So I opened my NaNoWriMo novel for the first time since November today. I’ve been avoiding it since I lost. I managed to get to 16,000, which is amazing for me, but is quite short of the 50,000 goal. I think my downfall was two-fold. 1. No planning whatsoever. and 2. My story’s scope was too broad. I chose to do science fiction, and creating a story while simultaneously building an entire world from nothing is pretty damn challenging. Anyway, I wanted to post the good that came out of that experience. And no. I won’t be posting the love scene I wrote. I still can’t believe I did, and it freaks me out. Though it is kind of good, naturally.
The following is just excerpts, nothing is back to back, but is kind of in “story order,” (kind of).
It was never quiet. Not even early in the morning, when most of the encampment slept. There was always a bird chirping, soft footsteps running in the dirt, heavy, level breathing. But these were the normal noises of life, the noises you can easily ignore, and that can even help you fall softly into sleep. What jarred my eyes open every single night were different noises. They were far away, but that didn’t make them any less important. They were the sounds of bombings, gunfire, screaming. They were the sounds that reminded you that you weren’t in your own bed anymore, the sounds that reminded you of the dead. They were the sounds of a war.
I opened my eyes and gasped, the echo of the explosion still ringing in my ears. I put my hand to my heart, reminding myself of where I was. The sky was a swirl of colors. Reds, grays, and oranges mingled with the white light of stars and the blackness of the space behind. It had been like that since the Beginning. It had become a familiar, almost comforting sight, and it had become a ritual for me to trace the trails of the clouds with my eyes. I’d follow the stark redness into the nothingness of black, and then back into orange and gray. It always helped to restore my heartbeat to a normal rhythm, my breathing into evenness. But then I’d remember why the clouds were there, and I’d shut my eyes and rise out of bed.
This morning was the same as any other. I always arose before first light, so I had become accustomed to moving about in the dark. Careful not to step on those lucky enough to still be asleep, I made my way to the stream we had begun to use for washing and drinking. We weren’t always so lucky as to have an ever-flowing water source so close to the camp. I took my time this morning, floating slowly as I watched the sun leisurely pave a path through the crimson clouds. After scrubbing my head raw, I laid on the dirty shore and waited to feel heat on my skin. I must have dozed off, because when I awoke the sun was completely risen and I had to squint my eyes. I brushed sand off myself as stood up, and walked toward the voices of the encampment.
Of course, it hadn’t always been like this; sleeping without a roof, moving constantly, listening to death, it was no way to live. But it had become normal, ever since the Beginning. I remember a time when I had my own bed, one that I called mine every night. It seems a simple thing, but it becomes complicated once you don’t have one. Every morning I awoke to the aroma’s from the kitchen wafting around me, filling my entire room. Mother loved to cook breakfast for us. Somehow she always managed to wake up early and have it done before we even stopped dreaming.
But that was before. I can’t even remember what bacon tastes like now. I sat at one of our many campfires, eating what we always ate, liquidy, colorless grain in a bowl. The taste was almost nauseating, but luckily it was filling. We had come to calling it poison, affectionately. Some of the younger boys had made a joke of it at some point, and the name had stuck. It was fitting.
As I slurped my poison, I listened to the chatter around me. Old Henry was going on about how he didn’t know how he’d ever get sand out of his shoes, how his favorite hat had ripped and now his eyes hurt from the sun…the usual. I could hear Priscilla assigning duties to her officers, which would have been more impressive if their duties ever changed. Patrol the border, watch for enemies, collect any plant life. The first true were the only real true orders. There hadn’t been plant life on the plains since the Beginning. But it was an order that was always issued. I knew better. Nothing could survive out here, nothing but us.
“You’ve barely eaten any.” I looked to my left to find Tana perched next to me. She had her usual smile spread on her face. Her arms were wrapped around her legs and she rested her head on her knees. Her eyes were fixed on my bowl. She was about eight years old, we couldn’t be certain of ages anymore, and the only one in the camp who could never get enough poison.
“You can have the rest if you want.” I moved to give her the bowl.
“No. You need to eat it. It’s you ration.” With effort she pulled her eyes away from the grayish lumps that she loved so much.
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
She looked over both her tiny shoulders, and then snatched the bowl from my grasp. I smiled as bits of the stuff flew in all directions as she shoved the poison into her mouth. The spoon lay forgotten in the dirt.
