March was a good month in regards to my life and my blog–not so much for reading.
I literally read one book. I gave up on Winterspell (so melodramatic) and read The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (and haven’t even reviewed it yet). I literally had no book reviews (ahhh!). I’m feeling sort of pathetic in that regards. But I am making progress in the Tutankhamen book I talked about in my Reading Update.
I also talked about my crisis of confidence and why I might not listen to all the writing advice out there. In my WIP novel, I hit 50,000 words (and nearly jumped with joy)! I wrote about 17,000 words this month, of which I am very proud, though I have to admit that spring break really helped. Free time is so freaking amazing.
I guess I should talk about my personal life, but I honestly can’t really remember anything specific. Good, not great, not bad. I had spring break, which was nice. Wonderful, actually. There were lots of tests before the break because the quarter ended, and getting back into the rigor of school isn’t exactly fun. There, obligatory personal life statement done.
My goal for April is essentially to Read. Capital “r.” Actually READ–all caps. Seriously. Unfortunately, I’m not out of my reading slump, and nothing on my TBR list is grabbing my attention.
I wrote this for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Contest this week (Ten Random Sentences). I chose this sentence for inspiration:
The river stole the gods.
It’s just around 900 words. Hope you enjoy!
Their land was a desert, so they prayed to their gods to bring water, for plants to grow, for animals to come out of hiding places between rocks so that they could spear them and eat. One more meal, one more oasis, one more night watching the stars and trying not to freeze.
That was all they asked.
Ada knew that it had not always been like this. The land used to be fertile, so many generations before her own that even the stories that told of it were eroding from the wear and tear of being passed down. There were old gods, old in the way that their people had lived enough years without needing their assistance that they forgotten how to call their names.
When Ada was younger, she would sulk in the shadows cast by the elders’ fire. One night she had heard them saying names she’d never heard them say when the rest of the tribe was around. It was only years later, when she understood that the springs had been rising past their normal levels and that the water tasted unfamiliar, that Ada understood that they were names of old gods, whose knowledge and guidance couldn’t be provided by their current deities.
The world was changing, away from the stories and gods Ada’s tribe currently held and prayed to, and if you hear the right whispers, toward the older times, and the older gods.
But as long as the change happened slowly, and the whispers were quiet, the only person who noticed was the girl who grew up learning to dance invisibly in the shadows while the rest of her generation danced like fire.
* * *
Desert people pray for water and consider their prayers answered with sudden summer rainstorms and shady oases after long days of travel.
When their gods’ answer is floods, new gods and new prayers are needed to survive.
The storm clouds came and everyone expected them to give a day of rain before they burned off in the summer heat. That second day saw rain was unusual.
On the third day their tents’ simple waterproofing with animal fat was not enough to hold off the storm. By the end of the first week, the tribe’s tents sat on the bank of a river, and by the end of the month Ada forgot what it was like for her skin to be anything but wet. And still it rained, and the river next to the camp widened, threatening to swallow them whole.
The river stole the gods.
A month and a half into the storm, one of the elders came out of his tent wearing a black robe no one had seen—no one’s grandparent’s had seen—and spoke of gods that could save their people.
The elders brought back the old gods and tossed aside their current deities. They were the leaders of the tribe and it was their job to save their people, and you pray to the god who will deliver you from harm, not the one that brings harm.
It was war. Some people would not abandon the gods that had watched over them, that had brought them safety and love and shelter. Others blamed their neighbor’s piety for the continuing storm: you do not pray to the god of water when your world is flooding.
After two months, the rain stopped. Summer’s heat had faded and the sun did not have the strength to suck dry the ground the way it once could. The river had stolen soil from other lands and brought it to Ada’s tribe. The sand of their homeland was now soil.
Green, bright fertile green—a color as foreign as another language to the desert people—appeared. Grasses, flowers, bushes with berries. Stories of the forgotten times from before the desert became their only hope of survival. Which plants are edible, which ones are poisonous?
And still it was war. For if the rain has stopped, then the people who were praying for water were clearly kneeling at the wrong altar. But never before had their been a concept of a “wrong altar,” or that their could be right gods and wrong gods. Difference of religion appeared in a world that had never before considered religion to be anything but a fact.
Hiding in the shadows, Ada heard the whispers, of war between dueling gods and humans as chess pieces. Of right and wrong on a cosmic scale. Of dying to be right or killing those who are wrong.
And she couldn’t help but wonder if the conflict was completely imaginary, made up by a scared and confused people whose world had changed without giving them a warning or a solution. Years ago the land had dried up, and some gods faded and others came to the forefront, and the elders did not pass on a fear of the old gods in the face of new ones. Surely the chance was not a sign of disrespect or betrayal, but simple necessity. Maybe the gods knew that the world would change without them, and that some of them would be needed while others weren’t.
Probably, Ada was wrong. The rest of the children always said Ada was too nice, too quiet. She’d spent too much time in the shadows to know how the real world worked.
I swallow, pressing my tongue against my teeth, testing out the idea of conversation. “…Hey.”
“I’m glad we’re talking.”
I’m not. “Me, too.” I glance around the room: a metal cube, with a table and two chairs. I know there is a door behind me—locked.
“This doesn’t have to be awkward.”
God, does my nose twitch like that when I talk?
“And yet, it is.”
Her jaw swerves as she bites her tongue. “What do you want me to say?”
I bite my own tongue, a reflexive mirror. “Whatever. Just—talk.” I should have a notebook or a voice recorder or—something. But those jobs have been passed off to people and machines working outside the cube while I slowly go insane in here with her.
I can’t remember why I thought this was a good idea. Any of this. Screw fame—I want my sanity.
“I don’t remember everything yet,” she says. “But the doctors say all of it will come back over time. Probably just a few weeks more.”
“Great,” I say, tight-lipped.
“I remember the last day of second grade, when your mom bought us ice cream—mint chip, because it’s our favorite.”
“I like vanilla now,” I say.
“I know that, too.”
She plays with the tip of her hair, twisting it around her finger. “And I remember middle school graduation, when you got that plaque for Best Science Student.”
“Ironic.” My fingers itch to find my hair but I keep them firmly clasped in front of me.
“Prom night,” she jokes, winking. My insides clench, not because the memory is bad—it’s pretty fantastic—but at the idea that she knows about it.
“It’s like being twins,” she finally offers. Then a shrug and a smile, like a mix between a beaten puppy and a flirty preteen. Both of them just trying to get the right type of attention—from me.
I lean back. “No, it’s not. Twins are separate people. Twins have different dreams at night. Twins have different hobbies and have read different books. Twins have different strides and like different condiments on their burgers.”
She counters, “Twins have the same birthday. Twins have the same genes and the same home lives and the same inside jokes about chores and crushes.”
“Identical twins,” I clarify. “And only if they have a good relationship and grow up together and—there are variables you haven’t considered.”
Variables. I’m the math/science genius and I still can’t figure all of them out.
It’s making me twitch, being in the same room with her. I can’t stop noticing every little thing she does: worry the hem of her shirt, shift her shoulders, crack only the knuckle of her index fingers.
“Can you just—stop?”
She freezes. “Stop what?”
I’m trying not to scream and I know she can tell. “Stop—being me? Can you, I don’t know, learn ballet or get a scar or go to the South and pick up an annoying accent? Just something that makes you be different?”
“That’s not the point.”
“Well, the point can fuck off, okay?” I yell.
She flinches. I want to feel guilty, but my anger shoves the rest of my emotions out of my brain and locks the doors.
“You’re not supposed to exist. You’re impossible. You’re a mistake. And just because I agreed to talk to you doesn’t mean that any of that has changed.”
Her eyes—my eyes—meet mine. “I’m the greatest thing you’ve ever done.”
“Smartest. You’re the smartest thing I’ve ever done. The most impressive. Maybe the most influential. But Prometheus stole fire and all he got for that was saying goodbye to his liver—and not in the fun, alcoholic way. Marie Curie fried her own brain so that we can make microwave pizza. Let’s ask Nobel and Oppenheimer about the most influential things they ever did, huh?
“Science doesn’t reward scientists. Achievements don’t make your own life better, no matter how happy everyone else around you is.”
She laughs. “I’d say you’ve been working on that speech for a while, but I don’t have any memory of it.”
Wow, she’s a bitch. “You don’t have to be obnoxious about it.”
“Right, because you’re a poster child for kindness.” That kills the conversation, and we sit in tense silence.
She taps her forehead. “Damn, you’re smart.”
I can almost see the memories as they flood into her mind, but I know she is past middle school moments and exes. Her eyes are slightly glazed, her mouth open the tiniest amount. It is an expression I have never worn, and I am suddenly struck by the fact that someone else—someone I can’t control—has my brain. She knows every math equation I’ve ever learned, every idea that I’ve ever had.
