ZoomDoom Stories writer Jamie Killen’s new novel, The Wandering Land, is coming soon from Solstice Publishing. Stay tuned for release dates, trailers, and other info. In the meantime, check out the excerpt and cover blurb now:
The Maze House. The Fox Woman’s Garden. The Caverns of the Queen. These are the things that await you in the wandering land.
On a summer night in a sunbaked desert city, the wandering land appears. A fairytale village nestled in dense forest, it is a place of ruined castles, abandoned treasures, and strange creatures living in the shadows. Brought together by this impossible place are five visitors: failed painter Eli; art professor Amal; young lovers Darcy and Wes; and mysterious, haunted Coyote. Together they explore their own secret village, an entire world hidden in plain sight.
But there is darkness beneath the magic, a force pulling the visitors deeper and deeper into the place’s mysteries. As the boundaries between the secret land and the outside world begin to collapse, each of the visitors is confronted with visions of an otherworldly child, a child whose existence holds the key to understanding everything about the place that has drawn them together.
Who is this child? Why did she choose them? And will she ever let them go?
The moon yawned at Coyote and she yawned back. The taste of distant thunderstorm hit the back of her tongue. It wouldn’t come tonight, but next week the bruise-purple clouds would press down on the city and the dust would be washed from the air.
The night quivered like a plucked harp string. Something had arrived, something big that wasn’t there before. Coyote slung her guitar over her shoulder and made her way along the bank of the dry riverbed. She took a slow, quiet path despite her curiosity; park rangers had chased her away before, speaking nonsense about opening and closing times. A snake glided over the rocks off to her right, too far away to see. She stomped once to send a little vibration through the ground, a vibration that said Keep to yourself.
As she walked, Coyote glanced up over the lip of the riverbank. There should have been a stand of cottonwoods stretching black against the sky, but instead the stars had nothing to hide behind. She paused, cocked her head, listened. The sounds were wrong on this side of the wash, too soft, with none of the cicadas who thought they could drive her mad with their songs but didn’t know she was too clever to fall for that old trick.
Coyote climbed the bank, smooth river rocks shifting under her hands and feet. She whispered an apology for disrupting their sleep.
She felt no confusion about what she saw when she came up over the edge. The moon had come out bright and clear to yawn at her, after all, to show her everything. It was a little graveyard, flat smooth headstones surrounded by a stacked rock wall. Vines and brambles climbed over the outside of the wall, straining to get in, but inside the graveyard looked perfectly kept. No weeds grew, no earth was disturbed, and a single pale lily rested against each headstone.
From beyond the graveyard, the breeze carried the smell of cool, wet leaves where there should have been cactus and dust. Past the rock wall, Coyote saw fields and cottages where there should have been mesquite trees and a paved street leading away from the park. Where there should have been a desert city, there was forest.
Voices chattered at Coyote from all directions. Some told her the place was bad and wrong and she must get away now. Others said it could not be all wrongness if they took such care of their dead. Still others murmured under the rest, saying, You know this place, don’t you, Coyote, you know if you go just past the graveyard you’ll find the church and the statue and the Maze House and the Fox Woman’s Garden and the Caverns of the Queen. You know you know you know you know—
The weight of the voices dragged Coyote to her knees. Her guitar slipped from her fingers. Motion from the ground before her caught her eye. As she watched, two crumpled bits of paper worked their way up through the soil like night-blooming flowers. She unfolded the first, then the second, and held them side-by-side in moonlight bright enough to read by.
The first, in flowing copperplate, read, You and the others should run from this place. If you walk these roads, she’ll never let you leave.
The second, written in an awkward, blocky scrawl, said, You have to lead the others to her. Show them the way. Together you can save her. The first trial is to find each other.
Coyote looked up from the two notes to the graves that had birthed them. The headstones were different shapes, different sizes, but each bore the same single word.
Laughter ripped from Coyote’s throat. The notes crumpled as her fists clenched around them. She laughed until her ribs hurt, and when she could laugh no more, she howled.