Saturday, December 27, 2014

Episode 16b- Fortress Twig Continued ...

It had been a few weeks since Ember became trapped in Fortress Twig. In that time, she had gotten to know a few of her fellow workers and explored a little. They worked on the main floor which was actually the second floor. The floor below was where they took breaks, ate and slept. Their food was earned based on the work they performed or their rank, which caused a bit of jealousy among the few regular workers who did little work and instead spent their time gossiping and worried about what others received. Since only a select few were able to go outside, a schedule was set up that gave them a chance to eat and get a few hours of sleep at a time. At their desks everyone was supplied with a strange tasting drink called, Jiza. They were encouraged to drink this to give them extra energy and improve their health, however, like most of the others, Ember chose to drink water instead.

Ember was able to move around freely and could go between the main and lower floor using one of the stairways on either side of the building. In the center, there was an elevator. She was told this took you to the third floor but only the Tri-powers used that floor and those invited up. In the past couple of weeks she had seen small groups of people taken up by their supervisors. They were always excited or curious when invited up but when they returned they were silent, emaciated and their skin grayish. They would shuffle back to their pods like sleep walkers. Usually a few days later, Marla would come, get them and they wouldn’t be seen again. That is when new people would show up to take their empty seats.

The supervisors who escorted the groups up to the third floor seemed unaffected. They would come back smiling and laughing with each other. Whispering as they looked around for the next victims. That is how Ember thought of them. They were victims and she was determined she was not going to be one of them. She would figure out a way out of this place and help as many as she could escape with her.

She quickly learned that the only people on her team she could trust were Crystal and Jessica. Tasha, Anita and Carla spent a lot of time with Greta in her office socializing and conspiring against others. When they weren’t there, they were complaining to Jessica and Crystal or taking one of their many breaks. Bridgett was never included in their group but she seemed to be oblivious and remained a bouncing ray of sunshine. Shamra was the rain to her sun. Ember felt sorry for her. She was always crying and trying to fit in with the others. They would pretend to include her and then belittle her.  Crystal seemed to do more work than anyone else and she was always getting picked on by the others. Still she remained loyal and positive. Jessica also stayed busy, and although everyone seemed to adore her, people were constantly going in her office to complain about others and point fingers when they didn’t finish their work. You could tell the stress of being everyone’s sounding board was wearing her down. Out of all the supervisors, Crystal and Jessica never took groups upstairs. Crystal stayed too busy covering for her team members who didn’t do their own work. Ember got the impression that Jessica’s demeanor was too sweet to handle what happened upstairs, so she avoided that task and left it to those who seemed to relish their power over others.

Ember used every opportunity during the past few weeks to work on her new found gift of mind reading. It didn’t always work, but she discovered that if she looked directly at the person when they spoke she could hear bits of what they really thought or meant. There was a great deal of deception that went on, some with ill intent and some just for survival.

She learned that although Shamra went along with Tasha and cried way too much, that deep down she was just a lost soul with a good heart. She truly cared about others and in a different environment she could have flourished. Tasha of course wanted everyone to think she was perfect and always cheerful. In reality she was extremely insecure and hateful. Ember pitied her because Tasha’s thoughts betrayed that she felt she had to put others down in order to make herself feel better. She walked around talking about the Bible and how pious and religious she was, but her actions belied who she really was. It made Ember wonder what damaged her so much that she had turned into the viper she was. Then there was Carla. Carla wanted everyone to take care of her. She complained about everyone and everything. Her friendship with Greta seemed to be the only thing saving her, although Crystal and Jessica often went to bat for her and tried to make life easier for her. Often sacrificing their own rations for her. She was hard to be around because she never took responsibility for herself and always complained.

But Anita was the one that gave Ember chills. She was soulless, literally. She was very quiet and seemed to keep to herself, but it was obvious she had a hidden agenda and more control over the floor than anyone realized. There was an emptiness to her that sucked the life out of those around her. She was good at hiding it from the others. They others did not realize what evil really lurked behind her quiet demeanor. It was how she manipulated people into doing what she wanted. She always kept her cell phone with her and Ember suspected it was really more than just an ordinary phone. In the one conversation Ember had with her, Anita had given her a satanic bible and told her they should study together. When Ember told her she didn't believe in Satan but did believe in evil, Anita had been offended. She told Ember there was no such thing as right or wrong and that people worried too much about consequences.

Crystal was the one she worried about the most. She only heard kind and loyal thoughts from her. She would get frustrated with herself and her team’s lack of work ethic but she remained supportive of them no matter what was thrown at her. Her team however was not so supportive. While most pretended to be on her side, their thoughts betrayed their true intentions. Tasha, Carla and even Greta were all extremely jealous of her and were plotting against her. Shamra and Jessica were clueless to the plotting but were being pulled into her demise. While Greta thought she was the great mastermind behind all that went on, Tasha was her puppet master and played her like a well-oiled instrument. But what none of them realized was that Anita was the one pulling all the strings. She was crafty and sly. She had orchestrated everyone so that if things went south she would appear innocent and while the other three took the brunt of any fallout.

Ember was becoming frustrated with herself. Patience had never been her strong suit, but she had always been able to find the positives in life. This place brought her down; it drowned positive thoughts and energy. She hated getting caught up in all the drama and deception. So in her free moments she searched for ways to escape but had yet to find any. She thought about venturing to the third floor, thinking there might be a way out there. She knew that was a risk. She didn’t want to get selected for one of the groups. The life force was sucked out of those people and they came back as mindless drones. She also didn’t want to become a supervisor and then have to take others up there. She had to find a way to sneak up without being seen. It was a risk, but she felt she was out of options where she was.

