Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hoping For a Symphony, Hearing a Funeral March. 

     Thick walls of solid oak do well to mute most of the noise kicked up by the wind outside. The house is cancerous; its furnishings and decor whispering of a long since missing period of good fortune, at least financially. Now the rotting floorboards and stained walls appear as through stricken with some strange plague. Dark water marks make abstract messages on the wall.     
     A green, circular splotch on the wall - its insides smeared and surging to the floorboards - reads "you're all alone," not needing language to convey the words. Holes punched in the ceiling - gray liquid lining its edges - tells a tale of missing the past. An old table - pocked by clustered communities of furry, black mold - sighs, not even bothering to try anymore. In stark contrast to the tables apathy, you can hear sobbing coming from the skeletal remains of a chimney; if you listen hard enough, that is. A cracked window stares as though the glazed eyes of a fresh corpse. There is no hope hiding in the cracks and corners of this house.   
     In the middle of this living room, a ragged man sits on a leather-backed chair, its stitches all frayed and the stuffing oozing out. His patchwork robe hangs from his rail-thin body, its material just as grimy as the man it sticks to. Its dark colors hint at perhaps a lighter color, many years ago. A patchy beard mirrors the robe. His eyes reflect no color. Unwashed skin filled in the bare patches of his facial hair, wrinkles dance across the majority. The man appears to be in his late 40s. He is 25.     
     He has a blank stare directed towards a wall, not looking at all the phantom images flickering in and out of the room. A mother dragging a toy back to its proper place; a father striking up a match for his pipe, its smokey, familiar scent haunting his nose. A sister crying over a minor scrape on her right knee, probably picked up from climbing the apple tree in the back yard. A dog, laying near the chimney, softly moaning and kicking in his sleep. He doesn't look at any of them.     
     It has been around 15 years since the world was wiped out: invisible burials. The man woke up on a warm spring morning, and everyone was just gone. We take for granted how beautiful communication can be. The subtle bits of slang and accent, the varying degrees of emphasis and punctuation. The astronomical combination and choices of words. Every living person has such a unique and incredible voice. 15 long, quiet years missing that is just too damn terrible to wish on even the worst of enemies. You cannot possibly imagine after being defeated for so long, what a voice sounded like when it met his ears on the evening to this story.     
     "Gilman," the voice calls, slipping through the cracks of the broken window. As I mentioned before, there is no hope in this house, but the man does stand up, slowly. Everything is done slowly. His legs quiver as they make their way to the front door. His hands are shaking so hard, the rusty old handle of the door snaps off, bits of its clockwork insides falling to the floor. Stepping out onto the front porch, he stares down the hill his house was built on, and watches the trees at the bottom. They sway and shudder just as he does in the cold, evening wind.    
     Again, that voice is heard, only this time, from right behind him. Turning to greet whoever is playing this grand symphony for him, he doesn't even blink in disappointment. Similar to the past 15 years of his life, no one is there. Those of us who have been broken do not let disappointment linger. It is is seen briefly, much like a flame, flickering on a candle. We acknowledge it, draw ourselves near, and we swallow it whole. Needless to say, it leaves a small burning in the person chest, but you can get used to it. You can get used to all sorts of awful things.
     The man starts to head back inside, when he realizes the door is now covered in boards, haphazardly nailed on, keeping him from entering the house. Craning his neck around, he sees that all the trees are now withering memories of the beautiful giants he saw only moments ago. Everything looks so much bigger now, and to that extent, lonelier.
     Sinking to his knees, Gilman stretches his body out on the porch, pressing his face to the wooden planks, his eyes starting to stream. His expression is the same as when we first met him, rotting on that chair. A strange rasp escapes from his throat - it no longer remembering how to form audible words - and mouths "please let me in". Over and over, he begs, the only answer is a loud groaning from the house.     
     Even as the ceiling starts to cave in, and the walls begin to crumble, he stays there: begging to fall with it. The house implodes, turning into a dusty pile of brick and splinter. Nothing is left standing, except for that door. That damn door stands straight up, as though a gravestone. He just laid there, his eyes closed, and never got up again. He heard that voice calling to him until the very end. The wind picked up his clothes, and carried them down the hill, to dance among the remaining trees. I'm sure it must have felt peaceful. I’m sure of it.

