The Infinite In Me, Part 3 (The Lost, Book 1)

Ch. 8: The Baby

On Sunday morning, Clara walked the short distance from her hut to the amphitheater. She wore a blanket over her shoulders and back and crossed her arms in front of her to ward off the chill. It was almost Spring, and with Spring would come a little warmth, but for now, it was still cold and her breath streamed up into the air as she sang under her breath. Under the blanket, she wore a nice dress. Made by one of the elder’s wives, the fabric formed a long-sleeved top section, then gathered neatly around her waist and spilled down toward her ankles. It was trimmed with lace and accentuated by the occasional pearl bead. She’d been grateful to the elder’s wife for this gift. She had wanted to look nice, for once. She hoped that by looking her finest for service, she’d catch the attention of one of the boys. That paper bag dress, as she called it, was fine for her pre-teen years, but now Clara stood on the cusp of turning into a woman and would need to look nicer.

Clara often wondered when she’d be married—at 21, as is the custom, or much later, as happens sometimes with the less desirable women. She would imagine herself holding a newborn infant, his or her soft cooing, her rocking him gently while singing a lullaby. In these times, she could almost smell that newborn scent: earthy and natural and flowery. Then as he or she grew older, she’d train him like she’d done to so many young minds over the last four years. She hoped she’d find someone similar to the Dean to marry.

But this morning, there were more important matters at hand. Without her visions, the whole village could fall victim to some unknown threat.

Clara had arrived early, hoping the pastor’s wife would arrive early too, hoping for a glimpse of the new baby. Then, as if all was blurry and had suddenly come into view, Clara saw her from a distance. The basket that the pastor’s wife carried her in was decorated in flowers: Cherokee Rose, with it’s bright white petals and recurved thorns, said to ward against evil spirits; Heal-All with it’s purple petals, used as a cure for all that ails; and Spring Beauty with it’s white petals and pink veins, an edible treat for the young kids.

Clara wanted to run to her, but didn’t want to seem too eager. The baby’s cries punctuated the morning. Clara walked calmly over to where the pastor’s wife stood.

“So this is him! I’ve heard so much about him.” And when she spoke, her emotions gave her away.

“Clara meet Kelvin. Kelvin meet Clara.” The pastor’s wife lit up in delight.

Little Kelvin’s face featured plump cheeks, a rosy little button of a nose, and blue eyes, bright and questioning. He yawned and blinked at Clara from the baby carrier. For Clara, it was love at first sight. Her heart sank as she remembered that Kelvin had not been in her hut with her in the dream. She remembered why she was here. The point was not to see a baby, but to save a baby.

Clara waved an oversized cartoon-like wave for Kelvin’s benefit. “Hi there, little Kelvin.”

He coo’d back a hello. Drool pooled down his chin, onto his miniature silk suit. His face broke into a clumsy smile.

“Well aren’t you a sweet one. Yes you are. A sweet one. Yes.” Clara felt sick. All the blood. All the carnage. All the horror.

Kelvin reached out toward Clara.

“Don’t let Clara fool you, little Kelvin. She’s quite the sweet one too.”

Clara smiled in a sheepish way.

“The pastor and I have been watching you with the children. You are a natural.”

“I don’t know about all that. I just try to treat them like little adults-in-training. You know, respect them and all.”

Kelvin wiggled his tiny fingers and squealed.

“Look! He heard what you said!” Now Clara squealed. She wanted so much to have one of her own. “You know, if you and the pastor need a vacation, time to heal and get back on your feet, I could care for Kelvin for you for a while.”

“Oh my, Clara, well that’s quite the offer, but I don’t think you know what you’re getting yourself into. He can be quite the handful.”

“Yes, I imagine he can be. But I’m a natural, right? I can handle him.”

“Why, yes, I imagine you can, Clara. I’ll talk to the pastor and let you know. But between you and I, I could use a break!”

“Ok then. You’ll get back to me?”

“Ok Clara.”

***

Ch. 9: The Lost

Gage walked down his path to the village and wondered what pastor would speak to them about this week. He wore his finest outfit, made of crocodile hide, passed down to him from an older friend after he’d outgrown it. Gage stepped onto the road at the edge of the village. As he walked, he watched a few villagers emerging from their huts. Gage followed them to the amphitheater. A light layer of frost lay on the grasses in the meadow, along the fence line which corralled the village, and on the steps of the amphitheater. He filed in on the first row around the campfire ring. He held out his hands and warmed them against the heat of the fire. He usually arrived late and had to take a seat on the edge of the amphitheater, but today, since he was early, he might be chosen to extinguish the flame as the sermon started. A few older parishioners sat to each side of him. Each of them had likely extinguished the flame a number of times before. The parishioners had their routines and often arrived in time to sit in their familiar seats.

He looked around behind him. There must have been one hundred and fifty people, all seated in the cramped space.

Five minutes later, the pastor took his place in front of the congregation. “Any man who would leave his comfort behind and confess his sins in public could be saved. Now is the time for naming all our great sins in the preceding week. Well, it looks like we’ve got a special guest to the front row. Gage, will you extinguish the flame, please? We’ll start with you then, Gage. What great sin have you committed this week, for we have all sinned before God.” Pastor said.

The wind caused the flames to lick at the edge of it’s ring. Gage basked in it’s glow, soaked up its warmth. It would be cold, real cold once the flames were extinguished. Still, it was a great honor to extinguish the flame of the campfire.

