The heat steamed off my freshly misted back. Perhaps it had been a mistake to wear my black Star Trek: The Tour shirt to a music festival, even in October. Thankfully, the mist tent was just a few yards from the 2nd stage. Danzig was chubby and clad in leather and black linen. But the angry balm of chaotic energy held me captivated.
My heart beat faster than I thought it could, and I looked bleary-eyed at the concrete-walled restrooms, a cool spot maybe, just walk a few feet and maybe it will be cool. Like a cave. Someone happily yipped and darted past me, causing goosebumps to scattershot up my arms. Just walk, start walking, be there in no time. And one foot pulled from the Earth, weighing tons, each toe gripping independently like a sloth releasing a branch to make its way down for its monthly shit.
Inside it was cooler. The water vaopr from flushing toilets and washing hands mixing with the hotter, wetter air. Waiting for the next available sink was torturous. I knew if I could only splash enough water on myself, I could cool down. I should sit down, but I wouldn't want to get up, and I might lose my place in line. The crowded room was thick with body smells, perfume, cigarettes, and pot. The soap from the dispensers had long been depleted. More experienced women had brought travel-size pouches of baby wipes.
I just had to make it to sundown. My boyfriend had left me at the 2nd stage to see Sepultura. It was the only time they would be in North America, so I didn't fault him. But, I wondered if he was worried about me at all, beer in hand and gleaming with that boyish energy that made everyone adore him. It was no use; the thought of just taking my shirt off fought against my need to cover, to never show any more flesh than absolutely necessary.
The chatting and laughing only made me feel more in danger. As if I would perish in this crappy restroom in the asscrack of America, people stepping over me and laughing. But, this was a heavy metal festival. It was Ozzfest. Women offered me baby wipes and fanned me with t-shirts. It hadn't really been that hot. It was a panic attack, a feeling of being crushed by the sheer weight of humanity in such numbers. I was able to push myself to hear the last few numbers by Sepultura. "Roots" is so much more heart-wrenching live.
By the time Ozzy took the stage, I was already scoping an exit. Half a set, that was all I could handle. My boyfriend didn't understand and was pissed that he was going to miss the finale. As we walked to the parking lot, the sun had finally set, and the pressure evaporated like spilled vodka on a desert road.
["Where is Charles Eric?" my mother asked. Everyone else called him Charlie, but my mother often used his full name. Namesake middles were there to be spoken, especially that of her beloved grandfather. Eric Hindorff was a first-generation US citizen. His parents, aunts, and uncles (biological and by marriage) had emigrated from Sweden. They made their way across the American continent from East to West taking the Emigrant Train from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Temecula, CA in 1883. Eric later moved to Fallbrook in the northern part of San Diego County.]
Working on a CNF piece. My GGP led an interesting life. He met Pancho Villa in 1912, just after he separated from his general and the other Mexican revolutionaries. He was a rattlesnake milker and wildlife wrangler for the San Diego Wildlife Commission. He was a proficient fiddler and a bee keeper.
The following poem was written by Annie Hindorff (my GGM):
The Old Honeyhouse
I wandered today to the honey house
And climbed the old wooden stair.
I drew on my imagination
And wished that you could be there.
A festoon of spider webs hung from the eaves
And webs were draped, ceiling to floor.
Gave an eerie feeling swaying there in the breeze
Undisturbed since we closed the door.
I recalled the days last summer
When we worked the whole day long
Running off golden honey
Hearing the motor's song.
Hearing the hum of the motor,
Humming bees and hissing steam,
The clip-clap of belt on the wheel
Golden honey flows out in a stream.
Balmy days of autumn,
The trees so red and gold,
Reminds us of our younger days.
What'll we be when we are old?
Will we be so blithe and breezy
And dance the whole night through,
Or will we be cross and crabby,
And there's nothing we can do?
Though long the day, tired and weary,
We made plans for the years to come,
Happy to be working together,
Sharing our trials and fun.
We thought not too far in the future
Of the time when no day's work is done,
When we have to sit back an dream
Of the years that were filled and gone.
Now it is cold and quiet,
The droning motor is still.
There is no golden honey,
No yawning tanks to fill.
It is cold and quiet now,
The mice run over the floor;
No golden honey dripping,
No bees humming 'round the door.
I thought far into the future
Wondered when our life's work is done,
Will our spirits return to this honeyhouse
Where we worked together so long?
Will someone take up our work here,
And faithfully carry the load,
Or will our dreams and promises
Be laid by the side of the road?
Who knows what the future may bring us.
Is our work here really worth while?
When we're gone, will we be forgotten,
Or be thought of and give them a smile?
Many years have passed since I wrote this,
The bees have been sold far away.
The barn is a haven for cast-offs,
That are going to be used some day.
No Great Adventure Begins with Someone Eating a Salad
The large wood-beamed room buzzed with the usual business. Farmers and merchants haggled prices over pints; travelers and sailors exchanged stories and gambled, sloshing whiskey on the planks of the tables as if they were still being tossed by the sea. Smoke from four metal ovens carried the scents of roasted meats and root vegetables around the large dining area on the main floor of the pub.
The pub's patron had removed the electrical innards of the ovens years ago and stacked bricks inside.
Fragments of glass signs twisted in curly lettering. Nobody read the old language anymore, but there they remained, clinging to yellowed walls among framed photos of neat, glimmering streets, manicured parks, and portraits of forgotten people. The regulars, who ate dinner here nearly every night, liked nothing better than to speculate about the occupations and demeanors of the people featured on those walls.