I’ve had a lot of bad ideas over the years.
I stare at her, really look at her.
She’s me. We’ve got the same eyes, the same hair, the same crooked front tooth and mole just above our lip. She’s my height and weight. We’ve got the same fingerprints and the same genes. She remembers the same life that I remember. The only difference is our ages.
I’m twenty-five years old. She’s been alive for barely one week.
She’s my ticket into every science journal, every prestigious conference, every history book in the world. She’s a Nobel Prize taunting me with memories of elementary school.
She’s the world’s most successful clone—pushing past gene replication to factor in life chronology and outside influences—and it’s my own romantic, dumbass fault that she’s…me.
“Why do you hate me?” she asks, leaning in. “I’m you. I have your head. And I know you don’t hate yourself.”
What makes a person themselves? Memories—she has mine. Genes—ditto.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
We were only clones for one second—
And then she existed and I existed, separately, and both of our selves branched out from there and we’ll never come back to where we started. Entropy—human style. A study of human identity locked in a box—is she me, or someone else?
The history of the world is the development of weapons: rocks to spears to bows and arrows to cannons to guns to tanks to missiles to the A-bomb to chemical warfare to this—putting someone in a box with themselves and watching them slowly rip each other apart.
We’ve all heard of the NaMos taking place this November. NaNoWriMo challenges writers to write a novel in a month. NaNoBloPo asks bloggers to post once a day for a month.
I’d love to take part in both of these events. I think they would seriously enrich me as a person and let’s be honest, I need a kick in the pants if I’m ever going to finish a second draft (which is turning out to basically be a new first draft) of my novel.
November just isn’t a good month for me. I have finals right before winter break starts, so November is the part of the semester where all my teachers try to cram in everything they need to have taught me for my finals. I’m desperately trying to remember the stuff they taught me earlier in the year. I have a large Speech and Debate competition this month and a lot of the clubs I’m a part of are getting serious.
A month like July would be better.
I know I sound like a wimp using school as an excuse, especially since the point of the NaMos is to push past your excuses and WRITE. Unfortunately, I’m at a point in my life where I feel that I seriously need to value school over personal projects like blogging or writing (no matter how much I wish both pursuits would get recognition as legitimate parts of my life).
So, no promise of daily posts or the formation of a novel during this month.
On the other hand, I love the spirit of the NaMos, so I’ve set myself some (realistic) goals for the month of November:
Post at least three times (hopefully four) a week on this blog.
Work on my novel,Devil May Care. I’m going to write down random scenes that have been floating around in my mind, do some serious plotting, do more research to help expand my story, and get a second draft STARTED at least.
Write in general! I haven’t touched Hell and Styx in MONTHS, and I really need to pick that back up. I have poems and short stories nagging at me to be written, and I want to finally write them.
I want to read at least six books this month (hopefully I’ll push past that to a nice round number of ten). I have a week long Thanksgiving break, so this is actually doable. This is in the spirit of Kaitlin over at Reasoning Red Head’s post NaNoREADMo.
Lastly, I’d like to actually start taking It Matter to Us, the political blog I share with my twin, seriously. As in, ever posting at all. I started it over summer and then dropped it when school started, even thought the point was that it would work hand in hand with Speech and Debate and keep me up-to-date on current events. I’m not setting a number of posts a week, but I think I should make five posts this month. That sounds reasonable.
What about you guys? Are you taking part in any of the NaMos? Are you setting yourself other random goals?
A massive shout-out to anyone who is taking part in the NaMos. They are making the commitment that I’m not–and I love that. It’s incredible to commit yourself to any of these tasks. Congratulations for taking the first step, and good luck!
I know what you’re thinking…it’s the wrong holiday for the title of this story. It is Halloween after all.
Whatever. Just read the story. It all ties in, I promise.
“Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s cursed,” Annabel reminded the boys.
“Scared?” Edgar taunted.
Annabel raised her eyebrows, her arms crossed against her chest in the cooling night air. “Nothing happened when Jake tried it. Nothing happened when Susan tried it.”
“We’re special,” Alec promised with a wink.
The remaining tendrils of pale sunlight eased out of the graveyard, surrendering the rolling hills to the night. The temperature dropped, biting at the back of their necks, and a faint fog layer gathered in the air like smoke.
