Friday, September 18, 2020

Blog Tour ~ The Fergus by Tori Grant Wellhouse


The Fergus
by Tori Grant Welhouse
Genre: YA Fantasy 


SUNK IN HIS OWN THOUGHTS, Rork looked up finally and took in the vast stretches of treeless wasteland that surrounded them on all sides. He and Deirdre were completely and utterly alone. He felt exposed, and he didn’t like it. Walking dispelled the feeling of vulnerability a little. At least he was doing something active.

“How’re you doing?” he asked Deirdre.

“Fine,” she said. She watched the ground, looking up reluctantly. “You know the moors when the heather’s fairly blooming? Great swathes of purple flowers? As far as the eye can see?”

“Aye,” said Rork. “This looks a little different.”

“Aye,” said Deirdre, tucking her chin.

Rork noticed Deirdre held her hands together in front of her, as if protecting something. He thought he caught a glimpse of color.

“What do you have there?” He motioned with his head.

“Nothing,” said Deirdre.

“It looks like something,” insisted Rork.

Deirdre didn’t answer him, and Rork let it go. Certainly, they had enough to contend with without him prying deeper than was acceptable to Deirdre.

Companionably silent, they continued to walk the lonely, sweeping landscape, the wind whistling through the weedy heaths. Peaty soil muffled the sound of their boots.

They stopped for water, Deirdre handicapped by her two already occupied hands. At last she looked at Rork.

“I have a stowaway,” she confessed, opening her hands to reveal a bedraggled daisy, still thriving coin-eyed in the palm of her hand.

“Oh,” said Rork, dribbling water down the front of his shirt. “How are you doing that?”

“As long as it remains in contact with me, it will survive. At least for a while.” Deirdre smiled like the Flower Girl he’d first encountered.

“That’s quite a trick,” said Rork.

Deirdre touched the daisy’s petals. “I have a memory of my mother with daisies in her hair. She had long, wavy hair like me.”

He thought she was looking for something from him. Understanding? Compassion? 

“I don’t know what the occasion was, but I can still see her. Vaguely. Her face creased. Smiling into the sun. Daisies tucked in her hair.” Deirdre placed the daisy carefully behind her ear. “Eventually it will need more nutrients than I can provide.” She took a gulp of water from her canteen and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Don’t tell me when it dies.”

The moorland waited for them, unrelenting into the distance. Rork had no idea how many days they’d been hiking. If it even had been days. Increments of time didn’t feel the same in Shufftie. He’d figured at least that much out about where they were. He wondered what kept the banshee. Should they stop for the night? Or would-be night? He reached for the bag of Deirdre’s trail mix he’d looped on his belt. Suddenly, he felt strange all over. His heart began to beat rapidly. His skin tingled. Supernatural feelings were beginning to feel all too common to him.

“What the…tell?” he said, explosively, trying to avoid again offending Deirdre.

An uncanny cackle reverberated in the air around him, through him. It seemed to be emanating from him, but it wasn’t him.

He began to hyperventilate.

Deirdre looked at him, concerned.

The cackle grew louder. “I am you, and you are me!” 

Rork’s chest rose and fell, rose and fell. He clawed at himself. “Get out of me!” he yelled again. “Deirdre!” he yelled, simultaneously a cry for help and a warning.

Deirdre took a wary step towards him.

“No!” he commanded.

Deirdre backed away, moving closer to the ground, crouching as small as possible.

Rork contorted in the throes of his backpack. “Off, off!” he cried. He threw his backpack to the ground. It kicked up gray dust, but still he struggled, seemingly at war with himself. He felt like he had a fever, a tightness in his chest, a heavy binding. “Get. Out.” The words were strangled, tortured.

The cackle filled the whole of his skull. “We are one. I squat on your bones! I feel what you feel.”



Rork threw himself to the ground and rolled back and forth as if possessed, continuing to slap at himself.

“I love your granny. Maybe I will meet her. Yum. Yum.”

“Shut. Up!” Rork could feel thoughts he didn’t recognize, strange, dark thoughts lurking, as if he were being taunted, stalked. He felt like ripping the heads off dolls, chickens. Doing damage. 

“And you feel something for this one. Yes?” That infernal cackle! It was an assault to his ears.

