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Review: We Lost the Sky by M. Howalt

We Lost the Sky Title Image

“I think fixing the mess I made is the best remedy,” Luca mumbled.
“I’m afraid there will be none of that,” she retorted.

Luca and Nanny. We Lost the Sky, by Marie Howalt

Luca is a teenager from the futuristic past, before the sky fell, but being a young man out of time does nothing to dampen his spirits. Teo is a young woman that anticipates a future with good friends and technological advances, but first she must face her father and the city he controls. Renn wanders a wasteland that used to be the Italian countryside, and all he wants is to rejoin his traveling group. Mender, an artificial intelligence in an artificial body, wakes in a future that fears sentients like nem or doesn’t believe they exist.

Written by Marie Howalt, We Lost the Sky is a 2019 novel about the post-apocalyptic Earth left over after a meteor strikes the moon. The book is set around what used to be Florence, Italy, and follows the lives of these four protagonists as they fall into a mess of will and circumstance.

Clocking in at 295 pages, this is a full-length novel with plenty of time to explore its characters and setting. The pace is steady, never too fast or slow, and ‘natural’ is the word I think of when thinking about plot progression. Everything happens because it must, because everything chains together into an eventual outcome, and that makes the culminating events satisfying. I know where these characters came from, why they made their decisions, what they could’ve done instead, and how everyone came together for the climax.

“I say it’d be better for all of us if the flood made them leave,” commented the wife of one of the councilmen.
“Or drown,” added her husband. “Just kidding! Just kidding!”

Participants of the Dinner Party

Being a future-based post-apocalyptic society, We Lost the Sky presents people inhabiting a world that is largely unrecognizable. The story picks up decades after the cataclysm, and before that the world already had sentient artificial people and fanciful healing agents. The combination of future tech with a desolate landscape makes Earth seem more an alien world than our home. Though of course, the people are more than recognizable despite the strange surroundings.

Because Howalt does an excellent job at considering the line of consequences for a fallen moon. There are people that worship the moon’s fallen form, or think of her as a lost goddess, and there are signs of the (literal) impacts made by her disappearance. It’s also far enough past the disaster that people have forgotten the history of their downfall and who they even were. There are also clear divisions of those that were prepared versus those that survived. There are hidden caches of cryochambers, dome-covered cities stagnating under protective cover, and nomads purposefully avoiding attachments as they wander a broken world.

This is the setting of Howalt’s We Lost the Sky, and these are the locations that contain our four protagonists. Luca is the descendent of a wealthy family that had a safety chamber of cryo-storage, but he is the only one that survived. Teo is daughter to the man leading a stagnating domed Florence. Renn is the vagrant, and he meets up with the recently-wakened Mender seeking nir programmers for purpose in a lost world.

“Do you think it is always like that? That some people will go hungry while others have plenty?” Renn asked.
“I think it is a danger of any society, yes,” ne said.

Renn and Mender

All four begin the novel separate, alone in their own ways, and at a turning point in their lives. Luca is growing restless and fed up with the downfall of the cities he used to know. Teo is stretching the limits of her freedom. Renn loses track of his covey, the group he travels with for support and belonging. Mender is awakened after the loss of power for centuries.

And then, as events pull them along, the four meet and the knowing of one-another changes lives completely. When Renn meets Mender, he is shown a past that he never even considered. Luca meets these two and remembers loneliness and the promise of companionship. And Teo, though surrounded by the people of Florence, finds an understanding of greater possibility and responsibility with her introduction to the world beyond the city domes.

More than anything, this is a story that is about people finding people and making connections. About how we make judgments and resist change. The setting, with its wastelands and people afraid of the past and future, allow Howalt to highlight the absurdities of human nature. And the grace in our capability for kindness. The setting is used as a tool, though it’s also deep enough that the details feel like genuine byproducts of the broken planet. And it’s never used in a way that drags your face in some dismal reality or heavy-handed forewarning.

And I enjoy a story that has fun while taking itself seriously. We Lost the Sky does that in spades. The characters are living in their world and enjoying what they can, but they also respond properly to the threats and challenges they face. This is no cartoon world without consequences, but it isn’t joyless grimdark with overly-gruesome death and destruction. Luca cracks anachronistic jokes from his past while facing danger, and Teo flirts while toying with political intrigue.

Those interactions, both lighthearted and serious, do a pleasant job at revealing the characters and their ideas and ideals. It provides a discovery of the four lives separately, and all four are well established by the time they discover each other. Then, after the world jumbles them together, the group heads toward a new future with a hopeful message of peace and resolve. I knew them well enough to understand what they’ve lost, gained, and how they might change beyond the last page.

“Move it!” one of the guards behind them yelled. “Break it up!”
“What are you afraid of?” she shouted back.

Teo

I enjoyed We Lost the Sky for so many reasons that I can’t help but recommend giving it a read. On the forefront, Howalt’s book speaks on change, survival, and fear of the unknown. Behind that, this is a story about identity, family, standing up for your ideals, and accepting the wisdom of others. Then, there are sprinkled-in elements on the acceptance of gender, the strength of pacifism, and the values of traditionalism versus progressive ideas. All of these bits combine together into a fun book with fantastic aspects and well-written depth.

Full cover of We Lost the Sky

Get it at one of these locations, or read additional reviews:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43866656-we-lost-the-sky
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NKFL483/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
https://www.adenng.com/2019/01/31/book-review-we-lost-the-sky/
https://readspaceboy.com/

Flash: Used to Think

A dark city below a jagged crack in the sky.

“I used to think that everyone was unique, and then I used to think that we were all the same.” Fin chuckles. “And then I grew up, and went out, and saw everything die, and so I stopped thinking.”

He meanders as he climbs the wall. His hands grab at brick while his mind picks out new topics with a foothold. Sometimes he eases to one side. Sometimes he reaches and doubles his height. A few times, he hesitates, edges down a foot, and then springs to another handhold.

It’s an old bank, I think, the place we’ve chosen for tonight’s break. For a place to get some sleep. Someone added fortifications, the extra height to an already high wall. Blocking in the drive-thru until it became a perimeter.