Edgar lit a candle and set it at the base of the tombstone. Yellow light threw itself against the aged rock, only to be swallowed by its perpetual blackness. Though they were hidden in the night, Annabel remembered the complex hieroglyphics carved across the stone, vaguely Egyptian in appearance, almost entirely worn away by countless years.
They were in the quiet, New England town of Spring Turning, founded in the seventeenth century. The cemetery was on the edge of the urban area, bordered by a maple forest, patiently waiting at the margin of civilization for permission to enter. Other gravesites marked grandparents’ passings with simple, tired phrases. Time was creeping into the cemetery, grass growing long near old plots, inscriptions beginning to fade after harsh winter storms, but the quaint, American spirit remained intact, to be boasted of in politicians’ speeches and nostalgic reflections.
This tombstone was different, inexplicable, sinister—wrong. Grass near the stone withered and died, and the dirt was underneath gray and icy year around. No one could even identify the language of the hieroglyphs, let alone translate the inscription, and no one claimed the grave. There was no record of the grave being dug. Local lore claimed the stone was the reason the cemetery existed; when the town was founded, the tombstone was already there, and the leaders decided to fill in the graveyard around it.
There was only one explanation: the tombstone was haunted.
The reckless, rebellious, thrill-seeking teenagers of Spring Turning had been trying to prove it for centuries. Ouija boards, tarot cards, scented candles, crystal balls, Bloody Mary chants and bastardized biblical verses had all been employed in the effort to make the tombstone do—anything, really.
They had failed.
The tombstone refused to provide the town’s youth with a distraction from the 120th Annual Apple Pie Day celebration or the monthly recitation of the Declaration of Independence by the mayor, dressed in full Revolutionary period-appropriate clothes.
If anything, nights spent in the cemetery were said to be relaxing and enjoyable, instead of terrifying.
Annabel sat down on the faintly wet grass and leaned against another tombstone belonging to someone’s Aunt Mary. “Oh, spirit of the tombstone, please come out and entertain Edgar so he doesn’t have to try to sneak into the girls’ locker room…again,” she dully intoned.
Edgar glared, lighting another candle, dripping the wax onto the top of the tombstone, muttering under his breath. Annabel’s mouth quirked. He was reciting the Declaration of Independence. Original.
Alec shook a can of red spray paint, pacing around the tombstone. “Should I do the circle, then the pentagon, or skip the circle, do you think?”
“Like it matters, for all the nothing that is happening,” Annabel said.
Alec sprayed paint next to her skirt and she shrieked, jumping up away from possible stains, cursing. Alec laughed and sprayed at her again, accidentally catching Edgar in the shoulder. He broke off his (spot-on) recitation to lunge at Alec. The boys chased each other, warring over the can, the candles and the ceremony forgotten.
But they had been enough.
From the forest, the spirits watched the youths scamper around. The tombstone glowed red, turning the fog a faint, bloody pink. The candles burned and the wax turned black, dripping down the stone and onto the gray dirt. From the dirt, another spirit appeared, at first barely indistinguishable from the mist, then more definite as it broke free and approached its comrades.
The teens fell in on themselves laughing, oblivious to the events unfolding around them, just as all the others before them were.
Have another Happy Independence Day, Spring Turning.
This story is for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge, Let Fate Choose Your Title. I wrote this story really fast (homework is getting really old, guys) so I know some of the wording is a bit awkward, but I think I like it overall.
Please comment 🙂
God took six days to create the world. They say he only rested for one day, but I think he must have fallen asleep on the job after that, because one day he woke up and he looked down upon his earth and he hated it enough to destroy it.
We didn’t see it coming. Not until the skies burned and crumbled in on themselves. We all burned. Most of us burned in hell.
I didn’t. My burns were healed and I got a new life in heaven.
It was the first eschaton. The first end of the world.
A select few survived in heaven—He called them pure, but we call ourselves lucky, for the fact that we hadn’t gotten around to being greedy or selfish or lustful before the world crashed down around our heads wasn’t much of a consolation when our friends were dead and sin sounded like a damn good alternative to thinking about that.
Time in heaven was a curse, never passing the way it should, never tangible; there were no clocks. I was not as young as I was when I died, but I had not grown enough to be the man I had planned to become. And yet I knew that I had been here in this new world for eons, long enough that the glimmer of heaven dimmed and the taunts of earth trickled back into the shadows and the corners.
