Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Signs

Brief explanation: I've written a rather lot of merperson mythology. The solstice child is believed by the aqueans (merpeople) to be the one who will end their world. So what, logically, should his mother do when he's born?

She could no longer ignore the signs.
A golden child, he was. That she couldn't deny, even if she wanted to—his eyes and scales were amber and sunsets. But so had her grandfather been, and he hadn't been the solstice child, now had he?
But her grandfather hadn't been born in the darkest hour of the summer solstice, thanks to his parent's foolishness in conceiving him at the right time of year, thanks to his mothers foolishness in traveling despite being heavily pregnant, thanks to the warm summer night that hadn't killed him instantly with the shock of cold like most babies. That she could ignore, or deny, or tell others differently—for all anyone but she and his father knew, he had been born two days after the solstice. Still close, but clearly not the prophesied child, just enough to save him from suspicion and ire.
But she knew differently, and her own suspicion was one she could not save him from.
Born on the summer solstice solstice, when seven (and she'd counted, and his father had counted, and both shook their heads and desperately, desperately hoped they had counted wrong) stars had fallen across the night sky, a golden child. They whispered quietly to each other—should they let him live? If he was the child of prophecy, then to save their world—to save themselves, their family—he had to die. Was it not better to kill him before he had the chance to know his fate?
But no. No. They could never—would never. The golden child had lived, in the hopes that he was not the child they thought he was, that he would grow to be insignificant and normal, and live a happy life regardless of the foolishness that gave it to him.
But they knew, from the time he was old enough to swim away, that this was a false hope.
The dolphins loved him. His father had started to think he would go insane if he had to listen to their chatter for one moment longer—but the child laughed as the friendly bunch poked their noses into his soft belly. When he began to swim, they swam with him, chattering so fast that not even the elder of the pod could understand their language. He learned to hunt among the dolphins before he learned among his pod, and chattered with them in the bright squeaks and whistles. His mother almost smiled.
And the dolphins shall know him, as they know my child Feldspar, and they shall teach him...
Almost as soon as he'd learned to speak, he'd learned to sing. He started off simply—a single toned voice much like any other child, singing back the songs she'd sung to him as a baby. But there were other melodies, that emerged not long after, blending into two vocal tones, then three, then four—an impressive voice, even for an adult, and especially impressive for a child. But the songs were different, with words and phrases he'd never heard, then ones his parents had never heard. She didn't want to ask.
Illa shall sing with him, and teach him all her songs...
On occasion, they would visit the shore, and lie on their backs on the smooth rocks at low tide. He would lie next to her, nesting between her arm and the bend of her hip, staring upwards in wonder at the stars. She asked him what he saw, and tried very hard not to cry as he identified the constellations, one by one, without ever being told.
She didn't want to believe it.
The stars will be as simple as the water, as Somin tells all he knows.
He loved to play, with the dolphins or anyone who was willing. The dolphins didn't play with him as much when their pod joined to a larger one, but there was still always a few tagging along behind. The other children—who were always bigger or smaller than him by half a year—taught him a few games. The dolphins foiled his every attempt at hide and seek. He was a fair shot at tag. He lagged a bit at catch-the-otter, but that was alright. But he came up with new games, other games, and soon the adults began to ask their children where these strange games had come from. They told, and he was asked.
“There's someone in a dream who tells me about them,” he said. “Just like the one who told me about the stars.”
And Hollin shall teach him games, as he has always taught my children, and he shall play...
It was possible, at this point, for her to still imagine he was not the solstice child. The six children of legend had been known to visit some in dreams and teach them great things, and though it might have been a stretch of the imagination to believe that four of them would bless her child, it was not impossible. And even a desperate hope is better than none.
But she still knew, in her heart, that he was.
They left the new pod not long after that.
They found ruins, from before Alanti, and stayed there for a few days. The buildings were alien to all of them, the carvings barely perceptible, and the runes meaningless—but he understood them. She found him explaining to one of the younger children what the carvings meant, what the runes meant, the stories they told, as clearly and as plainly as if it were as simple as what fish you would eat and what would eat you. She could not turn away, as if in horror.
Karo shall teach him words, letters, all that shall be lost to you...
It was in his twelfth year, at the solstice festival, that she finally, finally, could not deny it any longer. The elder was telling a story, that he had never heard—she knew he had never heard, for it was one she hadn't heard since she was a child, one of those stories that by tradition was only told every fourteen years, to mark the fourteen the solstice child would one day (not yet, she hoped) be among them. He nudged her again, and again, until she finally whispered, “What?”
“Mama, he's got the story wrong!”
She asked him how. He told her the way the story was supposed to be—the way she's heard it as a child. When he finished, she realized the whole gathering was watching him, listening in rapt attention to the true and real story. The elder had fallen silent.
So she asked him, late that night when none were listening, where he had heard the story, and why he knew it so well.
“She tells me—a girl a lot older than me, but not a grownup. She's purple.”
“Is she like the one who told you about the stars?”
“And the songs, and the runes, and the games, and the dolphins, Mama!” He nodded. “They talk to me when I'm sleeping.”
And Urma shall tell him her stories, though they may pass away in time, he shall know them...
“How many of them,” she'd asked carefully, “do you see?”
“Seven, Mama.”
“You mean six,” she corrected quickly, hoping so desperately he was wrong.
“No, Mama. There are seven.”
Though all may see these six in dreams, to hear the stories or learn the stars, only the Child shall see the seventh.
And Antioch shall guide him.