Gage nodded. He picked up the tightly woven basket filled with water and poured it over the flames. The water hissed as it met flame. The steam rose off the deadened campfire. Big puffs of charcoal colored smoke rose into the sky. It swirled as it hit the air and Gage got lost in it’s movement. The color had always mesmerized him. He didn’t know why. It had always struck him as a tip-of-the-tongue type of experience like something was being left unsaid, something that deep down he knew all too well. But he’d never managed to figure it out. It seemed, to him, unsolvable. The smoke continued up into the sky and dispersed further up, above tree line.

In fact, his earliest memory consisted of smoke. And of a blackness he didn’t understand. It wasn’t night, no, the daylight had shown on this blackness and highlighted it’s movements. Maybe it’s a memory of something from before. From before they found us. Soon after the previous Keeper’s tragedy, the villagers had found Clara, Hope and him swaddled as infants in the forest. A note had been tucked into the basket concerning their care and feeding. He knew the blackness wasn’t anything from here.

“Gage, the dreamer.” The pastor joked. “Gage, will you please wake up and tell us what sin you’ve committed this week.”

Gage’s startled out of his thoughts. His mind spun with the possibilities. He’d be punished if he spoke of the lies he told for Clara’s sake, and she would be subject to worse, maybe outcasted, maybe even worse than that. The visions she had were not of their religion. The visions would be seen as the work of the devil, perhaps. No, that won’t work. He quickly fixated on another, lesser crime. “This week I had stayed at my hut too long making weapons and had almost missed the entire time slot allotted for the group chores. Sister Macky reprimanding me on my tardiness and I got irritated at her. ”

“Thank you, Gage. God forgives you.” Pastor said. He then continued down the row Gage sat on, called each parishioner by name and asked for their sins. Gage shook from the cold, but was relieved his turn was over and that he’d not spilled the beans about Clara’s visions. In fact, he rarely told the whole truth at service. He couldn’t.

As each parishioner had taken their turn, a low murmer settled over the aphitheather. Each parishioner had opinions on each other’s sins, of course, and sitting so long in quiet was hard.

When everyone had spoken, the pastor said, “And now we’ll begin the sermon.” He grabbed the edges of the lecturn and leaned over it’s frame. “Are you lost? Are you one of The Lost?” A hush fell over the crowd. The Lost, as they were known, like many other groups, were a group of people living in an separate encampment in the vast countryside of the USA. Word had gotten back about them, though no one knew where exactly they lived. “I hope not, parishioners. I hope not. It starts with a little lie, and then the lie takes root. It grabs a hold of your soul, worms its way into the very core of who you are. Before you know it, you’re lying all the time. And then you’re turning your back on your friends, turning your back on family, turning your back on God himself.”

Gage squirmed in his seat. He didn’t always know how he felt about God, about the rules and customs of this community, but he knew one thing as strongly as he knew anything: he didn’t want to be one of The Lost, those good for nothin’ scumbags. But he had always had to lie about Clara’s visions to protect her. He sagged under the weight of those lies now.

“And what happens when you turn your back on God?” Pastor paused for dramatic effect.

“You go to hell.” One parishioner yelled out.

“That’s right. But first, you start playing God. You take your own life into your hands, you refuse to die, in your alotted time, as God commanded.”

Gage had known the stories all too well. The Lost were a group formed by people displaced from the government’s secured facility. When each had been read their last rights—I’m sorry you have heart failure or I’m sorry it’s an enlarged heart or I’m sorry but it was a massive heart attack—instead of taking their last walk into the wilds, similar to walking the plank on a pirate ship, as prescribed by the Doctor and the administration, they’d undergone a black market surgery instead.

“And next thing you know, you’ve ripped out your own beating heart and replaced it with hydraulics.” The crowd gasped at his point.

Gage tensed at the thought. If I cross paths with one I’d thrust my sword into that mechanical contraption of a heart without asking any questions.

“That’s right, parishioners. They’ve lost their humanity. They’ve willingly destroyed it. And now they walk the earth with a whir instead of a heart beat. A whir. And God has turned his back on them now. As you walk the earth this week, parishioners, don’t tell lies, don’t start to swing the door closed on God. Go now and take God with you, always.”

The crowd applauded and cheered. Gage sat there, stone cold with the lies he had to tell.

***

When Gage arrived at the after service gathering for teens, located on the edge of the village, everyone was already there. Clara stood on the outside edge of the campfire, stared into the fire with a blank expression. She wasn’t her usually cheery self. Cross sat on a log, near the fire, laughing at a joke. And the boys, spread out along it’s outer edge, also laughing.

Gage slipped in between Clara and the boys. He placed a hand on her lower back as he stepped in.

“Gage!” Her face lit up momentarily before returning to it’s previous seriousness.

The campfire had died down and he stepped in and picked up a limb and poked and pushed at the log in the center of the ring. Sparks burst into the sky, swirled around him, and settled back into the fire and the surrounding rock.

“How goes it?” Gage plopped down on a stump nearest to the fire. He rubbed his hands together for warmth, held them palms facing the flames.

“Good. But you know the full moon’s coming up.” A young boy said, the incredulity seeping into his voice.

“So…”

“So? Is that all you’ve got to say about it.” Cross said.

“Well, at least we won’t need our lanterns. The moon will be bright enough, God forbid it’s cloudy, to light our way. Less use means less exposure for Hope in the city gathering supplies.”

“You got that right.” Hope said.

“You’ve heard the stories man. The Lost.”

“Ah, The Lost. Well, we haven’t seen them yet. But we’ll be ready.”

“How can you be ready for someone who has turned inhuman?”

“That’s why we train everyday of our lives. That’s why we go through The Great Celebration. That’s why we cluster in groups.”

“Not you.”

“Yeah, you live up on the ridge all alone.”

“I can hold my own.”

“Nobody can hold their own against The Lost.”

“Well, we’re doing everything we can to be ready.”

