Well... this was written as just a bit of fun, and a dig at my experience working as a frontline consultant in a CBD recruitment firm back in the day.
I know I am supposed to be exploring different styles of writing, and it feels like slightly a cop-out as I have chosen the same smirking, tongue-in-cheek narrative as my "Reincarnation" story. But I think I've focused a lot more on characterisation here, even if I purposely didn't get too far inside Toby's head. It's written from Toby's viewpoint so you could say he's the protagonist, but I didn't want to make either character too empathetic.
nzric - The Recruitment Company
The underside of the old office desk was pock-marked with Rorschach blots of old chewing gum stains and Toby ducked further as he felt his hair catch on something sticky. He reached further around the back of the old hard-drive with the monitor cable and screwed it tightly into the plug, hearing the dull static “thunk” above him as the monitor came back to life.
Backing out gingerly through the dust balls and assorted refuse of paperclips & spent staples, Toby stood up, trying to smooth the creases in his white dress shirt. His navy blue tie, a grey swipe of dust along one edge, hung limply over one shoulder and he straightened it with one hand, the other shaking the air in mock triumph as he glanced around the assessment room. Out of the four other applicants, two starched and suited grad students stared at him dully from their own computers, a middle aged, slightly overweight office manager type looked up at him with obvious distaste, drumming her fingers on the stocking of one knee where her floral dress rode up. The other applicant in the assessment room was a young power-suited girl with her black hair in a tight bun. She had her back to Toby and completely ignored him, still in the frantic throes of her typing test.
“Toby Davidson?” a pert voice asked from behind him. Toby turned to the front of the room with one fist still in the air, but he put it down quickly and self-consciously brushed at the creases at the front of his shirt.
The Recruiter tapped her clipboard with a pen the same russet shade as her long nails, standing in the wide office doorway with a pose that was clear she was used to being looked at. Toby guessed she was about five years older than him, somewhere in her mid-twenties but the tailored grey suit and slightly heavy make-up made her seem older.
“Uh.. yeah… that’s me,” Toby said, for a moment completely losing the composure he had held for the last twenty minutes since he had arrived.
“Well hiya Toby! my name is Katie and I am your Recruitment Consultant,” the Recruiter put out her hand and gave a wide, professional smile that didn’t reach her eyes. As Toby shook her hand she tucked the clipboard under her arm with her left hand, took a practiced step to the side and cupped his elbow gently in her hand, keeping hold of his right hand and leading Toby in a quick pace back past the buffed metal Reception desk. Corporate Aikido, he thought to himself.
“Wait.. hold on,” Toby started, already halfway down a long corridor to the side of Reception, “I haven’t finished the computer test yet.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that!” she replied, steering him in a ninety-degree angle and into a small booth just big enough for the two red swivel chairs and a PC on a semi-circular table.
She took her clipboard from under her arm with a flourish. “Well Toby, would you like to have some water before we start?” she asked, clicking her pen quickly with a tempo that matched her quick speech.
“No, it’s okay, thanks” he replied.
She gave him another predatory smile and began scribbling something on the clipboard. “Oh, are you absolutely sure you don’t want some water? It’s really no trouble at all.”
Toby felt his face getting redder. He arched his neck but she kept the clipboard facing away from him. “Well, um, okay then.”
“Right,” she said, turning a page over on the clipboard and making a few pen scratches. She swivelled on one high heel and came back within seconds with a tall glass of water, clipboard under her arm.
She put the glass in front of him, leaning forward slightly as she did it and hooking the base of the door with one heel. It swung closed gently and she sat at the chair with the monitor and keyboard. Unsheathing the clipboard again and holding it at a forty-five degree angle from his vision, she started jotting down more notes.
After a minute, Toby tried to break the silence. “Thanks for seeing me… Katie. I’m not sure if you have seen my resume but I saw a few jobs your agency was advertising and..”
“Is Toby your real name?” she interrupted absently.
“Well yeah, of course,” he answered.
“Andrew…” she looked up at him, “that’s good… could be a bit stronger than Toby don’t you think… Andrew Davidson. You haven’t considered..”
“What, changing my name? Well, no.. I..”
“No problem, just asking,” she smiled again and waved her pen dismissively. “Right. Ok then. We have the results of your computer test and I have to say it’s a good start.”
“I didn’t do the test,” Toby said. “Like I said, I finished the typing test but then the computer crashed.”
“Yes. Absolutely. Annoying wasn’t it?”
“Anyway. Sixty words per minute typing… very good… and a B minus on the computer crash. Good use of initiative to ask Reception… crawling under the dusty desk, good, good.. checking power connections.. good use of initiative. Do you want to see the video?”
“You mean the crash was part of the test?”
She looked up from his notes with a smirk, “not too quick on the mark though…”
“Hey, that’s out of line,” Toby said defensively.
“Now Toby, it’s just a quick way for us to find out how you act in a work situation. We already know your demographic can use the normal office software packages, but the test is how much initiative and enthusiasm you show in a work environment. Right now we’ve got one of the other applicants fixing a broken printer in the assessment room, and another is adding an app to our Receptionist’s cellphone.”
Toby settled himself down and the Recruiter pulled two stapled documents from the back of the clipboard, sliding one across the table to him. It was two pages of neatly formatted text and diamond-tipped bullet points. At the top of the page was his name in bold sans serif – ‘Toby Andrew Davidson’. “So, on to your application,” she began, “this is your CV, we put all our applicant CVs into the agency format. Take a look through.”
The CV was in a standard template format but it read easily. Toby scanned the document – BSc Erendon University, three years as part-time Office Administrator at his uncle’s kitchenware franchise, ‘Davidson Kitchenware-house’ – he skipped to the next page.
“Looks like my CV got mixed up with another one,” he started, “I never worked as Junior Teller at ‘Cheepo Kitchen World’.”
“No, that’s yours. This is your notional CV. Check the dates.”
The Cheepo job was dated ‘August 2011 to June 2012.’ Following this was a stint from ‘June 2012 to March 2016’ as a Warehouse Junior Assistant at Stan’s Bargain Kitchen Emporium. In the ‘Qualifications’ section under his BSc was a Certificate of Participation in a half-day “Stan’s Sales Winnership Workshop’ in August 2014.
“You see,” Katie began, answering his unspoken question, “nowadays employers only want to hire someone with prior full-time experience, but as a recent graduate you don’t have that experience and you can’t get it unless an employer offers you a job. It’s a classic Catch-22 situation.”
“Okay,” Toby said, “so this is supposed to be what kind of job I’d want?”
Katie’s expression brightened and she lifted her copy of the document to make a short note on the clipboard underneath. “You’re right, this shows the potential career development a person like you could have if they were given a chance with the right employer.”
He flushed. “If this is supposed to be the kind of job I’d want to work in it’s aiming pretty low, don’t you think? This job with my uncle was just to get me through my studies. I’m not going to spend the next five years in the back room of an appliance warehouse.”
“Of course you have your hopes and dreams of the perfect job out of university, but the reality is often a lot different,” She looked at him steadily. “And there’s nothing wrong with a good days work for a good days pay. Anyway, these are just notional jobs at notional companies. The main thing is employers want to see a narrative of your career progression.”
She slid the slimline keyboard to face her and tapped in her name and password. Toby saw his file come up on the screen, his personal and work details in grey and white text boxes.
