Elizabeth Hirst is a Canadian horror author, graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop Class of 2006, and an editor of books and short stories. Her writing on LGBT themes in horror fiction has appeared on Tor.com and The Scariest Part, and her novels, The Face in the Marsh and Distant Early Warning are available from Renaissance Press. Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @hirst_author, and blogging at http://elizabethhirstblog.wordpress.com.
Elizabeth’s latest novel, Distant Early Warning, combines horror elements with adventure and climate change fiction in a story of redemption, love and loss. Today, she shares an excerpt from the book in which the protagonist, Denny, waits in the dark alone, not knowing what kind of creature she may encounter.
Meeting the Wildlife
As the instruments dimmed, Denny looked for the touch light in the door pocket beside her. All of the contents were obscured by shadow, and no way was she going to go sticking her hand into random crevices in Seaburn’s car. For all she knew, he had old needles stashed somewhere unexpected. Denny pulled an old tissue out of her pocket. Better that than nothing. She poked once or twice on what might have been a couple of old cigarette cartons, then hit on something round. She pulled the touch light out of the pocket, laid it on her lap, and pressed the button.
A fountain of pale blue, flickering light sprayed out of the touch light. At first, Denny held it to herself like a treasured pet, but she soon realized that with the light so close to her face, she couldn’t see out of the windows at all. Once she set the touch light on the driver’s seat, she found that her eyes adjusted just enough that she could see the pale outline of the sky against the tops of the trees.
Having figured out her living arrangements for the next half hour or so (at least she hoped it would only be that long), Denny’s inner monologue started up. Geoff was asleep on the back seat, and so she wouldn’t wake him if she could help it. Tense, alone, and a little bit chilly, she tried to force herself to sit back in the seat and forget where she was. All she ended up doing was leaning back on her right arm and making it fall asleep, and counting the minutes until Seaburn was due back.
It had been at least twenty minutes when Geoff raised his head and growled. Denny looked back at the dog, then squinted her eyes, trying to see more of what was outside. Geoff never growled at people…even people he didn’t know. He only growled when there were animals outside.
Denny heard a loud crack coming from in front of them and across the road. Something big was trundling through the underbrush, breaking things in its way. Whatever Geoff was onto, it was big. Denny grabbed Geoff’s collar and shushed him, but Geoff was locked onto whatever it was and no amount of petting or shaking was going to break him out of it. He barked, and Denny cringed.
All of a sudden, she remembered the touch light on the seat. Whatever was out there would see that first, if it wanted to come looking for Geoff. She smacked the touch light, then huddled in the dark, staring out the window for any new information.
Please don’t let it be a bear, please don’t let it be a bear, please don’t let it be a mother bear of all things ran through her head like a neon news ticker. She remembered a story that her dad had been fond of telling, about her great-grandfather. Apparently, he had been on a tour of the Rockies one time, in a car with roll-up windows. While crossing through Banff, he had been forced to stop for a group of black bears crossing the road. One of the bears, smelling the sandwiches in the car, had decided that it wanted a taste of the food…and stuck its claws under the rubber sealing on the window and pulled it down with nothing but brute strength. If it hadn’t been for the timely arrival of a park ranger, as Dad told it, old Great-Grandpa would have ended up as dessert.
Geoff was still growling. As Denny’s eyes adjusted, she could see the road, a vaguely reflective charcoal grey strip, and the black blocks of trees on either side. Up above, the sky was a deep blue, not quite black yet, and speckled with stars.
A shape emerged onto the tarmac, and as it crossed the lighter portion of the road, Denny could see that it was a huge animal, with long, spindly legs, a droopy neck, and bumpy, scoop-shaped antlers. A bull moose. Denny let out a sigh of relief as a small cow with two calves peeked out of the bushes and crossed the road. Geoff barked again. The bull turned its head, then quickly ignored him. After the moose family had disappeared into the forest, Denny heard a long, hooting call, and then silence reigned once again. Geoff relaxed. After ten minutes, with the exception of the nervous dog stink that now filled the car, Denny would never have known he’d gotten upset in the first place.
By the time the moose had crossed the road, Denny figured it had been forty minutes or so since Seaburn had disappeared into the forest. She gazed at the mottled charcoal grey wall of the forest edge beside her, waiting to catch a washed-out glimpse of his flannel coat in the moonlight. After what must have been an hour, she blinked to clear the impression of the window and the trees out of her eyes and tried to think of something else to do.
Almost without realizing it, she fell into her old trick from the doctor’s office. Whenever she felt both bored and nervous at the same time, she had developed the habit of attempting to recite familiar poetry in her head and trying to remember all of the stanzas perfectly. Some people, she knew, did the alphabet backwards in similar situations, but she had worked that trick up to light speed years ago, along with much of Yeats and most of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales. She started out with something from the Blake book Dad had given her. It was the last piece of literature she had read, and thus the most likely for her to remember.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Okay, that was the easy part, the part they always quoted in textbooks. Now what was the next part again? Something about “skies” and “Burn the fire of thine eyes.” “In what far immortal skies?” No… “In what deeps and in the skies…” still no, but closer…
Denny had almost cobbled together half of the second stanza (In what distant deeps or skies/ Burnt the fire of thine eyes) when Seaburn slapped the hood, startling her out of her memorization game. He slung open the door and slipped down into the driver’s seat, spine supple as new rubber.
“Better?” Denny asked flatly.
“You know it,” he said, breathing heavily for a moment, then, “Did the bears get you? How about the boogey man?”
“I survived,” she said.
Elizabeth Hirst visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Ryanne Kap, Waubgeshig Rice, and Therese Estacion. Our guest speaker Tricia Fish, best known for her debut comedy feature inspired by her youth in Cape Breton – “New Waterford Girl,” talks us through, “Screenwriting versus Prose”.
Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.