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hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In.

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hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
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Lorde - Royals

I'll Never Be - 1319 Words

When you think about yourself, you aren’t really thinking about yourself. You’re thinking about an idealized version of yourself. One that is braver, smarter, sexier. This isn’t a story about the idealized version of me, but the real me.

They knew me. They had done their research. They knew about my lack of personal connections. They knew about my crippling debt. They knew how lonely I was. They knew I would say yes before they even knocked on my door.

I was perfect, they told me. Something released in me when I heard that. I didn’t even know I had been waiting my entire life to hear that phrase. I was her spitting image, they said.

Of course I knew I looked like Alice Gold. When she rose to popularity I noticed the sideways glances on the street. When her face got plastered all over the city, I felt that every face that turned upwards to gaze at her was really gazing at me.

Turns out looking like the world’s biggest pop star was a marketable skill.

She had needs, they said. She couldn’t be in every place at once. She needed time to herself too. The world demanded she remain constantly in the spotlight.

That’s where I came in. I would be her during those times. I would learn to walk like her, talk like her, bat my eyelashes like hers. When they world loved her, they would be loving me in secret.

Would I be interested, they asked. Of course I was.

There was a catch. I would have to undergo extensive surgery. It wouldn’t do to just look like Alice. I had to be her.

I was perfect, but they would make me more perfect.

I remember staring in the mirror for hours after the first surgery. I grew to know the dark circles around my eyes - side effects of the nose job. The silhouette of my nose was obscured under the bandages, but under the gauze it was already thinner, more shapely. I memorized every square inch of my face. That was the last time it felt like my own.

I wasn’t allowed any contact with friends and family during all this. That wasn’t hard, I didn’t have any friends or family to remain in contact with. Recovery was long. It hurt immensely. Each new scar and notch on my face made it less my own and more Alice.

I met Alice after the fifteenth surgery. My recovery room was white and bathed in sunlight. I was torn from the light and inserted into a cavernous room without windows.

I blinked as my eyes adjusted to the dim light. Afterimages of my recovery room faded as the truth before me coalesced into view. I sat on a cushion that was so overly plush as to be uncomfortable. I tried to suck in all available light, to gain any information I could about the room around me. I found that drinking in the details of a new place was exciting after being in the recovery room for so long.

I remember the room well. It felt timeless in the way that I couldn’t think of a period where the furnishings would be in style. Everything was too thick, from the carpet to the cushions, to the table. The room was dark. Shapes were unsure of themselves, they blended together in the darkness.

I was alone and the room was silent. I sat there for a while. It wasn’t until I learned to quiet my own self that I realized that the room wasn’t so silent as I thought.

I heard breathing, shallow and ragged.

That’s when Alice leaned forward in her own cushion across from me.

I looked nothing like her.

That is to say that I very much looked like the face on the billboards, on the television. But I did not look like the Alice that sat across from me.

She was wasting away. Skin hung loosely from her body. Her eyes had sunken deep into her skull. She looked more like a skeleton draped with a thin layer of skin than a human being.

She coughed, a ragged sound that tore the room apart. Her manager emerged from the darkness to hold a cloth to her face as the spasms wracked her body.

Then the room was silent for a while as he dabbed the phlegm from her face and she stared at me from the glassy hollow orbs of her eyes.

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. I felt at that moment like an interloper. A thief with a stolen face.

When they did start talking, it was to each other and not to me. They spoke about me as if I was not even there. Alice regarded me with a hunger that made me shiver.

“She’s a work of art,” Alice said.

“She’s perfect,” her manager said.

“Not perfect. But nearly.”

“We’re close.”

“So very close.”

With that she waved her hand and I was pulled from the room. That last image of Alice haunted me. The door opened and the light of the outside world hit her. Never before had I seen a person look so frail, so weak, and so desperate.

I saw then why they needed me. I wasn’t supposed to act like her. I was supposed to become her in the truest sense of the word.

I wanted out. I demanded out. When that didn’t work I begged, pleaded, and cried. I had signed my life away. My desire to be loved and remembered left me alone and forgotten in that recovery room.

I tried to escape. I made it down the hallway before security got to me. They were rough enough to scare me from trying it again, but gentle enough so that they left only bruises and not scars.

After that was when they started keeping me sedated nearly constantly. I would wake up with a fresh set of bandages on my body. I had parts of me touched up that I didn’t know could be touched up. I was less myself every time I woke up.

