MU4: Chapter One (part iii)

(NOTE: CW, there’s some not-quite-death-related stuff that goes on in the last part of this chapter. I wanted to show that in order for Eika to truly break herself away from the life that is no longer hers, she must disconnect completely from it. Not everyone can face such a finality, and this was the only way she knew how to face it successfully. She knew there was something beyond, she only had to take that life-altering first step.)

*

Day seventeen was when she’d decided to purge it all out of her system. She’d woken up that morning after a very sound night’s sleep, coming back to reality just before the sun was about to rise. Outside her bedroom window the sky was a mottled blue-gray and her world was silent, with not even a trace of wind. The town was completely still, frighteningly so, and the lack of sound only served to remind her that she was completely alone, miles away from anyone else.

It was time for her old life to die.

She didn’t bother to change out of her bedclothes, only putting on a pair of light flat shoes. She left the house, not bothering to lock or even close the door, and started walking. She wasn’t sure where, but she didn’t care. She had to go somewhere. She had to keep moving. The only sound was the quiet tapping of her soles against the asphalt, and it sounded…intrusive. After a few more steps she stopped and took them off, throwing them to the side of the road. Her footsteps now silent, she heard nothing else. Nothing but her own breathing.

She quickly lost herself in this town, aimlessly walking further away from that house that hadn’t even been hers. She let herself be led this way and that, until she ended up in the center of town, stopping to rest on one of the benches on the common. Her joints ached some, but not nearly as much as she’d expected. She was hungry but had no compulsion to stop at the grocer’s she’d been utilizing these last few weeks. There was a produce store across the street from the park, however, so after a few more minutes of rest she got up and headed over. She settled on a small packet of crisp bread snacks as she walked through the small store, washed them down with a bottle of water, and grabbed an apple on the way out.

The brunch did her good, as she felt more awake and focused, but she still felt aimless…she was a blank slate now.

The only thing to do was to keep moving.

Become the person she knew she was. Become the spirit she knew she held within.

She walked further and further away from the house and the town, still in complete silence. Her feet ached and she felt the urge to return to the house more than a few times, but she refused to go back, at least not until she purged this last obstacle that plagued her spirit.

It was nearing sunset when she found herself on a back road leading up a wooded hill. She’d seen this small mountain from the house, well off in the distance behind the rest of the neighborhood, and she realized she’d in fact reached her goal – to be as far away from that village as she could get. The village that wasn’t hers. The village she’d been forced to conform to.

It was here that she truly started feeling the clarity…a hint of brightness within her spirit, starting deep within her heart, hiding well away in the background. This hill was where she needed to be right now, somewhere above the village, looking out over it. Not to become one with it, but to become its Watcher. To watch and observe what went on within, but utterly separated from it.

She understood her true goal now.

With a renewed energy and resolve, she kept walking up the hill, following the crooked lane all the way up to the top.

The sun had just hit the horizon when she reached the summit, a promontory of low grass and a few stray boulders. She perched atop one of them and decided to watch the sun set.

It felt so much colder up here, colder than she’d expected. She held herself tight as a breeze finally blew its way across the valley and up towards her. The town was more like a small city, all short buildings of three or four floors and houses littered on the outskirts. She must have walked at least eight or nine miles, nearly all of it barefoot and in complete silence. But up here she could hear everything…the rustling of the grass as it bent in the wind, the chirping of birds, the hum of electricity, faraway and unseen but perfectly heard.

She shuddered and felt something shift within –

Oh Goddess here we go –

Something shifted within and she could not make it stop. It felt like the breach of a dam, finally giving way and crumbling to pieces, and her very soul, which had been held back for so long, had started spilling over like a deluge. She felt the stab of pain just below the nape of her neck, both searing hot and deathly cold. It came at her, drove through her as if someone had driven a blade into her neck, just so that it kept her alive and on the edge of death at the same time –

Goddess please what is happening –

And all through this she focused on the sinking of the sun, falling below the horizon at the opposite end of the valley, in utter silence. This world, her world, was ending, here and now, and she was powerless to save it. She would never see it again. The sun would dip below the horizon and she’d be enveloped in darkness, here in this nowhere, with no one to connect to or sense. She was alone and she was dying.

I…oh Goddess, I can feel it.

She felt the knife sink ever deeper between her shoulder blades, entering her spine, a shard of pain shooting up to her brain and all the way down to her feet. She let out such a screeching howl that it terrified her. She screamed and screamed, pitching forward and landing face first into the grass, a fresh gash of pain shooting up to her brain. Oh Goddess, what was happening to her?

All at once, her voice gave out. She could only breathe heavily, taking in the musty soil and the frigid air. It tasted like…?

The sun had dropped, and the sky was fading from read to gray to deep blue and now to black. She could not see more than a few yards ahead and there was little to no sound other than the wind and her own breath.

Just her, and the wind. Nothing else.

She was truly alone. Completely abandoned.

Her throat ragged from her cries, she choked on her tears, her voice a raspy moan, as she pulled herself into a low crouch.  The pain in her spine was so excruciating she wanted to die, and yet her spirit was refusing to surrender. She could only bear this for so much longer. The silence enveloping her felt so much more ominous and frightening than any other sounds she’d ever heard, and she could sense nothing and no one.

Abandoned.

And finally, mercifully, her spirit broke apart.

Oh Goddess –

Her moans gave way to a deep growl, a sound so low and primal, a voice she had never heard. This was her own soul calling out in sorrow, the Trisandi spirit within calling out to the heavens, pleading for relief.  She slid forward again, her hands reaching far, far out, grasping at the grass stalks and the ground underneath in an attempt to keep anchored to the earth. Her legs pushed out from underneath her, digging into the ground, she dipped her head low, releasing the pain…bleeding it out, the icy power of it all bleeding out through her mouth, her nostrils, her eyes, her ears. Oh Goddess she was dying –

And then she felt. She felt. The earth gathered in her fists, pushed between her toes, and then she understood…she felt Gharra now. Felt the world beneath her.

