Another look at MAPS AND LEGENDS

Below is a short snippet from the opening of the novel version of the comic I created with artist Niki Smith. Just thought people might be curious to see what’s changed in the different versions.

I’m biased, I know, but I think the comic IN MAPS & LEGENDS is way better. But there’s some cool stuff in the excerpt, below. Enjoy!

And don’t forget to vote — the final ranking for this month’s contest ends Monday, November 30th, at noon EST.

From Maps and Legends (the novel)

Kaitlin Grayson squinted in the dusty yellow light from the lamp on the floor next to her and pressed the knife exactly three-eighths of an inch into the wall of her spare room. Her shadow moved with her on the top half of the wall and stretched onto the ceiling — a silent, distorted companion for this night’s work. Whenever she felt that tiny popping sensation of blade breaking through thick drywall paper, then slicing into cool, smooth gypsum inside, she felt a fleeting instant of guilt. Security deposit, her mind reminded her, then she pushed the X-Acto a bit deeper and began to cut and pull something new into existence.

Some nights her labors were less strenuous than this — just a simple scarring of the unpainted gray wall here (desert), an oblong amoeba shape encasing a mostly bare area awaiting the insertion of grass there (plains) — but tonight Kait was busy carving out a valley.

No way in the world, she thought, shaping her meandering cut until a two-foot-long gouge of sheetrock fell to the floor in a cloud of white dust, am I going to avoid getting evicted with this little project. Forget ever getting the security deposit back.

Tonight she’d woken up at half past one needing to empty her bladder — she knew she should’ve skipped that second bottle of Belgian ale while she was working late — and then she had an even more pressing urge to pick up the razor-sharp art knife from her work table and trundle off to her spare room, an unheated room she always kept locked. The room where she’d been spending most of her nights — not sleepwalking, but awake in a weird, dreamy way — with strange music and names tumbling and turning through her head like dry leaves in a lazy breeze.

That had been half an hour ago. Now, her hands were covered in drywall dust and going numb from the cold in the unheated room, but Kait was too deep in her work to notice anything more than a odd tingling sensation in her white-flecked fingertips. More than anything else, she was thinking about pulling out her calligraphy brushes. All those locations she’d cut so carefully into this wall in the past week of nights needed labeling.

Blassinger Valley.

Hollouman’s Ridge.

The Gediphal River.

She didn’t know where the names came from. She’d asked Jeremy about it once, a few months back, without mentioning any specifics about her map. But he just claimed he “trusted the process” and let the ideas and plots and names come to him while he was working.

Easy for him, Kait thought. His work came with a Delete key and a Backspace button. Once I cut or glued or inked something, it was done, like it or not. Ripping stuff out was not an option. Not if I’m going to do this right.

Blinking her sore eyes made the walls blur into grays and blacks for a few seconds, and Kait took a step back from the wall. Humming a tune that had been stuck in her head since she’d awoken, she absently dropped her knife blade-first to the uncarpeted wood floor. It stuck there, quivering. She pulled her thick black hair back into the rubber band that had been trying to hold it in a ponytail and pushed up the sleeves of her faded sky blue sweatshirt, squinting at her work. She picked up the wobbly little lamp for a better look around.

Exactly eight feet by eight feet, broken only by a door smack in the middle of the south wall behind her and a closed heating vent jammed into the ceiling above her, this windowless space contained a vertical map stretching over all three walls and most of the north wall in front of Kait. Not just a simple one-dimensional map, either. This project had depth, texture, and color.

On her left, the swirling Soninglan Ocean juggled islands of dried mud that jutted out defiantly. Each concentric level of the ocean had taken Kait forever to delineate, as she tried to accurately describe the increasing depth of the ocean and the necklace of brightly named islands it contained: Songbird, Melodian, Baylit, Trebling, Bellewinger, and more.

On her right, a trio of cliff-shorn continents — Blacklingoe, Fellingar, Rohingal — jutted out like twisted vertebrae from the wall, separated by smaller seas and a pair of sharp gulfs. Ahead of her were the plains of the second-biggest continent, Forivin, nestled next to the forests and valleys protected by the Splitshell Mountains.

