Tag: Sci-fi

Them Doctors–Part V

Here we go, another installment of Them Doctors. I know in my last post I said I’d try to write a longer section and get the plot moving more, but I’ve decided instead to leave off here for now. It could be awhile before I post another section of this story… I don’t think I should write anymore until I’ve actually come up with a plot for it. I don’t want to just keep stalling, don’t wanna ruin the story, you know. Anyway, for this section, I must thank my best friend, who advised me on the herbal stuff. Thanks, best friend! :D

 

Sec.5.

 

It burns. My stomach’s on fire, like someone took a red-hot brand and jammed it down my throat. My throat’s raw, too, from the screaming. It’s hard to remember a time before the pain. That woman–I think her name was Birch–brought us to a room. We spent most of the next day in there, resting up, and in the evening Mama went out to talk to people and learn things. I think by then I’d already started feeling weak. I held my little brother in my arms and curled up on the bed, little drops of sweat beading on my forehead. That was the beginning.

It ain’t possible for me to say how long it’s been since then. Days and nights of fire, that’s all I’ve seen, pain and screaming and sweat. People sometimes come shuffling around the bed, old women who chant and mutter and burn things to make smoke. Sometimes I think they’re burning me. I tell them to stop but they never listen. Sometimes they force liquid down my throat that makes me feel funny, and other times they put cool pastes on my skin. The coolness almost seems to burn. I hate the old women. They won’t leave me alone! But I ain’t strong enough to struggle and fight them off. I hope Mama’ll come along and rescue me, but she don’t.

Sometime, I start dreaming. I see colors mostly, but that ain’t all; I also see Pa, but with horns coming out of his head. Mama’s there too, and my little brother, but they don’t look like themselves. They look like monsters and they want to eat me. I scream and try to fight them off, then the pain comes back in and wakes me up. I’m staring up at the dirty ceiling, panting, soaked in sweat. One of the old women comes over then and spoons something into my mouth. It tastes awful, but I barely have time to notice the flavor, because I’m asleep a moment later. Next time I wake up my belly don’t hurt as much. My throat’s dry, though, parched, and feels cracked. I croak for water. This time a different person comes. It’s a young man, and his brow wrinkles in worry as he tips a cup of water down my throat. Too late, I taste the bitter taste in the water and go back to sleep. I dream again, but this time it ain’t the same. I see a little boy. He must be younger than my brother. He takes my hand and leads me off into a field of flowers, and I feel like there’s gotta be something special on the other side, but we don’t get to it before I wake up again.

Fever’s gone away, I find myself thinking as I wake up. The sweat’s stopped pouring down my face, my stomach ain’t burning. It’s rumbling something fierce, though. I sit up, my head spinning. My arm almost gives way, but I ain’t a weak little kid, and I stay upright.

“Good morning,” someone says.

I turn and see him there, that young man who gave me water. He’s sitting in a chair next to the bed and he’s got a book in his hands. It says “The Lord of the Rings” on the cover. Pa’s told me that story. The book ain’t allowed to be read anymore, but he told me the story. It’s one of my favorites.

“You seem to be feeling much better,” the young man says, sliding a ribbon between his book’s pages and setting it aside.

“I’m starving,” I said.

He laughed. “I’m sure you are. I’ll bring you some food, stay there.” He gets up and strides out the door, his long white coat trailing behind him. It’s the same kind of coat doctors wear. They got a doctor in here? That don’t seem right, somehow, but I’m too tired to worry about it.

I lay back on the bed and stare at the ceiling. There’s little white roots poking through it, like so many tiny hairs. I imagine what it’d be like if they got big and grew down into me and my body, and shudder. That ain’t gonna happen. They’re just tree roots, nothing evil or dangerous. I look away from them. The room’s tiny, and I realize it’s different from the one Birch first brought us to. Mama and my little brother ain’t there, for one, and it’s much smaller. A dresser sits in the corner with a lamp on it, and the chair the young man was in is snuggled into the alcove between my bed and that dresser. Ain’t much else in the room. Seems homey. Anyway, there ain’t an Eye in the corner, and that makes me feel safer. I always hated the Eyes they have in houses back home. You could never get away from the feeling of being watched.

The young man comes back then, with a tray in his hand. Steam’s rising from the tray and it smells so good I want to faint. My stomach rumbles so loud the young man laughs again.

“Here,” he says. “Sit up.”

I do and he puts the tray on my lap.

