Hello! I hope 2017 is off to a great start for everyone. I have a few things coming down the pipe on here, so I thought I’d post a short update.
First, I wanted to highlight two additional narrations for Devil in the Details. The first is a Youtube narration by Khostic, which you can listen to here! The second was part of a podcast by The Mad Catter (got to say, I love the name!), and you can catch it in episode 105 on SoundCloud here.
Going forward, I’m going to create a page that lists narrations just to keep them organized. It also allows me to more easily link between stories and narrations, so you can find audio when you want it. Again, I am so grateful for those who have taken the time to record things I wrote! It’s really been a great experience. If anyone is interested in narrating any of the pieces I have on here, just send me a note on the contact form and give me the info when it’s posted so I can give you the credit!
So, for this year, I have some things I’d like to accomplish. First, I plan on starting up a short series on writing tips covering various topics that I find come up when I’m doing beta-reading. I’m, of course, no expert, but I have a few years experience writing and getting solid feedback, so I’d like to pass along that information. And hopefully generate discussion with some of you as to what you agree and disagree with me on. I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned and learning from you as well! If you have topics you’d be interested in, leave me a comment or let me know, and I’ll see what I can put together.
Additionally, I want to continue with Milgram. I’m really enjoying that story arc so far, and I hope I can smooth out some of the issues to finish it strong. Right now, I’m considering it a much longer piece, moving out of short story realm and towards novella. But we’ll see what twists and turns my writing process takes.
I’ve also enjoyed doing some longer pieces, even longer than my admittedly wordy short stories. I’m trying to figure out a good balance. Because I really still enjoy the shorter, one-off stories as well. I also enjoyed the 13 Stories of Halloween, so I might try to work in more shorter, consistent writing events like that. They are a bit stressful, but I also really enjoy the end product.
Well, all that to say Happy New Year! Thank for reading, and I hope I can continue to entertain you throughout 2017!
I thought about writing a horror short story today, but I looked at the news and decided that was horror enough. And then I thought about ranting into the void about the election, but I know the void is noisy today with all kinds of opinions.
And so, instead, I think I’ll write a bit of fantasy. The fantasy genre is probably my first love, full of all that puppy dog infatuation and idealization. I don’t think I have the stomach to write a grand fantasy epic, but I do think those are some of the stories I am most intrigued by. Specifically, the idea of dragons and dragon riders has always been a favorite theme of mine. So, today, when I need to write something for me, that’s where I go.
Disclaimer: While this dos deal with “election,” there is no hidden meaning behind these. It is not some sort of metaphor or anything. It is literally a story about dragons and people and how that happens.
I carried my pack into the Hatchery Barracks, feeling a swell of anxiety and excitement. They blended so purely that it was hard to distinguish where one began and the other ended. Perhaps, I thought, they were the same thing. Anticipation of the future, one anticipating future good and the other future ill. But the same.
My thoughts spun in a flurry of ideas, each one blending into another, leading me down paths with no destination or reason. And then I was standing before my bunk, the one carrying a tag with my name scrawled on it, and set my pack down. Suddenly my thoughts were silent.
And suddenly the room was loud, full of people shuffling in and finding their position. Each full of hope and terror. We were all so much the same.
I was tired that first night; I was tired most nights in the Barracks, which I suppose meant training was proceeding as intended. Each day was full of drills, combat training, conditioning, and tactical education. I cannot separate one day from another, as they were all renditions of the same symphony. But I know I was tired.
I was especially tired that first night after carrying the burden of anxiety for so long, crawling into my bed and pulling the thin sheets over my shoulders while others chatted and whispered in the dark. Their whispers diminished over the days, as the fatigue caught up with each of us.
That night, I dreamed of home. It had been two weeks since I left there, and I would not return until next spring. The house was as I remembered it, standing proud on its stone foundation, new thatch on the roof. Smoke puffed from the chimney and I imagined I could smell my mother’s cooking even from the path outside.
Inside, my mother and father sat around the table while my brothers sat in front of the hearth, building with the blocks father had carved from them two winters ago. Words and hugs were exchanged. I remember laughter from the dream, as well as a feeling of intense contentment.
And then those feelings faded back into reality with the sound of the alarm, signaling another day of training. Even now, only the barest images and sensations from that dream exist, even though I have held them tightly all this time. They are worn like an old notice hung in the town square. I can still at least make out the details to know what it once said, even if the words have vanished.
The anxiety dwindled over the next two weeks. The alarm woke me each day, and each night I fell asleep lying next to the slumbering eggs, waiting for them to awake.
It was day nine of fourteen when I felt the connection. Exhausted as I was, my sleep was often deep and dreamless. But that night was different. That night my dream was of light half glimpsed through some semi-transparent barrier. I could watch firelight rise and fall around me, a soft dance along the walls. I felt the steady flutter of my heart, felt the soft brush of my breath over scaly skin. Sounds floated through the sounds of someone sleeping, muted footsteps on patrol. Somewhere, I heard quiet weeping. That night, I slept in the shell with the one I would later bond with.
I felt refreshed the next morning, filled with a unique energy and vitality. The day quickly sapped that, but I managed enough energy to inspect the eggs that night. I walked past each bay, glancing briefly in to see the cream, oval eggs resting in their nests. And then I walked up to number 43.
If you’ve never experienced The Connection, I’m not sure how to explain it. If you’ve ever held an instrument as it reverberates and felt that energy meld with your hand and pass through your body as well as the air, that’s like it. It’s like existing as a giant tuning fork for the entire world, so that, for a moment, everything flows right through you. You feel joy and despair and anger and fear and everything at once. You are land and sea and sky, plant, animal, and human. And then it’s over, The Connection dwindling until there is just a thin trickle of that massive river surging through you. And if you follow that trickle, it leads right back to your bonded.
The anxiety that had plagued me for weeks disappeared in that moment. Not everyone is bonded—in fact, most people leave to fulfill their duty in the infantry rather than join the Bonded Ranks. I had always hoped that I would be chosen, that I would receive the glory and esteem that came from such a role. But I never dared to believe it would happen. Until I stood in front of egg 43 and felt my breath flow in through my nose and out through theirs.
I reported The Connection right away. Sir Conaway raised an eyebrow at the number. “Ol’ 43, eh? That one’s been here a while. Waiting on you, I guess.” He pulled out a large book and scribbled the event on the last page. “All right then, miss, we’ve got it and you will be at the hatching at the end of the training.”
By the end, fourteen of the ninety-two who had begun the training remained for the hatching. We stood in formation, awaiting our next orders. The tension was palpable. We were all steps away from what would be the most significant event of our short lives so far. Sir Conaway stood before us, chewing on the end of his pipe as he read over the event log again and again. After what seemed like ages, he pulled the pipe from his mouth and spoke.
“Larena Dougan and Tallesor de’Trie, please come with me.”
Chills chased through my body as I heard my name, but faded as we walked past the bays and toward Sir Conaway’s meeting room. This was not protocol, growled the knot of anxiety roiling in my gut. I walked into the room, shaking as Sir Conaway closed the door behind me. He walked to the other side of the table, dropping the log book in between the three of us.
