I glared at the book on my floor. This is all your fault, I said, wanting to kick it, but remembering that would probably cost me even more money than simply returning it overdue. I had been avoiding returning the book for about three weeks now. Three weeks, and yet, I still hadn't even cracked it open. All it was now was a constant reminder. A reminder of a promise I had failed to keep.
"Read it, you'll like it," She had said, tossing the novel at me before I could say no. I nearly juggled to catch it, snapping the hefty tome out of the air before it hit the ground, wincing at the loud clap accompanying the cover as it slammed shut against my sweaty palm.
"I don't know," I said, trying to avoid the stares of a few people who had looked up in my direction, tucking it under my arm as if I could hide it, wishing I could hide too.
I couldn't even keep eye contact with her. Especially not her. Not now. Not when my face was so red that it burned. I tightened my backpack strap, fiddling with the loop at the end of the strap. I wrapped it tightly around my fingers until it pinched sharply. I could feel her eyes on me, and I wasn't sure what to say. What do you say?
"Come on," she pleaded, "Please read it? I know you'll really enjoy it! I promise!"
"I promise," I said, before realizing I was only half paying attention and I had just simply repeated what she had said. I was about to take it back but then--
"That's the spirit!" Her hand brushed against my arm and I froze in place. "I know the first few chapters are slow, but trust me, once you get halfway, you won't be able to sleep until the end! It's a page turner!"
There was a certain conviction in her voice. She made you want to believe. She was like that. When I was around her, I wanted to believe in a lot of things. But the one thing I couldn't believe in was myself.
And now, as I picked up the book, I understood why. I held the open book in my hands as a tear dribbled down my cheek. I hurriedly tried to keep it from hitting the pages, but it was too late. The tear splashed down, instantly bleeding through the worn page that had been likely turned by many hands before mine. I picked up the page and noticed it had bled through to the next page as well. A few of the words were blurry.
I hurriedly pressed my shirt against it without thinking and gasped when the page tore.
That was all it took for me to really let go.
When I finished, I had to use a few tissues to wipe the snot and tears from the plastic dust jacket covering the novel, feeling more disgusted with myself than ever before. This book was tearing me apart.
I couldn't just let it sit here. If I didn't take it back, I would never be able to check out anything else from the library, and I needed to check out books for my classes. If I put it off any longer they may as well think I've stolen it! Then what would happen? Could you get expelled for something like that? I didn't know for sure, but my first thought was using the book as a pillow while living out of a cardboard box and that made me make up my mind.
I shoved it hurriedly in my backpack and left the dorm behind. There was no turning back now. I would have to own up to it. One way or another. Good or bad, I just couldn't take it anymore. I was going to get rid of it, and pay whatever I owed, even if it meant a few less meals for the month.
I began to lose my nerve the moment I caught sight of her, sitting behind the counter. My backpack suddenly felt heavy and my stomach felt bloated and tight - like it could burst like a balloon.
I almost turned to leave when she looked up, grinning when she saw me. Why, oh why me? Her hand absently pushed a stray long of long blonde hair behind her ear, her fingers tracing down her neck.
She mouthed my name and I knew I had to go. My feet almost moved robotically, propelling me to the checkout desk. I couldn't look at her though and pulled the book out of my bag, placing it gently on the table.
"You must have really liked it!" she whispered, "That's what happened to me too!"
She beeped it with her scanning wand and grimaced a bit at the computer screen beside her, "But it is late. You maxed it out. Would you like to pay the fee now or later?"
"S-sure," I said, fishing out my wallet, hearing every tiny rip as I peeled the velcro apart. It sounded like snapping firecrackers in the silence of the library.
"Eight dollars," she said holding out her hand.
I gave her my student ID and she scanned it, beeping again. She then took the book and set it on a rolling cart behind her. I was glad she couldn't see the relief on my face. Only eight? I thought it was at least three times that, if not more.
"All right, that takes care of it. Your account is reinstated so you can check out any media you like again."
