Wednesday, 30th June, 2004, 06:25 PM #121
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
ø Ignore Sialia
I always wrote to my opponent. I work better when it's deeply personal.
I wrote to the judges as well, and random members of the audience that I like.
I'd like people reading my stories to hit moments when they recognize some special "Easter Egg" I've left for them.
My stories were long partly because I am always trying to tell three or more stories at once, but also because there were specific things I wanted to say to certain people in the reading pool. If you were the target, you might come to a moment when you realized that you were being specifically spoken to, or about. If you weren't, it was my hope that you would either miss the reference entirely, or be left with a subtle feeling that there was more to this story, if you could just figure out the key. I love stories that itch with barely told secrets and subtexts.
This is the sort of thing that made Piratecat's spoof of the Iconics great, whereas his Snulap Kpog was just ok. The Iconics, in addition to being funny and fast-paced and well-written (as most of Piratecat's writing is), was full of really personal things. Snulap was all pleasant surface, without much going on as a personal agenda underneath.
I can't tell you how I manage to keep track of my story and a subtext at the same time, excpet that picking a particular member of the audience to tell my story to helps me know how to phrase things. Imagine the difference in how I'd tell the story of the three bears to my daughter versus telling it to Mythago. To my daughter, I'd try to keep it funny, simple, and fairly classic. To Mythago, I'd feel the need to twist the story somehow to make it more interesting and surprising--perhaps Goldilocks would be More Than She Seems, or something. When I know who I'm talking to, it changes what version of the tale I'm going to tell.
So who my opponent is mattered very much. Because no one, not even the judges, will read a story more carefully than someone else who has just had to work the same set of pictures, and is waiting around trying to figure out whether my story is better than his.
I like to make sure the waiting is something of an agony.
I enjoy that.
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Othello's good.Originally Posted by alsih2o
Sialia, I'm impressed that you have that kind of control over the tone and flow of your story. I can sometimes get a story to lean one way or another when I edit, but unfortunately for me, my muse is not one of the gentle, nurturing sorts. The story's there, and I can push it a little, but I can no more tell it to a listener in a particular way than I could turn a bonsai pine into a rosebush.
Macbeth, I got that the guy was supposed to be a creep, and that came across. The rambling, though, sounded less like rambling and more like exposition.
When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended for self-flagellation solely. (Truman Capote)
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
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ø Ignore BSF
Well, that is just a little different than writing to out-perform your competitor. Obviously, you want to write better than your competitor, but it sounds like MarauderX is referring more to attacking a competing writing style. That said, you touch on a wonderful little topic Sialia!Originally Posted by Sialia
Writing to the opponent, or to other (potential) readers, is something I might do as well. I don't always do it, because I am not good enough to always pull it off. When I do pull it off, it makes the story much more satisfying for me. Rainmaker was written with the hopes that a few specific people would read it, and hopefully enjoy it. There were a few things that were intentionally imitative in style in that story. There were a few elements that directly drew from little aspects of people I know. There might have even been some language flow that I thought would pique some interest. It was a deeply personal story, but personal in a manner that most people wouldn't readily identify with me.
In the case of that story, it was down to the semi-finals. My first round story was pretty good and there was more of an underlying message that made it satisfying to write. My second round story was more geared toward decent action. It read a bit like a game session, which is what I ended up going for. But, the only real personal aspect of it was the inclusion red chili and the delicious addictive qualities it has. I like red chili! (If you live in New Mexico, you are familiar with the common quandry: Red or Green. If you aren't familiar with it, feel free to ask. If you are ever out here in Albuquerque, drop me a message and I will introduce you to the quandry.) For Rainmaker, I knew it was the semi-finals and I was running out of angles to use in that tourney. If I were going to go head-to-head with Macbeth, then I had to dig deep. I went personal and pulled in many elements that would turn the story into something deep for me, and perhaps very enjoyable for others. *shrug* So I lost to Macbeth. No big deal. I have a goodly amount of respect for him. He probably didn't appreciate some of the deeper aspects of that story, but then again, they weren't aimed at him. I wanted him to enjoy the contextual layer of the characters and their environments. I have to think he has met people like Jake and Little Bird. I know some of the readers can envision those characters. And, perhaps, some of the readers can envision Auntie and Papa as well.
So yes, I do write to specific people. It can be very satisfying. It is something that you demonstrated to me! In Rojo, I did a little satirical tip of my hat to Piratecat, but there was no subtlety involved with it, just a little laugh. The third round story was much more subtle and was not geared toward a laugh. It was a respectful nod to people I wanted to try to touch.
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Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
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ø Ignore Sialia
Think of it as the difference between how you would explain to your boss how a whole pot of coffee accidentally wound up inside the fax machine, and how you would tell your drinking buddies about the incident years later.Originally Posted by mythago
The events are the same. Whether or not they are funny is a matter of the telling. And the reason the telling is different is because the different audiences want different things from you.
