Even though the menace of a virtually sunless sky loomed overhead, the Thicket seemed to have a light unto it’s own. As the dark from the outside nuzzled the air and trees, glooming all that is known with a dim promise, the area where the group has just stepped into was awash in a diffused brightness.

The Thicket was nothing more than that really, a lush wooded area thick with heavy forest growth, but there was nothing really ‘thickety’ about the place. It was always referred to as such because of the dense bramble and collection of tree, yet once you stepped inside, one was met with a fairly open space that was protected by that towering hedged wall of stems, sticks and spines. Circumventing and seemingly out of place, the Thicket’s harsh partition grew tall and ominous, coming together in a center point above its interior arena yet open enough to not fully cover up the sky. Through reaches of spear-like shoots and branches, the heavens made itself known over a jagged skylight peering through the dome like summit. Above them, just edging through the coils of forest fortitude, hung that blacked out sun, waxing into the afternoon sky.

Down below, our friends walked into the safety of the Thicket, slowly, talking very little while scouting around to familiarize themselves with a place they knew all too well. It was their very own hidden cathedral that only the five friends were lucky to have found and were able to call their own.

“It looks so different in this spooky light,” Oskar mentioned. “The last time we were here, the sun was it’s usual bright self. I’m beginning to feel quite sorry for it. Still, it always feels like home here. My real home.”

“What I’m sorry about is the fact that we didn’t bring snacks,” Jorty chimed, rubbing his belly. “Who else is hungry?”

“Didn’t you just eat?” asked a confounded Dobran.

“Yeah, well…that was a while ago. And it was just a small bite. Pretty hard to catch too.”

“Oh boy, oh boy,” Micha sputtered. “I don’t feel too good. No way. Not at all. Th-th-this is bad, bad I tell you. Don’t you feel it? Can’t you feel that…that…badness? It feels thick, like my uncle’s radish stew. I can tell when something is not right. And something is definitely not right here.”

“Micha, of course something is wrong. We have no sun,” said Uwa as the voice of reason. “That’s why we’re here.”

“No. No. There’s something else,” twittered Micha nervously. “I can feel it. There’s something else here in the Thicket.”

The Thicket, even being surrounded by that tall prickly wall, was a nice spot, almost a picnic area really, with a few rocks, shrubs and the occasional flower decorating it. Still, in all of its rudimentary appearance, the Thicket had one curious feature to it. Everything was in a spiral and joined together at a center. Not available to the unassuming eye, at first, the Thicket was indeed embellished in such a way that the intention of it’s bearing was to draw all to it’s core, which is where the five friends were approaching. A forest shrine, deep in their screened sanctuary, hidden by a stronghold of wooden daggers, had indeed a nexus. It took our friends many visits to discover its layout, but once they did, it made them feel as if the five friends had stumbled across a place of wonder and enigma. They still try to break the code of why the Thicket is such, how it came to be and the meaning behind it all, but it is of no real consequence to them in all honesty. The Thicket is their place of solitude and secrets, their special meeting place, because interaction between such a diverse range of Woodland inhabitant is frowned upon and misunderstood. This hidden wooded cathedral, they say at times, perhaps found them.

“Well, what do you think is here?”, asked Oskar. “I don’t see anything, except for the usual lot of flower and stone. Nor do I feel anything.”

“I know what’s here,” said Jorty. He then lifted his left leg and produced a loud BRAP! from his bottom that echoed throughout the Thicket.

“Oh, come on!” shouted Dobran. “Really Jorty? Here? Now? This is no time for that kind of behavior. Or the place.”

“Sorry,” Jorty snickered. “Just thought I’d break the tension by breaking wind.”

“Gross,” said Oskar, laughing, holding his nose.