As if someone read her mind, her computer screen flashed and a small black box appeared in the lower corner. Script began filling the box. Ember glanced around and realized no one else noticed. When the script stopped, she read it to herself.

Ember, I believe I can help you escape this place but you must not tell anyone else there

Ember moved her cursor to the box and typed, Who is this? How can you help?

I’m Seth. I don’t know how to explain it, but I am back in your real world. I’m a programmer and I have been able to watch you on your journey. I sent Illustria to you before. I think I can create a rift in that world that will give you an escape. Only… I don’t know where it will take you.

Ember stared at the screen and thought about what this Seth person was offering. It was so tempting before all of this started she would have jumped at the chance. But now she knew more was at stake. She was supposed to learn things from these experiences. Yes, she discovered if she focused she could read some thoughts, but her gut told her there was something more she was to learn from being here.
She began typing back, Hi Seth. I do want to escape this place and it’s okay that we don’t know where I will end up… But I can’t just leave. There are some people here that are good and they will be destroyed. I have to be able to take them with me. I think I am here to help them so I can’t just abandon them. Can you help me save them?

Ember stared at the screen waiting for his reply. She wondered what all he saw and how he was able to see her when there was no other connection to her former world. She wondered if he could contact her family for her. She wondered who was controlling all this.

After what seemed an eternity the script began to flow again in the box.
I don’t know how long I can create the rift for or how many could get through. You would be risking yourself and it may not turn out as we plan, but I can try. I have been able to catch glimpse of where you are and some of the people there. You must be very careful who you trust. There are those not connected to the evil there but many are scared and would betray you to save themselves. I will have to know how many you want to take with you, but don’t say anything to them yet. I will re-open this dialog box when I have some instructions. Be on the look out and be careful.
With that the box disappeared from the screen.
Ember took the time to figure out who she should try to take and if there were any that she could trust to tell. She may have to figure out a way to deceive them into following her. It was not a tactic she was comfortable with, but she was ready to do it if it meant saving them. She knew she must to get Crystal out. Too many were plotting her demise. She felt Jessica and Shamra needed to escape too. There were a handful of others who were recruiters or on different teams that she had sensed a pure heart in. She worked on her list, her thoughts wondering on what he meant by a rift and how it would work. In the meantime she continued entering the names and information of those the Fortress was targeting, hoping that they would be able to avoid what this place had planned for them. She said a protection chant for those she entered. She didn’t know if it would work but they said she was a witch and that’s what witches did in movies and TV, so maybe it would work.
Bridget must have overheard Ember’s chant, because she rolled her seat back to Ember’s desk and asked, “What’s that?”
Ember jumped. “What’s what?”
“That thing you say over and over. I notice you do that when you are entering data and I was just curious.”
Ember stared at Bridget for a moment before answering. She was trying to read her thoughts and see if there was a hidden agenda behind her asking. She heard absolutely nothing and realized that Bridget was guileless. She said and did exactly what she meant. “Do you like it here?” she asked.
Bridget shrugged her shoulders, “Not especially, but it’s not too bad, if you keep to yourself and do the work. I don’t really mind the work although I do wonder about all these people we type in. They all think I’m an airhead, because I just happily do my work. I know more than they realize. Besides, gingers have to stick together, right?”
Ember decided to take a chance and trust Bridget. Maybe the fact that her hair was fiery too, was a sign.
“It’s like a prayer…what you heard. I can’t help but feel bad about entering these people’s names so I say a little rhyme I made up in my head. It’s probably silly, but it’s my way of trying to protect them from this place.”

“It’s not silly at all. I like that. I’ve been watching you. You don’t belong here, but you are blending in pretty well. That’s a good thing. Those that don’t do what they are told get taken upstairs.”
“I’ve seen that. What happens to them? Have you been up there?” Ember asked.

“I have been up there a few times. Once a month they have a gathering and everyone goes up. They make some announcements and give everyone cake. Sometimes small groups are detained and taken into the offices up there. You’ve seen what happens to those. They come back like zombies. The Tri-powers are up there and they use the life force of the ones they drain. They take all their memories and hope, so that they have no will.  The Tri-powers have a small network of ‘managers’ that work among us and take people up who are not meeting expectations, who rebel or who they just don’t like. It is best to try to stay on their good side. Don’t make waves and meet your goals. That’s the only way they will leave you alone. Do what I do, always act happy and obedient and you can stay under the radar. At least, until they decide you work against you because they are bored.” She glanced over at Crystal with a look of sadness.
“Does anyone ever escape?” There, she threw it out there to see Bridget’s reaction. Bridget looked around and laughed as if Ember had said something funny. She then leaned a little closer and said, “Not since I have been here. Be careful, if they suspect you are going to try they will eliminate you.”

She looked deep into Ember’s eyes, “You are going to try, aren’t you?” She didn’t wait for a response, “take me with you and I’ll help. But we have to take Crystal. She won’t last much longer. They have it out for her”
Part of Ember worried, this could be a set-up and part of her was relieved that she may have found an ally.

“I haven’t figured it out yet but I’m working on it. I’m just not sure who to trust.”
“Trust no one. Well, you can trust me, but tell no one of your plans. Especially not Crystal or Jessica. I can get them to come with us. Crystal is too dedicated, and Jessica is too loyal to management. If you tell them, they would tell to try and save you. Their intentions are always honorable, but they are too naïve to the evil that surrounds them. Just tell me what you need me to do.” With that she shook Ember’s hand and then grabbed one of her pens. “Thanks, for the pen. Red ink is my fave.” she said loudly, waving the pen as she rolled back to her desk.