     “Gilman,” a frail old voice calls from the plain concrete porch of apartment 212. A large sign stands in the background, “Lemongrass Meadows,” it reads. This apartment complex was a copy and paste sort of place. “Store bought”, “cookie cutter”, and “soulless” are all adequate descriptions. “212” was the only thing that separated Gilman from any other body in this building.
     Mrs. Krasinski, the owner of that voice, called “Gilman,” over and over again. She was the gossip of the entire complex, but specialized in Building D: rooms 205-252 at Lemongrass. It had been 7 years since her husband passed, her powers of amateur sleuthing and exaggeration progressively improving and refining steadily over the years since the awful moment he passed away. Actually, reporting Gilman’s recent absence to the landlord would be the first time her nosey personality did some good. Subsequently solidifying an arrogance - and thus defense - that would help to promote her idiosyncrasies, and  steel her hands while digging through peoples proverbial garbage until the end of her days.      
     Mr. Johnson was a bloated man, who rubbed his eyes sleepily as he worked his thick fingers through his set of keys to unlock the door to apartment 212. He nearly fainted when he found the state of Mr. Gilman Chatsworth. Gilman had lain in the middle of his small living room, curled into a fetal position. A small piece of rubber tubing was wrapped around his arm, and an empty needle lay on the ground, near an unmarked orange bottle of pills, now empty. It wasn’t the sight of these miscellaneous instruments of the man’s death that sent Mr. Johnson running out of the room, but rather the humming of flies that flocked around the man’s body.  Most unnerving of all, though, was the genuine smile on the face of Gilman. This was all too much for Mr. Johnson’s delicate stomach.     
     The apartment itself was - oddly enough - in pristine condition. The only peculiarity, if it could be called that, was that all the picture frames in the room has been placed face down. Police reports would later provide signed papers from a certain Elizabeth Finch from a few months prior. The documents were the final stages of a hasty divorce.
     Gilman’s cold body offset a room that may have otherwise felt warm as you walked in. Potted plants, tacky framed art, and a beautiful mahogany table sat in what would have been a dining room in a larger house. Dusted shelves full of miscellaneous decorations lined the walls, and a large bookcase sat in the corner. Lemongrass Meadow’s flier boasting a 350+ residency, with a communal pool, tennis courts, and laundry room. Even with all these people, Gilman still felt alone in this world.
     There is a saying I sometimes recall my grandmother telling us kids, when we would gather around on the holidays and watch her cook up a pot of her famous gnocchi soup. “Why not buy the carrots bagged like everyone else, mom!” our father would call from the living room. “You’re too old to keep growing your own vegetables”. “You watch your talk now, boy!” she’d holler while waving the spoon towards the room. However, she’d always have a smile on her face, trading being the butt-end of a joke for the sake of the company.      
     It was always some sort of prodding that would have her swinging that spoon like some barbaric weapon, but shortly after, she’d lean down and whisper for us to come in for a secret. “Your daddy never understood it, but I’ll tell you kids right now, everything in life is about quality, not quantity,” and with that, she’d produce a small piece of homemade toffee for each of us, and we’d scamper off, her laughter fading behind us. It had never even occurred to me before this incident that none of us kids ever asked for a second piece. Without even knowing it, our grandmother force fed us her philosophy inside those delicious pieces of candy, and I owe much of my good fortune in life to that sweet lesson.    

     For whatever reason Mr. Chatsworth lost his wife, a thousand people couldn’t fill in the part of his life she has helped him make. Having seen that swarm of flies around his body myself, if only for just a split second, it made me sad that I couldn’t have helped him out. If only I could have told him that you need not think in numbers when you say “you want more”. I suppose that’s neither here, nor there though.  
    Shrugging off the guilt like that makes me sound like a bad person, and I’m ashamed to be writing these words to you now. However, I am human, and that is a very important part of our natural defenses. I couldn’t tell you if that defese came from the heart, or the brain though. Like everything else I've come to learn, probably both.     
     We sometimes make the mistake in thinking that time is cruel to us. I’ve come to believe this to only be a half-truth. We assume that time is cruel to us, and to those we have come to love, but time only exists so that it may be equally cruel to everyone. Some of us just have the luck - I’m neither sure if that luck is good or bad - to not realize this. As sad as it sounds to put those words on paper, it is also liberating in a way I cannot tell to you. I can only hope to show you through this story how wonderful life is when you realize you're not alone in your suffering.
     You may be a victim, but so is every damn person on this planet. That man sitting across from you on the subway, what manner of tragedy has befallen his family? The woman ahead of you in the grocery store check out line, what sort of fear eats at her stomach at night? The taxi driver that didn't stop for you, that teenaged employee at the resteraunt last Wednesday, those old couples that throw stale food to appreciative pigeons at the park? Can't you hear the heavy steps of all your brothers and sisters in this city? Can't you marvel at how they all walk the same as you, just one foot in front of the other, always running running from something just out of sight?
     It's for all of these reasons that I believe that if Gilman had understood this small lesson, he wouldn’t have wept and shattered over the hole left in his life. Instead, he may have chosen to find the most beautiful soil around to fill with, and spent his days admiring what sort of plants - vibrant flowers and their opposing weeds - would bloom.      
     “But what would I know?”, right? I haven’t even introduced myself yet. My name is George; how do you do? I collect coins, vintage typewriters, and old clocks. I am left-handed, in my mid-40s, and am one of the many channels through which Mrs. Kravinski nurses her addiction. I am also - and perhaps most importantly - married to my wife Kathleen, for 18 wonderful years now. I make an honest living as an editor of a local newspaper, but this is not how I define myself. I consider myself a master gardener, and I love the many shapes and colors my life has shown me so far.
     When you are faced with difficulties in life - of which I’m certain you will - I hope you can think back to my voice now, and choose to enjoy it. Enjoy the good moments, along with the bad, so you don’t have to end up curled up on a floor somewhere, with puncture marks in your arms, and an invisible hole in your chest. I hope the last noise you hear is a the beauty of life, and not whatever it is death must sound like. I hope you hear the symphony, not the funeral march.

You are all alone”, a voice said.
You don’t have to be” said another.
Only the first was heard.

