So this story is a work in progress. Posting them here motivates me. I am trying to be more consistent and show my writing style. Most people know me as the CEO of Stitched Smile Publications but don’t know who I am as a writer. I want to change that. I’m a woman of many crowns and writing happens to be one of my passions. Posting them unedited allows a couple of things to happen:
- I show the difference a well-edited work makes when going from rough stone to diamond.
- To practice what I preach to those who I mentor, “No one shits out gold.”
- Knowing people are waiting on the story helps me stay excited about it.
This work is UNEDITED, so if you are unable to read something until it has been edited, please keep scrolling along. I do welcome thoughts, insights, comments.
Without further ado, here it is
© 2018, Lisa Vasquez
Do not distribute, print, or use without prior written consent.
The world was blanketed in white, and quiet. The atmosphere was almost tranquil in its existence under the half-light between day and night. Sybil watched from her vantage noting how nothing shimmered under the muted rays of the long-forgotten sun. Nothing caught its filtered rays in a magical way. It was silent like a child hiding beneath the covers until the boogeyman retreated beneath the bed. All around her, the world was a perpetual mono-chromatic landscape of white, grays, and blacks. Still glancing up at the sky, Sybil observed as the clouds hung low, snuffing out the life of the sun, forever concealing the battle raging in the unseen heavens. A storm trampled above, the sound broke the dead air. She heard the thunderous growls chasing electric spears with no promise of rain anytime soon. Sybil released a slow, steady exhale then lowered her head. Reaching up with one hand she pulled back the hood of her parka, allowing the smooth, pale skin of her scalp to breathe. With her other hand, she tightened her grip on her spear which doubled as a walking stick.
Listening close, Sybil stretched her senses. Always on alert, she remained attentive. In this world of muffled noise, it was not easy to pick up sound of predators, or of a potential meal. Successful hunters used tricks from ancient civilizations learned before all the books were burned. When the last library went up in flames, the elders once said, “all hope went with it”. Now, over a hundred years later, humanity was reduced to living in caves, once more at the bottom of the food chain. Nightly stories around the campfire told of the new “man”, evolved with the help of the governments in the year 2018. DNA enhancing testosterone levels in both male and females gave them rage-like aggression. Crouching low, the warnings of her tribe’s leaders replayed in Sybil’s head as she slid her fingers through the layer of ash covering the earth.
These new humans were the experiments of the governments who united in a ploy to create the perfect soldier, never heeding to the superiority of Nature to do her own bidding with the fate of their evolution. One cannot play God without remembering Mother Nature was a controlling bitch. She ruled the game of checks and balances.
Looking out to the south, Sybil gripped her walking stick tighter. The Dead Lands lie between her home, and the Forbidden Place where the Evolved resided. The stories of those who died made her heart heavy and she let out a breath to relieve some of the pressure on her chest.
Those who survived “The War” weren’t the lucky ones like they say, Sybil thought. The ones who died instantly were. Lost in a reverie which could not be her own, she saw it so clear; Seconds after the first flash blinded the world, billions of souls left the earth following the dark cloud creeping over the sky, trapped in its hell. As a child, the elders used thunder and lightning as nighttime tales aimed at scaring her and other children into behaving.
“You must always be silent,” her mother whispered, “Always stay close. I cannot keep you from danger if you do not listen to me, Sybil.”
“Yes, mother,” she whispered back, shrinking into her tattered blanket. Her dark eyes pulled away from her mother’s and toward the campfire. The amber flames flapped and crackled, illuminating the cave walls. It was cold and damp despite the heat emanating from the fire, and the coughs of the others in their caravan echoed from their chambers in the murky distance. Water dripped into underwater canals, and every night she fell asleep to the faint smells of Sulphur, and feces.
No, they were not the lucky ones. When the first billion people died, others were left disfigured with burns, and later if the burns didn’t kill you, radiation would be waiting. Less than one percent of the population survived. This included diplomats and wealthy who were locked away in bunkers, and the anomalies: “Human Cockroaches”. We were given the nickname, because like the insects, we survived the nuclear war. We weren’t the elite, personally selected humans. To them, the ones who almost destroyed the world, we were insignificant. To them we were foul vermin in need of extermination. Because of this, Sybil bore witness to the horrors of watching as each night one of her caravan family disappeared.