When she turned back she had a sympathetic smile on her face, as if to say that she knew how I was feeling and it wasn't a big deal. But this was a big deal to me. It was a very big deal, and when I saw how kind she was being in spite of everything, I mumbled out what I had been keeping in for so long.
"I didn't read it..."
She tilted her head slightly, trying to heard what I had said.
I spoke a little louder, but not loud enough to draw attention. "I'm sorry. I just... I thought about reading it a lot, but I never got around to it," and then the words began to flow, running like a waterfall, "I keep putting it off and then it was collecting dust on the floor and then I realized it was due and then I couldn't, because I hadn't, and I thought you would be... So I just said I would hold onto it another week and then... Now it's today and I..."
I had finally run out of words to tell her and my gaze fell to the desk. I didn't realize I was gripping it so hard with my hands, leaning on it for support. I could feel tears rising in my eyes, but I knew I couldn't hold them back this time. I was done.
"Hey, are you okay?" I heard her voice ask as I saw her hand reaching out to mine. Her touch was so gentle. I couldn't look at her and simply gazed at her long fingers. That's when I noticed her painted nails had what looked like tiny pages of words on them and somehow that made it even worse. I took in my breath sharply and turned to leave, my face burning like someone had thrown acid on it. I just wanted to go. I could check out digital books, but I would never show my face here again.
I pulled away and began to walk, my eyes fixed on the blurry carpet in front of me as I blindly made my way to the doors. Within moments I had pushed outside and a refreshing winter wind cooled my cheeks. I placed my hand on a rail when she appeared in front of me, blocking my way.
"Hey!" She had the book in her hands. The book I had been trying so desperately to get rid of. It was the last thing I wanted to see.
"Hey, it's okay, you can borrow my copy!" She offered it.
I looked down at it. I realized this wasn't the hardcover one I had returned. This copy was a paperback with the same cover, but old and worn, the spine had the tell-tale creases that indicated it had been opened and closed many times, shoved onto shelves and into bags and set down just about everywhere.
I shook my head, "No, I'll forget to read it again... Besides, this is yours."
"Then you can have it! I'll buy another from the used book store. Then there's no pressure!"
I really did want to read it. I looked at it again. I began to remember what she had told me about it.
"You shouldn't feel bad about not reading it," she continued, "I shouldn't have asked you to read it over midterms, for one thing!"
I managed a bit of a smile and that seemed to cheer her up even more. She took my hand and placed the book in it, pressing her hand on top. I wondered if she painted those nails herself or if they were stickers she put on top. Maybe they were actual pages... My mind began to drift.
"Please, unless you don't want to read it, then that's fine. But I don't want you to miss out because it's worrying you. So no worries with this copy okay? It's yours."
"I couldn't possibly..."
"You absolutely, possibly can!" She said brightly. "I want you to have it."
"But," she said, "You don't have to read it! I just want you to know that it's okay, all right? I know you've been under a lot of pressure lately and... Well, I recommended this because I thought it would help you escape from all the chaos around here. But if reading it is stressing you out, then you don't have to right now."
"No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be so pushy! I do that a lot. I'm sorry I made you upset."
"You didn't, it's just... classes, I guess. Pressure."
"I've seen you check out some manga, do you like anime too?"
That had been several weeks ago. I couldn't believe she remembered that far back. I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch.
"Rurouni Kenshin, right? It's a classic."
"Yeah, that's right."
"Have you seen Cowboy Bebop?"
"Uh... No. I'm not really into cowboys."
She laughed, really loudly, and I felt my face turn a little red again.
"It's actually more like space bounty hunters, no cowboys. It's a weird name, I know."
"Oh, that sounds more interesting."
"You want to... come over and watch an episode? I'm done with my shift in about 10 minutes."
"I-is that okay? I don't want to intrude..."
"Oh no, you're fine. Unless you have something planned tonight?"
"Nothing. I was..." I was just going to sit in my room and surf on the internet like I did every Friday night. "I don't have any plans."