The hours passed slowly as Ember anxiously waited to hear back from Seth. Several groups had been taken to the third floor and she was worried that time was running out for those she needed to save.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Episode 16a- Fortress Twig Continued

After Ember’s testing had been concluded, Marla had pricked her finger and taken a sample of her blood explaining it was just procedure. She then called a girl name, Jessica, to come get her.

As Ember walked with Jessica back to the area she had been in before, she thought she could hear whispering. It was so faint that she couldn’t make out the words. Beside her, Jessica, smiled and chatted with the few people they passed. Everyone seemed to brighten a little when Jessica showed them attention. It was easy to see why. Jessica was what Ember thought a real life Barbie doll would look like. She was tall and slim, with long pale blonde hair framing a sweet round face with perfect features. Ember instantly felt at ease with her. She felt genuine and Ember suspected that was a rare quality in this place. The only hint of something off was her eyes. Although they smiled when she did and there appeared to be a weariness in their depths.

They crossed near the entrance where Ember had been brought into the building and she saw Marla directing a dozen or so individuals into a small chamber between the inside of the building and the doors that would lead out. Ember looked back the way they had come, confused. Marla was just back there, she thought. How can she be here?

Everyone but Marla looked sad and anxious. Marla shut the door behind them as the last person entered and then turned the lock. She smiled at them and waved through the glass of the doors as a mist began to fill the vestibule. The people inside frantically tried to open the outer doors or come back through the doors Marla guarded to no avail. After a few moments, all the people vanished and Marla unlocked the inner door.

Ember had stopped and was staring at the scene, when Jessica tugged lightly on her arm, urging her to continue.

“You don’t want to stay there,” she said.

“What just happened to those people?”

“Those were the new hires from the outside. If they stay here for ninety days then they gain power and the Tri-powers can’t have that, so they are destroyed,” Jessica explained with a tear in her eye.

“Destroyed! What do you mean destroyed? Why don’t they just let them leave? And what power can they gain? What is this place?!” Ember exclaimed.

“SHHHH,” Jessica looked around to make sure no one had overheard.  She then quietly explained how large groups of people were lured in every few months and then over the course of eighty-nine days they were extinguished. There were a few who made it past that time because they possessed a quality that could be used or exploited. Then there was a handful who were close to the Tri-powers or held some secret they used as leverage to gain power.

“Most of us want to leave but are trapped here for one reason or another, so some of us try to make the best of it and look out for the others. Just try to keep to yourself, do the work you are given and you will be okay. I will try to steer you towards the few people you can trust. Unfortunately, most that will try to appear as friends will not be. If you are in doubt ask me or Crystal. Crystal will be the one training you and directly supervising your work. It will be okay.”

Ember walked beside Jessica silently as she tried to digest all that she had seen and heard so far in this place that seemed more like a prison with each passing moment. She could still hear the faint whispering in the background and looked around for the source. They had reached the main work room with all the pods of workers. Everyone appeared to be working silently at their desks. Jessica led Ember to the pod where Shamra and Anita were seated. Jessica walked over to the heavy set lady on the end and introduced her as Crystal.

“You can sit with me for now. Let me grab you a chair.” Crystal jumped up and brought a chair from a glass room nearby. “I’ll show you how our system works. Marla said your data skills are very high according to your test. That means you’ll do really well here.”  And hopefully you’ll survive longer than the others.

Ember blinked as she understood the whispering for the first time and realized that Crystal had not said the last part aloud. She could still hear the muffled sound of more whispers but couldn’t make out anything else.

“I’ll introduce you to the rest of our team before we get to work. We all have to work together and help each other so that we reach optimum productivity. That keeps us all safe. Jessica and I do everything we can to keep the team safe.” Crystal said with a warm smile.

Next to them, Anita snorted. Naïve little Crystal. You can’t protect anyone no matter how much you try. And new blood means even less work for me to pretend to do.

“Excuse me?”  When Anita frowned at her, it dawned on Ember that her lips had not moved. She realized she had heard Anita’s thoughts when she looked at her.

“Well, you’ve already met Anita and Shamra.” Crystal motioned to the two women on the left. Anita had turned her back to them and was playing with what looked like a cell phone. Shamra was typing while crying. “Don’t mind her, she cries all the time. She’s okay, it’s just her thing.”

She turned to the right, “This is Carla. She will help with any additional training. You have already met Tasha and that’s Bridget on the end.” Carla had her head down and was cursing at her computer. Tasha was busy polishing her fingernails a bright red, while Bridget appeared to be working happily. “You will be sitting behind Bridget once I show you the system.”

“Who are all the others?” Ember asked motioning to the room full of people.

“Those are the recruiters. It’s their job to bring in more people by selling our services.”

“What services do you sell?”

“Whatever a person needs. It’s their job to find out what a person needs and what they are willing to sacrifice for it. You don’t need to concern yourself with that. Knowing too much is frowned upon here. Everyone is expected to focus on their work and not what others are doing.” Unless you’re one of Greta’s pets at this pod. Crystal added, “Let me show you what you will be doing.”

They sat down at Crystal’s desk and she demonstrated the data system they used. Ember’s job would be to help input the information of possible lost souls the recruiters could exploit and to analyze how well they did their work. Crystal explained that it wasn’t their job to help the recruiters, but that she always tried to do what she could to look after them, as their goals were often unrealistic and those that didn’t meet their goals got ‘counselled’. She also explained that Ember would probably hear things from others but she should just stick to her work and not get involved in the drama others created.