Year 2118, Month Unknown
The family was settled in for the night and only the hushed whispers of families could be heard through the various cavern “rooms”. Meager campfires crackled and popped. The small flames stoked by the “watchers” throughout the night. The fires weren’t going for warmth, though they did offer a comforting feel to the features of those who slept around it. The main purpose of the fires was for light. Keeping them small meant little smoke would rise from exhaust holes above. Too much, and the new man, called Aethers, would find them.
Living in caves had changed humans in addition to the effects of the chemicals of war. Lack of sunlight on the surface was nothing compared to the lack of light beneath the earth. The eyes of those beneath adapted, growing more sensitive to light. The most color any of them saw now were the brilliant fluorescent glows from algae and insects when the campfire lights went out. Having spent years in the subterranean, the changes in them became more obvious. Most of them lost pigmentation in their eyes, leaving their irises a pale variation of their former color. Their skin was smooth, almost pore-less, and translucent. A lack of high calorie food transformed them into waif-like creatures who, in the old years, resembled the fictitious race of elves. At the surface, they appeared ethereal as their skin captured the half-light and illuminated.
Sybil was dozing off to sleep when she heard the whoosh of air pass by her. Opening her eyes, she saw the flames from the campfire bend in one direction causing her to sit up straight. Looking around, she saw the watcher facing away from her, looking into one of the tunnels leading to the next “room” of the cavern.
“What was th—“ her whispered cut off by the motion of his hand raising up. He pressed an index finger to his lips and Sybil froze in fear. The watcher’s stealth footsteps led him to the next opening, his hand wrapped around the hilt of his makeshift dagger and listened. After a few moments of hearing nothing he seemed to relax. He turned back to face her again, and he offered a small reassuring smile.
“It’s ok—“ his began, his eyes then bulged and his hands grasped his neck. Confused, Sybil used her hands and dug the heels of her feet into the ground, to back scoot into the shadows. When the watcher fell to the ground, a cloaked figure stood in his place staring at her until she choked out a scream. In the rush of the others waking, it disappeared, leaving Sybil in hysterics.
“What’s happened?” One of the men called out. He came closer and stumbled over the limp body of the watcher. Whispers began to fill the room growing louder and louder. The noise traveled to the outer rooms in the cave where others began to stir and rise. Watchers from every direction ran in to see what was causing the disturbance, and like a chain reaction, the news made it to every den.
“What was it, Sybil? Did you see anything?” Their faces began to crowd around her, suffocating her with their questions.
“I-I don’t know,” she stammered, “Just eyes. Like a shadow.”
One by one they turned to each other, passing the information … or what little there was. Delphi, the leader of their caravan, appeared and the crowd spread, allowing him to pass. Sybil’s eyes widened, then lowered with the bow of her head.
When he was standing before her, he reached his hand out to lift her chin, forcing her eyes to meet his. He stared down at her with his pale amber gaze. From beneath the hood of his weather-torn robes, she could see he had kind features. Wrinkles around his eyes creased when he smiled at her, his long white beard and mustache raised with the corners of his mouth.
“Peace, child,” he spoke, and everyone around him fell into silence. Only the deacons of their tribe were ever allowed to speak with Delphi. No one had heard his voice in years until now. Sybil’s mother watched from over his shoulder, her hands tucked into her chest in a show of her anxiety. Was her daughter in trouble? Would she be held responsible?
Dropping his hand from her chin, Delphi crouched before Sybil and her locked gaze followed him. He reached for her hand this time and held it in his. It was large and warm in comparison to hers.
“It’s ok, Sybil,” he said, and everyone behind him leaned in to hear him speak again, “Try to remember everything you saw. I’m here with you now, and nothing will harm you.”
Nodding to the hypnotic tone in his voice, Sybil recounted what happened detail by detail, as she remembered it. When she was done, she realized she was trembling again, and a layer of sweat covered her brow and hairline. Inside her chest, her heart was throttling.
