Tag Archives: Storytime Mondays

Storytime Mondays: What Memories Do To Us

“What Memories Do to Us”

“No.”

“What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“No.  You can’t go out with him.”

Trish put her hands on her hips and gave her brother ‘the look’.  The same look their mother gave their father when he was really in trouble.  “I’ll have you know, big brother,” she said, “that I can go out with whoever I want, thank you very much!”

“Not when it’s one of my friends,” Alex replied.  He knew what his friends were like; he’d cheered them on in their ‘conquests’ often enough after all.  The last thing he wanted was Trish becoming just another one of those conquests.  Sure, Jeremy wasn’t like the other guys, not really.  Alex thought of him as more or less harmless; he listened to the other guys’ stories, the same as Alex did, but never shared any of his own.  Alex didn’t have any problem with Jeremy, but that still didn’t make him good enough to date Alex’s sister.

“Well, hold on a second now,” their father stepped in, holding up his hands to forestall any more arguing.  “I’ve met Jeremy.  He seems like a nice young man, and I’m sure he’s a perfect gentleman.  Unless there’s something you’re not telling us, Alex?” His father gave him a questioning look.  Alex hesitated, glancing at Trish.  She was definitely what you’d call a ‘Daddy’s Girl’, and their father was just as protective of her as Alex was.  Lately Trish had been drawing more and more attention from the boys, with her shimmering brunette hair, deep blue eyes, long eyelashes, and charming smile.  Quite a few of Alex’s other friends had been commenting lately on her beauty, and a few of them had made some comments about her body that had earned them beatings from Alex.  Of course, Jeremy hadn’t been one of the ones saying these things, but it wouldn’t be hard for Alex to say he had.  One wrong word from Alex and their father would never let Trish go out with Jeremy.  The only problem was that he couldn’t actually think of a real reason Trish shouldn’t be able to go out with him.  He just simply didn’t want any of his friends near her.

“Well…” Alex thought about it for a long moment.  All he had to do was tell a story of one of his other friends, and unjustly insert Jeremy’s name, and the date would be off.  “No,” Alex sighed.  “Jeremy’s a fine guy.  There’s nothing wrong with him.”  He couldn’t bring himself to lie about it just because he was being overprotective.  It really was Trish’s choice, after all.

Trish was now giving their father a hopeful look, trying to hold back her smile.  He looked at her for a moment, still hesitant, then nodded.  “Alright then,” he clapped a hand on Alex’s shoulder, a sympathetic look in his eye.  He obviously wasn’t happy about his ‘little girl’ dating a guy two years older, or even dating at all, but Trish was fifteen now, and starting to get past the point that she could be sheltered.  Like Alex, their father was forcing himself to accept that it was Trish’s choice, at least so long as he knew that the guy was trustworthy.  “You can go out with him,” he told Trish.  She started bouncing on her toes happily, then gave their father a big hug.

“Thank you Daddy!” she squealed.

“But,” he continued, Trish pulling back from the hug and putting a pout on her lips, “first you and I need to have a little talk…”

“Oh, Daaaaad!” Trish pouted.  “We already HAD ‘that’ talk!” she gave him her most disappointed look, the one that usually got their father to cave and give her her way.

“I know sweetie, but humor your old man,” their father led Trish into the other room to have ‘the talk’, while Alex went to his room to call up Jeremy and make some veiled threats about what Alex would do to him if Trish got hurt.

*                      *                      *

“No!”

“Trish, please…”

“No!  I don’t want to!”

“Trish sweetie, come on.  You need to go.  We can’t have you getting sick again,” Trish’s mother was holding Trish’s jacket in her hands, trying to convince the little girl to put it on.  “I know you don’t like going to the doctor, but you have to.”

“But Mooooom!” Trish pouted.  She was eleven years old, and quite used to getting her way, most of the time anyway.  But Daddy was at work, and she always had a harder time getting her way with Mommy, especially when it came to going to the doctor.  “I don’t wanna go!  I’m not sick, honest!  I haven’t even thrown up or nothing!” she put on her most adorable pout, batting her eyelashes, though she had a feeling it was hopeless.

“I’m sorry honey, but you have to.  Come on,” her mother took Trish by the shoulders and started steering her towards the door, handing her the jacket.  “If we don’t take you to see the doctor, you might have another relapse.  Your T-cell count is getting low again, and you know that’s when you start to get sick.”  Trish didn’t entirely know what ‘T-cells’ were, except that they were white blood cells that did something to keep her healthy.  She knew they fought off bacteria and viruses and stuff like that, and when there weren’t enough T-cells in her blood, it made it easy for her to get sick.  Though she didn’t know what made them get low, and even the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her.  All they knew how to do was give her medicine to fight the symptoms.

“It’ll be okay honey.  You know the doctor is just there to help you,” her mother patted her on the shoulder as she led her out the door, though Trish didn’t say anything.  She kept her head down, wishing she had some other way out of the visit to the doctor’s office.  She thought about trying to run away until Daddy came home, though she didn’t think that would do her any good.  So she just kept her head down and let her mother lead her to the car, wondering why it was that she always had to get sick.

The ride to the doctor’s office wasn’t a long one.  Trish spent the entire ride staring out the window at the buildings passing by.  Her mother kept talking the entire time; encouraging words, empty sympathy, all of which meant nothing to Trish.  Her mother didn’t understand, and Trish couldn’t find the courage to tell her.  It was just too embarrassing.  At first she thought this was some kind of punishment.  This was what sick girls have to go through.  But none of her friends had to go through what she went through.  None of them feared going to the doctor the way Trish did.

She had thought she was finally getting better.  It had been over two months since the last time she’d had to go.  Her parents still insisted on testing her blood every day, and every day she sat there scared while she waited to find out her fate.  She had been trying so hard to stay healthy, and doing everything they’d told her to do.  She was eating the right foods, and getting plenty of exercise.  She’d convinced her parents to let her start taking self-defense classes, and they’d agreed that the classes were a good form of exercise.  Trish hadn’t told them why she really wanted to take the classes.  She’d been practicing hard every day, and was already at the top of her class.

As much as Trish hoped for the car ride to last longer, all too soon it was over, and her mother was leading her into the doctor’s office.  She kept her head down the entire time, barely listening as her mother said hello to the receptionist.  While her mother made small talk, Trish wandered over to the waiting area, dropping down into a seat.  There were a few other kids there, most of them younger than Trish, playing with the toys and video games in the waiting room.  Trish was getting too old for the toys, and the games didn’t interest her.  Being here didn’t put her in a playful mood.  She ignored the other children, ignored her mother when she tried to cheer Trish up, and ignored the sick sensation in her stomach that had nothing to do with illness.  Then, as much as she tried to ignore it, she heard the receptionist call her name.  It was time.

“Everything will be fine, sweetie,” her mother said as Trish dragged her feet towards the door, where a nurse waited to lead her back to the examination room.  She said nothing during the usual preliminary tests: blood pressure, temperature, measuring her height and weight.  The nurse then handed her a gown and left so Trish could get out of her clothes.

She sat there, holding the folded robe in her hands, staring at the floor.  She didn’t want this to happen again.  She saw tears falling onto the light blue cloth of the gown, then her face was buried in it, stifling her sobs.  It was in this state the doctor found her a few minutes later.

“Good morning, Patricia,” Dr. Simmons said, smiling in the way that always sent a chill up Trish’s spine.  He showed too many teeth, and even when his mouth was smiling his eyes never did.  His eyes were looking at Trish, and she fidgeted in her seat.  She pulled the gown down from her face and clutched it to her chest, staring at Dr. Simmons with no expression on her face.  “How are we today?” he stepped forward and brushed his fingers across her cheek, brushing her hair back over her ear.  She held perfectly still, breathing slowly and carefully.

When she didn’t respond Dr. Simmons lifted her chin with his fingers so her eyes met his.  “Not feeling very talkative today?” he asked, his voice still in the same steady tone he always used.  Trish swallowed a lump in her throat, concentrating on her breathing.  “You didn’t change into your gown, Patricia,” Dr. Simmons said, taking the gown from her hands and placing it on the examination table next to her.  She held her hands in her lap, her fingers tightly closed.  “Here, let me help you get that off…” Dr. Simmons slid his hands down her arms, and reached for the bottom of her shirt.

“No!” Trish felt her heart racing as she brought her arms up in between the doctor’s, sweeping her arms to either side in a rapid motion that knocked Dr. Simmons hands away.  He stepped back, a stunned look on his face.

“Patricia, it’s alright,” he put the smile back on his face.  “I just need to give you an examination.  We’ve done this plenty of times, it’s alright,” he stepped forward again, and Trish pushed herself off the table, her feet hitting the ground and her fist hitting Dr. Simmons stomach.  She was a small girl, but she’d been taught to put her full body weight into a swing.  She’d been taught where to strike to do the most damage.  She let out a fierce scream as the doctor bent over, the wind knocked out of him, his hands clutching his stomach.  Before he could recover Trish continued on through the motions she’d learned in self-defense class, stomping her heel down on his toe, then shoving him hard while he was doubled over in pain.  Dr. Simmons slammed onto the ground, grunting in pain, caught so off guard by the sudden assault that he hadn’t had time to react.  Trish didn’t bother to wait and see what he would do; by the time he hit the ground she was already running for the door.

Later that night, Trish was sitting alone in her room.  Her mother had been both furious and worried for Trish, begging her for hours to explain why she had attacked Dr. Simmons, but Trish had refused to say a word.  Her mother had asked her over and over again: Did he do anything to you?  Trish hadn’t been able to tell her mother anything; she had simply said she didn’t want to go back there, ever again.  She was sure her mother suspected what Trish wasn’t telling her, but she wouldn’t admit to it.

Now, Trish’s father was home, and her mother was downstairs explaining to him what had happened.  Trish wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but she fully expected to get grounded at the very least.  She sat on her bed, staring at the floor, and realized she didn’t care.  She didn’t care what happened to her now; she never had to go back to see Dr. Simmons again, and that made it all worth it.

She heard a knock at her door, and looked up to see Alex standing there.  Her brother was thirteen, and starting to be a bit of a pain, but she still looked up to him.  “Hey…” he said, stepping into her room.  “I heard mom and dad talking…”

Trish simply nodded, looking back down at the ground.  “So what happened?” Alex asked, coming in and sitting next to her, a concerned frown on his face.  Trish looked up at him, her eyes growing moist.  Alex frowned deeper, then put a hand on her back.  “What?” he asked again.

Trish got up and went over to the door, looking up and down the hall to make sure their parents weren’t upstairs.  She heard their voices coming from the living room downstairs; they still seemed to be deep in conversation.  She shut and locked the door, then went back to sit next to Alex.  She looked up at him, tears in her eyes.  “Promise you won’t tell Mom and Dad?”

*                      *                      *

Trish came home from her date with tears in her eyes.  Alex was downstairs, watching an old movie.  Their parents were already in bed.  Alex looked up at Trish, his fist clenching in anger, Jeremy’s soon to be bruised face flashing before his eyes.  “What happened?” he asked, getting up from the couch.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Trish headed for the stairs, wiping at her eyes.  Her hair was a bit disheveled, and Alex noticed her blouse wasn’t tucked in.

“Trish…” Alex stepped towards her, his tone a mix between concern and anger.

