Excerpt from Awakening

Here’s a quick excerpt from Awakening, in Chapter 22, “Henchen Henceforth Penchen.” The chapter’s title is the name of a pet rooster, named after my mom’s own pet rooster from her childhood. Fortunately, her childhood was different from my characters’.


The family stopped at a dingy, little shop off the main highway to pick up supplies they needed, while her dad talked to the locals and enjoyed a smoke outside. When he had finished smoking, he went inside, leaving the girls alone in the barren parking lot. They stopped on every weekend trip at Dusty’s Rhodeside Supplies, where Jimmy LeBeaux had become something of a regular. The two girls paced back and forth, idling in the desert heat, until their father had finished his business, along with his usual two more cigarettes and as many “cold ones with the boys” from the small fridge that Dusty kept hidden behind the counter next to a loaded shotgun. The girls were alone except for the occasional tumbleweed or roadrunner that eyed them warily from a distance. After twenty minutes, Jimmy called in Reyna to show off how pretty his daughter was. Robin followed her in, although she wasn’t certain her dad remembered he had a second daughter.

“Yeah, she’s a looker, Jimmy,” Dusty Rhodes—his actual name—said, giving the thirteen year old Reyna an inappropriate leer. Reyna drew in her body tensely, as if his eyes could actually touch her skin, and made a sour face. “You’re gonna be chasing the boys off’n her with a shotgun in a couple years.”

“Hell no I ain’t,” Jimmy said. “Ain’t nobody gonna mess with my baby girl. Ain’t nobody that stupid.” He laughed and placed his hand on Reyna’s shoulder. Reyna stiffened, but did not otherwise react.

Robin stood in a corner of the cramped store, pretending to be interested in the merchandise on the shelves, but, in actuality, was just enjoying the limited cooling ability of the big swamp coolers nearby. Her dad’s truck had air conditioning, but he refused to use it, claiming it burned too much gas and overtaxed his diesel engine. As she watched her sister looking as if she were caught in a poacher’s trap, she realized how obviously Reyna hated being there, and wondered why her dad never seemed to notice. Then again, she figured, noticing his daughters’ needs was never one of her father’s strong suits.

Finally, when the beer ran out, Jimmy LeBeaux wrapped his bony arm around Reyna’s waist, and announced they had to get to work.

“Why don’tchu brang that pretty wife of your’n down sometime, Jimmy?” Dusty asked. “Me and the wife would love to have y’all over. The wife makes a mean pot roast, and I know for a fact you’re sick of all that damn Mexican food.”

“That’s for damn sure,” Jimmy said, his tobacco-stained teeth showing.

“We’ll cook you up some good ole Texas chili—get you some American food for a change.”

Robin glared at Dusty and considered telling him that she was pretty sure that Albuquerque, her mom’s birthplace, was still in America, but caught Reyna’s cautionary look, and held her tongue. She expected her father to come to her mom’s defense—after all, she and Reyna were part Mexican themselves—but Jimmy only laughed.

“We might do just that some time,” Jimmy said laughing. “I’ll bring you some green chiles so you can spice that Texas chili up New Mexico style, he said. Me and the girls are gonna be harvesting real soon—looks like no more’n a couple of weeks.” He walked to the door, and gestured for Robin and Reyna to go out to the truck. As Reyna turned, Jimmy playfully patted her on her round butt and said, “See, she gets that from her mom. Being Mexican does have some usefulness you know. I sure have me some fun with her mom, if you get my drift.” He and the men all laughed as Jimmy joined his daughters in the dusty parking lot and loaded the rest of the supplies in the bed of the large truck.

As they started on their way, Robin offered from the back seat, “Tio Carlos always says that if you’re part Mexican, you’re all Mexican. He says that once you’re part of a Mexican family you belong 100 percent. So, that means that me and Reyna are Mexican too. Even you, Daddy.” Robin hoped that her logic would persuade her father to not associate with men who seemed to dislike her people.

