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  1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Short Story Contest (34) Theme: Coming To Terms With Mortality

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Nov 26, 2008.

    Short Story Contest 33
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: Coming To Terms With Mortality



    Open to all, newbies and established members alike. Please post your entries in this thread. At the deadline I will collate all entries and put them forward for voting in a seperate thread. Sadly there are no prizes but honour on offer. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner.

    Theme: Coming To Terms With Mortality. Any interpretation valid.

    Suggested Wordlimit: 500 - 3000 words.
    Deadline for entries: December 11th 2008 16.00 (UK local)


    There is a 10% leniency with regards to the wordlimit. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit will still be entered into the contest but flagged as such, and eligibility determined by vote alone.

    Try to make all your stories complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seeming outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece manner to decide its legitamacy for the contest.

    Submissions may not have been previously posted on this site, nor may they be posted for review until voting has closed.

    Please try to refrain from itallicising, bolding or indenting any text to help avoid disappointment. These stylistics do not reproduce when I copy-paste them into the voting thread.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets at the top of your story.
    Thanks and good luck.
     
  2. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Where the Pink Fishes Go [2,003 Words]

    With a whisper, the wind softly sung a slow rhythm to the raging river. The cloudless sky hung high over the hills on which the white cottage was located, and the breeze blew the bright green leaves of the trees into the clear water as it rushed along. Little Stanley silently sat at the water’s edge, gazing fixedly at the frolicking fishes as they swiftly swam down the stream. Little Stanley loved looking at the pink fishes as they paraded past, and he smiled sweetly as they sailed by. For countless hours he would watch the fishes winding their way through the water, wondering always where they went. One day little Stanley asked his mother where the pink fishes go, but neither she nor his father knew.

    Little Stanley lived in the white cottage for five years with his mother and father who loved each other very much. The cottage was on the outskirts of a small neighborhood where the happy people smiled, and even the sad people smiled too when little Stanley talked to them. He would ask, “How are you?” and they would answer “I’m fine,” and he would smile and they would smile and he would walk happily on his way. One day when he came home from playing in the neighborhood he saw his father crying and his mother lying still on the bed. He remembered that his mother had been sick for a long time and she had stopped eating. Little Stanley waited for her to get out of bed, but she never moved. He asked his father why she would not move and he cried some more.

    After his mother was buried he lived with his father for a few months. But because his father loved his mother so very much he could not live without her, and he died of a broken heart very shortly after. A nice little family from the neighborhood who knew little Stanley very well took care of him and gave him a home. But soon the father of that family got a new job and they and little Stanley moved away from the hills and the raging river with the pink fishes and got a new house in a city far away. Little Stanley grew up in that city and went to school there, and he was treated very well by his foster family, but every so often he cried when he missed the cottage and the river and the fishes.

    As Stanley grew up he began to forget about the cottage and the river and the fishes, but very often he would smell the scent of water and remember his home in the hills. He learned in school that smell was the sense closest tied to memories. He tried not to remember the hills but every time he smelled the water he remembered them. One day he was playing with his foster sister in the street and she asked him if he remembered the old neighborhood but he did not. He only remembered the river and the fishes, and the smell of the water. She said she remembered the neighborhood and that he would walk around and make the sad people happy. He said you can’t make the sad people happy, but she said yes you can and she remembered it. He said she was a liar.

    When Stanley graduated from high school he left the city and moved to a small town by himself, where the rent was affordable for someone without a degree. He worked as a laborer and used his hands to nail the wood together so that the houses would not fall down. Working in the sun all day turned his face red and many people asked him if he was Irish. He told them he might be but he did not know where he was from. Stanley passed his days as a laborer for many, many years, and he began to grow hunched from all of the tedious work. One day a mean man saw his deformity and asked him if he would like a bell to ring, but Stanley ignored him and kept to his work.

    Stanley never married, but he was very fond of his foster sister who visited him very often. She never married either, and she lived by herself in a town near Stanley’s town. He thought once that maybe he was in love with her, but that was only for a short time. On his birthday one year she gave him a wind chime made of pine cones, and he hung it on his windowsill and every time the wind blew he would hear the delicate sound of the pine cones in the breeze. The sound reminded him of her whenever he was alone.

    After a long time of hard work and little spending Stanley saved up enough money to take a vacation. He left his town and enjoyed a week by the ocean, watching the ships and the sailors at the harbor and smelling the fishes and the water in the air. The smell made him recall a memory that had long been buried deep in his mind. He remembered for the first time in years the cottage and the river and the fishes, and a deep yearning to return to the hills pulled at his heart all through his vacation. When he returned to his home and saw his foster sister again he told her that he was going to go back to the cottage. She asked him if he knew where to go and he said no, but he would find his way.

    He left his home in the spring when it was warm because he did not want to travel in the snow. He first wanted to return to the city where he grew up, because maybe from there he could remember where the hills were, so he travelled along the roads and even though he walked slowly he still made good time. His age slowed him down some, too, but he trudged forward and fought against the elements holding him back. When he reached the city he saw the familiar streets and houses that he knew from his childhood. He found his foster parents’ house and stayed there for a few days. It was the first time he saw his reflection since leaving, and he was surprised to see the rings growing around his tired eyes and the color leaving his wrinkled face. His foster parents told him that the hills were a long way north, and so he left shortly after and resumed his journey.

    One day as he walked up the road he saw a dying phoenix perched on a branch, its burning body leaving a pile of ashes in its wake. He watched as the phoenix burned away, feathers and all, wondering if the death was painful for the bird. When the flames died away there was a soft chirp and Stanley saw an ugly head poke out from the ashes. The baby phoenix stared at Stanley with its bald head cocked to one side, as if trying to recall his face from an old memory. The bird dug itself out of the ash and scampered along, and Stanley smiled at it and continued on his way.

    The next day he watched the snake swallow its own tail. It hung limply from the branch as the phoenix did, and it grabbed its tail with its mouth and swallowed it. Stanley stared at the spectacle and wondered how it could be possible that the snake could eat itself but never fully swallow its own body. He thought that maybe the sight was a travesty and wondered if Kekulé was behind it, but he marveled still at the uniqueness of the sight before him. Gazing at the snake he admired the perfect circle that it formed around the branch, a circle so perfect no artist could ever match it. The snake never acknowledged him as he stared, and so he continued onward to the hills.

    As the hot summer wore on Stanley grew worried that he would not find the cottage and the river and the fishes. He travelled for days and spent nights in little inns along the roadside but nobody knew of the cottage. He asked each of the innkeepers if he was near a river, but they always said that he was not. He began to give up hope and worried that he would die of old age before reaching the cottage, for his once red face had grown white and the hump on his back had become much more prominent. His pace also slowed and he grew weary much sooner than he used to, and he stopped to rest at least twice as often as before.

    It was a day in the middle of August when he noticed the scent of the river filling his nostrils, and he knew it was the right river because smell is tied to memory and he remembered that smell. So he wandered in search of that river for a long time. When he found it he began to follow it north, hoping that the cottage was not already behind him. He followed the river for days and occasionally he peeked into it and saw the pink fishes swimming against the current and he wondered why they would do that when it would be much easier to swim with the current.

    On a day at the beginning of September Stanley saw the stones that marked the graves of his mother and father. After all the time that had passed he was surprised that the gravestones had not been disturbed. He felt the breeze blowing his graying hair and heard the wind whispering to the raging river just as he remembered it. Then, into his view came the white cottage and the hills on which it was built, and he saw the spot by the riverbed where he used to watch the fishes. Playing by the riverside were two young children and watching them from the front door of the white cottage was their mother.

    After a moment she noticed Stanley and she asked him who he was. He answered that he used to live in this cottage when he was very young and his mother and his father both died here and their graves were further down the riverbed. The woman smiled and Stanley asked if she and the children lived here now and she said yes. He said it was nice to see the children playing by the water like he used to. She invited him inside the cottage and called for her children to come inside for supper.

    Stanley saw that the cottage did not change very much from what he remembered, and he was glad about it. The mother told him that he should sup with the family and he did, forgetting how wonderful it was to eat real food, but he did not eat much because he was old and no longer had a big appetite. She asked him if he felt all right and he said he did, but it was a lie. He had been growing weaker by the day and had very little strength left in his body. But he did not want the mother to know that because he did not want her to worry.

