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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bonus Story: Waiting for You

Hey gang! It's time for yet another bonus story! Once again, I really dug my entry into Leah Petersen's 5 Minute Fiction challenge, and after doing some editing with suggestions from twitter friend @RCMurphy. So, enjoy my somewhat twisted flash fiction.

Waiting for You

Steven walked out the Starbucks and looked around to find his car when he dropped his coffee. Instead of the busy street where he had parked, there was a forest. No buildings, but trees and grass. He looked to his left, and saw a large, white horse with a single, strong horn sprouting from its fore head. It winked at him.

He reversed direction, heading back into the coffee shop. When he turned around, everything inside looked the same. The tables were still there, the music was still playing, the coffee was still brewing. But a closer look showed that the tables were real wood, the music was being played by a live band made up of tiny fairies and the coffee was being brewed over a live fire. The woman behind the counter, the same woman that had given him his coffee earlier, now had long, pointed ears. He spun as a man sitting at a table next to him in a business suit got up, setting his paper down. Steven backed away when he saw that the man’s lower half was that of a horse.

He turned again, heading towards the door. The unicorn was at it now, pushing him back inside. He fled from the beast, all the way to the table.

“What the hell is going on here?” he screamed.

The horse winked once again.

“What’s going on?” it asked in a pleasant, female voice. “Why, you are, darlin’.”

“What?”

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, her voice getting husky.

“You.. you have?” he asked, swallowing to try and wet his now dry throat.

“Oh, yes,” the unicorn said in that strangely erotic female voice. “A big, strong human like you, to rub my horn and that I can give a ride to.”

She winked again, and Steven felt himself getting light headed.

“So,” she asked. “What do you say? Take a walk on the wild side?”

Steven looked around at them all and then back to the unicorn, and promptly fainted.

The End

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mine 642

Mine 642 wasn’t anything spectacular to look at, just a giant rock floating through space along with thousands of other giant rocks. The only thing that distinguished it from the others was the large “Property of Interstellar Minerals” sign and the big “642” painted on it. You couldn’t even see the mine proper from the angel the transport ship was coming in on. Steven sighed. He expected it to be a bit more romantic.

Still, it was a good job, and it paid amazingly. Steven made more in the signing bonus alone than he did in three months work back in Texas. And all of it would go back to Pam back home. He would miss her during his year long rotation at the mine, but it would be worth it. He was just glad he didn’t have kids. A year was a long time to miss out on kids.

The shuttle docked, which meant it attached its rear hatch to the hole cut into the side of the rock. Steven had a brief moment of concern. He knew that the mining company had air pumped into the rock, and that there was a green house to help with the air purification, but the idea that rock and a few inches of steel were all that kept him from the cold of space was frightening. But, he had little choice. He needed this job. His family back home needed this job. So, he said a quick prayer and took a deep breath as the hiss of pressurization took place behind him.

Once he walked into the mine he found himself in an area that was much like an apartment building, clean and well lit. He and the other six men on his transport were greeted by a man named Oscar, who would be their direct supervisor. He took them on a tour of this main facility. There was a main hall for eating with a cafeteria, that reminded him of high school. There were even a few shops to buy entertainment in, and one movie theater that was showing movies three years old back on Earth. Still, working in the rock was lonely, and entertainment such as that was worth it.

Then they were shown their rooms. This is where the analogy to an apartment building really took shape. Each man got a room that had a small kitchenette, a living room and a single bedroom. It was small, but comfortable, and private, something Steven approved of. On Earth, he had worked in places where all the miners lived in bunks, including the supervisors and management.

As part of their orientation, they also got a brief tour of the mines. Back at home, Steven knew people that still thought of mining as a group of guys in a tunnel hitting at a wall with pick axes, despite the fact that it hasn’t been like this for a few centuries now. No, like the mines back home, this mine was done with a room and column approach, and lots of modern machinery was in place here. Lights were all over, making the place as bright as noon time in the summer, and in the places that had already been mined out, there were tables and chairs for breaks, including plants, making it all rather comfortable.

Steven’s job was going to be running one of the remote controlled digging machines. He always thought that terms was kind of odd, given that he was going to be all of three feet away from the thing. He met his co-driver, Jose, who was from Argentina. The two would be working the same shift, but there were two other men who would be working the other shift of the mine. he digging was a twenty-four hour processes, but no one referred to anything as day shift or night shift, given that such things were meaningless both in space and underground.

The strangest part, and that which was the most different than the mines he worked on Earth, would be the gravity. Or rather, the lack of it. The living quarters and upper levels of the facility, the place everyone called the Station, was covered in the new “gravity plates.” These were expensive, state of the art technological marvels that gave the quarter mile facility the same gravity as Earth. But the mine itself was left to its own devices, which meant no gravity. A series of hand rails ran throughout the facility, and every man was required to wear a tether, called the life line. Most men worked in machines, so it was just a matter of strapping in. Those few that weren’t in machines wore special boots that gripped the rock and allowed them to move about slowly. He was told that it wasn’t uncommon for men to get gravity sickness during their first few days of work, and the company expected it, so no one would get docked pay. At least, not for the first two days. After that, you were on your own. But, everyone seemed to get used to it pretty quick. Or at least, that’s what Oscar said.

And that was pretty much the end of the tour. They would have the rest of the time until their first shift to settle in, unpack, eat, sleep and do whatever else they wanted. Oscar closed out the orientation by asking if there were any questions. There were a few, and Oscar answered them all with friendly smiles. He was a knowledgeable man, aware of the unique conditions of working in a rock floating through space. Obviously, this wasn’t his first time at the rodeo. But, he was also patient and friendly, traits that Steven had rarely seen in a foreman. He found himself looking forward to working with this man.

The next few days went smoothly and easily, and by the end of the week, Steven had fallen into the grove of work. He even began to like the little apartment building/town that made up the Station. He rented movies for his own personal viewing pleasure, sent messages back to his family and hung out with his fellow miners, making quite a few friends. At the end of three months, Mine 642 had become home. That, of course, was when the accident happened.

He was working in the mine as normal, on his machine with Jose. While they were working out a stuck gear when the cave rumbled. They looked at each other for a moment.

“You hear that?” Jose said in his thick accent. Steven still wasn’t used to hearing Y’s pronounced as J’s. He nodded at Jose, and then looked around, waving to get another Miner’s attention. This was Rocco, a short, skinny man that worked on the filter assembly. He claimed to be from New York, but Steven always thought his accent sounded fake. Rocco had obviously stopped working as well, and nodded when he saw Steven waving at him.

“Everyone calm down,” Steven could hear Oscar’s voice, coming down the tunnel. “What just happened was not a big deal. A smaller asteroid hit us, is all. Just keep working, we’re fine.”

Steven nodded. That had been mentioned in orientation as happening sometimes. The company did their best in picking a stable asteroid that didn’t get hit often, but it was unavoidable in the belt to find one that never got hit. He nodded to Jose and the two returned to their controls. That was when the second shake happened.

It was bigger than the first one, and included a loud nose that sounded to Steven like a bomb going off. He immediately shut off his digger and turned around to see that the main tunnel leading back to the Station was collapsing. He thought he saw fire in it. Then, he noticed that there were men in that tunnel. Immediately, he unbuckled his harness and pushed himself across the room towards the tunnel.

The whole complex was still shaking, as if it were in the throes of a huge earthquake, but flying across the weightless chamber, he didn’t feel it anymore, only watched it. It was an odd sensation, but he pushed those thoughts out of his mind and tried to angle his trajectory towards one of the emergency tethers. He grabbed it and the hand hold next to it, landing slightly harder than he intended. Then, calling to the men in the tunnel, he three the line to them. Before they had even grabbed it, however, he felt a presence behind him. It was Darrel, a large, mostly silent man who worked one of the other diggers. He grabbed the tether behind Steven, nodding in readiness to pull.

Steven turned back to the three men, who were now blocked from going back up by falling rocks. One looked like he had been hit by one, but the others had tied the line to him. Then, they tied it around themselves and gave Steven a thumbs up. Steven and Darrel pulled. It a weightless environment, it didn’t take much. The three men hurtled into the room out of the tunnel, which continued to collapse. As soon as the men were clear, Steven and Darrel both let go of the tether and pushed themselves away from the dangerous falling rocks and collapsing tunnel. A few moments later, the shaking stopped.

Everyone just stood there, looking back at the tunnel that lead to the Station, their only way out of the small room they were now stuck in. A quick look around revealed to Steven that there were twelve of them, counting Oscar. No one quite knew what to do next. Everyone turned to look at the foreman.

“Okay,” he said, “let’s not panic. First, let’s get a head count and check on injuries.”

He went around the room and confirmed Steven’s initial estimation. Then, they learned that three of them were seriously injured. The man from the tunnel, Dmitry, a Russian, had a broken leg. Another man, David, had done the same, and a third, Steven’s own partner, Jose, had a blade from the digger sticking out of his arm. Apparently, the machine had been pushed into the rock wall, breaking off a several of the blades, one of which hit Jose. Steven was grateful that the injury was only to his friend’s arm, and not someplace more serious like his head or chest.

Oscar continued to direct things. He had two men check the tunnel, to see if it would be possible to dig their way out. He then went to his station to check the phone and see if he couldn’t get a hold of the Station. He quickly found out that there was no connection. All he got was static. Finally, his computer was able to access one of the outside cameras that watched for incoming asteroids. He pointed one around and saw something that made him gasp. Steven rushed up to see what w as going on.

It was the most horrific site he had ever seen. A second asteroid, probably about half the size of Mine 642, had smashed into the rock they were currently trapped in. It landed right where the shuttle bay and the Station were located, smashing in and completely destroying the complex. There were bodies floating in space, and a few fires could still be seen through the leaking atmosphere.

Steven backed away, his had to his mouth, trying to not throw up. There were over one hundred men in the Station. All were dead. And the devices that provided fresh air down to the caves were destroyed. The men in this cave were still alive, but Steven realized right away that they wouldn’t last. They were all dead. All of them.

Twelve men. Steven couldn’t bring himself to look around at them all, because all he could think of was how terrified he was for himself. His kids and his wife went through his mind. What would they be told about how he died? Because he was now certain he was going to die down here. With these twelve men. And he couldn't look them in the eye.