“Enjoy.” He sits down and crosses one leg over the other. “That’s garlic bread and stew enriched with herbs. Goldenseal, elderberry, ginseng to strengthen your immune system, a bit of cayenne for your heart, some ginkgo and dandelion… sounds weird, but it’ll make you stronger.”

I don’t even say thank you, I’m so hungry. I just tear into that stew and bread, slurping and chomping like there ain’t no tomorrow. And in this world, who can say that there will be? I’ve almost finished the food before I even notice what it tastes like. The bread’s good. Very strong, but good. I’ve never tasted food so flavorful. The garlic tingles my tongue and almost makes my stomach churn because it’s so strong, but it smells so good. The stew is the same way. Full of vegetables and little chunks of meat, with all sorts of strange flavors swirling about it, it feels like an explosion of color and life in my mouth. It’s so good I have to close my eyes to taste it better.

When I finish, I hand the tray back to the young man. “That was amazing,” I say.

He grins. “You like it? Magdalene’s a great cook. I was surprised by how good the food is here. They don’t eat proper food back in… well, back home. We’ve got our own farms here, hidden in the forest, and our food’s got real flavor. Not that we never have to steal from the outsiders, mind you.”

I nod and smile, not sure what to say.

“I used to be a doctor,” the young man continues. “Well, I was about to graduate from medical school, not quite a doctor yet. Then I did some digging, found out what they really put in all those drugs they tell us to give people. You know they’re designed to weaken you? To addict you? To make you easier to control? It’s despicable. It’s–well, that’s why these last days have been the way they were for you. The withdrawals, you know.”

I blink. “Withdrawals?”

“Yes–of course–I forgot they don’t teach you about those anymore. Your body had come to rely on those drugs. I used to think people needed so many because of all the diseases, but… you know the drugs and pills and such cause more diseases than they prevent? I had to leave when I found that out. They tried to kill me, of course, but I escaped and found my way here. All those poor people.” He sighed and stared at his hands.

I feel sick to my stomach, and all that stew I ate churns around. I’ve been poisoning myself all my life? My whole family has been. Everyone I knew has been. And them doctors, they’ve been the ones telling us to do it, telling us it would be all right. My fingers curl into a fist.

“They lied to us,” I say.

“Yes.” The former doctor sighs again. “They lie. The longer I spend with the Underground, the more I realize how much they’ve lied.”

“I hate them.”

He looks at me then, raising an eyebrow. “Hate? I don’t know. Most of them are just doing what they’ve been told. Following tradition. I used to hate them, too, but now….”

“Well, I hate them anyway.” I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand, but fall backwards a moment later, the room doing circles around me.

“Be careful!” the young man says. “You’re still weak. The drugs have left you a shadow of yourself. Your immune system is almost nonexistent. Your muscles are atrophied. You need rest, and you need to heal.”

“I… I don’t want… what about my Mama and little brother? Is the same thing happening to them?” Little dancing lights fill my vision. Somehow, I can’t make out the room.

“Yes,” the former doctor says. “But your mother is stronger than you. She’s recovering faster.”

“And… and my little brother?” I swallow.

“He… we aren’t sure. The witches are with him night and day, but….”

My vision starts to clear. “W–witches?” I ask. Could they be anything like the old woman in the woods? My old friend I don’t know anymore.

“Yes,” the young man says, a hint of distaste in his voice. “I don’t believe in their ‘magic’ powers, mind you, but their skill with herbal healing… it is unsurpassed. They won’t teach it to me.”

“Why not?” But I only half care. My brother’s the one I’m really worried about. Is he all right? He’s always been sickly. But he’s got to be all right. We came all this way.

“They say they won’t share their secrets if I don’t become a warlock,” the young man muttered. “Birch has taught me a little, but she doesn’t know as much as they do, and… well… I can’t become a warlock. I can’t forsake my beliefs. Not when I know them to be true. Sometimes I ask Jesus–”

A shiver runs down my spine. “Do you worship the Old God?” I ask, sitting up again.

The young man blinks at me. “Why, yes… my family always has. We weren’t about to give up our faith, not even when it became illegal. I’d hoped I could use my position as a doctor to… well… but that didn’t work out.”

I lay back again. “The Old God,” I whisper. Then I frown. “Do you think my little brother will be all right?” A moment passes, and I yawn. Seems like the ceiling is getting blurry. My eyes don’t want to stay open.

The young man takes a deep breath. “I… I can’t… yes. I think he will.”

“Good.” I almost smile, but sleep takes me before I can.

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Them Doctors–Part IV

Sec.4.

 

“Come on,” the voice says. “Come with me.”

