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Sep. 7th, 2011

On_A_Windy_Day

September Submission to WriScaRe

The sun was slanting toward the horizon as the man made his way across the empty fairground. The falsely confident strides he had taken as he first stepped onto the fairground had slowed now that he was sure that no one was around. “Always look like you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing and you can get away with anything,” his old man had once told him. Or maybe it had been Jeb, the hard-faced old railroad worker that he had befriended for a while, until he had been run out of the rail yard. No matter. It was true, wasn’t it -- no matter who said it.

He made his way along the paved footpaths until he spotted a wide corridor that he knew must have been the Midway. The fair’s clean-up committee wouldn’t start until tomorrow morning, at earliest. Carnies had had until then to be off the premises, but this was fair season, and they were on a tight schedule. Their trailers had been packed up and on the road within hours of the gates closing on the 73rd annual Oakridge County Fair. Just as well. He knew those carnie types, and they weren’t anything to mess around with.

He stepped into the midway, or what was left of it. Last night as he had peered casually through the chain-link fence, the place had looked magical. There had brightly colored lights from all sides twinkling in the late-summer twilight, cheerful music and screeches from the rides, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy, and throngs of people moving up and down the midway. And under everything, a throbbing undercurrent of excitement and anticipation that you could almost feel prickle along the back of your neck

Now the sandy lane was deserted and litter-covered. The man shuffled his way through discarded tickets for rides, candy apple wrappers, wadded together napkins, Styrofoam cups with the straws still dangling out, hay from the animal barns, brightly colored schedules of events, cheap little plastic toys won in some rigged game, and god only knows what else. As he walked, he pulled his beat-up tennis shoes in a circular pattern on the ground, flipping over the refuse, hoping to find something worth salvaging. Occasionally, he bent down to pluck a coin or two out of the mess. It was something at least.

After he had made his way to one end of the midway, he stopped to stretch his back and looked over his shoulder to see if the dog was still following him. She was, back a ways -- her lanky frame trotting purposefully, nose to the ground. Her whitish yellow coat in the rapidly falling dusk was almost iridescent from a distance as she zigzagged tightly across the midway, stopping to raise her head to meet the man’s eyes.

He looked away. Damn dog. She had appeared trembling beside him a few nights ago as he was huddled under an overpass, trying to ride out a particularly ferocious thunderstorm. He had tried to drive her off, was ashamed to say that he had even thrown a rock or two at her, but she had just paced in nervous circles around him, always gradually moving close with a keening whine. He had finally given up, resigning himself to getting rid of her in the morning. Her nose was ice-cold and her pale fur spiked from the cold rain, but he let her curl up beside him until her shaking stopped. By the time they woke up, he knew there was no getting rid of her. Not that he needed another mouth to feed, but he did enjoy her company, loath as he would have been to admit it, even to himself. Still, he hadn’t named her because that would have implied some ownership over her, which he didn’t feel was right. He supposed he belonged to her as much as she belonged to him. Which was to say that neither of them really belonged to anyone.

He turned back to the task at hand, hoping to make quick work of it before darkness fell completely. There was still the red white and blue spray painted trash barrels to peruse for food. By the time that dog finished her rounds, there sure wouldn’t be anything edible left on the ground.

They continued along side by side until they reached the far end of the midway. It was almost full dark, but he had gotten lucky with a crumpled and torn five dollar bill and close to ten dollars in change, so he was ready to call it a night. Since he had heard the dog chomping and swallowing greedily, he assumed that she was also satisfied. A low rumbling in his stomach reminded him that he needed to find some dinner too. Just as he turned back the way he had come, a floodlight snapped on. As he instinctively crouched and whipped his head around to squint into the sudden light, he saw a quick glint from the corner of his eye.

May. 3rd, 2010

On_A_Windy_Day

Hello Again

*Blows dust off writing journal*

So, um ...hi. Remember me?

I haven't been writing and this has caused me to become very unhappy. So I'm starting again. Expect to see me around ... :)

Dec. 5th, 2009

On_A_Windy_Day

December 2009, Entry for Week One

Title: In A Name
Words: 1418
For: brigits_flame
Prompt: Cue
AN:
Funny how big a social cue a name can be. This spawned from a conversation I overhead at work that got me thinking.

Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable. ~W.H. Auden

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Nov. 29th, 2009

On_A_Windy_Day

Winner!