    After dinner she asked him if he would like to sleep in his old bedroom and Stanley thought that that was a very nice gesture. He slowly climbed the stairs and found his old bedroom, and not much had changed about it despite the passage of time. He lay down on the bed and pulled up the sheets to comfort himself, and he closed his eyes and began to drift off to sleep. The long awaited sleep came almost immediately and his last living thought was the realization that, in completing the circle, only the departed know where the pink fishes go.
     
  3. Kitara Long
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    Kitara Long New Member

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    Coming To Terms With Marilyn

    COMING TO TERMS WITH MARILYN
    By Theresa Dumlao
    Dec. 2008

    Copyright © 2008 Theresa Dumlao
    1747 words













    Jasper tapped his feet and growled with impatience. Waiting at the clinic was excruciating, especially this clinic. This was the type of clinic where, on occasion, people would be told some pretty bad news. This was Mary's Walk-In Clinic.


    In Olympia, people only went to Mary's for two reasons. One reason was to find out whether or not that bar trollop you banged a few weeks back was knocked up or not. The other was to get tested for venereal diseases.

    Jasper was the only man in the room. Three women had joined him within the last fifteen minutes, each looking at him with worried eyes and furrowed eyebrows. They knew what he was there for.

    Jasper was a good looking man. At 28 years old, he was quite attractive. His eyes were a bright blue and he kept his shoulder length black mane well groomed. He had the body of a man that worked out. His secret was that he didn't work out at all. He was just naturally blessed. The way these women in the clinic looked at him was not at all like what he was used to. This was not lust or take-your-breathe-away type of stares. These were uncomfortable and disgusted looks.

    Was he clean? He had no idea. He had had himself recently tested after the death of a woman he had met. Her name was Marilyn.

    Marilyn's death was due to PCP (Pneumoscystis pneumonia), a lung infection. This had been deadly because Marilyn had aids. He hadn't known this, of course. A friend had let him in on it soon after the death.

    Now Jasper wasn't the type of guy who would do foolish things. He was a planner, an organizer. It had been that one night, just that one mistake that may have changed his life forever.

    He became plastered at a bar with his friends and had run off with Marilyn. Jasper remembered her vividly. She had been wearing a white dress and sky high heels that night. The name, Marilyn, fit her. She looked like the sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. Her big brown eyes batted at him playfully underneath long and luxurious eyelashes. She was beautiful and yet the look on her face had been such a sad one. Her pretty lips had been pouting and it seemed as though she had just been crying. He took her home that night and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Now he was here. He had not been feeling well for quite some time. He found that his weight had been steadily dropping and the flu like symptoms he had been feeling had not been going away. His stomach always hurt and he was beginning to feel as though he were a zombie. His family had begun to worry about him, frequently asking him if he had been experimenting with drugs. It was becoming embarrassing.

    Earlier that morning a woman from the clinic called. She asked him to come so they could speak about the results. So here he sat. Why would they call him like that and make him wait in the lobby? Why couldn't they just get on with it?

    When the nurse called him in he knew right away that the results would read positive. The look on her face had been a sad one, an obvious look of pity.

    Head down and his hands in his pockets he walked past her.

    “Way to let the cat out of the bag,” he mumbled.

    She sighed and opened the door that led to an office. It was a cold, gray and uncomfortable room. A large metal desk had been plopped in the corner. Behind it was an office chair, one of the swivel ones that Jasper had enjoyed spinning in as a child. There were no pictures, no art in this room. It was just a drab and lonely place. Not a place where a man should learn he is dying. In fact the room seemed more like an interrogation room. He chuckled as he envisioned the doctors grilling him, pounding their fists, playing good doctor/bad doctor. “Who did you get aids from?” one would scream, spit flailing from his mouth.

    Jasper put his feet up on the desk. He had heard that this was how it was when you learn you are dying. We always end up somewhere cold and gray, either in a hospital bed hooked up to machines or in a doctors office being told you have cancer or have contracted aids. What an end to a life.

    The doctor walked in with a clipboard. His eyes had not left Jasper's as he flipped the pages over. He explained that Jasper had less than 200 CD4 cells. This meant he was positive.

    Jasper hadn't looked at the doctor directly. Instead he stared at the wall behind his head. He could do nothing. He could say nothing. He could only stare and listen to the voice of the man signing his death sentence. His voice seemed so far away. It echoed and clashed around in his brain. He comprehended nothing until the doctor muttered the word 'hope'. He bounced out of his trance. This was an important part. He should listen to this.

    “There is hope, Jasper. There are medications we can prescribe that can slow the disease down. There are also groups. They can help you come to terms with this. I'll get you some fliers.”

    Jasper walked out of the clinic in a trance. All he could think of was Marilyn. Did she know? She had to have known. Why would she have been crying? Had she given it to him on purpose?

    “Come to terms,” he muttered to himself.

    He needed to think. He drove downtown and parked. That night he found himself still walking. He felt dead already.

    As he walked past the bars on 4th ave, he eyed a pretty brunette walking into a bar. She had been all alone. Her white dress billowed out behind her as a gust of compressed air from the building flew out of the doorway. He followed her.

    He watched as she sat down and ordered a drink. By the looks of it it had been something hard. She sipped, he watched. The more that he watched, the more he began to envision Marilyn. Maybe it was the dress. Maybe it was the way she seemed so alone and somewhat sad. Whatever the reason, the girl made Jasper reminisce. The more Jasper reminisced, the more angry he became.

    “Come to terms,” he mouthed to himself.

    He approached the girl with a smile. She looked up at him with big, brown, confused eyes.

    “I like your dress,” he said.

    He had taken the girl home that night. Her name was Jenny, but the name never mattered to Jasper. All that mattered was her dress. That dress looked like Marilyn's and therefore this girl was Marilyn.

    In the morning the girl nursed a hangover headache all the way to the front door. She gave him a nervous kiss and began to walk away. Before she could get far he grabbed her wrist and twirled her around.

    “Now you come to terms,” he whispered.

    Turning on his heels he slammed the door in her face, shaking it in it's frame.

    For the next two months that Jasper lived he had been to every bar in Thurston County. Each girl he brought home had a name that he did not know. Each girl resembled Marilyn in some way. He was ready now. If he had to go he would take Marilyn with him.

    A brain tumor finally landed him in the hospital.

    The first few days, his family came one by one to visit. His mother cried and his father did his best to console her, all the while weeping the way men do when they lose their sons.

    On the fourth day a priest appeared by his side.

    “Son, would you like to ask the lords forgiveness before you pass?” the priest asked.

    Jasper looked at him and gave a weak laugh.

    “Father, I am the last one the lord would want to forgive.”

    “Now, that can't be true, my son. The lord loves you. He will forgive you,” the priest insisted.

    “Do me a favor, father. Tell my parents to thank Marilyn. She's my hero,” he said. The priest could not hear the sarcasm.

    “Who is Marilyn?” the father asked.

    “Never mind father. I'm dying. I know this and I accept this. Marilyn forced me too.”

    “What is it that you speak of, my son?” The priest had become confused.

    “Never mind. Never mind the dead man, father. Tend to my Marilyn's.”

    At that moment Jaspers body had began to convulse. He was having a seizure. Jasper was pronounced dead at 3:42pm.

    His mother's screams resonated throughout the hospital halls, the grief so strong, it could be felt by everyone inside.

    The priest walked silently to where Jaspers father sat, head in hands.

    “I need to ask you a question,” he said.

    Jaspers father looked up. In his hands were pools of tears.

    “Who is Marilyn?” the priest inquired.

    “I don't know,” his father said. “Why? Did he say something about a Marilyn?”

    “She seemed to have helped him come to terms with his fate. If you ever find her, your son asked me to tell you to thank her.”

    His father looked at the floor. Tears ran down his face. He wept for his boy that died so young. It was a shame.

    Months later, Thurston county had an aids epidemic on their hands. The doctors had never seen so many aids patients in their lives.

    What was going on? The world wanted to know.

    Inside of the hospitals were dozens of women. They coughed and held their stomachs. Some were puking into plastic bags in the lobby, some were asleep in the pink and white hospital gowns. The priest walked through the halls in a state of shock. He had a feeling, as he watched girls, day after day, fall to their knees, crying and protesting, begging the doctors to check again. He thought back to the day the man told him to watch his Marilyn's and that the lord would not forgive him. This was mass murder. No, the lord would not forgive him.
     
