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Foxglove Road - Chapter 4.2

by Panikos

Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.

A memory.

I’m young, but not that young. I don’t have my hearing aids in – I never do, at this age, because the kids laugh and point – so the world is a soundless bubble around me. I’m sitting on the window sill in the living room, watching the moonlight swim in the puddles outside.

And then I see her. The mushroom silhouette of her brolly, her hair desaturated by the slantwise rain. My heart lifts, but then a hand squeezes it tight, as if to milk the blood from it.

A key in the lock, the stamp of muddy boots, the scrape of the brolly closing. Mum pulls her coat off and slings it on the rack. Despite the brolly, raindrops bead her hair like tiny pearls. It’s as red as mine now. Redder.

She turns to go upstairs. Sees me. Stops.

What’re you doing up?

I have to read her lips, because her voice lies beyond the bubble. I can well imagine the bite in it, though, and it stoppers my throat. I shrug, avoiding her eyes.

Were you-- she presses her lips together. Were you waiting for me?

I don’t know if she wants me to nod or not. I move my head in some ambiguous way. A line appears between her brows.

And then she’s moving, striding towards me, and her arms are tight around my shoulders. I can smell the wet wool of her jumper; her hair tickles my face, suffused with the musky tang of enchantment. I lean into her, clinging to her arms, breathless, wordless--

She jerks free, pushing me so hard that I bang my elbow on the window frame. She backs away a few paces, turning to face the wall. Her shoulders rise and fall with one long, deep breath.

Then she looks back at me. Her eyes are too bright.

Go to bed, she says. You’ve got school tomorrow.

I scuttle past her, my head bowed. In the morning, Violet sees the cut on my elbow and asks where it came from. I only shrug.


I wake a little after daybreak, my eyelids heavy, shuddering off the remains of something half-remembered. There’s a moment – and god, what a fantastic moment it is – before I recall exactly where I am. Then I see the messy berry-painting on the wall, remember the blushing faer, and feel altogether like I want to crawl into a ditch.

Riders, I remind myself. A faer who sells cheeses.

I force myself out from under the heavy covers. A basin of water steams by the hearth, and I wash quickly, soaping my hair and letting it dry in the fire-heat. I rummage around in my backpack for a new shirt, finding a flouncy button-down which, if memory serves, is enchanted to stay warm and dry. It’s fuck-ugly and cuts under my arms, but I slide into it anyway.

I slot my hearing aids in and shoulder my pack, ramming a few oatcakes into my mouth. I tidy the room and leave a toffee on the pillow, just in case Mrs Blushing Housekeeper employs faers and not abair. Best to be polite, even on neutral ground.

I creep down to the front door, shivering in the wet air. Said housekeeper is at the gate, jabbering away to something I can’t see. Her gaze won’t settle, and she lowers her voice when I come near. I incline my head as I pass, trying not to run.

The village looks even shabbier by daylight, but just as dead. Most of the houses are shuttered and silent and smokeless, but the plants haven’t yet claimed them, which means they can’t have been abandoned for long. I can’t help wondering at that.

The biggest building lies in the heart of the village, the one with the yard full of goats. I spot an abair amongst them, tossing grains into a trough. It’s not the first time I’ve seen one, and he’s as boring and lanky and brown-haired as any stranger I might make a pass at after too many ciders. But when his eyes pass over me, it rubs gooseflesh up my arms.

He doesn’t look for long. Just goes back to the goats. I pull my eyes away and make for the door, but the fear has set in again, like damp. I look at the charms strung from the eaves and the foxgloves twisting out of the cracks in the brickwork, wondering what the hell I’m doing here.

Pretend, the voice whispers. Lie.

The fear eases. I push the door open, breathing in the smell of old milk.

Behind the counter sits the least human-looking faer I’ve seen yet. He’s got more than a passing resemblance to the goats outside, with his horizontal pupils and coarse, yellowy hair. There are even horns pushing out from the tangle – three pairs of them, most of them chipped. His lips shrink back from black teeth.

“What’re you wanting?” he asks. The counter is heaped with sagging white discs. “We got goats’ cheese, lots of kinds. There’s orangey ones and berry ones, and big ones.”

I remember my bland oatcakes. “They’re fresh?”

His eyes flicker. “There’s- there’s lots of flavours. You’ll like some, I bet.”

“Maybe later,” I say. A deep breath. “I’m after information, actually.”


“I hear you saw something.” I make my voice casual. Think Hollywood detective, off-hand, devastatingly hot, cares only about the case. “Riders, with a human woman, three nights ago. Did you see where they went?”

He goes still. “Why d’you want to know?”

“She - she owes me money,” I settle on. “I’ve got batteries, food, knives, whatever. I can trade.”

“I don’t need none of that,” he says, in a tight voice. “You sure you don’t want any cheese?”