But there’s no face to go with the voice. I think it’s a tree speaking to us for a moment, before I realize a tree would have a much deeper and slower voice. Like the Ents in that one story, which is almost as illegal as the Bible. Pa told me it anyway.

Mama gets up to her hands and knees and picks a branch off the ground, holding it out in front of her in trembling hands.

“Who’s there?” she says, and she sounds more scared than I’ve ever heard her.

I sit up and wrap my arms around my little brother. He coughs. I hold him tight.

“You’re safe,” the voice says. “Do not be afraid.” Then its source comes out into our grove. It ain’t a tree, that’s sure, but it seems like it might live in one. It’s a woman, who’s wearing all green clothes and has a hat with a feather in it on her head. She’s got a holstered pistol on her thigh, and a bow and arrows slung across her back. Her hair’s brown, her eyes bright, and for some reason she reminds me of the old woman I used to know, the herbalist.

Well, she don’t look like one of the Police, that’s sure.

Mama steps in front of me and my little brother, clutching her branch. “Who are you?” she demands. I’m proud of her for making her voice so strong.

“My name is Birch,” she says. “You’re running from the police, right? We can help you.”

Mama’s arms sink down a little, and I think she might drop the branch. “We?” she asks.

Birch nods. “The resistance. You didn’t think your husband took you this direction for no reason, did you?”

Now the branch does drop from Mama’s fingers, sliding to the ground and falling beside her foot. “Oh,” she whispers. “He… I should’ve… I should’ve remembered.”

How would Pa know these people? Was he part of the resistance? Was he a criminal when he was young? How had I never known? I stood and helped my little brother to his feet, peering around Mama at the forest woman. She met my eyes and gave me a brief smile.

“Come on,” she said again. “We have no time to waste.” She turned on her heel and strode off into the trees, her steps light as a deer’s.

I took my little brother’s hand and followed her, not hesitating for one moment. Ain’t these the people Pa was leading us to? Leastaways, if Birch is telling the truth. I know I’ve got to trust her. Mama follows us a moment later, moving like she’s got a boulder on her shoulders. But she keeps up, even when Birch leads us into a dark part of the forest where the trees are so thick they block out the  moonlight. A couple of times I glimpse some people around us, who I think are like Birch: all dressed in green. But they don’t show their faces. I think they must be guards, keeping watch for monsters and Police. They must do a good job, because nothing attacks us. After an hour or so, Birch stops and talks to some men in the trees, saying who she is and who we are. Then we go into a cave, and I want to collapse, because it feels so safe in there.

“Welcome to the Warding Caves,” Birch says, turning to us with a smile. She’s got a nice smile, all straight white teeth. Her eyes seem so bright. She’s got a life to her, this one has, and it ain’t like nothing I ever seen before.

“I’ve heard of this place,” Mama whispers. “Never thought I’d see it.”

“You wouldn’t be seeing it now,” Birch says, “If it weren’t for your husband. Now come on. I’ll find you a room.”

She takes off her weapons and puts them on a rack by the entrance of the cave. There’s a man there, who hugs her when she drops off the weapons. He looks very clean-cut, not like I would’ve imagined a rebel who lives in the forest to look. It seems like he is very fond of Birch.

The green-clad woman takes us further into the cave, and leads us through some tunnels. There’s other people there, also dressed in green, and most of them look tough and dangerous. But they’d have to be, if they want to survive. Birch doesn’t show us much. All we really see is the tunnels, which are cold earth and stone without decoration. I catch a glimpse of a bigger cavern, a really huge one, bigger than any cave I ever seen in my life. There’s a whole lot of people in there, and machines and equipment besides, but Birch ushers us past before I can get a good look. She finally stops in a very dank part of the tunnels, at the end of a long row of scrap metal doors.

“You can sleep there,” she says, pointing to a door in front of us. “It’s not much, I know, but we don’t have much room here. I’m afraid we won’t be able to take anyone else in after you.” She sighs. “It’ll be time to expand soon… but, in you go.” She pushes the door open, giving us a faint smile. It creaks on rusty hinges, showing us a tiny room with a dirt floor. There ain’t nothing much in it, just a chest and a couple of beds.

Well, the beds are the most important part. I go in, feeling a little light-headed, and fall down on the mattress. I’m already drifting off to sleep, as I hear Mama thanking Birch behind me, and then telling my little brother that we’re all safe now and the Police won’t catch us….

A New Age Dawns, Part I

Well, I forgot 3-D design class was canceled this morning and got up early even though I didn’t have to. So I suppose there’s nothing for it but to write a blog post. Huzzah for unexpected free time!

