I found a sketch, gave myself 30 minutes to bang out nonsense inspired loosely by it, imagining as I typed, my cursor being chased by a small predator. This kept me moving forward, with no destination in mind, only haste. I’ve made a short editing pass for clarity, and left the Sketch in an unfinished state.
The Unfinished Account of Sketchy Ness
Ness Barring lived in a plain shack far into the Elfwood Mire, tangled among matted moss and climbing vines, beneath a deep shadow of Plaid Pines, the sort that could make one’s head spin somewhat in the right or wrong light.
The locals all about called her Sketchy Ness, which she could not mind, as she did not know that she was called that by anyone, or, for that matter, what they might mean by it. They meant nothing well.
Sketchy was a word in those days meant to suggest there was nothing notable or noble about a person, only questions and uncertainty about who they might align with, if everything were to go sideways all at once. Ness never minded about things like that – she kept to herself, a happy prisoner in the Mire that had raised her well.
When she was the youngest she could remember, she would sleep still and safe in the holes of old trees, or stretched lengthwise along an oblong stone, or nestled against the great and furry rump of some forest beast who did not mind a small half-human girl close by. She would untangle the fur of anything that had become too matted, and what matted monster could possibly mind that kind of kindness? Ness was never so sketchy to monsters – monsters did not think in terms of sketchy or honorable, or mean-spirited or nice, or proper or appalling; they were used to being called names but never did that thing back, they were just – well, they just were.
The closest village to Ness’s hidden shack was about a half day’s hard and direct hike through the Mire, in a curved river valley called The Thimble, and the village’s name was Teller’s Fork. There was no fork in any road there, but a fork did protrude from a lively tree by the name of Sage, and why the fork had been stuck into Sage was a mystery. It had happened so long ago.
A man whose name was (presumably) Teller had found it, failed to remove it from Sage, and then decided, as men often do, to settle near the curious thing and name the whole place after himself. Soon enough, other men, having heard of the Settlement of Teller’s Fork, decided to travel there, and they began to settle down as well. A road was built from the next town over (both now only a memory), and entire lives were lived there.
Ness was known to the people in the town, as a curious half-creature-half-woman who had always lived near Teller’s Fork. Had she been abandoned in the woods by her parents? Stolen into the night by a monster, but one of those that had no taste for children? Was she borne of the trees themselves, perhaps – a thing the Wizards said happened now and then, in that curious place.
No one knew for certain, least of all Ness, who by that time thought and spoke as the monsters did – without a sense of self, only her environment, which included things like occasional hunger, sometimes danger, and much wonder.
In the heat of Summer, who could possibly endure the trail to her hidden hut? The bees were brilliant blue, with deadly venom, and they were most easily angered when approached in mating season, which was 11 months of the year. The mosquitoes in the Mire, the size of apples, could drain a grown man into a husk in minutes. The ferns were razor-edged (well, those with the greener tinge to their stalks – it was hard to tell the difference, as the dull and the sharp ones sprouted up together in bunches, inviting disastrous shortcuts for the unwary).
But travelers did try to find her, it was a thing people sometimes did after spending enough time at Teller’s Fork. What else was there to do but drink and trade things? The Thimble itself, compact and deep and never in the full sun… well, it was safe enough, but the area around it was pure Hedgewild; Teller, now long gone (presumed to have wandered off looking for more utensils stuck in trees), was never a wise man, and the settlement was frankly ill-conceived. No road ever cleared to the place lasted very long, so travelers would stay, then leave, not really knowing why they had come that way in the first place.
What I will now not regale you with is the troubled tale of two tall children, who decided one day to find Ness, on a dare. What could and did go wrong? I might never know…
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