I’m going to make a list of these in chronological order, to make it easier for anyone who wants to read all of them.
This month’s word is isolation, meaning “an act or instance of isolating”, “the state of being isolated” or “the complete separation from others of a person suffering from contagious or infectious disease; quarantine”.
CW: mention of suicide, mention of abuse
Sometimes someone hurts you so much, so deeply, that all you can do is run.
I look at the sentence I’ve just written, and it makes me shudder with the truth of it.
I ran. It wasn’t even a thought, more of an instinct. I didn’t consider any practicalities like money, clothes, food; I just saw an opening and I bolted before it closed.
I didn’t think of the others; I couldn’t, wrapped within my own misery and pain, it was impossible to consider them, and what might happen to them. What he might do, having lost one victim, to those who remained behind.
I fled for years, across galaxies, leaving world after world behind me. Every time I started to settle down, to feel a little bit safe, I would start to worry that maybe he had also gotten on a spaceship and was chasing me across the universe. And I’d gather my things, and run.
I keep trying to believe that he’s dead. I tell myself that time dilation is on my side, that it’s been centuries for him. But I won’t believe he’s dead until I see a corpse. Oh, I checked the records, of course I did, but it was nearly two centuries by then and records can be faked. Especially old ones. They say he’s dead, but I just can’t believe it. I can’t let myself believe it, because what if it’s a lie? What if he’s tracking me across space, across time?
I never really believed he would just let me go.
I’ve never been able to face what happened, to think about it in terms more specific than “what he did” or “the thing that happened”. I always just wrapped it up with all the feelings I had, pain and anger and misery and even love, and squashed it down somewhere inside me. I just never think about it, but I’m thinking about it now that I have nothing but time.
I’ve come so far, in all senses of that phrase, but when I think about him now I still revert to the terrified being that I was then. I think I’m stronger these days; I want to be stronger, but sometimes I think I’m the same, that, despite everything I’ve done in the intervening years, nothing has changed.
It took me years, and light years, to start believing I had escaped him, that he couldn’t find me. To begin to think that I could be free.
Only to end up here. Trapped, again, but this time by physics and chemistry, down on this planet with an atmosphere that would kill me if I left my ship. If the gravity didn’t crush me first.
I’ve sent a distress call, but I don’t know if anyone received it, if anyone is coming, or if they’ll even make it in time. So I’ve been wondering what will kill me first.
The gravity? My ship is strong, but it wasn’t made for this. I can hear it creaking and groaning all the time.
The atmosphere? A tiny crack could let enough of it in to kill me, so I monitor the hull integrity obsessively.
Starvation? That’s unlikely, I’ve got supplies for years.
Myself? Maybe. Maybe. But I have tried so hard to survive, given up so much, taken so many chances, I can’t really see myself giving up now. As long as I’m alive, there’s always a chance someone will come for me. Or maybe I’ll think of something clever and escape on my own.
I never believed in hope; it always seemed like a lie designed to stop you from trying to leave. And yet, somehow, down here in this murky atmosphere, I’m starting to feel the first stirrings of it.
I kind of like it. I think I’ll sit with it, and with my memories, and trust that whatever happens will happen. Finally, I think I’m learning how to settle down.
It’s just a shame it took this to make it happen.
© bardofupton 2020
This month’s word is flight, meaning “the act, manner, or power of flying” or “an act or instance of fleeing or running away; hasty departure”. Sorry it’s late, life is kinda distracting at the moment. And it’s very short, too, for the same reason.
I always thought it would be the coolest superpower. Just, y’know, speeding through the air, all alone, up above everything and everyone.
The reality is not like that.
It’s cold, the air is full of crap (and don’t get me started on the insects if you fly low), and I constantly get lost because it turns out I am not good at judging distances or recognising landmarks.
So yeah, I can fly, but the truth is, I’d rather take the bus.
© bardofupton 2020
This month’s word is conversation, meaning “informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.”.
“I don’t know what you want.”
“I just want to talk.”
Sigh, shrug. “Oh, I don’t know.”
” You’re the one that wants to talk!”
“Well, you know. Since we’re stuck here til the fog lifts, might as well get to know each other.”
“Why? We’ll never see each other again; it’s just a waste of time.”
“Do you have anything else to do?”
“Yes, I’m going to sit here and wait.”
“You can talk and wait at the same time.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Of course you can.”
“No, I can’t. Waiting is a very active process for me, you’re just distracting me.”
“But I’m bored.”
“Not my problem. Just met you, don’t really like you.”