“Alright you two, somebody’s not telling me the truth.” He ran a large hand over his forehead, massaging at his temples. “I had hoped the fraud would chicken out before tonight, but one of you is foolish enough to push on ahead.”
Tallesor jumped to alarm. “What do you mean, sir? I’m here for the hatching.” He was sweating heavily, perhaps because of the fire roaring in the grate beside him. But his eyes seemed too wide, too jumpy. I had trained alongside him for two weeks, long enough to know that things rarely broke through his veneer of arrogant surety. I was not sure what to do with this uncertain, nervous comrade.
“Of course you’re hear for the hatching,” exclaimed Sir Conaway with exasperation. “We wouldn’t have a problem if both of you weren’t here for the hatching!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice tiny in the large room, “but I don’t know what’s going on?”
Sir Conaway sighed and stroked his beard once, weighing his words. “You’ve both claimed egg 43. Which means one of you is lying and trying to sneak into the Bonded Ranks. And there are serious punishments for such deception.”
His eyes moved evenly over the two of us, measuring and looking for any weakness. We both dripped with anxiety and fear, and I suddenly felt myself doubting everything I had experienced up until that point.
“Could we—has there ever been two bonded to one egg before?” I squeaked out.
“Never,” came the solid reply. He continued studying us both. The only sound was the snapping of the logs in the grate. Finally, he spoke wearily. “You both know what happens if you try to bond to a dragon you’ve not connected with, right?”
My head shook, and fro the corner of my eye I saw Tallesor do the same.
Sir Conaway sniffed. “Of course not. You wouldn’t try something this stupid if you did. The dragon will hatch bonded t its true connection. It’ll reject the impostor. Aggressively.”
The anxiety that had been my constant companion now swelled into a monster of its own, turning the room into a chokingly small dungeon. Tallesor appeared to feel the same surge of anxiety, but I watched as it slowly faded from his features. He was watching me, a half smile now on his lips.
“So, before I turn one of you over to the beast, can you both confirm your Connection to 43?”
Tallesor was ready with his answer. “Of course. I would never be deceitful with such vita information. I just can’t believe she,” he looked over to me with a sneer, “would stoop so low to claw her way into prestige.”
Maybe I was wrong, I thought. Perhaps all of these experiences were just me wishing it could be different, creating something that was not there. But I could reach out, follow that thin trickle of the world still running through me, and feel someone at the other end. 43.
“I can confirm.” The words were out of my mouth before I had even processed what was happening. I was sure Tallesor turned a few shades paler after I spoke, but perhaps it was simply the lighting.
Sir Conaway lifted the book from the table, stepping around to the door and dragging it open. “Then let’s get this over with.”
Upon returning to the others, doing my best to dodge their accusing, questioning stares, the bay doors were opened. Slowly, with reverent grace and patience, each of us stepped forward toward our identified bay and the waiting egg. The rest of the room disappeared around me, replaced by the simple wooden walls and straw floor of the egg bay. Egg 43 sat in front of me, the same shade of pearly white that I had watched for so long.
“Leave and I’ll pay you heartily, make sure the punishment is waived,” hissed Tallesor once we were in semi-privacy.
“What?” I asked, too loudly. He quickly raised a finger to his lips, shushing me.
“I need this more than you. I’ll be the first in seven generations not to be in the Bonded Ranks. If you leave, I’ll ensure you are well cared for.”
“I’m not going,” I said, surprising myself with my unusual confidence. Now I knew who the impostor was, the anxiety turned into pure excitement. “And I hope you’re not stupid enough or stubborn enough to go forward after the warnings.”
He smiled a dark, angry grin. “I’m sure the dragon will recognize greatness when it sees it. Lt’s just hope you manage to survive this.”
Sir Conaway’s voice echoed behind us. “Place your hand on the shell of the egg. I will come through and pour the Hatching Serum onto each egg in turn.”
I placed my hand on the egg as Tallesor did the same. It was softer than I thought, feeling less like an egg shell and more like skin. It seemed to give slightly as I put pressure on it, almost as if returning the touch. A slow, steady heartbeat pulsed through my hand and into my body, providing an echo to the one that had flowed through me since The Connection. I would not be abandoned, it assured.
There were sounds of cracking shells all around us. Of course, the view was entirely blocked, but I heard shots of joy, followed by soft rumbles and yips. Through it all, Sir Conaway’s voice giving polite, practiced congratulations.
He stood in the doorway to our bay for the span of a few breaths, studying us both. There was resignation in his voice when he finally spoke. “So you’re both going through with this?”
“Yes,” was Tallesor’s confident reply. I nodded my head weakly, and I could tell by the pity in his eyes Sir Conaway thought I was the liar.
He lifted a bowl over our hands, spilling out a thick, warm, honey colored liquid. The substance oozed over our hands, then trickled down along the shell. After a moment, there was the sound of cracking as the egg moved for the first time. It rocked strongly, and I feared I would be thrown against the back wall. But the liquid held my hand to the surface with surprising strength, almost as if my hand and the shell had somehow merge in that moment.
Then there was a louder crack. Like a lightning bolt, one large, green eye found me. It was like a jewel, colors folding on top of colors to form a deep, ageless pit of emerald. The trickle of connection I had felt surged into a river again, but this time it was not the whole world. This time it was just myself and—
“Khandar,” answered the dragon’s voice in my mind. It flowed through me, the name sounding like thunder and tasting of smoke. There was a moment that the world was doubled and I saw from four eyes, felt two hearts. I felt my muscles strain against the shell before finally bursting free.
And then he was standing before me, our eyes locked the world having resolved to one perspective again as the river steadied its flow. The Connection was there, but it was restrained. Manageable.
I looked at Khandar, studying the long line of his neck, the strong limbs of his body, the thick wings folded. In an instant, he stretched those wings, the tips reaching from one corner of the room to the other. He was the same early white as the egg shell—I knew that, somewhere in the recesses of knowledge. All dragons are born without color. His would develop as we trained together over the next few months, reflecting our role within the Ranks.
I was dimly aware of Sir Conaway still standing, slightly shocked, in the doorway. I was also aware of Tallesorlyaing in a heap on the far wall, his hand still stuck to a fragment of the shell. Rage flowed through me, not from myself, but from Khandar. I watched as he turned, steam billowing from his nostrils. I could feel the power flowing through both of us as he reached out one clawed leg and struck at the stunned impostor.
Sir Conaway looked concerned, but stood immobile. “Such is the way,” he whispered to himself as he watched.
There was blood on the ground, blood in the straw, anger in the air. And I could see Tallesor’s shocked face, now sporting a bright red gash across his cheek.
There was fire building in my belly, and I could hear strong words, ancient words passing through my mind. I was at once witness and actor. “Thus to usurpers,” whispered Khandar’s voice. This was the way it had been determined, I ould feel it in my bones. Those who attempted to deceive or disrupt the ancient ritual were dealt with harshly. Still, I felt sorrow and guilt rise up.
