"In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away." -Shing Xiong *** "Do not go where the path may lead; instead where there is no path and leave a trail." -Ralph Waldo Emerson *** "Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget." -G. Randolf *** "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." -E.M. Forster *** "Imagnination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world." -Albert Einstein *** Defintion of Suburbia: A place where they cut down trees and name streets after them. -(Unknown, found on sticker) :p *** "A lie goes halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." -Winston Churchill***"Love is the irresistible desire to be desired irresistibly." -Louis Ginsberg ***"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." -Martin Buber

Sunday, February 27, 2011

*Redemption (a short story)

            When I woke, I immediately noticed how bright out it was. Usually I woke up in the misty gray hours of dawn, but the air was golden, and the leaves in the upper canopy shimmered in the light, the rain drops they held sparkling like diamonds. The forest was alive with sounds of busy animals rather than the sleepy quiet of daybreak. Through the thick canopy I could make out the position of the sun. I was aghast to see that it was nearly at the peak of the sky. I had slept in for much too long. I ran my fingers through my hair in frustration. I couldn’t afford to sleep in! I had finally started to get ahead of the recusant General Kyzen and his pertinacious tracking hounds, and I couldn’t lose my lead.
            No sooner had I realized my predicament when I heard the sound that made my stomach clench and my hands get clammy with the veriest fear. A chorus of bays and howls shook the woods, ringing in my ears. They could only be a few miles away. Birds chirped frantically and took flight. Oh, if only I could fly away to somewhere safe like them.

            My first instinct was to run, but I stopped and forced myself to sunder between instinct and sensible thought. I had to lead them off before I began my escape.
I ran for the creek that I knew was nearby. I had been staying close to it so I would always have an immediate supply of water and fish. I raced down the muddy banks, slipping and sliding and making it painfully obvious that I had been here. When I looked back, I saw how completely I had ruined the smooth, sticky mud with my footprints, and smiled appreciatively at my work. Then, I waded into the water and started upstream.
            After several long, painstaking minutes, each one spent waiting for a dog to leap at me and wrap its teeth around my neck, I found a large willow tree that leaned over the water, its branches dipping into the rushing stream.  I pulled myself up into the safety of its boughs, retrieved my grappling hook from my pack, and cast it into the neighboring tree. I pulled it tight, swung over to the large oak, and hauled myself up onto the closest branch. I continued like this, making my way quickly through the woods in a way that only birds and squirrels were meant to do. The baying of the dog pack was my fuel, striking a fear in me that set my survival instincts on fire. The adrenaline pulsed, and my mind was a blur, my body taking control.
            About a half hour later, the choir of bloodthirsty tracking dogs was growing harder and harder to hear. I could imagine them stumbling around in the water, maybe even sniffing at the willow tree, but unable to find a trail after that. I could see the frustration on the soldiers’ faces as they realized they had lost me yet again, and would have to return home without me and without my father’s book.
            I stopped in the next tree to catch my breath. My biceps were sore from pulling my body weight up onto the branches, and my hands were raw from the rope. My pack felt heavy, and I knew that it was due mostly to my father’s book. All of his lifetime work was enclosed in its pages, and although the soldiers wanted me, I knew they wanted the book more. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the trunk in inanition. I wouldn’t let them have it.
            It was then that I smelled it, the odor brought on by a breeze. The briny aroma of salt water. I shimmied down the tree trunk and dropped onto the soft loam of the forest. It felt good on my bare feet, which were scratched from rough tree bark. I jogged forward toward the source of the breeze. The trees began to thin out, and I could hear seagulls crying and crashing waves. I burst from the tree line and barely avoided falling over a huge cliff into the dark sea water below.
            I knelt at the edge, small rocks crumbling and falling over from my weight. The height of the cliff face was dizzying, and I quickly pulled back. My mind started whirring as I thought of ways that I could use this. There was a thorn bush nearby, perched on the cliff edge. I approached it, and taking my knife, sliced off a piece of my shirt, which I attached to one of the branches. Let them think I had reached my Ultima Thule and jumped into the icy fathoms below.
            I turned to backtrack into the woods when I saw it.
            The grassy cliff edge sloped down into a farm, with fields running alongside the thick woodlands. There, standing at the edge of one of the fields was an old barn. It was smoking, and I could see the flickering of orange flames through the windows. Bad luck for the farmer. I started to leave when a faint scream reached me.
            I froze, my blood turning to ice. At the same time, a fresh chorus of howls rose up to the sky behind me, closer than I had last heard them. They must have found something, a thread of scent on the wind.
            And I saw the choice before me, stretched out as clearly as a fork in the road, delicate as a thread of gossamer. My instincts told me to run, run, run, but my conscience was screaming at me, telling me that someone was dying. Someone needed help that I could offer. It was my life or theirs. I thought about my worth in this world. There was no one left to love me. Most people that knew me now wanted me dead. The person in that barn probably had a family, people who would miss them.
            I made a beeline for the barn.
            I dropped my pack outside and ran into the open door, and was immediately engulfed by acrid smoke that cut my lungs like a scimitar. I coughed and covered my mouth, and my eyes burned. I couldn’t see anything. The fire roared and crackled, hungrily destroying everything.
            “Help! Please, somebody, anybody!” The voice came again. It belonged to a young boy. It was coming from ahead, through the wall of smoke.
            I closed my eyes and pulled my concentration to my center, letting the world fall away around me. I let my mind go blank, and focused on the source inside me, the very source that had gotten me into this mess that I called life. I took hold of it, raw material in my hands, and pushed outward. There was a faint humming noise, and suddenly the smoke pushed back, deflected by the invisible shield I had formed around me. I moved forward, acutely aware of how quickly the barn was becoming a charnel.
            “I’m coming to help you!” I yelled over the roar of the fire. “Keep calling so I know where you are!”
            “Over here! I’m over here!” I ran toward the voice, finding the boy huddled in the corner of one of the horse stalls. I kicked down the door and bolted to him, gathering the ash-covered child in my arms just as the barn collapsed around us. The heavy weight of the barn ruins pushed against my shield, threatening to overwhelm it and smother us. Tapping into the source again, I pushed back. There was an explosion, and my world went black.