Anyway, after reading Rich Burlew’s excellent series of articles about designing a D&D campaign setting (which can be found here: http://www.giantitp.com/Gaming.html; it’s the “New World” series), I felt inspired to write about my own world building techniques and theories. Now, I’ve been building worlds since I was knee-high to a fairy dragon. World building is what got me interested in writing stories, in the first place. I had all these worlds I’d made up; I needed stories to put in them, didn’t I? I’ve drifted away from world building a little in my current works, but it’s still an integral process to any fantasy story, be it novel, game, or movie–and it’s quite fun, as well!

A bit of history: So the very first world I built didn’t start out as a world; it started as an island. I’ve always been fascinated with dinosaurs, and after seeing an ad in the newspaper for that old Dinotopia TV show, I was inspired to create my own Dinotopia. I hadn’t read the original books or seen the show, but the idea appealed to me so much that I spent months building my own world of dinosaurs and humans. By the time the original island had grown to the size of a continent, I decided it needed its own world. I made up several more continents and tossed them all together, started coming up with an overarching history for the place… of course, the Dinotopia continent (the name of which became Dunor), was still the center of the world. That world went through so many permutations… in its current incarnation, it has been combined with another world of mine, Shadowglade, and the overall world is called Stella Aetherium.

Anyway, that’s a pretty haphazard way to build a world. I’ve learned a thing or two about the process since then, and while I’m definitely not the most talented or creative world builder around, I thought I’d share some of my experience. So there’s any number of starting points for a world. Maybe you need someplace to set your new story idea that features martial arts master gnome and a gentleman dragon; maybe you wanted to explore your obscure theories about the development of ancient democracies in a fictional setting. I shall assume, for the purposes of these articles, that we are creating a world simply because we want to, without the intention of setting a particular story there or really doing  much of anything with it (though I may discuss integrating stories into the world in a later post).

The first thing to figure out is what kind of world you’re working with, or what genre it is. Is it a steampunk world? A far-future version of earth? An alien planet? A high fantasy world filled with elves and dwarves and dark lords? Each of those will determine various and sundry things about the world; of course there’s many other sorts of worlds, nearly infinite permutations. I think I’ll build a world from the ground up in these articles, for the purposes of demonstration. So let’s see… hm… my initial thought is to make this a fantasy/sci-fi blend world, featuring gnomes, a beautiful, vast, and intricate underground, and an extremely hostile surface. This is the first thing that jumped into my head after a minute or so of thought, so I’ll just run with it. I think it’s good not to spend too much time on the initial concept. If you were making a world to put stories in, or for a campaign setting in an RPG, or some other more serious purpose, then you’d probably want to come up with several ideas, write them down, and pick two or three that you like best–I’ve found that combining two or more base concept ideas often makes for a more vibrant world. Variety is good!

Okay, so the next step is geography and the general universe around the world. I think a bloated, ancient, scarlet sun would be appropriate for this place. There’s five other planets in its solar system, all gas giants, one of which is fairly large in the night sky. The planet has four moons, but only one of them is very large. Now, the world has a hostile surface… I’m thinking a lot of desert, but cold desert. A good deal of craggy stones. Vast, rocky basins which were once lakes and seas. Perhaps some poisonous oceans? I like that idea, so I’ll stick with it. Maybe all the water found on the surface is poisonous, and the only thing safe to drink is the springs that bubble up from underground. I’m going to say that there are four continents in the world: a small, icy one at the north pole, a much bigger one south of that, and two smaller continents, sort of circling each other, in the east. I think there will also be a whole lot of floating islands, which obviously won’t have any water safe to drink on them, but are rich in certain other resources. At this point, I find it useful to draw a basic map. It really helps to get the structure of the world cemented in your mind, and can lead to a lot of geographical information that would’ve been much harder to come up with without it. So, let’s do that…

And there you have the most basic map of the world. Now for the underground. I won’t bother drawing a map for that at this point, because it’d be way too complicated, what with all the tunnels and caverns. The underground is going to be really different from the surface. It’s vibrant. It’s alive. It’s magical. I’m seeing someplace with a lot of glowing fungi and crystal formations. Maybe something a bit like Journey To the Center of the Earth, with huge open caverns that have lakes and oceans, animals, some sort of light source. The underground seems like the place where the fantasy side of this sci-fi/fantasy blend world is going to come in.