I'm exhausted and getting ready to pass out, but I just had to post - I won Nanowrimo! I'm so excited and had such an adrenaline rush. I can't believe I really did it! :D

Nov. 18th, 2009

On_A_Windy_Day

NaNo Status Update

So, it's the 18th already and I'm a little bit over 36K. I'm really pleased with that number, since last year I only made it to 12K and gave up. I'm just not so pleased with the story yet. Well, I shouldn't say that, because I'm in love with the plot (Um, and my male main character, but that's a different story), and I know there are great, great scenes to come. But right now it feels like I'm just slogging away at the stuff that *has* to written so that I *can* write the awesome ones.

I really wish I was the type of writer who could skip around and write the good scenes and then just build bridges, but when I do that, the bridges never get built. I don't want my novel to be an archipelago. I want it to be Key West. *sigh*

I guess I'll continue to march through 50 pages of exposition of Cora at the Academy, just so I can blow it all up at page 60. No one said being a writer was easy ... :)
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Nov. 14th, 2009

On_A_Windy_Day

from At Setting


Notes: This is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel At Setting. In this passage, Cora's blue eyes have been discovered and she and her father have been taken from their Village to the Tower. Cora's father is thrown into prison while Cora, due to her newly discovered status as an Ide, is being held under house arrest at the Idol's Palace until the Council decides what will be done. She has been advised by an errant Guard to ask for permission to accept a visitor, and now she waits to see who has made the request. A preceding excerpt can be found here, and a full synopsis for the novel can be read here.

The hours seem to drag on, but I lose myself in my drawing and before I know it the Guards are changing. I hear their shuffling outside the door and footsteps retreating down the hall. Once the new Guards are in place, I chance a look over my shoulder to the doorway and carefully examine their necks. I immediately see that one is my Sympathetic Guard and I am glad that I followed his whispered orders to ask for a visitor this morning. If I had waited until now, I may have drawn too much attention to him.

I smile to myself and go back to the drawing. This morning, they took away my pencils and instead provided me with a deep black substance. They call it charcoal. It frustrated me at first. I could not draw a well defined line; it seemed to lose its point quickly and degrade into a sweeping smudge of black. But after experimenting for the better part of a day, I’ve come to love the subtle shadows and delicate greys that I can create with the charcoal.

In truth, I had never drawn before I was imprisoned in the Palace. We never had money for the supplies and I certainly never had the time. But when I desperately tried to think of what activity would be becoming of an Ide, what first popped into my mind were the little drawings that Hillary used to do in her notebook during recess while the rest of the children ran wildly. She had always seemed so sophisticated, sitting on the steps of the school house drawing with the notebook in her lap. Hillary … I wonders how she is faring. I hope the blow to her head has not disfigured her to the point where she is unable to enter the Ide Academy when her time comes. Although the Guards had eventually caved when it came to my father, they had steadfastly ignored my requests for word of Hillary’s status.

As these thoughts wander through my head, I put the finishing touches on my sketch. It is a depiction of the rows and rows of sunflowers that I saw in the Farming Building on the last day that I was in the Village. But in the drawing, instead of encasing them in their individual glass and metal growing pods I free them and put them in rows side by side, right next to one another. They look quite beautiful when they can all be together with nothing between them. For some reason it reminds me of a familiar place, though I know it is not a sight that I have seen before.

So lost am I in the world of my drawing that I don’t pay attention to the muffled sound of steps moving down the hall away from my room. But when two pairs echo back down the hall, I cock my head. I can distinctly make out the sharp, even steps of the Guard, but there is also a pair of footfalls that sound more reluctant and scuffing. My body tenses. Who will they bring? I do not get up quite yet, but keep my back to the door and listen.

I hear the set of footsteps get closer and stop outside my door. The Guards begin talking in low voices and I strain to hear their exchange.

“I don’t know what she wants,” my Sympathetic Guard was says with exasperation. “She only said for you to come right away.”

“But –“ the other tries to interject.

“Just go,” my Guard replies harshly. “I can handle these two. I don’t want a repeat of the last time.”

The second Guard doesn’t say a word, but I soon hear his rapid footfalls retreat down the hallway.

Then, in a low voice, “Hurry. You won’t have much time. Ten minutes at most. I will keep watch, but you much be quick.”