I always liked being with Tana. Somehow, she wasn’t as jaded over our circumstances as the rest of us. Sure, she had her demons like all of us. She had lost both her parents years ago and for some reason had latched onto me. There were years of her life unaccounted for, before she joined the camp. She never spoke of them, and I never asked. I knew what it was like to hold onto your past. Maybe if you never spoke the words, then it never really happened. Even so, she took all the horrors in stride, never showing anything but the brightness of youth. She was my reminder that maybe there would be a future after all.
When she was finished and the empty bowl, licked clean of course, rested between us, we sat in comfortable silence, watching the flames of the fire. It would be so easy to just sit here and forget. Forget I had duties to perform, forget what the sounds in the distance were, forget I had scarcely slept or eaten in days, forget that people, like Tana’s parents, were dead and gone. I blinked into focus, and remembered.
“We better get going.”
“Aw, man. I guess so.” Tana stretched up her arms, let out an ear-shattering yawn, and hopped up. “Let’s go then!”
I was always amazed at her enthusiasm. Most kids would find doing the same things every day boring and repetitive. Tana looked each day as a new adventure. I was grateful. I’m sure the tediousness would have driven me crazy by now if not for her.
Our first and last job for the day, as it was with everyone, was to look for any possible evidence of vegetation. Unfortunately, most people only gave half-effort in this endeavor. I didn’t blame them. How many days had it been with nothing? The human mind can only take so much disappointment. I’m sure I would have fallen into that category if Tana wasn’t around. This was her favorite part of the day. She loved to over-turn rocks, dig holes in the ground, follow bugs to their hovels, and I was with her through it all. We never would find anything green, but Tana was enjoying herself, and that’s all that mattered to me.
After an unsuccessful morning search, Tana reluctantly left the valley to com down to the stream with me to perform our next task: gathering water for drinking. The running water was clean enough for washing, but it required more preparation if it was to be consumed. Over the years, the natural water supply of our world had become slightly polluted. Debris from explosions, unclean conditions, we aren’t sure what exactly did it. Not only that, something had changed our natural biology. Our bodies had begun to reject water, clean or not. This was another unknown. How could something so basic to our survival be compromised? But it had been since the Beginning. Luckily, the cleaner and purer the water, the better chance we had at keeping it down. That’s why it was so important for us to collect as much as possible. Only a portion would survive the purification process.
I didn’t like to think about the meaning behind our actions, and I certainly wanted to spare that of Tana as well, so I always tried to make a game out of it. We’d race to the stream, see who could fill their bucket the fastest, who could make the smallest splashes, those kinds of things. Anything to distract her from the true purpose.
Around the Camp
The fire crackled in the darkness. Orange and yellow sparks flew up and made shapes and patterns as they fell back onto the singed wood. My eyes grew hazy as I watched them. Members of the camp always gathered here when it grew dark, to share a bowl of poison along with their stories of the day’s adventures. Tana sat next to me as usual, slurping her food as she listened to the others with wide-eyed enthusiasm.
I found it hard to participate this particular evening as I couldn’t get the image of Priscilla and the guard walking toward the command tent, the officer clutching whatever it was that he had found. Whatever that item was, Priscilla had failed to mention it in the nightly debriefing of the day. What could be such a secret that she would pretend it never happened? Not only that, but I hadn’t seen the officer the rest of the day. This wasn’t so unusual; their job was to be unseen, after all. But even now, when most gathered, he was not with the other guards. He’s just on patrol. Not every guard is able to come to the fire at night. It’s only that. But I had a feeling deep in my stomach that wasn’t true. I don’t know how, but I just knew that something had happened to him, and it was because of the object.
“Erin! Hello? Anyone there?” Someone was snapping their fingers in front of my face. I shook my head to rid myself of the image of the guard with a sword thrust through his chest. Nonsense, I was sure. I looked up to see the offending hand belonging to Edwin. He smiled when my eyes finally came into focus. “There you are.”
“Sorry.” I tucked my hair behind my ear. “How long have you been doing that?”
“Oh, not long. Just about twenty minutes is all.” He smiled, pleased with his attempt at sarcasm.
I exhaled a breath that had been caught in my lungs and rolled my shoulders. “I have a lot of my mind.”
“Anything you want to talk about?”
Should I tell him? Edwin would love this sort of mystery. Anything to break the monotony of our now present existence, as he liked to put it. He had a weakness for solving riddles, and most nights, when we sat around the fire, he would push me to come up with more and more difficult puzzles. I didn’t mind. It was healthy to exercise the mind with more than just physically-focused endeavors.
