Ooopy Spoooky

Happy All Hallows Eve, guys n’ gals.

Whether you believe in them or not, we all have a couple ghost stories. They might be for telling around a camp fire, sharing between friends, or recounting to a therapist. They have a habit of ranging from “just weird feelings” to seeing an apparition of some sort at the foot of your bed.

I won’t lie to you, I’ve never seen anything, but that’s SO MUCH for the best. I’ve heard things, felt things, and felt things, but never laid eyes on anything beyond the grave. I am completely convinced, however, that if I did, that would kick me straight into fight-or-flight mode. I realize there’s also a ‘freeze’ option there, but nope; if I see something, there’s going to be motion.

(First up, I want to remind you to check out a post from earlier this week, Lady Death, just as it’s a little appropriate for today. And what’s more, if you’re REALLY feeling a good ghost story, do me a favor and check out Episode 209: “The Scars of Eliza Gray” on the NIGHTLIGHT podcast. It was one of my first publications and remains one of my favorites.)

And now, a series of ghost- or near-ghost-experiences:

  1. The Christmas Ornament
    Little bit of backstory to start off: my father passed away when I was nine, December of 2003. As one might imagine, that had a certain impact on Christmas that year. For the first time, it was just my mother and I, and looking back, I think on it less of how I remember it as a kid and more of how well she handled it as a newly single mother – which was, for the record, very well.
    We moved house that next summer, and when December ’04 came around, as the story goes, mom had an encounter.
    I had gone upstairs and gone to bed, she was downstairs closing down the house preparing to do the same. The way the house was situated, her bathroom was at the end of a short hallway that connected it to the now darkened living room. She’s standing there, brushing her teeth, when she hears a sound coming from the Christmas tree standing at the opposite end of the hallway.
    There was a little electronic train ornament that was a staple of our Christmas decorating. It had my name written on it, and when you pressed the button on the steam spout, it would sing a little song out of choo-choo noises. Thing was, the button had stopped working years ago.
    So there she stands, toothbrush in mouth, watching this little, long-silent ornament sing its song at the shadowy edge of the bathroom light’s furthest reaches.
    As she tells it, she addressed my father by name, calling out, “Vern, you don’t live here anymore. Go upstairs and see your son, but after that, you need to go.”
    I joked the next morning that I found it pretty irresponsible to think there was a ghost in the house and have your first response basically be, “There’s a defenseless, sleeping boy upstairs. Go bug him instead.”
  2. Suddenly Awake
    This one remains my hallmark experience, and apologies up front as I still haven’t yet found that words do it justice, but here goes…
    It was a night like any other. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen at the time, fast asleep. Middle of the night, time unknown, I open my eyes. I wasn’t groggy, wasn’t sleepy or coming to consciousness. I was just suddenly awake, as if I had been for a while and was just now noticing; not startled, not scared or anxious or energetic, just suddenly conscious. I know that, because it was moments after I woke up where I began to wonder why I’d done so, that a dreaded creeping sensation came over the room.
    I didn’t hear anything, but some other sense was telling me that there was another person in the room with me. I felt myself being looked at, being observed or examined. It wasn’t sleep paralysis, necessarily. I could move if I wanted to, but chose to play possum, like if I’d looked over my shoulder at that moment it would incense whatever was in the room with me.
    The pinnacle of the experience came in two parts.
    The first was that – and as certain as I remain of this, the part of me that’s objective knows to acknowledge it may be the fault of memory – I finally heard something. There was a whisper, clear-as-fuckin’-day, right next to my ear. Couldn’t make out what it said, just that there was a voice inches from my head. And not a sound that’s half-heard, prompting a “Did I just hear something?” response; it was undoubtedly something.
    The second was that moments after the whisper, that anxious, defensive dread that had blanketed the room evaporated. It was a palpable change. As cliche as it is to describe something this way, it’s as though there was this weight to the air, and suddenly it vanished. It didn’t “lift,” it just…ceased. Right after it did, the exhaustion of sleep immediately took hold, like I’d been awake for days, and I konked out.
    Really, it was the suddenness of the experience that spooks me, here. Suddenly awake, there’s a presence, whisper, then nothing, then sleep again.
  3. “Can’t get me now, bitch.”
    I’ll be honest, this one’s more funny and a moment of pride than anything else.
    If you’ve ever seen the movie The Grudge, you’ll know that, especially for it’s time, it was goddamn terrifying. I’ve always had a weakness for horror films, and not in the sense that I can’t resist watching but in that they affected me A LOT when I was younger.
    The gist to the film, if you haven’t seen it, is that an American gal goes to Japan for reasons and gets haunted by a dead girl for other reasons.
    There’s a scene somewhere near the middle where she’s in her high-rise apartment and receives a phone call from a friend of hers, another American. He tells her he’s downstairs and wants to be buzzed in to come up and visit about something in person. She hits whatever button that unlocks the ground floor gate to let him in, and not moments later, there’s a knock on her door. She goes to look through the peep hole and sees it’s her friend who was supposedly just on the ground floor, some twenty-odd stories below her.
    She makes a joke about “why go through the antics if you were already up here?” and opens the door for him. Of course she opens the door to an empty hallway. A ghostly sound comes through the phone and lights in the hallway begin ominously going dark. So, like a responsible adult, she flings the phone to the ground, slams the door shut, runs to her bed, and hides under the covers. While there, a lump rises at the end of the bed and starts snaking towards her, and INSTEAD of wildly kicking her legs like she should, she anxiously lifts the covers and gets dragged into the abyss by the ghost only to awake an untold time later.
    I was maybe twelve years old when I saw that and found it ghastly amounts of frightful. But what did I do? I didn’t let fear get the best of me, I got creative.
    For the next two weeks, I slept on TOP of my covers in a zipped-up sleeping bag, confidently safe in the knowledge that, “Ha! Bitch can’t get me if I’m in a BAG! Winning!”