I spring to my feet and whip around to face the door, not knowing what to expect. My heart pounds with nerves, but I keep my head erect and wait for my visitor. My jaw drops when a moment later I see a sheepish Cade filling up the door frame.

“Cade,” I am shocked to see him, but breathe in his name as if my life depends on it. “I – I didn’t know that they would bring you!”

Seeing him causes a flood of memories of my father and all the afternoons they whispered together at the kitchen table of our now deserted bungalow. Tears well up in my eyes and before I know what I am doing, I fling myself at Cade with all my might. He staggers back a bit at my force, clearly as surprised as I am at my action. His arms quickly go to my shoulders, which he grips tightly as he gives me a little shake.

“Cora!” he says urgently, but not unkindly. “Stop this! You have to get off of me! Control yourself!”

I look up from where I have buried my head into the soft folds of his jacket, partly from embarrassment at my emotional outburst and part from relief to see a familiar face. I look up and my watery blue eyes meet his. Our gazes lock and for a moment I want to stare; it feels so good to finally be able to look into his eyes without fear. He looks back with apprehension. Probably trying to gauge how crazy I have become and whether he had made a mistake by coming here, I think. I come to my senses for a moment and remember that I should not be touching him just in case someone is watching. I gasp, bringing a hand up to cover my mouth and take a quick step back. But I don’t break eye contact.

“I’m sorry,” I say frantically, rubbing at my eyes, smoothing my hair, and setting my jaw, trying to compose myself back to the appearance of an Ide. Cade sighs heavily. I think I see a small smile play at the corner of his lips. I am not sure if Cade has ever smiled at me before, and suddenly he is not. He takes my arm and quickly guides me to face the window with our backs to the door.

“Is it safe to talk?” I whisper, glancing over my shoulder at the attentive Guard.

“You needn’t worry about Rodger. He’s one of us.”

So my Sympathetic Guard had a name. Rodger. I liked the anonymity better. Now that I know his name, I feel as if I am putting him in harm’s way, though I’m not sure how or why.

“What do you mean, one of us?” I ask, a little afraid to know the answer. Something tells me that Cade doesn’t mean that he is a Villager.

“Never mind about that now. We won’t have very long, so listen: you’ve been doing everything correctly and now you must continue to behave as you have been. I was so pleased to hear that you had come up with a way to make them see you in a different light without instruction.”

I think back to the hours spent singing, drawing and suppressing my emotions, all while trapped in this little room, not knowing what will become of me. “So what will happen now? When will I get out of here?” I whisper.

He looks surprised. “You won’t, of course. At least not for now.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, my eyes flying open with panic and my voice rising. I grasp Cade’s forearm and squeeze tightly. “What about father? And your mother? Cade, I—“

“Shhh!” he shushes me sharply. “Everything will be okay, if you just listen to me and do as I say. They are very seriously considering allowing you to enter Ide Academy.”

“What?!” My head reels. What is he talking about? I could never be an Ide; it is already too late. I missed the first two years of training. I don’t have a mother, let alone a sponsor. Girls have been disqualified for much, much less. “Why would they do that?”

“They may not have a choice, after what happened to Hillary—“

“Hillary!” I grasp the name. “What has become of her? Is she recovering?”

“Hillary is dead,” Cade says flatly. Then he bends his head close to mine and speaks very softly into my ear. “The Villagers rioted after you were taken away. It was as if they had lost two Ides in one day. The Coucil is afraid. If you continue with your good behavior, they will place you with the other Ides in Academy and let you finish out the final two years of training. You must do succeed, if we are all to make it.”

“All? What do you mean?”

There is a hiss from the door. Rodger is letting us know that our time to speak freely is limited; the other Guard is returning.

“There’s no time. Here, take this,” he presses a small key into my hand and my fingers automatically close tight around it. “Keep it well hidden. Don’t let anyone know you have it – not anyone.” He is already retreating to the door and I hear the footsteps coming nearer. “You will know when it is time to use it.”

Before I can speak another word, Cade is gone and I am left with a clenched fist and a feeling as though I will drown in this task put before me.

Nov. 6th, 2009

On_A_Windy_Day

from At Setting

Notes: This is an excerpt from my Nano Novel, At Setting. The novel is a dystopia that takes place in Strata, a miles high society fashtioned above a war-ravished Earth. In this colony, all girls born with blue eyes must be resgistered with the Council as an "Ide" -- in other words , a girl who has the potential to become the next Idol, a powerful figurehead in Strata. Cora was born with dark blue eyes, but her father has managed to hide them per her now deceased mother's wishes. A full synopsis can be found here.