“No.” The word brought the world crashing back down around me. Khandar eyed me, his mind probing my own and uncovering every detail he sought. We were not of two minds any longer, but one shared.
“No,” his voice repeated in my mind. The fire dulled as he took the few steps to my side. Tallesor sat with blood dripping down his chin, eyes wide.
Sir Conaway watched the scene curiously, finally waving over his shoulder to alert the waiting guards. They shuffled in and grabbed Tallesor under the arms, dragging him from the room.
“He got off far better than most others who have tried that,” he said with a hint of disappointment and respect.
“What will happen now?”
“The doctor will patch him up, he will be disbarred from all military and public service, and as such he will be fined a portion of his income each year to atone for his negligence.” He looked at both of us. “You let him off too easy, I’d say.”
I felt a nudge of agreement from Khandar, but it was good-natured. We had a difference in temperament, I could see, but certainly that could be a strength. Right.
Khandar leaned against me, so I could feel the puffing of his chest with each breath, the thunder of his heart as it pounded in time to my own. Connected. Bonded. The next few months and years would be full of training, of honing our bond and our work. But we had conquered time and space to unite together.
Excitement bubbling in our mind, we stepped out of the bay and into the Bonded Ranks.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Hello! I’ve been dealing with some winter blues recently, not really writing too much. But I’ve been getting back into it. This is not the first compete piece I’ve written, but it is one I’d like to post. I’m hoping to submit the other to some sites, so you’re likely to see it soon. I also just started a sci-fi story that I would like to work on, but it is likely to be much longer than what I usually post, so I wanted to get a bit farther in to get a sense of where it is going, then I’ll decide about posting.
Is this piece great? Certainly not. It has a lot of problems. But sometimes the solution to a writing slump is to just write something and put it out there. So that’s what I’m doing. i will probably come back and make some revision later, but this is a pretty straightforward story with a minor twist to the expected plot. As always, thoughts and comments about how to improve are greatly appreciated!
Jack enjoyed hiking. It was a good excuse to get away from everything and everyone. He knew the trails well enough to get well away from civilization on a Sunday morning, only to begrudgingly trek back Sunday afternoon. This Sunday was no different. The sun was up early, a thin fog still lingering from rains the night before, and Jack was on the trail with his backpack. It was his life line. A trail map, ample supply of water, snacks and food that would keep if he got stuck in any too tight spots. Rope, first aid kit sun screen, mosquito repellant, fresh socks, and an emergency radio if things got dire. He had never used the radio and certainly hoped today would not be the day.
The forecast promised very warm weather today, one of the first official days of summer. For Jack that meant abnormally large crowds in the National Park, including irritable teenagers being forced on a family vacation, well-meaning adventurers just starting out for the season, and way more people than he cared to deal with. So he started early, on one of the more challenging trails. His route would take him long, require a brief bit of trekking through the woods on unmarked paths, and then back down and around an old ranger’s station that had not been used for the last four summers, at least. Jack knew because he had hiked this very trail many times before. It was an old favorite.
The din of vacationers was muted in the early morning hours, and soon even it faded from his ears. He passed a couple of other hikers—wearing absurdly large sun hats and straining on ornately carved walking sticks for sale in the park gift shop—early on, but they were already too out of breath to do much more than offer a friendly wave. Jack pressed on.
It was late in the morning when he finally reached the end of the first leg and prepared to set out across the forested landscape to meet up with the second trail. Such creativity was discouraged, but Jack did not particularly care. He knew there would be more than enough visitors to keep the park staff busy, and a respectful, skilled hiker was the least of their concerns.
This far in the only real sounds were the crunch of last year’s leaves under his feet, the trill of songbirds, and the rustle of the wind through the trees. He felt his stress melting away the further in he went, falling off him like scales of mud. This part of the hike always felt the easiest. He could shed all the burdens he had been carrying and march confidently between the trees. Once he started on the second path, there was the undeniable realization that he was hiking back to the real world. He always dutifully picked up his abandoned stresses, reattaching them to his weary body.
It was around noon when he found the bench. Jack knew this trail well, and he knew there was no bench. It also was out of place that it was not on any park recognized trail. He stopped in front of it, staring blankly at this unusual intruder. It rankled him, this sign of humanity out here among nothingness. Approaching it, he scanned it for any plaque or notice explaining why it was here, squeezed between two old oak trees. There was just enough room to sit down, but not much else. It also did not appear to lok at anything in particular, but was positioned staring out across the woods Jack was soon to traverse.
After allowing his irritation to subside, he reasoned it was a good enough place to sit and eat his lunch. Someone probably died and donated money to the park, but asked that the bench be placed here for some reason. Maybe it used to be a trail—his map showed the park as it was five years ago, so maybe something had overgrown here. Or maybe whoever donated the money had really pissed off someone on the board, who agreed to put in the commemorative bench but made sure to place it where no one would see. That possibility made Jack smile as he sat down and opened up his lunch.
He was only halfway through his apple when the sound of someone else crunching through the leaves made him turn to look. A man in a dusty, sweat-caked business suit was dragging his feet through the underbrush, face downcast. He offered a weak smile as he drew closer, then sat on the opposite end of the bench. Jack made a point to ignore him, turning his face to the side and continuing with his lunch.
“Bit out of the way, aren’t we?”
Jack ignored the man, taking a loud bite of his apple and shifting further down the bench. He had come all this way to be alone, not engage in idle chitchat with some stranger.
“So you’re not much of a talker, eh? I can understand that. I never was much of one myself.”
Jack quickly looked at the man, gave a curt nod and joyless smile. Perhaps that small sign would make it clear.
“Well, I mean, I guess it’s rude of me to assume. Can you even talk?”
Jack sighed. “Can I just eat my lunch in peace?”
The man laughed broadly, the sound seeming to carry for miles in the relative quiet. “I assure you, I am a peaceful man. You can have as peaceful a lunch as you want.”
“Thank you.” Jack finished munching through the core of his apple, leaving nothing but the stem. A good traveler left no sign behind.
“I always liked coming up here. A good chance to get away, you know?”
Jack sighed, but didn’t respond. He pulled out a slightly squashed sandwich and took a long swig of his water.
“I’m guessing that’s why you’re here, too. Just a chance to get away.” No matter the amount of silence it only seemed to encourage the stranger. “I came up here all the time. Never wanted to leave, wished I could just sit here forever. That’s how I got this here bench. But it’s not quite as enjoyable as you might think. Your butt gets awfully sore sitting on this hard wood day in and day out. Had to get up and stretch a bit, you know?” He laughed, though this time there was a sad, cynical quality to it.
Jack half listened to the man’s babbling, more focused on finishing his meal and getting on with his trip. If he hadn’t been hungry, he would have moved on already. That and he still hoped the man would somehow get the picture and take his rambling elsewhere.
“So, what do you want, son? What brings you up here.”