"Then you should come over! I'll even order a pizza! As long as you don't have any pizza-related allergies?"
"No, I don't have any food allergies or anything like that..."
"Great, then it's a date!" It was her turn to blush. I couldn't believe my ears.
"D-do you... Do you 'like' like me then?" I asked, my heart beating so loudly, I could barely hear my words, "Not just friends hanging out?"
"Then I wouldn't call it a date, then would I?"
"Yes, I do 'like' like you. I'd like to date you, if that's okay? No pressure?"
An excitement welled up in me, one that I hadn't felt in a long time.
"No pressure," I repeated, but this time, I didn't feel bad about it my nervousness. I was grinning.
"Just let me get my stuff and we'll head over!" Before I could reply, she was running back inside.
I was left standing there stunned, holding the book in my hand as if I had just met a ghost. I clutched the book to my chest. It was my favorite book now. It had belonged to her, but now it was mine.
This whole encounter did not go the way I had thought it would in my head. Not in the slightest! Not only was I no longer worried about being expelled and living out of a cardboard box, but the girl I had admired for so long sitting behind the library check-out desk had actually been checking me out the whole time and I had never noticed. Not even once!
I suddenly wondered what else I hadn't noticed, and that thought made me laugh, for once.
She came back almost as quickly as she left and before I could say anything, she grabbed my wrist, gently pulling her along with me. My stomach was no longer bloating, but almost floating or even humming with energy. I broke her grip and she looked confused for a moment until I held her hand in mine. She squeezed gently as we walked back to her dorm side-by-side.
Friday, February 24, 2017
Sunday, February 12, 2017
The planet is the light of my life. I wake to it every morning as I open my eyes, staring up at the expanse of space through the wide skylight over my bed. I wake as it crests over the foot of my bed, it’s brilliance stunning, only amplified by the twinkling stars that seem to caress it on its journey. I never rise from my bed until it passes completely over my head and disappears beyond the skylight. When I was little, I would reach my arms to it, as if I could hug it close to my chest. As if I could love everyone and everything that lived and breathed and moved upon its surface. I’d always hear a loving voice, the voice of a mother, calling out to me. Come with me. Come dance upon me, and feel the wind brushing my scalp. That’s how I always imagined it.
My own planet was never so majestic. I was taken from its savage lands as it languished in the death throes of an expanding red sun. Though I was not even old enough to speak, whenever I smell something burning I see in my mind’s eye a molten landscape bereft of life and tranquility. Sometimes I hear the screams, though their words take on no meaning. Even the sky was red, bathing everything in an eerie light. When I see red now I close my eyes and turn away. Perhaps that’s why I admire the blue of the planet before me. So much of it is blue, like a faceted crystal buried deep within a planet’s core.
But though I long to feel the planet beneath my feet I cannot go. It is forbidden by the council. No matter how I badgered Elder Hildebrandt, he rejected my every request. “They do not know our ways,” he repeats, “they would kill you before you ever touched its surface.”
Our station hovers above the single moon that orbits the beautiful planet, but it is like a common river stone compared to the beauty of its planet. This moon is dead, never changing, forever white and still and silent, like a statue. But as I look up at the planet before me, the slowly swirling clouds prove that it is alive.
“How do they not see us up here?” I asked him once.
“Their eyes are blinded because they choose not to see.”
“I do not understand.”
“One day, you will.”
But many cycles have passed since then, and I am still no closer to understanding, until now, as I see the planet once again pass overhead. Sometimes I can only see part of it, as it waxes and wanes, but this morning it is full and I behold its full majesty. I reach up to it and clasp it with my fist.
Today, I will walk upon its surface.
The morning rushes by as I prepare, my eyes constantly darting about for any sign that someone knows, that someone has discovered my plan. I have been careful to cover my tracks as best I can, but there is always a chance. Once every 28 days, we send a scouting ship to the planet, to collect samples, monitor experiments and venture further than the last expedition.