The group meandered their way into the center area of the Thicket. That medial core space had five distinct flat rocks that they all laid out quite a while ago circling a raised, perfectly leveled tree trunk that was, apparently, the absolute center point of the Thicket. Both surfaces of the rocks and tree trunk were very smooth, even shining a bit. That is if the proper light was available, which it sure was not that day. Before anyone could sit down, Micha suddenly stopped and began feverishly pointing towards something.

“There! Over there!”, he quaked. “There’s something over there! Just past that bush!”

The other four slowly turned their heads to see what Micha was going on about. Focusing on what he was pointing towards only revealed a thick dark green bush with nothing more than the Thicket wall behind it.

“Um…I don’t see anything,” Jorty said rather impassive. “There’s just that old bush, as always.”

“You know, come to think of it,” Uwa began,”you’ve always been drawn to that area Micha. I wonder…why is that?”

Micha could not take his eyes off of the bush that resided in the distance. Consumed with emotions and discordant thoughts, he held his two paws in front of his mouth and bobbled up and down wildly.

“You’re right Uwa,” noted Oskar. “He’s always had a thing about that area.”

“Look, I’ve been over there a dozen times at least,” Dobran broke sounding a bit exasperated, “and I haven’t seen a gall darn thing. ‘Cept, for some rocks and debris. It’s just an old bush. I don’t get it.”

“Well, let’s worry about it later,” suggested Uwa. “Micha, are you alright?”

The twittering Rabbit seemed completely distracted yet was easily drawn back into the group when Uwa showed concern.

“Y-y-yes. Yes I’m fine. Yes. I’m okay. It’s just…oh, never mind. It’s probably n-n-nothing. Nothing really. Just my imagination. That’s all. Yes. J-j-just my imagination.”

“Good,” nodded Uwa with a smile. “Now let’s get down to business.”

In The Thicket is an epic fable of rather small proportions. Set in the large expanse of the Woodland, a place home to a variety of forest creature, the story revolves mainly around five friends: A squirrel, a fox, an elk, a beaver and a rabbit. These characters are relative “outcasts” within the confines of the Woodland. Their intelligence, special talents and square peg ideals have essentially ostracized themselves from their other clan mates and family, making things rather difficult for them. Socially, that is. Through time, tangles and some trepidation, the five all found each other and have gathered together to form a sort of secret club. This union of theirs, which is looked down upon as separate clan commingling is deemed unnatural, meets in a secret location, one that lies deep within the dense forest of the Woodland.

A thicket.

Here, in the the thicket, they come together to meet, play, tell stories, support one another, make plans and, most importantly, escape the drudgery and danger that lies back home and in the Woodland. It is a sacred and serene spot for the five friends, and it remains a well kept secret between them.

Our story begins when Oskar, the squirrel, climbs up his favorite tall oak tree to watch the sun rise. It’s how he starts everyday, even though some birds protest his arrival. This one morning, something is very different. In fact, something has gone horribly wrong. When the sun finally peeks over the mountain top, it reveals itself to be nothing more than a sunken black orb. The sun, it seems, has been blacked out.

This bizarre event not only sets Oskar off in search of his friends but inspires panic amongst the other Woodland inhabitants. After much trial and error, the five friends, Uwa (the elk), Jorty (the fox), Dobran (the beaver), Micha (the rabbit) and Oskar all come together and wonder what could cause such a phenomenon.

Being the smart and curious bunch that they are, they soon find themselves in a mystery solving adventure that takes them to all sides of the Woodland, and even beyond. The five travel into clan territory and areas they never thought they would, or even could, venture into and discover whole new worlds in their own neck of the woods. So to speak.

During all this, the bears, who essentially “govern” the Woodland, much like a lazy and dim witted aristocracy, see the sun blacking out as a means to incite enough fright amongst the weakened Woodland inhabitants to attempt a full take over once and for all. So not only is there trouble looming from the sky, but now the innocent inhabitants have to deal with the bears trying to rule them with a heavy iron paw. To make matters worse, the bears have made an allegiance with the owls. The owls, through the years, have given themselves the moniker of “wise”, as that reputation has followed them for so long, and have essentially abused that status. But really, deep down, they have the same power hungry nature as the bears. So their partnership is a lethal one.