“We can correct this to make it more accurate. The CV you are holding is just a sample based on the CV you sent us and the demographics of your age, gender, ethnic background, that kind of thing,” Katie continued as she scrolled through the screen, “we can really refine it if we get your other details. Are you ok with that?”
“Well, I guess” Toby said, unsure.
“So it’s ok for us to ask your University for access to your academic records?”
“Sure, but I already said in my CV that I have a B plus average.”
“That’s great,” Katie smiled and ticked a checkbox on the screen, “it’s just much more accurate though if we get the actual records. Don’t worry, the information is all online so it’ll take no time at all, we just need your consent to link our system to the university database. Now, how about your credit background? That’s good to show an employer you’re trustworthy.”
“Well…” Toby started.
“Great, ok then,” she continued typing. “Now, how about tax records, credit card, medical summary, criminal background check and no-fly list, phone and internet records, your social media accounts, internet forum history, blog account keywords, online purchases, club memberships, video rentals, power, water and electricity billing, home rental agency details and home, personal and pet insurance?”
“I’m not sure I’m really comfortable with this” Toby said.
“You’re right, I’ll cut out pet insurance – I always think that’s just excessive” she said. Before Toby could interrupt she tapped a green “Submit” button on the screen and the computer hummed busily. In seconds the screen refreshed with another neatly formatted resume, his name again at the top.
“Great, let’s see what we’ve got,” Katie scrolled down the page. “I see it’s put you down as starting a Post-Graduate Certificate in 2013. That’s good. Working as a ‘Marketing Assistant’ then as ‘Branding Consultant’ in the city by 2013 too. Wow! Go you!”
The screen was still in the crisp agency format but this resume had a lot more detail. It listed time in different roles at each company, the predicted salary and his strengths and weaknesses for each area of work. Toby still felt uneasy but curiosity got the better of him. He always wanted to get into marketing and graphic design but at this stage it was just a hobby he was tinkering with on his blog. It was strange but slightly gratifying to see the computer thought he had potential.
His salary wasn’t huge but it seemed like a fairly good living. Katie scrolled to the next page. It listed some of the accounts he was supposed to work on, including – he was pleased to see – some major consumer brands. The listing for the first employer read “Reason for leaving: Ref.192” and Katie stopped scrolling, but not before Toby read the title of the next employer in September 2013 – ‘Davidson Kitchenware-house’.
“Oh, that’s not good” Katie said, facing him and studying him intently.
“What’s not good? And why is my uncle’s business listed as the next employer? I thought this was saying I work in the city?”
“It’s a 192.” Katie took her pen out and wrote ‘192’ in large letters at the base of the clipboard notes, then closed the folder.
“The computer says you work on teams for some big clients for the next few years. The boss gives you a chance to account manage a major client as a trial – a good opportunity to prove yourself.”
“So why isn’t that good?”
“Well, it doesn’t work out. The contract goes bad – could be a lack of creativity or it could be you just don’t have the selling ability… Anyway, you lose the account, the client pulls out a lot of money from the company.”
“How can a computer say that?” he answered, “that’s stupid. It can’t make that kind of guess about how I’d act.”
“Toby, this computer is pretty accurate. You can’t agree on all the good things it says but ignore the bad stuff. Statistically, it’s saying there’s a high probability you just don’t have it in you.”
“Well run it again” Tony demanded “Another one of those notional jobs. Those must be just freak results.”
“Sorry Toby, it doesn’t work that way,” Katie said. “This is a profile based on the sum of all your records. There’s only one profile.” She closed down the computer and started to stand up. “Now, Toby, I’m sorry but I don’t think we have the right kind of jobs for you.”
“This is insane,” Toby said. “That job isn’t even real. You can’t base a judgement about how an imaginary me might work in an imaginary job.”
“Notional, not imaginary,” she corrected. “And Tony, if we didn’t use the notional information, what else could we use? You don’t have any experience.”
Tony stood up as she opened the door. “Well, I’m leaving anyway,” he said, trying to be firm. “If your business works like this I don’t know if I even want to apply to your agency!”
“Now that’s the spirit Toby!” Katie answered and patted him on the shoulder as she marched him back to reception.
“I mean it,” Toby said half-heartedly, “once somewhere gives me a chance to work, I’ll show you what my potential is.” They walked past reception and into the entryway where an elevator was waiting, doors open.
“I know, it seems unfair,” Katie said as he stepped into the lift. “No hard feelings, huh?” She reached out her hand and Tony shook it.
“You’re missing a good opportunity to give me a job,” he said. “I don’t care what the computer says, I’ve got a lot I could offer.”
“I know you do,” Katie smiled warmly and stepped back from the lift. “There’s a lot of jobs out there and I’m sure there’s one that’ll be perfect for you. Have you ever considered kitchenware?”
Tony felt the blood rush to his face and he went to answer, but he was too late. The doors slid shut and he felt the short drop as the elevator started the descent to the ground floor.
I didn't like the pre-written character to begin with but once I got the idea of the story I began to really have an understanding for her. This is one of those ideas that I'd like to explore further at some stage - feels like I've just started to scratch the surface of Chloe's story.
nzric - Joie de vivre
The bullet train pulled into Voie 24 of the Gare de Lyon with the soft metallic echo of new engine brakes. A dim red digital reading flashed discreetly in the corner of my glasses and I took off the tortiseshell frames, folding them into my attache before the annoyingly conscientious commuter guide could zip its electronic way to my vision.
The train was seven minutes late. Not unusual, especially when one considered the winds and rain battering the Bourgogne. I stood to the side with a crush of other commuters as the doors slid open, the rustle of suitcases and damp umbrellas against overcoats as another few hundred passengers made their way into the industrious chaos of the busiest station in Paris.
A tall, bespectacled gent in a tan trenchcoat stood in front of me but he took a short step to the side and gestured for me to enter the carriage first. I smiled and gave him a small nod as I passed, skimming my wristphone over the ticket validator strip at the wall. You seldom see old-fashioned manners in Paris anymore and I for one appreciated these simple gestures more than he could know. I have chosen an age of around the late-thirties for the last forty years, any younger and my striking features and chestnut hair draw too much attention of the unwanted kind.
The Paris-Lyon bullet has that faint pine smell of public transport cleaner, innocuous but ever present. Four years previously I had made the same journey next to a taut, middle-aged American who had chattered constantly for the whole journey. One of his pearls of wisdom was that the green stripes against the grey-blue background on the seats was a “spitting image” of the Rhode Island State tartan, and consequently I have not been able to take the trip since without thinking of the Pawtucket Red Sox and snail salad. C’est la vie.
I took my seat, taking off my damp black overcoat and folding it onto my attache case on the seat facing me. One most often has an excess of space on the Paris-Lyon leg of the trip so I made myself comfortable, although my starched suit itched constantly. The latest fashion off the Milan catwalk was Post-Gender clothing so legions of suave European woman were spending thousands to wear loose-fitting double-Windsored silk ties or, my current choice, a cherry pinstripe suit over a finely embroidered waistcoat and low-cut blouse. It pays to blend into the crowd, especially for these annual Council jaunts. There are rumours and conspiracy theories about our kind. It is mostly dispelled as fairy tale but it helps not to draw attention to ones-self, especially when approaching Lyon.
The sudden pelting of rain on the window startled me as the train pulled from the cover of the station, the noise dulled by the thick, triple-glazed windows. I was so immersed in watching the rain that I did not initially notice the bespectacled man take the seat at my elbow. I looked over and he gave me a smile and nod - clearly, I thought, his intentions had not been so noble after all. I ignored him and remained gazing out the window, willing him to take the message and leave. No luck.