One time I woke up and it was dark. Alice sat above me. Her hand caressed my face with something between pity and desire.

“Thank you,” she said and a fat tear dropped onto my cheek. The sedatives kicked in and I fell back asleep.

When I woke next I was in the surgical theater. I knew this room better than any other, save my recovery room, but this time was different. I was strapped to the table. Wires ran along my body like electric veins. I panicked as I tried to look around the room.

Alice’s naked body lay on a cold metal slab. I could see the full ruin of her body under the harsh light. She wore a crown of stainless steel and wires. Her chest rose and fell as I watched. Then it stopped. A mask descended over my face and I lost consciousness.

I didn’t even notice anything was different for a long time after I woke up. I didn’t grasp anything was strange as I walked on unsteady legs to the mirror to see what they had changed.

There were no bandages on me. I was finished. I was gorgeous. I was lost in myself. Maybe it all had been worth it after all.

Then my mouth opened and sang one of Alice’s songs unbidden. I willed my mouth to close, for it to stop, but it didn’t. I tried to close my eyes, but I couldn’t.

In the mirror I could see a familiar look in my eyes. That look of hunger and desire. And I knew my body was no longer my own. I was merely a passenger along for the ride.

“It’s her,” says the world when Alice Gold goes by.

But I’ll never be.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Thank you for the week 185 crits!

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In with Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan)

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

crabrock posted:

i got my eye on u

Great. Now we're sharing some sort of meaningful look.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Mamihlapinatapei (A wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who yearn to initiate something but are reluctant to start.)

A Tree -1046 words

I’ve been experiencing vertigo for a couple weeks now. Ever since the funeral. Actually, I’m not really sure if vertigo is the right term. I feel dizziness, but I also feel like I’m weighted to the ground. Like I’m in an elevator that accelerates too quickly or on a ship that is cresting a wave. In fact, that’s exactly what it reminds me of. When I was a kid my grandpa brought me for a ride on his catamaran once before he died. I was very young and I don’t remember much. What I remember most is that alternating sensation of becoming heavier and lighter as the boat rocked. As a kid I felt like feeling heavier was me becoming more real and feeling lighter was me becoming less real.

A tree grew in the middle of my bedroom last night. When I went to bed there was nothing there, but the tree was just here when I woke up. I stare at it for twelve minutes before one time I blink and then it’s gone.

I don’t call anyone to ask them what to do. Those avenues are closed to me now. I just get dressed and ride the train to work.

At work I get dizzy. My feet get heavy. I can even feel the cartilage in my knees compress as they’re weighed down. I smell salt air. There is no salt air here to smell. I live in a tangle of cement miles from any ocean.

“Tie it down,” Grandfather says. I grip the weathered rope in my hands and the knots come naturally to me even after all these years.

I look up to show Grandfather the knot and the tree is there -- right in the middle of the catamaran. It’s heavy with fruit and swaying in a light breeze. Grandfather doesn’t see me. He plucks a piece of fruit. I call out his name.

Then he’s gone. The tree is gone. I turn about on the catamaran and see the sun set on the water. I remember that this was the last time I saw Grandfather alive. Then I’m back in my office.

I tell my boss I’m sick. He doesn’t question it.

I go through the door to my apartment, but it is not my apartment. It’s my old dorm room. I’m thrown off for a moment, but only a moment. Muscle memory takes over. The me that lived here rises and takes control of my body. Caitlyn sits on my desk. Not the Caitlyn at the end, with the paper-thin skin and the fragile voice. This is Caitlyn at nineteen, the woman with the fire in her eyes. This is the woman who told me to move mountains and I did. She grins at me and I melt.

I remember this moment. It was first time I told her that I love her.

“I love you,” I say, but my words are like water.

She frowns. She looks at me like I have just ruined a perfect moment.

“I love you,” I say again. Caitlyn fades from view.

And I know I have ruined a perfect moment.

I walk through the dorm room door into Caitlyn’s hospital room. She sits at the window and has somehow managed to wedge it open slightly. I feel a warm breeze. She notices me and holds her hand out for mine. Her arm is tiny, shrunken. The shape of her body lost in her hospital gown.

A thought rises in my mind, unbidden. The next time I see her after this moment is at the funeral.

I reach for her hand. A look of panic crosses her face.

“No,” she says in her fragile voice. “Please no.” Hearing her speak again breaks my heart.