“No. It’s nothing.” I smiled. “Ready for one?” His hand rubbed his chin as I recounted a riddle I had come up with during the day. He didn’t need to know. It was probably nothing anyway. The officer had probably found an interesting insect specimen or a strange rock formation, and thought his commanding officer should know about it. That’s all. It was nothing. I was a fool to think our life here could change in the slightest. This was our world now, and nothing was going to change that.
We stayed up late that night. Edwin took longer than usual to solve the puzzles, either that or I was getting better at making them. I never liked retiring to bed; I didn’t like to be alone. The tents were separated by gender and by age, so neither Edwin nor Tana were my bedmates. I did have friends among those I slept next to, but nowhere close to those two. I had formed a bond with both of them, and it didn’t leave much room for anyone else. In times like this, we had to stick together, we had to look out for each other, and at night that wasn’t possible. I felt so vulnerable sleeping, even though it made no sense. We were heavily guarded at all times; Priscilla made sure of that. And I knew that my bunk-mates would never harm me. But I still was always on high alert.
“Erin? Erin! Wake up, wake up!”
The words sounded hazy, like they were very far away. I blinked. I saw the outline of Tana, but whenever I tried to focus on her face it would fade away, until I blinked again. I could just make out the wrinkles above her nose deepened as she mouthed my name. And then a black shape was behind her. It seemed to grow as it came closer, and a pair of blue eyes flashed brightly as I dropped out of consciousness.
-COULD HAVE DREAM SEQUENCE HERE-
“Why won’t she wake up?”
“Be calm. It will take time for her to awaken. You must be patient.”
“But what if she never does? She’s been sleeping for hours.”
“She will be fine. You have my word. See? Her eyes react even now.”
Something was stabbing the back of my head. I reached my hand up to feel whatever it was, but all I felt was something smooth; a bandage. This quickened my heart beat, and my eyes shot open to discover the owners of the voices I had heard float in and out of my dreams.
Tana was there, and she looked alright, thankfully. When her eyes met mine, she smiled enough to show crooked teeth. Whatever had happened, I was glad that she didn’t sport a matching bandage. But it was her companion that most intrigued me even more. He had dark hair, almost black, and it hung below his pointed chin. He wore a scowl so perfectly I imagined he did it often. He wore all black, and had a long sword hung across his back. The hilt was beautiful, a textured grip covered with different shades of gemstones, mostly reds and oranges mixed with black. His eyes I recognized. They were the beacons I had seen in my dreams, such a brilliant blue it was almost blinding.
“What happened? Tana? Where are we?” I sat up and couldn’t breathe. I inhaled sharply and coughed, clutching my chest. Gods, it hurt.
“Careful. You are not yet fully recovered. You require more rest.”
“I can’t rest! I don’t even know where we are! We have to transport the-” Trying to move had taken my breath away. I slammed my eyes shut as tears streamed down my cheeks. I was almost glad of the pain; it had stopped me from revealing the mission to a complete stranger.
“I’m afraid I must insist. You must remain lying down. You need time to heal completely.”
“Listen to him, Erin. He knows what he’s talking about. As least I think he does.”
I laid back down, though under protest. I had to admit, the pain did subside in a prone position. “Tana. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” And she really did look fine. Her hair was a little disheveled, more than usual anyway, and she was smiling her toothy smile she was wont to do. From what I could tell, she didn’t look worse for wear. I couldn’t say the same for myself.
“I remember someone was chasing us.” I eyed the newcomer with suspicion.
“We were, Erin. We were running and running. You were holding onto my hand, but I couldn’t keep up. I told you I would slow you down! You should have left me back at the camp.” Her bottom lip was shaking. I was always amazed at how emphatic a child she was. Her emotions were always tumultuous and unpredictable.
“Tana, stop it. You know that’s not true, and you know I would never leave you.” I squeezed her hand. “Now tell me what else happened.”