Marri worked the Tuesday evening shift as part of her co-op duty rotation. She picked up bits of discarded theories along with the food crumbs she collected for the chickens and pigs out back. But, there was a story she wanted to hear much more than the usual fare of hearsay's history. And she couldn’t keep her gaze from the table where that story sat.
In the eye of the merry maelstrom of this particular Tuesday night, a sinewy stranger hovered over his dinner. His slimly-muscled arms jutted from the stained brown cloak that covered weary shoulders, and he tore into his meal like a ravenous lover after a lengthy separation. Lettuces and slivers of vegetables slipped past his curved lips as he crunched on bits of rendered pork and toasted bread cubes, his jaw clenching with ecstasy, the whites of his eyes glinting beneath the shadowy hood of his cloak. Marri had never seen such a disheveled person; even local farmers after long days of plowing and weeding fields didn’t look so grubby and tired. She would discover his secrets, know his story, even if she had to trade duties with her sister to work two days a week at the pub.
The green Astroturf squeaked under Gloria’s yellow running shoes. She felt as if she were walking on a beach of mushrooms and blooming coral, simultaneously hard and spongy. The sun crested the roof of the Rec Center to the east, and the chains on the playground swings glistened, each rusty link holding a prism of dew. The air smelled pleasantly of rotting leaves and mineral-rich soil. Gloria caught a glimpse of her moving shadow on the silvery aluminum bleachers; it bumped up and down between two rows with her uneven gait. Her limp was slightly less noticeable than when she started walking three months ago, and she begrudgingly admitted to herself that her physical therapist was right.
“Beautiful morning for November, huh?” the woman walking on her right mused.
Gloria smiled at her, “yes, Ms. Barbara. It is pretty.” Gloria was utterly aware how ridiculous she must look. She was a squat woman with thin, mousey-gray hair, too old to be beautiful and too young to be wise. And the butter-colored velour jogging suit wasn't helping matters. No, she was in that mediocre age when women of little substance were pretty much ignored. Her thoughts were interrupted when she spied Mr. Mitchell waving from the soccer field. “Here we go,” she grumbled.
“He’s harmless,” Barbara grinned.
“Oh, Ms. Glorious! You’re really rockin’ that track suit, Ms. Glorious,” he hollered. Ah, yes. Gloria had almost forgotten about the one demographic that actually valued middle-aged women: septuagenarian men. She hoped that somehow that group would concede to the popular opinion and leave her the hell alone. Men of a certain age enjoyed talking quite a bit more than she could endure.
“When are you going to tell me how you got that limp?” Mr. Mitchell teased. “I think it’s running from all her suitors, Ms. Barbara. What you think? I know; you’re a vet...which sandstorm did you get caught in, glorious one?”
“I’ll see you on Wednesday, Ms. Barbara,” Gloria rolled her eyes and spun toward the parking lot. Barbara nodded, too winded from giggling and walking to respond.
Gloria was in no mood to feign interest in the weather, sports, or local gossip. And she didn’t want to lie about how she got her limp.
Half-smiling, half-glowering, she made her way to her station wagon, waving a friendly-ish ‘bye’ in Mr. Mitchell’s direction and hoping her newly-healed leg would allow her to walk faster than someone with two bad knees, a replaced hip, and not enough body mass to tempt a hungry alligator.
Gloria plopped into the driver’s seat and let herself feel it all as the car cocooned her. She thought about him; how twin suns once gleamed behind him. She had endured the Trials and banished the foulest beings ever to draw breath, yet here she was. This was what she had come back to; she, who had twice ridden a six-legged bristly beast across the dry plains of Vynduon to summon a coven of long-dead witches, had aged out of her measurable social value. Had Benrat’s blade not scorched her, marking her flesh for all time? As she reminisced in consternation, she didn’t notice the person approaching.
Barbara secured her mask and knocked on the passenger window. The car shook a little. Gloria clutched her chest and rolled her eyes. “Jeez,” she grumbled. She donned her own mask, a yellow one with dancing, happy bananas, and she slowly lowered the window. “You paying for my funeral expenses after that heart attack you just gave me?”
Barbara threw her head back and laughed, big and lyrical and toothy. “My lord but you are a jumpy woman. I’m so sorry. That mask, though.” She chortled and hissed. “Your eyes are daggers, but I can’t take them seriously peeking over those smiling fruits on your face.”
Gloria tried to harden her eyes further, but they squinted into laughter instead. “Get in here, you terrorist.”
The two women sat in comfortable silence. After a time, Barbara glanced over, her eyebrows lifted. “Well?”
“He’s not wrong...in a way.” And she left it hanging there.
“I’ll listen if you want to say. If not, we can stick to your questionable wardrobe choices and the men who find you irresistible?” They both smiled, but a look not unlike horror in Gloria’s eyes made this Barbara’s last ribbing of the morning.
Gloria pushed up the velour sleeve of her hooded jacket and rubbed the wide purple scar zigzagging across her forearm. It was too fresh to be the stuff of an adventurous youth, and Barbara gasped. “Christ Almighty, Gloria!”