The world goes black. Gone is the hospital room. Gone is the sound of an ambulance carried by the breeze. Gone is the sensation of cracked hospital linoleum beneath my feet.

I am alone.

Almost.

The tree is with me.

It creaks and groans and bends in a wind I cannot feel. I stumble towards it, desperate for answers. No matter how much I walk, I never draw closer to the tree.

I walk for hours.

I walk until blisters form and break on my feet.

I walk until I am so parched that my lips crack and bleed. But still I come no closer to the tree. I don’t know what would happen if I reached it. I only know that I never will.

I cry. But I have no tears to cry. Silent sobs wrack my body.

Please.

I just want to hold her again.

Please.

I don’t need to hold her. I just want to speak to her again.

Please.

I only want to see her once more.

Finally the last of the moisture in my body is called forth as a tear. It stings and I blink it away.

When I blink the tree is gone.

I blink again and I’m in my real apartment. The one Caitlyn and I shared for the last few years. The one we moved into because it was closer to her doctors and the hospital. The one in which I woke up this morning, which feels like a thousand years ago.

The blisters are gone. My lips are no longer cracked. My head no longer aches. I reach up and touch my cheek, no longer wet with my tears.

The door to the bedroom opens and Caitlyn emerges.

This isn’t Caitlyn at nineteen. Nor is this Caitlyn at the end. I can’t place this Caitlyn.

She puts her finger to her lips. She walks over until we are separated by only a foot. She looks into my eyes.

A tree of possibility blooms in my mind. Every moment Caitlyn and I have shared or could share spreads across my axons. Every child we could have had, every house we could have built, every night we could have cradled up next to each other. I can tell she sees the same thing too.

I long to reach out to her, but I don’t. If I do, the spell will be broken. I do not reach out. I dare not. We stare at each other and live out our entire lives.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In.

And also thanks for all crits.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Bring Me Down to the River - 1336 words



It’s sometime after midnight I notice Mama isn’t breathing no more. She had been snakebit four days past. The woods are so alive tonight that I don’t even hear her passing, although I feared it for some time now. She stopped talking shortly after dusk and she told me plenty of times that was the final sign. That leaves just me and Alice by the fire. I gather my dress, pull my coat around me, and check on my sister.

Alice has been snakebit three days. The fire doesn’t give off much light now, but I can see the black lines of her veins as the corruption spreads through her body.

“Feeling strong?” I ask her.

“I feel cold, Cora,” she says. “And so, so tired.”

I touch her forehead to gauge her fever. It’s gotten worse and I’ve nothing with which to assuage it. I am not gentle with Alice as I check her for new sores and marks.

Alice leans over and retches. She gasps for air. I drum her back to loosen her lungs.

I know that if Alice falls asleep the fever will overtake her. I know if she falls asleep she will choke on her own sick and die. So I try my best to keep Alice awake. I sing to her and make her sing back. The night is cold, but Alice feels hot as flame.

I don’t know how much longer Alice has even if she stays awake. She’s always been small. I fear the sickness will travel through her quickly and devastate her. She needs to get to the water if she is to be healed. The doctor told us if we go to the river all will be well.

Mama told me it was too dangerous to move at night. Between brambles that could snag at our ankles and break our bones, to critters which hunt the night, there was a hundred dangers waiting to eat us up in the dark. But Mama is gone and Alice is burning up. She needs relief soon. Even Mama would seen that.

I take my blanket and wrap it around Mama’s body. It’s still warm and very heavy. She is just weight. Not living, not breathing. I wonder if in that weight is all her self. Are all the songs she would sing to us when we were scared somewhere in her still?

The blanket isn’t big enough to cover her whole body. I am not strong enough to wrap it welI. I hope the wolves won’t be able to get at her. I don’t want to think about her reaching that end.

I put the fire out like Mama taught me. No water, which ruins good firewood, but I cover the coals with soil. That way when we stop back to bury Mama we have a fire ready to be built and nice dry tinder with which to build it.

I try to remember what the doctor told Mama and me. I know it’s only a matter of time before I get the fever myself. Doctor says it spreads through the air like fire and once one person is exposed, the whole town might well be. He spoke through a cloth which covered his mouth. His words were muffled, but his message clear. It was only a matter of time before I was snakebit too.

The doctor didn’t call the sickness being snakebit. He called it by another name. He said the name came from a dead language called Latin. He did concede that the sores look remarkably like being snakebit. The only way to heal the sickness, he said, was to find the river and have faith.