And she let out such a horrifying primal howl from the depths of her soul that she felt the world tremble in response.

And in the next moment, all pain melted away. She felt miraculously free of the anguish. She was free. Her spirit was finally, completely free of the ties that had bound it.

And she heard it, just then.

An almost silent swish of a giant tail, low and cutting through the grass. But never touching the ground.

I am kiralla, she said, her voice thundering into the ether.

MU4: Chapter One (part ii)

Dubai once again, sitting in for Bridgetown.

NOTE: This chapter was indeed a thrill to write — creating an extended solo scene where the conflict is not between people or even the self, but between Eika and everyone’s expectations of her. But she won’t be alone for too much longer…stay tuned!

*

Eika found the letter from her parents on the third day of her enforced solace, and she swore it hadn’t been there two days earlier. She’d found the envelope and the letter within sitting on the dining table, with just her first name and nothing else. It hadn’t been there that morning, but it had been there when she’d come back from her walk. She’d been so bored waiting something to happen or someone to contact her that she’d gone to investigate the neighborhood. An hour later it was sitting there, dead center. And she had not sensed anyone’s presence. They must have stepped through Light to drop it off, but she would have at least sensed the change, as she hadn’t gone all that far, maybe a few blocks at most. It must have been a Devoted Eichi…they seemed to love torturing her like this.

The letter explained exactly what she’d feared – she’d failed in the eyes of the Council of the Blessed Ones. She’d failed so many of the spirit circles. She’d failed her parents. They’d exhausted every avenue trying to awaken her as a Blessed One, to no avail. They’d been forced to make the decision for her, to take the route no spirit should ever have to go through. She was to awaken completely on her own, with no assistance, away from outside distraction and influence, and away from possible injuries to herself or someone else. If she were to succeed here, she would be accepted as a Blessed One.

If she were to fail…?

Her parents were too cowardly to mention that possibility in their letter.

Extreme measures to say the least, but it did not surprise her at all.

They’d left her in this empty town, this outpost nowhere, to figure herself out. She was apparently sufficient in whatever she needed – electricity was working, the few storefronts in the center of town were consistently restocked when she was not around, and water was always plentiful. This was a highly spiritual testing ground, and she’d just been dropped into it without preamble.

She wanted to be angry at her family, and for a little while she was. They’d taken extreme measures to push her towards some indefinite, undefined goal. To be Awakened. No explanation or context as to how, or why. It was a goal expected of her, not to be questioned. That was how her family, how her family’s belief system worked, and she’d failed all other attempts to follow in step.

She wanted to be angry, but instead, she only felt relief, of all things. A heavy burden that had been weighing her down her entire life had been lifted, one she hadn’t even realized was there until it had disappeared completely. No Devoted Eichi drilling their spite and disgust at her failings. No spirit circles avoiding her as an abomination. No family viewing her with disappointment and shame. She was a complete failure, and yet she had never felt freer! Perhaps her family had understood this, and in their own messed up way, dropping her here was the only way they could release her onto her own road.

She remembered a few things from her training that she could most likely utilize here, but strangely the first thought that came to mind was the parable of Nehalé Usarai, the man that Awakened the One of All Sacred. That was one of the first stories her teachers taught the young initiates, and it was the first one that stuck with her all this time.

Nehalé Usarai was considered a brilliant tactician, who had not only brought the Ninth Embodiment of the One into this Gharné world but had known how to ensure her safety and keep the extremist Shenaihu and the overzealous Mendaihu from poisoning the Word of the One. He too had been left alone in an outpost town like this when he was a young boy, to train himself of the Ways of the One in his own style. Never mind the fact that the real story, the one that the Blessed Ones always omitted, was that he wasn’t alone in this trial but had been brought here with several other young acolytes and awakened souls, and they’d all worked together to create a peaceful commune.

She laughed out loud when the thought struck her: Dare I question the Blessed Ones? Dare I compare myself to the revered edha Usarai? But he was Gharné, just like her, just like anyone else here on this planet. If he could find his own spirituality in these parts, why couldn’t she?

*

Easier said than done, of course.

On Day Four, she chose to practice her Lightwalking. That had been her weakest ability, as she found that she could not always keep a steady focus on her destination. The first time she’d tried it here, she’d gotten the destination completely wrong and ended up somewhere on the outskirts of town, and it had taken her three hours not only to get her bearings but find the house she’d been staying in. Later that day she tried again and made it to her planned landing point near the library green down the road…but had misjudged the altitude and fell ten feet to the ground, twisting her ankle in the process. She cried out, more in frustration than pain, but she was too damned stubborn to give up just yet. She hobbled back to the house and thought about what she was doing wrong.

The walk did her good because it forced her to clear her head. She was obviously still holding a grudge against her family, regardless of their intentions, and despite her stubborn will to prove them wrong. Perhaps that was it…did she really need to prove anything to begin with? Who was she trying to impress, anyway?

“No one but yourself,” she said aloud. She’d decided to speak aloud whenever it was warranted – to give voice to her thoughts meant vindication, even if just to herself, even if her thoughts proved to be wrong. If she spoke aloud, it made her thoughts and actions real.

And yet…she had to concede, she was lonely.

Had her parents even thought of that? Had anyone?

She needed no one for the moment, and she was fine with that; she didn’t need the constant distraction of others during her Trial. She was not desperate for human interaction, just the occasional reminder that she was not completely alone in this world. Only three days in and she was fine, but she needed more stimulation than the local birds and the occasional flight or shuttle passing over. And she wasn’t about to waste her time poking around on a vidmat. Not that they’d left any here.