“Just get over the damned wall. We gotta get inside before the water rises.”

That makes him laugh, of all things. He hoists himself to the edge, climbs out of view, and then leans out. Looks down at me. “But ain’t it such a shit show? How the whole world has turned into Venice?”

I roll my eyes and toss our pack of food. “Catch!” He plucks it out of the air as I start clambering after him. I’m much more direct, more quiet, as I scramble from broken mortar to broken mortar. My fingers hurt, from the cold, from malnutrition, but I wedge them into each crack. I do not want to be outside when the boatmen begin to roam.

“I guess so much has changed, not much of what I used to think matters. So now I don’t think at all. Just moving forward, following you.”

“I’m following you right now.”

“Yeah, but what would I do without you? Wander to some treehouse and starve. The sunsets would be pretty. The trees are nice, but I wouldn’t be surviving. Not like you make happen.”

I stop at near the edge of the rooftop, foot wedged comfortably beneath me. “You sure do talk a lot for someone that doesn’t think.”

“Hm, but you’re making the common mistake. That speaking has thought behind it. Especially when we’re talking about me. About me talking. Trust me, it’s easier not to think, and it’s easier to let everything wash away. Let it be the high waters or rain or let it be alcohol, washing away thoughts is easier than gathering them.”

I shake my head and climb the last bit onto the roof. It is in decent condition, though a decent roof doesn’t keep you dry anymore. Not when the water comes from below.

And the walls don’t look like they can hold back all the water. They’ve got too many cracks. They look like they were shoddy work. Built to the tempo of terror.

“You see,” says Fin, and he’s staring off toward the rising mist. “Mist used to be prettier. When it wasn’t telling me something I didn’t want to know. And that’s why thoughts aren’t worth keeping. Because, letting them gather, they start clinging and combining into something new. And that new is not always good. Most of the time it’s like the stuff that clings together in your trash can when it’s smelling ripe with sweet rot.”

“Fin, there’s a skylight.” I stoop by his side and pull on his arm. “Exit plan one, alright?”

He gets to his feet, but I don’t have his attention. Not quite. “Just like that trash, you wrinkle your nose when you pass by those bits of sticking gunk. The gunk is not inspiring. Nobody’s gonna dig through that gunk.”

“Come on, get back up.” I haul him to his feet and we head toward the other side of the building. The structure is better, tighter, as we reach its original walls. It was a bank. I can see the ruins of an ATM on the other side of the shoddy barrier. It used to be in the middle of one of those roundabout islands to the side of the main parking lot.

The ATM is an island, now. The tides spill over sometimes, as if they got an extra urgent beckoning from the moon. Even torn apart, I can feel the curiosity in me. That slight interest of wondering if there’s still money inside. Useless as it would be.

Fin follows me. He’s rubbing his chin. “You know, some people dig through the trash, and it’s not even always about finding treasure. Some people aren’t looking for treasure. Some are looking for trash.” He smiles, and it’s so bright and gorgeous. Like he’s never changed. “Like me. I’m the trash.”

I want to hit him. I want to punch him. Bust my knuckles on his face. I kiss his cheek instead. “No, honey. You aren’t trash. You’re anything but.” I scrub tears away and give him a soft grin. “Now let’s find a door to this place. Climb down there, see the ladder? Someone must’ve pulled guard.”

He accepts my hand to help him onto the ladder. It’s rusted and rickety, but what isn’t these days? What wasn’t years ago, at this point? I feel my mood spiraling. Everything feels like it was too long ago. What am I heading toward?

“When it comes down to it,” rattles Fin, back on the same tangent. That’s a good sign. A single tangent is better than eight. “It’s not that someone’s trash is another’s treasure, it’s that sometimes we don’t want a treasure. Sometimes we want something beat up and broken and halfway complete. Sometimes we want something that doesn’t have the right colored panels or perfectly polished teeth.”

He smirks up at me. “That must be the truth, because it feels like truth.”

There’s a hope in his eyes that I wish I felt, but it does help. Even with all his ranting, all his random turns of phrase, I still feel better because he’s near.

The ladder drops us in a narrow hallway made from the same shoddy brickwork. Fin runs his hands over the walls, humming, as I pull out a flashlight. I wind it while watching the cracks in the brick. There’s enough structure there to hold back the water, and I half-hope for a dry floor. A dry table. Maybe tonight will give me proper sleep.

Fin kisses my forehead while I’m distracted. He rubs his hand on the side of my cheek, fingers scraping through the stubble of my beard. I still try to shave, when I can, but there are usually long breaks between.

“What is it, baby?”

He smiles. “I don’t even care about all this. About all this.” He nods. “Why would I care, when I’ve got you?”

I sigh and return his smile. “You’re sweet.” I flick the switch for the flashlight and turn to examine the door. It was glass, once, but now it’s plated with steel. Someone left it, who knows how long ago, so that it’s still ajar.

“I can’t wait till we get to the hills. Tomorrow, you think? Except when you think about it, isn’t it always tomorrow? Because really, the day only ends because we say it does. So, we’re always in today.”

I lead Fin into the fortified bank. “Sure, sounds good to me. I’d rather it’s always today though.”

He pauses at that, frowning. “But why?”

“Well,” I smile at the dark rooms around us. “Because then I can look forward to tomorrow. I can hope the next day brings us something better.” I walk across a floor that was stripped of carpet. Concrete echoes my footsteps. “This looks like we’ll be okay.”

Fin hugs me from behind. “You’re silly, Dean.” He leans into the embrace as he mumbles. “Nothing else to look forward to. I already found you.”

Flash: Shifting Priorities

Sometimes rain could feel good, could feel right, even during the wildest storms. Yet, that was when everything was at its best. When Jess was at her best. When there weren’t salty tears mixing on her cheek.

She wiped her face with the back of an arm to clear stray hair, rain, and tears. The rain wasn’t just unwelcome, it was a symbol of every obstruction in her life. Every drop was another flash of annoyance and discomfort. She hurried down the sidewalk wishing for an umbrella or an overhang or something to shield her from the deluge.