Take it easy and goodnight, everybody.

Lady Death

Did you know there’s a saying that goes a person’s fate can be read on the wings of a butterfly? That’s what makes fate so hard to know, because the little creatures that carry it rarely stop fluttering long enough to read their wings. I’m sure that’s also what makes them so naturally mystifying, what we don’t realize draws our eye whenever they pass us by, bobbing through the air just out of reach.

They’re with me wherever I go. And wherever I might be, they find me. They are beautiful little things. Gentle, innocent, fragile, small.

Something else not many people know is that butterflies love salt, and a common place they find it is the remains of a dead animal. Flesh, devoid of life and giving way to nature and time – they love it.

I think that’s why they follow me. Like cats that know what doors leave out bowls of water or scraps of food, they’ve caught on to where they can get their salt fix. It’s invisible to us, but maybe their eyes see power over death like a color in the air, a magenta dust on the wind.

It’s a tale as old as time, really; and always the same motivation. A loved one who’s died, their memory growing more distant with each passing day, or one who’s sick and will know death shortly. I was different. I just…wanted to know.

Is it like everyone seems to think, something to be scared of and staved off? Is it “just a part of life,” or is that something we tell ourselves to assuage the anxiety of uncertainty? Is it sleep, or is it just…nothing? Are we just our bodies, our minds, or is there really a spark that drives the whole thing that remains eternal? After all, everyone in history has done it, so it can’t be that hard. It’s the biggest mystery of our time, and always has been.

Anyway, yeah, I think that’s why they follow me. And maybe I misspoke earlier. It isn’t a power over death, because everything that lives dies. That’s an immutable law of existence: everything that is, once was not; and everything that is, will not be again. So, not over death, but a power with it.

And the little buggers can’t get enough.