The nice thing about choosing several specific, real people to write to is the distance one gets between the "just the facts" version of what happened, and the myriad ways there are of presenting the good/bad news.
I loved your story with the giraffe because of the disjunction between the narrator's version and what the reader could plainly see was happening. That lovely space between the narrator's voice and the author's voice is a beautiful place to be. The audience the narrator was speaking to was not the same audience that the author was writing to.
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
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Well, not really, I was getting at writing in a reactionary style to what your opponent would be doing, not to attack it necessarily. Would you try for something wilder than your competitor or try something more sly or with insinuation? First person dialogue of a personality or third person tale from a distance? Would you try to out-perform your competitor apples to apples or write an orange to give the judges more flavor? That's more of what I was getting at as opposed to attacking a competitor's writing style.Originally Posted by BardStephenFox
I got to thinking after reading the past competitions that I might change how I tell the story I want depending on who I might be against. Not that the overall events in the story would change, but how I might tell it would vary.
Thanks for the responses so far, it's just good to know, as I haven't read all the other Ceramic DM threads thoroughly.
Last edited by MarauderX; Wednesday, 30th June, 2004 at 10:27 PM.
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If the story is good, it won't matter. Besides which, you're taking a gamble--what if this is the one time your opponent got tired of writing about apples, and (like you) wrote about oranges?
Oh, I understand it; I just can't do it very well. It's a good thing my boss doesn't ask me to write fiction, because I might turn in a drinking-buddy-suitable story instead of a nice, bland narrative about the copy machine.Originally Posted by Sialia
The story with the giraffe in it--there were a few times when I thought it wasn't going to work, because of the question of exactly who the narrator was talking to. But a) he was nuts, so maybe he was talking to himself, and b) he wouldn't shut up anyway, so I went with it.
When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended for self-flagellation solely. (Truman Capote)
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I really like Sialia's explanation. I have a hard time controlling the tone/voice/style of story. I generally manage to force a 3rd person close POV, but that's 'cause I'm anal.
I'll have to keep in mind the comparisons. I don't think about my stories that way. But then, I'm generally writing with the intent to "sell" the piece and that requires a wide audience that I don't know very well. OTOH, maybe I need to choose the audience and that will improve my stories.
Something to ponder.
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
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Good grief people, it's all I can do to get those pictures together, much less worry about my opponets style. With my story unjudged I don't want to get into things too much, but I can say that I don't worry about the opponent. I'll write my story, they'll write theirs. They may be similar or wildly different. I do look forward to seeing how my opponent deals with the same set of pictures I've been struggling with. Not to see if they did it better, but to see how they did it different.
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- Dover, Ohio
ø Ignore Noskov
The Penitent ManOriginally Posted by alsih2o
The waves that morning were some of the best that beach has ever seen. A big storm was heading our way that day and I was not about to miss the good surf that preceded it.
As usual, the beach itself was cluttered with trash and debris from years of neglect. It had been abandoned long ago because of its poor location and conditions. Not too many people come out this way. The water was cold, the surf bad and the hazards plentiful….It was my favorite beach. I came here a lot not only to surf, but also read, swim, or just plain hang out. The lack of people made it the perfect of place for me. Here I could be alone…and alone was my favorite state of being.
The day had started bright and sunny, with fairly large wind gusts. The weather people had been talking about the storm for days now and I woke up early hoping to find some nice waves on my beach. I was not to be disappointed. By the time I arrived at the beach, the surf was perfect. I swam out and caught a mammoth and rode it all the way to the shore. After going non stop for about two hours, my stomach started showing signs of discontent. I looked out to the see and saw the glower of the storm approaching fast and decided I should head in after then next wave.
I prepared myself for the next ride as the water started surging up. I moved into position and was about to pick up the wave when I saw large silhouette in the water. I had already stood up on my board before I made out what I was looking at. The sudden realization that an 8ft-10ft shark was directly below me threw me off my board and into the now deadly, swirling water. Cursing my bad luck and debating whether becoming religious for the next few minutes would violate my personal convictions; I began to try and swim back to the shore.
The undertow was hard and the current strong. I don’t remember the swim back to shore, but I do remember waking up with my face in the dirty sand of the beach. I now question whether I just didn’t see him earlier, or if he just appeared, but when I looked up I found a man standing in front of me.
He was very well dressed for someone strolling along a beach before a storm…particularly this beach and before this storm.
Most sensible people would have left the beaches by now.
The gale had started rolling in faster then before and would be on top of us within the hour. The wind was picking up and I was starting to realize that the long walk back to my house was not going to be fun in this weather.
The man looked at me inquisitively, as though trying to figure out if he had met me before. I got up and made for my belongings and began to strip my wetsuit off. He approached, squinting at me to keep the blowing sand out of his eyes. He was wearing dress shoes and a very fine, silk robe over a white button up shirt and pleated dress pants. The wind was blowing his robe so hard it looked as though it was going to rip right away from his shoulders. His salt and pepper hair was cut short except where he had combed it over his large bald spot. The look of his hair blowing in the wind would probably have been funny if he was not catering such a serious look about him.