I scoop Alice into my arms. She is shockingly light. I think of how heavy Mama was and how light Alice feels and I wonder how much weight the soul carries. Mama would know.

“We’re leaving Mama behind,” Alice says.

“Yes,” I say.

“We can’t leave Mama behind.”

“She told us to go on ahead. Mama’s gonna catch up with us later.“

That quiets Alice for a moment, but I know she isn’t satisfied with my lie. I can feel her fears in the way she burrows her head into my chest. The sweat of her brow dampens my coat.

I walk away from our camp into the brush. I don’t look back. I can’t look back. I remember Lot’s wife who looked back in regret at her past and turned into a pillar of salt. We must always move forward without wasting the energy of looking back.

I follow the moon. Its light filters through the trees, broken and scattered. I pray for a break in the trees, but I get none. My pace is slow in the darkness. My eyes drink up what cold light of the moon they can.

I know I travel in the right direction because I can hear animals around me in the underbrush. They travel to the water to fish, or drink, or wash. The woods are alive around me. Nothing sleeps. Nature gives me a wide berth. They know I am unnatural, an invader in their space. Or perhaps they can smell the sickness and pain that clings to me.

***

I carry Alice for an hour before silence falls over the forest. I know my eyes, my ears, my nose are not as keen as the woods around me and Mama told me to take my cues from nature. If the forest is silent and afraid, I must also be silent and afraid.

I crouch down and Alice whimpers in her fever. I hush her. I feel Alice’s breath, shallow and ragged. I hold my own.

I hear a soft padding moving towards me. My muscles tense. I want to bolt, but if I do, I am dead. The wolf approaches me. It sniffs me to assess me. I can not fight it off. Even if I could, I will be caught by the pack. I can only stay perfectly still and pray the way Mama taught me to. I pray for safety and protection. I pray for enough grace to get Alice to the river.

The wind changes. It carries a howl from far off. The wolf at my back answers and it sends chills through my bones. Prey has been found by the pack. The wolf trots off.

It is when I again hear the buzz of the insects that I move.

***
Dawn is close at hand when I draw close to the river. I make Alice sing to me to keep her from sleep. Her voice wavers and grows weak.

The river is ahead and I can hear something large splashing at the bank. I wait at the treeline.

It’s a black bear, not a grizzly, which is a small comfort. I try to hide, but it looks right at me. It rears onto its hind legs and seems to decide if I am a threat.

After a while it returns its concentration to fishing in the water.

I can feel Alice slipping from me. I must act now.

I wade into the water. It’s cold. It soaks my dress and weighs me down. But I keep walking. The water gets higher until it buoys Alice’s body. The water is no longer a hindrance, but helps me carry my sister. I shiver and I feel Alice shiver as well. She gasps when the cold hits her back. A sharp intake of air that is the strongest sign of life she’s shown in hours.

She turns and looks up. Not at me, but past me.

I look up. Now, at the end, I can see the moon. The sky is turning purple in a clear band that follows the path of the river. Like a tear straight through to heaven. The stars start to wink out.

“It’ll be dawn soon,” Alice says.

“Yes,” I say.

“That means a new day,” she says.

I cradle Alice in the water. “It sure does.”

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

One Theory Is That When You Die, You’re Forced to Constantly Experience Your Last Moments for the Rest of Eternity. Another Theory Is: -483 words

David sat before the control board. His only hope was to hear Alicia’s voice again through the speaker before him.

The system crackled to life.

“Can you hear me, David?” It was Alicia.

“Yes, I can hear you. Thank God I can hear you.” The connection was stronger than David could have hoped.

“I never thought I’d hear another voice again,” Alicia said.

“You’ve traveled a long way.”

“And I’ve got a long way to go.”

David double checked the recorders. Time was short.

“Can you tell me what you see out there?” He wasn’t sure if out there was even the right term to use.

“It’s so beautiful here, David. But not beautiful like you think is beautiful. Beautiful in the way I like.”

“Give me specifics -- run through the exercises.”

“Vivid is the first word that comes to mind. Everything somehow looks more real than it ever did before. I see all sorts of shapes in the distance. They might be buildings, or they might be art. I can tell that they’re important.”

Every syllable was a gift to David. He ignored the first crackles and pops that oozed into the transmission.

