Dust and Grit

The ancient air-conditioning unit hiccupped and wheezed, puffing in pitiful futility. There was dust everywhere—clinging to the cracked dashboard, clouding the windshield, and coating both driver and passenger alike. Zara shoved her scarf up further across her nose and squinted at the hazy horizon. It was dusty, like everything else. The road was dusty, the mountains were dusty, even the sky had a sullen and dusty tint. There was dust in her hair, dust in her mouth, and dust under her fingernails. An exceptionally large pothole and Zara was airborne for a fraction of an instant, despite her death grip on the bench beneath her. The jeep rattled in perfect time with her teeth.

It was an odd sort of jeep, really, and had quite a lot of personality to it. It was the kind of vehicle that could be kept together relatively easily, given a little tender and loving care. In the jeep’s case, this came in the form of baling wire and prayers. Zara liked to reimagine inanimate objects as people—the jeep was an ancient, grizzled man clad in tattered clothes and armed with a pair of piercing eyes behind a massive (and rather dusty) beard.

The road had had enough of potholes, and decided to try a few hidden rocks instead. Zara almost hit the windshield. “Have you ever considered installing seatbelts?” She hollered.

Janus turned his head for a slivered second, and she caught the gleam of smile-crinkled eyes between scarf and cap. “And spoil all the fun? There’s a roll of baling wire behind,” he jerked his thumb toward the bed of the jeep, “if it gets too horrible, you can always strap yourself down.”

Zara couldn’t decide whether he was joking or serious.

“But really,” Janus continued, “do you know how much work it would be to install seatbelts? Because once I’d got the benches out, I’d be obliged to fix the floor too. And since if the flooring were up, I might as well repaint the whole interior. And if the interior were being repainted, why not detail the outside as well? Nope, adding belts would be too much trouble.”

He yanked the wheel over without warning, and the jeep dove off the main road. Zara dug her booted toes into the warped flooring and gritted her teeth as the world bounced and danced through the windshield. After a time, it regained a state of moderate balance—from what little of it could be seen through the haze. The road began to drop steeply, and high rocky walls rose up on either side. The canyon wasn’t visible from the main road, yet it grew larger and deeper the further they drove. The air was cooler too, and there was something on the breeze… something she remembered but couldn’t quite name. Water. The air was damp. The deeper they went, the more the air smelt of water and green, growing things. The shapes of scraggly plants traced the walls on either side of the road, and they drew closer together and deeper in hue the further down they drove. Janus reached up with one hand and unwound his scarf, releasing a cloud of dust as he did so. The skin beneath was pale by comparison. After another moment or two, Zara did the same.

The light was playing tricks on the road ahead—it glinted and shone, moving in rippling lines. They bumped over a rickety wood bridge, and Zara stared in stupefied wonder at the trickle of water beneath. It bubbled out of the ground on one side of the road, passed under it, and then ran parallel, growing in strength the further it went. Long ago, it must have run where the road did now—some cataclysmic event had sent it spurting out of the lower rock instead.

“Don’t they have water back at Home?” Janus asked, cocking an amused eyebrow at her bulging eyes that were now fixed solely on the stream.

“Yes… but we don’t have rivers.” Zara whispered in hushed awe.

Janus glanced at the sunken creek bed. “Evidently not.”

“Where does it all go?” She inquired.

“To the lake. Must flow underground on the far side though. The lake never stagnates, and there’s always a slight current.”

“You mean it just… sits there? Just a bunch of water all piled up in the same place?”

“You’ve never seen a lake before?”

Silence.

“Is it really so bad back at Home, Zara?” He inquired.

“There are stories, old wives’ tales really, about such things as lakes.” She sidestepped.

“Zara.” Urgency.

She turned with wide eyes, wild and haunted. “There is no water, Janus. There has been no water for over a hundred years.”

WIP Excerpt: The Chameleons’ Plea

** Excerpt from House of Mirrors — R. K. Hiller **

The floor was cool and slick under her bare feet. Hardly a joint or seam showed where floor became wall, and wall in turn became ceiling. It was all the same—one continuous, shadow-shrouded dream. There was a circle ahead of her, faintly luminous. Meira could feel the sweat already beginning to bead on her forehead, but refused to let her steps falter. The air was dead around her. Not just quiet, not even silent, but dead. Vacant and lifeless, she wondered if the air was capable of even carrying sound at all. She was almost to the circle now. Only a few steps more. One more step. She stepped onto the circle. Immediately, it began to glow brighter. The ground beneath her feet shuddered, and far off, a distant harmonic tone began humming.

“I have come.” She announced, her voice echoing back into her own ears. “I wish to speak with you.”

“So we see.” It was an odd voice, buzzing and humming as if it were part of the very air itself.

