Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flash Fiction 14: The Survivor

And so continues the month of one story... To any new to this, it really will make far more sense if you read the previous editions :)

For those new or interested the story begins here: Knowing
Part two is available here: The Next Step
and part three: The Watcher

Thanks for reading!

The Survivor

Jezina followed in silence throughout the morning. She was tempted to question Kale, but knew he'd never deign to answer. Jezi decided she'd go with him to the village and then venture out on her own; surely that was all he intended anyways. It was a four day hike to the village, and as much as Jezina had been apprehensive about traveling alone, she wasn't at all sure Kale's presence was an improvement.

She was glad when they finally stopped for the day. He'd set a pace she'd found exhausting, and since she didn't have to be anywhere for a specific time, she couldn't see any reason to push herself to keep up with him. Perhaps that was the easiest thing to do -- tomorrow she'd simply walk slower and enjoy her travels and Kale could go wherever he was going without her. Problem solved.

As disturbed as she was by him, Jezina was surprised to discover they worked reasonably well together. With no obvious communication it was decided that Jezi would set up camp while Kale scavenged for food. When he returned the fire was going and her bedroll unpacked -- she wasn't brave enough to touch his, even to help. They ate in silence. Jezina shivered, the warmth of the fire not nearly sufficient to overcome the chill of the watcher's gaze.

Several times she started to make conversation but his countenance was such that she froze before the first word was uttered. Defeated, she silently cleaned up the remains of their meal, rinsed briefly in the nearby stream, and curled into bed for her first night on the road.

Hearing Kale shifting restlessly in his sleeping roll, Jezina's less charitable side smiled a secret smile. Beds in the village where Jezi had grown up were nothing more than wood slabs raised off the ground -- often with hard knots in them. To her, the soft moss on which she now lay was luxurious. But to one accustomed to the feathers and foam Jezina had experienced over the last few months, the ground would be uncomfortable at best.

The next morning Jezina awoke in a great mood. Refusing to be cowed by the watcher's intimidating gaze, she took her time gathering berries for breakfast and leaves for tea. She could tell Kale was impatient to be off, and half of her hoped he'd be impatient enough to leave without her. She didn't want a fight, just an enjoyable journey, and that was unlikely to happen with him continually glaring at her. Her manners were ingrained enough that she made enough breakfast for two, and the devil on her shoulder was active enough that she asked "sleep well?" all too innocently as she handed it to him. The temperature only dropped a fraction of a degree at his silent reply and Jezina tried to convince herself that meant she was getting used to him.

Kale finished breakfast rapidly and was up, clearly ready to be off, while Jezina dithered about randomly taking her time, while trying to appear constructively busy. Finally Kale sat down with a sigh -- the first sound he'd purposefully made since they'd left. "I'm not leaving without you," he stated. For the first time since she'd met him, Kale addressed Jezina directly. She looked up at him, her initial surprise that he was speaking to her overwhelmed by his eyes. They were no longer the deadly cold gray she'd come to expect from him, but rather the palest of blues. Convincing herself it was merely a trick of the light, Jezina jumped on the opportunity to ask what she'd been trying to since they'd left.

"Why not?"

"I have no choice," he said bitterly. "You're the survivor," he all but spat the word out as his eyes chilled once more. A trick of the light.

Jezina looked at him uncomprehendingly, torn between telling him to just leave her alone and wanting to know what he was talking about. "I'm what?" she asked, thoroughly lost.

"From the woods, none shall return.
When the white-haired survivor approaches, the watcher must serve her.
She is the only hope."

Kale recited the memorized prophecy in a monotone while Jezina listened incredulously. A hand unconsciously drifted to her snow-white hair. She found it hard to believe that nobody outside her village had pure-white hair – it was the most prevalent colour in her village.