“I’ve been here for a few years and I get a little freedom, because I do my work and make sure things on this floor run smoothly. Most people don’t last very long on our team and unfortunately the newest members don’t pull their weight, so we have to work harder to cover for them.” Crystal sighed tiredly as she said this.

As she walked Ember to her appointed desk, Carla announced she needed another cigarette and she left the area with Anita. From her new seat, she could hear Shamra crying and Tasha talking to someone on the phone, explaining how she was perfect and didn’t understand why no one would acknowledge that.

Bridget rolled over to her, said hi and started chatting.

Almost instantly, Greta materialized beside them. “Get back to work Bridget. I don’t know why they let such a useless worker in. If you don’t improve, I’ll be forced to send you upstairs. You know I don’t want to but they will make me.” She had an evil smile on her face that belied the look of innocence she tried to convey.

Ember concentrated on trying to hear her thoughts. She got nothing but the indecipherable whispering and thought maybe she had been wrong about hearing the others. She looked directly into Greta’s eyes, which were black and soulless. She thought she heard the a few syllables but then Greta scowled and there was a deafening silence.

“I’m watching you, Ember. You need me to be your friend. I control what happens on this floor.” With that warning, Greta walked back to her desk.

With a friend like that, who would need enemies! With that thought Ember sat down and started entering the piles of information stacked in her section.
Come back next week to find out what Ember will discover on the third floor and will she be able to find a way out of this dimension...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Episode 16- Inside Fortress Twig

As Ember passed through the doors, she felt compelled to look back over her shoulder. The doors closed behind them and from the inside they appeared to be glass, where they had seemed like solid wood on the outside. In fact all the walls seemed to be made of glass, with views of the forest and meadows everywhere she looked. How odd that from the outside it looked like a normal fortress, but from the inside the outside view was idealistic. As Ember looked around at the workers, she noticed they all sat at little six section cubicles, and while a few stared out the window longingly, most had their heads down.

Ember could feel the tension and sadness that permeated the atmosphere. Tasha grabbed Ember's arm, "Keep up dear, we have to get you processed."


Tasha smiles, sending a chill down Ember's spine, "All who come here to work must earn time to rest or go outside."

"Oh, I haven't come here to work. I'm just visiting," Ember explained.

The quiet one, Anita, snickered. She hadn't said anything since she appeared, yet Ember sensed something dark and sinister about her. Her eyes are black and seem soulless. She is about the same height as Ember, average looking with long straight black hair that reaches down her back. Ember feels there is more to her than she shows.

As they approach a cubicle in the corner, Anita and Shamra take seats on one side. On the other side, across from Anita, sits an average looking woman, slightly overweight with long mousy brown hair. She stares at her computer screen cursing under her breath. Between these two, is a heavy set woman with long blonde hair, typing into a laptop at an alarming fast speed. The woman glances up and although she looks tired and stressed, she smiles at Ember. For the first time, Ember feels genuine warmth coming from someone in this realm. She then passes a woman on the opposite end of the cubicle that has fiery hair like herself. This woman is very young and acts as though she doesn't have a care in the world. She seems strangely out of place amongst these people. She looks up at Ember and smiles. Again, Ember feels genuine warmth from this woman as well.

"That's Bridget. You should stay away from her. She is a little flighty and just wants everyone to be happy. She won't last here long." Tasha states, as she pulls Ember along. They enter what appears to be an office of sorts, although it's more like a partially framed room with walls only going halfway up. "Greta, Marla, look what I found wondering around outside. Her name is Ember, she needs to be processed so we can put her to work."

"There seems to be a misunderstanding. I'm not looking for a job. I was just passing by...outside and Tasha said to follow her inside," Ember corrected.

Both Greta and Marla exchanged a glance, before all three women began to cackle. Greta stood and came around her desk. She was a shorty, stocky woman with shoulder length blunt cut black hair. When she smiled at Ember, it did not reach her hollow eyes. She placed her hand on Ember's shoulder and said, "Ember, it is Ember, right? No matter. When you enter our doors, you may not leave until we decide it's time for you to leave. That is how it works. You belong to us now, to do with what we will. Only the chosen few are allowed to come and go as they please. People like myself and Marla."

"But you can't just keep someone here all the time. Don't they have homes to go to?" Ember asked, motioning to the people working around them.

"No dear. They work until they have nothing left that we desire and then we toss them outside. The ones too used up to wander off on their own are disposed of. It's the way it has always been and will always be. Now there are those who have caught the eye of the Tri-powers. Those special 'friends' get privileges the rest do not. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to catch their eye. You are a pretty girl, although they do prefer blondes. Besides, their special friends are often picked on by the other girls due to jealousy. It really keeps the rest of us entertained. But keep that unspoiled view of freedom; we wouldn't want to take all your hope away," she said with a chuckle. "Now go with Marla, she is the warden who will get you processed."

Marla stood, taking Ember's arm and leading her out of the office and main room. Her touch was oddly warm, even though Ember felt a chill at her touch. Marla was dressed in a prudish gray dress and her short cropped dark reddish-blonde hair did not move when she walked. She was a pleasant looking woman and seemed nice, engaging in small talk as they walked down a long corridor through the center of the building. She had a way of making you feel at ease in her company, but Ember noticed as they passed people, they either shifted as far away from her as possible or glared at her. Something told Ember there was more to this woman than she showed.

