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Feather-Blessed: A Wordless Call

To my loyal readers, an apology that this took so long. I'm still trying to find ways to balance my writing schedule with working full time. I suspect it will always be a challenge, but I'll try to get better at it.

In case you're a new reader, the first Feather-Blessed story is here.
___________________

Purple and yellow, magenta and green
They bloom along her arms, shoulders, and face.
Such a quiet sound, far from any human home
A girl’s voice, wordless, full of meaning:
Sobs, muffled desperately by aching flesh


Grace awoke suddenly, then realized she was swimming away from Stella, who was floating on the water, wings outspread to catch the starlight. Grace paused long enough to stick her head out of the water. “Stella, wake up.”

Stella yawned and glared at Grace, pale pointed exclamation points fringing her eyes. “Why’d you wake me up?” Her voice was all fuzzy. “There was this sad girl, and I was trying to find out what was wrong. But you woke me up, and now I’ll never know—”

“She’s not a dream.”

“I can never get back to the same dream—wait. What are you talking about?”

Another sob rippled across the water.

“Her!”

“Who?” Stella blinked, and the exclamation points faded.

“Can’t you hear her?”

“All I hear is you.” Little grumpy cartoon cuss-squiggles framed Stella’s eyes.

“But it’s so clear!”

“What’s so clear?”

“The girl. She’s crying. Her face is wet with her tears.”

“Now, how can you possibly hear that?”

Grace thought about it for a moment, though she longed to be swimming to the girl. “I don’t know. How can you eat light?”

The scribbles around Stella’s eyes changed to asterisks. “You have a point there. So, now what?”

“We’ve got to go to her!”

“Like this? Are you nuts?” Stella’s eye-lights morphed into little cartoon figures—a crying girl, a huge dragon walking up, the girl running away.

Grace ignored the light-pictures. “We can’t just leave her out there alone.”

“But—“

“I’m going. You can come along or not.” Grace turned and started swimming, long, effortless strokes.

“I’m coming, wait up!

Stella thrashed in the water, moving herself forward awkwardly, though more effectively every day. Grace slowed for a moment, and asked the water to help her friend. But the feeling that she had to be there immediately grew more urgent, and she shot ahead of Stella, knowing the water would get her friend there as quickly as possible.

The girl huddles by the beach, shaking.
In the woods beyond, a dog runs
Following his wet nose full of her scent
And a sweating, angry man follows
The girl’s blood and dry metal touching his hand


Grace stopped at the edge of the water, as the images came clear in her head. The man who had hurt the girl had a gun, and a dog. What could she do? She could fill his gun with water, but some guns worked under water, and even if not, he’d have his fists, to say nothing of a wet hunk of metal to beat the girl with. A bullet might be kinder. Or she could just step in front of the man and hope bullets wouldn’t hit her—but Stella’s cartoon held her back. She didn’t want to traumatize the girl again.

She could smell what the dog smelled, in the water, somehow. The man’s anger and alcohol-tainted sweat, the girl’s fear, and her blood, just a trace of blood on the man’s knuckles now, not nearly as much as a bullet would set free.

“No!” Grace’s protest wasn’t loud, but she felt the whole lake grow still, listening to her. In the distance, Stella was again thrashing on her own, for a moment, before the water realized Grace wanted her even more, now.

The dog—first, it had to lose the girl’s scent. With that thought, a rush of mist rose and darted, like a bad science fiction movie special effect into the woods, to wash the dog’s nose out. Suddenly, the poor dog was writhing on the ground, squealing in terror. Grace felt bad for the dog, but it wasn’t hurt, just scared. But now, what else? Once the man calmed the dog, and it sneezed out most of the water, it could track again.

She remembered the bit of mist; fog would be good. And she was sure she could raise a good fog from the lake, even use the water to wash away the girl’s trail.

It was a clear night; raising more than a few wisps of fog proved to be hard. But Grace dug her claws into the silt and pulled more and more water into the air, first sending wisps to clean the girl’s trail, to soak the gun and clean the girl’s bloody scent off the man’s hand, and then to keep the equivalent of a tiny cloud centered on the man.

She almost lost her concentration when Stella touched her wing, and whispered, “What are you doing?”

“There’s a man with a gun, and a dog, tracking her.”

“What is this, slasher-movie night?”

Grace growled, a sound she hadn’t known she could make.

Stella ducked her head down, looking embarrassed. “Sorry”

“If only I had some way to scare him off.”

“I have an idea.” Stella focused, and the lights around her eyes coalesced into a tall, pale, see-through figure. “Where is he?”

“In the middle of that cloud.”

Stella crept forward, out of the water and toward the cloud. The ghostly figure drifted ahead of her.

“Stella, be careful. He has a gun.

“Shh. He won’t see me.” Stella crept forward silently, then started to moan, and Grace remembered how scary Stella could sound, imitating horror-movie monsters late at night. She held her breath, listening as hard as she could.