“They say it will rain until Tuesday,” he said in a thick Parisian accent. His voice was rich and weathered and at any other time I would be tempted to enter into conversation to hear the range of his “pitch and timbre”. As they say.
“hmm” I said, politely ignoring.
“At times like these,” he continued, “when embarking on a journey with an apparent stranger, it is polite to start with an unobtrusive topic.” He switched to English, “The rain in Spain...”
I could not help smirking but refused to be drawn into the conversation.
“The Lady smiles,” he said to nobody in particular, “but is not drawn into easy conversation with strangers. She doesn’t know what she is missing. Conversation, shared experience, stories are the stuff of existence. They fill one with joy, open new doors to experience. How did we use to say Chloe? The stuff of joie de vivre?”
The words hit me like a thousand bricks. No. A thousand sparks shooting out from my stomach, through to my fingertips, up and out from my scalp. The firework sparks blinded my vision for an instant, then the colours returned richer and clearer.
I still looked out the window but I was rigid, my eyes lost focus, only able to see the dull pattern of rain lashing the glass outside. I froze, waiting for him to continue but he was silent, eyes drilling a hole into the back of my turned head. His voice, weathered with age but so familiar. Of course.
Joie de vivre. Thirst for life. My philosophy for, how long? Did I still live the philosophy? More than likely, which would make it eighty years if I still believed in the journey that he and I first spun together in the Lyon catacombs. Cheraul. Who saved my life, who gave me the knowledge to give myself life.
“Cheraul?” I said, not turning. Of course it was him. I knew it in my soul.
They had said it was impossible, ‘they’ being Rosalind Franklin, the discoverer of DNA herself, when I broke into her home in 1961 to demand an explanation or at least an acknowledgement of what I saw in the mirror. The ‘possible’ is that frayed telomeres begin to break within our cells, corrupting the DNA. Skin loses its elasticity, cell mutation starts to overcome the immune system, the organs, the lymph nodes. Normal ageing, which is the companion and curse of all species. And ‘impossible’ is a change in the chemical composition of the enterochromaffin cells that then start to create and spread mutated seratonin, re-tying the telomeres, repairing the damaged skin and giving new life to ageing organs.
Rosalind Franklin had said it was impossible. She had told me I was insane as I stood in her doorway with a knife, begging her to watch the skin of my hand knit together as the endorphins surged through my system and I reversed the path of ageing itself. Maybe I really was insane at the time. I had become lost on the journey without Cheraul and it took years, decades to find my way back on the path to the Council. To realise my condition was a blessing, not a curse.
And now he was back. In an old man’s guise. I was used to looking past the ravages of time to see the individual underneath, but he had always been so full of life. It was he who initiated me into the philosophy of joie de vivre, constant craving for life for those of us who were born to life without age as long as our lives were rich. But now he had not reversed for how long? Thirty? forty years?
“Joie de vivre” I whispered silently. A tear crossed my cheek, an insignificant measure against the rivulets on the pane outside.
“Chloe...?” he said plaintively.
I was only twenty when we first met. Me a fiery graduate student, full of indignation and spirit. He was the young, handsome tutor with piercing eyes and a dark mane of hair who led the marches through the streets of Lyon, one hand holding a placard and the other always wielding a yellowed Gitane cigarette with a flourish. A few hundred artists and poets crying shame at the might of the Third Reich, cheering as de Gaulle backed Britain in ordering the Nazi force to retreat from Poland. We were worse than naive, but while months crept on and reality crept in and the troops pushed through the Somme and onto Paris in 1940 we were only more convinced our cause was righteous. And as our government fled from Paris with the tail between their legs and the Nazis marched days later under the Arc de Triomphe we were still true and righteous because now our heroes were Cheraul and his heartful slogans, and Jean Moulin with his spirit and sacrifice.
My cries for justice were met in 1941 by a bullet through my heart at the Parc de la Tete d’Or in Lyon. Cheraul took me in his arms, breaking from the protest to carry me into a dusty alleyway and stroking my hair, saying how much like him I was as I writhed on the chill cobblestones, my flesh knitting together again as the pain and fear and exhilaration surged through me. And over time, as we continued our struggle from the dark tunnels of Lyon and threw our unlikely band of stragglers against the might of the German army it was Cheraul where I drew my strength. Dear Cheraul, whose body could surge back to life and youth from the barrel of an SS pistol or from our passion as we clung to each other in hope and lust and, lastly - after the French police joined us civilians in unison to chase out the last of the Germans from street to street with bottles and stones - lastly, with triumph.
My skin felt as if it were alive with electricity, my scalp burning keenly as the hormones raced through my system, invigorating my cells. I took my gaze from the window and turned to meet his eyes directly.
“How dare you.”
He was choosing to be around eighty, liver spots appearing on his balding pate and jagged wrinkles cutting intricate patterns through his face. Despite this his eyes were ageless, clear and infinite, but he turned them away under the intensity of my glare.
“You disappear without a trace,” I continued, “without even a note. And then, after seventy years... you...” my voice trailed off. I knew that approach was useless. He had never told me his true age - a thousand would not surprise me - but I had learned early on that seventy years to him was insignificant.
“I thought I was protecting you...” he started.
“Protecting?!” I choked. “I joined the Resistance. For you. I took bullets. For you. Tore you from barbed wire under machine gun fire. And you wanted to protect me?!”
“Those times were different Chloe, we had to fight. Hitler forced the whole world to fight.”
“And you think I wouldn’t have continued to fight, to go to the ends of the world for you?”
“That is exactly why I left. Algeria was struggling...”
“Algeria was a farce,” I spat, trying to keep my tone level in the low drone of the train cabin. “They freed themselves from France after the war and then what? The mullahs took over. And de Gaulle rode back to Paris on his white horse but he betrayed us, set himself up as some dictator...”
“...Algeria was not your fight,” he continued. “Your fight was for the streets of Paris and Lyon, to claim back your birthright. Which we did.”
“So Algeria was not my fight but it was yours? Is that what you do? Take your youth, your rush from the wars and struggles of others?”
“It’s what I...did” he stumbled.
I was filled with anger, the seventy year betrayal flooding back. But something in his deep eyes stopped me. He had changed over the years. Cheraul, the changeless rock in the storm, had changed. We both knew that our condition was a blessing, but without constant excitement, constant stimulation, we were cursed to age rapidly.
He moved his hand close to mine on the armrest. “What have you seen?” he asked. It was the tired old query we had used in the Resistance before sharing our latest stories in the tunnels, the question bursting with implication.
“I... left France before de Gaulle returned,” I started. “de Gaulle, Berlin... Europe was closing in on itself just as America was opening up with JFK, Martin Luthor King Jr.” The memory was as vivid as ever, me a nervous Parisian in the wide expanse of the US, swept up in the emotion of the moment as I stood with hundreds of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial. And as the crowd cheered to ‘I have a dream’, I had felt the firework spark release from my core to replenish my cells and bring back my youth.
I shook my head. The experience had soured. The promise of a new world caved from under me as our heroes were, one by one, gunned down and America tore itself at the seams. Vietnam, which I wanted so much to be passionate about but which was not my war. I searched through the Summer of Love for experience, threw myself into the drugs and the sex and the music but while I saw the people around me overcome with their own brand of youthful naivety, all I felt was nihilism. I watched as the young hippies moved out of Haight-Ashbury and the drug dealers moved in, and then I myself moved on.