Mischief, and to That Extent, Its Punishment Edit Prep 2012

     My name is Pietr, and on a chilling night in the middle of our moon's autumnal cycle, I died, alone, outside the walls of my hometown. You see, I made a career of crying wolf, and for toying with the townsfolk, I was ultimately punished. I spent months waking up men and women, who were rushing to save a life, only to be confused when nobody was there. To make amends, I suppose my mortality was stripped from me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I didn’t deserve to be punished, I just wish it didn’t hurt so much. Of all the bad things I can remember, that pain stands out the most.
     It’s funny, isn’t it? That the only memories that never go away are the worst ones? It seems that every good thing that has happened to me in life has gently caressed my cheek, and then has been carried off by the wind. The bad memories though, they scar and paint your skin, following you like ghosts, always right there behind your every waking thought. I’m going to tell you a story now, about a young boy named Pietr, who was very much a ghost himself.
     Our story takes place in another time, a time that has yet to exist, or perhaps never really will. A great disease called Pyxis Cough razed the land, taking a large chunk of our population out with it. Pyxis, or "box" cough, as it was more cynically known, was a very fitting name on account of how strict the disease followed the name. Only a few coughs, and then you were being lowered into the ground with nothing more than the clothes on your skin, and a box.
Isolated towns started to put up barriers over time, removing themselves from both the threat of disease, and the hope of helping out others. The first years were the hardest. Mankind can grow accustomed to a great many things, but no ear can ever grow used to the sound of women and children crying for help. No conscience ever to the quiet of ignoring them.
     A small town exists, guarded by strong stone walls, and for all intents and purposes, they are the borders of the world. To leave these walls is certain death, and a sin against Nuelle, the supposed god that protects the town. It should come to no surprise that in a small town built between despair and destruction, sooner or later a clever man would find the voice of some higher power to herd the frightened sheep. During times of uncertainty, it's nice to fall into naivety. It's almost as though magic, how mankind can cloud their minds, and put upwards to 90 percent of their powers of logical deduction and rationalizing into following orders. Not all men and women are able to believe though. This tale is about a young man named Pietr, who lived in the town of Worldsend, and who was punished for not following the shepherd's crook.
     “Have you heard the news? About the creatures that have been appearing at night?” a fat women in a bland, brown robe whispers to an elderly man in black. “Yes, I hear that it shows up in the dead of night, screaming for help, but disappears before anyone can-“said the man in black, before suddenly being interrupted by a man with a tall gilded walking stick, and voluminous white robes.
     “What is the meaning of this Marhidal? Cayn? It is blasphemous to speak of such acts,” said the man in white. Stretching their meek necks, they let their heads hang towards him, mouths muttering quick apologies to Father Ordenson. Placing his hands upon their heads, the Father continued walking down the muddy lanes of the poor part of town, elaborately throwing his arms up in praise of Nuelle.
     “Regardless of what the father says, I’ve heard the screams myself, and there is something happening in this town of ours. Something big,” the women whispers to the man, before departing. From the alley behind them, a child sits against the wall with his cloak shut tight, and his hood drawn up. Through a shadowed face, a white smile flashes from the depths of the hood. A mask that appears to be two blackened leaves sit opposite eachother over his eyes, hiding the majority of his face. The boy stands up, and deftly trudges through the mud, his balance never wavering an inch.
     A shrill scream lights up the night sky, as panic wrecks through the surrounding buildings. “Help me! Please help me, dear god!” a voice weeps from the town square. The noises of bodies flooding from the local buildings are heard in the quiet night air, as they rush to the scene in the hope of helping. Holding in his laughter, the boy from the alley closes his eyes, and places his hands on his stomach. His head starts spinning, and he can feel his hair whipping back and forth as his hood is thrown open, the outer edges of his leaved-mask pulsate a vibrant red. Opening his eyes, he is safely back in his alley. Only that brief recognition of his location is processed before he starts to violently vomit up the contents of his stomach.
     Wiping the bile from his mouth with a grubby sleeve, the boy falls backwards into a symphony of laughter. Drumming his feet on the ground, he finally stops to catch his breath, and looks up at the sky. “Another night accomplished” the boy says to himself, wiping tears from his eyes. Standing up, he disappears inside a window, and curls under the blankets on his bed, ready for a sound nights sleep. Had he been more cautious, he would have heard the breath of someone, each exhale becoming quicker and heavier consecutively.

     Smiling to himself, Father Ordenson pulls out the wooden circle hanging from his necklace, and traces the outsides with his finger, a anxious habit picked up as a young boy. “My, my, my,” the father said to himself. “So it was you, crying wolf, was it?”. Rubbing his hands together, the cogs in the father's head had long since been working out the calculations.
     A pragmatic man, he wanted so desperately to get his hands on that mask, but he knew there was no way. No, there was only one surefire way to profit from this without gambling. The father never gambled, and wouldn't start on this rat. He hugged himself, and strolled out from the alley. Any passerby may have thought he was trying to keep the cold out, but truthfully he just didn't know what else to do with his arms. Every now and then a small, child-like giggle would escape from him, until he reached his home, throwing his head back, and laughing deeply, knowing victory was his.