Just to the east of Forivin was an island made up of equal parts forest and mountains. The largest peak was represented by a strangely bleached rock she’d found on the shoulder next to Jones Ferry Road one morning and subsequently glued and jammed into the drywall, a perfect likeness in scale and shape to the real mountain, Balasander’s Crest.

The looping song running through her head — mostly a four-beat bass riff mixed in with twitching drums, bom-biddy-boom — came to a thudding halt as she blinked the last of the sheetrock dust from her vision.

“Holy shit.” In the shaky lamplight, only an oblong five-foot-high by four-foot-wide section of the western wall remained undone. Unmapped.

The rest of it was finished, textures and mixed media and all, covered in layers of shellac to keep it intact.

She’d heard about people doing things like this, somnambulists or drunks or heavily medicated joes who got behind the wheel of their cars and made the commute to work and returned home without ever waking. Kait couldn’t really remember any specifics about the other nights she’d come in here to carve and build. She just woke up in the middle of the night and got to it, sleep and her other paying work be damned.

And she’d gotten good at this, the most creative work she’d ever done. The forested areas of her eight major continents and assorted smaller islands were adorned with a mix of pine needles, sticks, dried leaves and bark, all assembled so that no two forests looked even remotely similar. Those had taken forever, and Kait hadn’t been especially pleased with the final results, but something kept pushing her, compelling her to move on and finish this thing. She’d wanted to add water to all the rivers, lakes, and seas, but physics had stumped her there. She was most proud of her mountains, though, each peak hand-picked from gravel roads and riverbeds, then applied just so with glue onto the wall.

She set the lamp next to her favorite mountain range, in the huge eastern continent of Ezled next to the door to her spare room. The continent and its smaller neighbor stretched from the top of the wall onto the door itself, both of them thick with jutting rocks. Kait did remember that these monsters had taken her over a week to do, back in December, and she’d finished it the day after Christmas. She didn’t have anywhere else to go that holiday, surely not back home to Cherokee to listen to Mom bitch and moan about the neighbors and the small-town politics. Her usual freelance work had dried up, so she’d stayed up all day and night for three days straight, using her hot glue gun to attach the various gray and brown rocks she’d found in a dry riverbed a mile down the road from her apartment building.

The hilly trail leading up to the waterless barren had reminded her of home, and of course, her Grampa. He was the one who’d gotten her hooked, first on hiking, and then on maps.

“Find the hidden places first,” he always told her, smiling a cryptic, tooth-gapped grin at her. He always had mud on his face during a hike through one mountain trail or another, from itching his nose with a muddy finger or rubbing his chin. “The rest of the map comes easy.”

Thinking of Grampa in his old gray-black jeans and goofy feathered hat with the pointy brim, the clothes he wore the last day she saw him alive, Kait reached out to touch the first of the jagged brown rocks in the range leading north up the wall. The biggest mountain in the range was — of course — a good foot or so above the door, a rock nearly six inches in diameter at its base. She ran her finger down the side of this smaller rock, tracing the lighter paths of calcium stained into it like tiny trails or rivers. She’d drawn her only blank trying to name this mountain range, so she just called them the Something Something Mountains. She could label it later.

When her fingers touched the peak of biggest of the scaled-down mountains, Kait felt herself being pulled — first as if falling, then as if being dragged by rough hands — somewhere else. The odd beat of her wordless song filled her ears — bom-biddy-boom! — blasting her eardrums now instead of tickling them, and her vision doubled. The air smelled sharp and acrid, like hot rocks after a sudden rain, and she felt tiny mouths biting her where her fingers touched the river rocks embedded in her wall. The mountains split open in front of her like a dark gray mouth, reaching out for her as the music crescendoed like thunder: Bom-bom-biddy-biddy-boom-boom!

Kait’s world tilted, and she could feel a key, essential piece of herself begin to peel away from her physical body, as if her soul was being stolen from her without a fight. As if she wasn’t really there any more…

And then she opened her eyes. She was sitting on her rear end in the middle of the room, head spinning in slow circles as she looked up at the Something Something Mountains.

“Holy shit,” she said again, ears ringing, both hands pressed hard to her chest. She looked down at her hands and arms, half-expecting to see the angry red imprints of many small hands there, but her skin was unblemished. The bass music thudded inside her head one more time, but then she realized that — at what had to be two or three in the morning — the sound was actually someone banging on her apartment door.


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