The other men came up to see what was going on, and when they got a look at the screen, they all came to the same conclusion. Steven expected it to be pandemonium, but surprisingly, nothing happened. When he finally made himself look, he saw that they, like him, were shocked into staring off into space. Even Oscar couldn’t bring himself to look at anyone else.

“We’re dead,” Jose said. “There’s nothing that can be done. We’ll die here, floating into what’s left of this rock. Dead.”

That seamed to shake Oscar awake. He looked around and glared at the men in that room.

“Now you all listen here,” he said. “We are not dead yet. There is still a chance that we can be rescued.”

“Right,” Steven said. “A slim one at best.”

“A slim chance is better than no chance,” Oscar said, which caused Steven to actually look at him.

“Listen to me,” Oscar said. “We are NOT dead yet, and until such time as I see that we are most assuredly dead, then I will let you all give up. Until then, we continue acting as if we can get out of here, and do all we can to survive.”

“Oh, yeah?” Richard, one of the men that Steven pulled out of the tunnel, asked. “And what can we do about that?”

“Well, for one thing, we can go check out the other abandoned tunnels,” Oscar said. “One of them was our break room, with refrigerators, and another one had the backup generators that we used here for our equipment. We might still have food and power for a little while. I mean, after all, I was able to use my station, right?”

Even Steven had to nod his head about that.

“Okay,” he said. “So we got some food and some power. Maybe we can even hook up the power to the food. It still won’t last that long. It will take another week before the next shuttle comes by.”

“True,” Oscar said, “for the regular shuttle. But we also keep in regular contact with Earth. A report would be sent every night, relayed through the string of satellites. It’ll take a few hours to reach home, but still, they’ll know something is wrong when they don’t get that message.”

“Hey,” Richard said. “Maybe we could use your phone or computer to tap into that satellite network? Send our own message, at least an SOS.”

“That’s an idea,” Oscar said. He glanced back at his desk. “I’m not really the best guy for that, though. I only use the computer to file reports on. Anyone here know how to use a computer enough to hack into the network?”

Slowly, one of the men raised his hand. Everyone turned to look at him.

“My name is Michael,” he said in some accent Steven couldn't quite recognize. “I was caught trying to hack the company’s mainframe several years back, stole a few thousand dollars. My punishment by the court was to pay back every cent. As I couldn’t, I was assigned to work here, until my payment was done.”

“Wow,” Oscar said, then shook his head. “So, you can work this computer? Hack into the network?”

“Well, I don’t know,” Michael said. “Those are government satellites, I’ve never done anything that big before. But, I’m willing to give it a try.”

“Good,” Oscar said. “Good enough. Get to it. Meanwhile, I want other men to check on food and power.”

In a few minutes, Steven found himself on a team that was set to check on the power generators. Jose and Dmitry were also on this team. Together, the three went down the tunnel that led to the chambers where the generators were stored. It was pretty easy going, as far as traveling down a tunnel with no gravity was concerned. But it had Steven worried. This tunnel was going in the direction that the other asteroid hit Mine 642. He had a bad feeling.

When they got there, he felt his feeling was justified. Fully half of the chamber was collapsed in on itself, and they could see chunks of the other rock through the rubble. Three of the four generators were smashed or buried completely, totally unusable. That left just one generator. He shook his head. It wasn’t going to be enough.

“It’ll do,” Oscar said. Steven tried to protest, and Dmitry was right there with him, but Oscar just wouldn’t hear of it. “It’s all we got, there’s no use in trying to make the situation worse than it is. It’ll do, because it’ll have to. Will do things like shut off lights in areas we’re not using. We’ll move the fridges here, and shut off lights there too. Everything we can do to preserve energy. We’ll make it.”

The food hunting group had a little better luck. It turns out that the shift before had a pot luck, and there was plenty of left overs, including stew, pot roast, chicken, sandwiches and even pizza. Combined with the food left in there from the other minors and staff, there was enough food to keep everyone fed for a week. Steven hoped that would be enough. Oscar decided that they would need to ration right away, so as to drag out the food supply. Everyone would only eat once a day, bringing the food supply to three weeks. It would be tough, but they could make it.

Harder would be the water supply. It didn’t fare as well, being that the majority of it was back at the Station. Still, there was a tank with a good thirty gallons of water left. They would ration that as well. Now, really, all they could do was wait. Oscar couldn't force them to follow his orders, but they all agreed to do so anyway. Not that there was much to do. Over the next few days, they mostly sat in the dark, with the lights off. Dmitry and Jose told ghost stories from other mine jobs they had worked on, but other than that, there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. Steven couldn’t bring himself to join in conversation most of the time. He still felt that all they had done was delay the inevitable.

Finally, things started to look up. One day four, they received a reply via the satellite network. The company was sending a rescue crew, and was being back up by the Earth government. Specialists in Asteroids were already on the way, and in fact would probably arrive not a day after they received this message. They were asked to preserve as much generator power as possible, and also to try not to expend any energy if not necessary, so as to preserve the oxygen. Steven snorted, as they were already doing both of these.

“Why do you do that?” Dmitry said. “Snort like that. They are coming. We will be rescued. Why do you snort?”

“Why?” Steven asked, the whole thing getting to him. “Because it’s ridiculous. What do they think we’re doing in here? Running in circles with the lights on? Of course we’re preserving oxygen and electricity. We don’t have a choice, and I’m sure they know that. It’s all pointless, anyway. They won’t be able to simply dig down to us, we’re too deep in. It would take them days to simply dig down. We’ll run out of oxygen before then.”

“You are very negative,” he replied back. “You only try to help when Oscar commands it. If you’ve given up, fine. But don’t try to make the rest of us give up.”

“Make you?” Steven said. “There’s nothing to give up! We’re already dead!”

That seemed to set Dmitry over the top. He swung at Steven, hitting him square on the jaw. Steven leaped at the other man, grabbing hair and punching in the gut as he went. They took a few more swings at each other before Oscar got to them and pulled them apart.

“Are you two idiots?” he yelled. “Don’t you realize that by fighting, you’re just waisting oxygen? You’re only killing us faster. Steven, I know the situation is dire. But it’s not hopeless, and as long as we’re alive, I’ll keep fighting. Dmitry is right, you want to give up? Fine. Go do it over there and leave the rest of us alone.”

Steven nodded and moved across the chamber. He didn’t quite leave the light, though. He couldn’t do that. He pulled out his wallet when he was alone, and looked at the pictures he had there of his family. Tears ran down his face as the others got back to planning.

“Guys,” Richard said. “We’ve got some trouble. We’ve been conserving as much energy as we can, but according to what they need from us when they get here, we’re short several hundred terrawatts. I don’t know what else we can do to give it to them.”

Everyone kept silent. What more could they do?

“can we shut off all the lights?” Oscar asked.

“It won’t make that much of a difference,” Richard replied.

“There’s gotta be something we can do.”

Steven turned to look back at them. It all seemed so hopeless. And cold. He realized it was cold over here, but warmer over by Oscar’s desk. That made sense, his desk had a heater by it. Then, something occurred to him.

“The heaters,” he said. Everyone turned to look at him. “We could turn off the heaters. It would get damn cold in here, and quick too, but we could do it. There’s some thermal blankets in the storage bins by Oscar’s desk.”

“Richard?” Oscar asked.

“That... would work,” Richard said. “If we shut them all off, including the one around the generator. It would give the rescue team what they need.”

A few moments later, everyone was huddled under thermal blankets. There wasn’t enough for each man to get his own, but there was enough that they only had to huddle in groups of three. Dmitry and Jose welcomed Steven into their group. He nodded and came up with them. Steven realized that he really wanted to live. He wanted to get out of here, to see Pam again. And he wanted it bad enough to believe that they might be able to make it out.

Even with the blankets, it was pretty cold. Mostly, Steven tried to sleep, as did most of the other men. One meal a day didn’t give you a lot of energy, which was fine, as they couldn’t do much anyway. On the next day, they got the signal from the rescue crew that they were beginning their efforts. They asked for a head count and were please to find that all twelve men were still alive. A few hours later, Steven thought he could feel a breeze.

“Hey, guys,” he said. “You feel that?”

The others started to stir. Then, they nodded. Richard went to the computer and checked for messages. There was one waiting for a reply, so he responded that they were still here, but that now they could feel a breeze. Was it the first signs of a leak?

“Not a leak,” Richard read. “It means that phase one worked. We managed to snake in a small tube through the small space between the other rock and yours to pump in air. This will save us a lot of effort We’re working on how to get you food and water. We might be able to do something similar. In the mean time, hold tight and enjoy the fresh air.”

“How are they going to send us food via a small tube?” Richard mused.

“Protein shakes,” Oscar replied immediately. When everyone looked at him, he shrugged. “This isn’t my first mine collapse. Oh, its the first one I’ve been trapped in, but I’ve helped rescue men from being trapped before.”

Sure enough, the next day, they got a water tube down to the men. They kept in pretty constant contact with everyone down there, and Steven was even able to get a message to his wife, and heard back from her as well. She was terrified, and he couldn’t blame her. He was too. But, he told her, have hope. It’s all they had down there, in that rock floating in space.

For another week they huddled down there, cold under their blankets. They ran out of food, and occasionally, the water was replaced with that protein shake that Oscar mentioned. It tasted horrible, but it kept them all alive, so as far as Steven was concerned, it was the Nectar of the Gods. Tensions were high. Communications were pretty steady, twice a day, to let the men know of the rescue team’s progress. The digging was progressing, but very slowly.

Then, things started to turn really bad. Jose got sick. He broke out in sweats and a fever, and his wound started issuing puss under the bandage. They told the rescue team, but there wasn’t an immediate response. The next hour was extra tense. Oscar ordered the men to move Jose to a separate part of the room. They lashed him to the sifting machine, and wrapped him up in the blanket. They washed his wound as best as possible, and used the first aid kit to give him a clean bandage. But, he didn’t look good.

Steven felt real fear at this point. It was different from the numb fear he had when this all started. This was sharp, jabbing right into his heart, and hurt. Jose was his friend. It was one thing to think they were all going to die down here. It was another entirely to think that one of them, especially one he cared about like he did Jose, would go first, and in a painful way like that. Steven didn’t consider himself a religious man. He left that mostly to his wife. But he prayed now. For the first time during this entire ordeal, he prayed. God, let Jose live. It was a simple prayer, but it was the best he knew how to do. He just hoped it was enough.