“I’ve got recorders running, so don’t hold back.” David said.

“I guess you could say there’s a smell here. Smell might not be the right word. I can’t remember the word. There are a lot of words I can’t remember. Smell is so closely entwined to memory. Isn’t it strange that I can remember this sensation, even though I don’t have a label for it?

Alicia paused and David feared he had lost the signal. But she spoke again, her voice audibly degraded.

“Maybe it isn’t a word to remember. Maybe it’s just a piece of us that’s always a part of us that’s never utilized. It never needed to be defined because it doesn’t come alive until after we die.”

Alicia was silent again.

“I think I have to go. I feel that I have to go. I’m going to lose the signal.” Alicia said.

“No, I can fix it,” David said, even though he knew that he couldn’t. “We can keep talking as long as you stay with me.”

“David, before I go, please just do one thing.”

“I’ll do anything for you.” His voice barely a whisper.

“Tell me something that I can remember,” Alicia said.

David searched for words. “I don’t know what to say. I could say I love you, but you know that. I miss you, but you know that. The only thought that I have is the most selfish one: please come back to me.”

He couldn’t make out her reply. The transmission had degraded too far. David tried in vain to get it back.

But the machine was dead.

David sat in silence for a long time.

Then the machine crackled and he heard Alicia’s voice.

“Can you hear me, David?”

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In. Flash me a song.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Miracle - 921 words

Song - New Test Leper

If there ever was a such thing as a miracle, Ezra has never seen it. But he figures he could sure use one right now. He is not a very religious man, but he’s always believed that a true miracle comes at the time of greatest need.

Ash falls like snow and blankets the pockmarked field. A battle was fought here. Could be a thousand years ago. Could be last night. Impossible to tell with the ash. Ezra marvels at the total efficiency and capability with which people can obliterate others.

The sky is on fire. As far as Ezra can see. He coughs. The ash has already taken hold of his lungs. Swirls of blood marble his sputum.

Each painful step brings Ezra closer to his miracle. He knows the Walled City is ahead of him as long as he can persevere. If he can make it there, if he can make it past its guardians and inside its gate, he can survive.

He looks back as sees that every footprint he leaves in the white ash is the rust of blood.

Rust, he thinks, is the chemical reaction of corrosive oxygen slowly infiltrating and destroying a mineral. He knows that what is happening to him is something akin to rust. Particles he can’t see are invading his body, getting into his very cells and changing their chemical makeup. The result is killing him from the inside out. His skin is cracked and sloughs off in places. He can only imagine what is happening internally.

He passes through a ruined city. Once he knew its name. Some pieces of Ezra’s memory are empty. He has trouble remembering what things are called. He comforts himself by asking if something can retain its name when it’s been changed so utterly from what it once was? Maybe he cannot recall names of things which have no names to recall.

He needs sustenance. It has been a long time since his last drink and longer still since his last bite. While there are pockets of water to be found hiding in pipes and puddles, Ezra knows better than to trust food and water in the wild. Water out here will not slake his thirst, but bring him closer to death.

Ezra collapses against a few standing bricks, the sad memorial of what once was a building’s outer wall. He coughs until he is hoarse and his vision grows thin at the edges.

***

Ezra wakes next to a warm light. Three grotesque figures loom over him. It takes Ezra a moment to recognize the tubes and protrusions of a breathing apparatus and the heavy folds of a hazard suit.

“It seems we found you just in time, brother,” One of the figures says. He introduces himself as Nehemiah. The other two figures remain silent and nameless.

Nehemiah tosses Ezra a bottle of water. Ezra breaks the seal and drinks deeply. He tries to conserve it, but the water is gone in moments.

“Where are you from, friend?” Nehemiah asks.

Ezra talks of his town. The words gush out of him. Details that were mundane and forgotten next to ones that he holds close to his heart.

“I’ve watched my crops wither and die before my eyes. I’ve watched my cattle cry out in pain, then cry out no more.” This is a sample of what Ezra says.

And Nehemiah listens to it all. “You’ve come a long way. You are fortunate we came across you when we did.”

He’s quiet for a long moment. Erza doesn’t know what to make of this. Then Nehemiah says, “We head to the Walled City. Will you travel with us a while?”

Now Ezra recognizes that Nehemiah and his cohorts. He knows them to be dangerous men. They are the guardians of the Walled City and their mandate is to protect its borders from all who would try to enter.

Ezra knows his miracle has not come.