“Where are you?” She turned slowly, scrutinizing the shadows that pressed in on every side.

“We are here. And we are not. We are in your living memories, and we are the cobwebs in your furthest thoughts—we occupy the unclaimed land.

“I have come to reason with you—to plead our case. Will you hear me?”

“We hear you. Whether the noise of your mouth shall sway our position and course is doubtful.”

Meira drew a long deep breath, willing her voice to not tremble. “Long have you oppressed this land. Long have you held it in your power, bending its inhabitants to your will. You have wrought destruction—what once was is gone forever, and can never be regained. We would have you depart, vanish forever, and leave us in peace.”

Shrieking, pulsating harmonics ensued, which could only be translated as sadistic laughter. “Your world is under our control. Why would we simply abandon the greatest prize we have ever gained?”

“Because you’re destroying lives!” Meira shouted in frustration. “You don’t just control our people, you consume their very minds, leaving nothing but an empty and lifeless shell. Why?”

The voices hummed and buzzed among themselves, before lowering to a faint, vibrating whisper.

“So what is the reason?” Meira pressed. “You must have a purpose in this madness.”

One voice rose up, spiraling out of the darkness, circling her head and tickling her ears. “Because we were dying, human child. Our race was perishing.”

“So you would take the lives others in order to prolong your own existence?” She asked.

“Would you not do the same for your own young brothers and sisters? We are dying, human child.” The voice continued.

An older, more broken voice buzzed out in protest. “You will betray us! Do not speak of death and weakness, we know no weakness.”

“But we are weak. They know this. I only wish to explain to them why we have become so.” The younger voice near Meira’s head whined.

“Impudence. You think that in a thousand years you have learned all there is to learn, and that you know better than your elders.” The older voice scolded.

“Peace.” All the voices, or perhaps more accurately one great harmony, replied. “The small human knows that we are weak, perhaps by explaining our weakness we shall gain its sympathy.”

“Yes, yes! Its sympathy! That is their weakness. Hear us, small one. Hear our case.” The young, ringing voice near Meira’s head chimed in.

Meira paused for a moment, considering the sudden and unanticipated reversal of judge and prisoner. “Very well, I am listening. Speak.”

WIP Excerpt: Prologue

WIP excerpt  —  Prologue  (Raelea Hiller)  The coming of the Chameleons, the Great Exile, and the formation of the Protection. This is how it all began…

Is it best to remember or is it better to forget? There was once a time when our nation was one and whole—an age of light and knowledge. But that was long ago, before the invaders, the Chameleons, came. They are a silent people, and they seeped through the cracks of our cities like acidic water. At first a tiny trickle—we didn’t even notice. But then the walls began to erode; only it wasn’t the walls of our city but the walls of our minds. For that is their one power. There numbers may have been small, their technology child’s play next to our own advances and discoveries, but those paled in significance next to their one power. It wasn’t long before we had a name for them: Mind-Eaters. Their power overtook our people like a cancer, spreading with malignant might through every layer of our society. Those were the dark times. Our minds were overrun, shadowed, and brought into submission.

And yet, as rapid as it was, the invasion was not rapid enough—some of our people were able to sense what was happening, and these men and women acted. To rise up and fight would have been futile. How can you take up physical arms against an unseen and hidden foe? Instead, we fortified our minds. The first Network was established and, as primitive as it then was, it was sufficient to block the Mind-Eaters. We thought that would be enough—our one slim victory had made us proud. We believed that we could stay in our cities, protected by the Network, and begin the long task of reversing what the Mind-Eaters had done. Yet we still hadn’t seen their full power, and our feeble resistance enraged them.

That was when the killing began. The minds of our people, those outside of the Network, those who we were struggling to save, were tortured and turned to madness. Have you ever seen a crazed dog devour itself? Those under the control of the Mind-Eaters, the Devoured, turned inward and battled each other—men, women, and children alike. The Devoured searched for us, seeking to destroy us. Within days the Old Nation, once a proud beacon of light and knowledge, was decimated. None now dwell among us who hold those events in living memory. The oldest have all passed on, leaving only the memory of their memories, but these memories have been retained, and given to each generation as an inheritance. The bodies of thousands, tens of thousands, some even say hundreds of thousands, littered the streets, crumpled up and cast away like refuse. Our city stood, but the life inside had perished. A fraction of the Devoured still remained, haunting the dark places and hunting for us, the Survivors. There was nothing left for us in our cities, only carnage and the horror of memories. It was then that we made our grave mistake. We underestimated the Mind-Eaters again. We fled.