Finally, after that hour, they got a response from the rescue team. They were asked some questions about Jose’s specific symptoms, and after getting the responses, they disappeared again.

“This is bad, isn’t it Oscar?” Richard asked.

“Maybe,” Oscar said. It was the first time he didn’t sound positive that all twelve of them were getting out. “If they’re not talking to us, it’s because someone topside as told them Jose won’t make it. It means they’re trying to come up with a faster, but riskier, method of getting us out of here, so they can rescue Jose as well.

A few hours later, the team responded. They confirmed what Oscar said. The doctors topside said that if they didn’t get to Jose quickly, he just wasn’t going to make it. So, they were going to try a very risky plan, but they weren’t going to do it unless all the men agreed. They were going to use explosives to blow a huge hole in the rock. It would cause another collapse, which could injure them more, or even bury them. But if it worked, it would provide a tunnel to the room they were trapped in. It would also cause explosive decompression. Some of the men might be thrown out into space. They had a back up plan for that. They would be putting a dome around the explosion, so as to keep the air in and prevent as much decompression as possible. They also had teams watching all around the asteroid. They had special boxes to try and capture anyone thrown outside before the vacuum could kill them. Ideally. There was still a chance that everyone down there could be killed. As much as a 40% chance, and a 90% chance that more people would be injured.

“But they could rescue Jose, “ Steven said. “I saw we go for this option.”

Several other’s nodded. Oscar raised his hands for attention.

“This has to be unanimous. We either all agree, or this doesn’t get done,” he said. He looked around the room, one by one. Everyone slowly nodded, or raised their hand, indicating that they were agreement. They would go with this plan. They sent the message back up top.

It only took the rescue team an hour to set up. They told the team to take what cover they could and hang on. Everyone gathered around the sifter with Jose. Then the countdown began. It was the longest ten seconds in Steven’s life. Four. Three. Two. One. The entire cavern shook violently, and the roof and floor both started to collapse. Steven, in one of those weird moments where your mind goes someplace different than the danger around you, wondered why he didn’t hear an explosion. A large rock came down and him him, cutting a gash across his arm. More came down, and the men raised their blankets to protect themselves. That helped for the most part, but the bigger rocks still hurt them.

There was no explosive decompression. That was good, it meant their dome worked. The shaking and rock falling only lasted a few minutes this time, but when it was all done, they found that they were buried again. This time, all around them rather than just the tunnel mouths. Their large cavern turned into a small circular chamber only big enough to hold them. Everyone had wounds now, and Oscar only avoided a head wound because of his helmet.

A few moments later, Steven could hear something.

“Did you hear that?” he said. “It sounds like...”

“Drilling,” Oscar said quietly. They all listened. It was drilling. The rescue team was drilling through the rubble that had sealed them in. This was it. In a few moments it was all over. Steven and these eleven other men would all be rescued. Freedom. He knew then that he would leave behind their cavern and return to his wife. And he couldn't be happier to be rid of the place. But he also knew that he would never forget Mine 642.

The End

Week 42

Well here we are again, with one more story. I've been busy with NaNoWriMo prep that this story comes a little late. Sorry about that, I'll try to be more on time next week. :)

In the mean time, this week's story was inspired by real life news events. I'm not sure it's all that good, but it was one of those stories that I had to write. Glad that it's out of my head and on paper... or web page, as the case may be.

So, enjoy, and see you all next week!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Cleaning House

So, here I am, gearing up for the massive endeavor that is National Novel Writing Month. And like most WriMo’s, this includes outlining my novel, getting to know my characters and generally lots of other writerly activities. But there is one thing I need to do in order to make sure my mine is focused on the task at hand in November. Something I hardly hear spoken about by other WriMo’s. Cleaning House.

I mean that in the most literal sense of the word, too. I have dishes that need to be cleaned, so that keeping them clean during November is easy and doesn’t interfere with my writing. I need to vacuum the carpet. I need to clean out the cat’s litter box. In short, I need to clean house.

Oh, sure, some of these will still be done during NaNo. Dishes get used despite my best efforts to the contrary. But at least I can make sure they are all clean before the month starts. Clothing will be worn and dirtied, but I can make sure that the piles don’t just get added to the existing piles before NaNo starts. Some things can be skipped during the month, like dusting and vacuuming, but especially if I do them before November.

So, my biggest preparation for the week or so before NaNo is to clean house.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some dishes waiting for me to clean them.

-Chris

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Plans for NaNoWriMo

Yes, that’s right, I have signed up to do NaNoWriMo this year. For those few reading this that don’t know, this is National Novel Writing Month, where those of us who are crazy attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. You can learn more here: http://www.nanowrimo.org.

Now, some of you have already asked me how I plan to do NaNoWriMo AND write one story a week for this blog. The answer is simple. I’m going to combine the two. I have been spending the last couple of months outlining a novel that tells one overarching story through several short stories. Each story will still fit the rules I have set for myself here, and be between 5,000 and 7,500 words.

Pretty simple, right? And easily doable as part of NaNoWriMo. Now, comes the second question, the one that is asked after someone does some math. With at least 50,000 words to write, and assuming an average of 5,000 words a story, that’s ten stories. And only nine weeks left in the year. And if my outline is any indication, I’ll have at least twelve or thirteen stories. So, what do I do with those left over stories?

I’ll keep posting one a week here, of course. Yes, that means I’ll be posting more than a years’ worth of short stories, but it’s only fair, since I’ll have written the last two months worth of stories in one month anyway.

And no, there won’t be any “to be continued” stuff going on. Each story will be a complete stand alone story. That’s the plan, and so far my outline is holding up to it, so I think I can stick it out.

So, there you have it in a nutshell. I will get out a story this week, and next week will be my last regular story. Then, NaNoWriMo, and all the remaining stories will be part of a single, long story.

Now, this may lead to another question. At least it has in me. What will I do once I’ve finished writing one short story a week for a whole year?

Good question, and one I’ve been giving some thought to lately. I’ll be keeping this blog up, of course, and may even post to it on occasion, when I’ve edited a story here, or to let you all know if I’ve got a story published some place or something. But what I’ll likely do is create another blog, one dedicated to my journey to publication. When I figure out where that blog will be located in the Web, I’ll let you all know. Meanwhile, keep in mind that there will are still two and a half months left to the year, and more if you count the end of the novel I’ll be writing next month. There will be plenty of stuff here to keep you all entertained for a little while.

For those of you that are also doing NaNo, please buddy me here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/88058

In the mean time, keep reading and enjoy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Darklight

No one really knew what the ruins once were. Lush gardens were now overgrown with vines and small trees, grass growing up between and over the stones that made up the roads and courtyards of the place. Half-broken columns stood next to piles of rubble that probably were once roofs of grand buildings. Here there were marble feet of some long forgotten hero’s statue, there the upper torso of a woman in robes that once held something in her missing right hand. Only one building had enough walls remaining to see that it was, in fact, a building. Right in front of it, in what was once no doubt a courtyard, stood a mostly intact fountain, now long dried and over run with vines and a small, round red flower.

The monks gathered together in the courtyard of the ruined building, re-using the place as a worship ground, a secret temple. A temple that was secret not only from the prying eyes of the secular world, but also from the rest of their own order. There were 15 monks in all, entering the garden in two rows of 7, with a single monk in front, carrying a large wooden box. He was an older man, in his 50’s, with close-cropped hair and neatly trimmed beard. Despite his age, hardly any gray was showing on his deep, chestnut hair, but his eyes shown with wisdom far beyond even his years, and yet also flared with an unspoken anger that the rest of his body did not betray. Like the other monks, he wore simple garments, an earth brown robe and hood, with a light tan tunic over the top, tied at the waste with a rope belt. There was nothing to distinguish rank or position from one monk to the next.

The monks all moved around a central platform in the center of the garden, were once there may have been a statue. Now, it was a plan marble slab, with out so much as a plaque to tell those form the present what marvel of art once stood here. The older monk with the box moved onto the platform while the others circled it, chanting in quiet voices something that wasn’t quite language, but didn’t cross over into music either. Very carefully, the older monk placed the box in the exact center of the platform, and then pulled small silver bar from one corner, allowing the walls of the box to fall, revealing inside a spherical object.

It glowed a bright white, illuminating the darkening garden as the sun set behind them. Upon close inspection, one could see that it was not, in fact, a sphere, but rather a multi-sided object, a polyhedron of such complexity that it may as well have been a sphere. Once the object had been placed, the older monk looked at his fellows, circling until he made contact with a specific one, and then spoke.

“Brother Angelus, tell me, has Brother Thomas been contacted?”

The monk that was spoken too, Brother Angelus, stepped forward from the circle. He, too, was an older man, but unlike his fellow monk, was not as fit. He was a heavy man, outweighing everyone at the temple this evening by 50 pounds. His massive jowls dominated his face, and his eyes constantly darted from left to right, as if he were expecting someone to jump out of the shadows at him. He was balding, his gray hair thinned to just a slight trail around the back of his head. He nodded as he came forward, causing his jowls to roll and shake, giving one the impression of a well fed pig or cow.

“Oh, yes, Brother Vincent. Brother Thomas is at this very moment being prepared for the pilgrimage to this sacred spot. He should arrive within the week.”

“Excellent,” Brother Vincent said, “well done.” He then turned to the glowing orb on the platform, and kneeled in veneration before it.

“My liege, have you heard?”

Suddenly, the globe’s light changed slightly to a greenish tinge, and it pulsed as a voice emanated from it.

“I have.” It was hallow, and yet some how warm. It seemed to contain all the wisdom of the universe in that one utterance, and at the same time, you felt that it was holding back from you, keeping some special secret all to it self.

“Tell me of this Brother Thomas, Vincent. Is he the man I described?”

“Indeed, he is, my liege. He is a veritable saint, in fact, likely to be sainted after his death. He works with the farmers in his village every week, keeping his body in fit shape and good health. He gives his temples’ money to the poor, and provides shelter to the homeless. His sermons are well respected by both nobility and peasantry alike. He is wise and knowledgeable, not only in our scriptures, but also in the scriptures of other religions, allowing him to answer questions and debate philosophy with the best scholars in the land. It is even said that he is a masterful magician, though if this is true he has never shown this power in the presence of others.”

“Excellent” spoke the orb. “And he will come willingly? The possession will not work if he is not willing to accept me.”