Nehemiah reads this in Ezra. “Many people try to enter the Walled City. They bring with them disease and pestilence and decay. We cannot allow those who have been corrupted by the world to enter paradise.”

Ezra feels anger grow within him. He is just a simple man, he thinks. He inherited this world, was born into it. Did not choose it. When the world dies, he dies with it. He doesn’t see the justice in that.

Ezra registers it when the man to Nehemiah’s left grabs him, but he doesn’t react. Not at first. The anger grows within him.

He thinks of what he has lost. He thinks of his family, their faces already lost to time. He mourns for the things he can remember and the things he has forgotten. He looks at his hands as they ball into bloody fists.

Nehemiah watches in shock as Ezra beats the silent man. Frozen by the sheer audacity. Never before has he seen a man so close to death move like that. He’s almost impressed by the violence. When he gathers his wits, it is too late to stop Ezra.

He looks at the men to his feet and he knows the change within him is complete. The rot of the world that had invaded his cells had mutated him into something else. He tries to remember the name of the dead man, but it’s just another hole in his memory.

He pulls a hazard suit on over his clothes. He cannot continue to trust in miracles. He must make his own way.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

sparksbloom posted:

R.E.M. Week Crits, Part 1

Thanks for the crit!

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In with the 17th century AD.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Spirits in the Forest - 1396 words
17th Century

The latch across the door will hold for now. The wood groans and stretches, but it holds. Wind howls through the cracks in the wall where the brittle paste which fills the spaces between the rough-hewn boards had fallen into disrepair. The windows are shuttered with their animal hides drawn tight against them.


Benjamin knows all this even though there is no light. The house is dark. Earlier, Benjamin had to put out the fire in their fireplace because the wind blew straight down the flue, filled the house with smoke, and threatened to scatter cinders throughout the house and set it ablaze.


So now Benjamin sits in the cold darkness. He knows his breath gathers in front of him like a spirit whenever he exhales, but he cannot see it. He knows his mother’s body lies on the sole table in the one-roomed house, stiff as a board, but he cannot see it.


He also knows that the spirits in the forest had come for his mother. Time and time again she had admonished him, telling him there was no spirit but God, His angels, and those fallen. Anything else was heresy. God and his angels chose to remain unseen and the fallen could not touch those who lived in grace. Their evidence played out in the realm of humanity, in man’s actions and battles. But Benjamin had seen the other spirits in the forest from the corner of his eyes when he checked the rabbit traps in the morning. He had felt their presence in the heat of the summer. A cold kiss upon the sweat on his brow. He has felt their power, despite what his mother has told him.


And now, he hears them in the never-ending wind. Their howls mix in with the gale. The spirits of the forest wept for Benjamin’s brother when the fever had taken him. They wept for Benjamin’s father when he had not returned from his hunt. And now they weep for Benjamin’s mother, cold on the table.


The howling lulls Benjamin to sleep. It is still when he wakes. The wind is gone, but the cold remains. He opens the windows to let in the pale, thin winter light. He has forgotten all his foolishness about spirits in the forest from the night before. He must forget it, he thinks, if he is to survive. Benjamin chooses instead to have absolute faith in his mother’s lessons. She taught him how to harden himself in the New World.


But now he cannot bring himself to even look at her body. When Benjamin’s brother died, Benjamin had stared at the small corpse when everyone else’s eyes closed in prayer. But now his courage has fled. He must act. He must bury the body before disease or predator knock on the doorstep.


He goes outside and surveys the forest’s edge. The tiny house sits on the border between the rocky soil his father hoped to tame into planting and the forest which provided all of their game and building supplies. The land is bare. The trees robbed of their leaves, which lie curled on the forest floor. Through the woods is the town. He could go there and seek help and come back with the strong men who lived in the town who father had gotten to help raise the house and the small barn when they had first come.


Benjamin finds the thought of leaving his mother behind to be unbearable. Besides, the way into town was long and treacherous for one person to make alone. He would not make it by nightfall and the woods after dark are dangerous for those traveling in numbers, much less one child.


Benjamin knows he must bury his mother, alone and with haste. He gathers his father’s tools, even the axe, which was forbidden to touch and was too large for him to wield. He clears the ground next to his brother’s grave. The ground was hard to turn over under normal circumstances, now the soil itself was as hard and unyielding as the stones underneath the surface. Benjamin swings with all his might to no avail. The hoe glances off the ground and leaves the barest of marks on the surface.