As we are finishing dinner, we hear a knock at the door and a brooding face peers through the window. My father calls for Cade to enter and in he shuffles with his hands in his pockets and his eyes cast downward. A tall, lithe boy of sixteen, like myself, he wears a loose black shirt and demin pants and his dark hair falls in a shock over his eyes. When he looks up they are a surprising bright blue. It just about killed his mother, they tell the story in the Village, whispered during times of labor by midwives who tell stories to distract their patients. To have eyes that bright blue, wasted on a boy. Still, I think secretly to myself that they are not wasted at all. The contrast of his dark hair is striking, and in a world of sameness, Cade’s eyes are a welcome sight. Though, I am sure to his mother they are only a reminder of what could have been.

“Good evening, Sir,” he says politely to my father. He makes a slight gesture to me, not quite a bow, but some sign of respect for my place as woman of the household.

“Cade, good evening,” my father replies. “Welcome. What brings you here at dinner time? Shouldn’t you be home making those boys mind their mother?”

Cade smiles, a rare sight and one usually reserved for my father. He and Cade are in on a joke -- Cade’s mother, since the death of her husband, has shown quite an interest in my father. It only seems natural, I heard her murmur to another Village woman once in the market place when she didn’t know that I was listening. He without his wife and never remarried, me with these boys and no man. She had clucked her tongue on the roof of her mouth. And, she said, leaning closer into the woman confidentially, I still have a chance. Maybe one more chance next year to bear an Ide for the Village. I could, I feel it. Look at my Cade Put eyes that blue on a girl, and she could be the next Idol.

Cade is the eldest of the four boys, so at first he was embarrassed when his mother would drag him and his brothers along on her courting trips to our bungalow. But my father is a man who can put anyone at ease with a few words. Though he assured me that he had no intentions of remarrying, he did become close with Cade. Sometimes I think he sees him as the boy that he would have liked to have. Other times he views him more as a peer, a man to exchange his thoughts with. There are many afternoons when I come home from the market only to find them bent over with their heads together like the women from the Tower gossiping. What exactly they talk about, I am not sure, but I know that it is better if I don’t know. When I interrupt them, Cade always leaps up and hurries off, saying that he has to get home for dinner.

Tonight is different. “My mother wanted me to come because she is busy feeding the boys. Caleb is sick.” He notices me eyeing him warily and hurries to explain, “Not contagious. Something he ate.” He exchanges a glance with my father. This one I am privy to -- Cade’s mother sometimes smuggles out scraps of food that are discarded by the Tower citizens that she cleans for. But not all the she takes away is fit to eat, it seems.

Cade continues, shifting his eyes to me. I blink faster, an unconscious tick I have developed to shield the eyes that may betray me. It feels like batting my eyes at him, but I push that thought out of my head, glad he can’t see it.

“My mother sent you a gift for your sixteenth birthday.”

He holds out a small object wrapped with rich cloth, another scrap that she has pilfered from the Tower. I don’t know why my hands should tremble a little as I take the bundle and Cade’s hand brushes mine. I weigh the gift in my hand for a moment, gauging its weight and size.

“Go ahead, Cora,” my father encourages me. “Open it.”

Cade nods in agreement and I flush. I am so unaccustomed to being the center of anyone’s attention that even with the small audience of my father and Cade I feel extremely self-conscious.

I undo the twine that holds the folds of cloth together and pull them aside to reveal a dark leather thong attached to an oblong pendant. The pendant shimmers with some kind of stone or jewel – I can’t quite tell, but its iridescence is mesmerizing. It is at the same time every color and not quite any color. It seems deep in a way … deeper and more real and alive than the carved patterns of my mother’s ring.

After I have the thought, I immediately feel guilty. My mother’s ring represents a connection between us, the only one that I can hold and touch. This pendant comes with a price, I fear, for my father – why else would Cade’s mother give me such a precious gift but to garner my father’s attention? And it is precious indeed – relics like this, leftover from the previous times, are few and far between in Strata, especially in the Village. Many of the Tower women still drip with them, but as generations go on, even there they are scarcer.

