Monday, August 18, 2008

Stay Strong; Be Brave

I wonder in this sleepless night
The reason for irrational fright
That whips its holder on the face
And tears our clothes with sickening grace
I wonder why, when these terrors come
Some shake and hide, some quickly run
And some stand tall, and brace for fate
To lead them on to heaven’s gate
But when that brazened soul doth shine,
The fears that horde the braver mind
Will flee to fields of scorched grain
And cry, cry, cry in vain

Monday, August 11, 2008

Little, But Fierce: A Story of a Boy

The little boy stared at the boat, his brown eyes big in unbelief. He glanced around, wondering if anyone was looking. Not seeing a soul, he crept toward the boat. His hand reached out, as if it was being pulled rather than a controlled motion. The glossy dark finish of the new boat gleamed under his little tanned fingers. The boy hopped up onto the deck, but his scarf caught on a nail. He yanked it free and threw it on the deck.
“That feels better anyway; it was getting hot,” he said as the wind fondled his dark, curly hair. He walked around in the fishing boat, hearing his boots clunk on the new surface. He looked out to the sea, sloshing and foaming in its nautical brilliance around the little village.
“Still dreaming of the sea, Unio? You know you would never make it out there,” said a voice on shore. Unio jumped off the front of the boat in a frenzy, and fell on his face in the sand, soaking his pants with water. The boy on shore laughed.
“Don’t you have something better to do, Osuga? Can’t you all just leave me alone for once?” Unio said bitterly as he turned sideways and huddled.
“Oh, Unio, but don’t you know how fun you are? Come play with me and my friends, Unio.”
Unio shook his head and walked down the beach, knowing full well what “play” meant. He still had the bruises to show for it.
“You can’t run away from us forever, Unio. We’ll always be here, you’ll always be here, and things will just get worse until you face us,” said the older boy as he walked away jauntily.
Both boys returned to where they were originally supposed to be. But while one tried to stop laughing, the other tried to keep from crying.

“Have you seen the new boat, Unio?” asked Unio’s father at breakfast the next morning. Unio ate slowly, thinking about what had happened near that beautiful, cursed boat.
“Aye, father, she’s little, but fierce,” said Unio with a glow of admiration. He grabbed a piece of bacon, thinking of how similar the boat’s beautiful color was to the food.
“That she is,” said Unio’s father dreamily.
“Could we have a boat like that one day, you think?”
“Nah, unless some turn of nature lowered its price by half at least,” the boy’s father laughed.
Unio stared at his plate and sighed. Maybe one day I’ll buy it myself.
“You can’t come fishing today; I need you to go to the market and get some things,” said Unio’s father, with a sad smile. He knew Unio would be disappointed.
“Yes, sir,” was all Unio said. His large eyes were cheerless, and his boyish mouth clamped shut as he stared out their little kitchen window. The colorful bottles that hung down over it reflected light into his eyes, but Unio didn’t turn away.
“You can buy a book,” said his father, trying to brighten the boy up a bit. Unio met his father’s eyes, and the boy’s lips twitched into a little smile.
As he kissed his father’s grizzly face, he couldn’t help but think, You can’t feel the sea in a book.

Unio sat curled up on the floor reading when his father came home. The words began to swarm before his eyes and he blinked rapidly to clear them.
“Unio! What did you do today?” said his father in a loud, booming voice that shook the floor Unio lay on.
“I went to the market. You told me to!” Unio sat up quickly and scooted back to the wall. His father rarely got mad, but when he did…
“Why are your clothes wet then?” His father walked toward him, his face red with ire. The man’s head was sweating as his hands repeatedly ran over the sparse hairs. It was times like these Unio wished he had a mother to hold him; to calm his shaking hands.
“I walked home by the shore, and I tripped,” muttered Unio. His clumsiness embarrassed him. Unio thought his father knew that.
“And then what did you do?” asked his father, sounding very skeptical.
“I came home, unloaded all the things from Market, and read this book,” Unio held up the book he was reading. He had almost finished it.
“What is the book about?” asked Unio’s father. Unio was bewildered at his father’s anger and distrust. He hadn’t done anything wrong!
“Father, what happened? What’s wrong?” said Unio quietly.
“Answer me!” shouted his father. Unio’s eyes rimmed with tears as his father began shaking his shoulders. He told his father everything he had read.
“Have you read the book before?”
By now Unio was curled in a tighter ball, what muscles he had, clenched, his long hair falling into his eyes.
His father heaved a long sigh, his blue eyes searching his son’s dark ones. He turned around and put his hands on his hips as his eyes started leaking tears. Unio stood and ran over to his father, his little feet padding the soft, dirt floor.
Father and son embraced, and the father began muttering in the son’s ear.
“They think—everyone thinks you stole the boat. But you—you didn’t, Unio! Why would my son ever—he wouldn’t. You wouldn’t! Oh, Unio...”
Unio stared out the window as his arms wrapped around his father’s sides. His beautiful boat was gone.

