Thursday, June 30, 2011


Five steps, she thought in the absolute silence, Five steps.

It wasn't that far. She had to remember that. Just five steps up. She'd done the sheer cliff, she'd done a part that required going wholly upside-down. Climbed, clambered, slipped and grabbed for a handhold, any handhold, and frozen on it a moment, until the adrenaline faded enough for her eyes to clear. Then move on, next handhold in what wasn't quite pitch black, something that turned even the most vibrant colors gray, but she could still see. And so she went on.

It was hard, so hard to remember that. It should be as if someone were at her back, pressing her on and protecting her, helping. But all she could think was that, whatever had pushed her so far, she could not remember it. It had fallen away, and she could not remember when. All she had was now. It wasn't that hard. Just one step forward, one step up. It was dark, but she had seen the way, and knew it yet. Straight ahead.

A sob tore from her chest. She had forgotten why she was crying, and now cried over the forgetting.

Five steps. Get up.

"Okay," she said, voice hoarse from the raw throat she did not remember getting. "Okay."

Unsteadily, ankles wavering from exertion she could not remember, she rose. Five steps. She said it aloud for the first time. "Five steps."






It hit her. All of it. She'd come here, and it had been empty, but she'd kept her momentum, and now that it had been broken, now that she had to come at it from the outside, she froze and couldn't breathe. She had wanted to prove she could do it.

No noble objective. No waiting dependent. Nothing good, no motivator.

She closed her eyes and wept, remembering everything. Not even a "Betcha can't." Just chasing, like Alice with her little white rabbit, and then she didn't stop, and then she'd made excuses for why she couldn't.

She turned, looking over her shoulder. It had been easier in the blackness. She knew, without particularly wanting to know how, that there were sleeping forms there, hidden. Dying. She knew that that was why she was as tired as she was. The first time had been too much of a shock, she had stumbled back and barely caught herself. Caught herself five steps from the top, and two from the edge. She hadn't had an order before, but now knew the sheer cliff was just before the staircase Lethe. And she knew that she had not stumbled every time. Sometimes she had chosen.

But I could not sleep. The Lethe grants me no rest.

It wasn't true. It granted her some rest, in clarity of purpose. It was easier, in the darkness, sure she was right. Sure there was something that kept her going that wasn't just, "I can't stop now." The Lethe granted her respite.

She stared forward. She knew, in the odd way this place had given her, that left no doubt, that she had just enough energy to finish the journey. Should she stumble, or turn back for the Lethe's reprieve, she'd die here. Die at the bottom of the rabbit hole. It wouldn't be so bad, after all she'd been through.

A wisp of memory fluttered past her train of thought, her mother saying her name.

She closed her eyes, then opened them. She walked on.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The World

A/N: Between the previous post and this one, this blog hit 2,000 views.


“Dr. Johnson—”

“No! I’m not giving away everything I’ve built just because you-—you decided that it’s better for you!”

The unnamed man did not flinch. He would not react so obviously. But, had the good doctor looked at him, she might have seen him pause.

“Michelle,” he said softly. “Think about how many died in a few moments. All over, all at once. I can undo that.”

“And lose me every cure I’ve found!”

He let out a breath. “Michelle…I’m so sorry.”

“About wha—no!’ He reached for her and she jerked back, thinking he was going to do it, going to take everything she’d learned and shove her a year back because he, with his orthogonal morality, had decided it was better—-


Data flashed by, frozen diamonds slicing through every wall of denial she had tried to put up. She had helped some, yes. More than she had even known before. But that was a fraction (3/127ths) of everyone the disaster had killed. A fraction even of the survivors (don't look at the number). Transportation had broken down too much, and worsened every day, with each disparate tribe barely the size of a small town in the world as it had been.

“I am so sorry.” His voice betrayed no emotion. She believes him, even so.

Why?” she cried. “Why ask me, if you know, and you already decided—-“

“I did not. Have not. Not everything.” He brushed her hair back, and Michelle realized he was trying to be kind.

“What,” she whispered, eyes on the ground.

“I can…I am capable of allowing you to retain your memories.”

Dr. Johnson’s eyes jerked to his. “Yes.”

“You would eventually go insane.”

“I don’t care; do you realize how many-—”

“Stop. Please,” he added, remembering how manners went. “You do care; you just don’t know it yet. You found each cure on your own; you could find them again. I could…help you, but not guarantee anything. You might not even be able to spread the cures.”