     “Father! We must do something about this!” a voice yells from the mass of people inside the church. “Yes, we need to catch this fiend, and punish it for Nuelle!” another yells. Father Ordenson stands at his podium, staring down at the angry throng of people. Under his gaze, they quickly calm themselves, and sit down, but the buzz of quiet conversation starts to fill the room almost immediately. Clearing his throat, the entire crowd quit their talking, and look up towards him. Silence passes for several minutes as they look to him expectantly.
     “You wish me to catch this demon?” the father asks, and people roar their approval. Every form of punishment, and torture were tossed out for the beast by the mob. The father shook his head slightly, and looked around the room until they quieted themselves again. “You wish me to capture the beast, and no matter what form it shows itself, and you wish for us to punish it?” the Father asks. Again, the crowd throws up their hands in joy, and a cacophony of agreement fills the air. Looking down at them from the podium, the father cleared his throat in anticipation, and spoke softly once the people quieted down.
     “What if it’s not a demon?” the father asked; rising voices starting to mouth their disagreements. “Of course it's a demon! What else could it be?” a faceless voice called from the crowd. “Burn it, father! Scatter its remains out over the wall!” a woman cried out. “What if I told you it was a young boy?” the father asked; his knuckles growing white behind his back as he fidgeted anxiously. The silence was so heavy, it weighed down the air, and turned the oxygen thick. “Patience Edwin” the Father thought to himself. “The sheep will not attack on their own, they must be lead to it. Let them think the idea is their own, and they will defend more zealously than you could ever hope to force them into. Patience Edwin.” The crowd stared at him in disbelief, but none walked away. They had fallen into Father Ordenson's web.
     Standing in a different corner of the town, the boy lets loose a wild scream, and starts yelling for help, but no one shows up. “Please! It hurts so much, he’s killing me! Help!”. For the next three nights, this continues, the boy becoming more and more infuriated as the days go by. “Why aren't they helping me!” he thinks to himself. “What sort of awful people wouldn't want to help someone in pain?”. It wouldn’t be until old Marhidal and Cayn met in front of his alley, that he would learn the truth of what happened.
     “The father says that by ignoring the boy, he will run out of steam, and eventually return to normal life.” The old woman says. “Yes, it sure is hard to sleep at night, but much easier knowing there really isn’t a demon out there” the old man, Cayn, chuckles. Both laughing to themselves, they break off, and head their own ways, getting back to their daily lives. From under the robes of the boy in the alley, his fists beat themselves against the wall. “I’ll show them” the boy said to himself. “I’ll show them all”
     Clenching his eyes together, and holding his hands to his stomach, the boy imagines the world outside of the walls, and opens his eyes to a world of strange plants and soft dirt. He looks around surprised, before the food in his stomach comes up, and he chokes it out onto the ground. Raising his head, he finds a peculiar dark purple plant, with a spiny tail-like appendage stuck into his arm. Plucking the base of the plant, something hot shoots into his arm, and the boy starts to thrash and scream on the ground. “Help me!” he screams. “It hurts so bad, please, somebody help me!”
     Gathering around the nearest wall, the townspeople are near riot, crying out for someone to save the poor boy. Father Ordenson stands up on a wooden platform, and claps his hands together, beginning to talk down to the crowd. “Father Ordenson! That’s just a young boy out there! We must pull him inside!” a voice shouts. Numerous other voices strike up agreement, as they pump their hands into the air, almost as if hoping it will help give weight to their words. “For 300 years” the Father starts to speak, quieting the crowd instantly, “we have been protected from the disease, and the pain that the outside brings us, and you'd have us risk it all for a mischievous orphan? No, Nuelle would not be happy to see such an act happen, and what about the punishment you all spoke of just a few days ago?” The crowd, trying to form words, held down their arms, and collectively started to whimper half-hearted excuses.
     “No, I think not my friends. The child has been possessed, able to disappear at will. Is this not the power of a demon like you all feared? Is this not the sign that the boy is not one of us?”. Shouts of agreement now start to form patches in the quiet crowd. “Should we risk the lives of many, all for the sake of one who would cause us such harm?” the Father spoke in a strong, stirring voice. The majority of the crowd now starts to scream out against the boy now. The Father puts on a gentle smile, and says “it is a shame to lose such a young member of our society, but we shall learn a lesson from him, and never stray from our faith again! Praise be to Nuelle!” and with that the entire crowd roars in cheer. To any outsiders, it perhaps would appear as though some great festival were going on.
     Pardon the break in the story. I feel it's my duty to apologize for using a term like “outsiders”. Of course there could be no outsiders, and of course the dying boy himself is technically outside of the town. It was an irresponsible slip of the tongue, and I will be sure the change it in the final transcript. I didn't mean to poke fun at the death of a child, I assure you. Even if I have every right to laugh at myself over how I came to die, I have no right to sully the story with my absent mind.
     Turning around, the gentle smile on the Father's face now arcs into one of malice as he looks away from the crowd, a wall of praise crashing against his back. “My biggest regret is that I couldn’t see you suffer myself, you motherless shit,” he whispers. Throwing his head back, he belts out a loud laughter, the crowd mistaking it for joy, follows along.
     Waiting, the boy looks around, but sees no one coming. Crying, he tries to push himself up, but his arm is now a hideous, blotchy mess, smelling of rotting skin and pus. “So they are afraid to help me are they?” he breaths into the dirt. “Well then, I’ll just have to bring myself to them!”. Closing his eyes, he places his good hand onto his stomach, and imagines the town square. Much like the plant's toxins, panic hit Pietr, and immediately sunk directly into his bones. The very real grip of fear washes over the boy as he spits up stomach acid onto the dirt.
Closing his eyes, again and again he tries to disappear back to the town, but to no avail.
     The skin on his arm now hangs loose, covered in holes as bone and muscle show through. Screaming as hard as he can, the boy sobs into the dirt, and yells his apologies at the town; however, they still fall on deafened ears. The infection now crawls onto his chest, and the boy whimpers on the ground, all his strength gone from him. The last thing he remembered was a cold, fall breeze blowing on his body, and wondering what he did to deserve this. Wondering how this could happen, as the cheers of the townsfolk drifted over the wall.
     Now that you’ve heard my story, you can make your own decision on how I came to be. Was the corpse of a lonely child a fitting punishment, or did I deserve a second chance? I’ve been floating above the town of Worldsend for many years now, asking the very same question, and I still cannot find the answer. Was this a story about mischief, and to that extent, its punishment? Or was this a story about a poisoned man, who let a small child die to gain power in a town. I’m not sure anymore, but the only thing I have to be thankful of, is that I no longer feel pain.
     I did it all because I was lonely, and that knot in my stomach every night was stronger than any infection that could have ever eaten my body. The pain of having my own community leave me out to die ate away at me more than any disease ever would. The pain of seeing that man live out his remaining years happy, hurts me more than any death could ever present me. I have felt real pain, and I have lived through real misery. Still I float here, without any of the answers to my questions. What does it take in this life to understand it all? Why was I born so broken? Why couldn't any one love me? The only thing I think I've truly earned, is that greed has filled more graves than anything besides disease. I do believe it to be a very close second.

