Why I chose to have a scene from Chapter 18 illustrated before Chapter 1, I have no clue.
(That’s a lie.)
In The Quaking Aspen, a work which spends 80% of its word count lodged deep in the dark corners of a man slowly stumbling down the spiral staircase to madness, chapters 17, 18, and 19 are different. They mark a significant lull in the insanity to make way for a rekindling of reality, if only for a moment. Despite having built an undefinable and emotionally intricate relationship around their walkie-talkie communication, this moment finally brings Mitch and Sid face-to-face after two months of seclusion.
As a result, these chapters are the pause between screams, or the drawn-out sigh before the gasp, or the red light at the intersection before pedal greets metal once more. I’m full of metaphors, here. Take your pick.
Plus… these two just look great next to each other, don’t they?
I once again recruited the enviable and mind-boggling talents of artist Ichisip/Galle, who has painted these two for me before and continues to impress with her grasp of the characters and their story.
Check out her Tumblr!
Check out her Facebook!
Commission artwork from her! You won’t regret a thing.
Scroll down for an excerpt from the chapter and a preview of the painting. To see it in all its glory, click here!
“Your father?” Mitch asked.
Sid paused. They dwelled in the chrysalis of the dimly lit tower, in the storm sounds enfolding them in goosebumps and white noise. When he spoke next, it was in a hush. “Yeah.”
The framed photograph of two young boys glimmered in the lamp’s glare. Neither child bore a single bruise, cut, or sign of cruelty, but although they smiled there was something haunted in the lines of their faces, a gauzy haze clouding eyes perfectly mirroring Sid’s own. Mitch wondered how long the man in front of him had sacrificed himself for the safety of his brothers. He thought of his own tragedies and their emotional byproducts—the guilt, the misery, the incessant, all-encompassing madness—and how the forest had used each memory of pain to dredge up even more, to force it back upon him and cram it down every orifice until he couldn’t tell if he was choking or drowning or both.
How many times had Sid relived the abuse in these woods? Did he see his father’s eyes lurking between the trees? Did he hear his footsteps ascending the tower stairs at night? Did his voice crackle through the radio, hurling verbal stones at his character and claiming to know what he’d done?
Did the scars still hurt?
“I had to stay,” was all Sid said, and Mitch understood. It didn’t dispel the anger sitting black and cold in his chest. “It didn’t last forever.”
“It did.” Mitch uncovered the twin wounds. “For you.”
“Everyone’s human, Mitch.” There was sorrow, there, and thinly-veiled shame. “Even me.”