“My son did not wreck your boat!”
“His scarf was found in there. Everyone knows it is his scarf. Your son wears a red scarf everywhere, and he doesn’t have it now.”
“That doesn’t mean he stole a boat! He was home all day yesterday; he went to the market, he read a book. How do you have time to do all that, steal, and wreck a boat?” Unio’s father was furious. But really, there was no evidence for Unio anyone would believe. All the evidence was against him. All the men were out fishing. None of the other kids had gone missing and they all had evidence of seeing each other. And Unio was the one that had been seen wet.
“I did go in the boat.”
Unio’s father turned toward his son, incredulous.
“Unio, this isn’t a game.”
“I know, father. But I didn’t go in the boat yesterday. I went two days ago and just sat in it; that’s all! My scarf got caught on a nail and I threw it in the boat. I forgot to pick it up when I went home. But I promise I didn’t steal the boat.”
After this, talk flew around the mob of men surrounding the boat owner, Unio, and his father. Everyone was saying something.
“Sounds like an excuse to me!”
“He’s just a boy, he can’t steal a boat!”
“Shows how obsessed with it he was!”
“Heaven’s sake! We don’t even know if it was a person from our town who stole it!”
“Why would someone randomly wreck a boat?”
“He does look to weak to handle a boat himself.”
Unio fled. Everyone pushed against him, some patted his head, some pulled his curls, and some tripped him. But he just got up and kept running. It was all too much.
“Unio, why are you running?”
Osuga stepped in front of him as Unio finally fled all the people. Osuga was grinning with the sheer pleasure of torturing the boy before him, his green eyes flashing with excitement.
Unio stared at Osuga, then drew his right arm back and punched the boy standing in his way. Osuga lifted his hand to feel the blood coming from his mouth, and Unio looked at the gash in his knuckle from Osuga’s teeth.
“That wasn’t too smart, little Unio.” Osuga glared at the boy before him, whose drawn eyebrows enhanced the fine lines of his face. If Unio could have seen himself, he would have hidden from the proud, fierce look that overcame his face.
“I was never very smart, Osuga, but I know I did not steal that boat. And I have a feeling you know who did,” said Unio. Unio searched his foe’s face, but he must have stared too long. Osuga’s fist flew into the boy’s face, and Unio crumpled to the ground.

“Unio!” said the boy’s father as his strong arms curled around his son. Unio muttered something incoherent.
People once again crowded around the boy, whispering. Osuga shuffled to the back of the crowd as he recognized what he did. Someone grabbed his arm, and he tried to pull it away.
“Let go!” he screamed, then looked up to his father, the boat owner. Osuga cringed.
“Why did you punch that boy, Osuga?” Osuga’s father held his son’s rebellious stare, but eventually Osuga lowered his eyes.
“He’s a bully. He punched me, and I had to protect myself. That’s what you always told me to do with bullies, isn’t it?” Osuga said.
His father laughed unbelievingly.
“Unio is a bully? Oh, yes, that makes perfect sense, considering Unio reads all day, and hardly ever goes out, and—“
Osuga’s father paused. Unio’s eyes fluttered open as his father poured water on his head.
“Unio, did you steal that boat?” asked Osuga’s father. Everyone stared at Unio as he held the man’s gaze.
Osuga’s father nodded with understanding and finality.
“The boy tells the truth. I see it in his eyes. Aye, he loved the boat, but the boy didn’t steal it,” said Osuga’s father.
Unio smiled up at his own father, and then whispered a small “Thank you” to the other man, who had turned back to his own son.
“Osuga, my son, perhaps you know who stole my boat?” asked the man, with a twinge of accusation.
Osuga looked away for a while, and then turned to his father with bitter humiliation and regret.
“Osuga,” said the boy’s father. His face was lined with disappointment as he grabbed his son by the ear and dragged him home.
The crowd dispersed, chattering and mingling as small town crowds do. Within a month, all would be forgotten. Perhaps not for Osuga, who had to work on building a new boat with his father and was not allowed to roam the streets for a while, but most people would forget all the other little boy was accused of. Unio continued fishing with his father, and though the boy was innocent, it was a while before his father let him steer their boat.
Their boat, glossy and proud, built hand by hand from pieces of another boat with a somewhat sadder story.