     "Mother... I've nothing but time now, but I don't think I can ever forgive you. Why did you leave me all alone... Mother!"
A light rain starts to fall on Worldsend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Storms. 2012 outline.

Untitled story of Ophelia, storms, and the rebellion.

The very first page says “A man lays bleeding on the ground, and a young girl walks over to him. “Tell me about your childhood” he says. “Tell me of the good I did.”. “All I can remember is storms” the says, and stabs him in the chest.

Storyline follows a young girl named Ophelia, who lives in a small town in the mountains. The world's mythos follows that around 20 years ago, a large tribe of nomadic like barbarians burned her city, and of the thousands in the city, only around 100 made it out alive. They are all intelligent, peaceful people, and the tribe of barbarians were always ignored up until this point. “Leave them be, they are just mindless savages. We're safe behind our walls.” They always say. (Ophelias father will occasionally sing “We are safe behind our walls!” when drunk and wandering the village). They had nowhere to go, except up, high into the mountains. Due to almost constant storm activity, the barbarians were afraid to go up, and due to their stupidity, did not possess the means to make it past certain obstacles. The new city is nestled in a valley high up, with a natural spring running through it, creating a waterfall that cuts the village in half. The beginning of the book focuses heavily on the created lore and traditions of the townsfolk, and of Ophelia. Ophelia is a young girl, with a heart of gold, but sort of an outcast. She has seemingly no real fear, and runs away often, camping out by herself in the mountains, although the villagers make up all sorts of beasts that she never runs into (Until later, that is). Her father, is a washed-up has been. When Ophelias mother was alive, he was the mayor of their city, and a genuinely good man to boot. However, his love for his wife was much stronger than his love for his daughter, and he fell after his wife died when the city was burned. Since then, he is hardly ever sober, and obviously isn't much of a father, certainly not enough to worry about her running away for a few days. Naturally, the people of the village take care of Ophelia in their own way, feeding and clothing her, and trying to keep her in the village as much as possible. They aren't evil, of course, they just want what's best for her, but Ophelia is young, and frustrated. She can take of herself, she thinks, since she's been alone for so long. One of the main characters is a chubby woman who serves as a baker in the village, and treats her as protectively as a mother hen, (and in fact, Ophelia genuinely loves the woman as a mother, but just like a mother, is constantly rebelling against her.). There are scenes where the woman wakes up, and Ophelia is laying on a cot set up in her room, curled into a ball shivering, wet with rain, and the woman places the blanket over her, and kisses her on the forehead. Her name (so far) is Mrs. Watts, a little joke due to the electrifying nature of the town. Mrs. Watts lost a child during the great fires, and is more than happy to care for Ophelia when she needs it, although Mrs. Watts understands that Ophelia is a wild-child, and won't be settled into the bashful, girly nature of her dead daughter. None-the-less, they love eachother, I suppose. Near the end of the book, Mrs. Watts asks Ophelia to move in with her, and Ophelia says yes. They still aren't mother and daughter, but they carry on just the same. Another character, who heroically dies in the end to save Ophelia, is the town doctor. He is a handsome, middle-aged man, but apathetic and calculating. Always saying the wrong thing, and never being much for showing emotion, except in his own way. Ophelia, however, always laughs at the strange things he says, and it's always subject of disbelieve to the villagers when they see him smiling, of which he only does often around her. That is a defining characteristic of the hero Ophelia, everyone loves to be around her, she makes everyone smile, everyone except her father. A small fact that eats away at her as she struggles between the guilt of not being good enough, and the anger that her father is never really there. The future actions of her father finally make up her mind that he is beyond repair, and that she is a wonderful person. She finds both her voice, and her confidence as the book nears it's end. Two of my favorite scenes so far are about some of the festivals in the town. In my way to create a backstory and legitimate world with this book, I've been creating traditions and other folklore for them. One of which is the Harvesting, a festival where the townsfolk dress up scarecrows (Due to being isolated, and unable to travel easily, and the difficult weather patterns and poor soil of their home, they take every precaution to save every last bit of food they can.) and float their scarecrows over the edge of the waterfall after the harvest is done. This plays out later when Ophelia stumbles down the mountain (a plot point for later) and sees where they all land. She refers to it as a “scarecrow graveyard” and even though they aren't real people, she feels bad for them, that they were discarded so poorly after doing their jobs so well. This is a precursor to show how much she cares for everything, and later, what gives her the voice to speak out against the slave-trade going on (more on that later). Crows liter the place (chewing the exposed straw of the broken scarecrows), when she sees a small bird fly through, and the crows attack it. Picking up a stick, and flailing wildly, she grabs the small bird, and the crows turn on her. Still flailing, she slips on a rock, and tumbles into the river, and is swept down stream for a little while. When she gets out, the bird has a broken wing, and she places it on her shoulder. (This will later be her friend, although the bird isn't magical or anything. Just a bird). As she's down there, she notices how barren the landscape looks, and sees ruins of old houses and what not. She comments on how she doesn't hear any animals, and we later learn that there may not be anymore of her species of bird left in the area. Nothing but crows and bugs it seems. Scared, she runs back, and after a long while, finds her way back to the village (she has incredible climbing skills, something she's learned on all of her late-night runaways.) she tells the villagers what happened, and they are shocked. There were thousands of barbarians, and if they are no longer down there, they may be coming to the village, some even claim that they could be following Ophelia! Her father, the politician he was, suddenly has the first piece of motivation in years. Revenge. They ask her about sources of food, and it dawns on them that the barbarians weren't smart enough to farm correctly. Buildups of acidity in the soil had started to poison the land, and yield less and weaker crops. They realize that the barbarians could have essentially wiped themselves out, or at least drastically lowered the population due to infighting and malnutrition. They have a town meeting to discuss what to do, and are all shocked when they hear the fathers voice speak up. He manages to talk them into sending scouting parties to capture any of the remaining children, for the purpose of studying, he says, and they grudgingly agree, due to fear. The Doctor, Mrs. Watts, and a few other minor characters speak out against this as an injustice, and wrong, but the father uses scare tactics to reinforce the others. “What if they grow too hungry, and find out where we live? What if they come at us again?”