FIN

(Hey guys.
The astute among us might note the date on this post, that on the one prior, and the distance between the two. Like with all of us, life has had a lot of moving parts lately. Plus, I just haven’t had a lot to say, I guess. But this little ditty came to mind while on a walk earlier today, and it seemed like a good time to post again.
I haven’t been quiet that this is just a place to work out for me: run thought experiments, shout into the void, practice, blah, blah, blah. Feeling now, though, that there might be a good time of creative productivity on the way; a breath of air amidst all the chaos, if you will.
So, yeah, get ready to see more o’ me. This’ll be cool.
Peace, everybody.)

Three Haiku

I wish I could say this was inspired by something more monumental, like a big life event or existential epiphany, but the truth is far simpler: The Ghost of Tsushima is just that great.

In every way, the game is an (A+) work of art. While the duels among cherry blossoms and battles amid flames are thrilling in their own right, I’m in it for picking flowers, petting foxes, writing poems. If it weren’t for all the swinging massive razors and duty-bound murder parties, I’d HELLUV been a samurai. But since those things are kind of a package deal…oh well.

May I present, some amateurish poetry…

  1. Haiku
    Pause, breath, and reflect.
    Flower on a windy cliff,
    breathe and be nourished.
  2. Moon
    A light amid dark
    Silent, blossoming brilliance
    Gate to the cosmos
  3. Supper
    Food in my belly
    Warmth spreading through my body.
    This is just the best

Ah, we have fun, don’t we?

Til’ next time, everyone.

Path of Paine

Wow, hi guys!

Can I lead up at the top that I appreciate you? Whoever you are, though I don’t know your name, your voice, your favorite food, or whether you prefer high-five’s or fist-bumps – I think you’re pretty great.

Out in California, right now we’re all collectively preparing for fire season. Mostly that means expecting power outages, preparing (at least mentally) go-bags we can quickly pack or grab in the event of an evacuation, and taking stock of what things are important enough to warrant inventory space and which might need to be committed to flames (worse case scenario, obviously).

Most of us have an idea of what we’d bring, and what that does is highlight what matters to us. It also usually highlights how many things of ours are…just things. And when that happens, it leads to a deeper appreciation for what we have. This could lead into a never-ending rant about how Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and how I think it suffers the incredible irony of being severely underappreciated whilst getting crushed under the stampeding boots of Christmas shoppers- BUT we’ll leave that for another day.

In a largely roundabout way, what I mean to center on is that it’s a common thing for most go-bags to include a small stack of a person’s favorite books. Now, while fiction is my first love, and my treasured collection of Witcher novels would need to be pried out of my cold, dead hands, another that would need to come with me is Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason.”

Enormously controversial in its day, I’m sure it could still be seen that way nowadays. In short, Paine describes it simply as his thoughts on religion. No wonder why then, in the mid-eighteenth century, the book landed him in some pretty hot water (and, actually, totally in jail). The second half of the book was written from prison, and it’s essentially his dissection of the Bible and the reasons why, in his view, it’s complete cockamamie nonsense.

I don’t love it for its second half. I love it for the first half.

The first sixty-eight pages (of my edition, anyway) are Paine outlining his own personal form of Deism – deism being a viewpoint that sees the universe as having a supreme, creating intelligence, but one that is separate from and does not intervene in the material world (Creation).

And while I want to, I’m not going to quote anything here – because I insist you read it yourself (found easily enough as a pdf right here —> Here!); and if you do, scroll down to pages thirty-three and thirty-four to get a taste of the root of his outlook.

In brief, he doesn’t see God necessarily as being a big bald-headed man in the clouds with a big floofy beard. Whatever name you want to give the force greater than understanding, more universal and common but as mysterious as consciousness itself, doesn’t matter so much.

But what is important is that the worship is in seeing. It’s in listening. In feeling. In smelling. In tasting. Taking in the world around us, trying to comprehend it, but above that – appreciating it.

Not to get too ‘woo-woo’ on us, but do you ever take a moment to recognize that you exist?

Just the fact that you, the awareness behind the eyes, inside the body, and behind the thoughts of whoever you are – are real. For no discernible point or purpose, from a mysterious some-say-unknowable origin, as a cosmic phenomenon…you exist. AND you’re able to contemplate that fact. Cogito, ergo sum, after all.