They finally reached the other side of the building which opened into another large room surrounded by what looked like windows overlooking gardens and forests. They entered a glass enclosed office, Marla directed Ember to sit across from her as she sat down behind a massive desk. She began asking Ember about her life and family. Ember shared very little even though she felt as if she were being compelled to reveal everything about herself. She wasn't sure why, but her gut told her to not disclose too much.  After Marla, realized she wasn't getting anywhere with Ember, she told her she was going to give her a series of tests to determine her skills.

While she filled out the tests, she wondered what it was she was supposed to achieve or learn in this place. She also wondered how she was going to be able to escape. She had a journey to finish. Surely it couldn't be as restricted as they made it sound.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Episode 15 - Fortress Twig

As Ember sat and looked at the doors, she tried to decide how to pick one. She wanted to sneak a peak into each one before she chose, but she knew she wouldn't get off that easy. No, it was going to be, make a decision and go for it. But how could she choose? There could be something good or something horrible on the other side. She closed her eyes for a long time and visualized the doors. Maybe one would stand out to her that way. She opened her eyes just a crack and peeked. Yep, they are still all there.

"Ok, Ember. Time to get up and make a decision. You can't sit around in a field all day." She stood up and stretched her legs. and slowly spun around to see each of the doors again. She decided that since she didn't get a gut feeling about any of the doors and had no idea how to logically choose one that she would close her eyes and spin around many times and when she stopped and opened her eyes, the door in front of her would be the one she opened.

She closed her eyes and slowly began turning as she tried to clear her mind of all thoughts. She wasn't sure how many times she had turned when she felt a pull to stop. She steadied herself, straightened her posture and let out a deep breath before opening her eyes. Before her is the double doors of carved vines and flowers. She walked up to the doors and listened. There was no sound coming from the other side. "Well, here I go..." she said as she turned the latched and pushed the door in.
Ember was bombarded with the sounds and sights of dozens of people bumbling about. As she looked around she felt as though she had stepped back in time. She was in a courtyard of such. All around her were people pushing carts, tending to horses and milling about. Oddly, she thought she saw a small group of people standing to the side smoking cigarettes. The physicality of the place looked like a medieval castle but the people were dressed relatively modern.

Before she could take another step forward, a tiny cheerful woman was before her. She had chin length curly brown hair that looked like a million cork screws. Her eyes were big and framed by what could have only been false eyelashes, yet the rest of her face was plain and seemed to be devoid of make-up. She was dressed in a bright yellow floral print dress that stopped above her knees and was synched at the waist. Her arms looked like small sticks poking out from the puff sleeves and her spindly legs wobbled on top of what had to be four inch platform heels. Even with the heels, the top of her head only came up to Ember's nose.  Ember was tempted to touch her to see if she was real because she looked like a human version of Minnie Mouse.

"Hi!! You must be new here!" the overly jubilant woman exclaimed. "We are the welcoming committee. What is your name?"

"I'm Ember. Where is here?"

"Why this is Fortress Twig, of course! I'm Tasha Rancorous, this is Anita Knavish and this is Shamra Follows."

"I'm Shamra Follows," repeated the slight woman standing behind Tasha. Shamra looked nervous and out of place. She was about the same height as Ember, but next to Tasha, she seemed small. She was dressed in a navy blue pinstripe suit and her dark brown hair was plastered into a very tight bun at the back of her head. It looked almost painful pulled back from her face.

Tasha's face had taken on a pinched appearance as she pursed her tiny lips in disapproval at Shamra. "Shamra, what have a told you about repeating things after me?"

"I'm sorry, Tasha. I'm trying to be better," she replied, her voice cracking and tears appearing in her eyes.

Tasha, had not even looked at Shamra when she reproached her. She was still sizing up Ember. "So, Ember, what brings you here, to our wonderful abode?"

"I'm not sure exactly. I have been on a journey of sorts and this is where I ended up," she said with a shrug.

"Oh my, that sounds exciting! You must tell us all about it, but first let's get you inside. You must be tired and hungry. Come girls!" She looped her arm with Ember's and pulled her toward the frosted glass doors of the large wooden building across the courtyard, before motioning the others to follow. Robotically, Shamra fell into step, as the one who must be Anita quietly followed.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Episode 14

A pale grayish mist began swirling in the air. As it became thicker, it turned yellowish in color. Ember felt as though she had been walking alone for hours. She was bored and had begun talking to herself. Talking out stories of adventures she imagined she would encounter in the future, as well as people. She went through periods of storytelling and then periods of silence. 

“Is this place ever going to end? I really need someone to talk to other than myself. Hmm, maybe I really am going crazy. They say if you talk to yourself, you might be crazy. But then if I am thinking I might be crazy because I realize I am talking to myself, then that would imply that I am sane.” Ember started laughing at the absurdity of her conversation with herself and after a few minutes fell silent again.

She watched the swirling yellow mist as it got denser. At first it seemed to creep along the ground, now she realized it had risen to her knees and was swirling higher. She kept walking but noticed that her legs felt stiffer and heavier. The mist continued to get thicker and swirl higher. By the time it had reached her waist, she realized it was making it harder for her to keep walking. She thought about stopping but her intuition told her, if she stopped it would paralyze her. She didn’t know where that thought had come from but she trusted it, so she trudged on. Still the mist rose. She purposely swung her arms as she walked. She wondered if this is what quick sand felt like. 

By the time the mist reached her chin, Ember was starting to panic a little on the inside. She had begun to sweat from the exertion of continuing forward. “Just stay calm. This is only an illusion. You are fine. In a minute all of this is going to disappear and Perhluna will be here causing some mischief.”