. The town has agreed to send raiding parties down to the lowlands, but Ophelia is unaware. She had taken off the night before again, to camp in the mountains. When she finally comes back the next day, we are shown why she always seems to run away. The father crashes back into the house late at night, and drags Ophelia by the hair out of her bed, shouting about not having food and what not. It's implied that he's never actually beaten her before, but everything about her coming back and having been down near the barbarians has his anger flared up. He is yelling, and she is crying, and eventually, he says that he would have traded Ophelia to have her mother back, and when Ophelia knees him in the groin, he slaps her before falling down. She shoots out of a window, and is crying as she runs. Circling the house, she tiptoes back in to grab the bird, and her pack, she holds a finger up to the bird when it starts chirping, and it listens to her. The end of the middle of the book shows her running in the dark, soaked to the bones, but holding a large leaf over her bird. She holds in her hand a large fruit-like object. It's a food that glows in the dark, due to the electrical nature of the environment, but it can kill if eaten. She's running, and the father is sitting in a chair in the house, and laughing to himself. We now start to break away from the folklore and characters to show the descent of the father, and the rise of Ophelia's rebellion. While running, many hours later, Ophelia goes to make a jump, and slips on a loose rock, loose from all the rain, and tumbles over the edge. The bird manages to flap, and sort of hover over to the bank of where they fall, but Ophelia plunges in. She falls into something that looks sort of like a well, and although she doesn't see it, she is standing in the last remaining column of a giant carving of a king playing a pan-flute-like instrument. Ophelia thinks she can hear the echoey sound of the bird chirping at her, but she quickly sinks to the bottom of the pool. She opens her eyes, and thinks she is a goner, and her eyes falls on a statue of a huddled creature, reaching feebly towards a stone on the ground. For no real reason, she decides to help this poor wayward stone carving (as I mentioned earlier, she is known to help everything), she places the stone into it's hand, and suddenly is glows blue, and groans as it starts to move, and water starts pouring out of a cut in the bottom of the well. She's terrified at first, but eventually comes around, and tries to befriend the creature. It is a stone being, except for its eyes. Looking at them, they quiver between dark blues and black and greens, and every so often, you can see lightning dancing between them. This is an ancient golem-like tool the people who used to live in these mountains used (That is another point of folklore the villagers talk about, how they were descendants of an ancient race of brilliant, and peaceful rulers that ruled everything in the lowlands and the mountains, but nobody really believed it to be true. Running low on oxygen, and of course fear, Ophelia passes out. When she awakens, she is wrapped up in a blanket, and sitting by a fire. She is groggy, and strains to get up. “What a dream” she says, and then looks over and sees the statue sitting off to the side, and she gets ready to scream and run, but then she sees her bird hopping around his arms, and he touches the orb on his chest, and presses a finger to the bird. A hundred little lightning bolts jump out and start probing at the bird, and Ophelia screams “NO!”, she rolls out of her blankets, and runs over to the statue, frantically looking for the bird, but it's nowhere to be seen. She starts sobbing, and smacking the statue, although it is stinging her hands, and then she hears the birds chirping. She looks around, and then up, and realizes it's flying. The creature has its hands up defensively, and she drops her arms, and starts to cry a little (There is a small reminder of how her dad just recently beat her, and she feels guilty for using violence like that), and then she places her hand on his arm, and he flinches, but when he finally looks back, she is standing in front of him, with her hand thrust out, palm facing towards him. The statue slowly raises his hand in imitation of hers, and she runs forward and places her small hand onto his, his engulfing hers. She laughs, and remarks on how giant his hands are, how she's sorry she smacked him, thanks him for helping her bird, and then asks for his name. The whole time he is just sort of staring at her, and finally shrugs at the end. She realizes he cannot talk, and decides to give him a name: “Adiuvo” (To help in latin). Again, he shakes his head, and she pats him on the shoulder, and says “Adiuvo. That's you. I'm Ophelia”, as she's talking, the bird lands on her arm, “and this is pipsqueak, but everyone calls him pips.”. It is understood early on that the statue can understand speech, but cannot talk himself. (At a later point in the plot, he scrawls out the word “please” into the dirt where he is locked up, and it helps to sway a large bulk of the townsfolk into joining her cause.) This is about the middle point of the book, everything starts to pick up past this point. It ends with Ophelia telling him to follow her back to the town, and the three of them head back. Ophelia is small next to Adiuvo, and is skipping, Pips is swooping in small circles, enjoying being able to fly again, and Adiuvo is just walking, but his head is constantly scanning the scenery. It's supposed to make you wonder if he has the ability to enjoy nature, or if he is scanning for troubles/data related reasons. I want people to have to wonder if he turns out to have human-characteristics, or if he is just a machine. For awhile at least.