To her disappointment, but not surprise, he said, “Your ‘Tio’ Carlos is an idiot.” As he said “Tio,” he made quotation marks with his fingers, two of which held another cigarette. The gesture made Robin nervous, as he took both hands off the steering wheel to do so.

“Tio Carlos has a law firm, Dad, and he makes more money than, like, all the LeBeauxes put together,” Reyna said in his defense.

Barely looking, Jimmy LeBeaux reached over and slapped Reyna on the side of her face. “Don’t smart mouth me, little girl,” he said, exhaling acrid smoke in her direction. Robin jerked back in her seat with a start and began crying. Reyna however, kept her eyes fixed on the road ahead and neither moved a muscle nor made a sound.

“You shut the hell up back there, little girl, or I swear to God we will be eating roast rooster for dinner tonight.”

Robin began to weep harder, but had enough experience to do so silently. She wished to herself that she could be as strong as her big sister, who was surreptitiously soothing her younger sister by reaching back and stroking her leg.

Writing in Layers

Probably the most significant thing I’ve learned about the process of writing fiction is to learn how to paint. No, I’m not talking about painting with oils or acrylics–I’m referring to painting with lyrical brushstrokes.

Getting the story down is much like laying the foundation layers of a painting. It doesn’t matter if you do a detailed sketch or simply start by washing in the background with broad brush strokes. What matters is that in the initial layer, you get the main idea across. In writing, it means painting the story. If you are anything like me, conveying a story intelligently and simply is hard enough. Even with an outline, taking the story in your head and bringing it to life is hard. Refining the work into a piece akin to literature takes editing.

Now, I know writers and teachers advocate not editing until you’ve finished writing. Not only do I disagree, I think that’s the dumbest damned advice I could give you. Of course you should edit, every time you read it, until it’s done. It’s never done. I read the previous day’s work and edit as I go, ensuring the new work has the feel of the previous, and keeping the right smooth and even. Once the story’s skeleton is written, I can replace the stolid writing of my initial layer with something more like the jazz I hear in my head. Layers, layers, layers.

Here’s a piece I published before I recognized there were layers left to paint. I’ve started “finishing” the work today. Hopefully when I finish, the book will feel like a work of art instead of just … a book.

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Here’s what I started with:

Charlie Patterson was dreaming with his best friend, Robin. Most teenage boys were limited to dreaming about beautiful girls, but not Charlie. His dreams were vivid, tactile, powerful, and emotional. In a word, they were real. Better than that, when Charlie dreamed of Robin, it was usually because she was right there, with him, in the dream.

They stumbled across the Stream, the limitless world of dreams and fantasy, during the summer prior to his twelfth birthday. In so doing, they had found each other, and created a bond that went beyond friendship. They were the One, a pair of dream travelers who, it was foretold, would restore the balance of good and evil, of light and darkness in the Stream. One day. For now, however, they were just two kids playing around in a world where one’s brightest imagination or deepest fears could come to light.

It was twilight in the part of the Stream in which they found themselves. Charlie was seated in a long, narrow boat on a still lagoon. The landscape was serene, comprising forested lands that bordered the wide lake, with mountains that rose behind them. It was spring here too, Charlie noted, as the trees that dotted the mountainsides were populated with new foliage. The air was thick and humid, though not unpleasant. Low clouds hung in the air, close enough that the tops of the mountains were obscured. The sun had descended behind the mountain toward which they drifted, and its light painted the sky a muted pink that was reflected in the mirror-like lake.

Away from the westward sky, the landscape had turned violet, with the thick fog drifting over the treetops. It gave the lagoon an odd duality, with half the landscape bright and cheery, and half dark and ominous.

Fine, but a little dry, no? Okay, it kind of sucks.

Here’s how it reads now (so far):

Most teenage boys were limited to dreaming about beautiful girls, but not Charlie Patterson. His dreams were vivid, tactile, and emotional. More importantly, these forays into the chimeric world of reimagined pasts and dragon presents were as tangible as his morning rides to school. One wrong move, a bad twist, an unconquered fear and Charlie knew he wouldn’t be waking up again. It was glorious. Better still, in most of his dreams, he was accompanied by his best friend, Robin, the literal girl of his dreams.