***

Ch. 10: The Baby, Part 2

Clara arrived at the pastor’s house early. She had rehearsed her lines over and over again. Just so you have some time to yourselves, she’d tell them. But lines be damned, it was already done. They’d already agreed to let Clara watch over the little tyke for a week. She’d take him everywhere with her, to school in the mornings, to her hut afterwards. And she’d watch over him so that if anything tragic befell the rest of the villagers, he’d be safe with her.

She knocked on the pastor’s hut.

The door opened and the pastor stood before her.

“Good evening, Pastor.”

“Why good evening, Clara. You ready for this? He can be a fussy one.”

“I was born ready for this, pastor.”

“Yes, I suspect you were much like Gage was born ready to arm the villagers.”

They both laughed. There sprouted a crying from the recesses of the hut.

“Good evening, Clara.” A voice called from those recesses. “Shshsh… It’s ok little fella.”

The pastor’s wife carried him to Clara, rocked him gently as she walked.

“Now I know you’ll take good care of him Clara. But if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. Or if he’s too much trouble, what with the other kids to look after…”

“I’ll keep it in mind but I’m certain it’s going to go well.”

As the pastor’s wife handed over the infant to Clara, carefully, she placed a hand on the back of his head.

Clara took the infant and cradled him in her arms.

“Now here’s his basket. He’ll sleep soundly in there.”

“Okay. Looks like I’m all set.” Clara grabbed the basket and turned and walked toward the field.

Clara set the basket down on the edge of the field and tucked the infant into it. The kids gathered around. They oohed and ahhhed.

“I’m sure you all have heard the good news. The pastor’s wife has a new baby boy, Kelvin.”

“I saw him at sermon.” Timmy said.

“I didn’t get to see him. Mom was down with the flu and Dad was taking care of her and I didn’t get to go.”

“I’m sorry you missed sermon Katie. If you speak with pastor, he’ll give you a recap. It’s important not to miss sermon, but I know the flu is serious.”

The baby gazed up at all the curious faces who peered down at him. He waved his arms at the baby mobile that was attached to the handle of the basket. It dangled over him and chimed softly. It caught the light from the sky and reflected it in a prism over his face and arms. Made out of old cd’s, found in the city, broken into different sized pieces, and tied at different lengths. The broken edges were filed smooth. He marveled at it’s prism of colors that washed over everything below it, including his arms and chest.

Posted in Saturday Story Time

The Infinite in Me (The Lost, Book 1), Part 2

Ch. 6: Clara’s Visions

Clara’s first visions had been so many years ago now. Clara had woken up by the river that flowed along one edge of the village. She shivered with sweat in the night breeze. She stood entranced by the flow of the river: the rushing water, the intense current that cut under the surface of the water, and later surfaced, in bubbles and crashing waves, the eddies that swirled near the edge. It played out just like the dream she’d just awoken from. In it, though, she had been in the river, fighting with every last reserve of energy to keep her head above water. But she had bobbed in the current, her head dunking below the surface too many times, and with no warning, so that her lungs gurgled with the inhaled splashes. She suddenly felt like all was wrong in their world. Or at least hers. She ran back to her hut, little bare feet in dirt and mud. The conifer canopies bent back and forth in a sway with the breeze. They hovered above her and reached for her. They creaked and moaned in the dark night.

When she arrived back at her hut, the guards were sat slumped in a heap on either side of the door. One snored while the other one mumbled incoherently. She tip-toed past them, didn’t bother to wipe off her feet, and climbed under her covers. She’d wanted so desperately, even at that young age, to wake up Gage, sleeping nearby. All that she’d seen and experienced swelled in her chest until she felt she might explode. Waking an elder had never occurred to her,  and she had gone to sleep that night knowing, just knowing there are certain things you don’t tell the elders. As she fell under the weight of a fit full sleep, in the back of her mind, growing like a migraine, were the thoughts of what would happen to her if they found out about her visions. Her hands shook and her palms sweated with the thought.

It had been days before anything happened. And then it did. Clara had ducked away from the guards while they had been busy breaking up a fight between Hope and Gage. She ran down past the rows of huts, all uniformly sized, down past the amphitheater, and rushed to the river’s edge. She didn’t notice the parishioner pinned to a log in the fast moving waters at first. What she had noticed was the flapping of a bright colored piece of material, a shirt perhaps. She edged closer to the fast moving waters. Then, slowly, he came into view: the bald head, the arms bobbing on the surface of the water, the legs submerged deep in the current. The blood drained out of her face and she was left stone cold and shaking with the knowledge of what her dream had meant. She hadn’t put the pieces together until hearing the news. She was a kid after all. She’d thought it a nightmare.

She ran back to the guards as fast as her legs could carry her. She told them of what she had found. They notified an elder and raced to the river. They’d been in such a hurry, they’d not even bothered to ask her why she was there or reprimand her for ducking out on them.

The children, left on their own, wandered down to the river. They arrived just as the guards had pulled the body out. Clara stared into his eyes, wide open with terror. His mouth gaped like a scream had been frozen in time. Rigamortis had already set in and there were no softening of his features. There was no sugar coating it for her, a still a child, or for his family, off in their hut crying for the man they’d known.

In the years that followed, Clara had never been able to get away from the look on that man’s face. His face was there when she closed her eyes tight. There when the darkness consumed the land. There when she woke in a fit to the sun rising over the hills.

The elders had taught that there would be peace in death, but that corpse, the dead man, was as non-peaceful a thing as you can get. She wondered if they were wrong. She wondered if everything they’d said was misguided. Death to her seemed anything but peaceful and she imagined that if he’d left to meet his maker, he’d fought that maker tooth and nail, with everything he had to remain on earth.

