Emerald Drizzleweather Bogwater secretly suspected she was a forest monster. How else could anyone explain her oddities? Just look at her name. What human parents would choose that?
And the evidence kept piling on. In fact, her entire life was an uncertainty in a world of certainties. For instance, it was entirely certain that everything in the world was Green. From the brightest brights to the darkest darks. In her home, chartreuse sheep grazed the hills above teal-fogged fens. Villagers harvested their barley in the minty winter months. Even Emer’s lucky star shone the color of a shamrock.
Of course, humans didn’t quite fit the Green rule. A person’s skin looked so fair and their hair so dark, that neither seemed to have any color at all. …But Emer couldn’t help notice that when they stepped out of the lemongrass sunlight and into shadow, there was a little bit of something strange; the faintest flush, a tint in the flesh that was not Green.
She considered it a peculiar but minor curiosity compared to her own problem. Emer’s hair wasn't just a little "ungreen." It burned like something else entirely, like feverish cheeks, or the veins that pop up in her eyes during allergy season. It was anything but Green, and no one could explain it. Sometimes she tried to pull the garish abomination out of her head one hair at a time. At least she had the advantage scaring young children during All Hallows Eve.
Emer had to be a forest monster. It was the only possible explanation for her off color hair, her temperament – her entire awkward existence. A forest fae had come to her parents in the night and changed their baby out for Emer. Weird, hot-headed, monstrous Emer.
Somehow that idea appealed to her more than her current life, which consisted mostly of braiding hair and milking sheep in a village so bland it was actually called “Village.” Emer spent all her free time doing exactly what she was up to right now; escaping.
Of course, the Braid had no intention of letting her go.
The Braid – Emer stood at the edge of Village, beyond the potato patch and the rolling hills, just a few feet away from it. Her eyes fell to the base of the mass of gnarled tree trunks, woven together in an interlocking pattern of knots. The Braid towered over her, taller than the tallest douglas fir, baring down on her like an old nemesis. She could imagine the midnight bark writhing together like snakes, like a living thing taunting her escape. It dared her to try and find a weak point in the ancient wall that embraced Village and the surrounding hills like a coddling old nanny.
There was no weak point. Emer knew. She had been trying to find one for years. There was only Emer, the Braid, and her hands and feet for climbing it.
Only one person had ever succeeded in climbed it.
If anyone else could, they didn’t want to. The Braid separated humans in Village from the forest beyond – a forest filled with monsters. Her true home.
She sighed and collapsed to the base of the Braid, bringing her fist down on the lifeless bark.
Who was she kidding? The Braid wasn’t some enemy. It was just a bunch of twisted trees. And she was human, just like everyone else. She had her Ma's toes and her Da's nose and they were both born and raised in Village. Plain and simple.
But there had to be something, some explanation for why she was the way she was. And she knew it was out there beyond the Braid.
She gritted her teeth and thought of the Village Elders and their favorite catch phrase, "Cross the Braid, and cross your death."
Da said her obsession with it came from her mother. He used to talk about her when he still had the energy for such things, and Emer would try to build his words into real memories.
She would make a memory of being a wee bairn, only one year old. Ma would carry her to the Braid and tell her that forest creatures grew it with magical technologies. Emer imagined her tiny hands would reach out, grasping to meet them. But the only way to see the other side was to peer through the gaps in the bark…to the great wide woods beyond.
'Cross the Braid, and cross your death', they said, but Emer and her ma were intrigued – obsessed. So they’d peek and see a forest filled with night-thorn trees that hid the wars raging between Druids, Banshees, giant Púca, and fairy-folk called Aos Sí.
At least, that's what Da used to say that Ma used to say.
Emer wanted to be in those wars and fight for freedom. When she won, the creatures would come together with her to build a Village so magnificent and progressive that it would be a haven for man and monster forever…
That's what the memory she made told her.
In actuality, she couldn’t remember her mother no matter how hard she tried, because on one of those outings, Ma went missing. The Elders said the forest monsters took her, but Emer knew she found a way to cross the Braid.