I look up and meet my father’s eyes, and then, carefully, Cade’s. My father looks exasperated and amused, but I can’t quite read the look on Cade’s face.

“Thank you, Cade. It’s beautiful.”

“Let me see, Cora,” my father studies the stone more closely. He looks up at Cade, “Is that Opal?”

“Yes,” Cade answers, looking abashed. “It was passed down in our family. My mother said that since she has no daughters that she wanted Cora to have it.”

“Cade, I understand that your mother is fond of … Cora,” he raises his eyebrows ironically, “but I don’t know if we can accept this gift. Doesn’t she want to save it for a daughter-in-law? She may have one sooner than she thinks.”

Cade shrugs indifferently. “Maybe. Maybe not. I have a family to take care of already. I don’t know if I need another.”

My father nods thoughtfully. “Well, it’s certainly exquisite. Cora, try it on so we can see how it looks on you.”

I obediently slip the leather thong over my head and the pendant settles at my throat. The pendant is heavier than it looks and the leather thong feels like noose around my neck. Inexplicably, I feel a sense of dread trickle down my spine. I brush the sensation off quickly. I must just leery of Cade’s mother’s intentions, I tell myself.

“Beautiful, my girl, beautiful,” my father smiles fondly.

“It suits you,” Cade says simply. I feel heat rise to my cheeks.

“Cade, why don’t you sit and eat with us,” my father offers quickly. Though he doesn’t look at me, I can tell he senses my embarrassment from across the room. If Cade notices, he gives no indication.

“No, no, I already had dinner. I should be going.”

“Come now! A cup of tea?” my father coaxes.

Cade hesitates. I can tell he is hovering between the chance to talk with my father and his duties at home with his family. Finally he lowers himself to the table with a gruff nod.

“Cora, would you mind putting on a pot of tea?” my father prompts me gently.

“Of course!” my voice sounds too loud and rough in our little dining room. I feel big and clumsy.

As I pass my father in my dash to the kitchen, he looks at me with amusement dancing in his eyes and I respond by shooting him the ferocious look that he always swears is my mother’s, every inch.

Once I am in the kitchen, I feel as if I can breathe again. Immediately I feel stupid for acting so foolishly in front of Cade. I have spent my whole life ill at ease around other people due to my secret but this is something new -- a sudden awareness that he is becoming a man. He looks so much taller and broader than the last time I saw him.

I put the thoughts out of my head and resolve not to act like such a fool again. I don’t have room for the silly games that girls my age are playing. It was already decided years back that it wasn’t likely I would take a spouse. The risks were too great; if I lived with someone other than my father I was sure to be discovered. And besides, is sounded like Cade felt the same way about marriage – not that he is the man I would choose anyway. Not with his mother fawning over my father. Not with the three younger brothers to protect and watch over. No, this was silly. I can’t see why I should behave this juvenilely around Cade. There is no need.

These thoughts steady me as I boil the water to make tea and take down my mother’s china set for our guest. I caress each piece lovingly as I arrange them on the counter. My mother’s things always comfort me, and her simple white china tea service with its border of intricate knots is no exception. Though pieces have been broken, cracked and chipped over the years, it remains a steady presence in our household. I felt more calm and sure now, as I lean against the counter girlishly to examine the types of tea we have. It was a luxury to have a choice other than the common black tea that most of the Village drinks, but since my father has a particular fondness for tea, we kept several varieties in our bungalow. I turn toward the dining room to offer our selections to my father and Cade, but as I reach the doorway, I see that their heads are together and they are talking low and urgently. I don’t know why, but I stop silently and tilted my head to try to catch a piece of their conversation. Never have I dreamed of attempting to overhear what they debate so frequently, but this time I will confess – I want to make sure that there are no marriage plans being concocted for either Cade or his mother. I fell sure this is what they must be talking about, so I am surprised to hear from my father, “But have you made any progress?”

“Some,” Cade answers carefully. “But only a very little. It’s slow going.”

“So long as you are going carefully, that’s all that matters. If you’re caught, you know it means death,” my father sighs wistfully. “It’s been so long. I used to go with Eva very often, as often as we could get away. We were newly wed back then, no one came looking for us very often. But after Cora was born—“

“Cora,” Cade says sharply. He looks straight at me and for a moment I can’t break my gaze from his, though I reflexively wanted to before he spots the dark blue that lies deep in my irises. This time I easily read his face – hostility, anger at my eavesdropping, and a tinge of fear. So this is not idle talk of marriage after all. It is something deeper and more dangerous – very dangerous. And whatever it is, my father is involved too. And here I am, frozen in place with my hand resting on the door frame and my body swinging forward to ask the most trivial of things.