“I don’t want anything,” he said with a resigned sigh. “I just want to be left alone.”
“Ah, see, you do want something. What do you mean, to be left alone?”
Jack stopped chewing, barely catching himself before his mouth hung open in awe. How could anyone be so thick, he found himself wondering. “Listen, I come up here to get away. Form work, from noise, but most importantly from people. So I don’t really want to talk to anyone up here.”
“Oh, so that’s what you want? To be alone?”
“Yes, finally, yes. I want to be left alone. No people. This is my chance to get away from everyone, and that means you.” Jack felt a slight smile spread over his face.
The man beamed from his seat. “Well, why didn’t you say so? And you are right, this certainly is your chance! I’ll be on my way, and I guarantee you that you will get exactly what you want, Jack. You’ll be all alone, here on out.”
The man stood, gave a slight nod of his head to signify his departure, and walked back the way Jack had come. Jack reached down to uncap his water bottle and discovered the man had already disappeared from sight behind the leafy trees, the sound of his steps having faded back into birdsong. Finally alone, Jack felt at peace.
After finishing the sandwich and a handful of nuts, he rose to his feet. The rest of the trek would be hopefully uneventful, he thought as he shouldered his pack. He made off along the path he knew by heart, enjoying the feeling of the dappled sun on his skin. Here there were no deadlines or micromanagers looming over his shoulders. It was just him and the birds, but that was just fine by him.
When he found the next trail, he felt that heavy weight settle back on his shoulders. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was heavy in the sky. Despite his comfort on the trails, even he did not want to risk trying to navigate it by moonlight and flashlight. So that meant the inevitable trek back to the noise. Back to his car sitting in the parking lot. Back to his too small apartment. And, eventually, back to an uncomfortable office chair in the middle of a cubicle farm. He sighed as it all came crashing back down, but pressed own with a dour expression etched into his face.
He expected to run into exhausted families dragging along pouting children as he neared, but it was surprisingly quiet. Even as he passed by the river, he could not hear the usual ruckus of people playing in the water, squealing as they slipped in and discovered just how cold a natural water source could be. Even once back in the parking lot, there were no groups of hikers, kayakers, or weekend warriors loading up their sunburned bodies into cars with a look of pleased exhaustion etched on their faces. The parking lot was full, but silent.
Jack couldn’t help but feel as if he may have missed some major emergency. There were alert towers spread throughout the park, but he had heard no warning sirens of any sort. Falling into his car, he turned on the radio and searched for a news report, but the signal appeared to be out. Static on all the stations.
He sighed. Just his luck that the radio would go out. It was not that he used it often, but it was, at least, supposed to function in a car. What would he do if Dave needed a ride? Usually, he turned the radio up and appeared to listen intently, even to the commercials. Visons of idle chatter and small talk filled his mind as he moved the car into reverse, and then drove out of the park.
The ranger was not at the gate with his usual cheerful wave goodbye. Perhaps some tragedy had occurred in the park. A kid got lost of something. Maybe everyone was searching for little Tommy or Julie. Jack spared a thought, hoping they would be found, but did not let that slow his drive out of the park.
The rad was empty. No headlights flared into view along the winding road. He lived close to the park, but was still used to passing a good number of people. It was nice though, he thought. The lights usually hurt his eyes.
The smokers were not in front of his apartment tonight, nor were the college kids out at the grills like they had been the past two weekends. He didn’t even hear the baby in 3E crying for what had to be the first time in weeks. Jack had ben seriously beginning to wonder how the child even ate with the crying going on day in and day out. He stomped into his apartment, dropped his pack, and made his way to the bathroom for a nice, hot shower. It did little to wash away the tension that had built up as he thought about work the next day, but he at least smelled cleaner.
With a towel wrapped around his waist, he made a quick dinner and settled in on the couch. Jack ran through his calendar for the next day, noting the meetings and project deadlines. He was fairly certain he had finished everything on Friday that was due, but there always lingered the fear that something would come up and surprise him, Or, worse and far more common, he would get in tomorrow to realize one of his coworkers had not completed their portion, meaning his entire day would be spent making up for their failure. He shook his head and tried to put the thoughts out of his mind, leaning back against the couch.
In the surprising quiet of his apartment, he soon fell asleep.
The world was just as quiet as he woke, got dressed, and trudged out the door to work. Just as quiet as he drove in on deserted streets. Just as quiet as he approached the empty office building and walked the stairs, staring into each floor in turn. It was quiet as he headed home with a broad grin on his face, quiet as he jogged up the stairs to his apartment, and quiet as he grabbed his pack to head back to the woods.
Jack needed no more evidence to realize his wish had come true. He was alone. And while movies and television had always told him he would regret what he had wished for, Jack felt nothing but absolute joy.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Hey, here;s a little something I whipped up tonight. The first line was pretty much the information, a quote adapted from something one of my supervisor’s said during training. Just a idea, bit of a thought experiment with some mild twists thrown in. As always, feedback heartily welcomed. I hope you enjoy, and happy reading!
Hope is the knowledge that the next moment can be better. It is about potential and the inexorable march of time. I used to think my next moment could be better, but eternity has dissuaded me from that foolishness. I live without hope.
At least, I think I live. I have been trying to remember those qualities I learned in grade school to determine if something was alive. Living things move, but I have not twitched an inch in so long, I know longer know which direction my libs would customarily travel. Living things reproduce and grow, neither of which I have done any of recently. I know that energy is a part of being alive, and I suppose I have enough energy for thought. Then again, so would a computer, and it certainly is not alive. Unless the world has changed more than I realize.
I remember my teacher—Mrs. Hasemblat—writing the signs of life on the board. She started with simple things, like dogs and rocks, and then got more and more tricky. Were trees alive? What about fungi? Bacteria? Viruses?
Living things had to be organized, and I suppose I am still organized. I know that I have two arms, two legs, ten fingers and ten toes. My lips are dry and cracked, a constant source of dull irritation. I assume my eyes sits right where they always have, crushed too deeply into my face and set just too far apart to make me conventionally attractive. Knowing no one can see you makes you surprisingly honest about physical appearance.
The one that seems to fit me best, however, is that complicated process of homeostasis. Mrs. Hasemblat talked about air conditioning and hunger to help us understand. She brought in a set of scales and showed us how things can be balanced. I am perfectly balanced. Never one bit out of sync, always exactly as I should be.
And perhaps that is it. I finally hit the perfect human balance point, and now my body refuses to disrupt that delicate homeostasis. I’d love to say I’ve spent days, weeks, or years here in limbo, but without another moment to come along, that time really has no meaning. It’s hard to describe how something can feel so long when time has absolutely no reign in some strange purgatory.
I’d wonder if others noticed that I was gone—or I used to before that thought experiment became too boring. I ran through every permutation, and none of them were promising. More importantly, none of them broke this curse. I assume they did not, because they are still sitting in front of me, their faces lit with smiles. Jason has a forkful of pasta halfway to his mouth, eyes bright with the first half of a joke. I never got to hear the end of that joke. I think I figured out what it would be, because I have had plenty of time to contemplate how “a man called the electrician about his washing machine,” can end. At least I can find solace in the fact that the joke was likely terrible.