“You can’t fool me, girl, sheet or no sheet!” The man’s voice was rough, slurred. Then a loud sound, followed by his howls of pain and curses. He was bleeding now, the panicked dog running away. The gun had misfired, somehow.

The girl was silent for a moment, her sobs stilled by his voice.

He retreated, still cursing, and Grace watched the girl relax as his voice faded. She realized the girl was about the same age as herself and Stella—or the age they were before they became dragons, anyway. Stella appeared, wings spread as she’d done when floating in the water, but now floating above it, moving as silently as the fog itself, which was quickly dissipating as Grace relaxed.

But the girl still needed—what?

Grace smiled, suddenly, and let go of something she’d been holding close to her heart ever since the day she became a dragon.

The girl looks up, her pale brows furrow
There’s a book floating dry upon the water
Hands striped with dust and tears reach out
Emerge dry and clean where they touched the water.
“Feather Blessed”, she reads aloud. “How odd.”


“Where’d that come from?” Stella was just as good at whispering in dragon form as she had been as a human.

“I kept it with us.”

“All this time? In the water? And the water didn’t ruin it?”

That was odd. Grace hadn’t really thought about it. Reflexively, she queried the water, and listened to the response. “The water knows I value it.”

On the shore, the girl had stopped crying, and was peering at the book, trying to angle it to one of the park lights to read it. She tilted the book this way and that.

One of the sparks around Stella’s eyes took off, zooming to hover around the light, and it was as if the light was collected and poured in the direction of the book, so that the book was now lit enough to read, though the path going the other way was now shrouded in shadow.

“Cool! How’d you do that?” Grace whispered.

“I think the same way you kept the book dry.” Stella shrugged gracefully.

“But now, how do we get her some help?”

“I’d call Mrs. Brownie, if I were still a girl.” Mrs. Brownie was the school counselor. She had experience helping kids in bad home situations deal with the authorities. Stella had refused to tell her about her own home situation, but then her father hadn’t come hunting her with a gun.

“That’s perfect!”

“How is it perfect?”

“They’ve got to be looking for us. If one of us calls Mrs. Brownie, saying we need her to come to—“ She read the sign over the nearest picnic table, “Picnic Table 7, she’d come, right?”

“Of course she would. And she’d call the police to help any beat-up little girl she found.”

“Do you have enough energy to keep us hidden, once you call?”

“Me? Why do I have to call?”

“Because you can get to a phone booth silently, and I can’t. I’ll watch over the girl.”

And so Stella floated off to make a phone call, and when she returned, they watched the girl read the book until their teacher came, and then the police. And then it was very noisy in the park for a while.

“Do you think she’ll be all right?” Stella asked, as the girl was bundled into an ambulance.

“I hope so. She’s got a chance, at least.”

“We don’t even know her name.” Stella sounded so sad.

“Look at it this way, we haven't even found Home yet, and we’re already rescuing damsels in distress.”

Stella smiled a little. “Somehow it doesn’t feel as satisfying as I thought it would be. It feels—temporary.”

“We kept her alive.” Grace struggled to find words for the thought growing in her mind. “She—it’s her life. It’s her story, I mean.”

“But if we could be friends, well, at least we’d hear the rest of her story.”

Grace nodded, suddenly sad. “I—I’d have liked that too.”

Stella drifted down to wrap her wing and tail around Grace, and Grace leaned into the hug, offering comfort while leaving Stella’s topside bare to absorb the light.

And here is the next installment: A Kindred Spirit.
__________________________________


Please, leave me a comment below to let me know what you think.

Comments

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
ellenmillion
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:27 am (UTC)
This is sweet!
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:33 am (UTC)
Thanks!
jenny_evergreen
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
*waits patiently for the next installment* :)
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you're enjoying it!
miintikwa
Jun. 5th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
This is so fantastic--in all senses of the word!
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 05:12 am (UTC)
Thank you!
mdlbear
Jun. 5th, 2010 02:14 am (UTC)
Nice.
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
:-D
kelkyag
Jun. 5th, 2010 09:24 am (UTC)
<sniffles>

Still not finished! I am also on the "waiting as patiently as I can for the next installment" list.

If Stella identified herself, or if Mrs. Brownie realizes that the girl she found is not the one who called, or recognizes the book, Mrs. B could easily still be in the park looking for the girls.

A different girl reading the book could get a feather of her own and with it a path to Home, which all three of them could follow.


Edited at 2010-06-05 09:28 am (UTC)
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
So, should I play up the cost of becoming dragons (severing relations with the ordinary, human world, and the people in it) or the reward for good deeds? Which thread should I pick up and follow to the end? Which one will make the best story?
kelkyag
Jun. 6th, 2010 04:25 am (UTC)
Yes? Either of those could work story-wise.

Given the glimpse of the aerie keeper, Home is established in the story, and I think that should resolve somehow, though that doesn't have to be by going or staying there.

