What if Aleister Crowley had a family? What kinds of things would that child endure? What evil deeds would shape his childhood?
What happens when that child lashes out against everything that’s been done to him?
These are the questions I played with when I wrote the short story “A Family Tree, Uprooted” for the anthology The Burning Maiden.
The protagonist is a broken man. He’s endured decades of abuse and now, after hunting his family down one by one, he returns to the old homestead for one last confrontation.
The problem, of course, is this is a short story, and there’s a whole lot of background going on. The reader has to know what the protagonist has dealt with and why it drives him to revenge. The reader has to know how heinous the family is, and understand the evil underlying the whole thing. Exposition works, but it would just drag down the story.
I chose to use implied history.
Our protagonist has a lot of memories here, and it’s a place he doesn’t want to be. As he makes the slog up the hill toward the house, he sees things that trigger nasty memories. He feels the pain those events inflicted. He bears the scars, both physical and mental. By the time we reach the climax, we have a good idea of the ordeal this guy went through, even if we didn’t witness the beatings and the blood and the dark magic firsthand.
I’m not the first to use this device. I first really noticed it in Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, but we see it in books and movies all the time. In its most common form, a character mentions something in passing, an incident or event, and we pick up its bearing in context. I think it’s a great way for writers to convey history without hijacking the main story with needless exposition.
For a finish, I dropped in a surprise that leaves the major action of “A Family Tree, Uprooted” open to interpretation. Some readers took it one direction, some readers another. Both picked up on the implications I intended, though, so I must have done something right.
Download the Kindle edition and let me know what you think. While you’re at it, you’ll get short fiction by guys like Joe R Lansdale, Tim Lebbon, Mort Castle, Cullen Bunn, Sarah Langan, and Bruce Boston. Horror fans, tell me that list doesn’t have you drooling!
A full table of contents can be found on The Burning Maiden website. Stay tuned for news of the print edition due next year. As an additional bonus, the Kindle edition of The Burning Maiden includes previews of Evileye novels like Winter Kill.
Make with the clicky, my friends. You won’t be disappointed.
About Mike Oliveri
Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. His Bram Stoker Award-winning first novel, Deadliest of the Species, was just reprinted by Evileye Books.