little taller.

“I see you’ve already met my girlfriend, May.”

A person would have to be dead to miss the shockwave that shot through the room. May forced a small smile and resisted the urge to press tighter into the protection of Em’s side. She wasn’t sure what had happened but she knew the mood had gone from bad to worse. With anxiety swelling inside her she watched as Connor, Rue, and Priva glanced at one another but said nothing. Between them, May could see Dom holding his breath.

Jeremy remained locked on Em, his jaw tight and his expression stiff.

“It’s nice to meet you both,” he said at last, turning away as he did so.

May met Em’s eyes.

She wondered if Em could tell he was lying, too.


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Ten

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Content Warning: Strong language


It didn’t take long for May’s cheerful excitement to give way to unease.

“As much as I’d like to believe you just wanted to surprise us, something -” she glanced back at Dom’s unfamiliar travelling companions “- tells me this isn’t a social visit.”

Dom’s jaw tightened. He gave May’s hand a quick squeeze.

“I wish, Maybe. I really do.”

“What’s going on?” Worry settled heavy across her brow. “Who are-”

“Let’s wait until we’re somewhere more private before we get into it, okay?” Dom cut her off. May didn’t argue.

They made their way out the back of the tent and into an open lot teeming with activity. May waved and exchanged quick words with the fellow cast and crew milling around. The last remnants of the night’s props were being locked away in the shipping crates and boisterous laughter drifted from an inviting-look dining tent. Beyond that, a sea of mobile trailers clustered just out of the tent’s circle of light.

“You’ve gotta tell me what this “Ginger” thing is all about,” Dom remarked after a fourth person referred to May by the name.

May laughed quietly. “We’re on the run, Dominic. It wouldn’t make much sense to go by our real names, now would it?”

“Fair enough.” He gestured at the scene around them. “Nice work hiding in plain sight by the way.”

At this, May beamed. “Yeah, we’re pretty proud of ourselves.”

“You must be happy to be dancing again.”

“I really am. I didn’t realize how much I missed it, to be honest.”

A voice was cleared from behind the pair, who looked over their shoulders in unison.

“Your performance was very lovely,” said one of the two women who followed them with a soft smile. “You’re very talented.”

May flushed; for someone who loved to perform, she was still getting accustomed to praise.

“Thank you! That’s very sweet of you to say.”

Her gaze lingered on the woman a moment longer. She was striking; warm brown skin that was etched with painstakingly detailed tattoos on her face and forearms. But it was her brilliant golden eyes that held May’s attention the most, their familiarity causing her to shiver involuntarily.

Giving her head a slight shake, May hoped she hadn’t been staring too long and changed the subject.

“Rose was in the shower when Bertram came to find us,” she said, speaking Rose’s name slowly as though she were still getting used to it herself. “But she should be done by now.”

They made their way through the small village of trailers to one with fairy lights framing the door. May skipped up the steps and poked her head inside.

“Babe?” she called and listened for a reply. Jeremy tensed and shot Dom a look who pretended not to notice. “Huh. Maybe she went looking for me. Would you like to wait inside?”

The troupe filed into the cramped trailer – a space not suited for quite so many bodies – and clustered in the awkward silence that followed.

“Sorry it’s so small,” May murmured, bashfully shoving stray laundry out of sight. “The other trailers have more room but we took this one so we wouldn’t have to share with anyone else.”

“Smooth,” Dom replied with a chuckle. He nudged at her with his elbow, bringing the blush back to her cheeks. She gave him a swat.

“So what’s going on?” She gave the group of strangers her full attention for the first time. She tried to ignore the anxiety that gnawed at her gut under the intense stare of the man with fiery hair. He had been fixated on her from the very first moment – the entire walk to the trailer she had felt his dark eyes boring into her, but now she couldn’t avoid them. “Is everything okay?”

Before Dom could reply, the red-haired man reached into his pocket and produced a tattered, folded piece of paper. Opening it carefully he stepped forward and handed it to her without a word.

Panic gripped May’s insides when she saw the photo – herself and Em, caught on a security camera in Tenna nearly a year ago. She could pinpoint the moment precisely, her shoulder wedged under Em’s arm as the two wove through alleys to escape a Loyal agent named Melanie.

“Why do you have this?” May’s voice hitched, her breathing shallow. Her eyes darted fearfully from the man to her friend. “Dom, what is this?”

“May, listen,” he tried to sound reassuring but there was grief in his expression that filled May with dread. “You’ve got to hear them out.”

But her mind was already racing.

