Lead me from death to life, From falsehood to truth,
Mordecai was too late. He ran as fast as his feet and faith would carry him, racing through the Kindgom of Heaven and towards the Gate. The Kingdom flew past him in a blur of clouds and sunlight, the ground rippling beneath his feet with every step. He should have felt something sooner, should have known what was going to happen.
He should never have left her side.
Lead me from despair to hope, From fear to trust,
He was at the Gate, which was more shaped like a well, a deep pit with light rising from its depths. The angel threw himself over the edge without hesitation. He fell towards a miniature globe of the world which perfectly mirrored Earth right down to every blade of grass. Streamlining his body, he willed himself to fall faster, and just as he was about to collide with the globe he found himself falling through clouds, through the sky and towards the very real World below.
Lead me from hate to love, From war to peace,
Finally, Mordecai could see her. Rachel Elizabeth White. She was standing on the roof of her apartment building, so perfectly still she could have been a statue, if not for her blond hair whipping in the wind.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe...
The clouds parted above Mordecai, and a shaft of light slanted down and illuminated Rachel. The young girl, only fifteen, felt the warmth of the sunlight and turned around, lifting her gaze to the sky. The angel's body was almost transparent, glowing with light. She smiled, and their eyes met.
That moment stretched out to the end of time. Mordecai could see her smile, and knew she saw him. They have known each other for all of her fifteen years, but it was the first time he had fully revealed himself. His translucent, white skin and feathery hair of the same hue. His eyes, which saw more than any human could see, two blank porcelain spheres. As clear as he was to her, so too could he see every feature of her face, burned forever in his memory. Her rough, chapped lips, the wet streaks of tears that ran down her face, washing away the dirt and grime on her face. He could see the dark bruise on the side of her face, spreading down her neck, and could imagine the hand that caused it. It was her smile, though, that would stay with him. As if seeing him was the only thing she ever wanted from this world.
Then she fell.
Time suddenly snapped back into place, and Rachel was falling backwards off the building. He was over the roof, over the edge, his arm oustretched to catch her. There is no measurement of space precise enough to accurately depict how close his hand was to hers. He could feel the warmth of her skin so close to his, but it was too late.
It had always been too late.
She fell without a scream, without a sound at all. No sound except the rushing wind, and the impact of a body against the ground. Then, only then would the screams start, as the people below reacted to the sight of a broken girl. No mortal ear would hear the sound of her soul, rent from her body, which would continue to fall through the earth. Only Mordecai would bear witness to that feeling. Not a sound so much that you heard, but a vibration that you felt, radiating from your very core until it permeated every fiber of your being. He would never, in the centuries to come, forget that feeling. He had failed her. He had abandoned her when she most needed him.
Not finished yet, but I'm trying to update as regularly as possible.
Hell hounds. Blind, these fearsome creatures stalk by sniffing out the souls of their prey. The more pure or wholesome the soul, the more dedicated their hunt becomes. An almost reptilian body, with a rippling underbelly and rough, jagged protrusions running down their back, there is nothing cuddly about these pups.
You didn't have to fear many things in the Kingdom. However, The Speaker was undoubtedly one of them.
The Speaker, also known as the Voice of God, also known as The King's Hand, also known as The Grand General of the Kingdom's Armies, is as you can tell, a powerful figure in the afterlife. He (or she) bears a crown of flames, that is said will instantly incinerate any demon or fallen Angel that comes near her (or him). The face has no specific features. The eyes are empty pockets of skin stretched taut over his sockets. His (or hers) face bears no mouth, where they would be one there is the same skin stretched over the faint outlines of teeth and jaw. It is rather more a skull than a proper head, with a film of snow covering it.
When the Speaker speaks, it does not speak with one voice, but with two. A male and a female voice, speaking in perfect unison. The Speaker's body is androgynous, representative of the fact that the Speaker encompasses the entire Kingdom and the will of the King itself, which does not associate with one gender or the other. In the World (that is, the mortal world, as opposed to the immortal Kingdom), it is common to refer to God as "he" or "her" depending upon the speaker, matching God's pronoun with your own. A man would refer to God as "he" and a woman would refer to God as "she".
The Speaker is the conduit through which God's will is passed down to the Kingdom, and from there to the World. The Speaker adheres strictly to the God's commandments, which the Speaker originally transcribed and passed on to the denizens of the World, and the slightest variation is met with punishment. At times of war, the Speaker leads the armies into battle.
Finished bit of concept art for an upcoming project. The project features Angels & Demons in grand abundance, and I've been working on my own concept of heaven, angels, and what lies above. This is an example of a Sentinel. They have wings (not all angels too, only the higher ranking ones) and most sentinels have their halo around their eyes as seen above. Halos are a measure of status, rank and power in the Kingdom (my version of Heaven). The diamond-like shapes adorning this halo also indicate a kind of rank.
Its obviously still very rough, but its just meant to get some ideas established. How the halo looks, the fact that most Angels are porcelain skinned, etc. More will be coming, and further details of this project should arrive soon.
You had planned to attend a friend’s birthday party and plugged her address into your GPS system, but the system guided you to somewhere else. Oddly enough, there was a man waiting for you at this mysterious place. “Sorry I had to rig your GPS, but this is urgent,” said the person.
I was already running late, typing a text message with one hand (On my way! Sorry I'm late!) and trying to put on my second shoe with the other while hopping down the hallway on one foot. I burst out the door with such force that it hits the wall, rebounds, and slams itself shut. I take the stairs two at a time and dash to the car. I'm already at the entrance to my apartment complex before I have my seat belt buckled, and I'm turning on the GPS system in my car.
Eighteen seconds later I'm flying down the road as fast as I dare; its pretty late, which means less traffic, but it will be harder to see a cop car waiting to give me a ticket. Normally I wouldn't be so worried about being on time to a social event, but things have been tense between Anna and I lately. This is not the first event I've been late to recently, in fact even arriving there today will be a miracle. I can't explain why I keep missing these engagements, I leave with enough time, but somewhere along the way hours will pass inexplicably. I think it must have to do with my insomnia lately, because what else could it be? When I think about it too hard, I start to get a migraine, and my head feels funny.
Flying down the highway, listening to the GPS system. In three miles, take exit 21 onto E 32nd Avenue. I try to remember which exit goes to Anna's new house. Her husband recently got promoted, and he celebrated by upgrading to a four bedroom house with enough square feet and extra rooms to house a small third world village. Four bedrooms? The man has ambition, I'll give him that. I try not to feel bitter about it, and usually I don't. What happened between Michael and I is in the past, and it does no one any good to dwell on it. I'm happy for Anna. Really. I try to think about something else, and check the GPS again. In two and a half miles, take exit 21 onto E 32nd Avenue.
For now, I just drive with the windows down. One thing about insomnia, is you're never fully awake. You may not be able to sleep but that doesn't mean you are running on all cylinders. The more I need to be awake, the more tired I feel, but if I try to sleep I find myself unable to keep my eyes closed. So I lean back, slouch down a bit in the seat, and just drive. I feel my eyes getting heavy, but there is no danger of sleeping at the wheel if I can't sleep at all, now is there? The road is a straight stretch of asphalt, and I have the cruise control on so I don't get caught speeding. I blink, then just for a second, I close my eyes and keep them closed.
Tires hit the fog line, and my eyes snap open. My hand jerks to the inside of the lane, pulling me off the fog line and close to the car next to me. It also swerves, and the driver communicates his surprise by leaning on his horn for a solid five or six seconds. A quick glance around and everything is intact, and I seem to still be on the highway. Right as I think about checking the GPS, I hear it respond, "Take the next exit, exit 19 onto E 26th Avenue." That doesn't sound right, wasn't the exit further down?