As our five friends go exploring and investigating, they begin uncovering secrets that have gone ignored or at least concealed for countless time. Deep within the ant colony, a “magic” water spring resides which has recently been discovered by certain rogue moose that has somehow transformed them into beastly behemoths. Surrounding this particular spring is a large circular stage of sorts and on it is some kind of writing. Runes basically. No one knows what it says. No one knows how to read. Except, of course, the owls. Now our team has to venture into the inhospitable (at least to ground walkers anyway) terrain of the Order of the Birds to try and get an answer or two.

It’s here that our friends discover even darker and more profound secrets and get into a lot of trouble. This leads them to seek council with the turtles in their hermitage for spiritual evidence. More clues are unmasked here, more hints towards, what appears like, a divine intervention. At the same time, the rouge moose have teamed up with the snakes to attempt a hostile overthrow of the bears and owls, seeing as they want to rule the Woodland. Not a good thing at all.

Still, underneath the growing tension and torrent, all our furry protagonists want is answers.

The sun rises again, this time in its usual bright and warm self, only to illuminate the setting of war within the Woodland. Separate clans that have kept contempt buried for so long, finally come forth. The snakes and moose move in to subvert the bears and owls. But what about the sun? What caused that to black out? And what’s the deal with that weird spring deep inside the ant colony? How come the drinkers get so big and mean when they sip from it? What the heck do those runes say surrounding the spring? Why can’t things just go back to the way they were?

In the end, our friends realize there is a far larger and stranger power at hand, one that rules in shadow and mystery. This, they come to accept, is just the beginning of something big and enterprising for their group.

In The Thicket is a fast paced novel written for the young reader in mind yet expansive enough to be embraced by all. Combining my love of mythology, theology, classic children’s books and searing heavy metal music, this wholly original story challenges the reader into new, yet rather familiar, territory. Sure there are some dark moments, and, yeah, it’s scary here and there but, man, it’s a lot of fun!

Book one, “Black Sun Rising”, is completed and in the early stages of editing. The follow ups are being outlined and worked on as we speak.

Not exactly a fantasy novel, nor really a kids book, In The Thicket works as a piece of visionary fiction and introduces stories, characters and situations that are embraceable by a very wide audience. At the same time, it remains unique and intimate enough to make the book the reader’s own.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the mountain lions and those silly gulls! Okay, don’t even get me started on those guys.

Really, there’s actually a lot going on in this book of mine. It’s kinda better if you just read it…

– Mark Whittaker

The idea came to me to write a children’s novel back in 1998. At the time I was working for a publishing company called Children’s Book Press back in San Francisco. After interning there for a bit I started working as their submissions manager and helping with student outreach programs. When my boss up and left for a better job out in New York, I got my walking papers too.

Anyway, as I was slogging through the daily pile of submissions (which I would 99.9% have to reject because they only published bi-lingual and multi-cultural kids books from local authors and artists) this one story kind of caught my eye. It had something to do with a castle, some enchanted forest and all that jive. As I geared up to compose my “Thank you for submitting” refusal, this one word in the tale got my attention.

Thicket.

What the heck is a thicket, I wondered. Looking it up, I came across this: 1. A dense growth of shrubs or underbrush; a copse. 2. Something suggestive of a dense growth of plants, as in impenetrability or thickness: “the thicket of unreality which stands between us and the facts of life” (Daniel J. Boorstin).

Huh, I thought. I liked that word.

In notebooks and journals I kept playing with the idea of some forest friends gathering in a thicket to do…something. I was planning to actually write a story but then I got caught up in the whole millennial “dot com” thing that ate up the Bay Area and started to seriously get into music journalism. All the while jumping from dead end job to dead end job, bad relationship to bad relationship. So, to say the least, that idea got shelved.