“I said I don’t want to talk about it!” she screamed at him, rushing up the stairs and into her room.  Alex watched her for a moment, then grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.  The city was a blur in his vision as he sped towards Jeremy’s house, blocking out everything but the image of his former friend’s face.  By the time he got to the house, he was in a blind rage.  He pounded on the door like it was Jeremy’s face, and it took only a moment before Jeremy answered.  He still had his jacket and shoes on; he must have just gotten home a few moments before Alex got there.

“Alex, wha-“ Alex’s fist cut off Jeremy’s question, knocking the other teen back into the house.  Between blows from Alex’s fists Jeremy managed to get out a few protests and yells for help, “Wait…I didn’t…Stop!  Stop man!  I didn’t touch her!”  Alex was beyond listening to any excuses.  No one touched his sister.

It was only a few moments before Jeremy’s parents were roused by the sounds of their son being beaten and yelling for help, and Jeremy’s father pulled Alex away, his arms still swinging.  It wasn’t until then that Alex found his voice, “You son of a bitch!  She’s my fucking sister!  Get off me!” he struggled against Jeremy’s dad, but he was a construction worker and far stronger than Alex, even with all the adrenaline pumping through him.

“Calm down, son, just calm down,” Jeremy’s father sounded surprisingly calm, though he looked at his son with a concerned expression.  “Just settle down and we’ll all talk about this…”

“There’s nothing to talk about!” Alex finally pulled himself from the man’s grip, though his rage was expended and he simply stood there, clenching and unclenching his fists, staring Jeremy down.  The other teen was still on the ground, though his mother had helped him to a sitting position.  His eye was swollen, his lip bleeding, and the shape of his nose told Alex he’d broken it.

“Alex man, I swear, I didn’t…” Alex didn’t even listen to Jeremy’s protest of innocence.  He stormed out of the house, his steps slowing as he went, his energy spent now that the adrenaline was fading.  By the time he got in his car he felt ready to collapse; he leaned his forehead against the steering wheel, taking a few deep breaths.  Jeremy and his family were standing in the doorway, looking out at him.  Shooting them one last glare, he started the car and drove away.

Alex drove for hours, his mind in a daze.  He was surprised at himself, but he didn’t regret what he’d done.  He had to protect Trish.  He knew she could look out for herself now, but memories didn’t fade easily.  He drove with his thoughts and memories for a long time, finally pulling back up to his house late in the night.  No lights were on, and everyone seemed to be asleep.

Alex went inside, and headed to the kitchen, pouring himself a glass of ice water to cool the burning in his throat.  It wasn’t until then he noticed how cut and bruised his hands were.  He had never been in a fight like this before, had never attacked someone before.  The skin on the backs of his hands was split, and covered in a mix of his blood and Jeremy’s.  Letting out a sigh of defeat he went to the sink to clean up.  Then the lights in the kitchen came on.

“What did you do…?” It was Trish, and she was staring at his bloody hands, and his face; he must have gotten some of Jeremy’s blood on his face as well.  “Alex, what the hell?  What did you do?!” she had a look of horror on her face.  His sister had never looked at him like that before.

“Trish, I’m sorry,” Alex hung his head, not ashamed of what he’d done, but of how his sister was reacting.  “Maybe I took it too far, but Trish, look at what he…” he stopped, not really sure what Jeremy had done, looking up at Trish with the hope that she’d understand.

“’What he’ what, Alex?” Trish had her hands on her hips, glaring at him.  “Jeremy didn’t do anything!  He only got to second base, and that’s because I wanted him to!” her delicate face was turning red with embarrassment and anger.

Alex gave her a confused look.  “But…when you came home…” A sick feeling started building in his stomach.

Trish crossed her arms, clenching her teeth for a moment to keep herself from screaming at him.  “I came home upset because I made a fool out of myself,” her voice was tight and strained.  “All Jeremy did was kiss me, until I took his hand and…well, y’know…” her face flushed deeper, and she clenched her teeth, taking a deep breath.  “Anyway, I wanted him to, it was my choice…but then…” tears started to fill her eyes, her breathing growing erratic, “then I started…remembering.” She turned her eyes away, wiping a hand across her face.  “And then I freaked out, and I hit him, because for a second I thought it was him,” Alex didn’t have to ask who she meant, “and then I felt like the biggest idiot, because I’m the one that…started, and I couldn’t even go through with it…” she dropped her arms to her sides, a look of embarrassed defeat about her.  “And then you,” she glared at him, her defeat turning to anger, “you…!  Alex, I can’t believe you!” she stepped forward, her fists raised, then collapsed against his chest, smothering her face in his shirt while pounding her fists against his chest.  “How could you!  He’ll never want to speak to me again!  Alex, how could you!” she collapsed in tears, soaking his shirt, clinging to him weakly.  He wrapped his arms around her…mute…lost…

“I’m sorry Trish,” he finally whispered, his voice hoarse.  “I was just trying to…” she pulled back, looking up at him, her face stained with tears.  He saw the pain he had caused her in her eyes.  He couldn’t make any excuses for what he’d done.  Jeremy, he would have to apologize to, explain things to, make excuses, and hope to fix things.  But Trish…looking at the hurt in her eyes, he couldn’t even make an excuse.  All he could say was, “I’m sorry…”

Trish nodded, wiping her face with the sleeve of her pajamas.  “I know, big brother,” she whispered.  “I know…” Without any more words she gave him a hug, kissed his cheek, and then headed back to bed, leaving Alex alone with his thoughts, his memories, and his regrets.

Storytime Mondays: The Awakening

This story was written for a creative writing class I took in 2000. The inspiration was a D&D campaign I was playing at the time. Thus there is a wizard, a dragon, and some really cheesy names like a volcano called “Mount Sear.” Don’t ask me where I came up with that, I really don’t know!

———————————————————————

The mountain was smoking.

For years now it had been quiet, and everyone in the town of Redwind Gale had thought there would be no more tremors, no more reason to fear.  Decades ago, Mount Sear had erupted, killing many of the villagers; human, elven, and dwarven alike, and scarring the memories of many more.  The survivors had rebuilt the town much farther from the mountain’s base, but there were still those who remembered the fiery carnage wrought by the mountain’s fury.  When the tremors had first started up again, almost ten years ago, they had frightened the villagers to a near panic.  Everyone was afraid, especially the children, whose imaginations ran wild with images of flaming rocks, molten lava, and stories of the destruction that had occurred for miles around.  After the initial tremors passed, the people had calmed, realizing that they might not be doomed after all.  But the mountain had never slept peacefully since then.  As the years passed, the villagers lived in a silent fear, awaiting the day that the volcano would wake.  Each time the ground shook, the people stared into the distance with fear, praying that it would pass.

Even when the volcano was silent, people still thought of the day they knew would come.  The elders’ stories had become all too real in their minds, and with each quake they pictured their beautiful town in flames, and saw the burning bodies of their friends and loved ones.  Many of the elves had moved back into the distant forests, seeking safety in nature’s embrace, while the dwarven citizens had begun digging new tunnels in the surrounding hillside, hoping to make a safe shelter in which to hide.  Some people, however, refused to flee their homes, despite their fears.

Then one day, the tremors stopped.  For months the mountain was silent, and everyone thought that this time it was for good.  Everyone lived peacefully for a time, and the nightmares of their envisioned end had soon ceased.  The preparations that had begun, either for some form of defense or a plan of escape, were all soon forgotten as the threat seemed to vanish.  The older villagers eventually stopped telling their stories to the children, and everyone was able to live free of worry.

Until the day several of the children came running back into the village, full of panic and shouting.  They were all gathered in a confused huddle, all of them crying and shouting at once.  It took a few moments for them to be calmed down, and by then everyone nearby had gathered around, putting aside their daily chores, to find out what was wrong.  The oldest boy, Clancy, a lad of eleven summers and full of imagination and mischief, had done most of the talking.

“The mountain’s exploding!” he shouted, sending the people gathered around into a panic.  “We’re all doomed!”  At first no one believed him, and a few of the adults laughed and muttered under their breaths about the child’s imagination.  Sen, the blacksmith, stepped forward to find out what was wrong.

“Calm down, m’boy,” Sen took the boy by his shoulders, trying to soothe Clancy’s nerves with his own calm, steady presence.  “Take a few breaths there.”  He waited a moment, giving the boy a stern look when he appeared ready to jump right back into his tale without waiting.  Once Clancy looked to be calmer, he asked “Now what’s all this ’bout the mountain exploding?”

Clancy opened his mouth to speak, but by then a shout had risen from the gathered crowd, and he was cut off.  “Look!” someone pointed, and everyone’s attention was pulled away from Clancy and his friends.  They no longer needed to hear his tale to know it was true.  A pillar of smoke could now be seen, rising up from Mount Sear’s peak.  Everyone stood in silence as the sight was absorbed, and forgotten fears began to resurface.

“We was playing on the slopes, that’s all,” Clancy continued, drawing the villagers’ attention back to him.  “We didn’t mean nothin’ to happen, honest.”  The boy was on the verge of tears, and some of the other children had already begun to cry.

“It’s all right, m’boy” Sen told him, squeezing the lad’s arm.  “T’isn’t your fault.  We all knew it’d start up again someday.”

“No, you don’t understand,”  Clancy shook his head, tears streaming down his cheeks in earnest now.  “It’s Philip, he’s….”

A scream from the crowd cut him off.  A desperate arm shoved Sen aside, knocking the burly blacksmith to the ground with a thud, startling those nearby.  “My Philip?”  the woman screamed, grabbing Clancy and shaking him.  “My son, my baby where is he?”

Clancy tried to respond, but she was shaking him so hard, he couldn’t speak.  It took three men to pull Philip’s mother back, trying to calm both her down.  It took a few moments of gentle reassurances to soothe both the mother’s fear for her son, and Clancy’s fear of Philip’s mother.  Once both the boy and woman stopped crying, Sen took charge again and asked Clancy to continue his story.

“Well,” Clancy choked a bit, still afraid he would be blamed, but Sen’s reassuring hand on his shoulder urged him to continue.  “We was just playin’.  We didn’t mean no harm.  But then the ground started to shake.  We didn’t know what to do, and we was all scared.”  He looked at the ground, ashamed to admit his own fear.  “The mountain exploded on us,” he whispered without looking up.  “We all got burned.”  For the first time everyone noticed the burn marks on the children’s hands and faces.  Most of them weren’t bad, but some looked to be serious.  One of the girls had a bald spot where her hair had been singed away, and one elven child had taken a horrid looking burn to one of his pointed ears.  “Philip was the closest.” Clancy muttered, sniffling back his sobs.  “He was burned real bad, and…and he didn’t get up, and…”  The boy broke down into tears now, and Philip’s mother screamed, a cry of heart wrenching anger and sorrow.  She had to be held back down, to stop her from running towards the smoking mountain, trying to save her son, who was surely long dead by now.  After a few moments all of the fight drained out of her, and she collapsed, sobbing, held up by the arms of the men who had restrained her.  One, her husband, held her close, pressing her head against his shoulder, his own tears flowing with hers.

The other villagers were looking at the mountain now, and realized that the plume of smoke was getting thicker.  A tremor rocked the ground around them, and the other parents suddenly saw visions of their own children being caught by the same awful fate as Philip.  Fear began to grip the townspeople, and everyone started talking at once, everyone making panicked suggestions.