“He will be made to understand, my liege, and once he does, he will agree. He is, as I said, knowledgeable, and will come to understand his sacrifice will be for the benefit of all the world.”

“Good,” said the voice. “Then I will return to my sleep. Do not wake me again until Brother Thomas is before me.”

“As you will, my liege.”

****

“Brother Thomas! Brother Thomas!” the cry came up from the cobblestone path that made it’s way via a series of switchbacks up the steep hill the abbey rested on. The cryer was a young boy, known to the monks at the abbey as Little Timmy, though no one, even Timmy, knew the boy’s truename. He was left at the abbey when he was one, and has stayed there ever sense, learning all the monks have to teach him and running errands for them.

As he reached the gates, they were opened for him, and he continued yelling as he ran inside. A tall man in a monk’s brown robe came rushing out, shushing the boy as he came.

“I’m here, Timmy,” Brother Thomas said. “I’m here. Now, what is it that you would wake the entire valley to get my attention?”

“There is a summons for you,” Timmy said. He pulled a crudely folded parchment from his belt, one that contained the seal of the High Prelate on it. Brother Thomas gently took the missive from the boy, ruffling his hand through his hair as he did so.

“Thank you, Timmy,” he said. “If you go to the kitchen, Brother Rod still hasn’t cleaned out the mashed potato barrels. You might get a second breakfast if you hurry.”

The boy smiled, did a quick and sloppy bow and ran off. Thomas smiled. Though he tried hard and swore that one day he would be a monk too, Thomas knew that Timmy was destined for a more worldly life. He looked back down at the letter and the smile faded. The Prelate wouldn’t be sending a summons to a simple abbey monk. He nodded to Brother Andrew, who nodded back, an acknowledgement that Andrew understood Thomas would not be able to complete his shift on the vegetable garden this morning. He looked back at the folded paper and walked up the stairs to his cell.

Once inside, he waved his hand, and the candle on the reading desk burst into life, spreading illumination around the small room. It was sparsely furnished; a single bed, the reading desk and a stool, and a footlocker which contained some personal items as well as a few extra robes and other clothing, should they be necessary. It was all Thomas needed as a monk. Everything else was provided by the Abbey, and he was content with that.

He sat at the desk and carefully broke the seal on the letter. Then, he unfolded the parchment to see fine, carefully written script across the page. There was no denying that this was an official letter. He sighed. He feared this day was coming. He read it over, and then read it over again to make sure he understood its wording. He sighed again. All his fears were realized. He would need to talk to the Father Abbot. He walked out of the room, waving his hand once, and the candle went out.

He climbed up some more stairs to the top of the three story building, and walked down the short hall to the office of the Father Abbot. He knocked once on the door, and a voice from inside bade him enter. The Father Abbot was sitting behind a large oak desk with finely carved figures of cherubs playing on it. It was the one piece of art in the building, hand crafted by a monk specifically for the abbey some twenty years ago. It was currently piled with papers that the Abbot was studying. He took off his reading spectacles when Thomas entered and smiled.

“Brother Thomas!” he said. “I heard Young Timmy looking for you a few moments ago. I take it the lad found you okay?”

“Indeed, he did, Father Abbot,” Thomas said, making the proper bowing motion. He stood up and handed the paper to the Abbot. The older man picked up the paper and read it. His smile got wider.

“Excellent,” he said. “My recommendation of you worked.”

“Recommendation?” Thomas said. “You recommended me for this?”

“Indeed,” the Father Abbot said. Then, he sighed and turned serious. “Thomas, you’re being waisted here.”

“I do a lot of good...” Thomas started, but the Father Abbot quieted him with a wave of his hand.

“You do do a lot of good,” the Abbot said, “I agree. But you could be doing so much more good working in the High Prelate’s office. You’ve said it yourself, this church needs a re-working. What better place to make that happen than in the heart of the church itself?”

“I wasn’t aware that you shared that opinion with me,” Thomas said, narrowing his eyes.

“Well,” he said, opening his hands and waiving them back and fourth. It was a typical Itathican thing to do, using his hands to talk. The Father Abbot didn’t often show his cultural heritage, but the hand moving habit was apparently hard to break. “I don’t entirely disagree with it, either. The truth is, I do agree that there needs to be changes made at the highest authority, but I don’t agree with all your proposed changes. But, I’m old, Thomas, and set in my ways. You are young, and exactly the kind of man that can get your changes put through. Plus, in the Central City, you can work your way up to being the High Prelate yourself one day.”

“I don’t wish to play the political games needed for such a position, Father,” Thomas said. “I became a priest to aid people, not to make policy.”

“And are you telling me that you can’t do a better job of helping people from the High Prelate’s office? You’ll have access to all his resources, the library, the money, the farms. Think of how many people you could educate, feed, aid with those resources.”

Thomas nodded slowly. It was a valid point.

“Listen, Thomas,” the Abbot said, standing up and walking around the desk. “This is an important move for you. The truth was, the High Prelate’s office was asking about you already. You’ve made quite the reputation for yourself. It’s time you took this step.”

Thomas found himself nodding again. He had become aware that people throughout the church were talking about him. Even the farmers in far off Hightower had heard of Thomas the Kind. He sighed. There really was no way to say no to the High Prelate, anyway. Not, and keep his commission as a priest.

“There, see?” The Father Abbot said, putting his hands on Thomas’ shoulder. “Trust me, Thomas, this really is for the best. Believe me, I really don’t want to loose you here, but you’re not being utilized to the best of your ability here. Go, be who God meant to be. According to this letter, a Knight escort is due here in two days. Take that time to pack and mediate. You will be officially relieved of all duties as of tomorrow morning.”

“But,” Thomas started to protest.

“Uh ah,” the Abbot said. “I’m the Father Abbot. If you choose to work because your packing is done, that’s your choice, but officially, you no longer have any duties here. And that is that.”

Thomas sighed, but then nodded.

“Thank you, Father,” he said. “This talk has been helpful.”

A few hours later found the sun setting and all of Thomas’ packing done. He spent the next meditating, and it was during this time that he had a strange vision. It wasn’t uncommon for Thomas to see things while meditating. His father was a Magus, and thus arcane energies ran through his blood. But this vision was even stranger than most.

He saw a circle of monks, from his order, surrounding a pedestal. He wasn’t sure where he was, but it was obviously a holy place. One monk, in the center of the circle, lowered his hood, revealing a demon’s red face, complete with horns. He smiled and beckoned to Thomas.

“Come, Kind One,” the demon said in a voice that sounded more like two voices. “The possession must take place for our Lord to fulfill his final role in the world.”

Thomas shook himself out of his trance. In all the visions he had ever had, no one ever spoke before. In fact, none of them even had a single sound. This trip he was going to take was going to lead him into danger, he could tell. The visions were always related to his personal future. He couldn’t meditate after that, or sleep that night. He made the decision that first thing in the morning, he would tell the Abbot about this vision. Though Magic wasn’t expressly forbidden to priests, having come from God, it wasn’t taught by the church to its ministers either. The Father Abbot, however, had dome some research in the subject, and so besides Thomas was the only other monk in the Abby familiar with the arcane. In the mean time, he took the time he wasn’t sleeping to write in his journal. He was collecting poems and stories he heard from the farmers, and had heard a few new ones yesterday. Now was as good a time as any to get them down on paper.

Thomas awoke to find that he had fallen asleep at his desk. He had ink smeared on is face and hands. Outside was the bell that noted a visitor was approaching the abbey. Usually, the bell wasn’t rung unless it was someone important. Curious, Thomas rushed outside. He climbed up the stairs in the one and only watch tower on the abby’s outer wall and got there to see a small crowd of other monks. They were all mumbling to themselves. Who was it? A representative of the king?

Thomas squinted in the morning light. He cursed to himself when he saw how high in the sky the sun was. He had missed morning meditation and prayer. He pushed that thought aside, however, when he got a clearer look at the arriving figure. It was on a horse, but whoever it was they were alone. That, in and of it self, was unusual. The area around the abbey wasn’t dangerous, but it was rare that anyone made the trip up the hills on their own. It looked like the person was wearing armor... plate armor?

“It’s a knight!” one of the monks cried out, pointing towards the figure.

A knight? From what order, Thomas wondered? What would a knight be doing out at a remote abbey? This couldn’t be his escort, could it? That wasn’t supposed to arrive for a few more days. The knight arrived at the gate, and Thomas got a better look at the knight. It was an imposing figure, astride one of the great horses of the Thunderplains, itself wrapped in plate. The plate of the knight was a bright silver color, trimmed with gold, but despite these colors, it was not shiny. And it was also well used, with various nicks and small dents all over it. Then, Thomas saw the knight’s shield, a blue field with a white griffin on it, standing on its hind legs.

“Not just any knight,” said the Father Abbot, who Thomas was surprised to find was standing right behind him. “A Knight of the Silver Griffins.”

They were the most powerful and well respected knights in the realm. They were not connected to anyone kingdom, and only marginally connected to the church. They claimed to serve the word of God itself, and fought for justice and peace throughout the world. This couldn’t possibly be his escort. It was too much, even coming from the High Prelate. He turned to the Father Abbot, about to comment on that, when he remembered the vision he had last night.

“Father,” he said, “I need to talk to you.”

“I know,” the Abbot said in a small voice. “But I cannot. Here, take this, but do not read it until you are two days away from here. Be safe, Thomas. Trust in God and your escort, and you will do the right thing.”

The Abbot handed Thomas a sealed letter, and then rushed off. What was that about? Before he could figure it out, Thomas saw Little Timmy waving to him from the courtyard below. He was next to the knight, whose helmet was removed to reveal long, flowing red hair and a round, soft feminine face. A woman? There were women knights, Thomas knew, but he had never heard of one winning a place in the Silver Griffins. That was an elite knight hood reserved for battle knights. Women usually served in healing or magical orders of knighthood. His curiosity piqued, Thomas walked down the tower to talk to this stranger.

“Are you Brother Thomas?” the woman asked in a strong voice when he got down there. Straight to the point, he thought.

“I am,” he said. “And you are?”

“I am Dame Trina of the Order of the Silver Griffin, and I am here to escort you to the High Prelate,” she said.

Thomas raised an eyebrow. “Escort duty seems below one of your station, if I may be so bold, Dame Trina,” he said.

“Our duty is to serve the Will of God, Brother,” she said. “Whatever form that may take.”

