Thursday, April 28, 2005

 

the child, fifty-five


It started with a scream, high-pitched, wailing, painful. At the onset of that sound, everyone descending the steep slope stopped instantly, turning to see the source of the sound.

Everyone stopped - but one. And that one...

That one was falling. Tumbling. Skidding. Shrieking. But who?

Stone scanned the living statues on the face of the slope below them, trying to recognize who wasn't frozen in place and watching the faller in horror. 'It's Joy!' he shouted grimly.

And then he was on the move, skidding a bit himself as he tried to get down there as fast as possible. 'Stay here!' he called back to Starr.

She nodded, still too shocked to move. Others, though, were coming out of their momentary paralysis and, like Stone, were now scrambling to try to reach the helplessly tumbling girl. Forest. The three angels. Lucy.

A stab of jealousy pierced Starr. They hadn't all acted like that when she had been the one falling! But then memory kicked in: she had fallen silently. Not like this.

Not like this.

Joy went on screaming. Falling. Tumbling. Out of control.

'No!'

Starr strained forward, holding out a hand, as if somehow from where she stood high on the slope, she could reach all the way to Joy and snatch at her, catch her, protect her, prevent her...

From going over the edge.

Joy vanished over that knife-sharp edge, her scream still calling out to the others. Three seconds later, the scream vanished as well, cut off abruptly by a sickening, heart-stopping thud.

Starr's stomach lurched. Oh no!

'Joy!' Forest screamed. He was closest to where she had gone over the edge. Reaching that place himself, he leaned over to look, calling out to her, 'Hang on! We'll rescue you! Just...'

And now there came a new noise, a gravelly rush of rock and dust on the move. And suddenly Forest vanished as well!

A second sickened thud echoed back up to them all.

'Forest!' That was James, sprinting to the spot where the young man had disappeared. The others were converging on the same place right behind him.

'Stay back!' Stone thundered, skidding down the slope towards the rest. 'Don't go near that edge! It must have crumbled under Forest. It won't bear your weight!'

Starr, above, crammed her hand against her mouth, praying they would hear Stone's warning and heed it. And even as Stone came to a rock-scattering halt near the others, Lucy moved still closer to the edge, ready to peer over as Forest had done.

And Malachi caught her arm and pulled her back.

Starr watched as the woman snatched her arm out of the angel's grasp, scowling at him, her mouth moving. No doubt she was saying something very sharp to him. But she moved no closer to the edge now, and that was what was important.

'We need to get down there,' someone was saying.

'That's a long way down, though,' someone else replied. 'And the edge - Stone's right. The edge won't hold us. How can we get down?'

General pandemonium now. One saying one thing, another saying another. Arms waving, gesturing. Voices raised. Tempers flaring. And nothing helpful getting done.

And as Starr stood above, crying - she saw that Maccabees was looking up at her. Seeing that he had caught her eye now, he looked towards the bottom of the slope, then back up at Starr.

What...? She didn't comprehend what he was telling her. Not at first. And then it hit her. She remembered...

The two of them standing below the slope, with her leg freshly bandaged. The angel turning her around and pointing back, back towards the side of the precipitous slope. To the smaller valley coming in from the side.

The smaller valley. Yes!

'Wait!' Starr called out. 'Wait!' She started down the slope herself now, every skid in the rocky dust sending her heart into her throat. Oh, please, Master! That I may not fall as well!

Stone came rushing back up the slope to her, also calling out, 'Wait!' He reached her, his hand fastening firmly round her forearm. 'Didn't I tell you to stay there?' he asked, his face ashen. 'I don't want you falling too!'

'I know how we can get to them!' she replied. 'Safely, I mean. So no one else gets hurt.'

'You come flying down this slope, Starr-girl, and someone else will get hurt! And that someone will be you! But I've got you now.' And carefully, protectively, he led her down to the rest, keeping himself just below her all the way down. If she should start to fall, he was ready to break that fall with his own body.

But she didn't fall. Neither of them did. And so they came to where the others still stood, still arguing.

Breathlessly, Starr said, 'I know how to get them.' But no one heard.

So she said it again, louder. And still no one heard.

A shrill blasting whistle cut through the arguing voices now, shocking everyone into silence. They all turned to look, to see where that noise had come from.

Stone.

~first~ ~previous~ ~next~

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

 

storyblogging carnival XVII


The latest Storyblogging Carnival is up online at Back of the Envelope. Six stories from some veterans storybloggers. Have a read.

Monday, April 25, 2005

 

the child, fifty-four


They stood at the top, surveying the long, nasty slope that dropped steeply away to the valley floor far below them. Ugh! Starr shuddered. This way looked now every bit as rugged and ugly as she remembered it from the last time the company had passed this way.

She really did not want to go down this slope again.

'Something wrong?' Stone asked, wrapping an arm round her shoulder and drawing her close.

'I just don't want to wind up taking another tumble down this slope,' she said.

'Another? What do you mean, another?' Stone asked as the two of them started the descent. They were, as they often were anymore, the tail end of the group. The others were already picking their way down ahead of them.

'That tumble I took,' she replied. 'When I fell and skinned my leg so badly. That was here.'

'That was here?' Stone echoed. He stopped and looked over the slope again, then turned to Starr. 'What do you mean, Starr? We passed that place long ago. Unless...' And a sickly light dawned in his eyes. 'Oh... no...' he groaned. 'We aren't, are we? Going in...'

'Circles, yes.'

Stone winced his eyes shut. 'Circles! You mean all this time that we've been going through this valley, we've just been going round and round the same mountain?'

'Yes,' she whispered. He was really taking this news very badly.

'How many times?'

'I lost count.'

'How come you never told me before?'

'I... forgot.' She cast down her eyes miserably.