Cars splashed by with whirring engines and mirrored-in passengers. Overflowing gutters turned streets into rising rivers. Clouds were getting darker, and noon would be darker than dawn.

She glared at her phone as she walked. Her unanswered stream of messages stared back at her.

‘Has Gloria contacted you about my time off?
‘Did you tie up the boat?’
‘Is anyone going to check on the boat before the storm?’
‘Damien? What the hell. Answer your phone!’

She was halfway through a new message, ‘Do you know if-‘ when the phone went dead. The battery had been hanging on, but it finally gave up its battle. “Jesus. Fucking. Christ.” She growled each word while smacking the side of her phone. “One thing, and then everything.”

She stuffed her hands, phone too, in her jacket pockets and hunched against a sudden gust. The winds were picking up as she neared the bay. It probably wasn’t the best of times to head to the marina, but she had no choice. She had signed for the boat before taking time off, and she would be responsible if anything got damaged.

The water was ankle-deep as she jogged through the crosswalk. The cold wet soaked through her shoes and the bottoms of her jeans went soggy. A few cautious cars slid to a stop as she ran in front of their headlights. The AI systems beeped, or flashed warning lights, but she paid them no mind. She was too irritated to wait for permission from the intersection’s bright
green man.

Her feet thumped on the boardwalk as she continued at a slow jog. She slid on the slick wood several times, but managed to steady herself with the railing. A voice in her head urged caution, told her to be safe, but she ignored that too. It sounded too much like Emma to want to listen.

She wished she could kill that voice, wished she could forget its tone and subtle moments of gravel. Jess hated that there was a grieving period. She hated that relationships lingered, even if it had hardly been hours since saying goodbye.

Beneath her, the water sloshed and frothed at the edges of the boardwalk. It was higher than ever, had been rising for years, and it wouldn’t be long before the marina’s locks failed to control that rise.

Or, as they had before, they would drive away more property owners to accept more of the sea’s expansion. Even now, there were shadowy ghosts of buildings from ten years prior. They sat, preserved bits of old lives, right below the waves.

Some still glowed with light, tourist-trap underwater hotels or dive destinations that used to be dive bars. It seemed that the past always lingered after all.

Jess rushed overhead that sunken past, glad of the grip of her sturdy boots. It was hard enough to stay upright in the wet and weariness, even with good shoes. But then she arrived at the marina entrance and pulled on the gate. Its handle didn’t budge.

“Fuck!” Her frustration vented out in the vulgar screech. Locked. She hadn’t been scheduled to work today, hadn’t been at work the whole week past, so she didn’t have the key. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

This is exactly what Emma had warned would happen. Emma hadn’t wanted her to leave, even after the fight. She cared, despite everything. Despite everything Jess had done.

The cold steel of the gate seemed to stick to Jess’ fingertips. She shivered. Her clothes were getting more soaked with every moment of hesitation. Looking up, she eyed barbed-wire lining the top of the fence. She wedged a foot in the gap between hinge and post and hiked herself onto the handle.

Worry of getting caught was non-existent. The docks were empty. Marina workers were gone. Security was gone. Everyone else had gone home after the first surge warnings. They were smart, not like her. She clenched her eyes shut as her fingers slipped on the gate’s ironwork. She felt stupid for so many things, and her mistake with the boat was just more proof.

She inched her way up the gate. Her feet, wedged just so, held enough to push her way to the top. Getting over the barbed wire was another problem. She hooked her hands over the top of the gate and glanced at the rows of rusted deterrent. There were three rows of the wire, angled out to prevent climbers like her, but the barbs weren’t perfectly offset.

Trusting her jacket for protection, she reached up and wrapped an arm over a bare patch of the steel wire. Rocking her hips back, she kicked one leg up and swung the lower-half of her body toward the top. Her foot cleared the wire, and then she managed to hook on with her heel.

A pinch of pain buried into her ankle. Her sock, and her jeans, were keeping anything from breaking skin so far, but it still hurt. Cursing everything under her breath, she strained her way to the top of the gate. Her whole body felt like it was shaking at the end, but she managed to claw her way to the other side.

Then Jess scraped her wrist on one of the barbs. She yelped, lost her grip, and tumbled the last way over the gate.

She landed on the slick wooden dock with a thump.

The rain hadn’t paused for a moment in its deluge, and lying in a heap chased away Jess’ last reserves of dry clothing. Her chest heaved as she fought back the panicked adrenaline surge from her fall. Her joints hurt. She’d fallen on her shoulder, and it was terribly sore. Blood trickled from the shallow gash on her wrist. “Fuck,” she grumbled.

Despite the weather, despite the twisted heap she’d landed in, lying there for hours momentarily felt like a viable decision. She considered the idea while closing her eyes. She felt the gradual dampness along her back seep toward being completely soaked.

Someone banged on the gate with a rapid urgency. “Jess!? Jess, is that you!? Are you okay!?”

She rolled onto her back and raised her head with a raised brow. “Ugh?” She blinked several times. “Emma, what?”

Her girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, clenched a fist around one of the gate’s bars. “Oh, thank goodness! Holy shit, Jess, what are you doing out here?”

Jess sat up with a wince. She really hoped she hadn’t dislocated her shoulder. “Uh, trying to secure the boat.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, really? This whole marina is gonna get washed out to sea!”

“Did you-” Jess guffawed at the absurdity of the moment. “Did you drive all the way down? For that? To scold me about this stupid boat?”

“Really, that’s what you think? Do you-” Emma tried the gate’s handle before shaking it with frustration. “Damnit, would you just open this thing? I’ll help you with the fucking boat.”

Jess bit her lip. “Shit,” she whispered. She pushed herself off the ground. Walking to the gate, she pushed it open with a hiss of pain. Yeah, her shoulder felt wrong. Maybe it was dislocated. “You were that worried about me?”

“Oh, fuck you, Jess.” Emma pulled the gate the rest of the way open and slammed into a hug with Jess. “Fucking hell, fuck you.”

They kissed, but only for a moment, because Jess’ knees started to give. “Shoulder,” she murmured. “Maybe dislocated.” She fought for consciousness. “Ugh, fuck the stupid boat.”