Benjamin instead gathers water from the small stream that runs along the house. He carries it inside and sets it to boil. As it heats, he wraps his mother’s body in strips of cloth. The body begins to smell of putrefaction. He is thankful for the cold, had it been warm the body would have been completely given to decay by now. He thinks of the spices used when the Apostles wrapped the Lord’s body. He wishes he had an offering of his own to make such as that.


He carries his mother’s body to the gravesite. Then he takes the boiling water and pours it over the earth. This works, for a time. He is able to dig, but the soil freezes soon after. He despairs as the water freezes again in the soil and he can no longer dig. The land must thaw before he can continue. The day grows long. Benjamin knows he has wasted much time.


Next he gathers wood and builds a fire next to the gravesite. He builds another and another until, when he stands in the pit in the center of the fires, he sweats from their heat. Surely, this must work, he prays.


He is no stranger to work. His hands are rough and calloused even at his young age. But this is a level of work beyond anything he has attempted without help. Every inch he digs exacts a rough toll on him. Blisters form, then burst, then form anew. He remembers that he has not eaten since the night before. He does not have time to eat. The shadows stretch and the sun is ready to dip behind the tops of the trees. The world around him grows dark. Stars dot the sky.


He doesn’t notice at first when the wolves come. He is given over completely to his task. The fires burn his sight from seeing beyond them. He sees stars around him. Closer than those in the sky. He realizes they are not stars, but eyes glinting, reflected from the fires. He falls still. He watches the wolves as they watch him. Neither make a sound or a move.


Benjamin begins to pray. He tries to remember the Scriptures his mother used to read to him. For God hath not given unto us the spirit of fear. He remembers that. He remembers the prayers his mother said. He repeats those word for word. He prays for deliverance. For aid.


But God is silent. God does not answer. Benjamin remembers the lessons of his mother. God makes his work evident through the actions of men. There are no men around to help Benjamin. He must help himself.


The wolves grow more bold. One dares to step into the circle of light created by the fires. Benjamin grips the heavy axe and swings. His prayers die on his lips. The wolf snarl.


Finally, he turns his thoughts to the spirits in the forest. He concentrates on the power he felt. He beseeches them for mercy. He turns away from the God of his fathers, the God that stood idly by as his family was ripped from him one by one. He turns his piety to the land.


He puts down the axe. As he prays, he starts to dig again. He is nearly done. The wolf stares at him inquisitively. Other wolves press their snouts into the firelight. Benjamin pays them no mind. He only digs.


When he is done he takes his mother and pulls her into the earth. He pulls soil on top of her. His hands are stiff. The skin cracked and broken. The bold wolf howls. The howl is lonely and sad. The other wolves join in. Benjamin doesn’t stop. He continues to bury his mother. He hears the spirits in the forest in the howling. This is their answer to his prayer. It is now that he begins to weep.


The bold wolf turns and leaves the circle of light. He is followed by the others. They howl as they head back into the forest and disappear. Benjamin buries his mother in silence.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Cold Snap -1166 words

Richard had just put the finishing touches on the crib when he heard Colette call for him. He stepped through the open wall of the still-unfinished barn. He shielded his eyes from the pre-noon sun as it beat down on his small orchard. Richard saw Colette as she walked through the rows of orange trees. When she grew close he saw the swell of her belly beneath her simple dress. Her one arm cradled it absent-mindedly. He had made a fine crib, Richard thought to himself. And they had made a fine baby to place in it.


He strode to her and kissed her. He placed his hand on hers, and hoped to feel a kick. Then he took her hand and guided her to the unfinished barn.


“I have something to show you,” he said.


She ran her fingers along his work and he was proud. Not a single nail or screw had been used. Each piece fit perfectly into the others. It was a work of engineering (a word Richard understood in practice, but not name) and skill (a word Richard did understand).


“Richard,” she said, “there is cold coming.”


“It’s still warm, and will be yet through the season,” Richard said, thankful for the California sun that scorched his skin red but also would brought forth the orange harvest late in the year.


“The wind is changing.”


Richard knew a change of wind at that time of year was disastrous. If the harvest were to freeze before they had a chance to gather it…


“Are you sure?” He didn’t allow himself to show the fear he felt.


“I saw it and I can feel it,” she said. And Richard trusted her absolutely.