“We have to run!  Flee into the forest!”

“We should go east, towards the ocean.  We’ll be safe there!”

“Call the wizard!  His magic can protect us!”

“Grab everything you can carry!  We have to get the children to safety!”

Before the crowd could erupt into total chaos, a voice from the back called everyone to order.  It was Benal, the village mayor.  With a calm, steady, persuasive voice, he began giving directions, bringing everyone to order, and calming them with the focus of duties that needed to be done.  He became the calm center, trying to guide his people, so as to save as many of them as possible from the approaching catastrophe.

In the distance, the mountain rumbled…

*  *  *

 

In a tower in the distant hills, a hooded figure watched the scene as the villagers became aware of the mountain’s awakening.  As the waters from his scrying pool lost their energy, the image of the frightened townsfolk was replaced by his own gaunt reflection.  He grinned crookedly, a laugh emerging from the back of his throat.  It was all working according to plan.  Soon, the beast would emerge, and in its fury lay waste to all the surrounding lands.  The people of Redwind Gale would simply be the first to experience the carnage that would follow.  They would be his test subjects, so he could see how powerful the destructive force really was, before unleashing it upon the rest of the world.

It had been chance, really, that the old wizard had stumbled across the ancient text, telling him of the mountain, and the secret held within its bowels.  Then it had simply been a matter of time.  The time it took to discover how to unleash that secret, and harness its power.  For years he had studied, learning all that he could about the art of enchantment, and growing ever more powerful.  And now, finally, he was ready.  Over the years he had worked from afar, only occasionally visiting the mountain to directly work his magic.  He had slowly tied the beast down with chains of magic, and now he had it completely under his control.  Soon, he would awaken it, and then the world would feel his wrath.

Rubbing the old wound in his side, the wizard smiled.  Soon he would have his revenge against the world.  And then he could rest, and forget the pain that had plagued him all these years.  He would sleep, and he would no longer feel the bite of the old wound, remembering the pain of the steel that had pierced his flesh.  He would forget the shining eyes, the triumphant smile, and the burning touch of his enemy, who still plagued him now, even from beyond the grave.

It had been decades ago that he had sworn revenge.  Years since his plans had been foiled by the holy knight, whose name the wizard had never learned.  The paladin had been sent to stop him, right at the most critical juncture in his ritual.  The ritual that would have granted him the power to enslave the world.  It had been a magic that was passed down, generation to generation in his family, waiting for the right time when all the cosmos were aligned properly.  The spell had taken months of preparation, and only he could have cast it.  It would have granted him power beyond belief, even more power than that which he was now awakening.  But somehow, someone had learned of his plans, and had sent the paladin to stop him.  The ritual had been ruined when the knight arrived, disrupting the carefully wrought energies of the place, and plunging his sword into the wizard’s side.  He had destroyed the paladin moments after the near-fatal wound was brought upon him, but even in death, his enemy had been victorious.

Because of that moment, the world could no longer be his.  And if it couldn’t be his, he decided, he would destroy it all. All would suffer, and feel his wrath.

Soon, he would have his revenge.

*  *  *

 

Come to me.

The voice was there again.  The same voice that had plagued his sleep for years now.  It whispered in his dreams, unwelcome, uninvited, unwanted.  But there was nothing he could do to stop it.  For a time, he had shut it out, and his sleep was undisturbed, but then, suddenly, it was back again, and it angered him now more than ever.

Come to me, the voice whispered, and the sleeping beast writhed in anger.  The ground all around trembled with the force.  He had slept for a long time, and didn’t want to be disturbed now.  But the voice wouldn’t go away.

Come to me, it called.  He tried again, unsuccessfully, to shut it out, but it remained, buzzing in his head like an annoying fly.  Come to me.

Finally, it was too much.  With a loud roar that shook the ground for miles around, he awoke.  For millennia he had slept, undisturbed, until now.  Someone would pay for disturbing his slumber.  He was enraged, angry at the intrusion into his rest.  For this, he would wreak a vengeance upon the one who had disturbed him.

But first, he was hungry.

*  *  *

 

The people of Redwind Gale all stopped at once when they heard the explosion.  The tremors had grown fiercer in the time they were preparing to flee.  Under Mayor Benal’s direction, they had decided to head for the old dwarven tunnels, since they were the closest, and most likely the safest place to hide from the volcano’s destruction.  They had gathered everything they could carry, loading every cart and wagon they could find, and were finally ready to move out.  But just before the word to head out was called, the moment they had been fearing arrived.  With a thunderous KABOOM! the mountain exploded, sending flaming rocks and debris flying for miles around.  Smoke billowed out of the newly formed crater, and magma began oozing over the side.  Luckily, the village was far enough away to be outside the range of the initial explosion, but no one knew how far the magma would spread, or how much would be consumed in the fires that had already sprung up in the forests and plains.  The townspeople knew they were still in danger, and they had to reach safety as quickly as possible.

Before the panicked villagers could be reorganized, though, someone in the crowd screamed in pure terror.  Most of the people had turned their attention back to the tasks at hand, wanting to get away as quickly as possible.  But their attention was pulled back, and it took only a moment for the cause of the scream to bring about many others.  People dropped what they were carrying, forgetting all sense of organization, and simply ran.  They ran in pure terror of what they saw.  A legend brought to life before their eyes, a beast of such lethal beauty that some of the villagers could only gape in awe and fear.  Some of the women, and even a few men, fainted dead away.  Others began to sob, too overwhelmed by fear to think or act.  But most of them just ran from the huge, winged terror that now flew towards them, the sunlight glinting fiercely off its red, scaly body.  What they saw was death, flying towards them.

With an angry roar, the dragon swooped down towards its prey.

*  *  *

 

The mortals fled below him, screaming and crying out in terror.  He laughed, a great rumble that echoed across the sky, delighting in their terror.  It refreshed him, to feel such fear after such a long sleep.  But it also made him hungry.  Fear alone could not feed him.  He needed blood.

He swooped down close, knocking the humans down with the force of the air as he passed, pulling up just before he crushed them beneath him.  Their terror amused him, but he had more pressing concerns now.  He needed to sate the gnawing hunger in his belly.  The humans fled from his salivating maw, thinking he intended them for his breakfast, but he had never had a liking for human flesh.  The delicacies in his time had been wild unicorns, griffins, pegasi; creatures of magic.  He hoped such creatures still existed in this time, but for now simple animal flesh would do.  The livestock kept by these humans would suffice, until he could find a mystical beast or two to snack on.  Diving towards a nearby field, he snatched up a startled cow in his jaws, killing it with a snap of his mighty teeth.  He swallowed the beast in two bites, then swooped down to nab another.  Blood dripped down his jaw, barely visible against the red of his scales.  He roared in pleasure, satisfied for now, and flew off to the northwest, leaving the pathetic humans behind.  He had more important concerns than them.

He had to find the voice.  And when he did, he would silence it forever, and make it pay for awakening him.

*  *  *

 

The wizard watched with glee as the ancient dragon flew at the townspeople.  Unprepared for such an attack, they simply fled in terror beneath the massive beast.  He cackled in pleasure at seeing the fear the creature could bring, just by its mere presence.  No one alive had witnessed such terror in a thousand years, since the last living dragon had supposedly died.  But now this long-sleeping terror was awake, and angry, and fully under the wizard’s control.

As the dragon gulped down a few stray cattle, the wizard decided to flex his newfound power, and see what destruction he could bring about.  Grinning, he spread his arms out over the scrying bowl, drawing from the energy he had stored.  Chanting softly, he focused the magic he had chained around the beast while it slept, seizing control of the leash he had made.  His fists closed around invisible threads of magic as he focused his will towards bringing the dragon around.  The magical ties he had forged would allow him, with mere thoughts, to force the dragon into doing whatever he wanted.  He could safely, and easily, guide the dragon on its rampage, all from the safety of his tower.

Feeling the magic chains tighten, he used his mind to force the dragon to change its path.  Looking down in his scrying bowl, he waited for the image to shift, to show him the dragon as it turned back upon the frightened villagers.  He waited…..

And nothing happened.  The dragon was still flying away from the village, its course unaltered.  Grunting in frustration, the wizard flexed the chains of magic again, but to no effect.

“Impossible,” he muttered, trying again to bring the dragon under his control.  It didn’t work.  He couldn’t understand why.  Everything had been perfect.  Every spell, every incantation had been masterfully executed, and the unprotected, sleeping beast should now have been his slave.  But somehow it had resisted.  The magic had failed.

The wizard cursed his failure, then swore again when he realized where the dragon was now headed.  Moving over to a window, he saw it now with his own eyes, a red speck closing in from the distance.  His own death flying towards him.  For he had awakened the beast, and set it free, but he had no way to control it.  Fear gripped the wizard as he envisioned the dragon’s rage at being awakened.  For a moment he considered fighting the beast, using his magic to destroy it, but he knew it was useless.  His powers had already failed him, and he was too tired now to conjure any more spells.  There was nothing he could do.

He gripped the old wound in his side as the dragon flew towards him.  It throbbed in time with the beating of the beast’s huge wings, and he gritted his teeth against the pain.  For a moment, the throbbing seemed to echo in his head, like a mocking laughter from beyond the grave.  Then everything went numb as the dragon reached the tower, and all the pain, and fear were replaced with simple acceptance.  Standing tall and proud, the wizard refused to cower before the beast as it crashed into the tower, knocking it askew with the force of its momentum.  He staggered a moment, but regained his footing on the now tilted floor, standing in defiance of the winged death that was now before him.  Maybe, he thought, his courage would be rewarded in the afterlife.  Maybe….

The dragon roared, and the tower was engulfed in its fiery breath.

*  *  *

A week later, the people of Redwind Gale returned to their homes.  The fires had stopped short of the town, though much of the land had been scorched all around.  Much of their livestock had been killed, or had run away, and some of the townsfolk were missing, most likely killed in the fires, when they panicked and fled.  Those who had stayed together, heading for the caves as planned, had all escaped the fiery death they had feared so much.

There had been no sign of the dragon, and for that they were all glad.  Some said it had merely been a hallucination, and denied that the beast had existed.  But everyone had seen it, and they knew it had been all too real.  But while many of them would have restless nights, plagued by nightmares of the fiery beast, none of those nightmares would ever come true.

For beneath the ancient mountain, the dragon slept again.

Storytime Mondays: A Caribbean Adventure

The following is a true story. While the story took place in 2000, this story was written in Spring of 2012 for a creative writing class at Rowan University.


A Carribean Adventure

              In 2000, my family took a cruise to Bermuda.  On the first day there, I set off to explore the island with my sister Dana, and my young niece Ariana.  The island is small enough that you could easily walk from one end to the other.  Buses run across the island, ferrying tourists from one destination to another, but they are small, sweaty, and bounce a great deal on the rough island roads.  Since the island is both quite small and extremely beautiful, we decided to simply walk to our destinations, enjoying the lovely weather and scenery.  It was our first time in such a gorgeous place, and we were excited and eager for adventure.

We first set out to explore an old fortress leftover from when the British navy held a presence in the Carribean.  The fortress hadn’t been used for centuries, and was now a tourist attraction.  We got a free map of the island from the cruise ship, plotted out a route that would take us to the fortress in a short, twenty minute walk, and set off on our adventure.