"Stupid computers." I don't like technology, to be honest. It needlessly complicates life, it moves too quickly to keep up with, and most of it all serves redundant purposes anyway. Between email, a phone call, text messages, Facebook, in-office messages and, heaven forbid, an actual face to face conversation, how many ways do you need to talk to someone?
Grumbling further about the decline of humanity, I pull off the exit and take the next set of directions, trying not to choke on the irony of a small electronic device dictating my every vehicular action. I don't recognize the route at all, but its probably shorter this way. I tend to take the longer, roundabout paths because I like sticking to the main roads and I know where I'm going that way.
The shortcut takes me through an industrial part of town, and turns me down a side street between a row of manufacturing warehouses. It tells me to keep driving straight, keep going... then it just stops. Looking around, I see nothing. I check the GPS again, tapping its screen and knowing its a waste of time. Batteries must have died or something. I let out a gruff sigh and lean back in my seat, debating if I should call Anna and admit I'm a little lost, or try to find it myself and get hopelessly lost.
That's when I see the man.
He's standing not ten feet away from my vehicle in the middle of the street. No one was there a moment ago, so I don't know how he got there so fast. This is definitely not normal behavior, and this is not the part of town where you buy lemonade from the neighbor kid's stand. I make sure the doors are locked and start rolling up the windows. They get halfway up, then stop. Now just the windows, the whole car turned off. Somehow the engine died without warning. I turn the key in the ignition, and nothing happens. Doesn't even turn over. I'm unarmed, and without power the windows won't roll all the way up. That wouldn't be a problem if I had manual windows, stupid technology.
I debate if I should run or start calling the police, when I hear something that pauses my heartbeat.
"Good evening, Alexis. Sorry I had to rig your GPS, but this is urgent," said the person.
The voice is familiar, but I can't place it. Now I'm really worried. I don't have any friends who would think this is funny, so it can't be a joke. Did I make someone mad at the office?
"Nice to see you again. You don't remember me yet, it takes a few minutes. Don't worry, over time it will come back to you faster. And I didn't mean to startle you. Things moved faster than I anticipated. I had no choice but to intervene."
He was standing directly outside my car now. I have no where to run. Maybe if I slam the door open hard enough it will knock him over and I can-
"How do you know my name?" The weight of his words just started to dawn on me. I was only half-listening through the pounding of blood in my ears, and initially dismissed whatever he said as the ravings of a psychopathic serial killer who lures his victims to warehouses where he probably stores the bodies. Listening to what he said, though, it causes me pause, "What do you mean by intervene? What are you intervening in?"
The man simply shakes his head, and his shoulders slump a bit. He takes a deep breath, holding it for a moment. Waiting to make a decision. All I can hear is my heart beating a bruise into my ribs, and I'm not entirely sure he can't hear it, too. Then he made whatever choice he was mulling over.
"You were destined to die tonight."
~To Be Continued... ?
So, I decided I need to write more. Even if its not Origins, I need to write something with some regularity. I've always looked down a bit on writing exercises and prompts. I'm not sure what exactly I had against them, it just seemed silly to write what someone else told me to, instead of writing my own ideas. Obviously, that's stupid. A prompt is meant to open up your ideas, give you a launching pad from which you can leap into a story. I can't promise this will be a daily occurrence, my work schedule can be too taxing to promise that right now, but I will try to keep on it more. If you leave comments, ask questions about the story, say where you would like to see it go, or provide new prompts/ideas, it will spur me on further and the updates will likely quicken in pace. Otherwise, its just whenever I can bring myself to sit long enough to write. I may continue this story, I may not. I haven't decided yet. What do you think?
Above the Iter Itineris, lightning split the sky. Bolts of lightning that stretched from one horizon to the other, sometimes leaping from cloud to cloud as if it were sewing the sky together with its white hot thread. This lightning did not just appear and flash out of existence, this lightning lingered. It gripped the clouds, wringing more rain from the sky, which sizzled and hissed against the branching forks. Lightning was the flash of Reason, telling you why things happened like they did. A flash of lightning, and you could see it written in the sky, You didn't want to become like him. Telling you why you set sail on this ocean. Then came the thunder, and with it came the Doubt.
"You are not brave enough."
"You always get lost."
Before every thunderclap was a moment of silence, as even the rain smacking against the sails held their breath, then the Doubt would come crashing out of the storm. Each one was a miniature explosion, and only the steadfast held their ground without the slightest flinch.
"You will lose your footing."
On the bowsprit, the narrow pole extending out in front of the ship, a young man stood dangerously far from the ship. One foot planted firmly in front of him, he leaned forward against the fierce wind which tugged at the edges of his clothing, plucked at his arms, tried to find purchase on his legs to pull him down into the water. The young man grinned, the kind of smirk that challenged even fate itself. He never lost his footing.
The storm became silent again as another clap of Doubt swelled above them. In the brief silence, he heard his name shouted from the deck.
"Somnium! Captain! We-" The rest of the words were overruled by the Doubt, (Your ship will sink), but it got his attention. He turned and saw his First Mate, Dougan, gripping tightly to the bow of the ship, leaning as far forward as he dared to make himself heard. Dougan was the second oldest crew member at thirteen. Somnium was the old man of the crew at about one year older. Somnium tilted his head to one side and cupped one hand around his ear, the other waving Dougan to repeat himself, "We need help with the sails! They are starting to falter!"
Somnium looked up, watched as the silver sails fought against the wind, the harsh rain. They weren't driven by wind like normal sails, these were Dream Sails. They were filled not by the currents of the trade winds, but by the trade of desires and hopes. Somnium frowned; they were struggling. Maybe that last thunderclap - No, couldn't think like that.
Somnium adjusted his tricorn hat, which was always secured on his head. Then three quick steps down the bowsprit, and with a mighty leap he flew towards the ropes and rigging above him. His feet took him on a lofty glide upwards, and he held out one hand as the foremast approached. Once he reached it, he held on with one hand and set his feet against the wooden shaft, and examined the scene below. Launching from this new vantage point, he quickly alighted on the mainmast.
On the deck, his crew scurried like ants, each one with a mission or goal in mind, working in silent unison. Above him in the crow's nest, Sara was being jostled at her post, bouncing like dice in a cup during a particularly heated game of Liar's Dice. Sara managed to look over the edge of her nest, wiping her long golden hair out of her eyes, and saw Somnium waving up at her from halfway down the mainmast. He grinned, and touched one corner of his hat.
Turning to his crew, the captain took a deep breath as his chest puffed up. When he shouted, his voice was clear, cutting through the rain and the rough wind like a flashlight in the darkness, "SHARE WITH ME YOUR DREAMS!" He reached his hand down the collar of his shirt, and drew out a silver chain that hung around his neck. On it hung a glass sphere, which was so clear and so pure it looked like a drop of water forced still.
Each member of the crew stopped, and each one pulled out a similar glass orb. Each had something different inside. Some had swirling images of animals, others a copper badge or a fire hose. Several had spaceships. They were dreams, each one the manifest of your inner desires, your hopes. They held them high above their head, and everyone closed their eyes, noses wrinkled in intense concentration. The wind roared in their ears, the rain redoubling its efforts to beat them down into the deck.
As each held their dreams in their mind, the sails began to respond. The roar subsided, and the sails swelled suddenly, pushing back against the wind as the silver turning from a dull, brushed metallic to a shimmering, shining gleam. The ship rose about an inch higher in the water, and began to crawl its way up the waves. As they crested the next wave, however, Somnium realized it had gotten quiet. Too quiet. Standing on the boom, the horizontal bar of the sail, he looked out past the edge of the wave and into the dark skies beyond. The wind pulled back for just a moment, and the sails quickly drew dim. Reason shot out across the sky in jagged handwriting, and Somnium saw his message. You just wanted someone to follow you.