After noon the wind changed completely. It carried with it promises of frost. He walked through the grove. Richard and Colette had planted every tree themselves and had tended them for four whole years. This was in addition to the years they had scrimped and saved every piece of money in order to buy the land. This season the trees would finally produce their first fruit.


If Richard could prevent them from freezing.


Richard was no fool. Colette read the almanac to him as it came out. He listened to her nightly before bed as she brought him wisdom from the outside world. They had prepared for winter. Each tree was already wrapped with corn husk and twine. They had spent an entire two days blanketing each individual tree in expectation of what passed for winter in those parts.


Already he felt a chill he had never felt since coming to that land. He and Colette set to work. They rolled what barrels they had between the rows. It was too early in the season, they did not have enough fuel to burn to protect the entire orchard. But they could save the most promising rows. He didn’t allow himself to think of his rotten luck. He let the work overwhelm him.


The sun was setting when he set the first fire in a barrel. Colette had placed the pans on top of the barrels. Then she filled the pans with water as the fire roared beneath them. The cold water sputtered and danced when it hit the hot pan. Soon the pans had filled. A thin steam like a ghost wafted off the pans, lit from below by the fire.


Colette had explained to Richard once how the air traded heat with the steam in order to protect the fragile trees. Richard hadn’t understood it, same as he didn’t understand many things Colette told him.


Richard checked his wood supply. Most of what grew nearby was scrub and brush. It was dry, but it would burn quickly.


“We don’t have enough to last the night.”


“What if we were to cut the weakest of the trees and use them to protect the strong?”


As much as the thought terrified him, the suggestion was a sound one. But there was no time with which to chop down a single tree, much less to dry the wood out for burning.


The question in his mind became a game of what is better. Was it better to keep the trees wrapped or should he use the dried corn husks as fuel for fires to heat steam in the groves?


Colette, as always, seemed to read his mind. She rushed into the house and when she returned she labored under every single scrap of clothing or linen or blanket within the house. They wrapped the trees with these and added the corn husks to their dwindling supply of wood.


Richard and Colette sweated as they worked. The flames were so hot that it was hard to imagine that the majority of the orchard, which they had abandoned to the cold, had already turned to frost.


“It’s not enough,” Colette said. And it wasn’t.


Next came the furniture. The table, their scant two chairs. The frame of their bed. All things Richard had formed with his two hands. They could sit on the floor, eat on the floor, sleep on the floor. It mattered not to Richard. Present hardships were nothing to him. He watched Colette work. She moved with strength and purpose. He stared in wonder. He considered the child within her. Yes, he thought, present hardships mean nothing with the promises of the future. And the future was in this orchard.


As Richard smashed his belongings into kindling a prayer formed in his mind. Please. Please let this be enough. Please no more. We’ve sacrificed enough. The fire gleamed off the globes of the oranges, which glistened as they collected steam. Colette gathered more water. Blisters formed on both their hands.


When the furniture burned through, they tore boards from the unfinished barn. It was past midnight. They took everything but the skeleton, the support beams that could not easily be dismantled. The barn could be rebuilt, he told himself. It hadn’t even been finished in the first place. But his rationalizations failed him. It was harder and harder to convince himself. There were so many fires. If it had been the next year he could’ve used money from this harvest to hire hands that would help him. Then everything could be saved and he without him having torn his life apart.


But best not concentrate on what-could-be, he thought. He needed more fuel. The was only one more thing to burn: the crib. He had to, yet he hated himself for it. He yanked it apart, broke the perfect joints, shattered the slats. He carried it to the orchard like a dead thing. He fed the broken crib to the flames.


Richard and Colette tended to the trees until the sky turned pink with dawn. He examined the oranges. Not yet ripe, but they had not frozen in the night. He hoped it was was worth it.


“The wind is starting to change,” Colette said. And Richard felt that it was true.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

In.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Mrenda posted:


I really, really dislike this critique.

Nobody cares.

hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Fleta Mcgurn posted:

Actually, I do! Mrenda's critique was quite a bit more helpful. :downs:


That said, let's ALL not pick on people who are willing to do crits. It takes time and effort that a lot of us aren't able or willing to expend.

Doing crits is a good thing, but telling other people that their crits are not good is a Bad Thing to do because it invalidates another's work and point-of-view. It doesn't help anyone and it sounds whiny to boot.

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hotsoupdinner
Apr 12, 2007
eat up

Flash me please.

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