He sighed. And then, to her surprise, he began to chuckle. 'Oh, Starr-my-girl. You and your memory! No, it's all right; I'm not mad. It's just... Man! Circling!'

She nodded.

'Well. At least you noticed it,' he added. 'That's more than I did.'

She started to reply that she had never noticed either till Maccabees had pointed it out to her. But then she thought that perhaps it wouldn't be such a good idea to bring up Maccabees. Not just yet.

So she said nothing.

Stone took her hand and started easing their way down the slope. The loose pebbles made mini-avalanches at every step, and Stone commented, 'Yeah. This is starting to look familiar.'

Starr nodded, concentrating on where to plant each footfall.

'Good thing you fetched up on a bush when you fell, you know,' Stone added. 'It could have been so much worse. You could have fallen over that.'

'Over what?' she asked, looking where he was pointing.

'Well, it's hard to be sure from this angle, but to me, that sure looks like the edge of a cliff.'

He was right; that was exactly what it looked like. The left side of the slope ended in a sudden sharp edge, and there was no way to tell from here whether the ground beyond made a gentle slope downwards, or a steep one, or even a sudden sheer drop off.

A shiver went through Starr as she stared at it. 'I'm glad I didn't fall that way either. In fact, I'd really rather not be on this slope any longer than we have to.'

'I hear that,' said Stone. 'Come on then, let's go.'

And just as he said the word 'go' - something happened. Something awful.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

 

the child, fifty-three


It was a very tired and discouraged Starr who sat by the fire that evening. She barely touched her supper, and as soon as Forest assigned someone - not Stone - to the first watch, she pushed up from her seat by the fire and started off towards the women's tent.

Stone caught up with her before she could disappear inside the tent. 'You all right?' he asked.

'I've been better,' she mumbled.

'Care to talk?' said he, drawing her after him to a lonely spot some distance out from the camp. They sat down side by side on an old log. 'So,' he said, 'that bad?'

'Oh, Stone, it was awful! No one listened!'

'I'll listen,' he promised.

'Well, I went to each of them, and I told them this: I think I know what will put a stop to all these arguments - if we start looking at each other as being all in the same body together, and start really loving each other...' She sighed hugely. 'And that's about as far I ever got.'

'Ouch.'

'Yeah, ouch is right.' Holding up her fingers, she started ticking off the responses. 'Lucy said: Are you saying that I'm not loving? And Joy said: Why are you telling me all this? I'm not the problem. And then Linda said: Look - I'm willing to stop arguing if Lucy will - but she's going to have to stop it first.'

'Oy,' said Stone.

'And then the guys! Forest told me: Hey, I never get into an argument unless I'm right. And if I'm right, why should I have to bow? As for James, he gave a snort and said: Somebody needs to take that boy down a notch or three!'

'That sounds a lot like those two,' put in Stone.

'Only Jack came anywhere near to agreeing with me. But what he said was: Look - I like what you're saying, but I'm not going to be holding my breath expecting it to ever happen.' And she lapsed into unhappy silence.

'Umm,' said Stone. 'But what about the others?'

'Others?' said she.

'Yes. Mal, Morgen, Mac. Didn't you talk to them as well?'

'Oh! Uh... I didn't think I needed to. I , uh, haven't noticed any problems with them,' said Starr. After all, she thought, what trouble would angels be up to?

'You haven't? But don't you think...' And then Stone stopped and gave a brief chuckle. And then a second one.

'What?'

'Oh, I was about to ask you if you didn't see it as a problem that Mac was trying to steal my girl. But then it hit me: how could he be stealing you from me, when I had already shoved you as hard as I could away from me? Which is a mistake,' he added, 'that I don't intend to make twice.'

Oh. Gently, slowly, she said, 'He wasn't really trying steal me from you, Stone. He never had that kind of interest in me.'

'Hmm. Well. Hmm.' He ran his fingers through his hair. 'Guess maybe I need to forgive him, huh? And, uh, ask his forgiveness as well.'

Silence fell over the both of them for a bit. Eventually, she spoke again. 'You know what's strange, Stone?'

'What?'

'The fact that all of this - loving each other, forgiving each other, putting up with each other - Stone, we knew all this at the start. Didn't we? But we let it slip away. I don't mean just the two of us - you and me. I mean the whole group, all of us. We knew how we were supposed to treat each other! So, what happened?'

He shrugged. 'Life happened. This journey happened. Being thrown together with other people happened. Well, and the enemy happened too.' He thought a bit longer, then added, 'You know for me, there are times when I will know a thing here,' he tapped himself on the forehead, 'but then it will take me going through something really hard, really heart-rending, before the lesson gets burned into me here.' And he poked himself in the chest. 'Has it ever been like that for you?'

Yes. Oh, yes. He was very right.

'So where do we go from here, Stone? How do we help the others to learn what they already know?'

He thought about that, thought long and deeply, frowning, pondering. And at last he said, 'Maybe we don't.'

His reply took her completely by surprise. 'But... but they have to learn it! They have to stop doing what they've been doing, and learn to love!'

'I know, Starr-girl. But... I think they are learning, Don't worry about it. These things that they're going through now, this is all very much the same sort of thing that you and I went through. And I think they are about to come through it and out the other side, just like you and I did.

She frowned glumly, looking hardly comforted.

'Starr-my-girl. What you did today reminded them of what they used to know. You planted the seed. What we are supposed to do next, I think, is pray for them. We'll pray for their eyes to be opened, just as ours were. And for the lesson to get burned into their hearts, like it did for us.'

She didn't look happy. 'I was hoping... well... that it could be easier than that. For them.'

'Yeah. Easier. And quicker.'