“It begins with a prophecy, as stories often do…”
Working title: No Great Adventure Begins with Someone Eating a Salad
Genre: fantasy novella
Age range: adult (18+)
Word count: 1,127 (unfinished)
Author name: Katherine Menon
Gloria is our hero; she isn't young or particularly pretty. She doesn't weild a special ability granted to her by a masculine power. She is thrust into a world that requires her to unbridle herself, and she finds, upon returning to her own, that refitting the harness challenges her even more than the saga that swept her from her reality.
Curmudgeonly older male heroes (and sidekicks/mentors) dominate the fantasy genre. I want to create a character that is hopeful and cynical, caring and blunt, engaged and blasé.
Target audience: sci-fi/fantasy fans over 30.
Education: BA in English Literature and Professional Writing
Experience: I had a few pieces published in online magazines, printed anthologies, and student-edited publications. My writing style is, well, really, it's quite passe. There is a duality to my style: I flirt with darkness and flit about with an ethereal naivete. And that pretty well matches my personality. I love working the soil, busting dirt clods and pulverizing it until it yields. And I like the resulting flowers and herbs. I love the city at night, coming out of a dance club into the crisp air, my skin still buzzing to the barely audible beat of the bass.
The Culmination of Two Years’ Languish
Looking back, those eighteen months felt like decades. And it wasn’t a calm, easy time, the kind of time that can verge on boring when one has to seek excitement to feel the old, pink pump chugging.
Perhaps it was a carried-over feeling from the previous few years when upheaval uncovered not the rich soil in which to plant a prosperous future but rather a boggy stench of slush that we squeegeed into the new decade.
Spoiled elder youths muddied the Slip-n-Slide, leaving a sopping green mess to mark us, we of the forgotten generation, we that promised ourselves we would throw the whole thing out before we let it get ruined. To be fair, one could suppose that the other side viewed themselves much the same way, and maybe they were trying to throw it all out just as we’d promised ourselves. They almost succeeded.
A mess soothes, its familiarity securing one’s perimeters, one’s capacity to withstand and withhold; but it’s an amoeboid barrier. We control what passes through, stifling the variety of stimuli until we believe that nothing exists besides what we allow in. In those boggy months, stagnating in what seemed a perpetual storm of misinformation and fomented fear, the variety of stimuli decreased further. We were left to choose between the horrifying truth and the horrible, sometimes-intentionally inaccurate, lie; made to feel unbalanced when considering rational ideas, unhinged when expressing genuine concern for devastating prospects.
And when the others, those that drained the water leaving nothing but the unskimmed muck behind, began to bear the brunt of their ignorance and belittling, they blamed the government for their condition.
These—who perceived a piece of cloth over one’s face more devastating than the deadly condition that the cloth prevented—didn’t blame the entire government, each branch given a list of grievances with specific demands to improve our collective situation. No, it was simultaneously more pointed and amorphous. Only certain political factions were labeled “government.” And with that label came the modifiers “corrupt” and “elite" and “oppressive.” They twisted suggestions and mandates for safety into evidence of control and barbarism and worst of all in their estimations, anti-nationalism. Their personal identities and love of self, tied so closely to their sense of entitlement by virtue of being born in an arbitrarily and violently formed area of the planet, they could no longer distinguish between their own needs and the desires of the ruling class. And, don't misunderstand: there was a ruling class.
There, costumed in the fineries of their respective statuses—half-naked and painted, a malignant manifestation of the crux of American cultural appropriation; decked with dingy denim and beer-scented beards and bras; or boringly quaffed with cookie-cutter business casual slacks and loafers—they stormed the castle of perceived slights and imaginary injustices.
They called for the Deaths not only of those who represented and fought for disparate ideological legislation (women and minorities, mostly), but also of those whose recent words and actions weren’t harsh or vainglorious enough for these self-appointed liberators of the most liberated and protected sector of the population to justify their violence (up to and including the VP of the USA).
They, who railed against peaceful protests of police brutality and flew black, white and blue flags on their trucks as they rammed pedestrians, beat officers of peace with the emblem of the country, defiled red stripes with the red blood of their protectors in a vain presumption of oppression. Clamoring for chaos in the guise of liberty, they split symbols of Freedom like firewood and shattered declarative encasements, exposing fragile parchments of history to the mired air of the moment.
Boasting their conquest, they posted photos and videos of their fight against the fair and legal election of a president. Unable to accept that they were not in fact the silent majority, they transformed themselves into the worst of what they purported to despise: lawless, unjust, uncivilized, violent. They returned to work with a feeling of elation, of being seen and heard, of making a difference for the betterment of the country, incapable of understanding that they would not be the heroes of the hour. And nothing came of the boastful promises; none of the rallies they threatened formed. None of the representatives they harangued were unseated or prosecuted for fictitious crimes. No new macabre conjectures made their way to mainstream news: no gay frogs, no pizza parlor cults, no reptilian extraterrestrials running the shadow government.
The following year, January 6th became a meme. The devastation, death, destruction, and defilement transposed into another e-symbol of self-congratulatory virtue. When the indictments began, propelled by self-recorded evidence of high crimes, it wasn’t front-page news. No hordes of cameras waited outside halls of justice for the details of the trials. No 60-minute specials laid bare the intriguing back story of the individuals in an attempt to understand the psychological underpinnings of these crazed devotees.
Perhaps the lack of coverage was for the best. Relegated once again to snapping toothlessly, stuck in a swampy pit of their own making, without a trainer to praise their myopic destitute desires and violently asinine actions, they sank more slowly and more quietly than they had risen. Still there, in the murky shallows they wait, hoping to once again be relevant, even if their only contribution is destruction.