The second half of the book starts off with Mrs. Watts bear-hugging (she is a heftier woman) Ophelia, and a bunch of villagers crowding around them, in awe of Adiuvo. We are given a small bit of dialogue where Ophelia makes fun of Mrs. Watts for shrieking when she saw Adievo, and then Mrs. Watts responds with “Child, that poor... thing looked much more frightened than I was!” and they laugh. Ophelia tells the story of what all happened, and how the statue healed Pips, but they adults don't really fully believe that. The Doctor even says “I'm sure you saw what you saw, but Pips was close to recovery anyway. I'm sure it was just a coincidence.” They go past it, and accept Adiuvo into their town. All but the father, and his small group that captures the children down the mountain, that is. They don't trust it, and hate it, but they don't do anything about it (immediately, of course). Events rush a little in this chapter, as time progresses, and Ophelia watches worridly as the village starts to change. A good chunk of the earlier section of the second half of the book revolves around the village expanding, and more and more people coming to the village. Although only a small handful of people know it, the father has been capturing the women and children down the mountain, and selling them off to other villages. It is implied that humanity mostly exists in small pockets at this point, and there is no real “City” anymore, due to the barbarians sacking everything. (The world they live in is roughly an island. It is the tip of a peninsula, surrounded by mountains, and oceans beyond that. There are stories of a continent somewhere out there, but no one really believes it. There once was a landbridge connected the two, but it has long since been flooded (The large mountains surrounding the island are what kept it safe). A few years have passed, and Ophelia is in her teens, 17 or 18 about. The father has been selling the children and women to other villages (of which are in much worse shape than their own mountain village) The rising action of this second half is when Ophelia finds out about the trade, and freaks out. At this point, the people have come to see Adiuvo as one of them, and he uses his powers to help build buildings for them. When Ophelia confronts the father in front of the townsfolk, he admits to it all, and we hear a sort of outrage coming from half of the villagers. There is about 200ish people in the village, originally, of that, about 150 are agreeing that this must stop, but the large bulk of the people who have moved in since the village started expanding agree with the father, stating that only the strong shall survive. Arguments break out, and eventually a fight happens. The fathers people overwhelm the original villagers (No one dies, it wasn't a violent fight), and when they won't agree with him, he sends them out. Ophelia goes to join them, but the father and some of the men catch Adiuvo with large chains, and bind him to a large wooden pole in the middle of the town-square. The father thinks he can work out how to use Adiuvo as an instrument, and build their city back up, but this time, in the mountains, where no one can surprise them with an attack. Ophelia is going ballistic, screaming and crying, and words are thrown back and forth, but then everyone quiets down as Adiuvo starts to scrawl into the dirt with his large finger. “Please” he says, an Ophelia runs over to him, and the father snaps, and one of his men crack Ophelia with a cudgel, sending her to the ground in a heap. A fight breaks out again, but this time, The father has his men pull knives, and they start to actually kill. (only a handful of people die. Mrs. Watts gathers up Ophelia, and they all run away into the mountains.)

Eventually, they come across the old ruins of some ancient city, and they make it their base camp. Life is tough for awhile, as they have to forage and hunt in order to find food, but eventually, they start to make it cozier. However, it doesn't take long for Ophelia to finally break away, and run back to the village. Mrs. Watts, knowing this would happen, grabs a few villagers, and they run after her. She knew when it happened, because Ophelia wasn't found, but Pips was locked in his cage, and he was making tons of noise, trying to get out and go after her. When Ophelia gets to the village, she is stunned. The village has more than tripled, and the amount of people. Everywhere she looks, she can see people, and they are awful at that. Brothels and gambling dens are set up everywhere, and the city is dirty, and dangerous looking. Still, in the center, Adiuvo remains chains to the post, now floating in the air now, as if the figurehead on a ship. Pulling up her hood, Ophelia sneaks in, and after some close encounters, and Mrs. Watts showing up, cracking a large rock onto the head of a drunken man who was holding Ophelia down hungrily, they make it to the square, and group up in the alley of two buildings nearby. The doctor emerges from the 10 or so people, and lowers his hood. He says “It's time to go home, Ophelia.” and Ophelia says “I AM home, doctor.” Mrs. Watts finally convinces him “We cannot possibly leave without Adiuvo! He's one of us, and besides, Ophelai will just run right back here the next opportunity. Again, and again, and next time she may not be as lucky we showed up when we did. The doctor thinks it over, and finally sighs, and agrees. “but we need a plan” he says, and they start laying out the framework for what to do. They wait a few hours, and eventually break Adiuvo down. It takes him a minute to get his legs working again, but he does. They trying to sneak out of the village, now a city, and are near the ouskirts, when they look over and see it. There is a hole in the ground, and a dozen or more children lay inside, dead. Mrs. Watts starts to sob, but Ophelia can only stare, growing more and more angry. Suddenly, two men stand up from blankets thrown on the ground (they were in charge of filling the graves, but got too drunk to complete it that night) and sound the alarm. Two of the men in Ophelias group run out, and kill the men, but it's too late. The hustle and bustle of the city flares up, and they all break off and start to run. Although narrowly, they manage to escape, because Adiuvo uses his powers to send a small avalanche down, wiping out a few of the men, and closing off the gap they came in on. When they get back to the village, they know that as soon as the rubble is cleared, the city will be after them, so they have to strike fast. Adiuvo starts to make swords and spears for them, and the villagers start building up fortifications outside the ruins. We are told in this scene how much of a knack for military the doctor has, and they quickly start to set traps around the mountainous terrain. The fight places about 500-600 men over 150 villagers, but they know the land, they had the time to prepare a defense and traps, and they have Adiuvo. The final fight takes place, and both sides lose many men. The villagers lose probably 50 or so, while the city folk lose hundreds. “Rocks rolling from above, Adiuvo collapsing the ground underneath them, and spears being thrown and swords drawn take many. Because neither faction ever really had need of sword before this, they are clumsy, but the general idea exists. The fight rages, and then we are taken to the last chapter of the book. Sometime during the fight, a storm whips up (there are almost always storms throughout the book) It starts the same way it begins, with Ophelia walking out of the shadows, and her father laying on the edge of a cliff, his head propped up on rock, and his shirt looking wet in the dim moonlight. She walks up next to him, and without looking he says “It's remarkable, the sky that is. The moon, It seems so much larger up here in the mountains than it did when we lived down in the lowlands. And I've never thought about it, but there is something beautiful to lightning, isn't there? It's sad that I've never taken the time to look at it before.” Ophelia stands quivering with anger, and indecision, and slowly pulls a knife out of a sheath, its steel glimmering in the moonlight for a second. Before she can move, he says “Tell me, Ophelia. Tell me of your childhood. I was good to you, wasn't I?”. Ophelia is quiet for a few seconds, and the father coughs up a little blood, and starts to cry a little. “I was good to you, wasn't I!” he says this time, a little more frantic. Finally stopping the quivering, she walks near him, and says “the only thing I remember about my childhood were storms.”, and with that, she plunges the dagger into his chest. He reaches up to her face, and says “I'm sorry, Elizabeth (Ophelia's mother), and dies. Ophelia slaps away his hand, and falls to ground crying.

In the epilogue, it talks about how they are back in the village, and there is a new kind of peace to the world. The barbarian women and children are taken in by villages, and trade routes are set up between them. There is no more slave trade, and any villages that did were attacked by Adiuvo and Ophelias army.

If the book is well received, the ending will have ships landing on the shore of their island, (I say island, but we're looking at several days trips between the villages. Word comes to Ophelia of what happens, and she receives a note that says “Our town has been burned. They have landed.” and Ophelia throws the paper in the fire, and pulls a sword out from it's scabbard, and rings the alarm for everyone to meet in town square. The second book would be about them fighting, and how they have an Adiuvo as well, but he isn't as compassionate as Adiuvo. He is a tool, and more importantly, a weapon.