And so would Emer, today. After all, she had more reasons than she could count to get out of here. Chief among them was the mud-covered wedding dress clinging to her body.
It was her wedding day, and she was sitting at the base of the Braid, stuck knee-deep in a bog.
First Chapter of "Into the Red World"
EMER BOGWATER :
The Creator made worlds with wild hands,
And left mankind to tame the lands,
But yolk the Wild, man could not,
Six worlds withered and were forgot,
One survived, Orange victorious,
Civilized by Oz the Glorious,
Who did for man what Creator neglected,
And so by Oz was Creator bested.
--Oz Canyon Folktale
Javier Jones was no stranger to the Wild. It had been around for longer than anyone alive. No one knew much about life before it, but folks said the Orange World used to be just one of seven Spectral Worlds. They said each civilization had its own unique culture, and that each was a different color.
Javier didn’t give a donkey’s butt about all that. He couldn’t be bothered worrying about other colors. All that mattered to him was good people, good laughs, and, most of all, good old Orange.
…What he didn’t like was the Wild and the way it watched him.
Javier clutched his viewing scope in sweaty palms as he scouted an outlaw campsite on the other side of a dusty ridge. No one was home to stare back. He didn’t know how he felt about that. Perhaps it would be better if an outlaw were the one watching him. At least outlaws had eyes – scarred and lethal as they were. The Wild didn’t have any eyes. The Wild was deserts that drank the dirt stale, amber canyons that sliced the land like a loaf of bread, and rusty mesas that sat like boils all over the surface of world. It was home to dire coyotes, man-eating condors, king razorback kangaroos, dust devils, even the legendary fire-breathing Chupacabra. The Wild was inhospitable to men, a place where people became prey. It was a force of nature.
A force of nature shouldn’t be able to “watch” anyone, but Javier felt its stare on his back.
He grinned and let the feeling roll away like a tumbleweed. This unease wasn’t a new thing, so why worry about it when he had a perfectly vicious outlaw to search for?
He swept the scope along the ridge. The campsite was still empty. No sign of the culprit yet. He or she had been gone all day. Must be off hunting. Javier didn’t envy it. That was the thing about outlaws – they traveled alone or in tiny groups of two or three. They lived in the Wilderness and forgot their sense of community, family, and sanity until they became no better than bloodthirsty creatures. Nothing human left, just theft and murder and other acts too vile to speak of.
Javier felt grateful for his caravan town, Autumnstead. It kept him safe, comfortable, and sane. He’d been born there. Tall, lanky Pa Jones had come down from the Western state and met Mamá Jones with her bronze skin and wavy chestnut hair. Then, like magic, here he was. Well, here they were. Javier had a brother. Or, here they once were. His brother had left Autumnstead.
Javier never would.
In fact, Autumnstead was the reason he was so interested in this outlaw’s campsite. That campsite was going to help his town.
At the ripe old age of seventeen, Javier would be the town’s senior junior scout. He had inherited the job when the previous senior left to become Sheriff of the capital’s police force. Yep, Javier was replacing a guy so incredible at this job that he’d been elected sheriff.
It didn’t do much to encourage his sense of motivation.
Javier may love Autumnstead, but he hated work. He got bored, especially in the fall, because most of the worst creatures of the Wild migrated away. Plus, outlaws mostly attacked at night, while caravan towns were camped out, sleeping. So, there wasn’t much threat now with the sun up. The campsite Javier had been watching was the only sign of outlaw activity he’d seen all day.
He wanted to go down there for the same reason he shouldn’t – to make mischief. Through the scope, he spied a fine looking domesticated mule tied to a post at the campsite.
He planned to steal it.
That’s right. In about five seconds, Javier Jones was going to begin the greatest caper of his young life. He was going to steal from the roughest, toughest kind of varmint in the Wilderness, an outlaw.
He took a deep breath and tensed his muscles to prepare for a dash over the ridge. Then he counted to himself, “Five, four, three, two…”
First Chapter of "The Orange World Outlaw"
JAVIER JONES :