“Well spoken” he said. “Very well. Will you come in for some food? I can smell breakfast being cooked now.”

The woman looked towards the direction of the kitchen, the smell of cooking eggs and vegitables enticing. She nodded once, and then climbed down for the horse.

“We should leave soon, though,” she said after doing so.

Once again, Thomas raised his eyebrow, and she returned the expression to him, as if to say ‘I only follow the will of God. I do not ask questions.’ He nodded his head to her, trying to stifle a sigh. The good news was that his meager possessions were already packed. They went and ate. Thomas found himself gawking with the rest of the monks and the knight’s eating habits. She shoved in food as if she hadn’t eaten in days, and drank from her goblet before the food was completely chewed. It was not only shocking for a woman to each in such a manner, but for a knight of her station to do so as well. Where had she com from?

After breakfast, she was eager to leave, almost as if she expected something to happen. He gathered his belongings, was granted a horse by order of the Father Abbot, and rode off from the Abbey with Dame Trina. They rode together in silence for the first hour of their journey. It was almost enough to get to the next nearest town, Hillside. They were a few hill sides away when the sky exploded in fire. Great balls of fire fell from the sky, shattering into the hillside and setting the woods around them on fire. Thomas cried in fear, trying to reign in his horse, who was desperately trying to run back to the abbey.

Trina rode up to him, her horse hardly seeming to notice the fire all around them. She pulled out her sword, which was glowing a bright white color. She waved the sword over his head, and the light from the sword spread over them both, forming a dome of white. She said a few words and touched the tip of the sword on his horse, who immediately fell calm.

“We must wait out the fire storm,” she said.

“You’ve experienced this before?” he asked in shock. She seemed so calm.

“No,” she said simply. “But it was not unexpected.”

He stared at her in shock. “Not unexpected?” he said. “Okay, I think it’s time you told me what was going on here. Why am I being summoned to the High Prelate? Why are you, a Knight of the Griffin, my escort? And what in the Seven Hells is happening out there right now?”

She stared at him with eyes that were cold, controlled. For a second he flinched at that glare. But then he decided to stand his ground. He deserved to know what was happening to him. He glared back at her, trying to suppress his fear. He was sure he failed at that, but he continued to stare at her nonetheless. The sounds of roaring fires and falling balls of flame could be heard outside. Thomas noted that he couldn’t feel the heat inside the white dome. Eventually, Trina sighed. She got off her horse and reached into her saddle bag for her bed roll. She motioned for Thomas to do the same, and he did, still glaring at her as best he could.

“I had been lead to expect that you were a patient man, Brother Thomas,” she said.

“Well, when I don’t have balls of fire raining down on me and mystic knights protecting me, I am pretty patient,” he replied. She nodded in understanding.

“Very well then,” she said. She spread out her bed roll and then pulled out some trail rations, again indicating that Thomas do the same. She then sat down. She waited for Thomas to get settled, that she pointed towards the dome. “There have been reports of fire storms like this appearing all over the Nine Kingdoms. We are still unclear if they happen outside them, but it’s irrelevant at this moment. These storms are not natural. They are a thing of great evil.”

Thomas took a moment to look up, as if he could see the storm through the white barrier. Then he looked back at her. “How do you know this?”

She sighed again. “I belong to a secret society, one that has members from both the church and the knighthood, and even some merchants and nobility. It is a group that has been in existence for thousands of years, with the stated goal of keeping an eye on those with power, to make sure that peace and justice rules the world. We are called the Order of the Golden Serpent.”

“I’ve heard of them,” Thomas replied. “I always thought they were a myth, something made up by the old High Prelates to justify the Inquisitions.”

“No,” she replied. “Though the order was a direct result of the First Inquisition. When reports first came in of these storms, we did research. It turns out these happened once before. Five thousand years ago, during the reign of the Elven Kingdoms.”

“I know this story,” Thomas said. “A great evil had spread through the land, burning villages, corrupting the churches and nobles, and generally causing great suffering. Eventually, a hero appeared, a knight of such pure heart that he was able to resist the evil and captured it, putting it into a gemstone, where it will stay for all time.”

“Yes,” she said. “The descriptions of this evil match events that are happening in the world of late. These storms are just one. And we have traced these events to the High Prelate.”

“Wait,” Thomas said. “I’m a believer. I trust in God to direct me, and was even willing to believe that this ancient, almost mythical evil of old could be returning. It’s hard to argue with a storm of fire. But you want me to believe that this is all connected to the High Prelate?”

“You have been in this remote monastery for a while, but even at that, you must surely have noted the strange orders coming from his office?”

This caused Thomas to pause. The Father Abbot got some orders from the High Prelate just a few months ago, and the result was an end to the feeding of the poor. A few weeks later, the Father Abbot suggested that those monks who wished could begin training in the staff and spear, as was the tradition during the High Wars of a thousand years ago. He told Thomas that the request came from the High Prelate. He looked at the Knight, and nodded.

“We have other evidence that you have not seen,” she said. “It is getting dark out there. The church has began a pogram against other religions, and is using the political tensions with Suthmar to fuel it.”

Suthmar was the only one of the Nine Kingdoms that didn’t follow the Church. Instead, they followed some convoluted pantheon of gods. This major cultural difference caused much strife between Suthmar and the other kingdoms. This news disturbed Thomas.

“We do not know what his interest in you is,” she said, “only that if he has an interest, it cannot be good. So I was sent to detour you.”

“Detour me to where?” he asked. It was clear by this point she wasn’t taking him to the High Prelate.

“To a village a few days from here. There, you will be transferred to some other members of the Order, who will know better what your role in all this is.”

“How do I know that you haven’t been corrupted by this evil?” Thomas asked.

Trina smiled. “Good, keep that suspicion,” she said. “What do you know of the Knights of the Silver Griffin? Specifically, about our swords?”

“Only what all the stories say,” he said. “They are magical, and the magic in the sword is different for each person. And that the swords are said to only be held by those of the purest heart.”

“They are not mere stories,” she said, pointing again to the shield. “My talent is protection. I can create these energy shields with my sword. It was why I was chosen to get you. But, as long as I hold this blade and it does not burn me, you can be assured that I am not corrupted.”

He nodded, still not quite convinced. He started to question more, but she cut him off.

“Eat,” she said. “Then we sleep. Our reports state that these storms last for several hours. We may as well rest while we can. We will need our strength in the morning.”

Thomas couldn't argue with that. This was all a lot to take in. He ate his rations in silence and when finished, rolled into his bed roll and fell asleep. When he awoke, the white dome was gone, and his heart immediately started beating hard. He sat up straight, looking for the falling balls of fire, and when he glanced to the Knight’s bedroll, he saw that Trina was not there. He panicked further, getting to a standing position before he realized that the sky was a clear blue. No fire. He glanced around and saw that much of the forest was burnt down, however. Charred remains of trees could be seen for miles.

But that still left he question of the Trina was. He reached out his hand and his walking stick flew up into it. He gripped it uncertainly in front of him, not sure what he woudl do if there was danger out there. He was a monk, not a warrior. He heard a snapping sound from behind him and twirled, his thin walking staff clumsily flinging around, hitting his hours in the processes.

“Peace, Brother,” Trina said. “I am not your enemy.”

Her eyes contained a smile, and Thomas realized just then how foolish he had been.

“It is fine, Brother,” she said. “It is good to see that you are at least properly frightened. Though you should probably be more prepared to run, or defend your self with that magic I saw you use, rather than fight with a staff that will break after one solid hit.”

Thomas looked down and then back up. She had seen him use his magic to pick up the staff.

“I’m not a Magus,” he said. “Not a true one, any way. My father was a fully trained Magus. I just have some natural skill with it due to my blood.”

She nodded. “Still better for you to use that to protect yourself that relying on physical combat.”

He could only nod at that. He had not been one of the monks that had taken up the spear training.

“Come,” she said. “We must be on our way. The devastation seems limited to a few miles, Hillside should have escaped unscathed. We can get dinner there and be on our way.”

“We are we going, ultimately?” he asked.

“A fishing village called Crystal Lake,” she said.

Thomas wasn’t familiar with that village, but that wasn’t surprising. His geographical knowledge was limited to the area a few miles away from the Abbey, which only included the two villages, and no lakes. He packed his saddlebags and the two of them rode off. For the most part, it was a pleasant ride, with the exception of the devastated forest. His companion was rather quiet, but he could appreciate that. He found himself wishing he could read a book if she wasn’t going to talk, but reading a book on a horse was next to impossible.

A few days later, they arrived at the fishing village. Thomas understood immediately why it was called Crystal Lake. The lake behind the town was so large that the end of it couldn't be seen beyond the horizon. The water was mostly still, and by the town was so clear the bottom could be seen. The scene as they rode in was very picturesque, with the lightly wooded hills surrounding the log cabins, smoke curling lazily out of the chimneys. Thomas didn’t see any boats on the water, but he figured that the fishermen were probably further out, beyond the horizon.

When they rode into the town itself, they were greeted by a commitee. Mostly, it was made up of women, probably the wives of the fishermen. However, several monks were there as well. Thomas smiled at them, and they smiled back.

“Welcome to Crystal Lake, Dame Trina and Brother Thomas,” one elderly woman said. “We have been expecting you. I am Matron Donna wil’Tor. If you would, we can take your horses to our stable and prepare them for our good Knights return journey. Brother, please let me introduce you to Brother Andrial. He is to be your guide in town.”

Both Trina and Thomas smiled, glad to be off their horses and in some place safe. Thomas was lead away by Andrial, while Trian followed the horses. Knights were particular about their mounts, so this wasn’t something Thomas questioned. Andrial guided him through the village, and to the church. It was a simple structure, and the four monks Thomas had seen at the welcome were all there were in town. He felt like this was a place he could really make his home. Andrial was to be Thomas’ guide to the next stage of his journey, to the sacred place. He was still uncomfortable about all this, but he wasn’t sure what else to do besides go along.

Andrial had a fine lunch prepared for them of spiced fish and some local root Thomas had never head before. It was all very tasty. Yes, he could indeed get used to living here. He was shaken out of his revere by sounds of screaming outside. He and the other monks ran outside, where they saw several squat, gray beings running through the people with bright red stocking caps on their otherwise naked bodies. They carried curved, serrited blades and crude wooden shields, and were slaughtering the town folk. Every time a town person fell to one of their blades, he would stop to dip his hat in the blood.

