1.30.2012

Story 7

Well, I managed to get it all done and follow the proper prompt this time (provided by both Patti and Patti's sister). I guess it kind of classifies as space opera? It's certainly not about technology.

It was fun to work on, and both reminded me of my personal difficulties in writing science fiction and somehow made a lot of them less scary than I had remembered them being. Is there more to this world? Maybe. I imagine if there is, it is not nearly so alphabetized.

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The Drifter

About 0330 Earth Standard Time, Commander Karn awoke to a distress signal being broadcast over the comm system. He rubbed his face and groaned. He knew part of his job was to always be prepared, but some small part of his mind couldn’t let go of the idea that it was too early in the morning for trouble, even as another part reminded him that morning was a relative term when one was in space. He punched a button on the comm console.

“Be right there,” he said.

“Come quickly, Commander,” a female voice responded. “You’re going to want to see this.”

“Damn,” muttered Karn. Xardi, the night commander, rarely called him up for anything when she had control of the ship. On the one hand, he worried that she would eventually try to usurp him. On the other hand, she allowed him to get far more sleep than previous subordinate officers had allowed him.

Except for tonight, of course.

Five minutes later, he stumbled onto the bridge, rubbing his face with one hand, a mug of coffee in the other. The three members of the night crew gave him a quick salute as he entered before turning back to their posts. Xardi was going over some images at the commander’s console. She stepped aside as he approached.

“Good timing, commander,” she said. “We just received technical reports on the source of the signal.”

He decided he was too groggy to reprimand her for her less-than-orthodox wake-up call. She would just state that it was the most efficient way to brief him on the situation, and he couldn’t really argue with that. He bent over the console and looked at the screen. The source ship was a small human freighter. Several small holes dotted the ship’s plating, and damage was reported to all major systems. In a smaller window on the screen, a worried woman in an environmental suit spoke soundlessly to a camera. Karn switched the sound on.

“…is even coming from. We’re a freighter. We’re not equipped for this. Please, if you’re reading this and can help in any way….”

Jamming static cut through the audio and fuzzed the visual. “...around again! God, what do they want? Please he....”

Karn switched the sound off. He had already heard this message several times as he had gotten dressed.

“Let’s have a closer look. Do we have the coordinates?”

“Mapped and ready, commander,” said Xardi. “Just waiting for your go-ahead.”

“Note that my go-ahead has been given,” said Karn. “Maybe we can still show up in enough time to do some good.”

“On our way, commander,” Josan piped from the helm. Karn noted he had rearranged the monitor screens again. Josan and Eirinn, the day helmsman, had a long-standing personal war over the most efficient setup of the thrust controllers. It had escalated to the point that it had come before both himself and Xardi a few times before he had told them that if they didn’t work it out, they would both be stripped of their rank and tossed in the bridge. They were still constantly rearranging things, but neither he nor Xardi heard about it anymore.

“Prepare weapons, and wake up Ves and Hanna,” said Karn. “We need to be ready for anything. Oh, and follow regulations on the wake-up call this time, Xardi.”

“Quiet and non-informative.” Xardi frowned. “As you command.”

“Right.”

She hit a few buttons and paged Vas and Hanna. Karn stifled a yawn and began to go over Xardi's fragmented report of the last few several hours.



Twenty minutes later, the ship lurched out of hyperspace. Before them, the freighter drifted gently through the void, a smattering of small debris surrounding it. Karn flipped through the information coming in from the sensor feeds.

“Until now, I was hoping this was some sort of hoax,” muttered Josan.

Ves, who had arrived on the bridge minutes earlier with Hanna, coughed. “This is what we do, Josan,” he said. “Patrol the system, find trouble, put an end to it.”

“Whatever, Ves.” Josan waived a hand dismissively. “Mostly we just putz about and try not not to get hit by asteroids.”

Xardi gave Josan a hard look. “Shut it, you two,” she said. “We have work to do.” She turned back to Karn. “Waiting for your order, commander.”