This time, the Doubt didn't even wait for the lightning to finish, it crashed headfirst into the Iter Itineris, a deafening explosion so loud and so strong it knocked Somnium back off the mast,
"They do not believe in you!"
Somnium hit the deck with such force that it fractured the wood beneath him, splitting all the way down the beam. The ship was thrown back, its bow reeling back from the force of the blow. Somnium started to slide back against the deck, but he gripped the wood planks beneath him and held fast. Most of the crew were not so quick; they fell and slipped, sliding down the deck that was swiftly becoming vertical. The deck was now a wall, push back at such an angle. Most of the crew smacked into the door and surrounding ledge that housed the Captain's quarters, and a few tumbled down into the open hatches to the decks below. Others were caught in the ropes, clutching for dear life to anything they could grab onto. The boat was pushed so far back it threatened to fall back mast first into the ocean. The water rose up and surged around it, only threatening further to tip the boat onto its back.
Gritting his teeth, Somnium gripped his Dream Sphere, and held it close to his chest. It glowed and grew warm, and the rain began to streak away from him, as if pushed back by an unseen bubble of force. He ran up the wall that was only a moment ago the deck, forgoing any concept of gravity or falling. The steep angle paid him no mind; somehow his feet found purchase on the wet, slick surface. He ran towards the bow and jumped, holding his Sphere out in front of him. Inside the glass, a tiny version of the Itineris sailed on calm waters, with the sun reflecting brilliantly off full sails of quicksilver. His leap cleared the bow, but one hand shot out and grabbed the foremost railing at the very edge of the ship. White-knuckled, the full force of his momentum hit him and shook his arm, threatening to dislodge his grip. He held on, and ever so slowly the ship began to fall forward.
Creaking, groaning, his body weighed on the ship like an anchor, and it started to level out. He pulled himself back onto the bow as the ship landed back onto the water, the impact sending the ocean flying up around them on all sides. Briefly, you could only see the sky directly above them, as a sheer wall of water surrounded the ship. Then the moment passed, and the water fell like so much rain. The moment of terror had passed, and the crew began to cheer.
"HOW DARE YE DREAM?!"
This was the strongest Doubt yet, a symphony of explosions, and each syllable hit the crew like a physical blow. It dragged Somnium back across the deck. He stayed on his feet this time, but from the bow of the boat all the way to the stern, two deep grooves were drawn in the deck, and behind each of his planted feet was a pile of wood shavings.
The clouds were swirling above them, and they began to descend upon the ship. The water sloped upwards around them, as the sea beneath the ship bowed down, forming a sort of bowl in which they were at the bottom. The sails had lost all their shine, and were beginning to wrap up and retract, shrinking away from the ferocity of the storm.
"Som! What do we do?!" One of his crew members, whose Sphere held a doctor's stethoscope, asked from the crowd.
"We need a bigger dream. We need a stronger hope." Somnium turned to his crew, as the daylight from his own sphere flickered and sputtered. The water around them continued to rise, and started to reach towards itself over the ship. In moments it would form a dome of water over the ship, enclosing it in a bubble. And from there, it would collapse, as Reality overtook the Dream.
"Someone here must a desire stronger than steel. A dream bigger than the sky, and so full of heart. Who among you can step forward, and face this ravaging tempest?" It was a plea, they knew, and if their Captain couldn't do it, their Captain who feared no storm and would stare down any tidal wave, who could?
One boy stepped forward. Sam was his name. He was six years old, and the youngest member of the crew. He had dark, curly hair that was flattened to his forehead by the rain. He approached the Captain, and in two small, trembling hands, he held his Sphere.
Somnium knelt down in front of him as the rain subsided. There was no way for the rain to get in now, for the water had closed completely above them. They were in a bubble beneath the surface of the water, and the bubble was getting smaller.
"What do you desire most?"
He told him.
Captain Somnium planted his tricorn hat on Sam's head, then grabbed the youth from under the arms, and lifted him up above his head. He planted him on his shoulders, and tilted his head to share a sideways look up at him, "Hold on to that tight, kid. Here we go."
The Itineris began to rise up, slowly, out of the water. Sluggishly at first, lifting a few inches and then falling almost back to where it began. Eventually, though, it lifted completely out of the water, revealing the barnacles of Fear that clung to the underside of the ship. Even as they muttered their dark musings, the Fear barnacles fell from the ship, suddenly unable to find purchase on the hull as Faith swelled from within the ship. The cracks in the ship mended themselves, the rigging and ropes all attached to their appropriate moorings. The sails unfurled, and hung idly at their posts. Somnium stood at the bow, and shouted back over his shoulder, "DREAMERS! SHARE WITH ME YOUR DREAMS!"
All along the ship, the crew held their Spheres to their heart, closed their eyes, and focused on their dreams. To become a doctor, and help people. To become a world traveler. Make my parents proud. To reach the moon and touch the stars. To sail the Fantaseas and remind us why we hope.
Sam touched his Sphere to his forehead, then clasped his hand over his heart. To see my big brother smile again.
Suddenly, the sails whipped forward, and the whole ship flew up and away from the water's surface. The sails were not just silver, they were woven from pure light. Along either side of the hull, pure white clouds swirled along the ship, and they gave way to the shape of massive wings.
The bubble distorted, thinning out the water above them as they approached, the whole void they were in swelling and expanding, forcing the wind and the lightning back and away. Doubt after Doubt came hailing down upon the vessel, but no one on the ship heard them. The thunderclaps were muted before the ship, the lightning sparking and blinking out, and the dark clouds evaporating, retreating before its approach.
They breached the surface of the water, and punched a whole in the dark clouds. For a moment, all that was around them was darkness. The storm tried once more to force itself in on the ship, but as they flew higher and faster, they knew the battle was decided.
The Iter Itineris broke the cloud cover, and suddenly piercing sunlight dazzled them. The ship leveled out, and after a few moments of blindness, they recovered enough to see what lay before them. An endless landscape of fluffy clouds, like so many balls of cotton. In every direction, as far as the eye could see, was an endless white. An ocean above the sky.
The crew broke out into cheers, everyone hugging each other and slapping one another on the back. They made it through the storm. Somnium reached up and lifted Sam off his shoulders, placing him back on the deck floor, "That was quite a Dream there, little one. A lot of Love behind that."
Sam smiled, and started to take off the tricorn hat to return to the Captain. Instead, Somnium smiled, and placed his hand on Sam's head, "Keep it. It suits you."
Stepping past Sam, the Captain stood on the bow and looked out onto the horizon. Beneath them, the storm of Reality raged on. Reason, Doubt, and Fear would keep many a traveler at bay. Those who let Fear or Doubt control them would stay near their home port, never venturing far into the Fantasea for fear they would not make it safely home. Somnium knew better. To reach any dream, you had to go far beyond the reach of your home port. It required Hope, a little Luck, and a lot of Faith, but you would always find smooth sailing if you weathered the storm.
[A bit of a break from Origins. This is for a Carnival I stumbled across while perusing some blogs and found Real Math in a Minute because yes, I'm enough of a nerd that I read blogs about math. I only just stumbled over it tonight, but it looks like its also about schooling in general, and I was a student not terribly long ago. I'm intrigued. I've never done this before, so here goes..]
September 9th, 2004: My freshman year of high school. I was terrified and nervous and excited all at once in a bundle of nerves, hormones, and pristine expectations. High school was going to be my time. Not like Middle School, which was for little kids. Now I was rolling with the big boys.