“Very good, Sybil,” Delphi said with another smile. He stood, and gave her hand a squeeze before turning to the deacons behind him, “Bring her to my den. She is in my care, now.”
Sybil’s mother’s eyes grew large before turning toward Delphi. She lowered her gaze and took the hem of his sleeve to her lips, giving him reverent thanks. Before he walked away, he brushed his hand over her head and bent to kiss it. The collective inhale of everyone in attendance filled the den as they lowered their head as a show of respect. Delphi was the closest thing to royalty in the new world. He led them to safety more times than they could count, and always seemed to be one step ahead of the (XXX) in their ploy to eradicate them from the face of the earth. Without him, their family would’ve been wiped out at the dawn of its existence.
The deacon to Delphi’s left, Iapetus, faced Sybil and offered his hand to her. When she reached out to take it, he shifted his weight to the staff he held in his other hand and turned, guiding her to follow them. Beside Iapetus, Sybil felt smaller than she was. He seemed to be made from the stone walls, each muscle in his exposed arm appeared to be hand chiseled. The staff he gripped in his massive hand was created from a combination of the limestone, and marble found all around them. Clusters of raw crystal surrounded the tip where a repurposed piece of steel formed a spearhead. He was Delphi’s advisor, and also rumored to be his son. Looking up into his face, Sybil could see the similarities.
“Don’t be frightened,” his rough voice whispered to her, “We will keep you safe, now.”
Sybil offered a half smile. There was no malice in Iapetus’ mannerisms. She could feel the goodness in him right through the connection of their palms. Turning her head over her shoulder, Delphi’s other deacon, Crius, offered his hand to her mother, Dione. Dione reached out to take it, then followed her daughter and the procession out of the den.
All around them, eyes watched and silent thoughts threatened to fill the room with overwhelming emotion. Jealousy, happiness, confusion, and anxiety collided on the surface of the unspoken question, “What happens, now?”
As if she could hear the thoughts of all those around them the head watcher, Eos, spoke. Her soft tone was raspy like an Autumn wind through the trees, bristling against dried leaves. It was this way, they said, because she never spoke unless it was an absolute necessity-and when she did, her words were as strong as she, herself, was.
“There is no cause for further worry,” she paused to sweep her eyes over those standing before her, “Security is increased with double watchers, and traps have been lain.”
There was a unified sigh of relief.
“Go now,” she continued, “Help us by staying together. Watch one another. Never go anywhere alone.”
Like docile cattle, the crowd began to move. One followed the other until everyone was once again settled into their dens, and tucked into their blankets and furs. When the last whisper died out, the watchers lit extra candles to cast the shadows away, and stood guard this way for the rest of the week.
# # #
Getting used to living with Delphi was an adjustment for Sybil. She’d never known her father, and Delphi’s watchful eye could be unsettling. It’s like he sees everything, she thought to herself while tiptoeing across the marble floor. Delphi’s den was decorated in rare furs which she found fascinating. In all the years she was alive, Sybil never saw a real animal while it was alive. Whenever the hunters returned with meat, it was already stripped of any useable hide and fur, leaving it smooth, sometimes still stained pink with blood, but most times it was gray and colorless like the world around them.
Slipping her fingers through the dark fur hanging from the wall, she closed her eyes and exhaled. It was the softest thing she’d ever felt. The furs in the den were a sign of status, but they were coarse in texture. This was like nothing she ever knew. Tears welled in her eyes and she leaned in, pressing her cheek against it. Her chest tightened and she held in a sob. What creature must this have been, she wondered, to wear something so beautiful.
Burying her face into it, she mourned for the beast even without knowing what it was, or if it was dangerous.
“It came from a panther,” Delphi’s airy voice broke the moment causing Sybil to jolt, “They are extinct, now.”
Sybil’s face crumpled and pinched, holding back more tears, “You killed it?”
“No, no, child,” Delphi chuckled and shook his head, “You think I could do such a thing?”
“Well, I …” she paused, a sense of shame rising to the surface in her cheeks, “I just see all the animals skinned and eaten.”