  4. ken90004
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    ken90004 Member

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    The Colors of Autumn [793]

    The Colors of Autumn


    Autumn had set in; leaves blanket the mossy ground. The deep golden leaves of the American elms, yellow-browns from the willow oaks, and the burnt orange leaves of the silver maples all settled lightly on the hill as I made my way to my beloved’s final resting place. With her gone from me for twenty years now, the hollow in my heart has yet to mend itself. The silence of the years has moved by with such emptiness and pain that it is as if death mocks me in my misery. The soothing remembrance of her soft beautiful face is all I have for a bed partner when cold nights seek to steal away what little warmth my body can produce. I know death cannot cheat me forever, and someday, soon I can feel, I will hold my beloved once again.

    These walks to the cemetery have become more laborious as of late. By the time I return to my gloomy one-room apartment, the pain in my twisted back is all but unbearable, but autumn was always our favorite time of the year. After forty-five years of marriage, I can recall how we used to hold hands like young lovers, and walk through the park, enjoying the rich smells of the crisps leaves and talking about everything and nothing, all at the same time.

    Your gaze and your smile made me fall in love with your over and over again. There could be no one to match the glow of your beauty.

    Your sweet and gentle voice could almost be heard in my ears, as I stared down at the cold hard letters carved into the marble of your headstone: “Always my beloved. ~Your loving husband”. The night I purposed our marriage, I told you that I could not live without you, that you would always be my beloved. I remember the feelings of you pulling my neck tight in your arms as you whispered in my ear that you love me so much, and then kissed me with such adoring passion. I learned the meaning of my words so many years later, as the leaves fell outside your window in that late September, when you passed from me. I have not lived a day since that day, but only endure as this shell of man. You have always and will always be my beloved.

    Silent tears fell from my worn and weathered face as I made my trek down the hill, to the front gate of the cemetery, and back the two miles to my little hobble. Long gone are the days of denial, when I expected to wake from this horrible dream, turn to you in bed, and seek your reassuring comfort. Also passed are the fits of anger as I screamed like some unruly child, tossing a tantrum in a store. I learned to understand that it was no will of your own to leave me behind in this bleak world. All things whither and pass away in this earth, much as the dry brittle leaves beneath the sole of my shoe.

    It is early evening, as I let myself into my apartment. I do not bother to flip on the single overhead light, as there are some condolences the darkness seems to offer me tonight. I remove my shoes and put them in their place by the door. With great effort, I remove my woolen coat, and hang it on it’s hook. Hunger nibbles at my middle, but I cannot stomach food, as the pain I feel has taxed me to my limits. I walk through the dark like some sightless man toward the spring mattress cot that is pushed up against the corner of the room. I carefully lower myself down in the bed, not bothering with the tattered blanket or remove any clothing. I stare out the front window as twilight makes a final move on the daylight. The street outside is lit by the headlights of passing cars, and I look at the single loan tree on the boulevard. Much like me, it is lonely. The urban landscape has taken all other trees and left this one to bare the pain. I watch in the reflection of a headlight as a single leaf falls to the ground.

    I sleep now, as exhaustion overtakes the day’s pains. I have given up taking the doctors pills, as they more dull my wits then this body’s aches. As I rest, my breathing slows, and I can feel a deep cold from inside of me. This is not the cold of an old man, but different. Something more than sleep comes to me this night. I think autumn is gone, and I think so am I.

    An original work By Kendall Campbell
     
  5. Mr. M
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    Mr. M Member

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    Bereft

    Bereft (525 Words)​

    Autumn meant hard rain, a harbinger of the cold, dark winter a few weeks away. For two days it had come down, soaking everything. Puddles became ponds and streets ran like rivers with the rushing overflow. The trip to the airport had been quiet. After twenty two years there were no words left unspoken between them. The look in his eyes at the gate was enough. Russ would not return. Stephen watched as the plane taxied down the runway. There was a break in the clouds and for a few moments, the sun broke through. The plane lifted off and disappeared into the sunlight. By the time Stephen reached the parking garage, the gap had closed.

    ***** ​

    Labyrinth Candle Company had been the work of two decades. Stephen had started in an old garage and as his skill and reputation grew, so did the need for a larger space. The Tower had been perfect, a two story building with a shop below and living arrangements above. It served its purpose, Stephen and Russ were comfortable in their rooms and the shop gave them space to stock materials and make new molds. Stephen had built the business on the steady demand for candles from local boutiques, bazaars and churches, but Russ had made a name for them with his artistic flair. From an early age, Russ had the hands of a craftsman and the eye of an artist. While Stephen was experimenting with new materials, Russ was drawing, working with color, designing original molds. Their skills had complemented each other and allowed them to live modestly. It wasn't an easy life, there never seemed to be enough money, but Russ didn't complain and Stephen focused on his work.

    When Russ was seventeen Stephen turned the deliveries over to him. For years he had made the rounds with his father, meeting their customers and listening in as they talked shop. It was a wider world and Russ had made the most of it, making friends and exploring new ideas. Somewhere during those travels a seed had been planted, one that took five years to germinate. Russ often came home asking questions about far away places so it was no surprise to Stephen when he came home on his twenty second birthday with a plane ticket.

    *****​

    The old panel truck pulled into the dark parking lot of the Tower. Stephen stepped out, pulling his collar close. The rain found its way into every crack and crevasse of his coat and overalls. A pale yellow glow came from the second floor kitchen window, the only light in the building. He stared up at it for a long time, the cold rain running down his neck, soaking him.

    *****​

    From the Crete County Daily News February 14, 1999:

    Stephen Taitle, 58, died February 2, 1999 at Augustine Memorial Hospital from complications due to pneumonia. Mr. Taitle was born January 13, 1941 and moved to Crete County in 1963 where he started Labyrinth Candle Company, which he owned and operated until his death.

    He is survived by his only son, Russell Taitle of Phoenix.

    At Mr. Taitle's request, there were no services.
     
  6. dragoness2929
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    dragoness2929 New Member

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    Withdrawing my piece.
     
  7. Opheilia
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    Opheilia Member

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    Conversation on a Swing - By Opheilia [WC1811]


    I didn’t notice you at first.

    Small. Insignificant. Hiding.

    You looked lost against the crowd. Much smaller than your 6 years. Against the Sea of Black. Formal.
    Speaking in hushed tones. A melody of whispers. Almost background noise, communally mumbling in docile tones. I am unable to make out quiet what is being said, people politely walking past me, not knowing what to say, struggling to make eye contact. I am not here to them. I mean, what they could say to me today. What words are there, to express how I am feeling?

    So here I stand. Ignored. Indifferent. External from everything.

    It is then I see you again. Looking scared. Looking frightened. Unsure as to what is going on. Ignored.

    I try to move towards you. A lost soul like me. Abstract from the collective grief that binds the others in the room. But you have gone.

    I feel the room become smaller around me. No air can fill my lungs. I try to breathe. No life beyond my eyes. I need to get outside. Away from these people. Away from the grief that fills the air.

    As I move outside, I see the sun shining. In all its glory, bright full and strong. It’s mocking presence. Full of happiness and hope. High in the afternoon sky. When all around, I feel nothing but black and greys.

    And then I see you, once more.

    You are sat on the wooden garden swing. Built some years ago. Covered in green moss. A living part of the garden. Unimposing in the corner. Tied strongly against the two parallel cherry blossom trees. I remember when that was built. We joked that it would take daddy months to build it. Like all the other projects he started around the home, and never quiet seemed to complete. Life was very busy then. Full of good intentions. I used to say “why put off till tomorrow, what you can do today”, but daddy use to say “There’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow is just another day!”

    But that’s not the case anymore is it? There is no tomorrow now. Everything has changed.

    But the swing is still there, and the trees are in full blossom. With every breathe from the wind, a gentle rain of pink confetti showered over the swing. It looked beautiful. I remember sitting there last summer, with you picking the petals out of my hair, laughing. But there’s no laughter now. Not anymore.

    I walk over to where you are sat.
    “Is anybody sitting here?” I ask.
    “No” you reply, arms folded across your chest, in stubbornness. You used to look like that when you were told off. So small and afraid. Like you are now.

    “Can I sit down?” I request, with hope.
    “If you want to” you reply, small lips pursed. “Nobody is talking to me.” You utter, barely heard.
    “Is that because they do not know what to say” I offer.

    You sit and think about it quietly. I gently rock the swing in the breeze. I can hear the noise still, from inside. Wondering what people are saying. Offering their condolences. A funeral is no place for a child, I’m thinking.

    Just then a familiar face, pops through the door. Its daddy!
    “Is everything ok?” he asks. Knowing the answer he receives will not be the truth. But such an innocuous question does not warrant a true disclosure that betrays either of our feelings, as we sit.

    “Yes, fine” we reply in unison “just need a moment”, we laugh. For the first time in weeks, we laugh. Our voices in gentle coordination, just like before. Just like when things were right. When things were good. Not like now. Things are not right. Things are far from good. Things are all broken. And I want to scream. And I want to cry. And I want to make things go back the way the were, but they can’t. As we both sit here, we both acknowledge the truth of situation. We stop laughing again.

    Somewhere I can hear a bird, singing in the tree. It seems a happy song. But it is not a happy song for me. Today I have come to say my goodbyes. My final Goodbyes.

    “They just ignore me” you say, quiet unannounced.
    “They just ignore me too” I agree.
    “But, mummy,” you say. Oh, those sweet words, how I have longed to have heard them, over the past few weeks, absorbed in my darkness, kept away from the things I love and the things I need, and now today of all days, you call to me. Mummy.

    “Its like they don’t see me” you continue.
    “I know, its like they don’t see me either” I affirm “but sometimes grown ups don’t see things, that they don’t want to see.”

    “I don’t understand?” you ask, full of enquiry.

    “Sometimes, when things are hard or they hurt too much, we try to block it out. We try to push it to the back of our minds. Make it go away. And that’s why we don’t see things”

    I struggled hard to find the words to explain to such a young child. How do you explain death? Death of someone you love. Someone you can no longer touch. No longer smell. No longer hold. This is no conversation for a child. These are not the things you should be doing on bright sunny days. There should only by tears of laughter not tears of sorrow. I want to take this pain away from you. I want to make it mine. It should be mine, I am your mother. And now. And now, I can no longer be with you. I can no longer protect you. Watch you grow up. Hold you. Smell you. Inside I am screaming. My head hurting with pain and sorrow. And yet… and yet on the outside I am trying to remain calm. Trying to be composed. Trying to explain to this little lost child, help you make sense of what has happened and what will happen. My last job as your mother. Time for me to say goodbye.

    “Do you think they are going to miss you?” you ask
    “Who?” I respond, abstract from the conversation, battling the thoughts in my head.
    “Them, in there?” you inform
    “Maybe,” I state, “but I also think, they are going to miss you, don’t you think?”
    “Do you think we should go back inside?” you query.
    “No.” I say, a little too abruptly. My intention trying to prolong this moment. Just the two of us. Locked in our own little world. Where nobody can see us.
    “No” more softly now, “lets stay and enjoy the sun some more. It will be time to move on soon, and I want to enjoy every last moment I have with you.”
    “What will it be like, mummy? Moving on?”
    “I don’t know, my love” trying not to cry, “I think there’ll be no more pain. No more tears. And, I believe, that everyone who has died will be there waiting. Waiting to make things all right. Waiting to make things better again”.
    Moving on. I thought, how the hell, can I move on. I don’t want to move on. I want to stay here, in the garden, under the swing that got built, that we thought wouldn’t get built. Like an obstinate child, I shouted in my head, I’m not going to move on. You cant make me. I wont.

    Just then, at the edge of the patio, outside the house. I see my mother. She is waiting for us. She smiles softly. First at me and then at you. I knew, it was time. Time for one of us to go back inside. Time for one of us to move on.

    “Just a moment longer?” I cry “Please?” with all the urgency of a small child
    “Who are you talking to mummy?” you ask
    “Your grandma” I reply
    “Where? I can’t see her.” you jump from the swing, legs landing softly on the dew covered lawn.
    “She’s over there, waiting for you, its time to say goodbye”
    You turn, and throw your arms around my legs. You’re still so small. It’s not fair. I had so much life planned ahead of us. For us both. But the moment has come.

    Now, as you hold me, you tell me you love me and that I’m not to miss you. Such brave words from such a little boy. You tell me that whenever you’re upset and lonely, you will come to this swing underneath the cherry blossom trees, whether they are in bloom or the branches are bare, and we can be together. And I promise you, also, that I will return, one day, and look for you, and wait softly on the swing cushioned in moss. Our swing. Its time to let go and even though I know it’s not true, I swear I can smell you. I gulp it in, tears running down my face, holding onto you far too tight not wanting to let go. I look up and see my mother, and she beckons towards us, letting me know, that now really is goodbye. And you let go, and turn towards my mother, your little legs running, and leaving imprints on the lawn where the dew no longer rests. Like a child so full of life. Full of happiness. With everything so laid out in front of you.

    Now here I stand. Alone. Lost in time. The tears blur my eyes, until I cant see any more. Silence. Nothing. Keep them closed.

    When I open my eyes. You are gone and I am now I’m alone.
    There is a bright light all around me. Cushioning me in its warmth. And I do feel its warmth. I feel slightly better now. Now, that I have said goodbye. The pain is still here. But the moment we shared on the swing, just the two of us, saying goodbye. Has helped. Just a little. But has helped.

    So I walk. To the ones who are waiting for me. To the ones that will make things all better. To the ones that love me. Just as I had explained to you. Now its my turn to move on.

    I wipe the tears which have stained my face, dried hard on my cheek. There I see my husband. A familiar face. Offering his arms out to me. He has been waiting for me all this time. Giving me my moment to say goodbye.

    Then he asks, “Are you ok?”
    And I reply, “Yes. I’m ok now. I was just saying goodbye”

    And then as I walk back into the house, I turn to my family and friends, and thank them all for coming to my dear son’s funeral. And now, I know, it is my turn to move on.
     
  8. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    Alone - 1,225 words (I had posted the original piece in the crime & thriller section, but I think the re-write fits in well with this theme.)

    I was startled awake sometime before dawn. Restless … unable to rest my weary mind, I walked around the house. Actually, I felt like a zombie! My feet shuffled from room to room, my fingers traced the soft wooden walls. But, with every glance, the emptiness crushed me - propelling me further into oblivion.

    It did not take me long to realize I could not stay here. I grabbed my old carpet bag out of the closet and filled it up with essentials; my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t get the zipper closed. Giving up, I swung it over my shoulder and walked out the back door without a second glance.

    My feet crunched on the thin cover of snow as I defiantly made my way towards my beat up Mazda. “You can do this. You can do this,” the little voice echoed in my head. My hand froze on the door handle. Closing my eyes, I breathed in deeply. “You can do this, you can do this,” the little voice echoed again. Eyes still closed, I opened the door and slipped into the car letting my bag fall on the passenger seat.

    My hands were still shaking. And maybe, just maybe, I could have regained control sooner - if it had only been my hands that shook. In truth, my whole body quivered with terror and grief. I leaned back onto the cold seat, my lungs constricted, I had no air. Instinctively, my arms wrapped around my torso to stop the pain that invaded me. “Just breathe,” I ordered myself. But my lungs would not cooperate. Panicked, my breath itched faster and faster. “You need to breathe in slowly,” Gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp and I kept on gulping the frigid pre-dawn air. After awhile, my breathing returned to normal.

    “You can do this, you can this,” the little voice repeated. Sitting there, I wondered if I really could … If I would ever be able to … overcome these catatonic frenzies that hit me everyday. For now, I had won round one - I was breathing – not panting like an animal! So, there was hope, that eventually, I would get the rest of my body to stop quaking.

    I had been idle too long, that was never good these days, I knew what was coming … and I also so knew that I couldn’t stop it. But still, I pinched the bridge of my nose, somehow hoping that the pressure would stop the images from flashing behind my closed eyelids. My efforts were, of course, in vain.

    I could still smell the rich aroma of the freshly brewed coffee that had filled the car that night. My parents were whispering in the front seats. My sister’s head lolled to the side and her soft snores where in perfect cadence. I had been content to watch the darkness of the surrounding forest as the car wove its way down the serpentine road. In a flash the darkness was invaded by a pair of headlights. Huge headlights coming at us head on! My dad tried to swerve our car out of the way of the oncoming 18 wheeler, but everything went … horribly wrong.