“You have the deck, Xardi,” said Karn. “I'll take the team and look over the ship, see if we can't find any survivors.”

“Zero-G gets you out there every time, doesn't it, commander?” Xardi smirked.

“Always,” said Karn. He returned her smirk, and then his face went stern. “Better let us back when we're done with reconnaissance, night commander.”

“Better hurry back,” said Xardi. She gave him a firm salute. “Aye, aye, sir. Keep us informed, and we'll be waiting.”

“Come on,” said Karn, nodding toward Ves and Hanna, and the three of them headed to the boarding airlock.



Dark. Dark and cold and deadly quiet. That was what it was like on a ship with no power. Like a bad dream you couldn't quite wake up from, one where you knew you were dreaming, could feel the bed beneath you, but just couldn't get to it, couldn't scream, couldn't move. Well, except you could move in the ship. The team had brought flashlights, too, but Karn floated there for a moment just inside the derelict ship's airlock and let the feel of the place settle around him first. It was good to be reminded of the danger always just outside his ship's walls.

Eventually he flipped his light on and signaled for the rest of the team to do the same.

“Fire your weapons only if necessary,” he said. It was an unnecessary command. The ship was a wreck and both Ves and Hanna knew how to handle themselves, but it upset at least part of the stillness.

Getting through the inner doors took a bit more work than getting through the outer ones. Like most space ships, the freighter was fitted with a series of secondary airlock doors in case of punctures to the outside hull. A close-up inspection had shown the entire outside of the ship looked more like Swiss cheese than plate metal, which meant they were in for a lot of prying and a handful of small explosives if they wanted to check everything out. Luckily, they only needed a room with an intact data access terminal to get started, and there was one of those just beyond the main airlock.

Hanna set about restoring power to one of the ship's closed network terminals, and soon enough it blinked to life.

“I've got it up, commander,” she said. “You want me to try and pull crew files or ship files first?”

“Just keep to procedure, Hanna,” said Karn. “Check for anomalies. See if you can't find out what hit them.”

Karn looked over the outermost wall and poked his finger into one of the holes. It almost looked like the ship had been hit with a machine gun. Or several machine guns. Machine guns capable of piercing three inches of carbotanium and bypassing inertial dampeners. And not leaving behind any bullets.

“Look at this, commander,” called Hanna. Her voice had an odd strain to it. “They managed to get some interesting data on their attackers before everything went offline, but I've never seen anything like this before.”

“My God above,” said Ves. He had abandoned his examination of the inner walls and was looking over Hanna's shoulder. Karn pushed off the Swiss cheese wall to join them.

Not a lot surprised Karn these days. After one spends some time traveling in space and meeting alien races, one kind of moves past culture shock and into a state of easy acceptance of all kinds of weird shit. But even so, he felt a chill run down his spine and the breath catch in his throat at the image on the terminal.

Overall, it looked like some sort of sea creature. It wasn't quite the squid-like form of old tales of space monsters, but it did have something that strongly resembled barbed tentacles. They were arranged around a circular, beaked orifice on an elongated body with a metallic sheen.

“Possibility of it being a ship?” he asked.

“Question's a good one, but I don't have an answer for it, commander,” said Hanna. “According to their data, these things give off signatures like a ship, but move like... well, like something else. I've never seen propulsion systems and movement this, and I used to obsess over alien ships as a girl.”

“Rather like you do now, I'd say,” said Vas.

“Shut up, Vas,” said Hanna.

“Tone it down, both of you,” said Karn. “Hanna, stream the info back to the ship. All of it. If those things come back, we need to get out of here Vas, help me get that door open. We still need to check for survivors.”

“Understood,” said Hanna.

Vas gave him a quick nod and pushed off toward the door. Karn pushed off after him and together they set to work on the secondary airlock door.. If anyone was still alive in the ship, they'd be beyond there.