She could not deny the signs any longer.
They had to kill him.
She didn't want to. What mother would, what father would? They loved him, even if he was the solstice child, even if the world would end, he was still their child, their only child. They made a knife from obsidian shards, and tucked it away with a quiet promise to each other that tomorrow, tomorrow, the deed would be done.
Tomorrow came and went, again and again. The deed was not done, never done, not for another year. He was only twelve, they still had time—another day would not destroy the world. His father gave him the knife as a present two days after his thirteenth birthday, on the day he thought he had been born.
He was old enough to hunt on his own, among the dolphins that still followed him. He was old enough to wind shells and coins and tattered rope into a bracelet for his mother, and another for himself. He was old enough to understand and fear the coming of the solstice child.
He was not old enough to understand that he was the solstice child.
The days flickered past. She knew they had to kill him soon, before the fourteenth year, before he was taken from them and all hope was lost. His father became a little more resolute on the matter, steeling his nerves, determined not to force his wife to do it. They made another knife, larger, more deadly—the first one had gotten a little chipped in the hands of their son.
They would explain it to him. It wasn't fair any other way—his mother wished more than anything that they had killed him before he was old enough to love them. He had to understand what he was, what he was destined to do. How that destiny had to be fought. Why. The death would be swift. She knew it would still be hard, still be painful. But he would at least know, and his spirit would be free to wander.
But the days still washed by them like waves, and time was running short.
They fixed a date. The day they were intended to leave for the solstice festival. He would be sent out to hunt, so they would be late. The others would leave them behind, and they would be free to do the deed alone. He would return, ask where the others had gone, and it would be explained. The deed would be done. The world would be saved.
He was sent off to hunt.
The others left.
And they waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And he never returned.
She did not know if Antioch had guided him away from them, or if he had understood more than they knew. Perhaps some chance circumstance had done the deed for them, a shark, an orca, a fisherman's net. She grieved for him if he was dead.
She grieved for the world if he were alive.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lies and Magic

“I'm not lying. I don't lie.” The magician tossed the silver rings from one hand to the other. “Or at least, I do my best not to.”
“You're a magician. Everything you do is a lie.” The inventor shook his head, watching the smaller man carefully. “By definition, I mean.”
“Not really.” The smaller man looked rueful. “Those lies are what makes it so hard for you to believe in me. But I'm not lying.”
“Why on earth not?”
“Because falsehood is the death of magic. It's what makes most of us, yeah, but once you learn, just once, that the magic is a trick...” he pulled the rings apart effortlessly, snapped them back together, twisted them in and out as he spoke, “You never believe again. You find it amazing, but... you never really trust in it. Every trick is just a trick, that you're an inch away from figuring out.” He tossed the rings into the air, and they vanished. “So if I trick you again and again, then when I want to show you something real...” He pulled the rings out of his sleeve. “You won't believe me.”
“We don't believe you anyway.”
“Which is why I never lie.” The magician smiled. “So when I find some real magic...” He put a hand to the windowpane, glancing out at the darkened sky. “You'll believe it really is.”
The world outside suddenly exploded into light, as a thousand tiny lights rushed by the windows of the airship, swirling in the drafts kicked up by its wings and dancing around like an enormous ballet. Amongst the lights were doves, diving in and out of the chaos with swooping wings and snow-white feathers. The inventor's jaw dropped.
“How did you...”
“I didn't do a thing.” The magician smiled. “That, my friend, was entirely real.”
“I think...” the magician trailed off, watching the display with hidden eyes, “The trick to magic, if you will, is believing it will be. Magic, that is. Whether you find that in one of my little tricks or in the sunset or the sea or the patterns of light coming through the trees is up to you. Or even,” he motioned to the fantastic display outside the window, “something as simple as a swarm of fireflies. There's magic in all of them, if you choose to believe it.”
“And if I don't?”
“Then there isn't. You can go on living as if magic doesn't exist.” He sighed, and began to twist the silver rings again. "But that, to me, seems like just about the worst way to live. Why not simply believe?"