They’d stumbled across the Stream—the limitless world of dreams and fantasy—during the summer prior to his twelfth birthday. In so doing, they found each other and created a bond that went beyond friendship. They were the One, a pair of dream travelers who, it was foretold, would one day restore the balance of light and darkness in the Stream. For now, however, they were just two kids playing around in a world where one’s brightest imagination or deepest fears could come to pass.

Charlie was seated in a long boat on a still lagoon, wishing Robin would sit still for once. The long shadows of trees stretched across the broad lake interspersed by bright stars of sunlight that danced through the wind-blown leaves. Beyond the lake in a long arc, snow-capped mountains scraped the underbellies of low-hanging clouds until the clouds surrendered, fell as fog, and began to obscure the mountains’ peaks. It was spring here too, Charlie noted, as the trees that dotted the mountainsides were populated with the bright lavender of new foliage. The air was thick and humid, though not unpleasant. It was nearing dusk and the waning sunlight painted the sky a muted pink that was reflected in the mirror-like lake. Away from the westward sky, the landscape had already changed to midnight purple with thick fog roiling down the mountains and drifting over the treetops. It gave the lagoon an odd duality, with half the countryside bright and cheery and half dark and ominous.

Still needs work, but at least I don’t need a glass of water to wash it down. Layer, layer, layer. Even better, with layering comes clarity. The first two paragraphs will almost certainly just be deleted. Start in the middle and make it sing; that’s the goal.

Dragon Quest

From Discovery.

From: http://americayall.com (click to visit the link). The fun part of the interwebs is that you can imagine any location, google your description, and find a photo of it.

Charlie awoke to a damp, cool morning. He was lying on the frosted grass of a plateau, overlooking a series of rambling hills that curved into the distance. A deep pass, once a river, carved its way through the base of the mountains. Over untold millennia, the river had deepened the valley and wind abraded the mountains into a series of steep hills. A dense forest of ancient pines hugged the hillside, all but blanketing the valley. From his vantage, the dried riverbed looked like a jagged scar cut through a field of green. Despite almost constant moisture in the valley, the hills shed their vegetation as their altitudes increased. Near the summits, they were little more than dark rock and low scrub brush. A dense fog obscured all but the peaks of the furthest hill. The skies were cold and gray with only muted sunlight filtering through the high clouds. The entire setting was laid out as if it were a painting rendered in shades of gray. Charlie inhaled, taking in the thick, clean air, and then exhaled, his face ringed by water vapor heated by his lungs. “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” he said to no one.

Even though he had spoken in hushed tones, he could hear a faint echo reverberating from the distant hills. Not knowing what lay in the valley before him, he resisted the urge to shout his name and claim the valley for his. His training had taught him to be wary. He was a hunter, but could just as easily be prey. Charlie touched the ground next to his makeshift bed of soft pine needles and picked up his heavy oak staff. A large arrowhead made of heavy iron formed the business end of the weapon.

Charlie wore brown cloth breeches and a cloak made of deerskin, collared with white ermine. He strained his memory, trying to recall on which adventure he had trapped the weasels and stripped the fur that now caressed his cheek. It was late autumn now, and the fur was white, so surely it had been the prior winter. Charlie stamped out the remainder of the campfire with his heavy boots and began the descent towards the valley and the mountain pass where the Great Beast was said to winter. It would be a good hunt—for either the dragon, or himself.

Good Morning Is an Oxymoron

I awoke this morning in the midst of one of my many dreams wherein I need to use a bathroom and cannot find them. Unlike most such mornings, I didn’t actually have to go. It was my subconscious’ idea of a joke.