She could not see in front of her. She held up her hand in front of her face and realized that she couldn’t see it. She touched her nose to reassure herself that her hand was really that close. The mist completely engulfed her. Instinctively, she held her breath and then realized she needed to breathe even if it meant inhaling the mist. She inhaled deeply through her nose. “There is no scent.” She inhaled again. She could actually feel the mist creeping into her body, filling her lungs. Her eyes, her nose, her throat – they had all started burning from the mist. She began to gasp for air, yet as much as she swallowed, she felt as if she took in no oxygen. Her skin began to itch uncontrollably.  She wanted desperately to scratch it and that made her momentarily forget the panic that was rising over the lack of air. She no longer felt the concept of her limbs; she only felt the itching and the burning and the suffocation. The mist was consuming her and again she felt her panic rising. She was trying to gulp in air and none was there; only the damn mist. She thought to herself, “I’m going to die. This is dying.”

“I can’t die like this. I can’t. This can’t be happening. Why?” The more she tried to calm herself the more the panic overtook her. She couldn’t think yet she knew she had to. She had to focus. 

She felt as if she was becoming the mist, that there was no hope of surviving this, and then a voice whispered in her mind, “Remember, you are not alone.”

“Elpis!” Ember didn’t know if she said this out loud or only in her mind. She was so disoriented and scared. She had her eyes closed, but she began to see images dancing before her. They were hazy and she couldn’t quite make the out. 

“Elpis? I heard you. I think I heard you. Are you here?” Nothing but silence greeted her imploring, yet the images continued to float before her closed lids.

“Focus, Ember! You have to focus!” She admonished herself. She knew she had to get control of her panic. She wasn’t going to die this way. Not in this infernal mist. She had to understand what the images were, even if they were just part of her panic. Maybe Elpis’ voice was too, but it was what she needed to make herself concentrate. She willed every ounce of her being into understanding the images. They weren’t going to help her. They just looked like… fuzzy clouds! Her heart skipped as she realized she needed to think of them as clouds. Shapes in clouds, find the shapes in them.

She stopped trying to bring them into focus and instead just focused on the silhouettes. She imagined she saw a bear, a…. a bird, a, a, a fish! Wait, there was another shape, it seemed to scurry across her sight. What was it? It was so small. “Think, Ember, think. You can do this!” She did not even realize she was ordering herself to fulfill this task before her, now that her breathing had become normal again. As she studied the scurrying shape, the mist continued to engulf her and permeate her entire being. The burning and itching, she was still acutely aware of, but she continued to fight her mental battle and focus. Scurrying, scurrying…… a lizard. It was a lizard she realized. As the realization popped into her mind all the images disappeared.

“Ok, so a bear, a bird, a fish and a lizard. They mean something. It’s like a riddle. If I can figure this out…. if I figure this out, what? The mist will go away? I’ll wake up from this? I don’t understand what they mean!” The panic was starting to creep back up on her as she once again, became aware she couldn’t breathe.

“You can breathe. You can breathe. It just doesn’t feel like it. You are thinking, so you must still be breathing. Focus on the riddle, the test. I can do this.” Again, with a great deal of will power, Ember began to play the images over her mind. She heard Elpis’ voice right before the images, so this must be part of her journey. This was just a test. She always passed tests. She would beat this one. What had she learned? She saw a flame in her mind. “That’s right, I can create fire.” She tried to imagine a flame in her hand but she couldn’t feel her hands or focus on them. She felt disconnected from her body, except the itching and the burning. Her skin, she could feel her skin but the rest was merely a concept in her mind, she couldn’t make them work. “Ok, not fire. I can’t create the fire in this mist.” 

She felt stumped. Knowing it must be something else. Again she thought of the images. They were all living creatures. “I am living. How does that help? It means, don’t panic, silly. You are alive.”

“What else have I learned? My family are witches? But I don’t know any spells. I can’t make the fire in this state. So… what?” She concentrated harder. Thinking of the images, she kept coming back to them. She knew there was a message there, but also that it had to be connected to what her parents had told her. She began to think of each, individually, focusing on their qualities. Other than being living she couldn’t figure out how they went together, so she decided to think about how they are different. She thought about the bear. It was big, had fur, walked around on land. The bird had feathers and spent it’s time in the sky. The fish was easy; it had scales and lived in water. But the lizard, well, it was a reptile, probably cold blooded, but not as different as the bear. The lizard stumped her, until an image of herself as a lizard flashed into her head. 

“I’m the lizard? What..?” As the questions were beginning to form in her mind, it hit her. “Elements! They said we were Elementals. The animals must represent the elements. Bird is air, fish is water, and bear is…land? Earth! Bear is earth and the lizard must be fire, because I am fire!” she had no idea what her body was actually doing but in her mind she was jumping up and down with excitement at possibly having the answer.

 “I am the fire,” she stated firmly before starting to imagine herself as the flame and then stopped, wondering if she would burn herself alive if she made herself the flame. She realized she must take chances, she must have faith. So she focused on the burning in her eyes and lungs and throat. She envisioned them growing and intensifying. She could feel the heat, and for a brief instant thought she might be making her own blood boil. The pain from the heat and burning was becoming distracting but she forced her mind to focus. She opened her eyes and she still saw the yellow mist but she could see through it and there were was nothing, no flames; but she could feeling the flames, hear the crackling of the fire.

She realized the flames were becoming out of control even though she could not see them. She knew she had to burn off the mist. She wasn’t sure she wouldn’t turn herself to a pile of ash, but she was determined to see this through. She closed her eyes and focused on burning the mist away. She ignored the heat, the waves of panic that still crept in. The more she focused the thicker the mist felt within. As if it was fighting back, as if it were a living entity. 