I think that’s enough for this first article. We’ve got the world defined in broad strokes; now it’s going to be time to start determining what sort of life lives on it. Gnomes, of course, but who knows what else might be there? Now, remember, it’s best not to think too hard in this stage. Just brainstorm, write down whatever ideas come to mind, start assembling the basic framework of the world. At this point, it doesn’t have much flavor, but there are definitely some suggestions of heart and life.

Anyway, I hope this will be helpful for some people, or at least interesting. Until next time!

~ Jared

Them Doctors–Part III

Hey, all! I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write the next installment of this. I’ll try to be a little more on the ball with the next one. I had no idea it would be this hard to maintain my interest in a serial story… anyway, I hope you like it!

 

Sec.3.

 

Mama’s got to be so strong.

I don’t know how she does it, how she can keep going, how she can run with my little brother on her back and the tears streaming down her face. I can’t hardly see, ‘cause my eyes are all blurry from the tears. I want to ask Mama if Pa’s all right, but I’m afraid to know the answer. So I just keep going, just keep running, like I ain’t never done nothing else. The forest seems to go on forever. Behind us we can hear sirens, and droning that means the Police have copters. Then I think it’s good the trees are so thick, ‘cause otherwise those copters would catch us. I’ve seen movies of this: of people running from the Police, and they never end well.

But I have to hope this won’t be like the warning movies.

We splash through a stream. Mama’s stopped crying now, and her mouth’s in a thin line, a hard line, that scares me a little. The sirens fade behind us, and we start going uphill, up and up and up until it feels like my legs might fall off. My little brother starts coughing, and we have to stop so Mama can let him sit against a tree and rest. She takes off her pack, her arms trembling, and collapses next to my little brother.

“Mama,” I say. But I don’t know what to say next.

“You’ll be fine, sweetie,” she murmurs. She opens up her pack and starts digging around inside, pulling out little bottles of pills. When she finds the right one, she takes a red pill out and slips it between my little brother’s lips. He swallows and his coughing stops, for now. Then she stuffs a few of the pill bottles into her pockets and hides the pack in a hollow in the tree. When she sees me looking, she smiles.

“We have to leave that behind, sweetie. I can’t carry your brother and the supplies.”

“But how will we survive?” I ask, and I feel so afraid.

“We’ll make it. Don’t you worry.”

Then she slumps back against the tree, I sit down, and we rest for a little while. We’re on a hill, or maybe the beginning of a mountain, and I can see the forest stretching away at our feet. In the distance there’s some flying dots, little dots that crisscross over the trees, and I know those are the copters. I count four of them. Why so many just for one family? Was–is–Pa that important? Or are they afraid other people might try to escape if they hear we done it?

Well, no matter. All that matters is that they’re chasing us, and they’ll catch us if we don’t move on.

I turn around. Mama’s head is resting on her chest, and tears are leaking down onto her shirt. It’s like something huge and heavy is crushing her, like a whole tree is resting across her shoulders. I want to start crying again, too, but I don’t. I swallow and I stand up, and put my hand on Mama’s shoulder.

“Come on,” I whisper. “Time to go.”

She looks up, and gives me a wan half-smile. “You’re right. Let’s go.” And she stands, wipes away the tears, puts my little brother on her back again. We’re walking away within a minute, still going uphill, and we don’t stop again until well after dark.

I dream of Pa during what little time I sleep that night. Mostly I don’t sleep, because we’re up in a tree and all the branches poke my back, but when I do, I see Pa smiling at me, then a bullet and some blood come flying out of his mouth and he’s dead. I wake up sweating and crying. Over and over I tell myself: you didn’t see him die, you didn’t see him die, you didn’t see him die, so maybe he’s still alive, maybe he hasn’t died. I can’t know for sure. Ain’t it likely that they’ll just put him in jail? But they might do things to his head. He might not remember us anymore when he gets out. He might even want to kill us, just like those Police do.

I shiver and shudder, and I want to ask Mama what will happen, but I don’t think she’ll be able to answer.

There’s mist everywhere when we leave the tree and set out again, and I think that’s good  because it hides us. There’s so much mist you couldn’t see me if you stood ten feet away. It burns off after a few hours, but now I think we’ve left the police well behind. It’s hard tracking someone through a forest. The old woman who called herself an herbalist, she always said that to me. I think now maybe she was trying to tell me to run, back then, but maybe that’s thinking too much.

Mama don’t speak much that day. My little brother don’t cough much, either, but he seems to be getting weaker. I’m getting hungry, myself. I ain’t eaten since before we left, and I know I need food. I need drugs, too, and Mama gives me some of the pills she rescued. I feel a little better after that, but still hungry, and now I’m feeling thirsty, too.