            I woke from my swoon in a bed, and my first lucid thought was the realization that my hands were tied to one of the posts. Someone had changed my clothes; I was wearing a white cotton dress. The knife I kept at my hip was gone.
            I was in a small square room. On the opposite wall was a bookshelf, and on the floor beside it was my pack. I tugged on my binds, desperate to get to it, but they were too tight. There was a window near the head of the bed; it was pad-locked shut.
            My mind reeled as I tried to think of anything that could free me from my surcingle. They had taken my knife. There weren’t any sharp objects within reach. But wait… my hair was still up in a bun… I saw an aperture for my escape.
            My tenth birthday present from Father! He had specially made me the hair pins. But they were more than just pins. There were tiny knives folded up inside them.
            “No one will ever suspect an innocent bauble such as a hair pin.” He had said slyly.
            My hands were tied by the wrists; my fingers were free. I pulled the pins loose and my raven black hair fell from its bun. I unfolded one of the knives. It was no wider than half a pinky nail. Gripping one end in my teeth, I twisted around so I was facing my hands and started to saw athwart my binds. The rope was thick and the positioning was awkward, and cutting through took what felt like forever. But when the rope fell to ribands and my hands were freed, the relief I felt was worth it.
            I leapt to my feet and retrieved my pack. Everything was intact, even my father’s book, which was incredibly surprising. I had expected them to take it and then kill me, but here I was, alive, and there the book was, still mine. I re-strapped my knife to my hip, and then turned to the window. Using the thin end of one of my pins, I started picking the lock.
            Just as the lock clicked open, the door to the room swung wide. I dropped my pin and ripped my knife from its sheath, turning to face my captor.
            The last thing I expected was to see the King standing before me.
            He took in the sliced binds, the unlocked window, and me with my knife, and burst into a fit of laughter.
            “I told General Kyzen not to underestimate you.” His face wore a warm, admiring smile.
            “What are you going to do to me?” I spat, lowering myself into a defensive stance.
            “Nothing bad.” He said. “Ivy, do you know who that boy was you rescued?” He asked
            “No.” I answered coldly. I glared at him, letting him know I wasn’t afraid.
            “He is my son,” he replied. My heart leapt. “You saved my son at the cost of your own life,” he continued. “I am excusing you from your convictions for your heroic deed. I’d like to invite you to stay at the castle with my family and me.” I blinked, and slowly let myself relax.
            The enormity of this offer pressed down on me. But there was no way I’d ever be happy living within a castle. I was meant to be outside, living a humble life. It was how I’d been raised.
            “No thank you. Give your son my regards.” I turned and opened the window.
            “Ivy, there is a condition.” He said quickly. I stopped and turned back to him. “My son, well, I have… suspicions of him being like you.” He said slowly, as though he had never said these words before.
            “Like me?” I asked, not sure what he meant.
            “Yes. I think he has the ability to use magic, such as yourself. I want you to teach him how to control it so he can hide his abilities from the world. I don’t want him taken away from me for something he can’t help.” The King regarded me with sad sapphire eyes.
            “Maybe you should consider other people’s lives that have been affected. Your son isn’t the only one.” I said, irked at his selfishness.
            “It isn’t my law. It’s a martial law; one created by the General. I would change it if I could. Please, help George. If you don’t want to stay here for you, stay for him.”
            I remembered finding the young, innocent Prince curled in the corner of the stall, the tears that poured down his terrified face as he faced death. I thought about my own life, how I had lost everything over something that was genetic, something I couldn’t help. How could I wish that upon a boy who was no more than nine years old? My shoulders slumped in defeat.
            “I will stay. I’m still learning myself, but I’ll teach him what I can.”
            That is how I went from a wanted fugitive to the Prince’s mentor. The one good deed I had done opened up a whole new door in my life that I had never planned on. George’s predicament opened up a whole new door to the world, one that would begin an epoch that accepted magic into society. Magic, the very thing that had gotten me into trouble, was my savior. Somewhere, I knew my father was smiling.