“We must eat, yes?”
“Yes, but …”
“What makes one creature better than another?”
Sybil’s jaw slackened as she attempted words, but she remained silent taking his in. He could tell he was making her work out her ideas with the presentation of a new one. This pleased him.
“I did not kill the panther,” he said, walking toward the fur. His hand caressed the black hairs with affection, something sad creeping into his eyes, “It was my friend.”
“Your friend? I don’t understand.”
“I saved its life, it saved mine,” Delphi looked down at her and smiled, “And then we were friends.”
“Then, how did your friend die” Sybil asked, letting her fingers tangle in the fur she was still stroking without realizing it.
“Protecting me, one last time from the soldiers,” his eyes looked far away as he told the memory. Behind his glassy gaze, she could tell he was seeing it all over again, whatever happened, “I wanted to keep him near me always so I brought his fur back to my den.”
He took in a deep breath and dropped his hand.
“I did not want to wear it like some trophy, and I did not want to walk over it. So, here it sits on my wall near the fire to keep it warm, where we can both reminisce and talk.”
Tears fell down Sybil’s cheeks. She only had one friend, and she died from sickness many years ago. It made her sad, the memories of her friends face seemed to fade more every day.
“Will you sit with us, this evening?”
Sybil blinked and looked at him.
“Come,” he motioned to the campfire, “Let’s talk about Kobalos, and the mischief he caused.”
A smile spread across her face and Delphi mirrored it with his own. She let out a quick laugh and so did he before sitting down and nodding with his head to the place opposite him. Sybil accepted the offer and sat down. There, they laughed and talked until the small hours of the night. When she could keep her eyes open no more, her mother appeared at the door with Crius for an escort.
“I should take her for some sleep,” Dione said, her head lowered as she took a step forward.
Delphi pulled his gaze away from Sybil who finally gave in to sleep and turned to Dione.
“She still doesn’t know, does she?”
Dione flicked her eyes up once to look upon her daughter, then back down to the floor again.
“No, she does not.”
Standing, Delphi gave the cue for Crius to leave. The deacon seemed lost in a moment of indecisiveness but bowed and exited the den. When he was gone, Delphi moved closer to Dione and lifted her chin with the tips of his fingers. When her eyes met his, he searched for answers in them.
“Did I dishonor you in some way, Dione?”
The suggestion itself pried her eyes open until they were wide with shock.
“N-no,” she whispered firmly, “I did not want her to be raised with expectation or privilege.”
“It’s hardly a privileged life we live,” he laughed.
“You know what I mean, Delphi. The others can be cruel.”
The corners of his eyes turned downward in sadness and he opened his mouth to debate but her finger pressed against them.
“You cannot change hardened hearts, and you cannot manipulate human emotion of those who will not allow joy in their lives,” she sighed and leaned in, “we are a peaceful tribe, but it is a careful, delicate balance.”
“Am I not allowed,” he began, pulling her finger from his lips and pressing his forehead to hers, “To experience some form of balance?”
“You must lead men and women who know no concept of such a thing. Envy is a toxin we cannot afford.”
Delphi could only nod his head to her wisdom. Her hand still cupped within his, he brought her palm to his lips and kissed it, then turned it toward herself to lay it on her chest.
“I love only you, Dione,” his whisper hung between the two, “And I will honor your wishes but I will protect her with my life.”
Dione’s shoulders dropped, giving in to his wishes. With a nod, she offered him one final smile before she pulled away and moved to her daughter. Sybil stirred as she was lifted into her mother’s strong, but wiry arms. Soon, Dione would not be able to hold her this way. Moving past the fire toward the doorway, she turned mouthing the words, “I love only you,” then exited.