Today’s expedition is heading into the middle of what the natives call the Pacific Ocean, though I have never understood how they can separate a body of water that is connected to most of the water on the planet. Nevertheless, it is the ocean that I wish to see the most.
We have enough water aboard our station, but never enough to swim. I gaze at the planet above and I wonder what it would be like to be in the middle of that ocean. To turn and see nothing but water all around, and at night to look up and see the stars above. I have always imagined that I could see the stars reflected all around me and that I could swim through the universe, silent and smooth, turning one with the planet, bathing beneath the open universe.
The sentient natives appear to keep mainly to the land, which seems odd given how much life and mystery they will never see. Compared to the lands, the oceans were filled with silence and peace. When they do venture, they mostly glide upon the surface, very few bothering to go deep.
But we travel deep and below, where they fear to go, where it the waters are as dark as space itself, an inner universe contained within this single planet. Today, in the darkness of the Earth’s ocean they are sending a ship down, and it is today that I will be aboard.
I make sure to report to my usual stations, checking in with the appropriate leaders, seemingly making everything appear to be just another day, but I secretly carry my pack with me, hiding it behind my back as my elders pass, though no seem to be the wiser.
I expect a blaring alarm to bring my adventure to a halt, but even as I step into the ship bay, there is nothing and no one to greet me, exactly as I planned. I stick to the walls and shadows, avoiding the cameras that I do know about until I reach my destination, the Bringer of the Blue Dawn, aptly named for its beautiful metallic sheen meant to represent the white and blue gradient of our home planet’s sky, a symbol of hope for the future of our kind.
It all seems too easy as I slip aboard and climb into an unused cargo crate shoved behind a shelf. I leave a crack open so I can watch, but I soon grow bored and my eyelids droop.
When I awake, it is with a loud hum, vibrating against my face. I sit up and bang my head upon the lid of the crate, then cover my mouth to make sure no one heard me. I look and see no one here. I turn behind me and gaze out one of the nearest portholes just in time to see something amazing unfold before me.
Our ship rapidly descends into the planet’s atmosphere. I crane my neck but cannot see anything below, until the ship slowly rotates and part of the sky is filled with an inky blackness devoid of stars. My breath is caught in my throat as I see this black mass rush up to meet us and within moments the ship turns again and I can see something different, the black ink below, the starry sky above, and beyond, like a tiny beacon is what I realize is one of the planet’s many islands, illuminated at night and twinkling in the sea.
Imagine my surprise when our ship splashes down and begins to turn. I realize, with growing horror that this was not the intended flight plan of the ship. We are heading towards the island of lights, closer to the native species that call this planet home.
I fully climb out of the crate and press my face against the window, straining to clarify if my fears are true. We speed across the water so quickly that the island begins to grow and I realize that the light was actually many lights, spread across the island, as it becomes bigger and clearer the closer we come.
I stumble out of my hiding place and head for the ship. It’s possible the auto-pilot has made a mistake, but I fear that we will crash into the island. We would be discovered for sure, and all of the fear that Elder Hildebrandt instilled in me over my lifetime bubbled to the surface, threatening to drown me in absolute terror. We would crash, and even if we lived, we would be found. We would be experimented on. I would never again see the station or my bed or reach my hands to this planet each morning.
Suddenly, all I wanted was to be home, curled up in my bed, but then just as quickly as we had accelerated, we had stopped and I fell forward, scraping across the deck. The hum of the ship died down and I heard someone coming my way.
I scrambled in my daze and stumbled back to the crate, nearly getting out of the way just in time as the cargo bay doors opened, flooding with the soft moonlight. I gazed with open eyes and open mouth at the site before me, the beautiful white sands of the planet spilling onto our ship, almost like it was going to take a mouthful and close again. The ship gently settled, the engines still softly whining as they ground to a halt. The figure rushed past me, nearly stumbling as I had down the gang plank.