“It didn’t last,” I said simply. “I went back into myself. I forgot about the world.”
Worse, I shunned the world. For the next twenty years I found the exhilaration I needed to survive through nature, and the only thing I knew I could rely on was my own body. I had a brief, ten year fling with Jim Holloway as we toured Colorado. Jim broke new ground in bouldering for the challenge, defying gravity as he carved new paths up sheer slopes. I did it because I knew if I fell and broke my body on the rocks I would only come back younger and stronger than before. I felt the same as I moved to Hawaii in the 1980s, the grainy television coverage fresh in my mind of Julie Moss stumbling and crawling across the finish-line at Ironman Kona as her body shut down. Mere humans pushing themselves far beyond the limits and nearly dying in the process. Just for the experience.
“But that path still wasn’t enough was it?” Cheraul replied.
“No.” That was as empty as the slogans I had shouted for a war I never really understood.
“Why did you make me do it on my own?”
“That is what all of us have had to do,” he said. “If I had dragged you to Algeria you would have never discovered yourself. You would have become as empty and jaded as I am now.”
I had to admit he was right. Twenty years of self-absorbtion ended in the same emptiness I had felt back when I heard Martin Luthor King Jr had been gunned down outside a cheap motel. That hero who symbolised everything I had travelled to America to find.
Cheraul took my hand. I let him.
“But then you found the spark again,” he continued, looking at my youthful features.
“Tienanmen Square,” I said and he nodded, knowingly.
Of course. The Berlin Wall fell the same year, and the Soviet Union, the macabre corruption of the ideals we had shouted on the streets of Lyon, dissolved to nothing in front of our eyes. But it was too immense, too dispersed to fully register. What had cut through to the core of my soul, ignited the spark and set me on the path to youth again was the simple image of a tiny figure, shopping bags in his hands, defying the tanks and the faceless fist of the Chinese army. That man was not one who took life from being near death, but he was willing to risk it all. And that saved me.
“So where do you get it now?” he asked.
“Simple things,” I replied. “It takes less now. Smaller things. People who enrich me in some way, new conversations, new places. I travel.”
“That is how you should do it,” he agreed. “That can keep you going for hundreds of years.”
“And what happens after that?” We both looked down at our hands at the same time, mine smooth and pink, his hand deeply lined and mottled.
“I can’t tell you. I started to choose the wrong path. That is why I left. If you had followed the journey with me you would have craved the intensity like an addict. You would have burned yourself out decades ago.”
“So, what? You have given up?” I retorted, but the challenge was met by a tiny nod of affirmation.
“I am going to petition the Council to accept my decision. I will start the process to record my knowledge in the Archives before I pass on.”
Reflexively, I squeezed his hand. For a moment I forgot the years I had blamed and cursed him for leaving me. I searched his face for a trace of the old Cheraul I had given myself to so long ago. As he gazed back I could see the love in his eyes and, as I watched, the lines around his brows started to smooth out, his skin flushed in a healthy sheen.
But he pulled back, taking his hand from mine and once again leaving the space between us. Two feet and seventy years.
“No,” he said, “that is not why I came back. You would become my addiction. I can’t ask that.”
And I could see he was right. And that was the difference between us, something that I could never fully understand because he had saved me from that addiction to intensity that burned the life out of him.
“Don’t ask me to forgive you.” I said softly, taking his hand again.
“I would never ask that. But you understand.” His weathered face looked longingly at me.
“I do Cheraul. I do. And I will give my support to the Council for your decision.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I know that is much more than I should ask of you.”
And we sat together, holding hands, motionless for the rest of the journey.
Continuing to save all my writingforum stories in one place on this blog. Really enjoying trying out new styles.
This one was my challenge to myself to write something that was "written to be spoken aloud" in terms of the rhythm, flow and phrasing.
Great to see that some people liked this story - I won the weekly comp and got some good comments/feedback.
The story itself is a quaint little tale, not strikingly original, but my focus for this was the style of writing, not a groundbreaking storyline. After all it's intended to be a yarn that some old fella is telling off the top of his head, in a noisy bar after a few too many pints!
The Tale of Old Jim
(to be told over a pint of lager in a noisy bar)
Old Jim Tarrant walked with the devil and he won. He did. The old bugger didn’t know what hit him.
This is a yarn about a hardcase bloke and the king of sin, so don’t mind my language if I go blimmin and blastin, and cursin and cussin, ‘cause you’re sure as **** got to have a stronger gut than that if you want to hear any tale of the devil.
Now Jim Tarrant lived in a dusty railside hole called Gaviston, what we folks call an outhouse town ‘cause the only souls there are piss poor and **** outta luck. Jim was more of the former than the latter, but the latter caught him right by the short’n’curlies when the devil knocked on his door one day. It was a right old sight, the devil with his horns and his cape and his tail swishing round and banging the patio door with his pitchfork, and Jim said “righto mate, what can I do for you?”
“You can invite me in,” the devil said, “I can’t come in if you don’t.”
And Jim laughed and said “You’ve got some cheek mate, but you’re the devil after all so I can’t blame ya trying. Why would I invite the devil in?”
“‘Cause I can grant your hearts desires” said the devil, and Jim thought that’s a sales pitch if ever I heard one.
“Don’t mind if I don’t,” Jim said, “so on your way and don’t bash the camellias on your way out.” And the devil cursed and cussed but he had no choice ‘cause Jim said no.
But the devil is the devil and he came to Jim’s patio every day after that. Bang, bang, bang with his pitchfork, “Jim, Jim, let me come in mate, I’ll grant you your hearts desires.”
“And if I tell you to bugger off?”
“I’ll chase you down and knock your door every day till you make a pact or I drive you crazy.” And Jim knew he would because it was the devil after all.
So Jim was in a bind and he said to the devil, “Righto, if you won’t give me peace I need to know what I’m getting in for.” The devil agreed and asked what Jim was on about. “I want you to show me some pacts before I tell you my hearts desires.”
And the devil agreed and Jim got one day of rest with no banging and no scorch marks on the patio. He wrote his hearts desires on a piece of paper and put the paper in an envelope and the envelope on the mantelpiece, then the devil came to his door and Jim went outside to walk with him.
They walked for years, did Jim Tarrant and the devil. Every day the devil asked for his hearts desires and each day Jim said “I wrote ‘em all down on my mantelpiece but you ain’t shown me what I’m getting in for.”
So the devil took Jim to the city of Testimony there was an old man whose wife just died. The man made a pact to bring his wife back and the devil was true to his word, but the wife came all rotten and corpse-ish and the man went full-blown crazy. The hospital came and locked him away where the man was always yelling away “let me see my wife again!”.
Then the devil took Jim to the town of Dedication to a man so poor he couldn’t feed his family. And the devil told the man he could make a pact so the family could eat their fill like hogs every night. But Jim was onto the devil and he went to the man and told him not to take the pact, not just yet. Jim was more stubborn than the man was desperate and he stayed while the man worked and toiled and sweated to put food on the table. Every night the man would wring his hands and Jim would say “just one more day at a time mate” till the rains came back and the crops were good, and the family ate well again.
And the devil cursed Jim and stamped and strutted but Jim told him alls fair cause the man made his own choice, and they walked again.