However, it did remind me of the opening to my 1st book, Discovery, which was, in turn, based on a dream I once had. Recursive serendipity, I’d say. Anyway, here is the opening of the book, which I hope you’ll read, because it’s silly, emotional, and fun.

Plus, they give me money when you buy one. Heh. (A brotha’s gotta retire someday.)

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Charlie hated mornings. This was due, in no small part, to his having the sleep habits of a caffeine-addicted owl. Often, he was just falling asleep as the neighborhood’s early birds were awakening. For Charlie, getting up was a thing to be savored over the course of an hour or so. He always started his day the same way: by hammering his alarm clock with a closed fist, falling back asleep, arguing with his sister who had been sent to get him up, and then stumbling out of bed, eyes closed, into the bathroom, to empty his bladder.

Those were the good old days.

Recent mornings meant a surreptitious sprint to the bathroom. As if starting the day shortly after falling asleep were not bad enough, lately, he woke up … like that. Once, his dad had caught him before he could pee, stopped, saluted, and said, “Ten Hut!” Charlie had no idea what he meant at the time, but when everyone else laughed, he knew it could not be good. His mom had chastised the family, and consoled him by stating it was a perfectly normal thing for an eleven-year-old boy. Still, the damage had been done, as his red cheeks attested.

Though he had inherited his mother’s caramel color, Charlie’s skin seemed to flush at the slightest embarrassment. It was a gift, he reckoned, from his father, along with curly brown hair, deep dimples, broad shoulders, and spectacularly average height. It was one thing to be humiliated by virtue of a joke he didn’t understand. It was worse to have his entire family be able to read his embarrassment.

Charlie staggered into the bathroom, and after completing his mission, opened his eyes for the first time.

What’s the refrigerator doing in the bathroom?

He had the right to be confused. Charlie, as it turned out, was in the middle of an excellent nightmare. It took him a full ten seconds to realize he was standing in the kitchen, dressed, facing the open refrigerator. He was certain there was a toilet there moments ago. He hoped he had not just peed into the open vegetable crisper; however, he decided against looking down to check. He was certain his mom would let him know if he had.

Breakfast consisted of a single kernel of oat cereal in a big bowl of water. Even in his dream, Charlie thought his breakfast a bit odd, but apparently, not odd enough to awaken him from his deep slumber. His hunger sated, he walked the quarter mile to his bus stop, and stood there, alone, waiting. After eternity passed, after the sun grew to a great orange ball of sputtering hydrogen, after the first two planets melted in admiration, and all the stars in heaven were visibly moved, the bus finally showed up. It was a Greyhound with “Middul Skool” on the front panel.

Middle school is going to rock.

Thankful and Giving

Holy Mother of Selina Sky layout

This week kicks off the start of the holiday season, particularly here in the U.S., with our Thanksgiving on Thursday. But we must remember that the holidays are about more than sharing feasts with family, or even gift giving. It is an opportunity for each of us to reach out beyond ourselves. It is a chance to find the greater part of each of us — a common people, shared spirit, common hopes and despairs. This week begins the time each of us can find that core within us that unites us with each other irrespective of dissenting voices.

Given the season, I thought it apt to post an excerpt from my upcoming short story, “Holy Mother of Selina Sky.” I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, I hope that you will link others to it, that perhaps they too might be inspired to remember the point of the holiday season is greater than commercialism, greater than religion, greater than temporary love. We must remain thankful for our blessings and our pains and giving of that which we never imagined we had.

***

On my next day off, we were back in the art district. I tried not to be obvious as to my real destination, so I took Selina through the large park in the city’s central district. I rode my bike and pulled Selina in a fancy three-wheeled bike trailer that I could still push when needed. We’d found it second hand and were able to swap for her bulkier stroller as an even trade. I figured losing the memory of the device she was in when her mother abandoned her was a good idea. At the edge of the park, we encountered a small family who’d obviously been living there. The two children were neat and as clean as one might expect to be while sleeping on a park bench. The mother and father were nearby, with the father holding a sign asking for help and the mother bagging clothes she’d just washed at a nearby Laundromat. Selina asked me why they had their clothes outside, and I did my best to explain homelessness to the three year old. I must have done an adequate job, since she climbed out of the stroller and begged me to “Help them, Mama.”