    My body trembled violently as I remembered … how my stomach filled with dread at the sound of the screeching brakes. Frightened, I balled up my hands into fists, squeezing so tight that my knuckles turned white and my nails dug into my palms – but it did the not help. The screaming tires kept sliding on the wet, icy pavement. All the air whooshed out of my lungs when the busting glass flew everywhere. My heart caved into my chest as the horrible screams filled the car. But the dread, the mangled palms, the empty lungs, and the hammering heart were not the worse part of this nightmare. No, not compared to the oppressing darkness that fell over me, and with the dark came – oh god – the silence. Dead silence.

    Unbearable silence … until that voice! That chocolate coated, smooth, velvety voice which called out to me, begging “Stay with me. C’mon stay with me.”

    Even in that dark oblivion, I wanted - needed to respond to that voice – do anything to please that sweet angelic voice.

    I fought to break through the crushing darkness. Gasp, Gasp, and Gasp…it burned when I tried to fill my lungs with air. I easily recalled the rusty, salty taste of the fresh blood that invaded my mouth.
    “Good, almost there, now open your eyes. C’mon stay with me, open your eyes,” the soft velvet voice pleaded in my ear.

    I wanted to listen. Truly I did, but my eyelids were so heavy. I had to concentrate really hard to split them open. And when I did … I got lost in the warm liquid topaz eyes staring back at me.

    I was entranced. There was only the voice now – softer, smoother, but yet commanding. “Stay with me. Fight. Survive." The warm hypnotic voice whispered these commands over and over and over again.

    “Stop remembering!” I ordered myself and my eyes flew opened. I had to get away from those – images – those - horrific memories.

    Tears were freely rolling down my cheeks. I swiped them away with the back of my hand and then fished inside my jacket pocket for my keys. My trembling fingers closed around the key chain and I quickly yanked it out of its hiding spot. The keys shook loudly.

    And I realized … even though I did not think it was possible, but my body, was indeed trembling more violently then before. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably. It felt like there was whole in my chest, where my lungs should have been. “No, no, no,” I wailed. I was once again reduced to shaking, crying, and gulping for air every chance I got - I couldn’t do this. I was spent. I had nothing left to fight … damn him … damn him to hell … he should have let me die.

    As soon as the thought entered my mind, I recalled how his smooth chocolate coated voice had whispered to me “Death is easy. The real challenge is surviving!”

    Surviving wasn’t a challenge … it was hell. I was in hell with no way out.

    But the sound of his soft velvet voice was still echoing in my mind. And it was like butterfly wings caressing my soul – encouraging me to go on. Each breath I took deepened, my teeth stop clattering and finally my body quivered less noticeably. Under the circumstances, that’s the best I could manage. So, I guess that means that I survived round two.

    I looked down to my icy palms; my keys were still clenched in my fist. I took one steadying breath, and then turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life. At the sound of it my heart slammed into my chest, my palms became clammy and my breath caught in my throat. “You can do this. You can do this,” the little voice echoed once more. Resolved, I ground my teeth, wiped my palms on my jeans, gripped the wheel, released the gas pedal and slowly backed out.

    Triumphant, I drove away.

    The purr of my engine was the only sound to disturb this sleeping town.
     
  9. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Moving On.

    Moving On~ garmar69

    {1921 words} Some mild swearing.





    Sam lit his cigarette with the smoldering end of his last and blew out a puff of blue smoke. It rose and swirled above his head. He smashed the end of the spent one in a green ashtray and stared at his thick, yellowed fingernails.

    He took another drag, and then pulled the dog-eared photograph of his wife closer. She was smiling, wearing a Santa hat, and standing in front their Christmas tree holding a bell-shaped ornament that was inscribed, ‘Merry Christmas! 1995’. Sam’s eyelids drooped lower and his head nodded as the cigarette slowly burned to its filter, and then dropped onto the glass tabletop.

    ***

    “Mrs. Holder, I’m sorry to say that you haven’t taken to the stem-cell treatment like I had hoped. Sometimes patients with amyloidosis as advanced as yours become too weak and don’t respond well to high-dose chemotherapy.”

    “How long?” Sam asked.

    “It’s hard to say now that it has effected cardiac function.” Dr. Kirsch pushed a box of tissues over to Suzy. She took them and blotted one on the corner of each eye.

    “Could you give us a ballpark figure?” Suzy asked, as she pushed the wet tissue down in her purse.

    “Months, days, it all depends. I’ve had patients completely recover if they follow proper nutrition, receive correct medical care and keep a positive attitude… I’m sorry I can‘t be more specific.”

    Sam sagged in his chair. After a few moments, Suzy placed her hand on his arm and said, “Thanks, doctor. Let’s go honey.”




    “But Sam, you need to get used to the possibility that I’m may not be around much longer.” Suzy was sitting on the couch wrapped in a blanket, one swollen ankle sticking out. She was watching Sam stride back and forth across the living room. A smashed model ship lay on the floor by the mantel.

    “No you’re not, that quack doesn’t know $h!t from shinola!”

    “Honey could you please calm down? Hand me my stocking hat, I’m cold.”

    Sam walked over to the coat rack in the foyer and brought back the red and green-striped knit hat with a white fluffy bob on top.

    She placed it on her smooth head and threw the cover back over her ankle. “The doctor said to keep positive thoughts.”

    Sam walked over to the dining room and fished around in a cabinet. Eventually he found a hard-pack of Marlboros, the red cover faded and nibbled on by some long dead mouse.

    He went to the stove and lit a burner, then the cigarette. He inhaled and burst into a fit a wheezing coughs. He shut off the burner and leaned against the stove with one shoulder hunched up and the other arm hanging at his side. He cautiously took another drag and then the familiar feeling of nicotine was flooding his brain.

    ***

    Sam woke with a stiff neck, lines from his shirt traced patterns on his wrinkled face. The cigarette had left a carbon mark on the glass top; he rubbed it off with one finger. His hands shook as he lit another and gazed at the mantle over the cold fireplace. Pictures of them in Hawaii; a red lei around Sam’s neck, Suzy wearing a green one. A picture with his arm around his brother Jeff at graduation, and various nephews and nieces.

    Sam stood up, hitching at his loose jeans on the way to the bathroom. He stared at the tired, old man looking back at him from the mirror, and then opened the door and shook three aspirin into his hand. He put the bottle back, but left the mirror facing the wall.

    After he knocked back the pills with a swallow of tap water, he shuffled back to the dining room. Over in the corner, pieces of a model ship collected dust on an oak end table. The ringing phone startled him out of his reverie. He walked over, picked up the cordless, and said, “Yes?”

    “Mr. Holder, this is Travis Jones with Butler Funeral Homes. Could you come down here to sign some paperwork this afternoon?”

    “You should have all the information you need; we took care of this months ago.”

    “Yes, but the insurance paperwork needs to be signed off.”

    After a long pause, Sam answered. “Oh, I forgot. I’ll be there in an hour.” Then he hung up the phone. He stood there for a moment with his forehead pressed to the door casing, then headed back to the bathroom to put in his dentures.

    He stopped to look at their bed on his way out; where they had made love, laughed, and dreamed of the children that never came. It looked cold and empty now, despite the messed up covers and dirty clothes on the floor. He walked back through the living room to the foyer, grabbing his keys and slipping on a pair of shoes and his coat before walking out into the gray november day.



    Sam stepped into the quiet entry, his cheeks ruddy from the cold. A small placard next to a sign-in book announced, ’Quiet please,’ and in smaller letters, ‘Service in session,’ with the Butler Funeral Home logo below that.

    He walked along the wide corridor, past a closed door with the sounds of muffled sobs within, and then three steps up to the offices. He stepped into the one with the words ‘Travis Jones’ stenciled on the door.

    “My condolences Mr. Holder, I know how hard this ca--”

    “Just tell me where to sign.”

    The undertaker’s face stayed composed. “Very well Mr. Holder.” He flipped open a folder and opened it, revealing papers with red and green tabs stuck to them. He turned it around and passed it, with a pen, over to Sam.

    After he finished signing, he asked, “Are we done here?”

    “Yes, the rest is between us and your insurance company now.”