She twisted and began pacing. “But I wasn’t even going to be a doctor back then…I don’t know; I don’t know…” Her head jerked back to him. "That's not all."

“Dr. Johnson… Your children.”

She went utterly still. “Oh.”


Of course, she thought. The chances of me meeting him again are slim enough, but both are million-to-one chances even if I have the same egg. They’d be different by surroundings, even if genetically identical. I’d be erasing them, erasing everyone born, and erasing the versions of people here…

Though, honestly, I don’t know any who wouldn’t go back.

It was the easiest decision of her life, but the words stuck in her throat. It was the hardest decision of her life, but she made it anyway.

“Can I keep those memories, at least?” she forced out. “They wouldn’t change anything. No way of differentiating them from a fantasy of mine, not like the cures. Nothing.” She turned and looked at the nameless man. “Please?”

The look held for a moment. “Just that.”

“Just that,” she echoed.

There was a long stretch of silence. “If you will allow the rest to be as if none of this ever happened…then yes. I am allowed that.”

She sighed in relief. “Yes.” Difficult, but not truly different from raising them in a better environment—wait. What? “Allowed? There’s someone I could ask?”

“No. I am sorry.”

“Sorry because you misspoke, or sorry because you can’t get me to—-”
The nameless touched the doctor’s skin, and almost all was as it had been.
She took out a piece of paper, and wrote everything she remembered of her children, and of raising them. Not enough to call attention, but…perhaps, just a few hints. Her children getting their shots, how right some things felt in her hands. Enough to bring her into the proper field, now with the proper tools.
“Risky,” the companion said.

“Worth every risk,” the nameless man replied.

“You are lucky you superior never found out,” his superior noted. "Make sure that I don't."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Schrödinger's Cat Is Gray

Setting: The Dark Times
Plot: Teach Him Anger
Narrative Device: My Greatest Failure
Hero: Smith Of The Yard
Villain: Mister Danger
Character As Device: Mysterious Past
Characterization Device: Mysterious Past
I've got to admit it's getting better (Better)
A little better all the time (It can't get no worse)

The Beatles
Once upon a time, in a beautiful far-off kingdom, everything was perfect. In the beginning, we were in Paradise, then we got kicked out. Back then, when people were closer to creatures and creatures were closer to people...

I'm sure you get the point.

That's supposed to be a comforting little tale. Everything was perfect, and now it's not, and here's why. Neat and tidy. Every bit of suffering can be traced back to this event, with maybe some build-up before the tipping point.

Yeah. Right. There never was a perfect time.

Oh, for the love of--quit that look, would ya? Honestly. Mine's brighter, y'know. Ooh, everything was perfect and now it never will be again--give me a break. The world's getting better. We can help people we couldn't before, and we're helping them.

Don't ask my name. It wouldn't mean anything to you. Or rather, it would, but you wouldn't believe me, which is almost the same thing. Like if I say I'm Sherlock Holmes, or Scarlett Johansson. It doesn't even cross your mind to believe me, so the declaration means nothing except that I'm not trustworthy.

There are points in time where things do get worse, of course. See bubonic plague, Dark Ages, or people fighting progress out of a desire to make the old patterns fit. Even if the old patterns mean more people die, more people are terrified, more people are hurt. Not that all changes are good, either. Progress is always change; change is not always progress. I learned that pretty hard.

I'm rambling. But what else do I do here? I don't even know why I'm dictating this. I told you, if I said who I am then you wouldn't believe me. Hm (laugh). I suppose that actually gives you a better chance, doesn't it? If I say I'm Ms. Johansson, then you wouldn't believe me. But if I simply tell you I'm famous, and perhaps drop some hints--for instance, I happen to be male, and you know me, and I dictate like I converse--then maybe you work it out on your own. We trust our own minds first. Probably because we think we know if we're tricking ourselves, or perhaps just don't want to think of the alternative.

And still rambling. I guess, I just want to say...don't assume. People tend to filter things; childhood is overexposed from remembering too much; weird shades jump out. We could sleep in the backseat and trust the adults to figure it all out. Goes through the filter, maybe we think it was a better time when we were just younger, with fewer responsibilities, or more power, or both. Maybe it just looks better because it isn't here. But it's all but impossible to simply go back by trying to force the pieces back together. Things change. Or it's like putting someone on a pedestal: someone can be predominantly good and still have flaws. An era can be golden and still have room to grow. All we can do is be the growth. Fighting growth because the tree was better as a sapling can maybe give you a bonsai, or a perfectly groomed tree. But you can't bring back the sapling unless you grow a new seed.