Her mind quickly flipped through the rest of the prophecy. The watcher. Ok so that was a little too eerie and she couldn’t argue with it since she'd been mentally calling Kale that since the day she'd first seen him; a name she'd never said aloud. She had a moment's fear that he could read her mind, but with a quick glance at him, shrugged that off as highly unlikely. But the survivor? She had survived the woods sure, but only because Elder Kesa had helped her. She shuddered at the memory of that horrific night. She hadn't done anything particularly brave or interesting, she'd just run away. Hardly something that would qualify her to be the only hope. And the only hope for what? She was having enough trouble getting herself to the village!

"You're insane." She stated emphatically, almost believing it. "Who are you to assume the prophecy refers to us? Rather full of yourself aren’t you?” she said with a nastiness born of fear. “And if you're really convinced you're this watcher, then perhaps you'd better get back home and watch for whomever else comes out of the woods! You could be missing her right now." Jezina rolled her eyes at him and stalked off in an attempt at a dramatic exit, determined to dismiss his tale. Yet deep inside, knowing what she knew of her village's history if nothing else, she feared there might be a ring of truth to the words. She could feel his icy eyes on her back as she marched away. If she hadn't been so aware of him she would've missed his barely whispered comment as he followed her:

"The prophecy is nearly five thousand years old, and all that time we have watched; over the years, it faded to the realm of family myth. But how do you dismiss a myth, when she walks up to your door?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flash Fiction 13: The Watcher

Since last week it was almost midnight before I posted, this time I thought I’d try and get my story out on the early end of things :)

Continuing Jezina’s story again (the goal is all of November). Tricky cause of course what do you do after hanging on the cliff? It’s not a question I usually have to answer in 1000 words, but I do if the story is to continue. Whose foolish idea was this November project anyway? *g* hahaha ok enough silliness. I hope you’re enjoying my story – all suggestions and comments welcome.

For those new or interested the story begins here: Knowing
And part two is available here: The Next Step


The Watcher

Jezina cautiously followed the young girl into the house, with a shy glance at the kind looking woman and the intense man beside her. The young girl signed rapidly, clearly excited although Jezina didn't know if it was because of her, or if she was always exuberant. The older couples' gaze was cautious but welcoming.

Following the girl deeper inside, Jezina found herself in what was clearly the heart of the house. The huge open space had wooden floors covered with knit rugs in multicoloured designs -- far more colours than the dyers in her village had ever produced. The stone fireplace housed a low fire, with a cooking oven next to it whose scents indicated it was in use. Jezi's stomach growled the instant she noticed, much to her mortification. Fortunately nobody seemed to notice.

But then the warmth faded from the room and suddenly it seemed large and intimidating. She surreptitiously looked around, trying to identify the change, and when she looked up to the loft above, the one she had seen earlier was watching. The look in his grey eyes was one of pure hatred and froze her in place.

The young girl effortlessly broke the tension, speaking to him. His response to her was terse, but at least he looked away from Jezina who quickly moved out of his line of sight. The woman appeared in the doorway and led them all to a fairly small kitchen which was not huge, but had shelves entirely lined with food. So much food for only one family. Almost as much as they'd have in winter stores for her whole village! Jezina was astounded and tightened her stomach muscles to stop her stomach from reminding her again that it had been a long night and was well past breakfast.

The woman handed her a plate and gestured to the food, but Jezina hung back, unsure of what was appropriate to take or expected of her. The young girl again solved her dilemma by bouncing in front, randomly tossing a variety of items on a plate and gesturing one-handed motions that Jezi didn't entirely understand but interpreted to mean she should follow. As she did, she felt the watcher’s cold gaze on her once more, but refused to acknowledge it.

Jezina spent the day with the woman Dalone and her daughter Riley. She helped with their chores and Riley quickly appointed herself language coach and patiently spent endless hours working with Jezina. The man disappeared for the day, and while occasionally Jezina felt the cold eyes of the watcher, mostly he stayed away and she started to relax.

Invited to stay, the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and Jezina found herself adopted into the family. One quiet night Jezina confided in Dalone about what had happened the night before she showed up in their yard; the night her life changed forever. And Dalone held her while she cried. After that, she was simply family. To all but one. Nobody could or would tell her why Kale despised her, but it was clear he did. Never would he speak with her, and always he watched.