In the years that followed, Clara would see that man’s face in her dreams. She’d twist and turn in her sleep and attempt to claw her way through the water and either escape its grasp, or alternately, to reach him. She didn’t know why the nightmares alternated like that. And that’s what they were, nightmares, not really dreams per se. She wondered why she had to be weighed down with such things.

In the years that followed, Clara would wake to sweat and heaving more times than she cared to. She’d wake to a racing heart and a confusion about what was actually happening around her and she’d wake to fear of what she’d see when she opened her weary eyes.

She was glad the elders still held the book knowledge in them, past down through the generations. She often picked their brains and broached the subject of dreams without disclosing her visions.

The elders called it the hypnogogic state, a state when you’re dreaming but still recording the world around you and then you incorporate those elements into your dreams. But she knew that couldn’t be what was happening to her because she had the dreams before the events happened.

The young people had knowledge, but it was of the land and of the water. Of living and growing up and experiencing life head on. The knowledge the elders had were of experiments, of science that you derive from a lab or from school.

***

Clara remembered when she finally did tell Gage of her visions. She had shook with fear. What if he didn’t understand, she had thought. There were so many fears in this life. Fear of being hurt, fear of being attacked, fear of being exiled. She had whispered to him while playing in the field. “Gage, I need to speak with you.”

Gage grabbed the ball from her and kicked it like a beanie bag with his feet. He’d always been good at sports and now he dazed her with his acrobatic feet. “Don’t tell me, you need some pointers on how to play better.” He had laughed.

“No, it’s about the dead man,” She couldn’t bring herself to use his name. “I dreamt of the river before he died.”

“We all dream of the river, Clara. It’s the lifeblood of this place.”

“No, I mean, it was as if I were drowning. And I woke up at the edge of the river. I woke up there.”

Gage dropped the ball and stood staring into her worried eyes. “I always knew there was something special about you.”

“I’m serious, Gage.”

“So am I.”

Something special. Clara didn’t know about all that. Maybe something broken, she thought. She had shaken with confusion during her first vision. It had been a strange year, with her being name Keeper and she’d first wondered if the stresses of the new job were getting to her. But no, she had thought, the new job had brought so much more into her life. More love, more companionship, more activity.

***

Ch. 7: The Massacre

On the day Clara had turned 13, the elders followed the trail in a procession to her hut and woke her up. The village people teetered on tip toes behind them to get a good view of the events. She yawned and wiped the sleep out of her eyes as the elders knelt down before her. They unrolled a scroll and read from it. They spoke of rules and regulations, hopes and dreams. At the end, they said “The children are our future. We the elders, and every one of the village people before you today, takes the roll of The Keeper of the Young as sacred. The Keeper ensures the youth stay young while they are of an age where training for The Great Celebration is out of the reach. The Keeper protects the young. The Keeper watches over the young all day, until they can be released to their parents’ in the evening. The Keeper ensures our future. Clara, do you take the roll of The Keeper?”

“Yes.” She had said. “Yes.”

“Due to your still young age, you’ll be accompanied by armed guards during Keeping hours, until you’ve been tested in The Great Celebration.”

The village people whispered in the dark about the massacre that befell the last keeper when she was only an infant. She had already been told about the tragedy. Clara, Hope, and Gage hadn’t grown up in as relatively carefree way as the kids she would soon watch. The kids would laugh and play and tumble in front of her. They would run and skip and holler. That was the Keeper’s job, after all, to make sure the kids grow up without the stresses of this life. Clara, Hope, and Gage, on the other hand, had grown up with no Keeper, under armed guards 24/7, as a result of the massacre.

It had been a day like any other, if only a little warmer. It had been the first seventy degree day after a long winter. The kids hooted and hollered and raced through the fields to the edge of the woods where two guards stood talking.

The Keeper nodded at the guards as he approached them. The sunlight shone bright in the open field, reflected off the dew still clinging to the grasses. “Thought I’d bring them to the edge of the village to explore. Maybe run off some of the long winter’s steam. You know how it builds up ‘round here.” He’d long since been through the Great Celebration. So long ago, in fact, that his hairline had receded and the tips of it had been frosted grey by time.

The kids yelled out commands at one another. “Stop. You’re trespassing.”

“Keep your voices down kids.” He said, then with a flourish, “We wouldn’t want the wake the Beasties.”

The kids screamed and giggled at the mention of the Beasties.

Two guards stood beside him.

The Keeper laughed at the kids’ rambunctiousness. “Well, we’re off to finish our patrol. Good luck with the young ones.” One said. The other nodded. They turned and walked away. The guards had later reported they’d heard screaming from across the village. But they’d chalked it up to the kids’ antics and continued on their rounds.

Early the next morning, elders found the bodies strewn across the edge of the woods. They never spoke openly of the blood that must’ve lain in pools at their feet. Or the defensive wounds—deep slashes on little hands. Or clean marks left by dried tears down dirty faces. What they said could be easily summed up. The Keeper dead. The six rowdy children, dead. Everything the village had been working so hard for, gone. But she’d heard a rumor that the first thing they had said had come from pursed lips, “Those animals!”

Those animals. She mimed the words with her mouth. Those simple words meant it wasn’t animals at all but some depraved human being. She’d long since been warned. These woodlands were filled with Sociopaths looking to fulfill a deep urging in them—to kill. The stories circled their collective imaginations like ghost stories at a campfire. Some said the government had sent them to destroy the dissenters. Born of a government program to turn them into killers, the Sociopaths had bloomed into their full capacity. Others said they were regular people, gone mad in the wake of The Great Blaze that had turned the landscape to ash. Others said it was neither, that these people were simply born without a conscience and when The Gathering happened and everyone with common sense went to live in a government built secured facility, the Sociopaths had stayed behind and jumped at the opportunity to make the USA their hunting grounds. She shuddered thinking of them.

Posted in Saturday Story Time

The Infinite in Me (The Lost, Book 1)

“The infinite in me honors the infinite in you.” —Anonymous

***

Chapter One: Gage

Earth, 2066:

The beasties screamed and laughed and howled from the forests surrounding the village below Gage’s hut which sat on a ledge overlooking the valley. His skin prickled, though the breeze was lite and had not yet cooled off from the night. He watched the sun setting behind the mountains to the West. It thinned from a sphere, to a half sphere, to a thin line, and then, to nothing but residual light. He rang the bell that would warn the villagers of the coming night. The momentum of the bell carried his arm up above his head and then he pulled again, the muscles of his arm bulging under the weight and momentum of the bell.

***

Chapter Two: Clara

The ringing of the bell settled into the valley along with the dusk. The night would approach quickly, and without the bell, it would sneak up on them like a beastie in the forest.

In the village, people froze, alarmed at it’s sound, then grabbed their belongings—kids and backpacks and bags—and rushed toward their huts, kicking up dust as they ran.

Clara stumbled and regained her footing. She carried with her a bag filled with supplies for the coming week, brought in by her friend Hope from the mostly deserted city—Soylent, NGP2 (a pellet of nutrition derived from natural gas) and a book to read (Dracula). She zigged and zagged around others who were also zigging and zagging around still others. Reaching her hut, she tossed the bag inside. She took one last look around.

The light had faded all too quickly, and left in it’s wake, a darkness that sent shudders through her. The moon had begun to rise in the sky, a tiny sliver of a moon, silver and shining like a splinter of metal. The maniacal laughter of the beasties took her breath. They sounded close now.

Clara shut the door to her hut and dragged the log latch into place. She leaned her back into the now closed door and breathed a sigh of relief.

***

Chapter Three: Mars

Gage looked up to the night sky from his stretch of forest. The beasties couldn’t reach him here, and he lay prone in the grass in front of his hut, secure in this knowledge. He strained his eyes and searched the night sky for Mars, but couldn’t find it’s bright white light, visible only at certain times of the year. “Is that where you are, Mom and Dad?”

The wind picked up and blew leaves across his body.

***

Chapter Four: The Dream

Clara awoke outside her hut, staring out towards the field in only her nightgown. The wind blew at it’s tattered edges and they flapped against her legs. She searched the darkness and the two-track road that crossed before her, grown over and rutted, for the villagers’ bodies. There were none. The road lay empty. It must’ve been a dream. How did I get here, then? The last she remembered, she had pulled the latch of her hut door into the locked position and tucked herself into bed. It’s happening again. She blinked back the blurriness caused by sleep.

In her dream, she had seen the bodies of the village’s people strewn across the ground. Some lain in pile of three or more, some separate and alone, but everywhere she looked, bodies. And blood. It, too, was everywhere. It pooled around the victims bodies, poured away from them in rivulets of crimson, and seeped through bottom edge of the hut where she had stood looking out the door. She called out. No response: no movement, no cries or low moans, nothing but the stirring of the wind. Everyone, dead. She stood frozen in fear, cold with the knowledge that she was all alone. Then a noise rang out from the field. A yell—more animal than human. She had left her hut and followed out along the side of it until she had a full view of the field. The yell rang out again, and this time it she recognized it as a roar.

She still shook from the dream.

She had been startled awake by a noise in the field. She stepped back into the shadows of her hut until she stood so close to it that she could feel the roughness of the river cane siding against her back. More river cane served as the roofing and spilled off the edges of the roof like an awning.  She crossed her arms and hugged her body against the wind. She scanned the periphery of the village and the field for any signs of movement. She didn’t know how long had passed since she’d gone to bed, but night fell quick this time of year and it had already settled into the field. A tiny sliver of moon hung above, but it wasn’t enough light. She couldn’t see anything. The field lay quiet except for the rustle of overgrown grasses in the wind. But the faux quiet and the complacency it brings could be deadly and the rustle of grasses could mask a stalking predator. I’m too exposed out here without weapons. Her heart raced. She crouched and crawled toward where she thought the door to be. The edges of her nightgown trailed her in the dirt. She felt the way before her with her hands until she found the door of her hut. She lunged through the opening and shut it behind her. She sat back against the door and gathered her thoughts.

***

Clara gathered her resolve and stood on shaky legs. She would go to Gage and tell him of the dream. She searched the dark for her Red Cross flashlight. She tripped over something in the floor and navigated to the corner of the hut where the was sure she’d stowed it. She grappled in the dark for it’s familiar cracked handle. She grabbed it and started winding, one minute of winding for every ten minutes of light. After a few minutes, she turned the flashlight on. It’s beam illuminated a patch of plaster on the inside wall of her hut. She swung the flashlight around until she found her clothes, threw them on, and stowed her daggers in their sheaths on either side of her hips.

She stepped out into the dark night. The beam of the flashlight lit up a swath of ground a few feet in front of her. She walked slowly down the main road to the edge of the village. As the grouping of huts receded behind her, she heard a scream echoing off the cliffs surrounding the village. It was high pitched and ragged, filled with the terror of all that lay in wait in the night. The Beasties. This isn’t the brightest idea. She shuddered. But it can’t wait.

The Beasties were said to have escaped from government research facilities across the country in 2025, five years prior to The Gathering, the time when the country was evacuated to a secured facility in the West. The government had blamed the fires that had ravaged the country, said that the Beasties had escaped during The Great Blaze, but rumor had it, someone had released them. No one still alive had seen one, but their roars, if you could call them that, because they were more like blood curdling screams than roars—like they’d inhaled the terror of every victim they’d ever hunted and exhaled it back out every night—were well known by everyone in the village.

She continued onto a small footpath. She stumbled at times as she shown the light back over her shoulder, pointing it to the sound of a twig snapping. She walked for some time. When she arrived at Bald Mountain rock, a rock that had rolled downhill years ago and settled into the valley, she turned onto another footpath, smaller still. It wouldn’t be long now, she thought. The path wound around shards of boulders which lay in heaps on the edges of the trails. Many of the countryside’s natural boulders had cracked and crumbled during The Great Blaze.

She saw the dark form of his hut in the closing distance.

She yelled out his name. “Gage! Gage!” She arrived at his door and shook it with all she had. The door rattled and she yelled for him again. “Gage!”

The door opened. Gage stood in a tight fitting tank top in the frame of the door. The edges of his muscled chest shown in the light of her beam. He rubbed his sleepy eyes with a fist.

Clara looked away, down to the dirt at their feet. “It happened again, Gage.” She said in almost a whisper.

“Come in.” He stepped aside. “You shouldn’t have come here alone.”

“But I had to tell you as soon as possible, Gage. And anyway, who could have come with me? An elder? Fancy I tell one of them about my strange visions.”

“No. Not if you care to remain in the village.”

Clara passed her flashlight over a table sitting along the far wall. A notebook sat open on it. She walked over, passed the beam over the first page. It was a sketch of a saw blade attached to the end of a baseball bat with a bolt secured through the middle. “Dreamer. You’re always coming up with something Gage.”

Gage rushed over to the table and closed the notebook.

“I’m just playing, Gage. It was a good sketch. The idea of it. Where do you come up with these things.”

“You know, mostly I rummage through the junk pile in back. Hope brings me anything sturdy or sharp that she finds in the city. I told her I can use any of it. Then I get to brainstorming. How can I put these pieces together as a means of protecting the people here?” He grabbed the closed notebook and tossed it onto a pile of other notebooks in the floor. “Now what did you come here to tell me about?”

In the glow of the flashlight, she told him of the dream.

“But it could just be a dream.” He said.

“I don’t just have dreams. You know that. They always come true.”

“I guess I was hoping for a first.” He said.

“What are we going to do?” She asked.

“I don’t know. This is big. Well, we’ve got a heads up so we’ll know to keep an eye out for anything.” He said.

A howl wound up the canyon to Gage’s place. It was faint like a lonesome wind through the hollows.

“Could it have been the Beasties?” He asked. He rubbed his chin, in a contemplative manner, where hair had recently sprouted in rough patches.

“I don’t know. I didn’t get close enough to the bodies. I just froze.” She hugged her body as she remembered.

“It’s ok, Clara. We’ll figure this one out in time.”

“It’ll be a first.” She said. “But, God, I hope so.” She shuddered.

Gage grabbed the flashlight from her hands and shown it toward a pile of blankets on his bed. “There’s no sense walking back at night. You’ll sleep there. He grabbed one of the blankets and drug it to the floor. I’ll be here if you need me.”

***

Chapter Five: The Mark

Twelve hours later, as the dawn turned the once blackened sky to grey, Gage threw back the cover that had lain across him, sat up, and pushed his hands through his mussy hair. “Well, another day is here.” He stood and lit a lantern on the nightstand with the whoosh of a match. He watched Clara’s sleeping form in the flickering light. She breathed quietly, but soundly. He picked up a large shard of mirror, careful not to hold it too tight, looked into it’s ragged diamond shape. Pulling at the edge of his tank top, the mark he’d known all of his life—a figure eight lain on it’s side—peaked out from the center of his chest. He trailed a finger along it. A tickle followed his finger across the scar of flesh, followed it’s curves around and around again. “I don’t know what you are or what you stand for, but I know you are the key to who I really am.” He shook his head in disappointment. Would he ever unlock it’s secret? Would he ever know where he came from or who he really was?

He walked outside to the bell and rang it again. Sun-up had arrived, the long night fading into a distant memory. Down in the village, hut doors would soon swing open, familiar faces nodding into the daylight. From his hut on the ridge, the sun now peaked over the mountains to the East. The beasties would have already retreated to their caves and crevices after a long night spent out hunting.

Posted in Saturday Story Time Tagged with:

Elysium

I’ve watched Elysium over a dozen times and everytime–I kid you not–I cry.

If you know where the sequences belong, help a fellow writer out and drop a comment. This is mainly a play by play of every major jump cut in the movie. The time of the jump cut is close, but approximate.

 

Elysium (2013)

“In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. A man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.”
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley & more

 

–WARNING: SPOILERS–

00.00  Lead

00.30  Flyover of the city “In the late 21st Century, Earth was diseased, polluted, and vastly over populated.”

01.15  View of the blue marble “Earth’s wealthiest inhabitants fled the planet to preserve their way of life.”

01.30  View of Elysium.

02.15  Flashback: Max, as a child, moves in to orphanage. Meets Frey who reads to him about Elysium.

03.30  Flashback: Max, as a child, steals. A nun talks to him about it. Asks him, “…to save up for a place in Elysium?” She tells him he’s special and will do something important one day.

04.30  Max gets ready for work. We see his ankle band.

05.00  He leaves for work. Walks through poor, overpopulated city. He holds a kid upside down and steals his money—teasing him.

06.00  Gets in line for bus. Automated police harass him, break his arm, tell him to report to parole officer.

07.15  Frey is now a nurse. Max sees her at the hospital. She has to rush off after greetings.

08.15  At desk, Max asks her out for dinner or coffee. She accepts after first saying no.

09.15  Parole office. 8 month extension of parole. Automated parole officer won’t let Max explain.

10.15  Boss docks him half a day pay.

11.00  Mr. Carlisle, the boss’s boss, is upstairs watching the workers below. Max makes jokes about him.

11.15  Mr. Carlisle talks to investors about his intention to increase profitability.

11.30  Max works assembling and firing off automated robots.

12.00  City dwellers scramble to load onto illegal ships to Elysium.

12.30  Spider’s introduction. He’s in the control room, readying ships for takeoff.

12.45  Lift off of 3 ships to Elysium.

13.15  Elysium. Secretary Delecort is informed about 3 ships entering airspace. She orders the authorization of Kruger. She is warned of statute against this. “I am authorizing you.”

15.30  On Earth, Kruger readies himself.

15.45  Secretary Delecort watches and authorizes Kruger to shoot down.

16.00  Missiles fired.

16.05  Shock from Spider and control for illegal ships being shot down.

16.10  Back and forth between screenshots of characters in different settings—Secretary Delecort, Kruger, Spider and control, Ships’ passengers. Explosions.

16.45  Secretary Delecort informed: Two ships destroyed. 45 casualties.

17.00  Secretary Delecort informed: Last missile missed.

17.05  Spider and control is shocked that only one ship made it.

17.15  Illegal ship lands.

17.25  Secretary Delecort: “I want everyone coming out of that vehicle apprehended.”

17.45  Helicopter lands with police-bots.

17.50  A woman carries her disabled daughter to a med bay and heals her.

18.15

18.30  Disabled girl walks. They are arrested.

18:40  Secretary Delecort: “Arrest them.”

18.45  Deportation

19.00  President calls for Secretary Delecort.

19.10  Deportation ship takes off.

19.30  Max walks home. A friend offers to let him in on a robbery. Max gives him a better plan, but declines to join.

20.30  5:50 AM. Alarm goes off.

20.45  Max is at work. Door malfunctions. Boss makes him go in to fix pallet. The door closes and radiation starts while Max is still in there with pallets.

22.30  Mix of scenes: reaction from boss, reaction from Mr. Carlisle, reaction from Max.

23.00  Extraction pulls Max out.

23.20  Flashback: Max, as a child, telling the nun: “They started the fight, sister. I just want to live there.” Sister gives him a locket showing how beautiful Earth is from there—the blue marble photo.

23.55  Max wakes up in sick bay. Extraction says, “…Lethal dose of radiation. In 5 days time, you will die.”

24.20  Mr. Carlisle looks in on Max, says, “I don’t want to replace the bedding. Move him.”

25.15  Extraction gives Max pills.

25.30  Elysium—President reviews Secretary Delecort. Her speech—“When they come for you and your children.” President gives her a final warning not to use Kruger.

27.20  Kruger is discharged. He throws bottles at people. Is angry. Nocks over grill. “F-you.”

28.00  Max stumbles home. His friend sees him and helps him home. Max pukes.

29.35  Frey’s daughter is in hospital. Dr. Tells her to take her home.

30.10  At Spider’s. Max walks in, asks for a ticket. Spider laughs. Max pulls a weapon on him. Everyone pulls guns. Max says he’s dying. Spider puts gun down.

32.30  Spider sells a plan to Max. One job for a ticket. Steal brain data. Max is weak so offers to install an exoskeleton suit. They negotiate. Max demands Carlisle be the mark.

35.20  Delecort and Carlisle talk. “Can you override the servers and place a new president in power?” Promises revenue in return.

37.05  Operation to install exosuit.

39.20  Max wakes, says, “What the F did you do to me?” “Gave you a way out.”

40.15

40.20  Carlisle in his office, writing code.

41.00  Explanation of guns for the heist.

41.50  Carlisle uploads data into his own brain.

42.05  On my way to Delecort.

42.10  In cars, getting guns ready. Max’s friend to him, “You nervous?”

43.15  Carlisle loads up and takes off in ship to Elysium.

43.35  Fast cuts: Max shoots explosive round into Carlisle’s plane. Cars chase. Secretary Delecort is informed, calls Kruger. Carlisle braces for impact. Cars in chase. Planes comes for Kruger. More chase scene. Droids released from plane. Synching brain data. Kruger on the way—1 min out. Kruger shoots disc at runner, explodes him. Max and friend in car, car overturns. Kruger and Max fight. Delecort says, “Do not damage his brain.”

55.04  Time of Death: 17:45. Carlisle dead.

55.10  Max runs through the streets with Kruger’s plane scanning the street behind him. An old lady lets him hide under her pig cart.

56.39  Max walks through the streets.

56.55  Kruger figures out, “He’s got the keys to the fucking kingdom in his head.” He deploys trackers.

57.30  Secretary Delecort: “No fly zone for L.A.”

57.45  Max collapses outside hospital.

58.30  Nurse Frey in hospital, talking with her girl, “We can go home.”

59.00  Frey sees Max. He says, “Please help me. I don’t want to die.”

59.35  Frey helps Max into house, tucks girl in, sees his tat (“F+M” under a circle which stands for Elysium).

1.00.45  Flashback: of same insignia on hand in ink as children and them running through the streets laughing.

1.01.00  Frey asks, “What happened to you?” Child wakes up and asks, “Who’s that man?” Frey asks Max to take the girl with him. Says, “She’s in the final stages of Leukemia.” He says he can’t and that he has to leave for their safety. Little girl says, “Want to hear a story?” Starts her story about friendship. He says, “Stop it. It doesn’t end well for the Meerkat. What’s in it for the Hippo?”