Worship is in appreciating what’s in front of you. What’s in you. What’s happened, or all the unknowable things that will happen. All of the heart-breakingly beautiful shapes and creatures on the planet, or those things our astronomers have shown us out in the cosmos.

It’s such a warping thought to know it’s so large that to even try comprehending the full breadth of it is unimaginable from the start.

Anyway, I’m feeling lost in the weeds now. We’re FULL rant. But…gah, things to think about right?

TL;DR – I appreciate you, things are awesome, good to think on that sometimes, woo-woo.

See you guys next time.

Now, for Some Shameless Bragging

I want to be clear up front: this is for me.

I’d love to sit here and say this was something I put together for you, something I sat on and thought about and pored over and worked on for your enjoyment and betterment – but it’s not. This is about to be an anecdote for myself to come back to later and be embarrassed that I put out to the public.

This is about the time I caught…The Glow.

I started playing Magic: the Gathering (yup, and there goes anyone that made it even this far) back in the Summer of 2018. I’d heard the horror stories of how much people can just pour money into the hobby, how much it financially drains you, and I was determined not to be another statistic. I bought two little 60-card starter decks and said, “That’s quite enough for me. THIS will be my Magic collection and I’m happy with it.”

Suffice it to say, it did not stop there.

To date, I’ve built and dismantled more Modern decks than was ever worth counting, and maintain a rotation of eight Commander/EDH decks with themes all important to my heart and soul: Izzet Artifacts, Elves/Tokens, Blue-Black Mill, mono-Green Hydras, Jeskai Time Wizards, Rakdos Goblins, Boros Angels, and Liliana Necromancy/Zombies. With the exception of Time Wizards, who has yet to ever come through for me meaningfully and was probably a mistake, I love each of them dearly.

So, now that the stage is set, our tale…

I was over at my good friend Josh’s house for a day of cards with friends. These same friends, mind you, put me through a baptism of fire when I first started playing – which was good. As I was learning the basics, they beat the ever-loving shit out of me most games. But I persevered, learned, and took those lessons of brutality to heart. All for this day…

First game of the day was just against Josh, since I showed up first (a rare occurrence). I pulled out my ‘Selvala, Heart of the Wilds‘ Hydra deck and got to business. That said, Josh was using his pride and joy, a Sliver Overlord tribal deck that cost, probably, about two grand. Selvala, bless her heart, held her own valiantly, but was ultimately overcome (it’s okay, every hero’s journey needs to begin with struggle).

It was close, and to this day I’m convinced that if I hadn’t drawn into so much goddamn land, I could have taken him. Or, if I’d used my pride and joy, my first love, my Saheeli, the Gifted artifact deck, I could have had him up and out of there in no time. (She was the underdog of her Commander block in 2018, but together, we trained her up and put some real power behind her punches with practice, study, and plenty of steroids.)

Once our friends arrived, the REAL show began.

I’m not sure what it’s like with other people’s play groups, but it tends to be within ours, that when a person wins a game between four players, it’s in a single, fell swoop: an infinite combo (thankfully rare), an “if X, then win the game” condition, or a huge move like a surprise Craterhoof Behemoth stomping that takes out all other three players at once.

This day…this day was different.

We start off, it’s a table with FIVE of us, which is a lot of players for a game of EDH; not monstrous, but a lot. I pull out my Rhys the Redeemed elves/tokens deck for this one. His main win condition is either cheating out a Felidar Sovereign for a sort of cheaper win, or raising an army of saprolings, squirrels, and elves, then plopping out the ol’ Craterhoof Behemoth trick; either way, its quickest route to victory involves annihilating the table or the game all at once.