We drink from a stream and it makes us sick for hours.

When we wake up, I can hear sirens again.

That’s when we keep running, really running now, so the tree limbs scratch our skin. I’m so tired I don’t think I can keep it up for very long, but somehow, I do. The whole world starts to blur together. It’s just trees and boulders and sirens in the background, branches scratching my face, stopping sometimes to throw up because of the bad water. We slow down. Mama’s streaming with sweat, and trembling, and she can barely hold my little brother anymore. Well, I think, now it’s my turn.

I don’t ask Mama if I can hold him. I just take him off her back and she gives me a grateful half-smile. We keep going, but it’s harder after that, with my little brother’s weight dragging me down. The moon’s coming out when we collapse in a little grove, unable to go any further. I can still hear those siren’s behind us. They ain’t getting closer yet, but it won’t be long. I reckon they may not catch us tonight, but we’re too tired to keep up this pace tomorrow. It’s only a matter of time.

That’s when someone speaks out of the woods.

Them Doctors

Okay, so I just wrote this up in an hour this morning… I think I’m going to serialize the story here. Seems like there’s a lot I could do with it. Let me know what you think! Oh yeah, and if anyone tries to steal it, I’ll hunt you down myself. With a chainsaw.

 

Them Doctors

By Jared Schmitz

 

My little brother is dying.

He’s only seven. Sweet little fella. He’s got hair curly as mine, just as blond, but he’s also got Pa’s dark soft eyes and that golden-brown skin. Me, I take after Mama. Pale as a sheet, I am, and no one could tell by looking at me that my mama and pa ain’t the same color. They give us grief for that, at school: they tell me it ain’t right for two folks of different color to have kids. Some call my mama a–

But that ain’t no matter. No one treats anyone nice in school. It’s been that way forever and ever and it won’t ever change.

He’s wasting away.

I remember his face, as I swing up toward the sky. Back and forth, forth and back, not stopping. It’s all sweaty, my little brother’s face. Dripping, almost. His hair sticks to his forehead. Eyes won’t open. He shakes, but I touch his hand and it’s cold, too cold, like a dead pig. I touched one before they took them away. No one’s allowed to keep pigs no more. I wonder if we’ll get to keep my little brother. Mama and Pa ain’t called the doctor yet. They’re holding off, they don’t want to let them know my little brother is sick. I don’t want them to know either. I don’t trust them.

I know that’s a horrible thing to say. Doctors is everything. These days most everyone gets sick. We wouldn’t survive without those doctors. Pa says when he was a little boy, and the world was bright and shiny and new, people didn’t get sick so much, and doctors weren’t so important. But these days everyone has a disease. Those doctors, they’re giving everyone all these medicines, vaccinating and vaccinating, but I never seen no call for it. I been taught in school most of these diseases are all in your head, but if that’s so, why do they need so much medicine? Imaginary diseases can’t hurt you none, can they?

But my little brother’s disease don’t look so imaginary. I heard Mama and Pa talking one night, when I was supposed to be asleep. They said his body don’t like the medicine. They said he had a reaction. Pa talked about his brother, who also reacted and the doctors came and took him away. My uncle. I never knew I had an uncle. Never met him. Never saw him. Because the doctors took him away.

That night, I prayed they wouldn’t take my little brother away. I prayed to the Old God, the one who you ain’t supposed to pray to anymore. They called him Jesus Christ, and just speaking that name made me shiver all over ‘cause it was so illegal. They said those Christians were Terrorists. Didn’t tolerate no one and just wanted to kill everyone. Well, they sure caused a lot of damage before they all got killed, so I figured their Old God must have some sort of power. So I prayed to him.

In the next few days, my brother got even worse. I couldn’t bear to look at him. So I came out here. To the playground. It’s old. It’s rusted up. No one ever comes here anymore. The reason is that old church next to the swings and stuff. It had a steeple, with a big old cross on top, but that steeple’s been pulled down. You can still see the cross, though. Right there. Half-buried. There’s bits of colored glass around it, from when they smashed the pretty colored windows. It’s all graffitied up now, with bad words Mama told me never to say.

Pa told me it used to be, people would come here and sing. They’d all sing together, which no one does anymore, because the only singing you hear is from the Stars. I never liked their singing. It’s all about love and beauty and boring stuff. I never liked the Stars neither, but that’d get me in trouble if I said it. They always seemed like plastic to me. Plastic skin. Plastic faces. Hair like wires. Don’t look real, none of them, and sometimes I secretly think they might be robots. I told Mama once, and she laughed, but then she looked scared. She pointed at the Eye in the corner. Everyone’s got an Eye in their house. It watches ‘em. Makes sure they don’t say anything bad.