1.04.00  Max runs from tracker.

1.05.00  Kruger says, “Land this F’n bird.”

1.05.10  Frey is crying. Kruger busts down door, asks, “Where is he?”

1.07.00  Load her onto the plane.

1.07.35  At Spider’s: He looks at data, tells Max, “They will hunt you to the edge of the Earth for this. We can save everyone.”

1.10.35  On ship: Kruger says to Frey, “You make me want to settle down.”

1.11.05  Max picks up tracker.

1.11.20  Inside ship: “Take a look at this!” Max on the screen, signaling from the tracker.

1.11.30  Max waits for Kruger.

1.11.55  Max holds grenade, says, “Put me in med bay and you can have everything in my head.” They load up with Max.

1.13.00  Max sees Frey on ship.

1.13.30  Ship takes off.

1.13.35  Secretary Delecort says, “Cancel no fly zone.”

1.13.40  Spider says, “Are we back?”

1.14.00  Max says, “Frey. I’m sorry. I’m going to make this right.”

1.14.16  Spider says, “He’s leaving Earth. Let’s get up there!”

1.14.45  Kruger requests entry. In landing mode.

1.15.00  Kruger and associate wrestle with Max for the grenade. The grenade goes off, takes Kruger’s face off. They crash.

1.17.00  Secretary Delecort says, “Apprehend everyone and evacuate building now.”

1.17.15  Secretary Delecort is walking through the building with the President, says, “Evacuate him. This is an act of war.”

1.17.45  Inside ship: Max breaks Frey free from her seat, fights with associate of Kruger’s.

1.18.30  Frey runs into nearest house with child.

1.19.00  Associate runs after them.

1.19.05  Another associate fights with Max, zaps him unconscious.

1.19.12  Child in sick bay. Error. Frey zapped.

1.19.45  Delecort hovering over Max. Scientists say pulling data will kill him. She’s fine with that.

1.20.25  One associate to the other: “Get the boss’s chicks.”

1.20.45  Spider arrives, tells his people, “Keep them busy.”

1.21.10  In lab: Kruger’s associate takes Frey and her child.

1.21.30  Reconstruction on Kruger in sick bay.

1.23.00  Max fights out of restraints. Asks where Frey is.

1.23.40  Delecort confronts Kruger. “If the administration realized what we’re doing, they’d hang us both for treason.” Kruger breaks mirror and slashes her throat with a piece of it. Throws her in room with Frey.

1.25.35  Associates throw grenade into assembly, kill anyone they find.

1.26.20  Delecort dies.

1.26.35  Max contacts Spider.

1.27.15  Back and forth of screenshots: Kruger being suited up, Max taking last of his pills.

1.27.40  Kruger says to get rid of Frey and child.

1.27.48  Max goes to find Frey.

1.28.00  Associate threatens Frey. Max shows up and fights him. Another associate shows up and fires weapon at Max. Max grabs gun and fires back, frees Frey.

1.29.45  Kruger is looking for Max. Max and Frey split up—he sends her to the surface to look for a sick bay for her child. Spider shows up. Max sends one of his men up after Frey. Kruger meets them in hall, blows up one of their guys. Max shoots at Kruger but Kruger puts up force field. Spider hacks doors to open.

1.32.00  Kruger forces door open, runs after Max. Max’s head hurts. They fight. Spider nocks sword out of Kruger’s hand, saving Max. Kruger stabs Spider’s hand into the floor. More fighting with Max.

1.34.30  Blood dripping off Max’s hand, blowing in the wind. Kruger says, “Want to save that little girl? You just need to come through me.” More fighting. Max pulls disconnects Kruger’s suit. Kruger connects the two of them with a cord and pulls the pin on a grenade. Max pulls them apart, tosses Kruger over the side. He explodes. Spider opens the door.

1.36.00  Quick cuts: Frey running to sick bay, President and secret army following Spider and Max, Spider and Max going to main computer.

1.36.40  Spider says, “Max. There’s no coming back from this.”  Max talks to Frey over phone, says, “Remember what I said when we were kids? You wouldn’t believe what I’m looking at…I figured out why the hippo did it.” He hits enter to upload the data in his brain and dies.

1.39.00  Flashback: Nun talking to Max, as a child, says, “Everyone has one thing they’re destined to do, Max.” Fight between secret army and Spider. Lights flash off, then on as system reboots.

1.39.40  “New citizen: Santiago.” Med bay works.

1.40.10  Stand down officers. “I cannot arrest this citizen of Elysium.”

1.40.40  Dispatched shuttles with med bays to Earth. People scramble to them.

1.41.30  Flashback: Nun giving Max the blue marble pic in a locket, says, “To never forget where your from.”

Posted in Writing How-to Tagged with: ,

Scene Breakdowns

In Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell says, in order to improve your plotting and “jump ahead of 99 percent of all the other aspiring writers out there, most of whom try to find out how to plot by trial and error,” break down novels by scene and study those breakdowns. Others, such as Alexandra Sokoloff, advocate a similar scene breakdown for movies.

Movies I plan to breakdown include favorites such as: Inception, The Illusionist, Elysium, The Hunger Games series, Gladiator, Divergent series, Mission Impossible series, Sherlock Holmes series, Pirates of the Caribbean series, Ocean’s series, Bourne Identity series. And more.

Novels I plan to breakdown include favorites such as: The Snow Child, Nick Stephenson’s thriller series (6 books). And more.

Memoirs I plan to breakdown include favorites such as: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, The Ticking is the Bomb, Caught in Fading Light. And more.

Print these scene breakdowns out and study them. You will improve. And read James Scott Bell’s How-to Write series. You will improve (if you do the exercises.)

Posted in Writing How-to Tagged with: , , ,