This day, however, I knocked out each of the other four players through combat damage, individually. It was a deadly dance of politics to incite a fight with only another player at a time to not draw any undue aggression, healing up my wounds with lifelink abilities after each skirmish, and maintain token numbers to be a reasonable presence without being a threatening one. It was kind of like a fight scene out of an action movie, where the hero is surrounded by henchman who come at him all-at-once-ish, but really one at a time, and by the end of it, it’s the hero who’s done all the ass-whoopin’.

It. Was. Glorious.

And it came down to a razor finish. I knocked out the third of my opponents, trying to leave enough defense to withstand my final opponent’s turn since I was the only remaining threat, when he equips a Colossus Hammer to one of his soldiers and swings all out at me. I had enough tokens remaining to block enough of the assault that it left me with two Life left…TWO. Then I was able to counter-swing on my next turn for the finish.

So I sat back, packed that deck away in its box, and contentedly notched my name in the win column for that night, feeling good. I’d gotten my win out of the way, and it was awesome. So, for the next game, I go back to my Selvala – Hydras deck, to give it another, Sliver-less try.

This time, there’s far more in-fighting at the table, with there being more aggressors than just myself, finally. Combat damage is being dealt back and forth among players, but no one is going for the knock-out yet, presumably so everyone can stay in the game until it ends; a noble gesture, but not a lesson my hard Magic upbringing taught me to embrace with them. I see an opportunity late game to flash in a Hydra Broodmaster on an end step before my turn begins. If I remember right, I had Unbound Flourishing on board, so I got to make her go monstrous where ‘X’ got to be something nice and big like ‘8,’ and then for combat on my turn, I throw down an Overwhelming Stampede and do exactly what one might expect…

…I…

…I stampeded the table.

Playful groans and gasps made their way around the table. And my proud triumph turned slightly to embarrassment….embarrassment that I was still inexorably proud of.

So I threw up my hands and said, “Woooof, y’all. Alright, my bad. I’ve had my fun for the night, had my fair share. Shit, I’m sorry,” all while laughing with them. “Looks like I caught The Glow tonight. I’ll change it up and just be a spectator for this next one.” I put away my Hydras, rolled up my foresty-colored play mat, and pulled out my Blue-Black Mill/Persistent Petitioners deck, headed by Phenax, God of Deception.

(My FAVORITE game ever of Magic is a story for another time if I ever again feel baseless enough to do another one of these posts, but I will say that what follows here might be my SECOND-FAVORITE ever game of Magic I’ve played.)

For the uninitiated, Mill-strategies in the Commander format are widely seen as a pretty unwise route to victory as, instead of the directness of combat damage, you’re trying to empty out your opponent’s 100-card deck. 1) It can be pretty slow, understandably. 2) It also usually has to be pretty focused, so with multiple opponents, your capacity for offense has a built-in cap. 3) To make up for its weaknesses, a mill deck usually has to be pretty focused on that goal, so defense can be somewhat lacking, leaving you kind of open. 4) Lastly, people, on average, fucking hate being milled and seeing their stuff get dumped into the graveyard, so it builds your villainy meter at the table pretty quickly (ie Players cheer when someone kills you in the name of public good, nobody mourns your loss, and they line up to poop on your grave).

This game was different.

Some brief stage-setting: It’s a 5-player game this time around, and since I don’t imagine any of them will EVER read this, I’m going to be using their real names. To my left, was my buddy Brent, who was playing mono-red Dwarves; to his left was Kopa, who was playing a Blue-Red-White ‘Voltron’ deck; followed by Woody, who was playing Blue-Red-Green elementals; followed at last by our illustrious host Josh, who was borrowing someones mono-blue artifact deck.

I draw my opening hand to see that I have two Petitioners, three land, a counter spell, and Thrumming Stone. In case it’s confusing as to why that’s cool, here’s the break-down:
Since I can have as many Petitioners in my deck as I want, I run twenty-eight as a multiple of four per the card’s ability. That’s enough of a percentage that they come up commonly enough and have good odds at the Ripple ability without clogging up my draws.
Thrumming Stone basically says if you cast a Petitioner, you can look for another one to get played, which will look for another one to get played, which will look for another one to get played, yatta yatta, on until you have all twenty-eight of your Petitioners out – if you get lucky to roll on like that and provided none have gotten killed.