“You should come with me.” He said.
I thought for a minute and wondered if I knew him. I even considered that I may be on some reality prank show, or that maybe this guy was some kind of pervert trying to get his kicks in for the day…but something was odd about him. He was very serious and grim. He seemed so old and frail that the wind would carry him away, but he stood there, motionless, like a statue, against it, his clothes flapping so violently I wondered how much longer the stitches were going to hold.
“I’m not interested.” I said flatly, standing up to leave.
“I can answer your questions.” He retorted.
“I don’t have any questions that you can answer, old man.” I laughed back.
“I can tell you that it was a dolphin and not a shark that scared you into the water.”
“So,” I shrugged. “Look you crazy bastard, I’m getting the hell out of here and you should too. This storm is about to come down on us and when it does, I’m not going to be saving your ass. Now…” I could feel the rage boiling up inside me.
“What if I told you that I know that you have murdered thirteen people.”
Now he had my attention.
I was four when I moved here with my father. My mom had gained custody of us after their divorce, but dad could never be one-upped. He stole me and my brother away to this wretched town where we tried to start new lives. It didn’t take long after getting here and my father was right back where he left off. He jumped from job to job and what little money he made, he spent on drugs and hookers. On rare occasion, he would bring some food home and my brother and I made due on our own. Sometimes we would go for weeks without ever seeing our father.
I shouldn’t really say my brother and I made due. Really, it was just me. Lonnie was retarded. He had been beaten several times by my father as an infant and the doctors even thought at one point that he wasn’t going to survive. I don’t know how I managed to get through without the same problems, I surely wasn’t spared the beatings, but I did.
It was during one of my father’s longer romps with an out of town whore that I killed Lonnie.
For days he had been running through the house, yelling about his stomach hurting and being hungry. I had told him that dad should be home shortly and to chew on the leather shoe I gave him in the meantime. Lonnie hated that damn shoe, but he’d sit there and chew on it just the same, just to try and curb the hunger.
After finally calming Lonnie down a bit, I snuck away to eat one of the cans of tuna I stashed for myself. Using the can opener I found in the dump, I proceeded to remove the top and prepared for my feast.
The wind must have been against me that day because Lonnie smelled what I was eating. Like a mad bull he stomped into my room and started screaming frantically. I could not understand a word he was saying but he was definitely going for my tuna. I tried to stop him and tell him that the tuna was mine, but he would not listen. He grabbed the can from me and turned to start eating it, telling me “bad brother, bad. You share.”
Poor Lonnie, it wasn’t really his fault. He just didn’t understand
The rage came over me like fire over a dry hayfield. A haze of anger and bloodlust fogged my vision as I instinctively grabbed the tuna lid and began to thrash at Lonnie with it. The first slash cut him deep on his back over his shoulder blade. He turned, looking at me like a puppy being disciplined for the first time as I cut him again, this time slicing open his face. The swings came faster and easier. He was screaming for me to stop, but I would not tolerate his incompetence and selfishness anymore. He needed to die. It was survival of the species and he was at the back of the pack. I cut, sliced and slashed until my arms were too tired to go on. Lonnie had been quiet for a while and I figured he was dead. I leaned down to try and hear if he was breathing and to my surprise, he spoke to me.
“Why you hurt me, brother?”
I took the tuna lid, held his mouth and cut his throat.
The cuts on my hand from the tuna lid were starting to burn. I began to tear away some of Lonnie’s clothes to bandage them when I heard the door slam. Dad was home.
I knew dad would be pretty mad about Lonnie, so I jumped to action. Not wanting to cut up my hands anymore on the tuna lid, I grabbed the can opener. The handles doubled as bottle openers and should be able to do some damage as long as I could get the drop on him.
As my father drunkenly rampaged through the house, I hid under the moldy mattress near the door and waited for him to find the body. When he entered the room, he screamed out Lonnie’s name and ran to the body. He was yelling and screaming trying to get Lonnie to respond as I snuck up behind him. I studied him for a second and wondered if I should really go through with it. Then I thought about Lonnie.
It was his fault Lonnie was retarded and was too stupid to live. He deserved to die for what he made me do to Lonnie.
As he sat there holding Lonnie to him, I suddenly yelled out behind him.
“DAD!” I yelled.
He spun around and looked at me with wide eyed curiosity. His drunken state made him a little slow to notice my arm swinging back. It was as I was coming down on him that he finally started to yell.
The can opener handles entered his eye sockets and penetrated into his brain. He screamed for a second and lunged at me, but could only thrash about on the floor the next few minutes while I pounded on him with his lunch box until he died.
After my brother and my dad, the killings got a lot easier….even fun. I decided it was my job to trim the fat of the world. I didn’t do this actively, mind you, just if I deemed someone I met and who was around me a lot not worthy of living.
A sudden flash of lightning and roar of thunder shook me out of my euphoric reverie.
The old man stood there, grim and serious. I smiled and said to him.
“Okay, old man, I’ll play your game. What do you want?”
“First,” he said, “we need to get out of this weather.”
He walked towards the woods at the top of the beach and motioned for me to follow. I grabbed my backpack and started in the direction he headed.
The old man talked to me the whole time we walked in the woods. Most of his conversations were about my victims and the murders I had committed. I ran through the details with him openly, knowing I was going to kill him soon too anyway. He was very curious about my brother and what had happened to him, which was a subject I was not particularly happy to talk about. Lonnie was probably the only person I killed that I thought got a bum wrap. He was only stupid because my dad made him that way. I didn’t feel remorse or guilt about killing him, but I did think it unfair that he had to die without truly knowing why.
I was rattling off questions to the man’s unstoppable questions and thinking about which of my knives I was going to use to cut the old man up when it suddenly occurred to me that I had never, in all my years living here and coming to this beach, been in this woods until now.
I considered for a moment if the old man had some kind of trap in store for me. In all my years of killing people, I had never even been questioned by the police or anyone about my victims. The fact the old man knew so much about me and had better knowledge of the terrain and where we were made worry a bit. I decided it was time to kill him.
We were deep into the woods for when the old man finally slowed down. The storm that was coming on so strong before seemed unable to penetrate the dense woods. Truly, by the time we had stopped, you would have thought it was a nice day.
“I know its right around here. Just wait, I’ll be right back,”
The old man wandered off mumbling to himself about landmarks and directions as I took my pack off my back. I opened it up to find the blade I had decided upon earlier when I heard the man yell.
“Yes, I’ve found it! Come quick!”
I held the knife behind my back and walked to where the old man called from. When I got there I saw an immense hole in the ground. There were two repelling ropes leading into the hole and a harness lying on the ground.
“Quickly!” I heard from inside the cavern.
The old man was already strapped in a harness and on his way down the first rope. The thought crossed my mind to just cut his rope and get out of here, but it was not my style. This guy knew a lot about me and I wanted to make sure he was dead….and I was going to enjoy doing it.
I strapped on the harness and started down the rope after the old man. I tried to keep up with him, but he was moving faster then I thought possible. When I finally reached the bottom he was already heading off, deeper into the cave toward a cavern that clanged with the sound of metal striking rock.
Having reached the limit of my patience, I yelled to him. “I’ve had enough old man. I am going to leave if you don’t tell me why you brought me here.”
There was no response, just the rhythmic clanging coming from down the corridor.
Knowing that the old man knew too much and that I could not leave until I killed him, I headed down the cavern toward the noise.
As I rounded a corner of the cavern I saw the old man, standing on the far side of an enormous, hollowed out tunnel. The tunnel was dotted with hundreds of piles of rocks all rounded into perfect spheres of all different sizes. Near the old man was a much larger pile of stones. These ones had not been chiseled. They were of all shapes and sizes and must have numbered in the hundreds or thousands, if not millions. Sitting in a wooden chair in front of the old man was the source of the clamor. There, a teenaged boy sat with a rock hammer in one hand and a large stone in the other. He was chipping away at the stone, rounding it out and chiseling it into a sphere.
I moved in closer to corner the old man when the boy looked up at me.
I dropped my knife.
There in the chair sat Lonnie. His face and body were scarred from the tuna can lid I used so long ago to murder him. He was ghostly pale and looked the same age he did the day I killed him.
Lonnie looked at me and smiled in the sheepish way he always did. It was the smile of an innocent, the kind of smile that knows no evil.
The old man interjected. “Lonnie has been waiting for you.”
The old man’s voice shook me back to my senses. I quickly grabbed the knife from the ground and held it menacingly.
“What is this?” I asked, my voice sounding much more frantic then I would have liked it to.
“This is your penance.” The old man said.
He patted Lonnie softly on the shoulder.
“For sixteen years your brother has sat here chiseling away at these rocks. He did it because he wanted you to be with him.”
“However, in order to spare a heart as foul and contemptuous as yours, he had to serve penance.”
My head began to swim. What was going on?
I decided it was time to get the hell out of here. I’ll have to worry about killing the old man later. Right now, it was time to beat a hasty retreat. I swiftly turned to run out of the cavern and began to run when I was viciously pulled backward. The violence of the pull had forced my feet out in front of me and I landed on the cavern floor with a thud.
“Lonnie’s penance for saving a murderous savage like you was to carve these stones into perfect spheres, each sphere representing just one of the tears he cried as you viciously butchered him.”
“What are you talking about?” I screamed. “Lonnie is dead!”
“So are you.”
“What!” Obviously, I must be having a nightmare, I thought.
“When you fell into that water, you drowned sir. You are dead and now you must pay your penance.”
“You can’t make me!” I shouted.
“Certainly not, but seeing as how you have eternity to spare, you will not have much better to do. Lonnie has done his part and given you the choice to stay with him, or return to where you were supposed to go. That choice is now up to you, but you must first serve your penance. Once you serve your penance, you may make your decision. Until then, you will sit here, in this chair.”