Just…someone to talk to. To learn from. To work with. To connect with.

Annoyed with herself, she pushed those thoughts away and set about making tomorrow’s plans. Twisted ankle or no, she was going to get this self-training done one way or another. She had a lot of ground she wanted to cover during the time she had here.

By day six, she’d managed not to kill herself when practicing her Lightwalking, though she still hadn’t quite gotten the knack of adjusting for changes in geography. Thankfully it was impossible to step out of the Light and into something solid – the soul’s connection to the planet ensured that would not happen – but she still reappeared too high and hadn’t quite figured out how to adjust for it.

The stores of food and other wares miraculously replenished themselves not only at the small store down the block, but in her own refrigerator as well. She figured someone was restocking while she was away and chose not to question it or scan for their whereabouts. The temptation to reel out a thread of sensing energy was high – Goddess, it was high! – but she held back. Reaching out right now was a sign of weakness, that she’d given up already, and she didn’t want that.

She’d also expanded her regimen to include the more mundane but equally necessary things in training…she took care of what she ate and drank, what exercises she did, how long she practiced. She’d long known one of her worst habits was her lack of organization, so she chose to face that head on. She worked out a schedule and focused on everything she needed to do to adjust her focus.

By day ten she already saw the changes. She’d been meditating twice a day. She’d been going out for runs around the neighborhood, going slightly further with every circuit. She became exhausted less often, she had lost the excess weight from unhealthy eating, and to her own surprise, she found herself focusing on more details of her day-to-day life.

She changed her appearance as well, choosing to wear more form-fitting clothes to help her move more fluidly (this was, in her mind, a brilliant bit of clarity…she now understood why the Elders’ uniforms were also form-fitting, and it did in fact help her during ritual practices). She’d chosen to cut her long hair after finding that binding it back during practice only served as another distraction. It was now quite short, well above the nape of her neck, just shy of a buzz cut.

She felt more centered than she’d ever been in her life, and she was immensely proud of that fact. She continued to speak aloud, letting herself burst into song or work out a problem by talking through it. She felt oddly comforted by all of this. She could do this.

She would awaken as a Blessed One on her own.

Day fourteen was tough.

She promised herself she’d get through it, even if it ended up setting her back. She’d been in this funk ever since she found the second letter from her parents. She had no idea how it had gotten there, or if they’d left it days ago and she’d only just found it. She had a feeling it had been delivered, just like the phantom food and parcel deliveries, with someone stepping in and out of Light without her noticing and leaving no memory puddles in their wake.

The letter, at first glance, had been expected. A concerned but distanced connection, wishing her good health, hoping her training was improving. A brief mention of other extended family members forwarding positive thoughts and prayers…but otherwise it was mostly her mother’s hand and words. Words that felt shallow and forced. Words she’d said to her many times before, meaning well but ultimately meaning little at all, holding no true empathy.

But upon reading again, the reality of her isolation truly started to sink in. She’d put on a brave front all this time, refusing to feel the pain. Refusing to give up. Refusing to give in and let the Devoted Eichi win. Her mother’s letter, though well meant, had only served to bring that pain back to the forefront.

They’d already given up on her, days ago.

“Goddess…!” she blurted, crumpling the letter into a ball and throwing it across the room. Even talking aloud felt shallow and stupid now, just an immature action to trick herself into thinking all wasn’t as bad as she thought. She let the tears come this time, even knowing how stupid and pathetic she felt. She finally let herself accept the fact that she’d put on a brave front to please everyone else, to the detriment of her own spirit’s pleasure. She’d set out to prove…what? Nothing. She’d proven nothing to them, because they’d refused to listen at all. They were only biding their time until she gave up and they came to pick her up, spiritually broken.

Somehow, this clarity felt so much worse.

MU4: Chapter One (part i)

Dubai, which stands in nicely for long shots of Bridgetown.

NOTE: The original rough draft of the as-yet-untitled fourth book in the Mendaihu Universe was started in the spring of 2015, written longhand right about the same time I was readying A Division of Souls for self-publishing. The original version of this chapter (then as chapter four) was started 10 April of that year and went through multiple versions over the next seven years. Since then it’s moved to the beginning of the novel where it serves to set up the MU seventy years after the events that take place in The Balance of Light.

What it sets up is this: when Denni/Denysia gave the world the gift of spiritual awareness and a connection to Trisanda, and her intentions were to set humanity on a course of higher maturity and a connection to a larger universe. But in the world of spirituality and religion…things don’t always go to plan.

*

Eikianassia Oktanis stirred from slumber and stared at the ceiling in a dazed attempt to remember where the hells she was. It was too quiet, the air too clean and cool, and the shadows didn’t look like those from her own bedroom. She let it come to her slowly…the faded blue shapes of light against the ceiling on the far end of the room…the lack of any traffic noise…the lack of any art or shelves adorning the left wall…one nondescript alarm pod, no vidmats tacked to the wall, no communications devices on the desk. A humbling, deafening silence.

“Wilderlands,” she said in a defeated whisper, all too aware that her words had just come from the only human voice for miles.

The Trial of the Blessed One.

Eika had been brought out here by her mother and father, after she had been thrown out of her twelfth and last spirit circle. This was her last chance at becoming a devout member of the Blessed Ones, and if she failed this trial as well, she would be excommunicated and ostracized by everyone she’d ever known and forced to fend for herself in the Bridgetown Sprawl. Taking this trial had not been a mutual decision, and she felt that all too keenly. Her family’s chapter had forced it upon her parents, who had then forced it upon her without bothering to think about how it might affect her already weakening self-confidence. She grumbled and stirred again, fighting the growing irritation now that she remembered where she was and why she was there. If she let this negative energy get the best of her, she would be up for the rest of the night and she’d be cranky the next morning. And that would be misconstrued as an imbalance or an act of reckless rebellion. And her parents, and the Blessed Ones, wouldn’t have that.

She rolled over in frustration, most of it aimed at herself. Why had she chosen to act up that day, anyway? It was all ritual, to be sure. There was nothing wrong, not a thing that could have harmed her in any way, and the Goddess of All That Is would be watching over her throughout.

But somehow, it felt wrong. Not distressingly, harmfully wrong. More like…? She huffed again, stopping this train of thought once more. She couldn’t think about this, not now. She needed to sleep, damn it all!

This was just like before…

“Eika?” she’d heard from behind her bedroom door, two days ago, followed by the rattle of the handle. “Eika, are you all right?” Another rattle. “Eika, why is the door locked?”

Her mother had sensed her frustration and, as usual, had completely misread the reason behind it.

“Hmm…” she’d mumbled in a pathetic attempt at sounding half awake. “M’okay,” she’d said. “Just an odd dream is all.”

She’d sensed her mother’s presence behind that door for what felt like at list five minutes before she’d turned and headed back to her own bedroom. She’d waited a few minutes more, at least until she’d heard the distant sound of a door closing.

Eika had let out a slow breath and glanced at the clock on her side table. It was nearing three in the morning, much too late for her to be awake, and much too early for her to decide to stay up.

They don’t understand, she’d thought. How hard was it for them to realize she needed privacy every now and again? Was it really that hard for them to understand? She certainly understood more of the Blessed Ones than they did of her, that was for sure.

…this was exactly like two days ago. Except now, there was no one else here in this house. There was no one in this neighborhood, this town. She was alone.

Completely, desperately alone.

She turned onto her left side, hear arm resting next to her head on the pillow. She flexed her fingers for a few moments, watching their blurry shapes in the semi-darkness. There, on the soft flesh just between her thumb and forefinger and stretching just short of her ring finger, she could feel the stretching of skin where she’d received the scar of the first spirit circle ejection.

Devoted Eichi Maysa had done that, the Goddess curse her.

Eika hadn’t warranted such an injury, at least not in her eyes. She’d merely been a little too reckless with her lightwork ability, still learning and practicing but not quite yet a master at it. A stray spark of energy had slipped out after a nearly perfect healing, which had caused the willing practice participant to twitch and yelp as if Eika had stabbed her with a dagger to her chest. The absolutely livid Devoted Maysa had responded to the innocent mistake by forcibly pulling her away from the healed, pulling her arm backwards and dragging her to the front of the class – she had just enough time to see that otherwise she’d done a perfect job, and her partner had started to respond that they were not in fact harmed at all, only startled – and held Eika’s hand up to the other devout.

Devoted Maysa’s eyes burned into her as if she’d forcibly and gleefully ripped the girl’s soul from her body.

This is the imbalance you must purge!” she screeched, spittle hitting her face, and before she could respond or react, Devoted Maysa had taken a glowing index finger and jabbed it into Eika’s palm, shooting a small but intensely strong tear of Light through her hand. Such was her expertise that only skin and a few strands of muscle had been injured, but it was enough to make her shriek in agony, in front of everyone.

She’d immediately been branded a failure.

Eika had quit that spirit circle within the hour and, after stopping at a medical center in Branden Hill to have the tear properly healed, she returned home.

She was not in the least bit surprised that, between her leaving the shrine and getting home, Devoted Maysa had already contacted her parents and had painted the absolute worst picture anyone could have made. She didn’t even bother to argue because she knew her parents wouldn’t have believed her. They wouldn’t have accepted failure, even accidental.

“Whatever she said, she lies,” she’d said, more out of exhaustion than defiance.

“Despite the Light within?” her mother had ventured.

“Especially despite that,” she said, and walked dejectedly into her bedroom, locking the door, and not leaving it for a day and a half.

*

Eika must have dozed off at some point. When she next opened her eyes, the sun was shining through the windows on the far wall. Her eyes were dry and stinging and she rubbed at them, forcing herself awake. A small digital clock next to the bed read a little after nine. She yawned and stretched, rolling onto her back, surprised by her laziness. Blessed Ones were usually early risers who worked on little sleep, and she had slept an extra five hours at least. It was needed, though…she hadn’t felt this relaxed, this rejuvenated in quite some time.

She reeled out three small threads of spirit energy, looking for her parents and her younger brother, or anyone at all that might be nearby. This was normal for a Blessed One; they liked to keep constant tabs on each other.

But she sensed no one, just as she’d feared. She avoided the fear by thinking about her family and what they might be doing right now: were they visiting one of the outpost chapels today? Would they be chanting and protesting outside one of the countless cathedrals and Elder compounds in the Sprawl? Would they be making their way across Swope Heights in their monthly neighborhood sweep of gathering new followers? The Blessed Ones made it a point to be a highly visible presence wherever they were. Would her parents have woken her up to join? Did they still want her to be a part of the flock? Or had they given up on her? She winced, finding herself sliding back in that gloom again. Surely, they wouldn’t have abandoned her…? Not when they’d been keeping such close tabs on her over the past year and a half?

How many spirit circles had she quit or been forced out of? She’d not bothered to count, but she knew it had been at least a dozen. She’d tried…Goddess knew she’d tried to fit into one of the circles and make her family proud, but every single time she had broken away. None had been as painful and traumatic as Devoted Eichi Maysa and that first circle…but many of them had been just as psychologically and spiritually taxing, each and every one. They asked so much of her. So much that she could not always provide. She could bring herself to heightened levels of Light energy just like every other acolyte, but it was never enough, or its signature too obscure, or its leaders too demanding.

She was awakened, but she was lost.