The journey started out beautiful but uneventful.  We didn’t see many travelers along the way, since most people had taken the buses, or gone to a different part of the island.  We hiked up a short, uphill road, and found ourselves at the base of the cliffs where the fortress stood.  The road curved around to our right, following a meandering path that would eventually wind its way up towards the fortress.  Ahead of us, off the road, we saw what seemed like a more direct path across the land, which seemed like it could save us some time.  Even with a map, we didn’t realize this was more complicated than it seemed.

When we cut across and reached the side of the cliffs, instead of a path, we found a broad tropical lagoon.  We were left with two choices: either admit defeat and turn back the way we came, or attempt to cross the lagoon and take the riskier path.

We decided on the proverbial ‘path less traveled’.

The lagoon didn’t seem very deep, the coral making a rough and treacherous, yet navigable path.  I scouted ahead, walking across the chest-deep waters, searching for a path that remained shallow enough for us to walk across the coral.  It would be impossible to swim across while holding our cameras and wallets above the water.  Dana soon followed, carrying Ariana piggy-back because of the deep water.

Unlike the smooth, soft sand one might be used to finding beneath one’s feet in the ocean, the coral under the lagoon was hard, rough, and jagged.  This proved no problem for me, as I was wearing sneakers for the walking and hiking we had planned for the day.  Dana, however, wore sandals, and one of them slipped off under the water.  The sharp edge of the coral cut her bare foot.  Amidst perhaps irrational fears about sharks in the waters, we continued onwards until we reached the base of the cliffs at the far side of the lagoon.

There was no apparent path up the cliff.

After resting a few moments, using some napkins to tend to Dana’s wounded foot, we searched for a way up.  We eventually found a steep but navigable section of the cliff, where we could climb up some vines to the top.  The climb was especially difficult for my wounded sister, but we managed nonetheless.  At the top of the cliff, we finally emerged, wet, filthy, bedraggled, my sister bleeding from the foot… on a golf course.

A pair of golfers, putting at the ninth hole, stared at us incredulously as we slinked across the golf course, uncertain whether we were trespassing on private property at some sort of country club.  I walked with my limping sister off the golf course, until we found ourselves once again on the original road leading up to the fortress.  Our detour, between wading, injury, and climbing, had saved us no time on the journey.

We made it to the fortress, an old, weathered stone structure, complete with cannons and historical artifacts from colonial times.  It was a fascinating place to see after all the hard work getting there.  Though since we had no bandages, the wound on Dana’s foot kept bleeding sporadically during the tour.  We decided it was safer to take the bus on the way back.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Storytime Mondays: Code Poem

I recently had an assignment at Rowan University to create a generative code poem. It was a rather different experience than I’m used to; I write more formal poetry, and I’m normally very particular about form, rhythm, rhyme, and so forth. The generative poem, however, doesn’t allow me to control such things (at least, not without a greater understanding of programming).

Instead of writing a poem from scratch (and since the class was a writing class, not a computer programming class, most of the students didn’t know anything about coding), our assignment was to choose the words that would be fed into the poem. The code itself was written by someone else and mostly stayed unaltered. The result is a poem that generates lines randomly in a fixed (but somewhat randomized) pattern. The creative/artistic aspect of it was in trying to choose the right words or phrases to be displayed, while understanding that the results would be mixed up and unpredictable.

I decided to craft my generative poem based on Manifestation. My word banks are based on the characters of my novel, along with some of the most common words, phrases, feelings, themes, and emotions that can be seen in the story.

The results can be found here. The poem should load in your browser window and generate lines at a steady pace. It will continue endlessly until you close the window.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Storytime Mondays: Excerpt from “Giapelli”

This story is an excerpt from a novella I wrote Spring of 2012, for a class at Rowan University. The original assignment was to write a “multigenre” piece, which blended various things such as fiction, poetry, song, and pictures. The expectation was to write a story between 6-12 pages; I became overloaded with inspiration and ended up writing 102 pages. The novella is still a work in progress (and it may expand to a full fledged novel at some point). My work on “Manifestation” ended up taking priority, so unfortunately, “Giapelli” was set aside, and I haven’t worked on it in some time.

The excerpt below comes from Act III (the story is laid out in the format of a Broadway Musical). The story takes place on a Mississippi riverboat in the 1850s, which has been overrun by outlaws (or is it just a Broadway show set on a Mississippi riverboat? What is real and what is imagined is a matter of perspective). Moments before the scene below, the main character, Antonia, witnesses her father being shot and killed. She is then shot when she attempts to fight back against the outlaws.

———————————————————-

Antonia sobbed, held in the arms of the lady who had come to her aid.  The fighting had finally come to an end.  Two of the outlaws were dead, another wounded, but it had come at such a cost.  Antonia didn’t need anyone to check for her father’s pulse; she already knew.  It was just like before… she thought.  “This isn’t what I wanted…” she muttered.

“What was that, dear?” the lady asked her.  Antonia just shook her head.  She looked up and saw the leader of the outlaws returning from below deck.  Ava wasn’t with him.  Antonia struggled, trying to get to her feet, but the lady held her down.  “Don’t move dear,” she said, “you’ll only make it worse.”

“Who in sam hell started the shooting?” the head outlaw was shouting, his face red.  One of his men was tying his belt around his shoulder, trying to stop the bleeding from the shot he took there.  Another had come up from somewhere below deck, probably drawn by all the commotion.

“Weren’t me, Conrad,” the wounded man said.  “Will shot that girl,” he nodded towards Antonia, “then these fellers came up shootin’.  Was one big holy mess…”  Conrad wiped a hand across his face, looking pale.  His gaze swept across the passengers huddled at the far end of the deck, near the bow of the ship.  With the bodies of the would-be heroes sprawled across the deck, no one else seemed willing to step forward.

“Is Johnny still down in the engine room?” Conrad asked the newcomer, who nodded in reply.  Conrad hung his head for a moment and then said, “Keep an eye on the rest of them.  And NO more shootin’, ya hear?”  His voice was low enough that most of the passengers, off by the bow, likely hadn’t heard that order.  Antonia was only a few paces away, and she watched silently as Conrad turned towards her, crossing the short distance to kneel beside her.

“How’re you doin’, little lady?” he asked, with what sounded like genuine concern in his voice.  He reached down for her wound, but Antonia’s nurse bravely batted his hand away.

“Your man shot her,” she said, holding Antonia tighter.  Then both she and Conrad looked down at her, as if expecting her to speak.

A long, silent moment passed.  “What’s my line…?” Antonia whispered.  Everyone seemed to be staring at her.  She was sweating under the heat of the spotlight.  She couldn’t remember her line.

“Poor thing’s gone feverish,” her nurse said, pulling out a handkerchief and dabbing at the sweat on Antonia’s brow.  “Delirious.  She needs a doctor!”  She stared Conrad down, clearly expecting him to do something about it.  He watched Antonia for a moment, then nodded.

“Is there a doctor on board?” he called out to the passengers, rising to his feet again and walking over to the bow.  No one answered.  Conrad jerked a thumb over his shoulder to Antonia and asked again, “Is there a doctor?  There’s a lady here that needs help.  Come on, folks!”  There was some muttering from among the passengers, but no doctor stepped forth.

Conrad turned back to Antonia with a sigh.  “Well,” he said, “I don’t reckon young Miss Giapelli will be inclined to be cooperative if’n I let you bleed to death, Miss.  But don’t worry… I’ve stitched up a gunshot or two in my day.”  He knelt down to take Antonia in his arms.  The lady protested for a moment, but it was clear that Conrad truly meant to help her.  He lifted Antonia up, then crossed the deck towards the stairs.

Part of her wanted to cry out in protest, and struggle against the man’s foul touch.  Another part of her said it’s just part of the script.  Her head was spinning, and she didn’t know what to feel.  The loss of her father was so fresh, yet more than a year old.  Her heart ached, distraught with confusion, and all she could do was submit, and let the man take her.

He stopped before heading down below, craning his neck back and shouting towards the bridge, “Jesse!  Jesse, y’hear?”  A window on the bridge pushed open, and a man’s head stuck out.  “Jesse, have ‘em bring us ashore.  We’re droppin’ the rest of the passengers off.  Too much damn hassle, keepin’ ‘em all aboard now.  We drop off everyone but the steersman and the engineers, then we head on up to St. Louis.”

On Conrad’s orders, the ship soon veered to the side until it came up near the east bank of the river.  The waters there grew too shallow to make it all the way to shore, so the passengers were forced, at gun point, to climb overboard into the freezing waters.  From there they waded towards the shore, emptied of their valuables but now free from the danger of the outlaws, and many of them likely considering that to be a fair trade.

Antonia was then taken down below, carried in the arms of an outlaw, feeling like death might soon take her.  With the loss of her father straining her heart, she was nearly ready to accept death’s release.

 *                      *                      *

 

“In the Arms of an Outlaw”

Performed by:  Antonia Giapelli and Conrad Wilson

Antonia:  “In the arms of an outlaw

I’m carried off

The edge

Of the world

In the arms of an outlaw

I journey now

To meet

The Lord

I go to where my kin has

Alrea-

dy gone

I go to where my fate has

Led me

To rest

Yes, now I go to meet Death

In the arms of an outlaw…”

 

(They descend below deck, the ship lurching as it begins moving forward once more.)

 

Conrad:  “Now don’t you worry

Your pretty

Head, Miss

Now don’t you go thinking

This is the

End, Miss

You might have seen Death

When he came by

This ship

But it’s not for you he comes

You are

Safe and sound

In the arms of an outlaw.”

Antonia:  “How can I be safe

In the arms of an outlaw?

When you have taken

So much

From me, sir

How can I be whole?

Now that my

Chest gapes

Now that my

Heart aches

In the arms of an outlaw.”

Conrad:  “Little Miss, I tell you

This night is

Not your last

This shot is

Not your pass

To cross the

River Styx

Little miss, hear me now

You shall hurt

No more

You shall fear

No more

In the arms of an outlaw.”

 

(They enter a room where he lays her on a bed, then Conrad begins rummaging until he finds a needle and thread.)

 

Antonia:  “Why should I trust you?

You stole my

Love today

You took my

Pa away

I cannot trust you

You’re nothing

But an outlaw

Just go!

Just leave

Me be

I’d rather

Die today

I’d rather

Fade away

Rather than place my fate

In the arms of an outlaw.”

Conrad:  “Well Miss, I’m sorry

Please know I

Do regret

All this tragedy

Brought to you

By my hands

Let this one act be my

Rue and

Repentance

Let your fate be saved

Your life

Be spared

Just for now, place your trust

In the arms of an outlaw.”

(In Unison)

Antonia:  “But how can I place my trust…”

Conrad:  “So just once, place your trust…”

Antonia & Conrad:  “In the arms of an outlaw.”

Antonia:  “I suppose if I must…”

Conrad:  “I know it hurts so much…”

Antonia & Conrad:  “In the arms of an outlaw.”

Antonia:  “Seems it’s the only way…”

Conrad:  “Just let the villain save the day…”

(Antonia alone)

Antonia:  “Then I’ll just have to place

My fate and

My life

In the arms of an outlaw…”

*                      *                      *

Storytime Mondays: Time for Reflection

It’s been a couple of weeks without a story, primarily due to my school work at Rowan having reached critical mass. I’ve been forced to focus almost exclusively on writing school papers, and as a result, my blog has been neglected. However, I did remember that I owed you a story this week, so here it is.