In my mind, I immediately see what I have to do: stall and be ignored long enough to drop Thrumming Stone and a Petitioner in the same turn – a seven mana cost – to hopefully let the Ripple effect take over. So if I can draw well and keep below radar until about Turn Nine, I have a shot at totally fucking over the table. Plus, hang onto that counter spell as an insurance policy.

So the game begins, and right out the gate Josh takes an aggressive lead. He rolls out artifacts and gadgets left and right, big equipment to buff his creatures, and throwing hot damage around the table. In addition, he starts lightly milling the table, which is where my Greatest Performance of Deception begins (Phenax would be proud).

We’re all getting milled for one or two cards at a time. With the rest of the table, I playfully and dramatically groan, pleading for him to maybe just forego the effect rather than having it go through, and commiserating with the other players at our misfortune, but inside I’m thrilled. Every card that gets skimmed off the top that isn’t a land card or a Petitioner is fantastic. He mills my Mind Funeral? Great, I don’t need the heat anyway. He dumps my Consuming Aberration? Super, I have something to jokingly “complain” about not getting to play. Every one of those is another turn closer to the land base that I need.

And so it goes, Josh battles and harasses the rest of the table while I draw, maybe play a land, pretend to have my hands tied, and pass. It comes to a point where I have six lands out and I’m just waiting for one more before I can pull my move, but I’m worried to death about something that would destroy my Thrumming Stone. Josh has become a huge threat at this point, in a night that’s twice seen a single player butcher the table (#humblebrag), and he gets up to go pee. Everyone else starts conspiring as to how to turn the tide against him.

“Hmm,” I ponder aloud. “Hey, do any of you have any artifact-removal? That way, we could get rid of his [insert specific dangerous artifact here that I’m totally blanking on].”
“No,” says Brent.
“No,” replies Kopa.
“No,” laments Woody.
“Ah, bummer,” I say, looking down at the artifact in my hand.

I play Phenax, just so it doesn’t look too much like I’m intentionally doing nothing. Josh comes back, then Kopa pulls a huge play that sees him kill Josh outright, but one that fortunately makes him become an even larger threat. So Woody follows that by detonating the board with an All is Dust (thankfully the turn after I used that counter spell to stop him playing an Eldrazi). With Josh dead, it comes to me, and I draw my seventh land. I figure if ever there was a blessing from the God of Deception that I’d played my role well and it was time to set the plan in motion, it was now.

So I do. I plop down that land, set out my Thrumming Stone, and play a Petitioner, which chained so marvelously well into all the rest that I exploded from a board state of absolutely nothing, into twenty-eight Petitioners out and proud (total milling potential of 84 cards, basically lethal at that point). Plus, with that All is Dust, everyone needed to rebuilding their boards to pose any threat.

Brent’s turn, he plays a couple of dwarves to reconstitute his board, and at his end step, I mill out Kopa. Playing Jeskai colors and the potential he had for out-of-nowhere kills, he had to go. So after that, it’s just me, Brent, and Woody. On Woody’s turn, he plays Nikya of the Old Ways to regain some board presence which, if you ask me, made my next decision really simple.

It came back to me, and Brent starts talking to the late Kopa that “if I just had one more land, I could blow up his entire fucking board.”

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Me, listening to my opponent spill the beans so brazenly.

With Woody self-handicapped and unable to cast non-creature spells – meaning no big bombs, no board wipes, no nothin’ – and with Brent openly admitting he might draw into a way to kill me…

…yeah, duh, I milled the shit out of him.

Final turn came down to just me and Woody. His turn comes up, he plays a creature that can’t attack on account of summoning sickness, swings all-out for about 11 damage which I readily greet headfirst. Turn comes to me, I mill him down to dust to make my bread and make it my third straight full-table victory of the night.