Quicker! Ohhhh! And now she looked so unhappy that Stone snuggled his arm around her and held her close for a long, long while, before at last standing and steering her gently towards her tent, where he said a sweet good night.

She curled herself up in her blanket inside the tent, turning her face away from the others, not wanting them to see her cry and wonder at the reason. The reason was simple enough to her: she had just toted up the amount of time Stone was talking about, and realized that this was going to mean at least one more trip around this awful mountain!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

 

the child, fifty-two


Day after day, Starr wondered what Maccabees could have been hinting at. Night after night, she thought herself to sleep. What could it be, the thing that would bring unity to this group? And why could she not think of it?

Stone continued to walk by himself most of the time. Watching him, Starr prayed for the inner transformation he desired for himself.

And the days rolled past.

One afternoon, as the two of them were walking together at the tail end of the group, they could see that, as usual, Forest and James were having a disagreement. Soon, they could even hear it. And soon after that, the disagreement grew so sharp that the two men stopped walking entirely and faced each other instead, scowling and yelling and gesturing.

And everyone else, as they came to the spot where the two stood arguing, came to a halt as well.

Stone and Starr were far enough back that it took them a while to catch up with the others. As they drew near the rest, Stone shook his head sadly and said to Starr, 'What a mess!, And the saddest part is that they really have hardly anything to argue over, but they still do it anyway. Man, you don't know what it's like sometimes in the tent at night! One or the other of them, always finding something to disagree on. When, really, if they'd just listen to each other, they'd find out that they see things so much alike. It's like...' he tilted his head, searching for a good simile, 'it's like two eyes in the same head arguing over which sees the view ahead of them right, each saying the other is wrong. When really the disagreement is just a matter of perspective. So silly to argue over!'

The two of them had nearly arrived now at the spot where the rest were watching the argument, when Jack suddenly threw up his arms and said, 'Oh, that is enough! Fine - you two stay here and enjoy your yelling match. But I'm going on!' And he turned and started off.

Forest abandoned the argument immediately, rushing off to get in the lead ahead of Jack. And James was not far behind him.

Stone grinned. 'Jack should have thought of that one a long time ago!' he beamed.

'Yes...' said Starr softly. And said nothing more for a long time.

Finally, after her silence had stretched out for about half a mile, Stone prompted, 'Thinking?'

'Yes. About something you said.'

'What did I say, that made you so thoughtful?'

'Two eyes in the same head. Stone, what if... what if that's what we are supposed to be? All of us, like the parts of a single body? Forest and James, like the eyes. Linda and Lucy, like - I don't know - hands. Jack, an ear perhaps.'

'I think you're an ear,' he interjected. 'And maybe an eye as well.'

'Joy... what's Joy?'

'Her name - driving dark away with encouragement. The heart, maybe?'

'And you, Stone. You're, hmm...'

'A little toe - that keeps getting stubbed.'

She giggled. 'No, seriously! I think that's what we're supposed to be. Different parts, but the same body. If that makes sense? Like when I skinned my leg - it wasn't just my leg that hurt. All of me hurt. Hurting together. But here...'

'Yeah, the way we've been doing,' Stone interrupted, nodding, 'is hurting one another, and not feeling hurt for the hurts of each other. Yeah. That's a good point. And?'

'And... we need to do that. All of us. Count ourselves as being one body together, under the Master. The eyes, seeing together, using the differences in perspective to pinpoint the problem better. The hands, working together. Not fighting each other! Not like what's been going on.'

'Loving each other,' said Stone.

She nodded. That pretty much summed it up, all right.

Stone gently tucked an arm around her. 'Loving each other,' he repeated. 'Like the way you went on loving me, Starr-girl. All that time, when I got so distant - you didn't throw up your hands like Jack just did and bolt from me, now did you?' He smiled down at her tenderly. 'You just went on loving me.'

Tears came to her eyes, and a lump to her throat. 'I wasn't that steadfast, dearheart.'

He gave her a little squeeze. 'I know. But then you made the choice to love me anyway. To overlook my, uh, jerkishness and keep on loving. Keep on forgiving. Keep on waiting. Right? Isn't that what love does?'

She blushed. 'I nearly gave up though. I got so tired, so fed up. If it hadn't been for the Master, I would have given up.'

He fell silent, and the look on his face made her wish heartily that she had kept her mouth shut and not said anything. He looked so hurt!

'Stone, I'm sorry,' she whispered. 'I'm so very, very sorry.'

His arm squeezed her close again. 'I forgive you, dearie. And I don't blame you a bit. You forgive me?'

'Always,' she breathed.

Companionable silence for quite some time, as they walked slowly along, a goodly distance behind the others. And then, softly, Stone chuckled.

'Yeah,' he said. 'This is exactly what I'm talking about. Loving each other, forgiving each other, not holding anything against each other... That is, you don't hold anything against me, do you?'

'Not a thing,' said she.

'Good. Me neither. So, except for the fluttering pulses and stars in the eyes, this is what we want for the others, right?'

She giggled. 'Yeah. The whole group needs this. To love each other, keep on loving each other...'

'Put up with each other - not give up - not give up.'

She smiled. 'Yes - and not give up... Oh! You know what, Stone dear?'

'What?'

'I think I'm going to go tell them all this. Right now.'

'Uh, Starr, maybe you should, uh, wait...' he said. But she was already trotting ahead, hurrying to catch up with Lucy and start by telling her.

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

 

the child, fifty-one


And so things changed. Now, it was Stone who began to walk apart from the rest, not with Morgenstern anymore. Not often with Starr either; perhaps every third day he would seek her out to walk side by side for a few minutes, maybe an hour, maybe two.

She would have liked more time together. But more and more, she chose contentment instead of frustration. He was seeking to become within himself what he needed to be; that was enough for her, for now.