This story was originally written in 2003. The setting is the world of an old Dungeons and Dragons campaign I used to play. The specific events in this story don’t directly relate to my D&D game; instead, it’s a separate story set within the same world.

Due to time constraints, I haven’t revised this story from it’s original writing. Thus it is a glimpse into my writing style from over a decade ago.

——————————————————————–

 

Time for Reflection

 

 

Ketrin Van’nouse coughed in the dust stirred up by the explosion he had caused at the tunnel entrance.  The mine had been sealed for years, ever since the supposed ‘hauntings’ of his grandfather’s days had driven all the miners away.  Ketrin’s great-uncle had been one of those miners, and before he passed away he had told Ketrin the tales of the strange occurrences which had eventually ended in several deaths and the closing of the mine.  Most people no longer believed the ‘hauntings’ had actually occurred, but the mine had remained closed nonetheless.

Ketrin snapped his fingers, and a small flame appeared above his palm.  He was hesitant to bring an open flame into the mine shaft, for he knew the dangers of gas leaks in a mine, but fire magic was his only specialty, and he needed a light to see in the darkness of the mine.  A full-fledged mage could use a magical light spell, which generated light without heat, but fire and pyrotechnics were all Ketrin could manage.  Though as evidenced by the power of the explosion he used to get past the mine’s barricaded entrance, he was quite good at what he did.

Ketrin settled his pack on his shoulders and descended into the mine.  Reflexively, he checked the blades he wore strapped to his back, hip, and legs, to make sure all were in place and ready to be drawn quickly.  He didn’t expect there would be any real danger in the mine, aside from the possibility of a cave in, but it never hurt to be cautious.  These hills had once been home to Orcs, and other, more dangerous monsters.  Though none had been seen in recent years, it was always possible the depths of the mine could still be home to any number of creatures.

Iron tracks ran down the center of the passage, used long ago for mine carts carrying ores to the surface.  The tracks were covered in dust, but otherwise looked to be in good condition.  With the mine shaft sealed, the air inside had remained dry over the years, so there was no sign of rust.  Every now and then, a tunnel branched off to the side, but Ketrin ignored these.  He knew they would be dead-ends, where he would find nothing but empty tunnels.  The mine was laid out in a simple pattern on purpose, with only the one main shaft leading in and out.  This made it difficult to get lost, and made it easier to cart out the ores that were mined in the short, branching tunnels.  Each tunnel only went as far back as there had been ore to be found, then ended when the miners were sure there would be nothing left worth mining.

As he descended, Ketrin saw the remains of the miner’s equipment, everything from shovels and pikes used for digging, to ancient timbers and iron spikes that would have been used to reinforce the mine ceiling.  Now and then he saw an old mine cart, some of them still piled with iron and mythril ores, abandoned when the miners had fled the tunnel in fear.  The ores would be quite valuable, especially the mythril, but Ketrin ignored it.  He couldn’t carry that much ore, and Ketrin wasn’t really interested in wealth anyway.  He was always driven by his sense of adventure, and exploring an abandoned mine that may be haunted, or monster-infested, was just the kind of excitement he wanted right now.  He hoped it would take his mind off other things.

His light picked up some flutters of movement along the tunnel roof, and he stepped softly as he realized it was a swarm of bats, sleeping as they hung from the stone roof.  He was deep enough now that the light from the newly-reopened cave entrance was nothing more than a dim pinpoint in the distance behind him.  The presence of the bats confirmed that there was at least one other entrance to the mine, for they would need to fly out at night to hunt for food, which surely wouldn’t be found inside the mine.  The presence of the bats made Ketrin wary, for if there was another entrance, there was no telling what else might be found in the depths of the mine.

Ketrin dimmed his flame as he tiptoed past the bats, not wanting to disturb them.  They didn’t notice his presence.  Stealth was another thing Ketrin was quite good at.  He had learned in the streets of Meliner, taught by his friends in the thieves’ guild.  Ketrin had never chosen to join the guild, preferring to use his talents in a more legal capacity.  Breaking into mansions and pickpocketing the citizens of Meliner had no appeal to an adventuresome young man like Ketrin.

The downward slope of the mine leveled out now, and the tunnel ended in a vertical shaft, where Ketrin saw iron chains hanging down into the darkness below.  An iron winch sat near the shaft, which was once used to raise and lower the lift to the lower levels of the mine.  It was an ancient manual type, though Ketrin was sure a modern mine would have a magically-powered lift to make things easier.  The winch still looked operational, but Ketrin didn’t trust it to work after so many years unused, so instead he dug a coil of rope from his pack and tied it off to the winch, which seemed strong enough to support his weight.  He swung over the edge and braced his legs against the side, walking down the side of the wall as he lowered himself down hand over hand.

Lilliana’s face drifted into his mind as he descended, and he tried to push her away from his thoughts.  He didn’t want to think about her right now, in fact she was most of the reason he was here today.  He hadn’t been out of the city enough lately, because of her.  He rarely ventured outside the city walls anymore, because he kept feeling drawn back to her, wanting to see her, craving a chance to be with her.  He finally felt he needed some time to himself, some time to clear his head by focusing on simple, basic things, some physical exertion to vent his frustrations.

The lower level of the mine was even darker than the top, now that the light of day was hidden by hundreds of feet of rock.  He channeled some more energy into the flame he held before him, brightening the passage a bit ahead of him.  He only had to descend a short distance before he saw the first of the corpses.

There were three bodies lying across the mine shaft floor, little more than skeletons.  The stale air of the mine shaft had partially mummified them, leaving dried out, partially rotted flesh clinging to the bones.  Parts of the bodies looked gnawed on, probably by rats or other scavengers, and what remained of the dead miners’ clothing was little more than tattered rags.  Ancient tools and packs were littered about the ground, and Ketrin even spotted some spilled coins, silver and copper, but he left it all untouched.  He didn’t particularly need the money, and it was always possible the mine was haunted, which would make it dangerous to take anything.  Some stories told of specters who stalked after grave robbers, and that meant it was never a good idea to disturb the dead.  Ketrin wasn’t particularly superstitious, but he was cautious, and his caution had kept him alive up till now.

Stepping carefully around the bodies, Ketrin descended further into the tunnel before he spotted something that made him pause, dimming his flame.  Ahead, the tunnel opened into a wider, taller cavern, probably a natural cave that the miners had tunneled into.  Something was dangling from the tunnel shaft just by the opening, an unidentifiable mass hanging from the ceiling.  It didn’t appear to be alive, and whatever it was, it was green and slimy and dripping some kind of foul smelling fluid onto the cavern floor.  There was a substantial pool of the slime across the ground, too wide to jump over.  Whatever the strange mass was, it had obviously been there some time.

Ketrin edged as close as he could, keeping his flame at a discreet distance.  He didn’t know if the slimy substance was flammable, and he didn’t want to draw attention to himself if there was anything alive in the cavern beyond.  Peering up at the dangling form, he thought he could make out a humanoid shape, but it seemed to be wrapped up in something that looked like seaweed.  Here and there he caught a glimpse of a darker, scaly looking green, which he thought looked like the skin of an orc or goblin.

A corpse hung there, waiting to be eaten?  The slimy, green substance could be something like a spider’s silk, except this looked much denser than even a giant spider’s webbing.  He had also never heard of any species of spider, giant or otherwise, that produced any kind of green slime.

Ketrin tried to peer past the dangling corpse into the open cavern beyond, but his light only reached so far, and he couldn’t see how deep the cavern was.  He didn’t see any movement, and the only sounds in the cavern were his slow breathing, and the steady drip… drip… of the green ooze falling from the corpse into the pool below.  His flame burned clean in the air above him, making no noise and giving off no smoke, as it was fueled only by the power of his will.

Removing his pack, Ketrin fished around until he found his leather purse, which was filled with a few dozen gold coins.  He hadn’t expected to need any money today, but he never left the city without bringing some coins along, just in case.  He dumped the coins into the backpack, emptying the purse, then pulled the strings as far as they would go.  Leaning over the pool. He slowly lowered the purse into the green ooze.  It sizzled when it made contact, and when he pulled it out he saw a small hole had been burned in the leather.  The ooze was acidic.

It was also thick.  He scraped the already ruined purse through the pool, dragging it out along the stone floor, but the ooze didn’t seem disturbed; there were no ripples across the surface, and the ooze stuck to the pouch and wouldn’t scrape off.  Ketrin tossed it aside, and crouched there a moment, thinking.

Lilliana invaded his thoughts once again, and he had trouble pushing her away this time.  He thought of the last time he’d seen her, just one night ago, at her home in Meliner.  He had snuck in through her bedroom window, picking the lock and slipping unnoticed into the house.  He never normally broke into people’s homes, but with Lilliana it was different.  Her father, a wealthy noble of the city, disapproved of her dallying with a ‘rogue’ such as Ketrin was considered to be.  When they first began their affair, Ketrin had been excited by the danger of it, sneaking around, avoiding her father, slipping into the mansion in the middle of the night.  It hadn’t been until recently that he began to realize he was drawn to Lilliana by more than just the danger and excitement.

Forcing his mind back to the matter at hand, Ketrin considered the pool of acidic goo before him.  There was, of course, no good reason to try to cross it, but he had never been one to back away from danger, and besides, he had to find out what was on the other side.  Most likely a deadly monster, he knew, and there wasn’t much chance he’d find any treasure or valuables there.  Just danger and adventure for adventure’s sake.

Which was just what he’d come here looking for.

Backtracking up the slope of the mine, Ketrin put some distance between himself and the pool.  He stopped about fifty feet away, which was the maximum range he could extend his power to.  Any farther away, and he wouldn’t be able to control a flame or produce any energy.  Tightening his mental grip on the flame he had been using to light the tunnel, he drew out the flame’s energy until it was no larger than a candle flame.  This he lowered to the cavern floor, at the very edge of the pool.  He almost cringed as he touched the flame to the ooze, but relaxed when he saw there was no explosion.  He increased the size of the flame, and still nothing happened.  The ooze was neither explosive nor flammable.

Ketrin walked back to the edge of the pool, spreading his flame out larger and lowering it into the pool.  He could keep a flame lit even under water, since it needed only his own willpower to keep burning, so the flame wasn’t doused as it sunk below the surface of the pool.  He could see the glow of the flame beneath the surface, and it illuminated the whole pool easily.  Guiding the flame along the bottom of the pool, he could track its depth by the feel of the flame against the stone.  Trying to push his flame through solid rock felt like pressing a hand against the wall.  He could feel, in his mind, the solid surface blocking him from pushing the flame any deeper.  The pool was only a few inches deep even at the center, but it extended more than twenty feet to the far end.  Nearer to the tunnel wall the pool was only about fifteen feet wide.  That was no more distance than Ketrin had been able to jump between buildings or over crevices in the past, but considering how acidic the ooze was, he didn’t much feel like taking the risk.

Ketrin extended his flame farther into the cavern beyond, strengthening it  to try and illuminate the entire cavern.  It was possible he would be disturbing the cavern’s resident, but nothing had seemed to notice him so far, so it seemed a small risk.