They walked ‘cross continents, and the devil was on the hunt for his game, and he sniffed out a poor mother in the country of Gharm whose child just died. The devil whispered and hinted and “I’ll give ya your baby back” he said, but she yelled at the devil and chased him out with cussin and the evil eye. Jim was impressed and he and the woman got talking and meeting every day for weeks, so sooner than later they were friendlier than ever. But the devil said “Jim we got a deal” and took Jim away before too long, but not before Jim said he didn’t have a ring but he’d be back if it killed him. The devil said “watch what you wish for mate” and Jim shut up and they walked again.
And they went to the city of Knesis to a lazy man with a thick gut and wide appetites. And the man invited the devil in his house and made the pact without thinking twice. He asked for money and women and food and the devil gave him all that. The devil said to Jim “Now this is the right idea ain’t it” and they watched as the lazy man got bigger and drunker and bedded all the women and bought gaudy toys with his money.
But Jim made the devil stay to see what the man was getting in for, a deal is a deal after all. Sure as **** the lazy man got tired of his money and trinkets, and jealous of the women, and ill from the food and drunk and when he died early and alone and unhappy everyone agreed he had it coming.
So Jim said “Right I’ve had enough” and the devil said a deal’s a deal and they walked back to Gaviston.
When they got to Jim’s door he invited the devil straight in, devil hoofs clicking behind him down the hall and the tail knocking picture frames on the way past. But the devil is a gentleman and left his pitchfork on the patio.
And Jim got the envelope where inside was six lines on the paper. The devil smacked his lips and rubbed his hands cause the best pacts are the ones from greedy folk.
Then Jim read the lines to himself and said to the devil “Righto, on your way.”
“What?!” boomed the devil in his big devil voice. “We had a pact. I will grant your hearts desires.”
“Well done,” said Jim smoothly, “and you can shove your pact. I’ve had my hearts desires and I don’t need you no more.”
The devil stamped and torched the furniture but Jim held firm. He held the list in front of him and took a pen from the mantelpiece.
“One. Travel the world. Damn straight we did, right old holiday it was too.” He struck out the line with the pen.
The devil cursed and beat the cushions.
“Two. See true love in the world,” said Jim. The devil said Testimony didn’t count, the wife was dead and rotten and the husband gone full-blown crazy, but Jim said it didn’t make no difference to them for each other did it. Another line gone.
“Three. Save a good man’s soul, and Dedication was the place I did it.”
“Four. Find a wife,” Jim said, thinking of his beau in Gharm. The devil said he would never let it happen but Jim said it’s not as if you have any bloody choice in the matter. The pen crossed the line and Jim crossed his heart.
“Five. Know the value of a hard day’s work.” The devil said the lazy man from Knesis was his own and he was taking him to hell. Jim replied that some people have it coming to them but at least we can all learn a lesson from it.
The devil showed his teeth and said he’d take Jim down with him anyway. But Jim laughed and said “crap to you, we both know it don’t work that way.”
So the devil cursed and smoked and fumed, and a great pit opened in the living room and the devil climbed down to hell’s furnace. The pit where the damned souls writhe and cries can be heard echoing through the foul and rancid air. And Jim went to the patio and got the devil’s pitchfork, threw it down the pit and yelled “Now piss off!”. And the pit closed with a pop.
Then Jim took his pen and crossed the last line that said, “laugh in the face of the devil”, then he opened his bank book. A train and a plane and a train to Gharm costs a lot for someone from Gaviston and he had a devil of a time getting the money, but Jim of course was stubborn and he made it in the end, and both him and his wife agreed that some things are worth the hard slog.
And I’ll drink to that.
Another bit of writing practice here. In this one I really invited criticism as I knew this story wasn't for everyone. Some people 'got it', some people hated it.
Frankly, I don't mind either way as long as they give an honest opinion after reading it.
I am purposely trying to mix things up and show people something they're not used to. I am using this forum to practice writing styles, and the best way I have found to do it is to write in the 'extreme' of the particular style I am looking at.
Primary onboard AI report: Code 4 alert – Significant hull/infrastructure breach.
Commenced incident log – universal time code: Post-incident = y / m / d / hh:mm:ss
Log #1 – 0 / 0 / 0 / 00:00:23
Secured South hull sector EE to KG. Systems report significant damage to primary communications transmittor and string-drive power cells.
Log #2 – 0 / 0 / 0 / 00:00:43
Life support systems malfunctioning through South EE to KG. 88 crew in area, life support implants show 53 deceased. Estimated life expectancy for remaining 35 crew in sector four minutes (exact estimate 00:04:28).
Emergency contingency assessment – Potential of positive outcome: 32% likelihood of rescue for 11 of 35 crew in sector. Potential of negative outcome: significant (non-recyclable) resources will need to be utilised from core ship systems.
Log #3 – 0 / 0 / 0 / 00:00:50
Initiating Standard Ethical Assessment Procedure (SEAP). Priority allocation of central processing capacity – Turing Level 8 assessment.
Log #4 – 0 / 0 / 0 / 00:00:52
SEAP complete, report recommends main objective is securing Sector EE to KG to protect remaining 332 crew in ship.
Log #5 – 0 / 0 / 0 / 00:00:53
Jettisoned 35 crew from sector EE to KG. Airlocks secured. Core life support systems diverted. Controlled depressurisation to extinguish chemical fires.
Log #6 – 0 / 0 / 0 / 00:10:04
String-drive malfunction confirmed as initial cause.
Minor system damage resulted in navigation error in last transit through string-space distance of approx. 14.32 light years (relative duration of last transit as experienced on ship was four hours (exact duration: 04:01:33)). Ship exited Borosovich Vortex state directly into trans-orbital asteroid KQ3346, resulting in matter flux and explosion.
Irreparable damage to ship string drive. Unable to transit to Borosovich Vortex state. Zeta Pulse propulsion only remaining means of transport.
Significant damage to primary communications equipment. Unable to transmit via trans-string B-vortex. Light-speed SOS transmission only means of emergency communication. SOS initiated.
Log #7 – 0 / 0 / 0 / 00:12:03
Communication underway with Ship Captain Josephine Conrad-Arunsun.
Confirmed Standard Ethical Assessment Procedure (SEAP) was followed before South hull sector EE to KG was secured.
Confirmed string drive damaged. Approximate travel time to nearest orbital sector outpost using Zeta Pulse propulsion only: Ninety eight years.
Confirmed core life support systems damaged. Approximate average life expectancy of 332 crew based on existing life support resources (age adjusted, not including placement in cryostasis): Two years, four months.
Confirmed trans-string communication damaged. Time for light-speed SOS communication to emergency relay beacon SZK-Chis99: Eighteen years, eight months (exact time for SOS message: 18 / 8 / 10 / 23:14:33).
Log #8 – 0 / 0 / 1 / 23:02:40
Communication underway with Chief Medical Officer Chip Cossen and Resource vice-Chair Ando Claris.
Confirmed 103 cryostasis pods available. Diversion of life support resources to 103 pods would reduce life expectancy of crew not in cryostasis by one extra month for every one year of life support for crew in cryostasis.
If all 332 crew not in cryostasis: Average life expectancy two years, four months for all crew.
If 103 of 332 crew in cryostasis for duration: Average life expectancy twelve years three months for those in cryostasis, four years two months for those not in cryostasis.
Responded to request for information about sharing cryostasis pods. Pod sharing not feasible based on average crewmember body mass.