For her part, she walked often now with the six at the lead of the group, listening, listening. Pondering within herself the things she heard and learned, matching them with the hints Maccabees had made to her, trying to fathom what it was that would knit this group together into unity, and bring the still-frequent arguments and squabblings to an end, and thwart at last the enemy's plans against them.

More days passed. More weeks. More endless circling, circling.

Forest, one night, pointed across the fire and said, 'Your turn, Stone. First watch is yours tonight.'

And to Starr's surprise, as the others were moving off to the tents to sleep, Stone stopped and held a hand out to her. 'Care to join me?' he asked.

Her mouth dropped open soundlessly for a second. Then, realizing how she must look, she snapped her mouth shut again and slipped her hand into his.

They walked, keeping the watch. The stars shone down, shimmering. The moon, well on its way towards full for this month, gleamed down from above. Stone did not continue to hold her hand, as once he would have. But he had brought her along - more than he would have done for a very long time now.

'There's something I want to talk about, Starr.' His voice was very serious, and she nodded just as seriously.

'I'm listening,' she said.

He did not say more for a while, obviously choosing his words and putting them together first. Finally, with a sigh and a sidelong smile, he said, 'This is not easy.'

'I'm sorry.'

'Why? You didn't do anything.'

'No, I meant that I'm sorry that whatever this is, it isn't easy.'

He smiled. 'Sweet, sympathetic Starr. Always feeling along with the hurts of others.' He fell silent for a bit as they walked, then added, 'What I'm finding hard is... admitting to my faults.'

'Faults?'

He chucked. 'Did you think I had none? You know me better than that!' He looked up at the sky for a bit. 'Do you know what I've been doing, most of these days when I'm walking by myself?'

'Praying?'

A snort. 'I wish! Yeah, I hate that word. But... no, most of the time, I'm not praying. I should be; I know I should. I set out to. But then... I see something, or hear something, or maybe remember something. And my thoughts carry me away. I wind up spending way, way too much of my time thinking about, oh, all sorts of things. Not necessarily bad things. But... not praying. Not doing what I really need to be doing.'

She nodded. She didn't know what to say, so she said nothing.

He sighed again. 'It's a real problem, Starr. See - I know what I ought to be doing. I know that I'm wasting my time - and yours - and the group's - and the Master's too - by letting my mind wander all over the place, distracting me from prayer. I know that I need to be in control of this. And I'm not. And that scares me.'

'Scares?'

'Yes. If I can't control myself on this, something that really ought to be an easy thing... Well, what's to say I can control myself on anything? What's to say that... that...' He ducked his head, pain showing plainly on his face. 'Oh, Starr! What's to say that - Walker wasn't right?'

Walker? 'I don't understand,' said she.

His hand sought out hers. 'Starr,' he whispered urgently. 'Maybe Walker was right about me. Maybe, if I have no self-control over my thoughts, maybe when we reach the dungeons and go to the parts where I used to be, into the deep dungeons I was rescued from - maybe I will discover that I'm not as set free from that dungeon as I think I am. Maybe I will go back to what I used to be - and betray my partner in the process.' His fingers convulsed around hers. 'Betray you, Starr-girl...'

In the midst of his very serious misgivings, he had given her a gift. Her heart leapt within her - for he had just, for the first time in a very, very extremely long time - called her Starr-girl!

And implied that she would be his partner in the assault on the dungeons.

She squeezed his fingers back. 'I'm sorry, Stone. I don't know what to say. Except that: I love you.'

His face softened at those words. 'Thank you. I still can't say that back. But it helps to hear it. I know you'll be praying for me. I know you have been, for a long time now. Even when I was being an absolute stinker towards you.'

'I didn't always,' she admitted. 'I got really mad at you a few times. I... I'm sorry.'

A squeeze of his fingers round hers. 'I forgive you, Starr.' He said it very seriously, for it was always a serious matter, forgiveness.

'You'll pray?' he said.

'Yes, Stone.'

'Good. And I'll,' a sigh, 'do what I can to get my thoughts into line, taking them captive instead of letting them take me captive. But this may not be quick, you know.'

'What about this journey has been quick?' she replied.

'Well, you got that right!' he chuckled.

He looked up at the wheeling stars above them, shimmering down through the branches of the woods all about them. 'Remember that dream I told you about?' he said. 'The one where a star fell from the heavens into my hand?'

She smiled and nodded. Oh, yes - she remembered about that dream!

'I've been thinking about that dream a lot lately,' said Stone. 'You know how at first, I thought the dream was referring to my,' tiny smile and blush, 'wife. And then later on, I wondered if it was merely speaking of a partner for this campaign against the dungeons.'

'Yes,' whispered she.

'Well... now I'm leaning more towards thinking what I thought at the first again. That it's referring to a wife, and not just to a partner.' And as her eyes went wide and she began to smile, he added, 'Well, mind you, Starr, that is what I think now. I'm still not completely sure. But...'

Softly, still smiling, she prompted, 'But?'

'But I'm a lot more sure now than I've been for a long time. A long time. And, whatever else, Starr,' and he smiled on her, 'I'm glad to be with you.'

She glowed back. 'So am I.'

They stood for a long moment, simply smiling at each other. And then he said, 'All right. I'll take you back to the camp now. You need to get some sleep, dear.'

Dear! He had called her dear!

She floated back to the camp by his side.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

 

the child, fifty


An army? These few? These eleven - four men, four women, three angels - these were an army? Twelve, counting the one who had gone before to spy things out. An army? Never would she have thought of their little group by such a term!

On they traveled, day after day. At intervals, Starr would catch a glimpse again of the demonic force dogging them, or else she would spy the angelic band protecting them. But mostly, she only saw the others in her own group.