She wasn’t sure if it was the pain, Emma’s presence, or the rain, but maybe she could be okay with some shifting priorities.

Flash: The Rising Cost of Automatons

Taendragor Ends Trade Negotiations with Galania

Nosson's skyline.

Business leaders pressured government trade representatives to halt crucial talks.

Breysa Eyon introduced an international petition against discussions aimed at new international treaties. The Eyon Industries CEO and Taendragonian powerhouse of netwabi production brought all talks to a standstill. A delegation of company leaders met in secret over several months to organize the movement. Their message focuses on spirit use and sustained interaction with the gods. Supporters implore resistance toward government intervention and spirit-directed treaties.

Officials granted the industry giant a visit to the trade conference after weeks of delay. Attendants within the meetings cited a concern about bribery and corruption. However, it seems that curiosity won out as the conference leaders allowed the visit.

As usual, Ms. Eyon attended in the latest fashions and with her personal bodyguard. This time, her oft-seen party-crazed tabloid persona was noticeably absent. Instead the young woman presented herself with a stern grace more-reminiscent of her departed mother. Without more than a stilted curtsy, Ms. Eyon presented a signed statement with approximately 150000 signatures. The statement was co-signed by twelve partnering spirit-tech CEOs. Additional signatures were from community leaders across the Taendragor continent. An infodisc, reportedly containing an additional million signatures, was said to represent “additional peoples of Nalan that choose to resist unrepresented choices toward a dark future.”

Delegates from every kingdom, nation, and state-entity were at the negotiations. The visit initially garnered intense scrutiny for its interruption of international politics. However, Ms. Eyon’s position in the market has left an expectant caution toward her presence and the petition’s demands. Analysts discussed the possibility of shared technology agreements that could arise from forced alliances. The petition may be a perfect catalyst for the change long-desired by private-sector markets. However the results fall, industry experts warn that this power-play has begun a larger movement to negotiate directly with world governments. Eyon Industries may be positioning itself toward a takeover unseen in recent history.

From the Company to the World

The Automaton Doctrine, an Eyon Industries internal policy, provides much of the groundwork for Ms. Eyon’s petition. Many tenants are pulled straight from pages of company guidelines. Normally, the doctrine’s audience is intended for participants of high-level acquisition decisions. The Automaton Doctrine sets her political beliefs as a matter of company policy. Every employee attends mandatory training on Spirit Singing and its dangers. Weekly regional briefs include an overview of regional gods and cultural foci.

These company policies have been examined and ridiculed before. Opponents state that the training is useless and dangerously biased. Others feel as if the practice is understandable though a little heavy-handed. Ms. Eyon maintains that the training is crucial for a company environment so steeped in the use of Spirit power. For safety or not, Ms. Eyon is a well-known proponent for open-spirit laws. Her policies have been used to make notable progress against Taendragor’s restrictive practices.

Now, that policy has been rewritten into demands toward an international audience. The petition is outlined in a prioritized list with the following sections of argument:

  • A restriction of government interference in all matters of Spirit.
  • A call for the immediate and complete deconstruction of any wards and netwabi that trap, limit, or otherwise influence the gods.
  • Limit, or end entirely, any practice that knowingly redirects worship toward mortal deification.
  • Destroy any records of true-names, god-names, or Aldyati.
  • Consolidate idolized imagery into one of the four elder gods.

The Cost of Automatons

Outside of Eyon Industries, the largest contributors to the petition are well-known Automaton manufacturers. This has been identified as a key reason for the sudden intervention. Technological limitations have kept Automaton development stagnant for years, and the proclamation of true automation still seems ages away. Researchers have been complaining about restrictive legislation for years, even outside of Taendragonian borders. There is little public research that reveals how legislation has limited the Automaton developers, but recent polls show that popular support is on the rise for deregulation on Spirit Singing.

Advanced Automaton models seem more than capable to serve as household assistants and constant workhouse aides, but the cost of such devices has hardly diminished over time. Netwabi-borne machinery has been developed for the better part of a millennia in most developed state-entities. Despite this, critics argue that their functionality is mostly refined rather than improved. Miniaturization has led to advances in the number of functions available to customers, but these gains are incremental rather than transformational.

These claims, and topics, were discussed in earnest in a little-seen interview with Ms. Eyon several months prior to the meeting. She stated that “…transformation will only arrive when we let go of these power-hungry caches that we have developed. Everyone has them now. Has had them for ages, I suppose. They have to go.”

Ms. Eyon’s opinion on the matter seems to have grown more serious. She left the trade meeting after this brief speech: “I know that you think of me as something of a fluke. I take it, from your rather shocked expressions, that I have surprised you with this bit of seriousness. But let me be clear. We need to change. And I will no longer idle away my time waiting for government to reach the conclusions that we must all arrive upon. Nalan will die if we do not release our control on Spirit. The world needs the gods returned to their natural state. This petition guarantees that.”

Shock and Ambivalence

Galanian Counselor, Deffar Eyresia, disagreed with the intent of the petition and its source. “Breysa Eyon is well-respected for her company’s contributions to the world, but we are not beholden to her whims and beliefs. International law is no place for profit-minded decisions, and the spiritual nature of these demands is an affront to the multitude of religions we represent as an international consortium.”

Counselor Eyresia has been a long-time defender of religious freedoms and has rejected 90% of all bills brought before the Galanian Council on religion. Galania is also home to the world’s leading research institution on netwabi development. There seems little chance that the Galanian Union will capitulate to Ms. Eyon’s demands. It is, as of yet, uncertain as to how the young CEO plans to enact her proposal. Eyon devices are fashionable and well-loved by fans of the company, but Galania markets account for less than 5% of Eyon profits.

Taendragonian leaders were unavailable for a statement on this developing situation.