Sunday, April 04, 2010

In the Solution

The room was silent, totally silent, as he waited. The vent above his head didn't rattle; the hardwood chair didn't creak as he shifted in it; there were no voices from down the hall that passed his way. He could almost hear his own heartbeat.
In short, it was unnerving.
He stood, not for the first time, pacing back and forth as he waited for the other door to open. There was no clock, but he was sure they were late. Agent Sampson was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago. And the man was not known for tardiness.
Tin sat again, forcing himself into the placid complacency that had once come so naturally to him. Agent Sampson would be here. There was a reason, he didn't need it. There was always a reason.
The room was small, gray and featureless. On one side there was a mirror, behind which he knew was another room that watched over him, but nobody was in it-the door that lead into it had been open when he passed coming into this one. There was a table scarred with long use, and two hardwood chairs, one on either side of the table. On the opposite side of the table from him was a cardboard shoe box, slightly battered and with a lid that didn't quite fit. He hadn't opened it.
Another five minutes ticked by. He shifted again, annoyed. Though he had very little better to do, he still detested wasting time like this. He glanced at the shoe box again.
Why would Agent Sampson bring a shoe box? He must have left it here—nobody else used this room, after all. Was there something important in it? Tin fought back the urge to look for a few moments longer, then finally gave in, pulling the box cautiously across the table. He removed the lid cautiously, half expecting something to jump out at him. Nothing did. He set the thing aside.
Inside lay two black wristbands, bearing the names of bands he didn't recognize, and a hat with a couple buttons pinned to one side. He examined it, then set it aside, rapidly losing interest.
The last object caught his attention, though. A multicolored cube, with nine different-colored squares on each side, their arrangement seemingly random. He picked it up, and turned it over. Every side was the same way. The sides looked like they could rotate-he tried it. They could. He twisted it around for a moment, more for something to do than in any actual goal, before he quite suddenly remembered.
The colors were all supposed to be on the same side. He didn't know how he knew that, and he sat for a moment staring at the thing, fighting back the shock and an overwhelming feeling he didn't recognize. He started twisting it again, experimenting.
The rapid clicking of the cube soon filled the room as he twisted it this way and that, trying to make sense of the pattens. Every so often, a flash of something would hit him, sometimes little things, and others so much to make him stop, staring wildly at the cube. It was a rubix cube. There'd been a party. There was a brick house, a school, a chain link fence in front of an abandoned factory. The door wouldn't latch. A black cat that hated him. He didn't know what was happening, but he couldn't bear for it to stop.
The sides of the cube spun faster and faster as he focused all of his attention on it and the patterns gradually worked themselves out in his head. A math class, a girl, a beat-up red locker. A small room at the top of a long staircase, painted blue. Posters, pictures, something that looked like a kid had drawn it. An old computer, a set of beat up speakers, a blue guitar.
Bits and pieces were beginning to fall into place now. Recognizable patterns began to form on the sides of the cube, and he bit his lip, trying to focus on that only as every part of his mind screamed for attention. Voices he recognized, but didn't remember, someone telling him to do the dishes, his own voice speaking back. The feel of a spiral bound notebook pressed up against his palm. A teacher, telling him to focus.
He paused for a moment, and the room fell back into that blank, empty silence that had been there before, what felt like hours ago as he let the memories—they were memories—fall into place. A wall in his head was crumbling, it felt like, and everything behind it was rushing in all at once. He started to feel lightheaded. The house was his, the locker was his, the room and guitar and posters and... and everything. That was his past.
He forced it back, ripping his attention back to the cube in his hands. He was almost there. He started twisting again, fighting against every new revelation as he did. A mother, a father, his own hands, so much younger. He forced himself to only see the cube.
The last piece fell into place, and suddenly the noise in his head died away, falling back in the place of one word, which he uttered aloud.
The empty room didn't respond. He stood, holding the solved cube in shaking hands.
“My name is Peter.” He looked up. “My name is Peter!”

I wrote this in like, December, but I liked it enough to post. It happens towards the end of Tin's story, and is a bit of a spoiler, really. Wish it had something more to do with Easter, though if you squint and read my mind, you could kinda get that, I guess.. Ah well. Happy Easter to you all!