“No, I’m looking for—”

“Then you should leave, I reckon.”

Annoyance sparks in me. “I’m a guest in your shop.”

“An’ this is neutral ground.” He looks towards the door, twisting his horny little fingers together. “If you en’t going to buy anything, that means you en’t got—”

“I am going to buy something. The information.”

“I already got a buyer for that. Get out.”

The words hit like scalding water. “You what?”

“You deaf, kid?” he says, and I’m too nonplussed to say yes, actually, I bloody am. “I got a buyer. It en’t for sale, and if you got any sense, you’ll move on.”

I feel unsteady on my feet; the world is bubble-like, just as it is whenever I take my hearing aids out. Someone else is looking for her. Someone who tracked this guy down before I did. I look at his sloppy cheeses, old and stinking. I remember the voice: lie.

I sling my bag off and reach inside, pulling out the notebook. I flip to the back for a clean page – tear it out, grapple for a Sharpie. Then I write, in clear, block capitals, with all the flourishes I can muster:


“Here,” I say, holding it up. “Did the other buyer offer you this?”

His eyes widen as he reads it. The brusqueness vanishes from his face.

“Nobody will know a human wrote it,” I press. “You can have it. I can write you as many as you want; I’ll call you a cheesemaker extraordinaire, bloody cheese wizard, whatever the hell you want. Just tell me where my- where the woman went.”

He gnaws at his lip, still looking towards the door. Then he beckons me closer with a crooked hand.

“I want ten of ‘em,” he says. “An’ I want you to put the address on, so’s I can spread ‘em about…”

There’s only just enough blank notepaper. I tear some of it badly, but he doesn’t seem to be concentrating on that. As I copy out the same message, adding the address and other overblown adjectives, he watches the lies form under my hands with hunger in his face. To even call him a cheesemaker is a lie. He’s got abair to do the crafting. I wonder if he’s even got the strength to hold a pen.

I shuffle the signs together, holding them to my chest.

“Now tell me where the woman went,” I say. “And - and tell just me. If I give you these, you can’t tell that other buyer anything.”

Goat man scowls, but he can’t stop staring at the signs. “I saw riders, is all. Royal ones, by the clothes. They were goin’ north, to the town with the twin hawthorns – I’ll be betting they want passage to the inner Faerlands.”

“And the woman? You saw her with them?”

“Tied up on the horse,” he said. “She didn’t look pleased, she didn’t.”

“Okay,” I say. I hold out the leaflets, but whip them out of reach as he grapples for them. “Remember. You can’t tell anybody else this.”

A sullen crease dents his forehead, but he nods. Then he snatches the papers out of my hand and shoos me from the shop.


It’s easier to walk than to think. I set out into the woods just as the sun passes the midday point, clipping on my earphones and listening mindlessly to Bowie. The deeper I press into the forest, the darker it gets. Mistletoe disappears from the branches, and the sensation of eyes presses from all sides.

Royal riders. Going north, to the inner Faerlands. The knowledge thrums in my head. I tell myself it’s worry – I'm worried about her, worried about what the hell she’s done to get caught up in this, worried about what it all means. But beneath it simmers something white and scalding. I think of my cousin, vanished into the woods at eight years old. There was nothing complicated about that. Nobody went after him.

My feet come to a stop, once or twice. I look left and right, searching the trees for the bobbing lights of the Road. I could go back. Tell Gran I found Violet, dead-eyed, working as an abair to a cheesemaker in the outer Faerlands.

She wouldn’t believe me.

I don’t care.

But the memory-dream from last night drifts back to me. Violet sitting me down on the edge of the bath, rubbing Sudocrem into my cut elbow. She didn’t ask again where I’d got it, but she bought a bag of Starburst on the way to school and gave me all the purple ones, even though they were her favourites.

I keep walking. The darkness gathers and my phone dies, cutting Bowie off mid-chorus. I pick out the silver thread of a stream and sit down on the banking, eating old crackers and a few fun-sized Snickers. There’s more food in the bag than I remember packing.

I don’t know how far I am from the nearest settlement, which makes me uneasy. I pull out mum’s notebook, looking for advice on getting stranded in the woods. I remember something, vaguely, about protective sights. Trees that will hide you, in exchange for tribute. Saltwater ponds that faers avoid.

I turn to a likely page, written in brilliant blue ink.

And the first word I see is


I’ve just enough time to look up before the hand closes over my mouth.

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72 Reviews

Points: 3778
Reviews: 72

Wed Jan 29, 2020 2:05 pm
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MeherazulAzim16 wrote a review...

Hi Panikos!

(Reviewing chapter 4 as a whole.)

This chapter too had an interesting title. Of course, in the beginning we didn't know what it signified. But I like this concept of a neutral zone.