By default: Stay in school and eat your vegetables. And if inspiration grabs your collar and pulls, roll with absolutely everything and shine bright' as you can.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dearly Beloved

Setting: Here There Were Dragons
Plot: Quest For The Rest
Narrative Device: Attending Your Own Funeral
Hero: Faux Action Girl
Villain: Villain Ball Magnet
Character As Device: Escape Artist
Characterization Device: Holy Hitman

"...we are gathered here today..." he continued, in the tone of one reciting something that had been memorized for more than three-quarters of one's life.

It was a little depressing how quickly they bought it. Granted, I wasn't as strong as my spread-as-a-joke-and-never-lived-down reputation had people believe, but I had some skills. They just weren't brass knuckles-to-the-gut fighting.

Honestly. "No, sorry, the woman you've seen escape locks, chains, boxes, tombs and, oh yeah, strait jackets--six times!--couldn't escape a strait jacket. Because she was underwater." Give me strength.

"Knockety-knock," said my new company in the tree.

"Hush. They're about to get to the part where the presenter has to work around my utter lack of accomplishments."

My companion smothered a laugh and choked out, "Poor guy," before shutting up.

The guy really did have a rather difficult job. I had done some tricky "How will she get out of this?", but he hardly approved in the first place. Jeremiads about the distractions of the non-educational entertainment community were pretty much half of what he did. Not that I particularly blame him. I bored me.

"Jane..." I blinked. That was the first time he'd used my first name. It sounded so weird. "Was a good, forgiving soul." I nodded. Now say, "She will be missed," so you don't have to claim me or not-claim me and look bad. I don't know how many people figured out that's what he was doing, but since he talked to himself while he wrote his speeches, I knew.

"We will all miss her." I started and froze. "I know she has found peace."

Inconsequential things happened. Some teared up, but they were all accomplished liars; I didn't take it very seriously. Eventually, the crowd finished and filed away.

It hadn't been a fantastic service. I hadn't been a fantastic person. But he seemed genuinely hurt. I hadn't realize anyone would be.

"Janey," my partner murmured from ground level. "Time to get."

I nodded. "Yeah."

We walked down the trodden path and I thought about what it meant to be part of the order.

Extreme makeover, of course. I had to fool my own mother, if it somehow came to it, so I had to look different. And act, too. Literally, acting, to complete the makeover, and action. I already has escapology skills, and that was going to be my specialty. Thing was, I was also supposed to get other people out, which I was still relatively new to. I'm fine on the tests, but I keep failing the practicals. It's so weird to have the locks facing me.

I was guessing that my partner was either a tracker or someone lethal. No one's told me exactly what the lethal ones hunt, or what the trackers track, but hey, experience. And I am allowed to quit, if it comes to that. This is just to get me out of here, really.

"Hey, partner?"


"What should I call you?"


"Um," I said, articulately. "Should I capitalize that, or...?"

"As you wish."

I stared, then fell turned my eyes ahead and tried to find something more productive to think about. Like communicating the escapology. If I could get basics to the people I'd be helping, then they might be half out by the time I get to them, and then I'd have that many more out...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


The feeling starts when friends invite you out to the new place that just opened up, that slight curiosity.

It starts when you come in and you get a touch of contact adrenaline high from the sweat, freedom.

Starts when you smile at that cute one you've never had the excuse to flirt with, with the hair that made you realize how absolutely distracting hair could be; intent.

Starts when you get a smile in return. Interesting.

Starts with a riff on an electric guitar.

Might've been messy, or graceless, or off-beat, and no one would've cared. Here, now, you just move with the music and the tide of humanity. You two are on the same beat. The song sings of something that dilates pupils and darkens eyes, and you finally get to run fingers through that hair when you move off with your partner. A quick kiss before a longer one. Feel before form, moving as one eddy in the tide. The nook, the connection, the moment.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What You See

Setting: The Bright Castle
Plot: Plot
Narrative Device: Fauxshadow
Hero: Kid Hero
Villain: Trigger Happy
Character As Device: Perpetual Smiler
Characterization Device: I Want To Be A Real Man

Once upon a time, there was a village that waited for a hero. The prophecy was foretold by a smiling young girl passing through, and in a tongue without genders, though the common consensus was that the hero would be a boy, and that he would be born in a great castle. Given that, many villagers set about building a castle.