God looked down again and hated what he saw enough to destroy his heaven. My friends, my brethren, were shoved out of heaven. I listened to their screams as they fell and wondered if hell really existed, or if they just landed on the burnt scraps of our forgotten earth and got to start over, knowing God had moved on to higher and mightier dissections.
That was the second eschaton.
Our second heaven was trickier. God had learned that even the purest aren’t pure, and he wanted proof of our sin. Every move was watched. Every day was a test to see if you were worthy—and in how many days God would once again throw down his lightning bolts and “fix” his world.
We saw the third eschaton and the fourth eschaton coming. Every consecutive heaven was slicker, crueler, a world built of egg shells, with houses built from cards. Somehow, I survived. Somehow I am one of the few—and by few, we are still countless—that persist.
Why His obsession with perfection? These days, I prod at the boundaries, my temptation to sin overpowered second to my exhaustion from playing this game.
Isn’t this Greed—to whittle away at His creations, searching for perfection?
* * *
The skies are darker than they were yesterday.
I share a glance with Sophie and we both know what it means.
The end is nigh.
The end has been nigh too many times by now for me to care.
I walk down the street, not with her, but beside her. We don’t talk. I am going to the grocery store, she is going to the bakery. We have our excuses wrapped around us as armor. We are strangers, a coincidence, nothing more, move along. But we share smiles when we see Grandpa Brett, the knobby old man who barks at foot traffic in broken bible verses, on his corner, and when we glance down the alley the Ham brothers use to collect broken bits of heaven. If God asks, they are artists, but for us they are our preachers, gathering evidence that this isn’t paradise. This is just another broken earth.
We turn a corner and slow our steps. Our destinations are on this street, but we aren’t willing to part yet. Not with a dark sky and the clench of foreboding in our stomachs.
Days from now, how will the world end? In fire? With lightning? In the pitch black? With the earth shattering beneath us or the sky raining down from above us?
She bites her lip and turns away from me to read the bookstore sign. I watch her hair flutter around her face, and I don’t understand why it is fascinating. I turn away and watch Mrs. Tild putter around the coffee shop, her graying hair contained in a severe bun at the base of her skull, organizing my thoughts.
I’m so tired of avoiding life in order to pass some tyrant’s test. I’m ready for the experiment to be over, and if I am a data point on the side of failure than at least I have found my place.
“You know, we’ve been using the wrong word all this time,” she says.
I jump. “What?” I ask.
“Escahton. We’ve taken it to mean the end of the world. But there is another part of the definition.”
She’s been to the library we all pretend God doesn’t know about. Maybe he really doesn’t, if she’s found information like this. I nod, afraid yet eager to hear what she will say.
“It can also mean the climax of history.”
I stare at her, and her eyes are brown and wide, brimming with discovery that I know will no doubt doom her. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s like this: There’s this theory that history is a pendulum. Some problem will build itself up in society until it climaxes, and then society swings back ‘down’ away from the extreme, until they overcorrect themselves and start construction on the opposite side of the issue. Another climax, and you’re rocketing back to the original conflict. The pattern continues; history is a cycle that we never learn from, and never escape.”
“What God doesn’t understand is that his eschatons are just those climaxes. He purges the world of sin, but we’re just going to swing back to that side of the arc. It’s perpetual, inevitable. We can be the best we’ll ever be and we still won’t pass his test, and we’ll still swing back to the side of immorality, no matter how many traps and tests and threats he builds into his world.”
“Yes,” I say. It’s not enough, but I’ve never been good with words.
She knows this, and smiles, but there are shadows behind her eyes. “We can’t win. We are stuck in game that we play only to lose. The questions is not whether we will fall, but when.”
The ground trembles, like my words dropped out of my mouth and hit the earth with enough force to rock the street.
There is fear in her eyes. Understanding the end of the world does not make it less frightening.
The sky shivers, and the sun goes out.
My hand jerks out instinctively, but I’m surprised when hers finds mine as well. I grip it tightly. Our palms are sweaty. I feel her heartbeat race where our wrists are pressed together.
The ground around us drops, and an ominous red glow oozes up from below. I glance over the edge, and there is no ground, no earth, no heavens from before.
“I’m afraid of heights,” I say, stepping back from the precipice. A futile gesture, when this entire world will be gone in minutes.
She steps with me, leaning closer to me. “It’s the actual fall that scares me.”
The ground jerks below us, and I know I’m playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun. I’ve run out of luck. This time, I will not pass the test.
The ground vanishes, and for one millisecond, we are suspended in the air, together, immortal.