I realized with another gasp of horror that I was breathing the air of this world. It smelled like nothing I had ever beheld before and I quickly panicked, worrying that these would be my final breaths.
But a fire rose up within me. I could not die until I did what I had always dreamed. I followed seconds behind, stopping as I reached the white sand beach spreading before me.
I reached out one foot and it sank into the sands. I pulled it back, afraid, but then saw the tracks of the figure who had rushed out.
I stepped again, and this time leaned forward, sinking but then stopping. I yanked the other foot forward too fast and fell forward, any possible scream muffled by my face hitting the sand. It tasted gross and I spit it out, wiping my mouth. I was not sinking, I was upon the ground, the ground of the planet I had gazed up upon for all of my life.
I dug my hands into the sands. They were warm and like a thousand tiny particles. They felt smooth against my scales. I dug up to my elbows and laughed a little in spite of myself. I threw my arms up and the white sands rained around me, giggling as some of it landed on my head, because it tickled as it slid off.
It was then I felt someone staring at me. I looked to my left and saw someone I had never expected to see. It was Elder Hildebrandt standing nearby. He had what I imagined was the same look I had on my own face when I had beheld this beach. His mouth was wide open and I could fully see the milky blue around his pupils. But he wasn’t the strangest part. The Elder was standing there with a human, and they were holding each other in their arms, very closely, and staring straight at me.
I gaped upon them, unsure of what to say. They stared at me, I suppose thinking the same. I had never seen a real human before. Only as usually blurry movement on video screens or captured in still images. This human had skin that reminded me of the moon’s surface and it had long dark hair that framed its round face.
We stayed like that for a long moment, frozen in each other’s gazes.
The Elder moved protectively, as if to the shield the human from me, but the human, gently pressed his lips against the Elder's cheek in a strange gesture, whispering something, and then came forward slowly, towards me. I tumbled back onto my tail, curling it around myself.
The Elder spoke a language I did not understand, and it took me a moment to realize he was speaking this human’s language, for the human turned and said something quickly and then continued forward slowly.
I couldn’t move, my hearts beating wildly in my chest. I felt like I would faint as the human knelt just inches away from me. I took in a shaky breath of more of that strange air and I began to feel nauseous.
But the human gently pulled an arm across its chest and bowed before me. A sign of respect. Both my hearts fluttered in confusion.
“Men-wan-jo,” He said, which I knew was him trying to pronounce our word for greeting a new friend.
I continued to stare at this human, which was now so close that I could hear its single heart beating. How could they live with only a single heart? So many questions arose in my mind, but they were silenced when he spoke again.
“You must be Sophine,” the human finally spoke in a pleasant but alien tone, “Brandt has told me all about you.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
The human reached out and took my hand gently. Its skin was smooth and thin. I could almost feel the bones beneath it. They really were so fragile.
“Sophine,” I didn’t even notice that Hildebrandt had come to my side. He put one hand gently upon my shoulder and knelt between the human and I, adding his hand on top of the human’s. He spoke in the same soothing voice that I had known my entire life.
“This is Akamu, my star-mate.”
The pressure became too much and I fainted on the spot. My body fell towards the sand, but I never felt myself hit…
I dreamed of the future, as my people often do.
In my dream, I saw myself standing on a long, brightly-colored board, that glided smoothly above the inky waters, as if the planet’s own hand was lifting me and drawing me to its white shores. I was gazing up and saw the moon as I never had before. It was paler and perfectly round, itself like a bright star in the night sky, before a wispy cloud blocked it from view. I could smell that thick air as it rushed by me, the stars reflected around me at my feet and above me hanging like a dome over my head. I held out my arms like I was flying through the night wind, and my laughter echoed across the ocean waves into the universe. From that moment on, I knew that everything would be okay.
I embraced the light of the planet I had once loved from afar.
This story was inspired by a prompt from the writing prompt generator on Seventh Sanctum:
and from three random Magic: The Gathering cards drawn from:
and from three random Magic: The Gathering cards drawn from: