Friday, August 28, 2009

Flash Fiction #2 - Knowing

Second attempt @ Flash Fiction. Extended the 1000 word barrier a little -- hope that's ok! Still new to this art - will aim to make the next one shorter :) As always, comments welcome.



She awoke to the sound of a scream cut short by silence. Her heart told her to go help; her mind told her there was nothing she could do. Terrified, she lay silent, listening to the too-loud sound of her rapidly beating heart. Eventually the pounding slowed and lulled her back to sleep. As it always did.

When she woke in the morning, the terror of the night had faded to a wisp of a dream. She went out to the pump to get water for her morning chores and surreptitiously surveyed the the townspeople to see who was not visible this morning. Nobody would say anything. He who was gone, would never again be mentioned. It was suicide to cross the wall -- everybody knew that.

"Why would you even want to leave?" the elders asked, and Jezina always nodded sagely as though she too agreed with the prevalent attitude of the town. But really, if she were honest with herself, she wanted to know. She wanted to know what lay beyond the boundary of their little world. The elders said there was nothing. Nobody who had ever left had ever returned, and the occasional outsider that came in would either leave almost immediately, or would settle and seemingly forget the world outside the wall as if their memories had vanished as quickly as the scream in the night.

But, Jezina had realized, the elders had never left. So how did they know there was nothing out there? Nothing worth searching for? Such thoughts were blasphemous and she confessed them at the shrine to Aliah, but during the monotony of her daily chores, she could not stop her mind from wandering out beyond the wall. What was out there? A life that went beyond daily chores, prayer to a god who seemed awfully apathetic about their lives, and people who were not only content but seemed genuinely happy living out their lives within the boundary; a life where every day did not have to be the same as the last. Did such a thing exist? The only way to know, would be to cross the wall. But none who crossed, ever returned.

Jezina went out to gather herbs for the healers; this was one of her favourite chores as it often took her so near the wall. Some days she would take a break and climb it -- looking curiously at the other side. Nothing looked different out there; Jezina couldn't see any reason not to go. With her heart in her throat, she swung her legs over so both feet were technically outside the boundary and . . . absolutely nothing happened. Jezina laughed nervously at her own reaction. She would go for a walk, just a short walk, outside the wall. Nobody would know, and surely it wouldn't be disrespectful to the elders' mandates so long as she didn't speak of it or encourage others to do so.

She paused another second before taking the leap -- and heard her name called in the distance. Denaf. Her cousin and playmate, she and Denaf had grown up together, but while he would've said they were the closest of friends, she knew he would never understand or accept her secret thoughts. "Coming!" she shouted as she vaulted back off the wall before he came into view. Jezina quickly gathered a few of the herbs growing at her feet. Any inspection would make it clear instantly that she hadn't been entirely dedicated to her task, but she knew that on such a warm summer's day that would be forgiven -- so long as nobody realized what she'd almost done.

"Jezi!" Denaf called earnestly as soon as he saw her, "a kelah approaches!" And Jezina started to run; somebody from outside the wall was about to cross the boundary. It was forbidden to speak to a kelah before the elders had, but certainly not forbidden to watch. Ever so briefly Jezina wondered if perhaps Aliah was actually taking an interest in her life -- the timing seemed too perfect to be otherwise. She paused at the shrine before finding a spot on the elders' path. The whole town was there, the elders looking stern and forbidding, the children bouncing with excitement, and all the ranges of emotion inbetween. Kelahs were a rare treat -- although some definitely viewed them more as a threat. And if Denaf hadn't come to get her, she would never have seen, would never have known till it was too late.

The kelah passed through the unguarded gate, hesitated briefly when she saw the crowd, but then turned to speak some unknown words and gesture to the nearest people. The townspeople pointed her towards the elders' hut; Elder Ruset greeted her with the travelers' silent language. The language of signs was forbidden to the townspeople, but elders were taught so as to be able to ascertain the hearts of kelahs. Elder Kesa, a healer for whom Jezina often gathered herbs, had seemed to understand Jezina's need to know and had slowly, secretly, been teaching her the basics. And so she was able to understand both the formal greeting and the response exchanged before her.

Denaf was speaking excitedly to her, but Jezina had tuned him out entirely to her rushing thoughts. The kelah would know what was outside the wall. If Jezina could only have a few minutes to sign to her, then she would know too, without ever having to cross the wall. But despite the answer being so close, she knew she would never get to ask her questions. Either the kelah would stay, and her memories would fade before ever speaking to anybody, or she would leave before daybreak and Jezina would still not know what lay beyond the wall.

The crowd dispersed, returning to their chores. They would find out soon enough if the kelah was staying, and until then there was nothing left to be seen. As Jezina passed Aliah's shrine she made a decision. If the kelah settled and decided to stay, Jezina would put aside her disrespectful questions and refocus her life, following Denaf's lead. But if, late that night, she heard the kelah leave, Jezina would follow, going over the wall just out of sight of the elders' hut. And then she would know.

She had to put those thoughts aside to get through the day without anybody knowing; she was not entirely successful -- Denaf knew something wasn't right but she relaxed when he teased her about her excitement over the kelah. He had no idea what was really behind her tension.

That night, having fallen asleep despite her plans, she awoke to pitch black darkness and the nearly silent tread of footsteps outside her window. Very quietly she pulled her herb pack out from under her bed -- it contained her few meager belongings and some food leftover from dinner. Moving quickly but silently she crept to the wall and as the kelah passed through the gates, Jezina dropped down off the wall.