Goblins! Red Caps! Thomas couldn’t believe this. They were just myths, evil faries, not real. And yet, here they were, terrorizing this peaceful fishing village. He saw one running towards a small child, who was standing crying over the dead body of her mother. Thomas cired out.

“NO!”

The cry seemed to spread out form him in a wave, and reverberated through the village. Everyone stopped to look at him. Then, all the goblins got wicked smiles on their faces, and charged at him.

“That’s our target, boys,” he heard one say. He froze in shock. He couldn’t make his legs work, all he could do was stare at the four curved blades heading towards him. They got closer and closer, spittle dripping out of their yellow, pointed teeth. He could smell the sweat of their bodies, and the blood on their hats. He thought that this was surly the end.

One of the goblins suddenly flew backwards, a large red slash across its chest. It hit the ground dead. Before Thomas could react to that, Trina jumped in front of him, swinging her glowing sword. Another goblin fell, its head no longer attached to the body. The other two paused and looked at her. They moved in a circle, trying to surround her. She moved in such a way as to not only prevent that, but keep Thomas behind her as well. It wasn’t going well for the knight, though. They had spread around her enough that they were no on either side of her, and they stayed just out of range of her blade. If they both attacked her at the same time, she could only block one. Thomas had to do something.

Then, something struck him, something Trina herself had said earlier. He reached his hand out and looked at one goblin’s sword. He willed it to be in his own hand, and much to both the goblin’s and Thomas’ surprise, the blade felw from the goblin to Thomas’ hand. Taking advantage of the creature’s confusion, Trina ducked to the right, the still armed goblin coming at her on her left. She swung her sword in a wide arc killing the disarmed goblin quickly, and then continued the swing as she moved to the right, killing the second goblin as it continued to chace her down.

“I thank you, Brother,” she said to Thomas over her shoulder. “Now, perhaps, you should retreat back inside, with the others of your order.

He turned and saw that the other monks were waving for him to get into the church, and found several other citizens in there as well. He ran to them, and then went to a window to watch. He couldn’t see much, though, as Trina chased the creatures through the town. In a matter of twenty minutes, the battle was over. Bodies littered the streets, more goblins than people. Still, people were dead, and Thomas couldn’t help but feel this was his fault.

“They’re targeting me,” he said to Trina when she retrieved him from the church.

“Indeed,” she replied. “I feel that I should continue with you on the rest of your journey.”

Thomas nodded. Andrial didn’t protest either, grateful for the extra protection. The two made their exit quickly, getting into the church boat and heading towards the other side of the lake. The journey was several hours long, and the sun was setting in the sky when they reached the shore. Thomas was not surprised to see a group of monks, the hoods of their brown robes up.

One man came forward to help them all out of the boat. He lowered his hood to reveal slat and pepper hair and a weathered face. The other monks lowered there hoods as well, and Thomas saw that most of them were older. He was surprised to see a man he knew.

“Brother Vincent?” he said. Vincent had been his teacher back in seminary.

“My boy,” Vincent said, a smile spreading across his face. “I cannot tell you how glad I was to hear that you were our chosen one.”

“I’m not sure I know what’s going on here,” Thomas said.

“All will be explained,” Vincent said, leading Thomas down a path. “Just come this way.”

“I’m afraid you cannot accompany us, Dame Knight,” the monk that helped them to shore said.

“I am here to protect Brother Thomas,” she said. “Where he goes, I go.”

“Please, Dame Knight,” Vincent said. “This is a sacrade place. No weapons are allowed.”

“She’s with me,” Thomas said, suddenly. “I won’t go unless she does.”

Vincent looked from him to the knight then back again. Then he sighed.

“Very well,” he said. “But you must leave your blade here.”

She nodded, and removed the scabbard from her belt and placed it on her horse. The group all headed down the path. It lead through some ruins, the few bits remaining of an arcitechtual style Thomas didn’t recognize. He did recognize what was in the center of the whole thing, though.

“A demon orb!” he cried, pointing to the glowing white ball in the center of the glade.

“Indeed I am, Brother Thomas,” the orb said. “Come to me that we might converse.”

“I will do no such thing, demon!” Thomas said, and he felt Trina at his side. He could tell that she wished she had her sword, but was still ready to protect him.

“Please, Brother Thomas,” Vincent said. “Calm yourself. This is not what it seems. This demon orb is what has allowed us to fight the evil off so far. And with your help, it will aid us in destroying it completely. Listen to what it has to say.”

Thomas looked at Vincent. This was still the man that taught him, all those years ago. His eyes were still sharp. This was not the look of a man possessed by demons. He nodded. For now, he would trust Vincent.

“Keep your eyes open,” he whispered to Trina. She nodded curtly, watching the circle of monks carefully.

“Okay, demon,” Thomas said when he reached the ball. “Speak to me.”

“The evil your brethren have been facing is an ancient demon that, until recently, was captured,” the voice from the ball said. “We were all gretefull for this, for while we demons may be evil, we only wish to conqure this world. This demon, this force, wishes to see the world destroyed. If it is destroyed, we demons would go with it. Do you know the texts of Lycrotes? What he wrote was true.”

Thomas nodded. He head learned of Lycrotes in school. The monk had writen about the creation of the world by God in the 1st century, and he described the angels and demons being made from the very soil of the world itself, so that both would be tied to its destiny.

“What does that have to do with me?” Thomas said.

“Have you heard of the Darklight, Brother?” the voice said.

Again, Thomas nodded. This was even more mythical than goblins. That thought made him pause.

“I see that you have,” the voice said. “Good. What do you know of them.”

“I know that the Darklight is a combination of Angelic light and Demon darkness. It is said to be a power not controllable except by the most pure of heart. A man with the Darklight can reshape the world to his will.”

“That is correct,” the voice said. “Or it can defeat the great evil that plagues it now. You, my dear monk, are to be the Darklight.”

“How is that possible?” Thomas asked.

“You allow me to posses you, providing you with the dark power of demons,” the voice said.

“And where would I get the light of Angels to block your influence?” Thomas said.

“You already posses it,” the voice said. “The power in your very blood.”

“Magus,” Vincent said, touching Thomas on the shoulder.

“My Magus blood?” Thomas said. “But I’m not even trained. Or that powerful. I can only perform a few tricks.”

“Tricks that take most months of study to preform,” the voice said. “You do them with but a thought. You even caused the red-caps to pause in their slaughter with but a word. You are the one, Thomas. The power within you is strong, and these monks around you have sworn that you are of pure heart.”

Thomas looked around at all the monks. He saw hope in their eyes.

“What becomes of you when this happens?” Thomas asked.

“I will be consumed,” he said. “My essence will combine with the power in your blood, and together they will become the Darklight.”

Thomas paused. This demon was sacrificing itself, to protect the world.

“Why?” he asked. “Why would you do that for us?”

“I do not wish to see the world destroyed,” the voice said. When Thomas only stared at the orb, the voice chuckled. “You wish my secret motive, my hidden agenda? Very well. You see, there is a chance, however slight, that you will not be able to fully controll the power. After you have defeated this destructive force, I might have enough presence left to still possess you. Then, I would have control of the Darklight, and would be able to reform the world in my image.”

“So, I save the world at the risk of turning it over to a demon,” Thomas said.

“Do we have any other choice?” Vincent asked. “You have seen the devistation brought about by the fire storms, and now the evil is releasing other evil like the goblins. We must stop it.”

“Thomas, this is your only choice,” the voice said. “Become the Darklight. Take its power. Save your world.”

Thomas closed his eyes and said a quick prayer. He had another of his visions during that prayer. This time, he saw the world on fire, but he saw himself above it, providing rain to the world. He knew then what his decision must be.

“I’ll do it,” he said. “Give me the power, demon. I will save this world, then I will protect it from you.”

“Well spoken, Thomas. Well spoken, indeed.”

And with that, the demon sent its energies into Thomas, and he screamed into the night as the power possessed him. He knew instantly what must be done. The world would be saved, and it would be done by him.

Thomas Darklight.

The End

Week 41

Well, another week, another story. I'm not so sure about this one, I wrote it mostly at work, and there might be some continuity errors in it. I like the idea behind it, and someday may come back to it, but in the mean time, here it is. Also, I think this might be the first story I wrote that comes close to the 7500 max word limit, weighing in at 7300 words. Pretty cool, that part.

Anyway, enjoy, and I'll be back later this week to talk about NaNoWriMo!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bonus Story: Sixty!

It's time once again for a bonus story, dear readers! That's right, I did Leah Petersen's five minute fiction again this week. If you're unfamilier with this weekly flash fiction contest, go check it out! It's pretty simple, we're given a one word prompt, and then must write a story using that prompt in five minutes. It's every Tuesday at 1:30pm Eastern.

http://www.leahpetersen.com/2010/10/5minutefiction-week-twenty-one/#content

I think this week's entry was good enough to post here. So, please, enjoy!

Sixty


Dazriel ducked as another arrow came at him. Three of the black shafted things had already shredded his right wing, making it impossible for him to fly away. He couldn’t use his magic either, making him believe that the arrows were cursed. With no other choice, he kept running. He was hoping to make it to the next village.

He could hear the barking of angel-hounds behind him. These men were professionals. Dazriel had been warned about angel hunters on the upper plain, but he never really expected to see them, never mind be their target. These men were ruthless. More arrows whizzed by, and this time one hit him in the shoulder. He cried out in pain, ducking to the side. His whole shoulder went dead, and he knew then that the arrows were cursed. He wasn’t going to make it.

Then, he broke through the woods and saw a village. He ran. There had to be a temple there, even a small one. The priest could use his magic to protect Dazriel, maybe even send him back to the upper plains. The sounds of the hounds got closer. He looked over his shoulder and saw the large, red beasts making their way through the trees. At least ducking into the forest slowed down their wings.

He turned and spotted the temple. He ran towards it, yelling for sanctuary as he did. A portly priest opened the door, a broad smile on his face.

“Ah, good,” he said. “You’re here.”

“Please, good priest,” Dazriel said. “Help me.”

“Help you?” the priest said. “I think not. I hired those hunters to bring you to me. You see, I wish to replace God as the supreme being, and to do that, I need the blood of angels. Sixty, to be precise. And you, my dear friend, are the last.”