Years have passed and still our people argue about what we should have done. Some say that, even with the diminished numbers of the Devoured, it would have been futile. They say we would have been overcome, that the Network would have eventually failed, and that the Survivors would have become Devourers in the end. Others disagree, saying that by overcoming the Devourer remnant, we could have eradicated the power of the Mind-Eaters once and for all, forever crushing them and ending the vicious bloodshed. But we didn’t overcome the Devoured and we didn’t become Devourers ourselves. The weight of the memories and the sight of the bodies were too much for the Survivors. We fled. The Survivors became the Exiled ones. We gathered up our belongings and what remained of our families, and we emptied our library databases. Power supplies were rationed, and insufficient amounts remained to power any air vehicles. Instead, the wains rolled out, creaking beneath the weight of our civilization. As much of it as could be reasonably carried, the Exiles took. We left our fertile lands in the east and journeyed west, crossing the great desert, until we came to the mountains, which were too steep and proved uncrossable by the laden wagons. So we turned south instead, and the air grew ever warmer. One day, the taste of salt was on our lips. We came to the edge of the sea and could again go no further, so there we stayed. It was a safe place, so we called it our home. We rebuilt. With stone quarried from our neighboring mountains, we built a city like the ones we had left behind. Yet while the stone in the east had been bright and white, the rock of the mountains was tinged with gray. Coarse gray moors sloped into gray, shrub covered hills, and at the feet of the cliffs, the gray sea lapped tirelessly. We built our gray city among the gray hills, at the base of the gray mountains, within sight of the gray ocean. Even the forests were strange, darker and denser than the ones we had left behind. It was different and foreign, yet the sky above was the same. The same dome of blue, the same swirling clouds, and the same sun that had always shone on us. But at night, we were reminded again how far we had journeyed. The stars were not the same. Yet made them our stars; we named them names from our memories, names of old that we wished to not forget. Centuries passed, and the Exiles were no longer exiled. We had found our home at last.

Then the rumors began. Some said that perhaps the Devours had died, and that our own cities might once more be habitable. Some said that the Devourers had made their own nation, built on terror and madness. There was unrest in our new land, our people were anxious and did not know why. Scouts were sent out, back across the desert and back to the lands of the east. The report they brought back troubled us. They said that the Mind-Eaters were gone, and that no trace of them remained. They told our people that the Devourers were Devourers no longer; they had carved their own civilization out of the rubble of the bodies of the slain. The Devourers had become the Protection. Arguments rose again: some said the Mind-Eaters were gone forever and would not return, and others said the Mind-Eaters were only hiding and controlling the Protection from the shadows. It would be decades before we learned that the latter was true—the Mind-Eaters were the Mind-Eaters no more, they had become Chameleons.

So I ask you again, is it best to remember or is it better to forget? Should we continue to remember the horrors that we may never repeat them, or should eliminate the memory of them entirely and begin anew? That is the final question, and it is the question that has divided our people to this day.

WIP Excerpt

WIP excerpt time! Over the last week, I’ve been doing a lot of timelining (yes, that is officially now a word) and outlining. My hope is that a strong foundation and history will cause the story to unfold more naturally. But for now, allow me to introduce the Chameleons:

He threw back his head and laughed. “You expect us to know who the Chameleons are and where they came from? This only we know for sure: they are a people obsessed with the mind, and eaten alive by their own memories. Whatever their past, whatever their origin, it was awful enough for them to have one desire—to forget. They manipulate memories; the minds of the living are their playgrounds. Only they know what has befallen them, but they have chosen to forget. Even if there were one of their own to speak up, to tell the tale, and to unveil the mystery… how could we know for sure whether it be true or false? It could just as easily be a falsified memory. They have collapsed so far inward that they no longer trust each other, or even themselves. That is why they use The Protection—why they resort to those they would deem as “lesser” in their quest to decipher the old technologies. Their great power has become their undoing—they fear themselves, and what they have created.”

Moonlight Through the Glass

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Lots of poetry… but then I realized that I haven’t posted any snippets or excerpts from my WIP! The following is therefore taken from the aforementioned.  Enjoy….

The spiraled pillars soared upward in the echoing corridor—two stone sentinels standing guard against the night. Beyond the polished glass of the gilded window between the sentinels there was naught to be seen, save for deep velvety darkness. Heavy clouds shrouded the heavens that should have been a glittering dome richer than the crown of any king. The window’s crosspieces did not cast a hard shadow on the marbled floor, but the scant light filtering through the window did mark a square—a patch of deep gray surrounded by inky black.  The pillars were not very large, their diameter could not have been more than a foot or so, and pillars of that sort do not make particularly pleasant places behind which to hide. A child would have managed it with ease and a slender woman would probably have no trouble, but a tall and bulky man might experience some discomfort. The shadow belonging to the left hand pillar shifted slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position.