My backpack was laden with textbooks, pencils, calculators (of all kinds, for these come in a variety in this age of mathematical luxury), and organized better than an OCD secretary's office after knocking back a box of Five Hour Energies. It was also the last time in recorded history that my backpack was clean and recognizable as a backpack, instead of a vessel for Azathoth, the Lovecraftian end of all things, that it would later become midway through Sophomore year.
Heading into school that day, I had some dreams about what high school would hold for me. That previous summer I got a bit of a wild streak, and in a sudden fit of anarchic rebellion (that was wholly sanctioned by my parents) I died my hair blue. Blue, I say! No longer was I a mild mannered brunette, now I was a dangerously dyed spawn of demons! I expected my immediate and sudden coolness to sweep through the halls like an ocean wave crashing upon the rocky shore. This did not happen.
I also expected to catch up with a few of my friends from the infinitely juvenile institution called middle school that we had left behind. I knew that I would be with these few friends for the next four solid years and they would be my intrepid companions for life. This did not happen.
I demanded that I take all of the classes that I wanted, and none of the boring ones; homework would be only slightly less effort than writing my name across the top. All of my teachers would know that I was the smartest kid in their class, but they wouldn't single me out in such a way that I appeared to be some kind of uncool teacher's pet. This did not happen.
Even if these other things did not pan out as I planned, I had plenty of backup plans. I was a planning fiend. There was no such thing as "according to the plan", there was "according to my plan". If nothing else, I did know that I had my college and careers all planned out. Every class I took would be relevant to those goals, and when I was given my diploma (probably a year or two early, just because they didn't want to hold me back), I would be ready to take the world by storm.
Did. Not. Happen.
Let me tell you what did.
I spent four years growing. Four years learning, and I'm at least pretty sure some of it was during class. I lost contact with most of the people I knew from middle school, and in return I met some of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, most of whom I am still in contact with to this day. I took classes that would contain little to no long-term knowledge that I would retain beyond finals week. I took a few classes that changed my perspective, and my place in the world, forever. I passed most classes, I failed at least one. I made friends and plenty of enemies. I had some jobs, none of which I had planned. My career path didn't so much as branch off as it did grow into a new tree altogether.
I met new people. I learned who I was. I fell in love, more than once. I learned how much I did not know, how much I still had to learn. Also, I never dyed my hair again.
The important thing to remember is this:
Life happens. You can't predict it, you can't plan it, and you certainly can't prepare for all of it. Live. Grow. Learn.
The night was cold, crisp, and clear. All the clouds had been swept away, leaving the starry sky a smooth dome that protected the world. Each star was watching someone, whispering unheard secrets across the infinite ocean of space between them. They spoke with their light, each flaring twinkle a few words of a larger sentiment. Hovering directly above them was the moon, a flawless crescent of light. Though everyone who looked into the sky would see the same moon, she liked to think it was even brighter, just for her.
"The crescent moon is the bowl from which God drank after he made the world."
"I'd be thirsty too, after all that work."
It was Amara who spoke first. She was seventeen, laying on the roof of a boy's house. Music was playing quietly from the small speakers they had brought up with them. The boy's name was Jaren. He was tall and graceful, with long arms and delicate fingers, which she always watched whenever he played music. She loved watching him play, loved listening to his songs. That was his F.A.T.E., a musician and songwriter, a far cry from her cold world of medicine. A world without much by way of art or passion, a world without music. His music was poetry that he could read to her heart. Even now they were listening to his work, the speakers were playing a recording demo he had done for his class project. She had sat in the studio watching him, eyes fixated on his hands, flowing from one chord to another without hesitation, without conscious thought. It was beautiful.
Right now, his soft hand was interlaced with hers. It had taken twenty minutes of him slowly twitching his fingers closer to hers to get where they were. It was kind of cute, so much that she didn't mind the goosebumps that covered her exposed arms. They hadn't thought to bring a blanket up with them, or at least Jaren didn't.
Jaren's head rolled towards hers, his hair falling over his eyes. Amara smiled, chewing on the inside of her lip. She was about to say something, but as soon as she began to move closer to him, Jaren suddenly had the immediate need to sit up.
"What's wrong?" She sat up, adjusting her weight so she was leaning against him slightly. She rearranged her glasses more comfortably, tucking an errant strand of hair behind one ear. They were still holding hands, even though his was a little sweaty. She scooted a bit closer, trying to siphon some of his warmth through his thick jacket.
"I still can't believe you came by tonight. Shouldn't you be burning night hours with a brain surgeon or something?" He had asked her if she wanted to come by and study together, just for some company while I go over some boring notes. That she said yes seems to have surprised him more than if she had sprouted wings and taken flight straight from this rooftop.
"Jaren, I chose to come over tonight because I wanted to. I spend the majority of my waking hours in the company of people who are all studying the same material. It is not like your music class, where you are all working together to write lyrics or make a song. We are all competing for the best scores, the best chances at getting picked up by a big name company during finals, and we are all studying the same information. While I have some friends - we obviously have a lot in common - I cannot imagine dating any of them."
Jaren's cheeks flushed as a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, "Is that what we're doing, then? Are we dating?"
Amara rolled her eyes, sitting straight up so she was not leaning against him anymore. Letting go of his hand, she pulled her knees up to her chest. A quiet chuckle slipped out and was snatched away by a passing breeze, "You really are a bit hopeless, aren't you?" One eyebrow
The following silence started to stretch, tempting the line between comfortable and awkward. After a minute or so it was well into awkward territory, clearing a path through the jungle of social ineptitude with a very large machete. Unable to keep watching each other, they looked at the roof. At the next house over. Eventually they looked up at the sky, and the map of stars above them aided slightly in relieving the discomfort.
They were both watching the stars when suddenly a streak of light cut through the matte darkness of the night sky. Never too old to make a wish, they both murmured a quick prayer and then closed their eyes to cast their wish into the great beyond. After a few moments, Amara opened her eyes again, "So what did you wish f-" she was cutoff as Jaren leaned over and kissed her.
They were frozen for a moment; Amara was caught off guard, and Jaren had used all of his gumption to get to the point of kissing her. Now that he was here, he didn't have the strength to break away. The moment passed, and she smiled against his lips. She reached up and ran a hand through his hair, and they broke the kiss. Jaren met her gaze firmly, one eyebrow lifted slightly, and the faintest of cocksure smiles on his face, "My wish was that you would kiss me back."
Amara actually giggled. Giggled, if you would believe it, though she would later edit that detail out when she described the nights events to her friend Mila. She pushed him back and down so he was pressed against the roof. Then, slowly, she lowered her lips onto his.
Everything was perfect.
"Hey, did you want to use my jacket? You look kind of cold."
Watch your step people, this thing is dripping in teenage sappiness and stereotype. I think some of it got on the floor. Given the flak and criticism I normally dish out to teenage romance novels, I think I have spun plenty of rope with which to hang myself here. Still, it was kind of fun to write (which puts said romance novels into a terrifying new perspective), and I had been picturing this moment in Amara's youth for some time. I was listening to This Song by Explosions in the Sky, which was recommended to me this last weekend at a wedding I was attending. While I had been wanting to do a piece with Amara sneaking out to a boys house, this whole scene was inspired while listening to this song. I wrote most of it in one sitting listening to it on repeat, and then I wrapped it up the following day. Overall I'm satisfied with it; it's hardly a literary masterpiece, but I think it fits the moment. The writing is a little awkward, but so are they.
Enjoy, and feel free to share in the comments if this reminded any of you of a special moment in your past.