Eventually the day arrived when Jezina knew the time had come to move on.

"I still don't like the idea of you going off alone." Dalone told her, worrying. Jezina laughed "I'm only going over the hill," she reminded her.

"Yes, well you came from over the hill too," Dalone stated with a glance in the other direction, justifiably concerned. Jezina paled briefly at the reminder.

"Yes but this time we know what's on the other side." she stated with a confidence she didn't feel.

"Jezi will be fine." Riley reassured her mother. "After all, she knows how to sign now."

"Learned from the best!" Jezina said with a grin at Riley.

"Besides, she has to go so she can bring me back a new hat!"

"The whole reason for going really," Jezi joked.

"Maybe if we knew why you were really going?" Krage asked seriously. But Jezina couldn't explain it to them, just as she'd never been able to explain her need to cross the wall. She had come to love these people as family and she hated that she was hurting them by leaving. She'd never felt so welcomed, and yet she knew she couldn't stay. Dalone worried it was because of her son's behaviour, but Jezina realized that even without him, she would still eventually have felt the need to move on – even as part of her longed to stay.

"Karge I'm sorry. It's just something I have to do." Jezina said, tears sparkling her eyes as she met his glance. "Besides," she said trying to force the laughter back into her voice, "Riley really does need a new hat!"

She looked toward Riley to share the long running joke, but Riley had turned unusually serious. Standing where her mother couldn’t see her, she signed furtively, “Remember, he doesn’t hate you.” Before Jezina could question the unusual message, Kale’s abrupt arrival behind her put an end to the emotional goodbyes. There was no way she’d risk tears in front of him.

“Don’t worry Mother,” he said, his tone as cold as ice. “She’s not going alone. I’m going with her.” And with barely a passing glare at Jezina he picked up his bag and hers and headed off up the hill. Jezi shot a panicked glance at her new family. Dalone was clearly surprised but not entirely unhappy. Krage looked resigned, and Riley looked absolutely thrilled. Jezi shot a questioning look at her, but before she could say anything Krage spoke,

“You don’t want to let him get too far ahead,” he said in warning. Sure enough Kale was setting a pace she’d have trouble keeping up with. And so, questioning her sanity, Jezina left the family she had grown to love, to follow the man she was slightly terrified of.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flash Fiction 12: The Next Step

Ok so since I really don’t have time for Nano this year, but I’m very disappointed about that, I’ve decided that during the month of Nov, I’m going to do mini-chapters for Flash instead that are pieces of the story I had hoped to write for Nano.

This one follows immediately on Knowing -- my second flash fiction attempt.

Enjoy! And as always, comments very welcome!

. . .
The Next Step

Jezina lay where she had fallen. Frozen. Afraid even to breath. She had no idea if she'd been seen or heard, and she promised herself that if she was discovered she would not scream. She would not have that be the last thing Denaf and her friends in the village ever heard from her.

A hand clamped tightly over her mouth causing an instinctive primal fight reaction, but the one holding her was stronger. "Jezi, quit it!" the voice hissed. The combination of her nickname and the fact that her attacker apparently didn't want to be heard either was sufficient to break through Jezina's blind panic. The hand over her face softened when she stopped struggling. "When I let you go, slide backwards twenty feet silently. There's a log there you should be able to fit in. Once there, stay completely still until the forest comes to life again, then count to two thousand. If all sounds as it should crawl towards the moon until you reach the edge of the trees, then run until daylight."

Jezina turned to look at the woman she'd always considered a mentor. Her eyes conveyed both her panic and her gratitude. "Go," Elder Kesa whispered. "Live well." the standard parting took on new meaning this night as Kesa turned her back on Jezina, calling to the others as she approached them, "I don't know what you heard. Whatever it was is long gone now." Jezina used the sound of her voice as cover to slide to the recommended hiding spot.