Eika washed, dressed, and entered the main living area of the house. The den was wide and spacious, yet inviting and comfortable. She kneeled across the back of the couch that sat in front of a wide bank of windows, and watched the day unfold outside. Not a cloud in the sky, and the trees at the far end of the rear yard remained still. It felt too still, which always made her nervous. The less energy there was around her, the more she felt the need to expend her own to make up for it. The Wilderlands had to be the worst place for her to be if they were to expect her to learn how to control her random bursts of Light.

But it was the perfect place for a Trial of a Blessed One. If the acolyte was successful and ascended to a true Blessed One, then there was nothing to worry about. But if they were not successful…

Well – Eika decided not to think about that for now.

She reeled out a few more threads, thicker and stronger this time, and tried to find her family again. They had to be nearby, somewhere in the area. They couldn’t have gone far. Families of those on Trial would be put up at a compound nearby. But when she still could not sense them, she started to worry. And her reach was pretty damn far, much farther than most acolytes her age. She could sense clear across town without breaking a sweat, not that she ever dared to do so in the jumble of the Bridgetown Sprawl. But when she did exactly that here in this deserted town, she reeled it all back and shut it tight within herself. She stood up and started pacing the house, looking for any sign of them. Any notes, letters, memory puddles…surely they’d have told her where they’d gone and when they’d return?

She found nothing. A few scant memory patches, sights of them having walked through the house at some point, but that was it. They’d just…left.

She was tempted to reel her spirit sensing out further, more than she’d ever done before, but knew that would have caused more trouble than anything else. Instead she threw on her jacket and began walking into the outpost town center. Perhaps she would find them there.

*

The town center, the entire village, was deserted. She was completely alone.

She’d gone to the center green and thrown out a cursory sensing thread of the area, just a passive sweep just to find anyone at all, whether they were Mendaihu, Shenaihu or cho-nyhndah, but had come up with nothing. Even an unenlightened would have come to her attention, but she sensed no one. And she was unusually strong when it came to spiritsensing; that had been another irritation of some of the Devoted Eichi and she’d always held back to avoid their anger and punishment.

Could her sensing ability be that off kilter? She didn’t want to ramp it up, not just yet.

But after two hours of walking through the outpost town center, she saw and sensed no one.

They’d arrived late last night, and she’d been half asleep, so she hadn’t bothered or expected to look for anyone, figuring they were all in their homes, or at least in some cabin on the outskirts of town, at a safe monitoring distance and away from her prodding senses. Now that she was fully and completely awake, however, the emptiness and abandonment felt more complete and heartrending.

Her parents had left her here. Alone.

“Pashyo,” she said, her voice without any echo.

Her Trial of the Blessed One had started.

Curiously, past the throbbing pain of abandonment, past the simmering resentment and the directionless anger rippling somewhere in the background, she felt determination. She felt the searing pain of her family giving up on her and abandoning her in this weirdly vacant town in the middle of nowhere…she felt a keen, almost kiralla-level wave of naked anger, her spirit so forcibly pulled out of a society of similar souls against her will…

…and yet, Goddess bless it, she felt a clear and immensely strong will, a refusal to give up despite it all.

Goddess bless it, she would persevere.

She would prove them wrong.

Hmm.

I’m feeling a bit bored with my blogs as of late. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about writing here…but I’ve been repeating myself for a while now. I feel like I’ve been using the same subjects, hitting Random Shuffle and posting something not-quite-the-same-but-similar.

I need to shake things up a bit.

So.

I’ve decided I’m going to spend all of next month (and maybe July as well) going a bit off schedule. I’d like to share some of my outtakes, poetry, and other bits and bobs that I’ve written over the last several years. You’ve read more than enough about my thoughts on the process, why not finally share some of the end results?

Hope you enjoy.

Third time’s the charm…?

Hmm. I’ve been plowing through this one scene in Theadia for the last two weeks and it’s taking FOREVER to get through. There’s so many things wrong with what’s ending up on the screen that I’m having second thoughts about keeping what I have so far. I know the problem: it’s a tense scene with a lot of important information that comes to the fore, but the execution of the scene is absolutely atrocious. There’s tension there, but it’s the wrong kind. And the whole scene is from a single person’s point of view and she’s so passive in it that I keep forgetting it’s her scene.

I think the issue here is that I’m still not entirely sure how the scene should unfold. It’s an important scene that needs to be there, where multiple story threads lead up to this moment, but the weave is weak and unstable. [Yes, I’ve been using this particular crafting metaphor a lot with Theadia. There is a reason for it.] What I need to do is map it out again. I did that for Take Two, and to be honest, I probably should have followed my instincts when it was clear this version didn’t quite resonate with me either.

So. What do do? I’m going to cut the entire thing again. Take Three. (Take One did the exact opposite and did a lot of telling-not-showing, which didn’t work either.) As always, I’ll paste this current version into my Outtakes file where I can use it for reference for the next attempt. Hopefully third time’s the charm, yeah?

Did I write this? Or someone else?

There’s a classic story behind the Beatles’ song “Yesterday” in which the hit song pops into Paul McCartney’s head in a dream one night at Jane Asher’s place in Wimpole Street. Upon waking, he dashes to the family piano and writes the bulk of it that morning before he forgets it. Soon after, however, he is plagued by this weird feeling that he’d just nicked the entire song from somewhere else entirely — it was a melody so simple yet so brilliant, so classic that it’s an immediate standard, he was absolutely convinced his subconscious had heard it somewhere before. He kept it back for a while, noodling with it and occasionally asking his bandmates and other musicians if they recognized it, and finally after a few weeks, the Beatles laid it down as the final track of their Help! album. It would be released as a single in the US as one of the band’s most long-lasting, best-remembered, and most loved songs. (It would even hit a Guinness World Record in 1986 as the most covered song in the world.)