After much good times/bad times in San Francisco, which I chronicled in my first book, a memoir, “Rabbit Every Tuesday”, I finally fell madly in love and decided to leave my coastal home of 12 years. She lived in Tucson, AZ and the idea of solace, a new environment and cheap rent really hit home with me. In February of 2006, I packed up a rental car and drove the 15 hours to get to her.

Once there, Tucson proved to be a much rougher job market than I had anticipated. Nothing in my field was available to me; at least none that actually paid. No writing jobs, no publishing, no DJ gigs…heck, I couldn’t even get a job at the local used book store! So after a few failed endeavors (which included running a children’s dinosaur museum, writing for a crappy Arizona tourist newspaper, DJing weddings and even penning an interview with Los Lobos for a small weekly periodical), my now fiance She-Ra (Sherra, actually, but I’m a huge “Masters of the Universe” nerd so, you get the idea…) made this suggestion:

Just get a job where I work. Work in the kitchen, write your books and just get on with it!”

A kitchen? I’ve never worked in a kitchen before. Sure, I can cook like the wind but…a real actual restaurant kitchen? No way.

The managers and most of the staff already knew me there so when I applied I was in training to be the new daytime pizza chef before I knew it. Turns out, the job aint half bad. I show up, I do my job, I have fun, I go home, I write and that’s that. It’s actually the perfect job for a dork like me. There’s no “working from home” with this job, I’m not in an office, I don’t work with the public, it’s close by and, best of all, there’s free beer waiting for me at the bar after a particularly busy shift.

After I got settled in with the job, I sat down and composed my first novel, “Rabbit Every Tuesday”, which chronicles the last year of my life in San Francisco. It’s not one of those “Oh look how cool my life was” memoir, but rather “I’m stuck in this weird ex-girlfriend’s apartment working as a bartender with an alcoholic demon as a boss all the while getting addicted to cocaine because I’m miserable and lonely as my time as a heavy metal DJ is coming to an end” type of thing. But it has a happy ending. I met She-Ra. The end.

Once the editing and fine tuning of the book was completed, I set out to get it published. After endless submissions to agents and publishers, spending countless hours on query letters and author bios, along with shelling out money I really didn’t have for mailings, I now am in the possession of a large file drawer stuffed with rejections. Most of which say: “Love it, don’t know what to do with it.” Oh well, I thought. I’ll keep trying.

As I geared up to send out more submissions while at the same time outlining the “sequel” to the book, the Tucson years!, I came across something that would get the “Thicket” gears in motion.

A new “super” Target store opened up on one of the main drags here in Tucson. Like any good and diligent member of the consumer race, we had to go and check it out one afternoon. It was huge, sprawling, and much too bright for my eyes, which were used to a dark room and glowing computer screen. There was just too much stuff to take in. Eventually we made it to the “book section”, near all of the noisy TVs and video games, and slowly scanned the area. Outside of all of the Oprah book club rot, bland cookbooks, sad self help crap and once good novels now made into movies with the film poster art as the new cover, I found the kids section.

Now, there were a good amount of picture books, mainly new and popular titles along with all the Disney fare, but the biggest section of them all, the one that trumped any in the book area, was the young adult expanse of shelves. In it, you had your Harry Potter’s, below them, were countless rip offs of adolescent wizards and their problems. I mean, dozens of titles and new series, even some with the Potter font to get you duped into buying it. Then there were the pink and light blue hued “tweens that love to shop and gossip” area. Just absolute pulp for the poor little girl who wants to be popular but is stuck in her room, listening to Avril Levine and reading junk like “Shoptastic Besties” and “The New Cute Guy That Caught All of Our Eyes!” Ugh.

Then, and this was the section that made me slap my forehead, hard, were the endless, countless, worthless copycats of the “Twilight” phenomenon. I mean, for real…it went on and on! Nothing but black covers with teenage girls bearing fangs with titles such as “Bitten”, “Night Falls”, “Blood Oaths”, “Marked” etc etc etc. I could go on but I stopped around the 20th book and went to the game section to get some Hungry Hungry Hippos therapy. Literally, I felt both overwhelmed and let down. And, honestly, I wasn’t too sure why.

Basically, it comes down to this: I have been an advocate of children’s literacy and a fan of kids books for years now. My time at the publishing house, my stint as a volunteer with the San Francisco and even Tucson library, along with my love of books in general just kind of made me feel as if kids and teens these days are just being fed over-marketed pablum to get you to buy tickets to the next movie, tee shirts, whatnot, without much substance to go with the product. Now, here’s the thing! I actually liked the “Harry Potter” books and most people I know (all girls) love “Twilight”, She-Ra and my cousin Lisa included. So, there must be something there.

Thing is, those books were original, even if they aren’t the be all end all of literature. They’re fun! They’re written and aimed at the young reader. It’s just the ripoff factor that was getting to me. And I know kids are a lot smarter than we pretend to think they aren’t. Especially when it comes to trends and the next cool thing.

The next morning, I woke up with an idea. An epiphany if you will. Not only do I love to write but I also love kids books. Mixed that with my resentment I felt in the young reader book section at target and whammo!, I knew my next move.

I’m gonna write a kids novel.

But what? Where do I start? I don’t want to write about vampires in love, or young wizards or even a boy and his dragon. Oh, and that whole pre-teen girls that love to shop is definitely out of the question. So I sat on the porch with a notebook and began to sketch and brainstorm.

It didn’t take long, as this is not only one of my all time favorite subjects but also the title of my blog, for me to write down: “Furry woodland creatures”.

That’s it!, I thought. I then went to my file drawer, pulled out an old notebook with “Kids Book” crudely written on it in black Sharpie and found my outline for something called “In The Thicket”.

Perfect. But…what’s it about?

For the next month I literally pulled my hair out going nuts over the storyline. The characters I had; I wanted forest and woodland friends, so a squirrel, elk, beaver, fox and rabbit began to take shape. The squirrel was most important. My love and fascination with those guys runs deep. Heck, in film school I had to come up with a name for my “production company”, an assignment for a class, and the only thing I could come up with was Hindu Squirrel Ent., which combined my favorite religion and favorite animal. The others, well, I picked them for their personality types.

Elk would be a strong leader, fox would be cocky and wily, beaver would be steadfast and curmudgeonly and the rabbit would be kooky and weird. But as I leafed through that notebook, one sentence kept coming up:

And a squirrel shall save them all…”

Then I had to come up with names. At first I was going to base their names off of the sounds each character made. All I came up with, after listening to endless nature sounds on various websites (mostly hunting sites so you could download the mating call of said animal to get them to come near enough for you to, well, you know…), were names like “Rar”, “Whee”, “Chippa” and stuff like that. Not even close.

Then I began researching animal deities of various myths and religions. The origins have been lost from negligence on my part, most likely the pages of notes got thrown away from my constant need to clean away clutter, but I settled on these:

Oskar”, for the squirrel, which I believe is Native American in origin. Just shortened a longer name to make a fairly normal one.

Uwa” for the elk, which is Scandinavian if memory serves me correct.

Jorty”, for the fox. Again, Native American.

Dobran” for the beaver which I’m pretty sure is a derivative from a Sumerian folk tale, a beaver character named ‘Doboranian’ or something like that.

Micha” for the rabbit, which was Asian. ‘Mi kah’ was a bad bunny in some Japanese fairy tale. Not a pleasant fellow at all…

There, I had my protagonists. Now what?