My father shifts quickly in his chair and says calmly, “What is it Cora?” He doesn’t look worried or angry, but his eyes warn me.

“I came to see which tea you would like,” I say, shifting my gaze to the rough hardwood floor. “We have black tea, peppermint and citrus.”

“Black tea is fine,” father answers for Cade. “Run along now, Cora.”

With a jerky nod, I turn and fly into the kitchen. I lean my back up against the wall and slump down a little. I do not know why I should feel like crying. I am not even sure what I have overheard – but it is the secrecy that feels like a betrayal that makes hot tears prickle at my eye lids.

I want my mother! I think fiercely and out of nowhere. She was a part of this too – if she were here, she wouldn’t keep me in the dark. I take off her ring and grip it tightly, as if I could feel her somehow. The pale silver of the ring warms in my hand and calms me. I manage straighten up again just as the kettle starts to whistle from the stove. I close my eyes for a moment as I lift the kettle and picture the look on Cade’s face again. It frightened me a little, but also made me want to reassure him that whatever secret he has with my father is safe with me.

Resolving to put the thoughts from my head until I can question father later, I pour the hot water into the patient china cups and carry them into the living room as if nothing has happened. I see Cade is already standing to leave. I want to tell him that he doesn’t have to go, that he shouldn’t be mad at me. Instead I halfheartedly place the hot cup of seeping tea at the place where he was sitting. I stand beside my father, eyes trained on the ground as they say their goodbyes. It isn’t until Cade turns to walk away that I notice that there is something crumbly and a rich brown caked to the bottom of his boots.

Nov. 3rd, 2009

Windy

Synopsis for Nano Novel: At Setting (Working Title)

In Strata, a mile-high world fashioned above an infertile and war-ravished Earth, having the chance to become the next Idol is every blue-eyed little girl’s dream. Most parents spend years preparing their daughters for the day when they would turn 14 and leave home for the Academy as an Ide, an Idol in training. Not Cora’s parents. From the moment her blue eyes opened at birth, her mother's dying wish is the Cora's eyes be kept a secret so she can live a normal life. Her father, now a young widower, did everything he could to prevent her from drawing the attention of the Council as a potential Ide. When she is discovered truant in her 16th year, her father is imprisoned for breaking the law and Cora is thrown amongst the competitive Ides already in their second year of rivalry at the Academy. Cora is determined to keep a low profile to complete her training and free her father. But when tragedy strikes, she finds herself in the middle of a rebellion and paired with rogue Cade. Torn between saving her father and escaping the oppression of the Council’s regime, Cora must overcome her lack of training and take her place as the next Idol – before it’s too late.

Word Count: 3,660
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Nov. 1st, 2009

On_A_Windy_Day

Hand of Fate

            I knew from the moment that the foil crashed down that my hand was broken. I could also tell, from my jousting partner’s split second sneer that it had been her intent to harm me – though no one could tell by the way she lowered her foil and gasped. Her ice blue eyes widened as she dashed to my side. Across the Fencing Arena, the other Ides also lowered their foils, but hesitated. I knew they were trying to decide whether it was more becoming of an Ide to show compassion or to remain cool and unaffected in the face of an urgent situation. Eventually, the consensus turned to compassion and they flocked to me, their white robes billowing like clouds.
 

            All I could feel was the searing pain, unbearable, gripping my hand tighter and tighter. My struggle was one of Mien. Like all of the Ides, I have been trained in the Idol Mien from their first day at the Academy. Maintaining an air of dignity, regality and sanctity was paramount, and required of us if we were to be selected as the next Idol. I knew that if I could keep my composure that the Proctors would take note and my chances would soar. If I screamed out in pain and wept, as I wished I could, they would plummet.
 

            So great was my struggle to smile bravely and assure the other Ides, that I almost forgot about the pain in my hand. I was reminded of it as I tried to grip the foil. Hoping that the Proctors didn’t see the wince, I switched it to my off hand and approached the Instructor, my hand throbbing, twenty-three pairs of eyes following me.
 