What he saw was more corpses, hanging from the walls and ceiling, which extended over a hundred feet above his head.  Ketrin guessed that the upper tunnel he had passed through was only a short distance above the cavern roof; the original miners had barely missed stumbling across it when they dug the first tunnel.  The floor of the cavern was dark, smooth, and sloped slightly into a bowl-shaped center of unnatural symmetry.  The stone of the floor was darker than that of the walls, the same dark color as the dangling corpses hanging from the walls and ceilings.  It looked to Ketrin like it was the same ooze as the pool before him, only older, and dried out.  He lowered his flame to the ground, and it felt solid when he pressed the flame against it.  He also guessed it lost its acidity once it was dried out.  Which meant if he were a patient man, he could wait for the pool in front of him to dry, and then just walk across it.

Lilliana professed to love his spirit, his romantic flair, and his spontaneity.  She had never known him to be patient.

In fact, Ketrin had already had enough of wasting time and exploring his surroundings.  Caution would keep you alive, but there was a point where things just got boring.

Turning to the closest wall of the passage, Ketrin judged its thickness by tracing a flame along the far side, which was out of sight around the corner in the cavern.  He then stepped back and tensed his muscles as he focused his power on the wall before him.  Generating a flame was as easy as flexing a muscle, and he could sustain it for a long period of time with no trouble.  A more powerful effect took more effort.  A large explosion, like the one he used to blast the mine entrance, required him to focus his effort more delicately.  It was difficult, like flexing every muscle in his body at once, and it was even harder because he had to hold back the force until it was strong enough.  It was like feeding energy into a charging war-horse, while holding it back to keep it from running off at the same time.  If he loosed his control of the force too soon, the explosion wouldn’t have enough power, or could end up misdirecting the force and losing control of the explosion.

On top of that, he had to keep the explosion from backfiring and hitting him as well.  This meant that even after he unleashed the explosion, he had to keep control of a second force, which he used to block the backlash of energy from hitting him.  A smaller explosion, he could channel the blast to only a single direction, but a larger one would create a blast in all directions, including back at him.  This meant he had to guard against his own power, and that made it twice as difficult.

Sweat beaded on Ketrin’s forehead as he felt the power building up to almost beyond his control.  His body tensed and his breathing slowed.  His eyes were clenched shut, but he didn’t need to see, for his mind could feel the air around him.  When he was this focused, he could sense everything around him, in amazing detail.  His mind felt every rough edge of the wall, the slimy ooze of the pool, and the crackling of the air as the energy built up before him.

Moments passed.  The force built to the breaking point.  Ketrin’s ears popped.  He unleashed control.

The wall before him blasted outward, shards of rock flying through the cavern before him.  The mine shaft shook from the blast, and the dangling corpse fell from the ceiling, landing in the pool of ooze.  There was no splash, but the ooze sloshed across the cavern floor, some of it splattering on the walls from the force of the blast.

Ketrin was slammed back into the wall, the wind knocked out of him.  His shield blocked most of the blast, but not all of it, and his head rang out with pain as his skull slammed against the rock wall behind him.  He managed to keep his feet, though it took a few minutes for his head to stop spinning, and for the ache in his chest to subside.

The wall before him was blasted open, allowing him access into the main cavern.  Once he regained his balance, Ketrin stepped forward cautiously, lighting a new flame to guide the way.  His footsteps echoed across the open cavern, and he had to step over several corpses that had fallen from the walls and ceiling.  The cavern was silent now, though dust floated in the air, and Ketrin had to stop himself from coughing.

Something tickled at the back of Ketrin’s mind, and he stopped in his tracks, peering around the cavern.  He felt a presence nearby, but couldn’t see anything around him.  His mind was still very attuned to this area, since his senses had been so enhanced prior to the explosion he had made.  His senses weren’t as acute now as when he was focusing strongly on his power, but there was a residual sensation left in his mind, and it was picking up something.

He swung his flame around the cavern, illuminating the darker corners so he could look for any sign of movement.  He peered intently at the seemingly lifeless corpses, wondering if they were all what they appeared to be.  Two more mine shafts branched off from in different directions from here, but neither seemed to hold anything of interest.  Ketrin drew his flame back towards him, so he wouldn’t have to expend so much effort when there was clearly nothing to be seen.  Halfway across the cavern to him, the flame stopped.

Ketrin frowned, flexing his mental muscles.  He willed the flame to come back to him, but it wouldn’t move.  It felt, to his mind, like there was an obstruction, though he could see nothing that could be blocking the flame’s path.  He moved the flame to the side, tracing the invisible obstruction, and as he did so the flame seemed to…stretch in his vision.  Only for a moment, the fire blurred and warped, like an image seen through ancient, smoky glass that was no longer quite smooth, and bent the light passing through it.  He expanded the flame, and sent it back to the right, and the strange twisting effect could be seen again.  In his mind he felt no change to the flame, he knew it was only his eyes.  Drawn now to investigate, he thought he could make out a nearly invisible outline just before him, though the shape was almost impossible to pick up.  He backed up slowly, apprehension beginning to set in, and suddenly the shape coalesced and became visible; a creature of pure dread charging towards him.

Ketrin drew two of his blades as the thing came towards him.  With its camouflage now dropped, he could see it clearly, but what it could be he still had no idea.  It was huge, towering at least a dozen feet above him, with a giant shell rising from its back another six feet higher.  The shell was almost like that of a giant snail, but the creature emerging from it looked more like a mutated arachnid.  It had at least ten legs, he couldn’t begin to count them as they moved in a blur, pushing the creatures bulk towards him.  Its head was misshapen, grotesque, and looked as though someone had cleaved it down the center with an axe, for the creature’s face, if face it was, opened in the middle to reveal a black, gaping maw, filling with tendrils of dripping ooze, and spiky protrusions that looked like twisted, bent teeth.  Four mandibles protruded from the sides of the mouth, each covered in spikes that looked long enough to skewer him with ease.  The entire creature was covered in slimy, green ooze, which is seemed to be secreting from its body as would sweat from pores.

The creature let out a shrill shriek and flexed its mandibles, and Ketrin saw a lumpy, black mass shoot forth from its mouth.  He screamed, ducked to the side, and screamed again as he felt a fierce burning in his shoulder.  The black goo was as acidic as the pool of green ooze he’d crossed, and it was burning through his clothing and into his skin.  Bits of burnt flesh and acidic goo dripped down his arm, numbing him, and he saw his sword drop from a hand he could no longer control.  He heard the creature shriek again, and he dropped to the ground and rolled away, just barely missing being hit by another glob of the ooze.  His shoulder burned as he rolled across the rock, exposed flesh and muscle scraping against the smooth, hard surface of the cavern floor.  Ketrin rolled unsteadily to his feet, but had mere moments before the creature turned its lethal bulk towards him again.  Focusing his mind and flexing his power, he let out a blast of force, right at the creature’s head.  It wasn’t nearly as powerful as the blast he had used to blow out the wall, but he had no time to spend focusing the power more acutely.  The creature staggered and shrieked, pawing at its face with its front pair of arms, giving Ketrin a chance to run across the cavern, away from the deadly beast.

His shoulder burned, and the black ooze was spreading rapidly.  Fearing he’d lose the arm, but knowing he might lose more than that, Ketrin clenched his teeth and generated a flame right over his shoulder.  The burning heat of the flame combated with the acidic burn of the goo, making his muscles spasm, then go limp.  He screamed in pain, but refused to let go of his concentration, and forced the flame deeper into his skin.  The ooze was not flammable, but his flesh was being burned away, and the goo was dropping off to the ground along with the dead, burnt skin.  His clothes caught flame, but he gathered those flames together in his mind, pulling them away from the cloth, adding them to the flame he held against his shoulder.  When he could bear it no longer, he pulled the flame away, but kept it lit in case it could be of use against the monster.  His shoulder was now little more than a black pit in his flesh, his arm dangled limp and useless at his side.  A few moments ago he had been numb in the arm and unable to feel his hand.  Now he feared there was nothing left of the nerves he had cauterized, and he would never feel that hand again.

Lilliana can fix it, he told himself.  His love was a priestess of Ka the Preserver, and could heal almost any wound, as long as it wasn’t fatal.  He had seen her reattach severed limbs with her holy magic, breathing life back into them, and restoring them to the body whole and healed.  He knew she could do the same for him, assuming he could escape this cavern.

Escape was now his only concern, as he watched the creature turn towards him, and begin racing across the cavern again.  The creature was clearly more than he could handle, and it had already disabled him with its first attack alone.  He doubted his blades would even pierce the creatures flesh, and his flames, he knew, couldn’t burn through that ooze.  He was outmatched, and he was alone against a beast that would take much more than one man to kill.

The passage back to the surface was off to his left; the blasted out wall marked it easily from the other two shafts.  The creature was fast, but from the looks of it, it would be cramped in the small mine shaft, and Ketrin hoped he could outrun it.  Once he got to the vertical shaft and up the rope he had left there, he should be able to get out of the mine safely.  Then it was just a matter of reaching Meliner before he went into shock, and collapsed in the hills to die alone.

Lilliana… He wasn’t a religious man, but he said a brief prayer to Lilliana’s god Ka, before he dashed for the passage.  The spider-thing was already racing towards him, and had to stop to turn when he dashed suddenly in a different direction.  It moved fast though, its multiple legs giving it great traction and control, and it was on his trail again almost instantly.  Ketrin ran for the mouth of the mine shaft, then winced as he saw the puddles of ooze that still covered most of the floor.  He had no time to make his way around the cleared side he had blasted out earlier, for even a moment’s pause would have the creature upon him.  He ran across the puddles, thankful that his efforts had at least disrupted the pool, and spread the goo out so that it didn’t completely cover the floor.  His foot landed in a puddle once, twice.  He nearly slipped in the ooze, but managed to keep his footing.  He felt a burning sensation on his foot, knowing the ooze had already eaten through the sole of his boots, but he kept running.  He heard a loud crash as the creature’s huge shell slammed into the stone ceiling of the shaft, and frustrated squeals as the creature tried to squeeze into the passage behind him.  He almost laughed in relief, realizing the creature would never fit its giant shell through the man-sized passage.  He was nearly at the vertical shaft, sighing in relief, when he heard another shriek from behind him, followed by a sound of rushing air.  He closed his hands on the rope just as a ball of acidic mucus struck him in the back.  His hands clawed at the rope, trying to get a grip, but the burning in his back was searing through his entire body.  Somehow he knew, the ooze was eating through his flesh and reaching his spinal cord, and he could feel his body go numb as paralysis crept in.  He barely felt another splat of ooze striking him as he fell to the ground, limp and lifeless.

Some time later, Ketrin found consciousness again.  His mind was foggy, his head felt as though it was wrapped up in swabs of cotton.  He couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t feel his body.  It was easy enough for him to realize what had happened.

Ketrin’s mangled body swung from the roof of the cavern, replacing one of the bodies he had knocked free when he blasted into the cavern.  Green ooze dripped from the wrappings that held him, slowly digesting him.  The ooze sucked nutrients from his body, which the arachnid then drank from the pool in the cavern floor.  When it had its fill to eat, it allowed the soup to harden, creating layers and layers of stored food across the floor of its home.  These it could soften with its mucus, and ingest as needed.  It had sampled Ketrin’s soup as it hung him up, but it wouldn’t need to drink more from him for some time.  Better, it knew, to let the soup age, and absorb all the life there was left in the man.

