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C.J. Heckman

C.L. Heckman, Author of The Hound in the Heather
C.J. Heckman is an author and programmer. He and his fiancée live in Davenport, Florida with their beautiful baby bird Faryd. Connor loves Seinfeld references, complicated boardgames, and good coffee. Faryd loves sitting on Connor’s shoulder and nibbling on his ear while he writes.


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The Hound in the Heather by C.J. Heckman

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The Hound in the Heather by C.J. Heckman Eamon has not slept since the day his little brother died. Wracked by guilt and crippled in his right leg, he spends his youth caring for his ailing father in their decrepit family home. When a sorceress suddenly appears claiming to serve a mysterious deity, he is called forth on a journey to lay his brother's soul to rest. Eamon sets off with her, hopeful for redemption, but quickly finds the world has only grown darker and stranger since he last left the comfort of home. If Eamon is to succeed in his quest, he will have to come to terms with the guilt that has haunted him all these long years.

Word Count: 20204
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $3.99


The Hound in the Heather

Chapter One

The Barrow Witch came in the darkness of early morning. It was an hour at which most decent folk were asleep, but Eamon was awake.

He sat before the fireplace, making tea out of habit. A late autumn chill was creeping into the shanty, and the cold pained his bad leg. For one so young, Eamon knew a great deal about the aches of early winter.

Opposite him at the far wall of the shanty, the gaunt form of his father sat motionless in a chair of leather and horn. The old man’s mind had long since passed from the world, but his body lingered behind to dwell on the young shame of his house.

He hated Eamon and had good reason to, as any man in the Sleeping Wood may attest. Eamon didn’t mind the fact of his father’s hate. He only missed his brothers, his older brother Muir most of all. After little Niall’s death, Muir went to walk among the woods and never returned. It had been years since then, but Eamon always thought of Muir when the days turned cold.

The water in the tea kettle was coming to a boil. Eamon was stooping to lift it from the coals when his father spoke.


Eamon started. The teapot struck the stone floor with a clang he felt in his bones. His father laughed at this, an awful whistling sound that ended in a cough.

“Strangers on the road,” said the old man.

It was always nonsense when he spoke. Yet his voice had something of the old and weary in it that was impossible to ignore. Eamon walked cautiously over to the round window by the front door.

In the distance, two figures approached. Beneath them was the old stone road, and on this day it led straight to Eamon’s doorstep.

The witch was young, but her locks were long and white, the mark of one touched with the Knack. She wore a tattered brown dress with a necklace of knucklebones and raven beaks that clattered with her every step. On first seeing her, Eamon thought she was a wight come to take his father’s soul at last.

By her side walked the man called Murtagh. The people of the Sleeping Wood fancied him the Witch’s Bear. He was nearly twice Eamon’s own height with arms like willow branches and a tangled beard of brown hair. He kept his locks unbraided and his chest bare. In place of a walking stick, he carried a felling ax with a head of black iron.

The pair stopped a dozen paces from the shanty door. The girl cupped her hands and called to Eamon.

“Come forth, Eamon! Your mother summons you!” Her voice was piercing and bright as the shatter of glass.

Eamon stepped back from the window. The girl was no wight. He had seen her before, on the day he brought his mother’s body to the Barrow. He pressed his back against the front door and slid downward into the cover of darkness, hoping they hadn’t seen him.

It was then that his old man cackled again.

“Come now, child!” Aette called in answer.

“No thank you!” Eamon yelled back, keeping his back fast against the door. “Please go away!”

Eamon had a careful way of speaking, he was careful with a great many things.

“And my mother is dead!” he added, “You really shouldn’t go round claiming to be people’s mothers.”

“All men have two mothers! That of birth and of death! Now don’t make your only mother angry. Come here, or I will hex you so that worms fill your gut and spiders crawl from your ears!”

Eamon thought this was a bluff, but it didn’t matter, he wasn’t one to take chances with the Knack.

The door let out a pained creak as he opened it. He staggered out to meet the two strangers, his older brother’s walking stick in hand to balance out the lame leg on his right side. The ground before the door was uneven and his first few steps were difficult, it had been some time since he last left the shanty. By the time he reached the two of them, he was breathless and lightheaded.

“Still a boy and yet you walk with all the years of your father,” said the little witch. She might have meant it a slight calling him boy, but Eamon didn’t mind, he had never been called anything else.

His attention was drawn instead to the giant by her side. Eamon had heard of the Witch’s Bear but had never seen him before. Murtagh was younger than he first supposed. The giant’s imposing height hid much of his age, and the abundance of his beard hid nearly the rest. There was a dimple in the side of his head a palm’s width across where no hair grew, and from the crest of this bald spot, a patchwork of scars ran down his face and across his neck.

Folk said that Murtagh had been dying when the Barrow Witch found him in the forest, some folk even said he’d been dead. The Witch had taken him back to the Barrow, but did not inter him among the long shelves of stone that held the wrapped bodies of the dead. Instead, she buried him in the back of the Barrow, covering his body with mud from the banks of the Long Lie and sprinkling it with ashes of whisperwood. It was said Murtagh slept a long time that way, sleeping like a bear does in the winter. When at last he woke, he was healed from his wounds and grown to the size of a giant. Despite his imposing height and build though, the Bear still stank like the dead.

“Do you know my face, child?”

Eamon’s eyes snapped back to the little witch. She rocked back and forth on her heels, grinning at him. The skin of her face was paler than her teeth. Eamon did recognize her. He had only been to the Barrow once, after his mother died of the faerie fever. Back then he was too frightened to look upon the Barrow Witch except out the corner of his eye. The people of the Sleeping Wood revered the Witch, who used the power of the Knack to chase off foul spirits and commend the souls of the dead to the Sunless Lands.

Eamon did not revere her though, to him she was only death. Death swathed in frayed robes and strange perfumes, come to carry his mother into the long dark of the Barrow. Eamon tried to ignore the Barrow Witch during the short time he spent in her presence. Mostly he kept his eyes fixed upon the parchment-colored cloth that was draped over his mother’s face. But the little girl Eamon did remember had laid a crown of flowers upon his mother’s head. Although, on that distant summer day her hair had not been white, but black as charcoal.

“Aette?” Eamon plucked the name from deep in his head. “The Barrow Witch’s daughter?”

“Wrong!” She jabbed a finger in his gut. Eamon nearly lost his balance reeling away from her. “I am the Barrow Witch! And you and all the folk in the Sleeping Wood are my children now.”

“I see,” said Eamon. “Your mother must be ah, dead too then?” The words came tumbling out his mouth before he could stop them.

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