Dahrke: A Short Story about Fairies

Her hands grazed the tops of that Spring’s gifts. It may have comforted her, but for the thorns here and there and brambles that clung to her already scarred hands. She fell to the earth on her knees, grasping the soil, wishing some sort of pity from it. Her view of what was once to her a perfect world became blurred, not only because of her tears, but also because Merry had touched something far more complicated, yet far more wonderful than any other ten-year-old girl could imagine. Merry met fairies. And they were nothing like what anyone would believe.

An owl hooted outside Merry’s window, and the girl’s green eyes turned toward the darkness of the night. She had been awake for a while now, unmoving and huddled beneath her simple cotton blanket. A breath was finally released, and Merry sat up, swung her legs over the side of her bed and stood up. Her white nightgown clung to her, wet with sweat, her dark hair tangled and messy, yet Merry seemed oblivious to all this except the cold wind that embraced her body. She grabbed a cloak and softly stepped out of her room, then outside, then glided her way behind her house into the woods.
I wonder why people don’t like the dark? It’s so beautiful.
Merry’s feet took her along a makeshift trail. She admired all that she passed and welcomed it, pushing her nightmares away. At last she came to a stream and lowered herself next to a tree. The night air pressed down on her, enveloping her in a cocoon of its crisp, cool smell. Grass, or something, tickled her bare feet, and an unearthly sleep swept away Merry’s mind. The little shadow under her produced a muffled laugh.

Kehlan wiped the blood and herb mixture off the tip of his blade, his slanted eyes gleaming with anxiety for a human to bring to Dahrke. His thin, gleaming wings lifted him up to the face of Merry. He looked at her, gazing with quite wonder.
She is a beautiful human.
Kehlan had never met any being with such pink cheeks, such soft hair, and long, full eyelashes. He extended his arm and touched her skin, surprisingly smooth. All the female fairies at his forest had black hair, blacker eyes, and dark skin, such a contrast to the little human. He drew a breath.
“Come, girl,” spoke Kehlan, as he drove the tiny spear in his hand into the girl’s neck. Merry awoke and grabbed her neck, yelping with pain until she set eyes on Kehlan. He held her gaze, allowing her to enter into a trance. The girl’s eyes misted and she arose and followed the shadow with wings into captivity.

“Excellent, Kehlan,” whispered Dahrke, resting in a branch of an oak tree, chiseled and smoothed to fit him perfectly.
“Do you wish me to put her—“
“Lock her up. Bring her out when we Gather,” spoke Dahrke.
Kehlan led Merry away without emotion. The girl was slowly regaining consciousness and making feeble efforts to stray toward home. Yet even these feeble efforts made it hard for Kehlan, as he was not even a fourth of the girl’s height. He tugged her hair, then flew around poked her back lightly with the tip of his spear, just enough for Merry to jump forward and fall into a hole underground.

Merry opened her eyes, blinking rapidly to clear them. The ground she sat upon was slightly damp. Her head rested on a sod wall, and as she brought it forward to look closer at her surroundings the pain in her neck reawakened, forcing her to lie back. She breathed deeply, trying to understand where she was; and, having no logical conclusion come to mind, Merry decided she was having a dream. So, she arose, now bracing herself against the expected the jolt of pain in her neck, and looked around. However upon seeing nothing other than sod walls shaped like an upside-down bowl, Merry returned cross-legged to the floor.
“Do you like your resting place, little human? Comfy, yes?” came a voice behind the child.
Merry jumped and turned her head toward the sound, the backed up, horrified.
She saw what she considered the cruelest face upon a tiny body, with black, flimsy wings that sputtered sporadically up and down, then side to side. The sharp face had a deep complexion with a hint of green toward the ears, which curved then pointed toward the crown of the head. The head was covered with black curls, almost like a human could have, but they, too, contained a green tinge toward the base. His eyebrows were straight, his eyes somewhat slanted and the eyeball completely black—more as a marble than an eye, for it contained not even the smallest tinge of white. The lips were full, and again slightly greener than the skin. In all, this creature Merry came to assume was a fairy was not ugly, but it wore such a sarcastic glare, such a pleased twist of the mouth, that all Merry could think about was getting away. This was not the kind of fairy she heard about in stories, not the kind she read about in books. As happens recurrently in dreams, Merry forgot she “thought” she was dreaming and accepted the moment as reality. And yet, there was no place Merry saw that she could run, so she huddled against the wall, trembling. The creature’s features softened slightly.
“I’m not going to hurt you, little human,” muttered the fairy.
“My name is Merry,” the girl whispered, with a hint of anger.
“Pleasure, Merry,” spoke the fairy with some disdain. Then he paused, perhaps considering his tone and continued, “I am called Kehlan. I captured you.”
The girl remained silent.
“You are my first capture for Dahrke.”
The girl flinched.
Kehlan shifted then announced, “Well, I will bring you out to the others in a while. For now, try to rest if you like.”
Kehlan looked at Merry once again, then jumped and flew into a small hole in the roof of the little room that Merry had not seen.
The girl cried silent tears.