“We've got the data, commander” came Xardi's voice over the comm channel. “We'll keep an eye out for any of these... whatever they are. We'll see if we can't figure out where any surviving crew might be hiding, too.”

“Xardi, if you so much as think one of those things is heading our way, I want to know about it immediately,” said Karn. “I saw some of the footage on their movement. I want us to be gone before they know we're here.”

“Yes, commander,” said Xardi. “We'll give you as much head's up as we can.”

“Zone's open, commander,” said Vas. “You ready?”

“All set,” said Karn. “Hanna, let's move.”

Beyond the doors the darkness loomed even heavier. No fragments of light from the hull breeches made it this far. No panels blinked. They moved silently through darkness, making their way slowly toward the bridge. If the woman who sent the message was still alive, hopefully she would still be there. If not, maybe Hanna could get the internal scanners up.

“Commander, if this is built like a standard freight, the bridge should be past this door,” said Hanna. She tapped the secondary airlock door lightly with her knuckles, then pointed to the indicator light above it. “Looks like the room's still pressurized. Or, at least enough to keep the sensors thinking it is.”

“Don't open it yet,” said Karn. “I don't want anything and anyone not nailed down to come flying out at us. Can you get the security viewer up and open communications to the room?”

“Even a novice tech could do that, commander,” smirked Hanna. “Unless this ship has some serious security measures, in which case we'll want to ask equally serious questions about their cargo.”

Fingers and hands moving deftly, Hanna had the panel up in seconds. She punched the button for entry request and waited. For a moment, there was nothing. Then a familiar image appeared on the screen. It was the woman from the distress signal.

“Go for it, commander,” said Hanna, pushing away from the panel to make room for Karn.

He slid in front and plugged an audio wire from his suit into the terminal. “This is Day Commander Arterius Karn of the HA military patrol ship Zealand. We picked up your distress signal and are here to help. To whom am I speaking?”

“I'm Cara Neless, captain of the HA frigate ship Meerkat,” said the woman in the image. “It's good to see you, Commander Karn.”

“Just let us know when you're ready and we'll open the doors and get you out of there,” said Karn.

“Keep the doors shut for now, Commander Karn,” said Cara Neless. “I'd rather you get my cargo out first, if any of it is still intact.”

“Lives are more important than possessions, Miss Neless,” said Karn. “We've already accessed your databases and saw what attacked you. We're not keen on staying around until it comes back.”

“Many more lives will be benefited by our cargo, Commander Karn,” said Cara Neless. “We were heading to the medical center on Io with a shipment of supplies. It's imperative that it gets there.”

Now that changed things. If someone was attacking a medical supply ship, it could easily be seen as an act of terrorism... or worse. Karn needed to get the full story.

“Open the seals on the other doors, if you still have power on them, and we'll get your cargo and any remaining crew out,” he said.

“Please hurry, commander,” said Cara Neless. “I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this shipment is time-sensitive.”

“Quick, get moving,” Karn signaled to the others. “Report this to Xardi and let's see what we can salvage. Miss Neless, I need you to come with us. I need to know what happened here and where we might find the rest of your crew.”

“Ren and Ansom should still be in the hold,” said Cara Neless. Her expression looked worried behind her helmet. “They were going to try and move the shipment closer to the center of the ship, away from the... the attack, I guess. I haven't been able to get them on the comm since power went down. We didn't have time to synch up our suits. I don't know if they're hurt or....”

She trailed off and raised a hand to her face in a worried gesture, only to find it stopped by the helmet of her environmental suit. “I'm sorry, commander,” she said softly. “I've been trying not to think about it. Please, if you can, find them.”

“That's our job, Miss Neless,” said Karn. “Now, are you coming or are we going to have to drag you out?”

Until she brought up the crew, Cara Neless had appeared fine. Now it looked like she was seconds from a mental breakdown. They had to get her back on board the Zealand before then. Distressed people were easier to deal with once they were somewhere they perceived as safe.