“We trusted you.” May felt as though she were looking at a stranger. She couldn’t imagine anyone who knew about that day in the photo having anything but bad reasons for wanting to find her and Em – surely Dom realized that. “Dom, how could you bring them here?”

With her heartbeat thundering in her ears, May could see that the others were talking to her but she was too busy scouring the room for a way out. The strangers blocked her path – would she be able to fight her way through?

“We’re not here to hurt you,” insisted another one of the strangers; the other man, beautiful and earnest. He reached tenderly to her as though she were a wounded, frightened animal and she jerked away only to back into Dom.

“C’mon, Maybe,” he pleaded. “Just list-”

Panic overcame her and she screamed. Aliases be damned, she screamed Em’s name and lunged for the door just as it swung open. Dom and the strangers pulled back in surprise, leaving room for May to stumble into the arms of a woman with pearlescent skin. Hair like polished silver poked out from where it had been hastily tucked beneath the ragged ball cap Dom has often seen her wearing in the photos she sent him. She clutched May close while her haunting diamond-blue eyes took in the scene.

The room went silent and she spoke.

“What the fuck is going on?”


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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter One

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Content Warning: Brief, non-explicit insinuation of past sexual assault 


May should not have been standing at that door.

There was a foggy sense of purpose egging her on from a dark corner of her mind. Her hand trembled as she raised it to knock weakly. If someone had asked her in that moment why she was there, she wouldn’t have been able to answer, aside from insisting it was something she needed to do.

It wasn’t until she heard the lock click that the bottom of her stomach gave out. Her extremities tingled and a roaring filled her ears.

No. This isn’t right.

From across the threshold, Kane smiled down at her with cruel satisfaction. Dim light from his apartment framed him in the night; a dark and dangerous silhouette.

Wait, no.

He didn’t touch her – didn’t say a word – just stood back to let her in.

As if under a spell, she stepped past him and listened in dread at the sound of the door closing, the deadlock clicking into place.

Stop. Stop, what are you doing? Go back.

He was on her in an instant, his hands rough and unforgiving. She cried out of fear. She cried out of shame and pain. But he didn’t stop.

He never stopped.

It was only while she was in the thick of reliving one of her worst memories that May would realize that’s all it was – a memory. A dream.

She’d wake up in a cold sweat, often in tears, shaking and confused. It didn’t happen as often as it once did – before Em had washed up into her life – but that didn’t make it any less terrifying when the nightmares came.

Tonight’s dream was no different. May fought for wakefulness to escape it.

“Hey,” a soft voice came from beside her in the darkness of the room. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re alright, babe.”

May felt Em’s arms encircle her, strong and warm. She collapsed into her and took a few deep breaths. Em’s familiar, airy scent filled her senses and grounded her in the present.

“The dream again?” Em squeezed May’s shoulders gently. May nodded against the crook of her neck.

“I’m sorry, babe.”

Pulling back, May brushed away a stray tear and exhaled. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Moonlight streamed in through the open window and lit Em’s pale diamond eyes; her gaze was full of loving concern.

“It’s alright,” May mumbled, trying to bury the fading visions from her mind with a light shake of her head. “I woke up a lot sooner than last time.”

Em frowned. “It’s been such a long time since the last one. Is everything okay?”

It was a difficult question to answer given the circumstances.

The pair had been travelling for months; so many May long since lost count. They moved frequently but made their stops memorable. May had done more since she and Em fled Hoku than she had in the rest of her life combined. The rich, earthy scent of the vineyards they were working on wafted in from the window; it must have just rained.

But for all the amazing experiences and wonderful people they met along the way, it was never far from May’s mind that they were on the run. They had only come to this vineyard a few weeks ago, making money by working the vines by day and enjoying free wine and each other by night. Yet they were already making plans to leave. Where to head next had been the last thing the two  talked about before falling asleep that night.

May bit her lip. She didn’t want Em to worry – to think she was having regrets about leaving her home behind. But Em was giving her that look and she knew dancing around the truth wouldn’t get her very far.

“I think…” May swallowed. “I think I might be a little tired.”

It took a moment for Em to catch on. “Is this about the move?”

With a shrug, May nodded sheepishly.

“It might be. I can’t say for sure. But…” she let out a sigh. “I don’t know. It’s not like I’m not happy or enjoying seeing the world. I just-”

“No, I get it.” Em gently brushed a rosy curl from May’s forehead. “You’re right – this way of life can be exhausting. Being on the lam is stressful. Maybe we can find a place to settle for a while. A bit of routine couldn’t hurt as long as we don’t get sloppy.”