“Huh. Well, that’s rude.”
“Like I said, I don’t like you.”
“Well, if that’s your attitude, I’ll just leave you alone then.”
“I’m still bored, though. Please talk to me. Please please please.”
“Please please please please please please please please please please.”
“I am walking away from you now. Do not follow me.”
“So, I bet you’d like to talk to me.”
“Great! So, let me tell you about my life. I was born in….”
© bardofupton 2019
This month’s word is voice, meaning “the sound or sounds uttered through the mouth of living creatures, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc.”.
I have an amazing voice. Everyone says so.
Sorry, I know that’s not what you asked. How did I first realise my talent, wasn’t it? I’m not sure I’d really call it a talent! It’s just a feature of me. I think, though, it was when I started going to school. I always thought that everyone reacted to children’s voices the way my family did to mine. I mean, you do, don’t you, when you’re little? You think everyone’s family is the same as yours. I thought everyone gathered around to listen adoringly to their children.
When I went to school, I suppose. I noticed that the teachers responded differently to the other children. And after a few weeks someone contacted the authorities and I was taken away from my family.
For my own good, they told me. They said it would be safer. Although they never made it clear who for.
After that, it was testing, testing and more testing. And then they decided to train me as a diplomat. Well, you know how that turned out! Accusations of undue influence, a UN resolution passed banning the use of people with “special abilities” in diplomatic positions, and of course, the Search.
Yes, I wish the Search had found someone else, anyone else, who was like me. It’s lonely being the only one. It’s lonely being me. I can’t even date, because I can’t turn it off. Why do you think I have this speech-to-text setup? Why do you think you’re in a separate room?
Because nobody trusts me, that’s why. Nobody wants to hear me speak any more. Because they’re afraid – you’re afraid – that I’m the monster. And I’m not useful any more, either, so why not lock me away? Can’t trust people like me, even if there are no other people like me. Can’t let me go, don’t want to kill me, just in case.
In case of what? That’s obvious, isn’t it? Never throw away a potential asset, right?
I don’t want to talk to you any more.
What do I want? I want to be normal. I want… I want to be able to have a conversation where the other person disagrees with me. I want to have a conversation where the other person can disagree with me.
You can’t give me that. Nobody can. So please go. And tell them I won’t give any more interviews. I’m tired, I’m done with this. I don’t want to be here any more.
Just leave me alone. It’s the only thing you can do for me now.
© bardofupton 2019
Meril sighed, putting her chalk down and staring glumly at the glyphs she had attempted to draw.
“I swear I actually get worse the more I practice,” she muttered.
She grabbed a cloth and quickly erased her writing. Even though it was just chalk, and not ink, the habit of destroying any work that was unintended for permanence was ingrained. Also, she didn’t want anyone to see what a bad job she’d done. She knew what the glyphs should look like, but somewhere between her brain and her fingers that knowledge seemed to get lost.
“Precisely why I should do something else with my life,” she said aloud.
“Like befriend that wizard?” Paro inquired quietly from the doorway.
“No, I was thinking of a job,” Meril explained.
“Didn’t you read that book I gave you?”
“Yes, but I’m a terrible inkwarrior. My glyphs are misshapen, so they don’t work. What’s the point of keeping me?”
“You know our secrets, though.”
“I wouldn’t betray you!”
“What if this wizard you’re pining after asked you to?”
“I… I wouldn’t.”
“Easy to say, Meril. But not so easy for us to believe. And we can’t have wizards knowing our secrets.” Paro sighed. “And it’s not just up to us. Even if the guild would let you go, the priests would not.” He patted Meril’s shoulder. “You’re not the first to want something different, Meril, but that’s not the world we live in. You need to make the best of it.”
Meril sighed again. “I know,” she said sadly. “I know.”
“Keep studying,” Paro told her as he left the room.
Meril nodded, but stared out the window instead. Maybe her wizard would walk by. It was around the time they normally did.
She’d first noticed them a year ago, rushing past in the bright pink robes of a wizard’s apprentice. The robes were meant to make them stand out, and they did. It was the pink that had attracted Meril’s attention that first day, as she was staring aimlessly out of the window. And then they had dropped an item, some kind of glass container, and it had broken. She’d seen the look of horror on their face, and felt a pang of sympathy. She too had destroyed important objects, and paid the price in increased chores and angry scolding.