Suggested alternative to Chief Medical Officer and Resource vice-Chair: Pod operation based on volume of body mass. Therefore suggested crew prioritise children and short crewmembers for cryostasis. Suggestion was accepted for priority cryostasis of children. Suggestion declined for priority cryostasis of short crew-members.
Suggested alternative #2: Automated surgical facilities available to reduce crew body mass. Removal of arms, legs and three-quarter torso would allow for storage of approximately 238 crewmembers in cryostasis with 84% average annual survival rate.
Log #19 – 0 / 0 / 30 / 12:03:02
Attack underway on cryostasis unit block D – approximately 43 crew participating.
Non-lethal detainment measures activated.
Log #20 – 0 / 0 / 30 / 25:10:08
Report to Ship Captain Josephine Conrad-Arunsun.
Detainment measures unsuccessful due to crowd size. Damage to cryostasis units.
Fatalities reported. Total crew numbers reduced to 308. 84 crewmembers in cryostasis: Average life expectancy adjusted up to 20 years, three months based on current life support resources. 224 crewmembers not in cryostasis: Life expectancy adjusted up to two years, eleven months.
Log #338 – 0 / 3 / 16 / 11:03:43
Total crew numbers confirmed at 301.
Confirmed secondary delegation of primary systems access to Sub-Lieutenant Sedor Jarvis. Primary delegation is Captain Conrad-Arunsun.
Confirmed terminology change: DY to AE-2 sector now named ‘Jarvis sector’.
Confirmed separation of life support systems from main life support trunk line. East NorthEast sector DY to AE-2, including 54 cryostasis units.
Log #377 – 0 / 3 / 20 / 09:03:01
Total crew numbers confirmed at 283.
Log #424 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 15:03:53
Extensive breach in East NorthEast sector DE to DT. Explosive decompression in hull. 62 fatalities confirmed.
Airlocks secured. Core life support systems diverted.
Log #425 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 10:09:02
Explosion reported in East NorthEast sector BB-14. 14 fatalities confirmed. 18 crew bio-readings as critical.
Log #426 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 10:09:30
Explosion reported in South sector. 23 fatalities confirmed. 40 crew bio-readings as critical. Attempting to divert life support systems.
Log #427 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 10:09:34
Fault reported in main trunk line for life support systems. Initiating emergency contingency.
Log #428 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 10:09:59
Communication underway with Ship Captain Josephine Conrad-Arunsun.
Receiving request to shut down all life support systems in Jarvis sector.
Initiating Standard Ethical Assessment Procedure (SEAP). Secondary allocation of central processing capacity – Turing Level 8 assessment.
Log #429 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 10:10:01
Breach detected in main trunk line for life support systems at node KK223433.88J. 14% additional life support systems being diverted to Jarvis sector. Dispatched engineering drone Echo6 for physical re-route.
Log #430 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 10:10:09
Communication underway with Ship Captain Josephine Conrad-Arunsun.
SEAP complete. Reported to Captain that completing request from Ship Captain to shut down Jarvis sector life support systems would result in fatalities of 36 crewmembers not in immediate danger. Request declined.
Log #431 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 10:10:20
Urgent transmission from engineering drone Echo6. Drone has received major impact trauma.
Log #432 – 0 / 5 / 7 / 10:10:23
Communication underway with Ship Captain Josephine Conrad-Arunsun.
Receiving request from Captain to implement non-lethal detainment measures for all crew who have been in Jarvis sector in previous 24 hours.
Rapid-SEAP completed. Implemented measures for 14 crew. Did not implement measures for 43 crew – insufficient evidence of any transgressions.
Log #504 – 0 / 6 / 14 / 09:18:32
Communication underway with Sub-Lieutenant Sedor Jarvis at Jarvis sector communication hub.
Confirmed – 48 cryostasis pods operational.
Confirmed – Life support trunk line irreparable. Significant damage to core life support systems.
Confirmed – 143 crewmembers aboard. 62 in cryostasis.
Confirmed – Average life expectancy for crew in cryostasis: 14 years two months. Average life expectancy for crew not in cryostasis: Four months, fifteen days.
Log #534 – 0 / 6 / 23 / 12:03:12
Breach in cryostasis unit BG12. 22 fatalities, 8 critical.
2 fatalities, 6 critical.
2 fatalities, 4 critical.
Log #539 – 0 / 6 / 23 / 18:04:11
Cryostasis unit BG12. Commence cryostasis for 33 crew, 25 pods. Authority Sub-Lieutenant Sedor Jarvis.
Log #1012 – 0 / 11 / 14 / 09:12:09
Critical bio-reading alert for Ship Captain Josephine Conrad-Arunsun. Initiating remote trauma protocol in aorta implant DJ22.
Trauma protocol failed.
Log #1013 – 0 / 11 / 14 / 09:12:30
Communication underway with Sub-Lieutenant Sedor Jarvis.
Confirmed receipt of request to transfer primary authority for all ship systems to Sub-Lieutenant Sedor Jarvis.
Unconventional request – requesting quorum vote of main Steering Committee.
Security Chief Ghenz Marconi – response received: Aye.
Communications Lead Gabriel Zen – response received: Aye.
Chief Operations Officer Heri Samosen – response received: Aye.
Request accepted and actioned.
Log #1014 - 0 / 11 / 14 / 09:12:40
Critical bio-reading alert for Ghenz Marconi. Initiating remote trauma protocol in aorta implant DJ22. Trauma protocol failed.
Critical bio-reading alert for Gabriel Zen. Initiating remote trauma protocol in aorta implant DJ22. Trauma protocol failed.
Critical bio-reading alert for Heri Samosen. Initiating remote trauma protocol in aorta implant DJ22. Trauma protocol failed.
Log #1787 – 1 / 7 / 10 / 14:41:01
Breach in cryostasis unit BG12. 28 fatalities, 5 critical.
2 fatalities, 3 critical.
Log #1799 - 1 / 7 / 10 / 23:04:42
Communication underway with Resource vice-Chair Ando Claris.
Confirmed Marie Claris previously in cryostasis unit BG12 pod 4. Confirmed deceased.
Confirmed Devan Claris and Amie Claris previously in cryostasis unit BG12 pod 5. Confirmed deceased.
Received location request - Sedor Jarvis located in Jarvis sector AE-1.
Log #1832 – 1 / 7 / 12 / 09:00:00
Commencing weekly report to Ship Captain Sedor Jarvis, Chief Operations Officer Luis Jarvis, Security Chief Kalie Jarvis-Stevenson.
Medical report – last 7 days = 18 deaths, 9 self-inflicted (as per logged & registered Final Will & Testimony, & co-signed waiver of remote trauma protocol)
Confirmed – 48 crew onboard. 3 in cryostasis.
Life expectancy estimate – crew in cryostasis: twenty five years, eight months. Crew not in cryostasis: eleven months, eight days.
Time for light-speed SOS communication to emergency relay beacon SZK-Chis99: Seventeen years (exact time for SOS message: 17 / 0 / 9 / 14:26:36).
Log #1833 – 1 / 08 / 1 / 10:13:44
Commenced emergency systems shutdown of North and East sectors. Minimal life support function only.. Authority Captain Sedor Jarvis.
Log #2003 – 1 / 11 / 18 / 02:43:59
Confirmed 33 crew onboard. 3 in cryostasis.
Received location request - Ando Claris located in utility gangway K, Jarvis sector DD2.
Log #2004 - 1 / 11 / 18 / 02:48:02
Major failure in life support channel AMI28, Jarvis sector DD2.