Claudia’s hand is on mine. Her skin is still warm, a comfortable weight atop my fingers. She was mid-laugh when it all stopped. At least I can be close to her, even though I cannot see or hear her.
Yes, the lack of sound is concerning. Well, lack of sound is incorrect. There is sound, but it is just a single moment of sound, playing endlessly. A dull thrum of a single syllable from every mouth. It just becomes useless white noise, or at least it did after a while.
I wonder if I have died. Or if the world ended. Or if someone unplugged me and left me in some strange limbo, forever caught between one page of my life and the next. Good things were going to happen, I am certain of it. Only those moments will never come. The next moment certainly would be better, but I am convinced now that it cannot. It cannot be better because it cannot be. I am forever in this single instant, a frozen memory forgotten by someone.
I wish I were dead, because nothingness would be better than the intolerableness of being and having no agency. I cannot move or speak or cry or sleep or read or die. And that must be the ultimate injustice. I cannot even choose to cease to be, to escape this hell of emptiness. I must continue on, a solitary sentry on this instant time forgot.
Jason’s eyes watch me, and I find myself sinking deeper into despair. That is the only thing I can change about my state. I can despair and mourn and bitterly embrace my cruel fate. And so I despair a bit more, and let myself think again that they all may be trapped with me. Perhaps Claudia is just as frozen at my side, our child half-knit in her belly and destined to never be born. Is Jason frozen, the words of his stupid joke forever pasted to his lips? Has the whole world stopped on its violent course through the universe and held onto this microsecond of existence?
Perhaps the universe collapsed. Or maybe the Earth did stand still, sending us plummeting into a void where physics, time, and human consciousness have no meaning.
I have thought of a million and one possible scenarios, but none of them help to set me free. If hope is knowing the next moment can be better, than I of all people am certainly hopeless. I cannot even hope to die any longer.
Maggie dragged her arm under her bed, scraping up years’ worth of detritus from underneath. It was hard to imagine actually leaving the old house, but her burgeoning family certainly needed more room to grow. It was hard to say goodbye to such a good home.
She sat up and surveyed the assortment of trash, papers, and forgotten treasures. There were more candy wrappers than she wanted to admit, a handful of cat toys, two letters Alvin had written her, a framed picture from her senior prom, and a dog-eared old book. She sorted the trash from the keepsakes, and then turned her attention to the book. Donation or library, she pondered?
The cover was dusty, and she did not immediately remember the title. Her bookmark was still wedged halfway between the covers, so she guessed she must have dedicated some time to it. Still, flipping to the back cover offered no further illumination. Claudia, Jason, Cory, and Luanne were high school friends reconnecting when they were caught up in a supernatural thriller of sorts. It was definitely the kind of cheap, cliché, fast-paced book she liked to read, but it had been sorely neglected.
She flipped it open, sneezing as it gave up a hearty serving of dust for her efforts. She scanned the page where her bookmark sat, reading briefly about the dinner where they finally put aside the years of difference and began to reconnect. As she read it, she felt tingles of memory. It seemed like things were about to take a terrible turn—the lights would probably go out soon, she thought with a smirk.
“Jason leaned forward, his dinner halfway between table and snapping teeth. It was spared for the briefest of moments by a joke. ‘So, a man called the electrician about his washing machine…’ he began, looking around the table to be certain he had everyone’s attention.
Cory was rapt with attention, barely noticing Claudia’s manicured hand finding its resting place on his, giving him a light squeeze. They waited with bated breath for the rest of the joke. Jason had always been the class clown, ready with a quick wit and hilarious story. For once, the four felt young again. They felt alive. Invincible.”
Maggie shook her head and closed the book, tucking it under her arm. It certainly was not highbrow literature, nor was it likely to win any awards. But, she hated to leave a book unfinished. It seemed disrespectful to simply abandon the characters midway through, to not at least give them the benefit of finishing their story.
Besides, it could not be that bad of a story. Or, so she hoped.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Wow, so this is it. It has finally come to the end of the Card Challenge, and the last card has been storied. I will likely post a longer wrap-up post tomorrow, but it’s been quite a journey. I hope you enjoy this final story, a fitting end to the Challenge, I believe.
Card Day 84: A scarecrow holding a scepter amid a field of sunflowers.
Caroline had been scared of the scarecrow when she was younger. To be fair, the thing sagged and had seen the worst part of a few winters and springs. It lacked a face, but did have an old, beaten down cap stuffed on top of the stake, and its hands hung limply from the sides. Most of the stuffing had fallen out or been carried away by birds, so now all that remained was a mostly empty set of clothes hanging uncertainly from the stake and cross beam.
The fifth time Caroline woke from a nightmare centered on the benign farmyard staple, her mother had reached the end of her patience with the fixture. It was an important component of their garden, but the irrational fear had gotten beyond her ability to handle. Fortunately, Caroline’s mother was also quite brilliant. The next day, she and Caroline gathered together a pair of old, sagging overalls from the back of her father’s closet, as well as a flannel shirt a few sizes too small, a pair of work gloves from the shed, a burlap sack from the barn, and the old floppy sunhat that hung in the doorway but had never been worn.
Caroline disappeared under the pile of odds and ends, carrying them dutifully out to the scarecrow’s preferred haunt overlooking the corn field. Her mother held her hand firmly which was likely the only thing that kept her for bolting back to the house. The empty shadow beneath the hat leered at her, and she imagined she saw pinpoint red eyes glaring at her from that darkness. But once her mother pulled the hat away, she saw there was nothing beneath it. Looking at old clothes hanging on the frame was far less terrifying when it was clear no malevolent presence inhabited it.
The afternoon project went smoothly. Caroline helped her mother remove the old, thread bare clothes and place the new ones on it. The flannel shirt went on first, followed by the baggy overalls. Caroline’s mother brought fresh twine and bound the ankles and wrists so that the new straw stayed within the body. She then filled the burlap sack with the remaining straw, giving him a strange triangle-oval head.
“Now, you draw on his face. Make it nice.”
Caroline took the black sharpie, the strong scent tingling her nose. She made an exaggerated face, but carefully drew a wide smile on the bag just below a crooked nose. Her tiny fingers traced wide circles for eyes, filling them in with a round dot. Her mother inspected it, hmming to herself as she considered it, and then added two slashes of eyebrows.
“Perfect. Now he just needs a name.” She lifted the head onto the shoulders of the frame securing it tightly in the collar of the shirt. While Caroline eyed the new scarecrow carefully, her mother attached the gloves, giving them a friendly lilt, and then draped the sun hat over its smiling head.
“Harold,” proclaimed Caroline after a prolonged silence and intense stare into the face of her scarecrow.
“Harold?” her mother asked, her eyebrows knit together in consideration of the odd choice.
“Lucy at school has an uncle named Harold. She says he’s really fun.”