Very slowly, Cara Neless buckled and tightened the straps on her seat. “Get back from the door, commander,” she said. “Depressurizing in five, four, three...”



Work on retrieving the supplies from the cargo hold went quickly. Most of them seemed to be intact. Sadly, the same could not be said for the rest of Cara Neless's crew. She had not taken the news well.

Xardi had overseen most of it and gotten them out of there, plotting a course for Io. Karn had found that the few hours of sleep he had gotten had not quite been enough, and as usual, Xardi was more than willing to take the ship over from him for a while. He supposed he'd just have to allow it this time. A lack of sleep does strange things to a man's head.

“You'll thank me later,” she had said. “When we get to Io, you'll get to spin the tale of your noble rescue of a woman and her medical supplies. You'll be a hero, commander.”

“Zip it, Xardi,” he had replied. “I'm going to see if I can't get some shut-eye before I even make it to my quarters.”

“As you wish, commander,” she had said.



Before long, they had reached the station on Io, and sure enough, Karn was more than glad to be well-rested, though not so much for tale-spinning as for all the political bullshit he had to wade through to deliver the supplies and process reports. If only being commander was all noble glory and no paperwork.

First Draft Done

Gonna give it a read-through tomorrow, when it's not 2 AM. Went through the alphabet a little more than three times, I think. Right now, I think it's not too shabby. We'll see what I think of it tomorrow.

1.24.2012

The Next Story Will Be....

...something of an undetermined nature, but each paragraph will begin with a different letter of the alphabet, as suggested by Patti.

Patti's sister Becky suggested this also be a space opera, but a good space opera requires a lot more than can be conveyed in 10 pages. But I might still run with the sci-fi idea. And with the puppies and kittens that were also suggested. We'll see.

I'm hoping to have it up by Sunday, if not sooner. Still trying to catch up from December.

1.19.2012

Open for Suggestions!

I've actually already gotten a few, so I figure I better open this formally for the week.

If you have any questions regarding possible suggestions, please see The FAQs.

1.18.2012

Story 6

Ok, here's the deal, folks.

I finished the story last night, just as I said. But then as I was looking over things, including the original prompt, I noticed something was wrong. Instead of writing a story entitled, "The Spell of Unforgotten Loss," I had written one entitled, "The Spell of Forgotten Loss." Somewhere during the part of story creation where you stare out a window with your mouth hanging open, the "un" got dropped out of there, and now we have a very different story. Well... mostly different. I guess they would both deal with loss. Except... I only wrote one of them.

I went back and forth with myself for a while on whether or not to post this one, since it didn't fit the prompt. But I owe you guys a story. Since he suggested the real prompt, Matt can decide if I need to write another version that actually follows it.

But for now, you guys will just have to read this one.

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The Spell of Forgotten Loss

It's a Sunday afternoon, and she’s playing with her niece in the park. She’s smiling. It is good to see her smile again. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but here she is, eyes alight, cheeks puffed and slightly red from the afternoon sun.

The child is waving at her, wants her to join in the game with the children. She calls back, “I’m coming!” Amusement plays in her words. The smile is there, too.

I watch her as she runs after her niece. A year ago, I would have never guessed she could play games like this, would have wondered if she ever had back before everything started, back when she was still young, before she became the solemn, sober woman I first met.

A year ago, and I am watching her. She is in my arms. Tears stream down her cheeks. She is pounding on my chest with such fury that it actually hurts. She is not mad at me, not really. I pull her close and the pounding stops. Her shoulders shake in heavy sobs. I want to tell her it will be alright, but the words die on my lips. It won’t be alright, not anytime soon. Our work isn’t done. Maybe it never will be.

She is laughing. The kids are playing tag. They are chasing her now. She’s waiting until they are almost on her and then skipping lightly, effortlessly, out of the way. She twists behind them and tugs at their shirts, their hair. They turn to chase her again, but she is too swift. She makes it look like a dance, like a fight, like an art. Proof that the body remembers things even when the mind has forgotten.