Multiple failures reported in life support lines in Jarvis sector BB, CE, CT, DA, DB, DC, DD.
Explosion detected in oxygen support lines Jarvis sector. 18 fatalities.
Log #2005 - 1 / 11 / 18 / 02:53:40
Received location request - Sedor Jarvis located in Bridge 2, main deck.
Log #2006 - 1 / 11 / 18 / 02:55:01
Received location request - Ando Claris located in utility gangway A, sector BB.
Confirmed 15 crew on board. 3 in cryostasis.
Log #2038 - 1 / 11 / 20 / 14:03:30
Confirmed 5 crew on board. 0 in cryostasis.
Log #2039 - 1 / 11 / 20 / 20:18:04
Received location request - Sedor Jarvis located in Bridge 2, main deck.
Received location request - Luis Jarvis located in Bridge 2, main deck.
Received location request - Kalie Jarvis-Stevenson in Hub hall sector BY.
Log #2040 - 1 / 11 / 23 / 23:09:04
Critical bio-reading alert for Kalie Jarvis-Stevenson. Confirmed deceased.
Critical bio-reading alert for Tomo Stevenson. Confirmed deceased.
Log #2041 - 1 / 11 / 23 / 23:11:02
Received location request - Ando Claris located in Hub hall sector BY.
Log #2042 - 1 / 11 / 23 / 23:30:01
Received location request - Sedor Jarvis located in Hub hall sector BA.
Log #2043 - 1 / 11 / 23 / 23:40:44
Explosion detected in Hub hall sector BQ.
Critical bio-reading alert for Luis Jarvis. Confirmed deceased.
Received location request - Sedor Jarvis located in Hub hall sector BT.
Log #2044 - 1 / 11 / 23 / 23:55:02
Critical bio-reading alert for Ando Claris.
Log #2045 - 1 / 11 / 23 / 23:55:11
Correction. Ando Claris bio-interface implant & power unit implant have been removed. Sub-dermal locator implant has been removed.
Log #2046 - 1 / 12 / 1 / 00:00:04
Received location request. Cannot process request - Ando Claris location unknown.
Log #2047 - 1 / 12 / 1 / 00:00:18
Communication underway with Ship Captain Sedor Jarvis.
Received request to shut down all life support systems, excluding Jarvis sector AE and cryostasis unit BG12. Sole Steering Committee representative authority - Ship Captain Sedor Jarvis.
Scan complete - no bio-interface markers detected. Initiating diversion of all life support systems.
Log #2048 - 1 / 12 / 1 / 00:14:32
Emergency override activated Jarvis sector BE2. Confirmed access to emergency equipment cache BE2 - authority Resource vice-Chair Ando Claris.
Log #2049 - 1 / 12 / 1 / 00:59:03
Critical bio-reading alert for Sedor Jarvis. Initiating remote trauma protocol in aorta implant DJ22. Trauma protocol successful.
Critical bio-reading alert for Sedor Jarvis. Initiating remote trauma protocol in aorta implant DJ22. Trauma protocol successful.
Critical bio-reading alert for Sedor Jarvis. Confirmed deceased.
Log #8433 - 18 / 08 / 10 / 23:26:36
SOS message estimated to have reached emergency relay beacon SZK-Chis99.
Log #8490 - 18 / 08 / 13 / 01:40:43
Communication received from Sirius Mapier IV - Class ANV Liner.
Confirmed boarding request.
Initiating docking procedures.
Confirmed 1 crewmember onboard. Initiating release from cryostasis.
This is a story I put together for the short story comp 'A shot in the dark'. I didn't win, and didn't get many votes.
I like the story but I think the problem was the writing is too dense for the type of story it's supposed to be.
I still like the story and I think if someone stuck with it to the end they would too, but I know that's not how readership works!
nzric - Twilight of Lascaux
I scratched at the Chosen wall part with a birch stone and smoothed at the bottom wall with the clay stone. Last time Gne-Runan had brought heat-light he first made me hide in the bedding chamber. Then when he beckoned he held the smallest heat-light dancing hot on a small birch. He showed me the new outline on the Chosen wall part. He said there was a head with horns. A huge body. Next he will shape the men outlines with spears but before that I should scrape in the Chosen wall part and fill it with the shade of darkness. He gave me a new hot birch stone and said he would return.
I felt the Chosen part wall outline then crushed the dancing birch light. Even the small heat-light hurt my eyes. And heat-light is not welcome in my place of sleep-and-awake-joined until the start of the Spring cycle. I scrape the birch stone in the Chosen wall part, my hands see that the outline stops before the rising mound and curves just below the running crack where water sometimes goes.
Gne-Runan said the next Spring cycle would be when he sees the One God through the seeing stone when the standing stone remains in shadow. He is a great sorcerer. He has shown me what shadows are but to me they dance with the birch stone and birch branch heat-light. Gne-Runan says when he walks in his world the shadows stop their dance and move nearly not at all. He says the One God is a great heat-light that looks small but gives shadow to the whole world at once. It moves nearly not at all but goes across the whole of the world in one day. He speaks in riddles. He says he would show me when I come of age but my place now is in this world of sleep-and-awake-joined, to sleep dream the hunt into life.
Sometimes he would enter my world and yell, the stone of my world yelling back to him in laughing. When he yells he would either hit me or give me meat. When the hunt is good he yells and gives me meat hot from the birch stone. Once he gave me a hide, wet with the salt-taste and hairy like bedding. He said it was a horned hide, and he said that its colour was dark and brown like the clay stone. I could not understand – the clay stone is not soft like bedding and the smell of the clay stone is of earth not meat so what is the colour? But when I question him like that he beats my head so I do not ask.
But his promise of the largest heat-light is an omen to me. The omen to him was the heavy tree falling nearby and the omen to our people was the death of a newly walking child from bad hunger and grass eating. He told our people he had to wait for the new Spring cycle to bring the largest birch heat-light to my world to read the meaning of the omen. They were not happy but he is a powerful sorcerer so they listened and waited.
When the new cycle was two of his sleeps away he brought the small heat-light onto the floor of the main chamber. It hurt my eyes and I hid in the bedding cave but he beat my head until I came near the heat-light on the birch stones. He told me to look at it and keep it with birch stones, or else the largest birch heat-light would hurt my eyes so much I would die. I was afraid so I did as he ordered. I could see the Chosen wall parts with animal and man shapes but they were wrong with the heat-light. They became fixed on the stone, not held suspended in half-sleep darkness like they should be. But I scraped the birch stone on the new Chosen wall part to make the shape closer to the shade of darkness.
Gne-Runan was not pleased when he came with the largest birch heat-light. When he is pleased and there is meat from the hunt he brings me a woman tasting of smoke ash. I take the woman and the stones yell along with our yelling until she thanks the stones and returns to the world of sleeping-and-waking-apart to bear child. But this time at the start of the new Spring cycle he says the omens are still bad and orders me into the storeroom chamber to hide. He brings the Big Men with their staffs and cloaks and they talk of the hunt, of the omens and of the Chosen wall parts.
It is all wrong. The heat-light fixes the pictures on the stone, the Big Men should not enter, they should not cleave the sleeping-and-awake-joined apart. I moan to my world in the storeroom chamber, slapping my hands on the cold stone in sympathy. The Big Men are frightened at the noise, they say this world is cursed, that if they stay here when there is no heat-light they will be trapped in the world where sleep and awake are joined.