    “Good.” Sam walked out of the office, his shoes whisper quiet on the deep carpet, and then back out into the gusty air outside.



    By the time Sam arrived home, it had started to snow and the wind made him hunch over. It appeared to add years to his already worn out frame. After he walked in the door it slammed shut on its own, rattling the glass. He kicked off his shoes and dropped his keys on the little oak stand.

    As he passed the answering machine, he noticed the digital display was flashing the number four. Without a pause, he shook a cigarette out, lit it, and then went to the empty bedroom he had shared with his wife for thirty-two years and lay down on the mussed-up covers. He crossed his legs, folded his left arm behind his head, and stared at the ceiling, watching the smoke waft and swirl. Soon he was drifting off.

    ***

    “It looks like we have our first black president.” Sam said, and then looked over his newspaper at Suzy. She was picking at her plate of mixed fruit, part of her healthy eating plan. He noticed a few strands of short, gray hair lay on the shoulders of her house-coat. “Maybe we should go up to the cabin after the first of the year.”

    Suzy looked up at her husband then quickly averted her eyes and pushed her fruit around some more. Sam dropped his gaze also and cleared his throat as he folded the newspaper and set it beside his plate.

    “Well, I’m going to have the jeep serviced today.” He stood and went to the kitchen, he called to her, “Do you need anything while I’m out?”

    “No, drive careful. It’s supposed to snow today… Love you.”

    “Love you too.” The end of it came out a bit broken as he wiped his wet cheeks.



    A few hours later, Sam stepped into the foyer and stomped his feet. It had indeed started snowing and he’d had to use the jeep’s four-wheel drive. “I’m back.” He shouted over the howling wind.

    Silence greeted him. He shut the door and pulled off his gloves and jacket. “Suzy?” A sudden intuition struck him and he ran to the living room. Suzy lay on the couch asleep. She had been sleeping heavily as of late. He relaxed and got a soda from the ‘fridge. He cracked it open and slurped it greedily while he started a pot of coffee. He stood with his back to the coffee maker, surrounded by the aroma of fresh java as it dripped and hissed.

    The past week had been rough. It had seemed like Suzy was going to get better, her color had come back and she hadn’t needed to be wrapped up in a blanket all of the time. She had even suggested going out to eat on tuesday. Plans to go fishing at the lake were tossed around over a candlelit dinner. Then thursday, she began to have chest pains and her energy dropped to nothing.

    Dr. Kirsch had said, “You get in here right now. I want to run some tests immediately.”

    She had cried while he held her and stroked her face. In dread of the injections, and chemo, soon to come.

    Sam fixed two cups, extra cream in Suzy’s, then walked carefully into the living room to wake her. He set the cups down on the coffee table then bent down to wake her with a kiss on the cheek. She was ice-cold. He shook her, hard. She didn’t move. That’s was when he noticed how pale her cheek was. The other, against the pillow, was mottled purple.

    He fell back onto the table and the coffee cups thumped on the floor on the other side. He sat there, stunned, then blacked out.

    ***

    Sam woke up shouting, his face hot and wet. He sat up, grabbed a blanket, and rubbed his face. His cigarette had burnt a hole through the blankets, sheet and down into the mattress. I almost came to you early sweetheart, he thought, and fell back on the bed. Then he moaned and rolled over on his side. He lay there for a long time, leaking tears onto the pillow; eventually he slept.


    He awoke later to pounding coming from the front of the house. He stumbled out of bed and almost fell because the blankets were wrapped around his legs. After finally freeing himself, he made his way past the phone--it was flashing twelve now--and then into the kitchen just as a great crash came from the foyer. He grabbed a knife from the counter then walked around the corner.

    It was his brother, Jeff, and his nephew. They were both staring at Sam in disbelief. Tom was rubbing his shoulder as he eyed the knife. “What are you gonna do with that?”

    He looked at it and shrugged his shoulders. Then he walked back to the kitchen and dropped it into the sink.

    They followed him, noting the trash overflowing in the basket. Every dish in the house was scattered along the counter and in the sink, and most of the cabinet doors hung open.

    “We’ve been calling for two days; you’re coming home with us. Jonie has the extra room made up for you. I’m not taking no for an answer.” He laughed and said, “That’s why I brought Tom.”

    Tom grinned and flexed his well-muscled arm. He went to Sam, who was smiling a little now, and gently put his arm around his uncle’s stooped shoulders and said, “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
     
  10. yellowm&M
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    yellowm&M Contributing Member Contributor

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    Death during Life

    Death During Life
    [1,110 word count]


    “Poor thing….”

    “Things definitely aren’t looking good….”

    “Week at most….”

    “Hasn’t even lived that long…it’s so terrible that she’s about to die…”

    “…yes, terrible….”

    She could see a group of people a little way down the hall muttering about someone - someone about to die. Claire quietly got up off of her chair and walked a few feet closer. The group of people was huddled around a window looking into a hospital room. The group was mostly women; three of them were talking together. Theirs were the voices Claire had heard; the other woman was pale and silent, tears pouring down her face. She was leaning against a man who also had tears in his eyes.

    Cautiously Claire made her way over to the crying woman.

    “Umm, excuse me. Excuse me.” The crying woman looked down at her startled. “Why are you crying?” The woman looked at the man holding her, then back down at Claire. Claire gazed up at her with a look of concern; the woman looked so sad, and Claire wanted to cheer her up. The man looked down at Claire too.

    “What’s your name?” he asked her gently.

    “I’m Claire, and I’m five.” She said holding out her hand with all her fingers out to show him.

    “You’re a very big girl, Claire. I have a little girl like you, she is also five.”

    “Really? What’s her name?”

    “Her name is Zoe.”

    “I like the name Zoe. It’s pretty. Is she here? It’s kind of boring here without any other kids.”

    “Yes…she’s here…”

    “Where is she?”

    “She’s in that room.” He pointed at the window they were clustered around as he spoke. Claire slowly turned and looked into the room. A little blonde girl was lying in the bed. Her eyes were closed and her face was very, very pale. Machines and tubes were attached to her, and her shiny blonde hair was thin and limp.

    “What’s wrong with her?”

    “Zoe is very, very sick…” Claire looked back at the little girl.

    “But she’ll get better.”

    “The doctors don’t think that she will.” As he said that the woman in his arms let out a fresh sob and buried her face in his chest. He gently stroked her hair as more silent tears poured down his cheeks. Claire looked at him with a confused expression.

    “But why are you so sad?”

    “My daughter is dying.”

    “Yes, but why are you so sad?”

    “Claire, I don’t understand what you are trying to say.”

    “You’re talking about Zoe like she’s going away forever.”

    “She’s dying, Claire.” The crying woman had turned to look at Claire, her face just as confused as his. Claire gave an exasperated sigh.

    “I know she’s dying, but she’s not leaving!”

    “Claire-”

    “Just because you can’t see her doesn’t mean she’s leaving. Kids don’t leave their mommies and daddies; that’s just silly.” Zoe’s parents continued to stare at her in that confused expression. A small sound from Zoe’s room caused them to turn to the window. Zoe’s eyes were still closed, but her face had relaxed into a small smile and her hand had curled around the bedcovers. She suddenly looked very peaceful. The woman’s tears had slowed a little and her sobs quieted as she gazed her daughter. “See, Zoe wouldn’t leave you. Anyways she will be living in a really pretty place with flowers and sunshine, and she’ll be very happy.” Zoe’s father glanced at his daughter then back at Claire. The expression he wore was a mixture of confusion and contemplation.

    Claire meanwhile turned back to the window and looked in on Zoe. She pressed her face against the window, her breath fogging up the glass. She reached her hands up and placed them on the glass next to her face. “Zoe,” her voice was a whisper. “Make sure not to leave your mommy and daddy, OK?” Zoe nodded slightly in her sleep. Claire nodded in response, and then blew purposely on the glass. In the patch of fog she drew a small sun and flower. Now Zoe will be happy here too.

    She studied the other girl for a little longer before she turned back to the adults. By now the three other women had turned to look at her, their faces twisted into expression of shock and confusion. Meanwhile Zoe’s mom wasn’t crying as much, just a few tears were trickling steadily down her face. Her Dad looked almost peaceful.

    A door shut a little ways down the hall, causing them all to jump.