May smiled in appreciation; Em always found the words when she couldn’t. She took Em’s hand in hers and pressed it to her lips.

It was only then May realized Em was sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Were you already up?” She glanced back at Em’s side of the tiny bed they shared. The blankets were tossed aside, the pillow was on the floor.

“Couldn’t sleep.” Em’s eyes flitted to the window and at once May understood.

“Still nothing?

“Not a thing.”

Try as she might, Em hadn’t been able to make contact with Welkin. She spent long nights casting her vibrations into the sky and receiving nothing back but the regular noise bouncing around the universe. Em tried her best to downplay her concern, but May could tell not knowing what had become of the Star was wearing on her. Her gaze was unfocused, her thoughts far, far away.

“They’ll find their way back to us sooner or later,” May assured softly, trailing her fingers up and down Em’s forearm.

Em blinked, bringing herself back to the moment. She smiled at May. “Yeah. I’ll try again some other night.”

Still far from being ready to go back to sleep, May returned Em’s smile before leaning in, letting their lips meet in a soft, slow kiss.

“Want to make out until we fall asleep?” she asked in a honey-soaked voice. She trailed her fingers all the way up Em’s arm this time and used them to trace her jawline with a feather-light touch.

Em raised an eyebrow. “I would hope making out with me wouldn’t put you to sleep.”

A playful look settled across May’s face.

“Maybe we can keep each other awake instead.”

With a sly grin of her own, Em crawled up May’s lap and crushed another more urgent kiss against her lips.

“Now that I can do,” she murmured, her voice low, mouth still grazing May’s with tantalizing proximity.

They fell into one another, letting the softness of skin on skin and the heat of desire drown out all the worries and fears. Both knew they were only putting off the inevitable; neither could shake the sinking sensation that the gap between them and danger was quietly closing.

And while they couldn’t have known it for sure, they were right to worry.


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Ko-Fi May

 

 

The Wind and the Horizon: Prologue

Read Book One | Read Next Chapter ]


Welkin was in trouble.

Not that the Star was unfamiliar with punishment from their own kin. Bestowing a human child to an ailing woman in secret had been bad enough.

But this was different. There would be no redemption this time.

The Star was a prisoner. Their unrelenting need to visit Earth and dabble in the lives of humans had long since been a source of anger and frustration amongst their peers. But this latest trespass had the entire celestial council responsible for Earth in an uproar.

<<It was unthinkable for you to befriend that human girl and grant her an unauthorized wish,>> scolded one incensed Star. <<But to circumvent her daughter’s death? Tensions are high enough among our faithful without your foolhardy meddling.>>

Welkin remained silent. It had only been a matter of time before the council – the Stars responsible for Earth and its place in the greater Plan of the Universe – found out about Emanthy. Welkin didn’t need to exacerbate the situation by admitting that, given the chance, they’d do it all again if they had to.

<<The fallen wishing star and its ill-gotten wishes are still causing problems,>> said another of Welkin’s peers, this one more fretful. <<We’re having a challenging enough time containing the disruptions they’ve caused to the Plan without one of our own creating more. Why would you do something so asinine?>>

<<You wouldn’t understand,>> Welkin replied, unable to hold their opinions close any longer.

The other Stars crackled at Welkin’s defiance. What they said was true – despite their close link to life on Earth, none of them had connected with it the way Welkin had. All these Stars knew was how each living thing fit into the Plan, how the planet’s existence was meant to unfold over a dizzying number of millennia.

While these celestial beings saw the planet’s story as one great tapestry, the minutiae of its creatures were lost on them. They didn’t understand grief. They didn’t understand love.

Welkin did.

Yet not every human experience was unfathomable to the Stars. They were all familiar with notions of loyalty and duty. There was a kind of beauty in the order they kept, and Welkin had all but set it all ablaze.

<<We understand your selfishness jeopardized the Plan yet again,>> came the booming reprimand of a Star best described as a leader within the council. They were sympathetic to Welkin’s misguided affinity for life on Earth, but it was no longer prudent to turn a blind eye. <<We serve at the pleasure of the Universe, not our own desires.>>

Rebellious indifference swirled within Welkin, reminding them of Emanthy. The memory of their daughter – the knowledge they would likely never see her again – stung. They imagined this was how Jeremy, Connor, and the rest had felt when they lost Audrey.

If there was one thing the Star had learned, it was the worst part about love was the inevitable pain that came with it. The humans Welkin loved taught them that.