I swing to a stop, my feet dragging over the old rotted bark chips on the ground. I know I’m just trying to get my mind off it. Off my poor little brother, who’s like to die. I should be thinking of him. Trying to find a way to save him. But I don’t know what to do. Them doctors, they’d say he needs drugs. Drugs and drugs and drugs, they’d say, to fix him so he won’t react to the drugs he’s already taking. When I think of drugs, I start feeling sick. It’s been too long since my last dose. They say if you go too long without those drugs, you might die. I don’t want to die, not yet, so I get off the swing and run on home.

Mama and Pa are out to work. They won’t be here ‘til it gets dark, ‘cause they’re busy being productive. People always say  “a productive person is a happy person!” And why would they lie?

My little brother’s on the couch, a blanket over him, moaning.

I don’t look at him. I go to the Drug Cabinet, which takes up a whole wall, and take out my pills. Three different bottles, red, blue, green. I take them, and sigh with relief. Then I look at my brother. A whole Drug Cabinet, and nothing in there to help him. I kneel next to him, and take his hand. It’s cold. So cold. It reminds me of the pig again. I put my hand on his forehead. That part of him’s hot, like the oven when Mama used to cook, back before we came to town. I don’t see how we can go much longer without calling the doctor. But they might take him away. Sometimes they do when someone has a reaction. They might say he ain’t fit to live, they might say he’s too sick and a danger to society. But no one else can help him. None of us townsfolk, none of us know nothing about medicines and drugs and stuff.

Then I remember someone.

It was years ago, when I was just a little girl. There were an old woman, who lived outside of town. Out in the country. Most people who live out in the country are farmers, and I should know because we were farmers, before they killed all our animals and made Mama and Pa work in the food factory. Like a farm, they said it was, but better, because you didn’t have to kill no animals to make the food. Didn’t hurt nothing to make food from chemicals, so weren’t that the humane thing?

So there was an old woman. She weren’t a farmer. She had this little cottage out in the woods, made of rocks and logs, the roof all overgrown with moss. Lovely little thing, it was. I used to visit her, and I’d go on bare feet through the soft dirt. It felt good between my toes, that dirt. The old woman always laughed when I told her that. She seemed happier than anyone I’d known. Always happier, even though her face was wrinkled and brown and she wouldn’t get no beauty treatments. They said ugly people were sad people, but she never seemed so sad to me, and when she smiled, she wasn’t so ugly neither.

She called herself an herbalist. Wouldn’t take no drugs or no medicines, she just gathered up leaves and mushrooms and plants and gross things, and made them into her own tinctures and elixirs and such. She said they were better than the medicines them doctors would prescribe. She said those medicines had bad stuff in them, but her herbs wouldn’t hurt nothing. A queer sort, she was, but that never bothered me. She had a granddaughter my age, who lived with her, and believed in everything she said, and that always made me trust her. An old lady with a little granddaughter couldn’t be so bad.

One day they came. Dressed all in black. Black visors over their faces. That dreaded word on their shields, “POLICE.” They beat her half to death and dragged her away, the herbalist. Called her a witch. Said she was an evil Pagan. Took her granddaughter, but Mama came and rescued me before they could take me too. Weren’t long after that that they killed our animals and we lost the farm.

The old herbalist lady could help my brother. If she was still alive. If I could ever find her.

He gasped in a breath, his chest heaving.

“Sh,” I whispered, resting my head on him. He smelled sick. Smelled terrible.

I wished the herbalist was still here. They said Pagans was evil. Bad as Christians. Those Pagans didn’t want to listen to the doctors, didn’t want to use no drugs and medicines, so people said that they weren’t right in the head. Said they all had mental disorders, and should die before they could breed and pass the disorder to everyone else. Pagans is almost as hunted as Christians these days. Nobody’s allowed to talk about magic or witches, and they banned my Pa’s favorite book. But that as back when novels were still allowed. These days, they say novels are lies, and no one should read anything that ain’t government issue.

I fall asleep with my head on my little brother’s chest. I might catch the disease from him, but that ain’t no matter. I don’t see how life’ll ever be the same without my little brother in it. I dream while I’m sleeping there, about a doctor coming with a needle, and jabbing my little brother in the arm. He don’t wake up after that. But I wake up. I wake up screaming. Mama comes running, and wraps her arms around me.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” she murmurs.

