Today we are honoured to bring you an excerpt from Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris. Tiffany Morris is an L’nu’skw (Mi’kmaw) writer from Nova Scotia, who has an MA in English with a focus on Indigenous Futurisms and apocalyptic literature.
Excerpt from Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris (Stelliform Press, 31 Oct 2023)
A black shadow fell over Rita’s face, the bird so close she could taste the dust stirred by its wingbeats. The raven perched on a tree ahead. As it preened and then lifted its head to watch her, she slowed her approach, hair prickling at the back of her neck. She was being watched, not just by this bird — she felt many eyes on her at once. The corvid’s left eye was milky-white, a pearl that gazed at nothing. A hush rolled over the trees, the forest stunned into silence by the creature’s presence. Rita had read somewhere that humans understood gaze keenly — that all people could tell if something was looking at them, if they were being watched, if what they saw also saw them. The white-eyed gaze of the raven felt different — it was as if the whole forest gazed through its eyes, zeroed in on her as if on the hunt.
A painful desire swelled in her and she reached toward the tree’s lowest branch. High above her, the bird feaked, the sound of its beak hollow against the tree’s bark. Tilting its head, the bird turned its white eye to stare at her. If this was just an ordinary raven, why did she feel that glare inside her?
She’d long wished she could encounter a spirit. Even when she was trying to escape the rez’s mangy bunnies, she wished that one of them would reveal itself as something more. She wanted a manifestation, a visitation, a loved one long gone who would come to her with a message — or if no message then with a gaze to actually see her. Instead, her visitors were strange pale figures and people from town. Was that the link? It had to be, right? Some people — Molly and her mother, some of her aunties — believed loved ones’ spirits came back as birds. Maybe this was one of the ways the world was haunted.
“Hello,” she said to the raven. Its black eye and its white eye searched her face. It blinked and both eyes flashed white. “Kwe’,” she said, greeting it in Mi’kmaq.
A chorus of crows cawed from somewhere far away. Rita imagined she could hear wings fluttering, the soft crackle of landing on too-dry branches. The raven threw back its head and let loose another guttural croak that echoed over still water, an otherworldly sound that felt equal parts warning and pronouncement. Between the gas station cashier’s implied threats, the birds looming above her and the lingering eye of a watchful forest, Rita tensed with the awareness of a prey animal on alert.
“Meskeyi,” she apologized, as if she had offended the raven with her presence. Maybe she had. The growling call made her feel as if she didn’t belong there, that the animals themselves considered her an intruder at the pond, in nature itself, their screeches an omen that couldn’t be fully articulated. Like the rabbits back in Eskasoni — animals that seemed to have a problem with her. Creatures that recognized her as something separate from them and from other humans, some orphaned scrap of life that didn’t even fully belong to her family. She was such a terrible auntie and daughter and sister, had neglected her distant family in favor of her art, of creating her own life as if she wasn’t part of something bigger.
Rita scanned the trees again for the birds, and found them perched and bobbing their heads, their eyes blinking white like the flash of a ghost in the corner of the eye. Rita stepped carefully past them. The birds’ eyes followed her and she tried to send — through her movements, through some ineffable psychic communication — a message of goodwill. But the crows’ calls and ravens’ croak punctured the peace that had washed over her after she’d made her decision to die. A paradoxical desire — to desperately want to escape this danger, but still to die.
A twig snap seized her attention. A screeching rabbit tumbled out of the moss-tangled brush ahead, frenzied in its rolling, its motion across the trail propelled by violent kicks and tremors. Flashes of white rib interrupted the shadow of the underbrush and Rita gagged at the smell of burning fur.
Oh god, is it rabid?
She didn’t want to get near it, but didn’t want to leave it to die, so she ran, too aware of the birds overhead and the wounded rabbit as an erupting forest consciousness. The birds were the many eyes of the woods suddenly turned her way, the rabbit its rapidly beating heart.
It wasn’t real, none of it could be real — not the rabbit, the birds, maybe not even the woman she’d met on the trail. But before denial could fully take root, Rita saw a flash in her peripheral vision, the trees beside her blurring into the shape of a woman on fire. The searing orange blinded her with its impossibility, with a sudden undeniable understanding that the woman’s power was not in fire, but radiant darkness.
Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris
The debut novella from the Elgin Award winning author of Elegies of Rotting Stars.
After the death of her estranged father, artist Rita struggles with grief and regret. There was so much she wanted to ask him-about his childhood, their family, and the Mi’kmaq language and culture from which Rita feels disconnected. But when Rita’s girlfriend Molly forges an artist’s residency application on her behalf, winning Rita a week to paint at an isolated cabin, Rita is both furious and intrigued. The residency is located where her father grew up.
On the first night at the cabin, Rita wakes to strange sounds. Was that a body being dragged through the woods? When she questions the locals about the cabin’s history, they are suspicious and unhelpful. Ignoring her unease, Rita gives in to dark visions that emanate from the forest’s lake and the surrounding swamp. She feels its pull, channelling that energy into art like she’s never painted before. But the uncanny visions become more insistent, more intrusive, and Rita discovers that in the swamp’s decay the end of one life is sometimes the beginning of another.
Tiffany Morris is an L’nu’skw (Mi’kmaw) writer from Nova Scotia. She is the author of the swampcore horror novella Green Fuse Burning (Stelliform Books, 2023) and the Elgin Award-winning horror poetry collection Elegies of Rotting Stars (Nictitating Books, 2022). Her work has appeared in the Indigenous horror anthology Never Whistle At Night (Vintage Books), as well as in Nightmare Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, and Apex Magazine, among others. She has an MA in English with a focus on Indigenous Futurisms and apocalyptic literature.