Continue reading “Thankful and Giving”

Falling, Part 3

Part 2

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Here is the conclusion to Chapter 13 of Emprise. If you like it, you might like the rest. The entire book is meant to read like whispered promises, like kisses, like lyrics sung by a lover, the universe, or God. You don’t have to believe in a God or something beyond the mundane path to death in order to enjoy it, but it’ll help. It is the story of two teenagers who loved the Universe and  found it loved them right back. But then again, all my stories are love stories.

Falling (Emprise, Chapter 13)

Robin edged the glitterfly alongside the blob, then, untying it, hopped on the large blob with Charlie. She caressed the glitterfly one last time, and said, “Thank you for saving us. Go find your friends.” With those words, the huge fish butterflied itself into the dark ocean and disappeared.
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Charlie did not move, but lay on his back, looking at her. She could see in his eyes he was relieved and even happy to see her, but his face was still a twisted scowl. “We aren’t exactly saved yet,” he said. His lips were not moving, but she could hear his words.

Robin looked from him to the axe. They were sinking, slowly. It was bitterly cold now, and the water moved sluggishly. Below them, miles below, she could make out sharp spires of ice. The ice was bright against the murky deep, illuminated as if from below.

Charlie, meeting her gaze, spoke up. “We’re on an ocean planet. I think the whole planet is water, even the core.” He sat up, still holding the axe. As he did, the blob bobbed momentarily higher. Charlie looked at the blob, speaking. “It keeps sinking, and we’re not strong enough to swim up without it.

Robin gestured toward the ice. “What do you think happens when we get there?” she said.

Charlie shrugged. “Dunno. Either we get stuck there, or crushed from the pressure, or burn to death.”

“Burn to death? In the ocean? It’s like ice water.” They could feel the cold, although vaguely. In time, their bodily functions would slow down sufficiently to stop their hearts.

“I’m not sure why I know,” Charlie said, “but I think that glow is heat. There’s some rocky core – magma or whatever, and the water is above it. The pressure from the miles of ocean is so great, it’s formed some weird ice mantle. Except it’s a hot as the earth’s mantle.”

“Fire water,” Robin said. “My people always were at risk from men bearing fire water.” She was speaking solemnly.

For the first time, Charlie’s scowled eased, and he burst into a broad grin. His dimples lit the ocean, and Robin’s mood with them. “You are so goofy,” he said.

“I can’t help it,” Robin answered, now laughing at herself as well. “I’m one-quarter Tewa. I’m sensitive to stuff like that.”

Charlie looked over the side at the glow below once more. “I’m part Scottish. My dad claims we invented strong drink.”

“I figured this was your fault somehow.” Before Charlie could defend himself, she looked at him, still with the axe, and had an idea. “Charlie, you have to let go of that axe.”

“What? Why?” he protested. “That elephant guy gave it to me. I’m supposed to do something with it. I just don’t know what yet.”

“Lord Heffalump.”

Charlie gaped at her. “Heffalump? Seriously?”

In response, Robin blinked at him. Twice.

Sigh.

“Okay, ‘Lord Heffalump’ wants me to fight something. Maybe once we land on the bottom, there’s some creature we’re supposed to kill.”

“You’re rationalizing. What he wants you to fight is anger. Just let it go.”

Charlie shook his head. “That thing is playing games. He’s … she’s, whatever, connected to Siri. I don’t trust him. I’m keeping this axe for protection.” He held it protectively to his chest.

“He’s not an enemy, Charlie.”

Charlie hesitated before responding. The water was beginning to warm. They were running out of time. “How do you know?” he asked.

Robin touched his arm. “Because I’m me, Boo,” she said.

Charlie searched her eyes, then, wordlessly, threw the axe over his shoulder, and into the depths. She knew that he would.