 

Reporting by Lefon Anterah
Nosson Journal

Flash: Twilight Spider

Talking to Shadows
Issue No. 25231

1 January 1923

Archivists Note:
This letter was published within the last known issue of the infamous “Talking to Shadows” semi-annual magazine. There are numerous accounts from newspaper editorials and, later, news reports themselves, that speak of the Delossi Process, but this has been identified as the earliest credible presentation that someone had identified a rising change of the status quo. Of particular interest is the mention of a group of elders, and their intent to perform some manner of negotiations, but the results of this meeting are so far left to our imaginations. It is, as of yet, unknown whether the writer had a personal acquaintanceship with Madame Delossi, but both were certainly prominent figures in the ensuing period of unrest. They demonstrably knew of each other, but it is inconclusive as to where they obtained such knowledge. Wherever they knew one another from, it is intriguing to discover the initiation of what later became a vicious rivalry that spanned throughout centuries.

Editor’s Letter

A happiest of New Years to the readership. Hopefully, you are waking with a rather minimized hangover. Hopefully, you recall a rather clever use of muffling mentioned in issue 1528. The world should be a tad more tolerable after proper application. Otherwise, let us look forward to these next weeks, these next months, as a time to strike boldly toward the goals that sustain us. Bring in those that deserve our knowledge, build the interconnections of our communication webs, and seek out new applications of those core abilities brought to us by the mastery of talking to shadows. And, most of all, use our capability to strengthen the world and its foundations.

Now, having made mention of the core abilities, it may indeed be time to reiterate those with an emphasis on usage and intent. Surely, the proper use of shadows never strays from our minds, but knowing recent events it is worth an additional moment of thought.

Firstly, it is well documented that some specialists are able to glean combined knowledge from what lingering dead populate all that is cast between light. Importantly, none do this without serious cross-referencing with both the Books of Shadowspeak and public resources. We must all be very aware of the responsibility weighing our shoulders at the possibility of illumination from the past. Even seemingly innocent drivel, from the furthest reaches of time, may have far-reaching affects that are not easily seen by those of us lost in the present.

Secondly, others among us hone that fine ability to pass whispers at the speed of light, or rather as is more apropos, shadow. This tremendous ability has been a most fine aid throughout the millennia. It is no idle boast to claim that our group has saved whole countries, whole continents with the lightning-quick spread of alerts and warning. However, we also spread such information with the care required to allow for misdirection and negate suspicions. It would hardly be of use if we ourselves were not kept safe by our own techniques. Gladly, the rise of radio, of that frightful electron, has made some requirements of this particular skill easier than ever.

Thirdly, though certainly not minimized by the ordering, there are also those upon us with success at visual illusion and misdirection. Notorious for its difficulty to perform, let alone master, it is nonetheless amazingly useful on levels personal, regional, and global. I myself have struggled to build relationships with our departed required for such tasks, but alas those dead to me seem rather reluctant to convince their fellows. Yet, such is the danger of shadow optics. It is beyond reprehensible to lie to those from the beyond in order to convince them of your importance or familial ties. Those bonds we form with the undying must be true and solidly based on reality. Let us never forget the complete loss caused by a simple lie in Rome. There is still little guarantee that the truth of Christianity will ever surface now that the rumors have spread into the hearts of those long passed. Of lesser gravity, but still terribly important, we must never use illusion for such folly as is attempted in mass-hypnotism expositions. Our talents are not those of simple tricks, and the misuse only lessens us and those who follow our creed.

All combined, these are valid and trusted methods of shadowmancy that have been carried forward through generations upon generations. These are the foundations of work that we carry out from day to day. These are the tenants that we nail to doors and uphold with both hands. These are the pillars that build our church.

However, recently it has come to my attention that an elder among our group has claimed a new technique. Please, disregard this dangerous work if you find yourself in possession of Madame Delossi’s essay. Her theories on transportation through shadow have only ever been but wishful glimmers of fancy. Even if possible, though it has been stubbornly disproved time and time again, it is a horrid menacing desire. Entrusting one’s mind and body to such danger, liaising with netherfolk so that life wanders among death, would be calamitous at best. Souls must not breach from one plane to the next, and no protective companionship with the dead will prevent this from attracting the attention of every wraith ever clinging to the edges of Earth’s veils.

Already, I have heard and read of reports from those that have acted on this spurious knowledge. Lives are being lost, friends. A concussive force of darkness obliterated the light in Dallas just last month. Dawn finally broke through just yesterday, but a gloom has set upon the city. Dust storms were engineered to account for such an oddity, but losses of productivity and peace have been unaccountable. Earlier this year, two boys, brothers attending the illustrious Shadow Sept in Eugene, barely escaped with their lives after a nigh-hour attempt that collapsed a butte on itself. Specialists have managed a fine reenactment of mudslides to diminish the abruptness, but several projects have been set aside for months to prevent chaos.

Please, I beg of you, refrain from attending to Madame Delossi’s claims. The rest of the elders are discussing matters of publication standards with her as we speak, and we will surely find a happy medium to settle the unease caused by this tumultuous miscommunication.

As an extra precaution, this issue will have a focus with topics on defensive shadowplay and muffling techniques. As always, take every chance to develop a prowess of mind that does wonders at refining the separation between shadow and light.

Until next issue, may the whispers find you.
– T.S. Canthry

Foggy Mornings, Additional Musings

Foggy Mornings

And Additional Musings

When the day is young, still
When the fog rolls in
When the morning light is dim
When my mind is lost
In lingering dreams, my friends

When the forest is too overgrown
When the underbrush is thick
When the wooded trail is lost
When each footfall breaks wrists
And promises speak of death

There is the hopeless
Then is the moment lost
That is the breaking point
Before barriers are crossed

Then is the moment
Where solutions make sense
Whether or not
They can provide a defense

Why should we rely
On the infallible thought
That we can try
And figure it out

But in those gloomy places
With just the right lie
There’s still a torch to see
A pretty face
Or a project to be
A mental construction
A glimmer beckoning

And maybe, perhaps
It’s just an illusion
But believe in illusion
Until it must be

 

Avoidance

Something cold trickles down, drips, catches
Sits, waits, becomes a weight
Heavy, heavier, the heaviest thing
It’s bearing down
It’s listening

A thought that hammers repeatedly
It bothers, needles, breaks skin
Digs down and burrows in
Becomes the truth
Despite denial

Oh denial, oh its relief
The promise it offers of unchanging
How can I stop who I have been?
When it took so long to learn to be

Acceptance is good, isn’t it great?
You can be yourself
You can let the world in
You can alienate all of your friends

So patch the dam as it cracks
Bulges, creaks under that weight
Just ignore what might be
Take the comfort
Of not reckoning

Avoid the searching of who and why
The state of not, doing a thing
Stalling, stalled, a stall that breaks wings
Keep the secret
Down within

 

Caught

They caught me on the doorstep
One Saturday evening
We were arm-in-arm
Secret kissing

Some secrets are joyful
A happy surprise
A dramatic reveal
That pleases
Assures
And Complies

But those aren’t the best secrets
The best secrets draw blood
They drew blood
Because of a secret
They broke hearts
And you lie

Conformity breeds liars
You have to fit in
But if you don’t?
If you won’t?
Then you learn to fib.

