So there I was, editing, adding to, reworking, rewriting Imaginary Numbers, and a dear friend asked “Who is it about?” An innocent question; a sensible one; wasn’t Imaginary Numbers meant to be the third in series, starting with a tapestry of small-town life in Divide by Zero, followed by the canvas and paints of Infinite Sum as Sylvia tries to mend after Zero’s tragedy. So who is Imaginary Numbers about? It’s about two side characters, small threads in that tapestry, and the small dark mystery that defines their lives. But what about…?

Divide by Zero cover, by Peter Joseph Swanson
Divide by Zero

Suddenly I knew, the book I was working on simply isn’t book three; it’s book four. First I have to tell the tale of that other broken thread, or the weave might fail. And I don’t have a contract for him. What shall I do?

I emailed my publisher at Second Wind Publishing. He’s promised to send me a contract for Subtraction, and the tale will be told.

  1. Divide by Zero
  2. Infinite Sum
  3. Subtraction, and
  4. Imaginary Numbers

Thank you Second Wind Publishing!!!

And here, for your comments, suggestions or complaints, is the first short excerpt to prove I’m really writing it:

Her neighbors’ cat died when she was twelve. It was called Coal, a beautiful little thing. Her mother told her not to look, but Evie peeked anyway and saw black and red stripes on the road. The neighbors moved away soon afterward and no one ever remembered what became of them. Meanwhile a ginger tom adopted Evie, lived with the family for a year, and died the same way.

She told her sometime husband all this while they were courting, and he really should have known it anyway; they’d grown up as neighbors. Now her daughter was dead.

Crowds had gathered in the ashen wind around the grave site. Fall’s dankness spread its pall over the ground, shimmering like mist so gravestones seemed to float unanchored on air. Scant trees shook bare twigs in misery, and distant buildings stared.

Evie, standing close to the minister, wore that same lost frown she’d worn when the two cats died. Wind brushed stray hairs against her face and she ignored them. Cold damp air clasped her knees under the skirt and held her upright. She’d pushed the sleeve up on her coat, and clutched one bared arm over her chest in self-defense. Her gloved hand cupped the elbow, fingers rubbing, rubbing against that muddled round of cold and rough-stretched skin. Her eyes were clear, focused on the gray fall sky while everyone else looked down. Her heart-beat rang in her ears, the world’s only sound.

Not Amelia’s heart-beat anymore; not Amelia’s fingers testing her skin; not Amelia’s confusing words demanded to be answered when they couldn’t be heard. Not anymore.

Ancient forest lands surrounded the cemetery, providing cover for ghosts and mystery. The dead girl had loved trees, had danced like a wraith among them down in the town. She’d have liked this place; might even have liked the displaced silence of its people. But she wasn’t here, and the trees watched, mourning her.

Something stirred. A bird flew up into the clouds with an angry cry, then circled warily, but no one raised their eyes except Evie, and she wasn’t seeing. Nobody let the flapping bird distract them from listening to prayers, sharing memories, warily watching damp earth and a hole in the ground. Still, if anyone had cared to turn, they might have seen a figure step forward from the edge of Paradise Forest, a ghost perhaps, come to welcome another of its own.

The stranger’s shoulders were hunched, as if to disguise his height. They shook as he shuddered in the buzz of a leaf-blown breeze. His straggly beard blew wide and he patted it down, lank fingers, streaked black and white, combing through its gray. Then he turned his attention to the halo of hair now catching in the trees. He could have been a ghost, but he probably wasn’t.

A cat spotted the stranger. Walking slowly away from the crowd, back arched, paws treading high over mulch and pine, it made its way to the shadowed forest. No one saw it leave. When it reached the man it curled around his feet, white fur shining starkly against the washed-blue, gray and brown of worn-out jeans. Its tail swung high and tapped the strange man’s knees.

Someone was sobbing by the grave. Not Evie though. And no one heard the stranger’s sneeze, his grunt of dismay, or the yowl of the cat as he bent a leg and aimed to kick it away. Small furry legs ran free. Small clods of earth fell down and crumbled on a small child’s coffin. Small Evie whispered in a small lost voice, “I wish I could cry.” And the priest intoned his prayer.

“Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes.” Leaves to leaves, perhaps. Amelia was gone, and so was that strange shadow under the trees.


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