I thrust my face into my hands and rubbed violently, this can’t be real. As I looked back up, I saw Lonnie and the old man standing where I once was. Around my wrists are shackles and I’m not sitting in the chair that Lonnie was in when I arrived.
Exhaustion came over me and I decided that if I were not going to wake anytime soon, I may as well play along.
“Okay,” I said “and how many spheres do I need to carve?”
“One for each drop of blood you’ve spilled.”
“That’s insane! That would take forever!” I exclaimed.
“No, not forever, but certainly a long time.”
The old man turned on his heel and began walking away. After a few steps, he stopped and said softly “Come on Lonnie.”
Lonnie had been sitting on one of the piles of spheres he carved eating voraciously. At the old man’s beckon, he jumped up and dropped what he was eating. After a few seconds, the two disappeared into the darkness of the cavern.
I sat there and tried to process everything that just happened. As I contemplated the things I was going to do to the old man once I figured out how to get out of here, a strong, familiar scent struck me.
“What is that?” I wondered as I strained to see what it was that Lonnie had dropped on the floor when he left.
On the floor sat a can of tuna.
"You think there is a magic pixie that came from nowhere, made the universe, then tortures people eternally for not believing in it, because it loves them? Does that sum it up?" [Steve Knight]
Scout (Lvl 6)
- Join Date
- Feb 2002
- Washington, DC
ø Ignore Rodrigo Istalindir
Rodrigo -- Round 1
Images and a .pdf attached. Never tried formatting a post this big, so we'll see what I get.
The girl scrambled up the beach, racing ahead of her father who trudged slowly behind. Although he was by all appearances a young man, he moved slowly, and keeping up with his daughter was draining what little strength he had left. Not that it wouldn't have been exhausting anyway, he thought, if the other parents in the tiny sea-side village were any indication. The energy possessed by children was as limitless as the ocean.
Simon's head whipped up, reflexively scanning the beach for danger. He caught sight of his daughter near the shoreline. She waved excitedly to him before turning her attention back to something buried in the sand. He kept his steady pace, wondering what she had found.
"Careful, careful, don't step on them. They are not as tough as they look." He admonished.
Just above the high-tide mark, a small pit had been dug in the sand. Inside, partially buried, lay dozens of sea turtle eggs, each the size of his fist. Their thick shells were still slightly flexible. Another hour and they'd harden, but if they were handled carelessly now they'd tear. He opened the sack he'd been carrying and gently started filling it with eggs. (See picture #1)
"Only half, right, father?" she asked. "So that next year there will be more turtles."
"That's right, Sarenne. Even if all of these eggs hatched, most of the baby turtles would never live to be grown-up turtles."
He knew that leaving half the eggs behind was the right thing to do, but still he hesitated. The sea's bounty had been withheld from the village these last few weeks, and already there were fearful murmurs of famine and starvation. He stood with a sigh, and cradled the egg-filled bundle in his arms.
"Take the shovel and cover them up. Others will find them if we don't, and they'll not leave any for next year"
Simon turned and headed back up the beach. Sarenne quickly covered the eggs with warm sand, and camouflaged the nest with seaweed. She then sprinted after her father, catching him before he'd gotten back to the edge of the jungle.
That night, stomachs full on fried turtle eggs, father and daughter sat outside their small wooden shack and listened to the nearby surf. The night was clear, the moon a day past full, the sand on the beach looking almost like snow in the moonlight. Sarenne yawned, the long day finally catching up with her.
"Tell me about my mother again," she asked her father.
Her father smiled wistfully. Sarenne asked about her mother often, not knowing how much sadness it caused him.
"She was the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen," he began, "and the fastest swimmer in the village. A fine fisher, too; she could almost talk the fish into jumping into her nets."
"I couldn't believe my fortune, when she chose me to be her husband. All the other men in the village were jealous. We built our home hear, as near the ocean as we could be, and we fished and swam and were very happy. We thought things couldn't get any better, and then you came along. We were blessed, but such joy cannot last forever, and often commands a high price when it departs"
"Your mother never feared the ocean, but the one thing you must never do is forget how cruel and merciless the sea can be. One day, she took our small skiff out to try and catch some fish that were running ahead of a storm. The squall moved more quickly than I'd ever seen. It caught her far from shore, and the little boat never stood a chance. The next day bits of it washed up on shore, but I never saw your mother again."
He looked over at his daughter. Some nights when he told this story she would cry, some nights she would become angry and curse the ocean for taking her mother away. Tonight, however, she slept.
Simon half-regretted leaving so many of those turtle eggs behind. It was becoming harder and harder to find food. The weather refused to cooperate with the fishermen. One day the storms would sweep to certain death anyone foolish enough to put to sea, the next winds so still that the sails of the skiffs dangled lifelessly. What had begun as good-natured grumbling about the fickleness of Mother Ocean turned to first to half-heard curses and now to the first stirrings of genuine fear. Agriculture was all but impossible on the sandy island, and the fruit-bearing trees and bushes were being stripped clean.