Her mother sighed and shook her head slightly, but there was a smile on her face. “Harold it is, then.”
And now, Caroline looked up at Harold with watery eyes. As she had every sunny day since she and her mother put him together, she settled in with her back against the stake, the empty legs of his overalls hanging down by her shoulders.
“Harold, today’s the day.” She dug the toe of her once-white tennis shoes into the dirt, kicking up a tiny mound in the soft soil. Good growing soil she knew now. Not that it would help her on the next stage of the journey. Harold, as always, remained silent.
“You know, I’m not sure where I’ll find a listener as good as you, Harold. You’ve never interrupted me or told me I was wrong,” she sniffed back a tear. “Then again, you never gave me any good advice either.”
The wind filtered through the corn, perhaps whispering its response. Caroline simply let her head drop back against the rough wood behind her. She could just see one of Harold’s eyes looking cheerily down at her. The shirt had once been bright red, standing proudly against the waves of green corn. But now sun and the elements had dulled it to a dark shade of pink. The overalls had held up better, but were covered with a fine mist of dirt. It had been a dry summer, after all. Still, there were tattered portions, a bit of the cuff was missing from his overalls, and it looked like his shirt had come part of the way untucked. Still, he was the dapper, cheery figure he had been since that fateful project.
“I still can’t believe they’re making me do this. I mean, no one even asked me. I’m eleven, Harold. I’m old enough to make my own decisions.”
She left the pause in the conversation for his imagined response, though his drawn on mouth never moved.
“I know, I know. They are just looking after me, tryna’ do the best thing for the family. Geez Harold, you’re beginning to sound like my mom.” She rolled her eyes at him in a way that would have gotten her sent to her room with her parents. The crows squawked from the trees, and Harold sat staunchly at his post. Caroline continued to dig a small hole with her toes, creating a tiny mound of rich dirt.
“You remember Jamie at school, right?” Harold’s hand swayed in the wind in response. “He said he’d write me. Do you think he will?”
She suddenly pushed away from the post, looking up at him with sudden concern in her eyes, “It’s not like I like him or anything like that. I just wonder if he’ll let me know. I mean, we did help Mrs. Morrison chose a class pet, and he said he’d tell me how Cheesy’s doing.” His empty eyes watched her. “Yeah, I think he will, too. He’s my good friend. And he was real nice to you, too.”
There was a long, heavy silence stretching between them, Finally, Caroline sighed. “You know, I asked them to take you with us, Harold. I really wanted to. But they said we wouldn’t have a garden at our new place. I tried my best.”
She waited in the silence, nodding while she sat in his shadow. “Yeah, I’ll miss you, too, Harold.” The breeze ruffled her hair, carrying the sound of a slamming trunk out to her.
“Caroline!” echoed her father’s voice over the now empty farm. The house was barren inside, the car laden with an entire life’s worth of stuff. Caroline closed her eyes, tears sliding down her cheek, and took a deep breath. “Time to go!”
The small girl stood tall, staring up into Harold’s waiting eyes. She felt a pang of guilt at his apparent lack of understanding; she hated that he might feel she had abandoned him. “Goodbye, Harold,” she whispered, her voice tiny. In a sudden motion, she threw her arms around his waist, hugging the empty clothes and letting the dusty denim catch the occasional tear.
Her parents were both waiting for her, watching her climb over the fence and wander across the open pasture. Her father checked his watch a couple of times, while her mother held a small bag.
“Say goodbye to Harold?” her mother asked once she was close enough to hear. Caroline’s only response was a sullen nod as she marched past them towards the back door of the car.
“Honey, wait. I have something for you.” Her mother held out the small blue paper bag, looking equal parts eager and scared. Her father looked frustrated and hurried, but squeezed a smile out.
Caroline sighed deeply and walked back towards her mother, grabbing at the bag and looking sharply into the bag. What she saw gave her pause.
“I know you really liked having Harold, especially after we put him together. And, while he couldn’t come with us, I thought I could—“
Caroline pulled the doll from the bag, recognizing the familiar worn overalls and faded flannel shirt. He even had little white gloves and a hastily drawn on face. That explained the missing patches of clothes.
“Little Harold?” asked Caroline, an edge of hope in her voice.
“Well, yeah. It’s all Harold, just in a portable form. I figured Big Harold could stay here and watch over the field, while Little Harold could keep an eye on you and update you about the farm.”
Caroline hugged the doll tightly. “You should have told me you were coming!” she whispered to the little figure. Had she been paying attention, and had she been older, she might have noticed the shared glances between her parents.
Stop babying her, said her father’s. She’s too old for this nonsense.
Moving is hard enough, returned her mother’s soft eyes. What harm could it do?
But Caroline only had eyes for her Little Harold as she clambered into the car, ready to open a new chapter in her life in a new place, but with old friends.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Card Day 82: A stone doorway that shows a blue sky and clouds.
There is really no logical method of responding a doorway that suddenly appears in your living room. If there is one, I certainly did not find it. There is no way of keeping cool and collected when you wake up one morning and find a large, ached, iron and wood door standing in between your coffee table and television. This thing was medieval, not even something I could have mistakenly purchased from my local hardware store and installed in some bizarre sleepwalking incident. No, it stood there firm, proud, and completely beyond anything I could make sense of.
I checked the internet, but it did not appear to be some strange phenomenon that I was previously unaware of. I called off of work and spent my morning staring at it. No amount of squinting or turning my head side to side made it any clearer, and I could not lift it or move it. The doorposts disappeared into the plush carpet of my home, and it felt sturdier than most of my house did.
Having never been very handy, my collection of tools was rather slim. There was a mismatched set of screwdrivers, a hammer, some odd nails from various ill-conceived home improvement projects, a set of wrenches my dad had proudly bought me when I bought the house, and a pry bar that had been left in my garage when I moved in. The pry bar seemed my best bet, but the door did not budge. Even when I grabbed the hammer and tried to drive the straight, pointed end of the bar into the doorframe, nothing happened. I did not even leave a mark on the stone frame. My results were similarly pitiful when I applied my tools to the door itself. I was at a loss.
So, having no reasonable recourse, I knocked on the door. My knuckles ached with the force, and I felt a splinter drive itself into my index finger. The door simply sat as it had all morning. To be honest, I am not sure what I expected to happen. If someone had opened the door and greeted me, I likely would have screamed and run out of my house immediately. Finally, I grabbed the handle—a large metal ring set into the front of the door—and tugged.
Given its visible thickness and weight, I prepared myself to struggle against it, but it swung open smoothly on well-oiled hinges. The ease sent me tumbling back against my couch, not that the sudden breeze from beyond did not help.
In the middle of my living room was suddenly a doorway into a cloudy sky. Wind whistled through the opening, disturbing the pile of bills and junk mail sitting by my front door. I expected a house or a meadow or something, but I was not expecting an empty expanse of sky and clouds. What do you do with an opening into the sky?