For the Dow
Two weeks in, and Price is slumping
The gas is cheap, but no one's pumping
CEOs resigned and dumping;
We don't want to die for the Dow.
POTUS says two weeks suffice,
And he'll help states if they play nice
Lieutenants claim they'll sacrifice, but
We won't die for the Dow.
Nurses burn like Salem witches
For asking for clean, sterile stitches
Scientists wind up in ditches;
We won't die for the Dow!
While Doctors' protests crescendo
And Corporatists thrive on innuendo, but
We won't Die for the Dow!
While fairly sure that this will end
And hoping not to break but bend
We solemnly our lives defend, for
WE WON'T DIE FOR THE DOW!
Imagining creates X,
Emoting chemically becomes;
Willing begets action,
Dreaming logically awakens;
All that we are pivots here;
Existence hinges on Hope.
A Welcome Note on the Sidetable
I wish I could tell you that you're going to survive this. However, that is no longer a valid concern. Time doesn't move here, so there is no end. If something doesn't end, it can't be survived nor can you succumb.
I wish I could tell you that you will enjoy this, but enjoyment and pain are only experienced within the framework of Time. If experiences don't end, we cannot attach value to them. We cannot evaluate. But, perhaps not examining moments in The Endless is a blessing for those who spent their Time overanalyzing.
Now, open the closet and reach in. Anything you want to wear is there.
Meet us in the dining hall. These constructs will not always be needed; this is your soft landing.
Time is ended. Welcome to The Endless.
Pink Clocks, Gold Clocks, Big Fat Black Clocks
As a toddler, my eldest child couldn't pronounce "L." And her favorite items to get excited about, yelling and pointing, were...clocks. But, she couldn't just say, hey look at all the clocks.
Oh, no. She had to make an exhaustive list of all the colors, sizes, and styles. I'm in Family Dollar, like...."Oh, sweet baby Jesus, I hope the cashier has HIS Radio blasting up there."
Skirting the Edges Series: Joan Baez and the Porta-Potty
It was almost complete. The last stitch slid through the thin gray cotton hem just beside a small pink flower. Annie held it by the waist and gently swung it side to side. Pleased with the swish, she checked the pleats on all three tiers. Done. Annie wrung her sore hands and thought about the night ahead.
A few hours later, Annie tapped her right ring finger on the hard plastic of the Gremlin’s faded red steering wheel. Jane—Annie’s older sister—gave directions to their friend Pink one last time. Then, she popped her bag in the trunk and slammed the rounded glass of the trunk.
Pink had acquired his nickname during a short but memorable stint with the Angels. The Hell’s Angels. He cranked his bike to a rumbling start and nodded, his Marigold locks bouncing the sun around his head.
“Okay, baby girl,” Jane sighed and chirped. “I think he’s got it. Oh, I love that skirt! Let's go.”
“Yip-yip-yippee!” Annie replied, the anxiety of the trip giving way to the anticipation of the coming experience.
“Woo-hoo!” Jane responded. And they were off.
By 1984, being a free-spirited, Jesus-freak gypsy had fallen out of fashion. However, there were enough people still in love with the ideas and music of the “hippie” generation to warrant a Folk tour.
The small outdoor venue near Guthrie, Oklahoma, was set for an evening filled with some of the great Folk singers, like Joan Baez and Eliza Gilkyson. And, Annie could hardly wait.
The trio arrived at the venue, parked, and walked through the temporary aluminum gates. They found a perfect spot by a tree and set out their blankets and gear. Jane and Pink drank some whiskey from the bottle and smoked. That wasn’t Annie’s bag, but she was enjoying their enjoyment.
As the third local group finished their set, Annie heard Jane grumble, “Oh, really. Sheesh.”
“Geez, Janie. I can’t help it if I gotta whiz.” Pink lumbered up, all 6’4” and 280 lbs of him.
“Hurry! My Joan is next!” she scolded.
When 15 minutes had passed, Annie headed to the toilets to look for Pink, sure that he had gotten turned around. Her skirt swished over the cool clover blanket that covered the ground.
She found the row of blue porta-potties and looked around. “Pink?” she called out impatiently.
“Yeah! I’m in here!”
“Last one on the right!”
“What are you doing?’
“Well, Annie, I can’t get my leathers up,” he whisper-yelled.
“What?!!” Annie heard a snicker coming from the stall next to Pink’s.
“My legs are too sweaty, and, well, I’m a big fella in a small space.”
More giggles from the next pot neighbor. “Hey, buddy! Not cool, man.”
Just then, Annie heard the intro to one of her favorite Baez tunes. She started singing along, trying not to get irritated.
A tall man stepped out of the adjacent pot and smiled at Annie. “Wow, girlie. Nice skirt. And a nice voice!”
“Oh, thanks,” she said offhandedly, not really looking at him.
And, then she heard a bellow from inside the last pot on the right.
“Shit!! Is that Joan Baez!! Dammit, dammit.” The potty started shaking around, so Annie grabbed the man beside her and jumped back.
Out popped a giant of a man, his leather pants at his knees as he timbered forward, landing on his face, his large blushed tookish mooning everyone. Jane ran up and screamed. “Holy fuck, Pink. Not again!!”
The next pot neighbor threw his head back, roaring. “Y'all are too much,” he giggled, walking away.