            “My hand has been injured. May I be permitted to observe the rest of the training?” This is the typical request of any injury, though it is not always honored. The Instructor frowns, clearly displeased with the disruption I have caused. The other Ides, sense her displeasure and flow back to their spots, foils raised. I straighten my shoulders and wait for an answer.

            “Get back in line,” she replied brusquely, gesturing me away. “Use your off hand. At the end of training report to the Healer’s Wing. See if she will be able to do anything for you.”
 

            I nod and turn to take my spot, as a feeling of cold dread trickles down my back. As Ides, we are taught out body is sacred and may not be touched. The Healer may be able to perform scans to tell me if my hand is indeed broken, as I know it is, but she may not touch me to apply any casts or set the bone. I begin to think with escalating fear about each of the classes I must complete as an Ide: Calligraphy, Arts, Gymnastics, Combat Training. Even in Mien and General Education Classes we must take careful notes which are reviewed and considered by the Proctors. Panic sets in as I raise my foil in my left hand. It feels awkward and clumsy, not at all the light graceful weapon that has become an extension of my arm in my months of training.
 

            Thankfully, we are called to switch partners and I am paired with a petite Ide with dark blue eyes who is not a strong Fencer. I also know that, like me, she tries not to be swept away in the fierce competitiveness that some of our fellow Ides thrive on. Down the line, my previous partner looks quite disappointed that she isn’t being given the chance to break my other hand.
 

            The Instructor starts the match. As the petite Ide makes her first lunge and I leap back, I realize that this does not mean that she will be easy on me. She knows she is being scrutinized more now than ever. I struggle with the parry and in less than a minute, she has the first touch. However, as we continue, I find I am fencing much more cerebrally and that I am even improving on weak spots that I had with my right hand. By the time the Instructor bellows, “Arret!” and we bow to each other, I think I have kept pace well enough to earn commendation from the Proctors. My only fear is that I have done this to the detriment of the petite Ide, who is doing her best to mind her Mien. Still, her shoulders slump slightly as she places her foil in its spot and retreats to the changing rooms.
 

            I turn to follow her, the pain flooding back into my hand now that there is nothing to distract my mind, but I’m stopped by the Instructor. She has a hint of a smile carved on her severe face.
 

            “Fencing with the off hand is a common training practice,” she tells me in a low voice, without making eye contact. “We won’t start doing that here until Second Year.”
 

            I nod and try to look casual. The eyes of the Proctors are upon us, and dispensing information about upcoming training to the Ides is strictly prohibited.
 

            “Don’t give up,” she says softly and walks across the Arena to her office. I don’t dare watch her retreat, but wonder who she is – or was – that she would give me such words of encouragement at a risk to herself.
 

            As I glide to the changing room, my shoulders are back, my chin is up and my face pleasant and serene.

Oct. 24th, 2009

On_A_Windy_Day

To The Teeth

“The sun is setting on the century,

And we are armed to the teeth,

We are all working together now,

To make our lives mercifully brief”

~ Ani DiFranco

 

 

            When you get final approval to join the Community, you’re first assigned a Companion to guide you through the transitioning process. In addition to coaching you on the rules and history of the Community, your Companion typically serves as the template for your Remodeling. I don’t think this is an official rule, but the remodeling technicians are either too lazy or too afraid to do otherwise.

 

            This is why the first time I see my Companion, I cringe inwardly.

 

            “Hi!” she steps away from the rough grey wall, her blond ringlets bouncing and wide blue eyes bright. “Welcome! You must be the new Member. I’m your Companion.”

 

            I smile nervously and since she doesn’t offer a hand to shake, I shift mine behind my back instinctively. She must be six feet tall and she looks like a model. “Hi. Yeah, I’m Gr-”

 

            “Oops,” she smiles and makes a little tsking noise, holding up one perfectly manicured finger. “We don’t need your name. You’ll be assigned a new one when you begin Assimilation.”

 

            I know this, of course -- I’ve carefully read all the brochures and rule books. But for the first time, I realize what it will be to give up my name. All the words are one thing: remodel, expunge, assimilate, transition. But finally faced with their reality, my throat begins to feel dry. It is a hot summer day. In the periphery of my vision, I see a teenager bicycling lazily through the park with strong, even strokes.

 

            I turn back to my Companion and smile tightly.

