Here’s my first dubious contribution to the latest Wendigism. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/04/10/flash-fiction-challenge-time-again-to-write-an-opening-sentence/
The Challenge was to write a story from a first line provided by someone else. I chose Brenna Faye’s opening sentence for this story, which is long at around 3,300 words but which can be read simply as Part 1 if you prefer. Thanks to Brenna for the inspiration and Chuck for the Challenge.
“Let go of the past,” Madeline’s mother had always warned her, “for it feeds upon us all with great appetite, and wants to live again.”
Part I. The War Begins.
I remember my mother telling me the ancient legends of a world our people once lived in, but I thought they were just old stories whose point was to teach us about caring for and preserving what we have here. Then the attacks began, and we were in harm’s way, even though we had long forgotten the art of warfare. My parents were among the first to die, and as events played out there were times I was relieved that they had not survived to see the destruction of our home.
The intruder came flashing out through the Rings of Time; archaic structures that it was said bound the present to the past, although now they stood in ancient decay and no one for millennia knew of their workings. The invader obviously did, though, and it splashed down into our ocean. Its tentacles began spreading out and destroying the sea on which we’d based our survival. Living as we did on the water’s edge, our homes were the first to be hit. As it vaporised the oceans a grey pall hung over the planet. None of us knew then that it would signal the coming of the darkness to our world and the end of almost everything we knew.
From inside its ship it flashed images onto the clouds of a desolate, war-torn, and infected world; the one that had been. The one our folk had so narrowly pulled back from extinction so long ago. Did the intruder not know that we had learned and evolved, or did it just not care? We couldn’t bargain with it; we couldn’t reason with it; it was implacably committed to our destruction, hell-bent on the total extinction of our people for the sins committed by our race so long ago that only a few shards of song and story survived to even tell us that we had come from something else.
It boiled our oceans and poisoned our air, forcing us into the underground tunnels that once acted as automated transport routes for the exchange of our sea goods with those of the people inland. Madeline and I ran for our lives, finding and joining a local resistance movement that was only just, after weeks of massacre, beginning to learn how to fight back. I wish I could say it all ended easily but our carriers, those odd-looking birds the legends say were once small domestic pets, were not up to the battle against clearly superior technology. Our swords broke at every strike. All we could do was fall back, fall back, and watch the decimation of our people as the intruder blitzed our fighters with strange rays.
Hopelessness tore at our hearts, and I leaned my head into her shoulder. Ancient equipment was commandeered from our museums and silently rolled into place. Those who knew how to use it were scarce, but the fear of annihilation drove us on. The intruder seemed to grow larger as we watched it, wondering and in awe. Everything we did appeared to make it stronger. Salvo after salvo was fired at it and absorbed by it. And then more of them came. We were lost.
Standing in the shallows, I saw the water people, those strange yet helpful and benign spirits we shared the planet with, fleeing their homes as the destruction approached. We were not the only ones losing our lives. Something came over Madeline then, a steely determination, and as she called the sea spirits to her I saw her fists close in defiance. Whatever it was she was thinking and feeling, it resonated out from her and I saw our people stand taller. We were no longer willing to be cannon fodder; we were now in the fight of our lives.
I felt waves of resolve and anger stream through me, and as I glared my defiance at the intruders they sent out huge bubbles of energy that merged and created a massive vortex in our sky, pulsing out in all directions. They were sucking the life out of our planet and even out of the moons near to us, which had begun to crumble and break away. If this was their revenge it was a strange and twisted one. Consumed by ancient hatreds they had become what they despised: destroyers of life and vitality.
More of them came, tearing at our land and causing huge tsunami in our oceans. We retreated once more, and just in time, as they began splitting our planet to the core. We threw everything we could, which wasn’t much, into a pitched air battle. Our grain hoppers were modified on the run, their ground-clearing lasers powered up beyond any sane point, in a bid to hold back the enemy. We hit and hit and hit the airborne beasts with everything we had. Our forces, massively depleted and vastly outgunned, fell in heart-wrenching screams of pain. Until we learned by accident where to direct our shots. That was the turning point in the war.
None of them survived, because they would not retreat. Our goals were unequal; they were driven by hatred; we were driven by survival. And leading the charge that saved our planet was a young woman named Madeline. She had been our rallying point, and in whatever future we would have, she would be our leader.
I found her, standing there in shoulder-deep water, surrounded by the broken war machines both sides had lost. She was crying, or laughing. I put my hands gently on her shoulders and when she looked at me an instant understanding was reached. I kissed her, but I would not keep her in the decades ahead. It was a kiss of acknowledgement, of seeing a new person emerge from the chrysalis of necessity, and tinged with a sadness at the fact that who I had once known was gone; a leader had taken her place.