As you might guess from the fact that they built this place because they wanted the setting to fit a storybook, rather than any particular need for a fortress, they did not build a castle. A castle is something made of strong stone, and made to hold off the many enemies this village did not have. No one knew how to build a castle, or really why one would.

Rather, they built a palace.

Now, as one might also guess, there was a bit of trouble over who got to live in the castle. The villagers eventually agreed that the castle should house the bravest warrior and the fairest maiden. That was how the story went, after all. Many of them braced for a long argument over who was the fairest, who was the best warrior, etc. Failing that, the warrior would obviously be married. Or the maiden would be freshly married. No prima nocta, given the absence of close nobles, so marriages occasionally went a little while without consummation, if the couple happened to be busy enough.

Failing that, clearly, there would be some issue with the couple. They would hate each other, at least at first, if not for so long. Several romantics insisted the first child would dissolve any troubles; several parents saw the flaw in that. Children were lovely little darlings, of course, but being woken up in the middle of the night several nights in a row was not the sort of thing to build a relationship on. The romantics said the others had no vision, and that clearly the child would give the man the chance to show his sensitive side, which would have the woman swooning over him in gratitude, and then everything would be fine.

So both sides felt a little cheated when there was such swift consensus. Everyone immediately agreed who the fairest maiden was, and who the bravest warrior was. The only exceptions were the maiden and the warrior themselves, who wouldn't vote for themselves out of modesty, but no one else even really considered their choices.

The couple worried, of course. But, disappointing again, they met, and they fell in love, and they moved into the wonderful palace and lived happily ever after to raise a beautiful baby boy with an absurdly heroic build. Though he never brushed his hair, it was always that perfect, shining blond that only babies, angels, and a handful of blessed and rich nobles ever seem to manage. His teeth were perfect enough that they would have looked outright disturbing on anyone else, stuck out too much, if it weren't for the fact that the rest of him was perfect, too.

He reached the age, and because it was a story they expected, it was the age, 13. They waited for the monster.

Almost funny, really. They hadn't any idea of what a hero should be, but figured he looked right. Yet every villager had an idea of what the monster would be. No one needed to be told about what lurks beneath the bed, or beyond the mountain, or in the hearts of men. Priorities: Find the hero eventually; avoid the danger now.

And here is the first place our story disagrees.

The hero can have good works, but at the age, in his thirteenth year, he was supposed to have an obvious enemy. Dragon, ogre, evil king, anything really, just that someone was supposed to do something like lay siege to the "castle" or start kidnapping all the village's maidens.

There was the man who got drunk every night and took out a blade he was a little too careless with. The hero had figured out his power, and explained that it was of the utmost importance to stop giving this man alcohol. That might have been it. It might also have been when he made sure the man got help, did not simply ride out the withdrawal on his own.

There was a woman with a child. She could not afford to feed them both, and was wasting. He saw to it they got food, for people brought gifts to him often, and there was always extra to spread around. The child, upon growing up under the care of a sweet and determined mother, started something like an informal soup kitchen.

Might've been the cat in the tree. Might've been any number of things that only one or two people really knew he'd had a hand it, that changed the people because The chosen one had helped me with something so inconsequential, so I must be special. I must be destined for something great, so now I'll go out and find it.

The hero was having trouble feeling satisfied. As I said, the thirteenth year was supposed to bring a great, world-changing adventure. If not truly planet-changing, at least something that would change his world, change the village. He struck out to find it.

Long after, when his parents had died peacefully of old age and he had been traveling the world for the better part of his life any way you slice it, he sat in a busy market.

The smiling prophetess sat down beside him. "It took many good masons to make that palace."

He nodded, having recognized her, and having found the difference between a palace and a castle on his journeys. It was a compliment to his home, since the townsfolk had insisted on doing the building themselves. "They brought in many good teachers, I'm told."

The old woman nodded. "And created a magnificent one."

The hero blinked. The old woman smiled a little wider as the translation danced through his head.

He will change the world, and pass on the torch so that it keeps changing.

"...I thought I chose one. When I was dying."

"And they all, to a one, thought you chose them. People're funny that way." The woman, who suddenly seemed hardly older than he was, smiled right at him.

And they traveled, and taught, and smiled, and lived.
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart