Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Edward Durham

@Archaeolibrary, @thisone0verhere,

#Dark, #Contemporary, #Fantasy,

Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment. Everyone has wished to meet their favorite characters, if only for a day. But be careful in that wish, for even a history laid in ink can be repaid in flesh and blood, and reality is far deadlier than fiction . . . especially on Addington Isle.Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book-a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined. It's Barley Day . . . and you're invited to the hunt.

Winterset Hollow is as thrilling as it is terrifying and as smart as it is surprising. A uniquely original story filled with properly unexpected twists and turns, Winterset Hollow delivers complex, indelible characters and pulse- pounding action as it storms toward an unforgettable climax that will leave you reeling. How do you celebrate Barley Day? You run, friend. You run.

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The stable was set a few hundred yards to the northwest of the house, and in the shadow of the opulence of the manor, it looked a decidedly modest structure. It was built in typical Tudor style and adorned with almost nothing that wasn’t strictly utilitarian—in fact, there was hardly anything on the exterior to take note of at all except for the two A’s that were branded onto the front doors and the heavy lock that was looped between their handles. Finn slotted his key inside and the thing fell open with a dull clank, and as he tossed it to the ground and eased open the doors, he recoiled at the fetid stench that escaped from within.

There was no neighing or whinnying or stomping of hooves as Finn entered, and even in the gentle light of his lantern it was clear that there were no bales of hay stashed in the lofts or saddles on hooks waiting for their mounts. There were no stirrups or bits or brushes of any kind adorning the walls, no horseshoes cluttering the corners, and no anvils or hammers with which to shape them . . . and in place of the stalls that would typically have been set along the building’s length, there were only cages similar to the two that sat alone in Addington’s basement. There were thirteen of them in total—six on each side and the largest one placed against the back doors as if it were seated at the head of the table, and as Finn casually strolled to the center of the space, it became plain that this wasn’t a stable for horses at all, but a home for a different sort of beast altogether.

There were five of them left—all housed in their cages along with the bones of the hounds that came before them, ragged and pitiful and hopelessly broken. They were still human in makeup, but it had been a lifetime since any of them had felt that way in spirit, their clothes now nothing but rags and their beards just as knotted as their foul, rotten hair. It had been ages since they had stopped fighting the mites and the louses that flocked to the place in droves for a feast they knew couldn’t escape. It had been ages since they stopped fighting anything really, and they wore the countless layers of dirt caked upon their skin like the bark on the trees that stood just outside, that resignation being somehow easier to swallow than the torture of having to peel it away and count the rings inside time and time again.

Finn swung his lantern around to each of their cages, and in turn they all recoiled from the shock of the light and scrambled to the rear of their confines, shielding their faces as the flame flickered off their water bowls, each of which was painted with a name—Queeny, Sir, Rooker, Bishop, and King. “Are you ready to work tonight, rats?!” bellowed the fox, kicking their cages and ringing their bells like cluster bombs, their chorus of awful moans and grotesque clicking sounds landing wholly welcome upon his upturned ears. “Tonight is the most important night of your worthless lives, do you know that? Today is Barley Day, an anniversary of sorts for you all. And on this day, the debt will finally be paid . . . and as it happens, so might yours.” The hounds spoke no words, but they whistled in response, the prospect of some fortune shining upon them, however grim, lifting their hobbled spirits.

“Tonight, this all ends. And if you perform as a hound should . . . if you do as I say, you’ll never see the inside of these cages again. I’ll let you live out your worthless lives here on the isle . . . free to do as you please. But if you don’t,” he continued, running his knife along Bishop’s cage and letting the blade clang off of every iron bar, “if you don’t . . . if even one of you runs . . . I’ll open you all from end to end and bleed you into your water bowls until there’s nothing left. Is that clear?” He looked directly at Bishop who gave a low, agreeable whistle as he ran his hands over the myriad scars that covered his skin and felt them burn as if they were fresh cuts again. “Alright then,” he said as he opened the locks on their doors.

The hounds crept out of their cages and stretched themselves and their joints cracked like kettle corn, and although they were all rather slim from their years of captivity, they weren’t necessarily gaunt as they had been kept just healthy enough for the purpose they were meant to serve. They looked like five broken things from the same twisted litter as they stood there leery of the lantern’s light—all of them bent into the same crooked posture and painted with the same putrid brush. All of them deathly afraid of what may come and rightly calloused by what had already passed.

“Grab your gear,” said Finn, nodding to a collection of five wooden spears and a pile of just as many lengths of rope which the hounds slung over their shoulders like sashes. “You can be free rats or dead rats. Choice is yours.”

Finn ushered them out of the stables, but as he turned back to close the doors, he gave into the impulse to take one last look at the cage at the head of the table—the one fronted by the water bowl that read Finn. He had been free of it for ages now, but he could still hear the incessant barking of the dogs from dusk till dawn till dusk again. He could still smell their foul breath and feel their dander thick in the air, and even though their bones were strewn about the place and his were not, it didn’t seem to make his ears ring any less and it didn’t calm his blood from boiling. He would kill them all again if he had the chance. Human or hound, it made little difference to Phineas Fox. They were all rats to him . . . and all the world a maze.

9 Favorite Books

Jon Durham, author of "Winterset Hollow"

1. Jurassic Park – My favorite Michael Crichton book, and as it turns out, my favorite Spielberg movie too. I'm a total sucker for original, high-concept stories that are executed with panache. I just love the allure of big, messy ideas and the momentum of everything's-falling-apart crises, and Jurassic Park has all of that in spades. Is the prose high art? Not particularly. Is the idea itself ingeniously simple and patently original and completely exciting? Yep…and that combination doesn't come around very often. To me, the perfect idea is more awe-inspiring than the perfect bit of syntax, and Jurassic Park gets as close to that mark as any other book for my money.