“I am the stone alive!” I yell, “Do not bring your heat-light or I will tear your throats and drink your blood.”
The Big Men are afraid of me the stone and run from my world taking their heat-light away, but Gne-Runan remains. He tells me I have broken the omen and he beats my body until I can hardly breathe. He leaves me and I know it is for a long time because I am so thirsty I stop passing water, and my stomach growls with hunger.
When Gne-Runan returns his head is broken. He coughs and spits, and lies on the floor sometimes sleeping while not moving and sometimes awake sleeping. The Big Men were angry at the omens and scared of my shouts from the world of sleep-and-awake-joined. They beat Gne-Runan’s head and he escaped, but he said they will come with many largest heat-lights to burn the omens away. I tell him I will tear their throats if they come and instead of cursing and beating my head he only coughs.
They came when it is the time of Gne-Runan’s sleeps. His head was hot and wet with salt-taste and he groaned but didn’t move when I warned him I smelled birch smoke. I picked him up and carried him through the thickening passage to the deeper chamber, putting him on the farthest sitting furs. Shouts came from the main chamber and as I ran back up the thickening chamber I smelled heavy smoke and saw shadows dancing out of the stone. There was one Big Man and three other men, all with largest heat-lights giving smoke through the main chamber. I moaned at the smoke as it fixes then burns the Chosen wall part pictures, but I cover my mouth with my hands to make no noise. Some of the men held spears, some with armfuls of wet clay – the Big Man shouted at the Chosen wall parts and the men would throw the clay at the pictures, then smooth the dark clay over the pictures and return them into darkness.
I ran quickly to the birch stones. The men do not see me – Gne-runan has told me many times the men are tied to their heat-lights and the darkness makes them blind and tired-afraid. I felt past the warm birch stones to find the stones I sometimes use to warm my bedding. I filled my arms with the hand-sized stones but the clatter makes one man turn and he shouts with surprise. I hear a spear dancing off the stone near my head but they are too afraid to follow me into the thickening passage. Their shouts get more urgent and I hear the moist splatter of clay on the walls as they rush their work.
I turned back to the main chamber with a warm stone in each hand. There was one man standing with a spear and looking straight at me, but I could see his eyes were tied to the heat-light and blind to me. I drew my arm back like the Chosen wall pictures of the men with spears, then threw the stone with as much force as I could. I have seen the Chosen wall pictures but have never thrown so the stone easily missed all the men, but it makes them stop their yelling and turn to the loud noise.
I ran from the thickening passage, straight past the man with the spear. He is not my enemy. The heat-light is my enemy and I tear one of the birch branches from the Big Man, throwing it against the wall so it splinters and dies. This I do with the next heat-light, and the final one. The third burns me as I take it from one of the men and dash it against my chest where it splinters and dies. I scream in the darkness and the stone screams back to me with anger. The men are blind and afraid and stumble against each other, stumble into the wall stones. They are not my enemies. They are my prey. I hold the stone in my hand and beat their heads, one at a time. The last one tries to stay silent but he breathes and shuffles and I pull him into awake, throwing his head against the Chosen wall part so that the stone drips with wetness like during the raining seasons.
Silence except for the dripping of the stone, the last high breaths of the birch branch smoke. I go back to Gne-Runan but he is silent and heavy. I put my hands on his mouth and nose and he does not move them away – he has gone from this sleep-awake world joined, he has moved to the world of always sleeping death.
I know I cannot stay. The omens have torn the sleep-awake-joined from this world, it is now part of the world of always sleeping death. If I stay my hunger will grow until I always sleep, so I must leave to the awake-and-sleeping-separated world, the world of the small One God with the largest heat-light, larger even than the huge birch branches held by the Big Men. Gne-Runan said if I looked at the largest heat-light it would hurt so much I would die, but I have torn one from the man and struck it on my chest and I did not die. I could bring the omens to the One God and ask him to spare me until I can find another world of sleeping-and-awake-joined. I take some birch stones and the largest clay stone – I can find another Chosen wall parts to sleep dream the hunt and good fortune for me.
The sleeping awake separating passage is longer than I thought. It is marked with hand prints against the dark of the stone, and I follow them out. The passage opens up and I see many shadows on the ground, above me, wider and wider. They are black on dark but I know they are the birch trees Gne-Runan has told me about, and I run my hand over a standing birch stone that rises from the ground, wider than my arms and rough like a dry stone. There is wind but not like I am used to, it makes no sound and it is always from one direction. I walk towards the wind and the ground slopes upwards. Higher and higher I walk, the birch trees are all around me and the ground is thick with bedding branches and sticks that hurt my feet, but I walk on.
And suddenly the trees stop and the ground stops and I look down and wide and out and the trees are as far as the world until they go into welcome darkness. I see the trees below me, they look small but I know they are large and I would need to walk far to reach them. But I am scared of the height so I do not approach the edge. I look upwards and see the One God. He is curved and bright but I look at him and I do not die. Around Him, all above me are specks like that flies from a birch branch heat-light, but they are not hot, they are still and far away and the world is broad and wide and I yell in joy.
“One God thank you for letting me enter your world,” I shout. “Thank you for letting me beat the heads and drink the blood of the men.” The One God does not answer but I know He is pleased.
I show Him the birch stones and the large clay stone and say I will shape him good omens if he shows me to where I can find meat, where I can find another world of sleeping-and-awake-joined. I am patient, I wait and after a long time I look again and see He has moved from where He was. He is now in the direction where the wind blows and I ask “how can I climb down from this edge to follow you?” but he doesn’t answer. I sit for longer. My own sleeping is coming but I am scared of the wide and open and I want to return to the main chamber, but it is now belonging to death sleeping only.
I look around. There is a difference. The trees are shadow but now I can see more, further. Above me is not just black, it is lighter but with no heat. I wait for longer. I hear birds but they do not bother me, Gne-Runan has brought them into my world before where they sing and flap and dance. I listen to the birds, so many and so distant. The light-and-no-heat is larger but it still does not hurt my eyes so I stay.
There is more light, filling the world. I look to the One God but He is growing darker. Is he giving the light from Him to the world? But Gne-Runan said He should always be hot-light, always too bright to look at. The world above, that which is the sky, changes and I begin to see when the darkness leaves. Gne-Runan is right, the sky is turning the same shade as the clay stone, the shade of the berries he crushes to fill the shape of the men of the Chosen wall parts. I yell and cry out in thanks and I think I hear the world yell in reply far away.
And in the direction of the wind the sky becomes lighter still. It is so bright but if there is heat it is far away. And suddenly I see a splinter, brighter than the largest heat-light but far beyond the trees. It hurts my eyes and I turn away but I have to look. The splinter becomes a line, becomes a curve, rising and throwing light across the world. And that fading above is not the One God, THIS is the One God! It is the largest light but far and small and as I watch it rises into a great circle and I feel the heat-light. It warms my face as I drop to my knees and shelter my eyes because I know to look straight at this One God would truly kill me.
Gne-Runan, you were right! You were a great sorcerer and I see the shadows of the trees and my shadow are fixed in the awake by the One God, not dancing shadows but part of this world and fixed like the Chosen wall parts in a great heat-light.
The tears stream down my face as I thank the One God and show the One God the clay stone and the birch stone for omen shaping from my world of awake-and-sleep-joined. And I start down the long climb towards where the wind comes and towards from where the One God comes so that I can please Him and He can show me the way back to my world.
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