Zanli Ivano didn't look up. His gaze was fixed to the wall opposite him, as stubborn as the scowl on his face. When the guard rapped his stun stick across the bars, Zanli didn't flinch. He might not have even heard it.
"I'm gonna miss you kid," his guard was standard guard fare; broad chest, broader stomach. Too little time on the beat, chasing down young ruffians. Far too much time watching people sit behind bars. Wasn't much by way of high speed pursuits when you were in a five foot cell. The only thing this man had pursued in a while was the last slice of cake in the break room. The man he knew only as Guard banged against the bars again, a bit louder this time, "You were always a quiet bastard. Never whined like the others. Ya got a visitor, here to post bail."
The only sign of acknowledgement was his shoulders growing tense. Father? He knew word would have gotten home by now but didn't expect him to show up in person. When his custodian turned away from his cell, Zanli scrambled to his feet and stood before his door. Guard was standing at the front desk, further down the hall, speaking to a very tall man who was shaking the water from his umbrella. Zanli's shoulders slumped, all excitement fleeing his body like shadows at dawn. It was Len, his father's car driver and Zanli's first tutor. A tall man, too tall to be mistaken for Father, with a smooth shaved head with decorative tattoos adorning it, traditional symbols from a time long past.
The tall man spoke in hushed tones to Guard, but there wasn't much else to occupy the ears, so Zanli caught little pieces of their conversation. A few pieces from Guard, "...troubling to see such promising youth so misguided...took care of him quite well, yes I did..."
A few spare lines from Len, "...very hard to identify some of these kids from the streets...could surely use the Ivano name to try to hide from the law...I'm sure we understand each other...I'll be sure to mention your name..."
Guard stepped around the desk, shaking hands with Len. He approached Zanli's cell, one hand reaching for the key ring at his belt, the other tucking something into his breast pocket, "Well son, that was a clever ruse, trying to pass yerself as an Ivano. Thankfully, this man has cleared it all up. You'll be on yer way now."
It was all for show, they knew. For the rest of the occupants of the dozen holding cells in this wing. When Guard approached the cell, he winked as Zanli, and pretended to fumble with the lock and the door. Under his breath Zanli caught a few words, "See you again, Z. You'll be back soon."
Zanli's fists clenched and as the door slid open, he was sorely tempted to charge into the man and ram him into the cell behind him. A flutter of movement caught his eye, and to the side he saw Len staring at him, and just slightly shook his head.
Guard grinned, "And you'll be no more of a man then than you were today."
Zanli drew himself up to his full height, and his hot anger turned cold. He opened his mouth to speak when suddenly Len's voice cut in between them like a wall, "Outside, boy. Now."
He thought he could taste the acid in his mouth as he swallowed his words, halting them from passing his lips. He stepped past Guard, trying to get some participation points in the measure of manliness by stepping past him, roughly shoving him away with his shoulder. It was a noble effort but with little effect. Guard just laughed, and went back to his desk as Zanli was lead by an invisible leash out into the night.
Len stepped out first, raised the umbrella and held it over Zanli as he stepped through the door. For two full minutes, they just stood there. The rain pattered on the umbrella, trying desperately to dive through the resistant fabric and assault the unsuspecting victim it protected. It eagerly soaked Len, who had given up his own protection to keep his charge dry. After those few minutes, Zanli looked up at Len, and opened his mouth to talk. Then he stopped, and looked away again.
Len's stoic demeanor cracked, allowing some concern to peak through, "Help me here, young master. Why are you doing this? This is the sort of thing an attention-starved juvenile does to attract the affection of his parents. You have no reason to be unhappy at home; you have two wonderful parents who love and care for you. What is going on here?"
Finally, Zanli spoke, "Master Len Sarai, you are a credit to our household and family name. You have served the Ivano family most impeccably and I am sincerely grateful for your assistance in relieving me from this confinement. On such a dreary day as this and under such questionable conditions, it is an honor that you should come to my aid. You have been a stalwart companion and instructor for as long as I can recollect, and have always been there for me. In this last capacity, I ask only one thing of you this eve. Take me home, and don't question me further." He stepped out into the rain and made his way to the unmarked luxury car that was waiting for them; the more recognizable Ivano limousine would have given everything away.
Len watched him go, a slow sigh deflating the tall guardian. Closing the umbrella, he walked to the vehicle and got inside.
It was a quiet drive home.
Funny, I meant to work on Kain's background, but Kain is undergoing a rather extensive rework, and I haven't gotten enough figured out to write his Origins yet.
So instead I started with Zanli. I don't know about the name yet. I love the surname Ivano, and I wanted his name to be exotic sounding, something that would sound foreign. Originally his name was Zansli, but the transition from an an- to -s sound was awkward. Its meant to have some kind of asian influence to it, but one of the problems with dealing with my own planet (remember this story doesn't take place on Earth, its my own made-up world) is there is no "China" but there would be an analog culture that would have some similar traits. Though if it were China I imagine his name might look like Xanli or Xan-li, or something of the sort, but I like having a Z name.
Zanli is very well educated, but constantly feels like he is living in the shadow of his family name, and a father who doesn't want him to get into any kind of trouble, at risk of damaging the family. The problem with all this is its all been done.. its very cliche, I know. And as far as prose go, this is a very rough draft. I'm debating how to give the whole setup more flavor. Perhaps the Ivano family isn't as legitimate as it appears, and Zanli's involvement with the law could bring some of the less favorable portions of their business to light? It would also provide a jumping off point for Zanli's criminal background - maybe he met with some of his father's business partners, and they tried to take advantage of him. Which, again, has been done, but hasn't everything? Everything is a cliche somewhere or at some time. There is too much raw material out in the world to have a new concept. Its not that the concept has to be entirely original - thats simply not possible - but I need to have the right characters and depth to make it feel real, or interesting.
I dunno, I'm still working on this whole thing.. Any thoughts? If nothing else I just needed to get something written. I've been behind on my schedule and even with this short piece it was already becoming more difficult to write than it was when I was writing regularly. Truly, practice and routine will be the key here..
So, Meg's arc is finally finished. Next I think we're going to take a look at Kain's background. I will also be putting up a few pieces of artwork that some friends put together when helping me visualize these characters, and the occasional side story.
For those of you who commented, thank you so much. It really does mean a lot of me. From pointing out mistakes and clunky wording to giving me valuable insight on how this all look on your end, every comment is important. Any feedback you might have, or questions you might have, please share them. One of my wisest of readers said she wanted to know what the poems were Meg and her sister were reciting to themselves. Good question. I didn't have one in mind when I wrote it, just that it was what they would do to calm themselves. So anything that strikes you, please take a few moments and share it.
And for those of you who just viewed, I thank you too. As vain as tracking pageviews seems, it reminds me why I'm writing. If at least one person reads something I wrote and can come away with something, it is worth writing.
Heck, I have gotten page views from South Africa, several from Malaysia, and even Russia. I do have one question:
WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?
I think it's awesome, don't get me wrong, but I'm wondering who has been reading my blog from different countries. I was surprised to be able to get my friends and family to read this. So please, if you're reading this and I don't know you personally, feel free to drop a comment, say hello, where are you from? How did you find me? I'm buzzing with curiosity.
Anyway, just a heads up. You are all amazing. Thank you.
I extend my most profound condolence to you on the loss of your daughter, Cadet Sergeant Emma G. Gallagher, 112th Conscription Division, who died as a result of a tragic airline accident on her way home for the holiday.
News of your daughter's death comes as a great shock to all who knew her, and her loss will be felt keenly in this organization. I sincerely hope the knowledge that Emma was an exemplary soldier and was the pride of this training camp will comfort you in this hour of great sorrow.
Personally and for the officers, men and women of this command please accept our deepest sympathy.