The wizard had looked around furtively, not seeing Meril at the high, narrow window, and had muttered a quick spell. The shards of glass crawled back together, and Meril felt a strange thrill at seeing something forbidden. She knew that if she’d had that power, she’d have used it for the same purpose. She also knew that she should report the use of magic, so that the inkwarriors’ guild could check for cracks in the real, but she had no intention of doing so. It would be a secret between her and the wizard.
After that, she’d looked out for them every day, and gradually come to feel that she knew them. Loving them was a simple step from there. She had still not actually met them or learned their name, but she was determined to make that happen. Somehow.
© bardofupton 2018
Meril stared at the book. It was extremely thin, more of a pamphlet, really. She hesitated, then flipped it open. At least it was a change from studying.
Elise was the child of a soldier and a weaver, and would therefore have the choice of either career. Her father hoped she’d choose to be a weaver like him, and stay close to home in safety. Her mother had no opinion on that or any other matter, having died in battle when Elise was only four years old.
“At least she got a choice,” Meril muttered sulkily. Inkwarriors always married within their community.
Despite her father’s best efforts, however, Elise had no interest in weaving. Even as a very young child, her only interest was making people laugh. And she was good at it. Her original repertoire was silly jokes that were mainly funny due to her age and the way in which she told them, but as she got older she developed into a true comic.
At this point, her father realised that they had a problem. Somehow Elise was convinced that she was going to be an entertainer. He spent many days and nights trying to convince her that she could be either a weaver or a soldier, but never a performer. Elise refused to budge. She pointed out that she had neither aptitude nor interest in either career, and that she was a talented comedian and it would be a waste of her skills to take up any other calling.
“Besides, it’s a bit late now, isn’t it?” Elise argued. “I’m too old to start learning those skills.”
Her father sighed. “It’s my fault. I should have insisted you choose one or the other years ago, I know, but you were so happy. And you’re all I’ve got since your mother died. I just wanted you to be happy. But now I just want you to live.”
Elise laughed. “Who’ll know?”
“Everyone,” her father said. “Soon you’ll have to register your choice and start working.”
“Why can’t I just register as an entertainer?”
“Because they’ll kill you!” Her father stopped, took a deep breath and tried to speak more calmly. “It’s forbidden.”
“But when they see how good I am,” Elise began.
“Nobody will see how good you are if you’re dead!”
Elise rolled her eyes and laughed. “When was the last time that happened? It’s just a threat they make to keep us in line.”
“It’s not a threat, Elise.”
“Have you ever seen it happen?”
“Exactly! I’m going to do what I want, and I don’t care if they disapprove.”
Elise ran off, confident that her father was being overprotective once again. Her father was equally confident that he was not, but could think of no action he could take. Even if he had known who to bribe, he had no money, and he doubted anyone important could be bribed with the poorly-woven blankets that were his main output. He decided to focus his energy on convincing Elise to change her mind.
When the census takers came to the village for the triennial registration, he begged Elise to lie and say she was a weaver. Elise refused, laughing off his protests.
“As if they’ll care,” she said. “They just want something to put on their forms.”
And off she went to the town hall.
Her father followed her, waiting outside the town hall while she registered, for registration was considered a private affair, even though it was a foregone conclusion in virtually all cases. He waited for a long time. All the other young people had gone in, registered and left, but there was no sign of Elise. At last, when night was starting to fall, he gathered his courage and entered the hall.
An official was seated at a table, writing. Servants were tidying the room, and a couple of large men who were clearly bodyguards lurked at the side of the hall.
“I’m looking for my daughter, Elise,” he told the official.
Meril sighed. “So she’s dead, right?”
“Executed,” the official replied.
“But… But…. Didn’t you let her explain?”
“You know the law. So did she, even if she thought she could flout it. Why waste time with a trial when she’s clearly guilty?”
Elise’s father stared at him.
“Where’s her body?”
The official gestured, and a servant brought a small box over and handed it to Elise’s father.
Elise’s father opened the box. It was full of ash.
“Due to the nature of her crime,” the official continued, “she cannot be buried on holy ground.”
“What did you do to her?” Elise’s father screamed.
The bodyguards grabbed him and began to drag him from the room. The official stared coldly at him.
“I merely carried out the sentence prescribed by law. It was your responsibility to teach your daughter the law and ensure she followed it.”
Elise’s father sobbed as he was removed from the hall. He knew the official was right, that he had failed his child, that the true crime was his.
Meril rolled her eyes. “Oh please! What blatant propaganda. Like anyone would be convinced by that.”
She tossed the pamphlet on the desk, and picked up her slate and chalk. Maybe she should at least practice her glyphs.