*

Meanwhile, I’ve been going through some of my old 750Words entries, and recently I came across a piece of microfiction that I do not remember writing at all. It’s dated the 7th of November, 2018, and it sounds nothing like what I normally write. It actually sounds better than anything I’ve ever done, especially for something that was quite possibly dashed off one afternoon while distracted from the Day Job. It’s a simple 867-word story but it’s tight and concise to a level I’m often not used to. There’s no meandering, no riffing, trying to figure it out as I go. It sounds extremely confident. And the subject matter is quite unlike me as well. It has no relation to any of my other projects. I don’t even know what inspired it, to tell the truth. If I’ve written anything similar before or since that time, I’m not yet aware of it.

When I reread it about two weeks ago, I was absolutely convinced I’d nicked it, or that I was deliberately copying someone else’s style. There’s no way I could have possibly come up with this on my own.

Now, however, it’s gotten me super excited to the point that I think I need to submit it somewhere. It’s also made me think I need to do a deeper dive into these 750Words sessions and see what else might be buried in there. I’ve done a lot of ‘dialogue-only’ microfiction over the years (the first one arrived around 2014, I believe) which I find a hell of a lot of fun to write. I’ve written shorts related to my longer work — I have two Christmas-themed stories set in the Bridgetown Trilogy universe that were written for fun, for instance — that in retrospect I think could be used for submission, or maybe collected and self-published. And I have years of poetry that’s never been released except on one of my blogs.

It also made me realize that maybe I should rethink how I look at my writing as a whole. Some days I’m so caught up in the process that I don’t always realize when I’m going off the deep end, or if I’m losing the plot entirely (pun intended). Other days I’m so blocked that I’m convinced I’m not blocked and just being lazy or distracted. Looking back on these outtakes makes me realize that I’ve written more, a lot more, than I think I have over the last twenty-plus years, and sometimes I don’t give it the full attention it needs. Instead I’ll be too focused on gotta get my daily words done today or I need to get this revision done before the end of the season that I don’t always realize what I’ve got in front of me, or what I’ve got stashed away.

When something like this pops up from a forgotten corner of my writing life, I can’t help but be happy to find it again. It reminds me that maybe I’m doing a lot better than I think I am.

Cutting it out

On the plus side, I’ve finally nailed down the main theme of Project B. I know exactly what the entire story should revolve around. And now that I know that, I can move forward at a much smoother and more consistent pace. I had an idea that this one particular section I’d written a few years ago might work as the true opening to the novel, and much to my surprise, it works perfectly in that position.

On the downside, I’ve cut two full chapters that didn’t relate to it all that much. One chapter I knew I was going to throw in the Outtakes bin because I was just writing something for the sake of writing and getting into the mood of the story. The other chapter was an older bit from a few years ago that I can actually still use later on in the story. So all in all, it evens out.

Still, I’m not too bothered by writing scenes that I won’t use. It’s all part of the writing process. I have tons of outtakes from different projects over the years hiding in folders and notebooks in Spare Oom. And like most writers, I might sometimes dig them back out to use elsewhere. Meet the Lidwells, for example, has quite a few scenes that were originally for a trunked idea of mine called Two Thousand, which worked quite nicely. And there are a LOT of Mendaihu Universe outtakes just waiting to be used elsewhere.

Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating when I do that, but I don’t feel too guilty about it, to be honest. I’m not being lazy, far from it. I’m recycling and reusing something that works much better elsewhere. Sometimes it’s a scene that I think is a fantastic idea, and I may have even written a rough version during a Daily Words session, just waiting for a forever home. But really, the most important part is when I place it where it’s supposed to go, and the entire project suddenly comes into clear focus and makes so much more sense.

That’s when I feel most proud of my work — when it all falls into place like I want it to!

In My Blue World: Rough Draft Opening

madoka magica miki
Source: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

I’ve been writing the first complete rough draft of In My Blue World in short daily bursts of around a thousand words on 750words.com over the last month and change, and I’m actually kind of impressed at how far I’ve gotten in such a short time.  After writing various disconnected scenes earlier in the year, this is my first start-to-finish attempt.  There’s still a lot more to go, new and old scenes inserted, as well as revision, but I’m quite happy with it so far.  If I plan this out correctly, I might have a new book to push by the time Worldcon rolls around!

Meanwhile, here’s Take 2 of the opening of the story.  Hope you enjoy it!

***

I’d been looking forward to this vacation for months, and now that it was here, it occurred to me that maybe I should have been better prepared for it. I had on the wrong pair of hiking boots and my feet were aching something fierce, and they we had a mile to go before we reached the cabin. I’d also made the mistake of taking the newer backpack, which ended up being slightly bigger than expected, and its corners were digging into my kidneys.

Not that I was going to let all that ruin their time at our grandmother’s cabin, of course. Once we got there, we could kick off their shoes, relax in one of the deep chairs on the open porch, and do absolutely nothing at all. After four months of dealing with online clients and impassive management, it was high time for me to forget about the goings-on in the world. Me and my sisters had planned this trip to the cabin since late last year, and now that time was here, and I wasn’t going to let anything ruin it.

The path loomed ahead of us, a slow but seemingly unending incline heading up the side of the mountain. To one side were the steeper foothills, and to the other was a gentle slope downwards to the large lake in the valley. Even though I should be watching my step and keeping an eye out for any unexpected animals popping out of the brush, I couldn’t help but glance leftwards to the lake. I’d been camping down there as well in the past, spending hours in the water, swimming with her family and friends.  We’d be making multiple trips down there in the next few days.

Grandma’s cabin, on the other hand, was equally as fascinating. About halfway up the mountain, the path leveled off at a meadow, with a few wooden cabins lining the edge of it, just inside the tree line. There was always something mysterious up there. Grandma Patricia always kept weird things there, things from her old life as a hunter. She’d taught all three of us girls, showing us how to catch, clean and cook fish and fowl and other things that ran around these deep woods.  We knew how to survive in the wilderness for the next few weeks.

That tear in the universe, though…that was definitely unexpected.

“Dianaaaaa…” Katie whined, dramatically dragging my name out.  “Are we there yet?” She made a production out of slogging up the final hill towards the meadow, dragging her feet and hanging her head.  She hung onto her boyfriend Greg as if he was the last shred of life force left in her. Greg said nothing, but I was sure his eyes were rolling right then.

“Almost,” I said.

“You are so lazy,” Allie laughed, hitching up her backpack and darting up the hill with a renewed burst of energy.

“Stay close!” I called out, but it was no use. When my youngest sister set her mind to it, there was nothing to hold her back.  In the process I sped up my pace to catch up. Katie responded with another groan and trudged along. “Allie, how many times do I–”

“Oh, wow…”  Allie had suddenly stopped short. “What the heck is that?”

My heart jumped, thinking she’d just found a dead animal, or worse, a sick animal, and sped up to join her. I sidled up next to her and stepped out just a tiny bit ahead, her hand out just in case. “What did you see?”

She pointed in a vague direction of the path ahead. “That! What is that?”

“Where? I don’t know where you’re–”

“That… shiny thing.”

I glanced up the path again, and sure enough, she could see something flashing. Something small but bright. A reflection of sunlight against something, perhaps? Even Katie and Greg had stopped to take a look at this point, and neither was quite sure what they were looking at.

“That’s too bright for a reflection,” Greg said. “Unless it’s a mirror.”

Katie shook her head. “That doesn’t look like a mirror. That–”

Her words were drowned out, as the air as torn in two.

The point of light sputtered and sparked to life, becoming as bright as the sun. I shielded my eyes and swore, blinking away tears and pulling my sisters back. The point of light began to grow; it expanded from a point to a line; a thick line of light, dripping with god knew what kind of plasma energy. And it wasn’t a smooth expansion, either. It was jagged, as if it was hacking away at the air and hitting resistance. Each time it ripped upwards, another growl of thunder filled the air.  It expanded until it was human height, and stopped.

The silence was terrifying.

Then the girl stepped through the tear, screaming unrecognizable words in a strange accent. She held a glowing sword in her right hand and a thread of green light in her left palm.

“Ah!” the girl cried. “Krozarr!”

The wisp of light in her left hand burst into a bright green sphere, and she pushed against the tear. Pushed down on it with all her might.  She growled more words that we couldn’t understand. The tear responded with just as much resistance, though it was no longer thunder… it sounded like heavy boulders sliding against each other.

Finally, with a final push, she closed the tear she’d just made and all was silent once more.  The girl shook the globe of light out of her hand and it dissipated. The tip of her sword dropped to the ground. She stood there, panting from exhaustion.

She turned around, and saw all of us, watching her.

“Aahyeh…” she breathed, and gave us a weak smile.

Then she fainted.

Outtake: Magical Girl story

Somehow I’ve roped myself into working on three different projects at the same time.  I’m revising Meet the Lidwells and writing the Apartment Complex story, and now I’m writing outtakes of my Magical Girl story for my warmup words (while listening to ELO, no less).  Go figure.

Here’s an outtake I wrote Thursday evening.  Hope you enjoy!

*

[Story so far: a group of college kids are on a camping vacation in the wilderness and witness a girl, clad in armor and wielding a glowing broadsword, tearing a hole in reality and jumping through to escape an unseen evil presence.  The girl closes the hole, but faints.  The kids bring the girl to their rented cabin to nurse her wounds, and a few days later she reawakens, though stricken with amnesia.]

*

Zuzanna stepped out onto the porch of the cabin and once again tried to remember who the hell she was. She was a solider, yes. Zuze was definitely her name, weird as it was. She was apparently a badass — Katie’s description, at least. She remembered ripping a hole in the fabric of time and squeezing through to get away from… who? Someone named Krozarr? A vague emotion stirred whenever she thought of that name, and she wasn’t sure why. This amnesia ate at her, frustrated her to no end. She needed to know who she was and where — and when — she was from, damn it all! And she knew she needed to get back and finish what she’d started.

But how?

“Hi, Zuze,” she heard off to her right. Katie was sitting in one of the wicker rocking chairs, kicking back and relaxing, enjoying the morning. “You doing okay today?”

Zuze hummed in response. She still wasn’t sure how to talk to this young girl who, in an odd way, reminded her of herself. Zuze had never had a quiet childhood, and her teenage years had been fraught with noise and stress and worse. Again — she knew the memories were there, but she could not quite connect with them.

“Frustrated,” she said. “And hungry.”

“I hear you,” Katie said, smiling at her. “The boys should have come back with more food and supplies by now. I don’t know what’s taking them so long.” She pulled the blanket closer around her legs, despite it being not all that cold. She seemed distracted, looking out into the front garden and down the pathway, wanting to say something but holding back.

“Do you mind if I sit with you?” Zuze asked, pointing to the other chair.

Katie blinked, the question unexpected. “S-sure, go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” she said, and sat down. She didn’t feel all that cold… in fact, she felt too warm. The others had been grousing about a cold snap earlier, but she alone hadn’t noticed. She wondered if she was just used to the climate back where she was from that this current one felt like bliss. She looked out across the garden as well, past the treeline at a large lake off in the distance. That body of water definitely looked familiar. Of course she couldn’t remember the name. She still couldn’t remember a lot of things.

“Zuze, can I ask you a questions?”

Zuze glanced over at the girl. “Sure.”

Katie frowned, thinking of what she wanted to say before she spoke. “You’re from the future, right?”

“I…I believe I am, yes.”

“You don’t know how far, though? You still don’t remember?”

She shifted uncomfortably. “I’ll… remember it eventually. Pretty sure I will, anyway.”

“Hmm.” Katie shifted herself, still frowning. “You were fighting someone. I don’t think any of us saw his face, but we heard his voice. Sounded like a big bad guy. I…” She drifted off, looking away, and Zuze let the silence linger. This was hard enough for her to comprehend, so it had to be worse for this girl. “I tried looking up his name online. Different versions of it. I couldn’t find a match anywhere. For you to jump through time to get away from someone like that, they have to be pretty evil. And they’d have made the news *somewhere*. So I’m thinking you’re from pretty far ahead.”

Zuze shuddered. “He won’t bother any of you, I promise,” she said a little too quickly.

But Katie smiled instead. “We’re not worried about that, Zuze. We’re worried about you. I’m worried. I want to help you remember. So I figure, if we can’t pin down exact memories, we can at least narrow the scope, right?”

Zuze blushed, equally warmed and embarrassed by her words. “You don’t have to do that, Katie,” she said. “It’ll come to me soon enough.”

But Katie wouldn’t relent. “Don’t you see? We want to help. You’ve dropped into our lives, Zuze. Literally. You ripped a hole in reality and jumped through, and we were all there to catch you. We’re your friends. We want to help.”

Zuze couldn’t believe what this girl was saying. She couldn’t bear to expose these young kids to the evils of her own time! She did not want their lives on her conscience. And yet… she found herself tearing up. She even felt a little cold that moment, and wished she’d brought a blanket of her own.

“I…” she started.

“We’re here for you as long as you need us,” Katie said, and laid a hand on hers. “We can be your safe haven for the time being.”

Zuze wiped the tears away, grinning like an idiot. “Th-thank you, Katie,” she said, her voice just above a whisper.

*

Postscript:  Of course I’m going to give this one an anime-inspired title.  Given that this one has ties to ELO, I’m going to call it In My Blue World for now. 🙂

 

Secret Future Project Outtake: Ghosts

A little something I wrote on Friday that may or may not have something to do with the Secret Future Project, aka the College Story.  Enjoy!

[Note: the College Story is not a horror novel, nor is it only about the hedraac (my vampire-like characters that are also in the Secret Next Project universe, though the stories are not related).  This is most likely going to be a New Adult coming-of-age story, which happens to feature many human and non-human characters.]

*

When I cross the quad, there’s always a sense of stillness there, even if other students are mingling about. They could be shouting political slogans, or grunting and shuffling about playing touch football, or practicing their scales and harmonies, or simply scuffling along on their own, but all that tends to get drowned out by the stillness in the air. Even on a windy or rainy day.

I haven’t quite figured out why I feel that, and sometimes I even avoid crossing the quad some days, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Perhaps it’s the ghosts of the campus, forever traipsing along the four corners of the flat grass, forever hovering in front of the brick buldings with blank books and styli long emptied of ink in their arms.

I can sense those ghosts. Not many of us can. Mostly the hedraac, but there are others. The faculty tend to ignore the ghosts. They’ve gotten used to them by now. You know who the new professors are, because like me, they get skittish when they cross this area. They’re not scared, just wary. Like me, they’ll eventually learn to cross the quad without a single worry.

I met one of the ghosts during one of my shifts at the radio station. I’d just entered Davis Hall and headed down to the basement, and I was just about to pull the heavy door into the station, when I stopped short. Hovering in front of me, maybe less than six inches off the ground, a young ghost of a student waited for me. He didn’t look threatening. Maybe a little overtired with heavy eyes and stress lines on his forehead, but other than that he looked like any other student here on campus. A weathered jacket, an overfull book bag slung over his shoulder, worn jeans, and very worn sneakers. He and I locked eyes for a moment. He smiled in response, and slid out of the way.

“Pardon,” I said, well aware that others could have just seen me talk to myself. But I don’t mind that… a lot of students do that here.

My shift started in another twenty minutes, and I always got there early to slide through the music library to pick out the evening’s play list. Another hedraac was finishing up his own show, and was currently running down his own play list. He caught my eye through the studio window and waved. I wondered if he could see the station ghost as well.

This was my third semester at the radio station, and I was slowly making my way up towards the position of music director, something I’d been wanting since I’d discovered college radio when I was a teenager. Some deejays are there for the extracurricular activity or because they have nothing better to do, but me, I plan to stay in the radio field as long as I can. I’m one of those music fans who obsesses over records and bands, knows far too much about them. I’m also one who loves the night shift. It’s not that I’m a night hedraac… I just like the ambience and the fact that I’m alone for the most part.

My shift started as normal and I set the mood by throwing on some of my latest favorites, a wide range of styles that I know most of my fans like to hear. Now and again I’ll get a few calls from them, asking for obscurities or well-known classics, and I do what I can to provide. I may be a music geek, but I’m not a snob about it. I’ve been known to play a few major label tracks now and again.

It’s entering the second hour of my shift when I start hearing the voice.

It’s soft at first, a quiet humming that I mistake for an open feed that I forgot to tune down, and after a few flustered moments of checking and double checking the faders, I realize it’s not going out on the air at all. It’s in the speakers, alright, but it’s not anything I’m playing.

It’s the ghost, and he wants to talk to me.

“I hear you,” I say into the air. “I can’t make out what you’re saying, but I can hear you.”

I feel a tap on my hand, which makes me twitch. He’s trying to guide me to open one of the faders to a test channel. I shiver, but at the same time I’m intrigued.

I turn up the fader in the test channel. “You’re plugged in,” I say, and wait for a response.