Honesty is for the normal
Honestly for shapeshifters
They fit in a box
Because they were poured in

But what of the misshapen?
The ones that can’t melt
Or those that refuse
Because that’s not being yourself

Then? A choice.
A statement.
Of life:
A constant fight
Or a constant fib

 

Never

She took a step and stopped
Looked at me, quizzical
The question wasn’t why
It was not a question
An accusation

And I couldn’t take it
I couldn’t refuse
Love was easier
Than hate

But who wrote the rules?
And when do they break?
When did the moment pass
Where someone had been hurt?

I didn’t succumb
I overcame
But to an outside viewer
They were one and the same

The challenges are breathless
Wordless
Weeping
Choices

And those choices, daggers that cut different
Hurt self or someone else
Any choice is deafening
When an expression of self

Train Platforms and Rooftops

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
854 Words

Train platforms were always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Sure, sometimes it’d get busy, and then you’d have to deal with a bit of a crowd. That was the exception, however. Most of the time you just sat there on a bench, quietly staring into a space made up of rock and steel, rust and flickering lights. The peace flew the coup whenever a freight train went blurring by. Those were a physical force of noise and motion and sucking wind.

Gerald sat there as one of the behemoths lunged behind him on the second tracks. He was staring at a small mouse crawling over another. He was slouching, hands deep in his pockets and a toothpick held between his teeth. The toothpick gave him a feeling of being cool. His hands within his pockets gave him a feeling of comfort almost as a security blanket would. He likened putting your hands in your pockets to balling up into the fetal position. It was comfortable.

An announcer started his gibberish about time, trains, and tracks. The time registered somewhere in Gerald’s mind, matched up with a schedule, and activated a movement protocol. Work was starting soon. He picked up his book bag.

The great thing about train stations, airports, and bus stations was the security you had in being there. If you had some sort of bag, or at least looked tired, withdrawn, and worn, no one would bug you. You could just sit there, for hours on end, without anyone giving you a second glance. It was kind of like an open privacy. Every bit of its escape was in your mind.

Sidewalks were always worn, cracked, and stained. When someone put in a new stretch of the stuff it’d practically glow, especially on sunny days. The sidewalk on the way to work was old, ancient and beaten by the forces of gravity and pedestrians. It had little cracked dips and rises, places where the earth had settled, and places where roots had pushed out against the confines of a cement prison. There was old spray paint and new chalk. These were two forms of graffiti with varying levels of acceptance. Permanence is hard to accept.

The place that Gerald worked was one of those looming buildings of mortar and stone, too old to know it should’ve fallen down already and too old to consider making it fall down. It had historical merit despite most of that involving bad days of work. Today was a bad day of work, and it hadn’t even really started. Things were just sort of uneven and off rhythm. Sometimes the world just seemed to pulse exactly the wrong way, or maybe it was just Gerald. He clocked in and considered the digital timestamp telling him he was two minutes late.

In a cubicle, you have the exact opposite of privacy. You have a little cardboard box that everyone can open. They lift the flaps and rummage through the contents. They toss out what’s been in there too long. They stuff other junk inside that they don’t want anywhere else. The only real refuge is the computer screen. There is the glowing God with digital secrets and dreams hidden away beneath false windows and half-hearted spreadsheets. Someone in another cardboard box loves work and pushes out maximum output. Gerald doesn’t hate work, but he doesn’t care, and so pushes out no output. Combined, along with whatever other cardboardians, output is nominal.

On break, Gerald stood by the water cooler with one of those little conical cups. They hold maybe a gulp of water. He always filled them up eight or nine times until slowly getting a full eight ounces. Today he just stared at the cooler, empty, and tried to figure out what it was he would do. Lunch was always water. Getting water was how he spent his lunch.

After work, Gerald walked home while pretending his feet were wheels over the landscape of a rolling sidewalk. He passed the train station, considered taking a seat to listen to the passing trains, but kept on toward his apartment. The air was cool with the scent of budding flowers and car exhaust, but the important thing was that it felt good. He didn’t go to his room, not yet, but slowly wound up the staircase, forgoing the elevator’s rumbling ride.

On rooftops, there was always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Under your back was the feel of gravel and small rocks, weight distribution keeping any from digging in and making it uncomfortable. Above you, the sky darkened and an expanse of stars opened up, peeking out from their hiding places in the blue beyond. The peace flew the coup whenever sirens went blaring by, but it was alright. There were still the stars, and the sky, and the gentle breeze that always picked up just enough to carry away the heat and oppression of things going stale.

Tomorrow, Gerald decided he’d stop by the train station again. Who knew, maybe his train would come in.

Key Liar

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
300 Words

Others of the warrior’s ilk were filling the room around me, burly men and women wearing pelts and bits of iron as jewelry. They ducked carefully to step downstairs onto the ship’s lower deck, “We are honored by your presence.”

Arranged in a semicircle they passed around horns of drink and baskets of bread. These were shared with reverent bows in my direction. They repeated one phrase: ”The key to our salvation.”

None approached me and I soon grew bored out of my fear, “Might I have something to eat?”

“Sacrament,” said the first, the leader, the one that yanked me from the city, “Fulfillment of the pact requires clarity.”

“What pact?” I stood warily, unsteady because of rolling of waves, “If I’m so special then tell me something!”