A feat of which I was so embarrassingly proud, I just spent the last too-many hours bragging about it on an internet blog.

Thank you, and goodnight.

Dawning of a New Era

Okay. First post, starting in three…two…

…now.

Did you know that in Rock, Paper, Scissors, 80% of people will throw Scissors first?

Phew. Well, that wasn’t so bad. Now that the ice-breaker’s out of the way, I guess we can be polite and move onto introductions.

Hey all, name’s Evan. I’m an emerging author out of Northern California. What’s that mean? Means I’m an optimistic git that left his day job to write fiction full(ish)-time. What’s that mean? Means I don’t have exactly forever to make me a prolific figure in literature.

That’s where this operation – and YOU – come in. I write new stuff all the time and while that’s happening, the “old stuff” piles up. I’m calling this “The Light of Day” because I’m, in part, making it the spot for all those scribblings that wouldn’t see it otherwise (*snarf snarf*). I’ve described it a bit like my rookie card that will be really cool when I hit the Big Leagues.

But for real, this is where I’ll post previously tucked-away stories from workshops, thought experiments, and old concept work-up’s (with commentary, for that sweet cherry on top) that all need a comfy display case. Plus some true stories from my own life that I love telling but don’t have the heart to honor with an open mic set. And I’m sure if I’m not careful, it’ll be a fun place to learn about US copyright law.

Anyway, let’s get to it. First up, an old one and first jump into a fully allegorical work.
I present: The Heron.

The Heron

Kyle groaned as she slowly awoke, her eyes painfully fluttering open as they took in the light. Though this wasn’t the first time she’d lost consciousness like that while in this place, she gasped once fully awake. The vast distance between herself and the ground still unnerved her despite its practiced appearance with every new waking. As she hung there, her head pounded and her fingers felt bloated with their prolonged suspension. She began wondering how long she had been out as the Heron made another pass a short distance away. The gust sent from its powerful wings made her sway ever so gently and brought a pulse of pain from her ankles.

The Heron. Kyle’s gut told her the Heron meant her no harm, though she felt certain it was aware of her presence. At any point, she knew, the giant bird could glide by and pluck her from the sky like a grape from a vine. But every time she awoke, the bird flew by. And every time it let her be.

It would come make its passes every few hours – at least it felt like hours between the great bird’s appearances. There was no sun in this place and no moon by which to judge time, only the blank white void of open space on all sides, the ground far, far below, and the door high above her. Reminded again of her goal, she looked to her feet which ached, bound at the ankle by the Cord that tied her to this place.

The Cord. She had no memory of coming to this bizarre, empty place, and while it felt foreign, she sensed an elementary familiarity from the Heron that watched her and the Cord that bound her. It was secured tightly about her ankles at one end, while the other extended high above to the upper surface of the sky where the door waited. It taunted her at times, boasting the vast distance it crossed while at others it offered hope, being the means by which she might escape; though this knowledge brought with it a thought that gnawed at the back of her mind and recalled her attention to the blade tucked in the small of her back.

The Knife. She didn’t know how she’d come to have it, but that seemed to fit – it felt like a part of this place rather than something of hers or her past. What she did know, what she could feel, was the tempting offer of release it carried: a release from the pain, release from this struggle, a release from the door and the thirst of it for which she suffered. At any time she could use it to cut the Cord and fall rather than face the climb before her.

Kyle shook the thought from her mind and breathed deep. She blinked rapidly and looked about her, twisting and turning her body to scan her unchanging surroundings, but mostly to limber up. As she became more lively, the memory of her last attempt before blacking out weaved its way into her thoughts. She’d begun to climb and made it some distance but lost her grip on the Cord and fell, dislocating her left hip. She lightly patted it now, as it had returned to normal, the way her injuries always did upon waking.

Her eyes caught sight of the Heron in the distance and though the thought of the overwhelming pain troubled her as she considered the climb again, its sway over her felt strangely muffled as she focused on the great bird. She felt another breeze on the wind from the Heron’s wake and the chill made her skin tingle, her hair raise, and breathed a renewed life into the her ember spirit. She looked to the Cord now with new purpose.

