The Unready Queen by William Ritter

The Unready Queen by William Ritter

Author:William Ritter
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Published: 2020-04-06T20:46:07+00:00


Jacob Hill’s drill site was a grassy field nestled in a shallow dip between two hills. It was wide enough to squeeze in a decently sized baseball diamond, provided the outfielders didn’t mind climbing up and down hills or clambering through wild growth. Right smack in the center of it, surrounded by sawdust and splinters, stood the enormous stump. It was four feet high, with roots as thick as Cole’s waist and a top as broad across as the stage in Endsborough’s auditorium.

Fable let out a long, slow breath. “Aw, man,” she breathed. “This is why she’s been so grumpy.” Fable laid a hand on what remained of the Grandmother Tree.

The corpse of the tree lay in sections, stripped of its branches, at the northern side of the clearing. All around, shrubs and bushes had been ripped up, and a huge brush pile lay to one end of the field. Several more narrow tree stumps were also visible, low against the flattened terrain, and it was apparent Hill’s efforts had pressed the forest line back at least fifty feet to make room for his grand project. As for the pump jack, all that remained now were a few standing timbers and a lot of debris.

Cole examined the remains of the equipment, picking his way carefully across the wreckage. Beams of wood had been snapped like toothpicks. Iron rods as thick as Cole’s wrist had been twisted like paper clips and lay mangled in the dirt. Heavy cogs, like oversized clockwork, sat in a pile to the right. Three massive timbers and a couple of crossbeams remained intact, towering above them, although the structure leaned heavily to one side.

Cole heard Fable’s footsteps scuff along the earth as she approached. “Are you okay?” he asked.

She scowled. “What is this?”

“I think it used to be a boring rig, for cutting into dirt and rocks and stuff,” said Cole. “I’ve seen pictures.”

“Whatever happened here, it doesn’t look like it was very boring,” said Fable.

“Why was he digging so close to the forest in the first place?” Cole wondered. “Wouldn’t it have been easier to just do it up by the old farmhouse?”

Fable shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “But the forest is not happy. This is definitely where it was sending me.”

“Are the trees finally talking to you?” Cole asked.

Fable wobbled a hand from side to side. “It’s less like words and more like annoying pokes in my tummy. Not as helpful as you might think. But now that we’re here, it feels obvious. I’m not happy, either.”

Cole’s eyes dropped to the ground. “It looks like you and the trees aren’t the only ones who aren’t happy,” he said. He took a step back and Fable followed his gaze.

The two of them stood on either side of a massive footprint in the soil. Pressed into the freshly churned dirt was one broad pad with five clearly defined toes. The indentation was as big as Cole’s mattress. He could have lain down inside the thing and still had room to spare.


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