G-a-a-a-h, Rork thought, rolling into a clump of vicious-looking scrub. He’d rather feel anything — discomfort, pain. Any. Thing. But. This. 

Distantly he felt the jagged slicing of skin, the stinging of nettles, pickers, the air-wrapped coolness of many small wounds.

“Stop that,” said the ghost, an edge of annoyance creeping into his voice. “No pain! Pain, I’ve had enough of! I want your other thoughts.”

Rork rolled deeper into the scrub, protecting his face with his forearms. He didn’t think. He tried not to regard the piercing into his flesh. Thorns, sharp edges seemed to find him. His clothes bunched up, exposing his shins, stomach, lower back. The scrub lacerated him. Now in his head the sound of ripping, small tears.

“Nononononononononononononono,” whined the voice.

A ghostly head erupted out of Rork’s chest. Rork paused in his self-immolation.

“Why’d you have to do that?” the ghost asked Rork, nose to nose. “I want my fun.”

“I don’t want your fun!” gasped Rork, dripping blood from countless small cuts crisscrossing his forearms, hands, neck.

The rest of the ghost emerged from Rork, a short, dumpy man with waxy skin and a sparse comb-over. He had a large belly and short, fleshy arms.

“I want my fun,” he continued to pout, the shadow of whiskers darkening the loose folds of his neck. His pants were too short, revealing pale ankles, incongruously manicured feet in walking sandals. “Fun, fun, fun is what I’m about.”

He spied Deirdre, kneeling in the moorland, limp daisy petals drooping from behind her ear. Her eyes were huge, cumulus, but she seemed frozen in place as the ghost parasite almost skipped towards her.

Rork panted on the ground, watching in dread as the ghost closed the distance between them. “Come back!” he shouted, trying desperately to disentangle from the scrub.

But it was too late.

The ghost chanted. “Fun, fun, I will have my fun. Get ready, because here I come.”

With that, the ghost pinched his nose and dove feet first into Deirdre.

“N-o-o-o-o-o!” said Rork, renting the open sky of the vast, open moorlands with his shout.

Deirdre’s arms buckled, and she sunk lower to the ground, absorbing the ghost’s impact. She began to breathe fast, shallow breaths through her nose. Like the Little Engine That Could. Or couldn’t. Rork dragged himself out of the scrub, watching her anxiously. How would she react to the ghost’s invasion?

Deirdre got up hesitantly, unfurling upwards, as if testing her limbs.

“Ooo, ooo,” squealed the ghost. “Lots of room. Such tidy thoughts!”

She turned almost coyly and looked at Rork. Something Deirdre in her storm cloud eyes. Something not.

“Not immune to you either, the Fergus.” The ghost’s godforsaken cackle rang in the air.

Rork had managed to haul himself to a standing position. His skin was starting to welt and throb, but he ignored it. He took a few cautious steps towards Deirdre, thinking that perhaps he could wring the ghost out of her.

“No, no, loonie,” said the ghost. “I am not such a fool.”

Deirdre closed her eyes, facing what would have been the sun. She bunched her hair in a makeshift ponytail, letting the bulk of her hair remain in a loop. It was a uniquely Deirdre gesture. As well as the squaring of her packless shoulders. That was Deirdre all over. Her quiet resolve.

“What are you thinking, my girl?” said the ghost, a note of concern creeping into his voice.

Deirdre took off running, her long legs churning across the moorlands. She didn’t seem to care where she went. She just ran. Forging forward. Like a deer or gazelle. As if speed and distance and sheer propulsion could rid her of the cackling menace.

Rork took off after her, doing his best to keep up, but he was tired and sore, and his clothes rubbed against his poor, abraded skin. It took everything he had to keep her in view.

She was so fast. He’d had no clue of the ground she could cover.

She raced through Level Four: The Meadows, the dry grasses waving as she sped past, the rushes, too. Flowering marsh plants seemed to perk up and pay attention, Eyebright, blue-white in the gray light, but distinctively striped, with leaves like parsley, and hairy lousewort with their waxy, flowering tubers.

There was static in Rork’s head. Was it exhaustion? Fury? Had the voices in his head changed channels? Rork inhaled a ragged breath and tried to close the ever-widening gap between him and Deirdre. Whenever his gran had needed to cajole him — to try something new, to expend a little more effort — she got round him by calling him her pet name, “the Fergus.”