Having formally thrown reason, logic, and self-preservation to the wind, I leaned around the doorframe trying to find what I was looking at. As I peered through, all I saw was blue sky with the occasional break by a passing foggy cloud. Somewhere far, far below I saw the green shadow of earth sinning below, but up here there was nothing. The door hung suspended in the air, just as out of place as it was in my living room. At least that made me feel a bit better. Somewhere else had been a part of the mysterious door outbreak.
It did not, however, help to convince me I was not going insane.
I stepped around to the other wide of the door and looked through to the other side of my living room. At least this way I would still be able to see the TV if I did some minor rearranging. Stepping around to the front of the door, I was again met with a brilliant blue sky. Nothing in my meager life experiences prepared me for this. So, I called my girlfriend.
You might think that the thing to do would be to calmly explain the situation to her on the phone, explain how certain I was that something was wrong with me, and ask her to come to approve of my new illness. Then she could take me to the hospital. Maybe I should have done that, but instead I just asked her to come over. I had spent long enough staring and probing at the door that she assumed I was just home from work, and she agreed to swing over after she cleaned up from the gym. For my part, I closed the door and checked my house for gas leaks.
I was in the basement when she arrived and, unfortunately, our familiarity had bred a valued sense of comfort and ownership. By which I mean she did not wait for me to answer before charging into the house. I heard her calling for me, an edge of panic to her voice.
“What is that?” she asked, shocked. The front door was still open behind her. There was grass, trees, sidewalk, road, and cars behind her. Nothing like what was behind my newest door.
“Oh, good, you see it.”
“Of course I saw it. Did you think I was going to miss this giant home improvement problem? Did you get drunk or something?”
“I—No, I didn’t.” her eyes were stretched wide in amazement as she looked at me. I tried to smile, but she did not really seem to appreciate that. “I just woke up with it.”
“You woke up with a door?”
“I know, it’s crazy. I thought I was crazy.”
“So, is it like a practical joke or something?” her shock melted into wonder as she drew nearer to it. “I mean, it looks really real.”
I stepped around her to the opening and let my smile inch further along my cheeks. “If you think that looks real, then—“ I threw open the door, narrowly missing her nose with the force. She fixed me with an angry scare, but that disappeared as soon as she could take in what was on the other side. My attention on her face, it took me a couple of moments to realize that the view was completely different. The sky was now in its proper place above us, and the door was rooted firmly in loamy forest soil.
She was too intrigued by the new world to notice my mouth hanging open. I watched as she gazed through, leaned through, then passed around to the other side. Finally, she took a hesitant step through. My body came to life then and I grabbed her arm. “Don’t!”
There were bird sounds filtering through the door, and sunlight danced along the ground. Bright green trees as tall as come city buildings swelled before us as the scent of an undisturbed forest slowly filtered into my house. It was idyllic, which helped explain her confusion. “What’s the problem?”
“I just don’t know what’s in there. Or what it is.” My voice trailed off. It was a very inviting scene and there was nothing threatening about it. Nevertheless, I could not shake the slight discomfort that came from stepping through a doorway that appeared in my living room and opened into another world. “What if it closes?’
She took a quick, sudden breath. “I hadn’t thought of that.” I could see her mind whirring through options, her wanderlust triggered. “What if we drag your coffee table into the doorway?”
“I guess we could, but I don’t—“ She was already bent over, dragging the coffee table towards the doorway. “We don’t know what’s out there. This isn’t what you are supposed to do!”
“Oh, I forgot, could you go get the mystery doorway handbook form the bookshelf? I think we need chapter three.” Her flat stare along with her hands firmly on her hips told me all I needed to know. And, in some ways, she was right. What did I know about interdimensional doorways? And what was the harm of peeing through, especially since the door could not close on us now.
“Okay, but we don’t leave sight of the door.”
I stepped through the doorway, and I would be lying if I said it was not the most magnificent moment of my life. Have you ever tasted completely clean air? Having been born and raised in the suburbs, I haven’t. I had also never heard birds singing so giddily or seen trees that grew so tall. Every step was a miracle.
Eventually, we heard voices bubbling from far away. The words were indistinguishable, and the syllables we could make out did not fit any language I had heard. It was a group of women winding their way through the woods. They talked and laughed freely, woven baskets perched on their hips.
“Are you seeing this?” She was gripping the edge of a tree and observing the women walking so far away. Their dress was archaic and drab, leaving no suspicion that we were simply on some secluded woodland form the world we knew.
“Of course. But we really should keep our distance—“
“Duh” she murmured as the women disappeared from view. “They’d probably think we’re witches or something.”
We did as promised and stayed within sight of the door. The sun was setting in the world—darkness already covered my living room on the other side of the door—when we finally made our way back. The coffee table was still there propping the door open, and there was no evidence that anything had disturbed our little portal.
Except for the bird sitting on the coffee table. It was pure white, about as large as a house cat, and ruffling its feathers as we approached. Once we got next to it, it took off, wings shimmering in the sunset lighting.
I was amazed. I have never seen something like that. The wings that stretched were easily five feet wide, made of hundreds of shimmer, translucent feathers. It cooed and trilled as it climbed towards the treetops, fleeing our approach.
I think that there must be magic in the world. Our day trip proved it.
We pulled the coffee table back fully into our dimension, brushing dirt back into the doorway. Then, we let it close.
“I can’t believe you called me before you explored that place,” she whispered as we leaned against the door.
“To be fair, that’s not what I got when I opened it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It was in the middle of the air. I would have been a red spot on the ground if I tried to explore.”
“So it moves?”
I shrugged as exhaustion pulled at me. “I guess.”
There were not words for us then. Instead, we slumped against the door and each other, both of our minds spinning along a million possibilities and realities. There was nothing in this that was normal, and I know I had no idea how you continued to live with this profound knowledge.
Sleep snuck up on us. She was gently snoring as my eyes sagged closed. We slept in front of our mystical portal into another world, overcome by the sheer wonder of what the world could be.
Of course, our peace was short lived. This morning, we woke to heavy knocks on the door. Someone’s fist was pounding against the wood, sending shivers running up and down it.
“Do we open it?” she asked, her eyes suddenly wide awake.
“They sound angry.”
She nodded, her mouth slightly open as we both stared at the door.
“I’m sure they’ll go away soon,” I added. Only they didn’t. Instead, the pounding increased, and now the entire door is shaking with the force of blows. It’s not a fist crashing down any longer, but something larger. In my mind, I see a battering ram slowly pulling back, then swinging down to slam against the wood and iron. The door shakes, quivering with each blow, but it has yet to crack or move.
I don’t know who is on the other side, but I hope it holds.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Card Day 80: A boy riding a white horse across a chasm on a rainbow bridge. He stands on arid, cracked ground to move towards the lush, green other-side.
Nolan knew he was making the best decision, but it did not feel like it. It felt terrifying and wrong. It was the right decision, but he still felt the relentless pull to turn back and carry on with life as he knew it, never chancing to escape the box he had made for himself. The box was cramped and tight, but it had all the things he liked inside. There was comfort, warmth, safety, complacence, and boredom. But was that so bad? Having thrown open the doors and considered the possibilities, it seemed exhilarating. At least, it had. Now it felt stupid.