“You are the key…”

“…to our salvation,” I finished, “Yeah, I got that. Ridiculous.”

Deep pulsing sounds reverberated through the vessel.

Two of the savages grabbed my upper arms and yanked me out of the room in a hurried rush. Their faces were tight, jaws clenched.

All around us the sky was dancing with streaming light. Electricity crackled as my captors lifted me to the sky, “The key!”

A great sonorous wail shook the very fabric of the world. I felt my mind twist.

“Liar! LIAR!” The leader stared at me with horror, “You claimed yourself sterile!”

Thin sheets of energy surrounded my skin. The ship, along with all of its sailors, disintegrated in screams. Bright purple light engulfed everything.

A breeze whispered fading words, “Liar…”

I bobbed in the swell of a sea I did not know under an alien sky. Ignorance wasn’t a lie, but I felt terrible for my unknowing betrayal. I had been their key alright, but not for salvation. Nor mine. I couldn’t tread water forever.

Chosen to Feed

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
998 Words

Stacy wished she could have a dog as she watched the streetlights flicker. Darkness slid into its place and the sidewalks seemed to disappear.

Any pet would have been welcome. Well, there’d be no point in fish. Or lizards or spiders or glass-walled things that had little of comfort to add. So, of course a dog, or a cat as well. Having any warmth would be a lovely change.

But the neighborhood was stuffy. Its people had their ways. Perhaps they wouldn’t notice, not for days at least.

Stacy closed the curtains. She slid the window shut. Grass tickled her shoeless feet as she wandered through the yard. Someone had left a tricycle out. Demolished anthills showed where children had played. She felt the tug of an aluminum fence as it haltingly let her phase.

The new world was not of iron. There were less believers and less of faith. To some neighbors that was a blessing. To Stacy it was a plague.

She walked into a wooded court. Musicians tested strings. A quiet man in a pair of boxers stood in the shadowed glade. Moonlight wouldn’t bring its nuisance. Night would linger in shadow. Stacy sighed a careful sigh. She hated the lengthy dark.

“Daughter, lead the feeding.”

Her lips tightened as she turned. A pale white figure hung from its tree. She hated that toothless grin. Stacy dipped a curtsy low. “Of course, Caethar. Always as you wish.”

A hundred joints began to pop. The creature uncurled from its perch of mossy branches. Leaves rustled as the bulk dislodged. Caethar’s body filled the space. Its carapace shook and swayed. It slunk to surround the prey.

Whatever daze had held the man finally began to fade. His first instinct was to shiver as night’s chill broke in. Then he saw the terror. Then he choked the moment in.

Strange enough, he did not yell. The nearly naked man did not scream. He shook and his shoulders trembled. But all he did was look down.

Stacy walked into her mentor’s form. She thought the creature enjoyed the touch. She couldn’t feel the contact, but that it did she had no doubt. Every time it got the chance, it seemed to force her through. On the other side she paused in thought. It was helpful to consider the chosen. They never fit a pattern. How did they hear the call?

Remembering things long passed was hard. Understanding brought pain. The little left inside Stacy’s head barely found an age. The man was in his forties. Perhaps a little older. His hair was thick but graying. His belly a sloping pouch. “Chosen, can you hear me? Do you know your purpose?”

“Who? Is that?” His voice caught with each breath. He looked about with eyes grown wide. He shook with convulsions to his knees.

“It is enough to hear. Vision refuses to cooperate.” She cupped his cheek on a whim. “Are you not afraid?”

Anger drove his voice strong. Anger darkened his face. “Don’t you see me shaking? Do you smell my coward’s piss? End this torment, quickly! I accept my fate!”

Caethar rumbled laughter. The ground thrummed to that rolling sound. The neighbors would all look skyward. They would question the cloudless night. “Musicians. Play.”

The touch of warmth surprised her. She could feel her fingers burn. Stacy pressed her fingers in and they passed into the skull. “You are no believer…”

The violas rose in tune.

“His nature is no matter. He answered and will get his due.” The creature’s carapace clattered. The chitinous plates drew back. A hundred eyes blinked open. They stared out from empty milky white.

Through her passed a memory. But then there came much more. Stacy saw the life of a man with guilt weighing him down.

Both of his eyes were rolled back to white. The man’s mouth was hanging open. The sounds he made were animal grunts as who he’d been was seeping out.

One of the musicians struck discord that yowled into the night. The other stumbled on the flaw and veered into disarray.

“Now! To me! You are my channel! Direct the flow!”

Stacy turned a neck grown stiff as life began to spread. Her eyes were bulging outward. “He was never yours to take!”

The chitinous form tried to waggle forward in its open state, but it’s bulk was far too ponderous. It could only yell and growl. “It does not matter what they think! I don’t care what they believe! They owe me still for the time I spent giving them this place!”

The man’s heart was beating slower. He was falling to the ground. A glimpse of life was in him, but the rest had been drawn away.

From another’s memory her own grew stronger. The reminder made her howl. She turned upon her master. “As you told me so long ago!?”

“You deserve the role you play! Doubt gives you no escape! If you had been more firm in faith, then perhaps I’d have let you rest!” Caethar’s armor began to close. It realized the morsel’s loss. Soon it would rear and demolish the clearing. Soon it would steal back Stacy’s theft.

She felt her heart for the first time in years. There was a thump beneath her breast. A chitinous plate grew from her throat and snapped over her chest. “No,” she said, “You will lie no more. I will lay you down to rest!”

Its laughter filled the naked sky. Stars twinkled with its mirth. The segmented body rose and towered, “You are nothing but a pest.”

Stacy knew her power. She wasn’t living yet. She leaped and phased within her master. Her fingers curled as claws of death.

Both musicians fled, and the man lay still, unconscious. Stacy devoured her former lord until its power filled her full.

And when dawn thought to return. She walked back to her home. She climbed back through the window, and felt a hunger grow.