The angel-hounds closed in from behind. Dazriel screamed as the fat monk laughed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book

Shala had never been to the Book Seller before. The very thought of going to one willingly made her wonder if she was insane. She reminded herself that didn’t have any other choice. It was this, or death. Despite this line of thought, she couldn’t bring herself to actually walk into the building. She stood stock still, right outside its doors.Several people stared at her as they walked by, and saw the look of judgement in their eyes. There were only two reasons to go to a Book Seller, and it was obvious from the way Shala was dressed that she wasn’t there to buy. She pushed aside her embarrassment and allowed her anger to flare. She would show these people what she was really made of.

She stood up straight and walked into the building with a determined look on her face. Once she stepped inside, however, she faltered again. The inside of the building was dark. Not pitch black, but dark enough to make things seem deeper and keep you wondering if you were seeing everything. It put her off her edge, which was probably it’s purpose. A young woman wearing the white robes of a scholar-slave came around the corner. She stopped upon seeing Shala, and then smiled.

“Welcome madam,” she said. “Are you here for a binding?

Shala hesitated once more. Answering that question would be the end. There is no turning back at this point. Finally, she screwed up her determination and nodded.

“Excellent,” the woman said. “Allow me to guide you back to our Book Sellers, who shall walk you through the contract and then bring you to a binder.”

They walked down a short cooridor that ended in a door. Beyond the door was another long corridor, also cast in darkness. This corridor had many doors on it, none of them marked. The scholar-slave, however, seemed to know where she was going. She stopped at what appeared to Shala to be a random door, and opened it. A man was sitting behind a desk in a dark blue suit. He was busy with what appeared to be an abacuss and a pile of coins. He shoved the coins into a bag when he saw the two women at the door.

“Ah, good,” he said. “Another binder voulinteer, then?”

The scholar-slave nodded and left. Shala entered the room after the man invited her to, and sat down in the only other chair in the room.

“My name is Marik,” he said. “I’m here to answer any questions you may have, as well as explain the processes and get some information from you.”

He pulled out a wax stylus and a carving pen, quickly scribbling something on it. Shala was illiterate, and so couldn’t understand what he was doing.

“Now,” he said. “Is it safe to assume that you are coming to us because you owe debts that you cannot pay off?”

Sara was shocked to hear that the Seller already knew this. Where they somehow following her?

“There’s no need to be embarrassed,” he said. “It’s quite common. In fact, some of our best books came from overwhelming debt.”

Eventually, she nodded her head, and he smiled, marking something down on his stylus. “Now, I’ll just need your name, age, and Citizen Identification Number.”

Shala gave all three to the man, showing him the plastic card that had her ID number on it. He nodded and smiled again, and wrote more thins down. For someone that was taking her life, he seemed to be very friendly about it all.

“Excellent,” he said after getting all her information. Then, his look grew serious. “Now, before we go any further, I need to ask you an important question. Are you completely aware of what it is you are doing? Do you realize that you are giving up your life as a citizen in doing this? This decision should not be take lightly, and we would also like to make sure that our books are not going to try and run away from us.”

Shala nodded her head. She had heard all about the life of a book, and while it didn’t sound really fun or pleasant, it was far better than the life she had now. Jobless, homeless, in so much debt that even if she found a job, she would never be able to pay it all off. By becoming a book, she gave up her citizenship to become someone’s property, but in return, all her debt was erased and she avoided the hangman’s noose. Living as a book was better than dying as a debtor.

“Okay, then,” he said. For just a brief moment Shala thought she saw his smile falter. But if it did, it came right back. “I’ll just need you to sign here. If you can, just make your mark and tell me your name, so I can put that down.”

She told him her name and marked the wax with the stylus. He smiled at her and then thanked her. He opened the door to his office, and she found that another scholar-slave was waiting for her. She stood up and followed the white robed man down more corridors. She wasn’t quite sure how long she walked, but the whole place seemed impossibly large compared to the outside. Eventually, though, they came to specific door, and the scholar-slave stopped.

“Beyond this door is the Book Binder,” he said. “You will be with him for the next week, as he binds the book onto your skin. You are to do as he says, understand?”

Shala nodded. He nodded back, but this man did not smile. He opened the door, and Shala was lead into a large, well light room that nearly blinded her with the brightness. There were low couches and pillows everywhere, and a few tables that held trays of nuts and dried fruits. She sat down to wait and the scholar-slave left. It didn’t take long before someone came to get her. He was a large man, bare chested and muscular, with a balding head and gray hair pulled back into a long pony tail. His arms were covered in tatoos of different designs, mostly glyphs or tribal images. This, then, would be the Book Binder.

“Stand,” he said in a gravely voice. Shala obeyed. “Turn around.”

He looked her up and down, and then nodded.

“Good, you’re a big one,” he said, referring to Shala’s girth. She had never before heard anyone say her 250 pounds were good. She wasn’t sure she liked it now. “We can put a longer book on you. Come on.”

He lead her down a short hall to a large room. Inside were several pools, and it all smelled of soap.

“Clean yourself,” he said, pointing to a pool. “One of my women will be by shortly to take care of you hair.”

With that, he left. Not knowing what else to do, Shala stripped and got into the pool. The water was warm and inviting, and she luxeriated in it and the soap. Some time later, a thin woman appeared.

“You are new book, then?” she asked. Shala nodded. “Good. Come, we’ll take care of that hair of yours.”

She led Shala to a set of chairs on the far wall of the bath room. Once in, the woman set about cutting off all of Shala’s hair and shaving her scalp. When she was done, Shala looked very different, but her head was smooth and clean, and there was hardly any burning. She also felt five pounds lighter. She felt the top of her head. She missed her hair. Too late to go back now, though. This was when Shala learned that a shaved head was the least of the humilations she would go through. The woman also shaved her legs and then used a hot wax on them. She also shaved Shala’s private areas. There was to be no area of skin left covered by hair.

The woman stood her up and lead her, still naked, up some stairs to a room. She was told that this would be her place to sleep when the Binder wasn’t working on her. The actual binding would start tomorrow. And so, Shala, having had a long and emotionally draining day, went to sleep on the small, hard bed. When she went down stairs the next day, the woman was waiting for her and lead her to a third room, where the actual binding would begin. There were several sets of tools around the room, most of which were made of either metal or bamboo. There were also lots of ink. The room was brightly lit, but had a strange, almost dirty smell to it despite the apparent cleanliness. Shala sat in the largest of the two chairs in the room. A few moments later, the Binder came into the room. He carried three very valuable artifacts, actual books with paper in them. Even before the Collapse, paper books were rare, but afterwards, paper was just too expensive to waist on bound volumes. Thus, people like Shala became books.

“Now,” he said, “I like to let my books choose what they will be before sending them off. It’s a small luxury, I know, but I do try what I can to be nice. So, what we have here is ‘The History of Eastern Europe,’ which I admit is kind of stuffy, but what can I do, I just take the orders as they come in. I’ve also got ‘Huckelberry Finn,’ and ‘A Christmas Carol.’ So, which do you prefer?”

Shala blinked. The only one of these she knew was A Chrsitmas Carol. Everyone knew that one. She hadn’t ever seen a book copy of it, of course, but the story of a grumpy old miser and his visit by three ghosts was well known. She chose that one, fond memories of her dad telling her that story running through her head.

“An excellent choice,” he said, as if Shala had just picked a fine wine rather than the book that she would become. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

The next few hours were filled with pain for her as he hammered his ink into her skin. She did her best to ignore the pain and stand still. She knew that if she moved, it would make the processes all the harder and painful. He complimented her on that several times, but it didn’t make the pain any less. After he was don, the woman lead her to the small room upstairs again, where she collapsed into tears, eventually falling asleep. Later, the woman returned with food, and told Shala to eat and sleep, she would need her strength.

Things went pretty much like this for the next few weeks, as every available inch of skin was covered with the words that made up the story she was to carry to her new owner. The Binder was never expressly cruel to her, and the food they gave her was very good, better than what she received back in town. But it was a life of pain those weeks, and she often forgot how long it had been. Years? Hours? She could no longer tell the difference.

Then came the day when the last word was placed on her. It was unceremonious, with the Binder simply declaring “Done.” The woman then led her back to her bed, where she ate and slept as normal. The next day, however, everything changed.

She was awoken by the woman, who lead her through the bath house and cleaned her off. She then sprayed her in perfume, and gave her a long, red robe and cap. These would cover most of the words on her, and mark her as a book. The rob also had words on it, displaying the title of the book she now was. It was called the Book Cover, and she would be required to ware this in all occasions where she wasn’t being read. The woman told her all this while bathing her, even though Shala already knew this, because she had been telling her this for the whole time she was there.

After they were done, the woman led her to a door Shala had never seen before, and when it opened, she found herself blinking and shrinking back from the blinding light of the sun. Though the Binder’s offices were well lit with torches and oil lamps, there were no windows. It had been a long time since Shala had seen the sun.

“Where are we going?” Shala asked as they were lead down the street.

“Books do not talk unless spoken too,” the woman said. The rest of their trip was silent.

Finally, Shala was lead to an open pavilion where she saw several other books waiting in a row as people browsed the backs of their covers. She was placed in the line, facing a blank wall as people browsed. Shala did as directed, and stood there. She tried not to think of how degrading it was for people to look her over as a piece of property, and not a person. She had to remind herself that this was better than death.

She stayed with the Book Seller that owned that stand for nearly a month. Every morning, she would shuffle to her position, back to the world so people could read her title. She got breakfast and lunch while out there, and good portions too. They obliviously didn’t want her to loose any weight. At night, she would return to the Book Seller building and stayed in a large hall with all the other books.

Eventually, though, someone bought her. It was an older woman, who was shopping with a child that couldn’t be more than ten.

“Oh, A Christmas Carol,” the woman said when she reached Shala. “You love this story, how about this one for the first book in your library?”

“Yeah,” the boy said, and Shala cringed slightly at being placed in the personal library of some rich, spoiled little brat. But, her place was to be silent, and be read, not to talk or argue. The boy and his grandmother went to haggle with the Book Seller. They finally settled on a price, and Shala was led to their wagon. She sat in the front, outside, with the rider, who nodded at her. It was the first time since the binding that anyone had looked at her as a person. Shala smiled back. Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as she thought.

The mansion where the boy and his grandmother lived was a good hours ride out of town on the wagon, and Shala was grateful for the first time that her Book Cover had a hood on it. The driver had a water skin with him, and he shared it with her. They didn’t talk, but that was okay with Shala. The simple gesture of acknowledgement was good enough for her.