Merry looked up at the sky as she was led away from the little sod room by a rope with thorns intertwined. Part of the ceiling had been lifted away, and she was pulled up by four fairies. It may have been an amazing feeling, but Merry’s mind was elsewhere, and even so, it was slightly uncomfortable. She looked at the path now ahead of her that led to the same river that bordered the tree at which she fell asleep. Amidst the trees were more fairies, similar to Kehlan. Yet when she looked up into the trees, she saw one that was slightly larger than the rest—it was about half her height, with long, straight, black hair pulled back at the nape of his neck. The eyebrows on this fairy slanted upward, yet the eyes, penetrating and solid, were the same. Merry assumed this was Dahrke. He nodded to Merry as she approached.
“Welcome, human,” spoke his voice, not very deep, but with somewhat of a brassy tone, “I suppose you know why you are here.”
“Not exactly,” said Merry, and as the fairies first heard the human’s voice, soft and quite, they stared, some with amazement, some with pure hate. The fairy in the tree laughed sadistically, along with others perched beside him on the tree.
“I would have thought Kehlan would have told you. No? Kehlan, tell her now,” he nodded at Kehlan.
“I will leave the honor to you, Sir,” replied Kehlan with a wicked glance toward Merry. Dahrke looked amused, but agreed. He flew off his branch and close to Merry’s face, his dark wings reflecting the moon above into the girl’s eyes. He began to speak.
“A long time ago, the first Dahrke leader began a tradition. When the Hunter’s Moon is full in the sky,” he paused, and seeing Merry’s look of confusion, continued, “That would be the full moon of your, ah, November? Yes, he moon you see in the sky is that moon. At that time, each family of the Dahrke fairies was to bring one drop of human blood, to give to the river. Human blood calms the river fairies, who would otherwise attack when the chill of winter comes. This used to be easier, as humans would walk the forests often, yet now we have had to travel farther and farther to bring back our drops of blood. However, you are here tonight, and now we can save our blood for next winter. You should be thankful to the first Dahrke leader, though, because the blood must come from a different human every year. Otherwise, we would never have to worry about gathering blood if we had you to stay with us.”
With this, Dahrke smirked and, while Merry was staring at his cruel, deep eyes, he sliced the top of her hand. Merry dropped to the ground, clenching her hand, and screamed. This scream of pain brought others of joy, for the fairies of Dahrke love to hear suffering. They leapt from branch to branch, shrieking and calling out to the moon. Dahrke dropped his blood into the river. Ten fairies surrounded Merry next, then flocked to her, slicing her arms, legs, neck, anywhere they could reach. All the while, more fairies flocked to the child, while the women and children fluttered around, singing and dancing with glee. Merry’s screams continued, tears poured down her cheeks as blood stained her nightgown. She kicked and blindly flung her arms about, which only allowed fairies easier access to her blood. Then, one by one, they flew to the lake, and fewer fairies flocked to her, until the last one sliced her hand and left. Merry lay on the forest floor, exhausted and broken. Then she turned over onto her back, and looked up at the night sky, which was empty. A leaf cracked beside her and she turned her stained face. Kehlan approached. He dropped a flower into her hand; it was pure white.
“Thank you, Merry. We don’t deserve it, but you saved us,” Kehlan whispered, then stepped back, and more forcefully commanded, “Go home, Merry. Go home.”

Months have passed since Merry’s encounter. Each day, the memories of the fairies of Dahrke, her sod prison, her sacrifice, and everything else in that forest slip farther and farther away, as other trials emerge into her life—trials that require her attention and can’t have fairy tales getting in the way. She often wonders whether that night was really reality, then she glances at her hands to remind herself how it definitely was, no matter how terrible and beautiful. As she walks through the fields surrounding her house, Merry’s mind drifts back to the forest and the stream within. She glances at her hands, counting the scars, and realizes that both the pain and discipline afterwards for “running away” was worth it—because Merry now had something that no one else she knew had; something she could hold on to and never let go of; something special; something all hers. Merry had met fairies.