“I hope we don’t die, dream girl,” he said, holding her.

She allowed herself to be held, and closed her eyes. Beneath, they heard the faint clink of the metal axe impacting the ice below. This was followed by a loud cracking, which they felt, rather than heard, the vibrations knocking them on their bellies. Each of the teens clutched at a side of the blob, just as it rocketed upward in a bubbling gush of water. Quickly they rose – a hundred feet, a thousand, a mile, and rising quickly. As they ascended, propelled by the gust of gas and hot water released from beneath the broken ice, the blob expanded in size. With every lessening bit of water pressure, the fish grew, itself filled with expanding gases.

By the time they passed through the miles-long school of glitterflies, the light blob was a hundred feet in diameter. Miles higher, ascending with the speed of a hot air balloon riding a strong updraft, they passed schools of what must have been this world’s version of whales. They were gentle creatures, long and wide, with enormous eyes and mouths. Robin was now on her knees, hands uplifted, and hair flying behind her. As she passed, these not-a-whales sang to her. Their songs were low rumbles, unmelodic, but lovely. Behind Robin, Charlie was standing, grinning.

“How do you feel, Dimple Boy?”

“Lighter,” he replied. Robin nodded and resumed sailing on the rising blob.

In time, the water became brighter, as light from above the surface began to break through the ocean depths. They had been rising for close to an hour, and were still a hundred feet below the surface. Robin turned to speak to Charlie, but she could no longer form the words. He was kneeling, his eyes wide, a hand covering his mouth.

He could no longer breathe the water.

Robin thought to give him mouth-to-mouth, wondered if he would think she was trying to kiss him, when her breath suddenly stopped as well. She looked up, and could see a rippling orb of light above. It was the sun. Now, in a race to the surface, riding atop a two-hundred-fifty-foot-wide yellow orb, Robin and Charlie held their breath as long as they could. Robin willed the blob to rise faster, panic seeping into her mind as surely as water would fill her lungs. She would drown in the panic, the wet, claustrophobic horror of it. No more than thirty minutes before, she was a creature of the depths, as comfortable and at peace as any glitterfly, not-a-whale, or floating toothtrap below them. Now, she was an interloper.

She began to swim, needed to leave the blob, wanted to reach the surface faster. As she did, something clutched at her feet, attempting to drown her, murder her in this soggy hell. She kicked it off her; it flailed below her in pain and released her. Twenty feet higher, something grabbed both legs at once, ensnaring her, pulling her down. She fought blindly, swung, and thrashed with all her might.

It grabbed her, pulled her to it. It would bite her next, perhaps ending her life, seventy feet from the surface. She closed her eyes, trapped, awaiting its deathblow …

… and it kissed her cheek and held her, gently. Her eyes opened to see Charlie staring at her with concern. He was swimming slowly to the surface, his strong legs kicking beneath him. He was holding her in his arms, his eyes never leaving hers. Robin looked down and could see her rope looped around her ankles.

Moments later, they breached the surface, blinded momentarily by sunlight, their burning lungs filling with air. After coughing and gasping, then regaining their lungs, Charlie told Robin she had begun to panic, and was rising to the surface too quickly. He had attempted to restrain her, but she had kicked him in the face, bloodying his nose. The rope, then his strong arms, followed.

“Why didn’t you just let me reach the surface, and follow me up?” she asked. She was sorry to have hurt him, but annoyed that his fear of water had caused him to pull her back to him, as crabs will in a steaming pot of water.

“I figured the jellyfish we’ve been riding moves at that pace for a reason. You know, to let its body adapt to the decreasing water pressure. Since it lives here, I thought if you came up faster, the bends would kill you.”

“Jellyfish …” Robin said, absently. Then, “I thought you said you can’t swim,” she said.

“I can’t. But I can dream that I can.” For her, he had learned to dream, finally to dream.