<<What’s it going to be?>> Welkin wanted nothing more than to get the trial over with. <<Will you snuff my light and be done with me once and for all?>>

It was a bold thing to say – to goad a Star into ending another’s existence. But Welkin was tired and haunted by their many mistakes. To be done with it all hardly seemed the worst option.

<<No,>> rumbled the leader. <<We will not take on the burden of relieving you of yours. You have a choice: stay among your kind and never return to Earth again, or fall.>>

If Welkin had need to draw breath, they would have found theirs stolen away.

This ultimatum was worse than being snuffed out.

<<What kind of choice is that?>> Welkin asked.

<<A fair one, given the circumstances,>> the leader replied. <<We hope you’ll choose wisely.>>

Welkin observed their kin. The decision held colossal weight, but the answer came easily.

<<You should know my answer without posing the question,>> they stated.

<<I fell a long time ago.>>


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Ko-Fi May

Reads vs Readership in a Book Club World

No new WWW Wednesday this week. I mean, unless you’re interested in reading basically the same post but with a progress report on where I’m at with “About a Girl” (update: it’s growing on me!)

With that in mind this seemed like a good time to write about something that’s been rolling around in my brain a bit lately. Specifically: Wattpad book clubs and reads vs readership.

I’ll be upfront about this: I have a love-hate relationship with Wattpad book clubs (as it seems I do about most things related to Wattpad). When you’re new to the community and looking for tips and tricks about how to gain traction, joining one of these clubs is generally high on lists of recommended advice. It’s easy to see why: members get assigned to read and comment on chapters (generally the first three to five) of a selected book from one of their peers. Each club takes its own liberties with the model but the idea is always pretty much the same. Not only does being a part of a book club force you to participate and be social (great ways to connect with other writers, obviously) but the system will eventually force people to read and comment on your book too.

And, let’s be real: that’s what everyone really wants.

When I was originally planning to write this post, I anticipated it being about commenting etiquette in Wattpad book clubs. I’m a member of three clubs right now and The Star and the Ocean has been featured in all of them. While I’ve definitely received some of the nicest comments and most helpful feedback via book clubs, I’ve also seen some… Less than impressive examples of compulsory participation…

“But this just isn’t my type of book I’m just reading it because of book club. But I can tell you did a great job on a lot of things.”

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Like, this person realizes that I will inevitably have to read and comment on their work too, right?

In general, comments like this aren’t constructive. What they are is dismissive to the author’s efforts. I get that book clubs force you to read things you may not have touched otherwise but this isn’t how you should deal with it (and given the anecdotal feedback I got on Twitter, it sounds like this is a fairly common problem). Moral of the story: don’t be a dick when you’re leaving comments on your book club assignments because every writer looks forward to when they get to be featured and your half-assed better-than-this bullshit isn’t helping anyone.

But I digress.

My actual concern with book clubs is whether or not the time invested actually does anything to help gain you a dedicated readership.

Without a doubt, if you participate in book clubs, you’re going to get reads. You have to if people want to complete their assignments. But as thrilling as that may be at first, it doesn’t take long to see your first five chapters become saturated with reads and comments while the rest of your story just sort of… Tapers off (I think this is the case for Wattpad in general but it’s especially pronounced among book club-submitted stories).

There are no bad guys in this scenario: we’re all guilty of abandoning book club books after our assignments are over. Out of everything I’ve read so far, I think I’ve only found one or two I’m interested in reading all the way through. It’s the nature of the beast.

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Books: you’re not gonna love ’em all.

But, I’ll be honest: I’d rather have a handful of dedicated repeat readers that are committed to the story and eager to follow it to completion than a bunch of random reads.

So, are book clubs helping me?

My first inclination was to say no. I can plainly see the stats, and my book is definitely bottom-heavy (or top-heavy, depending on which way you’re looking at it). Most book club readers drop off the moment their commitment is over, which disappointing but not surprising.

But I can’t deny that I’ve seen exponential growth in my reads since joining the book clubs – too many to have just come from assigned readers too. In the last week and a half alone I’ve seen well over 200 new reads; not bad considering it took me over two months to get to my first 200! Pleasant side effects have included slow but steady increases in votes, followers and being added to reading lists. And, if I’m being honest, I am seeing a handful of readers who have been legitimately following the story.

So, are book clubs a time consuming, imperfect and occasionally disheartening system? Yes. Do they get the job done? Yeah, I suppose, but you’ve gotta commit to the long game if you’re after sustained readership.

What are your thoughts on Wattpad book clubs? Have you found participating in them to be beneficial or have you just wound up disappointed?

Even if you’re not part of a book club, tell me what matters more to you as an author: reads or readers?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!