After an exaggerated sniffle, she continued. “Well, at some point I hit a branch, and we got separated. It was dark, I couldn’t find you again. I heard loud voices all around me, shouting, and they were getting closer. I knew I had to find you before they did.” She took a deep breathe. “But when I finally did, you were lying on the ground. There was a man standing above you, and the back of you head was red and dirty.” Her voice started to quiver and she remembered. Her eyes were far away. “The man was so scary. He was holding a stick, like the ones the guards at camp would have. And it was shiny and wet. I didn’t know what to do!” She started to cry then, the kind of crying that comes from your stomach, that takes over you and steals your breath away. Her throat made choking noises as she gasped for air, and I was able to lift my arm just enough to wrap it around her shoulders. She buried her head in the crook of my arm. I ignored the pain. She needed this.
I heard someone clear their throat above me, and I looked up to see the man with the blue eyes. I had forgotten he was there while listening to Tana’s recount of the events. That was bad. I should be more on my guard, especially in my almost incapacitated position.
“If I may, I believe I can pick up the story from here.” He eased on to the ground beside us, his eyes never leaving mine.
“Before you do, perhaps you can tell me who you are.”
“That will become clear once I recount the events.” He stared at me in question, eyebrows raised. I nodded, allowing him to continue Tana’s recitation. “With your assailant standing over you, the bloody baton in his hand, was precisely when I happened upon the both of you. Of course, Tana, I was not aware of your presence. Had I been, I would have shielded you from such horrors.” Tana sniffled in response. “I did not know who you or the man were, but it was clear you needed help, and his intentions were most assuredly not pure. I proceeded to disarm him and knock him unconscious.”
“What does that mean? I saw you fight him! You choked him with your arm, like this.” Tana demonstrated on me, wrapping her tiny arm around my throat. I’m sure it looked almost comical.
“I believe that’s what he meant by disarming him, Tana. Let him finish.” She sighed and sat back, but did not remove her arm.
“You’re quite correct, Tana. I chose hand to hand combat as not to injure him. As I sad, his identity was in question, and I do not take killing lightly.” For someone who looked like some kind of assassin I found that hard to believe. “When your assailant was down, I proceeded to check your injuries. You had lost quite a lot of blood from a head wound, and your stomach was badly bruised.”
I blinked. “My stomach? How could you tell?”
“Well, naturally I had to check you for injuries, those covered by your clothing and those not.” My head spun even more at the idea of this man lifting my shirt to “check my injuries.” But he seemed sincere, and from his ever-present scowl, I knew what he said was not in jest. He didn’t seem to notice my discomfort as he continued with the retelling unhindered. “I deduced you had broken ribs, and external trauma to the back of your skull. It is when I moved to lift you from the ground that Tana revealed herself.”
“I thought he was stealing you! I couldn’t let him take you without me!” Tana squeezed herself closer to me, if that was even possible.
“I can assure you, Tana. That was not my intent. My only wish was to transport Erin here to a more favorable location. But I am glad you revealed yourself when you did. It helps greatly to have another pair of eyes when one finds himself occupied.” Tana puffed up her face and beamed. Compliments had a tendency to go to her head. “Not much remains. I brought you both back my shelter and I tended your wounds. You were unconscious for a number of hours. I admit, I was worried you would not awaken.”
“I knew it!” Tana’s eyes bulged. “I knew you weren’t sure!”
“Forgive me for lying. I only wished to assuage any worry you had yourself, Tana.”
“Oh, well I-” I shushed her. I needed to hear more. This stranger had me mesmerized with his story. I couldn’t believe he had chose to help me, when killing me would have been the easier option. I hadn’t known such kindness was left in this world.
“You still haven’t told us who you are, you know.” He smiled at that, and his eyes grew a deeper blue than before.
“In that you are right. Then please, allow me to introduce my self. I am Davor.” He inclined his head. “And I believe I have already ascertained your identities. You are Tana, of course,” he nodded at my child companion, who beamed in return. This much attention must be intoxicating for her. “And you are Erin. I must say, it is truly a pleasure to talk with you, and not stare at your unconscious form in hope of your awakening.”
“And it is truly a pleasure to be conscious. Well, Davor, is it? I thank you for saving my life. If you hadn’t arrived when you did, I don’t doubt that man would have killed me.” I extended my free hand to shake his own. He stared at my hand for a second, squinting his eyes only slightly before clasping my hand with his own. But instead of shaking as was customary, he simply held it there. Heat radiated up my arm as the touch lingered. I looked up to search his face to find his eyes already seeking my own. I don’t know how long we stayed like that. It could have been hours for all I knew. What I did know was that staring into those crystal blue eyes before I had lost consciousness had changed my life forever. I just didn’t know yet if it was for better, or for worse.