Oceans of Shelter

Story Preview

Oceans of Shelter

Hello, internet! I recently wrote the last chapter of my first full-length novel on the world of Nalan. To celebrate that accomplishment, I’m going to post the first chapter of my next full-length novel on the world of Nalan. The next story is tentatively called Oceans of Shelter and will follow a young girl named Nuette. This is an early draft, so there’s no doubt that this will change a billion times from now. Following, you’ll find the first draft of that story’s intro.

Chapter One:

“Nuette, my Nuette, you’ve shown you knew it. Your answer is right, but now you must prove it!”

The young girl giggled. She often did so at her father’s silly rhymes, especially when they included her name. “No, Daddy!” Her voice squeaked the title. “I’m tired of rithmatec!”

He tapped her on the nose with a scarred brick-red hand. “Arithmetic! You must speak properly as well as show your work.” Smiling, his well-worn fingers set the slate back in his daughter’s lap. “Now, quickly, quick, show me the trick!”

She puffed out a cheek and stared at her problem. The small board had the gray cast of years of chalk scribblings. Her finger tapped the number she’d written as her answer. “But I know it’s right! 64 goes into 1024 just 16 times.”

He winked. “Prove it.”

Pursing her lips, she squinted at him with scrunched eyebrows and golden-yellow eyes. “Prove math? That’s silly! You don’t gotta prove the truth.”

Rumbing laughter made his chest heave and shake. “Oh, clever daughter, how I wish that were true.” He took her piece of chalk and started writing. “64 and 64?”

Rolling her eyes, Nuette went along with the lesson. “128.” They continued and slowly added sums until the multiplication was matched.

“So you see, my little sweetheart?”

She stuck out her tongue. “But it took so much time.”

“But Mrs. Vumon would not accept the partial answer, yes?”

Her grumbled words were agreement enough. “She’s just a mean old lady.”

“Breakfast!” The sing-song voice carried up the stairway.

“Coming!” He stood with a careful slowness and pointed a thumb at his back. “Alright, hop aboard!”

Nuette grinned and set aside her slate. She jumped up and grabbed hold of her father’s shoulders and then hooked her legs around his waist. “Ready!”

Holding her hands as he walked, his head tilted as he spoke, “So, you think Mrs. Vumon is old? Then what does that make me?” The stairs creaked from step to step.

“Um. You’re daddy!” She giggled again. They ducked down under the doorframe into the lower level of the apartment.

“Well! Good morning you two! I see that your lessons were as entertaining as ever!”

“Nope! We were doing ah-rith-muh-tick!”

The man chuckled, “Oh, what pronunciation! Very good, Nuette.” Her father let the girl drop from his back, “Now up we go!”

Nuette squeaked, “Eep!” But then she laughed and pretended she was flying as her father swung her toward a chair. Her arms mimed the wings of a bird’s while he swung her about for an extra turn.

“And now she lands, soft as a feather!” He set her down with a grin, but a hand rubbed at his lower back.

“Beetro, you must be careful! Our daughter has grown far too much for your tired arms. She is thirteen! Let her jump if she wants to fly!”

He kissed his wife on both cheeks. “Ah, Mrs. Syimga, these tired arms are still quite strong! They have years yet of helping Nuette float!”

“Ah huh! Daddy’s real strong! He breaks clay pipes with his bare hands!”

“Hmph! And a silly thing that is to do! He cuts and bruises his hands instead of using the right tools! How is this not a foolish act?”

Beetro dropped back onto a chair and it gave a creaking complaint. “Ah, but sometimes the tools do not fit! Plumbing is not often in a place of great space!”

Nuette laughed and earned a mussing of her silvery-gray hair. “That’s why he likes my hands to help!” She wiggled her fingers. “They’re so small!”

“Mr. Syimga! She is supposed to watch, and to hand you supplies! Will you let a spider nibble at her fingers?” She untied her apron and set it on a glazed clay hook. Her arms were then carefully loaded with three plates of eggs and toast. “Hire a new assistant already! Jotel has been gone for months!”

He waggled his finger at her. “Peyla! Our Nuette will be my new assistant. She is very clever, and has caught on to the profession quite well!”

“Well. It seems that we have much to discuss after she leaves to school.” Peyla set the food on the table. “But no more talk of work. Let us eat and finish our morning.”

“Aw! But school’s so boring! Can’t I stay and learn with dad?”

Beetro narrowed his eyes and shook his head with a mouthful of food. “Mmmnng!” He swallowed. “How can you say something so terrible!? Nuette! School is wonderful! You learn so much!”

She poked at her food with a fork. “But the kids are dumb. They make fun of my gloves.”

Wife and husband exchanged a glance. He reached across the table and pushed aside Nuette’s plate of food. He beckoned with his fingertips. “Give me your hands.”

Her lips tightened together as she followed his instruction.

Taking her hands in his, he turned them palm-up and opened his own for comparison. The scarring on his hand had grown soft and faint, but the branded eye was still visible. Nuette’s mark was still bright and pink. “Darling, these marks are important to bear with pride. With strength. They show our commitment to Kalshen.”

“Then why do we always cover them? You and mama dip your hands in wet clay. I saw it.”

Peyla sighed. “Nuette, the world is ever changing and we must be cautious. To have the marks is necessary, but we cannot always expect acceptance from those who see them.”

Beetro closed her hands into little fists. “And so sometimes we must put away that which makes us most proud. But! You still feel the scars, yes?”

She nodded carefully. “Ah huh.”

“And covering them does not lessen what they mean. You still know they are there. We still know.”

“You cannot change your skin, Nuette.” Her mother smiled. “But different situations alter how it must be covered. Otherwise, why do you put on clothes?”

The hints of a smile touched the girl’s lips. “Well I can’t go out naked!”

Her father chortled, “Exactly!” He drew his hands away and picked up his fork. “Sometimes, we must put on armor against the world! Our clothing protects us, and your gloves protect you.”

Peyla tapped the table. “Now eat up! You have to be ready for helping your father!”

Nuette grinned wide. “You mean I can skip school today!?”

“Well,” said her mother, “If you are to be his assistant, we will have to alter your schedule.”

Beetro laughed, “Oh hoh! Mrs. Syimga! I respect the wisdom of your decision.”

The adults exchanged tight-lipped smiles as Nuette shoveled down her food.