After what seemed an eternity, she started to feel a coolness enveloping her. She took a deep breath and felt light headed as she realized the air was no longer choking her. The burning had stopped. The itching of her skin was only faint now. She began to try to move her limbs and was elated that she could feel and control them now. Still, she kept her eyes shut. She was afraid to open them. Afraid that if she did open them, she might see the mist hovering around her, waiting to attack again. 

Ember inhaled deeply and realized she was surrounded by a floral scent. She listened and she heard birds chirping. Slowly she opened her eyes to discover she stood in the middle of a huge field of flowers and grass. She instantly looked down at herself to make sure she wasn’t a charred monster. She was still in her black tank and yoga pants with stars on them. She let out a relieved and triumphant laugh as she examined her arms and legs. Running her hands over her skin, she realized the mist had not eaten it and the fire had not burned her. Slowly, she looked up to assess her surroundings. 

Before her, in the middle of the field, she saw doors standing. Each door was different and seemed to have just risen out of the ground. She turned around to see what was behind her, only to discover that she was in the middle of a ring of doors. She counted nine of them, each about nine feet away from each other. She looked past them and only saw endless fields. She knew that she was going to have to go through one of them. 

“Really?! I couldn’t have just been plopped into some destination or other? Another test?” 

She walked over to one of the doors and then peered around it. She waved her hand in the space behind one of them and then walked completely around it. She knew that she was going to have to choose one, so she started studying them.

The first one was wooden, natural with little ornamentation. It did not appear to have any stain or paint on it. It was about six feet in height, which was odd for a door and the top was roughly finished. It had a latch instead of a knob or a handle and it looked very old and roughly hewn.

She walked over to the second door. It appeared to be a normal height. It, too, was wooden, but this one was painted white and had a simple door knob. It looked like a door one would find inside any house.

The third door she came to was also normal height. This one seemed to be wood. It was a bright royal blue in color and completely smooth. It had no handle, latch or knob. Ember imagined she would have to simply push it to open it, but didn’t want to try that until she had examined the other doors first. She lightly placed her hand on the door to feel if she could determine the material, but quickly pulled her hand back when she discovered it was warm to the touch.

She moved on to door number four. This door was silver and looked to be metal. It had all kinds of swirly lines and shapes carved on it. They appeared to be symbols, but Ember didn’t recognize them. It had a long handle halfway down the right side. Smiling, Ember thought that it must be for a lefty. The really odd part of this door wasn’t the symbols or the placement of the handle, but the fact that it was perfectly square. It was about four feet tall and wide.

Door number five was round like a portal and seemed to hover just above the grass. It too was about four feet in diameter. It was made of wood and had large black hinges, black ornate door knob and placard and what looked like a peep hole with a black plate over it. Ember couldn’t resist the urge to take a look, but when she slid the black metal disc away, the hole only revealed more wood.

Approaching the sixth door, Ember felt as if she were walking up to a barn door. The door was stereo-typically red wood with white painted edges on the bottom half and white edges and an “X” on the top half. Each half had a small silver handle on it.

As she approached door seven, she felt as though she had shrunk. She knew this was only an illusion, due to the door being so huge. It appeared to be several stories high and at least seven or eight feet wide. It was solid black with only a large brass knob that was several feet above her head. This door was ice cold when she touched it, which made her think it was metal, but she was not sure.

The eighth door looked as though it had been taken from a submarine. It was oblong and a gray metal. It had a round spoke wheel for a handle and was average in size.

Finally, she walked up to the ninth and final door. It was actually double doors of heavy wood intricately carved with vines and flowers. It had delicately designed, yet heavy metal latch handles and hinges. It reminded her of a door that might be on a castle or an estate. The doors gave off the impression that they were alive. Ember had the urge to place her hand in the upper center of one of them, and indeed, she could almost feel a heartbeat.

Slowly, she walked backwards to the center of the circle and turned, looking at each of the doors before sitting down, cross legged in the field. She knew she had to go through one of those doors, but what if she chose the wrong one. She needed to think about each one carefully before making her decision.

Where would each of them lead her? Were they to good places or bad?

Which one will she choose……..

Friday, May 2, 2014

Episode 13 part 2

After filling her parents in on her childhood, her college years, her failed marriage, her quiet existence over the last decade and finally her latest adventures in this alternate world, she told them of her sibling’s lives. Throughout, they shared laughs and tears. Ember was breathless after all the remembrance. She let out a long breath and leaned back on the bench to look at her parents. She wanted to pinch herself to make sure this was real. Who knew talking could be so exhausting. She felt as though she had just run a marathon, and yet she was exhilarated at the same time. God, it was good to see them. It was to touch them, to hear their voices, to just be near them. It was what every orphaned child dreams of and never thinks will actually come to pass. This was a gift. As she sat watching them, she realized what a gift it was and how that had changed something in her. It made her more aware of herself. Grant smiled at her; that knowing, proud father smile. It was infectious. She looked over to see her mother was also smiling. She realized her cheeks were sore, because she had been smiling the entire time.

Several moments of silence had passed and they still all sat contently basking in each other’s presence. Marissa squeezed Ember’s hand and they both glanced down at their entwined hands and laughed. Neither had let go the entire time. Grant leaned forward and placed his hands around theirs, “I wish we could hold this moment for eternity. Unfortunately for your mother and me, your time here will end soon. You will have to continue your journey. There is so much out there for you to experience and learn; and then there will be much for you and your siblings to do. Their world is about to change and they will need you to lead them.”

“Wait…lead? I’m not a leader. Flossy, she’s always the leader. And Wyndel, he would be a great leader.”