Later that evening, the headliner took the stage. He strummed his guitar and spoke of how he had come to this point in his life, weaving a rhythmic tale. And then, he called out Joan Baez to the stage.
“Joanie?’ he hummed.
“Yes, Arlo,” she cooed.
“There’s a young woman in the audience with a flowing gray skirt and the voice of an angel.”
“You don’t say! How do you know?’
“Well, we met today under strange circumstances that may not be proper for all ears.”
The audience cooed. Jane looked around and then gestured to Annie. Annie just shook her head.
“Little lady with the gray skirt, where are you? We met when your red-haired fella tried to mow me down .” The audience booed.
“Just kidding folks Just fooling. Little lady?” The audience laughed, relieved.
Annie stood up and waved. And when their eyes met, it finally registered that the next pot neighbor was none other than Arlo Guthrie.
“Yes! There she is! Y’all, help her up on stage, would ya?” The audience cheered. Two security guards approached and led Annie to the stage.
“Now, Joan. You listen to this!” Arlo strummed the first bars of “Wanton Soldier,” and the audience erupted in applause.
Annie stepped away from the mic, but Joan patted her on the back. “It’s okay, honey. Let’s hear what you’ve got.”
Annie moaned out the sad lyrics, and Joan provided harmony. When the song ended, the two stars looked at one another. “Well, that was fine, fine singing. And I love your skirt,” Joan said. The crowd erupted in applause again.
When they got home, Annie washed her skirt and twisted it around a broom handle to dry, still stunned by the day. A few days later, she packed the skirt in her hope chest. And there it remained for 12 years.
Aedan stood on the edge, the Valley behind him and the Mountain ahead. The sunset smoldered on the horizon in wavering streams of gold and purple, hinting at pinks and strange greens. He couldn’t remember green over the land, the carpets of bright grasses or the spiky green clinging to tall trees. His greens were insects, fish, water, and potted things. He tried to imagine it the way the older people described it. A mossy pond covering everything; the twilight stuck to the ground in prismatic variations of color. He laid this mental image over the landscape before him. In the dimming light, Aedan felt a longing for freedom that he had scarcely before allowed himself. He was going to see her, again.
“You ready, Aed?” Kirati bumped his elbow with hers. The resounding clink of their armor echoed across the expanse before them, and the shimmering vision of the never-known past vanished.
“Yes, I am ready,” Aedan answered with deeper significance than the moment needed.
They made their way from the well-worn path to the craggy, lumpy mess of a pass that wound along the side of the Mountain. Resilient moss and lichen clung and grew in the shady spots. They hiked for a few miles in silence, the three of them. Jetur, Kirati’s twin brother, led them along the ravine side, stopping now and then to pluck a mushroom or some lichen. Jetur's large frame belied his agile movement; the scowl on his implacable face revealed nothing of the kindness of which he was capable and readily gave. Kirati swung up beside her larger, quieter brother by the trunk of a long-ago petrified tree. She eyed Aedan. “Were these things really alive, Aed?”
“So it is told. The Librarians had books and books of photos, and most of them had the memories as well as the histories.”
“Did he really…you know…” Kirati interjected.
“Yes.” Aedan was not in the mood to describe what he had witnessed. It was raw.
“Are we really going to meet the Witch?” This was the most Jetur had spoken in days. Aedan could see that this was something that was going to be discussed whether he wanted it or not.
“Let’s just get to the Plateau, and I will explain everything. The Journalist and Surveyor live with her, you know," Aedan remarked flatly. The twin Climbers stared at one another, eyes as big as the dawning sun.
They finished the first leg of their hike in silence, excepting the few grunts of exertion when they climbed over the Pass.
The team finally dropped their packs on the ground. Aedan started a small fire with the lichens Jetur had collected, and Kirati stood guard while Jetur cleaned and skewered the mushrooms. He sniffed at them and smiled, “Mm-hmm.” Aedan wondered if Jetur smiled only at mealtimes. Jetur roasted the mushrooms over the fire and hummed an old tune.
Kirati’s eyes lit up when she recognized it. “Oh, that’s a classic. I love folk songs. Time, why do you punish me? Like a wave crashing into the shore, you wash away my dreams.” Aedan joined in lending harmony to the slow, melodic tune. They sang old songs together for half an hour or so, Jetur drumming a boulder with his knife. Aedan’s eyes shifted from his comrades to the core of the fire. He knew what was expected, and he dreaded it.
“Tell the tale, Aed,” Kirati said softly. “Songs sung and now comes the tale, right? It’s a part of history, now.”
“Right, history.” He sat quietly for a minute thinking of what to say. He told them the history of the Librarian’s time with the people of the Valley: his accomplishments and his demeanor. Then, he spoke of his death. “We met with the Journalist and the Surveyor just above the Pass. Henryk was tired, and the sun had peaked a few hours before…”
“Journ and Surve?? Really?” Kirati interrupted excitedly. “Who’s Henryk?”
“Yes. Journ and Surve. Henryk was the Librarian’s name, Kirati the Climber. Now, stop interrupting! His skin grew red, his face flushed. I thought it was the altitude. He was a Librarian, not a Climber after all.” The twins nodded in unison. A good story-teller knew how to win the audience’s favor with well-placed, subtle compliments. “But, it was the Sun. Too long in the heat and too old to be climbing about like a goat, his body gave way. I could see it in his eyes. He knew he would become a burden to us, especially to Vedika. His job would be forfeit, and he would use up resources. No, that was not his way. So, he leapt. He faced the Sun and leapt from the Mountain.”