Part II. The Days Of Destruction.
Five years have passed since we won the war but my memories are still bittersweet; there were so many battles we lost, and inside every battle were the deaths of so many thousands of our people. We live in a world of scars.
I sit near the ocean; it calls to me since the day the water people came and changed my life from what it was to what it is becoming. Along the way I lost the one I thought I’d always be with. It’s only now, after these years of trouble, that I can sit here and mourn him. The day passes into night; which star is he? My memory plays tricks on me. I want to see him as he was before the trouble began, scar-free and happy. Maybe the scars are mine.
He could never bring himself to go back to the seaside. Flying over our world he saw the carnage, and he hoped to heal it. Whatever our ancestors on the ancient Earth had done, he was driven to ensure it didn’t happen again here. I still fly out over the regenerated areas, marvelling at the abrupt end of the war desert and the blooming of life that he began at its fringes.
When I’m alone here I dream that I can connect with him, that somehow there’s a bridge between wherever he is and I am. It’s a child’s fantasy, I know, but it eases my pain, if only for a short time before the realities of life and leadership beckon me again.
I see him so clearly. He calls my name, just as he did when the celebrations began after we’d beaten the intruders. I remember our first dance; he was so reluctant to do anything but he accidentally grabbed my bottom instead of my hand, and then smiled in embarrassment. Finally, he gave in to the rhythm of the music, and the fireworks overhead felt as if they’d leapt from my heart. It is the abiding memory I have of him.
Now he’s gone, and there are times when all I can do is run; run away to try to outdistance the pain. The ring he gave me and the one he wore are the only real things I have left of him, but in front of others I must always appear strong, and so I need the time alone to be with his memory. I touch my necklace and the rings on it and I wish it was possible to touch his face again. On my first spacewalk they floated in front of my face, and it pleased me and hurt me to think that up here in the airless void I might be a little closer to wherever he is. Up here, no one can see me cry.
How can I ever banish from my mind the way in which he died? No way is good, but to be killed by some of our own people who wanted the Rings of Time left open, strikes at me in ways I will never be able to resolve. I held him close to me; his body already cold; too cold for even the water people to help. I don’t think I’ve felt warm since.
So many things we went through together; so many mixed memories. I see the fields and flowers, and flashing images of the war and the treachery. And then I see him laying there, cold and gone. He made the traitors pay a heavy price when they took his life. I can at least be thankful for that, although I would have liked to draw their blood on the edge of my sword.
I sleep, I dream, and I pass through that strange white barrier that separates us. It is a place of light and warmth, the City of Light, and he’s there waiting for me. He feels so real, and at least until I wake up, we are here, together. I know there is life after life.
Part III. The Battle For Everything.
His sister was the other pivotal female in his life. Having lost his parents and home he was determined not to lose her. Her existence spurred him on, and when the water people came to our aid with their hidden technology there was nothing that could stop him. I may have become the Living Legend that had been prophesied for millennia, but without him I doubt I’d have survived long enough to become it.
When he saw their craft he seemed to instinctively know what to do, and when I saw him dive through the acrid yellow smoke and into the water a part of me knew that he had a destiny and he was going to fulfil it. His sister was as much a fighter as him, and I freely admit I drew on her strength in the days he was gone. We were scared for him. We bolstered each other with our memories of him, assuring each other with a faith we didn’t really feel that his confidence alone would be enough to ensure his survival.
The water people came for him, and they enhanced him. When he returned to us he was stronger, faster, and wiser than he had been but there was no doubt it really was him. Torn between the two of us, we often felt we used to drive him to distraction, until the day we followed him and found him on a high lonely outcrop, staring at the destruction the war was bringing to our home.
The destruction. The intruders left more physical scars on our planet, but the traitors left deeper emotional ones. They had argued for the impossible; a truce. How do you negotiate with an armada that will settle for nothing less than your total annihilation? It brought us to civil war. Just when we should have been fighting together as a people, we were fighting each other, each side believing the other was the real enemy. He knew when the opposition soldiers were coming, long before they arrived, and in what few quiet moments we had he told me of the strange dreams he had. He saw his own death, but he also saw that it was central to us winning both wars we fought.
He fought hard, never giving up, and his counsel led us to a heartbreaking victory over our own people, the ones who had gone astray. Many say he was my lieutenant and merely followed my commands; such is the nature of legends. The truth is, we were so closely connected it was difficult to know who had the ideas and who had refined them. I believe the people came to love him as much as they did me, if their cheers at our meetings were anything to go by. And there was always his sister, in the shadows behind him, preparing for war as she hoped for peace.