“Ember, you are a leader. You just haven’t embraced that part of yourself.” Marissa stated. “Each of you has an element at your core. You are fire! That influences your gifts but it also is who you are. You are the embodiment of passion,” she paused and smiled, when Ember blushed. “Yes, our little firefly, you possess passion in the physical sense, but passion rules many things, as does your fire. You have the ability to engage others. You can sway people to your causes and your beliefs because your passion seeps out and they get swept away. This is a wonderful gift, but if not tempered can harm. In your work, you help people. You are able to calm them because you care. Because you want to help them and make their life easier, better. That is one of your passions and they feel it even though they don’t realize it.”

Grant continued, “You have a strong gift with animals. Normally this is a gift only possessed by those of the earth element. It has developed strongly in you because your love of creatures is so strong. They feel it and are drawn to be near you. Although you tend to hide yourself away, people have the same reaction to you. They are drawn to you, yet confused because they feel pushed away at the same time. This is because you don’t embrace that part of yourself. You are not yet comfortable with all the attention that can bring, so you send mixed signals. You must become comfortable in your own skin and let go of your fears. This is your destiny. You can change the world. You will need to change the world for it to survive and flourish. That is why you are here.”

“What if you are wrong? What if I fail? What if I don’t want this?” Ember had stopped smiling for the first time.

“It is not up to you or about what you want. This is your destiny. This is what all your previous lives have been leading up to,” her mother explained.

“Whoa! Previous lives? What previous lives?” Ember shook her head in denial.

“Your soul is very old, in human terms. Your consciousness has existed for an eternity and will continue on for an eternity unless your fire is snuffed out. We do not die, except in our physical form. There is no beginning and no end. It is all a journey. Death is an illusion; merely a transition to another state. But there is a force that is trying to create true death. This cannot happen or we all cease to be. That will be your ultimate battle. Our family was chosen a very long time ago to wage this war. You, your brother, your sisters and your aunt are the warriors that must save eternity. Without you, there is nope hope and hope is everything.” Grant had gotten solemn as he told her these things.”

He continued, “You must learn how to open yourself to your passed incarnations and your future lessons. Then you must help your siblings embrace their gifts and help them open up their potential. You are all like pieces of a puzzle. Together you make each other whole. You balance the universe. First you must obtain that balance in yourself as they must. You must help them find themselves and what their gifts are and how to use them. You must learn to temper your abilities. They are part of your essence but you can't rely on them too much. They make things easier and it will be tempting to always fall back on them, but part of this journey will be learning when to use a gift and when to push through and use other ways.”

“Sometimes that even means accepting defeat and failure,” Marissa added. “Do not fear these, for they serve a purpose as well.”

The weight of what they were telling her was hard to comprehend. She wanted to ask questions. ‘Like why me?’ yet was unable to ask anything. Her mind was trying to wrap around it but it all seemed so vague. What did it mean? She liked answers, concrete, ‘this is what it is’. How could she put this in her little categories, her boxes? Part of her wanted to cry. Part of her wanted to scream, ‘NO! I want to go back to my simple little boring life.’

“My dear sweet girl, I know this is overwhelming even incomprehensible right now. You will understand as you go forward on this journey. Things will fall into place and you will be fine. Better, you will become your destiny. I see it,” Marissa stated, with tears filling her eyes. “That is one of my gifts. Don’t let these silly tears alarm you; they represent the pride I have in who you have become and who you are yet to be.”

Ember realized that she too had tears leaking from her eyes. Her father caught one as he stood and pulled her into his arms.

He whispered, “Pumpkin, I believe in you.” He kissed her forehead and opened his arm to gather Marissa into their embrace. They held on to each other for a moment, before Ember pulled back slightly.

“It’s time, isn’t it?”

Brushing her daughter’s hair away from her face, Marissa said, “It is. I hope that we will have another time together, but for now you must continue on.”

Grant added, “There are so many things I wish I could tell you. I wish I could watch over you on this journey but my place, our journey is to help those here. Our hearts and our thoughts will be filled with pride and occasionally worry, because you are parents. This time with you has been a gift to us. If we are so blessed, maybe we will hear of your travels and triumphs.”

Marissa chuckled, “Your father will live vicariously through his imagination of your journeys. As rewarding as helping others through their time here is, it is often times not as exciting as he would have it. Just remember who you are and embrace it. If you must be sad after you leave, let it be for only a moment, for you carry a part of us in your heart and you will understand all when the time is right for you to. Come, we will walk with you to the edge of the Dew.”

With her father on her left and her mother on her right, they began to walk. Ember wanted so desperately to say something, anything, but her mind was spinning and would not allow the words to come. As they walked, she noticed shapes of people and animals would come into to focus. Some seem to pass them or cross in front of them. Some seem to appear and then fade away. It was like walking in nothingness. It was neither dark nor light. It just was which confused the senses. They held hands as they walked in silence, just enjoying each others presence. After a time, they touch seemed lighter, and as Ember looked down at their hands, she noticed that theirs had become somewhat translucent. Alarmed she wanted to stop, but her feet kept going.

“No. I’m not ready yet.” As she thought the words, she realized that she was alone. She looked to either side but could not see them. In her mind, she heard them say in unison, “We love you, Ember. There is no goodbye.”

Still her feet kept moving. It was mindless motion that propelled her into what seemed like nothing, yet she was beginning to understand that soon she would be at her next destination. She smiled, not because she knew what that place would be, or that she understood any of this. She smiled because she knew they believed in her, so she would bravely take on … whatever was coming.