    “Claire, Honey?” a man had walked out of the door Claire had originally been sitting by. He had the same curly hair red-brown hair and sparkling blue eyes as her, and it was obvious he was her father.

    “Daddy! I’m down here!” He walked quickly over to the little group and put his hand on Claire’s shoulder.

    “What are you doing all the way down here? You were supposed to stay next to Mommy’s door. I’m sorry if she was bothering you.” He said addressing Zoe’s parents.

    “Oh, not at all. Just the opposite actually.”

    “Daddy, these are Zoe’s parents!”

    “Who is Zoe?”

    “She’s Zoe.” Claire pointed through Zoe’s window. “She’s sleeping so I couldn’t play with her so instead I talked to Mr…what’s your name?”

    “Robert Parketen,” answered Zoe’s father, “and this is my wife, Shannon.”

    “Pleased to meet you, I’m Jake Trenor.” Said Claire’s father, shaking hands with Robert, “My wife, Nadia, is down in that room, which is the reason I came out for Claire.” He looked down at her, “Mommy is awake now, and you can go in to see her and David.”

    “I get to see David! David is my new baby brother!” She said to Robert.

    “Well I’m very happy for you, Claire.” She beamed up at him.

    “Come one honey, let’s go see Mommy.”

    “OK.” She turned to follow him, then looked back at Zoe. She ran over to Robert and gave him a quick hug. “If Zoe gets better, can I come over for a play date?”

    “Of course.” He smiled.

    “Thank you.” Shannon whispered to Claire. Claire looked at her surprised for a moment then beamed up at her. Shannon smiled slightly in return.

    “Honey, come on.” She skipped over to him.

    “Bye, Mr. Parkten! Bye, Mrs. Parkten!”

    “Bye, Claire,” replied Robert, “Oh and Jake, your daughter is quite amazing.” Jake smiled at him then his daughter.

    “She certainly is.” He placed his hand on her shoulder again and started walking her to her mother’s room.

    “Bye, Zoe.” she whispered, and then walked down the hall to see her mother and new brother.
     
  11. Bellacuse
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    Bellacuse Member

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    Last of the Seraphim (3298)

    I am a Seraphim. The last of my kind. And I am dying. Already I feel the sinuous coils of time tightening around my spirit. Is this how you humans always feel? Aware of your own decaying flesh, with each new breath the inevitable countdown of your own mortality? This is my reward for saving the last vestiges of humanity; doomed to a dead world. It is a dead world for there is no Flux here. No power, no life-force, nothing. What I would give for the twisting ribbons of indescribable colors that traced the forces of my world to be the last thing I look upon when my waning strength gives way to eternal darkness. This troubles me. Where will my soul go if there is no flux in this world? There is no life-force to rejoin here. When my flesh rots and my mind dissipates, what fate will my spirit face?

    Perhaps you humans will flourish on this soulless world for you show none of the effects from which I suffer. Then again, you have always been mortal creatures – we made you that way. But we always suspected you had souls. Were we wrong? I sincerely hope the evidence weighing against my heart bears false. Perhaps you fare well here because you never were tied to the Flux as we were. I pray that is why. Otherwise we destroyed our world, our race, for nothing! Never forget who it was that gave you life. Never forget who it was that gave you freedom. Yes, it was Seraphim that used you as slaves; that created you to be slaves. But it was also Seraphim that fought for your freedom. Fought for you believing you were worthy of the freedoms that we paid for with rivers of blood.

    My time grows short. I feel what small power I brought with me to this new world evaporating into nothingness. There is no Flux to draw from, to replenish with, and when the traces within me are gone I will die.

    I record the last days of the last battle that you will never forget the Seraphim that saved you.

    It was only three short days ago; three short days when Lucifius opened the portal over Al’Mergedon, the last of the great cities, and unleashed his legion upon us. Where he got the power to open a portal of that size, I shall never know. A great wreath of boiling clouds fully two miles in diameter erupted over our city, twisting the Flux unmercifully. We heard the sky scream that day. You humans cannot see the Flux, but if you could, you too would have cried at the sickly yellow, twisted with blood red that streaked across the heavens. A small mercy. We all saw the floating city of Eosphorus emerge from that great portal though. A massive circular wall, with great spokes arching towards the central hub where a gnarled Citadel sat, stretching its turrets skywards like great clawed talons; a deadly spider in its web.

    We thought we had months before he reached us. We should have had months. How did Lucifius open a portal that large?

    We had almost escaped, all of us. The Gateway that sits behind us in shambles in this new world is a mere shadow of what we created to save ourselves. The original, a massive double arch that crossed at right angles, gleaming despite being unpolished, it was made almost entirely from Cuerillum. Great spans arched away from it across the city, looking as though they belonged, despite having been hastily built from necessity. My specialty lies in other areas of the Flux. I am but a simple soldier, but I do know that we needed a strong connection to the six great pyramids surrounding our city that focused the Flux directly into the Gateway. And we only needed a scant few weeks to complete it.

    When Lucifius took those last few weeks away, we had no choice but to fight. To give what few humans we could the chance to flee through the unfinished Gateway. It led us here; to this world. A blessing that you humans can apparently thrive here, and a curse that this world has no soul. Lucky? Unlucky? I only know that your last shepherd must leave you soon. This voyage is yours alone.

    I digress. I must focus, although I must admit I feel substantially weaker than when I first sat down to write this.

    How to describe the terrible feelings of defeat at seeing that monstrous floating city appear directly over our heads? I simply cannot. Lucifius’ legions emerged from that dire citadel, hovering above Al’Mergedon. Our brothers. Our Sisters. Seraphim like us, but set on a course of destruction. We call them the Wings of Lucifius. Lines of Flux gently floating away from each of Lucifius’ Seraphim in six long streams blazed brightly to my eyes as they controlled the flows of gravity around them, standing out against that sickly sky. Some humans I have spoken to claimed to have been able to see those Flux streams; claimed they look like six great, beautifully glowing wings. They didn’t look so beautiful to me that day. The air, already twisted and sickening with the discharge of that ungodly portal, grew even more charged as the attack began and Flux was channeled from every which way. I had little to do in those initial hours. I was far from my post, and far from my armor and weapons. Besides, it wasn’t long before the six great pyramids lit up the daytime and a shield fell across the city. It was hard not to empty my stomach with the amount of Flux being handled all about.

    Eventually, I reached my post and wrapped my Cuerillion armor around myself. This eased the nausea significantly as the crystalline structure helped deflect much of the stray Flux. Yet my relief did not last long as reports started coming in. I was sent to the north quarter to defend one of the breaches in the shield. When we got there, we found a massacre. Several of Lucifius’ bubbles had penetrated the shield, carrying his filthy creations with them. I had heard of these things being used in other cities over the last year. We called them the Fangs of Lucifius, though I have no idea what Lucifius called them. Twisted creatures created for one purpose, to kill humans. They stood only four feet tall, with rangy, long arms that terminated in hooked claws. Bony ridges protruded from their coarse fur all across their bodies, providing tough, natural armor. Their heads were flat and long, with deeply set eyes and flat, large teeth with only two thick fangs that curved downwards. And they were fast. Their deadly purpose was validated by the amount of dead humans filling the streets. Broken doors and windows, along with the screams, gave testament to the fact hiding indoors was scant defense. We got to work with grim faces. Deadly to humans though they were, they were no match for Seraphim. A pack of Fangs noticed us and turned to flee – no fools these creatures. I shifted time, jumping forward a hundred yards in the blink of an eye. Another shift and I was in the middle of them. They turned as one and lunged at me. My specialty with the Flux is time-slicing; a close combat skill that has served me very well. I shifted just so, and made my way cautiously between the three closest. It is very important not to touch anything when you shift, especially anything else that is moving. It is difficult enough moving against the air itself, which is why you are limited to very short shifts at a time. I remember early in my training, I had learned time-slicing very quickly, but had not yet learned that I should listen to my master. A novice lesson was for the master to toss an apple in the air while you were some hundreds of yards away, and you should slice the apple in half with your sword before it hit the ground. I was over eager. I shifted and, upon approaching my target, failed to un-shift before striking the apple. I broke my sword, my wrist, my arm, and the nose of the student the apple fragments hit. At least I learned after the first such accident.