She jerks free, pushing me so hard that I bang my elbow on the window frame. She backs away a few paces, turning to face the wall. Her shoulders rise and fall with one long, deep breath.

I'm a little confused as to what happened here. I like that there's much mystery surrounding the mother. Maybe it's building up towards something big. But I'd love to get a clearer sense of what's happening. (Fingers crossed for the next chapter!)

And the voice!

Mistletoe, says a voice at the back of my mind. Neutral ground.

I'm intrigued to know whose voice it is. Whoever it is, in the beginning they could only give P subtle hints in the form of underlined phrases in the diary. I have a theory: the closer to the person/ the faerlands P gets, the more elaborate the hints get. Are the underlined hints and the vocal/subconscious hints coming from the same being at all? Intrigued, I am.

P is in a way going through some trials. Meetings obstacles and easing past them. But I have a feeling that thus far he's only been getting a taste of what's to come. After all, the prospects of handling Royal Guard sound more daunting than that of lying you way past general faers.

Tell Gran I found Violet, dead-eyed, working as an abair to a cheesemaker in the outer Faerlands.

I love that you showed this thought! It's believable that he would consider this but I also like how his love for his sister overpowers the impulse to go back.

I turn to a likely page, written in brilliant blue

And the first word I see is


I’ve just enough time to look up before the hand closes over my mouth.

And the ending! You always seem to land those. If I had to guess, he is about to face his biggest obstacle yet. I can't wait to see where it goes.

Have a wonderful day and keep on writing.



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1191 Reviews

Points: 8526
Reviews: 1191

Sun Jan 26, 2020 11:26 pm
Elinor wrote a review...

Hey Pan!

Happy review day. I'm going to keep getting caught up on this to the extent that I can. Like the past chapters, this is well written and does an effective job at moving the story along.

I'm starting to get a bit lost and confused with the plot, to be honest with you. As I read this it feels like you've done a lot of work with the story and characters, but I don't know if all of that is communicated effectively. I like that this story is essentially a mystery with fantastical elements but I do want to have a little more sense of the narrator. I don't need to know everything about his past, but I think it's a fine line and I want to understand exactly what the rules of this world are.

This approach might work better in a film, but you're writing your novel and you can't afford to confuse your readers. Especially because I was surprised at the realization that he was hard of hearing/deaf.

Hope this helps! Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. And I will get caught up!

All the best,

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737 Reviews

Points: 10858
Reviews: 737

Sun Jan 26, 2020 8:32 pm
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CaptainJack wrote a review...


The plot thickens...

There was a lot going on in this chapter. There has been a lot going on in all of the chapters that I've skimmed so far but this one was the easiest to read and understand. The pieces are starting to fall into place for me as the main character gets answers and I start to understand what they're seeking. I'm not exactly sure what happened with Violet so that they ended up in that bad situation.

The bits of the backstory of the main character are very enjoyable. Tragic but they definitely keep the reader focused on their reasonings for being in this mess. They care so deeply for Violet and are so willing to go to the ends of not only the earth but this alternate world to find their sibling? I assume from the way that they talk about Violet (with their gran being involved) that the two are siblings.

With the interaction in the cheese shop, we get some answers but then I'm left with some more questions. I'm starting to understand this alternate world a little bit more. But I'm still a little mixed up on the details of how they got there and how many things they knew before they got there. I know they have this guide book from their mother, which is reminiscent of the Winchesters, and were then raised by another parental figure.

The flashback where Violet takes care of the main character after they're being bullied and are injured by a parent is rather heartwarming. This point along with the slightly humorous exchanges that I've seen so far lighten the overall mood and I'm glad to see them included.

That's all I've got for now and I'll probably be back again.

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458 Reviews

Points: 15855
Reviews: 458

Wed Jan 01, 2020 6:42 pm
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Ventomology wrote a review...

I had to look up what a brolly is.

1. On that note, I have to wonder if there are things that I miss or misinterpret because of the small differences between British and American English. Maybe you should poll your readers and see if the Americans think this story is more mystical and strange than the people who learned British English think it is.

2. I love this lies as currency thing you've got going, and I really hope it comes up later in a big way. This feels like the kind of game equalizer that you can let drop into the background as we get into the heavy action, and then bring back.

3. So many questions about the notebook. I feel like our MC has a firm enough handle on how the world works that it's actually kind of weird that we don't know how the notebook works, and how it always has words pertinent to the moment. Also, maybe this is something that I'll understand in hindsight, but it doesn't especially feel like there's language or themes around the notebook that could help piece its mechanisms together.

But I also had to think for like two weeks before that occurred to me so like, it's probably not much of an issue. As always, your writing is wonderful to read and think about.

Hope this helps, sorry for the delay.


Also. Jack, why do I feel like you are responsible for spamming the site with the Bee Movie quote in the quote generator. *looks suspiciously*
— alliygator