Aedan stood and reached into his pack. He was done; that was as much as he planned to say about it. He wasn’t about to discuss Counsel business with them, especially when these seasoned Climbers were acting like children on a camping trip. He spun and unfurled his dome in one smooth motion. The twins looked up at him in amazement; they had never seen anyone but a fellow Climber set up the dome like that. Aedan ignored their gawking. “We’d better get some sleep. The sun is rising so don’t dally, unless of course you want your skin to burn off.”
The light was warm and delicate on her skin. She watched in amazement as her fingers glistened as if covered with chocolate diamond dust. “Vika? Oh, Vedika Jones, where are you?” sang a deep, lilting voice. “There you are, you babbling brook! Gotcha.” Thick arms lifted Vika and swung her to broad shoulders. “Let’s go see what Nama is up to, huh? Probably a bunch of nonsense, as usual,” he chuckled as he squeezed Vika’s chunky thigh, making her giggle.
Her grandmother’s voice echoed from the other side of a small, daisy-covered hill. “Today, we have another goal: to rebuild and renew our world, not to be people on the Earth but people of the Earth. We can live in the world as it is, now; we can live in a better world than we were left and leave it better than we found it.” The grisly, bearded man stroked her cheek with a rough hand and said, “up now; wake up now, Vedika.”
“Papa?” Vedika mumbled.
“No. It’s me, Vika. You have to wake up, now.”
“Aedan, what are you doing here?” She looked into his hazel eyes. The light from the fire flicked at the gold there and set them glowing like amber jewels.
“The Counsel wants to see you,” he answered. Vedika’s mouth hardened to a thin line. Of course they would send him, the bastards.
“Well, tell them to come on up.” She closed her eyes. Then, she sighed; it wasn’t his fault. None of it was his fault. “Sorry. I, uh, was dreaming about the Summit, again,” Vedika confessed.
“Do you remember it, truly?” Aedan’s voice sounded hopeful.
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is memory and what is history.”
“You will make a wonderful Librarian.” Aedan spoke with a confidence that Vedika did not feel.
“There is nothing to suggest I will be the new Librarian, Aed. Maybe no one will be. I certainly don’t want the job—birthright or not.” She spoke to him as if they had seen each other yesterday. In fact, it had been almost eight years.
Aedan dipped the end of his torch in the smudge pot and watched as the flame slowly sputtered like fireflies springing from the tip and hissing against the mossy ceiling. He grabbed the poker and tended the fire pit; his faded orange pack was still strapped to his back. Vedika turned over and knelt beside him, gingerly reaching around his middle to unclasp it. She slid the straps over his shoulders and twisted on the balls of her feet to place the pack on the metal shelf that ran the length and height of the eastern wall. “There. That’s better,” she sighed. She unloaded his pack, making sure to place the samples in the correct cubbies. Soil samples on the upper left for 8,000ft and descending every thousand feet. The insect specimen and small rodent droppings had their own respective shelves according to elevation as well.
“Looks like a pretty good haul,” she whispered. He had remembered everything. Ten years on the Counsel had not softened his mountaineering skills. She stood as upright as she could in the small space and turned toward her room. “I guess I’d better get ready.” Before she could take the first step, Aedan’s hand rested on the back of her thigh.
“I…I didn’t mean to…didn’t want to,” he started in a whisper.
“Don’t!” Vedika snapped in a harsher tone than she had ever heard from herself. “Sorry,” she mumbled, “but if you say it I won’t be able to think. And we have work to do. Don’t we?” She touched Aedan’s shoulder, the one still made of living tissue. It felt the same as it had when he was a frequent visitor to the Mountain.
“I…I told them his tale. I hope you don’t mind.” Aedan searched her face for approval, for reassurance that he had done right.
She smiled. “Of course. It’s tradition. It is…history.”
Aedan followed her to her quarters. He looked around the small, cozy room. A painting in a light blue frame hung from the southern wall. It was a landscape of green hillside, a small cluster of buildings, and a woman tending a small garden by a winding road. He touched his fingertips to it and caressed the thick contours of the paint. “Was this a real place, Vika?”
Vedika turned to see what he was asking about. “Oh, yes.” Her voice took on a dreamy quality of admiration. “When this was painted in 1874, it was a small village called Pontoise. Camille Pissarro was the painter’s name. It reminds me of my grandmother’s paintings. She preferred watercolors and pastels, but when she used the oils it was like a fantasy, like something you only dream about. So much…emotion.”
“It is lush but a bit sad,” Aedan muttered. “It reminds me of you.”
Vedika giggled with incredulity. “How so? Her chunky brown arms or her facelessness?”
“The woman, she is solitary; she holds the future in that little basket.” He slipped his hand around her wrist and squeezed gently. “Such a small shield protecting the world.”
The trip down to the Valley would take several nights, and she wasn’t sure how long the meetings would take or how much of the coming preparations she would have to oversee. Vedika was making last minute calculations; the samples Aedan had collected the twilight before were still in the machine. While she waited for the crystals to form, she gently sifted the soil samples and swabbed for particulates. “C’mon, microbes,” she happily muttered. She had heard her father say it so often that it had become a mantra. She wasn’t even sure what microbes were, but she knew what to look for, what numbers were good and bad. And she couldn’t help thinking about his face. The scruffy beard, his fierce eyes. He looked like a lunatic, a stranded spaceman on an alien planet from the classic Sci-Fi novels he had read to her when she was a girl. The patchwork of computer parts chirped. “Gotcha. Let’s see how we are doing, huh?”