Five years ago, and I am amazed at her dexterity. The first time I watched her move through Them, I was certain she would die. She always waited for the last minute, the last possible second, and then the predator would become the prey. Her hands would come down bringing her blade with them. And then on to the next. As if she was born to do this.

I watch tensely. The body remembers. We need to know how deep the old patterns go. I need to know….

But now the kids have caught her. She lets them pull her down on the grass and climb all over her, holding her down. I worry that she will scream, or call for help, but she is laughing. She makes a feeble attempt to shake them off before falling back to the ground. The children are laughing, thrilled by their apparent victory, but I don’t buy it. It hasn’t been that long. None of them would be able to hold on if she was really trying. Surely some part of her knows this.

A dark part of my mind wonders if anyone in the Order had placed bets on how many five-year-olds it would take to bring her down. The answer, apparently, is six. I would have guessed higher.

Three years ago, and we are against a swarm of Them. I don’t have much time to watch her if I want to stay on my feet, but she is swatting Them away like flies. Three go for her at once, but she shakes Them off effortlessly. They go down under her sword and vanish back into the void from which They were formed.

They aren’t much bigger than five-year-olds, now that I’m thinking about it, but no one would mistake one for the other. Well, not if they were actually seeing Them. That, of course, is the trick. Most people misinterpret Them, see Them as shadows, a trick of the light, a fleeting glimpse of an animal or person. Even most of us in the Order had to be trained to see Them properly, see Them as They really were.

She told me once that she had always been able to see Them. I don’t think she sees Them at all now. I still haven’t convinced myself that’s a good thing.

The kids crawl off of her, hooting and hollering in triumph. She pulls herself to her feet. I look down at my book and pretend not to watch. She’s probably noticed, anyway. She always noticed me watching her.

Seven years ago. We are on assignment, our second one together. She tells me to keep my eyes to myself this time, that she won’t save me if I get into trouble because I’m not paying attention to the job. I tell her I always keep a bearing on my surroundings, that I’ll still look after her because that’s what partners do, and we can’t afford to lose people. The Order has a hard enough time filling ranks. She shrugs it off. If she thinks more or less of me for it, I cannot tell.

It is two years later and I find out how old she was. Perhaps she was right to tell me off. But a man can’t help but look.

A year past that, and she encourages it. At last I am allowed to look as much as I want. I am happy with this. I want to think she is, too, but I am never quite sure. She is always tense. Her words lack passion. Her smile never reaches her eyes, and all too often it melts into sadness.

She sits on the park bench next to me and lets out a sigh. I look up. She gives me a slight smile. “Is it alright if I sit here?” she asks.

I nod. “Of course.” Of course. How could I refuse?

I let my book fall to my lap. I can sense the closeness of her, feel her, smell her. I want to stretch my arm out and reach around her, pull her close to me, but…. Not now. Not anymore. She let that go when she let go of everything else. I have to let it go, too.

It is eight months ago. It took us three just to determine the right place, and another one to get there. You would think with all our modern conveniences, with the information age and rapid transit, that it would have been easier. But one thing you learn quickly in the Order is how little we really know, how powerless we are. It can make one feel very small. I wonder if her world feels bigger now.

It is eight months ago. We spent a month wandering through forests, caves, swamps, and far fouler places than most will ever see. Than most should ever see. But we are here now. There aren't a lot of places like this left in the world, and the ones that are easy to get to are always watched. The Order has files on most of these places, though they don't let just anyone have access to that information, even within their ranks. We chose this place because it would be one of the most difficult for anyone to track us through. Not just the Order, but any of the sentinels that might be on this place, and any of Them that might be waiting.