She focused on her breathing. In and out as quietly as possible, but the pounding of her heart sounded like an off-beat drummer. Entirely too loud and too fast; she was sure they'd be able to hear it. And so she let her mind drift. Trying to think of happy and relaxing times -- playing with Denaf as a child, or learning to pick herbs with Elder Kesa. And yet each memory brought her right back to the present as her entire history was wrapped up in the people who would, given the chance, ensure she had no future.

A foot stepped right in front of her log. She held her breath and closed her eyes. If I can't see you, you can't see me -- a child's way of viewing the universe, but in Jezina's terror she wouldn’t risk that whoever it was would sense they were being watched. She waited until the foot moved away, only seconds but time felt interminable. She exhaled slowly, as quietly as possible. She could hear voices -- it would seem they were dividing up the body of the kelah. With a sickening heart, Jezina realized what the "sacred meat" was at the Kreis festivals. A celebration of life, giving thanks to Aliah any time a kelah visited. Jezina's body wanted to wretch violently, but survival instinct kept her still and silent.

The elders left with the body of the traveler whose only crime had been to cross the wall. None of their conversation had lead Jezina to think they suspected there was another in the woods that night. That one of their own had crossed the wall. But the forest remained eerily silent and remembering Kesa's instructions, Jezina remained hidden. Sure enough, several minutes later Jezina heard a leaf crunch on the nearby trail. Somebody following behind, she knew not why. She did not even want to know why.

Before too long, night sounds returned to the forest. A hoot of an owl in the distance, the scurry of tiny feet through the underbrush, the occasional bird sound telling Jezi that normality had returned to the night. After counting very slowly to two thousand, using the internal chant as a way to focus and stay calm, Jezina hesitantly crawled out of her log. Feeling very exposed, she froze, understanding for the first time what it meant to be a prey animal. But knowing she couldn't stay there, and recalling the explicit instruction to crawl rather than walk, Jezi slowly and painfully made her way through the night towards the moon.

It was a long crawl. The forest seemed endless and the trail non-existent. The moon had all but set when Jezina reached the edge of the forest. Her hands and arms were all cut up. Her wrists and back screaming from the unusual effort. But Jezina ignored all that and got up and ran. She knew it was only a short time before her absence would be noted and knew also that she needed to be as far away as possible when that happened.

She found herself going up a series of rolling meadows. Tricky to run in as the grass was long and tangled her already exhausted legs. Each time she crested a hill it was to reveal another one. Just one more, she told herself, forcing her legs to keep going. She only knew that she had to keep going. Where was irrelevant. The sun was rising behind her. It would be warm soon.

As she crested yet another hill she was greeted by the strangest sight. She figured quickly that it was a dwelling. But rather than being made of clay and thatch like those in her village, the material used was transparent and seemed to soak up the rising sunlight. It was strangely welcoming, but Jezina was hesitant, unsure as to whether she should approach.

The decision was made for her when the young boy ran out to the yard. He saw her and before she could react, he had alerted the others in the home. Within moments there was a woman in the yard with the boy. She was followed shortly by a man who rested his hand on her shoulder and a girl, apparently a few years older than the first child. Jezina could also see another young man, nearer her own age, behind the clear wall but though his eyes met hers, he did not deign to acknowledge her, choosing instead to turn and disappear deeper into the dwelling.

The woman called to Jezina, her words in a language Jezina had never heard, and while her tone was welcoming, Jezi was very hesitant about approaching. The woman spoke again; the words had a different sound to them but still she could not understand. Jezina held her hands out in front of her, palms forward, fingers down, in the formal greeting of a traveler. It was a sign she had never thought she'd have reason to use, and wasn't entirely convinced she'd done it right. But the girl started signing rapidly in response. Too rapidly, Jezina's basic grasp couldn't follow what she'd said. The woman seemed to realize this and spoke to the girl who then signed two simple messages slowly. Welcome. Enter.

And so with equal measure of fear and hope, Jezina crossed the transparent wall.