“Come now, the Fergus.”

“You can do it, the Fergus.”

It was part of the shared lexicon between he and his gran. Private.

Rork growled at the thought of a ghost violating this revered space and got a spurt of energy. Up ahead, Deirdre’s legs flashed on the trail, gleaming in the gray glow. Rork hoped the ghost would find all the exertion upsetting. He looked like a particularly indolent sort of ghost to Rork.

Deirdre galloped past the trailhead to Level Five: The Lochs, and then they overlooked a valley of glistening tarns, reflecting silver-glint in the overcast sky. The lochs were movingly beautiful but shadowed by looming mountain precipices on all sides, hinting at more treacherous terrain to come.

Rork stopped for breath, clutching his side. He took in great lungfuls of air, the static in his head continuing its white noise distraction. The dead chorus was on hiatus, and it worried him. Like something bad was about to happen. The calm before all-hell-broke-loose.

He watched Deirdre continue to run, her legs rippling with muscle, grit, sweat. Unable to stop. Desperate. And so far, the ghost was unshakeable. Rork could hear its cries echoing back to him.

“Giddy-up, young lassie!”

As if Deirdre was a wild mustang for the breaking.

Even the water plants, the ones that liked their roots wet, water lobelia and water plantain, shook their lush abundance with worry.

The white noise began to gather, getting louder in his head. Rush. A premonition of fear gripped him. Rork ran and hobbled, ran and hobbled. A strange sound came out of him as he tried to catch Deirdre. He hissed to himself. “Keep up, the Fergus. Keep up.”

Deirdre’s desperate run dead-ended at a bluff. There was nowhere for her to go. A raging river coursed below, agitated by the fall of water from above them. The waterfall dropped from the jagged foothills of the mountain summits.

Deirdre stomped around the bluff’s edge, snorting through her nostrils.

The crash of water filled Rork’s skull, building pressure behind his cheekbones. It appeared to be the source of all the static he had been feeling. If only he’d known.

Deirdre paused to look back at Rork who was hurtling towards her, streaked with blood and sweat and grime.

For a moment it was really Deirdre. Rork was close enough to see it in the flash of starburst in her eyes. She moved her lips, trying to say something.

The damned ghost cackled.

Deirdre gave him her version of a smile and turned back to the bluff. Then she long-jumped into the rampant river, hanging purposefully in the air, surrounded by the thunderous sound of white water.

“Deirdre!” yelled Rork. He bent over at the edge of the bluff, panting, and saw Deirdre’s boots disappear in a sweeping wave of water. The ghost pulled out just before Deirdre plunged below the surface.

“What have you done?” gasped Rork.

“And so, we become our fears,” said the ghost. He waggled his eyebrows, and the scant pelt on the top of his head moved up and down.

“I could kill you,” said Rork, through clenched teeth.

The ghost cackled. “Already been done, dear boy. Already been done.”

Rork could not even feel relief when the ghost took off into the sky. He watched Deirdre struggle to keep her head above water as she was carried relentlessly downriver, telltale letters following her: River of Forgetting.

In the mystical Highlands of Scotland, Rork, missing his beloved gran, wakes up with the ability to hear voices. And not just any voices. Fantastically Rork can hear voices of the dead, which lead him to a charismatic banshee and a colorful near-death survivor. The three are bound together in a time-tested banshee tradition with perhaps a side-goal or two. In the course of their adventures, they are pitched into an otherworld of before-death, after-death and in-between-death.The Fergus will appeal to fans of ghost stories, parallel universes and life-not-being-how-it-always-seems as in the worlds created by Laini Taylor, Stephenie Meyer or Helene Wecker.

Tori Grant Welhouse is a poet and writer from Green Bay. Her most recent poetry chapbook Vaginas Need Air won Etching Press’s 2020 chapbook contest. Her YA paranormal fantasy The Fergus won Skyrocket Press's 2019 novel-writing contest and will be released Summer 2020. She is an active volunteer with Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.

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  1. Here's a mood-making trailer created by my talented illustrator brother. Enjoy! EXTRAS on the website, too.