Did people actually dive out of safety and into the world like this?
His legs were bouncing, heels of his newly-shined shoes thumping against the tile. He caught his own eyes in the shined reflection, and he could see the absolute terror plastered there. He only hoped that the interviewer would not. The tie around his neck seemed to be a noose snaking tighter, threatening to cut off all his air. Even now, he felt as if he could not breathe. There was not enough air in the stuffy office building, and he was wearing a noose. What a brilliant idea.
Nolan shuffled his resume and cover letter again. The pages kept getting out of lie, jutting out at weird angles. He also noticed the sweaty indentations of his fingers on the pages, leaving tiny creases and general sogginess on the cheap paper. Everyone had told him to use heavyweight paper, but he had refused—he as great at ignoring good advice. Now look at the mess he had.
He looked out the wide, glass doors. It was sunny outside, a beautiful day. He was used to working outside, and he felt some part of his soul yearning for the bright sunlight on his skin. It took him a few moments to remind himself that he did, in fact, hate working outside. It was fine this time of year when the sun was warm, but gentle. In a month, the heat would be unbearable, and only a few weeks back, the cold had nearly cost him some fingers. But as he sat in the crisp, climate-controlled lobby, it felt like the lesser of two evils.
Was he going to throw up? His stomach was a stampede, charging up and down his esophagus. “Deep breaths,” reminded Brady’s cool voice in his head. Yeah, his friend had certainly given him his fair share of ribbing for the career change, but he did also seem to have his best interest at heart. The advice from over a couple beers the night before was filtering in, and most of it was not as helpful as Nolan had hoped. It all sounded good—wear the blue tie, shine your shoes, unbutton your coat when sitting down—but now it left him feeling like a kid playing dress up in a stranger’s clothes. Still, he did try to take a couple deep breaths, even though it felt like the tie was cutting into his throat with every great gulp of air.
The secretary sat behind her tall desk, her eyes glazed over on some screen tucked beneath the counter. He knew that look. She was checking Facebook. Cognitively, he knew that should make him feel better. It didn’t. He imagined that she probably had an even better Facebook than he did. She probably knew of even better sites. Nolan sighed and buried his face in his hands. He was so out of his element here. This is what happened when you reached for the stars. Humans weren’t made for the stars, and you suffocated.
His steps were loud on the tile, making him feel even more out of place. He felt as if every eye in the building turned towards him and his stomping disturbance. Nolan smiled hesitantly at the woman behind the desk.
“Can I help you?” Her smile seemed genuine, but he felt she did it out of pity. Look at the poor, lumbering man trying to fit in at a classy business center.
“Uh, yeah, I have an interview at 12:30—“ she nodded and he saw her eyes dart towards the clock. He knew he was early, and she apparently now knew he was a nervous wreck. “So, I know I have time. I as just going to step outside for a minute, if that’s okay?” He chuckled uncomfortably, but her smile never wavered.
“Sure, that’s fine. If Mr. Brooker gets out early, I’ll come and get you.”
“Oh, no, I’ll only be a minute I don’t want to bother you or anything.”
She waved him off, returning to her computer screen. “No problem. The exercise and fresh air would be good for me.”
“Uh, thanks,” stumbled Nolan as he turned away. The stampede was back, and he felt as if the tall walls of the lobby were collapsing in on him. His first gasp of the springtime air outside flooded his lungs, peeling away the recycled air flavor that had taken up residence.
Nolan stretched and felt the soft breeze tug at his suit coat. It snaked in and cooled him down, wiping away the sweat that prickled at all those anxiety points. The sound of traffic surged around him, honking horns and the flurry of acceleration. A bus trundled past with a clinging cloud of exhaust and passengers looking blankly from the dark windows. The sidewalk stretched beneath his feet, and Nolan felt a distinct and almost irresistible call from it. Just start walking, it whispered. Go back home, pick up your tools, and get back out there. This wasn’t him. He was the kind of guy who would break his back working day in and day out to earn a pittance. How dare he try t for something so beyond him.
Reach for the stars and you would certainly fail more often than not. Maybe it was better to just live peacefully on the earth?
As if to remind him of his cause. Nolan’s knees began to ache. Yes, he was too young to have those aching knees. They meant that the next few years of his life would be waves of increasing pain, leading to a middle adulthood full of pain and bitterness. It would get bad enough that he could not work, and he would find himself searching for a job, but even older and more set in his ways. This was a chance to find the dream job he had always feared seeking, but now he remembered why it was such a daunting prospect.
Nolan drank deep of the relatively fresh air before shoving back through the glass doors. The secretary glanced up at him with a smile, then returned to her work. He settled back into his previous seat, finally unclenching his fists from around the papers he had brought and laying them on the bench beside him.
The door opened, and Nolan watched as a man in a pale blue shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows, walked out of the large mahogany doors. He leaned over the desk to talk with the secretary, and she gestured towards Nolan.
In that moment, Nolan’s heart froze in his chest. He expected it to start racing, but instead it stopped. The whole world swam past him with the smiling man walked briskly across the floor. Somehow, some signal trickled from his brain and down to his legs, helping him stand. His hand stretched out to meet the presumed Mr. Brooker’s outstretched one.
“Mr. Walters?” His eyes were bright blue behind smudged glasses.
Slowly, Nolan returned to the world. He felt the strong grip of the man, the callouses covering his hands. They witnessed to a man who knew what a day’s hard work felt like.
“Yes sir,” came the words, a beat too late, but not long enough to be a huge blunder. At least he could take solace in that. “It’s nice to meet you,” he added in a rush.
“Pleasure to meet you, too. So, how about we head to my office and get this interview business taken care of?” He took a step back and gestured to the open door. Nolan nodded numbly and followed the man back into the room, hearing his own steps echo Mr. Brooker’s heavy trod.
The heavy door swung closed behind them, and Mr. Brooker pointed to two chairs seated off to the side. “You don’t mind if I have the windows open, do you? If I’m going to be cooped up all day, I need some of this fresh spring air!” The man gave a surprisingly sincere chuckle.
“No, not at all. I like it.”
“Then I think we’re going to have a great time chatting. So, tell me Mr. Walters—“
“Nolan.” The correction surprised him, but felt natural. Mr. Brooker smiled.
“I should have asked. Call me Will. So, Nolan, I know you don’t have the background, but your program design sample was very impressive. Tell me, how did you end up interested in technology?”
The mild praise caught Nolan off guard, but Will simply smiled at him. There was no pressure, no waiting. In fact, the man seemed genuinely impressed and curious. With a deep breath, Nolan dove in to his response; this was one Brady practiced with him, and he felt his generally calm and friendly demeanor returning.
As the words tumbled out of his mouth, Nolan realized that he might just have made the right choice. Whether or not this worked, he had tried, he had resisted the call of the sidewalk, and he had beaten back his anxiety. And that itself was an accomplishment.
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