She looked at him for a time, then swam closer, and kissed him. It was a real kiss, strong and fevered, her tongue dancing with his for the first time in their young lives. Her eyes clamped themselves shut, and she delighted in the pebbly softness of his intruding tongue. As she pulled back, she looked at him, overcome with embarrassment and emotions she had never acknowledged.

You. It’s you.

It had always been him.

Charlie looked at her – his eyes filled with questions, bright with emotion, and shook his head. He touched his lips with an index finger, then with his tongue. For a moment, she feared he would kiss her again, but instead he smiled. She swam, for a moment, in his dimples, floated in his eyes, lassoed herself with his curls, and, quietly … fell.

“Duck!” Charlie screamed.

A second later, screeching in from a cloudless sky, an enormous bird ripped them from the ocean. It had hidden itself by diving from the direction of the blinding sun. It rose, the air thinning, growing colder, getting dark.

They were being abducted, and not to this gentle world.

Remembering, Final Part

Part 2
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My People grow stronger with the work. We are lazy, the herders say. We do not pull out enough of the green stones. Daily, we take their beatings – some to the death. Three thousand, eight hundred twenty-seven are left. None of us will defile the white rocks for the herders. We work slowly, with care, but bring their green stones as they wish.

“You bloody heathens are worthless,” says the lead herder. His lash stings my flesh, tearing bits from my back. There are a hundred tracks there. They are good, the tracks. They mark me with the footsteps of my fallen People. The tracks will help me with the remembering.

The lead herder stops. Perhaps he has tired of the game. I am on my four limbs, my back to him. My head is bowed, where Krytay tells me it must be.

“Tell your damned horde to work faster, or I’ll beat you all within an inch of your lives.” He stands, and gestures to the People.

Most of the males are being beaten with the whips. Even the Sand Herders have joined in. We thought they, perhaps, were like the People. The promise of riches turns even the best to animals, I fear. In my remembering, I shall not spare these herders the truth either.

The time draws near.

A herder with midnight pelt takes Krytay by her forelimb. That the pale pink of his flesh has defiled her enrages me.

“Move, you damned bug!” he shouts at her. Those are the last words he ever utters.

The lead herder turns, raises his weapon … but I leap. We are faster than they. I reach his neck as the weapon discharges, and separate his head from his torso. The blood that fuels him is red … a strange color for blood, I think. I remember the dead now; we strike a blow for each of them, finally marking their passing. Beneath the midnight and sand-hued pelts, the herders’ flesh is rent. There are shrieks, and much death … blood paints the white stones.

All of the blood is red.

***

It has been eight days, but we have not begun the walk to the dry lands. Some wish to stay in the fire mountain valleys. There have been no rumbles for a sun, and no steam issues through the cracks. The lands here are rich, full of green and with much food. The People have chosen me to lead. Perhaps we will winter here, before making the trek homeward.

This time, we will march, but there will be soles beneath our feet. The herders’ pelts dry well, and offer good protection.

“Hair,” Krytay corrects me. “The herders call it hair.”

I nod. She knows their words better than I. Ship. Wealth. Earth. More words that mean nothing.

Krytay pulls on the last of her soles, made from the pelts. She hands me the Leader’s staff. It is a heavier burden even than the remembering. “I am no leader,” I protest to Krytay. We speak in private, as the People need to be led. It is not good for them to hear my doubts.

“You have led us from the dry lands here,” she answers. “When it was time to awaken our People, you struck the first blow.”

I shake my head, but take her close to me. “I am but a Rememberer,” I protest. “I did what I must; to remember the dead.”

“No, Tofray” Krytay says. “Not Rememberer. That is not their word.”

I look at her – strong of carapace and of mind. I am reminded, again, that I have chosen well. “What word then?” I ask. Our language has neither word nor concept. Never has there been a need. But the two legs – the herders – brought with them death, and with it, me. I have remembered the dead, and we shall mourn them no longer.

“Not Rememberer, she repeats, Avenger. You are our Avenger.”

“Yes,” I think, turning their language over in my mind. Perhaps that is the better word.