As I sketched in my notebooks, my longtime love of mythology and fascination with theology kept coming up. I wanted to create a whole new world, yet it had to be absolutely familiar. A forest setting, of course. “The Woodland” as I call it. Then the notion of a “higher power” kept creeping in. Now, I didn’t want this to be some “christian” book or have the religious overtones of some CS Lewis series, but I do like the idea of the great artist creating the play field for our forest friends. After much shifting and moving ideas around, I settled on the innocuous “Almighty” as the governor in the sky. These are animals mind you. Who makes the rain? What makes the sun rise and fall? Etc. Plus divine intervention is always a fun thing to play with.

Then the story started to evolve. I wanted our five friends, the beaver, squirrel, elk, fox and rabbit, to be sort of outcasts within the Woodland. In an environment filled with simple hunters and gatherers, these five want just a bit more than a life laid out in such simple terms. Through trial and error, they found each other and, although they are all quite different from one another, rely on one other for support. Their bond and friendship is essentially misunderstood and even looked down upon by the other inhabitants and clans of the Woodland. So they keep their group a secret and even meet in a secret and hidden away place.

The Thicket.

Now I just needed a story. I had this idea about the bears governing the Woodland like some lazy, spoiled royal family. The idea of bears just lounging around and being “in charge” was compelling and rather amusing to me. Fat kings and queens with servants at their beck and call, so to speak. But that needed more substance. So I threw in a connection with the owls, which are birds that are always related to ‘wisdom’. Why? Owls are essentially vicious predators, but because they look the part of some wise old creature, along with endless tales and tomes about them being so, I wanted to smash that. So an allegiance between the two factions started to take form; a sort of dictatorship over the Woodland so to speak.

But that storyline could only go so far for a writer like me. I’m not very political and I really didn’t want kids and their parents to be bored by some furry woodland creatures being overrun by bears and owls and they somehow triumph over them in the end somehow. Still, it was intriguing.

One afternoon, as I was peddling around in the garden, I had my stereo on with music on shuffle, playing fairly loudly as I pruned and planted. A song came on that would get the serious and exciting meat of the story going in the direction that I wanted. A band called Scorn, which, at the time, was a very heavy and brooding industrial metal band, did a very long and almost ambient cover of Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard”. Clocking in at almost 12 minutes, it chimed with thundering beats, distorted guitars, lulling soundscapes and vocals echoing into near obscurity. After a lengthy instrumental break, and me sitting on the porch calmly repotting, these words fell over the cool afternoon breeze:

Black sun rising…”

For some odd reason, those words and the way they were said, moved me to stop what I was doing, run into the house, grab a pencil and paper and scribble it down, dirty hands and all. That’s it, I realized. I now have my starting point and dark mythological edge to the book. But what caused the sun to black out? Who cares? Let’s get writing!

Early the next morning I opened a blank word document and began typing. Hours later, I had the characters introduced, the menace of a blacked out sun looming, panic and terror within the Woodland and other threats and pitfalls for our protagonists to play with. The words and story just started to come and every morning, for five months straight, before and after my shift at the restaurant and on my days off, I wrote and wrote, getting deeper and deeper into the Woodland and all the secrets it holds.

The journey started early November of 2009, and one sleepy afternoon in late March of 2010, 300 + pages later, I finally typed those both welcome and dreaded two words:

The End.

Then some tears came, a beer was opened and I sat on the patio looking out onto the brisk Arizona spring air and sighed.

Now what?”, I wondered.

As with my first book, “Rabbit Every Tuesday”, which was a wonderful learning tool, I now knew that the hard part was upon me. Editing, writing query letters, an author bio, synopsis of a book that is hard to explain outside of just reading it, and trying to find the right agent and publisher to get such a heady and epic (yet still funny and cute!) book out there for a whole new generation of readers.

Waning is the time of young vampires in love, adolescent wizards in trouble and tweens that love to shop. Arise the age of furry woodland creature!

Oh and this is just the beginning. Wait till you read book two. Hoo doggies!

Thank you.

-Mark Whittaker

These are the first few pages of “In The Thicket”. Book description and character rundowns coming soon!

