What a year this has been. Our first three books–Mike Madrid’s THE SUPERGIRLS, my JAM TODAY, Brian Griffith’s CORRECTING JESUS–all launched and bobbing up and down with a high heart on the high seas. We had about a day and a half to realize, relieved, that the first year of the Press has been a success, before we started freaking out in the normal way about next year. Next year…this year, my God, it’s this year already…is our Fairy Tale Year. We’d planned that because, well, you know, of all the dissed stories in the world, the ones that get looked down on the most, while being of the most major (albeit hidden from view) importance, Fairy Tales have to top the list. Along with cooking, female superheroes, and a Jesus who didn’t set out to rule the world but just help everybody get along, these stories are of basic importance to the culture. Ignored, patronized, even scorned (depending on how much the scorner needs a scornee to make him/her feel good about her/himself). And maybe that is a sign, in fact, I think it is a sign, of how really important, at bottom, they are.
Anyway, we’d all been talking about this among ourselves, and with a few writers, of course, and I can’t think that we advertised it very much. Emails between us. Phone calls, yes. Maybe a mention in a blog or two. But that doesn’t explain what happened next.
About a month or two ago, this would be late fall, I went out, as usual, in the morning to walk the dogs in the woods behind the house. Alex was gone for some reason–he’d gone to town, I think–but anyway, I was alone.
There’s a big tree back there, next to the creek, one that’s bigger than all the others, left over from being saved, somehow, from the general logging of the area back at the turn of the twentieth century. It’s a fir, and it’s so big around that you can’t hug it, two people can’t even touch fingers if they try to circle it with their arms. It’s a favorite tree of ours; we usually stops to greet it in some way as we pass, so I guess I automatically turn toward it on my walk even when I’m alone.
This particular morning was an early warning of winter, weather-wise, with that first early snowfall that surprises you out from nowhere after a deceptively warm day. Everything was white and quiet, and the sky was a solid blue. I should have been paying more attention to it, the morning was so beautiful, but I had a bunch of admin tasks on my desk, and I was thinking, mostly, about those. But as I passed the tree, I looked at it the way I always did. And looked again.
Because there, leaning neatly up against the trunk of the giant fir tree, sitting up straight on the snow, was a brown paper and string wrapped parcel.
You can imagine how this isn’t a normal sight, this kind of thing, in the woods behind my house. It’s National Forest property back there, and hardly anyone walks on it but me and Alex, and, occasionally, the child of a neighbor of ours. My first thought was that this was some kind of treasure of Rory’s (it’s near enough a Native American fort he’s put together in the woods to make that a likely case). So I walked on past it. But when I got home something about it nagged at me. I was worried, I think, that more snow, or even rain, would come and ruin it–whatever it was. So I went back and bent down to get it. And found, to my real surprise, that the thing–the parcel–was addressed to me!
“To the Publisher of Exterminating Angel Press
located in the woods of the State of Jefferson
in the country of Cascadia”
Well, that address is a bit of a joke, a bit of a fantasy that we have around here in the Pacific Northwest, where there is, periodically, a movement to secede from the imperial union of the USA and form our own country. So of course now I thought the thing was a joke for sure. And nothing about the parcel, when I opened it in front of an early fire in our woodstove back at the house, made me think differently.
It was a book. Not just a manuscript, a book, and not a new book, either. Someone–it looked like a lot of someones–had been reading it before it got wrapped up in paper and string. There were stamps on the parcel, which I’ve carefully kept in case they turn out to be a clue, of a type that I certainly have never seen before, and that no one I’ve shown them to can identify either. There were a lot of them, stuck on haphazardly, kind of the way you do when you’re in a hurry and not sure how much postage a package is going to take. Most of them were gold lined around the edges, and pictures of mountains and rivers–that kind of thing. Two of them were pictures of a young woman holding a crown and smiling. I didn’t recognize her. No one else did either, though Mike said she looked kind of familiar, though he couldn’t remember from where.
And there was a letter that came with the book. This letter claimed the parcel had come to me, not to beat around the bush here, from another world. Another country in another world. There are a lot of peculiarities about the letter which I won’t go into here. It may be that we’ll publish the whole thing entire after I’ve given it some thought. All I want to say now about it is that everyone around here–husband, neighbors, local friends–absolutely deny having any hand in its appearance. If it’s a joke, the joker has yet to claim the credit of it.