They've been thinking a bit about what they're lost or given up by becoming dragons -- so far it's nothing that's really binding them to this place. The connections we've seen for them other than with each other have all been fairly negative -- neither of them has a happy home life, and beyond that before this chapter a possible interest in staying in school has been the only other thing tempting them to stay. They're short on friends, to be so sad not to've made friends with this girl. (Also, their current location is now three out of three for abused children, which is not making it look like a nice place to stay at all.) Should severing ties be as simple as figuring out how to say goodbye to Mrs. B so that she doesn't worry about them?

Grace has been making all the decisions and dragging Stella with her -- I'd like to see Stella decide for herself which path to take, somewhere along the way.
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 6th, 2010 07:01 am (UTC)
Ooh--interesting thoughts!

Thank you!
rowyn
Jun. 7th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
I'd be curious to hear more about the costs of disconnecting. Even when the things that bind you to the world have a lot of downside, they're still binding you. And they probably have upsides as well. I suspect Stella feels considerable loyalty to the family she wouldn't betray. She may not want to stay with them, but she might have a hard time truly getting away.
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 7th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
Ooh, lots of good thoughts to ponder in the comments to this story! Thanks.
seekerval
Jun. 5th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
Still enjoying the story ... still refraining from needling you about your early-on disclaimer that this was just a Friday Flash and not intended as a longer story. *She chuckles, waiting for another installment.*
(Deleted comment)
seekerval
Jun. 6th, 2010 11:07 am (UTC)
Oh, yes. I'm pleased you're such an honor-able writer, and am just gloating that a story I like so much is continuing to grow. Your consistent creative output is something I need to try to emulate----at least to some degree. ;~)
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 6th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
I haven't felt as consistent lately as I want to be. It's a continuing challenge.

Gloat away! lol I might not have done the first sequel to Feather Blessed if not for the comments I received. So even you gloating is encouraging me to continue.

Now, here's hoping that this comment won't go "anonymous" as soon as I hit post...
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
I wasn't planning more at first. Not that I'm complaining; I think the "more" has been worthwhile.

And I still have to finish Fireborn before committing to more of this. But I received donations from people asking for more of this, so I was honor-bound to do another chapter about Grace and Stella.
tigertoy
Jun. 5th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
I felt a loss of continuity with the previous stories when Stella's eyes started producing cartoon symbols. Obviously there were fantastic elements from the beginning, but I wasn't expecting that far into cartoon reality. I'm not sure if you'd always intended it to be more cartoon-like than I'd imagined it, or if your own perspective shifted. If this is a new power that Stella has just now acquired, you should describe it in more detail and show Grace at least a little surprised about it.

I'm still interested in how the story develops. Following on the question upthread of where it should go, I don't want to see Grace and Stella being sorry about the world they gave up. It didn't seem like they had very much connection to it before. The story could become "no matter how awful your life is, don't wish for escape, because you'll realize you really cared about what you had when it's gone," but I really don't want to read that story. I'd rather believe that the feather wouldn't have come to them, or it wouldn't have worked, if it wasn't going to make them happier. The cost is to other people that cared about them, even if they didn't realize they were there -- so I'd like to see the kind teacher have a chance to learn what happened to her lost students and decide that it's OK. I'd want to see it leading to a world where Home, instead of being a lifetime away from the human world, is right next door or even mixed right in, where humans can accept having a little magic in their lives.
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
As to the light squiggles becoming more flexible, yes this is new, Stella is getting more flexibility and variety in her control over light. I went back and forth about Grace showing surprise right then, finally settling that they are developing new stuff so fast right now that the urgent need to get to that other girl right now would overpower her surprise.

Having the feather only work if the end will turn out right seems like a cheat to me. Would you really want the feather to be a stand-in for a paternalistic deity who decides whether (and how) a person can choose to change?
tigertoy
Jun. 5th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
I don't expect the feather to know how it will turn out, but I do imagine the feather user being unhappy with the life they have as being a part of the magic. It's possible that the feather really is a terrible mistake for some, but I don't want the story to focus on them.
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 10:27 pm (UTC)
Nor is it the kind of story I am likely to want to write. But with each new path, there are things lost as well as things gained.

Really, above, it was a trick question, since life is rarely a simple either-or. Some story threads get highlighted, and others have less importance to the main characters, but they don't simply vanish--or if they do, readers like you will call me on it, and point out I left a huge plot hole! :-D
tigertoy
Jun. 5th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
But with each new path, there are things lost as well as things gained.

Of course. If we don't pay *any* attention to the things that might have been, we're not going to be ready to reach for the better things that might be. But we shouldn't spend very much time lamenting the might have been.

Freedom means being being free to make bad choices, and without freedom, nothing has any meaning. Writing stories is a tricky balancing act, because the characters can't be real if they aren't free to make bad choices, but the story isn't the better alternative to the real world we were looking for if many of the choices they make turn out to be really bad.
wyld_dandelyon
Jun. 5th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
You know, there are people who go out of their way to deliberately read about characters who make bad choices and suffer the results. (I'm not surprised that you're not one of them, btw.)
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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