In The Thicket
Book One

By Mark Whittaker

Black Sun Rising

After the young Squirrel ascended the tall twisty oak and perched himself atop his usual branch, he noticed something quite peculiar.

“The Birds,” he uttered to himself, “they are not singing.”

This familiar Squirrel always climbs up the big tree when it is still dark in the pre-dawn. While some are just waking and others returning to their burrow, hole or knoll to turn in after a long night out, he makes his way to the top of the old oak. The Birds usually protest, but the Squirrel just ignores them as the sight of seeing a new day come is the most beautiful and even magical to him. Doesn’t matter if it is cold and rainy, he still sits at the top of the tall oak tree and watches the sky slowly turn from dark to light.

“You only get one sunrise a day,” he likes to say to himself. “Same goes for the sunset. Which I can’t wait for either!”

But on this day, something was different. As he climbed up, he noticed that no Bird popped their head out of their hollow or nest to tell him that he was intruding and going much too high for a wingless Groundwalker. It’s been tradition that when he perches himself at the top, the chirps and whistles of song and morning Birds begin, ushering in the coming of the sun. That day, though, they were silent. No whistles and no chirps. Not even a hoot from those pesky Owls. The young Squirrel began to get suspicious that something was not quite right.

“No song for the sun today,” he uttered under his breath. “And the air. It is quiet as well. So still and so…”

The Squirrel then took note that the air was absent of any kind of breeze. It felt as if he was stuck in some acrid cave, one that has been closed off for sometime, and was devoid of a living atmosphere. The day, he observed, felt dead.

How could this be, he thought. No song from the Birds and the air breathes a lifeless breath? It feels as if I am stuck on top of a tree in the belly of a long forgotten and sealed over mine. The sky is a peculiar dark as well. No hint of the sun. At all. But it should be arriving. Yes, the sun should be peeking out from over Elk Hill at this time…

The Squirrel began to rub his paws together, his eyes darting around with an ever increasing fear. He then noticed that he was very short of breath.

“What is to come?” he asked with a shudder. “I feel as if I had just climbed up into a tomb. No song, no air and no light.”

Overhead, a large shadow circled under a starless sky. Its black wings spread wide, hovering as if plotting to swoop down at any moment; waiting for the right moment to attack. Possibly, the Bird is circling to give signal, which is never a good thing.

“A Buzzard,” he twittered, finally noticing the shape of the Bird. “This cannot be. They come only in times of death. But who has died? Better yet, what is dying?”

The Buzzard continued to glide quietly and methodically over the Woodland in a perfect rotation. The Squirrel tried to avert his gaze from it by focusing on the coming of the dawn. The sky turned from black to an ash gray. No blue, just murk.

“It’s not raining though. Why is the sky a dark shroud of gray? This does not make sense. Something is frightfully wrong!”

Then, at the peak of the hill, came a form. What should have been the sun, was replaced by a black orb, lumbering itself over the horizon. It was an ominous and dreadful sight.

“No!”, cried the young Squirrel, frightened. “What is that? It…it can’t be! The sun is gone! The sun has…has been blacked out!”

The sun had, it seemed , somehow, turned to a black spot in the sky. Sure the sun goes away now and then, turning black for a moment, but then it always comes back. This was different. This sun rose from the horizon already shrouded in gloom. It slowly waxed upward to become fully clear and visible to the young Squirrel’s unbelieving eyes. Twitching and more frightened than he had ever been, he looked up to see the circling Bird had disappeared.

“What does this mean?” he stammered. “I have to warn the others.”

The Squirrel then scampered down the mighty oak tree only to hear protests from some of the winged inhabitants.

“Hey! You with the fur! What are you doing up here? This is our home!”

That stopped the Squirrel in mid dash.