He and Sarenne had eaten well enough, but now the turtle eggs were nearly gone. He sent Sarenne to forage among the trees along the beach. Her small size allowed her to reach the topmost branches. Hopefully she would find something edible that had been overlooked by the older, heavier villagers. While she climbed, he floated in the water astride a board, spear in hand. A small cantalo fish, barely a foot long, swum into view. In better times it wouldn't have merited the effort required to spear it, but it was food, and that was all that mattered. He raised his spear to strike, careful not to move his legs and spook the fish. It circled just out of reach, unsure if his partially submerged body was a threat, or merely an interesting form of plant life. It edged forward, almost close enough.
A sudden splashing sound startled the cantalo as he lunged with the spear. He looked up to see what had caused the noise, and was stunned to see a large patch of roiling water. It was a ways off, but moving rapidly towards him. He froze, unsure if he should flee the water or wait to see what the disturbance was. As it approached he realized it was dozens, maybe hundreds of cantalo fish leaping and splashing, the entire mass moving as one towards the shallows where he fished.
Clearly a large predator was driving the fish towards the beach. Where he floated the water wasn't very deep; it was unlikely that anything big enough to make the cantalo react that way would swim this close to shore. He readied his spear as the school approached, silently cursing that he'd brought the spear instead of the net.
"Sarenne!" he called out, "Come quick."
Sarenne heard her father shout, and quickly lept from the tree she'd been climbing. She tumbled nimbly as she hit the ground, and sprinted towards the shore. She could tell by the tone of his voice that he wasn't in danger, so he must have found something interesting, she reasoned. She could see him in the water, spear held high, a large, wriggling fish impaled on the end. Her father saw her running towards the water, and he flipped the fish off of the spear so Sarenne could drag it to the beach. Working frantically, he speared fish after fish, tossing them to Sarenne in one smooth motion, then seeking out his next target. All too quickly, the school turned parallel to the beach and sped away. He snagged one last straggler, then, exhausted by the sudden burst of activity, he moved towards land. There were at dozen fish in a pile on the sand, some still feebly flipping and flopping about.
Simon shook the last fish off of the end of his spear, then turned and looked at the cantalo as they moved up the beach. A moment later, all signs of the school disappeared, the fish scattering in all directions. He turned his gaze back to the sea, and saw what had been pursuing the school. (See picture #2)
"Run back to the house, Sarenne, and bring the net. We'll fill it with the fish and drag them back in one trip."
An hour later, Simon walked along the trail that led from his home to the village. He carried a sturdy pole across his shoulders, six of the largest cantalo hanging from it, strings running through their gills. He'd left Sarenne back home to salt the rest of the fish. If they were careful, the fish, remaining turtle eggs, and the fruit his daughter had picked from the trees would feed them both for a couple of weeks. Maybe the others had been as fortunate as he, and everyone could stop worrying about their next meal. Fisherfolk were a superstitious lot, and the recent bad times had them looking for something or someone to blame.
He heard the crowd before he saw them. The men of the village were gathered close together in the center of the village, their wives looking on from doorways. The voices of the men were raised in anger. Simon stopped a short distance away, not quite hiding, but not announcing his presence. The good mood he'd felt from being able to share the morning's catch turned sour, and he started to worry. Clearly the others had not had the same luck, and his gift might not be well received.
"It's a monster," he heard, "not a normal shark. No one has ever seen one that big. It has been eating all our fish."
"Nonsense" one of the other men replied, "Even that beast couldn't eat all the fish in the sea. "
"Maybe, maybe not, but it would certainly scare away what it didn't eat."
"But why has it stayed so long? Why hasn't it followed the big schools, and moved on?" said one of the older men. "It's been weeks since the fish disappeared."
"It's a curse."
All talk ceased abruptly as the village elder approached. At the mention of a curse, several of the more superstitious villagers sketched a symbol in the air, attempting to ward off whatever evil might have been nearby. The elder looked at each man in turn, though several lowered their gaze. Simon slowly backed away, hoping no one would notice him or his brace of fish.
"Simon? Where are you going?" the elder inquired, his tone level but laden with accusation. "And how, pray tell, did you manage to catch so many fish when the entire village came home empty handed?"
The gaze of the crowd upon him, Simon stopped in his tracks.
"I caught them on the north beach." he said. "Something spooked the school, made them run at the shore. I speared all I could, and brought these to share."
Simon hoped the elder would leave it at that, but he was soon disappointed.
"And how many did you catch?" the elder asked.
"A dozen." Simon replied.
"A dozen. And you keep half for two to eat, but expect the other half to feed the rest of us?"
"Half is fair." Simon was starting to get angry. He was bringing them a gift, and yet he was being accused as if he were a thief stealing food. "I've a child to feed, same as many of you. Would you have her starve?"