# # #
The commotion from the adjoining den woke Sybil with a start. Two weeks had passed since the incident with the shadow-man and three more had gone missing. Nightmares filled her dreams. Lying there listening to the others voice their fears, she pulled the threadbare blanket up to her chin. They are scared, she thought, closing her eyes tight. Tears threatened to form behind her lids but she managed to push them back, opening them again. After a taking in a couple deep breaths, she slid upright and twisted her body so her legs hung over the side of her bed. As quiet as she could, she pushed forward setting her feet on the floor. She heard a noise near the door and stopped, lifting her gaze to seek the source of it. The chatter continued beyond, growing louder as moments passed. Walking her fingers toward her robe, she pulled it close and clung to it. She had no way of knowing whether it was night or day from where she was until she looked at the candle flickering on the table. It was burned down. Morning, her mind answered, and her stomach confirmed with a growl.
Tugging the robe around her, she tied it place around her waist and stood. She used her toes to fish her shoes out from under the bed before pushing her feet inside, one at a time. Behind her, something stirred again making her shoulders tighten. Sybil spun on a heel and was confronted with Crius’ form standing inside the doorway. She dropped her hands to the knot in her belt and curled the end its fabric around her finger.
“Why are you standing there,” Sybil asked, the confidence in her voice betrayed by a nervous fidget. Her finger curled into the end of the belt, looping it around the same finger, again.
“I heard you stirring, I came to check on you,” he answered, letting his eyes drop to the opening of her robe crossing low on her chest in a “V”.
“It’s customary to announce yourself before entering a room of opposite gender.”
Crius’ smile was smug and he bowed in mockery.
“Forgive me, madame,” he said, the words purring forth from his lips like a cat toying with its prey. Sybil’s heart fluttered a little faster with the extra dose of adrenaline pumping through her veins. Her nostrils widened, flaring at the corners, allowing more oxygen to enter her lungs and she felt her legs tremble.
Don’t show him your weakness, she chided herself. Straightening her back, she looked away and turned to pick up the candle. Glancing at him over her shoulder, she forced a smirk.
“I’m sure it won’t happen again,” she said in a warning tone, extending the candle forward to shed light on the room a bit more. She could see Crius did not move. Rolling her eyes, she willed her feet to move and stalked past him. The more distance she could put between them, the better she felt though she could still feel his eyes on her. Sybil couldn’t figure out what it was about him but she felt immediate danger whenever he cornered her in such a way-something which became a habit in the last few weeks. His guise of being her guardian was not convincing at all. Ulterior intention loomed behind his eyes, watching from the dark like the shadow-man.
Putting Crius behind her, she padded into the next den. It was open and large enough to fit their entire tribe. Though no one spoke in loud tones, the combined whispers grew, sounding like the rush of a waterfall. Nothing distinct could be captured unless you were close enough, but unrest was evident in the tension suffocating the air all around. Their faces turned into one another, no one seemed to notice as she walked by. At the center of the den, Delphi sat in silence. He looked worn down and tired. Scratching at his beard, he looked up before pushing to his feet. The room went silent. Delphi held onto it, letting the absence of their whispers weigh down on them. It was deafening.
“All of you have a right to complain, and all of you are right,” he began, “We are in danger.”
The tribe continued their silence but many of them hung their head in shame, others due to hopelessness. Sybil had never witnessed this type of behavior from them, even when food was scarce.
Sweeping his eyes across his people, the invisible connection pulling their attention from the floor to him once again, “We knew this time would come. Some have prepared for it their whole lives and passed it down to their children.”
Eyes widened throughout the tribe, still fixed on their leader.
“We must go to war,” he said, “It is time to end this, once and for all. For our sake, and for our children. We will not be afraid to sleep another night.”
The crowd responded with the tapping of two fingers against their palm, a way of applauding without creating too much sound.
“But remember,” Delphi said, calling back order, “War comes with death … theirs and ours.”
Letting his warning dangle in the air, he turned and nodded to Iapetus. The deacon stepped in front of Delphi and the crowd parted, leading a path to where Sybil stood alone. She could feel her eyes still large and round from the shock of the word. War? She repeated over and over in her mind, Death? She was wringing her finger into the fabric of her belt again, lost in her own world when she heard Iapetus speak in a gentle tone into her ear, “Make way, Sybil.”
His eyes were always soft and genuine, unlike Crius’. She swallowed a breath realizing she’d been holding it. All she could do was nod and step to the side in obedience, lowering her head as Delphi was lead past.
(To be continued)