When they arrived at the mansion, Shala whistled. It was huge. The farms required of all landowners by law surrounded the grounds, but the building itself was amazing. It was at least three stories high, and it was long. It was mostly a subtle cream color, with dark blue and red trim all over it, with the occasional splash of yellow every now and then around windows. All in all, it was a very striking and imposing building. Shala wondered briefly who lived here. She got her answer pretty quickly.

“Is daddy home?” the boy asked.

“The Lord Mayor is still in town on business, I’m afraid, young master,” the servant that answered the door replied.

The Lord Mayor? His son had bought me? Shala thought. It was at once terrifying and thrilling. Living here might be more comfortable than her free life was, even if she was mostly ignored. At the same time, this was the mansion of the man that ruled the city and county she was raised in. She had lived her whole life under this man’s rule. Or at least, his family’s rule.

“Nana?” the boy said, looking at his grandmother. “Can you read me my new book now?”

“Sure, Tev, sure,” the older woman said.

The lead Shala upstairs into what appeared to be a library. There were at least four other books there, all sitting comfortably in chairs or standing against the walls. Shala saw that they were drinking water and eating fresh fruit. When the three of them entered, however, they quickly stood and moved to positions along the wall, book titles facing out.

“Thank you all, but you may retire for the day,” the woman said. “Tev will be reading his new book tonight.”

The other books shuffled out of the room through a side door. The woman, who Shala was thinking of as Nana, directed her to a stool. She knew from her training that she was to disrobe, sit on the stood and be read. She did so, trying hard not to blush. Nana sat in a large, overstuffed chair, and Tev sat in her lap. Nana began reading. After about an hour, Tev yawned, obviously done with the reading that day. Shala noted that, while Nana did the actually out loud reading, Tev was quite capable of reading on his own. This made sense, when she thought about it, being the Lord Mayor’s son and all.

When Tev and Nana had decided to quite reading for the day, Tev climbed down. Then, he did something quite unusual, that wasn’t covered in Shala’s training. He walked around and faced her. Then, he spoke directly to Shala.

“Thank you, book,” he said. Unsure what to do or say in return, she simply nodded her head. The boy left the room, and Shala stood, putting her robe back on. Nana came around to look her in the eye as well. Nana’s look, however, was far more stern than the loving eyes that Tav had.

“Tev doesn’t quite understand that you are a book, not a person,” Nana said. “When he does things like that, you are to do exactly what you just did. Do not speak to him, just nod and let him move on. Do I make my self clear?”

Shala nodded.

“Good,” Nana said. “Through this door is where the other books went. One of them will show you to your quarters and direct you on your duties in this house and as part of Tev’s library.”

Shala nodded again, but then stood there, confused.

“Well?” Nana said, pointing to the door. Shala nodded once more, finally understanding. She left the room through the door to find another red-robbed woman standing there.

“Don’t mind Nana,” she said. “Just remember your place, and she ain’t that bad. Come on, I’ll show you around.”

There wasn’t much to show. The simple hall lead to a large room with several bunks in them. Being the newest, there wasn’t much choice for bunks, but she did the best she could. None of the other books seemed all that talkative, but Shala was told what the daily routine was like, what Nana expected from everyone, and how best to avoid being beaten, which rarely happened with books anyway. It was against the law to damage books beyond legibility. She found two things odd about the other books. First, they were exclusively all women. Second, none of them introduced themselves to her by their names, but rather by their titles. One in particular, a younger woman of about twenty five and who introduced herself as Little Red Riding Hood, was very haughty and acted like she was somehow in charge. Shala learned that this was because she was Tav’s favorite book. Favored books got better food to eat and occasionally got to sleep in a real plush, single bed.

This was, of course, where things went bad for Shala. You see, even after reading the story she carried upon her skin over the next few days, Tav was just not finished her her. He asked Nana to read from her at least once a week, and she would even get to sleep in his room, on that extra bed Red bragged about. But what really did it for her was the day Nana was out of town. He called in all his books, and went to get Shala. He told her to read him her first chapter.

She shook her head.

“Why not?” he asked.

She looked around the room, panic filling her eyes. The other books simply shrugged. He demanded once again. Finally, she broke down.

“I cant’ read,” she said.

“What?”

“I can’t read.”

“Well, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “A book that can’t read. I’ll teach you.”

All the other books gasped, but Tav lead Shala out of the library and into his room. There, he started teaching her how to read. Over the next few months, he did his best to teach her. They would some of this time talking, and she learned a lot about him, and even answered his questions about her. Why had she become a book? Was it pleasant? Did the Binding hurt? One day, he did something that Shala never expected.

“Carol?” he said. He had taken to calling her that, a short version of her title.

“Yes, young master?” she replied.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

Shala paused. It was expressly forbidden for books to be individuals. She was A Christmas Carol, and that was that. Maybe she misunderstood him?

“You’re real name, I mean,” he said. “Not your book title.”

She hesitated again, but when she looked at him, she saw that look in his eyes that indicated that he just wasn’t going to let go. She broke down under that look, as she always did.

“Shala,” she replied.

“Shala. That’s a pretty name,” he said. She smiled. It felt so good to hear someone call her by her name again. Then, they returned to her reading lessons. He never called that again.

Things continued pretty much like this for the better part of a year, by which time Shala could read most of her own story, or at least those parts of it she could see. She had, of course, memorized most of her story as well. She could recite it to Tav when he asked, which wasn’t often. He liked to read on his own. Then it came time for Tav’s birthday.

“I want a new story!” he demanded petulantly. The books all looked at each other in the library as he stormed in, Nana in tow.

“A new book? Sure,” Nana said. “We can get you one. But there isn’t any more room in your Library. You need to get rid of one you have now.”

“No, not a new book,” Tav said. “I’m sick of all the same old books at the Book Seller. I want a NEW story, one no one has heard before.”

“The Book Sellers dictate when new stories are published, Tav,” Nana said. “You know that. They have said for years that there isn’t enough demand for new stories, so no new books.”

“It’s not fair,” he said, and Nana only shook her head. She left him to his tantrum and left. Tav stomped over to Shala, grabbed her by the arm and dragged her into his room.

“I want new stories,” he said, still whining. “But Nana says I can’t get any.”

“Well,” she said, “Nana is right. The Book Sellers control which books get sold, and they haven’t Bound a truly new book in a long time.”

“That’s not rigt,” he said. “I want a new story. It’s my birthday, I should get a new story.”

Shala wasn’t sure what to do. She had never seen Tav so worked up over anything. Finally, an idea occured to her.

“Have you ever wondered what the Ghost of Christmas Past was like before taking on that role?” she asked Tav.

He turned to look at her, and nodded his head. So, she began to tell him. She wasn’t at all quite sure what she was doing, but she began to weave the tale of a young boy that was selfish during his school time. When he was killed by another school boy by being pushed off the cliff near the school, he became a ghost, and was eventually told that to make up for his life’s sins, he needed to be the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge was to be his last assignment before he was released from his punishment and allowed to go on to heaven.

Tav ate up every minute of her little story. At least once a week over the next few months, he asked her to tell the story again. Eventually, he asked for another story, so, hesitantly, she told the story of how Mr. Scrooge came to hire Bob Cratchet. And when he asked her for a new story a few weeks after that, she told the story of Mr. Scrooge and his Nephew aiding an old widow after the events in the book. She had no idea where these stories came from, but she found that she enjoyed telling them. And Tav enjoyed them as well, especially the tales of Scrooge after the events in the book.

Over the course of another year, Shala told Tav close to one hundred different stories about the characters in her book. And Tav at them up. He had most of them memorized, and could correct Shala on them when she was telling things ‘wrong.’

Then, things went bad for Shala. She knew that Red was getting more and more jealous of her, partially by the beatings she gave Shala. On, they were subdued beatings. Punching Shala through a pillow, for instance. But thing had reached a head when Red burst into Tav’s room and over heard Shala telling him one of her stories. Red immediately ran to find Nana and tell her all about Shala.

It wasn’t that difficult. Nana was just in her own library, reading. Though Red was beaten for leaving her library and for talking to her owner, her report was taken seriouslly, and Shala was confronted with her crime.

“No new stories can be read to anyone without it going through the Book Seller,” she told Shala. “I cannot allow my son to be brought down in some criminal activity. You are gong to be sold.”

Shala tried to protest, but that only earned her a beating. Nana was far more creative with beatings that didn’t destroy the book. And so it was, without a warning or a chance to say good bye to Tav, Shala was sold back to the Book Seller. Over the course of the next twenty years, Shala lead the most miserable existence she could think of, outside being a labor slave.

She shuffled from master to master, owner to owner, some of which read her, other just had her as a trophy to put in their library. Almost all of her masters beat her, mostly for no reason that she could see, and other books were too caught up in their own misery to be friendly with her. Eventually, she was returned to the Book Seller, though, because she just kept trying to come up with new stories and tried to tell those stories to whoever owned her.

On her last return to the Book Seller, she was feeling particularly blue. This last master wasn’t careful about beating her, and her arm had a gash on it. She had to go revisit the Binder to get that part of her story fixed. She was sure that no one would buy her now. No one would want an old ripped book. A few weeks later, though, she was told that she was sold. In fact, the man purchasing her asked for her specifically. Curious, she went. The man doing the actual buying was still inside, but his carriage was out front. She got up with the driver, and missed her new owner when he came back out. He entered the wagon and the drive started. But after the wagon left town, the owner stopped the wagon. He indicated to the driver that Shala was to climb down and ride inside the wagon with him.

Unsure, Shala did as demanded. Once inside, she saw a young man, perhaps in his mid to late twenties. He smiled comfortably at her. Eventually, he pulled out a large box and handed it to her. She looked at it nervously, but he indicated that she was to open it. When she did, she gasped at what was inside. It was a book. Not one like her, of course, but a real book. Oh, it didn’t have paper in it’s hard cover spine. The pages were made of dried and cured leather. The words were stamped into it, not written upon it. But it was still a book.

When she opened it up, she was even more stunned. The stories inside this book were her stories. The ones she had told Tav all those years ago. She looked back at the young man, who smiled and winked at her.

“Tav?” she asked.

He nodded. She could feel tears running down her spine.

“Come with me, Shala,” he said. “You and I are going to change the world.”

The End