The elder ignored his question. "And what exactly scared the fish into your arms? Why does Mother Ocean favor you, while she spurns the rest of us?"
Simon handed the brace of fish to one of the women standing nearby.
"I brought these to share with you all, and I'd hoped that you had the good fortune that I did. As I have always done, I will share what I can. But I cannot starve my own child, nor can I explain why these fish chose to swim to me. Do not let fear and superstition take hold here."
Simon turned and headed back towards home. Behind him, the men resumed arguing, but he couldn't tell what they were saying. Another few steps, and their voices faded completely.
That night, after Sarenne had gone to sleep, Simon walked the short distance from their home to the beach. He sat just above the waterline, letting his bare feet be teased by the approaching and retreating surf. The moon was near full again, and it reflected upon the ocean like a lightning bolt frozen in time. He had lied to the villagers earlier, when he'd said he didn't know why the fish swam towards him. The fact that the shark had chased the fish towards him could have been coincidence, but if it was scaring the fish away from everyone else...
A loud splash shook him from his reverie. He looked up in time to see a large fin break the water, silhouetted against the silvery moonlight. It was huge; he had only ever seen one shark with a dorsal fin almost as tall as a man. And with a chill, he knew why the fish were fleeing from all save him. He stood, waded without hesitation into the water until it reached his chest, and then swam out to deeper water..
A fast object moving nearby nudged him closer to shore, and he flinched despite himself. Still, tread water and waited. Twice more the beast swam by, twice more he was pushed back, until he could almost touch bottom. Finally, it approached directly, this time swimming near the surface before diving. A moment later, a human head, a woman's head, broke the water in front of him.
"Calliya" he breathed. "You've come back."
They sat on the shore, Simon's arm around his wife, her head resting on his shoulder.
"I know I shouldn't have come back so soon. I just couldn't wait any longer. I've missed you and Sarenne so much." Calliya whispered.
"And I've missed you, every day. Not being able to tell Sarenne why you left has made me miserable. But you can't stay. You are scaring away all the fish. The village is on the verge of starvation." Simon said.
"But I've brought you food. I made sure you would find those turtle eggs, and the cantalo. I tried to herd a school towards the boats, but they panicked as soon as they saw me and fled."
"I know, and I'm grateful. But you know how these people are. They are suspicious. I doubt they'd ever guess the truth, but when they saw those fish today, half of them were ready to make a sacrifice of me."
"Wouldn't they be in for a surprise if they tried!" she laughed. "We adaru don't sacrifice easily."
"No, but think of Sarenne. She won't be safe until she's older."
The mere thought of anything happening to their daughter quieted them. A female were-shark couldn't conceive from a human male, but should she become pregnant by another adaru while in human form, she was stuck that way until she gave birth. The offspring would be indistinguishable from a pure human until puberty.
"Soon, though, she will. I'll be in the sea, waiting to welcome her and celebrate with her the first time she changes." Calliya said. "And welcome you back as well. I hope you know how much I appreciate what you've done for me, and for Sarenne."
"I do know, and I've never regretted it. Someone had to stay with here until it was time. If we'd both stayed, we'd have both been miserable. Not to mention twice as likely to be discovered."
Simon sighed. "You should go. It wouldn't do me any good to have someone see me talking to a ghost. Especially now."
"Can I see her, before I go? Just for a moment." Calliya asked.
"Just for a moment. Let me make sure she's still asleep first."
Simon went into his house while Calliya waited in the shadows. A moment later, Simon beckoned her inside. Calliya stood silently, gazing upon the daughter she had not seen for many years.
A few minutes later, Simon and Calliya left the hut and walked back to the water's edge. The embraced, each drawing strength from the other and the knowledge that they would someday reunite. Calliya turned and ran into the sea, diving into the breakers and disappearing beneath the waves. Simon watched until he saw a fin slice the surface, then walked back up the beach and went inside. The tall figure watching from the shadows stood motionless for several minutes before it too vanished.
Simon awoke to the sound of Sarenne screaming. He leapt to his feet and was almost overcome by an acrid smoke that seared his lungs and burned his eyes. He dropped to all fours and scrambled towards the sound of his daughter's voice. The walls were engulfed in flames, and the roof was starting to catch as well. He grabbed Sarenne, wrapped his arms around her, and charged towards the door. It shattered into flaming fragments. Strong hands pulled him to his feet and he felt Sarenne being ripped from his grasp.
"Adaru! Adaru!" a multitude of voices cried out, and for the first time, Simon was truly afraid.
He tensed, calling upon the strength and savagery of his other form for the first time in years. He shook off the men restraining him and started towards those holding the girl. He felt a something strike his back, a knife blade deflected by his thickening skin. The village elder stepped in front of Sarenne, hand raised to strike. Simon smiled, the elder blanching when he saw the razor sharp teeth that filled the father's mouth. The elder's hand slashed towards Simon's face.