We have arrived. We begin the ritual. I try not to think about it. The Order will have my head when we are done, and God only knows what they’ll do to her. I know they’ll be right to do so. After all, we’re furthering what we’ve spent the last several years undoing. They have a right to be mad. They have a right to be furious.

But she needs this. I want her to have it. Maybe then, she will be able to see hope again. Maybe then, her days will not be so dim.

“It is a nice day today,” she says. She is sitting next to me on the park bench, her face turned up toward the sky, drinking in the sunlight.

“Yes, it is,” I reply.

“The sun is nice, not too hot, not too cold. There’s a bit of a breeze. I can’t remember the last day that felt like this.”

It is a week after we performed the ritual. She has spent the whole of it slipping in and out of consciousness. Getting her back into the States would have been a nightmare without the Order. As it is, they are too concerned with controlling the collateral damage from our journey to ask me too many questions. Yet. It’s just as well. If… when… it comes to an interrogation, I’m hardly going to be in better shape than she is. We thought we were prepared. No one can be prepared for that.

She's in the Order's medical center. I am wandering the gardens outside trying to piece everything together, trying to come to terms with it all. The sun is warm on my skin, but not uncomfortable. The wind is blowing gently. I should be enjoying a day like this. I know I should be. But I can't. She's never going to be the same. I mean, I knew before we went out there. That was the point of it all. But... she's never going to be the same. I guess I didn't really know it, after all. Not like I know it now.

Yes, she is definitely different. I can see it in the way she holds herself, how she relaxes and leans back on the park bench, almost as if nothing could go wrong. She juts her chin towards the kids swarming over the jungle gym. “Which one's yours?” she asks.

“Oh, um....” I try to think of a way to not sound like a creep. I can't come up with anything. The truth isn't going to be any better. Most people don't like finding out they're being followed. Even if we have good reason. Most people don't like finding out a shadowy group like the Order is the one following them, either.

I must be blushing. She laughs. “Don't worry, I don't think you're a pervert or something.”

I hadn't answered the question. Her mind is still sharp. I shrug and try to recover myself. “I spend most of the time working in dark places,” I say. “It's nice to get out somewhere bright sometimes. Somewhere peaceful. You know.”

She does know. How well she knows. Does she know? Does it count if she no longer remembers the dark places?

She nods and lets out a small sigh. For a moment, sorrow creases her face, and I see in its lines the person I remember. Is she also remembering?

“When I was a girl,” she says, “I used to have nightmares all the time. They were so bad I would see them when I was awake, too.”

They weren't nightmares. I nod politely. The sorrow disappears from her face.

“But you know what?” she says, a smile playing at the edge of her lips. “Now I can't even remember what they're about.”

She waves a hand in the air as if brushing them away. “Silly children's dreams, no doubt. I don't know why they bothered me so much back then. But yes. It's nice to get out in the sunlight, somewhere peaceful.”

Somewhere peaceful.



It is two weeks past when we spoke in the park. I made my final report and turned it in. She is gone. She has forgotten all of it. She probably won't be a threat to the Order, but neither will she lend it her strength as she once did. She will just be another woman who works nine to five, runs normal errands, and takes her niece to the park on Sundays.

It's what she wanted, right? It's what I helped her get, what we spent months searching for, why I defied the Order. Why can't I just be happy for her?

But I hate seeing her like this, so restrained, so careless. I miss seeing her overcome and push through. I want to watch her graceful movements fueled by anger and determination. I guess I drew some of my own strength from that, from standing next to her in the darkness, against the darkness, taking on all that came with that. So that others could have that careless life. But that life wasn't for us.

She has what she wanted, but she is less for it. And it's my fault, at least in part. I should have been strong in her weakness, just as she always was in mine. I should have encouraged her to keep fighting Them, to keep standing up against the darkness. But I didn't want to see her in pain anymore.

I guess I thought she and I could be happy together afterward. I don't think I realized that, in casting off all her memories of Them and of the Order, she would also be casting off me. Or maybe I thought it would be worth it, that I could deal with it.