With a grit to her teeth, she folded her body over and gripped the Cord just beyond her feet. She bent her knees as she pulled the cable in and straightened her body once she’d made enough progress that she might support herself with one standing loop for her feet and another about her forearm. A sigh of relief fell easily from her lips as the blood drained from her head and the pressure faded. She looked up at the few hundred meters of cable between herself and her goal. Sounding a grunt to start, Kyle began pulling cable and started her climb.

The journey upwards was difficult. Her muscles burned and her breath came hard. She had grown wiser since her previous failures and learned to collect lengths of cable with her climb and fashion holds with them that she might earn brief respite between climbs. Still, even with this new strategy in place, she experienced little more relief than when she had hung far below. Often, her mind drifted to thoughts of the Knife, but she fought them off as best she could. The strain made her bones ache as she pulled herself skyward and yet they wracked whenever she paused idle for breath. Kyle rested and turned thought to how long she had been fighting when saw the Heron once more, though this time much closer.

She could see its muscles contort as it used its wings and watched its noble blue feathers ripple with the motions of flight. The bird made only the soft sound of wind as it keenly sliced the air about her. Kyle felt its eyes upon her as she admired its course through the void and soon met them with her own gaze. Her world slowed as the two locked eyes and for the briefest moment she felt nothing but the wind. In that moment, the Heron had made her a promise. She slowly nodded and looked again to the door. She was surprised to find how much closer it was. So much focus had been on her hands, technique, and the Cord before her, she didn’t notice the distance she’d come. She breathed a small breath of thanks and tensed herself for the final stretch, intent on earning the bird’s promise.

As Kyle continued her ascent, she noticed the bird didn’t stray as it usually did. The beast continued its watch during her final hours of contest with the Cord and rose through the sky with her. It pumped its wings more and more and would squawk whenever she slipped or faltered, as an attentive parent or coach. The closer Kyle came to her goal, the more excited the bird’s movements also grew. As she took her final pulls and laid her hand at long last against her goal, she looked to the Heron and whispered her thanks. With the last of her strength, she pushed the door open and lifted herself through.

She collapsed on the other side and fell into the soft grass of her Elysium as the manacles of the Cord vanished from her ankles, leaving the thick rope to fall. She lied breathless of weary exhaustion. Kyle rolled to her knees and turned her face to the sky. She screamed with the strongest emotions she’d ever felt until her lungs could give no more. The tears she earned slowly rolled down her cheeks and burned as they fell. Through her blurred vision, she could see the Heron high above, dancing through the sky. As a smile came to her lips, her eyes fell closed, and for a moment that seemed a blissful eternity, she felt nothing but the softness of the wind.

FIN

The Take: This one’s from waaaaay back in 2015 and I think it came together in a single evening. The whole idea came together when, at work, I saw a spider hanging from a line of web. It was right there in the middle of the room with high ceilings at about head height and it struck me as weird. To me, it’s just a spider that happens to be near my forehead. But the spider is basically at the end of a 300-meter rope and its options are climb all the way back up or fall. Obviously it’s different since it’s a friggin’ spider, but the idea of being in that same circumstance, suspended in a vastly open space like that, with those options – felt like food for thought. Interpret it any other way you’d like, but to me the Heron was always determination, the Cord is the challenge, and the Knife was capitulation (“giving up” – the way out that’s always there). I think any of us that’s had a goal, heaps of struggle that came with it, but pressed on to realize it anyway – however big or small – can relate to Kyle.

Aaaaaand that’s the gist. This should be pretty cool. (I hope so, at any rate, ’cause I’m gonna charge forward with it whether it is or not.) Keep a look out every Tuesday and Thursday for new stuff, see the progression unfold as I monkey with this new toolkit, plus links to where you can check out my other published works (anthologies, e-zines, podcasts, etc).

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Ciao, for now.