Simon realized a moment too late why the elder struck with his fist instead of a blade. As the fist sped towards his face, Simon saw that it was entwined in leather thongs, and studded with sharp, silver spikes. The cruel cestus raked his cheek, tearing his flesh like paper. Blood coursed from his ruined face, and he fell to one knee. A second strike to the back of the head felled him, and he saw Sarenne being dragged into the jungle as the darkness took him. (See picture 3)
When he regained consciousness, the clearing was empty, and his home still burned brightly. He staggered to his feet, the pain from the ragged furrows in his face nearly unbearable. Only his fear for his daughter's life kept him upright. He staggered across the beach and dove into the ocean. The cool saltwater eased the burning, and in a flash he completed the transformation he'd started earlier. Where moments before there had been a wounded man now swam a leviathan, a beast nearly unmatched in power and ferocity. He sensed a giant sea turtle nearby, perhaps the same one that had laid the eggs that he and Sarenne had feasted upon. With a powerful swipe of his tail, he sped towards it. The doomed turtle sensed his approach too late, and with a motion made crueler by its casual nature, tore the hapless animal in half. Its blood stained the sea, and he circled, the turtle twitching in its death throes and slowly sinking to the bottom. He didn't have to wait long. Within minutes, drawn by the blood, Calliya appeared. Husband and wife transformed again and tread water on the surface.
"You must come. They've taken Sarenne."
Calliya could tell that Simon was in great pain, and in the light coming from the rising sun she could see the terrible wounds inflicted upon him. As one, the pair hurried ashore and into the jungle.
With no regard for caution or stealth, they charged along the path towards the village. They got there expecting a mob, but it was deserted.
"I know where they've taken her. There is a pit deeper into the jungle. In times past, they've thrown criminals in there, and deformed children, and the bodies of those who died in disgrace and were deemed unworthy of being returned to Mother Ocean. We must hurry."
Running into the jungle, Simon hoped he could remember the way. It had been several years since anyone had been thrown in the pit, and even then he had just followed the others. Fortunately, it was easy to follow the broken branches and trampled underbrush left by the villagers. They heard the mob before they saw it, and finally reason returned to them. They crept forward cautiously. The crowd was moving back down the path, heading home. Simon and Calliya hid and waited for them to pass. Sarenne was not with them.
As soon as the coast was clear, the pair moved on. They approached the edge of the pit and peered over the edge. It was dark this deep in the jungle, and the light that filtered through the trees didn't penetrate far into the gaping maw in the ground. Working quickly, they fashioned rope out of vines, and descended into the depths. They knew that the only way Sarenne could have survived being thrown in the pit was if her adaru blood had started to awaken. (See picture #4)
Down they went, passing the skeletal remains of bodies that had been impaled on rocky outcroppings. They reached the bottom of the pit, and peered into the darkness. Simon felt a brief moment of hope, for the bottom of the pit was filled waist-deep with water. Salt water, he realized.
Calliya saw her first, and her cries of despair echoed throughout the abyss. Simon went to his wife, and wept when he saw the body of his daughter, floating, face turned skyward, gazing sightlessly at the small patch of sky visible through the trees.
They stood for what seemed like hours, unable to believe what had happened. Finally, Simon picked up the small child's body and gently tied one of the vine ropes around her.
"We'll climb up and pull Sarenne to the surface. We'll take her back to the ocean." Simon whispered.
Shadows moved across the water. Simon looked up, and saw the village elder crouching near the edge of the pit. Raged flooded his veins, and Simon began climbing the rope hand-over-hand. The elder watched for a moment, and then with a single motion slashed the vines holding Simon and Sarenne. He saw the splash as Simon hit the water, then stood and walked back into the jungle without a word.
Simon surfaced, and returned to his wife. Calliya knelt in the water, cradling Sarenne.
"What will we do?" she asked. "How will we get out?"
Simon paused for a moment, his enhanced senses feeling the ebb and flow of the water, tasting the salinity.
"This is saltwater, and I can feel the tide coming in. There must be a passage to the ocean."
Simon waded to the far side of the pit, the water getting deeper until it was nearly up to his chin. Without a word dipped below the surface and shifted. Calliya waited, knowing that if there was a way out, Simon would find it. She sensed his return, and then she too changed, and gently grasped took Sarenne's body with her mouth. She followed Simon down the tunnel he had found.
A few minutes later, they could feel the ocean surging up the tunnel, and they struggled for a moment against the current. Then they were clear, the claustrophobic confines of the tunnel left behind for the vast deep. They swam out to a shipwreck, a schooner that had sunk in hurricane years ago, and Calliya gently pushed Sarenne's body through a gaping hole in the side. They knew it wouldn't be long before the denizens of the sea discovered her, but they couldn't bear to just let her float away.
Having done what little they could, the two giant sharks cruised slowly through the water. In the distance, Simon felt the frantic motion of a large school of fish. With one obsidian orb, he looked at Calliya, and she knew what he was thinking. Almost as one, they sped towards the mass of fish, driving it towards the island. The fish would be coming back to the island, and where the fish went, the fishermen and their boats would soon appear.
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