Strangely, it no longer hurt her to see Stone walking apart from her. Which was a wonderful feeling! She could look at him now, there conversing with Morgenstern, and not be jealous. And what was still more strange and curious - she was now more deeply in love with the man than she had been before.

They were not together, but that no longer mattered.

The long wound on her leg was healing as well.

She walked less often with Maccabees now, and also less often alone. Much more often now she walked with the others up ahead: with Jack or Joy, Linda or Lucy, Forest or James. She listened much, spoke little, and pondered all.

And many things there were to be pondered: the length of the way, the number of times they had circled this mountain already, the number of times they would yet circle it. The miracle of food that never ran out, and of clothing and shoes that never wore out. The spy who had gone ahead of them - was that one a man or a woman? or even an angel? And was he or she (or it) becoming tired of this long waiting for the rest of the team to arrive?

Especially and mostly, though, she pondered what Maccabees could have been hinting at. What was it that would counteract the disunity among them? What was it that would bring peace among this still-quarrelsome band?

What?

It was no good asking Maccabees, she knew. If he had wanted to simply tell her straight out, he would have done so already, rather than hint at it. It was for her to discover - that much was plain. And likely in plain sight as well, she surmised. It couldn't be very hard to figure out. Could it?

More days. More nights. More walking, more watching. More quarreling.

She pondered too where the outlet might be, the final exit from this endless circling. She kept watch as best she could as they traveled, hoping to spot another small valley leading off to one side.

She was eyeing a likely niche running off to the left of the main way one day, when a voice spoke from just behind her shoulder. 'Looks like your shin is well now.'

It was, but why would Maccabees be making such a comment? He had already mentioned how well it had healed when he last tended to it some three days back.

And why did that voice not quite sound like Maccabees?

She turned.

Stone!

She stopped; he stopped. They stood.

The main part of the group walked on without seeing. The three cherubim paused before walking on as well, Maccabees included. He half turned as he was passing, but said nothing. Just moved on.

And then they were alone. The two of them, Starr and Stone. She looked up at him, unsure, silent.

He looked down at her, bashful, hesitant. 'Starr...'

She tried to say 'Yes' - found her throat was too dry to bring out even a squeak - swallowed and tried again. 'Yes, Stone?'

More hesitation. 'Will you... walk with me?'

'All right,' she whispered.

They walked. Not closely together, as once they would have - but not apart, either. Slowly. Strolling.

Starr glanced up at the man as they walked, wondering what this was about. He looked nervous and hesitant still, as if he was working his way up to telling her something.

And then he said, 'I'm sorry.'

'For what?' she responded. And there was nothing the least bit sarcastic in her tone. She sounded as if she genuinely could not think of anything he needed to apologize for.

Now it was he glancing at her, amazed at her reaction. 'For everything,' he replied. 'And - for nothing.'

'Nothing?' She looked to him, baffled.

'For the nothing of myself I've been giving you for such a long time. I'm sorry, Starr. Will you,' again hesitation, 'forgive me?'

She started to say that she already had, but caught herself. Somehow, that just didn't seem to be the right thing to say. So instead, she simply said, 'Yes.'

Relief burst out all over his face. 'Good. I'm glad. Now - I have another question for you.'

'Yes?'

'It's... well...' And he stopped walking. She stopped too, faced him, looking up to him. What question could he now have for her?

'Starr. Do you still want to be married to me?'

There was no answer but one that she could give to that question. A few days before - that day she had injured her leg, especially - she might have hesitated. Might even have given a different answer.

She did not hesitate a second now. She said, 'Yes.'

'All right - why?'

He looked into her face, his own face deadly serious. She considered her answer deeply - he deserved that.

'Well, to start with: because I love you. But there's more to it than that. It's the way we,' she smiled, 'fit together. I'm not sure how to put it...'

'The dance,' said he.

'Yes!' That was it exactly. The word he used to use for it so long ago, back at the Master's house. The dance!

A small gesture on his part, and they started walking on again. 'I'll tell you up front, Starr. I'm still not sure. About us, and whether there will be an us. I hope there will be. I... hope that strongly. One thing I've been learning about myself is that... well...' and he blushed deeply, 'is that there's nothing more I want to do than to be with you, Starr. But I'm not ready, you know. There are changes in me that need to be made...'

'And in me,' put in Starr.

'Maybe,' he said. 'You know, when Josh chose us all to make this journey, I thought it meant that we were ready. To assault the dungeons, I mean, and rescue the captives there.'

She nodded; that is what she had thought back then as well. 'And now?'

'Now I see that he picked us because we were ready to start the journey. But not yet ready to complete it. The journey itself - is more training.'

'Yes,' she agreed.

They walked on. Side by side. Not touching. Not that together. But together.

Even this much was sweet, and swelled Starr's heart with gratitude towards the Master.

'Stone?' she ventured, after they had walked for some way in silence. Companionable silence, which too was sweet.

'Yes, Starr?'

'Does it bother you,' she asked, 'for me to say I love you?'

He considered. 'No.'

'Then, I love you.'

He smiled - deeply, brightly, and with a touch of a blush. 'And I... don't want to say the same back to you until I'm sure. Completely sure. You understand?'

She nodded. She would have loved to hear him say those words back to her right now. She was disappointed that he didn't. But the disappointment quickly melted away, and contentment replaced it.

Soon, the Master had said. Whatever the word 'soon' might mean.

She walked with Stone.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

 

Storyblogging Carnival XVI


Welcome to Storyblogging Carnival XVI. I hope you enjoy the nine stories.

~~~

Lee Zanello of 'See The Donkey' offers 'Just Friends.' A 400-word brief story, rated PG-13 (for some rough language).

Author's blurb: A little bit jealous and a little overprotective, such is the nature of unrequited love.

[This is the second entry from Lee in his series of 400-word stories which he calls 'flash fiction.' (Well, I'm assuming 'he'...) Interesting concept: tell a complete story in a very brief span of words. I might try that... sj]

~~~

Morgan Evans from 'Jedi Philosopher' is a new contributor to the carnival. His offering is part one of 'The Hormenith Portal Incident.' This is the first 600 words (or so) of a 2460-word science fiction/fantasy story. Rating for part one: G (but later parts will be PG-13).

Author's blurb: The story is mostly (so far) about a desk-bound spy who romanticises the field work of spying, makes an important discovery in his desk job, eventually gets to work as a field agent, disabusing him of his romantic notions about such work. A secondary plot concerns a university researcher who rescues his pet cat and eventually falls in love with him.

[Well, let's see - I like science fiction, and spy stories, and cats... Sounds like a winner to me! sj]

~~~

From Tom Harrison of 'Monday Evening,' we have 'The Greeter and his Wife.' A 750-word story with a rating of G.

Author's blurb: A tale of magic, greed, and contentment

[A delightful twist on a story you may recognize. sj]

~~~

Jeremiah Lewis of 'Fringe' has entered
'Chapter 19, Jailbird, excerpt 1,' which is part of his continuing novel, 'Turnpike Blues.' This excerpt is rated R for strong language, and runs to 1,646 words.

Author's blurb: In the continuing saga of Ferret-Eye Jack, Jack has been framed for the murder of two policemen and is now in the custody of police from a different city. He wakes up, badly bruised and broken, and recalls the few details he can remember just after being brought into the jailhouse.

[Jeremiah is not kidding about the rating for the language; some of it is very rough, but just the sort of language you would expect from men in a jail. sj]

~~~

Donald S. Crankshaw of 'Back of the Envelope' has posted 'Home,' which is Chapter 11 of his continuing novella 'Eyes in the Shadow.' This chapter has a rating of PG-13, and a word count of 3,343 words of a total of 35,975 so far.

Author's blurb: Ryan, Emily, and Dominic arrive at the home of Emily's and Dominic's parents. Unfortunately, no home is safe when there is evil in your midst.

[Cliffhanger! Ahhhhhhh! sj]

~~~

Dave Gudeman at 'Doc Rampage' has the next two scenes, 10 and 11, of 'A Meating of Mines.' The rating is PG-13 (for violence). The next 3,349 words of a 13,640-word continuing screen play.

Author's blurb, scene 10: Rolf and Zantar have suffered a setback. They both look like Rocky at the end of the movie. And they are currently hog-tied and being kicked around some more. Can they survive? Can they escape? Can they ever forgive the rudeness?

[My blurb, scene 11: Hmm - apparently, they can't. sj]

~~~

Here at 'Tales by Sheya,' I have the next five chapters of 'the child': 45, 46, 47, 48, and 49. This adds 3,495 words to my on-going 39,251-word novella. Rating: umm... G, I guess.

Author's blurb: This section is called 'Dark Night of the Soul' for good reason. And is based on a few times that I have gone out into the dark night and yelled at GOD.

~~~

Lyle Skains from 'Hermitville' offers the story 'Drowning Jonathan.' 4,189 words, with a rating of G/PG.

Author's blurb: A woman is forced to let go of a past love.

[There is a word in this story that might offend sensitive readers. A haunting tale, well told. sj]

~~~

Andrew Ian Dodge of 'GoD' (Growing Old Disgracefully) gives us 'The Reader.' A 6,061 word tale regarding the Sage. A bit unusually heavy in the strong language this time; rating is at least a PG-13.

Author's blurb: A monk has a talent that will end up getting him into lots of trouble. Can the Sage save him in time?

[If you are a follower of Andrew's 'The Sage' stories, you will be delighted to find that a certain character debuts in this story - not saying who. sj]

~~~

And there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the stories this time. Please leave comments to the stories; as an author, I know that we writers love feedback!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

 

the child, forty-nine


After breakfast the next morning, he brought more cloth to change the bandage on her leg. He poured water first over the old bandage, to soak it loose without ripping the scab open. And as he worked, patiently, gently, she glanced about to see if anyone would overhear. When she was sure no one would, she leaned forward and whispered intensely, 'Maccabees!'

'Yes, little one?'

'I saw something last night. Something horrible. I don't want to frighten the others, but...' She leaned even closer. 'Maccabees, there was an army of demons surrounding our camp!'

'Yes,' said he. 'They have ever been with this company, since this journey began.'

'From,' she faltered, 'from the very beginning?' For she had thought this was something new, that the horrendous army had only just arrived. 'But... why haven't they attacked us yet then?'

'They are not the only army attending on this company. Look and see.'

Lifting her eyes, she glanced all around. There were the others from the group, pulling down the tents, drowning the campfire, packing up to continue on. And there, beyond them...

Again there came a small, subtle shift in her vision. And this time she saw: angels. Large and beautiful. Fierce and shining. Armed - their swords at the ready, flashing and awesome. They flanked the little company, with some ready to precede them on the way, and others prepared to act as their rearguard.

'These too, Child, have been attending on this company all the way of this journey. Unseen, as the others are unseen.'

'Protecting us,' she breathed.

'From this assault, yes. But know and understand this, little one. This grand army from the enemy, poised to attack, is not his only plot against this group. His primary attack has been in effect and going forward from the very first day. As you know.'

What? Oh! 'The arguing?'

'The disunity, yes. One of the enemy's most powerful weapons. What is there to counteract it?'

He was asking her? And then she recognized why he was asking. Not because he did not know. He knew; he wanted her to realize that she also knew. But did she?

Arguing and disunity - these are counteracted with... 'Unity?'