When the twins arrived, Vedika and Aedan were introspective and quiet. Kirati and Jetur were their normal boisterous selves, checking and double checking everyone’s packs. They made one last sweep of the cave compound for supplies and food storage that hadn’t been packed. They were Climbers, after all. Being prepared was their way. And they were doubly excited by the presence of Journ and Surve, who sat discussing the ‘ifs’ and ‘wherefores’ of every little thing in hushed voices.
“I don’t like them going through my things, Aed,” Vedika whispered. She shouldered the double pack, adjusting for the bulkiness and weight. This would be her first trek to the Valley in fifteen years. Her heart jumped at the thought of addressing the Counsel and being around so many… people.
“They don’t mean to rifle; it’s just how they are. You know…you are something of a legend. You and the other two, living up here all on your own, and…” When Aedan had introduced the twins to the Journalist, the Surveyor, and Vedika, they had gone pale and sweaty with awe and excitement. Honest to goodness Mountain people were something to behold in their estimation.
“And what?” she smiled.
“Well, still doing the work. To them it seems like magic, like fantastic nonsense. How can you learn anything by looking at poop, dirt, and mucky water?” he chuckled.
“Right,” Vedika said with a hint of playful sarcasm in her voice, though she didn’t feel it.
“Midday is nigh. Let’s get some sleep and start at twilight. Gives us more time on foot between camps.”
Journ quickly made their way to the next alcove where they and Surve normally slept, and Kirati followed. Jetur and Surve were still talking, but they snuggled into a mound of blankets by the fire and quieted. “What was your name before you were Surve?” Jetur whispered conspiratorially.
“You wouldn’t believe me, Climber,” she smiled, mimicking his hushed tone.
“Sunshine,” she said, and they laughed until their sides hurt. One look from Aedan made them simmer down, though they giggled intermittently for several minutes.
“There!” Jetur’s baritone holler barely made its way to the rest of the group above the winds raging through the jagged cliff they had just navigated.
“I see it!” Aedan replied, grabbing Vedika’s arm to help her maneuver among the crags. “Let’s take it nice and easy,” he whisper-yelled in her ear. Vedika stumbled and her hands were shaking. Aedan motioned for the others to hang back.
When they reached the bottom of the cliff, she saw it: “Oh, Papa! I’ve missed you.” Though her knees burned and her back ached, she squatted next to the collection of large rocks where they had made an alter the year before.
Aedan stood behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders lightly. In one hand Vedika held Aedan’s torch. In the other, she held Aedan’s hand. “Priyatnykh snov, Papa. Vechnaya pamyat.” His bones were clean, pale, and intact. The others joined them. Jetur hummed a low tune that sounded somewhat familiar to Vedika. Kirati and Surve harmonized. The wind tugged at their voices, sending them swirling with the fireflies from the torch.
Back at their campsite, Vedika, Surve, and Journ poured over her latest test results and the conclusions her father had drawn during his meeting with the Counsel. They were in agreement; it was time.
On the sixth evening the crew from the Mountain trudged the last leg of the journey with relief and sore feet. Over the crest of a small foothill, the Valley came into view. First just the southern rim and finally, it lay out before them in gleaming splendor. It was nestled between the rolling foothills to the North and a steep cliff to the East. The crescent of earth opened onto a large pond fed by a magnificent, misty waterfall. Large boulders, rounded by ages of erosion, peeked through the gushing, foamy white at erratic intervals. This stair-step leant an ethereal look to the view from where they stood.
The twins smiled at each other as only intractable children, returning home from a grand adventure, can smile. Journ and Surve seemed unimpressed as they chattered on about ‘hows’ and ‘whiches.’ Vedika simply gasped at the beauty of it. The community lay out as it had all those years ago, but her memory of it dimmed in comparison.
The full moon broke through a low cloud bank and backlit the haze from the waterfall. There they were, like rough-cut diamonds sparkling ever so slightly—jutting from the earth and dirty—but awesome to behold. Each geodesic dome, scattered over the Valley like pretty, multi-colored mushrooms, gave off a dim, flickering light. The culmination of decades of preparation and planning, these dim lights represented the remnant of a population once soaring in the hundreds of thousands. There were hundreds of other such communities at one time, but contact had been lost as years rolled into decades and technologies failed.
With a whoop and a whistle, the twins bolted down the incline. They jumped on the path, between two winding sections, over the small rodent-proof gate, and smack-dab into a group of their youthful friends who were sitting at a communal table having a late breakfast. Vedika couldn’t help laughing at the sight of them, so free and jubilant, so happy to be home. Nearly twenty years their senior, Vedika chose the path. About half-way down, the path wound its closest to the waterfall, the source of power and life for the Valley. That was where she found an outcropping of smallish boulders and sat. She was weary, however her work had not yet truly begun.
