Hello, chums. I’m glad to see you today. To show you just how glad I am to see you, here’s an excerpt from Chuggie and the Desecration of Stagwater:
Chuggie stood beneath the dead tree, glaring up at the chain tangled in its branches. He swayed on the bare hilltop, travel-weary and intoxicated. He hollered with his gravelly voice. He kicked the tree with his road-worn boots. He pulled the chain with all his might and wished he had someone else’s luck.
In The Mag’s remote Mid-North, Stagwater nestled in the elbow of the Staghorn River. A protective wall wrapped around the city like a horseshoe, meeting the rushing river at two points on Stagwater’s east side. A grand bridge stretched over the water, a thick-timbered testament to the city’s ambition. Smoke rose from tall stacks throughout the city. The stink of it spread far and wide.
Just west of Stagwater, Chuggie paced angrily beneath the tree. “Listen here, deadwood. You’re gonna give it on back, or I’ll chop you into kindling, set your ass on fire, and piss on your ashes!” Chuggie’s voice slurred a bit, as usual. He swayed, drunkenly, and kicked the tree.
His kick did no good, however. Above him, just beyond jumping range, his anchor hung at the end of a chain. The branches held the chain like knotty talons. The other end of the chain linked directly into his rib cage, leaving both Chuggie and the anchor bound to the tree.
He’d tried everything he could think of by this point. He’d pulled on the chain, sworn at the tree, poked the anchor with a stick, even pulled on the chain some more. Nothing had worked. The way the chain twisted in the branches made Chuggie think of torture, made him feel claustrophobic. He smoked and glared at the tree, as he paced back and forth on his chain like a dog.
Shaped like a woman, the anchor was the only lady in Chuggie’s life. He would not stand for her captivity. “You let her go, nobody gets hurt, tree.”
The breeze lifted some branches in a shrug of indifference.
As anchors went, she possessed a singular beauty. Years of use had left her pitted and scarred. Any original detail was long lost, but not her smooth curves. In water, her arms would dig into the seabed to better anchor a boat. On land, it seemed, their only function was to make noise at all the wrong moments. And they damn sure weren’t helping her climb out of the tree.
Chuggie’s upturned face was built for scowling, and it did so effortlessly no matter his mood. His elongated skull curved back from his face as if blown by some angry wind. Five horns protruded from it: one from his forehead, two more on each side. He wore a skull cap with horn-holes cut into it. He appeared to have an odd-shaped hat, not an odd-shaped skull with horns growing from it. As a whole, Chuggie’s image was more of a drunken drifter than the primordial embodiment of drought. This he preferred.
A bee was to blame for this heinous tangling of the chain. Oh, how Chuggie hated the vile sting of a bee. The tiny brutes had no qualms about invading one’s flesh. Bees, hornets, and wasps all hated Chuggie as much as he did them. As if sensing what he was, they seemed compelled to sting. If Chuggie had his way, all bees and their kin would be arrested, tried as bees, and executed for their crimes. Depending on his mood, he could be persuaded to show mercy and allow them to live out their lives in prison.
But there could be no leniency for this day’s offender. Chuggie had been violated and victimized by some cowardly monster wearing yellow and black. He’d been stung — nay, raped — directly between his shoulder blades. The tiny villain, attempting to escape justice, then flew up to a branch in the tree. There on the branch, the bee taunted Chuggie, laughed at his misfortune. In a rage, Chuggie had sought vengeance on his attacker. Disinclined to let the bee die on its own terms, he’d thrown the anchor.
Whether the anchor had hit or missed the bee was unclear, but the chain had gotten tangled. The tangle worsened the more Chuggie pulled. The bee, by then most likely dead, was all but forgotten.
With his eyes glued to the anchor, Chuggie paced faster.
“Lemme tell you this, tree. I’m about two seconds away from —.”
Chuggie stopped speaking abruptly as he fell on his face. His own luggage had tripped him, although it could scarcely be called ‘luggage.’ A better description would be ‘used burlap feed sack stuffed with junk.’ Dolls, knife handles, keys to buildings that didn’t exist anymore. Junk. He hoped in his travels he might be able to trade some of it for something useful. Maybe even money. Sooner or later, he’d need some of that.
He had his junk, his anchor with chain, and his pair of worn out boots. Not much else. He was just a stumbling, mumbling drunk in a world full of monsters that looked the way regular people used to.
Chuggie looked heavenward. The gray skies wounded him. Sunshine in any season filled him with hope, and he would dance under a thunderstorm as long as it lasted. But when the sky went that uniform, miserable gray, it got hard to imagine a place in the world where the sun could be shining.
The gloom made him remember who he was: Brother Drought. As old as the world, he had no function but destruction. In that respect, Chuggie wasn’t alone, but he wished he was. His ancient siblings — Disease, Fire, and Flood — were out there somewhere, no doubt compounding the melancholy.
As the walking incarnation of Drought, he could drain entire bodies of water, suck the clouds from the sky, even tear the moisture from the body of a living creature. Chuggie had great power inside. Power that could devastate entire regions. Power that, once unleashed, he could not control.
On this gray autumn day he stood on a hill just west of Stagwater, and he was very, very drunk.