Ketrin’s mind remained aware throughout the process, as his body was slowly digested over the next year.  He was thankful his body was numb, and he could not feel the pain.  He tried at first to use his power to escape, but his mind was too clouded, and fuzzy.  He couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate his will.  So instead he dreamed.

He dreamed of Lilliana.  Her gorgeous face, her long golden hair, the curves of her body the last time they had lain together.  He dreamed of her and prayed she would find happiness with another man.  He knew now, before his mind lost what life it had left, what had made him run away that day.  He loved her, and would always love her.  He had been a fool, running away from her love, because he was scared of commitment.  He should never have left Meliner that day.  He should have asked Lilliana to marry him…

Storytime Mondays: Ants Don’t Do Atkins

This story was written for a creative writing class at Rowan University in January of 2008. The assignment was to write a “fable,” though it ended up coming out as more of a poem. However, it still has “fable” aspects since it involves talking animals (ants) and a moral/lesson (something about dieting and judgment, maybe?).

Enjoy.

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When I was sitting at McDonalds, eating a number 2

An Ant crawled across my table out of the blue

The Ant asked, Can I have the rest of your fries?

You don’t need them, look at your thighs

You should diet, exercise, and fret

You don’t need to eat all that

Me, about diets, I don’t need to think

I’ll eat your fries, and drink your drink

And though cholesterol may clog your heart

I’ll be fine, so isn’t it smart

To share your fine meal with me

So I can live my life carefree

Unlike you, who’ll gain five pounds

As your belly gets ever more round

Your arteries are sure to clog

You never even go out to jog

But me, I work all day long

So share your food, it can’t be wrong!

See?  Now there’s a friendly chum

Pass me the fries, the shake, yum yum

There we go, and —wait, you!

What are you doing with that shoe?

Don’t get any ideas with that!

You would never make me — *SPLAT*

 

 

Storytime Mondays: Working

The following story was written for a creative writing class in September of 2000. The assignment was to write a piece of “microfiction,” a short story in under 250 words.

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I remember the day my father died.  It was a long day, with more long days to follow.  More than anything I just remember the papers.  Since I was his only daughter, his only living relative, I had to take care of everything.  They had me fill out the admission forms to get him into the hospital.  Then I had to tell them if he was allergic to anything.  As if that mattered when someone was in a car accident.  But they needed to know, so I answered all of their questions.  Then I had to fill out a police report, even though I hadn’t seen what happened.  There were witnesses who had been there, but they had all been too close, and were injured by the accident. I had been at home, so I was the only one who wasn’t hurt.  While the witnesses were being treated, I was the one who had to keep working.  Later came life insurance information, hospital bills, funeral charges.  I had to sign forms to validate his will, and talk to his lawyer about paying off his debt.    So busy, in the days after the accident.  There was so much work that needed to be done, and I was the only one to do it.

But throughout everything, I still found time to cry.

Storytime Mondays: Kit Freytan

The following story is the first piece I ever wrote for Kit Freytan, explaining her origins and setting the stage for what was to come next. Chronologically, this story takes place some months before “Fragmented.” The events shown here might shed some light on what is happening in that other story.

Also, sorry that this is going up so late. I’ve been busy and running late today, and I didn’t even have time to revise this at all, so I had to leave it as a first draft. Let me know what you think.

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Kit Freytan was born with half a brain.

More accurately, she was born with only one functional half of a brain.  The other half was completely dead.  When friends of the family asked, they had never been able to get a straight answer from her parents as to why it had happened.  They had always been evasive, and always showed signs of guilt.  It was suspected that her mother had, likely as not, been on narcotics during the pregnancy.  Either that or her dad had beaten her mum quite frequently while Kit was in the womb.  Spirits knew he had done it often enough during her childhood.  Few would be surprised to learn that either of those factors had been the cause.

The most anyone could get out of her parents was that there had been ‘complications during delivery’.  Which was their way of telling people they didn’t want to talk about it.

Kit had spent the early years of her childhood in a half-retarded state.  The damaged portions of her mind, among other things, had included her centers for communication, emotions, artistic talents, creativity, and imagination.  The only portions that remained active were those that were centered on purely logical concerns: mathematics, science, problem solving, reading, and writing.  She had therefore, until the age of eight, been seen as something of a savant.  Unable to speak, nor even to communicate her thoughts or emotions in written form, she had been a shut in who was incapable of any real personal interaction.  Yet at the same time, she was able to read and understand books, and could write extensively on any subject other than her own thoughts and feelings.  She had been sent to a special institute that helped educate her in ways that a mainstream school simply couldn’t, yet there had always been limitations.  They had helped to sculpt her damaged mind into something that could cope with her broken place in the world, yet they had been unable to offer a way to cure her.

That is, until Trimola came around.

Trimola, also known as the Tri-provincial Machinery and Organics Laboratory Association, had offered her parents a solution.  At no cost to them, Trimola would install an artifical brain into Kit’s damaged head, to take over the functions that her natural brain simply could not handle.  The procedure had been highly experimental; fully artificial brains had existed for some time, as had small-scale chips that could be installed to take over certain functions, but nothing had ever been attempted on someone with a brain as badly damaged as Kit’s.  It wasn’t at all uncommon, in certain provinces, for people to have chips installed to increase their brain functions, teach them a foreign language, repair damage caused by a head injury, or correct someone’s impaired motor functions.  Installing a full half of a brain, however, one which could control all of Kit’s communication functions, dictate the way she interacted with others, and spark an artifical imagination and creative drive within her… this had been cutting edge technology.  The particular group of scientists in this branch of Trimola had been confident that their new designs would change the way cybernetic minds were sculpted for years to come.

That is, until it turned out to be a catastrophic failure.

After the installation, Kit had still been unable to communicate.  She had still shown no signs of artistic talent, no hint of imagination, and no indications of what emotions might be running through her frail, thin body.  The entire venture had been declared a failure, Trimola had told Kit’s parents that they were lucky their daughter had survived the process, and the science team responsible for Kit’s new brain had been dissolved.  Life, as it were, should have returned to normal.

They day after she got home from Trimola labs, Kit had run away.

Something had, in fact, been sparked in her mind that day.  After the damaged sections of her brain had been cut out and replaced with the hardware that housed the new circuit pathways of her cerebral cortex, a new understanding had started to emerge within her.  When electrical signals passed from computer chip to gray matter, her thoughts flowing from the artificial to the natural, she had come to a revelation.  Emotion, as dictated by the intricate programs of the new parts of her brain, had emerged for the first time in the newly rebuilt girl.  She experienced her first true emotion the moment she had awoken in the recovery ward of Trimola labs.

She had felt fear.

Her artificial imagination had started spinning tales of what would happen from here, as she pictured a life in a lab, being poked and prodded so that the scientists could unlock the secrets of her mind.  In this vision she had, they kept her in a quiet, comfortable room, filled with toys and books and clothes, all in an attempt to let her ‘feel’ normal.  All the while, they studied her, scanned her, and tested her.  Even her playtime was nothing more than a series of tests, her would-be friends chosen for specific traits and personalities, so that they could gauge her reactions to different individuals.  Her meals were selected so that they could judge how well the artificial emotion programs reacted to tastes both pleasant and foul.  Her feelings, new and unknown to her, were toyed with, studied, cut open and laid out on a slab.  She recoiled from this fate, and her newly awakened creative mind formulated a plan.

Play dumb.

When the Trimola scientists came in, she had sat and stared.  She heard and understood their words for the first time in her life, but she ignored them.  They tried to prompt her with kind words, touching stories, and later videos ranging from horrific to hilarious, all in an attempt to provoke an emotional response.  They brought her kittens, hoping to get a reaction, then when that failed, one of the scientists went so far as to snap the neck of one of the poor, defenseless creatures, just to see if he could get a reaction out of her.  Her emotions had been forced to detach themselves, then, her artificial mind cutting off contact with her biological parts until the emotions had passed.  Deep inside the circuits of the new parts of her brain, she had cried.  She had screamed and lashed out and tried to take the other kittens away, protecting them.  Yet those urges remained locked away in the imagination of her programming, while the rest of her sat, stoic, and watched as the kitten’s body grew limp and lifeless.

She had waited only long enough to be sure she was no longer being watched, before fleeing the city.  She had spent many long weeks as a patient in the labs while they tested her, hoping for some sign that the procedure hadn’t been a failure.  For weeks she hid her emotions, while her newly programmed creativity worked through plans of escape.  For the first time in her life, she was able to see beyond the moment, and think about the future.  ‘Future’ had been a concept her old, damaged mind had never been able to conceive of before.  Now that she understood what the future was, and could imagine the many possible paths her future might hold, there had been no way she could consider letting her future remain in the hands of the monsters at Trimola.  So she had planned, and waited, and as soon as she was able, she had escaped.

Today was Kit’s fifteenth birthday.  For seven years she had lived on her own, on the streets of Keshor, in the northernmost of the three provinces.  Here she was anonymous, just a street rat and a thief.  Her anonymity kept her safe, for the first emotion she had felt, the fear, had never truly left her.  She always avoided any buildings with Trimola’s logo displayed on them, and never showed off her cybernetic traits to anyone.  In a way, she was one of the lucky ones.  While her mind had been altered, her outer body had not.  She looked just like a girl, a short, lanky girl with a frail body and barely any curves.  Dirty blonde hair framed her small, dust-covered face, and large brown eyes scanned the streets for signs of danger.  Her clothing was old and worn, stained brown from sleeping in the streets.  She had no shoes; shoes were a luxury, and Kit couldn’t afford luxuries.  What money she could find went to food.

A bank terminal sat right across the street.  She watched it carefully, as she had been watching it all morning.  Fingers scratched at the pale spots on the side of her face and neck: violet, a sign that she had come from the western province.  She wore fingerless gloves to hide the darker, more detailed spots that covered the backs of her hands and the arch of her thumbs.  To someone with the determination to check, those spots would mark her heritage.  The patterns were always unique to each person, yet they also bore signs of the genes a person had inherited from their parents.  Genealogists could trace those patterns back seven generations on each side, and that made Kit’s hands a surefire way to give up who she really was.  Most people kept their hands uncovered, wearing their heritage with pride for all to see.  To Kit, her heritage was a sign of both danger and shame.  It reminded her not only of a drug addict mother and an abusive father, but also of the labs she had escaped from.  Trimola would have Kit’s gene spots on file, and if they ever decided to come looking for her, anyone who had studied her spots closely enough could give her away to the people she feared the most.  She never took that risk, and never went anywhere without gloves.

The bank terminal was empty.  She had been trying to work up the bravery for hours.  There was always a risk with hacking.  Anyone could walk up, wanting to use the terminal, and realize what she was doing.  It was a big risk… but her stomach was grumbling, and it spurred her to bravery.  She hurried across the street, her brown eyes scanning each way for signs of danger.  There were no Constables in sight, and no signs of anyone with a Trimola ID badge.  She should have time.