A smile and a nod. 'And what will bring about unity, Starr?'

Her answer was silence. What indeed? she wondered.

He finished the rebandaging of her leg and stood. The others were all ready to go now. As were the many mighty angels who, even as she looked once more around at them, disappeared again from her limited sight.

Maccabees held a hand out to her to help her to her feet. 'It is when you can answer that question, Starr - that is when you will begin to see the transformation of this small army. And that transformation must take place. For only then will you all become prepared to go forth to the dungeons, to set the captives free.'

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

 

the child, forty-eight


And then she recognized it: Jack's voice! But too soon, and coming from the wrong direction!

Yes, here the man came, walking back from the way he had disappeared into. Peering forward as he came, suspicious, suspenseful...

And then he relaxed. 'Oh, it's only you.' A blink. 'Uh... what're you doing out here, Starr? I mean, this time of night, the only 'Starrs' that ought to be out are the ones overhead. You know?'

Sigh. Yes, that was Jack, all right.

'Sorry,' he added as he came closer. 'I suppose that was a bit lame.' A pause. 'Oh. And maybe I shouldn't have used that word. Your leg bothering you?'

To that she nodded.

'Sorry you got hurt today, Starr. I still don't see how you took such a bad tumble, and didn't none of the rest of us even notice. Hurts, does it?'

'Not really,' she answered. And shrugged. 'It, uh, started bleeding again.'

'Ick,' said he. Glanced around, then added, 'Look. I can't leave you out here, all by yourself in the dark. Want me to walk you back to the camp?'

'Not particularly.' She wasn't ready to go back yet, and knew it.

'Well, come on with me then. I still have about half my watch to go, and can't do it standing in one place.'

She hesitated. Really, she wanted some more time to herself. But how could she explain that to Jack: 'Sorry, I'd rather stand here and talk to someone who's not here'?

So she followed Jack.

He walked a bit slowly, trying to not go too fast for the sake of her injury. The woods about them were quiet, still. 'All these nights,' he said to her softly, 'all this time traveling, and no one's attacked us in the night yet.' When she made no reply, he added, 'So far, so good, huh?'

No attacks. And even as he said it, her vision gave a subtle shift, and she saw ugly squat bodies poised about the camp, vicious swords in their hands, their eyes glowing with hatred. Waiting...

She blinked, and the night was still and empty again.

'You all right?' said Jack.

'Y-yes,' she stammered. 'I think so.'

'You know,' he said after a few more minutes of circling the camp, 'I keep waiting and hoping for James and Forest to start getting along together. I mean, after all this time, for the two of them to still find stuff to clash over - man! that's persistence!'

Persistence - well, that was one way to look at it...

'James has always been like this,' Jack went on, 'ever since we were kids.' A slight chuckle. 'You know, our mom used to say there was nothing wrong with being stubborn, as long as you were stubborn for the right things. But I never saw it that way.'

He looked away into a distance Starr could not see. 'Probably one of the most wonderful sights of my life,' he said, 'was when I looked up over the Mountain of Spices, and saw a rescue party returning from the enemy's dungeons, and there among the captives set free,' he smiled, 'was my own brother Harry. That was our names before,' he added. 'James was Harry, and I was Howie.'

A wistful look passed over his face. 'But I've always expected since, for Har - James - to change. To stop with the bull-headedness. I think it's good for him, really, to have Forest to deal with, challenging him, forcing him to think about his own decisions and all.' Then he added, muttering, 'If they'd just stop with the arguing... Pig-headed, the both of them!'

Starr thought about what Jack was saying, and about what his mother used to say. 'Maybe...' she ventured. 'Maybe James doesn't need to stop being stubborn. Maybe he just needs to realize which things he should be stubborn about, and which things he shouldn't.'

Jack sighed. 'That's not really what I wanted to hear, you know.' And then he stopped, paused, and turned back the way he had come.

'Where are you going?' Starr asked in surprise.

'The other direction for a while,' he said without stopping, so that she had to hurry to catch up. 'I change directions every so often when I'm on watch,' he explained. 'See, if someone is planning an attack on the camp, I figure they might wait for whoever's on watch to go past, then think they've got plenty of time till the watch comes around again. But then I backtrack...' He smiled, the twinkle in his eye visible even in the starlight. 'Just trying to cross 'em up - if they're out there.'

Oh, they were out there, all right. But what was holding them back from attacking? Starr wondered.

A few more minutes walking, and Starr was beginning to yawn. She was also beginning to visibly limp. 'Come on,' said Jack, turning in towards the camp. 'You gotta get off that leg now.'

She made no protest, but allowed herself to be led to her tent. Good nights and thank yous followed, and then Jack went back to his circling of the camp.

And still Starr did not go in. She had a bit of unfinished business yet before going to bed. Checking first to be sure she was not being observed...

'Master?' she whispered into the darkness.

And though she saw him not, she felt his presence.

'Master,' she breathed again. 'I'm... I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I forgive Stone. I don't understand, but that doesn't matter, does it? I give you all my anger against him.'

And I take it, she heard, not in her ears.

'...and I put myself - all of me - into your hands again. To trust, with this and with everything. Master...'

My love.

'Oh, make us ready! Start with me! So that we can stop going round and round this mountain, and become what you desire us to be!'

She felt his smile. And heard: I already am.

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

 

upcoming - storyblogging carnival XVI


I will be hosting the next edition of the Storyblogging Carnival, number XVI, this coming Monday, April 11th. The submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Saturday, April 9th.