Her heart was pounding so loudly she was sure to be heard. She could hardly fathom that the elders hadn't heard her land. But nobody called out. Perhaps, having crossed the boundary, she was already invisible to them. Forgotten. She was the farthest she had ever been from the only home she had ever known. She was the farthest anybody she knew had been. She felt a pang of regret that she hadn't been abel to say goodbye to Denaf, but consoled herself that maybe one day she'd be the first to return.

Her eyes were adjusting to the dark. While she could see little, she could make out shapes. She would listen for the kelah's footsteps and then travel that direction as best she could, hoping to catch up when it became light. Perhaps the kelah would let Jezina travel w/ her, she knew some signs, they could communicate. Or if not, she was content to follow to the next village.

She was so attuned to the nearly silent night, pausing every few strides to listen for the faintest of footsteps and otherwise lost in excited thoughts, that the kelah's scream was shocking enough to drop her to the ground. There was a flash of light and a second scream cut off by silence. And then she knew.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction - #1 A Normal Life

So we have a bit of a deviation in today's post. A friend of mine connected me w/ this group -- the premise is to write something short (< 1000 words) and fictional and publish online on Fridays... I thought I'd give it a try till Nano starts (that'd be November for the uninitiated :) Have no idea if I'll actually stick to that or not, but we shall see :)

As always comments welcome, but please be kind *g* (is that a contradiction?) hahaha I haven't written fiction (well other than the *slight* deviations from fact which may from time to time appear in my blog) in a looonnnngggg time. And published even less often... Would like to know what people think though -- worth continuing?

So w/ breath held I present...


A Normal Life

She was asleep when she first met him -- or at least that's what she would tell her psychiatrist years later.

When she was young, it was cute. "Oh look," people cooed patronizingly, "she has an imaginary friend". But she had never been particularly creative; certainly not creative enough to invent a person. By the time she began school she had learned not to speak of the voice she heard regularly. The voice not in her head, but which only she could hear. "People don't like what they don't understand" her perfectly normal cousin had told her once. This was a lesson she would learn well.

He was a comforting presence to help her through childhood battles. He taught her how to avoid bullies, cheered her growth and successes and comforted her when she cried. He taught her to keep her secret from people who didn't understand.

In her teen years he lectured and mentored and was always there to listen in a time when parents are enemies and friends are as changing as the Canadian weather.

In her early twenties she heard his voice over the din of the party, clear and commanding -- but when she looked around it was obvious that once again none of the others had heard. She was slightly past the happy phase of intoxication, and annoyed with him for interrupting her plans. She was about to ignore him and get in the car anyways when he repeated his message -- but this time there was something in his voice she had never heard before, something which scared her into obeying. Fear. She pulled her current bff Karen out of the car w/ her and both girls returned to the party. The boys drove off while she listed to Karen complaining about being left behind. Karen wasn't complaining a week later as they attended the funeral. "If we had been in that car . . ." Karen kept repeating. She never told Karen why she'd been pulled out of the car. A casual party friend whose life was saved by a man whose existence she'd never know about, could never understand.

A few years later she had one course left to graduate, one course she was in serious danger of failing. Was it cheating to record the answer he gave her on the final exam; the answer she would never comprehend, much less come up w/ on her own? Having been told so often it was "all her imagination" she deemed it acceptable to use her answer, even though in her heart she knew it wasn't.

Heading through life, she never felt the need to find herself, but she did spend several years trying to find him. She flirted with religion -- was this God she heard? But no, surely God didn't have his redneck sense of humour? Or speak w/ an Aussi accent? On the other hand, if she could pick any accent, that might be the one she'd choose too! Of all the religions she studied though, there was none that could account for the man whose voice only she could hear.

She visited doctors and psychiatrists and none could reveal a medical reason for her "condition" as they referred to him. He just laughed and feigned insult at the thought any could diagnose him. She stopped visiting doctors when one became too interested and insisted she check in for observation. She was not about to give up her freedom for a doctor who didn't like what he didn't understand.

She was in her forties when she married. None of her previous relationships had been strong enough to survive him; meeting her parents was nothing compared to learning of a voice who would tell her truths they'd rather remain unrevealed. "People don't like what they don't understand," her perfectly normal cousin had told her once. And so she learned to keep her secret until she was sure. And even then she often discovered she was wrong, but eventually after many painful disappointments, she met and married the one who could not only accept the man in her head, but welcomed him as he did her.

She last heard the voice on the day of her marriage. It wished her well and reminded her he'd always be there, and then there was silence. Through the birth of her children and the death of her parents he remained silent. Through the laughter and the tears of a full and well lived life, he remained silent.

And yet, while she sometimes acknowledged that she hadn't heard from him in a while, she didn't miss him; she was too busy living, too happy w/ the man she'd finally met. One everybody could see, who made her happier than she'd ever thought possible. There were fights of course, and days she wished he'd return to help her deal w/ her husband or children, but for the most part, life was good and she was happy. There was nothing in her life that others couldn't understand. She even started to consider herself normal. A word she'd first thought would never apply to her, and later thought could never be applied to anyone. And still he remained silent.

He was silent the day her husband of thirty years died. He was silent through the viewing and the funeral, where her oldest son held her hand, and her daughter worried because she couldn't cry. He was silent when they gave her some privacy at the grave site after the burial. He was silent until that first tear fell, and then she heard that lilting voice from a lifetime ago. "Ah Love, you know I'd never leave you. I waited forty years for you to find me, and I'll keep you company till you find me again."

Had the two important men in her life really been one and the same? Or was her brain combining them in a frantic effort to survive a life w/ neither? She contemplated for a moment and decided normal was highly overrated and the rest was only details.