I asked Alan, our Fed Ex guy; Jesse, our UPS driver; and Ben, our mailman (who delivers to our mailbox three miles away, and I doubt he even knows where our house IS, but it was worth a shot, I thought), if they had any idea where the parcel had appeared from, but all three of them seemed honestly surprised by the question (except Jesse, but he’s too cool to admit being surprised by anything–most UPS drivers are). So that seems to rule out any kind of regular delivery.
Which leaves me with another problem. The sender of the parcel–or rather, the writer of the letter that came with the parcel, since he implies in it that there was more than one hand in the sending of the book itself–had asked for me to send him something, and by return of post! He asked–well, pleaded is not too strong a word–for copies of fairy tales of our world, of the kind of stories like the one I found was packed in the parcel. He asked me for stories that might have, say, the same kind of meaning on our own world as the book he’d sent me had in his. He said.
As you can imagine, I didn’t quite know how to answer that one. Not yet, anyway. And of course I didn’t know how on earth (literally) to get the book to Dr. Fallaize (whoever he is), at Otterbridge Press (whatever that is), in Arcadia (wherever that could be). In the end, though, and feeling more than a little silly, I packed up a copy I had of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, along with a collection of the better known tales of Hans Christian Anderson. I included a respectful, if short, note, along with my business card and one of our catalogs. “Might as well do the thing right,” I thought. I wrapped the whole thing up in paper and string. I’m not sure why I did that, but somehow I felt like it was important. And then, with Alex and the dogs along watching with interest, I somewhat ceremoniously and self consciously (well, it was embarrassing, okay?) laid the thing in exactly the same spot where the first parcel was found, under the grandmother fir tree in the woods behind our house.
Nothing happened. It was still there next day.
Alex and I had a good laugh about that. “But why not leave it there?” Alex said when I headed toward the tree to collect the parcel back again. “It’s not going to snow or rain or anything for at least the next few days. Why not leave it for awhile and see what happens?”
Alex has always been a person who is more interested in what might be able to happen than in what actually does, and sometimes, I have found, this is an interesting attitude to take. Anyway, this time I listened to him, and did, in fact, leave the parcel there. Every day, then, I checked it with a pretend casualness. I was rather anxious about the whole thing. But the parcel stayed obdurately there. It stayed oddly cold, though, and the snow didn’t melt. Only a little, but this was just a mild dripping off the tree. You could see it just dampened the parcel a little; not even the address was smeared. Which, by the way, read like this:
Dr. Alan Fallaize c/o Otterbridge Press
The Tower By The Pond
St. Vitus College
Then, one morning, about three or four days later, and just before a thaw and threatened rainfall, I went out with the dogs and Alex for our walk. And the books were gone. Just like that.
At first I accused Al of picking them up for a joke, but he denied it so earnestly I had to believe him. His theory was a bear, or the boy next door. But a bear seemed unlikely (what on earth would a bear want with a couple of musty old books?), and cautious questioning discovered that Rory had been away at the time at a fencing tournament in California. And anyway, what would HE have done with those books, even if he had been at home?
It was a lot later that I remembered something odd…or, at any rate, just as odd as all the other occurrences around the tree and the parcels. The night before I found the first parcel, and the night before my own two books disappeared–I’d heard an owl hooting behind the house. I love owls, so I notice when they hoot. We hadn’t heard one for a long time, is why I remember. But I didn’t connect it with the parcels. Even now I’m not sure it isn’t a more than slightly nutty thing to do, connecting it, somehow, with the parcels. Not any more nutty, though, I think philosophically, than all the rest of it. I mean, if you’re going to start accepting nutty, you might as well go all the way.
Now I have to figure out what to do. Because in the parcel was a fairy tale, with scholarly footnotes explaining its importance to, I guess, this other world. I don’t know why these people sent the book to EAP. The only thing I can think of is that they–and the fairy tale itself–stress the importance of the Small over the Great. And if there’s one press that’s Small, well, it’s got to be EAP. And if there’s one that values the Small over the Great, the Everyday over the Big Blast, well, that’s got to be EAP too.
Whether or not these people (if I can call them that), these scholars from another world, were right in entrusting their work to EAP, well, only the rest of 2010 will tell.