Casey G. O'Callahan
General of the People's Militia
Emma looked over the letter one last time, then nodded and started to hand it to the officer; but something stayed her hand. Like all the others, the officer wore black uniform with no insignia, no name tag. So did the woman. It made her skin look more pale, which in turn only made her features more striking. Brilliant green eyes, and red hair that could have been spun from fire.
A door opened behind her, and the blinding morning sun rushed into the room eagerly. Silhouetted in the doorway was a large man's frame, tall and imposing. When he spoke, his voice echoed into the room, each syllable a rumbling storm, "It's time, Emma. Or Megan, rather. Isn't that the new name they gave you?"
She examined the envelope again. She saw her mother's name, her address, and knew this was what she was leaving behind. If she handed over this letter, there was no turning back. She would be no one. A shadow's dream. She would be protecting more lives than she could count, saving more innocent people than she could hope to ever meet, and all she had to pay was her life. Slowly she handed the letter to the officer. As he reached out to take it, her hand flinched once. Only once. Then she let the letter go. She watched the letter, saw it get dropped without care into a bin full of various correspondence. Another officer walked by and took the cart away. Took Emma away.
"Megan. Now." The storm rumbled.
She wiped away the threat of tears, reciting a few lines of poetry her sister used to read her. It helped calm her. Once gathered, she turned to face the tempest, and started walking to meet her destiny. And if every word he spoke was a storm, every step she took was a thunderclap.
"Remarkable. In the last year she has tested in the top three percent in all areas. Demonstrates particular strength in strategy and tactics, leadership, and cooperation with teammates."
"Three percent? Hardly noteworthy. We don't have time for second bests. The last subject was top of his class. We can't settle for less."
"Not three percent of her class. Three percent of the entire Academy. That's including the senior recruits who have been here several years longer. She's been promoted or transferred at least three times."
"So she's a military genius."
"I'm not sure that's it. She has to learn like anyone else; but she can learn and adapt very quickly, and with a strong consistency. Teach her to shoot straight once and she'll never miss a target again."
"That makes a good soldier. I need more than that."
"A natural leader. She understands her objective and how far she needs to go to achieve it. She can work through complex problems very fast, and find the connection between a problem and its possible solutions. If she has to compromise her team or any part of the mission, its because it was the only possible way to succeed."
"How about emotionally? Can she handle it?"
"She is close to her sister. They have been writing letters to one another from the beginning, and we've been monitoring them closely. We'll be editing them at first sign of any trouble at home, we don't want her distracted at a time like this. She has demonstrated loyalty to her friends here and it will be hard to convince her to leave home. She'll need something even stronger than her family ties to fight for."
"Spare me your commentary. Does she have what it takes?"
"Sir, you'll have to raise the bar just to get her interested."
"...bring her in."
* * *
"Somethings wrong," Emma was pacing in the dorm, one of the few quiet places during lunch. Most of their comrades were at the mess hall, filling up on something they probably served yesterday and maybe the day before that. It meant a brief window of privacy in an otherwise exposed reality.
"Famine. Disease. Widespread poverty. Can you be more specific?" Ever the intrepid companion, Scott was laying on his bunk, legs crossed and his feet propped up against the wall. His chest was bare, his BDU tunic and shirt caked with mud in a heap by his bedside.
"Katrina. She's been lying to me," She rubbed at a spot of mud that had found purchase on her chin, and succeeded only in turning it into a larger smudge that ran across her jaw, "At least in the last few weeks and maybe longer. Maybe this whole time."
"Why would she lie to you?" On his back, Scott watched an inverted Emma walking back and forth across what looked like the ceiling to him, "And how do you know she's lying? I know its weird your mom is taking this so well, but its not outside the realm of possibility. Maybe losing one daughter for a while showed her how important you two are to her. I mean you're all she has in the world."
"Unlikely. I know my mother. Short-term solutions that always yield to long-term problems. Whatever benevolence my acceptance into a first class training camp would have drummed up, it wouldn't last more than half a year on the outside before things got bad again. In the last letter, Kat says she took out the old photo album and was looking at old pictures. She says her and Mom talked about the ones from the old fishing trip. The one with Dad."
"Ah, yes. The old photo album trick. She's definitely onto something," this time he didn't even try to sound sincere.
Emma's pacing came to a stop at her bunk, "Scott, you're a wonder of modern science. If we could isolate whatever it is in your gene's that makes you such a smart-ass every waking hour, and develop a solution for it, we'd make millions from weary mothers and sad wives."
"Ow," Scott clasped his chest in feigned agony, "That one hurt. Come on, Egg Head, every waking hour?" A beat, "You and I both know I dream in sarcasm." Scott was shortly thereafter displaced from his bed by a hefty bedroll being flung across the room and occupying his place on the bed.
Reaching into the breast pocket of a spare BDU tunic, and ignoring the sounds of offenses being taken, Emma walked back towards Scott's bunk, every boot step echoing in the (relatively) quiet dorm. She let a photo, worn on the edges but still in good condition, flutter down onto the pile that was Scott on the floor. Then she grabbed the packed bedroll off his bed and started for the door. Scott reached behind his back and grabbed the photo as he rolled over, and focused his eyes on the picture in front of him.
A man, tall and wide in the shoulders, hair a dignified shade of gray, stood with two young girls on either side of him. He was holding a chain with five or six fish hanging off, and the two girls had, laying over both their outstretched arms, what looked like a rather large fish or a very small whale. All three had the same smile, grinning ear to ear.
It was only then that Scott's tone became somber, "So she's been trying to make it sound like everything is alright. Which means it isn't. Still, we're stuck here until holiday leave, what are you planning on doing?" He was answered with the sound of the door opening, "Emma? You can't just leave camp, what do you think you're going to do? Where are you going?" He crawled out into the aisle between the beds.
Emma stood in the doorway, her face a mask. Shadowed with the afternoon sun starting to crawl behind her, every feature was hewn from stone, every angle sharp.
"I'm going home."
Without waiting to hear his reply, she shut the door and turned to leave. Her exit was stopped short, as she was greeted with the sight of an unadorned uniform. She immediately noticed that there was no insignia, no badges, no honors, no decorative bands and no chevrons on his sleeve. Not so much as a star.
"Ah, miss Gallagher. Just the woman I wanted to see."
I don't want to take up much space this time, so let me just say that I don't think Gallagher was the name I intended for her. It's a placeholder for now. I had a German name in mind that I think was similar, but I can't remember it for the life of me. So for now, she is Emma Grace Gallagher.
Sorry it took so long to get back to you. They don't let you send outgoing mail for the first month. Something about cutting the umbilical cord, toughening us up. The whole 'turning boys to men' thing I guess.
Basic has been amazing, if a little routine, even to a fault. And very precise. They lock the doors to the classrooms when classes start, so if you're five seconds late, you aren't allowed in; but you're not allowed in the hallways outside of class either, so if you're found you get in trouble. Yesterday found Scott and I in a foot race to get to class on time. He's been trying to make the best of it, usually by distracting himself from the trials of training with the company of our female recruits.
I've been getting to know some of the other recruits here. You'd like Patrique, he is an artsy type like you. He doesn't get to paint here but he draws miniature army men battling across his homework assignments.
Otherwise, typical Basic stuff. The food is bad, could be worse. The instructors aren't as strict as they say. They know most people are here because of Conscription, not because they want a career out of it. And most of the rumors aren't true; if they were, Scott wouldn't have the fingers to type with, which would bring his dreams of a computer science career crashing down. A word to the wise, though, pack your own blanket. They give you something slightly less comfortable than steel wool and with about as much warmth.