2. A Moveable Feast – Hemingway's hit or miss for me, but when he hits, he's among my favorite authors of all time. A Moveable Feast is far and away my favorite of his works—an exercise in rhythm and flow and an ode to the most treasured era in his life all at once. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that's made me yearn to time travel more…to be a demi-god among other art-world demi-gods in Paris, sipping aperitifs and waxing philosophical and having not a care in the world besides keeping your ego fed and looking down your nose at friends and foes alike. It all seems so effortless and grand the way he tells it, which I'm sure wasn't actually the case, but the beauty with which he describes those days makes me want to believe him more every time I read it.

3. James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl was my first real introduction to actual fantasy novels when I was younger, and as such, there will always be a huge soft spot in my being for him and his catalogue. James and the Giant Peach was the first of his books I ever read, and I can still remember being absolutely transported into the world that was poured onto those pages. I loved the fact that his stories, more often than not, took place in the real world…but the real world with a bit of a twist to it. To me, that made it all more tangible and believable and fascinating…it's like the reality of his books were always just a golden ticket away, and all I had to do was find that one lucky bar of chocolate.

4. Where the Wild Things Are – To be both frank and uncouth, this book scared the shit out of me as a child, so I probably read it several hundred times. It didn't hurt that Maurice Sendak's illustrations were beautiful and haunting and brimming with authorship either, but there was something about the story, light on actual words as it might have been, that terrified me…and for some reason, I had to keep going back to try and figure out what it was. To this day, it's still hard to articulate, but I think there's just something about the idea of an imagination that's so intense it seems completely real that scares me…something about the boundaryless nature of that concept that makes me uneasy…because even if you don't want to see the wild things, they're always there, and even if you end up frolicking with them, you'll still never be able to control them.

5. The Hardy Boys Series – Yes, yes, yes…I know. Hardy Boys books are more comic books than they are actual books. They're pulpy and formulaic and a little bit lame, but when I tell you that I read all of them when I was younger, I mean that I read all of them. And while I didn't glean many lessons on literary fiction from any of them, I did come away understanding the draw of a singular idea…and I did learn how to ask an interesting question and work towards an interesting answer…and I did learn the power of a good mystery. Those things have stuck with me to this very day, and I consider them among the most important writerly lessons I've learned…so if you're reading this, Frank and Joe…thank you.

6. Slaughterhouse-five – A book full of lessons, both moral and otherwise…and a book I dearly love. Kurt Vonnegut presents you with a story and immediately tells you 'This could all be total bullshit, but that's not really the point.' I mean, he says that in the very first line of the thing and still manages to present a searing anti-war narrative that's almost unimpeachable in its morality…an outcome that's typically built upon the careful building of trust with your reader. But no, Vonnegut doesn't care if you trust him…he doesn't care to explain how somebody can become 'unstuck in time'…and he doesn't care if you think his narrator is full of shit, and all of that nonchalance somehow, some way, makes his story all the more powerful.

7. The DaVinci Code–So, before you light me up for this, let me be clear about something—this book is garbage, but it's the best kind of garbage. No, it doesn't make any sense…yes, it's riddled with plot holes and impossibilities and dubious takes on world history…no, it's not particularly well-written…yes, it's bat-shit crazy…but who doesn't love a logistically improbable romp through a series of historically significant cities at the mercy of a handful of ancient secret societies? I know I do. Switch your brain off and open up your entertainment gullet and prepare to be waterboarded, because The DaVinci Code is the very best kind of torture, and deep down we all love a little pain every now and then. Besides, I'll read any book starring Tom Hanks ;)

8. Ulysses–Go ahead, roll your eyes…I care not. I love a puzzle and I'll never make any apologies for that, and James Joyce's unnecessarily obtuse and annoyingly allusive tome is really just that—one big puzzle. I'll be honest, it's kind of a turn on for me when a writer puts something in front of my face that screams 'Go on, try to figure this thing out.' And it doesn't hurt when that writer is James-everloving-Joyce, who basically just throws out all the rules and does whatever the hell he wants to do in this book, which is at times absolutely hilarious and at other times borderline obscene, but the entire time completely fascinating in a 'open up your favorite author's head and route around inside' kinda way.

9. Lord of the Flies – Golding's masterpiece terrifies me like few other books. Nothing Stephen King has ever written has come close to the kind of hyper-tangible, deeply affecting, chaotic-but-at-the-same-time-calculated horror that unfolds on that island. There's nothing scarier than tribalism, if you ask me…nothing more destructive, nothing more nonsensical, and nothing more historically effectual…and Lord of the Flies is a study in the germination and contagious nature of unfettered tribalism. Yes, they're children, but they might just as well be men, and if you don't think that's the point, you may want to read it again. And if you do think that's the point, you may want to read it again…because it's just that good.

Jonathan Edward Durham was born near Philadelphia in one of many satellite rust-belt communities where he read voraciously throughout his youth. After attending William & Mary, where he received a degree in neuroscience, Jonathan waded into the professional world before deciding he was better suited for more artistic pursuits.

He now lives with his partner in California where he writes to bring a unique voice to the space between the timeless wonder of his favorite childhood stories and the pop sensibilities of his adolescent literary indulgences. His debut novel, Winterset Hollow, an elevated contemporary fantasy with a dark twist, is mined from that same vein and is currently available everywhere.

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