I will now steal from Donald S. Crankshaw's blog 'Back of the Envelope' regarding the rules for entry:

If you have a story on your blog that you'd like to submit to the Carnival, please e-mail me at sheyajoie~at~yahoo~dot~com (or post in my comments), including the following information:

Name of your blog
URL of your blog
Title of the story
URL for the blog entry where the story is posted
(OPTIONAL) Author's name
(OPTIONAL) A suggested rating for adult content (G, PG, PG-13, R)
A word count
A short blurb describing the story

The post may be of any age, from a week old to years old. More detailed information follows:

The story or excerpt submitted must be posted on-line as a blog entry, and while fiction is preferred, non-fiction storytelling is acceptable.
The story can be any length, but the Carnival will list them in order of length, from shortest to longest, and include a word count for each one.
You may either send a complete story, a story in progress, or a lengthy excerpt. By lengthy excerpt, I mean that it should be a significant portion of the story, at least 10% of the whole thing. You should indicate the word count for both the excerpt and the complete story in the submission, and you should say how the reader can find more of the story in the post itself.
If the story spans multiple posts, each post should contain a link to the beginning of the story, and a link to the next post. You may submit the whole story, the first post, or, if you've previously submitted earlier posts to the Carnival, the next post which you have not submitted. Please indicate the length of the entire story, as well as the portion which you are submitting.
The host has sole discretion to decide whether the story will be included or not, or whether to indicate that the story has pornographic or graphically violent content. The ratings for the story will be decided by the host. I expect I'll be pretty lenient on that sort of thing, but I have some limits, and others may draw the line elsewhere. Aside from noting potentially offensive content, while I may say nice things about stories I like, I won't be panning anyone's work. I expect other hosts to be similarly polite.
The story may be the blogger's own or posted with permission, but if it is not his own work he should gain permission from the author before submitting to the Carnival.

If you'd like to be added to the e-mail list, please let me know. Also, feel free to advertise the carnival on your own blog. Finally, let me know if you want to host a carnival in the future (and I'll pass that along to Donald).


Thank you, and hope to see your stories here, a week from today!

 

the child, forty-seven


Sleep fled her that night. Her leg was part of the reason. And the rest of the reason...

...was not hard to guess.

Tossing, turning - long after the others had fallen asleep. Till one particularly rough kick at her blanket pulled at the bandage on her leg hard enough to rupture the tender scab and start the wound to bleeding again.

Oh, great. She sat up then, pushing the blanket aside lest any blood get on it. Fumbling in the dark, she tried to wrap the bandage again. Suddenly, the frustrations of the day overboiled inside her, and she sprang up from her bedding entirely, thrust open the tent door, and bolted outside.

The moon peered down at her from overhead, stars studding the sky near the pale face of that silent watcher in the night sky. Starr walked. Out from the camp, out into the surrounding woods. Not blindly, as she had that time before. She kept glancing behind her, being sure not to get too far from the dim light of the still-burning campfire huddled in the midst of the three tents.

Her steps slowed now. She was getting to the distance from the camp where one of the men should be walking his watch. Keeping a close watch herself, she slipped behind a tree, waiting. She did not want to be spotted - not, at least, until after she had spotted the watchman first.

Especially if Stone was the one on watch - she did not want him to catch her out in the night.

Stone. She was still angry inside. To just walk away from her like that! What was he thinking? What was the matter with him!

A small crunch of foot on underbrush caught her attention. The watchman! She ducked - not too quickly, for a sudden motion could easily give her away. Furtively she watched.

Ah. It was James... no... Jack. Yes, Jack. Good. If it had been James, then Stone would have the next watch afterwards. But Jack's watch was nowhere near Stone's. Perfect.

She waited while the man made his slow turn round the camp and vanished into the darkness. It would take him maybe ten minutes to return to this spot, she figured. Plenty of time to herself. By herself.

Stone. Again she pictured it inside her head - him standing there as she lay bleeding on the ground. Him turning her over to Maccabees. Him walking away.

And he hadn't even asked her over supper how her leg was!

Fury welled up again inside her. Temporary - that was the word Maccabees had told her. But meaning what? That Stone's estrangement from her would be temporary, and then he would come back? Or that the brief spring of love they had shared was the temporary thing in her life, and now was over and gone forever?

Ohhhh... This was making her head hurt. What was she supposed to think? When the man who had confessed to love her, now spent so much time ignoring her - avoiding her, as far as she could tell? What was going on?

The Master had warned her of this...

What if I don't like it? she muttered inside her brain. What if I'd rather just... What if I...

'What if I want out?' And that she said aloud.

Not loudly. But aloud.

Out? As in - what?

'Out of this relationship. If there even is one.'

Out is out. Completely out. All or nothing.

'Well, maybe I want nothing! But this - what I have - this is not what I wanted! A man who ignores me?' She was gesturing now, talking to the thin air before her, the same intense hissing whispering she had done earlier that day towards Maccabees.

She pointed back towards the camp, where undoubtedly Stone was now sleeping soundly within his tent. 'He is not what I expected. And he is not what I wanted.'

What did you want?

'To...' Her voice broke, crying. 'To be loved...'

Softly, the answer came: Don't I love you?

She began to cry in earnest now. She felt them, the arms she could not see, encircling her, embracing her. Starr...

'Master...' she whispered back.

Don't expect too much. Or too soon. He is still becoming. And I am becoming in him.

'But this...!'

He loves you.

'He doesn't show it.'

Not at this time, no. But soon. You will see. He must go through this himself, to be sure. When he is sure, when he is ready - you will have his love. And you will have it all.

A hesitation. '...I hate this...'

Be at peace. You too are becoming. But 'out,' dear Starr - is out. Completely. That, my love, you do not want.

No... That was true. To be out completely - away from the Master. Alone from him - apart. No, that she did not want.

Better?

A sigh. A nod. 'Yes...'

'Hey! Who's there?'

Starr's heart sprang into her throat, as her hand sprang over her mouth.

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