“Are you serious?” he inquired to the protesting Birds. “Do you not see that the sun has been blacked out? That the sky is as dark as shade? Do you not feel the stillness, like death, hanging in the air? Let me ask you this my feather afflicted friend. Why, in this stage of dawn, are you not singing or gathering your worms for the daily feast?”

The Birds all stopped with their objections, realizing he had a good point. Quickly, their expressions turned from fluster to concern.

“The Squirrel is right,” said a Finch. “It’s true. We aren’t singing. And, worst of all, I’m not even hungry. The thought of worms and bugs nearly sickens me. What’s going on here?”

As the Birds began to debate and twitter with angst, the Squirrel continued his way down the tree till he was finally on the floor and began his harried leaps to Elk Hill.

***

The Elks had already been awake for some time and were staring off into the horizon, looking at the dense black disc looming in the sky. They said very little, as words failed to come. The eldest, Amaar, slowly made his way through the gathering mob of onlookers and tried his best to calm any ensuing distress.

“My children,” he bellowed from his speaking mound, “this is an event that is beyond our comprehension. At least to mine. The sun, it seems, has become shadow and for that we must try and carry on knowing that the Almighty is giving us a sign of some kind. If not, we will not perish with screams and tears. Let us hope this omen clears itself by tomorrow and we can carry on in our regular fashion.”

There were murmurs as Amaar left his mound, both supportive and questioning.

“He is crazy,” said one. “The sun is gone! This is a prophecy of horrible things to come. I bet by dusk, we will all be dead.”

“He is right,” said another. “This could just be a hiccup in the day’s normal offering. We all have bad days. Why not the sun? It has been created, just like us, and I’m sure it has just fallen ill and will feel better by the next dawn.”

The chatter continued throughout the hill as the elder returned to his assemblage and dwelling. One Elk though began his way down the slope towards the forest below.

His antlers not yet fully formed and bearing a large brown spot on his left side which had always given others a reason to tease, the young Elk broke from the pack and stealthily approached the border.

“This is not right,” he uttered to himself. “I feel a definite chill, even in the hush, which means something is about to happen or has happened. Something that we must certainly pay for. But what? What is going on here?”

By the time the young Elk made his way to the base of the Hill, he was met with a familiar face racing towards him.

“Oskar!” he cried. “I’m so glad to see you.”

“It’s always a pleasure to see you too Uwa,” huffed the young Squirrel out of breath, “but I was hoping under less grave circumstances.”

The two briefed each other under the menacing black sun that was easing its way toward, what should have been, the early morning sky.  Each one telling their own experience and thoughts on the matter. They both came up with the same conclusion.

“I have no idea what this means,” Oskar admitted.

“Me either,” Uwa stated with a slightly embarrassed glance, looking around to see if anyone was watching them. The Elks generally look down at friendship, much less communication, with small Rodents. “Still, it’s really weird.”

“And scary.”

“Yes,” nodded Uwa. “Very.”

The two of them were standing near the Porcupine clan territory, just off the base of Elk hill, and the prickly inhabitants were prattling about in confusion and worry. The Birds above were beginning to chirp, not in song, but rather fright. The Woodland was now becoming a noisy haven of occupants slowing growing in audible panic over the ever increasing black sun that continued to climb in the ashen sky. It was not a welcome din to ears so used to easeful morning melodies and breezes.

On Thursday, March 11, sometime after lunch I believe, author Mark Whittaker typed the words The End on book 1 of the In The Thicket series. Now comes the fun part! Editing, rewrites, filling in all the gaps and then trying to get the darn thing published. Five months after starting the project, under much duress mind you, the first chapter of In The Thicket “Black Sun Rising” is completed.

As Mark goes through the book during revision, he will upload sections to give you a hint as to the book’s focus and intentions; along with character run downs, history, inspiration and general fun stuff to get you, and (hopefully) the rest of the world excited for the next wave of children’s novels!

Thank you for your patience and interest. God speed the furry woodland creatures…

How it all begins…

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