“He’s going to die,” I say, my voice all choked.

“Sh, sh. He won’t.” She strokes my hair. “Everything will be all right.”

But I don’t believe her. “He’s going to die!” I repeat, louder. “The drugs don’t work on him! He ain’t gonna survive without those drugs! And if them doctors come, they’ll give him more and that’ll kill him for sure!”

Mama’s face was white. Pa came over then, a sandwich in one hand, gaping at us. I didn’t stop shouting.

“I hate doctors! They just want us all to take their drugs and take more drugs, and they don’t care nothing for little brothers who–who–Mama, he’s going to die!” And I bury my face in Mama’s shoulder, crying, crying so many tears I feel like my eyes might fall out.

A noise comes from the corner. I go all tense and hard, because I know that noise, it’s the noise the Eye makes, and it means someone is coming. I pull away from Mama, and see her staring at Pa, both their eyes wide.

“Mama,” I whimper, tugging at her shirt. I know I’m acting like a little girl, but I don’t care.

“They won’t let us off so easy this time,” Pa says, his voice deadly serious.

Mama nods, and it looks like she’s going to cry. But she doesn’t. She stands, and she puts a hand on my shoulder.

“We’re going to leave now,” she says. She tries to smile, but she can’t, not with the tears leaking from her eyes. “Pack your things. And hurry.”

She doesn’t say it loud. She doesn’t say it fast. But I know I better do what she wants. I run to my room and throw everything into my little pink backpack, my favorite clothes, my notebook, my pencils I use for drawing and sometimes writing. But that’s all in there I care about. Don’t care about none of the old toys. At the last minute I take my yellow teddy bear. When I leave my room, Pa has my little brother strapped to his back, and Mama is wearing another backpack, much bigger than mine. The sound of sirens comes from outside. Them sirens, I’ve heard them before, and they always scare me. It means the Police are coming. Means they’re going to take someone away. Those sirens played before they beat up the old herbalist lady. They’re playing now, as we run out through the back door, and sneak away before the Police cordon can close us in.

We’re on the run now, and it’s all my fault. I said something stupid. I said I hated doctors. They could put you in a Special School for that. It weren’t right. That was hate-speech, that was. But running was kind of exciting.

We might not make it, though. I never known anybody who ran and didn’t get caught.

And my little brother is still dying.

The Color-God

We’re all running.

The thing chasing us is running too. But no one else seems to notice that. It makes me wonder, is it running from something just like we’re running from it? No one thinks of these things but me. I’m strange, that’s one of the few things we can all agree on.

Anyway, we’re running. I look over my shoulder, my long skirt tangling around my legs, and I laugh. It seems so absurd, right then, that we’re all running from such a beautiful thing. It glitters, like the shards of a great stained-glass window, throwing light on the shells of homes. It’s like a god of color, and I can’t make out its form beneath the light. I know it has wings, that the people taken up in the color are never seen again, but I don’t care. I stop, and smile. The water laps at my legs in ever-quicker ripples as the thing gets closer. I spread my arms.

“Hey! Here I am! You’re beautiful!”

“Mara!” someone screams.

I glare over my shoulder, furious at being pulled away from that beautiful thing. “Go away!”

“Are you blind?! It’s a Rainbow Serpent! Run away!” It’s Kevin. He’s always loved me, even though I’m strange. Everyone else thinks he’s strange for loving me, but I like it sometimes.

I sigh. “But I’m so close… it’s so pretty….”

Kevin splashes up to me and grabs my arm. I feel his fingers, cold and hard through my thin shirt, and wish he hadn’t come back for me.

“Kevin…” I whisper.

The color-god comes closer, and I can hear the sound it makes, like the wailing of the wind, so beautiful. I tug against Kevin’s grip, because I’m determined to get to the thing this time, and not even he will stop me.

“Mara! Stop being a fool!” He wraps his arms around me and slings me over his shoulder, taking off at a run.

I stiffen, then let myself go limp and blink at the color-god through the tears that suddenly fill my eyes. I know I can’t escape from Kevin. He’s too big, too strong, and he loves me too. Sometimes I wonder if I love him back or not. Right now, I don’t think I do. I reach out for the thing as he carries me, splashing in the water, through the hulking ruins, and under that vast grey sky. The thing is the only color out here, a thousand times brighter than my faded red skirt and Kevin’s crimson sash. I long for it, but I won’t have it yet. Maybe I should be glad for that. But I want it so much.

We will meet someday, the color-god and I. Of that I am sure. But for now, I let Kevin carry me.

 

~ Lucius