I'm really, really happy to hear about Mom. Sounds like she is doing a lot better. Hopefully with me out of the way you two can reconnect, spend some quality time together. And tell me how you're doing - weren't you seeing that actor guy you met at the spring play? Send me some pictures of you both, I need something pretty to look at, it's all sweat and uniforms up here.
Write me back, I can't wait to hear more from you.
I'll be home soon.
Love, Emma Grace
Slowly, Katrina folded the letter and slipped it back inside the envelope. They had originally tried email, but there was only one computer for every couple hundred recruits so they found old fashioned letters to be the most reliable method, if not as fast.
I'll be home soon.
Katrina felt that tingle from behind her eyes and started blinked rapidly, then reciting literature in her head, focusing her attention to half-remembered poems and plays until the threat of tears had passed. She leaned back against the headboard of her bed, taking long, measured breaths like Emma taught her. Even a month later, the wound of missing her sister was still fresh. It was silly, she knew, but Emma was her other half. A connection between sisters was one unmatched by all other ties, and even though she knew this time would come, she always imagined somehow it would work out better. As if Emma would get to Basic, realize it wasn't worth it without her, and turn right back around. Such a stupid thought.
Now, remembering her sister, she imagined Emma having to be awake at dawn. Sure, the first morning she would be alright, all full of adrenaline, but Emma didn't do mornings, and if she was able to avoid eye contact until it turned into an afternoon, all the better. The thought brought her a smile, and soon she was laughing aloud. Remembering them playing together, or laughing, or spending all that time putting Emma's hair up only for it to return to its normal state of unmitigated disaster. Often before she could set the hairbrush down. Her laughter brought the tears back with renewed strength. She couldn't stop them this time, a mix of longing, sorrow, and bright memories, and they spilled onto the envelope, splotching and smearing the address on its cover.
Eventually she made her way downstairs, on the hunt for some stamps so she could start writing her next letter. From the bottom of the stairs, she passed the door to the living room, cracked enough that the light from the television squeezed out into the hallway. A glance inside was rewarded with a common sight: Mother, sleeping in the recliner, remote still in one hand folded on her chest. She wanted Emma to know about things at home. How their Mom was drinking again, that she and John weren't speaking. Again. How upset Mom was all the time, and when things got really bad, when she had a bad day at work, she came home and took it out on Katrina. Not that she ever laid a hand on her, of course. She didn't have to. Their family was well practised in the art of verbal discipline.
When it was her and Emma, they could weather it together, each helping the other and keeping their spirits up. Now alone, Katrina had to hold it upon her shoulders alone. She wanted to beg Emma to come back, or ask her for advice. Even as they shared their chores, punishments, and nights sneaking into the kitchen for food after being sent to bed without, she knew Emma had taken the worst of it herself.
But Katrina was a big girl now. She had to stand on her own two feet. No more running to Emma to solve her problems. So she put pen to paper, and started to craft her fiction.
Things are going great. All the teachers at school say they miss you, and Mom took out all those old pictures of us as kids...
[From the author]
I'm really unhappy with this one. Of course I don't expect everything I write to be solid gold before even one revision, but I'm inherently unsatisfied with how this played out. See, Katrina (and I'm terrible with names, let me own up to that before anyone makes a comment) is indeed supposed to be pining for her sister. Emma leaves, things at home become increasingly difficult, but wanting to prove she's all grown up and can take care of herself, she lies in her letters and has to find a way to make do on her own. Over time this hardens her, shapes her by brute force into a much stronger (and colder) adult than Emma remembers.
Still, something is just not quite right. I don't want to make a novel out of this little Retrospectives series itself, so I was okay with the rushed pacing, (again none of this is meant for publication, just for my own uses), but I don't know I just don't like it. After enough scrapping and trying and deleting and threatening Joshua (my computer), I decided to just say hell with it and put this up for now. If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them; and don't worry about hurting my feelings - I'm feeling rather malevolent towards this particular entry and I'll happily join you in any criticisms you want to share.
Twenty seconds. Emma Grace was standing in total darkness, waiting at the door to the cadet quarters, and waiting for the signal. Around her, sleeping recruits occasionally broke the silence with a muffled snore or dream-induced mutterings. She adjusted her weight to the other foot. Again. The floor creaked in protest to her restless shifting.
"Em? Are you already up?" That would be Scott, a classmate since childhood who, thankfully, would be accompanying her through Basic Training. Ten seconds. It will be nice to have the company. Even though her whole graduating class entered Basic together, the number of recruits entering every year meant you weren't likely to get put into a company with people you knew. Some thought they deliberately split you up so you were less like to rely on favors from friends. Three seconds.
"Seize the day." And the morning bell rang.
Ten minutes later, Emma was sitting at a table in the mess hall, surrounded by identical cadets, most with their head down and trying not to make eye contact with the older cadets. Despite the constant flood of students in and out of the hall, and the wall of uniforms constantly flowing like a living thing made entirely of fear, hope, and awe, she picked out Scott from across the hall, tracking his advance while focusing on her breakfast. He squeezed in between her and another student, setting down a plate that somehow contained three recruits worth of food. She glanced up from something closely resembling eggs and cocked an eyebrow, "I'm surprised you managed to find me. It's packed in here," She had to lean in and speak over the din of conversation and hundreds of pieces of silverware shoveling hundreds of plates of food into hundreds of mouths.
Scott grinned and rubbed her head, running his hands through what he could of her newly crew cut hair, "You're a splash of red among a sea of blue BDUs. You sorta stand out." He dropped a letter in front of her. Emma batted his hand away with one arm and picked up the envelope over in the other. He eyed the letter, "It was dropped off this morning, right after you left. Good thing I was diligently guarding the bunks an extra minute or two, or it might have gotten lost. Who's writing you on your first day?"
Once she saw the return address, her eyes lit up and she tore open the packaging, "It's Katrina!"
Hey Egg Head
I hope this gets to you on time, I tried to send it out in time for your first day. How was your trip? Did you get to sit next to any cute guys on the way up?
"Of course you did. Didn't she know we were shipping out together?"
"Shut up Scott."
Your graduation put Mom in a good mood, so I should thank you for that. Her and John were reminiscing about their time in training - she even brought out her old uniform! It was really nice, everyone getting along. It's too bad you didn't get to see it - I think its the longest Mom has been sober at one time. Now they can't wait until I graduate in a few years and get to go to Basic. Most of my classmates are excited, but no one will give us much information at school. Is it true they break a finger for every minute you're caught out after curfew?
I already miss you, sis. Two years feels like such a long time. Do you get vacations? Holidays? It's going to be the first time we've ever missed the other's birthday. I'll have to see what they will allow me to mail you for a present.
Well, I have to get this into the mail to get it to you in time for your big day. Good luck! Tell me all kinds of stories!
Tell Scott I said hi.
Love you sis, Kat
Emma folded the envelope, tucked it into her breast pocket. Memories flooded her, and the sounds of two girls laughing was suddenly clearer than the din and ting of cheap silverware against plastic plates.
"Egg head? Is that meant to be a term of endearment?"
Scott's voice snapped Emma back to the present, and the echoing cacophony of too many voices in such a small proximity seemed deafening. As the momentary lapse faded like a forgotten dream, she returned her friend's lopsided grin, "My initials are E-G-G. It was her nickname for me as kids."
"Oh, good, at first I thought she was implying you were smart."
She stuck her tongue out at him, standing. Packing the rest of her eggs in a few over sized bites, she gathered her plate and cup and deposited them in the dirty dishes bin, which was picked up by whatever unlucky recruit had caused the most trouble lately and washed for the next meal. Scott called after her, shouting over the crowd, "I'll see you in first class then?"