I guess I can't, after all.

I finish the last words on my letter to the Order and tuck it into the pocket of my jacket. They will find it when they find me. I hope they'll understand. I hope they'll keep me on afterward. I want to keep fighting this. I just... I don't want the ghost of her making me second-guess my movements. I don't want to keep wondering if she's alright now that she's forgotten, or if They are going to come for her in the night seeking retribution.

I chose this place because the Order will follow me here. If I don't get started soon, I won't finish before they arrive to stop me. But I don't want anyone else to carry the guilt I've been carrying since I helped her. I will do this alone. This is one of the places I can get to alone.

I start the ritual. When it is done, she will be but a shadow of a memory. Less than that, maybe. The Order will still keep an eye on her, to be sure. Maybe they'll even send me out, eventually. Just to check up on things. But I won't be worrying about it. I won't be waiting for the reports to come in, cutting corners and pulling strings to read them, to talk with others who talked with her. I can focus on undoing the damage we did when we broke those rules, when we ripped apart the fabric of the universe, letting more of Them in, offering her memories to the void that spawns Them. Forcefully taking something we had no right to take.

I take a deep breath. I am going to take again.

I start muttering the proper words for the ritual. Will I remember them afterward? I cannot dwell on these things. When it is over, if the Order will let me, I will try and undo the damage to the world. I will live with the damage to my mind. After all, she found peace in it. Why shouldn't I?

Darkness is creeping in at the edges of my vision. It is not simple shadows. It is not like losing consciousness. It is palpable, and coming closer. My breath quickens. I keep chanting. Come and take her from me. Give me the peace that comes with forgetting.

The darkness comes closer. I close my eyes and open myself to it.

Take her from me. Let me forget.

1.17.2012

Story's Done

It will be up tomorrow (later today?). I want to give it a quick read-through before I toss it upon the internets.

1.12.2012

The Sixth Story Will Be...

...titled "The Spell of Unforgotten Loss."

I'm taking a sort of combo approach to the suggestion this time. Jamie suggested I go with an old suggestion. The above suggestion, made by Matt, is the most recent of old suggestions. We'll run with it, see what happens. As usual.

1.09.2012

Open for Suggestions!

In light of my inability to complete any sort of writing over the winter holidays, I now owe you guys two additional stories. So I'm going to try and write one a week for the rest of the month in an attempt to catch up.

If you have any questions regarding possible suggestions, please see The FAQs.

1.08.2012

Story 5

All holiday mayhem aside, this has been easily the most difficult story I've done to date on this project. The keen of ear will be able to guess at why.

Also, it is the shortest, due in no small part to the aforementioned difficulties... but with the subject given, it did seem to come to a natural ending there. Anyway, enjoy.

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Quoth the Raven

Twas indeed a midnight dreary when I came upon his chamber. But days as these are not uncommon in the month of dark December. That this one should be remembered hardly seems quite worth the time. And yet he spoke of it at length, and so shall I presently. For there is more that should be told than madmen can recount in verses. Listen now, and I will tell.

There are many tales abounding about ravens and dark places, of worlds beyond and worlds below, places humans only travel once the coin is on their tongue. I tell you that such tales are true; the underworld is close for us, and easily we pass into it and come back, should we desire. How, you ask? That is our secret, for it is not our place to tell how to pass the gates of hell and heaven and return again once more to lands of living things. And as for why, well that depends quite a bit on the bird, and circumstances that each finds itself come into.

For me, of course, on this occasion, it was because of fair Lenore.

Many days and nights I spent on my perch in darkened lands. For there I found more solace than in shining sunlit days. It’s not so strange as you might think. My kind are often drawn to darkened things, just as moths are drawn to flame. I do not say we forget beauty, sunlight, living lands, for they do hold their own delights. But so the dying lands hold beauty, if a beauty of a different kind.