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

She smiles back and gestures for me to follow her long-legged stride. I don’t know why I should feel intimidated. I know that everyone in the Community is beautiful, I’ve seen the pictures. Soon I will be too. At the thick black door, she stops to punch in a long code, her fingers flitting like hummingbirds over the keys. She looks over her shoulder to chat with me.

 

“They’re not all as easy as you, you know,” she says with a conspiratorial smile. “Sometimes their families come. Or friends, co-workers. You know,” she pushes open the heavy door with her shoulder and we walk into a narrow hallway that’s sterile white and smells like a doctor’s office. “There are scenes, threats, name-calling. Not everyone is as lucky as you.”

 

 

Inside the Remodeling Room, there is a chair like at the dentist’s office. The scrawny technician welcomes me and tells me to sit down. Once I am settled, he sits in a rolling chair beside me, swivels the bright light into my face and sighs.

 

“How did she get accepted?” he asks my Companion. Did she ever tell me her name? I can’t remember now. I’m nervous but feel only slightly insulted by his tone. I had dreaded this part of the Remodeling the most, being scrutinized and talked about like I wasn’t in the room. But now that I’m here, I find that I strangely don’t care. Instead of protesting like I once would have, I relax and tell myself that it will all be over soon.

 

“It was a close call,” Companion admits, “But she’s a lifer and they’re short for the new project.”

 

The technician nods in understanding, but still looks frustrated. I pretend that I don’t know what they’re talking about and stare into the blinding white lights. I can imagine that I’m sitting on the beach in the sunshine. Beads of perspiration form on my upper lip but I don’t bother to wipe them away.

 

“Well, the hair is easy enough, and the eyes. But her height? That is going to take some work. She’ll need implants. It might be a while before she can start work”

 

Good things come in small packages, my mother used to tell me when I fretted about my height. They come in big packages too, I would mutter into my Cornflakes.

 

Companion hums sympathetically, but looks bored.

 

“I just thank God she’s not fat. I’ve had enough of those this week” He scoots closer to me and peers disapprovingly into my face. “She had freckles too. She’s going to have to apply the cream for at last a month, even after Remodeling. You’ll have to remind her.”

 

He had loved my freckles, a testament to my sun-worshipping ways. She had them too, but just a handful, sprinkled across her nose and shoulders. I force them out of my mind, for what will perhaps be the last time.

 

“Open your mouth, sweetheart.” I bristle at the term, but open my mouth obediently. I think of baring my teeth at him in some primal way, but what good would it do now?

 

“Ugh, just as I suspected,” he pushes the chair back and stands up. “Teeth stained. Coffee or cigarettes?” I can’t tell if he’s asking me or just talking to himself, so I don’t answer. He sits at the desk in the corner and starts making notes into a folder. Companion leans up against the wall, contemplating her fingernails. I wait – wait for my heart to start racing, by breath to become short, my hands to shake, my voice to object. But I am silent and calm. Relieved. I breathe in and out, and wait. The technician’s pen finishes scratching and he stands up so abruptly that even Companion starts and stands up straight.

 

“Okay. I’ve seen enough. I’m going to get started.”

 

This is Companion’s cue. She waggles her fingers at me. “See you on the other side!” she chirps, and hurries out of the room. I look after her as she shuts the door firmly. I will be her soon.

 

The technician is fiddling with the anesthesia equipment. He approaches me with the mask, looking almost sheepish.

 

“We are required to ask a final time for you to confirm,” he says. “Your contract is retractable up until this point. After this, it’s indissoluble.”

 

I look at him witheringly and reach out to snatch the mask from him. I cover my mouth and nose, stare into his eyes and breathe in, deeply. I smile. Forget.

 

 

 ***** CONFIDENTIAL FILE *****

 

Community Profile for #2017

Previous Name: Grace Ellerson

Previous Hair Color: Brown

Previous Eye Color: Brown

Previous Skin Type: Caucasian

Previous Height: 5’ 4”

Previous Weight: 120 lbs

Previous Occupation: Elementary School Teacher

Previous Spouse Information: Tom Ellerson, Deceased

Previous Child(ren) Information: Lily Ellerson, Deceased

Previous Next of Kin Information: N/A

Date of Assimilation: October 25, 2019

Assignment: Nuclear Armament Program

Contract Period: Indefinite

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