    But again, I must concentrate. The air seems thicker now, doesn’t it? I notice you humans seem concerned with me, noticing for the first time my weakened state. I send you scurrying, like mice. I have not much time for niceties. Besides, you must learn to stand up on your own now. You must understand your creators will be there no more, standing over your shoulders, teaching, guiding, leading. What becomes of the wild flock?

    The Fangs of Lucifius, terrible to humans as they were, served as merely a distraction for we Seraphim. And distracted we were. Following them through the rent shield came the Wings of Lucifius. Our brothers. Those Seraphim that refused to acknowledge your souls and your freedom. Like a plague, they came down upon us. Those bright ribbons of Flux, usually so beautiful, turned ugly as they were channeled to weapons of death and I desperately countered the streaks of superheated air that rushed towards me. Makeshift shield formed around me as my troop helped me in my exposed position so far ahead of them. I shifted as the first of the Wings landed before me and moved to flank him. He shifted too and we circled each other warily. Time-slicing was my specialty however. I went deeper, forcing my way through the air, shielding myself as best I could against the incredible friction-generated heat. His eyes grew wide as I slowly edged behind him. I shifted back to real-time and cut in one smooth motion. His armor blazed as it tried to counter the crystal-focused Flux running the length of my sword – but to no avail. He fell just as I leapt to one side to avoid the channeled Flux I sensed to my left. An explosion ripped the ground, showering me with rubble. Before I could get to my feet, the air was sucked from my lungs. I had not felt that channeled at all. I fell to the ground, clawing at my throat with my hands just as I clawed for the Flux with my mind. There must have been another of them blocking me for try though I might, I could not channel a drop to save myself. I would have died then, if not for the timely intervention of a Gaurdian. The fifty-foot behemoth crashed through the remains of the town houses, raining rubble down upon me once more, Flux swirling bright blue all around it. The crystalline structure that laced its massive frame glowed in sharp pulses as it absorbed and redirected the Flux attacks that stabbed at it from all sides as the Wings tried in vain to destroy it. The guardian sent out one pulse of its own, blinding in its intensity, and the Wings collapsed to the ground as the Gaurdian sucked the Flux from them just as the air had been sucked from me a moment ago. Just for a heartbeat, the Gaurdian denied them the power, but that was all it took. With no way to defend themselves, the behemoth channeled in thirty or more directions at once, burning the Wings of Lucifius where they lay and in less than a second, the tide was turned. We quickly destroyed the remaining Wings as the Gaurdian lumbered off, searching for more enemies and leaving a wake of ruined buildings behind it.

    Our battle in that street was typical of what we faced over the next two days. And hour by hour, our great city shield weakened further. More and more pockets opened up. We couldn’t kill enough Fangs. For every one we killed, three more took its place. They avoided us as best they could, but you humans… By the end of the second day, I don’t think there was a Seraphim in the city that could take the time to hunt them anymore. Our every waking hour was consumed in fighting our brothers. And the city burned.

    We regrouped that second night under the banner of Uziel. Uziel created the Gaurdians. And he was the first to don the mighty armor, knowing that once entombed within its confines, once intertwined with its mechanisms, he would never again see the light of day with his own eyes. He became the first Gaurdian over four hundred years ago and has watched over our city since that time. That night, he watched over the Gateway as Gabriel himself toiled desperately to activate it. I wish I could say that I spoke with the greatest of our kind, Gabriel, that night but I cannot. He stood before the Gateway channeling more of the Flux in and around the mighty artifact than I thought possible for one Seraph to handle. The archways leading to the city edges glowed brightly as raw Flux was pumped directly into the structure from the pyramids.

    The tattered star banner of Uziel hung limp and ragged from the shoulders of that fifty-foot monster, the crystalline armor spattered with mud and rubble and blood and guts. Scorch marks up and down the massive frame bore witness to multiple times his Flux-absorbing armor had almost been overwhelmed. But he stood proud. I stood with him, along with a ragtag assortment of Seraphim that had banded together from the remains of decimated troops. That night was the finest of my life. I stood with legends. Uziel, the mighty warrior and Gabriel, the savior.

    A crowd of humans huddled in the square, filling every available corner of the plaza. Crammed along the fountain walls, up the library stairs, all up and down the buildings filling everything. Where else did you have to go? I see you all now, huddled around the sparse copse of trees, silently regarding me as I sit here and write, worry and fear plain on your faces; a pale reflection of that horrible night. What will you do when this dead world succeeds in sucking the last of my spirit? Will you still huddle amongst yourselves, waiting for me to arise and lead you once more, or will you cease huddling and live for yourselves?

    It was the dawn of the third day when Lucifius came. No longer content to fight from the heights, weakening our shield with his awesome power, he had come to strike at the heart of our city, he had come to strike at the gateway and remove any hope we had of saving ourselves. The tattered rays of the morning sun glinted from the armor of his legions as he led them at us in a swarm. We rose to meet them knowing in our hearts that all was lost. Instantly the air came alive as Flux twisted and writhed with our struggles. Thin lines of rusty red Flux radiated towards us by the hundreds, each with deadly promised. Our shield-makers worked frantically to undo as many as they could, but some worked through, erupting into massive fireballs. We countered. Within moments we were among them and I worked my hardest, time-slicing in minute quantities to conserve my strength, shifting just enough to jump my blade through their defenses. I pulled deeply on the Flux, shielding myself as best I could in the melee. With us engaged so closely, there were no more explosions. Instead, we attacked directly. I reached out with the Flux to scramble minds, to superheat air and burn, to blast them with walls of solid air. Many attacks were turned aside by their Flux absorbing armor, and many more were shielded against, just as I shielded myself. I killed most with my sword. A lull in combat and then he was in front of me. Lucifius. I charged with three of my brothers, soaring to meet him in battle. He turned his terrible gaze on us and I felt a great hand clutch me from the sky and dash me to the ground below. Such strength!

    I lay on the ground in a daze, broken and bloodied. What had I been thinking? As I have said, I am but a simple soldier and he was one of the Archeons. From where I lay, I saw Uziel surrounded by a brilliant nimbus of orange and blue. The Flux stormed about him as he sent great blasts into the sky, ripping the Wings of Lucifius by the dozens. That’s when I saw Uziel’s Flux pattern shatter and Lucifius appeared above him. It seemed to me they spoke for a short time, but from where I lay, I could not hear. And then the air grew hazy around them both as they struggled for dominance. Rubble and debris flew outwards in a great circle around them. Whatever humans were huddled close by were knocked backwards and away from that terrible duel. Uziel sent out a blinding pulse of brilliant blue light but as it reached Lucifius, it twisted into nothingness. Lucifius held his hands wide and tendrils of smoky grey Flux floated towards Uziel. Each attempt to dissolve the attack was defeated and the tendrils slowly wrapped around Uziel.

    It was then that I was hauled to my feet and a shock ran through me as I was healed. When I could raise my head, I saw that it was Gabriel himself. He spoke to me then. He told me what I must do to open the Gateway. That though the Gateway was still not ready, it would at least operate. Where it opened, he did not know for there was no time to finish the calculations. And then he was gone; gone to join battle with Uziel against Lucifius. I wish I could say I knew who won. It’s possible that Lucifius and his legions were destroyed. It’s possible that his floating city of Eosphorus was overcome. It’s possible that we never needed the Gateway at all, and all we have done is banished a scant handful of humans to exile and doom one poor soldier to death. But the last sights of that dreadful morning…

    I took my place at the Gateway and began to open it. You humans were herded towards it, ready to pour through. And pour through you did, when at last the Gateway shone. We could have saved you all, if not for the explosion that knocked me through and, I think, destroyed the Gateway.

    So here we are. Alone in a new world.

    I have been thinking about this world. I believe there is no Flux here because there were no souls here before this day. I believe that when my spirit separates from my flesh, there will be no Flux to rejoin with because mine will be the first. A new Flux. This dead world is drawing it from me, eager to live. But killing me in the process. Will you humans join with me when your souls leave your flesh? You must have souls. You must. And so this is my last commandment to you; the last charge of your dying shepherd. Cultivate your souls. Embrace your spirit for you are slaves no more. The days of the Seraphim are over. I cannot prove my belief that you can breathe new life into this world. You must have faith. This story belongs to you now. It is up to you how it ends. Only be thankful that you lack the power to tear your world apart as we did.

    I must go now. Cultivate your souls and join me one day.
     
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