He fought, and encouraged others to fight, and day by day – sometimes minute by minute – he turned the course of the wars in our favour. From time to time he would go back to the water people, although he never would tell us why. We learned, with difficulty, to let him go. We knew he’d be back. Through him we learned not only to resist, but to fight.
Part IV. The Old Ways.
The best minds we had left to us had ransacked every inch of the museums and storage spaces, seeking out the ancient technologies. Many were useless to us, their unfamiliarity either defeating us or, where we could understand their uses, having no way to turn them on or make ammunition for them. We did whatever we could with what we had, but our successes were limited.
Debate raged about using the old technology, especially after we had a series of misfortunes where the weapons simply exploded, killing many of our scholars and those with the will to fight. The divisions among our people had been there from the start of the attacks on our planet; these setbacks merely opened our wounds more publicly.
The strange metamorphosis he underwent at the hands of the water people was, as I said, the turning point in the war. In the chamber that housed the most curious of the old machines was a vast array of long, thin panels. Of course, we had tapped them from time to time, and nothing had occurred, and we were at that point in the war where, with losses mounting, we had all agreed that the area was off-limits. We could no longer afford to lose our best minds to random and unexplained explosions.
I noticed him missing from one of our gatherings and a strong sense of knowingness overtook me. I left the meeting as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, taking a circuitous route past the women’s rooms and the food hall, lest any prying eyes wondered at my mission. I found him exactly where I thought he would be.
What I saw both astounded me and filled me with new hope. It was as if he had been born to this, such was his confidence at the control panel. Beams of light leapt into life from hidden recesses as he called the machine to wakefulness, gears grinding and lights arcing as they came to life for the first time in millennia. Images flashed before my eyes and I briefly wondered if it was an effect of the machines or part of the strange double visions I had been having since the war began. I saw not only my own death but his, and at the hands of our own people. As the machines opened and hummed back to life from their long sleep I called to him. He stood and turned, just as our opposing forces stormed the cavern. We stood together as they took aim and fired, and we were blown into oblivion.
I had a strange dream, a dying one, of him and me descending into the waters of our sea. We floated down gently, entwined in each others arms. If this was our end then it had at least served to bring us to the place we longed to be; together.
The water people were all around us and then they moved into us. Filled with their light we knew beyond doubt that we were now part of them and they were part of us. We felt their resolve and knew their secrets. The time to die was over, and we were born anew. With deadly purpose the water people rose up out of the seas all over the planet and became lights of the air. Our allies numbered billions, and we would give the intruders the fight of their lives, or we would die together.
Time was abstract in the waters of the sea. We had been there for years or for seconds, it was impossible to say which, but in whatever time we were there we learned about our hosts and their hidden technologies. Coupled with our own weapons a new sense of purpose embraced us. He went back to the land to gather our forces; I stayed behind to master their technologies.
I used one of their fighters to locate him, and in my excitement I nearly killed him as I brought the plane in to land at the beach. The next few moments were ours alone. The connection to each other, to the water people, to our own people, and to our home was intense. We shared a certainty that we would win.
Part V. Remembering What We Lost.
The attack on us began with the destruction of our coastal villages. Huge waves engulfed our homes and families, and massive winds tore them from the safety of the ground. Only he lived to see the first intruder. By luck or the hand of god he was flung onto one of the strange war machines before plummeting back into the boiling ocean. Logic dictates that his death should have been certain several times, but he survived, only to be tormented by the death of his family and the decimation of everything he had known. When his time finally came, and in the years after, his example became legend itself. He was how the parable of ‘living until you die’ came into being.
The story is almost all as I have told it; the pitched battles with hastily changed farming and harvesting equipment, the fights among our own, and the intervention of the water people. It is to them we owe our greatest thanks and our survival. We have no notion of how many of them died, or even if they could die, but they were more than our eager helpers in the war; they were the catalyst for the rebirth of the old legends, of the girl who would rise up to lead a nation, and then a planet. The called her Yuna in their strange thought-dialect. They called her me. “Let go of the past,” my mother had always warned me, “for it feeds upon us all with great appetite, and wants to live again.” I have, mother, except in the places where remembering counts as much as living itself.
Was I the Changer the old stories spoke of, or merely a young woman caught up in events and elevated out of fear and necessity? Perhaps time will tell, but for today I know that we are safe once more. We will rebuild our planet into a paradise. If nothing else, the intruders gave us a keener sense of stewardship to our home, and taught us of the consequences that can echo through time and space when the place we call home is destroyed by foolishness and greed.
The legend is not a story of one young woman, but a testament to the possibilities lying deeply in all living things.