The Valley was abuzz with excitement. Fires were lit, food prepared, and music and song echoed a sweet cacophony of perpetual enjoyment. Though Vedika tried to steer clear of the jubilance, she was cornered more than once by well-wishers, folks with burning questions, and the occasional bump of the shoulder or hard glare. Counsel Kent had offered her her father’s dome which had stood empty since his death. She invited Journ and Surve to stay with her, and they had a few days. But, they were in high demand, as well, and went to what seemed to Vedika an endless stream of parties and impromptu conferences. She was to meet with the Counsel officially this evening to discuss her findings and her position. She hadn’t seen the twins since they had arrived, and she was starting to miss their entertaining company.
“May I come in?”
“Of course. I’m just here in my father’s study, Aed.” Vedika placed her book on the side table. A warm hand covered hers. She gazed at him, his young fit shape in the firelight. “You look well rested,” she smiled.
Aedan knelt in front of her chair and took her hand in his. “As do you. Your father’s garden is lovely. Better than the communal greenhouse, in my opinion.” His amber eyes met her gray ones, and there she found a depth she hadn’t before noticed: pain, sorrow, regret and hope, desire, compassion. Like deep pools reflecting the golden warmth of sunlight. And then his lips were against hers. She returned his soft, unassuming kiss. “I’ve wanted to do that for a really long time,” Aedan smiled against her mouth.
“Aedan. Are you mad?” Vedika teased as she pulled away from him.
“No. Not anymore,” he grinned. And then his face went dark. “I was crazy before now, when I was sent to bring you or your body back to the Valley.” He pleaded with his eyes.
“It’s okay. I had guessed the parameters of your mission…” she paused, squinting her eyes up at him. “And I knew that the latter would never happen.”
“How?” he blundered.
“Because people desperate to hold onto power, even a false sense of power, employ fear and cruelty. And nothing would be crueler than to ask you to betray me, your friend, former colleague, and confidant. You, who were my father’s favorite student and the only man he would have wanted to succeed him. What can I say, my father was a Librarian. I see patterns.” She smiled at him and stroked his bewildered face.
“Then, why did you come with us? Why?”
“Because it is time to tell the truth; because I care about my people. Now, walk me through the Valley. I have a meeting to attend,” she huffed.
“People of the Valley,” Counsel Kent began, “a year ago we lost our Librarian. He was a man we had come to rely upon for information, for the truth. His daughter stands here, now, ready to take up his mantle, to be a seer, a prophet of the Earth, to show us the way forward and remind us of our past. Vedika, Librarian, please come forth.”
She stood at the podium, hands shaking. This was how the Counsel wanted it. She heard Counsel Jayne’s voice in her mind: “Tell them we can stay here, and you are the new Librarian. We don’t have much need for crazy old scientists anymore. Your father learned that lesson well enough.” But now wasn’t the time for worry; it was the time for action. It needed to be said, and she was the last of her line, the only one who could say it. She opened her father’s notebook and began.
“My father wrote down everything. I think I never saw him without a pencil in his hand or tucked behind his ear, even in his sleep. In his last days, he spoke with our Counsel about change. He quoted a man named Roy Scranton who said that ‘humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.’”
The Counsel grumbled amongst themselves behind her. This was not what they had expected. Vedika found Aedan’s eyes in the front of the crowd; she thought of all they had exchanged, of all he had unintentionally taught her about herself and her place in the world.
“This has been our home for over a century. This small piece of fertile land; this haven. We have done all we can: used her wisely; made her whole. Now, it is time to move on. The Plateau is ready for us. Once a wasteland of cold and sterility, she has awakened and needs our help to become the fertile place she should be. This was always the plan, our mission to heal the planet. As a world leader once said: ‘the journey is long […]. And we don't have much time left to make it. It is a journey that will require each of us to persevere […]. So let us begin. For if we are flexible and pragmatic; if we can resolve to work tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common purpose: a world that is [greater] than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of our children.’”
“Go back to your Mountain, Witch!” someone yelled. More shouts arouse in agreement. The people in the crowd began shoving one another, disagreeing, and debating.
As a large, glimmering tear rolled down her nose, a speck in Vedika’s vision grew, inexplicably. It was hoary and crude; it was earth, hurtling along an arc as if she were a seat of gravity. And she fell. Her vision blurred, crimson and gray, and she saw Aedan and Jetur erupt from the crowd. Time slowed; Vedika felt her heartbeat and the desire to hold Aedan’s hand once more as a web of meaning. Sensation, thought, and feeling were linked, somehow made of as solid a matter as the cool ground against her cheek. All was black and still.
Aedan sat on the rock under his dome. In the waning light he surveyed all they had done and thought about how they’d gotten here. The last few years had been tough, full of hard work and setbacks. The first thing Vedika had asked when she’d regained consciousness was, “how many? How many will come?” By all accounts one-third was better than they had expected and certainly enough to work the Plateau. Taking down the domes amid the protests of the Counsel and those who would remain had worked his nerves. But Vedika’s calm determination and easy manner never faltered. Though the twins had decided to stay behind, they worked tirelessly collecting seeds, hauling gear, or distracting bored, tired children with their antics.
The stone that had knocked Vedika unconscious now sat on her makeshift desk. She would carry the scar on her forehead the remainder of her years, a small rose star with pink flares. The light was warm and delicate on her skin. He watched in amazement; her fingers glistening like chocolate diamond dust. “Vika? Vedika…up now; wake up, now,” he beckoned.
“Am I dreaming, again?” she murmured.
“No, Librarian. You’re not dreaming; you are home.”
--Kit Menon (2023)