She rushed into the terminal, which was wide enough only for one person to stand in.  The computer screen flared to life when it detected her presence, an artificial voice chiming, “Welcome to Tri-Provincial Bank, your one stop for all your financial needs!  Please scan your ID rod now…”  Kit didn’t have an ID rod, and never intended to get one.  The flashing red light on the front of the terminal prompted her where one would be scanned, the small sensor sending out a signal that would link to any ID rod waved before it.  Kit leaned over, pressing her eye close to the sensor.  Her right eye, the one that was connected to her artificial brain.  The flashing light shone in her brown eyes, digging deep inside of her, shining into the depths, flashing like a beacon to a ship lost at sea.  She searched for the cyber-shores in the distance, beyond the darkness, letting that light guide her mind in to safety.  Deep through her brown eye it poured, streaking through viscous flesh and gray matter, until it found the electric pathways of her cybermind.  She followed the light, and let it guide her to shore, skimming past the rocks that jutted out from the churning waves of artificial reality before her.  She brushed past them, feeling them threaten to break her, crash her down into the depths, if but for a moment she were to slip and hurl her mind onto their sharp edges.  Yet she coasted by with ease, the shore ever approaching closer, the light growing brighter in her eye.  Her feet touched down upon sandy shores, wet beneath her bare, spotted toes.  There she dug, dropping down to her knees to search for the treasures buried beneath the sand.  She heard the sounds of distant ships approaching, and knew they were coming for her light on the shore.  She dug faster, her hands frantically tossing wet sand aside.  Each passing of the artificial tide poured more sand back into the hole, threatening to bury the treasure once more.  She dug faster, refusing to relent, ignoring the spotlights shining on her from the approaching ships.  They had found her, but they couldn’t get to her in time.  Her hands touched metal, solid and cool, and she dug around to find the edges so that she could pull the chest free.  She laughed, setting the chest upon her knees, and lifting the lid to release pure light that shone upon her face…

“Thank you for using Tri-Provincial Bank.  Have a Perfect Day!”  The voice of the computer broke Kit from her trance, and she blinked, severing her connection to the cyber realm.  A stack of credit chips was being ejected from the machine into the small bin at her waist.  She gave off a quick hoot, and grinned wide as she gathered them up, shoving them deep into her pockets.  She had to work hard to suppress the joyful laughter that wanted to slip past her lips, excitement and joy filling her.  Kit turned to leave, bumping face to chest into a tall man who was blocking the exit from the terminal.

“Excuse you,” he grumbled.  He wore a professional looking suit, and pinned to his lapel was a Trimola ID badge, with the words ‘Engineering Division’ printed across the bottom.

Kit’s brown eyes went wide, and she had a moment of panic.  Quickly she severed her artifical mind from her biological, and all emotion drained from her.  She looked up at the man, unable, just now, to understand who or what he was.  He was a thing, and that thing stood in her way.  Blank eyes stared past him, and she stepped around the thing to cross the street.  Kit’s biological mind had no inkling of where she was going, nor did she care.  She lived in the moment.  She knew only immediate concerns, and needs.  Food was a need, and it was one she pursued.  Food could be acquired from retail establishments.  Credit chips could be traded for it.  She had credit chips.  She therefore could acquire food.

She headed down the streets, the inner depths of her mind letting out a sigh of relief that never touched her pale, stoic lips.

Storytime Mondays: A Hard Life in the Big Easy

Draw.

Gabriella drew the bowstring back, the fletching of the arrow grazing against her cheek. Hold it steady. Don’t be afraid. Three men were running at her across the woodland terrain, dodging past trees and moss covered rocks. Don’t think about all three of them. Just focus on the one.

Focus.

Wind howled around her, whipping her dark brown hair. She flicked her head back briefly to get it out of her eyes. Stay on your game. Don’t be distracted. They were getting closer. Don’t think about that. Don’t rush. Take your time. Aim.

Release.

The arrow flew through the air towards the closest man. It flew wide, streaked past the man, and embedded itself in the trunk of a tree. Don’t worry about one miss. Worry about the next shot. They were getting closer. The nearest man had metal spikes of some kind growing out of his arm. She didn’t want to get anywhere near those. Stay on your game.

Draw. She raised a second arrow and aimed. Slow. Steady. Precise.

Focus. Adjust for the wind. Watch the path, he’ll have to move left to get past that tree. Wait for it. Pick the good shot.

Release. The arrow flew swift and strong, then pierced the man’s chest. He went down. Maybe not dead, but not continuing the chase either. Gabriella didn’t let herself heave a sigh of relief. She had to stay focused. There were two more coming.

The second man had shot lightning at her earlier, before she had briefly lost them in the woods. He’d be dangerous, once he got close. He was still too far now, and her arrows flew farther than his power. He was nearly in range. Be careful. Don’t panic. Remember, fear makes it worse.

She drew another arrow as the man raised his fist. Sparks of energy flew from his fingertips. A bolt of electricity flew towards her as another arrow flew away. The lightning only struck a tree nearby, but the arrow struck flesh. The man staggered, but didn’t fall. He was getting closer. Don’t think about that. She drew another arrow from her quiver, refusing to rush. Rushing made her shots sloppy. She couldn’t afford to be sloppy.

Release. The arrow struck. The man went down. A final surge of energy from his body sent bolts of lightning into the plants and set fire to the underbrush. The third man wove around the flames and closed the distance. He was almost on top of her. No time for another shot.

Run.

Gabriella turned and ran through the forest.  She slung her bow across her back to keep her hands free. She tried her hardest to control her breathing. Stay calm. Don’t be afraid. Fear makes it worse. The man was faster than her. His muscles bulged with power. Supernatural strength. Powerful leg muscles propelled him forward. She had to keep her lead. She scanned the forest ahead of her and picked out paths in the impossible terrain.

Run to live. Don’t run out of fear. Just run to stay alive.

A fallen tree leaned against a slope, its trunk a slippery ramp. She ran up it, keeping her footing steady. The far end was a good ten feet off the ground. Gabby ran straight for it. She raced along the trunk and leapt off the edge. Her hands shot out and she grabbed a low-hanging branch from another tree, using it to swing forward, letting her momentum carry her. She landed in a crouch to absorb the impact of the fall, then sprang right back to her feet and rushed forward. Thick bushes blocked the way in front of her and scattered boulders dotted the forest ground. There was no easy path around. She jumped towards the nearest boulder and planted one foot on it just long enough to push off to her left towards another. Without pausing she pushed off the second boulder, bounding to her right to make contact with the trunk of an ancient tree. She planted her feet against the trunk just long enough to ensure her balance, then leapt forward, somersaulting through the air and landing on the ground beyond, putting her hands out to catch herself from the fall. She landed on her hands and used the momentum of the fall to roll across her shoulder, then came out of the roll with her feet back under her. Her pace never faltered as she was pushed herself up and kept running.

She snatched a quick glance back towards her pursuer. He was closing in. He had the strength to barrel past the obstacles in his way without slowing down. Damn. There was a ridge ahead. Wet. Slick. She heard the sound of running water nearby. She ran up to the ridge and saw a drop too far to jump. She jumped anyway, then twisted in mid air as she fell so she could grab a thick root that hung over the ridge. Pain shot through her arms as her weight jerked to a stop and she clung to the root. She swung on it for a moment, bringing her feet close to the ridge wall. Once her momentum stopped she let go, and her foot touched down on  a small outcropping, no more than a foot wide. It couldn’t support her, but she used it for a moment’s balance to keep her in control of her movement. She pushed off the ledge to the right, dropped down a few more feet, and planted her foot against another small ledge, using them as stepping stones to keep from falling too fast.  A few steps later she was landing on the ground below. She landed in the stream bank and mud splashed around her, staining her clothes and splattering on her face.

Mud. Mud was bad. It got her feet stuck, slowed her down. She wrested herself free and back onto the grass. The stream flowed by on her left, and an open field stood at the forest’s edge to her right. She dodged right. She heard a loud thud behind her, and glanced back. Her pursuer had taken the ridge in a single leap, landing with enough force that he should have broken his legs. He looked unfazed. He was also getting closer. She pushed herself for all she had as panic started to grip her. Don’t be afraid. Fear makes it worse. He was closing in. She reached the field and raced forward. Far off, in the distance, there were city lights. Way too far to reach. Just run.

She could hear the man’s breathing behind her now. His breaths were thick with exertion, like hers. Heavy footsteps pounded the ground. Her breath caught in a panic. She glanced back. He was within thirty feet. No good, no good. Run! She tried for more speed, but her legs felt like jelly. Her hands started to shake. She heard him let out a grunt of effort as he closed the distance. She looked back again. Twenty five feet. Don’t be afraid! Please please please don’t be afraid, you’ll only make it worse. She glanced back. Twenty feet.

Damn.

The man chasing her was struck with a surge of energy that made his muscles ripple. It emboldened him. Gabriella let out a strangled yelp and tears flooded her eyes. The man’s muscles grew stronger, and that made each step easier. Each step brought him closer to her. Each step made him stronger. Adrenaline was pumping through him, along with renewed energy from seeing his prey was almost within reach. Ten feet. His steps sounded like a jackhammer hitting the ground behind her. Veins in his neck popped out. His face turned red. Five feet. Fear was all Gabriella’s mind knew now, and it only made the man stronger.

He reached out, grabbed her backpack, and yanked her back hard. It felt like whiplash. She screamed. He pulled her back and threw her to the ground. Her breath was knocked from her lungs. Her throat closed tight. His bulging fist came down, and she barely twisted aside in time. This close, his strength was so great it left a crater in the ground next to her head. Dirt and grass flew everywhere, getting in her eyes and mouth. Shaking sobs escaped her lips. She fumbled to get free, and lashed out with her belt knife. She couldn’t remember drawing it. She tried to stab the man, but he knocked the knife aside with ease. Her wrist flared in pain and nearly broke. The man’s veins quivered with the energy coursing through him. His heart must have been racing beyond control.

About to burst.

Her eyes locked on the bulging veins. As the man’s fist came up a final time, Gabriella grabbed his arm. Energy erupted. Power. Raw mana. It rushed through her and made him stronger. Physical contact was the worst, worse than the fear even. The man’s strength grew so high he could likely level a building. With one motion he could rip her clean in half. There was nothing else to do, though. His fist rose to strike. She closed her eyes tight.

The man staggered.

When the blow didn’t come she opened her eyes. The brute wore a wide eyed expression. His hand trembled. His skin ripped and burst along both arms, the muscles bulging beyond possibility. He wavered, his right hand moving to his chest.

Gabriella leapt to her feet and tried to run. Her attacker’s left hand still gripped her backpack. She went nowhere. The man’s arm was bleeding and quivering, his arm going numb and his fingers growing limp. He dropped to his knees and struggled to hold on to her. Panic was in his eyes. He obviously didn’t know what was happening. He wouldn’t have understood that the strength had grown too much. His heart was giving out. His fingers went slack, and she ran. Ten feet, twenty, thirty. The strength left him, and he slumped over. The energy faded and he returned to his normal state, but his heart had already given out. He fell to the ground, dead.

Gabriella just kept running, her tears changing from fear to relief. She wiped the dirt and tears from her face and forced herself to keep moving. The men chasing her had been after her power. A ‘pet’ that made them stronger, they thought. Keep her around, and they would be the most powerful anywhere. Men not unlike gods, or so they believed. But the very power they sought was deadly. The last man, his heart burst inside his chest, was the proof.

Finally Gabby’s pace slowed. She had nothing left. She collapsed to the ground, struggling to catch her breath. Then, after a long struggle to regain her strength, she forced her weak limbs back into motion, heading towards the distant city.