Emma turned, taking a few backward steps, and though he was too far away to hear her, he could read her words. I'll beat you there. Exchanging a smile, she slipped out the door, walking outside and slipping on her hat that they were required to wear at all times while outside. The challenge meant that Scott would hurry and race to the classroom to beat her, so Emma would take her time. Besides, she needed to find a pen and paper.
So, I didn't expect to get very much response to my creative endeavors here, but someone pointed out that my comment settings made it impossible for anyone without a registered account to post comments. So that has been remedied...we'll see if it changes the post traffic.
Also, I apologize for any formatting issues - Blogger and I have a shaky relationship at best, and it seems to be fond of putting large gaps between paragraphs when I only want one space.
Anyone who knows more about these contraptions, feel free to point out any further tips. Darn kids and them Blag-o-whats-its.
Books, movies, television shows, video games, board games, paintings, pictures, music, that quilt your grandmother knit for you that's still in the closet, almost everything that surrounds us is about telling a story. And, really, you can find inspiration in anything. I've seen into the lives of my characters while watching a softball game. While listening to music. Overhearing two people in conversation. You can find meaning in everything, and story is about meaning. However, I'm focusing on a particular area.
Aw yeah. Video games.
My gaming career began around 1992-1993, a young spratling of about 3 or 4 years. It was Sonic The Hedgehog, and while it didn't inspire me to do much other than run around in circles really fast, it was the start of what would be a brilliant gaming career.
The first real inspiration came from playing Chrono Cross, a masterpiece released in the late 90's. The story was a bit convoluted, but I was at a young enough age I wasn't paying that much attention anyway. It had 45 separate playable characters and multiple endings. You literally could not encounter and unlock every character by playing just once. You had to play it multiple times to fully experience it. Sadly, the copy I owned was flawed, with a scratch on the disc that prevented me from getting past a scene that you cannot bypass. So I never actually completed the game...though it remains one of my life goals to do so. However, it wasn't the characters that made the most impact. Even though, at one point in the game, one of your party gets injured, and you have to make the choice to brave a dangerous swamp to find her a cure or, you know,don't and go pursue the storyline on your own. This sense of having to make a choice in the story will come up later, so remember it.
Actually it was the music that inspired me the most. Chrono Cross has a wonderful score, and in particular the main theme, "Scars of Time". This is, simply put, my favorite piece of music. From pretty much anything. Ever. And I like music scores. I love the Dragonheart Theme, and if I can appreciate The Phantom Menace for anything it's one of my favorite Star Wars piece. But Scars of Time...when I hear that, I hear soul. I see epic battles illustrated in flashes of light, I feel how it must feel to soar above the clouds.
But I digress. Somewhere along the line I was introduced to Metal Gear Solid, which reigns supreme as High King of Convoluted Plotlines. I can't begin to explain the plot, but let me explain this: the main character, codename Solid Snake, is a genetic clone of a legendary super soldier, who throughout the course of the games repeatedly foils the plots set in motion by his other "genetic siblings", often involving the use of various bipedal nuclear-equipped mech known as "Metal Gear", for which the series is named. Nevermind that at one point you are lead to believe that the dismembered hand from his brother (Liquid Snake) has taken over the body of your ongoing nemesis, Revolver Ocelot, which is only possible because Ocelot's father is a spiritual medium. Oh, and Ocelot's mother is the mentor of the original Solid Snake of whom the main character is a clone of.
Oh, and there are cyber ninjas. Shit is crazy.
Incomprehensible story aside, the games actually have several plot lines that have continued to inspire me. In particular, the apparent antagonist in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is one of my favorite game characters to date. It would take too much space to get into the story, and it would be a disservice; you have to play it to understand. However, let me explain one moment. You are facing off against The Boss, the aptly named opponent you are struggling to face throughout the game. A former mentor turned traitor against her country, you are sent to kill the only woman Snake really loves. At the end of the final battle, she reveals all to you. Her sacrifice, and why she has done these things, and why you must end it here and now. She knows she is going to die. She knows you are going to kill her. It's all part of the mission, one far grander than you ever realized, and you have your part to play. Here's the kicker.
You have to pull the trigger.
In most games, climactic story-changing moments in the game are told through "cutscenes", moments where you no longer have any control over what happens. Here, you have to consciously take the action. After playing up to this point, I literally stared at the controller for at least three minutes, refusing to continue. Eventually I did, because I had to, but it made the echo of gunfire that much more real.
Let's take a step into another game, shall we? This franchise has quickly overtaken all others as my favorite game series of all time. For me, it is the epitome of what story-driven games should be. The series is called Mass Effect. A wonderful piece of science fiction, story-telling driven gameplay. You play the main character, "Commander Shephard", a soldier of your own design. You choose if you are male or female, one of various backstory options, and a few different gameplay choices. Throughout the game you encounter humans, aliens, robots. Soldier, citizens, and creatures with intelligence beyond mortal comprehension. Yet the game is steered largely by choices you make. Some seemingly inconsequential - you can bribe a shopowner to get a discount. Give a fanboy an autograph, or tell him to go jump out a window. Let a criminal live to see justice, or take justice into your own hands. You were making these choices, and each had meaning. Near the end of the game, I was facing off against the main adversary, Saren. He was corrupt, taken hostage by the insidious mechanisms of a being who could influence your thoughts. For most of the game Saren is hellbent on carrying out the wishes of the one commanding him. However, based on the choices I made, the things I said, I was able to get through to him. Leading up to one of the final boss fights, I showed him that he still has a chance to make a difference and to fight back. Saren took his gun, put it against his head, and fired. It bypassed the entire fight. Unable to fight the influence, Saren decided to try to make his final stand, by removing himself from its control. A final sacrifice.
I almost dropped my controller.
You may be asking, Why are you boring us with this? We weren't looking for a corporate sponsor. Hear me out, though. The reason these games are a source of inspiration to me is that video games, truly good games, succeed when they create experiences. That's how they inspire me. Experiences. Moments in a story. Video games have a unique advantage over other mediums. Unlike movies, a game can take between four to over 30 or more hours of gameplay to complete. You are not restricted to 112 minutes to meet the characters, connect with them emotionally, and understand their choices. Books, of course, can go even farther and more in-depth, but video games also have the appeal of being a visual medium. While there is something to be said for painting characters in your mind with a good book, but in a game they can present scenes and ideas that are simply more difficult to convey in writing. And, above all, in video games you have a choice that you simply don't with books or 'teevee' shows.
These choices are the defining moments when you realize a game steps over the threshold. When you have an emotional, personal reaction. In the sequel, Mass Effect 2, you are tasked with spearheading a suicide mission into enemy territory. You have to choose a squad leader to lead the second group while you lead the first. My choice was not made according to stats, or gameplay mechanics. Garrus was one of the characters from the first game, and the choices I made kept him by my side throughout the mission. I chose Garrus to lead them because I knowGarrus, the way a Browncoat knows Malcolm Reynolds, the way a Tolkien fan knows the hobbits. It's a choice based on experience.
It also helps that games like this are often accompanied with amazing musical scores and in Mass Effect's case, stunning voice acting and camera work. Yeah, camera work. The way they "filmed" the scenes in mass effect give it a truly cinematic feel, as good as any movie.
As I start my own writing project, heading into the Great Unknown of writing fiction, I remember these games, these moments. That is what I want my readers to remember. I want them to remember the experiences. When, just for this one moment in time, they are doingmore than just reading.
If I ever manage to accomplish this even once, I will call myself an Author.
[Also, for further insights into writing, art, science, politics, and everything else under the sun, visit Dana Hunter and her blog Es Tequila Es Verdad. Well worth reading.]