The fair Lenore was one such beauty, hair like ink and eyes like fire, well suited to her human form. So it shined that even Death could never dull its glistening glamour. Thus I found her in Hades’ home, sitting by the river Lethe, and staring in its swirling depths.

At first I thought she meant to drink, for many do when Lethe they find, but she did not. Instead, she simply looked, as if Narcissus at the pond transfixed.

I now must tell you of the Lethe, for few who look upon it quite remember what they saw. Or few of your kind, I should say. A swirling blackness it is not, but more a sieve that holds such things as thoughts and dreams of waking worlds. Not all it holds is of the dead, for memories of living things that wish for respite, or perhaps are careless with their thoughts, also find their way in there.

And it was these that fair Lenore looked upon. Her own such thoughts had not yet fallen in the waters; those she saw were his, the memories of mad and senseless sorrow, as soon forgotten as conceived.

How strange to see her face in placid waters, not reflected, truly seen as another sees it! Imperfections missing, overlooked by lover’s eyes, certain features in clear focus, not how one would see themselves. So long she watched, and surely knew the source of all these thoughts.

Minds are strange and fragile places. His had cracked when she had passed. But many suffer loss and pain, and they do not collapse. Perhaps he simply lacked the strength to pull himself from memory's firm grasp. Perhaps his own swift death he sought for reasons that I do not know. And so she watched him, sorrow written on her face. And so approach├ęd her did I, for lingering in such a place when sorrow could be left behind does little good for soul or mind.

“Fair lady,” said I, “Why stay here? Why hold to such dark visions? Pass away through Lethe and be at peace.”

But gently shook her curling locks. “I cannot pass,” she said to me. “Not while his sorrow flows so deep. If only I could but return and thus bring comfort to his pain.”

“A choice as that one,” I replied, “is not for you to make. Your time has passed and his goes on. Pass away, my lady fair, and think on such things nevermore.”

“I cannot, dark bird,” she said, “though you are right. I cannot back to that life go, nor forward into peaceful bliss. What then, raven, can be done?”

“But linger on you have long done, staring into mem’ries swirling. May it well be he feels you still, your presence on the edge of life.”

“Are such things so, o shadowed friend?”

“From time to time,” I so replied. “When deepest love has taken hold but then is snatched by grave and cold death’s hand.”

My words were true, and she believed. Death had not dulled her senses yet, despite her hours next to Lethe. I clicked my beak and bowed my head. Though such as her are not an altogether foreign sight to our black eyes, it is not always easy to behold such human pain.

Her eyes, half-closed, reflected Lethe, her own unmirrored image there. “If only once I could speak to him, bring him comfort in his pain.”

A thought had come into my mind, though not so lightly do my kind involve ourselves in matters of the human worlds of life or death. “If so the lady wishes it,” said I after long thinking, “could I relay to him a thought, a brief and simple token, that perhaps his heart might find relief.”

She turned to me. Her fire eyes with hope were filled, but then she turned back to the waters. “Ghosts he chases in his mind, and I a ghost for evermore. Let him no longer grasp at mist, but turn his eyes to new horizons. Let his sorrow pass away, as I will also pass away, and let him know that I am gone, and will be with him never more.”

I dipped my head and ruffed my feathers, never doubting she would pass when finally the message was delivered. Wings unfurled, I took to flight and passed from darkness into light. The world of living things I entered, following her mem'ries clear, back to places she had seen, hunting for some sign of him.

And so it was I came upon his house so darkened, filled with grief. And only was one window lightened, in his study where he sat and pondered over pages many, pages that he barely saw as vainly tried he chase away the thoughts of lost Lenore.

And yes, I tried to tell him of her, speak the words that from her lips had come, but things as these do not so easy come in places wherein dwell the living. Try I might, but one word spoken; from my beak I could convey the sentiment so briefly spoken, the gentle words of his Lenore, the maiden fair and fairly broken, who in this life would be so “nevermore.”